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Why does Ian get to be the queer one? Mandy asks herself as she leans back in her desk-chair in the back of her US History class and licks her lips, slow and deliberate, at that chick who keeps trying to start a Gay-Straight Alliance. She’s got to be a dyke.

The girl blushes in Mandy’s general direction and turns her gaze back to her test and yeah, Mandy’s still got it, she bets she could pick up at least as many girls as that fucking delinquent Mickey, and he seems to do alright.

Of course, Ian isn’t the only queer one, and when she looks back on that day in class, she’ll remember Ian not being there, and wonder if he cut History to fuck her brother, but that’s not really the point.

“Wanna make out under the bleachers?” Mandy shouts across the hallway to GSA-girl a few weeks later when the bell for the end of first period has just quieted.

Some jerkoff from the track team makes a gesture Mandy is choosing to ignore, and she shoves past him, across the hall to lean against the girl’s locker. Mickey’s gone and landed himself in juvie again, and Mandy needs to think about something else.

“This is bullying, I hope you know, I could probably get you suspended for this,” the girl says, raising both eyebrows until they disappear under her bangs, and she may look like a massive nerd, but apparently she’s got some spark, and her voice only shakes a little as she’s telling Mandy off.

She feels almost friendly towards the girl after that, knocks her elbow into where the girl has her books clutched to her chest and asks, “That supposed to be a threat? I’m supposed to be afraid I won’t have to show up at this fuckin’ place?” and snaps her gum. When Mickey’s away too long, she sometimes finds herself starting to talk like him. It's not that she misses him, not really, but he’s less of a dumbass than the rest of her brothers, and the more of them there are around, the less attention Terry pays to any of them. That’s all. Good behavior and he’ll be out in a few months anyway, not that Mick has ever behaved well in his life.

“I don’t know what you’re supposed to feel,” the girl says, shoving away from her locker and snapping the padlock shut, “I just know you’ve got an obnoxious sense of humor if that’s supposed to be funny.”

She turns, and she’s about to walk away, Mandy knows it, which is probably why she calls out, “What if I meant it?”

She feels a rush of satisfaction when the girl turns back to look at her. “If you meant it, that would be sexual harassment,” the girl says, but she’s got a weird little smile on her face that Mandy can’t get a read on.

And then there’s Lip, and it doesn’t matter if Mandy could get a girl or not, there’s suddenly no one else in the world that she wants but him, he’s her now and he’s her hope for a future. Mandy sees the way Fiona looks at her, sharp-eyed and annoyed, when Mandy starts hanging around the house, but women have never liked her, so that’s nothing new. The first person to like her without wanting to fuck her since she was eleven or so was Ian, and there’s no way Fiona’s a dyke, so there’s no way she’s ever going to like Mandy, no point in trying.

Debbie Gallagher actually seems to like Mandy alright, too, which is cute as well as weird. She’s the one of them who looks most like Ian, all red headed and big eyed, and she acts like Mandy knows what the fuck she’s doing. Debbie attaches herself to people like she doesn’t know she could get hurt, and it’s a little scary, but when Mandy mentions it to Ian, he says, “She’s a kid, Mandy,” like that means anything at all, and she guesses to the Gallaghers, it kind of does.

Lip ties himself up in knots over Karen’s kid, and Mandy thinks about it, once or twice, idly, late at night when no one can read it on her face—the thing with needle-holes in condoms or telling Lip she’s going on the pill and then not doing it. Then she’d have a kid, though, and as much as the idea of making a home with Lip feels right, the thought of actually bringing a kid into the world makes her shudder as much as it did the first time that seemed like a tangible possibility, and this one wouldn't even be an incest-baby.

It’s bad enough feeling responsible for Molly, those few days after Mandy and Lip go to get her. These people, these Gallaghers, they won’t get it, about Molly. Mandy just knows they’re going to say something to her about girls not having penises, and then they’re going to disappear, and leave Molly to deal with it on her own, the way her crackhead mom always did. Molly’s got a couple more years before puberty makes that whole is-she-a-girl thing an unavoidable issue, and Mandy doesn't know why all the nosy fucks of the world can’t just let Molly enjoy it a little while. She’s got her whole life to feel fucked up and out of place.

Mandy can't help but be relieved when the junkie bitch turns out to be alive after all, and shows up to take Molly off her hands. It’s not a good situation, but Mandy doesn't want Molly to know how much worse of one she’d be in when they wore out their welcome with the Gallaghers and she had to try to make her home with Terry. When it’s time to let Molly go, Mandy hugs her and, on a whim, leaves her with the number for that pay-as-you-go phone Mandy doesn’t bother to buy minutes for that often.

She doesn’t poke holes in any condoms, and once every couple of weeks, Molly calls her and they talk about the last episode of Grey’s Anatomy and the boys in Molly’s class, and what she’s supposed to do next year, when she has to start changing in a locker room for gym.

Mandy isn’t sorry about the thing with Karen, it went further than she meant it to, but shit happens and the bitch had it coming, and she’s just not okay? She was already having trouble sleeping, the circles under her eyes are total coincidence, and she’d have to be making good use of the concealer these days anyway, now that Terry’s home. So what if she can still hear the screeching of tires on asphalt in her dreams

Lip gets into college, which is great and shitty all at once, because he’s going, and she always knew he would go, had selfishly wanted to be a part of helping him do it, so that she could hold on to the good thing she did once, but she’d thought she’d cured herself of hoping he’d take her with him. It’s not until he actually goes that she realizes a few of those hopes must have hung on, or they wouldn’t feel like they’re burning their way out of her chest now.

Mickey knocks up some bitch, which is a surprise to exactly no one, except, apparently, Ian, because, it turns out, Ian has known more about Mickey than he’s let on for quite a while now.

Mickey’s bullshit sends Ian running, which she hates because she’s down a best friend, and she has been growing used to having one of those, but she hates even more because Mickey has the chance to keep his Gallagher boy, all he has to do is reach out and take it, ask Ian to stay, and he won’t. She’d hold it against him longer, even seeing how miserable he is about it, but she’s his blood, and she knows how easy screwing up good things comes to them, and her silent treatment at him only lasts about a week.

The week ends when he comes home wasted in the early hours of Thursday morning when Mandy’s perched on the front step for a smoke, and instead of shoving past her, like he’d usually do, he sits down beside her and looks out down the street.

“I am, you know,” he tells her, voice quiet and unsteady in the gray light.

“You’re what?” she asks. She has a feeling she knows, but if she’s right, part of this moment is probably meant to be about him saying it out loud, and if she’s wrong, well, he’s still Mickey, and he’ll probably give her an Indian Burn on her wrist that’ll smart the rest of the day. Mickey’s not a violent guy, really, not like Terry, he only hits people when he’s fighting, or to make a point. He doesn’t hurt people for fun (the fun is only ever a side-benefit) and he doesn't hurt Mandy, not really, not seriously. He’s still her big brother, though—he’s got to tease. It’s, like, the law. Doesn't mean she needs to go around asking for it, though.

He sighs, shoves a hand through his hair and says, quiet and fast, like somebody else might be listening, “I’m kind of a fag, alright? Sometimes, you know?”

She nudges him with her elbow, “Can’t blame you for your taste, you know I made a pass at Ian first, right?”

“Yeah and how’d that work out for you?” he asks her, tone challenging. He’s defensive, he’s not expecting a real answer, but it’s early, too early for Mandy to play games, so she gives him one anyway.

“It worked out real well,” she says, taking a puff in on the cigarette and then letting it out in a long, thin stream. “I got a friend out of it, first one I had in a while.

“Have you heard from him?” Mickey asks, and his voice sounds kind of small.

“Yeah,” she tells him, “But I can’t tell you anything. He doesn’t want me to.” It’s a little harsh, but it’s true, and Mickey of all people understands how much that means from Mandy. He nods and leans in so that, just for a second, their arms press against each other. Then he stands up and heads inside.

Mandy drops out after Lip goes, and she does it for a lot of reasons. She can make a lot better money when she’s not always having to schedule around school hours, for one thing. For another, she can, now, without being a truant. The lack of Gallagher boys wandering the same halls and making life bearable is really only third on the list, and the gaping silence after she told her guidance counselor not to pretend she has any chances besides jail, getting knocked up young or both meant he basically agreed, so no one’s even pretending anymore that school’s anything but marking time till she ages out for a girl like Mandy.

Really, though, that’s not a terrible reason in itself. When even the people who are paid to pretend you can make something of yourself if you just try hard enough don’t even pretend any more that you stand a chance, it’s probably best to just move on, Mandy thinks.

She doesn’t think about school much once she leaves, either, doesn’t see any reason to, but when one of her regulars starts flirting, she can’t help but think about the GSA girl and what she’d been going to try to do all those months ago.

Well, a lot of her regulars flirt, actually, and Mandy never does much to discourage it—it doesn’t hurt her tips—but the not discouraging it feels more significant when it’s Tanya. Tanya works at the biker bar across the street, and she says she likes Mandy’s style. She drinks her coffee black and she smokes in the parking lot after she orders but before her food arrives, and when Mandy’s cover-up slips one day to show the fading, greeny-purple across one cheekbone, she doesn’t fly into a rage, not the way Ian will a month later, furious and brandishing a knife in Mandy’s defense, but her expression is cold as ice when she offers to teach Mandy to throw a punch.

Mandy’s not expecting that, which is why she’s more honest than she means to be, chokes out a laugh and says, “Throwing a punch isn’t exactly the problem,” and Tanya nods like she was expecting it.

So Tanya flirts but doesn’t make a move and Mandy has a guy who could take Lip down in a fight, but who mostly only fights her instead, and life goes on. Svetlana gives birth and her coworkers move into Mandy’s living room and someone in Molly’s class sees something they shouldn’t and she starts getting picked on at school. Yevgeny is the tiniest person Mandy has ever seen, and she can understand why Mickey wouldn’t want to go near anything so fragile, but she also hates him for the distance he’s keeping. Mandy’s best friend comes back, but something is wrong about him and she doesn’t know what to do. Svetlana starts blatantly checking out Mandy’s tits when she’s coming out of the shower and it makes her uncomfortable. Terry gets sent back to jail.

Lip and his entire car full of rich college friends in gowns and suits come piling in to Mandy’s job, the place where she works, like they’ve never even heard of any problems in the world, and Mandy can’t do anything about it. She can’t do anything about any of it.

She puts on her game-face, though, and she recites the specials because they’re so ground into her brain by now, near the end of her shift, that she could probably say them in her sleep, probably will tonight, even. She says her part and she keeps her head down, and when Lip tries for any more, she shuts him down, because he got what he needed from her, he got out, but he left without her and now he’s not getting any more of her. She thought she’d give him everything she had, once, but there’s got to be a limit, and this is hers. She’s drawing her line in the sand, this much and no further. Eventually, he takes the hint and backs off.

Mandy watches his back as he walks away and tries to remember to breathe, tries to remember that this is what she wanted, once, sort of. Then she walks towards Tanya’s booth near the back.

“Hey, can I bum a cigarette? I’m about to take my ten,” Mandy’s still in control enough to let herself insinuate there, a bit, put enough invitation in her tone that she’s not surprised when she gets company out behind the store before she’s had time to take more than three drags. Mandy smiles wide enough to let smoke drift between her lips and tells Tanya, “Hey, I was wondering if I’d see you here,” and this is easy, easy, Mandy doesn't know why she thought this would be so hard.