Kyle hid under his blankets from the persistent banging on his bedroom door.
"Kyle!" Wendy's shrill voice pierced through the wood. "Open up! You can't hide forever, he'll be back in a week. Jesus."
He scrunched into himself like a sad accordion, in the face of having made a horrible mistake.
Kyle Broflovski; Fourteen years old - Professional fish killer. He had betrayed his best friend. Nothing would ever be the same.
Wendy fell silent on the other side of his door. He imagined she was leaning her forehead on the door, thinking of a way to force him out. She was probably plotting to crumble the door with explosives, a very real scenario which hopefully didn't involve his family being caught in the shrapnel. He would be to blame for their deaths-by-Wendy's-dubious-connections-to-deadly-weaponry. He was to blame for everything.
"Kyle." Wendy's voice implored gently, her voice a comforting pat on the back. She could be sweet when she wanted, having the potential to be the nurturing type of terror. She rarely went for "gentle", and any attempts at a quiet, motherly persona should be met with extreme skepticism and fear. Anything less wouldn't be Wendy, and that's exactly how he liked her. "If you don't open the door, I'm going to call Stan at camp and tell him that you ran over his fish with your bike and that you laughed the entire time and are now planning to use his dog in some kind of blood rite."
She would, too. Kyle supposed he should let her inside.
Wendy appeared mostly amused when he opened the door, her pink backpack thrown over her shoulder. Kyle looked at her with the weariness of an old man, swollen bags under his eyes. He'd never been needlessly emotional, but dire happenings inspired dire reactions. His world was ending, just like that fish's world had ended in a cramped glass container, surrounded in its own feces.
What a tragedy.
Wendy snorted and rolled her eyes and shooed him back inside, throwing her backpack to the side and perching herself in his desk chair with her feet on the edge of the cloth. He cringed but returned to his nest on the bed. The nest was perfectly Kyle-shaped and still warm.
"So," she started, casually rocking herself in his chair. "Are you over being a drama queen?"
"I'm not being dramatic." Kyle mumbled into his pillow. "This is the worst. He trusted me."
"Kyle, it was a fish." Wendy said with exasperation. "I don't think Stan's going to exile you because you cleaned the bowl too many times."
Kyle poked his head out of the blankets, "But do you know?" He asked miserably, "Can anyone really know?"
"Yes." Wendy smiled easily and moved slowly off the chair, like she may spook Kyle into hissing at her like an irritable ginger cat. Kyle grumbled when she scooted him over on his bed and made room for herself. He rolled onto his back and the covers were pushed to his arms.
"What's this about?" Wendy asked when she was settled.
Kyle shuffled and glared at the ceiling. "My irresponsibility. I'm now just as incompetent as his parents. He's going to come home to an empty room, alone and smelling of death."
"Oh my god." Wendy laughed and reached to grab Kyle's arm. "I didn't know you wrote poetry."
Kyle sighed, lips quirking in a shallow smile. He relaxed into Wendy's warm presence by his side. "I don't know why I'm so upset. His letters from camp keep asking me about the fish and now I just feel bad."
"I mean, you could have killed his dog."
Kyle "harrump'd" thoughtfully, "Maybe his sister to make up for it."
Wendy's face went serious, "I have connections."
Kyle grinned, "I know you do."
Wendy returned the grin, happy that Kyle finally seemed to be emerging his weird depression. She rolled to see the fishbowl sitting on the edge of Kyle's dresser. A suspicious yellow blip floated at the top of the water. Wendy's nose wrinkled, "Ew. You still have it?"
Kyle raised his head to peer at it with her. He was sheepish, "Yeah. I couldn't bring myself to flush it yet. It was still twitching for a few days and I retained hope."
"Ewww." Wendy leaned her forehead against Kyle's arm, "Why don't we flush it together? Bury this ... whatever you're feeling over this stupid fish."
Kyle watched the ceiling for a moment, thinking about something Wendy knew he didn't feel like talking about.
"Yeah." He said eventually, "Let's do that."
Stan groaned as he flopped onto his bunk bed in the camp cabin reserved for counselors. He was eighteen this year, and having achieved Eagle Scout after ten years of summer camps he was told to help bring in the newest generation of scouts. He was having fun but two months of excitable preteens and young teenagers was exhausting.
Only half the lights were off because it wasn't actually lights out, but a few of the counselors were already asleep after a day of hiking. Stan was sore but he maintained his semi-weekly ritual of summer letter-writing to Kyle, Wendy and his parents about his adventures amongst wild children. Wendy liked his stories and his mother liked to confirm that he hadn't suffered being digested by a bear.
Kyle was the hardest to write for, Stan thought. He tapped the notebook which he had spread in front of him, the blue lines a little hard to see in the dim lights. Stan always felt like he needed to have a discussion with Kyle on paper because Kyle always wrote back in clipped matter-of-fact sentences which described the week's events. He said he liked Stan's more descriptive language - Stan tried to write his thoughts rather than just the things that happened around him.
Stan smiled when he remembered the absence of Kyle's return letters the year Kyle accidentally killed that stupid fish Jimbo had given for his birthday. Jimbo had been unaware of the disaster of the first fish Stan had ever owned. Still, Stan tried his best to keep it alive, not trusting his family to remember to feed the ugly little goldfish. He had entrusted it Kyle.
As Kyle cleaned the tiny fishbowl he had forgotten to put chlorine neutralizer in the water. Kyle had been certain the fish meant more to Stan than it really did and didn't talk to him a week after Stan came home from camp.
Wendy had relayed in an unimpressed manner that Kyle was mentally flogging himself for the most atrocious crimes and they were directly related to Stan. At the prospect of Kyle potentially drowning in his own tears Stan had forced himself into Kyle's room. Kyle had been playing some video game and was irritated at the interruption, but Stan was willing to take the verbal beating as opposed to the weird blacklisting Kyle had imposed. In retrospect, Wendy had often served as a mediator when a misunderstanding had occurred. Sarcasm was a weapon Wendy wielded skillfully.
Stan had somewhat maliciously forced Kyle to Long John Silver's, told him what an idiot he was and threw hush puppies at Kyle until he apologized for ignoring him. Kyle had been an emotional younger teen. He was better about jumping to conclusions now.
Stan pulled out the letter he had received from Kyle last week and skimmed it again. The letter was written in Kyle's neat, block-shaped writing.
Nothing much is happening here. I took Ike to the movies last week to see Sharkquake. It was terrible and Ike enjoyed it immensely. It would have been better if you were here to make fun of it with me. Maybe you can develop a special theater badge dedicated to showing kids what not to film.
Sorry this is so short. Wendy seems to write books and I can barely think of what to say. Things are quiet, which is I guess is good. Wendy wants to go to Denver and visit a mall so I'm being drafted to carry bags. She sends her love.
Stan smiled fondly, deciding it was best to write his thoughts for the day.
Hey Dude :)
I was thinking about you the other day and I couldn't stop. I was remembering the time you murdered my goldfish and acted like a giant dork about it. It's funny now, I think, but you were so upset I almost feel bad about taking you for fish and chips and acting excited to see that stupid thing when I knew perfectly well it was dead. I'm not sure I've ever seen you so upset over something so dumb, but I think
Stan paused as he tried to turn his thoughts into words.
... I think I knew I could trust you with anything then because you take everything so seriously.
Stan nodded to himself, satisfied with how that sounded.
I can imagine you now, thinking "I'm not that uptight!" You were just going through your nightly routine of organizing your desk weren't you? It's okay dude, we all have routines. Maybe you more than the rest of us.
Stan wrote until he couldn't anymore, rambling about some birds he saw and a boy with one finger to whom he had to teach archery. Somewhere in the letter he felt like he was putting down a bit of himself â€“ that's what words meant to him sometimes.
After carefully folding and addressing an envelope, Stan tucked the letter onto the nightstand shared between four bunks and crawled into the backpack opened on his bunk, mentally reviewing his words. He hoped they weren't too excessive, and he hoped Kyle got a smile from the simple letter the way Stan got a smile from his.
If you enjoyed this story, remember to check out the original artwork that inspired it!