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Sometimes I think he did it because he could get away with it...and sometimes I think he did it because he felt he had no other choice.

Stan would bring his girlfriend around the bowling alley I got stuck working a. The South Park High school poster couple waltzing in for their Friday night dates while I polished the counter or did whatever daunting, brainless task assigned to me. Clean the bathroom, mop the floors, fix the soda machine. All for minimum wage. As if watching the redneck citizens of Southpark come in and out on the daily wasn't annoying enough, I had to clean up after them for practically nothing.

On top of that Stan just had to come in on Fridays. Every single Friday. The day I could never get off. And he had to bring his girlfriend. I recognized their heads of black hair instantly, my peripheral vision trained to spot them whenever they entered. The electronic beep of the door would go off as someone entered and if it was them I'd know immediately.

She always hung off his arm like a damn accessory, Wendy. Stan's hand would be in his jacket pocket and she'd have her arm linked through his, her body pressed up alongside him. It was like they were joined at the hip. I wasn't clingy like that, there was no need for her to be. Stan gave her all the attention she needed and more.

I never looked at him directly when he was with her...but he always looked at me. Every single time, like everything was fine. Like I wasn't working my ass off in a ratty bowling alley having to watch my boyfriend tote around some honor roll floozy. .Friday.

"Hey Pete" He'd greet me, smiling with all his teeth. The pearly whites his parents paid for in full years ago while mine couldn't even bother to make sure I was even alive half the time. "How's it going?"

"Could be better" I told him bluntly.

Because it was true. Things could've been a lot better. Things could be immensely easier on the both of us if he'd just ditch the broad he had glued to him. The one he knew I could not stand with every fiber of my being. The one who had no idea her boyfriend was actually supposed to be just mine...that he didn't fit in to the stereotype box he oh so strived to construct around himself.

The highschool Jock.

Captain of the football team, star player and all around liked guy. He was handsome with large blue eyes that could melt just about anybody. His smile was radiant as was his reputation. Everyone liked him, the school loved him . He could make friends with idle conversation he was so charismatic. He had it all. Reputation, talent, family, even the valedictorian girlfriend. He had everything

Even secrets.

He was Gay...and didn't want anyone else to know. Hence his goddamn tag along. Behind that masculine fascade of lady killer was a young man who'd spent months before football season in my room after school, "studying". That was is excuse to his little jock friends when they asked why he was hanging with the 'queer emo kid'. Fucking ignorant assholes thought they knew everything.

"I'm sorry to hear that, Man." Stan told me, vibrant smile waning just enough to convey sympathy although he already knew what had my ass in a pinch. "Think we can get a round?"

"You two? Sure. Wouldn't be a Friday if you didn't." I answered him monotonely, punching in the buttons on the register. Didn't even have to tell him the price since he'd gone bowling so many times, he already had the cash ready. "Lane twelve."

Taking the money for the round and shoe rental, I put it in the register and let it shut with an aggravated swat as him and Wendy grabbed their shoes from the cubicles around the corner. He heard the register all but slam shut, and as a result he knew I was not happy. Not a peep from him came from around the corner though, not until Wendy ran ahead of him to get to the lane they'd been assigned.

"Come on, Stan!"

" Coming..."

He crept out from behind the corner and I caught him doing his damned best not to make eye contact with me. But when he nervously peeked over, he caught my eyes and flinched. I pursed my lips sourly, sucking my teeth inside my mouth. I shifted my eyes over towards Wendy where she happily trotted over to the bowling lanes and shook my head.

"I'm sorry." He mouthed, walking by.

"Fuck you."

Just as always he gave up and carried on, knowing I wouldn't entertain any half ass apologies. Redundant fucking words that literally meant nothing. When Stan made his way over to Wendy she was already punching in their names for the score board and Stan took a seat next to her, wrapping his arm around her just as she liked.

"Fucking asshole"

I'd already had enough and they just got there. Fifteen minutes later and I couldn't take it. Luckily for me, the annoying ass ball of sunshine I had for a co-worker came waltzing in from the backroom. Shoving the keys to the register in his hand, I gave him a brief explanation that I was stepping out.

"Here, I'm going out for a smoke."

Through the back door I went after mycoworker just barely managed to get a hold of the keys I shoved upon him without warning. He dropped them after a brief fumble before bending over to pick them back up.

"Oh hamburgers..." he mumbled, picking them up before taking my post.

Outside by the dumpster I took my usual place. Leaning up against the building I fished in my pocket for a pack of ciggarettes and flipped open the lid before pulling one out. With the stick between my lips I brought my rusty old lighter up to the end of it, lighting it with a deep inhale.

The taste of tobacco was awful, but I loved it. It was familiar and I could always count on it being the same everytime I wanted it. Everytime. Sucking down drag after drag, I took a moment to pause. With my bud held down by my side, the smoke wafted up as I looked to the sky. Clouds rolled in over the darkening sky and I watched, just lost in thought.

"Didn't think you were one to day dream."

"Mm"

I hummed in response to my apparent guest. Looking down from the sky I was faced with a pair of khol circled eyes, heavy curly black hair set over them. Michael sidled up next to me and the door leading back in to the bowling alley shut closed. Leaning on the wall with me, he looked down.

"Your roots are showing again"

"Yeah?" I responded plainly, handing him over the cigarette.

"Yeah."

He took a drag and I rolled my eyes. I was annoyed, for more reasons than one.

"I'm not exactly concerned with keeping up with my roots. What do I look like? Some Barbie school slut? "

"No. But you look pissed."

"What else is new?"

I shook my head in aggravation and Michael handed me back my cigarette. Michael rubbed down the red cowlicks at the crown of my head, looking over choppy grown-out roots. His bony fingers lingered before I handed him back the cigarette.

"Henrietta wants to know how you're doing, Pete."

"She has a phone, doesn't she?"

"It's not like you answer it."

"I feel that should convey a message of sorts."

Flicking ashes to the ground Michael scoffed. He went silent again befores speaking up. His gravely voice was low, monotone. He looked past his big nose at the graffiti painted on the parallel wall of the building across the back alley.

"Her and Georgie miss you, you know."

"Mm."

Silence took over again. I'd lost my motivation to talk monthes prior and my friends dealt with it. Still they reached out for me and I just drifted through my existence. Not caring to interact with people past what was needed, my life consisted of school, work and Stan. Stan wasn't around much though, obviously. Thanks to football season he was either at practice or with Wendy, leaving massive gaps of time for me to be by myself.

Michael showed up often, filling those gaps. No matter how withdrawn I was. I never outright pushed him away, I was used to him. Just like the taste of a cigarette, he was always there. Consistant and unwavering. 'Friend' wasn't a word I used really, because people were so fickle. But Michael was the best one I had, even by our standards.

Back and forth we smoked, ignoring his last statement. I knew what he wanted. And he knew how I felt about it. Still, he always brought it up. He never outright bad talked Stan but he made no secret that he hated him. Quite often I was faced with those brown eyes of his watching me, waiting for me to accept the reality I was faced with.

Waiting for me to replace Stan.

As he handed me the cigarette, I was faced with those brown eyes again. And the taste of tobacco with another reliable drag.

"I need to go back in soon."

"He's in there with Wendy."

"I know."

Michael wasn't one to give up.

"Want to come over after your shift?" He offered. "I can wait for you."

"I don't get off for hours. Have a long shift"

"I said I can wait for you."

I shook my head at him, filling my lungs again. The smoke came out my nose and took another drag before sighing. The long night ahead of me was going to drain me, I already knew it. Fridays, I fucking hated them.

"I'm tired."

"I'll go get you a coffee."

I handed off the cigarette to him and he took it, holding it between his index and middle finger. But he didn't smoke it. He stared at me and I stared back, blinking apathetically at him. In truth I wasn't feeling apathetic at all. I was pissed. Michael knew deep down I wanted nothing more to just walk away from the bowling alley with him. Walk away from Stan.

"I'll go get you a coffee" he repeated to me, reassuring me without blatantly doing so. "You're not scheduled to close today, are you?"

"Nope. Just stuck here till nine."

"Alright."

After a drag the ciggarette was back to me. Ready to take my final drag for the night, I brought it towards my lips waiting for that familiar taste I could count on. Michael came in close and I breathed the smoke out over his face. He took the little bud left and flicked it aside.

"That conformist is garbage." He told me, snuffing out the bud with his heavy black boot. "You're better off throwing him away in that fucking dumpster."

Watching him closely, I waited for him to do something. And was surprised when he actually did.

He kissed me.

"Michael-"

"I'll be back."

He walked awaythen without another word. His trenchcoat disspaeared around the corner, his boots scuffing the alley pavement. He was just a big pillar of black sulking off, but it was what I was used to. Out of my line of sight, I was left with the dumpster.

"Ugh."

After looking down at my ugly ass uniform, splotched with bright tacky colors, I went back inside. Then upon entering, the door almost hit someone. My dumb co-worker stood there, rubbing his knuckles together after he recoiled from nearly getting whacked.

"Pete, the manager doesn't like it when customers go through the back. Your friend could get you in trouble."

"Whatever. Just give me the register keys, I'm done with my smoke break."

"Okay...here ya go..."

Keys back in my possession, I stalked back to the front counter with him behind me. Before he could follow me behind the counter, our boss called out for him.

"Butters! Spill clean up, hop to it!"

"Right away, Sir!"

Obiediant Butters went off to clean up some dumbass's spill and I grit my teeth. Right in my line of view was Wendy and Stan. She hit a winning strike and hopped up and down, barreling herself in to Stan for a hug. Without even hesitating, he leaned down to kiss her. She proposed another anound and he went off to fufill her request.

Except Butters wasn't the one at the register anymore. He hadn't known that. With full trepedation after his little display, he came over. Another round paid for and I sent him off with another sour scowl. He didn't say anything at first. Then he gathered the nerve to try.

"Pete don't look at me like that, you know-"

"Sir, keep the line moving."

"...There's noone behind me-"

"Bye."

Defeated he walked away. He tried making eye contact with me various times, looking for sympathy. It didn't work. Not at all. By the time Michael came back with my coffee I was fucking aggravated. He handed it to me and I took a sip, burning myself but not caring. I gulped down another scalding, black and bitter mouthful from the styrofoam cup and Michael reflexively looked over to where Stan and Wendy were.

"Your boss won't care if I sit at the counter until nine, right?"

"So long as you buy something." I answered, knowing he really didn't give a rat's ass about what my boss wanted. "It's not like we're busy. Who goes bowling on a Friday night?"

"The rest of the football team's at Bebe's, so I heard. Some stupid party. Guess your boyfriend had better things to do."

The crappy kitchen we did have at the bowling alley served the typical junk food you could find at any attraction. Michael ordered French fries. He reached for his wallet but I shook my head. Making sure my boss wasn't in sight, I opened and shut the register to keep up appearances before sending the order to the kitchen.

Soon after an order of fries was rung up at the kitchen window and I got it for him. At the front counter Michael took a seat on one of the worn, tacky red leather stools to eat. Looking over to Stan again, he followed my gaze. Neither of us were impressed.

Xxxx

"Pete. Take out the garbage before you leave. You're free to clock out now."

The manager gave me my final task while passing on permission to leave. Nodding, I gave him the keys to the register before going to gather the garbage bags. After pulling the black bags from the barrel and replacing them, I dragged them out to the back. Michael followed me out.

"Enough of this shit" I grunted, hoisting the bags in to the dumpster. "I'm free to go."

"You're coming over, right?"

Before I could answer, the back door opened. From it came Stan, breathing heavily as if he'd ran. He stopped on a dime, looking to me.

"Pete-" He began before spotting Michael. "Oh...Hey, Michael."

Michael didn't respond. Stan knew his place with Michael and didn't bother trying further. The beloved star player whom so loved showing off for a crowd quickly shrunk under Michael's eyes. With an audience, he suddenly lost his nerve.

"If only all the garbage took itself out to the dumpster." Michael told me, still staring down Stan with those dark eyes he hated. "Your stupid job would be so much easier."

I almost snorted in dry humor at his remark. He wasn't wrong.

"Your girlfriend's waiting for you inside" Michael told him, effectively drawing a cringe from a mute Stan. "Go bother her."

"Um...I wanted to talk to Pete."

I was fully capable of speaking for myself but I stood by and let Michael go on. It was easier, letting him curb Stan's bullshit. He'd never done it before but I wasn't unwelcome to it. It was luxerious, almost. Letting Michael do the dirty work and to his own delight. If you could call it that, his bitter resentment.

"Fuck off, Marsh." Michael dismissed him. "You overglorified nobody."

"Do you know who you're talking to?"

"I really couldn't care less about your social status, Ken doll. You're a highschool football captain, so what?"

Stan glared, Michael having stabbed him right where it hurt. Little did Michael really know, it was a double hit. Unable to retort, Stan was silent. Michael wasn't.

"What, you going to kick my ass? No? Go back to your woman, Retard."

Without giving Stan the opportunity to retort back, Michael began walking away. With a bored look to Stan, I followed. My sleeve was grabbed and I yanked it away, following Michael. Literally leaving Stan to stand alone, mouth agape. Satisfied, Michael led me away.

"You can't hate me for this. It's not fair."

I stopped in my tracks as Stan called out what was supposed to be some reasoning reach for understanding. As if I were supposed to emphasize with him for being an asshole. I could have walked away, but I didn't. Ahead of me stood Michael, looking over his shoulder. He flicked his eyes over to Stan, then back to me.

Turning around to face Stan, I took a second to debate how to respond. I began approaching him and he visably stiffened, panicing as I slowly closed in. He didn't think it through, unsurprisingly.

"Pete, you know I'm sorry."

Still closing in, I said nothing. Stan grew nervous as I came to stand right in front of him. Looking straight at him, I stared him down with the sour scowl he hated so much. He was adamant to defend himself.

"I'm doing all I can. You know I'm sorry" he insisted.

Silence filled the space between us and he watched me with those big blue eyes, expecting me to cave. Looking away, I took a deep breath through my nose. I nodded in bitter humor, feeling almost amused with him. Just almost. If I weren't so fucking pissed on top of being tired, I may have been amused at just how dumb he was.

"You know what I know, Stan? That you're a fucking asshole. You're an asshole and I can't stand you."

Stan opened his mouth to talk but I interjected, too tired both mentally and phsyically to hear his voice just yet.

"You're pathetic. You truly are pathetic"

It took a moment for him to recover from the blow but when he did, he was mad. Retaliating, he tried grabbing me to pull me close against his better judgment. He knew not to touch me like that. With the second strike, I yanked myself away from him, keeping my distance with a wordless warning. He didn't try to grab me again, but he clenched his fingers in frustration. I could already hear the words about to come from his mouth.

"What do you want me to do!? You think the state is gonna fund some fag a sport's scholarship?"

And there it was. His little sob story.

"What? Do you think I'm going to forgive you?"

"I'm not asking for forgiveness, I'm asking for a little slack."

"Well you should have thought of that before showing up every fucking Friday to sabotage my peace of mind, asshole."

Stan was caught at a loss for words, wetting his lips as he looked away to the ground. He ran his fingers through his hair. Clenching at the roots, those naturally black roots. I waited for him to walk away, but he didn't. I wasn't impressed with his stubbornness, I was just tired.

"How else am I supposed to see you?" He argued, defeated. No longer caring that Michael was audience to our one sided spat. "You're here every Friday so I-"

"You show up with your dumb broad." Michael snapped.

Michael encouraged me to walk away, just as sick of Stan as I was. He, of course, had his own bias on top of my own. But Looking at Stan's face, I was hit with disgust. He would sit there and argue his excuses all night if I let him.

I just didn't have the patience or energy anymore.

"Bye Stan" I told him bluntly in dismissal, ready to follow Michael.

Stan reached for me again, effectively earning him his third strike. I shoved him away with a huff, his hands leaving hot imprints on my skin, invisable to everyone but me. I clammed up, the hairs on the nape of my neck standing.

"You know better, don't fucking touch me like that."

"I know, I'm sorry. Just- just, don't go. I want you around! " he pleaded, fighting the urge to reach for me again. "I barely see you!"

"And who's fault is that, Mr. 'All Star Scholarship'?"

Nodding my head, I gestured for Michael to lead the way out as he lit a cigarette behind me. With my shoulders back and my spine rigid, I stalked away behind Michael. He handed back the lit bud and I took it, sucking in the bitter tobacco with a vengeance. Stan knew there was no way he would reel me back, keep me from going. Lost, he called out after me.

"At least come to the game tomorrow!"

"Fuck off."

I was sick of being put after his reputation. I was repulsed being put after his repuation and Wendy on top of that. He didn't need to drag them both to my job and display it where I couldn't escape. It hurt, and I hated to admit it. It tore me up inside.

Sometimes I think he did it because he could get away with it...and sometimes I think he did it because he felt he had no other choice.

My anger aside, I knew his choices were limited. Playing meant alot to him, more than I did. As much as I liked to blame him for that I knew he couldn't help it. He made his effort to see me, with what little choices he had. But it wasn't enough. Stan wasn't consistent, he never was. And I needed consistency. More than anything.

And only two things in my life were consistent. One was held between my fingertips.

The other walked right ahead of me.

xxxx