New story idea bc I needed to drag my mind out of the basement for a moment. I was hoping that this would be lighter than my other stuff, but it probably won't be. I'll add tags and warnings as I go along (as always).
Anyway, ENJOY <3
PS: Feedback's always appreciated. :D
I might not be the right one
It might not be the right time
But there's something about us I've got to do
Some kind of secret I will share with you
I need you more than anything in my life
I want you more than anything in my life
I'll miss you more than anyone in my life
I love you more than anyone in my life
- Something About Us, Daft Punk
I'm being obsessive again but I have a good reason this time, I swear. You'd obsess too if Craig Tucker showed up out of nowhere and said he'd been hired to work at the shop for the entire summer. I mean, you would, right? Or am I alone in this?
I'm in the bathroom nursing a panic attack right now so excuse me if this is really messy. Well, it's messy all the time, isn't it; my writing, my thoughts? They're especially messy right now because Craig....
Why does he have to look so good to me, even now? Why does he have to smell so good, like laundry detergent (not even the expensive kind, either...no, it's the cheap off-brand from Wall-Mart! Don't ask me how I can tell, I just know), Aspen shavings (that tells me he still has Stripe, right? That's what he used to sleep on... God, is he even still alive?), and something else... something I can't pinpoint. Sweat, maybe? But it smells so clean. It smells like the sweat that comes from walking briskly through the woods, not from being nervous or afraid.
Not like me. I'm a fucking wreck right now. Even more so than usual, if that's even possible. How could my parents do this to me They know I freak out if my routine is changed at all, and over the smallest things, but this is huge, gigantic, gargantuan... this turn of events is almost as big as Craig these days.
He's so tall. He's always been tall but now... now he's like an adult. What a bizarre thought, you know? Does he still like Red Racer? Does he still have stars on his ceiling? Does he still trace them with his finger int the air before he falls asleep? He was always fascinated with space so he actually arranged them to resemble the constellation formations in the summer sky. I know this to be true because I was there the day he stuck them up there... checking his star chart every few seconds.
He even told me we'd eventually sleep outside so he could show me the constellations for real, but we never got around to that. We had so many plans that we never got around to and I'd almost come to terms with that fact but now he's here.
He's out there waiting for me to start training him for the whole summer....
The entire summer.
Three months of Craig Tucker.
Jesus Christ, this is way too much pressure, but I guess I should go. I've been hiding in here for a while....
PS: I just pinched myself to make sure I'm not dreaming and it hurt really bad... so much for that theory.
PPS: okay, I chickened out right before I opened the bathroom door because I caught my reflection in the mirror and jesus christ I look TERRIBLE. How could my parents do this to me? My hair is awful even when I try to do something with it but right now it's out of control. Craig's wearing his hat so I have no idea what his hair looks like but I'm sure it's better than mine. Ughhhhh.
Fine, I just won't come out. If my parents want to spring shit on me than they can train Craig. It's their stupid store anyway, and they don't even have -
Jesus, someone's knocking! Someone's fucking knocking! Ahhh, it's him! It has to be!
"Tweek, honey, you've been in the bathroom for twenty minutes. What's wrong? Do you need help?"
Tweek groaned, but it was one of relief. Well, and irritation, of course. Leave it to his mom to ask her 16 year old son if he needed help in the bathroom, like he was a toddler that hadn't mastered the art of wiping yet. Shakily, he stowed his small journal and pen in the pocket of his jeans before he opened the door, trembling so hard that the knob rattled. He peered out.
"What are you doing? Your friend's been waiting for you," Mrs. Tweak said, giving her son a puzzled look; arms crossed.
"You should've told me he'd be working here," Tweek replied, somehow managing to refrain from blurting out the cruel truth. Craig wasn't his friend... he had no idea what they were to each other anymore; probably nothing. "You never tell me anything!"
Instant concern passed over her face and she placed a hand on her son's shoulder.
"Were you having a panic attack, Tweek? Is that why you were in the bathroom for so long?"
Yes! Jesus christ, yes!
"No," he snapped, trying to assume an air of dignity; shaky, tremulous dignity. "I was just... well, I-"
"Oh, it must be your nervous stomach then," she decided, patting his cheek in that infuriating way she had; she had to realize it wasn't soothing so much as condescending. "I'll just go tell him that you're having tummy trouble, and-"
"Stop, don't do that!" He shrieked, managing to latch onto her before she could move away. "God, mom, are you trying to humiliate me right now?!"
She sighed and placed a hand against her forehead, clearly losing her patience, which wasn't very long on a good day.
"Tweek, I don't have time for this right now. Are you going to go train your friend or not, because your father needs my help with inventory."
He grit his teeth at that word again - friend - but somehow found the wherewithal to nod his head. His mother just stared at him.
"What, is that a yes nod or are you telling me you're not going to do it?"
"Yes, fine! I'll train him for God's sake!" He shouted, his voice echoing all around them in the small hallway, making him cringe.
"Well, you don't need to shout," she replied, turning on her heel and walking away, leaving Tweek to slowly meander after her, dying with every step because he knew God and everyone just heard him make an ass of himself.
"Found him," Mrs. Tweak said cheerfully as she approached the front counter where Craig, impossibly tall, intimidating Craig was waiting, blue hat covering his hair and stoic expression on his face. "Sorry about that."
"It's cool," Craig said, shrugging shoulders that seemed miles-wide to Tweek. He was wearing dark denim jeans and a maroon t-shirt. Clearly, he'd gotten the memo that Tweak Bros did not have a strict uniform policy.
"My only stipulation," she added, smiling, "is that you can't wear your hat behind the counter."
"Sure." Slowly, he reached up and removed the hat and Tweek almost had to catch his breath at the sight of smooth, only slightly-mussed dark hair. There had been a point in their history where Craig would only remove the hat for him, and even then he'd done it grudgingly.
"Well, I'll leave you to it." Clapping her hands, she headed for the back, calling over her shoulder as she went:
"Good luck, you two."
Fighting the urge to scurry along behind her, Tweek found himself staring at his feet and biting his lip, his old red converse suddenly the most interesting things in the world; ghostly graffiti on his left shoe of a tic tac toe game he'd lost to Token catching his eye. It wasn't long before a much larger pair of shoes, scuffed Adidas, were moving into his line of sight.
"Where do we start?"
Craig's voice was more than Tweek could describe in that moment, mainly because he hadn't heard it directed towards him and him alone in so long. It was deep, it was monotone, it was...him, just Craig, this stranger standing in the shop on a Tuesday morning....
It was his old best friend, the person he'd convinced himself he didn't miss, not at all, but he did; God, he did, but he hadn't allowed himself to think of it in ages because it hurt. His therapist has taught him not to dwell on situations that hurt him, especially if he couldn't change them.
But maybe the universe was giving him a second chance? Looking up, Tweek finally dared to look Craig in the eyes as he considered his question: where could they start? At the beginning? Was that even a possibility?
Why did you leave me behind?
"Sorry, you have to train me, by the way," Craig said, and for a moment his grey eyes had their old spark, even though he didn't smile. Tweek couldn't tell if he was trying to be funny or accusatory...or maybe he was genuinely apologetic? It was always so hard to tell with him. Some of the ice seemed to collapse between them anyway, almost making Tweek want to grab at the counter in secret relief. Craig still had power over him... he probably always would.
"You know I didn't mean it like that," Tweek muttered before moving around the counter and plucking up a green apron. He tossed it to Craig who caught it with one hand. Trembling, Tweek slipped another apron on, hoping that Craig couldn't see the way his hands were shaking. He could feel him watching, though.
"I just don't like surprises."
I couldn't sleep, but what else is new? At least I have a reason this time, and I'm pretty sure you know what it is. Jesus, I keep seeing his face every time I close my eyes. I haven't allowed myself to look at him, really look at him, in so long, and he's changed so much. His face isn't as round, and he has stubble. Dude, Craig probably shaves. I barely have peach fuzz, and Craig Tucker is shaving (at least, I assume he is). Can you believe it?
Somehow, I can, even though it still amazes me. He seems so much older than me, but then again, he always has. I think it's because he's always been so short on words.
But his version of quiet has changed, I've noticed. There are different types of quiet, don't you think? Especially when it comes to people. Craig's type of quiet used to seem contemplative, like he was watching and waiting and judging silently, but now it seems like it's almost against his will. He's careful, not like he's afraid or anything (I don't think I've ever seen him actually afraid before), but now he just feels so closed off. There were always these walls around him, but now it's like he's surrounded by a fortress.
But I'm probably overthinking things, just like always...I always tend to overthink when it comes to him. I was doing so well, too, but today just opened up the floodgates and now everything is pouring through; the memories, the questions, the confusion. I'm sitting here on my windowsill and I'm looking up at the big, wide night sky and the stars are just so bright, but they can't compare to the stars on his ceiling. They can't compare to the way the stars used to look when we'd ride in the back of his dad's old pickup truck...along back-country roads as night had just begun to fall, and we thought we were so reckless and cool because we were doing something illegal. Sometimes we'd even hold hands, and those were the trips that were the best...and that's when the stars seemed the brightest.
I just wanted to cling to him when he left the shop tonight, especially when I saw him climbing into that same old pickup truck; blue and rusted. I guess it was one of the only things his father gave him after his parents got divorced, and everything seemed to change overnight. I watched from the windows but I kind of hid so he couldn't look back and see me, but he didn't look back, and it hurt. I know it shouldn't have hurt because we've been apart for so long, but it still did. That's crazy, huh?
I wouldn't tell anyone else this, but a small, small part of my heart, the part that's still torn open, wanted Craig to turn around and come back to the shop and hold out his hand to me...I wanted him to ask me to go for a ride on one of those same old country roads his dad used to take, and I wanted him to hold my hand the entire time; even after the stars had come out.
How can this be happening? I thought I had come so far but I haven't...not if it was so easy for me to start having these thoughts, these ridiculous, impulsive fantasies. God, how am I going to get through this?
How am I going to survive a whole summer of being close to Craig again? Just, how?
Is he going to realize I never stopped loving him?
Will it even matter?
Stars fall at my feet, keep me grounded as I reach
Higher than I see, is there something there for me?
Pulling back the reins, letting go again
I'm not afraid, I'm not
-Zedd, True Colors
Lost and alone on some forgotten highway
Traveled by many, remembered by few
Lookin' for something that I can believe in
Lookin' for something that I'd like to do with my life
- John Denver, Sweet Surrender
Routines are important, don't you think? I mean, they are to me; really important. I used to be so scattered (okay, so I still am; sue me) but ever since I found a routine I could live with, it's made life less unbearable.
Wait, this is coming out too jumbled. Let me start again, okay? Jesus, I don't know why my therapist suggested I keep a journal in the first place. I can't keep my thoughts straight enough to write them down coherently, so if this comes across as being all over the place, don't say I didn't warn you. I refuse to write 'dear diary' or 'dear journal,' either. I feel like that puts too much space between us, and aren't we supposed to be friends? Wait, that looks weird, too. Aren't I basically writing to myself? Well, I guess there's some truth in the idea that you have to be your own best friend.
God, I sound pathetic. I used to have a best friend...we used to do everything together. We were practically attached at the hip, you know what I mean? Craig used to walk into my house like he was part of the family, and he told me that I could do the same thing (before his folks split up, of course) but I never felt comfortable enough. Craig was different, though...he had confidence. When he walks into a room, he commands it, and I just kind of become part of the woodwork. I don't mind it, though. There's safety in being overlooked.
What am I rambling on about right now? See, Craig has my head so fucked up that I'm even more easily distracted than usual.
Routines! Yes, that's right. I was going to talk about my routines. Let's start with the morning:
- Wake up way before my alarm because I can't sleep worth shit anyway.
- Lie there and stare at the cracks in my ceiling for a while until my nausea passes. I'm always nauseous until I've had my first cup of coffee. There's an entire world on my ceiling, did you know that? Craig may have his stars but I have a menagerie of animals above my bed. When I was a child I was convinced I could see demons too but my imagination has mellowed out a little. Mostly.
- Quick shower. I don't like being alone with my naked body for too long, and my bathroom is depressing. It's never been updated so it still has the rough ducks plastered on the bottom of the tub...you know, the non-slip ones? Maybe my parents still think I'm so immature that I'll fall while bathing, I don't know. I'm surprised they don't make me just take baths instead.
- Get dressed. For the life of me, I don't know why I insist on wearing button-up shirts when my hands are always so shaky. It takes me at least 2 or 3 tries before the buttons are in the right holes. At least I pay attention to stuff like that now, but I can attribute that to Craig, too. He was the one who finally pulled me aside one day and told me he couldn't take it anymore, and then he unbuttoned my shirt and redid it. We were in his room and it was so quiet because neither of his parents were home and his sister was out. This was after things had really gone south with his family so his house was empty a lot, and he wanted me to come over all the time (not that I was complaining). Anyway, I can remember the way his fingers felt on my skin when they accidentally brushed me (it was an accident, right?), and I held my breath the entire time he fixed my shirt -
You know, now that I really think about it, that was one of the last times he really touched me. I'd forgotten that. Huh.
I wonder if he noticed that my shirt was perfect yesterday? It was rumpled, of course, because I'm always rumpled, but all the buttons were in the right places. He didn't say much of anything beyond asking a couple of questions, but he never strayed away from work-related stuff.
I'm thinking he didn't really care. Are you getting that impression, too? I also like that just writing about my morning routine can dredge up so much Craig-related crap. I never realized just how stuck on him I still am...I never let him go, clearly.
I can't let him go. I'm stupid. All of this is so stupid. The only reason I'm writing is because I'm trying to distract myself until he gets here. At least this is giving me the chance to round out my routine with a nice, big cup of black coffee. Extra extra strong. The nausea should be passing but it isn't. My stomach is tied up in knots right now. I just want to put my head between my knees because I can feel a panic attack coming on, but I'm going to talk myself off the ledge. I'm not going to run out of the shop and back to my bed. I'm not going to hide today. I'm going to face this head-on, and -
Ahhh, I just saw his blue truck pull into the parking lot. I can see him behind the wheel and he isn't wearing his hat. The sun is so bright this morning and his hair is so shiny and -
Okay, my chest is tightening up, and I'm starting to get short of breath. I need to calm down I need to calm down I need to calm down I need
The little bells over the door to the shop tinkled as Craig stepped inside, his headphones in and one hand jammed in the back pocket of his jeans; another pair made of dark denim. Or maybe they're the same pair from yesterday? Tweek couldn't tell as he tried to collect himself, and he noticed Craig's eyes sliding to the journal he was slowly in the process of closing.
Well, he doesn't know that's what it is. It's just a notebook, after all, Tweek thought. I mean, not that he cares. What am I even thinking about right now?
Tweek wanted to ask Craig what he was listening to but of course he didn't. Instead, he stood and awkwardly skirted around him, intent on grabbing their aprons so they could begin. He didn't look while he pulled his own over his head and tied it, his hands straying to his hair so he could attempt to flatten it down. Like his button-ups, he wondered why he didn't just simplify matters by cutting it short. It was almost like he wanted to make his own life more difficult. It also felt strange suddenly giving a shit about his appearance again, but that was just Craig's influence, he supposed. He sighed and turned, almost jumping back when he saw Craig staring at him, already wearing his apron and his headphones gone. Now both of his hands were jammed in his back pockets.
"You okay?" He asked, his expression unchanging.
"If you say so."
Tweek almost wanted to cry. In the past, before things changed, Craig would've questioned him; wouldn't have taken his "fine" at face value. It would've annoyed Tweek if anyone else second-guessed him like that, but when Craig did it, it was okay. Instead, he just ignored the way the morning light played over the other boy's pale skin and began the process of opening the cafe, the two only speaking when Tweek needed to explain something, or Craig asked a question. Once again, he noticed that Craig's silence was different, heavier, and he couldn't help but feel like there was an air of sadness that seemed to filter through his indifference.
"Everything looks good, boys," Mr. Tweak said, coming in from the back and dusting some flour off of his hands. He stood in the middle of the shop and breathed in the chilled air, arms akimbo. He almost resembled a farmer overlooking his crops and marveling at their bounty. "I have a feeling we're going to be busy today, so look alive."
Tweek could feel himself blushing as he hid his face while rinsing some blenders at the sink. His father was embarrassing on a normal day but to be this cheesy in front of Craig was akin to slow torture. He could feel the blush deepening when Mr. Tweak addressed Craig directly.
"We're glad to have you aboard for the summer, son. What do you think of the place so far?"
It was almost like Mr. Tweak had forgotten that his son and Craig used to hang around the store all the time back in the day. They'd swipe scones from the glass case and drink so much espresso that they'd be jittery for hours afterward...Tweek even more so than usual. They'd get underfoot until Mrs. Tweak chased them out and told them to go play in the sunshine with the other kids...but they'd just end up at each other's houses and watching anime or fucking around and talking. As long as they were together it didn't matter where they were.
Does he still like anime? We were halfway through Elfen Lied when he basically told me to fuck off.
But that's not exactly how it happened, their end, and even Tweek had to admit that. It's not like they'd had a big explosion, no, it had been worse than that. They'd just had...silence. Eventual emptiness and unanswered calls and voicemails. Suddenly, Tweek's texts were being sent into empty space with no response, and when he would approach Craig he'd just walk past him or turn around, not meeting his eyes. It had happened gradually but Tweek still hadn't been able to stop it, and the worst part about it was that he hadn't fought. It was almost like he'd gotten caught in a tide and instead of working against the current he'd just allowed it to carry him away until any glimpses of Craig had disappeared.
Almost feeling like he was in a trance, Tweek came back to the present, surprised that his father and Craig were having an actual conversation. Craig wasn't exactly animated, but at least he appeared receptive.
"I'm saving up for the future, I guess," he said, catching Tweek's eye for a moment and lazily blinking. Quickly, Tweek looked away.
"You already have a college in mind?" Mr. Tweak asked, wanting to make Tweek groan. He'd talked about college until his head hurt and he just didn't want to deal with it. He didn't want to think about graduating and being off on his own. That was a life that seemed separate from him; too big, too final.
"Not really," Craig said, his voice shifting into an even deeper tone, which honestly amazed Tweek. He still had a squeaky, little voice. He often thought that if mice could talk, they'd sound just like him. "Honestly, I'm not even there yet."
"How's your mom been?"
Jesus H. Christ, dad. Is this a conversation or an interrogation?
"She's well." Now his words were clipped, and Tweek could feel the shift. Craig was done talking. Somehow, amazingly, his father seemed to pick up on this fact, too. He cleared his throat.
"Well, I'll just get back to finishing up the cinnamon rolls," he said, going over and patting Tweek on the shoulder. "Your mom should be in shortly. She had to run to the store."
"Right," Tweek muttered, still not really happy with his parents for putting him in such an awkward position.
The rest of the morning passed pretty smoothly, even though it was so quiet that it made Tweek want to tear his hair out. He couldn't be sure, but there was just so much tension between them that it almost made it hard for him to breathe. Craig seemed nonplussed though, like usual, so he was almost certain that all of the pressure was inside of himself, just like always. He was basically a shaken-up bottle that was ready to explode, but Craig was sitting on his lid.
Tweek was prone to distraction even under normal circumstances, so having Craig so near and in such tight quarters made him even more scatterbrained than usual. It didn't help that they were constantly running into each other or their hands would touch, or he'd feel Craig's nearness, his heat...and he could smell his scent, which almost made him think of a home with all the lights on and the door wide open. How could his aroma be so inviting but every other part of him be so remote? None of it made any sense, and Tweek was reeling until his head ached and his stomach felt like a clenched fist.
"Hey, I told you I didn't want any caramel on this," a customer barked at him, pulling Tweek from his thoughts and leaving him so frazzled he almost whimpered. Looking up, he saw a large, angry man glaring at him while holding a cup, where the aforementioned caramel was drizzled over the whipped cream. "Weren't you listening? Huh?"
"I-I'm so sorry, I'll make you another one," Tweek replied, reaching for the cup and trying to keep his hand steady, but it was so hard.
"It's even on the receipt," the guy said, holding up the slip of paper and practically jabbing it in Tweek's face. He backed up involuntarily and squeaked when he hit a hard surface. Oh, Jesus, Craig was right behind him and watching the whole exchange. He'd been in the walk-in when the guy had come in, so Tweek had been alone for a moment.
Great, now my humiliation has an audience.
His nausea only intensified when he realized that Craig was witnessing him being chewed out.
"I'll fix it," Tweek said, still reaching for the cup.
"Don't bother," the guy snapped. "I'm already running late. Just give me my money back, and next time fucking pay attention. What, are you incompetent or something?"
There was an audible intake of breath from behind Tweek when the man said that, and Tweek just wanted to die on the spot; just sink into the floor and disappear forever. He'd been verbally abused before while working the counter, it was just a part of the job, but Craig had seen it...he'd heard it....
Suddenly, there was a loud slam as Craig brought his hand down on the counter. Almost like he was moving a wicker chair that weighed absolutely nothing, he gently pushed Tweek aside as he took his place. Leaning forward, his voice was very low when he spoke, but it finally had some emotion. Anger.
"He already told you he was sorry," he said, gesturing to Tweek, who cowered with humiliation and shame behind him. "He even said he'd fix it, and you'll get your fucking refund, but you don't need to call him names. Who the hell do you think you are?"
The man sputtered while Tweek gaped at Craig's back, hardly believing what he'd just heard. For a moment, he had sounded like old Craig; his Craig. He'd always been protective of Tweek, standing up for him when he was teased at school, but he'd honestly thought he'd never be in this position again, with Craig coming to his defense....
Almost like he cared.
"I want to talk to your manager," the customer seethed, jaw clenched. "Now."
"Tweek," Craig said without turning.
"Uh, right," he replied, beginning to back away. Craig towered over the customer, and he noticed how he'd filled out since he'd really studied him. Sure, he was still lean, but Tweek almost got the impression that Craig could snap the douchebag in half. He smiled at the thought, suddenly feeling weirdly elated; almost like he was walking on air.
As it turned out, the asshole got his refund but Mrs. Tweak sided with Craig after she'd heard the whole story. She'd put an arm around her son when she'd told the man he could shop elsewhere if he was going to verbally abuse their employees.
"I appreciate you defending Tweek, Craig, but in the future please don't swear, okay?" She'd added after she'd patted Craig on the shoulder and walked away. Craig had just grunted and gone back to work.
For the remainder of the afternoon, Tweek was in a much better mood, and some of the tension slowly started to ease out of him. He and Craig seemed to develop a better rhythm, too, and they didn't run into each other as much; their movements more in sync. Craig was catching on quickly to the ins and outs of the cafe, which honestly didn't surprise Tweek, so training him wasn't difficult...aside from their lack of conversation.
Finally, Tweek couldn't take it anymore, and he knew that he'd pass out if he didn't say something about what Craig had done for him. He refrained from saying what he really wanted to say -
What the hell happened to us, anyway?
But he still felt compelled to thank him, because Craig didn't have to step in...he could've just watched from afar as Tweek had been berated, but no, he'd intervened. This knowledge lit a small light in Tweek's heart, and it was like he was floating instead of walking. Somehow, he managed to hold the words in his mouth until their shift was nearly over, and they were hefting the trash out to the dumpster behind the building.
"Thanks, by the way," he said, straining to throw his much smaller bag into the receptacle. "For stepping in earlier. I'm pretty sure that guy has cursed me out before, but customers all kind of blend together after a while."
Craig was quiet as he dusted his hands off, the late afternoon sunlight gilding his hair as the day slowly began to die. He'd removed his apron so Tweek could see his body better, and his mouth almost watered at the way his black t-shirt hugged his arms. Slowly, he pulled a pack of cigarettes from his pocket and shook one out.
"You smoke?!" Tweek yelped, unable to hide his surprise as Craig lit up. "Since when?!"
Craig shrugged, which seemed to be his standby response aside from grunting. Glancing at Tweek, his eyes squinted against the glare. He took a drag and blew the smoke out of the corner of his mouth.
"It's been a year, I guess," he finally said. "What, do you want to try?"
Tweek almost fell over when Craig didn't offer him the pack; instead, he offered him the cigarette he'd had between his lips. He shook his head frantically while holding his hands up.
"N-no way! My parents would kill me!"
"Suit yourself," Craig replied, putting the cigarette back in his mouth and letting it dangle as he openly regarded Tweek. His eyes narrowed after a moment. "How could you let him talk to you like that? I don't give a crap who you are, if he'd talked to me like that, I would've knocked him the fuck out."
He popped his knuckles, his expression becoming even colder than usual.
"In fact, I almost did. He was just asking for it."
"I could never do that," Tweek admitted, toeing at the ground with one grubby sneaker. "You know how I am." He sucked in his breath, immediately regretting what he'd just said. True, Craig might have known how he was in the past, but the past was long gone. They didn't know each other anymore, did they?
"I was hoping that had changed," Craig said, sucking the cigarette down to the filter before flicking it away. "Come on, let's get back inside."
It's been a week already and it's like time is picking up until it's almost flying. Every day I wake up and my first thought is Craig.
Craig. Craig. Craig.
It's almost like he's a song I have stuck in my head, and it's on repeat. Sure, it's a song without a lot of words, but I can't help but feel like it's my favorite. Now I feel like I have something to look forward to, and I almost jump out of bed in the morning...I don't really stare at the animals on my ceiling as much. That might change, though, because I ordered something a couple days ago, but I won't tell you what it is until it's arrived.
Craig is still closed-off and the silence between us isn't the old, comfortable quiet it used to be, but I don't know...something feels different. Does that make sense? I can't explain it, it's just this sensation in my skin, almost like he's watching me when my back is turned, but I'm probably deluding myself. Wishful thinking and all that. Still, I know I was freaking out when all of this started, but now I'm so weirdly happy, and if I could bottle up this feeling and keep it on a shelf so I could always have it available, I totally would.
My heart is telling me what this feeling is, but I keep ignoring it. Know what I mean? It's so fucking obvious, of course...Christ, the truth is probably written all over my face every time I look at him or write about him or -
Okay, so I already admitted to you that I love him. But did I ever tell you that I was in love with him before we parted company? I didn't? Well, that's probably because my emotions are fucking ridiculous and they'll just destroy me in the end; just like last time.
But it's the truth. We may have gotten together...become best friends...whatever, under ridiculous circumstances, I readily admit that, but it turned into something real after a while. Who knew Asian girls with impressive artistic abilities could create a bond like the one I had with Craig? We did the whole hand-holding, video game playing, talking on the phone for hours thing, but I don't think his feelings ever surpassed puppy love. Mine, however, not only passed over that line, they fucking crushed it. I can remember practicing kissing and hugging my pillow when I was a stupid little kid and just imagining it was Craig, because I wanted to do those things with him. I wanted to touch him. I wanted him to touch me.
I still want those things...so badly.
Ahhh, I can't believe I'm telling you this. I'm sure I'm going to have to burn you by the time this summer is over; after the dream has ended.
"You're always writing in that thing when I get here," Craig commented after stepping into the store one morning a week later, the sunlight once again sliding over his hair and making Tweek want to sigh. He was starting to like that Craig never wore his hat anymore...it made him wonder why he'd covered up his hair in the first place.
Quickly, Tweek slammed the notebook closed and held it tightly to his chest. More than anything, he was surprised that Craig had commented about his habits at all, but he was starting to notice small chinks appearing in his armor; minute, but still letting some of the light in.
"I guess so."
Don't ask me what it is don't ask me what it is don't ask me what it is
"What are you writing?"
Tweek groaned as he tapped his fingers on the little table he claimed as his own, where he drank his coffee and wrote in the mornings while watching for Craig's blue truck to round the corner and pull into the lot.
"It's hard to explain," he said, biting at his lip as he tried to find the right words. "I guess you could call them letters to myself."
"So, it's a diary," Craig replied, already walking away and going to grab his apron. This time, he tossed Tweek his apron as well. Scrambling, it slipped through Tweek's fingers and he hurriedly retrieved it from the floor.
"No, it isn't a diary," Tweek said, allowing some petulance to leak into his tone. "They're just my thoughts."
"Sounds like a diary to me, but whatever." Craig started setting things up: turning on the light in the display case, making sure things were stocked and ready to go. Suddenly, he smiled, and even though it was small, more of a smirk, really, it made Tweek's heart flutter like a tiny sparrow was rattling his rib cage.
"Can I read it sometime?"
Tweek just stared at him, his heartbeat turning into a condor taking flight behind his sternum. He could feel his face burning and he was sure Craig had noticed too; realized he'd thrown him off-guard.
"You can't be serious."
"Of course not," Craig said easily, too easily. He cocked an eyebrow, the smile falling from his mouth. "Are you gonna help me here, or not?"
Life was falling into a tidy little rhythm as Tweek got more and more used to being around Craig so often, but it was starting to tire him out too; the close proximity without actual progress, the lingering questions he had, that strange silence...the gnawing, burning curiosity. He'd taken to jacking off in the mornings before he made the trek to the coffee shop, hoping that that would help with some of the pressure, but if anything it made him hungrier for physical contact. He wanted Craig to touch him like that...he could never satisfy himself on his own, that much was obvious.
Not that they'd ever really talked about that sort of thing while they'd been together. They'd been too young to take it seriously, so more often than not they'd started laughing because it was just so weird. A peck on the cheek and holding hands was one thing, but considering actual bedroom things had been beyond their scope. It didn't help that both of them had been exceptionally shy about that topic (sex...even the word had made them giggle and hide their faces in their hands), so they'd just left it alone. It had always amazed them that Kenny McCormick could be so cavalier about such a bizarre subject, but it just wasn't for them...not at that time, not at that stage in their lives.
But now it seemed like the only thing Tweek could think about, especially when he took into account the small details of Craig that just made his whole body sit up and take notice: the way his shirt would ride up when he'd stretch, revealing his pale stomach and that little trail of hair that led down, down....
And then Tweek's mind would blank out as he considered Craig's southern hemisphere, and he could only speculate as to what he looked like down there. He'd seen the top of Craig's plaid boxers, and even that had sent him into a manic overdrive. Just watching Craig lift up boxes, his arms flexing, made him have to swallow down sudden wetness in his mouth. He had to admit that Craig wasn't handsome in the conventional sense, his teeth were still a little crooked and he had what most people would consider habitual resting bitch face, but Tweek thought that just made him more appealing. Besides, Tweek had never found himself very attractive in his own right, so really, Craig had kind of been slumming when they'd been a couple.
No wonder he cut things off with me, Tweek thought as he considered his reflection one night before bed: skinny face, pointed chin, deer-in-the-headlight eyes, crazy cotton candy hair that poked up in wild, unmanageable puffs. He was prone to breakouts and he sort of thought his body resembled a meth addict's: scrawny and bony, but he couldn't help it; he constantly fidgeted and he just didn't eat a lot. He smiled as he studied his shirtless torso, wondering what his scant frame would look like pressed up against Craig's.
God, he'd crush me, he almost laughed.
But Craig was already crushing Tweek, whether he knew it or not. He was opening up but it was minimal at best and on his terms, so Tweek was left feeling like he was always waiting for Craig to make the next move. He almost felt like he wasn't allowed to make any overtures or demands, because Craig didn't owe him anything, did he? Besides, there were times when he just seemed so sad, almost unbearably so, and Tweek would feel guilty for wanting to make demands of him. There was a stillness to Craig these days, a remoteness, like he'd turned himself into an island and Tweek was sure he had a very good reason.
He wanted to respect that, he really did.
That didn't stop him from inviting Craig out one Friday afternoon as the day was beginning to wane. It had been a slow shift at the shop and they'd both been fucking around on their phones. Little did Craig realize that Tweek had been corresponding with Clyde and Token, who'd both been blown away when they'd found out that Craig was working at Tweak Bros for the summer. The group chat was going the way it normally did, with Token being methodical, Clyde being goofy, and Tweek going along for the ride while trying to keep himself in check:
Token: I'm just glad he finally came up for air. How's he doing so far?
Clyde: Has he punched a customer out yet? His temper has just gotten worse. Have you noticed?
Tweek: He's doing fine, I guess, and no, he hasn't punched anyone, Clyde. I mean, he totally wanted to but he didn't.
Clyde: Progress. Remember how he punched out Cartman on the last day of school?
Token: Yeah, but he had that coming.
Clyde: He always has it coming.
Tweek: Could you guys focus, please? Let's try to stay on topic.
Clyde: Sure, okay.
Clyde: What are we supposed to be focusing on, anyway?
Token: *sigh* The fact that Craig has finally come out of hibernation, dude.
Clyde: Oh, right.
Tweek: I was thinking that we could, you know, maybe all get together...like old times? Maybe that'll help draw him out a little more.
Token: That could work...but do you think he'll actually be open to it?
Clyde: I bet he says no. Watch.
Token: You could try to be optimistic, Clyde. But, yeah, you're probably right.
Tweek: Fine, I'll ask him if he wants to do something with us...is tonight okay? Are you guys free?
Token: Dude, it's summer and we live in South Park. Of course we're free.
Clyde: Totally, but I still think he's gonna say no.
Tweek: Thanks for that vote of confidence.
Clyde: Anytime, bro.
Token: Quit being a dick, Clyde. Just go back to looking at your titty magazines...we all know that's what you're doing, anyway.
Clyde: And I don't care who knows it xD
Rolling his eyes, Tweek slipped his phone into his pocket before he turned to Craig, who was leaned against the counter with one earbud in as he scrolled through his phone. Tweek had no idea who he was talking to; it's not like he really talked to Clyde or Token much anymore, and he didn't really see him hanging out with anyone at school. He'd just cut himself off from everyone. He was just about to ask Craig if he wanted to hang out when the bells over the door tinkled, signaling a customer. Quickly, Craig yanked out the bud and slid his phone under the counter, openly groaning when he saw who it was: a cute girl with tawny hair pulled into a long ponytail and short shorts on; her upper half draped in a teal-colored tank top.
"Tricia, what the hell are you doing here? I told you not to bother me at work."
"I'm not bothering you," she retorted, sliding her heart-shaped sunglasses onto her head. "I'm a paying customer. Hey, Tweek," she added, smiling at him.
"Hey," Tweek replied, waving a little. He allowed himself to sort of fade into the background as he watched Craig cross his arms, his eyebrows raised.
"What do you want, then? Make it quick...I'm getting off soon."
"Well, I wouldn't want to get in the way of that, would I?" She asked, studying the menu and tapping her chin. She pulled a wad of money from her back pocket, drawing Craig's focus immediately.
"Where did you get that?"
"Daddy gave it to me before he left for that conference. Remember? He's going to be out of town all weekend."
Tweek could tell that Craig was stiffening up, his back ramrod straight and his shoulders becoming noticeably rigid. Seeing him tense up only served to make him become nervous, his hand latching onto the counter as he steadied himself.
"Yeah, I know. Can you hurry up, please?"
"Fine, fine. I'll take a strawberry banana smoothie." Licking her thumb, she began to peel a ten from the stack of bills. "I should really get a discount, don't you think?"
"No," he snapped, snatching the money from her hand and quickly making change. He proceeded to make the smoothie more quickly than Tweek had ever seen. He plunked it on the counter unceremoniously before sliding it toward his sister. "Now go home, okay? And be careful. It's starting to get dark."
"Are you ever going to stop babying me, Craig?" She asked as she took a delicate sip, little snatches of body glitter glimmering on her bare shoulders as she moved. "I'm not a little kid anymore."
"Oh, yes the hell you are, now hurry up." He pointed towards the door. "Text me when you get in so I know you're okay."
She rolled her eyes before turning on her heel, giving Tweek one last look that seemed to say "just be glad you don't have a big brother."
Tweek waved again but he didn't say anything, trying to get a handle on Craig's shift in mood. It hadn't been dramatic, of course; it was in his nature to be abrupt and gruff, but now he just seemed to be exuding waves of aggression. Now Tweek wasn't so sure if he should ask him to go anywhere.
"Uh, so," he started, worrying his hands together as he stared at his converse. He'd drawn a little heart last week and put a tiny 'C' in the center, but he'd quickly blotted it out. It kind of made him feel better knowing it was there, lying dormant under the thick layer of Sharpie. "I was thinking -"
"I need to get the hell out of here, just go somewhere," Craig cut him off, his fingers drumming on the counter and his entire demeanor alive with a new, unusual energy. He glanced at Tweek, eyebrows raised. "Did you want to do something after work?"
"Oh, wow," Tweek almost breathed, nearly wanting to swoon as Craig's words sunk into his heart and making it feel too full. He pretended to think about it before he slowly answered, his eyes straying to that little heart on the top of his shoe. "Well, sure...I know for a fact that Clyde and Token are free tonight, and they miss hanging out with you."
I miss hanging out with you. More than anyone. I just miss you.
Craig considered this, and for a moment it seemed like he was almost going to change his mind, but finally he nodded.
"I was thinking it could just be us, but that sounds good, actually. We can go out to the field and make a bonfire or something. Remember the place I'm talking about?"
"Of course I do," Tweek replied, remembering the bumps as they sat in the back of that old pickup truck...those winding country roads leading them through forests where the fireflies winked between the trees. It was almost like yesterday, and he was practically breathing in the scent of turned earth, jasmine, and smoldering firewood; summertime scents. He was also floundering and overstimulated from Craig's words:
"It could just be us."
"Fine, I'll pick you up after I go home and change, take a shower," Craig said, pushing past him and going to retrieve the garbage. "Let's take this out. Grab that bag."
I just wanted to check in really quick before Craig gets here, but I wanted to tell you how happy I am right now. Did you see what I just wrote? Of course you did -
Craig is coming over. He's picking me up. We're going to hang out. It'll be the first time we've hung out in three years. Three whole years - can you believe that? I'm shaking, I'm giddy...I got ready in less than ten minutes because I just want him to be here, but I also want time to slow down so this night goes on forever. I want it to speed up, stop, and slow down at the same time. I want everything right now because I'm just so fucking happy. I almost feel psychotically euphoric right now.
My package finally came, by the way. The one I told you about? I'm using it to calm down right now...sticking the little stars on my ceiling in between writing in you. I'm covering up my animals but I don't care. Now when I go to sleep at night I can pretend I'm lying under his ceiling, in his bed, wrapped up in his arms....
God, I'm obsessing but I DON'T CARE. I'm too excited to care!
For the first time in three years, I'm going to look at the stars with Craig again...if only we could fall asleep outside together, but someday. There's always someday, right?
But, for now, at least I have this moment...at least I have tonight.
Sometimes I follow a firefly
It takes me into the night
Baby, I just survive
I got drunk, I'm sorry
Am I losing you?
-Fire Flies, Gorillaz
Everything felt so weird and new, like he was seeing the trees rushing by for the very first time.
As Tweek peered out the open window, the sky was filled with purple and red light as the sun continued to sink. It had sunk behind the horizon until it was a bright orange wedge, and the first little stars were coming out. They were flying down the old country roads that Tweek couldn't stop thinking about ever since Craig had come back into his life, and his heart was in his throat as the forest flashed by, darkening as night fell. He wanted to point out the fireflies as they started winking to life, but he refrained...maybe Craig didn't care about things like that anymore; stars and fireflies.
He was jittery and couldn't sit still as he sat in that old truck, the seat not nearly as springy at it had been when they were little. Glancing back at the vehicle's bed every few moments, he couldn't help but smile, but he hid it behind his hand.
I'm in Craig's truck. He came to pick me up...we're alone together, and I'M SITTING NEXT TO HIM.
Pressing his hands to his cheeks, Tweek could feel himself flushing with pleasure. When he wasn't staring out the window at the trees or turning to look out the back, he was studying every inch of the cab that he could. He was hoping that it would provide some insight into the person Craig was these days, but so far it hadn't yielded very much. Craig had always had a tendency of being very neat so his truck reflected that, so there weren't receipts and magazines and little incidentals to give away anything. The only personal touch Tweek could see was the little green tree hanging from the rear view mirror, faded from the sun and not giving off very much of a scent, and that wasn't exactly anything unique.
Craig was being quiet (like usual) as he drove with one hand on the wheel, his other arm perched on his wide open window. He was smoking, the cigarette dangling from his bottom lip as he kept his eyes on the road ahead. He'd been playing music when Tweek had climbed in but he'd quickly switched it off. Tweek had swallowed his disappointment but hadn't asked him to turn it back on, wondering if what had been playing on the stereo had been the same music Craig listened to on his headphones.
He stole glances at Craig every now and again and almost melted because he just looked so...familiar. Tweek was relieved to see that Craig's style hadn't really changed since they'd stopped hanging out, having avoided really looking at him at school because it just hurt so damn much. Now he allowed himself this luxury because he knew that Craig, on some insane level, wanted to be there with him; traveling the old road as the evening air seeped through the windows. It was okay to admire Craig's graphic t-shirt with the NASA logo and his dark jeans. It was perfectly alright to focus on his off-white Adidas with the black stripes...it was expected that he take note of the chain wallet stuck in his right-hand pocket; the silver links curving upward and attached to one of his belt loops.
It was all becoming okay again and Tweek was ecstatic about it, although he wasn't thrilled that Craig had put his hat back on. As a general rule, he wasn't huge on touching other people or really being touched, but he wanted to yank that blue hat off and run his fingers through the dark strands beneath. He wanted Craig to reach out and try to make sense of his own crazy hair, like he used to do in the bathroom at school every morning.
"Dude, why can't your hair ever lay flat?" He'd asked as he'd clumsily run his hands under the faucet and slicked them with water. With his tongue sticking out, he'd attempted to tame Tweek's tufts but to no avail. "I mean, I think it looks fine but I hate it when the other kids make comments, you know?"
This memory warmed him even more as they drove along, and he turned his hands so the backs were settled against his hot cheeks. The wind blew across them, carrying Craig's scent to him...homey and perfect and -
Just Craig. He sighed and closed his eyes as the sun dipped lower, becoming less of a wedge, like an orange slice that was steadily being eaten away. Soon the stars would be out in their entirety, and they'd be underneath them together. Tweek thought of the stars on his ceiling, sloppy and not precise like Craig's, but he didn't care...they were there, and that was all that mattered; the stars and that moment.
"I'm not used to you being this quiet," Craig suddenly spoke, almost giving Tweek a heart attack. His eyes shot open. "Remember how you basically used to carry the conversation for both of us most of the time?"
He bit the inside of his cheek, trying to find a response to that question that wouldn't come across as accusatory. Didn't Craig realize that he didn't exactly invite idle conversation these days, that he made Tweek so nervous that most of the time he just couldn't find the words? Helplessly, he groped for something to say.
"I can't believe you still have this thing," he commented, patting the dashboard. "It's like a million years old."
"I don't think I can give her up," Craig replied after a moment of silence. "It's one of the only things my dad gave me before he left."
"I figured that," Tweek said, biting harder on the inside of his cheek and hoping he hadn't said the wrong thing; it was such an easy thing to do, he'd noticed. He also thought it was unbelievably cute that Craig called the truck a "her," but this thought only served to make him feel even more awkward. Cute and Craig Tucker just didn't go together. He turned his head and rested his cheek on the rough upholstery of the seat while studying Craig's profile: ski slope nose, tall forehead, the way his bottom lip was so much plumper than the top. The cigarette was still languishing in his mouth.
"She's running great," he said, wanting Craig to know that he'd paid attention to what he'd said; that he was listening. If Craig wanted to talk for hours he'd gladly listen so the silence between them, the distance, would just go away and stay away. "Almost like brand-new."
"I work on her a lot," Craig muttered, reaching up and pulling the cigarette from his mouth after taking a drag. Without turning his head, he blew the smoke toward the window. "My stepdad taught me about cars." His mouth twitched slightly as he placed the smoke between his lips again.
"Oh, well. That was nice of him." Now Tweek was worrying the inside of his cheek so badly that he was starting to taste blood. He'd met Craig's stepdad on a handful of occasions, long ago, and he'd always been intimidated by him. It wasn't that he was loud or mean or anything like that...he just had a presence that seemed very solid, almost unmovable. When he'd walked into a room, it was like the air had been sucked out, even if he was smiling.
"I guess." Craig sucked harder on the cigarette now, decimating it until the white paper curled in as the ash grew. Pretty soon, it was nothing but a tan filter. He threw it out the window. The silence descended, the heavy type that Tweek could barely stomach, almost like a wall had been built down the center of the cab, splitting them apart. Tweek squirmed in his seat, right leg jiggling as his mind went into overdrive; invasive thoughts on repeat.
I said the wrong thing. The wrong thing. The wrong thing. I'm so dumb. What if I make it so he goes away again?
"I bet you're surprised I still remember the way to this place," Craig said, breaking through the mental abuse Tweek was heaping on himself. "Aren't you?"
"No, actually," Tweek replied honestly. "Why would I?"
"Because my old man used to drive us, and we used to sit in the back."
Tweek waited for him to say "remember?" but he didn't. He had to know that he could never forget those days. They had just been too sweet.
"We thought we were so cool, singing along to your dad's old music like we were grownups or something. We sounded pretty good, the four of us." Peace at the thought stole over Tweek, making it so his chewing molars stopped assaulting the tender skin inside his mouth, his leg slowly beginning to settle.
"Were they surprised when you told them I'd be coming along? Clyde and Token?"
"Yeah, honestly. They thought you'd say no."
"Can't say I'm surprised," Craig replied, shrugging. "I'm amazed that they're even willing to talk to me." He paused for a moment. "You too, actually."
Now Tweek was utterly at a loss for words. How was he supposed to respond to that, and how could Craig say something that could be considered mildly emotional so suddenly? What was happening right now?
"Do you have your license yet?" Craig asked, pushing on like he hadn't expected Tweek to answer anyway. Out of the corner of his eye, Tweek noticed his fingers tightening on the steering wheel; knuckles whitening.
He nodded, his mind straying to his Chinpokomon wallet in his back pocket where the card rested behind yellowing plastic. He looked awful in his photo, but that hadn't really come as a surprise; he'd never been particularly photogenic. Tweek could remember his elation at finally passing the driving test after failing three times, though.
He could also recall wanting to call Craig so he could brag...so he could ask him if he wanted to go for a celebratory ride, but that hadn't been an option. Instead, he'd taken Clyde and Token to McDonald's where they'd gotten M&M McFlurries, but something had been missing.
Something had been missing for so long, but the three of them just hadn't talked about it. It wouldn't have made a difference, right?
Craig didn't reply but Tweek was almost positive he saw a smile flit across his lips; fleeting, but it had been there. He'd swear to it. He also came to realize this was the longest conversation he'd had with Craig all summer, let alone in the past three years. It was staggering how quickly things could change even though so many factors were still the same; questions unasked, hurts still being nursed, that unbearable quiet that hung like a backdrop behind all of their interactions.
What happened to us, Craig?
What' happened to you?
"We're here," Craig announced, easing the truck to a stop beside Token's Audi. "You ready?" He shut it off before he stretched his arms out, one of them perilously close to Tweek's face; so close that he could see the dark hair on Craig's pale skin.
"Ready as I'll ever be," Tweek said, wanting to lean forward and kiss Craig's arm, which struck him as a ridiculous thought even for him, but he couldn't help it. Before he could act on the impulse, he quickly opened his door and slid out, his sneakers sinking into springy grass, the sun having finally fallen all the way; deluging the wide open field in purple darkness.
It wasn't long before a bonfire was blazing, red flames jumping into the air as the wood snapped and popped, pouring its smoky fragrance into the atmosphere. It had been awkward at first, of course, before the fire was built and they'd all gathered around it, Clyde having brought cheap beer along, which everyone was drinking except for Tweek. He didn't like being drunk or even tipsy, having a difficult time keeping his thoughts together at the best of times; add alcohol into the mix and it was game over. Besides, he wanted to be sharp as humanly possible tonight...wanted to remember every moment spent sitting next to Craig on a felled log, their thighs a finger's length apart; Craig's lean but long, and Tweek's skinny and short, his knobby knee peeping out from under his cargo shorts.
Their reunion had been about as eloquent and organized as could be expected from four teenage boys, Tweek supposed. He'd hung back and watched as Token fist bumped Craig, that serious look on his face that was as reliable as the sun rising. He'd been able to hide his concern and hurt about Craig's abrupt departure better than Tweek or Clyde, but that didn't mean he hadn't felt the loss just as deeply. He had his tells about the subject whether he realized it or not, a tightening of the lips, a narrowing of the eyes when Craig's name was mentioned or he saw him in the hallways at school. His way was to watch, observe, and try to understand, but he wasn't one to make waves.
Clyde, on the other hand, had always been more open with his emotions, especially after his mom died. He wasn't afraid to tell his friends just how much he needed them, which made Tweek feel awkward but also genuinely touched, even when Clyde insisted on hugging him at random times. That's exactly what he'd done to Craig as soon as he'd seen him, bounding over to him like a rambunctious puppy and throwing his arms around him; squeezing tightly.
"I can't believe you're here, man," he'd said while Craig had stared down at him in his deadpan way, arms raised. He hadn't struggled away though, even if he'd always been like a cat about affection: standoffish and resistant unless he wanted and initiated it. At the last second he'd reluctantly settled his arms around Clyde's shoulders and pressed lightly; the Craig Tucker version of a hug, unless he was hugging Tweek, of course. He'd allowed himself to settle into the closeness once or twice back in the day.
Tweek had wrapped his arms around himself at the thought, a small, stupid grin sliding across his mouth as he'd watched the exchange unfold. The puzzle pieces were clicking back into place, even if it was proving to be a slow process. At least they didn't feel like they were being forced together, though...everything felt natural so far, like all of this was meant to happen; this rediscovery of one another. Craig was quiet as the other three chattered, but it was shifting from the forced, icy silence to something else -
The best friend type of quiet. The kind that was comfortable and didn't need to be explained because it didn't stem from a disconnect; it came from being so content in the moment that words didn't seem necessary. At least, that's the impression Tweek got as he laughed about Clyde's exploits as a life guard at the community pool; his gig for the summer.
"She just looks so good, you know," he was saying now as he downed his second can of beer. He crushed the can against his head, making Tweek wince; he hated when he did that. He was afraid that one of these days the can would slip and slice his forehead open. It wouldn't be the first time they'd all ended up in the ER because of Clyde's antics.
Reaching down, Clyde grabbed another beer from the cooler.
"I'll take another one, too," Craig spoke up, crushing his can in the ordinary, less stressful way: crunching it up in his large hand. "Thanks, man," he added after Clyde had tossed him the beer. He snapped it open and suddenly turned to Tweek. "Want a sip?"
Tweek almost took it because it was being offered to him by Craig, but he refrained, shaking his head quickly.
"I don't really like to drink," he explained. Craig seemed to enjoy drinking, he'd noticed. He was already on his third beer. Token was still nursing his first. "It makes my head too cloudy."
"That makes sense," Craig replied in a tone full of approval, almost like he was proud of him. Tweek flushed with pleasure.
"Anyway," Clyde interjected, his voice already beginning to slur, "she just looks so amazing in that green swimsuit, and she has the biggest tits of anyone in our class, hand to God." Setting his can aside, he pushed his hands under his t-shirt and pressed the fabric out. "They're like this."
"Who the hell are you even talking about?" Token asked while he leaned forward, his elbow on his knee as he propped his cheek in his hand. "And stop doing that with your shirt, man; you look ridiculous."
Clyde stopped, opting instead to pick up his beer and take a huge swig. Smacking his lips, he pulled his shirt down so it covered his belly.
"Wendy, dude. And she's getting all tan and she wears her hair up in this cute bun -"
"Hold the phone," Token interrupted, his tone stern. "You aren't seriously trying to mack on Stan's girlfriend, are you? It's like you want to be knocked out or something."
"I'm not hitting on her," Clyde argued, digging his torn-up Vans into the grass. "I'm just saying she looks hot. What's wrong with that?"
"Well, you're objectifying her for one thing, but I know you. Eventually, you're going to do something stupid and then Stan is going to knock you out. You know how protective he is of her. Besides, you also know I'm still friends with her, so I'd appreciate it if you didn't talk about her like she was a piece of meat."
Clyde appeared deeply offended at Token's words, mouth open as he gaped like a fish. He glanced at Tweek, an eyebrow cocked.
"You don't agree with him, do you?"
Tweek shrugged, the small gesture causing him to brush against Craig's shoulder. He quickly moved away even though Craig stayed in place, his eyes settled on the fire. Languidly, he picked up a log and threw it into the flames, the wood quickly becoming engulfed. Tweek watched, hypnotized, even the smallest of movements on Craig's part arresting his attention.
"Tweek?" Clyde asked, becoming impatient.
Feeling exposed for watching Craig so openly, Tweek scrambled for a response.
"I mean, you are objectifying her, Clyde. I'm pretty sure you do that with every girl, though."
"That's not what I'm talking about, you titmouse," Clyde sighed, throwing back the rest of his beer. He had a tendency to become very loose with his insults when he was on his way to becoming drunk. "I meant, do you agree with Token about me doing something stupid and getting knocked out by Stan?"
Oh, yes. Absolutely.
"I don't know," Tweek replied, keeping his thoughts to himself. "Just...stop ogling her, I guess? That way you won't even need to worry about anything happening."
"Whatever, if Stan tries anything Craig'll have my back. Isn't that right, man?" Clyde turned to Craig expectantly.
Craig looked up almost like he'd been snapped from a trance, his elbows on his knees as he leaned toward the fire.
"Dude, I saw the way you rocked Cartman's jaw the last day of school. You're a beast."
Abruptly, Craig crushed the beer can before setting it aside in the grass.
"Pass me another," he replied, pointing toward the cooler. Clyde obliged, clearly still waiting for Craig to respond. Instead, Craig took a long sip and wiped his mouth, the movement stirring up his scent and almost making Tweek shudder. The aroma mixed with the burning wood and he felt calmed immediately.
"Cartman was asking to be punched out," Craig finally said after he'd allowed the silence to linger. "He was talking shit about my little sister. But if you get caught putting the moves on someone else's girlfriend you deserve whatever you have coming to you, so no, I wouldn't have your back." He took another drink, lifting his gaze from the fire. Tweek watched in his peripheral, noticed the way his eyes narrowed. "And don't call Tweek names."
"Oh, he knows I don't mean anything by it," Clyde scoffed before he frowned, making it very obvious he wasn't pleased with Craig's response.
"Still, don't do it." Craig shifted slightly, his leg knocking against Tweek's, the contact making his breath catch in his chest. "Got it?"
Tweek wanted to intervene as the tension between Clyde and Craig gathered, but he was still so taken aback by Craig's defensiveness that he was speechless. Token picked up the slack, though; always the peacemaker.
"I brought some pot, you guys," he said, digging in his pocket and pulling out a dime bag. "And I have more in the car, just in case. Let's smoke."
"I'm down," Clyde said, his tone clipped as he continued to give Craig a dirty look. He accepted the pipe that Token handed him.
"Sure," Craig almost sighed. "Why not?"
"Tweek?" Token asked, taking the pipe back after Clyde took an unnecessarily long hit. Flicking his lighter, Tweek watched with apprehension as the tiny flame ignited and Token held it to the pot, inhaling deeply. In so many ways Token was the most straight-laced of them all, was on the fast-track to an Ivy League college and following in his parent's footsteps; a future chemist, but he had a weakness for smoking. He said it helped with the stress of studying so much.
Tweek had to admit that it had helped with his anxiety in the past when he'd indulged, but it also muddled him, and he just didn't want to be carried away from the moment. He shook his head.
"It's cool," Token said, smiling easily. He'd always been gentle with Tweek, almost like he viewed him as a very breakable piece of pottery; one wrong touch and he'd shatter. Especially after Craig had distanced himself. "Here." Standing, he handed the pipe and lighter to Craig, who took a hit like he'd done it many, many times before. Tweek just stared at him, wanting to ask him when he'd become so adept at smoking and drinking.
Once again, he refrained. The questions were piling up on his tongue and becoming almost unbearable. The smoke eked out from between Craig's lips as he turned to Tweek, their eyes locking. He raised an eyebrow.
"N-no, of course not!" Tweek said, quickly turning away and sticking his hands between his knees. He began to rock back and forth, his heart racing.
"Let me go get my ukulele," Clyde announced, the words dragging out of his mouth as he became bogged down from the effects of booze and weed. He started to laugh, almost like he couldn't help himself. "We can, like, have a singalong."
"Jesus Christ, don't tell me you still have that fucking thing," Craig said and he began to laugh as well. There was a tiny slur in his voice now too, but it had taken him four beers to get there.
"Totally," Clyde said, grinning. Tweek was relieved to feel some of the tension between the two of them easing, his pulse slowing. Standing, Clyde stumbled a little as he made his way over to Token's car and popped the trunk. He fished out the tiny instrument and brought it back to the circle, the firelight glinting off its shiny surface. He'd had it for years and there was a tiny dent on the side, but it still sounded okay. Clyde, on the other hand, sounded like a dying dog when he sang, but he could play reasonably well.
"So, what should I play first?" He asked, looking ridiculous as he cradled the ukulele in his big hands.
"Whatever, man," Token said, taking another hit. "If you wanna have a Girl Scout Jamboree then you take the reins."
"Can do." Clyde began to play as Tweek settled in, his eyes drifting toward the stars. The sky was monumental and just so deep that he felt like if he jumped it would suck him up. He envisioned stars being born and collapsing into death as he sat on that log next to Craig, so close, and suddenly their problems didn't seem as insurmountable; their special brand of silence. Maybe they'd be okay if they could just keep having moments like this one, music on a summer's night as a fire blazed, trapping all of them in its light.
"You can't be serious."
"I am," Craig said as he leaned on the truck, his head tipped back against the top of the cab and his eyes closed. "There's no way I can drive. If you wanna get home, you're gonna have to take us."
"But I can't, I just can't," Tweek cried, glancing at the truck and imagining them going over a cliff or something, even though there weren't any cliffs between the field and home, but still, he could see himself managing to find one with his luck. "How can you trust me with something like this? With your -"
He cut off, gesturing to the truck. Rusted or otherwise, he could tell that Craig loved it, or was at least very, very attached to it. He put his face in his hands, the beginnings of a panic attack welling up in his chest; like water was rising up and threatening to choke him.
"Why shouldn't I trust you?" Craig asked, startling him. He pulled his hands away but Craig still had his eyes closed. "You have your license, don't you?"
"Well, yeah, but -"
"Tweek, have some confidence, okay?" He jerked his head up, voice sharp, though his eyes appeared bleary; unfocused. After all was said and done, he'd had six beers and a fair amount of pot. Tweek was honestly surprised that he was able to stay on his feet. "Can you do that for me?"
He almost said that he'd do anything for him, but he still shook his head. He just didn't want to screw this up, this chance, and he was pretty sure that if he wrecked Craig's truck all hopes of them reconciling would be obliterated.
"Fine, I'll drive," Craig said, fumbling for his keys in his pocket and nearly dropping them. "I mean, I'll probably kill us both, but whatever."
"No, stop!" Tweek said as he rushed over and snatched the keys from Craig's hand, almost wanting to cry at the notion of anything happening to Craig. Thoughts of his own welfare didn't really register in his mind, but he couldn't even stomach the idea of Craig bleeding or being hurt -
Or being taken away again.
"I'll drive," he said, his voice lacking strength. "I can do it."
"I know you can," Craig said, gifting him with another one of his rare smiles. This one was silly and no doubt fueled by the alcohol and weed in his system, but Tweek liked to think it stemmed from pride, too. "I don't have any worries."
"You probably should." Already beginning to shake, Tweek climbed into the cab and settled into the groove that Craig's body had made in the seat over the years. He wiggled around as Craig got in too. He pushed the seat back a little, his long legs stretched out before him.
"Ready?" He asked, stifling a yawn behind his hand.
"I think," Tweek said, putting the key in the ignition and turning it, the truck rumbling to life all around them. It purred, the vibrations moving through his body like millions of tiny fingers tapping. Emboldened, he suddenly turned to Craig, wanting to make a demand of his own for once, though it wasn't his forte. "But I'm not going anywhere until you do something for me."
Craig turned and blinked slowly, winding down like a clock.
Tweek swallowed quickly as he felt his neck heat up, the flush moving upward and igniting his face. He was just glad that the cab was so dark.
"Take off your hat," he said, unable to look into Craig's sleepy eyes a second longer. He huddled close to the wheel, his hands clenched on it. "You look better without it."
Silence washed in but it was the comfortable kind, the old kind they used to have, but that didn't stop Tweek from shutting his eyes and leaning his head on his hands, hands that had started to shake.
I can't believe I just said that. Quick, take it back!
Rustling beside him broke into his thoughts and when he finally dared to look up, Craig had already tossed the hat aside, his hair sleek and glowing faintly blue in the lights coming off of the dash.
"Better?" He asked, turning his face away as he yawned again, hands clasped on his belly.
"Y-yeah," Tweek said, studying Craig with wild abandon because he was facing the window. He wanted to reach out and touch him, wanted to pull him close. Instead, he eased the car into drive and began to pull away from the field, his eyes darting around as he drove as carefully as possible; maneuvering the truck like he was balancing a Ming vase on the cab.
They drove in silence as Craig continued to face the window, leading Tweek to believe he'd fallen asleep. The trees were black as they rushed by, Tweek spying the flashing eyes of animals on occasion when the headlights washed over them, standing in the forest and watching as the old truck passed them by. He glanced at Craig more times than he'd care to admit, wanting to make sure he was still there, beside him. He knew it was crazy but he kept feeling like he'd disappear at any moment, like a fever dream. Craig was still, though, save for his chest rising and falling steadily.
Tweek nearly jumped out of his skin when Craig spoke out of nowhere, his voice heavy and filled with sleep; maybe he'd dozed for a while and had awakened suddenly?
"I'm glad we did that," he murmured. "It was nice being back with you guys...even if Clyde still makes an ass of himself sometimes."
"He means well." They were coming closer to town now, and as each mile passed Tweek's heart sank a little lower. Soon they'd have to say goodbye for another day. Time had been unkind, as it always was, and had passed too quickly. "He just doesn't always think about the things he says."
"Clearly," Craig said, straightening his head and looking out the windshield. "But, still...I'd like to go out again, I think. It had been so long, you know?"
This time, Tweek couldn't stop himself from blurting out the first thing on his mind, just like Clyde.
"Why did we stop hanging out in the first place, Craig? Like, what happened?"
Silence again, but it was dense. It filled Tweek with dread. He hadn't intended on asking Craig that question so quickly, had wanted to find the right moment, but he had a feeling that moment would never come if he just sat back and waited for it.
"I don't think I'm ready to talk about that," Craig said, his voice more awake now but still careful. At least he didn't sound angry. "Okay?"
"You just went away and you never told us why," Tweek went on, feeling more reckless now. "It was like we...like I never meant anything to you." He paused, biting at his trembling lower lip, but he didn't care when the tears spilled over; they needed to.
"Craig, I've missed you. I've missed you so much. Did you know that?"
"Just drop it, Tweek." Craig had turned his face away again, shoulders rigid.
"Now!" Craig shouted, whipping his head around and making Tweek cower in his seat. "Leave it alone! Leave me alone!"
Tweek began to sob then, his whole body wracking with spasms as he clung to the wheel, somehow managing to keep the truck between the lines as they finally rolled into South Park, most of the businesses dark because of the late night hour. He kept crying as he turned onto his street, the porch light cutting through the night as they made it to his house. Carefully, though his eyes were filled with tears, he stopped the truck at the curb and shut it off, not removing the keys from the ignition. He tried to scrub the moisture from his eyes but they just kept falling, and he realized that they were the tears he'd been holding back ever since Craig decided he didn't need him anymore.
"I-I just thought because you wanted to hang out again...and we're working together, that..." he broke off, feeling useless and alone; lost. He decided to cut his losses. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have said anything."
"Stop," Craig said, his voice tight. It was like he was actively refusing to look at Tweek, his eyes trained on the windshield, arms crossed. "Don't fucking apologize to me, okay? I don't deserve it."
"I'm sor-" Tweek caught himself just in time, a sob breaking out of his mouth before he could stop it. "I'll just go, okay? You're still coming to work tomorrow, right?"
Craig nodded before he suddenly opened the door and slid out, slamming it shut behind him before Tweek could respond. Slowly, mechanically, he opened his own door and dropped to the pavement, stumbling because the distance was so much greater for him than Craig, his legs feeling noodle-y and unreliable. He left the door open, afraid that he'd accidentally lock Craig out, having left the keys in the ignition. Feeling cold and a little dazed, he turned to see Craig standing at the bottom of his driveway, hands jammed in his pockets and his gaze locked on the ground. A chilled wind picked up, ruffling his hair and making Tweek think of the blue hat crumpled up on the floor of the cab.
"Don't be mad at me," Tweek said as he crept across the sidewalk, wanting to give Craig a wide berth because it seemed like he wanted it; needed it. "Please? I don't want to mess this up. Okay?"
"I hate it when you cry," Craig replied, rubbing a hand over his mouth as he continued to stare at the ground. "I'm pretty sure I hate it more than anything. Did you know that?"
"N-no, I didn't," Tweek stammered, wiping his face. "You never told me."
"Remember when you cried because you thought Stripe was lost forever, and then it turned out he was just hiding under the bed?" Craig lifted his head, finally looking Tweek in the face. "I can't tell you how relieved I was when we found him...I mean, I was glad that he hadn't gotten out or whatever, but what really made me happy was that it made you stop crying."
"You don't mean that." Tweek wanted him to mean it, more than anything, but what he was hearing wasn't Craig...at least, not the Craig he remembered. Who was the boy standing in front of him now? Why did they let themselves become strangers?
Suddenly, Craig was closing the space between them in long strides, and before Tweek could even think he was being wrapped up in strong arms, being pressed to a chest that smelled of cheap laundry detergent, clean sweat, and -
Craig. Just Craig.
There were notes of pot and tobacco and spilled beer too, but underneath these aromas was everything Craig represented: a welcoming home with all the lights on and the door wide open. Burying his face into Craig's shirt, Tweek clung to him as he fought back new tears; happier ones. He didn't want to make Craig unhappy if he could possibly help it. The cold that had been lingering in him started to fade away as Craig held him tighter than he ever had, and he realized that even his hugs had changed; had evolved. This wasn't a little kid hug and it certainly wasn't like hugging his pillow and wishing it were Craig. This was new territory that Tweek couldn't even hope to understand, not yet; he just knew he didn't want it to end.
Don't let me go.
"You need to get inside," Craig said, pushing Tweek away but keeping his hands on his shoulders. "I'll wait out here until I see your light come on."
"Not yet," Tweek said, still holding onto him. "I don't want you to leave yet."
"You'll see me in the morning." Craig stepped back, forcing Tweek to release his shirt. "Bright and early. Now go."
Reluctantly, Tweek backed away, not wanting to take his eyes off of him. In fact, he kept his gaze locked on Craig until he made it to his front door and unlocked it, waiting for a moment before finally shutting it softly. Rushing up the stairs, he didn't turn on his light when he entered his room. Instead, he went to the window so he could have another chance to just look at him, waiting in his driveway like he used to do when they were little and they'd walk to school together.
Craig watched the house just like he'd promised, the sight of him standing alone creating a pressure around Tweek's heart that made his chest tight. It wasn't until he'd finally turned on the lamp that he realized he could've invited him in...so he could show him the stars on the ceiling, slapdash and imperfect, but the way they looked didn't matter. What mattered was why they were up there in the first place.
And all of us who've seen the light
Salute the dead and lead the fight
Who gives a damn if we lose the war
Let the walls come down
Let the engines roar
We could leave this world, leave it all behind
We could steal this car if your folks don't mind
We could live forever if you've got the time
-Save Yourself, I'll Hold Them Back, My Chemical Romance
I've been quiet lately because life's been quiet, I guess. You'd think that I'd be filling you up with gushing, nausea-inducing sentimentality after I hung out with Craig, and that was almost the case, but we didn't really achieve the breakthrough I thought we had. Things pretty much went back to normal the next day at work. Craig became quiet again, his new type of quiet, and he gave off such...intimidating vibes that I couldn't find the courage to break through his barrier. It's probably impenetrable anyway.
It doesn't help that I kind of made an ass of myself when we hung out. How could I ask him to explain himself so quickly? I'm not surprised he went on the defensive...I made things too heavy, too fast. I've never had any tact, and then I had to start crying on top of it? Ughhhhh, I cringe every time I think about how I acted. Can you blame me?
But, and this is a huge, phenomenal but (that's an awkward way to phrase that, isn't it? whatever) -
He hugged me. He actually hugged me. I'm still in disbelief over that. And it wasn't a Craig Tucker one-armed, lean-in hug, it was a real one; like he wanted to do it. He wasn't being forced!
Okay, so this is going to sound weird, but fuck it...it's also going to sound sappy, but I can deal with that. When I was in his arms, my mind kind of filled up with music, but not the music I normally listen to. I suddenly remembered snippets of the songs we used to listen to when we were in his dad's truck and he was driving. Oldies, I guess; Elton John and the Eagles and Journey. God, we made fun of that music so much when we were little, but I always kind of liked it, you know? It had a timeless quality, and I can remember some of those songs a lot better than the new shit that's on the radio nowadays.
I'm thinking it's because I listened to that music with Craig, I can't be sure. All I know is I could hear it when I was in his arms...once I got past the surprised static he created when he suddenly grabbed me. Why did he do that? Just because I was crying? I cried so much when we were little...why didn't he tell me he hated it then? That it made him sad, too?
Did it make him sad? Or did it just annoy him, like so many things did...do, I mean. Craig still gets annoyed really easily, that much hasn't changed. Gah, I'm fixating, just like I always do. That hasn't changed either, and I'm pretty sure it never will.
This has been a bad week. I usually try not to say that, that something is all good or all bad (my therapist said that black and white thinking can be very detrimental to overall growth, but fuck that, too) but it's fucking sucked. I can be standing right next to Craig and he's miles away; as far away as the stars. I'm starting to feel stupid about putting the damn things on my ceiling...they're just a constant reminder of what I don't have. It's like I enjoy torturing myself.
I mean, that has to be the case. Why else would I start going through my old stuff...yearbooks, albums, shoe boxes full of notes and lists and little kid plans? I even managed to scrounge up a list Craig and I made about a million years ago. We wrote it out right before 8th grade ended, when we were planning The Most Epic Summer Ever (don't laugh, we were in middle school, okay?). We wanted our last summer before high school to really count, but we never got to see it through, because that's when Craig decided to fall off my radar. The list is ridiculous when I read it now, but I love looking at it and thinking about what could've been. Besides, it's written in Craig's neat block lettering, and I realized his penmanship is a lot like him: precise, orderly, controlled. My handwriting, which can only be described as terrible, kind of reflects who I am, not that I'm proud of it: scattered, always on edge, nervous. It doesn't march across the page like Craig's, no, it wanders drunkenly to the edge of the paper.
That summer turned out to be one of the worst ones I ever had. Token was at science camp almost the entire time, and Clyde went to visit his grandparents out of state. Craig wouldn't answer my calls or texts, and when I went to his house to try and see him he was "never home." Now that I think about it, that was also the first summer after his mom got remarried, but Craig never seemed unhappy about that. If anything, he was really, really relieved when his mom started dating again, because according to him she was pretty destroyed when Mr. Tucker left. Craig's always been really close to his mom, and he just wanted her to be okay. He was close to his dad, too, just in a different way, but I don't know if that's still the case...hell, I don't even know if he's still really tight with his mom.
Jesus, there's just too many unknowns in this equation for me to feel okay. Everything's up in the air and Craig's so close and gahhhhhhhhh. I keep wondering why he got a job at my parent's shop. I know for a fact that they were hiring at Wall-Mart AND the movie theater. Why here? Why now?
Craig, why did you hug me? Why did you suddenly want to hang out? Why are you acting like none of that even happened?
Why are you acting like NOTHING ever happened between us?
God, the fucking pressure. I'm collapsing here, and I've already started pulling out my hair again. I've had to start brushing it in a different way...to cover up the empty patches. Now I really look ridiculous...which I guess makes sense, huh? I am ridiculous.
"Tweek, you need to get outside. You could use some sun and -"
"Don't say fresh air, mom. I r-really don't want to hear it."
"It would be good for you. Besides, you've been hanging around your room all summer. When you aren't working, of course. Don't you want to go out and have fun?" Coming into Tweek's darkened bedroom, Mrs. Tweak flicked on a lamp, almost making her son hiss when the light hit his eyes; he could even feel his pupils constricting.
Tweek slowly sat up while hugging his pillow, sitting cross-legged on his unmade bed. Food wrappers and clothes were strewn around the room; a sheet strung across the window so the sunlight couldn't find its way into the gloom. He'd turned his room into a cave of sorts so he could nurse his lingering bad mood and wounded feelings. He knew he was being melodramatic but he didn't care; having decided at some point that he'd rather be an angry, isolated raccoon instead of a teenage boy with stupid teenage boy feelings. Annoyed with his mom's intrusion, he stuffed his notebook under his blankets.
"I went out last week, remember? Token, Clyde, and...Craig," he tripped over that name, having to clear his throat. "We all went out to the field and had a bonfire. Stop acting like I'm a hermit or something."
"You're on your way," his mother replied wryly. Suddenly, she drew something from her pocket and tossed it on Tweek's bed. "Speaking of Craig, you can actually do me a favor."
Picking up the article, Tweek saw that it was a white envelope with Craig's name and address splashed on the front; the Tweak Bros logo in the upper right hand corner. He studied it quizzically before giving his mother a look.
"His paycheck," she said while not so covertly beginning to tidy up Tweek's room. She picked up the wastebasket and began throwing away wrappers and other bits of trash littering the floor. "He's usually really good about picking it up, but he hasn't been by today. Why don't you take it to him?"
"Why should I do that?" Tweek snapped, tossing the envelope aside before rising. He strode across the room and took the wastebasket from his mother. "Could you please stop? I like my room the way it is."
"Why?" She asked, wrinkling her nose. "And you should take it to him because I'm your mother and I asked you to."
"That's the worst reason I've ever heard," Tweek said, setting the receptacle back down and huffily sitting on his bed, arms crossed. "It doesn't even apply to the situation, gah!"
"Oh, I think it does. I can pull rank any time I want. I earned that right the moment I gave birth to you." Her tone was easy as she picked up stray clothing draped over Tweek's desk chair and bookcase.
"Well, I didn't ask to be born!" Tweek yelled, immediately feeling stupid as soon as the words passed his lips. He looked down at the floor and began to make circle patterns in the carpet. The room was quiet for a few moments as he sunk into his shame.
"Tweek," his mother sighed. "Are you going to tell me what's going on? You've been acting...strange for a while now. You're clearly bothered by something." She came closer and put a hand gently on his head, sucking in a breath. "Oh, your hair. You aren't pulling at it again, are -"
"Stop!" Tweek said, pulling away; embarrassed for regressing so badly. "If I take Craig his stupid paycheck will you stop picking at me?!"
"I'm not trying to pick at you, sweetheart. I'm just worried and so is your father."
"Well, don't be. I'm fine, okay? Everything's fine!" Abruptly, he stood and began to dress, which for him was finding a pair of wrinkled cargo shorts on the floor along with a crumpled t-shirt. He looked over his shoulder to see his mom still standing there, a concerned expression on her face: knitted brow, twisted mouth, narrowed eyes. He sighed. "Can I have some privacy, please? I'm doing what you want so what's the big deal?"
She shrugged, her son's clothes still nestled in her arms. Turning away, she gathered up a few more articles before making her way toward the door. She stopped, her hand on the knob.
"Just...let us know if we can do anything, okay?" She turned to face him, her bare feet raspy against the carpet. "We just want you to be happy, sweetie. We can't help it."
Slowly, she closed the door, leaving Tweek to stand in his wreck of a room while berating himself for clearly hurting his mother's feelings.
"Gah, I am such an asshole," he said before slouching down so his face was mashed into his bent knees. "And it's all because of Craig."
It wasn't too long before Tweek pulled himself together enough to rejoin the land of the living. He hadn't put a whole lot of effort into his appearance beyond donning the cargo shorts and T, but he did attempt to put his hair in order, able to cover up the bald patches well enough with careful deliberation. He fully intended to just stick Craig's paycheck in the mailbox and then make a run for it, so he didn't really cared what he looked like, anyway. Besides, it wasn't like Craig would give a shit either way. At the last moment, before he reluctantly left his room, he slipped a tightly folded piece of paper into his back pocket; Craig's paycheck clutched in his hand.
The air was hot as he traipsed along, his sandals slapping on the sidewalk where chips of rock glimmered on occasion. Sunshine draped itself over his head and shoulders like a heavy shawl and it wasn't long before he was feeling thirsty. It was late-June and South Park had slipped into summer in its usual way: reasonable mornings where a faint chill lingered until 11 am hit, and then it was downhill from there. The lawns were becoming scorched, brown and dry, and the vague smells of gasoline, cut grass, charcoal, and jasmine permeated the sluggish breezes. As such, Tweek felt lightheaded by the time he'd made it to the Tucker residence, the pale skin on his arms already becoming pink.
Should've worn sunblock, he thought as he stared up at the house like it was a relic of the past. In a lot of ways it was, and he couldn't help but notice the ways it was the same, but so different, too. The lawn was neat just the way he remembered it, but the flowerbeds were filled with riots of bright blooms, and there were kitschy garden gnomes scattered about. A bright blue yard globe glittered on a silvery stand in the middle of the grass, catching the sunlight and making it so Tweek had to look away. The house had been repainted and was now a sunny yellow with white shutters, a fact which he had noticed in the past but had decided not to dwell on. He gulped to see Craig's blue truck sitting at the curb, the entire scene punctuated by the sound of a lawnmower rumbling nearby.
Creeping toward the mailbox, Tweek tried to think reassuring thoughts, but they naturally devolved into outright hysteria.
Get in and get out, get in and get out, get in and get out. Oh, Jesus, what if he sees me?! He'll think I'm stalking him or something. He'll be like, why the fuck are you here, Tweek? Today's our day off; get a life already! Why are you so fucking obsessed with me -
"Dude, Tweek, what are you doing?"
The sudden, unexpected voice almost made Tweek jump out of his skin, and before he could stop himself, he'd slammed into the mailbox before falling back and finding himself sprawled on the hot pavement. Blearily, he looked up through the hazy sunshine to see two figures standing over him, both of them in silhouette.
"I'm o-okay," he managed to say, though no one had asked. "I was just d-delivering something." He held up Craig's paycheck in a shaky hand. He felt it being plucked away before he sat up, rubbing the back of his head.
"You should probably get off the ground before you burn yourself," a girl's voice said before a soft pressure was wrapped around his still outstretched arm. Vaguely, he was aware of being pulled to his feet, and when he was able to see properly, he recognized Kenny and his sister Karen standing in front of him.
"You looked like you were sneaking up on the mailbox," Kenny commented while glancing down at Craig's paycheck. "Why didn't you just, you know, take it to the front door?" He gestured to the truck. "Craig's home, obviously."
"Tricia invited me over to try out their new pool!" Karen chirped, looking cute and summery with her hair pulled into a loose bun on her head. She was dressed in a red bikini top and short shorts, a pair of wedge sandals on her feet. Kenny, for his part, looked about the same as always in his orange parka and loose-fitting jeans. The only difference was that his parka was unzipped, revealing a wifebeater beneath. He had a lollipop wedged between his teeth, which he twirled on occasion.
"Why are you here if Karen's the one that was invited?" Tweek asked dumbly.
"A guy's gotta look out for his sister, right? Besides, Tucker asked me if I could bring something by." Kenny smiled mischievously, showing off a sharp white canine. He almost looked feral for a moment. Holding up the envelope, he tapped it against his chin. "I mean, I could deliver this for you, too, if you wanted."
"N-no!" Tweek squeaked before ripping the paycheck from Kenny's hand. "I can do it myself!"
Kenny just laughed before running a hand through his sun-streaked hair.
"Hey, man, relax. It was just a suggestion. You don't have to freak out about it."
Karen bumped him, a look of disapproval on her face.
"Be nice, Kenny."
"I'm always nice, Karen."
"What the hell is going on out here?" A nasally voice spoke up behind Tweek, making him yelp and jump back, nearly taking a tumble onto the hot concrete again. Somehow, he managed to keep his feet. Turning, he almost fell back anyway when he saw Craig standing there, shirtless but wearing blue swim trunks. He was pushing a lawnmower across the grass and wasn't wearing his hat, which Tweek could hardly blame him for. It was so ridiculously hot, after all.
And so was Craig, but Tweek didn't want to dwell on that. A lot, anyway. Almost like he was in a trance, he couldn't help but linger on the lean muscles in Craig's arms, or his flat stomach, or his shoulders, which were -
"Tweek wanted to bring you something!" Kenny volunteered while pushing Tweek forward. "Isn't that nice?"
"H-hey, stop pushing me!" Tweek said, stumbling onto the grass and almost falling face-first onto Craig's lawn. Wanting to cry from embarrassment, he caught himself while giving Kenny the most murderous look he could muster. Kenny just smiled serenely back at him while Karen appeared concerned.
"Where's Tricia?" She asked, clearly wanting to relieve some of the tension. "Is she already out back?"
"Yeah," Craig replied, watching as Tweek brushed errant pieces of dried grass from his clothes. "Go on. She's waiting for you."
"Great." Karen turned to her brother, an eyebrow raised. "You're going to pick me up, right? Or do I have a choice in this?"
"I'll be here at 7."
"What about 8?"
"Fine, I guess I can live with that," she sighed before giving Tweek one last smile. Almost skipping, she bounded past Craig toward the door in the fence, slipping through easily.
"What, aren't you going to invite us, too?" Kenny asked lightly. Coming up beside Tweek, he slung an arm around his shoulders and pulled him close. "What kind of host are you, Tucker?"
"The kind that's going to kick your ass if you don't knock off your bullshit," Craig said, an edge in his voice. He wasn't looking at Kenny, though, his eyes resting on the orange-clad arm wrapped around Tweek's shoulders instead. Coming around the lawnmower, he advanced on them. "What did you need to give me, Tweek?"
Tweek stuttered, his mouth going dry as his hands clenched around the paycheck, making it crinkle. Frantically, he tried to smooth it out but to no avail. He couldn't help but notice that Craig's tone was different when he spoke to him...less harsh. He wanted to melt right there, even though Kenny was proving to be terribly distracting, his heat and musk nearly overpowering as the sun beat down on all of them.
"Your meager restitution," Kenny supplied, hugging Tweek closer. "You should just give it to me right now, don't you think? That's where it's going to end up, anyway." He started to laugh but it didn't seem mean-spirited, just playful.
Craig clearly didn't see it that way as he came closer to them. He stopped, eyes narrowing as he watched Kenny closely, a tiny muscle jumping in his jaw. Without warning, his hand jutted out and he pushed him pretty hard, making it so Kenny had to relinquish his hold on Tweek. He didn't fall completely but he got pretty close.
"I told you to quit fucking around," he said before reaching out and taking a hold of Tweek and yanking him to his side, his large hand tight around Tweek's tiny wrist. Staring Kenny down, Craig pulled Tweek behind him, almost like he was shielding him from danger. "Now give me what I asked for or get the hell out of here, Kenny."
"Fine, fine. Christ, you're always in a bad mood, aren't you?" Muttering under his breath, Kenny began digging in the pocket of his dirty jacket before he withdrew a couple small bags. Tweek peeked out from behind Craig's back to try and get a better look but Craig moved, obstructing his view. "Here. Happy, now?"
Craig just grunted as he stuffed the bags in his pocket. He withdrew some cash from his other pocket and slapped it in Kenny's hand. Tweek could feel him tensing up as Kenny meticulously counted the bills, licking his finger as he passed over each one.
"Looks good," he said, popping the cash in his breast pocket and patting it. He twirled his lollipop again before cracking another strange smile. Taking the candy from his mouth, he pointed the bright pink sucker at Tweek. "What are you protecting him for? He needs that shit more than anyone else I've ever seen."
"Tweek doesn't need anything you're selling," Craig snapped, his fingers still encircling Tweek's wrist so aggressively that he almost gasped. "So, quit playing around."
"I'm just saying."
"Whatever." Craig sighed and rubbed his mouth. Glancing back at Tweek, his eyes seemed to soften before he looked at Kenny again. "Did you want anything to drink before you left? You're going to pass out in that stupid thing." He pointed to Kenny's parka.
"Quit hating on my trademark," Kenny said, puffing up a little. "But, yeah. I could use a beer or two."
"We have lemonade." Pulling Tweek along, Craig turned on his heel and led him toward the front door. Blushing furiously, Tweek kept his eyes trained on his sandals as he followed, wanting to tell Craig that he was starting to hurt him but not wanting him to let go. He also wanted to ask about the articles Craig had tucked into his pocket, but he didn't dare. Besides, knowing Kenny, he already had a pretty good idea of what he'd given Craig. This suspicion made Tweek feel inexplicably sad, but it didn't downplay how elated he was to be so close to Craig again. Breathing deeply, he could smell the sunblock wafting from Craig's skin, along with the scent of chlorine, freshly cut grass....
"My bad," Craig suddenly said while letting Tweek go. "I shouldn't have grabbed you like that."
"N-no, it's okay, really," Tweek replied, finally looking up as Craig pushed the front door open. He fell silent as he watched Craig and Kenny cross the threshold, almost feeling like he was falling into a dream. It'd been so long since he'd been inside Craig's house. For a moment, all he could do was stare at the foyer, at the tan tiles on the floor...they hadn't been that color before, had they? Biting his lip, he strained to remember, but everything was so cloudy.
"You coming?" Kenny asked, giving Tweek an inscrutable look that irked him. It seemed to be full of knowledge that he shouldn't be privy to.
"Of course," Tweek muttered. Tentatively, he reached out a sandal-covered foot and placed it on the unfamiliar tan tiles, and he almost could've sighed from the sensation of being back in the Tucker house. He was almost certain that he was time-traveling now, and as soon as the door was shut behind them he was ten years old again and arriving for just another Friday night sleepover.
God, it smells the same. How is that possible?
"Come on," Craig said, moving to the back of the group and ushering them forward, through the foyer and down the hallway toward the kitchen. "I still have to finish the lawn so let's make this quick, okay?"
They walked into the kitchen which also looked completely different from the last time Tweek had seen it. It was super modern with stainless steel appliances, and blue-tiled backsplashes; the floor egg-shell colored linoleum. At the sink, a curvy woman in a green, polka-dotted bikini stood, rinsing off a dish. Shutting off the water, she turned, her blue eyes lighting up when she saw the trio.
"Craig, you didn't tell me you were having company," she said, pulling a container from the sink and placing it on the base of a blender. "It's been so long since you've had anyone over, honey."
"They aren't staying for long," Craig muttered while going to the fridge.
The woman brushed some sleek blonde hair from her shoulder and smiled at Tweek and Kenny. Picking up a knife, she began to slice strawberries, the little movements making her ample breasts bounce. Tweek couldn't help but notice, his neck beginning to feel heated as a flush started to rise. Kenny, on the other hand, seemed completely at home.
"It's been a while, Laura," he remarked, coming over to the island and plucking up one of the strawberry slices. He smiled as he popped it into his mouth, leaning casually across the counter as Craig's mother continued to work. "How have you been?"
"Don't call my mom by her first name," Craig barked before coming up behind him with a pitcher of lemonade in his hand. Swiftly, he smacked the back of Kenny's head. "And stop leaning on the counter like that."
"Ow ow ow," Kenny pouted, rubbing the back of his head. He looked at Craig's mom with big blue eyes. "Maybe you should kiss it and make it better? What do you think?"
Craig looked like he was ready to pound Kenny's skull in when his mother started to laugh, a hand studded with red, manicured nails coming up to cover her mouth. Flicking her eyes to Craig, she smiled, revealing white, even teeth.
"Did you boys want strawberry daiquiris? They're virgin, of course."
"Sounds perfect," Kenny chirped, pulling out a stool and sitting down, his face cradled in his hands. "Do you need any help?"
"I think I can manage well enough on my own," she replied, her focus finally flicking to Tweek, who had been standing off to the side while worrying his shirt in his hands. Recognition flared in her expression. "Tweek, honey. Is that you? I haven't seen you in so long!"
Dropping the knife, she came around the island and pulled Tweek into a perfumed, bosomy hug. The flush from before intensified until he thought he was going to explode, and he couldn't help but notice the snarl Kenny had on his face as he watched. Craig just looked tired and exasperated as he poured lemonade into two tall glasses. Suddenly, Laura pulled away and held Tweek at arm's length, studying his face.
"Why haven't you been by? We've missed you around here."
"I-I don't know. I guess I just go...busy," he replied, almost wincing at his flimsy explanation. He was also having a hard time getting used to her appearance. He'd always remembered her as being pretty, but now she looked almost...glamorous. Gone was her motherly simplicity and in its place was perfect makeup, an upscale haircut, and -
He glanced down, her full breasts still brushing against the front of his shirt. Trying not to freak out, Tweek almost whimpered when his eyes strayed to her face again.
"I'm sorry, Mrs. Tucker."
She laughed before giving his cheek a quick peck. Quickly, she reached up and brushed his skin with her thumb.
"Sorry, lipstick," she explained before turning away. "And I'm not Mrs. Tucker anymore, hon. I go by -"
"Mrs. Hoffmann," Craig cut in, his voice caustic as he slammed the fridge closed. "Tweek, come and get your lemonade."
Wordlessly, Tweek scampered over to Craig and picked up the glass, taking a quick sip and pursing his lips at the drink's tartness. Craig watched him impassively as he drank as well, his eyes straying to Kenny and narrowing as he lingered close to Craig's mom. She was oblivious to the leering teenage boy in front of her as she blissfully continued to slice strawberries.
"Fucking pervert," he muttered so only Tweek could hear, suddenly giving him a conspiratorial look. Tweek looked away quickly, his heart beating furiously in his chest at this unexpected camaraderie; not to mention the fact that he was standing in Craig's house and drinking lemonade with him.
This can't be real life.
The whirring of the blender brought him back to reality, almost making him start, but Craig stayed close; reassuring him that all was well. He could hardly believe how calm he felt just by having him near, almost like the distance between them had never existed in the first place. Tweek had always viewed Craig as being an unshakable force; strong, self-assured. It would seem that hadn't changed, even after so much time had passed.
"Here we go," Mrs. Hoffmann said, pouring the pink-colored concoction into a glass and pushing it toward Kenny. "Tell me what you think."
Kenny took a sip and even Tweek could tell that he was exaggerating when he replied, his hand clutched to his chest as he beamed at Craig's mom.
"Perfection, plain and simple," he said, taking another long drink. He licked his lips. "How do you do it, Laura?"
"Oh, well," she replied, taking a sip of the drink as well. "I don't know, I just followed a recipe I found in Family Circle -"
"Well, it's wonderful," Kenny said, suddenly sliding off his parka and revealing tanned biceps covered with tattoos. Tweek could feel his eyes bugging out of skull when he saw just how ripped Kenny was, almost like he could pick him up and snap him in half like a scrawny piece of kindling. "It's hot in here, don't you think?"
"That's enough," Craig cut in before slamming his glass down on the counter. "Let's go, Kenny. Move."
"But I haven't finished my drink -"
"I don't care. Move your ass before I plant my foot in it."
"Craig!" Mrs. Hoffmann chastised him, her expression scandalized. "That's no way to talk to your friend!"
"He isn't my friend," Craig seethed, already taking a hold of Kenny's shirt and pulling him from the stool. He grabbed his jacket as well. Kenny started to laugh before he spoke up, winking at Craig's mom.
"No, I'm his deal-"
"Shut your trap," Craig interjected before giving Tweek a look. "Stay put while I take care of this, okay?"
"Sure," Tweek replied, his anxiety on the rise as he watched this bizarre scene unfold. He kept drinking the lemonade, less from actually wanting it and more because he needed something to do with his hands. Over the rim of his glass, he saw Craig drag Kenny from the room as he continued to wave to a puzzled Mrs. Hoffmann. Before too long, they were alone, and she looked at Tweek with flushed cheeks. Clearing her throat, she gestured to the patio doors before lifting her daiquiri.
"I think I'll just step outside so I can sit next to the pool." Stopping, she raised an eyebrow at him. "Did you want to come? We just had the pool installed and it's really nice out there...there's even a hot tub."
"No, that's okay." Looking down at the floor, Tweek wished he was wearing his converse so he could focus on the sharpie-scribbled heart; the hidden 'C' that only he knew about. "I'll just wait for Craig to come back, if that's okay."
"That's just fine, sweetie. You can sit in the living room, if you'd like. It's probably a little more comfortable, huh?"
He just nodded, refusing to look up until he'd heard the patio door open and close. When the air shifted, became still, he let out a long breath; happy that he was finally alone. Finally, he lifted his head to look around, slowly gravitating toward the fridge. His gaze raked over the papers littering its surface, held up by old fruit magnets; some of which he remembered from childhood.
"It's been a while," he murmured, running his finger over a dinged-up banana and cluster of grapes. Looking away from them, he noticed the family photos placed here and there, depicting what looked like a happy family, though it lacked red-headed Thomas Tucker. Instead, a handsome, dark-haired man stood next to Craig's mom, his bright smile matching hers. Tricia and Craig were present as well, of course, but while she looked bright-eyed and excited, Craig appeared bored and morose. But that was his way, wasn't it? Craig had never liked having his picture taken.
Pausing, Tweek pulled his focus from the pictures and listened, hearing faint splashes from the pool out back as well as distant laughter. The air conditioning was humming as well, but other than that there was silence. He had no clue what Kenny and Craig were doing, but he decided to just leave them to it. Their interactions were too bizarre for him to deal with at the moment. Instead, he quietly headed out of the kitchen and toward the living room, discovering that he still knew the house like the back of his hand. Soon enough, he was standing in the shaded main room, the windows cracked and the sounds of splashing and music becoming even clearer. He turned round, not recognizing the room at all. It too had been redone and modernized, full of sleek, white furniture and a large flat screen TV; the mantle above the fireplace clustered with even more family photos.
"It's like he never existed," Tweek said as he ran a finger along the smooth wood, studying the photos one by one. Craig's real father had clearly been banished from the premises, replaced by an interloper...a friendly-looking man, but a stranger nonetheless. His heart ached to see Craig in the pictures, because he was witnessing the holes in their history...the things he'd experienced when they'd been apart, and now Tweek could only learn about them from static images.
"What are you doing in here?" Craig's voice came from behind him and made him yelp, he turned around quickly. He stood in the doorway, still shirtless and so handsome that Tweek wanted to study him like the pictures on the mantle...wanted to hold his likeness in his head for as long as he could. Craig looked around the room like he had a distaste for it. "Didn't I tell you to wait in the kitchen?"
"Your mom said I could," he offered, his voice dying as he shrugged helplessly. "I'm sorry."
"I thought we talked about that," Craig said while walking into the room slowly. "Stop saying you're sorry for things that don't matter. Okay?"
Tweek nodded, realizing that the envelope was still clenched in his now sweating hand. Holding it out, he couldn't look into Craig's eyes when he spoke.
"Here, my mom wanted me to give you this since you didn't come by the shop to pick it up."
There was rustling and then the feeling of hot fingertips brushing his own as the paycheck was lifted from his hand. Tweek shut his eyes for a moment, relishing in even that small, quick touch. It had to be thoughtless, unintended - right?
"Thanks," Craig said, the softness of his response making Tweek look at him, becoming watchful. He was holding the envelope in both hands, looking down at it as the music poured in from outside. He glanced up at Tweek and smiled, but it disappeared quickly.
"You're getting a sunburn. You realize that, right?"
Tweek touched his tender face, detecting the faint burn when he pressed down.
"Yeah, I guess so. I forgot to put on sunblock before I came over."
"You used to do that when we were little, too," Craig chastised him, his tone becoming stern. "Remember? You burned so badly that one time you blistered." He sighed, running a hand through his sweat-flecked hair. "Are you ever going to learn?"
"Probably not," Tweek replied honestly. It was the truth, wasn't it? He never thought about stuff like that...his mind was always working overtime worrying about what might happen, not necessarily what was happening in the moment. "What's it matter, anyway? I'll burn and then I'll peel...just like every summer."
"Ever heard of malignant melanoma?" Rolling his eyes, Craig reached up and tousled Tweek's hair, which made him seize up immediately, both from the unexpected contact and the fear of having his bald spots discovered. He pulled back and yelped when he banged his head on the mantle, making the row of pictures tremble.
"Owww," he moaned, rubbing his head.
"You'll never change, will you?" Craig asked, but his tone was so gentle now; bordering on tender. "Come on," he added, taking Tweek's hand and tugging him from the room. "I can't send you home like this."
It wasn't long before Tweek found himself seated in the upstairs bathroom, cool and hushed, while Craig rooted around in the cabinets beneath the sink. He was still shirtless and clad in just his trunks, the blueish sunlight falling through the lacy curtains dappling his back. Looking around the room, Tweek had to remind himself that he hadn't slipped into the past somehow, because everything was exactly how he remembered it. The room hadn't been updated or changed, it was the same, and he was almost breathless at how happy this small, inconsequential detail made him.
"Here we go," Craig said as he stood, carrying a small bottle over to Tweek and showing him the label: Banana Boat: Ultra Protect. SPF 75. "This should do the trick. Hold out your arm."
"Wha, y-you want to put it on me?" Tweek asked while Craig snapped the bottle open and poured some white lotion onto his fingertips. "For real?"
"You miss spots." Craig's tone was matter-of-fact as he began to smear the sunblock on Tweek's arm, his hand wrapped around his wrist to keep him steady. Feeling awkward and weirdly turned-on, Tweek frantically looked anywhere but at him, his eyes flitting over the seashell wallpaper, the starfish nightlight, the lighthouse statue on the counter -
"I'm so glad this room hasn't changed," he blurted out, dying a little on the inside to have said something like that out loud. Desperately, he tried to explain himself. "I mean, I just always liked all the beachy stuff in here...it's calming and," he chewed his lip, groping for words. "Nice, I guess."
"It is nice, huh?" Craig asked indifferently. He moved onto Tweek's other arm, his touch so soft that it was almost driving him crazy. Wanting to be covert, Tweek had to spread his legs a little, little stirrings taking place that made his already hot face feel hotter. He thought he saw Craig smile again but he couldn't focus on his face for too long...looking directly at him was as problematic as feeling his fingers on his skin.
"It was nice seeing your mom again," Tweek commented, wanting to fill up the silence and distract himself from his traitorous biology. "She looks...different."
"Breast implants," Craig snapped, his voice taking on his I'm-starting-to-get-annoyed edge. "Did you see the way Kenny was slobbering all over her? He's so disgusting."
"Uh, that wasn't what I meant, but yeah...he was totally being gross," Tweek replied, feeling more and more confused. He chewed on his tongue to keep himself from talking more, but it didn't really help. "Why'd you invite him inside? It doesn't really seem like you like him very much."
"I don't, but he looked like he was about to drop from the heat. You too, for that matter." Pouring more sunblock into his hand, Craig moved to Tweek's legs, his fingertips like silk sliding over his skin. He could feel his muscles relaxing slightly as Craig touched him, which just fucked with his head more. How could he make him feel so loose and so uptight at the same time?
You realize you're torturing me, right? Right?
"That makes sense," Tweek said. He cleared his throat, his eyes drifting to the starfish nightlight. Craig hadn't turned on the light when they came in, so it was sending its golden glow over the counter; making the shadows lengthen across the floor. Coupled with the sun filtering through the window, it created a surreal atmosphere that made him feel a little dizzy. Or maybe that was because Craig's hands were sliding over him? Either way, he was starting to feel sleepy from too much stress and sunshine, and being tired always made him say foolish, slaphappy things.
"What did he give you? Kenny?"
The atmosphere shifted in the bathroom after he asked that question, he could feel it; gathering tension, a heaviness. Squirming from his perch on the toilet, Craig's fingers tightened on his ankle, silently ordering him not to fidget. The cool sunblock slid over the back of his calf and he wanted to moan, but he kept it locked in his mouth. There were so many things he kept pushed down that he was starting to feel himself splintering from the growing, unbearable pressure.
"Let's do your face," Craig announced, standing and coming into Tweek's line of sight. For a moment, their eyes locked, and Tweek couldn't help but notice all the threads of color that made up Craig's irises: charcoal, slate, a strange shade of light blue. There was an entire universe inside of them. He dropped his focus quickly.
"Besides," Craig said, almost like he was jumping off from a point that had already been made. "You know Kenny, Tweek. I'm pretty sure you already know what he brought me. You aren't that naive." He pulled back, pausing as his fingers kept rubbing the sunblock into Tweek's cheek. "Are you?"
"I guess I just didn't want that to be the case," Tweek said, shaking his head.
"Stay still, I'm almost done." Now Craig was focusing on Tweek's forehead, his chin, and finally, his nose. He was so close the whole time that Tweek could feel the warmth pouring off of him, becoming his own. "And it isn't a big deal, you know? Clyde and Token got pretty fucked up the other night...you didn't seem too bothered by that."
Yeah, because they aren't you.
"Look at me, I want to make sure I didn't miss anything." Now Craig took a hold of Tweek's face and forced him to look directly at him, making his heart pound until the blood was rushing through his veins; roaring in his ears. Recklessly, Tweek studied Craig, taking note of his angular face and high cheekbones...he didn't have his little kid roundness anymore. He dared to look down, at Craig's lips and saw that they were slightly parted.
God, kiss me kiss me kiss me kiss me. Wait, gah! Don't do that! I don't even know how to kiss! But, still...kiss me kiss me kiss me -
Nearly shuddering, Tweek managed to tear his eyes away from Craig's lips before he looked up, his mouth going dry when he saw that Craig was still watching him closely. His eyes narrowed, a knowing look filtering into them that made him feel unbelievably foolish. He'd always hated how transparent he was, but Craig used to say he liked it. He probably didn't really care for it now, though.
"I think you'll be okay," Craig said before finally letting go of him and standing. Going to the sink, he began to wash his hands, leaving Tweek to sag on the toilet, feeling boneless and spent from just that small interaction. If Craig noticed, he didn't say anything. "Hey, I need to take a leak. Can you head downstairs and wait for me there? I shouldn't be long."
"Sure, of course." Rising, Tweek felt embarrassed for essentially being dismissed, even though his body was still responding to Craig's nearness. He tried to downplay the affect it had on him by walking slowly, but he was sure Craig could tell just by looking at him. He'd always been weirdly perceptive, especially when it came to Tweek.
Finding himself alone in the hallway, Tweek had every intention of going downstairs just like he'd been instructed, but he couldn't resist making a detour on the way. After checking over his shoulder, he quietly looked into Craig's bedroom, reasoning that the door had been partway open, which meant he really didn't have anything to hide, right? Breathing in its scent (more cheap laundry detergent!) and reveling in its coolness, he made sure that the bathroom door was still shut as he stepped inside, wrapping his arms around himself as the air conditioner kicked on again.
He wanted to say that room had remained the same just like the bathroom, but it hadn't. If anything, out of all the rooms he'd seen so far, Craig's bedroom had changed the most, and not in a good way. Craig's posters were gone from the walls, leaving nothing but blank whiteness, and his shelves had been stripped of his models and little knickknacks. The floor was bare and so was the top of his desk...in fact, there wasn't a personal touch to be found in the entire room save for a telescope sitting next to one of the windows. It was almost like he'd stepped into a rarely-used guestroom or an impersonal suite in a forgotten hotel. Tweek couldn't feel Craig's presence in his bedroom at all, not like before. In the past, it had been covered with pictures of space and his bedspread was littered with Chinpokomon...there had been comics on his nightstand and manga on the shelves. It had been filled with the things Craig loved...that gave him life.
Tweek knew he should leave but he couldn't tear himself away from he was seeing. He didn't want to accept it, this empty slate of a room. Out of everything, this was the one place he'd wanted to stay the same, but it had been stripped down to its bare bones until it was almost nothing.
It's been gutted, he thought frantically. Going to the windows, he quickly drew the curtains so he could shut out the sunlight, praying that what he needed to see would show up once the room was dark. Looking up, his heart lurched when he saw that the stars weren't casting their ghostly sheen across the ceiling. Instead, the area was nothing but shadows and white paint.
"What are you doing? I didn't say you could come in my room," Craig said suddenly from behind him, but Tweek was so stunned over his discovery that he didn't jump. He stayed rooted in the middle of the floor, just staring at the ceiling. "Tweek?"
"They're gone," Tweek said, glancing at Craig, his arms still wrapped around himself tightly.
"The stars...all of your stars. They're gone." He pointed and felt so stupid, but he'd wanted that to stay the same most of all - those cheap, little pieces of sticky paper. Was that asking too much?
Craig glanced up at the ceiling as well, his face fading back into its blank mask; his dismissive expression.
"They aren't gone. I just covered them up with paint."
"Why? You worked so hard to make sure they were perfect, remember?" He wandered around like he was in a trance, searching the ceiling like it was the actual sky, needing answers but not finding them. "You made sure they looked just like the constellations on your star chart. It took hours."
Sighing, Craig walked into the room and took a hold of Tweek's shirt, tugging on him.
"So? I did that shit when I was, what? Ten? Eleven? Who cares?"
"You were twelve, and I do! I still fucking care a lot, even if you don't!" Tweek shouted, surprising even himself. He slapped a hand over his mouth, his lips beginning to tremble.
Craig's indifference was beginning to fade away now, giving way to obvious growing irritation. Tweek had noticed that he seemed to have two settings these days: anger and apathy. He didn't have an in-between anymore, but he used to...he hadn't showed it often, but when he was little he used to get excited and happy and worked-up over the things he cared about.
Weirdly, he used to have passion. That was the word, right?
"Well, maybe you shouldn't," Craig snapped, pulling him harder. "Now, I need you to go. I still have the lawn to finish, and I didn't want you in here in the first -"
"Let go of me!" Tweek said, yanking himself out of Craig's grasp and backing away. The rage he'd been feeling over the past week began to bubble up in his stomach, and it felt good. It felt better than just going with the way of things and allowing Craig to call the shots and mess with his head at every turn. No, they needed to have a discussion, and it needed to happen now, or Tweek was pretty sure he was going to lose his fucking mind. He took a deep breath and loosened his hold on himself, his hands clenching into small, trembling fists at his sides.
"Why are you sending me all of these weird, mixed signals?"
The only sound that could be heard was distant splashing and the air conditioning as Tweek's question hung heavily in the air, almost like it was dust motes trapped in a patch of sunlight. Craig just stared at him, his mouth twitching to the side like it was being tugged by an invisible string. He crossed his arms and leaned against the wall, assuming his air of disinterest, essentially rejecting Tweek and his questions outright.
"I don't know what you're talking about."
"You know exactly what I'm talking about so stop putting on your stoic asshole act!" Coming forward, Tweek stood right before him, having to crane his head upward to catch Craig's eyes directly. "You act like you don't want to have anything to do with me, but then you're defending me against jerk-ass customers and Clyde's stupid insults -"
"Well, you weren't going to defend yourself, were you?" Craig countered, lifting a brow.
"That isn't the point and you know it!" Tweek yelled, jabbing at Craig's chest with a shaking finger. "It's been years, years, since we hung out, and all of a sudden you wanted to go out with us...you wanted to go back to the field and just talk shit and be with us again. How do you explain that?"
Craig shrugged, glancing away.
"I was bored."
"Don't give me that bullshit," Tweek seethed, poking him harder. Really, he kind of wanted to punch Craig across the face but he didn't dare. If there was anyone he knew he shouldn't get into a physical altercation with, it was Craig. On the one hand, it would hurt too much to hurt him, but he also knew Craig could pretty much destroy him. "You wanted to be there, Craig. You never do anything unless you want to. I may not know jack-shit about you these days, but I know that'll never change."
"Stop poking me," Craig replied instead of answering. Slowly, he reached up and pushed Tweek's hand away. "You know I don't like being touched."
"Could've fooled the fuck out of me, because you're always touching me, aren't you? Huh?" Nearly feeling out of control, Tweek started poking him again, but harder this time. "Touching my hair, grabbing me...fucking putting sunblock on me like I'm a stupid little kid -"
"You act like a stupid little kid," Craig snapped, cutting him off. "Do you ever even think, Tweek? Going out in 100 degree heat in the middle of the day without protecting yourself in the slightest? Jesus, do you have any self-preservation skills at all?"
"I guess I don't!" Tweek stopped when he heard the hitch in his voice and he pressed a hand to his mouth, feeling the burn gathering in his eyes. Craig's words had hurt because they'd been truthful, but dammit he didn't need to be such an ass about everything. Besides, the fact that he was standing in Craig's bedroom after so much time had passed was a testament to what he'd said, as much as he loathed admitting it to himself. "But you don't need to fuck with my head so much!"
"I'm not!" Craig shouted, suddenly coming forward and getting right in Tweek's face, almost making him back down; he stayed still, though. Willing up all of his courage, he spoke softly when he asked his next question:
"Then why did you hug me?"
Now the silence wasn't heavy or tense because it felt like the air had been sucked from the room, leaving Tweek feeling oddly weightless. He couldn't believe just how much he'd been carrying around because of one hug, but it became clear as soon as the question was pushed out of his mouth. He almost wanted to float off the floor and toward the ceiling, so he could begin scraping that white paint away with his bare hands. That feeling was fleeting though, because the fear washed in again as soon as he looked at Craig's expression. He was blank, just like the walls surrounding them; eyes flat.
"I don't know," he finally said, and these words were enough to make the burn in Tweek's eyes come back, but worse.
"Oh, that's just great. You don't know," Tweek mocked him, wanting to appear strong and unaffected even though his insides were crashing down like detonated buildings. "And I bet you can't tell me why you gave me that whole line about hating to see me cry, right?"
Another shrug, another stupid, meaningless shrug while Craig stepped back, his hands jammed in the pockets of his trunks while he stared at the floor. He mumbled something but Tweek couldn't hear him, his emotions nothing but a tangle that made him feel crazy and impetuous and dangerous. Almost like he had the power to punch through a wall or tear a phone book in half.
"What? What did you say? Speak up, Craig. I'm all ears."
Craig's head snapped up, but he appeared defeated instead of angry. The flatness wasn't in his eyes anymore, not as much, almost like they were thawing out as Tweek finally made him answer for himself. He took a shuddering breath.
"I said it was a mistake. All of it. Okay?"
Nothing could've prepared Tweek for that response, though he knew it made perfect sense. Of course Craig was just fucking with him, building his hopes up...making him think that something was happening even though it was all inside of his head, his jacked-up, ridiculous fantasies about them reconnecting and becoming best friends again; becoming -
He shook his head against that thought, but it broke through anyway, and now he was crying again. Tweek started to laugh, knowing the sound was wildly out of place and unsettling given the situation, but he couldn't help it. His hand drifted to his back pocket where he began to draw out the folded piece of paper, squashed and beginning to wear away from being handled too much.
"S-sorry," he managed to say, tremulously. Wiping his nose furiously, he clenched the paper in his hand. "I'm crying again. Big surprise, huh? Just like a stupid little kid."
"Tweek," Craig said quietly, all of the fight clearly draining out of him. "You said you weren't going to apologize anymore. Remember?"
"Well, one of us has to," Tweek said, his voice thick with tears and a million words he needed to say, but what was the point? "Don't you think?"
Craig didn't reply, but he hadn't really expected him to. Slowly, Tweek began to walk past him, wanting Craig to reach out and take a hold of him like he had the other night, but he wasn't expecting that to happen either. Sniffling, he pressed the square of paper against Craig's chest until he reached up and took it. Without a word, Tweek walked out of the room without looking back, descended the stairs, and let himself out of the house, the hot sunshine pouring over him as he made the long trek home.
Long time, no see, huh? I got quiet again, didn't I?
I guess you could say I've been wallowing in my misery...almost like I'm turning it into a hobby, or my second job. Can you blame me?
No, I guess you can't, can you? It's not like you're real. You're just me...a reflection of myself, and believe me, there are plenty of days where I don't feel like I'm real. Does that make sense? No, it doesn't, does it?
I mean, I can't possibly be real when nothing around me feels like it truly exists. I can be in my room or the shop or out with the guys (when I'm willing to step outside my house, of course) and everything just feels like it'll disappear as soon as I touch it. Ever since I went to Craig's house and saw the way things are now, it's like I've checked out of my own existence. I know it's stupid and dramatic and just...gah, fucking idiotic, but it hurts. All of this hurts so much, and I don't know how to make it stop.
I felt like we were getting so close. Craig was starting to let me in, just a little, and I thought if I could get close enough we could mend things. Now I'm starting to see that he never really gave me that chance, and I was seeing things that weren't really there. Sounds about right, huh?
I'll probably start scraping the stars off the ceiling as soon as I get the energy, but for now they're still there...I'm starting to hate them even if I can't bring myself to hate him. I'm sure he has his reasons, I'm sure they're good, but that doesn't take the hurt away. If anything, it makes it worse, because he won't let me help. He won't let me be anything to him anymore. We're silent at work unless we're forced to talk about the job, but other than that there's nothing between us.
It's so heavy that it's like another person standing in the room, always blocking us from each other.
Jesus, July just started. How the fuck am I going to deal with this for the rest of the summer? I'm pretty sure I won't have any sanity OR hair left by the time September rolls around.
The world was a strange place at 3 am.
Tweek had noticed this fact ever since his insomnia had begun spiking again. There was a hush that came with that strange time after the witching hour had come and gone, and he was starting to view it as the perfect time to write. It wasn't like he could sleep anyway, and it was just about that time that the stars finally faded entirely, their green sheen dying down and becoming less noticeable; becoming bearable. The night outside his window was usually alive with slow breezes that wafted the curtains, bringing with it smoky scents and the reminder that, yes, the world was going on without him, even after dark.
Everything continued to turn, turn, turn even though Craig wasn't an active part of his life, and he was slowly beginning to understand that, even if he couldn't exactly accept it. He was even more aloof than he'd been before, which honestly amazed Tweek, but he hadn't fought it. He was as passive about this newest separation as he'd been about the first one, which made him feel deeply ashamed and just...tired. A sluggishness had settled over him, and his mother had taken to feeling his forehead on occasion and asking him if he felt sick. He'd just shake his head and look away listlessly. What could he say? I'm heartbroken and pathetic and full of angst? She'd just tell him that time heals all wounds, and maybe it did, but empty platitudes didn't help him in the moment, did they?
The only solace he could find was writing out his thoughts when his whirring mind would allow him the luxury of slowing down for a moment. That, and taking late-night baths where he'd sit until the water was cold and his fingers and toes were pruney. He'd lay on his back and watch the blissfully empty ceiling, the only light cast by a plain nightlight shaped like a circle; not fancy and nostalgic like a starfish. Sometimes he would jack off and then feel stupid and ashamed afterward, because in his thoughts it wasn't his hands touching himself. No, they were much larger in his fantasies, and they had the potential to be gentle or amazingly strong when they needed to be.
He'd all but decided to take another late bath, having felt a weird energy coursing through him for the entire day, when Tweek thought he heard the rumbling of a car passing by outside. He ignored it as he gathered up his night clothes and his towel, but it became unmistakable and too hard to overlook when the sound of a door being opened made him take pause. Ordinarily, he wouldn't have cared, but it sounded like it had come from right outside his house, and his street was usually pretty dead by the time 2 am rolled around; after the bars and dives had closed and everyone had wandered home. Slowly, he approached the window, feeling equal parts scared and curious, even though the fear was starting to win out. With the exception of when Craig had dropped him off, he usually avoided windows and mirrors after the sun went down, just as a general rule.
With the breath trapped in his lungs, Tweek looked out at the moonlight-mottled pavement, hardly believing his eyes when he saw a familiar blue truck idling at the curb with the door still open. Even more surprising was the tall, dark figure that was approaching the mailbox, opening it, and sticking something inside. They closed it slowly and turned away, but at the last moment they reached back and pulled the little red flag up. Only then did they quickly run back to the truck, their shadow spilling across the street from the light of a white streetlamp. Tweek made the mistake of blinking and that was enough time for the person to slide inside and slam the door behind them. As he watched, the truck moved away, but now it didn't seem as fast, becoming dream-like and soft as Tweek's focus went immediately to the mailbox; eyes lingering on that innocuous little flag, bright-red and at attention.
After that, it was almost like it was a different person entirely that barrelled down the stairs and out the front door, their feet passing through dew-covered grass as it carried them toward the street. Surely it wasn't Tweek that slowly put the red flag back in its usual position and carefully opened the mailbox to look inside. It was a stranger that pulled out a very familiar piece of folded-up paper and held it for a moment, hands trembling as the night breezes ruffled their thinning hair; the light from the streetlamp illuminating the faded blue lines on the white. It was like Tweek was watching someone else as they began the painful process of flattening out the paper so they could read it, because it certainly wasn't him that started sniffling as soon as he saw what it was, Craig's neat, little kid writing running across the top of the paper:
THE MOST EPIC SUMMER EVER
No, it wasn't Tweek that clutched his hand to his mouth as the tears spilled over, easy as ever, when his eyes dropped to the bottom of the page, and he saw that same refined writing pressed carefully to a field of white that hadn't been occupied before; under the long list of activities they'd planned over three years ago. It wasn't him that read the two little words over and over until they were burned into his brain, becoming a song stuck in his head on a constant loop; simple, but saying everything he needed in that moment: