When Lip calls, it’s well into the evening. The Gallaghers are home and accounted for, even Frank, who has beached to shore like some unwanted whale, all of a sudden living with his children again.
“Lip.” Ian says, pressing the phone to his ear. He’s standing outside the bathroom. “One second.”
He knocks on the bathroom door, and when Debbie appears, looking stressed, Ian hands her a new bottle of shampoo he and Mickey had picked up on their way home.
“Thank God.” Debbie says.
“This will be my third rinse.” She says. “After this, I’m giving up.”
“Uncle Ian, look!” Franny calls from the bathtub. “Bubbles!” She nods along to the thumping rock coming from the house next door, and the tent city the Milkoviches had constructed on the other side of their home. “We’re having a bubble party.”
Ian blinks, then looks to Debbie. “Your daughter likes German heavy metal.”
“Right now, I only care about the super glue in her hair.” Debbie responds, and then she’s shooing Ian out of the bathroom, shutting the door behind her. Ian hears her sigh.
“Hey.” Ian says when he holds the phone back to his ear. “Sorry about that. What’s up?”
“Do I wanna know what that was about?”
“No.” Ian says. “You really don’t.”
“Okay, well, uh.” Lip clears his throat. It’s the first time Ian notices he sounds uncomfortable.
“Lip, what’s up?” Ian presses.
“Yeah,” Lip says, and he exhales softly. “Yeah, I’m actually, uh, I’m calling to ask, uh. Okay. I’m calling to ask Mickey for something.”
“Mickey?” Ian repeats dumbly.
“I can’t fucking believe I’m saying this either, man.” Lip says. “But you know how he and Tami have this sort of, like, weird understanding now?”
“Ohh.” Ian nods seriously. “Yeah. ‘Cause Tami thinks they’re friends?”
“Right. Friends.” Lip says. “Well. Uh. It’s been a kinda fucked-up day over here. For Tami, I mean. I’ve talked with her as much as I can, but I think, you know, there’s her boyfriend and then there’s like, friends, so—”
“You want Mickey to talk to her?”
“Just sorta want Mickey to let her vent.” Lip says, and there’s that uncomfortable tone again. “Tell him, tell him I’m never gonna ask him for something like this again, and it’s BYOB, and all he has to do is—”
“Okay, okay.” Ian says. He smiles at how close to desperation his brother seems. “I get it, Lip. I think Mickey kinda likes Tami, too. Shouldn’t be too hard to convince him.”
“Okay. I guess that’s a relief.”
“Yeah, well, Mickey’d probably welcome the opportunity to leave the house right about now.”
“Yeah. Terry and the rest of his family moved in next door.”
“At the McCurdy place?” Lip asks. “Fuck.”
“Mmhmm.” Ian says. “Confederate flags and all.”
“Okay, uh—” Lip starts. “Fuck. Uh. Do me a favor? Send Liam over here for the night, yeah? Bring him with Mickey.”
“Yeah, good idea.” Ian says. “I’ll get him.”
“Jesus, this is like the day that never ends.”
“Pretty sure most of our days are like that.” Ian responds, but he’s gentle. When Lip doesn’t respond right away, Ian says, “I’ll get Mick and Liam,” and this seems to reassure Lip enough to end the call.
It was too bad that Terry had decided to move in on today of all days. When Mickey and Ian had left the weed place, Mickey had almost been elated, in his own way. Both of them had been excited at the prospect of lucrative work.
On the walk back to the bus stop, Mickey had been so optimistic that when Ian slung his arm around his shoulder, Mickey had let him, had let Ian’s arm rest possessively around him.
On the bus ride back, Mickey had brought up again that they could really use this money, that they could even start saving for their own place.
Ian loves Mickey most when his husband lets himself dream. Maybe it’s because Ian himself is a dreamer, is someone who thinks in years, in decades, who thinks, this job can lead to this job and this job can lead to a home and a home can lead to—
So when Mickey, who thinks in days, in single, 24 hour increments, gets a glimmer in his eyes and starts waxing poetic about the future, Ian wholeheartedly believes in Mickey’s dreams. Better put, he wants to believe in Mickey’s dreams. He wants to help make them happen. He wants to make sure they happen.
Things change when they reach their block. Mickey shrugs Ian’s arm off, already tensing. He shoves his hands into his pockets, feels around for a weapon. Probably curses Ian for not letting him pack heat. It doesn’t matter. Ian knows Mickey doesn’t leave the house without a shiv or two. Hell, neither does Ian. Not since prison.
The scourge of Milkoviches circled around some makeshift, white trash bonfire start their whistling as soon as they spot the two. Terry’s not there, somewhere in the confines of Ms. McCurdy’s house, but it doesn’t matter. His goons know what to do.
Mickey flips them all off when the first slur leaves their lips. Ian tries to tug him along, walk a little faster, but Mickey refuses to be intimidated. He doesn’t say any of this to Ian, doesn’t say anything at all, just keeps his gaze forward and continues his pace. Hands balled into fists in his pockets.
A younger Mickey would have taken them all, Ian thinks. A younger Mickey would have pulled out his gun, started making threats.
But Ian wonders if this is true. Is it the fact that Mickey’s older, now, and not as trigger happy, not always looking for a fight, or is it that Ian’s never really seen Mickey take on a Milkovich? That maybe Mickey, at any age, knew with whom to pick his fights, and picking a fight with a pack of Milkoviches was always a losing battle.
Ian finds Mickey sitting on a kitchen chair facing the window, arms crossed at his chest. Just staring, gun resting on the table. Liam’s next to him, chair edged away from the window so he can’t be seen. He’s pretending to read The Fire Next Time, but he’s mostly watching Mickey’s face for any signs of incoming danger.
Ian drags a chair next to Mickey and takes a seat. Doesn’t say anything. The only noise comes from the blaring music on either side of them, and it’s enough noise to distract them. Ian reaches out a hand and places it on the back of Mickey’s neck, rubs circles there to try to relax him. Mickey doesn’t flinch or otherwise respond. Just lets Ian touch him. Exhales softly.
“Mick,” Ian starts.
“Not tired.” Mickey says, anticipating what he thinks Ian will say. “Gonna stay up for a bit.”
“No, Mick,” Ian shakes his head. “Listen, Lip called. He wants Liam to spend the night at his place.”
“Really?” Liam’s head shoots up, eyes wide with relief.
Ian nods. “And, uh, and he’s wondering if you could talk to Tami.”
“Me?” Liam asks.
“No.” Ian says. “Mickey.”
Mickey turns around at this. “Me?”
“Yeah.” Ian says, with a soft, bewildered smile. “Says Tami had a rough day. Needs someone to talk to. And since you guys are tight now—”
Ian shrugs. “I don’t know. But hey, just, I don’t know, drop Liam off and see what the problem is and then, who knows, maybe the whole thing’ll take five minutes. “
“And what am I supposed to say in those five fucking minutes?”
“I think she just needs someone to listen to her.”
“I’m going to go pack.” Liam says, and he bounds up the stairs without another word.
“Me?” Mickey says again. “He wants her to talk to me?”
Lip gives Liam a long hug when he and Mickey finally knock on the door to his and Tami’s place.
“You’re safe?” Lip asks, kneeling down to be more level with Liam. “No one hurt you?”
Mickey leans against the doorframe, watching. He thinks back to all the times he saw Lip and Liam back when they were kids, when Lip was a high schooler with Liam hanging around his neck. Liam toddling after Lip. Lip holding Liam, always holding Liam. And now Lip, checking his brother for signs of injury at the hands of Mickey’s family. Mickey looks down.
“Not yet.” Liam says grimly. “But it’s been a pretty shitty day.”
“Yeah.” Lip says, and he squeezes Liam’s arm. “That it has.” He stands and nods at Mickey. “Thanks for getting him here safe.”
Sorry, Mickey wants to say, the word popping into his head suddenly and forcefully. Or maybe, no one’s gonna hurt Liam while I’m around. But he continues to look down instead, shrugs indifferently.
“How you and Ian holding up?” Lip asks. “I know your folks aren’t fond of you two, either.”
“Whatever.” Mickey says, and the last thing he needs is pity from Lip, so he crosses his arms against his chest and looks up, finally, to meet his brother-in-law’s gaze. “Tami around?”
“Uh, yeah.” Lip says. “Yeah, she’s in the bathroom.” He picks up Liam’s backpack, and he ushers Mickey in so he can shut the door.
“What happened?” Liam asks.
“I thought we talked it out, earlier, but she’s been in the bathroom for almost two hours.” Lip continues. He leads them over to the couch, which he’s made up as a makeshift bed. He sets the backpack down. “Think she has more to get off her chest, but she’s not opening up to me, so.”
“‘Kay.” Mickey says, and heads towards the bathroom before Lip is forced to reiterate that he’s asking Mickey for a favor.
“Mickey? What are you doing here?”
“You gonna let me in or what?” Mickey says, standing outside the bathroom door. For some reason he wishes he was still in his costume/uniform thing or whatever he wants to call it. He doesn’t know why.
“Um, okay?” Tami says, and she sniffles. Mickey hears her blow her nose, sigh, and then the doorknob turns.
“Yo.” Mickey says, by way of greeting, but it’s hard not to immediately notice that Tami’s upset. Her face is splotchy and red, her shoulders slumped.
“Um, hi.” Tami says. She’s wearing an old t-shirt and sweatpants. Her hair is wet and falling in strands around her face. She wipes her eyes.
“Dropped Liam off.” Mickey says.
“Oh, that’s why you’re here?” Tami asks, then nods to herself. “Okay. Uh. Is everything okay?”
“Yeah.” Mickey says. “Well, no. Don’t worry about it.”
“Okay.” Tami says defeatedly. “Because I can’t really deal with anything right now.”
“Yeah.” Mickey says. “So Lip said.”
Tami nods, and tries to say something but makes some strange hiccup instead, or maybe it’s a sob. “Um,” she says, voice wavering, “wanna come in?”
For a few beats, Mickey is silent, and then, finally, as if the word is dragged out from him, he says, “yeah,” and steps into the bathroom. Sits awkwardly on the ground when Tami gestures for him to do so. She sits heavily on the closed lid of the toilet seat.
“So, uh, what’s new with you?” Tami asks, and she’s wiping her eyes again.
“I ain’t the one crying.”
“I know, I know,” Tami says. She blows her nose. “But just, I don’t know. Distract me.”
“Distract you.” Mickey repeats. “Uh.” He rests his elbows against his knees, leans against the wall. “Think Ian and I might be—”
“Do you ever live your whole life thinking you knew something about yourself, like, really knew who you were at a specific point in time, and then you realize that you didn’t actually know yourself at all? And what seemed like a smart decision was actually a really, really stupid decision?” Tami cuts in, eyes watery. She can’t quite meet Mickey’s eyes so she stares at a spot on the ground next to him.
Mickey stares at her, doesn’t say anything.
“I mean,” Tami clears her throat. “I mean, do you know what that’s like?”
“Uh,” Mickey says, when he realizes she’s waiting for a response. “Yeah. I was a stupid fucking kid.”
"Okay, but I thought I was a smart kid.” Tami says. “I thought I was the most mature, unique fucking teenager.”
Mickey shrugs. “You seem like the type.”
“Mickey,” Tami says, “can you spot a… a pedophile when you see one?”
“When you see someone who’s a pedophile.” Tami says. “Can you tell right away? I mean, do you know anyone like that?”
Mickey raises his eyebrows, gives her an incredulous look. “Uh, everyone knows pedos, Tami.”
“No!” Tami says quickly, defensively. “Not everyone! I didn’t!”
“Sounds like you did.”
Tami looks down. “I didn’t know.” And she looks so helpless that Mickey starts to realize what has happened. He’s surprised at how frozen he becomes, at how his hands start to ball into fists. He shoves them into the pockets of his sweatpants. He’s not expecting to be this angry, but he thinks not only of Tami, but also of Ian as a kid, and of his sister, Mandy. These memories have dimmed over time but they don’t hurt any less, especially what happened to Mandy, the way she—
“Someone fuckin’ hurt you?” He says, voice low.
Tami wipes her eyes. Shrugs. Then nods. “I didn’t know.” She says. “I thought it’s what I wanted. I was a kid. I mean—”
“Who was it?”
Tami shakes her head. “No one you know, Mickey. No—”
“I know I don’t fucking know him.” Mickey says. “Who is he. His name. Where he lives.”
“Mickey.” Tami says. She shakes her head. “I don’t want that.”
“Was it your dad?” Mickey asks.
“Mickey, oh my God.” Tami says. “No. No! My dad? How could you say that?”
Mickey just shakes his head.
“He was my teacher.” Tami admits. “I thought—it doesn’t matter. He shouldn’t have targeted me.”
“What are you gonna do about it?” Mickey asks.
“What do you mean?”
“How you gonna get him back?”
Tami looks dumbfounded. She shakes her head. “I’m not. I’m not, Mick. I just…I just want to be done with the whole thing.” She gives him a curious look. “Don’t get involved, okay? I’m getting a weird feeling you want to get involved.”
Mickey bristles. “What do I care?” he tries, but it’s clear he does care, they both know this, so the question falls flat, and the two don’t say anything.
“You know I could get ‘im, though.” Mickey says for good measure. “If you told me where to find him. I would get ‘im.”
“I don’t doubt you.” Tami says, and she laughs. “But that’s not what I want.” She runs a hand through her wet hair. Shrugs. “Hey,” she says, sniffles. “But that’s weirdly nice to hear. I appreciate it.”
“I can’t tell if Lip forced you to do this or not.” Tami says. “But either way – thanks.”
“Yeah.” Mickey says. He stands, runs a hand along the back of his neck. “Look.” He says. “It’s like you said. If we’re, like, fuckin’…friends now or whatever, and you gotta problem, you can, I mean, you can come to me. I ain’t good at this, the talking thing, but you gotta problem and need someone to take care of it, I can do that. So, just. Just know that.”
“Mickey.” Tami says. “You act like you’ve never had a friend before.”
“I’ve had fucking friends before.” Mickey shoots back.
“Okay.” Tami says, holding up her hands in surrender, but she’s smiling. “Thank you.” She says again. “This was nice.”
“Was there anything you wanted to vent about?” Tami asks. “Anything piss you off today?”
Mickey scoffs, stares down at his shoes. “Nah.” He says. “Nah, nothing really happened today.”