Consistent

BY : RandomJaz
Category: +S through Z > South Park
Dragon prints: 7345
Disclaimer: I do not own South Park or any of it's characters, nor do I profit from this fanfiction.

AUTHOR'S NOTE: Hey! Double update, today-Chapters 24 and 25. Hope you enjoy.

These chapters are going to be touching upon these characters' bonds. Give some insight to the ties holding them together and their significance.

As always feedback is greatly appreciated. Thanks for reading! Hope you're all healthy and well.

Also, the song referenced in this chapter is "Far too young to die" by Panic! At the Disco.

xxxxxx

"...Pete?"

Clyde snapped me back in to reality. My mind got away from me while he was checking his answers in the back of the text book.

"Did you get it right on your own?" I asked.

"Not this time. You're kind of spacey, need me to open a window or something?"

"It's my house. If I need a window opened, I can do it."

"Just asking."

I inspected his notebook to check what he did wrong. What now? Always something.

"…you get the formula. You're just making silly mistakes lately." I scrutinized. "Add up your numbers more carefully."

"Got it, got it."

I was proofreading his word at this point. He knew what to do this week. Airhead.

"So...what's on your mind?" He rested his cheek down on one fist as he tried the problem over again.

"Nothing that concerns you, jock strap. Focus so we can be done with this."

"I have English homework, too. Remember?"

I almost wanted a cigarette. Almost.

"Three more months of this." I sighed. "You better graduate. Don't put me through this for nothing."

"I'm gonna graduate."

I took his word for it- because what other choice did I have?

"I need coffee. Don't get in to trouble while I'm gone."

I went to the kitchen, where I found the coffee tin empty.

"What happened to coffee?" Clyde asked when I came back too soon, with nothing to drink.

"Mom had the last of it before she went to work. I have to wait until she brings home more."

"Which is?"

"Later tonight. She's currently at work."

We'd already been at it for over an hour. Clyde's English textbook sat on the coffee table as a reminder we had at least another hour to go. Probably more. It wasn't his strong suit.

You had to explain everything to him. I heard more of my own voice than his during these study sessions. It was more talking than I was used to doing.

"...we could take a break and hit the Dunk's drive-thru or something." Clyde offered after a moment of brief contemplation. "Or, the Starbucks if you're in to that."

"Starbucks is a no. I can deal with Dunks"

I needed coffee to get through this. I got in his car for the short drive.

"...hi. Could I get a medium coffee, cream and one sugar? A coffee roll." Clyde ordered at the speaker, for me and then himself." And, two chocolate glazed doughnuts, with a bottle of whole milk. That's it."

The girl at the drive-thru window was an upperclassman from last year's graduating class, I didn't know who the hell she was but she and Clyde knew each other.

She was blonde with big breasts and heavy mascara over her blue-powdered eyes. She had over-lined hot pink lipstick. Her name tag said "Mercedes" and it didn't come as a shock. Her shirt was low-cut, and her tip-jar was stuffed.

"Clyde! Oh my God, hi~" She gushed, tucking a long strand of hair behind her ear with tacky press-on nails. "Since when do you drink coffee? You always just get milk and doughnuts."

The girly giggle was sincere, but overplayed.

"It's for him." Clyde leaned back so she could see me.

Mercedes squinted her overdone eyes, lips pursed like she was thinking. That last brain cell was really busting a move, let me tell you. Cha cha real smooth.

"...aren't you the kid who won the poetry contest back in back in Fifth grade? That was neat." She chirped like a ditz. "I wish I could write. But, I'm like, so not good at it."

I pulled a $5 bill from my pocket to put towards the stuff I ordered but Mercedes waved it away and gave us our food and drinks.

"I work the Dinner shift at Hooter's now, by the way." She winked at Clyde. "You and your friends should come."

"Sure thing. I'll let them know."

He bared his pearly white grin at her, and she nearly swooned. I rolled down my window. The second-hand cringe was making me gag.

"Big dinner plans, tonight?" I drawled as Clyde put the car back in drive, pulling out and back on to the road.

"I don't like Hooters. The food isn't that great and isn't worth the money."

"Didn't think guys actually went there for the food."

My bangs fluttered in the breeze. We stopped next to a truck at a red light. There was a huge dog sticking his head out the window, panting with his tongue lolled out to one side. I nonchalantly gave his head a rub before Clyde put the car back in drive. The dog's owner gave the pooch a toothy, doting grin.

"Animal person?"

"They're alright. I'm partial to cats."

I eased in to a sip of coffee, mindful of any sudden stops Clyde may make in traffic.

"My grandma has one, her name is Mittens."

"That's definitely the name a grandma would give their cat."

Clyde's phone rang when we sat back down at Home. He answered it. A friend was looking for him.

"...fuck, I forgot to give you back your headphones?" He admonished himself.

To confirm it, he checked his bag.

"I'm not home but you can come get them on your way to the gym. Just text me when you're here, and I'll meet you outside…it's 7 Mason street."

Clyde held the phone closer.

"Did you hear me? You there?" He asked "…Yeah, 7 Mason street, Dude. Huh? I'm getting help with my homework from someone in my English class."

The call was…off… towards the end. Clyde put his phone down, getting over it really fast. His friend must've been close by when he called because Clyde's phone buzzed maybe 5 minutes later. Followed by the doorbell.

"Told him I'd bring it out to him." Clyde hoisted himself up off the couch to answer the door.

Stan was standing there, stiff around the shoulders. I don't know who I expected to show up, but it slipped my mind that he was a possibility. Explains how they found the house so easily.

"Sorry about that, Stan." Clyde handed him the headphone's he'd borrowed before school. "Didn't mean to throw off your routine."

"It's cool...you almost done with your homework? I'd rather not go to the gym by myself."

That was a lie. Stan went to the gym alone all the time. It was open 24 hours a day. When he couldn't sleep, he'd go. If he was stressed, he'd go. Night, or day.

"I've got like an hour left, I think." Clyde estimated. "I'll meet up with you after."

"I can wait."

Unsure whether to invite Stan in, or make him wait outside in his car, Clyde peered back at me from his place at the door.

"Hey, is it cool if Stan chills here until we're done?"

"I don't care. Find a place to sit."

Stan took the recliner, doing his damn best to act like he'd never been here before while Clyde had his face back in his textbook.

"...you tutor?" The question didn't sound forced.

To my mild intrigue, it sounded suspicious. Implying he didn't believe it. Fair, I guess. It wasn't like me to go out of my way to help anyone. What reason would I have to lie, though?

"Just this one. Owed him."

"For what?"

"Why do you care?" I faked apathy.

Stan said he was only curious. I couldn't pin why, but something was off about him. It didn't look like an act to appear out of his elements in a "stranger's" home, he was genuinely out of sorts. I gave him an inquisitive look.

"I was picking on that little freshman he's friends with." Clyde chimed in, never looking up. "Not anymore, so he's helping me pass my classes."

"You shouldn't be picking on the kid in the first place. Not fair to make him tutor you."

"We made a deal."

"Not the point."

"I need him right now."

There was a snap. The tip of Clyde's pencil broke.

"You got a sharpener, Pete?"

"Somewhere in my room. I'll go look."

I made it to the bottom of the stairs and Stan asked where my bathroom was.

"There's one in the upstairs hallway." I told him. "On the right."

He came along behind me. I didn't suspect anything of it until Stan followed me in to my room instead of going on his way down the hall.

"...do you want to use my bathroom?" I offered him the one in my room now that he was here. "The one in the hallway is clean too, you know. Moms keeps up with it."

"What's Clyde doing here?"

Stan blurted the question out like he couldn't hold it in any longer. I drew my face back, processing the fraught enquiry.

"Doing his homework?" I then tilted my head at him like he was a few steps behind. "You saw him downstairs."

Not that Stan could read my every quirk and tick, but he could see I was telling the truth. If only because I was staring up at him like he was lost.

"What's with you?" I checked my desk for a pencil sharpener.

"This is weird...seeing him here." He put his hands in his sweatshirt pocket, fiddling with his phone in one and his headphones in the other. "I thought maybe something was going on."

"...Like what?"

"..."

His awkward silence preceded my realization.

"Are you kidding me?" I deadpanned. "You thought that-me and Clyde Seriously? Me. And, Clyde?"

"You said Mike thinks he likes you-"

"Don't be stupid, Stan."

The insult didn't have any bite to it. I rolled my eyes at him.

"I can't even believe you thought-" My train of thought came to a halt when I found Trent Boyett's blade in my desk. I shoved it in here years and never touched it, again.

I was always with Michael, I never needed it.

Stan saw the pencil sharpener I was looking for in the pencil cup, digging for it with his finger.

"This what you were looking for?" He gave it to me.

"Yes." I closed the drawer to my desk.

The sharpener brought my train of thought full circle. Clyde. We were discussing Clyde.

"...and what if we were?" I challenged Stan to see what he had to say for himself. "What were you gonna do about it?"

"I don't know...ask why, maybe?" Stan looked up and away. "Ask you not to?"

"What gives you the right?"

"N-Nothing. Just, you've got Mike...didn't seem right."

Seeing now that he didn't really need the bathroom, I pointed him out of my room.

"Downstairs." I herded him.

"I didn't mean any harm." Stan turned to apologize before he made it out of my room. "Pete, really-"

"I know. Go. The faster he finishes his homework, the faster you two can leave and knock weights around like Neanderthals. I've got work tonight."

xxxxxx

My least favorite tasks at the bowling alley were cleaning the shoes, and scraping the gum off from under the table. The bathroom was a close third, but something about stranger's feet and chewed gum made my stomach shudder.

"Pete, ain't ya gonna have dinner?" On the same break as me, Butters dunked a chicken finger in to a small paper cup of ketchup.

"I can't eat after the doing the gum under the tables." I chewed on some ice instead. "People are disgusting. There are like six trash barrels in here."

Our manager went around, looking under each table to see if they were scraped and cleaned.

"Nice work, Pete." he approved, inspecting the last table. "When you two clock back in, polish these and you can go. No one else is coming in tonight."

Walking home from work, I put an earbud in when Stan texted me asking if I was mad at him over earlier.

"You know when I'm mad."

"I felt better asking." he replied back.

My usual route passed the cemetery. I saw the tall black gate down the street. There was one orange ember off in the distance, I spotted it. I left the conversation where it lay and turned the volume up on my phone.

I've never so adored you;

I'm twisting allegories now.

I want to complicate you,

Don't let me do this to myself.

I'm chasing rollercoasters.

I've got to have you closer now.

Endless romantic stories.

You never could control me.

"...Michael?" I called out.

There was no response. I stood there waiting to hear one. The ember didn't move. Must've been someone visiting a grave. I kept walking and put my other earbud in, stopped by a sound.

"You're off early." A gravelly voice called back.

Well, I never really thought that you'd come tonight.

While the crown hangs heavy on either side.

Give me one last kiss while we're far too young to die.

We're far too young to die.

"...it wasn't busy." My steps slowed until coming to a full stop.

The orange ember moved, dimming for a second with Michael's drag.

"Going home?"

"That's the plan..." I waited for another flit of orange to light. "Are you here by yourself?"

"I have the graves. I bask in their ambiance."

Fixation or psychosis?

Devoted to neurosis now.

Endless romantic stories.

You never could control me.

Well, I never really thought that you'd come tonight.

While the crown hangs heavy on either side.

Give me one last kiss while we're far too young to die.

We're far too young to die.

He shouldn't be sitting out there alone. I wrapped the cord to my earbuds around my phone and followed the lit end of his cigarette.

I felt my way through the graveyard. I touched cold tombstones, weaving between them, mindful of where I stepped. Realizing I was approaching, Michael snuffed out the cigarette, leaving nothing to follow.

Taking that as a sign he was thwarting me, I paused. Michael then flicked on his lighter, to show me where he was. Behind the flame, the contours of his face glowed baleful and maleficent. Like some illuminated entity.

"Over here." he steered me. "Watch your footing."

I made it over to Michael. He was under an old weeping willow tree. His face, though...it creeped me out. I leant forward and lightly blew out the flame. Before it went dark again, I saw his dark brown eyes look me over.

"New choker." He pointed out. "Rose and lace...Since when have you been in to that romantic Victorian style?"

"...wanted something new. Clean slate, you could say."

"Fresh start?"

"Something like that."

The tree's roots were long and coiling out from the ground, breaking the surface. I sat down between them, pulling my knees up to my chest and tucking my feet in close.

"About time you took Stan's off." Michael slid down the tree's trunk maybe a foot away from me. "Thought it would be your next noose."

"...that why you hated it so much?"

"..."

"Michael-"

"Pete-"

We spoke at the same time.

"You can go first." he told me.

"...remember Trent Boyett?"

"I'll never forget him."

Neither would I. I'd have two scars if it weren't for Michael intervening. How would I have ever covered half my entire face?

"...I never would have learned to stick up for myself if it weren't for you." I confessed. "I don't think I ever thanked you for that."

"Where's this coming from?"

"A place of gratitude...I'm not a weak, spineless kid, anymore."

It was Michael who taught me to bite back at people. To lash out. The farther you push them away, the less likely they are to come back.

Normally.

"Who are you, now? Do you know, Pete?"

"…what makes you think I don't?"

"Everything changed so fast. Feels like you may have outrun yourself, and don't see it."

Michael's cryptic note felt especially eerie in the dead of night, surrounded by graves- Bodies turned to dust underground, with nothing but stones to hold their place on the Earth.

"I think you're stuck." I countered. "People are supposed to change."

"Change for what?"

"Do you want to be miserable the rest of your life?"

He grunted dismissively, taking the question as rhetorical. Or, he didn't want to humor it.

"I mean it." I pressed. "Is this how you're going to stay, forever?"

"I've been miserable my whole life. There's no moving forward from here, Pete."

The stars in the sky shimmered, scattered across an inky canvas. I looked up at them.

"Try going up."

"Up?"

"I heard once, when you hit rock bottom the only way out is up."

Reaching across the tree's protruding coiled roots, I found the sleeve of Michael's trench coat.

"Otherwise, you're stuck there... With nowhere else to go."

Crows cawed somewhere in the branches above. Talking amongst themselves. Perhaps us.

"I've made myself at home, Pete. You were always welcome to be part of it."

"Not anymore, huh?"

"Never said that."

Michael moved his boney hand closer. I laid mine over it. I've never held his hand before.

He's never had his hand held, period. People don't touch him.

"...I'm worried about you."

"Yeah?"

I kept my eyes up at the stars.

"Yeah, Michael."

"Why the change of heart?" he asked.

"No change of heart. We're supposed to be friends...do you know how to be friends?"

"You're the first one I had. I love you for it." Michael said. "You don't have to love me back, I just want you to believe me."

...was he serious?

"Why do you love me? I'm listening."

"You were there." he answered.

"But, that's what friends do. It doesn't make me special."

He deflated with a wistful sigh, retreating somewhere deep inside the dusky, echoing labyrinth that was his mind. You yell in, but your voice may not be who comes back.

"Kids beat the shit out of me before I came to South Park. It was all superficial." I could hear him scowling. "My nose and ears were too big, hadn't grown in to my face yet. My eyes made people uneasy."

He listed off his "flaws", having made peace with them long ago.

"I was always taller than everyone else, and scrawny. Had this curly hair I could never tame." He continued. "I really thought there was something wrong with me."

Michael was always the goose egg in the duck nest. He physically looked out of place virtually everywhere. Until he molded me to join his lonely outcasted world.

Then we found Henrietta. And, then Georgie. Misfits with nowhere else to go, living at the edge of the schoolyard looking in on everyone carrying on seamlessly without them.

"I met you, Pete. Your bright red hair, and all. You had this cute face. Little nose. Biggest green eyes I've ever seen...they were terrified. God, you were so small." He thought back on that day finding me in the alley. "You were what I wanted to be. But, seeing you bloodied and crying...I realized there was nothing wrong with me. People are cruel; Doesn't matter what you look like, or who you are."

I wished I could see his face, get an idea of what his vulnerability looked like. See the mask slip off. Someone was behind it. I'd yet to meet him.

"Having you with me...I wanted to protect you. In my own warped way, I guess."

"You showed me the worst in everything."

"When you see the worst in everything, nothing surprises you. Very little can hurt you after that."

"I'm sorry, I never meant to make you miserable." Michael concluded. "I thought you already were."

"I was...I don't want to be, anymore. I want to be happy."

"Keep doing what you're doing. I'll miss you, but I won't stop you."

He gave the stars a glance.

"Just don't forget me when you get there."

Feeling for his face to ensure I hit the target, I kissed Michael's cheek.

"We're too young to die, Pete." The cemetery gate creaked with the wind. "Far too young."

xxxxxx

Valentine's Day, I woke up and shut off my alarm. Bunched up in the bedcovers, I stared at the red digital numbers. I didn't want to go to school, questioning the consequences of skipping. One look at the ceiling fan and I decided to get up. I couldn't stare at that all day.

I'd rather stare at the whiteboard. Or, the clock that just seemed to slow down as I watched it waiting for the bell to ring.

Girls in class watched the door expectantly, tapping their nails along their desks and toying with their pencils after the morning announcements. The valentines would be delivered any minute. Squeals and giggles emerged with the delivered candy and flowers.

Our male population didn't care much. Namely, Clyde's posse. The person himself got a stack of cards with carnations from girls indulging their teenage fantasy. The one where the quarterback with pearly white teeth and shiny chestnut hair confesses his love to an unlikely suitor.

That was a fairytale. No changing my mind.

Clyde disinterestedly disregarded his flowers as his friends went through the stack of cards that came with them. Jason read off the names of those poor naive, unfortunate souls.

"Heidi... Millie.. Red…Annie…Lola…" he shuffled through them. "Ha! Bebe sent you one. Don't tell Stan."

"Marsh doesn't bother with that slut, anymore. He won't care." Craig tore open the candy someone anonymously sent him, the writing on the note was scrawled kind of messy like someone with a shaking hand did it. "Today better go by fast. Can't wait for Lunch. I'm hungry."

"Did you skip Breakfast again?"

"Yup."

I looked over confused when two red carnations were brought to my desk.

"…Pete Thelman?" One of the delivery kids read off a card.

"Mike Makowski?" The kid then placed one on Mike's desk.

Making his rounds across the classroom, the delivery ended. Mike dusted my nose with the petals of his carnation.

"Two, hm? I have to be careful. People have their eyes on you."

It wasn't like Michael to send flowers. I could see Stan sending one. I couldn't think of anyone else that would send them to me. They were both anonymous. It could've been them. Could've been anyone. Bet it was a prank.

"I wouldn't worry about it." I pushed my flowers to the end of my desk. "If some poor fool likes me, they have horrible tastes."

"Hey."

"You've got bad taste, Mike. Not my fault."

I flicked the stem of Mike's carnation.

"Should I be worried about yours?"

There was only person I could guess sent Mike a flower.

"Silly bat." He tried tucking the red carnation behind my ear.

"Could you not?"

"It matches your hair. Such a grumpy Valentine." Mike poked me in the cheek with the flower stem before tucking behind his own ear for safe keeping. "I'll fix that later."

Our projects were turned in the week before. Mr. Stuart went around putting grading rubrics face down on our desks. Our group got an A.

"I'm glad to see the turnout for these projects was overall good. Many of you did excellent."

Mr. Stuart then went around placing pop quizzes on our desks, pre-marked with our names.

"Just to get an idea of who really did their part, I'm giving you pop quizzes based off your projects. This counts as your quiz grade for the week."

The quizzes were ten questions, all pulled directly from what we submitted as a group. Kids went and brought them up to the teacher's desk as they finished. Clyde finished his right after Mike and I. For once, he wasn't the last person with a pencil in hand. Mr. Stuart took Clyde's sheet with an encouraging grin.

xxxxxx

I had a Valentine this year, but I couldn't shake off my resentment from the last. The loners wore the same passive mask I did. The devastated kids, mainly girls, cried in the hallways to be consoled by their friends.

Otherwise, I was watching airheads swoon and coo over stupid little flowers and candy. It wore on my nerves. This holiday was ruined for me, forever. I stewed on it too much, finding myself in a bad situation when I got caught in the sidelines of some crossfire between two well-known enemies.

"Hey, Wendy." Bebe taunted, snarky and mean-spirited. "How many flowers did being a nerdy little prude get you?"

The blonde gave an exaggerated cackle.

"Oh, wait! Boys don't actually like you. And, they never will."

Wendy was a tough cookie. She kept a brave face, eyeing Bebe and her perfumed tumors strut by. That glower could melt their cheap make up.

"Have fun working at Hooters if you graduate." She cautioned, playing to the blonde's likely future. "Only place a person like you is useful."

Bebe's posse threw their empty candy boxes and wrappers at Wendy as they went.

"Enjoy your holiday alone." Bebe wedged a lollipop in her mouth, sucking it in the hollow of her cheek. "And, the rest of your life. College girl."

Frustrated, Wendy brushed off the garbage they threw at her. Her better conscience kicked in and she picked everything up off the floor to throw it away. Slamming it in a trash bin, she ducked in to the girl's bathroom.

It was easier to put myself in her shoes when I wasn't one-sidedly fighting her for Stan's time. I hurt for her, wishing I could tell her the truth. She was never truly dumped...because she was never truly his.

Stan did value their friendship since childhood...he just wasn't sexually attracted to her. Wendy was pretty, and she was smart. She had so much going for her. She would leave this school and be somebody.

She didn't need to beat herself up over Stan. He could never be the person she needed. I wasn't so sure he could be the person anyone needed right now...there was a lot he had to figure out about himself.

Passing the bathroom, I could faintly hear Wendy in there sobbing and hitting the stall doors.

I needed air.

I skipped class, speeding down the hall towards the back of the school to take a breather. This big school felt like it was shrinking in around me. I couldn't go home, but I couldn't stay here right now.

The doors that led outside were in sight when someone came around the corner. I almost crashed in to them.

"Oh, hey." Stan lit up, before eyeing me worriedly when he saw my unease. "Where are you going in such a rush?"

"Nurse." I lied, trying to step around him.

"Hang on, what's wrong? I'll walk you."

I rejected his offer and Stan blocked my way, again.

"Pete?"

"Would you just move?" I pleaded.

"I want to make sure you're okay-"

"I don't need your help!"

I snapped, no warning. Hurt flashed over Stan's face, he didn't know what he did wrong. He hadn't done anything.

"...you're crying." Stan watched in shock as my eyes welled up.

"I don't feel well." I moved around him.

"Do you want me to take you home?" he still tried to help me.

I made it outside, it was a relief to be alone. Which lasted for a second, I came to realize as Stan came barreling through the doors right after me.

"You said you needed the nurse." He got out in one breath. "What are you doing out here?"

"Would you fuck off and just let me have a minute to myself?"

It felt like that day in bathroom stall all over again. I envied Wendy's privacy. I needed a place to vent, too.

"Why are you crying? You never cry."

I didn't answer him. I tried going back inside. Stan blocked me.

"Let me back inside." I glared, but it wasn't so scary with my eyes puddled up. "This doesn't concern you, okay?"

"You can't pick and choose when I'm your friend, and when I'm not." Stan was impressively calm considering he knew what I was capable of when I felt trapped. "I thought we were good. What's your problem?"

"I don't have one!"

Who was I kidding? I was starting to lose feeling in my legs. I could hardly see through my own tears.

"You!" I jabbed Stan's chest threateningly. "You…"

From the knees down it felt like I was gradually going numb until suddenly they were useless deadweight. They buckled, collapsing from under my body.

"Woah-" Stan caught me.

Gripping the front of his shirt with white knuckles, I trembled. Stan easily picked me up.

"P-Put me down."

"Just sit with me for a minute." Stan carried me towards the steps. "You can't go back in there like this."

At the top step, Stan sat with me in his lap. I just started sobbing as he held me. Ugly sobbing. I wasn't even sure I recognized the sound. That's what I sound like? Yikes.

"You don't really need the nurse, do you?" Stan checked, glancing me over in a feeble attempt to figure out what was wrong.

I shook my head in to his chest.

"...are...are you and Mike okay?" Was the first thing he could guess was wrong.

I nodded because I couldn't get words out. In the middle of what I could only surmise was a nervous breakdown, it rendered me useless. All Stan could do was watch me fall apart and hold me while it happened.

My mind was telling me to pull it together but there was a disconnect between my head and body. I thought I was fine five minutes ago. I should have just stayed home.

"Take your time, Pete." Stan soothed me as I got the front of his shirt wet with my tears. "Cry it out. It's good for you."

It'd been forever since I sat in back of the school. It was desolate and stale with cigarette buds crushed in to the pavement and discarded empty soda bottles.

I felt like the biggest jackass sitting there sobbing like a baby in to Stan with no sign that I was going to calm down anytime soon. He took the time to think seeing as he wasn't going to get far until I pulled myself back together.

"…is this about your parents?" He tried another reasonable guess. "Or, Michael?"

"Y-You…Y-You-" I tried getting the words out but my own sobbing drowned out each attempt.

"…me?" Stan tried following along, albeit it sad to be the accused.

"Y-You weren't t-there…l-last year." I finally got something out. "I needed you, a-and you w-weren't there."

Remembering the moment I kicked the chair out from under my own feet last Valentine's Day made me cry harder. The second I felt the rope's tension at my throat, I instantly regretted it. I needed him that day.

I had needed him all the time. I wasn't made of stone.

Michael shouldn't have been the one who walked through my door. He already saved me once. He never thought he'd have to save me from myself. The devastation on his face, and the panic...Michael wasn't the same after.

He'd always been a bitter, angry person. But, he was almost fearless. He didn't have anything to lose. Or, at least he thought.

"I wanted to be there." Stan promised, full of regret. "I should've been there."

"You weren't." I whimpered pitifully. "You left me alone. T-To be with her…you didn't even love h-her. And, you chose her over me."

Stan clutched me close, anguished as if these falling tears were me bleeding on him. He'd never seen me cry before...these tears were because of him.

In a way, I was bleeding on him. The blood was finally on his hands. There was no ignoring it.

"I never deserved you." He sounded so sick of himself. "Don't cry over me. Please? You deserved so much better."

When I got the raw bulk of it out of my system, my sobs lightened to snivels. My heart hurt, but it didn't feel so heavy.

"It didn't m-matter. I just wanted you." I hiccupped. "It never felt like you really wanted me."

I barely got it out above a whisper. I sounded...tired. Defeated.

I wanted to take this wound to the grave with me. I never wanted Stan to know just how badly he hurt me. Admit that I carried it every day, and actually began to question my own worth as a person at one point.

"God, I'm such a piece of shit." He atoned. "I always wanted you...I'm never going to hurt you again, Pete. I can't."

I had no reason to care. He wasn't even mine, anymore. But tired from crying, I began going lax in his hold. It took a lot out of me.

"Glad I have these..." Stan took a small pack of tissues from his pocket

What tears weren't on his shirt were streaked down my face and gray from my eyeliner running. Stan cleaned my cheeks, blotting under my eyes. I looked like a heartbroken raccoon crying over its garbage.

"I need to do better for you." Stan carefully wiped the corner of my eye.

"It's in the past. I don't expect you to do anything now. You didn't do anything then."

"…because I never wanted to admit it was my own fault I almost lost you."

Stan's touch grew softer.

"Y-You don't have to do this." I stopped him from trying to clean my other eye. "It's not your place anymore."

"I still want to do right by you...I don't know how, but I'll make this up to you one day."

He cleaned my other eye, putting the damp eyeliner-stained tissue in his pocket. I looked past his face at the doors leading back in to the school.

"You sure you don't want a ride home?" Stan offered. "You don't look like you want to be here."

Mike was on the committee who helped set up the gym for the dances and socials after school. He'd be tied up until at least four o'clock He was going to come get me for Dinner at his house later.

"...yeah, you can take me home." I decided. "I can't deal with school any more today."

Xxxxxx

Stan pulled up to my house. Looking through the windshield, I didn't unbuckle my seatbelt, yet. He nudged me, jostling me from my thoughts.

"...I can come in with you, if you're scared."

"Just until I'm comfortable. Then you can go."

I let Stan in the front door, heading upstairs with him following a few steps behind me. As I neared the top and my door came in to sight, I involuntarily froze. I didn't realize I stopped until Stan put his large, warm hand was on the small of my back.

"I'm here." he held it there, not pushing me forward. "Okay?"

"Okay."

Taking his hand, I toted him behind me. I was gripping it, approaching my own bedroom with caution. Stan reached past me, turning the knob and opening the door with the tips of his fingers. He gave it a light push. It swung open a few inches.

"Coast is clear." He reassured me, faintly joking to lighten me up. "So far, so good."

I kept my eyes down on the floor, dropping my stuff where I normally would. Because I wasn't looking up, I stumbled in to Stan. He was sitting on the bed and I nearly fell over his knees. He caught me, half draped over him.

"Don't hurt yourself. Here..." He set me down beside him. "Just get comfortable."

The ceiling fan taunted me, waiting for me to look up. I put my head on Stan's shoulder, tucking my face away from the looming memento of our last holiday.

"This was a mistake." I muttered, refusing to let it breach my line of sight. "I can't even look at it."

"I think I have a solution."

Leaving me to sit there with my face now in my hands, Stan pulled down the shades most of the way, leaving a strip of light to seep in to the room down closer to the floor. He flicked off the lights, cloaking the ceiling in shadow and muting the fan's presence. It faded mostly from sight.

"You don't have to stare down at the floor, anymore."

"Now we're in the dark."

"Not totally...but it's hiding the fan, isn't it?"

There was no other way to hide it. It was a decent idea. The only other solution was to leave the room entirely.

"This'll work." I thanked him. "I'll be fine again, tomorrow."

"What can we do about today?"

"Wait it out. I'll be leaving later. You don't have to stick around too long."

Hearing I had plans to go, Stan asked where.

"I'm going to Mike's house for Valentine's Day. He's going to come get me sometime around five."

You could hear a pin drop. He didn't think I'd ever entertain Valentine's Day due to the circumstances.

"Of course...I hope you have a good time, together." Stan recovered "You deserve it, Pete."

"...are you going to the dance, or anything?"

"The dance isn't my place... I'm staying home."

Stan didn't have a date today. How the tables turn with untimely karma. He was going to be alone tonight.

"At least you don't have to spend it with Wendy."

"I get to spend some of it with you...doubt it makes any difference now. But, I feel good making sure you're okay until Mike takes over."

"...you really don't want me here alone."

"I'm not making the same mistake, twice."

I put my head on his shoulder, again.

"Do you want me to close the shade all the way?" he offered. "Is the fan still bothering you?"

"No. I just want to stay here for a bit."

"I'll stay as long as you need me to."

Stan unzipped his sweatshirt to get comfortable. Before he could slip it off, I laid myself between the parted material, wrapping my arms around him underneath.

"You said you'd make this up to me somehow."

"...I did."

He embraced me back. I laid down with him. Stan was clutching me, squeezing tight and close.

"I know what I want."

"Anything." he promised.

"Apologize to Wendy."

"...you want me to what?"

Blue eyes bore in to me, lost.

"You hurt her, too. You led her along thinking she was in this perfect relationship."

"Are you asking me to-"

"I'm not asking you to out yourself. I'm telling you to tell her the truth: You were never her future. She deserves more."

He knew enough about himself to understand that what he was being told wasn't demeaning or deprecating. I wasn't being mean. Wendy was worlds ahead of Stan. She was driven, she was motivated, she was accountable, and she had direction.

Wendy deserved her self-esteem back.

"Give that poor girl her dignity, Stan. Do right by us both."

xxxxxx



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