I don't condone underage drinking, stalking, or domestic violence. I just think that sometimes, under the right circumstances, they can be sort of funny.


On the last Friday in April, Kyle set his tray down next to Stan's and sat down at the cafeteria table. "Hey guys," he said. "Robocross Attack 2 comes out today. Come see it with me after school."

Stan rolled his eyes. "Aw man, that movie's going to be totally lame. I don't want to waste my Friday night on that crap."

Kenny nodded in agreement. "Yeah, seriously, why do you want to see it?"

Kyle threw his hands up in frustration. "What? Come on. It's going to be great." Kyle looked around the table at his friends' blank stares. "You guys all liked the first one."

Stan blinked at him. Kyle sighed. "Plus I read on the internet that you get to see Danielle Fishel's boobs." His friends continued to stare. "For, like, three whole minutes," Kyle added helpfully.

"Well. You make a convincing argument," Kenny said.

Stan sighed. "Okay, I'm in," he said.

Kenny turned to Cartman. "Give me a ride?" he asked.

Cartman scoffed. "I don't think so. Unlike you losers, I have better things to do with my Friday night than sit through an hour and a half of stupid robots for three minutes of boobs. I have plans."

"Aww," Kenny said. "Stan?"

"Yeah, no problem," Stan said.

Kyle slammed his palms down on the table. "Wait a minute, wait a minute. First of all, robots aren't stupid. Second of all, you don't have any plans, fatass."

Cartman raised his eyebrows. "Kyle, I can assure you that while yes, in certain situations robots can be pretty cool – maybe even awesome – in this particular case these particular robots are, in fact, stupid. And I do so have plans. Very big plans. Plans that are far more important even than Danielle Fishel's boobs."

Kyle rolled his eyes. "Fine then. What are your big important plans, then?"

Cartman smirked. "I can't tell you."

Kyle narrowed his eyes. "You're lying. You don't have plans."

"I do so! I just don't think they're any of your business, Kyle. You'll only try to get in my way," Cartman huffed.

Kyle flailed in exasperation. "You're such a liar! I don't believe you."

Cartman folded his arms. "What do you even care if I go to your stupid movie with you anyway?"

Kyle put his hands on his hips, a slightly awkward maneuver for somebody sitting on a cafeteria bench. "I don't care. Stay home by yourself and have a shitty night without us."

"I told you, I have plans!" Cartman shouted.

Kyle frowned. "Whatever. I didn't want you there anyway."

"Good, because I don't want to go."

"Fine, then," Kyle said.

"Fine," Cartman echoed.

Stan cleared his throat. "So, uh... Kyle and Kenny, you guys want to come home with me from school, and we can just go from there?"

"Sure," Kenny said.

"How about I just meet you guys there?" Kyle asked. "I've got a little work left for that history project I want to finish up first."

Stan rolled his eyes. "Dude, you've got all weekend."

Kyle scowled. "I just would prefer to get it out of the way. I don't see what's so wrong with that."

Kenny shrugged. "Whatever, dude. What time should we meet you?"

"Uh... I think there was a seven o'clock showing; you want to meet at like six forty-five?" Kyle asked.

"Dude, then once the movie starts there's like twenty minutes of previews. We'll be waiting around forever if we get there that early," Stan said. "We'll get there at seven."

"But it's opening night! There's gonna be a line, we won't get tickets," Kyle said.

Stan raised his eyebrows. "Well, you get there whenever you want. Me and Kenny will be there at seven."

"Ugh, fine," Kyle said. "See you guys at seven."

On the first Friday in May, Kyle sat down at the lunch table and began unpacking his lunch. Kenny walked over with his lunch tray and sat down next to him.

"So you guys want to try to see Robocross Attack 2 again after school?" Kenny asked.

"Sure," Kyle said.

"Yeah, okay," Stan said. "Cartman, you want to come this time?"

Cartman looked suspicious. "I thought you guys went last weekend."

Stan looked uncomfortable. "Yeah, well... we wound up seeing Battleship Down instead."

Kyle opened up his packet of fruit snacks. "'No, Kyle, it won't be crowded,'" he whined in a falsetto that sounded nothing like Stan. "'Chill out, Kyle, we'll still get in if we're a little late.'" Well, maybe it sounded a little like Stan. "'Oh, what's the big deal, Kyle, we can just see something else.'"

"Look, I'm sorry," Stan said. "We can leave right from school this time, we'll get there however early you want, just please stop bitching about it to me."

Kyle smiled. "Nah, we can cut it as close as you want. It's been out for a week now."

Kenny looked at Cartman. "So you coming or what?"

"No," Cartman said, and ate a handful of French fries.

Kenny frowned. "Why not?"

"Because I have better things to do," Cartman said.

Kyle narrowed his eyes. "Like what?" he asked.

Cartman scowled. "Like anything besides watch some gay ass robot movie with you losers."

Kenny shrugged. "Your loss, dude."

Kyle bit his lip and furrowed his eyebrows and spent the rest of the afternoon with the growing conviction that Cartman was up to something.

On the second Friday in May, Kyle walked over to Stan's house after school. Stan and Kenny were sitting on the couch playing video games.

"Hey guys," Kyle said as he dropped his backpack next to the couch and squeezed in between Kenny and the arm rest. "Cartman's not here?"

"Nope," Kenny said, eyes fixed on the screen.

"Thank God," Kyle said, and made a show of settling in comfortably in his seat. Kenny made a peeved off face as he got elbowed in the ribs and scooted closer to Stan.

Kyle sat and watched them play. It was some fighting game that Kyle didn't recognize. Stan appeared to be winning but not by much. Kyle fidgeted. Kenny scowled and scooted closer to Stan again.

"So is he, like, coming over later or something?" Kyle asked.

"Who?" Stan asked distractedly.

"Cartman," Kyle said.

"Nah, I think he said he had something to do," Stan said.

Kyle frowned. "Like what?"

"Dude, I don't know. I didn't ask. Who cares?" Stan risked a sidelong glance at Kyle. "God damn it," he said feelingly as Kenny landed a combo.

"What the hell is he up to?" Kyle wondered.

"Jesus Christ, if you care that much, why don't you just call him and ask?" Stan sounded sort of annoyed. His battle with Kenny must have been getting pretty intense.

Kyle pulled a face. "I'm not calling that fat fuck!" he yelled, flailing his arms and smacking Kenny in the forearm in the process.

"What the fuck," Kenny said as he lost.

"Ha!" Stan shouted triumphantly. "I win."

"What! Doesn't count, Kyle hit me," Kenny said. "Do over."

Stan rolled his eyes. "Sure, Kenny, I'd be happy to beat you a second time."

"No, wait," Kyle said. They both turned to look at him expectantly. "Kenny, did Cartman tell you what he's doing tonight?"

Kenny looked at Kyle very seriously. "Kyle, nobody in this house knows or cares where the hell Eric Cartman is right now. He is not here, he will not be here later, now will you please shut the fuck up so I can beat Stan at this fucking game?"

"Unlikely," Stan interjected.

"Guys, listen," Kyle sat up very straight. He put his hands on his knees and leaned forward slightly towards his friends. The fires of utter conviction burned hotly from within his chest cavity. "Seriously. Cartman is up to something."

Kenny sighed in resignation. "Okay, fine. How do you know he's up to something?"

Kyle's eyebrows rose. "Don't you guys see it? Guys. Listen. Nobody likes Cartman. Nobody wants to hang out with him. He has nothing better to do than hang out with us."

"Hey," Kenny said.

"We're cool," Stan said.

Kyle plowed on. "And now for the past three weeks, he's been too busy doing some secret thing on Friday night to hang out." Kyle pointed a finger and shook it at his friends for emphasis. "He is up to something."

Stan and Kenny stared at him, blinking. Kenny stood up with his controller and moved to sit on the armrest on the other side of Stan. "Okay, I'm ready. Let's go." Kenny said. Stan started up the rematch round.

Kyle scowled. "Fine, go ahead and ignore the gravity of this situation. I'm getting to the bottom of this," he muttered as he pulled out his cell phone.

Stan rolled his eyes. "I thought you weren't going to call him."

"I'm not," Kyle said, and turned away as he heard someone pick up on the other line. "Oh, hi, Mrs. Cartman. Is, uh, is Eric home?"

"Oh dear, no, I'm afraid he just went out. Would you like me to tell him you called?"

Kyle made a horrified expression and blurted out, "Oh no, that's fine. Did he happen to say when he'd be back?"

"I'm afraid he didn't, Kyle. He just said not to wait up for him."

"Oh, uh, okay. Do you know where he is?"

"Why yes, he said he'd be over at your friend Stanley's house," she said with a note of surprise in her voice.

"Oh. Thanks. I guess I'll catch up with him later, then."

"Sure thing, dear."

"Bye," Kyle said, and ended the call. "God damn it," he cursed, and threw the phone down vaguely in the direction of his backpack.

Kenny and Stan kept their eyes fixed hard on the TV. If they weren't so into their game, Kyle might have thought they were trying to avoid making eye contact with him.

On the third Friday in May, Kyle and Kenny sat next to each other in one of the big seats toward the back of the bus. They were the only two twelfth graders riding the bus home that Friday afternoon. Stan was staying late for some sort of environmental science club function and Kyle didn't want to jeopardize his plans by waiting around for him to give him a ride. Cartman was nowhere to be found after school, and his car was gone from the lot. Probably ditched last period.

Kenny looked over at him. "You doing anything tonight?"

"No," Kyle said, then reconsidered. "Well. I mean, I have this essay to write for English. And they gave us a ton of calc homework. Oh, plus I should probably study for French, there's an exam on Monday."

"Uh huh. Well, sounds like fun," Kenny said, and looked out of the window, expression flat.

Kyle felt suddenly, unaccountably awkward. "But. Um, if I finish up early, maybe we could hang out after?"

"Yeah, maybe," Kenny told the window, mouth turned down slightly at the corners. They rode the rest of the way home in silence.

By the time the school bus pulled up to their stop, Kenny seemed to have perked back up. Kyle was relieved. The two of them hopped down onto the curb and the bus pulled away.

"Well, see you later," Kenny said and started to walk home.

"Yeah," Kyle replied. "I'll call you later, okay?"

"Sounds good," Kenny smiled.

Kyle turned and hurried off to his destination.

He walked the first block in the direction of his house, then turned and took a meandering side street that eventually let him out on the street he wanted, about three blocks away from where he needed to be. He crossed the street there, then nonchalantly walked to his final destination: the creepily overgrown collection of bushes in the front yard of a house across the street and two houses down from Cartman's.

He didn't see any lights on or movement in Cartman's neighbors' house and there was no car in the driveway, so Kyle figured he was safe to find himself a comfortable spot amidst the foliage and sat down.

For the first fifteen minutes he sat on his book bag, hands on his knees, and vigilantly watched the house.

For the next fifteen minutes he sat on his book bag, picking at his fingernails, aggravatedly watching the house. Whatever Cartman was up to, Kyle seriously wished he would start getting up to it in front of one of the windows.

By the time daylight started to fade after about three and a half hours of sitting covertly in the bushes, Kyle had finished all of his math homework, written and revised the first draft of his English paper, and managed to see Cartman pour himself a glass of soda through the kitchen window. Kyle's tailbone kept going numb from the way he was sitting. He wasn't sure what he would do if Cartman didn't make a move soon. It was getting late. Kyle inventoried his surroundings. He was starting to feel just the tiniest bit silly.

The lights turned off in Cartman's bedroom, then the living room. Kyle sat up straight. The front door opened. Kyle hurriedly jammed all his belongings back into his book bag and got to his knees, ready to sneak out and follow his target at an inconspicuous distance. Cartman emerged, dressed in the same clothes he'd been wearing at school with what Kyle was pretty sure was Cartman's old gym bag slung over his shoulder.

A cold feeling of dread filled Kyle's stomach as he watched Cartman pull his keys from his pocket and unlock the beat up old Escort his mom had handed down to him, toss his gym bag over into the passenger seat, and sit down. He heard the ignition start and realized with sudden clarity that he should have planned this better. Cartman backed out of the driveway and pulled away. Kyle sat there, awkwardly crouched in some stranger's bushes, and watched Cartman's taillights disappear.

Kyle made a silent vow right then and there that this was the last time he'd degrade himself by letting that fat asshole make him act like a creepy moron.

Next week he was bringing his mom's car.

On the last Friday in May, Kyle came home with Stan from school. Kyle spent about two hours in Stan's bedroom conjugating irregular verbs in French while Stan played video games before walking back home to have dinner with his family.

Once he got home Kyle made a point of setting the table, even going so far as to break out the fanciest set of placemats his mother owned that were still made of plastic and therefore easy to clean. When he was done with that, he wandered into the kitchen and offered to make a salad.

During dinner Kyle made sure to tell his parents about how the guidance counselor had called him down to her office earlier in the week and told him that unless one of his grades changed drastically between now and the end of the year, he was pretty much guaranteed to be named valedictorian.

"Oh, Kyle, bubbie, that's wonderful," his mom said.

"That's great, son! We're all very proud of you," his father chimed in.

Ike rolled his eyes and shoved a forkful of spaghetti into his mouth.

"Well, it's still not official or anything," Kyle said. "But thanks. Anyway," he said, turning pleasantly toward his little brother. "How's math league going?" he asked. Kyle was committed to being a goddamn amazing son tonight, he reminded himself, and nodded attentively through Ike's mumbled reply.

Kyle waited a little longer until his mom had finished all her pasta and started mopping up extra sauce with her bread to ask her if he could borrow the car to take his friend Kenny to the movies.

"It's not a big deal," he told her. "But I just feel bad, you know. He doesn't get the chance to go out that often."

His mother's face softened. "Oh, of course you can, bubbie." She stood up, walked over to the coat rack and started rummaging through her purse. "Here," she said as she walked back over to the table and handed Kyle twenty dollars. "Why don't you pay for his ticket, too. Tell him it's my treat because my little man made valedictorian."

Kyle cringed as he stuffed his mom's twenty into his pocket. Maybe he'd laid it on a little too thick after all. "Might make valedictorian," he corrected halfheartedly.

"Whatever you say, Kyle," she said and kissed him on the forehead.

He stood up and started clearing away his dishes. His father glanced up at him and said, "Don't worry about the dishes, Kyle. You set the table, didn't you? Ike can clear the plates."

"Hey," Ike protested.

Kyle grabbed Ike's plates too on the way to the kitchen. "I'm already up," he muttered, trying and failing to ignore his growing sense of guilt. It wasn't that he felt bad for the way he'd just played his parents. He and Ike had been managing their mother for years, they had it down to a science by now. It wasn't manipulation, really, it was purely a survival tactic. Kyle just always felt sort of dirty whenever he used his parents' weird mixed feelings about the McCormicks to serve his own needs.

He promised himself he'd take Kenny to the movies for real next week.

He grabbed his coat and his mom's spare keys, along with the copy of Crime and Punishment he was reading for English class, and headed out the door. He started up the car and drove himself the very short distance to his chosen parking spot three houses down from Cartman's place where he spent the next forty-five minutes waiting with one eye on his target and one eye on his English homework.

It was at about the same time as last week, shortly after daylight had faded to the point that Kyle had to give up on his book, that he noticed Cartman come out of the house carrying the same old gym bag he'd had with him last week. Kyle watched Cartman unlock his car and hop inside. When Cartman's brake lights flashed on and off, Kyle wiped his palms on his thighs and fingered his keys in the ignition. Cartman reversed into the street and then straightened out, and Kyle started up his mom's car, put it in drive and started following him.

He had a moment of panic as soon as he started driving. Was he supposed to turn his headlights on? Didn't the people in cop shows always keep them off when they were tailing a suspect? Or was that only when they were parked on a stakeout?

A car was heading towards them on the quiet neighborhood street. It started flashing its high beams on and off as it approached and then passed Cartman, then honked loudly as it approached Kyle.

"Fucking great," he said and flicked his headlights on. "Very inconspicuous, good job." He slouched down in the driver's seat as far as he could go and still be able to see the road. He followed Cartman halfway into downtown South Park like that, back hunched, legs tensed, squinting over the steering wheel before it occurred to him that it was dark enough that all Cartman would be able to see if he looked back at him in his rearview mirror was his headlights.

Cartman slowed down as he approached a parking lot that sat in between a bar and a convenience store. Kyle watched him turn in and approach an empty parking spot. Kyle was about to pull into the lot right after him, but then he thought better of it. Instead he circled the block one time before coming back to the parking lot and finding a spot towards the back of the lot.

He got out of his mom's car and walked slowly towards Cartman's Escort, making sure it was empty. Then he turned in a slow circle, trying to figure out where Cartman had gone.

Kyle was pretty sure that the lot they were in belonged to the bar. The neon sign lit up out front read Chubbie's. He realized with a sinking feeling that he'd heard of this place before.

There had been a stretch of time during junior year where Wendy and her girl friends had liked to go out to the local gay bar on Wednesdays, when they had all-ages night or something. A few times Bebe had tried to convince him to come out with them, but he'd always politely turned her down. Going out to a gay bar to spend the night deflecting advances from a girl he wasn't into was just a little too bizarre for him.

He squinted as he gave the front of the building another look. Not that he'd ever had any intention of actually coming here, but he'd always sort of expected the place to be more, well. Fabulous. Less of a dump. Something.

He shook his head and looked around at the other buildings nearby. There was a convenience store on the other side of the parking lot from the bar, a pizza place directly across the street from that, and a laundromat next to the pizza place and across from the bar. He took one last look at the bar. There was a guy out front next to the door just standing around looking imposing. He must have been the bouncer. From where Kyle stood he looked about eight feet tall and ripped. His head was completely shaved, he had on a leather jacket, tight black jeans, and motorcycle boots.

Kyle took one step toward the front of the bar, then turned around and headed back towards the convenience store. He had to cover all his bases, right?

He walked up toward the convenience store slowly, peeking in at the windows from all angles before coming in through the door. An electronic bell chirped as he stepped over the threshold, and the lady standing behind the counter shot him a suspicious look. He hunched his shoulders and slowly made his way down the first aisle to wind up at the back of the store. He crept along aisle by aisle, poking his head around each display first before walking past each and every aisle.

Eventually he decided there was no chance Cartman was anywhere in the small store. He walked up to the counter where the cashier was standing. She was all out glaring at him by this point.

"You going to buy something?" she asked, eyes narrowed.

Kyle glanced reflexively behind him, not used to being the object of somebody's suspicion. "Um. Actually, I was looking for somebody. Maybe you've seen him?" he asked hopefully.

The cashier's face remained unchanged. "Maybe. Maybe you buy something, and maybe I'll tell you."

"Uh," Kyle said, and looked around the counter. He grabbed the first thing he saw, a stick of beef jerky, and set it down.

"That's it?" the cashier asked dismissively.

"Um," Kyle said, and grabbed a pack of gum to set down next to his jerky.

The cashier looked down, and looked back at him. "That's it?" she asked again.

Kyle blinked at her. "Yes?" he said.

She huffed and rang up his purchases. "That'll be two thirty-two," she told him.

"Okay," he said as he fished out some money from his wallet. "So I'm looking for my friend. He's a fat kid around my age with brown hair, about an inch or two shorter than me. He's wearing a red jacket and possibly carrying a gray gym bag. Have you seen him?"

"No," she said flatly as she handed him his change. "Did you need a bag?"

"What – really?" he asked.

She shrugged. "Okay, don't take a bag," she said, and pushed his gum and jerky at him across the counter.

"No, I mean – you haven't seen anyone like that tonight?" he asked, flabbergasted.

"Nope. Have a nice day," she said.

Kyle boggled at her. "Then why did you make me buy something?"

She narrowed her eyes at him again. "What did you come in here for if you didn't want to buy anything? You planning on robbing me?" She started feeling around under the counter with one hand.

Kyle threw his hands up in the air in frustration. "What? No! God," he said. The cashier kept glaring at him, one hand still under the counter. Kyle wasn't sure if she was rooting for an alarm or a gun, but either way he didn't want to find out. He grabbed his gum and his jerky and left, the electronic chime announcing his departure.

He glanced around him as he stepped out the door, and decided to try the pizza place across the street. Traffic was slow and sporadic, so he jaywalked across to the grubby looking store. Before heading in he shoved his pack of gum into the back pocket of his jeans. Sadly he realized that his stick of jerky was too long to fit into any of his pockets. He briefly considered just eating it, but then he reminded himself that he hated beef jerky.

He peeked in through the big windows in front of the pizza store at every angle he could but saw no sign of Cartman. Then he walked inside, stick of beef jerky in hand. He saw a few people sitting in the hard plastic booths, but no Cartman anywhere. He looked at the back of the restaurant where he saw a little alcove with two doors beyond it. There was a little sign that said "Restrooms" tacked to the molding above the alcove's pass through. Kyle took a few steps toward it, when he was interrupted by the guy at the counter clearing his throat.

"Hey, kid," he said, looking at Kyle.

"Yes?" Kyle replied.

"Bathrooms are for customers only," the guy said.

"Of course they are," Kyle said. "Fine. Whatever. Can I get, uh," he scanned the menu for the cheapest thing he could find. "One slice of plain pizza?"

"You got it," the guy replied. "That's two twelve."

Kyle sighed in frustration. He set his stick of jerky down on the counter as he pulled out his wallet and paid for his pizza.

"Thank you very much. Your order will be up in a minute," the pizza guy said as he shooed a fly off of a slice of pizza that was sitting on the display behind the glass next to the counter, then picked up the slice and tossed it in the huge pizza oven behind him. "Bathroom's that way," he said and nodded toward the back of the store.

"Yeah, thanks," Kyle replied.

Kyle walked back and slowly opened the door to the men's room. The room appeared empty. He glanced under the door of the single stall, but didn't see anyone. He went up to the sink and washed his hands in frustration, then walked back out of the bathroom.

The guy at the counter was just pulling his slice of pizza out of the oven with whatever you called the giant wooden pizza spatula thing. "Order's ready," he called out to Kyle, and dropped the pizza on a paper plate.

"Thanks," Kyle said as he walked up to the counter. "Hey, listen. Did a fat kid in a red jacket happen to come in here not too long ago?"

"Nope, don't think so," the guy said and slid Kyle's paper plate toward him. It left a greasy trail on the counter. "Don't forget this," he said, and handed Kyle the stick of beef jerky he'd left on the counter.

"Great. Thanks," Kyle said. He picked up his pizza with one hand, the jerky in the other, and made his way out the door.

He stood out on the sidewalk and looked around him. He could still see Cartman's car sitting in the lot across the street where he'd left it. There was no sign of him anywhere outside. Kyle looked over at the bar. The bouncer was still standing next to the door, occasionally checking IDs and holding the door open for people.

Kyle looked over at the laundromat to his right. A tired looking woman holding a basket full of folded clothes walked outside, and the smell of hot laundry followed her out. Kyle remembered the gym bag Cartman had been carrying. Maybe his washing machine was broken, and he was coming to the laundromat to do laundry every week.

Kyle shrugged and headed over to cautiously peer in through the window. He couldn't see any sign of Cartman from outside. He opened up the door and headed in.

He made his way slowly down the row of washing machines along the right wall to peer into the back corners of the laundromat. He found a change machine with a piece of paper taped to it that read "Out of Order", a vending machine that dispensed little single serving packets of laundry soap, but no sign of Cartman. He sighed and turned in a slow circle to make one last survey of the place. An older guy wearing a trucker hat sitting in a chair in the back corner sat up.

"You need help with something, kid?"

Kyle looked over at him. "No thanks," he said, then frowned. "Actually, I'm looking for somebody. Did you happen to see a fat kid around my age wearing a red jacket come in here tonight?"

The guy eyed Kyle's pizza suspiciously. "We're not running some kind of hangout for juvenile delinquents here, you know. Lot of hardworking people come in here to do their laundry, they don't need a bunch of hooligans messing up the joint with their," he looked closer at the contents of Kyle's hands, "pizza and beef jerky."

A frustrated sound halfway between a sigh and a sob burst out of Kyle's mouth. "No, look, I'm just – I promised I'd help him with his laundry." Kyle stalked over to the vending machine, jammed three quarters in, and bought a tiny box containing two sad little sheets of fabric softener. He picked his box up out of the machine's tray and waved it around. "See? I'm going to do laundry with this."

The laundromat attendant's expression relaxed from all out hostility to gentle suspicion. "All right, well. I still haven't seen your friend. You're welcome to grab a seat and wait for him, though."

Kyle let out an inarticulate sound of aggravation and stomped out of the laundromat.

From the sidewalk out front Kyle surveyed his surroundings. Cartman's car was still there in the lot. There was a short line of people forming out in front of the door to the bar. The bouncer was talking to an older guy at the front, who had a younger man leaning against his arm. From across the street, the one guy looked young enough to be the other guy's son. For some reason Kyle suspected that he wasn't.

Kyle shrugged his shoulders, stuffed his box of fabric softener into his back pocket along with his gum, sighed, and walked back across the street to stand in line to get into the bar.

He waited patiently for the people ahead of him to go inside. Up close the bouncer turned out to only be about six foot ten. He also wasn't ripped so much as sturdily built with a little pudge on top. Kyle decided that his terrifying appearance from a distance was an illusion created by the combination of being somewhat heavy and wearing a leather jacket. Kyle thought to himself that somebody should buy Cartman a leather jacket.

Kyle was up next. He craned his head up to see the bouncer's face. It hurt his neck a little.

"No outside food or drink," the guy said to him.

Kyle looked angrily at his hand full of pizza and jerky. "Oh, this?" He looked around frantically for a trash can, but didn't see one. "You want some pizza?" he asked the guy hopefully.

The bouncer's expression softened and his eyes lit up. "Really?" he asked.

"Sure thing," Kyle said and extended his souvenirs of frustration toward the guy. "Help yourself."

"Thanks," the bouncer said as he took the food. "The beef jerky too?" he asked.

"Heck yeah," Kyle said.

"Awesome," the guy said as he tore open the wrapper one handed and took a big bite. "I love beef jerky."

"Happy to oblige," Kyle said.

The bouncer moved to open the door, then let go of the handle suddenly and turned back to face Kyle. "Oh, wait – can I see your ID?"

"Oh, sure," Kyle said. He dug his wallet out of his pocket, trying frantically to remember if this was the type of place that would normally let minors in so long as they didn't drink. Wendy used to come here when she was sixteen, right? He slid his driver's license out of its slot and held it up for the guy to inspect.

"Thanks," said the bouncer. He popped the rest of his stick of jerky into his mouth. With his free hand he pulled a black magic marker out of his inside coat pocket, uncapped it with his teeth, and drew a big fat ‘X' on the back of Kyle's right hand. "There's a ten o'clock curfew for anyone under twenty-one. Have a good night!" He held the door open for Kyle to walk in.

Kyle surreptitiously sniffed his hand. It smelled like licorice.

"Thanks again for the pizza," the bouncer said as Kyle walked past.

"My pleasure," Kyle told him.

As Kyle walked in he felt almost disappointed. There was no way this could be it. Kyle didn't know what he would do if it turned out he'd blown off his friends and wasted his last two Friday nights just to find out – what? That Cartman was sneaking around, trying to pick up guys in secret? It was too bizarre. It made about as much sense as finding out that Cartman had been secretly attending synagogue for the past five years.

Kyle gritted his teeth. There was no way it would be as simple as that anyway.

A quick glance around showed no sign of Cartman anywhere. Kyle felt simultaneously irritated and relieved. Maybe he was still in the wrong place after all.

The room he had entered had booths along the left and right walls. About a third of them were occupied, but Kyle didn't recognize any of the occupants. There was an open area in the middle of the room that Kyle figured was supposed to be a dance floor, but nobody was dancing at the moment. Over the speakers Kyle could hear what sounded like somebody's terrible karaoke rendition of some Lady Gaga song. He winced.

There was a bar at the back of the room with a few people sitting at stools. The bartender was a guy who looked to be about in his early thirties, tan and muscular, wearing a tight, thin black tee shirt with the word Chubbie's printed in pink across the front.

Kyle made his way slowly to the back of the room. He leaned against the bar with both his hands. He noticed that they left trails of moisture behind that slowly evaporated. He picked his hands back up and stuck them in the pockets of his sweatshirt, glaring at the evidence of his sweaty palms until it disappeared.

The bartender noticed Kyle standing there and walked over. "What can I get for you?" he asked.

"Can I get a diet soda?" Kyle asked. He wasn't thirsty so much as he just wanted something to do with his hands.

"Sure thing," the bartender said. "Pepsi okay?" he asked as he filled a glass with ice, then turned the nozzle of his soda gun snake thing on it.

Kyle replied that Pepsi was fine, then paid for his drink and wandered off. There was another room off to Kyle's left that looked a lot more crowded. He cautiously approached the pass-through and looked around for any signs of Cartman before slowly stepping through.

There was another bar in this room to Kyle's right as he entered. This bar was pretty packed, with people taking up most of the available seats and more crowded around standing, trying to get the bartender's attention. This bartender looked fairly young, maybe in her mid twenties. She had a buzz cut, relatively small hollow gauges in both her ears that nevertheless managed to creep Kyle out every time she tilted her head so that he could see through them, and tattoos peeking out on both arms below the sleeves of her black Chubbie's tee shirt. Kyle was glad he'd gotten his drink from the other guy.

There was a small live music area to Kyle's left, toward the back of the room. A rickety looking stage had been erected, and a DJ was off to the side with his sound equipment. There was another dance floor in the middle of this room, with a crowd of about twenty people gathered around, some trying their best to dance to the terrible music, most just watching the train wreck occurring on the sad little stage.

Either side of the room was lined with a few small tables. Kyle took a seat at the one furthest from the stage, and sat down to watch a man in a large blonde wig wearing a cone-shaped brassiere doing a terrible disservice to "Into the Groove".

Kyle fervently wished for something, anything, stronger than his diet soda.

The Madonna impersonator wrapped it up, and the DJ's voice came over the speakers to announce the next performer. Kyle wasn't even sure what he was looking at. A geriatric drag queen -- he had to be at least eighty-five years old -- dressed up like the Chiquita Banana lady came walking out on stage supported by a walker complete with dingy tennis balls on the feet. Two young skinny guys dressed in medical uniforms with heavy eyeliner on accompanied him onstage. Kyle wasn't sure if they were part of the act or just there to make sure Chiquita Banana didn't break a hip.

Kyle sat with his elbows on the table and his shoulders hunched and played with the condensation on his soda glass. What the fuck was he doing here? Wherever the hell Cartman had actually gone, Kyle had lost track of him for way too long to ever hope to catch up with him again before the end of the night. This whole thing, hiding in bushes, trailing him through town, staking out a drag show at the local gay bar, had just been one long humiliating exercise in futility.

Another terrible act ended, and the DJ's voice announced that it was ten o'clock and it was officially a twenty-one and up party from this point on. Thank God, Kyle thought, and got to his feet. He hung back for a minute, figuring he may as well give Cartman one last chance to materialize on the way to the exit.

Kyle noticed the scary looking female bartender giving his markered hand a pointed stare. Kyle picked up his glass and carried it over to the bar, figuring bussing his own table would buy him an extra minute or two.

"Uh, thanks," Kyle said as he set the glass down on the surface.

"Have a good night," the bartender said.

"Yeah, you too," Kyle said. He took one last quick survey of the room and started walking towards the exit.

Suddenly an eerily familiar sound stopped him in his tracks. The hairs on the back of his neck stood up.

"At first I was afraid–"

No. No, it couldn't be.

"I was petrified."

He turned slowly, half in shock, to face the stage one more time. He didn't want to believe his ears. He saw a full-figured woman wearing a teased silver wig, a short strapless electric blue dress which showed a confusing hint of very convincing cleavage, and thigh high silver go-go boots. Kyle watched as her eyes closed, showing off her garish blue eye shadow, and she belted out the lyrics to "I Will Survive" with the voice of Eric Cartman.

-Ffion Eirlys-

-Ffion Eirlys-

Kyle distantly felt a hand come to rest on his shoulder. "Come on, kid, it's time for you to get going," he heard the bartender say to him.

Kyle looked on in horror. "You're absolutely right," he said, and allowed himself to be steered out of the bar and into the parking lot.

That Monday Kyle got himself excused five minutes early from French class on the pretense of using the bathroom and went to stand outside the media classroom. He waited there in the hallway for the dismissal bell to ring, then fell into step beside his target once he emerged from the door.

"Hey, Craig," Kyle said with a sideways glance.

"Hi," he replied, staring straight ahead and continuing to walk.

"So I heard a rumor," Kyle opened with.

"Uh huh," Craig said flatly.

"I heard you're the kind of guy who can get things for people," Kyle said.

"I guess so," Craig replied, bored.

"Um," Kyle floundered.

Craig gave off an air of impatience without changing his facial expression in the slightest. "What kind of things?" he prompted.

"Could you get, say, a fake ID?" Kyle asked, angry at himself for the way his voice betrayed his nervousness.

Craig sighed. "Meet me at my house at four. You remember where it is?" he asked without making eye contact.

"I'll be there," Kyle vowed.

"And bring cash," Craig said as he broke away and headed off down the hall, presumably toward his next class.

Kyle got halfway to history class before he realized he forgot to ask how much.

After school Kyle went straight home. He called down a greeting to his mom who was in the basement folding laundry, then headed upstairs to his room.

He put his book bag down on his desk, then opened up the drawer that held the tiny lock box where he kept all the money he had saved from birthdays and Hanukah and the brief period of time when he used to tutor some of Ike's classmates before Ike squeezed him out of business by offering the same services at a discount price.

He unlocked his box and wondered how much money to take out. It couldn't be more than fifty dollars, right? Just to be on the safe side, he grabbed a hundred dollars in twenties and locked his box back up.

On his way back out the door he called down to his mother that he was going over Stan's for a while.

"Have fun," she called back up to him. "Say hi to Sharon for me."

"Will do," he yelled and walked out the door.

When he got to Craig's he rang the bell and waited. Craig's little sister opened the door, then stood in the doorway and stared at him.

"Hi," Kyle said. He couldn't remember her name. She stared back at him, not blinking. "Um, is Craig home?"

She walked away wordlessly, leaving the door open.

"So I guess I'll just come in, then," Kyle said. He walked inside and looked around the living room, but didn't see Craig. He glanced into the part of the dining room that he could see from where he was by the door, but didn't see anyone in there either. He walked over to the foot of the stairs and called up, "Craig?"

"Yeah," Craig's nasal voice came from upstairs.

"It's Kyle," he called up to him.

"Okay," he heard Craig say.

"I'll just," Kyle called. "I'll just come up there, then." He didn't hear a response. He made his way up the stairs and looked up and down the hallway filled with identical closed doors. He wondered which one was Craig's bedroom.

Kyle shrugged to himself, and began knocking on each door one by one until he heard Craig's muffled voice call out, "Come in," from one of them.

Kyle opened the door and saw Craig lying on his bed with his laptop open on his chest. Craig looked up at him standing in the doorway. "Shut the door," he said. Kyle shut it. "It's seventy-five dollars," he told Kyle.

Kyle's eyebrows went up a little at that. "Okay," he said. He took out eighty dollars from his wallet, walked over and handed it to Craig.

Craig set his laptop down and sat up. He took Kyle's money and counted it. "I don't have change," he told him as he pocketed the cash.

"Oh – okay," Kyle said.

Craig walked over to his closet door and opened it. The inside was tacked with a piece of plain poster paper in the ugliest shade of pale industrial blue that Kyle had ever seen. "Stand in front of the door," Craig told him.

Kyle walked over to Craig's closet and tried to center himself in front of the door. He turned around and looked over at Craig. "Like this?" he asked.

Craig picked up a camera from his desk and pointed it at Kyle. "Just look at me," he told him, then scowled. "And don't smile."

"Sorry," Kyle mumbled, feeling confused. The flash went off, and Craig went over to his desk with the camera and the laptop and started plugging in cables. Kyle stood there awkwardly in front of Craig's blue closet door. The fancy-looking printer on Craig's desk started chugging away, spitting out several papers. "You mind if I sit?" Kyle asked.

Craig looked up from the drawer he was rooting in and sighed. "If you insist," he said. Kyle sat down on the edge of his bed and watched Craig do some type of complicated arts and crafts with the pages he'd just printed out. He fed his final cut and paste work into another machine on his desk, which Kyle realized was a tiny laminating machine. Craig cut his completed project free from the laminate, inspected it, then handed it to Kyle. "Here you go," he said.

Kyle took the card he gave him and stared at it. It had "New Jersey Motor Vehicle Services" emblazoned across the top. His dopey face looked out at him from the bottom left corner. According to this, he was Larry McDonald from Metuchen, New Jersey, and he was twenty-one years old.

Kyle felt slightly nauseated. "Why does it say New Jersey?" Kyle asked.

Craig shrugged. "They have the easiest license to duplicate."

"Oh," Kyle said, then frowned. "I'm pretty sure Larry's not a real name."

Craig looked at him flatly. "What do you mean it's not a real name? Of course it's a real name. I know lots of people named Larry."

"No, but, Larry's a nickname," he said, gesticulating for emphasis. "It's short for Lawrence, or Laurel, or something. Nobody's ever named just Larry."

"If you want a new one, it's another seventy-five dollars," Craig said.

Kyle put his hands back into his lap. "No, Larry is fine," he said. He went back to turning the card over and over in his hands. It really did look pretty professional, he figured. He wondered how Craig managed to make the shiny watermark on the front look so official.

Kyle scanned his information again. There was a spot at the bottom where somebody, he presumed Craig, had signed "Larry McDonald" in a clear and precise cursive. Kyle looked closely at his address. "Me… tucken? Metuchen? How do you even pronounce that?" he asked Craig.

Craig shrugged. "Beats me. You're the one from New Jersey."

Kyle felt his heart speed up as the feelings of shame he'd carried deep within himself for the past nine long years began to claw their way to the surface. "What," he stopped to swallow, his mouth unexpectedly dry. "What's that supposed to mean?"

Craig pointed at the piece of plastic in his hands. "Well, that's what your driver's license says." He gave him a pointed stare. "Larry."

"Oh," Kyle said. "Right."

Craig sat down on his bed, about a foot of space between him and Kyle. "Are we done here?" he asked.

Kyle stood up and slid his new ID into one of the empty slots in his wallet, then stuck his wallet back in his pocket. "Yeah. Thanks," he said.

"You remember where the door is, right?" Craig asked, not really a question.

"Oh. Right," Kyle answered, and started toward the door of Craig's room. "Thanks again."

"Yup," Craig said.

Kyle walked down the stairs. He called out an awkward goodbye to Craig's sister who was sitting on the couch watching TV. She ignored him.

He let himself out.

On the first Friday in June, Kyle waited until eight thirty to head out in his mother's car. He'd told his mom that he'd picked up another tutoring job on Friday nights helping this girl in the eleventh grade study for her pre-calc final.

When his mom told his father the news, all his father seemed to hear was that Kyle had plans to spend every Friday night in the next foreseeable alone with a girl from school. Both of his parents were so happy for him – his mom that he was involved in a scholarly pursuit, his dad that he was hanging out with a girl – that neither one had any objections to his plans to make regular use of the car.

Kyle swung past Cartman's house on his way downtown. He was satisfied to see that Cartman's car was missing from the driveway. Kyle followed the same route that he remembered from last week and before long he was pulling into the bar's parking lot. He chose a spot in the far back corner, far away from where he saw Cartman's car sitting. Kyle took a deep breath and let it out, wiped his palms against his thighs, and got out of the car.

He walked over to the front door. The same guy as last week was standing out front. Once Kyle approached the front door, the bouncer looked at him and asked "ID please?"

"Sure thing," Kyle said and fished his brand new driver's license out of his wallet. He held it up for the bouncer to inspect.

The guy leaned in close, then took Kyle's ID in his hand. He looked down at the card, then looked at Kyle. He looked back at the card with a faint look of confusion, then glanced back up at Kyle's face. "Weren't you underage not too long ago?" he asked, brows furrowed.

"Um," Kyle said, willing his heart to stop pounding. "I just had a birthday?" he replied.

"Oh," the guy said, looking once more at Kyle's ID. Kyle was almost positive it said his birthday was in July. It was currently the last week of May. The bouncer flashed him a toothy grin and thrust the card back at him. "Happy birthday, Larry!"

"What?" Kyle asked and fumbled for the card. "I mean. Thanks!" Kyle shoved his wallet back into his pocket, and stepped inside while the bouncer held the door open for him.

Kyle made his way cautiously through the first room, looking all around himself for any sign of Cartman. He wound up at the bar at the back of the room. Kyle figured he should probably get himself a drink. After all, he didn't want to seem conspicuous or anything.

An older guy with a big bushy mustache was working tonight. Eventually he made his way over to Kyle and asked, "What can I get for you tonight?"

Kyle's mind blanked. He realized that he didn't actually know the names of any drinks. He tried to think of what it was that his mom usually drank at parties. "A rum and coke please?" he asked. "Oh – but could you make it with diet soda instead of regular?"

The bartender's mustache twitched as he smiled at Kyle. "A rum and diet, no problem. Did you want a double?"

Kyle tried to look like he knew what he was talking about. "Yes?" he answered, pretty sure he was not succeeding.

The bartender handed him his drink in a tall glass with a little lime on the edge. Kyle thanked him and paid before making his way cautiously over to the next room that had the stage in it.

He walked slowly into the next room. Just like last week, it was more crowded than the first area. There was a short guy wearing an ugly dress and a wig that was about as tall as he was up on stage belting out some song that Kyle didn't recognize. The bar was pretty crowded, with people standing all around it. Most of the tables were taken, but he spotted one that was vacant towards the middle of the wall opposite him. He made his way over and sat down.

He nursed his drink and quietly looked around the place, keeping an eye out for Cartman or anyone else he might recognize. By the time two more terrible acts finished up, he'd finished his first drink and ordered another rum and diet from the scary lesbian bartender, who thankfully didn't seem to recognize him from last week. The opening bars of "It's Raining Men" had just started to blare over the speakers when a young looking guy with straight brown hair wearing a plaid button down shirt and tight dark jeans walked over to the empty seat next to Kyle, smiled shyly, and asked, "Is this seat taken?"

Kyle tore his eyes away from the stage in surprise, looked at him and said, "No, I guess not."

"Thanks," the guy said. Kyle expected him to drag the chair over to wherever he was sitting, but instead the guy placed his pint of beer down on the table and plopped down in the chair next to Kyle. He looked at Kyle, making a face like he was about to tell a particularly terrible joke, and asked, "So, you come here often?"

"Oh," Kyle said, blinking in surprise. "No. I guess not."

The guy tilted his head quizzically at him and repeated back, "You guess not?"

Kyle frowned. "Well, no, that is, I don't. This is my second time here."

The guy smiled pleasantly at Kyle, eyes darting over his face. "Are you new in town? You must be about my age, but I don't think I recognize you from grade school or anything."

With a sense of impending doom, Kyle realized that he recognized this kid. He'd been one of Stan's sister's classmates. Kyle remembered seeing him in several of the high school plays back when Shelly was doing something for the theater club with lights or music or scenery or something. He never really bothered to learn what it was that she actually did. He just remembered Stan's mom would take the three of them out for ice cream afterwards if he tagged along with Stan to see her plays.

This guy's name was Harold or Hank or something. He'd played the twin brother in Twelfth Night the year Kyle was in sixth grade. As Kyle recalled, he hadn't been terrible. Even though he'd looked nothing like the girl who was playing his sister.

"Yes, I – I just moved here," Kyle answered. "From, um, the East Coast. My mom has family out here."

"Wow," the guy said. "That must be a big adjustment for you."

"Uh, no, not really," Kyle said. "Colorado has a surprisingly tight-knit community of Jersey immigrants."

The guy laughed and looked at Kyle like Kyle was the funniest guy he'd ever met. Kyle squirmed slightly in his chair. People only seemed to find him funny or charming when he wanted to be left alone.

The music changed, and the beginning of some pop song that Kyle vaguely recognized started up. Both their eyes turned toward the stage as the object of all of Kyle's planning for the last three weeks materialized in a sequined dress and a platinum blonde wig, and started singing.

A noticeable hush fell over the bar as people turned to watch. Cartman had an accompanying set of dance moves down that made Kyle alternately want to cackle with schadenfreude and die of secondhand embarrassment. Kyle looked around and noticed with dismay that the other patrons didn't seem to share his feelings about Cartman's act.

Possibly because – he hated to admit it, but – well, if you didn't know the guy, the whole spectacle was actually sort of halfway decent.

"Huh," Kyle's new friend said, watching the performance. "This guy's not bad."

"Yeah," Kyle muttered and drained his glass. "It's a little scary, actually."

Hank or Harry or whoever glanced over at him as he set his empty glass down a bit more forcefully than necessary. "Oh, hey – you want another drink?"

Kyle blinked at him. "Yeah, I guess I'll probably get another one."

The guy stood up. "What are you drinking?"

Kyle looked at his glass with the little wedge of lime still resting on the rim. "A rum and diet," he said. "Why?"

"Be right back," the guy called over his shoulder as he walked in the direction of the bar in back with the scary bartender behind it.

Kyle turned around and stared at Cartman up on the stage. Some dude is buying me a drink, he thought to himself. And some asshole is making a fool of himself. He slid his phone out of his pocket and used it to surreptitiously snap a few pictures before his new friend came back with a drink in each hand.

"Here you go," the guy said as he set down another glass in front of Kyle. This one had a cherry sitting in it instead of a lime. Kyle took a tentative sip. It still tasted the same.

"Thanks," Kyle said. "How much was it?"

The guy waved his hand dismissively as he sat back down. "Don't worry about it!" He looked at Kyle and smiled. "My name's Henry, by the way."

"Oh," Kyle said. Henry. Of course. "I'm Kyle. Larry! I'm Larry," Kyle said, shaking his head at himself. Henry was giving him a weird look. "My name is Larry. But, um, Kyle's my middle name. So… people call me both," he finished with weakly.

Henry smiled at him indulgently. "Well, which do you like better?"

"Larry's fine," Kyle muttered. "I like Larry." Onstage, Cartman had just finished his stupid song. People were actually clapping, which was more than they had done for any of the previous acts that Kyle had seen.

Henry set his drink down and clapped a few times as well. Kyle shot him a dark look, then made an effort to smooth his face out into something pleasant. "So, Henry," he asked. "What's the deal with all these drag queens?"

"Oh," Henry answered brightly. "You mean the contest?"

Kyle shrugged. "I guess so?" he answered.

Henry took a sip of his beer. "It's sort of like an American Idol thing. There was a group of people who all signed up at the start of the contest. So now every Friday they come out and perform. At the end they hand out slips of paper where anybody who wants to can write in their three favorites," he paused and looked thoughtful for a moment. "Or, actually, I guess you could write in the same choice three times if you wanted to. And then I guess the DJ or somebody adds them all up, and they make everybody come back out on stage and make a big deal out of eliminating the loser." He laughed a little bit and grinned at Kyle like he wanted him to share the joke. "Sometimes they cry, it's actually pretty funny."

Kyle smiled back at him. Maybe Henry wasn't such a bad guy after all. "Huh," he said. "It does sound sort of funny."

"Yeah," Henry answered.

"But what's the point?" Kyle asked. This still didn't make sense. Cartman loved attention, sure, but Kyle just couldn't see him going out of his way to wear, basically, a disguise and use a fake name to make a fool of himself in front of a bar full of strangers. Even if, well. Even if he was sort of good at it.

"I think they said that the winner gets to appear in a Justin Timberlake video," the guy said.

"What?" Kyle boggled. "That's the prize? Is there, like, money in that or something?"

"Huh," the guy said, and took a sip of his drink. "I'm not sure."

Kyle finished his drink, had another one, and decided he was going to vote for the three worst acts out of spite.

Kyle suffered through the rest of the performances with running commentary from Henry. He found himself growing increasingly frustrated and tipsy as the night wore on. When the last act finally finished, Kyle's new friend grabbed them a couple of paper ballots and a little chewed off nub of a golf course pencil.

There was a little chalkboard leaning against the stage where the DJ had written out a list of all the performers' stage names and the songs they'd done. Kyle studied the list while Henry filled in his ballot, frowning thoughtfully. "Was it the first or second Cher that fell off the stage?" Kyle asked.

"Hmm," Henry considered. He wrote in his last choice and handed the pencil to Kyle. "I think it was the second one."

"Right," Kyle answered. He scribbled down the name of the second Cher. For his second choice he went with the guy who tripped and lost his wig during his version of "Material Girl." For his final choice he went with the ninety year old guy with the walker, who actually turned out to be pretty amazing.

Kyle didn't realize that he was drunk until he stood up to go turn in their ballots. He made his way carefully over to the little basket up on the edge of the stage where they were collecting the papers. He made a careful detour over to the restrooms before walking carefully back to take his seat.

Henry looked up at Kyle as he sat down. "Oh, good, you're back," he said. "They're about to announce the scores."

Kyle made a non-committal sound and rubbed his eyes with the heels of his palms. He was coming to the sinking realization that it would probably be a disastrous mistake to go home like this. But he definitely didn't want to stay here much longer and risk having Cartman see him. He slipped his phone out and sent his mom a quick text to let her know he was sleeping over Stan's house tonight.

There was a line of drag queens assembled on the stage. The DJ first read off names of the top three acts. Kyle scowled as Cartman and two other guys in drag stepped forward to a smattering of distracted applause. After a long and unnecessary dramatic pause, the DJ finally announced the person with the most votes. Cartman stood there looking smug and unconcerned in his ridiculous dress while the DJ announced him as the winner. Kyle found his stupid self-satisfied attitude to be severely irritating.

The DJ then read off the names of the bottom three acts. Two of Kyle's three choices stepped forward. Kyle's second choice had fixed his wig, but he still looked slightly queasy. After another eternity of drawing out the announcement, the DJ informed the second Cher that he was eliminated. Cher's eyes welled up with tears, then he turned on his heel and stalked off the stage, giving the DJ and Cartman each a vicious shove on his way out.

Henry looked at Kyle gleefully. "See? What'd I tell you?"

Kyle gave him a weak smile, then got to his feet. "Listen, I better get out of here."

Henry pouted a little. "Really? It's still early."

"Yeah, I've got an early morning tomorrow," Kyle said. Henry looked kind of hurt. Kyle felt a little bad. "Plus, uh. I kind of need to avoid somebody."

Henry's eyebrows raised. "Oh yeah? Who?"

Kyle looked around slowly. Cartman and a few of the other drag queens had just gone into a door at the back of the room labeled Employees Only. "It's just this guy," he said distractedly. "I'm pretty sure he hasn't seen me yet." Kyle noticed Henry giving him a knowing look. "No, no, it's not like that," he quickly said, waving his hands.

Henry smirked at him. "Like what? I didn't say anything."

Kyle groaned. "Look, I just have to get out of here." He pushed in his chair and somehow managed to knock over his glass in the process. He hurriedly picked it up and tried to scoop up the bits of ice that slid across the table and put them back inside the glass.

Henry's expression softened. "Hey, I'm sorry. Are you sure you're okay to drive?"

Kyle sighed, still fumbling with his ice. "Probably not. I think I'm just gonna take a nap in my car and then head home."

"Why don't you let me drive you?" Henry asked. "You can leave your car here, I'm sure it will be safe." He smiled wryly at that. "In fact, I've done it before."

Kyle looked at him gratefully. "Really? You wouldn't mind? I thought you weren't ready to leave," he pointed out.

Henry smiled at him as he got to his feet as well. "It's no big deal. I've got nothing else going on right now."

"Wow, thanks," Kyle said. "This is super cool of you."

Henry shook his head as the two of them started walking toward the exit. "Really, don't worry about it."

They got outside, and Henry led them over to a slightly beat up but clean-looking Volkswagen. He unlocked the passenger side door for Kyle, then walked around and got in the driver's seat. He turned to Kyle who was fumbling with his seatbelt and asked, "So where to?"

"Home?" Kyle asked hopefully.

Henry laughed. "Okay. Where's that?"

"Uh," Kyle said, mind blank. He knew he couldn't go back to his house drunk. Plus he'd already told his mom he was staying over Stan's. "Make a left out of the parking lot and head toward Main," he finally said, preparing to give directions to the Marshes' house.

As they got closer and closer to Stan's, Kyle got increasingly nervous. It wasn't that he thought Stan would have a problem with him showing up out of the blue on his doorstep drunk. He didn't even think Stan's parents would mind. But there was just something about being alone with Stan in the middle of the night that always made Kyle want to spill his guts trying to explain himself to Stan.

He just wasn't ready to explain things right now.

They approached the turn for Stan's street. Kyle didn't say anything. They went another half a block before Kyle made up his mind. "Wait," he said. "I think we went the wrong way. Can you turn around somewhere?" he asked sheepishly.

"Okay," Henry shrugged and answered.

"Sorry," Kyle said. "Um, I still get a little lost sometimes."

Henry smiled reassuringly at him and made a U-turn at the next deserted cross street. Kyle then proceeded to give him directions to the McCormicks' house.

Kyle saw Kenny's house approaching. "Here, slow down. It's that green one on the right." Henry slowed down accordingly, and then pulled up alongside the McCormicks' mailbox.

"Well, here we are," Henry said. He looked around at the front yard, taking in the peeling paint, the torn screen door, the junk on the lawn, then turned to Kyle with an earnest expression that Kyle supposed was trying to convey compassion and understanding at the type of squalor he must imagine Kyle came from. Kyle was suddenly furious, and embarrassed.

"Yeah, well, thanks again for taking me home," Kyle said, looking down, searching for the door handle.

"It's no problem," Henry said, voice small and awkward. Kyle looked up at his face. He seemed to sense that he'd done something to upset Kyle, but wasn't quite sure what. "Look, let me walk you to the door?" he asked, uncertain.

"Um, better not," Kyle said. "My mom is sort of nuts. She might, like, cut your balls off." Kyle smiled, and scratched the back of his head nervously. "Doesn't like me hanging out late at night with strange boys, you know."

Henry smiled back, looking relieved at the return of Kyle's good humor. "Well, at least let me say goodnight," he said.

"Okay," Kyle replied, confused half smile still lingering on his face. "Goodnight."

Henry leaned forward, resting his right arm on the back of Kyle's seat. He looked at Kyle, still smiling, then looked at Kyle's mouth and said, "Goodnight," softly and seriously before leaning in the last few inches to press a kiss against Kyle's lips. Kyle sat there stunned for a moment at the kiss, then spent another moment stunned at himself for not anticipating it. Do something, he yelled at himself, before he realizes something's up.

Henry was just starting to pull away when Kyle pressed forward, parting his lips slightly. Henry made a happy murmur and deepened the kiss. Kyle felt Henry's fingers in his hair. Kyle's left hand was fisted in the material of the back of Henry's shirt, and his right hand was resting on his upper thigh. Kyle realized he was being way more inviting here than he originally intended.

He drew back some, regretting it a tiny bit when Henry stopped absently stroking his head. "So, yeah. Thanks for the ride," Kyle said.

"Sure, any time," Henry said with a dopey smile on his face. Kyle blushed to see it.

"I'm just going to head around to the back door," he said, hand on the door handle. "Again, it was really nice meeting you."

"You too," Henry smiled at him.

Kyle got out and shut the door, cheeks burning, feeling pretty off balance. He made his way around the side of Kenny's house with the exaggerated precision of the very drunk and waited until he heard the car pull away to slowly slide open the window of Kenny's first floor bedroom, hoist himself through, and fall in a drunken heap on Kenny's floor.

He crawled over to the bed and checked to make sure Kenny was asleep before toeing off his sneakers and climbing under the covers alongside him. As he got comfortable in the space between the edge of the bed and Kenny's back, he told himself that this would all make perfect sense to everybody in the morning.

Kyle awoke from a nightmare in which he was trapped in the trunk of Cartman's car along with the bloody, decaying corpse of Justin Timberlake to find Kenny sitting up in bed, staring at him.

"Good morning," Kenny said, one eyebrow raised. He was wearing a hooded sweatshirt and boxer shorts. They looked like they'd been slept in, but Kyle couldn't remember for certain.

He sat up in bed. He could feel a headache coming on. "I can explain," he said. Except for his socks, which had come off at some point during the night, he was wearing the same clothes he'd worn out to the bar last night.

"Well, that's good," Kenny said, beginning to crack a smile, "because I sure can't."

Kyle struggled out of bed to stand awkwardly by Kenny's feet. "But first I have to pee," he said and briskly made his way out of Kenny's room and down the hall to the bathroom. He peed for what felt like ten minutes. Then he took his time washing his hands before slowly making his way back to Kenny's room.

When he opened the door, Kenny was lying down in bed with the covers pulled up to his chin. He watched Kyle curiously as he walked over and sat down on the bed next to Kenny.

Kenny turned on his side to face Kyle. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath through his nose, then opened his eyes and let it out. "You know," he said conversationally, "you look sort of gross right now, but you smell really nice."

Kyle looked down at himself in surprise then frowned at his clothes. "Oh. Yeah. I think it's my clothes. I've been using fabric softener." He winced, then continued. "Anyway, sorry about this. I hope I didn't weird you out too much."

"I've had weirder mornings," Kenny replied mildly. "I'm dying to hear this explanation, though."

"Right," Kyle said, and tried to think of where to begin. "Okay. So. You know Craig, right?"

"Hmm," Kenny said, making a face like he was thinking really hard. "Tall kid, dark hair, been in our class since pre-school?" He flashed Kyle a stupid grin and said, "Never heard of him."

Kyle gave him a dirty look and rubbed his aching head with both hands. "Anyway, turns out he makes these fake IDs."

Kenny's face lit up. "Oh yeah! He made me one last summer for thirty bucks."

"Yeah," Kyle said, then stopped. "Wait, thirty? That asshole charged me seventy-five." Kyle grimaced. "And then he told me he couldn't make change, so I wound up giving him eighty."

Kenny laughed at him. "Maybe he gives a discount based on income." He paused, considering. "Or maybe he just doesn't like you."

Kyle groaned. "Well, the point is, I went out to the bar last night, had too much to drink, and this guy wound up driving me home."

Kenny looked at him seriously. "You couldn't have been so drunk you actually forgot where you live, right?"

"No," Kyle moaned. "But I told my parents I was out tutoring Jenny Hardwick in math last night, I couldn't just randomly come home drunk without the car." He flashed Kenny a weak smile. "And since you're such a wonderful and awesome friend with a generous and caring soul, I figured you'd be the least upset of everyone I know if I turned up in your bed in the middle of the night."

Kenny tapped his chin thoughtfully and smirked. "Well, I don't know about the least upset, but no, I guess I don't mind."

Kyle made a face. "I'm almost positive Bebe's not into me anymore. And I wasn't exactly about to go to her house either way."

Kenny huffed out a surprised laugh, then shook his head sadly at Kyle. "You're a naïve and ridiculous person for many, many reasons. But who was this guy that took you home?"

Kyle blushed. "I forgot his name again. Some kid who graduated with Stan's sister."

Kenny gave a half shrug, his shoulder that wasn't leaning against the bed making the blanket stutter up and fall back down. "I guess that was lucky, then, that he was there."

"Well. I don't know about that," Kyle answered. "I think he was the one who bought me half my drinks."

Kenny cracked up laughing. "Dude," he said. "You got picked up by some other dude last night."

Kyle glared at him darkly. "Shut up."

Kenny laughed even harder at that. He pretended to wipe a tear from his eye and said, "But seriously, dude. Next time take me with you. I'll fight the boys off of you." He smiled at Kyle. "And if you need to, I'll still let you come sleep in my bed afterward."

Kyle sighed aggrievedly. Kenny suddenly stopped laughing as an idea occurred to him. "Wait a minute – which bar did you go to?" he asked.

Kyle's blush came back full force. "I don't know – some dumpy place by the laundromat."

Kenny howled with renewed laughter. "Oh my God – that's the gay bar, dude. No wonder some guy tried to pick you up."

Kyle covered his face with his hands and waited for Kenny to stop. When his laughter died down a little, Kyle uncovered his eyes and said, "If you're done making fun of me, I need to ask you another favor."

"What is it?" Kenny asked, eyes shining.

Kyle took a deep breath. "Do you think I could borrow your bike to go pick up my mom's car?" he asked in a rush.

Kenny smiled fondly at him. "Go ahead. It's the green one leaning against the shed." He burrowed back down under the covers. "Bring it back whenever. I'm going back to sleep."

Kyle started rooting around under the sheets for his socks. "Thanks, Kenny. I owe you one." He found one sock, and pulled it on. "I owe you, like, fifteen."

"Don't worry about it," Kenny said sleepily.

Kyle couldn't find his other sock under the covers. "Well, thanks. I'll bring it right back as soon as I'm done, I promise." He got down on the floor to search under the bed. He saw it under the far corner. He pulled it out, shook some dust off, and put it on. He slipped his sneakers back on without untying them.

For a brief moment he felt like he should go back out the window, since that was the way he came in. Then he told himself he was being stupid. He walked down the hall and out the front door, then walked around to the back. Sure enough he saw Kenny's green bike lying in the grass next to the shed in the backyard. He got on, then realized he had to adjust the seat because Kenny was too tall for him. He lowered the seat, hopped on Kenny's bike, and began his first and hopefully last ever bicycle ride of shame back to his mother's car.

Thankfully the parking lot was mostly deserted when he got there. He saw a few cars parked by the convenience store, but nobody was outside to see him struggling to fit Kenny's bike into his mom's trunk. He briefly considered walking over to the convenience store to get a coffee and maybe some aspirin, but lingering resentment made him decide against it.

He got in the car and drove back to Kenny's house, where he parked at the curb and carefully walked Kenny's bike back around to lean it up against the side of the shed. He stood in Kenny's backyard undecided for a few moments. He thought to himself that the best thing to do would be to just let Kenny sleep and head back home to do the same. He took one step in the direction of his mom's car and stopped. He was conscious of a strange feeling coming from his bowels. He was pretty sure it wasn't indigestion. He took another step toward the car, which made the feeling intensify. In a flash he identified the feeling as guilt over being a shitty friend lately.

He crept back over to Kenny's window, and felt an immediate lessening of his discomfort. He peered in at him lying in bed. Kyle figured Kenny had probably had more sleep than he had last night, Kenny looked plenty rested. Kyle slid open the bedroom window and hoisted himself through it with a considerable amount more grace than he'd had last night. He stood up to shut the window again, then turned around to see Kenny awake in bed, watching him.

Kenny smiled and shook his head. "Is that how you got in last night?" he asked.

Kyle smiled and shrugged. "You caught me," he answered. Kyle glanced at Kenny's bedside clock which read 10:54. "Now come on and get dressed. I'm buying you breakfast."

Kenny stretched and sat up. "Okay," he said. "What's for breakfast?"

Kyle shrugged. "I don't know. What do you want? We could go to Denny's."

Kenny stood up and started rooting around on his floor for some pants. "Sounds good," he said.

Kyle saw Kenny start poking around in what he assumed was his underwear drawer. Kyle started backing up toward the door to Kenny's bedroom. "I'll just wait in the living room, then," he said.

Kenny looked up and smirked. "What, you don't want to hop back out the window?"

Kyle gave him an embarrassed smile. "No, thank you, I think the front door will be fine." He stepped out and went to wait on the couch.

Kenny came out of his room a few minutes later, dressed and ready to go. Kyle drove the two of them to the Denny's, and paid for Kenny's and his own huge greasy breakfasts as promised.

Kenny came back to Kyle's house afterward. Kyle's mother was mildly concerned, and interviewed Kyle on his whereabouts all morning. He explained to her that he'd taken Kenny out to breakfast. Her face softened and she leaned up to ruffle Kenny's hair and told him he was welcome to stay for as long as he wanted.

Kenny grinned and shook his hair back into place. "Thanks, Mrs. Broflovski," he said. The two of them headed down to the basement and spent the rest of the afternoon playing video games, occasionally interrupted by Ike, who always seemed to find a reason to pester Kyle whenever Kenny was over.

Kyle sat back on the basement couch and watched as Ike and Kenny finished up a round of Super Smash Bros. He'd been eliminated early like always. The two of them were pretty evenly matched, it looked like.

He thought back to the events of last night. He wasn't sure what exactly Cartman was planning. He still needed to find out more about what was going on. Going by the information he had at hand, the most likely explanation was that Cartman was using the contest as a way to get close to Justin Timberlake. Then, knowing Cartman, he was probably going to kidnap him and hold him for ransom money.

Kyle sighed. A part of him wanted to run this by Stan or Kenny and see what they thought. He recalled how they had ignored him a few weeks ago when he'd first told them of his suspicions. He frowned to himself. Even with everything he'd found out last night, he wasn't sure it was enough to convince them.

He decided that he would wait until he had a little bit more proof of Cartman's plot, then he'd go to his friends for help.

On the second Friday in June, Kyle was back at the bar with his fake ID. Apparently he didn't even need it, though, because when he got up to the front of the building the bouncer smiled at him and said, "Hello, Larry," before holding the door open for him.

"Oh, hey," Kyle responded, and walked inside. "Thanks."

He walked up to the bar and decided to order one and only one beer from the scary lesbian bartender, before stepping over to grab himself a seat at one of the tiny tables toward the back of the room, as far away from the stage as he could get. He sighed and nursed his drink as he resigned himself to another Friday night spent keeping tabs on Cartman.

The current act finished up and Kyle watched a new guy come on out onstage dressed in some weird shimmery gold getup with makeup and hair to match. The music started, and the guy got into a pretty decent cover of some old ABBA song. Kyle was just thinking that this guy could maybe give Cartman a run for his money, when he broke a heel and fell. Kyle sighed and rubbed his temples with the tips of his fingers.

He was internally congratulating himself for doing such a good job of making his drink last this long, when his friend from last week came over and leaned against the table. "Hey there, Larry," he said, smiling charmingly at Kyle. "Mind if I sit down?"

"Oh, hi," Kyle said, feeling dismayed. He pushed the chair next to him out a little bit with his foot. "Sure, help yourself."

Harry, or maybe it was Hank, sat down next to Kyle. "I wasn't sure if I'd see you back here again," he said, looking for all the world like he was genuinely pleasantly surprised. "Considering the fact that you're in hiding from some mysterious guy and all."

Kyle forced an awkward laugh. "Yeah, sorry about that," he said. "It's really not that big of a deal, I'm sorry I got so bent out of shape about it earlier."

Huey smiled shyly at him. "Is everything okay?"

Kyle blew out a frustrated sigh. "It's fine. We're fine. I'm okay, don't worry about it. This guy, he's not, like, dangerous or anything." Kyle trailed his finger through the condensation on his glass. "Probably."

Harold blinked at Kyle, face suddenly appearing alarmed. "Wait, what?"

Kyle frowned and shook his head. "Seriously, don't worry about it. We, like, patched up our misunderstanding or whatever." The music stopped, and Kyle saw Cartman walk out onto the stage wearing another ugly dress and the same pair of boots he'd had on the first week Kyle came here. "Oh, hey," Kyle said as the beginnings of what he thought he recognized as a Kylie Minogue song started up.

"Hmm? Oh, it's this guy," Herbert said, glancing up at the stage. Kyle nodded and watched Cartman sing. It was mesmerizing, really. He told himself that people often had trouble tearing their eyes from a train wreck, but that wasn't quite it. There was just something about Cartman when he was on stage that made people want to look at him.

Harris said something to Kyle that he didn't quite catch. Kyle smiled and uttered a non-committal "Hmm," hoping that was at least close enough to an appropriate response that he wouldn't offend the guy.

Cartman finally finished his song to a smattering of applause. Kyle looked over to see that Herman was watching him with a sad smile on his face. "Look, I'm sorry," he said. "I didn't realize that I was intruding."

Kyle gave a guilty start. "No, not really," he said, apologetic.

Howard stood up. "It's fine," he said and pushed his chair back in. "I'm glad you're doing okay," he said, and passed Kyle a scrap of paper with a phone number and the name Henry written on it. Henry. Shit, of course. "If you ever happen to break things off with whoever, maybe you can give me a call."

Kyle picked up the piece of paper and looked at Henry with a horrified expression. "What, that guy?" he asked, gesticulating wildly toward the stage. "No, seriously, it's not—" he said, then stopped himself. He wasn't sure why he was trying so hard to convince this kid he was single anyway.

Henry stared at Kyle with widening eyes. "Wait, that's the guy you were talking about?" he asked, then shook his head. "Look, whatever. Larry, you seem like a cool guy. I hope I see you around," he said, then wandered off in the direction of the bar.

"You too," Kyle mumbled, shoulders hunched. He nursed the rest of his beer for the remainder of the performances. Through either luck or the miserably angry expression on his face, he managed to sit for the rest of the evening in solitude.

Once the DJ placed the ballots and pencil nubs out, Kyle grabbed his and sat back down at his table. He considered the chalk board up front by the stage. With a clearer head he realized that just writing the names of the three worst acts wasn't a very good strategy. If he wanted to make sure Cartman didn't win, he needed to vote three times for the second best act.

He scanned the list of stage names and the songs they'd done tonight. Looking through it, his best option was probably the one who'd done a very heartfelt, if nothing else, rendition of Celine Dion's "My Heart Will Go On" sung entirely in Hungarian. Kyle thought he recognized the name, Puszi Gabor, from last week's top three.

Kyle filled out his ballot, his careful and precise handwriting spelling out the most sensible choice in triplicate. He let his eyes wander over to the side of the stage, where Cartman and all the other performers were milling around in their ridiculous outfits while they waited for everyone to cast their votes. Kyle could just make out Cartman's stupid smug expression from his table at the back of the room.

He looked back down at his ballot and frowned. It occurred to him that it would be a lot funnier if Cartman made it to the final round, only to be eliminated there. He smiled meanly to himself. Yeah. That would serve him right. He erased his votes, and instead filled in Cartman's stage name three times.

He watched Cartman for a few moments to make sure that he wasn't looking in his general direction, then he stood up to drop his ballot in the basket. He then hurried back to his seat. The DJ's voice came over the speakers announcing last call for ballots.

Kyle glanced back at all the drag queens waiting for the votes to be counted. Some guy in his late thirties wearing a gray business suit was talking to Cartman. No, wait. Some guy in his late thirties wearing a gray business suit was hitting on Cartman. Even with his heels on, Cartman was still about three inches shorter than this guy. Cartman smiled up at him and twirled a strand of his fake hair around his finger, and Kyle just about died laughing right then and there.

It was then that Kyle noticed his buddy Henry walking up to the stage, drink in one hand and paper in the other, to drop his ballot in the basket. Rather than walk back the way he came, though, he took a detour past the edge of the stage where all the drag queens were standing around.

Kyle was suddenly filled with dread.

Henry walked right up to where Cartman and Gray Suit Guy were standing and put his hand against Gray Suit Guy's forearm. Kyle couldn't tell if he was trying to be menacing, or just trying to keep his balance. He looked rather beyond tipsy at the moment. Kyle watched Cartman's face darken at whatever Henry was saying. Gray Suit Guy backed up making conciliatory hand gestures, and walked off to go talk with the DJ about something. Henry then stumbled off and into the other room, looking miserable.

Cartman looked out into the room, scanning the crowd slowly. Kyle watched him, frozen in his chair. Just then Cartman's eyes landed on Kyle. His face twisted as he fixed him with a withering glare of absolute fury.

Kyle hightailed it out of there.

Cartman gave Kyle the silent treatment all the next week at school. None of their friends seemed to care.

On the third Friday in June, Kyle spent all day telling himself that the best course of action would be to lay low and just stay home that night. He resolutely confirmed his plan to himself in his head during the drive home from school with Stan.

Once he got in he fixed himself a sandwich and sat down at the kitchen table with a calculus worksheet, reminding himself to pace himself because he had all night for this.

He enjoyed dinner with his family, taking his time to chew every bite of chicken thoroughly, and asked lots of questions about everybody's day.

He sat down in the living room recliner with a book after dinner, taking his time to really let each word on the page sink in. His parents sat on the couch watching some reality series about a nail salon.

At eight forty-five his mother looked down at the time on the cable box and exclaimed, "Kyle, honey, don't you need to get going?"

Kyle cleared his throat anxiously. "Oh, well, actually," he started.

His father whipped his head around in alarm. "Kyle, son, you better get moving!" he shouted in alarm. "You've kept her waiting long enough. You don't want this girl to think you're some kind of a jerk," he said.

Kyle placed his bookmark in his book and set it down before turning seriously to his father in order to explain things. "Look, dad, actually—"

His father leapt up off the couch and went over to the coat rack to grab Kyle's sweatshirt for him. Kyle didn't even see his mom move, but all of a sudden he heard her call from the kitchen, "Gerald, I found his book bag."

They converged upon him holding his various personal items in their hands. They looked so pleased and happy to be helping him, he didn't know what else to say. Meekly, he took his sweatshirt out of his father's hands and slipped it on, then grabbed his backpack from his mom and slung it over his shoulder. "Thanks, you guys," he said quietly, then turned to pick up his wallet and keys from the little bowl by the front door before heading out to his car.

He started up his mom's car and pulled out of the driveway. He only meant to drive around the neighborhood for a little bit, maybe stop off at Stan's house and see if he was busy.

Somehow he found himself putting the car in park in the same poorly-lit back corner of the Chubbie's parking lot where he always parked. He cursed himself under his breath as he locked up his mom's car and walked over to the front of the building.

There was a small line of people out front tonight. They were moving somewhat slower than usual. When Kyle neared the front, he realized it was because the bouncer seemed to be taking the time to inspect everybody's ID thoroughly. He worried slightly that maybe they were trying to crack down on underage drinking or something. He hoped that Craig's ID was good enough to stand up to extended scrutiny.

It was Kyle's turn. He pulled out his ID and handed it to the bouncer. The guy staredat his license for several moments, eyes moving slowly back and forth, his lips every so often curving into the shape of a letter. Kyle started to sweat slightly, sure that this was a bad sign. He was about to just snatch his license out of the guy's hands and make a run for it when the bouncer handed him back his license with a goofy smile.

"Have a good night, Larry," he announced as he held the door open for Kyle.

"Th-thank you," Kyle stuttered out, and passed unhindered into the bar.

Kyle headed into the room where the contest was held. He opted against getting a drink or even trying to find a table, choosing instead to stand against the wall toward the back of the room to watch. Kyle knew he'd gotten there a little later than usual, but even taking that into consideration it seemed like the contest was getting shorter and shorter. Pretty soon the DJ was distributing ballots and Kyle was sneaking up to get one.

He took his scrap of paper and pencil over to the nearest free flat surface, quickly scribbled in Cartman's stage name three times, then tossed it back into the basket for completed ballots as quickly as possible before scurrying back to his little spot standing in the shadows. He waited patiently for everybody to line back up on stage, then the DJ slowly and dramatically took his sweet time announcing that Cartman was once again the winner.

Kyle didn't even care who got eliminated. He turned and started picking his way through the crowd toward the pass through that lead to the front room. He was less than ten feet away when it happened.

On his way to the exit, Kyle had to squeeze his way past a couple of guys sitting down at a table, enjoying some terrible bar food and sharing a couple of drinks. Just as he approached their table, he noticed a woman approaching from the opposite direction carrying a pitcher of beer and a basket of cheese fries. Kyle tried to shuffle out of her way, but it was too late. She bumped into him, ricocheting off of his chest to bounce against the chair of one of themen sitting at the table right by them.

She briefly looked like she would lose her grip on the pitcher of beer. The amber liquid inside sloshed dangerously high and dribbled over the side, wetting the sleeve of her flannel shirt. She managed to keep her grip on it and kept it from dropping.

But at the expense of the cheese fries. They landed directly in the lap of the guy sitting at the table. "Eew," he exclaimed loudly, standing up to brush hot cheese wiz off of his lap at the exact moment the DJ paused dramatically before announcing this week's loser.

All eyes turned toward the disturbance.

Kyle twisted his head back toward the stage in terror and watched as Cartman glanced in his direction. Kyle could see the exact moment Cartman registered the source of the noise, and then dismissed it. For a brief glorious second Kyle actually thought that Cartman would look away without noticing him.

Cartman's gaze slid off in the opposite direction of Kyle, watching the woman who'd lost her fries frantically trying to find some napkins. Then he glanced idly back toward the table, taking in the scene around it without really seeing it.

Suddenly Cartman's eyes met his across the room. Kyle felt his bowels turn to ice. Cartman blinked at him once, twice. His face turned white, then red, as his lip curled and he gave Kyle the most blood-chilling glare of death he'd ever received.

Kyle was sure he felt his heart skip a beat, then start up again at what felt like twice its normal speed. The losing drag queen started softly crying up on stage. Cartman walked to the edge of the platform before vaulting carefully to the ground and setting out running toward Kyle as fast as a fat kid in heels can run, which it turned out was evidently pretty fast.

For the briefest of moments, just as Kyle cleared the pass through to get a clear visual on the front door, he actually thought he would make it out of there unharmed. Then he felt the hand on his forearm.

He didn't realize at first that Cartman was actively trying to drag him to the front door, since that's where he was headed himself. His body just thought that it was in a fight, and somehow it was winning. He made it through the door with Cartman in tow and tried to make a break for his mom's car when the grip on his arm yanked him back.

Cartman held him tight without even looking at him. He was glaring at the bouncer, feet planted firmly on the ground shoulder width apart in his four inch heels, free hand clenched tightly at his side. "Steve, what the fuck?" he shouted.

The bouncer shrank back slightly. "Oh hey, Eric," he said. "What's wrong?"

"What's wrong?" Cartman repeated back incredulously. "What's wrong?" he shouted, then shut his eyes and made a visible effort to compose himself. "Steve, didn't I fucking tell you this afternoon to make sure that when you were checking IDs tonight you didn't let anybody in here named Kyle B.?" Cartman smiled pleasantly at him. Kyle could see his pulse throbbing at his temple.

"Well, yeah," the bouncer answered slowly. "I checked everybody's ID. I know you said just to watch out for a young guy with a stupid red Jew 'fro, but I checked all the IDs. Men, women, young, old. I checked them all," he said.

Cartman seethed. "Then how the fuck do you explain this?" he shouted, shaking Kyle's arm at him for emphasis.

Steve the bouncer's eyes brightened. "Oh, hey, Larry!" he exclaimed. "I didn't know you guys were friends."

Cartman boggled at him furiously. He whipped his head around to glare at Kyle, then glared back at Steve. "Larry?" he asked.

"Yeah," Steve answered cheerfully. "He's from New Jersey. He comes here every week!"

"What," Cartman exclaimed in furious dismay. He yanked on Kyle so he could stare him in the face, twisting the crap out of his arm in the process. Kyle was deeply alarmed. Cartman had the look in his eyes he always got when he was thinking about how to dispose of a body.

Kyle looked around wildly for a way out of Cartman's death grip. He seriously didn't remember him ever being this strong. Maybe it was the extra leverage his four inch heels gave him. Or maybe the ridiculous wig gave him super powers. Cartman's face was turning all sorts of weird colors. Kyle's arm was starting to actually really hurt. He was desperate. "Help, help!" he shouted as loud as he could. "Domestic abuse!"

Cartman shook his head angrily at him. "There is nothing domestic about this!" he shouted back.

Kyle drew another deep breath and shouted again, "Domestic abuse, domestic abuse!"

"Shut the fuck up," Cartman shouted at him, waving his free hand for emphasis.

Just then the scary lesbian bartender walked out the front door and placed her right hand on Cartman's shoulder. She placed her other hand lightly against her hip and asked, "Is there a problem?"

"You're damn right there's a problem!" Cartman shouted without turning around, furious gaze still fixed on Kyle where he held him close. "This little..." Cartman's voice trailed off suddenly.

Kyle realized the bartender was squeezing his shoulder. She leaned in close and asked in a low, gravelly voice that made Kyle want to shit bricks, "Is there a problem?"

Cartman's grip loosened and he turned slowly, at a momentary loss for words. Kyle took advantage of the moment and bolted into the parking lot, calling out, "See you later, honey!" over his shoulder.

He started up the car and peeled the hell out of the parking lot. When he turned out onto the street, he slowed down so that he could take one last look at the scene in front of the bar. Kyle chuckled to himself as he drove away, glancing back a couple of times to see Cartman evidently still excusing himself to the bar staff for beating his boyfriend in front of their place of business.

As Kyle laid in bed that night about to drift off to sleep, the thought occurred to him that there were now at least three people at that bar who thought that he and Cartman were fucking.

His eyes flew open. He shifted uncomfortably in the bed. He rubbed his wrist lightly with his other hand, feeling out the places where a fresh bruise was blossoming.

He dimly acknowledged that he was feeling a lot of feelings at that moment, and most of them were unpleasant. He sighed and cast his eyes upward, wondering what the fuck was wrong with him.

He reminded himself what he was doing this all for. Justin Timberlake could be in grave danger here. He had a duty to see to it that this all came to an end, one way or another.

At lunch on Monday Kyle sat down in his usual spot. He ignored the ominous vibe he was getting and set to work unpacking his bag lunch. Stan kept staring at him with an expression like he was trying to solve some sort of puzzle. Kyle made it about halfway through his cheese sandwich before Stan's staring started to creep him out.

"What?" he finally yelled at him.

Stan blinked. "Nothing," he said.

Kyle scowled. "You keep staring at me," he said, unable to keep the note of peevishness out of his voice.

Stan smiled sheepishly. "Sorry. I didn't notice I was staring."

Kyle fidgeted and felt guilty about snapping at his friend. His best friend in the whole entire world. Kyle wondered what the hell was wrong with him. Stan was just trying to have a pleasant lunch period with his friends, and Kyle had to ruin it by yelling at him. "Um, sorry. Never mind. It's okay," Kyle said, awkwardly apologetic.

Stan played with his French fries for a minute, then looked up again. "I was just wondering where you were on Friday night," he said.

Kyle's guilt instantly vanished. He'd been totally justified in snapping at Stan a minute ago. In fact, he'd been more than justified. He should snap at him a thousand more times, that nosy asshole.

Cartman looked over at Kyle with a blank stare, shoulders set, not moving.

Kyle took a sip from his bottle of water, then mumbled, "I was helping my mom with something."

Stan gave him a funny look. "Really? I called your house at, like, eight-thirty. Your mom said she didn't know where you were."

Kyle choked on his water a little, which bought him an extra fifteen seconds of thinking time in exchange for the risk of possibly developing pneumonia. "Seriously? She sent me to the hardware store to pick up a, uh, something. A thing. To fix the... the door."

"Oh," Stan said. "What kind of thing?"

"It was a, you know. A knob. A doorknob," Kyle said. "Ike locked himself in the bathroom last night, and my mom broke the doorknob trying to break in from the outside with a screwdriver."

"That sucks," Stan said.

"Yeah," Kyle said and looked over at Cartman. Cartman looked away and started working on his tater tots. Kyle caught the look of abject relief that passed over his features before he composed himself into a slightly sweaty figure of bored composure.

"What the hell was he doing in there, anyway?" Stan asked.

Kenny rolled his eyes, and kicked at Stan under the table. "What do you think? Probably jacking off," he said, and then grew thoughtful. "Or maybe doing drugs," he added.

"Dude," Stan replied feelingly. "That's not cool," he said, then turned to Kyle. "Unless of course that was what he was doing." Stan and Kenny both looked at Kyle expectantly.

"Yeah, well," Kyle said. "It turned out he was just trying to take a crap."

Stan and Kenny both burst out laughing. "Oh, man," Kenny said. "Your mom." He looked over at Cartman expectantly. Cartman's eyes were still fixed on his tater tots. Kenny nudged him with his foot.

Cartman looked up, eyes unfocused. "What? Oh. Kyle's mom. She's a fat Jewish bitch," he said, but his heart wasn't in it.

Kyle grunted to himself but didn't press it. Stan gave him another concerned look. "Seriously, though, are you okay?" Stan asked him.

Kyle sighed. "I'm fine," he said. Stan made a face like he wasn't buying it. "I'm just, I don't know. Nervous or something."

Stan gave him a puzzled look. "About what?"

Kyle played with the cap to his water bottle, screwing it on and off. "You think they'll make me give my speech at graduation practice on Wednesday? Or can I wait until Friday?"

Stan looked both sympathetic and thoughtful for a minute. "I don't know. I can call my sister later and ask her if she remembers," he offered.

Kyle shook his head quickly. "No thanks. It's not a big deal," he said. Even far away and happily married to a mediocre guitar player out in Arizona, Shelly still scared him.

Kenny gave him a crooked smile and nudged him with his elbow. "What are you worried about anyway? Everybody loves listening to you give speeches. It's gonna be fine."

Kyle smiled gratefully at him. "It's going to be a disaster. But thanks," he said.

Kenny made a face at him. "Anytime."

Lunch ended, and they headed out of the cafeteria to finish up their last short week of high school.

On the evening of their graduation, Kyle arrived at the school a little bit early. He'd come by himself in his mom's car. His parents and Ike were planning to arrive in time for the start of the ceremony in his dad's car, so that Kyle could leave by himself afterward to go to Bebe's graduation party.

His mother had been hesitant at first to let him go, but his father had reasoned, "It's the boy's graduation, Sheila. Kyle's very responsible. He can handle himself." Kyle helpfully pointed out how he had, in fact, very responsibly made valedictorian, and she caved.

There were plenty of parking spaces left in the lot out by the football field, but Kyle opted instead to park on the street a few yards up from the school. He remembered how packed the place had been at Shelly's graduation a few years ago. Kyle could still vividly recall being trapped in the backseat on one side of Stan, Shelly on the other side of him screaming at her dad to move faster through the sea of unmoving cars as everybody tried to leave the parking lot at once.

He grabbed his robe and hat out of the back and locked up. As he got closer to the football field he could hear the voice of Mr. Garrison barking out orders over the public address system. Kyle took a moment to once again marvel at the fact that Mr. Garrison, in defiance of all logic, was not only still working in education but had been promoted to assistant principal of the high school.

He walked past the bleachers and onto the field. The folding chairs were still set up on the grass the same as at graduation practice two days ago, but the plywood stage with the podium up front was new to Kyle. He wanted to walk over to get a better look at it, but their misty-eyed principal was over there giving out hugs and offering heartfelt declarations of pride at all the members of the graduating class who were unlucky enough to get near her. Wendy Testaburger was currently trapped in a bear hug, her cheek pressed hard into the woman's ample bosom. She saw him walk by and mouthed help me. Kyle pretended not to notice.

He walked over to the middle of the students' seating area where Stan and Kenny were sitting. Kyle sat down in a vacant folding chair. About a third of their class was here so far, although as he looked out into the parking lot he could see it was starting to fill up quick.

"So you guys are coming to Bebe's tonight, right?" Kenny asked.

"I'll be there," Kyle answered. "What time does it start?" he asked.

"I think people are going over right after this is done," Stan said. "I'll be by a little later, though. My parents are taking me out to dinner."

Kenny sighed. "I guess you'll be having dinner with your family too, then, Kyle?" he asked.

Kyle replied, "No, surprisingly, my mom's just going to let me go out tonight. I'll probably head out straight from here."

Kenny relaxed. "Oh, good. I didn't want to be the only one there early."

Mr. Garrison's voice came over the PA system then to order all students into their assigned seats for the ceremony. Kyle made a face and stood up. "Guess I better go," he said.

Stan stood and smiled at him. "Good luck. I'm sure your speech will be great," he said.

"Break a leg!" Kenny chimed in.

Kyle gave them each a wan smile. "Thanks, guys." He turned and headed back up toward the front of the rows of folding chairs to sit with all the other B's.

He groaned inwardly when he got closer to his area and saw Cartman was already sitting in his assigned seat, one row behind and two seats over from Kyle. Kyle braced himself as he sidled past him on his way through his row of seats, but Cartman never even looked up.

Kyle sat in his seat as the other students started to fill in around him. He swore to himself that he could feel Cartman's eyes boring into his back, but every time he turned around Cartman was just sitting there, forearms resting on his knees, staring blankly at his feet.

After his third time turning around to find Cartman not paying attention to him at all, Kyle heard himself clear his throat. Cartman looked up. "Yes?" he asked mildly.

"Um," Kyle opened with, then stopped, mind blank. "So," he continued, on a conversational roll. "How've you been?" he finished.

Cartman narrowed his eyes and turned his head away. "I have nothing to discuss with you," he said.

Kyle scowled, and willed himself not to get angry. "No, but – I need to ask you something," he said.

Cartman looked back at him and raised his eyebrows. "Yes?"

"Are you," Kyle started, then scrambled to think of a question. "Are you coming to Bebe's party later?" he asked.

"I have a previous engagement," Cartman said snottily.

"Oh yeah," Kyle said, annoyed with himself for continuing to talk. "Well, sure. But you could come by afterward, though. It'll still be going on then."

Cartman huffed and turned away.

Kyle narrowed his eyes and leaned forward over the back of his seat. "You know, I don't see why you're being such a dick to me. If I were you, I'd be bending over backwards to be nice to me." Kyle paused thoughtfully and then smirked. "Unless, of course, you wanted everyone to know your little secret."

A look of fury passed over Cartman's face. "You have no proof," he hissed.

"Oh yeah?" Kyle asked smugly. He pulled his phone out of his pocket and held it up. "I've got tons of pictures of you on here. On different days, in different outfits. And you can totally tell it's you in them. I could upload them to Facebook at any time."

"You son of a bitch!" Cartman shouted as he leapt out of his folding chair. "Give me that," he demanded as he grabbed for the phone.

Kyle stood up and held the phone up and away. Cartman lunged at him and missed, knocking Kyle's chair over.

"Knock it off," whined Annie. She had been sitting behind Kyle, and now was being treated to a face full of Cartman's ass.

Cartman had his left hand in a death grip on the collar of Kyle's gown, trying to pull him closer as he grabbed for the phone with his right. Kyle wondered if he would get in trouble if Cartman managed to tear his gown. They had to give these back at the end of the night. What if they made him pay for it? What if they held his diploma until he did?

"Let go, fatass," Kyle said, shoving at him with his free hand.

"Gentlemen! I am extremely disappointed in you." The assistant principal had made his way off the small platform up at the front of the field and was hustling over to the two of them. "Eric, I expect this type of juvenile behavior from you, but honestly, Kyle, I expected better from you. Now the two of you need to sit down, shut up, and somehow find a way to avoid embarrassing yourselves in front of the entire student body and their grandmothers for the next hour and a half or however long this godforsaken ceremony drags on for. Do I make myself clear?"

"Yes, Mr. Garrison," they said in unison, Cartman smiling sweetly and Kyle scowling furiously.

"Good. Now let's get this freak show back on the road," he said and started walking back. "Kyle, big speech tonight, don't screw it up."

Kyle shoved his phone back in his pocket and slumped down in his seat. "Not like I don't have everything backed up on my computer anyway," he muttered. He waited a few beats but got no response. He snuck a glance back at Cartman, who was either extremely busy doing something of great import with his own phone that required immense concentration, or was back to giving him the silent treatment. Which was just fine with Kyle. He didn't want to talk to that asshole anyway.

Kyle stayed slouched in his metal folding chair, angrily simmering away through the beginning of the ceremony. Eventually Wendy Testaburger made her way up the aisle to the podium and fulfilled her duties as both class president and salutatorian by delivering a witty yet heartwarming speech that had students, family members, and faculty alike laughing and wiping away genuine tears. Kyle was surprised to find himself charmed.

Wendy finished her speech to thunderous applause. On her way back to her seat she met Kyle's eyes and gave him an encouraging smile. Kyle sighed.

The principal announced his name, and Kyle stood and made the short walk up to the makeshift stage to take his spot at the podium. He took one last fumbling glance at his index cards and cleared his throat before leaning forward into the microphone to deliver a valedictorial speech which he'd worked very hard at making sound optimistic and inspiring about the future.

He wasn't feeling particularly optimistic or inspired himself at that moment.

He headed back to his seat to what he felt was an overly generous amount of applause for a frankly mediocre speech. Cartman wasn't looking at him. Kyle decided he didn't care.

He sat in his uncomfortable metal folding chair and tried to appear interested while the principal droned on and on about friendship and emotions and new beginnings and God knew what else. He wondered what it said about him that here he was at his high school graduation ceremony, the last time he would probably ever be surrounded by all the kids he'd spent the last thirteen years of his life with, and all he could think about was how quickly he could get the fuck out of there.

Finally the assistant principal took over the microphone and asked everybody in attendance to hold their applause until the end, and also would the graduates please refrain from throwing their hats because they cost the school money, God damn it, so please remember to give them back along with their robes to the faculty collecting them on either side of the bleachers. Then he started reading off names and the students all filed up one by one to shake the principal's hand and receive their cardboard folders that held the fake diplomas that were all they would receive until the school got around to mailing them the real deal in a couple of weeks.

The whole spectacle finally drew to a close. Kyle clutched his fake diploma and walked over to where he saw his family descending the bleachers. His mother spotted him immediately and waved excitedly, then tried to hurry Ike and Gerald up. Kyle smiled and waved back, holding his goofy hat in his other hand.

When they reached the bottom of the bleachers, his mom came over and pulled him into a fierce hug. "Oh, Kyle, bubbie, I'm so proud of you," she said, voice slightly hoarse. She squeezed him tight for a few more beats, then kissed him hard on the cheek before letting him go. She straightened his black tie above the collar of his robe and patted him on the chest before stepping back.

Ike laughed when Kyle finally got free. "Nice makeup," he said.

"What?" Kyle asked.

Their dad sighed and shook his head. "Sheila, you got lipstick on his face."

His mom looked at his face and cursed, then started fishing in her purse. "I'm sorry, honey," she said. "It's okay, I've got tissues in here somewhere."

"No, wait!" Ike called out laughing, pointing his phone at Kyle's face. "Okay, go ahead, I got a picture."

His mom held a tissue out to him. "Here you go, honey. Just spit on this here and I'll get you all cleaned up."

"Mom," he hissed, wide eyed. "I'm not spitting on that."

She rolled her eyes, exasperated. "Well, how else do you expect me to get the lipstick off?" she asked.

"I'll spit on it!" Ike offered.

"No," Kyle said, and snatched the tissue out of her hand. "I'll get it in a minute, mom, don't worry about it." He reached under his robe to stuff the tissue in the front pocket of his button-down shirt.

"Oh, Kyle," she said, looking at him with tears in her eyes. "So grown up."

His dad stepped forward to grab his hand and pull him into a one-armed hug. "Son, I just hope you know how proud of you we are," he said, patting him on the back.

"I know, dad. Thanks." He delicately disentangled himself from both of his parents. "So, listen. I'm probably going to spend the night over at Stan's."

Kyle's mom took a deep breath like she was getting ready to object. His dad jumped in and said, "That sounds just fine, Kyle. Have a good time."

Kyle beamed at his father. "Thanks, dad. I will!" He pulled off his robe and started walking toward the edge of the bleachers where he saw his history teacher standing with a large trash bag in his hands, collecting robes and hats. "I'll see you guys in the morning," he called out, waving one final time as he rounded the corner.

He walked through the parking lot, currently packed with teachers and families all trying to get out at once. He saw Cartman about twenty yards away standing next to his car, looking alternately at his phone, then out into the sea of brake lights, and cursing. Kyle could see his car parked out on the street, just a short walk away. He could be out of there in no time. Yet somehow he found himself walking not in the direction of the street, but deeper into the parking lot to find himself standing just outside the door to Cartman's car.

The car was running, but the line of cars all stopped behind it guaranteed that it wouldn't be going anywhere anytime soon. Kyle knocked on the window. Cartman glared at him, then turned his head back to stare stonily at his rearview mirror.

Kyle sighed. He knocked again on Cartman's window. Cartman angrily mashed the button to lower the window. Once it reached the halfway point he half-shouted, half-whined, "What do you want?" at Kyle.

"You're not getting out of this parking lot anytime soon," he said.

Cartman gesticulated wildly as he twisted his torso around, making a show of taking in his surroundings. "Oh, really, Kyle? Whatever gives you that idea?" he spat out, then rested his forehead against the steering wheel with a groan.

Kyle grimaced, knowing full well that he would regret what he was about to say, but unable to stop himself. "Look, just get out and come with me."

"Fuck you, Kyle, I have somewhere to be right now," he said, not bothering to pick his head up.

"I know that, fatass. I'm offering to take you there." He could feel the beginnings of a tension headache starting.

Cartman swiveled his head slightly, forehead never breaking contact with the wheel. "What are you talking about?" he asked, eyes narrowed.

Kyle scowled at him, furious at himself for ever coming over here. "I said I'll take you." Kyle waved his arm vaguely in the direction of his mom's car. "I'm parked on the street, just get up and we can get the hell out of here, already."

Cartman stared at him for a long moment, lips pursed unhappily while he studied Kyle's face. He shut his eyes briefly, making a pained face and turning his face away. When he wordlessly pressed the button to raise his power window, Kyle allowed himself a brief moment of hope that he was actually going to stubbornly refuse the help. But then Cartman cut the engine and climbed out of the car.

"Just let me grab my bag," he said through clenched teeth.

"Be my guest," Kyle gritted out. He started walking in the direction of his car, leaving Cartman to jog a little to catch up with him after grabbing his bag out of his back seat.

The two of them walked briskly through the parking lot, easily avoiding the crawling mess of cars all waiting to pull out at once. "Nice face, by the way," Cartman said to him out of the corner of his mouth while they were waiting to cross the street.

"What?" Kyle asked, then touched his hand to his cheek. The pads of his fingers came away stained Plum Perfect. "Oh, God damn it," he muttered as they dashed across the street together and walked up to where Kyle had parked his mom's car. Kyle unlocked the doors and sat down in the driver's seat. A moment later Cartman got in and sat down, placing his gym bag on the floor between his feet.

Kyle started the engine, then looked to Cartman for confirmation before pulling out. "Straight to the bar, right?" he asked.

Cartman was staring straight ahead, eyes fixed on nothing, looking for all the world like he was waiting for Kyle to drive him to his execution. "Yes," he said tonelessly.

Kyle waited a few moments for a break in the traffic, then pulled out and headed off in the direction of downtown.

They rode in silence for a few minutes. Then without looking at Kyle, Cartman took a deep breath, let it out, and asked flatly, "What are you trying to get out of this?"

Kyle furrowed his eyebrows and asked, exasperated, "What?"

Cartman's mouth was set in an unhappy line. "Name your terms. What are you after, here?"

Kyle shook his head like he hoped if he just shook it hard enough Cartman would start to make sense. "I'm not after anything. You were running late, I don't have anywhere to be, so I'm giving you a ride. This is what normal people do, fatass. They help other people out."

"Fine," Cartman said, voice small and pinched like he was still expecting the other shoe to drop at any minute. He checked the time on his cell phone, muttered, "Shit," and started pulling clothes out of the bag at his feet. Then to Kyle's shock and horror he unbuttoned his shirt and started changing right there in the passenger seat of Kyle's mom's car. Kyle kept his eyes straight ahead, resolutely ignoring the flashes of red fabric and pale skin he kept seeing in his peripheral vision.

Cartman was just tightening his strappy black four inch heels when Kyle pulled into a parking lot. He saw a spot right up front next to the handicapped spaces and pulled in. Before Kyle even shut the engine off, Cartman was out of the car and sprinting toward the door with his bag slung over one shoulder. Kyle hopped out and quickly locked up before jogging after him. He was once again astonished by how fast Cartman could run in heels.

Kyle was about fifteen feet away when he saw the bouncer notice Cartman. "Hey, Eric. Didn't know if you were going to make it tonight," he called out cheerfully.

Cartman barreled past him and on through the door. "Shut up, Steve," he huffed, not breaking his stride. "I don't have time right now."

Steve the bouncer stepped amiably aside to beam at Kyle. "Hey there, Larry," he said, studying Kyle's face before winking. "Looks like you and Eric made up." He flashed Kyle a toothy grin and held the door open for him.

"Uh," Kyle said, feeling deeply unsettled, and hurried inside. "Thanks, Steve."

"See you later," he said as the door fell shut.

Kyle hustled through the bar and turned the corner to see Cartman say a few quick words to the DJ before rushing into the men's room toward the back. Kyle slowed down, catching his breath a bit while he walked slowly after him.

He opened the door to the men's room to see Cartman in front of the mirror, adjusting a pair of breasts that Kyle was quite sure he hadn't had when he'd walked into the room a few moments ago. Even up close and personal with them here under the fluorescent lights of the bar's tiny bathroom, Kyle still found them deeply confusing. Cartman bent over to pull a wig and a handful of bobby pins out of his bag, giving Kyle a better view of the slight bit of cleavage showing over the top of Cartman's tight red dress.

Cartman stood and made a sound of displeasure. Kyle tore his eyes up to his face to see Cartman glaring at him. "I don't need your help with this," he said angrily. "Get out of here."

Kyle glared back at him, but turned and took the two steps over to the door. He had his hand on the door handle when Cartman called him back. "Wait." Kyle turned around, eyebrow raised. Cartman was still scowling. "Go wash that lipstick off your face first before anyone else thinks I put it there."

Kyle blushed and stomped over to the sink furthest from Cartman. He remembered the knowing wink Steve the bouncer had given him and shuddered. He wanted to just open up the taps and let out a strong stream of scalding hot water, but all the faucets were automatic. He waved his hands back and forth feeling like an idiot before the sink sputtered to life and let out a gentle, low-pressure trickle of tepid water. He splashed his face, then scrubbed at it with a damp paper towel until all traces of his mom's lipstick were gone.

Kyle stood at the sink and watched silently as Cartman applied green eye shadow in some strange pattern of fading layers over the entire area from his lashes to his eyebrows. Then Cartman uncapped a tube of bright red lipstick in a shade that matched his dress. He applied it, making weird puckering motions with his mouth after he was done. He put his makeup back in the bag and pulled out a bottle of what Kyle thought might be perfume or body spray. Cartman spritzed his neck, chest, and shoulders with the spray, then turned side to side in the mirror. Kyle realized the body spray was actually glitter. He bit back a laugh.

Cartman bent down to put his glitter away, then stood up holding his bag. His eyes met Kyle's in the mirror. He turned and took two steps toward Kyle so that they were standing at arm's length apart. Then he shoved his bag at Kyle and said, "Here, make yourself useful and hold onto this for me." Cartman then turned and walked out of the door.

Kyle looked down at the bag in his hands. He was tempted to go through it just to see what was inside. Then he decided that he probably didn't want to know. He walked out of the bathroom and over toward the bar in back.

There were several open stools so Kyle picked one and sat down. The same bartender with the tattoos and the scary haircut was working as usual. Kyle frowned slightly and wondered why the hell she never took a night off.

He glanced back at the stage. The guy up there wasn't even wearing a dress. He had on a long straight wig with a black leotard and heels. He was doing that Beyonce song about putting a ring on it. Kyle glared at the scene. Even he knew that dudes in leotards dancing to this song were totally passé.

The crowd seemed pretty into it though. Kyle heard some scattered cheers and cat calls.

The bartender came up to him and asked what he wanted. Kyle ordered a pint of beer. She filled a glass and set it down in front of him with a sad and serious expression on her face.

"Thanks," Kyle said and set some money down on the bar.

"Listen," she said. "You don't have to talk about it if you don't want to. But I just want you to know that there's help available if and when you need it."

Kyle gaped at her, then waved his hands at her, tying to convey the utter wrongness of her sentiment. "No, no, look – about last week," he said, struggling to explain himself. "I mean, I really appreciate you coming over, but honestly. It was all just a big misunderstanding," he said.

She just looked at him sadly. "Hey, it's okay. You don't have to explain yourself." Her face softened as she continued, "Just know that help's available." She set a pamphlet down on the bar top and slid it closer to him. Park County Resources for Victims of Intimate Partner Violence was written across the top.

"Thanks," Kyle muttered miserably and shoved it in Cartman's bag. The bartender nodded and walked over to help another patron.

Kyle turned around on his bar stool, leaning his back against the bar to watch the stage. Cartman was just coming on. Kyle watched attentively, sipping his beer, while Cartman sang some type of ballad begging his man not to leave. At some point Cartman's eyes found Kyle sitting at the bar. Kyle felt his stomach knot and the hairs on the back of his neck raise as Cartman narrowed his eyes slightly and kept right on singing with the same sad, intense look on his face.

After Cartman finished, the DJ put up his little chalkboard with the performers' names and their songs on it. Kyle was slightly surprised to see there had been only four acts this week. He guessed to contest was finally winding down.

He left his drink and Cartman's bag at his seat at the bar while he hurried up front to cast his three votes for Cartman. He then headed back to his bar stool to wait for the DJ to announce the winners.

Kyle was pretty much expecting the Beyonce act to win. Still, he found himself surprised at the bitterness he felt when the DJ announced him as this week's winner. Cartman's apoplectic expression at the news cheered him up, though. Some guy in a pink dress was announced as the loser. Kyle watched him stomp furiously off the stage.

Kyle turned back around to sit with his elbows on the bar, starting at his mostly full pint glass. He saw a flash of red and felt somebody sit down next to him. Kyle sat up straight and turned to face Cartman. His shoulders were tense and his hands were clenched, but he looked like he was making and effort to school his face into something halfway pleasant. "You ready to go?" he asked Kyle.

Kyle smiled at him. "Nah," he said. "Why don't you get a drink? We could stay for a little while."

Cartman scowled. "I never stay."

Kyle shrugged. "Neither do I, really. But I've got the car keys, and I'm not going anywhere until I finish my drink, so you might as well get comfortable." Kyle grinned at him. "Come on, I'll buy you a drink," he offered teasingly.

Cartman's scowl softened into a faint frown of displeasure. "Fine. You buy me a drink and an order of cheese fries, and it's a deal."

Kyle let out a surprised laugh and agreed. Cartman ordered a cocktail from the bartender who kept shooting him dirty looks while making it. Kyle spied an open table and told Cartman to go over and grab them seats at it while he ordered and paid for a basket of cheese fries. He went over to sit down across from Cartman, who was tugging distractedly at the place where his dress was riding up into his armpit.

Kyle shook his head as he took in Cartman. He was slouched in his chair, legs splayed out in a distinctively unladylike pose. A damp tuft of his hair had come free from under his wavy brunette wig and was stuck to his face with sweat. His upper chest was still covered in glitter.

Cartman noticed him staring and raised an eyebrow. Kyle cleared his throat. "So after his I'm going to Bebe's. You coming with me?" he asked.

Cartman crossed his arms. "I don't think so. You never bought me those cheese fries."

Kyle threw his arms wide. "I did so! They're still making them or something. They'll bring them out to us in a minute, Jesus."

Cartman took a sip of his drink through the tiny straw that Kyle was pretty sure was actually intended as a stirrer. "Besides," he said. "I'm a little over dressed for it."

Kyle rolled his eyes. "Just wash off your makeup and put your clothes from graduation back on."

Cartman sighed and looked away dramatically. "Maybe I could. If only you'd just gotten me those cheese fries you promised," he said.

"Oh, for fuck's sake," Kyle grumbled. He took another sip of his beer, and saw a guy he thought he recognized from behind the bar in the front room approaching with a basket of fries in his hand. Kyle kicked Cartman with one of the black sneakers he'd worn to go with his black dress pants.

"Ow," Cartman whined. "What was that for?" he asked peevishly.

"Look behind you," Kyle said.

Cartman twisted around and saw the guy approaching. His eyes lit up. "My cheese fries!" he cried. "You really do care."

"I wouldn't go that far," Kyle grumbled. The guy set the basket down and Kyle thanked him while Cartman dug in. "So I guess this means you're going to the party," Kyle said.

"Yeah, sure," Cartman said with food in his mouth. "These aren't half bad. For crappy bar food."

Kyle shook his head. "How many crappy bars have you eaten in, exactly?"

"Shut up, Kyle," Cartman said. "Have a cheese fry," he offered.

"How generous of you," Kyle said drily, and helped himself to some fries.

When the basket was halfway empty, Kyle looked at Cartman and asked, "Hey, you want me to grab your clothes out of my car for you?"

Cartman took a sip of his mostly full drink and smiled. "Sure."

"Just watch my drink for me," Kyle said. Cartman raised his eyebrows at him, but nodded agreement.

Kyle headed out to his mom's car, ignoring the bouncer's smile. He found Cartman's white button down, black tie, dress pants, and gray briefs all wadded into a ball at the foot of the passenger seat. He picked them up and folded them into a neat pile, setting his dress shoes on top. He blushed, realizing Cartman's balls had probably brushed his mother's leather interior. He wondered what the hell Cartman was wearing under his dress.

Kyle came back inside to find Cartman in the same place he'd left him, with a mostly empty basked of cheese fries. Kyle set Cartman's clothes on top of the table and sat down. "Here," he said.

"Thanks," Cartman said.

Kyle took a sip of his drink and noticed Cartman start to smirk. "What?" Kyle asked.

"Nothing," he said, raising his hands in a pantomime of innocence, still smiling away.

"You're making a weird face at me," Kyle pointed out.

"It's really nothing," Cartman said. "Well, that is. It's just – I'm touched that you trust me alone with your drink, Kyle."

Kyle sighed. "Did you roofie my drink, Cartman?"

Cartman started to cackle. "No, of course not!" he insisted. He showed Kyle a halfhearted attempt at a sincere expression. Kyle still looked sort of put upon. "I need you to drive me home, don't I?"

"Hmm," Kyle said as he pushed his drink away. "Maybe it's about time for us to get going."

Cartman rolled his eyes. "Whatever, cry baby," he said as he got to his feet and picked up his bag. "Be back in a minute. Wait here – I don't want you watching me change this time."

Kyle spluttered pointlessly to himself for a minute before deciding to take his chances and try another sip of beer. It didn't taste like date rape, he thought. It was probably safe.

Just then Kyle had an idea. Cartman was drinking some sort of overpriced girly cocktail, a bay breeze or sea breeze or something. What was in that, rum? Kyle sniffed it, then took a small sip. Yeah, rum. Probably.

He got up and walked over to the bar. He leaned over and smiled winningly, and eventually got the bartender's attention. "Could I get two shots of rum, please?" he asked.

"Sure thing," she said, and sat down two shot glasses. "If you guys are staying for a while, you could start a tab," she pointed out.

"Uh, no thanks. I'll just pay now," he said.

The bartender finished pouring and slid the two shot glasses toward him. "It's six-fifty," she said, making a face like she wanted to say something more to him.

Kyle put eight dollars down on the bar. "Thanks," he said, and carried the two glasses back to their table.

Kyle looked around himself. The table next to theirs had originally held what looked to be a party of lesbian businesswomen, but they had apparently left not too long ago. Their glasses still hadn't been cleared. There were a couple of guys a few tables down sitting unnecessarily close together, not paying the slightest bit of attention to anyone but each other. Still no sign of Cartman. The bartender was busy chatting up some girl with a buzz cut at the far end of the bar.

Quickly Kyle poured first one shot and then the other into Cartman's glass. He leaned over in what he hoped was a surreptitious manner, and set the empty shot glasses on the dirty table next to theirs. He had a chance to give Cartman's drink a quick stir with the straw before he saw him walk out the bathroom door. He was once again dressed in his white button down shirt and black dress pants from graduation, but unlike Kyle he left his tie off. As he approached the table, Kyle smirked to see that he still had a little glitter clinging to his throat.

"You ready?" Cartman asked as he approached the table.

"Nah, sit down a minute," Kyle said. "I bought you a drink, you might as well finish it."

Cartman popped another cheese fry into his mouth and sat back down. "Good point."

Kyle watched Cartman pointedly and with growing amusement as he polished off both his drink and most of the remaining cheese fries. Kyle drained the last of his beer before asking, "You ready?"

"Uh," Cartman said and stuffed the last few soggy fries into his mouth. "Okay, ready," he said.

The two of them stood up. Kyle left a tip on the table, then turned and headed for the front door with Cartman close behind him.

Kyle was momentarily lost when he got out into the parking lot and didn't see his mom's car parked in the far corner where he usually left it. He stopped short to look around for it, and Cartman walked into his back.

"The fuck," came his muffled voice spoken into Kyle's shoulder.

"Sorry," Kyle muttered. "I forgot where I parked."

"Right over there," Cartman said, and shoved him vaguely in the direction of Kyle's mom's car, parked a few spaces over from where they were standing. "The fuck's wrong with you?" he grumbled.

Kyle flushed angrily as he fished out his keys. "I usually park in the back."

Cartman shot him an unreadable look as he waited by the passenger side door for Kyle to unlock the car. Kyle unlocked his door, got in, and leaned over to pop open the door for Cartman. Kyle waited for Cartman to fumble his seat belt on before starting the car and pulling out of the parking lot.

They rode about halfway there in silence. Kyle glanced over at Cartman in the passenger seat. He was sitting with his head tipped back, legs splayed out, looking more relaxed than Kyle could remember seeing him in a long time. Kyle frowned. "Are you okay?"

Cartman blinked, then looked over at Kyle. "Yes, I'm fine." He made a face like he was concentrating. "I think they might make their drinks a little strong back there, though."

Kyle tried to keep a straight face, he really did. But he snuck another glance at Cartman's completely serious expression and just couldn't stop himself from laughing.

"What's so funny?" Cartman asked, sounding slightly angry.

"Nothing," Kyle said with a shit-eating grin on his face. "It's just that I'm so touched you would leave me alone with your drink, Cartman."

Cartman frowned, looking adorably confused. "You, you what?"

Kyle kept his eyes on the road. "You're a very kind and trusting person, Cartman. I can see that you truly value our friendship."

Cartman stared at him with a look of absolute horror on his face. "Oh my God. You sneaky Jew, you poisoned me!"

Kyle dissolved once again into laughter. "I did not!" He shook his head, and glanced over at Cartman, pressed against the passenger side door, staring at him like he was the last thing he would ever see. Kyle found the mixture of sadness and fear on Cartman's face to be hilarious. "I didn't poison you, you idiot. I just slipped a couple of extra shots of rum into your drink."

Cartman's face showed the first slow blossoms of skeptical hope.

Kyle smiled while he rolled his eyes. "Besides, somebody as fat as you, you'd think you'd be able to handle a little bit of alcohol, Jesus."

Cartman tried to scowl at him, but the effect was ruined by the uncontrollable smile that was forming on his face. "Don't call me fat, you miserable asshole. And it's not my fault, I haven't had anything to eat today."

Kyle laughed at him again. "Like I believe that. I just fed you cheese fries, you moron."

Cartman looked out the window, trying to hide his smile. "I mean before that. And I can handle a little bit of alcohol just fine. I was just momentarily taken aback by the fact that some sneaky Jewish asshole is trying to date rape me."

Kyle huffed indignantly as he parked his mom's car on the crowded street across from Bebe's house. "In your dreams, fatass," he came back with weakly. "Just admit you're the world's heaviest light weight."

"Nuh-uh," Cartman whined at him as they walked up to the door. Kyle knocked politely. Cartman squeezed in next to him and leaned on the doorbell with the ball of his hand. Kyle shoved at him.

The door opened to reveal Clyde standing there. "Hey, guys," he said. "Come on in."

"Don't mind if I do," said Cartman as he shoved his way inside.

Kyle sighed to himself. Maybe slipping him those extra shots was a mistake. Cartman seemed even more obnoxious than usual. "Hey, Clyde," he said, and smiled distractedly at him.

Clyde sighed and looked at Kyle sadly. "There's soda and stuff in the kitchen. And there's a few coolers and food down the basement."

"Oh, okay," Kyle said, trying to keep one eye on Cartman, who was wandering deeper into the house. "Cool."

Clyde heaved another deep sigh. "I'm not sure where Bebe is. Last I saw her she was off with Wendy someplace," he said.

"That's cool, Clyde," Kyle said, slowly following Cartman into the house. "We'll find her later," he said.

"Whatever," Clyde said, looking miserable. Kyle spared him a brief puzzled glance as he wandered off in search of Cartman.

He eventually caught up with Cartman in the kitchen. He looked up from a glass of some day-glow green liquid he'd just finished pouring something into, smiled brightly, and announced, "Kyle! Just the Jew I was looking for."

Kyle approached him cautiously. "What have you got there?" he asked, eyeing the glass suspiciously.

Cartman beamed at him, and pushed the glass across the counter towards Kyle. "It's for you."

"Uh-huh," Kyle said. "And where's yours?" he asked.

"Oh," Cartman said, and turned around. "Right here," he said, and held up a glass with something similar inside.

"Okay," Kyle said. "I'll take that one, and you can have this one," he said, and pushed the glass on the counter back towards Cartman.

Cartman's eyes glinted. "Oh, will you, Kyle? I figured as much." He smiled slyly and held the glass in his hand out to Kyle. "Here you go."

Kyle paused for a moment. "On second thought, this one here looks fine," he said, and reached for the one on the counter.

Cartman raised his eyebrows. "Oh, does it now? Well, suit yourself."

Kyle blew out a frustrated breath. "Is this where I find out that you've actually poisoned both drinks with lethal amounts of alcohol, and the only reason you'll survive is that you're so fat it doesn't affect you?"

"Hey," Cartman barked out. "Don't be an asshole, asshole. And after I went to all this trouble to make you a drink, too," he pouted.

Kyle rolled his eyes and plucked the drink Cartman was holding out of his hand. "Well, thanks," he said, and sniffed both drinks. They smelled about the same. He took a tentative sip of each. They weren't half bad, actually. They tasted a little like fruit punch. "Okay, then," he said, and handed one back to Cartman.

Cartman took the drink back and looked at it dubiously. "I'm not sure I want it after you drank out of it," he complained.

"Quit whining," Kyle said, and took a sip of his drink. Cartman did the same. Kyle grinned at him. "Thanks for the drink, Cartman," he said.

Cartman smiled back. "You're welcome, Kyle."

Kyle looked around the kitchen, which was growing crowded. "Come on, let's find Stan and Kenny," he said, and headed toward the living room.

Cartman's smile faded somewhat as he grunted in reply. He followed Kyle out the door and into the party.

There was a good mix of people hanging around in the living room. Kyle saw Clyde sitting on the couch with a mopey expression on his face. Jimmy sat next to him, patting his knee, evidently trying and failing to cheer him up. A few of the girls were standing in the corner, giggling.

Cartman looked around and scowled. He peered outside through the French doors that led out onto the Stevens' back porch. Despite the slight chill, there was a good sized crowd of people mingling out back. Kyle peered out to see what Cartman was looking at, and his eyes lit up. "Hey, look, it's Stan and Kenny," he said, then opened the door to head onto the porch.

Kyle walked over to his two best friends and spent a few minutes catching up with them. Cartman wandered around the porch aimlessly, drifting from conversation to conversation. Kyle heard the door open and close, then looked around and realized he couldn't see Cartman anywhere. He shrugged, figuring Cartman would turn back up eventually. After all, he didn't have his car, and he wasn't the type to walk anywhere when there was a chance that somebody with a car could be at his disposal.

Kyle was nodding away and growing increasingly uncomfortable with Kenny's vividly detailed description of how he got to second base with Red last month, when he sensed somebody hovering behind him. Kyle turned his head slightly to the right, bumping his forehead against Cartman's nose in the process.

Something sloshed against his hand. He looked down to see Cartman pulling away a bottle of what he assumed was liquor. Kyle tilted his head and raised an eyebrow at Cartman, who was standing all of six inches away from him and not backing up. "Really?" he asked.

"Uh," Cartman said. "Your drink looked like it needed to be refreshed," he said and smiled winningly at him.

Kyle grumbled out an apology to Kenny and walked inside to wash Cartman's sticky mess off of his hand. He headed into the kitchen and washed his hands at the sink, leaving his drink on the counter, dimly aware that Cartman had followed him in. Kyle shut off the sink and looked futilely for a towel before drying his hands on his pants.

He glanced over at the doorway to see Bebe and Wendy walk in. Kyle happily called out, "Bebe!" and took a few steps closer to her. Bebe glared at him, lip quivering, before giving him one good open-handed slap across the face. Kyle stared at her, stunned. She then turned on her heel and stalked out of the room.

Wendy spat out, "Fuck you, Kyle," and shot him one of the dirtiest looks he'd ever had the pleasure of receiving before turning to follow Bebe back out of the room.

Kyle stood there utterly confused. He wracked his brains trying to think of what he might have done to piss her off, but couldn't think of anything. Maybe she was upset because she was expecting a hostess gift? Still, Kyle thought, resorting to violence was a little bit of an overreaction to his faux pas. He glanced over at Cartman, who was doubled over with laughter. "Dude, what the hell was that?" he asked him.

Cartman looked up at him, smiling uncontrollably, wiping a tear from the corner of his eye. "I guess I should probably let you know that your Facebook password is now ballmuncher – all one word, no caps."

Kyle just stared at Cartman for a minute and waited for his brain to catch up. What the hell? He gave it another moment. "God damn it," he shouted, and pulled his phone from his pocket.

He tried to open his Facebook app, but it wouldn't let him connect until he finally accepted the inevitable and changed his stored password to ballmuncher.

As soon as he got himself logged in, he knew something wasn't right. To start with, it said he had eighty-nine friends. He knew for a fact that he'd had ninety-two last night. He scrolled slowly through his news feed, and saw update after update of messages sent from him to what appeared to be every single person he knew.

Kyle Broflovski > Clyde Donovan

Your not as good looking as you think you are and also you killed your mother which makes you pretty lame.

Kyle Broflovski > Marvin Marsh

Youre a gross old man who smells like licorice and urine. I don't know how your not dead yet.

Kyle Broflovski > Kenny McCormick

Your a poor piece of crap and the only reason I hang out with you is because I feel bad for you.

Oh, God.

Kyle slid down the wall he was leaning against to sit against the floor. He started clicking through to his friends' pages one by one. There were horrible comments from him on every single one of them.

He set to work deleting all of Cartman's posts. He tried to be methodical and just go down the list alphabetically. He was interrupted not long after he started by a notification.

Marvin Marsh replied to your wall post:

"I don't know how I'm not dead yet either."

Kyle groaned and deleted the whole conversation.

For the next fifteen minutes or so, Kyle sat there on the floor of the Stevens' kitchen trying to erase all the damage he could. He hated to admit it, but a lot of Cartman's messages were actually pretty funny. He erased them anyway. Then some of them were downright awful. Kyle felt that he was about as used to Cartman as a person could be, and still he was momentarily taken aback by the wall of angry text he'd left on Bebe's page.

Kyle Broflovski > Bebe Stevens

Listen up you stupid whore. Any idiot with a sack of crap for brains could tell that I'm not into you, but for some reason you never got the message so let me spell it out for you: I will never ever be intrested in a retarded skank like you. Partly because I'm a total fag but mostly because your an idiot who dresses like a great big whore and I'm afraid that if I spend too much time in your vicinity I'll catch either retard or herpes.

Don't ever talk to me again.

"What the fuck," he muttered to himself. No wonder she was furious. Kyle was furious. He looked around the room, but saw no sign of Bebe. Obviously. She'd probably never deign to be in the same room as him again.

Kyle scowled at Cartman over on the other side of the room, shoving a handful of chips into his mouth and laughing at something Kenny had said. At the same time. Gross.

Kyle looked down at his phone. He was almost done. He decided to plow through and finish deleting all Cartman's' comments, then make a general apology post explaining that some asshole hacked his account.

Pretty soon he'd deleted all the comments except one. He read through it a few times, rolling his eyes and smiling slightly in spite of himself, then decided to keep it. It was probably more telling than any apology post he could make anyway.

Kyle Broflovski > Eric Cartman

I just wanted to let you know what a super cool guy I think you are. Every day I'm filled with regret that I couldn't have you as my super best friend instead of being stuck with that faggot Stan for all these years. Anyway I know you'll never respect me because I'm a sneaky redheaded Jew with no soul but I just thought you should know how great I think you are and how deeply I regret the fact that you never let me put your balls in my mouth no matter how much I always begged for it. I cry myself to sleep at night thinking about how amazing things could have been.

He quickly typed up and posted a vague apology, made sure he tagged every single one of his remaining Facebook friends in it, then stood up and went to look for Bebe.

He went to the doorway that led out into the living room. He scanned the crowd, but saw no sign of her anywhere. He stepped out into the room and was about to search the rest of the house, when he suddenly thought better of it. He marched back into the kitchen and grabbed Cartman by the wrist, then dragged him out of the room with him.

"The fuck?" Cartman whined, grabbing one last fistful of potato chips before Kyle dragged him physically from the kitchen.

"Just shut the fuck up, fatass," Kyle fumed at him. "You know exactly what you did."

Kyle dragged Cartman through the living room, then out onto the porch. No luck. Kyle led them back through the living room, stopping to ask any of Bebe's close friends that he happened across if they knew where she was. Next they checked the basement, to no avail. Kyle dragged Cartman back upstairs and started another pass through the kitchen, where they ran into Butters.

Kyle stopped and stood his ground, which involved digging his nails into Cartman's wrist and then yanking hard when he tried to bolt. "Hey, Butters," Kyle said with forced joviality. "Have you seen Bebe around anywhere?"

Butters gave Kyle a hopeful smile. "Well, sure, fellas, I saw her earlier." His expression grew troubled. "But she said I wasn't supposed to tell anyone where she was."

Cartman tugged again with his arm against Kyle's grip. "Oh, gee, you hear that, Kyle? Sounds like Bebe wants to be left alone. We'd better respect her wishes," he said.

Kyle looked Butters dead in the eye. "Listen, Butters. Cartman has something very important that he needs to tell Bebe." Butters' eyes darted back and forth between Kyle and Cartman, looking more and more anxious. "I realize Bebe's a little upset right now," Kyle continued. "But I guarantee that what Cartman has to say is going to make her feel a whole lot better. You understand?" he asked, putting on the most sincere expression he could manage.

Butters' shoulders drooped as his brows furrowed. "Well, gee, I guess she sure could use some cheering up right now," he said hesitantly. He looked at Kyle pleadingly. "You're sure she won't be sore at me?" he asked.

"I promise," Kyle said. "Now, seriously Butters, just tell us where she is, okay?" Kyle said, yanking Cartman back once again.

Butters fidgeted slightly, twiddling his thumbs. "She and Wendy went upstairs to her bedroom a little while ago," he said. "So far as I know, they haven't come back down yet," he added.

"Thanks, Butters," Kyle said as he dragged Cartman out of the kitchen and towards the living room staircase.

"Butters, you're dead to me," Cartman shouted back at him. "Dead, you hear me?" Kyle glanced back and got one last look at Butters' crestfallen expression before yanking Cartman through the doorway and up the stairs. They came to a halt at the first closed door at the top of the staircase, which was decorated with old, peeling stickers featuring unicorns and rainbows.

Kyle knocked hesitantly at the door. He heard the sound of somebody blowing their nose, followed by Wendy's voice flatly stating, "Go away."

"Wendy?" Kyle called. "It's Kyle," he said, then paused for the explosion of profanity that followed. "Listen, I know you guys are upset with me right now, and believe me, I don't blame you." He paused again to let Wendy finish another stream of profanity. "But Wendy, I really need to talk to Bebe right now."

"Get lost, asshole, she doesn't want to talk to you!" she called through the door.

Kyle leaned his forehead against the door. "Please, Wendy, it's important."

"No fucking chance," he heard Wendy shout.

He heard the indistinct sounds of a brief, muffled conversation going on within the room. Then the door opened to show Bebe standing in front of it, cheeks slightly blotchy but expression set into something calm and stony. "Yes?" she asked.

Kyle swallowed, no longer sure of what he wanted to say. He felt Cartman shift next to him. "Bebe, hello, how are you?" Cartman said. "This is quite a lovely party you've thrown here, bravo to you."

Kyle saw Wendy sigh exasperatedly from her seat on the bed. "Oh, what the fuck does he want?" she asked.

Kyle turned to look at Bebe seriously. "Bebe, listen. I just want to explain. I'm assuming you're upset about the Facebook thing." He paused for a moment as her expression shuttered and she turned her head slightly to stare at the wall. "Look, I don't know if you noticed, but somebody," he scowled and shook Cartman's arm for emphasis, "left nasty messages from me on the Facebook walls of every single person that I know."

Bebe looked back at him, eyebrows raised. "Really?" she asked, skeptical. "Every one?"

"Well, every one except Cartman's, strangely enough," he said. He watched her face. Her mouth was set in a firm line, but he thought he saw her eyes starting to soften a bit. "Even Stan's grandpa, dude."

Bebe shook her head, the faint beginnings of a smile starting to show on her face. "That's pretty low of you, Kyle. Picking on an old man like that," she said.

"I know," he said. He turned to glare at Cartman. "So anyway, my friend here has something that he wants to say to you." He pulled Cartman forward a little bit.

Cartman stared at Bebe's shoes and groaned theatrically. "Whatever, Bebe. I hope I didn't crush your precious feelings or something," he said, then glared at Kyle. "And for the record, any guy who has a shot with you and doesn't take it is clearly a raging queer, so. There you go. Can we go now?"

Kyle scowled at Cartman and let go of his wrist. "Fine. Thank you," he hissed.

Bebe smiled at the two of them almost fondly and shook her head. "Thanks for coming tonight, Kyle," she said. "We'll be down in a little bit." She turned away and closed the door.

"Kyle, I'm sorry," he heard Wendy's muffled voice through the door. "Cartman, you're still a piece of shit."

"Whatever, bitch," he muttered as he walked down the stairs, Kyle following behind him.

Cartman got downstairs and made a beeline for the kitchen. Kyle saw him pouring together generous servings of the contents of several bottles to make another day-glow green drink. Cartman noticed him staring, and blurted out a defensive, "What? After that, I could use another drink."

Kyle just shook his head and smiled faintly. "Yeah, well. So could I," he said.

Cartman smiled at him and pulled out another glass. "Well, why didn't you say so?" he asked, and handed his glass to Kyle before fixing a new drink for himself.

The two of them wandered through the party, getting progressively more intoxicated as the night wore on. Kyle couldn't find Stan anywhere. He was beginning to think that he'd ditched him.

Kyle eventually ran into Kenny coming up the stairs from the basement. "Dude, where have you been?" Kyle asked.

Kenny laughed and told him, "Craig and a few other guys are downstairs doing karaoke. He's pretty awful at it. You should go check it out."

"Oh God, seriously?" Kyle asked.

"Yeah, man, they're right downstairs." Kenny nodded downwards to illustrate.

Kyle walked downstairs to see Craig, Clyde, Annie, and Token sitting around the TV while Rebecca belted out The Monkees' "I'm a Believer" enthusiastically. He ran back upstairs and looked around frantically for Cartman.

He found him standing over in the corner of the living room, leaning against the wall, staring at nothing in particular. Kyle came over and grabbed him by the arm. "Dude," he said excitedly. "You have to come downstairs."

Cartman looked at Kyle, one eyebrow raised skeptically. "I do?" he asked.

"Yes," he said, leading him toward the stairway by the arm. "You really, really, do. Trust me."

Kyle led him to an open spot on the couch, then squeezed in between Cartman and the armrest. "What the fuck is this?" Cartman muttered in his ear.

"Shhh," Kyle said, grinning. "You'll like this."

Rebecca's song finished up, and she looked around to see who was next. Kyle begged her for the microphone and remote. When he got them, he handed the mic to Cartman, then started flipping through the songs.

"What are you doing?" Cartman asked, waving the microphone at him. "You want to sing?"

Kyle laughed. "What are you, nuts? No, you sing." He sat up excitedly when he saw they had Bonnie Tyler. He picked out "Total Eclipse of the Heart" and started it up. "Here, this is perfect. Go," he said.

"What the fuck, Kyle," Cartman said, but then once the vocals started he didn't miss a beat. After a couple of lines he stood up and started really performing. Kyle grinned smugly. Everyone else stared at him, speechless. The song eventually ended. Cartman noticed everyone watching him, and made a little curtsy.

Clyde began to clap, then trailed off when he realized Craig was glaring at him.

"Okay, Kyle, your turn," Craig said.

Kyle looked over at Craig on the loveseat and started to laugh again. "Me? No way. All the beer in the world couldn't get me drunk enough to subject you guys to that. You go ahead, though."

Cartman glared and shoved the microphone at him. "What the fuck? You made me do it."

Kyle smiled at Cartman in what he was pretty sure was a charming manner. "That's because you're the talent. Me, I just, you know, manage." He tried to pat him on the arm in a friendly way, but his coordination wasn't great and it came off sort of sloppy. He was pretty sure he'd had the effect he was going for, though. Cartman huffed and made an exaggerated scowl, but Kyle could tell he was secretly pleased. Well, either pleased or holding in a sneeze.

"Whatever. I guess it's your turn, asshole," he said and handed the microphone to Craig. Cartman flopped back down on the couch next to Kyle and pretended not to notice Craig flipping him the bird.

Craig took the remote and flipped through a bunch of songs on the screen. When he found what he was looking for he grinned and started up the song. Kyle thought it sounded vaguely familiar, but he couldn't quite place it. He was pretty sure it was the theme song to some old cartoon.

Craig was really getting into it. Kyle was shocked. Kenny's description earlier had been a severe understatement. Cartman turned to him with gleeful amazement. "Oh my God," he said in a hushed voice.

"I know," Kyle said.

"He's terrible," Cartman said.

"I know," Kyle said.

"This is the best night of my life," Cartman said.

"Me too," Kyle said, and patted Cartman on the knee.

They hung out like that on the couch for the next hour and a half. They sat pressed together, Cartman murmuring vicious character assassinations in Kyle's ear while Kyle tried not to laugh. Whenever it got to be Cartman's turn, Kyle monopolized the remote, picking out a series of increasingly ridiculous female pop songs that Cartman nevertheless proceeded to nail.

Eventually everyone else got bored and wandered off while Kyle and Cartman were making their way through Britney Spears' greatest hits. Kyle yawned and snuggled more deeply into the couch's armrest. He flicked through the karaoke selection until he found some old Dolly Parton songs.

Cartman looked like he was getting tired, too. He was half lying, half sitting with his feet up on the couch and his back against Kyle's shoulder. Kyle fell asleep to Cartman's sad, sleepy rendition of "Jolene," feeling completely comfortable and at peace.

He awoke the next morning with a pounding headache, a stiff neck, and a full bladder. He was lying with his head on the armrest of the couch, one leg up on the couch and one leg on the floor. Cartman was lying on his back, half on top of him, his feet up on the opposite armrest and his head resting in Kyle's armpit. Kyle couldn't feel his arm. He realized it was cradled protectively over Cartman's chest.

Kyle sat up abruptly, shoving Cartman off of him. He felt hungover and crabby. Judging by Cartman's pissed off expression upon waking, he felt the same.

"God damn it, you Jewish son of a bitch, don't fucking shove me," Cartman bit out. His face was creased from Kyle's shirt.

"Well, then, don't sleep on me," Kyle shot back.

Cartman glared at him. "I assure you, it will never happen again."

"Well, thank God for small favors," Kyle said. He sighed and rubbed his temples. He could feel himself being rude and awkward, but was somehow powerless to stop it. "Look, do you want a ride back to your car or something?" Kyle asked.

"No," Cartman snapped. "Butters can take me."

Kyle was pretty sure that Butters went home around eleven o'clock the night before, but whatever. He wasn't arguing. "Okay, fine. See you."

Kyle stormed off to Bebe's parents' lovely basement powder room to angrily pee. He paused to wash and dry his hands thoroughly, and then stormed out of the basement and into his mom's car to make the short drive home.

He'd just put the car in park when he noticed Cartman's gym bag on the floor in front of the passenger seat. He vividly imagined exactly how he was going to soak it in gasoline and then light it on fire while he cut the engine and pocketed his keys. Then he picked the bag up, carried it inside, and placed it carefully down in the back of his closet.

The next Monday, a little after noon, Kyle was sitting on his bed reading. He heard a pounding on the stairs before his door flew open and Cartman barged into his room.

"I've been thinking about what you said the other night," Cartman opened with.

"Uh huh," Kyle replied. He didn't remember saying anything particularly significant to Cartman, but okay. He figured he might as well see where this was going.

Cartman took a deep breath and said, "I've decided that you're right." He made a face like the admission was physically painful. "The natural business abilities bestowed upon you by your people could really work to my advantage. I will accept your offer to let you be my manager."

Kyle frowned. "I'm pretty sure I never offered that."

Cartman opened his arms wide. "Of course you did!"

Kyle raised his eyebrows.

"During karaoke!" Cartman continued, confident smirk never wavering.

Kyle shook his head no.

"Well, you heavily implied that you would be willing to act as my manager." Kyle opened his mouth, but Cartman put his hand patronizingly on his shoulder and barreled along with his speech before Kyle could force anything coherent out of his mouth. "I get it, I do, a couple of days have passed and you hadn't heard from me so now you're feeling a little hurt that I didn't accept your offer right away, and probably a little embarrassed because you're realizing the likely probability that I've seen through your faggy and slightly pathetic attempt to spend more time with me, but I'm willing to look past that and take your offer at face value, so come on. Let's get started." His face grew distracted and he started looking around Kyle's room. "Also, I'm pretty sure I left my bag in your car."

Kyle stared at him, slightly bug eyed. "You're unbelievable."

Cartman smiled smugly, apparently interpreting that as a compliment. "Why thank you, Kyle."

Kyle shook his head and scooted back on his bed to make room for Cartman to sit. "I don't even understand what you want me to do. Doesn't a manager, like, book somebody's gigs? You've already got gigs. You're in this stupid contest every Friday night."

"Managers also make sure their clients get paid," Cartman pointed out, trying to get comfortable at the foot of Kyle's bed.

"Uh, yeah, about that," Kyle said. "I mean, I assume the reason you're doing this is because of whatever you get for winning. But I still haven't been able to find out -- just what exactly is the prize?"

Cartman glanced over at Kyle. "Look, forget it. The point I'm trying to make, Kyle, is that as my manager it's up to you to make sure that I am compensated for my appearances. And since I only get compensated if I win, it's up to you to make sure I win."

"What?" Kyle asked, incredulous. "How the hell am I supposed to do that?"

Cartman blew out a frustrated sigh. "With your Jewy cunning and eye for detail and strategy, God; I thought I made that part clear."

Kyle shook his head, utterly baffled. What the hell was Cartman even asking for, then? Was this just some convoluted way of getting Kyle to help him with his fucking drag show act? "Is this just some convoluted way of asking me to help you with your fucking drag show act?" Kyle asked.

Cartman looked up, caught off guard. "What? No," he said. "Not really. I mean, there's a lot more to this arrangement than that, Kyle, I think you're really oversimplifying what promises to be a truly beautiful and possibly mutually beneficial business relationship here with your—"

"Because if I'm going to help you, I'm going to need a little bit more information first," Kyle interrupted, tired of Cartman's game. For some reason it stopped being fun for Kyle once he knew he'd already lost.

"What do you need to know?" Cartman asked, eyes narrowed, sounding stupidly unhappy for a guy who'd just gotten his way.

"Well, first of all, how much longer is this going to go on for?" Kyle could see Cartman gearing up to get his panties in a twist, so he hastily continued, "The contest, I mean. There were two other, uh, participants left besides you, right? That means two more weeks, I guess?"

Cartman shook his head. "No, just one more week. Whoever wins this last time wins it all."

Kyle felt a weight on his chest begin to lift at the knowledge that in less than a week he could put this whole thing behind himself. He tilted his head at Cartman and asked, "Again – what are you even winning?"

Cartman took a deep breath. "The winner will appear in a Justin Timberlake video, plus they're entitled to a two week stay at a luxury apartment in Burbank, California while filming."

Kyle tried to keep his expression neutral while he processed everything. The probability was climbing higher and higher that Cartman was, in fact, planning on kidnapping Justin Timberlake for ransom money. Or at the very least, planning to do terrible things to him. Like put on a dress and sing to him.

Cartman looked at Kyle's stony expression and interpreted it as an invitation to continue. "Plus, according to Michael – he's the guy from the record company who's been overseeing the contest, I've totally got an in with him – if I manage to impress his boss, who's in talks with this executive from Style, they may opt to keep me at the apartment for an extra six months to film a reality series," he finished, hands on his knees, excited and self-satisfied all at once.

Kyle blinked at him, at a loss for words. Cartman's smug smile began to falter slightly. He raised an eyebrow at Kyle and asked him, "So?"

"Well. Huh," Kyle said. "Burbank... That's near Caltech."

Cartman sighed deeply. "Yes, Kyle, much as it pains me to know I'll be a few miles away from your stupid Jew face and your dirty hippie school, I've decided to look past it to secure a better future for myself."

Kyle wrinkled his nose. "I'm going for engineering. Hippies don't go to engineering school." Kyle grew thoughtful. "But what about school?" he asked. "Your school, I mean. Won't this thing interfere with you starting?" He knew that Kenny had received a scholarship to some art school out in Washington state, and Stan was getting his associate's at community college here in Park County before figuring out someplace to transfer to, but he'd never bothered to ask where Cartman was going. If he was even going at all.

Cartman scoffed. "Whatever. I don't have time for bullshit like that right now."

Kyle shook his head, exasperated. "What are you even talking about?"

Cartman glared at Kyle and shook his finger at him. "You mark my words, Kyle Broflovski. College is a waste of time. I need to focus on making millions of dollars now. And then, when I'm a highly successful and fabulously wealthy entertainment mogul, I can just make a hefty endowment to the school of my choice, and earn myself an honorary degree." Kyle opened his mouth to protest, but Cartman ignored him. "Without pissing away four of my best years in the meantime," he finished.

Kyle threw his hands up in frustration. "Cartman, kidnapping Justin Timberlake is not going to make you millions of dollars, or get you an honorary degree!"

Cartman flushed hotly. "Who even said – I do not want to kidnap Justin Timberlake!" he shouted at him. "I have a plan, here! A real fucking plan," he added, struggling to get his voice and his expression under control. "And as deeply troubling as I find it to say this, Kyle, I need your help."

Kyle frowned sourly. "Fine," he said.

Cartman opened his mouth to argue, then stopped. "Fine?" he asked.

Kyle turned away, scowling. "Yes, fine, okay? I'll do it," he said.

"All right, Kyle," Cartman said, patting him exuberantly on the back. "You won't be sorry. Naturally, as manager, you'll be entitled to 20% of my net earnings while under your management." Cartman clapped him on the back one final time before getting to his feet. "Come over my place tomorrow afternoon and we'll get to work," he said.

Kyle sat on his bed as Cartman walked out of his bedroom. He was deeply disappointed in himself. Suddenly Cartman popped his head back into the doorway and told him, "Oh, and don't forget to bring my bag with you when you come tomorrow."

"Sure," Kyle replied, then flopped down on his bed. He briefly considered smothering himself with his pillow. He opted instead to pick his book back up and spend the rest of the afternoon pretending that whole conversation hadn't just happened.

The next afternoon, so late it was almost evening, Kyle's mom left to take Ike to a doctor's appointment. Kyle waited until he heard her car pull out of the driveway. Then he waited about ten minutes longer, just to be safe.

Not that his mother would have a problem with him spending an early summer afternoon over at his friend's house. Acquaintance's house. Business associate. Something.

Whatever. He didn't need to justify himself.

He continued not justifying his actions to himself or anybody else in his head on the walk over to Cartman's house, Cartman's gym bag full of ladies' clothing slung over his shoulder.

Kyle reached Cartman's house more quickly than he was quite ready for. He briefly entertained the notion of taking another quick lap or seven around the block before heading up the walkway to the door, but at the last minute he decided against it. After all, the quicker he got in there, the quicker he could probably get out.

He walked up the front steps to stand in front of the door. He pressed the doorbell gingerly. Then, when he didn't hear anything, he pulled open the screen door to knock briskly against the front door. Finally he heard footsteps pounding from within the house.

Cartman pulled open the front door. For a split second Kyle thought he actually looked nervous. The notion was clearly a ridiculous one, because as soon as he saw Kyle standing there his face broke out into a smug grin. "Well, well, well, look who decided to show up," he drawled, standing in the doorway looking down at Kyle on the stoop below him.

Kyle bristled and shoved past Cartman into the house. "I'm here, okay, let's just get started."

Cartman smirked as he shut the front door. "My, aren't you eager to get going," he said.

Kyle frowned and stuck his hands in the pockets of his sweatshirt. "Look, the sooner we get started, the sooner we'll be done, right?" He glanced around at Cartman's living room. "Did you want to go upstairs, or what?" he asked.

Cartman raised his eyebrows and smiled wryly to himself. Kyle saw his face and scowled. "Oh, fuck you, you know what I meant." Kyle stomped upstairs. "I'll be in your room," he called down.

Kyle was seated at Cartman's desk with a piece of paper and a pen, when Cartman came in and sat on his bed. Kyle turned around to face him. "Okay, so, where do we stand here? What exactly to you need to accomplish by Friday?" he asked.

Cartman frowned. "What do you mean? I need to win on Friday."

Kyle sighed, exasperated. "I know you need to win. But what do you need to do first in order to do that?" He shook his head at Cartman's blank expression. "Like, what steps do we need to take here? Do you need to learn a new song or dance or something? Put together an outfit? Is there, like, a secret judge that we should be buttering up?"

"Oh," Cartman said. "Well, the secret judge is Michael from the record company, and I've already been buttering him up." He thought for a moment, then said, "But all that other stuff, we should probably do all that. Good thinking, Kyle,"

Kyle made a frustrated sound. "Do all what? Pick a song? Learn a dance? Pick an outfit?" he asked.

Cartman nodded. "Yeah, that."

Kyle sighed and wrote 1. Song 2. Dance 3. Clothes down on his piece of paper.

Cartman stood up and clapped his hands. "Well, I feel pretty accomplished. I'm going to go get a snack. You want something?" he asked.

Kyle shook his head miserably.

"Suit yourself," he said, then wandered downstairs by himself. He came back up a few minutes later with a bag of Cheesy Poofs and a can of Dr. Pepper.

Kyle doodled mushroom clouds in the margins of his paper. Then he drew a killer robot. He added lasers coming from its eyes. Then he sighed and scribbled it all out.

Kyle glanced over at Cartman stuffing orange handfuls into his mouth and thought back to the time back in the fourth grade when Butters had showed everyone that video of him dancing around with a cardboard Justin Timberlake standee. Kyle remembered with glee how pissed off and weird Cartman had acted for weeks afterward. He smiled to himself and choked back a laugh.

Cartman shot him a suspicious look. "What the fuck's so funny, asshole?"

Kyle looked innocently over at him. "Nothing."

Cartman's expression turned peevish. "Uh huh." Cartman looked like he was gearing up for a never ending sulk, and Kyle started to feel a little bad.

For himself, mostly.

"I was just trying to think of what song you should do," Kyle said. "I don't know. I'm sort of thinking Britney Spears."

Cartman's sulk started to soften as he turned thoughtful. "Yes, yes, Britney. It's got charm, popular appeal, plus the element of tragedy that could really get the crowd working in our favor." He stroked his fat chin. "Only one problem."

Kyle sighed. "What?"

"The Justin connection. Could be a plus for a certain subset of the crowd that really loves irony; but we might wind up blowing it with everyone else. Too risky. But very nice first try, Kyle, I'm impressed. You're on the right track. Keep up the good work," Cartman said as he walked over and clapped him on the shoulder. Kyle was relieved to note that he didn't use the hand he'd been using to eat his Cheesy Poofs.

Kyle turned to stare out the window. The sky was starting to glow as the late summer sunset approached. At this rate he'd never get out of here. He frowned at Cartman's computer on the desk next to him. "Hey, Cartman," he said.

"What?" Cartman asked.

"Let me look through your iPod," he said.

Cartman frowned. "I don't know," he said slowly.

"Oh, come on," Kyle said. "It will give me an idea about what kind of song we can use," he said.

Cartman appeared to turn it over slowly in his head before finally saying, "All right, I guess," and fumbling around in his bedside table until he pulled it out and handed it to Kyle.

Kyle popped just one of the ear buds into his ear and started flicking through the tracks on random. "Look, if I've learned anything about the crowd at that bar, it's that they prefer songs that are upbeat and campy," Kyle said, and glanced over at Cartman. "I mean, you could do the most beautiful and heart wrenching performance of some serious ballad, and then still wind up losing to some idiot in a leotard dancing to Beyonce." Kyle watched Cartman blush and look away. "So, it's got to be something fun, is what I'm saying," Kyle finished, feeling somewhat embarrassed at the fact that he had actual opinions about this now.

After another ten minutes of flipping through songs at random, Kyle's eyes lit up. He hopped up to go sit on the bed next to Cartman and stuck the other ear bud in his ear.

Cartman yelped and jerked slightly away. "What the fuck?"

Kyle frowned. "Just listen," he said. He watched Cartman's face as the song slowly sank into his ears. Cartman's eyes widened and he broke into a surprised grin.

"Kyle, you beautiful Jewish genius," he said. "Lady Gaga. Just Dance. Disco sticks. I love it," he said. "I'm so impressed I could kiss you right now."

Kyle blushed and stood abruptly, ear bud popping out of his ear and bouncing once off Cartman's chest before dangling pendulously below his knee. "Well, on that note, I think it's time for me to get going."

Cartman picked up the other ear bud and popped it in his ear. "Whatever. Come over the same time tomorrow, we'll work on an outfit," he said distractedly.

"Fine," Kyle said. He made his way out the door, out of the house, and back home.

The next day Kyle walked over after dinner and knocked on Cartman's door. He heard the television shut off, then the door opened and Cartman appeared.

"It's about time," he scowled and stepped aside for Kyle to come in.

Kyle shrugged and walked inside. "I had stuff to do," he said.

Cartman looked at him doubtfully. "Like what?" he asked.

Kyle sighed. "I don't know. What do you care? Let's just get this over with," he said.

Cartman turned away and walked upstairs, shoulders hunched and mouth set in an unhappy line. Kyle hesitated for a moment, hating Cartman all over again for what he assumed was some kind of subtle trickery to make him feel like a bad person. He headed upstairs after Cartman. He opened the door to his room and stepped inside.

"Close that behind you," Cartman said.

"Okay," Kyle said and softly pushed the door until it clicked shut. He turned around to look at Cartman, but got distracted by what was on his bed. There were six different dresses laid out on top of his comforter. Three wigs rested on top of his pillows. A collection of stockings was draped over his desk chair. The door to his closet was open, giving Kyle a glimpse of several pairs of very large women's shoes. "Oh my God," he breathed.

Cartman fidgeted slightly. "Well, you're supposed to help me pick an outfit, right?" he asked.

Kyle took a step forward so that he was standing next to the chair. "Right," he said absently. There were several pairs of plain sheer stockings that looked just like the type his mother wore. But then there were also several types of fishnets, with small and large holes, and some pairs with delicate patterns in the material like flowers. He fingered a pair of sheer black stockings that had a decorative seam that ran all the way up the backs to their lacy thigh high tops.

It occurred to Kyle that there was a very good chance that Cartman had been shaving his legs.

Cartman sucked in a noisy breath like he was about to say something, but remained silent. Kyle gave a guilty start and snatched his hand back. He looked over at Cartman who was watching him warily.

Kyle took a step towards the dresses laid out on Cartman's bed and tried to focus. "Okay, so," he said, "what you need is something flashy. It has to make you look fun, but still attractive." He looked over at Cartman and smiled slightly. "You know, in that dude-in-ladies'-clothes way you're so good at."

Cartman snorted and rolled his eyes. "Why thank you, Kyle, how kind of you to notice."

Kyle frowned at the dresses consideringly. "Do you have any, like, scarves or something?" he asked.

Cartman shook his head in disbelief. "A scarf? No, I don't have any fucking scarves." He walked over to one of his dresser drawers and pulled it out, setting it on an empty spot on the bed. "I do, however, have three feather boas and a sizable collection of costume jewelry."

Kyle peered inside the drawer. "So you do," he said, not sure whether to be scared or impressed. He pulled out a black feather boa and tossed it at Cartman. Kyle then picked up a short, sequined silver dress and held it up. "I don't remember you wearing this before," he said.

Cartman looked at it. "I wore it the first or second week," he said.

"That's perfect," Kyle said. "It's not a recent repeat. Plus it looks like it's made out of a giant disco ball, that's totally the look you're going for. And the best part is, it shows off your legs."

Cartman frowned. "Kyle, don't take this the wrong way, because I assure you that I am indeed very attractive. But I'm not sure if I exactly have the best legs for showing off."

Kyle looked Cartman up and down in a fashion that most would probably call checking him out. He was fat, sure, but it was all mostly on top. He carried a lot of weight on his torso and his arms, leaving his legs comparatively small. They were certainly big compared to, say, Kyle's, but they were soft, and that softness made them almost look feminine. "Don't be ridiculous," he said. "They're your best feature."

Cartman suddenly turned away and busied himself with looking at something deep within his closet. Kyle thought the tips of his ears looked a little pink. "Well, okay, then," Cartman said. "You're the manager."

"Hey, while you're in there, see if you have a pair of black heels," Kyle said to him.

Cartman emerged a few moments later. "I have two," he said. He held up one pair, a pair of wedges that looked like they secured with some complicated network of crisscrossing ribbons. Kyle shook his head. He held up the other pair, a pair of fairly simple chunky black shoes with a four inch heel and a single strap to fasten. Kyle nodded. "Those are great," he said.

He handed Cartman the disco ball dress and his wavy brown-black wig. "Here, try it on. Make sure it works," he told him.

Cartman gave him a wary look. "Okay, turn around and close your eyes," he said.

Kyle's eyebrows shot up. "What? No. I'll just wait outside," he said.

"No," Cartman said quickly, then looked embarrassed. Kyle tilted his head at him. "I, uh," he said. "I don't want my mom to see what I'm doing."

Kyle stared at him. "She doesn't know?" he asked.

Cartman glared at him. "Well, why would she?" he shot back.

Kyle raised his hands placatingly. "All right, sorry," he said. "I wouldn't want my mom to see what I'm doing right now either, for what it's worth," he grumbled as he turned around and made a show out of covering his eyes with his hands.

He heard rustling sounds coming from behind him. It was a few minutes before Cartman called out, "Okay, ready."

Kyle turned around. Just as he predicted, Cartman looked like a disco ball. But in a good way. The shoes and the boa managed to complement his hair and bring the whole thing together nicely. It was just missing the stockings. "Sit down," he said to Cartman, who raised his eyebrows but then moved aside the other dresses to sit down on the edge of the bed.

Kyle grabbed a few pairs of stockings that he thought would work, then sat next to Cartman on the bed. "I don't know which pair to go with. Just pick the ones you like best, I guess." Kyle tried to surreptitiously check out Cartman's legs for any evidence that he did or did not shave.

Cartman picked up and discarded the two pairs of fishnets. He picked up the pair of sheer stockings with the seam up the back that Kyle had been touching earlier, and laid them against the exposed patch of skin on his thighs. Kyle looked down at them. He noticed pale brown stubble growing in patchily on Cartman's knees. He swallowed and looked up at Cartman's face. "Those should be fine," he said thickly, then stood.

"Well, looks like you're all set," he said and strode over to the door. "I'd better get going."

"Right," Cartman said, staring at his lap. "You coming over tomorrow?" he asked without looking up.

Kyle nodded, then realized Cartman wasn't looking at him. "I think so," he said.

"Okay," Cartman replied. "See you then."

"See you," Kyle said, and left.

At home in bed that night Kyle couldn't stop thinking about Cartman's legs.

On Thursday, Kyle figured that in the interest of getting things done he should go over a little earlier than he had the last two days. Around two o'clock he walked over to Cartman's house, carrying a small notepad and pencil with him in his back pocket, just in case.

He knocked on Cartman's door. Nothing happened. He knocked again. Nothing happened. He grumbled to himself and sat down on Cartman's stoop, then pulled out his cell phone and called him.

Cartman picked up after the third ring. "Kyle," he said by way of greeting.

"Cartman," he responded. "Where are you?"

Cartman sounded mildly surprised. "I'm in bed. Where are you?" he asked.

Kyle scowled. "Are you dressed?" he asked, then wanted to smack himself in the face for asking it.

He could practically hear Cartman's stupid smug expression over the phone. "Why, Kyle, are you asking me what I'm wearing? I always knew your ass was gay for me," he said.

Kyle cringed. "God damn it, Cartman, just put your pants on and come let me in," he shouted. "I'm out front." He heard laughter before the call was disconnected. A few minutes later Cartman opened the door, fully dressed.

Cartman smirked as Kyle walked in. "You really think I lounge around my room with nothing on in the middle of the afternoon?"

Kyle waved his arms exasperatedly. "No!" he shouted. "I don't know! Who wears pants in bed?" he asked.

Cartman shrugged. "I don't know. Who sits around wondering what their guy friends are wearing in bed?" he asked.

Kyle made a frustrated sound and stomped upstairs. "I'll be in your room," he said.

"Be right up," Cartman called.

Kyle was sitting at the foot of Cartman's bed when he came inside, carrying a bag of chips and two cans of soda, one regular and one diet. He handed the diet soda to Kyle, then flopped down at the head of the bed and opened his soda.

"Okay, so," Kyle said, "I think we need to talk strategy."

Cartman took a swig of soda and opened up the bag of chips. "Strategy, right," he said.

"Yeah," Kyle agreed. "So. Have you given it any thought?" he asked, looking hopefully at Cartman.

Cartman looked up at him, then looked away. "Sure. I'm going to show up tomorrow, I'm going to sing a song, and I'm going to win."

Kyle sighed. "Okay, then. But I was thinking maybe we should go over this in a little more detail," he said.

Cartman grabbed a handful of chips, then set the bag down on the bed between them. He shrugged. "I don't know, I think I have a pretty good handle on things. Show up. Sing song. Win."

"Great," Kyle said, and opened up his can of soda. "Sounds like you're all set. Guess you don't need me."

Cartman rolled his eyes. "Oh, get the sand out of your vagina, Kyle. We'll get to it," he promised.

Kyle harrumphed and took a handful of chips. "If you say so," he said. The two of them munched quietly on their chips for a while.

"There's one tactic that I don't think we've really fully explored," Cartman said.

"Oh yeah?" Kyle asked, grabbing another handful of potato chips. "What's that?"

Cartman leaned forward, face deadly serious. Kyle sat up, expectant in spite of himself. Cartman was silent for a moment, drawing it out.

"Sabotage," he said.

Kyle rolled his eyes and flopped back. "Oh, come on," he groaned.

"Hey, I'm serious, Kyle," Cartman said, waving a greasy finger at him. "You mark my words, the only way to get anywhere in life is by tearing down the people in your way."

"Hmm," Kyle said. "I still think it wouldn't hurt for you to, say, practice, too."

"Practice?" Cartman asked through his mouthful of chips. "What's that?"

Kyle boggled at him. "Wait – what?" he asked. "You don't practice?"

Cartman looked at him seriously for several moments, then swallowed his chips and shot him a shit eating grin. Kyle rolled his eyes and smacked him in the shoulder before taking another swig of diet soda.

Very little actual practice or planning occurred that afternoon. There was, however, several hours of dicking around and eating snacks that happened instead. Walking home that evening, Kyle was not so sure about how well that was going to work out for Cartman.

Kyle walked over to Cartman's on Friday about a half hour before he knew Cartman usually liked to leave. He didn't see Cartman's mom's car in the driveway.

He knocked on the door and heard Cartman call down, "It's open!"

Kyle stepped inside and looked around. "Cartman?" he called.

"Upstairs," he heard him answer. Kyle headed upstairs to Cartman's room. He knocked and opened the door to his bedroom. Cartman was already wearing the silver disco ball dress, but nothing else. He'd already done whatever it was that he did to give himself boobs. Falsies, Kyle figured they were called. He thought he'd heard that word before.

"You're getting dressed before you leave this time?" Kyle asked before he sat down on Cartman's beg.

Cartman shrugged. "Yeah, well. In the interest of being fully prepared and all, I figured it might give me a little edge if I'm not scrambling to do my makeup in a public restroom this time."

Kyle smiled. "Makes sense," he said.

Cartman was staring into the mirror on his closet door, trying to see if his wig was on right. "This looks okay, doesn't it?" he asked.

Kyle nodded. "Yeah. It's fine," he said.

Cartman sighed and wandered over to sit on the bed near Kyle. "Okay, so, this might sound a little strange," Cartman said.

Kyle was transfixed by the way the hem of the dress hugged Cartman's thighs. "Okay," he said.

"But, uh," Cartman said. "It's possible that I might be a little nervous."

Kyle searched Cartman's legs for any hint of stubble, but couldn't see any. "It's okay," he murmured. "It's only natural."

"Right," Cartman said. "Well, then." He stood up and walked over to his dresser. Kyle's eyes tracked the movement of his knees. Cartman grabbed the pair of stockings that he'd picked out yesterday, and walked over to his desk chair, preparing to sit down.

"Wait," Kyle blurted out. He tore his eyes up to look at Cartman's face. He was staring at him with eyebrows raised.

"Yes?" he asked.

Kyle's gaze flitted back down to Cartman's thighs, then fixed firmly on the floor. "You shaved your legs," he said, feeling himself blush.

Cartman was quiet for a moment. "Yes," he said warily.

"What's," he said, then stopped. "What's it feel like?" he asked.

Cartman shook his head, confused. "What – my legs?"

"No," Kyle muttered, cheeks flaming. "I don't know. Maybe."

Cartman took a step closer to him, then another, peering at him curiously. They were less than arm's width apart. "You want to know what it feels like to shave your legs?" he asked, incredulous.

Kyle kept his eyes fixed on the ground. "No," he gritted out. "Not really," he said, then added, "I just. Can I touch one?" he asked, mortified.

Cartman looked visibly startled. "My leg?" he asked in a strangled voice. "You," he breathed out, embarrassed and suspicious, "you want to touch my leg."

Kyle didn't think he could speak. He stared at the floor between Cartman's feet, cheeks hot, and mouthed the word, maybe.

Cartman took a half step closer. He cleared his throat. "Okay," he said.

Kyle glanced up at his sincerely confused expression, then glanced back down again to stare at Cartman's soft, smooth thighs. He placed his hand gently against the inside of Cartman's calf, then ran it slowly up to his thigh, stopping with his fingers teasing just inside the hem line. He drew his hand slowly back down again and rested it on the soft inner aspect of his pudgy knee. Cartman sucked in a ragged breath, then jumped away to put on his stockings.


Kyle stood abruptly and went to the door. "I'll just wait on the couch," he said, and fled downstairs.

Cartman came down about ten minutes later, not quite looking him in the eye. "Come on," he said, and led the way out to the car with Kyle in tow.

Kyle was slightly scared that Cartman wouldn't be able to drive in his shoes, but somehow they made it there. Cartman left him at the car to hurry in and do whatever it was that he actually had to do before these things. Kyle made his way slowly inside and found a spot to sit.

The actual competition passed by in a blur. Kyle wasn't sure which act was most likely to give Cartman a run for his money. One moment he thought Cartman's routine was amazing, the next he thought it was the most embarrassing thing he'd ever seen. He had no perspective on the matter.

He was relieved when the last act finished up and the DJ put out the ballots. He went up and scribbled in his votes, then headed back to his seat to wait for it all to be over.

He saw Cartman standing off to the side, looking out at him. Kyle smiled weakly at him. Cartman's face relaxed into something short of a smile. The DJ eventually called all three of them back out onto the stage, and made an extremely long-winded speech about God even knew what before finally getting to the point.

"And the winner of the first – and quite possibly the last – ever Chubbie's annual drag competition is—" The DJ paused for dramatic effect. Cartman stood there at stage left, smiling smugly, striking a pose along with the other two contestants. The man or whatever on the right looked somewhat nauseated.

Kyle caught himself holding his breath, then forced himself to let it out slowly. Distantly he realized he'd forgotten not to vote for Cartman this time.

He glared at the DJ, willing him to get on with it. He wasn't even sure what he was hoping for anyway.

"—Madame LaPoutine," the DJ finished. The bar patrons creaked out a smattering of polite applause.

The contestant on the right burst into tears. The one in the middle looked furious. He stamped his foot and shouted, "This is bullshit!"

Cartman said something to him that Kyle couldn't make out from where he was sitting. Suddenly the angry drag queen launched himself at Cartman, snarling and scratching at his face. Kyle stood up, alarmed.

The DJ stepped in to try to separate the two of them, then jumped back quickly when Cartman's assailant drew back and made like to punch the DJ in the face. A couple of shrieks went up from some of the people sitting towards the front. A group started chanting, "Fight, fight, fight!" Kyle shook his head, feeling sorry for himself for ever getting sucked into this situation.

Kyle saw movement along the side of the room. Steve the bouncer was making his way up to the stage. He ignored the stairs, opting instead to hoist himself over the side of the stage with one arm, never slowing down from his easy trot. He reached over and plucked the angry loser off of Cartman with one arm, depositing him carefully on the ground before reaching down to pick his wig up off the stage floor where it fell.

Cartman brushed himself off and patted his wig to make sure it was still on right. Kyle saw a guy in a navy blue suit who had been standing off to the side start walking up the stairs of the stage. He had something shiny and plastic in his hand. He approached Cartman, who even with his heels on was a few inches shorter than the guy. Cartman tilted his face up and smiled sweetly at him. The guy leaned in close and set a silver plastic tiara on Cartman's head, brushing a few strands of his wig out of his face while he was there. The two remained standing like that while the DJ blathered on about something over the mic.

Kyle realized with a sudden flash of irrational fury that this was the guy in the gray suit who had been flirting with Cartman a few weeks ago.

Logically, he had to be the shadow judge Michael who Cartman had mentioned. Kyle had never actually met him and never planned to do so. For some reason, though, he'd decided that he hated him. Something about the cut of his jacket, maybe. Or his stupid skinny tie, like he was some sort of hipster from the nineteen-sixties.

Kyle took his seat again and watched as Michael the shadow judge led Cartman off the stage with a hand on the small of his back. The two spent a few more minutes standing inappropriately close together and talking, before Michael handed Cartman a business card and walked away.

Cartman came over to stand next to Kyle. He rested one hand on the back of his chair and said, "Come on, let's get the fuck out of here."

Kyle's mouth twisted and he said sarcastically, "You sure your boyfriend won't mind you leaving so early?"

Cartman gave him a puzzled look. "What the fuck are you talking about?" he asked.

Kyle was suddenly embarrassed. "Never mind," he said and stood. "Let's go."

Cartman looked relieved. They started walking toward the exit together. "Listen, I was thinking," he said to Kyle. "I'm starving. And I think I owe you for all your hard work. How about I take you to Denny's?"

Kyle smiled. "I guess it's only fair."

"Right," Cartman said. They walked out the front door and waved goodbye to Steve the bouncer back at his post. "Now I'm going to need you to drive – my feet hurt."

Kyle shook his head and pulled Cartman's keys out of his pocket, hitting the button to unlock his doors. The two got in and Kyle adjusted the seat and mirrors. He started up the car and pulled out of the parking spot.

He paused at the lot's exit and glanced at Cartman. "Did you want to stop home first?" he asked.

Cartman shrugged. "Nah, let's just go," he said.

"Okay," Kyle said dubiously, eyeing the tiara. He drove them the short distance to the Denny's, hoping nobody they knew would be there. Maybe Cartman was leaving town in the morning, but Kyle was stuck here until the end of the summer. He didn't particularly relish the thought of being known as the weirdo who brought a drag queen to the Denny's for the rest of his time in South Park.

When they got to the Denny's, the hostess blanched and then seated them all the way in the back. She placed their menus on the table, telling them that their waitress would be with them shortly. She glanced again at Cartman's tiara and asked, "What are you supposed to be, exactly? Some kind of pageant winner or something?"

Kyle snorted and Cartman smirked. "That's right – I'm the Queen of Chubbies," he said, and leaned back with his arms crossed behind his head, slouching down a bit to rest his feet on the bench to either side of Kyle.

Kyle looked down at Cartman's calves disappearing under the table. With the way Cartman's right foot was resting on the ball of his ankle, Kyle had a clear view of the decorative seam running up the back length of Cartman's sheer black stockings. His fingers twitched as they remembered the feel of Cartman's soft inner thigh. He swallowed and muttered, "Evidently," under his breath.

The hostess gave the two of them a terrified look and hurried back to the front of the restaurant.

After a longer than usual wait, the waitress came over looking about as alarmed as the hostess had. She took their orders and brought them out their drinks, then did her best to avoid them for the rest of the night. A busboy brought them out their food.

Cartman paused several bites into his Moon Over My Hammy to say, "So I've been thinking."

"Okay," Kyle said, shoveling more bacon and chocolate chip pancake into his mouth.

"As manager, you're entitled to twenty percent of my earnings, right?" Cartman said.

"Oh yeah," Kyle said. "I'm not really sure how you figure out twenty percent of an unpaid music video appearance. I figured you could just give me a copy of the single you'll be in the video for and we'd call it even."

Cartman nodded, studying his home fries. He looked up at Kyle with a smile on his face and hooded eyes and said, "Well, you could always come out and stay in 20% of my luxury apartment with me."

Kyle shook his head and frowned. "What? That doesn't make sense. I don't need to be in California until September," he said.

Cartman laughed awkwardly and took a huge gulp of his chocolate milk shake. "Whatever, I was just kidding, Kyle. God. Don't be so serious," he said, scowling. "I wouldn't want you staying with me anyway, you stupid Jew."

Kyle blinked. "Okay," he said, suddenly angry. "Fine. I wouldn't want to stay with you either."

Cartman turned his head away. "Good. Because I wouldn't want you staying with me," he said.

Kyle glared at him. "No kidding. You just said that, fatass."

Cartman took another bite of his sandwich. "I know," he said. "I was just repeating myself so that you wouldn't forget how much I would hate to have you staying with me."

Kyle rolled his eyes and went back to his pancakes. Not long after, the waitress came back to drop off their check. "Here you go, sir," she said to Kyle, apparently doing her very best to pretend Cartman didn't exist. "Just to let you know, we're closing in about fifteen minutes. Can I get you any boxes?"

Kyle gaped at her. "You're open twenty-four hours," he said.

"Oh," she said, and blushed. "Yes. Normally. But," she said, floundering, "not tonight. Since, because. Repairs," she finished weakly, and skittered off.

Cartman shook his head. "She didn't even wait to see if I wanted a box." He sighed and picked up the check, then balled it up and dropped it in his glass. "All right, let's go," he said.

Kyle looked at him skeptically. "Aren't you going to pay?" he asked.

"Of course," Cartman said, and started walking toward the front. He glanced back at Kyle, standing frozen by the table. "Hurry up," he said.

Kyle came unstuck with a visible effort and walked alongside Cartman to the exit.

When the approached the podium, the hostess looked at them distastefully and asked, "Did you two need to settle up?"

Cartman looked genuinely surprised. "Oh, I'm sorry. I left it on the table," he said, then gave Kyle a little kick.

"Oh, um," Kyle said. "That's right. Please let our waitress know she can keep the change – she really earned it," he said.

The hostess gave them a wide berth as they exited. They walked through the double doors, then burst into laughter as they ran for Cartman's car. Kyle hit the remote to unlock the doors, and they both jumped in, Cartman and his four inch heels in the passenger seat. Kyle started the engine and peeled out of there, fastening his seatbelt after he was already on the road. Cartman was laughing hysterically.

Kyle tried to glare at him, but it didn't work so well on account of all the smiling he was doing. "You son of a bitch," he yelled. "I can't believe you made me do that!"

"I didn't make you do anything," Cartman said to him, grinning. "You're a natural."

"Oh God," Kyle said as he gripped the wheel and sped back to Cartman's house. "I'm a criminal."

Cartman laughed the rest of the way home. Kyle tried to look stern, but he kept accidentally grinning like a nut. If there was a hell, he was definitely going there.

Kyle parked the car in Cartman's driveway, then hopped out and walked around to grab Cartman's bag out of the back seat. He smothered a laugh as Cartman opened the passenger side door and gracelessly struggled to his feet in his four inch heels.

"Hey, Cartman," Kyle said. Cartman looked up. "Think fast." Kyle tossed Cartman his keys, and was slightly disappointed when he caught them.

Kyle followed Cartman to the front door, Cartman's gym bag slung over his shoulder. He watched Cartman unlock the door, then followed him into the house. Cartman leaned against the wall a few feet from the door and pulled his shoes off one by one.

"Ahhhh," he moaned, and wiggled his toes. Kyle felt a strange relief to find himself taller than Cartman once again.

At this point the thing to do was probably hand Cartman his bag, force out a final goodbye, and walk the hell out of his house and hopefully his life.

Instead Kyle decided to be a gentleman and carry Cartman's crap upstairs for him.

He wordlessly followed Cartman up the stairs and into his room. Cartman flopped down on his bed and tossed his shoes in the direction of his closet, missing by about a foot so that they thunked against his wall. He then slid his wig off and tossed it over to flutter to the ground next to his shoes.

As Kyle stepped inside he carefully closed the door behind himself and locked it – out of habit, he told himself, as he watched his hand deliberately twist the lock on the doorknob.

Cartman was lying on his bed, head on the pillow, looking up at the ceiling as he scratched idly at the pink skin of his upper thigh where his thigh-high stockings were cutting into him. Kyle sat down on the edge of the bed, even with Cartman's hip, body turned slightly sideways to face him. He frowned at Cartman's stockings. "Don't they hurt?" he asked.

"Hmm?" Cartman asked, turning his head slightly to look at him. "What, these?" he asked, dragging his finger along under the top edge of his left stocking. Kyle's eyes tracked the movement. "Not really," he said. "It's the shoes that hurt."

"Oh," Kyle said dumbly. He reached out with one hand to trace his fingers slowly along Cartman's right thigh, enjoying the feel of the stockings against the pads of his fingers. Cartman sucked in a harsh breath through his nose, then let it out shakily.

Kyle dragged his fingers up to the top of the stocking, then wiggled one finger under the top edge to drag it back and forth against Cartman's skin in a slow mimic of the way he'd watched him scratch his thigh moments before. Kyle darted his eyes quickly up to glance at Cartman's face. He was staring at Kyle with cheeks growing pink, lips slightly parted, eyes widening in terrified amazement.

Kyle blushed furiously and stared once again at Cartman's lingerie. His fingers stopped to worry at a strap that attached to the top of Cartman's stocking with a complicated sort of clasp, then disappeared up under the hem of his dress. Kyle slid his fingers up along Cartman's thigh, following its path, stopping at the crease of his thigh before trailing back down to the edge of his stocking. "What's this?" Kyle asked softly, tugging gently at the strap.

"That's," Cartman started, then swallowed thickly. "That's a garter belt, I thought you knew that."

"Oh," Kyle replied, smoothing his palm up Cartman's thigh to rest against the pulse at his groin, fingers toying with the straps of his garter belt. Kyle's wrist had pushed the fabric of Cartman's short skirt up even higher. He could see the faintest glimpse of Cartman's underwear.

Kyle slid Cartman's skirt up the extra two inches so he could get a better glimpse of Cartman's underwear. The only phrase he could think to describe them was banana hammock. He smiled slightly and traced his fingers along the material where it rested over Cartman's hip.

It probably should have looked ridiculous. Which, actually, Kyle supposed it did. But it was also soft and silky. Kyle could see Cartman's cock stirring below the fabric. He dragged his fingers slowly along Cartman's skin just above the fabric, stopping at the center to slide the tip of his first two fingers just slightly under the fabric, worrying them back and forth over Cartman's skin. "Where did you even find these?" Kyle asked.

"Uh," Cartman said. "Frederick's of Hollywood does delivery through their website," he said, breathing shallowly.

Kyle frowned. "I don't even know what that is," he murmured. He stroked his hand slowly over Cartman's growing erection through the silky fabric of his bizarre fetish underwear.

"Well," Cartman said, thighs tensing and relaxing. "That's probably because you're not a very good manager."

Kyle smiled at that. "Yeah, probably," he said, thumbing the head of Cartman's cock as he stroked him slowly through his underwear. Cartman whined softly, and thrust his hips up slightly.

Kyle toed his shoes off and let them drop to the floor at the side of the bed. He laid down on his side next to Cartman, slinging his right leg low over Cartman's thigh. He resettled his hand, sliding it under Cartman's weird underwear to grip him firmly and start stroking him in earnest.

Cartman moaned and started thrusting up to match Kyle's rhythm. Kyle felt Cartman turn his head toward him. His humid breath stirred the hair below his ear. Kyle couldn't look away from his hand on Cartman's cock. His hand was starting to grow slick.

Kyle tightened his leg against Cartman's thigh, drawing it closer to him and spreading Cartman's legs slightly in the process. Cartman arched his hips slightly, pressing himself harder into Kyle's hand with every stroke. He moaned softly with every exhaled breath.

Kyle's erection pressed against Cartman's thigh through his pants. Kyle bit his lip as he sped his hand on him. Cartman groaned deeply, and Kyle felt his come coat the insides of his fingers. Kyle slowed his hand and continued to hold Cartman as he softened.

His breathing starting to slow, Cartman placed a hand on Kyle's hip. Kyle hitched his hips forward to press himself against Cartman's thigh. Cartman slid his hand along Kyle's waistband, headed toward the fly of his jeans.

Kyle kneeled up, one knee on either side of Cartman's thigh, forearms resting on either side of Cartman's shoulders. With both hands free, Cartman unfastened Kyle's pants to pull them down slightly, freeing his erection. Kyle sucked in a ragged breath at the feel of the cool air.

Cartman reached down to stroke slowly over Kyle's cock. He spread his legs a little wider. Kyle leaned down to rest his forehead on the bed, just above Cartman's shoulder. "Oh," he murmured as Cartman began to find a rhythm.

He was already close. As Cartman pumped him he could feel his toes begin to curl. He pushed himself up slightly on one forearm so he could look down their bodies at Cartman's hand on him. Cartman's dress was pushed up to his waist. His skin was pink and creased where the garter belt had dug into him. His underwear were pushed to the side just enough to afford Kyle a glimpse of his mostly soft penis. "Oh, fuck," Kyle moaned.

Cartman tightened his grip. "Yeah," he moaned. "Do it."

"Fuck," Kyle groaned, unable to look away from Cartman's hand pumping him to orgasm. "Fuck," he repeated as he started to come, his semen coating Cartman's hand, some escaping to land on his dress.

He collapsed weakly against Cartman's side, leaving his one leg resting between Cartman's legs. He idly traced his hand over Cartman's hip, tugging at the garter belt that was still attached to his stockings. "Seriously, though," he said. "This can't be comfortable."

Cartman groaned and rolled away. "No, it's not," he said, and undid a series of clasps and hooks before pulling the garter belt up and throwing it over the side of the bed. He then grabbed the comforter at the foot of his bed and pulled it up over the two of them. "Now shut up, I'm tired."

Kyle rolled his eyes and shimmied the rest of the way out of his jeans, then laid down next to Cartman. He was pretty tired himself. He closed his eyes and drifted off almost instantly.

He awoke what felt like moments later to Cartman's alarm clock. He looked around wildly, disoriented. It was still dark. The clock read 5:00. He half rolled, half fell out of bed after Cartman shoved him.

The alarm suddenly went silent, and the light on Cartman's bedside table flicked on. Kyle squinted up at him. "What's going on?" he asked.

"What's going on?" Cartman repeated, incredulous. "I have to leave in a few hours, is what's going on," he answered, then hopped out of bed and stripped the rest of the way out of the outfit that he'd slept in.

He looked distastefully at his dress, then thrust it at Kyle. "Here, that's all yours. Get this thing cleaned for me," he said, then grabbed a towel off the back of his chair and headed out the door.

He popped his head back in a moment later, looked at Kyle, and said, "Listen, in case you still don't realize what's going on here, I have a guy coming to my house in two and a half hours to take me to Burbank with him." His face softened. "My mom will be up soon. You should probably get out of here now," he said, then stared pointedly at his dress. "And I'm serious, have that thing dry cleaned."

Cartman popped back out of the room. A few minutes later Kyle heard water running. He puttered slowly about the room, taking his time collecting his pants and shoes. He made sure he had his wallet, phone, and keys. He balled up Cartman's dress in his hands.

He was dressed and ready to go. Cartman still wasn't out of the shower. Kyle wandered into the kitchen and started opening cabinets at random, hoping to find a plastic bag or something that he could stick the dress in, but he was out of luck. Kyle approached the door, and prepared to step out. He could still hear the shower running. He sighed, and left, making sure to lock the door behind himself.

And so it happened that Kyle found himself walking through his neighborhood at five fifteen in the morning, wearing the clothes he'd worn last night, holding a wadded up sequined cocktail dress that was covered in semen.

On the third Sunday in July, it occurred to Kyle that two weeks had gone by. He hadn't heard from Cartman at all.

Not that he was waiting to hear from him.

In fact, he didn't even want to hear from him. He was basically glad that he hadn't heard from him.

He was just slightly concerned about Justin Timberlake's safety, that's all. He browsed through several news sites on the internet. Then he browsed through several entertainment sites. There was no news about either Cartman or Justin Timberlake.

Kyle felt a strange emptiness at the lack of information. He just wanted to be informed. After all, if anything happened to Justin, Kyle felt like he would somehow be partly responsible. He'd never managed to stop Cartman when he'd had the chance. He just hoped an innocent pop star wouldn't have to pay for his mistakes.

On the last Saturday in July, Kyle decided to stop by the Cartman house on his way over to Stan's place. He rang the doorbell. Nothing happened. He knocked on the door. Nothing happened either.

He had just turned to walk away when the front door opened to show Liane Cartman in a bathrobe looking pleasantly surprised to see him. "Why, Kyle, how are you doing? What brings you over?" she asked in her blandly inquisitively fashion.

"Oh, hi, Mrs. Cartman," he said, then felt stupid. "I was just wondering if you'd heard from Cartman lately?" he asked.

She looked at him quizzically. "Eric's still off raising pigs at his uncle's farm in West Virginia, Kyle. He won't be back until the end of the pig harvest which, if I remember my pig farming correctly, is mid-December at the earliest."

"Right. Yeah. Of course," Kyle said stupidly. "I was just wondering if you had, like, talked to him lately or anything."

She smiled falteringly at him. "Yes, dear, I talked to him the other night."

"Oh. Well, that's good," he said and cringed. "He's, uh. He's doing okay, then?"

She gave him a curious look. "Did you lose his phone number, dear? I'm sure he wouldn't mind if I gave it to you again."

Kyle waved his hands at her and said quickly, "No, no, that's fine, I have it. I just, um, wanted to stop by and make sure everything was good. You know, here. On the home front. Which, it clearly is," he said, and backed slowly down the front steps. "So, I guess I'll see you later," he said as he started backing down her walkway.

"See you later, Kyle," she called back to him, waving briefly before shutting the front door.

Kyle silently cursed himself for the duration of his walk to Stan's.

The second to last Sunday in August was Kyle's last night in town. Stan and Kenny came over that evening to spend the night. Kyle's mom bought the boys pizza – in exchange, she said, for helping Kyle pack up and carry out everything he was taking into the trunk of his dad's car.

After loading up the car, the boys camped out in Kyle's basement with the pizza, two bottles of soda, and the Broflovski family Xbox. Ike wandered down after them, ostensibly to steal a couple of slices of pizza, and wound up planting himself on the end of the Broflovski's beat up old sofa, his bare feet a few inches away from Kyle sitting at the other end. Stan and Kenny sat on folding chairs at the card table a few feet away from Kyle, pizza and soda laid out between them.

Stan was halfway through his second slice when he blurted out, "Oh yeah." He put his half-eaten pizza down and went over to where his backpack was lying behind the sofa. Kyle heard the sounds of disorderly rummaging coming from behind his head before Stan called out, "Found it!"

Kyle squinted suspiciously at Stan as he returned to the card table with something in his hands. He set it down on the card table with a flourish. Kyle realized it was a bottle of whiskey.

Kenny clapped. Ike kneeled up on the couch and leaned over Kyle to investigate. When he saw what Stan had smuggled in, he pretended to be scandalized before hopping over to scoop up the bottle and fix himself a whiskey and soda.

"Ike," Kyle scolded.

Ike rolled his eyes. "Shut up or I'm telling," he said.

Kenny laughed and shrugged. "Sounds fair to me," he said. Then he picked up Stan's bottle and proceeded to Irish up everyone else's drinks.

They managed to polish off the rest of the pizza. Ike stuck around on the couch while Kyle and his friends played video games. Eventually he managed to work his way into the battle rotation that the three of them had going.

Kyle sat there on the sofa with a nice little buzz going from Stan's whiskey. He had Kenny on his left, his little brother curled up on his right, and Stan sitting on the floor with his head tipped back against the couch, his temple pressed against Kyle's knee. Kyle realized this would probably be the last time for a long time he'd be able to just sit like this, surrounded by these people.

Just after midnight Stan started getting all weepy and maudlin. "I can't believe all you guys are leaving me," he moaned into his glass.

"I'm not going anywhere," Ike mumbled sadly into the couch cushions, his Xbox controller lying abandoned next to him.

Stan sighed deeply. "I mean, you guys aren't just leaving. You're all actually totally abandoning me to, like, scatter across the ends of the Earth."

Kenny looked at him with growing concern. "What are you talking about?" he asked.

Stan screwed his face up as he gathered steam to make his point. "Kenny, what I'm talking about is – you're going away to Washington state. Kyle, you're going to California. Wendy's going to school in fucking New York City. You guys couldn't get any further apart if you tried," he moaned.

"That's not the ends of the Earth. They're not even leaving the country," Ike muttered. He pouted, then pointed out again, "And I'm not going anywhere either."

Stan whipped around to glare at him. "Oh, fuck you, Ike. You'll probably finish high school too and move back to Canada or something before I'm even done, like, one semester of college."

"Stan," Kyle said, uncertain how to continue. He slid down off the couch to sit next to Stan on the floor. He lifted his left hand to place it comfortingly on his leg, but Stan pulled away looking miserable. Kyle sat awkwardly on the floor, his hand hovering over the empty space between the two of them.

Kenny shoved Stan gently with his foot. "Stan, quit being a baby," he told him.

Stan turned around and looked at Kenny with bleary eyes. "I'm not being a baby," he protested.

Kenny sighed. "Yes, you are. Now stop it. You're starting school in a couple of weeks. You're going to get your associate's degree. Then you're going to transfer to some fancy college in California or New York City or wherever the fuck you want and live happily ever after."

Stan looked at the carpet sadly. "By the time I leave, you guys will all have forgotten me and moved on."

Kyle stared at him, horrified. "What the fuck, Stan. I don't even know how you could say that to me." Stan turned his head to look at Kyle. Kyle glared at him. "Nobody's going to forget you."

Stan looked wistfully remorseful. "Sorry. I'm just. I guess I'm not ready for things to change yet."

Kenny sighed. "Well, they won't change all that much. So far as I know, Cartman's not going to school at all. I'm sure he'll be around. So, you know," he smiled ironically. "You'll have that to look forward to."

Kyle traced patterns in the carpet with his finger. "Has anyone heard from him since graduation?" he asked, trying his best to sound nonchalant.

Kenny thought back. "He told me he was moving out west for a while to start some stupid business or something. He wouldn't tell me anything else, though." Kenny frowned. "Honestly, I thought he'd be back by now."

Stan furrowed his brows. "Wait, what?" he asked, appearing thoroughly confused. "I thought he told me he was going to Florida. He said he had a job lined up as the assistant manager of an Old Country Buffet."

"Huh," Kenny said. Kyle didn't look up. He could feel both their eyes on him. "Kyle, did he tell you where he was going?"

"No," Kyle said, attentively picking at a piece of lint lying next to his knee. "But his mom told me he was raising pigs in West Virginia with his uncle."

Ike snorted from where he was sprawled out on the couch. Kyle tilted his head up to look at him. "What?" he asked peevishly.

Ike smirked. "For a guy you can't stand, you sure do spend an awful lot of time talking to his mom."

Kyle looked affronted. "I do not!"

Stan looked at Kyle, considering. "Actually, you kind of do." He suddenly grinned, then shoved Kyle flat on the ground and started patting down his pockets. "In fact, I'm pretty sure you have her number in your phone."

Kyle squirmed and shoved ineffectually at Stan. "Oh my God, stop! I do not," he said. Stan found his phone in the back pocket of his pants and pulled it out, then scooted away laughing. Stan handed the phone up to Kenny, who started poking at it with Ike.

"What's the code to unlock it?" Kenny asked, frowning.

"Try his birthday," Ike suggested. Kenny tapped at the phone, then shook his head no.

"Try Cartman's mom's birthday!" Stan shouted, laughing, fending off Kyle who was still swatting at him.

Kenny looked sadly at Kyle's phone. "I don't know it."

"Hey, try my mom's birthday," Ike suggested, then leaned over further to tap it into the phone.

Kenny and Ike's faces simultaneously brightened. "All right!" Kenny said.

"You guys!" Kyle whined. He tried to sit up and grab for his phone, but Stan grabbed his wrists and held him down.

Ike leaned against Kenny while Kenny scrolled through Kyle's contacts. His face suddenly grew concerned. "Hey, wait a minute," he said. "You have my mom in here."

"Oh my God, so what?" Kyle groaned. "Yes, okay, I have your mom in my phone. I have everyone's mom in my phone. In fact, every single person I've ever been Facebook friends with who lists their phone number is in my phone. My phone does it automatically."

Stan let go of Kyle's wrists. "Wait, you're Facebook friends with Kenny's mom?" he asked.

Kyle scowled at him. "I'm Facebook friends with your whole fucking family," Kyle crossed his arms peevishly. Stan was still staring at him. "Yes, okay? I'm a friendly guy. I have friends. Some of whom happen to be middle-aged ladies."

"Dude, don't be friends with my mom," Kenny said. "That's just weird."

Kyle sat up straight and looked at Kenny. "Why is it weird? I think it's sweet. She's just trying to keep tabs on you without being all in your business."

"That's exactly why it's weird," Kenny said.

"God, you should be grateful," Ike said, laying down again, his feet shoved up against Kenny's thigh. "I wish all my mom did was Facebook stalk my friends. She's so far up my ass all the time, it makes my duodenum hurt."

"Ike, that's sick," Kyle said.

"What's a duodenum?" Stan asked.

Kenny looked out past the television. His eyebrows were slightly creased. "You really think she goes on the computer, trying to see what I'm doing?" he asked.

Kyle felt guilty for even bringing it up. "Not, like, all the time," he said. "But I think she probably uses it to get a general sense of what you're up to sometimes."

"Huh," Kenny said, looking thoughtful. "I don't know. Maybe it is kind of nice." He looked down at the floor and added, somewhat softer, "I'm not sure my dad even remembers what my friends' names are. And I've known you guys since preschool. So." He looked up and smiled goofily at Kyle. "Kyle, I give you my blessing to continue being Facebook friends with my mother."

Kyle made a pained expression. "Um. Actually. Now that you mention it – I think she may have deleted me a couple of months ago."

"What?" Kenny asked. "Why?"

"Uh," Kyle said, feeling simultaneously angry and embarrassed. "So right around graduation, Cartman somehow hacked my account and sent nasty messages to everyone I know." His face darkened as he replayed the evening in his head. "I erased everything before most people saw anything, but a few people deleted me before I found out what he did."

"Oh, man," Stan said. "I think I remember this. Bebe and Wendy kept talking about how they were going to murder you, but they wouldn't tell me why."

Kyle groaned in frustration and put his face in his hands. "Fuck, Kenny's mom probably thinks I'm a horrible person now. But I'm not," he moaned. "Eric Cartman is a horrible person, not me."

Stan patted him awkwardly on the shoulder. "We know, dude. We know."

Ike sniffed and rolled over on the couch, sticking his feet all the way into Kenny's lap as he got comfortable. "If he's such a horrible person, why'd you sleep over his house a week later," he mumbled, face half-buried under the back cushion.

Stan took his hand back looking betrayed. "You did what?"

Kyle felt himself flush. He desperately hoped that Stan was too drunk to notice. "Ike's confused," he said sharply. "The last person's house I slept over at was Kenny's."

Kenny laughed softly, his hands resting just above Ike's ankles. "That was the night you snuck over in the middle of the night, right?"

Stan looked up at Kenny, interested. "You guys didn't tell me about this. What happened?"

Kenny leaned forward carefully to tell the story, with occasional interruptions from Kyle. Ike snored softly, the sound muffled by the couch cushions. The three of them stayed up until three o'clock talking. Kenny eventually fell asleep on the couch, lying head to toe with Ike. Kyle pulled out a couple of sleeping bags for him and Stan, and the two of them slept together on the floor in front of the couch.

Kyle's dad came downstairs at ten thirty to wake the boys up. Ike and Kyle cleaned up the trash and dirty dishes from the night before. Kyle was deeply grateful that his father either didn't notice or chose to ignore the mostly empty bottle of whiskey that Stan shoved back into his backpack.

Stan, Kenny, Ike, and Sheila followed Kyle and his dad outside to the loaded up car. They all took turns hugging him and saying goodbye. Kyle noticed that both his mom and Stan had tears in their eyes. He bit his lip hard not to get choked up as well. Then he hopped into the passenger seat while his dad started up the car. Kyle watched the house he'd grown up in grow smaller and smaller in the sideview mirror before his dad turned off their street and headed off for California.

Kyle was adjusting well. By late September, Kyle had settled himself into something of a pattern. He'd done well on his AP exams the spring before, so he was starting off with a few credits under his belt already. He had a schedule that he enjoyed consisting of mostly math and physics classes, with one course in English composition to round things out.

He was roommates with a creepy goth kid named Greg. Kyle mostly avoided him, an arrangement which seemed to suit the both of them just fine. Kyle was pleased to discover that two of the students from his Calculus II class lived in the same dorm with him. The three of them got in the habit of hanging out in each others' dorm rooms until the wee hours of the morning drinking cheap wine and doing calculus problems.

Kyle had his phone and his laptop with him at school. He either texted or Skyped Stan and Kenny regularly. Stan seemed to be doing the best of the three of them. He had a part time job at the pet store. The pay wasn't great, but there was a cute girl working in Aquatics & Reptiles who seemed sort of into him.

He hadn't heard from Cartman in almost three months. Not that he was counting.

Every week or two a package would come for him from his family. His parents would send packaged food or homemade cookies, and sometimes his dad would slip in a card with a little bit of cash inside, for "walking around money" his note would say. Ike was in the habit of writing him goofy letters with ridiculous doodles of everything that was going on at home that never failed to make Kyle a little homesick. His parents would also send along any mail that happened to come for him.

One week in late October he opened up a care package that included a small tray of his mother's brownies, forty dollars cash, and a medium-sized manila envelope addressed to him at his parents' address with a Burbank return address scribbled on it. Kyle's breath caught in his throat. He forced himself to let it out.

He lifted the envelope with slightly shaky hands and tore it open, careful of the address written in the corner. He shook out the contents and was disappointed to find that there was no letter inside, not even a note. The only item within was a CD.

Kyle picked it up to inspect it. Evidently it was a single by Justin Timberlake. The album cover had Justin wearing dress pants, shirtsleeves, suspenders, a tie, and a fedora perched at a jaunty angle, holding a full-figured woman in a satiny red dress with huge brunette hair in a swoopy up-do who, upon closer inspection, was obviously a man. He opened up the hard jewel case to see a shiny new CD inside. On the inside of the album insert there was an inscription in glittery silver pen that read "xoxo, Madame LaPoutine." Kyle snapped it shut.

Greg peered over at him from his perch at his desk, where he was busy painting his fingernails black. "Hey, is that the new Justin Timberlake single?" He squinted to get a better look. "That doesn't even come out until next Tuesday, how'd you get a copy?" he asked.

Kyle glared at him. "What, you're into Justin Timberlake now?" he snapped.

Greg blushed and went back to his fingernails. "No," he answered petulantly.

Kyle stood up abruptly, dropping the CD into his bedside drawer and slamming it shut. He decided it was time to go find Tiffany and Jack to see if they wanted to do some calculus.

He waited two days before looking up the address on Google maps. He then plotted out a path from his dorm using only public transportation. He made sure to stop at the convenience store to buy a pack of gum and break a twenty so he'd have enough small bills and coins to make exact change for bus fare. Then Saturday morning he waited outside for the bus that would take him to Burbank.

Despite having to make two transfers along the way, he found the place without too much trouble. The apartment building wasn't really as nice as he had been lead to believe. It wasn't a dump or anything. It just wasn't what he would call a luxury apartment.

He found the number he was looking for, 3D. There were bland, all-ages appropriate Halloween decorations on the door, cartoon bats and smiling witches, which for some reason Kyle found deeply unsettling. There was a tag on the mailbox that read "Michael Schwartz." Kyle almost turned around and got right back on the bus. Instead he steeled himself for the worst, then knocked on the door.

He heard movement from inside. He held his breath for an involuntary moment while Cartman opened the door.

For a split second Cartman's face showed wistful surprise before shuttering into something bland and noncommittal. "Why, good morning, Kyle," he said, inflection scrubbed free of any emotion save hollow pleasantness, like a clerk from a high end retail store trying to sell him fancy tableware. "Is there something I can help you with?"

Kyle caught a glimpse of a cramped combination kitchen and dining area with a small table large enough for two people. "This doesn't look like much of a luxury apartment," he pointed out.

Cartman frowned faintly. "That's because it isn't. I was only there for two weeks," he said. He glanced behind himself, then gave Kyle an intense and worried look. "Seriously, why are you here?"

Kyle shifted from foot to foot. "Well, um, as your manager, I just stopped by to see how things are coming along," he said. "You know, see if you needed me to set anything up for you or something…" he trailed off.

That older guy with the suits from the club, Michael something, came walking over wearing a thin white t-shirt and pajama pants. He stood next to Cartman, not overtly touching him, but somehow still giving off creepy possessive old guy vibes. "Everything okay?" he asked Cartman.

Kyle took a step back. "Right," he said. "Well. Whatever. I see you're doing just fine, then." He turned away quickly and pounded down the stairs and back out to the street. He walked to the bus stop three blocks away so that he wouldn't have to look at Cartman's apartment building while he waited for the bus that would take him home.

It was Thursday when Kyle decided to call him. He scrolled slowly through his phone's contact list until he got to Cartman. He paused with his thumb over the call button.

What if he didn't answer? What if he didn't want to talk to him? What if that asshole Michael answered instead?

Kyle decided that to be on the safe side, he should probably call from a different number. And to be on the even safer side, he should probably block his phone number.

He went over and picked up the land line that he and Greg shared. He punched in *67 to make the number he was calling from private. Then he slowly punched in the digits that he read carefully from his cell phone.

He was two digits away when he heard a noise at the door. He jerked and slammed the phone down. His roommate walked in and flopped down on his bed without saying a word.

Kyle locked his phone and stuck it back in his pocket. Calling was a stupid idea, anyway.

Kyle had a pleasant, productive rest of the semester.

At around six o'clock on the third Friday in December, Kyle was sitting on his bed with his physics textbook in his lap. Greg had just returned from his last exam of the semester and was currently packing up his things. His mom was coming later that night to take him home for the break. Kyle still had one last exam scheduled for next Tuesday that he was currently studying for.

Kyle was in the middle of rereading the section about the coefficient of friction for the fourth time when he heard a knock at the door. He looked up accusatorily at Greg, who shrugged. "I'm not expecting anyone this early," he said. Kyle sighed and got up to answer the door.

He got to the door and peered through the peephole. His breath caught in his throat. He saw Eric Cartman wearing suspenders, of all things, over a dress shirt with the sleeves rolled up, shifting awkwardly from foot to foot in front of his door.

Kyle opened the door and stepped back. "Cartman," he said. "Come in."

Cartman's uneasy face smoothed over into once of pure bravado. "Why, Kyle. Hello, good to see you," he said. "How are you this lovely evening?"

Kyle frowned, instantly suspicious. "I'm great. How are you?"

Cartman glanced around, surveying Kyle's dorm room. "Me? Oh, I'm great, sure, couldn't be better." He looked Kyle in the eyes and smiled winningly. "I just thought it was time I paid my old buddy Kyle a visit," he said.

"Uh huh," Kyle said flatly. He was aware of Greg staring at them. He turned to look at him. "Greg, this is Cartman. We went to school together. Cartman, this is my roommate Greg."

Greg was openly staring at Cartman. "Don't I know you from somewhere?" he asked.

Cartman appeared uneasy. "No," he said slowly. "No, I don't think so."

Greg's face suddenly lit up. "Oh my God, you're the guy from that video," he said. "You know. ‘Sexy Go Round,' that Justin Timberlake song."

Cartman relaxed into a magnanimous grin. "Oh, right," he said. "Greg, was it? Wouldn't have pegged you for a Justin Timberlake fan."

"Okay," Kyle interrupted, taking Cartman by the arm and leading him towards the door. "We're going to go get some dinner now. Greg, enjoy your break, I'll see you next month," Kyle called out behind him.

Cartman craned his head back as he was ushered through the door. "Greg, nice meeting you!"

"You too," Greg called out as Kyle slammed the door.

Kyle took him to the dining hall and let him use one of the guest passes he'd been forced to buy by the university but never had cause to use until now. Kyle waited patiently while Cartman discovered the Belgian waffle station.

"Oh my God, Kyle, have you seen this?" he asked excitedly. "It's a make your own waffle station. You can make your own unlimited waffles, did you know this?"

"Yes, Cartman," he said patiently. "I eat here every day."

Cartman looked at him excitedly. "Well, then, what are you waiting for? Help me make a waffle with blueberry and bacon." Kyle sighed, and grabbed a plate of crispy bacon to crumble up and mix into the waffle batter.

Kyle slowly ate a cheese sandwich and an apple while Cartman helped himself to three more waffles.

After dinner Kyle walked with Cartman back to his dorm room. Greg had apparently finished moving out in the meantime, because all of the bags he'd had piled on his bed were gone. Kyle stood aside to let Cartman enter, then turned back to lock the door and set the chain.

He turned around and found Cartman standing six inches away, staring at his mouth. "Hey," he said, placing one hand against the door next to Kyle's head and leaning in slightly.

Kyle drew in a slow, humid breath and stood his ground. "Hey, yourself," he said.

Cartman's mouth turned down slightly at the corners. "I—" he said, then stopped, eyebrows furrowing. "I missed you," he mumbled quietly, making a face like the admission hurt him.

Kyle sighed. "I missed you, too," he muttered, frowning.

Cartman placed his free hand against Kyle's side and leaned in the rest of the way, tilting his head up slightly to close the gap between their mouths. Kyle moaned softly, then wished he hadn't. Cartman took that as an invitation to deepen the kiss, sliding his hand up Kyle's body to rest against his neck.

Kyle pulled back slightly and frowned at him. "What are you even doing here?" he asked.

Cartman's face shifted into anger. "You really need to talk about that right now?" he asked.

Kyle shifted to the side and sidestepped around Cartman, just as suspicious as earlier. "Yes, I think I do," he said. "What are you doing here?" he repeated.

Cartman sighed frustratedly and started to pace around Kyle's tiny dorm room. "All right, listen. For the past five months I have slowly been working my way up from the inside at Nadir Records. Forging relationships, discovering dirt, exploiting weaknesses, you know – the usual," he said, glancing at Kyle to make sure he was following.

Kyle just shook his head. Of course. Of course it was something like this. "Go on," he said.

"Well, I've just put into place the last steps of a plan that will allow me to take control of the entire record company," Cartman said, looking smug and self-satisfied.

Kyle raised his eyebrows. "So why are you here, then? Shouldn't you be at the record company?" he asked.

Cartman's face fell and he looked slightly uncomfortable. "Well, the thing is, I've put myself in a slightly awkward, yet entirely temporary position." He drew a deep breath, then plowed on. "The most pressing concern of which is that, for the next couple of days, I can't exactly go home."

Kyle stared at him. "You can't go home," he repeated.

Cartman spread his hands in a gesture of reasonability. "In order for me to execute my plan, it was necessary for me to become extremely close to Michael Schwartz, a top record executive with Nadir. As you may recall, I was living with him for some time." Kyle's eyes darkened. Cartman hurried on, "Unfortunately for him, he's not going to come out of this situation feeling particularly happy with me." Cartman took a deep breath, and looked pleadingly at Kyle. "Which means, for the next two days, maybe three max, I don't have anywhere to go."

Kyle was silent for several moments. Cartman began to fidget. "So let me get this straight," Kyle said.

"Okay," Cartman said amiably.

"You're in the middle of orchestrating a hostile takeover of your boyfriend's record company," Kyle said. Cartman nodded hesitantly. "Which means you can't go home to your apartment," Kyle continued. Cartman nodded again. "So," Kyle said, voice beginning to raise in spite of his best efforts to stay calm, "rather than contact me months ago to let me know where you were, and what you were up to, and give me a little heads up that you might be dropping in on me precipitously sometime in the future," Kyle took a deep calming breath. "You decided instead to wait until you were literally homeless and had no other options before coming to me for help with some ridiculous, exaggerated, bullshit story."

Cartman flinched. "But – this isn't bullshit! I was under tight surveillance!" he protested. "Michael is a very jealous man!" He looked at Kyle pleadingly. "I sent you that CD, didn't I?" he asked.

"A CD?" Kyle asked, incredulous. "What the fuck am I supposed to do with a CD?" Kyle closed his eyes and rubbed his forehead with one hand, then pointed at his door with the other. "Get out," he said.

He heard Cartman take a few steps closer to him. He felt Cartman's hand come to rest on his shoulder. "Kyle, please," he said.

Kyle shook his head, continuing to point at the door. "Just get out."

For a long moment, nobody moved. Kyle was afraid of what he might do if Cartman didn't get out of his personal space soon. Eventually Cartman let go of Kyle's shoulder and walked wordlessly out the door, closing it softly behind him.

Two days later, somewhere between his fourteenth and fifteenth read through of his physics book's section on the coefficient of friction, Kyle decided to just call him. He pulled out his phone, punched in Cartman's name, and hit send before he could think about it any longer.

A prerecorded voice told him that this number was no longer in service.

He fought the urge to throw his phone at Greg's empty bed and instead set it down carefully on his nightstand. He blinked back tears of frustration, before flipping again to the beginning of the section on the coefficient of friction so that he could read through it yet another time without seeing any of the words.

Kyle came back from his physics final on Tuesday afternoon to find Cartman sitting on his bed. He calmly took his coat off and hung it on the back of his chair before asking, "How the hell did you get in here?"

Cartman tsked at him. "Kyle, you live on the ground floor and you don't lock your window. Honestly, it's like you want me to do these things."

Kyle sighed and sat down at the foot of his bed. "Is there something I can help you with?" he asked.

"Listen. Kyle," Cartman said, leaning forward seriously, hands on his knees.

"Uh huh," Kyle said.

"Okay," he said, "I've been doing a lot of thinking these past few days."

Kyle raised his eyebrows at him. "Is that so?" he asked flatly.

Cartman nodded sincerely and pressed on. "I think I understand how my story, while entirely factually accurate, may have been a little bit much for you to take in so suddenly."

"Okay," Kyle said. "This is a start."

Cartman brightened. "So I think what you need me to do is to prove it to you, now that I have the resources to back myself up," he finished cheerfully.

Kyle sighed. "That's not really where I hoped you were going with this."

Cartman looked at him, puzzled. "Well, what were you expecting?" he asked.

"I don't know," Kyle muttered. "Maybe an apology."

Cartman barked out a laugh and clapped him on the back. "Oh, Kyle. Even on the darkest of days, you never lose your sense of humor." He stood up briskly, pulling Kyle up by the elbow to stand next to him. "Well, come on," he said, and directed him towards the door. "Let's go."

Kyle sighed, more frustrated than ever. "I really don't see how this is supposed to change anything," he said.

Cartman stopped. He placed his hands on each of Kyle's shoulders and held him at arm's length. He looked at him pleadingly. "Kyle, please," he said. "Look, I - I don't know what to say here. I know you're angry."

Kyle raised his eyebrows. "So what?" he asked.

Cartman scowled, then schooled his face into the mask of tortured sincerity that always seemed to get him what he wanted, at least whenever Kyle was concerned. "I'm not asking you to forgive me or anything. I'm just asking you to give me a chance here."

Kyle felt his firm expression start to crumble. "What do you want, exactly?" he asked.

Cartman's face brightened. "Not much, Kyle, not much at all," he said, stepping back and tugging Kyle forward. "I just want the chance to prove to you that I'm not making anything up or exaggerating anything."

"Okay," Kyle said slowly. "And how exactly do you plan to do that?" he asked.

Cartman smiled brilliantly. "Just let me show you," he said.

Kyle shook his head as he followed Cartman out the door. Everything told him that this was just another elaborate trap. But somehow Kyle just couldn't say no to Cartman's sincere eyes, watering slightly, begging him for another chance.

Kyle sighed. One of these days Cartman was going to lure him out into the woods and murder him using the same exact speech. Kyle just hoped that today wasn't that day.

Cartman led him outside and into the parking lot. He stopped next to a brand new red Camaro with temporary tags on it.

Kyle stared at him. "Okay," he said. "What's this supposed to be?"

Cartman laughed, pulled a set of keys out of his pocket, and unlocked the passenger side door. "It's my car," he said, and held the door open. "Get in."

Kyle stared at him like he was crazy. He looked around making sure there were no cops around before getting into the passenger seat. Cartman got into the driver's seat and started up the car. Kyle rifled through the glove box while Cartman drove. He stared intently at the registration and insurance cards he found inside, both of which were in Cartman's name. Kyle found it odd that they were both dated with Friday's date.

Kyle peeked into the back and saw a collection of blankets and pillows. He nodded towards it. "What's that about?" he asked.

"Oh," Cartman said, and sighed. "I wound up sleeping back there the other night. It wasn't that cold," he said. "Don't worry about it."

Kyle knew that Cartman's statement was designed to make him feel guilty about kicking him out the other night. Knowing that, however, didn't make it any less effective. Kyle sighed and looked out the window at the unfamiliar California scenery.

They eventually pulled into the parking lot of a small high rise office building. A large sign on the building said "Nadir Records." Cartman stopped the car and got out, and Kyle followed.

"What are we doing here?" Kyle grumbled.

"Oh," Cartman said, feigning innocence. "I just have to pop into the office for a minute, I left something in my desk," he said.

"Uh huh," replied Kyle, not buying it for a minute.

They stepped into the lobby, where a receptionist sat at a large desk. She smiled brightly and said, "Hello, Mr. Cartman!"

"Hey there, Charlene," he called back to her.

Kyle looked at Cartman in disbelief. "Who does she think you are?" Kyle asked.

"Shut up, Kyle," Cartman muttered, and led him over to the elevator.

They got off at the tenth floor, and Cartman led him down the hallway to a spacious office with a sign on the door that said "Eric T. Cartman." Kyle felt that there was something deeply wrong with the universe. Everyone they met in the hallways took it upon themselves to greet Cartman with a cheerful, "Hello, Mr. Cartman," or "How are you, Mr. Cartman?"

Cartman rummaged in his desk for an envelope, then retrieved it and stuck it in his front coat pocket. Kyle knew it was just a conceit to get him in here, but he didn't know why. Was Cartman trying to impress him? Because, truth be told, it was sort of working.

They got back out into the car. Cartman grinned at him and said, "One last stop, Kyle."

Kyle shrugged and said, "Okay, let's go."

Cartman drove them along some more roads which Kyle didn't recognize for another fifteen minutes before finally pulling into a parking garage attached to a luxury high rise apartment building. They got out of the car, and Cartman led him excitedly through the garage and into the elevator. They got in and Cartman hit the button for the fourteenth floor, flashing Kyle a grin.

The elevator doors opened and Cartman led them down the hallway to number 1405. He pulled out his keys and unlocked the door smugly. He pushed the door open and stepped aside to let Kyle walk in.

The entryway was large and spacious. It led to a bright, airy living room furnished with modern looking furniture. Kyle looked up at the ceilings. They had to be at least ten feet high.

He turned to Cartman suspiciously. "What the hell is this?" he asked.

Cartman smiled proudly. "This is my luxury condominium that I was promised last summer and never received. I just bought it. With cash," he added. "I closed on it this morning, this will be my first night here," he said proudly, then smirked at Kyle. "And what have you been doing with yourself these past few months, Kyle?" he asked.

Kyle rolled his eyes and walked around the place. Cartman watched him, nervously. "Look around a little," Cartman said.

Kyle glanced back at him suspiciously. "I will," he shot back. Kyle made his way from room to room, trying to figure this all out. There were two bedrooms, one significantly larger than the other, but both with walk in closets. There was a bathroom with a stand up shower and a Jacuzzi tub that looked like it could seat three comfortably. The kitchen was huge and furnished with super sleek looking appliances that Kyle couldn't be completely sure of what they were. There was some apparatus built under the counter that could either be a wine fridge or a soft pretzel warmer. Knowing Cartman, it could go either way.

Kyle came back into the living room to glare suspiciously at Cartman some more. "So this place. You're, what, renting it?"

Cartman shook his head, irritated. "No, I own it. I bought it outright with the money I made from the record company deal," he said. "I picked it because it's in the same building as the apartment they were supposed to set me up with while we filmed the Justin Timberlake video, but never did."

Kyle sighed and sat on the couch. "Well, this is all very impressive, Cartman," he said. "But I still don't understand what the hell you brought me here for. I'm sure there's lots more people who would be way more impressed with your gloating."

Cartman looked at Kyle. He sighed frustratedly. "I feel like somehow I'm still not getting through to you." He came and sat down next to Kyle on the couch, picking up one of Kyle's hands to hold it in his. Kyle removed his hand and placed it back in his lap. Cartman frowned at it, then looked deeply into Kyle's eyes to say, "Kyle Broflovski. As my manager, you are entitled to twenty percent of my net earnings." He leaned in close, then gestured expansively with one arm. "All of this, Kyle. Twenty percent of it is yours."

Kyle shook his head at him, eyes wide. He bit back a hysterical laugh. "Cartman, that's ridiculous. I had nothing to do with any of this, and you know it," he said, feeling more and more out of his depth with every passing moment.

"Yeah, well," Cartman said, looking away. "I just thought, I wouldn't have any of this if it weren't for you," he said, gesturing around the living room again. "So I just figured. I mean, this place is way nicer than that shithole of a dorm room you've been staying in with that creepy emo kid. So. You might as well just stay here," he finished, staring at his hands in his lap.

"Are you," Kyle started, then blinked at him. "Are you asking me to move in with you?"

Cartman searched his face and didn't find what he was looking for. "I don't know," he said slowly. "Would it make you more happy or more angry if I was?"

"That's," Kyle had to stop and shake his head at him. "Cartman, that's a terrible idea."

Cartman looked away quickly. "I don't see why. There's a spare bedroom. This place is huge and fabulous. Anybody else would be jumping at the chance to live here instead of some shitty dorm room."

Kyle narrowed his eyes at him. "Wait," he said. "Did you think you were going to just disappear for five months, then show up out of the blue with a sports car and a fancy house and just, what, sweep me off my feet?" he asked, incredulous.

Cartman turned his head slightly to look him in the face again. He had his hands in his lap and looked utterly perplexed. "Well. Yes. Of course I did." He peered at Kyle closely. "That's how the world works, Kyle. Don't you know that?"

Kyle stared at him, dumbfounded.

"Kyle, come on," Cartman said. "This happens all the time. A handsome, charming young man who comes from nothing goes off on his own, only to return months later fabulously wealthy. Then he dangles a tiny portion of his total net worth out as bait and suddenly all the bitches who used to never give two shits about him are pissing their pants just to get near him."

"What?" Kyle asked. "When the hell has that ever happened?"

Cartman shook his head at him. "Kyle, Kyle. Clearly you've never watched any reality TV."

Kyle closed his eyes and leaned back against the couch. After a few minutes he felt Cartman's arm tentatively come to rest on the back of the couch behind him. A few minutes after that, Cartman started slowly playing with his hair. Kyle smiled, and cracked an eye open at him. "Listen," Kyle said.

"Mm-hmm?" Cartman asked, eyes hopeful.

"They're going to lock up the dorms for winter break tomorrow afternoon," Kyle said. "My dad was going to pick me up, and then take me back when they open up again in the middle of January."

"Okay," Cartman said, unsure where Kyle was going with this.

Kyle frowned, knowing he would probably regret this. "I don't particularly want to stay with my parents for a whole month," he said, glancing at Cartman's face. "Maybe if you came back to South Park with me for a few days, I could come back and stay with you here afterwards." Cartman was starting to smile. "You know, just until the dorms open back up," he clarified.

"I guess I could let you stay with me for a little bit," he said. "After all, unlike some people I care about what happens to others. I wouldn't want you stuck sleeping in a car or anything."

Kyle felt his throat constrict with unwanted guilt. "Fuck, Cartman," he said, not sure what else to say. "Look, I'm sorry. I had no idea," he said.

Cartman looked at him, lips quivering pathetically, clutching at his heart with the hand that wasn't in Kyle's hair. "Oh, Kyle. How could you be so cruel to me? I don't know how you'll ever repay me," he sighed dramatically, then fell against Kyle's chest.

Kyle laughed and shoved him off. "Yes, I'm a terrible person, okay, I get it," he said.

Cartman grinned. "How about you call your dad and tell him that I'll take you home on the twenty-sixth?" he asked.

Kyle looked at him seriously. "You're sure about this?" he asked.

Cartman threw his hands up in the air in exasperation. "Yes, God, how much more serious could I possibly be?" he whined, then got up to wander into the kitchen. He came back while Kyle was scrolling through his contacts, procrastinating before calling his father. He dropped a Chinese takeout menu in his lap. "And when you're done calling your dad, how about you call and order us some dinner?"

Kyle took the menu and whacked him with it. "Fine," he said. "In a minute." He pressed send and waited for his dad to pick up. When he did, Kyle had a hell of a time trying to explain how it coincidentally came to be that Cartman was living one city over from him this whole time. He told his dad that Cartman had landed a job with a record company and had a pretty nice place out here and stopped the story there. His parents assured him that they would be looking forward to seeing him on the twenty-sixth.

Kyle then picked up the takeout menu and ordered some mu shu pork for himself, and some fried rice and an order of wings for Cartman. He laid back down on the couch with his feet in Cartman's lap and closed his eyes until the food came.

He smiled to himself as Cartman traced absent patterns in the hair at his ankles, and wondered how long he could stay with Cartman before becoming either the victim or the perpetrator of a grisly murder-suicide. He opened his eyes and looked again at Cartman's beautiful luxury living room. He wasn't sure that twenty percent of all of this was worth the risk.

Kyle sighed as Cartman scratched idly at the skin of his calves. He'd work something out.