Chapter Eight

Fiona sat on the sofa, staring through the archway at Ian. Ian, who was still playing with his food. He hadn't eaten more than three bites. She could tell he was nervous about something. Lately, everybody was off-kilter, but since yesterday, Ian was more of a ghost around the house. Sighing, Fiona sat down her cup of yogurt and dusted off her pajama pants, standing. Hands on her hips, she scrunched her face and said, "You okay?"

It was only her and Ian in the house. Jimmy was at work. The kids were at school. She knew he heard her in all this quiet.

Ian sat down his fork and leaned back in the kitchen chair. Staring straight ahead and crossing his bare arms, he chewed his lip. "I'm fine," he eventually said.

Watching him for a minute before responding, Fiona relaxed her arms and softened her face. She stepped into the kitchen, bare feet padding on the linoleum. Walked over and placed her hand on Ian's shoulder. He looked up at her, still working on chewing through his lips. "Go put a shirt on," Fiona said, "and get some air or something. You're making me nervous."

Shaking his head and exhaling slowly, loud, Ian lifted his hands and rubbed over his scalp a few times, collecting himself. He propped his elbows on the table, cupping his mouth. "I just don't know what I'm supposed to do," he said.

"What do you mean?" Fiona asked, brow knitted, hand still in place. Confused. Her brother was hard to read sometimes.

"Now!" Ian sighed, exasperated. "What and I supposed to do with this god damned diagnosis hovering over me? I can't work with this!"

Fiona rolled her eyes, patting his shoulder. "Quit blubbering. I bet Linda will have you back-"

Ian shook her off, puss faced. He stood up fast. "I'm not going back to shit end jobs, Fee," he said, serious, facing her now. He reminded Fiona so much of their mother before she was crazy. "I won't do it," he said, firmly. "I know what I want out of life, and that's not it. This," he sighed, "is not it."

"What do you mean by this?" Fiona snapped, assuming. She crossed her arms, glaring at him, brows together and mouth tight. "What's wrong with this?"

A look of realization washed over him. He stared, mouth open to find words, eyes big and searching. Finally he apologized. "I just worked so hard to get away from poverty, Fiona," he said quietly. "Not that you live in it anymore," he went on, calming her features some with his new direction. "I honestly don't know why you and Jimmy stay here."

Fiona licked her teeth and sat down in Ian's forgotten chair. She looked up at him with her legs crossed, smiling nostalgically. Anger long forgotten. "Because this is where all of my memories are," she said. "You, Debbs, Carl, Liam. . .Lip," she trailed. "Good and bad, I love this place. And I don't care if people think I'm crazy." Laughing, she added, "Plus, Frank would be far too hammered to find us if we moved."

Her words brought a smile to Ian's lips. "Isn't that the point?" he chuckled.

They stared at each other for a few minutes. A ball started welling up in Fiona's throat, Ian's eyes looking through her like they were. Mouth trembling, she waved him away. A tear streaked down her cheek and she was quick to rid it.

"Fee?" Ian said, reaching out.

She grabbed his hand to shove it away, but ended up clutching his fingers. Ian stepped closer, gripping back and just waiting. Smiling through her tears, she said, "You know, someone needs to clean out Lip's apartment before the city does."

When she let his hand go, cleared her throat, and shook herself, Ian nodded and went toward the stairs. A few minutes later, he was fully dressed and out the door.

xxx

It would take more than one trip to finish cleaning out Lip's place.

Standing in the doorway, Ian looked around. It looked like Lip had only just started moving his stuff into the place. Still, there was a lot of things here. Unpacked boxes of electronics out the ass Boxed up clothes and other stuff. And Lip had unpacked a few bookshelves, his dishes, and a few suitcases full of bathroom necessities and t-shirts. The unpacked clothing was draped over his brother's blue, leather sectional. Cords for the television set that hadn't been turned on yet were hanging around a tall lamp. A fish tank stood between the living room windows. Dead fish floating upside down at the top of the water. Some sinked to the bottom.

Ian stepped in and shut the door, walked into the kitchen. It looked like Lip had cooked something and never cleaned up his mess. Beer bottles were littered everywhere. So were containers of takeout Chinese food and pizza boxes.

Textbooks covered all surfaces where food and trash was not.

Ian grinned and picked up a psychology book that laid open, highlighted to the point of no return. He held it and looked down at the opened notebook with Lip's scribble all in it.

Lip would have made an excellent psychiatrist. Whose night job was hacking banking systems and aiding and abetting auto theft.

Chest growing tight and throat burning, Ian was quick to sit the items back down and pull up a stool. He sat in the stool for a few minutes, crying quietly. Finally, getting control of himself, Ian went to explore more of Lip's place. See what he would have to deal with.

The bathroom was a wreck. Wet towels, dirty clothes. He walked to the bedroom. Which was actually pretty clean. The only things inside were the bed, unmade; more unopened boxes, and Lip's bookbag and computer.

Sitting down on the edge of the bed, Ian figured he should call up a moving company and have them collect everything. Bring it back to Fiona's place. Donate the furniture to a shelter or something. Probably most everything could be donated. He'd just go through it first. And that, he knew, would take days. Because he was probably going to break down every five or so minutes. Like now. He was crying again.

xxx

"I swear to fucking God," Mickey growled, hands wadded up in the back of Iggy's shirt as he hauled him up off the bathroom floor and practically threw him onto the second bed of their hotel room. "I'm not doing this!" he bellowed at Iggy, pointing, standing in the doorway to the bathroom.

Luis was outside the room, waiting patiently on the balcony like Mickey had told him to. Probably terrified, confused, and hugging that dumb dog, Radar.

"Get the fuck up!" Mickey hissed. He lowered his voice and stomped over. Iggy was all but comatose. Remnants of black tar heroin still strapped down to his arm. No response as he laid their, groaning. Mickey practically roared, gripped at his own hair and baring his teeth. Why was everything always shit in his life? When would something give? He kicked the bed, shaking Iggy. Who simply fell off and continued laying in the floor as if nothing had happened. Squatting down, Mickey exhaled loudly and scowled. He stared at his only brother. "What happened?" he breathed, talking to Iggy but not actually expecting a response now. "I thought you were getting better?" Mickey punched the floor. "Why are you such a fuck up?" he bellowed. "With the kid in the room? Really?" he continued to rant.

And, shaking his head, Mickey stood up. "Forget it," he breathed. "I'm done." And so he left the room, grabbed his and Luis's bags on the way, and met the kid outside.

He shut the door, actually, slammed it. getting control of himself, Mickey breathed in the cold, aware of Luis's eyes on him now. Once calmer, Mickey looked down and met his nephew's gaze. And he'd been right to assume the boy was scared. Red rimmed eyes and a snotty nose. A pang shot through Mickey's chest. A vision of his own childhood staring his right in the face. No way was he letting history repeat itself.

"It's fine," Mickey said as gently as his voice would allow. And his currently boiling temper. "Wipe your face off and don't think about it," he told the boy. "We're leaving. And I promise," he said, grabbing Luis's hand and looking the boy dead in the face, "you won't ever have to see that again."

xxx

Ian was taking forever. He'd been gone for the entire school day. Fiona figured maybe her brother was getting drunk in Lip's place. Probably he was. Or maybe he was simply sitting in the apartment, actually going through Lip's things and his own emotions. Either way, she was leaving Ian to it until dinner. Then she'd send Debbie or Carl after him.

Drying out the dishes, Fiona listened to the football game Jimmy was watching. Carl was in there with him, playing on his phone. Debbie was upstairs, helping Liam with his homework. The house was calm and welcoming for once since Christmas. But the throbbing pain in Fiona's chest wouldn't let up. She breathed out, hoping to alleviate it. Which didn't work.

And then a harsh knock on the kitchen door startled her. The knock got Jimmy's attention to, but he merely looked at her while she went to answer it.

"Oh, please," she called over her shoulder, annoyed with Jimmy, "let me handle it, brave man." She rolled her eyes as he turned the doorknob. And gasped, eyes bugged. "Mickey?" she slurred. Her eyes trailed over the grown man before her. Getting scruffier than he'd been at the courthouse. Then again, Fiona hadn't been paying hardly any attention to Mickey early yesterday morning. Honestly, he looked a lot cleaner than she remembered see him, growing up.

"You gonna let us in?" Mickey greeted gruffly. "It's god damned cold out here."

Fiona's eyes trailed over Mickey, shocked, and down at the boy by his knees. She cupped her mouth, on hand still gripped the doorknob too tight. From the living room, Jimmy called out, asking who it was. She drowned that out. All she could focus on was the boy in front of her. Deep brown hair and freckles. Curls wild and crazy. He needed a haircut so bad. But he looked well taken care of, surprisingly enough. Bathed and everything. His brown eyes stared back at her. Luis, was his name. Luis had his stuffed toy hugged against him, covering up his chin, nose buried in the fur. She snapped out of her daze and stepped aside.

Mickey walked in, shaking rain drops off of his scarf. He loosened the material and let go of Luis's hand. "Meet your aunt," Mickey said to Luis, not looking at the boy, but instead fighting with his scarf. Fiona could tell he felt very uncomfortable.

All of her anger toward him melted. She didn't know why she'd been mad at Mickey Milkovich in the first place, now that he was in her kitchen. He hadn't been at fault for Lip's death. Or for the courts trying to award him custody. Fucking hell, he probably didn't want custody, now that she was actually looking at him and considering his thoughts. He'd lost family too. She hugged herself and stared at Luis. "Hi," she greeted, crooning. "I'm Fiona."