The fire attracted a lot of homeless Chicago citizens. Temperatures had been dangerously low this December. So on Christmas morning, when the Milkovich house burned to the ground, every wino within a five block radius was crowded around the flames, hands out, gloves off, smiling, grateful for the warmth. Nevermind the screams coming from inside. Later, never mind the police and firemen pulling along the road. Never mind Fiona Gallagher, walking by, trying to reach her brother on his phone.
She stopped dead center the sidewalk, barely missing the men in uniform rushing by her. Her big eyes moved upward, following the billowing smoke and licks of gold aimed at the clouds. Fiona screamed too. Dropped her phone and wailed. Fell to her ass and rolled onto her side, crying. By her face, the phone kicked in on Lip's answering machine for the fifth time that morning.
"You've got Lip. I'm not answering right now, so you know what to do."
"Fiona?" Debbie's voice carried under the blankets, passed through Fiona's ears. She heard and didn't respond. Curled up against Lip's once upon a time stuffed tiger, Fiona sobbed silently, tears both fresh and dried caked to her face. "Fee, Ian's here," Debbie said gently.
Ian swallowed down half of his coffee. Jimmy sat across from him at the dinette, holding his own mug, steam warming his face. Sucking bottom lip clean, Ian breathed out slowly and looked up at the top of the staircase. Debbie held to the rail and descended, deep lines on her young face. When she got to the bottom, Debbie hugged herself tightly and met Ian's gaze.
"She won't answer me, still," Debbie whispered.
"It's all right, Debs," Ian said, giving his sister a reassuring, soft lipped smile.
Debbie stood about five feet, seven inches tall. Her burgundy hair was a mass of unruly curls being held down with an elastic headband. She was wearing a shirt that Ian knew to be Lip's. Beneath it, she was unmistakably her mother's daughter. Sixteen and looked like she was at least twenty one.
Jimmy cleared his throat and stood from his chair, offering it up to Debbie as he walked over to the kitchen sink and rinsed his mug out, sat it aside. He turn and leaned against the counter. "She has to get up. The funeral's in the morning," Jimmy said. He sounded and looked tired. Tired of walking on eggshells. Just plain tired. "You should try," he said, nodding to Ian. "Maybe she'll respond to you."
Ian took another drink of his coffee and stared blankly at Debbie, now sitting across from him. The coffee had very little taste. Probably because of Ian's inner shutdown. First the nightmares, then the army's discharge, now his brother's been burned to death. All Ian wanted to do was break down and cry. Instead, he sucked in a gulp of air and stood up. His chair scratched at the floor and his coat fell from the back of it and onto the unswept floor. He squeezed Debbie's shoulder as he walked by her to hike the stairs. Stairs which seemed to take an eternity to climb.
Once at the top, Ian stilled, hand rested on the wall as he stared at his and Lip's old bedroom. The door was the only one closed. He knew his sister was in there, curled up on the top bunk. Debbie told Jimmy, who passed it on that Fiona had been in there since they'd returned home from the coroner's office. First she'd gone to the basement and rummaged through boxed up toys until she found one of Lip's old stuffed animals that hadn't been washed since the guy's sixth birthday. Standing there, thinking of what his sister must look like, thinking of the memories that were about to attack him when he opened that bedroom door, Ian almost chickened out. Almost ran down the stairs to his car and then straight to the airport so that he could hop a flight back to Jacksonville, North Carolina, and pretend none of this was happening. But Jacksonville was behind him now, just as was the child he wished he could be again.
Reaching for the doorknob, Ian winced at his churning guts. He peeked in through the crack. Emotions hit him like a ton of bricks. Like he'd known they would.
"Fiona," Ian said, and even he heard the hollowness of his voice, "you have to get up." When he received no response, Ian stepped in fully and walked over to the bunk bed. He folded his forearms on the rails and poked his sister's backside. "Stop doing this," he said softly. "Liam thinks you're going to turn into mom. You're scaring him."
She moved. More of a response than Debbie, Carl, and Jimmy had gotten out of her yet. Maybe none of them knew how to tear at Fiona were it really hurt. And although it was mean, Ian knew exactly how to do that, how to tear into a person's deepest emotions, how to elicit a reaction. So he did. Because Fiona needed to snap out of this depression before she really did go the way of Monica.
Still, all she'd done was shift. So Ian pursed his lips and gripped the bunk rails. He paused before he did what he knew was going to earn him a slap, then shook the rails, yelling, "Get up, Fiona! Get up!"
Still nothing, so he shook harder, his voice cracking, his eyes tearing up. Louder, he screamed, "Lip's gone and this isn't helping! Please get up! I need you!"
Finally she did something besides laying there in silence. She curled further into herself and cried loudly. Ian took a jump, landing on the top bunk, and hugged his sister's waist above the covers. Held tightly and joined her crying.
From the door, Debbie and Jimmy stood, watching, concerned and shocked.
Cities away, Mickey Milkovich once again got on the Greyhound bus. This time he was free of bags and suitcases, save for a single backpack which held a change of clothes, his wallet, phone, and a toothbrush. The bus would take until almost morning to get back into Chicago. Leaving him just enough time to meet his sole surviving sibling at the funeral.
He looked around the bus full of people, some of which were staring back at him. Him in his untucked suit, hugging his backpack. Him with a deep ache in his chest and swollen, red eyes.
Today, Mickey regretted a lot of his past decisions.
Yeah so, hope you guys are into this. It's depressing so far, I know. I was listening to a Kyla La Grange song called Been Better and this hit me like a sack of bricks. So I staid up literally all night yesterday thicking out an entire plot, then wrote this first chapter during my breaks at work.
Let me know how I'm doing!
I'm so making a playlist while I write this. I'm strong with the feels right now.