“You finished tossin’ that salad yet?” Mickey asks, feeling a shitty grin creep onto his face. He slips on his jacket.
“How long have you been waiting to say that?” Ian shakes his head and chuckles lightly.
Mickey pasuses to admire the way Ian’s shoulder muscles flex as he extends his elbows outwards to, in fact, toss the salad he’s assembled for Sunday dinner.
It’s a special salad, made complete with the first crop of tomatoes Ian plucked from the giant planter Mickey painted white. It’s not like Ian is at all proud of his green thumb. He certainly didn’t walk around their apartment with the freshly picked tomatoes cradled in his arms, telling them what good little tomatoes they were and how they were destined for great things in life.
“This is ready,” Ian informs him. “Can you grab the salad dressing?”
“Nah. Our salad dressing stays at our place.”
“Okay, Mick. But Debbie’ll probably bitch about it.”
“Who gives a fuck? She’s lucky we’re doing this bullshit ritual when we could be hanging out by the pool. Better yet, we could be breaking in our new furniture.”
“We’ve been breaking it in for three months,” Ian reminds Mickey as he grabs a jacket, then adds with a smile, “Later though?”
“Damn straight, Gallagher.”
They drive over to the house on Wallace Street, and Mickey won’t admit this out loud, but the truth is, these weekly Sunday dinners probably mean as much to him as they do to Debbie.
Another thing he has in common with Debbie—they’re both wise to Lip’s stupid game of threatening to sell the house every so often but then finding some excuse not to go through with it. His latest excuse has bought its current tenants at least six more months because the dumbass got his baby mama knocked up again, and she’s got him working three jobs so they don’t have to move back in with her folks.
Seems like Tami is back in control of that relationship, and Mickey is a big fan of sitting back and watching any and all Gallagher drama unfold. A part of him has missed it—having a house full of people to wake up to and come home to, like he had growing up. Only this bunch of people greets him with a smile or a high five instead of a sneer or a punch to his gut. Generally speaking, during all of his years off and on in the Gallagher house, he’s felt like the family made room for him.
But home is wherever Ian is, and his corny ass husband insists on them having nice things and living in a place where instead of giving the cockroaches nicknames, they have a guy who sprays for bugs once a month. The sounds are different, too. And the smells. And the people. It’s taken some getting used to. So thank fuck for these family dinners, one of two good things Debbie made happen in her miserable-ass life—the other being Franny, of course.
Mickey had to have what one might call a “come to Jesus meeting” with Debbie’s ratty-ass sidepiece who was trying to get her to move to Texas. He turned on his South Side charm and talked to the bitch in a language she could understand. Maybe he tossed in several ounces of primo cannabis to help her get on her feet in Texas. And maybe she left town in the middle of the night with the promise she’d lose Debbie’s number.
Sure, Debbie was a little broken-hearted, being dumped for the thousandth time. Mickey had taken her out for drinks and eventually worked it into the conversation how her brother had shown up at his door, many years ago, face full of despair, tears still wet on his freckled cheeks, and it was all because Hurricane Monica had rolled into town.
“You’re better than your mom, Debs,” he’d told her, wanting to believe that for Franny’s sake. “Not sayin’ you can’t have your fun, but you and your kid deserve something more than a life with a two bit criminal. Go see a goddamn shrink, will ya?”
Whether she will heed his advice or not is anyone’s guess, but Heather, or Hannah, or whatever the fuck her name is out of the picture. And now that Debbie has a guaranteed roof over her head with family around for Franny, she seems more like her old self. She also no longer reeks of desperation and might attract fewer crazies. Sandy got away at just the right time, as far as Mickey is concerned.
As they arrive at the house, Mickey feels his stomach growling. His favorite part about Sunday dinner might actually be the food. Everyone over the age of eighteen has to contribute a dish—and no buckets of KFC.
Before they step inside, Mickey glances down the block to where Kevin and V’s place used to be, knowing they’d be included in Sunday dinner if they hadn’t moved to Kentucky. A FaceTime call now and again is nice, but Kevin’s jokes fall even more flat if he’s not telling them in person. They’ll probably be back for a visit when they close on the Alibi.
No one is thrilled about the construction project happening on this block, threatening to increase the property taxes in the neighborhood, make parking spaces harder to find, and worst of all, who knows what fancy-ass businesses will try to set up shop and cater to the gentrifiers. At least there’s no construction on Sunday, and for now, they can all pretend those three plots of vacant land won’t be home to twelve sets of douchebags in a few months' time.
Mickey is using the development in the neighborhood to really play up what a family friendly environment Debbie and Tami will be able to raise their kids in. And he’s not spouting that bullshit himself, but encouraging Liam to drop subtle hints here and there—subliminal messaging—because everyone is going to be more inclined to listen to Liam, wise beyond his years, versus Mickey, who’s just a wise ass.
The longer the rest of the Gallaghers stay in the house, the better for everyone—especially him and Ian. Otherwise, they’d have to haul ass all over the city or to bumfuck Milwaukee to visit the family. Mickey figures it’s a win-win. Besides, he reasons, stepping inside the house and returning Tami’s wave from the kitchen while readying himself to catch Franny as she comes flying down the stairs, Lip is the only one who needs to accept these four walls as a fucking blessing and get over himself. And as a last resort, Mickey’s gonna tell him so, if he ever seriously brings up the idea of selling again.
Because there’s no amount of money that’s worth the happiness in his husband’s eyes when he steps into the Gallagher house, searching for each of his siblings (plus Tami) and their respective offspring to give them each a hug. Okay, maybe if it was an obscene amount of money. Like, really obscene.
Mickey sits Franny on Ian’s back for a piggy back ride and watches his husband gallop into the kitchen, their niece squealing with delight and his salad in tow. He can hear Ian already going on and on about those damn tomatoes to Tami and Lip and the rest of the crew. Something smells really good—hopefully, it's Carl’s famous roasted chicken.
Mickey shouts a “‘sup?” towards the kitchen and takes a seat on the couch next to a somewhat subdued Liam, who may be the only Gallagher still actively mourning the passing of Frank. Mickey picks up the spare controller and waits for Liam to follow suit, which he does with a shrug. If they get involved in gaming, they can avoid having to set the table, and it gives Mickey the chance to check in with Liam and remind him to reach out if he needs anything.
“Thanks, Mickey. You know what they say—time takes time.”
“Yeah, kid. It’s hard to say good-bye to a parent. Shit’s complicated.”
It’s not much longer until Debbie’s shrill voice summons everyone into the kitchen, and each member of the family takes a seat in their usual spot. Carl has roasted a chicken, and Debbie and Franny made macaroni and cheese from scratch plus corn muffins. With the salad (and the dressing Mickey grabbed from the fridge when Debbie wasn’t paying attention), it’s a complete meal, and Lip and Tami tell everyone to save room for dessert.
Dishes are filled and passed around the table as everyone dictates what portion of food they want. After Mickey receives his plate, he promptly retrieves his very own bottle of Tabasco sauce from his pocket and douses everything with it. Ian, fork in hand, gives him this knowing smile and discreetly taps Mickey’s foot under the table. Mickey chooses to read this gesture as “I’m happy you’re here, and my life wouldn’t be complete without you in it.” Maybe Ian means something else entirely, but Mickey can usually read him pretty well.
Most of their dinner conversation centers around Carl and the menu he’s developing for the Alibi once he and Arthur officially take over. In the meantime, Carl has hired a friend of his from that fish fry place where he used to work—Anne—to manage the bar. There seems to be a romance brewing, based on this stupid look Carl gets when he talks about Anne.
Maybe she’ll join us for Sunday dinner soon and bring tamales, thinks Mickey, fondly recalling his first few days in the Gallagher house after leaving prison.
Dessert is some kind of fancy ass bread pudding that Tami seems really proud of. It’s pretty much the most disgusting thing Mickey has ever put in his mouth—and that’s saying a lot. There’s raisins in it, which isn’t the most offensive part of the mushy concoction, but Mickey swallows it down without a single complaint. Tami’s already had to excuse herself from the table twice to throw up, so Mickey decides not to add insult to injury.
After dinner and a couple of rounds of zombie tag in the backyard, as per usual protocol, Sunday dinner morphs into Sunday movie night, except Mickey needs a smoke, and Lip is his newly minted porch buddy. They never say much. If anything, it’s brief chit chat about the neighborhood. But tonight, Mickey’s feeling generous and willing to engage more with the guy.
“Renovations look good.”
“Tami having any cravings?”
Lip shakes his head. “Too early for that. Doesn’t feel like eating much of anything. I mean, you saw her at dinner.”
“Yeah, it was kind enough to blow chunks upstairs.” Mickey is on the brink of mentioning that nasty-ass bread pudding when Lip changes the subject.
“Ian’s really proud of his garden, yeah?”
Mickey smiles around his cigarette. “You could say that.” Thanks to Ian’s new obsession, Mickey has been made aware of versatile the tomato is. You can fry ‘em, stew ‘em, boil ‘em, chop ‘em, put ‘em in a sandwich, salad, or soup. There’s even something called tomato pie—what the fuck is that? His husband has turned into the shrimp guy from Forrest Gump.
Lip is quiet now, and Mickey figures he’s put forth enough of an effort being civil to his brother-in-law. Lip’s not a bad guy, he sure can be an arrogant shit though.
“Ian tells me you guys are thinking about kids.”
Nosy as fuck, too. But Mickey’s not opposed to setting him straight regarding this particular topic.
“Ian’s thinking about kids. There’s no ‘we’ to it. Been there, done that,” Mickey adds bitterly.
“Good. Don’t do it, man,” Lip tells him, and it’s the opposite of what he was expecting to hear. Or maybe Lip’s pretty much in agreement that Mickey would be a shitty ass father.
“Don’t think I can handle it, huh?”
“S’got nothing to do with that. You’ve babysat Franny. And Fred. Not that it’s the same as being a parent, but you get the idea.” Lips shakes his head. “You know, back in the day, never thought I’d trust Mickey Milkovich to watch my kid.”
“Yeah, yeah. Whatever.”
“All I’m saying is, don’t let Ian talk you into that shit. Not until you’re ready.”
“That’ll probably be never.”
“So at least wait until you’re curious, like more curious than afraid.”
“I’m not afraid, asshole,” Mickey replies, but they both know he’s full of shit. Lip has the decency not to call him on it.
“Look, from where I sit, you two have time. Don’t rush this shit. Changes everything.”
“Talk to your brother, man. I already know that.”
“I will. I have. But you know when Ian gets fixated on something…”
“Who are you telling?” scoffs Mickey, pausing briefly before sharing an idea he had recently. “Was thinking about getting him a cat. Franny wants one, too. And she’s over at our place enough.”
“Not a bad idea. And uh, there’s plenty of more babysitting in your future, yeah?”
Mickey nods as Lip stumps out his cigarette. Seems like he’s about to light another one when Tami pokes her head out the door and asks weakly for someone to hold Fred. Sounds like she’s about to lose her cookies again.
“Got it,” Mickey volunteers, then says to Lip, “Go hold your girlfriend’s hair.”
He goes to take the kid from his mom’s arms, and the little fucker actually extends his arms out. Mickey carries him into the living room to join the rest of the Gallaghers. Ian has saved him a seat on the couch, and he settles between his husband and Franny, who’s busy chomping on popcorn and more interested in the movie than her uncle Mickey. Thank fuck—kid gets jealous when she doesn’t have all of his attention.
Fred is now curled up against him, sucking away on his pacifier, and Mickey, without realizing what he’s doing, kisses the little boy’s head, and he’s suddenly transported back to one of the few times he held Yevgeny in his arms like this. Shit, talk about the word “innocent.”
Mickey knows it’s a fleeting thing, that the world fucks you up as soon as it sinks its teeth into you. Still, for many people, a baby is the promise of new life and endless possibilities, especially when you live in a world that offers support, protection...and love.
Ian either senses some of what’s going through Mickey’s mind, or he’s suddenly moved by the sappy ass chick-flick that Debbie is forcing them to watch—probably the former since he’s not a Reese Whitherspoon fan. He moves his hand from the back of the couch to rest on Mickey’s shoulder and leans closer to press his lips against the side of his head. When he whispers, “Love you, Mick,” it just about does Mickey in, but he bites into his bottom lip and huffs back, “Really? As much as you love your tomatoes?”
Ian laughs and reaches over to stroke Fred’s forehead, and dammit if Mickey doesn’t feel like his heart is about to burst inside his chest. But he thinks back to what Lip told him, and the asshole is right for once—they can’t rush into anything. And he thinks Ian understands that expanding their family isn’t the same thing as moving to the West Side, where you can break your lease and move the fuck out, but with a kid that you’ve committed to raising, well, it’s not so easy.
Mickey yawns and before he knows it, he’s dozing off. When he opens his eyes, Fred is no longer nestled against him, there’s an entirely different movie playing, and Franny is now sitting across the room, sound asleep in her mother’s arms.
Ian must notice that Mickey is awake because he says something that is absolutely music to his ears. “It’s getting late. Wanna crash here tonight?”
And yes, as much as he loves the life he’s creating with Ian, away from the familiar chaos of the South Side, full of endless possibilities, yes, yes, he does.