I wrote this in about a week, almost entirely as a reaction to the Mysterion thing. No, really.


Kenny owned only one pair of shoes, a decrepit pair of Chuck Taylors his mother had found in the clearance section of Foot Locker, marked down because they were the most awkward color ever — a lovely sky blue. By the time he turned 15 Kenny's feet weren't going to get any larger, so after two years of abuse they were the softest, most comfortable shoes in the world. They were also full of holes — both gaps where the sole had peeled away from the canvas, and gaping ulcers where the ball of Kenny's feet met the pavement. For quite some time, Cartman had been vocal on the subject of the relative gayness of Kenny's Converses, which was to say that this pair of shoes could be seen as the "faggiest that ever fagged." This didn't bother Kenny, because he had learned a long time ago that it was better to own up to such slanders, especially if they were coming from the fattest piece of shit he'd ever kicked in the nuts at a high school dance. (Long story.)

The snow, on the other hand — that was Kenny's breaking point. He owned only six pairs of socks, and the McCormick family ran the washing machine just once a week, after church. By Sunday, Kenny's feet were freezing, soaking wet. He sat there through the sermon, artless droning, wiggling his toes for warmth.

Kenny didn't take Communion, but he loved to confess. It wasn't that he felt bad, and he never did the penance — it just felt nice to tell another human being these things. "I've had horrible thoughts about my friend Stan," that sort of thing — the very same Stan who never went to mass, called himself agnostic and spent Sunday mornings in bed with Kyle, conducting convoluted little dialogues flush with praise and mutual admiration. That, or, "I killed myself on Thursday afternoon because I hadn't done my stats homework."

"Son, trying to kill yourself's a serious thing," Father Maxi would say, genuine concern betraying the passivity of his forced detachment. "Think maybe you want to talk to someone?"

"I'm fine."

"Your life is precious. The Lord has a plan for every one of us. Even you!"

"Beginning to doubt it, Father," Kenny would mumble, flexing his toes just to make sure he could still feel them. The confessional wasn't heated.

"If you ever decide you need to talk about it, you know someone's always here for you."

"That's a lovely thought," Kenny would say as he left the booth, thinking about how he couldn't wait to run home and shed his wet shoes and socks.

One Sunday, an overcast morning in early March, Kenny stumbled from the confessional into the church lobby — his mother and father were still waiting their turn, and Kenny fell onto the hardness of a bare bench without sparing a glance at it.

"Hey," said a kid who was already sitting there.

"Hey," Kenny replied, not bothering to look up at whoever was talking to him.

"It's a gross kind of morning, huh, Kenny?"

Kenny hadn't realized he was sitting next to someone he knew. So he turned to look, and there was Clyde — clearly uncomfortable in an ill-fitting gray suit, bouncing the souls of his feet again the floor tiles. Kenny hadn't even noticed he was there. "Hi," he said, not interested in speaking with Clyde for any reason.

"Was that sermon boring or what?" Clyde asked.

"Yes, it was boring."

"I just think the guy is really preachy, you know — telling you what to do. It's like—"

"Yes, well, it's a sermon." Kenny rolled his eyes, because he was looking away again and Clyde would never notice. "That's basically the point."

"Oh." There was warmth in Clyde's voice – a kind of recognition that sounded, to Kenny, totally foreign. Foreign and pathetic. So Kenny turned to face Clyde, and saw that the other kid was beaming. "You confess yet?" he asked, a bit too excited for Kenny's liking.

"Yeah."

"Oh, me too. I'm just waiting for my parents to finish up — they're talking to the Tuckers — I was waiting for Craig but he ran off without me." Clyde sniffed, and Kenny realized for the first time that he was really congested.

"That sucks." Kenny reached into his suit jacket pocket. He had lots of things in there — a condom, just in case, which was pointless because he'd never had sex and was certain he never would; three five-dollar bills rolled up, all the money he had in the world; his pay-as-you-go cell phone, dwindling down to what Kenny thought amounted to two, maybe three calls if he was lucky. But there was also a wadded up tissue. It wasn't used, just crumpled, so he handed it to Clyde.

"Sorry," he said, not blushing because he wasn't embarrassed for Clyde to see the way he was outside of school. "You can use this if you want."

"Hey, thanks." Clyde blew his nose, and tried to hand the tissue back to Kenny. But then he realized what he was doing, and tried to stash it in his pocket. Then he realized he had no pockets, and just shoved it balled-up between his legs. "So," he said, trying to sound casual. "What are you up to?"

Kenny wasn't up to anything. He just wanted to go home, take off his socks and shoes, climb into bed, pull the sheets around his extremities, and read the newspaper. "Nothing."

"Ah, that's cool. I was just going to go home, maybe watch a little football."

"Okay." Kenny didn't care much for football.

"Do you…" Clyde sniffed, trying to suck the mucus from his sinuses and down his throat. "Do you maybe want to watch some football with me?"

Kenny didn't have to think very hard about this. "Well, I don't really like football."

"Oh, okay." The look of hope on Clyde's face just dissolved.

Did Kenny feel bad about not wanting to hang out with some kid from his class? Not really. He must have known Clyde since preschool. They'd never really talked. He didn't happen to do much — kept to himself during the week and probably didn't go out a lot at night. Not that Kenny himself went out too often; he generally spent his weekends with some permutation of the only four friends he'd ever had. It seemed ironic that he didn't even consider any of those people particularly good friends, except perhaps for Butters, with whom Kenny spent easily the least time. Anyway, he sure liked Butters more than he liked Clyde — not because Butters was so awesome, but because Kenny didn't know thing one about Clyde, except that he was kind of pudgy and always hanging out with Craig.

All ready to go, wanting to slip out to the parking lot and wait for his parents by the car, Kenny got up and said, "I guess I'll see you at school on Monday. See you around, Cly—"

Clyde stopped him. "That must suck," he said, pointing at the ground.

Kenny looked down. The only thing he saw was dirty linoleum, and his dirtier shoes. "What must suck?"

Clyde cleared his throat. "You shoes. They're totally soaked. It must suck."

"It's okay."

The look on Clyde's face went from defeated to hopeful again. "You can't possibly believe that, right?"

Now, Kenny was used to people ripping on him for being poor. He was used to people (if Cartman counted as 'people') ripping on him for being gay. He was definitely used to stumbling around South Park year-round in the same pair of weather-worn, blister-inducing gym shoes. But Kenny had never, ever had anyone call into question his complacency with his lot in life.

So he didn't really know how to respond. After a moment of gawking down at Clyde's smug face, he managed to say, "I guess whether I believe it's okay or not, this is the only pair of shoes I own, so for practicality's sake, I might as well."

"What if you had a new pair of shoes?"

Kenny just laughed. "I'll get new shoes someday. Don't worry about me," not that Kenny thought Clyde was worried about him. Probably the guy was just socially awkward, which would explain a lot.

"You know—" This was where Clyde finally decided to stand up and look at Kenny face-to-face, although Clyde was a good three or four inches shorter. Being only 5-foot-9 himself, Kenny figured this put Clyde roughly at girl-height, which didn't help him look like less of an awkward tool in his church suit. "I work at a shoe store. We can just go over there, get you some new shoes."

"Isn't that, um." Kenny shrugged. "Stealing?" He was surprised by his own ethics, never having been sure in the past if he had any.

"My dad owns it."

Kenny looked down at his shoes. He wiggled his toes. They were raw and cold and almost numb. He looked up at Clyde, beaming like a retard, squeezing his hands together, excited to be of use to someone, anyone, all of a sudden. What was he going to do if Kenny didn't want to go? Go home and watch football by himself. Well, that didn't sound very fun. Clyde was looking back at Kenny, the understanding of their mutual helplessness quite clear on his face.

"Well," Kenny said, feeling like he had just bought himself a one-way ticket to hell. "It couldn't hurt to go look."

At the end of the evening, Kenny walked home from Clyde's in a new pair of shiny black 14-eye Doc Martens, looking pretty stupid with his pants tucked into them — but he didn't care. They'd missed the Broncos, but Kenny had stuck around to watch the Steelers vanquish the Texans. Clyde had watched the game with his hands in his lap, legs crossed, babbling the entire time. "See, it's a fourth down, so the Texans have to punt again. They can't make a third-down conversion for crap right now. It's sad," he'd explain, like Kenny knew nothing about football. This wasn't quite true — Kenny only knew next to nothing about football. He couldn't have told you what the Broncos' record was that season — but he still knew what it meant to punt.

XXX

"Hey, Kenny!"

First thing Monday morning, and Kyle was already sitting on Stan's lap in homeroom. For two people who were never going to have sex, they were pretty fucking married.

"How was your weekend? Mine was okay, we went to go see — oh my god. Are those new shoes?"

At this point, Kyle climbed off of Stan and ran over. Kyle was the only person who ever noticed when Kenny had new clothes or a new haircut. But he'd never been this excited before.

"Yeah." Kenny figured if Kyle actually gave a shit, he might as well play along. "Nice, right?"

To no great surprise, Kyle got on his knees and started feeling Kenny's shoes. "The leather is so stiff." His voice was throbbing with reverence. It was almost sexual, except that a) Kyle was an avowed asexual, and b) Kenny was attracted to him not in the least. "These are beautiful Kenny. These are great shoes!"

At this point, Stan apparently got sick of his lap getting cold, and wandered over. "What's up?" he asked.

'Kenny has new shoes!"

"Okay." Stan shrugged. "Kyle, you get new shoes, like, every month."

Kyle stood back up, pulling down his sweater, which had ridden up in an unflattering way. "Well, Kenny never has new shoes. Look at them! They're awesome."

"They just look like combat boots to me."

"They're Docs, dude!"

"So?"

"So? You don't appreciate anything."

"Whatever, Kyle."

Grabbing Kenny's arm, Kyle said, "Don't listen to him. These are really cool. I'd love a pair of Docs."

Kenny could see that, even if he couldn't picture Kyle wearing a pair of combat boots if his life depended on it. "Well, thanks."

"Where'd you get these?" Stan asked, probably just to be polite.

"Oh, you know — from Clyde."

Stan said, "Clyde — you mean, like, colostomy Clyde?"

"Any other Clydes in South Park?" In fact, there were no other Clydes in South Park, not counting Cartman's old stuffed frog.

"What are you doing taking shoes from Clyde?" Stan asked.

Kyle added, "Do you think Clyde would give me a pair of shoes?"

"I don't know. Maybe if you were nice to him?"

"Caring this much about shoes is pretty gay, dude."

Kenny rolled his eyes at this. He couldn't be offended, because Stan was totally right; caring about shoes was super gay. Well, caring about shoes to the effect that you bought a new pair of them each month seemed pretty gay; Kenny was just happy he'd walked to school and his feet were dry and his socks were warm. The fact that these were new boots and he could feel a blister inflating on his heel as he stood there didn't even bother him. The pain was a good thing, the feeling of new shoes. Maybe Kyle had a point — there was something about these boots that was making Kenny feel slick and confident. They looked great with his long, lean legs and dark jeans tucked in. For the first time in a long while, Kenny felt he had something to flaunt. For a moment, he almost felt bad that Stan was too busy arguing with Kyle about shoes to actually look at Kenny's new boots. "Look at my goddamn shoes, Stan," he wanted to say. "Don't you like them? I look pretty cool, right?" But he didn't. He just stood there.

This conversation about the relative coolness of shoes had been going for a couple of minutes, and showed no signs of stopping. Kenny didn't want to go talk to Cartman, although he could admit to himself that he was eager to kick Cartman in the crotch with these sensational new boots. It was only a matter of days until Cartman would call him a fag, and then — bam. Right in the nuts. It would be so sweet.

"As a diabetic, good shoes are important, because my circulation is bad and if I hurt my foot it might not heal quickly and would be vulnerable to infections," Kyle was saying.

"Sick, dude," Stan would reply. "You need to take better care of your feet."

"I'm trying—"

And then Clyde rushed in, clearly agitated with his own lateness. So he was panting when he caught them circled near the door to the classroom, and managed to stumble over and gasp out, "Hey, Kenny."

Kenny looked at Clyde; he looked back at Stan and Kyle. He wasn't exactly certain what he should say — "Hey, Clyde, thanks for the shoes"? Or maybe just a casual, "Hi"? Clyde was looking at him with such anticipation, like the tiniest hint of rejection would just break him.

"Um." Kenny forced a smile. "Hey, dude."

"Hey — uh, hey, guys." Clyde nodded at Stan and Kyle.

"Hi, Clyde," said Stan.

"Hey," said Kyle.

"So, Kenny." Clyde was biting his lip. "Do you, um — do you like to watch TV after school?"

Stan rolled his eyes at this. Kyle just smirked. It was a stupid question — a stupid, bland question. Yeah, well, duh — didn't everyone like to watch TV all the time? Kenny's family tried to skimp on their gas bill, always, but they at least had a television set and basic cable.

"I guess so," Kenny replied. "Why?"

Now Clyde was excited. "So I've been watching Dancing with the Stars, right, and things are getting pretty intense. It's down to—"

Clyde was babbling; Stan and Kyle were looking at him like he was a fucking alien, is this guy for real, and sadly, Kenny was conscious of the fact that Clyde was 100 percent for real. Just to spare him from his own indignity, Kenny said, "Sure, I'd love to watch star dancing."

"Dancing with the Stars," Clyde corrected.

"Well, whatever, I'm sure it's great, I'm sure they're … great." Kenny shrugged. "What time is it on? When should I come over?"

"Well, I mean, not until later but you see, the thing is…" Clyde took a big breath. "Maybe you should just walk home with me," he suggested.

"Okay." Kenny nodded. "I'll meet you at the vending machines after last period."

"Sure," Clyde agreed. "And the boots look really cool, by the way."

"Well, thank you," Kenny said.

"No problem, no problem. See you after school, I guess." And Clyde walked off, humming to himself, likely going to sit with his friends.

Kenny looked at Stan, grinning, wanting to shout, "See that, you dick face? Another guy bought me shoes. I'm gonna walk home with him! Wearing my new shoes! How's that feel?"

But Stan just put an arm around Kyle's shoulder and said, "We need to get you some foot cream or something. After-school project?"

"As long as you rub it in for me."

Stan laughed. "Well, that's gay, but all right," everyone fully conscious of how little Stan cared if it was gay, because he was doing it for Kyle, his love of whom transcended gayness.

Meanwhile, Kenny was left standing there, feet blistering, toes snug in soft cotton and tight leather. He would walk home with goddamn Clyde every afternoon if he had to, just to make a point. A futile, futile point.

XXX

One afternoon while they were sitting in the fenced-in mess of crab grass that Kenny's family called a 'backyard,' sipping beers lifted from Mr. McCormick, Clyde asked the question Kenny didn't want to answer: "So, what's up with Kyle and Stan?"

Kenny would have liked to have had the opportunity to do a spit-take, or at least feel a little surprise with his discomfort. Instead, he just flung his empty bottle toward the neighbors' yard, slapped his hand against his thigh, and said, "Well, there's not much to tell."

"They're, like." Clyde paused, uncertain of what to say. "They're boning, right?"

Kenny shook his head. "Absolutely not."

"But, they will be."

"I don't think so."

For a while they just sat there, unhappy that it was four weeks since Kenny had gotten his new shoes, and was finally the beginning of mid-April, but there were still piles of chunky permafrost caking the seams of Kenny's backyard and the edges of South Park's sidewalks. It was warmer out, and the Docs still made Kenny feel important, but he was starting to wonder if perhaps it would become too hot outside, eventually, to wear these enormous shoes. And they were enormous — they were so heavy that Kenny sometimes felt his leg muscles throbbing as he walked. Ice and snow, he had conquered, and rain was no match for 14 well-laced eyelets. But summer was a threat.

Finished with his beer, Clyde stood it on the pavement that comprised the 'patio,' although Kenny's house wasn't nice enough to involve elements that were called things ending in vowels. Finally, he said, "They're obviously in love."

"I know."

"I never really noticed it before." This was because Clyde had not really hung out with Stan and Kyle since grade school — at least not until he started spending innocuous, meaningless time with Kenny over the spring of junior year. But it was always the most blatant thing, bringing Kenny pain on a daily basis. He hoped Clyde hadn't noticed.

"Are they really that naïve?" Clyde asked.

"No." Kenny shook his head, bangs flying everywhere — he needed a trim, and couldn't afford one, but the last time he'd cut his own hair it had been a disaster. "They are completely aware of it, dude."

"So why don't they date? I mean, if I were that close to someone I liked that much, I would probably want to fuck her."

"I know. I often think not fucking Stan is kind of a missed opportunity." Kenny hoped that Clyde didn't know how very true Kenny felt this was. "But, fucking is out of the question, because Kyle's not into that."

"Kyle's not into guys? I thought he was."

"Kyle's into guys, but he's not into anyone like that, because he is a homoromantic asexual."

"Come again?"

Kenny smirked. "A homo-romantic asexual, like, he's not into having sex at all but he falls in love with dudes — like, he's obviously in love with Stan."

"Which must suck for Stan."

"Well, not really, because Stan isn't into dudes."

Clyde made the most confused, pathetic facial expression Kenny had ever seen, which was triumphant in its own right, and amplified by the fact that Clyde made dozens of confused and/or pathetic facial expressions on a daily basis. "I don't know what the fuck that means."

"It means he's in love with Kyle, but he doesn't want to fuck him." Kenny wished he had another beer, but he didn't, so he tugged a tuft of brown, dead grass out of the dirt and crushed it in his hand, getting mud wedged in his fingernails. "So there you go."

"That's stupid. That makes no sense."

"I don't know what to tell you, Clyde. People's sexualities are not so black-and-white, most of the time."

"I think mine is. I really only like girls."

"Well, me too," Kenny agreed, meaning the black-and-white part.

"So how the hell do you know that Stan isn't into guys?"

Incoming. Kenny braced himself. "Because I know."

"He could be into anything, because how does someone get that close to another dude and not want to ball him—"

"I don't know, Clyde, I think if I were that close to another dude I would want to ball him. In fact, I definitely want to ball Stan, but he's not into guys so even if he weren't homoromantically married to Kyle, he'd still be looking to bang chicks. I can't explain it. I haven't thought about it that much." That was a big, big lie. It was all Kenny thought about, that and finishing his brief Spanish homework.

"I just don't think you can know—"

"Yes, of course I know, it's called gaydar." Kenny was getting annoyed.

"But you don't just have gaydar—"

"Yes I do. I am gay."

They looked at each other for another 30 seconds. Kenny really wanted another beer. Would his dad notice if he stole another beer?

"Ohhhhh," Clyde finally said. "I had no idea."

"Well, shit." Kenny crossed his arms.

"Why haven't you ever come out?"

"Um." Kenny officially didn't care if his dad noticed a beer missing. "I didn't realize I was in?"

"Well, I had no idea." Clearly. Kenny officially didn't care if his dad noticed 20 beers missing. "You could have told me."

"I just assumed everyone knew!"

"I didn't really notice."

"Well, fuck, Clyde — sorry." Kenny didn't really feel sorry, though.

"You can tell me anything."

Kenny didn't want to tell Clyde anything. But he somehow found himself saying: "Well, I have a crush on Stan. A big one." He made an expansive arm gesture. Then he put his head in his hands. "I'm so sorry. Can we get another beer? I need to get wasted."

"Sure, yes, getting loaded at 2 on a Saturday seems prudent." That was the biggest word Kenny had ever heard Clyde say, prudent. And it wasn't a big word, really.

"Don't be a pussy." Kenny got up, wisps of dead crabgrass clinging to his ass. He wasn't moved by this one way or the other, so he didn't brush them off. But he extended his hands and helped hoist Clyde to his feet.

They sat with their beers on Kenny's bed, surrounded by smudges on the wall (mostly from Kenny kicking at them with his old Converses, simply out of boredom and frustration) and big, garish posters — there were some NASCAR pictures up, but it was mostly cheesecake. When Clyde noticed this, he gawked.

"See, this is why maybe I didn't know you were gay — your room's covered in titties."

"Titties are awesome."

"And NASCAR."

"Well, what do you want, dude? Do you want me to be more stereotypical or something," and here Kenny began lisping, "or do you want me to talk like thiiiiiiiiiis?"

"I don't want you to do anything," Clyde said. "Just be you. It's okay. My therapist told me that."

Kenny felt a bit like he could fall in love with Clyde's therapist, even though the guy clearly wasn't doing good work. Or maybe Clyde's therapist was a chick? Like it mattered. "Thanks, dude." Kenny took a swig of beer. "You're an okay guy."

"Really?"

"Sure, for real."

"What are you doing for the summer?" Clyde asked.

"Are you kidding?" Kenny knew he wasn't kidding. "The same shit I've been doing all year, just less of it."

"I'm going to summer camp." Pause. "I'm going to be a counselor."

"Well, that's cool." Kenny was staring at a cheesecake poster, listening to Clyde but also captivated by Bettie Page — her gaze somewhat averted, lewd and knowing; tits threatening to drop from an unfurled bikini top with one snap of a string. This wasn't sexy, it was campy. Aesthetically, he liked it, but it wasn't turning him on. Didn't Clyde get that?

Clyde wasn't even thinking about it. He was blathering about fucking summer camp. "Maybe you could write me a letter," he said.

"What?" Kenny asked. He blinked. "Oh, letters. Yeah, sure."

XXX

No one had ever been nice to Clyde. This was something Kenny was beginning to understand. Well, Clyde's parents were nice to him, but whose parents weren't? The kids they went to school with, it's not that they were dicks to Clyde — well, Cartman was, but Cartman was a dick to everyone in turn. It just seemed to Kenny that no one went out of their way to treat Clyde as anything other than that guy wedged between Token and Tweek at the lunch table.

This was evident when Kenny started hanging out with those guys at the end of the school year. Finally, he had taken all he could of Stan and Kyle's ongoing chaste domestic drama — Stan had kissed a girl at a prom after party, which led to Kyle throwing a Jack and Coke in his face, which led to Stan screaming, "I have needs!" which led to the two of them drunkenly holding each other and crying at 4 a.m. in some senior girl's parents' bathtub. Meanwhile, Cartman had thrown his hat into the ring for student government president, and was bribing sophomore girls with Jell-o shots. Clyde agreed to vote for Cartman, but only after slurping down about three.

"I think those are going to get you preeeeeeetty wasted," Kenny had slurred, pretty wasted himself.

"Obviously, that's the point," Clyde agreed. About 30 minutes later he was making out with Wendy Testaburger, and then managed to vomit all over her, staining her dress with regurgitated blue Jell-o.

"Gross, Clyde! You're fucking sick!" she had shouted, stumbling off into a guest bathroom.

"Poor Wendy," Kenny had said, crumpling an empty Dixie cup in his hand. "Sucks for her."

Red was standing next to him, her mascara smudged and fancy up-do falling down the back of her neck. It had been a long night. She'd snorted. "You think that girl'd be used to it by now," she'd said, falling into Kenny's arms. "You wouldn't puke on me, would you?"

"For several reasons, no," Kenny had replied. He laid her on the ground next to the bathtub, where Stan and Kyle were now also passed out. He thought it was a tidy little collection of drunks, and figuring himself just as drunk as they were, he lay himself down next to Red and fell asleep.

The next morning, he'd woken up in Clyde's bed, with no recollection of having gotten there. It did not even occur to Kenny that this might have been a sexual thing, and even if it had, well, it wasn't — Clyde was snoring on the floor, shirt stained with blue.

XXX

Clyde was a mail machine, or something, writing Kenny daily missives that arrived promptly and said little — until as the summer went on, they began to say more. "We did macramé today; the kids were good at it," he wrote in one letter. "I decided they cleaned the cabin pretty good last week so this week I took them for a 'floating lunch,' which sounds like a sexy move but it's just sandwiches on canoes. A kid named Chris fell into the water. He was all wet, poor guy."

In another, he wrote of a girl he'd been hooking up with, a fellow counselor named Kath, who was pudgy and had low self-esteem. "But she's easy, super easy, and sometimes we just have to do what's easy, I think. My therapist told me that. Right before I left. I think she's going to let me go all the way. This'll be my second time, which is nice." Kenny wondered who the first time was; then, he wondered why he would ever care. Good for Clyde. "If I weren't scared shitless of Kyle" — this was news to Kenny — "I'd ask him how is it possible not to want to have sex, it's the greatest feeling on the planet."

Kenny imagined this was true, but he'd still never had sex, and in fact had taken to hanging out at the community pool just to stare at Stan, all shirtless and burned (Stan did not tan well) at his lifeguarding job. Stan was a shitty, shitty lifeguard. He just talked to Kenny all day, blowing a whistle from time to time to make sure people remembered he was there, being a lifeguard. No one seemed to be drowning, so it was okay.

For the first few weeks of the summer, Kyle made them sandwiches for lunch. He would come by at noon with three brown sacks, stuffed with the sandwich, exactly 22 Goldfish crackers each, two Milano cookies (sometimes raspberry-flavored; sometimes mint), a nectarine, and a juice box. On Monday, they all got tuna; on following days of the week he prepared turkey, ham and cheese, curry chicken salad, and cucumber-cream cheese, respectively. Kenny appreciated the lunch, but wondered if Kyle's anal pursuit of such blatant wifery didn't have anything to do with his aversion to sex. Maybe if Kyle would jack it every now and then, he'd chill out. Anyway, it wasn't on his mind for long, because Kyle got shipped off to summer school at UCLA by the end of June, leaving Kenny hungrier, but able to appreciate Stan's partial nakedness and goofy facial expressions in peace. This was enough masturbation fodder to last him a lifetime, he thought — until Stan announced that while Kyle was gone, he was going to be boning one of his fellow lifeguards, a girl with red hair and a lazy eye.

That just made Kenny sad. He was trying not to be too emo. So he wrote Clyde back, finally, after the poor guy had been gone for three weeks already: "I don't even think Stan is that hot. I just want him. I don't even know why. I don't think about it. I wonder why he and Kyle won't be together, either. He obviously likes girls but he obviously really likes Kyle a lot more. They talk on the phone three times a day and he says, 'I miss you, I miss you so much' then he fucks this girl, her name is [something scribbled out] okay, I dunno her name but I hate that bitch. I fucking hate her. It's so boring here, ugh. My mom said to study for the SAT but what's the point, there's no point."

Clyde's reply: "If my therapist were reading your letters, he'd tell you that it's okay to be jealous of Stan's girlfriend and Kyle, but you can't let that get in the way of your friendship. At least I think so. So try not to let it. Otherwise, if you're bored you can hang out with Craig and Tweek a little, they're pretty chill and they like you. Token's playing tennis in Europe for the summer! What a lucky dick. I told Kath all about you. She says hey."

XXX

Craig and Tweek weren't stoners, exactly, but they had spent most of the summer smoking copious amounts of dope and trying to MST3K every episode of Xiaolin Showdown, a show that Kenny had neither seen nor heard of. He did not think it was very amusing whether or not he was high off of his ass or sober. It was highly racist and completely fucked-up in the most un-amusing way. But they had cheap weed and Kenny could have some, sometimes for cheap and sometimes they'd just share. That was pretty nice.

"So, have you guys been writing Clyde a lot of letters?" Kenny asked one evening.

"Clyde doesn't write us letters," Craig replied. He was chugging his third Fresca of the afternoon. "Why would we write him?"

"Um." Kenny shrugged. "No reason."

"Why, does he write to you?" Tweek asked.

"Sometimes," Kenny lied, like he didn't get a letter from Clyde every single day (except for Sundays, but he did get two on Mondays).

"Well, that's cool," Craig said. He was now cracking open a fourth Fresca, a black cherry one this time. "What's he saying?"

"He likes the kids, I guess. I think he's hooking up with a girl at camp."

"Good for him," Tweek said.

"When it rains, it pours," Craig added.

"What's that mean?"

"Eh, I dunno." Craig's answer frustrated Kenny. These guys got so chill when they were high; Kenny just got antsy and wanted to jump on the couch and break a window. Not in that order, necessarily, but all the same.

"After prom he hooked up with Wendy," Tweek announced. "Oops, wait, was that a secret?"

"Nah, I saw him," Kenny said.

"Oh, good." Tweek seemed relived.

"But it didn't go too far because he puked on her."

"Oh, no, after that." Craig pulled out some rolling papers, and yanked one from the package. "They fucked."

"He is lucky as hell," Tweek squealed. "I'd do her, like, immediately."

"I know," Craig agreed, dumping some weed from a baggie onto a paper.

"Eh." Kenny hunched his shoulders. "I'm gay."

"No kidding," said Tweek.

"Yeah, we know you're all gay," Craig added.

"What?"

"All five of you," Craig said. "You and Butters and Cartman and Stan and Kyle."

"No way! Butters and Cartman are straight. Stan's boning that ginger girl from the pool." It pained Kenny to have to say this aloud. "And Kyle's asexual."

"Cartman is straight?" Craig paused to lick the edge of the joint he was rolling. "Who'd have thought. He wears women's clothing all the time, you know."

"Well, I never called him well-adjusted."

"This just blew my mind," Tweek said.

"Here." Craig handed him a lighter and the finished joint. "Blow it harder."

XXX

The end of summer brought Kenny relief. The ginger pool girl went back to Missoula; Kyle came home from Los Angeles with an earring. Kenny laughed at him, hard, but Kyle just told him to shut up. Stan saw him next, and said, "That does look really stupid, just so you know." Kyle took the earring out immediately and let it close up. Once again, Cartman's pronouncement of something as 'faggy' was correct, if unwelcome.

Clyde came back, too, with a goofy farmer's tan and shaggy hair lightened up by the sun. For a moment, just a moment, Kenny thought the hair looked good — even cute. But Clyde had it lopped off the very next day.

Something fateful happened one afternoon a week into the new school year. Kenny and Clyde were walking up Main Street, drinking root beers and talking about their classes. Kenny was continuing with Spanish, and he was becoming good with it. He could now say meaningful things, things like, "I require medical attention," and, "Yes, but I think a better idea is to leave him in the dumpster." Things like that. The things that came up in his daily life. Kenny was also secretly hoping someone would tell Kyle about the lifeguard. No one had, though. He was disappointed by that.

At the intersection of Main and Fourth, Kenny spotted a Sacajawea in the street. It wasn't that his vision was so great, but those things were huge and golden, and usually under-circulated, so this one was shiny, and it caught the light of late afternoon in a way that Kenny couldn't ignore. "Hold on," he said, sprinting ahead of Clyde. "Let me get something."

"What are you doing?" Clyde asked.

"It's okay, I'm—" And Kenny slipped in the middle of Fourth Street.

"Get out of street, you retard!" Clyde called.

Kenny doubled over, laughing. "Hold on," he panted, holding his side, trying to keep his root beer from spilling. "I'm just getting this—"

At that moment, a Ford Explorer careening down the street at 58 miles an hour hit Kenny, killing him instantly.

XXX

The next morning, Kenny woke up with a splitting headache. This was pretty par for the course. The day proceeded as expected — dry cornflakes for breakfast, walk to school, homeroom. Kyle was sitting on Stan's lap, as usual, talking about pants.

"I just think it's sleazy-looking when they're acid-washed, you know."

"Of course," Stan agreed.

"And what's up with all these holes? Holes happen in my pants eventually, it's not like I needed to buy them already ruined, right? I can ruin my own clothing. Hey, Kenny."

Kenny was caught off-guard. "Hey, guys."

"What'd you do last night?" Stan asked.

"Um." It had taken a long time for Kenny to get used to the idea that no one cared or even noticed when he died. "Nothing."

"Really, nothing?"

"Really, Kyle, nothing. I hung out with Clyde, and then — yeah, nothing. I just went home and slept."

"For what, 18 hours? I tried to call you and you didn't pick up."

"Gee, sorry," Kenny said, although he felt no remorse whatsoever. "What's so important that you wanted to talk to me about?"

"Nothing," Kyle said. "Forget it."

"We wanted to invite you to study with us, for the SAT," Stan said. "But, you know, it's irrelevant now."

"Oh." Kenny hadn't studied for it at all, despite his mother's badgering. He figured that when it came to standardized tests, he was either smart enough or not, and killing himself in the lead-up was just needless stress. His grades were decent, surprisingly, at a B-average; he would be able to go to some Colorado state school — maybe not a good one, possibly a community college, but somewhere. "Are you guys nervous?"

"Kind of," Stan replied. "Kyle's on the verge of a total breakdown."

"I am not. It's just important! How am I supposed to concentrate with all these fucking holes in my jeans, and then I go to the store and I want a new pair and they only thing they can sell me is all these acid-washed holey pieces of crap pants, I swear to god—"

"See, he's nervous," Stan said, stroking Kyle's leg. This looked super gay. "Don't be nervous, dude. You're smart. You'll be okay."

For Kenny, this kind of worrying over a fucking test was ridiculous. Yes, Kyle was intelligent, but he wasn't some kind of child-prodigy genius, or anything. He was just a clever kid who worked hard in school. And he did work hard in school — very, very hard. When he wasn't worrying about shoes or pants or sandwiches, maybe. But in Kenny's mind, there was a limit for how well one was able to do on a test like that. Did Kenny consider, briefly, the idea that this was a defense mechanism he'd invented to console himself about the fact that he wasn't going to do very well? Yes, of course, but only for a moment, and then he went back to wishing in silence that Stan and Kyle and everything they stood for didn't suck so hard.

"I need to go out of Colorado," Kyle was whining. "No one understands me here."

"I understand."

"I know, but only sometimes."

Kenny was about to go off on them, when he was yanked away, physically, by Clyde. "Good morning," he said, as he was being dragged to the other side of the classroom. "What's up?"

Clyde wrapped his arms around Kenny's torso and squeezed.

"Okay, this is awkward."

"Are you alright?" Clyde let go.

"Yeah, dude, I'm fine. How are you?"

Shaking his head, Clyde said, "No, I mean" — he mouthed the words you died. … "How are you?"

Few things were able to shake Kenny from his perpetual state of tranquility, but this did. "Are you kidding me?"

"Ken, I saw you get run over by an SUV. It was horrible!"

"And you — you remember?"

"Well, who wouldn't remember something like that?" Clyde asked.

Kenny gaped at him for a moment. There was a beat, and then, "Everyone!"

"Well, that's why I didn't, uh — I didn't want to say it in front of … them, you know, I thought they'd think I was crazy…" He meant Stan and Kyle, obviously, who had seen Kenny slaughtered in countless ways over 10, 12, 14 years, and couldn't seem to remember any of these incidents. Kenny remembered them all, though. The SUV last night had cracked his spine, he figured, so aside from a brief moment of shock, there hadn't been much suffering. But some of this shit was painful. Which begged a new question—

"Clyde," he said, putting a hand on Clyde's shoulder. "Do you remember when we played superheroes as kids?"

"Not really," said Clyde. "You guys didn't let me play with you a lot as kids."

"But you remember me dying?"

"Yes, all the time."

"Do you remember standing in Cartman's basement, I was wearing my underwear outside of my pants and you I think had a vuvuzela—"

"A what?'

"That annoying thing from soccer games, and I was trying to get people to remember me dying, and no one could?"

"I remember you dying. Repeatedly, over the course of 10 years. Or something, I don't know. Lots of deaths."

"But you didn't remember them at the time!"

"Well, I guess I remember them in hindsight, then?" Clyde shrugged. "Dude, are you okay?"

Now it was Kenny's turn to hug Clyde, grasping him tight and rocking them back and forth. "Thank you, Clyde," he said, and he meant it. "You have no idea how much this means to me."

"People are looking at us."

Kenny wouldn't let go. "Give it a minute," he whispered. "I'm not used to being looked at."

When Kenny got back to his seat, Stan said, "That was pretty gay, you know."

"So what?"

"Well, people are going to think you're gay if you do shit like hug Clyde in the middle of homeroom."

That was ludicrous. "I don't give a crap if people think I'm gay! I am gay! You know what's more ridiculous, people totally think you're gay!"

"Who, me?" asked Kyle.

"Both of you! Together!"

"That's just plain ridiculous," said Stan.

Kenny felt such an unwitting statement perhaps summed the situation up better than he ever could. Also, the word 'ridiculous' was beginning to lose all meaning. Kenny put a mental moratorium on it.

XXX

Developing a crush was painless, Kenny thought, because you never knew it was happening; realizing you had a crush was a bitch.

For about two whole years, Kenny's masturbatory thoughts had been limited to one of two varieties: Stan, or nameless internet men. (Basic cable came in a bundle. Kenny's computer was old, but it handled porn sites just fine.) Suddenly, he found his thoughts wandering ever-closer to Clyde Donovan. He wasn't Kenny's type at all, if indeed Kenny had a type. Maybe Kenny's type was what they called twink-y, collegiate and blushing and healthy. Stan fit this description, although Kenny knew well enough that his attraction to Stan was the result of context more than hotness. In any case, Clyde was pasty (more so after his camp tan faded), pudgy, and lacking self-awareness. If his hair ever looked attractive, he cut it. If he bought a shirt that fit him well, he found some way to spill grape juice on it. Kenny had been trying, just as a friend, to give Clyde some good direction. But now that he sort of, well, liked Clyde, all amicable attempts to steer the guy in the right direction evaporated.

One night Kenny was jerking off to free pictures on some gay college-boy porn site; the next, he was thinking about Clyde. Kenny felt his own outlook on sexuality was healthy, in that he didn't angst too much, or even at all, about what got him off and whether or not it was 'okay,' whatever okay meant. But soon he found himself wondering where Clyde was, like, all the time. If Clyde hung out with Craig and those guys and Kenny wasn't invited, Kenny would mope. If Clyde wasn't in homeroom, Kenny was worried. If Clyde liked his T-shirt, Kenny made a point to wear that T-shirt day-in, day-out until the T-shirt reeked.

There was one very good reason Kenny had never tried to get with Stan: He knew Stan wouldn't go for it. At all. Period. If — and that was a strong, cautionary if — Stan ever somehow developed an interest in cock, well, everyone knew it was Kyle's cock he'd be sniffing after. (The accessibility of Kyle's cock was low, but that was a corollary that Kenny felt wasn't worth including in his reasoning.) So, Kenny had always figured, given the likelihood of Stan responding to any entreaty of Kenny's in a positive way, that in order to maintain a friendship with Stan, he would have to keep his wants suppressed.

But Clyde — Clyde was a new thing for Kenny. They were friends — increasingly close friends. Just not so close that Kenny minded losing that friendship over some inconvenient lust. Kenny's Docs were now worn-in so well that he could walk to school in them without socks and his feet wouldn't even bleed. (Kyle had run out to buy a pair of Docs at the start of the school year; Kenny basked in schadenfreude while Kyle bitched about blisters.) He probably wouldn't need a new pair of shoes for two, maybe three years. Yes, it was inconvenient in the summer, but wearing huge boots to the pool in the middle of July made Kenny feel kind of punk. So really, what did he have to lose?

There was a Halloween party at Red's house, seeing as her parents were going to be in Jackson Hole for a wedding. They were pretty cool — the type of parents who expected their daughter to throw parties, and even admired her for doing it. Liane Cartman was this kind of mother, too. That kind of parent. Every grade had a few sets. Anyway, it wasn't cool to wear costumes anymore, unless you were a chick looking for a chance to dress up slutty. That, or Butters, who went to school that morning dressed as the Cookie Monster. He ended up with rotten milk dumped on his head while Cartman rolled around on the ground, laughing. Kenny had to admit, it was pretty hilarious. Maybe you had to be there. Anyway, point was, he wouldn't don a costume, but he agonized over what he was going to wear anyway.

Kenny hadn't any kind of wardrobe — just a rotation of T-shirts, hoodies, and jeans. And not a large rotation, either — enough to get him to wash day, plus or minus a few items depending on the category. So clothing angst didn't get a lot of mileage in the McCormick house, but Kenny knew he was good-looking and wanted to amplify it, if possible. He had once read that orange drew people in, and his most flattering jeans were faded black — but this made him look like he was trying to be seasonal, which he wasn't. He settled on the black jeans with an olive-green T-shirt; it was his cleanest. That, and it had a V-neck, which showed off his collar bones, and Kenny knew he had nice collar bones. As he checked himself in the mirror before heading over to Stan's, he internalized that this was the absolute gayest he had ever acted. He wasn't a clotheshorse like Kyle, what with his library of shoes and endless parade of blazers. How many shoes and blazers did a guy need?

They pre-gamed in Stan's basement, playing Kings to get it going. (Randy Marsh — cool parent, from an enabler perspective. Sharon Marsh — not even close.) Even when Kenny was supposed to drink, he was cautious, and faked some of his shots. Luckily, his friends were drunk enough to make this work. Butters kept making eyes at him, though — not sexy eyes, just "I know what you're doing" eyes, but Butters wouldn't rat him out. Anyway, after his second drink, Kenny felt good enough to start texting Clyde. His mother had deposited $20 into his account that morning, so armed with the power of funding, he wrote, "Dude, where are you?"

The reply came: "Craig's, we're pregaming"

"Us too at stan's"

"What are you drinking"

Kenny actually had no idea. He looked around for bottle, but he couldn't see one. He put his phone down. "Guys," he said, getting their attention. "What are we drinking?"

"Why, Kenny, so you can text your boyfriend about it?" Cartman asked.

Kenny's face pinkened. "Fuck you, you fat fuck," he snapped.

Stan said, "Off-brand vodka."

But that didn't sexy, so Kenny just texted back, "Vodka."

He waited what seemed like forever for his reply; it was probably only several minutes. Nevertheless, he was trying to ignore another screaming match between Cartman and Kyle when his phone pinged. Clyde had texted back, "Nice."

Everything was going well.

Red's party, when they made it there, was pretty boring — typical high school party. She'd put out a couple of bowls of tiny candy bars in acknowledgement of Halloween, but in general it was mostly slutty girls in scanty costumes bumping and grinding to the strains of some top-40 crap Kenny couldn't even internalize. Stan and Kyle asked him to play beer pong with some sophomores who were setting up a table, but Kenny wasn't interested.

"Sure," Kyle said, patting him tentatively on the shoulder. "Go find Clyde."

"That obvious?" Kenny asked.

Kyle shrugged. "You obviously like hanging out with him." He sniffed. "You know, more than us."

"You mean, more than we do," Kenny corrected — usually even drunk Kyle didn't make those kinds of sloppy grammar mistakes.

"No, I mean you like him more than you like us."

Oh. "No I don't," Kenny snapped.

"It's okay to have other friends." Something was definitely off with Kyle. "It's normal, you know."

"Are you okay?"

"I'm fine." Kyle crossed his arms. "I'll just play beer pong."

"We'll talk later," Kenny said, backing out of the room. He wasn't eager to hang out and psychoanalyze whatever was bothering Kyle this week.

Clyde wasn't in the kitchen, the basement, the dining room, or the bathroom. (Kenny knocked twice, just to be sure. Milly and Bebe were doing coke in there. Random! They offered him some, and Kenny declined. He had to stay focused.) Kenny was considering sending Clyde a text, and he decided to slip out to the backyard, because it was pretty muggy in the house, what with the heat on and the dozens of teenagers exuding energy. So that was where he found Clyde — out on the back patio, clutching a beer, standing in a circle with his friends. It seemed Token was circulating a joint.

"Hey," Clyde said, waving him over. "Where've you been?"

Kenny used the heel of his boot to shut the door to the kitchen. "Beer pong, neuroses, coke in the bathroom."

"You were doing coke in the bathroom?" Clyde asked.

"No, but Bebe and Milly are doing coke in the bathroom. They offered me some."

This piqued Tweek's interest. "Do you think they'd offer me some?"

"Maybe you don't want to mess with that," Token suggested, in between hits.

"What could possibly go wrong?" Craig asked, although the nasal monotone of his voice made it difficult to tell if he was being sincere or sarcastic.

"Well, I'm gonna go check!" Tweek fled as soon as he announced this, almost slamming into the sliding door in his excitement.

"Keep it in your pants," Craig drawled. "Wow. I've never seen anyone actually hard for drugs before." That was deadpan.

"I guess it's good to be excited about something," Clyde figured, weirdly optimistic about it.

"Poor kid." Token handed the joint off to Craig, who lifted it to his lips.

"Whatever," Craig said in that breathless-inhalation way. "Kenny?"

Kenny shook his head. He wanted to, but it would make him too nervous. Craig just shrugged and took a second hit. For a moment, Kenny considered the differences between this group of old friends, and the guys he hung out with. The idea of Stan and Kyle standing outside a packed house passing back and forth anything more sinister than a bottle of beer was inconceivable. Craig and these guys were all so calm, just enjoying each other's company, snorting coke and laughing at idiots and not taking it too hard at all. With Kenny's friends, everything was such a big. Fucking. Deal. All the goddamn time. Everything was such a crisis: What if I do badly on the SATs? What if I hook up with this girl? What if I forget the words? What if I don't fit in? What if, what if, what if. So much needless, preemptive worrying. Kenny included himself in this. What if he was immortal? What if no one ever cared?

But Clyde cared, right?

"Hey, Clyde."

"Yeah?"

"Can I talk to you for a minute?"

"Sure." Clyde patted Token on the shoulder as they walked away. "Go get her," he said.

"We'll see," Token replied. Some private exchange that Kenny wasn't meant to know the meaning behind. No use worrying about it.

They went into a guest bedroom, where Clyde sat on the bed. Some miserable song Kenny understood to be performed by prosaic ingénue Kesha was throbbing downstairs.

"What's up?" Clyde asked, but his eyes were too focused for him not to know.

Kenny locked the door. "Enjoying the party?" He took a seat next to Clyde. Looking down, he realized that his Docs had tracked mud across the carpet. Oh well.

"It's good, it's fine. Just another party." Clyde was so serene, like he just knew what was coming.

Seduction was easier planned than done, and it took all of Kenny's courage to actually lean over and kiss Clyde, dry and brief, on the mouth. "How was that?" he asked, pulling away.

Clyde laughed — not in a derisive way, but awkward and unsteady. "Is that all?" he asked.

"Well, I didn't know what you were, how it would—"

Grabbing Kenny by the ears, Clyde pulled him into a second kiss — wetter and longer. And even still, this one only lasted for a moment or two, long enough for Kenny to feel his heart beating faster than it probably should. When it was over, the parting of their lips was audible, and both of them were bright red.

"This is really fun," Kenny said, uncharacteristic in his straightforwardness.

"You never kissed anyone before?"

Kenny shook his head.

"I wouldn't have figured."

"Sorry."

Clyde put a hand on Kenny's thigh. "Don't apologize, it's—"

Kenny didn't know what Clyde had meant to say; maybe, "It's unbecoming." (But probably not, because 'unbecoming' was one of those commonplace words Clyde thought was too big.) Regardless, Kenny looped his arms around Clyde's neck, and began to kiss him again — this time, with tongue.

Kenny's tongue darted around in Clyde's mouth, because Kenny himself was unsure of just what he wanted to do first — one second, each of Clyde's teeth needed to be felt; the next, he was curious as to just how far back he could reach. And while they were kissing, Clyde was inching his fingers up Kenny's sides, slow and tentative, but moving ever closer to his chest, his neck, his face. Once there, Clyde dug his fingers into the shaggy mop of Kenny's hair.

While Clyde was doing that, Kenny unlinked his arms, and began a journey downward, in reverse of Clyde's; while Clyde's fingers were in Kenny's hair, Kenny was tugging at Clyde's belt loops. He felt between Clyde's legs — it seemed Clyde was on the way to being ready for the next step, but wasn't quite there. So Kenny began to travel upward, until his right hand settled on the colostomy pouch, which Kenny had known was there, somewhere in the back of his head, but wasn't quite expecting. He jerked his hand away the moment he felt it, which had the side effect of ending their kiss. When Clyde pouted about this, Kenny made sure to notice that his lips were pinker than usual, wet, and delectable. Clyde's facial features were standard, really, and until that moment, Kenny hadn't felt Clyde to be hot so much as endearing. But with the mingled feelings of lust, curiosity, and embarrassment clear on Clyde's face, Kenny found him rather hot.

"Sorry," Kenny muttered.

Clyde frowned, feeling the pouch to make sure it was still there, or perhaps just to verify that, in fact, it was what had caused Kenny to pull away. (As if it could have been something else.) "Don't be," he said. Then: "Um, look. If you think it's gross, we don't have to—"

"I don't!" Kenny surprised himself with the earnestness and immediacy of his response. "I mean, let's—"

"Yeah, we could, you know—"

And they fumbled about for a few minutes, but somehow it wound up that Kenny was on the floor while Clyde remained on the bed. They were about to skip second base altogether. What was the metaphor — stealing third? Kenny hated baseball, so whatever.

Much like Clyde himself, there was nothing great or wrong about Clyde's cock. It was just sort of there, hard and blunt, beckoning Kenny to touch it. What was more to Kenny's liking than the cock itself was the fact that it was attached to Clyde — that it signified Clyde's arousal, an arousal that Kenny had caused. It was a new feeling, both literal and figural, and Kenny needed a moment to just sit there, on the ground, between Clyde's legs, feeling the weight of it in his hands, blowing on it to see if he could gauge a reaction. (Not really.) Running his lips down the side of the shaft, Kenny became curious, and tucked his fingers beneath Clyde's cock to feel.

Kenny must have made a surprised face, because Clyde cupped his cheek and said, "Yeah, I've got two balls," holding up two fingers that Kenny couldn't really make out but just knew were there.

"Well, everyone always kind of said you didn't," Kenny reminded him,

"Uh, that was a rumor." Clyde rolled his eyes. "And thank fuck, because what kind of loser has got only one nut and a fucking colostomy?"

"I wouldn't care." Kenny dug his fingers into Clyde's thighs. "I think you're hot."

For a moment, Clyde looked genuinely touched. Perhaps he was touched for much longer, but when Kenny closed his eyes and wrapped his lips around the head of Clyde's dick, he could no longer tell.

XXX

Finally, Kenny had something real, something substantial to confess. He thought about maybe telling Stan and Kyle — his best friends, if he had to qualify everyone he knew, although he felt the term was awful trite and that Stan and Kyle were not such great friends of his anyway.

On Sunday, Kenny poured his heart out, knowing well that he was never going to do the penance for the sin he'd committed two nights before. Kenny didn't own a missal or a rosary. He performed this sacrament, every week, because he'd done it the week before, and was going to do it the week after. He supposed he might not keep doing it if there were some inherent judgment in the voice on the other side of those screened slits. But no one ever gave Kenny a hard time for being who he was — or maybe everyone had given him such a hard time over so many years that he no longer felt that being called a poor piece of crap or a fag was an insult. Or maybe, it was that the only people stupid enough to call him these things were people Kenny didn't value anyway. One day, Eric Cartman would be fucking dead, maybe of a stroke or a heart attack, but maybe because someone just didn't like him. When that happened, Kenny would stand at his open grave and spit on the casket. Kenny would die, but he would come back, and when he did, Clyde would be waiting.

When Kenny finished in the confessional, he found Clyde sitting in his starchy suit on the floor outside of the organist's office. So Kenny joined him down there, and felt immense relief when Clyde pulled him into a grasping embrace. Clyde hadn't texted at all on Saturday, which had kept Kenny nervous, sitting at the edge of his bed wondering just how royally he'd miscalculated, and whether the friendship was salvageable. Luckily for him, it seemed such worrying was in vain.

"I'm supposed to be waiting for my parents," Clyde said, finally breaking their contact. "But really I was just waiting for you."

This made Kenny blush, and he felt himself beginning to swell with hope. He had liked Clyde a great deal, obviously, but now he liked him a whole lot more. "Knowing my parents, they're probably trying to get invited out to a free lunch or something."

A goofy smile spread across Clyde's face. Soon, they were kissing in church — church, of all places, and on a Sunday, no less. Nobody was around, and it was quick and unsentimental, but it still felt good, and kissing in a church corridor on a Sunday afternoon following mass was rather untried.

"I told the priest that we, uh." Kenny couldn't stop himself from grinning.

"I didn't bother."

Kenny felt slightly insulted. "Isn't that a lie of omission?"

"I mean, I didn't confess," Clyde clarified. "Just doing it to do it — I don't know, I never do the penalty" — Kenny cringed at Clyde's error — "anyway, so like, whatever."

"Just doing it to do it is in itself is a comfort to me."

"I get it. But not really. You can comfort me, if you want."

It sounded to Kenny like this was an innuendo, but there was nothing sensual in Clyde's tone; he sounded sincere. Kenny still didn't feel that Clyde was gay, but he wasn't worried about it. They were two bored, affable people, just different enough to like each other and too similar to fall madly in love. Kenny was already madly in love, and the idea of harboring two major unrequited crushes just frustrated him. So he sat with Clyde in the hallway behind the main sanctuary of their church, holding one another as the autumn sun illuminated the patchwork-quilt glazing. Clyde's face looked half-orange, half-blue. His self-consciousness was quite visible. And Kenny — Kenny found it charming.

XXX

Poor Kenny scored well on his SATs. Quite well. Well enough to outshine Kyle, their high school's salutarian designate. When South Park mothers spoke in hushed tones about where their kids were headed, the general consensus was that Kyle Broflovski was the horse to bet on. He possessed no more raw intelligence than any of his classmates, but his mind worked in a methodical, tight way, and he labored to achieve, rather than coast on by like his peers. He felt he was no smarter than the others, but he knew he was better, by sheer force of will.

So naturally, Kenny outscoring him was a sore spot of conflict.

On an afternoon when Clyde (Kenny's usual walk-home companion) was out with severe allergies, Kyle asked Kenny if he might like company.

"Sure," said Kenny, thinking nothing of it.

And when they were out of the hearing range of other classmates, Kyle stopped walking, and turned to Kenny to hiss, "Why do you always have to compete with me?"

"Uh, what?"

"It's not good enough to do well enough on the SAT — you have to do better than me, too?"

"I'm … not following you."

"Don't be coy." Kyle's face was red; his fists clenched. "You don't give a shit about school or college or the SATs. Yet you outscored me—"

"By, like, 20 points — it's hardly a big deal—"

"It is a big deal! It's a big deal to me!"

"Well, if you're right, if I don't care about school or college, then I obviously just got what I got as a fluke—" It wasn't true; Kenny did care about school — just not as much as Kyle. But no one could ever care as much about anything as Kyle did. School, shoes, Stan — nothing.

"I don't understand why every time I want something you have to get it before I do."

"I don't have any idea what you're—"

"You did better than me on the SATs!"

"So retake them next mo—"

"You got a pair of Docs!" Kenny was getting sick of Kyle interrupting him to have a tantrum on the sidewalk. "You never cared about shoes before, and then you just come to school one day wearing a pair of Docs! You always just wore those blue Converses—"

"I always wore those shoes because I couldn't afford another pair!"

"And then Clyde just gives you a pair of the shoes I wanted—"

"You want fucking every pair of shoes!"

"And you keep flirting with Stan, and everyone likes you so much, you're so fucking popular, you get to hang out with us and then hang out with Craig and those guys, and you do better than me on the SATs and you're fucking Clyde! I get it, okay, Kenny, you're awesome. I just don't understand why you can't let me have one thing, like the SATs."

The amount wrong with such a statement literally astounded Kenny, and he stood there for a moment, watching Kyle's lip tremble, knowing that the kid was doing everything in his power not to burst into tears on the sidewalk.

"Okay," he said slowly, after a good minute or two had passed. "I can refute all of that. Working backward: One, I'm not fucking Clyde. We're just hooking up. Two, I don't even give a shit about the SATs. I didn't study once. I just randomly took them, and if I did better than you did, maybe it has to do with the fact that you were freaking the fuck out and I just sat down and filled in some bubbles. Your grades are higher than mine and teachers don't even listen to me when I talk, so when I ask for recommendations to community college I'm sure they won't know who I am, and you'll get a fucking free ride to Harvard."

"I'm not applying to Harvard."

"Three, uh" — Kenny tried to remember what was next — "I lost count. Well, look, not that many people like me. You could hang out with Craig if you wanted to, he doesn't give a shit. I don't think you want to, though, because all they do is smoke pot and watch idiotic cartoons. And flirting with Stan, I don't know, that would be pointless."

"You flirt with him all the time."

"How do I flirt with him?"

"I don't know, you hung out with him at the pool all summer while I wasn't there — and I…" Kyle sighed, hunching his shoulders. Kenny could see how miserable he felt. "I don't want to be paranoid, but I think he was, maybe, seeing someone over the summer. And you were at the pool everyday before I left and he won't tell me so I just assume…"

The ironic weight of this accusation hit Kenny hard, because it was not true in the least, and yet the spirit of everything Kyle was asserting was correct — on technicality, at least in spirit. It was as if Kyle had assembled his astute premonitions and reconstructed a half-truth out of them. Perhaps it was partial wishful thinking, the idea that maybe Stan would sleep with a boy.

To exonerate himself, Kenny told the truth: about the girl, about his summer with Craig and Tweek, about going down on Clyde once in a guest bedroom at Red's house, and kissing after church. Kyle stared back at him, slack-jawed, and Kenny knew that everything after that part about Stan's summer hook up had gone in one of Kyle's ears and out the other.

"So," Kyle said, not crying (but obviously holding the loose threads of himself together with one tenuous hand), "why would he do that to me?" Meaning, of course, the girl.

"Well…" Kenny put one hand on Kyle's back, an attempt at reassurance that made Kyle shrug. "I don't think he cares about you any less for it. It's not like he keeps in touch with her, right? But he likes girls, dude. He is going to want to sleep with them. I don't think he likes you any less. I mean, he adores you." Kenny lowered his eyes. "Maybe you don't get it because you don't understand arousal—"

Kyle looked particularly offended, shaking Kenny's hand from his back. "I am a human being with a body," he said, crossing his arms. "I am aroused sometimes, yes. Of course. I just have no interest in acting on that arousal."

"But I don't understand. That doesn't make any sense."

"To you."

"If you get hard, why don't you deal with it?" Kenny jerked a fist back and forth, pleased with this needless pantomime.

"I do deal with it."

"I don't get how doing nothing is the same as dealing with it."

"I'm sorry you don't 'get' " — Kyle made air quotes — "my sexuality. Or lack thereof. Sorry, Kenny. So, so sorry." Kyle's voice was just oozing sarcasm, but it was sarcasm impregnated with hurt. "I want to be loved like anyone else does. I don't understand how you can get Clyde to like you."

Kenny felt these last two statements were incongruous. "Um, excuse me?"

"Clyde hooks up with girls too, right, but you got him to like you. So why can't I get Stan to like me? Why do you always have to do better than me at everything?"

"This again?" Kenny could not believe they were back at the beginning of this clusterfuck. "Look, I don't know, I don't even know what's going on with me and Clyde, okay? And Stan wants to fuck people, and you don't. Even if he someday magically wakes up gay or bi or something other than straight, you will still have to deal with the fact that he wants to have sex. He obviously loves you more than anything on the planet, okay?"

"Then why does he hurt me?"

The post-daylight savings sky was darkening, and Kenny and Kyle were still standing on the street; at least Kenny's toes were warm. Dealing with this had exhausted him, and he had told himself he would text Clyde after school and he hadn't done it yet.

"I don't have any more wisdom on the subject of why people hurt than you do," Kenny said.

"You seem like you're never hurt," Kyle replied.

"That's just not true," although Kenny knew he would never be able to explain how or why. "I experience more pain that you could ever realize, even if I described it to you."

"You could describe it if you wanted."

Kenny shrugged. "Well, I don't. Don't envy me, okay?"

Kyle nodded. "But it's hard not to."

Kenny could only laugh at such a preposterous thing.

XXX

It was when Kenny and Clyde were walking back to Kenny's house after school that Kenny decided to ruminate on something that had been bothering him for most of the week. It just so happened that Clyde was there, and — well, Kenny wanted to test out the limits of their relationship. If Clyde recoiled at the idea of talking out problems Kenny had with other people, they were probably in for some trouble the next time Clyde wanted to kiss a girl.

"So, I had a fight with Kyle a few days ago."

"Like, with fists?"

"No, not, like, a physical fight. I guess it wasn't exactly a fight, just — I don't know. I kind of feel bad for him. Kind of. But not a lot. He's, like, pissed at me for outscoring him on the SAT."

"I guess that sounds like the kind of thing he'd be angry about, yeah."

"Yeah." There was resignation in Kenny's voice, yet he wanted to push this farther: "You know how he and Stan are, like — well, not together, but clearly their relationship is more than, I don't know, normal."

"What, you mean — like you and me?" Clyde asked, kicking aside a chunk of compacted snow that lay in his path.

"No, actually."

Clyde snorted. "All right, well, sure, I know kind-of about Stan and Kyle and their circus of…" Clyde searched for a fitting term. He settled on, "…weirdness."

"I feel sort of bad for Kyle. Not really. But kind of. He's such a weird guy. He says he's jealous of me — of my shoes. Doesn't he know I only have one pair of shoes?"

"I'll give you all the shoes you want."

"Thanks." Kenny's mouth tightened up — he felt weird about being happy that Clyde would give him countless pairs, and yet he knew charity shoes would never make him as happy as the sentiment that drove the offer.

"I only have three pairs of shoes. I mean, who needs all those shoes? I work at a shoe store and I am saying this."

"But what if shoes are, you know, metaphorical for other things he can't have?"

"Like Stan?"

"Maybe like Stan, but — I don't know, some people, I guess mostly Kyle, but I assume other people too — I don't understand how people can want so much from life. I go three weeks without ending up on the wrong end of a rifle and I feel like I've won the lottery. If I won the lottery, I'd feel like I were God."

"But if things like that happened all the time, you'd feel super-unsatisfied. 'Oh, crap, I won the lottery again.' Like that."

"Exactly, yes." Kenny glowed at the idea that he and Clyde were on the same page with this. "Yes, exactly."

"Do you want to come over for dinner?" Clyde asked. "My mom is making some kind of casserole, but my dad went to up to Seattle for a geology conference." (Kenny remembered, now that Clyde had said this, that Stan's father had gone to the same conference. He imagined that Colorado was largely populated by white trash forced out west by the East Coast rents, and geologists. No matter that this didn't explain even half the population of South Park.)

In previous Donovan family dinner situations, Clyde's mother had seemed to like Kenny, but his father had always given off a detached vibe, like he just didn't know what this sleazy kid in combat boots was doing in his house. "Hey, dude," Kenny wanted to say, "these boots came from your storeroom."

So Kenny agreed to go to dinner, and they kept walking. At this point, they had reached Clyde's house three times, yet they continued to circle the block, just so they could continue the discussion.

"Do you ever think about how people feel about this?" Kenny asked, waving his hand around to indicate not the town of South Park, but the general idea of walking around the block three times with Clyde. Several cars had passed them, splattering blackened slush at Kenny's hems, and it stood to reason that some of these people knew them, and had cause to wonder about why they were wandering the neighborhood with arms linked.

"Hey, I don't know," Clyde said, stopping in front of his own front yard. (Kenny had barely realized they were beginning their fourth cycle.) "I did. But I talk these things out, you know—"

"With your therapist?"

"—with my therapist, and after several weeks of worrying, I have decided: My boyfriend, my business. So I guess I'm working on it?"

Kenny didn't feel ready to throw this word around casually. But somehow Clyde's use of it made him forget about Kyle's lingering unfounded envy, the cold mud on his pants, and any ambitions he might have harbored. In front of Clyde's house, on the street, he jumped up and surprised himself, laying a chaste kiss against Clyde's cheek.

Clyde started giggling, and Kenny laughed in turn. Clyde's mother opened the door, and called them inside. It was almost dark out, and Clyde blushed the entire evening.

XXX

The first time Kenny used the B-word was in the confessional. Up to that point, he had been very general when describing his sins, but one week, mid-December, with break quickly encroaching, it just slipped out: "I went down on my boyfriend," buried in the litany of other transgressions.

Clyde had not stopped identifying as anything other than straight — a fact that distressed some acquaintances of Kenny's, but no one more than label-conscious Kyle. Maybe this was to be expected from a boy who had declared himself asexual at age 13, armed only with a cautious-sounding AVEN pamphlet and certainly no answer to Kenny's idea that an absence of evidence was not evidence of an absence.

Kenny's parents did give him allowance — not much, obviously, but enough walking-around money. He had to admit, there wasn't much in South Park to buy, anyway. He'd saved up a meager fortune in order to buy Clyde a Christmas present. He felt self-conscious, because they hadn't discussed this, but Kenny was loathe to neglect something like getting Clyde a present on their first Christmas together — not that he expected to see Clyde on Christmas, unless they glimpsed each other at mass. But on the morning of December 25, he received a text: "Look under your tree."

Kenny wrote back, "Why?" But without waiting for an answer, he scrambled into the living room, where his mother was still wrapping last-minute packages. "Is there one from Clyde?" he asked her, breathless.

"I think so," she said, nudging it with her foot.

Kenny wanted more than anything to tear off the paper, but he halted himself — it was a big cube of a box, swathed in layers of mismatched pastel tissue and tied in a yarn ribbon bow. It was fussy and endearing, like Clyde, and underwhelming and awkward, like Clyde. Kenny had never been more excited to open a gift in his life. He decided to enjoy each moment of the unwrapping, and loosened the knots in the yarn, which left lint on the matted carpet of Kenny's living room. Underneath, there was a card, which Kenny read closer than he read most of the questions on the SATs:

"I know I've known you my whole or perhaps just most of my life but I think I never knew you really until this year, which is amazing. I think it was [crossed out: last] or rather a few nights ago I was talking with Craig and Token about it, our relationship, maybe I'm not old enough for the word relationship but aren't all human interactions relationships somehow on some level. They said they thought I was much happier since this school year or at least Halloween. Then Token said, 'Actually, I think you started getting more upbbeat [sic] around Easter,' and I immediately could trace it to [illegible] with you. So I know this gift is unnecessary and I probably shouldn't of [sic] asked your mom to put it under the tree, but (god I'm so nervous) I just want you to have a Merry Christmas And A Happy New Year.

"And please don't feel you should get me anything. I can have almost anything I want, materially anyway, so just don't think me too stupid for writing this card. I've never said this to anyone before not even my parents since I was six or something but I think I love you.

"Clyde."

Kenny was terrified, not even caring or wanting to know what was in the box. But he opened it, peeling back layer after layer of tissue, obviously reused from Easter baskets and department store packages. Inside was a reused UPS box, and inside there was more tissue. But nestled inside that was a bulky, heavy object, wrapped in a Coon and Friends T-shirt. This caused him to snort.

"What's so funny?" his mother asked. She was unfurling sheets of newspaper to wrap his brother's new boxes of cartridges in. Kevin was home for two weeks before his next tour of duty, and their parents were occupied with virtually creaming themselves over whatever heroics they thought he was performing over there. Kenny hadn't discharged a rifle in four years and remained unimpressed.

"This T-shirt," Kenny said, slipping it on over the ratty orange one he was already wearing.

"It's big on you," she replied.

"Because I think it's Clyde's," he said, feeling the hardened pits and the softened hem. Cheap fabric — unsurprising.

The clunky object was a snow globe, bulbous on top with a heavy square of resin for a base, across which was printed the word "Denver," and sure enough, when Kenny shook it and set it back down, tiny bits of white chipped plastic fell on poorly articulated mountains and a molded chunk of the skyline. Touched but confused, Kenny reached into the box and withdrew a second envelope. He was hoping a note of explanation might be inside, but it was two tickets to Kesha. At first Kenny figured that this was Clyde's idea to excitement: Going to Denver to see something he was misguided enough to find exotic, when the city had been 75 miles on 285 from them for the past 17 years.

Then he remembered Halloween, which forced a smile. Kenny didn't even like Kesha. In fact, he found her pretty boring, blue lips and bare thighs and slant rhyme-raps and all. It was still the best Christmas gift he'd ever gotten. His parents gave him a new six-pack of socks and Kevin had picked up three Cadbury Dairy Milk bars when he was on a layover at Heathrow, wrapping them in pages torn from a J. Crew catalogue. Chocolate was something Kenny could eat, and he always needed socks. But somehow fucking tickets to fucking Kesha outshone all else.

In retrospect, Kenny felt the copy of Civilization V he'd gotten for Clyde paled in comparison. They spent the next week taking turns building up and destroying each other's empires, slow and deliberate.

XXX

Way back at the beginning of the year, Kenny had been pestering Cartman to throw a party — not because he liked Cartman, but because Liane was such a notorious pushover that Kenny felt certain he could pack a pipe over her kitchen sink and she'd just smile and tell him to rinse it out when he was done. (He never did this, even though he could — he felt sorry for her, although he knew she was buried in the problems she'd only manufactured for herself. Still, he called her "Mrs. Cartman" with inviting deference, and often pretended for brief moments that she was his own mother. Then Kenny remembered that his mother had raised him fit and content, and he thought better of it.) Cartman's major protestation to this idea stemmed from the fact that as student body president, he had to represent the ideal Park County High achiever, throwing no parties and busting no faces.

Then he was indicted on one count of embezzlement and three of extortion, charges brought by student body treasurer Wendy Testaburger — whose name never crossed Kenny's or Clyde's lips once during the scandal; when they spoke of her, they said "the treasurer," with knowing glances and in Clyde's case, flushed cheeks.

So New Year's Eve was spent at Cartman's, the entire grade packed into his overheated home like fish in an aquarium at a Chinese restaurant, anxious as they glided past each other. The girls wore sequined shorts with layers of tissue-thin T-shirts, high-heeled oxfords and knee socks. Kenny wondered why they weren't freezing as he peeled off his Docs so as not to track mud through Liane's carpets, lined with the evidence of an afternoon of expectant cleaning. Clyde carried their coats to what Cartman called a "gracious cloakroom"; it turned out to be Butters sitting at the entrance to Cartman's bedroom, collecting six dollars for each initial item and four for each item thereafter.

"But Eric says I can offer you a generous discount of one dollar off on account of we're such good friends," he added.

"Blow me, Butters," Kenny replied, ripping his coat from Clyde's hands and tossing it over Butters' head.

"That'll make him pretty sore," Butters figured.

"I could have paid, you know," Clyde said as they went back downstairs.

"On principle, I refuse to do anything that fat fuck tells me to do."

"I always assume it's easier just to go along with it."

Kenny began to wonder about the beer — where he could find it; if he'd be charged for it; whether it was in keg or bottle or can form; how many he could drink so as not to need to be carried home and coddled the day after.

It turned out that Stan was travelling the blocky layout of Cartman's living and dining rooms, a case of cold Coors in his arms, cradling it like a baby. Kyle trailed him, looking uncomfortable in a cable-knit power-blue cashmere sweater, fussy with a buried crisp striped shirt and the hint of a red tie. He looked startled, or perhaps just unsure of how to carry himself since an early admit to Sarah Lawrence a week or two prior had eased at least one source of his tension. Or so Kenny figured it must have, because he hadn't been accosted with pretensions of competition for a while.

Stan gave them both beers, or, rather, as he was grasping his own can, tilted his carton toward Kenny and Clyde and invited them to help themselves.

"Only 20 minutes," Kyle told them all, cradling his new Android phone in two hands like an egg in mid-hatch. (A week after he'd gotten it for Hanukkah, and already he'd rewritten and re-installed the entire OS.) "Wait, 19 and a half. … Okay, 19."

"He's set it up like a timer," Stan said.

"I'm using a timer application," Kyle corrected.

"That's right." Stan rolled his eyes.

"We watched the new year in New York before everyone got here, and then toasted for Chicago right before you came. Champagne kind of makes me dizzy, but what the hell." Kyle pointed down at his shoes — gleaming dark blue patent leather, not a single scuff. (Kenny felt the toes were needlessly pointy.) "Fluevogs," Kyle said, specifically to Clyde, like they spoke some shared secret language of shoe knowledge.

"Okay." Clyde shrugged, sipping beer. "What's that?"

"I thought you worked in a shoe store?"

"We don't sell that." He shrugged again. Kenny noticed the very curls of his ears beginning to redden. "So I don't know what it is. Should I?"

"Here," Kyle said, in what could only be interpreted as a kind way. "I'll show you the site." Then he began to tap things into the browser on his phone.

Kenny found that Stan was looking at him with big, open eyes, trying to communicate something. Kenny read this as, "Look at our boys, weird unconventional pairings that make no sense, bonding over shoe websites on a phone." It took a full heartbeat or two for Kenny to realize that everything he'd always wanted was for Stan Marsh to look him directly in the eyes with this kind of shared thinking, forging a deep connection that transcended the bonds of childhood and exurbs. Kenny felt a pang of distress as he realized that something was wrong — he didn't care anymore. Stan broke their connection to tip his head back and finish his Coors, crushing it under his foot after dropping it onto the carpet.

"Come here," Stan said, but it had all the casual familiarity of c'mere, pulling Kyle away from Clyde and into a brief embrace.

"You almost made me drop my phone," Kyle whined.

"What time is it?" Stan asked.

Kyle's hand shot right back into his pocket. "Three minutes! It's 11:57 — no, 11:57 and 38 seconds—"

"Let's get near the TV," Stan said, dropping his box of beers between two dining chairs.

"Do you ever worry about that guy?" Clyde whispered into Kenny's ear. He meant Kyle, of course. "I mean, really worry?"

"He worries enough for everyone in this house. He accused me of aiming to steal his straight non-boyfriend away from him. You can't even invent those things. They come from a center of insecurity so deep you'd need a fucking endoscope to find the bottom of it."

"What's an endoscope?" Clyde asked.

"A tiny camera they snake up your ass."

"That sounds awful," Clyde figured. "Wait a minute, I've probably had that."

"God, really?"

"Yeah, it was the year I was 5, so—" Clyde was interrupted by the blare of cheap plastic-cardboard horns and tiny, smoking explosions.

Everyone was shouting, and Kenny was actually disappointed, wondering what the end of Clyde's story would encompass. Well, he knew the end — the stoma attached to Clyde's flank was pressing into Kenny as they stood in a room stuffed with people they'd grown up with. Confetti was raining down upon them, and being projected at them sideways, flung there via indeterminate handfuls.

Kenny looked to the corner of the room to see Kyle and Stan kissing. Although it was chaste and loving rather than lusty and desperate, it gave Kenny a great feeling of reassurance. He didn't even care that Stan was with someone else; his momentary happiness for Kyle overrode his sense of personal injustice, or maybe the stoma pressing into his side was what did the trick. Maybe it was both.

"Happy new year," Clyde whispered in Kenny's ear. He wrapped his arms around Kenny's shoulders and angled up for a simmering kiss. Slowly, their mouths began to open together, lips merging and butting up against front teeth.

Kenny heard jeers in the background, and opened his eyes while Clyde's tongue ran against his teeth. Out of the corner of his eye, he caught Cartman dumping a bag of confetti on Stan's and Kyle's heads, drawing everyone's attention to their corner of the room.

"Look at this!" he shouted. "I told you they were fags! Butters, are you getting this? Where's my camera? I told you one day I would prove asexuality didn't exist!"

Clyde's lips left Kenny's, and he wiped his mouth with the sleeve of his hoodie. "Everyone's looking over there. He's really going to ruin that for them?"

"He won't ruin this one," Kenny replied, yanking Clyde back toward him.

They stood kissing square in the middle of a crowded room at four minutes after midnight, in plain view, while at least 20 persons crushed around them, all attention diverted to another couple, no one sparing Kenny and Clyde a second or even a first glance or thought. There might have been a time in Kenny's short, muddled little life when this would have bothered him. But here they were, and Clyde was spreading wide palms over the swell of Kenny's behind, not a soul watching. He wasn't envious, and he wasn't reluctant. He almost felt bad for Kyle, but his sympathy was flushed away as he began to feel good for himself.