Something was wrong.
He felt it when he woke up in the morning, before he even opened his eyes. The alarm was wrong. The pillow was too thin. And then he opened his eyes to find himself in a room filled with macho sportsball bullshit. This was fucked up, and it definitely wasn’t his room.
As he reached for his phone, the black screen revealed enough of a reflection that he knew there was something wrong with his face. And if that wasn’t enough weirdness so soon in the morning, he didn’t even need to input a passcode to get into his phone. The wallpaper was wrong. And sure enough, when he opened the camera and hit the bottom to make the camera rear-facing, the face definitely wasn’t his.
It was Marsh’s.
He fucking looked like Stan. Marsh. The thing was, he didn’t always look like Stan. Most days they were easily distinguishable: he was taller, leaner. His hair was styled better. The color of their eyes, their undertones, and their clothing styles were all different.
But today, he looked like the spitting image of him.
It didn’t make sense, and for a moment, Craig was convinced that this was just another dream. That had to be the case; anything else was illogical. People didn’t just switch bodies or consciousnesses. It stood to reason that if he closed his eyes and let himself sleep a little longer, he’d wake up properly and everything would be as it was supposed to be. He was absolutely certain of that.
That was until there was a knock on the door, and Mrs. Marsh dipped her head in. “Stanley, come on, it’s time to get up. Breakfast is ready.”
Marsh still lived at home and still got woken up by his mother, who also cooked him breakfast, at this age? Weak ass bitch.
Still, Craig pulled himself out of bed and stretched. His fingers didn’t even touch the blades of the ceiling fan. That must’ve been what it felt like to be short, and while that particular aspect was refreshing, he didn’t like it. He hated everything and felt absolutely mindfucked.
The only thing he knew that he could do was to try to make it through the day and figure out what was going on. Even if he was panicking, he knew better than to let it show. Keeping a cool head meant getting to the bottom of this more quickly. So he pilfered through Stan’s awful-as-hell wardrobe. For someone who had claimed to be gayer than him, he really had poor tastes. There were too many ratty t-shirts, too much flannel. The only acceptable shirt was an eggshell blue button up. Naturally he pulled that out, a decent pair of pants.
He really didn’t want to face Mrs. Marsh again at all if he could help it, so rather than heading downstairs, he found the bathroom instead. His face— Stan’s face—was more than stubbly. And while he knew that Stan had some sort of shitty rustic-yet-grunge aesthetic going on, it just wasn’t going to fly.
Craig washed up, gave his new and hopefully temporary face a proper shave, actually bothered to comb and style his hair. In what was hardly any effort, he managed to look more presentable than Stan ever did.
| You ready? I have to get to campus earlier than usual.
A text from Kyle. Wow, Stan carpooled too? This guy was such a fucking pussy. What, did mommy and daddy not trust him to drive? Though he supposed a short car ride with Kyle wouldn’t be terrible. No, he was certain he’d definitely not hate it at all. It wasn’t like they didn’t get along; over the past couple semesters they’d wound up lab partners and such for the various classes they’d had since they were in the same program together.
He could handle skipping breakfast, or having a late one, especially since it meant not needing to have another encounter with Mrs. Marsh. He hoped anything he needed was already in Stan’s backpack, because he didn’t go through it to find out. Throwing a strap over his shoulder, he ran downstairs to the front door. Mrs. Marsh’s inquiries were ignored in favor of getting out of the house as quickly as possible.
Outside, Kyle’s Prius idled, parallel parked along the front lawn. He was focused on his phone and only looked up when he opened the door and slid into the front passenger seat. Logic played quietly in the background as Kyle locked his phone and put it back in his pocket. Then he stared.
A few moments of silence, and he finally spoke. “You feeling alright today, Stan?”
“Why wouldn’t I be?”
Kyle gave him a hard look, one he couldn’t quite read. “No reason.” He put the car in drive and pulled out onto the road. Craig wasn’t familiar with this part of town, and without that point of reference that would allow him to know how long the drive was going to be, it felt like torture. “You can change the music, if you’d like.”
It felt like a test, and Craig wasn’t sure which one the real Stan would have opted for. Unlocking Stan’s phone, Craig opened Spotify and spent a few minutes scrolling through Stan’s playlists. There was a ridiculous amount of country and white boy alternative rock. Craig didn’t feel like having his ears bleed. “What you have on is fine.”
“ Really? ” While Craig didn’t glance over at him, he could feel Kyle staring at him as they sat at a light. He couldn’t wait to be out of this stupid car.
That changed when they finally arrived on campus. Kyle parked in the commuter lot. Craig at least knew where he was; he could see the library and commons in the distance, but… Stan’s schedule? He didn’t know that. He didn’t even know what program the guy was in. That was when a sense of dread overcame him.
If he was in Stan’s body, Stan was likely in his, and if that asshole wound up fucking up his grades because he was too stupid to understand astrophysics—he’d kill him. He’d have no choice but to—
Right. He needed to respond to that. “What?”
Kyle stopped walking, crossing his arms. “Your classes are in the opposite direction.”
“Tuesday. You have English Comp this morning. Building 40. If you keep following me, you’re going to be late.”
Craig made a point of waving and heading in the correct direction. But there were more pressing things to take care of. Typing his own number into the send field, he wrote out a text: We need to talk.
The nausea he felt when he saw his reflection in the mirror wasn’t the only reason he didn’t want to leave this cramped dorm room. It was also the insistent pinging coming from the phone he left on the desk that sat between the bed and wall. Stan didn’t want to go out in public, he didn’t want to go anywhere looking like this.
Much less face Craig.
It wasn’t like he chose for this to happen, but there was something disconcerting about the whole thing. He didn’t want to see that asshole flouncing around in his body. He didn’t want to deal with this at all . What he wanted was a bottle of Everclear and Fanta, get himself so fucked up and out of his mind that he slept through whatever the fuck this was.
But as the phone chimed again, Stan resigned himself to having to do something more than that. Sighing, he got up and snatched up the phone. He couldn’t unlock it, but the locked screen showed him what he needed to know: a series of texts from a number he recognized as his own.
| We need to talk.
| Meet me at my library carrel. #326
| Don’t ignore these texts.
| I swear to god Marsh, if I have to hunt you down, I’ll kick your ass.
Whether Craig would follow through was something Stan was uncertain about but Craig did know where he was. And he couldn’t put past Craig to do some petty shit to wreck his life somehow. That guy was a dick.
With only half an hour to spare, he found clothes to wear, and after he decided he— Craig —looked presentable enough, he left the dorms.
The stress was already getting to him. He wasn’t thinking clearly. In theory, meeting Stan at the carrel would have been fine. Ideal. It was quiet, and the student who was often in the carrel on the other side of their shared wall always had headphones on. But the biggest hurdle was a matter he couldn’t get around: he didn’t have his keys.
He could only hope that Marsh had the sense to grab them. He kept his dorm neat so it wasn’t like they were hard to miss: they laid upon his desk, by his wallet, by his phone and charger. The library wouldn’t just hand him a spare key, especially not when he looked like this. Not with the incorrect student ID in his pocket, not with his face looking like this.
Craig merely waited outside of the door instead. As the minutes ticked by, he scrolled through Stan’s apps. Read through his cringey texts with some Wendy chick. Sure, it was invasive and bad form, but that’s what Stan got for making him wait with an unlocked phone.
Eventually, the sound of approaching footfalls caught his attention. Pocketing the phone, he saw Stan heading over and he looked… awful. There was just no way around it, and it was infuriating. He practically had bedhead, he hadn’t shaved, and—
“Why are you wearing pajamas? ”
“Why did you just punch me, dude!”
It was only his arm. Marsh was just a pussy. But it he were to be honest, he’d chosen the arm merely because he didn’t want to give his own face a black eye. But Stan didn’t need to know that. “You’re wearing sweatpants and a hoodie. You’re making me look like shit.”
He was still rubbing his arm and had the gall to put. “It’s not a big deal, dude. This was just what you had that’s comfortable.” His voice trailed off before finally reaching into the pocket of the hoodie for Craig’s set of keys. “Probably need these, right.”
Wordlessly, Craig snatched them from Marsh and unlocked the door to the study carrel. The room was small and simple: two wooden chairs, a desk built into the wall that had stacks of books that Craig didn’t feel like carting back home, an electrical socket. There was no window, not even an ethernet port.
Jerking one of the chairs into the corner of the room facing the door, Craig sat down, watching Stan take his seat. “Do you have any idea how this happened?”
Stan faltered. “No. I just woke up like this.”
It wasn’t often, or ever, that Craig felt the inclination to pinch the bridge of his nose. It just wasn’t how he expressed his frustration, but he found himself doing exactly that. “No shit. But this doesn’t just happen. ”
“I didn’t eat any fortune cookies last night. Or spin around with a DVD, so I don’t know what to tell you.” He sounded so goddamn surely. “Maybe it was magic.”
Now he really wanted to strangle him. “There’s no such thing.” But sitting around debating how it happened wasn’t going to do anything useful in the meantime. “We’ll figure it out, but in the meantime, ground rules.” He paused. Craig hated that he was even suggesting this, but what choice did they have? “We’re not going to be able to take our proper classes like this. So you’re just going to have to go to mine. I’ll go to yours—”
“Wait, no. I don’t know anything about what you’re studying.”
“Just show up, take notes, and records the lectures. Jesus Christ, Marsh, do you really think I trust you to do anything more than that? Don’t be ridiculous. I’ll still do my own assignments.”
“Fine. But you need to give me your phone pin.” Craig made a face at the mere suggestion. “Dude, you’re already suggesting we pretend to be each other until this is sorted. It would be stupid to pretend I’m you and not have access to anything that people might ask me about. Unless you want people to think you’re stupid.”
Craig’s jaw clenched. “5-9-5-3.” He watched as Stan input the pin, unlocking the phone with an aha! “One last thing. Don’t tell anyone.”
Kyle wasn’t stupid. He was observant, and over the years since he’d met Stan, he’d learned several things: he didn’t give a shit about his appearance. He never missed an opportunity to play his stupid music. And he always wanted to be early to his first class on Tuesday. It was the only one he had with that Wendy girl he liked so much.
So within the first few moments of his day, he already knew something was off, but he wrote it off as Stan being in a weird mood or maybe concussed. Perhaps there was something in the air. Some kind of toxic agent that was targeting the dark-haired men in his life, or something equally ridiculous.
First Stan actually looked presentable today, and then his lab partner showed up: visibly distressed, disheveled, unshaved, and appearing as though he came to school in the clothes he fell asleep in. Craig Tucker neither looked nor acted like the sort-of friend, sort-of acquaintance that Kyle knew him to be.
“Kyle, thank God,” he said almost breathlessly, settling into the seat beside him. “Dude, you’re not going to believe the morning I’ve had. I’m relieved you’re here.”
Craig never said that so much, so candidly before. It was weird. “What—” His question was cut off by their professor announcing the start of the lab. “Hold that thought.”
He and Craig worked well together: Craig was smart, and didn’t feel the need to get bogged down in conversation. Any communication was always limited to what they needed to do. It was ideal; Craig worked hard, pulled his weight. They alternated writing lab reports. But today, Craig simply leaned against the lab table and watched Kyle. He didn’t care if the guy was having an “off” day or not; the lack of assistance grated on him all the same.
“It’s just like...I mean, dude, I don’t think I’m actually disassociating in the textbook sense, but it’s weird and I’m kinda freaking out because I don’t know why or how this is happening--Dude, are you listening?”
Kyle felt his eye twitch. “I don’t know how you missed the memo, Craig, but we’re supposed to be working on our lab right now.” The sooner they finished, the sooner they would be able to leave, but Kyle had a feeling that leaving early wasn’t going to happen.
“Oh.” Craig cleared his throat. “I don’t understand any of that.”
He definitely wasn’t leaving early. Kyle took a measured breath. “How. How do you not understand this? We had an exam on the theory last week, and I saw the grade you got. You aced it.”
Craig looked uncertain then, shifting on his stool. “I’m having an off-day. Can you just carry the load this time?”
“And then he had the audacity to want me to the lab for him. Literally the whole thing. Who the fuck does that?” Kyle’s knuckles were white as he gripped the steering wheel. Taking a measured breath, he spared a glance to who he thought was Stan. “Sorry—I know you don’t like hearing about him.”
It was a lot to take in, and Craig wasn’t sure how to process any of it. Well, that wasn’t entirely true. He was already regretting thinking Stan could handle his classes. That alone annoyed him. But the implication that Kyle talked about him. That was what perplexed him. Was it always bitching? Or something else? What part annoyed the real Stan?
“It’s fine.” He really didn’t know what an accurate response from Stan would have been. Perhaps some snotty comment, referencing that weekend where they’d had to room in the same dorm for freshman orientation. But more important were the things that happened today , and it already seemed like he had a lot to fix. “What did you tell him?”
Kyle sighed heavily. “I told him to at least look busy. Look—it’s not what you think.” What exactly did Kyle think he thought this was? “He’s just normally a really good lab partner, and if it’s really an off day like he said, I don’t want his grades to suffer because of it. But dude, there was something really weird about him.”
This was beyond a nightmare. It was one of the inner-circles of hell, though when he died and in what fashion, he couldn’t say. That was what Stan thought. What else could it have been? some Stupid plot device out of a shitty mother-daughter movie or a sitcom about a different community college in Colorado? Even when he’d made those references to Craig, he knew it wasn’t actually possible. After all, that implied there was something to prompt it. And sure, they’d had beef for ages, but nothing that could have made this happen.
But here he was: still in Craig motherfucking Tucker’s body. He’d hoped that after the first day, after having to deal with Craig blowing up his phone over that lab, that would be the end of it. That he’d wake up the next morning in his own bed, in his body, in a life where he didn’t have to deal with the full force of Kyle’s anger for ridiculous things.
But he couldn’t have been more unlucky. When he awoke the next morning, it was the same thing. As well as the morning after that. It fucked with his head. There was part of him that had to question whether if this weren’t actually normal. What if it was just all in his head? What if this had always been his life and for some reason he simply thought that wasn’t the case?
As he laid in Craig’s bed, holding Craig’s hands above his face to study them, he felt no familiarity in the sight, the size, or anything else. There was nothing familiar about the pristine dorm room, or the textbooks he owned, or the courses he took. Craig’s taste in music left much to be desired, and he barely owned anything that Stan would’ve even considered comfortable. And apparently it was bad form to wear sweats in public.
The only reason Stan was able to hold onto a shred of sanity was knowing that it really wasn’t all in his head. The fact that Craig was in the same boat helped. Unless it was some kind of shared insanity. But he doubted that. The whole thing just sucked. Stan resented the inherent distrust in him that Craig seemed to have. As if he wasn’t smart enough to handle Craig’s classes. Because he was smart. He just wasn’t taking nerd classes like that. But whatever.
A wave of nausea hit him suddenly as he sat up, knowing he needed to keep the charade up again. That was how he was feeling all the time these days. Nauseous. He would have preferred to just hide out here or somewhere else instead of trying to pretend to be Craig again. But it wasn’t worth the risk of having Craig sabotage his life. Like with Wendy. Who wasn’t technically his girlfriend, but he felt it was possible that she could be, one day. And there were certainly more things that could be ruined, too.
So he took an antacid and sucked it up. Went to the classes outlined in Craig’s schedule. Stan had never been a good actor, and even in attempting to act how he perceived Craig to be, he was certain that people knew something was off. Kyle certainly did. Stan hadn’t even realized how many classes Craig and Kyle had together until he had to deal with his best friend getting increasingly frustrated with him.
It wasn’t that he didn’t know that Kyle had a quick temper. He just wasn’t often on the receiving end of it. At least the classes he had with Kyle today were all lectures, so there was less room to fuck up. If Kyle followed through on his threat to get a new lab partner, something he’d said begrudgingly in the last lab, it would mean more drama from Craig. For some reason.
Settling down on in the lecture hall beside Kyle, Stan offered him a smile. “Hey, Kyle.”
Kyle looked up from his phone. He felt those eyes looking over him, scrutinizing. “Hi, Craig. Still feeling under the weather?”
“What! No, I’m great.” Stan was trying , what with the wardrobe and douche hair… But the hmph Kyle responded with told him that wasn’t good enough.
Little else was said between them. The lecture started, Stan recorded the lecture and tried his best to take diligent notes. Periodically, he’d glance over at Kyle, who paused in his note-taking to respond to texts. They were seeing close enough that he could see his name. His contact photo popping up.
Technically it was normal for Kyle to text him. But he was right here. Kyle was texting Craig. And smiling. He couldn’t help but feel a little bitter that Kyle was texting Craig. How could that guy be making his best friend smile? He was awful.
“Kyle, do you have a minute?”
He was en route to his next class when Wendy stopped him on the campus green. They weren’t particularly close, but they’d been in the same group, with Stan, who attended the trivia nights at the local dive. And of course, he knew her through everything Stan ever said about her. “Oh, yeah. What’s up?”
She tucked a strand of shoulder-length black behind her ear. “I was wondering. Has Stan been acting strange to you? Normally he texts. And we talk in class, have lunch together—but lately he’s been really standoffish and just not like himself.”
Kyle frowned. “I can’t confirm anything… but I have a theory that there’s something going on. It’s not you.”
“What’s going on, then?”
He bit the inside of his cheek. He didn’t know with any real certainty; that’s why it was a theory. But he certainly had a lot of supporting evidence for his theory: two men in his life were behaving oddly and every manner, and in a lot of ways acted like each other. But he couldn’t come right out and tell her what his theory was. He knew it was insane. But he also didn’t want Stan’s chances, if he was correct, if things somehow went back to normal.
“I—” He bit the inside of his cheek. “I have to get to class. I’ll tell Stan to talk to you.”
As he rushed off, he heard her call after him. “Tell him he better. I’m not going to play this game with him, Kyle.”
He did tell Stan that he really needed to talk to Wendy. You could lead a horse to water, they said, and this was one of those instances. If Stan was Stan , then it made no sense why he didn’t jump on the opportunity to talk to Wendy before she wrote him off. Instead, Stan’s expression was blank, confused.
That was it. That was the entirety of his response before Stan commented on wanting to grab lunch off campus since they both had an extended gap between their morning and afternoon classes.
To Kyle, it confirmed his running theory, apart from blatantly asking. But it didn’t change how much of a terrible person he felt like he was. How he’d been feeling over the past few weeks—culminating with how he’d felt for nearly a year. But it wasn’t about Stan.
It was who he thought Stan was.
They had lunch at a hole-in-the-wall Mexican place. The chairs were old and cracked, and between that and the furnishing on the walls, he could just tell it was going to be good food. He wasn’t wrong about that. Then again, Kyle felt that he often wasn’t wrong at all.
He scrutinized everything. The way Stan ate, the way he wiped his fingers on his napkin. The fact that he brought up the black hole imaging algorithm as a topic of conversation. Kyle wasn’t wrong about this, he couldn’t be.
“You know, you’ve looked really nice lately.” Kyle told him once they got back in the car. He turned the engine over, but didn’t pull out of the parking spot quite yet. He was feeling brave. Brazen, even. “When you put in the effort like this, you actually look really hot.”
Stan shifted in his seat, peering over at him as his face and neck flushed. “Really?” Normally, Stan would’ve laughed it off and thanked him, in a total bro way, if Kyle bothered to compliment him like that. Instead he seemed… invested.
“Yeah. Can I be honest?” When Stan nodded, Kyle opted to push things further. “This whole new look. It kinda reminds me of Craig, in a way. Back when he used to dress sexy all the time. I’m not really sure what happened there.”
“Oh. Yeah. No idea.”
The prolonged eye contact was tense, thick with uncertainty of what next. Instead of finding out exactly what that was, Kyle cleared his throat. “Should get back to school,” he murmured, finally putting his Prius in reverse.
Craig wasn’t sure how long he could keep up this charade. Acting like Stan all the time was exhausting. Trying to keep up with his family’s bullshit enough that they didn’t suspect anything was exhausting. Stan’s classes were boring, and even though he was still doing his own coursework for his classes, things weren’t going so well.
There was something fundamental he was missing by not being physically present in the lecture halls and labs, and though Stan had picked up on some concepts, the notes he took were blatantly written in a manner that suggested he didn’t understand most things, and with midterms just around the corner, things weren’t looking hopeful. It would have been simpler to just ask Kyle for his notes, but—
Kyle was something else that he didn’t know how to handle.
They’d always gotten on okay in the context of classmates. And it wasn’t that he unaware that Kyle was attractive, and smart, and a lot of things that he quite liked. Far from it. But intentionally or not, they’d established boundaries.
And Kyle had bulldozed right through them with what he’d said in the car.
He had been saying that to him , hadn’t he? Not Stan. That was what he wanted to think, and with the way it had made his heart thrum, he wanted to be certain. Finding the time for it was something else entirely. It just never felt like the right time.
Perhaps it was easier not to say anything at all. Perhaps he could get by just enjoying getting to spend time with Kyle outside of the classroom. There was something vibrant and almost addicting about him; the way his lit up when he talked about something he cared about. The gestures he made.
Like right now.
He would have been content to listen to him talk forever.
That was until Stan came up to them as they sat in the commons with their lunches. “Are you eating meat? You can’t do that! I’m vegan. Er—you are!”
Craig looked down at his to-go box from the cafeteria, which held french fries and a half-eaten hamburger. He looked up at Stan-in-his-body. Without breaking eye contact, he lifted the burger and took another bite.
Before Stan could cause a bigger scene, Kyle spoke up. “Everything okay, Craig?” Stan muttered something about Craig being a fake bitch as stormed off.
Hopefully Kyle hadn’t caught that, but with how he tapped his fingers on the table and watched Stan leave, Craig was certain that he had. Neither said anything about it though, both opting to finish their lunches.
Trash discarded, they walked through the commons. The school’s conference center, book store, and cafeteria were all housed in the same building, which meant a lot of meandering brick-walled hallways that got quieter and quieter as they ventured toward the conference center.
“Kyle. I have to tell you something.” Hands in his pockets, he stopped walking, leaning against the wall as he looked over at his classmate. “I’m not Stan.”
“I know that, Craig.”
That gave him pause. “Wait, what. Is it because of what happened during lunch?”
Kyle snorted something ugly, shaking his head. The way his curls moved along with the movement was distracting. “Dude. No. I’ve suspected as much for ages. It was kind of obvious, given… literally everything.”
“It’s not my fault that Marsh has terrible tastes in everything.”
“Not just that.” Kyle stepped closer. Craig straightened. “The number one dead giveaway for me was realizing I’m attracted to you. I mean. Like this. ”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
That was when Kyle leaned in, pressing his lips against Craig’s.
“—It means I’ve never been into Stan, dude.”
“Uh.” Stan’s hands rested on his shoulders, pushing him back. “That’s nice, but why were you kissing me?”
Kyle blanched. “ Stan? ” Of course he was looking at Stan’s body, but he could tell that this was Stan -Stan. Had that really fixed this fucked up situation? “Oh god. Dude, I’m so sorry. I was just, um. Wait, Stan, where’s Craig? Where were you just a minute ago?”
Stan looked just as confused as he felt, but at least he opened his mouth to answer. But it wasn’t expedient enough.
“Nevermind. We’ll talk later,” Kyle told him, continuing down the hall to the closest exit as he pulled up Craig’s contact on his phone. He picked up almost immediately after he dialed.
“ Kyle? This is insane. I’m back to being me. I don’t know why that worked, but it did.”
He couldn’t help but smile as he cradled his phone against his ear. “Yeah. There’s a lot I want to talk about. I’m coming to find you.”