“Hey,” Mickey announced as he ambled down the stairs. He could see the light from the living room peering into the stairwell, as well as hear two distinct voices—one husky, the other light and bubbly—giggling at one another. He proceeded down the steps, finally able to see the living room in all of its dingy glory. His eyes floated around the scene momentarily before his gaze planted itself on the slicked back red hair peeking up above the couch.
Mickey smiled, and his mind quickly constructed a fragmented rendition of what he thought he was about to see. Ian looked up at him over the couch and gave him a small wave before ducking back down. Mickey only smiled more, feeling a warm flush blot the nape of his neck. He edged closer, rounding the couch to see Ian and Franny sitting across from one another, a stained and slouchy pink lunch box filled with miscellaneous beauty products situated between them. Franny was digging her hand through the contents, apparently on a mission for something specific.
“Whatcha guys up to?” Mickey asked as he situated himself on the couch between the two of them. He leaned over, pressing his forearms onto his knees, watching intently as Franny kept turning over the contents, a small, cheap-looking compact of eyeshadow flying out of the lunch box and onto the floor.
“Well, Franny wants to paint my nails, but Uncle Ian paid twenty dollars for a manicure yesterday so I’m trying to maybe get my hair done instead,” Ian responded, his tone hopeful. Apparently, Ian’s diplomatic approach was failing because Franny looked up at him with a degree of disgust on her face, as if he had said something indecent in the presence of royalty.
“Your nails are naked, and it’s gross,” Franny contested, flashing her free hand in Ian’s face to showcase her pink glitter nail polish. “See? Mine are pretty. Yours aren’t.”
“But look,” Ian tried again as Franny returned her attention to the lunch box, ruffling his hair into a mess of tangles, some strands dangling over his forehead. Mickey chuckled, half adoring Ian, half amused by how Ian thought he could reason with a dogged three-year-old with a penchant for glitter polish. “My hair is such a mess, Franny. Do you remember where mommy put the hairbrush?”
Without moving her head, Franny’s eyes rolled up to her brows, and she stared at Ian with the coldest, deadest look her peachy face could muster. Ian sighed, figuring the demon child glare was an indication that his freshly-manicured nails were getting painted unless he could find another victim within the next twenty seconds.
That was when Ian’s posture straightened and his brows lifted up.
“Franny,” he began. “Uncle Mickey’s had naked nails for years, and you already painted mine a couple of weeks ago. You should paint his!”
Mickey snapped his head towards Ian, eyebrows lifted nearly up to his hairline as he processed the betrayal.
Franny gasped as she turned to look at Mickey, clapping both of her little hands over her mouth in horror. Her sight darted between her uncle’s face and his nudist nails, alarmed that she had let such an oversight slip by. She had made it her mission to ensure that every family member would get their nails painted at least once a month. She realized that Uncle Mickey had been home for a while now, and the more she thought about it, the more horrified she was.
“Uncle Mickey!” she shrieked. “Paint!”
She threw her hands back onto the lunch box and tipped it over, scattering the mess of makeup compacts, old makeup brushes, and half-empty tubes of lip gloss across the carpet. She crawled over frantically, parsing through the confusing mixture until she finally spotted two bottles of nail polish: one a bright, almost electric green, and the other a dark shade of purple.
She grabbed them and waddled on her knees back over to the original spot she had been sitting in, looking up at her uncle with pleading eyes once she was situated.
“Uncle Mickey,” she entreated, bouncing her arm and the bottle of polish in it towards the direction of where Ian was sitting.
Mickey sighed but capitulated, sliding off the flat cushion and onto the floor. Ian had moved over to make room for him, smiling a little smugly as Mickey settled onto the carpet. He tried to suppress it when he felt Mickey’s gaze sinking into his profile, but his attempt at neutrality only made his face and neck flush with an impossibly red glow. He started snickering like a goddamn hyena when he felt Mickey shove his arm.
“Put that dumb face away!” Mickey said as sternly as possible.
Ian entered a stupor of giggles and laughter at Mickey’s self-censoring, just barely stopping himself from toppling onto the floor—the situation was far too precious for him to handle. Mickey rolled his eyes with a slight grin as Ian, whose body was vibrating uncontrollably from hysterics, began trying to round up the scattered makeup so he could put back into the lunch box.
Mickey turned his attention back to Franny, who was looking up at him with an expression of determination and resolve. She had, rather ceremoniously, laid out the bottles of nail polish before him and was awaiting a decision.
“Hmm,” Mickey began, eyebrows raising up as he judged his choices, eventually settling on the purple as he thought it would be less noticeable. He picked up the bottle and pointed it at Franny. “I’m feelin’ this one.”
At first, Franny didn’t move, but then she squinted at him, analyzing his features momentarily but very critically, and shook her head. She leaned over and picked up the bright green polish, pointing the handle end at Mickey’s face.
“You’re blue,” she stated, motioning the bottle a little so it was pointing more at Mickey’s eyes. “Green looks better.”
“What?!” Mickey tried to challenge, undertones of desperation in his voice. “Come on! I think purple looks good with blue!”
“No, purple looks stupid,” she retorted. She brought the polish closer to her body and wrapped one hand around the glass and the other around the handle, her eyes squeezing shut and her mouth tensing up as she tried to twist the two components apart. The bottle remained firmly shut, though, and she eventually surrendered, passing it to Mickey.
“Can you open it, Uncle Mickey?”
Mickey sighed again, submitting to Franny’s inarguable artistic vision, and took the bottle from her, twisting it open with ease before handing it back. Fuck it, he thought, at least he was going to have the coolest looking nails wherever he went.
Ian finished scooping up and dumping the makeup back into the lunchbox and had turned to look at Mickey and Franny, eager to watch the scene unfold. Mickey laid his hands down on the floor in front of Franny, shooting Ian a piercing look when he heard Ian begin to chuckle again. It only made Ian giggle more, though, because while Mickey’s eyes damn near spelled murder, his lips were turned into a guileless grin and his cheeks were stippled with a faint blush. Mickey bashfully returned his gaze onto his hands, and Franny put down the first swipe of green onto his nail.
Franny was focused, intent on giving her uncle the best manicure she had given yet. Even when her coordination wavered—a slice of green coating Mickey’s skin or polish flooding his cuticles—she continued undeterred, moving easily from one nail to the next. Mickey and Ian were silent, watching her work with some awe. Before long, she had finished and was admiring her creation, her expression triumphant and satisfied. She looked up expectantly at Mickey, a pleased smile on her face, waiting to hear the pour of compliments at her excellent manicuring skills.
“Wow, Franny,” Ian said slowly, sounding bewildered. “They look amazing.”
Mickey lifted his hands closer to his face to inspect them. “Wow, yeah. Look at that, that looks awesome,” he commented as he viewed his nails at various angles.
Franny’s smile hitched higher, and she nodded at their words. “Glitter looks bad with green. We’ll do that next time.”
“Yeah, okay,” Mickey said with a smile. He looked back down at his nails. “Franny, you made my nails look really great.”
“Yeah,” she remarked, as if Mickey had just said the most obvious thing in the entire world.
He looked back up at her and grinned. “Thank you for doing my nails, Franny. I would hug you, but I don’t wanna mess up such a nice paint job.”
So Franny crawled over towards Mickey and into his lap, wrapped her arms around his torso and hugged him as tightly as she could, her body molding into his. Mickey carefully enveloped her with his own arms, using caution as he folded them around her to keep from disturbing the wet polish. He looked over at Ian, who was grinning like a maniac at the two of them, then back at the top of Franny’s head. When he tilted his head and pressed his cheek onto her soft hair, Franny’s hold on him only tightened more.