"Guess what!" Butters announced, all but slamming his lunch tray down onto the table in his excitement.
Clyde stopped eating with a forkful of mac and cheese half-way between his tray and his mouth. The sauce dripped off rather than hanging in strings like it did when his mom made it, and that made Stan push his own tray away, giving up altogether, suddenly nauseated by the sight.
They all looked to Butters with rapt attention. Stan and Kyle, and Kenny across from them, and Clyde and Craig next to him; the rest of their friends were still in line, but they'd started without them, and now Butters was going to do the same.
"Well! I just heard that Wendy got her period," Butters told them as he sat down, barely lowering his voice. He said it like he was happy for her, but he couldn't be, of course; Stan would bet that he was only happy to have been the first to hear a piece of salacious gossip and share it around, regardless of what it was or who it was about.
His gaze flicked immediately to Stan, as though searching for a reaction. Stan gave him one; he narrowed his eyes. He didn't think Butters would lie, but just because he believed something didn't make it true. "Who told you that?"
The strange thing was that everyone else was staring at Stan as well. Some of them actually looked him over, curious, like he had changed in the short time since Butters had made his announcement. As though it was his first period, vicariously, through the body of Wendy. Even though he had admittedly dozed through most of their 4th grade sex education, he was at least confident that that was not how that worked.
"Nobody did," Butters said, shrugging, "but I heard Bebe and Heather talkin' about it in the lunch line. Bebe said she's going to see Wendy after dinner tonight 'cause she's all sick with her first period."
"Yeah, who would tell Butters," Kyle commented, mildly, going back to his meal.
Stan made a face. "Why are you telling me?"
Stan knew that entering a relationship with Wendy was kind of like a legal contract; their business was always wrapped up in one another's, her playground affairs became his and his personal problems became hers. But some things were still theirs alone. Like their friends, and their lunch hours. Wendy had never seemed remotely interested in progress reports on his approaching puberty, so he had never provided them, and he was sure that was supposed to go both ways.
Kenny was staring at him, perplexed. "Uh, Stan, this is kind of a big deal."
"It means she can get pregnant now," Kyle informed him. He looked less amused than the others, but he was frowning in that concerned way of his, the way he did when he was just starting to realise that a plan was going awry and somebody was going to get hurt. It didn't make Stan feel any better about the way this discussion was going.
"Okay?" he said, raising an eyebrow. "I still don't see what that has to do with me."
Kenny snorted, and Clyde laughed into his tray of gooey canteen mac and cheese. Stan decided that tomorrow, he wouldn't sit with either of them.
Butters' excitement was fading. He rested his chin in his hand, his eyes downcast. "It must be pretty bad, since she's not at school. Now she wont get perfect attendance this year."
That elicited a wince from Stan. Wendy always strived for perfect attendance - on more than one occasion she'd dragged herself to school with a cold or flu, coughing and sneezing and shivering through class to get that award at the end of the year.
She would probably be upset about it. Stan didn't like the thought of it; Wendy being at home all day with nothing to do, imagining the gaping 4th grade hole in her perfect attendance ribbon collection that would be there for the rest of her life. "Bebe's going after school?" He rested his chin in his hand. "Maybe I should go too."
"Okay, but come by my locker first?" Kenny said, conspiratorially, leaning in, and Stan found himself instinctively leaning closer as well. "I have some condoms I can give you, since you'll need them now."
The table erupted in laughter. Stan could only roll his eyes.
Stan always looked so out of place in her bedroom. Being there seemed to make him nervous; a lone foreign body surrounded by Wendy's personality, splashed across every wall in every lick of pink paint and impeccably arranged with every piece of pink stationary on her desk. His eyes lingered on her trophy shelf. He had one in his room too. It made them a good match.
"Stan!" Wendy chirped in greeting, sitting up and smoothing out the blankets she had disturbed by doing it. They were warm to the touch, from a combination of her body heat and the fluffy hot water bottle resting low on her abdomen, recently refilled, and toasty.
He looked her over, her sickbed; she had some books piled on the nightstand, a half-full mug of herbal tea atop a coaster, and some stuffed animals lined up beside her on the mattress, for moral support. And she was wearing her pjyamas, which was not how Stan usually saw her.
He cleared his throat, but his voice came out as a croak. "Hey Wendy."
"How are you?" Wendy smiled at him. It only seemed to unnerve him further. "Did you bring my homework?"
It was a redundant question, really; he knew her too well not to.
"Uh- yeah," he said, and shrugged his backpack off, shifting it around to the front of him and rifling around in it for an oddly long time. "Mr Garrison said missing one day of fourth grade isn't a big deal, but I knew you'd want to see the worksheets we did, so..."
He eventually found a few crumpled papers, and then stood there in the middle of her room, looking stricken, like he wasn't sure how to safely transfer them from his hand to hers.
"Stan," Wendy asked, kindly, "you know I don't have cooties, right?"
"I know!" he said, raising his metaphorical hackles - but then he stopped himself and sighed. "No, of course you don't have cooties, I just... wasn't sure if you wanted me here. I don't know what I'm doing," he admitted. He raised the plastic bag in his other hand. "But I brought you some stuff."
"Thank you." Wendy patted the mattress next to her. Stan set the papers down on her desk before he came to sit, perched with his knees pressed tightly together, never looking directly at her. It reminded her of when he used to throw up in lieu of speaking to her, and she hoped that particular reflex wouldn't be making an appearance today.
He put the plastic bag in his lap and started taking things out one at a time, more self-consciously than Wendy had seen him do anything in quite a while.
He handed her a Snickers bar first, and then another one. They were both king-size. Then he produced a gigantic bar of Hershey's, the largest one they sold at Sooper Foods. She made the appropriate grateful noises and set them aside, though she had her eye on those Snickers bars for after dinner later. Wendy's mother had already agreed that she could eat as much chocolate as she wanted today, and while she wasn't really experiencing the cravings she'd heard about, Wendy had to admit that she was only human.
There was a lull in the gift-giving as Stan hesitated over the last item; and then he stopped hesitating, and handed over a box of tampons, looking away sharply as he did so, suddenly captivated by a butterfly decal on the wall on the other side of the room.
Wendy had to bite her lip to keep from laughing. She made a convincing show of examining the box without betraying anything; it was blue and standard and uninteresting.
To Stan it must have looked like she was smiling, because in her periphery she noticed his shoulders relax slightly. "This is really considerate of you," she said. Hopefully, he allowed his eyes to meet hers. He was trusting, like an injured deer, and she knew that she had to be honest. Gently, she smiled again. "It's just that I don't use these."
That made him recoil. She glared at him, unable to help herself, and he looked helpless in his confusion.
"I thought all girls used them? Otherwise the blood would just..." He made a gesture with his hands; holding them close together and them bringing them apart, demonstrating expansion.
"Well, there are a few things you can use." Wendy felt her cheeks flush, even though this was nothing to be embarrassed about. Her mother had told her so, and Wendy herself had repeated that fact to the other girls when Bebe got her first period two months ago. "Tampons, menstrual cups..." she elaborated, though from the look on Stan's face he had clearly never heard of those before. "I use pads. Disposable ones right now, but when I get my next allowance I'm going to buy some cloth ones online. They're better for the environment," she added. "And there are so many independent sellers making ones with cute designs. I already have some picked out."
"Cool," Stan said.
"I think so," Wendy agreed. It cheered her up to think of it. It also cheered her up to think of Stan at a checkout counter, valiantly purchasing a few pounds of chocolate and a box of tampons. Before setting them down with her other gifts, she said, "I'll donate these to the shelter on the way home from school tomorrow."
Stan opened his mouth to say something, and then reconsidered. Then he blinked. In the end, he only nodded.
His posture reminded her of how people tended to sit on the exam bed in a doctor's office; under scrutiny, anxious but composed. The silence stretched on. Wendy found it amicable, but she had a feeling that Stan did not.
"Do you want to cuddle?" Wendy found herself saying. She wasn't sure where it had come from. Mostly the fact that she didn't want to get out of bed, but she also didn't want Stan to leave, and so it seemed like the thing to do.
They had never 'cuddled' before, technically. They hugged often, as a display of solidarity and emotional support, and they kissed sometimes, shyly and clumsily, in school hallways or on the playground with too many eyes on them. Cuddling involved prolonged contact and a level of intimacy that either of them had yet experienced. It was more relaxed than either of them were capable of being most of the time.
Stan was staring at her. Fidgeting. He fidgeted a lot when he was nervous, and it made Wendy want to take his wrists and hold them steady, especially when she could see him digging his fingernails into the palms of his hands, like he was now.
It was a strange question, but Wendy understood. Without breaking eye contact, Wendy lifted the corner of her blanket. She shifted over, taking her hot water bottle with her and displacing a few stuffed animals; the ones that remained on the bed pressed into her back and her sides, not uncomfortably.
Stan removed his jacket and draped it over the back of her desk chair. Then he climbed in beside her. He was cold from the walk, and he didn't seem to know where to put any of his limbs - Wendy shifted over again, so that they were sitting side-by-side more than anything, and Stan propped himself up on her pillows and looked around the room like he couldn't quite believe where he currently was.
"How come you weren't at school today?" Stan asked. His tone indicated that this had been on his mind for a while, and Wendy appreciated that. He gave a concerned, but fleeting, glance to where her stomach was hidden underneath the blankets. "It is like... hurting you?"
"A little." She sighed, sinking back into her pillows. "It was mostly the stress."
"Of becoming a woman?"
Wendy drew back to look at him. The expression on his face was open, understanding, like he meant it, and that made her smile.
"More like the stress of waking up in a pool of my own blood." Wendy was good at managing stress, she thought, and compartmentalising was practically her middle name, but this morning had really thrown her. It was the fact that even though she knew it was going to come at some point over the next few years, it felt sudden, and she wasn't prepared - physically, mentally, or emotionally. She wasn't sure if anyone could be. But Stan wouldn't understand that. He didn't understand the concept of being prepared for anything. She shook her head. "But anyway, it's okay now. I won't have to miss any more school."
"That's a relief," Stan said. He inched closer. Wendy let him. "We should have lunch together tomorrow. Just the two of us," he added, as though Wendy thought he might have actually been inviting her to dine with the likes of Craig Tucker and Eric Cartman, as Stan inexplicably did every single day.
"Sure," Wendy said. Their arms were pressed together now, and they were close enough for her to rest her head on his shoulder, so she did. He was a little bony, but his t-shirt was soft. He went tense beneath her, but then exhaled deeply and relaxed, and almost without thinking she wrapped her arm around him, and closed her eyes, and felt glad that he had come instead of Bebe - this was better than a recount of the day's gossip, for sure. "That would be nice. This is nice," she said.
Stan wriggled slightly, getting more comfortable. "I don't have to be home until dinner."
"Good." She smiled against his shirt without opening her eyes. "Then you can tell me everything I missed at school today," she said, knowing full and well that Stan would have forgotten most of it, and that she would be fast asleep, anyway, by the time this became a problem.