Clyde is already fifteen when he figures it out.
Craig is lying on his back on Clyde’s bed, who is listening to him complain about their school’s latest hipster obsession.
“Seriously, how are pink wayfarers in any fucking way ‘edgy’?”
“Get your shoes off my bed, you ass.”
Craig flips him off, not missing a beat, and continues his rant with a segue into how corporate America is fucking with the masses for shits and giggles.
Clyde realises that he must be in love, to be willing to listen to this shit.
Craig likes to smoke behind the gym and flip the Goth kids off. Clyde decides to join him.
When he finally stops throwing up, Craig just wraps an arm around his neck and gives him a noogie. Clyde lets him, and wonders how he never figured it out before.
He tries to talk to Token about it. He has a speech planned, touching on important points such as the importance of preserving the status quo, that he isn’t gay, that he doesn’t think Token is hot, that Craig must never ever know, and that seriously, he isn’t a fag.
He only gets as far as, “Uhh,” before he freaks out and asks to borrow porn, instead.
Token slaps him on the back and hands it over, with a cheerful, “Don’t yank it too hard, man, you’ll go blind.”
When he jacks off later, it’s not to Korean lesbians. It’s to noogies with happy endings.
He needs to talk to someone. This is too weird, and he can’t handle it alone.
He corners Stan in the locker room before football practice.
“How do you do it?”
Stan raises an eyebrow. “Do what?”
“Just… be in love with your best friend and never do anything about it. Why haven’t you jumped Kyle yet?”
Stan glares. “Jesus, Clyde, I thought you were above this. Who put you up to it, the fatass?”
“What? No, I’m serious.”
“Fuck you,” Stan throws over his shoulder as he storms out.
Kyle is in the library surrounded by piles of books. Shocking.
Clyde sits down next to him and tries to find a delicate way to ask why he isn’t balls-deep in his Super Best Friend. Or vice-versa, he doesn’t know, Jesus.
“Out with it,” Kyle says without even lifting his pen from the page.
“Stan told me you’re in league with the fatass. So c’mon. Spit it out,” Kyle drawls, still note-taking furiously. “I’m just dying to hear what new way you can call me a fag that Cartman hasn’t used at least twice.”
Clyde leaves without saying anything.
“That’s what I thought,” Kyle yells after him.
Clyde thinks that Craig is right. That kid needs a good pounding up the ass.
Clyde tries to decide if he should try not being Craig’s friend.
That lasts until about an hour into school, when he needs to complain about his stupid fucking history teacher and knows there’s only one kid who hates her even more than him.
He and Craig sit on the bleachers at school, slightly apart from the rest of the crowd. The cheerleaders started having their usual lunchtime practices this week, and all the boys in school migrate to watch. Kenny, naturally, has already incurred Wendy’s wrath and is lying unconscious on the running track.
Clyde is trying to stare at the cheerleaders, see up their skirts when they kick or tumble or stand on each other. Token told them all yesterday that Red doesn’t believe in bloomers, and the betting pool is running hot.
But all Clyde can seem to do is stare at Craig’s knee next to his, so close but not nearly close enough. He listens as Craig bitches about homework and Stan and whatever else that pisses him off (read: everything), and Clyde complains about whatever Craig leaves out.
It’s kind of perfect.
When Butters asks him in Biology if it’s true that Red is a real redhead, if you know what I mean, feller, Clyde can’t hold it in anymore.
“I’m in love with Craig,” he whispers back.
Butters stares at him, trying to gauge if he’s kidding or not, but when Clyde just slumps miserably onto his desk, Butters pats him on the shoulder.
“Well, that sucks.”
Clyde grunts, trying to force his body to die. “I don’t have a shot, do I?”
Butters fidgets uncertainly. “Nothin’s hopeless, I guess. But Craig just doesn’t strike me as an ass-rammer.”
Clyde extracts an oath from Butters, sealed on the blood of their dissected frog, not to tell Cartman. He knows before the class is even over that he’s doomed, but it’s worth a try.
The weekend arrives and when Cartman’s blow fails to fall, Clyde dares to believe that Butters kept his promise. He spends a blissful weekend playing Call of Duty with Craig, Token and Tweak, and rolls into school on Monday feeling like the whole thing is a bad dream.
The banners hanging over every hallway shoot that feeling in the crotch. His face and Craig’s are everywhere, surrounded by a sickening amount of pink hearts and rainbow flags. There’s glitter everywhere, and Clyde has never seen so much crepe paper.
Congratulations Craig and Clyde! OUT and PROUD!
Craig + Clyde = BFFs = Butt Fuckers Forever!
Brokeback High! Let’s celebrate Park County’s very own Jake and Heath!
If Clyde could physically shit his pants, he’s pretty sure it would be happening right now.
Cartman is waiting by his locker, smugness fucking radiating from him. Clyde doesn’t wait, throws the punch before Cartman can even registers it’s coming, and the next thing he knows he’s being pulled off him. Cartman’s face looks like it’s been through a mulch machine and Clyde feels nothing but raw satisfaction.
Until he sees who pulled him away. For once Clyde can’t read a thing behind the ever-present ‘fuck you’ expression on Craig’s face.
Clyde is running before anyone can say a word.
Butters is the one who finds him. Fucking Butters. Clyde would beat him up if hitting Butters didn’t feel so much like kicking a puppy.
Stark’s pond isn’t frozen over, not yet, and there are still geese or ducks or what-the-fuck-ever swimming around. Butters sits down on the bench next to him and Clyde can see him rubbing his fists together out of the corner of his eye.
“Craig’s awful sore,” Butters says. “He tore all the posters down and said he’d kill anyone who said anything about them.”
Clyde says nothing.
“Eric got suspended, you know,” Butters says, almost accusingly. Clyde can’t take it anymore and rounds on him.
“Yeah? Good. He needs to be committed or interred or fucking murdered or something.”
Butters opens his mouth but Clyde isn’t done. “Don’t you have any fucking pride? That bastard walks all over you and you just roll over and ask for more. Get out of here before I decide to collect on that goddamn oath.”
Butters doesn’t move, but he doesn’t talk, either. Clyde counts it as a win.
When he finally gets home that night, his dad looks furious. Clyde braces himself for the worst.
“Did you kick that little shit’s ass?” his dad demands.
Clyde is so shocked all he can do is nod.
“We’re sorry you were outed that way, honey,” his mom says with a soothing hand on his face. “Being a gay teen is so hard.”
Clyde wants to object, to say he’s not a fag, he likes girls, he’s fucking rippling with heterosexuality, but his parents hug him and tell him they love him and there’s a part of him that was so sure they wouldn’t that all he can do is cry.
They make him go to school the next day. “The longer you leave it the worse it’ll be.” Clyde wants to know how things could possibly be worse.
When Craig doesn’t show up that day, or the day after, or the next, and won’t answer any of his calls or texts, Clyde knows.
Stan and Kyle find him at lunch on the Friday after it happened, hiding in the depths of the library.
“So you’ve figured out I wasn’t part of Cartman’s master plan now?” Clyde says, trying to glare daggers like Craig.
Stan shuffles and scratches the back of the head, and Kyle is the voice of rationality like always. “Look, dude, we’re sorry we said those things. But why come to us? We’re not, like… you know, like that. Not like you. We don’t like like each other.”
“Yeah, dude,” Stan interjects. “I have a girlfriend.”
Clyde stares at them, and wonders if he was that oblivious.
On Saturday morning, Clyde decides he’s never leaving his bed again.
It’s nearly three o’clock when his mom pokes her head around his door.
“There’s someone to see you, sweetie.”
“Tell them to go to hell,” he replies, rolling over to put his pillow over his head. He can’t handle anyone right now.
“Well fuck you, too, sunshine.”
Clyde bolts upright. Craig is leaning against his bedroom door, hands in his pockets and a bored expression.
Craig lifts an eyebrow. “No wonder you’re on the debate team.”
“What the fuck are you doing here?” Clyde finally manages to shriek. He’d be embarrassed at how high his voice sounds if he hadn’t already reached his embarrassment quote for, like, life.
Craig looks down and kicks at Clyde’s carpet. “I wanna hang out.”
A possibility occurs to Clyde, and his mouth is talking before his panicked brain can stop it. “It’s true. What Cartman wrote. About me, I mean. Not us, obviously. But I’m gay. Like, for you.”
Clyde realises he was wrong. There is more embarrassment to be had.
“Jesus, kill me now,” he groans, unable to look away from Craig even though all he wants to do is crawl into a very deep hole and disappear from the world. “You can go now.”
Craig finally looks up at him and shrugs. “Nah.” He pushes off the door and walks to the bed, Clyde staring like a rabbit in headlights.
Craig bends down slowly, and when he licks his lips, Clyde thinks he might die. Craig’s lips land softly on his and he opens his mouth to whimper and then he feels Craig’s tongue against his and he realises that death would be okay, as long as heaven tastes like Craig.
Craig pulls back and Clyde stares. His brain has decided to take personal leave and Clyde is struggling to comprehend the last five minutes. “What the fuck, dude?” he shrieks, and distantly he knows it’s even higher than before.
Craig just smiles and throws himself down on the bed next to Clyde. “What, you didn’t know?” he drawls, toeing his sneakers off and leaning his head back on his hands.
Clyde’s jaw drops. “I—you’re—what—gah! Why the fuck have you been avoiding me all week?!”
Craig shrugs, and Clyde could kill him for looking so relaxed. “I figured the whole Cartman thing was aimed at me. I thought you were straight, dude. But Stan called me last night, bitched at me for like a fucking hour about how mopey you were and how I shouldn’t fuck up our friendship just because you’re in love with me, and here I am.”
Clyde can’t hold it in anymore. “How the fuck are you so fucking calm?!”
Craig smiles, and Clyde feels his stomach kick because Craig never smiles like that, like he’s happy.
“What’s there to stress about? I like you, you like me, and fuck anyone who gives a crap.”
Clyde tries to respond, to make a point, but Craig is just smiling and smiling and Clyde realises that nothing can possibly be wrong with something that makes Craig look like that. Clyde gives up the fight and lies down next to him. Their hands gravitate together like they don’t know how to be apart and Clyde feels a stillness settle into him at the same time as he feels like he’s falling.
He thinks this must be what flying feels like.