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Mikey came home from the center one day to find Linda and Gerard engaged in a project. Linda said, "Hi, baby," and hugged him.

He said, "Hi, mom," and hugged back, nearly without even thinking about it. "What are we doing?"

Gerard said, "We're not pretending that we were all hatched anymore." He wiped the hair from his face and looked up at the wall. Mikey looked too, to where there were new pictures hanging. There seemed to be quite a few throughout the apartment, even at first glance. The ones directly in front of them were of Mikey and Gerard at Christmas time. Mikey was pretty sure he had been five or six when that picture had been taken. It had the grainy quality of an '80's picture, but Gerard was holding up a drawing pad and his first set of charcoals--Mikey remembered being so jealous that Elena had evidently given Gerard the gift of being allowed to be dirty. Five-year-old Mikey was sucking on a candy-cane, watching Gerard the way he had watched him pretty much from the moment he'd popped out of the womb: with a mixture of care and worship.

To one side of the picture there was another photo, this one of a strikingly blond boy--Bob, Mikey realized--and a woman who looked far, far too much like the adult Bob to be anyone but his mother. They were racing toy cars together along a wooden table. On the other side of the Mikey-and-Gerard picture there was another one, clearly of Frank. He was also probably six or seven, if tinier than Mikey had ever been. His hair was slicked down except for a cowlick at the part and he was sitting at a school desk, an apple in front of him, a blackboard behind. Mikey asked, "School picture?"

Linda nodded. "He was impossible about them. I always had to come and get him to sit still."

Mikey believed it. He looked at Gerard. "Where'd you get these?"

"I told you about meeting Bob's foster mom, yeah?"

Gerard had talked about it for hours. Mikey nodded. Gerard said, "Well, she had books and books of pictures of him. She gave them to me. And I thought-- I just. When Elena...died, I, I didn't know how to look at these," Gerard gestured toward the pictures and peering deeper into the apartment, Mikey saw that several of them included her. "So I put them all in storage. They were pretty much the only thing I kept. Seeing Bob's pictures made me realize it was fucking time, you know? We're a family and we come from somewhere and people should see that when they come into our home."

Mikey said, "Okay," softly as his gaze brushed over a group of pictures he knew Tommy had taken. There was the picture from the end-of-summer picnic, a sprawling affair with nearly everyone crowding in, even Tommy, because Mikey had made him set the camera on a timer. Pete and his boys hadn't been in town at the time, but even Gabe had shown, lured by the promise of free food. Mikey wasn't entirely sure Gabe knew he had a job and could afford--mostly--to pay for these things on his own. Next to it was a picture of Mizzy and Mikey, curled up on the couch together, both asleep. And on the other side was a picture of Bob hand-feeding Gerard a pierogi.

Mikey wandered around, encountering more childhood pictures, and a couple of him, Gerard and Bob. He came back to where Linda and Gerard were. There was nothing to be done about the fact that there were no pictures of him and Frank, that would just have to wait, the ones of the three of them would have to be switched up for ones of the four of them when it was possible. However, "Why are there none with Tommy in them? Other than the picnic?"

Gerard made a face. "I looked, Mikey. I looked and looked and looked. Linda helped. We couldn't find any. He never has one of us take the picture."

Mikey rubbed at his temples. Gerard reached out and rubbed at his back. "Go take MG for a walk. He'll probably be home by the time you return."

Mikey looked over at Linda, who said, "I'm staying for dinner. I'll take the pictures. Go. Preferably before your dog pees on me."

Mikey went to go grab the leash and Mizzy let loose with her general flurry of excitement at knowing it was walk time. Mikey nuzzled her face and said, "She doesn't pee on anyone. Do you girl? Do you?"

She barked, but Mikey was about 95% positive that was just from wanting to get going. All the same, he said, "See?"


When he came back, Mizzy had thoroughly exhausted herself trying to outrun a Jack Russell terrier and Tommy was hiding in Mikey's room. He did that sometimes when the couch was no longer a safe space. Gerard generally wouldn't follow him in there, mostly because he respected it as Mikey's space unless Mikey was actually in it. Then all bets were off. Mikey came in, sicced Mizzy on Tommy who took his ardent face licking and summary conversion into doggy-bed with good grace.

"I take it Gee and Linda told you our plans for the night?"

Tommy wasn't looking at him, which was never the best way to start a conversation. Mikey was about to force the issue when Tommy said, "I wrote to Frank, you know. About the-- About what you said. I asked."

Mikey wasn't surprised. "Yeah?"

"He said that if I wanted that, he would try, but that you were a better brother, little or big."

Mikey couldn't speak for a moment with the need to catch his breath. He had thought that the intensity of wanting, needing Frank near would lessen its stranglehold as they got closer to his possible release, but all it had done was tighten itself until Mikey had to think in order to move in its grip. When his vocal muscles were willing to cooperate again he said, "That's just because Frank hasn't had a sibling before and has about as much confidence in his ability to not fuck things up as you do. You're perfect for each other."

Tommy blinked. Mikey sighed. "Sorry. I didn't mean to snap."

Tommy shook his head. "No, I was just-- I mean, I would think it was because you didn't want that responsibility--"

"Jesus, Tommy--"

"That's sort of how I've gotten used--"

"Yeah, we've noticed."

"But you keep trying to give me to him, and you're even more protective of him than you are of yourself."

Mikey took a second to think about what Tommy was saying and then admitted, "I don't get it."

"Just-- You're right about him. I can sort of see it now, at least I'm starting to be able to. About the way he worries over the shit he did and is scared that he'll make things worse and he trusts you not to do that."

Tentatively, Mikey asked, "But?"

"But you and Gee want me in your pictures. That's what Gee was saying, he said I had to take pictures with you because there weren't any and that was unacceptable--I think he used that word like four times."

Mikey was tempted to ask if they had all been appropriate uses of the word, but instead he just nodded. He didn't really want to interrupt at this stage in the game. Tommy said, "Alex, he said something the other day. We were watching basketball at his house and I think it was a date, I'm pretty sure, because he made dinner and he asked, but there wasn't kissing, there was just us and nobody has ever not wanted more of me than I wanted to give, so I don't know how to, um, y'know, but I still think it was a date."

Mikey nodded. Tommy asked, "Yes?"

"Totally a date," Mikey confirmed before trying to steer Tommy back on course. "So he said something?"

"He said that sometimes selfishness is a worthwhile trait."

Mikey tilted his head and waited for Tommy to explain.

"We argued, because man, the selfish people I've known... I mean, my dad couldn't even be bothered to really pay attention to me, he was too fucking caught up in his own self-pity and my friends mostly just wanted someone who would help them with their illegal shit. But he said, 'no, no, I mean, selfish in the way where you know you can ask for things. It's not even really selfish,' he said, but he said that he thought I thought of it that way, and I argued some more, but mostly I was just talking at that point. Because he's right, I think. For me just asking is always asking for too much, for more than I deserve."

Mikey chewed at the inside of his lip for a second. "So, um, there's something you want to ask for?"

"You said that he thought of me like a younger brother. And he said that you make a better brother, which was kind of like him giving me permission to have you for that."

"Less like, more him giving, but okay."

Tommy stared at Mikey really hard, like the force of his stare might cause Mikey to read his mind. Mikey sort of had an idea of where he was going, but he wasn't letting Tommy off the hook that easily. This was something Mikey needed him to say aloud. Finally Tommy said, "Just. I'd like-- I think of you and Gee and Bob as my family, even if I shouldn't. And if you-- If Frank wasn't being--"

Okay, that was enough for one night, Mikey supposed. "Tommy."

Tommy let his gaze stray quickly to Mikey and then back away. Mikey pushed a rather displeased Mizzy to the floor so that he could get to Tommy, could hug him. "You'd be ours even if you didn't want to be. That's how brothers works."

Tommy clung silently. Finally Mikey said, "Let's go take some family pictures," and didn't let himself think about how they'd be incomplete.



I read a poem once. Well, I actually read a lot of poems that semester, it was for my sophomore English class and my teacher was into poetry and I kind of hated it, but Gee liked them and he would read them aloud to me in funny voices and that helped me pass. The poem had the line "April is the cruelest month." I think it might have been talking about World War I, but I can't remember. In any case, the guy was wrong. October definitely kicks April's ass for cruel. I suspect that in a few days, November will step up to the championship plate.

Alex is a patient boy, although, to be fair, I'm not entirely certain if that's a natural attribute or comes out of the fear of getting himself used again. If they both keep being such pussies, I'll have to give them another push in a bit, but for the moment, I'm seeing if they can manage to figure shit out on their own.

I'm including an article on the band that Pete's crush sings for, the one Tommy's doing the liner art for. He's the tall blond that doesn't look like any of the others. Oh, and I also put a picture of your mom cooking in our kitchen in there, so you could see. Tommy took it. He's best at catching those kinds of things, moments, I guess. He told me you tried to give him up. I said I'd share, but that's all, he's yours. He's not the only one. And I don't share that way.




Eliot. The poem was by Eliot. "The Wasteland." We had to read it in one of my comp classes. Well, the first section, it's a long fucker. He's talking about the aftermath of war, but I think he would have been better served writing it about this place.

I think I convinced the warden to order sweet potatoes for Thanksgiving this year. My suggestion of cranberry sauce was a huge morale booster last year, as you may remember me mentioning. You might worry that giving a bunch of violent men in an enclosed space too much sugar is a foolhardy idea, but to that I say blow me, I want some sweet potatoes. I don't think he's going to go for the marshmallow suggestion. That might have been pushing things.

I wasn't trying to give him up. I was trying You let Bob take care of Gee when you knew he had better ability. You weren't giving Gee up. I keep what's mine.

November is definitely tearing October to shreds, you were right about that.


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Skin by egelantier, photo by microbophile