Cartman stood on the ledge of the bridge overlooking the river. It was March and the water below was undoubtedly as frigid as it was loud, rushing underneath the stone arch and between the partially-melted ice floes. He half wondered to himself if this was really the way he wanted to die. He looked back, over his shoulder, at his pickup truck which was parked in the gravel on the side of the road and thought that maybe an easier, less painful, way to go would be to sit in the garage with the engine running and a mouthful of sleeping pills. But, this was, arguably, more dramatic and since he was doing this because he was angry and humiliated and wanted to hurt people worse than they had hurt him, he wanted to go out with a bang.
When it came to bangs, he had, actually, considered buying a gun and taking himself out that way but that involved money and he figured, if he chickened out, he would be out quite a bit. Drowning was always free. Probably excruciating and needlessly gruesome but free, nonetheless.
He took a deep breath in and tried hard to imprint the feeling of what air filling his lungs felt like into his mind since he wasn't sure how many more breaths he was going to be able to take. It was a bitter feeling and he wasn't entirely sure he really wanted to die but he felt like he needed to. He needed to sacrifice himself, he thought, to punish his asshole friends who didn't think he'd actually do it. But he'd actually do it. He was determined. Spite was a strong motivator, he had come to realize.
His palms were frozen and clammy and held tightly to the guardrail behind him, as if trying their damnedest to convince him to stay on dry ground. The hurt in his chest, however, willed him to fight for the courage to let go and plummet to sure doom. He closed his eyes tightly and muttered to himself all the shitty, terrible feelings that came bubbling up his throat like a volcano about to erupt. The brutal wind whistled around him, stinging his face and biting at his fingers. The tail of his worn, red jacket whipped against the metal railing that he clung to and his messy, brown hair fluttered against his forehead.
He was prepared for this. He had written a note that expressed his sheer anger and hatred and informed everyone that they were indeed wrong and that he was actually going to kill himself because they all sucked and drove him to it. He had left it on his desk in his room along with his phone and wallet. He had originally left his keys there with the rest of his belongings but realized that it was absolutely freezing out and he would have to drive across town to the super tall, super deadly bridge instead of walking like he had planned from the beginning.
It was unusually cold for March, he thought as a light flurry of snowflakes began to dance from the inky, black sky. He was shivering violently now and gulped thinking of just how much colder the water was going to be when he finally decided to jump. It was going to be like needles against his skin when he collided with the river and he knew blind, angry pain would consume him until either the iciness numbed him or he succumbed to unconsciousness from lack of air. He tried not to think about it.
“I sure do wish I had mittens,” he thought, suddenly, but then scolded himself because no, stupid, you're trying to kill yourself. You're going to freeze to death and that's the fucking point. Damn.
He was about to do it, and would forever deny otherwise, when a loud honk split the air, nearly startling him to his death, anyhow. He turned his head to see a little, maroon car stopped in the road behind him.
“Cartman? Is that you?” asked the driver, getting out of his, still running, vehicle. It was Clyde. “What are you doing?”
“Goddammit, Clyde!” Cartman shouted, turning back to stare down at the rushing river briefly, before pinching his eyes shut again. “Can't you let a man kill himself in fucking peace!?”
“Whoa, dude, don't kill yourself,” said Clyde, worry playing on his expression.
“It can't be helped, Clyde. I have to die,” Cartman said, bleakly.
Cartman let out a huff, his breath turning to clouds in front of his blue lips. “If you were at school today you would fucking know this already, shitstain,” he snapped.
“I had a dentist appointment,” Clyde sniffed, defiantly. “Why? What happened at school today?”
Cartman craned his neck over his shoulder as much as he could. He was stiff with cold but he needed to shoot Clyde a deadly glare for full effect. “Long fucking story short, I'm super duper fucking gay and everybody fucking knows it and then Kyle, stupid fucking Kyle, you know my friend, Kyle? Well, this asshole is like 'Cartman, chill out, it's not a big deal that we just accidentally told the entire goddamn motherfucking school that you fucking love dicks!'” he explained using a shrill, mocking tone for Kyle's voice.
“And so I'm like 'Um, okay, fuck you guys. You're all dicks and I'm gonna fucking kill myself,'” he continued. “And so then Kyle's like 'Fuck you, Cartman, you're not gonna kill yourself.' And I was like 'Fucking watch me, you stupid Jew! I'm gonna kill myself and it's gonna be all your fucking fault!' And then he was like 'Fucking good. Do it, bitch. Here we are all waiting for you to fucking die because you're a big, dumb, fat, stupid, goddamn, fucking gay homo loser that we all hate!'”
Clyde looked dumbfounded. “Did Kyle really say all that?” he asked, incredulously.
“I'm paraphrasing but you get my point.”
Clyde furrowed his brow and shoved his hands into the pocket of his fake varsity jacket. “Okay, well, please don't kill yourself.”
Cartman frowned and looked down. “It was fucking humiliating,” he said, a little softer.
“You can come hang out at my house,” Clyde offered.
Cartman narrowed his eyes. “Why are you being nice to me?” he asked, deliberating on whether or not this was a trap. He was always, always prepared for traps.
Clyde shrugged. “Because people can be mean.”
“You're just saying that because you're also fat and gay.”
Clyde firmly pursed his lips. “I'm not gay,” he said, indignantly. “And I'm just chubby.”
Cartman snorted. “Bi. Whatever. The point is, you wanna suck Craig's dick. We both know that so stop lying to yourself, Clyde. And if you're just chubby, I must look like fucking Taylor Swift.”
“What is that even supposed to mean?”
Cartman chewed on his bottom lip and was quiet for a moment. “It's cold,” he said and it almost sounded like a whimper.
“My offer still stands.”
“Do you have food?”
“Okay,” Cartman sighed, carefully turning around on the ledge, unsteadily hoisting a leg over the railing. “Help,” he said, with a crack in his voice, somehow more emotional now then when he had planned to jump. His eyes were a little bleary, all of a sudden, and he blamed it on the wind and nothing else.
With a fistful of Cartman's jacket in his hand, Clyde helped guide him back onto the solidity of the road. He didn't let go once he was safely over. “Are you going to be okay?”
“I will be once I get out of this fucking weather,” said Cartman, stuffing his purple, frostnipped fingers into his armpits. He was trembling noticeably and he clenched his jaw to keep his teeth from chattering. “It's fucking freezing.”
“How long have you been out here?” Clyde asked, getting into the driver's side door of his car and unlocking the passenger's side with the push of a button.
“Long enough,” Cartman said, slumping down in the seat. He had been out for more than an hour, he assumed. He wondered if his mom had already found his suicide note which had, unfortunately, he thought, been a lie. He didn't really care. He'd let everyone presume his death until he felt like being alive again. He looked back at his truck sill parked along the side of the road. He thought of the deep, dark, tumultuous river water. The note on his desk. His footprints in the light dusting of snow on the opposite side of the guardrail. And then he got an idea.
He reached over and grabbed a handful of Clyde's shirt, startling him as he drove. “Clyde fucking Donovan.”
Clyde looked concerned. “What?”
“I just had possibly the worst idea I've ever had.”
“You were just about to jump into a freezing river and you only just now had the worst idea ever?”
“Yes,” Cartman hissed. “Listen. It's beautiful. It's cruel. It's the best of both worlds, Clyde.”
Clyde glanced at him out of the corner of his eye. He knew Cartman was a master of schemes. He knew it was usually a terrible, terrible thing. But sometimes, he found, he could go along with them. “I'm listening.”
“You, my dear friend, Clyde, are the only person who, to my knowledge, knows I didn't actually end up killing myself,” Cartman said, grinning.
“Uh huh,” Clyde said, slowly. He wasn't sure where Cartman was going with this.
“They said I wouldn't kill myself. I didn't kill myself. But they don't know that,” said Cartman. “Come morning, if nobody else sees me, they're all going to think I'm dead.”
Clyde hummed to himself and watched the road. “What are you gonna do? Hide out at my house for the rest of your life? Like, I'm with you, a hundred and ten percent, but my dad's gonna notice you're living in my bedroom or something and he's not gonna keep that a secret.”
“You've got a tree house,” Cartman said, quickly, snapping his fingers as lightning fast as the idea popped into his head. His gears were turning now.
“Yeah, from like, fourth grade. I haven't been up there in years. So, yeah. I guess you could hide out up there. But it's really cold outside,” said Clyde.
“I'd only need some blankets and maybe a lamp. Clyde. This could be like a club,” Cartman said, bouncing slightly in his seat. “It's glorious.”
“A club?” Clyde said, smirking a bit. “What kind of club? A chubby, tree house club?”
“The Chubby Tree House Club!” Cartman exclaimed, pumping his fist into the air and accidentally punching the ceiling of Clyde's car.
And, thus, it was born.
Clyde rubbed the sleep from his eyes as he arrived at the bottom of the large, oak tree in his backyard. It was early morning, just after dawn. The sky was a brilliant pink, streaked with orange and the huge, puffy clouds in the distance were lined with gold as they rose from behind the looming Rockies. He climbed the surprisingly solid, wooden ladder up into the delightful little treehouse nestled, snugly, in the branches of the old tree.
“Good morning,” Cartman said from his blanket nest, his eyes glittering in the dim light.
“G'mornin',” Clyde yawned, sitting across from him, laying his backpack in his lap. “How was sleeping up here?”
“Surprisingly cozy,” said Cartman, “but I didn't sleep much. I did a thing.”
“What did you do?” Clyde asked, cocking an eyebrow.
Cartman grinned, toothily. “I sneaked into my house before anybody saw my note. Took my phone for communication purposes. Also added the Clyde Donovan Clause.”
“The Clyde Donovan Clause?”
“I stuck a sticky note on the bottom of my shitty fake suicide note. It says you get all my stuff. That way my mom doesn't try to give it away or sell it or something cuz she's a bitch who would do that,” Cartman explained. “Also, that way I'll have clothes and shit. And methods of paying you for this tremendous favor.”
Clyde shrugged. “Don't mention it. I'm just glad to have the company. Besides, this is fun. It's sneaky. I like it.”
Cartman chuckled. “Oh, Clyde, Clyde, Clyde. I knew you had a dark side.”
“I've gotta get going to school,” Clyde said, checking the time on his phone. “This oughta spice things up a bit, though, huh?”
“I'd think of it like acting,” Cartman mused. “Or like you're the only one who knows a huge secret.”
“I feel like I'm your minion of darkness.”
Cartman raised his eyebrows. “I don't know if I'd take it that far. But, yes, minion is a good word. Partner, maybe, even.”
Clyde seemed genuinely touched. “Whoa, seriously?”
“Yeah. The Chubby Tree House Club Pact. We're like blood brothers now.” Cartman reached across the small room, blankets still draped around his shoulders, and patted Clyde on the head. “Okay, you're gonna be late. Have fun at school. Act sad.” He gestured towards his phone. “Keep in touch. I wanna know just how fucking awful my asshole friends feel when they realize they basically murdered me.”
Clyde saluted. “You got it,” he said, starting his descent down to the ground. “Try not to get bored.”
At school, Clyde was immediately greeted by his typical clique at his locker. This included Token, cashmere sweater included, Tweek, clutching his paper coffee cup for dear life, and Craig, who's face was plastered with a scowl, bright blue eyes narrowed.
“What's up?” Clyde addressed the group, hoping his voice sounded natural. He immediately felt his heartbeat rise. This was going to be harder than he thought.
“Did you hear?” Craig asked in a low voice. “Eric Cartman died last night.”
Clyde gasped, internally screaming. His time had come. “What?”
“He killed himself,” Token said, grimly. “Everyone was making fun of him yesterday but nobody thought he'd do it.”
“He was always saying stuff like that,” Tweek mumbled into his coffee cup.
“Kyle Broflovski wants to literally kick your ass though,” said Craig, looking at him with scrutiny.
Clyde jumped. “What? Me? Why?”
Craig shrugged slightly and leaned against the lockers as Clyde nervously gathered his books for his morning classes. It was hard to tell what Craig was feeling, if he was feeling anything, and Clyde wasn't sure if he was sad about Cartman's assumed passing or not. “Don't know. Ask him,” he said, shortly.
“You're on your own, though,” Token said, shifting uncomfortably. “I heard Kyle and Cartman were, like, a thing. If he's pissed at you, you're a dead man.”
Clyde wasn't sure where Token had heard that from. Cartman definitely hadn't mentioned that at all. “Were they really?”
Token shook his head. “I have no idea. That's just what Nichole's friends were saying. If you see Kyle, which you will, because he's out for blood, be sure to ask him.”
Craig shoved himself off of the lockers. “And, right on time, there he is,” he sighed. He patted Clyde on the shoulder as he walked away and Clyde felt his heart jump through the roof. “Good luck, my friend.”
When he turned around, Clyde was face to face with a very angry Kyle and he nearly soiled his pants. Kyle's eyes were puffy and bloodshot and he looked like he had been riding a roller coaster of emotions all day. His sharp nose was red and his freckled face was flushed. He had definitely been crying and Clyde was a little surprised about that and made a mental note to let Cartman know. Now, though, his arms were crossed over his chest and his mouth was turned into a tight frown.
The two of them would have been about the same height but Kyle's boots, hat, and hair all gave him a slight advantage and he scowled down at him with the fury of a thousand suns. Clyde opened his mouth to express condolences for the tragic loss of a friend when Kyle cut him off.
“Why did Cartman leave all his things to you?” Kyle asked, piercing his soul with bitter, green eyes.
“Um,” Clyde managed. “I didn't know about that,” he lied.
“Really,” Kyle said and it wasn't really a question but more of a verdict. Clyde felt like he might be the next one to end up dead.
Against his better judgment, Clyde found himself speaking again. “I- I'm sorry. I heard... um.. Were you guys... like... together?”
Kyle looked a little bit shocked and very nearly took a complete step backwards. He seemed confused and a little hurt and wrought with internal conflict. “Who did you hear that from?” he stammered, his hand nervously clutching at the fabric of his green, v-necked sweater.
“Uh, nobody,” Clyde said.
Kyle narrowed his eyes again, falling back into a state of hatred and impatience but the sense of inner turmoil was still there. “Right,” he said, slowly and then ignored the question altogether. “I'm going to find out why he left everything to you. Trust me.”
As Kyle curtly turned on his heel and left, Clyde let out a long, noisy breath and leaned against his locker. It was a short, terrifying interaction that he felt the need to document and share with his confidant back home.
“The Clyde Donovan Clause was a horrible idea.”
Probably since he didn't have anything better to do, sitting alone in the tree house, Cartman responded almost immediately.
Clyde texted quickly on his way to his first period class.
“Kyle is full of questions. Almost straight up murdered me for answers.”
“hah told you he was bitchy,” Cartman responded.
Clyde found his seat in the back of his first class before the bell rang. Admittedly, he was still curious about the rumor he had heard from Token and decided to ask Cartman about it as well.
“Were you guys a thing?”
“Yeah. Somebody said you guys were together or something.”
Cartman didn't answer for what seemed like a long time. When he did it wasn't the straight yes or no answer that Clyde was hoping for.
Clyde frowned and audibly sighed.
“Come on. I need to know this for my undercover mission. Just a yes or no.” He was nearly begging now. This was quickly becoming an endless quest for answers that no one was willing to give him.
For some reason, Clyde wasn't satisfied with that answer either. There was definitely a story there and it was definitely something for him to ask Cartman about, in person, later in the evening. But, for now, he let it slide.
Cartman was asleep when Clyde got home, nestled in a pile of old quilts and snoring. Clyde watched him for a minute, always thinking that even the most combustible people looked peaceful when they slept. He tossed a fast food bag in Cartman's direction and he woke up, immediately upon impact.
“Taco Bell!” Cartman exclaimed, excitedly. “You really are a true friend!”
Clyde chuckled, unwrapping the foil from his own burrito. “So, things were eventful today.”
“Oh, yeah! How did your mission of darkness go? Are they glad to have me gone?”
“Everyone is definitely thrown off. I wouldn't say anyone is happy about it, though,” Clyde mumbled, recalling what he had seen.
Cartman looked confused and surprised, furrowing his brow and frowning. “What?”
“I mean, it's not like I hang out with everyone in school but people are honestly upset about it,” said Clyde. “I don't really talk to your friends much anymore, like Kenny and Kyle and Stan, but they seem like it really threw them for a loop.”
“They,” Cartman started but then paused. “They don't miss me,” he said, sounding like he was trying to convince himself. “People kill themselves all the time. Nobody cares.”
“Kyle is really upset, dude,” said Clyde. “He looked like he'd been crying and-”
“Kyle doesn't cry,” Cartman interjected. “He doesn't. Ever.”
“Well, he definitely was. And he is so mad at me. I'm not sure why but he is absolutely furious.”
“He's... he's probably just jealous that he doesn't get my shit and you do, that greedy Jew,” muttered Cartman.
Clyde shrugged. “Maybe. But what's the deal with you guys, anyhow? People were saying-”
“I wasn't fucking him, if that's what they're saying,” Cartman said, bitterly.
“But Kyle seemed-”
“I don't care.”
Clyde frowned and picked at the limp lettuce poking out of a soggy taco but didn't say more. However, Cartman, apparently, took this silence as an invitation to elaborate, anyhow.
“Since you're so insistent, Clyde, to know about the personal details of what was, once, my life, I guess I have no choice but to fill you in,” Cartman said. “I'm a huge, gay, disaster and, yes, I may or may not have had the biggest, most disgusting crush on that stupid, bitchy Jew for whatever reason. But it's not like he knew that. Or maybe he did. I don't know. I'm not exactly subtle,” he let out a long, slow breath. “Anyhow, it's not like it mattered. He was trying to be some holy virgin goddess or something. And he doesn't even like boys. Probably. I actually don't know. I asked him on several occasions if he was a fag and he just kind of shut me down with a 'Fuck you, fatass!' so who knows, really.”
“Maybe he just didn't like the way you were asking the question,” said Clyde.
“Well, how else was I gonna ask him?”
Clyde shook his head. “Maybe he just wasn't out yet.”
“Stop lying to me, Clyde,” Cartman said. “Plus, he probably knew I was into him since Kenny knew and you know that poor piece of shit can't keep his mouth shut.”
“Well, if he didn't then, he probably does now.”
“What?” Cartman asked, flatly.
“You don't think Kenny's gonna tell him now? 'It sucks Cartman killed himself, Kyle, considering he was in love with you or something,'” Clyde said, imitating Kenny's voice with surprising accuracy.
Cartman's face turned red. “Fuck,” he said through gritted teeth.
“They're having a memorial service for you tomorrow at the cemetery,” Clyde mentioned. “Since they assume you're dead and they just can't find your body in the river. I guess they're putting up a thing with flowers and all and basically having a funeral but with no corpse.”
Cartman's eyes lit up. “Really? Now, that's exciting.”
“What? Are you gonna crash your own funeral?”
“No, but who in their right mind wouldn't want to attend their own funeral in disguise,” Cartman said with a grin.
“How are you gonna manage to be in disguise? You're like the most recognizable person in the world,” said Clyde.
Cartman pursed his lips. “Damn. You're right. There has to be another way.”
Clyde attended the memorial service in all black. Cartman had “modified” a black dress shirt to conceal his phone in the front pocket which broadcast a video stream back to his laptop in the tree house. Cartman also insisted on Clyde wearing an earpiece so that he could communicate with him, just in case. After all, this was a very important day.
It was overcast and brisk but the air was still and it almost felt like spring should feel. There was an impressive crowd towards the back of the cemetery where a small memorial had been erected, surrounded by wreaths of flowers and candles.
Clyde almost felt real grief as he walked towards the swarm of people, almost all classmates from school but also some of Cartman's family and a few other people he couldn't name. For a second he forgot that Cartman wasn't actually dead and it almost brought a tear to his eye but then a voice rang out in his ear, through the tiny, bluetooth headset hidden behind his mop of brown hair,
“Okay, nice turnout. I'm...” Cartman said. He paused “Well... I'm not sure what I'm feeling right now. Ignoring that. Ooh, go stand at the front, next to Stan and Wendy, just to piss Kyle off.”
Clyde bit his lip but followed orders, really hoping that Kyle was above beating people up at funerals. Unfortunately, he knew for a fact that he wasn't.
As he silently stepped in between Wendy and Butters, Clyde could feel Kyle shooting him daggers from over Stan's shoulder. He gulped.
“Look who's here,” he heard Kyle say to Stan. He glanced over and met Kyle's fuming, green eyes. His hat was off and his fiery, red hair was combed neatly. He wore a suit and tie and Clyde would have told him that he looked nice if he didn't think it would be met with a karate chop to the solar plexus.
“Hey, guys,” Clyde managed after clearing his throat.
Before anyone could respond, Kyle leaned around Stan to, apparently, insult him more directly. “Clyde. Here to collect your winnings? I'm sorry, I mean, inheritance?” he hissed.
Instinctively, Clyde put his hands up, defensively, and took a step back. “Listen, Kyle, I don't know why you're so angry with me,” he said, trying not to sound like he was terrified of him. He didn't think it quite worked.
Kyle took a deep breath in, puffing his chest out, like he was about to go off on a tangent but Stan put his hand on his shoulder, suddenly, and he deflated.
“Dude,” said Stan to Kyle. “Don't do this here. Clyde was friends with Cartman, too.”
Clyde heard Cartman let out a huff in his ear. “Stan Darsh at it again. Diffusing the situation.”
“Okay,” Kyle said, sounding like he had something caught in his throat. Still, he shot another angry look to Clyde, almost making him shiver.
Next to him, Butters was already sobbing, breaths coming in sniveling hiccups. Clyde gave him a sympathetic glance.
Cartman didn't say much throughout the duration of the service aside from a few snide remarks and corrections but, towards the end, he was very quiet. Clyde thought maybe he had stopped listening or fallen asleep but after a while there was the tiniest gasp from Cartman's end of the line and a mumbled mention of Kyle's name.
Finding the redhead in the crowd, Clyde was slightly taken back. Kyle's face was flushed and his jaw was tight as he clenched his teeth and tried not to cry but was obviously failing as fat, wet tears rolled down his cheeks and stained the collar of his suit jacket. He clutched the sides of his slacks with tight fists and trembled slightly.
“This was a bad idea,” Cartman muttered into his microphone and the line went dead.
Cartman was emotionally drained and, although he wouldn't admit it, Clyde could still tell. Faking your death seemed like a lot of feelings were involved and everyone knew that Eric Cartman hated feelings. So, to make things a little better, Clyde headed up into the tree house with a family sized package of Oreos and a massive thermos of hot chocolate. This quickly turned into the two of them +watching Friends on Netflix and crying a little bit when things got too real.
Eventually, Craig came up in conversation and Clyde blushed bright red.
“You like Craig, you big, gay homo,” Cartman laughed.
Clyde punched him in the shoulder, lightly. “I'm not gay, I'm bi. And yeah. I do. You like Kyle.”
“Didja tell him you wanna get in his pants?” Cartman asked, taking a sip of cocoa.
Clyde shook his head. “No. He's my best friend and I don't wanna fuck that up. Plus, I think he and Tweek are-”
“So he's actually gay?”
“He's... I don't know what he is. But I think so,” Clyde sighed. “I think he's got a thing for Tweek, though.”
Cartman made a face. “Ew. Who would even like Tweek?”
Clyde shrugged. “They hang out a lot now. I think, maybe, I'm not his best friend anymore.”
“Sad,” Cartman said. “You should do it.”
Clyde's eyes widened. “No way. That's a terrible idea.”
“Why? He probably already knows. Everyone else does.”
“How did everyone find out I liked him, anyhow?” asked Clyde. He was well aware of this fact but had never actually figured out how it had become common knowledge around school.
“Probably because it's totally obvious,” said Cartman. “Plus, I may have told some people that he likes it when you lick his asshole.”
“You're the one who started that rumor?” Clyde gasped.
“It is entirely possible.”
Clyde frowned. “You're a real asshole, you know that?”
Cartman shrugged. “So I've heard,” he said with a wink.
“You'd be a lot less insufferable if you didn't try to be a dick all the time.”
Cartman scoffed. “Well, obviously. But where's the fun in that?”
“Maybe, if you were a little nicer, Kyle would like you.”
Cartman's eyes flickered and he puffed out his chest a little. The look in his eyes reminded Clyde of why Cartman sort of terrified him, sometimes. “Oh yeah? Well, maybe, if you weren't such a fucking pansy, Craig would like you.”
“I'm not a pansy!” yelped Clyde, his face turning crimson. “Just because I'm not an outright douche to everyone, like you, doesn't mean I'm a pussy!”
Cartman raised his eyebrows. “You wanna keep going? Okay. But you're not gonna beat me at my own game, Clyde. Degradation is my passion. But please, continue. I'm curious to see what you can come up with.”
“I don't wanna fight with you!” said Clyde.
“And that's why you're a pussy.”
“Shut up! You don't have to hurt people just because they hurt you!”
“If I believed that, I wouldn't be sitting here, now, would I?” Cartman said, rolling his eyes, dramatically.
“Well, then maybe you should find someone else's tree house to live in.”
Cartman was taken aback. “Wait. Really?”
Clyde sighed. “No. I couldn't do that to you.”
“Hmm,” said Cartman, furrowing his brow. “Thank you.”
Clyde cocked an eyebrow. “For what?”
“I don't know. Just thanks.” Cartman looked like he was pouting a little bit. He burrowed a bit further into the blanket nest.
“I'm sorry I brought up Kyle,” said Clyde.
“It's okay. He wouldn't like me, even if I was nicer. I'm too fat and horrible for his tastes, don't ya think?” said Cartman.
“I'm in the same boat, I guess,” Clyde lamented. “Craig is cool and unaffected and hot and then... then there's me.”
Cartman patted him on the back. “The feel is real, my brother,” he said and then sighed. “Why couldn't we fall for people like us?”
“No, fuck you. We're not losers.”
They both thought about that for a long minute, both slowly realizing that somebody who was in the same league as them was right there. Then, they kissed a little bit. It was sloppy and emotional but kind of gross, they both decided at the same time. Cartman pulled away and wiped his mouth on the back of his hand.
“Okay, no,” he said.
Clyde shook his head and stuffed an Oreo in his face to get the taste of tongue out of his mouth. “No offense,” he said, through crumbs, “but that was terrible.”
“Yeah, that was weird. Let's never speak of this again.”
It was late, almost two in the morning, when Cartman's phone rang and went straight to voicemail. He froze and Clyde paused their Friends marathon on his laptop.
“It's Kyle,” Clyde said with a gulp, picking up the phone from it's spot on the floor by his knee.
Cartman went a little pale. “W-what?”
“He called your phone and left a voicemail,” said Clyde. “Do you wanna listen to it?”
“Yes,” he said, eagerly. “Put it on speaker.”
The message started with Kyle's shaky breath in. “Hey, Cartman, it's... uh... it's Kyle. I'm not really sure why I'm calling your number considering your phone is probably at the... the bottom of the river somewhere... But... uh... I kind of just wanted to hear your stupid voicemail one more time. And, I know it's stupid and I'd never hear the end of it but I really fucking miss you, you piece of shit. I can't believe you really... fuck...” his voice broke and he had to pause and compose himself before he continued. “I'm sorry. I'm sorry for everything... Kenny... uh... told me that you liked me a couple of weeks ago which probably makes it extra shitty that I literally-” his voice cracked again “-made you kill yourself. I'm sorry I'm so shitty. I should have said something. I knew that you liked me and I liked you and I didn't fucking do anything and now you're dead and it's all my fault.”
“Wait,” said Cartman, “what?”
“He liked you too?!” said Clyde.
“Shut the fuck up, Clyde, it's not over yet!”
Kyle continued: “I'm walking back from Butters' house now because me and the guys went over there after your memorial service to... I don't know... calm down? And, I just want to go home but I can't even walk past your house so I'm taking the long way and this is kind of making it easier,” he paused and sighed. “No, it's not. I'm a fucking mess talking to nobody on the phone in the middle of the night. I... I'm gonna just... I miss you. I'm sorry. Goodbye.”
“Okay,” said Clyde. “What the fuck?”
Cartman stared at the phone in disbelief. “Are you fucking kidding me?” He scrambled to the ladder. “I have to go!”
“Where are you going?!”
“Did you not just hear that message, Clyde!?”
“Isn't this kind of what you wanted?”
“No! Now I feel bad and Kyle fucking likes me and I need to go, immediately!”
Clyde sighed as Cartman disappeared from sight. Great.
It was cold and dark and his jacket didn't seem thick enough but Cartman wasn't going back for a warmer one. He wasn't sure he'd ever run this fast and Kyle's house wasn't even that far away, just a block or so down the street. In fact, Kyle hadn't even reached his own front door when Cartman skidded to a halt on the sidewalk.
Wheeling around, Kyle's heart almost stopped and his first reaction was to scream which was, honestly, understandable. Cartman looked startled but he quickly clamped a hand over Kyle's mouth, effectively silencing him aside from a few muffled yelps.
“Okay, okay! Listen! Hear me out!” he said, stooping down, slightly, to reach Kyle's eye height. “I can explain, I promise, just shut up for like two seconds, alright?”
Tearing Cartman's sweaty palm from his mouth, Kyle took a gulp of air. “You're... How are you... I... You...” he sputtered. He looked like he was going to have an aneurism. Cartman had never seen him make such confused, bewildered faces and, honestly, he thought it was pretty cute.
Suddenly, Kyle's arms were around Cartman's middle and his face was buried in his chest, squeezing him in a tight, spontaneous, hug. Cartman hesitated a moment but, ultimately, returned the embrace. It was warm and soft and everything he expected it to be. Except for Kyle's body racked with sobs.
In an instant, though, the hug was broken by a solid right hook to Cartman's jaw. He reeled to the side and clutched his face where Kyle's fist had just collided.
“Fuck!” cried Cartman.
“You fucking asshole!” Kyle shouted but then, against everything, grabbed Cartman by the shirt collar and pulled him down into a desperate, needy kiss. Cartman made an astonished yelp against Kyle's lips but quickly fell into pace, cupping Kyle's face with his hands and kissing him back, fervidly. This was much better than his kiss with Clyde. He actually thought he saw stars as the butterflies welled in the pit of his stomach.
And then, again, as quickly as he had before, Kyle pulled away from from him and swung another irate fist at his face, with an angry cry. Cartman, knowing better this time, leaned back just in time and his knuckles just barely grazed his chin.
“Jesus Christ! Make up your fucking mind!” Cartman exclaimed, holding him back by his shoulders.
Kyle lunged forward again with a ferocious shriek that grew in volume as it tore from his chest. Cartman screamed too and gave Kyle a shove, taking off in the opposite direction.
“Mission abort! Mission abort!”
Cartman had forgotten how fast Kyle could run and, if it weren't for the adrenaline rushing through his veins, he felt like he would be on the ground, immediately. And, it's not like he was scared of Kyle but, to be fair, Kyle was being pretty fucking terrifying and, damn, that right hook, though.
He regretted everything. Oh, how he regretted everything.
Clyde's house wasn't far and he could see the backyard fence in the distance. The tree house had a door with a latch. He just had to make it that far, as long as his legs didn't give out on him before then. He thought he had a pretty fair chance, however. Kyle didn't know where in the world he was headed so, as long as he kept weaving through side streets and cutting through people's yards, he figured he might be able to lose him.
He tipped over a trashcan and tossed the aluminum lid back at Kyle, yelling “Blue shell! Blue shell!” This was exactly like Mario Kart, except for the fact that it was nothing like Mario Kart. You don't kiss somebody on the mouth and then try to murder them in cold blood in Mario Kart. At least, Cartman was pretty sure that wasn't how it went. It had been a while since he had played.
He made it to Clyde's fence and used his extreme momentum to thrust himself over the top, only stumbling a little when his feet landed on the frozen ground. Kyle, though more graceful, was a little behind and didn't make it over the fence until Cartman was halfway up the ladder to the old tree house.
Cartman had almost reached the top but, just as he tried to pull himself up the rest of the way, Kyle had latched onto his leg and was pulling him back down. He dug his fingernails into the wood and burst into the tree house with a yell, startling a poor, unsuspecting Clyde who was eating Oreos, alone. Clyde let out a louder, higher scream.
“Abort! Abort! Abort!” shouted Cartman, struggling to pull himself up and kick Kyle off of himself at the same time.
“Oh, Jesus,” cried Clyde, grabbing Cartman's hands and helping him up.
Kyle lost his grip and fell to the ground, landing on his feet, soundly. He looked up as the hatch into the tree house was slammed shut and firmly latched. But Kyle wasn't going anywhere.
“Eric Cartman! You're a dead man! Do you hear me?!” Kyle shouted from the ground. His voice only cracked a little.
“Technically,” Clyde said, peeking out the small window, “he's already dead.”
“Fuck you, Clyde!” cried Kyle. “What the fuck!? What the fucking fuck, you guys!?” He slumped down against the trunk of the tree and pulled his knees up to his chest, sandwiching his hands between his thighs to keep warm. “Fuck you,” he called again but it was softer this time as the lump in his throat choked him up again.
Clyde looked down at Kyle quietly crying at the bottom of the tree and then back at Cartman who was laying on his back, still catching his breath. “What happened?”
“Fuck,” Cartman mumbled, gulping down air, his chest burning. “I wasn't ready. I don't know why I thought he'd just let me talk my way out of this.”
Clyde pursed his lips. “Should we let him up?”
Cartman rubbed his cheek. He was going to be nursing a painful bruise for the next few days. “Only if he promises not to kill me.”
Clyde nodded and leaned out the window again. “Eric says you can come up if you promise not to kill him.”
Kyle glared up at him through his tears. “No! Fuck him!”
Clyde shrugged. “Okay, then.”
“Hold on! Wait!” Kyle cried as Clyde's head disappeared from the window.
“Yeah?” said Clyde, sticking his head out once more.
“Okay,” Kyle said, glumly.
“I'll let him talk.”
Clyde unlatched the door with a clunk and it creaked open. Kyle found his footing on the ladder and slowly climbed up. Inside, Cartman was hidden up to the ears in blankets, only peeking out as Kyle sat down across from him.
“Hi,” Cartman said, meekly.
Kyle glowered at him. “Explain yourself.”
Cartman opened his mouth to speak but Clyde interrupted him, shuffling to the exit. “I'm gonna go to bed, you guys. I think you need some alone time.”
Cartman squinted at him. “Fine. Leave me here to die, Clyde.” He held up a hand, dismissively, tossing his head to the side.
Clyde waved goodbye, sheepishly, over his shoulder. “G'night.”
Kyle watched him leave and, as soon as the hatch slammed shut again, snapped his gaze back to Cartman and scowled, wordlessly prompting him to speak.
Cartman took a painfully long breath in, thinking of what on earth he could possibly say to appease the angry redhead in front of him. “It wasn't supposed to be like this,” he decided on.
“Elaborate,” said Kyle, curtly.
“I was going to actually kill myself, I swear. If Clyde didn't try and bring me back here, I promise I'd really be at the bottom of the river somewhere. But... I already wrote the note and I didn't want it to look like I chickened out and I wanted people to miss me. I don't know. It just kind of happened,” he muttered, picking at some loose threads on the edges of an old quilt. He looked up, feeling kind of pitiful. “I'm sorry.”
Kyle kind of felt like the wind was knocked out of him. “You really tried to kill yourself? Just because I said you wouldn't do it?”
Cartman shrugged. “Yeah, I guess.”
“That's awful,” said Kyle.
“I dunno. I stood out there for, like, forty-five minutes trying to convince myself to jump. I was too much of a pussy, I guess,” said Cartman. His chest felt tight and he didn't like it.
“Don't say that,” Kyle said, much quieter.
Cartman licked his chapped lips. “I don't know what I was gonna do. Live out here forever, probably. But then I heard your voicemail and it made me feel bad and... ugh. Fuck.” He rubbed his eyes with his palms. Feelings were shit.
Kyle's cheeks sprung alive with blush. “You... You listened to all that?”
“Oh.” Kyle bit his lip and looked down and was silent for a minute. “I'm sorry...”
He tried his hardest to keep his lip from quivering but, ultimately, failed. “B-because I made you try to kill yourself. It's all my fault...”
“Bullshit,” said Cartman. “It's... I was just... Nuh-uh...” He scooted a little closer. He really wanted to try and comfort Kyle a little bit but he was afraid it would be like poking a bear. Carefully, he reached out and rested a hand on Kyle's knee, patting it. This was some Russian Roulette bullshit.
Kyle frowned at him, through his tears. “What are you doing?”
Cartman froze, hand still on Kyle's knee. “...Comforting you?”
Kyle stared at him for a minute but then snorted a laugh. “Wow, thanks.” Casually, he slipped under Cartman's arm and cuddled against the soft warmth of his chest, wrapping his arms around his middle.
Cartman's breath stalled in his lungs for a moment. This was everything he had wanted but under the wrong circumstances. He felt guilty. The feelings welled up in his throat until they spilled stinging tears from his eyes. By the way his arms tightened around him, he knew Kyle could tell he was crying. He tossed his head back and it clunked against the wood of the tree house wall. “Fuck,” he choked, trying to will the fat teardrops back into his eyes, blinking rapidly. “Fuck... I'm fucking sorry...”
Cartman was a sensitive person, deep down, underneath his thick exoskeleton of sarcasm and blunt candor. Everybody knew that. But, still, when something moved him to tears- and not crocodile tears- but real, raw, emotional tears, it was always a big deal. And, as Kyle felt those soft hiccups in his chest, he found his own eyes wetting the fabric of Cartman's shirt.
For an “I don't cry” kind of person, Kyle sure had been crying a lot lately.
“I'm so fucking stupid... goddamn,” Cartman continued, muttering profanities under his breath, through gritted teeth and a clenched jaw.
“Stop,” said Kyle, reaching up and touching his face, gingerly. He sat up and ran his fingers along his cheekbone, noting the bruise that had already began to form. “I'm sorry I hit you.”
Cartman shook his head. “It's okay,” he said.
Kyle looked at him and he met his eyes, pitifully. He leaned down and kissed him for the second time that night, but this time it was softer and more tender. Cartman's lips were chapped and wind-beaten but Kyle's were soft and tasted like menthol. He carefully positioned himself in Cartman's wide lap, knees on either side of him, and cupped his face with his palms, letting out a small gasp between warm, thirsty kisses.
Kyle startled a bit and tensed as Cartman's freezing fingers found their way under his shirt, running along the bumps of his spine, occasionally grazing his fingernails along the skin. Cartman's breath was wet and hot and the little moan he made when he slipped his tongue through Kyle's parted lips set his skin ablaze.
“Is this for real?” Cartman found himself asking, murmured against Kyle's mouth.
Kyle leaned back and adjusted his hat and the red curls that tumbled out from beneath it. He cleared his throat. “Yes,” he said, firmly. He sniffled a little, a reminder of the tears that still streaked his face. “My God, Cartman,” he said, suddenly, “it's freezing out here. You've been living like this for like three days?”
Cartman chuckled and grabbed Kyle by the waist, pulling him down into the numerous quilts he had acquired from Clyde's attic. “Then get under the blankets with me, Jew.”
Kyle huffed, indignantly, but still snuggled close to him, curling into a tight ball to keep warm. “Ridiculous.”
Cartman hummed and wrapped himself around Kyle in an effort to share his immense body heat. “Damn,” he said, wistfully. “I can't believe I made out with Clyde today when I could have been making out with you the whole time.”
Kyle sat up straight. “Wait, what?”
“Jeez, calm down, it didn't mean anything. It was an extreme moment of weakness and my tongue just so happened to be in Clyde's mouth,” Cartman said.
Kyle clenched his fist. “Clyde,” he snarled.
Cartman laughed. “Oh yeah, Clyde said you were out for blood!”
“When I heard you left your stuff to him I didn't know what to think... I... I don't know. I thought maybe you guys had a secret thing that I didn't know about and...”
“Oh my God, Kyle, you were jealous!”
Kyle tossed his hands in the air. “Maybe I was! But here I was, bullying poor Clyde for days!”
Cartman's laugh turned into a snort. “I love how you hate him for no reason. It's fucking hilarious.”
“Well, now I have a reason,” Kyle growled.
“Why? Because I kissed him?”
Kyle didn't say anything but shrunk further into the blankets, face red, and seething with unspoken rage.
“Aw, Kyle, don't pout. There's enough of me to go around,” Cartman said, grinning wolfishly.
Kyle narrowed his eyes at him, scrunching up his nose. “I'm not pouting. I'm just... I'm just...”
Kyle let out a sound that sounded almost like a hiss. “Maybe I am.”
“Because you looooooove me,” Cartman singsonged.
Kyle glared at him, dangerously. “I'll go home then, and you can live out here in your tree house with Clyde, your true love.”
Cartman looked disgusted. “Ew, gross. I don't even like Clyde.”
“I like you, you stupid Jew.”
Kyle's face pinked again. “Y-yeah, well, I like you too.”
“So I've heard,” Cartman said, smirking.
Kyle pounced on him, kissing him fiercely, pushing him down onto the blankets and straddling his waist. Even with Kyle pinning his hands above his head, Cartman knew he could probably wrestle him off if he tried. But, he thought, why would he ever want to when Kyle was leaving a trail of hungry kisses along his jaw, pausing to bite down, delicately, on his earlobe before moving down his neck, kissing and sucking on the sensitive skin there.
Cartman couldn't quite contain a long groan as Kyle's teeth grazed his throat. “Fuck,” he all but whimpered and he felt Kyle's warm breath of a laugh against his skin.
“Sensitive, much?” whispered Kyle.
“Do you have any idea how long I've wanted to do this shit with you?” panted Cartman.
Kyle's eyes darted up at him. “Really?” He trailed one finger along the inseam of Cartman's pant leg, moving slow and deliberately.
“Yes,” Cartman said, tentatively, moving up onto his elbows. “Didn't you know that? Didn't Kenny tell you like weeks ago?”
“Yes, but it's not like I believed him. Not entirely. You know Kenny. He makes shit up just to fuck with people. A trait I assumed he got from you,” said Kyle.
Cartman licked his lips. “I may have had something to do with that. But it was for real this time. I figured he'd tell you, though.”
“I kind of wish I believed him at first,” said Kyle, sitting up and slipping his hands under Cartman's shirt. “It would have really made things simpler, wouldn't it?”
Cartman tensed as Kyle's long, cold fingers brushed against the soft skin of his stomach as he pushed his shirt up. He kissed there, gently, and Cartman thought he might, actually, die. He hesitated a bit, though, and Kyle picked up on that immediately.
“Nothing,” Cartman lied.
Kyle sat up. “What?” he prompted, again.
Cartman shook his head. “It's nothing.”
“Eric,” Kyle scolded and Cartman felt like he had been punched right in the trachea. He didn't know why. It was just his name. Strangely enough, he sometimes forgot his name wasn't actually Cartman. It was a weird feeling. He didn't know if he liked it or not.
“I'm just feeling a tad bit emotionally unstable right now is all, mi amigo,” he croaked.
Kyle squinted at him and exhaled through his nose. “Okay,” he said, rolling onto his side instead. His eyelashes brushed against Cartman's cheek as he cast his eyes downward. He lay there, quietly, for a moment before he spoke again. “I still can't believe you're alive, you ass.”
“Me either,” said Cartman. “Who woulda guessed?”
“This has simultaneously been the worst and best day of my life, just so you know.”
“I'm glad I could have that effect on you,” Cartman said with a smirk.
“Oh, shut up. What are you gonna do now?”
“I haven't thought that far. I kind of just assumed you'd hang out here from now on and just go on pretending to be devastated over my tragic death when you're anywhere else.” Cartman shrugged.
“You know I can't do that.”
“Why not? Clyde can do it.”
Kyle scowled. “It's not going to work and you know it. You can't just live in the Donovan's backyard forever.”
“You're right. I'm going to have to leave the country,” Cartman said, frowning.
“That's not what I meant. You've gotta come back. You've gotta tell the truth.”
Cartman felt sick at the thought. “I know. But just give me some time. I need to fix things first.”
“I don't know, Kyle. I'm trying to be a better person here, gosh.”
Kyle hesitated but then sighed. “Okay. I'll do what I can to help.”
When Clyde poked his head into the tree house the next morning, he found the two of them tangled together under a mountain of quilts. He covered his eyes with his palm. “Oh, Jesus Christ, did you guys fuck in my tree house?” he lamented.
Kyle sat up, immediately, blushing profusely. “N-no!” he cried.
Cartman rolled over, facing the wall, mumbling groggily. Kyle shook his shoulder and he opened one sleepy eye. “What?”
“Clyde thinks we fucked in his tree house.”
Cartman scoffed and leaned on his elbow. “Please, Clyde. If me 'n Kyle fucked you'd be the first person to hear about it, I promise,” he said, dryly.
Clyde looked relieved and only a little disgusted. “Gee, thanks.”
“What time is it?” yawned Kyle.
“Seven,” said Clyde. “I have to go to church with my dad and just wanted to make sure you didn't kill each other.”
“God, Clyde, why the fuck would you wake me up at seven in the morning on a Sunday?” Cartman griped. “What kind of friend are you?”
“Be nice,” said Kyle. “Clyde, I'm sorry I was a dick to you at school and at the cemetery the other day.”
Clyde nodded. “It's fine. Cartman said you were probably just jealous, anyhow.”
Kyle's face was burning. “I'm not jealous.”
“Dude,” said Cartman, “you were so fucking jealous.”
Kyle made a growling noise in his throat. “I should go home, too. My mom's gonna be worried that I stayed out all night.”
Cartman sighed, dramatically. “Boo, you whore.”
“I'll be back later,” Kyle said, following Clyde down the ladder. He turned and wondered at him for a second. “Be good.”
Monday morning came fast. The soft pink light of dawn made the snowy hills blush in the distance as Kyle walked to school alone. He shoved his hands into the pockets of his jacket, feeding off the warmth from his own body. Today he wore a scarf up to his chin to hide last night's hickeys. He was more than a little embarrassed that he hadn't thought to avoid things like that at the time. Spur of the moment indulgence with Cartman after Clyde had gone to bed had left his neck and chest blotted with purple and red. He was somewhat proud, though, that, when he had left in the night, Cartman's skin was just as marked up, if not more.
He worried about him while he was away. He didn't want to be at school. He wanted to be in that stupid tree house. But, as future valedictorian, he felt that perfect attendance was a must. Also, he was on a mission. Being one of the only people who knew the truth about the death of Eric Cartman was a big responsibility, but, if Clyde could do it, so could he.
He found Stan in the parking lot outside the school. Wendy was there too, leaning against Stan's light blue, used Camry as Stan quickly finished his biology homework next to her. Kyle made his presence known by tapping lightly against the car's dented hood.
Stan looked up from his textbook, seeming a little surprised. “Hey. How are you holding up?”
For a brief instant Kyle was confused but quickly remembered that, yes. Eric Cartman was dead. Right. He was sad about it. He shrugged weakly and shook his head. “I'm alright. How are things?” Ooh, this felt dirty. He felt gross about this. But also kind of invigorated? Secrets are weird.
“Things are okay,” said Stan, closing his homework. “I didn't hear from you yesterday. I was worried.”
Kyle gulped. “I was, uh, with Clyde, actually.”
Stan raised his eyebrows. “Oh? I thought you were going to kill him.”
“I never said that.”
“Your exact words were 'I'm going to make him wish he was never born,'” Wendy chimed.
“Y-yeah, well... I mean... I didn't say I was going to murder him, ya know, personally,” Kyle muttered.
“Hmm,” said Stan. “You're okay, though? Right?”
Kyle nodded, quickly. “Yeah. I've been doing a lot of... self reflection.”
Wendy pulled herself up to sit on the hood of the car, crossing her ankles and smoothing down her violet skirt. “Kyle, are you sure you're alright?”
Kyle looked up at her, trying not to seem like he was about to crawl out of his skin. “I'm fine. Really.”
“Because it's okay if you're not. You and Eric were close,” she said.
“Yeah,” Stan said, glumly. “I mean... damn, dude. Our friend died...”
Kyle didn't know why but he felt wetness spring into his eyes. Maybe it was the memory of when he thought this was real or maybe it was the thought of Cartman being upset enough to even consider suicide or maybe even just guilt. Either way, his chest quickly became uncomfortably tight and he felt panic and other troublesome emotions swelling in his stomach. He covered his mouth with his hand and tried to clear the lump from his throat. Every fiber of his being was screaming and he needed to get out of there before he fell apart. “I have to go,” he said, quickly, choking on his own voice. He turned and jogged briskly into the building before they could say anything. Nobody followed him.
Inside, behind some lockers, he pressed his back against the cool cement wall and tried to catch his breath, gulping for air. His hands were shaking and he still couldn't figure out why he was having some kind of crazy emotional reaction. He had felt like this when the guidance counselor had come to him on Friday morning and told him that Cartman had killed himself. But Cartman wasn't dead. He wasn't. He just had to keep reminding himself that the bastard was fast asleep in Clyde Donovan's tree house. And, oh God, he hoped he wouldn't try anything like that again.
“Kyle,” a voice said, firmly, snapping him from his spiraling panic attack.
“Kenny,” Kyle said, meeting the tiny blond's brown eyes. “What are you doing?” he asked, almost instinctively.
“Well,” said Kenny, “I was gonna ask you that. Considering you're having a mental breakdown behind my locker and everything.”
“Oh,” said Kyle. “This is your locker, isn't it?”
Kenny nodded. “Yeah. Dude, are you alright? You look like you're going to throw up.”
Kyle swallowed hard. “I'm okay. I'm okay,” he said.
Kenny frowned and chewed on his bottom lip. “This is shitty, huh?”
“It's so shitty, Kenny. So, so, so shitty,” Kyle muttered, shaking his head.
Suddenly, Clyde appeared behind Kenny, looking concerned and confused. “Hey, Kyle. Are you okay?”
“Yes,” Kyle said, hastily.
Kenny looked between the both of them, curiously, and then down at his phone. “I have to go,” he said, furrowing his brow. “But, you know. Text me, Kyle.”
Letting out a long, deep breath, Kyle nodded and gave Kenny a brief fist bump as he left.
Clyde leaned against the wall and crossed his arms. “What's going on?”
“I don't know. I'm okay,” mumbled Kyle.
“Dude, you're crying.”
Kyle swiftly wiped his eyes with his palms. “No, I'm not.”
Clyde looked at him, skeptically. “Kyle,” he reprehended.
“I'm just having a lot of feelings right now, Clyde,” snapped Kyle. “This is a lot harder than I thought it was going to be.”
“Well, if you were going for 'emotionally wrecked over the tragic death of a friend' you kinda hit the nail right on the head,” said Clyde.
Kyle pursed his lips. “Perfect,” he said, grimacing.
Across the hall, Craig closed his locker door with more force than usual, startling Tweek who spilled hot coffee all over himself. Craig glanced, tiredly, at him out of the corner of his eye and then back to Clyde and Kyle with a dark, unreadable expression.
“Hmm,” said Craig. Something unusual was going on and he was going to find out what. Not because he cared or anything, though. Baka.
The Chubby Tree House Club had, apparently, taken on a new, thinner member, Clyde thought as he sat on one side of Cartman, Kyle on the other. Maybe he was feeling a little bit like a third wheel but he was happy with this group. And, arguably, their banter was really entertaining.
As Kyle and Cartman hotly debated which Friends character they were most like, Clyde's phone rang. It was Craig and he hesitated, briefly, but answered it anyhow, leaning away from the others as he did.
“Where are you?” Craig asked- no, demanded- into the phone.
“I'm... at my house?” answered Clyde.
“Okay... Well... I'm outside.”
Clyde jolted up. “What? Right now?”
“Yeah,” said Craig. “You didn't show at Token's house tonight and I came by to see why you blew us off.”
“W-we were supposed to hang out at Token's tonight?” Clyde stammered.
“Okay, hold on. I'll be out in a second.”
“'Kay,” Craig said, hanging up.
Cartman gave Clyde a quizzical look. “Dude, what?”
“Craig's here,” said Clyde, scrambling towards the exit.
“Oh, Jesus,” Kyle muttered, pushing his hair back, anxiously.
“Okay, just... Just do whatever gay shit you guys usually do and don't let him up here,” Cartman directed.
Clyde nodded and gulped and descended to the ground. He quietly slipped in through the sliding glass back door and through the darkened house. He flipped on the porch light and opened the front door where Craig stood on the steps, hands on his hips.
He had on a blue flannel with the sleeves rolled up to his elbows, even in the chilly evening. A shock of black hair stuck out from underneath his hat and his eyes were bitter cold. He was horribly attractive, Clyde thought and hated himself for thinking it.
“Craig,” Clyde said as a greeting but it sounded more like an announcement.
“Clyde,” Craig returned with a nod.
“Do you wanna come in?”
“I guess,” Craig said, stepping past him. He blinked. “It's dark in here.”
“Uh, yeah,” Clyde said, quickly flicking on some more lights. “I was outside.”
The look on Craig's face suggested he shouldn't have said that. Craig crinkled his dark eyebrows. “What were you doing outside?” he asked. “It's freezing out.”
Clyde swallowed hard. “Oh, you know. Stuff. Things.”
Craig frowned at him, absently tonguing at the studs in his lip. “Clyde.”
“Hmm...?” said Clyde. He was horrible at acting nonchalant.
“What's going on?”
“Nothing. Nothing is going on,” Clyde said, his voice shooting up through three octaves. He cleared his throat and leaned against the glass back door and crossed his arms.
Craig looked past him, squinting at the backyard. “Your tree house light is on. When did your tree house get lights?”
Clyde's stomach dropped. Fuck. “I was just up there, hanging out by myself.”
“You blew us off to hang out in a tree house by yourself?” Craig said, slowly, cocking an eyebrow. “Dude, you could at least call if you were going to ditch us to beat off.”
Clyde began to look a bit like a tomato. “N-no! I wasn't! I was just... cooking... meth?”
Craig snorted a laugh. “You're an awful liar,” he said, reaching out to open the sliding door.
“Wait! Stop!” Clyde cried, reaching out to grab Craig's wrist.
Craig didn't stop, however, pulling a hesitant Clyde along with him as he made his way into the backyard. He stopped at the bottom of the old oak tree and Clyde silently prayed that some merciful god would smite him down that very instant. Craig looked down at him and chuckled.
“You look like you're going to have an aneurism, Clyde,” Craig said, curiously. “You got babes up there or what?”
Not unless you count the morons who are probably fucking up there right now, Clyde thought to himself. “No,” he said.
“Bummer,” Craig exhaled. He tugged, experimentally, at the wooden rungs of the ladder. “We haven't been up there in years.”
“Yeah, boy, that's a shame! Anyhow! Let's go back inside!” Clyde said, nervously.
Craig shot him an impish glance and Clyde frowned.
“Don't you do it, Craig. I know what you're thinking,” Clyde warned.
Hurriedly, Craig made a mad dash up the ladder and Clyde let out an unholy screech as he lunged for one of his Converse-clad feet. But, it was too late and Craig's freakishly tall frame was already at the top of the tree trunk, halfway into the tree house.
Unfortunately for everyone involved in the hoax of the century, Craig immediately locked eyes with the dead man walking, Eric Cartman. It was especially unfortunate since his hand was currently down Kyle's pants.
“Welp,” said Cartman, pursing his lips.
“Oh my god,” said Kyle, hiding his hot, blushing face in his hands.
For once in his life, Craig looked shocked. Then angry, hurt, fearful, angry again, and, finally, confused, before his expression settled into blankness once more. Slowly, with out a sound, he retreated back down the ladder.
Clyde let out a choked sob and reached out for him when he touched the ground but recoiled as he pushed past him, wordlessly, headed back through the yard, towards the backdoor.
“Craig, please! I can explain!” Clyde begged, following after him, anxious tears stinging at his eyes, a lump catching his voice in his throat. “It's not what it looks like!”
Craig spun around, quickly, on his heel and was, suddenly, looming over him. Clyde bumped into his chest before taking a small step backwards, kneading his hands nervously in front of him.
“I don't even know what this looks like,” Craig spat. “To be honest, I was pretty sure you were fucking Broflovski .”
“W-what? No, I'm-”
“But this is... this is...” Craig made vague gestures with his hands. Clyde was really taken aback by the expressiveness of his best friend at the moment. Craig was rarely anything but apathetic. “What the fuck, dude?!”
Dewy, brimming tears finally spilled from Clyde's eyes and he bawled shamelessly. “I don't know what to tell you. I'm sorry.”
Craig's expression softened somewhat. “Don't cry, Clyde.”
Clyde shook his head and sniffled, his bottom lip quivering. He had always been a bit of a cry baby. He wiped his eyes and nose with the cuff of his sleeve and tried to respond but it came out as a high-pitched blubber.
Craig sighed. “It's not like you to get caught up in one of Cartman's schemes.”
“It's not that,” Clyde managed.
“It's- it's a club...”
Craig raised an eyebrow. “What?”
“Alright,” said Cartman, suddenly appearing behind Clyde, gripping his shoulder, reassuringly, Kyle at his side with his hands on his hips, “Craig, do we have to kill you as a witness or what?”
Craig narrowed his eyes slightly. “It depends,” he said, shifting his weight on his feet and crossing his arms. He looked intrigued. “What's the stitch?”
Cartman cracked a grin and gestured with a bow towards the tree house. “Okay, Kim Possible, welcome to the club.”
Craig sat, chin resting in his hands, across from Cartman and next to Clyde, with a fleece blanket draped over his lap. He had just heard the whole story of the Chubby Tree House Club, as told mainly by Cartman. “Okay,” he said, “I'm in.”
Clyde sighed with audible relief.
“Good,” said Cartman. “We're all going to Hell so enjoy the ride.”
Kyle scoffed. “You know, we should really consider-”
“Kyle, if you're going to suggest coming clean about this one more time, I swear to God...”
“I'm just saying,” said Kyle, “that it'd be nice to not have to pretend to be wracked with grief. Or, I don't know, for you to get to sleep indoors again maybe?”
Cartman picked painfully at his cuticles. “Hmph. Valid points.”
Clyde looked out the tiny window as the sun sank low over the mountains in the distance. It was almost dark now. “I've got homework to do, you guys,” he said. “And my dad'll be home soon and I don't want him to realize anything's up.”
“Lame,” Cartman huffed. “Who even does homework, anyhow?”
“People that go to school, stupid,” Kyle butt in. “He's right. It's getting late.”
Cartman frowned. “What? You're leaving too?”
Kyle shrugged. “Not right now but soon, probably.”
“I'm going with Clyde,” Craig said. “I've seen enough of you two for one day.”
“Yeah, knock next time, Craig,” said Cartman.
Kyle coughed, embarrassed, into his fist.
“Anyhow,” Cartman added, “club meeting tomorrow. Topic of Interest: how the fuck I'm getting out of this.”
Clyde nodded. “Right. I'll be here. Considering this is my house.”
“Me too, obviously,” Kyle included with a roll of his eyes.
Craig looked hesitant but agreed. “Fine.”
“I tell you what, Clyde,” Cartman said as Clyde gathered his things to head inside, “we should really think twice before we indict any more of these skinny bitches into The Chubby Tree House Club.” Kyle punched him in the arm.
Clyde snickered and Craig issued him a flick to the ear.
And, suddenly, Kyle and Cartman were alone again.
“Clyde must be losing his fucking mind,” Cartman exhaled, leaning back against the smooth wood of the wall behind him and cocking his head to the side. “He's so fucking gay for Craig.”
“Really? I thought you just made that up to cause drama.”
“No, it's totally legit. Clyde writes his name in the margins of his notes with little hearts and everything.”
“No, he doesn't,” Kyle said. “He let me copy his bio notes from a class I missed for a field trip last month and I think I would have remembered that.”
Cartman waved his hand, dismissively. “He probably erased it because he thinks you're homophobic.”
Kyle let out the most appalled scoff. “I'm obviously not.”
“Yeah, didn't see that coming, honestly!” exclaimed Cartman.
“Really?” asked Kyle, raising his eyebrows. “Not even a little?”
“Well, I mean I kind of hoped so. Guess I chalked it all up to wishful thinking!” Cartman said. “And, even then, I was pretty positive you weren't gonna be into me, so it didn't really matter.”
“I...” Kyle started but was silent for a moment. “I wasn't sure. And I didn't want to be the one to change things... But you, uh, you really shook things up.”
“Well,” Cartman shrugged, “I am an agent of chaos after all,” he said.
Kyle chuckled softly. “That's true.”
Cartman was quiet and chewed at the inside of his cheek. “I don't know,” he said, finally, “how I'm going to make this work.”
“What do you mean?”
“I'm gonna be known as that guy if I go back.”
“You're already known as that guy; you're gonna have to be more specific,” Kyle said with a smirk.
“Eric Cartman can't even get his own death right,” Cartman said and he sounded hurt and small and defenseless.
Kyle's face fell and it felt like he'd been punched right in the stomach. “Oh...”
Cartman laughed, almost hysteric, and shook his head. “It's not surprising,” he said, bitterly, into his crossed arms. “It's going to be even more degrading than the reason I'm out here, anyhow.”
“That's not going to happen,” said Kyle. “You have friends who love you and miss you and won't let anybody give you that shit. What about Stan and Kenny? And... And me. Do you think we'd let anybody make you feel like shit for this?”
Cartman narrowed his eyes, suspiciously. “Yes,” he said, slowly.
“We wouldn't!” gasped Kyle. “Not about something like this.”
Cartman swallowed, hard. “I don't know... Maybe I should just do it for real. Ya know? For solidarity's sake.”
“No, fuck you,” said Kyle, shoving him but then gripping the sleeve of his coat, tightly. “Don't say that shit.”
“Haha,” said Cartman, pressing his palms to his eyes. “I wanna die.” He said it in the same tone as he had before when joking about his own mortality or when Kenny made a bad joke but, this time, Kyle could tell he meant it and it hurt.
“I'm sorry,” Kyle said, reaching out for him but stopping just as his fingers grazed the fabric of Cartman's jacket. It was so bizarre to see Cartman like this. He was always so sure of himself and... obnoxious... Kyle found it difficult to come to terms with the idea that it had all be a ruse. Things were falling into place, though.
“S'not your fault,” mumbled Cartman.
“I know but I... I can't do anything to help...”
Cartman glanced at him out of the corner of his eye. “Well... You're doing more than anybody else ever has, so that's something.”
Meanwhile, Clyde made his way up to his bedroom, flanked by Craig. As usual, Craig was quiet, watching from the doorway as Clyde threw his backpack down on the bed.
“I'm sorry,” Craig said, suddenly, breaking the silence.
Clyde looked up. “W-what?”
“I'm sorry I didn't listen to you.”
“Oh,” said Clyde with a shrug. “It's fine. I shouldn't have lied to you, anyhow.”
“I... I uh,” Craig cleared his throat, “I'll admit that it wasn't what I expected.”
“Yeah, I know... You thought me and Kyle...?”
Craig chuckled, nervously. “I saw you two at school together and I should have known better, honestly,” he said, shaking his head.
“Well, I think you can see, now, that I am his type.” Clyde said and then squinted across the room at him. “Is that why you came over here?”
“Uh, I... um...” Craig stammered, stuffing his fists into the pockets of his jeans. “Well, I mean, we were supposed to hang out at Token's house.”
“You know, you could have just asked me,” said Clyde. “You could have been like 'Hey, Clyde, are you into Kyle?' and I would have been like 'No. Are you into Tweek?'” The words just spewed out of him like vomit and he mentally kicked himself in the balls over it.
Craig meshed his eyebrows together. “What?”
“Nothing,” Clyde yelped, really, really hoping that Craig didn't catch that last part. He knew better than to assume he could get anything past Craig Tucker, though.
“You think I like Tweek?”
“I mean, I thought it was kind of obvious,” Clyde said, sheepishly. “You're always hanging out together and stuff, lately...”
“He's my lab partner. We've been doing a science project together. He's been talking to some girl in the marching band for like a month,” Craig said, slightly aghast.
“Oh,” said Clyde in a surprised voice. “OH. Oh my god.”
Craig laughed and shook his head, the tassels of his hat swinging back and forth. “Clyde, I think you need glasses because you're so blind.”
Clyde was relieved but his heart jumped into his throat as Clyde made his way across the room and took him by the shoulders. Clyde fell back against the bed post with a tiny squeak. “W-what are you doing?” Craig's ultramarine eyes were softer than Clyde had ever seen them before and his breath hitched in his throat.
“I thought,” said Craig, “that you'd been picking up on all the hints I've been dropping.”
Craig exhaled through his nose. “I'm into you, dude.”
Clyde very nearly choked on his own saliva. “What!?”
“...Why?” Clyde forced out. He was confused. Craig was a tall, beautiful, tanned, Adonis and he was... well... Clyde?
“You're my best friend and I... Well, I... I don't know, it just kind of happened..." Craig was watching him curiously and then he realized that he was shaking. “You do- uh- you do like me, right? I wasn't just... like... imagining things, was I?” Craig murmured.
“Of course I do,” Clyde sighed. “I thought everyone knew that.”
“I was kind of afraid that Cartman actually did just make that up to spread rumors.”
“Lucky coincidence,” gulped Clyde. Craig was so close to him now, his hands had slid down his shoulders to his wrists, and Clyde could smell his peppermint breath. “I... I... I, uh...” he sputtered. Then, he decided to do something bold for once in his life. He popped up on his tiptoes and quickly closed the gap between their mouths, pressing his lips against Craig's firmly and decisively.
Craig let out a short moan and kissed back, pulling Clyde closer and holding the back of his neck, fixedly, his long fingers playing in his hair as he did. After a minute, he stepped back, slowly, and gazed at Clyde, who stood as still as he could, gasping, eyes still screwed shut. “You, uh, you've got homework to do, right?”
“Right,” panted Clyde, forcing himself to open his eyes and watch as Craig licked his lips, ardently, with wide pupils.
“I'll, um, see you at school tomorrow,” said Craig, backing towards the door.
“Right,” Clyde said again, wondering if he was ever going to regain the capability to say anything else.
“See you, space cowboy,” Clyde found himself saying. Okay.
Craig looked back with an amused smirk and shut the door behind him.
Clyde let out a long breath that he had been holding for what seemed like forever, and slumped down on the bed, holding his bright red face in his shaking hands. He felt like he was going to throw up. In a good way. Warmness bubbled up through his chest and, despite himself, he let out a sunny giggle which he stifled into a pillow. He waited until he heard Craig's car leave the driveway before bolting upright and sprinting down the stairs, through the kitchen, and out the sliding glass door.
Cartman was almost positive that this was going to be the best night of his life as Kyle left a trail of indulgent kisses down his stomach and toyed with the elastic of his boxers, filling his cold body with torrid heat.
“Oh my god,” groaned Cartman, biting down on his lower lip. “Fuck...”
Kyle looked up from behind his eyelashes and snickered against his supple skin, giving him a sultry glance. “I'm barely touching you. You really are sensitive, aren't you?”
“Nngh,” Cartman whimpered and bucked his hips upwards as Kyle grazed the bulge in his pants with the palm of his hand. “Shit, dude, you're so fucking hot.”
Kyle blushed and tugged at his zipper with his teeth, stopping to shoot him another fleeting, smoldering look.
Kyle jumped and sat up and Cartman let out a string of profanities as Clyde scrambled into the tree house, visibly excited.
“What, Clyde?” Kyle asked in an unintentionally high pitched voice.
“Every fucking time,” Cartman growled, pulling up his zipper and adjusting himself as Clyde paused to breathe.
“Okay, so, me and Craig were up in my room and he was telling me about how he thought me and Kyle were fucking and then I told him that I thought he and Tweek were fucking and he said he's not into Tweek but he's into me and then we kissed and it was amazing and I almost died,” Clyde said, all in one breath.
“Aww, good for you but why did he think me and you were fucking?” Kyle asked, cocking his eyebrow.
Clyde shrugged. “He didn't really go into detail but I guess it's because we were hanging out at school today?”
“Hmm,” said Kyle, “I guess hanging out at school means fucking now.”
“Clyde, if you fuck Kyle, I'll break your neck,” warned Cartman, gripping Kyle's knee, protectively. Kyle gave his hand a gentle pat.
“No offense,” said Clyde, “but I'm not going to do that, I promise.”
“Yeah, Cartman, he doesn't like redheads. He likes tall, dark, and handsome,” Kyle said, batting his eyelashes, dramatically.
Cartman snorted. “More like he likes douchebags.”
“Aw, come on,” Clyde said, weakly. “Craig's not a douchebag.”
“He's kind of a douchebag,” Kyle admitted, sheepishly. “But that's fine. He's an okay guy.”
“Anyway,” said Clyde, shrugging, still red cheeked and out of breath, “I just kinda needed to tell somebody that.”
Cartman punched him lightly in the shoulder, breaking a grin. “You did it, my brother. The Chubby Tree House Club always gets the... the...”
“Yeah, the guy. The Chubby Tree House Club always gets the guy.”
“Heh,” said Clyde, feeling quite proud of himself for once. “Anyhow, I've actually really got homework to do so I'll see you guys tomorrow.”
“Okay, see you at school,” Kyle said.
“Bye, Clyde,” said Cartman, shrugging him a wave as he climbed down the ladder.
After Clyde had left, they were both quiet for a moment. Kyle shifted, uncomfortably, chewing at his bottom lip and pushing a few stray locks of ruby red hair under his hat. “I'm, uh, I should go...”
“Wait,” said Cartman, leaning forward, gripping the cuff of Kyle's jacket sleeve as he sat up, briefly, letting go after a second.
“What?” Kyle asked, sitting back, cocking his head, slightly, with a smirk. “Do you really, still want head after all that?”
Cartman gave a timid shrug. “Well, I mean... I don't not want to get head, if that's what you're asking...”
Kyle snorted. “You're so dumb.”
“Hey, you know, maybe, if you weren't so- oh!” Cartman started but was cut off by Kyle suddenly pressing a fervid kiss to his throat, warm, wet breath ghosting along his skin as he exhaled, then nipping and sucking at his neck, leaving deep red marks that would surely turn to purple by morning.
“Just shut up, okay?” Kyle mumbled with perfect lips skimming, lightly against his Adam's apple.
“O-okay,” Cartman managed with a hoarse moan, leaning back onto his elbows as Kyle made a steady line of soft kisses and tender bites from his throat, downward, pushing up his shirt, the lower he got.
Cartman felt his heart thumping in his chest and he found himself letting out a high-pitched whine as Kyle kissed just below his navel. He paused, looking up at him with an eager grin, and then hastily worked at the fly of his jeans once again.
As Kyle's lips grazed the thin cloth of his underwear that separated his mouth from his cock, Cartman found it increasingly difficult to keep quiet. “Oh my God, Kyle,” he moaned as he nipped at the fabric with his teeth.
“What did I tell you about talking?” Kyle murmured.
“I know, I'm sorry, but you're just so... Goddamn, Kyle!”
Carefully, Kyle finally pulled back the elastic of Cartman's boxers, letting his aching erection spring free. Kyle hesitated for a second at the sight of it. “You're bigger than I thought you'd be...”
Cartman fought back the urge to make a crude remark. “What? You thought I was overcompensating for something?” he decided upon.
“Well, yeah!” said Kyle, still fixated on it, licking his lips, fervently.
Cartman clicked his tongue. “Don't be ridiculous, Kyle. My dick is spectacular.”
“Alright, take it down a few pegs, you ostentatious bastard,” Kyle said, flatly, although, truthfully, it was kind of nice to hear Cartman acting full of himself again after his recent episodic depression.
Cartman cracked a grin. “Then humble me, Jew,” he said.
Kyle felt fire flare in his chest. It was a raw feeling but a feeling he relished, nonetheless. It was part of the reason he was here in the first place. It was why he was attracted to him. Maybe it was masochistic but, to them, rivalry was so akin flirtation that they could be related. With Cartman, the lines were blurred and it was hard to tell the difference between anger and arousal and, God, he loved every minute of it.
Humbling Cartman, he found, was easy. As he licked, tantalizingly slow, up the shaft of his cock, he twitched under his tongue and let out a whimper as Kyle teased at the head. And, when, suddenly, Kyle took as much of him into his mouth as he could, Cartman saw stars.
Kyle quickly fell into a rhythm, bobbing his head down on his cock as far as he was able, twisting his hand around what he couldn't reach. Cartman had one leg wrapped around Kyle's back, holding him steady, and his hips thrust, almost involuntarily, in cadence with his mouth. One hand held himself up as he sat, leaning back, and the other had knocked Kyle's hat off in favor of holding a fistful of his hair.
Cartman had given up on any hope of keeping quiet at that point. It felt almost too good and he knew he wasn't going to last much longer. He had been close from the start, admittedly, and the ludicrous things Kyle was doing with his tongue weren't doing anything to keep him from climaxing any time soon.
He really wanted to give Kyle a fair warning but, unfortunately, his orgasm came out of nowhere and he moaned loudly as he tensed and came in Kyle's mouth.
Kyle took it like a champ and, as he pulled back, wiping the corner of his mouth with his thumb, leaned up and kissed Cartman through his euphoric haze. Cartman could taste himself on Kyle's tongue and he thought it was, actually, kind of hot.
“Have you ever done that before?” Cartman asked, pausing between kisses.
“No,” Kyle admitted, breathing out, heavily. “But I, uh, I've researched it.”
Cartman snorted and giggled against Kyle's lips. “Is that nerd-slang for watching porn?”
“Yes, shut up,” Kyle hissed, trying to hide a smile by kissing him even rougher.
Cartman could feel how hard Kyle still was as he brushed against his stomach and that was just absolutely unacceptable, he thought. In a second he had flipped Kyle onto his back and leaned over him, pinning him down by one of the wrists, using the other hand to nimbly undo Kyle's belt.
“Oh, Jesus,” Kyle muttered, watching him, wide-eyed, as he tugged down his waistband.
“My turn,” Cartman said with a hungry grin, furiously jerking him off with quick, steady strokes.
Kyle cried out and frantically thrust his hips to match Cartman's speed. He only lasted a minute or two before cumming all over himself with a shuddering gasp, his free hand desperately clutching Cartman's shirt.
He lay there, quietly, eyes closed and shaking, for a moment to catch his breath after Cartman sat back, releasing his grip. “Fuck,” he panted after a while.
“That's next on the agenda but I'm pretty tired after all that, thanks,” Cartman said, smartly, with a smirk.
Kyle frowned at him and then at his now-stained shirt. “Oh, goddammit. How am I supposed to go home looking like this?”
Cartman shrugged. “Don't go home?”
“I have to, Eric.”
Every time Kyle called him by his first name, Cartman got butterflies and he didn't know if he loved it or hated it.
Kyle cleaned himself off the best he could and then sat up and leaned against Cartman's shoulder. Cartman's arm found its way around Kyle's shoulders and they sat there, together, quietly, for a while longer.
Clyde walked home with Craig nonchalantly holding his hand and Kyle to his right, typing quickly on his phone, frowning.
“You okay?” he asked.
Kyle looked up with a furrowed brow. “Yeah... Stan's just kind of on my case about not hanging out. And I feel bad but I can't really give him a firm explanation as to why so I definitely seem like the asshole here.”
“He'll get over it,” said Craig.
“I guess,” Kyle moped as they approached Clyde's back yard.
The light in the tree house was out. The sun was still up but it was dark enough to tell that the little house was clearly darkened. “That's weird,” said Clyde, unlatching the gate, “He's usually up by this point.”
Kyle dropped his phone into the pocket of his windbreaker and picked a small, round stone up off the ground. He chucked it upwards, overhanded, and it clinked against the cheap glass of the windowpane. “Jackass, are you up there?”
When there was no reply he threw another stone. This one was bigger and hit harder but Kyle really didn't care if he cracked the window or not. “H-hey!” he called, trying not to sound like his heart had jumped up into his throat. “Moron!”
“Maybe try using his actual name,” Clyde suggested.
“He's not a dog, Clyde,” said Craig. “He'll respond to anything.” To try and prove his point, Craig slipped his foot out of his shoe and whipped it, full force, at the window. “Hey, Fatass!” he yelled. The window shattered.
“Oh, shit,” said Craig. “Sorry, Clyde.”
Clyde sighed. “It was bound to happen eventually.”
Craig hobbled on one foot, trying to keep his exposed sock from touching the cold and muddy ground. He climbed, shoeless, up the tree, and disappeared into the house, briefly. He sat down at the top of the ladder, picking shards of broken glass out of his worn, black Converse. “Yeah, dude, he's not up here.”
“Well, then where the fuck is he?”
Kyle felt sick. He worried that Cartman, being as capricious as he was, had changed his mind about integrating himself safely back into society and had gone off to end his life for real this time. The same rotten feeling crept into his chest that he had felt at school on Friday morning when the news broke that Eric Cartman was dead.
Kyle had gotten to school on Friday earlier than usual since he had carpooled with Stan instead of taking the bus. He had skipped holding room in favor of making copies for his history teacher in exchange for a few points of extra credit (which he didn't really need but would never turn down).
He was alone in the library when the phone rang in the librarian's office. He didn't pay much attention to it but it startled him a little, nonetheless. He continued to make copies. It was peaceful.
The librarian stuck her head out of her office. “Kyle Broflovski?” she said.
Kyle was surprised. He didn't think she knew his name. Then again, he was always there. “Yeah?”
“They need you in the office.”
Kyle looked at her and then back to stack of papers he was printing. “Did they say it was an emergency or can I finish making these copies first?”
“They said it was urgent.”
Kyle really didn't expect that. “Oh. Uh. Okay,” he said, rushing to get things in order.
The librarian came out of her office and took the stack of papers from his hands. “I'll finish this up for you. Should I send them to someone?”
“Oh, thank you. Mr. King in history needs them for his first period,” Kyle explained.
She nodded. “I'll make sure he gets them.”
“Thank you,” Kyle said again, slinging his backpack over his shoulder and heading for the office.
When he got there, he expected to be sent in with the principal. He had been there before. He was a rule-abiding student but, unfortunately, a lot of his friends weren't and Kyle had a particular knack for getting caught up in things. To his surprise, however, the secretary directed him to the guidance counselor's office, somewhere he had rarely been.
The guidance counselor, Ms. French, was in the next room over, talking solemnly on the phone; he could see her through the frosted glass window but her voice was muted by the thick walls. There were three comfortable-looking chairs in front of her desk, two which were already occupied by Stan and Kenny.
Kyle began to feel very uneasy.
“What's going on?” he asked, slowly.
Stan shrugged. “I dunno, dude. The vice principal caught me on the way to the weight room. They said it was an emergency but nobody's told me anything since I got here. Guess we've been waiting for you.”
Kyle sat down in the empty seat between the two of them, setting his bag on the floor in front of him. “Sorry, I was in the library. It must be important if they found me there. They would have had to call my homeroom teacher and then my history teacher and then the librarian.”
“Fuck, man, I hope we're not in trouble,” said Kenny. “My dad's gonna kick my ass if I get suspended again.”
“Tell me about it,” Kyle said, rolling his eyes. He suddenly threw his head back and groaned. “You seen Fatass today?”
Stan bit his lip and exhaled through his nose. “No. But you might be on to something. What do you think he did this time?”
“More like what did he say we did,” said Kyle.
“Well, then what am I here for?,” cried Kenny. “I didn't do shit to him!”
“He probably had his mom call the school and say we sexually harassed him or something,” sighed Stan. “I mean, we did harass him a little bit, but not sexually.”
“We didn't harass him,” argued Kyle.
“I dunno, guys,” Kenny said, a bit softly, “you were pretty mean...”
“Shut the fuck up, Kenny,” said Kyle, “you didn't say shit then.”
“I mean, it was funny at the time,” Kenny admitted, “but, like, in hindsight...”
The door clicked open and Ms. French took her seat in front of them. She was a young woman with kind, gray eyes and pretty brown hair. She looked sad or maybe just tired, Kyle thought. She took a deep breath in before she spoke and hesitated like she was trying to find just the right words to say. “I've called you in to talk about your friend, Eric Cartman,” she said.
Stan and Kenny both groaned.
“I knew it,” Kyle said. “Listen, whatever he said we did, we didn't do it.”
An unreadable emotion passed over her face. Her lips pursed and she swallowed, hard. “He committed suicide last night,” she said, quickly and firmly, like she just wanted to get it out and over with.
Kyle's body was suddenly numb and a sour, acidic taste rose in his throat like he was going to throw up. All the wind he had ever held in his lungs felt like it had been ripped from his chest, leaving him breathless. The room was silent and tense for several seconds before Kyle was able to speak again in a hoarse and forced voice. “He... he what?”
“I spoke to his mother today,” Ms. French said, sounding like she had rehearsed this conversation in her head a hundred times this morning. “She said the three of you were his closest friends and should know first.”
“What did...” Kenny said, weakly, “How did he...?”
“The authorities are still looking into it but it seems like he jumped.”
“Like off a building?” asked Stan, his voice cracking like he was going through puberty again.
“Oh, uh, no,” said Ms. French. “A bridge, I believe. I don't know which bridge.” She seemed rather upset and very uncomfortable. She rummaged around on her desk for a few seconds before she found a sheet of printed paper. “Ms. Cartman faxed over a copy of his, uh, his suicide note. She knew how close the three of you were to him and wanted you to have the opportunity to see it.” She slid the paper across the desk.
Hesitantly, Kenny picked it up, fingers trembling.
Without thinking about it, Kyle stood up. There was a tightness in his chest and he couldn't breathe. He felt, for sure, like he was going to pass out or throw up or both. “I-I have to go,” he said. The numbness in his limbs had turned to static and was spreading to his cheeks and nose. He was shaking, he noticed, but he didn't really care. He just needed to get out of there before he broke in front of everyone and he could already feel a thick lump knotting in his throat and hot tears stinging his eyes.
“Kyle, wait,” Ms. French and Stan said at the same time.
Kyle didn't wait. He was already through the door. He didn't even care that his backpack still lay near Stan's feet. He didn't care about anything else the world could throw at him then and there. He all but sprinted down the empty hall, turning the corner, sharply, and ducking into a vacant classroom.
He fell against the wall and then to the floor, clutching his knees to his chest just as he felt as if his rib cage was going to implode in on itself. He gripped, roughly, at his jeans, still trying to hold his pain within himself. Wetness spilled from his eyes, against his own will, and an anguished noise managed to escape from his throat and he sat there for a good, long time and just cried. It had been a while since he really wept.
From the floor, he had snatched the box of tissues of the teacher's desk and held one, pressed with his palms against his eyes, as if trying to force the tears back inside. It was a fruitless effort.
“What the fuck did you do?” he found himself saying aloud, cursing at an Eric Cartman that wasn't there. “I'm sorry,” he sniveled. “I'm fucking sorry.”
It was an awful, awful feeling.
Kyle stood in the middle of Clyde's backyard, chewing, restlessly, at the thumbnail of one hand, the other running through his thick, auburn curls, hat off and tucked in his armpit, as Clyde tried, again, to call Cartman's cellphone.
“He's not answering,” Clyde said, bleakly.
“Oh, wait,” Craig called down from the top of the ladder that lead up to the tree house entrance. “His phone's up here. No wonder he's not answering.”
“How the hell did we lose Eric Cartman?” exclaimed Clyde.
Craig climbed down the ladder about halfway and then jumped to the ground. “I know you're probably thinking this isn't good,” he said to Kyle who watched him quietly and sternly, “but I don't think he did what you... think he did.”
Kyle stopped gnawing on his fingernails and slipped his hat back on to cover up his cold and raw ears. “We've gotta look for him. He's a dumb, stupid, idiot, man-child who's temperamental as fuck and I, unfortunately, have feelings for him.”
“That's gay, dude,” Craig said, arm loosely slung around Clyde's squat shoulders.
“Hey, guys, what's goin' on?” Cartman said, suddenly appearing from inside Clyde's house.
Kyle clutched his chest and let out a sigh of audible relief. “Oh my god, there you are.” He faceplanted into Cartman's imposing chest.
“Yeah, dude. Where'd you think I was?” asked Cartman, a little confused, putting a hand against Kyle's back.
“I don't wanna talk about it,” muttered Kyle.
“What were you doing in my house?” asked Clyde.
“Where do you think I shower?”
“Also, I eat your dad's Lean Cuisines.”
“Hey! He blames me for that!” yelped Clyde.
“Aw, shit!” said Cartman, noticing the busted window in the tree house. “My home! What happened!?”
“Sorry,” said Craig. “My bad.”
“Craig, you asshole, you let in a draft!” he said. He let go of Kyle and meandered over to the base of the tree, quickly climbing up. Kyle stood back and watched him throw pieces of broken glass out the shattered window, aiming for Craig. He sighed again, still thankful that Cartman was okay. It's an odd feeling, realizing how much you really care about someone. Kyle knew it would continue to catch him off guard but he was happy with it.
It wasn't even an hour later when the glass was swept from the interior of the tree house, Craig had patched up the opening with some plastic from Clyde's garage, and the four of them sat, once again, among musty quilts inside.
“So,” Kyle said, once everyone had gotten settled in, “today's 'meeting' had a topic, did it not, Cartman?”
Cartman frowned. “Oh, yeah. I guess so.” He paused. “The topic is 'What The Fuck Am I Gonna Do, You Guys?'”
“Just go home like nothing happened and convince everyone that they're crazy,” said Craig.
“Shut up, Craig. You're banned from having ideas,” said Cartman.
“What if me and Craig and Kyle also fake our deaths?” Clyde suggested. “Then we all come back together.”
“Clyde, oh my god, that's fucking retarded. You're also banned from idea having,” Cartman growled. “Kyle, it's all on you, Broship.”
“Honestly,” said Kyle, “I'm kind of stumped. Like, I know it's really not your thing to come clean and admit shit but, like, I'm not seeing any other options, Cartman.”
Cartman looked appalled. “The council also bans Kyle Broflovski on the grounds that his ideas also suck ass.”
“Cartman, I'm being serious,” Kyle said.
Cartman was quiet for a minute or two. “I can't do that. Like, school, maybe. But I can't just, like, go home and face my mom after this. I feel bad about it, dude.”
“Since when did you start having a conscience?” asked Craig.
“Around the same point you started having a personality, Craig,” Cartman snapped.
Craig raised his eyebrows. “Touche.”
Cartman sighed loudly. “This is stupid.” He leaned back on his palms but then shot upright with a yelp. “Jesus fuck! Ow!”
Kyle jumped at the sudden increase in volume. “What happened!?”
Cartman held his hand out, picking a sizable piece of glass out of a gash on his palm that was welling up with blood. “Fuck you, Craig!”
“Oh, dude, damn,” said Craig. “That looks bad, man.”
“It feels bad too, dickhead!”
Clyde paled extensively at the sight of all the blood. “Oh fuck.”
“Don't throw up, Clyde,” said Cartman. He scooted towards the open hatch. “I'm gonna go give myself stitches in your bathroom.”
“You're gonna what!?” cried Kyle.
“Don't get your panties in a twist, Jew, I've done it before. Don't worry about it,” said Cartman.
“Eric, you're not giving yourself stitches in my bathroom,” said Clyde, looking away from the sight of the bleeding.
“Yeah, dude,” Kyle agreed. “No way.”
“I think you should do it,” Craig chimed in.
“Shut up, Craig,” Kyle and Clyde said in unison.
Cartman let out a loud huff. “Fuck you guys,” he said, pressing his shirt sleeve to his palm. It was quickly saturated with blood and did nothing to stop it. Cartman frowned. “I'm at least going to go clean it out and shit. Look at this. This is ridiculous.” He held up his hand for all to see. The wound was quite large and painful-looking, gaping and gruesome, right across the fleshy part of his palm. It bled steadily in a thick stream down his wrist.
Clyde wasn't sure why he looked but, as soon as he did, his stomach lurched and he leaped forward, towards the open hatch to dry heave, simultaneously hitting Cartman square in the chest, knocking him backwards and right out of the tree. He hit the ground with a heavy thud.
Cartman was only unconscious for a brief moment but, by the time he opened his eyes, Kyle was kneeling over him.
“Are you okay!?” Kyle demanded. He looked so worried that Cartman would have thought it was cute if he wasn't in so much pain.
“I'm fine,” he wheezed. “Just-” he coughed “-knocked the wind out of me. I feel-” he sat up and winced “-fabulous.”
“I'm sorry!” cried Clyde, who was standing off to the side, cupping his face with horror.
“It's okay,” Cartman said, rubbing the back of his head with his good hand. He looked down, disdainfully, at his dirty clothes. He had landed on his back in an icy, muddy puddle. “At least now I actually look like I jumped off a bridge.”
Suddenly, Craig's face lit up. “Holy shit, I just got a great idea.”
“Craig, what did I say about having ideas?” Cartman grumbled.
“Okay, but this is a really good idea,” said Craig. “It's not like an 'all female remake of Ghostbusters' good idea. But it's, like, a really good idea. Like, second best.”
Cartman sighed. “Just... What is it, Craig?”
Cartman sat in the backseat of Craig's car on a towel, shivering, dirty, and soaking wet. Kyle, who couldn't care less about staying dry, was wrapped around one of his arms, resting his head against his shoulder, eyes closed and resting. He had one ear bud in, Cartman with the other, listening to Kyle's gay Spotify playlist. It was really good, Cartman thought. The two of them had very similar tastes in music.
In the front seats, Craig had one hand, loosely, on the steering wheel, the other intertwined with Clyde's on the center console. The four of them sat in silence for a long time.
“This is, like, the gayest car ride I've ever been on,” Cartman said, through chattering teeth, breaking the stillness.
Kyle breathed a laugh, not opening his eyes. “It's cool. I dig it.”
“Yeah, I mean, I do too,” said Cartman, “but it exceeds my gay standards.”
“Cuz, like, I'm really gay and everyone in this car is so fucking homo, I'm just-”
“I'm bi, actually,” said Clyde, meeting Cartman's eyes through the rear view mirror.
“Right,” Cartman said, slowly. “Anyhow.”
It was a long drive to their destination but they had a plan. It really wasn't that good of an idea but it was better than nothing. The four of them had stayed up almost all night devising a tall tale of Cartman's misfortune landing him, cold and wet, but very much alive, a ways downstream. Then, of course, he obviously traveled to the nearest town after surviving the wilderness and exposure, by sheer luck alone, for days, only to finally make it to civilization and to find help getting back home.
It was a far-fetched plan but they were confident. And, even if it failed, the outcome would end up pretty much the same.
Cartman knew, however, that when you try to kill yourself, you have to spend some time in a mental hospital. It wouldn't be his first time there, not that he would admit it, but he was okay with it. He thought, maybe, if you fake your own death you should probably get help for that too. He knew it wouldn't be so bad. So did Kyle.
As Craig pulled the car over on a secluded road along the river, just outside some small town, Cartman breathed a sigh, half relieved and half anxious.
Clyde turned around in his seat and bumped fists with Cartman as he unbuckled his seat belt. “The Chubby Tree House Club's gonna have another meeting again soon, right?” he asked.
“Duh,” said Cartman. “Let's reform it. New rule: no more skinny bitches.”
“Get your ass out of my car,” said Craig.
“Craig, friendly as ever, I'll miss you most of all,” Cartman said, pretending to flick a tear from his eye.
“Yeah, have fun. Don't die.”
“Stop it, Craig, you're gonna make me emotional. If you cry then I'll cry.”
When Cartman got out of the car, Kyle was already standing next to him. He took a long breath in through his nose and exhaled it quickly. “Be careful,” he said with a tight frown.
“I'll miss you, you dumb Jew.”
“I'll miss you too, you fat fuck. You stupid idiot. You piece of shit. You-”
“Alright, slow down,” said Cartman.
Kyle his a smile by kissing him, pulling him down close, cupping his face in his hands. They kissed until they were breathless and would have kept at it but Craig honked the car horn, startling them both and Kyle nearly bit off Cartman's tongue.
“Hurry up,” Craig shouted out the window. “Some of us have lives.”
“Fuck off, Craig!” yelled Cartman.
Craig flipped him off and locked eyes with him for an uncomfortable amount of time while rolling up the window.
“I'll see you in a week. Roughly,” said Kyle.
“I hope so.”
“Bye,” Kyle said, opening the car door, getting in slowly.
“Catch ya on the flip side,” said Cartman, leaping over the riverbank. He tossed up double peace signs at the car. Kyle pressed his palm against the window. Clyde held up a peace sign back at him. Craig flipped him off again.
And then time would pass.
It was, roughly, a week later when Kyle stood at his locker in the morning, talking nonchalantly with Bebe Stevens before first period. He was explaining, quickly, a formula for the chemistry final when he was very rudely interrupted.
“What's up, fucks?”
It was almost surreal to see Eric Cartman leaning against the lockers with a shit-eating grin but it was just as surreal to Cartman to actually be there. And, for Kyle to wordlessly throw his arms around him. Cartman lifted him up and just barely resisted the urge to spin him around like a goddamn princess movie.
“Oh, god, I fucking missed you!” cried Kyle.
“I missed you too,” Cartman mumbled into Kyle's shoulder.
Bebe snorted a laugh. “Glad to see nothing's changed here. You two are still in love.”
Cartman narrowed his eyes at her and sat Kyle down, gently. “The fuck are you talking about?”
Bebe raised her eyebrows and smirked. “Nothing. Glad you're back, Cartman.”
“Wait a second,” said Kyle, “you're the one who told Nichole who told Token who told Clyde that me and Cartman were a thing.”
“What the fuck!” Cartman cried.
Bebe twirled a lock of curly, blonde hair around her finger. “What can I say? I call 'em as I see 'em.”
“Hmm,” Kyle said with a shrug and a nod. “She's good.”
“Anyhow, I'll see you guys later,” said Bebe. “And again, Cartman, glad you're back.”
“Um, thanks,” Cartman said. He started off to class with Kyle beside him. Things were not back to normal and people would talk but that didn't matter right now.
Across the hall, Clyde Donovan waved.