Chapter Track: Sinkin' Down – Scott H. Biram
Craig starts his mornings early – he's used to waking up early because of the past couple of years, but he also likes that it helps him avoid his family until later. He loves his family, he really does, but after everything that happened, they still look at him differently. It's all in the face. He can tell, just how his mom frowns a little, his dad's eyes shift away, how he'll catch his sister looking at him like somebody looks at a stranger.
He did it for them, and maybe he shouldn't have done it. It landed him in juvie, and his parents look at him funny. Like they don't even know who he is.
"Is it the nipple rings?" Craig had snapped at his mom last night over dinner, "Because I'll take them out, if you'd just treat me like your fucking kid again."
She'd rubbed a hand over her face and replied in an exhausted voice, "No, Craig. It's not your piercings. We're just getting used to having you back in the house, honey."
"Bullshit," he'd said – and he figures he should apologize for this later – and he flipped her off, locking himself in his bedroom, where he watched porn for a solid three hour block, got himself off, and scrolled through the internet until he felt too depressed to watch cat videos.
That's when he'd gone out to smoke, when it was safe to creep downstairs and stand on his porch outside, where it was quiet, and he could think. Admittedly, Craig hadn't much time to think. He'd been out for only a few seconds, trying not to dwell on his shitty friends ignoring him or his weird family or Tweek Tweak – only that Tweek appeared instants later.
At first, Craig didn't know who the fuck was walking down the street. All he saw was a flashlight floating toward him like some will-o'-the-wisp shit, and he'd checked to make sure that it was indeed a cigarette in his hand and not something stronger.
And, like an asshole, he ended up kissing the dude.
Craig looks at his reflection in the mirror and inwardly groans at the memory. He'd scared the shit out of Tweek, and that wasn't what he wanted to do. Yeah, he wanted to kiss the guy. He still wants to kiss the guy. But he'd meant to approach it slowly. Like a lion stalking a gazelle or something poetic like that. But maybe not quite so predatory? Fuck it, it's too early for this shit.
Upon an inspection of his reflection, Craig doesn't think that Tweek didn't want to kiss him because he's unattractive. He's a little pimply, sure, but Tweek didn't even see the backne. Craig has a decent face. His teeth are little crooked and his nose a little sharp, but it's all standard fare. At least he doesn't have a Broflovski-style fro and Kyle's big nose. There's some small comfort in that.
As soon as Craig dresses for the day, he slings his backpack over his shoulder and lights a cigarette to start his walk toward Tweak Bros. It's an atypically gray day for summer, with ironclad clouds and a slight breeze in the warm air.
The trek isn't long – Craig stubs out his cigarette in the ashtray outside of the coffee shop before pushing open the door and stepping in. He's about to greet Tweek with rehearsed words of apology, but Tweek isn't at the counter. It's his mom, her short hair framing her face in waves, wearing an apron on over a yellow dress.
His first assumption as he approaches the counter is that he must have really fucked up, if Tweek is going so far to avoid Craig that he isn't showing up for work.
Craig has been doing a spectacular job of screwing things up when he didn't mean to lately.
"Hey Mrs. Tweak," Craig says, "Where's Tweek?"
She gives him a smile and says, "Oh, he's in one of his sleeps. He doesn't sleep much, so when he does, it can be for quite a while. What can I get you?"
"Um, a bottomless coffee for here and a breakfast burrito," he says, "…is Tweek okay?"
Mrs. Tweak putters back to fill a mug with black coffee and responds, "Oh, he's fine, dear. He's just prone to drama."
Craig doesn't know that having a fucked up sleep schedule means that Tweek is a drama queen, but he doesn't think he should say that, so he accepts his coffee and burrito and pays in crumpled bills before sitting in the back.
He would be lying if he said that he wasn't a little disappointed, but he does have a lot of shit to do before school starts up again, and whether or not there's a cute barista working, he should at least try to get it done.
Still, his mind drifts, and instead of doing his summer homework, Craig ends up watching the sky crack open and spill rain onto Main Street while he nurses his coffee. He fiddles with his phone and starts a text to Token – "hey man i get that you dont wanna hang out with me but maybe you could at least text me back or something" but then erases everything but "hey" and sends just that, instead.
It occurs to him that he doesn't really have friends anymore.
He sort of has Kenny, he guesses, but Kenny has other friends and people to be with that aren't Craig. He's immersed in a balancing act involving both Butters and Bebe, and has three temperamental drama queens for best friends. That's why Craig always liked his friends best, through everything, because Clyde and Token and Jason have always been level-headed – more quiet than Kenny and his friends.
This whole joint has changed. He doesn't like the feeling it gives him.
"Oh, for fuck's sake," Craig mutters. He tosses his books haphazardly back into his backpack and thanks Mrs. Tweak for the coffee on his way out.
He dials Kenny's number despite his insecurity, and Kenny picks up on the second ring. He greets Craig with a, "Hey, man. I was hoping you'd call. So, listen, I know you're not doing racing stuff anymore, but tonight we're driving out to some back roads and having a showdown with some of the guys. You can like, come and watch if you want."
Craig gnaws on his lower lip as he trudges back toward his house. He stops in the middle of the sidewalk when he realizes that he doesn't want there to be a chance that anybody in his family could hear this conversation, and slips into the alleyway between Tweak Bros and the plastic surgery place, leaning against the brick wall beside a dumpster.
Yeah, it's not ideal. It stinks like urine and week-old garbage, but at least nobody's going to catch Craig talking about breaking the law if he hides back here.
"Um," Craig gets out.
Kenny goes on before he can say anything else, "It's cool if you can't, dude. I know you're trying to keep your record cleaner this time around."
"No, I wanna come," he ends up saying.
It's a bad idea. Craig knows it is. Kenny's races are usually set up by his older brother's friends, a bunch of sloshed rednecks with mean streaks and huge-ass trucks. Beer flows freely at each event, and the harder stuff is served after everything's said and done. Craig loves racing Martha, loves showing up cocky twenty-somethings in their heavy duty vehicles, but he doesn't like the people there.
On the other hand, maybe now that he's seen some time behind bars, they'll treat him with a little more respect.
"If you're sure, dude," Kenny says, "Drop by my place at like, midnight? And follow me over there."
"Sounds cool," Craig agrees.
Kenny goodbyes him and hangs up. Craig fumbles with his phone as he treks back out to the sidewalk. He checks to see if Token has texted him back, but he hasn't – not that he expected any differently. He thinks about trying for Clyde, but pockets his phone and takes out a cigarette, instead.
He knows that going through with this isn't one of his better ideas, but he doesn't have anything else to do. He feels lost, which is weird, and Craig hates it. Part of who he is has always been knowing what he's doing with himself, and being sure of it. Now nothing makes sense – he's never known this feeling before.
So fuck it, he'll do what makes him feel good, and to hell with the consequences.
At eleven forty-five, Craig's parents have retired to their bedroom for the night. He can hear the laugh track from some sitcom echo from behind their closed door, and see the blue light from the television screen spilling out into the hallway. He creeps by as quietly as he can and pulls his hat further down on his head, like that'll camouflage who he is in the event that he's caught.
He makes it outside and fumbles with Martha's keys for a moment before getting them into the lock.
"You're going racing, aren't you?"
Craig jumps, and glares at Ruby, who stands on the other side of Martha with her arms folded across her chest. She lifts a brow at him and says, "You know you're going to get in so much fucking trouble if you get caught."
Smoky eyeshadow is swiped over her eyelids, and cat's eye liner curling past her eyes. She's wearing a low-cut black top and really, really tight jeans (jeggings? Craig's been away for a while, but he thinks he's got the right terminology).
"Yeah, and what are you up to? I doubt you're taking a trip to Weenie Hut Junior's," Craig snips back.
"Weenie Hut Junior's?" echoes Ruby, "Man, you have been gone a long time. Who the hell watches Spongebob anymore?"
"Shut up," Craig says, because it's all he can think to say.
Ruby bites down on her lower lip and says, "I'm going with Karen to the race."
"Why are you dressed like you're going clubbing?" Craig asks, "All the dudes there are nasty." He'd know. He's gay.
Ruby rolls her eyes at him and says, "Karen's my girlfriend, dumbass."
"What? Since when?"
"Since like a year ago," Ruby says.
"Does Kenny know?" is all Craig can think to ask.
Ruby shrugs, "Yeah, he knows. We made him promise he wouldn't tell you, so that I could."
Craig goes quiet for a minute and says, "You think mom and dad'll be pissed if they find out both their kids are gay?"
Ruby's brows go up into her styled red hair and she says, "Whoa. I dunno, I don't think they'll care. I think they sort of know about me and Karen anyway. Can I ride with you?"
Craig sighs and says, "Whatever, just don't tell mom and dad."
"I'd incriminate myself if I narked, stupid," Ruby mutters. She climbs into the passenger's seat and buckles herself in, sinking low into the seat as Craig starts the car.
In a handful of minutes, they're parked outside the McCormick's. Ruby climbs out when she sees Karen and Kenny emerge from the house. Karen's own clothing is less dressy than Ruby's – she just has on a worn out pink hoodie and some baggy jeans. Ruby hugs her and Kenny makes some joke that Craig can't hear but makes his sister laugh. Kenny waves as both girls climb into his truck.
Craig can't stop it. He feels shitty again, watching it all unfold. He doesn't know shit about anything, it feels like everybody around him knows what he used to know better than he ever will, because there's a gap in his timeline, like some Doctor Who timey-wimey-wibbly-shit.
Still, when Kenny's truck pulls away down the street, Craig follows him. They drive for a little more than forty-five minutes, away from South Park and further into the uninhabited corners of the mountains. The roads are pitch black, so dark that Kenny and Craig turn on their brights until they hit what's clearly the race site. Kevin and his friends have already built a makeshift firepit and lit it up. The beers have already made some rounds, leaving cans and bottles scattered on the ground.
When Craig parks Martha and ducks out, the whole place reeks of weed. A round of drunken laughter breaks out before Kenny and Craig approach, followed by their sisters, and Bebe, who gets a few leers as she pulls up to the bonfire with Kenny's arm wrapped around her waist.
Kevin stands up when they join the party, and scans Craig with a smoky chuckle, "Looks like Tucker's out of the slammer. Good to have you back, man."
Craig gives a halfhearted salute in response. Kevin McCormick looks about two times bigger than he was when Craig left. He's burly, with new ink twisting up his neck and down his thick arms.
One of Kevin's friends laughs, "He brought his lady car with him, too."
"Yeah, and she'll drive your stupid-ass excuse for a vehicle into the ground," Craig snaps back. Some of the others hoot with laughter, and the guy lifts his finger – which Craig returns gladly.
For a half an hour, they mostly dither around. Craig smokes through a cigarette but opts out of liquor and weed, not wanting fuck with his ability to race. It's only as soon as Kenny and Bebe start getting handsy with each other that Kevin finally says, "Okay, okay. Knock that shit off. Let's race." This sparks a drunken cheer.
The first two to go are two of Kevin's friends that Craig doesn't recognize. Following them, it'll be Kevin McCormick versus his own brother, and then Craig against the ugly guy that flipped him off.
"Guess juvie didn't change much," Bebe comments, when the first two come back, rowdy and shoving each other, and Kenny gives her a kiss to the cheek before jumping into his truck.
"Guess not," Craig replies, "Shit changed here, though."
"Has it?" Bebe says. Kenny waves to her from the window of his truck and revs his engine, and she blows a kiss to him.
"Yeah, it's like I came back to a whole different place," Craig says. He has no idea why, of all people, he's telling this to Bebe Stevens, but it leaks out anyway.
Kevin and Kenny jet off down the road, and Bebe hollers after them, "You got this, baby!" before she turns back to Craig with a shrug, "I always thought you kind of didn't care."
Craig scratches the back of his neck and responds, "I don't. I think. I don't know."
The conversation ends there, awkwardly, and Craig lights another cigarette just so that he's doing something with his hands. A few minutes later, Kenny's truck approaches a few feet in front of Kevin's, kicking up dust as it screeches to a halt. Kenny stumbles out a moment later and whoops. He jogs to Bebe and lifts her up off of the ground, kissing her hard in front of the rest of the group, earning a round of hooting and whistles.
"Your turn, fucker," Kevin says to Craig, pointing at Martha with one hand, and groping for a beer from the cooler with his other.
Craig slides into the driver's seat of his car and buckles himself in, flexing his fingers on the wheel. He loves this part – anticipating what's going to happen, but having no way of knowing how this shit will go down. Adrenaline spikes through his veins, a tingly feeling that he hasn't felt since he got tossed in juvie.
One of the girlfriends of the guys here waves at them over their makeshift starting line, and Craig and the ugly dude pull up to it.
And then it's time.
Craig jets off as fast as he can take Martha, but Ugly Dude's truck is just as fast. If he can edge him a little to the side – but Ugly dude has the same idea. He uses his truck to scrape against Martha's side. The sound makes Craig grit his teeth, but he keeps pushing forward, as fast as he can, around their shitty track. As long as he doesn't spin out, he'll be good. He just needs to keep his head in it.
His blood pumps hard and fast, filling his brain with the white noise of excitement as he starts to inch ahead of Ugly Dude and his beaten-up truck. Nobody beats Martha, Craig tells himself.
Just as the finish is in site Craig pulls one last move, and arrives seconds before Ugly Dude. He rolls out of Martha with a cry of victory, and says to Ugly Dude, "I told you, nobody fucks with Martha."
The party winds down after that. Mostly everybody follows Kevin to his apartment to hit the hard stuff, but Craig insists on taking Ruby home with him.
When they get there, he and Ruby swear to never tell their parents – as far as they're concerned, tonight never happened.
The next day, Tweek shows back up at the coffee shop, but he doesn't say anything about "having one of his sleeps" or even the kiss that happened. He greets Craig like usual and brings him coffee, but doesn't talk a lot.
And that's kind of how it continues to go. Craig tries to wheedle information out of Tweek, like his favorite Doctor Who episodes, or how he feels about Scully from the X-Files, but Tweek doesn't respond much. He looks tired most of the time, and almost always smells like he's been drinking.
For the first time since Craig has gotten back, he wonders if he should be more worried about someone other than himself. Tweek wasn't like this before, at least he doesn't think Tweek was. Tweek never really had any close friends, and he was in special classes at school, so he wasn't much of a highlight, but from a distance he seemed okay. Aloof, maybe, and definitely introverted, but not unhappy.
And if there's one thing that Craig's certain of now, it's that Tweek Tweak is some weird kind of fucked up.
In the midst of it all, summer passes by. Craig hates that it whips by them so quickly. Sooner than he thought possible, he's woken up his alarm on the first day of school. He brushes his teeth and pulls on his clothes, and pours himself a bowl of cereal before heading out to the bus stop (his parents have forbidden him to drive Martha to school, since he'll need a permit to park in the school lot and can't get it without a license, which he definitely doesn't have).
But by the time that Craig reaches the bus, a knot of nerves forms in his throat. Clyde and Token have spent the entire summer ignoring him, and though he doubts that they'll be on the bus, he knows that they'll be in school with him. They'll have to face each other. The high school isn't big at all. It's inevitable.
Craig sits next to Kenny on the bus, who regales him with stories of what he did last weekend (sleep with Butters) and how awesome it was (Craig does not want to think about it).
Before the bell rings, Craig sits alone in a bathroom stall on the second floor, smoking a cigarette so he'll maintain his sanity for as long as possible, and drawing an alien on the stall door, because he's got nothing better to do, and has Tweek Tweak on his mind again.
His first class is math, which doesn't bode well for the day. Education in juvie was a joke. It was either go to school or sit in your room all day, and Craig chose school – but in every fucking class, they treated the students like they were dumb as dirt. Not that South Park High is much of an improvement, but he thinks people might actually learn things here. Maybe?
When the bell rings and Craig shuffles into his math class, he spots Clyde. He's sitting in the back of the class talking with Bebe, but quiets when Craig comes in. Craig wonders if he should wave, but Clyde ignored him all summer…so he lowers his eyes and takes the last seat available, the one next to Kip Drordy.
"We're going to start today by taking a quiz to assess everyone's ability in mathematics," announces the teacher, some blond lady that's wearing too much lip liner.
This is bad news. Craig spent his low-level math courses in juvie sleeping most of the time, doodling on his desk or the papers in front of him, or, during Kenny's brief stint with him, playing paper football in the back of the classroom.
The teacher lays the quizzes down on their desks. When she tells them to turn the papers over, everything on the page looks like it's in a foreign fucking language. Craig wracks his mind for anything lingering that would help him solve this shit, but there's nothing. His mind is blank.
Craig returns his quiz with nothing but the tenth doctor scrawled into the corner of his page with a TARDIS behind him.
When class ends, the teacher stops him before he can get out the door.
"Can I have a word, Mr…?"
"Tucker," he mutters, knowing where this conversation is going.
"I noticed that you didn't fill out your quiz," she says, "I was wondering if you thought this class is a joke, because I want you to know that I take my job seriously."
Craig shuffles uncomfortably. After a beat of silence, he answers, "I didn't know the answers."
"This is the lowest level math class that this school offers at your grade, Mr. Tucker," she replies.
And Craig doesn't know what he's supposed to say to that, so he responds, "Sorry."
The teacher sits down at her desk and takes his quiz, scrawling something onto the back of it before she returns it to him. She instructs, "I want you to take this to Mr. Mackey's office before you go to your next class."
Craig takes the quiz and mumbles a half-hearted goodbye. He reads the cursive writing on the back as he walks down the hall, dodging harried students and clumps of loiterers standing circled against lockers. All it reads is 'Mr. Tucker said he did not know the answers to this quiz. Consider enrolling him in different classes.'
Mackey's office is crowded with students. Craig guesses that they're all here for schedule changes, and that seems like what he's here for too, maybe. He can hear Wendy Testaburger arguing with Mr. Mackey about her electives even though the door is closed, and decides to sink into a seat to wait. He already wants to go home. He wishes he was racing in Martha, or sitting on his bed watching porn, or even that he could be abducted by aliens and never come back – anyplace but this school, with these people, in this town.
"Craig, have you got something on your schedule that needs seeing to?" Mr. Mackey is standing in front of him, and it's only then that Craig realizes the rest of the students have filtered out with the problems solved.
"Oh, um," Craig hands over the crumpled quiz and says, "My math teacher told me to give this to you."
Mr. Mackey takes the paper and his eyes scan the page, "…mmkay," is all that he says, "I think Mrs. Wood is suggesting that we enroll you in our remedial program."
"Special classes?" Craig says.
"We just want what's best for you, mmkay?" Mr. Mackey replies, "Do you want to try that, or do you want to keep going with what you already have on your schedule?"
Craig doesn't see much of a choice here.
"I guess. The remedial classes," he answers, wondering if he should feel ashamed, "or whatever."
Mackey retreats into his office, where Craig can hear him clacking away on his computer. He returns a few minutes later with a pink paper and a new schedule in his hand. He says, "Your next class is your English class, and that's already started so I wrote you a pass, mmkay? You have a good day, Craig."
Not fucking likely, he thinks, but shuts his mouth and tramps down the hallway.
The remedial classes are tucked into a small hallway in the back of the school, where they even have their own computer lab and are allowed to eat in the classrooms if they want. Craig's new English class is toward the beginning of the hall. The door is closed, and he struggles with it for a minute before he pries it open. The teacher and the students inside stare at him as he shuffles inside.
"Can I help you?" asks the teacher.
Craig hands him his pass and scans the room for a place to sit. There aren't many kids in the classroom – maybe even more empty desks than there are people. There's Jimmy, and Red, and a couple people that Craig doesn't recognize.
And in the very back, next to the window…there's Tweek.
Craig weaves through the desks and snags the one beside his. He's dressed comfortably in a t-shirt and cargo shorts whose pockets look to be filled to capacity, and clunky black boots.
"Hey," Craig greets.
Tweek stares back at him, and for a second Craig thinks that he's about to get the silent treatment.
But then Tweek mumbles softly, "Hi."
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