Stan Marsh awoke sweating, feeling sticky and stultified, with someone's face in his hair; Stan also felt hair on his lips. He opened his eyes, blinking, very little coming into focus. He moved his head, groggy, and saw what he'd been pressed up against: snoring next to him was a grown man, with an audacious disaster of auburn hair that looked like it had been inflated and then the air had been let out of it, all conspicuous, and this man looked sweaty as well.
Stan was panicking, internally. He didn't know this place, this room. The bed was larger than any he'd seen before, and Stan and this man had been pressed together right in the middle of it, like taking refuge in the center of a raft. The sheets were silky but not silk, like cotton but finer and softer than any cotton Stan knew, his stretchy jersey sheets at home. Stan saw diaphanous curtains on tall windows, and everything seemed very far away, and when surfaces came into view they looked lacquer. The large bed was a four-poster, Stan made out, with grey linen trilling around the canopy, and across the room on the wall was a large installation, a canvas artwork painted mostly gray as well, with aqua fading in at the bottom. Stan found something about the room to be unsettling even as it was innocuous, and when he glanced back down at the sleeping man, who was stirring, Stan realized that his own face was tingling. He put a hand to it and realized that the short, brisk hair on the man's chest had been scratching his face, and Stan had been, probably against his will, rubbing his nose in it.
Choking out alarm, Stan was shocked at how deep his voice sounded, when he'd been expecting to almost squeal. This woke the man almost all the way, and he blinked lazily, a half-smile on his face.
"Morning," said the man, his voice so sharp, like Kyle's, but deeper. Kyle was Stan's best friend, his confidante. Kyle was smart, and he might have known what to make of this situation. Stan wished Kyle were there with him, up until the point when the man opened his eyes and said, "Good morning, Stan." They were soft, hazel eyes, the color of Kyle's eyes. Stan must have been making a discordant expression, because the man said, "Oh no, what?" and there was no mistaking that it was definitely Kyle in this bed here with Stan.
It was a most disturbing realization, because Kyle was, like Stan, a sixth grader. Kyle did not have chest hair, and Kyle most certainly did not let Stan sleep with his nose in Kyle's chest. Kyle didn't have dumb half-poofy self-conscious hair, and he wouldn't be caught dead sleeping naked. But he was looking at Stan like he needed an answer, so Stan choked out, "Nothing!" and recoiled at the depth of his own voice, how long and hard each syllable felt to him. Stan's face became stiff as Kyle reached for him.
"Last night was delicious," Kyle said, pawing a hand through Stan's — chest hair? Stan looked down, horrified to realize that his whole torso was covered in black, straight, sparse hair, which whorled around his nipples and tapered down into his crotch. Stan's eyes followed the trail lower until he was horrified to realize that he had not worn underwear to bed, and that his cock and balls were much larger than he remembered them, full and pendulous, bigger in proportion to the rest of his body than he'd ever seen in anatomy books, the kind Kyle checked out of the library, or they'd been shown in sex ed. In fact, Stan's cock was hard, like it was almost bursting. Stan had gotten erections before, but he never woke up with them; generally he just came in the bed, and when he got home from school in the evening, his sheets were all laundered.
"Last night?" Stan asked, as Kyle rubbed over the small peak of his nipple, teasing it higher and higher. Stan was too stunned to ask him to stop, or remove Kyle's hand himself.
Kyle's eyes lowered. His voice got very small. "Yes," he said, his hand stilling against Stan's chest. "Don't you remember?"
"Did we eat something?"
"We ate something very good, in fact." Kyle sounded so hurt, Stan wanted to — well, he wasn't sure. When Kyle was pissed off, he generally said something exasperated and left. "You don't remember? You, um, took me to Nobu, we had Wagyu beef and omakase? With the Tiller-Maizels?"
"The Tiller-Maizels, um, Asher and Graham?" Kyle shook his head. "Stan, what? You know them, we've been out with them, like, a billion times — they're such a nice couple, we've known them forever."
"Of men?" Stan tried to pull the covers over his softening erection. He felt so exposed to this weird old Kyle and his disappointed expression.
"Yes!" Kyle snapped. Then he quieted. "Sorry. I mean, of course, we're really good friends. We met Graham when he was single, because his seats were next to ours at the Philharmonic?"
Something in Kyle's tone and, especially, his eyes, was so tiny and pathetic that it made Stan want to lie. "Oh, right," he said, pulling the covers up further. "Yeah, those dudes are..." He searched Kyle's face for the right expression. "...awesome."
"Yes, they're okay. You seem very out of sorts." Kyle smoothed some of Stan's hair down. "Is something the matter? You know you can tell me."
Something was the matter, though Stan knew he most certainly could not tell Kyle. "I'm fine," he said, hoping Kyle wouldn't notice how hard he was shaking.
"I hope that fish didn't make you sick."
"Maybe, dude," said Stan, suddenly feeling fairly ill.
"Well, I feel okay," Kyle said, and Stan felt a thigh, Kyle's hairy thigh, nudging against Stan's hip, then against Stan's cock. "Last night was delicious," he repeated, using his knee to jangle Stan's balls. "All of it."
Stan practically fell out of bed. "Yeah, I'm gonna be sick," he said, and he didn't feel like it was a lie. There was bile in his throat, burning. "Um." Not caring that he was naked, he stumbled to the door directly in front of him, pulling it open, to find what was obviously a walk-in closet, lined with clothes. Stan didn't much care about clothes, so he slammed it shut again, trying to appear as though this were deliberate. He tried the next door, on the other side of the painting. This was a big bathroom, bigger than the closet, even, which itself was larger than Stan's bedroom at home. He spotted a big marble claw-footed tub and a sparkling cream-colored floor. He turned back to Kyle, who was just sitting there in bed, tenting his fingers, wondering what Stan was going to do. Stan gave him a wan smile, mostly confusion, and shut the door.
The bathroom lights went on automatically, and the shades began to lower.
There were two sinks, and the entire sink-side wall was mirrored. It was a sort of vanity, Stan realized, the kind they installed on the TV shows his mother watched. Not knowing what else to do, Stan walked over to a sink and looked up at himself.
He saw his father's strong chin, and his mother's keen eyes. They were features people told him he had, but he'd never seem them before on his own face. The overall effect was as if he were a picture that had been left floating in developer for too long. He muttered to himself, "Jesus Christ, dude," and grabbed for the faucet. It didn't turn on. It wasn't until he stuck a hand under the faucet that he learned it was automatic, when it came on full-force freezing, splattering in his face. Stan withdrew and the water stopped, and he looked back at his features, which were dripping now. He had the distinct feeling of wanting to cry.
While Stan was staring at this man in the vanity, the bathroom door opened, and Kyle came in. This shocked Stan so much that he nearly fell over. He'd told Kyle that he was sick, and then he'd run into the bathroom naked, and now Kyle was barging into the bathroom naked, his pale body looking both overripe and underdone. Stan's eyes were drawn to the brilliant shock of pubic hair crowning Kyle's long, half-hard dick, and Stan found it impossible to look away.
"Oh," said Kyle, in a pleasant way, "I get it." He walked over, draping himself sort of over Stan's shoulder, and Stan stared at Kyle's reflection as it licked Stan's reflection's cheek and pinched Stan's reflection's nipple again. "You want to suck me," Kyle said with a very brittle tone of confidence. It wasn't even a question.
"No!" Stan couldn't help but shove Kyle away, mesmerized as he was by staring at these older alternate selves, how out-of-proportion they both seemed, and how well they fit together.
"Oh," Kyle said again, although the tone was much different this time. "Sorry. I guess I — I don't know." He sighed, his whole posture crumpling, and he walked right over to the toilet, lifted the seat and sat down on it.
"Jesus Christ!" Stan shouted again. "What are you doing?"
Now Kyle turned bright red. He clenched his jaw and made a sort of face that Stan didn't know how to interpret.
"Please explain to me what's going on," Stan said. "Please."
"Well." Kyle crossed his arms. "I generally use the bathroom in the morning. I'd think you'd know that after 20 years."
"Twenty years?" Stan asked.
"Well, you know, I don't like to be anal about it, or anything, but 18 and a half." This was the most Kyle-like thing Kyle had said the whole time, both in the bad pun and the sarcastic inflection on the bad pun, and especially in how directly Kyle had narrowed in on the exact number of years, apparently, that he had been inclined to just come in while Stan was in the bathroom having a nervous breakdown and get on the toilet.
"I have to go," Stan said. He tip-toed out of the bathroom, although it did occur to him that it was a needless gesture. He slammed the door again and got back into bed. It was huge, this bed, like 10 of Stan's beds at home put together. He wondered about home. What the hell was this taupe prison? Stan peered toward the window. It was very sunny; he could see this through the sheer drapes. Stan climbed back out of the bed, and over to the window. He pulled the curtain back. A storey below was a garden, carefully manicured rows of alternating grass and water and pebbles. At the far end was a big adobe retaining wall, and a pagoda-type structure. A kind of brook gurgled. Stan looked up, and all he saw was palm trees.
This was not Colorado.
Stan pressed his forehead to the window. It was cool, and provided momentary comfort. Then someone, a man, a gardener perhaps, walked into the yard and started picking pebbles out of the grass and tossing them back with the other peddles. Stan peered down, wondering whose house this was, whose job it was to manicure the pebble paths in the garden. That was when this man looked up, saw Stan in the window, and waved. Stan clutched his dick and hopped backward, pulling the curtain shut, while he saw the gardener laughing.
So Stan knew two things: this was a rich person's house, and he desperately needed clothing. Three things: Stan had to vacate the room before old Kyle came out of the bathroom. Luckily, he seemed to be taking forever. Stan hazarded a guess that he should check in the closet for clothing. It wasn't his closet, but as he walked in and started looking around, he didn't feel like he was trespassing.
There were rows and rows of things, expensive suits and shiny shoes, built-in shelving and tie racks. Stan opened a drawer, and sighed in relief when he saw it was full of underwear. He lifted a pair, holding it up to the light. Stan didn't wear black boxer-briefs, he never had, his mother bought him colorful boxers at Old Navy, whatever was on sale. Stan shut the drawer and slipped the briefs on. They fit well, and Stan appreciated the snugness of the crotch. He hadn't even realized how heavy his junk felt, hanging there with nothing to support it. Now it was well-cradled in soft black cotton.
From a shelf Stan yanked what he hoped was a T-shirt, and a whole stack of them fell on his head. "Fuck!" he said, picking up an armful and cramming them, all unfolded, back onto the shelf. There were all different colors, some with patterns, and too many pastels for Stan's liking. He pulled a white T over his head. It was a bit loose, but it did the trick. Now he just needed some pants. Stan began to search the shelves, finding crisp, folded button-down shirts, a basket of socks, and ... so much neon. Digging through a pile of polos, Stan wondered whose closet this was. Was it old Kyle's? Was it someone else's?
He discovered a deposit of plaid flannel pants near the far end of the closet, by a pair of purple galoshes. Stan's closet at home was shallow and bursting, his sweatshirts all piled up on the floor and his winter jackets and suits all shoved toward one side, his jeans and nice slacks folded over big wooden slats on one very long ladder-like hanger, which flexed the plastic rod on which it hung. Stan had never much thought about other closets, except for Kyle's which was quite organized, perhaps more so than this one. Stan was glad to be dressed without having made much of a mess, and dreaded seeing old Kyle when he stepped out of the closet, but he wasn't there. Still in the bathroom? Stan shuddered and scanned the room for a door. There was another on the farthest side of the room, right by the windows that overlooked the garden. He rushed toward it and evacuated the bedroom.
But, to go where? Stan found himself in a long hallway, light-filled, with windows to his right. The shape of the whole house must have been boxy, and toward the left the hallway hooked around the bathroom, more windows, and disappeared to who knew where? Right in front of him, though, was a scrolling staircase, the kind in a movie, which the heroine would descend before meeting her prom date. Where was he? When was he? Frightened, but not deterred, he padded downstairs.
There was no noise in the house, just light. A big living room, or a great room — yes, there was a dinner table, long and solid, like it was carved from a single piece of wood. Everything was so neutral in color it was a bit disorienting, which compounded Stan's mounting anxiety. He ran to the front door, which was large and heavy, two tall wood slabs with windows on either side. Pulling one open, Stan shielded his eyes from the sun. A note chimed around him, and a computerized voice rang, "Front door open." It was hot outside, and the sun, while strong, was low with an orange cast. Stan scanned the front steps for a paper, for mail, for any intelligible signage. Seeing nothing, he looked up: long driveway, palm trees. Two cars, both shiny. With no time to inspect them, Stan slammed the door again and heard, "Front door closed."
To the left was a hallway lined with doors — at least four. Stan ducked into one; it was another bathroom, which didn't excite him, although the way the lights turned on when he walked in, sensing his presence, was at least surprising. He shut that door and opened the one behind him, stepping inside. No lights went on this time, and everything was dim, but the shades on the windows began to rise, and Stan found himself standing in an office, with a computer on the desk, papers piled everywhere, and framed papers on the walls. Stan didn't have the patience to look at them; it was all a bit much. He shut the door behind him as he walked into the room, regretting everything that had happened the whole morning, and fell into the desk chair. It felt ergonomic, and Stan's body sank into it, as if the angle of the back was built for him. Relaxing for the first time that morning, Stan considered his body. His joints and muscles felt so stiff, but there was nothing clumsy in his movements; he didn't feel out of place. In some ways, he felt less physically awkward than he did back home, where his body was maturing over the course of a long process that seemed to drag out forever. This body he had now was good, he could tell, not bulky in any way; it just felt right. Feeling whimsical suddenly, Stan gave a bit of a push-off from the rug, and he spun, slowly.
As the chair came to a standstill and Stan looked around, he noticed something on a console table a few feet from the desk: a black Kurzweil keyboard, long and lean. The sight of it made Stan's stomach lurch. He stood up, brushing his ass off. Stan staggered over to the console, and pressed down on one key, middle C. It didn't make a sound. The keyboard wasn't on, and Stan couldn't see the cord. There was a white patch on the back, a square with rounded edges, stuck over the place where the cord had once been. The keys were greasy, especially the black ones, and in the sunlight at the right angle, Stan could see they were covered in fingerprints. The thing looked outmoded compared to most everything else in the room; in the house, even. There was nothing attached to this keyboard to tell Stan he was right, but a gut feeling had developed, and he couldn't shake it: His parents had given him this keyboard two weeks ago, for his birthday. For his 13th birthday.
The realization was enough to send Stan back into the chair, where he put his head in his hands for a moment, trying to figure out if he was going to laugh or sob or what. He needed to know where he was, what was going on. What was with the palm trees? Was it Florida? Why this keyboard? Had it come with him, to wherever this was?
The computer was a sleek laptop, folded shut. Stan felt bad about prying into someone's personal possessions, but he was desperate to know anything about his current situation.
Lifting the top, it flickered to life. It looked like an Apple, formally, and the chrome casing was familiar, but the logo was all wrong, a kind of abstract comma, curving gently. As soon as it was open, programs started popping up, windows opening on on top of others. The last window that loaded was an e-mail account, Stan knew that well enough. The top of the page said WELCOME STAN. It reminded Stan of the talking door, except the fact that this program knew his name was much more interesting, and disturbing.
Stan began scanning the inbox — his inbox. Was it his? There were emails from Kyle Broflovski, probably old Kyle, all of them read, mostly concerning (no subject) or tonight or last night, vague stuff that maybe Stan was supposed to intuit, or some other Stan was, anyway. When Stan's eyes glanced over the sender, he felt happy to see that Kyle's name was still Broflovski, it wasn't anything fucking crazy like, say, Marsh. Then Stan felt disappointed that it wasn't. What the fuck? Here he and old Kyle were apparently living and sleeping together in some insane future house, and they weren't even married enough to have the same last name? How awful was that? Stan was vaguely offended for both of them, maybe also for future Stan, assuming Stan himself wasn't also future Stan, like he didn't have amnesia or something. He'd seen enough weird sci-fi shit to admit this potentiality, however hesitantly.
There were some unread messages at the top of the inbox; the first was from Graham Tiller. It took Stan no time to open it.
Hey buddy, said the greeting.
Had a great time with you &Ky last night, haven't been to nobu for 10 years, such a classic, even if kindof kitschy.
Stan did not know what was kitschy about it, or what kitschy was.
We're a little concerned for Ky, though, he's such a beautiful guy and he doesn't seem to know it. I know you'll remind him of it someway, heh. Looking forward to dinner r, we know it'll be great, you've got such a successful way with people, heh.
There were many things Stan did not like about this e-mail, including:
1. Graham Tiller's use of heh, especially after he'd typed something that was not funny.
2. His use of Ky, which was also unfunny, and, frankly, lazy and unacceptable to Stan, and also to Kyle, at least to Stan's Kyle, who Stan could just imagine saying something like, "My name is not Ky, that is the abbreviation for Kentucky, and 'Kyle' is already one syllable." Also to Stan it sounded very gay, to the point of stereotype. It was a wonder Graham Tiller had addressed Stan as Hey buddy and not OH GIRL!!
3. The lack of spaces in &Ky and kindof and someway. Was he lazy, stupid, typing on a phone?
While Stan considered replying and worried that Graham Tiller might know that Stan had read the e-mail and ignored it, he received a message from ... Graham Tiller. The message popped up in the middle of Stan's screen, and as he stared at it (it also said, Hey buddy), the message started ... to Stan it seemed like it was throbbing. To stop this, he moused over to it with the trackpad, and clicked on it. Under Hey buddy, a dialogue box grew, and inside it was a cursor. Stan wrote back, hello.
So formal! wrote Graham Tiller. Stan really didn't know how to reply to that. So he sat there, feeling sick, until Graham said, get some last night. Stan stared at this message for a moment, hating Graham Tiller so intensely, not only for Ky, but now for the lack of a question mark. Before Stan could click the box away, he got ???, and just as quickly, he got, heh, of course you did, I know you guys.
Stan was not sure how such a thing could be remotely possible. Gritting his teeth, he put his hands on the starting position he'd learned in fifth grade typing class, and wrote back, That's none of your business.
To which Graham Tiller wrote, ; ) I see!!
How was it
Wanting nothing more than to tell this asshole off, Stan steeled himself. He remembered what old Kyle had said, that the Tiller-Maizels were just okay. Stan didn't even know the Tiller-Maizels, but Graham Tiller said he knew Stan. So, trying to think his way out of, or perhaps into, the situation, Stan wrote back, You know.
To which the reply was, Yeah I do, heh.
Poor guy was like crying for a bj at dinner
Stan rolled his eyes. Ha ha.
Graham responded, fuck yes.
Stan was not sure what they were talking about here, exactly. You said he is a beautiful man, he wrote.
Well, said Graham, yeah.
Don't get jealous, buddy, heh
Why would I be jealous? Stan typed.
The answer: You guys don't strike me as the swinging type
Stan had to consider whether he was entirely comfortable with the implication that he and Kyle were same type, collectively. It was something he'd wondered about, all the time, and tried to distract himself from — that was, he wondered about it back home, in South Park, back where Stan and Kyle were both in sixth grade and working on a unit about photosynthesis and Kyle was always admonishing Stan to do his homework and practice piano and Stan, god, please don't talk over NCIS.
For once, Graham did not reply immediately, and Stan had a moment to consider what he wanted to ask next. He was thinking, thinking — then he looked up to see old Kyle, standing there, in an open bathrobe.
Jesus, Stan typed, gotta go, bye. He slammed the computer shut.
"Hi," said Kyle. It was a deep salmon bathrobe, spacious and fluffy, but Stan could see everything again, everything from Kyle's chest hair to his cock. God, Stan thought, it was long, so long, like Stan would need two fists to hold it, it was that long. Then he looked at his hands, and realized they weren't his hands, these were some man's hands, and Stan had black hair on his knuckles and his arms. It wasn't thick, but it was there, holy shit, and his fingers were callused.
Stan looked back up at Kyle. "Hey," he said. Kyle was leaning against the doorframe, one arm above his head. His nipples were the same color as the bathrobe, Stan realized. Then he felt his cock, which was still snug inside boxer-briefs, thicken.
"Busy?" Kyle asked.
"God no," said Stan.
"Oh." A smile spread across Kyle's features, and he walked into the room. "Here I thought you'd be working. So irresponsible, Mr. Marsh." To Stan's great concern, Kyle folded himself up into Stan's lap, his arms around Stan's shoulders and his robe still dreadfully open. Kyle slipped a hand around Stan's back, wiggling it down Stan's shorts. "Fuck," he growled into Stan's ear. "You're wearing my underwear."
"I am?" Stan choked.
"Fuck, yeah. Oh god, you're getting hard. Do you want to fuck me right here?"
The idea actually made Stan's erection recede again. "That's okay," he said. When Stan spoke, he sounded hoarse.
"Oh." Kyle sounded disappointed. "Is it too much to ask for a blow job?"
Stan couldn't even field that one; he just mumbled, "Um, what."
After that, Kyle took his hand out of Stan's pants, and rolled his head onto Stan's shoulder. He seemed comfortable, like he sat on Stan like this all the time.
Kyle's cock seemed to Stan to be in a state of perpetual partial erection, which actually brought Stan a bit of relief. Maybe it meant Kyle was noncommittal about this situation, too, his arousal stuck between involuntary reactions and the hope of willing it away. But then Kyle leaned in even tighter, the robe slipping away as Kyle's hip turned out. Kyle was heavy, undeniably, his weight unevenly distributed so that his bottom sank into Stan's thighs, while his arms seemed so light they were barely anchored by gravity.
Stan wouldn't have said that Kyle was fat, he was not fat, but he had the heft of an established person, his skin all damp and clammy. Maybe he'd showered after he used the toilet. Stan couldn't help but wonder. He wanted Kyle to get off, and at the same time he was drawn to Kyle's physical presence. With the robe flipped back and Kyle's pelvis anchored at such a skewed angle, Stan could look down and see that running along the base of Kyle's spine and curling around his buttock was a thick, raw scar, pink like the inside of a rare piece of veal. It repelled Stan, but he was drawn to it, and before Stan knew what he was doing, he was soothing it, his fingers tracing the smooth, hard bend in Kyle's flesh.
"Oh," Kyle said, nodding, "you know I don't like it when you touch that," but he didn't make an effort to stop it. Stan wondered what it was, where Kyle had gotten this scar. Some crazy adventure? He didn't seem like the type.
That wasn't the only thing Stan was curious about. "Why do you keep asking for blow jobs?" he asked.
"You say that like someone who's never even had one," Kyle replied. Again, he sounded hurt, like Stan had forgotten something ultra-vital to Kyle's well-being. Just for a moment, Stan wanted to clarify, dude, this is clearly some kind of future I've never been to before, I've definitely never had a blow job, ever. While Stan was thinking this, it dawned on him, the implication that he had probably gotten blow jobs, lots of them, from Kyle. Maybe from others. Oh shit, oh shit.
It became imperative that Stan think of a way, any way, to get Kyle out of here without hurting his feelings. Kyle's feelings, as far as Stan knew, were enormous and sensitive, like thinly crusted bubbles of magma. Stan knew he had to tread lightly. But the thought of giving Kyle an actual blow job was making him physically ill.
"I haven't even had breakfast," Stan said, hoping this made sense. "And neither have you, I bet."
"No," Kyle clarified.
"And I've got all sorts of stuff to do."
"And so do you," Stan added, hoping he wasn't incorrect.
"Not that much," Kyle said.
Stan resisted biting his nails, then slamming his fingers down his throat to make himself puke. "Are you sure?"
Kyle sighed. "Fine, I'll go to the butcher today and order some filets."
"Filets? Like, mignon?"
"Yeah, I think it's best. Except you know these asshole industry types are always on some fucked-up diet. Maybe we should go pescatarian? Or, actually, filets are good, and then I can maybe throw together something really nice. Eggplants are still in season, right? So what do you think about eggplant stuffed with vegan risotto?" Kyle pulled back and saw Stan's look of utter confusion. "I know, I know." He pulled into Stan even tighter. "Everything has to be perfect."
"Something for everyone, I guess."
"Exactly!" Kyle leaned back, and Stan was grateful that he was apparently about to get up finally. Of course, as soon as Stan let his breath out, Kyle leaned in and gave Stan an enormous, sloppy kiss. "I hope you're having second thoughts about that blow job," he said.
Shaking his head, Stan couldn't help wiping the spit from his lips. "Nope." Stan felt horrible as soon as he'd said it, although he didn't want to give Kyle a blow job, and he didn't want to be kissed like that, or at all. Or, he did, just — just not by this old Kyle. Stan prepared for Kyle to rage, to say, "Well, fuck you," and get up and storm out or, worse, to draw his fist back and slug Stan across the face.
But Kyle didn't do any of that. To Stan's utter shock, Kyle, after being flatly insulted, just straightened out his expression, slid off Stan's lap, and said, "I'll go dress, then. Actually, first I'll do breakfast."
Stan realized that he was hungry. "Okay," he said, nodding. "Thank you."
Relieved, Stan pushed back in his seat. He wasn't prepared for this. I am 12 — no, 13, he thought to himself. I am 13, I am 13, I am not equipped to deal with this. I am 13 and I want to cry. Stan thought he should be allowed to cry. He almost started sniffling. Then he thought of what old Kyle's reaction would be, and how Stan would possibly manage to deal with it.
With Kyle gone, Stan felt calmer. He knew that even in his own life, Kyle was a ceaseless source of angst and anxiety. Just this week, Kyle had been miffed that Stan was unimpressed with his latest discovery, a Wikipedia article on global history. "There's all sorts of crazy shit on Wikipedia now, you know," Stan had said, like he knew jack shit about anything.
"This is really cool, though, because it's about the literal clash of civilizations, over the course of human history. Microhistory, even. And going back to the big bang. How far do you think world history should go back?"
"To the pre-animate matter that existed before the universe?"
"I thought world history was more about, you know, these were the Greeks, these were the Chinese," Stan had said. "No? Isn't that what it is?"
"That's a very one-dimensional way of thinking about it!" On Stan's living room sofa, Kyle had started bouncing. He never got this excited about anything. He rubbed his hands together.
"I don't care about civilizations," Stan had finally said, shoving a couch cushion into Kyle's face. Kyle had seemed so surprised, like Stan had stabbed him. "I mean, I care about civilizations."
"But in context with each other?"
"Generally, I don't know, why can't you like normal shit? Why don't we ever just play, like, Madden or something?"
"We did that yesterday!"
"Do you not like sports? Do you not like games?"
"I do," said Kyle, and he sounded like he wanted to more than he did, although Stan knew that Kyle did. "But this other stuff is new. It's so cool, can I please just read you—"
"No, you can't." Stan had yawned and rolled over on the big living room couch, shoving his hands in pockets. And Kyle had sat there with a dejected expression, his lip pouting, looking to Stan so cute, so fucking cute ... then Stan had shaken his head and gotten up and said, "Are you staying for dinner?"
Kyle said, "No, we're having shabbat."
"Call me in the morning," Stan had said as Kyle was leaving, and then he left. Then Stan went upstairs, and took off his clothes, and got into bed, trembling. He knew he liked Kyle. It was not a good scene. Kyle was loud and aggressive and he became fixated on the dumbest things, like global history, and always had to admonish Stan for just wanting to sit around doing kid stuff. Stan liked to point out that they were kids, and neither of them was dumb, that by definition the things they did were not dumb, and that maybe Kyle was intellectual, but Stan had interests, too.
Also, Stan had a girlfriend.
Standing in that office, in this weird future house that Stan could not place in his memory, he turned toward the keyboard, his keyboard. After he'd finished trembling in bed, the unspecified activity he mostly engaged in after Kyle scoffed at him and went home, Stan had gone over to the new keyboard and sat down in front of it on the floor, naked, and turned it on. He'd pressed down on middle C. The keyboard released its synthetic piano tone, and Stan held it for as long as he could, wishing he could write a song for Kyle. That would show him, Stan decided, that would be the thing that impressed Kyle. Stan had taken out a piece of loose leaf paper and laid it on top of his copy of the Star Wars Essential Guide to Characters, but all he could come up with was rhyming 'Kyle' with 'style.' This would never impress anyone, and Stan had been disappointed in himself. Also, Stan could barely read music, let alone write it. He had made a handful of inadequate attempts in the past, and could only play the guitar.
Stan went to sleep fantasizing about the songs he'd compose for Kyle as soon as he knew how. He wanted to sing to Kyle about his silly hair (don't cut it) and how Kyle's eye twitched when he had played too many video games. Then Stan fell asleep, and—
Stan didn't touch the keyboard again. Something happened, he figured, something happened between going to sleep last night and waking up this morning 25 years later married to Kyle in this fucked-up house in who even knew where, Stan sure didn't. But he was curious, and he wanted to find out. There were some things on the wall, and Stan wanted to look at them.
They were diplomas. One was from Berklee, where sure enough, Stan had earned a bachelor's degree in songwriting. He was a bachelor of music? Okay. That was ... eerie. The next degree down was from Boulder, which made more sense; this was a master's of music in theory and composition. Stan knew what a composition was, but what the hell was theory? Like, he'd heard people say music theory before, and it just sounded like something people said to be assholes. And somehow here he was a master of it. Next to these degrees was a series of award certificates boasting things like Best Christmas Jingle and Outstanding Achievement in Motivational Scoring, whatever that was. This didn't much interest Stan, even with his own name on these things. What he really wanted to know about was Kyle, or old Kyle. What did he do? How did they end up here together? Stan wanted to know at any cost, except he wasn't going to ask.
Stan pawed through the shelves: books, books, books. Some on theory and composition, some on the art of Disney. There were several cookbooks that looked like they'd never been cracked, their jackets still clinging tight to the hard covers. Then Stan's eyes narrowed in on The New Joy of Gay Sex, Third Edition. He took a deep breath and slipped it off the shelf. Unlike 45 Fabulous Rum and Brandy Cakes, this one had been read, a lot. It was a paperback, very nearly deteriorating. Literally half the book fell to the ground when Stan tried to open it, and he found himself shaking at how lightweight the leftover portion felt in his hands, the brittle pages trying to fan open against his palm. Crouching to pick the book up, Stan peered at the section that the book had cracked in half over: Fidelity and Monogamy. It was dog-eared. More than once. Again, Stan had to keep himself from crying.
Another knock came at the door, and Stan looked up. Kyle was still wearing that robe, and his peachy nipples were a little hard. Stan swallowed, trying to think of what to say, like he'd been caught in a criminal act.
"Breakfast is ready," Kyle said.
"I thought you were gonna, like. Bring it to me."
Kyle sniffed. "I love you, Stan. But this isn't Upstairs fucking Downstairs, okay." He started to leave, then turned around. "And I'm much more amenable to that kind of thing when I actually get what I want, okay." Then he left.
Stan stood up and slipped the book back onto the shelf, both halves. So, Kyle did have a limit. "Okay," Stan said to himself. "Okay." Probably what Kyle wanted was blow jobs. He had asked for one three times, not counting the one he'd apparently been crying about the night before, if Graham Tiller was to be believed. Stan did not want to use the computer anymore if it meant being accosted by anyone on that messenger service, and especially not Graham Tiller. Stan was picturing some craven queen in purple slacks bent over his computer, jacking off to Stan and old Kyle fucking, except in Stan's daydream within an assumption, it was old Kyle and Stan-Stan fucking, his actual self, which was a weird image. Also Stan decided Graham Tiller's hair was probably frosted at the tips. It seemed highly likely.
The dining room was empty, so Stan figured he should head to the kitchen. He didn't know where the kitchen was, but in most houses the kitchen was near the dining room, so he poked his head through a door. Sure enough, a stove was on, and Kyle was poking at a pan.
"Pissed at me, dude?" Stan needed to know if this was going to be like his Kyle's anger, a slow simmer until he just exploded. Stan just stood in the doorway until he got an answer.
"No," said Kyle. "It's hard to maintain righteous indignation for too long. What's with all this dude all of a sudden?"
"Is it, like, some midlife crisis thing? You turned 37 two weeks ago, so now you have to act like you're 12 again?"
Stan swallowed. This was becoming much worse very quickly. "More like 13."
Kyle actually laughed. "Okay, all right. Just tone it down a bit. Your breakfast's on the table. I'll be there soon." Kyle pointed toward the table with the silicon spatula he was using to tease his eggs.
Stan settled into a leather chair at the head of a glass-and-enamel table, where his breakfast was all set out: a parfait of muesli, thick yogurt, and fruits, apples and pears, mostly, but there were raisins and cranberries sprinkled in, fresh cranberries. If his birthday was last week, it was ... just past Halloween. In fact, it had just been Halloween in South Park, too. Stan looked down at his breakfast again.
"What?" Kyle was coming over now, with his plate of scrambled eggs, buttered toast, a big portion of beans, and two cartoonishly large sausages. He set the plate down at the seat next to Stan. They were separated from the rest of the kitchen by an island and surrounded by windows that gave them a direct view of the pagoda.
"Nothing," said Stan. "Just, this looks good." He almost added, dude, but stopped himself. "Thanks."
"No problem." Kyle picked up a fork and speared a sausage.
Stan scooped up a bit of granola. He ate it off his spoon, crunching it in the back of his mouth. He picked at a cranberry, and Kyle swatted at his hand.
"Use your silverware!" he barked.
Shrugging, Stan reached for his spoon again.
"Midlife crisis," Kyle repeated. "Although I hope you're not having a midlife crisis exactly, obviously. I don't like to think you'd only make it to 74. Unless I only make it to 74. Because we should go together, I guess." Kyle agitated his eggs, dragging them through the beans. He sighed. "So we come into this world, so we should leave it."
"Except that I was here seven months before you." Stan hoped Kyle's birthday was still in late May.
In response to this, Kyle shrugged and pushed his egg and beans onto a corner of toast. Then he opened widely, and took a large bite of it. Stan watched Kyle's bare hands carefully; he hoped Kyle didn't drop any eggs on that ropy dick of his. Stan decided he'd have to read that passage on fidelity. Again, he corrected himself. He'd have to read it again. He'd read it before. Or the Stan who had a degree in songwriting had read it.
After swallowing, Kyle asked, "What's the matter? You're not eating."
"How come we never got married?" Stan asked.
Kyle dropped his fork. He swallowed a mouthful of sausage, and said, "Because you don't want to!"
Oh. Oh. "But, I mean." Stan knew he'd have to turn this into a philosophical conversation. "Why don't we?"
"Not now." Kyle's head was in his hands. "I can't deconstruct social mores right now, okay? I'm hungry."
"I'm just wondering—"
"Why?" said Kyle. "Is this a proposal?"
Stan clenched his lips together. He wished it were, actually, if it would make Kyle melt into glee, if it would produce the kind of enthusiasm with which he kept asking for blow jobs, or had been blabbing about world history last night, or 25 years ago. But then Stan knew he should be asking himself what songwriter Stan would want.
"I don't know," Stan finally said. "I just want to know, honestly."
"I'm too tired to do this, okay? Tell you what. Let's get through Thursday and we'll talk about it then. Okay?"
"Okay," said Stan. Deep inside, he was crumbling, feeling rejected. He was beginning to develop the faintest sense that he should care.