grr sorry for the wait, this chapter just did not want to happen. Hope you enjoy, and thank you for being with me!

Joseph is fifty three years old, as Craig gathered by the birthday card sitting on his desk. He's an Italian guy, with a straight nose and all of his hair. He wears nice sweaters that his wife picks out for him and dark pants. No need for glasses or contacts, because his eyes are still fine, albeit wrinkled at the corners. For all of his perks, though, Joseph is always worried looking, and he sighs in great frequency when he talks to Craig. He gets halfway through a sentence and then he sighs and waves his hands around, searching for words.

Craig likes him. He lets Craig play with Ella, his snake, while they talk, and she slithers up and down his shirt and Craig's sentences are interrupted from time to time with a yelp when she finds a new place on his chest to explore. He doesn't play music or anything, but he has a few beanbags in his office that Craig likes to flop all over. They don't have two-way conversation like Kenny says he and his therapist have, but Craig doesn't mind at all. He really doesn't want to hear about Joseph's life stories anyway.

It took Craig a while to get used to therapy, with Kelly, with Victoria, or with Joseph. He's not a talkative person by nature, and the idea of having to sit in a room with somebody and talk for an hour or so seemed simply impossible. He assumed at some point, you'd simply run out of things to say. But that never seems to happen; there's always a point to elaborate on or something more to talk about.

After a few sessions, he found he liked the sessions with Joseph enough. He says stuff that's shit and doesn't really mean a thing, but sometimes he says stuff that is more personal in nature, the kind of stuff that he has to brace himself to say. Joseph is an articulate man, with an admirable vocabulary and a professional way of saying things. Craig likes this about him, his worried voice spilling out lovely words like capricious and intrinsically where others would say unpredictable and basically.

"Tell me about your friends, Craig. You haven't told me much about them," Joseph asks today. Craig's laying on a beanbag and gently rotating his ankle, seeing how far he can bend it before it twangs with pain, playing it like an old guitar.

"There isn't much to tell," he sighs. "One's rich as fuck and once he took me his beach house in Florida for my birthday. He's cool, I guess. It's just frustrating how perfect he can be, I guess. He's captain of the swim team and he's got a perfect body and a nice girlfriend, and he's rich as hell, too. But he's okay. Nice enough. Kind of a dick sometimes, though. He flew me down to his beach house in Florida for my sixteenth, though. That was cool."

"What's his name?"

"Token," he says. "Why?"

"Just so I know," Joseph replies. "Are there any others you'd consider your friends?"

"Yeah. There's Clyde, whom I've known for-fucking-ever, since kindergarten, I think. He's kind of slow but he thinks I'm great. I don't know why. Even most of my friends think I'm an asshole." He smiles, but the humour is lacking. "He's actually pretty nice, he's just really simple, like he doesn't really live up to more than a one syllable word. But he doesn't know this. He thinks he's God's fucking gift to the world. Shallow as fuck."

"Does that irk you?"

"Of course," Craig scoffs. "He ditches me for his girlfriend all the time because his girlfriend is so much more fucking important than me. Like, to him, who cares if we've been friends for twelve years or whatever? He gravitates right to whoever will suck his dick. He's always sorry when he blows me off but damn, it's just words."

"Do you still value his friendship?"

He nods, says, "Yeah, but I get tired of him."

Joseph sighs and says, "I get the feeling that's the way it is with most of your friends."

"Not unfair to say," Craig mumbles, suddenly feeling uncomfortably guilty. "There's Tweek. I think we became friends in fourth grade? Something like that. Anyway, he's my token weird friend. He drinks way too much coffee and he's always popping pills. He's got an anxiety disorder and OCD, I think, and all these fucking conspiracy theories! Fuck." Craig stops to chortle. "They're hilarious. I swear to god, fucking aliens and Taliban terrorists and this idea that the water is poisoned and slowing numbing our nervous system. And he can go on and on about them! You ask him about his water theory and he's got an essay, researched and everything."

"I see."

"Anyway, sorry. I honestly do like him a lot. I don't know if it's just all the shit he always has on his mind, or how he makes me laugh, but I can't make myself dislike him. I can only take so much of him at one time, then I get just sort of irritated by his jittering and babbling, but no, when I like him, I like him a lot. He's cool," Craig says. He's found the line of hurting and not hurting in his ankle and discovers a game in twitching it back and forth from hurt and comfort.

"What about Kenny?" Joseph asks, pushing up his sleeves. His brows crinkle in the same way Craig's mother's do when she's concerned. "You do consider Kenny your friend, don't you?"

"I do," Craig says. "He's just really easy to like. I don't think I even tried. But, you know, everyone knows Kenny. He's hard to miss."

"How so?"

Craig shrugs. "He's tall, so that pulls him out of the crowd most of the time. But it's really just his personality. He's extroverted, like one of those people that just goes over to a stranger and strikes up a conversation. So he's got all sorts of friends in places that nobody else would consider. Also, his dad's the town drunk. People know him as Stuart's kid." He twitches his foot too far and winces. "I feel bad for him, honestly. Every time he does something we'd call normal, like make honour roll or get a job, everyone talks about how Stuart's kid is doing this, maybe he'll be different."

"You haven't said anything you don't like about him," Joseph says.

"It doesn't really matter. He's all I've got in this place. If I couldn't stand Kenny, I'd have to — I don't know. Make nice with fucking Butters or something. And besides, it'd break his heart if I stopped talking to him."


"He likes me," Craig says, tipping his head back and counting dots on the ceiling.

Joseph smiles. "I see. He's told you?"

"No. But he's not terribly subtle. It's not hard to pick up on," Craig replies.

"How does that make you feel?"

"I don't know. It's kind of nice. I feel a bit like a celebrity."

"Do you feel the same?"

Craig stares hard at the tiny dots, waiting for an answer to form. He realizes he's lost count. "I don't think so. Maybe a little, but not the way he feels for me." He feels like he's talking to Kenny, rejecting him, instead of simply talking to the therapist. It makes him a little sick.

"I would assume Kenny's gay?" Joseph asks.

"I guess. He swings everywhere, but he's never had a boyfriend. He slept with a guy once, though."

"And you?"

"Hmm?" Craig asks, glancing over. "No? I never had the opportunity."

"No, no. What is your sexual identity?" he reiterates.

"Gayish-straightish," Craig replies.

This makes Joseph smile. "An idiosyncratic label, if I've ever heard one."

"Look, I dunno," Craig sighs. "Everybody on the fucking planet thinks I'm gay. Stan and Kyle think I'm gay, Bebe — the girlfriend — thought I was gay. My dad thinks I'm gay. I don't really care, to be honest, like if I liked a guy I'd date a guy, if I liked a girl I'd date her. I don't fucking know," he says, rolling onto his stomach and hoping that the beanbags might just eat him up.

Joseph opens his mouth to speak, and then just sighs, waving his hands as if searching for words. "There's no simple yes or no to sexuality. Don't aggrieve yourself with labels. Let yourself pick who and what you want before you worry why."

"I forget you're an actual therapist and not just a dude I have to talk to sometimes."

Joseph laughs. "Then I'm doing my job just fine!"

Craig smiles back and hopes that maybe they'll move onto a different topic. They don't, of course. Joseph asks, "Is Kenny the sort of person that would tell you how he feels?"

"He — um. I don't actually know. He doesn't really date — like, he's had girlfriends, but they don't really last. He's said he has issues with confidence, which is stupid because he's the most confident kid I know," Craig says, shrugging, pulling at his sleeves. All of his hoodies have stretched sleeves.

"Is he really, or does he just seem that way? You always have to take in account how people project themselves to the outside world, and how they are alone. What would you be like if your personality only extended to what you showcased for everyone else to see?"

"I'd be a fucking dick. I think I'd hate myself," Craig says.

"And I would be an overly-inquisitive man who cannot settle for vagueness. But how would that be to live with? There is a certain—" he grasps for words, "—liberty in saying I don't know what to have for breakfast or that I feel great without delving into why."

"And there's liberty in being nice," Craig says absently, eyes shifting out of focus. The session isn't even half over and the therapist's voice is already beginning to blend into grey.

"You understand, then," Joseph says, looking satisfied.


Craig gets up and goes over to Ella's cage. He reaches in and gently picks her up from the sandy bottom of the cage, where she had been lying languidly under the heat of her lamp. She slithers sluggishly up his arm as he walks back to his pile of beanbags.

"I fed her yesterday night. She might still be a little slow," Joseph says.

"She's okay," Craig says, trying not to twitch as she makes a home in the warmth of his sleeve. Her scales are smooth on his skin and the feeling is delightfully foreign.

"I think I'm gonna get a snake when I get home. They're cool," he says.

"They're lovely pets, in my opinion. I might be in the market for a new one myself, soon," Joseph says, looking at Craig sadly. "She's getting on in the years."

"Oh? How old is she?"

"Fourteen, in April."

"How long do they live?"

"About fifteen years. But twenty years is attainable," he says.

"Oh. She is getting old then," Craig replies, stroking her back through his sleeve.


There's a lull in the conversation, in which Joseph picks dirt from his fingernails and Craig pushes the tiny tip of tail sticking out of his sleeve in hopes of making Ella move further up his arm. She doesn't even twitch.

"You seem done for today," Joseph says instead.

"I'm really done."

"You can go, if you'd like. I think that was productive enough for today."

"I thought you had to keep me for an hour," Craig says, rolling up his sleeve to try and get Ella out. She startles and slithers up his shoulder and out through the top of his shirt.

"For an hour, or until I feel you've had enough. If you're not in the mood to talk anymore, then there's little point in making you talk more. And besides, I believe we've covered enough ground today," Joseph says, as if it's normal.

He snaps upright, something angry twisting into his gut. "You're going to use him against me," he says lowly, trying to move easily and put Ella back without startling her further. She slides into her home like she's happy to be away from him.

Joseph looks pointedly at him. Not a sigh or a frown flickers on his face. "No. Not necessarily. You seem to have it in your head that we do this with the intent of making your life as miserable as possible. I share very little of what you tell me with Dr. Kelly — only what will help him in designing your treatment plan. We do what we do in the most effective manner."


"Not at all. Take your own treatment, for example. Kelly's decision was to use a general test to see how strong your fear was. My advice was to use a simple, clean test in design because from what I knew of you, needlessly elaborate actions bother you. Hence the big, bare room and the simplicity of the test itself."

"What the hell?"

"Or Kenny's test. His therapist said that Kenny is more likely to cooperate if he has the opportunity for personal gain, so Kelly gave him a challenge with a chance of victory. Wendy's test; structurally more intricate, because she thinks she's more astute and more capable than most of her peers. Shall I go on?"

"No, I get it, okay?" he snaps.

Joseph plows on anyway. "Butter's involved a simple game because he has a fairly playful personality. Stan's test was dramatic because he is. A simple test like yours would have left him underwhelmed, and his therapist recommended that he would have to be overwhelmed to impact him most. Kyle is like you, no-nonsense, so he also got a simple test."

"Kyle's dramatic as Stan," Craig says blankly.

"I'm not his therapist, Craig. I would guess that it's Stan that makes him dramatic, and since you never see him without Stan, that's the impression you would get."


"So, there you go. I feel that we'll get a clearer reaction from you if you're by yourself. I get the sense that you put up fronts for people, and when we do treatment, we don't want fronts. We want your undiluted feelings."

"So you probably won't use him against me," Craig mumbles, leaning against the wall and avoiding Joseph's eyes, watching Ella instead.

"No, I can't see the point. I don't see a point in telling Dr. Kelly about it, even."

He doesn't reply, and just reaches into Ella's cage to run a finger down her back. She slinks away at his touch and hides in a small log-shaped structure.

"You don't have to look so defeated. We all think scary things sometimes, especially about people we care about," Joseph says.

"I don't care that fucking much about him," he mutters, hobbling over to the door.

"You can think that if you want. Have a good day," Joseph says, shaking the mouse and waking his computer. Craig waves and leaves, feeling rather downtrodden.

He enters the common area and gets a look of surprise from Butters and Kyle, who are waiting for their turn with the therapist. No wonder. He was barely in therapy twenty minutes; everyone else will be close to an hour, more sometimes. He finds a table and sits down, dragging a chair closer to put his bad foot on. There's nothing to do at his little island, because the bookshelf is far away and Stan has his phone to listen to the radio on, so he leans forward over his forearms and dozes off. It's not like he slept last night, not with the treatment so fresh in his mind. Kyle and Butters go back to what they were doing,

A good twenty minutes or so passes before somebody shakes his shoulder. His eyes open slowly, and out of the corner of his vision he can see Wendy's sweater, dusty red with sleeves too long for her arms. He wonders if she pulls at them like he does.

"Hey," he mumbles.

"Hey. Didn't sleep so well last night?" she asks. He sits up and rubs his eyes. There's sleep in his tear ducts that he must have neglected to wipe away when he woke.

"Did anyone?" he says.

"I don't get how you can do that."

"Do what?"

"Just go to sleep," she replies, gesturing to the table. "You're sitting in a barely-padded chair and sleeping on your arms. I can't even sleep on couches."

"Picky," he says, and she snorts.

"What are you doing out here anyway? You been out for long?" she continues, sitting on the edge of the table.

"Joseph let me go after like, twenty minutes. I said enough and he just sort of kicked me out." He notices his foot is entirely asleep. He heaves it off the chair and winces as the tingles start.

"Wow, you must have said some heavy shit to make him let you go so early," she says, eyebrows raised slightly.

"I know. Gave me time for a nap." He looks up at her for a second and asks, "What about you?"

"Same thing, I said enough and my therapist let me go, so I sent Kyle off — we have the same therapist — and now I'm done."

He doesn't really have a response, so he just nods.

"Hey, you wanna come outside with me? I haven't seen the grounds yet," she says, looking over her shoulder at the big glass doors.

"I can't really walk," he says.

"So just come outside. We don't have to walk around much."

He shrugs and gets up, pulls his sleeves down, and pushes his chair in. She takes a second to hop off the table and smooth down her clothes and they walk to the door, or in better words, she walks and he limps. When they approach the door, she opens it for him, which makes him feel like a cripple and also like a dignified little lady of the time when etiquette was rampant.

The air outside is still and cold, and the sky above is overcast. The heaviness of rain hang in the air, and Craig's about to comment on it when Wendy says, "Feels like rain."

"What did you expect?" he replies. "April showers bring — shit, it's not April."

"No, you're a couple weeks early."

"There any sayings about March?"

"In like a lion, out like a lamb," she supplies. He nods, and she continues with, "You sound fucked up."

"I'm tired. And therapy was weird."

"You're kind of weird in general," she comments. This strikes Craig as unnecessary, but there's nothing he cares to do about it.

She hums and looks around. The grounds are nice enough; there's a lawn dotted with tall trees stretching for a fair ways in front of them. A concrete walkway creates a perimeter around the lawn, and a chain link fence creates a cage around it. A few picnic tables are placed on the lawn, two under trees and one in the sun. Near the door, there's some shrubbery and some empty flower beds.

"Nice enough," he comments.

"Yeah. Probably nicer in the summer," she says, which seems so obvious there's no need to say it, but he just nods.

They walk out a little further, and once she discovers the grass is dry, they sit down. It's not at all warm out, and he's not sure how long she wants to stay. He zips his hoodie up a little further and lies down on his back. She sits next to him cross-legged, sparing him a smile as she gets comfortable. The sound of birdsong carries from the forest outside the fence.

"So, what'd you say that made your therapist let you out so fast?" she says.

"You don't need to know, do you?" he says, frowning.

"I would have told you," she says, pursing her lips.

"Yeah, okay Wendy."

"I'm sure it's not so bad," she says offhandedly. "I told mine about the times I've put kids in the hospital. They love that sort of deep, gritty, emotional stuff."

"I know. I've talked about that too."

"So what's the big deal? It's not like I'd tell anybody."

"Wendy, would you just stop?" he growls, running his hands through his hair.

She glares at him and says, "Jesus, fine. You don't have to be such an ass about it." Her voice drops off as she enters a sulk, pulling her knees to her chest moodily. Craig closes his eyes and listens to the birds for a while. It's almost pleasant, save Wendy's almost audible fuming beside him.

He only gets to enjoy the peace for a few seconds before she pierces into his concentration with a blunt, "Why do you hate me?"

This, he wasn't expecting. "What?" he says, propping himself on his elbows and looking at her.

"You're always arguing with me. It's like whenever I say anything, you have to say why your opinion is better and why I'm wrong and why I should have never spoken. It's like you have this need to compete with me! I don't do that to you. Why do you keep doing it to me?" she says, looking wounded.

His first instinct is to snap at her, because she's wrong when she says she never does this to him. To him, it feels like whenever he puts in an opinion, it's she who tries to correct him and tell him why he's wrong and why she's better. She's the competitive one, not him. He doesn't hate her. In all honesty, he might even admire her guts, her intelligence, and her charisma. It's just this damned thick-headedness that gets to him, this oh I'm always nice to you even when she struck up an argument with him just yesterday. Her arrogance is what he hates about her.

He chokes down the verbal assault that wants to come out of his mouth and takes a second to come up with a more collected reply. "I don't hate you. Take a minute to get that into your head." He waits while she frowns at him, and when she opens her mouth to speak, he continues. "I'm not always arguing or competing with you. I don't care to compete with you, Wendy, there's nothing in it for me. If anything, it's you who keeps trying to one-up me. Don't tell me you never do because you do. Often."

Now, she looks offended, but in an uncharacteristic turn of events, she keeps her head level. "I don't, Craig."

"You gloated about taking Honors English and assumed I hadn't, then looked offended when I said I had. You challenged my opinion when we talked about Stan's treatment when I wasn't talking to you. You tell me to be civil every time I look sideways at someone. You give me this weird look when I talk to Kenny, as if he's your friend or something." This sends a pang through his stomach and he regrets saying it immediately. He recovers quickly and says, "Grow up, Wendy."

She opens her mouth, then glares at the ground.

"I'm sorry, do you disagree?" he says, sneering.

She's quiet for a second. Then, she says, "I didn't know you took Honors English. I thought you were just being an asshole. I didn't agree with what you were saying about what they did in Stan's treatment. You had the logical view on it, but I was mad and I ignored you. I tell you to be civil because let's face it, Craig, playing nice isn't your strong suit."

She looks at him for reaction and he just shrugs. She's right. She usually is.

"Lastly, I don't feel like you treat Kenny very well. I don't know if this is just how you treat all of your friends or if it's different when you're alone, but what I see looks one-sided." She sighs and finishes it with, "I was out of line. I don't like you but I want to be allies if we can't be friends."

Now it's his turn to be quiet; he didn't expect her to be so courteous, he didn't expect an apology, and what she said about Kenny is ridiculous and it's bringing heat to his face.

(he's in your head he's in your heart)

(how'd that happen?)

"I'm sorry too," he says, finally. "I like you, honestly. You're smart and I usually like what you stand up for. If you want to be friends, I won't mind that at all."

She looks surprised. "You don't dislike me? I thought you would have at least disliked me."

"I don't dislike you," he confirms. He could go into detail about what he dislikes about her, but it feels ludicrous.

She nods and allows him a rare minute of silence. She doesn't like silence. This is her going out of her way for him and he knows it. He lies back down and looks at the turbulent sky.

"You can be civil," she says quietly, after a time.

He just looks at her. Of course he can be civil. It's personable that he has trouble with. Still, an admission of wrongness in thinking from Wendy; rare indeed. He doesn't know her well enough to know if she's trying to get something from him or just furthering her apology. He feels a silly, irrepressible need to further his as well. He allows a minute or so to pass and then changes the subject.

"What do you have in English?" he asks. She likes talking about her grades. This will make her happy, and hopefully, she'll see that he's playing nice, just like her.

"Ninety seven. But there's still a few months left," she says.

"I had ninety five after the exam," he says.

She snorts. "Of course you did. I don't get how you do that." It's a compliment — backhanded, though — and he takes it as such. It's smart kid lingo, which he is not well versed in but accustomed to all the same. She'll come out a few percent ahead of him, as she always does, but the difference between them is that Craig didn't even have to try to get that mark, and she's been working her ass off. If she didn't try, he's sure she'd average in the low nineties, but when you battle with the smart kids, the low nineties are chickenfeed. Between her and Kyle, a ninety one is painfully average, a ninety four acceptable, and anything above a ninety seven is worth grudging respect. He's seen them in class together, holding test papers, exchanging marks, and that twisty little smirk that appears when one beats the other.

He wonders sometimes if he could beat the two of them if he put some effort into his work. God, they'd hate that; they practice so hard to remember dates and formulas and grammar and he just — remembers it. There's no better way to put it. His brain is well-made for school. All he has to do is keep his eyes open and scribble down what he hears, and it just sticks.

"Do you know what's going on later?" he asks just to fill the air.

"How much later? Like lunch?"

"Just in general."

"There are assorted sandwiches and chicken soup for lunch. I don't know anything about the rest of the day."

He nods. Fine, then. He wasn't expecting much more.

A fat raindrop hits him directly in the tear duct of his left eye. He makes a surprised noise that makes Wendy look over sharply, rubbing the water away under her suddenly concerned eyes. Her usual smile comes back as soon as she realizes he's not hurt.

"So it's raining," he says.

"No shit. You okay?" she asks, scooting over a little.

"I'm fine. It's just water."

A drop hits her on the cheek and trails down like goose poop. She smears it away with some disdain.

"Let's go in," he says, watching a few dark spots grow on his sleeves.

"Yeah," she agrees, hopping to her feet effortlessly. She watches without offering to help as he gingerly stands. He briefly remembers going over to Bebe's house while they were dating and when he had a similar injury, the way she kept offering to help him walk and asking if he was alright, and he how he got bothered by it eventually, keeping his mouth shut only for the sake of romance.

"You good?" she asks.

"Fine," he answers, and she smiles for a second as they turn to flee from the pellets of rain coming down quickly now larger volumes.

Some dickhead has locked the door; either that, or the door locked itself. Craig front door does that sometimes; more than once, it's lead to him breaking into the only lower floor window that opens widely enough to crawl into, a fairly small window in the bathroom, an awkward procedure at best. Nowadays he carries a key.

Wendy bangs on the glass, rain blowing on her back and on the doors. She doesn't bother screaming, but she beats on the glass for what feels like a long time, until finally Kenny saunters over, grinning. Wendy points to the lock and makes anguished faces. When he just keeps standing there, intentionally useless, Craig smacks the glass and says, "Open the door, fuckface." He flips him off for good measure. Kenny sneers and unlocks the door.

"'Bout time," Wendy grumbles.

"Not so nice out there, hey?" Kenny says, pressing his nose to the glass.

Craig shuts the door behind him and says, "Well done, Kenny. It's raining."

"You shoulda run around awhile! Nothing better than running around in the rain," he says. "You guys are no fun."

"I don't like getting wet, Kenny," Wendy says, pointedly running her fingers through her hair (barely damp).

"Pussy. You're not wet."

"I don't exactly see you sprinting outside," she retorts.

"Ha! Watch me," he says, and he pulls the door open and dashes outside. Craig closes it and watches him, so full of life and energy and running like nothing matters.

(he's in your heart)

Wendy sides up to him and says, "It's kind of amazing to watch him. He never stops."

"Like the fucking Energizer Bunny," Craig remarks absently.

They watch him for a few seconds, and she says, "He'll get soaked."

"It's not raining that hard."

"You think he's coming in soon? He'll be out there for a while."

"He's in short sleeves. It's cold. He'll freeze before he gets too wet."

"Suppose," Wendy says. "You just gonna watch forever?"

"I'm waiting for him to slip," Craig says without hesitation.

She snorts a laugh. "Have fun with that. I'm going to go see where everyone else is."

He nods, and she leaves with a wiggle of her fingers that he only sees in the reflection. It's kind of interesting to watch Wendy walk. She always walks with purpose, like she's got important shit to do whether she's finding friends or throwing away a granola bar wrapper or saving the world.

True to Craig's prediction, Kenny comes in after a couple of minutes, shivering and wet but grinning. The rain's picked up, and though he's not soaked, his hair is dripping and he's certainly towel-worthy.

Craig looks at him impassively and says, "Let's go to the room and grab you a towel and some dry clothes."

"At your command, Captain," Kenny says with a salute. The little action tugs the corners of his lips up and he leads Kenny to the room. He unlocks the door with the key card they'd found waiting for them in their room on the first night and grabs one of the clean towels in the bathroom. He throws it at Kenny, who's peeling off his shirt.

"Thanks," Kenny says with one of those flash-bulb smiles. Craig sits on Kenny's bed and looks off to the side while Kenny ruffles his hair dry, occasionally glancing over to catch his freckled shoulders moving. He pats his torso dry, then moves to his bag to find a dry shirt. Craig's eyes follow Kenny's body curiously.

As Kenny's adjusting his shirt, their lines of vision brush. Kenny quickly turns his head to the side in that awkward way that might just be a weird twitch or eyes wrenching away intentionally. Craig can't tell. He's never been good at this shit.

"You done?" he asks.

"Yeah. Let's go," Kenny says. The conversation feels heavier than a simple inquisition about wet or dry.

They throw Kenny's shirt over the shower curtain rod to dry and go back into the common area, and Kenny's eyes are away from his like meeting might mean blindness.

Stan, Kyle, Wendy, and Butters are sitting around one of the tables and are too deep into their conversation for Craig to be able to tell what they're talking about at all. They're saying things like, "See, when that happens, I usually just kind of do what comes naturally, right? Like, what else do you do?" "I tried making conversation, but it got kind of weird. It's just so hard when you can't relate." "But way better than being on the receiving end."

Kenny doesn't bother to break in. He claims one couch and Craig claims the other. Craig listens to them talk for a while, and eventually catches on to that they're talking about comforting people in grief. Stan's co-worker's mother died recently, if Craig's following the conversation right. He didn't even know Stan had a job.

At some point, Kenny walks over to him and shakes his shoulder. "Lunch is ready," he says.

"Oh, good," Craig says, rolling off the couch and onto his feet, carefully avoiding his bad foot. Kenny grins at him.

"You look so pathetic," he says.

"Yeah? You sprain your ankle and try not to," Craig mumbles.

"Lighten up, I'm kidding," Kenny laughs.

Lunch is unremarkable; better than average sandwiches paired with a sort of vegetable soup with more celery than Craig likes in it. Kenny swallows down both without a second thought. After a cursory attempt at the soup, Craig pushes his bowl to Kenny and that disappears as well. Kenny's not a graceful eater. He devours whatever's put in front of him as if it'll shrink the longer he leaves it. He pauses occasionally to wipe the corners of his mouth, but then he's right back into it. Craig is well conditioned to careful biting and chewing from his various orthodontic appliances, and educated in etiquette thanks to his slightly anal-retentive mother. He supposes he's a stark contrast next to Kenny, who has his elbows on the table as he scrapes the bowl for the last drops of soup. Craig discreetly swipes his tongue across the front of his teeth and remembers that he no longer has braces. There's no need to wedge food bits out from behind the wires anymore.

"You hardly fuckin ate, man," Kenny says. "You okay?"

"I had a sandwich," Craig says.

"A sandwich," Kenny deadpans. "That's like, nothing."

"I'm not so hungry," he admits.

"See! You okay or what?"

"I'm fine," Craig says. "Don't know why you care so much."

Kenny laughs quietly and says, "You're my best friend, of fucking course I care."

"Your best friend, huh." Craig looks over to the other table, where Stan, Kyle, Butters and Wendy sit, talking about something animatedly. Kenny follows his eyes and shrugs.

"Best friend isn't like, a reserved title, dude. Maybe if you're Stan and Kyle it is, but I don't really fucking care." Craig looks back, and Kenny's doing that cheeky smile Craig has ingrained in his head. "'Less you want to be my leading lady instead," he adds.

Craig lets the corners of his lips turn up a little. "The Rose to your Jack?"

"The Spock to my Kirk!" Kenny says.

"Spock isn't a lady," he replies.

"Yeah, well, neither are you," Kenny says, sipping his water.

(flirting we're flirting we're flirting we're)

He bites the inside of his lip and then lets it go immediately. It's a stupid, stupid habit. He'd like to drop it but it's relaxing in a way, and he allows himself to lightly nip an unwounded area.

"Stop that," Kenny says, tapping his jaw. Craig stops. Kenny must look for it now.

He picks up his retainer from where it sits on the table and snaps it in.

"You're done eating? Really? Come on, man, they're serving cookies. I'm gonna go get some cookies." Kenny hops up and walks over to the serving area. Craig observes his gait, comparing it to Wendy's. It's relaxed, much more so than hers. He bounces a little as he walks, long legs lazily stretching out and retracting. There's an easy confidence in the way he walks. When he comes back, he's holding four large chocolate cookies.

"Double chocolate, man. Don't tell me you ain't hungry," he says, dropping a couple on his plate.

"You aren't hungry," Craig corrects automatically, and Kenny just sort of rolls his eyes. But then there it is; that quirky, do-you-think-you-can-change-me look.

(to be honest yeah I think I can)

Right at this moment, with Kenny stuffing chocolate cookies down his throat and looking expectantly at him, he thinks he probably does like Kenny a lot more than he liked his girlfriends. And if he asked right now if Craig wanted to make out, he'd say yes.

But Kenny doesn't ask, he just eats his cookies, and Craig sighs a little and breaks his in pieces and eats them.

Then, Stan gets up and approaches their table, Craig's phone extended in front of him.

"Thanks for that, Craig. Check your messages, okay?" he says as Craig takes it back.

"Yeah, thanks, Marsh," Craig says dismissively. Stan nods and says hi to Kenny, then goes back to his own table. Craig opens his messages and there's a draft written.

national news is on at 8:30 didn't hear anything weird

Craig hands it to Kenny to read. Kenny nods and deletes the draft.

"That's alright, then," he says, handing it to Craig.

"Mm." He stuffs the phone into his pocket. "Still, fuck knows if what they did was legal. I don't think it was."

"Me neither. But you said yesterday, right? Nothing we can do about it."

"Oh, speaking of that. Of Wendy, I mean."

"We weren't, but go on," Kenny says, an amused smile on his face. He must think Craig is endearing.

"We both apologized for the fight. She said she was wrong. Weird, hey?" he says, breaking the half of his cookie in half again.

"She apologized? To you? She hates you," Kenny says, eyes wide.

"She thought I hated her too."

"So you don't? That's news to me."

"Jesus," Craig sighs. "Help me put these away."

"I'm just saying, it's not like you guys have ever been like, super nice to each other, or really nice to each other at all," Kenny says, standing and collecting his plate and glass. "You're not that nice to anyone, not even really me, dude."

"Rude," Craig snorts.

Kenny grins. "I'm kidding. You're nice enough to me."

"Thank you."

"Any time, sunshine," Kenny says.

They drop the dirty plates in the bin and go back into the common area, settling on the couches before the other can come back and take them. Kenny pulls his shoes off his feet to expose white socks, grey with dirt and age. He takes up the whole couch, head on one arm and feet on the other, spread out like a tired cat.

And Craig notices he's been staring. He's not sure if he's always done that or if he's just more aware of it now, after discussing the schematics of it all with Joseph. He refocuses his attention to his ankle, and undoes the brace to let it breathe for a while.

"Your foot still okay, man?" Kenny asks.

"I should really be icing it, but it's fine," Craig says.

Kenny nods and rests his head back on the arm of the couch. "You know when group therapy starts?"

"Half an hour, I think," Craig says, glancing at the clock.

"You know what they're doing today?"


Kenny doesn't reply, instead just staring into space like there's something on his mind. He gets up and walks over to the bookshelf and grabs the pack of cards Craig left there yesterday.

"Hey," he says. "You wanna play Blackjack?"

"All we ever play is Blackjack," Craig says.

"It's the one I can remember best. You're just moody cuz I keep beating you at it," Kenny teases, shuffling the deck clumsily.

"You do not. You're shit at cards. You can't even shuffle," he says, eyeing the cards in his hands that are trying to spill out onto the floor.

"You do it, then," Kenny snips, thrusting the messy handful of cards at him. Craig takes them, neatens them, and shuffles them easily and quickly, and deals. Kenny sits down cross-legged by his feet. People come in leisurely from the dining area as Craig wins games and Kenny loses games.

Craig's lost count of the games he's won and Kenny's at a triumphant three when the announcement comes on, calling them down the group therapy room. Kenny insists he probably won the most games and that Craig's probably just hallucinating or something, and he goes on and on about it until Craig starts laughing.

(reasons you like Kenny; he makes you happy)

Victoria's waiting for them, all the chairs aligned in the usual circle, clipboard on her lap. Nobody says it, but everyone gets the same unconscious shiver at seeing her again, back in her usual environment and away from the horror of yesterday. They choke it down and sit in their usual spots, and Craig notices that they're all avoiding each other's eyes. He glances at Kenny and Kenny's looking away.

"Hello, everyone," she says, laying her clipboard flat on her lap. She's wearing a top that only looks good because of how thin she is. Even if someone like Wendy tried to wear it, it would stress all the unflattering bits of her. But Victoria has no unflattering bits.

"How did you all sleep last night?" she asks.

There are shrugs all around the room. Nobody slept well; there are shadows under all of their eyes.

"Shitty," Kyle says. "I had a really fucking shitty sleep, Victoria. Does that satisfy you?"

She isn't shaken in the least. "The rest of you also seem worn out."

"I read until three in the morning," Wendy says.

"Craig did homework and I rolled around in bed," Kenny says.

"I did homework too," Butters says. "Finished all my Bio work. It was actually pretty good."

"Fuck, you guys were all productive and shit and then there's Stan and I. We just rolled around forever," Kyle says, running a hand through his hair in frustration.

"I slept pretty okay, actually," Stan throws in.

"Fuck you," Craig says, glancing over at him.

"Hey, right back at you, Tucker," Stan snaps.

"Okay, okay. Thank you," Victoria says. "How are you all feeling in general today? Besides tired."

"Good! I ran around in the rain," Kenny says, glancing out the window. "Wow, it's still really pouring, isn't it?"

"It is," she agrees. "How about anybody else?"

"I'm still kinda outta it from yesterday," Butters says. Kenny's eyes dance over to him for a second, pity and empathy on his face. If he didn't know better, he'd guess Kenny was in love with Butters and not himself.

"I'm fine," Wendy says, but she doesn't mention why. Craig could say the same and strengthen their little alliance, but he doesn't bother. It doesn't seem worth it.

"Kyle's fine too," Stan says. "He's just pissed off cuz he could have done homework instead of trying to sleep, and because I slept well and he didn't."

Victoria smiles and says, "Of course. Anybody else have anything to add?"

She's answered with silence and a couple shaking heads.

"Alright, then. Let's get right into it." She shuffles some pages on her board and moves one to the front. "Today, I'd like to talk about the last time you remember not having your phobia. Maybe the last experience you had with it?"

There's the customary beat of silence and then Wendy says, "When I was really, really little, I used to try and hide from my parents when we were going somewhere or when I was going to bed. I wanted them to forget me, and I wanted them to get halfway to where they were going and then realize they'd forgotten me. It was stupid. I was about six when I stopped. I tried to keep playing the game after they forgot me at the gas station, but it wasn't funny anymore. It was just scary." Stan reaches for her hand and she tugs it away, placing it in her lap. She looks bothered and depressed.

"Thank you, Wendy," Victoria says, scribbling down some notes. "Anybody else?"

"There were a ton of b-balloons at the birthday party I went to where I get the phobia," Butters says quickly, as if spitting out the words before they can stain his mouth. "I was playing with them while I was there without fear. But by the end of the party I couldn't look at them. I was six years and five months old."

"Yes. It's quite shocking how quickly they can appear. Thank you," Victoria says, nodding.

"I've always been scared of snakes and hospitals," Stan says. "They're both totally irrational. I don't think I've ever been able to deal with either without freaking out a little bit. And I used to throw up a lot when I was a kid, cuz that's what I did whenever I was nervous. But it never really bugged me until I was, uh—" he looks at Kyle, "fifteen or fourteen?"

"Fifteen," Kyle says.

"Fifteen," Stan repeats. "Since then, I can't even watch it in like, TV shows or games or anything. It gets me. It's just really gross and scary and shit. I can't handle it."

"You've never been able to deal with either snakes or hospitals? Not even as a child?" Victoria asks.

"Never. We had a pet snake in my second grade class, and it always freaked me out. And once my uncle was in the hospital for something when I was a kid, and I didn't visit him. I was too scared. I think I waited in the car."

"And how old were you then?" she asks.

"Maybe seven."

"Thank you for sharing, Stan. Anybody else?" she asks, looking around, the tendons of her neck prominent as she turns her head.

Kyle glances around to see if anyone else is about to speak, and then says, "When I was eight or so, our class went on a field trip to a farm or something. We got to pet horses and stuff, and I was okay with that. I think I even wanted to ride one, but the teacher said no. Then, when I was ten, my mom brought me to one of her friend's house. She had horses and my mom figured I could go visit them when they chatted. I went out, somehow got behind the horse, and it kicked the shit out of me. I've just avoided them since then."

"Thank you, Kyle. How about you, Kenny? Care to share?" she asks, brows cocked like saying no isn't actually an option.

"Oh, um. I guess. The last experience with poison where I was still okay was just before it happened. I was spraying pesticide on this tree outside. I didn't even think twice about it. After I developed the phobia, I still tried to clean and shit, but I couldn't do it anymore. I kept having these awful fucking images of getting sick. Poison's really fucking harsh, man. If there's a nice way to go out, being poisoned isn't it."

"What even happened, Kenny? You always like, carefully avoid actually saying it," Kyle asks, leaning forward on his crossed legs.

Kenny opens his mouth to say something, and then sort of shakes his head, steeling himself to say it. "My sister drank pesticide a few years ago. It was my fault, really, I gave it to her. She got so fucking sick and shitty and I just felt so bad, like I did it to her, and how she should hate me, but she didn't. She didn't even think it was my fault. But she was in so much fucking pain. It was just— fuck. I was so sorry and she wouldn't even let me apologize."

"She drank it, it's not technically you who made her do it," Stan says. "But that really sucks, man. That's hard."

"I gave it to her! Of course it's my fault!" Kenny snaps. Kyle looks away guiltily and doesn't reply. Kenny slumps down in his chair and stares ahead, brows furrowed.

"I used to not mind fog at all," Craig says, pulling the attention off Kenny and onto himself. Nerves seize up in his stomach as eyes shift towards him, but he ignores them and continues. "I thought it was kind of cool, really. When I was a kid I even wanted a fog machine. Every kid wanted a fog machine, though, right? They're cool. So, for my tenth birthday, my dad brought home a chunk of dry ice. I thought that was just the coolest shit in the world, and I was taking videos of it and pictures. That was the last sort of personal experience with it. But when I was thirteen or so, there was—"

(dangerous territory)

"Um. Something happened, and I developed the phobia, and since then, I can't even really watch it in movies. It's too fucking freaky. Like that movie The Mist? Based off that book by Steven King? I couldn't handle that. It was too much."

He look at the floor. He can feel eyes still on him, watching and waiting, crawling over his skin and his body like tiny little spiders and their endless legs.

"So, the last good experience was when you were ten?" Victoria asks. It feels like she's taken a hammer to the silence. All the shards of it fall sharp-side-down.

"Yeah, pretty much," he mumbles.

"What happened?" Butters asks, eyes big and wide.

"A bad thing. Look, I don't want to talk about it," he says, and the look that follows makes him want to say sorry. But then Butters' face softens.

"It's okay, man. Sorry for asking."

"Thank you for sharing, Craig. I believe that's all of us, now."

"What about you, doc?" Kenny asks, his face melting into a slimy sort of grin. "You must have something you're scared of too."

"This session isn't about me, Kenny," she says.

"So how can you call yourself a therapist if you can't relate?"

"This session is not about me, Kenneth," she repeats, articulating each syllable like it's cutting her tongue. Her face stays still, but the ice in her eyes is enough to freeze a summer day. Kenny glares and shuts his mouth, drumming his fingers on his thighs.

"I'd also like to talk about the first time you realized your fear was clinical. What made you realize that it was more than fear and crossed into phobia territory?" she says, grasping for the poetic. It leaves Craig unimpressed. "Does anybody object to just going around in a circle? No? Good. We'll start with Kyle and go clockwise."

Kyle glowers until Stan nudges him, and they share a sort of wordless exchange. Stan shrugs and Kyle sighs, and then he looks up. "When I was eleven, I watched Seabiscuit with my parents. I have no idea why, since nobody in my family is really into horses or anything, but I don't know, it was just one of those movies that you watch at some point. Anyway, I couldn't watch. I had to leave, I just got too uncomfortable. I kept feeling like I was there, and I kept thinking someone was going to get kicked. You know when you watch a horror movie, and you know something's going to pop out of the dark or something? That's what it felt like. I wasn't really freaking out, but I got really uncomfortable. My parents were really concerned. They took me to a doctor, and he diagnosed me."

"Thank you for sharing, Kyle," Victoria says. "Stan?"

Stan shifts in his seat, buying time to formulate an answer. "I was never formally diagnosed, not for any of them, and none of them really had a moment where it was apparent I had a phobia and not just a hang-up. But snakes and hospitals got worse as I got older. It was like the more I learned about them just by general knowledge, the more reason I had to fear them. If Kelly had made me pet that snake he used in treatment a few years ago, it would have been way easier. And avoiding vomiting also came on slowly. I just didn't think about it until I started like, really thinking about it. Then I started being concerned about how clean my food was.

"My parents and I talked for a long time about me going into this program. We talked about how much better they were when I was young. We talked about how I'm so careful with my food now. We talked for a really long time about everything, and we talked about whether I was being dramatic or if this was a real thing. So yeah, we decided they were phobias like, a week before I registered," he finishes, twirling his hair. It's already looking overdue for a trim, falling in his eyes in shaggy chunks.

Victoria glances around like she's expecting some conversation. When none arises, she says, "Thank you. Wendy?"

"I diagnosed myself," she says, springing right into a clearly thought-out answer. "The turning point I remember was when I was little, maybe going on seven, and I was playing my usual forget-me game. Then my parents pretended to leave by calling out something like, 'I don't see Wendy! I guess we'll just leave!' Then they slammed the front door shut, and something in me snapped, and I ran out from my spot and screamed all the way to the front door. I threw myself out and reassured them I was here and begged them not to forget me, and I think they were confused more than anything. I don't really remember what they said. All I remember was being really scared. Then, when I was maybe fourteen, I looked it up on the internet and got this after some searching. It just seemed right. It is right," she concludes. She folds her hands in her lap and looks around to see if anybody is looking at her. They all are. Out of habit, she fixes her hair.

"Thank you, Wendy. Butters?"

"Ah, I always knew. I googled it once just to double-check, but I always knew it was more than just a hang-up. After the p-party, I couldn't handle balloons anymore. Once, uh, somebody got a balloon for me for my birthday, which was a real nice thing to do, but I started cryin'. And it's always been like that. Whenever there was a grand opening or something that had balloons, I'd start crying or I'd panic or something."

Craig does admire his honesty. He's sure everybody here has cried about it, but nobody ever says a thing about it. Butters doesn't care if they think he's a pussy for crying. Butters probably has more guts than anybody here. He's tempted to say something, but everything he could say sounds awkward in his head. He resigns to staying silent and reflects that Butters probably would have said something anyway.

"Thank you. Very interesting. Kenny?"

Kenny shrugs, and flicks his hair off of his face, still brooding. "After Karen got sick, I couldn't trust myself with anything toxic. I tried to keep using cleaning stuff and whatever, but I just got more and more paranoid. I tried to ignore it, but one day I went to clean the toilet and I passed the fuck out. I fainted. I fucking fainted in front of my toilet. When I woke up, I realized that this was more severe than I thought. I googled it and iophobia came up, so that was that."

"Thank you, that's just fine. Craig?"

"I watched The Mist when I was fourteen. It scared the shit out of me, like more so than a cheesy horror movie should have. I was fucking hyperventilating. I couldn't sleep. My dad was really concerned about it. He took me to see the school counsellor and she suggested I had a phobia," he says. There's more he could have said, more he could have gone into, but he'll save it for Kelly this evening. No need to talk about it all now.

Victoria scribbles a few things on her board and then looks up and smiles. "Excellent. Thank you all, that was excellent. Being able to talk about these things together is an important step in the healing process. We keep our fears so close to our hearts, but they need to be aired out. We need to talk about them to grow. It's hard to say some things to more than a therapist in a soundproof room, but it's very helpful. The more you can talk about, the better results we see."

"You say it like it easy," Kyle mutters.

"I know it's not easy, but it gets better," she says.

"You sound like that LGBT thing that they did a while ago. It gets better! It gets better!" Kenny mocks.

"The more seriously you take this, the better your results will be, Kenny," she reminds him.

"The sooner you learn not to take me seriously, the better my results will be," he says back.

"Don't sass her, Kenny," Stan says.

"Yeah, she don't deserve that," Butters says.

"Wow, Jesus, you guys—"

"Chill, Kenny. It's really not worth getting upset about," Wendy says.

"You'll muss your hair," Craig says, and that grabs Kenny's attention. His face twists into an amused smile.

"That's right. Gotta keep my golden locks in line," he says, throwing his head elegantly.

It's funny, really, how well he knows Kenny and how well he knows how to rile him up and defuse him. It's sort of charming, but Craig's not sure how he feels about charming. Charming is more serious than just nice.

Victoria gives strays from her usual and gives them a simple project of making anything they want out of Plasticine. Kenny gets to work constructing a car, and Craig makes a lazy giraffe (lying down, because he can't get the neck to stand up straight).

"This is hard," Kenny comments, trying to build a fender.

"No shit," Craig says.

"Really fucking hard," Kenny says. He rolls a little snake and shapes it into a door handle. Craig reaches over and smashes one of the wheels Kenny's made, just for the hell of it. Kenny stares at the smear and scrapes it off the table.

"Dick," he mutters.

"Ass," Craig replies, pleased with himself. He smiles at his giraffe. It still needs spots.

Kenny turns to him and grins, the gap in his front teeth visible. It crosses Craig's mind that he'd have simple and fast braces, could he have afforded them. It seems like everyone in the entire fucking world has nicer teeth than he did.

"I can't sculpt to save my life," he says, picking a piece of Plasticine to make a spot with.

"Neither can I," Kenny agrees. He's looking at his car like he wants to squish it, but it would be a waste, what with the effort he's already put into it.

"Is that supposed to be a specific sort of car?" Craig asks. He knows exactly jack-shit about cars of any sort. The only cars he can recognize on sight are Volkswagen Beetles his dad's Honda Civic, and even then he tends to confuse them with other generic small cars. This, paired with the fact that he has very little interest in cars in the first place, makes for a poor base of knowledge.

Kenny looks at him like he's never heard such a ridiculous question and says, "It's a 1960 Mustang. Come on, man! You've gotta at least know what a vintage Mustang looks like."

"They kind of looks like every other car to me," Craig says, pressing on more giraffe spots.

"Blasphemy!" Kenny says, which teases a smile out of Craig. Kenny laughs and begins to make a new wheel.

(it's nice isn't it)

(to talk to somebody who speaks an entirely different language than you)

(who are we kidding? certainly not joseph he saw right through you)

He focuses on his giraffe and doesn't bother to finish his thoughts with the statement that's sure to come next.

Dr. Kelly goes through their sessions alphabetically by last name. First Kyle goes, then Stan, then Kenny and so on. Each session is half an hour and they never go longer or shorter. You sit with Kelly for a half hour and that's that. It doesn't matter if you talk or you don't talk. They start at 7:00, and with a half hour for everyone, they're all finally done at 10:00, giving them all an hour together before the nurses shoo them off to bed.

Craig doesn't mind being last in the least. He's an evening person, and thinks better as the night settles in. The peace that comes with it, the way everyone winds down relaxes him and clears his mind. Words come easier.

"Wendy should be back soon," Kenny says, glancing at the clock. It's 9:26, and she's done at 9:30.

"Mm," Craig hums, reading over some notes. His math teacher gave him a bundle of work to do while for the week he's missing, and he's slowly making sense of it. He's good at math, but trying to figure out a page of numbers and examples without having someone standing there and telling you why they work is significantly more challenging.

"He'll ask about treatment," Kenny says.

"I know. He told me."

"Ooh, that's just great, then. What are you gonna tell him?"

"As little as I can while still satisfying him," he replies, scribbling down a problem. It has a comical amount of fours. He wonders if the people who make up these worksheets try to have fun with them.

"I didn't know you were that easygoing," Kenny scoffs.

"I'm not. But if I don't give him what he needs, he'll never stop asking about it."

"There's no point in saying it all upfront, though. Then you have to spend the rest of the session talking about other stuff."

"It's an art, really. Saying no more than you need to while still using up the whole time period," Craig says, slumping over his work. The question of many fours isn't working out and he hasn't a clue why.

"There's not much to say, though. Just tell him you were scared and tripped."

"It's not that simple, though. I saw something — a person or something — and I just freaked. I ran too hard and I tripped over my feet," he says.

"Oh, shit. That's weird, man. You gonna tell him that?" Kenny asks, wide eyed.

"He already knows, but he'll want me to talk more about it."

"Great," Kenny sighs. He crosses his arms and lays his head on them like they're a pillow and not just arms. In a change of topic, he says, "How's the homework?"

"Dumb," Craig replies. "I give up."

"You're smart, you'll do the thing," Kenny says, his words encouraging but his tone simply tired. Kenny is not an evening person the way Craig is. He gets slow and sleepy, and starts trying to cuddle. When he comes over to study for finals, it ends up being less cooperative reviewing and more Craig reviewing while he wears Kenny like a duvet.

(when nobody touches you it's nice to be held like that)

Wendy comes back looking tired, bags under her eyes becoming more pronounced, and says, "You can go, Craig."

He cleans up his homework and tucks the pages into his textbook. He shoves it over to Kenny.

"Look after that," he says.

"Can I copy your work?" Kenny says, opening it disinterestedly.

"No. It doesn't make any sense anyway," he says, shaking his head.

"You suck. Have fun with Dr. Fuck Me," he says. "And don't bite your lips, okay? They look bad."

"Yeah, sure," Craig groans, raising a few fingers in a vague wave.

He wishes Kelly would get a new office. Normally, he likes blue, but the purposely soft walls irritate him for some reason or another. It's like they're saying, "Our walls are soft like butter so you don't have a violent reaction," which is a perfectly acceptable reason, but it still bothers him, the assumption that the colour of the walls has anything to do with how he feels. There are scientific studies into colour and how it affects emotions, and he read that blue is calming, but that's not the point. It bothers him.

Today, he wants to claw all that stupid pigment from the walls, because Kelly's voice is ringing in his head like a fire alarm. It's loud and abrasive and it makes him want to throw up and scream at the same time, even though really he's talking in his usual soft voice. But it won't stop, and that's all Craig wants — for it to stop, just for a moment.

He's asking about yesterday's treatment. Craig knows he promised to talk about it, to give Kelly the reaction he missed, but god, it's not coming easily and he's agitated as hell.

He wants to rip that gentle, mocking paint off the walls and paint it something loud, something to match the noise in his head. Wide yellow and black zigzags, maybe; he could convince Victoria that it's a creative project.

"Craig, here," Kelly says, opening his desk drawer and pulling out a knife and a small plastic box, maybe the size of a couple decks of cards. He opens it up and hands both to Craig. "This is honeycomb. Cut a piece off and chew on it for a while. I asked one of the nurses to get some yesterday evening to give you an alternative to your own lips."

Craig removes his retainer, then cuts a piece and sticks it in his mouth. After the honey comes out, he's left with a firm, waxy ball. It's not the same pleasure as biting his lips, but it's something to chew, and he's thankful for it, really. It's a bad habit and he knows it.

"Thanks," he murmurs after a minute.

"I thought that might help," he says. "I find it quite pleasant to chew on."


"Now, I want to go back to where we were. Can you tell me about the figure you saw?"

He chews on the wax for a minute, flattening it on the roof of his mouth and then shaping it into a haphazard ball. "It was a girl, a little girl. Couldn't be more than eight."

"Do you know this girl?"

He bites the wax in half. "Yeah."

"Where from?" Kelly asks, eyes sharp and focused.

"I was thirteen. We met on a road trip," he says, and the only reason the words come easily is because he's repeated them in his head a dozen times today.


"We kind of just — we just slammed into each other," he stutters, even though he's practiced these words too.

"Like on the street?"

"Sort of."

Kelly knows he's leaving something big out of the picture. Craig can't meet his eyes. There's too much expectation in them, too much expectation that he can't live up to.

"Do you know her name?"

"No," Craig says. "I don't know a thing about her."

"Can you tell me why she's significant, then?"

(not even if I wanted to doctor)

He chews on the wax and doesn't make eye contact. Kelly doesn't let the question drop.

"She's the reason I have nebulaphobia," he says eventually.

Kelly nods, like he expected that. The self-assuredness on his face prods further at Craig's gut. "Tell me more. What did she do that gave you the fear of fog?"

(she didn't do a thing she was just there)

(wrong time wrong place)

He leans forward and places his head in his hands, rubbing his temples, pushing the beeswax aside and biting his lip lightly.

"Craig, I know it's hard. But it would be very helpful for us if you could share a little bit."

"Give me a second," Craig snaps.

(you're going to remember it?)

(go through all that again?)

(the road the fog the girl all out in the middle of nowhere)

(you in the passenger seat)

"Kelly, I can't talk about it, okay? It's bad and shitty and it scares me," he says, running his hands through his hair and lifting his head.

"We're here to talk about the things that scare you. It's okay. You can talk about it," Kelly says, the look of interest on his face only barely masked with gentle concern.

"How thick are you? I can't fucking talk about it."

"Craig, it would be really useful, and it would help you—"

"My dad fucking hit her with our car, okay?" he snaps, looking away as he says it. There. It's out. He bites his lip hard to stop the tears that want to come. He can't help it; he hates it, and it makes him feel weak and broken, but thinking about it brings out the scared thirteen-year-old Craig who jumped out of the car and ran off down the road, heart beating on overdrive, trying to pretend that it all didn't happen. It brings back Thomas Tucker walking towards him, eyes dead and cold. It brings back the weeks where he woke up in cold sweats, sobbing into the sheets and trying to be quiet.

It brings back much too much. He pulls his knees up on the chair and tucks his head into them. If he can't stop the tears than he can at least hide them.

Kelly looks only vaguely surprised, but it's impossible to tell if he's more surprised and just good at hiding it or if he was expecting something like that. He waits for Craig to speak again.

"See, you fucker, I can't tell you because it's fucking illegal," Craig says, voice strangled, stretched and broken the way it always is when he cries.

"Craig, what you tell me legally cannot leave this office. But you have to tell me two things; was it an accident, and has anything like it happened since?"

"The road was foggy, we couldn't see shit. She just came out of nowhere and — we hit her," he coughs out. "It's the only time it's ever happened. I'm not a fucking murderer!"

"I know you're not," Kelly says. "I don't think you're a threat at all."

"Well, thank fucking god," he bites.

Kelly hands over a box of tissues and gives his a moment to clean up. He does so quickly and quietly, breaking off another chunk of honeycomb at the same time. The repetitive action of chewing calms him down.

"What did you do with her?" Kelly asks after a while.

"We put her in the trunk," Craig says, voice shuddering. "We drove until we found a town and we bought a shovel, and we drove as far out of town as possible. We went way up in the mountains. Then, we pulled off the road, and my dad picked her up and walked into the forest for ten minutes or so until we found a spot he thought was — suitable." He has to choke back a spot he thought was good, because it certainly wasn't a good spot. That little clearing they stopped in will never be good.

"Then, we dug a huge hole, dropped her in, covered it up, covered it with pine needles and shit, and then we left," he says. It sounds so easy and simple like that. It doesn't sound horrible and traumatizing.

"Were you on a road trip?" Kelly asks.

Craig nods. "We were coming back from visiting my dad's sister — my aunt — in Utah. She lives out of the city. It was a lot of mountain driving. Not a lot of cars around. It's a long drive, but we thought we might check into a motel for a night, cuz it was getting late."

"Do you know why that girl was out on the road?"

He nods again. "The road was on a cliff. Not a huge or super steep cliff, like I could climb down or up it if I wanted, but still enough to definitely kill you if your car went over. There was a campground at the bottom. I guess she just climbed up for an adventure or something when her parents weren't looking. We would have brought her back, but she was dead as soon as she hit the ground." That's the sentence that drains him. There are no tears left, no anger; just loneliness and soul-crushing emptiness, and the combination of both makes being alive seem pointless. That little girl, dead as she hit the ground — it makes him feel so empty and lonely.

"What happened next?" Kelly asks.

Craig glances up and answers absently, "Nothing. There were missing notices, but I don't know if they were for her. It was just another little girl's face photocopied onto printer paper and hung up in police stations and post offices."

He bites the wax in half and says, "We buried her in the middle of nowhere. You'd have to know exactly where you were looking to find her."

Kelly nods.

Craig stays quiet, alternating between chewing wax and his lower lip. Kelly notices but doesn't say anything about it. There's not much to say to someone who just admitted that one of their life experiences was burying a little girl.

"It scares me to think about," he says quietly. "And it really makes me not want to live anymore. Not really in a suicidal way, but more in an I-don't-want-to-exist-anymore way."

"Yes, I understand," Kelly says.

"It's survivor's guilt, too. I never wanted to end a life. Her parents don't even know where she is. They don't even really know she's dead. It's been four years, but you never know. I'd lose hope, but somebody like — Butters, I guess, or Stan, or Kenny, or someone like that — they'd still have hope. And that would be really fucking hard. It's hard enough on me, and she's not even my kid. It must be hell for them."

"Yes, it would be hard."

There's a silence between them for a few second, in which Kelly's eyes never falter from Craig's face, and Craig shifts uncomfortably. When he finally meets Kelly's eyes, he says, "You wanted history. You got history. What the hell more do you want?"

He doesn't skip a beat. "Tell me how you felt when you saw her in therapy."

Craig sighs, mutters general obscenities under his breath. He lists, "Scared. Panicked. Numb. Thirteen."

"I don't suppose you can go into depth," Kelly says.

"How much deeper can I get?" he says. "I was scared and panicked and I tried to bolt but I tripped, so that was that. I was on the fucking floor and there was static and just static and I couldn't hear anything else. Seeing that figment just reduced me to my snivelling, traumatized thirteen-year-old self. And that was freaky. Too freaky, really," he mumbles. "Thirteen wasn't good. Fourteen was better. Fifteen was okay. Sixteen was fine."

"How about seventeen?"

He smiles thinly. "I'm here, aren't I?"

"So, worse?"

"The worst of them all," he says.

Kelly nods, then looks at the clock opposite his desk. "Looks like we're out of time. Feel free to go, Craig."

Craig's not sure he's ever left a room faster than that, even on a bad foot. It's all he can do not to slam the door behind him as hard as he can and just run.

(you're doing it again)

(you can't just keep running away)

He looks down the hall that leads into the common area and considers sliding right by and just going to bed. It's 10:00, a perfectly acceptable time to go to bed. He's not going to sleep tonight; at this rate, he might as well just hide and do more of that fucking homework. Kenny still has that homework. If he wants it, he has to interact with somebody else at least a little bit.

He wanders over to the bathroom right outside the group therapy room (which is also in Kelly's hallway) and goes in to check his face. Thankfully, the redness has gone down mostly, and his eyes aren't badly bloodshot. He just looks tired, just like everyone else who leaves therapy with Kelly.

Do they all cry?

Oh, what an immensely sad thing to consider.

People are littered around the common area like confetti. It's sort of sweet, actually, the way they all look so tired and so done with everything. It's not sweet at all, really, but at first glance, they make for a nice landscape, bodies strewn like boulders. A sleeping pill ad could use them rather effectively.

He sits in a chair next to Kenny, who apparently hasn't moved since he left.

"Hey," he says, nudging his shoulder. Kenny raises his head sleepily.

"Hey! You're back. You look really tired," he says.

"I know. It was tiring."

"Really, I was just waiting for you to come back so I could go to bed. I'm so fucking tired, man. I need some real sleep."

"Sure, let's go. Is everyone else still alive?" he asks, standing and gathering the homework he left in a neat pile when he left.

"Barely. I think they're all dozing. One of the nurses can drag them to bed at eleven."

"Let's go," Craig says again, and Kenny stands slowly, stretching his long body as he does. Craig follows him as he ambles off to their room, legs rising and falling heavily, like they're not body parts but rather sandbags. And yet even in this weary state he's interesting to watch. His limbs look like they only barely fit together, and that he's floating along rather than walking. The effect is somewhat ethereal.

Kenny, the keeper of the key card, swipes it and the door clicks open. He gets the door for Craig with a cheeky, "Ladies first," and locks it behind them.

Craig lays books out on the bed and lies down next to them.

"Kenny, I don't want to do any more fucking math," he calls.

"Sho don't do it," Kenny says, walking out of the bathroom with a toothbrush in his mouth.

"It's fresh in my mind."

"What de ell?" Kenny darts back to the bathroom and spits. "You said you don't wanna do it. Then you argued to me why you should do it."

"I should do it, I just don't want to," Craig says, rolling onto his back.

"To procrastinate or not to procrastinate," he says, sticking the toothbrush back into his mouth.

"You're the worst roommate," Craig says.

"Why? Cuz I won't do your maff?" he muffles.


Kenny walks over, scoops up the homework, and drops it on the floor. "Proflem solfed."

"Go spit," Craig says.

Kenny does, and comes back saying, "You know, you should really just go to bed. You look all shaken up."

"Do I?" Craig sighs.

"Yeah, you got red eyes," he says. He doesn't say red crying eyes, which Craig is thankful for.

"Okay, okay." He gets up and goes to the bathroom to spit out his retainer and brush his teeth. Kenny wanders back into the bathroom and brushes his teeth in front of the mirror, and Craig wanders out and paces aimlessly around the room. The door closes and he hears the water run for a while.

Kenny comes out after a few minutes and says, "You've been wandering around for like, five minutes."

"Habit," Craig says.

"Did you just swallow your spit?"


"I can't stand that. Too gross," he says.

"But you'll swallow—"

Kenny looks at him and breaks into a grin. "You gonna finish that sentence, buddy?"

"Nope, definitely not," Craig says, walking past him to rinse his mouth in the bathroom.

Kenny laughs loudly from the other room.

"Immature," Craig scoffs.

"You started it!"

"What happened to tired? You look fucking ecstatic," he says, going back into the main room.

"You made a joke. Of course I'm ecstatic," Kenny says, still grinning.

"Oh, shut up. I'm regretting saying that already. Not to say it isn't true, though."

"No way, dude, my gag reflex is shit. And I dunno, really, I've never given head."

"The one-night-stand kid that you slept with didn't want a blowjob?" Craig asks. "That's shit, I'd want one."

"I dunno, man. We fucked and that was about it," Kenny says, shrugging.

"Seems sad."

"Hmm?" Kenny looks over. "How so?"

"I don't really know. It just seems sad to have sex with somebody you don't know or care about, or want to even see after the fact," Craig says, moving his books onto the side table. "That sounds cheesy, sorry."

Kenny doesn't reply. Craig looks over, and there's something in his eyes; that same curious looks.

(do you think you can change me)

(he thinks you can)

"I'm going to go to bed," Craig says.

"Do you wanna make out?" Kenny asks.



"Sorry. Wow. I'm a loose fucking cannon," Kenny says, looking down. "That's fucking twice now, isn't it."

"You never apologize to your friends when you make comments like that to them," he says, sitting on his bed.

Kenny blinks, suddenly and unexpectedly caught. He does not recover smoothly. He doesn't really recover at all. He just starts peeling off his shirt and saying, "I'm gonna go to bed, okay?"

"I'd make out with you, though," Craig mumbles, not sure if he wants to even be heard.

"What?" Kenny says. He lets go of his shirt and flattens it back against his chest.

"Don't make me say it again. You heard me."

Kenny just stares at him for a few seconds, nervous and unmoving. The tension in the air is unbearable.

He steps around his bed and crawls on top of Craig's bed, scooting closer to him, mussing the blankets. Both are close, the space between their faces under a foot. A short distance, but oh, so completely impassable.

"Are you, um," Craig murmurs, unable to finish his sentence.

Kenny leans forward a little more and kisses him hesitantly, ready to jump away at the very twitch of discomfort. The kiss ends quickly, and Kenny moves back to recreate the space between them, perhaps a little too fast.

"Okay?" he asks.

Craig nods. "Okay."

"Can I—?"

Craig shifts forward and kisses Kenny for real on the mouth, lips moving against his. Kenny makes a small noise and kisses back, moving closer as well until they're as close as they can get without lying down. Mouths open slowly and lips part and tongues brush, and the only thing that could have made it better was if both of them didn't taste like toothpaste. But does someone else's mouth ever truly taste good?

Kenny loops an arm around Craig's neck, lying back slowly until Craig's on top of him. It always sort of amazes Craig how easy it is, to kiss someone so their body shakes and they'd be willing to maybe give everything to you. He wants to hold Kenny somehow, but wouldn't that be too — intimate?

(you don't call this intimate?)

He lets his hands settle on Kenny's ribs. There. That's fine.

When they finally break apart, Craig rolls off of him and lies next to him. Kenny runs a hand through his hair and sighs.

"That was nice," he says.

"Mm," Craig hums.

"You liked it?" Kenny asks, shifting onto his stomach and propping himself up on his elbows.

"Yeah." He could say more and he could say less; this feels like enough, though. More words will come later, he supposes.

Kenny nods, unsure what else to say that wouldn't sound too bold. There's emotion on his face that Craig can read too well. He wonders if it's on his face too.

"I think I'm actually going to go to bed now," Craig says. There's still tension in the air, but it's a different tension. It's almost as choking as the last kind.

"Oh, right," Kenny says. He slides off Craig's bed and goes back over to his side of the room, where the sheets are still neat and not imprinted with moving bodies.

Craig lets his hoodie fall off his arms and tugs his shirt over his head. He can tell Kenny's looking, but it seems frivolous to point it out. He knows he's looking.

Now, just in jeans, he starts pulling out all the corners that whoever comes in and cleans like to tuck under the mattress. Who can sleep, having their toes squeezed by sheets pulled taut?

He doesn't notice Kenny moving, but he's suddenly behind Craig. He kisses the top of his head.

Craig glances behind him. "What was that for?"

Kenny shrugs, looking a little embarrassed. "Felt unfinished."

That tiny little peck and those two words say more than any amount of making out ever did. The running hands said nothing, the lips said nothing, the fucking tongues and spit shared and awkward broken sentences said nothing. But those two miniscule actions unlock the gates and rivers of emotion and meaning roar out loud enough to make Craig's head hurt.

How does one reply to such a torrent of words unsaid? Craig has no idea. He's never been good with things like this. There are things he could say, but each response played over in his head sounds worse than the last. Before too much time passes, he turns his head and smiles, just enough for Kenny to see. He can make his own meaning out of that.

(just please understand)

Kenny strips down to boxers and Craig shuts the light. The air is still heavy but Craig finds a way to breathe, and does so until the room fades and the silence of night becomes the silence of sleep.

(and the scream of dreams)

Thomas Tucker has always been partial to the music he listened to in his youth. He has no interest in poking at what those names he's heard his kids toss around make and call music. He's happy in his Elton John CDs, Steely Dan and Stevie Wonder.

Craig doesn't listen to this music on his own time, but he never remembers to charge his iPod for car trips, and besides, he doesn't mind listening to these oldies that he knows all the words too. Neither of them have good voices, but they both mumble along to Aja.

We're not going to be home before midnight, Craig says, looking out the window at the already darkening sky.

No, I thought we might just check into a motel, Thomas says.

Seems dumb to leave Mandy's house just to pay to sleep somewhere else, Craig says.

The drive to my sister's house is a lot to cover in one day, kiddo.

I wouldn't mind.

Craig likes car trips. He likes looking out the window and listening to his dad's old CDs, and he likes watching mountains turn into rolling hills, forests to cityscapes. The bumps and easy turns of the road lull him into half-sleep.

Where are we? he asks.

Utah, Thomas replies.

Thank you, I had no idea.

Don't snip at me, he scolds.

Craig shrugs, looks out the window.

Can't see shit, he says.

Watch your mouth, I don't want you developing that habit and then slipping in front of your mother. It's mostly mountains. Not much up here besides campgrounds and road.

When do you think we'll be at the next town?

Thomas shrugs. Maybe an hour, he says.

You could go faster than forty, Craig says.

I said don't snip at me. And that's not a great idea; look at that fog, kiddo. The visibility's terrible.

Could we stop? I want to run around in it a little.

No, I don't want you on a road this bad.

I'd stay on the side, Craig says.

I said no, Craig. Settle down.

I am settled, he mutters, leaning back towards the window. They're quiet for a while, no words passed besides lyrics to Deacon Blues, half-sung, half-murmured.

Fuck, I picked a bad time to drive. Pardon my French, goddamnit. It's getting dark, too, Thomas says, voice thin with stress. Craig doesn't really understand the problem. It's not like anyone else seems to be on the road, and his dad seems to be driving fine.

Should we turn around? Craig says, turning down the music a little.

No, it's just as far back the other way.

It feels like one of those times where no matter what Craig says, it'll be wrong. He keeps his mouth shut and looks out the window while Thomas mutters to himself.

Dad, relax, he says finally.

I'm relaxed, Thomas says.

You're definitely not.

Thomas doesn't reply, eyes focused on the road. His patience is waning.

Craig carefully turns the music back up a few notches, leaning back in his seat and looking out the window. The fog's pretty, really, as it gently swirls around the vehicle and the guardrail. There's a forest on the low side of the mountainside they're driving on, but Craig can't make it out. A road sign advertising an RV campground floats by, the mist wispy around the letters. A solitary car, the first they've seen in fifteen minutes, worms out of the fog and passes like a ghost. The headlight are like a beacon in a storm, but they're gone as fast as they came.

Hey, that looked kind of—

Oh fuck! Thomas shouts, and in that split second as the words leave his mouth, the car drives into something solid that flies a few feet in front of them on contact. He slams the breaks and the car screeches to a stop, and Craig looks up but neither is quick enough. In a second's time, the windshield is cracked and the car is stopped.

What the fuck did you hit? Craig says, breath suddenly short and heart going triple speed.

I don't know. Stay in the car, I'll be right back, he says, throwing the door open and jumping out. Craig stares out the window, not entirely sure what he's going to see. Thomas lumbers out and crouches in front of the car, just out of view. After a minute, he stands up and walks back to his side.

Craig, listen to me. I want you to close your eyes, and don't open them until I say so, he says, voice suddenly shaking.

What the fuck did you hit? Why do I have to close my eyes? Craig asks, panic beginning to bubble in his stomach.

If you pick one time to listen to me, pick now. Shut your eyes, Thomas snaps.

Craig does, because there's no other option. He's sure he doesn't want to see whatever it is that his dad hit.

He can't hear anything for a minute, and then the trunk of the car opens. Something is heaved into the car. Then, after what feels like a long time, the trunk closes. Thomas sits down, face far away.

What did you hit? Craig shouts, snapping his eyes open even though his dad hasn't said so yet.

He turns slowly and says, Craig, I wish I was joking. We hit a little girl. She was crouching, just moved to stand up as we were on her. She broke her neck when she hit the ground.

Craig's mind stops. All the fast breathing, the heartbeat threatening to leap through his skin, the racing thoughts turning further towards the worst case scenario — they stop and all that replaces is a steady buzz of silence and static.

She's dead? he manages to work out. Of course she's fucking dead. His dad all but said it just like that.

Thomas sighs and buries his face in his hands. Craig, I'm so, so sorry. I can't believe this is happening.

You put her in the trunk? Craig cries. There's a dead girl in the fucking trunk?

Thomas doesn't reply for a long while. When he lifts his head from his palms, he says, Craig, if I report this, I'll be charged with manslaughter.

That's fucking insane!

I know it is! Thomas snaps. I have a plan, though. It's a horrible plan.

What? Craig asks, and he notices now that there are tears running down his face. He wipes them and stifles a choking cough.

Another long silence. We're going to get to the next town and when we get there, we're going to buy a shovel. Then, we're going to go way up into the forest until we're further away than anyone will drive. I'll pick her up, and we'll walk through the woods until we're off the road. We'll dig a hole and we'll give her a proper burial.

That's horrible! We can't just fucking leave her in the woods!

Do you have a better fucking plan? he shouts.

Craig shakes his head quickly and breaks down into huge, coughing sobs that wrack his whole body.

Come here, Craig, Thomas sighs. He reaches over and pulls his over, hugging him with his huge arms. I'm so sorry. I'm so, so sorry.

It passes Craig's mind that Thomas should be apologizing to the girl in the trunk, not him. But now, none of his body parts are functioning well enough to try and make that argument.

The next few hours happen behind Craig's notice, and when he lapses back into a more conscious state, they're way up in the mountains, driving along some shitty cracked road, sky black and dotted with stars obscured by the tall pines. He wants to ask where they are, but his dad's eyes are distant and he's lost in thought and shock. They drive and drive for what feels like years, and then, they pull off the road.

This will do, Thomas says. Stay in the car.

No, I'd rather come, Craig says. Thomas sends him a weary, anguished look, but doesn't try to stop him. He gets out of the car and goes around to the back to open the trunk. Craig follows him into the chilled air and doesn't look into the trunk. His dad hands him the shovel, still shiny and new, price tag stuck to its handle.

Craig averts his eyes when Thomas lifts the body out.

How are we going to get back? It's pitch black out.

Thomas gives him a look and says, I picked up a flashlight, kiddo. Were you asleep?

I guess, Craig says.

We won't go too far from the car. We'll just get behind those trees there.

They end up walking for five minutes or so, with Craig marking trees occasionally with the blade of the shovel. It won't mean much if they were to become lost, but it eases some jittering part of his mind.

Here. Here's good, Thomas says, stopping in a clearing.

Craig looks around. It's perfect. Not too big and not too small, with a view of the stars overhead. They'll ruin its perfect state as soon as the shovel bites the ground. Even when the dug-up ground grows weeds and pine needles fall on it and maybe another little tree grows, this place will never be perfect again.

Thomas lays the girl on the ground and stretches his back. I'll take that now, he says, and Craig hands him the shovel.

What do I do, then? he asks.

Thomas glances at him. Nothing, for now.

So that's what Craig does. He sits on the ground, facing away from the body only yards away from him. He counts stars and crumbles pine cones to little bits. He naps as best as he can with his dad's words still bouncing through his mind like a beam of light in a room of mirrors.

And after some time — a long, long time — Thomas nudges him with his foot. His sleeves are rolled and his body smells of work.

I'm going to lay her in, now.

How deep's the grave? Craig asks, standing up.

Not quite six feet, Thomas says.

Craig nods, because he doesn't know what else to do.

Thomas walks over to her, bends down, and carefully lifts her up. Then, he hesitates. I'm not actually sure how to go about this.

Drop her in, I guess, Craig says.

You think? I'd rather lower her in.


They stare at each other for a while. Thomas sighs and shakes his head and asks, Craig, I know you're not going to like this. We're going to have guilt for the rest of our lives. I really think it would be better if you helped me lay her down. She's not heavy.

And even though Craig's mind is blanking, still buzzing with static and now lack of sleep, he agrees.

He takes the feet and Thomas takes her shoulders, and carefully, they lower her down, letting her go at the last couple of feet. She lands with a hard thud, and it's then that Craig sees her face. Her eyes are slightly open, her mouth hanging. Her clothes are scraped up. Her head is effortlessly bent into a grotesque position. He shines the light on her face and she doesn't move or look back.

She's dead.

Craig once saw a dog on the side of the road, hit by a truck. He didn't look too long or too hard — it just made him sad, overwhelmingly sad. Somebody took a life without trying, and now somebody's dead. A dog, sure, but that wasn't the point. The point was that it was dead, and that word becomes heavier and heavier the more he thought about.

It's never felt as heavy as it does right now. That girl's dead. She'll never breathe or feel or smile again, and she'll never see another thunderstorm, or see another movie, or—

He throws up, right on the side of the grave. It's too much. Too much. He doesn't feel worthy of being alive. He'd die right now if some stranger could live.

Oh, god, he chokes out, coughing up another chunk of his last meal. His spit hangs in ropes. It's unflattering, with his tears mixing with his vomit and his face reddening, but that's the furthest thought from his mind. Grief and shock have him in a chokehold and he can't find air to breathe.

His dad is on him again, holding him like he's six years old and afraid of the dark, and he's murmuring things but they aren't nice or even comforting.

I'm sorry, it'll never be the same, I'm sorry, I can't believe this, I'm sorry, I've wrecked you, I'm sorry—

I'm sorry—

God I'm so sorry—


(I'm sorry too)

Craig wakes cold and damp with sweat, breath short and heart and head racing. He looks around and he's still in the hospital room in his hotel bed, Kenny sleeping four feet away, tucked into a little ball, the sheets twisted around him. She's not alive, but she's not here. Here, the door is bolted and window doesn't open. Here, he's safe, and even if he's not safe, there's a kid in the bed across from him who will say nothings until he's created the illusion of safety.

(he could be your sanctuary)

(all you have to do is ask)

He lies back down and covers his entire body with the sheets, breathing slowly and forcing himself to calm down. He's been at it for a little over twenty seconds (he counts to relax) when Kenny voice comes from the other bed:

"You okay, Craig?"

He doesn't move. He doesn't breathe. He doesn't make a sound until shifting comes from Kenny's blankets, the sound of readjusting and preparing for sleep again.

Sleep is a good idea. But that's all it is; a good idea.