On the morning of graduation, Kyle wakes up before the alarm goes off. He drank too much last night, and stayed up too late talking to Kenny. He crawls across the bed and finds Stan still asleep, feverish with warmth under the blankets. Kyle puts his chin between Stan's shoulder blades and stares at the window as the slats of light between the blinds begin to brighten. He can already feel the heat of another smog-choked summer afternoon perching at the edge of the city, ready to blanket it. For the past year all he's done is bitch about how he's ready to leave L.A., but he's actually going to miss the blurry non-seasons, the haze that burns off around noon, avocado trees and bubble tea. They have bubble tea in New York, but it won't be the same, from that place near the Metro stop in Koreatown with the scummy sidewalk view of the Hollywood sign.
"Are you awake?" Stan mumbles incredulously when Kyle starts licking the back of his neck, his default method for waking Stan up on weekend mornings.
"You need a shower," Kyle says. "You taste like a taco shell."
Stan grunts. "You smell like an ash tray," he says.
"Kenny smoked like three packs of cigarettes last night. He tainted me."
"I thought he quit?" Stan turns his head on the pillow, pressing his face to Kyle's.
"He did, but sometimes he gets drunk and forgets," Kyle says. "Butters will kill him. You guys were so cute last night."
"Me and Butters?" Stan makes a face.
"Yeah, we came in and you were both asleep."
"Not cuddling, though," Stan says. He looks worried, and Kyle laughs.
"No, sadly. He was on the couch and you were on the love seat. It was companionable, though, like you guys got together and decided to give up on us."
Stan groans and rolls onto his back, offering his chest as a pillow. Kyle puts his cheek against it and deflates, sliding his knee up to check to see if Stan has morning wood. He does, and he rolls his hips up when Kyle rubs him with his knee.
"What'd you guys talk about?" Stan asks.
"Me and Kenny? Who knows. We were trashed. He kept bringing up the first time I smoked pot."
"Oh, God. You thought you were going to die."
"Yeah, and Kenny continues to find that hilarious. He said I should have been there the first time he got Butters stoned. Apparently they walked down to the beach and Butters got emotional about the sand."
"The sand? How so?"
"It was something like – the individual grains of sand – the fact that they all make up the beach – I don't know, that made him cry."
"Ha." Stan's hand slides down Kyle's back and settles on his ass, squeezing. "I can't believe he's our fucking graduation speaker."
"Maybe he'll talk about sand." Kyle was actually part of the committee that arranged to have Leopold Stotch give their graduation address. Butters is a self made man, a multi-millionaire at twenty-two, following a tearful Dateline interview and the subsequent success of his cooking show, which now airs on the Food Network instead of a website that also features him getting rammed by Kenny. Butters wears clothes when he cooks now, but the fact that anyone who's curious can find out what he looks like without them has made him a celebrity. That and the fact that he's somehow remained charmingly, inexplicably innocent. He's a really good cook, too.
Kyle slips beneath the blankets and takes Stan in his mouth, fighting the beginnings of a headache. He wants to lose himself in sex before he starts thinking about everything he'll have to do today. His parents and Ike are flying in this morning, and he's got to pick them up at the airport, and find out if Stan actually secured reliable accommodations for his own parents, call the caterers about the food for the party, make sure the camera is charged, run by the liquor store on the way back from the ceremony –
"Dude, are you listening?" Stan asks, tugging on one of Kyle's curls. Kyle pulls off of him, breathless.
"I asked if you wanted to sixty-nine," Stan says.
"Oh, um, sure." It's a good idea, time-saving. Kyle assumes the position, his to-do list evaporating when Stan spreads him open and starts licking him in his slow, expert way. Soon Kyle can't even focus on sucking dick, just rests his head on Stan's thigh and moans, melted.
"Sorry," Kyle breathes out when Stan lifts him up and turns him over onto his back.
"For what?" Stan asks.
"For, um, I don't know, I kind of slacked off on the dick sucking there," Kyle says. "On my half of the – ahhh, Stan. Half – the – my half of the s-sixty-nuhh—"
"That's okay," Stan says, grinning and watching Kyle go to pieces around his fingers.
It's especially good, the way it always is when they're dreading the arrival of their families or a trip back to South Park. They start to feel like their old selves in the presence of their parents, the boys who were afraid of each other in high school, the kids who didn't get to do this everyday. Stan gets possessive and Kyle clings desperately, letting his head fall back while Stan fucks him, surrendering his neck to hickeys. It seems like Stan always goes out of his way to mark him before a visit from Kyle's mother, as if he wants to show her that Kyle is his now. Stan fights with her sometimes, raised voices and all, and it shouldn't make Kyle hard, but it does, because anytime Stan gets loud on his behalf it's arousing, and it's best when he's defending Kyle against his mother, telling her to Back off, Sheilalike they're grown-ups or something.
He supposes they are grown-ups at last, fucking hard on the morning of their college graduation, on a mattress that they picked out and paid for together. Kyle works in the law library on campus, and Stan is a part-time cell phone salesman. He still has some money leftover from the football years, which ended when the considerable bulk of a Longhorns linebacker named Houston Horn cracked Stan's throwing arm in two toward the start of his junior year. Kyle was in the stands, and though he was much too far away and it was far too loud, he swears he heard Stan scream when his bone broke through his skin. Ironically, it was during the recovery period when they were exposed: a clerk at the physical therapy center posted pictures of Kyle kissing Stan on his Facebook, and in a few hours the pictures were everywhere. Kyle wanted to sue, but Stan didn't, though he was the one most vulnerable in the pictures, his pained and tear-slick face fully visible. Kyle was merely a red-haired comforter who was pretty obviously not just a friend and definitely not female. His rage got so out of control in the aftermath that at one point he was thinking seriously about enlisting Kenny to help him murder the man who posted the pictures, but Stan was strangely calm about the whole thing, and seemed relieved to be able to issue a statement. The statement was: I'm gay, that red-haired guy is my boyfriend, and I think you can all understand why I didn't say so sooner. He never rejoined the team, claiming that his arm just wasn't the same, and Kyle didn't press him to admit that he was too scared to walk back into that locker room. He knows Stan misses football, can see it when he watches the games on TV, but he does seem happy to be formerly rather than currently famous, and always gets kind of giddy when he touches Kyle in public without fear, smiling over at him like they're getting away with something.
The alarm goes off right when Kyle is about to come, and the jerk of surprise that shoots through him somehow makes his orgasm incredibly powerful. He arches and shouts, distantly aware that Stan is close, too, the rhythm of his thrusts disappearing into something desperate and erratic even as he reaches over to smack the alarm off. Stan drops down onto Kyle when he comes, his mouth open on Kyle's cheek, panting hot and wet. Kyle turns to kiss him, and they lie there for a long time, still sleepy and indulging in their recovery. Kyle laughs when the alarm starts blaring again.
"You hit snooze?" he says as Stan pulls out of him and crawls over to turn it off.
"I wasn't thinking!" Stan says. He comes back to Kyle and dumps himself at his side, rolling Kyle toward him and holding his hip. It's too hot to cuddle, so they settle for pawing at each other.
"Excited to see your parents?" Kyle asks, and Stan shrugs.
"I guess," he says. "You know how my dad gets."
"He wants to see celebrities."
"Yeah. He thinks Butters can get him the hook up to Hollywood parties."
Kyle snorts. "Has he met Butters?"
"He hasn't seen him in years," Stan says. "So he assumes that Hollywood has turned him into a hard partying coke head, naturally."
"Oh, God." Kyle winces. "Butters on coke. He'd put frosting on everything in the house."
"He'd paint the walls with frosting," Stan says, grinning.
"He'd frost himself," Kyle says. "And roll himself in sprinkles. Ew, okay. This is going to a weird place."
"Yeah, 'cause I'm pretty sure he actually did that in one of their old videos, sober. Should we shower so we don't smell like Mexican food and cigarettes when our parents get here?"
"I could tell my mom I've started smoking," Kyle says.
"What, what, what? No way, dude, she'd blame me."
They shower together, Kyle trying to convince Stan that his mother doesn't hate him. She's finally begun to trust that Stan isn't just toying with Kyle; apparently the public statement he made on national television that Kyle was his boyfriend wasn't enough, but his willingness to move to New York with Kyle so he can go to law school at Columbia seems to have done the trick. It's only fair, Stan says, since Kyle moved to California for him the first time around. They're not sure what Stan is going to do in New York, but it won't be a pressing issue right away, because they'll be living with Kyle's aunt and uncle, and with Ike, who will be returning to Columbia as a sophomore.
"I can't believe I'll be back to sharing a bathroom with my brother," Kyle says as Stan washes his hair for him, the scalp massage giving him a half-boner.
"I think it'll be fun," Stan says. "Ike's awesome."
"Yeah, but shower sex, Stan. Shower sex!"
"We don't actually do itin the shower," Stan says, because they tried that once and it was massively uncomfortable. "I don't think anyone will object to the idea of us, like, bathing together."
"It's still sexual! And you know how - blunt Ike is. He'd come in and tell to pause while he takes a piss."
"Yeah, but you can't beat a rent free mansion."
"It's not a mansion. I mean, yeah, their house is pretty impressive, but it's not like they're just handing it over to us. We're going to have to abide by their rules."
"What, like - keeping kosher?"
"No!" Kyle considers this. "Well, maybe, at their dinner table, anyway. And they're going to want me to go to services with them, God."
"I'd go to services," Stan says. Kyle rolls his eyes. Stan took four years of Hebrew for his language requirement, and he thinks Judaism is interesting, though Kyle suspects he really just thinks it's Kyle-related and therefore cute. It's the one thing that's guaranteed to charm Kyle's mother, despite whatever they might have been bickering about. As soon as Stan starts asking questions about the faith Kyle's mom will happily indulge him, probably hoping he'll convert.
After drying off and dressing, Kyle is quickly in frantic productivity mode, making phone calls and jotting notes about flight times and restaurant options for the post-ceremony brunch. He's having both families and some friends over to the house for dinner, and he'll need time to clean and prep the non-catered food, so he'll have to duck out the brunch early, maybe leaving Stan to entertain the families. He pinches the bridge of his nose, imagining how poorly that might go.
"I just got a text from Wendy," Stan says. He's lounging on the couch, a Deadliest Catchmarathon playing on TV.
"Is she going to be able to come down?" Kyle asks, not sure which answer he's hoping for. He loves Wendy, and largely credits her for making something substantial of Butters' career, but he's still jealous of her on a daily basis. He's no longer jealous of her relationship with Stan - at least, not usually - but he is jealous of her professional success. She finished her undergrad degree at Berkeley a year early, and she's moved on to their law school with a focus in entertainment representation. She's already managing two successful clients, Butters and Jimmy Valmer, who has done the Jimmy Kimmel show twice. Apparently the two have a special connection, maybe just because of the name. Kyle suspects it has a lot to do with Wendy, who has a powerful combination of sincerity and ruthlessness when it comes to her clients' interests.
"Yeah, she's coming down," Stan says. "Do you think she'd let Butters do a public appearance without her there to hold his hand? And guess who's coming with her?"
Kyle hasn't seen Cartman since the holidays, when they all flew home to South Park together in a private jet that Butters chartered for them as a Christmas present. Cartman was historically obnoxious on the flight, drunk and singing Christmas carols, and he was all over Wendy, which infuriated Kyle, because he thought Stan might be sensitive about that. Stan proceeded to get drunk with Cartman and sing along, and when Butters and Kenny joined in Kyle was left to hide in the kitchenette with Wendy, where she regaled him with stories of her successes over the past year. Finally, Kyle resolved to get drunk himself, but just ended up getting air sick, which made Cartman laugh hysterically. Kyle doesn't even remember deplaning or the car ride back to his parents house, just woke up in his childhood bedroom with Stan rubbing a cool washcloth over his sweltering forehead. He ended up having the flu for most of the winter break, for which he blames Cartman and, partially, Wendy. In general, those two are bad luck for him.
"I've got to go grab Ike and my folks," Kyle says when he's finished his breakfast: honeydew melon and half a bagel with low fat cream cheese. After four years of being Stan's drinking buddy, Kyle is actually developing a not-concave stomach, which is completely unfair, because all Stan seems to need to do to maintain his college athlete abs is a set of sit ups before bed. Stan claims to love Kyle's new softness, but Kyle doesn't want to hear it. He's switched to light beer, Diet Coke, and never eats a full serving of carbs in one sitting.
"Want me to come with?" Stan asks, tipping his head over the arm of the sofa to watch Kyle heard toward the door.
"No, Stan! Remember, you have to get your mother at eleven, and then your dad's flying in at noon. The ceremony is at two - I've got to get my parents and Ike settled in their hotel, then I have to get my hair cut, and we're meeting at the ceremony, remember?"
"Oh, yeah." Stan rubs his eyes as if he's bored by all of this and considering a nap. "Kay. Cool."
"Your phone had better be charged!" Kyle says, his hand on the door knob.
"It is!" Stan says. "I mean, I think it is. I'll check."
"Go check now!" Kyle says. He looks at the clock by the door and groans. "I've got to go, traffic is going to be terrible. USC is having their graduation today, too. Can you fucking believe that? The lack of planning? It's like they did it on purpose, just to be assholes!"
"Kyle," Stan says. "It's fine. Everything will be fine. It's nine o'clock in the morning."
"Whatever. We've got plenty of time. Go get those guys, and tell them I said hi. Actually - wait."
"What?" Kyle asks, already halfway out the door.
"Why? Stan, I'll be late -"
"Gimme a kiss," Stan says, reaching for him. Kyle groans and obeys, walking to the couch and kneeling down for a Spiderman kiss. Stan grins at him sleepily when he pulls back.
"You're so calm," Kyle says, combing his fingers through Stan's upside-down hair. "How do you do it?"
"It's easy," Stan says. "I let you panic for both of us."
"Ha. Okay, asshole." Kyle kisses him again and stands. "See you at the ceremony."
As he predicted, traffic is bad. He's tempted to shop for a big, sugar-filled coffee as he passes one Starbucks, then another, but he doesn't need the calories or the elevated anxiety. He's not sure what he's most worried about: Butters' speech going well, seeing his mother, or enduring Wendy's perfection and Cartman's big mouth. There's also something about a graduation in general that makes him nervous, probably because of the state his life was in last time he walked across a stage to accept a diploma. He has to keep reminding himself that he'll get to keep Stan this time.
The airport is slammed and parking is a nightmare, and by the time Kyle finds his family near the baggage claim they seem like they've been camped there for awhile, carry-on bags piled around their feet. His mother pops up to hug him first, telling him he looks skinny, though he's only managed to lose five of his excess pounds since Christmas. His father is talking over her, complaining about the service on domestic flights these days, and Ike just grins as Kyle pulls him into a hug and clings maybe a little too long. Having Ike around makes dealing with their parents marginally less overwhelming.
"Kyle, this hair," his mother says, molesting it. "A little long, don't you think?"
"I have a hair cut in an hour," Kyle says. "Hopefully we can get you guys settled in before -"
"A hair cut on the day of graduation? That's cutting it a little close!"
"Yes, ma, but I've been totally swamped this week, I've got all this stuff to do before we move, plus the -"
"I still don't see why you have to move so early in the summer, bubbeh," his mother says as they all begin to gather up the bags. "Ike isn't going back to New York until August! It'd be nice to give Aunt Laura and Uncle Mel a break."
"Mom, I told you, my program has all this social shit going on during the summer, I really need to meet people if I'm going to distinguish myself -"
"Just tell people you're friends with Leopold Stotch," Ike says. "That'll distinguish you plenty."
"Ike, no!" Sheila says, horrified. "Kyle, I know you're supportive of your little friend, and he's been quite successful, which is great -"
"He could buy and sell our whole fucking hometown!" Kyle says.
"Language, Kyle," his father says.
"But he's still associated with, well, some unsavory things -"
"Porn," Ike says.
"Ike! Well, anyway, Kyle, I really don't think it would be smart to try to open doors for yourself with thatname -"
"I wasn't planning on it, Mom," Kyle says, though he's offended on Butters' behalf. Butters isn't ashamed of his background, and Kyle was never ashamed to call him a friend, even during the porn years. "Ike was just joking."
There's a lot of chatter in the car on the way to the hotel, Kyle up front with his mother and Ike in back with their dad. Ike is a genius but a man of few words, and Kyle wishes he would cut in more frequently as he endures a lecture about oil changes from his mother and a shitload of unwanted law school advice from his father. Contrary to popular belief, he's not just going to law school so he can follow in his father's footsteps. He doesn't want to be a plaintiff's lawyer or a litigator. He's more interested in mediation, which is less stressful and more profitable, though he knows he'll need years of experience practicing law before he can break into the mediation business. It's going to be a long road, but he's excited about his career, and he wishes Stan could figure out something to be excited about in that area, too. His major was Nutrition, but he doesn't want to get a doctorate, and he's not sure if he wants to go to grad school, get his teaching certification or find work at a gym. He seems content to hawk cell phones for the time being, and he's making a pretty good commission. His talent as a salesman has a lot to do with his looks, and though Kyle is banking on Stan being good looking for most of their lives, he doesn't want him to make a career of it.
"So, where's Stanley?" Kyle's mother finally asks. They've been in traffic for an hour and they're finally approaching the hotel where Kyle has arranged for them to stay. He's going to have to push his hair cut back by at least thirty minutes.
"Stan's picking up his mom right now," Kyle says, glancing at the clock on the dash. "Or, he should be."
"I see. Is his father flying in, too?"
"Yeah. He gets in an hour later. I think Stan's going to get a late breakfast with his mom at the airport and hang out until his dad gets there."
"Oy, really? Do Sharon and Randy get along alright these days?"
"I think so," Kyle says, his stomach aching at the thought of Stan enduring an afternoon of his parents. Stan can occasionally revert to adolescence in their combined presence, growing dark and quiet.
"Oh, God, Randy's gonna be here?" Ike says. "Hell yes."
"What's so exciting about Randy?" Gerald asks, sounding hurt.
"That guy can party," Ike says.
"Ike, you're not here to party!" Sheila says, turning to glare at him. "We're here to congratulate your brother on his academic success. And you're underage, young man!"
"Oh, Mom," Ike says.
"Nothing. You're just so - quaint."
"Excuseme? What's that supposed to mean?"
Sheila rails at Ike for the remainder of the car ride, which is mercifully brief. Kyle is able to exit the hotel quickly after helping them with their bags, his hair cut a good enough excuse for his mother. This is partly the reason he scheduled it for today. He gets out his phone and checks for messages. There's one from Kenny, but nothing from Stan. Kyle opens Kenny's and reads it while he's stopped at a red light:
how much did i smoke last night whoa bc is pissed
'BC' is Buttercup, the name Kenny uses for Butters when he's particularly sentimental or apologetic. The light changes before Kyle can compose a response, but he doesn't really have one in mind, anyway. He has no idea how much Kenny smoked last night, outside of 'a lot,' and he doesn't know what to tell Kenny in terms of getting Butters off his back. Kyle actually agrees with Butters, and was berating Kenny for smoking until he got too drunk to give a damn. They stayed up all night with their pant legs rolled up and their feet in the pool, and Kyle is pretty sure that they both got emotional about Stan and Butters at one point, considering themselves poetic as they slurred, no really, dude, I just love him so much, you don't even know, or something similar.
He's five minutes late for his hair cut, and his stylist is a little bitchy about it until Kyle explains that his parents are in town for his graduation. After that, Caesar fawns over him sympathetically and offers him a glass of wine. Kyle declines, then reconsiders and accepts.
"So is your mom cool with you and your boy?" Caesar asks as he's working.
"Yeah, mostly," Kyle says. "I mean, she's known Stan since he was four."
"But she's okay with you catching his pitches and all that?"
"I guess," Kyle says, flushing. He sort of hates this salon, but he can't take his hair to just anyone. He drinks more wine, wincing when he realizes that some snipped red hairs have floated into the glass.
"Are you still friends with that little bubble butt on the eating network?" Caesar asks. Like most other gay men in L.A. who think they should have their own reality show, he's extremely jealous of Butters.
"Yes, we're still friends," Kyle says. "I was just over at his house last night."
"Uh-huh. It is like some big tacky mansion in the hills?"
Kyle thinks for a moment. "Yes." That's exactly what Kenny and Butters' house is. They have seven bedrooms, and Kyle is pretty sure Butters wants to fill all of them with babies. Kenny has promised him that they can talk about adoption when they're in their thirties, and he gets a little green when Butters starts musing about how someday the guest bedroom in the west wing will be a giraffe-themed nursery.
"That's just the way it goes in this town," Caesar says, shaking his head. "You get famous for getting fucked."
Kyle wants to defend Butters, but he's afraid Caesar's scissors might slip vengefully, so he just hums and drinks more hair-flavored wine. This strategy pays off: when Caesar is finished Kyle's hair is soft and frizz-less, falling in tousled waves instead of goofy ass ringlets.
"Who's gonna make my hair look like this when I move to New York?" Kyle asks as he hands Caesar his tip.
"Somebody who will charge twice as much and do nowhere near as good," Caesar says. He kisses Kyle on both cheeks. "You have to fly back to L.A. for your hair cuts, okay?"
"Okay," Kyle says. "I'll make Butters play for the flights."
"If he cares about you, he will do it."
Kyle thanks him and leaves, not sure if Caesar thinks Butters is his pet name for his boyfriend or understands that he's talking about his friend the celebrity chef. Butters goes by Leopold professionally, which is apparently part of his charm. Die hard fans from the old days would know him as Butters, since - apparently - that's what Kenny called him in their videos. Leopold doesn't exactly roll off the tongue during sex. Apparently.
Kyle feels a little tipsy after leaving the salon, despite the fact that he only had one glass of wine. He walks to a Starbucks and drinks a whipped cream-laden latte while checking his phone messages. He has one from his mother asking who's going to pick them up for the ceremony, as if she expects Kyle to send Kenny or something. He writes back and says that he'll be there shortly, lingering over his coffee and smiling when he sees a message from Stan buried under his mother's.
parents are both in state. dad annoying. mom blond? rescue me or send comfort pls
Kyle kisses the screen of his phone, feeling like an idiot. He types out some more tangible comfort and sends it to Stan:
When they're all secure in their hotel rooms tonight I'm gonna give you a special graduation present.
Stan's response comes quickly:
Yes, Kyle sends. And my hair looks really hot.
ur so gay :)
Says the guy who uses smileys in his texts. And fucks me.
Kyle is in a good mood on his way back to his parents' hotel, which is just a basic Holiday Inn. He offered to get them something nicer, but they didn't want him wasting his money. Kyle would have preferred spending more to enduring the comments they'll surely have about dust and water pressure, but he's learned to pick his battles and this visit won't be lengthy. His parents are flying home tomorrow night, both of them needed back at work. Kyle loves them, but always prefers to do so in small doses.
The rest of the afternoon passes quickly, and Kyle is constantly on the phone, with the catering company that he's using for the little party at his house and with Butters, who's complaining that Kenny and Wendy are in a fight over what he should wearing during his speech.
"Give me that," someone says in the midst of Butters' rant about whether or not he should be allowed to wear barrettes in his hair during his address to the UCLA graduates. They're a regular staple on his show, along with frilly aprons. He might be fully clothed on his show these days, but he hasn't given up his accessories.
"Is this Kyle?" Cartman barks into the phone. Kyle holds it away from his ear, rolling his eyes.
"Yes," he says, dragging the phone back reluctantly. "What do you want?"
"I hear you're doing the after party," Cartman says. "I was just wondering - are we talking open bar, or just some shitty boxed wine and domestic beer?"
"I'll have wine and beer, and someliquor," Kyle says, gritting his teeth and preparing himself to be called cheap. "And the wine is not shitty."
"Sure it's not, Kyle, sure it's not. Wendy and I just took our spring break in the south of France, so you'll excuse me if my standards are a little bit higher than yours."
"You went to France?"
"Yeah, and it fucking sucked! But what my ho wants, she gets. The wine was pretty good, I guess, but really, my point here is - how much pre-gaming do I need to do? Just shots, or like, a full on fifth?"
"Do not show up to my party trashed," Kyle says. "Our lease is up in three weeks, and if you fucking puke on the carpet -"
"Excuse me, I believe you're the expert in puking from being too lily soft to hold your liquor. I've got a liver of steel."
"Whatever - goddammit, Cartman, can I talk to Wendy?"
"Wendy is having a fight about Butters' hair accessories right now, can I take a message?"
"Yeah, the message is, 'don't let your oafish lush of a fiance puke on my goddamn carpet, and if you do, you're footing the cleaning bill.' Now put Butters back on."
"I hate you, Kyle," Cartman says, and there's a hint of whimsy in it that makes Kyle think he's already had a few beers with lunch.
"Kyle?" Butters says.
"Yeah, I'm still here."
"So what do you think? Wendy says it's unprofessional, but I wear those things on my show, and my show's real professional!"
"Butters, wear whatever you want. That's what this whole speech is about. That's why I picked you. You are who you are, and you don't let anyone tell you that you shouldn't be."
"That's right! Not even my manager!"
"Not even her," Kyle says, though he knows Butters will have his work cut out for him when it comes to talking Wendy into something that she thinks might hurt his image.
"Who was that, Kyle?" his mother asks when he hangs up. They're all lounging about the hotel room, Sheila ironing the suit jacket she'll wear to the ceremony, Gerald answering emails on his phone, and Ike staring at the television, the remote resting on his stomach.
"That was Butters," Kyle says. "And Cartman."
"Eric Cartman? Oy, don't tell me he went to UCLA, too?"
"No, he went to Berkeley," Kyle says. He joins Ike on the bed and flops down to stare at the TV. Ike is watching that cartoon about two brothers who look nothing alike. Kyle forgets the name of it, but it's pretty cute, and Ike says the two main characters are like them. One of them is short and red-haired, and the other one is a stoic but friendly foreigner.
"Berkeley!" Kyle's mother pauses in her ironing and turns to him. "Eric Cartman at Berkeley? That's - unexpected."
"Yeah, well, his girlfriend goes there," Kyle says. "Or, his fiancee, now, I guess, Jesus. She's the reason they're in town for the ceremony. She's Butters' manager, and she babysits him whenever he makes an appearance."
"Oh, that's right, the Testaburgers' daughter! We've heard she's quite the little go-getter."
"Her father acts like she's the next Scott Boras," Gerald says, frowning down at his phone. "Just because she's planning the social calendar of her little friends from school who happen to have gotten famous. Never trust an entertainment lawyer, Kyle! They're coattail riders at best."
"Okay, Dad," Kyle says. He gives Ike a look, and Ike grins.
"Whatever, man," Ike says. "Don't you guys know I'm going into entertainment law?"
"Ike!" Sheila takes her hand from the iron and puts it over her heart, gaping at him.
"Very funny, son," Gerald says. "I think we both know real estate malpractice defense is the only viable option for law students right now."
"But I want to represent rap stars!" Ike says.
"Oh, stop it with the funny business!" Sheila says, waving her hand in Ike's direction. "Is Eric Cartman in law school, too?" she asks, looking worried at the prospect.
"No, he majored in psychiatry," Kyle says. "He says he's going to disprove it as a science from the inside, or some crazy shit."
"That sounds like Eric," Gerald says.
Fifteen minutes later they're all getting ready to leave, Kyle warning them about the traffic and his mother asking him how on earth he managed to live here for almost four years. Kyle has his robe and hat in the car, and he worries as they ride down to the lobby that Stan will somehow forget his. He sends a text to remind him.
Cap and gown, dude?
Stan doesn't respond until Kyle is buckling himself into the driver's seat of his car, Ike up front with him now. Kyle snorts when he reads Stan's message.
yes dear I have my outfit
"What?" Ike says when he sees Kyle flushing as he puts his phone away. "Are you getting dirty messages from Stan?"
"Ike!" Sheila says.
"No," Kyle says, shoving his brother. "Just - ah."
"What?" Ike says. He pinches the side of Kyle's neck, making him cringe. "Tell us."
"He called me dear!" Kyle says. He flushes harder in the silence that follows, and hits Ike again when he fails to contain his laughter.
"You two are getting pretty serious, huh?" Sheila says.
"We've been serious, Mom," Kyle says. "I moved across the country for him. We live together."
"And he paid for your school," Gerald says, still sounding somewhat resentful about this. Stan only paid for Kyle's first two semesters. After that, he was able to secure a loan from the one funding source that would actually honor his credit: Butters, who is charging him no interest and has told Kyle he can pay the money back 'whenever he feels like it, no hurry.' Kyle should be able to pay for law school himself, since he'll get tuition reimbursement and a stipend for teaching freshman civics courses, but he's still glad to know that Butters has his back if he needs book money.
"Well, it had better be pretty serious," Sheila says. "Since Laura and Mel are taking him into their home."
"They've met him and they love him," Kyle says tightly. "They trust him to be good to me. I'd think maybe you would, too, after four years."
"Three and a half, and it's not that I don't think Stan is a good boy! It's just, well, Kyle, it will be a big change for him, moving into your world."
"New York is hardly my world," Kyle says.
"She means Jew world," Ike says.
"Ike!" Sheila shouts. "Don't be crass!"
"Your mother's just concerned about how Stan is going to adjust," Gerald says, the mildness of his tone only aggravating Kyle further. "It's very hard to find a job right now -"
"Stan will be fine," Kyle says. "People like him. He's the kind of guy who gets hired."
"In Los Angeles, maybe," Sheila says, scoffing.
"Just don't give him a hard time today, okay?" Kyle says. "He worked really hard to graduate on schedule with me. He had to take a lot of hard math courses for his major."
"For a Nutrition major?" Ike says, his genius-level snobbery surfacing in his tone.
"Yes!" Kyle says. "It's - a sciences major, okay? He's a bachelor of science. That involves math." Tutoring Stan in Calculus was one of the hardest parts of Kyle's college experience, but they got through it, and Kyle wonders if Stan remembers what Kyle promised to do for him if he managed to graduate on time. It was a deal they made years ago, and Kyle hopes he won't end up being more excited about going through with it than Stan, who might have been joking when he suggested it. Kyle has made extensive preparations over the past few months.
"I just don't want him to end up lounging around Laura and Mel's house while you go to class!" Sheila blurts after a few minutes of tense silence. "I'd be so embarrassed."
"Why would you be embarrassed?" Kyle asks. He cranes his neck to glare at her in the rear view mirror. "He's my boyfriend. I'd be embarrassed. And that's not going to happen."
"I don't know, Kyle," Gerald says, towing his mother's line as usual. "Maybe he feels like we owe him since he paid for your undergrad courses."
Kyle's parents are under the impression that Stan paid for his entire UCLA experience, not just two semesters. They'd be doubly horrified if they realized that a scholarship furnished by the porn industry actually footed the bill.
"Guys, lay off," Ike says before Kyle can explode. "Stan isn't looking for a free ride. He just wants to be with Kyle. That's what all of this has been about, right?" He whacks Kyle's thigh.
"Of course," Kyle says, squeezing the steering wheel. "Not that anybody listens to me when I say so."
"I listen," Ike says.
"We're only thinking of you, bubbeh," Sheila says. "You know we adore Stanley, and you boys are very sweet together, but he does come from a broken home -"
"Look, we're here!" Kyle says, loud enough to make the air in the car feel tight again. "Wow, my college graduation, here it is! Maybe everyone could go easy on me for, like, an hour?"
"Sounds fair," Ike says.
"Kyle, calm down," Gerald says. Sheila just huffs and folds her arms across her suit jacket.
Kyle is glad that they're running late, for the excuse to hastily part from his family as soon as he's parked the car. He grabs his cap and gown and jogs into the stadium, following the instructions of the organizers who are herding graduates into alphabetical groups. Kyle ignores the section that he should be bound for and heads toward 'M-P,' pulling his gown on over his head as he walks. He leaves the cap off for the time being, wanting Stan to see his hair before it gets crushed.
It takes him much longer than it should to find Stan, who is not answering texts and probably left his phone in his car, or, God forbid, at some airport eatery. When Kyle finally spots him, wearing his cap and gown and talking to a puffy-haired girl who is about half his height, he breaks into a run and all but tackles him as soon as their eyes meet.
"Hey," Stan says. He wraps his arms around Kyle and lifts him up a bit, squeezing him. "Everything okay?"
"My parents," Kyle says.
"Oh, yeah. I feel ya. Hey, your hair." Stan pets it. "You went to that guy who hates Butters, didn't you?"
"He doesn't hate him." Kyle pulls back and runs his hand through his hair, enjoying its softness while he can. Soon it will be sweat-caked under his cap. "He just resents the success of others. I can relate. Jesus, you look cute." He glances at the girl Stan was talking to, checking to see if she's eavesdropping. She is, openly, beaming at them.
"It's so great to meet you, too," she says, sticking her hand out. "You're Kyle Breslinski, right?"
"Broflovski," Stan says before Kyle can. "And yeah, this is him."
"You guys are so brave!" she says as Kyle shakes her hand.
"Thanks," Kyle says, uncomfortably.
"You'd better go get in line," Stan says to Kyle. "It's about to start. Here, gimme that." He takes Kyle's cap and secures it on his head, arranging the tassel for him.
"Cartman is going to puke on our carpet," Kyle says, feeling ill with worry. He's thinking about Stan in New York, his possibly idiotic surprise for Stan tonight, Butters and his barrettes, everything that could go wrong in all arenas.
"If Cartman pukes on anything we own, I'll kick his ass," Stan says. He kisses Kyle between his eyes, ducking under the brim of his cap to do it. "And won't seeing that be worth the mess?"
"Maybe," Kyle says. He takes hold of the front of Stan's graduation gown, wanting a picture of him. There will be time for that later, but Kyle feels panicked at the thought that this moment will pass unrecorded.
"Are you okay?" Stan asks. He turns away from the admiring eyes of the girl in line behind him, blocking her view of Kyle with his body.
"I don't know," Kyle says. "Yes - no. I keep thinking about high school graduation. I'm having these awful flashbacks."
"I remember how hot it was," Stan says. He leans down to speak into Kyle's ear. "You were all sweaty," he whispers.
"Don't," Kyle says, but he's grinning. He kisses Stan on the cheek, more people staring now. Stan is still famous enough to make people wonder where they remember his face from. "Go graduate," Kyle says, pushing Stan back into line.
"I'll meet you by the front doors after, okay?" Stan says. Kyle nods, backing away. He feels like he'll wake from a good dream if he leaves Stan's sight, but he goes, holding his cap onto his head while he runs back toward the B's.
He's in line between two people he's never seen before, and the anonymity of his huge graduating class makes him think again of South Park. That town is still with him all the time, in the friends that he's managed to keep, the stories that he can't stop retelling, and in Stan. Everything he loved about that place lives in Stan: swimming in Stark's Pond when it was recently unfrozen and only nature freak Stan Marsh and his trusty sidekick Kyle would dare the icy water, his ass going numb on the stands at the Friday night football games, and those long walks home after school when the seasons were changing, the way the air would suddenly smell different. Stan never failed to remark on that. He was a connoisseur of South Park air, and usually described the scents in terms of whatever holiday was forthcoming: it smelled like Halloween, Christmas, the Fourth of July. Kyle would consider this and agree, thinking about every holiday in terms of how they would spend it together. Valentine's Day was the only one he dreaded. Now they have a tradition of staying in and getting drunk on champagne while watching basketball. This year, Stan got Kyle a fancy cheese grinder as a Valentine's Day gift, because he was always complaining about what a pain in the ass it was to wash the cheap one they'd used for the past three years. Stan tied a little red bow around it and left it on the counter where Kyle would find it when he went in to start dinner.
So Kyle is thinking about his cherished cheese grinder as he watches Butters take the stage to applause and cheers. The student body was amused and enthusiastic about the committee's ironic choice of graduation speaker, but their laughter-laced reception only makes Kyle more tense. Butters looks nervous, too, his hands fidgeting around the podium as he smiles out at the crowd, two sparkling blue barrettes holding back a tuft of his blond hair.
"Well, hi there!" Butters says, and everyone laughs, because that's how he often opens his cooking show. Kyle can see him struggling not to rub his fists together, something he became famous for during that Dateline interview. Kyle still hasn't seen it, but apparently Butters discussed a variety of abuses that had been visited upon him by various members of his family, talked about how Kenny had saved him and how the porn experiment had both set him free and re-caged him. Stan emerged from their bedroom with puffy eyes after seeing it, and he told Kyle not to watch it, ever. Kenny went on a month-long bender after it aired; that interview is the one thing he and Kyle have never talked about.
"A couple of friends of mine asked me to come here today and give you guys some advice about making it in this sort of mixed up economy," Butters says. "I've been real lucky in the past couple of years, but I don't think my personal experience is gonna be real relevant for most of you guys, considering I took a pretty unconventional road and all."
There's some laughter, but it's quieter. Kyle wants to retract his offer to have Butters do this. It's too hard to watch him being judged by this sea of anonymous graduates. They weren't there when he was South Park's whipping boy. Nobody here helped him climb out of that hole in his backyard, Kyle and Stan included.
"I'm not much of a financial planner, anyway," Butter says. "I've just had a lot of help from my good friends, and I think that's what I want to talk about today. With things the way they are now, people can get real worried about how they're gonna make it. I know I was when I left home. But the one thing that hasn't changed about the world since the economy went bad is that there's still the same amount of good people in it. We mighta lost some material things, but we're all still here, aren't we? And if that's true, nothing important has changed too much. I woulda been lost without my friends after I finished high school, and without them I never woulda had the courage to try anything. And still, it was kind of scary to believe in other people. What if they let me down? What if I let themdown? I'll tell you what, sometimes it's much easier to give help than to take it, and that's what a lot of you are gonna have to do."
Kyle wonders if Wendy approved this speech. It's verging on condescending, especially coming from a millionaire who is younger than quite a few of the graduates in the audience. Butters pauses and takes a deep breath.
"Four years ago I was sittin' up on a stage just like this one," Butters says. "Gettin' ready to graduate, and when I should have been excited and all that, I was just scared out of my wits and sad as heck. I didn't have any money of my own, and I felt trapped into doing something that I didn't want to do, just so I could maybe get a little money someday. But that wasn't why I was scared, and that wasn't why I was sad. All I could think about was what my life would be like if I lost my friends. Maybe I would have gone on and been a big success in college, but that wasn't what I wanted. Success would have been real hollow without the people I love. I know you folks don't need me up here telling you to appreciate the people you love, but I guess what I do want to say is that you shouldn't be afraid to lean on them if you have to, or to let them lean on you. Take care of each other, because after all, that's the only reason any of us wants to be all rich and successful, right? So we can take care of the people we love."
Kyle feels like Butters is speaking directly to him, and he remembers this feeling from his high school graduation. He's asked Wendy if that part of her speech was intended for him, four years ago: Tell the people who you love how you really feel while you still have time. She laughed and told him she'd written that line for Stan, but it was about Kyle, so she'd subconsciously looked at him when she said it.
"A very smart friend of mine once said we're always told to believe in ourselves, but we need to believe in and trust our friends, too," Butters says. His voice has evened out now, and his hands are relaxed on the podium. "I'd take that a step further and say that, around our age, we're all told we're supposed to be figuring out who we are and what we want to be, but that sort of happens automatically, and sometimes the hard part is sharing who we are and what our dreams are with the people we care about. I kept a lot of myself hidden for a long time, and when it finally came out, boy, it really came out!" He beams then, telling the crowd it's okay to laugh, and when they do it's not unkind.
"If I can be metaphorical for a second here," Butters says, growing serious again. "You don't have to be buck naked on the internet to get free of whatever was holding you back, but sometimes it doesn't hurt in the long run, and if you had to get buck naked to get where you wanted to go, well, that's okay. You're gonna try a lot of different things, and you don't have to call all the half-starts mistakes. Keep a sense of humor, keep your friends close, and keep your clothes on if you want to, but don't be afraid to take 'em off, either. Growing up, I always got told that the world was just waiting to take advantage of me, that I had to be protected from it, and that's not always bad advice for a kid, but you know what? The world can be kind and understanding, too, and if it can surprise the heck out of a homeless runaway who survived pray-the-gay-away camp and just wants to make an honest living baking some gosh dang cupcakes, it can surprise you folks, too."
Kyle isn't sure at first that this was intended to be the end of Butters' speech, but this statement reaches such a crescendo that people burst into applause, the heavily pierced guy standing next to Kyle actually wiping tears from his cheeks as he whistles his approval toward the stage. Butters smiles and waves with both hands, barrettes sparkling in the sunlight, and that does seem to be the end of his speech, because he's stepping away from the podium. Kyle claps along with everyone else, well aware that his committee will be getting a lot of angry complaints about that naked on the internet metaphor, but really, what the hell does he care if some people didn't get it? He's out of here, done, moving on.
The collecting of diplomas takes forever and almost makes Kyle regret attending the ceremony. He's exhausted by the time it ends, and he's not sure how he managed to think they would be having a brunch after this. It will be four o'clock by the time they get to the restaurant where he's bumped back his reservation twice by text; they'll be there for happy hour. He finds Stan in their designated meeting place, standing beside his mother, who is indeed very suddenly blond.
"Kyle!" Sharon says when she spots him. He squeezes through the departing graduates and hugs her, giving Stan a wide-eyed look over her shoulder as her newly blond hair brushes his cheek. Stan makes a helpless hand gesture and shrugs.
"It's so good to see you," Kyle says to Sharon when he pulls back, and it's true. Sharon is the font from which all of Stan's calmness springs, and having her around makes Kyle feel so grounded. That weekend when they went to the Fiesta Bowl was more fun than Kyle had dared to anticipate, and he happily allowed her to grill him on the details of how Stan finally confessed his feelings. Most of the details, anyway.
"Look at you, Mr. Stylish!" Sharon says when Kyle pulls his cap off.
"Oh, yeah," Kyle says, trying to reinvigorate his dampened hair. "Aren't we supposed to throw these things or something?" he asks, lifting the cap.
"I think that only happens in the movies," Stan says. "Followed by a raging house party."
"Well, we are getting ready to go to a party," Kyle says. "You and Randy are both coming?" he says to Sharon.
"Yes," she says, and she laughs. "Don't look so frightened. We can be in the same room without killing each other these days."
"What did you think of Butters' speech?" Kyle asks, hoping to change the subject for Stan's sake.
"I cried," Sharon says. "Just a little. What a sweetheart. Stan sort of filled me on - things. The Stotches moved out of South Park years ago, I think because they were ashamed of him. It breaks my heart."
"He's a heartbreaker, that Butters," Stan says. "Wendy is considering branding him as America's Sweetheart."
"That's so stale," Kyle says, surprised she would consider it.
"That's what I said," Stan says, and Kyle is pleased to hear it.
They find Kyle's family and everyone exchanges loud greetings over the noise of the crowd, hugging and remarking mostly on Butters. Randy shows up and gives Kyle a bear hug, asking where the party is. Kyle has never been able to tell if Randy actually likes him or is just drunk in his presence most of the time. Even when he was a kid he felt this way.
Kyle gets deja vuwhen he sees Wendy pushing through the crowd, but she's not wearing a graduation gown this time, though her hair is exactly the same as it was four years ago, when they were gathered outside the South Park Cows stadium in the heat. Today Wendy is wearing a short orange sun dress, ten pounds heavier than she was in high school and that much hotter for it. Heads turn as she moves through the crowd, and she hugs Kyle first, pointedly, he thinks.
"So?" she says as she moves to hug Stan. "What did you think?"
"A masterpiece," Stan says. "Did you write it?"
"No way! That was all Butters. I did gently suggest that he bring up the gay camp thing, because that's one of our issues. C'mon, everybody should come backstage! There's a bunch of food and stuff back there."
"Stuff?" Randy says.
"Booze," Wendy clarifies, and she hugs him.
They head into the stadium's makeshift green room, where Butters is sitting in Kenny's lap, bouncing a little, Kenny's arms looped around his waist. Cartman is picking over the buffet, a whiskey-colored cocktail in his hand. Butters gets up when the group of Marsh and Broflovski affiliates pour into the room, and everyone fawns over him for awhile, hugging him and complimenting him on his speech.
"I was real nervous," Butters says when Kyle takes his turn to hug him. "I'm not used to being up in front of people without a whisk and my knives and all that!"
"You did awesome," Kyle says. "I'm really proud of you, okay?"
"Okay," Butter says, smiling sheepishly.
"Wait, wait!" Sheila says when Kyle starts to move away. "Let me get a picture of you two!" Suddenly she's Butters' biggest fan, still blotting tears.
When Kyle has escaped his mother's camera he walks over to Kenny, who looks rough as hell, sipping water, still hungover. They slap each other's hands.
"I'd get up, but I'm dying," Kenny says.
"Mine never quite hit me fully," Kyle says. "I think it got lost in all the excitement." He goes to the buffet and pops a piece of cheese in his mouth.
"If I'd known we'd have this sweet spread I wouldn't have wasted my time on the phone with you before," Cartman says to Kyle, elbowing him. "I forgot Wendy's got Butters set up to get a feast for every speaking engagement, plus an open bar for me."
"Excuse me," Kenny says, bending backward to look at Cartman. "The open bar is for me. I negotiated that part of the contract."
"Well, you blew your liver out last night, apparently, so all the more for me." Cartman toasts himself and drains his glass.
"Everybody help yourselves," Wendy says, ushering them over to the buffet. "I keep adding stuff to his rider and they just keep giving it to him. Try the coconut shrimp, they're amazing."
"Butters' coconut shrimp are better," Kenny says.
"Well, of course." Wendy rolls her eyes. "But he's not going to cater his own green room."
"Keep working on the line of Leopold Stotch frozen foods and maybe someday he will," Kenny says.
"I don't want to do frozen foods," Butters says. He sits in Kenny's lap again, a bunch of grapes cupped in his hands.
"You should really consider it," Wendy says. "It's a huge market."
"How's Jimmy doing?" Stan asks. "We invited him to the party tonight but he said he had plans."
"Oh, yeah, he's in Chicago doing live shows this week," Wendy says. She pulls out her phone and taps the screen a few times. "He'll be back in L.A. on the fifth, you guys should get together with him before you move."
"God, I can't believe you're moving," Kenny says, groaning. "New York is a filthy snake pit. We have perfectly good law schools here."
"Now Kenny," Sheila says. "Don't make them feel guilty for perusing Kyle's educational dreams." She's at the buffet, pouring herself a glass of wine. Kyle realizes that this is going to be a big drinking day and hopes that Stan won't get too wasted. He needs him sober for later activities.
"Maybe we could tape the show in New York while Kyle is in school," Kenny says. He looks up at Butters, who nods enthusiastically, his mouth full of grapes.
"Sure!" he says. "Wendy says I should open a restaurant there, anyway."
"Yeah, and Kenny could be a bus boy!" Cartman says.
"Eric!" Wendy snaps.
"Man," Stan says, coming to stand beside Kyle. "Still gives me the creeps when she calls him that."
"What are you up to lately, Kenny?" Gerald asks.
"Smoking pot and being a kept boy," Cartman says. Wendy takes an apple from a basket full of them and throws it at him. Kyle shouts with laughter when it bounces off of his back.
"Whoa," Stan says.
"Ey!" Cartman says, but he continues constructing a cheese and cracker tower at the buffet.
"Act like an adult," Wendy says.
"But - uh!" Cartman gives her a helpless look. "That is what he does!"
"I'm writing my memoirs," Kenny says, muttering. He's rubbing his fingers over his eyes like the noise in the room is starting to get to him.
"Same thing," Cartman says, rolling his eyes.
Kyle cancels the impossibly late brunch reservation once and for all, and they camp out in the green room, snacking and partaking of the mini bar. Kyle limits himself to a small glass of wine, and is glad when Stan only drinks a few beers, though they still have the party to get through later. He could always postpone his surprise until the morning, but he's been waiting a couple of years already, and this has, insanely, become one of his top fantasies, maybe because he was afraid for awhile that it wouldn't come true.
"I'm gonna head over to the apartment and get everything set up," Kyle says when everyone is distracted by Wendy's story about some famous actress Jimmy met backstage on the set of the Jimmy Kimmel show.
"I'll come with you," Stan says.
"No, no, you've got to herd everyone there at six," Kyle says. "You stay." He kisses Stan's nose, then his lips. The party isn't the only thing he needs to set up for, and he feels kind of tingly already, thinking about what it will be like when the guests leave, when Stan is undressed in bed, waiting for his surprise.
"Alright, if you're sure you don't need help," Stan says. He looks a little sad, was probably hoping to have sex before the party. Kyle shakes his head.
"I'll be fine," he says. "I just have to run by the liquor store and get the food set up. I think between you, Wendy and Kenny you can carpool everyone there?"
"Sure," Stan says. He pulls Kyle back for another kiss when he tries to leave, and Kyle checks over his shoulder. Everyone is laughing at Wendy's story, ignoring them.
"I kinda wish we weren't doing this party," Kyle whispers to Stan. "It'd be nice if we could go back - just me and you."
"No kidding," Stan says.
"Oh, well, that'll make it better later." Kyle gives Stan's forehead an overly dainty kiss and pulls away. "See you in about an hour," he says, and Stan nods, giving him a sad little wave.
Maybe it's just the wine, but Kyle feels more at peace than he has in awhile as he sits in traffic on the way back to their apartment. Rush hour is his favorite part of the day, usually only if he's not actually driving, just for the way the light gets. He'll miss this in New York, though he's sure he'll come to love the light there, too. As he shops for last minute beer and vodka at the liquor store, he daydreams about what their lives in New York will be like. Stan will get a job in the city and commute with Kyle. They'll read together on the train, sharing a newspaper. Once a week they'll coordinate their lunch breaks and go to some amazing hole in the wall place where you can get a cheap plate at the counter, crowded and humid and necessitating closeness. Stan will be clueless about the subway and Kyle will pretend to be an authority. They'll get lost and discover weird little neighborhoods. At the end of the day they'll ride back to Laura and Mel's house and take quiet showers together, have quiet sex, and join the family for cocktails before dinner. Stan will help with the dishes while Kyle and Laura fight about international politics. Mel will make them listen to old records. Kyle will get drunk and sentimental and make Stan hold him all night when it starts to get cold, the chill creeping in through the drafty old windows. Stan will smoke pot with Ike on the weekends, and Kyle will drag them to art openings, ignoring them when they have stoner commentary and raid the hors d'œuvres.
He's smiling to himself as he checks out, and when he leaves the store he's less romantic about the late afternoon light. He's ready to move on from this stage in their lives, the whole state reminding him too much of the football days and their unfriendly outing. The only thing he's not ready to leave behind is Kenny. Butters, too, with his standing invitation to dinner on Sunday nights, during which Kyle always gains at least three pounds and then proceeds to sit in their jacuzzi like a stuffed turkey in the fryer. Kenny and Butters have been a fixture in his life since he arrived here after his winter break road trip with Stan. The trip was pure indulgence, all fast food and fucking, but Kyle was still pretty wound up by the time they actually reached California, afraid that he wouldn't fit into Stan's real life. Kenny and Butters made the place feel like home, and he doesn't know how he would have survived Facebook-gate without them.
As if he's been tipped off to the fact that Kyle is thinking about him, Kyle's phone buzzes with a text from Kenny as soon as he starts his car.
Yeah, Kyle sends back, Have to do party stuff. How are things there?
me randy and ike are outside doing a j while the rest of them yell at cartman for something he said
Wow. Even Butters?
no bc drove sharon and stan over to our place so sharon can see the pool and shit
Oh, Christ - so it's the Broflovskis and Wendy vs. Cartman?
something like that but i bet wendy will end up d-fending him
Kyle groans, annoyed with Stan for leaving his car at the stadium, though he doesn't blame him for wanting to escape the fireworks. He puts his phone away and drives back to their apartment, juggling the bags of booze as he lets himself in. There's a message from the caterers when he checks his phone again, and he calls back to tell them he's ready for their delivery. Butters offered to do the food for the party, and also offered his house as a venue, but Kyle didn't want to stress him out on top of the already formidable task of giving the graduation address, and he wants his and Stan's parents to see their place, modest though it is. It took Kyle a good part of their three years here to figure out how to display Stan's football trophies respectfully but discreetly, and he thinks he's finally managed it, on the bookshelf in the living room, second shelf down, with a little potted cacti accompanying the Fiesta Bowl trophy and a votive candle holder with ironwork roses beside his Rose Bowl MVP. Stan calls it the gayest football trophy display in all of California, and Kyle says that's only fitting. Stan still gets calls from national networks asking for his opinion on gay athlete stories. He's among a dozen or so former college players who are out now, and Kyle suspects Stan gets the most lingering media attention because he's the most photogenic one of the bunch.
Before the caterers can arrive, Kyle goes to the bottom drawer of his dresser and digs out the package that's hiding under his winter sweaters. His heart starts racing as he goes into the bathroom to hide it under the sink for later, and he feels like an idiot in his excitement. He's nervous, too, afraid that Stan won't like this, and he hides the package well so that Cartman won't unearth it during a bathroom break and burst out into the party to humiliate Kyle to death.
Once the food arrives Kyle is preoccupied with party preparations, and he sets everything up on the narrow bar that looks into their kitchen, adding cocktail napkins, toothpicks, and rolled bundles of silverware. They're only having ten guests, and Kyle might have over-ordered, but he is an anxious host and it's always better to have leftovers than not enough. He sets up a makeshift bar on the kitchen counter, and he's laying out wine glasses when the first guest knocks.
"Hey!" his friend Stacy says when he opens the door. She thrusts a bottle of wine at him. "Am I early?"
"A little," Kyle says. "But that's okay, c'mon in." He takes the wine and hugs her hello. Stacy works with him at the law library and also graduated today, Pre-Law. Her father is on business in Japan and her mother is estranged in some manner that Kyle hasn't had the nerve to investigate, so he thought it would be nice to include her in their celebration, though he fears Ike will hit on her. She's Ike's type: older, blond, vaguely damaged.
"Fancy!" Stacy says when she sees the platters of food lined up along the bar. "Everything looks good. I don't want to be the first to dig in."
"Go ahead, I've already picked at it," Kyle says. He's starving, suddenly, and can't stop taking pieces of sushi from the long tray of rolls. "And feel free to stuff yourself, I ordered too much."
"Where's Stan?" Stacy asks, peering over her shoulder. Kyle is pretty sure she has a crush on Stan, which means Ike might be her type, too: tall with black hair and a kind of sex-infused zen.
"He's on his way, I think," Kyle says. "Last I heard he was with his mother and Butters, touring the Stotch-McCormick manor."
"Ooh, are Butters and Kenny coming?" Stacy asks. "My roommate always grills me for details about them. That speech was so cute today. The girl next to me was crying."
"The guy next to me, too," Kyle says. "And yeah, they're coming. Kenny is hungover and apparently stoned, too, so he might pass out on the couch as soon as he gets here."
"Did I ever tell you I watched their videos?" Stacy asks as Kyle hands her a glass of wine.
"Yes, you've told me."
"Kenny is hung, my friend."
"Ew, don't!" Kyle winces and waves his hands in front of his face. "Don't tell me that. He's like my brother-son hybrid."
"Is that some kind of mountain town thing?" Stacy asks, grinning. She grew up in New Haven and thinks that everyone from the suburbs of Denver marries their high school sweetheart, something for which Kyle can hardly blame her, considering.
By the time Kyle's parents and Ike arrive with Kenny, Stacy has helped Kyle pick out a playlist for the party, and the two of them have consumed half of the sushi. Butters and Sharon arrive shortly thereafter, followed by Wendy and Cartman, who is bearing a giant tray of sub sandwiches, despite the fact that Kyle told him not to bring food. Kyle checks his phone for messages from Stan
, who has been tasked with wrangling his father, but there's nothing. He returns to the party, trying not to worry. Ike has already zeroed in on Stacy, and apparently she's had enough wine to find his lightly baked presence charming, because she's laughing at something he said. Kyle grabs a piece of Cartman's sub and goes to sit beside Kenny on the living room couch.
"Want some food?" Kyle asks, angling the sandwich toward Kenny's mouth. He holds up his hand.
"No," he says, looking grim. "Shit. Why did I smoke with them?"
"I don't know," Kyle says. He takes a bite of the sandwich and slumps back onto the cushions, watching Butters covertly add salt to the hummus. "That was pretty heavy today," Kyle says. "Listening to his speech. I guess I can't blame you for wanting to, uh. Unwind."
"Look at him," Kenny says, lifting a hand in Butters' direction. "How is he so great?"
"I don't know, Kenny." Kyle eats more, though he should really slow down. He's worked hard in the past three weeks to be in good shape for Stan's surprise tonight.
"More importantly, what is he doing with a fuck up like me?" Kenny says.
"You're not a fuck up," Kyle says, shouldering him. "You're his hero."
"That's so demented. What did I ever do for him? Got him involved in porn?"
"You were the one who didn't want to do it at first! He was all for it and you know it."
"But I should have protected him from that part of himself." Kenny winces and pulls at his hair. Kyle sighs, chewing. He's heard this particular lamentation roughly eight hundred times since he moved to California.
"Weren't you listening to Butters' speech today?" Kyle asks. "He has no regrets. He's doing great, and you're a big part of why."
"Cartman's right, though," Kenny says, mumbling. "I just get high on his dime and hang around. What's the point of me? What am I doing with my life?"
Kyle wants to rant at him for being self-pitying when Butters' money could offer him so many opportunities. He thinks back to four years ago, high school graduation, how Stan pulled him aside at Wall-Mart to make sure he would be careful with Kenny's feelings. Kenny just sat through another graduation ceremony that all of them participated in except for him. Even Wendy and Cartman had their green room duties. Kenny was just there to supply the pot.
"Why don't you get your GED and go to college?" Kyle says, though he's suggested this a thousand times before and Kenny always scoffs. "You might find it really rewarding."
"Kyle, how many times do I have to tell you? I'm enrolled in the school of life."
"That's such stoner bullshit! But it's fine, really, if that's what's making you happy. You don't seem happy, though. I mean, what do want to do? What are you interested in?"
"Tanning?" Kenny says, rolling his head toward Kyle's on the couch cushion.
"Oh, please. You like other things. You like music."
"So what am I supposed to do, learn how to play the trombone?"
"Why not? God, Kenny, you could do anything! You're only twenty-two years old, you're rich as fuck, and Butters is the most accepting person in the world, so he'll be happy with whatever you decide. I think it's time to stop feeling sorry for yourself."
Kenny sighs and stares down at his knees, wagging his left one lazily. Kyle checks his phone again, but there's still no word from Stan.
"You know, there is actually something I want to do, but you'll laugh," Kenny says.
"I will not. What is it?"
Kenny looks at him sheepishly. "Film school," he says.
"Why would I laugh at that?"
"'Cause I kind of want to make porn, okay?" Kenny says, sitting up. "Not with me in it, and there's no way in hell I'd let him do it again, but like, quality porn, with story. Is that stupid? Does that mean I've learned nothing?"
"It's not stupid at all," Kyle says. "You know how often me and Stan complain that gay porn sucks? It's not even worth making fun of."
"You and Stan talk about porn a lot, huh?" Kenny says, smirking. Kyle elbows him.
"Well, enough that I think there's a market for the discerning gay man," Kyle says. "Oh, Jesus," he says, sitting up and staring down at the remains of his sandwich.
"Nothing, it just kind of hit me. Did we allreally turn out gay?"
"Such is the magic of South Park," Kenny says. "And, hey, there's always Cartman."
Cartman turns from the buffet and narrows his eyes at Kenny.
"Are you assholes talking about me?" he asks.
"Only about how masculine and virile you are," Kenny says. Cartman makes a face.
"Quit checking out my ass, Kenny!"
"How can I?" Kenny says. "It's like an elephant in the room. Literally. It must be addressed."
Cartman goes into the kitchen to make himself a drink, grumbling about pothead hippie losers, and Wendy stomps over to the couch area.
"Hey," she says in a whisper, pointing her finger at Kenny. "Do not tease him about his weight."
"Oh, Jesus, he can take it," Kyle says.
"No, he can't! You guys have to admit he actually looks good. I mean, he's not thin, but he's right at 250, and he's very sensitive -"
"I don't fucking believe this," Kenny says.
"He is!" Wendy actually stomps. "He'll go on a binge if he starts to feel insecure, and then he's gained twenty pounds before I can take the Oreos out of his hand, and I'm the one who has to hear him blubbering about how he's a fat ass after a fifth of whiskey - just don't, okay?"
"Okay, Jesus," Kenny says, holding up his hands. "Cartman is a sensitive flower, got it."
"Christ, don't act like Butters and Stan haven't given him similar instructions about you two," Wendy says, walking off.
"Wait, what?" Kyle says. "Huh?"
"I don't think she means our weight," Kenny says, slinging his arm around Kyle. "Probably with me it's, like, 'hey, um, Eric, can you please not tease Kenny for not having a high school diploma, he gets real sad about that sometimes.' And for you it'd be like, 'Cartman, you dick, don't you know Kyle still cries about his hair?'"
"I do not!" Kyle says, punching Kenny. He touches his hair self consciously, and it's still wavy, not a frizzy mess. Kenny laughs.
"Seriously, how much did you pay for that relaxer?" Kenny asks. "Two hundred bucks? Two fifty?"
Before Kyle can inform Kenny that he only paid one-forty, with tip, the door of the apartment opens and Randy Marsh makes his grand entrance, Saturday Night Fever-style.
"We stopped for tequila!" Randy says, hoisting a bottle. Stan walks in behind him, looking exhausted. Kyle hands the remains of his sandwich to Kenny and hurries to Stan.
"I'm fine," Stan says when Kyle hugs him. Randy is already in the kitchen, making Wendy laugh hysterically as he portions out shots.
"Are you sure?" Kyle asks, eying Randy.
"This is just what he's like on vacation," Stan says with a shrug. "Where's my mom?"
"Over there talking to Stacy," Kyle says, indicating the hallway that leads to their bedroom. He thinks of the package under the sink and how close all of his loved ones are to what he's secretly looking forward to. Maybe he should call the whole thing off. Ike walks toward them looking irritated.
"Marsh, your mom is totally cock blocking me," he says.
"What, with Stacy?" Stan snorts. "Don't blame my mom for your lack of game."
"That girl is fine as hell," Ike says, turning to look at her. "And she's so - not South Park-y."
"What's wrong with South Park girls?" Stan asks, and Ike snorts.
"I don't know, Marsh, you tell me. There's got to be some reason half the guys in your grade ended up boning each other instead of the available chicks."
"I think it was our sex ed class," Kyle says. "And something to do with Butters coming to school in a dress."
"For me it was Kyle," Stan says, wrapping his arms around Kyle from behind. He rests his chin on top of Kyle's head, and Kyle grins, because he knows Stan likes it when his hair has this particular texture. "Your brother ruined me for women," he says to Ike, who recoils.
"I'm not going to ask how," Ike says.
"I am," Kyle says, curious. Stan shrugs.
"We had so many sleepovers," Stan says. "I just hated it when you weren't in my bed. I used to wake up and look for you. It was like - when you wake up and you think it's Saturday morning, but then your alarm goes off and you remember it's actually Wednesday, and you have a test, and no clean clothes. That's what it was like, waking up without Kyle."
"Oh, fuck," Ike says, already backing away. "That's adorable, Marsh, really. Keep that kind of shit to yourself, okay?"
"Why does he call you Marsh all of a sudden?" Kyle asks, turning around in Stan's arms.
"I don't know," Stan says. "New York has made him too cool for first names."
"I was thinking about me and you in New York," Kyle says. He stands up on his tiptoes and kisses Stan along the line of his jaw, indifferent to Sheila's staring.
"Yeah?" Stan says. He doesn't seem to be in the mood to act like a proper host, either, lingering in the quiet of the living room with Kyle while everyone else bunches around the food. "You think I'll survive there?"
"Oh, sure," Kyle says. "You'll have a Jersey boy to protect you."
"Jersey is tougher than New York?"
"Are you kidding me? Yes. And anyway, I think South Park's tougher than both of them put together."
Stan smiles like this is the greatest compliment Kyle could have given him. They kiss near the bookshelf with the trophies, probably for an inappropriate amount of time, and Kyle breaks away grinning, pulling Stan toward the party.
By the end of the night, Kyle is very glad he over-ordered on food, and glad for Cartman's sandwich tray, too. Between the munchies and the nervous energy that keeps everyone gathered around the kitchen bar, they devour almost everything, just a few cheese cubes and cruditésremaining. Kyle ends up drinking too much, so he makes coffee, still thinking of his package under the sink as people begin to migrate toward the door.
"Thanks for having me," Stacy says when she hugs Kyle goodbye. She's the first one to make for the exit, but the others seem ready to follow her lead.
"Thanks for not making out with my jail bait brother," Kyle says, and she laughs.
"You were worried about that, huh?"
"He's got a history with intelligent older women. Don't ask. Drive safe!"
"C'mere you," Kenny says when Stacy is gone, pulling Kyle against him. He's out of it from some combination of his hangover, the earlier pot, and the wine and coffee he consumed during the party.
"It sure was a nice party," Butters says, and Kenny moves from Kyle to Butters, flopping against his back. "And thanks for letting me speak today," Butters says. "That was a real honor."
"It wasn't entirely up to me, but you're welcome," Kyle says. "Were you serious about trying to work out of New York?"
"Oh, sure!" Butters says. "The Big Apple! That'd be real exciting."
"Good. 'Cause I'm pretty sure I can't function without your Sunday dinners."
"Let's all get a penthouse together at the top of the Empire State Building," Kenny says, slurring. "Problem solved."
"I'd better get him home," Butters says, walking backward with Kenny still draped around his shoulders. "Night, fellas."
"Call me tomorrow, dude," Kyle says to Kenny, who waves in acknowledgement, though he seems to be in the process of falling asleep on Butters as they walk off together. Cartman is in a similar state when he leaves with Wendy, and she has to pry a handful of cheese cubes out of his palm on the way out the door.
"Thanks for having us," she says. "And congratulations, guys. I'm really proud of both of you."
"Have fun in Jew York if we don't see you before then," Cartman calls.
"Yeah, okay," Kyle calls after him. "Go sleep it off, fuh- freak." He can't believe he's censoring himself to save Cartman's feelings. Wendy turns back to give him an appreciative smile before they disappear around the corner.
The families leave next, everyone talking over each other with plans for breakfast together in the morning. Randy specifies that it should be a latebreakfast, and Kyle agrees. Stan offers to drive Kyle's family to their hotel, but the whole group is going to share a cab, and Kyle is relieved to hear it, though Stan remained fairly sober throughout the evening and seems fine to drive. Kyle can't wait much longer to give him his surprise.
"Jesus," Stan says when the door is shut and bolted. "Now I remember why we're antisocial."
"We're not that antisocial," Kyle says. He walks to Stan and loops his arms around Stan's neck, standing up tall to kiss him. "We have Kenny and Butters. And Stacy! Though I think she's only friends with me because she wants to bone you."
"She does not," Stan says. He seems to think that his attractiveness to women died off when he quit football, even though most of his customers at the cell phone store are female. "Anyway, fuck that. I want to bone you." He's walking backward toward the bedroom, pulling Kyle with him, perhaps a little more drunk than Kyle realized.
"Do you remember my text from earlier?" Kyle asks.
"The graduation present?" Stan says.
"That was real? I thought you were just trying to make me feel better."
"Nope, it's real. Can you guess what it is?"
Stan thinks for a moment, and Kyle's heart pounds. They're in the bedroom now, and neither of them puts on the light.
"Does it have to do with sex?" Stan asks.
"Duh, Stanley." Kyle pulls Stan's shirt off for him, throwing it onto the floor. "You really don't know?"
"Um, can I have a hint?"
"Nope." Kyle pushes Stan onto the bed and grins when he bounces. "Just get undressed. I'll be right back." He heads for the bathroom, hoping Stan will just assume he needs to pee. He's not sure if he's glad or disappointed that Stan can't guess what the surprise is. It was Stan's idea, but that was a long time ago, and maybe he wasn't serious when he requested it. Kyle had promised to do anything for him if he would just try to pass his math classes and graduate on time with Kyle. Another separation was out of the question, and Kyle was already planning on law school, knowing he would have to start right away. He didn't want to be bogged down by geographical concerns again, couldn't imagine more stress along those lines after what they went through during their first semester of college and the whole transferring process. When Stan settled on something Kyle would have to give him if he managed to pull off a timely graduation, they both laughed. At that point, Kyle had no plans to actually do it, but over the years his mind kept returning to it, until he guiltily admitted to himself that he wants it, badly, and wants Stan to go crazy for it.
Closed inside the bathroom, he looks at himself in the mirror and takes a deep breath. He hopes this thing will still fit after all the junk food and alcohol he consumed today. He's sweating as he digs it out from under the bathroom sink, where it weathered the party unharrassed. He's looked at it countless times since it arrived last week, whenever Stan was out of the apartment, but he's never had the nerve to try it on. Spreading it out on the counter while Stan waits on the other side of the door makes him feel like he's about to walk out onto a stage like the one he crossed while he accepted his diploma, sun-lit and watched by thousands of people. He reapplies deodorant and reminds himself that this is just for Stan, and that even if he laughs, Kyle can play it off like a big joke and forget the whole thing.
He turns around after he's dressed, checking the fit. The custom embroidery makes him blush, and he wonders if he shouldn't have left that part off. Too late now. He braces himself before adding the final touch. At some point he decided actual pom poms would be over the top, but two tiny green bows tied around particularly fluffy waves in his hair seemed like a good idea, once. Now he's not so sure, watching a full body blush creep down his neck and onto his chest.
"Everything alright in there?" Stan calls from the bedroom.
"Yeah," Kyle says. He takes another deep breath and walks to the door. This is stupid. He shouldn't do it. But Stan asked for it, and Kyle wants it, and here he goes. He cracks open the door just enough to stick his head out, not remembering the bows until it's too late.
"What are you doing?" Stan asks. He seems to notice the bows and smiles, confused. "I thought you were sick or something."
"I'm not sick," Kyle says, still hiding the rest of himself behind the door. "Or maybe I am. No - but - you might think -"
"Dude, what the hell?"
"Okay!" Kyle winces. "Remember - remember that one night when you were having a really hard time with Calculus, and you said you were going to fail, and I calculated that you couldn't if you wanted to graduate on pace with me?"
"Yeah," Stan says. He's stretched out on the bed in the dark room, wearing only his boxers. "What does that have to do with - whatever's happening?"
"Don't you remember?" Kyle promised himself he wouldn't be angry if Stan forgot, but he's already feeling hurt. "I said that if you passed that class, if you graduated on time with me, you could have anything -"
"Oh, shit." Stan sits up abruptly, his eyes going wide. "Seriously - seriously?"
"Oh, forget it, it's dumb!"
"Kyle, no, c'mere. Come - let me see."
Kyle moans and opens the door slowly, letting Stan see him. He wants to turn off the bathroom light, to throw the whole bedroom into darkness, but it's too late. Stan's eyes are crawling up and down his body, taking it in.
"Shit," Stan says, under his breath. He's not laughing. He just seems stunned. "I never thought –"
"I'll take it off," Kyle says, pulling down on the ridiculously short skirt. It's a South Park Cows cheerleading uniform, the thing Stan asked for when Kyle offered anything he wanted. Stan was joking, probably, and Kyle is an idiot for getting so fixated, for thinking Stan would really want this.
"Don't," Stan says when Kyle starts to turn. "Don't take it off. Jesus, c'mere. Fuck, Kyle."
"What? No, it's – I shouldn't have." His face is so hot, his knees pressing together. "You were joking –"
"I – maybe I thought I was. But I wanted – I always wanted it to be you. Get your ass over here."
"You wanted it to be me?" Kyle walks closer to the bed, toying with the end of the skirt. He's never wanted to be a girl, or to dress like one, but ever since Stan asked for this he's wanted to give it to him.
"After my games." Stan holds his arms out. "It wasn't enough to go to your house and get in bed with you when you were already asleep, or to sneak back to our place after everyone had stopped paying attention to me. I wanted you to be there, I wanted everyone to watch – Kyle –" Stan stops waiting for Kyle to get into the bed and crawls over to pull him into it. Kyle moans, still self-conscious, and kneels in front of Stan, his flush spreading all the way down to his thighs.
"I just wanted to show you how proud I am of you for finishing your program," Kyle says. "Even after all the football shit, all the crap you've had to go through." He puts his hands on Stan's shoulders and shivers when Stan's hands settle on his waist, because he's given a lot of thought to the way Stan would hold him while he's wearing this thing, careful and awestruck. "I'm thisproud of you, okay? Enough to make an ass of myself."
"Are you crazy?" Stan kisses Kyle's cheeks, his hands sneaking up under the hem of the tiny shirt. He still hasn't noticed the most incriminating feature. "You look amazing." His hands slide up over the back of the shirt, and Kyle's heart pounds, because there's no going back now. Stan's fingers pause when he's touching the M on one side of Kyle's back, the H on the other. Kyle watches Stan's eyes change as he feels his way over the letters.
"Turn around for a second," Stan says. "Is that –"
There's no part of Kyle's body that isn't stained pink when he pulls away from Stan and turns around, standing up in the middle of the bed to show him the back of his uniform. Nobody gets a name printed on the back of a cheerleading uniform, apparently, but Kyle always envisioned it this way, and he paid extra for these five letters.
"My name," Stan says. Kyle keeps his back turned, afraid to look at him.
"I thought—" Kyle says, and then he doesn't know how to continue. He feels the bed shift as Stan gets up, and then Stan's hands are on his shoulders, turning him around. Kyle stares at Stan's chest, watching him take one deep breath, and another. He drags his eyes up Stan's.
"I've been thinking about it all day," Stan says. "Since the ceremony, since you had to stand in a different section."
"What?" Kyle says. He's forgotten what he's wearing, feels more naked than he's ever been.
"About – how I want you to have my last name," Stan says. The mattress is trembling under their feet. Kyle thought they would either laugh this off or have crazy sex. His mouth is dry, and he thinks of how angry he got with Stan that day when he came to Kyle's dorm to confess, because Stan could have had everything, all that time, and he just wouldn't reach out and take it.
"It's legal in New York," Kyle says, his voice barely working, and that's when Stan drops onto one knee.
"Kyle," Stan says.
"No, wait!" Kyle kneels down in front of him, his hands sliding up to Stan's shoulders. "I have to be on my knees, too."
"Yeah?" Stan's smile is shaky.
"Just because I'm wearing a skirt, don't make me the girl." Kyle scoots closer, until their noses are touching, his arms looping around Stan's neck. "This is my proposal, okay?"
"Oh." Stan hiccups out some combination of a laugh and a sob. "I thought it was mine." He wraps his arms around Kyle's waist and pulls him forward so that Kyle's stomach is flush against his. Kyle leans back to study Stan's face.
"I can't wait to tell this story when people ask," Kyle says.
"What, how we got engaged?" Stan laughs, and there's relief in it, like he was actually worried that Kyle would say no.
"'Oh, it was somewhere between the moment when I walked out of the bathroom wearing a cheerleading uniform and the crazy sex.'"
"There's crazy sex?" Stan says, smiling wider.
"Well, yeah. This outfit isn't purely ceremonial."
The sex isn't actually crazy, but it's good, their eyes locked and their kisses long and slow, Kyle still mostly wearing the outfit. He ends up only staining the underside of the skirt when he comes, and he's pleased with this for about two seconds before he loses his mind to how hard Stan starts fucking him when he sees this: Kyle in a come-stained cheerleading uniform, wrecked by his orgasm, the bows in his hair coming loose. Apparently it's Stan's thing after all, no joke. Stan whimpers at the start of his climax and groans through the rest, pressing so deep into Kyle when he unloads that Kyle gasps and closes around him like a sprung trap. They're both holding on hard in the aftermath, tired and panting their breath, rib cages knocking together.
"You're really going to marry me?" Stan asks before he's even pulled out, leaning up onto his elbows. Kyle huffs.
"You really thought I wouldn't? Have you seen what I'm wearing?"
"That's – I thought maybe, 'cause I'm not Jewish -"
"Well – no, but, ah, I don't know. You're – and I'm – I don't have any prospects."
"What – jobprospects?" Kyle laughs, and Stan slides out of him. Kyle pulls Stan down to him when he tries to move away, and they're in a heap again, faces pressed together. "I never loved you for your prospects," Kyle says. "That was everybody else, all those football stadiums full of people. They loved you for how far you were going to go. I loved you anyway, before the snap, at the 50. I loved you when you ate crayons."
"But I don't want to be a loser," Stan says. "I don't want to be – I mean, not to be a jerk, but I don't want to be Kenny. You deserve more than that."
"You're not going to be a loser." Kyle pushes the skirt down over his hips, wiggling out of it. This is a serious conversation, and he should be naked for the occasion. He takes off the uniform shirt more carefully, dislodging one of the bows in the process, and lays the shirt out so that the MARSH on the back is showing. He doesn't bother to undo the other bow.
"What if New York eats me alive, though?" Stan asks when Kyle lies beside him again. "Your mom thinks it will, I can tell. Did you hear her earlier? She kept asking me if I considered Los Angeles a real city."
"Don't listen to her," Kyle says. "She's just jealous. She knows we're gonna have a great time in New York, and she's stuck in South Park."
"I don't just want to have a great time, though," Stan says. "I want to figure out what to do with my life."
"You will, dude! I believe in you, okay?" Kyle kisses him, beginning to feel sleepy as Stan's tongue slides against his. "You don't have to win trophies for me," Kyle says, whispering this against Stan's lips. He smiles.
"They were for you," Stan says. "That's why I wanted you in this." He rolls onto his stomach and touches the uniform shirt, smoothing it out reverently. "Are you really going to take my last name?"
"With a hyphen," Kyle says.
"That's so New York."
"You know what would really piss our parents off?" Kyle asks, grinning at the thought. Stan raises his eyebrows.
"I'm afraid to ask," he says.
"Kenny should officiate!" Kyle tugs on Stan's elbow when he only stares at him in response. "C'mon, it'd be hilarious. My mom would flip."
"Already this wedding is about pissing off your mother?"
"No, this wedding is about us and what we want. Haven't you always envisioned Kenny doing our ceremony? He was our biggest fan from back in the day, dude."
"That's true." Stan rolls Kyle into his arms. "Ike should be our ring bearer," he says.
"Whatever, he's my best man!"
"Then who's mine? You're my best friend. I mean, there's Kenny, but apparently he's the minister, so that leaves who? Wendy?"
"Better than Cartman. And I think this arrangement makes Butters the ring bearer, actually."
"Or the caterer."
They crawl under the blankets and stay up late whispering about their wedding, laughing like kids planning a water balloon attack. Kyle wants it to be in the fall, when the leaves are pretty, maybe in Mel and Laura's wooded backyard. Stan wants a chocolate cake with caramel frosting, which makes Kyle laugh, because that's what Butters served last time they were over at the house.
"What?" Stan says. "It was really good!"
When Stan finally falls asleep, Kyle spoons himself back against him and pulls Stan's arm across his chest like another blanket. It's his throwing arm, the one that was broken, the one that brought him to tears that were broadcast across the internet as Kyle kissed his cheeks dry. Maybe they should have been more careful, but Kyle couldn't stop himself that day at the physical therapy center, and Stan had held onto Kyle's elbows, keeping him close while Kyle whispered that he could do this, that everything would be fine. Kyle pulls Stan's knobby knuckles up to his lips and kisses them, unable to sleep for all the plans that are rushing through his mind. He wonders if they should tell everyone tomorrow morning at breakfast. Yes, of course they should. He can't even wait that long to tell Kenny, so he reaches for his phone on the nightstand, tucking himself back into Stan's arms while he types out the news. He sends and tosses the phone away, rolls over and sleeps with his face hidden in Stan's chest, dreaming about licking caramel frosting from his fingers.
In the morning they wake early but slowly, nuzzling at each other with irritable fondness, legs sliding together under the blankets. Stan plays with the mostly undone ribbon in Kyle's hair.
"Did I dream it?" Stan asks. Kyle shakes his head.
"I said yes. And I was wearing a Cows cheerleading uniform when I did, if that's the part you think you dreamed."
Stan yawns and stretches, and Kyle thinks about having sex but still feels a little exhausted after last night, which was fairly epic. He reaches for his phone on the nightstand and grins as he reads Kenny's response to the news of the engagement.
bout time broseph-lovsky
There's a second message that came just a few minutes later, shortly after four o'clock in the morning:
butters is so excited oh man he is drawing cake designs
"They're going to take over the plans for this wedding, aren't they?" Stan says, reading over Kyle's shoulder.
"Well, Butters might," Kyle says. He puts the phone on the nightstand again. "And Wendy, if you get her involved. Oh, God, if she's your best man, does that mean Cartman is going to attend our fucking wedding?"
"It would almost be weird if he didn't," Stan says.
"By what logic?"
"I don't know, he was there the whole time. He witnessed the magic."
Kyle uses his phone to make a preliminary guest list, and he starts to get texts from Butters before he can finish, with questions about what their colors will be, how they feel about fondant icing and whether or not they're going to have a theme.
"What are our colors?" Kyle asks. He could stay in bed like this all day, his knees propped up under the blankets, Stan's chin on his shoulder. He could get married like this, naked and cozy.
"Green and blue," Stan says.
"What, like, planet earth? Or a mermaid?"
"Fine, you pick!"
Kyle thinks about all the colors that were involved with their courtship. White, certainly, for the snow. Gold from Stan's Bruins helmet and his trophies. Green, too, for Kyle's ushanka, the South Park Cows, and Stan's tree hugging tendencies.
"How about green and white on the cake, and gold accents on the invitations?" Kyle says.
"Sounds good," Stan says. "As long as I get to wear a bad ass powder blue tux like the one Kenny wore to prom."
"Fine, and I'll wear the cheerleading outfit."
Kyle tackles him, and they end up having lazy sex, during which they ignore numerous calls to both their cell phones, and after which Kyle takes the bow out of his hair and ties it into Stan's.
"You should go to breakfast like this," Kyle says, smoothing Stan's hair down around the bow-tied section.
"My dad would cry," Stan says.
"Let me take a picture," Kyle says, crawling across the bed to get his phone.
"No way, dude!"
"Yes, way! We need to commemorate this moment!"
Stan allows Kyle to take two pictures, and the helpless sulk on his face makes Kyle laugh until he nearly falls off the bed. They start returning phone calls about the breakfast plans, and Kyle takes another picture of Stan, covertly, just because he can't believe Stan hasn't taken the bow out yet.
In the coming years, this will be the picture that pops up when Stan calls Kyle's cell: Stan with a little green bow in his hair, talking on the phone, a pitifully resigned expression on his face as he assures his father that, yes, the brunch service will include Bloody Marys. Kyle will smile every time he sees it, and will be able to say, when he steps away from whatever he was doing, Hang on, I should take this, it's my husband.
That's all for this one! Thanks for reading, guys.