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This Could Be Anywhere But Here

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Fuck, it’s hot. The graduation gown isn’t helping, and this cap is itchy as hell. Every time I adjust the cardboard on my head, I manage to whack myself in the mouth with a swinging tassel.

Classmate after classmate are seated next to me, trying to pay attention to the Dean go on about important values, our impending future, and lame jokes he tries to relate to our lives. Five minutes in and I've already given up trying to follow along. It's just not possible—he's that boring.

I know I should probably listen, and should probably be excited—finally a college graduate and all—but it’s not like anything feels different. This feels no different than my first day here in Boulder. College really wasn’t as big of a deal as everyone made it out to be. I studied, drank, and played ball: that’s about it. And now, I have to head back home with no agenda for a future, because I have zero idea on what to do with my life.

I mean, I should be grateful instead of complaining like such a little bitch. I’m lucky that I even went to college. A lot of kids from small towns like South Park never even have the opportunity.

But as far as a career goes, nothing really interests me. It’s scary, honestly, this lack of a plan, and I’m usually not one to stress about things.

What’s next? Find a job? Get married? Start a family? It’s what my parents did.

A chorus of applause surrounds me. On stage, sure enough, there’s the Dean, sun reflecting off his bald head, and he’s walking back to his seat behind the podium.

My program filled with time slots of bullshit for the day tells me that the Valedictorian’s speech is next.

A girl that I barely recognize from the class makes her way to the stage and her expression is nothing but stoic. She doesn’t look the type that plans on cracking a few jokes to keep us entertained.

God, I have to get out of here. We’re not that far from the mountains, it shouldn’t be this hot. Maybe I can just sneak out somehow, skip the speeches, and then jump in line when they call my name for the whole diploma thing.

A vibration suddenly ripples down my leg and I almost have a fucking heart attack. I grab for the cell phone beneath my gown.

One new text message: Pay attention, Stanley.

I frown and turn in my seat to see Mom staring at me from a few rows back, pointing to the stage.

How does she do that?

Dad is beside her, looking around like he’s planning an escape route, too.

Our Valedictorian is a little bit more grounded than I expected. She’s not going on about how much Bill Gates has influenced her life even though she’s never met the guy, or babbling on about the “long road ahead.” She’s talking about her family, teachers, and friends.

“The people that you come across in this great journey through life have more of an impact on you than you think. They can see more potential and greatness within you than you ever thought possible.

“A friend that I’ve had since high school is one of the main reasons that I am here today. Before I was too stubborn to listen to parents and teachers, she was my support system when I had almost dropped out of school in the tenth grade.”

This speech takes an odd turn—an almost high school dropout and now she’s valedictorian of her college class?

“She convinced me that I was good enough to push myself, that I could excel in life. She managed to convince me—my toughest critic at the time—that I could succeed. Without her initial push and support, I would not have worked hard enough to be standing in front of you all today. Every day, the people around you can change your life, if you let them.”

This is the first speech of the day where I can actually relate. High school? Fuck… who knows where I’d be right now without my friends.

She’s totally right. When you have friends as a kid, their opinions are the ones that matter. At some point when you’re growing up, you realize that your parents just aren’t cool anymore, and your source of enjoyment and trust lies all in your friends. That’s just how it was—they were your partners in crime.

At least, that was my case. This girl’s speech certainly doesn’t seem as dramatic as I’m making it out to be, so maybe it’s just me. I actually don’t even remember the last time I thought my parents were cool. Other kids were always the ones that were intriguing.

In middle school, I was a dedicated athlete, had pretty good grades, and had friends that money couldn’t buy (except for Cartman. You could probably get a good amount of money in another country for someone his size.) When I look back on those days, I always smile at the simplicity of everything. I had a blast pretending that someone’s car was a spaceship, plotting ways to get back at Cartman, or even just staying up too late with Kyle.

I look down at the curling edges of my program. Kyle basically is my past. If I had intentions of dropping out of school—ever—he would have torn me a new asshole.

I’ve never met anyone else like him. I mean, as lame and cliché as it sounds, he was my other half. He was the best friend that I’ve ever had. Almost all of my childhood memories include him.

I’m not sure how our friendship started. Our parents said we met in preschool and were inseparable since, but I can’t remember how we became as close as we were. He always seemed like he was a part of me. No particular beginning really, just for as long as I can remember.

I can’t piece together why we used to fit so well either. Kyle just got me. I didn’t have to impress him, I didn’t have to act or pretend with him; we just enjoyed each other’s company. We made it through school together, summer vacations, and whatever else we did, it was together.

We were the only sane ones in our fucked up mountain town. We didn’t really have a choice. We had to stick together.

Fuck, I hate when I start thinking about him. Kenny always says—

“Stanley Marsh.”

The sound of my name snaps me back to reality. I’m already in line, and apparently, the valedictorian speech is long gone and we’re already at the letter ‘M’ in the alphabet for handing out diplomas.

I should probably turn the attention span off autopilot now.

My dad yells something in the crowd when I move across the stage but I ignore him while I take my diploma and shake hands with my superiors. It’s amazing how school always felt like it was dragging and then bam, you’re graduating, and you suddenly have to map out the rest of your life.

“Yeah, Stan!” Again, my Dad, “Watch those steps! I’m filming so don’t trip!”

I pinch the bridge of my nose with my thumb and forefinger in embarrassment as the line of graduates erupts in a few chuckles between beats of Pomp and Circumstance. He always does this. Whenever he can cheer me on for anything he has to act like the proudest father, and more importantly, the loudest. He was brutal at my Little League games. At least he’s not drunk and taking his shirt off.

Really, at least he’s not doing that.

After the ceremony, I’m worn out from all the attention and pictures. I just want to get out of here. With last minute goodbyes said to friends and professors, I pull the black robe off over my head as I follow my parents through the parking lot to their car. The breeze feels amazing.

It’s weird. I see girls around me crying and clinging to their friends, but all I’ve been worried about is getting this day over with. It’s not like I didn’t make many friends; I had my fair share of popularity. All in all, it was a pretty good college experience, but when I think about leaving, I don’t have a feeling of attachment. If anything, I’m not sad to leave, and I’m not excited to leave—I’m indifferent.

Dad slows down and falls into my pace as Mom continues ahead to the car. She’ll be driving since Dad lost his license for a DUI again. This has to be his eighth time, no joke. I know he’s at least in double digits by now. You would think it’s weird that this has happened so many times, but not in my hometown. Officer Barbrady probably forgot to record most of them.

He puts an arm around my shoulder and pulls me close, “How’s it feel, graduate?”

I shrug, “Probably better if you weren’t yelling for me not to trip in the middle of the ceremony. Thanks for that, Dad.”

He reclaims his arm and pats his video camera nestled safely in a black carrying case, “I didn’t want you to trip while I was filming.”

I leave him with his logic and just get in the car. We pull away from the scattered graduates throughout the parking lot and drive down University Road for my last time.

A few miles down, we arrive in front of a small two-story building, and we’re forced to double-park in the middle of the street.

The house is nothing special. Its painted sea green with a wooden staircase stained in beer. Steps follow the siding to the top floor, my level. The whole place is an eyesore, at best, but it’s not like we ever really cared about décor. This was only temporary while I rented here for classes.

“Be right back,” I say, exiting the car and quickening my step to my door.

Dad cracks his window, “Hurry up, Stan. The game is on in an hour. We need to leave now if we want to get back in time.”

I wave a hand behind in an acknowledgement and step inside a place that I’ll no longer call home in the next few minutes.

Inside, it’s pretty cramped. I lived here with two other guys, buddies from baseball. It doesn’t look as small as it did over a month ago, though. With the furniture out of here and most of our stuff, it looks almost spacious.

The entire unit is empty, down to bare-boned white walls, except for a few things that I left behind in my room. My clothes are already gone and I don’t have much else to grab since Dad helped me with a lot last weekend. All that’s left is random knick-knacks and basic crap that I forgot to pack up the first time around.

I grab an empty backpack from the otherwise vacant closet and start collecting.

There are a lot of memories in this place, and being in it so empty makes me feel sort of sad about leaving for the first time. So, the parties got lame after a while—that happens—but now they won’t be going on at all anymore. As of today, I’m officially out of here.

The horn bellows outside as I’m trying to reminisce and I hear a distant, “Randy!”

Dad is getting impatient.

I roll my eyes and wipe my arm over the hollow bureau to knock the last of my possessions into the bag. I take one last look around the room, imagining what it looked like a month ago just to make sure that I haven’t missed anything. The landlord would definitely just trash anything we left behind. We weren’t exactly the best tenants—too loud for his taste.

Before I turn to walk out, I notice one of my favorite pictures still tucked away in the corner of a mirror, unable to believe that I had almost forgotten it. I jog over as another beep sounds from outside, remove it from the mirror, and palm it into my back pocket.

On the way home, I try my best to nap through Dad’s sing-along to an eighties rock station. It’s been a long day and the drive from Boulder to the mountains is going to take a while. I might as well try to get some shuteye. The heat makes me tired. I’m such a pussy when it comes to summer.

I have mixed feelings about going home, and I just have mixed feelings about everything in general. I’m relieved exams are over, excited about finishing school, stressed about a job, and nervous about…well, just how different will everything be anyway? I’ve haven’t been home since I left. Not really, anyway. There were short holiday visits here and there, but that’s about it.

I keep the window down throughout the entire trip as my eyes flutter open and closed. One thing I’ve definitely missed is that fresh mountain air. Before I know it, I can see the town sign ahead of us as Dad attempts a poor Axl Rose impression to the chorus of ‘Sweet Child O’ Mine.’

South Park.

Chapter Text

Day two and it still hasn’t sunk in that I’m back here in South Park yet. Yesterday was mostly spent cornered with questions and lectures from my parents. Mom keeps saying that there are plenty of options open for me because I have a Communications degree, so I shouldn’t be this indecisive on a career choice. I already know it leaves a lot of options open—that’s why I chose it. You can’t get any more general than Communications, except for Liberal Arts, but who takes that seriously? I barely take this seriously.

Basing your major off the sole reason to keep yourself in sports isn’t the best idea that you can come up with. My freshman year of college—when I was still officially “undecided”—I overheard an upperclassman talking about one of his assignments. All he had to do was keep up with the news and then write a report on what he saw during the week. I quickly tuned my ears closer to the conversation because that sounded easy enough. I watch TV anyway. Then, the guy mentioned a public speaking course. I never really had trouble with that, so that was another pro on the list.

I decided my major through eavesdropping. Who does that?

Academics always took a backseat to my interest in sports, though. It’s been like that forever. When I was younger, it was football. Then it was hockey. Now, it’s baseball and has been for the last seven years.

I knew that if I had any shot of playing ball for college it required good grades. I wanted the easiest way possible to achieve them—something that wasn’t piled with required reading and thick essays. Sure, I still had to do work, but in comparison to other studies? Communications sounded like a breeze.

Thought it was a genius move at the time, but now I don’t know what to do with this degree that I don’t even feel like I’ve earned.

Today, Mom has spent half the afternoon preparing dinner. She keeps calling it her “Welcome Home Dinner.”

I’m actually looking forward to it. I used to take her cooking for granted, valuing pizza and soda over a well-cooked meal, but I guess you don’t realize how much you miss something until you’re eating cups of soup that are 69 cents every night.

“Bet you didn’t feel like comin’ back home after all that college partying, huh, Stan? All those chicks?” Dad nudges me in the arm with his elbow and suggestively raises his eyebrows while we eat at the dinner table. He’s always trying to be cool with me. Referring to girls as chicks, saying things like: getting totally wasted, and my all-time favorite: smokin’ a doobie.

“Yeah, I remember when I was in college. It was party all the time. We slept all day, even through class, and partied all night. Those were the days. Me and the guys. We even had competitions on who would get the most chicks. Back then—”

“Randy,” Mom interrupts his slightly over-embellished trip down memory lane and he shoots a quick glance her way with an obvious taint on his pride.

I laugh briefly before stabbing another green bean onto my fork, “I don’t miss it too much. It’s actually kind of nice to be back.”

And that’s not a lie to appease my parents. When I first stepped into my room last night, I realized that a part of me actually had been home sick. There’s always a feeling of comfort in the house that you grew up in.

“We missed you so much, sweetie,” Mom chimes in. “Oh, and guess what? I forgot to tell you. Shelly and her boyfriend are looking for an apartment together. That’s why she couldn’t make your graduation.”

I almost choke on a vegetable. I can’t believe that Shelly found someone that has the patience to be in the same room with her, let alone actually live with her. This guy already fits the criteria of a serial killer.

Actually…that would make sense.

“Wow, I didn’t think she’d ever find someone who could tolerate her enough to live with her.”

“Of course she would! Don’t say things like that about your sister, Stanley.”

So, it’s kind of mean, but it doesn’t faze me. Shelly is still a nightmare. She’s always been shitty to me ever since we were kids. Nothing changed when we got older, we just see less of each other now. Maturity didn’t do a damn thing. I know that searching for an apartment is a lame excuse, but Mom most likely doesn’t want to admit to me that Shelly probably just didn’t want to come to my graduation.

Not that I really care, but I’ll be polite for now, “Sorry. Where are they looking?”

“Over on the other side of town, where your mother and Shelia volunteer,” Dad mumbles. He hasn’t seemed too interested in the conversation after we shifted topic from his “good ol’ days.”

“You volunteer with Mrs. Broflovski? Since when?” Unlike my father, I’m actually kind of interested. Mrs. Broflovski was always up in arms for some ridiculous cause. I can only imagine what she managed to rope my mom into this time.

“Just last week. She brought ‘sexting’ to everyone’s attention at a town meeting. Apparently it’s the new craze with kids. With little Ike in high school now, she’s really worried. She asked me to help out.”

“‘Sexting?’” I smirk.

This jumpstarts Dad back on topic, “Apparently, it’s doing it through text and picture messages. It’s like cybering with a phone. I don’t see how those little picture phones can do anything for a person, though. How’s the quality on them, Stan?”

There’s no way the conversation’s even going in that direction, “How’s Mrs. Broflovski been?”

“Oh great! We’ve both just been so excited to finally have you boys home.”

I force a smile and don’t focus on what that means, “Are you that bored now that you’ve started protesting?”

“It’s driving me nuts,” Dad says with an exhausted tone.

“Randy!”

“What?”

X x x X

I make it a point to dodge Mom and Dad after dinner tonight. I don’t want to be cornered again about life choices. Avoidance sounds like my best defense. The first moment away from them, I seize the opportunity to take a walk and visit Kenny.

I didn’t tell Kenny what day that I’d be home, so I’m just going to surprise him. I’d rather see him at the store instead of heading to his place in the bad side of town anyway. I hate going over there.

Outside, the first thing I do is take in a deep breath of fresh mountain air. It may be summer, but it’s still the mountains. That cool air never goes away—my kind of weather.

The town is quiet for the middle of the day, and my head is still trying to wrap around the fact that I’m back here again. I wanted to get out of here so badly when I was younger. Anticipation used to gnaw at my patience as the college season drew near. I was ready to get the hell out of here—check out the normal world. Change was so appealing. But when you’re away for so long, there’s no place like home, right?

My intentional destination is the Stop-N-Go, but as old habits would have it, I make a right down the block when I’m off my lawn instead of crossing the street and going straight. It’s not like I’m headed totally out of the way, but my feet just naturally take me down this route. I’ve walked it a thousand times before. This is the way to the old bus stop, and the way to Kyle’s house.

He only lives a few numbers down the street. When the home comes into view, I don’t stop, but I keep sight on it. There’s a minivan in the driveway, and I recognize it right away to be Mrs. Broflovski’s. She always needed a minivan to fit all her supplies when she was protesting. But, something new catches my eye. There’s another car in the driveway that I’ve never seen before. It’s an older vehicle—probably not as old as mine, but it’s not new. I assume its Kyle’s since I doubt Mr. Broflovski would have his back bumper adorned with band stickers, but it’s not like I would know.

I turn my head away from the house and continue forward, no intention to stop. I’ve made enough phone calls to Kyle to last me a lifetime and he didn’t return a single one of them. If he wants to talk to me again, he can seek me out. I’m long passed trying to fix things.

Another block or two down the road and I can’t seem to shake the thought of Kyle. Every driveway I walk by reminds me of his.

I wonder if that really was his car.

College was the change that I hoped for, but the opposite of what I expected. Kyle and I told each other we’d go to the same university since our freshman year of high school. Who else would I put up with in a dorm room besides my best friend? Our plan was specifically this: Get the Fuck Out of South Park for Four Years. We didn’t even hesitate on whether or not we would come back. We knew we wouldn’t, it was just going to happen that way. We planned on returning for holidays, of course, because our mothers would kill us otherwise, but that was it. We needed a break from South Park, plain and simple.

But here I am, four years later, walking past his house like a stranger. Even though we didn’t attend the same universities, Kyle and I both stuck to the other half of our plan: we never came back to visit besides short periods through the holidays. I haven’t seen or even spoken to him since the month of June that we graduated high school.

I tried calling. I tried emailing. I tried calling his parents. I tried bugging Ike. I even tried snail mail. I was one step away from booking a flight to New Hampshire to ask him why the hell he’d been avoiding me, but I was too pissed at the fact that he was avoiding me to go that far.

So, I didn’t.

I still don’t even know why I’ve never heard from him. Hell, the longest time we’ve had apart from each other before that was when we went to separate camps, and that was only a few weeks that one summer after fifth grade.

At first, I missed him so much it hurt. I was suddenly alone after being used to having that one person constantly there for me my entire life. It was like a fucking divorce. I hated him for a while. After that, I was numb, and after that, I didn’t care—because ignorance is bliss and after a while you begin to take the hint and start to deal.

I realize that I can’t expect to keep in touch with everyone that I grew up with. That’s just the reality of things. People grow older, they grow apart—it happens. But even with that in mind, I know that Kyle and I were different. We didn’t have a friendship that just “grows apart.”

If there’s a chance at a reunion between us, I’m not going to be the one to initiate it. The ball’s in his court now and has been for a while. I’m done trying. He’s the one who decided that it was a good idea to end our friendship anyway.

When I approach the tiny convenience store, I cup my hands beside my eyes to peek through the front window and make sure that Kenny is working. Pushing the door open, the Stop-N-Go welcomes me with the sound of a cheap bell ringing above.

Kenny’s sitting behind the cash register with feet propped up on the counter and his nose stuck in a magazine. When he hears the bell, he automatically says, without much care or attention, “Welcome to Stop-N-Go.” He doesn’t even look up.

His dirty blonde hair is a mess, as always. He never cares about what direction it goes in, and it shows. He looks deep in thought in some article, but seems pretty comfortable. I glance at the magazine to see if he’s reading a porn mag. Oddly enough for him, it isn’t. It looks like it’s about cars.

Kenny is the only employee working in the tiny store. Looming above him is a large sign that reads, “Under 18? No tobacco. We card!” with rows of various cigarettes lined behind. Kenny said that he never smoked until he started working here. The boxes just stared at him all day, begging to smoke the stress away from bitchy customers. Directly behind him there’s a wall of candy, cigars, condoms, and all the standard crap sold in any 24-hour convenience store.

Wow, the place looks exactly the same.

I walk up to the cash register and lean my elbows on the counter. His eyes never leave the magazine, but I tilt my head and watch him for a few seconds, just to see if he’ll notice me first.

He doesn’t.

“What if I was a customer, dude?”

He looks up at the sound of my voice and his usual smile appears. Whenever he smiles, it always looks like he’s up to something—friendly enough to be welcoming, but telling enough to let you know that he won’t put up with bullshit if he smelled it.

“Hey, Stan,” he says as casual as possible, like he’d seen me ten minutes ago instead of three months, “When did you get back?”

“Yesterday.”

“Hang out for a while,” He nods behind the counter. “I’m bored out of my fucking mind.”

The thing about working in a convenience store is that the morning rush hour is the busiest. Most people just come in for coffee, maybe a donut. The rest of the day is pretty quiet.

I walk behind the counter and sit on the floor beside a large container of beef jerky. He tosses me the magazine and pages ruffle in the air before I catch. “Page 48,” he says, and I thumb through the book. There’s a snapshot of a faded brown coupe sitting in the center of the page and the caption reads: “1978 Camaro – For Sale by Owner.”

“Did you find a car?”

Kenny’s smile lights up the dismal store and he spills into details regarding page 48. He’s probably the most laid-back person that I know, but every now and then, I see this spark of passion in him. He’s always loved cars. I look at the picture again, and despite the fact that there’s tape on the back window, the paint job is faded, and the price says $975, I’m nothing but happy for him.

After he tells me that he’s talking to the owner about it next week and puts the magazine back on the display rack, he crosses his arms and gives me a once-over with his eyes, “Well, look at you, college graduate. How’s it feel?”

I shrug. God, I hope people don’t keep calling me that, “I don’t know. I’m kind of indifferent.”

“Wow, way to be enthusiastic about shit. Come on, man, you’re back home! No more exams or studying. You’re all set for the working world.”

“Yeah, I know, and believe me, no more writing papers is totally awesome, but I don’t know what I’m gonna do. I mean, come on, I’m back at home with my parents right now. How lame is that?”

“Who fuckin’ cares, dude? Half the people here are living with their parents. At least until they get jobs. It’s not like living on your own is cheap. Kids right outta college are always poor. That’s just how it goes.”

I ask Kenny how he’s been and he just rolls his eyes with a look around the store like it’s his home. He says he’s been working long hours, and I’m not surprised. Kenny’s been working hard since he turned sixteen and could get legal papers. He likes the idea of being in control of his own money. Not having to steal food to ease the hunger in your stomach is always a plus.

I hang around the store for a while until his shift ends. Only one customer walks in the entire two and a half hours that I’m here. We spend time catching up, and create little figures on the floor out of sealed beef jerky and strips of bubble gum.

Kyle, Cartman, and myself used to always hang out with Kenny here. I don’t know how he never got fired for it. I miss things like this. We’re not doing much, just hanging out, but I’m having a good time. Kenny’s a fun guy, always has been. He’s been like a brother to me for as long as I could talk. He was pretty easy to keep in touch with because he never left South Park.

He actually answered my phone calls, too.

“Oh, dude. I forgot to tell you. Kyle was in here the other day.”

I lift my head to look at Kenny in between a beef jerky creation that doesn’t resemble much of anything. Not a lot of room for creativity in strips of beef, “What?”

Kenny nods, “He looks completely different. It’s weird. I didn’t recognize him at first.”

“Really?”

He looks passed me, like he’s running the image of the new Kyle Broflovski through his head, “The hair is gone, dude. Long gone.”

My eyes widen, “What? No way!” I can’t picture Kyle without his fro—his Jew-fro, as Cartman used to so eloquently put it. He always had it shoved under a hat, but still… “How could you tell? No hat?”

Kenny shakes his head, “Nope, not when I seen him. His hair is as short as trimmed ball hair—ya know, as opposed to his usual untrimmed ball hair look. He must shave it now or something.”

“Jesus Christ,” I can’t picture Kyle without his hat and his hair. I always thought he’d ditch the hat the day Cartman took a diet seriously.

If I see a skinny Cartman walking around, I’m moving to Boulder—permanently. That would just spill my tolerance for weird shit in this town over the edge.

“When did you see him?”

Kenny squints an eye in thought, mouthing off days quietly to himself, “I think it was last Friday. He’s got glasses now too.”

“Are you serious? I didn’t know he had problems with his eyes.”

“Yeah, me neither. He still talks the same though, so at least he didn’t develop some fucking lame East Coast accent or anything like that.”

I always wondered how Kyle changed over these few years, but I never thought it would actually happen.

I look down at myself—I’m still wearing the same winter jacket that I had five years ago, for Christ sakes. And I’m pretty sure that I’ve been getting the same haircut since middle school.

“Well, since you’re both home now…did you try to rekindle the bromance yet?”

I scoff a laugh and shake my head, “I only got home yesterday. Besides, I gave up like two years ago, dude. If he wants to talk to me, he’ll talk to me, but I’m not gonna keep calling him like some stalker.”

He shrugs, “That’s still really weird to me. Of all the people that you two would keep in touch with, I definitely thought it would be each other.”

“Me too,” I keep my eyes on the blue sleeves of my jacket. The hems trickle into the palms of my hand and the left sleeve is in better condition.

He gets glasses, and I don’t even buy a new coat.

Kenny grabs a single piece of wrapped gum and throws it at me, “Don’t look so disappointed.” He grins, arms wide, “You have me.”

“Is that a good thing or bad thing?”

“Fuck you, dude.”

I just laugh and toss the piece of gum back to him.

“You were one of the first things he asked me about.”

“What did he say?” I ask, trying hard to sound disinterested.

Kenny shrugs again, “Just the usual ‘how is he doing’ shit. He did ask me if you were still pissed at him.”

“What did you say?”

“‘Of course.’”

I smirk and think back to my last phone call to Kyle—my very last, and very drunken phone call. I vaguely remember trying to call him an asshole correctly without slurring, "I think the last voicemail I left was along the lines of me calling him an asshole and then just hanging up."

He laughs, “Was that the ‘You’re an asshoooo’ one?”

I nod with a laugh.

“Well, I invited him to the party this weekend, so maybe you’ll get a chance to call him an ‘asshoooo’ in person.”

“Wait, what party?”

“Jesus fucking Christ, Stan. I told you about this a million times. You have the attention span of a six year old.”

I smirk.

“Token is having a graduation party at his house this weekend.”

This jogs my memory. Kenny did mention this to me a few weeks ago—multiple times. He’s always up for a good party. “Oh yeah, didn’t you say that it’s actually his house or something?”

Kenny throws his arms in the air, appalled at the idea, “Yeah, man! It’s fucked up. I know his family is rich as shit and all, but they don’t have to buy him a fucking house for a graduation present.”

“That’s weird.”

“Yeah, really fucking weird. You’re coming though, right?”

“I don’t know. Should you be the one inviting me? It’s Token’s house, not yours.”

Kenny rolls his eyes, “Please, like I give a shit if Token cares who I invite—which he won’t. We were all friends at one point. He didn’t say to keep the guest list short or anything. Everyone I’ve spoken to so far is going.”

I nod, “Okay. Sounds cool.”

“Woohoo!” He yells happily, throwing me a high five. A party to kick off being back home doesn’t sound like such a bad idea. It might relieve some stress from my blank future.

Running into Kyle may be totally awkward, though. I don’t know if I’m ready for that yet.

Chapter Text

Last night, I stopped and really took notice of my room. My navy blue carpet, the pine trees outside my window, my fading posters…my parents left it untouched. It's nice to see that they didn't decide to turn it into a guest room or something lame like that after I brought up the stupid idea of living on my own. Student loans put a dent in the financial situation needed to live alone.

On that note, something else that I need to get on: I need a job. Something for cash until I figure out what I want to do. Hopefully that's sooner rather than later.

I glance at the clock as I open one of my suitcases sitting on the bed. 11:09PM. If I want to get to sleep any time soon, I better start unpacking.

I think about Kyle again as I blindly separate clothing. Ever since I've been home, he's constantly been slipping in and out of my thoughts. It's getting kind of annoying, but I can't help but be curious. The last time we were both living here was high school—and that didn't really end well.

Senior year, Cartman, Kenny, and myself were sitting in South Park High School's cafeteria, just like we did every day for lunch. I had my usual slice of cheese pizza, bottle of soda, and two chocolate chip cookies in front of me. I bought this for lunch every day. I was a creature of habit when it came to food.

Cartman was trying to gloat about the fact that he had a date to the prom before Kyle, even though Kyle wasn't at lunch yet. But that was Cartman—pretty much anything out of his mouth involved anger, criticism, or gloating. Today wasn't an exception.

"So, Jessica Tibbly finally got back to me and said that she would love to go to the prom with me. Said she would looove to," He dragged out 'love' for emphasis. "Did you hear me, Stan? She said that she would l-o-v-e love to." With a huge smile on his face, he sat across from me, staring into my eyes as if this affected my life in any way. It didn't.

"Cartman, I really don’t give a shit," I said with a full mouth of pizza. "Jess smells like she doesn't know the meaning of the word 'shower' and twitches almost as much as Tweek. This isn't really something to brag about, dude."

Kenny threw in a small laugh, sitting beside Cartman.

"Ay! Shut up! At least I'm not the last one to get a date, like that Jew-Boy predicted. I even got one before him. I can't wait until he gets here so I can tell him that hee waas wrooong," The last three words were sung in a sing-song.

"I doubt Kyle cares about your smelly date, and besides, he said he isn't even going."

"Please, he's just saying that because he can't get a girl like—"

"Like your mom can't get a negative STD test?" Kenny questioned, followed by a fit of laughter. I had to laugh, too. Cartman's mom always was a dirty whore.

"Knock it off, Kenny!" He spat.

"He said he didn't want to go," I continued. "I'm sure Kyle has his reasons. If he doesn't want to go, then he doesn't want to go. Who cares? And don't rip on him when he's not here to defend himself, dude." I was trying my best to stick up for Kyle and make like this wasn't that big of a deal. I didn't feel like hearing these two argue with each other all through lunch again. Their fights were getting worse. Kenny and I left the table last week because they just wouldn't quit.

Cartman's eyes lit up, "Never mind that, Stan. Here he comes." Any time that he had a chance to prove Kyle wrong or embarrass him, he would get this look of excitement on his face like he inherited a million dollars. Again.

Kyle threw his backpack on the cafeteria floor and he resembled more of a storm than my best friend. He sat down in the empty seat beside me, across from Kenny, like he did every day. Anger radiated off him like heat. His face was red and I could tell he was on edge. He bent down and fumbled through his backpack, pulled out a paper lunch bag, and threw it on the table in front of him.

The three of us just sat and stared.

He must have felt the eyes on him because when he looked up at us, he was already confused by the attention we had locked on him. His auburn curls bounced when he lifted his head, revealing the very obvious fact that he wasn't wearing his hat today, "What?"

Kyle hated his hair. The only reason it wasn't shorter was because his mom forbid him to cut it. She thinks the curls are "just lovely." I knew, along with everyone else, that he would never voluntarily come to school without his hat. This never happens—ever.

I arched an eyebrow, taking the first initiative to speak, "Are you okay, dude?"

Kyle shook his head, breaking eye contact with us, "I'm fine. I don't want to talk about it." The words spilled out in an aggravated mumble through his tight lips. He didn't look good; he looked like he was restraining his emotions the best he could, but it was a struggle.

He continued unwrapping his lunch which revealed a very unappetizing peanut butter and jelly sandwich. This didn't seem to help his mood.

I didn't pressure him to talk. Instead, I just gave him a smile for reassurance and hoped we could all just move on with this whole lunch thing.

I looked at Cartman. His sight was fixed on Kyle. A slow smile formed on his smug expression and I felt a new weight fall on my shoulders. Something bad was going to happen; I felt it in my gut. Just when I opened my mouth to distract Cartman, he opened his, "Well, Kyle, you look bright and chipper this morning."

Kyle's eyes were on his crinkled paper bag and boring lunch but they narrowed as soon as he heard that annoying voice.

I didn’t know what could’ve been bugging Kyle. I looked over the curly hair atop his head and took a wild guess that he was pissed off he didn't have his hat today. But, there had to be something else. He wouldn't be this mad over a hat.

Just as my eyes were looking over the mess on Kyle's head, Cartman spoke again, "How does it feel to be in your true Jew-form? No more hiding that fro from the world. You're free, Kyle."

"Goddammit, Cartman. I'm not in the mood for your shit today."

"Well, just let me say what I have to say and then I'll be quiet. Just one thing, Kyle." He feigned sincerity, closing his eyes and placing his hand over his chest, "All I ask…is that you listen."

"Nothing you say is worth listening to. Don't talk to me."

"Cartman," I began, trying to reason with the unreasonable, "leave him alone today, alright? You two can rip each other’s' heads off tomorrow. Give me and Kenny a break for one day."

Cartman crossed his arms, "Well, I'm afraid I can't do that." He glared at me, looking like whatever I could’ve said wouldn’t get through to him. Then he leaned his fat forearms onto the lunch table, and inched his face closer to Kyle, "So! Do you have a date to prom, yet?"

Kyle scoffed, "Not that it's any of your damn business, but no, because I’m not going. It's just some bullshit dance that everyone hypes up like it means something in life." He bit into his peanut butter and jelly sandwich like it was cardboard.

Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed the girl that I was taking to prom looking over at me, and I got distracted from the argument. Her name was Kerry. She only sat a few lunch tables in front of us. She was a pretty cool girl and I was hoping that she'd be my girlfriend after the dance. Could make Wendy jealous.

She gave me a smile and a shy wave, which I returned with as much charm that I could throw into a wave, but my smile faded once Cartman shifted in his seat and blocked my view—not like that’s hard for him.

Cartman rubbed his pointer finger and thumb over his chin as if he was in deep thought, "Well, you do seem to make a perfectly good point, Kyle, but everyone always goes. Seems to me like you're covering up because no one wants to be seen in public with your embarrassing Jew-fro."

"Fuck you, Cartman!" He threw his sandwich back into its wrapping, "I don't give a shit if everyone goes to them, I just don't want to go. And it's not like anyone would go with your fat ass anyway!"

Kenny and I just looked at each other and rolled our eyes. Something had to change. We couldn't take these two fighting anymore. Sure, they've fought since we were kids, but for the past few years, we didn’t get a break when they were within earshot of one another. It was getting really fucking annoying.

Cartman leaned back in his chair with a sinister grin on his face, "Looks like you are wrong again. A particular girl would looove to go with me. She even said so."

"Who, your mom? She'd go with anyone with a dick—but oh wait, then that might rule you out."

"You would want to know if I had a dick or not, asshole!"

"So, there's a possibility that you don't?"

Kenny and I laughed again. Okay, so sometimes this was entertaining. But despite Kyle's sarcasm, he was getting angrier. He didn't think any of this was funny.

I was about to suggest that we go to the library to finish lunch so he could calm down, but Cartman threw exactly what he had been waiting to throw out there.

"Ay! Fuck you, douchebag! For your information, Jessica Tibbly is going with me, so in your goddamn face! Looks like you were wrong, Kyle, and I was right. I wasn't the last to get a date. And I don't have to pay her so don't start with that bullshit again either." He leaned up in his seat closer and pointed his finger between Kyle's narrowed eyes, "And ya know what? Everyone knows that you can't get a date. We all know that you don't think the dance is 'over-hyped.' You just can't find anyone to look you in that ugly fucking face of yours, and you never could! You've never had a girlfriend, Kyle! Everyone fucking knows it!"

Kyle was giving him a cold stare. He didn’t even blink. Cartman was pushing him too far. I could tell.

"Cartman," I interjected, "quit being an asshole and just shut the fuck up. Leave him alone. Eat your food like we all know you want to."

It was like I was invisible, and Kenny didn't even look like he cared. He went on with his food, not paying the two any mind. He was used to this, I guess. I should be too, but again…I had a bad feeling this time. Something wasn’t right.

Cartman pressed further, "You're just a piece of shit, Kyle, and you always will be. No one wants to go to prom with you, and I have a girl who would love to go with me. How does it feel, Kyle? Are you burning with jealousy? With envy?" He lifted two index fingers, pointing both back and forth in Kyle's face, dancing as he sang: "Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha. I got a date before you-uu."

Kyle clenched his teeth, "Get your fucking sausage fingers out of my face."

We always told each other, ever since elementary school, that we wouldn't give Cartman the satisfaction of seeing us really lose our cool. Kyle tried to stick with this growing up, and he succeeded for a while, but Cartman was becoming relentless and unbearable.

Kyle was gripping his hands together beneath the table and his knuckles were fading to white. I put my hand under the table and laid it over his, "Kyle? Calm down, dude. It's all right."

"No! It's not, all right, Stan. I'm fucking sick of this asshole."

Cartman sat back in his seat, "Oh, now that hurts. But, it probably doesn't hurt as bad as having no one to go to prom with, right?"

"Shut the fuck up, Fatass, before I kick the shit out of you!"

This grabbed Kenny's attention. His eyes were on us again instead of his lunch. The fight was escalating more than he thought it would, too.

Kyle hadn't denied not having a date for the prom yet. Maybe Cartman was right? He always did have a problem with girls.

I looked at Kyle and gave him the friendliest smile that I could. I immediately regretted what I was going to say as he turned to me, face heated, but it was already sailing out of my mouth, "Hey, I can probably get one of Kerry's friends to go with you if you can't get a date. She—"

He cut me off, wrenching his hands away from me and smacking them down onto the tabletop, "Jesus Christ, Stan! I could get a date just fine! That’s not the point! I just don't want to fucking go!"

I frowned; I was only trying to help. I mean, I know it was a bad time to bring it up, but goddamn, "Will you calm down?"

He stood up, "No! I won't calm down. I'm fucking done. I'm sick of this idiot’s abuse day after day. I'm not hanging out with him anymore." He started gathering his things with the intention to leave and I wanted to just let him go. It was best so that he could cool off.

And if Cartman could have kept his fucking mouth shut for just this once, everything would have been okay. But of course, that didn't happen.

"See ya, Kyle! Avoid windows while you're walking through the school! Ginger Daywalkers don't have reflections!"

"That's it," Kyle dropped everything he owned and walked to Cartman's side of the table. He leaned down and his face was inches away from the growing smirk on Cartman's. He looked as if he was about to squeeze the life out of him, "Say one more thing, you fat fuck! One more thing!"

By now the rest of the students were staring at our table. I looked around, feeling uncomfortable being at the center of the scene. I tried reasoning again, "Kyle? Come on. Let's go to the library. We can finish our lunch and you can cool off."

Cartman opened his mouth to make another remark, but Kyle just lost it. All of the frustration over the years finally came to a head. He couldn't take it anymore. He just fucking lost it.

Kyle lunged for Cartman and tackled him to the ground, knocking him off the chair and onto the floor. They rolled into other students, toppling everyone over like bowling pins. Chairs turned, and food flew. Kyle's fists aimed repeatedly and directly into Cartman’s face as he yelled random obscenities that we couldn't really even understand.

"Holy shit, dude!" Kenny yelled through his parka as he simultaneously yanked on the strings, hiding into the fabric like a turtle in its shell.

Cartman wasn't exactly weak, being as fat as he was. When his brain registered that Kyle was gradually fucking up his face, and blood began to seep from his nose, he threw Kyle off of him and into the lunch table in front of us. Kyle fell backwards into a group of goth kids, spilling coffee all over their table in a wave of steam. "Watch it, Conformist!"

Kenny and I jumped from our seats, shaking off the initial shock of the situation, "Knock it off, you two!" We yelled together.

Kyle struggled to his feet after the fall and hissed in pain from hot coffee sinking into his clothing. But when he regained balance, he noticed a chair come flying at him from Cartman’s direction. He hastily sidestepped just in time, "Really, you fucking asshole!? You're seriously throwing fucking chairs!?"

"You're goddamn right I am!" He threw another as Kyle came running towards him again with a look in his eyes that had every intention to continue what he started on Cartman's face.

Before Cartman could toss another, Kyle had tackled him to the ground again and grasped his throat with both hands.

"Ay!" he choked, "Get off me!"

Kenny and I ran up behind Kyle and pulled him away. It was a struggle—Kyle was livid. Kenny backed off once I pulled Kyle up and decided to make sure Cartman didn't do something stupid while I tried to restrain Kyle.

Kyle has had plenty of tantrums before, and I was one of the few people that had a tactic in calming him down. Now, I figured that this was no different, and I'd use the same technique that I always did. Just grab hold of him and don't let go until he decides to stop being a crazy little shit.

I threw my arms around him, pasting his own down to his sides. I held him tight to the point where there was not a gap between our bodies. He tried to squirm away but I was always stronger. His heart was pounding so fast that I felt it through his sweater. His scent and the sharp smell of coffee filled my nostrils. I squeezed him tighter and spoke quietly in his ear, "Calm down, dude. You don't want to do this. We graduate soon and then you don’t have to see him again. Just two more weeks, Kyle. Don't let him get to you now." I tried my best to reason with him, "Calm down. Forget about him. It's just me here."

He suddenly stopped struggling. He stood there, spine straight, and for a moment, I didn't hear anything in the world around me—just his breathing. I let go of him, and what I saw scared me. This was Kyle—my best friend—and he never looked so hopeless.

He looked like he was going to cry.

Footsteps in the stairwell distracted me, and I turned to see if someone was coming. It was probably a teacher—about fucking time! I didn't even know where our lunch monitor got to in the midst of all this.

And then, I heard another noise besides footsteps. The sound of metal and plastic scraped the tiled floor. When I turned back around to see what it was, I noticed Kyle still staring at me.

Before I could say anything, I heard someone yell "Get down!" Kyle and I immediately directed our attention to Cartman, and then at the flying chair coming right for our heads.

We dropped to the floor, covering our heads with our hands like a grenade went off. Then, we heard the chair smack into something behind us, followed by a yelp, and something else falling to the floor besides the chair.

I turned around and saw Principal Victoria lying there, unconscious.

"Cartman!" I heard Kenny, who was supposed to be restraining said individual, yell through his parka.

Kyle stood there in shock, looking down at the body on the floor. I moved away from him and knelt down next to our Principal. "Holy shit. Holy shit. Holy shit. Principal Victoria, are you okay?"

She didn't answer. More footsteps descended in the stairwell.

Mr. Mackey appeared and was immediately by my side, "Oh my Gawd!" He put his hands on our principal's shoulders, "Principal Victoria, are you alright?" He shot a cold look at me when she didn't respond, "M'kay, now just what in the hell happened down here?"

My mouth gaped open. I didn't have a clue what to say.

As observant as Mr. Mackey was, he took a look behind us and knew exactly what happened. He saw a chair lying beside us and the Principal, and then noticed Cartman and Kyle just standing there, dumbfounded. They were standing in a mess of unturned chairs and vacant tables. I hadn't noticed until now, but those two managed to get the rest of the students to move to the other side of the cafeteria.

Cartman and Kyle were notorious for their heated arguments. It wasn't a hard puzzle to piece together.

"Eric Cartman! Kyle Broflovski! Get to the principal's office right this instant!"

Kyle's face was horrified. I knew this could only end badly. This situation was dangerous so close to graduation.

Eric put his hands behind his back, and looked to the ceiling. He whined, always pressing buttons, "But Mr. Mackey? Why do we have to go to the principal's office if she is unconscious?"

"Just go to my office then! Right now!"

Kyle didn't take the bus home with Kenny and me that day. I called his house after school, but no one answered. I kept calling his cell phone into the night and still never got an answer. Paranoia setting in, I decided to give up on the phone and just go over to his house to see what had happened. I needed to know. I hoped his punishment wasn't anything serious, or that it interfered with any of his scholarships.

His mom answered the door. She wasn't exactly welcoming. "Well, hello Stanley," she said flatly, very unlike her.

I gave her a weak wave, feeling awkward because of her tone. "Hi, Mrs. Broflovski. Is Kyle home?"

"Yes he is, but I'm afraid that he's grounded."

I adjusted my hat, feeling the need to do something with my hands. Kyle's parents were always pretty strict with him. I tried to think of a quick excuse.

I patted the inside of my coat, "I have some assignments from his classes that I have to give him for our finals. It'll only take a minute." I hoped that she bought the lie, and didn't ask to see these assignments that I most definitely didn't have tucked away in my coat.

She frowned but decided not to pry any further. She looked at me as like a distant son. I'd been around Kyle for pretty much my whole life. I wouldn't dare lie to her.

Right.

"He's upstairs in his room. I'm sorry, but you can't stay long though, Stanley. Like I said, he is grounded. Half hour, tops."

I walked by her and nodded before making my way up the steps.

I didn't knock when I walked in; I didn't have to, "Kyle?" The room was dark, "Can I turn a light on?"

"I don't care," His voice was hollow.

After closing the door behind me, I walked towards his bed. I knew the route in the dark comfortably. I moved to the side table and turned the small lamp on. When it illuminated the room, Kyle's back was to me. He was curled into a ball under his comforter and his head just barely poked out from underneath to reveal his hat that had rightfully returned to his head.

"Do you want to talk, dude?"

I took a seat beside him, letting the question hang in the air. I let him take a moment to decide how he wanted to answer. Even if he didn't feel like talking, that was fine too. At least I was here to keep him company for a half hour.

"Stan?"

His body didn't move, even when he said my name, "Yeah?"

"I can't walk for graduation."

I arched an eyebrow, "Did Cartman fuck up your leg with one of those chairs today?"

There was another pause for a moment, as if Kyle was having difficulty speaking. He began to move though. He sat up in his bed, the blanket falling down off of his body and onto his lap. He was in a white t-shirt and his eyes were puffy. It was obvious that he had been crying.

"No, nothing like that," His voice sounded weak. I listened closely, trying to figure out what he meant by he couldn't walk.

"Me and Cartman can't attend the graduation ceremony. We're not allowed to attend the rehearsals, accept our diplomas with our classmates, or anything."

My mouth hung open. This was a huge deal for Kyle. He was second in our class. This graduation signified his hard work over all these years in South Park. His parents talked about going to his high school graduation all the time.

"We can pick up our diplomas at the school the day after graduation, but we're not to be anywhere near the ceremony." His voice was quiet. He seemed removed of all feeling, like the day had drained him, "I don't get to walk down the aisle and accept my diploma in front of my friends and family. All of my hard work and I'm getting my diploma in a fucking manila envelope."

He wiped the back of his hand under his nose with a brief sniffle. "Oh," he said, suddenly remembering something. He leaned over the side of his bed and pulled our copybook out of his schoolbag. "Here." He handed it to me, "I know we haven't used it in a while, but I had nothing better to do in detention today. It's basically just me complaining about how much I hate Fatass." He attempted a sheepish smile, but he looked too tired.

I ran my eyes over the book, taking it from him. I haven't seen it since the beginning of the school year, the last time that I used it. It was a black and white marble copybook that's seen the inside of our backpacks since elementary school. Kyle and I wrote notes to each other every now and then in it. It was just something we did when we felt the need to talk to the other but for some reason couldn't at the time.

I tucked the copybook into my coat where his assignments were supposed to be. Just as I was about to ask about how Principal Victoria was doing, he said, "I have to tell you something else too, dude."

I brought up my legs to sit more comfortably on his bed, my left leg resting a bit on his, and continued to listen.

"I was upset this morning because I got a B for my final grade in AP Trig. I may not even be second in the class anymore. And Mr. Hannity was such a dick about it, too. But that still wasn't even it, though it totally pissed me off." He took a deep breath before he spoke his next words, "I'm moving to Hanover for college."

I was taken aback with surprise. This wasn't the plan that we had discussed, "Hanover? Where the hell is that at?"

"New Hampshire."

"What!" I coughed out as an immediate reaction. I wasn't expecting that.

Kyle just gave me a weak shrug, "That was why I was pissed off this morning to begin with. My mom called right before lunch and decided for me that I am going to Dartmouth. Apparently my dad knows some lawyer over there that knows some professor. I don't know, dude. They looked over my transcripts for consideration and I got a late acceptance letter."

I didn't know what to say, "What happened to your scholarships to Colorado State?"

"She wants me to see if I can work something out. I have a meeting with Mackey about it tomorrow. Which, of course, she arranged for me too."

I didn't have a clue what to say. I was happy for him, I really was. This was an Ivy League school. Of all the people that deserved to attend one, Kyle would be top on the list. But Jesus Christ, New Hampshire? That was on the other side of the country. This was a change in plans – a big change.

"Wow. Congratulations," I didn't sound as excited for him as I should have.

His head was looking down to his lap as he played with stray threads on his blanket, "I want to go. This is an amazing opportunity for me. This is what I've always wanted for my education. I was just so mad earlier because she’s making my decisions before even talking it over with me—again. I'm so sick of her running my life. And then that fuckin' B. And even my hat, dude, of all days for me to have misplaced the thing. But… I know I still shouldn't have let that affect me with Cartman today. And I definitely shouldn't have let him get to me like he did.”

I put my hand on his again, much like I did in the cafeteria today. I rubbed my thumb lightly over his knuckles and fingers. I had an urge to comfort him—or myself. Probably both, "It's alright, dude. It's over with now. Cartman was a huge dick today. I can see how he got to you."

He looked at my hand and then brought his eyes back up to look at my face like he was studying something behind my eyes. Maybe it was because of the whole graduation thing, maybe he just wanted someone to help him out of the situation, or maybe he was just tired from crying, but his look made me feel distant. I didn't know what it meant. We were usually able to read each other's emotions like our own, but there was something going on inside his head that night that I couldn't figure out.

"This is what you want, right?" I asked, just to make that sure he wasn't doing this just to please his crazy mother. It was stupid though. Of course this is what he wanted. It's an Ivy League school. This is right. This is a good opportunity for him. This is what he wants. Who the hell wants to go to Colorado State when they have an open invitation to Dartmouth University?

I pleaded with myself to be happy for him.

His face didn't change, but he paused. Then he nodded and gave me the fakest smile that I'd ever seen, "I'm sure. I need to get away."

This wasn't the first time that I could tell that Kyle was lying to me, but it was the first time that I didn't question it. He deserved this. He was only miserable because of the fucked up day he had. I was trying to be happy for the both of us, but it was hard.

Four years. Four years without the guy in front of me. I couldn't fathom that. It wasn't right. "Fuck, dude," I breathed in realization, letting this sink in, "What the hell am I supposed to do without you?"

As soon as I said it, Kyle quickly clung to me with a hug, his head falling on my shoulder. I wrapped my arms around him in return and our arms locked behind each other's backs. We sat in a few more moments of silence like that, just stuck to each other.

I had this sudden fear of parting before him, like if I did, I'd never see him again. He let go first.

My eyes slowly open, and a dim light from my desk is warmly lighting the room. I'm in my bed, waking from a very uncomfortable nap. I must’ve dozed while unpacking.

After rubbing my eyes, I make out the numbers on the clock: 2:42 AM.

The memory stays with me, and I look over at my mirror, a habit that I have whenever the end of senior year crosses my mind. But, what I'm looking for isn't there.

I sit up with a stretch and grab the pants that I wore to graduation. I reach my hand in the back pocket to pull out a photo before shuffling tiredly over to the mirror and nudging it into the corner.

It's not in great condition, but it's not bad. It has a worn down fold in the top right corner from sitting in my mirror down in Boulder for so long. It was taken on my high school graduation day, on Kyle's front lawn. I wouldn't go home after accepting my diploma unless my parents stopped there first. Just because Kyle couldn't attend the ceremony didn't mean I couldn't at least get a picture with the one person who kept me sane enough all those years to make it to graduation. I was in my long, dark blue gown with my arm around his shoulder and a bright smile on my face. Kyle wasn't too ecstatic that day since he couldn't attend, but you wouldn't be able to tell from the picture. He looked as happy as ever, and so did I. I had pulled off his green hat, dropped it to our feet, and slapped my graduation cap on his head. With myself in my gown, and him in my cap, my parents took the picture.

The photo had been tucked in the corner of my mirror all through college.

It sounds lame but whenever I was pissed off at him for not returning my calls, I would look at this picture and feel better about the situation. No matter how shitty things seemed on the outside world, we always had each other to fall back on. I can tell the smile on his face is genuine, even though his day had been horrible. I think that maybe, no matter how bad things seem between us, we can always go back to what we had in this picture. It's a slim chance of hope, but it's still there.

Even if I don't talk to him again, even if he's turned into a total douchebag, and even though he hasn't spoken to me in years, he's still the best friend that I've ever had. I don't think anyone could come along and change that. Not even Kenny. What I had with Kyle is unexplainable.

I look back at the mess on my bed. There’s no way I plan on finishing unpacking now. It's too late and I’m exhausted.

After another quick glance at the picture, I place my luggage on the floor to push the inevitable off until tomorrow, and strip down to my boxers. I flick the light off and settle down onto my clear bed, much more comfortable now that I don't have the handle of a suitcase digging into my spine.

Chapter Text

Token's street is lined with cars all the way to Middle Park, only a few blocks from from the town line. I’m lucky enough to find a spot on our side and I don’t have to park over there. I may be older now, but a few years away can’t kill a deep seeded rivalry that stems back to childhood. We all still hate Middle Park.

Kenny reassures me that it’s all right I tag along to Token’s party as we make our way over the lawn, even though I still haven’t received an official invite from the homeowner himself.

The house isn’t very big. It’s probably about the size of my parents’, but that’s small compared to the mansion that Token had growing up.

Lucky bastard.

The two of us have had a craving for alcohol all week. Kenny has been working a lot and I took the liberty of applying to a few shops around town, just for the time being. Friday is our day to take a break and have some fun. Besides, whenever I hang out with Kenny, we always go out drinking. Just sticking with tradition tonight.

Kenny knocks on the front door, music and chatter pulsating through the siding, and I can’t help but smile like a total dork. This is just what I need—an opportunity to actually unwind and celebrate.

I fucking graduated.

A random person that I don’t recognize greets us as we walk through the doorway and the loud voices and low bass that was spilling through the entrance suddenly surrounds us. It’s crazy; I’m still in the foyer, but I can spot a good ten people that I grew up with. It’s like I stepped right into a time machine.

I follow Kenny because by the way he’s walking, it’s like he already has a destination in mind.

In the kitchen, is the homeowner himself, Token. Not sure why, but he’s wearing a suit as he leans against the countertop, Craig by his side.

Craig looks exactly the same since high school. He even still has that stupid hat with the tassels. “Holy crap, look who it is,” he says through a stuffy nose. He and Token have eyebrows shot to the ceiling in surprise since they haven’t seen me in a few years and I wasn’t exactly expected.

Kenny and I walk over and I smile, “Hey, guys.”

Both Token and Craig tip their beers to me. Kenny gives them a wave, but looks distracted as I shift into small talk of our years apart. He never was much of a conversationalist around people. He opens up and is pretty loud with his close friends, but in crowds, he’s more of an observer than a talker. Besides, Token and Craig were never really part of our group.

After a few minutes, Kenny interrupts, hands shoved stiff into his pockets, “Where are the cups at?”

Token opens a nearby cabinet and grabs a bag of red plastic cups, “Keg’s in the front of the house, by the door. We have Jello shots coming out soon, too.”

“Sweet,” Kenny says, and then we’re off to get some beer. The keg doesn’t take long to find since the line extends through half the house, filled with partygoers who have the same intentions we have. We both groan as we drag our feet to the very end.

“Well this sucks,” I mention, as if it wasn’t obvious.

Kenny sidesteps to check out the beginning of the line. There are at least fifteen people in front of us, but he doesn’t even consider waiting, “Come on.”

He grabs my arm but I don’t move, “Dude, we’ll lose our spot.”

“Just come on, I got an idea.”

I hesitate but follow anyway. We come to a stop about three people from the keg and I recognize the face immediately.

Butters is waiting in line, as patient as ever, humming to himself. When he notices who’s standing with Kenny, he greets me with total excitement, “Oh wow! Stan!” His face brightens and he pulls me into a tight hug, “It’s really great ta see you! When did you get—”

Kenny interrupts, “Can you fill our drinks?”

Butters lets go and tilts his head like a confused poodle, “Huh?”

I quietly laugh. He’s wearing a tie. A tie that actually has scattered smiley faces all over it. His shirt’s creases are practically drawn on, and the same situation covers his pants. His hair is gelled to the side, in a ridiculous part, and his shoes are shined, too.

Butters dressed up for a keg party. Of course he did.

With him and Kenny talking to each other, they look like polar opposites. Kenny’s parka has frayed holes all over it, and his shirt is an old Iron Maiden tee that I’m pretty sure he stole from his older brother back in the ninth grade. His head is bare of his hood, showcasing his disheveled hair that clings to an old Cheesy Poof. I wonder if he even knows that it’s there, or if he’s intentionally saving it for later.

Kenny grabs my plastic cup, tops it in his own, and then hands the tiny stack to Butters, “The line is too fuckin’ long. Can you just fill these for us?”

Butters looks down at the three cups now sitting in his hands, and right off the bat, we can tell he’s anxious, “Well, gee, everyone behind me might get awfully mad if I stand there filling up three cups when they been waitin’ all this time.”

Normally, I guess I would feel kind of bad, considering that Butters has a point. But then Kenny and I simultaneously look down the line at all of the people waiting, and that’s just not happening.

“Thanks, dude. We’ll meet you over there,” and I thumb somewhere behind me before quickly walking away.

We take a seat on an empty couch and watch Butters from afar. We snicker together as he struggles to fill all three cups. It’s obvious that he doesn’t drink very often. When I mention this to Kenny, he just responds with: “Fucking duh.”

First, Butters tries to just pick up the nozzle and squirt the beer into a cup. When he notices the pressure slowing before he can even finish, he looks totally confused. We think he’s talking to himself as less and less beer stops flowing, but we can’t make out what he’s saying.

“Hey, who let the retard pump the keg!” Someone yells from the line. I can’t tell who it is, but it sounds suspiciously like Cartman. I look around but don’t spot him.

No way that could’ve been his voice. If you hear Cartman and don’t find his fat ass immediately then there’s no way he’s around. You can’t miss a tub of lard that huge. I may have not seen him in a while, but no matter how long I’m away, I know that Cartman will always be the size of a total fat fuck.

“Oh, hamburgers,” Butters says, panicking a little bit.

I decide to help before the people waiting in line get too impatient. When I approach, he looks at me with such a worried face that I can’t help but laugh.

“Oh boy. It’s not working anymore, Stan. I’ah…don’t know what to do.”

I lean down and pump the lever on top of the keg repeatedly for a few seconds. I grab the nozzle, signaling Butters to hold the cup out, and the beer flows fine again.

“Well, heck. How’d ya do that?”

I almost have two cups filled by the time I even answer, “Don’t you ever go to parties, Butters? You have to pump a keg if it starts to kick like that.” I point at the lever sticking straight out from the center of the tin barrel, “That’s what this thing is for. Now give me yours.”

He hands me his, the last empty cup, eyeing me like I’m the man with all the answers, “Well, no, I never usually go ta parties. If I drink, it’s just when Kenny needs a buddy to drink with. All we get is a few six packs and Kenny drinks most of it anyway. Heck, even that isn’t often.” He rubs his knuckles together and looks down, “I guess I’m just not a big drinker is all.”

“Not a surprise. But come on, drink up anyway. We’re gonna have fun tonight.”

Back on the couch, Kenny still looks amused, “Little trouble, Butters?” He asks, as Butters takes a seat beside him. I just lean against the arm of the couch, blowing into my beer softly to move some of the foam around.

“You know I did, Ken. I never drank from a keg before.”

For as long as I’ve known him, Butters’ innocence still never takes a break from shocking me. We’re 21 now. How has he never experienced a keg before? It seems impossible.

Kenny tussles Butters’ hair and Butters just gives him a small smile and pats his part back into place. Kenny mentioned on the phone before that the two of them had gotten close over the last few years. When I asked him about it, all he had to say was, “You trying hanging out with Cartman alone.” I still think it’s weird considering how drastically different the two are. Butters practically flinches any time someone says anything sexual or inappropriate. And Kenny…well, he’s usually the one saying something sexual or inappropriate.

“Hey, Stan,” Butters begins, “where’s Kyle?” He looks around as he asks me, like it’s a given that I brought Kyle along.

I shrug, “Hell if I know. I haven’t talked to him.”

Butters seems taken back by my answer, but he doesn’t pry further, and I don’t explain further. I take a moment and glance around the party, just to observe my surroundings and see who actually is here. When I first walked in, I didn’t realize just how much is going on.

Token has a big screen TV in his living room and a bunch of people are crowded around. There’s a football videogame on the television that looks to be the brand new Nadden game out this year. The thing only came out two days ago and he already has one. I make a mental note to play that at some point tonight.

There’s a beer pong table set up on the other side of the room. Old classmates of mine, Timmy and Jimmy, are on one team, and that’s working out just about as well as one would expect. Timmy keeps throwing the ping pong balls everywhere except in the direction that he’s supposed to be aiming, and Jimmy keeps spilling beer with his crutches as he attempts to throw.

Just then, someone harshly bumps into my shoulder from behind. Some of my beer spills onto the floor in a small wave, “Sup, butt-fuckers?”

I look to my left only to see a still-so-fat Eric Cartman. He's wearing his old red jacket from high school and the buttons look like they’re about to pop from too much pressure. Because, of course, he had gained some weight during our college years.

“Butters, you can’t even pump a keg? Are you fucking retarded?”

Butters frowns as he fidgets with his tie that’s still all smiles, “Well, no. I’m not effing retarded, Eric.”

“How’ve you been, Fatass?” I ask over my cup, taking a long sip of beer.

“You’re here ten minutes and you think you can go around calling me fat, pussy?” He drops himself onto the couch and I swear that Butters is close to catapulting right off, “Where’s that Jew of yours?”

I guess I better get used to people back here asking me about him. When you’re part of a pair for so long… “I don’t know, I haven’t seen him.” I decide to change the topic, “What are you doin’?” I ask instead as he drapes his thick arm across the back of the couch, “Are you still in school?”

He shakes his head, “Pft, like I ever actually needed school. Just living life on my own. Startin’ my own company.”

Kenny barks a sarcastic laugh, “Bullshit, Cartman. You still live with your mom and you don’t have a job.”

Cartman closes his eyes and a deeply annoyed sigh bellows out of his behemoth of a mouth, “I hate you, Kenny.”

I have my moments of hot and cold with Cartman. He can be entertaining when he isn’t being the biggest asshole on the planet, but it’s not like that happens often. At least I never hated him as much as Kyle did.

“I’m back at home now, too,” I share, “For now.”

“Don’t listen to this poor bastard. I’m starting my own Internet company. Kind of like c-Bay. People just give me their shit to sell while I collect most of the money. You should see all of the stuff old people have tucked away with no clue how much their shit is worth.”

“You’re selling stuff for senior citizens?”

“Hell yes. They barely even know what the hell the Internet is. I can pretty much charge them whatever I want. It’s totally sweet. Besides, old people friggen’ love me.”

Kenny glances over at the beer pong table. When he grins, I know he’s noticed that it’s no longer occupied by the disaster that was Jimmy and Timmy’s attempt at playing, “Yo guys, let’s go play.” He jumps off the couch, “Me and Stan versus Butters and Cartman.”

Cartman’s face falls before he trudges over to the table, “The fuck! Why do I have to be on Butters’ team? He sucks ass!”

I follow Kenny to the opposite end, “Deal with it, Cartman. Set up your cups.”

He mumbles something under his breath and Butters actually looks a little hurt. Regardless, Cartman pulls him close like he’s telling him a plan of attack, and he keeps glancing over at us like we’re trying to spy. I don’t even know why he would need a plan. You throw a ping-pong ball into a cup, and then you drink the beer—not much strategy involved. Cartman’s always been like that, though. Anything to his benefit, he makes sure it’s done 100%, whether it’s right or wrong. In this case, he’s shooting for bragging rights.

Cartman, of course, goes first. He steps in front of Butters with the white ball in between fingers, his sight aiming for our cups. “Now, Stan,” he starts, “just because you’re back all of a sudden doesn’t mean you get to just hang out with us again. I got rid of you once, I don’t want to have to do it again.”

I scoff a laugh, “How is me leaving to get an education you getting rid of me?”

He makes a bad toss and misses all of our cups by a few inches, “God-damn-it!”

Kenny pats me on the back, “Now that he’s back, of course it means he’s hanging out with us again.”

Butters moves to take his turn and Cartman just rolls his eyes, “Whatever. As long as you don’t bring that other fag around, I don’t care.”

Butters closes one eye as he aims and the tip of his tongue pokes out from the corner of his mouth. He throws the ball, and much to Kenny’s surprise (and mine,) it lands dead center into one of our cups.

Cartman cheers immediately and throws pointed fingers in our direction, “Yes! In your faces! I knew Butters was the best choice for a teammate!”

Butters shyly blushes to himself.

When it’s our turn, we make both of our shots, and this puts a huge damper on Cartman’s celebration. Then, when he misses on his turn again, he crosses his arms in a huff. The rest of the game carries on like this. They never make another cup.

After ten minutes of him bitching about us cheating, the four of us find ourselves outside on Token’s back deck.

Kenny and I lean on the wooden railing that runs along the front portion of the backyard. The grass is illuminated in pale blue from decorative lighting that trails along Token’s property. Cartman and Butters stand a few feet away from Kenny and me. We keep tending to our beers as we watch Fatass train Butters on how to throw a ping-pong ball, even though Butters is the only one who made a cup out of the two during the whole game.

“Listen, Butters. If you do this right, we can kick their asses next time—so pay attention.”

Butters frowns, “Well’ah, can’t I just do what I did before when I made one in?”

He scoffs, “Of course not! You didn’t make any others in, did you?”

Butters looks down and rubs his knuckles together again, “Neither did you…”

“Totally irrelevant! Because that was a warm up game. Don’t you know that? I wanted to see if you had potential, and now that I know you don’t, I have to show you the right way. Now! Stand like this.” He widens the distance between his feet and straightens his back as Butters pays close attention, “It’s all about your stance.”

I just shake my head, pull my attention off the pair, and finish the last drop in my cup with a light burp. I look at Kenny who’s still watching in pure amusement, “Hey, I’m gonna go fill up my beer. You good?”

Kenny glances in his cup and nods, “Yeah. Hurry up, though. You don’t want to miss this. Butters is two seconds away from pulling out a notepad and writing this shit down.”

I walk back into the house and try to climb my way through the crowd to where the keg is on the other side. The house is so packed that I can’t even make my way a couple feet without squeezing by people. And since we’re in such close proximity, I’m stopped three times by people that I used to know before I can even make it half way there.

First, is Red, a girl from elementary school. Then, it’s Craig and his totally lame hat again. Then, it’s one of my ex-girlfriends, Laurie, from sophomore year of high school. All of the conversations consist of the usual, “How have you been? It’s so good to see you,” lines. That and every single person I talk to asks me about Kyle. I’m annoyed by the fourth time I’m stopped because really—can’t a guy just go and fill up his beer?

I finally see the line for the keg. Thankfully, it’s not nearly as long as before because this time I don’t have a gullible friend to cut in with.

As I approach, my shoulder bumps right into a guy about my height. I barely glance at him as he adjusts his glasses to say a quick apology since I really don’t feel like being stopped again. I turn to keep walking, but as soon as I’m a step away, I feel a tentative hand on my shoulder.

“Stan?”

I barely hear my name over the music and chatter but I can recognize the voice anywhere. When I turn around, I’m suddenly face to face with Kyle.

My eyes widen, “Holy shit, I didn’t even recognize you.”

And I have every right not to because he looks completely different. The green hat is nowhere to be found, and—Kenny was right—his curls are gone too. His hair is very short, knocking off any evidence that he ever had a head of crazy to begin with. The clear-rimmed glasses sit high on his nose, and I still don’t understand what’s up them. He never mentioned any vision problems before.

“Yeah,” He runs his palm over the crown of his head, “cut my hair right when I left. My mom is still pretty pissed about it.” He smiles, “You look exactly the same, dude. How’ve you been?”

I stare at him. Here’s probably one of the most important people who’s been in my life, and he’s looking at me with this fake smile like he just bumped into someone that he hasn’t purposely been avoiding for four years. He doesn’t look apologetic at all, which is totally unlike Kyle. Back then, if he knew he was wrong, he had no problem apologizing, especially to me. We’ve always been mature about that with each other. At least, that’s how it was before. But by the looks of him, I can tell a lot has changed and I don’t think I like it.

Remembering Kenny’s initial invite to him, I say, “I’ve been good. Kenny’s out back with Cartman and Butters. It was good seeing you.” Without waiting to hear anything else, I turn to the front door on my opposite side, and walk out.

I don’t even know where I’m headed, but before I know it, I’m walking down Token’s lawn to the sidewalk, my mind racing.

After all this time, he decides to just say hello and make small talk like we’ve been on some sort of vacation. The ignored phone calls reel through my head, the emails, everything that I’ve done to keep in touch with him and all he has to say to me now is that his mom’s still pissed that he cut his goddamn hair. I should’ve punched him in the face.

I stop before I’m halfway down the block. What am I doing? I don’t want to leave. I turn and look back. Silhouettes of drunken stumbling and bad dancing flicker back and forth passed the windows. The front door swings open and closed as the smokers outside sip on their sticks of nicotine. This is supposed to be a party. Here I am, back with all of my old friends, and I’m finally a college graduate. I’m an adult now, and the only proper way to celebrate is to drink up, drama free. I sigh, shove my hands in my pockets, and begin walking back. It’s getting cold out here anyway.

I hope that Kyle isn’t around when I return to my friends. I was having a good time. I don’t want to ruin that. If he is, then the rest of the night is going to be spent with awkward I’m-still-pissed-at-you-for-being-a-douche-but-I’m-being-polite-since-we-are-at-a-party glances. I don’t feel like speaking to this new Kyle. Not right now. Not with his small talk.

Back in the house, he’s nowhere to be found. I breathe a small sigh of relief and continue on my initial track to fill my beer.

I’m riding a pretty comfortable buzz already. At the keg, I make it a point to chug a beer and then refill again before I head out back. Save myself a trip.

Kyle isn’t outside, but neither is Kenny or Butters—it’s just Cartman.

He’s sitting in a chair against the wall of the house and I let myself drop into the empty plastic seat next to him. He doesn’t say anything to me. His face is flustered, arms are crossed, and he looks like he’s about to choke someone, “What’s up with you?”

“You just had to bring the Jew along too, huh? I knew that when I’d see you here, I’d see that piece of crap again.”

So, Kyle has been by. He must have gone with Kenny and Butters somewhere. I twist in my seat to look around, but they’re nowhere to be found. “I didn’t bring him,” I say matter-of-factly.

Cartman scoffs, “I don’t care. What matters is that he’s here, stinkin’ up the fresh air with his Jew stench again. Ugh, I’m so totally pissed off.”

“Where did Kenny and Butters go?” I don’t feel like sitting here and listening to him complain. Though, we both have a common interest for once. Neither of us wants Kyle here right now.

He shrugs, “Who cares? They went off with that asshole somewhere.”

I decide to leave Cartman stew about his archenemy and go mingle around the party. My eyes keep wandering for Kyle, even though I’m dreading that conversation right now. In the midst of this, Token finds me and reminds me about those Jello shots. I smile, “awesome,” and follow blindly.

The kitchen is much more crowded than it was when I first arrived. Token, Craig, Clyde, Bebe, Red, and many others are talking around the table. All seats are occupied, and those that aren’t sitting are standing around everyone in a circle.

“Stan!” Bebe yells, her long blonde waves brushing past her eyes.

I’ve always liked Bebe. I hung out with her a lot when Wendy and I were together—just like Wendy and Kyle hung out a lot when we were dating.

She jumps up from her seat and runs over to me, enveloping me in a big hug, though it’s more like a fall and grab.

“Woah,” I stumble, “Hey, Bebe.”

She holds the hug longer than a quick hello before pulling away, but that’s probably because she’s drunk. She beams with a bright smile and when she begins having difficulty keeping her head from tilting too far to the right, I know that I can scratch probably and say that she is most definitely drunk.

“Come on,” She grabs hold of my wrist and pulls me to the table like I’m a ragdoll, “We’re doing Jello shots.”

Almost anyone that I hung out with as a kid is crowded around. The table looks like we are ready to dye Easter eggs. Tiny plastic cups are scattered in assortments of red, blue, green and yellow in front of us. There has to be over a hundred of them.

Standing here in the midst of all this, I briefly think about what all of them have planned. Are they home just to visit? It is the end of May, after all. This is college-end season. A lot of people visit home and then move on to apartments, other cities, anywhere but here. But how many of the people in this room are as unsure about their future as I am?

Token pushes himself through the crowd of people by the other end of the table and is the first to hold his drink up in the air, “Okay, guys, ready!” Everyone grabs a miniature cup filled with alcohol-infused Jello. I grab a green one closest to me. He holds his cup over the center of the table and everyone follows suit, “What are we toasting to this time?”

Everyone pauses for a moment in thought. Bebe looks up and smiles at me, “Welcome home, Stan!”

Everyone lifts their shots and says, “Welcome home, Stan!” I smile and swallow the vodka and sugar along with everyone else as heads tilt back in unison. A circle of empty plastic cups lands on the table and there’s a slight burn in my throat. I had forgotten how many friends I have here. For the first time, I kind of regret not visiting—kind of.

After six or seven more toasts to things as random as Token’s house having a ceiling, just for the sake of something to do before taking shots (which totally cheapens my welcome home toast,) I finally walk away from the table feeling a wave of disorientation, and the house seems somewhat more crooked than before. Those cups of Jello waste no time kicking in.

Okay, so they were a lot more vodka than Jello.

I wander around the party, talking to whomever I run into that I know, talking briefly about time away and their time here. I’m a fairly social guy as it is, but I’m a lot more outgoing when I’m drunk. I can talk to anybody about anything.

Which is why, at some point, I find myself in a conversation with Jimmy for what feels like a good twenty minutes already. I’ve always liked Jimmy, he’s a funny guy, but the stuttering drags the conversation on four times longer than it needs to be. By now, I have no idea what time of the night/morning it is, and since my vision is beginning to blur, so is my attention span. I don’t really know what he’s going on about, but the word count in the conversation is not high.

A view for the TV screen is just over his shoulder, so I’m trying to eye the Nadden game while I continue working on the beer in my hand. As I’m watching, and someone is about to kick off their 3rd quarter, Kyle and Bebe walk in front of the television and my eyes are suddenly following them instead of a simulated football.

Kyle doesn’t appear to be drunk but he has a red cup in his hand identical to mine. Not a difficult guess to what’s in there. I can’t get over how different he looks. His hair is so short, and it turns out that his head isn’t as big as I always thought it was.

Bebe looks like she is trying to desperately hit on him as she pokes him in the sternum almost every sentence she slurs. I mention this to Jimmy and we both laugh.

“She’s f-f-fuck. She’s fuck. She’s fu-fucking hammered, Stan.”

I laugh, louder than usual.

She sways and takes a step closer to shrink the gap between her and Kyle. He raises an eyebrow, looking down at her. Bebe has always been short, but she looks even tinier next to Kyle.

“Who is she ta-talking to?”

“Kyle.”

Jimmy looks surprised, “Brof…B-Brof…Brof-“

“Broflovski, yeah.”

“Oh, boy. Le-lemme go say hi.”

Jimmy hobbles off in that direction one crutch at a time while I make it a point to stay behind. Kyle smiles and leans down to greet Jimmy with a quick hug as soon as he sees who it is. Bebe looks disappointed that Kyle’s attention is off of her, but from where I’m standing, he seems pretty relieved. In that split second of welcoming, he looks to my direction over Jimmy’s shoulder and we make eye contact. I immediately pull the plastic cup to my lips and turn away, doing a poor job of hiding the fact that I was staring in the first place.

My face heats with embarrassment from staring like some r-tard, so I decide to leave the living room and continue my search from earlier for Kenny. It doesn’t take long to find him. Out on the deck, he’s sitting around a glass table with Butters and Cartman, looking much more relaxed than before.

“There you are,” Kenny says as I take a seat next to him. “Where’d you go, man? We were looking for you.”

“I took a bunch of shots with Token, Bebe, and everyone else.” Before I continue, I can’t help but notice how red his eyes are, “Are you high?”

His grin slides to one ear and then to the other.

“As a fucking kite,” Cartman interjects.

I laugh lightly, tasting a tinge of sugar lingering on my lips, “Did you smoke too?”

Cartman shakes his head, appalled at the idea of me even asking, “No way. Like I’d ever touch that hippie shit.”

Butters shakes his head too, “I didn’t neither. I’m still on my first beer.” He peeks into his cup, examining it with one squinted eye, “It tastes kind of funny.”

“Jesus Christ, Butters. I told you a million times—the beer is fine. What the hell is wrong with you?” Cartman shoots him an aggravated stare, “Like seriously, what the hell is wrong with you?”

“Me and Butters ran into Kyle,” Kenny suddenly states.

“Oh?” I try to sound disinterested but he knows I’m bullshitting.

He nods and crosses his ankles over outstretched legs in front of him, “Yeah, he’s probably gonna talk to you soon.”

I arch an eyebrow. Kyle’s been here for a little while now and hasn’t shown any attempt to talk to me other than bumping into me. I don’t even think that that was on purpose, “What?”

“He told us that he needs to talk to you.”

“About what?”

Kenny squints an eye in thought, “You’ll just have to find out about that when he talks to you, won’t you?”

“Wow, you’re no help.”

He smirks and closes his eyes, leaning his neck back onto the head of the chair, “I do what I can.”

“Oh god, I knew I smelled something!” I look up at the sound of Cartman’s shriek. He’s pulled his collar up above his nose and is pinching the fabric tight with a burning glare set in his eyes. I follow his gaze and Kyle is approaching from the house, making his way towards us with just as harsh a glare piercing through his glasses.

“Speak of the devil,” Kenny says.

“What the hell are you doing, Fatass?” Kyle snaps when he stops in front of us, still frowning at Cartman. I don’t know if it’s the alcohol or not, but I smile and feel a laugh erupt in my chest. That definitely sounded like typical Kyle.

Cartman’s speech muffles through his shirt, “I could smell your Jew stank from out here.”

Kyle looks like he’s about to retort, but holds back. He turns his attention to me instead. All of a sudden, the awkward tension that’s been sifting through the air all night is sitting directly between us. I feel like I’ve been avoiding an ex-girlfriend or something, “Can I talk to you for a second, Stan?”

I don’t want to go, and my first reaction is to pretend that I didn’t hear him, which probably won’t go over too well since he’s standing right in front of me.

I sigh and just bite the bullet. Before I know it, I’m following him into the house, clutching my drink tight as if it will help loosen the tension that I’m now trailing up the staircase to the second floor.

I look around the random room that he leads me to after I shut the door, and it can pass for an empty dorm. The walls are bare and there is a bed—that’s about it.

Kyle doesn’t say anything right away, and neither do I. We’re just standing, letting the silence hang in the air. He’s the one who asked me up here, so I’m not going to take the initiative and speak first.

After a few more seconds of awkward silence, he does, “So…are you just going to keep avoiding me all night?”

My mouth drops open as soon as the question is out, and it catches me off guard. I just stare at him, completely baffled by his words, “Are you kidding me? You’ve avoided me for four years and then you wonder why I’m avoiding you for a few hours?”

“Okay, Kenny was right. You’re still mad,” He says, exasperated, and sits down on the corner of the bed.

“Fucking right I’m still mad.” I take a step forward, “You don’t even apologize. You just bump into me like we were hanging out last week. What the hell, dude?”

He runs his hand along his chin and for the first time I notice that he isn’t nearly as sober as I thought he was when he was talking to Bebe. When he looks up at me and furrows his brow, squinting in the dim light, I see that he has to be almost as drunk as I am.

He gives me an intent stare, and his tone is serious, “Stan.”

I really expected him to just come out with something along the lines of, “Sorry, dude. I know I was a dick,” and then that would be the end of it. It’s weird that I predicted the immediate apology wrong considering how predictable Kyle used to be; irrational sometimes, but definitely predictable. He’s so unfamiliar now.

I don’t want to hold a grudge, but I know that I at least deserve a fucking apology.

“Kyle,” I respond, mocking.

He rolls his eyes, “Come on. Don’t be retarded.”

“I’m not being retarded.”

“That was kind of retarded.”

“Don’t call me retarded.”

We both stop and I look toward the ceiling. Silence is around us again and we’re just two men in this empty room, not saying anything or even looking at each other. This is awkward. This is way too awkward. Maybe this friendship isn’t as salvageable as I thought.

“Listen, dude…” he starts, “Just hear me out, okay?”

I hesitate, but I nod before I sway slightly and sidestep to catch my balance. That vodka is really doing a number on the house.

“Well…uh, these past few years have been weird for me.”

I take a sip of my beer, and let the sarcasm fall out of my mouth, “Not that I would know.”

He ignores my comment, but it gets under his skin anyway because he does that subtle little twitch with his jaw like he usually does when he’s withstanding his short temper. “I was really busy with school and—“

I sigh with an annoyed and overdramatic breath and decide that I’m done as soon as he says it, “I’m not standing here listening to some ‘I was too busy’ excuse, Kyle. That was never an issue before.”

This was a mistake coming up here. I should’ve just told him that I’d talk to him later. I’m already getting pissed off and I don’t feel like getting into some argument right now when all of my friends are downstairs having a good time—something that I should be doing, “I’m out.”

He throws his arms up in the air, frustrated, and he’s suddenly right back on his feet again, “Jesus Christ, Stan! Why won’t you even listen to me?”

I turn to walk out of the room, but look back once my hand is on the doorknob, “I thought the same thing myself. ‘Why won’t he listen to me?’ ‘Why won’t he call me back?’ ‘Why won’t he return my emails?’ ‘Why won’t he even talk to me?’ You disappeared, dude. You were my best friend and then you flat out ignored me like I was nothing. Excuse me for being a little fucking bitter.”

I don’t wait for a reaction. I swing the door open and it almost jumps off the hinges. I listen as I trudge down the steps, but I don’t hear anyone following behind, which is odd. Kyle never would’ve let something like this just go. Then again, I never thought Kyle would cut his hair. And I never thought he had trouble seeing. Really—what the hell is that all about?

I see Kenny off in the far corner of the living room when I’m back on the first floor, and his hood is wrapped around his head, “Hey, dude.”

“Hey, man,” His voice is slightly muffled because of the parka. Anyone else probably wouldn’t be able to understand him, but I’m used to it. I can speak Kenny.

When I tell him that I’m considering leaving, he smacks me in the back of the head. He convinces me to stay since he has two logical reasons. One, I’m entirely too drunk to drive, which I agree with. Two, I’m too drunk to walk home, which I also agree with because no fucking way am I walking home. Not when we’re almost in Middle Park.

The new Nadden game is finally free for the first time tonight, and leaving is no longer in consideration. I don’t even ask Kenny if he wants to play, I just pull him along. We drop ourselves down onto the couch in front of the big, flat-screen television and pick up some controllers.

“I don’t think we are in the right state of mind to play a video game, dude,” Kenny says as he chooses his team anyway.

I try my best to set the game up, but I can’t get my mind off Kyle. Was he really going to just say that he was too busy for four years to talk to me? That’s his excuse? So, I didn’t let him finish, but I didn’t exactly like the direction he was headed.

The game is set to go, but Kenny has the hardest time concentrating, and I have the hardest time moving my player. It looks like my quarterback is going to fall off the screen. Maybe I am too drunk for this. After a few more minutes of shameful video game playing, Kenny throws his controller on the floor, “Fuck this.”

The loud thud of plastic jolts me out of my attempt to move my team. There really is no sense in trying. Neither of us is sober enough. I put my controller down, too.

“So, how’d that talk with Kyle go?” He asks, leaning back into the couch, closing his eyes to the ceiling. The house is beginning to quiet down now, and the group of guests is starting to thin in numbers. I wonder what time it is?

I shrug and take Kenny’s beer that he’s loosely clinging to and start to drink it myself, “It went. I didn’t feel like getting into it with him right now.”

“Did he tell you?”

“Tell me what?”

He shakes his head, “Guess not.”

“What?”

“He wants to apologize, dude. You should at least hear him out.”

I frown. Kenny knew how pissed off I was at Kyle for ignoring me, and he was always on my side. What’s going on? “Dude.”

He speaks up right away, like the look on my face was a tell for my thoughts, “I know what he did was fucked up, but if he wants to apologize, make amends. When you have someone in your life for as long as you two have, you suck it up and forgive them. Don’t be lame and hold a grudge.”

“Are you serious? You were right there calling him an asshole with me when I’d call you and complain about him ignoring me.”

“Yeah, I know. But that’s when I thought he was ignoring us because he turned into some snobby Dartmouth douchebag or something. He’s totally not, dude. He even apologized to me and Butters for not talking to us either. He’s still Kyle.”

I eye him suspiciously but then roll my eyes, “Whatever. If I don’t feel like talking to him right now, then I don’t feel like talking to him right now. It’s not like he came out with an apology yet.”

Kenny laughs through his parka and mumbles something that I don’t quite hear. He stretches and pulls his hood back off his head. The dirty blonde hair bounces out like it was being held captive. The Cheesy Poof from earlier is nowhere to be found. “Let’s just forget it. Now,” he takes his beer back from my hand, “give me this, and let’s go see if some of those Jello shots are left.”

I don’t see Kyle the rest of the party. The other guests are either leaving or starting to pass out more frequently, and as morning approaches, I feel like I’m next in line for the latter. I’m way too tired and too drunk to continue socializing anyway.

I find my way upstairs to an empty room, fall onto the bed and immediately pass out.

Chapter Text

The next morning, my forearm instinctively shields my eyes from blinding UV rays and I realize that I’m in a bed that I definitely don’t own, lying beside a window that is most definitely not mine.

I groan and slowly sit up, feeling so shitty that when my body moves, my brain lags behind, taking a second to catch up to the new position. There’s an incessant pulse in my forehead and I can only hope that I have some type of aspirin at home to nurse this headache. The taste in my mouth is making me rethink the events from last night, just to make sure that I didn’t drink piss instead of beer. Mornings after heavy drinking are never kind to me.

My foot nudges something when I pull my legs over the side of the bed; that thing turns out to be Clyde. The sight of him gives me my first clue that I’m not alone in the room. He’s on his back, hanging off the other end of the mattress with his head about three inches from the floor. A nice trail of drool is dripping into a tiny puddle next to other passed out individuals. I guess they had the same idea as me last night. This must have been one of the only free rooms to sleep in.

I crack the stiffness out of my neck and walk silently out of the room, careful not to wake any of the bodies asleep on the carpet.

In the hallway, I hear a few murmurs on the first floor and crane my body over the side of the staircase to see if I find anyone, but there’s nothing. I reach into my pocket for my phone to check on the time, but instead, I notice a new text message. It’s from Kenny, 5:44 AM.

hahaaaaa way to pass out loser. walkin home

I smirk, thankful that I don’t have to look for him and give him a ride. There’s no way I feel like going on a manhunt for Kenny right now.

It’s only 7 AM. I wonder if the voices I hear belong to people who are still awake from last night or if they just woke up like I did—probably a little bit of both.

On my way downstairs, I’m careful to step over trash scattered around like confetti. The house reeks with alcohol, and another jolt of pain in my head convinces me that I need to get out of here. I just want to lay down in a comfortable bed without an old classmate hanging off the other end.

I pat my pocket to check on my keys and head for the front door.

As soon as I step outside, I nearly stumble right over Kyle who is sitting alone on the front step. I catch myself before I topple over him and almost do a face plant onto Token’s front lawn. When I quickly regain my composure and stand in front of him, he looks up at me, squinting one eye in the orange sunlight as he exhales a cloud of smoke from his mouth. The cigarette surprises me.

I raise an eyebrow, “You smoke?”

He looks at me for a moment longer, the bright light reflecting off his glasses. He shakes his head, “No, but my mouth tastes like ass.”

“And cigarettes don’t?”

“No, they totally do. I’m hoping the terrible tastes will kind of cancel each other out though.”

It doesn’t make sense, but I don’t say anything. I kind of wish I did though, because an awkward silence absorbs the morning air, drenched in reminder of last night. He takes another drag and I feel like I should say something, but I don’t know exactly how to approach the situation. I may have been drunk last night, but I remember almost everything about the party, even the “talk” with Kyle—if you can call it that. I should’ve just let him finish talking to me and got it over with. Now, since curiosity is such a little bitch, I have to do exactly what I didn’t want to do in the first place: bring up the topic myself.

I put a hand above my brow to give my eyes a break from the sun. It’s taking forever to adjust to the light, “You mad at me from last night?”

He looks up at me again, and he looks somewhat surprised by my question, “No, but you made it perfectly clear that you’re still mad at me.”

I bite the inside of my cheek. At least he isn’t pissed at me for being so stubborn earlier, “Do you, uh…need a ride home, or anything?” I ask, stepping around my words like a pro instead of just flat out telling him that I’m willing to listen now—alcohol not included.

I think he takes the hint when he flicks his cigarette away to the sidewalk and stands up, “I have my car here…but we can take a walk?”

I nod, “Yeah, sure.”

We walk away from Token’s house, our step light and tired from a night of drinking and lack of sufficient sleep. I keep my eyes off Kyle as we begin this walk to nowhere in particular, the streets of South Park beginning to wake on this early weekend morning. There is an unsure vibe between us, but despite everything, it really is good to finally see him again. In the daylight, with a clear head, I smile to myself.

He doesn’t waste any time and cuts right to where we left off a few hours ago, “So, I know you’re mad, and you have every right to be.”

At least we agree so far.

“But I was going through a lot and I was scared to talk to you about it.”

This is a different approach from last night. He didn’t begin with “I was busy” this time. Instead of annoyed, I’m concerned now, “What do you mean?”

He hitches his shoulders and looks down, “I don’t know dude. This is kind of a big deal.”

What could possibly fuck up our friendship more than four years apart could? How was that the better decision over anything? Guilt suddenly sets in. I hope that I didn’t give him the impression that he couldn’t come to me about something back then. I thought we had that understanding with each other, no questions asked, “What is it?”

He takes a deep breath and he stops at a corner. He turns and looks at me, his face as serious as when he told me that he was moving to New Hampshire, “I wanted to tell you before I left, but I didn’t exactly confront the issue. Obviously.”

“O…kay…” If this goes back to before he left, then this is deeper than the snobby Dartmouth kid theory.

“I don’t want you to think any differently of me, but from your reaction last night, I guess that’s not really an issue, right?” He smirks a little bit, trying to slip a small joke into the conversation. But anticipation is getting the best of me, so I ignore his attempt and just keep listening, even though it’s starting to sound like he is stalling.

“You can’t tell anyone, either. Not yet, anyway—particularly my parents. I mean, you know I’ve always trusted you, Stan, but you can’t—“

“I won’t,” I say a bit too eagerly. It’s nice to know he still trusts me though.

“And I know—“

“Just spit it out, Kyle.”

He sighs again and only averts his eyes away from me once before shrugging and saying: “I’m gay, dude.”

That’s…not what I was expecting. I don’t even really know what I was expecting, but it wasn’t that. “Huh?” is all I can manage to get out. I probably sound like an r-tard, but what?

“I’m…gay?” He says again, sounding confused that he has to repeat.

This seems so strange. I’ve never gotten that kind of vibe from Kyle before. Not last night, not before, not at all. I mean, yeah, he’d never had a girlfriend, and that was a little weird, but he just always seemed picky. He never manifested any other signs that he may have swung the other way. He didn’t even fit the stereotype. He was always obsessed with basketball, and never flamboyant. He didn’t even want to jump on the metrosexual bandwagon when that shit happened—and even I did that.

How the hell hadn’t I seen it before? I mean the amount of time I spent with him you would think that I’d notice something like this. If you’re gay, you’re gay for life, right? At least that’s what I’ve heard.

“Stan?”

Why didn’t he tell me sooner? No wonder he never liked the girls that I tried to set him up with in high school.

I just now realize the look on his face—he’s concerned. I haven’t said anything as my brain tries to process this, “How come you didn’t tell me?”

His expression falls into relief and he slowly starts up our walk again, “Out of everyone, I spent the most time with you. I mean, you know how close we were growing up, dude.” He glances over at me, “So, this sudden confession at the end of high school...that can freak a guy out, ya know?”

Why he didn’t think that I would understand right away is beyond me. He’s always known how I am. Of all people, why would I judge him solely off his sexual orientation? I’m even somewhat insulted that he would think that, “I don’t care that you’re gay, Kyle. I’m not going to look at you differently. Yeah, it’s different, but whatever—if that’s your thing, that’s your thing. I just don’t get why you decided to stop talking to me altogether. Four years is a long time, dude. I felt like an idiot calling you all the time.”

He shoves his hands into his pockets and looks down. Guilt surrounds him like the scent of alcohol and cigarettes that stained the air at Token’s. He pauses for a moment before he motions to say anything, “I’m really sorry, Stan. I never wanted to cut you off like that. I planned on telling you…but I didn’t know how. I went over it a million times in my head but it always sounded so fucking stupid. ‘Hey Stan, I’m into dudes. By the way, you’re still sleeping over tonight, right?’” He keeps his eyes on the concrete, “And since I was going across the country for the next few years, I wanted to start over and just deal with it alone. I always meant to get back in contact with you, dude. And then it had already been a year. And then, I felt stupid for trying to talk to you again ‘cause I hadn’t in so long...and then it was two years. And, I don’t know,” he stops, seeming defeated from explaining himself, “I guess I was just scared. You can understand that, right?”

I remember Kenny’s words and sincerity again from last night. I went to preschool with this guy. We grew up together—and even that’s selling it short; we spent most of our lives with each other. I’d rather have him in my life and be angry with him rather than not at all.

I pull him in for a hug and he returns it instantly, as if he was expecting it to come sooner or later, “I’m glad you’re back.” I hold onto him, probably longer than what would be considered normal, but he does the same. There’s a familiarity about him that really makes me feel back at home for the first time since graduation.

When I realize that I probably have been holding onto the hug a little too long, I back away, and so does he. We’re both smiling at each other like complete idiots but neither of us care.

My best friend is back.

Then just like that, we’re two balls of excitement, wanting to tell the other every possible thing that we didn’t know from the time apart at once. It's like we're back from summer camp or something. Our hangovers are completely ignored.

And Kyle was right. He was busy.

If I only cared about sports in college, Kyle was the opposite. He had decided to let his inner nerd run wild. He was on the Dean’s List, he was on the honor society, he had three academic awards under his belt, and he was on the mathletes team. His reason for wearing glasses? He had been straining his eyes from reading too much and has to wear them temporarily. All of the books he purchased were on the Internet. He tells me that he would stay up all night reading on his laptop, way too close to the screen. Of course, I believe him immediately. He always studied too much, and I never felt like doing it–we tried to balance each other out back in the day. He made sure that I kept reasonable grades, and I made sure that he didn’t push himself too much.

Kyle already knows where he’s headed in life. He has a degree in journalism, and he has a job interview set up in Denver next week. Not to mention, he studied abroad in Israel. How cool is that?

“How long were you in Israel for?”

“I was only there for a semester last year studying Hebrew, but it was an amazing experience. You should have heard my family when I told them that’s where I was going. There were a lot of students that had opportunities like that. Travis went to Rome because he was studying Archaeology.”

This isn’t the first time he mentions this guy, who turns out to be his old roommate. In fact, this is the third time he mentions him, all within the span of fifteen minutes.

“You mention that guy a lot,” I say.

He shrugs casually, “He was around a lot.”

When he turns the conversation over to me, I don’t even know where to begin. There was a spell of confidence over his words. He seems so sure about himself—complete opposite of how I feel about my future. I tell him about baseball for a little bit, trying to make it sound more exciting than it really was, but that’s about it. When I mention my major, and my reasoning for it, he immediately says, “Dude, really? What the hell did you do that for?”

“I know, right! Ugh, I have no clue. It seemed like a good idea at the time.”

“What are you going to do for a job?”

“I’m not sure yet. I applied in a few shops around here just for the hell of it. I need cash until I figure out what I’m going to do in the real world.”

“Well, why don’t you come with me when I go to Denver for my interview next week? You can wander around the area and see if you find anything.”

“Really, dude? That’s a good idea.”

We spend another hour or so walking to no place in particular, chatting about random things such as last night, Kenny, Fatass, and how shitty we both feel. We make our way back to our cars, he gives me his new cell phone number, and we part ways for the day.

X x x X

When I wake up from a much-needed nap to nurse my hangover, I’m stuck in a daze in front of the bathroom mirror. I look like shit. Hair is flat and greasy on my head, bags under my eyes… I’ve been standing here for about ten minutes now. I feel like I woke up in a new world.

So, I have my best friend back. I have my best friend—who is now a gay friend—back. He is sorry…and gay. Super sorry and super gay.

The whole “if that’s how you feel, then that’s how you feel” attitude that I had earlier in the day feels like it’s fading. I don’t mean for it to, but as the subject begins to really settle into reality, I can’t help but feel…odd about it. I suppose this is what he was hinting towards when he said that he didn’t want to tell me because of how close we were. I don’t know if this is a normal reaction to an “I’m gay” confession from a close friend, but I’ve been over-analyzing situations that I’ve been in with Kyle when I was completely unaware that he was pitching for the other team.

All the times that we told each other we were super best friends when we should have probably stopped saying that when we were nine. And then there were the random wrestling matches.

My eyes widen.

And all of the sleepovers! We used to have them practically every weekend. And now that I think about it, sleepovers until you are almost nineteen is kind of weird. Kind of gay. I always knew that we may have been a little closer than other guys were with their friends, but now…

I grab my toothbrush and run it under the faucet.

I never thought the sleepovers were weird until the conversation I had with him this morning. It was just something we did. I never thought the wrestling was weird. Hell, I never even thought all of the times that we had comforted each other was that weird.

That last thought stops me dead in my routine.

I pinch the bridge of my nose with my thumb and forefinger and close my eyes. My toothbrush swings slowly from my mouth.

Holy shit.

Wendy Testaburger was the first girl that I found not infected with the cootie virus—and that was everywhere back in elementary school. Fortunate enough for me, she felt the same way and became my first girlfriend. But back then, it was still innocent. We were “together” off and on, but we weren’t “together-together.” We were just kids. It wasn’t until freshman year, that she was my everything.

I was thirteen and absolutely heartbroken.

This was different from prior breakups. This time, it hurt. A lot. We were inseparable that whole year, and by then, we had each other’s’ virginity. She told me that she wanted to stay with me all through high school, that we’d go to junior and senior prom together, that we were made for each other. She told me that was what she wanted. She told me that I was all that she needed.

Girls are cruel. They tell you crap like that when they don’t mean it, just because they’re feeling “romantic.” It’s bullshit.

The day it happened, I didn’t tell anyone. I didn’t want to. She broke up with me right before first period. I don’t know why she had to do it before classes. How was I supposed to pay attention to some teacher after a traumatizing incident like that? But like an idiot, I attempted.

My first class that year, ninth grade, I had English. And that week, of course, we were going over Romeo and Juliet. Fuckin’ Shakespeare.

It didn’t take long for Kyle to realize that something was wrong with me. When I walked into the room and walked right passed him, he took the hint. I usually hung out at his desk and talked to him before the bell rang. That’s how it went every morning. I felt his eyes following me to my seat.

As soon as I made it to my desk, my head was buried in my folded arms. The teacher began her review shortly after the bell rang and I remember that I felt this weight getting heavier inside of me the longer I sat at my desk. It could’ve been a ton. It was a struggle to even shift in my seat to move my head away from the tears gathering on my sleeves. Thank God I was able to hold them back until I sat down so no one would see me. I didn’t need for everyone to know that I was being a huge vagina on top of the fact that I was actually being a huge vagina.

It felt like an hour, but it was really only about ten minutes, when I heard: “Mr. Marsh, please come up to my desk for a moment.”

The voice seemed to come out of nowhere. Even though Ms. Bick had been going on about the play, this was the first time that I really heard her voice. I lifted my head slowly, carefully averting my eyes from my classmates around me. My face felt hot and I probably still had snot running out of my nose. I quickly wiped my face with my sleeve, putting on a poor attempt to gain my usual composure.

Kyle was standing beside her desk.

She had a stern face, but it softened dramatically when I made it to her desk and she realized the state I was in. I wasn’t sure what was going on, so I didn’t say anything.

“You are excused to go to the nurse,” She spoke quietly so the rest of the class wouldn’t hear. They didn’t seem to be paying attention anyway. In class, if we weren’t being spoken to directly, we always took the opportunity to socialize, “Kyle, make sure he gets there okay.”

I went back to my desk and grabbed my things. I mumbled a thank you to her as Kyle and I walked out of the room. He hadn’t said anything to me yet, and barely even looked at me. The door shut and an echo welcomed us to a silent hallway. Ms. Bick’s voice muffled through the wall as she continued her lesson.

I kept my eyes on the floor. I couldn’t understand it. Everything reminded me of Wendy. Even the fluorescent light reflecting off of the cheap linoleum reminded me of her. I didn’t know why.

“Dude,” Kyle began, putting his hands on my shoulders, “what is wrong with you?”

I didn’t look up at him. I didn’t want him to see the tears that I was restraining from taking dives onto the floor. Kyle had seen me like this before, but I still had some kind of pride. A guy never likes to be seen crying.

I weakly adjusted the strap of my schoolbag on my shoulder. I was ashamed. It was the first time that I felt that horrible, and it was because of a girl. I said I was heartbroken a million times before…but it really sucked this time. All other knowledge in my head was under a rock. I just knew that Wendy didn’t want me anymore and that was that. My self-esteem was in the negatives.

“Come on, man. What’s up?” His voice hinted at frustration. I still hadn’t said anything to him yet. He kept his hands on my shoulders for a moment, waiting for an answer, but he dropped them to his sides when I never gave him one. He sighed, “Do you want me to walk you home?”

I nodded. I didn’t think about getting caught, think about the consequences, or think about my parents… I just didn’t want to be at school. I needed to hide.

We walked out of the building, trying to be as inconspicuous as possible, since technically, we were ditching. Well, Kyle was trying to be inconspicuous, I just followed blindly. I knew he was worried about getting caught, but my mind was too occupied with unrequited love. I didn’t even realize that we were walking down the sidewalk already.

We were both quiet, which didn’t bother me; I didn’t feel like talking. I felt his eyes on me though, wondering what the hell was going on in my head. Still, I didn’t say anything our entire walk. Neither did he.

We were in front of his house, not mine. I finally lifted my head and looked at him with confused, puffy eyes.

He jiggled his keys in the lock, “My parents aren’t home. I figured this is just easier so you don’t have to explain anything to your Mom.”

Kyle had a point and I secretly thanked him in my head as I followed him up to his room. I tried to get out of school earlier that morning for no other reason than the fact that it was a Monday and I didn’t feel like going. Mom wouldn’t have it. If I had known I was going to get broken up with, I wouldn’t have bothered and played the sick card now.

Kyle flipped his light on and I walked in, closing the door behind me with the weight of my body. He cleared random clothes off his bed and into his laundry basket, “Here, you can sleep in my bed if you want. You’re in the clear. My mom won’t be home ‘til after she picks up Ike and my dad is at work.”

I managed to suppress the tears through the walk home, but I felt that hitch in my throat again. I dragged my feet to his bed and sat on it, my body still just as heavy as when I was hunched over my desk, “Thanks.” It was almost inaudible.

He tried to give me a smile. I knew that he was worried about me, but there was this look about him. Like in the back of his mind he knew why I was so upset, and I didn’t want to confirm that thought because he’d be pissed off. He always had a lecture waiting for me every time Wendy and I broke up.

But Kyle didn’t pry. He just said, “Don’t even mention it, dude. I’ve gotta head back now. Try to get some sleep. You look like shit.” He moved towards the door, “We’ll go to the arcade or something after school. Or Shakey’s. That always cheers you up.”

His words hung in the air. I didn’t want him to leave. I’d just lie in this room and think about how my girlfriend wants nothing to do with me anymore. I didn’t want to be alone.

He opened the door.

“Kyle?” My own voice sounded foreign to me - unusually low and despondent.

He turned around just as he was about to disappear into the hallway, “Yeah?”

I wasn’t sure what I wanted to ask and I wasn’t sure what I wanted him to do, but I asked him to stay.

I knew that he would get in trouble, but I needed company while I spent the rest of the day hating myself because my girl broke my heart. Again.

He didn’t answer right away and rightfully so. Kyle was a good student. He couldn’t just not go back to class—he’d get detention. His mom would ground him for a month.

Just as I was about to apologize for my question and tell him that it was all right to go, that I’ll be fine thinking about Wendy and depressing poetry—he answered, “Sure, dude. Okay,” and then he was sitting by my side.

“Thanks,” I removed my red mittens and the rest of my winter gear while he did the same. Even though I’m sure he hated me for it, I always went to Kyle when Wendy and I broke up. Ever since I turned into a little goth kid that one year he told me that he would never let me get that bad again. It was too pathetic to watch.

He’s gotten me to snap out of the depths of heartache before. I tend to do that. I can’t help it—at the core of it all, I’m a romantic, and a broken heart is a weakness of mine. Kyle was always a realist. If I needed someone to snap me out of it, he’s the one.

There was a moment of silence that I didn’t notice was getting longer until he spoke up.

“Do you want to talk about it?”

I bit the inside of my cheek, keeping my head down like a ragdoll. I was hesitant to tell him, but I spoke up anyway, “Wendy broke up with me.”

It was instant, “Again!”

“Dude!” I may have expected it, but he still startled me. I jumped at his sudden reaction and shot my head back up to look at him. I knew the lecture was coming, but goddamn.

His face flipped from compassionate to annoyed, “I’m sorry, man, but come on. You two are crazy with this on and off again stuff. What is this? The third time in a year? No joke?”

“Jesus Christ, Kyle,” My voice came back to me, and the tears stopped interrupting for a minute, “I’m a mess right now, and you’re going to be a dick? Are you serious?”

“How many times are you going to let her do this to you?”

“It was different this time!”

“You say that every time, Stan. Seriously, you’re just doing this to yourself by this point, dude. I mean—”

I frowned and stood up from the bed, cutting him off, “Forget it, man. I’ll go home and get in trouble instead. I don’t need this shit too.”

He opened his mouth to say something else but stopped. Sure, he was probably sick of hearing about Wendy, but I was upset. Fuck him being sick of it. All of the times that I listened to him bitch and bitch about Cartman failed in comparison, and I dealt with that every day.

He grabbed hold of my wrist to stop me and gave a small tug so that I would sit back down, “I’m sorry.” The apology was still wielding annoyance, but he took in a deep breath before continuing, “What happened?” His voice had softened reasonably.

Sometime later, after just completely letting go of any dignity and spilling into a waterfall of emotion, Kyle was quiet and patient, listening to the string of depression unraveling out of my mouth about my one true love, Wendy.

“And she just didn’t even care. I mean, last week, she was telling me how great of a guy I was and how much she loved me. Last week, dude! She was probably lying when she said it. It’s so fucked up.” I sniffled and wiped my nose with my sleeve, which was already soaked. The light blue fabric faded into navy, “So fucked up,” I mumbled again.

Kyle’s hand was rubbing my back in slow circles as he listened to me, trying to calm my tears. My mom did the same thing when I was a kid. Since it made me feel better, I started doing it to Kyle awhile back whenever he was bothered by something. Then we just kind of kept doing it. It helped. It was comforting. I let out a nervous laugh because I wasn’t sure how long he had been doing it, or how long I had even been going on about Wendy.

I wiped my eyes again with my palms, twisting and turning my wrists as water squeaked out of my eyes, “What time is it?”

“Uh…” He reclaimed his hand from my back and checked his watch, “10:19.”

“Holy shit.” My eyes widened, “I’ve been going on for over an hour, dude.”

He rolled his eyes, “Well, I’m not here because I’m gonna ENJOY the detention I’m getting for ditching. Keep going, it’s fine.”

I managed to choke out a laugh. My tears had subsided but my chest still felt tight, “It’s okay. I think I just want to go to sleep.”

He looked kind of relieved. I didn’t blame him, “Well, if we’re staying home this early on a weekday, we need to be asleep anyway.” He had a point. No teenager wants to be awake at 10AM on a Wednesday morning if they can help it.

Kyle kicked off his shoes and crawled to the opposite side of the bed and pulled the covers over him. He rolled over on his side, his back facing me, and left plenty of room for me to lie down, too. He nestled his head into his pillow, “If you need anything, just wake me up, okay?”

I nodded, even though he couldn’t see me. I laid down with the hope that I’d be able to just pass out and sleep away the aching in my chest named Wendy.

Kyle was right. Wendy and I have broken up and gotten back together more times than I can count. I really didn’t know why I kept doing this to myself. I was only thirteen and felt like my love life was over. I felt like no one in this world could experience the pain that I felt, or that anyone as cool as Wendy would ever look at me again. I still loved her, but she just didn’t care anymore.

I was crying again.

“Stan?” I heard Kyle’s body roll over and face me, “Can’t sleep?”

I opened my bloodshot eyes and this was a good enough answer.

Kyle put a hand on my shoulder, his thumb moving back and forth, “You need to just calm down, dude, alright? If you get some sleep, you’ll feel better.”

Being with Kyle was comforting. I remembered thinking about how, at the time, he would never pull a stunt like Wendy did. He wouldn’t tell me one week how important I was to him and then leave me out in the cold the next. I meant more to him than that, and I really believed that I did. He was my best friend and always would be.

I tried to take his advice and attempt sleep again, his hand still moving back and forth over the cloth of my shirt.

I wasn’t sure how long, but a few moments later, my head reminded me that Wendy was going to be talking to other guys and my chest tightened again. My eyes shot open and I noticed that Kyle’s had closed. His breathing was slow and steady while mine started to stagger again. He was lying on his side, facing me, but he had once again reclaimed his hand. I didn’t exactly rationalize my next move, but it made sense at the time. I was upset. I felt horrible. I wanted to be close to the one person that would never leave me like she did.

I inched my way closer to him and down the mattress so that my head was just under his chin. I curled my body close to him, quietly. In case he woke up while I was moving and wanted to call me a homo, I could just pretend that sleep had turned me into that position.

As I predicted, I felt him shift once I was next to him, my forehead lightly touching the collar of his shirt. I immediately closed my eyes again to feign sleep.

I felt his arm lift and it landed around my side. At first, I thought that it could have been a reaction in the depths of slumber, but I felt the tip of his fingers trace over the small of my back in light circles, and he pulled me closer to him.

He was warm.

I haven’t thought about that in years. Neither of us spoke about it. Even when I woke up that same day, he was in the living room playing video games. I guess we both mentally decided to pretend it never happened. It wasn’t worth the aftermath to acknowledge that it may have been kind of weird.

Thing is, this wasn’t the last time something like that happened. Kyle was always there for me when I needed him. I rarely went to my parents with my problems, unless they were a last resort, and that never happened anyway. Kyle has seen me at my worst, my best, and vice versa. I was never embarrassed to just let my emotions go around him.

But when you get right down to it…we were fucking cuddling. I can only imagine how this would look to someone else who doesn’t understand our situation. You don’t have your best male friend coddle you to sleep because you’re overly emotional about your ex-girlfriend. It just doesn’t happen to normal people.

I think about all of these different instances that have been shoved to the back of my thoughts. Like the time when Kyle was in the hospital for his diabetes again and I was in the room with him every single day holding his hand—literally. Or the time we heard my parents arguing because I thought Mom was finally going to kick Dad out of the house for his alcohol habit and Kyle had to keep hugging me so I’d stop crying while they were screaming through the walls. Or the time when we wouldn’t leave each other alone because we thought Kenny really died when he didn’t return for three whole months. Or the time when Shelley kicked my ass so bad over accidentally breaking her brand new Gamesphere that Kyle made me stay with him for a few days until she cooled off, and he wouldn’t have it any other way.

Or that during every sleepover, we always slept in the same bed, no questions asked.

I run my hands over my black hair and tussle them both through the messy strands. Kyle was gay…through all of that. I can’t even comprehend the many different things that can mean.

I spit the toothpaste into the sink, rinse my mouth out, and continue to stare into the mirror at my reflection.

Kyle is into dudes. Men. The whole thing. I wonder if he had a boyfriend at college? That’s so weird to think about. It’s hard to imagine Kyle being intimate or in a relationship with anyone, let alone a guy. He never had a girlfriend, and now he’s gay.

They say everyone questions their sexuality at some point. How much attention focused on that question is a different story. For some people, it’s an answer. It is for Kyle. I don’t think I’ve questioned mine. I don’t think I’ve ever really thought about it before, at all.

I imagine for a moment though. What if I did choose to explore that road? I’m not exactly grossed out by it, it’s just never been an option. Kyle seems as normal as ever. His personality is exactly the same as it was before college. In fact, the only time I actually thought about the idea of him being gay while we were talking earlier is when he told me.

And then I hugged him for a really long time. That probably wasn’t necessary.

I can’t even imagine having a boyfriend. How different would that be from having a girlfriend? It’d probably be easier and less stressful without all the drama, I bet. Less maintenance.

Dicks, though... don't know about that.

I need to keep my head around the fact that this isn’t a huge deal, like I told him earlier, because it’s not. I’m not homophobic whatsoever. My dog Sparky was gay, for Christ sakes. I just need an adjustment period or something, that’s all.

I leave the bathroom and return to my bedroom, my head still stuck in a whirlwind of thoughts and headache.

On the other side of things, I’m not sure this whole gay thing is a good excuse for Kyle ignoring me. I’m still kind of bothered by that, but I probably shouldn’t bring it back up since we’re finally talking again. He’s back now and apologized. No sense in still holding it over his head. Like Kenny said, we’ve been through a lot together. It should be no problem for us to get passed this.

But I mean...he could’ve talked to me before being so dramatic and cutting me out of his life. It’s so unlike him to do that. If he was always gay, I should’ve been the first person he spoke to about it. I was always able to talk to him about everything. I never thought for a second the feeling wasn’t mutual.

Chapter Text

Since my parents and I can't exactly remember the last time I went to church, they came up with the great idea that I should attend mass with them this weekend. Don't get me wrong, Jesus is a nice guy and all, I just haven't been to church in a long time. It's the last thing that I feel like doing, but whatever, they seem like they really want me to go, so I tag along—only after elaborating that I’m in for Saturday evening mass, not Sunday morning. They’re nuts if they think I feel like getting up at 8am when I don’t even normally go.

During the service, I notice a lot of familiar faces from the party last weekend. I smirk at their presentable states: polar opposites from that night, myself included.

Being home so far hasn't been as bad as I thought it would be. Granted, I’m still trying to figure out what to do for a job and that’s a big pain in the ass. There's only so far money tucked away inside graduation cards can get me. I can't go back to asking my parents for help. That's just not an option. But besides that, it's been cool being home.

I didn't think it would be this easy, but things already seem like old times. Kyle and I fell back into familiar habits pretty quickly. We’ve met up with each other just about every day since we've made amends.

I'm even over the whole gay thing. At first, I admit, I thought about it a little too much. Suddenly being around him again with this new information in mind was kind of weird. I was worried about how comfortable I used to be with him, worried about sitting too close, worried about saying the wrong thing—worry, worry, worry. I was only psyching myself out. It was dumb; he’s still the same guy. So we were closer than other kids growing up—big deal.

Besides, it's not like I'm going to crawl into bed with him now because a girlfriend left me.

Now that would be weird.

This whole week, Kyle’s been getting his resume together to find some writing job for a paper. It’s a constant reminder that I don’t have my own life together. But unlike me, Kyle has everything ready to a tee. He has all of his articles and essays that he’s written at Dartmouth in a hefty portfolio, raving teacher recommendations, an impressive cover letter, and even has a specific “interview suit” lined up.

“What the hell is an interview suit?” I asked him.

“Working behind the scenes in the news isn’t too strict on dress code. This suit is somewhat casual, yet lets them know that I’m professional and business oriented.”

“So…kind of like the same concept as the tuxedo t-shirt?”

“What? Dude, no. Totally not.”

My parents made me wear a suit to church, so I guess this one is a “church suit.” I feel like an old man, but that’s probably because it belongs to one. Mom didn’t like mine for some weird reason, “Doesn’t fit you right,” she said, so she made me borrow one of Dad’s old navy blue ones. Before we left, she even had the balls to add that we look like twins.

I glance over at him sitting to the left of me as he stares at the altar. He’s picking his nose.

I definitely do not look like Dad.

After mass, I walk outside with my parents and the rest of the churchgoers. Mom and Dad greet their friends and make small talk as I follow with my hands shoved inside my pockets, having a difficult time hiding my boredom. I don’t feel like mingling with the neighbors while my parents beam about my homecoming—I have shit to do.

Kyle wants me to look over that resume that he’s prepared. His interview with the Denver Chronicle is already on Monday. I don’t think my opinion matters too much because I don’t know shit about writing, but he asked me to do it, so I agreed.

After we bump into my Uncle Jimbo and a few other locals, I sidestep away from my parents to look across the street. The Synagogue just finished their service, too. Kyle said that he’d be there today; maybe I can just catch up with him now.

I walk to the curb, searching the crowd from the opposite side of the street. The first Broflovski isn’t hard to find.

Mrs. Broflovski is talking loudly with her fellow Jews, her hair in a bright red beehive about as subtle as her voice. I’m yards away but can almost hear her perfectly. She yanks Kyle to her side, too close for comfort, while she speaks to an older couple. She keeps tip-toeing to kiss him in front of everyone like he’s about to disappear without a moment’s notice. Mr. Broflovski has the right idea by mingling on the complete opposite side of the crowd.

Even from where I’m standing, I can tell Kyle is uncomfortable.

I maneuver my way through the Jewish faith and make sure that I approach Kyle and his family from behind. I want him to see me first, not his mother. I’ve made it this far, I’d like to prolong that greeting as much as possible.

I don’t want to be in Kyle’s shoes.

Before I know it, he’s right in front of me, his mom beaming with joy, bragging to another couple, “It’s so great to have my little Bubbee home! You know that he was on the honor roll at Dartmouth? Oh we’re so proud of him! He even studied Hebrew in Israel! Isn’t—“

“Ma!” He sounds frustrated, “Will you knock it off? Can we just go now? The service ended fifteen minutes ago.”

“Oh don’t be silly, Kyle. I haven’t even told them about you trying out for basketball, too. He didn’t make it, but he gave it his best shot, didn’t you, sweetie?”

I smirk. I don’t see it, but I know that he’s rolling his eyes.

As Mrs. Broflovski continues, I decide to step in. I tap his shoulder and he turns around so fast his yarmulke almost falls off his head. He turns to me and mouths the words: help me.

I laugh silently, “Do you still want to go back to your house so I can look over your stuff?” He’s nodding even while the words are still coming out.

“Yeah, let’s get the hell—“

“Oh my Gawd! Is that little Stanley Marsh I see?”

Shit.

I smile as she approaches me with her arms wide open. I have half a notion to dodge her because she’s coming at me with such intensity that it can cause a guy to panic.

“Nice to see you, Mrs. Broflovski,” I manage to say before she attacks me with a hug. She tightens her grip and all I can think about is my lungs collapsing because they sure as hell feel like they’re going to. I see Kyle sporting an amused grin over her shoulder as she squeezes another lost breath from me.

When she pulls back, she immediately starts, “You didn’t visit your mother very often either, Stanley. I haven’t seen you since you left. What is the matter with the two of you? You have to visit your mothers. We missed you both so much.”

Neither of us knows what to say. I’m sure Kyle has been through this at least a million times since he’s been home so I glance at him for help with an answer. He just shrugs.

Wow, so much for help from him.

She continues, “Now, how was college, sweetie? Tell me all about it. Your mother said that you kept up with your baseball. She’s so proud of you.”

I’m a little surprised. Of course, Mom tells me that she’s proud of me, but hearing it from a third party is always kind of endearing.

I’m glad that Mrs. Broflovski gets off the topic of visits though, or rather, lack thereof. I can’t very well tell her that I just needed to get away from this fucked up town, “It was great. I kept pitching, and we managed to score a few titles for a couple of seasons.” I end it there, sticking with the only thing that I had going for me.

“That’s just lovely. You always were the little sports star. I’m glad you moved on from that football, though. Such a violent sport. Kyle here got to study abroad in Israel last year! Isn’t that—“

Kyle butts in immediately, “Goddammit, he already knows. Will you quit telling everyone?”

“For the love of Abraham, Kyle! Language! Don’t take the Lord’s name in vain, especially in front of the Synagogue. Have you lost your mind?”

He shakes his head and slightly twitches his jaw, his frustration with her crawling through his face.

“And why should I, Bubbee? You should be proud of your accomplishments!”

With perfect timing, my parents approach us from across the street, the sun finally setting behind them. “We were wondering where you wandered off to, Stanley,” Mom says as Dad walks along side of her, dragging his feet. I can tell that he wanted to go home an hour ago—when mass started.

“I stopped over to see Kyle. We’re gonna head out,” I say, rushing my words to just finally get out of here. “I’ll see you guys later,” I start walking in the opposite direction and Kyle follows beside me with zero protest.

“It’s so nice to see them together again, isn’t it Shelia?” Mom says with a sigh as she stands next to Mrs. Broflovski. I can feel the two of them looking us up and down like we’re framed inside of a picture perfect moment. If I could puke right now, I would.

“Oh, of course! Kyle’s just so happy to have his best friend around again.”

Kyle whips around at the sound of her voice, even though we’ve already managed to walk a few feet away. His face is heated to a shade of pink, “Ma! Seriously. Are you just going through a list in your head of ways to embarrass me?”

I grab his arm, “Dude, just let it go.”

“Kyle, don’t let things bother you so much, sweetie. I’m not trying to embarrass you.”

He waves her off, “I’ll see you and Dad later.”

Inside Kyle’s house, Ike is lounging on the couch. We startle him when we walk through the front door and he looks paranoid for a split second before realizing that it’s just us.

Kyle only acknowledges his brother with a short and practically inaudible “hey” before heading right up the steps.

I, on the other hand, haven’t seen Ike since I’ve been home. It’s always different when you don’t see a child for a few years, and then bam, they’re practically your height.

Ike’s in high school now—God, that’s so weird.

Ike was like my own little brother. He’s a genius (there’s studies to prove this,) so he’s always been ahead of the curve with kids his age. It never seemed like I was hanging out with some tiny brat when he tagged along with Kyle. He’s always been pretty cool company.

The kid has a mouth on him, though He’s just always had it, ever since he could talk. It’s hard for him to construct a sentence without some kind of profanity—more so a constant f-bomb in between phrases than anything else. I can’t lie, growing up around us had to influence that.

Kyle can wait a few minutes. I walk over to the couch and take a seat on the arm, “So, why weren’t you at the synagogue?” I ask with a smile.

He coughs, overdramatically to emphasize that he’s faking, “Fucking sick.”

“Right.”

He stands to give me a quick hug and then plops right back down on the indent he’s left in the cushion, “I didn’t feel like sitting through the God spiel today. Lisa was kicked off last night and I had to catch a rerun.” He gestures towards the television.

There’s some show on that consists of a washed up rock star with all of these girls trying to “win his heart.” Or his wallet, whatever.

“You watch this shit?” I’m surprised.

“It’s entertaining how pissed off these girls get at each other over this fucking guy. He has the reading level of a fifth grader and the personality of a paper bag. I want to pick up an instrument just to pick up girls. That’s all you fucking need to do, apparently.”

“Really, that’s your reasoning for watching this?”

“That, and have you looked at them? Not one without absurd cleavage. Why the fuck wouldn’t I skip service for this?”

I laugh. Teenage hormones always outweigh a genius brain.

He looks up at me, a bit curious, “Why did you come in with Kyle? You’re Catholic.”

“I was at Church with my parents. I saw your family afterwards, so I went over to say hi and kind of save Kyle.”

“Save?” He shakes his head and directs his eyes back to the television. “She’s been bitching at him ever since he’s been home.”

“What?” I raise an eyebrow. “It was kind of the opposite. She kept kissing him and showing him off to everyone.”

“Oh!” He sits up like he suddenly remembers something; “I’ve been meaning to ask you for a favor. I was waiting until you came home.”

“Sure, dude. Anything–besides buying you beer.”

“I wasn’t going to ask that, but now that I know you aren’t up for it, I won’t ask later. The fuck, since when did you become uptight?”

“I’m not. Your mom is just a psychopath. She would murder me if she ever found out I did something like that.”

“Anyway, what I really want to ask is if you can help me out with my pitching. Just show me some stuff. I’m on the baseball team at school now, and they need a new starter. I really want to try out.”

I’m definitely down for helping out Ike. Any excuse to play some ball, I’m in. It’s just surprising. He always hated it when Kyle brought him along to my games, “Really? I thought you hated baseball.”

“I did, for a while. It used to be really boring. But I started playing with a few kids from school and then began to really enjoy it. Besides, I’m better at sports than I am music. Girls are into athletes, too.”

I shrug, “Baseball is like that. I hated it when I was a kid and then it grew on me.” I pat him on the back, “I’ll definitely help you, dude. I can come by this weekend.”

Kyle’s yell from upstairs interrupts our conversation, “Stan!”

Ike smiles, “You are being summoned.”

I laugh and make my way towards the stairs, “I’ll keep you posted. We can work on your fast ball first!”

When I open Kyle’s bedroom door there are papers everywhere. “Dude…”

Kyle’s standing in the middle of it all, looking over areas as if they all have a specific purpose in the way that they’re thrown around. He holds up a hand to stop me before I move any further into this mess. “Be careful…This all has a point.”

I look around, wide-eyed, “I thought you said you had everything organized…” I trail off, about to move forward, but I stop. Fuck that, who knows what I might step on.

“I am organized…Look.” He walks over to me, stepping over papers like he’s jumping from stone to stone across a rapid river. When he reaches me in the doorway, he points to the left of the room. “That’s additional shit that I wrote in college,” The middle of the room, “This is stuff I’m keeping for the portfolio I’m taking to Denver,” The right, “And this…well, I don’t know what a lot of this stuff is. I started going through it last night. My mom had a whole box of shit that I just forgot about, and she saved everything. Check it out,” He bends over and picks up a stack of papers. They’re bound together with a strip of green plastic and riddled with paragraphs regarding the medieval period.

“Holy shit!” Recognition hits me instantly. A joint project with Kyle saved my grades big time that year. “Dude, this took us forever. I can’t believe your mom saved it.”

Kyle snatches it back with a smirk, “You know, it probably wouldn’t have taken half as long if you didn’t keep asking me to take a break every five minutes.”

I continue looking around the room, overwhelmed by the amount of scattered white around me. I have no idea what Kyle plans on doing here, but I practically wince when he says: “All right, let’s get started.”

Two hours later, my stomach is clawing for food, my attention span is long gone, and Kyle still isn’t finished sifting through all of these damn papers.

“Kyle. Seriously. We’ve looked through those already. Can we just go grab some food and call it quits? I’m starving, and Kenny’ll be here soon.”

“Okay, ten more minutes and I’m done. I swear.” He’s hunched over in the middle of the floor, cross-legged, glasses sitting atop his head. There’s one neatly stacked pile of papers sitting beside him in the midst of this mess.

As I prop my feet up on his desk, and lean back into his uncomfortable swivel chair, I take note of the glasses, “I thought you were wearing those because you were straining your eyes reading? That’s all we’re doing right now, and they’re on your head. What the hell’s the point in that?”

His eyes never look away from the text in front of him, “I was. But they’re only temporary. It’s not like I’m blind, dude. I’m trying to get used to not wearing them again. Here,” he looks up and tosses me a brown folder, “look through these real quick and see if any are dated later than ‘04. If they are, let me know.”

I catch it but just stare at him. “Seriously?”

“Seriously.”

“Aw, come on! We’ve been doing this for two hours. How much are you giving this dude who’s interviewing you? A novel? Jesus Christ.”

“I’m giving them variety, dude. This way they know that I have range as a writer. Last pile, I promise.”

I groan and flip open the folder, only to be greeted with—surprise, surprise—more papers. Everything looks the same to me now. It’s just Kyle Broflovski, the title of the paper, and then walls of text. I have no clue what anything says anymore. The paragraphs are starting to morph into little cheeseburgers. If I don’t get out of here soon, I’m leaving his ass here when Kenny arrives to get some food. No hesitation.

I thumb through sheet after sheet, just checking dates and doing nothing else because I wasn’t asked otherwise. A lot of papers are from 2003, so I flip through them faster, my hand racing with boredom. I catch two or three that are dated 2005, our graduation year, and toss them to him, but when I get to the bottom of the pile and find one dated 2004, my hand stops.

Dartmouth College
FIRST YEAR COMMON APPLICATION SUPPLEMENT
Important:
This two-page form should be completed and mailed as soon as you decide to apply to Dartmouth. Do not wait until you have completed any other forms.
Send to: Dean of Admissions, 6016 McNutt Hall, Dartmouth College, Hanover, NH 03755-3541.

I tilt my head. It’s atop a packet that includes an essay, teacher recommendations, and all the bells and whistles that go hand in hand with a college application. I flip through a few of its pages and it looks like it’s just a replica—faded text from a shitty scanner. I don’t remember Kyle actually taking the time to apply to Dartmouth. He said that his Dad had last minute connections to get him in, or some crap like that, and that was senior year. The dates don’t match up.

“Hey, I found your Dartmouth application,” I casually say and hold up the bundle of papers.

He doesn’t answer me at first, or even notice that I’m speaking to him. So, naturally, I grab the closest item on his desk and beam it right for his head. The stress ball almost knocks his glasses off.

“Dude!” He looks up immediately, “What was that for?”

I hold up the packet again and wave it in my hand, “Your Dartmouth Application. It’s in this brown folder you gave me.”

He stands up, places his glasses back onto his face, and takes it from me. He looks over the application before saying, “Hm, I could probably use the essay here for something.”

I look at him, “I thought that you didn’t even apply?”

He scans through the pages further, flipping from beginning to end, “Yeah, but I still had to fill out an application. For formality.”

I run over the dates in my head. It doesn’t make sense. This application is dated 2004. We graduated high school in June of 2005. If he was accepted last minute, this should be dated May of 2005, at the earliest, right?

My stomach rumbles again so I just hand him the brown folder and focus back on getting out of this room. “There’s nothing else in here. It’s mostly ’03. Are we done? Let’s go to Shakey’s. Like old times.”

He laughs and drops the folder onto the floor beside other rejected documents and looks at me, “You said the same thing when we were there on Tuesday.”

Before I can respond, I hear the door open, followed by a familiar muffled voice, “What in the fuck…”

The two of us look towards the entrance and there is Kenny standing there in his traditional parka with confused eyes.

“What are you two doing? Having a ‘Kill the Trees’ rally? It’s fucking ridiculous in here.”

“Yeah, Kenny,” Kyle says, mouth dripping with sarcasm, “that’s exactly what we’re doing. We’re picketing at Shakey’s pizza in ten minutes. You in?”

I interject immediately, noticing only the time frame, “Ten more minutes? Dude, no way. Put this shit down, and let’s go. You have plenty.”

“Wait,” Kenny starts, making it a point to not even advance further into the room, “we’re really going to a rally?”

X x x X

At the pizza parlor, the three of us have a hard time eating because we can’t stop laughing at one another. I haven’t seen Kenny since the party, so the three of us haven’t had a chance to all get together yet. And just like when Kyle and I began talking again, the three of us fall back into the groove of our old friendship almost immediately. We rattle off memory after memory of our childhood; everything from Blainetology, to Big Gay Al, to old Terrance and Phillip episodes.

I’ve forgotten how well I really get along with these two. When you begin college, it feels like a whole new era in your life. You’re out of your parents’ house, living on your own—it’s exciting. You’re in a new world, with new priorities. You forget about your life back home for a while. And then soon enough, it’s over, and you really realize that you kept certain people around for a reason. I couldn’t ask for better friends than the two at this table.

And even though Cartman is a dick, it’s kind of odd for him not to be filling the fourth chair. I’d call him now, but Kyle is still trying to ease himself into being around Cartman again. He saw him at the party last weekend, and that’s apparently enough for right now.

I grab a fry from the basket sitting in front of Kyle—just as I’ve been doing the entire time that we’ve been here—without asking.

“Kenny,” Kyle says through a bite of pizza, only barely noticing that I stole a fry again, “I saw a homeless dude’s moldy ass sandwich on a blanket outside. You should eat it.”

I laugh right away, remembering Kenny eating anything and everything for fame and money back when we were kids.

“I saw it too, and no way. I’m not gonna fuckin’ eat that.”

“Come on,” I start, “since we haven’t all been together for a while, you gotta do it. For old time’s sake.”

Kyle looks at me, “Jesus Christ, Stan. You keep saying that. You sound like you’re in Golden Girls.”

“Shut up,” I steal another fry from him, out of spite.

He looks down at the basket and then up at me, “Dude.”

I chime in on the instigation, ignoring Kyle’s protest, “I’ll give you twenty bucks if you eat it, Kenny.” I may be low on cash, but this is a perfectly logical thing to blow twenty dollars on.

He rolls his eyes, “My price has upped over the years, guys.” He grabs a fry from Kyle as well.

“I’ll throw in twenty, too,” Kyle says, pulling out his wallet and thumbing through its contents.

“Twenty-two? Don’t be cheap. You’re only upping it two bucks?” Kenny asks.

“Twenty…too. As in twenty as well? Knock it off, you know what I mean.”

“That’s forty bucks! How can you resist?” I say. Kyle and I both have excited grins on our faces like little ten year olds. We were always entertained by dumb shit like this.

“I can add, you twat,” Kenny comments.

“Did you just call me a twat?” I ask, feigning appalled.

“Twats only give their friends forty bucks to eat some moldy fucking sandwich that’ll have me shitting for a week!”

“You used to do this for five,” Kyle points out.

“Things are more expensive when you’re not just spending your money on lunch or milk at recess. I have a car to pay for now.”

“Okay, okay,” Kyle says as he looks through his wallet again, “I’ll give you fifty.”

I reach over and grab another fry from Kyle, and then Kenny does the same. We both smirk.

“Dude!” Kyle protests.

“What?” I say along with Kenny in perfect unison and complete innocence, “If you’re putting out fifty bucks to make Kenny eat a sandwich, then you can spare a few fries.”

“These are not communal fries, you vultures!” He slides the basket closer to himself and the three of us just laugh.

We decide to give up on the sandwich proposition since Kenny isn’t budging on the matter, regardless of the money involved. I guess it’s better that I save my money anyway. Kenny looks at us, wiping his mouth of grease with the sleeve of his coat, “So, what the hell was going on in your room, Kyle? I was afraid to walk in there.”

“I’m getting stuff together for my interview. Stan was helping.”

“Yeah,” I say, “big mistake there. We were reading for like, two hours.”

“Ouch,” Kenny says. “When is it?”

“We’re going down to Denver on Monday.”

Kyle nods as he takes another bite of his pizza.

Kenny arches an eyebrow, “‘We?’”

“Oh yeah,” Kyle nods, “Stan is coming with me. He’s just gonna wait it out in the office while I do the interview, and then we’re gonna walk around downtown to see if we can find Mr. Irresponsible something to do that will pay him money.”

“Shut up, dude,” I retort.

Kenny laughs, but is unable to comment on the matter since Kyle’s phone rings. Kyle walks away from the table to answer, but is back quickly.

“You had to walk away for two minutes?” Kenny asks. “Some top secret shit you got goin’ on there, Broflovski?”

“What are you guys doing next weekend?” He suddenly asks when he sits back down and pockets his phone. All talk of interviews and sandwiches is put on hold.

We both shrug. It’s not like my schedule is packed.

“My friend Travis is flying in next Friday to visit. It’d be cool if you guys could hang out and meet him while he’s here.”

We both look at him, but the hint of surprise is filling my face more than Kenny’s. Sure, he’s mentioned Travis a bunch of times, telling me stories from the past few years, but he’s never mentioned anything about a visit. And it’s so soon. I guess, normally, this wouldn’t be too weird, but we just came back home last week. I haven’t even emailed any of my friends from college let alone having one of them get on a plane to come visit from across the country.

“You didn’t mention this before,” I say.

“I’m mentioning it now.”

“Who’s Travis? Your boyfriend?” Kenny asks, sticking true to his blunt fashion as he continues on with his food.

“What? No. He’s just a friend. Can’t a guy visit a friend?"

“Sounds like a boyfriend to me,” Kenny comments again.

“Shut up, dude. He is not. I’d tell you guys if he was. Are you in or not? It’d be cool if he gets a chance to meet you two while he’s here. I might ask Butters along. I don't think I want to subject Travis to Cartman, though.”

Kenny and I just look at each other and silently agree. I tell Kyle, “sure, why not” and then we finish eating, gather our things, and head our separate ways.

I don’t know why this Travis guy sticks in my mind, but he does. Why is it so important I’m free to meet “just a friend?” I don’t really care if Kyle or Kenny meet any of my other friends. Travis has to be some sort of romantic interest. That’s the only thing that makes sense.

I want to ask Kyle about it, because I have this feeling that he’s hiding something, but I don’t mention it the rest of the week. Even when I’m outside with Ike, tossing a baseball back and forth on their front lawn as Kyle sits on his step with a beer, I don’t bring it up.

And I definitely don’t mention it when I see him on Monday to accompany him on his interview because I’m too busy trying to keep his nerves down to a somewhat normal level.

During the entire car ride to Denver, I have to reassure him that he’ll do fine. He’s so nervous that if his fingernails were bitten any lower, I’d have to find him a first aid kit.

I let him know that his tuxedo t-shirt type suit looks great, his packed portfolio will do nothing but impress, his resume looks ridiculously perfect, and he will do just fine. He always gets nervous and stressed for no reason in situations like this. I don’t understand it. This kind of thing is his specialty. This is the area in life where he knows exactly what he’s doing—what is there to be nervous about?

But at the Denver Chronicle, in the administrative office, sitting in the midst of outdated magazines and cheap paintings, his nerves are viciously bouncing his left leg up and down like he has something wrong with him.

I put my hand on his knee to stop his fidgeting, minding not to interfere with the crease in his suit pants. “Stop it. You look like you just did a line of coke, for Christ sakes.”

He runs a hand over his head, adjusts his glasses, and then his tie, “I can’t help it, dude. I’m really nervous.”

I bring my hand back to my own lap, “Remember how much of a spaz you were for your driver’s test? You forgot how to turn the lights on you were so nervous.”

He laughs, albeit briefly, “This is a great time to bring up how nervous I can get and then fuck up, Stan.”

I give him a reassuring smile, “Because after that, you aced the entire thing. You even parallel parked better than you did practicing. You get so nervous for no reason, Kyle. You know you’re good at pretty much everything you do.”

I can tell that he’s unsure of my words. I want to shake him and just be like, ‘lighten up, dude,’ but I continue, “Except for cooking. You and I both know that you burn toast.”

He laughs again as he releases the tension in his shoulders and tells me to shut up, that my own toast skills aren’t much better.

A woman opens the door, adorned with a nametag and a pencil in the bun of her hair. She smiles at us and I hear Kyle’s breathing come to a halt, “Kyle Broflovski?”

He pats his suit down, stands up, and I whisper, “You’ll be fine. Good luck.”

He walks to the door and follows the woman through the doorway. He looks back at me one last time and I instinctively give him two thumbs up, like a total dork. I see him smile just before the door closes off my view of him.

I’ve spent all of this time trying to calm Kyle down, and I didn’t even notice just how nervous I am myself. I really want him to land this job. All of that time spent preparing…he’ll be so disappointed if he doesn’t get a call back.

Plus, I will shoot myself if I have to help him go through more of those papers.

They’d be nuts if they don’t hire Kyle, though. Here is a graduate from one of the top Ivy League schools in the country, and he’s applying to a paper in Denver, Colorado—practically the middle of nowhere compared to where he could be. Of course they’ll want him. If anything, he’s overqualified.

Staring down the shined coffee table in the middle of the room, I pause for a moment. That is kind of weird. Why wouldn’t he try for a paper in a bigger city? New York? Boston? Why Denver?

I look through the window to my right as cars and lines of people cover the sidewalks, passing the row of tiny shops along the street. I sigh and dread going out there. I shouldn’t even be worrying about Kyle. Where the hell am I going to get a job?

Chapter Text

Kyle left my house about twenty minutes ago to pick up his friend from the airport. He wants us to meet this dude tonight, but I’m a little confused when Kyle calls me on his way there and lets me know what his plans are.

“I was thinking about just going to the Bijou or something. We can grab some food, too.”

“The movies?” A movie theater is a weird place to meet someone. You don’t pay attention to the people you’re sitting next to when there’s a fifty-foot screen with surround sound in front of you. But, it’s not like we have many other options here in South Park. I’m sure Kenny will be disappointed, though.

“Yeah. Do you wanna do something else?”

“No, it’s cool. I don’t care. I’ll let Kenny and Butters know what’s going on when they get here. How’s the drive?”

“Traffic. Good thing I left early.”

“You by the city?”

“Yeah. Do you feel like staying on the phone and keeping me company until I get there? If one more person cuts in front of me, I may take up murder as a hobby.”

I laugh, “Sure. It’s like I’m saving lives.”

X x x X

“Yo!” Kenny yells, and swings my door open like it’s his own. Butters trails behind him.

“Jesus,” I look up from the pages of my sports magazine, “don’t you two knock?”

“Why? You jackin’ off or something?” Kenny asks, casually.

Before Butters can even say hello, he looks horrified—like I’d really been whacking it a second ago. Sarcasm tends to fly right over his head.

Kenny approaches and takes a seat next to me on my bed, making himself quite comfortable, “You want us to come back? Let you finish up?”

“No way, dude.” I glance at Butters, “And calm down, I was just reading.”

Butters follows Kenny’s lead over to my bed and takes a seat, folding his hands neatly on his lap, “Well, hey ya, Stan. What are we gonna do ta’night?”

I toss the magazine behind me, “I think we’re doing the whole dinner and a movie thing.”

“Dude.” Kenny is, of course, surprised, “What the fuck is this? A first date?”

I shrug, “I don’t know, Kyle suggested it. Remember he said he wants us to meet this Travis guy? I just have to finish getting ready and we can get out of here.”

I head over to my closet to grab a shirt. I pull out a red button down and just throw it on over my navy tee. Good enough. I’m usually just sporting a t-shirt and jeans under my winter gear, so this is actually pretty fancy for me.

“Who is Travis?” Butters asks, his face already evolving into guilt that he may have forgotten someone’s name.

I head for my bureau and spray some cologne while patting down small wrinkles throughout this shirt, “I don’t know. He’s some dude from Kyle’s college.” That Kyle has gotten pretty close to. I didn’t think this visit was a huge deal, but Kyle has been talking about him a lot the past few days. I’m over that whole four year gap, I really am, but I can’t help it—it gets annoying when he just keeps going on and on about stories from years that I wasn’t part of with such excitement.

Kenny speaks up again, “Why does he want us to formally meet Travis at dinner and a movie? And dude…isn’t it kind of weird that this guy is visiting him already? Didn’t you two just come home a few weeks ago?”

I nod, checking out my hair in the mirror. I just want to get out of here so that Kenny will quit with all the questions.

I already have hat hair. I haven’t put one on yet today and I already have hat hair. How does that even happen? I grab for my hair gel and pretend like I know how to use this shit.

I see Kenny’s reflection in the mirror as he continues, “And I thought we were just going to the movies? Where did dinner come in too?”

“I don’t know. Kyle—“

He cuts me off, “—suggested it, I know. Why’d you agree?”

“Dude, if you don’t want to go, you don’t have to go. It’s not a big deal.” Before I even open the gel, I decide that it’s not the best idea. My winter or baseball hat might work better. Then again, you’re pretty much a douchebag if you’re in a restaurant with a hat on so I probably shouldn’t go that route either. Plus, I pulled out the nice shirt, so a hat would look dumb.

I check out my hair again. Maybe it looks like it always does, but something looks kind of…I don’t know…off. I brush my bangs slightly to the side with my fingers. Kenny’s asking dumb questions anyway. Kyle invited us out tonight; it’s something to do. I don’t know why he’s bitching.

“I definitely want to go. I just thought we’d do something else.”

“Like what?” I ask, “There isn’t shit to do here. At least this is a change of pace. I haven’t been to the movies in a while.”

He leans back onto my bed, propping his upper body upright with bent elbows, “We should go to the bar.”

“Jeez, Ken,” Butters says, “is that the only place that you want ta go?”

I join in, just for the fun of singling Kenny out for once, “Yeah, that’s pretty much your only suggestion ever. We don’t have to send you off to any AA meetings, right?” I smirk at him in the mirror.

“Just because I like to go out drinking doesn’t mean I’m a drunk. I like to have fun. We’re fuckin’ 21 years old, for Christ sakes. This is what people our age do.” He grabs a pillow off the bed and throws it at my back.

I ignore it and let the pile of fluff fall to the floor. He has a point, “Maybe we can just go there afterwards.”

Butters speaks up again as Kenny begins to ramble on about trying to get out of the whole thing and go to a bar anyway, “You’ve been looking at your hair for a, uh, little while now, Stan.”

“Huh?” I turn away from the mirror.

Kenny smirks, “He’s right. You’ve been looking at it for like ten minutes now and it looks exactly the fuckin’ same. Check it out,” he tousles his hand around the top of his own blond head, “I’m done. It ain’t that hard.”

I turn back to look in the mirror. It doesn’t look exactly the same. Just because Kenny can keep a hood over his head all day and still have it poof out of that orange parka doesn’t mean everyone can do that.

“Anyway, Kyle’s—“ Kenny starts again, but I interrupt him.

“Jesus Christ, will you shut up about Kyle? He chose to go to the movies and dinner. I don’t know why, but if you don’t want to go, then don’t go.” I don’t mean to be a dick but I don’t know why he has to keep asking so many questions. We’re going to the movies, so what? It’s kind of lame, but whatever. We can always go to the bar afterwards.

The two of them give me an odd look for my tiny outburst and I immediately feel bad, “Sorry, I didn’t get a lot of sleep last night.” Which isn’t entirely false. I haven’t been sleeping great lately.

“Aw man,” he stands up and shakes my shoulders, “wake the fuck up! If Travis turns out to be a Melvin like Butters, this could turn into a pretty funny night.” He turns back to Butters, “No offense.”

I laugh and push him away from me. Travis is coming from an Ivy League school, so there’s a pretty good chance that he is some type of Melvin. I’m sure Kyle went to school with a lot of those stereotypical nerdy guys.

Butters stands as well, “Fellas, even if he is kind of a…Melvin…” he practically whispers the word, ”we should still be nice to him. H-he is Kyle’s friend and all, and Kyle wants us to meet him, so we should be polite.”

I smirk. Kenny just waves off his comment, “If he’s a Melvin, than him being Kyle’s friend is even more of a reason to make fun of him.”

“You sound like Cartman,” I comment, still smirking.

His face contorts into a look of nausea, “Low, dude.”

“Come on,” I grab my keys off the bureau, along with my coat. “Let’s get out of here. They’re probably there already.”

X x x X

During the car ride to the restaurant, I make a mental note to count the signs that this dude is Kyle’s boyfriend. So far, they’re all pointing to yes. He’s been kind of shady about the topic since he’s been home and I don’t understand why. The only thing I know about this guy is his name gets dropped in all of Kyle’s stories from college. I don’t even know his last name.

Kenny and Butters walk ahead of me and I take my time in the parking lot. Dinner and a movie is such a dumb idea. Kenny hit the nail on the head with that call. And I’m not even hungry. We should’ve just gone to the damn bar. At least that’s a much more social, laidback scene, and I can take a shot or two to get me out of this mood that I’m in. Dinner is so formal, and then the movies…I don’t know what the fuck Kyle’s thinking. He’s not usually lame like this. He’d normally be up for drinks, not a three-course meal and a two-hour movie.

When we arrive, Kyle is waiting right inside with a guy that doesn’t resemble a Melvin at all. So much hoping for hoping he’d be in an argyle sweater and thick glasses.

But he looks…well, pretty normal. Kind of like us. He’s wearing jeans, an orange t-shirt and a brown jacket. He’s short; I have a few inches on him, so does Kyle. His hair is dark, almost as black as mine, and he has a subtle, neatly trimmed beard.

Kyle seems excited. There’s a bounce in his step when he sees us, “Hey, guys!”

He puts a hand on his friend’s back and then points to us by name, “Kenny, Butters, Stan, this is Travis.”

Each of us extends a hand to greet him. People say that you can tell a lot from a handshake. Travis looks me in the eyes, smiles and gives my hand a firm grip. No waver in confidence whatsoever. And it’s not cocky; it’s friendly.

The hostess approaches and directs us to our table.

There’s a hint of awkwardness in the air when we sit down, but discussion is based upon what food to order so it could just be in my head. I thumb through my menu and go right for the drink list. I can at least start the night off in a good direction with a heavy beer.

Butters is first to drift off the topic of food, “So, uh, how did you and Travis meet, Kyle?”

Kyle folds his menu and places it in front of him, “We had a chemistry class together.”

Then Travis takes the opportunity to speak up with a growing grin across his face, “How can you not become friends with the guy who almost blows up the entire chemistry lab?” His teeth are bright white, like he gargles bleach.

I run my tongue over my own.

A bit of a blush appears on Kyle’s cheeks but he rolls his eyes anyway, “If you want to be all dramatic and put it that way.”

To hear about Kyle messing up on a project is odd. He was never one to do that, the little academic perfectionist that he is.

“No way, dude!” Kenny exclaims, “You almost blew up an Ivy League school? That’s something pretty cool to stick on a resume.”

“That’s not what happened.”

Travis laughs, “Let’s just say the professor had to run over to us with a fire extinguisher.”

He has a slight accent. I think he pronounces his A’s differently. I can’t exactly pinpoint it, he just sounds different than us. Then again, I don’t know anyone from the East Coast.

“He was overreacting!” Kyle objects, “The flame wasn’t that big!”

Butters laughs along, “That sounds pretty darn dangerous if you need a fire extinguisher.”

Travis completely disregards the defense, and points a finger into Kyle’s shoulder. It’s small contact, but it seems unnecessary, “And he definitely needed it. My chemical apron was an inch away from getting singed. And then all I saw were flames reflecting in Kyle’s goggles.”

“I seem to remember passing that class with an A, thank you very much,” Kyle states.

There we go. Of course he pulled an A.

“You managed to get away with it and the experiment worked out in the end, somehow. That takes talent, Broflovski,” Travis pats Kyle’s back—again with the touching. Normal friends don’t touch each other so frequently. I never touch Kenny. Then again, you never know where he’s been.

And I hate when people call Kyle by his last name. You do that with easy names like Marsh, or Cartman. Broflovski is a little heavy on the syllable side for a nickname.

Our waitress comes over, introduces herself, and we all order.

I lean my elbows on the table, crossing my forearms, and try to listen to the rest of the conversation. I can’t help but be distracted. My eyes trace over Travis as Kenny goes on about SP High being too cheap to buy lab supplies to even attempt to blow anything up. Travis definitely looks like an Ivy Leaguer. His speech is very articulate and he has this perfect posture at the table, like he’s in the middle of an etiquette class. But like I said, he does seem like a normal guy, he’s just…not very South Park.

He doesn’t seem like someone you could talk to about digging up Kyle’s dead grandmother or who could even comprehend the concept of Eric Cartman. This was my replacement while Kyle was in New Hampshire?

Before I continue with my unnecessary and judgmental train of thought, I see Kyle, sitting across from me, staring right at me. I whisper, “What?”

My pocket vibrates.

I take my phone out and the screen reads 1 New Text Message.

You okay? You haven’t said anything since we got here.

Have I not said anything at all? Really? I guess I’m not laughing much either, but it’s not like I’m pissed off or anything. I reply back: Im fine, and then make it a point to put some sort of social face on throughout the rest of dinner.

After he reads my reply, I instantly receive another message.

That never actually means you’re fine.

I scoff with a silent laugh. Kyle is observant. I’ve had a lot of things on my mind all day so I guess they’ve taken a toll on my want to socialize. Travis isn’t really helping my attention span. I don’t know why I keep judging him like this. I’m sure he’s a nice dude, but I can’t get the word “replacement” out of my head.

lol just a little out of it i guess.

The two of us begin to drift away and leave ourselves out of the conversation going on around the table. Butters, Kenny, and Travis seem to be getting along fine enough.

I receive another message.

check out the guy behind you.

I turn around and there are, who I assume, a father and son. There’s nothing out of the ordinary about the son. He’s probably a teenager, not too much younger than us. But the dad looks like he’s ready for a golf game. He’s wearing plaid shorts, high socks, white cleats, and a sweater vest. All he needs is a poof ball hat. It’s eight at night—where the hell is this guy golfing at? A Monty Python movie set?

I turn back around, stifling laughter, and look at Kyle who’s struggling with his composure as well.

he looks ready for a golf game I send him a message back.

He’s a little far from the course don’t you think?

maybe theres miniature golf in the back of the restaurant that we dont know about

He looks too serious to be into miniature.

gettin the pink ball into the gators mouth is pretty serious

Kyle puts his hands over his face and laughs to himself. Travis shoots him a curious look but Kyle just waves him off. I smile.

Kyle and I spend the next few minutes ripping on the guy sitting behind me through our cell phones. The other three have no idea that we aren’t even paying attention to them, but Kyle eventually puts his phone down and I follow suit.

I guess I can’t avoid conversation completely.

“Y-you’re pretty quiet, Stan. How ya feelin’?” Butters asks, his face in genuine concern.

Before I can even respond with another one of my classic ‘fine’ responses, I’m suddenly the center of attention.

Well, fuck.

Travis starts, putting his elbows on the table as if he’s getting ready for some deep insight. I try not to frown, “I’ve heard a lot about you, Stan. Kyle has always spoken very highly of you. How long have the two of you been friends?”

“Uh…Well,” I use my hand to count as I rattle over the years in my head. I could subtract four, but I don’t, “Like, eighteen years now. Something like that.”

His eyes widen, “Wow. Kyle did say that you’ve been friends since about kindergarten. That’s a long time.”

“Pre-school, but, yeah. Pretty long time.” I nod to Kenny beside me too, “Same with Kenny. And we started talking to Butters in elementary school.”

“So, you’re all childhood friends?”

We nod.

“That’s really nice. I don’t think I even know what is going on with the kids that I grew up with.”

Did he just say that it was nice?

I shrug, “We live in a little mountain town. It’s honestly harder not to keep in touch with everyone.” I laugh awkwardly. Why am I uncomfortable? Fuck, this conversation blows. I’d much rather be ripping on that caddy and his kid back there than this small talk.

“You should’ve come up to visit us in Hanover. We would’ve loved to have had you.”

I want to say that the thought had crossed my mind but I didn’t think I was welcome. I glance at Kyle, but only for a moment, before turning back to Travis. I probably shouldn’t bring that up again, especially now.

But what the hell is all of this “we” crap?

Travis continues, “Kyle said that he had a best friend at home. And—oh!” He interrupts himself and looks at Kyle with brewing joy, “Only one time, when he was drunk…”

Kyle’s face flips a switch and turns bright red. He seems to know exactly what Travis is getting at, “Don’t even go there, dude. You said you wouldn’t.”

I arch an eyebrow, “What?” I’m certainly in the mood for conversation now. Kyle looks embarrassed as hell.

Kenny and Butters both look equally interested. Kenny even looks like he wants to take notes on the impending embarrassment. His undivided attention is on Travis.

“Oh come on, let me tell them.”

Kyle folds his arms like a child, “No way!”

Even though there’s protest, Travis continues. “We were at a party one time, and Kyle got wasted…”

“Dude!” Kyle exclaims again, but he’s ignored.

“He was falling all over the place—couldn’t even walk. I was taking him back to the dorms, and we were just talking about this and that. Then somehow you came up, Stan—which, you were actually brought up a lot when he was drunk.” Kyle punches him in the arm, but again, Travis just ignores him, the laughter in his voice slowly rising, “And he walks, well stumbles, up to me and says: ‘You totally…TOTALLY…have to meet Stan.’” He puts on this poor, drunken impression, fluttering his eyes and slurring, “’He’s the coolest person I’ve ever met. We used to hang out all the time, like every day. Every single day. He’s my super best friend!’” Then he finishes in a fit of laughter.

My jaw drops and my face flushes at the name Kyle and I had for each other when we were kids. This is probably the first time that I’ve heard out loud it in…I don’t even know how many years. Butters and Kenny don’t hesitate joining in with the laughter. They’re hysterical.

Kenny smacks the table in an all-too dramatic fashion, pressing my urge to just smack him upside the head, “I remember that! They used to call each other that all the time!”

Kyle’s hands are over his face in embarrassment and I just look at the ceiling, trying to reverse the blood flow in my own cheeks. I don’t think it’s working.

Where the hell is our waitress with my beer?

“They used to say that shit all the time. These two were such little fags.”

I feel like the word “fags” just hangs in the air, lingering and pressing for a reaction. Kenny has always had a big mouth. Even when he’s buried behind a parka, he says whatever he wants, how he wants. Nothing has changed.

I pinch the bridge of my nose. Kyle told me he came out to Kenny at the party, but I don’t know what team this Travis dude plays for. And we don’t know Travis well enough to be saying that kind of shit anyway. What if he’s insulted? Either way, I want to pull Kenny away for a second to avoid any possible negativity to his charming ways.

Or maybe I just want to go somewhere to dull the heat in my face, “Want to go out and grab a cigarette real quick?” I ask him.

Kyle cocks an eyebrow at me, “Since when do you smoke?”

“Since, recently?” It’s a complete lie but Kenny won’t turn me down. I already start grabbing for my jacket.

“Sure, dude. I could use one.”

We excuse ourselves and head out front. Thank God Butters speaks up to regain Kyle’s and his friend’s attention.

We take a seat on a bench beside the front doors. Kenny pulls out his pack of cigarettes and offers me one. I decline, “Dude, you said you want to smoke.”

“No, I’m good. I just wanted to get you out of there really quick.” I shove my hands into my pockets, my shoulders hunched, “You can’t just go throwing around the word ‘fag’ to people we don’t know. They might get offended.”

Kenny looks like he can’t care any less as he flicks the lighter and ignites his cigarette, “It’s not like I was calling Travis a fag, I was calling you and Kyle fags. And you guys totally were when we were kids.” After inhaling the smoke, he pauses, exhales a long cloud with a grin and says, “And still are.”

“What? We are not.” I sound more defensive than I mean to. It’s just a little uncomfortable for Kenny to insinuate something like that after Kyle is finally out. I know he doesn’t mean it literally, he’s just mocking our friendship, but still.

He laughs, “Haven’t you hung out with each other every day since that party?”

“Well, yeah.” He has a point, but I reason with him, “We’re back in South Park, that’s just what we always did when we were home. What else are we supposed to do around here?”

“You don’t have to do anything else. Keep with the agenda, just do it with other people, or alone.”

“Why does it even matter if I want to do all of that with Kyle?”

“It doesn’t. I’m just pointing out that you could do things alone, or you can do things with other people, but you do it all with Kyle. Nothing wrong with it…but you’re totally homos.”

I roll my eyes and look towards the parking lot spread out in front of us, “Shut up, Kenny.”

He drops the topic and the sarcasm in his voice softens considerably with the next question, “Hey, by the way, you all right? You were quiet in there for a while.”

I don’t know why everyone’s asking me that. Is it really that big of a deal that I wasn’t cracking jokes and telling stories for ten minutes? Jesus Christ, “I’m fine, dude.”

“You looked miserable until you and Kyle started giggling on your phones.” He grins again, “Because you’re super best friends.”

I elbow him in the arm, “Knock it off. Can you do me a favor though? Seriously? Can you at least try to censor yourself in there? At least a little bit?”

“I’ll try. But, why do you care what some dude from New Hampshire thinks of us anyway?”

“I don’t care what he thinks of us. I just don’t want to offend anyone, that’s all…out of respect for him being Kyle’s friend.”

In all honesty, I’m uncomfortable with him saying things like that around Kyle.

Kenny shakes his head, “Man you two are fags.”

“Kenny!”

“What! You said to censor myself in there. I have to let it all out here, dude.”

I roll my eyes.

“Homo.”

“Dude!”

He laughs, “I’m just fuckin’ around. Chill out.”

I notice that his cigarette has already shortened more than half the way down. We haven’t even been out here that long. “Jesus, dude. You’ve really been smoking a lot lately.”

He shrugs, taking another drag in the process, “I’m graveyard shift now, it’s got my nerves through the roof.”

“Why?”

“’Cause, dude! When you’re in some lame convenience store all by yourself at 3 AM, what is most likely to happen? The place gets held up. Like I need that. I haven’t died in five years. I’d like to keep the streak goin’.”

“You might get lung cancer instead.”

He sets the cigarette on his lips, squints his eyes in thought and puts both hands out in front of him, leveling the options like a scale. “Hm…” He raises his right hand higher, “Lung cancer is better, won’t happen for a while. I’m dead in a few seconds if I get shot, and that can happen at work tomorrow night. Gettin’ shot stings, dude. Especially in the face.”

I arch an eyebrow, “It’s amazing how your mind works.”

He flicks his finished cigarette to the sidewalk in front of us, completely ignoring the fact that there is an ashtray a foot away, “Let’s get back in there and eat some grub.”

When we return to our table, the food has arrived (with my beer, finally,) and over the rest of dinner, I’m quite proud of Kenny because I don’t catch him saying anything else regarding homosexuality. Before I know it, we’re already at the movie theater.

We’re watching some action flick that’s been a struggle to get into the entire time we’ve been here. It’s a traditional revenge movie with a rehashed plot that I’ve already seen about a hundred times.

Kenny is easily entertained, so he’s highly engrossed in the film, and Butters hides behind his hands every time a gory scene appears. It’s funny that stuff like this still bothers him, despite our age. Kenny is sitting to my right with Butters beside him.

I glance over at Kyle and Travis on my left. Kyle is leaning forward, both his elbows rested on his knees, and he shakes his head a few times at the screen. He’s about as engrossed in the film as Kenny, but that headshake is definitely a sign that he’s critiquing the entire thing in his mind. No way that he would enjoy a lame movie like this either.

I gaze at the screen. The protagonist is now tied to a chair while the stereotypical antagonist with an eye-patch circles and interrogates him. What will happen next in this epic action film? Will our hero escape? Will he make it out alive? Will he ever avenge his father’s death?

Of course he will. It’s fucking Hollywood.

As much as I try to focus, I can’t. I completely forget about the movie and my attention hones in on Kyle.

I try not to be obvious. My head is facing the screen but my eyes are on him. I can’t see his face too clearly, but the light from the film dims and brightens as scenes slide in and out, accentuating and dulling Kyle’s features. He’s wearing a dark green t-shirt—again—and I smile. Ever since we’ve been home, all he wears are t-shirts. And even then, most of them are just different shades of green. I look down at my own chest and I have the same situation. I wear t-shirts all of the time too, and most of them are just different shades of blue. Tonight is the only night that I did something different with my wardrobe and it’s not even that radical. I put a dress shirt over my usual blue t-shirt—not really something to write about in a fashion magazine.

I pause. Why am I acting weird tonight? I didn’t have to wear this extra shirt, or try to put gel in my hair. I even snapped at Kenny earlier and then I barely said anything at dinner.

I didn’t think I was acting strange, but yeah, I totally am. I never usually do anything with my hair. I wash it, it dries, and that’s about where I stop for hairstyling. And the only time that I wear button down shirts is when I take a girl out.

I have to admit, I guess that I’ve been kind of jealous. I mean, we’re all hanging out with the guy that took my place when Kyle decided to stop talking to me. Kyle and Travis shared classes, a dorm, an apartment…and Kyle got hammered and called me his “super best friend” with him.

I smile. It’s pretty cool that Kyle still considered me that while he was away. That whole time, I thought he just gave up and moved on, but he was out getting drunk and talking about me.

If Kyle would have just stuck to the original plan and moved to Boulder, not Hanover, I would’ve been drunk right there with him. How can I not feel like Travis was my replacement? He played my role in Kyle’s life.

My smile disappears.

Kyle turns his head from the screen and I’ve never righted my sight forward faster than I do now. From the corner of my eye, I see him look towards Butters, Kenny, and then me. He turns back to the movie.

I look at Butters and Kenny to see what he was looking for, and when I find nothing and turn back to him, Travis is running a hand over Kyle’s back in slow, small circles. I assume Kyle turned to make sure none of us were paying attention.

It shouldn’t be a big deal—and it’s not—but there’s a sudden hitch in my throat.

I immediately think about Kyle and myself. All of the times that we’ve done the same thing as kids. Different settings, yeah, and it was usually when the other was upset…but still. Fuck, I shouldn’t even be thinking about us. This has nothing to do with us. Kyle can go to a movie and cuddle with his so-called “friend.” It shouldn’t even affect me.

I swallow, but I can’t breathe in anything other than short whispers of air. My lungs are suddenly tight, and it doesn’t let up with each circle that Travis continues to trace on Kyle’s back. The fabric of the shirt buckles under each movement from Travis’ touch, up and down, left to right.

I focus in on what I can see of Kyle’s face and I swear that a smile tugs at his lips, mirroring mine when I was thinking of his drunken words: “super best friend.”

He looks happy.

I have to get out of here. I can’t breathe.

Fuck this movie. It sucks anyway.

I don’t even think about whether I should leave or not. I just stand up, excuse myself, and walk right out of the theater.

I push through the double doors of the main entrance and I’ve never been more thankful for the cool night air. I take in long, desperate breaths, trying to calm myself down.

What the hell was that all about? Did I just have a fucking panic attack? My chest isn’t tight anymore, but my mind is a whirlwind. Why have I been acting so possessive over Kyle lately? It should be totally fine that he made a new friend, it should be totally fine that those two are close, and it should be totally fucking fine that Travis had been rubbing his back… like Kyle and I used to do.

I’m acting ridiculous. I can’t shake this jealousy. I’m being a total asshole.

Travis is a nice enough dude, but to be blunt, I don’t like him. I don’t want him in the picture. He had Kyle while I was stuck in fucking Boulder by myself. And I know that I shouldn’t hold that against him, but I can’t help it—I do.

It took Kyle this long to tell me that he was gay, and he’s been distant regarding Travis. Is this dude a boyfriend? An ex-boyfriend? A friend that is entirely too close like Kyle and I were?

And then that damn Dartmouth application…I still haven’t even brought that up. I haven’t forgotten about those weird dates.

I feel like he’s hiding something from me.

I don’t know what to think, but that could be the problem. Maybe I’m over thinking everything. Why does any of this even matter? I’m just confused and stressed out for no fucking reason.

I can’t talk to anyone about this, I’m embarrassed enough about the way I’m acting. I just stormed out of a goddamn movie theater for Christ sakes. It’s not like Kyle was my girlfriend or something, but I sure as hell am acting like a jealous ex-boyfriend—or an ex-girlfriend, considering how much of a pussy I’m being. I can just feel my vagina growing.

I’m dumb. This is totally fucking dumb. I should just go back in there, calm down, and enjoy that shitty movie.

I lean my head back against the brick wall and close my eyes with a sigh.

I really don’t want to go back in there.

“Stan?”

I turn my head to the direction of a sweet voice and it belongs to none other than a tiny girl I know all too well.

“Wendy?”

“It is you!” She quickly wraps her arms around my neck to bring me in for a hug and I happily return the gesture. She’s the last person I thought I’d be running into right now—while I’m practically having a panic attack over my gay best friend.

Her smile is as bright as her blue eyes, “How’ve you been? God, I haven’t seen you in so long!”

It’s genuinely good to see her and she showed up at a good time. I could use a distraction.

She’s still gorgeous. Her cheeks radiate and her lips are the softest shade of pink. Her black hair is longer than it used to be, and it’s back in a ponytail, like she just threw it up to get it out of her eyes. Wendy never had to try hard to be beautiful. She’s always been a natural.

After all these years, I still have a soft spot for this girl. I smile, “I’ve been good. When did you get back from school?”

“Last week. I’m on my way home from work now.”

“Want some company on the walk home?” I don’t feel bad leaving the guys behind. They have cell phones with my number in them. I figure I’ll be back before the movie is over anyway. Her parents’ house is pretty close, if that’s where she’s staying.

She smiles, “Sure, that’d be nice. We can catch up for a few blocks.”

We begin walking down the sidewalk together, strolling slower than usual to savor the moment. It’s hard to believe that I haven’t seen her since high school, “You’re on your way home from work? Where do you work?”

She reaches up and pulls the tie from her hair and dark waves flow down her back. She tousles her hand across her head to loosen restraint from the ponytail, “I’m a waitress over at Tweek’s. It’s just for the summer, before I go back to grad school.”

“Tweek’s?”

She nods, “Yeah, Tweek’s dad turned his coffee shop into a diner. His shtick is still coffee though. If I have to memorize one more flavor, I’m going to scream.”

“Is that the same diner that Butters works at?”

“Yep, he’s the one who got me the job.”

It’s not ideal, but why not? “They hiring?” I could at least apply. I haven’t received a call from anywhere in Denver, yet.

Plus, I kind of like the idea of being close to Wendy again.

“Actually, one of the cooks just left. Why, do you need a job?”

“I need one in the meantime while I figure some things out.”

She smiles, “I can talk to the manager for you. I’m morning shift tomorrow, so if you want, you can stop by between six and three?”

I smile too, “Sure, I’ll come by.”

“It’s not a bad place to work. My days go by fast. I found out about it when I was visiting just a few semesters ago. Speaking of! Did you even visit at all? I haven’t seen you since you left.”

“Barely. A few holidays, but that’s about it.”

“You really stuck with that whole ‘Get Out of South Park’ plan that you and Kyle had going, didn’t you?”

I nod, “It was easier to stay away than you think.”

“I’m sure it was.”

“Kyle didn’t exactly stick to the plan though. Well, I mean, he did, we just didn’t go to the same school.”

She looks at me for a moment with a pause before we cross a street, “I heard. Dartmouth, right?”

“How’d you know?”

“Facebook.”

God, I hate Facebook.

“That had to have been hard for you.”

“What?”

“Kyle being on the other side of the country. I can’t imagine the two of you apart for so long.”

Wendy always did know me pretty well. It’s crazy how she can just pick up on things right away in any of our conversations, “It was really lonely, actually.”

And it’s crazy that I’m just letting shit fly right out of my mouth. Why the fuck am I comfortable enough to say something like that? I’m just walking the girl home, not paying her to be my therapist.

I haven’t even noticed that we are close yet, but we’re in front of her house already. Thank God. I don’t need to pour my heart out right now.

She turns to me by her front door, her face earnest, “I hope you two are hanging out now that school’s over.”

“We are,” I nod. I’m not sure why she’s suddenly so serious, but I try to smile and lighten the mood. “You sound like you did when we were dating.”

She laughs lightly, “I’m just making sure that bromance didn’t let something like school get in the way.”

Not a fan of that word. I never really noticed how often people use that term for Kyle and I, but I feel like it’s said a lot. I make sure not to run my mouth again and continue to keep it short, “We came close.”

“Here,” She reaches inside her purse and takes out the smallest notepad that I’ve ever seen. She finds a pen and starts to scribble something down.

She hands me her phone number.

“We’ll all have to hang out sometime and catch up.”

She smiles, and immediately looks just as excited as when she first saw me at the theater. She wraps me into another hug, “It was really great to see you again.”

I hug her back, and she feels so familiar, “You, too. I’ll see you tomorrow?”

“Yep, I’ll see you tomorrow. Bye, Stan.” She heads to her front door, gives me one last wave, and disappears into her house.

As I make my way back to the Bijou, I already feel a hell of a lot better. Despite the many, many times that Wendy and I have broken up, I’m excited to see her again tomorrow. Maybe I can ask her out on a date. She did give me her number after all. That has to mean something, right?

Anything to distract me from being overly jealous about my super best friend’s love life.

I roll my eyes.

In front of the theater, it looks like I’ve arrived just in time. A horde of people is moving outside. The movie must have ended. That didn’t take very long.

Kyle is the first familiar voice that I hear, “No way! That movie sucked balls!”

I walk up behind them and follow along like I’ve been here the entire time, but I’m immediately spotted.

“Hold up,” Kenny grabs my arm and the group comes to a stop, “where the hell did you go? You missed the whole ending!”

Kyle chimes in again, “Which blew, just like the rest of the movie.”

“Well, I sure thought it was pretty good. You’re being a bit harsh, Kyle, don’t ya think?” Butters says, shifting from one foot to the other.

“I couldn’t pay attention to it anyway,” I say. “It really was a piece of shit.”

“Thank you! At least someone agrees with me.”

Kenny scoffs, “You two just have lame fucking taste in movies. That was an instant classic. I guarantee you there’s gonna be a sequel.”

We make our way towards the parking lot and Travis decides to throw his opinion in too as he and Kyle walk side by side in front of us, “I don’t know about a classic, but it wasn’t so bad.”

“Dude, are you kidding me?!” Kyle says, appalled. “That was just some stupid, rehashed plot of every other action movie out there. I was watching the whole time, and not a damn thing was original or even written well.”

I look to the ground and smile as Kyle continues. I knew that he was analyzing and hating the movie when I looked at him in the theater.

Butters repeats Kenny’s question, wondering where I had disappeared.

This causes Kyle to stop complaining about the movie for a few seconds and he glances behind himself, giving me his full attention.

“I came outside for some air, but then I ran into Wendy.”

“Testaburger?” He questions, and slows down to walk beside me instead. Travis stays ahead of us, his sight still on Kyle’s car.

“Yeah, I walked her home and she said that she’s going to try to get me a job at Tweek’s. She told me to come by tomorrow morning.”

That jealous part of me notices Kyle’s reaction. He’s always liked Wendy, but one thing that annoyed him was how much of my attention went to her back in the day. I’m not going to lie, a part of me went into detail about who I ran into because I knew that it would grab his attention.

“Oh, really, Stan!” Butters jumps with excitement, “Why didn’t you tell me that ya needed a job before? I could have gotten you one. One of our cooks just left last weekend.”

I shrug, “I guess I really didn’t think of it.”

I never asked Butters before because I didn’t want to lower my standards by working for minimum wage at some diner. Now that’s it’s come to this point, where I desperately need something, I’m okay with it. But, I don’t tell him that. I always feel bad if I hurt Butters’ feelings—like I’m kicking a puppy or something.

Kyle notices that I’m lowering my standards, though, “Aren’t you going to wait until you hear back from those jobs you applied for down in Denver? I know it’s only been like a week, but people might still call you back. I really think you have a chance at that insurance agency. They seemed like they really liked you.”

The idea of answering phones in an insurance office makes me want to walk into traffic. I’m not someone who can sit on the phone all day at a desk. I don’t really mind cooking, even though I’m not the best. Maybe I can just take this job for now until I find something that I’m really interested in.

So, instead of settling for a shitty insurance agency, I’ll settle for a shitty diner.

We approach Kyle’s car first, “All right guys, we’re going.” He says.

Kenny looks surprised, “Don’t you two wanna go get some drinks or something?”

“I’m taking Travis up to his sister’s house by Aspen pretty early tomorrow morning.”

This is news. So, Travis traveled this far to visit his sister, not only to see Kyle?

“She wants me there by nine so that we can go skiing,” Travis explains. “So, I’m afraid that I’m going to have to call it a night already.” He walks up to each of us and uses the same firm handshake as he did earlier in the night, “It was very nice meeting all of you.”

Travis is a polite and genuinely likable guy. If the situation was different, I know that I would’ve liked him. But it’s not. So I guess I’m just a dick.

We all say our goodbyes. Travis hops into Kyle’s passenger seat, and when Kyle heads for the driver’s side, he stops, his hand on the car door. He looks at me and says, “I can come by tomorrow after I drop him off?”

There’s no real reason for him to come over. We’d just be sticking to whatever routine this is that we’ve started. Kenny was right: I don’t have to spend every moment with Kyle. And after that little episode I had in the movie theater, maybe I should take a break from seeing him so often.

But, Travis is leaving. Maybe it’s just him being around. It may be better tomorrow. I couldn’t have been this weird before today.

“Yeah,” I say with a nod, “sure, dude. We can grab some breakfast at the diner.”

He smiles, “Cool. See ya, guys.”

“Well,” Kenny starts as they drive away, “we goin’ to the bar?”

I laugh. It’s not like he’ll take ‘no’ for an answer. “Yeah, let’s head over.”

Chapter Text

In the midst of a comfortable slumber, my cell phone bursts into song and my eyes unwillingly flutter awake inside of my dark room. I blindly grab for the phone sitting on the nightstand, knocking over an empty plastic cup in the process. I groan, squinting at the bright screen.

It’s Kyle, “Hello?” I mumble, and close my eyes again.

“Are you still sleeping?”

“Mhm,” The phone falls beside my ear. I hope he doesn’t expect me to keep a coherent conversation. Kenny and I were out a little late last night. And by a little late, I mean 3AM.

“Do you still want to go to that diner today?”

I yawn, “What time is it?”

“8:30.”

“Oh God. Dude. Are you kidding me? Why are you calling me so early?”

He laughs lightly, “Sorry. I forgot how early it was. I’ve been awake since five. I should be back before 11, though. I can come by your house and we’ll head over. Cool?”

“Yeah, sounds great,” I grumble. He takes the hint and we end the conversation with that. The phone drops to the floor and I curl into my bed, already well on my way to continue with some much needed sleep.

In my room, it’s dark. The movie from last night is playing on the wall, covering an old Raging Pussies poster with a car chase. I’m sitting upright on my bed, feet hanging over the side, and I’m not alone.

Kyle is standing in the middle of the room with his back to me and his eyes on the screen. He’s seventeen years old, and missing his green hat. Auburn curls cover his head with inconsistent patterns. “This movie is fucking lame,” he says, and then turns to me, his hair bouncing along with his movement, “I know you agree with me.”

I just nod my head and he turns back to the screen.

“Worse than a goddamn Michael Bay movie.”

I try to stand up, but I feel heavy. I can’t move. I look down at my lap and see that I’m wearing all of my snow gear: heavy boots, winter coat and wool hat. It’s very cold. Behind me, all of the windows are wide open and snowflakes pepper inside quietly.

All of a sudden, Kyle is our current age again, his short hair and glasses in their usual place. But, we’re no longer alone. Travis is beside Kyle, staring at him with his head tilted. He slowly lifts his arm and his hand lands on Kyle’s back, between his shoulder blades. It slides down, slowly, following the spine until he reaches the hem of the shirt. His hand slips under the fabric, exposing Kyle’s pale skin.

The speed of my heart picks up and breathing escapes me while I watch. The movie reflects off the wall and covers their bodies with the only source of light in the room, flickering back and forth between scenes.

Kyle turns to Travis and his arms wrap around the other’s neck, submitting instantly. He pulls the two of them close until their chests meet. Kyle is the one to initiate the kiss and I open my mouth to say something but it’s so dry that I can’t speak.

I don’t even know what I want to say if I could say it.

I suddenly buckle over in pain as my stomach lurches with nausea. Sweat pours over me, soaking my heavy winter clothing. I gag, but nothing follows.

The film flashes behind them and it grabs my attention. A younger form of myself is now peering down at us. I look like I’m about twelve years old, wearing my old snow hat.

My stomach jumps again and my chest rises and falls with long, desperate breaths.

Travis and Kyle are now right beside me, just inches away from the bed, and Kyle’s shirt is off. They’re making out, and I try to keep an eye on them as I watch the wall at the same time.

“Happy Birthday, dude,” twelve year old Stan says on screen, “I know that you’re sick and all, but you can’t be alone on your birthday, ya know? Check it out,” he bends out of frame and when he reappears, he’s snapping the band of a surgical mask around the back of his head.

Despite the mask, his smile is still visible, stretching from ear to ear.

I look to my right again and Travis isn’t here anymore. He’s gone, and Kyle is sitting beside me, his shirt still missing. “Stan,” He breathes, his voice low and quiet, and face filled with lust—a look so foreign that I almost can’t recognize him.

But I don’t hesitate. As soon as he says my name, I move over and kiss him passionately, like I’d been Travis the entire time. My hands aren’t the least bit shy and I tug him close, fingers pressing into his exposed skin with such familiarity like I’ve done this a hundred times. He leans into me and we fall back onto my bed, each fighting through a consuming hunger.

He tugs away at my winter clothes and we manage to keep our lips locked, desperate to be as close as possible.

His hand grips my wet hair and he suddenly pulls away, lips red and breath heavy, “Stan?”

“What?” I ask, unhappy with the sudden break as I grasp my fingers in the belt loops of his pants, trying to pull him back down.

“Stan?”

“Stan?”

I jump upright in my bed, startling awake. My mouth gasps for air while images of Kyle on top of me are so fresh in my mind that I still feel like I’m dreaming.

“Dude.”

I look over in a panic, my heart pumping through my chest and Kyle is sitting on the edge of my bed, holding a bag of potato chips and chewing—like I wasn’t just making out with him.

Oh my fuck. Goddamn. He’s the last person that I need to see right now.

My stomach is doing back flips and my skin is slick with sweat. I wipe my face and my hand slides from my forehead to my chin. I can’t even swallow; my mouth is practically sand.

“You all right? You’re really pale.”

My chest heaves up and down, trying to slow my breathing down to normal. All I can think about is Kyle without those potato chips and without that shirt.

I look at the Raging Pussies poster on my wall, imagining a younger form of myself still on display.

Kyle shifts closer and puts a hand on my shoulder, “Stan?”

I look at him and all I can see is his expression in my dream—completely filled with lust and heated intentions. His eyes were so intense. I never saw Kyle like that before. Now I’m suddenly, really—really—embarrassed with him right next to me, touching my shoulder. It’s not like he knows what I was thinking about, but Jesus Christ, we were just making out seconds ago.

It all felt so real.

My stomachs panics and I’m still just as nauseous as I was in my dream. I lurch forward, head in my hands, and hide my supposedly pale face from the heat that is filling my cheeks.

I have to get my head on straight. Focus. Dream is over—didn’t happen—won’t happen. Shake it off, Stan.

I swallow again. My stomach bubbles.

Oh fuck.

With zero warning, I puke right into Kyle’s lap.

“Aw, sick!” He exclaims, and recoils away from the bed.

I don’t wait for any more of a reaction. I hurry and run out of the room, my churning stomach keeping me quick on my heels. I make it to the bathroom, slam the door shut, and fall to the tiled floor in front of the toilet.

I look down into the bowl and spit the acidity out of my mouth. I breathe hard, waiting for more. My stomach gurgles, but I gag out empty air.

I can’t get that image out of my mind! What the fuck is wrong with me? The last thing that I need to be thinking about is making out with my best friend—my best gay friend. Let alone thinking about that while he’s sitting right fucking next to me.

“Jesus Christ,” I echo into the bowl.

Beads of sweat fall down my naked back, sinking into the brim of my pants. Why the hell was I wearing snow gear in that dream when I only fell asleep in pajama bottoms?

I shake my head. That’s the last question that I need to be asking myself.

Besides that very fucked up dream, to add to everything, I just puked on Kyle. Not next to him, not in front of him, but right on him. I could've at least turned the other way. Not that this hasn’t happened before, but I thought I was done with this problem since I was a teenager. All that random puking and those panic attacks? I swear to God if that comes back, I’m going to flip shit.

I’m turning into a fucking basket case. First the movie theater last night, and now this is happening.

I hear a tentative knock on the door, “Stan?”

I spit into the toilet a few more times, the taste eating away at my tongue and teeth.

Kyle steps inside and closes the door behind him. The lock clicks and I hear the faucet suddenly run for a quick second. He takes a seat beside me on the edge of the ceramic tub, and he’s right next to me, again.

I can’t even look at him. Instead, I heave and gag another bubble of air into the bowl.

“Dude,” he starts, “you puked ALL in my chips.”

I manage to breathe out a small laugh. Really? That’s the first thing that he says to me? I mumble a weak “sorry” and then spit into the bowl again. I really hate the taste of puke.

His hand touches my shoulder, and he gives it a small squeeze.

He’s worried about me.

I immediately tense. My hands tighten around the foot of the bowl and I clench my molars together.

I can’t keep acting like a weirdo. Not with him right here.

I push myself away from the toilet with stark aggravation from my thoughts, stomach, dreams… just fucking aggravated with this whole situation. My mind, of all things, is starting to fuck up my friendship with my best friend that I finally just got back.

He has no idea, Stan. I mentally say, just to pep talk myself into calming my shit. Just chill the fuck out.

I take a deep breath, defeated, and lean my back against the ceramic bathtub.

Kyle is bent over, sitting on the side of the tub, and I’m next to him, on the floor with legs stretched out in front of me. His hand is still on my shoulder—my opposite shoulder—so he basically has his arm around me.

I swallow, hard. I’m still tense. At least my stomach isn’t in my throat anymore. All of my muscles are constricted and there’s no way that he doesn’t notice. I can’t even move right now. My heart is still beating out of my chest, and I’ve never had to try so hard to relax.

I clear my throat, but I keep my eyes down. I still haven’t been able to look at him, “Sorry about the chips, dude.” My voice is hoarse, “I didn’t get any on you, right?”

He keeps his hand on me. It rocks back and forth over the tip of my shoulder blade, his skin rubbing over my own, “You got some on my jeans, so I stole a pair of yours from your drawer. The bed and my food got the worst of it.” He squeezes my shoulder again, “You owe me a bag of chips now, though.”

I smirk, finally holding onto a normal pace of breathing, “I’ll pick up breakfast.”

His hand glides to the back of my neck, and his fingertips graze the bottom of my hair, weaving between strands and the surface of skin. His movement is soft and slow.

“Really? You never bought me shit when you puked on me before. Feel free to do this more often.” He lets out a small, unsure laugh.

I go to open my mouth to retort, but I don’t. I’m finally calming down. Talking may be easing my mind.

“Did you drink a lot last night?” He asks, going with the most obvious question. Good thing that, Hey, were you just mind fucking me in your sleep? wasn’t his first choice.

I nod and it’s kind of a lie. I was out with Kenny for a while, but I didn’t have much to drink. It’s an easy explanation though so I'll stick with it for now, “Yeah, little too much, I guess.”

“You want me to get you something? Some antacids? A stomach pump?”

I shake my head, “I’m good...just, give me a second.”

I take a deep breath. I need to stop acting like a douche and just fucking go with it. I had a dream about making out with him—so what? It was just a dream. If I’m a fish in one of my dreams it doesn’t mean that I’m going to wake up and jump into Stark’s Pond. And he’s rubbing the back of my neck, so fucking what? We did this shit all the time and it didn’t mean anything then, so it shouldn’t now. It actually feels kind of nice, and considering why I’m in here, I should be freaking out more about this situation...but I’m not. It’s oddly soothing.

So, we're a little close. I'm over it. I'm sick of judging everything that I do when it comes to him. It’s been constant since we started hanging out again.

I give up and lean my head onto Kyle’s lap, admitting defeat. I do feel good right now, and all that dry heaving has worn me out. I could go back to sleep if I wanted to, right here, on the tiled floor, next to my gay best friend. I still feel weak, but more at ease. At least I’m not panicking anymore.

I don’t know if my movement surprises him or not because his hand comes to a stop, but it’s only for a moment. He reworks his strategy and brushes the black hair out of my eyes, and traces his fingers along the length of it. I smile into his—my—jeans.

He clears his throat, “How’re you feeling? You still look kind of pale.” His voice is considerably softer than when he was complaining about vomit in his chips.

“Better,” I mumble. My eyes close and I focus on his hand, moving back and forth with a tender touch through my hair, to my neck, and lightly over my ear. I notice every inch he covers and relish in it as I try to swallow my anxiety permanently.

The thing that tipped our friendship on an angle is that he’s gay. We did shit like this all of the time before—it shouldn’t mean anything different now. I’m comfortable. That’s all that matters. I enjoy being close to Kyle. I can’t do shit like this with Kenny, but so what? I wouldn’t want to. This is just me and Kyle.

I don’t know how long we stay like this, but I don’t move, and he doesn’t either. I feel like we're kids again, in our own little world together.

“Stan!”

Kyle and I both sit up, startled out of whatever kind of moment we were just in, and direct our focus to the door.

“Open up! I have a shit the size of New Zealand coming out!”

Goddammit, I hate that this house only has one bathroom. Kyle and I both stand up and when I open the door, my Dad speeds right by me, his legs bouncing back and forth with urgency. He almost runs right into Kyle.

“What were you two doing in here?” He asks, taking a break from his bathroom dance for a second.

“Oh, uh,” Kyle begins, and he suddenly looks really uncomfortable.

I don’t know why he hesitates, so I answer, “I puked. Kyle was helping me out.”

“Are you o—” He interrupts himself, “Shit. Okay! You boys need to get out of here! It’s about to get ugly!”

The words are out of my Dad’s mouth as he tugs on his stained robe to proceed with blowing up our bathroom. I promptly turn around before I have another reason to throw up.

Back in my room, for some reason, Kyle and I are just kind of standing here. It’s awkward again. I went from panic, to puke, to calm, and now we’ve shifted into some kind of awkward stage. He feels it too, I can tell. He’s looking around my room like he hasn’t seen it a thousand times. His eyes are everywhere but on me.

“So...” I begin, “I’m gonna get changed...and then we can head over?”

Kyle nods, more than once, “Yeah, dude. Okay. I’ll wait downstairs.” He thumbs to the door and then makes his way to the steps.

I briefly hear my dad groaning down the hallway. I can’t believe that I have to go back in there to brush my teeth when he’s done—fuck.

X x x X

Kyle and I don’t say much to each other on the way to the diner. The ride is bordering on our usual comfortable silence versus a we-may-be-falling-back-into-that-whole-cuddling-thing silence. I know stuff is a little...off right now. I had that panic attack at the theater, then I had the dream, then I puked on Kyle, and then, to top off all of that shit, I go ahead and get a little too close for comfort with him in my bathroom. And you know what? I’m sick of all this shit. I can’t keep going back and forth on how I feel around him. It’s been an odd few days, and right now, I’m just excited about seeing Wendy, so my focus is on that.

Inside, the diner is tiny, but it’s crowded. When we sit down, Kyle opens his menu but I don’t touch mine. I’m too busy looking around to catch sight of Wendy. She did say that she was working this morning, right? I hope that she didn’t leave early or anything.

“Holy shit, they have French toast stuffed with cream cheese, dude. I don’t even know how that happens, but I’m in. What are you getting?”

I try to peek into the kitchen beside us as I arch my back over the spine of the chair, “We should’ve asked for a seat in her section.”

“Dude,” Kyle suddenly says, interrupting my search, “Chill. She’s around.”

“What? I just don’t want to miss her.”

“Heya, fellas! How are ya this morning?” Butters greets us out of nowhere with a warm smile and silverware. He gets amazing tips here. All of the old ladies love him. “I’m glad you two finally stopped in! Did ya see the French toast special?” He’s clad in his work uniform, with a pin on his white shirt that is nothing else but a smiley face. Where’s he getting all this smiley shit from?

Kyle nods, “Yeah, and I’m all over that. It sounds awesome.”

“Have you seen Wendy around, Butters?” I ask, somewhat worried that I may have missed her. I forgot what time she said that her shift ends today.

He nods, “She’s here today. I think she’s in the kitchen. I can get her for ya after I take your orders if you two are ready.”

“I’m good with coffee.”

Kyle cocks an eyebrow at me, “You’re not eating? You should probably get something in your stomach after this morning.”

“I’m fine,” I catch her walk out of the kitchen from the corner of my eye and I give Kyle a brief “I’ll be right back” before I make my way over to her. I can’t help my smile. It’s instant when she turns around and sees me.

“Stan!” She quickly gives me a hug similar to yesterday with a cute little hop since she’s so short. “I’m glad you made it. I told the manager all about you. He’s in the back if you want to meet him now.”

Okay, right down to business, “Yeah, sure.”

She grabs my wrist and pulls me along with her. Her fingers are tiny and cool, with a few hair ties decorating her own wrist.

In the kitchen, I go through the whole employment spiel with the manager, Jerry. Just the usual questions—my work history, my schooling history, my availability, etc. I’m just desperate at this point, so I give him what he wants to hear so that I can land this job.

If I take this job, at least I can get some face time in with Wendy. Who knows what could happen? We’re both adults now, maybe we can make it work this time. We’ve always had good chemistry. Years apart can really make you appreciate a person. Absence makes the heart grow fonder, right? Maybe her heart still has a soft spot for me.

I’m offered the job on the spot, and I get to come in for training on Thursday. That was easy. Then again, it’s not like this is an epic position that requires some heavy consideration. But, at least I have something concrete for now while I continue the job search.

Before I return to the table, I walk back over to Wendy first. I place a hand on her back to get her attention while she wipes down one of her tables—just a subtle touch to squeeze myself into her thoughts. “Thanks a lot, Wendy. I appreciate the good word. I’m coming in for training on Thursday.”

“Oh, great! That’s awesome.”

“I’m here with Kyle. Want to say hi?”

Back at the table, Kyle’s food already looks like it came and went. Was I really away that long?

He looks up from his empty plate, and puts on a smile when he sees Wendy. “Long time no see,” he says cheerfully, and gets up from the table to give her a warm hug.

They play catch up for a moment, and I finally tend to my coffee. It’s a little cold, so I really must’ve been in the kitchen for a while. The guy was nice, though, so that’s a plus. It’s never fun to work with an asshole.

Wendy is so bubbly and chipper as she speaks with Kyle. She’s always had the cutest smile. That’s what really kills me about her. She could say the worst possible thing to me, but if she does it with a smile, it wouldn’t even faze me.

But when she says, “We’ll have to go out for a drink to catch up soon. You can both meet my boyfriend,” with a smile, I’m not going to lie—it fucking fazes me.

A boyfriend? Are you kidding? And then Kyle has the audacity to ask her how long they’ve been dating and she says three years. Not only that, but it’s apparently going great, and he’s such a wonderful guy, and blah, blah, blah. Great. Who gives their number to an ex when they already have a boyfriend? What the hell?

“Okay, I gotta get back to work, but I’ll see you two later! Stan, I’ll see you bright and early on Thursday.” She gives us a quick smile, and then she’s off.

I look up, and Kyle looks pissed. What the hell is he mad for? I’m the one who should be upset, not him.

“You all right?” He asks, and his voice is stagnant, like it’s not even a genuine question, but he’s asking just to ask.

“Yeah, fine.” I look down at my coffee. Not even three sips in yet, but I’m ready to go, “Let’s get out of here.”

In the car, Kyle shuts the passenger door harder than he needs to and looks right at me, “Why’d you even ask me to come with you, dude? If I knew that I had to sit there by myself the entire time while you were with Wendy, I wouldn’t have come.”

I roll my eyes and start the car. Now this shit? “Why are you complaining? I just bought you breakfast.”

“You bought me breakfast because you puked on me.”

I shoot him an annoyed look as we pull out of the parking lot and onto the road. It’s not like this morning was something that I could control. He can’t throw it in my face like that, “What’s your problem, dude?”

“My problem? What’s your problem? How are you still obsessed with Wendy? It’s borderline creepy.”

“Obsessed? What the fuck, that’s a little extreme.”

“No, it’s not. As soon as we walked into that place, you were looking for her like a lost puppy. And when she mentioned that whole boyfriend thing? I had to say something to get your jaw off the floor, and now you’re all pissed off because of it.” He sounds so annoyed right now—which is coming out of nowhere. He seemed fine when we got to the diner and was drooling over French toast. He had to sit and eat by himself for a few minutes, so what?

“I’m pissed off? You’re the one who’s bitching right now, Kyle. I’m totally fucking fine.”

“Yeah, you seem real fine, dude. That’s all you say anymore and I can totally tell that something’s wrong. I could’ve hung out with Travis for a little while before he left, not sit there by myself while you drool over your ex-girlfriend.”

“Oh, wow. Sorry to interrupt time with your buddy.”

“And I’m the one who’s bitching?” He crosses his arms, “Why don’t you like him? I can tell that you don’t. You were so weird last night.”

“What! How was I weird? I totally was not weird. You were weird.”

Wow, good one, Stan.

“Please, pray tell, how was I the weird one? You stormed out of the movie theater for like a half hour and you barely said a goddamn thing at dinner.”

I bite my tongue. I sure as hell don’t want to answer that question, “Why the fuck do I have to like him anyway? What does my opinion matter for?”

“Why would your opinion not matter? You’re my best friend, dude.”

“Yeah? Well, I wasn’t a few months ago, was I?”

He pauses—I probably shouldn’t have said that. “Dude.”

I just shake my head. I don’t even know what the hell we’re arguing about anymore, “Forget it. I’m sorry.”

His arms fall back to his side and his eyes are on the window, “No...it’s okay. I’m just...I don’t know. I’m sorry, too.” He sighs, decides to drop it, and just keeps his gaze outside. We don’t even say anything else the entire ride until a few weak goodbyes.

Back home, the entire second floor still reeks of shit, and right when I sit on my bed, my ass lands into a nice pile of vomit. I probably should have cleaned that up before I left.

Well...today’s off to a fucking great start.

Chapter Text

If Wendy had told me that she had a boyfriend in the first place, I probably wouldn't have asked her if the diner was even hiring.

And if anyone would've told me who I'd be working with, I would have never fucking considered it.

When I walk into the kitchen, he's standing beside an industrial refrigerator, wearing an apron identical to mine. His reflection off the steel almost covers the entire width of the fridge.

When Cartman notices me he just says, "Oh hey, pussy," with that shit-eating grin plastered on his face.

I step back, "Aww, goddammit. You're working here now, too?"

Labor and Cartman do not mix. I remember when he worked at the Stop-N-Go for three long months. Three months of Kenny covering for him so much that he started falling asleep there. I don't need to do two jobs and only get paid for one.

The least I can do is hope that he's just playing dress up with that apron, or he winds up getting himself fired. I won't be able to last with him here.

He can tell I'm annoyed, “Yeah I am, and don't act all high and mighty, Stan. It's not like I'm happy you're working here either." He steps towards me with his arms crossed, trying to intimidate.

It's not working, "What happened to your c-Bay knock-off?"

"None of your goddamn business, it just didn't work out."

His pride sounds wounded. Interesting. "Did all the old ladies finally figure out you were ripping them off?"

"Ay! I'll have you know that I ran a legitimate business." Past tense. "This cooking thing is just a side job. I am making plenty of money."

"Sure you are, Cartman."

"All right, boys!" Jerry says as he walks in, a cooking hat in each hand. "Let's get started."

I don't know why anyone would even consider hiring Cartman. It's a dumb move. He's notorious around town for being a total prick, and on top of that, he's lazy as hell.

Unfortunately, he lives up to his reputation as we go through training for the next few days. I pick up on everything pretty quickly, but Cartman makes it a point to put in as little effort as possible. I spend most of my time covering his ass so that I don't look bad myself.

"Dammit, Cartman, stir the sauce. You're gonna burn it."

He rolls his eyes, "Stop, you can't burn spaghetti sauce."

It happened quickly. I hate this job.

X x x X

I haven't seen Kyle in a few days. I'm thinking maybe distance will help me out here. How I've been acting lately is starting to worry me. I'm one step away from calling a psychiatrist.

Okay, not really, but still.

I hate that I'm doing this. I was never this self-conscious around him before. One little sexual orientation shouldn't make me constantly question my actions around my best friend.

He called me yesterday when I finished my shift. All I could do was stare at my phone while it rang its way to voicemail. As soon as his name lit up the screen I immediately thought of us in the bathroom again.

I know it's not like we made out or anything, but it was kind of an intimate moment. It felt good at the time and calmed me down. Whenever I used to get panic attacks, it always took a while to shake off that anxiety, sometimes hours, but not with him.

In the bathroom, I was stuck there with Kyle, just the two of us. I felt whole for the first time in a long time. It was like everything that’s ever bothered me just disappeared and I could relax for the first time in awhile.

When Kyle was fucking petting me.

I punch my baseball into my glove. A sudden wave of frustration courses through me, disappearing just as fast as it appeared.

I'm on my way to his house, so I can't exactly escape him now. He texted me earlier and asked if I was coming over to play ball with Ike. I didn't even respond. He probably thinks I'm still mad at him for that little argument in the car.

The thing is, I want what we have without all of these confusing feelings. I just want to fucking hang out with him and not mentally battle myself over it. Every aspect of our friendship is close, too close. One minute it I hate it, the next minute I apparently love it. I don't know what the fuck is going on. I never thought I could be interested in Kyle in that sense. Is that what all this means? Why I'm having dreams about him, why I'm jealous of Travis, why I missed him so much while I was gone? I've never had these feelings of attachment to anyone, let alone a guy, but is that what this is? What it's always been?

I shake my head. I'm not ready for this kind of shit.

Kyle's sitting on his front step with a computer in his lap and a beer at his side. He smiles when I approach, "Hey, dude." He's casual, like nothing's happened. The bathroom, the puke, the argument… he's just hanging out, drinking a beer.

Good to know that I'm the only one freaking out about all of this.

"You all right?" he asks as I take a seat next to him on the step.

I want to ask him how he feels about that morning in the bathroom. Why do we do that shit with each other? Why does it feel so normal and instinctive?

I want to bring up the dream I had involving Travis. Tell him that I was jealous and ended up making out with him instead. I want to tell him that I can't stop thinking about it.

I want to ask him about his application. Ask him about his "friendship" with Travis. Ask him how he first realized he's gay.

But I don't. I just shrug off my mood and blame it on the new job. I'm stuck with Cartman. If anyone can understand the pain of that, it's Kyle.

"I can't believe they didn't mention you'd be working with him. Cartman needs to start coming with some kind of disclaimer."

I shake my head and toss the ball in the air before easily catching it into my glove, "I know, dude. I wouldn't have bothered if I knew I'd be stuck with him. And! Our schedules are the same for the next two weeks. It fucking sucks."

"So, is that why I haven't heard from you lately? You've been mourning that one iota of hope that this job wouldn't suck? I told you to wait it out, dude." He keeps his eyes on the computer, his fingers quickly typing away as the screen reflects off his glasses.

"You could say that. If any of those other places calls me back, I'm out."

"Any chance in him getting fired?"

"That's what I was hoping for, but then Butters told me that our manager is fucking Mrs. Cartman."

Kyle laughs, "Who isn't fucking Cartman's mom?"

I laugh too, but briefly. Kyle's face is suddenly serious. He stops typing and pushes his glasses up to rest on his head, "Listen, I want to apologize for the other day. I didn't mean to start anything with you in the car. You were there to get a job, I shouldn't have made it about me."

I shake my head, "No, dude. I'm sorry. You were right. I was pissed about Wendy."

He tries to hold in a smile, but I still notice. The bastard always knows when he's right. I feel him shift next to me, his belt bumping into the brim of my jacket.

I toss the baseball in the air again, "Have you heard back from the Chronicle yet?" I ask, trying to change the subject, "You felt pretty good about the interview when you walked outta there."

He sighs and slides his glasses back down onto his nose, eyes back on the laptop screen, "Fuck, dude, I know. It's killing me. I haven't heard anything yet. Not one email or even a phone call."

"Don't worry, man. Wait it out." I smile and nudge his arm with my elbow, "They gotta call you. If anything, you're overqualified."

"Why are you two sitting so close to one another?" Ike suddenly says from behind us as the front door shuts with a thud.

I look down and our hips are touching—plenty of space on the rest of the step that I could've taken but clearly didn't.

Making it a point to completely ignore this observation, I jump to my feet before I place the baseball into Ike's surprised hand, "Ready?"

I enjoy hanging out with Ike and tossing a ball around. It’s a relaxing distraction. I'm actually starting to look forward to these little lessons throughout my week. It feels good to have the warm leather of the glove on my hand again.

Ike is doing well, too. He picks up on things pretty quickly and he's already improving after only a couple times. Smart kid. He has a ton of potential to be a great asset to his team next year.

On the front lawn, a couple of feet away from Kyle's expensive laptop and cold beer, I spread my index and middle fingers slightly apart and grip the baseball in my right hand, "Okay, I'm going to show you a four seam fastball. See where my fingers are? They need to be on the perpendicular seam of the ball."

Ike looks like he registers this immediately, but he pauses, "What do I do with the balls that don't look like this?"

I blink, confused, "What?"

"This is what we use most of the game, but we always fucking run out of baseballs by the time the 7th inning rolls around. Sometimes they throw in a softball. Sometimes a tennis ball."

"What!"

He just shrugs, like he's used to it, "We complain about it, but the coach does not fucking care. He keeps saying, 'We work with what we’ve got. We don't have the budget to spend on those good and hard balls all the time,' and believe me, that is the exact phrasing."

“How the hell do you play baseball with a tennis ball half way through a game? That changes the dynamic of everything.”

"No one fucking cares about baseball. The school only cares about basketball because that is the only team that has been doing well for the past few seasons." He tosses the ball in the air, just like I had a moment ago, but he falters slightly in the catch before continuing, "I remember when I used to go to your games with Kyle, and at least you guys had uniforms."

He has to be screwing with me at this point, "They don't even have uniforms anymore?"

"No, but that's kind of why my friends and I want to get into it. We all like playing down at the park, so maybe we can show some enthusiasm and get things going again. I'm too fucking short for basketball."

"Wow, dude. Who the hell's coaching now?"

"Mr. Garrison."

"What!" Of all people. He's the last guy in that school that would know anything about baseball, let alone sports in general. That man needs to retire, not coach.

Kyle laughs behind us, "I can't believe I forgot to tell you!" he says before taking another sip of his beer. How do you forget something like that?

Ike just rolls his eyes, "Yeah, I was surprised as well. We have a different coach like every fucking month."

South Park High is no fantastic school, I'm totally aware of that, but at least things weren't this bad when I was there. We at least had rules to follow on what damn ball to use.

"Okay," I sigh, gripping the ball in my hand, "I'll teach you the right way and you can tell Mr. Garrison to suck it, okay?"

Ike and Kyle snicker.

"On second thought, don't."

X x x X

I've been at Tweek's for over a week now, and I feel like I'm working simultaneous double shifts every time I'm in here. Trying to get Cartman to do anything has to be one of the most annoying tasks that I've ever had the joy of doing. He does the absolute minimum—all the fucking time.

"Cartman, you have to wear the hat. You're gonna get shit for not wearing it."

"Like I give a fuck. It's itchy," he says, his fingers clawing away at the top of his giant dome.

"It's a paper hat. How the hell is it itchy?"

"Oh, I don't know, Stan. Why is the sky blue? Why are you a fag?"

"Cartman, get that goddamn hat on!" Jerry yells from the back office.

I smirk as the grill sizzles through our boss's words and flip another burger. Looks like I'm not the only one with thinning patience. Even if Jerry is getting laid, he's no fan of Mrs. Cartman's son.

"Goddammit," Cartman mumbles and pulls the hat over his greasy head like it's an anvil. He drags his feet over to me and tears the spatula from my hand, "Give me that."

I just let him take the thing without protest. It's better not get into it with him. I learned that the hard way when we argued about spilled vegetable soup on the stove for twenty minutes. All of our orders piled up and then he managed to put all of the blame on me when Jerry walked in. Manipulative bastard. I thought I was going to get fired and I wasn't even in the kitchen for three hours yet.

That’s how my first day went.

So, instead of arguing with the unreasonable, I step outside for a break.

Ten minutes. I'm awarded three ten-minute breaks without Cartman. It sounds small, but those seconds that go by without him complaining are the best of my workday.

Outside, it's cool. I inhale and take a deep, long breath. A sudden "Fuck!" ripples through the wall, attached to his voice.

I feel bad being so annoyed with Cartman already. You'd think with all of the time I spent away from him that I'd forget how fucking aggravating he is. I've been back for what? Like, a month and a half? I can't completely hate him already.

Then again…

Maybe jumping into this job was a bad idea. Maybe Kyle was right.

The back screen door swings open with a creak and echoes shut. I turn around, and fuck—it's Wendy. I've barely spoken to her since I started. I may have even gone out of my way to avoid her but hopefully she hasn't noticed. That flicker of hope I had for reconciliation has left me kind of embarrassed to be around her.

"Hey, Stan!" She says cheerfully and leans against the brick wall beside me, "You've been working hard. I haven't even had a chance to talk to you yet. How ya liking the job?"

I look down, might as well be honest, "I'm not gonna lie, it sucks. But that's because Fatass is in there and we have the same schedule."

She cringes, "Yeah, sorry about that. I had no idea that he was even considered. At least look on the bright side, you can change your shift to something different after you've been here a few weeks."

Oh God, a few weeks?

She must notice the horror on my face, "Oh come on, Stan! It can't be that bad. It'll be okay. Don't let Cartman bring you down. I know that he's not one to lift a finger for anything physical, but maybe that'll get him fired."

"Tell that to Jerry. He's fucking Mrs. Cartman."

She's visibly disturbed, "Oh no. There's no hope at all, is there?"

"Not much."

Wendy really is sweet. I'm such an idiot for thinking that something would happen between us. I saw the girl for two minutes and immediately thought that there was a chance for us again. Of course she has a boyfriend. Wendy is not a girl that stays single long.

Plus, we already know that we don't work. We've been through it so many times. I just hope she didn't notice that I had some naïve hope for us.

I ask how her and her boyfriend are doing. It's not really out of curiosity, but more so to cover my own tracks. Let her know that I’m okay with only friendship between us.

"Great. He's a really wonderful guy. Kind of reminds me of you," she smiles.

And then she still flirts with me.

"How's Kyle?"

I tense right away, and mentally curse myself for it, "Good."

Someone mentions his name and I freeze up? Maybe a psychiatrist wasn’t that bad of an idea.

She notices, "What's wrong?"

"What?" Deny. Deny. Deny.

"As soon as I mentioned Kyle you winced."

"I didn’t wince."

"You did, too."

She knows something's up. I might as well tell her. An opinion on the matter may help anyway, "I don't know, something is going on with him."

"What do you mean?"

How do I word this without bringing up my own weird behavior? And I can't mention Kyle's sexuality. I don't want to out him to someone myself. That's not my place. But, it's a little hard to vent my problems when I can't tell her what started everything.

"I feel like he's hiding something from me. Things have been different since we've been back. Well, a little different."

"Because he's gay?" She suddenly asks.

So much for outing him myself, "What, how do you know?"

"Kyle told Bebe and Bebe told me. Unless he was just lying to get her away from him when they were at Token's. She gets a little overwhelming when she's drunk."

"She's right, though… About him being gay."

She smiles at me, "Don't let it bother you, Stan."

"It doesn't both—"

She cuts me off, "I get it, you two have been friends a long time. I understand that it may be kind of weird considering how close you two were."

Since when did she become so insightful about my relationship with Kyle? And what does “weird considering how close you two were” mean? Now it feels like she's hiding something, "What are you getting at?"

She giggles lightly, "Nothing, it's just that I can tell you are worried about it, that's all. Kyle’s always been important to you."

Am I that transparent?

Her cellphone beeps, "Break's over. Better get back in. Don't let Cartman bring you down." She waves me off as she heads inside, “Bye, Stan.”

Before I even have a moment to reflect on that odd exchange, she's right—break is over.

"About time! Do I have to do all the work around here, Stan? Is that what we're paying you for?" Cartman waves the spatula at me as I come in from the nice silence outside.

I just respond with a middle finger and work on arranging the plates of food for the tables. A long, rectangular opening in the kitchen reveals the rest of the diner. It lines the wall, opposite the grills, with a tiny shelf to hold all of the orders.

And just as I begin to craft a BLT with extra B, I catch sight of Kyle.

He's sitting in a booth by himself at the very end of the place. I didn't know he'd be here. He didn't mention anything. Every time he's been in so far during my shift, he and Kenny sit right beside the kitchen to taunt me. I usually retaliate by tossing rejected fries at them while Cartman complains in the background.

But today, he's alone, and sitting as far away from the kitchen as possible. His elbows are on the table as his hands grip a steaming cup of coffee. Black, I'm sure. His gaze is out the window.

I start to wipe my hands off on my apron so that I can wander over to say hello and escape Fatass for maybe another few minutes, but before I even take a step away from the sandwich, I see Travis approach and sit across from Kyle.

Why the hell is he still around? I thought he left last week? Kyle didn't tell me that he's still here. It's not like South Park is the ideal vacation spot.

I really want to trust Kyle, I do, but fuck, I feel like he's constantly going out of his way to hide things from me. Why not tell me that Travis is still in the area? I'd like to make up for my anti-social behavior and maybe grab a beer with the guy. Prove to Kyle that I don't dislike him, even if I do.

Travis is saying something, but all I hear is the chatter of the diner, and Cartman cursing to himself behind me. I'm sure he's finally realized that you really can burn pasta sauce.

Kyle doesn't look happy. He's not one to normally be quiet in conversation, so this is weird. His eyes have been on the window, the table—everywhere but on the person in front of him.

Travis slides his hand forward, but Kyle dodges and moves his arms off the table to drop them in his own lap. What's going on? They don't look like they're arguing, but they’re not having some lighthearted conversation either. I can feel the tension from here.

Travis has been moving his mouth since he sat down. He's rather animated when he speaks. His hands are all over the place, emphasizing certain points in the conversation that I really wish I could fucking hear. He looks passionate about something.

Suddenly, Kyle looks down at his phone, and only when he answers it does Travis stop speaking.

"Ay!"

I whip my head around at the yelp and there’s Cartman, red sauce covering the front of his apron and face. I instantly laugh, "What the hell are you doing?"

"This shit bubbled right in my face!"

"Dude," I walk over and turn the burner down, "You turned the heat all the way up?"

"I was trying to get the hard sauce stuck at the top to melt back in with the rest."

I just look at him—How long has his mom cooked everything for him?

Dumb question.

I point for him to take my spot. At least this will keep me from staring down Kyle and his buddy. I shouldn't be spying anyway.

I start a new pot of sauce and try to salvage what I can of the other stuff, but just as I’m about to go on a search for stewed tomatoes, the kitchen door flings open and here is Kyle, face beaming with pure excitement.

"Dude!"

"What?" I ask, startled. His happiness is contagious before I even know what's going on.

"Ay! You can't just barge in here!" Cartman steps back, "Jerry! There's a Jew in our kitchen!" He looks around, practically in a panic, "And he's not wearing a hat!"

"Shut up, Fatass," Kyle says instantly. He doesn't even sound annoyed and doesn't pay Cartman any more attention when he says, "I got the job!"

"What!" I yell and immediately run to him for a hug, "Congratulations, dude!"

Holy shit, this is awesome! I should've expected something like this when he charged in here. When I asked him a few days ago about the place calling him back, he looked heartbroken. Thank God they finally contacted him.

In the short moment that I have my arms around Kyle, I see Travis in the diner. He's at the front entrance, his hand on the door, looking back at the kitchen, and he looks pissed. Does he not want Kyle to get this job?

Kyle pulls away from me as Travis heads outside, his stride quick to the parking lot.

But it's easy to forget about him. I'm too excited for Kyle. I don't even remember the last time I've seen this look on his face.

I suddenly want to give him another hug.

"Fucking sick. Get a room," Cartman says.

We both continue to ignore him, "We have to celebrate." My smile is wide.

Kyle nods, "Yeah, dude. Definitely. This is huge."

Time to put my new paycheck towards some alcohol.

Chapter Text

“Assistant Section Editor,” Kyle says, his smile shining with pride.

Kenny promptly hands Kyle and myself shots of tequila. Why he keeps picking this shit is beyond me. Kenny’s a pro, but I’m a pussy when it comes to tequila. I hate this stuff. I’m going to have to step in and buy the next round if I know what’s good for me.

“That sounds fancy,” Kenny says.

“It’s really not fancy.”

“Cheers! To Mr. Fucking Fancy.”

The three of us click our glasses together and knock back the shots. The burn lingers on my tongue and I promptly wash it down with a beer.

Kyle’s excitement has barely subsided since he broke the news to me about his new job. He’s been all smiles since we walked in here. I’m in a great mood, too (despite trying to keep this tequila down.) I’m still very excited for him and have every intention of getting nice and drunk tonight to celebrate. I even have the next two days without Cartman.

An overall awesome formula for an overall awesome night.

“When do you start?” Kenny asks, filled with questions that I already know the answers to.

“Next Monday. Super early, too. I have to be down there by 5AM.”

“Are you gonna find a place in Denver?”

Kyle shrugs, “I’m not sure. I think so. The commute will probably get on my nerves after a while, but I’ll see how it goes.”

We’ve only been here an hour and Kenny’s bought three rounds of shots already. To say he’s a heavy drinker is an understatement. This shit is like water to him. But, he’s been distracted. Apart from his genuine interest in Kyle’s new job, his eyes keep darting over to his father at the other end of the bar. It’s nothing really out of the ordinary. There’s his dad, trucker hat and all, peering down into his moonshine. It’s not a happy picture, but it’s nothing unusual.

At least, that’s what I thought.

Ten minutes later he whips out a knife from his boot and stabs the counter of the bar, all while shouting at the bartender for another drink. Kenny instantly jumps up from his seat and runs over. We follow and try to help, but he protests as he pulls one of his father’s arms over his shoulder. I instinctively grab Mr. McCormick’s other arm anyway, tug it around my shoulder, and then help Kenny get him outside.

“If you throw up,” he begins, shoving his father inside the back seat of his car, one limb at a time, “or try to stab anything else, I’ll gun it to 80 and push you out the door. Comprende?”

Mr. McCormick mumbles something else, but none of us hear anything besides Kenny kicking the back door shut.

“Are you sure that you’re okay to get him home?” Kyle asks, always the first to be the responsible one.

Kenny nods, “Yeah. My tolerance is above and beyond compared to you two.”

“Are you coming back?”

He shakes his head and opens his driver’s side door, “Nah, I’m night shift in two hours anyway. You two fags have fun. I’ll catch up with you tomorrow.”

As they drive off, Kyle turns to me, “Well, this place got old quick.”

“I know. Now that we’re actually old enough to get in here, it’s not nearly as cool as I thought it was.”

“Do you just want to grab a few six packs and drink at my house? My parents and Ike are scoping out college campuses. They’re not back until tomorrow.”

It’s funny, just when I’m starting to feel old as balls someone says, "Let’s drink at my house, my parents aren’t home.”

I nod, “Let’s hurry, before my dad stumbles in here too.”

XxxX

Two six packs between us and they go quick. I balance one of the last beers on my thigh, my grip loose on the cold bottle and my head relaxed on Kyle’s shoulder. Thank God we’re only drinking light beer right now. That tequila really hit me.

We’re three episodes into a Law and Order marathon on Kyle’s couch and I have no idea what’s going on besides making fun of the bad acting and shitty dialogue. This is what we do with entertainment we’re not into—tear it apart. Kyle is much more forgiving than I am. I have a tendency to shit on everything and sometimes he has to throw a little optimism my way.

This is not one of those times.

“Wait for it, dude. Wait for the cry,” He points to the screen and my head falters, but I don’t budge.

We both laugh hysterically when the camera zooms in on a poor imitation of what may or may not be tears, while a dramatic musical score roars through the speakers. I bend forward as my stomach tightens with laughter and I almost spit out my beer. This shouldn’t be this funny…but it’s fucking hilarious.

When we both stop laughing like hyenas, I lean back into my seat and Kyle’s arm drapes around my shoulder. My head rests in the nook of his arm, and it’s much more comfortable than his boney shoulder. I snicker lightly to myself. He’s always had boney shoulders. We’re both tall, but I’m the one with a little more meat on my bones. He’s lanky as hell all around.

I nuzzle my head into his chest. He smells like that weird off brand detergent his mom always buys.

I look up to share my thoughts on laundry but he’s already smiling down at me, “You’re about to drop your beer,” he says and nods to the teetering bottle hanging loose in my hand.

“No I’m not,” I say defiantly.

“You’re drinking mine anyway, give that back,” and he reaches his hand towards mine.

I shake my head, hair ruffling against the wrinkles of his t-shirt, “No way.” I push myself off of him, sit up with a grin and finish off the rest.

“I only said you were going to drop it, not that it was going to disappear if you didn’t finish it in two seconds.”

“Catch up, Jew Boy,” I tease.

He scoffs, “Fuck dude, you are around Cartman too much. And now we need another drink. Thanks for that.”

I laugh and jump up from the couch. He’s by my side in an instant, standing so close that I pause, just to take in this small moment for no other reason than to stretch it as long as possible. His eyes are level with my own, “You know that last beer is mine, right?” There’s an obvious hint of a challenge in my voice.

As soon as the words are out of my mouth, he darts for the kitchen in a quick attempt to reach the refrigerator first.

I grin, and lunge for him from behind. Both of my arms wrap around his frame in a bear hug and I lock my grip around his chest. We both trip and topple over. The floor comes right at us and I don’t even feel it when we hit the ground, tangled in each other’s limbs and laughing.

We wrestle each other—two grown men, giggling. He’s stronger than I remember. It completely catches me off guard when he manages to push off his knees and knock me backwards. My hand smacks against the coffee table and the air in my lungs juts out of my throat when I land.

I definitely feel the floor this time.

I’m on my back and he’s suddenly on top of me. He yanks each wrist above my head in the second I take to catch my breath. I buck my hips upward to try and throw him, but he doesn’t move. I try another tactic and push off my feet, but the lack of traction in socks is getting me nowhere. My cheeks hurt from laughing and my stomach is in knots.

This is all really exciting for some reason.

“Got ya down, Stan,” he breathes, a cocky smirk on his face and his hold unwavering. “When’s the last time this happened?”

“You’re not getting…that beer,” I manage to say, still trying to wiggle out of this hold.

“That’s what you think.”

He abruptly lets go and tries to make another run for the kitchen. As soon as he’s a step away, I roll over and grab hold of his ankle. He stumbles and topples back to the floor, landing on his shoulder.

I’m on him in an instant. I pull his wrists behind his back and add just enough pressure upward for this to be uncomfortable but not painful. I lean into his ear, my chin on his shoulder. He squirms back and forth, teetering on his stomach like an overturned turtle. “Too slow,” I whisper before I pounce off his back and run for the kitchen to grab the last beer in the house.

I fling the fridge open and hold the bottle up in victory. I feel the need to tackle him again when he drags his feet into the kitchen with wounded pride, rubbing his shoulder, but I don’t because I have no other reason besides the fact that I just want to touch him again.

I take a seat at the kitchen table and wipe my warm head with my forearm. Kyle begins looking through all of the cabinets, searching for liquor. He kneels on the countertop to go through the very top shelves.

“Are you sure you don’t wanna go to a liquor store? We can just walk,” I say in between a sip of my prize, ”It’s not that far.”

All I hear is the clanking of glass, or pots, or whatever the hell Kyle is doing to his parents’ cabinets, “No way, dude. I know that there is like, a gallon of whiskey in here somewhere. I stashed it on Christmas.”

“Last Christmas?”

“Yeah. That’s when I broke the news to my mom about coming home after graduation. That was a great holiday. She was pissed.”

It’s odd not knowing everything about him, “But, she seems ecstatic to have you home.”

He continues, “She’s out of her mind, dude. She’s proud of me and all, really glad to see me again, but she’s so pissed that I decided to come home.” He accidentally drops a metal pot to the floor and I jump at the noise, “She’s driving me crazy. I really need to find another place.”

Kyle hasn’t spoken much of his family. He mentioned he was happy to see Ike, said he missed him a lot while he was away, but his mother is a different story. This is the first that he’s mentioned any kind of interaction between the two of them besides her disapproval with his hair.

“Why didn’t she want you home?”

“Think about it.” He turns to me and sits down on the counter, putting his search for whiskey on hold for a second. He almost slips, but catches himself. Feet dangle back and forth in front of him, “I graduated in the top of my class. Denver isn’t ideal.”

I mean, I have thought about that. But I never wanted to admit it. What’s wrong with Denver anyway? “I thought you said that the Denver Chronicle is a good opportunity?”

“It is, I’m not saying that it’s not. I just mean that there were other opportunities that were…more up to her standards. She didn’t want me to come back to South Park. She thinks I have too much ‘potential’ for this town.” He looks down at his swinging feet, “I don’t need her running my life for me, and I’m not ready to start from scratch again. All of my offers were in Boston, Philly, and New York. As exciting as that may be, I don’t need that, dude. Not yet. I have the rest of my life ahead of me.”

He rubs the back of his neck, his right foot lightly tapping on a cabinet, “Besides, there really is a lot of opportunity at the Denver Chronicle. From what I’ve heard, I can climb the corporate ladder pretty fast and get a good title under my belt. I can’t do that at a huge paper or a News site. I’d be stuck as an Assistant Editor for years. I can advance faster in a smaller place because my chances of being noticed are a lot higher.”

I smile because I love his logic. It means that he’s here for good, or at least for a little while.

“But anyway,” he changes the subject as he kicks off the counter. I get the vibe that he doesn’t enjoy talking about her, “I think I remember where that whiskey is.” He bends down and starts on the bottom cabinets.

In between the sound of tupperware toppling over and cleaners shifting out of place, I try not to think about when he hid this whiskey in the first place. When I was home with my family, unsure if Kyle was down the street or across the country…unsure about anything involving him at all.

“How long were you here for Christmas?”

“Only like two days. I feel like I got off the plane and got right back on. A ha!” He suddenly exclaims, “Found it.” He pulls out an entire jug of brown, thick liquid.

My eyes widen at the size of it.

“90 proof.” He smiles and kicks the tiny door shut, “Drinking while my parents aren’t home. Just like old times.”

I smirk at his wording, “Are you mocking me?”

He laughs and grabs us clean glasses from the sink, “I totally am.”

I take the jug from him and this thing is fucking huge. No way we’re finishing this. But, I think we can make a pretty good dent.

A pretty good dent and a half later, we’ve somehow relocated to the staircase. I don’t remember why we decided to try and make it up the steps, but here we are.

He’s sitting two steps above the one that I’m on, his knees beside me. I have an arm hooked around his leg so that there’s some kind of support if I decide to fall on my face. He takes a drink of whiskey and my eyes follow his Adam’s apple as it bounces up and down with each swig. He shivers off the burn with a vicious shake of his head before his eyes are back on me.

For some reason, I think of Travis, and all of the questions that I have surrounding that mysterious dude from the East Coast, “Kyle?”

“Yeah?”

“What’s up with you and Travis?”

He tilts his head and squints, “What do you mean?”

I kneel forward and turn to face him, balancing myself on this tiny step so that I’m eye level with him, “I saw him in the diner the other day, and he stormed out after you got the job. And then he was touching you all boyfriend-like in the movie theater. And…I don’t know, dude,” I pause and try to make my words not string together in a disjointed ramble, “I feel like… like, you’re hiding something.”

His hands are around the glass in his lap, fingertips tracing the rim. I’m not sure how long we’re silent, but I just watch him and wait for an answer.

And then he sighs, “We used to date.”

“Used to?”

“Yeah. For three years.”

What the fuck—three years? How did he not mention something like this before? “Wait, so you’re broken up now? Are you really?”

He nods instantly, “Yeah, totally. We broke up six months ago.”

“Why didn’t you tell me?” I ask, and I sound angry—because I am. Three years? Why does he have to keep hiding shit?

“I’m sorry, dude. All of this is still kind of…new.”

“What do you mean ‘new?’ This?” I motion a hand back and forth between us, “This is not new.”

He looks down, “I know. He’s just been weird about it. When we broke up, we still had to share an apartment until our lease was up after graduation. I tried to stay friends with him, but he’d always get drunk and tell me how much he loves me, and—”

My stomach plummets. Travis was in love with Kyle? Fucking in love?

I ignore whatever else he’s saying. Not by choice, but I suddenly can’t hear anything coming out of his mouth right now. Love? Kyle’s been in love while he was away? Did he love Travis back? Does he still love him?

I fall back to sit on my ass, but my stupid self forgets that I’m only kneeling on a step with absolutely nothing behind me but gravity, and I begin to lose my balance.

Kyle’s hand is instantly around my waist, “Be careful!” He yelps, and pulls me towards him to balance between his legs so that I don’t tumble to a busted head.

“Do you love him?” I ask, readjusting myself in front of him again, each hand placed carefully on his knees. I make sure to try and keep my balance this time. It’s kind of hard. The entire staircase feels like it’s swaying and I’m struggling to keep rhythm.

“No, I said we broke up, and I mean it.”

“Why did you two break up?”

He shrugs and darts his gaze anywhere but me, his hands clasped firmly back around the glass. I briefly wonder if he feels as drunk as I do, “Because I don’t love him.”

“Three years and you didn’t love him?”

He shakes his head, “No. I thought I might’ve for a second there, but no, definitely not. It was fun in the beginning, but it just wasn’t right. I was kind of a dick about it too because I feel like I always knew that it was never going to work out between us. Part of me was only with him because he helped me deal with accepting the fact that I’m gay and I was scared to leave him. He always cared about me more than I did for him and I think he finally figured that out. He tried to give us another shot when he came to visit, but you can probably guess how that went.” He rubs his forehead, and I swear that he holds back an eye roll, “I didn’t ask him to do that. He didn’t have to come to Colorado to figure out we were done when we already covered that. I just want to be friends. I didn’t know that’s why he wanted to visit.”

His head is heavy as his eyes stay on his alcohol, glasses hanging onto the very edge of his nose. I can see my reflection in them, all distorted and transparent.

“I still feel like a dick. He’s taking this whole thing pretty hard.”

“You’re not a dick.”

“I feel like one.”

“Ya know, I was really jealous when you brought him around.”

He lifts his head back up to look at me, his eyes staring over the brim of his glasses, “What? Why?”

“We had all those plans for college that didn’t happen, and then you bring this dude around… he was like my replacement.”

Fuck. That sounds really dramatic out loud.

He laughs, albeit very briefly, “You don’t really feel like that, do you?”

I nod, “That’s why I was so quiet when we all went dinner. I was pissed off because we were meeting the dude that got to go to college with you and do everything that we always talked about doing together.”

He squints at me and then shakes his head, “Stop it, Stan. You are completely and totally irreplaceable.”

He says it so casually, like I’m the one who is clearly confused here. I soak in those words for a moment. They’re nice to hear. I feel heat beginning to swell in my cheeks.

And then I suddenly ask, “What’s it like?”

“What’s what like?”

“The whole gay thing. I mean, I should’ve known. You never wanted to go out with any of the girls that I tried to set you up with. I thought you were just picky.”

He smirks, “Picky is one way of putting it. I don’t know, dude. Girls just don’t interest me. I know a beautiful woman when I see one, but that’s about it. She’s beautiful. Like a painting.”

“So, like… man pecs give you wood.”

He lets out a loud laugh, “Man, you do have a way of wording things. Sure, if you want to be blunt about it. The way you get turned on by women, flip that around and that’s how I feel about dudes. It’s not rocket science.”

I try not to think about the dream that I had. When I was totally turned on by a dude. This dude.

“How did you figure it out?” I ask, filled with questions.

He hesitates and chews on his bottom lip, “I just kind of… gradually realized it, I guess? I was always confused about how I felt towards girls growing up. I knew that I should’ve been attracted to at least one of them, that I should feel something, but then that never happened. Not really.”

I laugh.

“What?” He asks. I can’t tell if he’s curious or embarrassed.

“It’s just funny. The parallel, I mean. You and your brother. Your mom is all nuts about him sexting and your nose was always in a book or on the basketball court.”

He laughs, “Don’t make me out to be a total loser. Jesus Christ, Stan.”

“Were you attracted to any of the guys in high school?”

“High school?”

“That’d be around the time you’re figuring all this out, right?”

“You went to the same place. When there are dudes like Cartman walking around…”

“Round not your type?”

“Funny.”

“What is your type?”

He raises an eyebrow again, totally suspicious, “Why?”

“Just curious. Do I have to have an ulterior motive?”

“No, I just want to make sure that you’re not going to set me up on some weird blind date.”

I laugh, “No. I wouldn’t do that.”

“Do you seriously want to know? What’s with all the questions?”

I grab my glass from the step and take a long drink of my whiskey. As I lean my head back to finish it off, I feel his hand move around my waist again. He doesn’t want me to almost-fall like I almost-did a second ago. What would I do without him?

Probably be in a neck brace, for one.

“I already lost you once because you couldn’t talk to me about this stuff. I don’t want that to happen again.”

He stares at me for a moment, taking his hand back, and studies my eyes. His have a slight glaze, reflecting off the florescent lights above. He seems unsure, but continues, “Okay… my type? Intelligence for one.”

“That’s a given.”

“Um, someone funny. Someone that I can talk to.”

“That’s all generic stuff, Kyle. Is this the type of shit that you would put on a dating profile?”

“What do you want from me, dude? A preteen novel?”

“What about Clyde? He was a total jock in high school and really popular. Dudes like that?”

“Clyde?” Kyle laughs, “Cool guy, but a moron.”

“Butters? Sweet and innocent type?” I can’t get that one out with a serious face.

“These can’t be real questions.”

“How about Kenny? Funny stoner guy?”

He visibly recoils, “Dude, ew. Kenny is like my brother.”

“What about me?”

This is the first without an immediate reaction. He stares at me, probably wondering why I’d ask such an awkward question. To be honest, it logically seems like the next one to ask. We’re talking about people he could’ve been attracted to in high school. I’d naturally be a candidate for that question. Anyone else would ask him about me first.

And… I want to know.

As the silence stretches, I can guess his answer. This conversation suddenly has my blood pumping faster and I hope the whiskey keeps my stomach from churning into a panic attack. I don’t need to puke on him again.

But I smile.

And so does he, “Would that be weird?”

I don’t answer. I just watch and marvel at him in front of me, inches away. His hair is growing in now. Tiny auburn curls are starting to take shape again. He never changed as much as I originally thought. Kyle is still in there. The same green eyes, big smile, goofy laugh… I don’t think that I’ll ever be able to get used to him with glasses though.

I lift my hands and his eyes ping-pong back and forth as they watch me. I gently pull off his glasses, and there he is. He looks just like Kyle. My Kyle—the one who never left me.

All that loneliness I felt because of his absence, in this moment, none of that exists. Right now, we’re eighteen, back to how we were and picking up where we left off. I can finally say that I have my best friend back, and fuck—I love this guy. I really do. No way I’m letting him move that far away again. I need him. I don’t make sense without him.

I don’t hesitate. I move in, embrace gut instinct, and kiss him. I linger for a moment, eyes closed and spinning from alcohol.

His lips are tight, and unmoving. This doesn’t last long, because he doesn’t respond. I don’t even think he breathes.

I back away immediately, “What’s wrong?” His glasses have already fallen to the carpet, forgotten.

He doesn’t say anything—it feels like an eternity. His eyes are wide, and his lips are pressed together in a firm, uneasy line.

Maybe this was a bad idea. I didn’t even think that it actually was an idea, it just kind of happened. He did just imply that he was attracted to me before though, right? Maybe I read that wrong. Maybe he just meant I was a type and that’s it. Maybe I need some more whiskey. Maybe I—

He suddenly grabs the back of my neck, and pulls me towards him. When our lips connect again, I can’t help the smile that forms against his. He’s actually kissing back this time and I’m not sure what happens, but it’s like something almost violent awakens and I can’t get enough of him. There’s a hunger building that I didn’t know existed, and when our tongues connect and I lean into him, I’m reminded of my dream. Reminded of how badly I wanted him, and how badly I want him now.

He stands up, only breaking the kiss for a second to regain his balance, and I blindly follow.

It’s weird how accurate my brain predicted what he would look like while we were doing this.

I stumble lightly up the last few steps with him, still very drunk and very unbalanced. His hand finds my waist again in an almost protective manner. I breathe a laugh into his mouth as I lift my arms over his shoulders and pull him against me. Half out of need, half out of support.

I realize that I don’t have to be gentle with him like I would a girl and it’s even more exciting. Our chests crash together and our hands roam. It’s almost combative, like how we were wrestling earlier.

I should’ve kissed him then.

His hands move down my back and his fingers brush against the bare skin beneath my t-shirt. It sends goose bumps down the length of my spine and we’re still tangled with one another, our mouths struggling to keep up. This is totally and completely different than anything I’ve ever experienced. It’s consuming. Fierce. I’ve never fucking felt like this before.

I push him forward, passion reeling me into him. We’re in the hallway now, and the temperature up here is skyrocketing. He pushes back against me, hard, and I stumble, my ass landing on an end table. Family pictures tumble to the floor, various photos of the Broflovskis staring up from the carpet. He grunts into my mouth and I can’t help the low moan that erupts from the bottom of my throat.

I push off the table with my foot, aggressively forcing him backwards to the opposite side of the thin hallway. Our lips only part after the back of his head slams into a shelf.

“Shit, are you okay?” I ask, completely out of breath, worried I may have hurt him.

Before my brain registers a reaction, I’m pushed against the other side of the hallway again, Kyle’s chest crashing back into mine. He looks angry. Furious even. But there is lust radiating off of him and I actually want him to hit me. I want him to throw me into another wall. I want—

“I’m not that fucking fragile, Stan.”

Almost as if it’s a challenge, my hands grip the sides of his face, palms pressing into his cheeks as my mouth finds his again. His tongue dips across my lower lip in a lavished, deliberate movement, and I fucking love it.

In what feels like the longest hallway of all time, we finally reach the door to his room, and I never noticed how much I was pulling on his shirt until it’s perfectly taut away from his abdomen.

He suddenly backs away and pushes his palm flat against my chest to stop. His lips are swollen and red, breath heavy, and he looks like he’s trying hard to hold onto any kind of restraint that he may have. I don’t blame him. I can’t stop either. “Stan.”

“What is it?” I breathe, moving forward with an overwhelming crave to continue.

He pushes on his hand, keeping me at a distance. “Should we be doing this? I’m pretty drunk and you—”

“Don’t be a boy scout, Kyle,” I say, annoyed that he’s even trying to comprehend what’s going on right now. I need to kiss him again, not talk.

I try to move forward, but he still stops me. “Tell me you won’t regret this,” he breathes, his words impatient and heavy.

“I won’t. Fucking kiss me already.”

His eyes are intense, and I don’t even know if he registers my answer because his barrier is instantly down again. My lips crash back into his, teeth collide, and we stumble into his room. He pushes me forward as he kicks the door shut and hangers hooked on the back topple to the floor. He slips a quick hand behind him to press the lock and in that small instant I miss his touch before he practically jumps back on me. My vision is blurry as hell but I don’t care. I don’t care about anything right now other than Kyle.

His hands are on the brim of my shirt and he slides both up my chest in one swift movement. Goose bumps trickle down my back and I bite down on his lip just before we break apart for him to pull off my shirt.

All of this is so overwhelming but so fucking good. I don’t think I could stop again if he tried. He feels better than I imagined.

For something to feel this right, it has to be what I’ve always wanted, what I’ve always needed. Regret isn’t something to think about right now.

Chapter Text

“Stanley?”

I wave goodbye to Kyle as he walks away from my house with a green backpack over his shoulder. After I shut the front door, I turn, “Yeah, Mom?”

“Can we talk to you for a second, sweetie?”

My parents are sitting in the living room. Mom grabs the remote from Dad and turns off the TV. He opens his mouth to complain but she gives him a look that quickly shuts him up.

Uh oh, this can’t be good.

“Sure,” I take a seat on the end of the couch, careful to keep my distance in case this gets ugly. I don’t remember doing anything to piss them off, but you can never be too careful. “What’s up?”

“Well,” she begins, “you’re getting older now. You aren’t a young boy anymore. Sixteen is a big age.”

“I know how old I am, Mom.”

Dad interrupts, “What she’s getting at, Stan, is that these sleepovers with Kyle are starting to get really weird.”

“Randy!”

“What? You wouldn’t say it.”

“What we mean is, honey... is that maybe you two should sleep in separate rooms now that you’re both older. Maybe Kyle can sleep on the couch? We have plenty of blankets for him. We don’t mind.”

“What?” I ask, confused that this is a topic of discussion. This is Kyle we’re talking about here. We have sleepovers all the time and he always stays in my room. It’s just how we are. What does turning sixteen have to do with anything? I didn’t get this talk when I turned fifteen, “I don’t want to make him sleep on the couch. It’s uncomfortable. I don’t mind if he sleeps in my room.”

“Yeah, but things that were okay when you were seven, aren’t exactly okay when you’re a teenager, you know?” Dad sits up, “Your mother passed your room last night and saw you two kind of... close. Uh, while you were sleeping.”

“O... kay, so now you’re spying on me?”

“No, Stanley,” Mom says, “the door was cracked. You two were just awfully close. You were hugging him in your sleep. I thought the two of you grew out of that kind of behavior?”

My eyes widen. They are spying on me.

Dad chimes in again, “Yeah, see? That’s what I mean by weird. I never did that with any of my buddies growing up. You two shouldn’t even be in the same bed let alone cuddling. And you have these sleepovers with Kyle almost every weekend. Do you have anything to... you know... tell us?”

God, they’re starting to sound like Cartman. My eyes travel back and forth between them, uncomfortable that they’re putting me on the spot like this, “You know I’m dating Wendy again, right?”

They both nod before Mom answers, “Yes, sweetie. We do. That’s another reason why this behavior is a little... unusual. You know we love you no matter what and that you can tell us anything, right?”

I hate when they need to poke their noses into my shit, “To be honest, none of this is really any of your business anyway. Kyle is my best friend, and Wendy is my girlfriend. That’s all there is to it.”

My dad looks at the ceiling and then back at me, “Are you sure there’s nothing you want to tell us?”

“Are you trying to ask me if I’m gay for Kyle, Dad?” I say flatly, and they just stare, studying me to see if I am serious or not. I can’t believe this.

I shake my head and roll my eyes, “I’ll be upstairs. I have homework to do.”

X x x X

I feel a shift next to me and I squint tired eyes open. All I see is the back of Kyle’s head, him on his side. His body rises and falls with a quiet snore. I know this, because I can feel it. My arm is draped around his very bare waist and my very bare chest is pressed against his very bare back. I blink a few times and take in this little sleeping arrangement.

We’re totally spooning. Shirtless.

I pull my hand back and turn over to lie on my back before promptly checking beneath the covers to make sure that my pants are on. I’m still in my jeans, the button and zipper undone. Did we...

No way. I’d definitely remember that.

I rub my eyes. Fuck, we shouldn’t have tapped into that whiskey. I was fine until that happened.

I sit up, slowly, flashes of the night before coming to me in waves as I try to desperately piece together what happened.

I kissed him last night. I totally did. I. Kissed. Kyle.

The rest of the night is a little blurry. I don’t remember making it to the bed, that’s for sure.

I look around the room. The door is shut and hangers are scattered all over the floor. Kyle’s shirt is hanging off the edge of the bed. Mine is nowhere to be seen.

I really didn’t mean to take my feelings for Kyle this far. Way to skip a few steps in between there, Stan. I was just starting to realize that I may be attracted to my best friend, and then I have sex with him the minute I have some alcohol in my system.

If that’s even what happened.

What the hell am I doing? I should have my shit together by now, not fucking it up the moment he’s back in my life. Kyle confides in me, comes out as gay, and then I’m like, “hey dude, kiss me, let’s complicate things.”

And now I’m into guys all of a sudden. The fuck am I doing?

I look down at him, sleeping.

He did kiss me back, though. And whether I feel comfortable admitting it or not, he’s actually a really great kisser. I don’t think I’ve ever been that into making out with someone before last night, drunk or otherwise. That has to be because of him, right? Because of this connection that we have?

But I also see the boy that I grew up with when I look at him. I see the boy who I used to share my recess because he hated the kosher food his mom packed for him. The boy who gave me a black eye because I pushed him off his bike in second grade. The boy who I may or may not have fucked in the bed where we used to wear matching Terrance and Phillip pajamas. This bed.

Jesus Christ. This is pretty fucked up right here.

I pinch the bridge of my nose. I have to get out of here. I have to get my head on straight and figure this out. I can talk to him later. I have no clue what I can even say about this, but I can’t do it right now. I have to think.

I move slowly, pulling the covers out of the way as quietly as I can, and avoid all of the creaky boards in his floor when I stand. I don’t want to wake him up, not now. I adjust my pants and button them. Now if I could only find my shirt...

“Where are you going?”

Shit.

I did not want him to wake up. So much for dealing with this later. “I’m gonna head home, dude. I, uh... my head is killing me.”

He looks over at his alarm clock on the end table and rubs his eyes, “It’s 5:30.”

“Yeah,” I point to my head, “too much whiskey.”

He sits up and stares daggers at me. There’s a shift in his jaw and he looks pissed. Oh, this isn’t good. “You do know that you're a bad liar, right?”

I’m not sure what to say. It’s suddenly very awkward in here, especially with my shirt off. I dart my eyes around the room, searching for wherever the hell it may have landed last night, as if finding it will rewind time and make him fall back asleep.

He stands up, “You regret it, don’t you?”

“What?” I wrap my arms around my bare chest, unsure what to do with my hands, “No.”

“Yes, you do. I can tell. I fucking knew you would do this.” He walks over, and stops dead in front of me, “I’m so sick of you pulling this shit with me.”

“Wait, what?” That catches me off guard. And I’m not a fan of his tone. He shouldn’t be this upset already. I didn’t even say that I regret last night—which, I don’t even think that I do. I just need a fucking second, “Pulling what shit?”

You’re the one who always crosses that line, Stan. Not me. You took it too far this time. You can’t keep treating me like this. Using me whenever it’s beneficial to whatever mood you’re in, then ignoring everything we do the minute that it’s over, like nothing ever happened. It’s ridiculous and I refuse to play that game with you any more.”

“Are you serious right now, dude?” I get defensive, “That is not true. Besides, it’s not like you’re winning friend of the year award over here. You’re gonna get on my case about how we treat each other when you ignored me for four years?”

He throws his hands up in the air, clearly annoyed I even brought that up, “I apologized about that, dude! Why won’t you let it go?”

“Because it still doesn’t make sense!”

He shakes his head, “Don’t change the subject. This is about—“

“No,” I step forward and point a finger at him, frustration with this whole situation spilling over without a thought, “How about you stop ignoring that, huh? It was a big deal, Kyle—a big fucking deal. You really hurt me. You have no idea what that’s like. Your best friend, that you’ve had your whole life, suddenly drops off the face of the earth without any explanation. I still can’t believe you pulled that shit!”

He smacks my hand away, “Don’t be a goddamn martyr, Stan. I don’t know what else to say about that. I apologized. I thought we moved on?”

“Then stop lying to me!”

“How am I lying to you!? I even told you about Travis last night!”

“Yeah, and you had to get drunk to finally tell me about that.”

“And you got drunk and kissed me. How about we talk about that?

“I don’t want to talk about—”

“Then why the hell did you do it, Stan!?” He pushes me, “Why are you jealous of Travis? Why did sit with me in your bathroom for half an hour with your head on my goddamn lap? Why are you having dreams about making out with me?”

Oh fuck, did I tell him that?

He pushes me again, “Why the fuck did you kiss me? No one has a friendship like ours except couples, Stan! Why can’t you see that? All the weird shit that we did with each other before I left. You weren’t doing any of that with our other frie—”

“Don’t bring our old shit up. You threw all that out the window when you ignored me for four years. Flat out ignored me.”

“Stop changing the subject, dude!”

“Then be honest!”

“I’m always honest with you!”

“No way,” I shake my head repeatedly. “No fucking way. I know you’re lying to me. You think I regret last night? You think you know so much about how I feel? I know you well enough to know that you’re hiding something. I didn’t get the full story last night. You even lie when you’re drunk! Who does that!?”

“I haven’t lied to you since I’ve been back. Don’t insult me.”

“Don’t insult me! What was with your Dartmouth application I found then? It was dated our junior year, our fucking junior year when you told me that our plan was Boulder and nothing else. I even TOLD you to look into Ivy League schools because you had so much potential and even then you still said no, that our plan was Boulder. You sat with me in my bedroom and we mapped everything out, and then nothing. You move across the country and don’t say a fucking word to me. It’s four years later, and you’re still lying!”

“See?” He crosses his arms and runs his tongue over his front teeth, “Shit like this. Why are you so hurt about that if we’re nothing more than friends?”

“Because you’re my best friend, Kyle! Friends aren’t supposed to do that shit to each other!”

“Friends aren’t supposed to get drunk and fuck each other either, Stan!”

I shut my mouth and stop for a second, eyes wide. Did we really have sex last night? I would remember that. I know I would. I remember kissing him. Just because I don’t remember when we stopped making out doesn’t mean that we had sex.

Something suddenly changes in his eyes. I don’t know what it is but his anger fades for a split second and his eyebrows soften as he stares at me. I cross my arms and ignore it, “Tell me, right now, what’s going on with you.”

He shakes his head again, repeatedly, “Nothing’s going on. You—”

“Bullshit. There’s no way in hell you left me that long because you couldn’t tell me that you’re gay. You wouldn’t do that. Something else is up. You knew you were leaving when we were 16 and you didn’t say a goddamn thing to me until that day you and Cartman decided to throw chairs across the lunch room.”

He advances further and he’s close to me, staring me down. His face is red as hell and his forehead is creased in total frustration. He’s furious. I’m honestly not sure if he’s going to punch me or not, but he looks like he’s going to. It makes me feel a lot smaller than him.

Fuck, why did he have to wake up?

“You want to know? You really want to have this conversation?”

“I asked, didn’t I?”

He looks to the ceiling and then tosses his arms in the air, exasperated and defeated, “Because I was in love with you! That’s why. You think four years is long? Try five. Seven. TEN. Listening to you bitch and complain about these girls that you’re with. And then you crawl into bed with me whenever you get your heart broken. You know how hard it was to watch you every day with them and then do the shit that we do? Knowing that nothing is going to come of it? That this is it? I’m stuck with wrestling and fucking cuddling?!” He pushes me again, harder than last time. I stumble backwards, trying to hold onto my balance and this total mind fuck that Kyle is laying on me right now.

He steps forward, ”You want to know how I found out I was gay? I was in love. With you. I paid no attention to anyone—no one—because I couldn’t. You were on my mind all of the time. We were around each other constantly. I was fucking depressed—that’s why I left. I needed to get away. From YOU.” He practically spits out the words as a barrier breaks and crumbles beneath him. I don’t think he’s ever been this mad at me before. My muscles tighten, ready in case I need to defend myself here.

He suddenly turns his back to me, controlling his temper the best he can. He exhales, and his voice softens considerably when he continues, “I finally had a way out; a real opportunity to start over. Focus on my future. Figure out if I was really gay or just stuck in one bitch of an unrequited situation. I couldn’t do that here. I was a fucking mess by the time I turned 17, you have no idea.”

He walks back to the bed and pulls my shirt from beneath the covers. He pauses with it in his hands before turning and throwing it right in my direction. I blindly catch it against my chest. I must’ve slept on it. Stupid.

He keeps his eyes off me and on the carpet, “You’d think that being across the country would help me. That’s what I thought, it’s why I did it. But it didn’t. Not really.”

“Why didn’t you...” I weakly say, at a total loss for words and feeling so damn stupid that I can’t think of a tangible response right now. I regret it the moment it’s out of my mouth.

“Oh, why didn’t I tell you?” He snaps his head back up to look at me, clearly annoyed again, “What am I supposed to think? That I have a chance with my best friend that I’ve had since diapers? The guy who jumps from relationship to relationship? The guy who takes some shitty job at a shitty diner because he thinks there’s some inkling of a chance that he can get back with his ex the second he sees her? HER, by the way—as in female—as in what I’m not.”

He shakes his head again, “I shouldn’t have come back. I thought I was done with you and we could finally just be friends. I wanted to get over it, because I value your friendship, Stan. I really do. You are entirely and wholly the most important person I’ve met in my life thus far. I just wanted my best friend back.” He pauses, “But as soon as I saw you walk into Token’s, everything came flooding back. Those feelings were still there. I never stopped lov—I never stopped feeling that way for you. Now you’re trying to leave and ignore everything again, after you finally—“

He stops. He brings his eyes to look at me again. They’re bloodshot and glossy, angry and incredibly sad, “Why did you kiss me?”

“I...” I begin, desperately searching my brain, hoping that I have something stored in there for what to say when you’re suddenly stuck in some sort of fucked up romantic situation with your best friend. I try so hard to think of the right words to say but I don’t have anything. I can’t think of one fucking word to carry the weight of this situation and explain how I feel, because honestly, I really don’t know how I feel about all of this.

He knows it, too. I can tell. It’s probably why he’s lied to me for so long.

He at least deserves an honest response right now, “I don’t know. I’m sorry, Kyle. I just... I’m confused right now.”

He nods, his head back down, and he runs a quick hand under his nose with the briefest hint of a sniffle. He looks hopeless. It makes me hate myself.

“Yeah?” And then he suddenly locks eyes with me again, his face cold, “Well I’m not confused, Stan. I haven’t been for a long time. And I am not going to be your guinea pig while you experiment with your sexuality. Grow up.”

It gets very quiet. That hurt. He’s obviously so much more to me than that. I would never do that to him. I step forward and try one last desperate attempt to fix this, “Kyle, I—“

“Don’t,” he says, and turns back to his bed. He lifts the sheets and climbs in, keeping his back to me, “Lock the front door on your way out.”

I stand there, waiting for something, either from him or the right thing to finally say. A part of me wants to just climb right back into bed with him, forget that I even woke up.

He never says anything, and neither do I.

I finally pull my shirt over my head, painfully slow and heavy with guilt.

When I’m out of his room, I lean my back against the closed door. I run a hand through my hair, trying to wrap my head around last night and these past few months. Trying to wrap my head around my life.

I pass picture frames scattered throughout the hallway before retracing my steps to place them back onto the end table where they belong. Kyle’s glasses are on the floor, cracked and broken. I pick them up and think about the kiss we shared on the steps. A moment that I most definitely initiated.

I take them downstairs, into the kitchen and fix what I can. It’s a shitty attempt, but I leave them, taped and crooked, on the countertop.

I grab the rest of my things and walk out the front door into the morning sunrise.

Chapter Text

When I get home, I don’t even make it to my bed. It’s dramatic, I know, but I can’t bring myself to climb into it. I’ve had enough beds from my childhood for one weekend.

I lie down on the floor and tug on the blanket hanging off the mattress. It lands on my face and pillows follow softly behind. I barely have enough energy to get comfortable; as comfortable as one can get on this shitty carpet anyway.

I can’t believe that I fucked up this badly. Shit dude, that look on his face? I can’t stop thinking about it. I feel so guilty. How could I never have realized that he was in love with me? Now that his feelings are out there, everything seems so fucking obvious.

Shame warms over me as the sun beams through dusty curtains and I groan. He’s right. He’s so totally right – everything we’ve done together, I’ve always gone out of my way to ignore what it could have meant in the grand scheme of things. Never acknowledged the fact that there may be more between us other than, “oh, that’s just how we are.” I thought the ignorance was mutual though… It’s not like he’s ever brought up our weird shit. We just didn’t talk about it. I never once thought that I was actually hurting him.

Never once thought that he was in love with me.

I turn on my side at the thought, the shadows of old crap under my bed appearing as the morning swallows my room. He was in love with me, that whole time. Fuck, I can’t even comprehend that. Minus the whole Wendy saga, I’ve always had a girlfriend. So, for him to just deal? Just like that? Every day? Jesus.

Ten years. He actually said ten years. That had to be, what? We went to college when we were just about eighteen… no way he could’ve felt like that for me since we were eight years old.

Then again, that’s when hormones start to kick in, right? Around that age?

I squint my eyes shut and groan again, replaying the morning over and over in my mind. This is too much to take in. Not only did my best friend just admit that he was in love with me for basically half of our lives, but there’s also the fact that we may or may not have had sex last night. I could have totally fucked a dude for the first time, and I don’t even remember.

Granted, it’s not like my body feels like I had sex. Then again, I have a hangover masking any other feeling that could possibly be going on with me other than my pounding head and churning stomach.

I bury my face in the covers, unable to crawl into a hole that I so wish would just appear in the middle of the floor right now. I can’t even sleep. It has to be almost seven by now. My parents will be up soon.

Thank God that I don’t have to deal with Cartman today.

I swallow, hard. I don’t know what to do. How do I even talk to Kyle after something like this? He looked so… defeated. I fucking hate myself for making him feel that way. I didn’t intend to. I didn’t think this shit was going to happen.

I don’t even know what I thought was going to happen. Why did I leave? I could’ve just talked to him, right? It is Kyle after all. We used to always just cut the bullshit and talk about things if we were fighting. But, I’m having trouble even thinking about this let alone admitting out loud that I’m stuck in some very gay situation with my super best friend.

I groan again, louder.

When I pull the blanket away from my face, my eyes scan the storage beneath my bed. I never realized how much shit I still have tucked away under here. Old uniforms and sports gear are huddled in the back, labeled from maternal instinct. I reach my arm under and pull out a box labeled “Stan’s School Projects,” desperate for some sort of distraction.

I sit up, box in my lap. I open the lid and smile when I see all of the old things that I worked on as a kid. There’s a little egg carton in here painted to be a monster that I don’t remember even making. My mom had to have finished at least half of it. It looks way too good for a kindergartener.

There’s a paper turkey, in the shape of my tiny hand. I lift my own over it and it’s at least two sizes bigger now. It’s hard to believe you were ever once that small. My name is printed on the back, careful and childish with a backwards “y.”

The rest of the box is filled with projects ranging from 5-year-old-Stan to 12-year-old-Stan. There’s even a drawing I did of my family in front of our house that totally excludes Shelly. I smirk. Mom was so pissed about that.

The next picture I pull out is another drawing. It’s a crayon schoolyard with four poorly drawn stick figures. It’s Cartman, Kenny, Kyle and myself. I can’t help but laugh at how fat I drew Cartman; just one wide circle with a tiny hat and legs. Kenny doesn’t even have a face, just an orange circle with two dots for eyes.

I stop laughing when I look at Kyle and myself. I flip the paper over, Stanley Marsh, age 7, and then I flip back to the drawing.

Age seven, and I drew the both of us holding hands.

I lie back down, put the drawing into the box, and push it back under my bed as far to the wall as I can. Far, far away. Eventually, I hit something. Curiosity gets the best of me and I move it back out of the way.

Something is stuck between my bedframe and the wall. It’s sticking down just enough to see the corner of it, but I’m not sure what it is. My arm reaches and I feel too shitty right now to actually get up and move the bed to make this easier. Instead, I just reach and make weird noises as if I can will the thing into my hands.

One final stretch and I grab hold of it—the corner of a book. A few tugs and I’m able to yank it from its hold. I roll on my back and blow dust from the cover before running a nostalgic hand over the faded black and white copybook littered with random graffiti from class boredom.

“Holy shit...” I whisper. I can’t believe this thing is still floating around. And I definitely can’t believe we kept using it as long as we did. Not that we used it all of the time, but still. The girls kept copybooks to write notes to each other, none of the guys did.

No one else knew about this. Ever. It would’ve been social suicide.

I pause before opening it, fully prepared for full blown embarrassment. I fan through the book and open to a random page.

Dude I wrote something pretty cool. Mayb we can use it for Moop:

there is darkness all around me,

deep piercing black, I cannot breathe.

my heart has been raped.

the pain is everlasting.

I miss you so much babe.

want to hold you in my arms.

I wrote it a couple months ago. Those goth kids didn’t like the last few lines, so they kinda discouraged me from workin on it, but I think they really drive the poem home. let me know what ya think.

---

Stan,

No. Way.

-Kyle.

I laugh and shake my head. I can’t believe that I actually wrote that crap.

I fan to a later page.

Sept ‘98

Stan,

I can’t go to Casa Bonita with you this weekend. My mom wants me to go shopping for clothes. I can’t believe she wont let me go with you. Like we need the ENTIRE weekend to find clothes.

How are your classes today? It’s weird that we don’t have the same ones anymore. I get that they are “preparing us for high school,” but it’s still weird. I miss our old seats. Craig is next to me in math. He’s such a dick.

It’s only a week back and I already miss summer. I’ll meet you after school. Your playing baseball down at the park again, right? I still don’t know why you started up with that crappy sport. Its so boring. You can’t even play on the team until spring. But, I’ll meet you there anyway.

PS – You’re a boner.

-Kyle

---

Dude, y do you keep dating these?

That totally sucks that you cant go. Mayb if you ask, I can go shopping 2. Mayb it will speed her up and we can go to Casa Bonita after. Or we can always go next weekend or somethin. whatever. I want you to go so we can watch the gunfight together this time. We both missed it last time and I heard they can pull us into the show and we can gunfight together. Like real, Mexican standoffs. Super cool.

Get ready, dude. Im gonna make the team and u are going to have to sit through all my boring games 2.

PS — your a mega boner

There are a ton of entries back and forth in here. I fan through, stopping randomly just to see how our handwriting and spelling changed as we got older. I can’t believe we kept this thing around for so long. We had to have started this in 4th or 5th grade.

I skip to the last entry to see when we stopped.

May ‘05

Stan,

I can’t believe this! That fucking asshole! Fucker fucker fucker! I’ve been sitting in Mr. Mackey’s office for two hours already. Two hours! I was only in there speaking with him for twenty minutes, and then I had to sit out here and do “homework” while he spoke to Cartman. I’m pretty sure that Mr. Mackey is going to call my mom next. I’m so screwed, dude. Screwed!

I guess it could be worse. I almost got hit in the face with a chair.

I can’t believe Principal Victoria was unconscious. Ugggggggh, this fucking sucks. Who knows what they’re going to do for punishment. There are only a few weeks of senior year left. I’m pretty worried. This can’t mess with my scholarships.

I can’t believe that I lost it today. I let him get to me. You have to be so disappointed. I’m sorry, dude. I couldn’t help it. I’ve been having a hard time controlling myself lately. I feel kind of like a crazy person.

Yep, and even that sounds crazy.

HAH. Kenny just walked by and mooned us through the window here. It was so funny. You should’ve seen him running down the hall with his pants down when Mr. Mackey saw him.

I need to talk to you when I get home. I have something important to tell you. I hope you take it okay. I’m really nervous. It’s not a big deal, really, but you know… actually, no you don’t. It’s just weird. I don’t know what I’m saying. I’ll just tell you in person.

I wish you were here now. I can’t take all of this waiting alone while they plot how to fuck up my life, all because of that Fatass. They have him somewhere in another room. I guess that would be pretty dumb to keep us together. I would totally murder that fat fuck right now.

Okay, they are finally letting me out of here. My mom just walked out of his office staring daggers at me. Fuck, this is going to be awful. Hey, if my punishment is too bad, maybe you can just sneak me in your suitcase to Boulder and we can get a place together and hide from my mom forever. Sound good?

Just spoke to Mr. Mackey, my mom, Cartman and his mom. Now I’m just waiting to go home. I can’t walk for graduation, dude. I can’t fucking walk with the rest of the class. Fuck fuck fuck.

FUCK.

Sorry this entry blows. I’ll talk to you soon. Hopefully. If I’m not dead.

I can’t stop staring at this last page. It’s the final entry in here and I don’t think I’ve ever even read this. Wow, I’m a dick. Kyle gave this to me the night he said he was leaving for New Hampshire, and I didn’t even bother to read it. Way to fuck up there too, Stan.

In my defense, it was the night he told me he was leaving. I had a lot on my mind.

I rub my forehead. Fuck, that night really messed with me. It took a few hours to realize what Kyle had told me, but as soon as it kicked in… I felt truly alone for the first time in my life. It just didn’t make sense to me. I didn’t know how I would deal without him.

And I never really did. College kind of sucked and I’m glad it’s over. But for four years, not getting over the fact that your childhood friend moved on with his life definitely isn’t normal. Sure, Kenny went out of his way to let me know how often that it totally wasn’t normal, but it was real. I fell apart without Kyle. Shut down and just went through the motions. I don’t even remember a lot from college. I sifted through classes that I didn’t give a shit about. Paid attention enough to get by. Drank as often as I could, more alone than not. I couldn’t snap out of it. I mean, I’ve had my bouts of depression before. Sometimes I just fall into a funk that I can’t shake myself out of but never for years at a time.

Fuck. I was in love with him, too.

I shut the book and close my eyes. How could I lack so much self-awareness? Be so fucking clueless? Now I just feel like a total fucking idiot. Maybe that’s why all of your relationships kept failing, Stan. Jesus Christ.

I need to take a walk or something. I need a friend right now and it’s not like I can talk to my best one at the moment. Maybe Kenny can give me some kind of perspective.

I’m not sure what time it is, or if Kenny is even working right now, but I make my way over to the Stop N Go without a second thought.

Thankfully, Kenny’s car is in the parking lot.

“Dude,” Kenny begins and pulls his parka from his head when I enter the place, “you look like shit.”

I walk behind the counter and sit on the floor, my back falling hard against a wall of condoms. There’s no one in the store, as per usual, “Surprise. I feel like shit.”

He leans against the counter, looking down at me. Not overly concerned, but at least curious, “Hung-over?”

I run my hand over the top of my head, unsure of where to even begin. How do I say this exactly? ”Yeah, today is a little weird because Kyle admitted he was in love with me for ten years. Oh yeah, we may or may not have fucked last night. How’s your morning?”

Not the best place to start.

Maybe I can at least get some insight here, “Did you ever think that Kyle and I were like… close?”

He’s surprised, and clearly confused, “That’s a weird question. Is that even a serious one, dude? Fucking of course. Everyone knows you two are best friends.”

“I mean, growing up… like, did you ever think that we were too close?”

“Yeah,” Great—no hesitation. Zero.

“Yeah? Just like that?”

“Fuck yeah. What’d you expect me to say? You and Kyle were always really weird. Why do you think me and Cartman always rip on you two about it?"

I groan and put my head down. I grumble through my clammy hands, unable to look him in the eye, “I kissed him last night.”

There’s an eternal pause, “Wait, what?”

I look up, practically wincing, “I kissed him.” Saying it out loud makes it seem all the more real. And it’s weird. So very weird.

His eyes widen and his mouth slowly whispers: “Whaaaaaaat."

I pull my knees up and to my chest to rest my forehead on them, “Yeah. I know.”

I hear him shift, “Were you drunk?”

“Yeah, but… I don’t know, dude. I’ve been really confused about how I feel about him since I’ve been back.”

“Really? You haven’t mentioned anything weird besides that you’re happy you have your ‘super best friend’ back.”

I look back up at him and he seems amused. Dick. This situation totally isn’t funny.

He clears his throat and crosses his arms, trying to get his concerned-friend face on. I really must look like shit, “How did he react?”

I shrug, “I think it caught him off guard at first, but then he kissed me back and we…”

“You… what?” A grin starts to become so wide on his face that I begin to really question why I even came here in the first place.

“I don’t know, dude. Something just kind of came over me and we started making out pretty heavily. And then we made it to his room, he asked me if I was going to regret it, I just told him no, and then I don’t know. I don’t remember anything else.”

“Dude…”

“I know. I don’t know what came over me.”

He pauses again before he starts singing, “It was the heat of the moment.”

I sigh, “Knock it off, Kenny.”

He notices the lack of energy in my voice and decides to fall back into his serious mode again. He plops his ass on the floor beside me, “This is really bugging you, isn’t it? You look like someone shot your dog.”

“We might’ve had sex,” I suddenly say.

“You might’ve?”

“Yeah… I don’t really know.”

“How the fuck do you not know if you had sex or not? My dick wakes up singing the morning after.”

“I didn’t really feel like I did—“

“Okay, well at least you know you weren’t the bottom. You’d definitely feel that the next morning.”

“Dammit, Kenny.”

“Come on, it’s true.”

“He said we did. He said ‘friends don’t fuck when they’re drunk.’ So he kind of implied that we did. And when I woke up, our shirts were off and my arm was around him.”

“You guys were naked?”

“We had pants on, mine were unbuttoned. Fuck,” I rub my forehead, “I really wish I could remember what happened. And,” I sigh again and play with the hem of my shirt, “that’s not even it. We got into this huge argument this morning and he told me that he’s been in love with me since we were like, 8. I mean… how do I even respond to that?”

“Shit, dude. He finally told you?”

My hands pause. I just stare at him, not bothering to blink, “You knew?”

“Well, yeah. I told you me and Cartman ripped on you all the time about it. You two were totally fags.”

“Wait wait wait, you making fun of me for being unusually close to my best friend is one thing, but it’s a completely different situation when Kyle tells me that he’s been in love with me since puberty. He used the word ‘love,’ dude. That’s a huge fucking deal. Please tell me you didn’t know about this.”

He puts his hands up, trying to pump the breaks because I’m clearly getting upset here, “I mean… okay. I always had a hunch. Sometimes he would come over my house and he’d be so pissed off. Like, he’d go on about how you always wanted to be with your girlfriend, or how you wouldn’t shut up about your sexcapades with your ladies. It was so fucking obvious that he was jealous. I could totally tell that he was into you. I mean, add that into the fact that you two still had sleepovers until you were like, seventeen,” he shakes his head, “That shit is still weird—but, ya know, makes a lot more sense now.”

My face fills with overwhelming heat. I love how everyone realizes how weird that was before me. I feel like a fucking moron.

“He didn’t tell me that he was actually into you until Token’s.”

I look up at him, reading his face for an answer, “What?” This is new information, too, “What the fuck, Kenny?”

“Token’s fucking party, dude. He pulled me and Butters aside earlier in the night and told us that he’s gay. I told you that, right? Then, that morning, when you were passed out next to Clyde—creepy, by the way, I don’t even want you to explain that one—I saw him when I was leaving. He was out front sitting by himself and we just kind of started talking."

“So, he just comes out with ‘oh yeah, I was in love with Stan, that’s why I left’ and you didn’t even think to clue me in?"

Kenny rolls his eyes, “He didn’t say that. He said he’s still in love with you. Big difference, dude. Which is kind of nuts since you two didn't see each other for so long, you know?"

“Why didn’t you tell me?”

He looks at me like I’m an idiot, “He asked me not to tell you. He’s my friend too, in case you forgot."

I scoff and put my head back on my knees. Kenny could’ve at least given me a heads up about this, “What else did he say?”

“He asked me for a cigarette. Said he wanted to cancel out the awful taste in his mouth from drinking all night. Weird fucking theory, but whatever. That’s about it, though. He just said that he really left because he needed to figure some shit out and being around you all the time wasn’t helping. He said he couldn’t share a dorm with you and still pretend that there was nothing there. Some shit like that anyway. You could always ask him yourself, you know.”

I groan. I really am an idiot. So much going on around me and I’m too worried about my own bullshit to see any of it.

“This is all weirdly romantic, you know?” he suddenly says.

I shake my head, fighting back the sudden urge to slap him, “Shut up, Kenny. Don’t make fun of me.”

“I’m being serious, dude! It is. I mean, it sucks for Kyle because he’s been into you for so long, but now that you finally figured out that you’re into him too, you guys can fuck happily ever after,” he smirks, “Just make sure that you remember it from now on.”

I pause and bite the inside of my cheek, “I didn’t say that I’m into him.”

He rolls his eyes and hops to his feet when he hears the bell on the door ding with a customer’s entrance, “Don’t fucking bullshit a bullshitter, dude. You literally just said that you’ve been confused about how you feel about him ever since you’ve been home. Besides, if anything, you were the obvious one, not Kyle. You were always in love with that kid.”

“What?” I jump to my feet too, hopping on the defensive, “No way, dude. What are you even talking about?”

“Why’d you kiss him?”

“Huh?”

“You said that you kissed Kyle, not the other way around. Why did you kiss him?”

I shrug, unable to look at him again. Second time that I’m asked that question today and I can’t give anyone a straight answer, “I don’t know, I just… ever since I’ve been back, it’s been really awesome being around him again. I love him. I do. Just, ya know, like a really close friend.”

“So, you kissed him because you love his friendship?”

The customer in front of us, with his gallon of milk and box of macaroni and cheese, couldn’t look more disinterested in our conversation. Kenny rings him up, his attention solely on me as the man pays Kenny and darts out of the store while we finish our very gay conversation—literally.

My eyebrows furrow, trying to think of how to answer him. I know that I’m making no sense right now. It’s just difficult to figure out what all of this means, “Well, no. Not really. I mean, that’s how I felt at first. Then when he came out to me, I started rethinking everything. Like all the shit we used to do when we were younger, how it wasn’t even normal in the first place, and then it may have taken a whole different meaning if he was gay through all of that. But then I thought I got over it. And then, I don’t know. I started thinking about him a lot more, having dreams about him—“

“Gross, you were having wet dreams about Kyle?”

“No, dude. Just, I don’t know. I think I’m attracted to him. Or I was. I don’t fucking know, I’m confused.”

“You can’t be too confused if you kissed him last night.”

“Yeah… I was drunk though.”

“Who cares, don’t be a pussy and blame it on the booze. Cowards use that as a cop-out and you’re not a coward. Did you like it?”

“What?”

He looks at me like I’m an idiot. Again. “Exactly what I fuckin’ asked you. Did you enjoy it? What you remember anyway.”

I think about it for a second. I know I did. I never felt like that with anyone before. I shouldn’t have this much trouble admitting to it. I know the answer.

“Well?”

“Yeah…yeah, I did.”

“Then what the hell are you brooding for? God, you beat yourself up about the weirdest shit. Why are you here talking to me about this, anyway? Go hash this out with Kyle. I don’t give a fuck about either of your love lives. I just want you two to be happy. And you in constant denial about this is fucking lame. Man up and talk to him.”

I avoid telling Kenny that he’s right, because that’s the last thing that I need to hear right now. Instead, I just hang around the store for a few more hours before heading home. I’ll get around to talking to Kyle, eventually. He might not even forgive me for leaving this morning. He may just punch me in the face, or worse yet—move across the country again and completely ignore me for a few years.

I take the long way back home.

Chapter Text

Any inkling of denial I had about my feelings towards Kyle has gone out the window. I’m over being a fucking idiot. I’m not overthinking it anymore, I know how I feel, and I’m running with it. Nothing makes sense otherwise. I love him, I do. So much so that I’ll yell it from the rooftops, literally, if he would just answer my fucking phone calls.

I haven’t spoken to him in almost a week, and I haven’t seen much sunlight either. I miss him. I miss him a lot. I’ve called a bunch of times, but he won’t answer. Half the time, I can tell he is pressing ignore. It’s reminding me of college when I couldn’t get a hold of him. Endless texts, calling… it’s déjà vu all over again and it’s fucking killing me.

Sleep has been nonexistent. I can’t get his face out of my head from the argument. He looked totally hopeless.

I can’t let this go on, I have to talk to him. Even if nothing happens, I can’t live with myself with how things are. I’m not even sure what I would say if I could get a hold of him. I just need to apologize, tell him how I really feel; that I’ve come to terms with it.

I just really need to fix this complete and utter fuck up that I’ve shoved myself into.

I can’t get a hold of him otherwise, so I’m on his front step, staring at the lame sign on the door that reads, “The Broflovskis.” I take a deep breath and knock, hoping that Kyle answers and hoping that his mother doesn’t.

Thankfully, it’s not the latter, but it’s not Kyle either. Ike’s standing in the doorway and looks a little surprised. I weakly smile at him, “Hey.”

He nods, “Hey.”

“Kyle here?”

He sighs, “He is, but you know he doesn’t want to talk to you right now, dude.”

Jesus. I wonder if Ike knows what’s been going on. He’s Kyle’s brother, so he probably does. I sidestep, feeling a little awkward, “Yeah, I figured as much. So, is it too pathetic to ask if I can come in and sit by his door until he decides to talk to me?”

Ike nods, “Yeah, a little too pathetic. I don’t want to see that. He just said that he doesn’t want to talk to you and for you to go away, though he may have said it a bit more eloquently, like ‘fuck off.’”

I raise an eyebrow, “He knows I’m here right now?”

He squints an eye, “Um…no?”

I check behind each side of Ike’s head to see if Kyle is anywhere, hiding in the living room. Then I take a step back and look up, toward the second floor of the house. A curtain suddenly flies shut in the front window. I cup my hands around my mouth and yell, “Kyle!”

Ike steps forward, “Dude! The fuck, seriously? Come on, don’t cause a scene. He just doesn’t want to talk to you.”

I roll my eyes. If he’s not coming down, then maybe Ike can help out, so I have to ask, “Can you do me a favor then?”

He shrugs, “Depends on what it is, but if it keeps you from yelling in front of our house for all the neighbors to hear, then sure.”

I pull the copybook out of my jacket and grip it tightly with both hands, emphasizing the fact that I’m not fucking around, “I need you to give this to him, but you can’t open it. I’m serious, dude, you cannot open the book. I’m trusting you here.”

He cocks an eyebrow, “Gay porn in there?”

“Yeah, lots. So don’t open it.”

“Sick.”

“I’ll buy you beer.”

“You must be desperate. You said you wouldn’t because of my mom.”

I sigh and try not to stomp my foot like a teenager, but it happens anyway, “Come on, I will.”

“Ugh, fine.”

I go to hand it to him, but pull back for a second, “I’m serious. You can’t read it; you can’t open it. I’ll know if you do.”

“Dude, I got it. Just remember the beer.”

I nod, hoping to God that I can trust him. I hand him the copybook filled with our embarrassing notes throughout the years, “I need you to give that to him right away.”

“Be the messenger boy, I got it.”

“Thanks, Ike,” I nod as he takes the book from me, already somewhat relieved, “Really.”

“Yeah, yeah, just don’t sit outside our front door either. That whole pathetic thing works out here, too,” He waves me off and shuts the door. I linger for a second and look up at the house again. Just in case…

“Kyle! I gave Ike our book! You know what that means so make sure you get it from him right away!”

Ike swings the front door open again, “Dude!”

“I’m going! I’m going.” I shove my hands in my pockets and turn to walk away towards nowhere in particular, dragging hope along with me that it’s not too late.

XxxX

I make my way to Stark’s pond for no other reason than the fact that I don’t want to go home again. I’ve been in bed most of the week and I could really use a different view other than my ceiling.

Ever since I was a kid, I always got sentimental about Stark’s pond. It’s just this simple spot in town, but it’s always so peaceful compared to the bullshit that is usually going on around here. It’s normal. Kyle and I used to skip rocks in the pond, and drink after dark when we were in high school.

The thought makes me look down at my phone, and it’s been over an hour since I dropped the book off. I want to call him, ask him if he got it. Ike better not be scanning pages and putting them on the internet.

I shudder. Fuck, he better not be.

Even if Kyle doesn’t want to talk to me again after this—never mind, I can’t even entertain that idea right now. He has to.

My phone vibrates.

Where are you?

My heart stops.

stark’s

I hope that means he’s on his way over here. My eyes start looking in every direction for Kyle, hoping that’s exactly what his text means. And for the next twenty minutes, every single noise could be him approaching, but it’s mostly squirrels or random homeless people shuffling through.

Legs kicked out in front of me, and I’m practically sliding off the wooden bench, tired of waiting. It feels like an eternity since he texted me and it’s not like he lives far. Maybe he only asked where I was because he’s checking for spots to avoid instead of planning to show up. There’s always that.

A tall figure starts to appear across the pond.

Kyle has one hand in his pocket, and our notebook in the other. I smile because I’m giddy, yet nervous. He could totally be here to punch me in the face, but at least he’s here. He chose to show up, I could still have a shot. This is a good sign.

He approaches, and he’s not wearing his glasses. I guess the botched job I did trying to fix them didn’t work out too well. He’s in his brown jacket and jeans, still no hat even though it’s getting colder. The short hair, long enough now for just a bit of curl to form, totally works for him. And fuck, he looks great without those glasses.

It’s kind of fun just embracing these feelings without second guessing myself all the time. He looks fucking hot right now and I want to kiss him again. Yep, totally went there, totally mean it. Totally hope I can do it again.

He’s standing right in front of me and I can’t begin to try and hold in a smile even though he hasn’t said anything yet. He could still hate me right now, but it doesn’t matter. I’m just excited to see him again.

I stand up so I am eye level with him, and he looks at me, biting down an awkward smile. He holds the book up between us, “Really?”

I smile back because it feels safe. Good sign number two. I cross my arms, “Well, I couldn’t get a hold of you, so you left me no choice.”

“Voicemails are a thing.”

“Pretty sure I left a few of those.”

“Most of them were just, ‘call me back.’ Not exactly an apology or what you wrote in here. Where did you even find this?”

“It was wedged between the back of my bed and my wall.” I look down, “So, uh, did you see what I put in there?”

He nods, “I did.”

“And?”

His smile fades, and his eyebrows dip with what seems like frustration, “I mean, what is there to say, Stan? Though we were intoxicated, you finally took that leap—you, I’d like to emphasize, not me—and actually kissed me. Something I’ve been hoping for since, honestly, I don’t even know how long. And then the next morning, you metaphorically kicked me right in the nuts by bailing the first chance you got. How can I effectively express how you’ve made me feel over the past week?”

I practically wince. So much for the good signs.

He pauses, entirely too long, “I guess I can only say: My heart has been raped.”

I bark out a laugh, and he does too. And despite the weight of the overall situation, we probably laugh for too long, “Okay, I totally deserve that. Did you happen to stumble upon the latest message in there, after laughing at my goth poetry?”

He nods, a more serious disposition falling over him, “You spell ‘I’m sorry’ a little differently than most people, but it’s a start.”

The conversation feels light, and I think this is heading in a good direction, but I have to let him know that I’m serious here. I’ve been going over what I could say to him all week, rewording and rethinking everything. I’m not sure I’m even in the right ballpark of what to say, but I have to at least try. He has to know. I step forward and grab his free hand, “Can I say something?”

He swallows and nods, obviously feeling unsure, but at least open to it.

I take a deep breath in, “I know I haven’t really handled this well. I’m sure you’ve noticed.”

“Kind of hard not to.”

“I’ve been acting fucking weird, I admit that. But, having you back is the best thing that’s happened to me in years. I don’t want to lose that again.”

“I can’t handle just a friendship, Stan. You—”

I squeeze his hand, “You want to let me finish?”

He nods, sheepishly, and I swear he blushes a bit. He directs his sight to the ground and decides to keep it there, “Sorry.”

“I’m the last one to figure this out, but you know I love you, right? I always have? Fucking Kenny knew all along, apparently. Not like he decided to share that insight any earlier, though.”

He’s not looking back up at me, so I grab the book from his free hand and drop it on the grass beneath us. I gently touch the bottom of his chin and tilt his head to look at me. His face is vulnerable, his eyes big, but I have his full attention. I take both of his hands in mine and keep his eyes with me, “I mean that, dude. I really do love you. Like I said, it’s fucking weird, and everything in between, but in a good way. In a kind of amazing way. This is new for me and I’m sorry that I was a bit of a fuck up while trying to sort my feelings out, but I’m serious about this, Kyle. You are not a guinea pig so I can experiment with my sexuality. You are my life, totally and completely. I’m not right without you.”

He doesn’t blink, and I feel his hands tighten in mine.

I continue, “I want to take a shot at this. Not being friends, and not some weird in between shit where we just cuddle and wrestle to be closer to one another, but like a real shot at a real relationship,” I suddenly stop before assuming too much. He could totally not be ready for that, “I mean, ya know,” I clear my throat, “if you want to.”

He scoffs, and his eyes seem a little glassy, but he rolls them anyway, “Jesus Christ, of course I do, Stan. You have no idea how long I’ve been waiting for you to say that. I’ve been in love with you for-fucking-ever. It’s about goddamn-time you realized i—“

I don’t let him finish and interrupt him with a kiss. In no way, shape or form can I wait any longer now that he is on board. I had to kiss him. His last muffled word quickly turns into a smile and I feel his arms come around my waist as he gives in. I pull him close to me, our chests pressed against one another, and he feels so right I could so strangle myself for not doing this ten years ago.

Kyle,
Listen, I don’t regret anything between us. I loved you then, and I love you now. By the looks of it, I always will. Now please fucking talk to me so we can make up.