A/N: Well, now this is news to me...but I completely missed Stan while I was writing this chapter. Possibly because he is a comforting character to write. I need aaaalll the comfort right now. (Too much PRESSURE!) I feel a cuddly one-shot coming on...
Also: I am currently an empty shell of a human being thanks to my job. Literally empty. This does not allow me to write well. Or often. This chapter has been cobbled together in bits and pieces and is something of an unedited patchwork quilt. This frustrates me. Grr. I want to engage with it properly.
During the day, the air in La Revo felt thick with the smell of damp concrete. Kyle had to push his way through the heat, weaving between bronzed bodies and unfamiliar road signs as he searched out his way to the bar. Danny had helped him to sketch a rough map of the area onto a piece of complimentary hotel paper. A scruffy star marked out the half-remembered destination amongst the scattering of pencilled roads.
"You won't be able to miss it," Danny had said. "We could see the blue of that nightclub sign above it from streets away."
But the neon lights did not shine in the daytime, and now the paper crumpled in Kyle's sweaty palm bore little to no resemblance to the road layout which curved around him. Kyle continued to trudge the blinding streets with sluggish but relentless steps because he was no closer to knowing his way back to the main road where he could pick up a taxi than he was from finding his way to the bar. As he wove between the crowds of tourists and bar touts, Kyle could feel a familiar splintering tension lancing through his jaw. He was clenching his teeth hard in frustration and had to make a conscious effort to relax the muscles before someone jostled him wrong and he bit his tongue in half.
Striking out wildly onto the streets in search of one person in a city with a population of over a million was perhaps not, in retrospect, the most sensible move that Kyle had ever made. But what other choice had there been? He had stood in the open door to his hotel room, stood and gaped at Danny and the screen of the phone in Danny's hand. A hotel maid had slowly trundled her cart past them down the corridor without breaking the spell. Kyle had not been able to react until the image on the phone screen had flicked off into the darkness of standby. As if Kenny's miniature, pixellated eyes had been holding his sanity temporarily hostage, Kyle could only think again when those eyes winked closed and released him.
"What?" Kyle said, in a voice that was both colder and steadier than he could have expected.
"He was the barman," Danny repeated, and turned the phone round again, pressing the screen back to life so he could get another look at the picture. "I mean. I think. It looks like him. The picture's not so clear but...yeah, I'm pretty sure it's him."
"How sure?" Kyle demanded.
Kyle's fingers itched to snatch a fistful of Danny's shirt so that he could shake him and shake him until it became true. Danny was staring at the phone screen as if hypnotised, his brow furrowed in concentrated thought.
"I'm about as sure as I can be," Danny said finally, and only when he looked up again, eyes so certain, did Kyle finally begin to feel sick and faint and dizzy with dread, because this had the unbearable potential of being one of those moments that he might look back on in years to come as a point when his life had changed irreparably.
So, now, despite the needle-in-a-haystack pointlessness of it, Kyle was wandering a Mexican city in the height of the midday sun, searching for someone whose coffin Kyle had already seen lowered into the ground. It might have been hopeless, but Kyle kept on like a man possessed. He beat the sensible parts of his brain, which spoke in Stan's voice, into complete submission until there was nothing left but the heat of the sun and the sleepy press of narrow streets.
Sweat plastered Kyle's shirt to his back like a second skin and the soles of his feet were prickling with exertion when suddenly, just like that, an unexpected bend in the road left him looking up at the blank outline of a familiar nightclub sign, a sign which, come nightfall, would flush with power and glare bright, electric blue across the rooftops.
The bar's grimy door stuck in its frame and Kyle had to lean his full weight against it before it opened with a jerk, sending him stumbling clumsily across the threshold. Sunlight thundered in through the door around him, brass and unnatural in the dim room. A barmaid, who was stacking pint glasses behind the bar, glanced up at the intrusion. She took one look at Kyle, at his flaming red hair and sun-drenched pink cheeks, then said,
"Hello. Can I help you?"
Her English was slow and thickly accented.
"I," Kyle began, before he realised that he had no plan for what he would say next.
"I'm looking for someone," he stumbled, "He's- His name's- Well. His name's Kenny McCormick, but I don't know if that's how you'd know him."
The barmaid stared back at Kyle with a blank expression.
"He works here," Kyle elaborated, "I mean, I think he works here. We- My friend and I might have seen him here a couple of nights ago, working the bar. I'm trying to find him and I wondered if you could help me."
The barmaid was still staring as if Kyle was speaking a foreign language, which made perfect sense considering that was exactly what he was doing.
"Por favor," Kyle tried, scrambling for the fragments of high school Spanish buried somewhere deep within his brain, "Estoy, er, b-buscando..."
The bar door swung suddenly shut, the loud rattle making Kyle jump and scurry forwards a few steps further into the dingy bar, almost knocking his hip into a table as he did so. A tall, wiry man with sun-dark skin and a rough black beard blew out the final breath of a cigarette. He leant past Kyle to grind the end of it out into an ash tray atop the table and then looked up at Kyle with hooded eyes.
"Good afternoon, sir. Is there something we can help you with?"
This man's English was better. From the straight, confident set of his shoulders and the way that the barmaid had leapt suddenly back to work at the sight of him, Kyle guessed that he owned the bar. Kyle tried to swallow down the dryness in his throat. He met this man's suspicious stare head-on.
"I'm looking for a friend of mine. I think he works for you," Kyle said.
Dark eyes narrowed in response.
"He works for me. You think?" the man asked. "And what might he work as?"
"In the bar," Kyle said. He slipped his hand into his pocket and pulled out his cell phone, keeping his movements slow. The man's eyes seemed to scrutinise his every breath. Kyle pulled Kenny's picture up onto the phone's tiny screen.
"This is him," Kyle said, holding out the phone. The man did not take the phone. Instead, he seized Kyle's wrist with rough fingertips and pulled the phone, still clutched in Kyle's hand, towards him. He stared at the picture and then flicked his gaze up to Kyle's face. Kyle resisted the urge to jerk his hand back out of the man's grasp.
Eventually, he released Kyle's wrist and stepped back.
"He not here," the man said carelessly, before turning away from Kyle and striding towards the bar. His Cuban heels scraped over the wooden floorboards as he went.
"Wait," Kyle blurted, surging after him. "What do you mean 'he's not here'?"
The man flipped open a leather-bound ledger which was lying on the bar. He didn't spare Kyle a glance.
"I mean he work here," he said. "But only some nights. Not today. Not tonight."
"But he does work for you?" Kyle asked.
"Sure. But he not here now."
Kyle gasped a breath of dusty air.
"I'm sorry. I'm sorry to ask so many questions," he said in a rush and gripped at the bar beside the man's arm, "but do you have any idea where he might be? Where I can find him now?"
The man shrugged bony shoulders.
"I don't know."
"No idea at all?"
"I don't know."
Kyle ran one fretful hand through his curls, but tried not to let desperation get the better of him.
"Alright," he muttered. "Alright. Thank you."
Kyle already had his hand on the handle of the bar door when the man's voice stopped him.
"Sometimes he work at Luz de la Luna on Carillo Puerto. Maybe you find him there."
* * * * * *
After Kenny's funeral, Kyle almost didn't complete his BA. He was in his final year, with just one more taught unit to finish and was already halfway through the research for his dissertation. Yet, with Kenny gone, returning to that life of sterile libraries and inadequate central heating now seemed too pointless to even consider. Kyle tried to imagine sitting at his desk by the window of his tiny university room. He tried to imagine pulling the next photocopied article towards him, arming himself with a highlighter, and really going to town, of working at it with the kind of vigour that Kyle reserved for academia alone. He tried to imagine doing this without thinking about Kenny; without missing him; without falling apart. He tried. And he could only conclude that it would be impossible.
Kyle had never had to confront how important it was to always know that Kenny was waiting at home for him. University was a strange world of temporary friendships and lost time. Kyle found himself continually frustrated by the triviality of it all and sometimes the only thing which dragged him out of bed in the morning was the knowledge that, actually, there was so much more to life. It was just waiting on the other side. Kenny had been the proof of that, because Kenny had long ago broken free of those shackles which choked the modern life out of people. It was what Kyle aspired to.
But then, of course, had come Bebe's party and the funeral and somewhere along the line, Kyle had realised that there was to be nothing more to life after all. This was all there was.
He had already phoned his supervisor and explained everything before he even told his parents that he would not be returning to complete his degree.
"Kyle, please. Be reasonable," Kyle's father had begged him, when he and Sheila had found Kyle lying on his bed in a room still full of unpacked and untouched belongings. Kyle had stared straight up at his ceiling, not reacting to the sound of his father's voice nor the dip of the mattress as his mother lowered her weight beside him.
"I know your friends are important to you, bubbe," Sheila had whispered, a little choked, as she bent over her son's unresponsive body to press a kiss to his temple, "but Kenny wouldn't have wanted you to throw your future away over this."
And Kyle had felt numb and misunderstood and had scrubbed his hands across his face in frustration, because the crushing pressure assaulting his brain and building in his chest was becoming too much to bear.
"Kenny won't care what I do. Because Kenny's dead," Kyle told the ceiling spitefully.
It was only when Kyle's parents had called in the big guns that Kyle had finally begun to see sense. Stan had been in the middle of loading up the car to make the trek back to Boulder when Kyle's parents had called him. Ignoring Stan, the way that Kyle had ignored his mother and father simply hadn't been an option. When Kyle had tried, Stan had gotten so angry that he'd thrown a textbook across Kyle's bedroom hard enough to leave a dent in the wall where it impacted. Shocked upright, Kyle had instantly found his shoulders gripped by vice-like hands as Stan had bellowed in his face,
"For Christ's sake, Kyle!"
Kyle had been stunned, a little terrified, until Stan added, much quieter and with a splintering crack in his voice, "Don't let him take you with him."
It had been enough. Just.
Afterwards, there had been a lot of talking and exchanged looks and phone calls to the university. Kyle would complete his dissertation from home, it was decided. He could drive up to use the library if he needed to, and would complete the assignments for his last unit without having to attend the seminars. Stan would be home every other weekend. The university had given Kyle an extension for his dissertation, on compassionate grounds, but he had never made use of it and just handed in a half-hearted attempt at the end of the year.
Graduation came and Kyle sat numb in his gown and speculated about how his life might have gone differently.
The training contract with the accountancy firm had been an easy option. Kyle knew that he was capable of better. But he didn't want to have to think for himself anymore.
* * * * * *
Two more bars, a nightclub and what Kyle could only suspect had actually been a strip joint later, and he was still no closer to finding Kenny. It was spectacularly frustrating. It was so clear that Kenny's spectral presence had permeated the very dust of La Revo, yet nobody could give Kyle an exact address. Kenny seemed to be everywhere, but nowhere. Every end Kyle chased was dead; every lead lead to nothing. It was as though Kenny had tricked an entire city into believing that he walked their streets, when in reality he was no more than an empty coffin lost beneath the frozen Colorado soil.
"Yeah, it's strange. Normally he's on shift tonight, but he hasn't turned up and we can't seem to get a hold of him, so," drawled the American barman who was leaning folded arms across the top of the latest bar that Kyle had tracked Kenny to. "I don't know what to tell you. I mean, if you find him, you can tell him to get his scrawny ass down here."
Kyle shook his head. By now, it was all too predictable.
"Okay," he said, resigned. "Thanks anyway."
The night air was waiting with a damp embrace as Kyle stepped out of the bar. He inhaled deep its lingering heat, fingers curling around the solid plastic of the phone in his pocket. Kyle's shoulders ached from the tension they were carrying and his eyes felt dry and dusty. It was becoming increasingly obvious that if Kenny was here, the last thing he wanted was to be found. Leaning back against the stone wall of the bar, in a shadow between pools of neon light, Kyle thought about where he would go to hail taxi and wished for a cigarette.
The smoking habit had thrust itself upon Kyle one day after he had decided not to return to university. He had been sorting through his room, to strip it of things related to Kenny, the borrowed items; old birthday gifts, and had discovered one of his own jackets, still ripe with Kenny's scent. Tucked into a pocket was a half-crushed packet of Marlboro and a crumpled convenience store receipt. Kyle had taken the packet outside, sparked a match and choked through the discomfort until it became easy. Smoking was the only thing of Kenny's which Kyle had held onto. Somehow, the toxic fumes helped him to continue breathing every day. His parents never commented on it and Stan never complained. The world had collectively decided to allow Kyle the small comfort of cigarettes.
The scrape of a lighter and the quick glow of a tiny flame caught Kyle's attention in the narrow La Revo alley. A fellow smoker was like a long-lost relative. They shared with Kyle a need which transcended all barriers of class and culture. A request from smoker to smoker for a quick fix would never be denied.
The flame winked out to be replaced with the satisfied shuffling of feet and the rough, hot smell of tobacco which leaked through the shadows to Kyle and coaxed him away from the wall, down the alley and towards its source. Kyle approached the smoker with the one Spanish phrase that he had learnt perfectly confident and ready on the tip of his tongue.
Kyle would never be exactly sure what stopped him. It might have been the set of the smoker's shoulders as he turned. It might have been the tilt of his chin at Kyle's approach. Whatever it was, something tipped Kyle off as to what was about to happen. He knew. He knew even before the figure stepped into to the flood of dim, buzzing light which was all that now stood between their two patches of shadow.
Kyle did not feel the tears welling in his eyes. He only knew that they were there when Kenny blurred suddenly out of focus in front of him and the outline of Kenny's body bled wet into the surrounding air.
Seeing him again felt nothing like Kyle had imagined it would.
A/N: I am soooo quitting my job. Writing is all I want to do, ever. The end. *weeps*
I know this was short and kind of shit, but I am working on the next chapter of The Butterfly Effect, like, literally right now as I'm uploading this. It's better. And happier. We need the happy...