That left the unfamiliar LA number that Ziggy had left.
I dialed it. A woman answered.
I was a wuss and hung up.
DGC, Joy Division
“Oh, my god.” I stare at Michael then at the shorter boy—man, I guess I should say, since I’m fairly sure he’s legal to drink—behind him. “Did you kidnap a rock star?”
“Louise, I can explain,” Michael says, raising his hands with his palms up. “This is… Ziggy. Ziggy, this is the light of my life, Louise, and that one in the playpen is your niece, Eugenie Ann.”
No shit, I think. That’s definitely Ziggy Ferias, actor, singer, tabloid cover model, standing in my living room in ripped jeans and huge black boots covered with enough buckles that they probably qualify as some kind of silver deposit.
“Honey,” I say, using up most of the patience I have left after a long day on no sleep with a colicky baby, “why is there a rock star in my living room?”
“Because he’s my brother and asked to meet you and our daughter,” Michael says like it’s perfectly reasonable to be standing in my living room while I’m in ratty sweats and one of his college tee shirts (with bonus baby vomit on the shoulder) with a rock star looking at us both like we’re a sitcom in a foreign language he barely speaks.
“I’m going to pretend this makes sense,” I say. “I will not bring up the fact that you told me your brothers were Charlie and—”
“Please don’t say it. No one’s called me that in years.” Ziggy speaks up and we both turn to look at him. “If this is a bad time…”
Michael shakes his head, gives me one more ‘baby, please,’ half-smile, and says, “No. This is fine. It’s all fine. Lou, he needs a place to crash for a couple of days, somewhere quiet.”
I agree because…
“Why the hell not?” I laugh, possibly a little hysterical. “It’s not the first time you’ve brought home a stray, and this one’s probably housebroken.”
Buddy, our pit bull, takes this as his cue to thunder down the stairs, bark his fool head off, and pin Ziggy to the floor. I laugh until tears start streaming down my face and the baby gives confused hiccups from the bottom of the playpen.
“You weren’t at the funeral.” Ziggy looks at me over a cup of coffee, seated at the kitchen table like he’s lived here as long as Michael and I have. His eyes barely meet mine before they skirt away, and he bites his lower lip like maybe he wants to take the words back. Too late, kiddo.
I pour my own coffee, processing the fact that he must have brewed it since Michael’s still asleep, and sit down across from him. “I was too far along to fly. Genie was born three weeks later.”
“You named her after Mama.”
“We did, and after my grandmother,” I say. “He never told me you were… you. We went to one of your concerts, and he never said a word to me. Not one damn word.”
“It’s complicated, between us,” Ziggy says, addressing the wooden table top more than me. “Everything is complicated.”
“Un-complicate it.” I hear the hard tone in my voice the same time he does but I’m more surprised by it. Embarrassed, a little, to sound that way with a guest. I get to my feet and open the fridge. “I’ll make breakfast. You explain why you’re here, and maybe you can convince me why I should ever trust my husband again.”
“I can explain, but I’m not a miracle worker,” he says, giving me just a trace of the smile I’m used to seeing from the front of the Enquirer. I like it better here, where it seems genuine. “He’s the only family I have left. Michael and Eugenie, and you. I said I would visit. I don’t think he believed me. I don’t… I’m not sure I meant it then, but here I am.”
“Here you are. Here you are, in suburbia, doing what?” The tone creeps in again, and generations of Southern ladies along my family tree roll over in their slave cemetery graves.
“Seeing what normal is like,” Ziggy says after a long, silent moment. “My life isn’t normal. It never has been. I need a little bit of normal right now.” He turns the coffee cup between his palms, and for a second, just a second, he looks more like a lost little boy than a guy I’ve seen on MTV twenty times a day for the past few years. “That’s the truth. I promised Michael to leave the bullshit at the door, so that’s the truth.”
His life isn’t normal, but he cooks like any other twenty-something bachelor. Badly. I give him points for making lunch, even if the pasta borders on gummy in some parts and crunchy in others. I toss it out and start over, pointing him to a chair, planting Genie in his arms, and cutting off his protests with a simple instruction.
“Don’t drop her on her head.”
The look on his face… I could sell a photo and pay Genie’s way through her PhD. He covers well, though, and lets her wriggle around until she decides she’s comfortable. He reminds me of Michael then, the family resemblance creeping up as he goes from terrified to awed, my little girl charming him with a burble and a clenched fist in his shirt.
“You both look like her,” I say, turning away to examine the state of the stove and the ingredients set out haphazardly on the counter. “Like Eugenie. You and Michael have her eyes. Where should you be today, if you weren’t here?”
“It doesn’t matter. I said I needed a few days to take care of something,” he says. “My manager trusts me.” He gives a little laugh, setting Genie on the edge of the table in front of him, hands supporting her back like he’s done this before. “He shouldn’t.”
“You know, you say things like that and it doesn’t help my impression of you,” I point out. “You don’t talk to people much, do you?”
He laughs again, louder, fuller. “God, I talk to people all the time. Talk, talk, talk, and it’s all…” He gestures like he’s brushing something away. “It’s all so fake, you know? You, you’re real. You won’t let me be—Michael says you can spot a lie at twenty paces and you don’t take any shit from people. You don’t think I’m charming at all, do you?”
“I think you think you are,” I say, folding my arms across my chest and leaning one hip against the counter. “I also know that any guy who starts off trying to convince me he’s not trying to get into my good graces wants to do exactly that, thinking I’ll believe he’s being upfront when it’s just another act.”
“You’re a hard lady. I see why Michael loves you,” Ziggy says. “Everybody needs someone who sees through them, don’t they?”
“I tend to think so. You found that person yet?” I ask. He doesn’t answer and I leave it alone, turning on the radio next to the toaster and start another pan of water for pasta.
Sitting on the couch next to Michael, Ziggy looks farther from white than any of the media photos ever show, less European mutt than high yellow. I understand the stories about Eugenie favoring the new baby, being ashamed of her older sons, with a sharp, sudden clarity that hurts my heart.
Genie gives me no time to think about it, breaking her staring contest with Buddy on the floor by poking him in the nose. He howls, she howls, I want to howl. Ziggy and Michael laugh, one scooping up the baby, one drawing the dog’s attention with a treat, both of them wearing the same smile under the same high cheekbones.
“It’s nearly bedtime for this one, isn’t it?” Ziggy asks, holding Genie like a pro now, helped by the way she’s screamed each time he’s moved out of her short reach today.
“Soon,” I say, folding the last of her endless supply of onesies and dropping it on top of the laundry basket. “You know any lullabies?”
Ziggy grins. “I might know a few.”
“Good, then you put her to bed. I’m going to curl up with the rerun of ‘Doogie Howser’,” I say.
“I met that guy,” Ziggy says, his grin slipping away into something softer, more thoughtful. “Taller than I expected.”
“You’re what, five four? Everyone’s taller than you,” Michael says, lifting the dog’s leash from its hook near the door. “Lou, I’m going to take Buddy-boy for a trip around the block. Shouldn’t be more than fifteen, twenty minutes.” He walks over to Ziggy and Genie, and kisses the top of her head. After a moment, he winks at me and kisses the top of Ziggy’s head, too.
“Aw, man, come on.” Ziggy manages to pack more New York into those four words than I’ve heard from him yet. He still laughs as he pushes Michael away and they go back and forth, teasing the way only siblings can, until Buddy herds Michael out the door. Ziggy turns for the stairs, pausing on the second one. “I left the number here for someone. If he calls, tell him I’ll call him back?”
“Sure,” I say. “You’re going to tell me all about meeting Neil Patrick Harris when you get back here, too.”
Ziggy laughs, the sound echoing up the stairs behind him. I pick up the TV remote and prop up my feet, ready to be entertained.
Notes: I needed to explain who the mystery woman was, and I have theories about Ziggy’s actual relationship with his siblings, especially since losing their mother. Thanks to ctan for pointing me to relevant bits of canon and encouraging the caffeine-fueled silliness of the first bit, as well as for letting me play in her sandbox, and to the real Buddy’s owner for letting me immortalize him in fanfic.
I couldn’t resist the NPH reference once I realized the timeline fit. It’s now my headcanon that Ziggy met him at some MTV thing and corrupted him a little. NPH clearly had a thing for bad boys, and I found evidence because the internet forgets nothing. Just look at this: