A/N: The epilogue is finally finished! It took a long time, but I wanted it to be pretty lengthy - I like long epilogues. I hope you guys will enjoy this one, and I'm curious to see what the reactions will be. Thank you so much to everyone who has left feedback for this story and sent me notes of encouragement along the way. I really needed it for this one, and it's been very appreciated. :)
Two weeks before his twenty-first birthday and one week after his spring semester ends, Kyle decides he doesn't want to spend his summer back in South Park. This could be his last chance to spend the summer in San Francisco, if he doesn't get into Berkley's grad program next year, and if he stays he'll be able to focus while he works on his application. His last two summers in South Park were miserably dull to the point of almost feeling regressive, and the summer before that was his dreadful misadventure in Miami. Something about spending this summer alone, in the city, seems important.
He's got to be out of his dorm by the end of the week, and though spontaneous decisions typically aren't his style, it's exciting to post an ad looking for a roommate on Craigslist. He puts one up on LiveLovely, Crashpad and Livewith as well, and spends his Friday evening obsessively rereading his ad and wondering what kind of temporary summer life it might lead him to.
Berkeley senior looking for summer accommodation on short notice. I work at FatApple's and can pay my rent in cash for the next three months. Also possibly interested in a roommate situation during the school year, if things work out well.
About Me: I'm Kyle, a 21 year old, gay, secular Jewish guy who is working on a public health degree. I'm originally from a small town in Colorado (by way of New Jersey) and I've been at Berkeley since my freshman year. I'm a serious student, but my summer schedule will mostly involve working part time and some responsibilities as a junior board member on the Student Health Advisory Committee. I need my living space to be neat and clean, but I'm not anal about organization and can respect others' habits as long as mine are respected. I have no pets and would prefer not to share space with any.
What I'm Looking For in a Roommate: A friendly individual who respects boundaries, preferably a young professional or serious (upperclassman) student like myself. A non-smoker (in both senses). I'm okay with drinking, but I don't enjoy loud house parties and would not want to live amid regular ones. No serious drug users, obviously. I'm not in the habit of bringing strangers back to my living space for sex, and would get along best with a roommate who dates discriminately as well.
What I'm Looking For in a Room/Apartment: Something in reasonable walking distance to BART, preferably but not necessarily near Berkeley campus/East Bay. Okay with sharing a bathroom with one person, possibly with two if it's a couple, but more than that is not going to work for me. Need my own room with a door that closes securely for privacy. Can be a small room but must have a window. Need to be able to have a small fridge in my room for insulin storage (I'm diabetic, type 1).
If this sounds like a situation that would work for you, please get in touch with me ASAP.
After his ad has been posted on all four websites he makes himself step away from the computer instead of obsessively checking his email for responses. He should really call his mother and tell her about his change of plans, though he suspects she won't be too surprised. He's been dragging his feet about buying his plane ticket to Colorado since she started prodding him to do so back in March. He calls Bebe instead. Since his junior year in high school, she's been the first person he gets in touch with when he decides to do something rash. She's become his best friend, though they've never lived in the same state.
"Ooh, exciting!" she says, predictably, when he tells her of his plan. "Are you going to live in the city, in one of those walk-in closets that's been converted to a 'bedroom'?"
"Ha. No! I think I can find something decent out here by campus, something I can afford."
"I'm sure you can, I'm just teasing."
"It won't be the city, but it'll be close enough. I'm always so swamped with work during the school year. This will be like experiencing a whole new San Francisco."
"Maybe you'll have time to date."
"Sure." Kyle had sex with two friends and one classmate during the school year, but he hasn't ever really 'dated,' unless he counts Eric, who feels more like an ex-husband than an old boyfriend. If that was the case, Kyle was a child bride, which sometimes feels accurate. "How's Mike?" he asks, wanting to change the subject.
"We broke up."
"What! I mean, oh. Good."
"Yeah, I guess it's good," Bebe says, and Kyle detects the hint of a tremble in her voice. "I was so tired of living in that house. With all those stray dogs, and that Peruvian woman who didn't pay rent, and the roosters-"
"Wait, so where are you living? When did this happen?"
"Bebe! Why didn't you call?"
"My phone was dead! I'm with Amelia, it's fine."
"Ugh, Amelia. Why don't you come down here?"
"What, and be your roommate?"
Kyle starts to say no, of course not, but then he considers how nice that would be. He hasn't seen Bebe since Thanksgiving, she graduated from the University of Oregon last semester, and they could have the whole summer together to flit around San Francisco. It would give Kyle time to look for a more permanent roommate to live with during the school year, too. He imagines a cozy little apartment decorated by Bebe, dinners together on the fire escape when it's too hot to stay inside, and staying up until four in the morning talking about everything.
"I kind of want to," Bebe says, quietly. "If that's not too, um. Presumptuous."
"It actually sounds amazing," Kyle says. "And not to be indelicate, but - you could help with the rent, right?"
"Kyle! Of course I can. Mike hasn't been charging me to live at the house. Or, well, he has, but I pay him in cooking and cleaning and sexual favors. Like the Peruvian chick, I suspect."
"I know, it's terrible! But I've saved all my bartending money, and I really just. Need to get away from here, Kyle. I really need a break."
They stay on the phone for an hour, and by midnight they're giddy with certainty: Bebe will come down as soon as Kyle finds a place. He'll leave his ads up in the meantime, because if they can find a decent third roommate it will save them money and possibly ensure that they have some actual furniture in this theoretical apartment. Kyle goes to bed feeling hopeful and excited. The last really excellent summer he had was six years ago, at the Mackey camp, though the summer after his junior year of high school had its highlights, and the one in Miami was memorable if nothing else.
He ends up tossing and turning, unable to sleep. The dorms are too quiet, most of the underclassmen already moved out. Kyle feels a bit lame still living in the dorms, but it's certainly the best value in the area. He rehearses the speech he'll make to his mother tomorrow, assuring her that it's not a waste of money to spend the summer here, and that his friend Bebe needs him, and that he doesn't need his parents' permission to make this decision, though they are still helping with some of his miscellaneous college expenses. He stares up at the ceiling, nervous about that making that call and haunted by the specter of summers past.
Summer has always been a weighty prospect for him. Before fat camp, summer was a long, lonely stretch of nothing until school restarted, and the year he went away and lost weight was a sort of turning point in his life. The summer after his junior year of high school was the year he took a bus to Nebraska, against his parents' express wishes, and spent a fairly miserable month there before he and Eric took off for a road trip up the west coast that was equally ill-advised. Then there was the summer between his high school graduation and his freshman year at Berkeley, known between him and Bebe as the Miami Disaster. Kyle rolls over in bed and sighs, beset with the urge to get in touch with Eric. It happened at the start of last summer, too, and there were a lot of protracted, hypothetical plans to meet up somewhere, but nothing came to fruition. He hasn't talked to Eric in a few weeks, which isn't rare even since their friendly reconciliation, but at this time of the year he feels a kind of pull in his gut, despite all their previous botched attempts to recreate their first perfect summer together.
When he finally sleeps, he dreams of that summer. In his dream he's walking along the trails behind the camp, bugs singing in the weedy brush. He can hear thunder far off in the distance, and he's frightened, searching for someone on the trail so he won't have to walk through the coming storm alone. He wants to find Eric, preserved as he was at sixteen, before they both grew up and everything went wrong. He's also looking for Stan, whose face he can't remember as precisely as he'd like to. He remembers their kiss like a lightning bolt that struck and changed him, and he feels charged up by it in the dream, buzzing with the energy of that summer that still lives in him.
He wakes up feeling overheated, blazing sunlight coming in through the window that he forgot to cover before falling asleep. They must have turned the air conditioning to a more economical setting now that the majority of the dorm's occupants have fucked off home. Kyle is grumpy as he rouses from bed, ready to get out of here and hoping his ad for roommates has gotten at least a few responses. He pulls his laptop into bed and sees that he has five new emails.
One is a reminder from campus housing about the mandatory move-out date, two are responses via Crashpad, one is from Livewith, and one is from Craigslist. Kyle opens the Craigslist inquiry first, because the subject header is 'Weird Question.'
I feel weird writing this, and it probably sounds really creepy, but I saw your post last night while looking through the SF Bay Area roommate ads and I think I used to know you. Is your last name Broflowski? Did you go to the Mackey Youth Center six years ago? I used to work there, and if you're the Kyle I think you are (he had diabetes, was from a small town in Colorado and is your age) I've been mentally composing a huge apology to you for like six years and would love to be able to send it to you.
If you're not interested in hearing from me and/or if you're not the Kyle I'm thinking of, please ignore this insane email that I'm sending at three in the morning.
Kyle's heart is pounding as he rereads the email for the fourth time, trying to make sense of it as a real thing that he's holding in his virtual hands and not just another dream about his time in the desert. The idea of being contacted by Stan after all this time is so alien that he wonders if it's some kind of prank orchestrated by Eric, though Eric never really discerned the depth of Kyle's feelings for Stan. Even during their most vicious fights, Kyle never threw the fact that he'd been kissed by the counselor in Eric's face, both to protect Eric's feelings and Stan's reputation, since Eric is the vindictive type and might have tried to make something of a long-ago underage kiss.
Kyle reads the email again, shaking now. Why would Stan want to apologize? For the kiss, most likely, but Kyle had thought it was clear that he'd wanted it, and had in fact asked Stan to fuck him, more or less, just before their tongues touched. Remembering this makes his already anxious stomach swirl with nauseating embarrassment, and he has to push the laptop away and go into the bathroom. He splashes cold water on his face, and still can't manage to make himself believe that he has a window on his childhood crush, a way to reach into the past and touch that summer that felt like the first real one of his life.
He thinks of calling Bebe, going for a walk to clear his head, eating something to settle his stomach, but ultimately he can't stay away from the laptop. It feels critical that he replies right away, especially if Stan really has been wanting to apologize for six years, when in Kyle's view he did nothing wrong. Still, opening a reply makes his fingers tremble, and he's broken into a nervous sweat by the time he starts to actually type.
Yes, I am that Kyle! That is me! It's really good to hear from you!
He stares at this beginning for a while and considers stripping the exclamation points out. It's not like him to use them at all, let alone overuse them like this, but he feels Stan might need the reassuring presence of enthusiastic punctuation, so he leaves them in and continues.
I'm really glad you saw my ad, because I don't think you need to apologize for anything. That was honestly the greatest summer of my life so far, and you were a big part of why. I really, really, REALLY appreciated having an older gay guy to talk to during that stage in my life. Your compassion toward me was incredible, and I'm so sorry (really) that my stupid crush was probably terribly awkward for you, and that I basically guilted you into humoring me that day during the storm. I hope that moment hasn't caused you too much grief over the years, because, despite how embarrassed I am at my bold & entitled behavior now, for me it was a wholly positive experience, and you really have nothing to apologize for.
After typing all this out, Kyle immediately wants to delete it. The words seem glib and too impersonal, but also too intimate at the same time. It occurs to him that this all might be better said in person, though he's really not sure he has the balls to suggest that. He decides that he needs to clear Stan's conscience straight away, whether they meet to discuss this further or not, and he leaves that paragraph in, though he's still unhappy with the overly sunny tone. He deliberates in minor agony before adding a second paragraph.
You don't sound weird or creepy at all, by the way. I really am thrilled to hear from you. I have such good memories of that summer, and I have converted the songs from the CD you made for me and still have them on my mp3 player. That was such a thoughtful going away present, and so appreciated. Do you live in the Bay Area currently? Would you be interested in meeting for coffee or something? I hope the idea of seeing me in person isn't too traumatic, and I'm sorry again for how I backed you into a corner and made you uncomfortable. I was a brat kid and you were way nicer to me than you needed to be - and yet it was exactly what I needed. I honestly credit you more than Mackey or the weight loss for my increase in confidence that summer.
Thank you again for being so sweet to younger me. It tears me up to think that you feel like you need to apologize for anything, but I would love to talk if you feel like that would be productive.
He scowls at the screen and changes 'productive' to 'worthwhile,' then deletes the whole messy end of sentence and replaces it with 'if you want to.'
Just let me know if you'd like to get together sometime and catch up - I'll be in town all summer.
-Kyle (Broflovski - you were closer in your spelling than most people)
He rereads the email many times before sending, feeling like Stan is a wild and exotic bird that might be scared off forever if Kyle makes the slightest wrong move. He tells himself that if Stan was that flighty he wouldn't have sent his email in the first place, and forces himself to hit 'send.' He has to get up and walk away from the computer afterward, feeling shaky and exposed, though it's true that he's thrilled to hear from Stan after all this time. He's thrilled just to know Stan thinks of him at all. He tries calling Bebe, but she doesn't pick up. Again he thinks of calling Eric, though he certainly wouldn't report on this development to him. Finally he walks outside, still in his sleep pants and t-shirt, needing some fresh air. He calls his mother and has a long and exhausting conversation about staying in California for the summer, and for half an hour or so this almost successfully enables him to forget that he's awaiting a response from Stan. When he goes back inside he hurries to his laptop, and he's mildly crushed when he sees two roommate inquiries from his LiveLovely ad and no emails from Stan.
Kyle tries to distract himself by packing up his room, then by making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, but he's back at his laptop every five minutes or so, feeling increasingly rejected as the day wears on. It's almost three o'clock when a response finally comes from Stan. Kyle forces himself to take a deep breath before opening it, expecting a long email that took Stan hours to compose. He feels punched when he opens it and sees it's only a few lines long.
Hey Kyle, wow. I keep writing things and deleting them. I'm probably just over-analyzing and being ridiculous, and please just say 'hell no' if this is not a good time, but I'm in Oakland right now and I could be in Berkeley in half an hour. Do you want to meet somewhere around 4 or 5? A coffee shop or a restaurant or whatever you want.
Sorry if this is insane. I'm really glad this is you and that it sounds like you're doing awesome in school and everything.
Kyle is relieved after reading this, then the dread sets in. He wants to say yes, to respond right away, but he has to wait or he'll seem overeager, and he's not sure he's emotionally or physically prepared to see Stan today. He's gained around twenty pounds since he last saw Stan, for one thing. The freshman fifteen leapt onto his bones before his first Thanksgiving break, and his efforts to get rid of it have been irregular at best. He's also gotten taller, and he doesn't really consider himself overweight, but he kind of let himself go during the last brutal crush of spring semester, and he hasn't even washed his hair in a few days. All of his most flattering clothes are dirty, worn during end of the year parties and now crumpled up at the bottom of his hamper.
He lets his fingers hover over the keys, petrified as he tries to imagine all possible outcomes. Reconnecting with Eric after camp had been magical at first, but it soured over time, and Kyle is afraid to ruin his good memories of kindly counselor Stan, especially since Stan thinks he needs to apologize for them. What if Stan has gotten pudgy? What if he's losing his hair? Kyle suspects he's still beautiful, that his body has remained nice, his hair thick and shiny, but maybe that's not what he should be worried about. Eric got better looking every year, and that was what spoiled things for them in the end, at least partly. But it's not as if he's being invited to partake in a long term relationship with Stan, who is apparently right down the freeway, waiting at his laptop in Oakland and watching for Kyle's response. Kyle takes a deep breath and lets it out. There was always something about Stan that made him feel comfortable, safe, and able to say and do almost anything while expecting total acceptance. Though he hasn't seen Stan in six years, this still feels true as he types his response.
That sounds great. I'm free tonight and I'd love to meet you for coffee at five. Do you want to just meet at Philz on Shattuck? There's also Artis if you want something a little less chain-y, but Philz will probably be less crowded. The patio at Artis is nice, though.
Or we could go wherever! I'm not picky. It'll be great to see you and talk.
He actually has to stop himself from signing 'Love, Kyle,' which should probably be alarming. He only signs emails to his grandmother that way.
After he's sent his response, he pushes the laptop away again. He checks the clock and sees that it's now quarter past three. Standing from the bed, he feels like he's lost part of his brain function to sheer excitement and fear. He isn't sure what to do first: shower? Call Bebe? Jerk off to relieve some tension? That's become his habit before meeting someone he might end up having sex with later in the evening, but that's hardly what Stan is, though they're both adults now. Kyle reminds himself that he knows nothing about Stan's current life, that he might be married with a kid. Hopefully he would at least be married to a man, but Kyle would still be crushed if that were true, on behalf of his fifteen-year-old self.
He hurries into the shower and shaves when he's done. There's no time for the jerk off or even calling Bebe, and he's not sure what he would say to her if he did. They've talked about Stan, and after a year or so of friendship he confessed to her that Stan had kissed him. She was judgmental about Stan upon hearing this, which made Kyle sorry he'd told her. It was too hard to explain to any outsider, how right that kiss had felt after all their long looks over the course of the summer, and the bubble of quiet they shared in the nurse's station during Kyle's injections. Only Stan had understood, or so Kyle thought. As he dresses in his most presentable clean clothes he wonders what over-analyzed words Stan typed into his email reply before deleting them.
It's warmer outside than he realized when he paced around on the phone with his mother, unseasonably so for late May. Kyle feels as if he's caused a temporary summer to descend upon the campus by reconnecting with Stan, or by dreaming of the desert just before he read Stan's first email. He's listening for thunder on the walk to the BART, unable to recall the last big storm he witnessed. It was probably back in South Park, where they amazing storms during the warm months. The ones that came last summer made Kyle feel lonely, and he'd called Eric after two of them.
He hears his phone ding as he gets on the train, and he knows before looking that it will be a message from Eric. They've talked, while drunk and also during that one precious week of winter break in South Park, about how they'll always be metaphysically connected, as if Eric is a radioactive spider who bit Kyle once and gave him an Eric-sense. Kyle has fucked Eric, too, and he supposes he left a similar Kyle-sense in him.
you done for the semester? is Eric's message. Kyle puts the phone away; he'll respond later. He can't think straight enough to decide if this is Eric's way of trying to suss out Kyle's summer plans, though of course that's what it is.
He gets off at the Downtown Berkeley stop to walk the nine blocks to Philz. Part of why he picked this place is the necessity of the walk, but it's not as usefully bracing as he'd hoped. He gets there half an hour early and feels like he'll vomit, heading straight for the men's room. In a moment of weakness, needing an ally, he responds to Eric's text.
Yes. I'm staying in California. Are you taking summer classes?
Eric always takes summer classes, for the excuse not to go home and because he likes to spread his credits out as widely as possible. It's his stated goal to do his undergrad degree in a little under six years and then move on to grad school. He's doing a history major and has talked vaguely about being a teacher, lawyer, entrepreneur or Hollywood historical consultant. Kyle goes into a stall in the bathroom and sits on the closed toilet lid, awaiting a response. His heart is hammering, and he tries not to think of what Stan might say, how he'll smell and what he'll look like. He jumps when his phone dings again, but it's just Eric's response.
yeah global econ and history of logic. u?
Nothing, just working at FatA's and doing some student comm stuff.
maybe I'll come out there where are you staying?
Still looking for a place. I'll let you know.
Kyle turns the sound off on his phone and puts it away, unable to deal with Eric's vague promises right now. He feels uncomfortably reconnected to Miami every time they talk, knowing Eric is there with his asshole frat brothers, or roasting himself on the beach while some freshman who recently sucked his cock dozes beside him. Now that he's a senior he's a big deal on campus, but he kind of always was, because by some stroke of Kyle's terrible luck the University of Miami is an Eric-tailored paradise that was always waiting to receive his special gifts. The summer that Kyle stayed down there, slowly realizing that Eric had spent his freshman year having lots of sex with guys who weren't him, feels like a hellishly impossible video game level that he once tried to play, a place where he died about eight hundred times, only to be regenerated and try again.
He makes himself snap out of this funk and leaves the bathroom stall. At the sink he washes his hands twice, very thoroughly, and then checks the time on his phone again. Ten minutes until five. Feeling like he's walking out onstage, he leaves the men's room and nervously surveys the coffee shop, not really expecting to see Stan yet. When he sees a black-haired guy sitting at the table in the back right corner, studying his phone, his heel bouncing on the concrete floor, Kyle thinks: it can't be. But it is, it's Stan, and Kyle can and will walk over and sit across from him as soon as his legs start working again.
He exhales a deep but very quiet breath, reminding himself that this is not a job interview or a blind date or anything that he has to perform a certain way for. Stan always accepted him as-is, but that was back when he was a dumb kid. Stan is expecting a competent adult now, the kind of guy Kyle tried to make himself sound like in his roommate searching ads, which is the kind of guy he's actually become, though right now he feels more like a little boy pretending to be the Kyle Broflovski of today. He walks slowly, trying not to be distracted by the aggressively awful Train song playing overhead.
"Stan?" he says when he's almost reached the table, and he flinches when he hears himself sounding like he did that day in the desert, right before the storm caught up to them. Stan turns and looks startled for half a second, then he grins.
"Oh my god," he says, and he seems to consider standing, then drops back into his seat. He's either blushing or sunburned, and he looks and smells like he recently shaved, too; there's a nick on his cheek like maybe he did it very quickly. He's as handsome as Kyle remembered and then some, a bit more filled out and rugged-looking in his jeans and flannel with rolled-up sleeves, no bags under his eyes. "Wow, okay," Stan says, and then he does get up, taking Kyle's hand and clapping him on the shoulder. "You're tall!"
"I'm - you're still taller," Kyle says, grinning idiotically. He feels his face getting very hot.
"Barely. Wow, holy shit. Um, here, sit down, can I get you something?"
Kyle laughs, because Stan sounds like a waiter, and because the relief that's pouring into his chest needs an escape valve. He feels jittery and close to bursting, in danger of letting all of his interior material spill out everywhere for Stan to see, which is more or less what he'd always done back at camp.
"What are you having?" Kyle asks, suddenly unable to remember how to order coffee.
"Um, I don't know, probably something sweet. You like the sweet stuff?"
"How's your blood sugar?" Stan asks, and then he winces. "Sorry. I don't know why I said that."
"Because it was our - thing. My blood sugar. Ha - yeah - it's fine. I'll just - whatever you're having, only with Splenda, not real sugar."
"Splenda, got it. I'll be right back." Stan turns toward the counter and then turns back, pressing his hands together. "Um, thank you for coming, also. I'm sorry - Jesus, you must be so freaked out by - this, me."
"I'm really not. Seriously. It's awesome - you look - this is good," Kyle concludes awkwardly. Stan nods and flees, hurrying toward the counter to order.
He returns with two medium Mint Mojito coffees, iced. Kyle is pleased, because this is what he almost always gets here, but it's not like Stan read his mind. Everyone gets these at Philz.
"Thanks," he says when Stan sits down and passes his drink over. "You didn't have to pay for mine. I'll buy the next round."
"Sure." Stan takes a sip from his coffee and nods to himself, staring down at it. "Yeah, these are really good."
"They are. I love them."
Stan looks up at Kyle and they both laugh nervously. The table is small, and Kyle is very aware of the proximity of Stan's knees to his as they both lean onto the table with their elbows, hunching over their coffees.
"So," Stan says, and the color on his cheeks is definitely a flush, not a sunburn, because it's deepening now. "Where should we start? You want to talk about now or then?"
"Let's start with now," Kyle says. "Though really. You think - why were you saying, um. That you wanted to apologize?"
"Oh, god." Stan closes his eyes and pinches the bridge of his nose. "Jesus, okay, yeah. Let's just talk about then." He opens his eyes and sighs, putting his shoulders back. "Kyle, I am so sorry. What I did. There's no excuse."
"Well. Yeah, there is. You were a teenager, too, and I basically grabbed you and forced you to kiss me, so-"
"No, you really didn't. You didn't. I - there was. Motivation, on my end."
Now they're both blazingly red-faced. Kyle sips his coffee, feeling like he'll melt. They probably should have started with small talk. He can hear Stan's foot bouncing against the floor again.
"It's okay, though," Kyle says. "I was never mad at you, or hurt by it or anything. God, it was just. A nice kiss."
"I'm glad you see it like that," Stan says, though he doesn't look glad. He looks like he's going to throw up, or cry, or both. "But someday, man. When you're thirty, or forty, you're going to look back and be like, 'Jesus, that creep. That asshole.' And I think you'll be right, because I was those things."
"Please," Kyle says. "Don't think that about yourself. It was weird, I guess, but me and you. It wasn't mean, or gross, or whatever. Right?"
"Right, of course, but - shit." Stan blows out his breath and turns his coffee cup on the table. "I had all this stuff saved up, things to say, things I tried to type after I got your email. Now I just feel like I don't know what to tell you, except that I'm so sorry. I shouldn't have done that. But I'm glad you're okay. You look - you seem - how's life?" Stan sips from his coffee, blinking rapidly.
"Life's good," Kyle says. "If you worried that you, like, scarred me or something, the opposite is true. I was so much happier after I left that camp. It really changed me."
"God, that's great, I'm glad. But it wasn't me, man, it was the program, and the counselors who knew what the hell they were doing, and your, um. Your friend Eric, right? You ever hear from him?"
"Um, yeah." Kyle laughs. "That's a really long story, actually."
"Yeah?" Stan raises his eyebrows.
"You want to hear it?" Kyle is surprised to realize that he wants to tell it. Only Bebe really knows the full Eric saga, and she was there as it happened, in the midst of the most dramatic twists and turns. Kyle has never tried to tell the whole thing to anyone in retrospect, let alone someone who has specific Mackey Youth Center context from the summer when it all began.
"Sure," Stan says, and he laughs. "I always thought about you, after. Wondered if you were okay and all that. Tell me, like. Tell me everything, if you want."
"Oh man," Kyle says, flushing with pleasure at the invitation to do so. Stan seems sincerely interested, putting his elbows on the table and leaning in to hear Kyle's life story. The horrible Train song has given way to Steely Dan, which is Kyle's father's favorite band. It seems like a good sign. "Okay," Kyle says, trying and failing to suppress his flattered smile. "But I may need to switch to booze, like, halfway through this."
"Not a problem," Stan says, smiling back at him.
"Okay," Kyle says again, placing his hands on the table. "Well, when I went back to South Park I was afraid I'd feel like I did before I left, like this loser who was always locked up in his room and eating his feelings, but it didn't go that way, thank God. Probably because I came out to my parents and my brother at an In-and-Out burger in Utah."
"That's awesome, that's so good. I came out to Wendy as soon as I got home. And then to my parents, at Christmas. Shit, but, sorry. I don't mean to interrupt."
"No, I want you to interrupt!" Kyle means this, and he almost reaches across the table to grasp Stan's wrists, wanting to walk back through both of their recent pasts together. "And that's really great to hear, congratulations. How did it go with your parents?"
"Fine, they're not anti-gay or anything. My dad was clueless, but I think my Mom already knew. How about you?"
"It was scary at first, just saying it like that, but as soon as I did I felt better about, like, everything. My mom started crying and saying how proud she was of me, and that almost made me cry, but I hate crying in front of my brother, so I held it in. It helped that Ike asked if that's why I was growing my hair out. That made me laugh. I think he said that 'cause he knew I needed a laugh, and that I didn't want to cry. He's been - we've gotten a lot closer, since."
"That's awesome," Stan says, and he winces. "Sorry I keep saying everything is awesome. I wish I could be closer to my sister, I guess, but she moved to Canada with her boyfriend."
"Oh, seriously? My brother is from Canada! Originally, I mean. He's adopted - did I ever tell you that?"
"I think so, yeah. Whoa, so. My sister might know your brother's, like. Biological parents."
"She might! Anyway, yeah, so - I came out to my family, right away. And it was good, and it felt okay to be home. Eric was texting me nonstop. He really hated being back in Nebraska."
"Was it annoying?" Stan asks, looking annoyed on Kyle's behalf.
"Oh, no, I sort of loved it. I guess before we left camp things were a little weird, or rocky, but being apart made just, like, crazy in love. You know, like teenagers feel when they idealize each other," he says, and he feels bad for characterizing it this way. At the time, Eric had seemed like a golden land of milk and honey that Kyle would have crawled through ten hells to get back to. They were extremely romantic about each other once apart, keeping tabs on each other constantly and making plans for the future, waking up in the middle of the night to check their phones for reports of bad dreams or erections that needed tending. "He came to visit me during winter break," Kyle says, looking down at the table. "That was just. The best. That was a good time."
It's an understatement, but Kyle doesn't know how to begin to describe his fifteen-year-old joy during that week. He's too far away from it now, though he remembers the good parts vividly. That December after camp ended, Eric drove down to South Park in his mother's car as soon as his school let out. He texted Kyle updates from the road on the way there, and Kyle was in a state as he waited for Eric to arrive, lying in bed with his phone on his stomach, sure that he could feel every molecule that comprised his existence trembling in unbearable anticipation. They'd been Skyping regularly, tenderly pressing their fingertips to the screen just as often as they fisted their cocks to images of each other, and the memory of being touched felt to Kyle like a ghost that had visited him in a dream. Stan's kiss was part of this memory, but so was the loss of Eric's closeness, the way he would put a hand to the small of Kyle's back at random moments and pull Kyle to him confidently when they were alone. He missed having someone there to stroke his hair fondly just as much as he longed for a blow job.
When Kyle heard Eric's car in his driveway he'd sprung up from bed, the phone that had been his lifeline to Eric dropping forgotten to the floor as he ran from the room. He ran down the stairs, ignoring his mother, ran all the way out to the snowy front yard in his socks, no coat, and leapt onto Eric like it was an acrobatic routine they had practiced, something that he actually knew how to do. Eric caught him and held his socked feet above the snow, Kyle's legs wrapped around Eric while they kissed. It was cinematic, at least in Kyle's head. To his mother, from the front window, they probably looked like dangerously horny teenage fools. In the moment, Kyle would have sworn on everything he loved that he would spend the rest of his life feeling that way about Eric, like it was a miracle that they were alive at the same time, and that there would always be breathless, gushing, verging-on-orgasmic reunions when they fought their way back from any separation. From a distance it seems ridiculous, as if he's watching this along with his mother from the living room window, but at the time Kyle was certain that what he had with Eric would last forever.
"Anyway," he says to Stan, still a little achy with the memories. "It gave me a taste of what it was like to have a boyfriend in 'real life,' you know? We went to the movies together and held hands in the dark. We parked his car near the frozen pond and - that kind of thing. My mom made him sleep on the couch downstairs, but he would sneak up to my room and just. You know, the first time you share a bed with another guy? When you wake up in the middle of the night and he's there, under the blankets with you?" Kyle peeks at Stan. He's glad when Stan's smile comes easily; of course he knows what Kyle means. "It was just so cozy, so nice. I thought that every time I saw him again it would be just like that. Me and him slipping in and out of our secret little world together."
"I wish I'd had that at fifteen," Stan says. "Like, with another guy my age. That would have been great."
"But Craig was your first," Kyle says, and remembering him brings to mind a hundred questions. "Were you - how was that, really?" He grins, feeling a little bit like he's time traveled straight out of summer camp and into this gleeful moment. "Now that we're both in our twenties, am I allowed to ask you about Craig?"
"Shit," Stan says, and he snorts. "Craig Tucker. Yeah, he was my first." Stan is turning red again, probably thinking about the time Kyle saw them together in the laundry room, which makes Kyle's face hot, too.
"Did you guys keep in touch?" Kyle asks, pretending this question is casual. He's dying to know.
"Nope," Stan says, and Kyle feels guilty for being relieved. Craig was nice to him in the end, and had seemed to really care for Stan. "Craig lived in Palm Springs during the school year. He taught high school there. I went back to Davis for college, and we exchanged numbers, but it seemed pointless to call him, and he didn't even email me until just before the next summer, asking if I wanted to come back and intern at the camp again. I think he wanted to pick up where we'd left off, temporarily. But Wendy had a job in the city that summer, and there was no way in hell I could go back there after what happened with you, um. I was horrified that I'd let myself do that."
"I'm getting that," Kyle says, feeling a little embarrassed, or maybe dirty, for having drug Stan down to such depths. "What was the deal with you and Craig, anyway? Was he, like. Nice to you?" Kyle groans when he hears himself asking this, because he's pretty sure he asked this, or something very similar, back then, too.
"I don't know if I'd say nice." Stan drinks from his coffee and looks out the window that's beside their table, drumming his fingers on the table. "He was careful with me, that's what he used to say. 'I'll be careful with you.' He'd had this older boyfriend when he was around my age - younger, actually, I think - and the guy kind of fucked him up. I figured out, eventually, that he was sort of trying to relive that, with me, only making it better than what he went through, or whatever. Sorry," Stan says, looking back to Kyle. "I keep busting up your story."
"But it's your story, too," Kyle says. Stan smiles and looks down at his coffee, adjusting the mint leaves.
"So you and Eric were pretty intense?"
"Well. Yeah, especially that winter. When he had to go back to Nebraska, oh my god. It was like leaving camp times a thousand. We'd spent the whole week having - well, we're both grownups here, I'll just say it. We had nonstop sex, the clueless teenage kind that feels like it must be the most amazing sex anyone's ever had in the world, and I just didn't want to let him go. I felt like I'd freeze to death in this desolate wasteland without him. I probably wrote poetry to that effect." He definitely did, and appreciates the fact that Stan doesn't laugh. Even Eric doesn't know about the poems. "So we were super co-dependent after that, long-distance style. I was always on the phone, or glued to my laptop. My mom would get mad at me and take my phone and my computer away, saying I wasn't studying enough, and my rage would go through the fucking roof. You remember my rage?"
"Yeah, it was bad. Mom and I had terrible fights. Finally we had to go to - ugh, family therapy, and my therapist convinced her that cutting me off from contact with Eric was making me regress big time. I was binge eating again, too, but then I would go on starvation strikes, or work myself into such an upset frenzy over her taking away my boyfriend, essentially, that I would throw up out of sheer rage. Sorry, this is disgusting!"
"It's not disgusting. I'm surprised Eric didn't drive down there and kidnap you. He seemed pretty, like. Willful."
"Oh, he was! Still is. But he'd gotten really obsessed with moving away for college, and his mom didn't have the money, so he was working on scholarship schemes nonstop. He couldn't miss school or he'd risk blowing our big future plan, which was to go to college together somewhere far away from our parents and their evil control over us. He came down for two weeks during the summer, before his senior year, and it was weird. My mom didn't like him at that point. She didn't trust him at all, and was constantly trying to catch him sneaking into my room. Then Eric and I would fight because he called her a bitch behind her back and refused to see things from her perspective, and he made me feel like a traitor if I told him I didn't like him talking that way about my mom."
"Jesus. And then you guys ended up going to college together?" Stan looks queasy at the prospect. Kyle shakes his head.
"Nope. There's more to the story."
"It's okay, please ask whatever questions you want."
They grin at each other, and Kyle moves his knee under the table, wanting to knock it against Stan's. He finishes his coffee and clears his throat.
"Anyway, okay. Stop me if this gets boring."
"It's not boring, dude, I'm fascinated here."
Kyle blushes and has to look away for a moment, his chest doing a happy fluttering thing. He always thought all this teenage melodrama was kind of embarrassing, but it does seem like a fascinating story with Stan listening.
"Alright, so. At the end of my junior year of high school, Eric found out he got accepted to the University of Miami on a full, needs-based scholarship. It was this special thing for a student who had really turned things around during his senior year, and Eric had sent in an essay about the value of his needs-based scholarship at fat camp, and he got a letter of recommendation from Mackey, the whole thing. He was all set, and of course 'we' decided that I would try to go to the same school next year. In the meantime, my parents refused to let him come visit during the summer, because my awful cousin was staying with us already, and they thought Eric was a bad influence and I needed to get over him. I bet you can guess what happened next."
"You went up there? To Nebraska?"
"Yep. Man, I was such a lunatic. It was about seeing him, but it was also about defying my parents, and doing what I wanted. I was basically in a rage fugue when I left. I packed a bookbag full of clothes, took the money from my birthday cards, and bought a bus ticket to fucking Kearney, Nebraska. I walked to the bus station! It was still cold out, and I remember how proud I was of myself, and scared, too. Then the bus ride was this nine hour nightmare, everyone else on the bus was creepy as fuck, and and my cell phone died five hours in, so I couldn't obsessively check in with Eric on the home stretch. But he met me at the bus station, he'd been there for hours, and at first it was great, though it didn't escape me that I was in Nebraska. Have you been?"
"Nope. What is it, like. Farmland?"
"Yes, but, ugh, there's just this film of misery hanging over the place. Over Kearney, anyway, and Eric hated it there so I was seeing it through his eyes. He was living in the basement of his mother's house, and it wasn't a nice place - I sound snobby, but it wasn't just the decor or anything, it was this feeling of encroaching failure that seemed to coat every surface, and Eric mentioned that his old bedroom was upstairs when he was giving me the tour, and all I could think was-" Kyle stops there before getting carried away. Stan knows nothing about Eric's mother's boyfriend and what happened in the upstairs bedroom. "Just - I kept thinking about how unhappy his childhood was. I guess we had a few nice nights there, but his mother was even worse than mine, always sort of lurking nearby, though she actually approved of the relationship, which made how nosy she was even weirder. I kept worrying that she could hear us having sex."
"Christ," Stan says. "Sounds awful."
"It was, and meanwhile my mother was threatening to come and get me, she was so mad. She was actually on her way up there after a few weeks of me refusing to have Eric drive me home, and that was when we split for the west coast."
"You and Eric?"
"Yep. He stole his mother's car, basically. He said she could take the bus to work, and I felt terrible, but I was also starting to get cautious about how I reacted to him. Like, I didn't want to start a fight about anything, especially when things were already so fucked up between me and my mother. It was like Eric was my only ally, so I just went along with his insanity and got in the damn car. Then he started paying for everything with these credit cards he'd applied for, and around the time we made it to the coast in California I realized he'd applied for them in his mother's name."
"Fuck," Stan says. Kyle feels bad for gushing like this about Eric's misdeeds to a man who was once a kind of romantic rival of his, but Stan seems more concerned on Kyle's behalf than judgmental of Eric. "Then what happened? How long were you gone?"
"Around a month, I think? I kept trying to 'gently' tell Eric that it wasn't a good idea to be running up these credit card debts, and he said his mother owed him for almost ruining his life, and that it would have been completely ruined if he hadn't met me. I could see he was getting into, like, a pretty dark place. He was burned out from trying so hard to get his scholarship, and scared about leaving for school, and he could tell, I think, that I was feeling really weird about the whole thing and increasingly doubting that he knew what he was doing. Poor Eric. But at the time I was resenting him more and more, and missing my parents, starting to want to go home. But I was scared Eric would totally lose it if I told him that."
"Holy shit, Kyle. This is way too intense for a sixteen-year-old."
"I was seventeen at that point, but yeah. It was too much. I was in touch with Bebe the whole time, and she was like, this is crazy, you need to get him to bring you home. But I have this thing, um. Me and Craig actually talked about this."
"Craig from camp? When?"
"Oh, hmm." Kyle tries to place a date, but it's been so long. "I really wish I'd actually used the diary Mackey gave me back then. But it was toward the middle of camp, or maybe it was closer to the end - after he caught us coming back from that Mexican restaurant. Another one of Eric's grand schemes. Anyway, Craig said that he could relate to wanting to take risks. Does that seem, um. Accurate? You knew him better than me."
"Risks?" Stan snorts. "Yeah. I guess you saw one of those."
"Ha." Kyle gulps down the rest of his coffee. "Yep. You weren't Into that kind of thing? Personally?"
"Jesus, no. Well, maybe. I didn't know what I was into. I'd just been so scared of actually being with a guy, and then it was so good." Stan laughs and gets red-faced again. "You know what I mean. Probably."
"Sure, yeah, of course! So yeah, I was on this risky, insane adventure, living in motels with Eric, and I honestly felt like we were on the run from some crime, between the unauthorized borrowed car and the credit card fraud. By mid-July I just couldn't take it anymore, and we had a terrible blowout fight somewhere near the Washington state border. I wanted to go home, and he accused me of not really wanting to go to college with him, which honestly was true at that point. After that road trip from hell I was picturing life in college with Eric as this chaotic mess where I would be constantly repressing my feelings while I babysat his. He left me by the side of the road-"
"Jesus! What a fucking prick."
"No, but - I'd said some really awful things, and he came back like twenty minutes later. He drove me back to Denver and my mother met us there, in the lobby of this fucking Hyatt downtown, for some reason. She bought us lunch and was trying to act all calm, probably on the advice of our family therapist, but I could see she wanted to wring both our necks. It was so awkward. I was still in love with Eric, but I also just wanted him to go home to his own mother and leave me with mine. I was so tired of being in his orbit or whatever. When he left, after he drove off, I just broke down and cried in this alcove by these pay phones, and my mother cried, too, and she promised things would be better between us, and she'd pay for my college as long as I went anywhere but Miami, because by then she'd talked to Liane and found out Eric was headed there."
"Did that make you rage again?"
"No, I honestly was kind of relieved. I was just so burned out and in over my head, tired of making these grand future plans according to Eric's schedule. I went home and crawled into my bed, and my mother treated me like an invalid for a few days, but I actually liked it. It was a different kind of regression, a good one. I felt like I needed to just act like a kid again for a while. My dad took me and Ike to a Rockies game, and I played video games with my cousin and helped my mom chop vegetables for dinner. That kind of shit. It was nice."
"What about Eric? He was calling you all the time, I bet."
"Oh yeah, of course. I told him that my mom said I could only talk to him for half an hour a day, which was true. He was getting ready to leave for Florida at that point, for college, so he was a little less obsessive."
"His mom didn't like, take him to court for the credit card thing?"
"God no, she was weirdly permissive with him. I think maybe she knew, subconsciously, um. That some things she'd done, or like, brought into the house, had fucked him up. I don't know. Things were a little weird between me and Eric when my senior year in high school started, and after he left for college I thought he'd be clingy with me again, like, because I didn't think he'd make friends there. But he did."
"Well. That's good?"
"It was good! At first. I was really proud of him. I would look at his Facebook and be so relieved when I saw him hanging out with other guys, doing normal student things, going to the beach. And then I was jealous. Oh my god," Kyle says, hearing himself. "Are you sure you want to hear this? It's so tedious."
"It's really not," Stan says. "I've never had some big love affair like this."
"It - you haven't?"
"No, not unless Craig counts. And from where I'm sitting, he doesn't. Nobody took me on a spontaneous road trip with stolen credit cards. Nobody even texted me every day." Stan grins and shrugs. "I mean, I dated. After Craig. But I was always kind of cautious."
"I should have been," Kyle says. "He totally trashed me, you know."
"Yeah. Unbeknownst to me, he was really enjoying himself at college. With multiple guys."
"Seriously? After all that? What a fucking slimeball."
"I mean-" Kyle winces, because it's not that simple, though he would have agreed with Stan's assessment when he left Miami in tears. "To be fair, I had been pretty distant since the whole road trip thing. I would miss my chance to talk to him some days, sort of on purpose, and I liked the feeling of not being chained to this commitment all the time. And he sensed that. I guess I was kind of cold to him. I'm not a hundred percent sure we were even still, like, boyfriends. We didn't lay out any ground rules in the great Hyatt negotiation with my mother presiding. Then during his spring semester he pledged to a fraternity and totally disappeared for weeks at a time, and I was livid, even though I'd done the same thing to him the summer before, after I got home. I would stalk his Facebook and see him with his new frat brothers, having fun, big smiles, arms around each other, and I'd just seethe. Meanwhile, nobody asked me to senior prom, not even as a friend, so I was just like, sitting home alone, watching Eric's new life play out on social media."
"God. That was really insensitive of him."
"I guess so, but there was a less petty part of me that was really proud of him and happy for him, and it also made me feel kind of free, because I'd been accepted to Berkley, and him having this great life in Miami made the concept of breaking it to him that I wouldn't be joining him there seem easier. I still missed him, though, and he would get drunk and send me these devastating messages about how much he loved me and how I'd saved his life-" Kyle makes himself scale it back a bit, gripping his coffee cup with both hands. He doesn't want to sell those sentiments out to Stan, even if Eric was intoxicated when he fessed up. Kyle still has those messages on his phone, and though they're too painful to reread, he couldn't bear deleting them.
"Sounds like you were just growing apart," Stan says, and Kyle nods.
"We were. I mean, of course we were. I didn't want to lose my connection to him, but I guess I wanted it to be less intense. At the same time, I was so jealous of his frat brothers and all his new friends. He looked really good, like. He'd gotten in better shape during his freshman year, and he had this tan and this new swagger. Nobody in Miami knew him as a former fat kid who'd had a tough childhood. I knew him that way, all his old secrets that he wanted to put behind him, and I think that's part of why he wanted to put some distance between us. But he still invited me to spend the summer with him in Miami, and I was possessive enough to go down there, like a complete idiot, and think that he would spend those months worshiping me like he used to."
"Damn," Stan says, wincing, like he knows where this is going.
"Well, he wasn't terrible," Kyle says. "Not right away. He was so excited to show me his shiny new life down there, it was pretty cute at first. And he was proud of me, too, introducing me as his boyfriend who went to Berkley, though I hadn't set foot there yet. He seemed nervous, though. I remember he was really sweaty. Sorry, is this getting boring?"
"It's not. How'd you find out about the other guys?"
"It was a slow realization. I think I already had my suspicions, based on his Facebook pictures and how he was kind of pulling away a little, but I was in denial. I was pretty naive, like. I just couldn't imagine that Eric could care about anyone but me, after everything we'd been through. But he had these in-jokes with his frat brothers that seemed like they were about gay sex, and I wasn't sure how literal that was because, like, frat humor." Kyle pauses and searches Stan's face. He seems to actually be listening, and he's almost literally on the edge of his seat, his shoulders curved toward Kyle. "Were you in a frat?" Kyle asks. Stan shakes his head.
"My dad wanted me to pledge, freshman year, but I couldn't handle all the assholes."
"Ugh, yes, thank you. Not to be, you know, prejudiced, but if there are awesome frat guys out there, I haven't met them. I hated Eric's frat brothers, and I hated how he was around them. Mr. douche bro butch fun guy, and he was drinking a lot, too, which worried me. Not that, you know. Not that I'm against drinking," he says, glancing at Stan nervously. Stan shrugs.
"It can be bad," he says.
"Exactly. Oh, also. During sex, Eric started talking in the third person. About himself. I got the feeling it was something he picked up from another partner. And the fact that he insisted on wearing condoms all of a sudden pretty much sealed it."
"Whoa, yeah. What was his excuse?"
"Something about dorm showers? Sexually transmitted mononucleosis? I knew it was bullshit, but I didn't want to deal with the fact that he had moved on and I wasn't the center of his universe anymore, even though being that had been too much pressure and too exhausting. Both of us were trying to act like everything was okay, and it got increasingly hard. Then, one night, I got drunk and punched him."
"Oh, shit. Tell me he didn't hit you back," Stan says, frowning. "I mean. He was so much bigger than you."
"I think he considered it," Kyle says. "There was a moment. But then he started crying, blubbering. He was drunk, too, and he's a really emotional drinker. He confessed to sleeping with like, half the guys we'd been hanging out with, and he begged me for forgiveness. Even though it didn't take me totally off guard, it just wrecked me. I couldn't even look at him. I was staying with my mom's aunt - she lives close to his campus and that's the only reason my parents let me go to Miami. I left for her house, and then I worried that Eric would do something stupid like try to drive, or drink until he had alcohol poisoning. It was awful. I went home the next day, after I made sure he'd survived the night, and I refused to talk to him again until I'd been at Berkley for a few months. I loved it here right away, and made friends. I had sex, too," Kyle says, glancing down at his hands. "It was different, weird to be with someone who wasn't him. But it helped me understand why he wasn't faithful once he got to school. We were both becoming, like, new people. So that's my big Eric saga. We still talk, we're friends. He tries to get me to have phone sex with him sometimes, but." Kyle flushes and decides not to mention that sometimes he gives in. "Sorry. I can't believe I just told you all that."
"Why?" Stan says. "I wanted to know. Which is probably weird and creepy."
"It's not! Stan, really, you're the least creepy person ever."
"Ha, well. You want another coffee?"
"Yeah, but I'm buying this time."
Kyle hops up and goes to the counter, feeling a little drained and thirsty after talking so much, though telling the big Eric story didn't take as long as he'd expected it to. He hasn't talked this frankly about it even with Bebe, because she'll scold him if he speaks fondly of Eric or implies that he sort of knew, that whole time in Miami and even before he arrived, that Eric had been with others. He'd wanted closure, and had waited for it until the explosive fight, the punch, Eric's sobbing. He's still not sure he's gotten closure, and while he waits for their next round of coffees he checks his phone. There are two new messages from Eric. Kyle looks over his shoulder to make sure Stan isn't watching, as if he cares that Kyle is checking his texts.
At 5:05pm Eric sent: yeah let me know. been a long time since we were in cali together, hahaha
Thirty minutes and probably a few beers later he sent: miss you. all the redheads her are freaky looking. youre a hot ginge kyle
Kyle rolls his eyes and puts his phone away, only a little bit flattered by that. There is a part of him that will be sad when Eric's post-five o'clock texts stop coming, but he knows it's unhealthy for both of them to try to hang on to their long ago summer love like this. He's discussed this with multiple therapists at the student health center on campus.
"So I've barely asked anything about you," Kyle says when he returns with the coffees. "Except for nosy questions about Craig. You live in Oakland?"
"Yeah, at the moment." Stan touches the bridge of his nose again, not quite pinching it this time. "I'm looking for a new place. I want to be closer to the city, because most of my work is there."
"What do you do?" Kyle remembers vague plans to be a physical education teacher.
"Ah, god." Stan smiles sheepishly. "It's embarrassing."
"What - why?"
"I'm a wedding singer," Stan says, pinching his eyes shut. "It just kind of happened."
"Oh, wow, okay." Kyle isn't sure what kind of look to put on his face. He wasn't aware that wedding singers were still a thing.
"It's different than what you're thinking of," Stan says, holding his hands up, as if to halt Kyle's mental image of his career. "My friend Bridon, he used to be the lead singer in this band that I was in-"
"You knew them?" Stan says, looking as if he's not sure this is a good thing or not. Kyle nods and grins.
"I, uh. Googled you, after camp."
"Oh, right." Stan laughs and leans forward to put his elbows on the table, covering his face with his hands. "Yeah, it's embarrassing. My life sounds so embarrassing, out of context."
"No, it doesn't!" Kyle can't resist any longer. He reaches over to touch Stan's elbow, supportively. Stan peeks out from between his fingers and groans.
"It's a little embarrassing," he says. "The Communications, oh man. Bridon was so - we had really different visions of what the band should be. He's still, like, my best friend, though. He helped me through some really hard shit a few years back, when the band split up."
"Is he - are you - were you guys together?" Kyle asks. He remembers pictures of Bridon from the band's website, and he'd been jealous even then. Bridon was dreamy.
"Together? Oh, no." Stan laughs and takes his hands away from his face. "No, he's straight. He's actually - well, um. Never mind."
"He's looking for a roommate, too. He just got divorced from this lady who used to be our agent, a million years ago. She let him stay in the apartment, but she's charging him rent. I don't know why I'm telling you this."
"Because I'm looking for a place," Kyle says, though he has no interest in living with one of Stan's former bandmates. "Anyway, wedding singing. That's pretty cool, actually. I remember you singing at the campfires."
"God, that's right." Stan winces, and Kyle wants to reach for him again, to pet him reassuringly. "I can't believe - wow, that. Happened."
"You have a great voice!"
"Well. Thanks. I don't know, I do okay. We specialize in unique playlists, like, I'm not up there singing 'Wind Beneath my Wings' during the father daughter dance or anything like that. San Francisco weddings are usually pretty cool. We do a lot of gay weddings. Bridon got me started in the business, and he's sort of retiring. He used to be a pretty sought-after wedding singer. I guess that's me now." Stan snorts, and Kyle shakes his head, wishing he wouldn't dismiss himself so much.
"So you didn't end up a football coach," Kyle says. "That's good. You seemed so resentful of those expectations." He flinches when he realizes he sounds like a therapist. Early on, at Berkeley, he'd thought about doing a psych major.
"I switched my major to music, junior year," Stan says, nodding. "I think - this is gonna sound really fucking weird, but I've always thought that somewhere between knowing you and Craig, that really helped me figure out that it was okay to not be the person everybody back home assumed I was. Beyond just being gay."
"It was kind of the same with me," Kyle says, struggling not to bounce joyfully in his seat. It feels so good to talk to Stan again, and overdue. He wishes they had kept in touch, though that would have been highly inappropriate, at least on the surface. "I mean, that summer, between you and Eric - having you guys to talk to really helped me feel like what I had to work with, self-wise, wasn't this hobbling pile of crap after all. I thought, if Eric likes me so much, and a guy like Stan wants to be my friend - it just gave me hope that maybe I had some decent qualities."
"That makes me happy," Stan says, and he looks down at his coffee, jostling the ice in the cup. "That just. Hearing that. It's really good to hear."
"So yeah," Kyle says, looking down into his own cup. He's flushed with a kind of giddy sense of release, as if saying all of this to Stan, after all this time, is the final rung of the ladder he's been climbing since summer camp.
"Are you in touch with any of the other campers from that summer?" Stan asks.
"Yep. Remember Bebe?"
Kyle talks at length about his friendship with Bebe, her struggles with Mike, her weight, her parents, and her plans to spend the summer in San Francisco if Kyle can find a place. Stan tells him about Bridon and The Communications, the joys and hells of touring the country as a very unknown band with a lead singer who was stubbornly trying to take the group in a 'pop direction,' and some of the pitfalls of wedding singing.
"But mostly it's great," he says after he's complained about diva clients. "I really look forward to going to work, and trying to make someone's big day sound like they want it to. I guess that's pretty trite."
"It's not, it's wonderful. I have no idea what I want to do. I mean, I'll definitely go to grad school. I really want to stay in the Bay Area, though. Berkley's program is so competitive."
"Funny that you ended up at Berkley," Stan says. They've both had three cups of coffee now, and Kyle's leg is bouncing under the table, matching the nervous energy of Stan's. Outside, the sun is going down.
"I applied to Davis, too," Kyle says. He feels a little lightheaded, admitting this, and wonders if Stan will be able to guess that Kyle came out to California for college because he associated it with Stan. "Excuse me a sec," he says, digging his insulin kit from his pocket. "Gonna check my blood sugar."
"Wow," Stan says, grinning. "Right at the table."
"Don't be sorry, it's cool. I always felt bad for you at camp, having to come to the nurse's station for such a simple thing."
"Are you kidding?" Kyle says, keeping his eyes on his meter as he uncaps it. "That was my favorite part of my day. God, I'm so sorry about that, by the way. I was practically humping your leg by the end of camp. Or, literally," he says, muttering.
"It was cute," Stan says, and Kyle doesn't dare look up at him, smiling down at his blood sugar reading instead.
"Then I hope I've managed to convince you that you did nothing wrong," Kyle says. "I was the embarrassing idiot between the two of us."
"Aw, don't say that. I guess it was just a weird time in our lives, or whatever. I've never been able to explain it to anyone. That's why I was so glad it was you, answering my email. I felt a little crazy even asking, like the whole thing was just some dream I had a long time ago."
"That summer did feel that way," Kyle says, looking up. When his eyes meet Stan's something warm settles in his chest, and they smile at each other.
"Are you hungry?" Stan asks. "Or do you need - can I buy you a drink? Do you need one, after telling all those Eric stories?"
"Sure," Kyle says. "But I'm not legal for a few more weeks."
"Oh, so I'd be contributing to the delinquency of a minor, again?"
"Uh-huh," Kyle says, hoping this sounds flirtatious and not just stupid. Stan grins and collects their empty coffee cups. Kyle watches as Stan deposits them in the correct paper recycling bin, tossing the wilted sprigs of mint in the compost bin before disposing of each cup. He feels like he's floating as they leave the coffee shop together, chatting about recycling conventions in the local area. Normally Kyle would worry that he's a boring conversationalist, especially after gushing at length about his ex-boyfriend, but Stan seems effortlessly fascinated by him, just like the old days.
They walk back toward campus and end up at Triple Rock, where Kyle has been hundreds of times over the past three years at school. The place feels different with Stan at his side, ordering two beers for them without getting carded.
"How about you?" Kyle asks once their drinks have arrived. "Do you. Are you dating anybody?"
"Nah," Stan says. "Bridon tries to fix me up with his gay friends, but they're all like him. I love him, he's my best friend, but he's really into image, and going to the right restaurants, knowing the right people in the industry. That sort of shit."
"The wedding singing industry?"
"Sort of. The local music scene, which overlaps with that in some places. Bridon wants to record again. He wants to be a solo artist."
"Do you ever think about that?" Kyle asks. "For you?"
"Not anymore. Not ever, really. I liked being lead guitar, back when Bridon was doing all the PR and front man stuff. I'm just not built for that. I know that makes me sound like this lame asshole with no ambition-"
"It does not," Kyle says. "I can relate. Like, in my program at Berkley? It's pretty intense, even on the freshman acceptance level, and there's a lot of alpha types. Everybody wants to be a super star. I only have so much energy for that, but I like doing the actual work. I just don't like kissing ass."
"Exactly," Stan says, and they both drink from their beers. Kyle feels grown up, which is ridiculous, because he's felt that way for a while and has been no stranger to underage drinking since he started at Berkley. But this feels different, like he and Stan survived something together and can now look back on it with fond pride.
They order nachos and then burgers, and Kyle ends up drinking three beers. After two he's laughing a lot, and so is Stan, his eyes crinkling at the corners in a way that makes Kyle want to swoon into his personal space, which becomes necessary as the bar fills up and gets louder. Stan seems authentically happy, and by the time they're getting their check Kyle is saying that wants to see him sing.
"But I don't know anybody who's getting married," Kyle says, realizing then that he's drunk. Stan seems sober, as if three beers aren't nearly enough to effect him, and Kyle supposes that's probably the case, given his history with drinking.
"It's just as well," Stan says. "I get embarrassed, singing in front of people I know. This sounds dumb, but I always hated it when my friends and family would come to my shows. It adds this whole other level of anxiety. I love doing weddings because I'm just this anonymous stranger doing his job. Like, they can focus on the music and not on me, because the event's not about me, or my band. Does that make sense?"
"Perfect sense," Kyle says. They're standing outside the bar. It's late, but Kyle doesn't want to leave Stan. It occurs to him that they have no real excuse to see each other after tonight. "So Bridon's apartment," Kyle says, drunk enough to behave desperately. "What's it like?"
"It's super nice, dude. His ex was loaded. And she's really sticking it to him on the rent, so he needs to get someone in there soon. I'd move in myself, but me and Bridon can't live together. We've tried it before and he was up in my face about everything, trying to set me up with guys, policing my diet, stealing my pot, and he'd always try to drag me out to play guitar for his friends. But he wouldn't be like that with you," Stan says hurriedly. "I mean, with someone who's not already his close friend."
"Interesting," Kyle says. "Maybe I should meet him?"
"Yeah, you should check out the apartment. It's in Noe Valley, and I bet I could get him to cut you a deal on the rent."
"That would be amazing," Kyle says, swaying a little. "Really, I. Yeah. Thank you."
"Where's the BART station?" Stan asks, peering down the block. "Is it far?"
"It's, um. Nine blocks? Yeah."
"My car's parked back by Philz - can I drive you?"
"Oh, no, it's fine," Kyle says, and he instantly regrets this. He'd like to see what kind of car Stan is driving, for one thing.
"Let me walk you, at least," Stan says, and for a moment Kyle thinks Stan will take his arm, but then he puts his hand back in his pocket. "Since you're an inebriated minor, and I'm responsible for, um. Letting you drink."
Kyle grins, wishing Stan had said, since I'm responsible for you. For a moment there it had seemed like he would.
"You can walk me," Kyle says. "But I guess that's ridiculous, since your car is that way. I can walk by myself. I'm grown up now, Stan."
"Yeah, I noticed. But it's nice out, and I need to walk off the beers before I drive."
Stan seems perfectly competent to operate a car, but Kyle nods and accepts this excuse to extend the evening for nine blocks. They walk slowly and talk about renting in the city, Berkley campus versus Davis, and their plans for the summer.
"You work at FatApple's?" Stan says, grinning.
"Shut up," Kyle says, shouldering him.
"No, I'm not laughing at you. I did the food service thing, too, during school. It's good, you know? It makes you appreciate waiters more, and cashiers."
"I only work twelve hours a week during the school year," Kyle says, guiltily. "But hopefully this summer I can get more shifts. I'm, um. Funded, partially. For school. I have a scholarship."
"That's awesome, dude," Stan says, and he seems to mean this so sincerely that Kyle is taken off guard. Most of his friends are his academic peers, and even the ones who truly do wish him the best express at least a patina of bitter jealousy when they acknowledge his accomplishments.
When they reach the BART station, Kyle is reluctant to leave Stan, but exchanging phone numbers helps ease the loss. Kyle thinks of suggesting that they stop someplace else before parting, because it's only ten o'clock. Then he realizes that he's been talking almost nonstop for five hours.
"I'm so annoying!" he says, grabbing Stan's shoulder. "I talked so much about myself. I don't usually do that." This isn't exactly true, but he doesn't usually go out with people he wants to impress this much.
"It's okay," Stan says. "I talked about my stuff, too. How about Monday? Are you working?"
"To meet up with Bridon. He could show you the apartment-"
"Oh, of course, yeah. But wait, shit. Sunday is the day I'm supposed to be move dout of my dorm. I know it's short notice, but is there any way he could do it tomorrow or Thursday? Bebe was planning to come down on Saturday-"
"I'll ask him. It'll probably be fine. He's usually pretty free during the day. He does his 'networking' at night."
"Okay." Kyle realizes he's still holding Stan's shoulder, and he removes his hand so quickly that he's sure it was conspicuous. "So, good. Yes, let me know."
"It was great to see you," Stan says, taking a few steps backward. "I'm glad you live around here, that's cool."
"Me too. I mean, yeah. Okay - bye!"
Kyle hurries into the station, feeling as graceless as he had when he barreled out of that nurse's station after popping a boner in Stan's presence. He's slightly woozy on the train, but more from nervous excitement than the beer. He checks his phone twice to make sure that Stan's number got saved, then remembers that he already has Stan's email, just in case. As soon as he gets off the train he calls Bebe.
"I just had the craziest night!" he says, not bothering to control the volume of his voice.
"Oh, good!" she says. "I'm so bored. Tell me!"
"You're not going to believe it."
"What? Jesus, it's not Eric again, is it?"
"No, but it is someone from our shared past!"
"Um, okay. What does that mean?"
"Remember the counselor who kissed me - well, who I kissed, when I was fifteen? At camp?"
"That Stan guy?" Bebe sounds horrified already, and Kyle is annoyed, but there's no one else who will appreciate the vast significance of this evening.
"Yes, that Stan guy. Don't get all judgmental. He's the sweetest guy, Bebe, and he still looks so good. Better, actually."
"Kyle. Are you drunk?"
"This guy who kissed you when you were way underage got you drunk?"
"No! And what's 'way' underage, anyway? Not fifteen, not nearly. I had some beers, but I'm not drunk. This is the sound of happiness, Bebe. I know it's alien, coming from me and involving a guy, but guess what? He has a friend with a really nice apartment, and me and you might move there."
"Okay. First of all, I can tell when you're drunk, and you are drunk right now. Secondly, how did this guy find you?"
"He didn't find me. Not like that. You make it sound so nefarious."
"So what, you found him?"
"Well, no. But yes, in a way. He saw my roommate ads. It's like, fate."
"What's like fate? Kyle, did you have sex with this guy?"
"No. Bebe, stop. Don't pre-judge this situation. It's not even a situation yet, really. But we talked for five hours."
"Yeah? About what? The old days?"
"A little, and I told him about how I've been, you know, since."
"Is he still allowed to be in charge of minors?"
"Okay, you know what? If you can't be happy about this I'm going to hang up."
"I'm not sure what I'm supposed to be happy about. We're moving in with him this summer? You're in love with this guy, still? What's going on?"
"Nothing's going on!" Kyle says, though it certainly feels as if something is. He feels like the Little Mermaid, unable to put his finger on what's good about this exactly, but also ready to break into song while waves crash behind him for emphasis. "Okay," he says, rubbing his eyes. "Maybe I am drunk, a little."
"Are you alone? Check your blood sugar."
"Bebe, really? I'm not a child. I can take care of myself, and this is a good guy I'm talking about, here. You'll see. I'm going to check out his friend's apartment for us. Stan doesn't live there."
"Mhmm. What's Stan doing these days? Is he in school?"
"He's a musician."
They debate Stan's merits until Kyle reaches his apartment and promises to call her tomorrow, when he's sober. He washes his face, brushes his teeth, checks his blood sugar. As he gets into bed he's not sure he'll be able to sleep, too excited about the prospect of seeing Stan again soon, but when his head hits the pillow he's out.
He wakes up when it's still dark in the room, the uncovered window letting in only the light from the streetlamps now. It's a quarter til five in the morning, and Kyle tries to go back to sleep but can't. He has a mild headache, irritating enough to keep him awake but not so bad that he actually wants to pull himself out of bed and find his Advil bottle, which his roommates might have entirely drained before leaving for the summer. He lies there feeling vaguely ill, the joy that the beers brought him earlier transformed into vague unease. He wonders if Stan was only being polite, listening to all that old garbage about Eric, and then feels bad for Eric as well. There were good times, too, even in the midst of the worst of their mutual chaos.
Kyle tosses and turns in bed, his guilt intensifying as he remembers some of those good times, and how flippantly he described the bad ones while Stan listened. Aside from awkward sex with friends at school, he's never really experienced any kind of romantic relationship other than what he had with Eric, and this has left him with a lack of context for what went on between them. Their summer together at camp had been partly frustrating but mostly exciting, and Eric's first visit to South Park was the kind of quiet miracle that takes place inside a snow globe, a perfectly contained little bubble of glittery joy. His visit the following summer was far less enchanted, and then there was Nebraska and their grueling flight toward the west coast. Along the way there was lots of good sex. They were always physically compatible, though Kyle eventually got the feeling that Eric would like to be topped more often, and Kyle was only willing to do so on special occasions, as a favor to him. He preferred to use a vibrator rather than his fingers or dick, unable to conquer his 'issue with ass germs,' as Eric put it. More than the sex, Kyle misses the feeling of being adored, which was already gone by the time he went to visit Eric in Miami. He's fairly certain, despite the cheating, that Eric still loved him then, but the breathless adoration he'd had for Kyle as a morbidly obese sixteen-year-old has been wheedled away by the other people who are willing to be adored by Eric now, and who adore him mutually, possibly in a way that Kyle could never muster outside of that glittery snow globe week in Colorado.
When he's able to sleep again he dreams that he's in a car with Eric, headed toward California. He keeps trying the door, which is locked, and even if he could open it he couldn't jump. They're speeding down the highway, weaving between cars. Eric is sweating and drinking from an open beer that's clamped between his thighs. The cup holders are full of fast food garbage.
"But you don't understand," Kyle says to Eric, desperate. "I was already in California. I was just there."
"Impossible, Kyle," Eric says. "We're in Utah. Seven hours until California."
"But I'm supposed to see an apartment. I have plans, Eric!"
"Fuck your plans. You're imagining things. I've been planning this for years!"
"I want to call my mother," Kyle says. He checks his pockets and finds no cell phone, no insulin.
"Call her?" Eric scoffs. "Just turn around, she's in the backseat."
Kyle turns slowly, fearing a corpse, but Sheila is alive and frowning at him when he turns.
"Kyle, honestly," she says. "That boy kissed you when you were only fifteen. I should have him arrested!"
"You don't understand!" Kyle says again, to both of them. "I have to be there, I can't be in this car, you guys can't tell me what to do!"
"Like hell we can't!" Eric says, and Sheila hums in agreement.
Kyle wakes up feeling worn out, like he's already lived a full day and is ready to sleep again. The light through the window is brutally bright. He groans and stretches, feeling guilty for his own subconscious suffering. He rarely dreams of Eric as an antagonist, but his teenage angst over his mother's controlling presence manifests often in dreams that she's locked him into the house in South Park and kept him from attending college, as if she would ever do that. He goes into the kitchen in his boxer shorts, enjoying the empty silence of the apartment as he eats stale cereal at the kitchen counter. His roommates were assigned by the school, and all three of them were fine but also loud and fairly thoughtless when it came to 'borrowing' Kyle's food and other supplies. He's glad they're gone, and daydreams about the Noe Valley apartment where Bridon lives, picturing French doors and a balcony with flowering vines, a real soaking tub, stainless steel appliances. When he's finished eating he calls Eric, still bleary and realizing only when Eric picks up that he doesn't actually have to apologize for that dream, or for telling Stan what happened between them.
"What's up?" Eric asks when he answers. He waited until the third ring and sounds annoyed, probably because Kyle didn't answer his last text, and possibly because he's in bed with somebody, sleeping in.
"Nothing," Kyle says. "I'm hanging around this empty apartment in my underwear, hungover."
"Yeah, same here."
Eric is often hungover. He drinks nightly, with his frat brothers, conquests, whomever. Not to the point that he's missing class or passing out in gutters, but Kyle worries about him, though it's not really his business anymore. Eric has been gaining weight since he joined the frat and discovered his love of beer, and though his current state of charismatic popularity was the straw that broke the back of their relationship, Kyle doesn't want to see Eric sink back into friendless insecurity if the weight gain continues.
"I guess I'm apartment hunting this week," Kyle says, though he hasn't checked his email for new responses to his roommate ad. "Going to look at a place Thursday. Or maybe tomorrow. I'm waiting to hear. Bebe is coming down to stay with me."
"Bebe?" Eric says. "Why?"
"Why not? We're friends, and we don't get to see each other that often. And she's having, you know. Romantic troubles."
"Oh, Jesus. How can you have a girl for a best friend and listen to all that period talk all the time?"
"Who said anything about periods? How can you stand being such a misogynistic fuckface?"
"Kyle, please. Just because I don't enjoy the company of women-"
"Okay, enough. I'm not having this conversation again. How are you? Other than hungover?"
"I'm fine. Why are you calling?"
"Jesus," Kyle says, offended. "Nice attitude. I'm just. I don't know, it's summer. I think about you in the summer. At the start, anyway."
"You didn't answer my text."
"Well, seeing as you called me a 'hot ginge,' I didn't think a response was really in order."
"Heh," Eric says, laughing at his own joke, if that's what it was. He's always said that Kyle isn't a ginger, because he doesn't have freckles, but that he's a 'ginge,' which is a hot ginger, apparently. Kyle doesn't particularly love the nickname. "I've been thinking about you, too," Eric says. "I was going to come to California and see you, but maybe not if that pouty hen is hanging around."
"She's not pouty. Stop insulting my friend. I could say a thing or two about fucking Trevor and Jefferson. Ugh, that name. I can't even say it without snarling."
"Did you call me just to give me a hard time or what?"
"No. I just told you. I called because I've been thinking, you know. About the past. Fondly," he adds, which is not entirely a lie. He spent some time mourning for the good memories while lying in bed with his headache.
"Kyle. If you want my dick, just say so. I'll buy a plane ticket to hippie town right now. Right this fucking minute."
"Oh, what, you're not lying next to some spent twink?" Kyle says, flattered, and also concerned that Eric is serious. He's not ready to see him again, though Miami was years ago and he checks Eric's Facebook gallery daily.
"No twinks today," Eric says, his tone implying that there have been some recently and will be others soon. "How about you? Eh? Had any Frisco-style leather daddies in your boudoir lately?"
"Don't call it a boudoir. It's a campus apartment. A dorm bedroom."
"Does that mean yes?" Eric asks, not bothering to conceal his obvious alarm. Kyle grins and shakes his head, kind of wishing Eric was with him, hungover in his underwear in Kyle's quiet kitchen. Now that they bicker openly he sometimes wonders if the sex would be even better than it was when he was a teenager.
"Check out my Facebook sometime," Kyle says. "If you want to know who I'm sleeping with."
"As if you'd post pictures of your shameful leather daddy conquests."
"Why do you - where do you get the idea I want leather daddies?"
"Well, I'm basically one, without the try-hard outfits."
Kyle laughs hard at that, and he can hear Eric laughing, too, more quietly. Eric was very good at domination-style dirty talk, at least before he started up with that bizarre third-person thing.
"You should come visit sometime," Kyle says. "We could go trawling for leather daddies together."
"You wish," Eric says. There's something sad in his voice that Kyle wants to pet and comfort, in his old way. Sometimes he has to remind himself how much work it was to need to do that all the time. Eric is more self-sufficient now, less in need of coddling, but when they're together, or even just talking like this, he has a tendency to transform back into that kid who needed Kyle to pet his thigh and whisper in his ear.
"What do you think would have happened," Kyle asks, "If we met now? And not when we were fifteen and sixteen?"
"Hmm," Eric says, and he seems excited by the question, that sad quiver in his voice gone now. "Well, you would be drooling for my dick right away, as opposed to after a week of fat me whittling down your resistance."
"Shut up. You didn't whittle my resistance, Jesus. I fell in love with you!"
"That was later," Eric says. He seems taken off guard, though they'd said 'I love you' after every text, email, phone and Skype conversation, once. Before, during and after sex, too. "Right?"
"It was a process. I can't pinpoint the moment it happened. Can you?"
"Uh," Eric says. "Well. Huh. Let's see-"
"I'm not testing you," Kyle says, though he is kind of disappointed that Eric doesn't have a firmly remembered epiphany on hand for this discussion. "I'm sure it was gradual for you, too."
"Maybe it was when you kissed me," Eric says. "But anyway. Yeah. If we met now? I wouldn't be, like. Throwing away candy bars and shit."
"So, you'd have more respect for me!"
"Not necessarily. I don't like frat boys. I liked you how you were. Before college."
"Oh, sure, when I was kidnapping you and stealing credit cards?"
"I wish you wouldn't call it kidnapping. I did go willingly, you know. And it was credit card fraud, technically."
"It would be better," Eric says, sharply. "If we met now. That's all I mean."
"I'm not sure you're right. I liked how we were. Even though it was messy and got fucked up. Not everybody has that, Eric. A big, crazy teenage romance. None of my friends did. I feel, like. Lucky, don't you?"
"Of course I feel lucky," Eric says. He sounds pissed off, not just in his usual blustering way but truly. "Jesus, Kyle. What if I'd never met you? I'd still be in my mom's basement in Kearney. All virginal and fat and - Christ, I might have been a serial killer."
"You can't give me all the credit," Kyle says, though he's thought the same thing, once or twice. "Some other guy might have come along."
"Nope. Wouldn't have worked with some other guy. It had to be you."
"Aw," Kyle says, very glad to hear this. "That's true for me, too," he says, though if Stan had been his age - but he hadn't been. "I don't think I would have tried anything gay until my mid-twenties if you hadn't been so upfront with me about what you wanted. I loved that about you. Even when it was pissing me off, you always said what you meant."
"That's right," Eric says, huffing. "I unlocked the sexual beast in you, also."
"Mhmm, I guess that's fair."
"You're damn right it is."
Kyle spends the rest of the day lounging around in bed, thinking about the sexual beast in him and how it's been hibernating, for the most part, since the last raucous days in Miami with Eric. Being with Eric had always felt safe, because he was Kyle's first and because Kyle trusted him to back off when asked to, but it had also been wild and exciting, sometimes weird in a way that made him feel like an adult. Being with other guys has ranged from good to uncomfortable, and no one has really set any fireworks off inside him. He thinks of that long ago kiss with Stan and holds his pillow over his face, as if to smother any brazen hope, but it doesn't work. He checks his laptop and phone every ten minutes or so, and beams when he sees a new email from Stan.
It was really good to see you again. I had so much fun hanging out last night. I hope you got home safe after I bought you those beers! Next time I'll drive you.
Talked to Bridon and tomorrow works. He wants to meet for lunch at Regent Thai, which is right around the corner from his apartment. Then you can check out the apartment (if you're still interested after meeting him, haha, but he's cool, I think you'll like each other). I hope I'm not being pushy about this. I tried to explain to Bridon how I know you and he was giving me a weird look. I didn't go into details, don't worry.
Anyway, how about 1:00pm? Is Thai food okay with you? I can tell him to pick another place if it's not.
While Kyle is reading this email, he gets a second one from Stan, which is really more exciting than it should be.
Sorry, I feel like that email was kind of unclear: I'll be there, too, at lunch tomorrow. So you won't have to meet Bridon alone or anything. Okay, let me know if that works. -S
Kyle finds himself wanting to hug his laptop, call Bebe, and wiggle with joy atop his unwashed bedsheets. Stan said 'Next time I'll drive you,' implying that there will be evenings out together in the future, and he seems nervous about all of this in the cutest way. Kyle hurries to respond, no longer concerned that he'll seem overeager.
That sounds great. I love Thai food! I will probably like Bridon. I can't imagine someone you like being someone I wouldn't like. With the possible exception of Craig - but I ended up liking even him, in the end.
He pauses to ponder this, wondering if he should delete some or all of it. Ultimately he decides it's like a fun in-joke between them, nothing Stan will take the wrong way, and sends.
The rest of the day passes in extreme slow motion, and Kyle tries to busy himself with packing. He puts on some DVDs and semi-pays attention to them, not making much progress with the packing. In the evening he does laundry and carefully selects a freshly cleaned outfit for lunch tomorrow: his chambray button-up, ironed and with the sleeves rolled just so, and dark jeans that are a little snug on his thighs. They make his ass look nice, and he can endure the tightness for one afternoon. Maybe he'll start running again this summer. Maybe the new neighborhood will be perfect for it, though he doubts that, because he still misses running through the desert at sunrise with only the eyes of fellow fat kids and supportive counselors on him as he struggled, red-faced, through his paces.
He hopes Bridon will like him, and wonders if his chance with Stan will be blown if he doesn't click with Stan's friend. He's not sure he has a chance with Stan at all, that this isn't just some sort of recompense for what Stan probably still views as his mortifying transgression six years ago, that moment when his tongue slipped into Kyle's mouth. Just thinking about it makes Kyle roll around on his bed and kick at the covers like a sugar-addled toddler, and this joy combined with his anxiety keeps him up until almost three o'clock in the morning.
Kyle accidentally sleeps late and wakes in a panic, though he still has two hours to get ready, and he ends up dressed and ready to go with half an hour to spare. Anxious about being punctual, he leaves early and plans to walk to the BART slowly, but once he's on the move he can't help the quick, nervous pace of his steps, and he gets to the restaurant twenty minutes early. He loiters near the restaurant's front window, pretending to study the menu while he debates getting a table for three or waiting for Stan and Bridon to arrive. It's not especially warm out but he's starting to sweat, so he goes inside and drinks ice water at a table set for three, keeping his eyes on the door. The lovely evening with Stan now feels like a hallucination, and he fears he'll be less impressive when Stan has a real friend at his side. He realizes he has to pee and spends five excruciating minutes wondering if he should get up or wait, and then forgets about it entirely when Stan walks in with an alarmingly handsome man who looks like he would be more at home in L.A., though Kyle isn't sure if his sunglasses are ironically expensive or just old; they walk an enviable fine line. Stan is wearing jeans and a green t-shirt that says HOPWATER DIST. on it, and he's got a day's worth of stubble on his cheeks.
Kyle stands from the table and forces a smile, reminding himself that Bridon is Stan's straight friend, not his boyfriend, not even an ex. Stan spots him and waves. Kyle wishes he had thought to get his hair trimmed yesterday. Bridon's hair is amazing, straight and shiny and perfectly styled, and his smile seems warm and real when he shakes Kyle's hand.
"Bridon Gueermo," he says, and Kyle almost laughs. Stan should have warned him about that name. "It's great to meet you. Stan says you're my ideal roommate."
"Ha, well," Stan says, and he gives Kyle a sheepish look. He's fidgeting like he's not sure if he should clasp Kyle's hand like Bridon did or pull him into a friendly hug, and he sits down without doing either, dragging his chair closer to Kyle's. They both sit facing Bridon, as if this is a tandem interview. "I remember Kyle being very neat," Stan says. "We never had to dock him for leaving his clothes on the floor like the other kids."
"I can't believe Stan was your camp counselor," Bridon says, and Kyle is glad that Stan has at least told him that much. "I can totally picture him with that job, though. Stan with his guitar by the campfire, singing some song he wrote about the importance of being yourself. He could have been a children's entertainer, don't you think?" Bridon looks at Kyle, who isn't sure how to respond.
"Nah," Stan says. "You'd have to be too perfect. Like, morally upstanding? Not that I'm, uh." Stan touches a fork on the table and Kyle wants to grab him and tell him he is morally upstanding, and to apologize again for making him think he might not be. "Also," Stan says, "My dad and my uncle would have rode my ass for eternity if I turned into some kind of Rainbow Randolph with puppets dancing behind me."
"Who's Rainbow Randolph?" Kyle asks, trying to picture this. It's not that hard: Stan is so cute, so lovable. Moms would have fawned over him while their children swayed to his music, charmed.
"It's from Death to Smoochy," Bridon says. "That's like, Stan's favorite movie."
"No, it's not. I do like it, though," he says, to Kyle.
"I've never heard of it," Kyle says. "I'm so behind on music and movies and everything. Just everything, I'm such a-" He turns back to Bridon, remembering that he's supposed to be selling himself here. Already he wants to share space with this movie star-looking man who knows Stan's favorite movies. "I'm studying all the time," Kyle says. "Finishing up my public health degree, and now I'm trying to navigate the grad school application process, too. I really want to stay at Berkley, but I may be half-dead by the time I put together an application, plus my thesis research-"
"Kyle's really smart," Stan says. "Obviously. Bridon was at Davis with me."
"Wasn't smart enough for Berkley," Bridon says, smiling.
"There are dumb people at Berkley," Kyle says, and Stan laughs. He seems more nervous than Kyle now that they're all seated.
They order food and talk more about the neighborhood, Bridon's ex-wife, and Bebe, the potential third roommate.
"Stan knows her," Kyle says. "This will sound ridiculous, but she was at camp, too."
"Jesus," Bridon says. "Must have been some summer."
"It was," Kyle says. He dares a glance at Stan and smiles when their eyes meet.
"There was this massive storm on our last day there," Stan says. "The three of us got caught out in it - me and Kyle and this girl, Bebe. Maybe it forged some cosmic bond."
"Maybe," Kyle says, not fond of the idea that Bebe is an equal partner in whatever bond he shares with Stan.
"Well, she's welcome to sleep in Raquel's old office," Bridon says. "That could be a bedroom, but there's no bathroom attached. I hope she's not expecting a luxury suite. She's from Seattle?"
"She's been living in Oregon," Kyle says. "But I don't think she plans to go back now that she's finished school and getting away from this awful guy. I'd be awesome if she could stay in California past the summer. Maybe she'll find a job here."
"Don't hit on her," Stan says to Bridon, who rears backward a little.
"I won't!" he says. "Wait, why not?"
"She's, like-" Stan glances at Kyle. "Kind of fragile?"
"She's not sixteen anymore," Kyle says, though he appreciates Stan's concern. "She's fine. She can hold her own, whoever flirts with her."
"So she's happy?" Stan says. "Mostly?"
"Eh, well. She's working on it."
"Are you in touch with any of the other kids? You only told me about Bebe when we got coffee."
"We're not in touch, really," Kyle says, worrying Bridon will be bored by this discussion. "But I was Facebook friends with them after camp, and I still have access to their pages. Nothing too exciting. That Clyde kid got married. Butters went to Duke. Henrietta was never on Facebook, so I don't know about her. Who else - oh, Tammy is a weather girl for some tiny local station. She was always sort of the happiest one of us. Well, her and Butters. I still email with Rebecca sometimes. She's in grad school, doing some microbiology research. And she's a lesbian."
"Cool," Stan says, and Bridon laughs.
They split the check three ways and head up Day Street toward Bridon's apartment, which is three stories tall with a white plaster exterior and terra cotta shingles, wedged between another apartment building and a tiny house with an old Volkswagen Beetle parked in its driveway. The place looks a bit worn down from the street, and Kyle isn't expecting much as they head up the stairs to the top floor, but Bridon opens the door to a bright, airy space that instantly makes Kyle feel more optimistic. The apartment has wood floors and an open kitchen with the kind of new-looking appliances that Kyle envisioned, and a large window across from the door that offers a decent neighborhood view. There's no glimpse of the Bay or vine-draped balcony from which to spot it, but Kyle is impressed, and he likes the small bedroom that would be his. It's painted periwinkle blue and has two windows, plus an attached bathroom with a sink and toilet. There's a black dresser against the wall, a rug with some clumps of dust clinging to its edges, but no bed.
"The shower's in the master," Bridon says. "I guess that's awkward."
"Bridon's super clean," Stan says.
"I'm not super clean. You're making me sound anal. That was Raquel, not me. I'm regular clean. Stan is sub-clean."
"I'm not that bad," Stan says, and Kyle thinks of his little room at camp: mussed sheets and shirts draped three-deep over the back of his desk chair, several pairs of sand-caked shoes on the floor. Kyle had been so attracted to the boyish disorder of it all.
"I like it," Kyle says, lingering in the center of the room. "I guess I'd have to buy a bed. The one I've been sleeping on belongs to Berkley."
"There's a futon shop on Cesar Chavez," Stan says, and Kyle grins to himself, glad that he's got his back to Stan and Bridon. Something about the way Stan said that was hopeful, as if he's afraid the lack of bed might be a deal-breaker for Kyle.
"Fuck futons, man," Bridon says. "Kyle, how old are you?"
"Twenty-one in a couple of weeks."
"Futons are for children. You're a man now. Time to buy a bed."
"Jesus," Stan says, but Kyle likes the sound of that.
"You're right," he says. "You're totally right."
"So, are we doing this?" Bridon asks. "I'd charge you nine hundred a month plus utilities. That's a bargain for a place like this, especially with that private toilet. If we get a third roommate it'll go down, and your friend Bebe can take that on this summer, if she's willing."
"BART's kind of a hike," Stan says. "Twenty minute walk."
"That's alright," Kyle says. "I could use the exercise, frankly."
"Whatever, you look great."
They grin at each other, and it takes Kyle a moment to remember that Bridon is there. He turns to him and nods, still blushing.
"When can I move in?" he asks.
They settle on Saturday, and Stan walks Kyle out. He then insists on walking him to the BART station.
"I'd rather just walk around the neighborhood if you have time," Kyle says, feeling bold.
"Yeah," Stan says, nodding. "The park's about ten minutes away."
"Perfect, good, yeah. Which park?"
"Bernal Heights," Stan says. They grin at each other again, and Kyle lets his shoulder just nearly touch Stan's when they turn to head toward the park. He just agreed to move in with Stan's friend, and it feels a bit like he's accepted some kind of corresponding engagement offered by Stan. It's ridiculous, but he can't suppress the sensation that he's been promised something big. A nine hundred dollar rent will leave him barely a hundred bucks a month plus whatever he can make from his shifts at FatApple's, but he'll make it work somehow. Bebe can help him pay during the summer, and maybe afterward, too.
"Bridon seems cool," Kyle says as they're heading down Mission. "I liked what he said about buying a bed. I'm going to be broke, though, unless I get more hours at work."
"Man, I could probably talk him down a little more."
"More?" Kyle grins at Stan. He already suspected he's been given a discount; rent for under a thousand in this neighborhood seems fairly impossible. Stan shrugs.
"Bridon's spoiled. His mom's been helping him since his divorce. His dad is this Hollywood asshole who does choreography for movies, and he was really pushy about trying to make Bridon a child star when he was a kid. Bridon's ex was kind of like that, too. She wanted him to be famous and get serious about a pop career."
"Yeah, it was. I'm glad they broke up. I've only met Bridon's dad once, and I think he's gay. He tried to get me to go to this bar with him, and he kept touching my arms."
"God," Kyle says. He thinks of Craig and wonders if Stan is still into older men. "Was he hot? Like Bridon?"
"No, Bridon's mom is the hot one. Ironically, I guess. You think Bridon's hot?" Stan smiles like this is a joke. Kyle shrugs.
"He's that pretty boy type. Not really rugged enough for me."
"Rugged. Like Eric?"
"Mhmm, no. I wouldn't call Eric rugged. He had a very soft underbelly, you know."
"I guess I have that," Stan says.
"Well, who doesn't? Let's see, how would I describe Eric's type. Loud, imposing? But I'm not looking for guys like him."
"You don't date big, surly dudes anymore?"
"No! Most of the guys I've been with at college are skinny academics."
"Uh-huh. So you like smart guys."
"No, ugh, I've slept with them, but they annoy me. But, I mean - of course I like smart guys, smart people, but I don't want to date an academic. I don't know what my type is." Yes, he does: he's strolling alongside his type right now, smelling his peanut-lime breath and Seventh Generation detergent. "What's your type?" Kyle asks, shouldering Stan. He's elated when Stan lingers close after this physical contact, smiling down at the sidewalk.
"I don't know," Stan says. "All the guys at home, in high school, were such stoner douchebags. And here everyone's either rich or busking on weekends, seems like. Not that it matters, about money, but I feel like I'm somewhere between the two. I'm busking at people's weddings, sort of."
"Surely you're paid up front?" Kyle says, alarmed by the thought of Stan putting out a tip jar before taking the stage.
"Oh, yeah, absolutely. That was just a bad joke."
"No, I get what you're saying. I guess that's how I feel at school. Everyone is either deciding they need to 'work outside the institution' or laughing too hard at the professors' stupid jokes. I work hard, I kiss a little ass here and there, but I don't want to surrender my life to the program. And I feel like I totally have, so far. Which is good, but now I've got grad school coming up, and then what? Surrender to work?"
"You'll find a balance," Stan says. "How about that risk taking thing? How do you, uh. Indulge that?"
"Oh, I don't know. By telling my mother I won't be coming home for the summer? That's like risking death."
Stan laughs, and Kyle reminds himself not to lean on scary mother humor, afraid that it makes him sound pathetic and young.
When they reach the park it's not crowded, and they find a spot on one of the sprawling, grassy hills that overlook the city. Kyle still finds this particular kind of view breathtaking, and he can tell by the way Stan looks out over the expanse of packed-together rooftops that stretch out toward the Bay: he's enchanted, too.
"It reminds me of a dream version of my hometown," Kyle says. "Like, you could go up in the mountains and see the whole town, but it wasn't impressive like this, it didn't give you this sense of all the possibility that's stretched out in front of you. It made you realize how small and self-contained the whole world of that place was. And it was cold so much of the year. Freezing."
"I used to get really excited about snow," Stan says. "It was like a Christmas magic kind of thing."
"Oh, South Park is super into Christmas! Have I told you we were the only Jewish family there?"
"You mentioned that, yeah. Back at camp. It must have been so, like. Lonely?" Stan looks over at Kyle, shifting toward him in a way that makes Kyle think Stan's arm might slip around him.
"I was the loneliest kid in the world," Kyle says. "Though actually, maybe not. Maybe that was Eric."
"That's what you guys bonded over?" Stan says, looking back at the city.
"Among other things." Kyle really can't get started talking about Eric again. That would be the worst move ever while sitting close to Stan like this, getting romantic about the city together. "Thanks so much for introducing me to Bridon," Kyle says, softly. "I really appreciate it. I was being risky, I guess, diving into the roommate pool blind. It's good to know I'll be living with someone I can trust."
"You found him trustworthy?" Stan asks, smiling a little.
"I trust you," Kyle says, and Stan turns to look at him again. "I always did. Right away, at camp. Remember? How I was just like, 'by the way, I'm gay.' You were the first person I ever told." He actually can't remember now; did he tell Eric first? Not in so many words. He may have implied it, probably inadvertently.
"I remember," Stan says. "You were so - I just wanted to protect you. And I knew that I couldn't, especially after you saw me and Craig and started asking me how to give blow jobs."
"Oh, god." Kyle covers his face with his hands. "I was the most embarrassing little fucker ever."
"Nah, I admired you. I knew you'd be okay, because you weren't afraid like me."
"Afraid of what?"
"I don't know, of who you really were? It took me longer to get okay with it. But I am now," he says, a little hurriedly.
They sit there for a long time, watching the city and talking about school, work, friends, boyfriends. Kyle avoids the subject of Eric and grills Stan on his more significant relationships. He's starting to get the idea that Stan hasn't had many.
"I feel like girls are more into me than guys," Stan says. "That's how it was when I was in the band, anyway. The ones who couldn't get Bridon would refocus on me."
"I'm sure plenty of guys are into you," Kyle says. "Maybe just not the ones you want." He stops himself from offering his fifteen-year-old self as an example, aching to know if he could ever be Stan's type after those miscalculated first moves.
"Your stomach is growling," Stan says, poking Kyle with his elbow. "Need to take your blood sugar or anything?"
"I guess I should." Kyle digs his kit from his pocket, feeling less awkward about pulling his supplies out than he usually does. Stan knows the drill.
"It's funny," Stan says as he watches Kyle take a reading. "That summer, it became such a big part of my routine. Three times a day, sometimes more, making sure you got your insulin. After I left that job, I'd get this pang, this kind of distracted worry, and eventually I'd realize what I was afraid I'd forgotten. It was you, your medicine, our little meetings at that nurse's office."
"Seriously?" Kyle says, keeping his eyes on his supplies. His blood sugar is okay, but his heart has started slamming.
"Yeah. Then I'd hope you were okay, wherever you were."
"I was okay," Kyle says. He looks up, and for a moment he's sure Stan will swoop in and give him a kiss on the lips, but he just takes a deep breath and sits up a little straighter.
"Do you want to eat something?" Stan asks. "It's almost six."
"It's - are you serious?" Kyle noticed the light changing slightly, but he'd had no idea they'd been here for so long. "Don't you have plans?" he asks when Stan helps him up.
"I have to go to a party later," Stan says. "It's a former client. She says she has a friend to introduce me to, someone who might want to hire me for her wedding. I'm supposed to bring my guitar."
"Oh. So it's like work."
"It's not like work, it is work. But that's not until nine. We could walk to Emmy's. Have you been there?"
Kyle hasn't, and the restaurant turns out to be the kind of place he would have once pictured in a daydream about dating Stan: unpretentious pasta served in big portions, cozy cafe tables and friendly servers. They share a big plate of spaghetti with meatballs, and Kyle feels like he's on a real date, though he's not sure Stan would call it that.
"Got any big plans for your twenty-first birthday?" Stan asks.
"Not really. All my friends have left town for the summer, or for vacation. Bebe will be here, though."
"And me," Stan says, and he smiles when Kyle looks up at him with surprise. "I mean. We're friends, right?"
"Right," Kyle says, feeling as if he's just been shunted back into the role he played when they were fifteen and nineteen: Stan's friend, little Kyle with his blood sugar readings and awkward questions about gay sex, though he supposes he doesn't need to ask those anymore. He wants to, though, wants to know what his friend Stan gets up to in bed now that he's out and living his adult life as a beautiful wedding singer. Kyle wants to know from first hand experience, mostly.
"So here's what I'm thinking," Stan says when he's walking Kyle to the BART station. "You need a bed, right?"
"Right," Kyle says, flushing. He's stuffed after that meal and beginning to feel sleepy, wanting to go back to Stan's messy room in Oakland and curl up for a nap with him.
"So on Saturday morning, I was thinking I could give you a ride to a mattress store, then we could tie whatever you get to the top of my car, go pick up your stuff - I could help you move, basically. If you need help?"
"Oh, god, yes! I do! That's perfect. Stan." Kyle stops walking and turns to him, feeling almost tearful with gratitude, and with the greedy hope for more that's already piling on top of it. "You're, like. The greatest person I've ever known, really."
"What!" Stan laughs. "I hope not. I'm not that great."
"You are, though. You are."
"Well, hey. I'm glad you're, um. This'll be good. You and Bridon, roommates. We'll hang out. You and me, I mean. If you want."
Kyle nods, clamping his lips shut around what might have been gushing agreement. He didn't have a drink with dinner, but he feels drunk anyway, swept up into a whirlwind of sudden good fortune. It's almost eight-thirty and Stan needs to get to his party, but Kyle can't make himself turn and go into the train station.
"Saturday," he says, to assuage the difficulty of parting. "What time?"
"Bright and early, right? Nine or ten?"
"Sounds good," Kyle says, and he makes himself wave goodbye. "Enjoy the party."
"Ha, yeah, right. Want to come with me?"
Stan grins, and Kyle can't tell if he's joking or not. He laughs and turns to walk into the station, wanting to run back and say, Yes, of course, let's go.
Back at his campus apartment, Kyle tries packing some more, but he ends up flopping onto his bed and daydreaming about Stan, the apartment in Noe Valley, and how the rest of the summer will go. He should call Bebe and tell her he found a place, but he postpones it in favor of watching the stars come out through his window, feeling a tingling sense of change pressing in around him in a way that he hasn't since he was fifteen. Something good has been building since Stan answered his roommate email, and it's growing bigger and studier, involving mattress purchases now. It's a bubble, Kyle thinks, though he's afraid to gets his hopes up. He imagines this bubble solidifying anyway, forming around a brand new, grown-up mattress that's big enough for him and Stan to lie on together.
"This is weird," Bebe says when he calls to give her the news. "Isn't it?"
"It's not like I'm moving in with Stan," Kyle says. "It's his friend. It's a vetted situation, Bebe. And you'll love the apartment. Though I guess you'll have to buy a bed, too."
"It still seems crazy," she says. "But if the alternatives are staying here or going home to live with my parents, I guess I'll take it."
"We're going to have a great summer," Kyle says, wanting her to believe this.
"Yeah," she says, and she sighs. "I need to get out of here, Kyle."
"I know you do. Come tomorrow!"
"I can't, I have to watch Trina while Mike drives to Portland for a job."
"Bebe, what the hell! I thought you broke up!"
"I did, okay, but it's not his three-year-old's fault! Otherwise he'll leave her with the Peruvian, and I don't trust her with children."
"She's not your child, though. You need to detach. Cut all ties-"
"Kyle. I love you, but you sound like your mother."
"You don't even know my mother!"
"I know her through your stories! And how many times did you ignore my advice to 'detach' from Eric? And now you're back with this camp counselor guy? It's fucking weird!"
"He's not - we're not - Jesus, are you sure you even want to live with me this summer?"
"Yes, okay, yes. Just don't pretend it's that simple to leave an ex-boyfriend behind. When's the last time you talked to Eric? Huh?"
Kyle says nothing, fuming.
"That's what I thought," Bebe says. She sighs. "I'll be there on Saturday. I have a surprise for you, also."
"What kind of surprise?"
"You'll see. It's not that big. I'm sorry I brought up Eric."
"I don't care if you bring him up. I don't know why I still call him."
"Me either. Look, I'll see you Saturday. Everything will be fine. I'm getting a ride from Slim Jim, he's going to some orchard in San Jose. Just text me the address."
Kyle realizes then that he never got the actual address from Bridon. He thinks of texting Stan, but decides that would be overkill after they spent the whole day together. He'll get the address Saturday morning, when they go mattress shopping, and send it to Bebe then. All he has to do between then and now is survive the excruciating wait.
That night, and again on Friday morning, he tries to kill time by alternately researching mattress brands and masturbating to gay porn. He's been bored with porn for a while, after having overdosed on it following the freedom of moving out of his parents' house, where he always feared that his mother could somehow spy on his browsing history. Now he's surprised to find that the break that he took from his old sites hasn't reinvigorated his interest in them, though he does get hard and come three times over the course of three hours. It's a rainy, foggy day and his window is gray, still uncovered. When he jerks off he thinks about that ranger station, the rain pounding the windows and thunder ratting the building's frame. He imagines Stan being rough with him, unhinged by need and tearing Kyle's clothes off, taking his virginity on the floor while lightning flashes outside. After he's come, he pictures himself comforting Stan in the guilty aftermath, then running away with him, neither of them willing to return to camp and explain Kyle's ripped clothes. They could have been fugitives together. It probably wouldn't have been for the best. Kyle feels lucky, watching the clock on his laptop screen and anticipating the move tomorrow morning, Bebe's arrival, his upcoming birthday. Everything that happened during his summer at camp feels as if it's come home to again, less transient and stormy now.
Something is still bugging him, making him anxious, and he realizes what it is when he indulges his daily habit of checking Eric's Facebook page. Eric has put up new pictures. He almost always does after a weird phone call with Kyle, and as usual he's made a special effort to look like he's having a great time with other guys, holding red Solo cups and making vaguely homoerotic gestures that might be joking or sincere. Kyle has lost track of which of Eric's frat brothers are straight and which are bisexual when drunk. Eric has a sunburn across his cheeks and nose, and he's smiling in his slightly-crooked, canine tooth-showing fashion, which used to make Kyle's cock jerk to attention if Eric had the right look in his eyes while he smiled like that. Casually predatory was how Kyle used to think of it, like Eric could have him right then if he wanted, and maybe he did. Kyle closes the laptop, wondering what will happen when it's him posting pictures on Facebook and Eric recognizing Stan in them. It's not like Eric can call up Mackey and get Stan fired, or prove that anything ever happened between them, but Kyle is worried that somehow he'll just know, and that it will devastate him.
He goes to the campus convenience store and purchases a dusty box of brownie mix. He has eggs and milk that he needs to use, and with his roommates gone he can indulge in the smell of brownies that fills the apartment without guilt. When the brownies are cooling he runs back to the store for vanilla ice cream, and he eats a big sundae in front of a bad movie on the campus channel, wondering if Stan had fun at that party last night, and what he's doing tonight. He checks his phone, but he only has a new email from his mother: Aunt Maureen wants us to join the family on Fire Island for Independence Day. Are you too independent to spend the holiday with us? Won't you at least come home for your birthday? I worry about you, Kyle.
Kyle falls asleep on the sofa with the TV still on, and he dreams that he's in camp again, only this time it looks a lot like Fire Island. He's looking for Stan, asking around, and just when he sees Stan out on the beach, wading into the water, he wakes up. He drinks some milk, washes his brownie dishes and brushes his teeth. In bed, he can't sleep, and he drags his laptop onto his chest and takes down his roommate ads, tired of the only emails he gets coming from campus mailing lists and people looking for someone to fill space in their apartment.
The morning is still hazy, and Kyle hurries into the shower at eight. He wonders if Stan is punctual, generally: so far this week he has been, but he was sometimes late to the nurse's station during camp. Kyle packs up the last of his toiletries as he gets ready, strips the sheets off his bed and gathers everything into a pile near the apartment's front door. He dashes to his phone when he hears it buzz on the kitchen counter, and is glad to see Stan is calling, not just texting.
"Ready for this?" Stan asks, and Kyle presses his hips flush against the counter, aroused by that. Stan's voice sounds deeper over the phone.
"I'm ready," Kyle says, hoping he doesn't sound too breathy.
He hurries downstairs with his laundry bag and a shoulder bag full of schoolbooks, feeling a bit ridiculous for how excited he is to see Stan's car. It's not that he hopes it's impressive; it's just a glimpse into Stan's life the way his room at the camp was, and these glimpses are fascinating to Kyle, who would happily listen to Stan talk about what kind of shampoo, toothpaste and dish soap he uses, though Kyle would bet he doesn't have a favorite dish soap. He probably just buys whatever his parents always used.
This is Kyle's mindset as he searches the cars parked outside for Stan's: what type of dish soap Stan grew up using, and if he defaulted to that brand as an adult. He tells himself to calm down. He probably should have gotten some exercise yesterday instead of staying cooped up in his mostly empty apartment with a pan of brownies for company. He's still got more than half the pan leftover and wonders if it would be weird to offer some to Stan. When he hears a car door open he turns to see Stan getting out of a nondescript blue car that's parked down the block. Stan starts jogging toward Kyle, and Kyle jogs toward him. By the time they're a few feet away from each other they're both laughing.
"Why are you running?" Stan asks.
"I don't know, why are you?"
"You were waiting, I - here, I'll take your stuff. I got you a coffee."
"You got me a coffee?" Kyle can't stop beaming, and he doesn't really care if he looks too happy, too excited. Stan shrugs and takes the bag of laundry from him.
"It's from Philz," he says. "Same kind we got the other day, only hot. 'Cause it's kind of chilly out."
"Thank you, that's - I made brownies. Do you want some brownies?"
"What?" Stan says, and they both laugh.
They put Kyle's things in the car and retrieve their coffees. Kyle's is the perfect temperature: still warm, but not so hot he's afraid the next sip might scald his tongue. Kyle shows Stan up to his place, and they eat brownies at the kitchen counter while they drink their coffee.
"These are really good," Stan says. He's got a little bit of chocolate at the corner of his lips. Kyle wants to kiss him so bad. His stomach aches, but he stuffs another brownie in his mouth anyway.
"It's from a mix," Kyle says. "Not from scratch."
"You've got something," Stan says, pointing to his lips, and Kyle wipes at his mouth with the heel of his hand, wishing he was crazy enough to offer to lick Stan's brownie smudge off.
"You too," he says instead, and points.
They manage to get all of Kyle's remaining things into the car in three trips, and he's glad for once that the entirety of his possessions fits into a few boxes and duffel bags. He's wired as they drive toward the mattress store, and he checks his blood sugar before diverting his attention to the music Stan has playing. He doesn't recognize the song, but he likes it.
"I bought a Communications CD," Kyle confesses when they're stopped at a red light. Stan snorts and looks over at him in disbelief.
"Well," he says. "Allow me to apologize, as the lead guitarist."
"It wasn't bad! I'm not the hugest fan of the way Bridon emotes when he sings, but. Jesus, I can't believe I'm going to live with the lead singer of your old band. I can't believe I'm in your car!"
"What's so great about my car?" Stan asks. It's a Toyota, and the windshield is dirty at the corners, where the wipers don't reach. "It's eleven years old."
"I don't know," Kyle says, reminding himself again to reel it in a little or risk scaring the shit out of Stan with his excitement. "I missed you. After camp. Our goodbye was so. And when we had, you know. The night before, the storm." He makes himself shut up, wishing he hadn't had coffee and sugar for breakfast.
"Yeah," Stan says, keeping his eyes on the road. The traffic light changes, and the car jerks a little when he pulls ahead. "Seeing your mother, after that. I pretty much wanted to die."
"But you still came and gave me that CD. God, that meant so much to me."
Stan smiles, but he seems a little sad, as if Kyle's reminder of his guilt has ruined their cheerful mood. Kyle wants to blurt more reassurances, to tell Stan that his mother never knew a thing, but he knows he should change the subject.
"I'm so excited about buying a bed," he says, idiotically.
"I've actually never bought one," Stan says. "I'm sleeping on my ex-roommate's old mattress. He left it when he moved. So I guess, after today, you'll be more of an actual adult than me."
"Oh, yeah right," Kyle says, though he likes the idea of Stan thinking of him as an adult now.
The mattress store is on Van Ness, in what appears to be the mattress store district. Kyle had no idea there was one, and is impressed that Stan knew where to find it. They go into a store called Marcia's and start winding through the selections on the sales floor.
"We're just looking," Stan says when a smiling salesman in a tie approaches. Kyle feels jumpy with glee, maybe from the caffeine but also because they must look like a couple browsing for a mattress to sleep on together. He's so distracted by this that he can't focus on any of the mattress facts Stan relates as they press their fingers into the pillowtops of each one. Kyle nods along as if he's carefully considering the merits of box springs versus memory foam, really only trying to imagine Stan reclining on each of them, and how it would feel to crawl into his arms at the end of a long school day.
"You seem knowledgeable about mattresses," Kyle says. "For someone who's never bought one."
"I did some reading," Stan says. "Last night."
"Oh. Me too." But Kyle didn't really adsorb anything he read, switching from mattress recommendations to porn, then to fantasies about Stan and thunderstorms.
He ends up splurging on a full-sized iComfort mattress at the third store they visit, partly because Stan climbs onto it and stretches out beside him when he tests it out. They look over at each other, smile, and it feels right: this is Kyle's bed. Fifteen hundred dollars on Kyle's credit card later, they're helping the warehouse guy tie it to the top of Stan's car.
"You guys getting rid of an old mattress?" the guy asks.
"No," Stan says.
"Moving into a new place?"
"Yep," Stan says, and he gives the guy a tip. Something about the way he hands over the cash makes Kyle proud, as if Stan is his thoughtful boyfriend, taking care of the gratuity. He didn't correct the guy's implication that they're together. Kyle has to remind himself that this doesn't mean they are, but he can feel something building between them, and it's much more solid than their connection during camp, something he feels like he could actually grab hold of if he works up the nerve. If they'd been connected by a string back then, this feeling is more like settling into a blanket that's big enough for both of them, like the one Kyle used to pull Stan to him that night during the storm.
At the apartment, Kyle begins to regret that they were too proud to pay for the delivery of the mattress by professionals. Getting it up three stories is not easy, mostly because of the angles on the old stairwell, and by the time they get it to the third floor Kyle is sweating and breathless, embarrassed by how out of shape he is. Stan seems similarly affected, despite his larger arm muscles. They set up the bed in Kyle's room without much discussion, and they're both quiet on the way back down for the rest of his stuff, breathing hard.
"I need to work out more," Kyle says.
"Me too," Stan says. "Maybe we could run together or something."
"God, yeah," Kyle says, and he regrets how sexual that sounded, but Stan just smiles and opens the trunk of his car.
This time it takes four trips to convey all of Kyle's things, and they're both panting as they ascend with the final boxes. Kyle's desk lamp is protruding from the top of the box Stan is carrying, and when they get to the room Stan takes it out, sets it on top of the dresser and plugs it in. Kyle sits on the bed, his t-shirt soaked and his cock getting hard from the sight of Stan turning the seam of his lamp shade around so that it doesn't show, or maybe it's the sound of their heavy breathing in the small room that's making him erect. Or the feeling of a brand new bed under his ass, spongy and virginal.
"There," Stan says when the lamp has been adjusted to his liking. "Now you're moved in."
"Thank you so much," Kyle says, his voice almost breaking, more with suppressed arousal than gratitude. Stan looks at him and nods slowly.
"Let's, um. Let's see if Bridon has anything cold to drink."
They go into the kitchen. Kyle feels as if he's vibrating with something that's both glaringly obvious and infuriatingly subtle. He never learned how to make the first move, though he's tried it a few times, always as clumsily as he did when he yanked Stan against him and licked his mouth. But Stan had licked back, and his hand is shaking when he opens Bridon's fridge, Kyle still panting behind him.
"Fuck," Stan says, his voice a little weak. "He only has beer."
"I'll take a cold beer," Kyle says. "Anything cold."
Stan gets two beer bottles out and pops off the caps with an opener that's attached to his keychain. He leaves his keys splayed on the counter and walks to Kyle, handing him a beer.
"Here's to your new place," Stan says, and they click their bottles together. Kyle drinks, and he's still gulping from his beer when Stan plunks his deliberately onto the counter. Some beer actually dribbles from the corner of Kyle's lips when Stan walks to him, breathing hard again. Kyle opens his mouth to apologize for being disgusting, but Stan licks the residue from Kyle's cheek before he can, sweeping his tongue into Kyle's mouth and grabbing Kyle's hips with both hands. Kyle kisses back as best he can, his cock springing to attention again when his tongue slides against Stan's. "Sorry," Stan says when he pulls back, before Kyle can really register what just happened. He pulls Kyle closer, until their heaving chests are pressed together and Kyle can smell Stan's sweat. "I missed you, too," Stan says.
"Oh," Kyle says, and it comes out in an embarrassing little chirp, but he doesn't care: Stan is melting into him, kissing him again. He walks Kyle backward until his back hits the wall, and when Kyle snaps his hips he can feel Stan's hard dick through his jeans, against his thigh. "Jesus, fuck," Kyle says, whispering this against Stan's mouth when they pull apart to check each other's eyes. Stan's are darker than Kyle has ever seen them – or anyone's – and he's shaking not like he's scared but like he's holding himself back, licking his lips.
"God, I wanted it to be you, so bad, when I read that Craigslist post," Stan says, sounding upset about it. "I feel like such a fucking lunatic."
"What?" Kyle puts his hands on Stan's face, drawing him in close again. "Why?"
"Because I want you so much. So much now, and I knew you back then—"
"Stan, that doesn't matter anymore, I'm—"
"You don't understand, Kyle, I've never wanted someone so fucking bad—"
"Me too," Kyle says, almost tearful with the fear that Stan might not believe him, that he might still see too much of that fifteen-year-old kid. He leans up to put his lips against Stan's ear. "I want you inside me," he says, and he means it just as desperately as he did then, though at the time he had only really wanted a promise that he wouldn't lose Stan forever, that he couldn't. Now he wants that and Stan's actual dick up his ass, as hard and fast as he can get it. "Please, Stan – please tell me you carried that mattress all the way up here so you could fuck me on it."
Stan groans and grabs Kyle's legs, hoisting him up and bracing him against the wall. He kisses Kyle's throat like he's just barely restraining himself from taking a bite of something ripe and delicious, his teeth grazing Kyle's skin. Kyle wants to be devoured entirely, his muscles going slack with submission when Stan squeezes his ass with both hands. He hopes Stan will leave marks on his neck, his ass, everywhere.
"Please," Kyle cries, not sure how many times he's moaned that now: five, maybe ten. "Please, Stan, please, I need you—"
"I know you do," Stan say, licking over the raw skin on Kyle's neck. "Every time you look at me. God, Kyle, the way you look at me makes me fucking insane."
"Go insane on my ass," Kyle says, well beyond subtlety, and he laughs at himself when Stan pulls back to grin at him.
"Are you sure?" Stan lets Kyle's legs slide down until he's half-standing, half-propped up in a jelly-like state of suspension between Stan and the wall. He pushes Kyle's sweaty curls off his forehead and kisses his nose. "I really. Really like you. I don't want to go too fast."
"It's not too fast!" Kyle says, his voice breaking. "It's, like, six years in the making. I know I seemed like some dumb kid with a boner for his crush, but I fell in love with you that summer. Okay? It ripped my heart out when I had to leave. I thought I'd never see you again, I thought—"
"Shh, oh, Kyle, god, I know—"
They kiss all the way to the bedroom, stumbling there and crashing into the door before Stan kicks it shut behind them. They're still kissing when they fall onto the bed, and Stan laughs a little as Kyle tears his shirt off.
"God," Kyle says, staring up at Stan while he leans back onto his knees to undo his jeans. "You look. You're so beautiful, fuck. Guys must tell you that all the time."
"Guys say a lot of things. Nobody else looks at me like you do."
"Like what?" Kyle asks, self-conscious.
"It's corny, but it's like you really see me. Even back then. Like there's no point in trying to act cool because you just see right through me, into me. Jesus, sorry."
"Sorry for what?" Kyle asks, reaching for him.
"I'm talking too much," Stan says. He strips his jeans off, then his socks.
"I like the way you talk about me," Kyle says. He takes his shirt off slowly, not really wanting to show Stan the flab he's regained in the past few years. Stan falls onto him like he's been flicked back into devouring mode by the sight of Kyle's pale chest, and Kyle shouts when Stan slides down to lick his right nipple, reaching over to roll the left one hard between his fingers.
"That okay?" Stan asks, looking up. His voice is so soft, the question so sincere; Kyle strokes Stan's hair and nods, biting his lip when it quivers.
"It's good," he says, whispering, and Stan put his mouth on Kyle's left nipple, nibbling and licking at it until Kyle shouts again. "Good," Kyle says when Stan pauses. "Still good."
"Shit," Stan says when Kyle starts to take off his pants. "I've got a condom, but. Do you have lube?"
"Stan," Kyle says. He sits up on his elbows, chest heaving and pants half-down. "We just carried eight armloads of my shit up here. There's like, five different potential lubes in this room, at least."
Stan eyes light up when he grins, and Kyle feels like he's won a prize. He's finally, for once in his life, said the right thing – though really, Stan has always made him feel like he mostly says the right things. It's a singular quality, in terms of all the people Kyle has ever known.
They kiss for a long time before the search for lube begins, and Kyle nods eagerly at the first tube Stan finds. He doesn't really own five different varieties; that was exaggeration for the sake of the joke. He only owns two: the basic KY that Stan located, and a fancier kind that a friend turned him onto, with soothing aloe and a slight honey scent. They can try that one later: Kyle is so ready he would accept toothpaste as lube.
"So, um," Stan says when he's standing at the end of the bed, his hands on the waistband of his boxers. He seems like he's going to say something, to announce his dick's arrival in some fashion, but then he just takes off the boxers and kicks them away. Kyle leaks into the y-front of his briefs, staring. He sort of knew Stan's cock would be wonderful, but it's perfect in ways he couldn't have anticipated: not just length (eight inches?) and width (a good stretch by the looks of it, but not the kind that will burn all the way in like Eric's did) but also in foreskin quality, the dark blush of his arousal, pubes to balls ratio, everything.
"Oh, fuck, sorry," Kyle says when he realizes he's just lying there drooling over Stan's cock. He shoves his briefs off and spreads his legs, flushing all the way to his chest. He hasn't been with anyone since New Year's Eve, and that was his friend Jordan, who tried to talk Kyle into topping him for ten minutes before finally agreeing to a half-hearted and half-clothed fuck in the bathroom at the party they were at. He can't remember the last time he was this naked in front of a man, so exposed that he rechecks the door to make sure it's fully shut.
"Kyle," Stan says, walking stiffly to the bed. He lowers himself carefully onto Kyle, as if he's afraid his dick might pierce Kyle's delicate skin. Kyle pulls him down into a kiss, wrapping his legs around Stan's back. They both groan and grind together, slowly at first, testing the friction of each other's bodies. It's warm and fucking perfect for Kyle; he has to wipe drool from the corner of his lips when Stan nuzzles his cheek. "You're fucking adorable," Stan whispers, and Kyle laughs. "You are," Stan says, and he nips at Kyle's jaw, then his ear. "At that camp, goddammit. I just remember wanting to hug you, so many times. And then I finally did."
"I didn't want you to let me go," Kyle says, and for a moment his eyes are wet, but it pulses through him quickly and is gone when Stan kisses him again.
They go slow at first, pausing between every new touch to kiss, but as soon as Stan's fingers are in Kyle he loses the soft, underwater feeling of exploring Stan's weight and taste. He throws his head back, presses his hips down and grinds, wanting more.
"Fuck me," he begs, his lips bumping against Stan's. "Please, now. God, I need your dick—"
"Shit," Stan says. "I left – the condom's on the floor, in my wallet, in my jeans—"
"So get it?" Kyle says, laughing, and Stan moans like having to peel himself off of Kyle is a herculean task. Kyle rolls onto his side and admires Stan's body as he leaves the bed and crouches down to get the condom. He wants to tell Stan that he has the perfect amount of body hair –- neither bear-like nor twinkishly groomed –- but that would probably be weird.
The buildup has already pushed them both close to the edge, and Kyle knows Stan will barely outlast him; he's already trembling when he slides in, whimpering when Kyle gathers him down for a kiss. Kyle feels like it's been years since he was fucked, his ass clenching greedily even as Stan stretches him wider than Kyle thought he would at first glance. Kyle lifts his legs up onto Stan's back, crossing his ankles and shimmying until he's got his prostate angled against the head of Stan's dick.
"Fuck me right there," Kyle says, his eyes locked on Stan's. He can feel Stan's heartbeat against his chest, pounding. "Hard."
He isn't sure how many thrusts it takes; he loses the ability to count and shouts Stan's name when he comes all over himself, his fingers digging into Stan's biceps. Stan fucks him through it, kissing him sloppily until he's coming, too, huffing a sad little noise against Kyle's mouth before he flops down onto him, still trembling all over. Kyle puts his arms around Stan and sighs into his hair, his legs still cinched tightly around Stan's back. He doesn't want to let Stan go, and this time he doesn't have to.
"God," Stan says, twitching in Kyle's arms. "Kyle."
"I don't know. I love saying your name. Like this, in you like this, saying your name – fuck, sorry. I ramble after I come."
"That's so sweet," Kyle says, pressing his grin into Stan's hair. "How does your sweat smell so good? What are you wearing?"
"Nothing, um. Soap? Shave lotion?"
"What kinds?" Kyle wants to know everything. "Brands, I mean."
Stan laughs and sits up to touch his nose to Kyle's. His eyes are bright again, clear and shining like the sky after a storm. Kyle has never seen him smile like this before, but he feels like he knew it was in there somewhere, waiting for him and the right moment.
"That's the weirdest thing anyone's ever said to me after sex," Stan says.
"Yeah. What brands? I don't know. Suave, and, uh. Heliotrope, I think it's called? The shave lotion. Some fancy thing Wendy got me for my birthday last year."
They clean up a little with one of Kyle's bath towels, then flop onto the bed again. It's warm in the room, pleasantly so once the sweat on their skin cools, and they cuddle up at the center of the bed, kissing and rubbing their ankles and knees together with fidgety joy. Kyle feels like a kid again, but not in a bad way.
"Only one person knows I kissed you that summer," Kyle says.
"No! God, no. Bebe. She might be a little surly when she sees you, but I think you'll grow on her fast. Oh, Stan, just. Who couldn't love you?" He runs his fingers through Stan's hair and stops himself from saying it too soon: I do, I love you, me most of all.
"I don't blame her for thinking I'm a bastard, if she knows about the kiss," Stan says. "I still can't believe I did that. I remember thinking the whole time, I can't do this, I'm not doing it, but I was, I was already kissing you, and you just. You had this wide open heart, and it was right there. You kept putting it in my stupid hands. I was such a selfish asshole, I knew I couldn't have it, but I wanted to hold it and keep it safe."
"You did," Kyle says, and his eyes water again, but only because Stan's are wet. He kisses Stan's eyelids and they both sniffle a little. "You did," Kyle says again, whispering it now. "I'm so safe with you. I've always known that."
"I guess it's fucked up," Stan says, "'Cause I'm older than you, but. I always sort of felt the same way with you."
"Oh, god," Kyle says, and he closes his eyes. "That's the best thing anyone's ever told me. If I made you feel – like that – like this – it's the best thing I've ever done."
They talk for a long time before they have sex again, and this time Stan lasts longer. Kyle doesn't, but he comes twice before Stan finishes. He almost falls asleep after that, curled against Stan's chest and muttering questions about the wedding that Stan is playing at tomorrow, fighting his oncoming nap as hard as he can. They hear the front door open and Bridon walking in, talking to a girl.
"We should get dressed, I guess," Stan says. Kyle yawns and nods but doesn't move. Stan just keeps stroking his hair, kissing his forehead, and leaving his arms seems wonderfully impossible. Just as Kyle decides it's okay to fall asleep for a little while, someone throws the door of the room open.
It's Bebe, and it takes Kyle a few panicked seconds to recognize this as Stan sits up in front of him and attempts to shield his nakedness. Bebe's hair is different, much shorter than the last time Kyle saw her. She looks like Tinkerbell, and her eyes are huge.
"Sorry!" she says, and she flees, shutting the door behind her. "Bridon let me in!" she says, from the other side of the door. "I'm sorry!"
"It's okay," Kyle says. He kisses Stan's cheek. "That's Bebe," he says.
"Yeah, I." Stan is very red, still shielding Kyle. "I recognized her."
They dress and emerge a few minutes later. Bebe and Bridon are in the kitchen drinking beers, and Bridon is the only one who isn't blushing feverishly. Kyle isn't even embarrassed, just overwhelmed with a giddy relief that he can't fan off is face. He hugs Bebe hard and she laughs, rubbing his back.
"Your hair is short," Kyle says.
"It looks good, I like it-"
"You smell like sex," she whispers. She releases Kyle and turns to Stan, who is still bright red. "Hey!" Bebe says. "It's you! Wow!"
"It's - yeah," Stan says. "Hi, I'm. It's great to see you, um-"
"I knew you two were a thing," Bridon says, narrowing his eyes and gesturing to Stan and Kyle with his beer. "Stan denied it, but I could tell."
"How?" Stan asks, and when he puts his hand out Kyle realizes Stan is reaching for him, wanting to stand united within this awkward moment. Kyle hurries to him and stands close, smiling as subtly as he can when Stan's hand comes to rest on the small of his back.
"I don't know what it was exactly," Bridon says. "Just this nervous energy. I've never seen Stan like that around a guy. Usually he's not impressed by anything. But around this guy, your friend here?" He's talking to Bebe, pointing to Kyle. "Stan got all stammery, like a kid with a crush."
"Aw," Bebe says.
"Were you two knocking boots at summer camp?" Bridon asks, and Stan's hand clenches into the back of Kyle's t-shirt.
"No!" Stan says. "Jesus!"
"They kissed," Bebe says to Bridon, grinning like suddenly she finds that adorable. "Once."
"I basically assaulted him," Kyle says. He puts his hand on Stan's chest, feels his heart beating hard.
"It was - you didn't," Stan says, and he looks over at Kyle. He takes a deep breath and lets it out, the red on his cheeks fading a little. "We had bad timing back then, obviously," Stan says, and he gives Bebe an apologetic look. "But now it's pretty good."
"I'll say," Bebe says, turning to glance at the apartment. "Kyle! Holy crap! This place is great!"
The four of them end up going out to dinner together at the same pasta restaurant where Kyle had an early dinner with Stan after their day in the park. The place is much more crowded on Saturday night, but the wait for a small table for four is worth it. Kyle is practically in Stan's lap, Stan's arm draped around the back of his chair, his chest warm under Kyle's shoulder. They hold hands under the table while Kyle and Bebe tell stories about camp. Bebe is laughing a lot, and the new haircut really suits her. Bridon flirts with her the entire time, and she gives him long looks and little smiles. Kyle longs to be alone with Stan but is glad to see Bebe happy, and he appreciates the way Bridon humors their old stories, listening with interest when they reminisce about Clyde and Henrietta.
"I can't believe Clyde married someone else," Bebe says. Kyle snorts.
"Bebe, he had sex with Henrietta for like, two days. They weren't engaged."
"I know, but you guys only kissed once, and here you are."
Kyle gives her a look, embarrassed on Stan's behalf, but he doesn't seem perturbed, maybe because he'd had several glasses of red wine. He rubs Kyle's shoulder and laughs under his breath. Kyle knows he's tired from all the moving day hefting, and he's a little annoyed when they get back to the apartment and Bridon and Bebe want to drink more and break out some party games.
"I'm crashing," Kyle says, shaking his head. "My new bed awaits."
"Do you need some sheets?" Bridon asks.
"I have my dirty ones from Berkley," Kyle says, yawning.
"I'll get you some," Stan says. "I know where he keeps them."
Kyle nods and goes into his new room, where the lamp that Stan plugged in earlier is still glowing on the dresser. He smiles and touches the shade as he walks past, brushes his teeth and collapses onto the unmade bed. He's thinking about his twenty-first birthday, having a picnic in the park with Stan, maybe inviting Bebe and Bridon. He can hear them both laughing out in the main room, talking loudly, but he's tired enough that he's not worried about his ability to sleep through whatever noise they make. He only wakes a little when he hears footsteps padding into the room, the door closing softly. He's so out of it that it takes him a moment to remember that it's Stan: Stan is here with him, after all this time, still willing to hold Kyle's heart every time Kyle pushes it hopefully back into his hands.
Stan rests the sheets on the end of the bed, and Kyle hears him turn off the lamp. He moans happily when Stan unties his shoes for him and slides them off. A champagne cork pops out in the apartment somewhere, but it seems very far away, and Kyle feels like his new bed is a raft and he's floating farther and father from shore. The whole room seems to have transformed into the bubble he once shared with Stan. Kyle always pictured it with a slightly periwinkle hue.
"You asleep?" Stan whispers as he settles down onto the bed, curling around Kyle from behind.
"No," Kyle says. "Yes."
Stan laughs and tucks his face to the back of Kyle's neck, pulling his knees in behind Kyle's. The summer is just beginning, and this time he's starting it from his 'after' picture. He and Stan have both become the people they were trying to be for each other back then, before they knew how.
"I'm so tired," Kyle says, wishing he was awake enough to express that he means this in a good way. The pleasure of complete physical exhaustion was something he learned the summer he met Stan, and he never thought he'd be lucky enough to count the kind of sex they had in this bed among the daily activities that wore him out.
"Me too," Stan says. He kisses the back of Kyle's neck three times, moving downward slowly, toward the neck of his t-shirt. "I like this bed. Very nice choice."
"Mhmm, yeah, good. I want you in it a lot."
He can feel Stan's smile on his skin, and his tired little laugh. He'll never forget the first summer that he cuddled in bed with another boy, the revelation of being close to someone like this, and how it felt just as important as his first time sex in that locker room. Eric will call on Kyle's birthday; he always does. Kyle will explain about Stan somehow. Eric should hear it from him directly, and sooner rather than later, because Kyle can tell by the way Stan holds him: starting tomorrow and from now on, everyone they meet will know how well they fit together.