I lay awake in Pip's bed at midnight, feeling terrible that I was in a warm bed, while he was on the floor in the other room… or out taking a walk. I already felt like an ass for crying, especially in the presence of the kid my friend and I had teased mercilessly, but somehow I didn't seem to mind when it happened, as if we had already grown close as friends. He seemed to understand, and I felt a strange new warmth as he held me in his arms, like there was someone who actually cared. I don't remember being hugged by anyone, not even my close friends or parents, for years. No one has come into contact with me… except for Kelly. And for some reason, I couldn't stand being touched by her. It was as if I were one of her possessions, and she was going out with me for the sake of going out with me. Like she only cared about herself.
And I don't remember spilling my feelings like that… ever. Not even with Kelly. The other boys just wouldn't let me, probably because they thought I was too shy since I constantly concealed my face with my hood. I was a shy little tyke, but once I started going without my hood one step at a time, I conquered my fear. But somehow the others wouldn't let me have a word… except for Eric, who loved listening to the dirty jokes I had learned when Dad made me tag around with him at the bar. Eric was probably the closest thing to a brother to me, and for some reason I loved being ripped on because I was so poor, and it was so nice to see that the town cared about me when I was stuck in his body. And then Rob Schneider had to make a box-office flop about me, which was humiliating, but I didn't care because it was nice to get my name out there. I guess it was just the attention, that's it. I had grown up with no attention, or negative attention, and it just felt really good to have someone who showed he cared. Even if it's Pip.
Somehow, his friendly affection seems to push Kevin's death out of my head. When I close my eyes, I can feel the velvety folds of his jacket and his warm hands on my back and shoulder, showing he was there for me. I could feel his wisps of golden hair brush the side of my face, and he smelled so good, like… like…
Jesus. Tapdancing. Christ. It can't be.
It honestly can't be. Not this way! Could everything I believed in since I was a child… could it have just been my denial?
I walk into the living area. Pip is nowhere in sight. I heave a sigh, but not one of relief. It's more like… disappointment?
I see a ribbon of light before me, the door slowly opens, and— speak of the devil— Pip has entered, but he's wearing a new outfit. He looks good in it. "Kenny!" he exclaims, looking shocked. "What are you doing up at this hour?"
"What are you doing in your clothes at this hour?" I ask, noticing he is holding his violin. "And with your violin?"
I see him blush. "I will be honest… I was at Estella's house, trying to woo the love of my life with my opus, which is the piece that I had practiced while here."
Unless Estella is a boy's name, which is extremely unlikely… My heart sinks to the floor, which still confuses me. For my entire life, I have convinced myself that I was straight, that girls were the sole reason to live. And now comes the answer why I broke up with Kelly; why I had died a virgin; why I felt closer to Eric than all of my other friends. "Oh." I cannot hide my disappointment.
"I thought you were asleep," says the English boy. "If I had known you were awake, I would have invited you to come with me."
Oh, you wish it were as simple as that… I feel like shit that was shat double and fornicated on. I quickly walk to the bedroom, shut the door, and cry myself to sleep. That night was filled with restless dreams of my brother dying in the flames… and there was nothing I could do because I was French-kissing my English lover.
"I heard you crying last night, Kenny," says Pip the next morning over breakfast. I can barely look at him, still remembering how vivid the dreams had been. Instead, I take a bite of jam-covered toast and pretend to be absorbed in finding strange patterns in the way it was smeared on the bread. "Is something the matter?"
I close my eyes tightly, hearing Kevin's screams as I imagine the part of the dream where I grab Pip's firm ass and he lets out a squeal of delight, only to become silenced by my tongue pushing at his, shivering his tongue slides down my throat. I smack the side of my head to beat the image out. There was no way I was in love with him. I hastily take another bite of toast, wishing for the image to go away, but after all, this is Hell, and that would only amplify everything. "No," I manage to say after swallowing my toast.
"Kenny, I know how much you want to make amends with Kevin, and today is the day we search for him," Pip proposes to me.
"No… please, no. You've already done so much; you've taken me into your home… if anything, I'm the one who should be in debt to you." And I am willing to repay you in any way possible, even if it means losing any chance of you loving me. As a friend. And yet… Kevin. My brother.
"Your utmost friendship is all I need," says Pip, sounding like a prince of blood. My stomach sinks below the floor.
We walk through the park, and once again I feel ridiculously underdressed (and I am guessing that Pip feels ridiculously overdressed.) I wore the same thing I had worn yesterday, and he wore the beautiful green clothes that he had worn the night before. I see the hundreds of corpses in various stages of decaying hanging from the trees, and I feel those hands grip at my heart as I know that none of those are Kevin... or at least I think so. When I look at Pip, I feel worse, as if... good God, no! Where the hell could he be? He could very well be anywhere, and Hell is growing larger by the minute. I see the unfortunate souls gathered before a stage for their orientation, and I can't help but feel sorry for them. I wonder if Kevin is among them; if a soul dies in Hell, it needs to endure orientation.
Tortured souls pass us, talking about how horrible this place is and how lucky the Mormons must be, naturally. But I've been to Heaven, which is like a boring Hell with clouds. Better here than a world away from the people one loves. I'd rather be in Hell with the people I love than alone in Heaven. Still… the real Heaven and Hell are states of mind, not places. So one can be in Heaven the place, but still endure Hell as a state of mind, and vice versa. But what am I to analyze, anyway? I need to find my dear brother.
The orientation is finished, and the people-watching is getting tiresome. Pip takes out his violin and begins to practice, more fervently than ever. I can feel each note strike a chord in my heart, as if he and I had been through the same thing. I can feel the vibrato almost lift me off my feet, as if it were the flapping of wings… I hear his incomplete song and yearn to hear the ending.
"Lovely," I say without thinking.
"It's not complete," Pip replies. "Lord, I have tried so hard for days, and still no melody seems right!" Frustrated, he places the instrument back in its case and shuts it with a bang. I almost feel sorry for case, having just taken abuse from a beautiful artist.
"Maybe you need inspiration." The words just slipped out in a way that, to me, sounded as if I might have been coming on to him. Damn.
"Beg pardon?" he asks, narrowing his eyes. Suddenly, they widen, and his face turns a shade of white I know I have seen before. I turn around to see the two lovers I had seen the day before, walking with their arms and fingers entwined like an elaborate rope. The boy was wearing the same eye makeup, and his black hair was dyed blood-red at the ends, and I wondered if he had used real blood. His shirt had a picture of a flaming gold cross and black-and-white stripes down the sleeves; he wore baggy pants with chains hanging out of their many pockets. The girl wore a dark green, velvet, lacy dress and a dark red hat with a veil. Her dark blonde hair trailed down her back, and she wore more makeup than her boyfriend. Estella, I think. "My Lord," Pip whispers in my ear. I can feel the staggered breathing that means he's about to cry. "It's Damien… and Estella."
Damien… of course! He was Pip's former friend who had turned on him… everyone's worst nightmare is when the one they have a crush on is dating their worst enemy.
My Damien, hand in hand with his Estella… the girl whom I had once courted back when I still lived in England. He hasn't taken notice of me in eternity, it seems, and he only cares about his silly girlfriend. His succubus girlfriend.
I could not cry in front of Kenny. He'd think I was… even if I am… The tears began to sting, and I could feel hands grabbing at me from the inside, wrenching everything out of place. I want to play my violin in a cruel serenade to their new love, but… I just can't. My fingers have frozen stiff, and my mind and heart are blanks.
"Hey, you! Yeah, you, Damien!" I can hear Kenny yelling at Damien, and the latter immediately diverts his attention from Estella.
"Who is it, my large-testicled love?" wonders Estella, her voice resounding as beautifully as ever.
Damien kisses Estella on the cheek. "It's just that boy we saw yesterday, my dearest. Don't worry; I'll take care of that shit-eater in no time." He storms towards us to have a face-off against Kenny. "What the hell do you want, commoner?"
"You stay the hell away from that Estella, you hear me?" Kenny sounds mad. "You're not deserving of her."
"Hey, you stay away from my bitch, dickface, or I'll really give you something to cry about."
"How dare you talk to me like that! Don't you remember me? I'm Kenny McCormick!" Their noses are an inch apart, and I begin to edge away. What if he knew about my sexuality? What if he was trying to fix him up with me? I want to shout at him, but somehow I hope that he'll get him to notice me…
Damien laughs. "Kenny McCormick? You mean the boy I turned into a platypus? You're a platypus and a pussy. Hey… platy-pussy! That's funny!" He bursts into laughter again, and I wonder if this was as cruel as he had been in school.
Kenny's face turns pink, then red, then crimson. "Fuck you!" He punches Damien square in the face, forcing him to fall to the ground. A fight erupts, like a dirty playground fight of sorts. A crowd gathers around it as Damien gets up and pins Kenny to the ground, beating him senseless.
Kenny grins. "Is that the best you can do, bitch?" He writhes for one moment, and Damien releases his grip. All of a sudden, they're punching and kicking each other senseless and trying to force the other onto the ground. Blood rains down upon the ground, and their faces become quite colorful from bruises. I can't watch, only weep for their lives as they beat each other senseless. Estella seems to be doing the same, then gasps as she notices me among the crowd, quickly whipping her head away.
"NO!" I shout, forcing myself between the two of them, shoving Damien to the ground.
All three stare, wide-eyed.
"Pip Pirrup?" wonders Damien. "Is that you? I thought we'd gotten rid of you!"
"Of course it's me!" I exclaim. "Whom did you expect?"
Kenny looks up at us through an extremely black, purple-lined eye. "He's my friend, and I'd do anything for him!"
"Unless you can prove your worth, get the fuck out of our eternity," Damien growls at me, obviously not caring about anyone except himself.
Somehow, this is too much. I push the crowd aside, grab my violin and its bow, and sprint away from everything. There's nothing I hate more than this kind of rejection… and from Damien. I can hear Kenny's shouts telling me to come back, but I reject them… just like my dark prince rejected me. As I grow weary from running so much, I sit on a rock and try to play, but once again I draw a blank. I set everything down and begin to cry into my hands, and I don't care who sees me. Why does everyone I love have to turn me down? Why am I always the one given a hard time by others? Even Damien stabbed me in the back when I thought we would become best friends…
I can hear a voice. "Kenny's looking for you, Pip," it says. I look up through my red-rimmed eyes to see Satan, who was Kenny's companion. I had not realized that until now. "And he loves you as more than just a friend, but he has yet to realize it."
I feel everything contorting inside me. It can't be..."And what…" I sob. "What about Damien? Will he ever fall in love… with me?"
The devil smiles. "Only if you perform that hauntingly beautiful violin piece that you seem to practice endlessly. He tells me that he's fallen in love with it when he and his girlfriend are taking their walks."
A thought occurs to me. I ask between sobs, "What about… Kenny's… brother? Do you know… where he is?"
"I do," replies Satan. He hands me an envelope. "This is your invitation to Damien's seventeenth birthday party tonight, and directions to where Kevin lives. And now I hope that you will both get what you are truly looking for." He disappears in a puff of smoke, looking rather despondent as he does so.
At that point, Kenny runs up to me, his injuries growing worse. "There you are… why did you run away like that?"
Even if Satan had outed Kenny to me, I can't say a word about it so as not to upset him. "My… love did not want me." I quickly diverted from the subject and held out the envelope. "Satan gave me this. And now I'll be able to perform for the love of my life tonight… and you will find your brother."
Kenny looks disappointed. "Really…"
We barely speak to each other on the walk home, as if something were horribly wrong. I spend the afternoon practicing furiously and preparing myself for the soon-to-be wonderful night in which Damien would finally wend his way into my arms and all would be well in Hell… and yet I feel a strange emptiness that grows as I dress myself.
I feel a dreadful loss as I see Pip enter the living room. I had stayed inside, nursing my own wounds, and reading over the directions to where Kevin lived. I had dreamed of the time when I would finally see my brother again, but why does it come with a heavy heart? He looks absolutely beautiful, like an angel that fell from the sky. He had brushed his blonde hair until it shone and curled gently around his face, framing it just so. He wears a black velvet cap that set it off even worse with its contrast, encircled by a golden tulle ribbon that was shaped into a flower and the ends were draped over the edge so they hung down and brushed against his hair. Around his neck was a frilled white cravat, on which a perfectly-cut blue sapphire on a gold backing was pinned, and the frills genty encircled it. He wore a black velvet jacket that had golden lining on the wide lapels and on the edges of the sleeves. On each sleeve was a golden cuff link with a picture of a rose carved into it, and from the ends protruded white frills like the cravat had. A gold line descended in the center and split into two, accentuating the frock in the back (I believe that's what it's called) that started at his thighs and reached his knees.
I want to cry my heart out as I see his trousers. They were extremely tight, made of leather, cut low on the midriff and high on his beautiful legs. His boots were glossy and also leather-bound and reached up to his knees, and they had a large slit down the middle that was bridged by a series of gold buckles like his shoes had. He seemed to wear fishnet tights underneath the boots, which made him look like somewhat of a stripper. The worst part of all was that the trousers were cut so low and the jacket cut so high, part of his strong stomach was exposed. His dear Estella was going to be swept off her feet by the suit alone.
He picks up his violin case and a crimson rose. "Well, Kenny… it looks like we're off." He sounds apprehensive.
I feel choked up and realize I cannot lay eyes upon him lest I become heartbroken. "Yeah," I manage to squeeze out. "I make peace with Kevin, and you…" I wish I could stop the tears… "…you make love to Estella."
Pip does not seem excited by the thought, but I refuse to look at him. I can't. We venture through the shadowy halls as night falls in Hades. It is barely eight, and already our surroundings are growing dark. I can barely see how sad he looks, as if he's about to lose the most important thing in the world.
"Goodbye," I manage to say. "I'll see you around then, Pip."
"I'll… see you, Kenny."
I can't turn around. I won't turn around. I refuse to look at him again as I tread down the path that led through the dark, dead, black forest. Seeing pairs of corpses and skeletons hanging from the trees are a painful reminder of what I lost, and I can barely hold it in. I join in with the agonized screams of the souls, for I am one of them. I lost everything important to me. This is Hell beyond Hell, one from which I can never escape.
I arrive at the shores of the Dark Ocean— a sea of dark thoughts tightly compacted into liquid below freezing temperature. A cape extends over the shores, and there is a lighthouse. I venture through the grey sand as lightning flashes in the black sky, illuminating my way. I knock on the door, hoping that it was the right one.
And then I see Kevin open the door. His bruises and cuts are gone, and his teeth are perfectly straight. He smiles as he realizes who this visitor is. "Kenny!" He exclaims. We hug each other so tightly my lungs are squished. "Boy, am I happy to see you!" He finally lets go.
I stand shocked. He… was actually pleased to see me? "Really?" I ask.
"Sure!" he replies. (His vocabulary hasn't exactly improved.) "Anyone who risked dyin' tryin' to save me is someone I'll love forever. And I've always loved ya as a brother, Kenny, even when I tried to steal your waffles."
I hold back a giggle. "So you're not mad that I didn't save you in time?"
"Of course not, Kenny!" exclaims Kevin. "If it wasn't for that, I never would of lost those goddurn braces or met my wife or lived in this here beautiful lighthouse! Y'see, even if I went to Hell the place, it seems like Heaven to me."
Straight from the horse's mouth… the horse being his brother.
I reach into my pocket and pull out the braces, ready to give up the painful reminder of my past life. "I'm sure you'd like these back, Kevin."
"Nah, you keep 'em. I have no use for them things anyway."
I turn to leave, then turn back. "Kevin?" I ask.
"Yeah?" wonders my brother.
"You'll always be proud of me, no matter how I choose to live my life?"
"As long as you make your own Heaven, you'll do me proud, Kenny. Heck, I was always proud of you. I mean, comin' back from the dead! Now that's somethin' you don't see every day!"
I smile back at Kevin. "I'm glad I got to see you again," I say. "And I promise I'll go to my own patch of Heaven down here." We hug again until our ribs crack, and I turn to leave, hearing Kevin shut the door. Instead of turning back, I walk to the very edge of the cape and drop the braces into the ocean. I wasn't going to need them anymore.
I make the journey back to the apartment, and somehow I feel as if something had been lifted off my back, and as if something even greater than ever is going to happen to me. I feel like I can conquer the world. I can feel the butterflies flutter around in my stomach as I reach the apartment complex, make my way up the stairs and into our condo.
"Kenny!" I hear Pip's voice calling out from the dimly-lit room.
"Pip?" I ask. "How was it? Did Estella fall in love with you?"
"I didn't go." Pip turns the light up. He is still wearing the suit he had adorned earlier that evening. "And Estella?" He sounds perplexed. "No… this might come as a shock to you, but… I was in love with Damien."
Somehow, that did not bother me. I felt intrigued by this, as if I knew where this was headed. I hope he knows...
"And I thought he had been the one for me, but when I saw how you were willing to sacrifice your own dignity and well-being… I realized that you were the one I loved instead of him." He takes me gently yet firmly by the hand and guides me to the bedroom, lit softly by candles that shone light on his delicate features. I sit on his bed, watching him intently. He picks up his violin and sets it under his chin, holding the strings and the bow taut. "And this is for you, from my heart to yours." He begins to play his unfinished opus, the beautiful song resonating through the room and in my mind. Every note grew sweeter; every chord deeper; every melody more beautiful and more haunting. I am entranced by the mellifluous sound, feeling as if I were in one true Heaven. The song takes me on a journey through love, heartbreak, and a search. Then comes a part I had never heard him practice before, one that reflects how he found true love in me, a vibrant ending to one of the most beautiful and transcendant pieces ever composed.
The last chord dies out in a wavery vibrato, and all is silent. As Pip places his violin and bow back in the case, I rise from the bed and hold him gently in my arms. He embraces me back, more passionately than ever.
"I love it," I murmur to him. "I love it with all my heart." I love you, Pip. I love you with all my heart. I don't have to say it. He already knows.
"You were my inspiration, Kenny…" my love whispers back to me, brushing his cheek against mine.
And then our lips meet each other in an unforgettable kiss.
I close my eyes, and I see Kevin beaming at us. It is at this moment I know that I have Pip and I have finally found our Heaven.