After breakfast, Stan felt it was time to dress and prepare to face the day's priorities. Unfortunately, he did not know what the day's priorities were, and he wasn't sure what to wear. For this, Stan looked to Kyle for cues. First Kyle left the dishes piled in the sink, announcing that Rosa would take care of them. Stan wasn't sure who Rosa was, just nodded along with Kyle's post-breakfast jaunt around the house, sashaying in and out of rooms with his arms crossed, that robe swinging behind him like the ermine cloak of a king. Stan followed, and as Stan was following, Kyle jabbered about whatever was on his mind. "I get so sick of looking at the same decorative soaps," he pronounced in the guest bathroom, bending over to sniff a trio shaped like milky-hued seashells, a scallop and two conchs, their forms softened a bit by use. Stan wanted to smell, too, so he did, recoiling at the scent of acrid lavender. "See," Kyle said as Stan scowled, "lavender has nothing to do with seashells. It's all wrong. And they're a bit used. And what's sadder than half-used decorative soaps? The idea that they've been sitting in this bathroom since we moved in, I mean?"
"Ah—" Stan really had no idea. He was not even sure when they'd moved in. Furthermore, Kyle's half-hard dick was still hanging there, seemingly just as ambivalent about soap as Kyle was.
"Right, I don't think there's anything sadder."
"But who cares?" Stan asked.
This seemed to be the wrong thing to say. "Well, clearly I do," Kyle said, before choosing to add, "and you should, too! These people are so ... abrupt and picky. They demand everything have a sheen on it, like we're all perfectly packaged at the moment of peak ripeness. I don't want them using mismatched-scented soap that's half-used! But I don't want to seem like we're trying too hard."
"I think just the fact that we're having this conversation is trying too hard," said Stan. "So really..."
"Ugh!" Kyle pushed Stan out of the way as he left the bathroom, marching toward something with marked determination. Stan struggled to keep up, not sure where Kyle was headed, though he headed through the kitchen to get there. Soon they were in a laundry room, bigger than Stan's bedroom at home, or rather, back home in South Park. "Rosa!" Kyle barked, as if calling a disobedient dog away from a toppled garbage bag.
Rosa seemed middle-aged, though Stan thought she must be younger than they were, or maybe she'd led a difficult life. He skin was the purest color of milky coffee, but she had bags under her eyes, and when Kyle shouted at her she was visibly quaking, bent over a washing machine with a sopping white duvet in her hands.
"We're having a party," Kyle exclaimed, trying to keep his robe cinched together in a pantomime of decency. "Everything has to be perfect. I need servers. For our Labor Day barbecue I used Diamond Catering, but this time I'm cooking everything and Diamond makes their people wear these absurd penguin tuxes, it's really a shame. Plus over Labor Day I think I caught one of the guys flirting with Stan. Which won't do! In this house employees are only allowed to flirt with me."
Managing to shove the wet duvet into the dryer, Rosa shrugged and said, "Okay." Stan was surprised to hear she had no accent.
"That was a joke," said Kyle. "But we need servers. Who do you know?"
"I don't know any servers—"
"I don't mean professional people, I mean — anyone. I'll pay. Right?" Kyle turned to Stan. Before he could say anything, Kyle swiveled back around and said, "Of course we will." He gathered even more of his robe into his hands. "This is very serious," Kyle insisted. "It has to be perfect. Don't you have a brother?"
"How'd he like to make some cash?"
"Fabulous!" Kyle threw his hands up, and his robe unfolded.
"Kyle!" Stan couldn't help but shut his eyes and pinch the bridge of his nose.
"Well." Kyle gathered the robe again, and Stan thought it was possible he was blushing, although Kyle had seemed so flushed from running around the house that it was difficult to tell. "Well, good, that's settled. Thursday night, guests are coming at 6:30 and the formal meal's at 8, so if he could get here by 5, I'd really appreciate it. To help set up, you know."
Rosa seemed more confused than ever. "All right, Mr. Broflovski. I can have him call you—"
"Ugh, no time, just have him show up. Come on." Kyle yanked Stan out of the room as he left. He let go of Stan's T-shirt after a few steps and asked, "What was I going to do now?"
"Get dressed?" Stan asked. "I mean, dude, you're practically naked."
"Do you not want to see me naked?"
It felt like lying to say no, because in fact Stan had spent more time in his regular life lately wondering what Kyle looked like naked than was likely healthy. On the other hand, Stan really didn't want to say yes, because old Kyle's penis looked like it had nothing to do with the weird kid back in South Park Stan wanted to kiss so much. "Do you really think, ah — Rosa wants to see you naked?"
"She knows what it's like working here!" Kyle snaps. "I mean, fuck looking at it, for what we pay her I might as well make her suck my dick. You know, seeing as you won't!
"You don't even know what I'm thinking!" was all Stan could manage.
"Of course I know what you're thinking! You're thinking, fuck, here I am stuck with this — this fat old bitch who's nagging me for blow jobs at 11 a.m. and bitching about hand soap. "
Stan immediately felt bad, mostly because, well, that was more or less what he was thinking. He said, "No, Kyle — of course not."
"Whatever." Kyle crossed his arms. He didn't seem sad, just resigned. "Last night was so nice, I mean, I don't know what's missing from my life that I can't just focus on the good things. I almost don't blame you."
"Blame me for what?"
"Nothing, nothing." Kyle waved it away, his robe flopping open again. He seemed very committed to exposing his dick as often as possible. It was no longer even half-hard, and Stan had to fight back a misplaced instinct to gather the vulnerable thing into his hands and comfort it like a wounded animal. "You're right, I guess — I should get dressed and get on with my day."
"What's um — your day?" Stan asked, suddenly terrified to be left alone in this house alone.
"Can I come?"
Kyle blinked. "Sure? I mean, sure, of course, come along. If you don't have any work to do?"
Stan just shrugged.
"Well, I don't know how you can be so productive," Kyle said, leading Stan down the hall and upstairs. "Every time I attempt to get anything done I just end up jerking off to some video of 20-year-olds with greasy hair fucking each other. ... As you know. Is that horrible?"
"Uh." Stan paused on the stairs.
Turning, Kyle scanned Stan's face for any type of reaction. "Well," he said, like he'd won a pyrrhic victory. "At least it bothers you." He turned and finished ascending the stairs, robe fluttering after.
For a moment, Stan found himself wishing for a glimpse of Kyle's behind. Under the terrycloth, it seemed soft and firm at the same time, like an ergonomic pillow.
What to wear? At first Stan followed Kyle to the same closet he'd found himself in that morning, and Kyle said, with a smile, "Oh, you want to watch me get dressed?" Stan shrugged, figuring sure, why not? So he watched Kyle slide on a pair of briefs and then wriggle into jeans, which he ordered Stan to fasten for him. When he had trouble with the zipper, Kyle barked, "You're making it difficult on purpose!"
"I swear I'm not," Stan insisted. He gazed up at Kyle's naked torso and felt something uncomfortable — pity, maybe, and Stan felt as though all of the air had gone out of the room. Kyle's body wasn't anything like Stan had ever envisioned, so soft and exposed, his flesh wasn't one color; Stan couldn't reduce it down to one adjective like "peach" or "rose" — it was both of those, and so much more, not uniform but beautiful, to Stan, like the hide of an animal, a kind of trophy. Stan couldn't help but brush his thumb over some of the hair on Kyle's chest. It was short and brisk, and Stan remembered waking up pressed against it. The memory made him drop his hand.
"What?" Kyle caught Stan's fingers, squeezing them, lightly. "I could wax, I guess. ... If you wanted that. Do you want that? I know I've let myself go — but you always tell me you like me how I am, so sometimes I just think you're playing mind games, or something, well, I'm not a mind-reader, Stanley, you have to tell me what you want—"
"I want. Um. For you to help me find something to wear?"
"Oh. Well, all right." Kyle pulled something from a shelf, a T-shirt the color of a green highlighter, which made Kyle's hair seem less red, somehow, and more auburn. Stan was almost gagging on disbelief until Kyle added a black sweater over it, some neon green peeking out from the tip of the V at Kyle's sternum. "How do I look?" he asked.
Struggling to determine his position on this subject, Stan said, "Well, you know, it's not so much about that, really, it's important, uh — how do you feel?"
"Oh no," said Kyle, "I'm not playing that game. I asked you a question!"
"I think it's more important that you feel good about yourself than about what I think—"
Stan recoiled, murmuring, "It looks nice."
"That probably means I look terrible." Kyle did sound hurt. "Well, nothing fits me and I'm too lazy to find another outfit. At least this is very modest." Kyle turned to leave the room, leaving the lights on. "I hate clothes."
Wondering if perhaps it wasn't best to follow Kyle's example in regard to the lights, he left them on as well and wasn't too shocked to see that they snapped off on their own accord. It was here that Stan discovered there were two closets in the bedroom, this one and a smaller one. The smaller one seemed to be his; there was a fraying poster of John Elway tacked, of all things, to the ceiling. As Kyle dug through a tall, angular dresser of natural wood, Stan inspected everything he could manage to take in. This was his wardrobe, these were his things. He had pairs of slacks in unthinkable colors, things that didn't seem professional in the least. The sneakers were outlandish as well, in neons and pastels, sometimes in combination. Everything about this seemed to clash. The thing was, this made Stan's heart beat faster. These were the sorts of things he begged his mother to buy him, or variations on it anyway — primary colors, especially, were his favorites. He also liked animal shapes and animal prints. While considering this, he spied a pair of leopard-print briefs in Kyle's hands.
"I don't mean to be a sick perv," Kyle said, catching Stan looking at him. "These just look so good on you."
"It's not wrong," Stan mumbled, turning from Kyle to slide off the ones he had on. When he had them on all the way he turned back around and added, "I guess if we're together, you — you probably look at me, or we look at each other ... sometimes. I guess."
"I guess!" Kyle rolled his eyes and picked up a pile of clothes he'd assembled on a worn leather hassock, handing them to Stan. "Enjoy!"
For a moment Stan was relieved that Kyle was leaving the room, but then he felt a little pang of loss. Rather, not a pang but a great panic seizing at him. He didn't want to be alone in this house. "Wait!" he cried.
Turning, Kyle said, "Yeah?"
"I just — where are you going?" Stan hated how needy his voice sounded, how nervous he felt holding this pile of clothes. He sat down on the hassock and looked up at Kyle as Kyle approached Stan.
"To the butcher," Kyle said. "To figure out about those steaks. I might get some lunch. You know I like to — enjoy the company of the outside world. Sometimes. ... I guess."
"Can I come?" Stan asked. Suddenly it occurred to him that he had pulled his shirt off. Desperately he began to search for the one in his lap; when he found it he shook it until he located the neck hole.
"Yeah, you can come." Kyle seemed to brighten at the idea. "Where do you want to go?"
Stan shrugged. "You pick."
"Ugh." Now Kyle left the room for real.
"Kyle!" Stan called after him, but Kyle didn't come back this time.
When dressed, Stan felt rather comfortable in his clothes. Kyle had given him a well-tailored gray button-down and a pair of red pants, corduroys with horizontal patterned texture. It didn't look awful, Stan was surprised to find, and he felt as if he were wearing his own clothes. He was, of course, but it bore remark, Stan felt. Since Kyle wasn't there he spent a few minutes in front of the mirror, considering his appearance. He was slim and though he couldn't say for certain whether he was objectively tall, he was taller than Kyle, and so had developed the idea that he must be considered handsome. He wasn't certain he could say he liked how he looked; he rather preferred looking his age, and as he felt 13, staring at his stubbly reflection was jarring. But he was relieved to learn he hadn't grown up ugly! That said, while securing the button fly on his corduroys he'd realized that his hands ached — not greatly so, but suddenly, in a way that subsided when his hands were at rest and began to creep up on him when he engaged in some kind of work. A similar sensation was ignited as he tied his shoes. When he stood up again it was gone, and his concern dissipated, leaving him content until he realized Kyle was not in the bedroom, but there was noise coming from downstairs. For the second time that day Stan forced himself to creep downstairs, finding Kyle in the living room reading on a tablet and scowling.
Hearing Stan, Kyle made an obvious point to continue reading for a few moments, perhaps to finish his paragraph or something. Stan just stood at the bottom of the stairs, the clutch of his hands resting at waist-height, until Kyle put the tablet down and said, "You look good."
"Thanks," Stan managed.
"I mean, you always look good." Kyle stood up, clearly regarding Stan's physique.
It felt uncomfortable, but Stan didn't say anything. He needed Kyle to think this was normal. To this extent Stan had decided that it was best to keep silent when possible.
"I'm a lucky man," Kyle said, in a low voice, with a sighing quality to it. He seemed sad. Adult Kyle tended, in the scant hours of Stan's relationship with him, to have two modes, sadness and frustration. There was a kind of sadness even to his leering gaze, to his sexually charged remarks. "Let's go to Bret's," Kyle said. "You drive."
Stan resolved not to do anything to make Kyle frustrated, or sad, if it was in his power to avoid it. "Who's Bret?" Stan asked.
"The restaurant. I don't know anyone named Bret. Do you?"
"No." Stan was following Kyle past the door to his office, through a laundry room. Then they were stepping outside. "I, um." He feared that this was going to upset Kyle, or at least frustrate him. Two cars were sitting there, one a cherry-red coupe that was longer than Stan had ever seen a car, and slightly narrower than he wanted it to be. The top was down, and there were only two seats. "Is it possible for you to drive?" Stan asked.
"Is it possible? What? It's possible, but — I drove to dinner last night."
"I'll drive," Kyle said, "if like usual you promise to take over if I get drunk. I wanted a mimosa with lunch."
"I guess that's fair!" Stan said with too much enthusiasm, which got a weird look from Kyle. Stan really didn't think it sounded fair, but he wasn't sure what the alternative was: 'Let's call a driver,' 'Actually I don't think I want to go out to lunch with you,' 'Why don't you just not drink anything, because it's like noon'? None of these felt like they'd go over very well. Stan swallowed and trailed Kyle back into the house, past the office door a second time, and out the front door.
"Front door open," said the front door.
"Fuck off," Kyle said to the door. He didn't bother locking it, just touched his thumb to a chrome rectangle about the size of a matchbox that sat directly above the knob. "I'm hungry," he said, and went to the car sitting in the driveway. The last thing he said before he got in was, "Fucking seagulls."
Stan had never driven in his life, but he was willing to bet that Kyle wasn't so great at it. He wasn't sure who was honking more: other drivers who seemed to be frustrated (to put it lightly) with Kyle, or Kyle himself. Kyle was also prone to shouting insults out the car window. "I bet you fuck your mother with that stick shift!" and so forth. At first Stan found this incredibly upsetting, and he wondered if maybe it wasn't unsafe to get in the car with Kyle in the first place. After a few blocks of this, however, Stan began to understand something: driving was a kind of theater for Kyle, and he expected feedback from Stan. When none was forthcoming, Kyle took a moment at a red light to turn to Stan and say, "I hesitate to ask whether you'd be so kind as to give me a pre-lunch blow job."
Stan's jaw dropped. When Kyle knit his brows, Stan choked out, "In the car?"
"You used to like doing it in the car."
"It's a convertible!" Stan glanced around, as if there was something he wasn't getting. "The top is down!"
"It's not like I'm not doing you a favor by driving!"
Stan figured he might as well confess: "I don't know how to drive!"
"For someone who's always criticizing how I do it I find that difficult to believe."
Stan concluded that the best thing he could do was listen to Kyle singing along with the radio, and enjoy the mild weather and bright sun. Stan had been to California, but this was something else. The city was a wasteland of signage, unlit neon tracing the outline of every letter. In the distance were foothills, and behind them, cottony clouds. Stan was most pleased by the palm trees; they weren't lush as he expected them to be, but tall and gangly, opening to the sky high above the asphalt expanse of the ground that seemed to radiate stale heat.
The geography of South Park, Stan knew by heart. He lived square in the middle of a residential knot, and Kyle's family lived about two blocks to the west, though it was hard for Stan to grasp exactly how many blocks since he was prone to shortcutting through his neighbors' yards. About a 10-minute walk from there was downtown, a retail strip with painted brick storefronts — a toy store, a Chinese take-out place, an abortion clinic. At the end of the street was a big plaza that opened up to the rotunda of city hall. Then there were the things that were a bit outside of town proper. First there were the bars and restaurants, then the hospital, and then the chains. Big-box department stores and fast-food places dotted the landscape into Denver. Stan had never, not once in his life, lived so close to everything, and yet so far. The places he saw now seemed both typical and exotic to him. For that matter, he was unused to having to go quite so far for anything he needed. Denver, the biggest nearby city, was a drive that his family regularly made in under an hour, zipping down the highway in his mom's Prius.
Here in this little car they'd been limping toward the restaurant for 50 minutes and Stan still had no conception of how close they might be. "Where are we?" he asked, ashamed of how whiny it sounded.
"We're almost there!" Kyle snapped, fiddling with the rearview mirror. "Do me a favor and don't launch into your usual lecture about how I should just give in and get a self-driving car. I like my car!"
"Okay!" Stan sunk into his seat, wondering what the hell that meant.
Lunch was at this Bret's place. Bret's was set back from the street (which was traffic-clogged and noisy, Stan noted as they sat down) in a plate-glass cube with a palm-flocked veranda. Kyle demanded loudly to the waiter that they be seated on the veranda, which made Stan blush.
"I'm not sitting in that cube," Kyle insisted as they were left with a carafe of water. "You know it's hot in there! I'll start sweating — I don't want to be seen like that."
When another waiter floated by, Kyle yanked at his apron and asked, without consulting the menu, for two drinks, a prickly pear iced tea and a mojito.
Not knowing what a mojito was, Stan was busy scanning the menu, desperate to learn, when the waiter turned to ask him, "Drink, sir?" Stan's blush deepened, and he hesitated. The annoyed look on Kyle's face caused him to stammer, "What's — um, good here?"
"Don't be a drama queen," said Kyle. "Just get your regular."
"Um." It was here, with the attention of both Kyle and the waiter on him, that Stan noticed that the clientele was made up predominantly of men. Probably gay men, Stan realized, thinking about it.
"I can come back," said the waiter.
"I'll have a Coke?" Stan looked up, wondering if this drink order had caused too much suspense.
"Very good," the waiter said, shrugging, before leaving.
"Coke," said Kyle.
"What about it?"
Kyle shrugged. "Nothing! Just — you know."
Having no idea whatsoever, Stan chose not to reply.
"What are you thinking about?"
"What am I thinking about?" Stan asked. This made him nervous, because in truth what he was thinking about was how not to ask the stupid question, is this a gay restaurant? Stan hadn't considered that there were gay restaurants before. Gay bars, that he knew about. But it had never occurred to Stan that gayness was a condition that predicated specialized restaurants. He felt like he was starting to sweat, and was suddenly glad they weren't sitting in that cube, the restaurant proper. Stan had nothing in particular against gays, or gay restaurants, or anything like that; it was just that he was only lately coming to the realization that he was probably gay himself, and had been taking comfort in the idea that this condition was no more special than being, say, young or Catholic or from Colorado; it didn't necessitate having to separate himself from anything else, and that was fine, and maybe in a few years he would feel comfortable telling people how he felt on the subject, namely that he was gay but that it didn't bother him and it shouldn't bother other people, either.
Finding himself thrust into this immediate situation was causing Stan to question every rational thought he'd ever had on the matter.
"What are you thinking about to eat?" Kyle pressed.
So Stan gave up. "You order for me," he said, folding up the menu and handing it to Kyle. He hadn't really looked at it, but a lot of it, or at least the section headers, were in French. Stan could not pronounce "oeufs," let alone think about it as something he liked to eat. "You know what I like," he mumbled, assuming that Kyle did. Maybe he also had a regular dish he wanted. Kyle would probably know.
When the waiter returned with their drinks, Kyle immediately began ripping open packets of sugar and dumping them into the iced tea, which looked to Stan like no tea he'd ever seen before. It was neon pink.
"So what are we having?" the waiter asked them. He had greasy hair that looked blond in certain lights and mousy in others. He spoke with a kind of detachment, as if he weren't very interested in what they wanted to eat at all.
"I'll have a tartine," said Kyle, flipping his menu open again. "Jamon iberico, manchego, lardo, mustard greens, citrus viniagrette."
"And a soup to start, tortilla soup."
"Bread basket with that?"
"Jesus, yes," said Kyle, as if it were obvious. "And crema. On the soup."
"Very good. Sir?"
As soon as Stan was directly addressed, he seized up.
Kyle saved him. "He'll have egg whites, half an avocado, quinoa with currants."
"What the hell is that?" Stan asked. It sounded shocking.
"What you always get?"
"I'll have a cheeseburger!" Stan announced, because it was the first thing that came to mind. "What the fuck is keenwa?"
"It's a grain native to the Americas," said the waiter.
"It sounds awful!"
"I can take it or leave it."
"Just bring him a damn cheeseburger," said Kyle. "He's been acting like a child all day."
"I have not!"
For a moment the waiter just stood there staring at them with his pen to his lips. Then he said, "I'll put that right in for you," and left.
Stan watched him go, trying to avoid turning back to Kyle. When Stan did, Kyle furrowed his brows and said, "Something's wrong."
"Stan." Kyle's voice was stiff. "You don't eat burgers."
"I love burgers!"
"Love them, maybe," said Kyle. He picked up his mojito, looking away, toward the street. "You don't eat them."
"Well, I guess it is, yeah." Sighing, Kyle slouched in his seat. "At least in some respects. But it's easy to make fun of health nuts, and you're in such good shape. I don't deserve you! Look at me — bloated like something that washed up on the beach."
Stan stood. "I have to go to the bathroom," he said.
"You want me to go with and hold it for you?"
A smile crept onto Kyle's face. "Your dick, honey."
Unsure if Kyle heard the "I have to go!" Stan croaked out, he ran into the restaurant, making sure to avoid their waiter.
In the bathroom, Stan splashed cold water on his face, breathing so deep he was almost hyperventilating. The air outside was thick and smelt of char, like the carbon fumes of car exhaust, though Stan had noticed that the car Kyle drove was electric, if only because there was a cling-sticker on the windshield that said, "This vehicle is in compliance with the Electric Vehicle Standard of the City of Los Angeles," which also served to answer Stan's final doubt about where he was, geographically. The water felt good, and Stan told himself he only felt anxious because the smog was making it hard to breathe. But as cool droplets ran down his nose and pooled at the cleft in his upper lip, Stan blinked at himself and decided that if he lived here, really, if this 40-year-old man was him, and he had been in Los Angeles for years now, his body should be used to smog. The tap had shut off automatically, and Stan looked around for a towel. Instead he found a dryer that appeared to function based on suction; it worked much better than a towel, though Stan instinctively wiped his hands off on his shirt. He wondered if it was a nice shirt as he breathed in deeply, smelling a soft lavender scent that wafted, maybe, from the vents. Did they scent the air? Was that possible, in the future?
Returning to the table, Stan found Kyle eating soup. "How is that?" Stan asked, sliding uneasily back into his seat.
Wiping his lips, Kyle sat back and said, "Fine." He had a roll of bread on the edge of his plate, and he tore a hunk from it, dripping it into the soup. "Do you want some?"
Though Stan was thinking, "Say no, say no," he ultimately said, "Yes." So Kyle slid the bowl toward him, and brandished his spoon for Stan.
"It's usually better," Kyle said, wet bread in his mouth. "I like it when it's a little less brothy, thicker." Swallowing, a smirk appeared on his face and in a low voice he said, "But, you know I like everything thick."
Stan was grateful that he'd already swallowed his mouthful of soup. He was also surprised to learn that he had an opinion on tortilla soup that was in line with Kyle's. "Stop!" he cried, pushing the bowl back. The glob of sour cream crowning the soup bobbed as it slid toward Kyle.
"Saying all these — sex things!"
"Ugh, Stan." Kyle rolled his eyes, blushing. He grabbed his spoon back and dug in, refusing to pause until the bowl was empty. When it was, he refused to admit defeat, using the end of his piece of bread to wipe gleaming bits of rosy broth studded with shreds of cilantro from the bottom and sides of the bowl.
Feeling himself becoming aroused again, Stan turned from Kyle and took in great lungfuls of the smoggy air. Soon he was coughing and grabbing for his sweaty water glass, but his erection had had the courtesy to halt its advance midway through.
The burger Stan ordered was weird, with berry compote and thick, white cheese, more resembling cream cheese than American, though it was bland and chalkier than cream cheese.
Kyle was already shoveling his lunch into his mouth when he paused to stare at Stan deconstructing his burger. "Something wrong?" he asked.
"Yeah," said Stan, "what the hell is this?"
"Well, that's your burger," said Kyle. "Feel free not to pick at it like a child."
"But what's this white shit?"
"That's mascarpone. Come on, Stan, don't play this game."
Stan didn't find the situation he was in to be a game; after having only granola for breakfast he was starving. The compote-mascarpone situation wasn't to Stan's liking, so he scraped it onto the plate and reassembled the burger without it. There was some comfort in having taken control of the meal. Kyle scoffed at this, but it didn't keep him from talking to Stan throughout their meal:
"I think the first course should be soup," Kyle was saying, "everyone loves soup, and I make a nice soup. I think the soup should be vegetarian. But you have to tell me who's coming! I need a list of dietary restrictions. I know I usually deal with this, but I'm under a lot of pressure right now, Stan! I can't finish things as easily as you can. I need more time to deliberate. Anyway, that's why I think it'll be ideal to go down to the greenmarket and see what kind of veggies they have, what's good that morning — but, you know, you're right — I'll be busy all day that day, so maybe go the day before—"
"I wasn't saying anything."
"You were making a face. I'll go that morning, I'll see what's good —is squash in season yet? Or I could do carrot soup — but that's not good without cream. I need something naturally creamy. Tomatoes are out by now or I'd make a salmorejo."
"Jesus what?" Stan asked. He was drinking copious amounts of Coke to get the lingering berry-mascarpone taste out of his mouth. "Are we having a party?"
"Jesus!" Kyle laughed, busting up. "I hope you're being sarcastic!"
Stan shrugged, as if he had been. The longer they sat outside, the brighter the sun shone, or so it seemed to Stan.
After polishing off the first half of his tartine, Kyle brushed his hands off on his napkin, then used it to wipe his mouth. "I want them to hire you," he said in a quiet tone, after taking a sip of tea. "I know it's your career, so maybe it's none of my business, but I feel like you're treading water sometimes. Like, you're getting bored, aren't you? And who knows what you're liable to get up to when you're bored?"
The question hung there, as if Kyle expected Stan to answer it.
At the butcher, Kyle placed an order for filets; the price left Stan astounded. Even worse was that Kyle expected him to pay for it. This, after he had also expected Stan to pay for lunch. "Oh, right!" Kyle said, wiping out his wallet in front of the girl at the register in the butcher shop. "He forgot his wallet!"
Then there was more haranguing in the car: "You paid for dinner last night! Jesus! Your wallet's probably in your other pants!"
"Well, where are my other pants?" Stan asked.
"You tore them off so you could fuck me!"
The more Kyle said inappropriately sexual things, they less they bothered Stan. For example, this statement only made his stomach turn once before he shook it off. "Okay," he said, "then where would I find them now? I didn't see any pants on the floor this morning."
"Well, Rosa probably picked them up."
"Ohhh," said Stan. "Okay." He was anxious to get home, though he'd now spent just as long out of the house as he had in the house, and it wasn't his home anyway, and all of this was wrong and he was scared out of his fucking mind but was finding it easier and easier to push it out of his mind and concentrate on asking Kyle increasingly infuriating questions. Still, when they got into the house, Stan breathed a sigh of relief, grateful for the climate controls if nothing else. He ran ahead of Kyle, all the way up the stairs and into the bedroom. Sure enough his wallet was sitting next to the bed, on the side table. For a moment Stan sat there with the wallet in his hands, considering whether this was someone else's property and maybe it would be a massive violation to open it. The leather was black and worn, soft against Stan's skin. Something about it felt familiar to Stan, and he let it fall open like a clamshell.
Stan saw why the billfold was not very thick; there was no cash in it, only cards. He considered, for a moment, memories of his father leaving his wad of cash in his other pants and chewing out the dishwasher repairman for stealing it, only to find it again later. Then Stan rifled through his wallet and found, in addition to fairly familiar-looking credit cards, a slightly thicker one that was marked, "US Treasury System Cash Replacement Card," with the familiar etched face of George Washington in the left bottom corner. On the right was a holographic imprint of the number 740.39. It was more money than he'd ever heard of in one place in his life! With that kind of money he could buy a TV for his room, or buy his mother a nice necklace for her birthday, or pay back Craig—
Stuffing the card back into the wallet, Stan shook his head and vowed not to think of it. Whatever had happened, the situation must be long resolved. Or this could be a parallel universe where there was no Craig Tucker — either way, it was beyond Stan now. Most of what was in the wallet was uninteresting to Stan: a fitness club membership card, a voter registration card for California's 33rd congressional district, a buy-10-get-one-free card for a coffee shop called Cedar Press.
There was also a driver's license. Stan gazed at this for a long time, as if the longer he stared at it, the more information he might glean. There was a portrait on the card, which was marked OVER 18, and the usual information. Stan lived at 29474 Paseo El Corazon and was 5-foot-11; he weighed 161 lbs, though Stan considered that this might have been a lie, as it was well over what he thought he weighed at 13, and he didn't feel 60 lbs larger than he had been yesterday. Suddenly he wanted to see Kyle's driver's license, too. The back didn't give him any useful information: He was an organ donor who didn't wear corrective lenses, but he was certified for both "auto-guide" and "manual." Turning the card over to stare at his own blank expression, Stan shook the card, willing it to give up some new information. It didn't, of course, and Stan put it back in the wallet.
He went downstairs into the office, wondering if he would be able to find something in there that might give up some new information. That gay sex book was on his mind as well. It seemed, in its well-tread state, like a potential clue.
Searching proved relatively fruitless, though Stan had turned up lots of sheet music, some of which was printed, and some hand-written. It took a while for him to noticed that these were attributed to "S. Marsh," and that excited him. One was called "Theme for Wendell's Thanksgiving," and one was called "All Dogs Love Purina Natural Taste For All Breeds." The latter of these seemed fairly straightforward, at least as far as Stan could recognize all the notes. He wheeled this over to keyboard; it no longer looked new but something about that was comforting. He took a few minutes to turn it on, but once he did, Stan was able to tap out some of the notes with his right hand. The music didn't strike him as very deft; it was more annoying, too bouncy. The music was so annoying that it caused Kyle to shout, from what sounded like across the hall, "Why are you playing that?"
Stan instantly snapped off the keyboard and yelled back, "Sorry!" Feeling bad, both about having annoyed Kyle and being a mediocre songwriter, apparently, he flipped through more of the stack. He was finding more personal-seeming songs now; a "Requiem" was his longest work, inscribed to his mother. "Requiem" sounded impressive, like something a real composer would write. There was a stack of copies of this, handwritten sheets bound with a binder clip and the rest more traditional sheet music arrangements. There were no words, though he did find a note on one of the printed copies, "A Thesis Submitted In Requirement For Partial Completion of the Degree of Master of Fine Arts in Theory and Composition at the University of Colorado at Boulder." This note was signed and dated by Stan and two others. He'd signed this when he was 25.
Digging through these foreign belongings was getting exhausting for Stan, but what else could he do? Once he'd gone through all the papers (it was only sheet music, and nothing else), he inspected all of the electronics. He found, next to the keyboard, a large-screen tablet. It was an Apple product, which gave Stan a jolt of recognition; he touched the circular button underneath the screen and it came to life.
The Apple layout hadn't changed much, though things now scrolled up and down rather than back-to-front. There were fingerprints on this thing, so Stan figured he used it a lot. The tile icons were hard to make sense of, though he was able to find a subcategory called "Documents" and, in there, "dinner party list." Was this what Kyle had been hounding him for? Stan opened it, finding a list of names: Stan and Kyle, Graham ("NO ASHER"), several women Stan didn't recognize, a Travis, a Victor, a Leo? And a certain "Azure". Who was named that?
This was clearly the list Kyle had wanted. Feeling pleased that he could finally do something right by Kyle, Stan got up, eager to share this news.
When Stan walked into the living room, he heard the distant guttural noises of porn emanating from Kyle's computer. Stan had watched enough porn, of several varieties, to know exactly what it sounded like. He remembered seeing gross fetish videos that Eric Cartman's mother had starred in as early as 8 years old, in fact. Stan was no stranger to porn, but he wasn't exactly a fan. There was something confusing and upsetting about the enterprise. He didn't much like sex as a concept.
Well, there was Kyle on the couch, lying with his head on a cushion, a leg sloped over the back and the other on the floor, a laptop on his bare stomach, that weird robe he liked to wear flung open. Kyle's eyes were closed. It took Stan half a second to realize that Kyle wasn't just stroking himself, he was actually stuffing his fingers up his ass as well.
For a moment Stan stood there, gaping. Then his stomach lurched and he shouted, "Jesus Christ!"
Kyle opened his eyes; the speed of his stroking slowed, but he certainly didn't stop. "Hi," he said. It sounded very breathy.
"What the fuck!" Stan blurted. "Stop!"
"Jesus, it's disgusting!"
Kyle seemed shocked, but only for a moment. He shut the computer screen with one hand; the voices from the porn went silent as Kyle laid his laptop on the coffee table. "It's disgusting?" he asked, in a voice that Stan could not discern the tenor of. Kyle was hurt or confused, and it wasn't apparent which.
"You're doing it in the living room," Stan said. He was trying not to sound panicked, but he was almost on the verge of tears. "You're—what are you doing?"
"I always do it in the living room," Kyle said, like it was the most normal thing — but he was blushing. Then he grew bolder: "I'm allowed to do whatever I want in my own house."
"This isn't just your house!" Stan said. Then he swallowed, adding, "I think?"
"Oh, you think?" Kyle asked. "Where are you planning to go, Stan, Detroit?"
"Who are you planning to go with?"
"Go with who, where? Kyle, I'm sorry!"
"So now you're sorry." Kyle rolled his eyes, though he seemed more sad than incredulous. "I keep asking you to go down on me, but you won't. So I try to take care of myself, but you come out here all moralistic and tell me I'm disgusting. Stop trying to stifle my sexuality!"
"Just not in the living room!" Now Stan felt like he was going to cry. "I just — I just wanted to tell you—"
"What?" Kyle's voice was quiet, but blunt. "What did you want to tell me?"
"I found that list you wanted."
"Oh!" This seemed to make Kyle happy enough. "Oh, that's really useful," he started to say.
But Stan said, "I'm sorry, this is too much!" He turned and fled back into his office, where he tripped through the mess of papers on the floor and collapsed into his chair. The pad was still sitting there, and there was a notification on the screen from someone named Casey:
"i want to see you!!- free today?"