The energy Kyle demonstrated in his party-planning as the week drew to an end was relentless and unwavering. Stan found it a touch frightening. Kyle spent an hour on Wednesday morning in the guest bathroom, programming the lights so that they glowed at "optimal intensity." After a time Stan broke down and asked what this meant.
"Well," said Kyle washing his hands, gazing at himself in the mirror. "When one walks away from the dinner table and into the powder room, one likes to see himself in the best light. I mean, literally."
"So, what does that have to do with the — our party?"
Turning to face Stan, Kyle said, "You want these people to have a good time, Stanley, don't you? Don't you want them to be in a good mood? You want them to hire you, and — and you want them to look forward to more dinner parties. Typically they'd hire you on the basis of the work you're doing for them, but since you claim to be unable to write, well, I suppose we'll just have to force them to look forward to a long-term working relationship." Kyle reached for the light switch. "Yes," he said, turning back to spy himself in the mirror again. "This light is very kind. That'll do." He snapped it off and left the room, bypassing Stan as he did.
"Where are you going?" Stan asked, unsure whether to follow. He was at a loss, unable to leave the house and unable to find anything to do inside of it. Kyle now seemed more invested in putting together this dinner party than in bothering Stan about sex. Stan worried that Kyle was no longer attracted to him — up until the point where he realized that Kyle was, at least emotionally, a good 25 years Stan's senior.
"I'm going to the kitchen to cut mangos."
"So I can make mango ice cream." Kyle paused and leaned against a wall. He was wearing a robe again, though this time, he had it loosely tied in the front so that the most Stan saw of his body was a sliver of chest and scraggly red chest hair. This made Stan recall the feel of it on his face when he woke up with Kyle that first day. Had it been almost a week? "To go with the soufflés I'm making. You know."
"Yeah," said Kyle, "Grand Marnier."
Stan wasn't sure what Grand Marnier was, just that it was alcohol, and that there was a dusty bottle of it in his parents' liquor cabinet, which indicated that they didn't really drink it.
"Those don't really go together, of course," Kyle continued, "but I just figured, well — I wanted to." He sighed, crossing his arms. Now Stan couldn't even see that sliver of bare skin. "You can sit with me, you know — if you're not doing anything."
"I can help," Stan suggested.
"I mean." Kyle seemed surprised. "If you want?"
"I should, yeah, I mean — it's my party, right?"
"Well, yes, but it's not like you've ever felt compelled to help before. You know, not for a while."
"Seems wrong," said Stan. "I should help."
"Then come along," Kyle replied, and he began to shuffle away.
It was just then that Stan noticed that Kyle was barefoot. Not that the condition of Kyle's feet mattered much, but it got him wondering about whether Kyle's feet were cold. Stan also wondered why he should care if Kyle's feet were cold, and then he thought about whether Kyle's feet were dirty. Part of Stan desperately wanted to check. Another part was somewhat dismayed at himself.
In the kitchen, Kyle set out about a dozen mangos. He also took out a steel jug of cream. Stan knew it was cream because it was so strongly scented that he could tell from the other side of the kitchen. Kyle had a canister of sugar, and a tin marked "gelatin, pre-bloomed," in what Stan knew to be a sloppier version of Kyle's handwriting. Lastly, Kyle disappeared into the pantry and came back with a machine that looked like it had seen a considerable amount of use, the white plastic yellowed with age. It was also stylistically different than nearly everything else in the house, save for some odds and ends Stan had found in his closet and office. Though the shape and heft of the machine, with its cylindrical appearance and variety of knobby gray buttons, had a sort of familiar millennial look to Stan, it was also obvious to him that this was an antique.
The whole time Kyle had been setting up, he had been relatively quiet, save for the soft grunts he made waddling to the counter with the heavy ice cream-maker in his hands. Now he said, "I like to think your mother would be happy I still use this."
"I guess she would be," Stan said, and suddenly he felt a bit sick, and missed her very much.
"I'm sure she never wished for me to constantly gorge myself on ice cream."
Not sure what to say, Stan said nothing. He was still thinking of his mother, and wondering if he'd ever seen her again by virtue of returning to his own life in their little suburban home. Then, Stan felt badly. It was unreasonable for a 13-year-old boy to love his mother so much.
For a time Stan sat in the kitchen and listened to Kyle chat about nothing while he skinned and gutted mango. There were restaurants Kyle wanted to try, gym memberships he refused to cancel even if he wasn't using them and hadn't for a while. "The dues are negligible when the initiation fees are taken into account," he insisted. "Plus, what if I wanted to swim?" He then seemed to turn to Stan, expecting an answer.
"Oh," said Stan. "I'm not sure. Do you swim?"
"Well." With two fingers, Kyle scraped pulpy jewel-toned mango from the blade in his hand. "Not since college, you know."
Stan's only memories of Kyle and swimming were of Kyle throwing fits about the likeliness of urine in public pools. He tried to imagine his boyish Kyle swimming laps. It seemed impossible. Kyle did not flail about; his body was tightly controlled and Stan wasn't sure that Kyle would expose himself to the smooth, broad movements that were required of swimming, leaving the body vulnerable.
But maybe adult Kyle swam. What did Stan know about it? Now Kyle was sucking bits of mango off of his fingers, and apparently out from under his nails.
As Kyle moved to the sink to wash his hands, he said, "I'd like to get back to my book."
"Yeah?" Stan stood up and went to peer into the bowl of cut mango, which smelled divine.
"Well, yeah," Kyle was saying, over the rush of the faucet. He pumped globs of pearly soap into his hands. To Stan, it seemed a highly sexual action, Kyle staring down at his long fingers as he washed them. "I feel so useless most days, you know? I'm sorry I spend all of counseling bitching about you. It's not like I don't have issues."
"Um, well." Stan wasn't sure what to say. "Everyone has issues."
"Mine are so endemic. And to act as if that's not part of any problems we share together in our relationship is relatively awful of me. I'm sorry." The faucet off, Kyle shook the excess water from his hands into the stainless steel sink. He grabbed a homely dishrag from the windowsill and rubbed his fingers with it. "Admittedly," he said, walking back toward the bowl of wet mango, "my shrink encouraged me to say these things."
"When did you go to the shrink?" Stan asked, taken aback.
"I didn't feel like leaving the house today," he said. "I was just feeling — out-of-control, I guess. I was going to ask you to drive me—"
"I don't know how to drive!"
"—so I had an appointment over the phone. Don't tell me it's a waste of money! I know it's a waste of money. But it's a waste of your money." Kyle sighed. "And don't give me that shit about not knowing how to drive! What is it with you?"
"Nothing, I—" Stan noticed Kyle's finger in the bowl of mango.
"Don't worry. My hands are clean. Do you ... want some mango?" The trailing off in the middle of Kyle's thought caught Stan's attention.
"Sure." Stan had never actually had mango. Not fresh mango, just cut, soft and buttery in texture, heavenly scented. Stan had tried mango-flavored things: a chilled pudding at a dim sum restaurant; low-fat yogurt; a fried pie at a fair in Denver.
Stan expected Kyle to spear a piece on a fork and proffer it to Stan, but Kyle produced no fork. Instead, he lofted a piece of mango with his hands, and said, "Here you go."
It was instinctual; Stan didn't mean to open his mouth, but he did, and Kyle fed the mango right to him. Stan's lips closed around both the mango and Kyle's fingers, the taste of both the fruit and the pearly soap overwhelming Stan's senses. He closed his eyes, dick jumping to life, causing his body to buckle, and he rested his hands on the counter.
- Kayotics -
Opening his eyes, Stan saw Kyle (whose fingers were still in Stan's mouth) grinning at him.
"Ripe, right? Kind of perfect?" Kyle pulled his fingers away.
Suddenly, Stan felt embarrassed. "I'm, um—" He was desperately aroused, and couldn't endure it.
"I have to get back to making ice cream." Kyle walked back toward the sink, a look of satisfaction on his face.
He spent the rest of the day in his office, or that other Stan's office, cowering away from Kyle. There had been only one short pit stop in the powder room, the one with optimal lighting, where Stan had beaten off as quickly and efficiently as possible, wiping all the evidence away with a neatly folded hand towel. He then felt guilty, but figured that maid, Rosa, would get it, as she seemed to get everything.
Attempting to tinker at the keyboard, Stan found that he was unable to turn it back on. So he let his fingers mimic some of the chords he had learned in the past weeks, depressing the keys so they made dull clacking sounds. He felt imprisoned in this room, with its wall of books and piles of papers and optional technologies. Stan could not relax when he felt stifled, yet if he went out there, he would undoubtedly have to face sex-craved Kyle who would possibly try to make Stan suck on his fingers again. Stan vowed to stay away.
It was no use. After a seeming eternity of this, Kyle came and knocked on the door anyway. "What are you up to?" he asked, sweeping in to sit on Stan's lap. "Psyching yourself up for tomorrow?"
"Kinda, I guess," Stan demurred.
"Ice cream's in the fridge," said Kyle. "I need a bath. Then I have to get to the fish. I can wrap it so it's ready to go into the oven tomorrow. Stan, are you okay?"
"Me? Yeah, I'm — fine, why?"
"You just seem distracted! Did you get enough to eat? Did you want some lunch?"
The thought of asking Kyle for anything, let alone another meal of old-people food, put Stan off lunch entirely. "I can get my own lunch. Um, if I want it. But — thanks."
"Oh." Kyle slipped off of Stan's lap and pulled his robe together. "Well, at least try to get out today, Stan! I'm getting worried about you."
"I'm okay. Uh. Where would I go?"
"I don't know! Take a drive, get a coffee, go down to the beach and take a walk."
"I'm not sure—"
"Then just go out into the yard or something," said Kyle. "Christ, could you make it any harder to help you?" He left shaking his head. Then he turned around and shouted, "I'll be upstairs if you need me! You know, for now."
"Thanks," said Stan, but Kyle didn't return to say 'you're welcome.'
Stan let enough time elapse so that it was likely Kyle had made it into the bath. Then, Stan got up. He was sick of sitting in that office, of sitting in the house. It was very bright out, another cloudless day. Stan found the idea of it appealing. He felt a kind of discomfort when that voice announced, "Back door open," and it gave Stan pause. But then he figured the damage was done, and Kyle had told him to go outside anyhow.
The garden was well-manicured and picturesque, the kind of thing Stan expected to find in a magazine. He knew nothing of landscape design, but there was an obvious artistry to how everything was planted, even where walkways were laid. Stan crossed a little bridge over an artificially curved stream. It was just past midday and the sun was at its zenith; it was bright out, but not too hot. The real problem was the air quality, which was poor; Stan found himself moving slower than he would have liked.
Across the yard was the pagoda structure, which Stan had not dwelt on since his first morning here. Curious, he approached it. The thing seemed to have a door, and Stan pulled at the handle. It seemed to be stuck, so Stan used his foot against the wall for some leverage. It was difficult, but he pulled the door open and gazed inside.
At first it was difficult for Stan to say what he was looking at. There were tatami mats on the floor, plush cushions on wooden benches, a bar cart made of bamboo, and for decoration on the wall, a hanging kimono. It was unlike anything Stan was familiar with, so he drew closer. Then he walked clear into a box.
Looking down, Stan rubbed his shin where it had hit the box, which was of plain cardboard. He turned, and found the pagoda was full of boxes — many boxes. For a moment he feared to look into one, his breathing labored, able to choke out only, "What the hell?" This was when he noticed the faint mildew smell, which was distinct from the way the rest of the house was scented, floral and clean, like Kyle.
It was really an unbearable number of boxes, five or six tall in some places, and they were by no means small. The pagoda, Stan realized, was deceptively tall; the height of the space rose up into the chapel roof, and Stan looked up to see a row of clerestory windows that let in kind, natural light. What was this place, Stan wondered? What was in those boxes?
There were a few minutes when Stan sat down on the tatami mats and put his head in his hands, thinking. He breathed somewhat easier on the floor like this, and needed the pause to rationalize this to himself: this was his house, his pagoda, his boxes. Right? Kyle was his husband — or, no, they weren't married, but Kyle was clearly his. Something in Stan seemed to fold, and he was flush with the realization that this was his life. His house, his boxes, his Kyle. Why shouldn't he look in them?
Getting up, Stan found one box that sat on the floor away from the greater mass. This was the one he'd tripped up on initially, and he found a bit of the tape that held it together was coming loose, as if someone had opened and repacked it. For a moment Stan suspected foul play, but he realized that was ridiculous. He didn't know what was in this box, and therefore had no reason to suspect anyone wanting to go through it. Moreover, though the door was clearly unlocked and the pagoda itself was in the middle of the open yard, the lot itself was large and set back from the road. And, Stan assured himself, Kyle would not keep anything valuable in a pagoda. There was just something about this situation telling Stan that Kyle had no interest in these boxes.
So Stan tore the tape off the box, and unfolded the flaps. He dug inside to find — cloth. Clothing. Old clothing! These seemed soft and worn, and Stan wondered whose they were. Initially he suspected they were his, pulling out turtleneck sweaters with narrow sleeves that tapered toward the wrist. This was the sort of thing he would do, squirrel away all of his old clothing, as with the old keyboard and the music and books, when clearly print matter was mostly obsolete.
Making piles, Stan began to clear the box, pulling small pairs of slacks and more sweaters. This wasn't his clothing — it couldn't have been, unless he'd at some point embarked on a very unfashionable drag career. It could have been Kyle's, he figured; Kyle seemed the type. But for all his fussiness, Kyle didn't wear women's clothing, and Stan acknowledged this with a sigh of relief. "Even if I'm having amnesia," Stan said to himself, "I'd probably recognize my own stuff," much the way other elements of this future life seemed at once strange and familiar.
Then, at the bottom of the box, Stan pulled out a dress. That was unavoidably an item of women's clothing, and Stan held it aloft, looking at it, trying to place it. Someone he knew wore this, a dowdy gray thing with a sharp V-neckline and many awkward creases in the long, matronly skirt. The air quality and getting up on his knees had forced Stan to breathe deeply again, and he got a whiff of it — home. This dress smelled of his kitchen, his bedroom, of the folded cloth napkins in the dining room china cabinet. It smelled of South Park, and Stan knew this dress was his mother's.
He dropped it, and stood up, though he instantly felt dizzy. Stan felt the acutest pain he had experienced in some time at the sharp realization that he had lost something. He tried to plug these thoughts up, unsteady on his feet, staring down at the pile of clothing. He put a hand to his jaw and felt his eyes begin to water. He had lost something, he knew — his home. His childhood! He tried to reassure himself, rationalizing that South Park was still there, it was only a plane ride away. Hadn't Kyle said his friends were all back there, in South Park? Surely his family was, too, his mother and his father. Maybe his sister was as well, or maybe she'd grown up and left like he did at some point. Stan felt a tug in his chest, the kind of metaphorical heartbreak people wrote about in the sorts of teen girls' novels Wendy read aloud to him sometimes, when he let her. Jesus, this feeling! What happened?
God, he'd just turned 13, and now somehow it was all gone, everything he knew and loved. Even if it was still there — even if, like Kyle, some version of his house and his family and South Park was still extant in his life, accessible in some form — it wouldn't be the same. It was all gone! Stan reminded himself that grown men didn't cry, and neither did 13-year-old boys. There was no excuse. So he would pretend nothing had happened, he would leave the clothes on the floor and back out and wedge that difficult door shut—
The strength of the sun was shocking. Stan's trachea tightened as he tugged the door into place. He would go inside and Kyle would know what to do. He had to be with Kyle. Kyle would fix this; he would make this feeling go away.
But Stan was shocked to see someone else standing there, by the pagoda. It was a man — well, a boy, someone older than Stan felt but younger than he knew he looked. The boy stood there in knee-length white denim shorts and a pastel-yellow T-shirt, the color of storybook butter. The shirt was so thin, papery in texture, that Stan could see the boy's nipples.
"Hi," said the kid, and he sort of tilted his chin into the air. His hair was blond, though much darker than the T-shirt, and his arms were crossed; he held his elbows at his hip bones. It seemed awkward to Stan, somehow acrobatic.
"Um." Stan was really not sure what to say. "Hi?"
"Hi," the boy repeated. "Is there any sort of reason why you're not returning my messages?"
Stan blinked. It was too smoggy and too bright to deal with this. "Casey?
"Dude, I—" Stan swallowed. "Hi."
"Hi," said Casey, for a third time. "Are you, like, busy?"
"Me? No." Stan had to brace himself against the door to the pagoda. "I'm not. I'm, um — not busy."
"Because you're ignoring my messages!" said Casey. "And you ditched me!"
"I didn't ditch you," said Stan, though he really had no clue, and felt bad if he had, in fact, ditched Casey. "I haven't been checking — um, answering — my messages."
"I waited all yesterday," Casey said. "All evening I sat at that stupid bar you like. It was horrible! Lesbians kept talking to me!"
"You know I hate that!"
"Calm down, dude." Stan was thoroughly disinterested in dealing with this at the moment.
"I am calm!" This reminded Stan of something Kyle would say, particularly when he was on the cusp of freaking out. "Just because I'm the other woman doesn't mean you can treat me like I don't have feelings. My therapist said I'm not supposed to let myself be treated like this!"
"What is it with people in this town and therapists?"
"Don't be snarky about it!"
"I'm just saying! Listen. What can I do to get you to go away?"
"Excuse me?" said Casey. "You owe me a date. At least a meal!"
Stan did not like anything about his kid one bit. "I don't owe you anything," he said. "Look, I — I'm involved with someone else."
"No shit. You don't have to give me your lecture again, about how you won't leave your little wifey. About how this isn't serious. That was our deal! You didn't have to be serious about it if you treated me with respect. But standing me up, ignoring my messages — that's not very respectful!"
"You're right," said Stan. What else was he supposed to say? "It's not very respectful. I'm sorry. Just—"
"Just." Stan became very quiet: "Don't call Kyle my 'little wifey,' " he said. "He's pretty great."
"Pretty great!" Casey scoffed. "I don't want to talk about her anyway. This is about me and you!"
"There is no me and you."
"I know! I'm just saying—"
"I mean, there is no me and you because — because, um. I'm dumping you!" Stan was shaking, his heart beating wildly, adrenaline coursing through his veins.
"Excuse me," said Casey, "are you being serious right now?"
"Yeah," said Stan. "You bet I am!"
"Shit." It was only here that Casey's posture took on a bit of slack, and he began to bite at his thumbnail.
For a moment Stan pitied him. Not a great deal, but enough. "You, um, seem like an okay guy?" He reached out to pat Casey on the shoulder, tentative. Stan was afraid something might go wrong, that Casey might freak out and storm into the house and tell Kyle everything. It was odd, being held accountable for a situation Stan didn't recall initiating. "You know, sometimes this stuff doesn't work out?" Stan shut his eyes, unable to look at poor Casey — but then, when he shut his eyes, all he saw was his girlfriend, Wendy Testaburger, as if he was saying this to her. So, Stan opened his eyes. "You'll find someone, you know. You're young and — cool."
"Cool!" Casey spat, like it was ridiculous.
"Yeah, dude," said Stan. He withdrew his hand, crossing his arms. "You know, it's weird that I just like, found you here."
"Well, you stood me up! And you didn't answer my messages!"
"Yeah, I'm—" Stan saw the look of hurt on Casey's face, and he softened. "I'm sorry, dude, that wasn't right of me. I should have replied to your messages."
"Oh." Casey brushed some hair from his eyes; he was squinting in the sun. "No, it wasn't! So, apology accepted."
"You're — cool with this?"
"I really just wanted you to like, admit what you did. See, my therapist—"
And Casey went off again.
When Casey had gone, and when Stan went into the house, it smelled sweet, like Kyle was cooking. The couch looked inviting, and Stan went to sit down, sinking into the cushions. He rubbed his eyes. He listened. There were sounds of clanking coming from the kitchen, and the dining room table was now set. Stan had no interest in table settings. He put his head in his hands; he just wanted this miserable experience to be over. He was plagued, though, by two possibilities. What if this experience never came to an end — what if this was his life?
And worse: What if it was all his fault?
It happened on Thursday morning, on the way to the bus stop.
Kyle had come to Stan's door, which was unusual. Stan did not remember Kyle meeting up with him at home before school, at least not in seventh grade. Stan was only half dressed, his shoes and socks on, but he was not wearing a shirt. In truth he had been studying himself in the bathroom mirror, enduring his sister's knocks on the bathroom door. He had opened it, and asked, "What?"
She had looked down at him, her eyes puffy, his skin sallow. "I need to put on foundation," she'd said. "Get out of there."
"My school starts a half-hour before yours," Stan had said, "and I need to walk to the bus stop."
"So? You have a car!"
"You owe me 30 bucks," she had said, "you owe me 30 bucks so I suggest you get out of the bathroom — what the hell are you doing in there, anyway?"
He had been looking at himself, looking at his chest. Looking for signs of chest hair. Trying to remind himself he was an adult. Failing. "Nothing," he'd said. "Just — mind your own business, Shelly." She never minded her own business, she'd never learned. Forcing him to play the piano for their father, forcing him to come home, trying to drag him into her life with her need to absolve her guilt over not being there—
"Do you want mom and dad to find out?" she was asking. "Because, I'll tell them—"
And then the doorbell had rung.
"Who the hell?" Shelly had asked, a look of guilt on her face. Stan most certainly had not asked her what it was concerning.
Stan saw his mother in her bathrobe, come stumbling out of the bedroom. "Wasn't one of you going to get that?" she asked, on her way down the stairs.
"Shelly's in my way," Stan had said.
"Stanley's being a little shit," she'd countered.
And while Stan was waiting for his mother to reprimand her for using the S-word, Sharon had gone downstairs and opened the door.
"Hi, Mrs. Marsh." It was Kyle. He sounded nervous. "Is Stan home?"
"Well, of course he's home." Sharon Marsh sounded annoyed. Disgusted. "It's just — honey, it's cold out. Come inside."
Stan heard the door shut, and he heard Kyle running up the stairs. "Stan?" Kyle asked, reaching the landing.
"Honey," Stan's mother said, following behind Kyle. "Honey, were you expecting a visitor? At 6:30 in the morning?"
This was when Shelly shrugged, and made a face, as if saying, "Well, you're in trouble anyway" — and she shoved right into the bathroom. Stan even heard the lock click.
Standing there, at a loss for what to say, Stan moved aside. He was shirtless, and Kyle was staring at him. Kyle was wearing a parka, and a hunter's cap that hid his hair.
Stan was shirtless.
"Stanley, you can't keep doing this," his mother said, hands on her hips. He could see part of her bare chest peeking though the folds of her robe. Stan wanted to rest his cheek against it. He wished she would embrace him. Instead, she continued, "Look, I know we say sometimes Kyle is family — no offense, Kyle — but you can't invite him over here at 6:30 on a school day!"
"I'm sorry," Stan choked out. He crossed his arms over his chest.
"No, you're not," said Kyle. "I'm sorry, Mrs. Marsh, Stan didn't invite me, I just came—"
"Can't you two just meet at the bus stop?" she asked.
"Of course," said Kyle. "I'm really sorry, I hope I didn't disturb anything."
"It's fine, sweetheart," she said. Her hair was mussed and she seemed so tired. "Just, it really is early, in our house."
"I just had to meet Stan before school!"
"It's all right, it's fine," she said. "We'll talk about this later, Stan."
"I didn't do anything!" he spat.
"Well, we'll just — look. I'm getting back in bed. Good morning, boys. I'm getting back in bed for half an hour. If only." And she left, shutting the door behind her.
Now they were alone, in the morning dark of the hallway. There was a skylight, but it was too early; the sun was shining on the other side of the house. Stan had not lived here for years and yet he remembered which face of the house was the eastern side and which rooms became bright earliest in the morning.
"I'm sorry," Kyle said. His voice was sharp with worry. "I didn't mean—I had to see you—they're always at the bus stop before me—"
"It's okay," said Stan, taking Kyle into his room. He switched the overhead light off; the yellowish glow of that football lamp by his bed was all Stan needed. Kyle looked better in soft light, anyway. His hair was peeking out from under his hat now, and Stan closed the bedroom door, licking his lips. "What's up?"
"I wanted to talk about something." Kyle seemed to be nervous. As he sat down on the bed he pulled his hat on tighter, pushing his loose curls back underneath.
"It's hot in here," Stan said, "I mean, it's — we have the heat on, so, you can take off your hat if you want."
"I'm fine," said Kyle. "It's just..." He trailed off, and Stan glanced down at him. They linked eyes for a moment, but Kyle looked away.
"Is it about the money?" It was unlikely that Stan would be able to extricate himself from this situation. Craig was already sending Stan threatening notes online, reminding Stan that he had two more days, one more day ... now Stan had no more days, and he was about 60 dollars short. Raking was not as lucrative as Stan might have hoped, though he also was unsure whether he cared. The only thing at stake, he felt, was being able to spend time with Kyle. It was odd, having an adult perspective on one's youth, in one's youth. The little things that weighed heavily on grade schoolers absolutely did not matter.
"It's not about the money," Kyle said. "It's more about that thing Bebe said yesterday."
Stan's attention perked up as he fell into his desk chair. He was still naked from the waist up. He felt his little nipples hardening. The thought of it brought him some satisfaction, and he smiled, trying to recall what it was that Bebe had said. He couldn't. "Which thing?"
"About—" Whatever Kyle's next words were meant to be, he swallowed them. "The thing about you and — Wendy."
"What about me and Wendy?" Stan asked.
"Well, she's your girlfriend."
"I guess," said Stan.
"Well, that's just it. What do you mean, you guess?"
"I mean, I guess, yeah, she is my girlfriend. It's no more complex than that." Grade schoolers' relationships, Stan felt, were anything but complex.
"It's just that like Bebe said, you're not very nice to her!"
This peaked Stan's interest. "Well, why does it matter if I am?" he asked.
"I'm just interested. No reason."
"Bullshit, no reason. Kyle, you're nothing but reason. You have a reason for everything."
"Sometimes I just want to know things, or I want to tell you things." Kyle's voice became quiet. "I just wanted to tell you that you're not a very good boyfriend to her, is all. Bebe was right about that."
"I still don't see that concern it is of yours."
"Because I hate to think—" Kyle stopped himself. "Never mind! This is stupid! I'm leaving!" As he got up off the bed, his hat shifted, and some of his hair fell loose again.
"Just sit down," said Stan.
"Why should I?"
"Because as long as you're here, we should at least walk to the bus together. You don't need to walk alone in the cold."
"Maybe I don't want to walk with you," Kyle said, though he did sit back down. "I've been thinking about it, and I am upset that you aren't a good boyfriend to Wendy. She's not my favorite but it's bothering me!"
Stan got up now, and walked over to the bed. He sat down next to Kyle, the bare skin of his upper arms grazing Kyle's parka. "Wendy's my problem," said Stan, and as soon as it was out of his mouth, he knew that it was true, and he knew he would have to do something about it. More pressing, though, was Kyle. "We're not married," said Stan, "so you don't have to worry about it."
"But what if someday you guys are married? I hate to think you'd be a bad husband, or at least as bad a husband as you are a boyfriend!"
"I meant me and you," said Stan. "We're not married."
Kyle's face went pink. "Nope, we're not, but seeing as I'm your best friend, it's really important that I talk to you about these things." He inched away from Stan.
"And about the raking, I mean, the money."
"I hate to think you'd get in trouble!"
"But if I did, what concerns you about it? What concerns you about who I date and how I get in trouble or don't with my parents?"
"You're talking like a shrink!"
"Well," said Stan, "we've been seeing one, so." He put his elbow on his thigh, hunched over, and his chin in his hand.
"You're seeing a shrink?" Kyle asked. "Why didn't you tell me!"
"Oh, I'm sure you're aware of it," though of course the kid sitting in front of Stan could not possibly have been. Kyle's eyes were unfocused, but in them, Stan was sure he saw the signs of total panic. Suddenly, he knew what he wanted. "Please just tell me what you're feeling right now."
Kyle got up off the bed, leaving Stan alone there. "I don't know what I'm feeling!"
"Yes you do," Stan said.
"No I don't," said Kyle, and he started to cry. "I'm just trying to be nice to you! You're my best friend and I—"
Long ago, Stan had become somewhat immune to Kyle's tears. "What if I felt the same way?"
"Bebe's wrong!" Kyle sobbed. "She's wrong and you need to put on a shirt! It's indecent! It's disgusting!"
"You interrupted me getting dressed," Stan said. "Do you want to help me pick a shirt out?"
"Please don't leave! You only just got here!"
"Figure out your own shit!" said Kyle. "You're unhealthy for me! You're unhealthy to me and you're mean to Wendy and you're mean to me, too! A nice person doesn't do this to another person! You know what I mean!"
"I know," said Stan, but Kyle was already fleeing downstairs.
The day was long, and it did drag on.