Graduation day is abnormally hot, held outside in the high school's football stadium. Kyle is sweating under his nylon robe before the ceremony has even started. Their graduating class is small, and he's uncomfortably close to Eric Cartman in the alphabetical lineup, looking longingly at the rows behind him. He catches Stan's eye and grins, his face falling when he sees the spot next to Stan that would be occupied by a 'McCormick' if things had gone according to plan. Kenny is working in the electronics department of Wall-Mart this afternoon, and he'll miss most of Clyde's graduation party because of his second job, cashiering at the gas station out by the highway ramp. He claims to like working better than school, but Kyle knows he didn't have much choice.

"Hey, butthole," Cartman says, leaning over the two people between them. Kyle pretends not to hear him and Cartman starts waving his hand around. "Hello, Jew, are you deaf? Don't make me come over there."

"What?" Kyle says, glaring at him.

"Testicle Burger got valedictorian, didn't she?"

"Yeah," Kyle says, somewhat sourly. He's graduating third in their class, Butters second. It was a close race toward the end, and Kyle is still a little bitter about losing to Wendy, though he should be accustomed to it by now.

Cartman grins. "You think she'll need to come make out with me before she starts giving her speech? As is tradition?"

"Dude, that happened once when were like, eight," Kyle says. "Let it go."

"I'm just saying." Cartman preens, stretching his arms up over his head. "It could happen."

"Don't count on it, fat ass." Cartman isn't just fat anymore, he's enormous, and actually won a statewide award for playing defensive back for their high school football team. Apparently - unfairly - his late father's genes have finally done him some good. Kyle played basketball until junior year, when it was taking too much time away from his studies. He made it into Penn State with a full scholarship, but he still resents the fact that he had to give up sports to do it, especially since football has become such a big part of Stan's life over the past four years. Stan joined the team almost on a whim, but now he's headed to UCLA on an athletic scholarship. He's not huge like Cartman, but he's smart and fast and fearless on the field. Kyle never missed a game. Now he'll have to watch Stan on TV.

"Hey, Stan," Cartman calls, turning back toward him. "What do you think - is your girlfriend gonna have to make out with me before her speech?"

"Dude, shut up," Stan says. "Stop obsessing over that. It's so pathetic."

"I'm just saying," Cartman says. It seems to be his new catch phrase; there's a new one every week. "I'm here for her if she needs to work out sexual tension."

Kyle groans, ready to get this over with. Wendy is up on stage, seated in a chair beside the principal. Butters is up there, too, looking glum. He claims to be afraid that his parents will ground him for the whole summer for failing to graduate first in their class. Kyle has been praying that he's just being paranoid. If Butters does get grounded, it will royally fuck up the road trip they're supposed to leave on tomorrow morning, heading toward California, where Stan has to start pre-season football camp in just seven days. It's unfair enough to have their last summer together in South Park shortened to one goddamn week; if their road trip is canceled on account of Butters' parents' psycho expectations, Kyle will lose his shit. Kenny is supposed to come, too, but he can't exactly be counted on to contribute gas money, despite his two jobs. His father has been gone for years, and all of his earnings go toward feeding his unemployed mother, deadbeat brother and fourteen-year-old sister.

The graduation ceremony begins with the chorus kids singing a song about climbing every mountain. There's an address from the principal, and then Wendy is invited up to the podium to give her speech. She looks perfectly composed, in no danger of needing to rush down and lay one on Cartman before starting. Ten years later, Kyle still can't believe that happened. Wendy always blew him off whenever he tried to get her to explain it. Cartman coughs out the words suck my balls just as Wendy opens her mouth to begin, and she shoots him a look of hellfire.

"We've been through a lot together," she says, and for a moment she actually seems to be speaking to Cartman, but then she turns to look at the rest of their class. "I thought I would be more than ready to leave South Park when the time came, and in many ways I am, but I also feel, as I'm sure many of you do, that our last year here together went by much too fast."

Kyle's ribs ache with the truth of that statement. He'd expected Wendy to start getting political or giving officious advice about how they should live the rest of their lives. This is harder to hear. He doesn't want to think about how quickly the past year went by, how many times he did those same old things with Stan and was able to think, This is the last time. Video games on Friday night, skipping lunch period to sneak off campus for burgers, playing basketball until the street lights came on. Some part of Kyle always knew it was all sacred, perfect, some of the best times he'd ever have in his life, but it didn't really hit home until this year. His best friend is going to be living on the opposite side of the country. He's not going to be there in Kyle's bed every Saturday morning, telling Kyle about the weird dreams he had. He's not going to kill time in the weight room while Kyle finishes up his extra credit lab work, isn't going to drive him home, smelling like sweat and chewing gum, letting Kyle pick the radio station. They only have this last week together before everything changes.

"It's a cliche to say that you can't truly appreciate something until it's gone," Wendy says. "But there's a reason we've all heard that before. It feels true. If I'm meant to say something inspirational to you today, that's all I really want to impart: take the time to appreciate what you have while you're still in the moment. Slow down and stop worrying about the future so much that you can't enjoy the present. Tell the people who you love how you really feel while you still have time."

She looks at Kyle, and it feels pointed. The color drains from his face. What the hell is she trying to say? She lets her pause draw out, her eyebrows arching like - like what? Like she pities him? He feels like everyone in the entire stadium is staring at him.

"Don't underestimate each other," Wendy says, looking out into the general crowd again. "We're so often told to believe in ourselves, but we have to believe in and trust our friends, too. As we all drift to the various corners of the world, let's not forget what mattered to us here in South Park. A small town can feel like an extended family, which is frustrating at times, but also such a comfort. I want everyone here to know that I consider you part of my family, and that each of you are irreplaceable to me." She grins and looks at Kyle's row again, but not at him this time. "Except Eric Cartman. Thank you."

She leaves the podium then, Cartman sputtering in disbelief, nervous laughter sneaking through the rows of graduates. The crowd murmurs with some combination of surprise and amusement, and Kyle lets himself snicker loudly. He glances over at Cartman, who is watching Wendy as if already plotting his revenge.

"Well," the principal says, flustered as she returns to the mike. "Thank you - ah, Wendy, for - that. We will now begin awarding our individual students with degrees. First row, can you stand up please?"

They file across their stage to accept their degrees, pausing in two designated spots so they can have their pictures taken by the professional photographer who will sell the shots to their parents. Kyle's father is videotaping the whole thing, and it makes Kyle's cheeks burn to think that moment when Wendy looked at him will be part of the Broflovski family video library for all eternity.

When the ceremony ends, the graduates and parents mill around outside the stadium, hugging each other and taking more photos. Kyle sees Stan and pushes through the crowd, a dreamlike sense of doom flickering in his chest, as if Stan will disappear before Kyle can reach him. Wendy wants him to appreciate the moment? Fine. He falls into Stan's arms when they open for him, hugs him hard.

"Dude," Stan says, laughing. "Can you believe she did that? She didn't tell me that she'd been planning that. Do you think it was spontaneous? Except Eric Cartman. God, that was so awesome."

"Yeah." Kyle releases Stan and steps back. He's sweltering under his robe, can't wait to get home and take a shower before the luncheon that his parents are hosting for all his visiting relatives. He knows they must be looking for him in the crowd and hopes he can lay low for a little bit longer, Stan's hands still clamped over his shoulders.

"Dude, this is crazy," Stan says. "We were in elementary school, like. Five minutes ago."

"I know." Kyle doesn't want to have this conversation here, in the midst of a sea of people who are slapping Stan's back as they pass by. "We should find Butters."

"You seriously think his parents won't let him go?" Stan says. "Just because Wendy beat him for valedictorian?"

"You never know with those freaks." It wouldn't be the first time Wendy had ruined Kyle's plans to spend time with Stan. Wendy and Stan were on again off again all throughout high school, but they were on again enough times to make Kyle feel ditched when he had to spend the occasional Friday night with Kenny and Butters, unless Butters was grounded, which was usually the case. Friday nights with Kenny basically consisted of babysitting him while he got shit-faced, and the only consolation would be that Kyle could look forward to at least spending the night with Stan after his dates with Wendy. Sometimes Stan would slip in late, and Kyle would wake up to the feeling of Stan getting under the blankets with him, whispering, Go back to sleep, dude, it's just me.

"Boys!"

Kyle cringes at the sound of his mother's voice. She's been picture-crazy all morning, must have taken at least eight thousand shots of Kyle posing in his robe, Ike hunched under Kyle's arm.

"Brace yourself," Kyle says to Stan. "She's going to want a billion pictures of us." Kyle shoves his mortarboard hat back on, hiding his hair.

"There you are, oh, look at you two!" Kyle's mother pinches their cheeks simultaneously, jostling them. "Mazel tov, Stan! Your mother told me all about your football scholarship. You must be so excited!"

"Yeah," Stan says. "It kind of sucks that I have to go out there so early, though. I would have liked a little time off here first."

"Well, you boys will have a great time on your road trip adventure. Just remember to be safe - don't pick up any hitchhikers. And don't leave your elbows hanging out the open window, you'll get sunburned. And -"

"Mom!" Kyle says. "We're not five years old. Where's Dad and Ike?"

"They're over by the concession stand with the rest of the family. Come on, bubbeh, your grandpa's asking for you."

"Don't you want a picture of me and Stan in our robes?" Kyle asks. Stan laughs, and Kyle feels like an idiot, but he can't help it. This is all going by too fast.

"Of course I do!" Kyle's mother says, lifting her camera. "Now, put your arms around each other. That's right."

Stan pulls Kyle in close, and Kyle can feel the heat of him through his robe, knows that he's soaked with sweat beneath his, too. He wraps his arm around Stan's waist, his fingers cinching in tightly as they both smile for the camera.

"You boys!" Kyle's mother says, looking like she might cry when she's finished taking pictures. "What will you do without each other?"

"Lots of texting," Stan says, and Kyle forces a laugh.

"Stan!" A hand shoots up through the sea of graduates, and Kyle lets go of Stan when he sees that it's Wendy, her hair pulled up into a high ponytail now. She groans when she reaches them, wiping sweat from her forehead.

"I'm under siege," she says.

"By Cartman?" Stan says.

"No, by everyone who's congratulating me for ripping on him." Her mouth quirks, and she peeks back over her shoulder. "I don't know. Maybe I shouldn't have said that."

"Are you kidding me?" Kyle says. "He more than deserves it."

"Seriously, and that was freaking hilarious," Stan says.

"Kyle!" His mother is inching away, waving to him. "Come on, hurry, I still have to make the potato salad!"

"You guys can come to my family lunch if you want," Kyle says, knowing that they won't. Stan told him yesterday that he and Wendy have 'a lot to talk about' before he leaves with Kyle and the others on the road trip to California. Wendy will be going to school in California, too, but all the way up in Berkeley. They're still trying to decide if they want to try to stay together. To Kyle it seems like they had a hard enough time staying together when they lived five minutes away from each other, but he hasn't offered his opinion on the subject.

"Maybe I'll stop by," Stan says. "I do love your mom's potato salad." He winks and Kyle grins, waving as he backs away. There's already a little ball of panic in the center of his chest, as if the countdown has officially begun. Six and a half days with Stan left.

"You're coming to Clyde's later, right?" Wendy calls.

"Yep," Kyle shouts back before turning to follow his mom. He's promised Stan that he'll at least try to get drunk tonight, since it's the last ever high school party of their lives. Stan usually just gets tipsy, nowhere near the kind of state Kenny puts himself in, but he wants to 'blow it out' tonight, apparently. Kyle has never been drunk before and isn't looking forward to it. He doesn't like feeling out of control, and doesn't want to be hungover when they leave tomorrow morning.

After more pictures, he returns to his house with his family and makes himself scarce as soon as they're through the door, saying he needs a shower. His cousin Kyle is staying his room, but that just gives Kyle a good excuse to spend the night over at Stan's. The bag he packed for the trip is sitting by the door, and only when he sees it does he remember that he forgot to find Butters and make sure everything is cool. It probably is; they would have heard otherwise by now if it wasn't.

The lunch with his family is fine, everyone pressing cards, gifts and money into his hands. Kyle has always had a hard time trying to get a word in edgewise when it comes to his extended family, so he mostly sits quietly until they start asking him about his future plans.

"Law school," his father says before Kyle can speak. "Columbia, maybe."

"Oh, you'll love New York," Kyle's aunt Mindy says, as if it's already settled.

"Or maybe someplace out West," Kyle says, wondering where Stan will be by the time he's thinking about law school. Playing pro football?

"West, oy, all that smog," his mother says, waving the idea away with her hand. "And the earthquakes! His little friend Stan is going to college out there," she says to his aunts, who make ahh noises as if that explains this particular whim. Kyle's face gets hot. He checks his phone, wondering how Stan's talk with Wendy went. There's a new text from Stan:

emergency. you free?

Kyle thinks of Butters, dread clouding the clear sky of his dreams about this road trip. Without Butters to help them pay for gas, they'll have to dip into their book fund money, and with gas prices the way they are, even that might not cover it. Stan doesn't start getting living expense money from his football program until the official start of the season, and he's counting on what little money he was able to save while working at the bowling alley last summer to get him through until then.

Be right there, Kyle sends back. He makes excuses with his family, who all complain that he's rushing away too soon, though he's been chit-chatting with them for hours. He heads for the front door despite their protests, and they turn their attention to Ike, asking him what his future plans are.

"I want to groom dogs," Ike says, just to hear them all gasp with horror, and Kyle smirks as he slips out the front door. His little brother is a genius, thirteen years old and already a sophomore in high school, and a tremendous smart ass.

Stan's house is clogged with relatives, too, though not as many. It's strange to see his father and mother together again, even temporarily, but they seem to be getting along fine, laughing about something in the kitchen. Stan's various uncles are lined up on the couch, sipping beers, and they wave to Kyle as he follows Stan up to his room.

"What's going on?" Kyle asks. "Did you talk to Wendy?"

"Wendy?" Stan says, frowning.

"Yeah. About, uh. You said you were going to -"

"Oh." Stan shakes his head. "No, right after you left Butters sauntered over and announced that he can't make the trip."

"What? Shit!" Kyle groans and puts his hands over his face. "Fuck that fucker's parents."

"For real," Stan says. "But I don't think we have to cancel the trip."

"Stan, you can't use your food money for the next three months for gas. Shit, what are we going to do?" Kyle doesn't want to cancel the trip, either, but he hates the thought of Stan eating only ketchup sandwiches and passing out from malnutrition during football practice.

"We could get someone else to come with us," Stan says.

"Who? We're leaving tomorrow, dude." Kyle freezes, wondering if he means Wendy. He shouldn't hate the idea, but it's like being handed grenade, all of his hopes for this trip blowing apart. Having her there would change the dynamic, to put it mildly.

"There's really only one person," Stan says, and Kyle groans.

"Stan, I don't -"

"C'mon, dude, he's not as bad as he used to be."

"He? Wait. Who are you talking about?"

"Who do you think I'm talking about? Cartman."

"Cartman?" If there's anyone who would destroy Kyle's last six days with Stan more effectively than Wendy would, it's him. "Have you lost your fucking mind?"

"Think about it, alright? He always has money 'cause he's spoiled as shit, we know he doesn't have any plans for the next week 'cause we're his only friends, and - I don't know, Kyle, shit. I was really looking forward to this trip."

"Me, too!" Kyle has meticulously planned every detail, printed the Google maps, updated the Garmin, created extensive playlists for each state they'll travel through. "But this - he would ruin it."

"Only if we let him," Stan says. "He just likes to get a rise out of us, but what's he really going to do that would be so bad?"

"Uh! Make us stop for food every three feet? Fart? Make fun of all my music? Talk nonstop about how the Jews are destroying America?"

"It's nothing we haven't learned to ignore," Stan says. "Aside from the farts."

"Dude, the farts alone."

"I know, it's not ideal, but I really think it's our only choice. Let's go up to Wall-Mart and ask Kenny what he thinks."

Kyle is miserable as he rides in the passenger seat of Stan's car, particularly because this was what he'd been looking forward to so much: the peace between the two of them while one is driving and the other is riding beside him, the fact that they don't even need to talk. Butters talks a lot, but Kyle has never had a problem tuning him out, and half the time Butters doesn't seem to care if anyone responds to his chatter. Cartman demands attention at all times. He would spoil their serenity with glee.

"Cheer up, dude," Stan says as they walk toward the front doors of the massive Wall-Mart. He puts his arm around Kyle's shoulders. "It's gonna be okay. I promise."

The words stick painfully in Kyle's chest, because it's not a promise Stan can make anymore. It's not going to be okay. Road trip or not, they'll be so far away from each other soon.

Kenny is pricing DVDs when they find him in the electronics department. He's wearing his saggy blue Wall-Mart vest and looks half-asleep. Stan takes Kyle's arm and stops him before they can walk closer.

"Don't mention anything about graduation," Stan says, whispering. "Unless he brings it up."

"Dude, of course."

They've both gotten very protective of Kenny in recent years. When Kenny's dad left it was with a bang: Kenny showed up to the bus stop with a black eye, a cracked rib, a gash on his cheek, bruises on his neck. Stan and Kyle were speechless, and it was Stan who ultimately knew what to do. He put his hand on Kenny's back and guided him gently from the bus stop to Stan's empty house, Kyle following. None of them spoke. When they got there, Kenny flopped onto Stan's bed, his eyes red-rimmed but dry. Stan took off his shoes and stretched out on one side of Kenny, and Kyle followed his lead, lying down at Kenny's other side. They watched TV in silence, Kenny falling in and out of a fitful sleep, rolling against Stan for comfort, turning to clutch at Kyle's arm. They did that every day for a week, mostly in silence, Stan and Kyle taking turns going to the kitchen to make sandwiches and fetch Advil for Kenny, who winced every time he rolled over. Kyle got in trouble for skipping school and was grounded for a month, but was worth it. Kenny started laughing again by day three, at dumb TV commercials and Stan's stories about his uncle Jimbo.

"'Sup, assholes?" Kenny says as they approach, grinning. He puts down his price sticker machine and slaps Stan's hand in greeting, whacks Kyle on the back. He's still alarmingly physical with them, prone to falling asleep with his head on their shoulders when he's drunk. "How was the big event?"

"Fine," Stan says. "Wendy insulted Cartman in her speech."

"Seriously? I wish I'd seen that."

"My dad has it on video," Kyle says, maybe stupidly. It's been awkward since Kenny left school, trying to figure out what will or won't hurt his feelings. He never lets on that anything has, but there's something less authentic about his lazy grin when Kyle and Stan start talking about college.

"Dude, bad news," Stan says. "Butters' parents were serious about the valedictorian thing. He can't come."

Kenny's grin disappears, and for a moment he looks like he's going to kick over the whole display of DVDs. He curses and turns away from them as if he needs a moment to compose himself. Kyle glances at Stan. They both knew Kenny was looking forward to this trip, and for different reasons than their own. He's never been on a real vacation, has never seen the Pacific Ocean. They're all well aware that this could be his last chance to have even six days worth of freedom. He had to beg his boss for the time off.

"This is fucked up," Kenny says. "He's eighteen now. Why can't he just tell them to go fuck themselves?"

"You know they wouldn't let him apply for scholarships," Kyle says. "Just so they could have total control over where he went to school and how he's going to pay for it. They're psycho, dude. Good luck trying to tell Butters that, though."

"We should have applied for scholarships for him," Stan says.

"He wouldn't have accepted any," Kenny says. "Not if they didn't want him to. Goddammit, Butters. Fuck!"

"But don't worry, we came up with an idea!" Stan says. He rubs his hand across Kenny's back, trying to calm him down. Maybe the two of them are a little overly physical with him, too. They both grew accustomed to petting him while he recovered from his injuries, usually doing it while he was asleep, having casual conversations over the top of his head without even realizing that they were holding his hip or rolling his dirty bangs between their fingers. He was like their egg, and they were so proud of themselves for mending the cracks in his shell.

"The idea is that we bring Cartman instead," Kyle says. "I think I'd rather sell an organ for gas money."

"I wish I could give you guys some," Kenny says. He picks up the pricing machine again, angrily slapping $9.99 on a Jurassic Park DVD. "It's just these fucking car repairs, and I need the car for work -"

"Dude, no, it's totally fine," Stan says. He squeezes Kenny's shoulder. "And I think Cartman would be willing to help out. He'll probably be really flattered to be asked."

"Yeah, and we'll pay the price for six days," Kyle says. He groans. "Do you think there's any way we could persuade Butters to go against his parents?"

"If he does they won't pay for his college," Kenny says.

"Yeah, we'd better not fuck with that whole situation," Stan says. "Let's just ask Cartman at the party tonight and see what happens. You're coming, right?" he says to Kenny, who nods. He's listless again, the way he looked before he saw them walking over.

"Maybe it could work with Cartman," Kyle says. He doesn't want to crush Kenny, or his own dreams of being out on the open road with Stan, under a big sky. "Maybe he'd just sleep a lot."

"Yeah," Stan says. Kenny scoffs.

"Why do they do this to him?" he says.

"Who?" Kyle asks.

"Butters' parents. Fuck. Pisses me off." He's mumbling now, pricing DVDs without really looking at them. Kyle and Stan exchange another look. Before Kenny's father left, Kenny had the worst home life in South Park, and after he was gone Butters contended for the title, though he's always had plenty to eat and never had to clean up his parents' puke from the kitchen floor, so far as Kyle knows. Still, there's something very insidious about Butters' parents particular brand of control. Kenny once said that he thought that Butters' father probably hit him, too, but wouldn't answer Kyle when he asked why.

They leave Kenny in a bad mood, without having learned how he feels about the Cartman plan. Stan buys a cherry slushie from the concession counter at the Wall-Mart, and they take turns sipping from it as they head toward his car.

"Want to hang out before the party?" Stan asks. Kyle nods and swipes the slushie. He feels stupidly victorious, glad that Stan isn't spending these last daylight hours with Wendy. The talk must have been postponed indefinitely. That would fit their general dating style. Wendy is a great orator and Stan is one of the most open people Kyle has ever known, but they revert to elementary school note passing when it comes to discussing their relationship.

They spend the rest of the sweltering afternoon in Stan's room, shades drawn and the floor fan pointed at the bed, where they've stretched out to watch old kung fu movies on Stan's laptop. Stan thinks they're hilarious, and Kyle is usually bored by them, but he doesn't mind watching them like this, the laptop resting on Stan's stomach, rising and falling with his breath.

"Should we call Cartman?" Stan asks at one point. Kyle blinks drowsily at the laptop screen, close to falling asleep.

"No," he says. "Let's wait until the last possible moment. Maybe some miracle will happen."

"Like what, dude? My dad's gonna run in here and announce that he won the lottery?"

"Yeah, and that he spent the winnings on a Coors Light refinery," Kyle says. Stan laughs and punches his shoulder.

"I can't believe we're gonna be free of our parents," he says.

"Yeah." It doesn't feel like it will really count, not if they're living on opposite coasts.

"You really gonna drink with me tonight?" Stan asks. Kyle groans. He was hoping Stan had forgotten.

"I'll try," he says.

"It's not like, advanced math, dude. You don't try, you just swallow."

Kyle's face gets hot, and he stares at the screen until Stan looks at it, too. Stan lets out a long, slow breath that makes the laptop sink especially low. He seems tired. Kyle wants to fall asleep with him in this bed at least twice more, and he's just about to drift off to sleep when someone pounds on the door, startling them both up into sitting positions.

"Stan!" It's Randy, of course. "Stan, what are you doing? Is Kyle in there? Grandma's asking for you."

Stan groans and shifts the laptop so that it's resting on Kyle's hips. He reaches over to pause the movie, and it feels like he's pressing a button on Kyle, to keep him in place.

"I'll be right back," Stan says, and Kyle nods. As soon as Stan is gone, the door shut behind him, Kyle opens the laptop's web browser and looks at the history. Stan is too oblivious about the finer points of computing to bother to hide his tracks. Most of the sites he's visited are boring: UCLA, The Denver Post, the Broncos' official website and a few fan blogs. There are humor sites that Kyle introduced him to years ago, a couple of free porn portals, and Gmail. Kyle clicks in the url bar, going for one of the humor sites, but his finger slips, and the Gmail screen pops open.

He glances at the door. There are no sounds from the hallway. The most recent email in Stan's inbox is from Wendy, already read. He can see the first sentence in the preview: "I got my course catalog in the mail today!" He shouldn't click, but that doesn't seem too personal. Stan probably wouldn't even care. He checks the door again.

I got my course catalog in the mail today! This is so exciting. I've already highlighted like fifty classes that I want to take this semester. There's a whole class just about Mayan Mathematical Theory. It's like I'm actually going to join a meaningful conversation that I was only eavesdropping on before, you know?

Kyle snorts, imagining Stan's response to this. His favorite senior year class was Home Ec, one of many slacker electives he took to fill out his schedule. He would sit in the back with the stoners and crack up when they told hilarious anecdotes about trying to order chicken nuggets from the Taco Bell drive thru while high. Stan isn't stupid, and he's certainly capable of meaningful conversations, but he's never going to want to have one about Mayan Mathematical Theory.

Heart hammering, Kyle opens the previous emails in the chain. He's afraid he'll find pornographic exchanges or declarations of love, but it's mostly one or two line emails about movies they're going to see or someone who pissed them off at school. Nothing that Kyle reads is a surprise: he's heard all of this from Stan already, even the stuff about Wendy getting in a fight with Bebe for having sex with Clyde on her bed during the after prom party.

Kyle hears Stan jogging up the stairs, and he shuts the web browser in panic, accidentally closing the movie, too. Pretending this was intentional, he snaps the whole laptop shut, pushes it away and rolls onto his side, just getting his eyes closed in time to fake sleep as Stan opens the door. His heart is beating so fast that he's afraid Stan will hear it slapping against his mattress. Kyle lies there rigidly, his hands clamped between his knees as he listens to Stan move about the room. Stan opens something, there's a spray: reapplying deodorant? Definitely; Kyle can smell it when Stan walks closer. He leans over Kyle to collect the laptop, and Kyle hears it clatter onto Stan's desk. Kyle expects him to pull out the chair, maybe respond to Wendy's message about the Mayans, but he returns to the bed and settles down beside Kyle with a sigh. In his haste, Kyle didn't really leave him enough room, and they're closer than they usually are, Kyle's nose almost touching Stan's shoulder. Uncomfortable with this, he moans and pretends to wake up, giving Stan a few slow, dramatic blinks.

"Sorry," Kyle says. "That movie kind of sucked."

"That's the point," Stan says, grinning. He rolls onto his side as Kyle scoots toward the wall, giving him space. "Don't sleep through the party," Stan says.

"It's this heat," Kyle says. "It wears me out."

"You sound like my grandma."

Kyle shoves him lazily, and Stan shoves back, his hand sliding from Kyle's shoulder and flopping onto the mattress between them. It should be awkward, their heads together on the pillow, the quiet of the room, the smell of Stan's deodorant. It's never been awkward. This is the only place in the world where all the tension drains from Kyle's shoulders. Even his own bed doesn't do the trick.

"It'll be okay," Stan says, and Kyle stares at him, surprised.

"Yeah?" He didn't realize that Stan knew how worried he's been, and didn't think hearing him say so would make Kyle believe that it could be okay, the end of their storied childhood together.

"Cartman will be so happy to be included, he won't give you that hard of a time," Stan says. Kyle huffs. He opens his mouth to tell Stan that it's not the road trip he's worried about, not really, but there's no point. Stan would just feel guilty for abandoning him to his new football life, and Kyle doesn't want that.

"I guess it'll be fine," he says, just to make Stan feel better. It won't be. Stan overestimates everyone, even Cartman.

"Go to sleep if you want to," Stan says, rolling onto his back. He reaches for a book on his bedside table. "I'm gonna read for awhile."

"Read?"

"Yeah, Kyle, sometimes I read books." He holds it up so Kyle can see the cover: UCLA Course Catalog. Kyle feels wounded, as if Stan just had a secret conversation with Wendy, here in the midst of one of their last moments together.

"What are you going to sign up for?" Kyle asks, scooting up so that he can see the pages.

"No clue," Stan says. "Intro everything. Maybe some weird language."

"Take Hebrew," Kyle says, and Stan laughs.

"That'd be kind of awesome, actually," he says. "We could really piss Cartman off."

"Yeah," Kyle says, his smile fading as he thinks about how useless that would be now, having a secret best friends language. How often are they going to be together in situations where pissing Cartman off will be a goal? Cartman is going to Yale, which burns Kyle's ass, because he got accepted there, too, but wasn't offered a scholarship. It made financial sense to go to Penn State on a full ride, and he doesn't regret his decision, though listening to Cartman gloat about the fact that his mother is somehow bankrolling his Yale education has been agony.

They lie there for hours just reading through the book, both bursting into laughter when they see that a Yiddish language course is offered. Stan circles it and draws stars around it. He actually seems excited about his electives, though he doesn't pick anything as obscure as Mayan Mathematics. He circles Ecology, Modern Film, and The History of the American Automotive Industry. Kyle makes a chart for him so he can check the availability of his electives versus the core classes he'll have to take. He realizes as he factors in football practice hours that he was picturing himself taking all of these classes with Stan, helping him study. Outside, the sun starts to dip.

"Look at you, all organized," Stan says, taking the chart from Kyle. "You just planned out the next six months of my life in less than an hour."

"It hasn't been less than an hour," Kyle says. He sits up on his elbow to look over Stan's chest, at the clock on the bedside table. "It's almost seven."

"Seriously? Damn." He looks up at Kyle. "Felt like less than an hour."

"Should we get ready for the party?" Kyle asks, still not ready for that conversation, the one where they talk about how fast these final days together are passing.

"Yeah," Stan says. He puts his schedule and the course catalog aside, digs in the top drawer of his bedside table. At the back there are two little liquor bottles. "Vodka or rum?" he asks, holding them up.

"This is what we're doing to get ready?" Kyle feels heat creeping down the back of his neck. "Won't your parents smell it on us?"

"Dude, we're not driving, and it's our last high school party ever. My dad would probably think I was weird if I didn't have a little booze on my breath. So which one do you want?"

"Which one's easier?"

Stan groans and sits up Indian-style, facing Kyle, who does the same, scooting forward until their knees are just barely touching.

"Let's both have half of each," Stan says. "Try the vodka first. It has less of a taste."

Kyle would not agree that vodka has less of a taste than anything. It tastes like fire, and the rum is actually worse, especially as a follow up. He barely gets down four sips between the two bottles, and is surprised when Stan finishes them off with ease. Stan drinks with his football buddies on Saturday nights, at somebody's house where the parents don't care. Kyle sometimes gets drunk texts from him, and has archived a few of the classics: hey kyle yuo shoud see this one vidao of a dogs really fuanny and im gonan make you panckes for your bday ok

Stan insists that Kyle change into one of his shirts, a lightweight button-up that Kyle wears open over a fresh white undershirt, also Stan's. The clothes smell like Stan, and they make Kyle feel a little tougher, taller. He decides to be a better sport about drinking once they get to the party.

"We can't overdo it, though," he says as they walk together toward Clyde's, eating corn chips from a bag that Stan swiped from the kitchen on their way out. "We have to think about the drive tomorrow. Five hours to Grand Mesa."

"I'll drive the first leg," Stan says. He puts his arm around Kyle and tugs him closer, giving him a shake. "You can just sleep it off."

"Yeah, right, with Cartman in the backseat? Or the front - he'll probably insist on sitting up front the whole time in exchange for gas money."

"No way," Stan says. "When I'm driving, you're in the passenger seat, and vice versa. That's non-negotiable."

Kyle shoves more corn chips in his mouth to hide his grin. Stan keeps his arm around him for most of the walk, talking about the music he picked out for the trip. He doesn't have the same music-related angst that Kyle does, doesn't care if people think his songs are stupid. Kyle carefully avoided anything that Kenny might make fun of, and he's glad for that now. Cartman will be brutal in that department, too.

"Cartman is not allowed to pick any of the music," Kyle says.

"Noted," Stan says. "Let's make sure he's actually willing to come with us before we make any more rules about him, though, okay?"

"God, I hate that we're in the position of asking him for a favor. Like, oh, please, Cartman, ruin our road trip! We're begging you!"

"He won't ruin it. Calm down, dude. Look, it's a party."

They're standing in front of Clyde's house now, the sunset fading into deep blue as kids begin to stream in through Clyde's front door and gather on the lawn. Kyle experiences the familiar pre-party dread: Stan will know exactly where to go, who to talk to, and Kyle will just drift at his side. At some point, Stan will disappear with Wendy, and Kyle will be left to fend off Cartman and make sure that Kenny doesn't fall off of anything too steep. Sometimes that job belongs to Butters, but he definitely won't be here tonight.

Inside Clyde's house, the party is just beginning to get loud, music blaring from the living room and people flocking to the kitchen to grab the party food while it's still available. Cartman is there, eating from the giant sub that has been cut into individual portions.

"Trying to finish the whole thing?" Kyle asks.

"You wish you could eat like a real man, Jew," Cartman says, his mouth full of shredded lettuce and ham. "We can't all be lactose intolerant and diabetic."

"How the hell did you not end up with diabetes?" Stan asks Cartman. He gets a slice of sandwich for himself, and hands one to Kyle. "Your diet is like ninety percent fructose corn syrup."

"That bullshit about processed foods being bad for you is all a conspiracy," Cartman says. "Fronted by organic farmers. I'm just lucky my mom was smart enough not to fall for that hippie shit."

"Yeah, lucky you." Stan shoots Kyle a look, begging him not to get into a debate with Cartman about this. Kyle takes a bite of his sandwich instead, annoyed.

"So, listen," Stan says to Cartman. "You know how I have to start football camp in a week?"

"I can't believe you're going to play college football," Cartman says. "I could have played - I got all kinds of scholarship offers, I mean, like, they were basically offering me a new hooker for every night of the week at Ole Miss - but that shit's for poor people. They're just going to take advantage of you, Stan."

"Cool, thanks for the advice," Stan says. He's gotten good at ignoring Cartman, something Kyle was never able to master. "Anyway, we're actually driving out there tomorrow, together, me and Kyle, and we were thinking, hey. Why not bring Kenny and Cartman along? It'd be like old times."

Cartman studies them, narrowing his eyes, trying to figure out what they have to gain from this. Kyle keeps his mouth clamped shut and his expression neutral. He glances over at Stan, who is better at bluffing.

"Kenny's going?" Cartman says.

"Yeah."

"Have you asked him yet?"

"No," Stan says. "We wanted to ask you first."

"Right, 'cause you need funding." Cartman smirks. "And Kenny's a broke piece of shit, as always. Can he even get time off of his janitorial internship to go on a road trip?"

"You're such an asshole," Kyle says. Stan touches the small of his back, telling him to shut up.

"I'm pretty sure Kenny can take some time off of work," Stan says. "So what do you say? It'd be fun, right?"

"I'll go on the condition that the Jew can't do any of the driving," Cartman says.

"Fuck you!" Kyle really needs to learn how to not let this get to him, but he's pretty sure that he never will. "I'm a good driver. You're the one who crashed into the Tuckers' mailbox going like, sixty."

"That was on purpose!" Cartman says. He seems to get two feet taller when he's looking for a fight, towering over Kyle. "It was a joke on Craig!"

"We're all going to take turns driving," Stan says, stepping between them. "Don't be a dick, Cartman. Do you want to come or not?"

"Fine," Cartman says. Stan was right; he's obviously beside himself with excitement at being invited, but he's trying not to show it. "I get to pick all the music, though."

"Like hell you do," Kyle says.

"You can pick it when you're driving," Stan says. Kyle gives him a look of fury, but Stan shrugs. "Whoever's driving gets to pick the music. That's only fair."

"Sweet," Cartman says, grinning. Kyle huffs. Cartman doesn't care about music. He'll just pick the most obnoxious shit possible, twangy country and blaring techno.

"So we're leaving pretty early tomorrow," Stan says. "And we're gonna be on the road for six days."

"Don't forget your deodorant," Kyle says, withholding a comment about how Cartman might have reapplied some before showing up at the party. He smells like stale sweat and mayo.

"Only if you promise not to forget your tampons," Cartman says. "Since you're obviously on your period this week."

Stan pulls Kyle out of the kitchen, to prevent further damage. Kyle lets himself be pulled. They head for the dining room, where the alcohol is laid out like a buffet.

"Do Clyde's parents know about this?" Kyle asks as Stan mixes him a drink.

"I think so," Stan says. "They're weird. Here, try this."

"What is it?"

"Vodka, peach schnapps and Sprite." He grins. "I just made it up."

"You should name it," Kyle says, sniffing the cup. It smells like perfume and melted candy.

"Alright," Stan says. "I call it, 'A drink girly enough for Kyle.'"

"Fucker," Kyle says, punching him. The drink is actually kind of tasty, the Sprite masking the taste of the vodka. Stan has a beer, and Kyle finishes his first drink quickly, holding the red plastic cup out so that Stan will make him another.

"Hey, guys!" Bebe says, heading toward them as Kyle sips from his second drink. "I'm glad you could make it!" She always acts like a hostess when Clyde has a party at his parents' house. Bebe has been with Clyde since elementary school. Their fights are legendary, and they're said to have had sex in every single room of the high school, on a dare that, as far as everyone could tell, they posed to each other. They both treat each other like shit in public, but Wendy claims that they care about each other in some twisted way.

"This music is awful, right?" Bebe says. She hangs on Stan's arm, a Smirnoff Ice in her free hand. "I told Clyde the music was awful, but he doesn't listen to anything I say."

"Are you guys going to the same college?" Stan asks.

"Yes, ugh." Bebe frowns, looking through the door that leads into the living room, where Clyde is standing near the sofa, talking to Craig. "Clyde is following me there, more like. He's such a fucking baby, he'd never go to college without his safety net. Whatever, we're broken up. Did Wendy tell you that?"

"Wendy's still mad at you for prom," Kyle says. Stan gives him a wide-eyed look over Bebe's head. Kyle shrugs and drinks more from his plastic cup. This one is stronger than the first, seems like.

"Is she seriously still mad about that?" Bebe asks. She touches her hair self-consciously, peering up at Stan, who shakes his head.

"Kyle's a lightweight," he says. "He's talking shit. She's not mad."

"I didn't even realize that was her bed," Bebe says, frowning. "I was pretty out of it. I offered to have her sheets dry cleaned!"

"She's fine," Stan says, waving his hand through the air. "Is she here yet?"

"I saw her out on the back porch," Bebe says. "Why? Are you guys going to have 'the talk' now? You can use Clyde's bedroom if you want!"

"Use my bedroom for what?" Clyde asks, appearing in the doorway. He takes a beer from the cooler and slaps Stan's hand in greeting, ignoring Kyle. Clyde got too cool to acknowledge Kyle back in middle school, when he was one of the first boys in eighth grade to get a blow job. Bebe was the giver, and she slapped the shit out of him in the middle of the hallway when she found out that he'd told everyone.

"I don't need to use Clyde's bedroom," Stan says.

"He and Wendy still haven't had 'the talk,'" Bebe says, whispering loudly. She seems pretty lit already, and Kyle thinks this is as good an excuse as any to make himself another drink.

"We're not gonna have the talk," Stan says. "We're just gonna play it by ear. See what happens when we get out there."

"You'd better not leave her for a cheerleader," Bebe says. Kyle laughs into his plastic cup at the thought. Stan with a cheerleader, someone pocket-sized who he could fuck after the games. He'd propose to her on the jumbotron at a Broncos game. She'd be wearing fuzzy white ear muffs, glittery eye shadow. Kyle has thought about this before, and what excuses he might come up with to keep from having to stand on that altar, the best man. It'd be easier to watch him marry Wendy.

"Give him a break," Clyde says. "He's gonna get so much pussy in college. Are they gonna let you play quarterback?" he asks, whacking Stan in the chest.

"I won't know til after camp," Stan says. "I'm gonna go find Wendy."

"See," Bebe says. She blows a raspberry at Clyde. "He loves her, you dumb ass. He doesn't care about anonymous pussy."

"I'll bet you a hundred bucks they don't stay together," Clyde says to Bebe once Stan has gone.

"I'll take that bet," Kyle says, because he's pretty sure they will, but Clyde ignores him, so he just tops off his drink and follows Stan out to the porch. Usually he hangs back once Stan goes in search of Wendy, but tonight staying close to Stan seems to matter more. The whole evening feels as if it's floating on the surface of a pond, weightless and perfect. Kyle laughs to himself as he catches up with Stan, tugging on the back of his shirt. Stan turns to grin at him.

"You're drunk," he says. "Go eat another piece of that sandwich."

"Cartman's probably finished it by now," Kyle says.

"Probably true." Stan holds him by the arm and guides him through the crowd on the porch. Kyle doesn't feel like a tag-a-long with bad hair anymore. It's more like it was when they were kids, when they couldn't go anywhere without getting asked where the other one was, as if the town had ordered them as a set and wouldn't accept them a la carte.

"Hey!" Wendy calls when she sees them. She's standing near the porch railing, a plastic cup in her hand, Jimmy leaning beside her.

"Well, if it isn't the d-dynamic duo," Jimmy says. "We were just talking about you guys."

"Yeah?" Stan says. Kyle just laughs, because that's hilarious, especially the way Jimmy says it. Jimmy is moving to California, too, convinced that he's going to be a famous comedian.

"We were just saying how sad it is," Wendy says. Her eyes flick to Kyle's. "That you guys will be so far apart, for college."

"I should of gone to UCLA," Kyle says, grinning, trying to make a joke of it. Wendy raises her eyebrows.

"Whoa," she says. "Is he trashed?"

"He's never had anything to drink before," Stan says. He steadies Kyle, who pushes him away, laughing. Kyle lands against the porch railing and takes another sip of his drink, half of it spilling down his chin.

"I'm fine," Kyle says. "I'm great. Hey – hey, Wendy. Guess who's coming on our road trip?"

"I heard about Butters getting grounded for the whole summer," Wendy says, frowning. "It's so absurd. Who did you guys find to take his place?"

"Cartman!" Kyle says, loud enough to get several people looking in their direction. "Cartman, he's coming. That was Stan's big idea."

"It's not like there's anyone else who would do it on such short notice," Stan says when Wendy boggles at him. "And he's not – I mean – he's annoying, yeah, but he's not going to ruin the trip." He looks at Kyle. "I promise."

"He promises," Kyle says, looking at Wendy. She laughs.

"I never thought I'd see Kyle drunk," she says.

"I'm not drunk," Kyle says. He falls against Stan's side and stares up at him. "Am I?"

"You kind of are, dude. C'mon, let's get some food in you."

The rest of the party is a blur of snack foods, drink refills and bad music, some of which Kyle actually dances to. Most of the others are drunk, too, and by midnight Kyle is laughing with Clyde like they're old friends, sitting on the front steps with Clyde's heavy arm around his shoulders.

"You remember that time when all the girls said I was the cutest one in school?" Clyde says, slurring, his mouth close to Kyle's ear. "And tha – they said you were the ugliest? 'Member?"

"Yeah," Kyle says. "Remember how they were just trying to get free shoes from your dad's store? 'Member that part?"

"That was my fucking girlfriend's idea, man," Clyde says, his face falling. "Tha's the girl I dated all through school, the girl who fucked me over for a pair of shoes."

"She likes you, though," Kyle says, patting Clyde's knee. "She just has a funny way of showing it."

He looks up to see Kenny sauntering up the front walk, and stands with a gleeful, wordless shout, hoisting his drink over his head. Some of it splashes over the side and lands on Clyde's head, but he doesn't seem to notice.

"Are you wasted?" Kenny asks as he comes up the front steps. He looks tired, still wearing his Stop-n-Load polo, a cigarette ashing between his fingers.

"'M not wasted, no, uh-uh," Kyle says. He stumbles forward, catching himself on Kenny and playing it off like a hug. "Hey, Kenny, guess what. Cartman is coming on our trip. Stan says it'll be be okay."

"Well, if Stan says so." Kenny pats Kyle's back and eases free of his embrace.

"Hey, Kenny," Clyde says, narrowing his eyes at him. "Where were you today, man?"

"Working," Kenny says. "You know I dropped out."

"Oh, yeah, right." Clyde waves his hand through the air, drinks from his beer. "Well, tha's okay. You can still come to my graduation party."

Kenny stands there staring at Clyde for awhile, moving his tongue over his teeth. Kyle sways on his feet, confused. Are they going to fight? His stomach is starting to do weird things, as if eels have infiltrated it somehow.

"You know what," Kenny says. "I just remembered something I have to do."

"No, Kenny!" Kyle says, grabbing his arm, trying to drag him back. "Hey, wait, you just got here! We have to talk about our road trip, right? Come on, have a drink."

"It's an open bar," Clyde says. "We all know you like those."

"Fuck you," Kenny says, his hands curling into fists. "I just came here to ask Kyle something. I don't want to go to your fucking high school party. High school's over. Who gives a fuck?"

"Yeah, I guess it's been over for you for awhile," Clyde says, standing. Kenny starts toward him, but Kyle stops him, and Clyde goes back into the house, stumbling.

"Don't listen to that shithead," Kyle says.

"I wasn't." Kenny glares at him, then his face softens. "Kyle, look at you, fuck. You're like, drooling on yourself. Where's Stan?"

"Probably with Wendy," Kyle says. "What'd you want to ask me?"

"What time should I be at Stan's tomorrow?" Kenny asks. "You know," he says, when Kyle just stares at him, confused. "For the road trip?"

"Oh, yeah! Tomorrow! God, we're leaving tomorrow. Fuck, I can't believe how fast today went. So, um, yeah, nine o'clock. That's when we're leaving. That should get us to Grand Mesa around three, if we stop for lunch."

"Even drunk, you've got the scheduled memorized," Kenny says, smirking. "Alright, I'm off."

"No, man, stay. Let me go find Stan, we can walk to his house, play some video games –"

"I seriously have something I have to do," Kenny says, backing away again. "Before we leave. But you guys do the video games without me. One last time, right?"

"Right," Kyle says. All the floaty ease of the Sprite-bubbled vodka seems to leave him at once, and the eels begin wrestling each other in his stomach. He moans and leans against the railing of Clyde's front stairs, watching Kenny walk off by himself. Where's Stan? Even Kenny asks, even now.

Kyle heads back inside, the situation in his stomach rapidly worsening. He crashes into people and mumbles apologies, everyone suddenly unfamiliar, even the kids he's known since pre-school. Nobody but Stan counts, not this late at night, not when he feels this shitty.

He finds Stan in a corner of the kitchen, talking with Wendy. Their voices are too low to make out, and when they spot Kyle staggering toward them they stop talking. Stan frowns and holds out an arm for Kyle to brace himself on.

"Shit," Stan says. "He's green."

"Why'd you give him so much to drink?" Wendy asks. Kyle recognizes that tone; they must have been fighting. He wants to flop against Stan, to be carried home.

"Kenny was here," Kyle says. "I think. Maybe I dreamed that. He said he had to do something. Clyde was mean."

"I'm taking him home," Stan says. He puts his hands on Kyle's shoulders, but the room keeps spinning.

"Of course." Wendy turns away from them abruptly, her hair slinging around her shoulders like weapon. She's angry. Everyone is, suddenly. Kyle wants his bed – no, he wants Stan's, wants to curl up there and hide until the eels in his stomach stop writhing.

"I'll call you tomorrow," Stan says, but Wendy is already walking away. Stan scoffs and guides Kyle through the crowd, toward the door.

"Who are all these people?" Kyle asks, squinting, the closely-packed bodies all blurring together.

"Our classmates," Stan says. "Or, anyway. They were. Dude, are you okay?"

"Stan?"

"Yeah?"

"My stomach hurts."

"Okay." Stan sighs, helping Kyle down Clyde's front stairs. "When we get home, I'll give you some saltines and ginger ale."

Kyle moans. When we get home. Stan will never say that to him again.

He barely makes it out of Clyde's yard before he gets sick, puking into his neighbor's azalea bushes. Stan kneels down behind him and puts a hand on his back, telling him it will be okay, that he'll feel better when he's gotten it all up. Kyle doesn't believe him, feels like he's going to die, the sky pinwheeling overhead and the smell of regurgitated peach schnapps making him puke with renewed ferocity. By the time his stomach is empty his legs are barely working, and he feels cold all over.

"C'mon," Stan says. He squats down in front of Kyle and drapes Kyle's lifeless arms around his shoulders. "Hold on."

"You can't," Kyle mumbles, but he clings when Stan hoists him up onto his back, Kyle's legs winding around Stan's waist. Kyle moans at the thought that someone might see them, but it's like everyone who ever mattered is packed into Clyde's house, and they're so far away from the others already, alone together at last.

"Did you really see Kenny?" Stan asks.

"Yeah," Kyle says. He presses his nose to Stan's neck, the smell of Stan's skin settling his stomach somewhat. "I told him - tomorrow. Nine o'clock."

"Nine o'clock," Stan says. He tips his head back to look at the sky. "We're gonna see some pretty great stars, I think. Out in the desert and stuff."

Kyle grins. "You're drunk, too."

"A little. Nowhere near puking, though. Are you going to learn to drink in college?"

"Probably not. Who'd teach me? You won't be there."

They're quiet for the rest of the walk home, dry grass crunching under Stan's sneakers. The town is motionless and dark, like untouched water, crickets singing in the pines. Kyle isn't often out this late. He's usually in bed, either waiting for Stan to show or rolling over to listen to him breathe, the sound of it lulling him back to sleep.

"It's gonna be a great trip," Stan says, as if he's anticipating Kyle's maudlin comment about the end of all comfortable things. Kyle keeps his mouth shut, closes his eyes.

"Am I heavy?" he asks. He feels like he is, despite the fact that he barfed up everything he's eaten today and then some.

"Nope," Stan says, though his voice is strained and he's breathing hard.

"I need to pee."

"You'd better hold it. Piss on me and I'll never forgive you."

"I can wait."

Kyle is half asleep by the time they get to Stan's house, his head resting on Stan's shoulder. He uses the downstairs bathroom and washes his hands, listening to Stan rummaging in the kitchen. When he emerges Stan is eating a Moon Pie. He offers some to Kyle, and Kyle shakes his head.

"No food," he says. "Never again."

"Good," Stan says. He licks chocolate from the corner of his lips. "That'll save us money during the trip."

"Us?" Kyle snorts, still drunk. "Like we have the same, uh. Like we have joint bank accounts or something."

Stan seems wounded by this, and he heads for the stairs. He gets sensitive when he drinks, gets his feelings hurt if Kyle doesn't respond to his drunk texts. Kyle follows him up the stairs, tugging on the tail of his shirt in apology.

"You're gonna trip me," Stan says.

"Maybe I'm trying to. So you can't go away and play football."

Kyle didn't mean to say that, needs to stop talking. Stan just shushes him, and they creep past his mother's bedroom together, into Stan's. Kyle doesn't undress, just falls face first into Stan's bed. The sheets are heavenly, the mattress cloud-like. He hears Stan brushing his teeth, unzipping his jeans. Somewhere in California, in a dorm room that smells like the sweat of forgotten college football heroes, Stan will do these nighttime things and no one will care. Or maybe someone will, that cheerleader with her ear muffs.

"Did you have the talk with Wendy?" Kyle asks when Stan climbs into bed, wearing only boxer shorts.

"Why is everyone calling it that?" Stan squirms under the blankets and Kyle does the same, pushing down his jeans and toeing off his socks, kicking them to the end of the bed.

"You don't have to tell me," Kyle says.

"I did tell you, dude. We're not going to talk it out. We're going to see what happens."

"See what happens," Kyle mumbles, mimicking him. Stan tugs on one of his curls.

"Go to sleep, dude. You're gonna be a zombie in the morning."

"Don't let Cartman talking you into leaving without me," Kyle says, his heavy eyelids falling shut. He tries to wrench them open again, doesn't want the night to be over, but it's useless. His thoughts are already loosening, slipping against each other nonsensically.

"No one could talk me into leaving you behind," Stan says. He tugs on Kyle's hair again, more gently, unrolling a curl and letting it snap back. "Not even him."

Yeah, they could, Kyle thinks, glad that he's too close to sleep to say it out loud. They did. UCLA did, football did, the west coast did. You're leaving me behind and it's like you don't even know it.

He dreams of a giant sub sandwich, and lemonade, and Cartman devouring everything. Stan appears and holds Kyle's hand.

"We'll walk to the next town," Stan says. "They'll have food."

"That's what you assholes think!" Cartman says. There's mayo on his face. "I ate all the food in the next town, too!"

"You did not!" Kyle shouts back.

"Yes, I did!" Cartman seems to be growing a foot taller with every word, looming over them, grinning triumphantly. "If you guys want something to eat, you're going to have to beg me to barf it up for you!"

Kyle wakes with a jerk, disturbed by his own subconscious. It's still dark outside, just a little past two in the morning. Stan is fast asleep, turned onto his stomach, his arms pushed up under his pillow. Kyle moves closer to him, still mostly asleep, the dream about having to eat Cartman's puke for sustenance making his stomach lurch uncomfortably. Stan sighs in his sleep. Kyle closes his eyes, listens to the gurgle of Stan's laptop, the push of his breath. He falls asleep trying not to think about the fact that he'll never again wake up from a bad dream and curl in closer to Stan, confident that he's back in the real world, that he's safe. When he sleeps again he dreams that they're older, seeing each other for the first time in years.

Remember the night when you carried me home from Clyde's party? Kyle asks. Stan won't look at him, his eyes focused on something ahead on the horizon. Remember when I asked if I was heavy? Kyle says, knowing that Stan won't answer. Remember how you said that I wasn't? Was that a lie? Was it true?

He's not sure why it's important to know this, but if he says the right thing Stan might pick him up like he did that night, and hold him until they have to part again.