Jon slid back into the car with a smile. "They'd love to participate."
Ryan snorted. "They would, would they?" He wrote the place down in the "yes" column he'd created on his pad. Brendon had tried to convince him that having a "no" column was too negative, but Ran had gone with the classic opposition. Ryan counted them up. "That's twenty, then. With the shops that are sponsoring stops, we should be set."
"Then I'm pretty sure you owe me dinner." Jon smiled winningly.
Ryan rolled his eyes. "Yeah, yeah. What do you want?"
"Lasagna from that place Linda took us."
The place was a restaurant owned and run by one of the women Linda had grown up with, her husband, and their three kids. One of the sons, Joey, did shifts as a singing waiter when he wasn't off at college. Ryan drove them to Fat Joey's, where Phyllis greeted them with a smile and a hug. She asked Mikey how Linda was doing, and Mikey told her about Linda's recent attempts to have an herb garden in her windows. Phyllis said, "Remind me and I'll send you home with some basil."
Mikey wasn't all that sure what kind of fate the basil was going to meet with but he just said, "Okay." Then he asked, "Do you know the people who own the unit upstairs?"
"We own the building. Why?"
"Oh, I just. I noticed you have a 'for rent' sign. Is it an apartment or offices?"
"An apartment, why, you know someone who's looking?"
Mikey asked, "Is it a one bedroom or two?"
"Two, but we're not charging that much. Mostly just enough to help us pay off the loans on the building."
"Then why isn't it rented?"
"The place is above our restaurant. We're being kinda picky about who we rent it to."
"Oh. Yeah. Well, um. My brother and I-- I guess maybe Linda told you--"
"You and Gerard are looking to move out of Linda's?"
"I think we've imposed long enough, don't you?"
Phyllis cuffed him lightly upside the head. Mikey jerked back. He didn't mean to, he knew she wasn't intending to harm, he just still had certain reflexes. Jon put himself between Mikey and Phyllis and Ryan said, "Hey," his hand hovering above, but not touching Mikey's shoulder. Mikey shook his head, then looked at Phyllis from behind Jon. "Sorry."
"What are you apologizing for?" Phyllis asked, her eyes soft with concern. "C'mon, come on in, sit down. Dinner's on me. And if you and Gerard want to come look at the place this weekend, just have Linda give you our number."
"Really?" Mikey asked, because he was pretty sure Phyllis knew exactly where Frank had met the strays Linda had taken in for him.
"Sit," she said, and this time, they all obeyed.
Linda came with them to look at the place. It needed a fresh coat of paint and the carpets were due for a cleaning and there was call for some considerable airing out, but for all that, it was pretty nice. The kitchen was an older eat-in style room, but the stove and oven seemed to be in good shape, as well as the refrigerator. There wasn't any mold in the bathroom, and the insulation for the place seemed pretty solid. Even after having lived at Linda's for nearly a year, Mikey really wasn't all that picky about his living spaces. If it could top prison, the Y and abandoned buildings in the winter, Mikey was fine with it. He asked Gerard, "So?"
Gerard said, "It has shag carpeting." The house they'd grown up in had had shag carpeting. Gerard loved walking on it barefoot.
"Good enough for me," Mikey told him, and the three of them went to talk price with Phyllis and Joe, Sr.
Gee and I, we got a place. It's above Fat Joey's, the Fatones own the building. Gerard's helping Joe, Sr. repaint the place, and then they're gonna call in carpet cleaners and get the place all freshened up. We'll probably move in a little before your birthday. Your mom's already made us promise to spend Sunday evenings with her, and I'm gonna stop in after work a couple of days of the week. I won't let her get lonely, I promise. Gee'll probably be over there all the time because she feeds him, and you may have noticed he is much like a cat that way. I won't be able to compete, really.
I've been watching Craigslist and the Goodwill store for furniture. Brian says I can use the center's truck to help me move, but we haven't really got that much. It's just buying furniture at this point that's the issue. I'm looking for a double bed.
Bob sent me a letter last week. It just said, "Sorry." Have any idea what that was about? I asked Gee but he said Bob hadn't mentioned anything. I vote it means that Bob's a nutcase, but I thought I'd better check it out. Just to be sure.
I want to get a full-size couch, too. A loveseat would be fine for now, but not in a couple of years, so I'm trying to think ahead here. Always trying to think ahead. I'm not really interested in doing anything else.
You are, sometimes, an asshole.
Double beds are nice. I had a girlfriend with a queen once. That was pretty awesome.
Tommy wrote you a letter. He said I could read it, but I didn't really want to. I didn't want that to be how things are. I think you'll understand the Bob thing when you read it, though. No matter what he says.
I'm glad you guys found somewhere. My mom'll be okay. She was going to have to deal with me moving out at some point or another, and this way you'll at least visit. You guys need to have space that belongs to you at least a little. It's time. And if you ask Phyllis, she'll totally help lure Gerard back to you with her marinara.
I know. I know. I'm sorry. I don't mean to be. Sometimes when Gerard puts color in his drawings, I feel like that's the only thing that's real. Only, it's on paper, it's a representation. What's real are the things in here, black and white and gray. Even Gerard's black on white makes more sense. You know, you know all this, you know it more than me, it's stupid of me to even try and explain but I don't want you thinking
I'm tired of silence. There's so much of it.
Is that, I mean, can I call you that or is that something only your friends call you? Is Michael better?
I think your brother or Frank probably mentioned me at some point, but I'm the stupid kid Frank's been in a cell with pretty much since you left. I read one of your letters. I shouldn't have, I know that, and I don't know how to say I'm sorry because it was more than that, but I am, I'm so sorry. Then Bob told me some stuff, about when you were in here, so that I could understand and I was wondering, now that I've sort of made a mess of everything, if there was something I could do to help him. If you knew of something.
Tommy (I go by Tommy. But even if I didn't, for everyone, that would still be how I'd sign this letter.)
Tommy sat down and Mikey's only thought was Jesus fuck, you do manage to find'em, Frank. Tommy picked up the phone and said into Mikey's waiting earpiece. "Hello?"
"Hi Tommy. I'm Mikey."
"Oh." Tommy blinked. "Sorry, I don't mean to seem-- It's just-- Nobody's visited me since my first month in. I thought maybe--" Tommy shrugged.
"Sorry," Mikey said.
Tommy smiled, then. "Hey, a visitor's a visitor. How's Gee?"
"He has somehow managed to sell thousands of dollars of art products in a month. Nobody's sure how, least of all him."
"Nah, that's easy. Gee makes you want to be excited about things."
It was Mikey's turn to blink. "Yeah. He does."
Tommy said, "So, uh. Have you thought about what I said? About me helping? I don't really have anyone on the outside, so it's not like I'm connected, or--"
"Are there any hacks who would look the other way at a large jar of maraschino cherries? Non-baked perishables are a bitch to get in this place."
Tommy looked thoughtful. "There's a new guy who seems like he could probably be bought off."
"That'll work. Want in on the plan?"
Mikey put the chest of drawers in his room, despite the fact that Gerard and he were still sleeping in the same room every night, if not the same bed. He finally found a reasonably priced used double bed, and set to searching for something for Gerard. It could wait, since Gerard was perfectly content to hog all of Mikey's space. Mikey was pretty content to give it to him.
The couch ended up being donated to him by the center when Spencer's parents came to visit and bought a new one for the center so that they would have somewhere to sit that didn't scare them. Mikey went out and bought Gerard and himself some slipcovers which made it pretty much as nice as the couch they'd had growing up, and considerably nicer than some of the surfaces he'd sat on in prison. He kind of liked that it was all soft and broken in for them. He found a kitchen table at an estate sale and Phyllis gave him a couple of extra chairs that the restaurant had lying around.
After helping out with Ryan's parade and handing out treats, Mikey and Gerard had all the center guys, Brendon, Greta, Matt and Linda back to their place for a housewarming party. Mikey had put some of Gerard's art--mostly the cats--on the walls in simple, cheap frames, and Linda had given them a glass bowl as a centerpiece for their table. All in all, Mikey wasn't ashamed of the place; he thought Gerard and he were doing pretty well for themselves.
Linda's cell phone rang while Mikey was heating the cider. She said, "Happy birthday, baby boy."
Mikey didn't even pretend like he wasn't listening. He didn't have to, though, because Linda slipped the phone onto his ear. She said, "You don't have long."
He said, "Happy birthday."
Frank was silent for a second. Then he spoke. He sounded like he needed air. "Best present ever."
"I couldn't figure out a way for you to refrigerate them, so you're gonna have to--"
"Tommy and Bob are helping me out."
"Generous of them."
Frank laughed, soft and small but real, and Mikey said, "Only two more birthdays like this."
Frank said, "Right. Right," then, "Love you, mom."
"I'll tell her," Mikey said. Frank didn't thank him.