Kevin McCormick got his first scar, or at least the first one he remembered, in the spring of 1998. He was just four-and-a-half at the time, and his mother was heavily pregnant, so she waddled when she walked. Kevin had found that amusing the first week or two, but since he got smacked on the ass for every time he compared his mother to a duck, it was no longer quite as comical.

At least that's what he hoped his parents believed; he actually still found it quite hilarious.

His mother had always been a little crabby, but she was more so lately. She'd been that way ever since she found out she was going to have a baby, something she blamed Kevin's father for. Kevin didn't know how it was his fault, when his mother was the one who'd eaten the baby, but she also blamed his father for things like where they lived and what they ate.

Kevin liked frozen waffles so he didn't see what the problem was. He'd eat them every day if he could.

He was bored, though. First, he'd gone out back for a while and stared at the barbecue grill. If he relaxed his eyes, the rust spots would blur and combine together until they resembled something else, like a football helmet or a guitar. He wished he could play guitar.

Next, he'd fought off the dragons (magicked to resemble sheets hanging on the clothesline) with his mighty sword (magicked to look like a stick). Unfortunately, his brave efforts resulted in some staining of the dragon's hide, which earned him a spanking. Right after that, his mother declared the effort to be too draining and went to lie down for a while.

His butt still stinging, Kevin had gone out to play under the hood of the car that had been in front of the garage since he could remember. From there, he'd gone on to race in the Delco 400, taking laps in his Thunderbird (that very same broken down car). He even told Jeff Gordon to suck his big fat cock when he took first place.

Kevin went back in the house to celebrate his victory, maybe with some Kool-Aid if he was lucky, and found his father passed out on the couch, a can of Pabst Blue Ribbon dangling from his fingers. His mother was still taking a nap in their bedroom, which was all she did lately when she wasn't yelling at him or his father for something.

Kevin took the can from his father. There was more than half left. It wasn't Kool-Aid, but it had to be better than drinking hot water with nothing in it. It tasted a little like piss (he guessed), but at least it tasted like something. He finished the rest of it and belched, then dropped the can on the floor and wandered back outside.

He walked across the tracks and found a rock on the sidewalk, just outside the Marsh's house. He kicked it just as the front door opened up and Shelly Marsh peeked out.

"What are you doing here?" she asked.

"Kicking this rock. What are you doing here?"

"I live here, turd."

"Want to kick this rock?"

"Why would I want to kick a stupid rock?"

Kevin shrugged and kicked it again. He got as far as the house next door to Shelly's when she joined him. When the rock was in front of her, she kicked it as hard as she could.

"Where are you going?"

"That way," he pointed.

"You're such a retard," she said, kicking the rock further down the sidewalk.

"No, you are," he retorted. He gave her a sideways glance and grinned.

"Boys," Shelly said, shaking her head.

Kevin kicked the rock, making it bounce a few times before a small chip flew off of it.

"You broke it!" Shelly cried.

"It's not broken," he explained patiently. "It's just slightly ear..." he paused and tipped his head to the side. "Ear...regular." Just like the pants he was wearing, where one leg was slightly shorter than the other. It didn't matter, though, because the cuffs were rolled up so no one could see.

"You're slightly irregular."

"I'm a knight," he bragged. "I slayed a herd of dragons."

"It's not slayed, it's slew."

"Whatever. I still killed ‘em."

"Did you rescue the princess?"

He snorted. "There wasn't a princess. Just dragons."

"Don't boys know anything?" Shelly asked the sky. "There's always a princess. The brave knight, who is really a prince, slays the dragon to save his lady fair."

"You mean he slews the dragon. And gross."

"You're gross. And it's not gross. It's romantic."

"Girls," he scoffed. The next kick sent the rock skittering into the bushes, and Shelly ran to the side to go after it. She kicked it back onto the sidewalk.

"Boys," she returned. "That's the whole purpose of killing the dragon. To be a hero."

"No, it's not," he argued, but then he remembered the spanking. Maybe it wasn't the injury to the dragon's hide that upset his mother. Maybe it was because he didn't rescue the princess. His mother was a girl, so obviously she was into that romantic stuff.

"Yes, it is," Shelly said, because, as his father had told him, a woman would argue with you about the time of day even if a clock were right in front of her.

When the rock was in front of him again, he gave it a vicious kick. "Where am I supposed to find a princess to rescue?"

"You find her in the tower, stupid."

Towers had stairs. There were no stairs at Kevin's house. There were, however, stairs at Shelly's. Before he could ask for clarification about what made a tower besides stairs, Shelly kicked the rock right into a light post. It ricocheted off and hit Kevin in the forehead, knocking him onto his back.

He blinked up at the sky. He vaguely remembered Shelly calling his name, and feeling a little sleepy, and the next thing he knew, he was back home, lying on his bed, a large bandage on his forehead.

"My baby," his mother said, brushing his hair off his brow. "How do you feel?"


"Don't baby him," Stuart said, coming to stand in the doorway. "You want him to grow up to be a sissy?"

"I'm not a sissy," Kevin insisted, sitting up. "I was just kidding. It doesn't even hurt." He poked a finger against the bandage to prove it, and then wished he hadn't.

"Good boy," his father said, clapping him on the back.

"Stuart," Kevin's mother said. "Do something useful for once in your fucking life!"

"God damn it, woman, what's the matter now?"

"My water just broke."

To Kevin, it seemed like his mother's screams had gone on for a while. There was no time to get to the hospital; the baby was coming now, and Kevin was sent to fetch towels and water while his father propped up his mother with pillows. The screams were obviously getting to his father, too, because he'd put the pillows under her back instead of behind her head, but Kevin wasn't about to point this out.

His mother was squeezing his father's hand hard enough to break it when Kevin was sent to his room. He'd hadn't even made it that far when he heard one final scream, and then crying.

It wasn't the baby crying, it was his mother, crying tears of relief. The baby was quiet, and if his father hadn't come into his room with it, Kevin wouldn't have even known it was born.

"This is your little brother, Kevin."

"His name's Kevin, too?"

"No, his name is Kenny."

Great, his father was already mixing them up. Kevin peered down into the blanket. "He doesn't look like much."

"Stuart!" his mother yelled. "The after birth is coming!"

"Damn it," his father cursed. "Here," he said, handing Kenny to his brother. "Hold this."

The baby had big blue eyes, but was otherwise kind of ugly.

"You're a dork," Kevin told him. His brother reached out one hand and grabbed a button on Kevin's shirt, making Kevin smile. Maybe having a baby brother wouldn't be so bad after all.

He didn't get a chance to find out, because the thread holding the button on snapped, and before Kevin could stop him, Kenny popped the button in his mouth, his face turning blue almost immediately.

That rock must have hit him in the head harder than he thought, because he would swear he'd watched Kenny choke to death on that button, but the next morning, his brother was in his crib, like nothing had happened. A chill went down Kevin's spine when he looked down and noticed that the button on his shirt was still missing.

Kenny's birthday wasn't just the day Kevin got his first scar, but also the day the nightmares started.

Eight years later

Spring 2007

"Kevin McCormick, get your ass in the truck right now!"

"Uh uh!" Kevin replied, covering his mouth with both hands. "If fuffin' hurfs!"

"Don't you want to have a nice smile?" Mrs. McCormick cajoled.

"Uh uh."

"You ungrateful little shit," his father yelled at him. "Do you know what we had to go through to get you braces?"

Kevin didn't, but it probably had something to do with all the people stopping by in the middle of the night. It was his parents' problem, though; he was pretty sure he'd have preferred they left well enough alone. His teeth weren't that crooked, and at least he had all of them, which was more than you could say about half the people in South Park.

Karen tugged on his shirt. "I think you already have a nice smile," she assured him when he looked down at her. He ruffled her hair and then put his hand back over his mouth. He glared at his parents again for good measure.

"I'll kick your ass," his father threatened.

"Go ahea'!" Kevin challenged.

"You wouldn't even need to go today if you hadn't gotten into that fight at school today," his mother reminded him.

"Got your ass beat by a girl," Stuart goaded him.

Kevin didn't want to remove his hands from where they were protecting his mouth, so he ran over and kicked his father's shin instead. His mother grabbed him by the back of his collar and yanked him back.

"You shouldn't have gotten in a fight with a girl in the first place," his mother scolded.

The only thing that would have made this lecture better was if it had come from his father, who regularly hit his wife when they were fighting, if they didn't both get turned on and rush to the bedroom to do it instead.

Kevin's mother was quite capable of giving as good as she got, though, because Stuart had gone to bed with a blackened eye and bloodied lip on more than one occasion. As far as Kevin was concerned, if a girl could fight back, she shouldn't get a free pass just because she had boobs instead of balls. Even if the girl in question didn't have boobs yet.

Fuck, Shelly Marsh could pack a punch.

Kenny chose that moment to show up from wherever the fuck he'd been for the past half hour. "What's going on?" He took one look at Kevin's hands clamped over his face. "Oh."

"I'll go with you," Karen offered, taking Kevin's hand in hers. "That way you don't have to be scared."

Kenny walked over to his sister and ruffled her hair the way Kevin had. Of course Karen looked up at him like the sun rose and set out of Kenny's ass. Kenny whispered something to Karen, and she looked from one brother to the next before nodding and walking back in the house.

To Kevin, he said a single word, which accomplished two things.

One: Kenny sat on the ground, rubbing his jaw where his brother had punched him.

Two: Kevin stomped over to the truck, climbed inside, and leaned on the horn.

As Stuart drove away with his eldest son, Kevin leaned out the window and yelled, "you're the pussy!"

Kenny got to his feet and grinned, wincing at the soreness in his facial muscles. It worked every time.

Kevin sat in the truck, arms across his chest, and thought about how much he hated his brother. It wasn't fair that Kenny was the golden child. It wasn't just the blond hair or perfect teeth, although Kevin resented his brother for those, too. It was the way he had with people. Kenny would disagree, because the three dorks he hung out with made most of the decisions for them, but it was Kenny they looked to when they needed something explained; never mind that half that shit he'd learned from Kevin.

As far as Kevin was concerned, Kenny was the undisputed favorite. Even Karen thought Kenny walked on water; just look at the way he got her to choose sides not five minutes ago. Kevin knew he'd been played; it wasn't the first time he'd let Kenny egg him on like that.

Kenny was the one who got to go on trips to faraway places, like the rainforest or Peru, while Kevin stayed home because there just wasn't enough money for him to go on a trip, not even to fucking Denver. Kenny got to pull off a complete style makeover, back when douchebags all over town were showing off their metrosexuality - not that Kevin had any desire to be a part of that shit, but he might have liked to go to a Stones concert for once in his life, or at least score a tee or something.

Of course Kenny had acquired one of those, too, the bastard.

Whether Kenny was a bastard in truth was debatable, but Kevin had unquestionably been born out of wedlock. Neither of them had been planned, but Kevin was the one who'd branded their mother a slut. He huffed and slouched further down in the seat.

"What did she say to you, anyway?"

"Who?" Kevin replied, refusing to look at his father.

"Randy's daughter. What did she say to you?"

"I didn't hit her on purpose," Kevin explained. The wire in his cheek poked him again and he touched it gingerly. "She jus' go' i' the way."

"Women will do that to you sometimes, son, believe me," Stuart sighed. "So who started it?"

"Mike Malone called me stupid, so I pushed him."

"Did you push him into Shelly?"

"No. I pushed him, and then he punched me."

"You hit him back?"

Kevin glared at his father. "Of course."

His father nodded approvingly. "So how did Shelly get involved?"

"I dunno. Mike and I were fighting, and then he ducked, I guess. I tried to say I was sorry, but she popped me right in the face."

"Maybe she likes you," his father suggested.

"No she doesn't. She fucking hates my guts."

"You shouldn't have hit her back."

Kevin hadn't meant to do that, either. The first time had been an accident, but the second had been a purely reflexive reaction. Besides, his father was a fine one to talk. He'd seen both of his parents swing their fists at each other, but if he pointed that out, his father would just say that was different. Everything they did was always different from anything Kevin ever did.

It didn't matter anyway, because Shelly had not only punched him, she'd kicked him in the stomach and stomped on his arm. He was lucky she hadn't gone to town on his family jewels, because he'd heard from Kenny that she'd done that to her brother a time or two.

His heart sank when they pulled up to the dentist's office. They couldn't afford to go to the big dental office in town, so Kevin was stuck with the retired Dr. Myers who did the occasional tooth pulling right in his house. He was like a hundred years old and Kevin would swear the guy was also partially blind, because he had this habit of squinting when he talked. Kenny could call him a pussy all he wanted, but Kenny didn't have to deal with Dr. Myers and his scary friend Mr. Pliers.

Just wait, Mike Malone, Kevin thought as Mr. Pliers went to work on the wire embedded in his cheek, I'll show you who's fucking stupid.

June 2008

South Park Middle School

Kevin tucked the end of the paper football he'd made and propped it on its end before flicking it straight into the garbage. It was the fourth one he'd made, and now he was out of paper, so he started pulling at a loose thread on the collar of his tee instead. He'd created a large gap between the collar and the shirt by the time class was dismissed, and he slid out of his chair, still tugging at the thread.

The collar was nearly all the way off by the time he got home. Kenny, who was outside throwing a ball against the house and catching it, glanced over.

"How was summer school?"

"Sucked," Kevin said. "Why aren't you with Stan and those guys?"

"Those assholes left without me," Kenny said, throwing his ball at Kevin's head.

Kevin caught it and threw it back. "So why are you friends with them?"

Kenny shrugged. "It's them or hang out with Craig and Clyde." He made it sound like it was the worst thing ever.

"What about that blond kid? The one who wants to ride your dick?"

"Butters isn't fucking gay! And he's grounded."

They had this conversation every couple of weeks or so. As far as Kevin was concerned, if that Butters kid wasn't gay, then he was definitely bi. He just had that kind of vibe about him. And even if he didn't, Kenny got waaaay too defensive about it, which was weird, because everyone knew he was totally into girls.

Unless Kenny was bi, too.

"Why don't you just meet them there?" Kevin asked. Kenny had done that often enough before. Half the time he said he felt like they forgot he was even there.

"They never remember," Kenny complained. "They never, ever, remember. Ever!" He threw the ball so hard that it stung when Kevin caught it.

Kevin didn't know what the fuck his brother was talking about. They might forget him sometimes, but they didn't always. It was just how it was, being part of this family. Sometimes you mattered, but usually you didn't.

Karen peeked out of the house and came running out. "Right here, Kevin!" she yelled, holding out her hands to catch the ball.

They played catch together until their mother came home from the supermarket, with her single bag of groceries. Kevin had to go in to help her put them away, not because it was a two-person job but because she was going to ask him about school.

"Did you learn anything today?" she asked as she put the six-pack in the fridge.


"What did you learn?"

"Don't remember."

"Kevin, you need to stop fooling around! Don't you want to go to high school next year?"

He didn't particularly want to go to any school next year, but he knew the answer his mother was expecting.


"Then you damn well better start making an effort, otherwise you'll be sitting in the same class as Kenny!"

She was wrong. Kevin figured he'd be old enough to drop out in a few years, and then he wouldn't have to deal with it. His mother didn't like his attitude, though, so she went him to bed without supper. He lay in his bed and stared at the ceiling, trying to ignore the growling of his stomach. He didn't know why she had to get on his ass about it; she'd been Kevin's age when he was born, so she was one to talk about taking his future seriously.

He turned to his side and stared out the window. So what if he didn't try. He didn't get it, and he was never going to get it, so trying was a complete waste of time. Yoda said you did or did not, but there was no try. Why wasn't his mom smart like Yoda?

A while later he heard Karen creeping into the room, like she was afraid to disturb him.

"I'm awake," he reassured her.

"I brought you something," she said, sitting on the side of his bed.

He sat up and saw the small square in the palm of her hand, the quarter of a fried bologna sandwich that she'd smuggled from her plate for him. He ate it in a single bite and gave her a hug. At least there was one person in the family who cared. Even if she liked Kenny better, she still cared about Kevin.

"School again, huh?"

Kevin shrugged.

"You'll pass," Karen said confidently. "Everyone passes in South Park."

At least he had that going for him.

"I've got to brush my teeth," he said, giving her a loud wet smack on the cheek before going to the bathroom. He wouldn't have bothered, but he hated the way bread felt when it got stuck in his braces.

Karen wanted him to tell her a story, so he made one up about a princess and a magical butterfly, because Karen was at that age where she was into both princesses and butterflies. She laughed out loud at the part where the butterfly princess told the evil witch to go fuck herself with her pointy nose, and Kevin crawled under his own blanket just in time, before Kenny stopped by to tuck Karen in and to read her an actual fairy story that wasn't made up by a semi-literate retard.

Kenny's voice droned on and on, and Kevin didn't know about Karen, but it was definitely making him sleepy, probably because of how boring it was. He must have been reading for hours, and finally Kevin turned around to ask if he was ever going to leave, because if he wanted to stay here all night, then maybe he could share the room with Karen and Kevin could have his own room.

"Hey, cock jockey," he said, turning toward Karen's bed. "I think she's asleep."

Kenny ignored him, just continued to read, the fucker. Kevin got out of bed and grabbed a handful of Kenny's hood, yanking it backwards to force Kenny to look at him. Instead, Kenny's entire head flipped back, right off his neck, and blood spurted out, all the way up to the ceiling before coming back down as rain and covering Karen.

Kevin backed away in horror, his hands clamped over his mouth. He hadn't meant it. He'd grabbed Kenny's hood lots of times and done the same exact thing. A person's head wasn't supposed to just pop off like that. Even an idiot like him knew that.

His own throat filled with fluid, and he staggered back, trying to claw at his throat to relieve the pressure. Sometimes he hated his brother, but he didn't want to kill him. He hated his own life, but he didn't want to die. Not like this.

He was shaking. He wasn't even cold; why was he shaking? Was this what a death rattle was like? Was he dying?

"Kevin!" Karen said, trying to pry the torn collar from Kevin's grasp. "Wake up, Kevin!"

His eyes flew open, and he gasped for air. His sister put her head down on his chest and took a deep breath. "Thank God," she whispered. "I thought you were going to strangle yourself in your sleep."

"'m OK," he croaked. "'m OK, Kare."

"I couldn't wake you," she said, her voice quavering.

"You did," he said, hugging her. "You always do."

They lay there together for a few minutes before Karen asked, as she always did, "Do you want to talk about it?"

And Kevin answered, as he always did, by saying, "No."

"How about you take a turn this time, Kevin?"

"I'll mess it up."

"No, you won't," she insisted. "You'll feel better. You can even tell that nasty old witch to fuck herself with her own nose."

Kevin was kind of proud that that was the part she remembered.

"Come on," she said, sitting up and grabbing one of his hands. "You'll feel better."

She led him to the wall opposite their beds and picked up one of her markers, uncapping it and putting it in his hand. He brought it up to his nose to smell it. "Onion," he said.

"No. Guess again!"


"Guess again!"

He took another tentative whiff. "Pizza."

She laughed. "No, it's not pizza. They don't make pizza scented markers, Kevin!"

"They should," he said fondly. It was funny how when Karen said something like that, he never felt stupid.

"Come on, Kevin," she coaxed. "Try again."

He closed his eyes and took a deep breath, then put the marker so close to his nose he nearly put it up his nostril, making Karen giggle. He sniffed at it a few times, like a dog might, and then opened his eyes.

"Grape," he said finally, which was what he'd known it was all along.

"You did it!" she exclaimed. "I knew you would!"

"Here," he said, extending the marker to his sister.

"No," she refused, shaking her head. "I want you to do it this time."

He looked at the wall with its hand drawn butterflies. They weren't elaborate, but they were recognizable in their simplicity. When Kevin tried to draw, he never managed to create something that anyone could ever identify.

"Here," she said, tucking herself in front of him and holding her hand over his. "We'll draw it together."

She guided his hand through one curved line, then a matching one on the other side. Short, simple strokes, and then there was a butterfly, like she'd waved a magic wand instead of a marker. He hugged her again. Karen was one of his most favorite people in the entire world, and he loved her. It was why it hurt so much that Kenny was her hero while he was just himself.

"Want me to read you a story?" she asked.

"Only if you want."

Of course she wanted to. She even crawled into bed with him, bringing her doll as well as her book with her. He had no idea how long she read to him, but it was long enough that he did fall back asleep.

When he woke in the morning, she was still curled up next to him. Kevin carried her back to her bed and nearly twisted his ankle when he stepped on one of the markers. He arched his back to stretch, and out of the corner of his eye he noticed there was a new butterfly. He'd forgotten that he and Karen had added it last night.

He traced the outline of the butterfly, trying to memorize how it felt.

"Kevin!" his mother bellowed from the kitchen. "You have school in half an hour!"

He curled his fingers into a fist. That meant he had almost no time for breakfast. His stomach growled, as if it had just realized that, too.

"Coming!" he yelled back, glancing at Karen to make sure he hadn't woken her.

He couldn't wait until he was old enough to drop out of school.

October 2008

The bell rang, and everyone jumped out of their seats and hurried out the door. Everyone except Kevin McCormick, who had been slouching in his chair the entire class and doodling on his desk with a worn down pencil nub he'd found on the floor. He was still putting the finishing touches on it and wasn't leaving until he was satisfied.

"Mr. McCormick," his teacher said. "I'm glad you're still here."

"Uh huh," he said, coloring in the circle he'd just made and making a matching one on the other side.

"I wanted to talk to you about your grades."

"I'll need a pass," he said, not bothering to look up.

"I'll write you one," Ms. Kelly promised, "but we have to actually talk about your grades."

"Nothing to talk about," he shrugged. "I know they suck."

"I would like for us to work on that."

Kevin looked at his drawing and, deeming it finished, set the pencil on the desk next to him. "Math isn't really my thing."

"What would you say is your thing, Kevin?"

He drummed on the top of the desk and looked at the ceiling, like he was trying to think. He wasn't, but he'd discovered that if you looked up and to the right, people thought you were deep in thought. There was some study about that, he'd heard. There was always a study about something. Maybe that could be his thing.

"Nothing," he said, looking at his teacher. "Can I have my pass now?"

"Not yet." She tapped her pencil eraser on the edge of her planner a few times. "How about we make a deal. Would you be interested in that?"

"Depends. What deal?"

"Sometimes math is hard to learn because of the way it's being taught. Peer tutoring is –"

"Not interested," he interrupted.

She held up her hand. "Hear me out. Sometimes peer tutoring is more effective, because your classmates may have come up with a way of understanding it that will work better for you because it worked for them. You can work around your schedule, either after school or during study hall."

Kevin didn't see himself staying after school to do more school work. It was hard enough to get through the hours he had to be here.

"Yeah," he drawled. "Great deal."

"So that's what I want from you, for you to try working with a peer tutor. Is there something I can do for you in exchange?"

Like blow me? Kevin wanted to ask, but there had been a big dust up in South Park over sexual harassment a few years earlier, and he didn't feel like sitting through another fucking assembly about it.

"Like what?"

"Well," she said, "I understand you're an audiophile."

"A what?"

"Someone who's interested in sound reproduction. I understand you have a collection of vintage recordings at home."

"Vintage? You mean old?"

Her face brightened. "Yes, something like that."

"Yeah. I have old shitty tapes at home." And an 8-track player that had chewed half of them up.

"Would you like a few more?" she asked.

"I have enough garbage."

She nodded. "Fair enough. I'll just throw them away then. They probably don't work anyway."

She seemed far too willing to give up, and Kevin was immediately suspicious.

"Anything good?"

"Excuse me?"

"The tapes. Anything good?"

"Oh, I don't know, Kevin. It's just a big box with a bunch of tapes in it, and you're the only one I thought might get any use out of them. It's no big deal, really."

"Uh huh."

"Although," she added thoughtfully, "this was one of them."

She reached into her bag and pulled out a tape, sliding it across her desk toward Kevin. He stared at the worn cover art on the tape, at the once bright cake atop a stack that included a tire, a pizza, a clock face, and a film canister.

"Can I?" he asked, gesturing toward it.

"You can have that, if you want," Ms. Kelly said. "I certainly can't use it. It might not even work; it's not like I could test it to see if it plays."

Kevin picked up the Stones' Let It Bleed tape and ran his finger almost reverently over the scuffed label.

"It's yours, Kevin. Let me write that late pass for you."

Kevin turned the cartridge over to inspect the exposed tape. It looked fine to him, but he wasn't going to try to play it until he was sure he wouldn't fuck it up.

"Do I still have to do that peer thing?"

"That one's a gift, Kevin. You don't have to do anything. I still think you should consider giving the peer tutoring a try, at least, but that's up to you. I have the schedule right here, if you want to take a look at it and see if any of the open slots work for you."

He wasn't interested, but she picked up the clipboard hanging on the side of her desk and handed it to Kevin. He was only looking at the list to make her think that maybe he was interested. If she thought he was actually considering this tutoring thing, maybe she'd give him the entire box with no strings attached.

"That one," he said suddenly, pointing to a time slot on the sheet. "I can make it to that one."

She handed him a pen. "Just write your name next to the time you want, and it's yours."

He scribbled his name, illegibly as usual, and asked, "When do I get the tapes?"

"After you've signed in with your peer tutor. I would like you to actually try, though, Kevin. I know you're only doing it for the tapes, but you should do it for yourself, too."

"I'm not doing it just for the tapes," he said, grinning just a little too widely.

She handed him the late pass. "I'm glad to hear that, Kevin."

He saluted her with his pass on his way out. He wasn't carrying a backpack or notebook with him; he never did.

Once he'd headed toward his next class, Ms. Kelly went to the desk he'd recently vacated, clipboard in hand, to inspect his drawing. She'd expected that like most boys his age, he'd sketched a rock band logo, a beheaded caricature spewing blood (that had been a favorite among this age group for a while), or a phallus. She hadn't expected to find a simple butterfly with spotted wings.

She glanced down at the clipboard to read the name of the peer tutor assigned to the 3:30 slot that Kevin had signed up for.

"What are you up to, Kevin?" she mused.

Kevin made sure he arrived at the library first. It was easy enough to do; he'd just skipped out on gym class last period. He even had time to crack open a beer in the boys' room and chug it down before 3:30. It was piss warm, but it wasn't like he could smuggle both a pounder and an ice pack in his pants.

He borrowed a pencil from the cup on the librarian's desk, sat down at the designated Peer Tutor table, and waited.

She was early, as he thought she might be, and she didn't look at all pleased to see him sitting there.

"Beat it, Kevin, I'm meeting someone here."

"I know. Me."

"I'm talking about the kid I'm here to tutor."

Kevin leaned forward, propping his chin in his hands. "Yup. Me."

"You've got to be kidding."

He sat back in the chair. "Come on, Shell. We're old friends."

"We're not friends."

He splayed his fingers over his chest. "Ouch, Shelly."

She unzipped her backpack and pulled out a math book, slamming it on the table harder than necessary and earning an overly loud "SHHHH" from the librarian.

Kevin laughed silently and slapped his knee as quietly as he could.

"You're a turd," she hissed as she flipped through the pages of her book.

He reached over and put his hand over hers. "It's great that you're doing this just to spend time with me."

"You have half an hour," she said, bending his fingers back until he snatched his hand away. "Actually only twenty-seven minutes now," she corrected with a pointed look at the clock.

"Do your math magic," he said, lacing his fingers behind his head.

"First I need to see what you already know. You work on the problem and I'll help you if you get stuck."

"I've got the same problem every night, Shell. Want to come to my house after we leave and give me a hand with it?"

Under the table, she stabbed him in the leg with her pen. He shot to his feet with a muffled curse.

"Sorry, Mrs. D," he said to the librarian. "Bad muscle cramp." He waggled his eyebrows at Shelly before sitting back down.

"Gross," she muttered before copying one of the problems from the book onto a sheet of paper and shoving it across the table at him. "Here."

He didn't work on the problem. He doodled on the paper instead, drawing the dick that Ms. Kelly had expected to see earlier, because he knew Shelly would hate it when she checked his work.

She did. She hated it so much, she packed up her books and walked out before their half hour was up.

It had been so worth it, though.

He picked up the paper that he'd defaced with penises and carefully folded it in half, then half again, and then one more time before slipping it into his back pocket and following Shelly outside.

"Hey, Marsh!" he called after her.

She hunched her shoulders and kept walking, refusing to acknowledge him. Unfortunately for Shelly, Kevin was taking the late bus today, too, so he easily caught up to her once she was on the bus. He picked up her book bag from where it was sitting on the seat next to her and moved it to the one across the aisle so he could sit there instead.

"Go away, Kevin."

"Come on, Shell. It was just a joke."

"You're a joke."

He drummed his fingers on the headrest of the seat in front of him for a while.

"Then why aren't you laughing?" he finally asked.

"Go away."

"Nah," he said, lacing his fingers behind his head. "I think I'll stay right here."

"I hate you."

He slouched a little more in his seat with a grin. It was good to know things were back to normal between them.

To Kevin's surprise, Ms. Kelly gave him the box of tapes the next day, even though he hadn't really done anything to deserve them. He was glad most of the tapes sucked, because he destroyed three of them before deciding he needed professional help. Most of the A/V Club didn't think he was serious, so only one of them, some kid named Peter, was willing to hear him out; the others thought it was some kind of trap and that Kevin was going to shake them down for lunch money or something. Which was funny, because if Kevin made a habit of doing that, he might actually get to eat lunch for once.

Peter (his name was actually Peter, which was almost as good as being named Dick) knew what the fuck he was talking about. He explained to Kevin that old tapes needed a tune-up, like cars did, and he even invited Kevin to bring his tapes to the school so they could work on them together.

The dweeb didn't know it, but it was the first thing Kevin actually learned at school that stuck. He didn't understand all the techy history that Peter bored him with, but he could see the before compared to the after, with something he'd done with his very own hands. After that he was fucking sold. He even offered Kevin a trade – Kevin's protection from Peter's own personal bully in exchange for a tape tune-up kit, consisting of splicing tape, foil, and two types of foam pads. It was the first win-win situation Kevin had ever been in. Not only did he get his new old tapes to work, he also got to scare the crap out of some snot-nosed little shit who thought a wallet chain made him bad ass. It almost made up for the fact that his own brother didn't think so highly of him. Kenny and his friends had asked Shelly Marsh for help with their Trent Boyett situation.

Not that Kevin would have actually helped; he would have told them all to fuck off, but it still would have been nice if Kenny had asked.

Working on an 8-track tape, Kevin learned, was a lot easier than working on a car. He pounded the ground with the piston in his hand. He'd been so sure he'd put everything back in the order he'd taken it apart, but now he was stuck with this leftover piece. It wasn't like the car had been working before Kevin touched it, but this piece was obviously pretty important since there had been a bunch more like it. Prying parts out of the engine had been a lot more fun when he was younger.

Now, though, he hated it. He hated not knowing shit in general.

It didn't help that he'd started school later than everyone else. His parents had simply forgotten to enroll him when he was five, because he'd had to wait until the following September to be old enough for kindergarten, and by then they'd just forgotten, so he was already a year behind everyone else.

Then his parents had told him that kindergarten would be easy. They'd said he'd learn to do things like count (which he knew, all the way up to three, because getting to three meant "run for your fucking life or you were getting an ass whooping"). They'd convinced him that he'd get to build with Legos and finger paint and make new friends.

Kindergarten was none of those things. Kindergarten sucked ass.

He didn't get to build with Legos. They wanted him to read, but everything they had in the classroom was boring as shit. Counting was fine, and adding wasn't too bad as long as he got to move the little blocks from one pile to the other, but lining the numbers up on paper made it so much harder.

They made him draw things like apples and bananas, which only made him hungry. Plus he kind of sucked at drawing. Crayons and markers felt fat and awkward in his fingers, and his brain never matched the direction of his hand with the strokes on the paper.

Trying to make friends was the worst of all. They all thought he was stupid, which led to a couple of fights in the classroom and more than a few trips to the principal's office - once right after the fight, and a second one when his parents were summoned to deal with him.

If they'd just let him figure things out on his own, it wouldn't have been so bad, but it was always "Kevin, don't touch that," and "Kevin, come back in the circle with everyone else," and "Kevin, where is your snack," like he'd deliberately forgotten it. If he'd had a snack to eat, he would have known exactly where it was.

Shelly Marsh once gave him half her banana, but then stupid Mike Malone turned it into a big deal and got everyone to sing that song that Kevin hated, because there was spelling in it, and they'd ended up fighting, the banana smashed beneath them.

For that, he ended up in the principal's office and he was still hungry. On top of that, Shelly had been so embarrassed, she'd never offered him anything ever again.

Which was fine. He didn't need her fucking pity, and he didn't want to sit in a tree spelling shit with her, either. She acted like she was so much better than him. He hated school, and he hated Shelly Marsh.

Kevin dropped the piston on the ground and walked over to the broken refrigerator, giving it a solid kick for good measure.

He needed to take a walk. He walked right past that bitch's house, down to the end of the street, and stopped to look, not in the bakery window where the cakes and pies were on display, but at the pictures of sandwiches posted in the deli window. His mouth watered. Once, just once, he'd like to have a real sandwich with meat and cheese, not just bread sandwiches and, if he wasn't grounded, the rare fried bologna ones.

He sighed and headed back home. There was nothing to be done but to start over again.

He grabbed a socket wrench and a screwdriver and climbed back under the hood. At least he was good at taking things apart, if not putting them back together.

January 2009

Kevin stared in dismay at the Caprice.

"You're fucking kidding," he said, turning to his father.

"You said you wanted a car. Here's a car."

"It doesn't run!"

"Maybe if you kept your fucking hands out of it, it would!"

"I was like five, and it was already a piece of shit before I fucking touched it!"

"You want something better, go out and get a fucking job. Oh, wait, you can't, because that's just how it works around here. Just ask your brother. He didn't find anything, but at least he fucking tried." He threw his empty beer bottle into a bin at the side of the house. "Fucking arts district my ass."

While his father bitched about the gentrification of downtown South Park, Kevin seethed inside. He remembered Kenny's attempts to get a job quite well. Kenny had gotten work, and he'd made money, and then he lied to their father and spent it all on Karen.

It wasn't that Kevin begrudged Karen the doll, because he didn't. If anyone in this family deserved something nice, it was Karen. It wasn't that Kevin resented that she got the doll, but he did resent Kenny for being the one to give it to her.

"What's going on?"

Speak of the devil.

Kevin didn't bother looking at his brother, he just stared at the decrepit wagon that he'd gotten for his birthday. He opened the hood and examined the engine. It had a carburetor, which would have given away the car's age if the fact that it was a fucking station wagon hadn't been the first clue. That was actually a good thing; Kevin didn't know the first thing about fuel-injection cars, but he could mess around with a carburetor. Every car and truck that had ever sat in front of their house had had a carburetor under the hood.

Kenny stood next to him, looked at the engine, and started laughing. "This is yours, isn't it?" he asked gleefully. He was holding his sides, like he might explode from laughter. "I think this one's even older than Mom. I'll bet you can't wait to get this on the road."

"Fuck off, wank stain," Kevin muttered, leaning in to get a closer look at the cracked belts. He could break into a junk yard to get some of the parts, but a belt, that had to be new.

Kenny leaned forward, too, but he seemed more interested in Kevin's poking around the engine than anything that was actually under the hood.

"Do you even know what you're doing?" Kenny asked.

Kevin was wiggling one of the hoses to see if he could see any cracks in it when the hose split in two. His hand scraped against the radiator, and he could feel the blood dripping from his knuckles.

"Cock knocker," he swore, holding his hand to his chest.

"You're not really going to try to fix this, are you? It's hopeless."

"You're fucking hopeless," Kevin snarled. He wiped the back of his hand on his shirt and examined the damaged skin.

"If you want to waste your time, go ahead," Kenny said with a careless shrug.

"Why do you fucking care what I do with my time, anyway? It's not like you ever fucking cared what I did before." Kevin flexed the fingers of his injured hand. "Why aren't you hanging out with your friends? Don't you have some exotic place to go?"

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"It means fuck off. I don't need you here telling me what to do. I'm the oldest, not you."

"You sure don't fucking act like it."

"Don't push me, Ken."

Kenny did, though, literally. He put both his hands on Kevin's chest and shoved him back against the car. Enraged, Kevin tackled him to the ground, and the two brothers rolled around, trading punches, until Kenny's head snapped back and hit the half cinder block that was just lying on the ground.

Kevin, who was straddling his brother's waist, froze. Everything around him went fuzzy, and he rolled off his brother and puked in the grass.

"Fucker," Kenny croaked next to him.

"You're alive," Kevin said, spitting a few times before getting to his feet. He held out his hand and helped Kenny to his feet.

"That's because you're a puss," Kenny said, rubbing his jaw. He looked at Kevin and must have realized he was as pale as a ghost. "You OK, Kev?"

"You," Kevin said, pointing at him with a shaking finger. "You're not dead."

Kenny patted his chest a few times. "Nope, not dead."

"You fucking chode munch. I thought I'd killed you again."

Kenny's eyes widened. "Again?"

Kevin shook his head. "Nothing. Never mind."

"No," Kenny said, more interested in what Kevin wasn't saying than he'd ever been in anything Kevin had said in his entire life. "Tell me."

"I said it's fucking nothing!"

"No, it's not!" Kenny argued, sounding desperate. "I need you to fucking tell me you remember!"

"Remember what?"

Kenny slapped himself on the head. "All the times you killed me."

Kevin blinked at him. "Fuck you."

"Then tell me you at least remember the other times I died. Even just once. Tell me you remember!"

"Are you fucking drunk?"

"God damn it," Kenny swore. "You just said you thought you killed me again. What did you fucking mean by that?"

"I don't know. It just came out."

Kenny sat on the broken cinder block and covered his head with his arms. "I can't stand it," he moaned. "I can't fucking stand it."

Kevin went back to looking at the jagged skin on the back of his hand. "Sucks to be you, I guess."

"Fuck you, Kevin."

"Yep," Kevin said, tugging at one of bits of torn skin. "Fuck me. Sorry your life is so fucking hard."

"You have no idea what you're fucking talking about."

"Of course not. Poor Kenny. Must be rough being the favorite."

"That's bullshit and you know it."

"It's bullshit, is it? Let's see, who was it that got to go to Hawaii?"

"That was for Butters."

"And Arkansas."

"That was for school!"

"Was it?" Kevin asked in mock surprise. "Because I sure as fuck never got to go on any school trips to learn anything. I always had to stay behind and read about wherever the fuck our class went that day, then answer a bunch of questions in some work packet they handed out. And don't forget that little tour of Europe that you and Ma went on while Karen and I stayed here with Dad."

"I earned the money for that trip by singing at fucking train stations and subways!"

At least Kenny could fucking sing. And dance. And play the drums, and the flute, and even the fucking recorder. It wasn't that Kevin had any interest in singing lame ass opera music or dancing like a boy band douchebag; it was that he couldn't if he wanted to. Which he didn't. He had no fucking talent whatsoever, and he hated that, too.

"...fucking hurt!"

"What?" Kevin asked, realizing Kenny had still been talking.

"You're incredible," Kenny said, glaring at him. "You pick a fight and then you do that."


"Act like you're not even here."

Kevin picked up a chunk of cinder block that was next to Kenny and threw it as hard as he could at the pane glass that was propped up against the shed.

"I don't have to fucking act like I'm not here, because everyone treats me like I'm not!"

"Bullshit!" Kenny yelled back. "If we didn't think you were here, would I be fucking talking to you right now? Would Mom make me share my shit with you? Don't be a whiny bitch. You have no idea what it's like to be me!"

"And you don't know what it's like to be me! Everyone thinks I'm just a drunk piece of shit!"

"Whose fault is that?"

"Don't you dare fucking lecture me, Ken. At least I never stuck my face in a cat's crotch to get high."

"If you died over and over and over again, you'd understand why I did it. Mom and Dad went to this stupid cult meeting before I was born, and now I can't die."

"So which is it? You can't die, or you die all the time? When you're coming up with a story, you can't keep changing it."

"You just said it yourself! You said you killed me! If you can't remember killing me, why can't you at least fucking remember that you said that?"

Kevin scratched his head. He was pissed at Kenny, but he didn't think he'd ever seen his brother so upset before.

"Have I really killed you?"

"Yeah. Twice, I think."


Kenny scrunched up his face. "You pushed me through the window once. I was fine until this one piece of broken glass fell out and went right through me."

Kevin nodded. He kind of remembered there being an incident with the window, and getting grounded for it, but he didn't remember anything about Kenny dying because of it.

"Then there was that day that we were playing catch with that lawn dart. The game ended when you got me right here," he gestured to his chest. "Oh, and that time you threw the wrench across the yard and caved in my skull. So three times."

Kevin was quiet for a minute before he asked, "Did your head ever explode?"

"Yeah. A couple of times."

"Get shot in the head? Dragged to Hell by a legion of demons?"


"Run over by a herd of wildebeests?"

Kenny tipped his head to the side and thought, then shook his head. "No, not wildebeests. That was The Lion King."

Kevin stared at this brother. "Take off your shirt."

"What? No!"

"Take off your fucking shirt, or I'll take it off for you."

Kenny looked like he was about to argue, but he sighed and removed his coat, then his shirt. Kevin touched Kenny's chest, tracing his fingers over the smooth, unmarked skin, then stood back and whipped his own shirt off.

"Cigarette," he said, pointing to a small round scar near his thumb. "Car door," he continued, indicating the white line crossing the back of two fingers. He next pointed to a jagged scar under his rib cage - "Chain link fence" – a curved circle of smaller scars on his side – "Dog" – a small indentation on his forehead - "Shelly Marsh" – and finally a scar on his shoulder. "You."

He crossed his arms over his chest and stared at his brother. "Where are your scars? Do you heal like Wolverine or something?"

"I don't know. I just know that it fucking hurts, every time, and then I wake up in bed looking like this."

"You just wake up."


"Why don't I remember?"

"No one fucking remembers! No one ever remembers!"

"Ma, Dad? Karen?"

"No one."

"No," Kevin said, shaking his head slowly. "We do."

"Karen remembers?" Kenny looked like he'd been punched in the gut.

"Not remembers, exactly. It's more like..."

Kevin stopped, because his brother seemed like he might be sick, and there was no way he could tell Kenny about Karen's nightmares. The only reason Kevin knew that she had them was because they shared a room. He might be pissed at Kenny right now, but Kenny loved their sister. If he knew what she went through because of this dying thing, Kenny would never forgive himself.

Kevin might be a piece of shit, but he was still their big brother.

"It's just that she worries about you," he finally said. "Like she knows something's wrong, but not what."

"She worries about you, too, Kev."

"Best little sister in the world."

They exchanged weak smiles, then Kevin pulled his shirt back on.

"So are we cool?" Kenny asked.

"No," Kevin said, "because you're still a little bitch."

"Suck my dick, Kevin."

"I'd have to find it first."

Kenny gave him the finger, then nodded his head toward the car. "So what are you going to do?"

Kevin shoved his hands in his pocket, forgetting about his scraped knuckles. Fuck, that hurt.

He couldn't sing, and he couldn't dance. He couldn't play an instrument, as much as he wished he could shred a guitar, and he wasn't great with math or reading. He walked over to the Caprice and stared at the engine, his eyes roaming over the various hoses and moving parts and other things he didn't know the names of. He didn't know what they were called, but he knew what most of them did.

He slammed the hood down and leaned against the car. "Fuck if I know."

Kevin waited until his brother started walking toward the house to call out, "Hey, Ken! I know what I'm gonna do!"

Kenny stopped and turned, just as Kevin knew he would, and that's when the mud hit Kenny square in the chest. It made a satisfyingly wet splat before sliding down his brother's shirt and plopping to the ground, and the look on Kenny's face was fucking priceless. Kevin started laughing, right up until Kenny scooped up his own handful of mud and flung it in Kevin's direction.

It landed right in his fucking mouth mid-laugh, all weirdly lumpy and squishy. And smelly. And not really all that mud-like after all. He was glad he was no longer wearing braces, because now that he could taste it, he realized the Marsh's dog had been in their yard again.

Kenny was so dead.

But only figuratively, this time.

Ninth grade

October 2009

Kevin was loitering outside the high school, a beer in his hand, when she walked by. He fell into step beside her, because he knew she hated that.

"Go away, Kevin."

"Uh uh," he said, throwing one arm over her shoulder. "I haven't seen you all day. I miss you."

She removed his arm and elbowed him for good measure.

"You're in my English class. Maybe if you actually came to school you'd see me."

"Why do we need to take English? We already speak it."

"Shut up, you big turd."

"Come on, Shelly, don't be like that. We're old friends."

She stopped, gave him a serious stink eye, then walked away. That might work on the other guys at school, but if she thought it was going to work on him, she was wrong.

"Shellllllyyyyy..." he sang as he caught up to her. "Come on. Let me show you a trick I learned."

She stopped and turned, crossing her arms over her chest. "What is it?"

He stuck his tongue out, and, when he was sure she was looking at it, rolled it until it was upside down.

"Eww, Kevin, that's disgusting!" She resumed walking, her backpack bouncing against her ass with every step.

"Come on, Shell," he cajoled. "You're the reason I know how to do that in the first place."

"You're a fucking pig, Kevin McCormick," she said, looking horrified. Kevin wondered if she knew what men sometimes did with their tongues, and if she thought that was why he'd learned it.

"Flattered, sweetheart?" he asked. "Don't worry. I learned it because of you, not for you." He waggled his eyebrows. "Although if you're interested in sitting on my face..." he rolled his tongue again.

"Fuck off, Kevin."

"Remember that time you punched me in the face, and I got that wire stuck in my cheek?"

She glared at him but said nothing.

"Well, thanks to you, I learned to play keep-away with my tongue. Old Doc Meyers has shitty depth perception."

She slowed. "I don't know any Doc Meyers."

He flashed her a grin – a grin full of white, even teeth – and made a sweeping gesture under his chin. "He's the one responsible for this."

Shelly hunched her shoulders down into her coat so the collar would hide the head gear she still wore. "Good for you."

"Don't be jelly, Shelly. I told you, I don't mind sharing what I learned."

"You're drunk," she said, her voice muffled by her coat.

"Nope. Not on this shit," he held the beer aloft. "I'm, as the song goes, comfortably numb."

"I thought you hated Pink Floyd."

He was surprised she remembered that. He'd once told her, if he remembered correctly, that Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin were a bunch of crappy rock douche nuggets that only lame college assholes and tiny dicked hipsters liked.

That he liked some – just some – of their songs was beside the point.

"It's just that The Fox should be playing more Stones, less Zep."

Shelly rolled her eyes, but Kevin took that as a good sign. It was almost like they were getting along, but then the school bus drove by, and Shelly's eyes widened.

"You stupid turd," she yelled, pushing him. "I was supposed to be on that bus!"

"I'll give you a ride home," he offered.

"You don't even have a license."

"I have my permit." He'd had a bitch of a time passing the written test, and he'd had to take it five times, but he'd done it.

"And you're drunk," she reminded him.

"Buzzed," he corrected. "Not drunk."

"I'm not getting into a car with you, Kevin."

"What if we just go in the back and steam up the windows? There's a lot of room in the Caprice."

If she'd looked disgusted over his tongue trick, that suggestion made it look like she'd just eaten a rotten egg.

"I hate you," she hissed.

"'S'ok," he slurred. "Hate sex is supposed to be fucking hot."

"I'm not having sex with you!"


She took the beer bottle out of his hand and smashed him over the head with it.

"Ever!" she screamed, punching him in the chest before storming off.

"That was fucking awesome," Mike Malone crowed as he jumped out of the bushes. "Not ever, Kevin!" he mimicked in a falsetto voice. "As if anyone would have sex with that ugly bitch."

"Blow me," Kevin suggested. Mike was fucking lucky that the shrooms they'd done earlier had Kevin feeling mellow, because otherwise he might have had to kick his ass.

"Sorry, pal, I'm not that wasted," Mike said. "Come on. My dad called this morning. He's not coming back until tomorrow. There's a fifth of Jack at my house with your name on it."

"You got any beer?"

"Kevin, buddy, come on. What you drink shouldn't even be called beer. It's like having sex in a canoe: fucking close to water. You need to drink like ten of those things to get the same buzz."

Kevin nodded, swaying on his feet slightly. He wasn't drunk; it was just that Shelly could hit pretty fucking hard. He'd always known that about her, though.

"If you start me up," he sang, throwing one arm over Mike's shoulder, "if you start me up I'll never stop."

"You make a grown man cryyyyyy," they sang together, all the way to Mike's house. He thought they sounded fucking awesome, although he suspected not everyone in South Park agreed, if the boot that was thrown at them was any indication.

"You don't really like her, do you?" Mike asked him later that evening.

Kevin was lying on the couch, his head hanging off the edge. Mike had been right. A fifth of Jack Daniels was like drinking ten PBRs.

"Who?" Kevin said, trying to pinpoint where Mike's voice was coming from.

"Shelly Marsh."

"Shelly Marsh," Kevin repeated. "What about her?"

"Do you like her?"

Kevin tipped his head back a little further to look at Mike upside down. But just one of the Mikes, because there were two of them now. "Do you?"

"Yeah," Mike scoffed. "Like I like herpes."

"You like herpes? Why?"

"I don't like herpes."

"Didn't think so," Kevin mumbled. He was really sleepy.

"So, do you?"


"Like Shelly Marsh."

"Shelly," Kevin repeated slowly. "Shelly?"

Mike laughed. "Yeah, I didn't think so. What was I thinking?"

"What were you thinking?" Kevin echoed.

"Fine, I wasn't thinking." Mike got to his feet and staggered. "You want another one?"

Kevin didn't answer. He was passed out cold, and he stayed that way until he woke up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat. He staggered to his feet and put his coat on upside down.

"Kevin?" Mike mumbled from the couch. "Where ya going?"

"Home," he said. "I need to go home."

"Everything OK?" Mike asked, still half asleep.

"It's Kenny," Kevin whispered.

"That's good," Mike said, and then he started snoring.

Kevin didn't remember the walk home. He remembered he needed to get home, and he knew that Kenny was in trouble, but he must have passed out again at some point, because the next thing he knew, his mother was screaming at him that he was missing school and that he wasn't going to end up an unemployed drunk like his father. Obviously, he'd just had another nightmare. It was always just a nightmare.

Why, then, did they always seem so real?

August 2012

Kevin adjusted his tie and brushed at his shirt nervously. He didn't know why he was so on edge; from what he'd heard, this was a sure thing. He cupped his hand over his mouth and exhaled to check his breath, then he wiped his hands on his pants and scrubbed at his face to make sure it was clean. He wished he had a mirror, then immediately was glad he didn't. Even if his appearance didn't matter – and from what Kevin had heard, it pretty much didn't – he'd be even more nervous if he saw that his hair was sticking up or something.

He walked up the steps, swallowed a couple of times, then raised his hand to knock on the door.

"Meeeeeehm!" a voice bellowed from inside.

That alone made him want to turn around and run back home, but he stood his ground. He put his hands in his pockets, then took them out and held them at this sides instead.

"Yes?" Mrs. Cartman said when she opened the door.

Kevin licked his lips. "Wanna fuck?"

"I'm sorry?" she asked, her eyes wide.

He could have kicked himself for being so blunt. "I, uh, was hoping you might, uh..."

She should have slammed the door in his face, but instead, she looked him up and down, then peeked over her shoulder and stepped outside.

"I don't want my little poopsie-kins to hear us," she whispered.

"Uh, yeah."

"Now did you want me to suck your dick first? I'm too old to do the accordion, but I can still take it up the ass, if that's what you want."

He'd been promised this would be easy, but this was the freakiest conversation he'd ever had.

"No, I just want to..."

"Oh," she said, her expression softening. She patted him on the shoulder. "Will this be your first time?"

Kevin cleared his throat. "Uh..."

She nodded. "Come back around midnight, sweetie, after Eric's gone to bed."

Kevin watched her go back in the house. Maybe none of that had really happened, and he was still tripping in Mike's backyard. He adjusted his tie again, pulling it off in the process. He clipped it back on and toyed with the end of it. He wished they could have just done it to get it over with. It wasn't that he wasn't looking forward to it, because he was. He thought about having sex all the fucking time and his arm was getting tired.

He needed a drink first. But what if he couldn't get it up? Maybe he should jack it a few times so he wouldn't spill in his pants later.

Why hadn't he asked Mike all these questions when this had come up?

The answer to that was simple. He hadn't asked, because asking would have shown that Kevin didn't already know, and that would have confirmed to everyone that he was the only guy in high school who was still a virgin. Some of the guys had gotten laid back in 9th grade, and here he was, in 12th grade and a year older than they were, and had yet to actually see a pussy, let alone stick his dick in one.

His own fucking brother had more sexual experience. Fucking Kenny.

He looked at his watch. Six more hours. If he had to wait that long, he was going to have that fucking drink. Maybe two.

He had three, because that was all that he could get his hands on. It was enough to give him a decent buzz but not enough to completely take the edge off his nerves by the time he returned to the Cartman house. He was also too early, so he killed time by unclipping and reclipping his tie a dozen times and finger-combing his hair.

Finally, he went back to the door. Had she told him there was a special knock he was supposed to use? Maybe he was supposed to go around the back so no one would see him loitering in the front. He didn't need to get picked up by the cops. He didn't have to worry, though, because she was waiting for him, dressed in a pink flannel robe over what appeared to be a matching nightgown. That surprised him; he hadn't thought of her wearing night clothes at all, but if he had, it would have been something less mom-like and more slutty, like in the catalogues.

She held her finger to her lips as they went upstairs to her room, where she gestured for him to sit on the bed. She hummed as she hung up her robe, and then she pulled her nightgown up over her head, revealing lush breasts in a lacy push-up bra.

She was much older than Kevin's mother, and her vices were more varied than booze and cigarettes, but she was still reasonably pretty in an old-fashioned kind of way. He thought maybe this was the part where she hopped on his dick, but she sat next to him instead and turned her back to him.

"Take down my hair."


She looked at him over her shoulder. "My hair. Take it down. You can do it however you'd like."

It was simple enough to undo the loose bun that she'd gathered her hair into; it was nothing more complicated than what his own sister did with her hair. When she turned around again, the loosened hair had softened Mrs. Cartman's facial features, but that wasn't where he was looking.

"You can touch them, if you want."

"Your boobs?"

She answered by taking one of his hands and pressing it against her left tit. It took him nearly a minute before he was able to relax his fingers.

"Oh, yes," she sighed. "Like that."

Encouraged, he did the same with her other tit, and she arched her back slightly, pushing them further into his hands.

"Oh," she exclaimed when he dared to thumb her nipple. He did that to her.

He was rock hard once he put his mouth on her breast, and she guided his hand down her panties, insisting that he call her Liane. She let him go at his own pace, and any suggestions she gave him were made in the same breathy tone of voice, like he was constantly bringing her to the edge of the Big O.

Unfortunately, he never did get her off, because as soon as she reached down to cup his balls, he came in his pants.

"Fuck," he said, covering his face with his hands. "Oh, fuck, I'm sorry." He stood up and nearly tripped over his own feet, trying not to look at her. "I'll leave now, I'm sorry."

"Kevin," she said gently, and he was surprised she even knew his name. "It's OK."

He took a deep breath. He was not going to cry over this; he was a fucking man, after all.

"Yeah, right."

"Oh, I've had a lot worse happen," she said cheerfully. "There was the time I learned what bukaki was, and golden showers. There was also that little incident with the German. That one got a little bit messy." She patted the mattress. "Sit down, Kevin. You don't have to leave. In fact, you shouldn't leave."

"Why not?"

"Aren't you here to learn how to please a woman?"

Actually he'd come here to...well, to come, which he'd already done, and to know what it felt like to have something around his dick besides his hand.

Which was difficult enough to manage, what with sharing a room with his sister and all.

Pleasing a woman hadn't crossed his mind at all, except that he'd kind of thought if he came in her, she'd come, too. Lots of women had sex, and they wouldn't do it if they hated it. He had heard complaints from the girls at school, though, about their boyfriends being clueless assholes or Speedy McComeQuick. Kevin didn't want to be a clueless asshole or a Speedy McComeQuick.

He sat.

"You don't have to take your pants off to please a woman. There are a lot of other things you can do, even if you can't get your little soldier to stand at attention. You have your hands, or you can use a dildo. And a little birdy told me that there's a trick you can do with your tongue."

He demonstrated, getting a much different reaction than when he'd shown Shelly.

"Oh, that will make you very popular," she giggled. What woman her age still giggled?

Her expression became thoughtful. "You drive a stick shift, don't you?"

He nodded.

"Try thinking of a woman's body like your car. Would you try shifting gears without using the clutch?"

"No!" he answered, appalled.

"Do you stomp on the clutch when you change gears?"

"Of course not."

"How do you know just how much to let up on the clutch?"

He hadn't realized there was going to be a quiz. "I dunno. I just do."

Liane shook her head. "No, you don't. You can tell because of how it feels."

"Yeah," he nodded again. "That's right."

She picked up his hand and put it on her chest, but above her boobs this time. He could feel the thudding of her heart. It was fast. Fast like...something with a fast heartbeat.

"Do you understand?"

"Yeah," he said, fascinated by the rise and fall of her breasts. "I think so."

He didn't fuck her that night, but she did invite him to come back the following week. She paid a lot of attention to his dick the next time, commenting on its size and how she'd just known that he would be cut, just like his father was, and then she followed that up by slurping on it like it was candy. After she blew him and he came in her mouth – and that was already the best fucking thing that had ever happened to him – it was a lot easier to pay attention to what she was teaching him.

The funny thing was that he got hard again just from hearing her moan as he touched her. His fingers were slick inside her, and she finally had him stop and lay down on the bed with his cock sticking straight up in the air. Liane was full of surprises, because he'd never expected her to unwrap a condom and use her lips to roll it over his dick.

Then she climbed on top of him, and they were having sex. It was so much fucking better than he could have imagined, not just the way it felt, which was fucking amazing, but also the dirty wet sucking sounds they made. Even though he'd already gotten off once, he knew he wouldn't last much longer. That's when she showed him how to use his fingers while she rode him. Liane was breathy and almost loud when she came, and Kevin, used to fapping in private, bit down on his lip, drawing blood.

He fucking hoped to hell that her son was either not home or couldn't hear them.

They were together just two more times after that. Liane was a patient teacher, and she never faked it. If he couldn't get it up or get her off, she would explain why and what he could do to finish the job. No question Kevin had was off limits, and in the span of four weeks, Liane went from being a dirty slut to being something very much like a friend. A friend he got to fuck. Twice.

When it was over, they never spoke of it again. At least, not until years later.

Saturday evening

April 2013

Kevin was lying in his bed, staring at the ceiling, when his mother walked in and sat down on Karen's bed. If she was waiting for him to ask what she wanted, she was going to keep waiting. He didn't have to say anything; she'd tell him soon enough.

"You have any plans tonight?" she asked.


"You're just lying here in your room."

"That's the plan."

"I think you should go tonight."

He knew she was talking about the prom. It was the only thing going on this weekend that was worth talking about, at least it was if you were or knew a high school junior or senior.

"I don't."

"You didn't go last year," she pointed out.

"Didn't want to."

"You know you only get one prom," she said.

"Two. Last year, remember?"

"You only get one senior prom," she clarified.

"Unless you flunk."

"You're not going to flunk. You're going to make something of yourself, unlike your father."

"It's the way it is," Stuart bellowed from the living room. "The rich get richer, and they want to keep us from getting anywhere!"

"I never got to go to my prom," his mother continued, undeterred.

"That was Kenny's fault, not mine."

"It was actually Karen," his mother corrected. "Even though she didn't come until the end of the summer. I was just too fucking big to fit in a dress."

"Uh huh."

"I was busy with you and your brother and sister at the time, but now that I'm older, I wish I'd gone. They would have let me, even though I'd dropped out. I could have let out the dress."

Kevin doubted that; his mother's skill with a needle and thread seemed limited to sewing patches and buttons on their already worn clothes. Kevin still had to go around with his pant legs rolled up because she couldn't hem in a straight line.

"So your father and I were talking."

Since his father was watching TV instead of tag teaming with his mother, Kevin figured that meant his mother had done all the talking and his father had nodded at appropriate intervals so he could get back to his fishing show.

"He still has his suit from his job interview."

"I told you that thing was a waste of money!" Stuart yelled from the living room.

"And I told you that you needed to make a good impression!" she yelled back. "If you hadn't gone to the interview while you were drunk, maybe you'd have that job!"

"I didn't have anything to drink until I got home. I told you, he wanted to hire someone with no experience. That way they can pay them less!"

"You have no experience, you jackass!"


"So we were thinking," she said, her voice suddenly calm and her attention back on her son. "You can wear that suit to the prom."

"Don't want to."

"You might not want to now, but some day you'll be glad you went."

"Doubt it."

"How would you feel if your sister didn't go to hers? And she's a girl. She'll want to go."

"Then she'll go," Kevin said. If he squinted, the cracks in the ceiling kind of looked like a rocket ship.

"What if she doesn't have a date?"

Kevin preferred that she didn't, actually. "She can go stag. Girls do that."

"They do that with their friends. What if she didn't have any friends to go with?"

"She'll have friends."

She had friends now, didn't she? He couldn't imagine anyone getting to know his sister and not wanting to be her friend. If he found out anyone was giving her a hard time...well, he probably wouldn't do anything, because Kenny would jump in and take care of it before Kevin even knew there was a problem, just like always.

"What if she didn't?" his mother persisted. "Would you go with her?"

"No girl wants her brother as her date."

"What if you were just her friend?"

"What?" He was losing track of this conversation.

"Pretend you knew Karen, but you were just her friend and not her brother. Would you go to the prom with her then?"

"I guess?"

Where the fuck was Karen, anyway? He was eager for his mother to leave so he could go back to doing what he was doing.

"See?" his mother yelled. "I told you he'd do it!"

"Do what?" Kevin asked.

"Go with a friend, so she wouldn't have to go to the prom alone."

Fucking hell; he'd just been tricked.

"No," he said. "Uh uh."

His mother was already on her way out of his room, though, and by the time he followed her to the kitchen, she was already dialing the phone, which was not a good sign. He tried to take it from her, but she took a step back and slapped him.

"Hello, Sharon?" his mother said while Kevin held his hand to his cheek. "You can tell Shelly that Kevin said he'd go."

She was silent while Sharon Marsh said something on the other end, and then, "No, Kevin won't be wearing camouflage. No, he won't be driving, either." Another pause, then, "I'll tell him, but I don't think he'll want to eat shit and die." Pause. "I told Kevin the same thing. They'll thank us for this one day."

She hung up, and by then Kevin was leaning against the wall, hands in his pockets.

"You set me up with Shelly Marsh," he accused.

He paced back and forth in the kitchen a few times. He was going to the senior prom, something he'd been deliberately avoiding, with a girl who hated his guts. Shelly must have been seriously fucking desperate to want to go with him. That or she'd been conned into it just like he'd been.

Shit. Shit, shit, shit.

Everything after that was a bit of a blur, because suddenly he had to move, and move fast. He showered, and the suit was on his bed by the time he'd combed his hair. He'd barely pulled the pants on when his mother jumped in and treated him like he was six and getting ready for his first school picture day. He managed to slap her hands away from his tie before she strangled him; he might only know how to tie a four-in-hand, but he'd learned how to do it and he didn't need her fucking help.

Karen was there, too, and he was ushered back to the kitchen and into a chair so she could fuss with his hair, because she didn't like the way he'd combed it. Then she tucked a towel around his neck so she could shave him, and he let her, because if he was lucky, she'd accidentally cut his throat and he wouldn't have to go. When she was done, she shook up the bottle their father used, the one filled with a lot of water and a little Old Spice, and patted some on his cheeks before whipping off the towel and taking a step back to inspect her work.

"Oh, Kevin," she said. She looked like she was going to cry.

"What?" he asked. Maybe she had cut his artery, and now she was going to have to live with being her own brother's murderer, and it would be his fault for wishing it on her.

"You look so handsome," she gushed. "Doesn't he, Mom?"

"You do," his mother said, and she looked like she was going to cry, too. "You remind me of your father when he was your age."

The fact that she couldn't have been more than five or six back then crossed his mind briefly, but the torture wasn't over yet. Now that he was photo ready, they had to walk across the railroad tracks to Shelly's house, so that both sets of parents could take pictures and upload them to Facebook.

One look at Shelly's face suggested she wasn't thrilled with the process, either, and it was nice to know they had that in common, at least. His fingers brushed against hers briefly, just enough to let her know they were in this together, and after about half an hour they and another couple that Shelly knew piled into the back of a minivan that someone's uncle was driving.

"So...Kevin, is it?" Shannon, Shelly's friend, asked as the van was pulling away from the curb.


"It was nice of you to step in at the last minute. You know, after Marcus..."

Shelly looked like she was ready to kill Shannon.

"Fuck Marcus," Kevin said. "He's a chode munch."

He didn't know who the fuck Marcus was, but he probably was a chode munch.

The dude with Shannon laughed. "You go to SP High, Kev?"

Kevin didn't mind when people shortened his name, but for some reason he didn't like when this scrotum-faced twat clot did it.


Scrote-Face laughed again, like Kevin had said something funny. "You're not in any of my classes."


"That's kind of unusual in a school the size of SP, isn't it?"

"I don't know. Is it?"

"He's in VoTech," Shelly explained.

"Oh, that makes sense then."

"So you're not going to college, then?" Shannon asked, rejoining the conversation.


"He doesn't talk much, does he, Shelly? I didn't think you were into the strong, silent type," Shannon gave him a once over, "but I guess I can see the appeal."

Kevin had the distinct impression he'd just been insulted. It wasn't so much what Shannon said as it was how she said it.

"I haven't seen you on the field, either, Kev," Scrote-Face went on. "Don't you play football?"


"But your last name's McCormick, isn't it?" He turned to Shannon. "Isn't it?"

"His brother's the one on the JV team with Stan," Shelly told them.

"Oh, yes, that's right," Shannon gushed. "I hope you don't mind my saying so, but your brother is a little heartbreaker. And of course, your brother, too, Sha-Sha."

Kevin shrugged, but Shelly (Sha-Sha?) let out a low "eww" that Shannon may or may not have heard.

"Hey," Scrote-Face laughed, putting his arm around Shannon. "Do I need to be jealous?"

Shannon laughed, a false, tinkling little sound that grated on Kevin's ears, and she pushed lightly at Scrote's chest. Kevin didn't miss the blatant boob fondling that followed, because Scrote was not even trying to hide what he was doing. He knew why he didn't hang out with these assholes, but he wondered how Shelly was friends with them.

"Know what I'm looking forward to?" Shannon gushed, because she couldn't just speak in a normal tone of voice.

"No," Kevin said, even though he knew she wasn't expecting an answer.

"I can't wait to see what everyone is wearing! Being at a prom always feels like you're at a red carpet event in Hollywood."

Kevin wondered just how many proms this girl had been to that she was an expert on the subject.

"Your dress is definitely going to cause a stir," Shannon said, patting Shelly on the knee.

Shelly looked like she was gritting her teeth. He knew exactly how she felt.

When they pulled up in front of the banquet hall and the sliding side door opened to let them out, he held out his hand to help Shelly down, because that's what Scrote-Face had done for Shannon, and then they had to go to a check-in desk to turn in their tickets. He hadn't even realized they needed tickets for this.

Shelly used the coat check-in for the sweater-shawl thing she was wearing, and when she turned around, he realized he'd been so busy marveling that Shelly hadn't killed him yet that he hadn't even noticed what she'd been wearing.

"Wow, that's a lot of pink," he blurted out.

It wasn't just pink; it was poofy, too, like cotton candy. If cotton candy was made out of Pepto Bismol.

He hated to admit it, but Shannon was right about one thing. The dress was going to cause a stir, because it was probably the ugliest thing in the room. He would have offered Shelly his jacket to cover it up, but she probably wouldn't like that very much. She already didn't like him very much.

"I'm not color blind, Kevin."

"Ooh, I love this song," Shannon squealed as the DJ played another shitty pop song. The singer was bragging about how she'd thrown someone's – probably an ex-boyfriend, because it was always an ex-boyfriend – shit into a bag and then crashed her car into a bridge. Kevin didn't understand why this song was popular; she was describing just another typical day in South Park.

Shannon then dragged Scrote-Face right past the check-in table and onto the dance floor, leaving Shelly standing there holding all of their tickets.

"Bitch," Kevin muttered under his breath. He didn't give a fuck about the tickets, and he was glad to be rid of those two. The bigger problem was that it looked like the entire senior class was on the dance floor. He shouldn't have been surprised; it was a fucking prom, and he'd seen movies. There was no fucking way he was going to go out there. Kevin didn't just have two left feet; it was like he had two left feet with no toes. He hurriedly thought of excuses why he wasn't going to dance before deciding he didn't need to explain himself. Not wanting to dance was just as good a reason as not being able to dance, and it was no one's fucking business what he did or didn't do while he was here.

Well, maybe Shelly's, a little bit, but that didn't matter because it wasn't like she was going to want to dance with him anyway.

A flash went off in his face, and he'd been so lost in his own thoughts that he hadn't even noticed the camera. He spied a table with plates of cheese and crackers, and he headed in that direction, assuming Shelly would follow him if she wanted to. He was starving; half a generic Pop Tart only went so far, and that had been at breakfast. The crackers helped settle his nervous stomach, but the cheese turned out to be a bad idea, so he wandered around in search of the men's room.

Once he found it, he stayed in there longer than necessary, not caring what Shelly thought he was up to. He splashed his face a few times and leaned forward, watching the water as it dripped off his nose and chin and into the sink.

He had no fucking idea how to act around Shelly when he went back.

He knew she hated him. He hated her, too, most of the time. He didn't even know when it started; they were friends once, or so he'd thought. It was possible that it was all in his head and they'd never been friends; Kevin had a loose grasp of the concept to begin with. He had drinking buddies, and there was a fairly regular group of kids that spent their afternoons in detention with Kevin on the days he actually reported for it. He couldn't name a single one of them, and their faces grew fuzzy and indistinct over time. He supposed he and Mike Malone were friends now, even though they'd done nothing but fight for the first few years they'd known each other. Tonight that asshole had had the nerve to be at some other school's prom with a girl he'd met online just a few weeks earlier.

Kevin didn't know how to describe what he was to Shelly, or what she was to him. She'd always just been Shelly, and they hated each other. He hadn't needed to define it more than that until now.

This was like a date that wasn't a date. Kevin had never been on a real date, let alone a forced one. He'd had a couple of awkward hookups, but that was about it. He didn't know how to act on a date, and he didn't want to do something accidentally stupid. He often did things that he knew were stupid, but that was fine only if he did them on purpose.

He needed a fucking drink.

He wiped his face and then dried his hand on his dress pants. He was good at sniffing out underground parties. There was no way someone hadn't smuggled booze to the prom, even if they were just passing a bottle around in the parking lot.

It was as good a place to start as any.

A short time later, Kevin was using someone's car keys to drive a hole in the bottom of a can of Miller Light. He held the can up, hole at his lips, and pulled the tab, shot gunning the entire beer in under two seconds. There was a loud cheer and much back thumping, and Kevin wiped his mouth with the sleeve of his jacket before crushing the beer can and tossing it toward one of the bros who'd bragged about his own personal record of five-point-six seconds.

Over the next couple of hours, Kevin and his new friends – including Scrote-Face, who someone referred to as Dylan – had finished off the entire case of beer, a bottle of Southern Comfort, and some Fleischmann's whiskey, and then someone got a text and announced that they'd be clearing out soon, since the DJ had just announced the last dance.

Dylan nudged Kevin and asked if he was going to get Shelly to spread her legs and if he thought he'd need to use his tie as a blindfold. He was still laughing at his own little joke when Kevin's fist connected with Dylan's chin. He would have punched the dill hole a second time if someone hadn't grabbed his arm to stop him.

He relaxed immediately, until his arm was released, and then he lunged at Dylan again. This time it took two of them to pull him away, and they kept a tight grip on Kevin's arms until they'd dragged him through the parking lot and left him near the entrance of the Holiday Inn.

Once inside, his eyes immediately sought her out, and he knew he'd found her when he caught sight of the fugly pink dress she was wearing. She was standing in the back, looking everywhere but at some dork who appeared ready to ask her to dance. Fuck that; Shelly was his date. Kevin walked straight toward her, not going around the dance floor but cutting right across the middle.

He didn't ask her to dance; his mouth was kind of cottony and he was still feeling some pent up annoyance, so he just hauled her into his arms the way he'd wanted to all night. She looked fucking pissed off, as she always did, and suddenly everything was right with the world.

It was so right that he told her how he felt; at least, he thought he did. Some of the words came out a little jumbled, and some didn't come out at all. When she tried to punch him, missing entirely, he leaned in to kiss her. There was a flash of light then, and was that her boob in his hand?

Maybe going to the prom hadn't been such a terrible idea after all.

May 31, 2013

Skeeter's Bar

She was older than his mother, and smelled of sweat and cheap perfume, but Kevin could overlook those things as long as she kept massaging his crotch. They should probably go outside, or at least duck into one of the bathrooms, but he wasn't ready to make her stop just yet.

He grunted his approval when she straddled his lap and ground her pelvis against his. Fuck, yeah. He didn't even care if he creamed his pants. It had been too fucking long since he'd gotten off with someone else, and if she didn't care about giving everyone a free show, neither did he.

"You like that?" she slurred in his ear, just before she jammed her fat wet tongue inside. It was a little gross but still kind of hot, especially when she reached between his legs and resumed kneading his hard-on. She was licking his neck now, making sloppy wet stripes from collar to ear. Maybe, if he was lucky, she was going to use that mouth on his dick next.

He squirmed a little on the chair, trying to increase the friction she was half-assedly applying.

"You like that, baby?" she mumbled against his neck just before she started sucking the skin beneath her lips.

Fuck him if he didn't like it. Even if it hurt a little; even if he hated being called baby. He splayed his fingers at the base of her spine, right where her tramp stamp peeked out of her too-tight jeggings. He should probably be doing something to pleasure her, too, but it was too hard to concentrate on anything when he was this close to coming. Without meaning to, he dug his fingernails into her skin. She lifted her head and looked him right in the eye.

"Yeah, baby, that's it," she croaked, licking his jawline next.

Kevin tensed, suddenly afraid. It had been one thing when she was slurring her words against his neck, where he'd felt them more than actually heard them. It was better when she wasn't talking at all because her voice was hoarse from years of smoking, and not in a sexy, husky way. When she leaned forward to nibble on his bottom lip, he could both smell and taste it, and he shot to his feet, causing her to fall on her ass.

"What the fuck, asshole?" she said, glaring at him from the floor.

He couldn't answer her even if he wanted to. His hand was already clamped over his mouth, and he ran outside, where he promptly threw up on the sidewalk.

Kevin balled one of his hands into a fist and leaned his forehead against the streetlight. He took a deep breath and spat a few times. Fuck, he should have known better than to let it get as far as it had, but he was too drunk and had been foolishly optimistic. Just like the last time, and the time before that, and even way all the way back to freshman year, when he'd gone to the homecoming game with some friends, where they'd spent the evening drinking under the bleachers. One of Kenny's ex-girlfriends, a freshman herself, had been out there that night, too, recently broken up with whoever the fuck she'd come to the game with. She'd seen an opportunity for revenge, gone right up to Kevin, and shoved her tongue in his mouth.

It was an opportunity he'd normally have welcomed, but the problem was that she'd been outside smoking a cigarette, and the taste of it was enough to make Kevin puke in the grass. At least everyone had assumed it was the Pabst Blue Ribbon, so his secret had been safe.

Not that it was a secret of epic proportions or anything. It was just that most people simply assumed that Kevin smoked, and he never bothered to correct them. It was a reasonable assumption; both his parents smoked, and his brother sometimes. Thanks to them, Kevin's clothes and hair always reeked of stale cigarette smoke. He'd learned to cope with the smell, having no real choice in the matter, but it was the taste that he couldn't get over.

He'd been eight, maybe even a little younger, when he'd smoked his first cigarette. Karen had been just a baby at the time, Kenny had been in pre-school, and Kevin, as usual, had been left to do his own thing.

He'd fought with his father even back then, but they hadn't actually come to blows until Kevin was in middle school. They swore at each other, and threw things at each other, but for all of Stuart McCormick's faults, he did his best to refrain from laying a hand on his kids – at least when he was sober.

Their arguments back then had been largely verbal. The insults and accusations had been ruthless on both sides, with Kevin's mother siding sometimes with her husband and sometimes with her son. She sided with neither of them when their fights made Karen cry.

Finding the pack of cigarettes unattended had been like finding the Holy Grail. To Kevin, smoking was the road to adulthood, and to leaving his asshole parents, with the added benefit of depriving his father of something he enjoyed. It had been too much of a temptation for Kevin to resist, and he'd lit the cigarette with the sole working burner on the stove and sucked in a mouthful of smoke.

It had hurt. His throat had burned like hell, made worse by the coughing fit that followed. His eyes had stung, too, and the taste had been so foul, he didn't know how he'd managed a second drag. He'd screwed up his courage though, because his parents had always made it look so easy. He just had to practice.

He'd hacked and coughed his way through that cigarette and nearly half of the next, his eyes watering and nose running the entire time. He'd been so focused on toughing it out, he hadn't noticed his father standing right behind him.

He'd been forced to smoke the entire pack after that, which only amounted to three cigarettes since his parents had already smoked the rest. After that, he'd been sent to bed without supper, which especially sucked because his mother had come home with scraps from the Olive Garden that night, but Kevin had pretended he didn't give a shit.

He'd managed to forget how awful that experience was by the time he was ten, when he and one of his then-friends had gone to Stark's Pond with a pack of generic menthol cigarettes stolen from his friend's mom's purse. Kevin had discovered that menthol cigarettes were even worse than the cheap ass generic cigarettes his parents smoked, but neither he nor his friend wanted to be the first to puss out. They'd both managed to get through an entire cigarette and had just lit up a second when they'd gotten caught by Officer Barbrady.

Going home in the back of the squad car hadn't been the worst experience. It had been almost cool, especially when Kevin noticed there were no door handles in the back, like they were such bad ass mother fuckers that even Johnny Lawmaker had needed to restrain them.

He'd rolled his eyes during the lecture from his father and had scoffed at his mother's recital of the dangers of smoking, all the more amusing because a cigarette dangled from her lip the entire time. He'd known what to expect, and he'd also known that there weren't any cigarettes left in the house. He'd known because he could see the empty pack from where he sat on the couch. The crushed cellophane was right there on the television, next to the overflowing tuna can they used as ash tray, and it wasn't likely his parents would even remember this incident by morning.

He'd been foolishly confident back then. His father had glanced at the empty pack, but then his gaze slid to that overflowing ashtray, and the punishment had been far worse than Kevin could have imagined.

He'd been sick for days afterward. The first day was the absolute worst, when he'd puked up all the cigarette butts. The ashes he'd consumed seemed like they'd be stuck in his throat forever, except for when he'd burped some of them up. He didn't know how long it had taken for his body to fully expel the contents of the ashtray, but it had accomplished what his parents intended, because Kevin hadn't smoked a cigarette since.

Outside the bar, Kevin dry heaved a few more times and then wiped his sleeve across his mouth. He'd missed out on an almost certain blow job, but the thought of that skank touching his junk with her rank mouth no longer appealed to him.

He punched the streetlight, immediately wished he hadn't, and shuffled down the sidewalk, headed for home.

He had his graduation ceremony in the morning, after all.

The sun was shining brightly the next day. It should have been raining, the day they laid his brother to rest. Instead, the rest of the town would pay their respects and then go off to the water park or the pool or play miniature golf, all things Kenny would never get to do again thanks to an electrical malfunction at the high school. They hadn't yet made it to the M's when the arc of electricity struck Kenny, killing him on the spot.

Kevin's friends blamed him for harshing their mellow; they'd had too much time to sober up and now had to score some more weed before they headed on their road trip. Kevin wouldn't be joining them, but neither had they asked. If Kevin couldn't foot his share of the expenses, he wasn't welcome.

He shouldn't even be thinking about that right now, not when his brother was dead.

Karen moved closer to him, sniffling. He put his arm around her as the coffin was lowered into the ground, and they waited until it was their turn to dump a handful of dirt on top of what was left of Kenny.

They walked home together, following their parents, and Kevin carefully hung up the dark jacket before changing into a tee-shirt and jeans. His father said a prayer over a dinner of instant potatoes, adding in a dig at the Lord for taking his son. Kevin felt like he'd dreamed this exact thing before, only he thought there had been green beans instead, and his father had been less belligerent in his prayer.

Kevin brushed his teeth while Karen changed into her pajamas, and then he climbed into the bed next to hers. Maybe he'd move into Kenny's room, once things were settled down, at least until he got a place of his own. Maybe he could find a job at Jimbo's. Jimbo had always liked Kenny; maybe he'd transfer some of that good will to Kevin in light of what happened.

And maybe they'd win the lottery, and then Kenny would walk in the next day like nothing had happened.

He was facing the window as he usually did, staring out at the white capped mountains, until he heard his sister. He'd been expecting it, the way her breaths were coming out all choppy, and he shoved the blankets down to his feet so he could move over to sit on the edge of her bed. She immediately went into his arms and cried quietly. He wanted to tell her that everything would be OK, but he didn't want to lie to her. Instead he stroked her hair and let her cry until the tears subsided.

"Don't leave me," she whispered against his chest. "I couldn't bear to lose you, too."

"I'm not going anywhere," he promised.

He held her until she fell asleep, and then he carefully extracted himself until she was on her bed and he was standing over her, watching her sleep.

"I couldn't bear to lose you, either, Kare Bear," he said, kissing her brow.

He lay awake in his bed for a long time, unable to sleep. He'd often resented Kenny, but that didn't mean he was glad his brother was gone. How many times had he threatened to kill Kenny himself? Then there was their own stupidity, and the number of times they'd gotten themselves into situations that could have easily killed either one of them. He still had that scar on his shoulder from the time they'd played Real Life Whack a Mole; Kenny's mallet had been a board with a rusty nail, and Kevin had to be rushed to the hospital for a tetanus shot after that one.

They'd gotten in a fight immediately after Kevin returned home, too, because Kenny had declared himself the winner by forfeit, and Kevin had not been willing to let it go that easily.

He stared at the white capped mountains in the distance until he heard his mother screaming in pain and cursing at his father. Kevin was glad that Karen was a sound sleeper; he, on the other hand, had never been able to sleep through this part. Eventually it would stop, and there would be footsteps leading to Kenny's room, but that might not happen for a couple of hours. He didn't need to stay awake for that though, because somehow he knew that even if he fell asleep, things wouldn't look quite so bad in the morning.

October 31, 2013

"Fuck!" Kevin exploded, turning from the car to fling his wrench across the yard. He shoved his fingers in his hair in frustration. The bolt was so stripped and rusty that, even with penetrating oil, it was fucking impossible to remove it with the tools he had.

This was why he'd hoped for a set of turbo sockets for a graduation present, but he got jack shit, as usual. He couldn't remember why he hadn't gotten anything, but it probably had something to do with Kenny. Could anything, just one thing, go his way for fucking once?

Some of the rust from his fingers had gotten in his hair, and it was now flaking into his eye, making it tear up. "Mother fucking cock sucking donkey dildos!" He uselessly wiped his eye against his shoulder. "Fucking dick twister."

"Making out your Christmas list?" an amused voice asked.

"Fucking blow me, cock gobbler."

"Speaking of wish lists," Mike said, grabbing the roll of paper towels next to the tire and handing it to him. "You are obsessed with me sucking your dick."

"Mother fucker," Kevin said, pressing the entire roll over his eye instead of tearing off a sheet. "Get me the fucking water."

He tried to keep his eye open as he tipped his head back and upended the bottle. He thought he might have flushed it out, but his eye was already so sore, it was hard to tell. He could barely keep it open, but when he managed to pry his eyelids apart, he could still see, even if it was a bit blurry. That had to be a good sign.

"What are you doing here, fuck hole?" Kevin asked, looking up at Mike with his good eye.

"Halloween party, man. I was wondering if you were coming. You don't have to dress up. I know you fucking hate that."

What Kevin hated was years of wearing poverty costumes like a ghost or a hobo when the other kids were dressed as Spiderman and Wolverine. Being at a party where the girls usually dressed as slutty nurses or naughty school girls, though, that had some appeal.

"I'll be there."

Kevin closed his bad eye, but it didn't help. He rubbed his thumb over the coin in his hand and bounced it on the table where it bounced right over the cup he'd been aiming for. He grabbed the beer in front of him and downed it before stepping away from the table, claiming he had to take a piss.

He didn't; he was just fucking bored.

He went out back, figuring he could just hop the fence and leave, but there was actual music playing. It wasn't just that someone was finally playing music by someone who wasn't Dave Matthews or Sublime; it was that someone actually had the good sense to appreciate the greatest band alive. It was coming from one of Mike's many bro friends, or more specifically, from the bro friend's iPod.

"Hey, K-Man! That was a bitchin' keg stand."

Kevin let out a loud belch, earning a hearty laugh from his admirer, and he staggered over to an empty lawn chair next to Mike's friend, taking several tries to center himself over it so he could sit down. Shit, the world was spinning tonight.

Bro was lighting up a cigarette, and he held the pack out to Kevin. "Want one?"

Kevin shook his head. Had he looked as repulsed as he'd felt? Hopefully not.

"Drink?" Bro offered next, holding out a bottle. "Tequila, señor?"

"Gracias," Kevin replied, accepting the bottle and taking a long drink. He burped again before handing it back.

"See, here's the thing about women," Bro was saying, waving the hand holding the cigarette. Kevin watched the orange tip warily.

"They say they want a guy who's sweet, and funny, and caring, and good to his mama." He took a very long drag, the sight of it making Kevin a little queasy.

"What they really want is a guy who will take charge. They want someone who will bend them over the stove while they're making supper and fuck them hard enough to make them cry. It's also a proven fact that women have rape fantasies. You should see the shit my mom reads."

"Uh huh."

"What you gotta do, though, is make sure the chick is down for it, because they all act like they're into some real freaky shit and it turns out to be all talk. Fucking bullshit. You feel me?"

Kevin blinked at him. He didn't, actually. If this douche-tip was so in tune with what women wanted, why was he out here by himself instead of inside getting an oral cock massage?

"Kevvers! J.J.! What the fuck are you guys doing out here?"

J.J. and the newcomer exchanged some weird elaborate handshake followed by some mutual ‘no homo' crotch slapping. It made Kevin glad as fuck he wasn't going off to college, if this was what it was like.

He hated nicknames like Kevvers, but since the recently arrived fuck nut handed him a cup filled with Corona, Kevin was willing to let it slide for now, even if the cup had lime in it. He fished it out and tossed it over the fence, doing a silent fist pump when it sailed clean over.

The three of them sat around drinking beer, and Kevin was content to just lean back in his chair and enjoy J.J's playlist. Sympathy for the Devil had unfortunately been followed by that stupid Macklemore song, but the next track made up for it. Kevin would never admit it, because he'd feel like a total poser if he did, but Tattoo You was his favorite Stones album, and Start Me Up his favorite track from it. He didn't even like these two ass-hats, so he didn't want or need to be part of their conversation.

He forgot the cardinal rule of drinking and parties, though, because he'd had a lot to drink and the music had mellowed him out to the point that he started to doze off, and that's when he felt the first stroke of the Sharpie on his cheek. Without even opening his eyes, he reached out to grab the prankster by the throat.

"Hey," J.J's friend grinned, and Kevin got out of the chair so he could force the asshole into the pool – clothes, Sharpie, and all. He rubbed at his face and checked his fingers, which were now smeared with black ink. That fucking piss bag. At least Kevin had woken before the chode had time to draw the entire penis and satchel.

By now Mike and a bunch of the others had joined them outside, and they laughed as the chode climbed out of the pool.

"You got me," Chode said, pushing his hair back away from his face. He was gritting his teeth as he said it, so Kevin doubted he found his time in the pool as amusing as everyone else did.

"I told you no one fucks with my man Kevin, here," Mike said, throwing his arm over Kevin's shoulders. "No homo, of course."

Kevin rolled his eyes and reached over to pick up the cup next to his chair. He tossed his drink back, then immediately wished he hadn't. There was no time to run into the house or to the edge of the yard. He puked right there, in the middle of everyone, and then sank to his knees, gagging uncontrollably.

"Ooo, sorry, Kevvers," Sharpie asshole said, poking at Kevin with his toe and sounding not at all sorry. "Didn't realize that was your cup."

Oh, God, he had to throw up again. At least Mike recognized the warning signs and was able to get Kevin on his feet and out of the yard before he spewed again.

"Dude, seriously, I don't think I've ever seen that much come out of one person."

Kevin sank to his knees and threw up a third time. It was like the cigarette filter was still in his mouth, sliding over his tongue and touching the roof of his mouth. He wanted to curl into a ball and die. It was like he was ten years old all over again.

"Seriously, man, you OK? You don't have, like, alcohol poisoning or something?"

Kevin wished that was all it was. He shook his head weakly and spit on the ground a few more times. What he really needed was a popsicle or something to eat, to chase away both the sour taste and the lingering sensation of the filter in his mouth. He gagged again just thinking about it.

"Sorry, Kevin. Joe – sorry, he goes by J.J. now – he's a pain in the ass, but he's all right," Mike was saying, "but his friend Caleb, he's kind of a dick."

Kevin grunted. Caleb was also probably crowing about his victory. This was Kevin's life, brought low by a cigarette butt in his beer. If he wasn't feeling so sick, he'd go back and beat the shit out of that fuck nugget. He wiped his mouth again and got to his feet.

"Seriously, Kevin, you alright? You need me to walk you home? No homo."

"‘m fine," Kevin said, shaking his head. He wasn't, but he didn't need Mike to babysit him the entire way home, and he was getting kind of sick of the whole no homo thing, something he'd picked up from the assholes he'd met at community college. Or maybe he'd been saying it longer than that. Kevin wasn't sure.

"Hey," Mike said, "don't forget we're heading to that pub in Jefferson tomorrow night. You and your brother, right?"

Kevin nodded, too afraid that opening his mouth would be enough to make him vomit again, and he staggered off into the night.

Twenty-four hours later

Kevin's head was pounding. Not only was his head pounding, his body felt like it got hit by a truck. That, plus the foul taste in his mouth mingled with the coppery tang of blood was as familiar as breathing. As was the pain that accompanied every breath he took.

He couldn't remember the fight. Sometimes it was with one of his friends, sitting around the campfire with a couple pounders of PBR. It might have been his father this time, but Kevin didn't remember ever hurting this much after he and the old man took a few swings at each other.

His ears were ringing, too, so maybe he'd gotten into a fight at a concert. If that was the case, it was probably with Randy Marsh. Kevin had been in more than a few fights with Randy, mainly because Randy was such a douchebag poser. Kenny probably only went over there because the Marshes had cable and Netflix, and Sharon Marsh served real meals with sides and a meat dish on a daily basis. That and she had pretty awesome tits.

Someone was tugging at his shirt, rather forcefully. Fucking persistent, she was, too. Was he even hard yet? He couldn't tell. Aside from the pain, he couldn't feel much of anything.

He still couldn't hear anything over the ringing in his ears, so he hoped he wasn't missing out on some creative dirty talk. It would be nice to add something new to his spank bank.

There was a bright light, and he tried to blink, but someone was holding his eyelids open. It was a relief when whoever it was let go and he was able to close them again. Someone was slapping his face, but he was too tired to shove them away. He just needed a little nap; that was all. Just a couple hours to sleep it off, and he'd be fine in the morning.

He wasn't.

His head hurt, his chest hurt, his throat hurt – fuck, he hurt everywhere. He wished he could remember the fight. Or what he'd had to drink. He opened his eyes, immediately regretted it, and closed them again. His brows furrowed and he cracked one eye open again.

What the fuck was his sister doing here?

He couldn't hear her, but it looked like she was crying. Kevin hoped he wasn't going to have to beat the shit out of someone, because he wasn't quite up to it just yet.

He tried to sit up, failed, and growled in frustration.

She was by his side immediately, brushing his hair off his forehead and cupping his cheek. Kevin opened his eyes again, just a little, and saw how splotchy and red her face was. Forget beating the shit out of anyone; he was going to fucking kill them. He tried to sit up again before remembering he was still too weak.

He tried to cover Karen's hand with his own, but he couldn't lift his arm, either. Karen's eyes were closed, and her tears were dripping down her face and sometimes falling on his neck.

"Hey," he said, trying for a smile.

"You're back," she sobbed. "Thank God, you're back."

Back from where? Where the fuck had he gone last night? He had a million questions for her, but he couldn't keep his eyes open. He might have ruffled her hair before dozing off again, but maybe he'd only tried to.

She was gone when he next opened his eyes. He was sitting up, but only because someone had propped him up. He was thirsty as hell, and he tried to lick his lips, but even his tongue was dry.

"Mr. McCormick."

He turned his head to see a man in a blue uniform standing there, his pad of paper at the ready. Fuck, of course the cops were involved. Kevin cleared his throat, or at least he tried to, and someone held a cup of water with a straw up to his mouth.

A nurse, he realized. Which explained how he was sitting up. It was one of those fancy adjustable beds, which also meant he was in the hospital. He was going to hear about this for days if not weeks, about the cost of the hospital room and doctor visits and food.

He tried to take another sip, but the nurse shook her head and set the cup down.

"Mr. McCormick," the pig asked again.


"I'd like to ask you a few questions about the other night."

Kevin would like for the cop to go fuck himself with his flashlight, but since he was now sober, he kept that to himself.

"You mean last night?"

"I mean last week," the cop said, flipping one of the pages in his notebook even though he hadn't written a fucking thing.

"Last week?" That wouldn't be right. Kevin hadn't ever scored anything good enough to cause him a memory loss of an entire week.

"You were driving?" the cop was asking.

"I think so, yeah."

"Was anyone else with you besides your brother?"

"With me?" Kevin wasn't even sure where he'd been, let alone who he'd been with.

The cop sighed. "Do you remember anything?"

"Not really."

The cop gestured to Kevin's head. "What happened there?"

How the fuck was Kevin supposed to know, when he'd just told the pig he didn't remember anything? Apparently that question was for the nurse, because she was the one who answered.

"Contusions," she said. "Mild concussion."

"Mild, huh?" the cop said, writing something down. He sounded skeptical, and Kevin wanted to punch him in the face for that alone.

He looked up from his notebook to stare at Kevin. "You really don't remember what happened?"

"What happened?"

"My baby," Kevin's mother wailed from somewhere in the room. "My baby's dead!"

He looked around in a panic. Karen was dead? No, he'd just seen Karen this morning, hadn't he? A quick glance around the room reassured him that Karen was, in fact, alive. Alive and standing behind their parents, crying into her hands. And then Kevin remembered.

He'd killed Kenny.

There hadn't been much of a defense at his trial; he had been drunk, after all, and he had a long history of drinking related offenses. It was all surreal, as if he were someone else watching it happen. He knew he was going to jail; that, too, was nothing new. The difference was that someone – his own brother – had died this time. Kevin had been the lucky one, his injuries limited to a cracked rib and a busted up face.

He deserved everything he got and worse.

Jail was about what he'd expected; he was confined to a small cell with an uncomfortable bed; the food was lousy and often stolen from his plate. It wasn't much different than living at home, except that Kenny wasn't the one pilfering food. Kenny's pilfering days were over, thanks to Kevin, which was why he didn't bother to put up a fight. What he did manage to eat was still more than he usually got at home, so it wasn't like life had changed a whole lot, except that Kenny was dead.

"McCormick," one of the guards called. "You have a visitor."

That was different. He never had visitors, but if anyone was going to come see him, it had to be Karen, who, despite everything, still loved him.

It wasn't Karen. It was his old guidance counselor from the elementary school, if one could believe that.

"I know," Kevin sighed wearily. "Drinkin's bad, mmkay?"

"That's good," Mr. Mackey said, nodding. "That's good that you know that. But, um, you also have to want to stop drinkin', mmkay? You have to want to stop drinkin, and stop doin' drugs, because drugs are bad, too, mmkay?"

"Uh huh."

"Young man, you have to take this seriously! You're never going to sober up if you treat this like a joke!"

"My brother is dead," Kevin said, leaning forward. "No joke."

"I want you to go to a meeting with me, mmkay? Just one."

"If you haven't noticed," Kevin pointed at the bars on his cell, "I'm not going anywhere."

Mr. Mackey cleared his throat. "I've been where you are, mmkay? I've been at the bottom of the barrel. I had to be there before I could get back up here." He held his hand up to the top of his head. "The question you have to ask yourself, young man, is do you want to get better?"

"It's not going to bring Kenny back."

"You can't do this for Kenny," Mr. Mackey said gently. "You have to do it for yourself."

Kevin closed his eyes. Mackey didn't know the first thing about being at the bottom of the barrel. He might have lost his job, but he hadn't killed his own brother and destroyed his family. Everyone was better off if Kevin just stayed in jail. At least if he was stuck in here, Karen was safe. On the other hand, with Kenny gone, what would happen to her if their parents ended up in jail again? Did it really matter if he wanted to get straight for Karen or if he wanted it for himself?

"Fine. But I'm doing this for my sister, not for me."

Mr. Mackey shook his head sadly. "I'm serious, young man. You have to want it for you, too, mmkay? And just so you know, your brother's home. He wandered off that night, mmkay, and forgot who he was, but he's back now."

Kevin took a deep breath and wished he hadn't. Fuck, his chest hurt when he did that. He looked around the dingy cell. This was his life, and this would continue to be his life, day after day. He might not have killed Kenny, but he nearly had. He deserved his punishment, but that didn't mean he enjoyed it. That was the point of jail, after all. He wasn't supposed to enjoy it.

He wasn't supposed to want more for himself, either, but he did. He was afraid to want more, but it didn't stop him from wanting it anyway.

"I do want it for me," he said, gripping the bars of his cell. "Now get me the hell out of here."

New Year's Eve 2014

A light tap sounded on the door, followed by Karen asking, "Kev?"


"I'm coming up, OK?"

Her footsteps were light on the stairs. She must have seen him park out front; otherwise she wouldn't have asked for permission first. When he'd first moved into the room above the garage, she'd come up to check on him once, walking in without knocking and getting an eyeful of her brother furiously jacking it. She'd never made that mistake again.

Kenny had never made that mistake, but then he rarely acknowledged Kevin's existence in the first place. Fucking Kenny. Kevin swallowed around the lump that had formed in his throat.

The door opened and Karen took a few steps toward the bed.

"So," she said. "Can I see it?"

"See what?" he asked, doing his best to act like he didn't know what she meant. She huffed at him, but the corners of her mouth quirked as she held out her hand, waiting.

He sat up and reached into his pocket, pulled out the bronze coin with the Roman numeral one on it, and dropped it casually into her palm. He refused to look at her while he did so, but she sat next to him on the bed anyway, putting an arm around him and resting her head on his shoulder. He tugged at the front of his shirt, as if that might somehow alleviate the ache he felt there.

"I know you worry about him, too, Kevin."

Kevin's vision blurred. He didn't talk about his feelings, but Karen was the only one who ever understood that he had them, and even then, she'd always been closer to Kenny. It was only times like this, when Kenny was...

He closed his eyes. When Kenny was what? Missing? Near death? Presumed dead? In Peru? Kevin couldn't remember, not even sober.

"I have faith, though. He always comes through in the end, doesn't he?" she asked.

From what, he wanted to ask. He couldn't remember.

"Do you want to come in and watch the ball drop?"

Kevin shook his head. His so-called friends were all out partying their asses off, and his best option was going into the house to watch Ryan Seacrest on TV as the new year was ushered in.

Apparently it hadn't been a suggestion, because Karen was on her feet and tugging at his arm, and really, when had he ever been able to say no to her? He gave a wry smile and followed her down the stairs and into the house.

Unsurprisingly, his parents were on the couch, passing a joint back and forth, but what he hadn't expected to see was the battered banner and balloons hanging from the ceiling. Karen cleared her throat and their mother pushed herself to her feet.

"Happy Birthday, baby," she said, giving him a wet kiss on the cheek before staggering off to the kitchen. He tried not to grimace at the smell of stale cigarette smoke she brought with her.

From the couch, his father held out the joint, lifting his eyebrows in question. Kevin stared at the joint, transfixed, when he felt Karen slip the coin back into his palm.

"Dad," she chided.

He stared at her for a few seconds, bleary-eyed and confused, and then nodded. "Oh, yeah," he said, and lifted the joint back to his lips.

Kevin looked up at the bedraggled banner with its missing letters, spelling out HA Y BI THD Y, and the blue and red balloons strung up next to it. They were the result of Karen's efforts, definitely. It was his 21st birthday, but instead of going out and drinking with his friends – legally, for a change – he was home celebrating a full year of sobriety.

Their mother came back from the kitchen holding one of the new plastic plates they'd gotten from Good Will, the mismatched set featuring various Sesame Street characters. Covering Elmo's face was a small, lopsided cupcake with a single candle in it. It was a good thing he didn't believe in birthday wishes, because the candle wasn't even lit. Karen took care of that, though, using one of the Bic lighters near the ash tray.

"Hay Bithdy, Kev," she said. Her eyes were glittering, but her smile was wide and genuine. It was amazing that someone as incredible as Karen came from this family.

He swiped a finger in the frosting and dabbed the end of her nose with it.

"Thanks, kid," he said, and although Karen rolled her eyes at him, he felt the ache in his chest ease somewhat.

The next morning, when Kevin staggered down the stairs and into the house, Kenny was already sitting at the breakfast table and hogging half the frozen waffles just like when they were kids. Kevin didn't know why that seemed wrong. It was too early for Kenny to be back from Stan's New Year's party, where he'd said he was ringing in the new year. Hadn't he? Maybe they'd had a fight; Kenny's friends bickered more than chicks did.

Thinking about it gave Kevin a headache, so he poured himself a cup of hot water and said nothing.

Thanksgiving weekend 2015

South Park Church – Community Room

Kevin was picking the sprinkles off his frosted donut and eating them one by one when Randy Marsh approached him, holding a cup of coffee.

"So," Randy said. "Almost two years, huh."


"Congratulations. It's quite an accomplishment."

"Yeah, thanks." Kevin tore a piece off the donut and popped it into his mouth.

"Not because you're a McCormick," Randy hastened to add. "Just, for anyone."

"Uh huh."

"I'm not here for me, of course. My son, he's going through a rough time."

Kevin eyed Randy in disbelief. For the Marshes, a rough time was getting potato wedges from KFC instead of the mashed potatoes with gravy. He already knew that Stan kept a bottle of whiskey in his bedroom. Stan's other friends might not know about his secret stash, but Kenny knew booze when he smelled it, even if it was covered up with mouthwash and breath mints.

"Sorry," Kevin said, even though he didn't fucking care and had nothing to be sorry about.

"Nice truck you've got." Randy took a sip of his coffee.

"Yeah. Real bitchin'," Kevin drawled.

It used to be his father's, but when it had stopped working, it became Kevin's. He'd been using it anyway ever since he got his license back; the Caprice had been totaled in the accident that nearly killed Kenny. To call the truck ‘nice' was like saying dog shit tasted ‘good.' Which it didn't, as Kevin very well knew. It wasn't hard to figure out that Randy was up to something. He'd never said a word to Kevin in all the meetings that they'd attended.

"Your dad says you fixed it up all by yourself."

Kevin took a big bite of the donut instead of answering.

"He says you're quite handy around machines."

Kevin chewed slowly, waiting.

"So I was wondering..."

Kevin popped the rest of his donut in his mouth and licked his fingers.

"Do you think you could take a look at my car? When you're not busy, of course."

Kevin crossed his arms over his chest and stared at Randy. He wished he were taller so he could look down at him. "You gonna pay me?"

Randy looked surprised. "Pay you?" When Kevin said nothing, he cleared his throat. "I mean, of course I'll pay you. If you can fix it."

"I can fix it."

"You don't even know what's wrong with it."

Kevin had heard Randy's car starting up every morning; it was obvious to anyone who'd ever been near a car that it was the muffler. The squealing brakes indicated they needed to be replaced, too, before the rotors were damaged.

"I can fix it," Kevin said evenly.

"Oh, I'm sure you can, of course. I was hoping you would just look at it. It's a newer car, so it's a little different than what you're –"

"I can fix your fucking car," Kevin snapped. "If I can't, you don't have to pay me."

"I don't have to pay you anything?"

"If I can't fix it."

"What if you can?"

"Fifty bucks, plus parts."

He knew he was seriously undercharging, but it worked, because Randy was sold. They were shaking hands when Karen and Stan joined them.

"What's going on?" Karen asked.

"Just doing a little business, that's all," Randy said, winking at Kevin like they were co-conspirators in a grand heist. He and Stan left, and then Karen turned to her brother.

"So, how was the Alateen meeting?" Kevin asked.

"Please, Kevin, it's the same every week. It's so weird having it in there; like I'm back in Sunday school. And you need a better diversion if you don't want me asking what you were doing with Randy Marsh."

He looked at his sister and grinned. "I got a fucking job."

"You got a job?" she shrieked, launching herself at him and hugging him with all her might. "Kevin, that's awesome!" she said when she finally let go and took a step back.

He was suddenly embarrassed. "Yeah, well. It's just the one; it's not like I got hired by a garage or anything."

She patted him on the cheek. "It still counts. Come on, big brother. Let's go home." She grabbed his hand and led him out the side exit of the church.

"As long as you don't sing that fucking song again."

"What song?" she asked, blinking her eyes innocently.

"Karen, seriously. I hate that song."

"I'm sure I don't know what you mean."

"Good," he said.

"Knock knock."


"Come on, Kevin. I have a really good one this time."

"What are you, four?"

"Knock knoooock," she repeated.

He sighed. "Who's there?"

"Hello," she sang with a big grin on her face. "It's me."

Not that fucking song. Anything but that fucking song.

"I was wondering if after all these years you'd like to meet..."

She saw the look on her brother's face and took off running. He chased after her because that's what he was supposed to do, and when he caught her, he threw her over his shoulder and continued walking, as if he wasn't out of breath. Damn, she was fucking fast.

"Hot blooded, check it and see," she sang next, sounding a little breathless herself.

"You can't make up for Adele with Foreigner," he scoffed.

"You see it all around yoooou..."

"Or 38 Special."

"Hmm," she mused. He wished she wouldn't shift around like that; it was fucking killing his shoulder. "How about Copa Cabana?"

"Especially not Copa Cabana."

For a lively tune, it was fucking depressing as hell. Not that he paid attention to the lyrics or anything.

"Fine," she said. "We'll do the duet."

"That one doesn't count."

"Her name was Lolaaaa..."

He caved in immediately.

"Calling out around the world!" he belted out, because if one of them was going to sing the Jagger part of Dancin' in the Streets, it was obviously going to be him.

It was a good thing it wasn't a long walk to get home, because for a little thing, Karen was fucking heavy, and he was out of breath from singing and carrying her at the same time. He set her down in front of their house, and she reached up to ruffle his hair.

"It's getting long," she pointed out.

"Maybe I like it this way."

"Hmm," she said, looking at him thoughtfully. She brushed his hair off his forehead, then lifted it off his ears. "I can trim it, if you want."

"It's fine," Kevin said.

The corners of Karen's mouth turned down, and her bottom lip jutted out. She was laying it on thick tonight, because she followed that up with a heavy sigh, a long slow release of air from her lungs. She even scuffed her toe on the ground for good measure. Then she sighed again, louder than the first time.

"Kenny has hair, too. Cut his."

She pouted. "I do. He has the freakiest hair, though. I cut it, and I swear, like a couple of days later, it looks like I never touched it. I've never seen someone's hair grow back that fast. I want to do your hair for a change."

He had to repress his own sigh before he said, "Not too short. I do kind of like it this way."

She grinned. "It'll look great, I promise."

"I'm not worried. I have hats."

She hooked her arm through his and led him in the house. "After that crack, maybe you should be worried," she said.

"Yeah?" he played along as she made him stand next to the kitchen sink so she could wet his hair. "Why is that?"

"You know how we're in your truck, the music is always Driver's Choice?"

"Karen, no..."

She sat him down on the chair and picked up a comb and scissors.

"When you're in my chair, it's Stylist's Choice," she said with a grin, just before launching into that fucking Adele song again. He was so busy trying to think of a different song in his head to drown it out, he stopped worrying about what she might be doing to his hair.

When she was done, she had to bring him to the bathroom, to the only mirror in the house. It didn't look that much different, really, and yet it did.

"You like?" she asked fluffing his bangs. "I just trimmed the split ends. You also had a few pieces that were much longer than the rest."

"I like," he assured her. He thought that was all she wanted, but when he turned to leave, she hadn't budged.



"If I tell you something, will you promise not to tell Mom and Dad? At least not until I find the right time to tell them myself. Not until I figure out how to tell them."

If she was pregnant, he would personally kill the guy responsible. She must have realized what he was thinking, because she took one look at his face and smacked him on the arm.

"Not that, Kevin! I swear, you must think I'm stupid."

He put his hand on her shoulder. "I don't think you're stupid, Karen. I just, I worry that you's that're you, and any guy would be lucky to have you."

She sighed. "I'm sorry. It's just...I've been giving this a lot of thought, now that I'm in high school, and I feel like you're the only one who will understand."


"Kenny's going to college next year. I know it's just community college, but it's still college. You, though, you went in a different direction."

"Didn't have a choice."

"Yes, but you're good at it. Even Mr. Marsh can see that."

"He only asked me because he thought I'd do it for free."

"That's not the point. You told me yourself you got the job." She paused and looked at him. "He is paying you, isn't he?"

"Yeah. Fifty bucks, if I fix it."

"You'll fix it," she stated. "I know you will."

He gave her a weak smile.

"So here's what I've been thinking, Kev. There are all these college prep classes I'm supposed to take, but I don't think I want to go to college. I want to do what you did."

"You want to fix cars?" he blurted out. He'd barely, just barely, squeaked by with his VoTech classes, and that only because they'd given him a chance to demonstrate what he'd learned on an actual car since he couldn't pass a written test to save his life.

"Well, it would be useful to know how to fix cars, but no, I don't want to be a mechanic. I just don't want to go to college. I want to do something."

"You want to sign up for VoTech."

She nodded enthusiastically. "I want to be a stylist and an aesthetician. I want to work with my hands, like you do."

Kevin looked at the bruises and scrapes on the backs of his hands and then at his sister's eager face.

"Fine," he sighed. "I don't know how much help I'll be, but fine."

She hugged him. "You're the best," she said, and it was nice to hear that someone thought that.

It took much longer than Kevin thought it would to fix the car, because Randy decided to come over and watch him work. It wouldn't have been bad if all Randy did was watch, but he felt the need to dictate what Kevin should remove and when, where he should put it for safe keeping, and what tool he probably should have used instead. It was thanks to the incessant badgering that Kevin banged his hand twice while removing the muffler, and he gritted his teeth so hard he was sure he was going to crack a few of them.

He finally poked his head out from under the car and asked, "Do you want to do this?"

"No, no," Randy answered. "You're doing fine. I just wanted to be sure you knew about the catalytic converter."

"The catalytic converter is over there," Kevin pointed, even though Randy couldn't see under the car. "I'm working behind it, over here."

"Of course, of course," Randy said, taking a sip of his micro-brew. "I just don't want you to break it."

"I'll try my best," Kevin said drily.

Fortunately, Randy was bored by the time Kevin removed the muffler and the corroded bits and had wandered back home, so Kevin was able to clamp the new muffler on without difficulty. He stopped to take a drink of water before beginning on the brakes when Randy walked back over, a different micro-brew in hand.

"Is it done?"

"Muffler, yes. Haven't started the brakes yet."

"You're sure the brakes need to be done."

Kevin stared at him. "I'm sure."

"Yeah. I'm sure, too," Randy assured him. "So, can I get you a beer or something?"

"I don't drink."

"Of course, of course." Randy looked at his watch. "Well, will you look at the time. I told Sharon I'd get to mowing the lawn in the back."

He got as far as the train tracks before turning around, and Kevin knew what was coming.

"It'll cost you ten bucks extra," Kevin said without looking up.

"Ten for the yard? You're only charging me fifty for the car."

"Have fun, then."

"Ten seems fair. So if you want to go around the back when you drop off the car, the mower's right there in the yard."

He just stood there until Kevin turned his head to look at him.

"So, yeah," Randy said, going around the car. "I think I'll just stop in and say hi to your dad."

Kevin didn't give a fuck what Randy did, as long as it was far enough away from here that he didn't have to deal with him.

"I thought you were going to throw your plasma torch at him," Karen said. "Kenny and I were making bets."

"Came close," Kevin admitted. "So who won?"

"Fucking Kenny, of course," she sighed. "He knew Mr. Marsh would backpedal. I didn't give him that much credit."

"Karen McCormick, I can't believe those words came out of your mouth."

"Lots of words come out of my mouth that would surprise you, Kev. Want to hear some more?"


"I was right, you know."



He glanced up at her. "What about me?"

"I knew you'd fix it."

"Not done yet."

"Pffft. This is the easy part, Kev. You've done brakes like a hundred times."

"Eleven," he corrected.

"You know what I mean." She squatted down next to him and he handed her the slide bolts he'd just removed. "So, need me to bleed the brakes when you're done? Maybe help reattach the caliper?

"Don't you have anything better to do?"

"Nope. This is interesting."

He glanced at her again.

"It is!" she insisted. "Plus maybe Mom and Dad will realize that I'm serious about VoTech if they see that I'm good with my hands."

"You have a devious mind, kiddo."

She grinned at him. "And don't you forget it."

Summer 2016

Kevin was in a bad mood.

Except for the occasional side job, he'd been unable to find employment. It was only now that he finally understood his father's resentment against the system that was designed to keep the McCormicks in poverty, so when his father headed over to Skeeter's Bar the previous evening, Kevin went with him so they could continue their mutual rant along the way.

He hadn't set foot in a bar since the car accident, and walking into Skeeter's was like stepping back in time. Some of the men here were down on their luck, too. Others were the very same men who had no problem paying Kevin next to nothing for the hours of work he put in. The jobs they expected him to do grew gradually more complex, but the amount they paid him never covered all the extra time it took. He was Stuart McCormick's moron son, but a good lad.

Good enough to do the work when they didn't want to pay a "real" mechanic, but not good enough to hire full time. Good enough to say hi to in the grocery store, but not good enough for their daughters. His refusal to sit down and throw back a few beers made them more suspicious of him, not less.

If he wanted a fucking drink, he was going to have a fucking drink. He'd gone more than two years without drinking; he was practically cured.

He'd been wrong, and he was now nursing the mother of all hangovers – he'd forgotten just how much they sucked – and a black eye from the bar fight he'd gotten involved in. He was disgusted with himself for drinking, but he still wanted to raid the fridge for a beer. He couldn't wait to go back to the meeting and earn himself another twenty-four-hour coin. Two and a half fucking years, gone just like that.

Kevin didn't know why Kenny's friends had to hang out here. They'd never really wanted to before, especially Liane's son, who ate more in a single meal than Kevin's entire family ate in a month. If it wasn't all four of them prowling around the ruins of SoDoSoPa, it was the emo jock playing some game on his iPad while Kenny competed against him using his phone.

Which, first of all, where the fuck did Kenny even get an iPhone, let alone a service plan, and second, they weren't even talking to each other, so there was no reason for Stan Marsh to be here, taking up the one comfortable cushion on the couch.

Fuck that; Kevin didn't care if Stan was a guest in their home. If he wanted to sit his delicate ass down somewhere soft, he could do it at his own house.

"Move it, twerp," Kevin said, standing over him and nodding toward the floor. Stan looked up at him nervously, then vacated his spot on the couch without arguing.

Kevin popped a tape in the VCR, turned on the TV, and slowly unwrapped the Andes mint his mom brought home from work. Usually the mints went to Karen first, then to Kenny if there was an extra one, but tonight their mom had bussed a table of five, all of whom had left their mints behind. Kevin wasn't usually one to savor anything; if he was hungry (which was almost always), he shoveled the food into his mouth as fast as he could and then wished he hadn't.

His stomach was too upset for that right now, though, so he nibbled a little bit off the edge, just enough to warm up his taste buds. He'd forgotten how much he loved these fucking things, even hungover. Some day he was going to buy a whole box, just for himself.

OK, he might share one or two with Karen, but probably not Kenny.

He took a second bite, leaving almost half of the Andes left, and rolled it around in his mouth. He wasn't doing anything weird like closing his eyes like he was ready to come, so he didn't get why Stan kept shooting glances in his direction.

Kevin popped the rest of the chocolate in his mouth and glared at Stan. "You got a problem?"

"No," Stan replied hurriedly. "I thought you were the one who had a problem with me."

"Kevin has a problem with everyone," Kenny mumbled beneath his hood.

Kevin leaned forward and stared at Stan. He recognized that look; Stan was up to something. He didn't know what it was or if he should even give a shit, but Kevin was on to him. It was too bad his head felt like it was going to fucking split open, or he might have figured it out sooner.

Thanksgiving weekend 2017

Kevin was going to fucking kill him.

He was used to being ignored on occasion. His family might remember him when it was time for dinner or church, and for rare outings like that trip to Cartmanland and the weird artsy circus that wasn't a circus, but for the day to day things, most of the time it was like he wasn't even in the room. It didn't apply just to his family; by extension, Kenny's friends tended to forget he was there, too.

Granted, he tried not to be around when those dweebs were at the house, which was rarely, but there was only so long a guy could skip stones across Stark's Pond or use a stick to poke at a pile of clothes to determine if there was a dead body hidden in it.

It was a good thing he'd come back when he did, because otherwise Stan Marsh would be worrying about a lot more than the grip Kevin had on his neck.

"Kevin!" Karen scolded, stamping her foot like she was six instead of sixteen. "He didn't do anything!"

Kevin stared at his sister in disbelief. Her definition of not doing anything was a lot different than his.

"What's going on?" Kenny asked, and then, when he realized what he'd walked in on, "what the fuck?"

"Kevin is being completely irrational," Karen complained.

"He had his hand up your shirt," Kevin pointed out, squeezing just a little.

Kenny's view of the situation was much more in line with his brother's than his sister's, because he separated the two of them by slamming his friend against the wall.

"Kenny!" Karen cried, grabbing her brother's coat.

"You're a dead man," Kenny told him, even as he let his sister draw him away.

Stan wheezed a few times, thanks to the pressure Kevin had applied to his throat.

"He touched you," Kevin explained.

"Oh, and neither of you has ever touched a girl before," Karen scoffed. She stood protectively in front of Stan and crossed her arms over her chest, glaring at her brothers.

Kenny glared back, but at Stan, not Karen.

"That was different," Kevin said, because it had been. What made it different was his own business.

"No, it's not. Men aren't the only ones with needs, you know."

"Not helping," Stan croaked from behind her.

Kevin did not want to think of his sister having needs.

"You're only sixteen," he pointed out.

"Kenny's girlfriend was ten!"

"She blew a bunch of other guys before me," Kenny argued.

"Is that the problem, then?" Karen asked, "because if it is, don't worry. I'm not a virgin."

Both of her brothers lunged for Stan this time, and Karen had to climb on Kevin's back and pull at his hair.

"Stop, Kevin! Kenny, no! It wasn't Stan! It was Scott Malkinson!"

Kenny had just punched Stan in the face, but with this latest bit of information, he turned and stared at his sister, who was still clinging to Kevin's back.

"Scott Malkinson?" Stan asked. His voice was muffled from the blood in his nose, but he looked just as dismayed as the McCormick brothers.

"Who the fuck is Scott Malkinson?" Kevin asked.

"Diabetes. Talks with a lisp," Kenny said, curling his lip in disgust.

"He's very sweet," Karen insisted. "And a very considerate lover."

Both Stan and Kenny gagged, and Kevin tried to disentangle his hair from Karen's talon-like grip.

"He's going to be a very considerate corpse," he said. "Let go, Kare."

"No," she said stubbornly. "You and I are going outside to talk. Kenny, you and Stan work things out while we're gone."

When they were outside, Karen asked, "Are you going to behave?"

"This wouldn't have happened if your boyfriend in there had behaved."

She yanked at his hair again. "I'm not getting down until you promise you're not going to kill him."

"I promise not to kill him," Kevin said. That still left a whole lot of hurting to choose from.

She waited nearly a minute before deciding she believed him, and she slid off his back and moved to stand in front of him.

"Kevin, you know I love you, but you can't go around throttling any boy who takes an interest in me."

It wasn't the interest that Kevin had a problem with. OK, he did have a problem with that, but he had an even bigger problem with the areas of Karen that Stan had demonstrated a particular interest in.

"You're not going to kill Scott either," she said, "in case you were thinking about it."

"Karen," Kevin said. "You're only sixteen."

"We've already covered that. I suppose you're still a virgin yourself."

"That's none of your business."

"Why? My sex life is obviously yours."

Kevin didn't want to think about Karen having a sex life. She was his little sister, for crying out loud. "You're too young."

"How old were you?" she challenged. "How old was Kenny? It's only different because you two are boys and I'm a girl."

It was also different because their mother had been like thirteen when she'd had Kevin. Even if Karen didn't get pregnant (which she better not, or he would not only kill Stan, but do it slowly), she had the extra baggage of being her mother's daughter. He didn't know this Scott Malkinson, but he'd better have been smart enough to keep his big fucking mouth shut and not gone bragging to his friends about getting in Karen's pants.

"It's different," he insisted.

"It's not," she disagreed, "and as long as we continue to think it's OK for men to give in to their sexual urges and not for women, we'll continue to be labeled sluts and skanks."

He would kill anyone who dared call his sister that.

"It won't be like when Mom and Dad met," she added. "I know how to use protection."

"You shouldn't need to!" he railed at her.

"What I shouldn't need is to explain myself to my brother, who by the way, is not the boss of me."

He walked a few steps away, raking his fingers through his hair, and then back to where his sister was waiting.


"Kevin," she said softly, grabbing both of his arms. "Please, please, trust me. I don't care if you don't trust Stan. He can't make me do anything I don't want to do."

He didn't like thinking of his sister as wanting to do anything. It didn't matter that she'd already lost her virginity. He wanted to keep her safe, the way Kenny had done when they were kids. There was still hope. Maybe Kenny was right now beating the shit out of Stan.

"Please, Kevin?"

He scowled. She always managed to talk him into things he didn't want to do.

"If he hurts you..."

She let out a huge sigh of relief. "Thank you, Kevin. You have no idea how much this means to me."

He let her drag him back to the house, where Stan was nursing his black eye with a bag of frozen peas and Kenny was playing something on his iPhone like nothing had happened.

Stan took one look at Kevin and leapt to his feet. "I was just leaving," he said, inching along the wall to get to the door.

"Kenny," Karen said sternly. "Did you hit Stan?"

This was Kevin's chance. While Kenny was in for the same lecture he'd just had to endure, he had a chance to have a little one-on-one talk with the man who was lucky to be walking out of here under his own power.

He waited until Stan was across the train tracks and in his own front yard before confronting him.

"Marsh," he said, enjoying the way Stan jumped at the sound of his voice.

"K-Kevin," Stan said, turning around slowly.

"Those are our peas."

"Peas?" Stan asked weakly, then realized what Kevin was talking about. "Oh, sorry. Here," he said, extending his arm.

"I don't like you," Kevin said, ignoring the peas.

Stan licked his lips. "Yeah, I figured."

"Kenny and I are worried about our sister."

Stan nodded. "That's what Kenny said."

"You have a sister. I'm sure you'd want to hurt some guy if you knew he was taking advantage of her."


"Yes, fucking Shelly! How many sisters do you have?"

Stan blinked at him. "One."

"Then you understand what I'm fucking saying."

Stan looked at him blankly, and Kevin threw his hands in the air. "Of course you fucking don't. If you don't care about your own sister, how the fuck do I know you care about mine?"

"I do care about her."

"Which one?" Kevin demanded to know.

"Which who?"

This was one of Kenny's smarter friends? "Which one do you fucking care about, dweeb?"

"Karen!" he answered immediately, and then added, "Both of them?"

"Kevin McCormick!" Karen screamed from their front door. "I see you over there. Get your ass back here and leave him alone."

Kevin pointed to his own eyes, then at Stan, and he slowly backed away until Stan turned and fled into the house.

"Just getting the peas," he said, picking them up from the ground where Stan had dropped them.

She eyed him suspiciously. "I know what you're up to Kevin. And you," she said, turning to glare at Kenny, who had come to the door behind her.

"What?" they chorused.

She shook her head. "I'm so pissed at both of you right now. You're lucky I love you."

She put an arm around each of her brothers, giving them both a hug, before going inside. Kenny and Kevin stood outside the house, and Kenny lit up a cigarette.

"He's your friend," Kevin reminded him.

"For now," Kenny replied, blowing out a smoke ring.

"She's going to do what she wants."

Kenny tipped his head back and stared up at the stars. "I know. So is he."

Both of them sighed in resignation.

December 2017

Kevin looked at his watch. Fuck, he hated coming to the later meeting, but Jimbo and Ned could talk a guy's ear off. Sometimes he enjoyed listening to their stories, but today Ned had been a little drunk and in a singing mood, and Kevin had been forced to join in on several verses of Let It Be before they let him escape.

He'd been trying to convince Jimbo to give him a job since he was in his teens, but Jimbo was smart enough to realize there was no need to pay Kevin when he was already doing the work for free, trying to show how useful he could be and how sorry he was for that incident at Skeeter's a while back. And now he was stuck going to a meeting with people he didn't know, that he'd have to get to know.

He recognized everyone, of course, because South Park was a small town and everyone knew everyone, but he didn't really need to know their backstories. It was hard enough explaining his own to people who'd forgotten that there were more than two McCormick children.

One of whom was here and chatting with the person seated next to her.

Kevin frowned. At first he thought he'd come to the Alateen meeting by mistake, but most of the attendees hadn't been teenagers in decades. Karen must have felt his gaze on her, because she turned her head, her eyes widening when she saw him.

She excused herself and walked over to where Kevin was standing.

"This isn't Alateen," he said.

She swallowed. "I know."

He rubbed at his face. "Why, Kare?"

"You of all people should know better than to ask me that."

"Is it the nightmares?"

"It's everything, Kevin. It's fucking everything."

She sounded like she was about to cry, so he put his arm around her and led her outside. She told him, between sobs, that she was sorry to disappoint him, but that things were hard for her, too. Besides the nightmares, which she struggled to keep hidden from Kenny, there was having to deal with their parents' occasional jail sentence, and having to pretend that she was happy all the time while trying to keep her shit together for Stan, who was struggling to keep his together. Kevin's relapse last year hadn't helped, although she'd been quick to assure him she'd been drinking long before then.

It didn't make him feel any better.

Then she told him about this bitch in VoTech who resented whenever Karen did anything better than she did. She not only trash talked Karen, she kept fucking with Karen's station whenever she wasn't looking. Apparently she also had the major hots for Kenny, and Karen promised she would kill the fucking bitch before letting her anywhere near her brother.

When she was done explaining everything that had been going wrong in her life, she wiped her face and gave him a watery smile.

"So yeah," she admitted. "I'm an alcoholic. Please don't tell Kenny. You know he'll blame himself."

"I won't, but I think you should tell him, when you're ready." He looked over at the church and back to his sister. "So. Is this how you and the jock..."

She laughed. "Of course not. Well, kind of. We met there, and then he started coming to the school to get his haircut, and I've always thought he was kind of cute."

"Always?" he asked with a raise of his eyebrows. "I should have killed him back then."

She gave him a weak punch and laughed. "'re not upset? I mean...about me?"

"Of course I'm upset," he said, resting his head on hers. "I wouldn't wish this on anyone, let alone my sister."

"Life's a bitch and then you die," she murmured back.

He wanted to tell her that wasn't true, but his sister wasn't a little kid anymore. She'd just admitted she wasn't the eternal optimist he and Kenny had believed her to be. If Karen could have dark days and find escape in the bottom of a bottle, life pretty much was a bitch.

"Most of the time," he settled on.

"Not right now?" she asked, slipping her arm around his waist.

"No," he agreed. "Not right now."

May 2020

"I got nasty habits," Kevin sang as he removed one of the calipers from the car Randy Marsh had dropped off earlier. "I take tea at three..."

"Kevin!" his father bellowed from the kitchen.

"Fucking hell," Kevin swore as he nearly dropped the caliper on the brake hose. He carefully positioned it where it wouldn't fall and leaned back on the milk crate he was using as a stool.

"What?!" he yelled back toward the house.

"Some girl's on the phone asking for you!"

Kevin couldn't have possibly heard him right. He went to his truck to turn down the stereo and yelled for his father again, but he didn't get an answer. The reason was apparent when he went in the kitchen to find the wall phone's handset just dangling from the cord. He had no idea where his father had disappeared to so quickly.

He put the phone to his ear. "Yeah?"

It had been a few years since he'd last spoken to her, but he'd recognize her voice anywhere. The last woman – no, the last person – Kevin expected to be asking for him was Shelly Marsh. Except of course she wasn't looking for him, she was looking for Kenny.

It surprised him how much that fucking hurt. He was tired of being treated like Kenny's personal bitch, and he told her so. Then she grudgingly admitted that she felt the same way about her brother, and then she surprised him by going off on a mini rant about Stan and how he had her phone and she had to be back at school to do this thing, and now she was stuck out in Boulder with no car and no way to pick hers up in South Park. Kevin looked out the window at the car on jack stands.

"You need a ride?" he offered.

She was clearly not thrilled with the idea, and then he felt it was only fair to warn her that if he picked her up, her car wasn't going to be ready when they got back. Her insistence that he had no way of knowing when the car would be ready meant that Randy hadn't told her who was working on it, and why would she ever think it would be him? He tried dropping a few hints, but she was too annoyed with him and her brother to figure it out, and he was enjoying himself too much to come right out and tell her.

In a way, it was like they were back in middle school. He teased her, she got mad, and then there would be the inevitable sexual reference. That it was Shelly who said it, even accidentally, was even better. He even got her to say please.

"Dad!" he yelled after hanging up the phone. "Where the fuck did you go?"

"He's in the bathroom, stinking it up for the rest of us," his mother said as she walked into the kitchen. She opened the refrigerator and took out a can of Milwaukee's Best.

"Listen, Ma. I have to do something. I should be back in a few hours."

"Where are you going that's going to take a few hours? You still have that car out there. Isn't someone expecting it to be done today?"

"Yeah," he said, "but it'll be fine. She'll understand."

His mother waved a hand in the air dismissively and then went back to the living room with her beer.

He went back out to make sure that Shelly's car was locked, then up to his room to scrub the grease from his hands. He hesitated for a moment before grabbing an unlabeled tape from the crate he used as a nightstand. He was going to need something to listen to on the way to Boulder, and probably the way back, if Shelly was in a pissy mood. Which she usually was around him.

He made pretty good time; the traffic on the way to Shelly's school wasn't bad, and when Live With Me ended and the country version of Honky Tonk Woman began to play, he sang along with that, too.

He was particularly proud of his slide-in tape deck. He'd acquired it when he still had the Caprice, the entire set-up, with the matching housing unit in his room to replace the one he'd had in middle school. He'd had to do a bit of rewiring and a lot more talking to audio nerds to get it to work, but he'd done it, and now it was easy peasy for him to move his music from house to truck and back.

If Shelly didn't like his taste in music, that was too bad. Everyone knew the driver was in charge of the music.

He found her dorm without too much trouble. He was more familiar with Denver than with Boulder, but he'd made a few trips out here with Mike when they were still in high school. Mike had grown facial hair that made him look older, and Kevin was good at pretending he belonged somewhere even when he didn't, so it had always been pretty easy to get into college parties.

When Shelly opened the door to her room, she didn't look happy to see him. He was alone in her room, waiting for her to use the bathroom, when he heard a low groan from beneath a pile of blankets.

"You must be Kevin," a scratchy voice announced.

"You must be hungover," he replied, which prompted her to pull the covers down far enough that he could see her eyes and a few stray curls – red – stuck to her face.

"Brenda," she corrected, moving her head from side to side to free her mouth from the blankets. She winced, as Kevin knew she would. Moving your head was never a good idea when you were hungover.

He leaned the chair back on two legs and looked around the room. The parties he'd been at were in frat houses or the men's dorms, and he'd never been lucky enough to get invited back to a girl's room. It didn't look much different than Karen's bedroom, at least the way it looked now, with posters of teen heartthrobs and kittens in comical poses. The similarities ended there, though, because Karen was his sister, and this room was occupied by three females that weren't related to him. Some of the dresser drawers held bras and underwear, maybe even the kind that hot chicks wore.

"So, Kevin," Brenda croaked. "You and Shelly."

"What about me and Shelly?"

"You got a thing going on?"

He nearly toppled over backward, but he managed to set the chair back down on all four legs. It was unlikely that Shelly had said anything to give her roommate that impression, so this was obviously a set-up.

"Nope," he replied, figuring the less said, the better.

"She's never mentioned you before."

That he could believe. He kept his mouth shut. One thing he learned was that if you didn't say anything, other people would find the need to fill in the silence. Brenda was no different.

"It was nice of you to give her a ride home."

"It's no big deal." Jesus, how far down the hall was the fucking bathroom, anyway? Shelly should have been back by now.

"How do you know Shelly?" Brenda persisted.

"We've known each other forever," he said.

"Forever. That's a long time."

"Yep. A long time," he agreed. He was tired of fielding questions that were only going to piss Shelly off when Brenda talked to her later, so he started drumming the intro to Start Me Up on his thighs.

"Shhhh," Brenda said, burrowing back into her blankets.

He didn't start singing right away; he mostly made grunting noises in place of the lyrics until he heard the doorknob turn.

"I've been running hot; you got me Rick Rolled and I blow my top..."

She scowled at him, and then she grabbed her jacket and her keys and walked to the truck. She looked even less impressed with his truck than with his singing, and he didn't even get a chance to open the door for her or at least warn her that it stuck a little bit. She stared straight ahead and through the windshield the moment he closed the door behind her, and he shrugged. This was actually going better than he'd expected, so if she wanted to sit and sulk the entire ride, that was fine.

It wasn't, really, but he would still try to make the best of it.

She was quiet during the trip, so quiet that it took a while before he realized that she'd fallen asleep.

And then they ran into traffic.

Shelly's family wasn't exactly rich, but she was definitely used to a few more comforts than Kevin was, because she started to fidget. He felt a little bad for her; even Karen, who was used to being in cars without A/C, got a little car sick at times.

When he suggested taking a detour, she surprised him by agreeing. He sang along with the radio, hoping in vain that Shelly might join in. She didn't, but they started talking like old friends for a short while, before he opened his mouth and ruined it by saying something about her mom's tits.

He knew it was a mistake the second the words left his mouth. Kevin tended to say what was on his mind, and this time it was no different, because he retaliated with an accusation that Shelly was shallow just because of that douchey asshole on Facebook she'd dated. He knew the guy; he'd actually done a few oil changes on the guy's BMW, when he'd brought it to VoTech for cheap labor. His favorite part was dealing with the complaints afterward.

And the cock jockey complained about everything. He'd complained if the paper mat had been left in the car because he wasn't getting it back the way he'd left it. If Kevin took the fucking mat out, the chode then complained that Kevin's boots had dirtied his brake and gas pedals. He'd even complained that the radio stations were reset or the volume had been adjusted, even though Kevin never touched anything inside the car unless it was directly related to the job he was doing.

Kevin usually kept his mouth shut, but there was something about that guy that got to him, so one day when he was asking for his Beamer to be brought around, Kevin had jumped at the chance to correct him and explain that a Beamer had two wheels and a Bimmer had four.

Apparently rich assholes got to call their overpriced toys whatever they wanted, though, and someone like Kevin, who had been driving the Chevy Caprice at the time, was just talking out of his ass and couldn't possibly know the difference.

The guy was such a self-absorbed asshole, he obviously had a small dick. Kevin told Shelly as much, which actually made her laugh. When she suggested stopping to check out Elks Falls, it took him a while to realize she was serious.

He didn't think he'd ever driven his truck as fast as he did, and she was still laughing when he pulled into a parking spot. When he opened the door for her, she nearly fell out of the truck, and for the first time since their prom, Shelly Marsh was in his arms. The moment didn't last for long, because she pushed him away almost immediately, but it had been long enough to make him wish things were different between them.

It was a long hike, but he enjoyed the time they spent together. He wasn't used to seeing Shelly look anything but annoyed, but she seemed to be actually interested in the various sights. He was more interested in watching her, and when she was in danger of getting sunburned, he offered her his hat.

It was stupid, but he liked the way Shelly looked wearing it.

If he didn't know any better, he'd swear he caught her checking him out a time or two, but he'd thought the same thing about other girls, and it had always just been wishful thinking. She didn't seem to hate him quite as much as she used to, so there was that, at least.

Until they were back on the road and the truck got a flat tire.

Shelly didn't handle adversity well, he learned. She screamed at him about the tire; she didn't appreciate any sort of teasing; and she blamed him for the phone when she was the one who threw it, just because she thought he was next to useless in a crisis. A flat tire wasn't even a crisis, for fuck's sake.

Then there had been the incident with the skunk.

She'd collided with him suddenly, causing him to fling the lug nuts off into the distance. It hadn't seemed like a major setback, because it wasn't like he'd deliberately chucked them in the woods or anything, but they were both tired and it was getting dark, and Kevin was still reeling from having Shelly's entire body plastered against his.

Finally, he'd had enough. He was done looking for the lug nuts; he was sure they were just covering the same old ground. Shelly was yelling at him so much all he wanted to do was haul her back in his arms and shut her up by covering her mouth with his. It wasn't fair that he got turned on when she was mad at him. Or punched him. Or was just near him.

He was glad she'd stubbornly tried to sleep in the cab of the truck before joining him in the back, because the last thing he needed was for Shelly Marsh to see the fucking tent in the front of his sweatpants. He pretended that he had to take a piss, just so he could jack off in the woods, because really, there was only so much a guy could take. He was even careful to avoid letting any of the plant life come near his dick, because one time his brother had nearly died from getting poison ivy on his junk.

That taken care of, he rummaged in the back for something to eat until Shelly decided to join him. After sharing his meal with her, there was nothing left to do but try to get some sleep. He could hear her sigh as she settled down on the pile of blankets she was using as a bed.

He knew how she felt. She was only stuck with him for the night, but he had to live every day being Kevin McCormick.

When Kevin woke up in the morning, slightly disoriented, the first thing he noticed was the painful cramp in his neck, followed by the realization that his arm was asleep. It took him a moment to recognize his surroundings, and when he lifted his head, it immediately lolled forward, causing his nose to smash right into the skull of the person responsible for his discomfort.

He swore under his breath and tried to pull his pinned arm free, wincing at the pins and needles sensation. It would be easier to just push her off, but he'd swear he could still hear her shaky little breaths from last night, the same sounds he used to hear from Karen's bed.

The first time he'd really noticed it from Karen had been years ago. Kenny had gone missing that night – had been missing for days, in fact, and although Kevin couldn't remember why now, they'd been convinced that he was dead. Kevin had woken up when he'd heard Karen's breathing and had panicked, thinking that his sister was dying, too. He'd flung himself out of his bed and knelt down next to hers to check on her.

She'd been crying and trying unsuccessfully to hide that fact, but the moment she'd realized Kevin was there, she'd sat up and held out her arms. Kevin had hugged her, because she'd obviously wanted him to and because she hadn't expected him to say anything. Kevin had been relieved that all he needed to do was hold her, and that's what he'd done until she was all cried out.

Shelly Marsh had been like that last night. She'd been crying, and he hadn't even thought about what he was doing. She fought him at first, but then she'd given up and curled her fingers into the front of his shirt, sobbing loudly. It was for that reason that Kevin was now reluctant to move her just so he could get up and stretch.

Fuck, he had to take a piss, though. He rolled her off a little more forcefully, wincing at the sound of her shoulder hitting the floor of the bed, and scrambled over the side of the cab. His legs were asleep, too, and he stumbled a bit before making his way into the woods, where he relieved himself.

When he was done, he scratched the back of his head and stretched, arching his back as much as he could. He could use a hearty breakfast, or at least a bit of jerky, but first they had to get moving.

He opened the door to the truck and pulled the bag of rice from behind the seat. Once he'd retrieved Shelly's phone and battery, he reassembled it and pressed the power button. It turned on, and the screen didn't seem to have any lasting water damage, so he left it on the seat where Shelly would see it when she woke up.

In the meantime, there was still a handful of lug nuts to be found.

December 2020

Kevin was up in his room, trying to wrap Karen's Christmas present and using way too much tape, when he heard his father yelling at him from inside the house about one of his friends on the phone. Fucking Mike. He'd told that asshole not to prank call here anymore.

He was annoyed when he picked up the phone, until he realized who it was.

"Shelly?" he asked. The first time she'd called him, it had been an accident; he never would have imagined there would ever be a second time.

Something was obviously wrong. Shelly Marsh was calling him in the middle of the night, and she didn't sound drunk. He didn't think he'd ever seen her drink. Then he went and fucked it all up by misunderstanding the reason for her call. She hung up on him after that, which served him right.

She hadn't sounded angry, though, and he felt a little sick to his stomach. He didn't know what to do with a Shelly who wasn't pissed at him. He had to fix this.

He placed the phone back on the receiver and walked out of the house, straight over the tracks, and to the Marsh's house. He had no idea which room was Shelly's and he didn't want to waste time trying to figure it out, so he went in the backyard to find the hide-a-key rock that Randy used when he came home drunk.

He knew her room was upstairs, but the first door he tried was Stan's room, and he ended up seeing way more of Karen's boyfriend than he ever wanted to.

Fortunately, he found Shelly's room before walking in on her parents, but he still managed to put his foot in his fucking mouth again. It was a miracle she didn't try to throw him out the window.

Instead, she invited him to sit on her bed.

He was in Shelly Marsh's bed, the place where his mind had played out a number of fantasies over the years. When she curled up next to him, it was only natural that he'd put his arm around her. It was hard to understand her when she started talking, not just because he was focused on how good she smelled, but because she started in the middle of a conversation she must been having in her head. He didn't care. He was in Shelly's bed, and she was even letting him touch her. And then she kissed him.

She kissed him.

Oh, God, she was kissing him, and it wasn't enough. It would never be enough. He fucked her mouth with his tongue, and dry humped himself on her, and she let him do it.

Of course she regretted it almost immediately, and Kevin should have gotten up and spared her further embarrassment, but he didn't want to go. On the plus side, she didn't seem to want him to leave, either.

He dozed off, and she must have, too, because she was sleeping when he jerked awake. He hated to leave her, but for starters, he'd broken into her house, and then there was the matter of the partially dried, sticky mess in his pants. He wanted to kiss her good-bye, but he'd feel like a creeper doing that while she was asleep.

He didn't want to leave, but he knew he had to, and although he'd come in through the front door, he left out her window.

They didn't see each other again until after his birthday.

Kevin might have thought the entire night in Shelly's room had been a dream except that he could recall everything in vivid detail. The softness of her pajamas, the curves of her body, the taste of her. He relived that kiss on a nightly basis, jacking it while he did so. He wanted to call her, but even if he had her cell phone number, calling her might be a mistake. Just because she'd wanted to talk to him then didn't mean she wanted to talk to him now.

Apparently she did, though, because she came to see him right after New Year's. He was filthier than usual, having just finished an oil change on his truck, and he wished he'd known she was stopping by. They made awkward small talk for a while, and then she managed to drop an even bigger surprise by asking him to fuck her.

He stared at her stupidly for several seconds before she turned away, her face full of regret. He went after her immediately, because it wasn't every day that a lifelong dream was being offered.

What he wanted to do was to lay her down on the ground right there. His fist was a poor substitute for a pussy, no matter how much lotion he used. He might have an active imagination when it came to sex, but this was real life.

And it was because this was real life that he realized what this must be all about, and he felt sick to his stomach. Shelly hadn't come to see him until after she'd gone to visit a friend for the holiday. This was obviously some kind of college prank, or a dare, or some stupid college hazing thing she had to do. She was clearly not comfortable being here and he was stupid for thinking for even a second that she wanted him like that.

Fuck, why couldn't she have at least come to see him after church or something, when he didn't look like...well, like this.

He let go of her arm. "Yeah. Well, now you can go back to your college friends and tell them whatever."

At least there was a small amount of satisfaction in being the one to walk away this time, except Shelly followed him, insisting that wasn't what this was all about. He so badly wanted to believe her, but this was Shelly. He didn't dare hope for the impossible.

It nearly killed him, but he gave her a choice. If she still wanted him when she was home for spring break, great, and if not...

Well, if not, he was certainly no stranger to spanking it.

She didn't change her mind.

When he brought her to his room, it was the first time anyone outside his family had been up here. He tried putting her at ease, even telling her about the damn cat that had moved in around the same time he did. Shelly was nervous, probably more than he was, and as much as he wanted to fuck her through the mattress, he didn't want her to regret it. It would kill him if she did.

That she was here meant she still wanted this, still wanted him. It was a good thing he was sober, because he wanted to remember this when it was over.

Which, after a number of awkward starts and some petty bickering between them, it was, all too quickly. He would swear she'd been close, and then he didn't know what happened. He only knew that she couldn't get away from him fast enough, and all he'd done was what he thought she'd wanted.

He walked her home, despite her protests, even though he could see her fucking house from his front yard.

Afterward, he lay in bed and played it over in his mind. He could still taste her on his tongue. Shelly hadn't minded that he'd gone down on her. From the grip she had on his hair and her sexy, throaty little moans, she'd been really fucking into it. What had he done wrong?

Her initial reactions provided a whole new bunch of images for his spank bank, and he guiltily jerked himself off so hard, he was chafed when he was done. He didn't care. He'd swear he'd been so fucking close to getting her off, but judging from Shelly's hasty escape, he'd never get another chance to make up for it.

Like many things in his life, he was wrong about that, too, but for once it was a good thing.

He hadn't wanted to deal with Stan's fucking car, but fortunately he'd never been able to say no to Karen, because he never would have imagined that a dented fender would be his ticket to a second chance with Shelly.

Karen knew something was up. She'd given Kevin looks the entire time Shelly and her mom were there, but she didn't say anything. It was possible he was wrong, and that Karen didn't suspect anything, but he doubted it.

The second time they tried, Kevin actually managed to get his dick in her, but Shelly still hadn't reached orgasm. She actually cried when it was over, because she'd been a fucking virgin, and Kevin felt horrible about it. It should have been obvious, with the way she didn't know what Astroglide was, or how she couldn't ride him because she didn't know what to do. He'd just thought her previous boyfriends had been lousy lays, not that she'd saved herself for him. Not that she hadn't really saved herself for him, but he'd ruined her first time anyway.

He didn't know what to do, so he went to the one person he could talk to about this.

"You've got to be fucking kidding me," Eric Cartman said as he opened the door.

Kevin had been thinking the same thing. Kenny's friend hadn't gone off to college; he'd started his own business somewhere, or so Kevin had thought. He couldn't be expected to keep track of Eric Cartman's exploits if his own brother, Cartman's sometime-best-friend, couldn't.

He hadn't even considered the possibility that Cartman would still be living with his mom, too.

Despite the awkwardness this presented, this was important to Kevin, and he really needed to speak to Liane.

"Is your mom home?"


"Why what?"

"Jesus Christ," Cartman muttered under his breath. "Poor and stupid." A little louder, actually, a lot louder, like Kevin was deaf, he asked, "why are you looking for my mom?"

Liane must have been in the kitchen, because she appeared behind her son. "Oh," she chirped. "Kevin is just here to unclog the toilet upstairs, the one that you –"

"Fehn, Mom!" Cartman interrupted, looking almost embarrassed.

He stepped aside and gestured toward the stairs. "You'd better get to work. I just had my mom's super pancake surprise," he patted his belly, "so I'll be needing to use it again later."

"I'm sorry," Liane told Kevin when he was arm deep in her toilet. "I didn't know what else to tell him."

"It's fine," he said, even though this was the single most disgusting job he'd ever had to do.

Thankfully, Liane let him take a shower when he was done, and she even let him borrow some clothes that belonged to who the fuck knew, and he was walking into her bedroom, clean shirt in hand, when she began undressing.

"No!" he said, waving his hands frantically. He yanked the shirt over his head. "That's not why I'm here."

"All right, then," she said, sitting down on the bed. "What can I do for you?"

"I have this..." he swallowed. "There's this..."


His stomach went all fluttery at the thought.

"Yeah, kind of," he said, because that particular detail didn't really matter as far as Liane was concerned. He sat in the chair at Liane's vanity. "But she...we...I..."

She patted his knee and smiled at him encouragingly.

He squeezed his eyes shut and blurted it out. "She was a virgin."

"Ooooh," Liane said. "I see."

He opened one eye. "You do?"

"Yes. Have you been with many women since we did the waterfall?"

The blood ran straight to his cock as he remembered that one. He'd been practically upside down, hanging off the bed, as Liane had mounted his pole from above, and the idea of doing something like that with Shelly...fuck.

"No," he croaked, wishing he still had the shirt in his hands so he could hide his erection. He hadn't actually had sex with the other women he'd been with after Liane. There had been a few hand jobs and one titty fucking, but he'd never had Kenny's knack for getting pussy, not even when he was still a regular at the bars. Now that he was sober, his social life was nonexistent, as was his sex life.

"I see," she said again. She was quiet for a moment, and then she asked, "did she cry?"

He covered his face with his hands. "Yes."

"Did she tell you she hoped your little German soldier shriveled up and fell off?"

"What? No!"

"So what did she say after she stopped crying?"

Kevin scrunched up his face in thought. "She said...that it wasn't as bad as I thought."

Liane clapped her hands together. "Oh, that's wonderful! She was worried about your feelings. Did she say she never wanted to do it again?"

"I don't think so. She said it must get better after the first time."

Liane was smiling widely, like this was the best news ever. "She wants to try again, but she's afraid to."

Kevin wasn't sure why Liane was acting like it was good news. Trying to do it again with Shelly when she was scared wasn't exactly going to make her pussy more relaxed.

Liane scooted back on her bed and pulled her knees up to her chest. "What are you going to do now?"


"Of course you. She's inexperienced. You have to be her guide."

"I don't know what to do."

"You do," Liane insisted. "You just have to pay attention to what she wants, not what you think she wants. Go slowly and pay attention to what her body is telling you. You can't go full pile driver; sometimes you have to stir the pot with just the tip. Especially someone as big as you. All the men in your family are rather big, you know."

Massive stroke to his ego aside, he'd forgotten how open and nonjudgmental Liane was about sex. They spent the next hour talking about foreplay and watching his "girlfriend's" face for additional clues to what felt good for her. He hoped Liane was right and that Shelly really was interested in giving it another go, because he wouldn't fuck it up this time. He hoped.

Before he left, Liane grabbed his hands in hers.

"One more thing, Kevin. There isn't much you can do about these," she rubbed her finger over his calluses, "except maybe a little lotion. They actually can feel quite good in the right places. But you definitely need to do something about these." She grabbed one of his hangnails and tugged it sharply. Kevin would swear she'd just pulled the skin from his cuticle all the way up to his neck, but he got the point.

"Thank you, Liane," he said, giving her a quick hug and a kiss on the cheek, then jumping back when he realized his erection had brushed against her. Getting hard to begin with had been a complete accident, so it was good that Liane didn't seem to notice he'd nearly poked her with it. Or more likely, she noticed but didn't think anything of it.

"Have fun," she said, waving good-bye.

He was feeling much better about everything as he walked down the stairs, but he'd completely forgotten about her son, who was standing there waiting with his arms crossed.

"Nice shirt," he commented. "Looks like it took quite a while to get cleaned up after you fixed the toilet," he said.

"We were just talking," Kevin said, because he wasn't good at coming up with a lie off the top of his head.

"I see," Cartman said, steepling his fingers together. "Just talking."

"That's right."

"Maybe you should find someone more like you to ‘talk' to next time, you poor piece of shit."

"Suck my dick, asshole. Your mom and I are just friends."

"Friends," Cartman mused. "Yes, well, the only benefits she's ever going to need from you are the kind where you are on your knees, cleaning my shit out of the toilet."

Kevin grabbed him by the throat and squeezed just enough to make Cartman take him seriously.

"And the only thing she needs from you is respect. She's your mom, you ungrateful piece of shit."

"Touché," Cartman said when Kevin let go. "I trust we understand each other, then."

Kevin understood that Kenny was a fucking saint for putting up with this asshole for as long as he had. He nodded, eager to get the fuck out of here before his already fading good mood was complete ruined. He brushed past Cartman and opened the front door.

"Hey, white trash," the douche-hat called out.

Kevin turned, and Cartman slapped something into his hand before turning Kevin toward the door and pushing him out. The door slamming behind him was hardly a surprise, but the little manicure kit sitting in his palm was.

Liane had been right that Shelly was willing to give it another try. It was months before he got another chance, but once he'd finally gotten it right, sex with Shelly became a semi-regular thing.

He'd always known that Shelly was passionate; someone that quick to anger just had to be. He also knew that she was self-conscious, which was obvious from the loose baggy clothes she wore. She actually considered herself fat, which was fucking ridiculous. Shelly had awesome tits, curvy hips, and in between, mostly flat abs leading to the hint of a little round belly. He loved the way each and every one of those curves felt pressed against him.

Occasionally he'd call on Liane for advice, but he found he needed to less often, because Shelly was hesitantly adventurous in bed. Liane had been right about paying attention, because once they were fucking on a regular basis, Shelly grew more confident in taking control. She also had a filthy porn star mouth when she was close to coming, even though she refused to make eye contact with him after.

He began measuring things in a series of firsts. The first time Shelly had dared to wrap her fingers around his dick. The first time she'd let him kiss her after he'd used his mouth on her. The first time she accidentally let out a fart in front of him, while not sexy or pleasant, was a sign that things between them were changing.

They went out a few times, but rarely. Shelly tended to prefer quiet evenings together, watching TV or just getting to know each other's bodies. The trips to Boulder were always too long, and his time there always too short, but he preferred being the one to make the drive since his schedule wasn't as demanding.

There was one time when they'd gone to the dollar store together. Kevin had been changing the oil in her car, with Shelly acting as his assistant and, in general, just keeping him company, when he'd decided he needed a new chamois, and he needed it right then. Once they were in the store, he'd convinced her to play a game that he used to play with Kenny when they were kids, the one where they would take turns renaming various items into something suggestive or inappropriate.

They were in the soap aisle when Shelly had blurted out "anus filled" for "apple fields," then slapped both hands over her mouth. He'd declared her the winner, because there was nothing he could say after that without laughing. She'd blushed furiously, but he suspected she was actually proud of her victory.

Following Liane's advice, Kevin was as patient as he knew how to be, even outside the bedroom. They fought and made up; they developed their own in-jokes, and Shelly was slowly learning to appreciate that the Rolling Stones were the greatest band to walk the earth.

One of the times she was home for the holidays, he'd walked her to the door of her parents' house after watching a movie in his room. They were laughing at some stupid line from the movie and he'd reached up to brush her hair out of her face when her laughter had faded, and she'd stared at him so intently he'd swear she could see into his soul. They'd ended up making out against her parents' house, Shelly's fingers clawing at his hair while his hand was cupping her ass. They'd barely made it up to her room, leaving a trail of discarded clothes all over her bedroom floor. He'd blown his load way too quickly that night, but she managed to bring herself off just by riding his thigh, which was another first for both of them. He'd had to sneak out the window in the morning, but the kiss she gave him before he left told him she didn't regret it.

In Kevin's mind, the "girlfriend" label Liane had used had never been more accurate.

June 2023

As far as Kevin was concerned, everything was going great; in fact, it was as close to perfect as anything in his life had ever been. They'd been seeing each other for nearly two years; Shelly had recently graduated college and got a job; and Kevin had finally managed to convince her to wear something that fit, something that made her look twenty pounds slimmer and ten times more fuckable. She seemed a lot more confident dressed like that, too.

When Shelly was invited to her college roommate's wedding, she asked Kevin to go with her. Of all the milestones they'd reached, this was probably the most significant, but Kevin was more concerned that he might have to dance with Shelly in front of other people. When the day finally came, it turned out that he'd worried for nothing. Almost no one at the wedding actually knew how to dance. They either flailed their arms around during the fast songs or snuggled together and swayed to the music during the slow ones (except for that one couple who were practically fucking each other through their clothes). So he danced with Shelly, and it wasn't the fiasco he'd always feared it would be. In fact, he really liked the way she felt in his arms, and he was sorry when the song ended.

And then he wasn't sure exactly what the fuck happened.

One day they were practically living together, and the next, Shelly came storming up to Liane Cartman's house, where Kevin was once again working on the damn toilet because her son apparently needed some fucking fiber in his diet. He hadn't known what to expect when Liane came upstairs to get him, but he'd been surprised to see Shelly standing at the front door. After his initial shock, he realized that she'd totally jumped to the wrong conclusion. He couldn't fucking believe it. After everything they'd been to each other, how could Shelly possibly think he was fucking Liane? How could she think he'd even want any other woman?

She did though, and because she did, she got him all twisted around. He probably should have told Shelly about his friendship with Liane, especially since many of their conversations revolved around sex, but he hadn't wanted to admit that those conversations were all for Shelly's benefit, because she'd be mortified. He also wanted to explain that he was also there working on the fucking toilet, but she hadn't even given him a chance. She'd punched him instead, like she'd done so many times before, and told him that she hated him, like she'd always done, but this time it fucking hurt.

This time she really fucking meant it.

November 2023

It was a clear day, despite the forecast calling for snow, and Kevin was grateful for the reprieve, because it was going to be a long enough drive as it was. He'd just opened the door to his truck when Karen came running up to him.

"Kevin, wait!"

He turned just in time, because she threw her arms around him and squeezed as tight as she could.

"Hey, Kare," he greeted her, trying halfheartedly to pry her loose.

"Don't you 'Kare' me, Kevin," she scolded, and she let him go so she could take a step back and shake a finger at him.

"What?" he asked, raking his fingers through his hair.

She snorted. "You know damn well what."

Kevin shook his head. "I don't."

She gave him a none-too-gentle shove on his shoulder. "You do."


"Kevin," she murmured, and this time when she wrapped her arms around him, he hugged her back, sighing heavily.

She couldn't possibly understand what it was like. She was still the baby of the family, and she had a new husband who adored her and who'd actually stood up to her overprotective brothers despite fearing for his life. Kevin had reluctantly respected him for that, but he was envious, too.

"It's Shelly, isn't it?" she asked, her lips moving against his chest.

Kevin snorted.

"Kevin..." her voice held a thread of warning. Kevin loved his sister, but sometimes she just didn't get it.

"What do you want me to say? That I want her to get her head out of her ass and listen? It's not like it matters. When have I ever gotten what I wanted?"

Karen was silent for a moment, then she asked, "Who's the greatest rock band in our lifetime?"

"Kare Bear, have I taught you nothing? Don't disrespect the Stones like that."

"And who's the greatest philosopher who ever lived?"

"Mick Jagger. Come on, Kare."

"Then you know you can't always get what you want."

He laughed then, a resigned sort of laugh. "Yeah. Story of my life."

She put her head on his shoulder. "But if you try sometimes..."


"Kev," she admonished right back.

They stood like that for a while, and then Karen sighed. "OK, maybe it feels to you like Shelly doesn't think that you're worth it, but you have to put yourself in her shoes. Have you ever thought that she thinks she's not worth it? Maybe just once she'd like to think that she was worth fighting for."

He kissed the top of her head and gently pushed her away. "I know. I love you, kid, but where the fuck did you think I was going dressed like this, anyway?"

She took in the suit he was wearing, opened her mouth, closed it, then opened it again. And closed it. Then her face split into a satisfied grin. "You were not."

He was blushing; he knew he was and he hated it. The hotter his face felt, the wider Karen's smile grew.

"You were."

He shrugged.

"Oh, Kevin," she sighed, but this time it was one of those sighs she usually saved for her husband's embarrassingly romantic gestures. He wondered if his face could turn any redder than it already was.

"Oh," she said again, and shook her head. "I'm sorry. I just, but you were, oh, just go! Go!"

He ruffled her hair, because he could.

She patted his cheek and took a few steps back, so he could close the door and start the engine. He could see her waving to him from the side view mirror, even as he drove away. In a way, her well-meaning interference made him feel better about what he was planning to do.


Holiday Inn, Denver

90 minutes later

Kevin walked into the Aztec Ballroom and looked around. There was a table with a couple of name tag stickers on it; probably people who hadn't shown up. Another table had the class of 2013 yearbook propped up on it, along with a football jersey, a pair of pompoms, and a collage of pictures of their classmates, most of them from trips Kevin had never gone on.

It didn't matter. He wasn't here for them anyway.

He spied an empty table, one that didn't have dirty dishes and lipstick rimmed glasses on it, and stood on top of it.

"'Cause you're a sky, cause you're a sky full of stars," he shouted across the crowded room. Could she even hear him from where she was? He scanned the crowd, hoping he hadn't made a mistake in thinking Shelly was here.

"Excuse me," a young woman in a clingy dress told him, tugging on his pant leg. "That is totally not allowed."

He ignored her; he likely hadn't paid attention to her in high school, and he wasn't about to start now. A few people had noticed the commotion, but not the one person he needed to hear him make an ass out of himself.

"'Cause you're a skyyyyyy full of stars!" he continued singing, and now everyone was looking at him. "I'm gonna giiiive you my..." his throat closed suddenly, and he coughed a few times. "I uhhh, I don't care, go on and...staaaare at the part..."

Why the fuck did he pick this song of all songs? He didn't even know the words to the fucking thing. He was committed now, though, so he reached into his pocket and pulled out the wedding favor bubbles he'd stolen off a table full of place cards that he'd passed on his way in. It took a good number of tries to get a dozen bubbles, most of which popped before he could blow the next one. Fucking Coldplay had been a bad idea from the start.

"'Cause in a sky full of stars there was yoooou!"

He spotted her across the room then, standing next to some guy with over-styled hair. Her mouth was open in disbelief, but she was watching him. He tossed the bubbles over his shoulder before jumping off the table and making a bee line to Shelly's side of the room.

"So," he sang, wincing at the way his voice cracked. "So you think you can te-ell. Heaven from he-ell. Blue skies from pain."

Her lips quirked slightly, and then she punched him in the chest. "That's pain."

Cupping her face, Kevin leaned in to whisper, "keep that up and I might think you like me."

"I don't," Shelly retorted, and then she grabbed the lapels of his jacket and kissed him.

There was some polite applause at first, but then someone gave a shrill whistle, and there might have been actual cheering.

"I don't like you," Shelly murmured against his lips. "I actually hate you."

"Well, that sucks," he said, "because I actually love you."

Some of their classmates were still clapping, but most were bored now and talking amongst themselves. The buzz of conversation wasn't enough to distract Kevin from the sound of Shelly's breathing. When she finally responded, it was with three words he'd never expected to hear from any woman.

"I hate Coldplay."

"You do?"

"You know they don't make music like they used to."

"No," he agreed with a grin. "They don't."

"Like...Led Zeppelin."

"The fuck," he said, shaking his head.

She flicked his chin with her thumb and middle finger. "Nice mouth."

"Marsh," he said, putting his hands on Shelly's hips. "Are you trying to get in my pants? Because if you are, it's totally working."

"You're an idiot," she huffed, and then she took in a very deep breath and let it out slowly. "I didn't think you were coming to the reunion."

"I wasn't."

"It's kind of lame," she pointed out.

"Beyond lame," he agreed.

"Why did you come, then?"

"Why do you think?" he asked. He wished she were wearing jeans instead of a dress; he could have easily hooked his thumbs through the belt loops and pulled her closer. He had to settle for lightly stroking his thumb along the smooth fabric of the dress, one that actually showed off her figure instead of hiding it. On second thought, he was kind of digging the dress.

"I guess I owe you an apology," she said on a sigh.

"You do, huh?" His fingers itched to grab her ass, but he resisted the urge. There would be time enough for that later.

"I might have overreacted, that day at Eric's house."

Hope flared in his chest. "It wasn't what you were thinking."

"I know."

"Did Liane tell you?"

"No," Shelly shook her head. "She didn't need to."

Kevin was puzzled. It sounded like she'd figured it out, but something didn't feel right. He was at a loss what he could do next. He'd tried wooing her with a lame ballad. He'd even told her how he felt, and he hadn't even planned on that. OK, he'd totally planned on it, but not like that.

"I blamed you," Shelly said, touching a lock of his hair, "because it was easy to do. I think I always knew that whatever you were doing with Liane was nothing to worry about."

"So we're good then?"

Shelly lowered her hand. "We'd kill each other."

"But we'd have fantastic makeup sex afterwards."

"Probably," she said, taking a step back, "but that's all we'd have."

Kevin had lived through a lot of weird shit in South Park, but nothing – not genetically modified killer turkeys, not giant pirate Guinea pigs, not Mecha-streisands – had made him feel more like he was outside of his body, just watching this unfold.

"I don't see the problem," he said. Was that his voice? It didn't sound like him.

"That is the problem," Shelly snapped.

Just when he thought she was going to walk away, she grabbed his head with both her hands and kissed him again, really kissed him this time. It might have been the period of celibacy leading up to this moment, but as far as he was concerned, this was the Princess Bride of kisses.

He hadn't even realized his arms had gone around her until she pushed him away, causing him to nearly fall on his ass. With a sinking heart, he knew that the best fucking kiss of his life had been a good-bye. He knew it as surely as he knew when something Very Bad had happened to Kenny. He could hear his heartbeat thudding in his ears, and he forced his lips into something resembling a smile.

"Well, you know where to find me if you ever need me to scratch that itch between your legs," he said with a mock salute. "Nice swapping spit with you."

He wanted to break something. He wanted to break a lot of somethings, like the dishes on the tables and the tables themselves. It took every ounce of his control to just turn and walk away, and he immediately bumped into one of his old classmates. Kevin shoved him to the side, because it was either that or plant his fist in the guy's face, and he walked away without looking back. What was the point? Shelly had made her decision. Why had he ever thought he could change her mind?

He grabbed a plastic cup of watered down something or other on his way outside. He'd fallen off the wagon a few times, but he'd never been so tempted to drink in his life. He even brought it up to his nose to identify the contents as vodka before he hauled off and hurled the cup as hard as he could against the exterior wall of the hotel, where it bounced off harmlessly. It was the hardest thing he'd ever done, but fuck Shelly Marsh. If he wanted to piss away six years of sobriety, it wouldn't be because of that raging bitch.

"Are you OK?" a soft voice to his right asked. A small, slim hand touched his arm, and he turned to look right into the face of a young woman he'd never seen before.

"I am now," he said, chucking her under the chin and winking.

She blushed and bowed her head prettily, and Kevin thought the night might not be a complete bust. Even better, it would totally burn Shelly's ass if she found out.

"I'm Tina," the woman introduced herself.

"Kevin," he said, taking her hand in his. "You might want to remember that for later," he added with a wag of his eyebrows.

She blushed again. "I don't usually go up to strange men at parties. Not that I think you're strange!" she assured him. "It's just that I'm the only single person at this wedding," she jerked a thumb toward the hotel, "and it gets a little tedious after a while."

"Mmm hmm," Kevin said, assessing whether Tina's tits were real or not.

"Do you want to go somewhere, get a drink or a cup of coffee?"

"I'd love to," he said.

"Or," she suggested, "we could skip all that bullshit, go up to my room, and you could fuck me through the mattress."

Kevin stared at her in shock for several seconds, and then he grinned. "I like you, Tina."

What he didn't like, as he discovered when he leaned in to kiss her, was the stench of a recently smoked cigarette. He could feel the nausea building, and he fought to tamp it down. This was fucking ridiculous. He was nearly thirty years old; he couldn't go on like this forever. He took a step back and breathed deeply. He could do this, he could.

He looked at Tina, and he knew that he couldn't. Even if she hadn't reeked of cigarettes, he couldn't have gone through with it. Not tonight.

Tina looked at him, and he waited for the inevitable tirade. Instead, she shook her head and laughed, covering her face with her hands.

"Oh, thank God," she said, lowering her hands. "I told you I don't usually go up to strange men at parties. I don't know why I thought I should start now." She blew a stray lock of hair away from her face. "This was obviously a mistake. Not because of you personally, it's just that I'm not a one-night stand kind of girl. And no offense, because you seem like a really nice guy, Kevin, but I really don't know you all that well.

"And I'm sorry for whatever it is that's bothering you," she added. "Whatever it is that made you want to throw your drink at the wall, I hope it works out."

He wanted to laugh. Shelly had made it very clear that it was never going to work out, but Tina was a passing stranger, just like she said. He might have been tempted to fuck her, but he wasn't about to sit down and have a heart-to-heart. Now all he wanted was to go home, put on the TV, and watch the Three Stooges.

"Oh," Tina breathed. "I'm so very, very sorry, Kevin. I didn't realize."

"Realize what?"

She looked at him with sympathetic eyes. "You just had your heart broken."

This time he did laugh. "I'd have to give a shit first."

"Oh," Tina said, tapping her chin. "Hmm. That other ballroom inside. Your class reunion?"

"Yeah. Go Burros."

"I was close, then. Whatever it is you've done with your life since high school isn't as good as what everyone else has done. Well, as long as you're happy with what you're doing, fuck them." She squared her shoulders and took a deep breath. "I'd better get back in there. They must be tired of looking for single guys to hook me up with by now, right?" she asked hopefully.

Kevin shrugged one shoulder.

"You're probably right," she sighed. "But remember what I said. Don't let The Man get you down!"

She gave a little wave and went back through the doors, where Kevin could hear the Macarena booming over the speakers. That had been fucking bizarre, but at least it had distracted him for a little while. He still couldn't wait to put as much distance between himself and the douche-knockers that made up the Class of 2013, but he waited until he hit the highway before pressing his foot down on the gas as far as it would go.

The only casualty on the ride home was the mix tape that Kevin ejected from the window at eighty miles an hour, right when David Gilmour's acoustic guitar intro began. Kevin was in no mood to have Pink Floyd rub salt in his wounds. Gilmour was only half right. It wasn't Kevin who kept finding the same old fears. It was fucking Shelly who was afraid, and Kevin was done trying.

He was so fucking done.

He was watching Curly and Moe electrocute themselves in Monkey Businessmen when Karen knocked on his door the following day.


"Go away."

"I'm coming in, OK?"

"Do what you want. You're going to anyway."

The door opened slowly, and Kevin tried to pretend he was solely focused on the very long cord Larry Fine was pulling out of the wall. Karen sat down on the edge of the air mattress and pried the remote from Kevin's hand so she could pause the tape. He didn't miss the way she sniffed at him, either, to assess if he'd fallen off the wagon again.

"You didn't go to church this morning."

"I was sleeping," he lied. He hadn't exactly been feeling warm and fuzzy toward God that morning.

"I'm sorry," she said.

"And I'm fucking sick of everyone being sorry for shit they had nothing to do with."

"Don't be a douche-pickle, Kev. I'm just worried about you."

"I'm fine. I was fine yesterday, and the day before, and I'm fine now. And how many times have I told you not to use the Pause button? It's not good for the tape."

She aimed the remote at the VCR and hit the Stop button, then tossed the remote to the side.

"Do you remember when we were kids, when I'd have a bad dream and wake up in the middle of the night? And you'd know – you always knew – and you'd come sit next to me?"

"That was Kenny."

"That was sometimes Kenny. But it was always you."

He turned his head to look at her. "Then you were probably dreaming."

"No," she said quietly. "I wasn't. I was the luckiest girl alive because I didn't have just one guardian angel, I had two."

It was nice to hear her say that, but it didn't matter. He hadn't held her at night when she cried because he'd expected recognition. If he'd wanted that, he could have run around town in his underwear, too. Hell, he'd actually done that a time or two, but not for the same reasons Kenny had.

"Hey, want to give me that?" he asked, gesturing toward the remote. "You're the one who put it there."

She picked it up and dropped it on his chest.

"See you later," she said crisply. "I've got to go cut a bitch."

That got him out of bed. He grabbed Karen's arms and forced her to sit.

"Karen, no. Jesus, could one of us not end up in jail, please?"

Her eyes flashed. "I'm just so angry right now. That was like the most romantic thing I've ever seen, Kevin."

Fucking hell.

"Were you there? Were you spying on me?"

She looked offended. "Of course not! But it's all over yootube."

Great. His life was now complete. He could feel a headache coming on.

"Just keep away from her, OK?"

"Fine," she said, standing up. "On one condition."


"Are you asking me for yourself? Or for her?"

Karen didn't wait for an answer, and Kevin suspected the question had been for his benefit, not hers. He got right back in bed the moment the door closed behind his sister and pressed Play. Tomorrow he'd deal with life and work and all the bullshit that went with it, but not today. Tonight he just wanted to lie in bed and watch the Stooges.

Which apparently was asking too much, because there was another knock at the door. Fucking hell.

He hit the eject button on the remote by accident, and yelled, "What'd you forget?"

It wasn't Karen this time; it was his mother who walked through the door. He glared at her, waiting for the interrogation to begin. What was wrong with him; did he want to go to Hell for missing church; it was probably something he did wrong; when was he going to get a place of his own; did he ever remember to snake the drain in the tub?

She asked him none of those questions. Instead, she sat down on the edge of the bed, right where Karen had been, and stroked his hair like he was a little boy. At first, Kevin froze, like she was going to tell him she had cancer or something, but she didn't.

"It's OK," she said. "Your father's gone off with the other asshole fathers in this town to play ‘emu polo.' I'd like to kick that Randy Marsh right in the fucking nuts for bringing that stupid game to South Park, if Sharon doesn't beat me to it."

She hugged him and then rested her cheek on his head.

"I know it doesn't seem like it, and don't you dare tell your brother or sister this, but of all my children, I'm most proud of you. It's not that I'm not proud of Karen, for doing what she wanted even though I wanted her to go to college, or that I'm not proud of your brother for doing his best to keep this family together. I love all of you, but those two never had to fight half as hard as you did.

"I know you think your father blames you for how things turned out, but he was a drunk before I ever got pregnant. You're his first born son and he sees himself in you more than he ever will with Kenny. He loves all of you the same, but when he looks at you, it's like looking in a mirror and seein' all the places he screwed up. I know you're only stayin' in this shithole because you want to know we're going to be OK, what with Karen off and married and Kenny trying to save the world in his own way."

She sighed heavily.

"What I'm sayin' is if you feel that it's time to move into your own place, don't stay here just because you're worried about me or your father. It's not your fault we got ourselves mixed in with things we didn't understand. And I'm sorry, baby. I've always known how you felt. I just hoped things would work out different than they did."

"You knew?"

She brushed his hair away from his face. "You might look just like your father, but you're my son, too. It hurts now, Kevin, but it'll get easier. You don't stop dreaming just because you had a nightmare."

He threw his arms around his mother, nearly crushing her, and if he cried like a baby for just a while, that was their little secret.

He felt much better in the morning, in part, he suspected, thanks to his mother's visit the night before. It had meant a lot to him, and while he still felt empty inside, it wasn't going to last forever. It just felt like it would.

Just to be on the safe side, he rummaged through the box of coins on the TV stand until he found the bronze one with the VI on one side. It was purely symbolic, but he put it in his pocket anyway. He'd forgotten that today he was supposed to be helping Randy with the rain gutters, which meant he'd be doing the rain gutters while Randy sipped craft beer and told Kevin how he was doing it wrong. The coin wasn't much, but he needed all the help he could get.

The Marshes would be the death of him yet.