It felt like ages since Mandy had a moment alone with Ian.
They still saw each other at Sunday dinners, but it had been a long time since they had hung out, just the two of them. When he invited her to lunch on a day she could actually go, she jumped on it.
Mandy arrived early at the restaurant, a swanky place full of young executive types she had never in a million years thought she would blend in with. She did though. She was exactly the type of person this place was designed for and that was weird as fuck.
Ian walked in and after a brief moment looking around caught her eye and started weaving through the tables towards her. He looked amazing, dressed in a light blue tee, azure blue cardigan and navy trousers. Eyes turned to look at him and damn it, why did he have to be gay and in love with her brother?
He walked right up to her, kissed her cheek and then took his seat.
They chit chatted about banal things until they ordered, the air between them pleasant and open. It was nice to be able to hang out with him again.
Once their drinks were delivered he asked, “You seeing anyone?”
She was, sort of. Trent, the guy she had been making eyes at for months at the hotel Starbucks had finally talked to her. “I’m not sure yet. That guy from the Starbucks I told you about, he asked me out finally.”
Ian smiled and teased, “I thought you said he was gay.”
“I guess my gaydar is defective.” She joked. There was some truth to it though. She had not known Ian was gay until he told her. She had not known Mickey was gay until his wedding when Ian drunkenly let it slip.
Ian leaned forward, green eyes twinkling. “So where are you going?”
“Just dinner. I have to go to work after.” She had deliberately set it up that way. She wanted a hard stop so she wouldn’t end up taking him home and banging him.
“Smart.” Ian said, as his lemon garlic prawns over field greens was set before him.
Mandy took a bite of her burger. She had made some very bad choices in the past. She didn’t want to repeat them. Since she wasn’t very good at setting boundaries with men, she set up literal limitations to prevent herself from doing something stupid. “Just trying not to fall back into old habits, you know?”
“That’s great, Mandy.” Ian reached across the table and squeezed her arm. He knew what she was thinking and there was comfort in that. She also knew what he was going through.
“Are you okay?” She asked, wondering how miserable her idiot brother was making her best friend. Ian and Mickey lived together in Ian’s huge Upper East Side brownstone, but it was tense.
Ian leaned back in his chair, looking tired. “Yeah, I guess so.”
“How’s Mickey?” She asked, knowing the answer wouldn’t be good.
Mickey had spent five and a half years of a 15 year sentence in prison for attempted murder. Terry had been on the same cell block and their old man had not gotten over his rage at Mickey’s coming out. His retribution had been brutal, sending Mickey to the ICU four separate times.
As a result, Mickey spent a lot of his incarceration recovering in the medical wing of the prison. The one lucky thing that happened to him there was his doctors took a shine to him. While in their care he earned his GED and eventually a bachelor’s degree in accounting. A lawyer Ian had hired appealed Mickey’s conviction and won. He was exonerated, his record was expunged and Mickey had taken the first bus to New York City where he got a job as a forensic accountant. That was a little less than a year ago.
To the outside observer, Mickey’s story seemed to have a fairy tail ending, but to those living through it with him it was anything but.
“Okay I guess. He barely speaks to me and only when Frannie’s around.” Ian sighed and pushed a beautifully cooked prawn across his plate with his fork. Frannie was Ian’s niece. She had been put in his custody a while back after the little girl was taken away from her mother by DCFS. The little girl liked Ian, but she adored Mickey.
Mickey had been staying at Ian’s house when the little girl moved in. Mandy had moved him there on the pretense of need when he had been recovering from a series of orthopedic surgeries. She had hoped to get them back together since she was convinced they still loved each other, but that had been an epic fail. The only reason Mickey was still there was because he felt obligated to stay for Frannie’s sake.
Mandy ate a French fry. “That’s more than I get. I only see him on Sundays. He doesn’t even answer my texts lately.”
Ian grimaced. “I hope he’s not ignoring Yev too.”
“Nah. He FaceTimes that kid every night before bed.” She knew because she had asked Svetlana. That woman had worked hard to make sure her son had a father and after his release Mickey had stepped up. Mandy thought it was very brave of him.
“Are you hosting Sunday dinner this weekend?” Ian asked, taking a bite of prawn.
In Mandy’s opinion, rotating family dinners was one of Mickey’s shittier ideas. She didn’t want to have the family over to her apartment, but caved when Svetlana pointed out it was important Yevgeny understood most people didn’t live like he did. Mandy didn’t want her nephew to grow up thinking he was better than everyone else, living in a privileged little bubble where he could ignore the suffering of others. The kid was literally the spawn of poor white trash and a sex slave. He didn’t need to know that part of his history, but he did need to know how lucky he was...not that her current apartment was much of a lesson in privilege. Maybe they needed to take him back to the Southside sometimes, let him see how his parents grew up. “Yeah. I hope you’re in the mood for pizza and beer.”
Ian raised an ironic eyebrow. “You’re not going to learn to cook?”
“Fuck no.” Mandy did not cook. She didn’t want to learn how to cook either. Mickey had turned out to be the domestic one, not her. She ate at work for free, ate on Sundays for free and ordered in or ate out on her days off. “Iggy was thinking about it, but as of now the plan is pizza.”
“Mickey will love that.” Ian rolled his eyes, but he was smiling.
“He’ll just remind us how much better his is.” Mandy said mirroring the eye roll. Mickey had taken up cooking after he got out of prison and he was fucking good at it.
“And he won’t be wrong.” Ian replied.
Mickey’s pizza was divine. He made his own dough and the sauce was some sort of magic he concocted out of tomatoes and spices. The last time he made it he had talked about a YouTube video he had seen that made making his own mozzarella look easy enough to try.
“Are you sure you’re doing okay?” Mandy asked, done talking about food.
“It’s hard. He’s so close, but I have to leave him alone.” Ian shoved his plate away and tossed his napkin on top of it. He had eaten less than half of it. “To be honest, it’s fucking killing me.”
Living together again had started off badly, Mickey too angry at Ian’s abandonment to consider the circumstances in which it happened. Then there was a period where it seemed like they were maybe trying to get back together, but that had collapsed. Terry had made absolutely certain Mickey would be too damaged to be able to resume a relationship. Mickey, strong little fucker that he was, was refusing to stay the burned out husk his father had tried to make him. He was seeing a shrink. He was going to group therapy. He was doing the work to rebuild, but no one really knew what the end result would be.
It was so hard to watch him struggle, but at the same time it was sort of gratifying to watch Mickey defy all expectations and refuse to give up. She admired the hell out of him for trying.
As hard as it was on Mickey, it was also nearly as hard on Ian, sitting on the sidelines, helplessly watching the man he loved struggle. Worrying for him she asked, “What does Dr. Brynner say?”
“She says he’s at a crucial part of his recovery and I have to trust him to take care of himself.” Regular visits with his psychiatrist was part of how Ian maintained his bipolar disorder. He had been depressed at first when Mickey made it crystal clear he needed to be left alone and the only reason they still lived together was Frannie. It had taken a few weeks, but Ian had righted himself. Now he was trying to re-devote himself to the things that had kept him centered before Mickey had re-entered his life.
“I wonder how long it takes to get over something like that.” Mandy wondered. She and Mickey had a lot in common where the source of their issues were concerned. Terry had had Mickey gang raped in prison, but before that, Terry had raped her himself. Mandy had not gone to counseling and still wondered if she should. She could see how much it helped Ian, but she could also see how hard it was on Mickey.
Ian made a face and said, “Dr. Brynner says he’s in the depression stage and once he accepts it wasn’t his fault, then things will start getting better.”
“She give you a timeline?” She asked, hoping it would be soon.
“No, but she said he’s doing what he needs to do and it’ll take as long as it takes. I can either wait or I can’t.” Ian shrugged as if living with the person he loved most in the world, but who wanted nothing to do with him was no big deal.
“Has Frannie noticed?” Every Sunday Mandy joined the other adults in pretending everything was fine for the sake of Yevgeny and Frannie, but Frannie lived with them. She saw them every day.
“I don’t think so.” Ian said, “but we did have to talk about why I’m not home all the time anymore. Had to explain what a job is, you know.”
Mandy studied him for a while before deciding he honestly believed what hw was saying. “That’s good at least. So, how is it getting back to your normal life?”
Ian shrugged. “Is it normal?”
No. It was anything but normal, but it was what he had chosen. He wanted to ride things out with Mickey this time, to prove he had the staying power to be worth another try. Mandy thought he wasn’t just proving it to Mickey. He was proving it to himself too.
Bipolar had made Ian highly unreliable, but once he started taking his disorder seriously he became a lot more stable. Stable enough to build Claymore Studios with a guy he met at junior college. It was one of the fastest growing game companies in the US making Ian a very wealthy man at the tender age of 23.
It had been a while since Claymore had had his full, undivided attention. While his partner Garry developed the revolutionary code behind the games Claymore produced, Ian was the visionary story teller, the face and the mouth piece for their company. Claymore was where he was foundational, important, needed. Being back at work was good for him. “You know what I mean.”
“Yeah, I know.” Ian nodded. “I didn’t realize how much I dropped to be home with him. In a way it’s good, you know? It reminded me how much Claymore needs me. Svet did a great job, but it’s different when I’m there.”
Mandy could imagine. Svetlana was COO at Claymore and Ian’s right hand woman, but their leadership styles could not be more different. “She’s a task master, not a visionary.”
Ian nodded. “It’s why we make a good team.”
“I bet your friends are happy to see you again too.”
“It’s different with Frannie, but yeah. Every other weekend I have to find something to do with myself.” Ian agreed as the waiter came back and took their plates. He and Mickey had agreed to split the weekends with Frannie. One of them stayed with her and the other made himself scarce. It was not a fun living situation.
Ian changed the subject. “So how’s Iggy doing?”
“He’s been formally diagnosed with dyslexia so the school hooked him up with a tutor and an occupational therapist. I didn’t think he would stick it out, but so far so good. He’s thinking about setting a date for his GED exam.” Iggy had joined them in New York at Christmas and had taken full advantage of the opportunity. He had a job as a mechanic and had gone back to school. He was making a new life for himself and she could not be prouder of him.
“Your new job’s working out?” Ian asked.
Since her college graduation in December she had been promoted to a full fledged Events Manager. She had received a huge raise and was working more now than she had been back when she had trying to juggle a full time job with full time school. It was insane, but she was loving it.
She had more autonomy now to run parties, events and weddings in her own way. “Yeah. It’s going great. Our Valentine’s Day party was banging. I increased profits by 11 percent over last year.”
“That’s awesome!” Ian smiled at her, that big toothy grin he reserved for moments when he was really proud of someone. Then the smile turned into a smirk. “Any desire to host another party for me?”
“Duh, of course.” She loved Ian’s parties. There was no budget. He never really gave her parameters or even ideas. He would just tell her what it was for and when he wanted it. The rest he left to her. “When and what’s the occasion?”
“My birthday. Day of, I guess.”
Ian’s Christmas gift to Mickey had been a trip to the Caribbean over Memorial Day weekend which also happened to be Ian’s birthday. It made her sad he had given up on it, but it also made sense. In an effort to gloss over the emotion she tried to stay all business. “Party at your house?”
“Yeah. If the weather holds up we can do the first ever pool party.”
“Sure.” That was a great idea. The pool was heated so even if the weather wasn’t the best, the pool could still play a role. She didn’t want to go the obvious mermaid route, but she’d come up with something. “Friends and family?”
“Yeah. Same for Frannie’s birthday, but her friends not mine. No pool though. I’m not taking on that liability.”
“Sure.” Mandy had never done a kids party, but why not? She would quiz Frannie at the next family dinner to find out what she liked. No problem. There was another spring event Ian had had her plan last year. “Are you still going to do Spring Break at Claymore?”
“Yeah, but HR is putting it together this year.”
“Oh, okay.” Mandy could not hide the fact she was disappointed to hear it. That had been a huge party in Central Park which brought all of Claymore together for team building. They brought their families, played games and ate and drank way too much. It had been a blast.
“I’d also like to do Mickey’s birthday, if he’ll let me, and Halloween, the Holiday party and New Years, too.” Ian started rattling off all the events he had on his calendar that would need party planning. “We’re shooting for San Diego ComiCon to announce a new game. I want to do a party for it here in New York.”
“When is it?” She asked. Ian had gone every year since Claymore’s founding. She had helped him put together his booth that first year, but after that he had an in-house marketing department running the conferences. Mandy liked going to the cons but she had not enjoyed working them. There were too many other people telling her what she could and couldn’t do.
“July 18th through the 21st. I’d like to throw the party on the 27th after the con.” Ian said. “Maybe at a restaurant or something fancy.”
“Sure.” Mandy added the date to her list on her phone.
“That’s all I’ve got for now.” Ian told her, accepting the check the waiter brought them and putting his credit card in the holder.
As he handed it back to the waiter, Mandy surveyed the list he had given her and realized she was going to be a very busy girl between her regular job and all of Ian’s events. Her mind was churning with ideas, except for one event. “That’s plenty. What do you want to do for Frannie’s? Like, it’s a kid party, but how elaborate do you want it?”
Ian shrugged. “The tuition at her daycare is just under six grand a month so I guess something those sort of people would expect.”
“Are you fucking serious? That’s 72 thousand a year!” It was a little less than Mandy made in a year. It was an insane amount of money to spend on school for a toddler.
“It’s nuts, right?” Ian asked, with an ironic smile on his face. It was like he couldn’t believe it either, but he was the idiot paying for it.
“Rich people.” Mandy rolled her eyes at him.