"Mom, dad, I have something to tell you," said Stan. He felt light, untouchable, and ever so slightly drunk. Visiting Kenny's before making the announcement had surely been the right thing to do. He had been putting this off for months, and only now did he feel the courage to utter his next words. "I'm gay."
Randy spat out his beer. "You mean you're homosexual?" he gasped. "You want to do it with guys?"
"That would be what I mean," said Stan, pinching the bridge of his nose.
"This is terrible!"
"Randy! Stan has a right to be whatever he is!" Sharon snapped. She smiled gently at her son. "Stan, your father and I love you, no matter what."
"But this town won't understand that! He'll be bullied! Ostracised! He won't have a date to the senior prom! You know it's true!"
"Oh, no, no, no," Stan groaned. "Dad, you're talking crap." His mom did not agree. Her hands flew to her face as she gasped.
"You're right! But what can we do?"
"We need someplace accepting. Somewhere he will fit in...but where is gay enough?" Stan put his head in his hands. He suddenly needed another drink.
"I don't want to move!" Stan yelled through his hands.
"This isn't about what you want, Stanley. It's about what you need."
"I need to be here. With my friends."
"Your friends?" Randy laughed bitterly. "As soon as you tell them your little secret, they'll be kicking your ass every chance they get. They'll call you every foul name under the sun."
"San Francisco!" said Sharon. They looked at her. "That's gay enough! And so liberal and accepting!"
"Great! Pack your stuff, Stan, we're going to San Francisco!" This caused Stan to finally look up again in horror.
"What? No! Kyle moved there and he said it was even shittier than here!"
"Kyle isn't gay! What does he know about your needs?" asked Randy.
"He knows when something's shit!"
"That's enough, Stanley!" said Sharon. "Go pack! We have a lot to do."
Stan went upstairs and into his bedroom, but it wasn't to pack. He climbed out of the window and set off for Kyle's. If he was being dragged away to another state in the middle of the night (and he had no reason to doubt he was; his parents were bordering on too stupid to function) he at least wanted to say goodbye. He scaled the side of Kyle's house and knocked on Kyle's window. The curtains were closed, which was odd. He knocked again.
"Kyle, it's me, Stan!" he hissed. "I need to talk to you right away." The seconds ebbed away with no response. Stan was about to knock again when the curtains drew back and Kyle opened the window. He climbed inside. By the light of the computer monitor, Stan could see that Kyle was very flushed. Instinctively, he glanced down, then back up again. His gaze wandered to the monitor and he understood what Kyle had been doing.
"What is it?" Stan hurriedly looked back at Kyle.
"I'm moving to San Francisco. Right now. I'm supposed to be packing." Kyle's mouth opened and he blinked, repeatedly.
"My parents are crazy."
"Yeah, but they do stuff for a reason! What's the reason?" Kyle drew closer as Stan hesitated. "Stan?"
"I'll tell you later." He didn't want his goodbye to be marred with awkwardness.
"I need to know now! We might be able to change their minds!" Kyle seized Stan's arms and pushed him against the wall. His body pressed down on Stan's. Stan felt his face flush like Kyle's as rationality became so much harder. He wanted to tell Kyle. He wanted Kyle to help him. Kyle would never turn against him. His will weakened with Kyle's grip on his arms. Kyle wrapped his arms around Stan's shoulders and buried his head. "You can't go."
"I don't want to." His eyes were warm and wet. He hugged Kyle. "I don't want to leave."
"San Francisco is even shittier than here. You'll just be miserable. Don't go." Stan gave a hollow laugh.
"I know, but I can't do anything. They're determined." His shoulder was getting damp. He stroked Kyle's head, not worrying about normal boundaries.
"You know that knowing all of the words to that Scott MacKenzie song is compulsory? And you do actually have to wear flowers in your hair?" Stan was less sure about this revelation.
"Really?" he asked, skeptically.
"Yeah. And you have to smell your own farts."
"I don't believe you."
"The farts thing is true. The song is kind of true. It's played so much that you kind of absorb the lyrics. Dude, stay here. Please." Stan's throat swelled and tears started rolling down his cheeks.
"I want to stay. I really, really do." He clung tightly to Kyle. "Dude, I love you. I don't want to leave you."
"I love you too, dude. I'm really going to miss you." Kyle finally lifted his tear-streaked face. "You really can't tell me why you have to go?" Stan realised, with a sinking heart, that immediately after what he had said he couldn't tell Kyle why he was leaving. He shook his head.
"Another time." Kyle wiped his face.
"Is there any chance you'll return?" he asked sadly. Stan shrugged.
"With my parents, who knows? But I'll try. I'll really, really try."
"I wish you'd tell me why so I could help." Stan smiled wanly.
"I will. But, right now..." He trousers began to sing. He pulled out his cell phone and answered his mum's call. "Hello?"
"Where are you, Stan? The car is packed and ready to go!"
"You packed already?!"
"Of course! This is an emergency! Where are you?"
"Kyle's house. But all the stuff..."
"We haven't packed all of it. We'll worry about it later. We need to get you from this town as soon as possible. Kyle hasn't beaten you up, has he?" Kyle, who was close enough to hear the conversation, snorted and punched Stan lightly on the arm.
"No, Kyle has managed to not beat me up," Stan replied, his voice heavy with sarcasm.
"Good. We'll be there in ten minutes." Stan hung up.
"Why would I want to beat you up?" Kyle asked. "Is your mom on crack? Is that why you have to move?"
"You wouldn't. My parents are just retarded." Kyle nodded and wandered over to the bed. Stan followed him.
"I really don't want to leave. I'd give anything to stay." Kyle suddenly grinned.
"I know! Say you've gotten some girl pregnant and have to stay!" Stan shook his head.
"Trust me, that won't work."
"Sure it will! We can bribe some girl to pretend to be having your kid, and then we can pretend she had a miscarriage! And by that time, this will have blown over and you can stay!"
"Kyle, they won't believe I've made anyone pregnant."
"Because...?" Stan just shook his head. Kyle shuffled closer and put an arm around him. The warm weight, which ordinarily Stan would have found comforting and reassuring, just increased his worries. He knew he was being stupid, he knew that he could trust Kyle more than anyone else he had ever known, but the words he needed to say were trapped somewhere in his throat. "So," he heard Kyle say, throwing him out of his internal concerns, "San Francisco."
"Safest place for me," Stan mumbled. "According to them, anyway." Kyle nodded, slowly.
"And you can't have made anyone pregnant?"
"No." Kyle nodded again. He drew Stan in closer. Stan let himself be brought in, rested his head against Kyle's.
"Stan, are you gay?" Stan flew back and knocked his head against Kyle's wall. He winced at the pain and rubbed the back of his head.
"How did you...?"
"You're not exactly the most liberal person I've met. You were talking about burning the rainforests yesterday. And I knew your parents would be going there for some stereotypical reason, so..." Stan tried to nod, but it hurt too much to be worthwhile.
"Are you okay with-" Kyle waved a hand impatiently.
"Don't be stupid. Of course I'm okay with it." He held his arm back out to Stan, who took refuge under it once more. "I wish you'd told me before you told your parents."
"I know," said Stan. "I should have known they'd do something retarded like this."
"You can't go to San Francisco." Kyle's voice was authoritarian and more indisputable than Stan had ever heard it before. "You have to stay here."
"Dude, I don't have a choice."
"Stan, please..." Kyle's voice was a whisper now. He stroked Stan's thigh, his hand moving dangerously closer to forbidden territory with every circular movement. "Don't leave me..." Stan didn't allow himself any questions. He leaned in and met Kyle's lips with his own, adrenalin coursing through his body. Kyle was on top of him, grinding into him, giving him everything he ever wanted.
The impatient honking of a car horn made them both jump. From along the corridor, Stan could hear Kyle's mom waking and yelling about the noise. He tried to get up, but Kyle pressed down on his shoulders and kept him pinned down.
"I have to go," Stan pleaded, but Kyle just shook his head and stopped his mouth. Kyle's hand was on his zipper, bringing it down, entering the opening. Stan pushed his hands down Kyle's trousers, under his boxers, encountering no resistance except the growing pressure from Kyle's crotch. There was pounding at Kyle's door, the doorknob was rattled, but Kyle would not release the now indifferent Stan.
"Kyle, we'll break down the door!" Gerald yelled.
"Is he abusing my son?" Randy shouted. "You should never have raised such an intolerant boy!"
"Why would my little bubbeleh abuse his best friend? What is the meaning of all this?" Sheila chimed in.
"I should go," Stan whispered, though he made no effort to push Kyle off him. In response, Kyle's fingers slid inside his boxers.
"No, you shouldn't," Kyle whispered back. Their parents continued shouting and beating at the door. Stan shook his head.
"Dude, I can't get off like this." Kyle's face fell. He retreated and sat up once again, huddling into himself. Stan joined him, his senses slowly returning. "Since when did you, you know, like guys?"
"I don't," said Kyle, completely deadpan. "I just wanted to distract you until this had blown over."
"What?" Stan screamed. He leapt to his feet and glowered down at Kyle. "You were leading me on? How could you do that?" Kyle shrugged, his face hidden in his arms.
"I just didn't want you to leave."
"So you made me think there was a chance we could be together? That's fucking sick!"
"I was only trying to seduce you," Kyle pleaded. "I just-" Stan snarled, forgoing any further chances for explanation, and unlocked Kyle's door. His and Kyle's entire families were stood there, stunned at the outburst, but Stan ignored them all. He stomped down the stairs, trying to block Kyle's yells out, pulling his wrist free when the other boy caught up and caught hold of him, and got into the car. He slammed the door shut in Kyle's face and locked it. His family had caught up with him by now and were still getting into the car as Kyle beat on the window.
"I only wanted you to stay here!" he shouted. Stan pulled out his iPod and let blisteringly loud music drown out the protests from outside. Miscellaneous items dug into him from all sides, and beside him his grandpa complained of something and everything, but Stan couldn't care any more. He couldn't trust his parents. He couldn't trust his super best friend. He would be better off alone in the world.
The car began to move. There was a scream of frustration that so loud it broke through Stan's music barrier. He did not turn to see the perpetrator. He didn't watch as Kyle disappeared into the distance. His eyes were surprisingly dry. He didn't feel sad. He couldn't even feel the anger anymore. He shut his eyes and let sleep take care of his emotions.
Stan awoke, his mouth dry and sickly tasting, in a city devoid of snow. He peered through the window at the bright, blue sky which contrasted with the blustery winds that seemed to be sweeping small children off their feet. He caught glimpses of the sea through gaps in the houses.
"Ah, Stan, you're awake at last," said Randy. "You must have been sleeping off a lot of abuse. We're finally here, in the city of the free."
"Isn't all of the US supposed to be the land of the free?" Stan asked, searching in vain for bottles of water. He pulled the earphones from his ears, which were aching. His iPod battery was entirely drained. He supposed that was the source of the ache which was vengefully pounding his brain.
"So naïve, Stanley, so naïve," his dad murmured. "Just you wait. We'll get real acceptance here." Stan couldn't bear to argue, so he contented himself with continuing his desperate search for water or, better yet, aspirin. Neither was forthcoming, and he was soon shunted out of the car into a hotel lobby. His parents took care of checking in, whilst Stan minded his grandpa, who was grumbling about the air being too fresh this close to the sea. And then they were handed keys, bundled into an elevator and sent to their new, temporary (or at least, Stan hoped it was so) home.
All four took the one room, which contained two double beds. Stan held back a groan as he did some basic mathematics and concluded that he would be sharing with his grandpa. He stepped into the bathroom, which was eerily clean and had a mirror that reflected far more than Stan felt was necessary. He quickly reconsidered, but in the process brought back painful memories. He gritted his teeth. He pulled out his phone. At least the bastard had the courtesy to try and contact him (7 missed calls, 10 new messages, 3 voicemails) but it would take far more than that for Stan to forgive him. Forget chocolate, forget flowers, Stan wanted stars.
He poured himself a glass of water and contemplated what kind of stars he wanted and how he would be given them. He remembered websites, selling stars and acres on the moon, and reconsidered again. He wanted galaxies. His super worst enemy should have difficulty fulfilling that demand. He smirked, sipped his water and spat it out again. He stared at the water in disgust. His first taste of San Francisco was not at all suited to his palate.
He went back into the main room, only to find his parents gone once again. His grandpa was still there, watching the television with a look of disgust on his face. Stan didn't fool himself into thinking he had an ally in his anger against San Francisco; his grandpa would be complaining no matter where in the world they were.
"Billy, make your ol' grandpa a cup of coffee!" he shouted. Stan grunted and grumbled, but complied. He joined his grandpa in watching the cream of early morning programming and let his mind sink into daydream. Perhaps San Francisco wouldn't be so bad. It was unlikely that its inhabitants would be as stupid as those in South Park, which had to be the moron capital of the world. Maybe he'd make new friends, better friends, who wouldn't die all the time or try to exterminate races or seduce him. Or maybe seduce him in a nicer way.
The door opened and in walked two rainbows. His parents had decked themselves out in gay pride banners, hats, badges and even (Stan didn't want to know how or why) shoes. They sported identical grins and waved their little rainbow flags at him.
"Look, Stan, we're supporting you!" said Randy, before Stan had recovered enough to ask what the hell they were doing. "We're showing that we're not backwards assholes like those people in South Park and we're proud of our son!"
"Could you be a little less proud? You're hurting my eyes!"
"Now, Stanley," said Sharon, sitting by him on the bed and wrapping an arm around him. "You needn't feel guilty about who you are."
"I don't! But you two look retarded!"
"What's retarded about showing the world your colors?" Randy demanded, pointing at Stan accusingly. "What's retarded about showing gay pride to the world?"
"For a start, everyone will assume you two are gay!" His parents looked at each other, open mouthed, and began taking off their new accessories.
"Who's gay now?" Stan's grandpa demanded, his attention finally taken from the television. "Randy, don't make me give you another beating!"
"Anyway, Stan, we bought you some new things," said Sharon. He caught the bag she threw to him and pulled back the opening as warily as if he was conducting a dissection. The contents were not quite so repulsive. They resembled those his parents had been wearing. At least, he supposed, he was the intended target for the articles.
"What if I'm not ready to 'Say it loud 'cause I'm proud'?" he asked, reading one of the many badges he'd been given.
"Stanley, we brought you here so you could revel in your sexuality!" Sharon snapped. Randy nodded.
"Yeah! So you'd better go revelling!"
"You want me to go screw random guys?" Stan incredulously enquired. His parents, as usual, ignored him.
"We're moving tomorrow. Get ready to be a San Fran nancy boy!" Stan pinched his nose and groaned. So much for leaving South Park stupidity.
A couple of hours later, Stan had temporarily escaped his parents' clutches and was free to walk around the city, as long as he wore some of the new things they had bought him. It was a mark of exactly how desperate he was that he actually agreed to wearing a baby blue t-shirt that proclaimed "I (heart) men!", even if he did zip his jacket up to hide the slogan the second he left their sight. San Francisco was colder and windier than he had expected (although not as cold as he was accustomed to), and he found himself agreeing with his grandpa's dislike of the air. He passed a myriad of cheese and wine shops and was passed by thousands of hybrid cars, but saw no-one else dressed as ridiculously as his parents had been. There were, however, a great number of hippies, which caused him flashbacks to the dreadful South Park hippie jam-fest. He shuddered and continued on to the pier.
The scent of cooking doughnuts caught his stomach's attention. He found himself unthinkingly led to the stall and purchasing a bag. As he was handed his goods, he felt a tap at his shoulder. He turned to see a guy whose hair was the kind of messy that took hours to arrange in the morning. He was grinning slightly nervously and kept glancing downwards.
"Hi. I, er, saw your pin," he said. Stan glanced down and saw that one of his parents had shown a dash of cunning for once in their life and pinned a badge to his jacket whilst he was changing. He scowled. Just because he had managed to admit to himself and his parents that he was gay, it didn't mean he was ready for the world to be informed. Especially not by a pink, heart-shaped badge, placed on his clothing whilst he was distracted.
"Oh. Right. Yeah."
"So," the boy said, shuffling his feet nervously. "I take it you are..."
"Yeah, yeah. And my parents want to tell the world," said Stan bitterly. The boy smiled.
"Oh, all the parents here do. Even if their kids aren't gay. It's the in thing at the moment, now that everyone has solar-panelled their roofs and adopted an African dodgeball team." Stan gaped unattractively.
"Seriously? Dude, that's messed up!"
"What's messed up is you holding up the line, kid!" the guy behind him in the queue yelled. Stan and the other boy moved away.
"Yeah. C'mon, you need to meet more of us. I'm Karl." Stan choked on his doughnut. Karl raised an eyebrow. "What's up?" Stan swallowed and shook his head.
"Your name sounds like my best friend's," he muttered. Karl laughed.
"God forbid anyone's names even sound alike," he teased. "What would you have done if I'd shared his name, had a heart attack?"
"Maybe. I'm Stan."
"Good to meet you. And here is the crew!" Karl gestured to a bunch of boys leaning against the pier railings, chatting easily. They glanced up at the sound of Karl's voice and grinned.
"Brought fresh meat, huh?" one blond boy asked, eyeing Stan appreciatively. "Pretty nice steak, too."
"Tasty," a black boy added. "And your name is?"
"Stan," Stan replied, trying his hardest not to squirm under the intense scrutiny.
"Finn," the blond boy said. "And this is Phil," the black boy nodded at him, "Giles," a nervous looking mousy haired boy grinned at him, "and Garfield."
"Call me Gary!" Garfield snapped. He glared at Stan, though the effect was marred with one eye being hidden an emo-fringe.
"Gary's parents' were pretty drunk when his mom started going into labour," Finn explained, flashing his tongue out at Garfield. "And they'd spent the past three hours watching Garfield, so..."
"Why'd you come to the city, Stan?" Giles piped up. "Day trip?"
"No, my parents dragged me here from Colorado as soon as I came out to them. They're pretty retarded."
"Is Colorado very homophobic?" Karl asked.
"Since my teacher from third grade changed his sexuality and his gender every week, I doubt it. Like I said, my parents are fucking stupid."
"So where're you living now?" Finn asked.
"A hotel. We're moving tomorrow, but my parents were too busy advertising my sexuality to tell me where to."
"And what kind of guys do you like?" Phil asked. Stan glared at him.
"Dude, I came out last night. It's fucking bad enough that my parents dragged me out of my home, made me tell the whole of this city that I like cock, without-"
"Okay, okay," said Karl, laying a hand on Stan's shoulder. "Sorry. Do you-" He was broken off by Stan's phone emitting a loud guitar solo. Stan picked it up, saw the caller and grimaced. He moved to put his phone back, but caught the raise in eyebrows around him and changed his mind. He mouthed "one sec," and walked a decent distance away, conscious of the eyes still on his back.
"Hello," he spat down the phone. "What do you want?"
"I want to know if you're fucking all right!" Kyle's voice was heavy. Either he had developed flu overnight or he was sincerely upset. Stan hoped it was both. Let the bastard suffer.
"I'm fine. Can I hang up now?"
"No!" Kyle yelled down at him. "Look, I'm sorry about what I did! I was just desperate to keep you in South Park-"
"So you decided to lead me on? And what were you going to say when we got past the groping? 'By the way, I'm never going to touch that because I like pussy'?"
"I'd have whacked you off."
"You would not!" Stan shouted, momentarily forgetting his surroundings. He cursed inside.
"I would. I'd have sucked you off, too."
"You like girls!" Kyle gave a cry of frustration down the phone.
"Stan, I'd die for you. Blowing you isn't such a big deal in comparison!"
"I was only leaving the city," Stan hissed. "It wasn't a life or death situation."
"I'm sorry for not wanting you to leave me!" Kyle yelled. "I'm sorry that I value you so much that it hurts me to think of you gone! I'm sorry that I wanted to stop your parents dragging you away before they'd had chance to come to their senses!"
"Because that would have happened," Stan agreed sarcastically.
"It could have done! I didn't exactly have much time to make a plan!"
"Okay, let's assume it did work. My parents find half a brain lying around somewhere, let me stay in South Park. I'm there, hoping that you want to be my boyfriend or at least fool around some more, and then what do you do?"
"I didn't think that far ahead!"
"I can tell!"
"I guess I figured you'd forgive me eventually," Kyle said, his voice thicker than before. "I thought I might find some way of making it up to you."
"By leading me on some more?"
"Fuck you, Stan!" Kyle choked down the phone. "I'm glad I didn't ask you to run away!" He hung up, leaving a confounded Stan staring down at his cell phone. He shook his head and glanced back at the group of boys a fair way behind him, who were all chattering in an entirely unconvincing way. He made his way back to them.
"Bad call?" Karl asked sympathetically. Stan shrugged.
"Could have been better," he replied. Karl smiled at him gently and took his own phone out.
"Wanna swap numbers?" he asked. "I can show you around some time."
"I'll come too!" Giles added.
"We can all show you about," Finn said with a smirk. Stan took his phone out again and made his first contacts in San Francisco.