All right, guys, here's another entry for that contest you've all heard so much about.
Now, here are some notes about it.
Yes, it's a one-shot. This site wouldn't let me post it in one chapter, so I had to split it. But technically, from a literary standpoint (man, I'm a douche), it's a single story. Really. I know, it's long. Really.
It wouldn't let me fit the entire title, either, which happens to be I Came A Long Way To See You, Now I Wish You Were Dead. Yes, that's the song from that GTA IV commercial. I just kept listening to it while writing this, and it began to stick, and I didn't have a better title anyhow. Oh, and it kind of works.
I also finally figured out to shun all dollar signs. Yeah.
I really hope you like this.
South Park tourism was anchored on the downtown strip, a block of 1930s storefronts with chintzy boutique businesses and coffee shops. There was a post office, a toy store, and, for some reason, an outpatient rhinoplasty clinic. Less suspect were a pair of antiques stores — a regular staple of the rural American town. Despite the similar premise, however, stores A and B were about as different as they were overpriced. One was only accessible by buzzer, and a sign on the door bore the following: Opening Hours Tues.-Thurs., noon-4 p.m. or by appointment. Cosmopolitan travelers through town would press their noses against the window to get a glimpse of startling 90-degree angles and overblown glass forms in tangerine and aquamarine, curling around themselves on stark marble coffee tables. Unfortunately, a nose pressed up to the glass would usually leave an unsightly smudge, which had the effect of sending the shop owner into something approaching a blind rage.
And if scaring away formerly potential customers by going apeshit on them was bad for business, well, Craig didn't really give a crap about that. He was the sort of man who catered to the sort of customers who were fonder of mid-century modernism (anti-kitsch, Craig would say) than they were of their own dignity. If the man selling them this Barcelona chair was howling at them to get their fucking hands off of the Red Wing, it must only have been because he was just so dedicated, so passionate, about his trade. And besides — what Craig lost in sales thanks to his temper, he generally made up at the espresso bar in the back.
Craig had a second source of income — he was a landlord. Thanks in part to his miraculous forethought during a real estate downturn a couple of decades back, he was the proud owner of not only his own store, but the retail space inhabited by the town's second antiques shop. (He also owned the apartment he inhabited, but he was loath to call this space his own, since he cohabitated with someone, a blond man with a tenuous grasp on his own stability, who happened to go fittingly by the name Tweek.)
Said second antiques store was a travesty by Craig's account; a pitiful excuse for a business largely cluttered with chintz and doilies and strange, glassy-eyed dolls. Mint-green velveteen sofas dripping in golden trim butted up against someone's grandmother's rolled-up Oriental rug, which was half-leaning and half-laying on a dressmaker's dummy, probably rescued from some old dressmaker's estate sale or worse yet, the alley behind the dry cleaners. Often Craig would catch Tweek pressing his nose against the glass of this store, and he would pause for a moment as the shopkeepers would give both of them friendly waves before getting back to whatever it was they'd been doing, going through Life magazines or scratching one another's backs or something. With each neighborly wave, Tweek would begin to return the gesture, and then Craig would give his tenants the finger before grabbing his skinny companion and dragging him back into their store. And on the way, while Tweek halfheartedly kicked in objection, Craig would glower at the charming wooden plaque attached proudly to the door: Kyle Broflovski and Stanley Marsh, proprietors.
On a Thursday evening, Mr. Broflovski and Mr. Marsh were sitting down to dinner in their dining room with Mr. Marsh's parents. The elder Marshes, Randy and Sharon, were privileged to have an open Thursday night invitation to their son's house. Stan and Kyle shared the belief that nothing was more important to either of them than family — and that included each other. After 40 years of friendship — and something like two and a half decades of 'courting,' as Stan's mother would coyly put it — it barely registered that they were not actually family by way of any technically definition. No, this was family of their own making, and in theory Kyle was more than happy to have his in-laws over.
He was a complicated man, Kyle Broflovski. He was not particularly interested in antiques, but when Stan had grinningly owned up to harboring a curious fascination with old junk, Kyle was there to support him. In the interest of making things happen, Kyle procured an MBA, which helped him master the technical and financial aspects of owning an entire shop full of old junk. And Stan went to work immersing himself in the daunting yet fulfilling world of antiques appraisal. Despite his complete disinterest in the subject, Kyle found something he loved in this business — a joint project. Something they could nurture together. Indeed, this was a sore spot in their relationship, and in the middle years — the middle years being relative to where they were now, not the projected ending — they had tried to fill the gap. Or rather, Kyle had tried, bringing home a string of unsuccessful plants and, when that went bust, pets. It turned out that cats set off Stan's asthma, and Kyle did not want to keep the schnauzer because it "didn't respect" him, a concept Stan found inherently laughable. For a few years there was a betta in the picture, but eventually he died, and all Stan and Kyle were left with, once again, was each other and their antiques business.
Furthermore, there was the small problem of Stan's father. It bothered Kyle, really and truly, that he never seemed to acknowledge their relationship. Sometimes he really felt the guy had no idea, and at other times he felt it must be denial. Randy saw Kyle as Stan's roommate, best friend, and business partner — and, well, he wasn't incorrect; Kyle was all of those things. But he was he felt this was missing the important part of the story — and he was becoming slowly but surely enraged with Randy Marsh's bizarre inability to see it. So as he served Stan's mother some green beans, he gritted his teeth and tried to tolerate Stan's father's ridiculous rambling.
"I don't know, Stan," he was saying, poking at his pork chop. "I'm beginning to think there's more to your relationship than you let on."
"Well, Dad," Stan replied through a mouthful of stuffing. "There is."
"I mean, I liked a lot of the guys I worked with, but I never moved in with any of them."
Stan's mother just rolled her eyes at this. "Would you please pass the gravy?" she asked her son.
"Sure," Stan said sheepishly. Kyle gave him a warning look as he sat down and preciously folded his napkin into his lap. Stan handed the gravy boat to his mother, and returned Kyle's look with his best, I know, but what am I supposed to do? expression.
"People are going to start thinking you guys are a little…" Randy thought for a moment. "You know, closer than you should be."
"Okay," Stan agreed. "They can think that. We want them to think that."
"Please tell me," Kyle said mock-pleasantly, his fork of green beans in mid-air, "How close do you think we should be?" He took bite of green bean. "Mr. Marsh," he added through his full mouth as a sign of cursory respect he didn't really have.
"Well, I don't know. You ever think instead of sharing a bedroom and having a guest room, you guys should maybe just … have separate rooms?"
"Oh, Jesus, Randy," Sharon sighed, rubbing her temples. "Must we go through this every week?"
"No," Stan said. "Dad, we like sharing a room. We love each other. In a lot of ways."
"Oh, Jesus," Sharon repeated. "Stanley, do you have any wine?"
"Yeah," Stan said slowly. "White or red?"
"Yeah." Stan got up from the table, but not before wiping his mouth with his napkin. "Excuse me," he said softly.
Randy pressed on. "I mean, I can appreciate good, platonic, manly love." He directed these words to Kyle, who almost immediately wanted to just grab the other man by the collar and shake him and scream in his face, We're homosexuals, godammit! But he was slightly too polite to do this — although not by much, really. "It's like, what are you going to do if Stan decides to get married?"
"I don't know," Kyle said, intrigued by something all of a sudden. "I guess we'd have a wedding."
"Right." Randy nodded. "But where would you go? Would you get your own place?"
"I am not going anywhere, Mr. Marsh," Kyle said sternly.
"It's kinda weird for a married guy to be living with his buddy." Randy paused. "But no weirder than a couple of bachelors living together, I guess," he added.
This was when Stan returned from the kitchen, with a bottle of de-corked chardonnay and a glass for his mother. "Here you go, Mom," he said warmly, setting these things down in front of her.
"Took you long enough," Sharon mumbled, going straight for the bottle.
"Stan," Kyle sighed. "Your father wants to know what would happen if we got married."
"To other people," Randy clarified.
"No one's getting married," Stan said definitively, seating himself again.
"But what if you finally meet the right person?" Randy pressed.
"He did," Kyle insisted.
"Yeah," Stan agreed. He smiled and reached for Kyle's hand. "Look, Dad. We have each other, okay? That's all we need. No one's getting married, or moving into the guest room. No one's moving out. This is our house."
"Okay, so you're a committed ladies' man," Randy conceded. "What about you, Kyle? Don't you want to meet a nice girl and settle down?"
"But how do you know for sure until you've met someone?" Hearing this, Kyle whined softly, and put his head in his hands, elbows on the table, narrowly avoiding knocking over the salt, which Stan quickly grabbed and moved.
"Randy," Sharon seethed, fingernails clicking on the surface of her wine glass. "Can we please not talk about this anymore?"
"I'm just wondering, is all," Randy said pathetically.
"Well, I don't think the boys want to be having this conversation." She sniffed, and then added, "again."
"Is it just me, or is it hot in here?" Stan asked, fanning himself a bit too demonstratively. "And how about those Nuggets, huh?"
"Just drop it, Stan," Kyle ordered.
"You guys fight like you're married," Randy observed. "But then, I guess that's what happens when you live together for so long. I used to time my roommates' showers when I was in college."
"Did you also used to fuck them in the ass?" Kyle asked.
Stan sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose and uttered, "Make it stop." His mother's hand shot out for the wine bottle.
"Actually," Randy said brightly, "I did, once." He paused. "Oh, wait. That was my roommate Esteban's girlfriend. Sorry, I thought she was living with us at the time, but she wasn't."
Kyle finished the meal with his head in his hands, pondering whether he was trying to stop himself from laughing or crying or both.
"It's been years, Stan," Kyle hissed as the door slammed behind him, mere moments after Stan's parents' departure.
"Has it?" Stan asked, voice somewhat ringing with trepidation. "Wow. The time goes so fast when you're spending it with someone you love and think is spectacular and you want to take them to bed right now." Stan put his hands together in mock devotion, appealing to the god of Kyle's sex drive, wherever he or she was at the moment.
"Yeah right," Kyle snorted. "Like I could possibly maintain an erection after that pathetic excuse for a family dinner."
"Oh, you're just saying that," Stan scoffed. "Give me three, no, two minutes, and I'll prove you wrong."
Kyle crossed his arms and leaned against the wall at the bottom of the stairs. He was half-hoping Stan would make good on his word, but he shook it off to continue his berating. "It's been 25 years, Stan," he growled. "I've had to deal with you fucking father treating me like I'm just some goddamned roommate for 25 years."
"Yeah," Stan agreed, now focusing on trying to side-step this argument altogether. "You are so right about that."
"So what are you going to do about it?"
"Me? I have nothing to do with it!"
"I'm sick of being treated like a second-class citizen in my own house!" Kyle screeched abruptly.
Stan frowned at this assessment. "Oh, second-class citizen, that's rich. I'm the one who has to spend my life amid your horrible late-1980s decor because you're too goddamn cheap to redecorate."
"Oh, wah wah wah, Stan. Do you want to spend your retirement in South Beach, or do you want to spend it in some sleazy old people home in the middle of rural fucking Colorado because you couldn't stand the fact that I put lavender Corian in the kitchen?"
At the mention of the sore subject that was the lavender Corian, Stan really cracked. "It's hideous! It's hideous and you're hideous and I hate you sometimes, I just fucking hate you!" Kyle uncrossed his arms, and his face fell. No longer angry, he slumped and shuffled into the living room and plopped down into a chair. "Oh, God," Stan sighed. He followed him, realizing his mistake. "Kyle, I'm so sorry."
Kyle rubbed his eyes. "You think I'm hideous?" he sniffed.
"Oh, no, no — Kyle, you're the most attractive person I know."
"That is such a lie. I know you secretly want George Clooney, Stan. I know you don't make me sit through those ER reruns because you enjoy medical drama."
"Well, maybe a little," Stan admitted. "But I don't know him. You're the most beautiful person I know, Kyle, really."
"Well, is that really saying so much in South Park?"
Stan thought for a minute. "Yes. For a tiny mountain town where no one knows how to dress themselves, an outsized number of people here are remarkably attractive."
"And I'm the most attractive?"
"Even though I have a big, ugly Jew nose?"
"Especially because you have a big, ugly Jew nose."
"You mean it?" Kyle pressed.
"With every fiber of my being," Stan confirmed. "And I feel bad about my dad, Kyle, I really do. But what do you want from me?"
Kyle rubbed at his nose. "Well," he began thoughtfully. "For one thing, I want you to come out to him."
"Okay," Stan said slowly. "I understand that. But we've been living together for 23 years, Kyle. You were my date to my sister's wedding. Hell, you walked down the aisle with me. We were holding hands. He's seen us kiss and, um, cuddle, and fucking slow dance. I know I never sat down with him and said, 'Daddy, I'm gay, do you still love me?" but the fact is, well, it's not like I'm hiding it." Kyle just rolled his eyes. "I mean, for god sakes, Kyle, I run an antiques shop!"
"So he's an idiot. I don't care. I'm sick of him thinking that I'm your bachelor roommate, and I'm going to move out when one of us gets married."
"Well, what do you want me to do, then?"
"I want you to tell him you're gay with me, Stan!"
"I need more specifics."
"Okay, fine. You want more specifics? Here is what you can do, specifically. One, ask your mother to make dinner on Sunday night. Two, bring me to dinner. Three, after dinner, sit down in the living room with me and your parents and in no uncertain terms say, 'Daddy, I'm gay, and Kyle is my husband, and I love him very much.' "
Stan sighed, and uncrossed his legs. "All right, fine, I can do that," he conceded. "But there's one problem with your plan."
"And what would that be?"
Stan clasped his hands together. "You're not my husband. We're not married."
Kyle's expression soured again. "Well, maybe you need to fix that."
"What? Aw, come on!"
"No, Stan. This is something I want."
"Can't this end like our other fights, and we just skip to the makeup sex?"
"No! I want a wedding!"
"Okay, that's great, but someone's going to have to pay for it, and I don't want to spend that money because we need it to buy our shop from Craig!"
"My parents will pay for it!"
"Oh, that's just swell, you just think of everything," Stan grumbled. "The answer is no, Kyle. I can't control my dad, and I'm not having a wedding. If you can't take my love for what it is, then maybe you don't deserve it."
"When do I get what I want?" Kyle asked miserably. "Honestly, all I ever wanted was a pretty little house with pretty little children and a little extra money so that when I got too old for the mountains I could move to Florida like my parents and be with my husband. Is that so much to ask, Stan?"
Stan thought for a moment. He gestured to the couch. "Come here," he said gently.
"No." Kyle pouted, and crossed his arms again.
"Come on, Kyle."
"No, I'm pissed at you!"
"Aw, come on. Come sit next to me."
Kyle slumped his shoulders, and sighed. He got up from his chair and sat down next to Stan on the couch. He felt an arm go around his shoulders, and Stan pulled him in sort of close. "I know this isn't exactly what you wanted," Stan said calmly. "Well, it's not what I wanted, either. You think I wanted to still be paying Craig rent every month? Of course not. I thought I would own my own shop by the time I was 41."
"Sometimes I wish we could just close the fucking store."
"Well, I don't want that, either. We've put our lives into this business. I know some people have children, but we have an antiques shop."
Kyle felt Stan's chest rising and falling with his head pressed up against it. He let Stan grab one of his hands. "But I want babies," he said pitifully. "I want to be just like everyone else. I want to have what they have."
He searched for words, but Stan found none. He did what he could manage, which was try to be reassuring, tactile, breathe steadily and avoid making sudden movements. He wondered, once again, why Kyle had to worry about the future so often, leaving him alone to focus on the quiet moments that stitched their relationship together.
Kyle and Stan had a five-year lease on their shop. While Stan generally kept important dates in his head, Kyle meticulously scribbled little notes in the agenda he kept in the top drawer to the right of the sink in the kitchen. Each month, he used black block print to write out the message RENT DUE. (He scribbled notes about MORTGAGE DUE and OPTOMETRIST-STAN and DAD'S BIRTHDAY in different colors.) At the end of this month, however, instead of RENT DUE, he had scrawled SIGN NEW LEASE. And indeed, with their lease coming up for renewal in a mere two weeks, Kyle was beginning to wonder where Craig was, and why he had yet to turn up with their paperwork.
On Friday afternoon, Stan was talking on the phone to a customer with a question about cleaning the surface of an old table while Kyle worked in the back. While he generally pretended to feel rather put-upon by these greenhorns with their lame questions, Stan actually felt quite proud of himself for having some information other people might just be interested in hearing. "I'd just try dusting it first," he suggested. "Maybe go over it with a damp rag. Can you use a paper towel? I mean, I guess so. I usually don't." He paused when he heard the bells on the shop door tinkle. "Can I call you back?" he asked politely. "Someone just walked in."
Peering around an ornate bookcase, Stan saw that, at long last, Craig had come to discuss the renewal of the lease. "Great," he heard someone say behind him, and he realized that Kyle had emerged from behind his stack of receipts to see what was going on. He knew little to nothing about antiques or, for that matter, sales, so he generally didn't do anything when a customer came in. But Stan had noticed that Kyle was becoming very antsy about this business with their landlord, wondering what kind of increase if any there would be in their rent, and so on. "Wait," Kyle breathed, clutching at Stan's hand. "What the hell is he doing?"
Instead of any forms, Craig was holding a short, black leash. And on the end of that leash, looking particularly terrified, was Tweek.
"I don't know," Stan admitted.
Craig was looking around, impatient, and Tweek was just standing there, holding himself, shaking. That was pretty much all Tweek did — in their experience with the guy, Stan and Kyle found him to be a walking personification of the nervous system, all synapses and no grace whatsoever. He had ear-length blond hair and pale skin and sunken eyes. He was prone to looking eternally frightened. They'd known him at school obviously. They'd spent some time hanging out with him, in fact — but that was a long time ago, and 30 years had gone by. They saw him around, mostly trailing Craig wherever he went, flinching and gasping at each order Craig barked to him. It never seemed like a great romance, but to Stan and Kyle, anything that failed to mimic their own relationship made no sense.
"What the fuck kind of weird S-and-M game are they playing now?" Kyle asked. Stan has no answer. He was studying what Craig was wearing: cut-off jean shorts and a wife-beater, both of which were appropriately tight, flattering nicely developed muscles. Oddly enough, in the eternal winter wonderland that was South Park, Craig somehow managed to remain perpetually golden, like he'd just gotten back from Morocco or somewhere. (Morocco was the furthest away Stan could imagine ever going, both figuratively and literally.) Craig wore his black hair short, shorter than Tweek's. But all of this was unremarkable, considering his shoe situation.
"I don't know," Stan replied. "Tell me, is he wearing flip-flops?"
"I think so."
"It's 25 degrees out!" Stan marveled. "What is wrong with that guy?"
"Don't know," Kyle whispered. He smacked Stan on the ass, for no particular reason. "Hi, Craig," he said calmly, stepping out into the open of the shop. "How are you?"
"I'm fine." Craig announced this as if there were any more than two people in this space, like it was a bulletin from the front lines. "Never been better."
"Oh, that's wonderful." Stan flinched at these words, because they sounded syrupy sweet — it was so un-Kyle-like that no matter how many times he heard it, Stan felt he would remain perpetually unused to this misplaced, overly familiar and yet completely plastic business tone of voice.
Without returning any inquiries about Kyle's health, Craig just asked, "Where's the other one?"
"I'm here," Stan announced, stepping out into the shop. "Hey, Craig. What's up?"
"You were hiding behind a bookcase," Craig said, unimpressed. Not knowing what to say to this, Stan just gave a goofy smile and put an arm around Kyle's shoulder. Upon seeing this, Tweek tried to step backward, to conceal himself behind Craig, but he was unable to, because Craig stopped him.
"Say hello, Tweek," Craig said merrily, tugging on the leash and forcing Tweek to step forward and speak to Kyle and Stan.
"Hello," Tweek managed.
"Hi," Kyle said uncomfortably.
"Doesn't that hurt?" Stan asked, eyes bulging.
"A little," Tweek admitted. Craig tugged his leash again. "Ow!" Craig smirked in satisfaction.
"He likes it," Craig asserted. "Don't you, baby?" Tweek nodded vigorously.
"I think you're hurting him," Stan said meekly.
Craig sighed, and scowled. "Tweek's wellbeing is none of your concern."
Kyle clicked his tongue. "Of course not."
"Are you sure you're okay?" Stan asked.
Tweek looked at Craig, who pursed his lips. "He's fine. Don't look at him. Pay attention to me."
"Do you…" Kyle began cautiously. "Do you want to talk about the lease?"
"Yes," Craig answered simply. "Let's do that." He walked over to a sofa by the window and seated himself. Tweek looked around nervously, but at least there was enough slack in his leash to allow him to stand upright. Craig answered Tweek's uncertain expression by pointing at the floor, and indeed, Stan and Kyle were amazed to see Tweek get on floor by Craig's nearly naked feet.
"You're currently paying what, exactly?" Craig asked. His thick legs were spread out so that both Stan and Kyle, who were standing in front of him (forming a tableau not unlike a couple of low-ranking vassals appealing to their monarch), both got an ample view of what was going on down there. Kyle had to stop himself from continuing to admiringly ogle; Stan just tensed his lips and gave Craig what he hoped was his blankest poker stare. "Hello?" Craig asked again. "I'm waiting."
"Uh," Kyle said slowly, still somewhat distracted, "like a thousand dollars a month."
"Do you think that's fair?" Craig asked.
"Sure," Stan said aimlessly, although he shut his mouth when Kyle shot him a threatening let me handle this glare.
"Well, I…" Kyle began, but he looked down to Craig's crotch again to see that Tweek was now, well, pawing at his thighs.
"What is it?" he asked, bending over to pet Tweek's hair lovingly, like he was tending to a cherished pet.
"It's starting to chafe," Tweek whined, tugging at his collar. "Oh my God, get it off me."
"Oh, you don't like it anymore?"
"Gah, no! Get it off me!"
"Okay," Craig agreed. He began to undo the buckle on the black collar Tweek was wearing. "Does that feel better?" he asked.
"Yes! Thank you!"
Craig thought for a moment. "Maybe you should go sit in the shop until I'm done here."
"You mean it?" Tweek asked.
"Yeah." Craig bent forward and fumbled around in his back pocket; with his attention on Tweek and digging around back there, Kyle had a moment to finish his inspection, which earned him a soft slap from Stan, who mouthed the word stop soundlessly.
Blushing, Kyle returned the gesture and mouthed back, spoilsport.
Craig finally fished something out of his pocket, and he handed it to Tweek with an encouraging, "Here."
"You're giving me the key to the store?" Tweek asked, beaming.
"Don't do anything crazy," was Craig's only reply. "Just go in there and lock the door behind you and sit down on the floor and don't touch anything and wait for me to get back, like a good boy."
With a dramatic seize Tweek pushed himself up off the floor and the sweet bells that Stan had tied around the doorknob with a velvet ribbon rang as he left. This noise always seemed to make Craig shudder, and he visibly had to pry his disgust away from the door, back to Stan and Kyle, to whom he delivered his words imperiously.
"I'm raising your rent to 10,000 dollars a month."
Stan immediately grabbed Kyle's hand, impulsively, unthinkingly. Kyle just gaped, and then he managed, "Excuse me?" in a hushed tone.
"Ten thousand a month," Craig repeated. "Seems unfair, I know, but it's a small strip, there isn't a lot of retail opportunity."
"But … that much? Are you kidding?" Kyle asked.
"Well, you know how it is, the economy's practically in the fucking gutter. I import most of my stuff from Berlin or Barcelona, and the euro is killing me."
"Well, don't blame me," Kyle scoffed. "I didn't vote for him."
"Neither did I," Stan added.
"You didn't vote for anyone, Stan."
"I voted for there not to be a 12-hour line at the polling place."
"Okay, both of you," Craig sighed in a very belabored fashion. "Both of you, shut up. I don't care which one of you votes or which one of you tops or which one of you knows how to fucking do the tango. All I want is 10,000 dollars a month. Understand?"
Kyle nodded dejectedly. Stan pointed at Kyle and whispered, "bottom," which earned him another smack across the face. "That wasn't very nice," Stan muttered.
"Oh, we'll see how nice it is when no one's bottoming for you, you closeted non-voting sweater vest-wearing goy."
"Oh my god," Craig moaned. "Will both of you just shut up already?"
Kyle began cautiously. "Look, Craig." He paused. "Listen. We can't really afford this. I mean, we'd have to start making at least that much every month in net profit to make it up and, well, as I'm sure you're aware, the antiques business isn't what it used to be."
"I know," Craig said wisely. "That's why I have a second option for you."
"Oh," Stan said stupidly, feeling left out.
"Let's hear that," Kyle suggested.
"A one-time, 100,000-dollar buy-out fee." Craig paused. "I retain full rights to your brand, I have the prerogative to close this store, and I insist on a non-compete clause preventing the two of you from ever working in the antiques trade in the state of Colorado ever again."
Stan and Kyle both stared at Craig dumbly, waiting for him to do something like pull out one of those New Year's Ever champagne popper noise-makers and scream "Just kidding!" and then hug both of them, although they both knew deep down that all three of these things were about as unlikely as Stan's father grasping the concept of his son's sexuality.
"Craig," Stan said slowly, his voice absurdly low, hitching on the name. "This store is our life. It's … it's ours. It's what we have together."
"Well then," Craig said smartly. "Don't sell."
"We don't have that kind of money," Kyle repeated, more clearly this time.
"I know. That's why I'm offering you a sum of money to disappear completely."
"But what good does that do you?" Stan asked. "I mean, if the antiques business is so fucking bad, why pay out like that?"
"Because," Craig said. "I know you can't raise the money to keep the store, and you're going to need to take the fee. I'm going to dissolve your business, and I have an interested party willing to pay me in excess of the pittance I'm offering you two for this property." Craig coughed. "So this really works out great for me on all fronts. One, the money. Two, I get to finally be rid of you boring, second-rate excuses for faggots forever. Three, I no longer have to suffer the humiliation of coexisting in the same market as your tired recreation of my dead grandmother's front parlor." He paused. "Which was the cutesy thing she always called her living room."
"How dare you?" Kyle asked, face red.
"You don't like our store?" Stan stammered.
"Face it, guys," Craig said knowingly. "Your aesthetics are just like your sex life: boring, trite, and over 20 year ago."
"I resent that!" Kyle cried, pointing at Craig.
"Resent it all you want," Craig said. "Any man who can spend eight hours a day in this sad little excuse for Grandma's parlor has no dick."
"That's not true," Stan countered. "We both have penises, Craig, and just because we only show them to each other doesn't mean we don't use them just as well as you do."
"Yeah," Kyle agreed. "At least we have what you'll never have."
"What and what would that be?"
"A good, solid relationship built on shared hopes and dreams and trust," Kyle said in a very self-satisfied way.
"Oh," Craig said loudly. "Isn't that sweet? I thought you were going to say 'The deed to the shop,' and I was about to be like, 'No, I have that.' "
"Godammit Craig!" Kyle shouted in response. "Shut up!"
"There's no need to get angry," Stan said softly, yanking Kyle by the back of his shirt.
"Yes there is!" Kyle replied, although he calmed back down anyway.
Craig was looking tense and annoyed, and he crossed his solid, hairy legs and cracked his knuckles. "I could care less what you guys do in the bedroom," he said. "Although I'm sure your lovemaking is as sweet as it is vanilla, I'm not here to mock your sad little simulacra of heteronormative relationships. This space isn't for sale. Either you let me buy you out, or you cough up the extra nine grand a month."
"Well, you're fucking us either way," Stan said. "I don't see why you can't just be a pal for once."
Craig rose, and picked his shorts out of the crack of his ass. Kyle stuck his tongue out in disapproval, but he managed to get it away before Craig saw. "Cry about it," he said. "Your lease is up in two weeks." He gave them a goodbye finger. "See you suckers around," he said sweetly. The bells on the door jangled when he exited; it slammed shut behind him.
Kyle and Stan looked at one another, both at a loss for words. "Damn," Stan finally breathed. "What a cunt that guy is."
"Yeah," Kyle agreed. "And people think I'm a money-grubbing Jew."
"It's not just the money," Stan pointed out. "He hates us. He really hates us."
"What'd we ever do to him?"
Stan just shrugged in reply.
Stan and Kyle had a single employee. On Saturday and Sunday mornings, Butters Stotch got up at 7 a.m. and had a bowl of raisin bran before hopping on his Schwinn Orange Krate and pedaling into town to open up the shop. Butters made a paltry 7 dollars an hour, and even though this was really stretching Kyle's meticulous budget, he felt that really, having the weekend off was worth 98. Stan was bothered by the idea that a 40-year-old man would want to hang around an antiques store on the weekends, especially when said man was actually a rather respectable elementary school teacher, who made a fine living supporting himself and his pet rabbit. "Oh, whatever," Kyle would say dismissively. "It's Butters. Who cares."
"We should at least be paying him more money," Stan would suggest.
"Tell me one thing, Stan. Do you want to want to make a profit, or do you just want to throw all of our money away and live on the street like matchgirls?"
"Make a profit. But honestly, we should pay him a little more. He's worth more than 7 dollars an hour."
"Well, he seems perfectly happy being fiscally raped," Kyle would conclude, and it was true. They had this conversation each quarter, and they always determined that Butters, well, Butters just liked antiques. Or maybe he liked the calm, serene, fussy sort of vibe the shop exuded. He was that kind of guy, after all. He looked something like an asexual academic type, with his tapered khakis and loafers and stupid little sweaters. Stan still thought the most humiliating moment of his life was the day he walked into the store to drop off some vintage cookbooks, only to realize that he and Butters were wearing the same exact sweater. Oh, they were different colors, all right, but it still wasn't lost on Stan, who donated the offending garment to goodwill.
In light of Craig's ultimatum, Kyle stayed up throughout most of the evening going through his books. And around 1 a.m. he reached the conclusion that they really only had one insanely useless expense. So that was why he was also up at 7 a.m., smacking Stan in the face with a pillow.
"Get up, lazy," he chided.
"Wha?" Stan asked hazily, yawning. He looked at the clock. "It's early," he concluded, rolling over.
"Get up, Stan. If you want to keep this store you have to get up." So Stan got up, and being very tired he tried to put his left shoe on his right foot. Still, he managed to sleepwalk into the store behind Kyle, at around 9:15 a.m. and they were immediately greeted by their employee.
"Good morning, fellas," Butters enthused, too chipper.
"Butters, you're fired."
Butters just gawked at Kyle. "Oh, no," he moaned. "I didn't do anything, honest."
"You didn't do anything, Butters," Kyle intoned, and Stan really thought he could hear an air of regret in Kyle's statement. "But we really can't afford to pay you anymore."
"Oh dear," Butters continued. "What'll my parents think?"
"You parents?" Stan asked.
"Yeah, who cares about them?" Kyle added.
"All right, fine, who cares about them. But what about Lillian? What'll she think?"
"I'm sure she'll…" Kyle began, but he interrupted himself. "Wait a minute. Butters, who's Lillian?"
"Why," Butters sniffed. "She's my girlfriend."
Stan and Kyle were dumbfounded. "You have a girlfriend?" Stan asked uneasily.
"Yeah," Butters said.
"Where the hell did you get a girlfriend?" Stan wanted to know.
"She works at the school with me. She's the librarian."
"You're dating the school librarian," Kyle said.
"Yeah. And she loves this store. She was so impressed when I told her I got a job here. She comes in every Sunday afternoon, and we…" Butters trailed off. "We like it here," he concluded shyly.
"You what?" Kyle asked, seriously not knowing.
"You … oh, my god," Stan choked. "Sick, dude! Butters, you can't do that in the store!"
"I know," Butters sighed. "We don't do anything too rough."
"Excuse me." Stan grabbed onto a pedestal ashtray to steady himself. "I think I'm going to be sick."
"Are you okay?" Butters asked.
"Here." Kyle took Stan by the elbow and led him to a sofa near the window. "Shhh, Stan. Deep breaths."
"Butters…girlfriend…in my store…"
"I know, Stan. Shhh, don't think about Butters. The Pacific Northwest, Stan. Think about pine trees."
"Ugh," Stan groaned. "I can't deal with this. First Craig, and now Butters … oh my god. What the fuck?"
Butters just stood there, watching this. "What'd Craig do?" he asked uneasily.
"I can't even talk about it," Stan said dismissively.
"He wants to either raise our rent, or buy us out," Kyle stated simply.
"So, you guys gonna pay the rent?"
Kyle sighed as he continued to pat Stan on the back reassuringly. "We can't afford it."
"So, you're gonna sell him the business?"
"Hell no!" Stan shouted, and then he flinched. "He can have this business over my dead body. Oh, Jesus, I think I'm getting a headache."
"So technically, Butters, you're not being fired. You're being laid off." Kyle thought for a moment. "You might be eligible for some kind of unemployment."
"Eh, I don't think so," Butters said with a shrug. "And even then, I don't need it. I mean, I'm fine, I got my job at the school. And if Lill and I get hitched, then we'll have two incomes."
"You're thinking about getting married?" Kyle asked, always interested in this subject.
"Oh, no," Stan moaned. "Butters, please do me a favor and never, ever talk to Kyle about marriage."
"Well, why not?"
"Because he wants to drive me crazy."
"All right, Stan, you know what?" Kyle let go of Stan's shoulders, and crossed his arms. He turned away from the other man on the couch and stared at the wall. "You can just rub your own back from now on."
"Fine with me, I didn't want you rubbing my back anyway."
"Fine, then I won't anymore."
"Okay, fine," Stan concluded.
"Are you guys okay?" Butters asked.
"Fine," Stan and Kyle answered at the same time.
After Butters left, a woman from Denver came in looking for a pair of candlesticks, but she left when she realized that there was a 'better' antiques store down the block. This thoroughly upset both Kyle and Stan, and they sat together miserably on the couch, reminiscing about the good old days, although neither of them could remember when that was — it was something of an intangible concept, like having an open relationship. They thought that maybe it existed, and maybe some people had participated, but it was probably just a myth and even if it wasn't, it probably wasn't as good as they were imagining it to be.
By the time their conversation was turning really esoteric, an elderly gentleman came into the store, and he left two hours later (after engaging Stan in a frighteningly long conversation about the aforementioned good old days) with a ceramic statuette of a collie.
"At least we made a sale," Stan said cheerfully.
Kyle, as usual, rained on his parade. "Yeah, and that dog cost us 20 bucks when we got it at that estate sale, and we sold it for 75. So if you think about it, it wouldn't even have covered Butters' pay for the weekend."
"Well, look at it this way: Butters is no longer working here."
"I know." Kyle fell back down on the sofa, where Stan was already seated with a 19th-century copy of the Bible that somebody had brought in the other day. "He has a girlfriend. I had no idea."
"Well, it's about time," Stan grumbled. "I just wish he hadn't done it in my store."
"But, I mean, a girlfriend?" Kyle pressed.
"What? You thought he was gay or something?"
Stan snorted. "You think everyone is gay."
"Have you ever even looked at him?"
"Well, no, not too closely, but, come on. Butters is the straightest person I've ever met in my life. In fact, he's so straight, he doesn't even realize when he's doing something sexually questionable."
"Look, Stan. He has a rabbit."
"And if he were gay, he'd have a Pomeranian."
Kyle scowled, and gave Stan the finger. Stan just laughed at him and went back to flipping through the book in his lap. "What are we gonna do?" Kyle asked again. "Do you realize we have two weeks to figure this out?"
"I don't know, Kyle. Finance is your bag. What do you want to do?"
"Well, we don't have a lot of ways to cut expenditures. I suppose we could cut back on our buying."
"That's fine with me." Stan shrugged, and closed the Bible he was studying, and then laid it on the coffee table in front of him, pushing over a glass candy dish to make room. "Most of the crap people bring in isn't worth anything anyway."
"The problem with this business is, when it's good, it's great." Kyle sighed. "But you have to spend too much money to make big sales. We could stop buying so much stock … we fired Butters … I don't know if there's another way to cut down our expenses."
"I really don't want to close this business, Kyle. It's like … well, it's like our baby or something."
"See, Stan? This is what I've been saying all along. If Craig came in here and offered us 200 grand for our child, we could have him arrested. But it's perfectly fine to do it with our antiques store."
"Yeah, but we can get rid of an antiques store if we can't afford it," Stan pointed out. "If we had a kid and it became a burden, we'd just be stuck with it."
"Well, what do you want to do, Stan?"
Stan answered immediately, and very seriously. "I don't want to give up my business. Or this store. All I have is this, and you."
"Oh, I'm so glad I'm runner-up in your heart to this second-hand junk box."
"Shut up, Kyle. "
"Well, you might get lucky." Kyle saw Stan make a face, and he groaned. "No, not like that. Who are you, Butters? Pay attention. What I'm saying is, it's not like we can move."
"Well? Why not?"
"I've looked into it. Craig's right — there isn't any retail space available."
"Well, I mean, there's some over by that Indian burial ground."
"Yeah, that doesn't sound great."
"Plus, you know, it's not 100,000 dollars flat-out. There is such a thing as tax."
"You know," Stan said very calmly, "I may not have a business degree from a fourth-tier community college, but I do know what tax is. I mean, I am an adult."
"Sometimes, I wonder."
It was at moments like these that Kyle wished he had some kind of hobby, something that would occupy his hands during the weird little gaps in conversation he and Stan frequently found themselves staring down. The reason he'd never taken up anything was simply that he would never be able to live down the embarrassingly clichéd humiliation of being caught knitting — or, worse yet, needlepoint. In fact, every year for Christmas since they bought their house, Butters had given Stan and Kyle a sampler. With unspeaking shared glances they questioned where got them, or if he made them himself. They hung them in the laundry room, and never asked Butters about it. They preferred not knowing.
It seemed that 5 p.m. did not come quickly enough. Kyle did not particularly like antiques, and while he did not really mind or dislike them, either, it was not so easy to sit in relative silence, with no math to do, while Stan performed his endless amount of inventory, appraisal, and so on. So much of selling was talking someone into making a purchase, and Stan prided himself on his ability to talk himself into sales. Moreover, Stan actually enjoyed this. He appreciated old things, where they came from, what artistic merit they had, who made them, what they said about cultures foreign and eras past. This was in contrast to Kyle, to whom the only thing antiques said were "ka-ching," and if they didn't say that, they weren't worth talking about. He had learned some things along the way — he was bright, after all, but really, his opinions on sitting in a room full of ticking clocks and glinting candelabras were hugely influenced by his feelings for Stan. And at this moment, his feelings for Stan were not at an all-time high.
He came home feeling bitter; Stan came home feeling dejected, for even he was not happy about dealing with Craig, the fact that he might lose his store, having to fire his old friend, the only man who shared his passion for the subject, or the idea of having no weekend at all for the foreseeable future. Tiredly, they both collapsed on the couch. Usually after a day of work, Stan liked to have a glass of wine and relax in front of the television. On the weekends, he and Kyle sometimes drove out to Denver for dinner, or to pretend for a few hours that they did not live in South Park. Stan was also a great fan of sex, and good days at work put him in a lascivious mood quite often. But it had not been a great day, and what was more, he was no longer a young man. He wasn't an old man, but he found himself at the point where he did not compulsively lust for physical attention every hour any longer. Kyle seemed to have no desire to have any sex, or rather, he seemed to be using sex as a means of relationship facilitation, rather than a raw need that slowly wore away at his sensibilities. Apparently, this was just something that happened to the Broflovski men.
So Saturday night was here, for indeed it was dark out already, and Stan and Kyle both languished on the couch, feeling hurt and upset and drained for various reasons. "Is it raining?" Stan asked, wanting for a reason to hear Kyle's voice, to bolster his own weariness.
"Yeah," Kyle sighed. "What's for dinner?"
"Rain," Stan said sleepily. "Um, how do you feel about pizza?"
"Pizza's delicious. The problem is, we can't afford pizza."
"Oh, yeah. I agree."
Half an hour later, Stan brought in two bowls of farfalle with pink sauce. "How'd you make this?" Kyle probed, crawling out of the rhythmic cocoon that is a Saturday night Upstairs, Downstairs marathon on PBS.
"I mixed the leftover marinara with that jar of alfredo my sister sent after Italy," Stan explained. The worst thing about it was, Shelly had apparently never heard of white sauce before her week in Florence, so instead of bringing them back a souvenir, she just went to the grocery store when she got back and bought them a jar of alfredo and shipped it with a note, I tried this in Italy and thought you turds might appreciate some real Italian food. Kyle rolled his eyes at this, but tried it anyway.
"I would have reduced some tomatoes in that chardonnay your mom didn't finish," he suggested.
"Yeah," Stan agreed. "She's really turning into a wino."
They ate slowly, glancing at each other and the television set and the clock. Someone, some washed-up actress, was pleading with them for funding for public broadcasting, and in thanks they would apparently receive some videotapes of Upstairs, Downstairs. "Who even owns a VCR now?" Kyle asked.
"I think someone tried to bring one in a couple of weeks ago," Stan recalled. "Actually, it was that Fosse guy."
"What ever happened to him?" Kyle wondered.
"Apparently, he still watches VHS."
Kyle was a slow eater, so Stan put his head on Kyle's shoulder while he continued to mechanically ingest single bowties. The doldrums of British voices were beginning to lull him to sleep, and it was only 7 o'clock, which was quite sad, when there came a pounding at the door, distinct from the rain.
"Door," Stan sighed.
"What now?" Kyle asked.
"Maybe it's Craig, out for revenge."
"Wouldn't that be us, seeking revenge on him?"
"Who knows," Stan yawned, bare toes digging into the carpet as he headed for the door. "Jesus," he sighed as he swung it open. "You can stop pounding now, I'm right…" he trailed off.
"Stan?" Kyle called from the other room. "Who is it?"
"..here," Stan finished.
"Hi," Tweek said morosely. His hair was shorter, and he seemed to be unusually quiet and still.
"Tweek…" Stan said slowly. "Hi." It was cold; through the screen door, Stan felt the chill of winter (or in this case, early spring) permeate the house. "Here," he offered, swinging the door open with an elastic snap. "Get in here."
Tweek hugged himself and shook rapidly as Stan shut the door.
"Godammit," Kyle shouted. "It's not actually Craig, is it?"
"Close," Stan said with a sniff, leading Tweek into the living room.
"Hello," Tweek said nicely, giving Kyle a sad little wave. "What's going on?"
"Um." Kyle bit a piece of pasta off of his fork, chewed it slowly, and swallowed. "Nothing much," he said thoughtfully. "Having dinner." He looked at Stan, who shrugged. "Where's Craig?"
"Gah!" Tweek spat, something more like the Tweek they knew, or at least kind of knew of. "I don't know where he is, and I don't care!"
"Well, he's probably looking for you," Kyle supposed.
"Maybe," Tweek admitted. He bit his lip and squinted his left eye. "I left him!" he said suddenly.
Stan put a hand to his throat, and Kyle smiled wryly. "Did you?" he asked. "Why, whatever for?"
"I can't take it anymore, man! It's so much fucking pressure! Every day it's like, Tweek, do this. Tweek, do that. Tweek, take these pills, they make you feel better. Tweek, don't touch my Warhol print. Tweek, don't touch the scissors. Tweek, don't cut all your hair off. I mean, oh Jesus! When does it end, man? When does it end?"
Stan pointed to the hair. "Looks good," he said.
Kyle put down his nearly finished bowl of pasta and crossed his legs. "So, no more Craig, huh?"
"No way!" Tweek shook both fists. "I gotta go back eventually."
"And why's that?" Kyle asked.
"All my clothes are there! Plus it's just, so, like … oh Jesus." Tweek put his head in his hands and sat down on the floor, making it wet. "I'm getting all dizzy."
"I see." Kyle got up and stepped over Tweek, and then he grabbed Stan by the sleeve of his red cable-knit V-neck. "Excuse us," he said politely, pulling Stan into the foyer.
"Bingo," he hissed, thin auburn eyebrows hopping up in jubilation.
"Yeah," Stan drawled slowly, looking over Kyle's shoulder to catch a glimpse of Tweek rocking back and forth on the floor. "I mean, what?"
"This is our chance, you fool!" Kyle said, a bit too excitedly for Stan's taste.
"Our chance to what, exactly?"
"Well, you know." Kyle paused. "This whole time, Craig's had something to hold over us."
"That's true," Stan agreed.
"So now, we have something to hold over him."
"Look," Stan said with a drawn-out sigh, slumping his shoulders. "Maybe this is a bad idea. Maybe this is a sign that we should just, you know … close the store and get 9-to-5 jobs. Start putting real money into our IRAs."
"Stan, there are two kinds of people in this world."
"Really? Only two?"
Kyle ignored this. "There are people who get fucked over, and there are people who get to the top, not caring how many little baby toes they step on in the process. Now, do you want to be the first kind of person forever? Because I myself am getting pretty sick of it."
"All right. I give up." Stan kicked the carpet with his heel. "It's your project. I'm not getting involved"
Inhaling the air of what he was certain could only be confidence, Kyle rolled up the sleeves on his crisp black shirt and strode back into the living room.
"Hey, Tweek," he said in his most plastic, friendly voice. "Do you want to talk about it?"
Tweek lifted his head, and wiped his eyes, which were actually dry. "Really?" he asked. "Craig never wants to talk about it."
"No?" Kyle asked sympathetically. "Stan and I do a lot of talking."
"It's mostly Kyle," Stan filled in from the doorway.
Shaking his head at this, Kyle pressed ahead. "Communication is so important to a relationship."
"I know." Tweek began to chew on his bottom lip, which made him look extremely feral, which in turn made the living room floor look particularly dignified. "That's why I came to you guys."
"We're so flattered," Kyle lied.
"I mean, you guys are always so nice to each other," Tweek continued. "Sometimes I'm like, Jesus, Craig, why do I always have to be on the bottom? And he'll just be like, well, you like to bottom. And I'll be like, no, man, no! Even though I do like to, it's just not like he ever asks. What if I don't want to play doggy one day? What if I don't want to experiment with nipple clamps? No one ever asks me if I like being humiliated, everyone just assumes I do because — gah, oh my God, do you ever stop and think to yourself, oh my God, I'm an adult, why am I being led around like a dog through the town where everyone can see me?"
"Can't say that I do," Stan mumbled.
"Oh dear." Kyle patted Tweek nervously on the shoulder, trying to prevent vomiting by any means necessary. "Yes, that sounds horrible. You poor dear."
"And I walk by your store," Tweek continued sadly. "And I see how nice it is inside. I don't like sharp corners. They hurt when you walk into them. So Craig says, well, don't walk into them. But how can I stop? They're everywhere!"
Stan drawled, "That can be a real problem."
Tweek quieted down. "I just need a couple days apart from him," he said firmly. Kyle stuck his tongue partially out, and looked up at Stan, who very firmly, from the arching threshold that separated living room from foyer, shook his head and drew a finger across his neck and mouthed the word no.
"It's okay," Kyle said kindly, turning back to Tweek. "You can stay with us for as long as you want." He made sure to give Stan a defiant, evil smirk. Stan smacked his forehead, and pounded up the stairs. "Do you have clothes? Do you need a toothbrush?"
Kyle and Stan argued briefly, albeit not particularly seriously, in the bedroom when Kyle came up to get Tweek some nightclothes, mostly about whether Tweek couldn't just sleep on the couch, or if he really had to stay in the guest room. Kyle won. They went back to discussing attire.
"Well, he won't fit my pajamas." Stan indicated his two-piece blue, red, and brown plaid flannel pajamas, which for pajamas seemed to be absurdly well-fitted. Kyle thought they were hideous, and that they made Stan look like a child, despite the unsettlingly flattering cut. "Why don't you lend him something of yours?"
"He's tiny," Kyle said in reply, digging through his dresser. Kyle wore flimsy lounge pants to bed, if anything at all; he did not like to admit this, but he likedsleeping under five or six layers of blanket, preferably with Stan's warming torso wrapped around him.
For all his pretense, Stan figured Kyle needed to absorb just as much affection in his sleep as actual heat. But he was going back down to talk to Tweek tonight, so he was wearing a pair of lounge pants, with a robin's egg blue T-shirt that simply had "Provincetown" imprinted on the front. He had gotten it, of course, in Provincetown — which, of course, they had visited to go antiquing, and certainly not to attend any all-night predominantly homosexual dance parties, or anything like that.
Under all of this fabric, Kyle looked much larger than he was, and Stan enjoyed watching the jersey fabric of the pants stretch across his generous behind as he squatted to look through the dresser. "If I ever worked out I might know where all these junky T-shirts were," Kyle remarked. He pulled one out. "Do you think Tweek has any political ideologies that would conflict with this?" he asked, brandishing an olive IDF shirt.
"No," Stan said carefully. "But I bet Craig does."
"You think Craig is a Palestinian sympathizer?" Kyle asked.
"I don't know. I just think it's hot when you get all pissed off about Arabs."
Kyle got up on his feet, and tried to adjust his pants so that his junk wasn't visible, but it was no use. "I have to go back to Tweek," he said.
"Aw, come on." Stan patted the bed next to him. "He won't miss you for 10 minutes."
"No," Kyle said very obstinately, and then he was gone, leaving Stan to flop back on the bed and service himself.
Kyle made two mugs of tea, but he noticed after 15 minutes that Tweek hadn't touched his. He eyed it suspiciously, and pushed it away very slowly a couple of times, only to draw it back toward him, inspect it again, and decide he didn't like it yet another time. They mostly talked about Craig, and Kyle made sure to fuel whatever fires of dissatisfaction were already ignited in Tweek's mind. He didn't not have a clear picture of how encouraging Tweek to be further pissed at Craig was going to help his cause, but he had a feeling about it — a mean, nasty feeling that made his heart throb with the beat of control.
The biggest surprise was, Tweek was not a poor conversationalist. He had opinions — oh, did he have them. He did not seem to tire, and he did not seem to care for many things. His voice rang with a bell of suspicion, and he reminded Kyle of a toy dog that yelped a lot, and yet lapdogs were very popular due to their adorability and, Kyle had to admit, this frightening urge some people, himself included, apparently, had to stroke them back to calmness.
Kyle did not think Craig would like a lapdog. But just as Tweek was raving about something impolite Craig had done involving a space heater, a pair of handcuffs, and the backyard, Kyle decided that he didn't know what Craig would like at all, except that he seemed to like financial gains, and he absolutely adored being in command. Yes, in fact, that was the theme of Tweek's complaints — the lack of his autonomy. Well, what was a lapdog but a little thing for rich people to commandeer?
"And do you know," Tweek continued, "that he introduces me to his relatives as 'my sex slave'?"
"Terrible," Kyle clucked. "You're not his sex slave."
"Actually, I am." Tweek began to tug at the bottom of his shirt like it was making him very itchy. "But that doesn't mean he has to introduce me like that!"
"I know what you mean. Stan always just calls me his boyfriend. Except when we're dealing with shop business, then it's 'my business partner' this and 'my business partner' that."
"What's wrong with that?" Tweek asked.
"We've been together for way longer than anyone else I know!" Kyle huffed indignantly. "Boyfriend? What a joke. A boyfriend is someone you've gone to the movies with a couple of times. I find it very insulting."
"He could call you his sex slave in front of his parents, so that they call you 'sex slave' too, and every time you walk into their house it's, 'Hello, sex slave, would you like some apple juice?' And the answer is yes, perhaps I would enjoy some apple juice, but Jesus fucking Christ, I have a name! I mean, it just makes me so … gah!" Tweek seemed to jump a little in his seat.
And the conversation continued on like this for quite some time. Kyle could hear in Tweek's voice the sort of weariness he felt in himself when he thought about Stan: distinct, real self-pity. But the difference between his relationship with Stan and this nightmare Craig/Tweek train wreck was that at the end of the day, Stan Marsh was a good man, a handsome man, a man you could bring with you to visit your parents in Sarasota. He would help babysit your nieces and nephews when you went to visit your brother for Passover. He would tirelessly and without fail make absolutely certain that at no time would he roll over and fall asleep before you too had experienced orgasm. He never forgot an anniversary, birthday, or Mother's Day.
But then Kyle thought about all the ways in which Stan was part of his family, and he began to get angry again. Because no matter how many Christmas mornings there were, no matter how many Easter egg hunts he went on with Stan's nephews, he wasn't a Marsh, and never would be one, and it was all that goddamn closeted asshole's fault. Still, there were those good things about him. They might not be making up for the bad things at the moment, but they existed. Kyle listened to every single word about the domineering Craig, and tried to figure out what, exactly, Tweek saw in him. At a point or two he was on the verge of asking, "So, what do you like about Craig?" but then he rationalized that this would not help his cause at all, so he kept his commentary to sweet reassurances and "Mmhmm, girlfriend"-type rejoinders.
Right when Kyle was beginning to fall asleep in the middle of Tweek's complaining, and he was somnolently contemplating making another mug of tea, the doorbell rang.
"At this hour?" Kyle asked generally. "Really?"
"It's him!" Tweek cried, getting on his knees in his chair. "Don't answer it."
The doorbell chimed a second time, and soon after there followed some banging. Tweek hid his head in his hands, and Kyle got up and adjusted his shirt so that it kind of disguised his drowsy bulge. "No," Tweek said with a sob, clutching at Kyle's sleeve, but his plan, after all, was not meant for Tweek's betterment — he had a mission and a deadline. Tweek followed him around to the foyer, where Stan had also sleepily come downstairs.
"You think that's Craig?" Stan asked.
"I know it is!" Tweek replied hastily.
"Could be," Kyle said with an over-pronounced shrug.
Stan rubbed his eyes. "Let's just ignore him."
Tweek nodded along to this, rubbing his hands together and shivering.
Kyle gave them an apologetic smile, and threw open the door.
In his little booty shorts and sheer shirt, Craig bounded into the house. He was still wearing flip-flops, and Stan's eyes widened at this, because truly it was too cold out for flip-flops, no matter how erratic the weather was acting.
"What the fuck?" Craig growled with tangible impatience, twisting his sights from Stan to Kyle and back. He then spotted Tweek, who backed away, and Craig reached out for him. "Here you are," he said menacingly. "Just what the fuck do you think you're doing?"
"I need a couple of days!" Tweek was shaking worse than Kyle and Stan had ever seen him shake. "I gotta do this!"
"So you run off to bunk up with these losers?"
"They're not losers! They're really nice!"
"What's the difference?" Craig asked, rolling his eyes.
"They don't dress me up in girls' clothes and make me dance for their poker buddies!"
"You liked it!"
"No way, man! I only liked it when it was you and me!"
"I don't understand, Tweek. What is your problem?"
"I don't know!" Tweek cried out. "Ah! Just leave me alone for a while!"
"Oh, is that what you want?" Craig asked, eyes narrowing.
"Maybe?" Tweek asked. "I don't know!"
"Really, Craig," Stan said sternly, finally breaking into this conversation. "Get out of our house."
Craig snorted. "Who do you think you are?" He sneered. "I own your pathetic little asses."
"Oh, really?" Kyle asked.
"Yeah," Stan chimed in. "This isn't our store, Craig. We own this house. Get the fuck out."
"I'll get the police involved!" Craig threatened, shaking a clichéd fist. "You're both kidnappers."
Kyle laughed at this. "We are not. Tweek is here on his own volition."
Tweek just made a sad, tense little sound after this.
"Besides," Stan added. "We have friends on the force. They'd never take your side over ours."
"Oh, you think that fat prick is going to protect you?"
"Yeah, actually," Stan said.
"He might hate us," Kyle began.
"And we might hate him," Stan interrupted.
"But he sure doesn't give a crap about you, Craig, that's for damn sure," Kyle finished.
"I'm not kidding!" Craig shouted. "You can't do this to a man! Tweek is mine, do you hear me? You can't take your fucked-up problems out on me, and you definitely can't take them out on him!"
"Good night, Craig," Stan said simply, shutting the door in his face and securing the bolt.
"Oh my God!" Tweek cried. He was hyperventilating, slightly. "What the hell!"
Kyle and Stan just stared at the door, which Craig was still banging on. They could hear him shouting things like "I'll get you" and "You can't do this" and "I'll teach you fuckers not to mess with me."
"How long is he going to do this for?" Kyle asked, stepping back. Stan put an arm around his waist.
"Oh, Jesus, probably all night. You made him really angry!"
"Eh, just forget about it," Stan suggested. "He'll get tired eventually."
Craig did not tire until 5:30 a.m.
In the morning — which really didn't feel like morning considering Craig had been out there slamming himself against the door until a couple of hours before they got up — Stan did what he usually did and came downstairs to make coffee. He found Tweek sitting at the kitchen table with a mug, and for a second he made the not-invalid assumption that Tweek had gotten up and made coffee. "How's the coffee?" Stan asked, rubbing his eyes and going into the fridge for the cream cheese.
"I don't know," Tweek admitted.
"Okay." Stan grabbed a bagel from the pantry.
"I didn't make any."
"Oh." Stan stuck his bagel in the bagel-slicer.
"I don't know how." This caught Stan's attention.
"You don't know how to make coffee?" he asked.
"Do you drink coffee?" Stan asked, not realizing what a stupid question it was. Tweek nodded vigorously, enthusiastically even.
Finally, he cracked. "Will you please make me some? I need it," he choked. "I'm really sorry! I don't want to be a burden, you guys are so nice but I'm completely dependent and I'm going out of my mind."
"Completely dependent on what?" Stan asked. Tweek just shrugged. He stuck his sliced bagel on a plate and grabbed the coffee beans from the refrigerator.
While the coffee mill did its job, Stan and Tweek stared at each other, no sound passing between them save for the unsettling grinding sound that Kyle unfailingly complained about whenever Stan made coffee with him in the room. Stan began to feel uncomfortable, and he awkwardly coughed and tightened the belt on his maroon robe. Tweek just twitched and clenched his muscles and tilted his head from side to side like he didn't know where he was. As soon as the beans were done, Stan turned his back to Tweek, but every so often he turned around to see the blond man just staring at him, and it was really creeping him out. When half the pot was brewed, Stan poured two cups and thrust one into the hands of his waiting houseguest.
"Thanks," Tweek said happily, but when he had taken a sip of coffee, he scowled.
"What?" Stan asked. "What's wrong?"
"I like it stronger!" Tweek cried out. "Oh, Jesus, I'm so sorry, I didn't mean to say that."
Stan rolled his eyes, sniffed his mug of coffee, and took a sip. "Tweek, this coffee is so strong it would take the finish off of a credenza."
"How could you possibly imbibe anything stronger than this?"
"I just like strong things," Tweek explained in between sips. "Strong, forceful, bitter, unpleasant, stringent things."
"I see." Stan usually did not approve of eating things upstairs, but to get the hell away from Tweek, he made an exception. With his bagel in one hand and his mug of coffee in the other, he made a mad dash up to the bedroom.
"Kyle," he panted, shutting the door with his ass. "I want that guy out of the house."
"What are you talking about?" Kyle asked, sitting up.
"Tweek. He's freaking me out. He's gotta go."
"What'd he do?"
"What'd he do?" Stan asked. "He doesn't do anything, that's the problem. He just sits there shaking like a chihuahua."
Kyle yawned. "Oh well. What are you going to do about it?"
"Ask him to leave," Stan suggested without hesitation.
"Where's my coffee?" Kyle asked.
"Where? Oh, downstairs, still in the carafe." Stan took a sip of coffee. "You don't want any, though, it's not strong enough."
"Why didn't you bring me some?"
"I had to use my second hand to carry my bagel," Stan explained, almost pathetically.
"I see." Kyle threw the covers off and walked over to where Stan was standing awkwardly.
"What are you doing?" he asked as Kyle deftly removed the mug from Stan's hand and got back in bed.
"The problem," Kyle said thoughtfully, drinking coffee and leaning back against his monstrous wall of pillows, "is that if we just tell Tweek to leave, we won't have a bargaining chip. He needs to stay here until we sign a new lease."
"Why do I feel like all of your plans involve absconding with something or hiding someone or some miserable kind of retribution?"
"I don't know," Kyle said with a shrug. "Maybe you're developing a brain tumor. This coffee is horrible, though, Stan, it's way too strong."
"Whatever." Stan took a bite of his bagel. "Hey. What are we going to do about Tweek tonight when we go to my parents'?"
"I don't know." Kyle shrugged. "Leave him here."
When they came downstairs ready to open the shop for the day, Tweek was sitting on the living room floor with his head in his hands, staring down into a cup of coffee. For a moment Stan assumed that this mug was also empty, but when he saw them, Tweek snatched it up in his hands and some brown liquid sloshed over and rolled down the sides. He was about to scream something like, holy shit, man, watch out for the carpet, but given Kyle's tendency to obsessively clean things, he just kept his mouth shut.
"Sorry," Tweek squealed. "Drinking coffee in the living room is not allowed." He said this like he was reading it off of a list of playground rules. Still holding his cup, he got on his knees and then to his feet, and it was immediately obvious that his fly was undone and his shirt was haphazardly buttoned. In fact, it was so egregiously messed up that the third button was in the fifth button hole, and Stan swore that some were even cross-buttoned in non-consecutive order.
"It's okay," Kyle said gently. "What's wrong with your shirt?"
"Oh, Jesus," he chirped again. "I can't handle it!"
"Can't handle what?" Stan asked.
"I can't button a shirt! I can't deal with things having to be in order! I didn't mean to take coffee in the living room, I'm really sorry."
"We don't care," Stan insisted.
"Yeah," Kyle agreed. "Stan eats food in living room all the time and gets it everywhere like a disgusting pig."
"You know, that's really unnecessary," Stan said, voice throbbing with pain.
"Here." Kyle took the mug out of Tweek's hands, and he made a baleful noise when this happened. Stan watched his eyes follow the cup all the way to the side table Kyle set it on, and then he watched Kyle very quietly undo all of Tweek's buttons and then, audibly muttering breathy little curses, re-button the entire thing. This whole time Tweek stood there with his hands loosely around his neck, trembling like a Shaker filled with religious fervor.
"You are a 41-year-old man," Kyle said softly, using what Stan kind of considered his fake-nice-but-condescending tone. "Why can't you button a shirt?"
"I don't know," Tweek admitted. "It's a lot of pressure!"
"Well, how do you get them buttoned at home?"
"Craig does it for me."
Kyle sighed dramatically, and grabbed Tweek's pants by the fly. "Usually I'm doing this in reverse," he said naughtily, giving Tweek a saucy grin.
"You're freaking me out!" Tweek replied. "I don't want to have sex with you! Let's just be friends!"
Kyle rolled his eyes. "It's a joke," Stan explained. Kyle brushed his hands off, looking at Tweek's crotch again.
"Now you're all buttoned," he said happily. "Anyway, we're going to work now."
"You're leaving me?"
"Uh huh," Stan confirmed, helping Kyle into his coat. "Have fun."
"What am I supposed to do while you guys are gone?"
"Read a book?" Kyle suggested.
"No way, man! That's a lot of pressure!"
"Well, not really," Stan said. "What do you think we're going to do, quiz you on it?"
Tweek just looked at them with enormous brown eyes.
"Oh wow," Stan said. "Craig is really a bastard, isn't he?"
"We're late," Kyle said, tugging Stan out the door. "Don't do anything we wouldn't do, Tweek."
"What wouldn't you guys do?" Tweek asked, but the door slammed in his face, and he never got an answer.
Work was uneventful, although Kyle seemed, well, snippier than usual — probably, Stan figured, because he missed sleeping in on Sundays. In the day-to-day operation of the store, he sat in the back, where he had a nice desk and an ergonomic chair (which didn't match the vibe of the place at all), and did the numbers. But since he got all of this done during the week, he spent the majority of the day fidgeting on the couch, trying to talk himself out of taking up knitting.
At one point, he had the gall to say, "There's really no point to me coming in on weekends, you know."
"Really," Stan replied, not particularly impressed.
"I mean, I get my work done during the week."
"So maybe I should stay home next weekend," he concluded.
"You think there's no point to being here, do you?"
"Not really," Kyle reaffirmed.
"Not even just to keep me company?" Stan asked.
"Butters used to come in every Sunday by himself."
"Actually, that's not true," Stan corrected. "He had his girlfriend here to hang out with."
"It's too bad you don't have a girlfriend, Stan."
"Why would I ever want a girlfriend when I have Kyle Broflovski?"
Kyle scoffed at this and started thinking about samplers.