Soundtrack: This Is Who I Am - Vanessa Amorosi
In the last fifteen minutes, Butters' nervousness had grown into full-blown terror. He peeked through the door of the boys' locker room into the gymnasium at the crowd rapidly filling the bleachers on either side of the basketball court. He'd expected there to only be a couple dozen people here today, not a standing room only crowd.
He'd learned just a short time ago that attendance at the South Park High's talent show was mandatory, and he was beginning to consider the idea that bailing out on his performance today might be his best option.
But then you'd just be the same coward you've always been, he chided himself. No... he had come this far, and he was going to see it through to the end. He thought about what Mr. Mackey had said a week ago during their last counseling session: "You have to face your fears Butters, mmmkay?" Butters had taken those words to heart, and the idea for his upcoming performance in the school talent show was born. Now that the time had come, he wouldn't back down. It's time to face your fears, Butters... all of them.
He turned away from the door, letting it swing shut behind him and hurrying back to the bench between the rows of lockers where he'd left his gym bag. He'd already shed his sneakers and put on the tight green skinny jeans and long-sleeved blue shirt he brought for today's performance. Swallowing nervously, he pulled out the pair of black tap dancing shoes and pulled them on, carefully knotting the laces, making certain they were tied tightly so they couldn't possibly come loose. There would not be a repeat of the tragedies that had occurred the last two times he'd put on a pair of tap shoes.
Behind him, the door leading to the gymnasium burst open hard enough to slam against the wall, startling him. Henrietta Biggle and Pete Raven stumbled inside, dressed in full goth regalia and whispering urgently to each other. The crimson roots of Pete's hair looked freshly dyed. They looked up and spotted him a moment later, and from the startled looks on their faces Butters realized they had expected to have the boys' locker room to themselves, just as he had.
"Oh, hey," Pete said, seeming to be trying to be civil. Henrietta walked to the mirror above the row of sinks to inspect her makeup.
"Hey," Butters replied politely, and went back to regarding his shoelaces.
"You're doing this thing too, huh?" Pete asked, sitting down on another bench. He was staring at Butters' tap shoes, and Butters realized he must know about the people he had accidently killed the last two times he'd attempted to tap dance. His friend Michael would have told him about it; he'd been present for the second tragedy, when six people had died.
"Yeah," Butters replied. "I'm on eighth."
"We're ninth, and the last," Henrietta said, turning away from the mirror where she'd been reapplying black lipstick. She walked over to sit next to Pete. "So, we're up right after you. I hope you don't mind that I'm in here?" Her eyes seemed accusatory, daring him to object.
"N—no, I don't mind. I was already done changin'." He smiled. Neither of them had ever really bullied him before, so Butters wasn't concerned as he turned away from them, checking the rest of the contents of the gym bag one more time and pushing them deeper, out of sight.
It seemed the three of them weren't going to be left alone as the door flew open yet again. This time, Butter's terror ratcheted up sharply. Kenny McCormick, the boy he was pretty sure he was in love with, was standing there silhouetted in the doorway; Butters had hoped he of all people would hear about his performance second hand, not be there to witness it personally.
I can still bail... just tell everyone I twisted my ankle or something—
No. He was going to go through with this, even if Kenny was there watching. But what the heck is he doing here now... and why is he looking at me that way?
Kenny walked into the room, letting the door swing shut behind him, and sat down on the bench beside Butters. Butters instinctively closed the top of his gym bag.
"Hey dude," Kenny said cheerfully. "So I, ah... I heard you were gonna be in this talent show thing today. I just came by to wish you luck."
Butters couldn't think of anything to say for a moment. He finally went with, "W—well, thank you, Kenny!"
Kenny was looking at his shoes; outspoken as usual, he asked the question the two goths hadn't. "You're going to tap dance again?"
"Well, yeah," he replied, sitting up a little straighter. "I guess you heard about what happened th—the last two times I tap danced... ?"
Kenny nodded. "Dude... I think everyone knows about that. Eight people the first time... "
"Nine," Butters corrected him. "One of the ladies was pregnant. And six the second time."
"Yeah, that's the one I remember the most," Kenny replied. "Those were accidents, man; they weren't your fault. Those stage lights should have been secured better. And I'll tell you... it takes balls to try it a third time."
"Mr Mackey keeps telling me I should 'face my fears'" And if you only knew just how many fears I'm going to face up to today... "I figured tap dancing again was as good a place to start as any." He gave Kenny a wry smile. "And besides, the chances of one of my tap shoes coming off and killing anyone a third time are statistically pretty slim... "
Kenny laughed hard at that, but it wasn't the laughter of someone making fun of him. This laughter was kind. "Dude, you're gonna do great!" Kenny proclaimed. "You know what? I bet you win first place; and even if you don't... "
In a million years, Butters couldn't have predicted what happened next. Kenny slid off the bench and knelt on the floor in front of him, reached out and untied the knot in his left shoe, pulled the laces marginally tighter and carefully retied it. He repeated the process with the right shoe and then settled back on his haunches.
"There!" Kenny said, looking up at him from his place on the floor. Having Kenny retie his shoes had been the single most erotic moment of Butters' life, and it had ended much too quickly. "Now if one of your shoes does come untied, it won't be your fault. And we have witnesses." He turned his head to look at Pete and Henrietta, who were staring back at them silently.
Once again, Kenny had left him at a loss for words. "Th—thanks, Ken," he finally murmured, still awed by what Kenny had just done.
"Sure dude!" Kenny replied. "I'd better be getting back. I think the show's about to start."
As if on cue, Principal Victoria's voice boomed through the PA system on the other side of the door. "South Park High School!" Her voice reverberated through the gym. "Welcome to our annual talent show!"
"Okay, Kenny. Well, thanks!" He nodded toward his laces. "Maybe I'll see you later?"
"I hope so!" Kenny stood and walked away, opening the door and leaving. Butters stared at the door long after it had swung shut.
Out in the gym, Principal Victoria said: "Without further ado, please welcome your emcee, Jimmy Valmer!"
"So, now we wait," Henrietta said. They could distantly hear polite applause from the crowd. "Tell me again why I let you talk me into this?"
"Wow!" Jimmy's voice boomed throughout the auditorium. "What a terrific audience!"
Now we wait, Butters thought.
Kenny made his way through the gym, over to the bleachers and sat in the seat Kyle had saved for him. He spent most of the talent show cutting up with Kyle and Stan, making fun of the first seven acts. Both the football and basketball teams were sitting nearby and were talking and laughing amongst themselves as well.
The only act that was even mildly entertaining was Wendy Testaburger as a ventriloquist, with Bebe Stevens sitting on her lap as her 'dummy'. Most of their act consisted of Bebe pretending to try to catch Wendy's lips moving, but even they received only a few laughs and scattered applause at the conclusion of their performance.
"Wow, what a terrific audience!" Jimmy said again. It was apparent that even he knew this show wasn't going well, as most of the people in the audience were talking and carrying on instead of paying attention.
"N-n-n—next, please welcome to the stage... Butters Stotch, with an original dance routine!"
Kenny sat up straighter, looking toward the door he expected Butters to emerge from. For a moment nothing happened; then he breathed a sigh of relief as the door opened and Butters quickly walked through it to more polite applause, still wearing the tight green jeans and long sleeved blue shirt. Strangely, he was also carrying his gym bag, which he set at his feet when he reached the center of the stage.
He stood quietly for a moment, then called: "Music, please?" Kenny realized that whoever was in charge of the sound must not have been paying attention as whatever music Butters had chosen for his performance began playing a few seconds later. Kenny smirked and he heard several snickers nearby as Butters' own voice boomed through the auditorium (lu lu lu, I got some apples... ). Butters had made this recording himself on his computer, using Auto-Tune on his voice and mixing in both an elaborate drum beat and an orchestra, and as the music played he began a slow, tentative tap dance.
Halfway through the song, there was a sudden loud scrrrritch!, like a record being vigorously scratched, and Butters dropped to his knees in front of his gym bag, his face lowered so the audience could only see the top of his head. Kenny felt his stomach drop as he thought that something had gone wrong, a twisted ankle perhaps.
Then, the upbeat beginning of Vanessa Amorosi's This Is Who I Am rang through the auditorium, yet Butters remained motionless on the stage, crouched before his gym bag, all the way through the first three lines of the song.
I spend my life,
Trying to do things right
But all I do is fall to my face with my hands on my head so many times
Kenny barely noticed Butters' hands reaching inconspicuously into the gym bag and removing a brightly colored object from it. He stood up and pulled a dark purple silk shirt with a wide collar and large green circles scattered across it around his shoulders, and as the next lines of the song played—
But then I learned, after being burned
To get back up and push straight on
Stop the tears people move on
—Butters leaped into motion, running across the stage pulling an eight-foot long purple fur boa from the gym bag which he wrapped around his shoulders as he launched into an extremely energetic ballet dance routine while the music swelled through the PA system.
Well it's alright to be myself
Now I've learned to stand
Well it's okay to be just who I am
"Holy shit... " Kenny whispered, catching on to what Butters had done, and how perfectly his actions had mirrored the song lyrics. Butters seemed destined to win the show today with his enthusiasm alone as he ran back and forth across the stage, leaping higher as he went further into his performance. For the first time that day, someone in the control booth turned several stage lights on, and their light glistened off the shiny purple and green shirt.
Toward the end of the song, Butters' leaps seemed to defy gravity as he crested each one, appearing to hang motionlessly in the air for a moment before dropping back to the stage and immediately running into his next jump; it was one of the most amazing things Kenny had even seen. Nearly everyone in the auditorium was paying attention as well; even the jocks were sitting up straighter, watching in stunned silence.
"Fag!" Cartman said, coughing the word into his hand. Kenny whirled around to face him with murder in his eyes, ready to tear him a new asshole when Clyde Donovan beat him to it.
"Dude, shut the fuck up!" Clyde said menacingly from six seats away. The rest of the jocks were mostly ignoring this exchange, their attention on Butters' performance. "Do you have any idea how hard what he's doing is?"
"That'd be like running a six minute mile," Token said and Clyde nodded. Cartman looked down at his knees.
"Yeah... yeah... "
Once Cartman had been silenced, Kenny turned back to watch the end of Butters' performance. When the song had faded, Butters grabbed his gym bag from the middle of the stage and hurried offstage, the long boa trailing along the floor behind him. The applause as he ran through the door was considerably louder than it had been all day, and the football and basketball teams jumped to their feet as one with loud cheers and whistles.
Something about the way Butters had run offstage made Kenny narrow his eyes. He appeared to be fleeing in terror rather than exiting triumphantly.
"Hey guys, wait here okay... ?" Kenny said, standing up and hurrying away, ignoring Stan's "where are you going, Kenny?" as he once again headed toward the boys' locker room.
Jimmy was looking toward the stage door as he announced, "And our final performance of the day... please welcome Henrietta Biggle and Pete Raven, who will perform an original poetry reading!"
Butters didn't even look up from the bench as the door banged open and someone walked into the locker room. He heard Pete and Henrietta alternately reading lines of a 'poem'. Life is nothing but pain / So plunge your dagger into my heart / and spill my crimson blood onto the cobblestones. Butters looked down at the floor, blinking back tears, trying to ignore whoever had just come into the room and hoping they would leave him alone.
The door slammed shut, silencing the goths again. Butters didn't know it was Kenny who had come into the locker room until he sat down on the bench next to him.
Oh, great. His crush was going to be the first person to beat him up. Might as well get used to it.
"Dude!" Kenny said happily. "That was... " He shook his head. "That was like the most perfect thing I've ever seen!"
Butters looked at him, his eyes shiny with tears. "Kenny... th—they were all laughing at me! They—" His lips quivered as he tried not to cry. "Kenny," he sobbed. "I—I shouldn't have done that! They were making fun of me... !"
"Dude... .no, they were not!" Kenny replied, scooting closer and putting a hand on Butters' shoulder.
Butters continued as if Kenny hadn't spoken. "I don't know why I did that! I—I was supposed to face my fears... but I should have just tap danced. That would have been enough. I made a fool of myself!"
"Butters," Kenny said. "You have no idea... do you? They weren't laughing at you, man! They... Jesus man, they loved what you did! Token said what you were doing looked harder than running a six minute mile."
Butters couldn't understand why Kenny, the most perfect person Butters had ever known, was here congratulating him after he'd made a complete idiot of himself in front of the whole school. He sniffed loudly, wiping tears from his cheeks. "Ken? Why... why are you bein' so nice to me?"
Kenny's eyes widened. "Because I like you, dude." He sounded like he was stating the obvious. "I kind of have for a while now. I wanted to tell you that... but until just now, I didn't really think I would have a chance with you."
Butters boggled at him. "You mean... you're not embarrassed to be seen with me?"
"Of course not!" Kenny replied at once. "Kind of the opposite actually." He smiled and pulled Butters closer. "Hey... if anyone gives you a hard time, you tell me about it, okay? I'll take care of it."
The door swung open with a bang and Pete and Henrietta came into the room. Kenny and Butters looked at them resentfully, and they stopped just inside the door as if respecting their desire for privacy, speaking quietly to each other.
"Dude... no one was making fun of you out there, okay?"
Butters nodded reluctantly. "Are... are you sure, Ken?"
"You just wait and see. No one's going to make fun of you later, either. They're going to—"
"Hey, they're announcing the winners," Pete said.
Kenny squeezed Butters' shoulder comfortingly. "Come on man... let's go watch this." They stood together and joined the two goths at the open door, looking out into the gymnasium at Jimmy as he held up an envelope. He tore it open and pulled out a slip of paper.
"Third prize," he announced into the microphone. "A twenty dollar gift certificate to the newly reopened Hot Topic, goes to... " He paused dramatically, holding the slip of paper up for all to see. "H-h-Henrietta Biggle and Pete Raven, for their original p-puh-poetry reading!"
"What?" Pete said, outraged. "We did that for a gift certificate to Hot Topic... ?"
Butters was suddenly laughing so hard he could barely stand up. Pete glared at him while Kenny looked at him incredulously, wondering what could possibly be so funny.
"Come on," Henrietta said, grabbing Pete's arm and tugging him out the door toward the stage. "We can pick up some black nail polish or something... "
Once they'd left, Butters looked up at Kenny again. He tried to say something and doubled over laughing again instead.
"Dude," Kenny said, starting to laugh as well. "What the fuck is so funny... ?"
"I'll—I'll tell you later, Kenny," Butters replied, still snickering. Henrietta had already taken the gift certificate from Jimmy, and she and Pete immediately headed toward the exit and left the gym.
"Second P-p-p... " Jimmy shuddered and started over. "Second prize, a thirty dollar gift certificate for SuperCuts, goes to... Wendy and Bebe for 'Wendy Bergen and Charlie McStevens!'"
There was more polite applause as they walked onstage to accept their prize.
"And finally!" Jimmy held up the last envelope and tore it open. "First prize, and a fifty dollar gift certificate to Bennigans Restaurant, goes to... Butters Stotch, for that amazing dance performance!"
Butters gasped and Kenny looked at him grinning. "See? I told you, dude!" Butters looked like he was about to have a panic attack, and Kenny put his hand on his shoulder again. "Hey, man. It's okay... just go out there and grab your prize and it'll all be over!"
Butters nodded, and walked out the door toward Jimmy. Kenny watched the jock section of the audience erupt into a standing ovation, the rest of the crowd following suit a moment later. Butters couldn't possibly mistake this for anything but genuine applause.
Butters rejoined Kenny a few moments later, staring down at the slip of paper in his hands. Kenny waited for him to say something.
"Ken? I—I'm probably going to get grounded for about three months once my parents hear about what I did... " He turned his head, looking at the boy he liked who had just said he liked him too. "But before I do... I want to go and spend this. And, uh, I... " He blinked, looking at Kenny hopefully. "W—would you like to have dinner with me at Bennigans?"
"Butters," Kenny replied, squeezing his shoulder and steering them toward the door leading outside. "I'd be honored to have dinner with you."
And as they began the half-mile walk to the South Park Bennigans, Butters smiled when he felt Kenny's hand slip into his.
If you enjoyed this story, remember to check out the original artwork that inspired it!