When they got home, they found Tweek sitting on the floor, hands around his legs, knees against his chest. He seemed to be muttering to himself, and he kept flinching. "That poor man!" Kyle exclaimed in a stage whisper. "What's wrong with him?
"I don't know," Stan replied. "But you'd better figure it out before we have to be at my parents' in an hour. Mom's making ropa vieja," he added.
"Me?" Kyle asked, completely ignoring the fact that he loved Sharon Marsh's ropa vieja. "Why do I have to figure it out?"
"You're just so good with people," Stan claimed.
"Like hell I am! You're the one who talks old ladies into buying moth-eaten lace tablecloths."
"Oh, but that's too easy. Talking to Tweek without smacking him across the face, now that's hard."
"You just don't want to have sex with me ever again, do you? Because that's what I'm getting from you lately, with this behavior."
"Maybe I just resent that you've started trying to control me by withholding sex."
"It's the only thing that works," Kyle hissed.
"Maybe you just need Viagra," Stan suggested, swatting Kyle on the ass as he went upstairs; Kyle's eyes followed him. "Good luck!" he called down from the landing. Kyle made a lewd gesture in retaliation.
Padding into the living room, Kyle sat down next to Tweek and said, "Hey."
Tweek looked at him, with those enormous brown eyes Kyle resented so. "You guys were gone for so long," he said in wonderment.
"Yeah, I know. A full work day. Who knew?"
"Craig brings me to work."
"I'm not Craig."
"I know!" Tweek cried, bursting into tears. His eyes began to redden. "He's so intense, man. I can't take it anymore!"
"All right," Kyle said slowly. "You don't have to take anything. You shouldn't just let some guy boss you around because he wants to devote his life to talking to octogenarians about tea sets and crumbling old books."
"He's not just some guy," Tweek sniffed. "He's Craig."
"Is he ever," Kyle mumbled. Tweek wiped his nose, and he was forever shaking, and Kyle was beginning to feel weird about this, so he did what he knew to do, which was make pedantic conversation. "So, what'd you do today?" he asked brightly.
"Sat on the floor."
"You know," Kyle said very delicately, patting Tweek's hand. "You're a grown-up. You can leave the house by yourself. You can go anywhere you want."
"Oh, Jesus, no. They'll come get me."
"Who is coming to get you, now?" Kyle was actually very interested in hearing the answer to this question. Tweek just shook his head.
"I see." Kyle sighed, and stood up. He felt the sea foam-colored carpet — it was tacky, he could silently admit to himself, even if he would rather die than admit it to Stan — press into his kneecaps, and he briefly felt like perhaps he was becoming too old to sit on the floor at all. He could hear Stan's voice in his head, chiding him, Aw, that's ridiculous, you're just a baby — baby meaning young, of course, not actually a baby, and for some reason this made Kyle incredibly sad.
"Right," he said absently. Tweek was looking up at him, and he certainly didn't look old — no, he actually looked like a baby. Kyle proffered a hand and helped him up to his feet, and brushed off the front of his pants, where a million sea foam carpet fibers were now residing. "It'll all be okay, Tweek," he said warmly. "I swear to God, man."
"How are you going to do that?" Tweek asked. "You're not with the government, are you?"
"Uh, no." Kyle straightened out his green button-down shirt, and pointlessly stroked at the creases. "I fix things," he said with finality. "That's what I do. We're going to fix everything, man. I promise."
Tweek said, "Okay," and Kyle could swear Tweek knew he was speaking primarily to himself.
Stan was not pleased that Tweek was coming to dinner.
"I don't see what's the big deal," Kyle said aimlessly, digging around in his sock drawer. He was slightly annoyed, mostly because he had been planning on getting rather dolled up for this occasion mistakenly believing that perhaps if he looked less haggard and more presentable, it might help things with Randy Marsh go over smoother. Stan very badly had wanted to tell him how stupid this was, that Kyle could be wearing a ball gown or a potato sack or a dinosaur costume, and it really wouldn't matter. But Kyle was suffering under the delusion that maybe his most slimming turtleneck and ass-shaping pants might help. Sadly, because he'd spent the hour he'd been counting on to get ready downstairs with Tweek, now he just had to wear what he'd worn all day to sit around the store.
"What's the big deal?" Stan repeated, waving a shoehorn in Kyle's face. "I'll tell you what the big deal is. You want me to sit down and have a heart-to-heart talk about my sexuality with my father, and now we have to bring along a walking tornado alert. Well, that's just super."
Kyle grasped the shoehorn. "Well, we can't leave him here!"
"I don't see what the big deal is."
"I don't think he's in any state to just sit at our house alone doing nothing! For one thing, we have to feed him. For another, he spends his entire life in emotional abandonment. We can't perpetuate that. It's cruel!"
Fumbling for the door knob, Stan turned around. "You want to know what cruel is?" he asked, before lowering his voice. "We haven't had sex in three weeks. We're about to become unemployed. You want me to majorly upset my family just so that you can feel a little more included, and yet you've never asked me how I feel about it."
"Well," Kyle sniffed, tossing aside the shoehorn and kicking the heels of his saddle shoes against the bed frame. "How do you feel about it?"
"Not so great," Stan confessed. "I mean, he's my dad."
"Oh." Kyle honestly felt somewhat stupid, and when Kyle felt stupid he generally compensated by becoming very angry, the swift machinations of his brain conceiving of ways in which Stan was being unforgivably priggish by suddenly manifesting these so-called 'feelings' of his while here Kyle was, being unjustly disregarded all these years. "I'll be in the car," he snapped, rising off the bed. "With Tweek," he added, for extra punch.
Both Stan and Kyle shuddered at Sharon Marsh's assertion that Stan was so like his father, which she kept repeating under her breath in agitation every time she laid her knife into a salad tomato. "This is so like him, bringing someone extra to dinner and not telling me."
"I promise to never do it again if you just let it go," Stan sighed from the other side of the counter. In truth he felt a bit ashamed — well, stupid, really — and he was having the hardest time not just crying out, It's all Kyle's fault, he's in love with the little fucker, I wanted to leave him out of this. But Kyle was standing right next to him, grumbling and trying in vain to uncork the bargain-bin merlot they'd brought, a task Stan had delegated to him because he knew Kyle was absolutely hopeless at opening anything that wasn't a screw-top. When Kyle broke the cork, which Stan expected within the next three minutes, he would send him out to the car to get the real wine. It was all part of his genius plan to buy him a few minutes to speak with his mother.
"It's not merely rude," Sharon continued, wiping her blade on a towel. "I thought you wanted to talk with your father. How is this conducive to that?"
"Didn't say it was."
"Oh no!" Kyle moaned, thrusting the corkscrew (with a lingering chunk of cork) into Stan's clutches. "Godammit, why do you always buy this cheap-ass wine? You know the cork always breaks off!"
"Oops," Stan said lamely. "I don't know what I was thinking."
"Well, I can't get this out." Kyle put his hands on his hips. "What are we going to drink now?"
"I don't know," Stan lied. "You know what?" he added, fake-brightly. "I think I have some emergency wine in the trunk." He pulled his car keys from his pocket and handed them to Kyle. "Why don't you go get that?" Kyle acted fairly put-upon about it, but he grudgingly took the keys, and stomped out the back door.
"You know how they say everyone has some kind of learning disability?" Stan asked his pepper-slicing mother. "I think Kyle's is the inability to open wine."
Sharon just sighed and tossed some chopped peppers (all three colors) into the salad bowl. "You said you wanted a 'private family moment,' to tell your father how you feel about him." She picked up a handful of mushrooms, and gestured to the backdoor with her knife. "Tweek was always a nice boy, but I didn't even know you still spoke to him. Why are you bringing him along to dinner?"
"You know our landlord?" Sharon nodded. "They're together. And Tweek left him. And for some reason he came to us. And Kyle wouldn't let us just leave him at home." Sharon just gave Stan a disbelieving look. "Well, what do you want from me?" he asked, exasperated.
"This is your problem, Stanley. You just go along with whatever everyone else says you should do. I swear, it's so like your father." She ate a slice of mushroom. "Assert some authority for once!"
"That's easy for you to say!" Stan shot back. "You don't know what Kyle's like when he gets angry!"
"I have a pretty good idea. I do speak to his mother on the phone every week."
"Oh, that's right. Is she refusing to have sex with you, too?"
Sharon chose to ignore this comment. "Your father is a very, mmm, particular man. Just because he doesn't seem to understand one aspect of your relationship doesn't mean he doesn't see how close you are."
"Well, if he doesn't understand it soon, there won't be any of that aspect left for him to grasp!"
"See, this is what I mean! You don't always have to passively let him steer your relationship. You can just…" She thought for a moment. "Well, just crawl on top of him or something. He's a man. He's not made of concrete."
"Oh, God." Stan clutched his stomach. "I didn't need that visual."
"Well, this may all be irrelevant." Sharon began dousing the salad in olive oil "As well as your father seems to be getting along with Tweek, I hardly see us having this conversation with him around."
"I'll talk to him after dinner," Stan promised. Then he paused. "How do you know Tweek, anyway?"
Sharon scoffed. "He was in your class. We knew his parents, Stanley."
"You did? Huh. I guess you did, although I haven't seen them around for years."
"Of course not," Sharon said bitterly. "They're both dead."
"Oh." Stan looked at his mother. "Sorry?"
She shrugged. "Doesn't bother me. We weren't that close."
The back door flew open, and Stan grabbed the counter to brace himself. "Here is your emergency wine, your highness," Kyle said sharply, setting it on the counter. "Are you going to make me open this one, too?"
"What? Kyle, don't be ridiculous." Stan caught his mother's harsh glance, and he shrugged it off to press a kiss to the top of Kyle's head. "Why don't you go hang out with Tweek and my dad?"
"Oh, there's a conversation I want to be stuck in the middle of." Kyle pushed Stan away, but he left the room anyhow. He could be going anywhere, Stan figured, as he was vaguely familiar with the Marsh household, having spent much of his time there, mostly in his underwear, mostly in high school.
"Do you think you can talk to his mom for me?" Stan asked in a whisper.
"Stan, if you guys are having problems," Sharon whispered back, "Maybe you should try counseling."
"No, we're fine. It's just the … you know, the bedroom. Oh God, why am I telling my 68-year-old mother this?"
"I'm not sure either," she replied. "And I can't help you anyway. Sheila and I don't talk about you boys."
"Really?" Stan asked unsurely.
"Yes. What, do you think we would still be friends if I got on the phone every week and said, 'Hi, Sheila, can you talk to your son? Apparently he's suffering from some kind of erectile dysfunction and Stan is being kind of a baby about it.' I mean, really, Stanley. Be a man and make some decisions for once."
"Oh, be a man, that's easy for you to say," Stan sniffed, hurt.
Sharon handed him the salad bowl. "Dinner's ready," she said in her normal volume. "Put this on the table." He very much wanted to begin asserting his authority and say, 'Bitch, you put it on the table,' but Stan just sighed, and did what his mother told him.
After dinner, Stan took his father aside, but he was predictably unable to get a word in. "There's something really off about that guy," Randy said suspiciously. "You don't think he's on drugs, do you?"
"I don't even want to know," Stan admitted.
"Why's he staying with you again?"
"Oh. Um, he and his boyfriend are having a fight."
"Yeah, Dad. His boyfriend."
Stan's ear picked up, and he smiled like an idiot, from ear to ear. "Is he ever!" he said joyously.
"Who's his boyfriend?" Randy asked.
"Isn't that the guy…"
"Yeah, he's the guy who owns the space we rent for the store."
"Oh." Stan kept looking at his father with a big, silly grin, hoping beyond hope that his father was going to make the connection. He glanced sideways briefly to see Kyle glaring at him from the kitchen, where he was helping Sharon with the dishes. Stan pursed his lips together and blew Kyle a kiss; Kyle rolled his eyes, but Stan could tell that he was smiling, too. Everything was going great, everything was going awesome, and then…
"So, uh … why's he staying with you?"
"Oh." Stan's smile shrunk a bit. "I told you, he and Craig aren't getting along."
"I know, you said that," Randy clarified. "I mean, why's he want to stay with you guys?"
"I guess … well, he said he kind of looked up to Kyle and me, and how we get along so well, and how he wished he and Craig were more like that." Stan shrugged. "I guess he's just looking for a same-sex relationship he can admire." Stan felt this was a somewhat haughty, or at least pompous assessment, but he was trying to make a point here.
"Doesn't he have any male friends he can look up to?"
"I don't think Craig really gives him the chance to have a lot of friends."
Randy put a hand on Stan's shoulder. "I'm proud of you, son," he said kindly. "Taking that man in is such a kind thing to do."
"Dad, don't you ever think there's something queer about my relationship with Kyle?"
"Well, of course," Randy shrugged. "But look, it's the 21st century. I'm willing to accept that two men might want to live together in a completely non-gay way."
"No, Stan, I'm a tolerant man. If you want to wait to get married and live with your friend and take in homosexuals who are having relationship issues, I'm cool with it. One day, when you have children, I can only hope you'll be as understanding a father as I was."
"You don't understand nearly half of what you think you do," Stan grumbled.
"And I'm just so glad you're finally using that guest room," Randy concluded.
Kyle was bristling with anger when he got in the car. "Well, that went awesome," he spat bitterly, making sure to slam the door with extra emphasis. "What a solid ending to a lovely week."
"Oh no," Tweek moaned. "What did I do now?"
"Oh, honey," Kyle cooed, turning around the face the houseguest in the backseat. "You didn't do anything."
"Oh, no. It's not your fault Stan's father thinks I'm just living with him because I can't afford my own place."
"He thinks that?" Tweek asked. "Why would he think that?"
"Because he sucks," Stan breathed, eyes on the road.
"Because Stan is too big of a pussy to tell his dad he's a big fat homo who likes antiquing and Dynasty and Tom of Finland."
Tweek's voice perked up. "You do? I love Tom of Finland."
"I don't like Tom of Finland," Stan scoffed. "Kyle's just being a bitch."
"Oh, I'm just being a bitch, but if you went into coma tomorrow and I wanted to keep you in a permanent vegetative state for 50 years, Randy Marsh would be like, nuh-uh, and pull the plug."
"That's horrible!" Tweek gasped.
"I know," Kyle sighed.
"Why would you keep someone alive like that? It's barely living!"
"He's just being dramatic," Stan said calmly.
"Like hell I am," Kyle snapped.
"Craig wants to be shot in the face the moment he turns 50," Tweek announced.
Stan whistled appreciatively. "Who knew Craig was so hardcore?"
"Wait a minute," Kyle drawled, slapping his hand over Stan's mouth. "We only have to wait nine years, and then we can just pick up our lease from the county? Oh, happy day."
"I don't think so," Stan gasped when Kyle removed his hand. "Tweek would probably inherit it."
"I already own it," Tweek said, but nobody heard him.
"Yes, of course," Kyle said bitterly. "I forgot that Craig's parents probably know Tweek is their son's boyfriend and wouldn't fuck around with his inheritance."
"I already own the store," Tweek repeated.
"My father would not deny you any inheritance, Kyle!" Stan shouted. "That's just absurd. He knows how much you mean to me."
"Oh good, so when you do die, after your father pulls the plug under my nose, I can have my measly 18,000 dollars, and endure another 20 years of, 'Why would Stan leave his money to his roommate?' " Kyle concluded his lame Randy Marsh impression. "But at least he knows we're super-close roommates."
"Why aren't you guys listening to me?" Tweek cried. "I already own the store! It's in my name! I already own it!"
Stan violently braked and the car squeezed to a stop, while Kyle got on his knees and peered at Tweek over the street. "You what?" he whispered.
"Craig doesn't own your store, I own your store. Craig just runs it. It's mine," Tweek explained. "Oh god, don't hate me!"
It was somewhat satisfying to have Tweek sitting on the couch by himself while Kyle paced back and forth, interrogating him. Stan just stood against the wall, arms crossed, seemingly fairly upset, but Kyle didn't have time to worry about him right now. "All this time," Kyle said slowly, thoughtfully. "We were getting angry at Craig." He stopped. "And it's really you, isn't it?"
"What? Me?" Tweek put his hands on his head, obviously meaning to grasp his hair, of which he now had very little to pull at. "No way, man! I don't do anything with your store! I just own it!"
"But you could overrule him, couldn't you, since it's your property?"
"I don't know!" Tweek cried honestly. "I don't do that stuff! It's way too much pressure! I don't even touch money!" He held up his hands. "I don't have a single dime, honest! It freaks me out, man! I hate it!"
"Well, how did you get a property on Main Street if you don't know anything about money?"
"Oh God, I don't know!"
"Liar!" Kyle accused.
Without an answer, Tweek was rocking back and forth, hugging himself, really freaking out. From the other side of the room Stan was beginning to feel badly about it; this man was unstable, not right, and here Kyle was driving him to the edge with accusations he didn't understand. He did consider stopping it, pulling Kyle off and asking him to halt, but he couldn't. He couldn't do it. Tweek was starting to cry, and Kyle was just yelling at him, and Stan felt his heart squeezing, torn between his discomfort with seeing this poor man ripped apart, and his need to protect Kyle from himself. He hated telling Kyle he was wrong about as much as Kyle hated knowing it. But that was their relationship — Kyle was the rational one who made decisions. Stan was just the band, providing the sensational background to the whole thing.
"I wouldn't do that to you guys," Tweek was saying through his agony. "I don't know how much you pay! I don't want to know! I didn't know he was raising your rent! I don't know anything! I'm just the owner," he sobbed. "Why don't you believe me? I thought you were so nice." His voice broke on the word 'nice' and he just kind of wept, head in hands.
Kyle turned to Stan. "This is pathetic," he said.
"I know," Stan agreed tonelessly.
"Lower our rent," Kyle said sternly, looking back at Tweek.
"I can't! I don't know how!"
"You write up a contract!" Kyle informed.
"I don't know how!" Tweek repeated. "Oh God," he said miserably, wiping his eyes. "I miss Craig so much."
"Why do you miss him?" Kyle asked. "He's abusive."
Tweek stopped crying when he heard this, although his voice remained distinctly warbled. "No he's not."
"You might be a goddamn liar," Kyle began, which made Tweek groan and Stan sigh. "But what's worse is when you lie to yourself, Tweek."
"I'm not," Tweek claimed. "Nothing between us is nonconsensual."
"Sure," Kyle said.
"Maybe he takes it too far. Maybe I needed a break. But that's me," Tweek sighed. He was starting to calm down now that the topic was away from money and back to Craig. "I like it that way. You must be submissive—"
"We are not discussing my sexual preference!" Kyle roared.
"If only there were some of it left," Stan muttered.
Perhaps Kyle didn't hear him, or perhaps Tweek was just too quick. "He does not abuse me!" he declared. "He has never raped me or hit me or done anything to me that I didn't ultimately enjoy!"
"But rape is rape, Tweek, even if you do…" Kyle paused to choose his words carefully. "…climax," he concluded.
"I decide what's rape. We have some issues but our problems aren't sexual! We're very compatible!"
Kyle put his hands on his hips. "Oh, so now you're changing your tune?"
"I wasn't singing!"
Stan slouched against the wall, looking heavenward, but he only caught a glimpse of the shoddily patched crack in the ceiling. He felt bad that it was so poorly done, but he wasn't exactly a handyman, and if Kyle thought hiring a contractor was a waste of money, Stan figured he could have done it himself, although Kyle probably would have done an even worse job than Stan had managed. Averting his gaze from the patch, he sighed, "Enough," and pinched the bridge of his nose. "Kyle, can I speak to you?"
Tweek was still cowering; Kyle was still fuming. His answer was, "No."
"Well, it wasn't a request," Stan informed him, pushing Kyle out of the living room and into the kitchen, where he pushed Kyle into a chair at the table. "You have to stop this right now," he said genially, not wishing to make it sound like a command.
"Oh, really." Kyle did not seem pleased. "Stan, that guy is fucking us over! Do you want to lose the business? I'm beginning to think you do."
"What? No! Oh Jesus, Kyle." Stan pulled out a chair and sat down. "This has really gone too far. I mean, I admit, I don't know Tweek, but I'm willing to bet that he has some kind of mental problem or emotional problem or something."
"I think his only problem is Stockholm syndrome."
Stan considered this briefly, and said, "Actually, I might agree with you." Kyle opened his mouth to speak, so Stan quickly added, "It would probably explain why he wants to keep hanging out with us."
"Well, why wouldn't he? We don't treat him like a goddamn sex slave dog."
"No," Stan agreed, shaking his head. "But you treat him like a hostage."
"Me?" Kyle shrieked, grabbing the edge of the table. "I'm just trying to do what's best for him." He put a contemplative finger to his lips. "And it just so happens that it might also work out well for us."
"This is working out well for nobody. I'm calling Craig tomorrow and telling him to take Tweek home."
Kyle made an attempt at protest as Stan left the room without sticking around to hear it.
Calling Craig at work the next day was one of the most awkward, embarrassing moments of Stan's adult life. He tried to get Kyle to do it, but Kyle refused to listen, locking Stan out of the back so that when he did make the call, he had to do it sitting on the sofa. Midway through the conversation — "conversation" being a stretch, considering that Craig had simply gone off on him — a pair of ladies came into the store and, when catching the owner sitting by himself, on a cellular phone, looking absolutely crushed, they both gave each other dubious glances and left, the faint tinkling of the door bells reminding Stan of the lost potential sales as Craig continued to verbally abuse him in the other ear. He was beginning to feel that perhaps he should have just left this one well enough alone — let Kyle handle it. As it happened, the only time Stan saw Kyle all day was when he left the office to go get lunch. He came back 20 minutes later with a sandwich and a fountain drink. Stan made a half-hearted attempt to follow him back there, but Kyle shut the door on him, and Stan didn't stick around to listen in on what Kyle might be doing. Probably, it wasn't even something interesting.
After work, Stan knocked on the office door softly, and tried to subtly jiggle the knob, but it was still locked. "I'm going home," he announced, wondering if Kyle wasn't listening to NPR with headphones on, or hadn't snuck out the window just to get the hell out of there. (After thinking this, Stan reminded himself that Kyle wouldn't fit through the window.)
Unexpectedly, though, he got an answer back. "Go home," Kyle growled through the door.
"Don't you want a ride?"
"But it's really cold out, and kind of sleeting," Stan informed him.
"At least I'm not wearing flip-flops."
Stan tried not to laugh at this, but he couldn't help himself — it was funny. Kyle was funny. He got the momentarily fleeting feeling of sadness that he used to get when he was younger, when he caught a whiff of unfairness or injustice. But this was directed inwardly. He rapped on the door again. "Are you sure…?"
"Yes," Kyle answered in a stiff tone.
He wanted to get out his key, the one Kyle knew he had, to every lock in the shop. His key — what a joke. What a joke. It was Craig's key, and soon he'd have to get rid of it. He tossed the keys up and caught them, flipping off the lights as he departed, wondering why he was bothering — the only people who cared about their utility bills were Kyle and Craig.
Sleeping on the living room couch, Tweek looked normal, nearly peaceful, with one of Kyle's stiff oxford shirts tucked into his tight jeans. Stan felt like a traitor — although a traitor to Kyle or Tweek, he didn't know which. He didn't want to wake the guy, but he knew Craig would show up soon, and Tweek should probably be ready to go. And it would be unfair to spring this on him without fair warning. So he did, and Tweek sat up and rubbed his eyes, yawning.
"The day passes so quickly when you just sleep through it," he said wisely, tucking his legs under his bottom. "Don't you think?"
"I rarely sleep past 8 a.m., if that," Stan answered.
"Me and Craig don't get up until a lot later."
"I can imagine." Stan coughed. "Listen, Tweek." Tweek caught this and looked up at him fondly, intently, obviously curious. "I … aw, man." Stan found himself sitting down on the couch, wondering how this man who was exactly his age — as exact as it got for adults, anyhow, not in the way children considered exact to reach down like roots to the second or the minute — could belie such age, radiate such a powerful childlike glance. It upset him, and yet it calmed him, because he had nephews … and nieces. He knew how to talk to children. Tweek might not have been a child, but that was what helped Stan swallow nervously and tell him that Craig was coming to take him home, and if he didn't go home with Craig, he had to go somewhere else.
Surprisingly, Tweek was quite calm about it. "Okay," he said steadily. "I'm ready to go anyhow."
"You are?" Stan asked, shaken from this entire thing.
"Yeah," Tweek confirmed. "Jesus, you guys were nice, though. I really owe you."
"You don't owe us at all. I think we did you more of a disservice than anything. I mean, we don't know you at all, and here we…" Stan wanted very badly to say "Kyle tried to fix your problems" but then, even if he hadn't wanted anything to do with it, didn't like Tweek, didn't want to bring him to dinner, didn't care if he and Craig ever got on again, even for the sake of getting their rent slashed back down to something they were capable of paying, to Stan, it was always we. So they weren't married, and didn't have children. His life was bundled up with Kyle's like a china tea set, or a pair of candlesticks, or bookends: You couldn't buy one without the other. So he just said "we" to Tweek, and trailed off. But then he added, "Sorry I make poor coffee."
"It's okay," Tweek said, and it amazed Stan how soft and muted his voice felt. But then the doorbell rang, and he cried out again, "Gah! Oh shit!" and hid behind his hands. So much for that.
It wasn't Craig at the door, though. It was Kyle. "Aw, man, you're all wet and probably cold," Stan said as he pulled him inside, throwing his coat over the coat rack to get that soggy weight off of him. "Where are your keys, anyway?"
Kyle sneezed. "Jacket pocket," he shivered.
"Well, why didn't you use them?" Stan asked.
"Your jacket pocket."
Stan nodded in recognition, and was just tipping the door shut when it was caught by a set of hairy knuckles and neatly trimmed nails. Stan dragged Kyle (who sneezed again) back, and Craig stepped inside, looking just as immune to the climate as Kyle seemed susceptible. "Bad time?" he asked, looking from wet, glassy-eyed Kyle with his red, raw cheeks to flush, dry Stan, who was unnaturally stiff with apprehension at his decisions. Stan held Kyle a little tighter for warmth, and they both stared at their new guest, who went on to declare, "I don't give a shit. Give me Tweek, please."
Stan cleared his throat. "He's in the living room."
Craig's expression seemed to lift, and suddenly, for the first time in quite some time (as long as he'd been their gruff landlord, anyhow), Craig's face no longer seemed angry — in fact, he seemed much more worried, and far less sated than usual. "Tweek?" he called out warily, venturing into the living room with obvious trepidation. Stan saw this but looked away, feeling Kyle's cold, trembling hands at his forearms, and laid his lips against a tight, chilly cheek, in which he even felt the subtle scrawl of Kyle's auburn five o'clock shadow bristling. Kyle made a defeated noise and broke away, following Craig into the living room.
Feeling lost, and somewhat useless, Stan went in there, too, to find Kyle motionless, frozen as he watched Tweek and Craig reunite, the former just babbling with his usual chorus of, "Jesus Christ, oh my God," and the latter grasping him around the shoulders fiercely, saying, "I swear to God, in the name of all that is holy and all that is profane, if you ever so much as think about leaving me again" right into Tweek's face. It took Stan a moment, but by the time he finally grabbed Kyle's free hand, he knew that Craig wasn't trailing off for lack of an effective threat; he was leaving his thoughts unpunctuated because he was afraid to admit the truth, that if Tweek ever thought about leaving him again they might not have another scene like this, and it scared him. Kyle whispered something inaudible to Stan, and let go, and as he trudged away and toward the stairs, Stan regretted the way Kyle's erudite-looking khakis were darkened toward the bottoms with the horrible slop he'd walked home in.
Of course, Craig was furious.
And it would have been ridiculous to expect him to be any of the following: Forgiving, understanding, subtle, graceful, lenient, willing to let it go. After he took Tweek home — "We'll get you his ugly shirt back," he assured Stan in his most hostile sneer, leaving Stan to wonder how the fuck Craig knew it was Kyle's — he returned, dressed no less severely than before, still looking relatively unfazed by the fact that the weather outside had turned in the past few days from below freezing to rain to sleet to outright snow, which was now blanketing the front lawn as well as the dorky mailbox painted with the painfully acceptable designation Broflovski-Marsh. No 'and,' no nothing. But now it was snowing.
"Him," Craig demanded, pointing at Kyle, who by now had bathed and dressed and was wearing, oddly enough, the same black knit turtleneck he thought was suitably graceful enough to charm Randy Marsh, and the same dark-washed jeans he assumed would have flattered the middle-aged spread of his behind enough to make the whole thing appear presentable for the man's beloved son. But, okay, Stan figured, sizing up Craig, who was taller, stronger, more solid and confident than Kyle even in his stupidest little flip-flops, this is what Kyle did when he was nervous.
"Can I get you anything?" Stan asked, hoping like hell he could stay.
"Yeah," Craig said stoutly. "Your three most expensive liquors, jigger of each, with a shot of passion fruit syrup."
"How do you know we have passion fruit syrup?" Kyle asked.
Craig smirked. "You look like the sort of man who drinks a lot of hurricanes," he said knowingly. "Because I sure as fuck know you're the eye in plenty of them."
Kyle and Craig sat at the kitchen table while Stan scrambled to make this cocktail of Cointreau, Kahlua, and Malibu, shot of passion fruit syrup. If nothing else, he wanted to make it palatable.
"We're not loaded," he said, setting it in front of Craig, hoping his good-faith umbrella wouldn't be disposed of.
It was. "Not my problem," he said, taking a swig. He looked at Stan. "Get out of here," he commanded. Then he pointed at Kyle. "All right, Broflovski. Let's talk."
"He has dependent personality disorder," was the first thing Craig said. "Did you have any idea? Because on one hand, I bet you really didn't, so it was really quite horrible of you to assume you knew everything that was going on, wasn't it? And if that's the case, why didn't you figure out something was the matter? I mean, fuck, you're not a moron, are you?" Kyle shook his head slowly. "Oh, no. You aren't. What you are, though, is a selfish little pig fucker."
"Selfish?" Kyle cried out, breaking his steely calm. "I am not selfish!"
"Okay," Craig agreed. "No more selfish than me."
"Than you?" Kyle laughed, openly, out of nervousness, not because he found it funny. "You're a rapist," he concluded soberly.
"That's funny," Craig said in a way that made it very clear that it was only funny in the ironic or incorrect sense. "How dare you judge me?"
"Because he's not just some property or some coffee table of yours. He's a person. He makes his own decisions."
Bursting forth with a short, cruel laugh, Craig wiped his eyes. "Where did you hear that?" he asked. "Oprah? The View? Your mom? Tweek can't make his own decisions, not usually. It's impossible for him." Kyle opened his mouth to speak, but Craig just started speaking over him before an interruption was ever possible. "You live in such a small little world, Broflovski. You and that 90-year-old woman you call a boyfriend think everything can be categorized so neatly, well, it can't. Tweek has problems. He's on a lot of medication. He gets a lot of therapy. Like most people who have serious psychological issues, he didn't think ahead before he ran out. If you'd just given him back to me everything would have been fine. But you thought you could put one over me, so you decided to 'protect' him." Kyle's eyebrows shot up. "No kidding. I knew what you were doing. You want to keep your stupid little store. My question is, why?"
"Well," Kyle choked out. "It makes Stan happy."
"That's right. But what does Stan do to make you happy?" Kyle pursed his lips and crossed his arms and let his posture go slack. He knew what Craig was doing, and he wasn't going to let Craig win. "That's what I thought," Craig said snidely.
"Listen," Kyle said with a gasp. His eyelids felt so heavy, like he just wanted to shut them against these mind games and accusations. "You don't know me and Stan, not like you think you do. We have a complex relationship."
"I have had it with this bullshit," Craig snapped. "You want to hate me because I am raising the rent, fine. Go ahead. I deserve your hatred. I don't really give a crap, but fair's fair in the antiques business." Craig cleared his throat. "But on the other hand, don't take your pissy anal-retentive frustration out on me or my lover. No matter what kind of bad guy I am, I'm plenty good to him."
"You treat him like a dog!" Kyle barked in protest.
Craig shook his head. "It's a sad day when a gay man can't recognize a fetish."
"Stan and I don't need fetishes. We love each other."
"Not physically." Craig put his hands on his hips. "I can tell," he said knowingly.
"God fucking dammit, Craig! You are not fucking South Park's fucking goddamn gay Batman!"
Craig laughed. "You're very funny."
"Don't fish for compliments."
"I'm not," Kyle said innocently, slightly charmed. "Look, if Tweek has some kind of personality disorder—"
"A severe one," Craig added. "Tell Stan this drink is disgusting." He slammed the empty glass on the table.
"If there's something so wrong with him," Kyle insisted, "isn't it unfair of you to manipulate him into a sexual relationship?"
"I'm not manipulating him, you understand. I love him. I know love looks to both of you like something you saw on Bewitched, what with the charming, coy bickering about money and family acceptance and who gets what fucking side of the bed, but that's not the case for me and Tweek. And it is horribly insulting that you would hold us to your idiotic standards."
"Oh, that's certainly dandy, you should judge us, call our standards idiotic."
"It's about as fair as you basing your assessment of our relationship off of one tiny marital spat."
Kyle mulled over this word, marital. If Craig could use it, why couldn't he? "Are you married?" he asked raptly, inching in closer to Craig, who was now twirling the cocktail umbrella with his thumb and forefinger.
Smiling deviously, and leaning in just near enough so that his lips didn't touch Kyle's face, Craig hissed, "Yes." Kyle's eyes widened, and then settled in sadness. Craig continued: "In Vancouver. And Vermont. It's all pretty legal." Tossing the umbrella behind his shoulder, Craig sat back.
Kyle blinked. "If Tweek is so despondent, do you mind telling me where he got the money to own retail space on Main Street?"
"Why should I tell you?"
"Well…" Kyle swallowed. "We've been your tenants for years. I'd like to know."
"I should be insulted that you called him despondent, because he's not, he's quite happy."
"He left you because he's happy?"
"No," Craig growled. "He left me because I asked him not to cut all of his hair off with a scissors." Kyle rolled his eyes. "Look, do you want to accuse me of raping a grown man all night, or do you want any answer?" Kyle didn't say anything. "His parents had a coffee shop. They were bought out by a conglomerate. They made a lot of money. They invested it wisely. They drove off a cliff." Craig's stopped for a moment, and his face became softer, if only for a second. It was the second time in as many decades Kyle had seen him looking any way other than angry. "We all die, you know. And since Tweek is incapable of handling these issues, I handle the money. And we've got so fucking much of it because I'm a genius."
"Well," Kyle drawled, unimpressed. "That doesn't explain why he owns a store space on Main Street."
"Because I bought it for him with his money and put it in his name!"
"Oh, yes." Craig yawned, but Kyle was fairly sure he was exaggerating. "There's only so long I can have this conversation for. I've got Tweek, you've got…" Craig glanced around the room. "Purple fucking counters, apparently."
"It's lavender Corian."
"Right. Well, I'm not going to pretend it's not tragic, because is it. Anyway." Craig pushed his chair away from the table, and stood. "This has been delightful, and I'm sure you're feeling very dejected."
"Don't tell me how to feel," Kyle spoke up to Craig, who was now standing over him, arms akimbo.
"I'll see myself out."
Kyle felt sat with his chin in his palm and his elbow on the table as he watched Craig depart the house, ass crack proudly standing in for any kind of goodbye wave. "Well, that didn't resolve anything," he said to himself after he heard the door slam. Craig was right, though — he was feeling pretty dejected. When he got into bed, Stan was already asleep — mouth open, hair mussed, face-up, pajama top riding up to his nipples, covers stuffed between his thighs. Despite whatever else was wrong, the sight made Kyle grin as he slipped off his jeans and began to floss.
It had been two days since Tweek's departure, and Stan and Kyle found that business was great — largely in part to the enormous signs they'd hung up in the windows: Liquidation. Everything Must Go. Lost Our Lease. Making them was easy; Stan simply procured some poster paint and butcher paper. Putting them up, that was the hard part. Before opening up for the day, Stan approached Kyle, who sat at his desk, head in his hands, elbows on the blotter. He had no paperwork to do.
"Hey," Stan said cautiously, even timidly.
"Hi," Kyle said drowsily. "What's going on?"
"Nothing much," Stan said casually. "Business as usual."
"Not for long."
Stan rubbed at the wood floor with his foot, making squeaky, odd noises to fill the silence. He cleared his throat, and Kyle looked up at him. "Do you, uh … you think you want anything, you know, from the shop?"
"Oh." Kyle swallowed. "No. That's … that's okay."
"Because, you know, we can pretty much have anything we want."
"I know. I just…" Kyle gave Stan a weak little smile. "I don't really like antiques, is the thing." He tried to sound as happy as he could. "I like, you know, hideous 1980s throwback pastels and things."
"Yeah." Stan smiled in agreement. "You have horrible taste."
"I do, don't I?"
"Yeah." Stan coughed. "How's the job hunt going?" he asked.
"Oh. I haven't really … you know, we have a couple of weeks. Besides, I don't…" Kyle sighed. "Well, I can get some accounting job," he concluded.
"Maybe we can find you something in appraisals. You know, places like auction houses, they're always looking for people."
"Are they?" Stan asked.
"I don't know," Kyle admitted. "I just assumed they were."
"Well," Stan concluded, straightening the hem of his sweater. "It's time to open up for the day."
"Okay." Kyle gave a distracted little wave. "Good luck."
For lunch, they had leftover ropa vieja. It was half a week old, but cold, you almost couldn't tell. Stan drank a Sprite, and Kyle took small sips of lukewarm water from a styrofoam cup he'd filled in the bathroom sink. They talked sort of generally about Kyle's oldest niece, whose bat mitzvah was coming up. "Do you want to come down to Florida with me?" Kyle asked tentatively.
"Of course," Stan answered without missing a beat. "Why wouldn't I?"
Kyle sighed, and crushed his empty cup in his hand, relishing the satisfying squelch of the waxy material. "Why would you want to come for some stupid Jew thing, and hang out with distant relatives I don't really know, and a bunch of prepubescent Florida kids?"
"Well, it's family, Kyle, of course I'm going. Why would you even ask?"
"Like I said," Kyle began, voice tightening. "They're my relatives, and I barely even care."
"It's family," Stan repeated.
"Oh, sure," Kyle snapped. "My family is your family, but as far as your dad is concerned, I'm just some dude who lives with you."
Stan sighed, and put his head in his hands. "Oh, Jesus," he muttered. "Oh, good lord. Not this again, Kyle, please."
"Well, I'll buy you a ticket, if you really want to come with."
"Yes," Stan hissed. "I want to come with. You went to my sisters' kid's sweet sixteen, I mean, my God."
"It still amazes me that she threw him a fucking girls' birthday party."
"I know," Stan agreed, mood picking up suddenly. "That kid is such a little flamer."
"I think I caught him checking me out once, if you want to know the truth."
"Well, you know us Marshes, we can't keep our eyes off of you."
"How sweet." Kyle rolled his eyes.
"It's true. I think it's genetic, I think we're attracted to stocky little redheads with abnormally large—" Kyle had been preparing to feign objection to whatever Stan was going to say, but the bells on the door chimed, and he stopped speaking and Kyle stopped listening just in time to behold Craig, flip-flopping toward them in all of his bulging, golden glory.
"Oh no," Stan sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose. "What now?"
"You think that's any way to greet your overlord?" Craig asked, brushing some hair out of his eyes.
"Yes," Kyle said frankly. "You're not really our favorite person right now."
"Feeling's mutual," Craig announced. "Tweek is a mess, you know. He didn't even want to leave the house today."
This did not impress Kyle. "Oh, you left him home alone, did you? Wow. What prompted that? Couldn't find a short enough leash?" Stan meant not to provoke this any further, but he found the literal absurdity of the thing to be sort of funny, he so gave a small laugh, which prompted Kyle even further: "You know, with anyone else that would just be a metaphor," he continued. "But you actually drag your boyfriend around on a leash. And you do it so regularly, too, it's actually only just struck me how wonderfully fucked up that is, Craig. It's like you've completely normalized humiliation for an entire generation of children in this town. Well done."
Something remarkable about Craig was that comments like this never bothered him, or if they did, he was quite successful at not feeding into it. "I see a couple of days haven't softened you," he said.
"That's Kyle," Stan replied with faint amusement.
"Can we help you, Craig? Or did you just come to gloat?"
"For all your ethical superiority," Craig said brashly, drawing something out of his back pocket, "you're both heinous bitches, you know."
"Well, Kyle might be," Stan reasoned.
"Oh, shut up, Stan, seriously."
"Boys." Craig snapped his fingers, and they both looked up at Craig, who was now holding a square of folded paper in his hand. "Tweek and I have talked," he said sternly. "I do not know what you did to him, but under his advisement…" Craig trailed off, and stuck the paper in Kyle's face. "I thoroughly expect both of you to kiss my ass, though." He caught Stan's eyebrow raise at this. "Not literally, of course."
Kyle scrambled to open the paper, and his mouth dropped open. He stuck a hand out. "Pen," he gasped.
Stan asked, "What?"
"Give me a pen!" Kyle shouted, smacking him.
"Fine, shit," Stan grumbled, reaching around to grab a ballpoint pen off of a nearby table. "Demanding much?"
Kyle did not hesitate to click the pen open and he very hastily laid down his flowery signature, all loops and discernable flourishes.
"What?" Stan asked again. "I swear to god, Kyle…"
"Here." Kyle handed him the paper, and he smoothed it out on the table, and read the document heading; it was a lease.
"Did you just sign a 10,000-dollar monthly lease?" Stan asked dubiously.
"It's for one grand," Craig said suddenly.
"You have to sign," Kyle choked out.
"I'm not signing anything for this lunatic," Stan said, indicating Craig.
"He's not raising the rent," Kyle gritted. "Fucking sign it, Stanley."
Stan hunched over the paper, and made quite of show of reading every last word, much to both Craig's and Kyle's annoyance. When he got to the end, he raised his eyes, and said directly to Craig, "I want to own this shop." He paused. "Not just the business. I want the space."
Craig looked cross, and he quickly bent over and pulled the contract away. "Well, you can't have it, Mr. Marsh. It's not for sale." Stan frowned, and clicked his pen rapidly. "Aw, isn't that sad? You only get your way sort of. Heartbreaking."
"Fuck you, Craig," Stan sneered. "Give me that." He snatched the paper away from Craig, who looked scandalized, and clicked the pen once more, and scribbled out Stanley Marsh in his messy, haughty script. "There you are, my liege. Signed, sealed, and delivered."
"Well, considering I'm sitting right here, it's hardly been delivered."
Craig folded up the paper and extended his hand to Kyle, who looked at Stan, and Stan just said, "We hate you, Craig."
"Well, you're getting this store for another five years for a grand," Craig said simply. "That's a long time. You'll be robbing me by the end."
"Maybe Tweek would sell us the building before then," Kyle said softly.
"All things are possible," Craig reasoned. Then he quickly added: "But not likely. We do make decisions together. Fair's fair."
"If fair's fair," Kyle hissed, "then get the fuck out of our shop."
Craig laughed, and stuck his contract in his back pocket. He slammed his hands down on the table happily. "You boys aren't so bad," he said. "But I still wouldn't fuck either of you on E with my eyes closed." He reached out and touched Kyle on the nose, which made Stan jump to his feet, and Kyle flinch. "Though your temper is very attractive, you know, if perhaps you weren't such a sad little girl, I might consider it."
"Get out," Stan growled territorially. "Get out get out get out!"
"I'm going." Craig grinned. "Have a nice life, gentlemen. Thank you for giving Tweek the need for six months of constant psychotherapy."
"Get out!" Kyle bellowed.
Stan's pressing offer of celebratory sex was met with daggers, and Stan briefly worked on a list of people who might know where he could get some Viagra he could unwittingly slip into Kyle's coffee. Sadly, as soon as scribbled down Craig's name, he immediately crossed it off, and that left Kenny, who was in jail. This left him slightly depressed, and he fell asleep that night on the living room couch, only to wake up in the morning still wearing his chinos and argyle sweater vest. Kyle was standing over him, lounge pants, no shirt, brandishing a mug of coffee, and the remote. "Red Shoe Diaries, Stan? Really?" he asked, not quite in disbelief.
"I can explain," Stan said groggily.
"It's better if you don't." Kyle handed him the coffee, and that was the end of their discussion.
At least a couple people came into the store that day and asked about the sale, but Stan's happy reply of "Well, we got our lease back!" was met with the discouraging response, "What a shame." Yes, what a shame. What a shame they hadn't lost their only source of income (aside from Kyle's extremely un-liquid CD holdings) and had to get real jobs that would have made them both miserable. As this lady left the shop, Pomeranian in arms, Stan gave her both fingers, but he dropped them quickly enough when a young lady with back-length buttery hair came into the store and batted her green-painted eyelids at him.
"Hello," she said breathily, in the sweetest voice imaginable. "My fiancé is locking up his bike, but…" She blushed. "We're looking for a bed," she concluded.
"Lovely," Stan said genially, taking her hands to shake them. "Congratulations. We, uh … we have a lot of beds. Well." He paused. "More than two. That's a lot, right?" She smiled at him, and Stan smiled back; he liked this so much. Old crap made people so happy. "How much are you looking to spend?"
The girl giggled. She didn't seem particularly young, but she laughed like a schoolgirl, and Stan wanted to average these things out to … 27, maybe? What a lovely age to get married. Stan loved women, loved the ethereal softness they kept so unguarded. They were all like porcelain figurines. He'd never want to have sex with a piece of Lladro, or anything like that, but he loved looking at her. She was captivating.
"Money doesn't matter," she answered brightly, like this was making her day. She seemed really coy. Stan was glad no one else was around so he could flirt with her a little. That might take his mind of the ever-growing gloom that Kyle had become recently.
"You must have a wonderful fiancé," Stan replied.
"He's an angel. In fact…" They both turned at the jingle of the bells. "Here he is." She sprinted over to him, and Stan had to take a step back to register that this man his charming customer was kissing on the lips was Butters.
"Hey Stan!" Butters said casually, approaching the counter like he didn't have a huge print of crimson grease smeared across his lips now. "You met Lill?"
"Um, yeah," Stan fumbled. "Oh my God, Butters, you're getting married?"
"Sure am," Butters confirmed, putting an arm around this blonde who was apparently his girlfriend Lillian, who had apparently had sex in this store. "Proposed and everything."
"It was so romantic," Lillian squealed. "Dinner, candlelight, roses, down on one knee…" She hoisted her finger up for Stan to see the ring, which was topped with a princess-cut diamond. He didn't know much about jewelry, so he just licked his lips and smiled at it, the ring, as if it weren't an inanimate object.
"Who knew Butters was so romantic?" he asked.
"I did," Lillian sighed, kissing Butters on the cheek. Now his face had two lipstick marks on it, but Butters didn't care, he just blushed and looked heavenward.
"But now we need a bed," he said. "Think you can help us?"
"I … I think so," Stan replied. "But really, we should…" He stopped and turned toward the office door behind him. "Kyle?"
Kyle stuck his head out of the office. "Oh," he said suddenly, holding the doorframe. "Butters."
"Hey Kyle." Butters gave a little wave. "I'd like you to meet my fiancée, Lill."
Letting go of the edges of the doorframe, Kyle stepped cautiously toward the girl, and took her hand. "Lillian," he said casually. "Butters told us about you."
"Did he?" she asked, releasing Kyle's grip.
"Yeah," Stan confirmed. "Right before we fired him."
"Laid off," Kyle corrected. "Although now that we got the lease back — Did you get my message about that, by the way? — I suppose you can have your job back, now."
"Oh," Butters said sheepishly. "You want your weekends back, don't you?"
"Who wouldn't?" Stan asked.
"We've done it like twice and it's killing us, Butters, how did you manage?" Kyle added.
"Aw, I liked it," Butters said, sounding too apologetic.
"I'd give up everything to own a place like this," Lillian said.
"To be fair, we don't own it," Kyle told her.
"Might be nice, though," Stan added.
"We rent," Kyle concluded, "from Craig."
"Who is Craig?" Lillian asked.
"This complete asswipe," Stan told her, and then he and Kyle made both Lillian and Butters, who already knew the story, listen to the tale of Craig, Tweek, their lease, and how they'd all gone to school together long, long ago.
"It must be wonderful to have so many old school friends running around," Lillian said awkwardly at the end of the story.
"It's not so great," Stan told her.
"Except for Butters," Kyle added.
"It's not like we're friends with Craig and Tweek, I mean, it's not like we have couples' night or anything."
"Our friends just keep arresting each other." Kyle sighed. "Sometimes I wish we could move away from here."
Lillian looked to Butters for some kind of clue now, but he just shrugged and nodded in agreement, as if to verify these claims, so she said, "Well, seems nice enough to me. I don't have anyone. I moved here from Butte." Then there was silence for a few moments, until Butters told them he didn't want his job back; he just wanted to spend his weekends with Lillian, driving around the mountains, hiking. "Oh, Butters," Stan wheedled him, but it didn't work.
"I'm out of the antiques business," he announced. "The business side, anyway. Now I just want to be a customer again."
"I think we can do that," Stan said with an intent grin, happy to be back on the subject of antiques. "You're looking for a bed, right?"
"Yeah." Butters pointed at a brass-framed king in the corner, which wasn't made up, but rather, covered in wilted old crazy quilts and a couple of embroidered pillows. "That one right there," he said, stepping over to it.
"It's a beauty," Lillian said in an ethereal way. She joined Butters near the bed, and he took her by the elbow. "We just love it."
"We got that at an estate sale in Idaho," Stan told her. "I remember that day, actually."
Kyle wedged his way between Stan and the happy couple. "It was hot as balls that day, though," he recalled.
"We'll give you 2,000 dollars for it," Butters said suddenly.
"What?" Stan gasped. "Butters, no. It costs 250 bucks."
"I know," Butters said. "I did used to work here."
"But it means a lot to us," Lillian announced.
"That's the bed where we…" Butters trailed off, and he gave his fiancée a heartbreaking look. Then he caught Stan and Kyle gaping at him, and he coughed in embarrassment. "We fell in love here," he finished lamely.
"That's where you had sex?" Kyle choked. "Oh, fuck. We'll just give it to you if you want it, Jesus Christ."
"No, no," Butters insisted. "I can't take it. It's worth a lot more to me than 250 bucks."
"It's falling apart," Stan told him.
"Seemed fine to us," Lillian added. "And we tested it, you know."
"I can't take that much money from you," Stan clarified.
"Well, that's a shame, Stan, because I can't take it for that little. It's special, you know, it's just priceless. But 2,000 is the most I can afford to give you." Kyle raised his eyebrows. "And I won't take it for free," Butters concluded.
"All right," Stan sighed. "I don't know where you got that kind of money, but godammit, I believe in love. If you want it, Butters, it's yours."
"I just, you know, saved up from all those weekends I worked here."
Unable to contain her excitement, Lillian grinned like a madwoman, and clapped her hands quickly. "You guys are the greatest," she announced breathily.
Stan quickly dismissed this as he pulled out an invoice form. "We're really not."
"I just love your store," she continued, neatly ignoring him. "It just captures a mood for me, you know? The first time I came in, I knew, the person who did this, he or she knows what they're doing."
"Stan knows a lot about antiques," Kyle said stupidly from the background. They all turned to look at him. "He … he loves them," he finished lamely.
"Aw, so do we," Lillian agreed. She grabbed Butters' hand again. "But there's always something you love more."
After an indulgent snicker, Kyle tightened his lips and said, "Not sure there is. You people love this crap."
"It's not crap," Butters said harshly. "It's just a reminder of a sweeter time."
"A sweeter time?" Kyle asked. "Hardly. It's a museum to the past, godammit. Tell me, how is the present supposed to compete with the past perfect?"
"Oh, verb tenses," Lillian enthused. "I remember those from grade school."
"I can't deal with this," Kyle said suddenly, and he excused himself and shut the door to his office.
Stan offered them genuine congratulations when they left, and left a couple messages with dealers in Denver. He talked with a couple of obvious lesbians who came in looking for a dining room table, no chairs. "We really only sell sets," he told them, but they took a card, and promised to come back if they changed their minds. He noticed they were wearing wedding rings. So he stopped them on the way out and asked.
"Yep," said the taller one, putting an arm around her wife's shoulders. "Just did it last week."
"It seems like everyone's getting married these days," Stan said casually, referring mostly to Butters.
But the lesbians didn't know Butters; they thought he was being specific to a very different sort of population. "We just had to rush to California," the shorter one told him.
"It's a mass movement!" the other added.
"Mass movement to California?" Stan asked, perplexed.
The taller one got a look of very judgmental lesbian scorn in her eye, and said through her obvious annoyance, "Gay marriage is legal in California now?" with a very interrogative inflection.
"It's all over the news," the shorter one added.
"I don't watch the news," Stan admitted.
"Oh," the shorter one said irritably, holding the door open for her wife. She sniffed. "Well, quit living in the past, then."
"Quit living in the past," Stan said to himself as he shuffled away from the door. He looked at the couch by the window, the closed office door. He tapped his fingernails on the glass of the counter, and wondered just why he'd never thought of it before.
It had been a slow week. A slow week that ended for Kyle in the new-usual way — spending Sunday afternoon in the office in the back of the store, teaching himself how to knit. It was kind of embarrassing, honestly, and he'd been keeping the spools of cheap, dollar-store yarn and plastic needles in the bottom drawer of the left-hand filing cabinet — the one Stan didn't have a key to. The first Saturday on the job, he tried reading, but it became apparent pretty quickly that the problem wasn't boredom; he needed something to do with his hands. This had been going on for about 10 days now, and the thing was, he hadn't actually finished this mauve atrocity; he kept undoing the rows, freeing the yarn from its knotty, disjointed imprisonment. Two steps forward, one step back. It was coming along, just not very quickly. Kyle looped scratchy strings around his pale fingers gracefully, licking his lips as he nodded along to All Things Considered.
He dropped a stitch. He uttered a curse. He undid the row. Repeat, repeat, repeat.
Stan's distant voice regrettably permeated the door. "Kyle?"
"Yeah?" Kyle deftly used his loafer to open up his secret knitting drawer.
"Can you come out here please?"
"Um, yeah." With some luck, Kyle managed to slam the drawer shut just as Stan poked his head in.
"What are you doing in here?"
"You're not, like, masturbating to NPR, are you?"
Kyle just rolled his eyes.
"Well, come on," Stan prompted. He walked away.
"Where are you going?" Kyle trailed him out of the office. Stan just gave him a curious wink, like an overeager sailor or something, and got down on the floor so that he was basically face-to-crotch with Kyle's corduroys. "What are you doing?"
Stan straightened out his blazer. "Can't a guy just get on the floor in the middle of his antiques store on a Sunday sometimes?"
"Get up," Kyle said tiredly. "I don't want a blow job. What are you doing?"
"I'm not offering you a blow job."
"You're not? That's very rude."
"Oh, Kyle." Stan grinned. "Bitter, sardonic, wonderful Kyle. What would I do without you?"
"Well, for one thing, you'd be in horrible debt," Kyle supposed.
"I guess so," Stan agreed, producing an envelope from his back pocket. "Here." He handed it to Kyle, who looked at Stan funny, and then turned the envelope over in his hands. "Open it," Stan urged.
"Is it anthrax?" Kyle asked.
"You'll never know unless you open it."
Kyle rolled his eyes. "Well, here we are, you on the floor getting your pants all dirty, and me opening this stupid envelope full of anthrax…" he trailed off when he saw what was inside. "Plane tickets," he said slowly. Stan just nodded retardedly, obviously overjoyed. "From Denver to San Francisco," he added.
"You want to go?"
"I'd be horribly hurt if you didn't." Stan took a deep breath. "All right, Kyle Broflovski. I've been fucking you since we were 16—"
"No, you were 16, I was 15," Kyle interrupted.
"How do you remember that?"
"I remember all the unimportant little trivialities of our lives," Kyle shrugged.
"Well, all right." Stan took another deep breath, and began again: "Kyle Broflovski, I've been fucking you since I was 16 and you were 15." He paused and grabbed one of Kyle's pale hands. The right one, in fact. "Do you want to come with me to San Francisco and make it legal?"
"You want to … make it legal?" Kyle squeezed his eyes shut and nearly fell to the floor. "You mean you want to—"
"Don't make me say it, please. It's too cliché. But yeah, I think we should do it."
"Really?" Kyle asked.
"Really," Stan confirmed, grabbing Kyle's forearms. "Really, really, really."
Kyle tilted his head, trying to better look into Stan's eyes. "Why?"
"Why?" Stan coughed. "You must be kidding. You've wanted to do it for so long!"
"I know, I…"
"You have to say yes, Kyle."
"What?" Kyle asked. He was beginning to tear up.
"You have to decline or accept. That's how it works."
"Oh," Kyle choked, wiping his left eye. "I accept." He cleared his throat. "Yes. I do. I want to go to California with you."
"Oh my God!" Kyle exclaimed, hopping to his feet. "Oh my fucking God!"
"You're happy?" Stan asked, still grinning.
"Can we have a party?"
Kyle clapped his hands together. "Can I say, 'This is Stan, my fiancé?"
"If you are so inclined."
"Can I register at Crate and Barrel?"
"If that's what you want," Stan said indulgently.
"Oh my God!" he repeated, beginning to fan himself. "Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God." Stan got up, and took off his blazer, and kept smiling, watching Kyle pace back and forth in front of the register. "Stan!" he exclaimed. "Who's going to watch the shop while we're in California?"
"Butters," Stan said simply. "He'll do it for free."
"Oh my God, Stan. Do you realize what this means?"
"That Craig was right all along, we're the most heteronormative fags possibly ever?"
"No, wrong. It means when we have children they won't be born out of wedlock!"
"Now I think you're getting too far ahead of yourself," Stan suggested. Kyle either didn't hear him or didn't care.
"Oh my God," Kyle repeated again, now fanning himself, pacing, and beaming like an idiot. Suddenly he stopped, and smacked his hands on the counter. "I have to go call my mom!" he cried, turning to run back to his office and do just that.
Stan caught Kyle's wrist. "Let me go," he said airily. "I need to go call Mom."
"No, just wait a minute." Stan pulled Kyle in and wrapped his arms around his excited fiancée. Stan could hear and feel Kyle's heart pounding, heavy and fast, like he hadn't heard it pounding for a very long time. "Don't you want to know where I got the money for this?" Stan asked, voice low and deep.
Kyle swallowed. "Okay." He put his arms around Stan's neck. "Tell me, Stan. Where'd you get the money to take a trip to San Francisco?"
"Well, Kyle, that's an interesting question." He pulled Kyle in a little closer, but only a bit — they were pretty much already in each other's faces. "I got it from my dad," Stan said huskily. "I told him I wanted to take my longtime gay lover to San Francisco to get gay married, because we're gay." There was a moment of silence between them, and Kyle felt Stan's moist breath on his lips, and for just a second or two their hearts beat in sync, and nothing further needed to be said. "And he was so happy for us," Stan continued after the moment had passed. "He just wrote me a check."
Kyle took a deep, deep breath, and exhaled his boyfriend's — no, his fiancé's name. And with tears stinging his eyes again, he finally had no words. So he did the only thing he thought could fill the silence: He brought his lips to Stan's, and kissed him wetly, like he did when they were 15.
In the resulting bout of sweet, vanilla lovemaking, they accidentally knocked a crystal lemonade pitcher off of a console. It was actually quite valuable — Victorian, ca. 1879, clear etching, purchased from a dusty garage sale off the side of the road near Missoula one summer. As it happened, Kyle did not care that this pitcher would have retailed for 160 dollars — there were some things that were more important to him than money. And likewise, Stan did not care that he'd busted a most important piece of English aristocratic history, because the man he was holding in the aftermath of the destruction meant more to him than some fusty old piece of junk.
End note: All right, guys. That's the story.
If you liked this, feel free to vote for it in Foodstamp's contest. You have to send her a note on DeviantArt, where her handle is Imaginaaation. No, I don't have any freaking clue how to make links on this site. While you're over there, check out the other entries -- in the spirit of diplomacy I won't get detailed, but you should read them anyway.