So... uh... I don't know the inspiration for this actually. It was sort of a culmination of different events that just flowered into this story idea. I'm really putting a lot of thought into this, though, so please do enjoy it. And I have a Beta now, too, so if you see any mistakes... blame her! Ha ha... ha.... There's really only going to be like three chapters to this, but each one is going to be as long, if not longer than this one right here. Wow, I surprisingly have little to say about this story other than I'm really excited for it!
Hey, SekritOMG, I think I'm going to dedicate this story to you (and my Beta - you know who you are) because I dedicated "When We Practice, We Make Perfect" to Foodstamp, and I think you're very deserving of it. You've been very good with speaking to me and putting up with my weirdness, so I think very much so that this fanfic will be dedicated to you! Hooray!
Disclaimer: I actually have to be serious about this one, you guys, because the first few paragraphs I did pull directly from the fairytale of the same name. So... whoever wrote it first... I didn't write it, I just quoted it. Plus, I don't own South Park or any characters therein.
This Tale's Been De-Fairied
"Sometimes, she stopped to stare into the lighted windows of the houses along the streets. All the houses were decorated in honor of the New Year. Delicious smells wafted out to the street, making the little girl feel hungrier.
At last, she came to a corner between two tall stone houses that was sheltered from the icy wind. The little girl sat down there and pulled her feet under her, hoping to warm them. But it did no good. The cold air seemed to sink into her very bones.
The little girl was afraid to go home, for she had not sold any matches that day. She knew her father would probably beat her for that. Besides… besides… be –"
Kenny McCormick still had no idea what had happened to that poor, unfortunate soul in "The Little Match Girl." He could never make it past that one sentence. He had read every single story in his small pocket book of Fairytales over a thousand times, and could recite each fable by heart: "Beauty and the Beast," "Rumpelstiltskin," "The Three Little Pigs," "Little Red Riding Hood," "Jack and the Beanstalk," "Sleeping Beauty," "The Steadfast Tin Soldier," "Puss in Boots," "Rapunzel." But between the pages of that tiny book and its almost blindingly small print, Kenny had never managed to finish "The Little Match Girl."
He could get lost for hours contemplating the fate of curious Jack if he had just told the old merchant on the road to fuck off instead of selling his heifer for some third rate beans. He could imagine the prince's frustration if Rapunzel had decided to get a hair cut to spite him for not having the foresight to bring a ladder. He could even stomach the thought of little pigs getting mercilessly slaughtered for a hungry wolf's afternoon meal, and then go off to eat a hearty breakfast of eggs and bacon, without feeling the slightest bit of remorse. But as soon as he read of the father beating his child just because she couldn't sell her matches on New Year's Eve, Kenny would choke up and slam the book closed, hearing the nearly ancient tome's spine crinkle in protest.
"The Little Match Girl." What kind of fairytale was that, anyway? What was with all these authors' fascinations with the word little? Was it because it was all part of their moral – even the smallest of people can make a difference if you just endure your hardships long enough? Or was it to play off their target audience for profit – little children who still believed in the lies these books so harmoniously strung together for the inevitable and tragically false promise of a "happily ever after." Cute, little anthropomorphic kitty with a shoe fetish triumphs again for the side of indelible good; but no one ever mourns for the Ogre King after our well intentioned feline gobbles him up. And we tell these morbid tales to our children.
Kenny glanced at the cover of his pocket book, trailing his fingers over the hard back binding, feeling the friction of his fingertips draw smoothly across the face, leaving streaks of sweat and oils behind upon the eternally smiling facades of nostalgic heroes from decades past. They looked so happy, trouncing through the forest in a cluster fuck of imaginary creatures. Kenny sighed, dismally, as he shuffled the thin novella back and forth between his hands, debating on whether or not he would actually finish "The Little Match Girl" this time. He shook his head, watching his blonde bangs as they quivered with golden excitement and stuffed the book back into the confines of his coat pocket.
The bus he was riding on hit a pothole in the road, and a residual wave caused him to bounce in his spring loaded and not too comfortable seat a few times before settling back down to a slight tremble. The hum of the bus would have been enough to put him to sleep, if it weren't for the ever unpredictable interruptions of the Colorado terrain. Somebody should really fix these roads, Kenny thought, his stomach churning nauseatingly. Preferably before I get sick all over these seats! By the smell of the tearing leather, and the shoddy tankard as a whole, Kenny convinced himself that he wouldn't be the first to lose his lunch on this shit-hole of a bus.
Glancing out the window, he inconspicuously blew his hot breath onto the dingy, speckled pane of glass – just on the off chance that the old man in the back of the bus and the woman with her crying child could see him and think he was immature. I mean, really? A 28 year old fogging up a window? Unsightly is merely one of the words you could use in that situation, if not humiliating and retarded. Kenny was only partially disappointed when the window didn't even moisten; what did he expect? It was June, for Christ's sake. He had no idea what he would have written, anyway, besides a very frail "Help me."
They were nearing South Park, Kenny could tell. Not by the familiarity he had for the land, but for the feeling in his bones. The landscape was maddeningly similar and constringent here in the mountains. Not just people, but things as well refused to change, having an innate desire – no, need! – to conform, if but for the sole reason of having normalcy and a welcome lack of confrontation. "Here's far enough," he mumbled to himself, standing with a groan and rigid defiance from his knees. He had to stretch first before he could reach his lone duffle bag residing just above him in the overhead compartment. He was way too young to be feeling this stiff.
Kenny walked, or rather, tripped, his way down the aisle between the rows of seats, bracing his hands against their backs to keep his balance. As the metal husk of the bus shook every five seconds, Kenny was beginning to think the bus driver was hitting these bumps in the road on purpose, just to make his stumbling journey to the front even that more awkward. "You can drop me off here," Kenny said, raising his voice over the roar of the engine. "I'll walk the rest of the way."
"You sure?" the man asked, peering over his glasses at Kenny instead of watching for traffic.
"Oh, yeah," he responded, inching closer to the double doors. The sooner he could be off, the better. And he needed the exercise.
Even as he thought it, Kenny knew that was a total lie. He didn't need to be walking at all. He just had an acquired fear of staying in one place for too long. He didn't want to be anywhere long enough for people to get accustomed to his face and may have the opportunity to remember it.
"Alright," the driver drawled in his exaggerated southern accent. Kenny rolled his eyes; it wasn't like they were that far from the Dixie Line, asshole. "But just to warn you, we're almost to the town of South Park." He braked to a stop after having pulled over and whipped open the bus's passenger doors, a little aggressively.
"Thanks for the tip off, sonny," Kenny saluted in a mocking accent of his own, and tramped down the three steps that dropped him off onto the hard ground below. "God forbid I actually knew where I was going."
The bus slammed shut behind him, nearly clipping the end of his bag with a spiteful chomp. The exhaust pipe belched a smog of black fumes as it petered back onto the road with a clatter of steel. Kenny followed it with his eyes for a while, but it was going in a straight line on the only road for what appeared to be miles, and he quickly lost interest. He trained his gaze on the vacant and awaiting West. He squinted his eyes back down to the lonely and abandoned East from which he had come. He stared at his feet with indecision. "Now…" he pondered aloud. "Where am I going?"
It wasn't like South Park was he preconceived destination. But when the ticket manager asked him where he wanted to go, Kenny couldn't think of any place other than his home town. One thing was for sure, though. He despised South Park. That village was the very embodiment of everything Kenny hated: intolerance, confusion, alcoholism, family, memories. To be blunt: his travesty that he dared to call a past; and even when he did, it left an acrid taste on his tongue. Kenny wiggled his toes inside his boots and made a skid mark in the snow with his sole. Only in the Colorado mountains could it be fifty degrees and still have a blanket of that white powder. It was just another reason to hate South Park.
This place had hurt him in more ways than one… in more ways than could be counted. Every time he strayed unwillingly down Memory Lane, all Kenny could ever find were harsh, bitter recollections. After turning 18 and graduating from the shackles of high school, he couldn't have split from that hell fast enough. He and his old friends – Kyle, Stan, and Cartman, what were they doing now? – partied that very night like there was no tomorrow. And there wasn't one for Kenny. Not in South Park at least. The only reason he even showed up to that party and didn't catch the first train out of there was so that he could say goodbye to his buddies one last time. He didn't even drink anything, even though they begged for him to stay.
"Just one hour," Stan had chuckled, his words already slurring. "I swear, we'll get you drunk, we'll play all your favorite music, it'll be a fucking blast, dude! You won't ever want to leave!"
"If he wants to go, let him go," Kyle shrugged, trying to be as sophisticated as he possibly could, drinking from the bottle neck of a beer. "He won't even make it all the way to the train station before he stops the bus and pleads on bended knee for the driver to turn around."
Kenny had just smiled at them and readjusted the duffle bag strewn across his shoulder. So, he wasn't gonna say goodbye after all, if they were going to be that way. He had been halfway out of the backyard before they even noticed he had left them. "Oh, c'mon," Kyle was shouting, cupping his hands over his mouth. "I was just kidding, Ken! Get back here!"
"Yeah, faggot," Cartman chimed in. "Don't walk away angry, just walk away!"
"Shh, keep it down guys," Stan cautioned. He was trying to prod more life from the embers of their prospective bonfire with a spoke, marshmallow remnants sizzling on the steel rod, unknowingly spilling his drink with his other hand. "They'll call Officer Barbrady on us like last time."
Kenny hadn't even turned around to see their faces. He only grinned wider. They were still so immature. Like little children; drinking cheap beers under the moonlight, worrying about cops busting them, making smores in their safely contained fire. They were still just kids at heart, it was actually pretty funny. But mostly very sad. As for Kenny, he was out of there. He was going, going, gone.
And, boy, did he go.
But, if his lessons in Physics class weren't totally misremembered, Kenny ventured that his ultimate displacement at this point was a whopping… zero. Back to where he started. It was such a hollow feeling to know that he had gotten absolutely no where, and his heart never failed to remind him of it. Still debating whether to go into town or hitch a ride to the nearest bus terminal, Kenny half expected to walk into Stan's backyard and find them all still there, dancing around their fire in some end-of-the-school-year tribal ritual, just like he'd never left.
But who was he kidding? If any of them new what was good for them, they would have hopped on the train with Kenny all those years ago. Ten to be exact. Ten years he's been away from this town and all its misery. Ten years that had never been more miserable.
Kenny wasn't at a crossroads, for a straight road only leads two ways. He only had two options: keep going into town or go someplace else. So why was it so hard? Here he stood, planted, practically rooted to this spot, letting the wind bite against his face with an unusually brisk air, barely even considering in which direction he should go next. It was all just a blur. Kenny felt like he should be carrying around a packet of matches, trying to sell them… but he didn't want to go home at the end of the day and be hit by his old man. Who would buy matches from a vagabond?
He patted the pocket book at his breast and entertained the idea of sitting down and reading it for a while. So what if he got a little wet from the snow? Those fairytales helped to clear his head, so it would all be worth it. Besides, it wasn't like his knight in shining armor was coming anytime soon to point him in the right direction.
The high pitched whir of a motorcycle caught Kenny's attention and his ears perked up involuntarily. By the sound of it, the bike was heading in his direction from the East end of the street. It also sounded very far away. The hand that Kenny had originally intended to fish for his collection of fables was instead used to shield his eyes from the sun as he peered down the road. Like a little faded dot in the distance, he could see the motorcycle barreling towards him. Now, he wasn't the biggest fan of people watching, but out here were people were uncannily few and far between, it was hard not to look.
The cyclist took nearly five minutes just to reach Kenny's general vicinity. The bike sped past him, going at least 45 miles per hour before screeching into a sharp U-turn, leaving skid marks and smoke in its wake. It passed Kenny again, slowing considerably before making a second U-turn and pulling off to the side of the road, just feet from where he was standing.
The guy – he was unmistakably male – knocked out his kickstand and expertly leaned it over so that it stayed put. The bike was a Honda Shadow Spirit 750 C2, mint condition. Kenny was obligated by man laws to give a whistle of approval. The only problem was, the bike was supposed to be silver, but had at some point in time been spray painted white from head to toe, and not very professionally. And it was splotched with mud and all other assortments of filth from what seemed like years of use. Or, from a motorcycle connoisseur's point of view: misuse.
"You're looking very Tom Joad- esque," the man pointed out, his voice giving off a muffled undertone through his helmet. He had on the stereotypical leather jacket that was quite flattering on him, Kenny had to admit, and he was wearing dark jeans and commando boots. It was a stark juxtaposition from the egotistical white of the bike he was perched upon.
"I'll take that as a compliment," Kenny shot back, trying to judge if he knew this person or if he was just one of those annoying bastards who couldn't go anywhere without striking up a conversation with everyone they met.
"Read it and find out for yourself." He procured from one of his pockets a paper back book entitled "The Grapes of Wrath" with a rubber band twisted around it to keep the pages in place. With a flick of his wrist, he lobbed the book at Kenny who caught it, one handed, cocking an eyebrow with measured suspicion.
"I have some material of my own I can indulge in, thank you," he replied, tossing the paperback into its owner's hands again, taking the edge of his tone for appearances sake. Probably just force of habit.
The man fumbled with it, caught off guard. "Fancy that," he said, just coyly enough to avoid being taken as rude. Without a second glance, he chucked the book over his shoulder and it landed on the ground with a soggy thud. Perhaps he was crazy. Perhaps he was a pathological litterer. Or, as Kenny surmised by further observation, it was more just to free up his hands so that he could pull a wrinkled map from his jeans' pocket. "Tell me, fine sir, am I currently headed toward the city of South Park?"
"Unfortunately for you, the answer is yes," Kenny mumbled, not even impressed by the man's complete lack of concern for his possessions. "But it's not much of a city. And if I were you, I'd turn myself around and never look back. Even if you're just passing through. That place is the ass crack of our modern era."
"Interesting," the man said, undulating the word across his tongue for no apparent reason. He stuffed the unopened map back into his jeans and turned around to mess with something else on the other side of his bike. "I'll take my chances. I've got no problems."
Kenny couldn't resist being cynical. "I'm looking at you and I see five problems."
The man straightened up with the diligence of a meerkat. They were both silent for a while, attempting to judge each other just by their respective stances. "Oh ho, feisty, aren't you?" the guy said at long last. Kenny hadn't even seen him grab the camera, but before he could reply with another biting retort, he was blinded by the photographic flash.
"Did you…" Kenny started, trying his best to remain unfazed. "Did you just take a picture of me?"
He didn't answer, and they both remained still, Kenny poised on high alert.
"No," he responded, innocently, his expression indiscernible from behind the mirrored gleam of his visor. Moving nothing but his pointer finger, the shutter to his camera clicked again, and for a second time, Kenny was immersed in dizzying light.
Pretenses of toughness thrown by the wayside, Kenny recoiled and rubbed his eyes vigorously to clear out the spots in his vision. Before he could fully recuperate, the man revved up the engine to his motorcycle and tore off down the road towards South Park. "What kind of fucker are you?" Kenny shouted after him, his eyesight finally clearing out.
"The best kind!" the guy chortled back, flipping Kenny his middle finger as an insolent goodbye.
Birds. Thank fucking God, Kenny could hear birds! That meant there were trees coming up, which also meant that he was getting out of this tundra wasteland and into a place that wasn't white-washed with snow and patches of brown, wilted grass. He had no idea how much one could long for the color green when you've been walking down a vacant highway for an indeterminable amount of time. Kenny kept his eyes low, focusing on his boots which were caked with mud, having walked through the slushy quagmire all day.
In the end, Kenny had decided on going into South Park. He tried not to think too much about it, content with distracting himself with thoughts of his sweet revenge. Expressing his cordial antipathy to that bastard from before with a healthy serving of Kenny's foot up his ass was the driving force behind his motivation. He wanted to make sure that the guy didn't have the luxury of his supercilious get-away bike so that they could talk, man to man, without worrying about another untimely escape. It wouldn't take him four hours. He just wanted to get in and get out. Maybe move to Canada or something.
Four hours. Maybe five, tops. Kenny remembered his watch and rolled up his sleeve to read it. It was already a little past noon, he couldn't really be exact. He never learned how to read the hands on a clock; everything was digital now, and watches were really just status figures for the wealthy and elite. And, in any case, this particular accessory was easily the most expensive thing Kenny owned. Tavin had told him it was nearly 500 dollars when he gave it to him for Christmas.
"Tavin," Kenny lamented. "Shit, shit, shit." The watch jingled as he loosened the band from his wrist, almost breaking the silver joints as he struggled with it in a hectic frenzy. With jittery movements, he hurled the watch down to the ground, making a small chink sound as it was embedded into the mud. How could he have been so stupid? All this way! He came all this way with that god damn wristwatch, blissfully ignorant.
Kenny trudged off for a few paces before turning back around and stomping the heel of his foot into the silver band, over and over again. Stupid! So stupid! It could have ruined everything! That watch could have traced him back to everything! And yet, since it was a gift, Kenny had thought nothing of it. What an idiot!
He took sullen gasps as he tried to calm himself, but his mind was reeling with worst case scenarios and swift retribution. He dug his boot deep into the watch again, sinking it into the road side with a disgusting squelch, until he could no longer hear the ticking. There. Calm down. Relax. What do you think this is, a science fiction novel? They didn't have that kind of money. They couldn't. Things like that are only in the movies. No need to freak out. Kenny sighed with relief, satisfied with his mantra of discursive consolations. But now… he had no idea what time it was.
"Alright, biker bitch," he growled out loud to himself, cracking his knuckles for dramatic effect and increasing the length of his stride towards South Park. "Now I'm in a particularly foul mood. You picked the wrong day to fuck with McCormick!"
The gamut of Kenny's schemes was narrow to say the least. He hadn't even thought out what he was going to do to regain his honor from the man. He wasn't even sure whether the man did anything wrong. In fact, he should have been flattered to have his picture taken. But with all of this pent up frustration, there had to be an outlet, and who better to serve as his scapegoat than the guy who flipped him off? What was the word he was looking for? Something in Latin… lex talionis, that was it. An eye for an eye! Fuck yeah!
He was so consumed by his rage fueled tirade and sudden fascination with Latin sayings ("carpe diem"; "veni, vidi, dormivi"; "qui sera sera"… wait… that one was German, wasn't it?) that he didn't even notice the caravan of pitch black hummers careening down the highway. The first one zoomed past him at 85 miles per hour, and the other three followed in suit at a more reasonable 55. Kenny's hair was whipped about in the following gusts that trailed behind them, and he stared on like a kid in a candy store.
Those things were nice. Really nice. Why couldn't he have nice things like those? So what if they were gas guzzlers and harmful to the environment, you could run a person over with one of them and not even dent the fender! Damn, Tavin would love one of those.
Kenny hit himself square in the head until he saw stars. What was this, a prevaricating symptom fresh from Stockholm? He set his legs in motion again, blowing away the dust kicked up by the hummers' tires with an amused stream from his lungs.
With no scope of time whatsoever, Kenny could only make a rough estimation as to how long it actually took him to make it to the outskirts of South Park. Somewhere around another twenty minutes perhaps, and his feet throbbed in opposition to his walking decision. The first place he came to – still around thirteen miles till the town proper – was a three story building surrounded by nothing but foliage and dirt roads leading into a semi-distant forest past a meadow of tall grass. Trees were scarce except for a large oak tree in front, shading the left side of the home.
It had to be a home of some sort, obviously. It was made completely out of wood paneling, including a cozy porch out front and deep red shutters on every window. None of them were shut to let the sun's exuberant rays flood the inside. If anything it looked like a large farm house that reminded Kenny of those in old westerns that he'd seen in his youth. It even had a painted shed in the backyard somewhere just beyond its picket fence. The only oddity that set it apart from a regular house was the dirt and gravel parking lot that connected it to the road. And sitting idly in the sunshine were those four gleaming hummers, unattended.
Kenny approached them in an unwieldy gait, simpering to himself. He kicked at the wheels of the most fractious car – while all the others were parked straight, this one was diagonal; and judging by the tracks in the dirt, it looked as if the driver had attempted to park it straight several times before giving up. If he had a razor blade, Kenny would have slashed the tires. Why? Maybe because he felt like being a jerk. Maybe because they had unwittingly reminded him of Tavin. But Kenny went to great lengths to convince himself that it was exclusively because he was a jerk.
Even if he did have a razor blade – which he didn't – he wouldn't have been able to do shit with it, since right at that moment a gaggle of men, all wearing business suits and carrying expensive looking cases, burst through the screen door. They were grumbling back and forth between the six of them, adjusting their ties and whining like toddlers. Kenny quickly backed away from their vehicles and put on his best I didn't do nothing face. With a slam of car doors, the hummers' engines sparked into life, and three of the four tore from the parking lot and headed directly for South Park, leaving only the diagonal car behind.
"I can take a hint," Kenny mused, nodding. "This place must be bad news." He looked down the asphalt river at the imperial black hummers as they scattered debris into the air in their hasty retreat. "Those guys have the right idea."
He continued to meander on his way into town, none too thrilled about the thirteen mile walk ahead of him. There was a sign not too far ahead, facing the other direction that looked to be a mile marker. Kenny got excited and ran to see if he had been wrong and was actually closer to South Park than he expected. But his shoulders only drooped even lower when he turned to read that it was only an advertisement.
"Winterbloom Bed and Breakfast" he mumbled aloud, reading off from the wooden sign. The caption beneath, in italicized lettering, promised: A rose amidst wintery Colorado blizzards. Kenny let out a succinct laugh and placed his hands on his hips. How corny could you get? At least the owners had a sense of humor… he hoped.
Glancing past the sign back down towards what was apparently an Inn for tourists, he eyed up the place with scrutiny. It was homey enough, to be sure. But probably run by a 90 year old grandmother and her army of attack kittens. Why would anyone want to stay –
"Sneaky little fucker," Kenny snickered, silently commending the fellow for his hiding place, intentional or otherwise. "But I've got you now." Kenny's mind instantly froze as he scanned the span of fence running along the building. There, leaning up against the wall of the Bed and Breakfast was a white Honda Shadow Spirit 750 C2.
He ran all the way back to Winterbloom, ignoring the duffle bag slapping up against his back and bruising him with every step. Stealth not being one of Kenny's fortes, he merely walked right up to the motorcycle, naïve and defenseless. He pulled his belt free, unzipped his fly, and straddled his legs, hovering over the bike with a triumphant grin. He needed to find a place to take a piss anyway. No better spot than here.
After the deed was done, Kenny nonchalantly sauntered back into the parking lot, feeling very accomplished. He spied the black hummer again and begrudgingly admitted to himself that his interest had been piqued by the arrival of those businessmen, and his curiosity flared up as to why at least one of them didn't leave. Not to mention that the cyclist was still here at the Bed and Breakfast, obviously, and Kenny still had time to give him a piece of his mind. And by "mind," he actually meant "fist."
What's one night? he kept telling himself as he clomped up the wooden stairs to the awaiting screen door. Just before he entered, a small, out of the way plaque caught his attention from the corner of his eye. He chuckled softly and leaned into it to read the engraving.
"Proprietors:" it started off, innocently enough.
"Probably something like George and Henrietta Curmudgeon-Smith," Kenny laughed to himself.
"Proprietors:" he read out loud again, tracing his finger over the words. "Stan Marsh and Kyle Brof… Stan Marsh and Kyle Broflovski?"
Kenny gulped, his adam's apple bobbing in his throat. It couldn't be. It was just too surreal. Perhaps all of his travelling and lack of sleep had finally culminated into unprovoked hallucination. Stan and Kyle… running a Bed and Breakfast? A fallacy, a falsehood, no – better yet – a fairytale!
"Hello?" a voice called from inside. "Come on in, already. We charge extra for solicitors and loiterers." There was a pause. "Don't make me say please."
He hesitated, rendered motionless by a wave of familiarity. It was deeper and weighed down with the sum of ten years and all the experiences that came with it… but that voice was unmistakably Stan's. Even to Kenny, though he hadn't been blessed with hearing such a welcome and recognizable soliloquy in so long a time.
Like a ghost, Kenny padded into the building. He didn't deserve this. This had to have been some cruel joke of the gods. His heart pounded with longing as he slowly turned the corner to face a slim counter, register splayed open atop it. Stan glanced up from his ledger briefly before returning his gaze back down to his work, scribbling something with a pen in his delightfully illegible chicken scratch. But even that one moment was enough for Kenny to see his bright, blue eyes, sharp and full of a hidden wisdom. His mouth hung open in concentration as he cheerfully finished up his pecuniary note.
Laying the pen down with a breath of exultation, Stan poised himself against the counter, fixing his eyes on Kenny before finally climbing from behind the barrier. He was wearing a plain navy blue baseball shirt with faded jeans that he used to wipe his hands down the pants' legs; not at all what you would call professional attire. "Will you be staying with us this evening, Ken?"
Kenny averted his eyes, looking every which way other than at Stan. He let his duffle bag drop to the floor and drank in his surroundings. It was a Bed and Breakfast… enough said. His heart sank a little, being let down from the rush he was enjoying not a moment before. He lifted his arms slightly in a dull shrug before letting them fall back down to his sides with a thump. "That's it?" he asked, swallowing.
"That's what?" Kyle huffed, sweeping in from the other room. He clattered plates of china and silverware into Stan's hands, who rolled his eyes and left through a separate opening into what appeared to be the kitchen, practically throwing the plates into the sink.
"Well…" Kenny began, scratching the back of his head nervously. "I wasn't exactly expecting trumpets and fanfare but… don't I at least deserve a proper greeting?"
"You didn't exactly give us a proper farewell, Kenny," Kyle pointed out, taking his place behind the register. He too was dressed casually; just a green hoodie with DeVry University in gold letters and slender khaki's. "You expect us to throw ourselves at your feet? We were under the impression that you liked mellow greetings."
"You were kinda a jerk, dude," Stan added, walking from the kitchen, through the vestibule and into the next room.
"I am a jerk," Kenny said after him, watching him walk around in the dining hall, collecting dishes and cups.
"Regardless," Kyle interjected. "You haven't answered the question. Will you be staying here at Winterbloom for a while, or are you just drifting through like some sort of waif?"
"Old friends get a discount," Stan excitedly sang through his teeth, carrying more dinnerware into the kitchen.
"Enough with the willy-nilly discounts, Stan!" Kyle barked as he disappeared behind the wall. "Do you want to run a successful business and actually make some profit, or not?" His sentence was punctuated with the sound of more dishes being dropped off into the sink.
Stan returned, beaming. As he walked by, he opened his mouth to say something, but Kyle cut him off. "I swear to god, if your next sentence includes the word 'Jew,' I will punch you in the face!"
"Ouch!" Stan laughed, directing his attention at Kenny and winking. "Don't be such a Jew, Kyle."
Kyle vaulted himself over the counter with a surprisingly spry leap and chased after Stan. Kenny staggered backwards as they dashed all over the place, weaving in and out of rooms, until finally they ended up in the dining room. Stan hunkered down and when Kyle ran into him, he expertly grappled Kyle around the waist and lifted him up into the air. They whooped and hollered together, Stan bending Kyle in half over his shoulder and spinning them around in a circle.
They were getting dangerously close to the table with all of their rough housing, and the inevitable ultimately occurred. Kyle's foot swung right by a tall champagne flute, knocking it onto the hardwood floor below, shimmering into splinters. Kyle's guffaw was replaced by a gasp as Stan snickered under his breath, and set him down. "Aw," he wheezed. "You broke the glass!"
"I did not!" Kyle denied, panting hard, examining the mess.
"Yes, you did."
"Your foot touched it last!"
"That's not my fault!"
"I never said it was your fault, I said I was going to blame you." Their mock anger was completely betrayed by their sporadic fits of laughter. Kyle walked over to a corner and picked up a broom. He shoved it harshly into Stan's torso.
"Here," he spat. "Clean that up."
"Aw," Stan groaned like a dejected child. "Kiss and make up?" Kyle rolled his eyes and leaned in for an embrace, having to stand slightly on his toes to reach Stan's lips. They got lost for a second in each other's bodies, visibly enjoying the physical apology.
When Kyle finally broke from the kiss, he playfully slapped Stan across the chest. "That glass is coming out of your paycheck!"
"Oh, like I get paid!"
Kenny laughed in the background, trying to compose himself, awkwardly. "What?" Kyle inquired, crossing his arms.
"Nothing," Kenny breathed, feeling his smile still warm against his face. "It's just… you two are so young."
"You too," Kyle said, brushing past him on his way back to the counter. "I mean, we're only 25."
"28," Stan corrected from the other room.
Kyle was not to be denied. "25!"
"And get a dustpan for that, don't use your hands!"
Stan audibly sighed with exasperation and pushed between Kenny and the door to walk all the way into the kitchen, just to retrieve a dustpan. "God, Kyle, do you have eyes everywhere?"
"No," Kyle chastised. "I just know you well enough."
Kenny chuckled again and they both looked to him, searching for the punch line. He waved them off as if wiping their suspicions from existence. "Nothing," he assured them. "It's nothing." Both Stan and Kyle continued to stare wistfully, almost like they were finally acknowledging that after all these years of absence, one of their long lost friends had just miraculously shown up on their very doorstep. "By the way," Kenny began, clearing his throat. "Is Craig… Craig Tucker here by any chance?"
Kyle started up from his ledger, momentarily wide eyed. "No, I don't think he's arrived yet. How did you know he was gonna stop by today?"
"It's just that…" Kenny was having a difficult time choosing his words carefully. There was so much he just wanted to scream at the top of his lungs. None of which he could ever tell them. But the urge was almost unbearable. "It's just that I think we chatted it up a little on the highway a while back. He gave me his middle finger in place of a friendly wave before he shot off down the road on his motorcycle."
"Motorcycle!" Kyle gawked. "When did Craig and Thomas get a motorcycle?"
Kenny took in a sharp breath and held it as he let the sentence fully sink in. "Craig… and Thomas? They're together now?"
"When aren't they together?" Stan insinuated, strolling back to the counter, wiping off his hands with a towel.
"Ugh, Stan, you did these numbers all wrong," Kyle mumbled aside, shaking his head.
"That's why you handle the money," Stan retorted. "So, sue me. Bring it on, I can take a lawsuit."
"Oh, har, har, very funny."
Kenny withdrew into himself and stared at his shoes. He didn't get it. Of course he didn't get it. What did he think was going to happen? That he was just going to walk back into their lives and know everything about them like nothing had ever changed? That wasn't just unlikely, it was down right stupid of him. But he didn't pry. No, he didn't dare ask about what they had done over this past decade. Because then they might return the question….
"Kenny." Kyle's voice broke through his morose and he looked up with a fake smile. Stan was jingling keys at him with sincere smirk.
"Best room in the house," he explained, chucking the keys at Kenny. "Nothing less for our best friend."
"You really don't have to –"
"Nothing less," Stan repeated forcefully. "…for our best friend." He grabbed Kenny by the collar of his jacket and brought him into a firm hug, his nose nuzzling into the side of his friend's neck. They were so close together. It was the first time in forever that anyone had been this close to Kenny without having to beg for it. "Tonight, over dinner," Stan whispered into his ear, the tickle flittering through every nerve in his body, "you'll tell us everything. We'll swap stories, get drunk, and then go to bed."
Kyle approached them and wrapped his own arms around the two of them, laying his head on Kenny's shoulder. The blonde instinctively flinched and immediately cursed himself for it. "We really did miss you, Kenny," Kyle mumbled, muffled through the fabric of Kenny's close.
How? How could something so familiar feel so absolutely foreign and terrifying?
When they pulled back, Kenny could have sworn he felt tears burning behind his eyes. Alone again. Even though they were still there in that room together, Kenny felt nothing but utter abandonment. They all leave, he thought to himself. They always leave in the end.
"Craig and Thomas will be here around 5:00," Kyle informed, checking his ledger back at the register. "They're always hilarious. Who knew that everybody and their mother would visit our humble abode today?"
"So…" Kenny started, reverting back to normal – if there was such a thing anymore. "Whose bike is that then?"
As if on cue, someone clattered down the stairs. Kenny recognized the commando boots first, and then the dark jeans. The man was already slowing his pace when his black leather jacket came into view. He stopped completely, his head just out of sight, the offending camera strapped across his chest, off to one side. In a daze, he took the last few steps and entered the hallway.
"Butters?" Kenny nearly choked.
"Kenny!" he exclaimed, his sky-blue eyes sparkling and his face lighting up with a smile. "Oh my god, I can't believe it's you!" He rushed forward, arms open wide, grin even wider. He halted uncomfortably as Kenny dashed his hopes for significant contact by extending his hand to shake instead. Out of all the blessings that had already been bestowed upon him within these last precious minutes, this was one Kenny – the proverbial anathema – simply could not accept.
Butters was stunned at first, unsure of what to do. At last he forfeited his grandeur and shook hands, even though Kenny's was limp and abnegated. "Why didn't you say something on the road?"
"I thought," Butters sighed, shaking his head dumbly. "I know it sounds crazy, but I thought that since we were both just passing through, it would be best if we didn't get tangled up in some… spiteful reminiscence." Kenny resorted to a chuckle, because his emotions had not properly prepared him for such an encounter. Butters just bit his bottom lip with a dubious expression.
"You know me," Kenny lied. "I always have time for friends. And I'm never spiteful unless I wanna be."
"You were pretty spiteful out on that highway."
Kenny winced away and breathed through a clenched jaw. "Yeah, about that: your bike…"
"Enough about that," Butters interrupted, holding up his hands and giving a 'time-out' sign. "So, how about Kyle and Stan are total assholes and are making me run into town to buy – you'd never guess – more alcohol."
"Among other things!" Kyle defended himself in a strident whine. "We've got lots of people coming over! And we're not assholes, you asked us for work!"
"I'm a little short on cash," Butters ejected with a nonchalant shrug.
"Join the club," Kenny snorted, lifting up his worn duffle bag for all to see. "At least you have a motorcycle. Which reminds me, I really should tell you this –"
"Oh, Kenny," Stan said, "let me take that to your room for you." He extended his hand to take Kenny's duffle bag, but the blonde recoiled like a cobra, bringing the soft pack close into his body. Even Stan flinched in surprise at the sudden territorial display.
They all stared on in silence, judging him from afar with anxious eyes, waiting for an explanation. Kenny was torn between his past and his undeniable need to explain. He settled with a veiled truth. "That's fine," Kenny said, relaxing his muscles. "It's just that… this bag is everything. No, I literally mean everything. All the things I own in this world are either the clothes on my back or… inside this bag. So," he paused to take a soothing breath. "Forgive me if I'm a little possessive of it."
"Oh, Ken, that's tragic!" Kyle commented from the register.
"Yeah, I guess so. I haven't really changed clothes since last week. It's not every day I get to wash this stuff, so I make it all last while I can."
"Then you'll need some new clothes," Kyle, the abrupt fashion diva, implored.
"Hey," Butters added, hitting Kenny in the bicep with a manly push. "You can ride into town with me! We'll go shopping and all that shit! Pick you out a nice, leather Speedster like mine."
"I think you guys missed the part where I said I was broke."
"Eh," Kyle shrugged. "Stan and I have a few extra bucks we can give you."
"Oh, do we now, Mr. PennyPincher?" Stan scoffed from the doorway.
Kyle shot him a scathing leer. "We can afford to deduct some money from your pay. You're a slacker anyway."
"And just where is all this money that I'm supposedly being paid?" Stan laughed, walking into the kitchen with an exonerate gesture from his arms. "I've certainly never seen any of it."
"Because I manage all of your income, idiot," Kenny shot back, following him into the next room, bickering back and forth all the way.
"So it's not really my money then."
"Of course it is; you're just such a god damn spendthrift that I have to make sure you don't blow all of it when you get it!"
"So what am I to this Bed and Breakfast, then, if the owner can't even manage his own expenses?"
"Sounds delicious, we should have that for dinner."
"Shut the fuck up, Stan."
At some point, during all the commotion, Butters had inched his way to Kenny's side. He raised his camera right to his friend's face and clicked the shutter. If Kenny wasn't already blind before, he was undoubtedly blind now. "So you wanna come into town with me?" he asked, just like a little kid that knew he did something wrong, but was avoiding it anyway.
"Actually," Kenny started, pensively. "I was thinking that I'm really tired. I think I just want to take a nap."
Butters' joyful visage faltered, if but for an instant. "Yeah, sure, I understand," he said quickly. He donned his helmet, shutting the veil between them and barged through the screen door. It banged shut behind him as he called back, "See you at dinner!"
Kenny lingered, fidgeting with the hems of his clothes, and didn't move until Butter's motorcycle was as far out of his peripheral as possible. "Shit," he swore, for more reasons than just one… but mostly because he had forgotten to warn Butters about his bike.
Kenny had set the alarm clock on his bed side stand to go off at 4:00. A three hour nap would do him worlds of good. It had been such a long time since he could lay down his head and not worry about who was coming to get him next. The far off hustle and bustle of the Bed and Breakfast industry slightly perforated the thick walls creating a sonorous melody of clinking plates and hushed laughter. It was the perfect lullaby for Kenny, and no sooner had he closed his eyes than did he fall asleep.
It would have been a splendid rest, if Kenny had not been perturbed the entire time by a nightmare. There, through his mind's eye, he was sitting in an amber plane with gently wafting wheat in the cool breeze. Mountains in the distance acting as majestic sentinels. He and Butters were together, on separate ends of checkered blanket with a picnic basket anchoring it against the soft wind. They were smiling together, and laughing together, and enjoying each other's company in a way that they had never experienced before. They held hands and touched each other. They were happy.
Kenny shot up from his slumber with a gasp, dripping in cold sweat, the alarm clock calling him back into the world of reality. When he turned it off, he glanced at it for the time. It was 4:25 pm. He hadn't even heard it go off. But the nightmare was still there, in the back of his mind, causing his heart to race and his eyes to water.
He got to his feet and nearly wept again when he saw there was a shower in his room.
After getting washed up and changing clothes – he was going to have dinner with friends after all, might as well look presentable – Kenny picked the pillow he had used for his nap up off of the floor and placed it back onto the bed's crisp and untouched sheets. He could still hear people on the first floor, milling around the house and making small talk. Part of him hoped that Butters was back, and part of him hoped that he had just kept on driving. For Butters' own sake, at least.
To Kenny's astonishment, Tweek Tweak was at the counter when he came down the stairs, talking to Kyle. He was just as jittery as ever, dressed in a formal button down shirt ("Buttoned" wasn't really the correct way to describe it… more like "mangled") that was pale green and light gray business pants. His sandy blonde hair was a complete disaster, but he pulled it off with surprising grace. His hands were shaking erratically as he folded, unfolded, and refolded a segment of a bedspread that he had carried down from his room.
"Tweek, for the last time," Kyle said, barely maintaining his equanimity. "It's not fleece. I swear to you."
"Well, is it down, you know, with goose and duck feathers and all that shit?" If you had blinked, you would never have seen his mouth move. But that's just who Tweek was; always has been. All nerves and run-on sentences moving just a hair above the speed of sound… and absolutely no sanity. "Cause I really don't think I'll be able to stand having goose feathers jamming into my every pore all night long, it's just so annoying to – there! I think I felt one, right there, I swear to god, if this is down I'm going to throw it out the window at some point in the middle of the night and smother some unsuspecting cat in the garbage can – gah! – this is all too much pressure! Where the fuck did Bebe go?"
Kenny didn't say hello, they looked terribly busy. Although, Kyle did shoot him a get-me-the-hell-out-of-here-before-I-become-homicidal look. Kenny just shrugged with a cruel smile and continued walking.
He found himself wandering out through the back door and into what appeared to be a garden. There were tomatoes hanging from tall stalks and cabbages all in a row. Further down, the vegetables slowly grew scarce and blossoms of flowers and other decorative beauties awoke in their place: roses, geraniums, lilies, and lilacs. Bees buzzed happily from petal to petal before flying through the air back to their hives. It was all very peaceful, to say the least.
A medium sized tomato rocketed from nowhere and splattered all along Kenny's pant leg. He jumped back with a growl as Stan revealed himself from behind a row of bushes shading the white picket fence. He was howling with laughter, even from under the daggers Kenny was glaring. "What?" he snickered. "People throw tomatoes at bad comedians all the time!"
"I didn't get to the punch line yet," Kenny responded, putting distinct emphasis on "punch."
"Oh?" Stan simpered. "I thought your face was the joke." He brushed his hands down along the apron tied around his hips. But not all of the dirt was rubbed off; when he scratched his nose, he left a big smudge mark across his face. It was mildly adorable, actually.
"You think my face looks ugly?" Kenny mumbled self-consciously.
"No, that's why I said you were a bad comedian."
"So, what are you doing out here, anyway," Kenny asked. "Other than heckling the weeds for their knock-knock jokes?"
"Gardening," Stan said, happily. He held up a single handed spade to prove his point.
"My god," Kenny chortled, folding his arms across his chest. "Could you get any more gay?"
"Yeah," Stan agreed, giving himself a once over. "I guess the apron doesn't help at all does it?" He got down on his knees and beckoned Kenny over, who obliged politely. Down here, behind the tall bushes, everything and everyone was hidden. "You see, we've got a system here at Winterbloom. I do all the cleaning and gardening and provide comic relief when the occasion calls for it, among other things. Kyle, on the other hand, handles the money, the registry, and the cooking."
"Stan, where are you?" Kyle called from inside the house, strikingly similar to a nagging wife. "This dinner's not gonna make itself."
He winced beneath the foliage with a guilty smile. "Okay," he admitted to Kenny in a whisper. "So I do all the cooking, too. Kyle just sorta handles the money."
"And this is what you went to college for," Kenny scoffed with a condescending click of his tongue. Stan got up and brushed himself off again – it must have been compulsive or something.
"No," he corrected, heading for the door. "I graduated with a Bachelor's Degree in Law."
Kenny's mouth dropped open. "Then what the hell are you still doing here in South Park, dude?"
Stan looked back with a shrug. "I have a Bed and Breakfast to run."
"So you're happy here?" Kenny breathed in disbelief. "You're… content to live out your life like this?"
Stan had his back to Kenny, his shoulders drooping low and his hands limp. "Not at all," he said, his voice solemn and cold. He looked back, his mouth a thin line of an attempted smile. "The only things keeping me from blowing my brains out are Kyle and the few friends who visit every couple of months. I hate this place. Why the fuck would ever come back here, Kenny?"
They were quiet, both contemplating means and ends that never seemed to justify each other. Stan broke the ominous silence with deep sigh. "I have a dinner to make," he said, excusing himself.
There was a wet splat as a red, ripe tomato jettisoned into Stan's chest, spraying juicy collateral damage all over his front. "You little bastard!" he shrieked with delight and pounced on Kenny. But his friend was a much more battle hardened wrestler than Kyle ever was, and soon, Stan was on his back, laughing so hard he couldn't breathe. They pushed obtrusive leaves from their faces and laughed at each other, unabashed.
Kenny felt good. No, he felt great. He lighted his fingers over his friend gently, groping for his wrists and holding them down with just the right amount of force. He closed his eyes before leaning in closer, choking down a practiced, lustful gasp.
No sooner had their lips grazed against each other did Stan jerk away, wide eyed. He wrested his hands free and swiped Kenny off of him, striding for the backdoor in unspoken aggravation. Kenny pounded his fist into his leg and bit down on his tongue with shame.
"Stan, wait," he pleaded, stretching out his arm. Stan was not so angry as to let a friend go unheeded, especially if it meant an explanation. He turned around to glare at him, his brow furrowed in disappointment. "I'm sorry," Kenny said, his voice trembling. "I just… I didn't know what else to do!"
Stan blinked, looking on with an air of disgust. "Don't give me those eyes," Kenny begged, cowering away. "I can understand that you're angry, and I swear I didn't mean it. So please, just don't look at me like that."
Wiping the sweat from his forehead along with his bangs, Stan scanned Kenny over one last time, his face softening. He gave his best comforting grin before nodding his head with understanding. "Dinner will be ready soon," he said, as if nothing had even happened. "We've picked out a spot for you at the table. Far from Tweek. You'll thank us later!"
Kenny would have thanked him then. For not ousting him into exile at the first mistake. That's how you know who your true friends are. And, Kenny would thank him again. Because Tweek was incorrigible.
"Tweek!" Kyle shouted as they paced through the kitchen, at last losing his cool. "I'm not going to pluck out all the feathers in your bed spread, so would you please stop asking?"
"Well, I suppose I can manage for one night, but if I have to continually use this sheet, I'm going to lose so much sleep, and I just can't have that right now, because there's this very important meeting I'm hosting at Head Quarters with all the big corporation guys and I have to look presentable, so I guess I can go out sometime tomorrow and –"
Kyle rubbed his temples and tried to take slow, deep breaths. "Where the fuck is Bebe?"
"I'm here." Bebe walked into the kitchen, clicking over the tile with her high heels, taking long, proud steps besides being constricted within her tiny, gray business skirt and blouse. Over her shoulder daintily hung a large, faded, pink purse. Under her other arm, she carried a thin folded blanket. "I was out at the car. I remembered that Mr. Tweak brings along a spare sheet for just these kinds of problems. I would have been back sooner, but I took it upon myself to fix Mr. Tweak's parking job."
She swished her frizzy blonde hair from her eyes and rigidly handed Tweek his new comforter. Tweek dropped the down bed spread that was slowly being shredded in his hands and took up the sheet, petting his against his cheek, lovingly. "Oh, cotton," he squealed. "Never scare me like that again! I'm going to go put you on my mattress this instant!"
"You're welcome, sir," Bebe added, toneless, as Tweek dashed from the kitchen and up the one flight of stairs. Kyle growled to himself and leered at the comforter lying dirty on the ground, as if it would evaporate into the air by sheer force of will.
"That's gonna have to be washed," he acknowledged, placing his hands on his hips. "Stan, could you come clean this up?"
"I'm making dinner, Kyle," his lover reminded, hovering just within reach of the oven, mixing together a few ingredients to make stuffing.
"Grr!" Kyle snarled, collecting the sheet unceremoniously into his arms.
"Oh, I know, honey," Stan mocked from the stove. "Life's so unfair."
"I'm no good at this kind of thing; I'm going to ruin it, you know that!"
"We can always just buy another one."
"With what, Stan? Hopes and dreams?"
"With all that money that exists in my imaginary paycheck."
"Well I… aw, fuck, you got me there."
"Go wash the sheet, Kyle."
"I'm going! I'm going!"
Bebe was straight faced as she pulled out a Blackberry from his purse and flipped through her day planner. "And just what will you be serving?"
"Excuse me?" Stan garbled, his mouth full to bursting with a taste test of stuffing.
Bebe's visage almost cracked into a smile, but she retained her poise. "For dinner. What will be having for dinner?"
Stan swallowed and added a pinch of salt into the mix. "A heaping helping of factotum. Mmmm!"
"Shut the fuck up, Stan!" Kyle called from wherever the laundry room was (Kenny had yet to explore the whole of the Bed and Breakfast). "We'll be having chicken and rice in a cheese sauce with stuffing and mixed vegetables."
"Chicken, I see," Bebe mumbled disapprovingly as she typed something into her Blackberry. The walls shook as Tweek practically fell down the stairs and into the kitchen.
"Bebe," he gasped. "I couldn't get the bed spread to fit on the mattress, one of them is obviously bigger than the other, so you'll have to do it for me."
"I'll tend to it immediately after supper, Mr. Tweak." Kenny noticed that when she spoke to anyone other than Tweek, Bebe kept her eyes concentrated on something else, like her palm pilot or purse. But as soon as Tweek walked into the room, she was alert and ready for anything.
Kyle trudged back into the room, having started the washing machine. When he saw that Tweek had returned, he looked torn – he visibly didn't want to be in the same room with him, but wanted to stay polite as a respected owner of an establishment. That, and Tweek had already saw him walk into the kitchen and had his sights set on him like a homing beacon.
Tweek bypassed Stan at the oven all together and sought out Kyle. "Hey, uh, buddy, you wouldn't happen to have any coffee, would you?"
"I already showed you all the coffee we have when you first arrived," Kyle answered, his brief reprieve in the laundry room not sufficient enough to douse his frustration towards the abrasive customer.
"Yeah, but, none of that's good coffee, and I can only drink good coffee, but you're right, I definitely should have specified myself, but I will now, just to be on the safe side, so, Kyle… do you have any good coffee?"
Kyle laid his hands onto Tweek's shoulders, who jumped at his touch and shuffled on his feet like an impatient child waiting to use the restroom. "Tweek," Kyle started, keeping his voice professionally calm. "All of the coffee we have – all of it! – is in that cupboard, the one I showed you before. We have nothing else. If you have a preference that is not within that array of coffee, then I am sorry to inform you, but… we have no good coffee to offer."
Tweek cringed and took in a sharp gasp. He swiveled his head toward Bebe with desperate, puppy dog eyes. Bebe sighed, set down her purse on the table, undid the metal latch, and retrieved from inside a rectangular bag of ground coffee. Tweek tore from Kyle and skidded into the table, picking up the bag with eager hands.
His entire face dropped as he read the label for a fourth and fifth time. "Is there something wrong, Mr. Tweak?" Bebe asked, and Kenny was absolutely baffled at how she was able to keep herself so serene in the face of such madness.
"Something wrong?" Tweek echoed with a twitch. "No, no, nothing's really wrong. It's just… this is Emerald Coffee House."
"Yes," Bebe confirmed.
"Yeah, but, Bebe… Emerald!"
"What's wrong with Emerald, Mr. Tweak?"
"What's wrong?! What's wrong – what's wrong with Emerald? For god's sake, Bebe, what isn't wrong with Emerald? I guess it's nothing big, but I could have sworn I told you not to buy Emerald anymore, it's not even one of my favorites to begin with, but even in the market it's falling from popularity, especially because of that article, did I tell you about that article, I read an article the other day, Sunday – no, Monday – no, it was Sunday – but I was reading an article on Monday about Emerald coffee and I'm sure it warned against buying Emerald because it has agents in it that cause cancer – cancer, Bebe, cancer! – do you want me to get cancer, do you know how much pressure that would be on me, I can't get cancer and Emerald has been proven to give people cancer, but you know – "
Kyle rolled his eyes. "I'm pretty sure coffee in general gives you cancer, Tweek."
" – if you want to give me Emerald coffee, I'm not going to stop you, cause I'll drink it, even if I don't want to, I'm a fighter like that, a martyr, but you see, Bebe, the problem with this that I'm having is I'm pretty sure I told you to never buy Emerald anymore, and you just keep buying Emerald, no matter what I tell you, and I have to warn you that this isn't looking good for you job wise, do you want to keep your job, Bebe, obviously not, since you keep buying Emerald, and I'll tell you right now, I can fire you right here if you really wanted, you can be replaced with a snap of my fingers, it's no big deal to me, but what is a big deal is that right now in my hands is Emerald ground coffee, something I specifically told you not to buy, so if you want to keep your job, which I would expect that you do, then in the future I'd advise against buying Emerald!"
Bebe's face was completely stoical. When Tweek finally had to stop to catch his breath, she leisurely reached back into her purse and pulled out another rectangular bag labeled: Bronze Ground Coffee Beans. Tweek stared at it for a second before snatching it into his hand.
"See, now was that so hard?" he spat, stomping toward the coffee brewer on the opposite side of the room.
Stan and Kyle both cast their gazes at Kenny, their faces scrunched up in dread. "Ho - ly shit!" Kenny mouthed silently back, and the two of them nodded in unison.
Tweek fumbled at the counter, babbling under his breath at the coffee bag, his unsteady fingers unable to work the plastic top open. Bebe waltzed over to the refrigerator and scoured the inside, pulling out a tomato and a head of lettuce as if she owned the place. "Do you have anything other than Iceberg?" she huffed, displaying the green leaves in her hand to Stan.
"You can look," he replied, shortly. "Doubt it. May I ask why? You want a salad with your meal?"
"No, but Mr. Tweak will be having a salad in lieu of what you are preparing," Bebe declared, opening a few drawers before finding a knife to cut the red tomatoes with. "Chicken makes him irregular."
"Gah, chicken!" Tweek cursed, not even looking up from the bag which he had yet to open.
"I really didn't need to know that," Stan said. His water was only just now coming to a boil, much to his annoyance. Meaning it would take him that much longer to cook the rice. Stan ducked around the kitchen, scouring for his misplaced tongs, practically crawling over the still coffee bag challenged Tweek who refused to move out of the way for him.
Bebe was placing a bowl that she had found on the counter and commenced to make the salad. Kyle danced around the kitchen looking for a corkscrew for the wine, and Stan hurried to finish making supper before 5:00. Kenny merely leaned against the far wall, drinking in the fiasco with hungry eyes.
"If you want, Tweek can have something else as well," Kyle offered, now searching for a glass. He had claimed it was to make sure the whine tasted okay, but in reality, he just needed some alcohol in his system to calm his nerves. "Stan also has mixed vegetables."
"I don't like peas!" Tweek yelled, resorting to using his teeth against the ground coffee bag.
"Mr. Tweak doesn't like peas," Bebe repeated.
"Well," Kyle tried again. "Stan's making stuffing too."
"It's too dry!"
"What?" Stan barked. "You haven't even seen it yet!"
Bebe laid her palm against the back of Stan's hand in a comforting gesture. "If Mr. Tweak says it's too dry, it's too dry." Stan begrudgingly turned the other cheek. From the other side of the kitchen, there was a poof of brown powder as ground coffee beans spilled everywhere; in a single sporadic twinge, Tweek had ripped the entire bag of Bronze Ground Coffee Beans completely in half. Kyle would have torn his hair out if Stan wasn't there to stop him.
Rushing to his side, Bebe shooed Tweek away and readied the coffee pot herself, hoping to avoid any machinery with even the slightest amount of economic value from being ruined. Tweek, rendered with nothing else to do, wandered from the kitchen, unattended.
"I would ask if you have any cream and sugar," Bebe said, "but I imagine that it wouldn't be good cream and sugar."
"You're solution?" Kyle grumbled, melting under the inaudible sweet-nothings that Stan was whispering into his ear to help soothe him against the Tweek induced eruption that was likely to occur.
Bebe sighed and rubbed her temples, before returning to assembling her boss' salad. "I believe I have a spares of Mr. Tweak's favorite cream in my purse – if he hasn't gotten to them already – and any sugar will ultimately do, without much complaint."
"Good, you take care of it," Kyle said, making his words less sharp now that Stan had loosened him up. Bebe clicked her tongue.
"I always do, that's my job."
"Did you have a nice nap, Kenny?" The blonde jumped with a start as Butters appeared at his side, joining him like a pair of spectators to a rodeo. Kenny gulped dryly, remembering his hellish dream.
"Yeah, I'd say it was decent enough."
"Hey, you wouldn't happen to know if it rained earlier today, would you? My bike was a little wet when I went into town this afternoon."
Kenny rubbed the back of his head with chagrin. "Um… about that –"
"Now, c'mon guys!" Stan raised his voice, breaking his usual joviant demeanor. "Do you want your dinner or not? I can't have you guys trouncing around my kitchen like this!" He took the tray of cooked chicken that was on the counter and handed it to Kyle. "Here, put these back in the oven to keep warm."
"The oven?" Kyle drawled, sounding confused. "B-but… on which rack?"
"Do it now, Kyle."
"B-but… for how long?"
"It's like a big, dysfunctional family!" Butters commented aside, making Kenny chuckle. "I think Stan would be the mom, and Kyle would be the dad."
"They definitely fit the part," Kenny agreed with a simple nod.
"And I could be the goofy uncle from Arkansas who's a bit confused and wears women's clothing on Tuesdays." Kenny laughed again; Butters had put way too much thought into this scenario.
"And you would be…" Butters started, waving his hand, coaxing Kenny to fill in the gap.
"And I would be…" he started, licking his lips. "I would be the little match girl they were nice enough to let stay for a while."
Butters pursed his lips in a pout and was about to say something before Tweek broke into the room with frantic, heaving breaths. He started for Bebe but made a sharp B-line for the coffee pot, drank directly from the half full brew, set it down, and charged toward Bebe again.
"Button me!" he shouted, gesticulating wildly towards his chest. Bebe stopped everything she was doing to undo his mismatched shirt and re-button it. Far too slowly for Tweek's intentions, apparently, as he hopped up and down on his feet like a toddler. "Button me button me button me button me!"
The command was not completed a moment too soon, as Craig tromped into the kitchen, a very meek Thomas trailing behind him. "Hey, hey, hey!" the boisterous Craig yelled, throwing up his arms as a universal greeting to all. "Where's the booze? Let's get this party started!"
Thomas attached himself to Craig's waist and looked about to sneeze. "Sh-shit!" he spat, and immediately relented. "Excuse me."
"Hi, Craig," Tweek waved, doing his best to sound seductive. When he laid his eyes on Thomas, his face fell. "Hi… Thomas."
"Hey," Thomas replied, more to everybody else in the room than to Tweek. "We're a bit early. Shit, cock! Excuse me. I hope you don't mind."
"Not at all!" Stan cheered, clapping his hands once to bring everyone's attention to him. "This would be a great time for you all to relocate to the dining room. Please."
Tweek ignored Stan completely. "Here, Thomas," he offered, coating his venom with sweetness. He grasped hold of the Emerald Coffee House bag and showed it to him, speaking through his teeth. "Would you like some coffee? I can make you a pot if you'd like." Bebe rolled her eyes and finished up the salad.
"No thanks," Thomas respectfully declined. "I don't want you doing anything special for me. I'll just have what's in the pot – ass fuck! Ugh, excuse me. I'll just have whatever is there."
"It's Bronze Ground Coffee," Stan informed, leaning over the table, head in his hands. He'd finally given up. If they wanted to have a late dinner because of their chatting, then so be it.
"Oh, Bronze!" Thomas' face lit up. "That's my favorite! Sure, I'll have a cup, Tweek!" The other blonde quivered, failing to keep a pleasant look on his face as his cheeks flushed. He threw down the bag of Emerald with a cry of agitation that made everyone's blood curdle and stormed from the kitchen.
Craig coyly wrapped his arms around Thomas' neck from behind and nuzzled him cutely. "So, uh…" he began, looking around the room. "Does that mean dinner's ready?"
The food was delicious from what Kenny could attest to. He had really only eaten two medium sized bites before setting down his fork. He wasn't hungry – his stomach was in knots from being around such familiar faces. And yet they were all so different. Like he was eating dinner with complete strangers that had stolen the bodies of his former friends.
Kyle had already downed his second glass of wine when Stan asked if anybody would like a grace to be said. Nobody there was devoutly religious, and none of them wanted to put upon their fellow guests, so no one spoke up. Kenny didn't mind all that much. He was currently between religions anyway; perusing his options. He was beginning to lean towards being a Nihilist, though.
Silverware clinked against plates as people ate their food with little interruption. Every once in a while the silence was broken up by Thomas when his Tourettes flared up and he was forced to shout into his napkin. Annoyingly enough, every time the young man made any sudden movements at all, Tweek would cringe, tossing salad leaves all over the table as a result. "Don't they have any dressing that isn't Italian?" He tried to whisper to Bebe, but it came out as more of a cough. His assistant reached below the table to her purse and phenomenally brought out an individual package of Ranch.
"So, if my little bird hasn't deceived me," Craig addressed the group while winking at Thomas. "I hear a big stud will be joining us sometime this week. An animal by the name of Clyde Donovan? Anybody know him?"
"That's true," Kyle confirmed, cutting up his poultry. "And Wendy called this afternoon. She's on vacation right now and has time to spare this month, so she'll be dropping in as well. It'll be like having the entire gang back together."
"Screwy," Stan commented before eating a spoonful of vegetables.
"Funny how things work out for the better," Butters said. He was sitting to Kenny's immediate left at the table. Butters had opted out of the complimentary Merlot and instead requested a beer; Budweiser to be exact. Even through Kenny's peripheral – as he was doing everything in his power to not look at Butters – he could tell that the sentence was directed specifically at him. Kenny took another bite of his meal to remain inconspicuous, and played with the rest of the food on his plate.
"That reminds me," Kyle said, nodding towards Butters. "Where did you go, dude? First you were in college to learn how to be a teacher and then, bam! Halfway through your second term, you drop off the face of the earth."
"Not dropped off," Butters corrected, brandishing his knife with a twinkle in his eye. "Been over, Kyle. I've been all over the globe since I left, living care free from plane ticket to plane ticket. That's why I can't stay for too long, you guys. Two weeks is my maximum. I'm catching the next plane to Prague. I hear it's gorgeous this time of year. I've always wanted to go there."
"Prague," Stan mused, letting his hands fall to the table with a sigh. "Did you hear that, Kyle? Prague. Prague! Why can't we go to Prague, huh?"
"Financial issues," Kyle replied, lack luster. "Among other things."
"I'll tell you," Butter continued, cutting into his meat with vigor. "Travelling is the life, man! Once you get over all the planes and jet lag – wow! – is it just fantastic! One of the first places I went to was Tokyo, Japan. Biggest fuck off city I've ever seen. The people there are so vain, they dress up in their Sunday clothes just to go to the super market. But it works though, they all look so good all of the time."
Everybody was listening intently, except for Craig. He had dismissed himself from the table and retrieved a glass from the kitchen. He had to wrench the bottle of Merlot from Kyle before pouring it and offering the crimson elixir to Tweek. He gracefully accepted (as "gracefully" as Tweek could manage) and Thomas blinked, choking out a tiny "Fuck." But it didn't sound all that involuntary.
"That's not the only place I've been to," Butters began again after taking a sip from his beer. "I've gone to Paris, Galway, Kolkata, Brazil, Moscow, London." After each location Stan sunk further into his seat, melodramatically clutching at his heart and until Kyle finally slapped him across the shoulder to stop. "I just find a place to stay and work at a job until I get enough money to buy my next plane ticket. A few months here, a few months there; then I'm off again."
"And what about you Kenny?" Kyle asked. The blonde started at the sound of his own name and glanced around the table. He had no idea he would be involved in this conversation. "Where have you been all these years?"
Kenny slumped back down into his chair, stabbing his half eaten chicken with a fork, watching the juices flow out like blood. "New York," he answered, sullen and withdrawn.
"Where else?" Stan pressed.
"Just New York."
Stan and Kyle looked at each other with the same concerned expressions before Kyle spoke up again. "Where in New York do you live?"
Kenny swallowed and pushed his plate away from himself, folding his arms across his chest, almost as if it were a last ditch effort to defend himself.
The table was silent again. Nobody pushed for further detail, satisfied in their own interpretations of his answer and Kenny's reclusive repose. Kenny probably wouldn't have given them more answers anyway. He was too busy deriding himself for ruining their dinner conversation with his presence.
It was only 7:00 pm when Kenny returned to his room, resigning himself for the evening. He instinctively set his alarm clock for 9:00 pm, and groaned with disgust when he realized his habitual mistake. Tapping a few buttons, he changed the pm to am and grabbed the pillow off from his bed.
Kenny felt more at home this time in his room, for he was lying awake, listening to ambient noise from downstairs, his heart pumping with adrenaline, tricking his mind to think that someone was standing right outside his door. He stayed up well after midnight, motionless, wide awake, clutching the pillow to his chest so hard that his knuckles turned white. Yes. Oh, yes. This was much more like being at home.
It was 11:00 in the morning when Kenny finally woke up from his dreamless slumber. He had no idea when he had gone to sleep or why his alarm clock didn't go off. He gazed from the floor up to his bed side stand. The little red dot next to the digital numbers was no longer blinking, which meant that somebody had to have come in and turned the alarm off. It frightened Kenny that he had slept so soundly that he didn't hear the wake up call in the first place, let alone not hearing anyone enter his room.
He took a shower, still reveling in the warm water it had to offer with unrequited love, but didn't put on different clothes, just wearing the same ones that he had changed into yesterday. Kenny took one last look at his bed, still crisp and untouched, before leaving his room and shutting the door behind him with a soft click.
Stan was coming around the corner and they almost ran right into each other. Even though he was carrying a basket full of laundry, Stan still managed to lift one hand halfway to his mouth to cover his lips. But when he realized how irrational he was being, he smiled warmly at Kenny and relaxed. "Oh, hey!" he said quickly, as if struck by a sudden epiphany. He took Kenny by his arm and pulled him in close, whispering, "There's a man downstairs asking for you. Now… Kyle and I haven't told him anything about where you are, but he hasn't left yet."
Kenny nodded and started to walk away, but Stan pulled him back with a strong tug. "Kenny," he hissed, sounding troubled. "Should we be worried about you? Is there something going on? Because we can help, you know that. We're good at helping our friends… among other things."
"I think I know who it is," Kenny sufficed to say. He gradually slipped his arm out from Stan's grasp and took a calming breath. It didn't help at all, he still felt like vomiting. It was mostly just to convince Stan that he was collected, even if he himself didn't believe it. "You're all such good friends to me," he whimpered, his bottom lip quivering slightly. "It was really nice to see you again, even if it was just for a day. Thank you for being so kind."
"Kenny, what is this all about?"
He didn't answer. Instead, he left Stan questioning as he descended the two flights of stairs. Before he reached the bottom, he could hear Kyle's voice; serene, without even a hint of suspicion breaking through. "We do have rooms," he was saying. "Would you like to stay for a while? Wait for Mr. McCormick to show up?"
"Yes, I believe I'll do just that." Kenny's heart skipped a beat in horror, his doubts vanquished. "Just give me a modest room. I'm a man of simple pleasures."
"If only all our guests were so inclined!" Kyle joked – even laughed! He was an amazing actor….
Kenny finished going down the steps, feeling his veins pulse as his heart surged uncontrollably. When he reached the vestibule, the man looked up from the counter to greet him. His beaming grin slowly melted away beneath his thin glasses, flayed with dark brown hair that curled about his head. He was wearing a long taupe trench coat, in which he had his hands tucked neatly within the pockets. He was thin, but an invisible aura of power surrounded him.
"Tavin," Kenny gulped, his voice cracking.
"Kenny," Tavin smirked, his eyes glinting maliciously. He pulled from his pocket an expensive looking silver watch, caked entirely with mud, as if it had been dug up from a soggy quagmire on the side of a highway. He swung the wristwatch from his finger like a pendulum, making sure that his quarry saw it. "We need to talk."
End of Part One