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you ought to look up more often

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The day Mickey gets out of juvie, after four months to the day, is blindingly, bone-bleachingly white with July sun. His mom says, “Baby!” and hugs him; her vanilla perfume faded to something sweet and vinegary and her clothes damp with sweat from the ride up. Then she slaps him across one cheek and tells him if he ever does something so stupid again she’ll kill him herself. “You’re my good boy,” she says, almost despairingly.

Mandy kisses him on the cheek and his mom makes enchiladas. His room is just like he left it, except actually clean, and it’s so good to be home that he barely notices when his dad clips him on the back of the head hard enough to bruise.

**

In his first four days of freedom Mickey gets spectacularly drunk, throws up five times, watches fifteen straight hours of Bear Grylls, eats three and a half family-size boxes of frozen taquitos, and accidentally blackens his brother’s eye with a pool cue.

It’s an extremely busy schedule.

When he passes the Kash and Grab, he walks on the opposite side of the street.

All in all, even with the threat that his next fuck-up is his last, his life is blissfully empty and carefree.

**

Because it’s a small neighborhood and also because Mickey’s life is a joke, his luck runs out before the end of a week. In a fucked up and totally unfair twist of fate, Mandy has been appointed Mickey’s keeper while he “settles in,” meaning she drags him out of bed before noon, demands he buy her cigarettes and Rockstar, and then bitches because the next closest store is five blocks farther than Kash’s.

Mickey loves his sister in those rare moments when he doesn’t want to strangle her with her own ponytail, so when she suggests they detour from their normal route, he agrees. It’s only when Mandy quickens her step and he glances up from lighting a cigarette that he realizes he’s been led into a trap.

The three Gallagher boys amble toward them, all red-faced and dripping. Mickey can see the lighter spots on the edges of Lip’s t-shirt where sweat hasn’t soaked through the gray heather. He’s holding a basketball under one arm and in his free hand the yellow-purple paper hallmark of Taco Bells everywhere.

Normally when presented with the age-old problem of what to do when you see someone you know walking your direction from a distance, Mickey just stares until they look away. Now he fumbles his lighter three times and counts cracks on the sidewalk to the tune of a funeral march.

“Can I have some?” asks Mandy, the eternal parasite, as a hello. Mickey keeps watching the ground, where Carl crouches, grinding ants into little black smears on the concrete.

“You can have some of mine,” says Lip in a voice that means and then we can fuck and Mickey does glance up at that because no, which turns out to be a mistake.

The thing is, Ian looks — good. Really good. Even with his hair plastered to his forehead with sweat and red-faced and wiping hot sauce off his mouth with one hand. He’s begun to tan beneath the freckles and his bangs are a little longer and he’s wearing basketball shorts and a tshirt with holes around the collar.

Fuck, Mickey needs to get laid. Judging from the priceless half-disgust and half-horror and awe expression on Lip’s face, it shows. Mickey wishes he’d made good on his threat to rip Ian’s tongue out when he’d had a chance.

“We’re having a homecoming party tomorrow,” says Mandy. “Free beer and grilled roadkill if you’re family. Or my date.” She grins at Ian. “Come prepared to drink.”

Mickey spares a brief thought for Ian showing up at a house full of Mickey’s friends and family tomorrow night, probably in a nice shirt because a lifetime of afterschool specials has instilled in Ian the need to dress up for hanging out with your girlfriend’s parents, and spending the whole night four feet from Mickey as they both get progressively drunker and the party begins shrinking. And how warm and smooth Ian’s skin is. And how easy it would be to slip away in a moment of poor judgement and end up up this year’s tragic fag love story when they’re both beaten to death.

Ian is also clearly having the same thought, except without the bloody ending. He’s also looking straight at Mickey with a smile tugging at the corners of his mouth and his feelings all over his face because Ian Gallagher has the self-preservation instinct of a moth near a candle.

Mickey, who happens to enjoy having his skull in one piece, shakes his head. “Fuck no. You’re not invited.”

“What the fuck, why not?”

“Because I don’t fucking like you.” Ian’s smile flickers, which is crushing, but not enough that Mickey doesn’t keep going. “Your boyfriend fucking shot me.”

Ian stops smiling and there’s a long frozen moment where Mickey thinks that if he’d known what was going to come out of his mouth, he might’ve kept it closed. It’s weird because there are different levels of knowledge going on here, where some people are holding parts of the puzzle but can’t quite figure out how they all fit together. Meanwhile Mickey is holding the box with the complete picture, thinking about how much his life fucking sucks.

The moment breaks when Mandy punches Mickey right in the kidney. “Too bad he didn’t shoot your nuts off. You fucking deserved it.” She turns back to Ian and Lip, who looks relieved, like he didn’t want to have to be the one to throw a punch. “Ignore him. He’s a prick. And if you’re not there I’ll cry and then kill you. Come on, asshole,” she says to Mickey, who steps a good two feet around Ian and does not think twice about the shuttered look on his face.

**

The party is fine.

Ian does show up and he is wearing a nice shirt and clean jeans. He holds Mandy’s hand and calls Mickey’s mom Mrs. Milkovitch even though she’s known him practically since he was born. He probably drinks five beers too quickly and eats three hot dogs with tons of mustard, onions, and sauerkraut, but Mickey has no idea because he stays on the other side of the yard the whole time and nurses a single beer into warm, flat piss. He wouldn’t have noticed Ian at all, except Mom yells at him to come say hi to Mandy’s boyfriend, little Ian Gallagher all grown up and not half bad at all if she does say so herself.

The wink she gives Ian is so traumatizing for all parties that Mandy snags a bottle off the drinks table and makes them all bleach their brains with the sweet elixir of dry tequila shots. They all shake the burn off with the butt of Mickey’s warm beer and when Ian passes it back, he makes sure not to touch Mickey.

“Thanks for coming,” he says, which sounds stupid the second it leaves his mouth but Ian brushes his hair out of his eyes and smiles, a butterfly kind of smile. “Seriously.” The smile strengthens. Mickey wants a drink.

They take off shortly thereafter, but not before Ian gets right up in Mickey’s space to say welcome back in way that means I have a death wish and Mandy whispers thanks when she hugs him goodbye.

For the fifth night in a row since his homecoming, Mickey gets blackout drunk and throws up.

**

Ian works all the fucking time, according to Mandy, both at some shitty pizza place near U of C where he sells single slices and onion rings to drunk chicks and the grocery store where Mickey’s mom shops. He quit Kash’s in May because he wasn’t making enough money, Mandy tells him, but it’s clear from the way her eyes light up that she thinks that wasn’t the only reason. Ian’s work schedule doesn’t stop him from being around every other day, it feels like, tucked away with Mandy in her room — with the door open — or on the couch playing video games when Mickey gets home from his shitty job wrapping burgers for 5 bucks and change an hour. Or drinking beer cross-legged on the porch and really, really abysmally sucking at Scrabble to the point of embarrassment.

No, Mickey is embarrassed for him. Ian plays the lazy game of Scrabble, going for using up his hardest letters on short words, but he’s not cutthroat enough to have real vision. Mickey drops down next to Ian, even when Mandy protests he’s not allowed to play, because no one should be losing by so much so early in the game. They touch at the knees and shoulders, which is okay, except that Mickey can’t figure out when to move away and keeps catching himself holding statue-still for half-minutes at a time.

Ian’s funny, which Mickey knew at some point, but forgot. He likes yellow Starburst but hates pink and he never learned to swim. He also lets Mandy swipe sips of his beer until its empty and then gets up and gets her another one without saying anything. When he sits back down, he’s closer to Mickey. He smells like girls’ shampoo and grass, like fucking summer.

Mandy wins, because Mickey can’t resist playing FUCK when the opportunity arises, but not by much. When Mandy gets up and goes back inside for the stash of beer secreted away in the downstairs fridge, the street is empty and dark, and they look at each other for a long second. Mickey doesn’t breathe.

Mickey’s knees crack when he stands up.

**

Two hours later he catches Ian on his way out and kisses him pressed against the stove while Mandy watches 16 and Pregnant in the next room.

Jesus Christ.

**

The thing is, once he has it, Mickey wants it all the time. Sometimes Mickey stops by the pizza place at 2 am and helps Ian stagger home by pushing him into brick walls and groping him on the dark street and sometimes Ian shows up at the burger place and picks at his fries until Mickey’s done. Sometimes they watch horror movies on Mickey’s couch, taking shots every time someone runs upstairs instead of out of the house until Mandy passes out, and they fuck in Mickey’s room. Ian bites his neck and he pulls on Ian’s hair because he can, because he likes the sounds Ian makes. It’s hot and fast and rough, which is fine because Mickey likes that, and also the way it has to be.

Once Mickey blows Ian while Mandy’s showering before the two of them go out, a rush to the finish with Ian’s fingers curled around Mickey’s neck and trembling under Mickey’s tongue. When Mandy walks out with a towel wrapped in a turban around her head, Mickey’s rubbing his jaw and Ian’s wearing a slackjawed look with a pillow over his lap.

The second her back is turned, Mickey leans forward and kisses him, hard.

“She wouldn’t say anything, you know,” says Ian, barely audible when he shoves the pillow to the floor to stuff himself back into his jeans. “She’d probably think it was hilarious.”

“Say a word and I will slit your fucking throat,” says Mickey, mostly because he knows the best way to blow a secret is to tell someone and there are too many people who know too much already.

And partly because he knows she wouldn’t think it was funny at all.

**

“So, what’s the deal with your sister?” says Trey Leitke at work one morning when Mickey’s on his knees cleaning out the grease trap. It’s so fucking disgusting, reeking of rancid meat and gasoline, that Mickey has no idea what Trey’s talking about at first.

“Mandy?” Mickey stands up and lets Trey hold the blunt to his mouth. They’re not supposed to smoke inside, but fuck everyone for making them come in at 4 AM to clean. He’s begun keeping a Big Gulp of piss to sweeten everyone’s coffee today.

“Yeah. She’s hot.” Trey coughs. He’s a skinny, bitchy blond kid with too many homemade tattoos that don’t look like much of anything.

“She has a boyfriend.”

Trey coughs again, but this time he’s laughing. “Ian Gallagher. Come on.”

Mickey looks back at the grease trap and sees his whole fucking future in that dripping black mess. “If you touch my sister, I will break both your kneecaps.” He doesn’t even hear what fucking Trey says to that.

**

The day the heat index peaks at 101 degrees, Mandy digs her heels in. She’s wearing cut offs and one of Mickey’s tank tops with the bottom looped through the neck. Mickey thinks about how many registered sex offenders live around here, which is how they end up across the street from the Kash and Grab. “Don’t be such a pussy,” says Mandy when he offers to wait outside.

Kash is at the counter, stacking cigarettes. He glances up when they walk in, freezes, then looks down again like he’s counting to ten. Mandy gets right up his face with, “Hi Kash!” super sweet and fake, which would be kind of cute, Mickey’s little sister defending his honor or something, if Mickey didn’t feel like all his blood was rushing into his shoes. Mickey walks backward a few steps toward the apples, because he’s never turning his back on Kash again and also because he wants a clear shot to the door if he needs it.

Mandy acts like this is her death row meal the way she picks up tubes of cheddar pringles and then switches them out for barbecue when she decides on blue gatorade like cheddar pringles and blue gatorade are an offensive pairing. His fucking sister: connoisseur of convenience store foods.

Kash isn’t looking at him but Mickey can practically taste how badly he wants to, so he might as well be. Mandy walks back into view with her arms full. “Buy me things,” she commands, then laughs and pulls a wrinkled, sweaty five out of her back pocket, throws it on the counter. Kash picks it up gingerly. It’s definitely not enough. Mickey gives her a ten. Two hours of his life amounts to one 32 ounce gatorade, a pack of beef jerky, sour cream and onion chips, and six freeze pops.

The box of Snickers is still on display in the same place and he catches the exact moment Kash notices the same thing, the way he starts and looks right at Mickey. More out of desperation to not start laughing hysterically, he says, “Hey, you coming to Tumbo’s going away party?” He’s going out of state on a basketball scholarship. Apparently the school in North Carolina is paying for everything. They’re giving him a car. “There’ll be ribs.”

He should have anticipated Mandy’s saying, “I’m gonna hang out with Ian,” because every minute with Mandy is another episode of the Ian Gallagher appreciation hour.

If possible, the air becomes even more tense. Mickey answers by rote. “He’s working.”

Mandy’s gaze is sharp and blue like ice when she looks at him. There are streaks of eyeliner running down her face like tear tracks where she’s sweated through it. “How do you know?” She takes back a bag of chips and picks up a pack of smokes from the counter. “These too.”

Mickey shrugs. He turns away to avoid her eyes and ends up staring right at Kash. “I guess you told me.”

Kash picks up the cigarettes and opens his mouth like he’s thinking about IDing them, but then he just says, “You’re short a dollar.” Flat, like he’s daring them to take the shit and walk off.

Mandy picks around in the pockets of her shorts and comes up with four quarters, plus a fucking twenty, that sneaky bitch.

Kash hands Mandy the bag and looks at Mickey again with a weird look on his face. Mickey has no idea what he’s supposed to do, but he’s pretty sure it involves getting out of here and never coming back unless he has to.

“Hey, how’s the new kid?” says Mandy, two feet from the door. “As good as Ian?” Her grin is full of teeth and there’s something ugly in her voice beneath the bubblegum pop. Something that says, fuck you, prick. We’re not fucking going away.

His sister: fucking fearless.

**

Ian comes over to watch Dead Alive — “It’s called fucking Braindead, assface.” — because Mandy loves nothing more than a gorefest and because Ian has only seen like ten movies ever. Ian actually looks away a few times, like a total pussy, and Mickey tries not to notice he turns his face left, toward Mandy, instead of right. Halfway through the movie, the sky opens up and it starts pouring for the first time in weeks. The rain thickens the air in the house, intensifies the stink of old beer and body odor.

Afterward, Mickey’s mom makes them sandwiches, which is awesome, and Ian puts his head down on the kitchen table, saying he should probably just go home and the rain sounds like it’s letting up anyway, which is a lie. He looks a little pale and his eyes are red-rimmed with sleepiness. Mickey’s mom picks that exact moment fill her biyearly momming quota with, “I’m not sending you home in this rain. You can sleep here.” Like they have tons of empty beds what with their brother sleeping on the couch since his girlfriend threw him out. She gives Ian a sharp look and Mickey’s feeling of alarm reaches red-hot levels. “Not in Mandy’s room. You can share with Mickey.”

A weird glance happens when Ian, Mickey, and Mandy all try to look at each other at once. “Uh—”

“Shut your mouth, Mickey,” his mom says. “Ian’s a guest. You’ve shared with boys before.” Ian raises his eyebrows at that and Mickey can’t figure out a way to say yeah, like a million years ago without raising suspicion why this is any different. Mickey’s mom walks out of the room, matter settled with her mom-powers. “Your brothers always shared when they had friends over. It’s not gay.”

Jesus fucking Christ.

Mandy actually chokes but Mickey has no idea if she’s choking to death or just on her own shock because he is too busy praying for this moment to be over.

They take turns playing Halo trying to put off sleep for as long as possible. Ian passes out kind of leaning on Mickey but not too much or anything, so he doesn’t wake Ian up until he fucking slaughters Mandy and jostles Ian in the celebratory bragging. He squints at Mickey, a little half smile at one corner of his mouth, scrubs his face over his hand. Mandy yawns hugely, which makes Mickey yawn too, and that’s pretty much it.

Mickey ignores the way Mandy pulls Ian back and their harsh whispers behind him. He just goes to his room and changes out of his jeans. He leaves his shirt on, even though he’s sweating like a pig. When Ian comes in, he closes the door behind him with a click.

“What’d she say?”

“Just, like, if you try to strangle me to scream really loudly.” Ian messes with the hem of his tshirt. They stare at each other and both look at the bed.

The thing is, they’ve fucked in Mickey’s bed a bunch of times. But they’ve never slept in it and definitely not with his mom right down the hall and Mandy next door listening with her fucking bat-ears, probably sharpening a knife to be ready at the first suspicious noise.

“I’m just gonna— “ Ian turns away to unzip his pants and Mickey heads to the bathroom to brush his teeth and jerk off as fast as humanly possible, which is kind of stupid since Ian can totally hear him. Mickey stares at himself in the mirror thinking, what the fuck am I doing? He splashes water on his face and scrubs his damp hands through his hair.

Ian’s neck and face are red when he slides past Mickey on his way to the bathroom. Mickey climbs into bed, presses his back against the wall, listening to the sound of the water running and the way Ian’s breathing changes after a few minutes. Fuck. Even Mickey can’t reload this quickly, but it’s a close thing.

When Ian comes back he stands next to the bed, hovering, for a second before climbing in and turning to face Mickey, as far away on the bed as he can get without falling off. He can feel Ian’s minty breath, wonders which toothbrush he used. They stare at each other until Mickey has basically soaked the sheets with sweat and then he pushes at Ian’s chest. Ian turns his back to Mickey, which is better, except that now he can see the freckles on Ian’s neck and where his hair rustles each time Mickey exhales. He reaches out and touches Ian’s ribcage, feels his heart slamming like a million miles an hour. Ian doesn’t move at all.

It feels like hours before Ian’s breathing changes, but Mickey’s awake for a long time after that, until the rain stops and the birds begin to chirp and the watery light of morning edges through the blinds.

**

Lip corners Mickey on his smoke break at work, which is almost the shittiest thing Mickey can think of. Plus Mickey is wearing a ridiculous vest and a visor for Christ’s sake and all he can smell is hot dogs, which is seriously not the time to have some sort of dick slinging contest. Lip is helping teach an SAT prep course, so he spends most of his time dressed like some sort of Mister-Rogers-meets-Kids-in-the-Hall mash-up.

He stands right in front of Mickey and then actually steals an unlit cigarette out of Mickey’s hand. He thinks about punching Lip in his fat fucking face, but realizes Ian would probably be pissed.

From the look on Lip’s face, he knows it too.

“Listen,” says Lip around Mickey’s cigarette, “I don’t need some Love Story shit or anything. I just—” he blows smoke in Mickey’s face and then takes a rapid step back. “I want to know what the hell you’re doing.”

Mickey looks past him and thinks about Mandy, this morning, stealing his waffles, and Ian looking at him from beneath his bangs. How Mandy gets stars in her eyes when she talks about Ian and his mom has started including questions about Ian in her weekly mom check-in with Mandy. The way Ian is ticklish at his waist and the expression on his face if Mickey slammed Lip’s head back against the wall right now.

He says, “There are way easier fucks around.”

If he pushes Lip so hard he stumbles, it’s only because his break’s over and he’s late.

**

Mandy turns 16 and their mom gives him 30 bucks to take her out to dinner, so of course they buy two cases of beer and take it to an overgrown lot a few blocks away. Their brother shows up with his girlfriend and some pizza and Lip brings some soda and two bags of ice from the grocery store and a promise that Ian will come as soon as he gets off work.

It’s hot as shit even with the sun setting, hazy early-evening stillness holding the heat like a sponge. Someone borrows a soccer ball from a nearby yard and more people show up with beer and plastic handles of vodka. Lip challenges Mickey to a shotgunning contest, which Lip loses, and then proceeds to also lose the four rematches. Mickey didn’t grow up with three older brothers for nothing.

When Karen Jackson shows up, she has a sheetcake her mom made, which basically tastes like blowjobs and bacon rolled into a sugary, chocolatey mess that Mickey licks off his fingers, plus those trick candles that take forever to blow out. Debbie Gallagher, who is way too young to even be here, corrals everyone into singing a loud, drunken rendition of Happy Birthday and then makes them all sing it again in a round. When she blows out her candles, Mandy’s eyes are suspiciously bright because she thought no one would come to her birthday party.

It’s been dark for a while by the time Ian shows up, with a wrapped CD in his hand and a plastic princess crown from the novelty aisle at the store. Mickey’s sweaty and out of breath from getting his ass kicked at soccer, which, whatever, isn’t even a real sport. Ian looks like spring’s wet dream in his still-dry button-down and Mickey’s stomach drops when the first thing Ian does is find him in the crowd. He smiles and raises a hand in wave that is totally cheesy and not smooth or inconspicuous at all, but everyone else is several beers deep already.

Mandy’s whole face lights up when she spots him, yelling his name across the yard, and Ian ducks his head like, who, me? The CD is something Mickey’s never heard off, which guarantees that it’s some of that folky bullshit that Ian likes because it appeals to his girly soul. Mandy’s shriek is earsplitting when Ian puts the crown on her head with a grin. Then she kisses him, full on the mouth in front of everyone, and Mickey does not look away for even a second.

Mickey tackles Lip to the ground on the next play to wipe the look off his face, but he pays for it when he scrapes all the skin of his knee off on the pavement.

**

Mandy, Ian, Lip, and Karen scam their way into some stupid block party where they all do jello shots and get so drunk they can barely stumble home. She tells Mickey about it the evening after work when Mandy finally drags her ass out of bed to eat some eggs, but he heard it all this morning when he was licking the still-bitter alcohol taste out of Ian’s mouth. He’s tired, he’s hot, and everyone is apparently having a fucking joyride summer except him.

“Fuck, shut up. Everything is fucking Ian Gallagher with you.” Mickey rolls his eyes. “What are you, in love with him?”

Mandy blushes, all the way up her neck, and shrugs. She’s still wearing all her make up from last night, all smudged to shit across her cheek, and her hair sticks up all around her face. “Fuck you, Mickey.” Her voice cracks on his name and she slams a plate down in front of him.

Fuck.

**

Mickey shows up at the pizza place, which is more of a window cut into a wall surrounded by picnic tables lining the walk, early enough that it’s still pretty deserted, just a few limpdicks who can’t hold their liquor stopping by for a slice before heading home. He brings his own tallboys in paperbags and sits backward at an empty table nursing the sweet taste of Natty Light until Ian comes out and sits next to him, looking concerned with his lower lip tucked behind his teeth.

“What’s up?” Ian takes the bag out of Mickey’s hand with a glance at the window, shrugs off Mickey’s raised eyebrow.

Mickey shrugs. “Nothing. I just...” He doesn’t really know how to explain that he was bored when he got off work and just ended up here by accident.

It doesn’t matter because Ian’s face splits into a huge fucking grin. “Just wanted to see me?”

“Fuck you,” says Mickey with utter sincerity, not that Ian can hear him as hopped up as he is on his own huge fucking ego. Ian ducks his head and nudges Mickey’s shoulder companionably, trying to tamp down his smile by biting his lip. Mickey can barely look at him. “I hope you rot in hell.”

“Okay,” says Ian, doing absolutely nothing to hide the pleased note in his voice. He does change the subject though, to how Carl has been suspiciously good lately, not blowing things up and even willingly submitting to soap and water. He passes the beer, considerably lighter, back and drops his hands so they’re resting on his knees. For a second, Mickey thinks Ian is going to grab his hand in one of his uncontrollable surges of estrogen, but they just sit there, unconsciously expressive as he talks. When Carl voluntarily takes a shower and puts his clothes in the laundry, Ian’s long-fingered hands sweep outward and when he explains about following Carl surreptitiously to see him gift one of his dinosaur-melting-in-hell pieces to a little girl down the road, they fold into a fist like a prayer.

The thing is, Mickey keeps his own hands near his knees, knuckles touching Ian’s knee when he jostles excitedly enough and Mickey wants to stretch his fingers and — do what exactly? Hold hands? Jesus.

“Shit,” says Ian, catching Mickey’s attention when he changes from lighthearted to somber. “I have to go.” Sure enough, there are more people milling around like a Romero movie come to life. Ian grabs the beer out of Mickey’s hand, swallows it back in one breath. “Thanks for coming to visit me.”

Mickey is about to tell him to fuck himself again, half-trembling smile and all, but Ian leans forward and presses his mouth against the corner of Mickey’s lips. Mickey jerks away and Ian says, “Relax, fuck. There’s no one here,” and curls his nails against the nape of Mickey’s neck. He can still feel the faint hint of stubble from Ian’s upper lip.

When Ian straightens up, he’s blushing red, but mostly no one is fucking looking at them. Ian doesn’t touch Mickey again, which is good because he thinks he’d snap and accidentally behead Ian with the adrenaline in his veins right now. He grins and trips over a tree root. Mickey laughs at him and thinks, I want to hold your hand, you fucking douchebag.

**

He’s hanging out under the overpass outside his house, smoking a cigarette. Cars rush overhead, honking intermittently, and the occasional siren screams over the pavement. The sky is a middling gray, like it can’t decide between plain cloudy and threatening rain. Mickey trades a few smokes for a dollar each.

Something touches his back just below his ribcage and when Mickey tips his head back, Lip Gallagher is standing above him. “Cigarette?” he asks. “I’ll blow you for it.” He laughs, Ian’s slow half-smile on his face. “I hear you’re into that.”

“What the fuck do you want?” Mickey shakes out another cigarette.

“You look melancholy,” he says, settling down next to Mickey and leaning forward to light off his smoke. “That means sad,” he adds. Mickey remembers when Lip was just a too-smart bag of bones in seventh grade with painful-looking acne blooming across his cheeks beneath the bruises. In second grade, he gave Amanda Lincoln a Halloween card with a heart drawn in it. Lip was nearly held back a grade the year his mom took off for missing so much school.

“Fuck you.” He’s known Lip since he was like three years old. He remembers when his brother fucked Fiona and told everyone how wet she was.

“Sometimes,” says Lip, blowing smoke from one side of his mouth, “I think fuck my fucking life and then I remember you and laugh.”

Mickey sucks his cigarette down so the cherry glows bright. “Mandy’s my fucking little sister, you know?” he says, because Lip gets it even if Ian doesn’t. “One time she tried to hatch eggs from the grocery store.”

“I used to swallow my gum on purpose to see how many pieces I could eat before I died,” says Lip. Lip with a fucking lab manual notating each piece of Bubblicious. “Ian never did anything dumb. He just learned from my mistakes.” Lip squints at a bunch of pigeons fighting over an empty Skittles bag. “I mean, until now.” Mickey drops his head to his knees, knuckles of his thumbs pressed against his forehead.

**

They watch Dawn of the Dead on the couch the weekend before school starts again, with Ian’s feet tucked up neatly on the cushion and his knee resting across Mickey’s thigh. He debates the relative merits of barricading a grocery store with Mandy’s plan of going to the top of the Sears Tower with a sniper rifle and some Twinkies (“You’d definitely need a machine gun” he says, even though Ian would totally be eaten within the first five hours).

Mandy pauses the movie just before the zombie baby is born to pop hot pockets into the microwave. “Don’t watch it without me, assholes,” she says when she climbs over both of them.

With Mandy knocking around in the kitchen and the hiss of the freezer behind them, Ian leans forward and kisses Mickey with his red-rimmed mouth. His hand rests at the back of Mickey’s neck. He tastes lemony and cool like Bombpops. Mickey wants to push his hands under Ian’s shirt and count the knobs of his spine.

Ian’s shoulder is damp where it’s been resting against Mandy’s and he smiles against Mickey’s mouth, a short, quiet huff of laughter between them. Mickey hears the freezer slam shut and the microwave ding and the worst part is he doesn’t want to stop.

Mickey bites Ian’s lip, hard, and Ian pulls back, startled, just as Mandy yells that they’re out of orange soda, again, because Mickey drank it all. Ian leans back against Mandy when she sits down and passes around their steaming pastries. Mickey bites into it immediately so he won’t have to taste anything while Ian pokes his tongue out to worry the tender spot on his bottom lip with a little smile that Mickey would pretty much do anything to see again and again.

**

Mandy gets a tattoo without telling anyone. It’s in the shape of the tiger from Calvin and Hobbes, poised to pounce at something unseen, in the vulnerable shallow of her hip. She shows Mickey one morning before school, when it’s totally healed over, just black and white and orange.

“It’s not stupid okay, fuck you,” she says before he opens his mouth to say the exact opposite. “I just — I wanted it to be something that was mine.” She pulls her waistband up to cover the tiger.

Mickey thinks about things that are his, theirs, hers and says, “Can you shut up? I need to talk to you.” He thinks he might throw up.

They miss first period on sitting the curb outside their house while Mickey tells her about his hands on Ian’s hips because he doesn’t know how to say he’s sorry. Mandy’s voice gets small and quiet like he never hears it and she doesn’t cry at all. Mickey’s face, tender on one side, aches for the rest of the day each time he takes a drag. When he sees her later, her make-up is crisp and black around her puffy eyes and Ian is touching her hair.

**

It’s ten days before Mandy walks into his room asking if he has any cigarettes. That night, with Ian sitting on the couch with his thigh against Mickey’s and Mickey’s hands glued over his lap, she says, “You can, like, kiss or whatever,” which makes Ian’s eyes get huge and Mickey freezes long enough to die a brutal, bloody death. They don’t, even though he can tell Ian wants to, because Mickey hears the fine fracture in her voice. But when Mickey passes the controller over, he drops his hand between them to tuck his fingers under Ian’s leg. The house is still and quiet, with just the sounds of machine gunfire breaking up the silence.