Like any professional stray, Ren tends to panic if dinner’s not on the table by one o’clock.
Stimpy, because he’s a seasoned veteran in the world of Ren training, starts boiling water at eleven thirty and has the rolls buttered before noon. When the door kicks open, that’s the signal that Ren Höek’s four to twelve at the factory hasn’t gone especially well today, but Stimpy watches the aggression melt right from his soot stained face when he tramps into the kitchen and lifts his ears at the sound of plates setting to the table.
“Hiya, Ren,” he meows, “How was work today? I made spaghetti. Tomato sauce with just a touch of oregano. And a parsley stem. Just how you like.”
Ren stands in the doorway and twists his hat in both hands, spoonfuls of drool plinking to their kitchen tile. “Oh, Stimpy. You’re too good to me.”
Times like those make Stimpy feel he’s a kitten again being handled like wet clay and pet all over, because everyone loves kittens, it’s just so hard to stay mad at a kitten.
Other times, he’s so full grown a cat he may as well be hunched over a walker, if the way Ren treats him means anything. Sometimes Ren comes home at noon and lets Stimpy feed him spaghetti and compliment the musculature of his arms. Other times (the times he really ought to list off to any psychiatrist with an Rx pad at the ready) the doorknob fits right into its hole carved in the wall, and all the tomato sauce with just a touch of a oregano in the world couldn’t wash away the stink of his curdling ire. Stimpy need not flick through any guides to rearing a fussy Chihuahua when Ren gets that way, just laughs along to the tune of a hand striking his stupid cheek over, over, over. Palm red numb, Ren heaves breaths that lift the fur on his back until Stimpy, smile deterred not by his bruising dimples, lifts a platter of sandwiches and tells him, “I made olive loaf!” and that tends to calm Ren right down into his dining table seat.
There’s a Tuesday Ren has off work one random week, to which he celebrates by yanking the blankets tighter over his head every time Stimpy attempts to shake him awake. A slap ends the silent argument, and at that point it's two:fifteen and Stimpy remembers the grocery store has milk and their own fridge does not, and he whispers harsh, “I’m gonna go to the store, Ren, do you want anything special?”, and Ren says nothing, and Stimpy whispers, “Oh, yeah, can I have five bucks?”, and Ren says nothing, so Stimpy borrows a handful of uncounted bills from the leather wallet on the nightstand and the car keys from the kitchen hutch.
He gets home and it’s four:something, sometime in early November where the sun takes that as a sign to start replacing itself with a pinkened horizon. He gets home and it’s four:something and the paper grocery bags are soggy on the bottom with condensation, but he sets them to the counter that way, drops the keys, wanders through the apartment until he finds the living room. That’s where Ren is. Their bedroom door is ajar and Ren’s on the living room couch wearing a dark green robe that’s hardly knee length and hardly cinched, legs spread, cigarette smoldering in a hand, binoculars clutched up to his eyes in the other. Stimpy comes close enough to see their reflections in the window and the view on the other side, the neighboring apartment with four or five shirtless men hammering at its leaky roof, skin all deeply tanned and sweating. Binoculars fogged, Ren licks his lips and drags off the cigarette, moving blindly to tap it on the edge of a Solo cup ashtray.
“Good morning, Ren,” Stimpy hums. “Did you get enough sleep?”
“My piss is orange,” Ren responds, “Get me a Pepsi, will you?”
Hands clutched behind him, Stimpy leans up on the front of his feet, and he may not be able to read a book but he sure can read a room enough to know just exactly when Ren is in the right mood to play with. “What’s the magic word?”
The binoculars drop to his lap. Thinned eyes squint toward him, sticks the cigarette in his teeth and muffles around it, “Get me a fucking soda.”
“The grocery store was fun. I got bread, and lunch meat, and a carton of Rocky Road- oh, shoot,” he pauses counting off on his fingers, closing the hand in a way that cracks every knuckle. “I forgot the milk!”
“Hey, genius,” Ren spits, “I didn’t ask about your excursion. I’m dehydrated. You don’t even care about me.”
“Of course I dooo,” Stimpy coos in a deep dug voice, babying him to a new degree. His tongue pokes out the side of his kitty mouthed smile, clasps his hands up beside his face. All daydream like. “You’re the person I care about most in the world. The one thing I want in my life is to spend the rest of it with you, Ren."
“Yeah, yeah,” Ren says, takes a tight drag off the smoke and turns back to ogling the neighbors’ roof. “If you love me so much, get me a soda.”
The tab on a Diet Pepsi clicks open under a gloved fingertip before the minute ends. Without looking up, Ren’s hand extends out to wait for it, and Stimpy’s smile is tight-eyed and flushing when he takes the cold can and says, right from the heart, “Thanks.”
Stimpy dreams of things like that. And he dreams, too, asleep right beside his dearest friend on their full size sheets, that Ren were a girl, so maybe they could spend the rest of their lives together in a different way. He’s happy like this, but sometimes he dreams of Ren in a pretty dress and sparkly heels, the familiarity of his voice unchanged when it rasps to him, “I love you, I love you, I love you.” If Ren were a girl, they could go to the Höeks’ for Christmas dinner and they could hold hands at the shopping mall. Maybe if Ren were a girl, he’d feel okay for looking at Stimpy the way he wants to, the way Stimpy wants him to, maybe Ren in his pretty dress would grab Stimpy up by the face and kiss him breathless, tell him, “Sorry it took so long,” and kiss him again, and again, and again. That’s the type of thing Stimpy dreams of.
(He wakes from those dreams, and Ren is a man, which suits him more than well. Ren doesn’t have to be a girl or a boy or anything at all, just as long as he’s still Ren, that’s all Stimpy needs to know to be head over heels for him).
He decides to push his luck sometime in January. It’s Wednesday the eighteenth, which means Ren is hungover, which means Stimpy mostly does deserve the toothbrush that gets yanked from his hand and stuffed in his throat- he was brushing a little loud.
Ren’s sipping black coffee in the bedroom on Wednesday the eighteenth when Stimpy saunters in. The bags under his sweet pink eyes are nothing if not charming, yet at the same time etched darker and grayer than usual, more than insomnia, something like sickness. Is Ren sick? Or is it just the two empty twelve packs thrown over by the recycling. Yeah.
Stimpy sniffs idly once he’s approached the bed enough. Ren smells like Ren: dog breath and nicotine and something close to sawn wood. Earthy. It’s how their bed smells and how Stimpy finds his trail home.
“Can I get you anything?” he asks.
Ren grunts, arm trembling as it sets the heavy ceramic of his mug down on the nightstand coaster. “Come rub my neck.”
Stimpy doesn’t find the request strange, the same kind of way he doesn’t find it strange to share a bed or live together, to bring Ren his pipe and slippers after work, isn’t weird in the slightest to spend every waking and sleeping moment together with someone else. That’s what people do when they love each other. It almost makes him sad to think he’ll never date or marry anyone as good as Ren, but in the same breath there is no one as good as Ren, so he doesn’t really need somebody else. If only Ren were born a girl, and he could be his wife- Stimpy really very can’t think of any greater bliss than a future that calls him Stimpson J. Höek.
“How’s that?” Stimpy asks, hands kneading through the throbbing knots in Ren’s shoulders. Ren nods and keeps his eyes closed, and Stimpy massages every centimeter of muscle to liquid, and Stimpy leans forward and kisses the grayed stubble on cheek.
“Mmf,” leaves Ren’s mouth, or something like it, swipes knuckles across his face.
“Say, Ren,” Stimpy beckons, grinding an elbow into the toughest knot yet, makes the bearer groan like a rusted hinge, “Do you ever wanna get married?”
Ren sneers his lip up. “Why ask me such stupid questions? Why, it’s none of your business what I want to do with my life! I won’t even hoomor such a-”
“Just asking,” Stimpy says. His arms decide to wrap forward, gather Ren up round the chest and kiss his temples, kiss his cheekbones, kiss the dried corner of his lips.
Ren growls and thrashes the same way he does when it’s one thirty and he’s yet to eat. Stimpy doesn’t know anything but the starstruck, tongue lolling grin on his face as he’s slapped silly. Yeah. That’s his Ren. Perfect as he is.