A/N: So, this is it! I considered waiting to post, because I guess Saturday night is kind of a graveyard, but I'm too excited to be finished with this story and to have closure with it myself. This final epilogue (okay, the actual epilogue) is set further into the future than I originally imagined, and for good reasons, I think. Thank you for reading, you guys, and for your feedback, and for even giving this story a chance in a lot of cases! I always believed the insanity of mpreg would fit well with South Park and all its possibilities, and I'm really glad I gave the idea a chance myself, in part because I've had such awesome support from you guys throughout (been working on this for 6 months...!), so thank you thank you!
Staying away from South Park had been easy, but it was harder to stop thinking about the people who were still there. Kyle had friended her on Facebook, something she assumed was Stan's suggestion, and she kept up with her former night school classmates mostly through that medium. She still didn't believe in perfunctory conformist crap like social networking sites, but she did appreciate having a window on their lives. Ten years later, the once-pregnant boys of South Park were still her major interest when she logged in.
Kyle updated most frequently, almost obsessively. He posted pictures of Stan and Ellie, and occasionally he was tagged in group shots, usually by his brother, who seemed to have made a habit of posting pictures of Kyle in the midst of unflattering activities like eating a hot dog at a barbecue or wearing tight shorts while washing his car. Ike had some kind of crisis during college and was living with the Marshlovskis in Bailey, which was equidistant to Kyle's consulting job in Denver and Stan's various music students in South Park. Kyle frequently posted pictures of the house, which was situated on an impressive plot with mountain views. The fireplace had stonework that went all the way to the roof beams, and Stan and Ellie were regularly photographed in front of it, Ellie looking progressively less happy about this as she got older. Kyle was also fond of posting pictures of things Stan had cooked for dinner.
The others were of less interest to her, because they were less directly affiliated with Stan, who she still held a tiny, birthday-sized candle for. Kenny and Butters had listed their relationship status as 'It's Complicated' for almost the full ten years she'd been away, Craig had moved to Denver to room with Bebe and Tweek was dating Kevin Stoley's younger brother, who had just returned from college. Token and Clyde had gotten weirdly religious around the time Clyde lost 80 pounds and started posting pictures of himself completing triathlons, and they had adopted two children, a boy and a girl who were a few years younger than Nathan. Most of their pictures featured the happy family posing at expensive-looking vacation destinations. Wendy and Cartman had surprised everyone by remaining married since their freshman year of college and by being only moderately financially successful. They still lived in South Park, and they had two more daughters, three-year-old twins. Wendy had done the baby-carrying this time around.
As far as Henrietta could tell, no one except Butters looked at her Facebook. There wasn't much to see, aside from the occasional picture of her and Oleander dressed up for GalaxyFest or Halloween, and these were usually posted and tagged by Wren, who insisted that he only used Facebook because everyone at work would think he was weird if he didn't. He'd gotten awfully conformist since returning to Colorado to become a crusading labor rights lawyer. He claimed he hadn't moved home to be close to his parents again, but Henrietta and Oleander had to suffer through dinners in South Park every Sunday, featuring Wren's mother's vegan goop. Henrietta's mother usually came, too, and everyone would fawn over Oleander as if they hadn't just seen him the week before. He'd inherited Damien's dark good looks, but he was sweet, and only possessed a few odd qualities that she suspected were related to his partially demonic blood. As a baby he'd grabbed for her hair iron while it was still hot and hadn't gotten burned, and the sun didn't seem to affect his skin, either, though she still made him wear sunscreen, just in case. Grasshoppers were drawn to him for some reason, and he knew all the major and minor constellations before she taught them to him, but otherwise he was mostly a normal boy.
"What's that?" he asked her when she brought the mail in on a Wednesday afternoon that Oleander had mostly spent lounging in front of the TV. It was July, just a few weeks after his tenth birthday. Henrietta was examining a fat, pale pink envelope with a South Park return address, and he hopped up off of the couch to investigate.
"Looks like a baby shower invitation," she said as she tore it open. They were at the counter in the kitchen, in the house that was technically Wren's. He kept offering to marry Henrietta so that they could own property together, and she kept laughing him off. Whenever he stopped lawyering long enough to meet the right guy she wanted him to be free of any legal obligations to her or Oleander, who he'd already done so much for. Oleander called him Dad. They hadn't told him about Damien, but Henrietta planned to, someday.
"You are invited to attend the ten year reunion of Herbert Garrison's Night School for Unwed Fathers," Oleander read when Henrietta stood staring at the invitation in shock. "Hosted by Wendy and Eric Cartmanburger. Cartmanburger? That's their name?"
"It's - it's a portmanteau," Henrietta said. She wondered if they'd included her on the invitation list by mistake. "I guess it's better than Testaman."
"What's the night school for unwed fathers?" Oleander asked.
"It's how I finished up high school," Henrietta said, stroking his hair, which was flattened awkwardly in the back from the couch cushions. "When I was pregnant with you."
"Oh. Was Dad there, too?"
"No, he was in normal school."
"How come?" Oleander asked, following her to the fridge. She wasn't sure what she would do once she got there. "If it was for fathers?"
"That wasn't the official name," she said, gripping the fridge handle. "It was for all the pregnant kids."
"You mean those boys?" He'd read about them, of course.
"Uh-huh," she said.
"Not exactly." She opened the fridge and stared inside. One of the reasons she'd kept Oleander out of South Park, except to visit his grandparents, was that she didn't want anyone telling him about her culpability for those famous pregnancies.
"So are you going to go?" Oleander asked, still examining the invitation. "It says there will be punch and pie. And games for the kids. Can I go?"
"Absolutely not," Henrietta said. She was staring into the fridge, feeling threatened by its contents.
"How come?" he asked. "I want to meet kids from South Park. From where you and Dad grew up, I mean."
"People from South Park aren't very nice."
"But you and Dad are from there, and you're nice!"
"We weren't that nice back then," Henrietta said, closing the fridge harder than she needed to. Oleander was staring at her when she turned, holding the invitation carefully between his fingertips. He looked hurt. He had a very expressive face, unlike her and Damien, and freckles that reminded her of Bradley's.
"Are you and Dad going to go without me?" he asked.
"Dad won't want to go," she said. Wren had no use for those people. He was defensive at the mention of them, on her behalf, as if she deserved to be defended for what she'd done. "And I probably won't, either."
"It says to RSVP," Oleander said, pointing. "As soon as possible."
Henrietta resolved to call Wendy that night and tell her no, thank you, and to put on a haughty, disaffected voice that suggested she had nothing to apologize for. They were memorializing the whole fiasco, after all. By the time Wren got home she was trembling in fear and pouring herself some wine.
"How was your day?" he asked, kissing her cheek. The cheek kissing was just a show he put on for Oleander, who was at the table making origami mice. He'd gotten a big origami book for his birthday and was determined to master all of the designs by the end of the summer.
"It was fine," Henrietta said. "Come out here and look at the tomatoes for a minute. I'm worried about, uh. Chinch bugs." She hoped this sounded boring enough to Oleander to encourage him to remain inside with his paper mice. It seemed to work, and she slipped out onto the porch with Wren, shutting the door behind her.
"Where are they?" Wren asked, leaning down to examine the tomatoes, which were growing in a pot on the back porch. He was still in his work clothes, slacks and a tucked-in shirt, loosened tie. She would never get used to the sight of Wren in conformist digs, and she missed the red streak in his hair sometimes.
"I didn't actually want to talk about bugs," she said, quietly. She walked over to the plant and squatted down as if to study it. "I got something in the mail today, this invitation. From Wendy Testa - uh, Cartmanburger, whatever she calls herself now. To a reunion barbecue."
"Reunion of what?" Wren asked. "Our so-called victims?"
"Wren," she said, standing. "We did change their lives significantly. I can't believe you don't feel guilty sometimes."
"Please," he said, and he stood up, taking her arm to steady himself. "We gave those South Park cows five little miracles. If things had gone badly, of course I'd feel awful, but we were dumb kids who thought we were just messing around. And everything turned out fine. Obviously, since they're having barbecues. You're not thinking of going, are you?" he asked, making a face.
"Of course not," she said, and as soon as the words were out she wanted to. She rubbed her palms together, surveying the plants on the porch. She was more passionate about gardening than spell casting now, though she had found some useful herb garden tips in books written by witches. "Although," she said, pacing. "If they're inviting me - maybe there's no hard feelings."
"Yeah, and maybe they want to lure you to their bonfire so they can burn you at the stake," Wren said, reaching for her arm again. "I don't think it's a good idea, Henry."
"Olee wanted to go," she said. "To meet kids from South Park."
"Oh, God." Wren rolled his eyes. "He's better off not knowing those hicks."
"We were those hicks, once. Maybe, I don't know. Maybe he could have some kind of special bond with the South Park girls. And Token's son, too, if they come. I mean, those kids are only alive because I was carrying Olee when I cast the spell. It was really his magic."
"It's too surreal now," Wren said, shaking his head. "Talking about all that stuff. It makes me nervous," he said, his shoulders slumping.
"Because - Damien. I know we sealed him or whatever, but what if he finds a way to come back? I don't even like talking about it."
Henrietta gave him a hug to reassure him. She wasn't worried about Damien returning. He had never wanted a baby; he'd only felt threatened by it, but if he saw Oleander and the way they were living he would know that she'd long ago given up her plans to raise a mighty demon hunter.
They sat down to dinner without resolving the issue, and Henrietta served the eggplant casserole and salad that she'd prepared while fretting over Wendy's invitation. Most of the ingredients had come from her own garden, though she'd had to go to the supermarket for the tomatoes, because hers weren't ripe yet. Her neighbors tended to remark that she must know some magic spells for getting vegetables to grow so successfully in the uneven Colorado weather. She did, actually, but she didn't say so.
After dinner, she crept into Wren's office while he was distracted by Oleander, who was showing him how to make origami ninja stars. She got out her cell phone and dialled the number on the invitation.
"Hello?" It was Cartman; Henrietta rolled her eyes and wondered if she should hang up. She'd been hoping Wendy had listed her cell number and not the family land line. She steeled herself, determined to no longer be afraid of the kids who'd bullied her.
"Yeah, hi," she said. "I'm calling for Wendy."
"Who is this?" Cartman asked. She could hear the hysterical crying of several toddlers in the background, and a blasting television set.
"This is - it's Henrietta Biggle," she said, trying to pronounce her name with some measure of confidence. "I'm calling about an invitation your wife sent me."
"Oh, Jesus, she actually invited you?" Cartman said, and Henrietta prepared herself for an argument, but he was shouting for Wendy. "Glenda the good for nothing witch is calling," he said when she answered him.
"I'm so glad you called!" Wendy said, shouting to be heard over the noise of her household, which now included Cartman telling Kinglet to get off the computer and help him with something, presumably the twins. "I hope you're calling to say you can make it," Wendy said. "You and Oh - Oleander?"
"That's right - that's his name," Henrietta said, not wanting Wendy to think she was agreeing to come. She still hadn't decided. "And I - I have to say, I'm really surprised you invited me." It was possible that Stan had never told anyone else about what Henrietta confessed to him, but unlikely. He certainly had more loyalties to them than to her.
"We're always wondering what you're up to!" Wendy said. "I mean, Facebook is one thing, but it's been ten years, so. I've seen pictures of your son - on Facebook, I mean - and he's just darling. Reminds me of Bradley, only less -"
"Fey?" Henrietta said, and Wendy laughed.
"Yes, something like that," she said. "Anyway, we'd all love to see you. Stan's always saying that he should call you."
"He is?" Her heart beat faster at the thought. She was often still tempted to right click-save the pictures of Stan that Kyle posted on Facebook. It was such obvious boasting, Kyle's continuous announcements that someone so handsome was cooking him Swedish meatballs with egg noodles.
"Yeah," Wendy said. "I think he felt a kind of responsibility toward you, in a way, because he was there with you that day, you know. When you went into labor."
"Oh," Henrietta said, and she was quiet for a while. "Do you think many people would confront me about that?" she asked. "I mean - I guess he told you. About that day."
"He told us." Wendy sighed, and it sounded a little put on. "Honestly, it's all mucked up with the rest of the drama in my memory. What an exhausting time in our lives. I went through it myself when I had the twins, and I thought I'd be prepared for it since I'd been there when it was Eric who was pregnant, but, gosh. Nothing can prepare you for that!"
"Yeah," Henrietta said. She'd hated pregnancy, but as soon as she held Oleander in her arms he was the best thing that had ever happened to her, and she regretted nothing now, not even letting Damien fuck her over. "I don't regret what I did," she said. "If you're all happy."
"That's kind of why I want you to come," Wendy said. "I don't want to thank you exactly, but I want you to see - what's become of us, I suppose. I mean, Kinglet is my best friend. Some days I want to kiss your cheeks for making all this happen."
"Other times you probably want to punch me," Henrietta said.
"That's more Eric," Wendy said. "But not really, I mean - he loves Kinglet so much. She'll always be his favorite, I think," Wendy said, speaking quietly, "Because he's the one who carried her."
"Sounds like Cartman."
"So you're coming!" Wendy said. "Right?"
"I don't know," Henrietta said. She thought of Stan in some dorky polo and shorts, flip flops, a beer bottle. Kyle would be clinging to his arm the whole time, just like high school. "I wouldn't want the other kids to pick on Oleander because of - me. If they know what I did."
"We haven't told them about you and the whole spell thing," Wendy said, the noise of her household quieting, as if she'd walked into another room. "As far as they know, they're unexplained. So no one would pick on your son."
"Well, then, I guess - okay. We'll come."
"Excellent! Are you going to bring your, um. Will Wren come, too?"
"Oh - no. He's - he'll be out of town, for work."
"That's right! He's a lawyer. Good for you! I mean, for him. Okay, I'll add you to the guest list. You and Oleander. Terrific!"
She seemed nervous, and Henrietta was glad to hang up. No one quite knew what to make of her and Wren and the fact that they were raising Oleander together. People tended to assume they were a couple, and Henrietta let them think so, for Oleander's sake. They did share a bedroom, and a bed, and neither of them dated, Wren because he was too busy with work and Henrietta because she didn't want to subject Oleander to it. Also, she wasn't exactly meeting eligible bachelors on a regular basis. Most days she didn't leave the house except to take a walk around the neighborhood or run to the store for dinner supplies. She'd never worked, and had never been to college. Oleander had always kept her busy, and Wren kept her intellectually stimulated. She liked the life they'd made together, as hard to explain as it was. She was lonely sometimes, enough to remember Damien's dick fondly, and to think about Stan's smile in some recent Facebook picture, but she didn't feel an empty ache where a spouse should be, despite what her mother thought. They might not be fucking, but Wren made her feel loved.
She checked Facebook before going to bed, feeling anxious as she clicked through the usual pages, as if her former classmates now knew that she was spying on them. There was nothing new since that morning, and she ended up just zoning out and staring at Kyle's relationship status: Married to Stan Marsh.
"So?" Wren said when he walked into the bedroom, startling her. She closed the lid of her laptop and set it aside. "Did you call Wendy and tell her you can't make it to her garden party?"
"No," Henrietta said. "I mean, I did call her. But I said we'd come."
"Henry." Wren paused in unbuttoning his shirt, giving her a horrified look. "Why?"
"Because I want to," she said. "And Olee wants to. She assured me that it's not a - witch hunt."
"Oh, right," Wren said. He shook his head and pulled off his shirt. "Well. I hope you don't expect me to come."
"I will if you want me to," he said, and his eyes were soft when he looked at her again.
"It's really fine," she said. "I'll go with Olee and we'll spend the night with my mom. Then we can meet at your folks' house on Sunday for dinner."
"I just don't understand what you want from those people," Wren said.
"You can't see how I need closure?" she asked. "The last time I saw Stan Damien was trying to kill me. I was too afraid to talk to any of them after that, except through stupid Facebook, and even then I chicken out of commenting on things half the time. I need to - not apologize, exactly, but I need to respect them enough to show my face."
"I don't see how they ever respected you," Wren said. He put a t-shirt on over his briefs and got into bed. Henrietta was always fondest of him when he was dressed like this, or in a black v-neck and jeans on the weekend. She scooted closer to him when he turned away from her.
"Some of them were sweet to me in night school," she said.
"Stan was, I guess," Wren said, muttering. "That's who you want to see?"
It was barely a question. She sighed and rested her chin on Wren's shoulder. He smelled like mouthwash and bond paper.
"The others, too," she said. "I wonder about them. I had this connection with them, you know?"
"No," he said. "I never had a connection with those people."
"Wren," she said, rubbing his shoulder sympathetically. "Maybe it's more like our kids are connected. I want Olee to meet those kids."
"They'll just be mean to him. You know how those South Park people are."
"I always thought I did," she said. "But look at how they reacted to that spell we worked. I thought it would break up all of those happy little couples for sure. Obviously we underestimated them."
They fell asleep soon after that, and did not discuss the reunion party in the coming weeks, unless Oleander brought up, which he often did. He had a couple of neighborhood friends who he hung around with during the summer, but apparently they were boring, and he was excited to meet new kids.
"They're mostly girls, you know," Wren told him. "There's only one boy."
"I like girls," Oleander said. He seemed determined to like everything about South Park. Henrietta wondered if he felt a connection to the place just because his parents had grown up there, or if it had something to do with Damien and his father choosing it as their place to surface, or if it was a lingering remnant of the spell he'd unwittingly been part of casting. It could also be run of the mill kid curiousity. Henrietta was always afraid to find connections to Damien's bloodline in Oleander's actions, but she was rarely able to come up with anything that wasn't a big stretch.
On the day of the party, Henrietta woke up feeling nervous, and her stomach was too rocky to allow for a proper breakfast. She nibbled at some yogurt while Wren stared at her, not drinking his coffee. Oleander ate his frosted shredded wheat without noticing that either of them were on edge.
"What?" Henrietta said to Wren when Oleander got up to rinse his bowl.
"Are you really going to that thing today?" Wren had been bitchy to her ever since she agreed to attend. It was annoying. Their arrangement was so organic and undiscussed that she sometimes forgot she had the ability to hurt his feelings.
"I'm going," she said. "You can come, if -"
"No," he said. "Spending the first eighteen years of my life in the company of those people was more than enough, thanks."
They left at eleven, after Henrietta had stressed over her hair and outfit for almost an hour. She still dyed her hair black, mostly to match Oleander and Wren, who both had that color naturally. She wore it to her shoulders now, and her style wasn't as heavy-handed as it had once been, but she stuck to her two favorite colors, wearing a red shirt with plunging neckline and a black skirt. Oleander wore his South Park Cows shirt, a gift from Wren's mother.
"Who was your best friend when you were little?" Oleander asked as they drove down the highway, toward South Park.
"Your dad," she said. "He was always there for me." She felt a little guilty saying so, because Oleander's actual father never was. Still, despite biology, there was no doubt that Wren was Oleander's dad, not Damien.
"Did he get in a fight with someone at this party?" Oleander asked. "Is that why he didn't want to come?"
"He just has a lot of work to do today," Henrietta said, not wanting to get into the grudge Wren held against the population of South Park. Oleander wouldn't understand that just being the one gay boy at their high school who didn't hook up with someone by senior year was reason enough for Wren to still resent all the others who had.
Henrietta realized that she should have offered to bring something as she parked on the street outside of Wendy and Cartman's house. It was probably a pot luck, like the ones they'd sometimes had during night school. She took Oleander's hand as they walked up the front path. The street was already lined with cars, and she could hear voices and laughter from the backyard.
"Will they make fun of my name?" Oleander asked when Henrietta rang the bell. He went by Andy at school, but Henrietta had never managed to think of him that way.
"No," she said. "You can tell them your real name if you want. They all have, uh. Creative names like you."
She was expecting Wendy to answer the door, and felt her face go white with shock when it was Stan who did. Even being overly familiar with his pictures on Facebook hadn't prepared her for the deflating experience of being in his actual presence. He was taller than she remembered, and a little bulkier. His eyes were the same ones she'd outlined in kohl during his goth phase.
"Whoa, hey!" he said, stepping forward to hug her. "Wendy told me you were coming, but I wasn't sure - hey, dude," he said, putting his hand out for Oleander.
"I'm Andy," he said when they shook.
"Nice to meet you," Stan said. "I'm Stan - your mom and I knew each other in school."
"I know," Oleander said, and Henrietta laughed nervously at how snotty he sounded. Stan grinned at her.
"C'mon in," he said. "Everybody's out back. I was just getting -" He held up a beer bottle. "Cartman was trying to hide the good stuff in the fridge, but I know his tricks. You guys want something?"
Henrietta accepted a beer, though she never drank anything and least of all beer, and Oleander helped himself to a can of Coke. The Cartmanburger kitchen was not as nice as Wren's. It was cramped and outdated, with sea green wallpaper and fake marble countertops that looked cheap. There were pictures stuck all over the fridge with magnets, and Henrietta leaned in to examine a few: Cartman holding a twin in each arm when they were babies, and Wendy hugging them both against her when they were old enough to wear little party dresses. The twins had soft brown hair and pouty faces that reminded Henrietta of Cartman when he was trying to win sympathy. Kinglet was prettier, with Cartman's big eyes and Wendy's sleek, perfect hair. She was tall and a bit stocky, and in most of the pictures that were pinned to the fridge she was in the company of a girl with wild red hair.
"Is that your daughter?" Henrietta asked, and Stan grinned.
"Yeah," he said. "That's Ellie. They're best friends."
"Kyle and Cartman's daughters are best friends?" Henrietta said. "Wow."
"Yeah," Stan said. "They've been pretty inseparable since pre-school. C'mon out, I'll introduce you to everyone. Or reintroduce you, I guess."
As they approached the sliding glass doors Henrietta felt like she might be sick. She wanted to beg Stan to linger inside the quiet house with her, away from the others, just to sit and talk, but she didn't want to push Oleander out into the crowd by himself. The backyard was small but well-maintained, fenced and dotted with flower beds, a miniature putting green in the back right corner. Henrietta had been afraid everyone would turn to stare when she walked out with Stan, but they all seemed fairly involved in their own conversations. Wendy was the only one who noticed them, and she bound away from Bebe and Cartman to say hello.
"I'm so glad you came!" She gave Henrietta a hug that was even more awkward than Stan's had been. "This must be Oleander?"
"Andy," he said.
"Oh, sorry! I should have known you'd have a nickname. My daughter does, too, but she's decided she hates it. The kids are over there," she said, gesturing to the area opposite the putting green, where there was a wooden playground set with swings and a slide. The younger kids were swinging and sliding while the older ones moped around looking bored. Oleander looked up at Henrietta, and she smiled at him.
"You can go introduce yourself if you want," she said.
"I'll introduce you, Andy," Stan said. "C'mon."
"Kay," he said, and he went with Stan.
"He's so good with kids," Wendy said as she and Henrietta watched them go. "It makes me sad sometimes to think he'll never have a son."
"Well, I could whip up another batch of potion if Kyle wants to try for a boy this time," Henrietta said, and she instantly regretted the joke, but Wendy laughed hard.
"I think he'd make Stan do it this time around," she said. "But seriously, how are you? You look good!" She didn't bother to conceal her surprise. Henrietta thought it was probably true, though she still had big hips and a fat ass, and cellulite down to her knees. The skirt she was wearing effectively concealed all of that.
"I'm okay," Henrietta said, watching as Stan pointed each of the kids out to Oleander, telling him their names. "I'm good, actually."
"You guys are in Denver?"
"Yeah. Well, the suburbs."
"And you – you're working?"
"No," Henrietta said. "Just – homemaking, I guess. You're an accountant, right?"
"Yeah," Wendy said, and she rolled her eyes. "Me and Eric both. It was just easier to do the same major, so we could split up the homework. He wants to open our own firm, but I don't know. I do in-house stuff for Tillman Soap. It's a pretty easy job, decent benefits, you know."
"Sure." She saw Cartman approaching them out of the corner of her eye, Bebe and Craig following behind him. She turned toward them, pretending to be fearless, feeling as if she was on trial.
"Well, well," Cartman said. "I didn't think you'd have the balls to actually show up."
"Eric," Bebe said. "Shut up. It's good to see you, man," she said, waving.
"I don't know why he's so surprised," Craig said. "You've always had huge balls."
"I guess that's true," Henrietta said, wishing Wren was with her. Craig looked better than he had at eighteen, expensively attired and not as scrawny. Bebe had always been beautiful and still was, wearing a sun dress and flat sandals that Henrietta could never pull off. She looked at least five years younger than Wendy.
"Where's your life partner?" Cartman asked.
"I told you he wasn't coming," Wendy said, hissing this at him. Cartman shrugged and drank from the beer he was holding. He was fat and his hair was thinning, but he still had the kind of disgusting virility that some women were attracted to.
"Where are the twins?" Henrietta asked, scanning the yard. She saw Oleander talking to two little boys around his age and guessed that they were Token and Clyde's sons.
"Liane's watching them," Wendy said. "They're a handful – we wouldn't be able to have a two minute conversation if they were here."
"What are their names?" Henrietta asked. She'd never spent much time perusing the Cartmanburgers' Facebook postings.
"Falcon and Finch," Wendy said, and she grinned when Henrietta's eyes widened. "I'm kidding!" she said. "We went with normal names this time. Courtney and Hanna."
"Wendy got to pick," Cartman said, as if he disapproved slightly.
"Next time you carry the baby, you can pick the name, darling," Wendy said, leaning against him.
"Don't even joke about that with her around," Cartman said, darting his eyes to Henrietta. "You'll notice that we don't have a punch bowl."
"Damn," she said, and Bebe laughed.
"You should come by the shop sometime," she said. "Since you guys live so close. We're doing boys' clothes now."
"Yeah, I should," Henrietta said. She'd always avoided Craig's children's clothing store when she was in the city. It had become popular after some write ups in magazines and local papers that mentioned the proprietor was one of the former pregnant South Park boys. People seemed to think this was a special qualification for making baby clothes. "You work there, too?" Henrietta said to Bebe.
"She's my apprentice," Craig said.
"I also work the register," Bebe said.
"Is Tweek here?" Henrietta asked, looking around.
"Yes," Craig said. "He's over there with his child bride."
Henrietta turned in the direction he was looking and saw Tweek standing near the side of the house with Kevin's brother, who did look ridiculously young. They were talking with Kyle, and Stan walked over to join them, his hands coming to rest on Kyle's hips. He slid them down toward Kyle's ass while Henrietta stared.
"His name is Stephen," Wendy said. "And you promised you'd be civil."
"I'm always civil," Craig said. "I could bring jail bait to family gatherings if I wanted to, believe me. But some of us have class."
"Let's get another beer," Bebe said, leading him back toward a cooler full of them. Wendy encouraged Henrietta to get something to eat, and she checked on Oleander as she headed toward the table where a variety of snacks were laid out. He was talking with two girls, both of them waifish and on the short side. Henrietta recognized the blond girl as Daisy McCormick. Kenny and Butters were lingering together in the shade of a big tree near the putting green, having what looked like an intense conversation. Their daughter was the prettiest and the most petite, and the other girl who was speaking to Oleander had to be Craig and Tweek's. She had Tweek's somewhat manic expressions and Craig's pinched little mouth. Elway and Kinglet were sitting at the top of the slide, muttering together in a way that made Henrietta think of Stan and Kyle on the playground in fourth grade. Looking at them, she felt a sympathetic pang. She could see it even on girls their age: they were both destined to be big-chested and hippy. At least they had each other to lean on during the awkward years. It was possible they would both be knockouts when they grew into their looks.
"Well, hey!" Clyde said when he made his way over to her at the snack table, where she was munching Chex Mix, feeling alone. Token trailed behind Clyde and gave her a similar friendly smile. Just looking at them made her feel like she was about to be asked if she'd heard the good news about Jesus. Clyde had a big cross around his neck, hanging between the open buttons of his polo.
"Wow, Clyde," she said. She'd seen pictures, but it was more striking in person. The short sleeves of his polo were straining against his arm muscles, and his chest was firm and streamlined. The last time she'd seen him in person he'd been enormously pregnant, and also coughing up blood because of the spell she'd cast on him. It was a bit of a shock to see him glowing with health.
"I saw your son over there playing with Nate and Ryan," Token said. "He's really cute."
"Yeah," Henrietta said. "Thanks, um. So are your boys."
"Ryan is adopted," Clyde said. "And June – she's around here somewhere." Henrietta guessed that June was the little Asian girl who was tagging along with Daisy and Artemis. Her hair was in pigtails, and Daisy seemed willing to treat her like a doll while Artemis mostly ignored her.
"I knew you had adopted," Henrietta said. "I didn't think, like. Well, I'm glad everything faded, you know, the physical, um. You guys had such a bad time for a while there. Because of me. That day in class—"
"Hey," Clyde said, taking her hand between both of his. "We forgive you."
"Nate is a blessing," Token said. "That's all we really think about when we remember – those times."
"Oh." She felt uncomfortable when they both stared at her, smiling benevolently. "So – are you guys still in Fort Collins?"
"We actually moved back to South Park!" Clyde said. "How crazy is that?"
"It's – pretty crazy!"
"We just wanted to raise our kids in a small town," Token said. "And our parents are here."
Henrietta excused herself a few minutes later, telling them she wanted to make sure Oleander got something to eat. Someone had brought out some child-sized golf clubs, and he was taking turns on the putting green with some of the other kids. Elway and Kinglet were still perched atop the slide, examining something on Kinglet's phone. Oleander waved Henrietta away when she told him to get a hamburger, saying he would eat later.
"How've you been?" Kenny asked when she walked over to him and Butters. They were still under the tree, both of them eating burgers off of paper plates.
"I'm fine," Henrietta said. "You guys look well." It was true; Kenny still had a youthful smirk that made him look barely twenty-one, and Butters was a little chubby but otherwise the same, smiling at her sweetly.
"I'm glad you came," he said. "Since you were one of the gang and all, back then."
"I really wasn't," she said, and she smiled to show there were no hard feelings about that.
"Sure you were," Butters said. "One of Garrison's kids, anyway."
"Is he still teaching?" Henrietta asked, hoping he wouldn't be in attendance.
"Sort of," Kenny said. "He got a job at the library and he does the afternoon story time there. It's pretty entertaining."
"He always had a lovely reading voice," Henrietta said. "What are you guys up to these days?"
"I'm doing sales for Tillman," Kenny said. "Apparently I have a very trustworthy face when it comes to pedaling soap products. Butters is an orthodontist."
"Seriously?" Henrietta said, trying to picture that.
"Yep," Butters said. "Put myself through school with some mystical artifact money I had stowed away. Say, if you're in the market for a set of bronze apothecary scales, Kenny's got one that's enchanted and such."
"I also do some, uh, non-traditional sales," Kenny said. "On the side."
"I don't really do that stuff anymore," Henrietta said. "You guys live in South Park?" she said, eager to change the subject.
"Yeah," Kenny said. "I still kind of live with my mom."
"It's complicated," Butters said.
"Yeah – I'd heard. Seen, I mean. Um, I'm gonna get another drink."
She went inside instead of pulling a beer from the cooler, needing a break. At the fridge, she got distracted by the pictures again, and she was peering at them when Kyle came up behind her.
"So," he said when she turned at the sound of his footsteps. "You came."
"My son wanted to," she said, hoping this would make her more sympathetic. She feared Kyle's judgment most of all, possibly because she'd been most intent on hurting him, once.
"Your son," Kyle said. He went to the fridge and pulled out a half-empty bottle of wine. "He doesn't look like Wren."
"Well, no," Henrietta said. "Wren's not his father. I thought people knew that."
"I guess some people do," Kyle said. "I forgot." He put his plastic cup on the counter and refilled it with wine. Henrietta was relieved when the sliding glass door that led into the living room opened and Stan walked in, tapping an empty beer bottle against his leg.
"There you are," he said, and she was thrilled for half a second, but he was talking to Kyle.
"I just had to get out of the heat for a minute," Kyle said. He was sweaty, and still puffy with pregnancy weight that he'd never lost, but he looked good when Stan came to his side and gazed at him like he was something worth having. "And Wendy's hiding the good wine in here, of course," Kyle said.
"Of course," Stan said, kissing Kyle's temple. He seemed a little drunk, but only in a smiley, good-humored way. He grinned at Henrietta. "You okay?" he said.
"Yeah," she said, forcing a laugh. "I'm fine."
"It's too bad Wren couldn't come," Kyle said. "He's a lawyer, right?"
"Yes," Henrietta said, wondering how Kyle could remember that and not that Wren wasn't Oleander's father. "He's with Ames & Pekron in Denver. You work in the city, don't you?"
"Yeah, for Lindt," Kyle said.
"The chocolate company," Stan said.
"I'm a consultant," Kyle said. "I'm not, you know. Packing fudge or something."
"Dude," Stan said, but he was laughing, his hand on Kyle's hip.
"What do they consult you about?" Henrietta asked. The air conditioning wasn't helping; she still felt overheated.
"Agricultural business," Kyle said. "I somehow got into that in school. Graduate school, I mean."
"He has to travel all the time," Stan said. "To South America and stuff."
"It's not really that often," Kyle said, turning to smile at Stan. "He hates it when I travel," he said, haughtily, as if anyone who'd ever spent more than a few days with them couldn't guess that Stan didn't like being away from him for long.
"Does Elway hate it, too?" Henrietta asked.
"Oh, God, no," Kyle said. "Stan lets her order pizza every night when I'm gone."
"I do not," Stan said.
"I bet it's nice," Henrietta said. "Me and Wren kind of want to take Olee – um, Andy – to Costa Rica, but Wren's always working."
"Well, Costa Rica is in Central America," Kyle said, like she didn't know that. "But I've been sent there, too – I brought Stan and Ellie on that trip. You guys should go, it's a great place for kids."
"Ellie loved it," Stan said, nodding. "That was, what? Last year?"
"Two years ago," Kyle said. "Personally, I don't love it down there. You know, the humidity. My hair."
"It's so funny that Elway and Kinglet are friends," Henrietta said, hoping to rile him a little. He was still so fucking smug. She felt like they were in Lit class all over again, having a passive aggressive disagreement over the interpretation of a poem.
"Kinglet is a little demon seed," Kyle said, and Henrietta yelped with surprised laughter. "But Ellie adores her, so, whatever."
"Dude, shh," Stan said, looking over his shoulder. "Don't say that. She's not a bad kid."
"Ha," Kyle said. "Stan doesn't believe me. Just wait, wait until they're teenagers. You'll be all aboard the anti-Kinglet train when she starts encouraging Ellie to shop lift and start a gang."
"Yeah, we'll see," Stan said, giving Kyle a one-armed hug. "Sheila probably said the same thing about me, once, to your dad."
"Well, was she really wrong to?" Kyle asked. "I mean, Jesus, we were having shower sex when we were fourteen. Fourteen, Stan! That's four years older than Ellie!"
"It wasn't sex, exactly," Stan said, looking a little worried. He seemed to remember Henrietta was there and gave her a sheepish smile. "Sorry," he said.
"It's fine," Henrietta said. "I'm worried about Oleander growing up too fast, too."
"I can't believe Ellie is ten," Kyle said. "It's insane."
"It is insane," Henrietta said, and she blushed when she saw how Stan was smiling at her, with sympathetic understanding.
"We're doing a big party for all the kids," Stan said. "Since they were all basically born at the same time. Except Ellie and Nate, but we're doing it at Token's house. They've got this amazing pool. You and Andy should come!"
"Maybe," Henrietta said. It depended on how well Oleander liked these kids.
"Well," Kyle said. He poured himself more wine before putting the bottle away. "I'm going to get a hot dog or something. I'm starved."
"Get one for me," Stan said. "Just mustard. And make sure Ellie eats something."
Kyle left with his wine, and Stan reached into the fridge for another of Cartman's fancy beers. He passed one to Henrietta, too.
"Are they being nice to you?" he asked.
"Yeah," she said. "I can't figure out why."
"Because we love our kids, probably," Stan said. "Because we wouldn't have had them without you. No matter how much we wanted them. You gave us that."
"But it was mean and petty," she said, and she gulped from the beer as soon as Stan popped the cap off for her. "It wasn't an act of charity or friendship or—"
"I know," Stan said. "You want to sit down over here for a minute, in the living room? You're all red."
They walked into the living room and sat on the couch, which was in front of a big window that looked out on the backyard. Henrietta checked on Oleander, and was glad to see him eating a hamburger in the company of Daisy and June. Artemis was riding on Craig's back as he strode across the yard to get another bottled water from the cooler. Kyle was talking Elway down off the slide, away from Kinglet and toward the food. She obeyed ploddingly, and Kinglet was quick to follow her.
"How about you?" Henrietta asked after they'd been quiet for a while, both of them looking out the window. "You're a music teacher now, right?"
"Sort of," Stan said, snorting. "I mean, I give lessons. Piano and guitar."
"I didn't know you played piano."
"I taught myself," he said. "At work – when I was still working at Walgreen's. I had my own office, you know, so I bought this little keyboard and taught myself how to play when I was bored during my shift. I'm not that good. But I can teach basic lessons to six year olds. Anyway, it doesn't make us any money, it's just something I do for spare cash. Mostly I'm a stay at home dad."
"That suits you," Henrietta said. "And I hope you won't take that as an insult, you know, coming from a stay at home mom."
"No, it's not an insult," Stan said. "I love it – that's what I really love, more than playing music, more than anything. Just, taking care of her. Yeah." He grinned. "I think I sound drunk."
"You don't," she said, beginning to feel tipsy herself. She kept taking nervous sips from the beer. "I'm completely the same. My mom keeps nagging me, telling me I need to have 'my own life.' I'm like, I love my life, and it's them. Him, I mean. Well, them."
She thought of Wren and wondered what he was doing. He would hate it if he knew she was sitting alone with Stan Marsh, drinking beer, smiling. She had the urge to get up and go back outside, so that Oleander wouldn't say anything later about how she'd disappeared for a while during the party.
"Kenny offered to sell me a magical scale," she said. "What's that about?"
"Ah, who knows?" Stan said, waving his hand. "He goes on these business trips, comes back and buys Butters a new car. I'm surprised Daisy doesn't have a car yet, Jesus. We never know what he's selling, exactly. Soap, he says."
"It's funny that him and Wendy ended up working for Tillman," Henrietta said. "We used to make fun of people who did. Not that – I mean, I can't talk, I don't do anything."
"No, I know what you mean," Stan said. "Here we all are, still in South Park, to some extent. But Kenny's doing really well. He's a good dad – Daisy worships him."
"He looks well," Henrietta said, glancing out the window. Bebe was talking to him, twirling her hair around her finger. "So, he and Butters—?"
"Oh, Jesus, we never know," Stan said. "One night they're groping each other at our dinner table, and the next time we see them Butters is throwing Kenny's clothes into the front yard. We always thought that would be Cartman and Wendy."
"Yeah, me too," Henrietta said. "And Cartman is an accountant?"
"Something about conquering the establishment from within," Stan said, waving his hand again. "Don't even ask. But Wendy and Cartman, man, they are devoted. So are Kenny and Butters, it's just kind of screwed up. They don't date anyone else, they just dance around each other until one of them pounces. Like those crazy birds in Papua New Guinea. Um, with the –?" He held his fingers up behind his head to indicate some kind of feather display.
"Does Daisy get affected by that?" Henrietta asked.
"Probably a little," Stan said. "But she got the best of both of them. She's sweet as hell, like Butters, but she has Kenny's zen. She's a great kid. She's like our niece, practically."
"I'm surprised Elway didn't end up being best friends with her."
"Yeah, well," Stan said. "They're still pretty close. They get on each other's nerves, though, like sisters. And I really don't think Kinglet is all that bad."
"What did she do to piss Kyle off?"
"Gave Ellie a gold cross for her seventh birthday," Stan said. "Also, she has Cartman and Wendy for parents, and that's enough for Kyle to suspect her of inherent villainy. And the cross was totally Cartman's idea, obviously, just to fuck with Kyle. Ellie loves it, though, she wears it every day. So Kyle went out and got Kinglet a Star of David necklace for her birthday that same year."
"Does she wear it?" Henrietta asked, hoping she did. She was always on Kyle's side when it came to Cartman.
"Hell yeah, she loves it," Stan said. "They call them their friendship necklaces. I don't think either of them really gives a crap about religion at this point. They just saw how worked up everyone got over these presents and decided they were special."
"How about Clyde and Token?" she said. "They've got all that Jesus stuff on their Facebook pages."
"Yeah," Stan said, shrugging. "We went to church with them once. It was fine. Their minister is a lesbian, you know, that sort of thing."
"Oh, okay. Got it."
The sliding door opened and Kyle stepped inside, holding a plate with two hot dogs on it, mustard only. He frowned when he saw them sitting on the couch with their beers.
"Am I interrupting?" he asked.
"Nope," Stan said. "I'm ready to eat. You coming?" he asked Henrietta, and she stood.
"These are all beef," Kyle said as he handed the plate to Stan. "So at least Wendy did me that favor. I'm sure Cartman had a shit fit over Hebrew Nationals entering his home."
"I don't think Cartman would be as opposed to having a Hebrew National enter his territory as you presume," Stan said, and Kyle laughed, gluing himself to Stan's side as they headed toward the card tables that had been set up near the grill.
"I'm driving home," Kyle said, plucking the beer out of Stan's hand. "And you're cut off."
"Okay," Stan said, his mouth full of hot dog. "Hey," he said, turning back to Henrietta. "Come sit with us. You and Andy."
She felt a hint of what she would have experienced in high school if she'd ever been invited to eat with Stan and his group in the real lunch room, not just the miniature, night school version that was presided over by Garrison. She waved Oleander over. He was working on his second cheeseburger; he had a big appetite but stayed skinny as a rail. Stan sat down at a table where Kinglet and Elway were eating, forking potato salad and sipping from canned soda.
"I'm cutting you off, too," Kyle said when he sat beside his daughter. "That's your last soda."
"It's only my second one," she said.
"Two servings of high-fructose corn syrup is enough for one day," Stan said.
"What school do you go to?" Kinglet asked Oleander. She was studying him in way that was slightly worrying. Henrietta had noticed that girls were beginning to pay attention to him, and it was terrifying. She had to reassure herself that he was too much of a sweetheart to use his face to get what he wanted and leave whoever gave it to him in the dust like Damien had.
"I go to Bear Canyon," he said. "I'll be in fifth next year."
"Us, too," Elway said. "I go to Colorado Academy, in Denver. Me and my dad commute together," she said, looking at Kyle, who smiled at her, mustard at the corner of his lips.
"It's a really good school," Kyle said. "I mean, it bankrupts us, but it's worth it."
"I go to South Park Elementary," Kinglet said. "It's a really shitty school," she said, sarcastically cheerful, and she and Elway laughed.
"Hey," Wendy said, turning from the buffet table. "Watch your mouth. And don't say things like that about your school. We all went there."
"And look how we turned out!" Kenny shouted from another table. Wendy gave him a look.
"Bear Canyon has a soft serve machine in the cafeteria," Oleander said. "But we're only allowed to use it on Fridays."
"Ha," Kinglet said. "Ellie's school has a pool."
"We have one in our neighborhood," Oleander said, shrugging.
"It's not even that great," Elway said. "Everyone is rich and snobby."
"Like Nathan," Kinglet said, quietly, and Elway elbowed her.
"You two are on thin ice," Kyle said, whispering. "You know, there's such a thing as being snobby toward rich people."
"He's not even snobby," Elway said. "He's just all Jesus-y. He said I should get baptized, and if I don't I shouldn't be allowed to wear this," she said, touching her cross necklace.
"I'll speak to Token," Stan said, putting his napkin down, but Kyle grabbed his wrist before he could stand.
"Calm down," he said, patting Stan's arm. "It's just – a child's misunderstanding. You have every right to wear that necklace," he said to Elway.
"Me and Ellie are both Buddhists, anyway," Kinglet said. "Or – no, what's that one where you believe in all religions being a little right?"
"Rastafarian?" Elway said, and they both cracked up.
"That is not funny," Kyle said.
"Anyway," Kinglet said. "Reincarnation is so totally better than heaven."
"You're mostly right," Kenny said, apparently still eavesdropping.
"Someone needs to cut him off," Stan said. Kyle snorted.
"What's Rastafarian?" Oleander asked, looking at Henrietta.
"See!" Kyle said, poking Elway's shoulder. "Look what you've done!"
"It's a Jamaican religion," Henrietta said. "I'll tell you later. Um, speaking of, uh. Where's Ike?"
"Ha!" Kyle said. "No, that was funny, nicely done. Actually, he's on a date. We're very excited."
"She's an older lady who has her shit together," Stan said. "I mean – her stuff," he said when the kids snickered.
"We're hoping she'll take him off our hands," Kyle said.
"Whatever," Elway said. "I love it when Ike lives with us."
"He lets her get away with murder," Kyle said. "As you'd expect."
"Who's Ike?" Oleander asked.
"Kyle's brother," Henrietta said.
"My uncle," Elway said. "He's Canadian. Sort of."
"Hey, can I make a quick speech?" Wendy asked, standing with her plastic cup of wine.
"Oh, Jesus," Kyle mumbled, and Elway laughed, leaning against his shoulder. The conspiring smile they shared made Henrietta's eyes burn, and she was glad for everything good that she'd accidentally done.
"I just wanted to thank you all for coming," Wendy said. "It's so hard for me to believe that we had our kids ten years ago, and that whole night school experience – the whole thing." She sounded a little drunk. "I'm just so happy to be able to count all of you as my friends, after everything," she said. "After all the years, and the changes, and everybody moving around. I'm so glad none of you went too far. I think when I was eighteen I would have cringed at that statement, but hopefully you know what I mean. So, um, cheers!"
Henrietta left not long after that, exhausted by the experience. Oleander seemed tired, too, maybe just from the heat. They said their goodbyes, and Henrietta hugged Stan one more time.
"Come to the birthday party thing," he said. "I'll get Kyle to send you an invite on Facebook."
"Did you ask him to friend me on there?" she asked. The buzz from the beers had worn off, but she felt emboldened just by having survived the party.
"No, no," Stan said. "That was Kyle's idea."
"To keep an eye on me?" Henrietta asked, and Stan laughed. She realized it was probably more that Kyle wanted her to keep an eye on him, to see that she hadn't ruined anything for him, that she'd only strengthened his good luck in her clumsy attempt to test his relationship with Stan. She waved goodbye to Kyle, who was standing with Kenny and Butters. He waved back, and his smile seemed genuine.
"Hey, see you!" Elway said, jogging over when Henrietta and Oleander turned to leave.
"Yeah," Oleander said. "We come to South Park every Sunday, to go to my grandma's house for dinner."
"Oh, cool," Elway said, glancing at Henrietta. She was blushing, or flushed from the heat. "Well, see ya," she said, and she let Stan put an arm around her and walk her back toward the house.
"I think that girl likes you," Henrietta asked when they were driving away. "Elway – Ellie."
"I dunno," Oleander said, muttering. "I like her hair, though. She looks like a Disney Princess."
"A Disney Princess!"
"Yeah!" He seemed truly embarrassed now, and Henrietta felt badly for bringing it up, though she would feel so vindicated if Kyle's daughter even briefly pined for her son. "Like a mermaid," he said, hugging his elbows and looking out the window.
They went to Henrietta's mother's house, where they lounged in front of the TV and ate a light dinner, both of them heading for bed early. Henrietta tried to call Wren and got no answer. She was restless in her childhood bedroom, kicking off the covers and pulling them back up. She'd expected a sense of closure after having spent an afternoon with those people. Something still felt very unfinished, and it had nothing to do with Stan. Her old fantasies about him seemed stale and irrelevant when she tried to ease into sleep by indulging in them.
She was just beginning to sleep deeply when something at the window woke her. Lost in time, between her dreams and the darkness, she thought she was still a girl, waiting for some dashing menace to come through her bedroom window and induct her into the kind of world Damien had once promised. It wasn't anyone like that, but Wren did look sort of dashing as he stumbled down onto the bed, cursing.
"What?" she managed to say, still half asleep.
"I have to get something off my ch-chest," he said, and she winced at his whiskey breath. Like her, Wren never drank.
"What the hell?" she said, trying to sit up and finding she was too tired. "You drove here drunk?"
"No," he said. "I drove here hours ago – hours! Hours, Henry. Trying to work up the nuh – nerve to go to that stupid party. But I didn't, I just sat at that bar talking to that Skeeter person until he threw me out, which is now."
"Which is now," Henrietta said flatly, guiding him down to the pillow. "Okay, just. Calm down. I'll get you some water. Jesus, Wren, you climbed through the window?"
"No, wait," he said, grabbing for her. "I have to say this before I forget how to."
"Okay," she said, sighing. She propped herself on her elbow and brushed Wren's hair from his forehead. He still wore it a little long in front, in defiance of the man. "What?"
"I want to adopt Olee," he said, making his face serious, looking like Oleander when he was trying not to cry. "For real. Officially."
"Yeah?" she said, taken off guard. "Okay, well. Why?"
"Why?" He sat up, winced and moaned, pressing his palm to his forehead. "Why, Henry? Because I love him, and I don't want you yanking him out of my life as soon as you find some football player to take you away from all this."
"Wren," she said, pushing him back down to the pillows. "I would never do that to you, or to him. And away from all of what? You know I'm happy, living with you."
"You're not," he said, pointing his finger in her face. "You won't muh – marry me."
"Because you're gay, honey," she said, feeling awful for saying so out loud, because she never had before. She'd always been waiting for him to come to terms with it, never wanted to push. He scowled.
"Why the hell do you think that?" he asked, getting sort of loud. "What did I do to – I mean, fuck, Henry, I've been in love with you since we were babies. You have to tell yourself I'm gay to make yourself feel better about not wanting me?"
"You're drunk," she said, sitting up. Her heart was beating harder than it had all day, slamming.
"What do I have to do?" he asked, drilling his palms into his eyes. "I've given you everything, and I've never – never asked for anything, 'cause I know you don't want it, but I – you could at least respect me enough to reject me. Not just act like I'm gay, so, problem solved! That was everyone else, Henry, your dream boy Stan, all those guys. Not me."
"You never dated," she said, scanning his body for signs of alien possession. He was wearing one of his black v-necks, and it was riding up a little, making her want to touch his stomach, because he was breathing so hard.
"I fucked a few girls," he said miserably, peeking at her. "In college. You didn't know. It was okay, but they weren't you. Oh, shit, I wasted my whole life, I get it. But I love Olee so much, Henry, even if that prick Damien put him in you. I can't lose him, too, when you go."
"I'm not going anywhere, though," she said, touching his face. He opened his eyes and looked at her. He seemed frightened, like he thought she was going to call the police or something. "And you don't – you can't just say this stuff to me, Wren. Not after this long."
"I know," he said, wincing. "That's why I kept waiting. Because it was always already too late! And you hated that conformist love crap, anyway, and Damien was so – whatever. Your type. But you were going back to – back to South Park without me."
"I wasn't," she said. "I'm not. I'm so ready to get out of South Park." She put her head down on the pillow beside his, hugging her arm across his chest. He moaned and rolled against her.
"Henry," he said, touching her hair, his eyes closed. "Don't leave me. He doesn't love you like I do."
"Who?" she asked, glad for how late it was and how exhausted she felt, because she needed the surreal haze that was draped over both of them.
"Stan," he said, cracking his eyes open. "Stan Marsh."
"That was a juvenile crush," she said. "But it was good, Wren, it was so good, because all that pointless teenage angst somehow resulted in this girl, and she's got crazy hair and pretty eyes, and she's her parents' whole life. That's what you can't go back and tell your teenage self. Did you ever think you'd beg to adopt the baby Damien knocked me up with?"
"Yes," Wren said, nodding. "I thought that. Back then, probably. It probably crossed my mind."
She kissed him, experimentally. There was an edge of chewing gum along with the whiskey taste, as if he'd hoped to conceal his night of drinking alone. She stroked his hair when they pulled apart. She'd always liked guys with black hair.
"Don't patronize me," he said, softly.
"How many times could I have told you that?" she asked. "When you lied to your parents about not getting a scholarship so you could use your college fund to buy food for me and Olee? When you moved us into your house? I'm not patronizing you. You're my life. You and Olee are everything I have. But go to sleep, please, you're so drunk."
"Henry," he said, pawing at her hair. "You still think I'm gay, goddammit."
"No, actually. I guess it's been dawning on me – slowly – that you might not be. I was just afraid to deal with it."
"I don't want to be something you're afraid to deal with," he said, and then he was asleep, drooling.
She was awake for a long time after that, thinking. Her room still smelled like it had in high school, cigarettes and cheap incense. Wren's hair smelled so much better than it had back then. He didn't use products anymore, and the red streak had died off during his freshman year of college. He smelled like sweat and dirt, like someone who had walked all the way from Skeeter's bar and climbed a tree to get to her.
In the morning, she slept until she felt him stirring. He moved over her carefully and slid out of the bed, stumbling toward the trash can at her desk to throw up.
"Wren," she said.
"Sorry," he said, spitting into the trash can. "I'm sorry – for that. I know I said. Some things."
"Come here," she said. "Come back to bed."
He was amazed that she was willing to have sex with him before he'd brushed his teeth. It had been way too long for her to wait for something as small as minty fresh breath, and Damien had always had terrible breath, worse than regurgitated whiskey: chronic halitosis. It was the one thing about him that had repelled her.
"Dad's here!" Oleander said when they came down to breakfast together. Oleander was still in his pajamas, eating Lucky Charms, a special treat he only got at his grandma's house.
"How'd you get here?" Henrietta's mother asked, and she looked at Henrietta before Wren could answer. She seemed like she knew something was different, and like she wanted to be filled in right away. Henrietta went for the fridge, grabbing the orange juice.
"I flew here on a magic carpet," Wren said, taking a seat beside Oleander and kissing the top of his head. "Haven't you heard that things like that happen here, in South Park?"
"Like the pregnant boys!" Oleander said, holding his spoon in his fist. "Dad! I met their daughters. They were pretty. I mean – they looked normal "
"Looks can be deceiving," Wren said. "No one from South Park is normal. And that's a good thing. You should be proud of your, you know. Heritage."
"Don't fill his head with stories," Henrietta's mother said.
"It's not a story," Henrietta said, taking her seat at the table. "Remember you're special," she said to Oleander. "Like those girls. You could tell they were special, too, I bet."
"One of them was," he said, and then he ate Lucky Charms furiously. Henrietta grinned at Wren, who raised his eyebrows. She thought of the first breakfast she'd had with Wren after finding out that she would be alone with this baby, and the way Wren had recoiled at the white envelope Damien gave her, the ugly blots of eyeliner on her paper napkin. There was no one who could convince her that all of the sloppy, impossible things that happened in South Park weren't real magic, and for the first time in a while she was glad to be back.