The cars were on the thirtieth lap when the knock hit the door, rattling the frame around it. Kenny glanced at his brother, whose gaze was glued to the screen on their tiny television as the racers made their laps. Kevin definitely wasn’t going to get up to answer the door. Kenny groaned into his hood and leaned forward on the second knock. He was saved trouble of standing when his mom beat him to the door.
“Oh, hello Stanley. Here to see Kenny?” His mom said, voice lightening into a happy note he hadn’t heard in a while. He looked past the fur of his hood to see Stan holding a few large plastic containers that were the likely cause. His mom put her hands on her hips and asked, “What do you have there?”
“Extras,” Stan said and Kenny rolled his eyes into the back of his hood and turned his eyes back to the race. He could smell something warm and amazing from here and bit his lip. Of course Stan did that. Of course he brought food over. He could hear the oh so familiar “Yes, Ma’am” tone as he said, “Mom went a little crazy in the kitchen and asked if I could bring over some when she heard I was dropping by.”
“Oh, how thoughtful,” Mom said. He heard a shuffle and the squeak of plastic shifting against each other. “This is a lot. What’s in here?”
“Not sure, but I think the bottom one is a pot roast, and if it’s not that, it’s some sort of pork thing. I’m not sure which one I grabbed, but I know there’s carrot cake in the top one,” Stan said.
“That sounds wonderful,” his mom said. “You thank her for me, okay?”
“I will, Mrs. McCormick,” Stan said. Kenny heard the shuffle of his sneakers on the cracked concrete outside. “May I come in?”
“Of course, Stanley. But I warn you, the race is on so I don’t think Kenny’s going to be leaving that couch any time soon,” his mom said.
“I just wanted to talk to him a bit. I don’t mind waiting for commercials,” Stan said, and he didn’t have to look to know Stan had just shot his mom one of his handsome, quarterback smiles by the way she laughed.
His floors creaked as Stan walked across the living room with an easy “Hey, dude.” He helped himself to a seat on the floor next to Kenny’s legs since Kevin had taken up the other half of their dingy couch.
Every once in a while Kenny considered how absolutely surreal it was that he—the poorest kid in town—was still friends with the school’s quarterback, and that said most-popular-student-in-school didn’t think twice about letting his brand new blue jeans be stained with whatever happened to be growing on the McCormick carpet at the time. But there he sat: Stan Marsh, one of Kenny’s best friends, taking a can of cheep beer from Kevin like he belonged there in this run down shack of a house his father had built as a play clubhouse when he was a kid.
Kenny knocked his knee into Stan’s back at the same moment he popped open the beer, causing it to spill down his chin and over the front of his jacket. “You know I hate that charity shit.”
“Dude, it’s not charity if we legit had a ton of extra food.” Stan wiped his mouth on his sleeve and shook off his letterman jacket. He sipped from the can with a pout. “Dad got mom to watch the food channels with him and they spent all night trying to out cook each other. Text Kyle if you want proof. My mom took over half our kitchen to his house this morning to get it out of ours. If I’d been going to Cartman’s today, he’d be the one with carrot cake and pot roast.”
Kenny pulled out his phone and did just that—just because he loved his friends didn’t mean he trusted them. He got a text three seconds later from Kyle stating “I’m drowning in non-kosher honey ham and cupcakes made by Randy Marsh” followed by a second “Help me” immediately afterwards.
“Saved by the Super Best Friend, once again,” Kenny said, clicking his phone screen off. He shoved it back in his parka's pocket and nudged Stan’s back with his knee again. “Though I should make him text me photo evidence since he’d totally lie to save your ass.”
“He would,” Stan said, grinning over his shoulder. “But either way, you got a carrot cake out of the deal so I don’t know why you’re whining.”
“Yeah, yeah,” Kenny said, turning his attention back to the race as the commercials ended.
He kept his knee pressed into Stan’s side, enjoying the solidity and warmth of it. However nice this human contact was, Stan didn’t usually come over uninvited to watch television without other motives. Which meant he must want something: “So what brings you over this fine afternoon?”
“Are you still technically a princess?” Stan asked.
“What?” Kenny tugged his hood down so he knew Stan could see his unamused expression. Kevin kept his focus on the television, though Kenny knew he was listening by the raising of his eyebrows. Kenny knocked his knee into Stan’s back again, shoving him forward. “Why are you bringing that up now?”
“I was curious,” Stan said, turning his eyes to the side, avoiding the question. He nursed his beer for a minute before caving to Kenny’s glare. “Because like, I know we lost the whole console war thing when we were kids, but that didn’t void your princess status or anything, did it?”
“No,” Kenny said, still not sure what Stan was trying to accomplish by bringing up “Princess Kenny” now after that whole Stick of Truth thing. One little mass betrayal and no one lets you live it down. “Again: Why?”
“Do you want the long version or the short version?” Stan asked, wincing into his next sip.
“The one where you get to the point,” Kenny huffed, putting his hood back up and tugging the strings. “That was a long time ago, man.”
“Okay, so Shelly’s college roomie came to stay with us over the weekend, right?” Stan starts and Kenny nodded. The new girl’s knockers were legendary and Kenny was still (fake) angry Stan wouldn’t sneak him photos of her changing. Stan turned and set the empty beer can on their cardboard coffee table and started talking with his hands. “Well, I was in the kitchen minding my own business when she starts whining to Shelly that her baby sister is in the middle of her princess phase and wants one to be at her next birthday party.
“But she wants a real life, genuine princess and not someone in a costume pretending to be one. And Shelly’s friend was like ‘Where am I ever going to find a real princess? Who knows any real princesses around South Park?’ over and over,” Stan said. He coughed into his hand and rubbed the back of his hair under his hat. “So I accidentally blurted out ‘I know one,’ because it hit me that I did and well, Shelly threatened that if I didn’t get this princess to show up at the kid sister’s birthday party, she’d kill me.
“So this is me, Stan Marsh, asking you, Princess Kenny, if you would please appear with your authentic, magic princess pendant at a thirteen year old girl’s birthday party next Saturday.” Stan clapped his hands together. “You don’t need to dress up because I don’t think she’ll care as long as you have your proof of princess thing and it’d really help me out.”
If there was anything Kenny was horrible at, it was telling Stan and Kyle “No” when they asked him to do things—no mater how stupid or life threatening—and it’d only gotten worse since he’d entered High School and Stan had mastered the popular boy puppy dog eyes.
They had Kenny whipped.
A truth he had long accepted, but that didn’t mean he wasn’t going to get something out of it. Kenny mumbled though his coat, now well aware Kevin was staring at him with an amused grin. “Three conditions.”
“Name them,” Stan said.
“One,” Kenny said, holding up a finger. “You secure Karen an invite to the party and you’re springing for a cute new dress and a shower at your house so no one makes fun of her.”
“Done and I’ll even throw in a present she can pick out to give to the birthday girl,” Stan said, one step ahead of Kenny with a knowing smile.
“Second,” Kenny said, holding up the next finger, “You’re helping me with my dress, because if I’m going to show up as Princess Kenny, I’m going to do it right. No little girl should see her first real princess in a stained orange parka.”
“You do you, man,” Stan said, shrugging lightly. “Not sure how I can help with that, but okay.”
“Third,” Kenny said, grinning wide (shame Stan couldn’t see it, but it was the thought that counts), “You have to dress up, too. I think a lady in waiting would be perfect to accompany a princess.”
“I can’t be a warrior like when we dressed up as kids?” Stan asked, biting the side of his lip.
“Nah, what do I need a bodyguard at a kid’s party for?” Kenny asked, sure he’d finally gotten one over on his jock buddy. Seeing Stan in a dress would be a riot and Kyle would thank Kenny for a year. “A personal assistant is much more useful.”
“I don’t know, man, I’d hate to show up the princess by looking better than she did in a dress,” Stan said, rubbing his chin. “My old man is Lorde, you know.”
Kevin snorted into his beer and Kenny elbowed him hard in the side. “Stay out of our conversation, Kevin.”
“No, no,” Kevin said, snickering. He popped open another can and sipped, eyes back on the TV as the cars continued to race. “He’s got a point. Stan’s prettier than you.”
“He is not,” Kenny said, huffing. Stan continued smiling at him, showing off those sparkling whit teeth and clearly amused—more than ready to put on a dress if he had to (Shelly was that scary). That took half the fun out of it and Kenny slumped in his seat and shrugged. “But if you want to be a manly warrior instead, who am I to stop you?”
“Thanks, man,” Stan said, shaking Kenny’s knee with his hand and obviously satisfied he’d gotten his own way in the end. “I mean it, dude. You’re saving my ass from Shelly, so I’m going to owe you one.”
Stan owed Kenny way more than one over the years, but he could live with just the offer. Kenny leaned back in the couch and lifted his legs up to use Stan’s shoulders as a foot rest, gaining a laugh from the other boy.
The things he did for his friends.
(He always was a sucker for a pretty face.)
“Any dress I want?” Karen asked, holding Kenny’s hand tighter as they stood in the department store.
Kenny squeezed her hand back, glad Stan had his attention on his phone as he texted Kyle about his plans for the day. Kenny wanted to tease Stan about the short leash Kyle had him on, but it worked in his favor just this once since it made sure Stan’s attention was elsewhere as he tried to explain this situation to his sister without admitting weakness.
Kenny squatted next to Karen and put his hands on her shoulders. “Yup! Any dress you want, or if you want pants, that’s cool, too. Pick out any party outfit you like, okay?”
“Why’s Stanley buying me clothes?” Karen asked, using Stan’s full name the same way his mom did whenever she talked about him.
Kenny bit his lower lip under his hood and squeezed her shoulder. “Because he owes me a favor.”
He figured that sounded better than admitting Stan would probably have done it anyway if Kenny had straight up asked.
“Then why aren’t you using it?” Karen asked, narrowing her eyes together. She got that look straight from their mom and Kenny had to remind himself she was thirteen. Karen pulled out the big guns and crossed her arms. “You always spend your money on me.”
“Don’t listen to him. Kenny’s got issues with accepting gifts so he’s trying to work around admitting it by passing it off as a favor,” Stan said, interrupting the conversation and leaning his elbow on Kenny’s head. His eyes never left his phone while he continued texting. “I’m buying you a dress because Kenny’s one of my best friends and making you happy, makes him happy.”
Karen giggled, the traitor.
“And if that’s not good enough, you can just call it an early thanks for helping us pick out Kenny’s dress next,” Stan said, giving Karen a thumb’s up and shoving the phone in his pocket.
“Okay,” Karen said, tucking a strand of hair behind her ear and putting her arms behind her back. “I can accept that.”
“Awesome,” Stan said. He waved his fingers in a nudging motion, ushering Karen toward the clothing aisles. “Then off with you! Assemble a party outfit!”
Karen laughed, covering her mouth before entering the land of teen clothing.
Kenny stood, shifting Stan’s arm from his head to around his shoulder. They stood side by side, watching Karen flip through the clothing racks, careful not to touch the clothes themselves as she moved the hangers. Kenny crossed his arms, glaring at Stan through the side of his parka. “I do not have a problem accepting gifts.”
“You really do, but that’s okay,” Stan said. He slipped away, patting Kenny hard on the back. “That just makes you, you.”
Kenny shook his head and followed Stan to the chairs near the dressing room and joined him as they watched Karen shop. If Kenny slid close enough that their shoulders were touching to get the contact back, well that was his problem.
(Nothing better than a good heart behind a pretty face.)
Karen giggled as she kicked her legs back and forth with her shopping bag settled next to the chair containing: One pink dress that came just above her knees (Stan and Karen both reminded Kenny she was thirteen when he complained about the length and wanting her to get something longer), one set of comfortable dress shoes in a sensible black, two pairs of tights in case one ripped, and one bonus hair band with a unicorn clip that Kenny paid for. Despite saying that she would help them pick out an outfit, Karen played a game on Kenny’s phone instead and he hoped that was all she was doing.
Either way, with the baby sister taken care of, it was time for part two of this fiasco: Kenny’s Princess Dress.
For once, Stan agreed that there was no way in hell he was spending over three hundred dollars on a dress for a party, Shelly threats or not, so they’d found themselves in a thrift store sorting through old dresses to see what they could salvage later with Kenny’s mediocre Home Economics skills.
“What about this one?” Stan asked, holding up what looked to be an old prom dress.
It was lavender with white sleeves, so the color wasn’t bad, but the skirt was well above the knees and Kenny still liked the full length gowns, no matter what Stan and Karen seemed to think about modern women.
They felt more regal.
He said as much and Stan scrunched his nose. “Dude, I don’t think anyone in South Park has worn a full length prom dress to a school dance for at least two decades. You might have to settle.”
“Princesses don’t settle,” Kenny said.
“What if you got a roll of fabric from the craft store and just made an under skirt? That’s not too hard, right?” Karen asked, not even bothering to look up from the phone. “That’s how you’re adding all your accents anyway, right? You just need a base dress since the bodice is the hard part.”
“You should listen to your sister,” Stan said, waving the dress back and forth.
“You just want to stop shopping,” Kenny said, flicking through a few more dresses. The dress Stan picked out was probably the best he was going to get if he wanted to keep the purple color of his last ensemble. Apparently the past two years of fashion were teal, teal, and teal, but there was no need to let the guy know he hit gold after looking on one rack of clothes. Kenny pushed two dresses aside and found a shawl stuck in the back. He yanked it out, holding up the grandma style lace. “Nice.”
“What are you going to do with that?” Stan asked, still holding the purple dress.
Kenny threw it at him and Stan caught it. He put it over his arm with the dress and stood back from the clothes like a waiting boyfriend. Kenny snorted at the thought and flipped through a few more looking for hidden treasures. “I can cut it up to make accents for the skirt it looks like I’m going to have to make.”
With that, Kenny continued pretending to look through old clothes, happy that his stalling worked in his favor when he found a shirt that would look nice on his mom. He threw it at the stack in Stan’s arms and continued shifting through clothing. He didn’t have much luck for his costume, but apparently someone his mom’s size had dropped off a ton of clothes. He’d picked out three more shirts and two skirts and hung them over Stan’s arm while the jock looked at his phone.
They continued that way with Stan waiting patiently next to Kenny as he shopped like he’d done this a million times before. But then again, Stan was the only one in their group of friends who tended to have a steady girlfriend at any given moment, so he probably had played this role more times than he could count. The faithful companion who holds the bags while the girlfriend shopped: Stan Marsh.
Kenny kinda loved the domesticity of it all; it was nice.
“Hey, Karen. Hold your bag up and say ‘cheese’,” Stan said, holding up his phone. She held it up as commanded and stuck her tongue out as Stan clicked a pic. “Thanks.”
“Why are you taking pictures of my sister?” Kenny asked, trying to control the urge to grab the phone. “Isn’t she young for you?”
“Only for five more years,” Stan said, snickering. Karen laughed herself, the only thing saving Stan from Kenny decking him for a not-cool joke. Stan shook his head and held his phone up. “Kyle wants proof we’re doing something with Karen because if it’s just you and me hanging out, he’s going to kick my ass.”
Kenny snorted. “I thought you said he was cool with changing your Saturday plans to hang out with me instead?”
“That was before Cartman came over to spend the day,” Stan said. He laughed and continued texting with one hand. “Kyle’s about to rip out his own hair or strangle Cartman.”
“I can believe that,” Kenny said.
A second later Stan’s phone rang and Kenny had to smother the laugh as Kyle’s angry “It’s not funny, Stan! This fatass—” came yelling out the other side, followed by more venting.
“I’ll just go calm him down,” Stan said, holding the phone toward his chest. He wandered to a corner in the store near the window and leaned on the glass as he chatted.
Kenny jerked when Karen poked him in the side, having snuck away from her chair in the corner. She had a smile on her face and whispered, “Is Stan your new sugar daddy? Is that why you’re so cagey about admitting why he’s spending so much money on you?”
“What?” Kenny choked, smacking into the nearest display table. “Why would you say that?”
“Jenny and Marcy were saying that when you’re poor but pretty you can get a sugar daddy to buy you things like clothes and jewelry and food,” Karen said. She tapped her cheek with her index finger and looked at Stan. “You’re pretty and now Stan is buying you lots of pretty dresses so it’s easy to put two and two together.”
“Karen, I know I tend to forget, but you’re old enough to know full well what a sugar daddy is and that Stan is not one,” Kenny said, collecting himself. She’d pulled the cute and innocent act and it had caught him off guard, but he had this under control. Kenny was still the big brother here. “Besides, I think you’d have to go to Denver to find someone that rich, ‘cause Token isn’t the type.”
“You’re no fun to tease anymore,” Karen said. She tapped her toe on the ground and watched Stan from the side. She rubbed her cheek, frowning at the stain of dirt. “Besides, Kevin already told me why you’re digging out the princess gear again and why Stan’s buying me a party dress. I was just wondering when you were going to come clean and tell me yourself instead of acting like I’m still six.”
“I’m going to kick Kevin’s ass,” Kenny said, putting the sweater back on the shelf. He put his hand on Karen’s head and ruffled her hair hard enough to tug it out of it’s pigtails. “And when did you stop being my adorable, innocent little sister?”
“When I entered the sixth grade,” Karen said.
“I miss when you were five,” Kenny said.
“I know you do,” she replied patting his side.
“Okay, I hate to cut this trip short but if I don’t save Kyle from Cartman within the next hour, he’s going to bring Cartman to us,” Stan said, walking back to the group. He shoved his phone in his pocket and smiled, none the wiser he’d just interrupted a conversation. “We’ve still got a week to get this all together before the party, so why don’t we hit the wig store next door and then grab some lunch on the way back.”
“I’ve already got the wig,” Kenny said, “so we’re good to go here. We can hit the craft store for fabric tomorrow.”
“You’ve already got a wig? It’s not the same one you used when we were kids is it?” Stan asked. He shifted his arm full of clothes to the other arm, the purple fabric scrunching. “Would that even still fit?”
“It was a full sized wig, dude, I was just wearing it over my hood to keep it on.” Kenny tugged on his fur liner. “It’ll fit way better now than when we were kids.”
“Oh, I want to style it!” Karen said, grabbing the edge of his parka. She shook it hard and grinned. “Can I?”
“Sure,” Kenny said. “Just don’t go too crazy. I want to look classy.”
With that settled, the group headed to the register and Stan paid for their things. As they left the store, Kenny shoved a few dollars in Stan’s pockets when Karen skipped ahead toward the Marsh’s borrowed car.
“What’s that for?” Stan asked, voice quiet as he tugged his hand out enough to see how much Kenny had shoved at him without fully taking it out of his pocket. “I told you I had enough for this.”
“I forgot to take out the things I got for my mom,” Kenny said, huffing. He’d been so distracted by Karen’s question, he’d forgotten to get them away from Stan before he reached the register. “You’re only paying for the princess stuff.”
“Oh,” Stan said. He shoved the money back in his pocket and shrugged. “Fair enough.”
Kenny breathed easier. That was how this worked. He paid for his own things with his own money he’d earned working at City Wok and his friends respected that.
“Does that mean lunch is on you, too?” Stan asked, winking.
“Damn right it is,” Kenny said, opening the door to Stan’s car. He helped himself to the back seat (Karen have already taken shotgun). “Let’s get some freaking chicken and rub it in Cartman’s face later.”
“You got it,” Stan said.
As Stan and Karen poked at each other in the front seats and the shopping bags in the back of Stan’s car beating against each other with each bump in the road, Kenny found himself sort of hating for the first time that Kyle still held the priority friend slot in Stan’s life and that he had the power to cut their day short.
(Kenny had always been a little jealous, but this might be a new kind.)