They spent the afternoon watching reruns of Chinpokomon on TV and drinking the store brand coffee that Ethan stocked the house with. Shelia had called twice and Kyle reassured her that he was fine and working an extra shift. About an hour ago he'd realized that Tweek was covering both he and Stan's shifts that day.
Stan came back from the kitchen with two fresh cups of coffee and sat them on the table between them.
"What did you say to Eric anyway," Kyle asked. It seems like the first time the question could be voiced, but he'd been looking for opportunities to ask all morning.
"I told him to stay away from you. And he agreed," Stan said simply.
"That doesn't sound like him." Cartman wasn't one to give up easily. But maybe he was just done with Kyle.
Stan let out a breath. "What does it matter exactly what he says, nothing out of his mouth is worth repeating."
"It matters because I want to know," Kyle said, "this isn't just some â€˜abusive' relationship where you need to step in and shield me from what Eric says. I know how he is." It was true, he thought, Cartman had only actually hit him a handful of times. And it was Cartman, after all, that was just his personality. It wasn't this bad. It wasn't not being able to repeat what happened sort of bad.
"Forget it, Kyle," Stan said grimly. But Kyle was already pushing away from the sofa searching his coat pocket for his cellphone. Cartman didn't answer. Stan was frowning lightly, as if he knew that Cartman wouldn't answer, as if he'd won some cheap prize.
"What did he say?"
"That he'd stay away from you," Stan repeated, looking back at the TV screen. Everyone was smiling through crinkled eyes in the anime, and Kyle pocketed his cellphone. It wasn't worth a fight, not now.
They continued to watch the show until the five o'clock local news came on and the marathon of Chinpokomon ended for the day. Now that the numbing effect of cartoons had released his brain he was left with nothing but the unlaced edges of what Stan had confided in him that morning. He needed some way for the information to feel real, to become concrete in his head
"We should go to see Kenny," he said before the thought had fully formed.
Stan looked surprised but agreed. Kyle wondered if he was still seeing a counselor. He wondered exactly how much he needed to tip-toe around the issue. Those weren't questions he was comfortable asking though. He wondered if he was already doomed to fail.
When they went outside the cold stung Kyle's ears and he remembered that his hat was still lying on Stan's sofa. He was somehow comforted by the thought as they descended the metal steps for the cement below.
They drove in silence towards the graveyard. Kyle hadn't been back to it since the funeral. He supposed it wasn't that long ago that he'd died but it seemed impossible that so much could be ruined already. Not ruined, Kyle thought, as they pulled into the cemetery, just wasted. Everything seemed futile about his death, like he and Stan were the pills that Kenny had swallowed. They tried to come back up but he wouldn't let them out.
"We're here," Stan said. His black hair was hanging limply around his cheeks. Kyle wondered if Stan and Ethan came here to make out and hated himself for thinking of that now. Of course they wouldn't, they have their own apartment. He turned away and opened the car door, wishing there were some quiet way to shut it.
They walked shoulder to shoulder on the sidewalk that cut through the grass. Kyle thought for a moment that he'd forgotten the way but he spotted the top of Kenny's grave, which looked much newer than the gravestones surrounding it.
"We should have brought flowers," Kyle said harshly. "It's the simplest thing to remember."
"Kenny wouldn't care." Stan's breath was warm against Kyle's ear.
"You could have told me. I wouldn't have blamed you." It was the conversation he had wanted Stan to start since he'd walked out of his bedroom a year and a half ago. Maybe that was the most annoying thing about him. He couldn't let people do things at their own pace.
"Kyle," Stan said. "I couldn't. I couldn't tell anyone. The only thing I was capable of was torturing myself; making myself feel horrible." Kyle bowed his head and studied the grass growing out of the earth covering Kenny.
"You did a pretty fantastic job of making me feel horrible too."
Stan clutched Kyle's arm as he turned to face him. Stan's blue eyes stood out against the gray sky, the white puffs of their breaths, and the yellowed grass. "I wasn't trying to." Kyle laughed. Stan took a deep breath "I mean, I wanted you to give up on me. To recognize what a horrible person I was, even if it wasn't for the right reason. I was trying to protect you."
"That wasn't for you to decide," Kyle said in one saved-up breath. "You made me feel so horrible." He didn't have strong enough words for what he needed to tell Stan.
"I couldn't see anything beyond what I'd done. Not what I was doing to you, not what I was doing to everyone else around me."
"And now you can?"
"It's gotten better. That's all," Stan took a deep breath. Kyle wondered if it would ever feel like enough. If he would ever be able to trust Stan like that again. "I'm sorry, for what I said, for pushing you away." Kyle nodded. What else could he do? But Stan wasn't done. "I didn't mean any of what I said. About you being like Cartman or not liking you or any of it." He was talking faster now, like he had been thinking about this and wanted to get it out now that he'd started. "Kyle, you have to know that you're way better than him. Or me. Better than everyone." It was a ridiculous sentiment, but Kyle couldn't help but be drawn in by it. And for a minute he thought Stan was going to kiss him, but he realized that he was looking at the bruises around his temple again. Stan brushed Kyle's hair over the discoloration, but it flew away again when the wind blew and Stan looked lost. Kyle didn't know where to go from here.
"I keep thinking he'll come back—you know?" Kyle said after a minute, looking back at the cement slab cutting into the grass. It felt easier to talk about Kenny than to listen to empty compliments.
"Yeah." Stan reached out to grab Kyle's hand. "We can come back tomorrow with flowers," he said reassuringly, pulling Kyle back towards the car. Kyle watched their feet move together over the ground. They'd come back with flowers tomorrow. Plastic flowers maybe, Kyle considered, pursing his lips together. He'd have to look into it. But it felt like a good thing to look into.
They exited the gate of the cemetery and Kyle looked back at it with a feeling like he'd forgotten something.
"Do you remember when we were in 4th grade and we read The Catcher in the Rye?" Kyle asked, seeing his own expression on Stan's face.
"There's a part where Holden says the thing he hates about cemeteries is that when it rains, all the visitors get to leave and go into their cars, and go somewhere nice for dinner. But people like Kenny have to stay and have his grave rained on, and the grass, and his stomach rained on. I wonder if he's cold—are you cold?" He turned abruptly to Stan.
"Yeah," Stan said, as he turned the ignition in the car. The heat was already on, but blasting cold air.