Kyle didn't notice Ethan come into Stan's room until he touched his shoulder. For a minute he thought it was Stan, in spite of the fact that he'd kept watch over Stan's parking spot outside since he left. Ethan smelled like cigarettes and had brought the cold in with him. Kyle wondered if he stood outside to smoke on his behalf, before realizing smoking was probably against their lease or something. He cynically pondered the un-anti-establishmentness of that, and thought about saying so out loud. But talking hadn't done him any favors tonight, so instead he said nothing.
"Are you okay?" Ethan asked. Kyle shrugged. The window to Stan's room was a color that may have once been white. But now it was splintered off in so many ways that it was just brown where the wood had been exposed. He wanted to pick at it but was afraid he'd get a splinter. It seems like a stupid thing to worry about now.
"Aren't you going to ask where Stan went?" He asked, as they both stared down at where the Corolla should be. He didn't mean it to sound confrontational. He knew that Ethan hadn't done anything wrong, but it felt like he had, and what was the difference anyway.
"I'm sure he has his fist in Eric Cartman's neck roll. Why don't you come to the living room and sit down. We can watch TV." Ethan's voice was calmer than normal. He wondered if this is how he spoke to Stan when he was upset. He wondered if Stan ever needed him to.
"My head hurts," Kyle said, as if this should explain everything.
"I'll get you Tylenol, come on," Ethan clamped his hand on Kyle's shoulder to pull him away from the wall. Kyle was sure that by now the bruise from Cartman's car window would be apparent. But he didn't feel embarrassed. If Ethan could spend his entire life wearing the same color, then he should be able to have a purple bruise run down his face for just one night. He was sure the logic was sound, as Ethan frowned at the mark when they walked into the light of the living room. The candles were lit now, and they lent the atmosphere a homier feel than earlier.
He sat soundlessly on the sofa and listened to the medicine cabinet opening in the bathroom, and a pill bottle shake.
"I don't want you to get me pills," he yelled across the apartment. "I want you to drive me to my house, or Cartman's house—wherever they are. Call him. But I want to go to where they are," he finished, suddenly feeling like he could change something.
"No, I'm not going to do that." Ethan stood in the doorway of the bathroom with a white pill bottle. "I played that show tonight. It hurts my throat to sing so much. Not very rock'n'roll I know—but I think I need to have some tea; not throw myself in the middle of someone else's drama."
Kyle shook his head, walking towards the door.
"What are you doing?" Ethan moved quickly to catch up with him.
"You don't understand." He knew he was whining. That this was the worst thing he could be saying if he wanted Ethan to take him seriously. Luckily, he wasn't that bothered at never being accepted as one of the goths.
"No. You don't," Ethan said, relaxing when Kyle turned to face him. "What Stan did to you—" he said carefully, fumbling with the lighter from his jean pocket. "He's not as OK as he pretends, alright? And when he comes back you two should talk about it. But until then, the right side of your face swollen and purple and I think you need an aspirin more than you need a confrontation with Stan and the person that did that to you."
Ethan shook two pills into his hand and offered them to Kyle. Kyle stared at them a moment before accepting them.
"Let's watch TV? Or listen to an album. That's what that shit is for, times like this," Ethan said, leading Kyle back over to the sofa.
Kyle watched the taller teen settle into the chair opposite of him. "I read a poem you might like," he said as if they were in English class together, and not in his apartment under these circumstances. "You like poems, right?" Kyle said, unsure suddenly.
Kyle he could see in this moment why Stan loved Ethan. He put the thought out of his mind and tried to remember the lines he wanted Ethan to hear.
"It goes; vanity, in a fairy tale, will make you evil. But in the real world vanity makes you nuts, it makes you say things like â€˜I deserved a better life than this.'"
"Yeah," Ethan said. Kyle was glad that he wasn't looking at him like he was strange or too tired to know what he was saying. "That's pretty goth."
"I thought so too," Kyle said, laying his head against the cushion and wondered if he was vain and that's all that's wrong with him. The cushion was cool under his cheek, like the wall of Stan's bedroom and the outside wall of Tweek Bros, like the window of Cartman's car. Ethan turned on the little TV that balanced on a folding table against the wall. Kyle got the sense that it wasn't used very often. Maybe just in times like this when no one was expected to talk. They watched an old episode of Star Trek, but Kirk and Spock hadn't even beamed down to the planet when he started to feel tugged into sleep.
When he woke up the TV was off and only two candles were still burning against the dark on the kitchen table. He was disoriented and laid completely still, his heart twitching in his chest as his brain tried to work out where he was. In the next room, which must be Ethan's bedroom, he could hear Stan talking.
"Of course he didn't," Stan said. "He's a coward, he's always been a coward."
Kyle stood at the door, and they both turned to look at him in a way that made him feel like he should apologize for interrupting.
"Is your head okay?" Stan asked. Kyle realized that his beanie must have come off completely while he slept. He could tell that his head was in fact not okay from the expression on Stan's face. He touched where he approximated his head hit the glass, not to feel for a lump, but to shield it from Stan.
"Do you feel good now?" Kyle asked instead of answering Stan's question. "Do you feel like you've done the right thing?" Kyle could see Ethan roll his eyes. Ethan could fuck off.
Stan ran his fingers through his hair. "Kyle—what was I supposed to do?"
"Nothing," Kyle said. "It's what you've been so good at. Why stop tonight." He was angry, but he still raked his eyes over Stan to make sure that Cartman hadn't hurt him too.
"Do you really think that I'm the bad guy here?"
"Bad guy?" Kyle laughed. "That is what you would think—that is how you would see this."
"What does that mean!" Stan yelled, slamming his hand against Ethan's dresser. "That I'm too stupid to understand some greater love between you and Cartman. He's a dick, he's worse—god I should have put an end to this months ago."
"It's not your job! And it isn't your decision! I'm not your fucking possession—that you can toss aside and then take back when Eric mishandles it!"
Stan looked down, and shook his head a little to the side, like he was waiting for a dream to end. When he looked back up, Kyle wondered if he was going to cry but Stan said simply. "It's Cartman. Kyle, you're letting Cartman hurt you." And Kyle realized that Stan was staring at the bruises on his neck again. Somehow it was more justification than anything Stan could say and he wished he could will his body to stop being evidence against him.
He wanted them both to stop staring, so he turned abruptly into Stan's bedroom and slammed the door. He would walk home if he didn't think Stan might follow him. He didn't want to find out if he would, either way. Outside the door he could hear Ethan tell Stan to leave him alone to calm down. Stan's room was small, but maybe it just felt that way since there were posters and pictures covering almost every inch of the walls. Kyle recognized some of them from before, but they seemed to be mostly covered by new interests, new bands, almost like Stan was wallpapering for his new life.
He lay down in the bed, and tried not to think about how all of Stan's new possessions seem to glower at him in the dark.Instead he thought about jumping out of the window—what the injury count would be. They were only two stories up but there was concrete below. Sometimes there was a comfort in imagining dramatic gestures we knew we'd never commit, Kyle thought, as he shut his eyes.
He didn't remember falling asleep but when he opened his eyes the grey light of morning hurt. He opened the door to Stan's room and ducked into the bathroom next to it. He sighed at his reflection in the mirror. A swollen purple bruise inched out from under his curls from his temple down to the top of his cheekbone. The bruises on his neck were fading though as he knew they would. He wiped his face off with warm water. He couldn't remember the schedule for work today, but maybe Stan was there now and he could slip away.
But when he opened the door Stan was sitting at the table in the kitchen. He stood in the doorway and stared at the spilled coffee grinds on the counter. He wondered if this apartment felt like home to Stan now, if Ethan felt like family.
"Do you want some coffee?"
Kyle stared blankly back at him, wondering if Stan had been awake all night. A laptop was open on the table, but Stan shut it after handing him a mug of coffee. Kyle got the sense that all of this was predetermined, and no matter what he did now, Stan would react the way he'd planned for himself. Kyle stared at the mug as he sat in the seat across from Stan. The words Renaissance Faire were printed across the ceramic in a font that someone had decided looked archaic.
"I think I need to tell you something." Stan sighed as if realizing this wasn't going to be as easy as he thought. He was still wearing his clothes from last night, only he'd taken off his blazer, and his pale arms hugged tightly around his chest. Kyle decided that Ethan probably put Stan up to this.
"Fine," he said, tapping his fingers against the mug. He wondered if Stan had somehow come across some secret information about Cartman; as if there were something Kyle didn't know.
"When Kenny died—I was there." Stan said. Kyle's finger dropped from the mug and onto the surface of the table. It hurt in a way that he couldn't account for yet.
"But Karen found him alone," Kyle said, his blood pumping loudly in his ears as he clung to the fact.
"I know," Stan said, shaking his head, "I left."
"What are you saying, Stan?" Kyle asked. When he looked across the table, Stan's hands were around his mug and he was staring into it.
"I had an argument with my dad, and I left." It sounded rehearsed. Stan must have gone through this with everyone he knew before he'd thought to tell Kyle. "You weren't home—so I went to Kenny's house. He said we didn't need to talk about it, that he had these pills. So we both took one. And then mostly lay around his room talking. And we fell asleep. When I woke up I thought he was sleeping—maybe he still was—I had about 30 missed calls from my mom so I went home," Stan said, running his finger around the edge of his mug.
"Maybe he took something after you left," Kyle said. The only part of his brain that was still working was pragmatic, apparently.
Stan shrugged, "that's what everyone says."
"Whose everyone?" Kyle remembered standing in Stan's bedroom, begging Stan to talk to him. To tell him this.
"The counselor my mom made me see last year. Ethan. You."
"It could be true." Kyle's thoughts were spinning to accommodate this new narrative of events.
"It doesn't matter dude. The fact is, I was there and I could have stopped it—whatever it was. And I didn't even know anything was wrong when I walked out of the room. I didn't check on him, I was worried I'd be grounded or too tired for football practice the next day—that's all. That's all I could think about."
Kyle tried to keep from bringing himself into it. But why else was Stan talking to him about this now? Just to derive sympathy and get him to stay away from Cartman?
"You couldn't have known." Kyle said instead of giving Stan a day-by-day breakdown of how shitty he had felt. Still felt.
"Yeah, it seems like I don't know much of anything." Stan looked at Kyle like he was something else that he let die.
"Me and Eric," Kyle said, taking his first sip of the coffee Stan had poured him, "don't think about that now." He didn't want to go back through it all. It didn't change anything. It didn't mean that Stan didn't mean every word he'd said in his room that day. Pain just made people honest.
"Yeah," Stan said, looking down again.