At Ian's Place - Part XIV, in which we've run out of milk.

Cosmo insisted on helping me with my luggage, but I took my bag from him at Ian's gate. My world was precarious already and I just didn't want unnecessary kindness tipping me off my flat edge. That creaky wooden door without a peephole loomed large at the end of a 14-foot long cracked cement walkway.

For the first time, I was relatively certain someone was inside. I didn't know what to do - knock? Should I be like Phil and just walk in?  How long have I been standing here? 

The door opened, and a rumpled pile of sweatpants, flannel, and concert t-shirt stood in my path. Ian's hair was poofed and aslant, but he seemed lucid and happy, like he'd been in the process of just waking up for days. He held the door open for me. 

"Thanks for coming," he said, reaching for the handle of my suitcase.

Thanks for coming. I didn't know what to do with this. I was still standing on the patio. Ian shuffled forward and took the handle. "I've got coffee. Come in."

The living room was surreal in its normalcy: rustic and heavy wooden coffee table, leather love seat with a blanket covering the burnt arm, still a pile of folded clothes on the wicker peacock chair. Ian had gone up the hall with my suitcase, probably to put it in my room. The guest room. I don't live here anymore; I'm just visiting, I told myself. I went through the dining room to the kitchen. The guitar stand where the Seagull used to live was still sitting empty. Sure enough, though, there was a still-warm French press on the counter. There would be milk in the refrigerator.

Oops, no milk. I quietly closed the refrigerator door and went back to the living room, holding my mug of coffee with both hands.

"Sorry, I'm out of milk," Ian called from the hallway. When he re-appeared, I could see his hair was now slanting in the other direction - something bordering on dreadlock happening up there. He sat on the edge of the coffee table. "Sit down. How are you? How was your flight?" 

"It's okay; thanks, no. I'm good. A little turbulent." Sure they were all polite-professional questions, but it was fun to talk like this again for a minute - answering each question in order, assuming the other party would remember what they'd said. Polite professional with extended RAM. My life has been a little turbulent, I laughed to myself. Aloud, I said, "I've been sitting for a long time." 

"Sure, yeah." Ian ran a hand through his hair, sending it in another direction. "I'm heading out in a few, meeting with my accountant. I don't know if you have stuff to do at the gallery or whatever. Phil's looking forward to seeing you. You don't have your portfolio." He looked up, suddenly alert, questioning. I looked down at the mug in my hands, as if I might find my leather case there. Drink the coffee, meathead. I took a sip - mildly alarming. I'd forgotten there was no milk in it.

"Shit. I left it in Cosmo's car. I hope." 

"Oh, good. You coming to the thing Saturday? I need to get groceries." 

This was possibly the most conversation I'd had with Ian, and I was surprised how it left my brain at peace, rather than in pieces. He made sense. I could easily fill in the missing logic: better Cosmo's car than a random shuttle; no assumption that I'd be following him around while I was here, happy that I still had a portfolio and hadn't given up art. Acknowledging that he didn't know how to be home. I could feel an opportunity to stake territory - not my house, but I do know how to be here.

"Can I just get what I usually get? I have sort of a routine for functioning around your stuff. I probably don't need the portfolio until Saturday anyway. Cosmo's got someone he wants me to meet. A writing partner, he said." Internally, I bit my lip, though I'm pretty sure I didn't actually. I don't know what I didn't want that last comment to sound like, but Ian's eyes did focus on mine briefly. 

"Oh. Yeah, that'd be great. Can you get one of those whole chickens? The cooked ones. I'll give you some money..." Ian got off the coffee table, then reflexively patted his sweatpants. "Guess I'll get dressed. Hang on, I'll give you some money." 

"Dude, don't worry about it right now. Go do your accountant-thing - I'll be fine. Yeah, I'm looking forward to seeing Phil, too. He's really something." I was very much looking forward to seeing Phil. I wished he'd walk in right then and lend some cheerfulness to this very weird moment. I took another sip of my coffee, then set the mug down on the coffee table. I wanted to shower and change, but not until Ian was out of here.

"Right. Thanks for coming," he said again. I still didn't know what to do with it. 

"You invited me." I laughed, for lack of anything else to say. "Go away now." 

Ian laughed, too, and shuffled down the hall. I called Cosmo. He answered before I heard a ring.

"Hey, Libby, your portfolio's in the back seat. You want it? I can turn around. How's everything with Ian?" 

"It's fine, mom. We're fine, everything's fine." 

"I'm turning around." 

"No, don't - I need a few minutes to deplane and shit. Regroup. Take a nap. It's funny being back here." 

"Okay. I'm not turning. Funny how?" 

 "I don't know. I guess if you're busy tomorrow maybe you should come back. I can wait. I just..."

"No, tomorrow's fine. I work, but then there's traffic. Hey, can we do lunch?"

"Yeah, lunch is cool. Well, I don't know what they're doing for studio time. We never really discussed it. I was just asked to show up. I can say I have something to do for lunch. That's good. I want to talk before Saturday. Where you want to go? Actually, maybe you should just come back." 

Cosmo was snickering without making noise; I could hear the shape of his grin. "I'm turning around. but let's do lunch if we can. I'm out that way in the morning. I could pick you up."

"No, let's meet at the Thai joint. I'll see you in a minute."

"More like twenty. It's stacked out here; you know." Yes, I did know. Everyone knows better than to drive in Los Angeles, yet everybody does drive. Ian cleared his throat behind me. I hung up on Cosmo and turned around. Ian had put on a drab business suit, yellow shirt, no tie. The suit looked tailored; it fit really well. He'd done something to his crazy hair to make it look intentional. I could feel myself melting around the edges, so I picked up the mug again. This is stupid. Tepid coffee without milk was growing on me, though. I could get used to it. 

"I'm heading out. So a chicken, yeah? I don't have cash on me right now, I'm so sorry. But I'll pick up the tab when we're out tomorrow. Oh, hey, I need to tell you what's going on...I'll probably be back around eight. You probably want to get some rest... so Cosmo's coming back?" 

"Okay, yeah. Yeah. I'll probably be up around eight. We'll talk."

Ian looked awkward, like he was about to get school pictures taken. Maybe we both felt like we were 11 years old. I knew that, as soon as I was alone, I was rolling up the carpet to talk with that octopus painted on the wooden floor. I wondered what needed to be said to get Ian to leave.

"Right. See you in a bit," he said, and headed out the front door. "Hey buddy," I heard as the door closed -- but it didn't quite. 

In walked Phil, smiling, mandolin in hand.

"Hey, Libby. Wanna run a few things by you." 

At Ian's Place begins here: Part One, in which you may find a creature...

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