"Meanwhile in my head, I'm undergoing open-heart surgery."
Dylan flicked the lighter idly with his thumb.
"Cold?" Ethan asked, "or should I learn Morse Code?"
"I'm signaling my suicide note to the tune of Teenage Dream," Dylan said, flicking the lighter once more.
"I've always found a paper and pencil gets the job done," Ethan replied.
They were sitting in Ethan's car in the high school parking lot. It was the night of the Valentine's Day dance and the entire gymnasium seemed to pulsate with the DJ's choice selection of Justin Beiber and Katy Perry songs.
Dylan had thought this would be like old times; laughing at the cheerleaders trying to balance on their stilettos and the jocks hold open the doors in a touching acts of misogyny. But now that everyone had filed into the gymnasium and the heat had almost completely distilled in February air, he felt like he'd gotten too old for this kind of thing.
Ethan flicked his cigarette through the gap of the window and rolled it back up.
"Could you even imagine being in there?" Ethan asked. Dylan wondered what Ethan would look like dressed in a suit, with the tacky lights Student Counsel would have strung up shining down on him.
"Hell," he agreed, pulling the edges of his sleeves over his knuckles. .
Across the parking lot Dylan could see Stan Marsh trailing after Wendy Testaburger towards his car. She laughed at him as he offered his suit coat to her so he hung it over his arm in an embarrassed sort of way that Dylan was sure made her love him.
Dylan fingered the flask of vodka in his coat pocket. He'd covered up the smell of the half of it he'd choked back before Ethan had picked him up with a well-timed cigarette. It'd made his lips numb, and he willed the feeling to spread to whatever part of him was still aching.
"Vodka?" He asked holding the flask out to Ethan.
Ethan took the container skeptically, "is that Henrietta's?"
Dylan took a sip, trying not to gag like he had in his bedroom. "I guess," he said, turning back towards the window.
Ethan slid the flask from Dylan's hand and took a sip. When he handed it back, Dylan had to consciously fight the idea of bumping their fingers together. And tried not to think about Ethan's lips when he took his next sip.
"We can go," Ethan said, "Benny's or whatever."
"No," Dylan said, feeling particularly unable to stand up against the prolonged ache of being so close to Ethan. The night was going nowhere. "This was a stupid idea. Take me home."
Ethan watched him finish the flask with the same unreadable expression he'd have if he was discussing track listings on Henrietta's playlists. They drove the five blocks to Dylan's house in silence, with the Cure punctuating the silence between songs.
It seemed unfair that normal teenagers had events that forced them to pair up but no such formality was recognized in his group of friends. He felt sick, and forced himself to think about anything other than the weird churns his stomach was doing.
Ethan parked the car outside of Dylan's house. "I think I left one of my notebooks on your desk the other day."
"I'll bring it to school Monday," Dylan said, shutting down the typical way Ethan liked to invite himself into his room. Ethan looked like he was going to protest, but then just took another drag of his cigarette.
Dylan shut the door before he changed his mind and fumbled up the walkway of his house. He collapsed onto his bed and rested his head against the wall where it was cooler, unwilling to move again to unbutton his coat. He was old enough to know that crying couldn't make him feel better, but he considered trying it anyway. It was another night he'd wasted. How many more excuses could he make to be alone with Ethan before June, it was already February. He pinched his eyes shut.
They'd all skipped the first day of school, and chain smoked their way past dinner in Benny's. It was the first day of Ethan's senior year, which Dylan hadn't found significant until Ethan pointed it out then. "One more year of this hell," he'd said, staring down at his coffee, "before I fuck off from everyone in South Park for good." The gap in grades between them had never really mattered since they skipped classes and took the same electives. But in that moment it became very clear to Dylan the relationship Ethan saw between them: a shared love of truancy and the Cure. Which was probably more than most people had.
But next year, even that would disappear. Six months later and his attempts to show Ethan how much he meant to him had become a litany of unrealized gestures. On Christmas he'd broken their standing tradition of ignoring the holiday altogether and bought Ethan the rare copy of Siouxsie and the Banshees' "Overground" CD he'd fought an obnoxious bidding war for on eBay. He'd wrapped it in plain red paper and hid it in his messenger until Georgie and Henrietta left the diner. He had placed it on the table.
"Did someone buy you a Christmas present?" Ethan had laughed.
Dylan had licked his cracked lips and stared at it looking for a way out of what he'd started. "I got it for you," he'd said, "I can't always spurn the jingo-capitalist monster."
Ethan had stubbed out his cigarette like something important was happening. But a confused "oh," was all he had said, reaching for it.
Dylan had been too embarrassed to about the whole thing to do anything other than maintain the status quo since then. But Valentine's Day seemed like the perfect opportunity to commiserate their loneliness together. He was supposed to get drunk enough to forget why he should be scared to touch Ethan's hand. He groaned, holding his stomach and turning over in his bed.
He woke up too early the next morning and washed last night's eyeliner off while his temples pounded against the light over the bathroom mirror. His hair tumbled over his forehead; the chemical smell from dying it last weekend was still pungent.
His phone buzzed on his pillow when he walked back into his bedroom. He opened a text from Henrietta, "come over."
There was no way Ethan or Georgie would be up this early. He took comfort in the idea as he pulled on his black cardigan and creepers.
"You look like shit," Henrietta said opening the door, her hair sticking up straight in strange angles. "Here," she said, thrusting a cup of Folgers under his nose, "I'm in the middle of a tease," she explained, waving a hand at the hair. He stared down at the coffee weakly as they went into her room.
"You shouldn't have gone, I told you it'd be weird," she said, returning to the straightener on her dresser.
Dylan groaned and lay across her bed, his feet dangling crookedly off the edge.
"Well, did the vodka work?"
"It just made me sick. I think he thought it was lame," he said, picking at his chipped nail polish, "he was right."
"Drink your coffee," she said, frowning at him in the mirror. Ever since he'd confessed to her over the summer about his feelings for Ethan she'd been pushing him towards making a move.
"Ethan is just Ethan," she said, "I can't figure out what he thinks half the time. He might as well start speaking entirely in his cryptic poems. But if you just ask him, he'll tell you. He wouldn't fuck around with your feelings Dylan."
Dylan turned up the Bauhaus on Henrietta's iPod and let the whining guitar feel for him.
The bed dipped down where Henrietta sat down next to him and tugged his earbuds. "Listen, I have something to tell you."
"Dramatic," Dylan said, pushing his hair out of his eyes and sitting up against the wall.
"So, admittedly," she said, twirling a strand of black hair through her fingers, "this is embarrassing. You're the only person I'm telling."
"Yeah," he said, wondering if she'd started cutting again, and looking at the white scars on her wrist.
"I wish it was that," she said, following his glance. She lay back against the bed until her head rested against his thigh. "You know that Skinny Puppy show I went to alone a couple weeks ago?"
"Because they're sellouts," Dylan said.
"I left halfway through with someone," she said, ignoring the comment, "I sort of fucked them in the backseat of my mom's car."
Dylan made a face, trying to count all the times he'd sat in that car since.
"Shut up," she said as if she could hear his thought process. "I'm pregnant."
"Shit," he said slowly, reaching his hand over to cover hers.
"I'm not keeping it," she said quickly, "the only reason I'm telling you is I want you to come with me to the Planned Parenthood in Denver this weekend. You know, in case I have to take down god fearing Christian protestors on my way in the door or something."
"Don't you need your parents' permission?" He asked, already imagining the nurse's judgmental stares at him as he fidgeted in the waiting room. Fuck them, he thought preemptively.
"I'm 18," she said, looking over at him. "Will you or won't you?"
"Of course I will," Dylan said. "Did you tell the—er—father?"
"Do you think I should?"
"Yes?" Dylan said, not sure where to balance his baseline feminism with his concern about her potential regret.
"It's Craig Tucker," she said.
"The hipster kid?"
"Yeah, I guess," she said, although he'd heard her call Craig a 'fucking hipster' on numerous occasions.
"Just tell him what's going on, I think. On Monday. It's not like you're asking his permission."
"Yeah," she said, sounding relieved, looking over at him. "You need more coffee, you look like shit."
"Good," he said, and buried his face back into her pillow.
"Give me a couple Valium," she said, "I need to stop thinking about this."
"Should you …" he asked, his eyes dropping to her stomach.
"It doesn't matter," she said, already digging through his messenger bag, "unless you want to tell me what to do," she said looking up at him, "because you're a man and you know best."
"Give me two," he said, sitting on the floor next to her.
She shook the bottle and he took two pills with the now cold coffee. She finished what was left of the coffee to chase her pills, and sighed. "Already feeling better," she said.
The Valium made him feel like everything would be okay in an abstract sort of way; because nothing held meaning. He fell asleep wondering if it was true while Henrietta turned up the volume of the CD player. When he opened his eyes, the edge of Ethan's boots were in his line of vision and it took him a minute to realize he was still on the floor.
Henrietta was already awake, zoned out in front of her laptop. "Napping?" Ethan asked sitting down next to him.
"What else is there to do?" Henrietta asked, her words tellingly slow from the pills.
"It's lunch time," Ethan said simply. Dylan heard the flick of his lighter and his familiar exhale.
Dylan shut his eyes again.
"Sit up," Ethan said, sounding pissed in a way that made Dylan sure he hated him. But the next minute he was pushing Dylan's hair away from his eyes, "you look dead."
He wished he would keep touching his hair.
"Dylan," Ethan said quietly, "sit up please."
Dylan opened his eyes and looked up at the pale face hovering over him.
He sat up on his elbows. "What?" he asked, in a way that he hoped convey that he had no problem being found blacked out on Henrietta's floor on a Saturday afternoon. Ethan stood up and paced the room, his trench coat sweeping against his legs.
"We're going to Benny's," he said in the authoritative voice he typically saved for band practices. Dylan stood up and looked for the pill bottle to return to his bag but when Ethan followed his gaze to the half-empty bottle on the bed, he grabbed his coat instead. "Come on Henrietta," Ethan said.
She sighed but followed them to Ethan's car.
Dylan stared down into another cup of coffee at the diner, and chewed on the edge of his toast.
Henrietta was detailing the ways in which Mike Makowski's new band sucked worse than his last one, and he nodded at the appropriate pauses. Across the table Ethan was looking at him with a mixture of concern and contempt. It seemed unfair and made Dylan want to announce childishly that Henrietta was pregnant and smoking. Also unfair was the way Ethan could look so good in a polka dot collared shirt and dangling earring. His curls brushed along the edge of the collar, in a way that made Dylan resent the fact that table was between them. Maybe he could find an excuse to touch him anyway. He tried to think of one as he reached for the pack of cigarettes on the table.
He spent the rest of the weekend chain smoking on his bed, constantly turning over the fact that Henrietta had more intimacy with a douche bag she'd hated than he'd had with the person he practically worshipped since he was 8.
Over the speakers Morrissey sang, "I'd leap in front of a flying bullet for you."
If only such opportunities presented themselves, he sighed into the filter of his cigarette
Even if he wasn't doing it outright, he was avoiding Ethan. They typically met up at the diner around 10:00 on Sunday nights and stayed until their legs cramped up against the booth. He stared at the clock until it hit 10, wondering if he'd really do it, if he'd really stay home. But ultimately he knew it was good practice.
On Monday morning Ethan was waiting outside in his car.
"Busy Sunday?" Ethan asked, a scarf wrapped tightly to his chin, and his curls sticking up through the expensive wax he put on them.
"I guess," Dylan said, sticking a cigarette between his lips. He pulled Ethan's composition book from his book bag. "Here's this," he said, placing it on the back seat among the extra flyers from past gigs they'd meant to put up and overdue library books.
Two Styrofoam to-go cups from Tweak Bros coffee sat in the cup holder. "Got up early," Ethan said, motioning to them.
"Thanks," Dylan said, taking the one nearest to him.
Ethan looked tired in the gaudy light of the morning. It was already snowing, and Dylan pulled his hood over his face before getting out of the car. Henrietta was waiting at his locker when he got inside.
"When should I talk to him?" she asked, and he watched Ethan disappear into his homeroom with his matching coffee cup. Everything seemed like a missed opportunity now, he thought, imagining Ethan sitting alone in Mr. Tweaks this morning.
"At lunch?" Dylan suggested, grabbing his lit anthology.
She nodded, walking him to his first period class. "School feels like a different reality than a parking lot outside of a Skinny Puppy concert."
He slept through his first period study hall, and went to all of his other classes. Skipping would just mean more unstructured time with Ethan that he couldn't face sober. But sitting through a whole day of school was a different kind of painful. He'd forgotten how horrific school really was; filling out worksheets and listening to PowerPoint presentations was one thing—it was the forced group work that killed him. His fourth period biology teacher paired him Bebe Stevenson whose partner was absent. She moved her stool away from his when he sat down and turned to her friends for sympathetic looks.
He was glad when the bell finally rang for the last period. It was the art elective he took with Ethan, but Henrietta stopped him the hallway on his way. Her eyeliner was smeared and she grabbed his arm.
"Skip with me," she said, pulling him towards the back entrance of the school.
"What's going on," he asked when they were standing in the already frozen February air, fighting the urge to light a cigarette. It felt wrong, even if she was aborting the baby, to smoke next to a pregnant girl.
"Let's go to Denver now," she said, her eyes bloodshot, "and get this out of me."
"What happened?" he asked, hugging his arm around himself as the wind blew loose snow from the roof of the school.
"Craig wouldn't acknowledge me. He wouldn't look at me—just made fucking asshole comments to his friends," she said, running her hands over her stomach, "I wish I could will it away with my hate."
"Let's go into the auditorium and listen to my iPod," he said. "We almost made it through a day of school."
"So what?" she said, staring at the pointy toes of her boots cutting through the snow.
"Maybe Craig will change his mind," he said, grabbing her hand and leading her back into the school.
"It's fine, I should go to English class anyway," she said. "Midterm or some big test I should care about."
Dylan nodded, walking her to class, and then getting his coat from his locker before going back outside. There were only 30 minutes left in the school day and he could probably smoke two cigarettes in that time if he went slow, he thought, leaning against the frozen bricks of the building. He wondered if Craig Tucker knew how lucky he was that anyone willingly touched him. All he ever got were walls.
When the students started dispersing out the building towards the parking lot, he watched carefully for Craig's obnoxiously tight blue hoodie. Dylan tried to remember how much he needed this in order to cancel out his natural inclination to turn the other direction when he saw a letter jacket.
"Hey," he said, poking Craig in the back.
"What?" Craig was unfazed, looking Dylan over. He was taller but lankier with a crooked sneer that never seemed to go away.
"Can I talk to you a minute?" he asked, casting a look at the blonde kid and jock kid.
Craig sighed and walked a few dramatically painful steps away from them across the frozen parking lot.
"You need to talk to Henrietta. She's pregnant because of you," he said, blowing a puff of cigarette smoke over his shoulder.
"Right," Craig said, looking down his nose at Dylan. "She probably got some bat sperm on her dildo."
Dylan blew his next breath of smoke into Craig's face. "Don't be a fucking dick," he said.
"Listen kid, why don't you raise her spawn to be a faggot like yourself if you care so much."
"She wants to abort it, she just wants you to tell her that's okay with you," Dylan said. "Which it clearly is, so just do it."
"She's a witch, right? Tell her to use her broomstick to-"
"Don't fucking finish that sentence," Dylan shoved Craig hard.
It seemed like that'd all Craig had been waiting for before he swung his fist back and cracked it into Dylan's mouth. He staggered backwards tripping over his shoes and slamming his head into a car behind him. He stared down at his cigarette lying between his feet, smoldering over the ice. Craig flipped him off as he backed out of the parking lot. Dylan closed his eyes and leaned his head back against the car he'd just fallen into.
"Hey kid," Stan Marsh said, waving a hand in front of his face while his bitchy redhead friend folded his arms over his chest behind him. "Are you okay?" he asked, pulling Dylan's hand away from his mouth. "Shit dude," he said, "keep your eyes open."
Dylan pushed Stan's hand away from his face and tried to stand, his hands pushing uselessly against the blacktop. Stan grabbed his arms and hulled him up, igniting another wave of hazy black to the sides of his vision. "Isn't that your friend's car over there," Stan said, somewhat desperately, pointing towards Ethan's Jetta. He half carried him over to the car, while his friend huffed and got into the passenger seat.
"You okay?" Stan asked, and Dylan nodded, leaning against the locked door of the car, willing Stan to let him alone. "Here," Stan said, cringing at the blood Dylan was suddenly aware was pooling at his chin. "Sorry it's all I have," he said, digging a Wendy's napkin from his backpack.
Dylan watched him return to his car, clutching the balled up napkin to his mouth.
"Are you fucking serious right now Dylan?" Henrietta said. "Is that your idea of being a friend to me? Getting into some sort of jock fight with Craig?" Her hair extensions were whipping around her face in the wind.
Dylan tried to point out that it'd been a little more one-sided than a fight. But the blood dripping through the napkin now and dripping bright red into the snow captured his interest.
"What did he say?" Henrietta said, tears burning down her cheeks like they had earlier.
"Nothing," he said, sorry it was his fault she was crying.
"Why would you do this?" She said, more to herself than Dylan, "how am I supposed to get him to talk to me now?" she said, scrubbing her eyes with her palms until her eye makeup smudged into two dark clouds around her eyes.
"Thanks for not telling me you guys were skipping last period," Ethan's said, a cigarette dangling from his lips as he took in the scene, "what's going on?"
"Nothing!" Henrietta yelled at Ethan as he got closer.
"Jesus Christ," he said, using his scarf to blot the blood the napkin wasn't holding. He tilted Dylan's face gently up. "Hey look at me," he said.
The world around him was blocked out by Ethan's shoulders.
"Who hit you?"
"No one," Dylan mumbled, wondering if the blood he could taste was in his teeth. Fights weren't very goth but blood was and he hoped Ethan approved.
"I'm going to help you sit down, okay?" Ethan said, grabbing firmly at Dylan's arm and helping him into the passenger seat. Sitting down the world seemed much easier than before. "Hold this tight against your lip," he said, turning Dylan's face from side to side, his brown eyes searching for more evidence of injury. He sighed with annoyance that Dylan couldn't understand, before shutting the door to the car.
Outside the window Ethan was gesturing angrily at Henrietta while she pointed at Dylan. A few minutes later Ethan's hand was on her shoulder as she nodded. Dylan watched the progression between thick blinks.
Dylan wondered if she was telling Ethan everything. He wouldn't blame her. But when she turned to get in her car, she gave him a little wave and he somehow doubted it.
"She's pregnant," he said. "You should have told me."
Dylan closed his eyes again.
"Just your lip?" Ethan said, watching uncertainly.
"I'm fine," he said staring out the window still, watching Henrietta sitting in her car, waiting for Georgie.
"Did you hit your head?" Ethan asked, reaching to touch Dylan's hair.
"I'm fine," he repeated, jerking away from Ethan's touch.
Ethan turned away and lit a cigarette. He took a long drag and started the car. "I fundamentally have lost the plot of what's going on between us," he said finally.
"That's deep," Dylan said, wishing he'd bleed to death into Ethan's scarf.
"I think you wanted him to punch you," Ethan said, turning away from the road that led to Dylan's house.
"Then hooray," he said, pulling the scarf away from his lips and staring at the damage in the side view mirror. It was hard to see past the drying blood, but his lip seemed split on the bottom. It was hard to imagine that was the cause of so much blood.
"Why else would you pick a fight with him? All of his friends were around. You didn't tell me because you knew I would have stopped you. And if I couldn't have, I would have at least punched him back for you. It makes no sense Dylan."
"He was being a dick about Henrietta," he said.
"How did you expect him to act?" Ethan said, parking the car outside of his house. Dylan had been avoiding coming here for months, always coming up with some excuse. Ethan lived with his mom and she was always out of town. It was too secluded; they were too alone together here. But he didn't want to risk arguing about it now. He got out of the car, and ignored the question.
Inside Dylan sunk into the sofa, and Ethan tossed him a wet washcloth. He felt a kind of sadness about exchanging the scarf for the washcloth, but he supposed they were both Ethan's so it shouldn't matter, but it still did.
Ethan hung his trench coat against the back of the chair and sat on the other end of the sofa. Underneath were thin suspenders that Dylan liked to obsess about tugging on. He closed his eyes, and focused on the coolness of the washcloth. Maybe he had wanted Craig to hit him. Now that Ethan said it, it felt true. "Can you turn on Bauhaus or something?" he said moodily.
"Every time we're together anymore you're drunk or eating your mom's Valium like they're breath mints."
"What's your point," Dylan said, wondering the best way to avoid this conversation. He opened his eyes after the silence from Ethan became pervasive.
"How's your lip," Ethan asked leaning closer. Dylan stared down at the way the sofa was dipping and pressing their thighs together. He meant to say fine. But Ethan was too close. He tried not to focus on the thin eyeliner rimming his eyes. "Dylan, why are you so upset?" he asked quieter, reaching a careful arm across his shoulders as if waiting for Dylan to shrug him off. He pulled him close and hugged him.
Dylan was sure this was the most physical contact they'd ever had pass between them. Even more than the time his guitar strap had come unhooked at a show and Ethan fixed it, leaning a hand on Dylan's shoulder for balance. Then he'd smelled like the cheap beer from the venue but now it was oil paint they used in art class. He tried to focus on it so he could remember the detail for later. He felt like he was doing something wrong, even when Ethan's hands were gingerly running through his hair. "Where did you hit your head," he asked.
"There," Dylan said, and Ethan's fingers stopped over the spot he'd made contact with the front bumper of Stan Marsh's car.
"It's not bleeding," Ethan said, like it'd been some question they'd been wondering about.
"Okay," he said, untangling himself from Ethan's arms. Ethan leaned away again, as though nothing strange had happened. The living room of his house looked the same as it always had. Dylan realized now that he'd been envisioning boxes lined up against the walls, ready to go. But it was only February; there was plenty of time for packing for wherever Ethan was going.
"Does Henrietta hate me?" he asked, not wanting to lose another friend.
"I'm driving her to Planned Parenthood on Saturday. She called you a jock a couple of times. Other than that, I think she'll get over it. When did you find out about the pregnancy or whatever?" Ethan asked.
"Saturday," Dylan said.
"Oh," Ethan said. "It was lame being at the diner Sunday night without you. I felt like even the waitress was disappointed."
"She's a bitch," Dylan said, annoyed at the way he was feeling guilty about the goddamn waitress. "I guess you don't have much longer to worry about shit like that."
"Graduation. You know, getting to be away from us 'people of South Park.'"
Ethan's head was turned towards the wall, so Dylan focused on the curls falling against his ears. "I thought I'd get an apartment in town until you graduated. Then we wouldn't always have to sit at Benny's to be together at night."
"You said you only had 'one more year of this hell,'" Dylan said, his chest tight, and the accusation had lost any strength it'd once had.
"High school," Ethan said, turning towards him, "did you think I meant you?"
Dylan didn't say anything. It sounded stupid when Ethan said it.
He grabbed Dylan's hand, "Don't you know that I love you. I thought that was what this was about. That you'd found out."
Dylan shook his head, his bangs falling over his eyes, "I didn't know, I thought-" He took a shaky breath, "I love you too. I think I've been trying to get drunk or high enough to tell you."
"Am I that intimidating?"
"You're pretty goth," Dylan said matter-of-factly.
"There's blood drying around the collar of your Joy Division shirt," Ethan pointed out , "you're pretty goth."
"Ian Curtis would approve," Dylan agreed with a half-laugh.
Dylan nodded, burying his face into Ethan's collar. "Can we still do all that stuff? Move in together-stay awake together without having a bitch waitress roll her eyes at us—even though I'm a complete emo dick?"
"I never thought it could go another way," Ethan said, "except when Craig Tucker almost killed you," he said hugging him tighter and kissing the top of his head.
"I just tripped on my creepers or else I would have taken him down in a fit of macho bravado," he said, eliciting a laugh from Ethan.
"I want to find the fucker and beat his face in with my cane," Ethan said. "But maybe we should suppress the urge with Donnie Darko and physical contact."
"I want to kiss you," Dylan said, "does that make me a conformist?"
"I'd say no, but I might be pushing my own agenda," Ethan said, frowning at Dylan's swelling lip, "though, it won't be good for my ego to have you wincing in pain."
"Life is pain," Dylan said, straightening up so they were eye level.
Ethan looked unsure but pulled him closer and pressed his lips to the unhurt corner of Dylan's mouth. When he broke the kiss Ethan almost seemed to be smiling in a way Dylan appreciated but would never point out. And for that minute, nothing hurt at all.