Consistent

BY : RandomJaz
Category: +S through Z > South Park
Dragon prints: 7362
Disclaimer: I do not own South Park or any of it's characters, nor do I profit from this fanfiction.

AUTHOR'S NOTE: Hey, guys. Can't say I've been well, but I truly hope you all are. Got some time to write here and there, and chipped away at this. Stress kind of shuts off my productivity and I apologize for that. School's been rough, so has my mental health.

Also, someone in my house works in a hospital and brought the Corona Virus home with them at the end of March. So, we all got it through different points in April. Not going to lie, I feel like shit. My airway, throat, nose, and lungs hurt. But, my fever is gone. At least I can say my household survived it and stayed the hell home to not spread it.

Thank you for sticking around and being patient! Much appreciated. Also: The poem referenced here in this chapter is "Annabel Lee" by Edgar Allen Poe. And the song referenced is "Fer sur" by the Medic Droid.

Xxxxxx

The rain came to a drizzle early the next morning. The sun wasn't in the sky yet, and everyone else in Stan's house was asleep. I woke up to his alarm clock saying it was five in the morning. There was still time to sleep before I had to get up for school.

I shut my eyes, but they back shot open. School. Mike drives me to school. But, I'm here.

I need to get home.

Scrambling out of Stan's sheets, I avoided waking him up by crawling down to the foot of the bed instead of trying to climb over him. My washed clothes were on his desk with my boots by the chair. I dropped the over-sized pants and underwear, folding them up neatly then pulling my own stuff back on.

I changed shirts and laced up my boots. Phone in hand, I hauled ass back home on foot with the sun coming up. Though the drizzle coming down was cold, it was an uplifting sight with light breaking the horizon.

"Are you just getting home?"

Mom was coming out of her bedroom when I made it to my door.

"...Morning, Mom." I cringed, seeing how this would look bad to a parent.

"Pete, yesterday was a school night." She scolded me. "Where were you?"

"Got stuck at a friend's house during the downpour. They let me sleep over."

Mom came closer and made me look her in the eye. As trusting as Mom tried to be with me, she scanned my face looking for any sign I was drunk or high. I looked rested and fine. No bloodshot eyes, my pupils were normal. I smelled clean. I didn't even smell like cigarettes, let alone weed or alcohol.

"Just a sleepover, Mom." I let her smell my hair and shirt to prove it. "I'm not out there running the streets..."

"I know, Pete." She regretted the suspicion. "Can never be too careful, is all. Your father had a good head on his shoulders once."

"I won't turn in to him."

Mom feared that possibility from the moment my dad started leading by poor example. She could handle a drunk cheating spouse, crumbling marriage, and divorce. But, her only kid turning in to his dead-beat sperm donor would be a bullet to her chest.

Mom was busy, but she wasn't a bad parent. Absent and distracted, yes. Not bad. I never gave her enough credit. Sure, she could've been better. But, every parent has weak points. And, it wasn't like she was having a grand old time.

I pushed her away over the years, and she gave me my space. She had regrets, I could see that more and more now that the house came to a standstill without the drunken bastard who lived on the couch. Her attention wasn't being wasted on him. She could see me, now.

I couldn't become my dad. I deserved better, and so did Mom.

"Do you need a ride to school when I leave for work?" She offered me apologetically. "I have time, today. I know you don't like the bus."

"Mike's gonna pick me up later."

"Have a good day at school then."

Unlikely, but I said I would.

xxxxxx

"Anything interesting happen at your sleepover?"

"…Sleep over?"

My mind flashed to Stan when Mike asked about my night with Georgie. Guilty conscience much, Pete? Jeez.

"Yeah, the one with your friend. Didn't you and Georgie hang out Saturday?"

"Yeah. It was tame...sorry, I'm still waking up." I stared out the window as we pulled up to the school. "I bought him pizza and cupcakes. We don't do birthdays, but I made an exception for Georgie this year. He didn't want to be alone."

"How incredibly sweet for 'nihilists'." Mike unbuckled his seatbelt. "Didn't think you cared about birthdays."

"There isn't an ounce of nihilism in him. Georgie's lonely, not angry at the world."

Pulling his backpack from the backseat, Mike kneeled in the driver's seat.

"Sounds like you, baby bat." He put his bag on my lap for a moment as he climbed back down. "You like everyone to believe that you couldn't care less about anything, but we both know that isn't true."

"Oh, no." I sarcastically drawled. "You caught me. Whatever will I do?"

Mike slid back down in to the driver's seat when his eyes got wide. He tugged my hood on for me, and told me not to look out my window.

"Michael pulled in." He warned me, seeing his truck a few spots down the lot.

I pushed my seat back and sunk down as low as I could. A passenger wearing a black band hoodie wouldn't be abnormal in Mike's car, but to the trained eye I was. None of Mike's friends owned anything with "The Sisters of Mercy" on it. Michael would recognize me by that, alone.

"…is he gone?"

"He's just sitting there." Mike narrated. "I thought your friends meet by the stairs, next to the loading dock."

"They do. He's being anti-social."

"...isn't he always anti-social?"

I would've laughed if I weren't at risk for exposing my recent double life.

"Mike, if I get out he's going to see me."

"I'll drop you off out front of the school."

Turning the engine back on, Mike drove me out of sight. I got out in front of the school, waiting for him next to the soda machine inside. From where I was sitting on the floor, the person currently putting coins in to the machine couldn't see me.

"Damn it." They fumbled their last quarter and it fell, rolling towards my boots.

I picked it up and held it out as they bent down to look for it.

"Oh. Thanks." Clyde took the coin back.

"Don't mention it."

"...What are you doing?" He casually put it in the machine. "Sitting over there."

"Waiting for someone."

Pressing the button for an orange soda, Clyde took the bottle from the dispenser.

"That's a weird place to wait, don't you think?" He twisted the cap off. "It looks like you're hiding."

"You gave away his spot~"

Mike pinched Clyde's side right above the waist of his pants, making him inhale some of his fizzy sugary drink. Clyde coughed, putting a balled fist to his chest trying to clear his airway. He was fine after a few seconds, clearing his throat of the residual spittle.

"Careful, Clyde. Or, you'll need mouth-to-mouth." Mike brushed in close to him. "Any preference who gives it?"

"What? No!" He spat out defensively.

Mike curled his finger in the jock's belt loop. He leaned up towards his ear.

"Guess we'll take turns, then."

Clyde didn't comment. He left. Immediately.

"I think you scared him."

"He was scared we'd see him pop the zipper on those blue jeans."

"Sure. That was it."

The morning announcements reminded everyone that Valentine's day was coming up. The school sold carination flowers for a dollar, and those chocolate roses that come on a long lollipop stick. You could send them out with personal notes, or anonymously. There was also a dance the week of.

I hated Valentine's Day. It literally scarred me.

A sentimental romantic like Mike would want to celebrate. Time to figure out what I was going to give him. Wouldn't be the carnations from the school, or their cheap conformist candy. I'd make the effort to get his gift on my own time. Something to show I cared about his feelings.

Whatever they were.

"Remember, if you're ordering candy and flowers, you can get the order slips from a teacher or the main office. You need to fill out a separate slip for every person you're sending to." Mr. Stuart showed us he had a fresh stack to take from. "They're here on my desk all month. Help yourselves."

The girls in class went up to Mr. Stuart's desk to get a slip, tucking them away in their agenda books for later. Clyde went up to get the hall pass for the water fountain, tossing his empty soda bottle in the trash.

"Chivalry must be dead." Mr. Stuart attempted to joke seeing as none of the guys got up. "No takers, gentlemen?"

"Valentine's Day is dumb." Jason announced, rather confidently for a guy who still couldn't find an acne wash or deodorant that actually worked for him. "It's for girls and fags."

"You would know." Craig busted his bubble. "Shut up, Jason. Go order your flowers."

I never said a word to the kid, but I could appreciate Craig's blunt indifference to most shit. He didn't give a fuck.

"Okay, okay. Let's be nice to each other." Mr. Stuart turned on the projector. "I'm assigning group projects, today."

There was a near unanimous groan from the class.

"Don't give me that, you can pick who you work with. Groups of two and three, are fine. No more than that."

I was already sitting next to my group member. Mr. Stuart began writing down our names and group numbers. Clyde walked back in, confused as to why everyone was moved around.

"Oh, Clyde. I'm assigning a project. Groups of two and three, Bud."

He was fine enough with that until he saw that there were already three groups of three. And, only one group of two left.

"Looks like you're working with Mike and Pete."

Clyde didn't rush over to sit with us. He looked towards the back of the room where we were seated, stuck in place. Mr. Stuart chided Clyde's hesitancy.

"It's good to make new friends every now and then." He encouraged the jock gently, ignoring the amused shit-eating grins of Clyde's friends. "Go on, Clyde. Go sit down."

Clyde took an empty desk and awkwardly turned it to face ours. He didn't look devastatingly bothered about the ordeal, more just out of his element. But, his friends started heckling him.

"Happy Pride Month, Clyde."

They were the only ones who found their ignorance to be funny.

"Mike and Pete turn in excellent essays. Some of you would have been smart to work with them." Mr. Stuart singled out Clyde's friends, discreetly reminding them their grades were suffering. "And, Pride is in June. It's a ways away, I'd say."

It was common knowledge that Clyde and his friends weren't excelling in academics. They'd get C-'s and D's as a group and laugh it off. Mike and I consistently did well in English. We'd ace this project no problem so long as Clyde didn't slow us down.

Each group was assigned to pick an American poet or author. The objective was to highlight their importance to American Literature. Easy.

"Poe?" Mike suggested.

"Poe." I agreed.

Clyde didn't object because he didn't care who we wrote about. We outnumbered him two to one, anyways.

"I expect you to work on this on your own time. You have two weeks."

Xxxxxx

"It was many and many a year ago, in a kingdom by the sea." Mike read aloud from the book in hand, lounged amongst the pile of pillows on his bed. "That a maiden there lived whom you may know by the name of Annabel Lee."

He scratched lightly at my scalp and I stared across the room with half-lidded eyes.

"And this maiden she lived with no other thought than to love and be loved by me. She was a child and I was a child, in this kingdom by the sea." He read the words off the page with his soft, elegant voice. "But we loved with a love that was more than love. I and my Annabel Lee..."

I could listen to Mike read for hours- Serenade me with literature, and lull me to a safe place. I was there.

"We're supposed to be doing homework." Mike reminded me when the poem was over and I didn't say anything.

"This is homework."

"It looks more like nap time."

Nap time sounded nice. My eyes were heavy and I was relaxed. Admittedly, homework was the last thing on my mind.

"Annabel Lee is my favorite poem." I stifled a yawn. "Always has been."

"Mine, too."

Mike closed the book, carefully setting aside.

"It's refreshing to have something in common. You've spent so long trying to prove we're completely different."

"We are different." I insisted, "I just had to learn it's not a bad thing."

"It isn't a bad thing, at all."

Different was good. I didn't need another version of myself. I needed someone to show me the lighter side of life. Mike needed someone to remind him that life wasn't all sunshine.

We weren't balanced, it was an unsteady teeter back and forth. But, as with any adjustment, it took time. Nothing was perfect.

"Clyde's going to be here soon." Mike reminded me. "Might want to start waking up."

Yeah. Not Perfect.

"How did we get stuck with dumb ass Donovan?" I grumbled at the two weeks ahead of me that were already tainted.

"He could use the grade boost. This will be good for him."

I rolled on to my back, head still in Mike's lap. I reached my arms up, stretching until I heard a joint pop.

"We get punished, but he benefits? Typical."

"It won't be so bad." Mike didn't sound worried. "He doesn't have an audience to prove anything to, here."

"Do you have to be positive all the time?"

"You're warming up to it."

"I had to warm up to it. I didn't have a choice."

Hoisting my body weight forward, I pushed myself up in to a sitting position. Mike laced his arms around me before I could scoot off the bed.

"Yes, you did." He rocked me back and forth. "You know that."

"…thanks for giving me the choice, Mike."

I was embarrassed after I said it. It was sappy and sentimental. I was capable of that?

"Thank you for giving me the chance." Mike humbly thanked me back. "I've wanted this for a long time, baby bat."

When Clyde arrived, Mike's Mom let him in. We didn't know he'd arrived until there was a knock at the door atop of the basement stairs.

"…do I come down?" Clyde asked. "Or, are you guys coming up?"

"You can come down to us."

Clyde came down the steps, clearing his throat awkwardly. He couldn't really look straight at us. We weren't doing anything that would make him uncomfortable, but I realized Mike was still holding me.

"I'll get my laptop." I said more to Mike than Clyde, moving out of his arms. "Where did I put my backpack?"

Mike pointed me in the direction of my bag. I went back to Mike, sitting a comfortable distance away from him on the huge bed. Clyde didn't come closer.

"Sit. Stay a while." Mike teased him. "We won't bite."

"Where am I supposed to sit?"

"Right there is fine."

The foot of the bed was empty and free for the taking. Mike then gestured to his chair that was covered in clothes.

"Or, I can clear the chair for you."

His leather jacket was hanging off the back of it. And he had a folded outfit that he hadn't worn out of the house that morning. Clyde chose the chair and Mike moved his stuff, putting the clothing where they belonged.

"Couldn't pick an outfit this morning?" I pried, seeing as it was unusual for him to leave his precious clothes lying around.

"I didn't have time to iron that shirt. The hem was wrinkled. I picked a different shirt, but then I had to change my jeans."

"Jeans are jeans, Mike."

"They most certainly are not."

I opened my laptop, shaking my head.

"I bet you changed your accessories, too."

"Obviously." Mike leaned in to see me open up a word document. "What kind of uncultured heathen do you take me for?"

"You're one of a kind, Mike."

"Thank you for noticing~"

Clyde took out a notebook and pencil, tapping the eraser end along the blank page.

"We're doing that Poe guy, or whatever?" he asked.

"That's correct." Mike chimed.

"...anything I should know? Like, what am I supposed to do?"

I was starting the introduction paragraph to our essay, covering Poe's basic background information. Mike and I didn't need his help. We could do this with our eyes closed.

"Have you read any of his work?" I asked.

"I don't really read."

There's a shocker.

"Start there, Jock Strap." I dismissed him. "Open a book. It's good for you."

Mike kindly offered the near illiterate football monkey the book he'd been reading from earlier. Clyde opened it up, but it couldn't hold his interest.

"You guys read this for fun?" He scrutinized.

"Here." Mike took the book back. "I'll read it to you."

He had no appreciation for literature. But, he listened to Mike read it to him. As Mike went on, Clyde fell under the same trance he'd put me in. He was actively paying attention.

It must be human nature to enjoy being read to. Most of us don't willingly outgrow story time in grade school. When it was Mike's turn to take over the essay, he traded me the lap top for the book.

Clyde looked at me, expectantly

"…aren't you going to read it to me?"

"No."

"But, Mike did."

"Do I look like Mike?"

Clyde looked at my clothes, then at Mike's, seeing no difference. It was the fifth grade all over again.

"...Is that a trick question?"

Mike covered his mouth to hide the smirk.

"Not what I meant." I deadpanned. "Look, I'm not reading to you. Mike was just being nice."

I gave the book back to Clyde.

"You don't know how to be nice?"

"I'm not your Mommy, Clyde."

Nails clicking the keyboard while he typed, Mike chided me in his sing-song tone of voice.

"Be nice. You know how."

"Since fucking when?" I denied. "That's an entire crock of shit."

"Such sharp little fangs. You're so cute, baby bat. Even when you bite."

I felt my ears get hot. In my peripheral vision, Mike was smiling to himself. Clyde silently reattempted to read, no complaints this time.

Xxxxx

Working with Clyde on a group project didn't involve him doing any of the work. We still held him accountable to show up and familiarize himself with the material. Depending on our schedules, we either met at Mike's house or the school library.

"Pete, could you help me?" Georgie showed me his math homework. "I don't know what I'm doing."

He found me in the school library when he came in looking for a place to start his homework. Henrietta got detention. She called a teacher a bitch. Again.

"Algebra?" I checked Georgie's work sheet.

"I hate it."

"There are worse math classes out there."

Georgie followed my instruction, correcting his mistakes and erasing wrong answers. He flinched when someone came up to our table.

"We got stuck working on a group project together." I explained as he wearily eyed the jock pulling a chair out. "He isn't here to bother you. You can relax."

I gave Clyde a pointed look as he unwrapped a protein bar.

"And, if he knows what's good for him, he'll leave you alone for the rest of the year."

Mid bite, Clyde looked at me almost challengingly.

"Unless Clyde wants Mr. Stuart finding out he isn't actually contributing to this project." I threatened. "He flunked his last exam, so I don't think he wants that."

Clyde chewed and rolled his eyes away at my threat. He knew damn well I wasn't bluffing. His ego didn't like having the disadvantage, but there was nothing he could do to mediate that.

"I won't bother the kid." He acted like I just told him something unreasonable. "Fine."

"Make sure you tell your dumb friends, too."

"..."

"Do you want to pass English, or not?"

Lucky for Georgie, I had Clyde by the balls. He couldn't fuck around with his grades this year. If he wanted to graduate with everyone, he had to pass.

"Where's Mike?" Clyde asked for my better half. "Isn't he supposed to be here, already?"

"He's probably powdering his nose. Give him a minute."

When Mike arrived he passed our table.

"There's a textbook about American Literature I had to check out last year. I'll go look for it." He explained. "I think it'll be useful to cite from."

"When you find it, start without me. I'll take over after I'm done helping Georgie with his homework."

Georgie was a smart kid. He got the hang of it fast, working on his own after finishing a few problems with me. I caught Clyde looking at me.

"What?" I grunted, assuming he was stewing over the loss to his victim pool.

"Could you help me with my homework, too?"

"…You're joking."

Clyde showed me his last math quiz with a big red "D-" on it.

"I'm not doing well in Math."

"You should ask your teacher for help."

"We're already here, though."

Because I didn't want to do it, I asked him what was is in for me.

"I'm already leaving…" Clyde paused as he realized he didn't know Georgie's name.

"Georgie." I told him.

"I'm leaving him alone. What else do you want?"

Georgie hesitated to chime in.

"…he picks on this kid in my class, too." He told me. "Um, it'd be nice if he stopped."

"What kid?" Clyde pried.

"Ike Broflovski…"

"Oh, that smarty pants little dweeb? You're friends with him?"

Georgie shrugged.

"We have classes together. Ike helps me in science…he's a nice person." He grimaced. "And you shoved him in to his locker last week. He almost broke his glasses."

"Georgie's friend is off limits from now on, too." I warned Clyde. "Agree to that, and I'll help you with your math homework."

Clyde agreed to it. I moved seats and sat next to him, in disbelief that anyone could be this bad at every subject in school. Clyde's best subject was Lunch. Even then he was a fucking douchebag. The guy was trying though. He followed my lead.

After-school hours ended with both Clyde and Georgie done with their math homework. Georgie went on his way to find Henrietta, and Clyde stared at his worksheet in mild disbelief.

"I haven't finished my math homework in months." He confessed. "My teacher's going to be shocked."

"And no one can blame them."

Next day, Clyde texts me asking where we were meeting up afterschool, the library or Mike's house.

"We're not?" I answered him on my bus ride home. "Today isn't a project day. Mike's busy."

"I'm not talking about the project. I'm talking about my math homework."

A paper airplane hit me in the back of the head and I ignored it, more annoyed with what I was reading.

"Your math homework was a one-time thing. Go to the tutoring center."

"So, I have to leave your friend alone for the rest of the year and you only have to help me once? How is that fair?"

...mother fucker.

"I'm on the bus. Meet me at my house."

Xxxxx

Sending Clyde the address, he made it to my house before the bus finished it's stops. He was sitting in his car listening to the radio when I walked up to his window.

Fer sure, maybe. Fer sure, not.

Fer sure, eh. Fer sure, bomb.

Pulled up at a stop light

Did drugs on the dashboard.

Look at the mess we made, tonight.

Kick off your stilettos.

Kick off your stilettos.

And, fuck me in the backseat.

Fuck me in the backseat.

I tapped on his window, making him jump.

"The Medic Droid? Really?"

Clyde turned off the radio and I went towards my front door. He got out of the car, putting his keys away.

"I've heard the sad shit you and your friends play behind the school." He countered. "Wouldn't judge if I were you."

"I reserve the right to judge whoever I want, big boy. Get used to it."

I'd been looking forward to some time by myself but told myself Clyde would be gone in an hour, or so. I could get on with my day soon.

"Go sit on the couch." I sighed, pushing the front door open. "Let's get this over with."

Towards the end of this coerced study session, Clyde thanked me for the help. But not without a smug little comment.

"Looks like you do know how to be nice."

"You wish."

"Don't have to. You owe me until Final Exams."

"Excuse me?"

Clyde proceeded to shoot himself in the foot.

"Thanks to you, I know the material now. You can't prove to Mr. Stuart that I didn't do any of our project." He boasted. "For the sake of your little friend, I suggest you stay on my good side."

"Let's just make something clear." I warned him. "I don't take orders from anybody. That includes you."

"Listen-" Clyde scoffed, quite arrogantly.

"No, YOU listen." I growled, pointing a finger in his face. "YOU think that you're tough shit because you're bigger than everybody else. Strutting around like you're the alpha. Guess what Clyde, you're pathetic."

He receded in to the couch as I closed in on him, fuming. I grabbed him by the collar of his letterman jacket with both hands and tugged it tight.

"You're just another sheep in the herd trying to play wolf. I know a sheep when I see one, poser." I accused him. "And, I don't give a shit what you THINK you have. But, it's certainly not power over me. Did I make myself clear?"

Dumbfounded, Clyde's brown eyes just got wide as he processed the fact that a skinny goth kid half his size saw through his charade and fearlessly chewed his ass out.

"I asked you a question. Did I make myself clear?"

"...y-yeah, Pete. We're good."

"Thought so." I let go of him. "Pick on someone your own size, Clyde. I'm not scared of you."

There was a tense pause. He was going to leave, or knock my teeth in. Either way, I didn't care. I was pissed.

Clyde's eyes darted back and forth. He didn't expect this.

"I shouldn't have been a dick...I really do need your help, though. I'm at risk of being held back this Summer."

"Then you better learn your place, and you'd better do it fast."

Xxxxx

After putting Clyde in his place, I agreed to help him with his homework so long as he held up his end of the deal, leaving Georgie and his classmate alone. The mighty quarterback didn't carry himself so tough anymore. Not with me. Sensing something was definitely off at our group sessions, Mike confronted me.

"Did you and your secret admirer get in to a little lover's spat while I was gone?" leisurely lounging in a bean bag chair, Mike rested his head along the foot of my bed.

"Donovan got too big for his britches. I put him in his place."

"Ooo, do tell."

I was polishing my boots, more interested in the task than delving in to my spat with Donovan.

"As much as I'd love to entertain your deluded, perverted fantasies, the reality of it is Clyde just doesn't know when he's bitten off more than he can chew."

"He's backed off a lot. He must know now."

He better know. The stunned look on Clyde's face as I grabbed him by his collar was still fresh in my mind.

"Pft...you're probably right." I found a sliver of humor in it. "You should have seen his face. I grabbed the idiot by his jacket and knocked him down a few pegs. He changed his tune fast."

"And to think I missed this."

"Told you Vampire Club was stupid."

Mike gave me a well-deserved warning.

"Careful, baby bat. Don't think I've forgotten you're ticklish."

"Tickle me again, and I'm re-dying my whole head black."

"But, your red roots are so cute...I like them."

"Then weigh your options, carefully."

Sparing me another traumatic experience in favor of preserving this hair color he was so fascinated with, Mike didn't tickle me.

"How many times do I have to tell you to play nice?" he teased me, instead. "You could easily bite off more than you can chew one of these days, baby bat."

"I know how much I can fit in my mouth."

"Oh, I've seen."

"Honestly?"

"Not complaining~"

I put down my boot and started working on the second one, in need of more shoe polish.

"Damn it, this can is empty now. Mike, could you go inside that big trunk and grab the unopened one?"

Mike sifted through its contents looking for a can of shoe polish. He found it, along with something else.

"...baby bat?"

"That's my name, it would seem."

"Care to explain why I'm just finding out you own lingerie?"

"...I own-?"

Before I could finish the thought, Mike pulled out black and white striped thigh-high socks, and a sleeveless fishnet shirt. Both of which were still in their original packaging, unopened. And black cotton shorts with the tag still on.

"From the look on your face, I'm going to assume you forgot these were in here."

Mike inspected the packages with interest. Meanwhile I opened the new can of polish, regretting sending him in to my personal stuff. I need to keep better inventory of that trunk.

"You haven't even opened these, yet. When are we going to change that?"

"Not any time soon."

"Then why did you even buy these?"

"Lapse of judgment...they were originally a surprise for Stan last year. He canceled a date with me to be with Wendy, so I shoved them in there and never went back for them."

Stan never deserved it, anyways. I almost went against my own rules and rewarded bad behavior.

"Is there any way I could convince you not to let these go to waste?" Mike most assuredly was already trying to picture me in it. "Try this on, for me?"

"...Can we put those away for now and pretend they don't exist?"

Though disappointed, Mike respected my wishes and put the stuff back where he found it.

"Whatever you're most comfortable with." he kissed my cheek. "You would have looked amazing, though."

My bangs fell over my eyes and I didn't flick them away.

"Doubt it."

"You need to be kinder to yourself. It costs nothing to own your sex appeal."

I focused hard on a spot at the heel of my boot.

"We can't all be sex on legs, Mike." I argued. "Some of us are just meant to be more modest."

"You won't admit it, but you're such a shy person under all that scowl and growl. Which you don't need to be... At least not with me."

Mike screwed the cap back on the shoe polish seeing as I didn't need any more of it. I left his last comment to hang in the air.

"I wish you'd drop your walls just a smidge more." Mike confessed. "...do you think we could work on that?"

"You mean you want me to work on it?"

"No. I mean we. I want to meet all of you...but, you have to introduce me to him, first."

xxxxx

The last time I truly knew myself, I was just a kid. A scrawny, lonely fourth grader. My mother gave me her big green eyes and bright straight red hair that the girls all envied. Pale, unfreckled skin. Fairly full lips.

I was pretty for boy. Too pretty. The girls all liked me, though I never liked them. I liked comic books, cats, poetry, and boys. And, that's really where it went wrong.

I'd been shoved in to lockers, books thrown at me, and the crap beaten out of me by pre-teen boys who just learned what the word "fag" meant. It was never a fair fight, there were always at least two boys at a time. Usually three.

That Trent Boyett kid was the ring leader. He had some serious issues. He was ten and complete sociopath. I'd come home defeated, often bruised. My parents didn't notice, they never asked. Mom was too busy trying to get my dad to at least pretend he wanted to be a parent. In doing so, she forgot to parent.

I was being bullied. She never had a clue. It never dawned on me to tell her. I didn't think she'd care. That hurt, but as a kid you suck it up and ignore it the best you can.

Until one day it gets out of hand.

I missed the bus one afternoon and walked home. I took a short-cut through an alley way and got ambushed. Two boys held me to the brick wall, Trent looking down at me with a sadistic glint in his eyes. He dished out his usual abuse. Today he managed to give me a bloody nose and a busted lip.

The coppery taste in my mouth was disgusting. I wanted to throw up. Worse, I wanted to cry.

"Go ahead." Trent goaded me. "My daddy always told me the pretty boys cry the hardest."

I held back, eyes watery and wide. He sucker punched me across the face.

"That pretty face ain't so pretty no more, is it?" Trent pulled out a pocket knife his red-neck dad gave him. "And, it never will be."

"Mess him up good, Trent. Little fag has it comin'."

He put the knife to my cheek, ready to cut.

"Get off him."

There was a raw crack and Trent staggered back. Someone nailed him in the back of the head with something. Something hard. They hit him again, sending Trent to the ground.

He was tall, dressed in black with a button-down white shirt. His weapon was an adult black metal cane which was too big for him. He looked ready for a funeral and I remember thinking it was the oddest thing.

Never met the kid in my life. But, he came to my rescue.

Trent held his head, groaning and writhing in pain before blacking out. The two kids holding me to the wall looked at each other. This mysterious kid put the cane on the ground, holding it with both hands. He leered at them, not scared in the least.

"Who wants to go next?"

They let me go and ran, leaving their ringleader to lay on the asphalt. Trent's pocket knife was at my feet. This kid stepped over him and picked it up. He closed the blade and handed it to me.

"...that-that isn't mine."

"It is, now. Take it."

I shakily took it, just holding it by my side. This kid eyed me over then looked around the alleyway, disgusted.

"This town sucks. I can already tell." he walked away. "Come on."

"What?"

"Do you want to wait around for him to wake up?"

I followed him out of the alley.

"...I've never seen you around before."

"Just moved in this week. I start school tomorrow."

"South Park Elementary?"

"Where else?"

He lived a few blocks away. True to his word, he just moved in. Boxes sat all over his house amongst the furniture. His room didn't even have a real bed yet. There was an air mattress on the floor.

In the bathroom, he propped his cane against the sink and ran the tap. He got a fresh hand towel, soaking it in warm water and wrung it out.

"You need to clean your face. You're a mess." He gave it to me. "Here."

I winced, wiping my bloody nose. It hurt, but the pain was nothing compared to the nausea. I gagged at my reflection, queasy at the sight of my own blood. I had it on my nose, mouth and chin. Some on my cheeks.

The texture of it as I wiped it away was too much. The smell and taste...ugh.

"Just sit down. I'll do it."

He wiped it all away, rinsing out the towel every few minutes. The water ran red and he didn't seem fazed.

"Weak stomach?"

"A little, yeah." I winced when he wiped a tender spot on my cheek. "That hurts."

"Obviously. I saw him punch you."

I was lucky he didn't break my nose. Came close to it. The psycho was going to drag a blade down my face, too. They both seemed equally bad. Neither getting my nose reset, or having my cheek stitched, sounded fun.

"Bet you never did anything to him." This kid sounded older than he was, so monotone and tired. "That's always how it goes."

"That was Trent Boyett...he's a psycho. He beats the crap out of me all the time."

"Not anymore. You have his knife."

It was still in my pocket. A trophy I didn't want. But, it was mine now.

"Thanks for earlier...you didn't have to help me. No one ever does."

Wringing the towel out one last time, he hung it over the edge of the sink.

"No one at my old school cared about me, either."

The bridge of his nose was kind of crooked if you looked straight at him. Someone broke it at some point. It didn't heal correctly. He lifted his curly hair off his forehead, showing me a scar that went along his hairline in to his scalp.

"Those stitches much have hurt..."

"Everything hurts. Life isn't a storybook." He fixed his hair back in to place. "It's why I carry that."

He was referring to his cane.

"Yeah...I'm Pete, by the way."

"Michael."

xxxxxx



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