The first month of high school had not been kind to Kyle. With both North and South Park sharing the same building, there were new cliques to navigate, and new bullies to fend off. On top of that, there was the ever-increasing pressure from his mother to start planning for college, something Kyle was absolutely not even ready to start thinking about. By the last week of September he was having a small breakdown nearly every day, but he'd managed to keep that a secret until one unseasonably warm Friday afternoon when Stan walked into the mens' room and found him unsuccessfully trying to dry his face at the sink.

"Dude," Stan said, setting his guitar case down, "What's up?"

"Nothing," Kyle said, sniffling. His eyes were puffy and red, and his cheeks looked as though he'd dug his fingernails into them in frustration.

"Ok, well, obviously you've been crying, so...."

"Just drop it, ok?" Kyle said, walking out the door and leaving Stan wondering what was going on, and how the hell he'd missed whatever it was.

Kyle was sullen and silent during lunch, and as Stan watched him listlessly push his food around on his plate he formulated a plan. When everyone else got up to head to their next class, Stan grabbed Kyle by the arm and dragged him toward the front door of the school, ignoring his half-hearted protests.

"We're getting out of here," he said as they ran across the lawn toward the street, "You need an adventure."

"Sure, you can explain that to my mom when I get grounded for skipping class," Kyle said, trying to catch his breath.

"We won't get caught. Kenny skips all the time and he never gets in trouble!"

"Stan, that's because his parents don't give a shit what he does."

"Well," Stan said, hoping Kyle's annoyance was just a front, "Don't you think having an adventure will be worth getting in trouble? Like when we were kids?"

"Whatever," Kyle said, but Stan could see the smile he was trying to hide.

They were quiet as they wandered toward the edge of town, where Stan made them stop at a gas station for snacks, and to buy a map, while Kyle stood outside anxiously with Stan's guitar strapped to his back.

"This is ridiculous," Kyle said when Stan returned, but he accepted the Sprite Stan held out for him, "Where do you think we're going to go?"

"Wherever," Stan mumbled, studying the map, "Hmmm, why don't we head to Bailey?"

"Uh, that's a long fucking way, Stan."

"Fine, ok," he said, and stared silently at the map for a minute.

"I'd really like to get out of town, though," Kyle said quietly, "And preferably not just head to another town. I'm sick of being around so many people."

Stan studied him for a minute, but Kyle just looked sullen again, and avoided making eye contact.

"Ok," he said, finally, looking back at the map, "Look, there's train tracks here that go off into the woods. Looks like just trees and mountains that way. Does that sound good?"

"Yeah, as long as we don't get hit by a train."

"I think we're more likely to get attacked by some rutting elk or a moose or something."

"Oh good, that makes me feel better," Kyle said, but he followed Stan toward the train tracks anyway.

They followed the tracks to the edge of town, where they split from the road and ran right into the woods. Stan always enjoyed going into the forests surrounding the town because it was like stepping outside of his own world and into another. The proximity of natural spaces was one of his favorite things about living in Colorado. He felt the golden shade from the aspen begin to relax him, and he sighed in contentment. No matter how frustrating living in South Park might get, the ability to just leave it all behind and enjoy the natural world was always soothing to him. He hoped it would have the same effect on Kyle, but when he looked over at him and saw the scowl firmly entrenched upon his face, his own smile faltered. Whatever was going on with Kyle, it was going to take more than just a walk in the woods to cheer him up.

"What's going on, dude?" he asked, hoping Kyle wouldn't think he was nagging.

"Nothing," Kyle said, crossing his arms over his chest.

"Come on," Stan said, "Something's obviously wrong. You know you can talk to me."

"Yeah, but for how long?" Kyle answered, stopping to sit on one of the rails.


"Look, Stan, things are changing. Everyone's starting to go their own ways and make new friends. You're confident and good-looking, and somehow I don't think you'll be content with being best friends with the awkward gay kid in school for very long."

Stan paused and stared contemplatively at Kyle for a minute, before sitting himself down on the opposite rail.

"You're gay?"

"Duh," Kyle said, burying his face in his hands, "And I'm, like, terrified of how that will change things between us, and I'm afraid of it getting around the school, and I just.... there's so much fucking pressure on me right now and I don't know how to handle it."

Stan moved across the rails to sit next to Kyle, who still had his face in his hands, and thought of what to say.

"Ok," he said after a few minutes of silence, "Alright. I can't do anything about what anyone else does. People do change and drift apart, and there's nothing anyone can do to stop that. And I can't do anything to get your mom to leave you alone. Although, you know, I'm planning on going to CSU, so I think you should go there too. And as far as me being 'confident and good-looking,' well.. um..."

He drifted off when he realized he didn't have any kind of a response to that. Kyle just made a muffled sound of anguish and buried his face completely in his arm.

"Dude, come on," Stan said, pulling Kyle's arm away from his face and clasping their hands together, "No matter what happens, you'll always be my best friend."

Kyle wiped his face with his free hand, and stared at his shoes for a moment before speaking again.

"It doesn't bother you that I'm gay? Not at all? I mean we've slept in the same bed a million times, and you know.... whatever. Like I said, I've been so worried that you'd be uncomfortable with people knowing we're friends. I mean, they might assume things."

"Oh no!" Stan said sarcastically, "Anything but that! Look, I don't care what other people think of me, ok? You matter more to me than a bunch of douchebags in high school."

Kyle didn't respond, just sat there sniffling for a minute as Stan stroked the back of his hand with his thumb. Finally Stan worked up the nerve to say what was on his mind.

"I think it's funny that you think I'm confident," he said quietly.

"Why's that? You, like, exude confidence, dude."


"Don't make fun of me because you have a shitty vocabulary, Stan."

"Ha, ok, but um. The thing is, even though you'd obviously been holding back on the whole... gay thing for a while, you told me. That takes confidence, don't you think?"

"I guess," Kyle mumbled.

"See, I've been trying to sort my own shit out. I don't know... I mean..." he trailed off as he felt Kyle's eyes upon him.

"You see," he continued, clearing his throat, "Uh. I don't know if I'm, like.... totally straight, myself. I mean, I like girls, but... I don't know..."

"Stan, you don't have to pretend you're gay just because I am," Kyle said, smiling for the first time since they sat down.

"I'm not, really! I just... I guess it's just more confusing because I know I like girls, so occasionally being into guys really throws me off."

Kyle just laughed, and pulled their hands into his lap. He leaned in toward Stan, but just as Stan realized he was about to kiss him, they heard a rustling in the bushes behind them. They leaped apart as they saw 2,000 pounds of brown fur charging at them.

"Jesus Christ, it's a fucking moose!" Kyle screamed, and Stan grabbed his hand once more as they tore off down the tracks together.

"I don't think it was really after us," Stan said as he bit into his candy bar. After running for a mile or so they'd realized they'd lost their pursuer and decided to rest for a bit, breaking out the leftover soda and snacks Stan had stashed in his pockets.

"I mean, mooses.... moose? Meese? Whatever. Those bitches can run, like... fast," Stan said.

"About 30 miles per hour," Kyle supplied, and then scowled at the look on Stan's face. "What? I'm allowed to know stuff about wildlife, too."

Stan laughed, and patted the railing next to him.

"Come, sit."

"I'm not a dog, Stan."

"Please come sit with me, Kyle? I'll give you a Milk Bone," he said, holding up the leftover half of his Hershey bar.

Kyle smirked at him, and Stan turned red as he realized what he'd said.

"Fine. Don't come sit with me. I'm just going to hang out all by myself and play my guitar, 'kay?"

"Have fun with that," Kyle said, but he was still smiling.

They sat across from each other for a little while, and Stan played a few of Kyle's favorite songs while Kyle sat and listened. Eventually he got antsy, and crossed over to where Stan sat to pick up the map and guitar case, slinging the latter across his back.

"How far do you think we can get before we have to turn back?" he asked, studying the map.

"Does it really matter? Let's just have fun and not worry about it."

Kyle watched him play for a moment, before turning back to the map and balancing himself on the rail.

"What you said earlier..." Kyle ventured.

"What part? The part where I said we were more likely to get attacked by a moose than hit by a train? Or the part where I said I was questioning my sexuality?"

"Jesus, Stan. I meant do you really think we'll always be friends?" he asked, chewing on his lip.

"Dude. I stole a kidney for you."

"Yeah, but-"

"Nope. Listen, Kyle. Yeah, people change. But, I mean... after everything we've been through? How could I throw that away?"

Kyle sighed and stared at Stan.

"This is the most ridiculous conversation we've ever had," he said.

"I agree," Stan replied.

"Ok," he said, looking back at the map, "If we head a little further this way, it looks like we'll go near a lake? Maybe? Let's do that."

"Sweet," Stan said, getting to his feet.

He shoved his guitar back in its case, and took Kyle's hand in his, and they headed off down the tracks together.




If you enjoyed this story, remember to check out the original artwork that inspired it!