A/N: Regularly scheduled projects are going fine, but I had to write this today after getting fixated on this song "Dead Hearts" by Stars. It's sad, and beware school shooting violence content, but it's actually not meant to be dark.
Everybody thinks he works at the school because of some twisted form of survivor's guilt, but he just needs the keys. His shift ends two hours after the middle schoolers have gone home, when the building is quiet and empty, the sun going down. He stops at Carl's Jr. on the way home and gets the spicy chicken combo. His fingers always smell like cleaning products, but he likes it that way. The stink of the chemicals mostly masks the smell of the pot he smokes as soon as he gets home, every night. If he wants to go out, and he usually does, he takes one of his mom's pills, too.
It took him a long time to get the combination just right. For a while he would just stumble through the halls like a drunken fool, running his hands along the lockers and stealing paper letters from bulletin board displays, spelling their names so the kids would have a ghost story to tell in the morning. The first one he saw was Cartman, by the vending machines, and he thought he'd succeeded in traveling back in time until he saw the blood on Cartman's jacket. He'd had to draw close before he did; it blended with the red.
"Jesus Christ, Kenny," Cartman had said that night, scowling at him. "You really did grow up to be a fucking janitor."
"Leave him alone, asshole," someone had said, and Kyle stepped from the shadows, frowning and pulling Stan along by the hand. They were always holding hands, and some nights Kenny thought they couldn't let go. They'd both taken shots to the head, and the blood that had dried on the sides of their faces and their necks was hard to look at. Stan seemed apologetic when Kenny met his eyes, or maybe just sad. Kyle stared at him defiantly. "What are you doing here?" he asked. "At night?"
"I don't know." Kenny had expected to cry if he ever found them, but he was afraid, shaking. They didn't look like the people in hell. He wasn't sure why they weren't there; he'd looked everywhere, until he realized he was looking in the wrong place.
His hands are steady now when he unlocks the back door near the cafeteria where he usually slips inside. He doesn't have to look for his friends anymore. Clyde is right there in the kitchen supply room, staring at a pallet of graham cracker boxes forlornly.
"What did you have for dinner?" he asks as Kenny locks the door behind him.
"Beans," Kenny says, because he doesn't want to make Clyde jealous.
"Lucky," Clyde says anyway, drifting behind him as he moves through the cafeteria kitchen. It's eerie in the dark. Tweek is sitting on the counter near the door that leads out to the lunch room, and he holds one of his translucent hands over his forehead, as if Kenny hasn't seen his wound a thousand times.
"Dude, look at my arm!" Tweek says, holding it out for Kenny to observe. "I'm getting fainter!"
"No, you're not," Clyde says. "Craig teases him," he says, to Kenny, as if Kenny should do something about that. As if he's their father now.
"You look fine to me," Kenny says, though it's a horrible thing to say to a thirteen-year-old with an exploded forehead.
He moves through the lunch room, and Clyde and Tweek don't follow. Craig is cruel and hard to find; if Kenny sees him it's usually because Craig is knocking something into his path to frighten him. He rails at Kenny and calls him a zombie, asks him who he sold his soul to, why he got to come back. Kenny is keen to avoid him most nights, unless he's looking for a fight.
On the way to the gym he finds Bebe near the water fountains. The blood that spread across her sweater from the wound in her chest looks almost flower-like to him, something that bloomed, and he's embarrassed for still loving her, a dead girl. She smiles at him and pretends to take his arm.
"How old are you now?" she asks as they walk together, her head only coming to his shoulder, even in her heels. "I forget."
"Twenty-six," he says.
"There's still time," she says.
"What do you think? For you to get out of South Park."
"How about you guys?" Kenny asks. He hates this part of the evening.
"I think our time's run out," she says.
She leaves him when he reaches the gym. There's still a kind of boys versus girls mentality here, though the eighth graders were dating and even screwing around, in some cases, before they died. Being made sexless transformed them back into bitter enemies, and the fact that Bebe speaks to him means she doesn't consider him one of the boys.
"Your eyes look weird," she says, turning back to see that he's watching her go.
"It's just pot," he says, like she's a girlfriend he's got to lie to.
"It's something else, too," she says. "You know – I'm always glad when you come, but then I hate it."
"I know," he says.
The gym is darker than the hallways, and he leaves the lights off. The door bangs shut behind him, and his eyes adjust to the moonlight through the high, skinny windows. Cartman is running across the basketball court, and he jumps when he reaches the hoop, pretending to make a spectacular slam dunk. He cheers himself when he drops to the floor, running in circles. There's no shortness of breath anymore, no stubborn fat limbs. He still looks fat, frozen into his thirteen-year-old body, his chubby cheeks and greasy brown hair intact. He was shot in the back: three times, more than anyone else.
"Did you see that?" he asks Kenny, like he'll be impressed.
"Awesome," Kenny says, and he feels the sickening weight of responsibility for their feelings that does make him feel like their father. Especially Cartman, who he wants to pat on the head. "Where-" he says, but he sees Stan and Kyle before he can ask. They're sitting high in the bleachers, their hands clasped, shoulders pressed together. They look like they've been whispering to each other, sharing whatever secrets they still have, and they go quiet as Kenny climbs toward them, Cartman gliding up behind him.
"So," Kyle says when Kenny sits near them. "Did you clean up any interesting puke today?" He's gotten petty and mean. Cartman laughs.
"Dude," Stan says, shouldering him. When Kenny came back to life he'd read every news story, and most of them mentioned that some of the dead students were found with their arms around each other, cowering. He knew that had been Stan and Kyle. They were shot in corresponding temples: Stan's left and Kyle's right. He's glad they were taking what cover they could in each other's arms, and that they'd had their eyes closed. Kenny's had been blown wide with shock when he took a bullet between his eyes.
"I guess you don't have anything new for us," Kyle says. Kenny used to do research for them on the afterlife, Cthulu cults, anything he could think of, though he knew none of it would ever mean that they could come back, too.
"Nothing," Kenny says, because he's mostly stopped looking.
"In that case," Kyle says, and he glances at Stan. "Should we tell him the plan?"
"Fuck your stupid plan," Cartman says.
"What plan?" Kenny asks, immediately on edge.
"Um," Stan says. "We're thinking about leaving."
"Idiots!" Cartman says, shouting. "Kevin thought about leaving, too, and look what happened to him."
"He disappeared," Kyle says. "That's all we know. We don't know that he's not in heaven."
"He's not in hell," Kenny says. "Not that I've seen, anyway. But, look. Let's not be rash."
"There's no let's when it comes to us and you," Kyle says. "This is our decision."
"We can't stay here forever," Stan says. "There's got to be somewhere else we can go."
"And what if it's just evaporation?" Cartman asks. Kenny can almost feel him spitting with rage. "What if this is what's left for us, and we're nothing as soon as we walk outside, like Kevin?"
"I might be okay with that," Kyle says. Stan moves closer to him, staring, but Kyle won't look back, his eyes hard, jaw set. Kenny could always see it when Stan was crushed by something that Kyle had said. He could see it on Kyle, too, once. Now Kyle is just an angry wall, though he's still not quite Craig, who harasses the living whenever he can.
"Well, I'm not coming," Cartman says.
"Good," Kyle says. "If we do end up in heaven, I don't want you there."
"Why would God just leave us here?" Stan asks, looking at Kenny.
"I don't know anything about God," he says, honestly.
"Then what good are you?" Kyle asks. He stands, pulling Stan up with him. "And why do you come here if you have nothing for us?"
"Because I miss you," Kenny says. "Because you're my friends."
"Uh, Kenny," Cartman says. "You're like fifty years old. You might want to make some friends who aren't dead eighth graders. Just a thought."
"No, Kenny is right," Stan says. "We're still friends."
"Oh, quit pretending!" Kyle says, shaking his fist. He's still holding on to Stan with his other hand, more tightly now. Their hands glow faintly where they're connected, and it gets brighter when one of them squeezes. "We're not friends with him anymore, not really! We have no connection to his world, except that he can see us. That's why we're stuck here, I think." Kyle rounds on Kenny and points a finger at him. "Because of him!"
"Bullshit," Cartman says. "He doesn't have the power to keep us here."
"Who really knows what powers he has?" Kyle asks. "Not even he does. Or so he claims."
"Dude," Kenny says. "You know I would help you if I could. I don't want this for you guys. Jesus, half the time I wish I could just be here with you, like this, still a kid."
"We're not kids," Stan says, narrowing his eyes. "So don't wish that."
"There's only one thing you can really do for us now," Kyle says. "It's the one thing I want before we leave. And you know what I'm talking about."
Kenny does. He puts his head in his hands.
"I've tried," he says. "I can't do it. I can't look him in the eye and—"
"Then you're worthless!" Kyle says. Kenny hears snickering in the distance; Craig is probably watching from the beams that cross the ceiling.
"Dude, stop," Stan says. "It's not easy, what you're asking him to do."
"And that little bastard isn't going to have any answers for you," Cartman says. "He's probably just sitting there staring at a wall or trying to eat his hand."
"He was lucid during his sentencing," Kyle says. "But whatever. Fine, Kenny. You talk a lot about wanting to help us, but you're just helping yourself, holding on to the past."
"I can bring more books and movies," Kenny says, desperate. "I can show you things from the outside world, we can talk about them, it's like you're still—"
"It just reminds us of what we don't have!" Kyle says. "All of those stories are about the living, and the ones about the dead are a joke. I wanted a real life. Stan loved me – I didn't even know that until we were dead. We could have been together."
"You are together, r-tard," Cartman says.
"Fuck you!" Kyle says. "You know what I mean."
"Not really," Cartman says, mumbling, and he drifts back down toward the court.
"At least we have each other, here," Stan says, softly. He sits, guiding Kyle down beside him, calming him. Kyle's color changes faintly, more blue, less orange. He looks at Stan and sighs. "What if it was me?" Stan asks. "What if I was the one coming here, missing you, growing up without you? Would you tell me that I was worthless, that I wasn't your friend anymore?"
"It's different with him," Kyle says, glancing at Kenny. "He died, too. It's not fair."
"This isn't fun for me," Kenny says. "Most days I hate that I came back."
"Well, fuck you," Kyle says. "Ingrate. All the things you could be doing, all the places you could go, and this is where you want to be, every night? You're not one of us. Do what I'm asking you to or stay out."
Kenny gets the feeling Stan wants to follow him when he walks down toward the court, but Kyle holds him in place. Kenny feels dizzy and slow, coming down from his high. Cartman is pantomiming basketball again, less enthusiastically now.
"Those assholes," Cartman says, following Kenny toward the door. "They're just ticked off that they never got to fuck each other in the butt."
"How about you?" Kenny asks. "I mean – sometimes I can't believe you're not more angry."
"What's the point?" Cartman asks, throwing his arms out. "If it were me, I'd be asking you to waste that motherfucker, not ask him about his fucking feelings or whatever. But I know you wouldn't do it."
"I might do it if I thought it would make you guys happy," Kenny says. "Or if it would change anything. Fuck, if it would set you free or something, I'd do it in a heartbeat. I just don't think it would."
"Set us free?" Cartman scoffs. "What does that even mean? We are free. We do whatever we want." He hears himself say this and slumps tiredly. "Except, you know. Eat, and go places, and sleep."
Kenny looks over his shoulder, at Kyle and Stan. They're deep in conference, foreheads together. Every place they touch lights up. Kenny sometimes thinks that if he had that with Bebe it would be enough.
She's near the front doors when he's on his way out, watching the empty parking lot in the moonlight. He thinks about walking by without saying anything.
"Craig told us they're thinking about going outside," she says when he comes to stand beside her.
"Craig is a spy for the girls?" Kenny asks, feeling betrayed on behalf of the boys. Bebe shrugs.
"Craig isn't loyal to anyone," she says. "So?" She looks at Kenny, so real for a moment, in this light. "What would you say if I went with them?"
"That I don't think it's a good idea."
"For us, or for you?"
"If I could sacrifice something for all of you, I would," he says.
"So go and see him," she says. It's the first time she's asked him, and he knows he'll do it now. She wasn't his girlfriend, but they did things together after school that year. He used to go to bed with the smell of her still on his hands, and he'd tent his fingers around his nose, close his eyes and breathe it in deep. She doesn't smell like anything anymore, and he reeks of chemicals, most of the human scents scrubbed away.
"I'm not going to pretend like I'd be okay if you all disappeared," Kenny says.
"How can you know that you won't unless we go?" she asks.
In the coming weeks, he makes the arrangements. He doesn't return to the school at night, doesn't want to go back until he has something to tell Kyle, though he knows it won't be anything he wants to hear. On the appointed day, he drives toward the city, stopping in Pueblo, a charming college town that also hosts the County Insane Asylum. He's been here before, as far as the parking lot, but he vomited in some bushes and left in a cowardly fashion. Kyle wouldn't speak to him for weeks when he found out, and glared at Stan if he did.
"You're here to see Mr. Stotch?" says the nurse who admits him.
"No. I'm an old – I knew him. As a kid."
She leads him to a visitation room. It's cheerless, but not decrepit like he expected. Everything is clean; he smells familiar chemicals. He's seated at a table with two chairs, and he swallows heavily, again and again, staring at the empty chair across from his. Two orderlies lead Butters in. He's handcuffed, skinny, and the fact that he's Kenny's age almost makes him bolt. He was expecting a thirteen-year-old with blood splattered on his clothes. Butters' eyes still have the slightly startled quality that they did when he was a child, and it's eerie on a grown man's face.
"Hey, Kenny," Butters says. The depth of his voice makes Kenny flinch. It has a small, cowed quality to it, but he sounds like a man. There's soft blond stubble on his cheeks, and his hair has been shaved down to a fragile-looking fuzz. "Thanks for coming to see me," he says when Kenny can't gather his voice. He can only stare.
"I didn't do it for you," Kenny says when he can speak. Butters nods slowly. He doesn't blink much.
"That's okay," he says. "If you just wanna tell me how bad I am, go right ahead. I should hear it."
"They said you had split personalities." Kenny read all the articles, watched all the Dateline specials. Butters claimed not to remember doing it. They found journals in his room written by people with other names, plotting revenge, left handed. He was the most famous criminal in America until a mother killed her kids eight months later.
"I don't know," Butters says. He looks down at his hands. "I don't remember a lot about back then."
"Do you remember Stan and Kyle?" Kenny asks, his voice so hard that the orderly by the door cuts him a sharp look.
"Well, sure," Butters says, almost smiling. He wilts and examines his hands again, the cuffs clinking against the table top. "But I don't remember, um. The day they died."
"How can you do something like that not fucking remember?"
"I don't know." Butters shakes his head slowly. "Something took me over."
"So you can't tell me why?" Kenny asks. He can hear Kyle shouting in his head, raging: worthless, useless, what good are you, then? "You don't remember why you did it?"
"We talk about that a lot, here," Butters says. He's not mumbling or avoiding Kenny's eyes. He seems not vacant but at peace, as if he stopped making judgments about himself and the world around him long ago. "I've been electroshocked and such, and it makes my memories fuzzy. All I can remember is that I wanted my friends to like me so much. If ya'll were ever sweet to me it meant a lot."
"But we weren't sweet enough? You needed to show us how we'd failed you?"
"I don't know," Butters says, wincing. "I wish I could tell you, but I'm kind of glad I don't know why that crazy little kid did what he did."
"Fuck you," Kenny hissed, glancing at the orderly, but he didn't seem perturbed. "They should make you look at pictures of the kids you killed every day. Until you can't see anything else."
"I was a kid, too," Butters says. He has the nerve to look angelic when he says so, almost pouting. "I know nobody deserved what I did to them, and I'm real sorry about it. I'm sorry about it every day. But you hurt me, too, Kenny."
"You're going to sit here and tell me that you murdered half our class because I threw a ninja star in your eye when I was nine years old? 'Cause you can go fuck yourself if you think that'll make me feel guilty."
"I don't know the reason why," Butters says. He's starting to get agitated, rocking a little. "I just – just remember feeling like nobody really liked me. Not even my folks."
"You don't remember shooting Bebe Stevens?" Kenny asks. His hands are in fists on the table. The orderly is shifting back and forth on his feet, watching them closely. "You shot her in the chest," he says, and he's glad when Butters pinches his big eyes shut, glad to see that he's managed to hurt him again. "And Cartman – Eric – you shot him in the back, three times."
"Mhmm," Butters says, shaking his head. "Don't – they took that all away."
"Well, lucky you. They didn't take it away from me. I see that shit every time I close my eyes. Everywhere, all the time. Some days it's the only thing I see. You think that's fair, Butters? You think it's good that you got wiped clean by drugs or shock treatments, you're glad about that?"
"I didn't want it to happen, honest!" Butters says, yanking his hands into his lap, pressing his chest to the table. "Bad things have happened to me here," he says, whispering and glancing back at the orderly. "So many bad things, Kenny. You can tell everybody that, if it makes them feel better."
"Everybody's dead," Kenny says, and he stands. "Stan, Kyle, Cartman, Bebe, Craig, Clyde, Tweek—"
"Oh," Butters says, putting his head down on the table. "Oh, oh—"
"I think we're done here," the orderly says, approaching, but Kenny isn't done.
"Kevin," he says, "Heidi, and me."
Butters looks up, and the orderly yanks him from his chair, onto his feet.
"You killed me that day, too," Kenny says, though it doesn't matter. Everyone forgets this part.
"I know," Butters says as he's being dragged away, holding Kenny's gaze. "I did, Kenny, I'm sorry, I'm so sorry."
But he doesn't know what he's talking about.
After the weeks he spent away, Kenny is excited to return to the school and give his friends the news that he did it, that he was finally brave enough, and that he made Butters listen to all of their names, that he made him wince and squirm. He's so excited that he forgets to get high.
There's no one in the kitchen or the lunchroom. The place is quiet, and Kenny has the feeling they're all gathered together somewhere, having a meeting that he won't be allowed to attend. He doesn't see Bebe in any of her usual places in the hall. By the time he reaches the gym he's thinking about the fact that he hasn't done this sober since that first night he saw them.
The gym is empty, but it doesn't mean they're gone, or that they were never there.
"Kyle?" he calls, his voice echoing around the court. "Stan? Eric?"
He waits, beginning to breathe harder. Nobody comes.
"I did it!" he tries, shouting. "I saw him! He's – nothing, he's erased. Like a tape someone recorded over. But he flinched when he heard your names. He flinched!"
Maybe they only feel comfortable showing themselves when he's high. He hurries home, smokes a joint, takes a pill. It's almost midnight by the time he returns.
But something has been ruined. He never should have come inside sober. They're not in the gym, the halls, the classrooms. Nothing happens when he beats his fists against what were once their lockers, except that his hands get bloody. He hates the sight of blood in these halls, can't abide it, so he gets his janitorial supplies and cleans it up, then does the whole hallway, sobbing like a friendless old man.
Subsequent visits to the school yield nothing, even when he's careful with the drugs, observing his old routine exactly. He's broken some code, or maybe he's just given them what they needed. Maybe they were there with him in the hospital, across the table from Butters, watching him crumble at the sound of their names.
He quits the janitor position and gets a lower paying job at an animal shelter, mostly cleaning cages. He gets to exercise the animals, too, and he buys catnip and squeak toys with his own money. It's a no-kill shelter, so he names the cats and dogs after kids that he once knew: Stan is a beagle mix with sweet eyes, Kyle is scruffy terrier in the adjoining cage, Eric is a fat white cat. He cries in his car when they get adopted, then gives the old names to new animals. Some of them he brings home himself: a tawny corgi named Donovan, and Tweek the cat, who came from a bad home and needs special attention. He has to get a second job at a pizza parlor so he can afford name brand pet food and vet bills.
On the anniversary, some of the survivors get together and cry at a lunch hosted by Wendy, who lives in Colorado Springs and has just finished medical school. Kenny gets an invitation in the mail every year, though he's never gone. This year he does, and he feels like he did that first time he managed to get as far as the hospital parking lot, like he might throw up in the bushes. Wendy's house is small but well-kept, with a swing on the front porch.
"Am I the first one here?" he asks when she pulls open the door. He'd forgotten how pretty she was. Her hair is shorter, only brushing her shoulders now. She smiles and leans in the doorway, admiring him like he's a photograph of himself.
"You might be the only one who shows," she says when she steps aside to let him in. "Some years, nobody comes."
"Shit," he says. "I always thought everyone did, except me."
She laughs and leads him into a cramped, sunny kitchen. There are fresh cut flowers on the table, and he can smell them: big and purple-blue, growing in clusters, he forgets the name of them, if he ever knew it. On the table there are little sandwiches with tomatoes and some kind of pesto spread. He eats one, feeling nervous, and saddened at the idea that these sandwiches might have gone back into her fridge untouched, under plastic wrap.
"Do you drink?" she asks from the fridge.
"I could use one," he says, nodding. She hands him a beer. Once he has it he's calmer, and he takes her in fully: heavier than he remembered, but just in the chest and hips, and she's working it, wearing a gray cotton dress with a belt.
"I never know what to put on," she says, touching the belt self-consciously when she notices him staring. "Black seems too – you know."
"Yeah," Kenny says, looking down at himself. He's wearing gray, too, a long-sleeved shirt, lighter than the shade of her dress. He put on nice pants, a pair of dark blue Old Navy slacks.
"You look good," she says. "My mom said she saw you the other day, outside the grocery store, doing some charity drive?"
"Yeah, for the shelter where I work. Animal shelter. Yeah."
"I wish I had time for a pet," she says. She's drinking beer, too, and she's barefoot, which makes him want to take off his shoes. "I've got my internship now at the hospital, so I have no life."
"That's okay," he says. "I don't have a life, either."
She laughs, then shakes her head. "I guess that's a gross thing for us to say."
"I think we're allowed to be gross sometimes."
"What made you finally come?" she asks. She's leaning against the fridge, not offering him a seat. He wonders if it would be rude to eat another sandwich before answering.
"I always thought it was kind of morbid," he says. "Getting together to think about what happened. But then I was like, shit. I think about it all the time, anyway."
"Me too," she says. She looks at her feet. Her toes are painted pale purple. "Bebe, um. She would talk to me, you know. Back then."
"She said you were sweet," Wendy says. She looks so sad, so suddenly, that Kenny feels guilty for not crossing the room to put a hand on her shoulder. "That you didn't brag to the other guys."
"I didn't," Kenny says. He swallows hard and looks at the window. It's bright outside, pretty, and it was like this that day, too, thirteen years ago. "This is the bad luck anniversary," he says.
"Doesn't feel that way."
"Yeah. I went to see Butters." He meets her eyes after saying so. She's gone very still, her arms crossed over her chest, the beer resting crookedly against her elbow.
"Why?" she asks. "I mean, I guess I know why, but –"
"He's just a husk," Kenny says, because he's got to tell someone. "Brains mostly scooped out by treatments, you know. But I said their names to him. Every name."
"Did you say mine?" she asks, her voice cracking apart.
"No. I should have. I should have—"
He does cross the room then, and she falls into the hug he gives her, holding on a little more tightly for every second that passes when he doesn't let go.
Nobody else shows up, and the rest of the day passes too quickly, on her couch, drinking beers and talking about those kids they once knew. Wendy had survived because Token pulled her behind a door, and they dated for a long time after that, but broke up in college when they admitted that it wasn't reason enough to stay together when they had little else in common.
"I used to have this dream," Kenny says, though it was more like a drug-induced hallucination and some days he's sure it was all real, "That I went to the school at night and they were all still there. Bebe was still beautiful, and Cartman was still a smart ass, and Stan and Kyle. They were always holding hands."
"That's nice," she says, smiling. Her eyes are a little wet; his are, too. "I think they would be."
Kenny ends up drinking too many beers to drive home, and she makes a bed for him on the couch. She explains that she has a shift at five in the morning, but he can stay and make himself at home after she's gone. They're both a little drunk, and she lingers after tucking him in like he's a kid. She sits on the couch and rolls what's left of her last beer between her palms.
"I never really let myself be glad to have survived," she says. "It didn't seem right."
"I know," he says. "But I think I am, right now."
She looks at him, startled, and stares for a moment before nodding.
"Yeah – that's what I meant. What I was going to say. Where the hell have you been, man?" She laughs, but it comes out sounding painful. "I'd better go to bed. What I meant to say, really, was that I've never been glad that I did this, this little – gathering, until now. Until today."
He sits up to hug her, and she extricates herself quickly, smiling at him as she backs toward the hallway, wishing him good dreams.
He dreams that he's in the school with all of them, standing at the back of the crowd as they watch Stan and Kyle prepare to take that first step outside, the doors blown open. Kenny had opened them for Kevin, at his request. He'd watched him disappear.
"Wait!" he tries to shout, but his voice won't work. "I didn't say goodbye! You didn't say goodbye. Stan! Kyle!"
"It won't work anyway," Cartman says, standing at Kenny's side. "They won't disappear."
He's right – they take the step together, looking at each other, Stan smiling shakily and Kyle keeping his expression very serious. Once they're outside, they both glow more brightly, throbbing with colors, and when they laugh Kenny can feel it, too, a kind of champagne bubble fizz in his chest and along his limbs. Kyle looks back and grins at him. The blood is gone, and the bullet hole. Stan's face is clean, too, and he waves to Kenny with the hand that isn't holding Kyle's. The others follow them out into the night one at a time, laughing with relief when they feel the breeze on their skin. Kenny can feel it, too, all of it. Bebe turns back to blow him a kiss before she steps out of the school. Craig gets up on the stone wall that lines the front stairs and crows triumphantly. Cartman is the last to go, turning back to Kenny before he takes the step.
"It's okay," Kenny tells him. "They're leaving, but they aren't gone."
He wants to go with them, but the doors are closing, and he understands that he can't. He wakes up to the smell of coffee. Wendy is in the kitchen, dressed in scrubs, her hair up in a bun. He needs to get home, to walk the dog and feed the cat.
"I had a dream about you last night," Wendy says when she sees that he's awake.
"Yeah?" He knows he looks like shit, and he's hungover, his hair wrecked. "What happened?"
"I'll tell you," she says, smiling. "Eventually." She's looking at him like she's sure that they'll see each other again soon. He feels it, too, and smiles back so she'll know: this is the second consecutive day that he's been glad to be alive.