Consistent

BY : RandomJaz
Category: +S through Z > South Park
Dragon prints: 7363
Disclaimer: I do not own South Park or any of it's characters, nor do I profit from this fanfiction.

xxxxxx

As old and outdated as many of South Park's attractions were, with time comes small improvements. My boss sprung for something new in March. A slushy machine wasn't anything to celebrate, but he was excited to show us.

"Red or blue, Pete?" He offered me, plastic cup in hand.

"Red is fine, I guess..."

My coworker was already sucking his blue syrupy frozen drink through a straw, both hands on the large clear cup with a dome lid.

"How is it, Butters?" I asked him.

"Mm, I like it." He answered around the straw.

I got mine, not excited for it. But, the boss insisted I try the new item going on our somewhat limited menu. Like we needed more sugary crap to offer kids.

"This should pay for itself by Summer." He guaranteed. "Kids love this sort of thing, don't they?"

"Looks that way."

Butters was going to town on his. I just got a taste of cherry when there was loud yelp. He had his palm to his forehead, face contorted in pain.

"Brain freeze." He explained the obvious, trying to rub it away. "That's awful cold."

"Pace yourselves, boys."

I took a sip, not all that interested in this cup of sugar and food coloring. This wasn't much different than a standard fountain drink. Just a lot sweeter, and frozen. I didn't want to shit on my boss's goodwill and dump it, but I couldn't bring myself to drink the damn thing. Stan unintentionally came to my rescue with his weekly peace offering.

"Trade you." He joked, putting an iced coffee down in front of me.

"Deal." I slid my slushy across the counter for him.

"I didn't literally mean-"

"Take it. I'm not crazy about it, anyway."

He tasted it and made a wry face for a second.

"Wow, that's sweet." He peered inside the lid. "Not bad though."

"All yours."

He must've been at the gym before he stopped by. His hair was damp from a shower and he had that tired out, but satisfied, look to him. Probably from lifting weights.

"What's going on in Stan World?" I used a rag and Windex to clean the glass display I already wiped down earlier because some grubby kids got their fingerprints on it. "Enlighten me."

"Was hanging out with Clyde. We got a good workout." Stan used some napkins to wipe the condensation off the plastic cup. "Was talking to him on the drive over. He's passing his classes, you know. Like actually passing, not scraping by."

Stan found some humor in it. I wasn't sure what was so funny about self-improvement. Turns out Stan was only laughing because Clyde wouldn't admit how much he liked it.

"He's acting like he doesn't care, but I've known him forever. He's digging it."

"Good for him then. Better he finds pride in improvement, not mediocracy."

"Clyde's not stupid, you know. I mean, he is. But, he isn't."

It was my turn to laugh at his expense. I kept it contained, but I couldn't hide it.

"What?" Though he always found it refreshing to see me laugh to any degree since I did it so rarely, Stan didn't understand what was so funny.

"Nothing." I gave the glass display another spritz for good measure. "Just funny hearing that come from you."

"Why me?"

I came back for a sip of my coffee, letting him figure it out on his own.

"...that's not nice." He chuckled when it hit him. "I'm not as retarded as you think I am."

"You and Clyde have a lot in common then."

"He's an alright guy. But, this whole arrangement he made with you isn't fair."

"It's not forever. Maybe it'll bring some good karma my way, I could use some."

Sitting around and shooting the shit with me at work wasn't the funnest thing to do on a Friday, but Stan stayed all night. His social life took a huge plummet after weeding out the roles he didn't want to play anymore. Not that he was complaining; Stan embraced it. He was free.

I didn't mind his company these days. Butters was happy to see him. We kept on task despite having Stan there the entire time.

He sat in the same stool, and ordered some stuff to snack on. Our boss let him stay until closing since he wasn't in anyone's way.

"What do you kids do nowadays for fun?" he asked in a grandfatherly way, though I think he was only middle-aged. "When I was young, this was the place to go."

"I like the skating rink." Butters waltzed by with a mop and bucket. "Me and this boy Bradley that I went to camp with once, we go every weekend."

"I remember the skating rink. A kid I went to school with back in my day, her family owns it…I never did learn to ice skate. I got bad ankles."

Stan knew how to ice skate. It was something Wendy was super in to during grade school. And, he played ice hockey for a while as a kid. He tried most sports the town had to offer. Soccer, basketball, baseball...He was good at all of them. Football just happened to be his favorite.

"...aren't you the boy who came in every Friday?" My boss got a good look at Stan. "With some girl, or other?"

"That was me, yeah."

"I remember being young; Brought my dates here, too. Those were the days...now, I'm married. Yeesh."

Good naturedly, my boss asked Stan if Wendy was the one. He gathered up his trash and took it to the bin, light on his feet and aloof.

"No." He answered truthfully. "And, that's okay."

"Chin up. Atta boy." My boss gave him a pat on the back. "Get back out there."

I asked Stan about Wendy later that night. He unlocked his car, beckoning me in. We couldn't decide on what to do. I assumed he was bringing me home, but we wound up driving around until ending up parked by Stark Pond.

"Have you talked to her, yet?"

"I called...she didn't want to talk to me." Stan recounted his attempt to make amends "I sent her a text, instead." .

"What did you tell her?"

"How smart she is...how far she's going to go in life. She doesn't need useless people like me holding her back."

"You're not useless, you're just on different paths. We can't all go the same way."

Looking out over the pond, I saw a duck in the distance. It floated by itself, asleep and indifferent to the dark water surrounding it.

My mom brought me here to feed ducks when I was small. She never let me feed them bread. Some park ranger told her it was bad for them and we threw stuff like sliced grapes and frozen peas instead.

"Which way are you going?" Stan asked.

"Which way am I going?"

"You said you're staying in South Park." He answered. "What are you going to do, here?...You never really talk to me about your plans for the future...do you have any?"

"I'll probably keep my job and start some classes at the community college. Don't know for what, yet."

"You could do something with writing...or literature, in general." Stan suggested. "You could do anything you wanted. Just, I know you like those things."

I never decided what it was I wanted to be when I grew up. Adults would ask and I'd shrug. It always felt like such an asinine question.

What do I want to be? Preferably, myself. A better question would have been "What do you want to do for a living?"

When anyone asked Stan, he wanted to be a football player-he'd known his entire life. He was going to study athletics and sports while playing for the University. He'd be a trainer or someone's coach one day if he didn't make it to the big leagues. Which wasn't bad. It was something to fall back on.

"I don't have any idea what it is I want to do. At least you know what your passion in life is." I complimented him. "You can do something with that."

"...if we're being honest, I mostly like sports because I'm good at them."

"Nothing wrong with that."

No one was expecting us anywhere anytime soon, so we sat by the lake without paying much mind to the time ticking by. No one in sight, Stark Pond had an eerie nostalgic ambiance to it.

Everyone came to skate here when the water froze over. I could almost still hear the ice scraping and kids chattering to each other. I think Stan was listening for it, too.

"Mike said you called the other day." I broke his trance.

"He told you about that, huh?"

"...Did you think he wouldn't?"

"I wasn't sure... just wanted to make sure you didn't spend the night alone. But, I didn't want to be rude and bother you on your date."

Stan didn't sleep well that night, he confessed. He did worry a lot, Mike had him pegged there. I reclined my seat back to get comfortable, unbuckling and turned on my side towards him.

"That reminds me. Did you send me a flower?" I stifled a yawn. "On Valentine's Day."

"... I did, yeah. I know that I shouldn't have."

He sounded embarrassed, caught red-handed. But, he didn't regret it.

"Was only asking. I got two."

"I didn't know if Mike would give you one, or not."

"He didn't. I don't know who the other one's from."

Following my example, Stan reclined his seat and faced me. The console of his car separated the seats. He tapped it softly.

"...something on your mind?" I asked.

"Why'd you leave the other morning? I woke up and you were gone."

That was a bit ago. He was hung up on that?

"That night I slept over? I had to get ready for school." I told him. "Mike picks me up in the morning now...wouldn't have looked good if I wasn't home when he got there."

"We didn't do anything...and, there's no school tomorrow." Stan said. "Do you want to come over. again?"

"For the night?"

I wasn't asking accusingly. Just wanted to make sure I understood what he was asking.

"You don't have to sleep over." Stan clarified. "Just, Mike has you most of the week. Thought it'd be nice if we could hang out somewhere besides the bowling alley."

"Sick of it, already?"

"No. Just want to see more of you...if Mike's waiting for you, no hard feelings. We can hang another time."

Mike wasn't currently in town. He and his mother went on a weekend trip to visit his grandma out of South Park. They packed the Thursday night before and left that Friday when he got home from school.

"I'm on my own this weekend. Mike's visiting a relative."

xxxxxx

Saturday, Mike posted pictures online of the mall he went to, and the place he ate. But, he didn't post everything he'd done.

"Look what I got~" Was the incoming text I got that night, while brushing my teeth for bed.

The photo attachment showed Mike wearing a large black leather choker with a belt buckle on the front. And, fishnet shorts with a matching sleeveless crop top.

And, nothing on underneath any of it.

I paused brushing my teeth to stare at the photo, toothpaste frothing at the corner of my mouth. Thankfully, I wasn't wearing a shirt yet because some dribbled down to my chest.

He was kneeling with his knees spread in a "W", back to the mirror, and phone held up over his shoulder to snap the picture. His hair was pulled over one shoulder so I could see the entire length of his long body encased in fishnet. There was that saucy, provocative gleam in his hazel eyes. Like he could see me drooling toothpaste over myself.

The next photo was a shiny, clear black, double-ended dildo. It was jelly-like and looked chewy. He used his arm alongside it as comparison to show me its length and size. Just to drive it all home, he sent me a selfie from the nose down, mouth open and tongue out, licking up the length of the silicone toy.

I hadn't replied to him yet, not really sure where to begin. More toothpaste dribbled down and I used a towel to wipe it up, spitting in the sink before I could make a bigger mess of myself.

Act like you've seen it before, Pete. Sexy boyfriend is old news.

"Someone went shopping." I finally replied.

"Would've liked to take you with me. I miss you so much."

"Only been a day."

Truth was, I smiled despite myself. With red cheeks. Didn't even realize I was grinning until I caught sight of myself in the mirror. I took my shirt off the counter and slipped it on.

"It's been a long day." Mike sent with a black heart emoji. "Too long."

Sunday they'd be driving back. It did feel like forever.

"Stan! Make sure you take Sparky out before bed."

"On it, Mom."

I passed Stan in the hallway. He went to walk the dog, I went to his room. Mike was talking about some nail salon he was going to visit tomorrow with his mother and grandmother before making the drive back.

"Sparky peed on a tree and barked at some leaves, so he's good for the night." Stan came back.

"What a specimen."

Eyes still down on my phone, I rubbed at my neck. Staring at Mike's pictures, the collar to my shirt felt a little tight.

"You can take it off."

"...take what off?" My eyes snapped up.

"Your choker."

He assumed my choker was uncomfortable having seen me briefly fuss with my neck. Duh.

"You don't sleep with it." He reasoned. "I know we're not going to bed yet, but it's not like anyone is coming in here."

I unclipped it and Stan safely set it aside on his nightstand. Shocked I hadn't put up more of a fuss, he asked why.

"Normally you hate taking it off." he pointed out, which he didn't need to do.

I'm the one wearing the damn thing. Thus, I'm fully aware. He wouldn't be Stan if he didn't have these "state the obvious" moments.

"You're the only person I feel comfortable taking it off around." I told him. "I don't mind doing it here."

"...you don't take it off in front of Mike?"

I pointed to the scar I was stuck with for life.

"How the hell am I supposed to explain this?"

"...With the truth?" Now Stan was looking at me like I was the one asking silly questions.

"I don't need Mike thinking I'm some basket case."

"He wouldn't think that, Pete."

So, Stan's a psychic now.

"I don't know that for sure."

"Shouldn't you just be honest with him, anyways? You're going to have to show him eventually."

"I think about it all the time, I know."

Stan was staring at it. I covered it with my hand.

"See? This is why I wear it all the time." I turned to hide it because I didn't want to have to cover up again. "I hate people staring at me."

"I'm not judging you, Pete. You know that."

"...just stop. I wish I could erase this."

Even if it could magically vanish, I was lying to myself if I thought it would really go away. The only person who I could show it to, grief free, was right behind me. And, I was hiding it now. I had a long way to go with this.

"I think Mike would love you, no matter what."

"And, you're basing that off of...?"

"Because, I've always loved you the way you are. And, Mike's a better person than me."

Stan left it there.

Giving me my space, he sat on the edge of the bed closest to the T.V. A game request popped up on screen. Clyde was looking to play with him. Stan put on his headset.

He checked me with that worried look on his face. The one he made when he messed up. Or, thought he messed up.

When he turned his attention back on the screen, I crawled over and leaned in to his back. He played with Clyde, I texted Mike. Two entirely different conversations were taking place. And two entirely different activities. But, there was comfort to having a middle ground.

The touch that said "I'm here".

Trepidatious of being clingy, Stan didn't follow me to my end of the bed that night. Back to back with space between us, he wanted to. I spared him the suspense and just rolled over.

He felt me encroach his side of the bed and finally just rolled over, too. I moved in close, resting my head under his chin. He didn't say anything.

"...isn't this what you wanted?" I asked.

Stan nodded with a nervous chuckle.

"All the time." He said.

Xxxxxx

Clyde's parents were impressed with his academic improvement. His teachers called, looking to congratulate whatever it was they'd done to get him on track after so many failed attempts. Only, Mr. and Mrs. Donovan were clueless. Clyde explained he was getting tutored.

He came to my house Sunday. Mom let him in sand didn't think to question it. She'd seen him over before for homework.

There was a knock at my bedroom door sometime after I got home. I assumed it was Mom and told her to come in, getting Clyde instead.

"...what are you doing here?" Had I not been so confused, I would have scowled. "It's Sunday... You didn't wait until the last minute to do your homework, did you?"

"I didn't have homework. I, um-Here."

He pulled something out from his letterman jacket. It was carefully tucked away. It wasn't until he did so that I noticed he'd been holding it shut kind of awkwardly.

"...Mittens had a litter a few months ago." he said.

There was a black kitten, pitch black fur. Big green eyes and pink paw pads. It was well cared for and clean. According to Clyde, this was the last of litter. The rest had already been sold to new homes.

"This was the only black one. And, my grandma can't find anyone who wants a black cat..."

"So, you're giving it to me?"

"Him. This one's a boy...you said you like cats. I thought maybe you'd want him."

He brought me a live animal because I said in passing that I liked cats. Who does that? This was odd, so I just stared at him like this was some trap or prank.

"Here." Clyde offered it out for me to hold. "My grandma's been calling him Sebastian."

Clyde didn't know what to do with himself, so he sat at the edge of my desk awkwardly.

"He looks kind of spooky. In a cute way. Thought maybe you'd be in to him."

"What makes you think I'm in to cute spooky things?"

He sort of just shrugged.

"No, really." I pressed.

"...You're dating a pretty-boy vamp kid? Mike wears all that black, but he's not scary looking."

"Fair, I guess."

I didn't plan on getting another cat after Butler died. But, now that this one was in my hands I didn't want to give him back. Clyde said I could have him. So...

"You said your grandma's been calling him Sebastian?"

"You can change it if you want. I won't tell her."

I didn't mind the name.

"Sebastian is fine."

"So, you'll keep him? Cool, I'll tell Grandma. She'll be happy."

I wasn't currently prepared for a cat. Butler's old stuff was all washed and put away years ago. I could go look around for it, but it was easier to just buy new stuff. I had to get food and a new litter box, anyways. May as well just start fresh. New cat, new stuff.

"Not that I'm ungrateful. But, I need to get some stuff if I'm keeping him." I said. "This is the sort of thing you ask first. Just, keep that in mind next time you give people animals."

"...I can take you to the pet store." Clyde offered. "I shouldn't have just dropped in on you unprepared."

"It's fine, I can get my mom to take me. Was just saying."

"I'm not doing anything. I can handle a trip to the pet store."

I tucked the cat in my sweatshirt, holding him close during the drive. I could've left him in my bathroom for errand to keep him from getting in to too much stuff. But, I didn't like the idea of it.

He just got here. Shouldn't just leave him alone in a strange new place.

"Food and water dishes, litter box, cat food, kitty litter..." I listed off the stuff I put in a cart. "Brush...cat bed...pet carrier...collar."

"Don't cats like toys?" Clyde pushed it along, stopping at a display rack.

"Most pets do."

I grabbed a few. Looked like I had everything. There goes most of my paycheck for the week. The lump huddled in my sweatshirt was worth it.

Clyde carried the bags out for me so I could keep a good hold on Sebastian. I put him in the pet carrier and held it in my lap for the drive back. Peering through the mesh front, I tapped Sebastian's nose. He pawed at my finger, wanting out.

"Almost home." I promised when he meowed, stopping there because Clyde was right there within earshot.

Didn't need him hearing me talk to a cat, and thinking I'd gone soft.

"...my grandma was just going to keep Sebastian since no one else wanted to buy him. It was that, or take him to the shelter." Clyde explained after a bit. "I asked if I could give him to you since you've been helping me out with school."

"How much was she charging for him? I can pay her."

"No, no. She doesn't want you to...my parents told her I'm doing better. It made her happy."

His grandmother must've been a sweet woman.

"Wanted to say thank you somehow...a cat might have been a weird way to do it." Clyde questioned himself, but not hard. "I'm not good at this."

I accepted the kitten, so he did something right.

"You didn't have to give me anything. But, I don't mind the cat."

"We have a couple of months left of school...my teachers said I'm going to graduate as long as I keep showing up to class and doing the homework." Clyde peered over at Sebastian who was scratching at his pet carrier. "I get to have the Summer off before College...would've been Summer school or staying back, otherwise."

Seeing for himself that he was capable of getting better grades, Clyde was looking forward to attending university. He had gotten a similar sports scholarship as Stan. But, he'd been dreading the academics for a while.

It wasn't so scary anymore. He had faith in himself that he could do it, now. All he had to do was put his mind to it and do the work- Ask for help when he needed it.

xxxxxx

"Aww~"

Mike had Sebastian in his hands, cooing over the creature of the night. The kitten's red collar had a simple silver tag with Sebastian engraved on the front.

"Sebastian, hm?" Mike read. "I think I'll just call you Baby Cat."

"...Mike." I all but groaned. "You're so corny."

Sebastian batted at Mike's long hair, entertained by the colorful dangling strand. Mike coddled him, so enamored with the kitten.

"Black kittens remind me of bats. With their little fangs and pointy ears."

"I can see it, I guess."

How this kitten came to be mine interested him. He asked if I'd gone to the shelter or pet store, and what spurred me to do it.

"I didn't buy him. He was a gift...sort of."

"Sort of?"

"I told Clyde in passing that I liked cats. His grandma recently had a litter and couldn't get anyone to buy this one. She told him I could have it."

"...and, you believe that?"

"Here we go."

Mike set the kitten down so he could roam around and do his thing. There was a ball with a bell in it. Sebastian chased it around.

"He wanted to do something nice for you." Mike stopped Sebastian from chasing the ball under the bed, catching it before rolling it the other way.

"Well, yeah. He said it was a thank you for the tutoring."

Sebastian darted across floor. Mike and I both watched him.

"You don't give a pet as a thank you gift to your fucking tutor." He eyed the kitten with particular scrutiny. "It was an excuse to give you something he thought you'd really like. I'm willing to bet you anything he specifically asked his grandmother not to sell this one."

This whole reading too deeply in to Clyde rhetoric was getting old. I spent weeks with him alone, at this point. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary. The cat was odd, but he had good intentions. Mike had too much fun with his imagination.

"Can we just drop this?"

"For now. I wanted to talk to you about something, anyway." Mike seamlessly switched topics. "Prom is coming up. I know it's not your thing, but could you go with me?"

Prom? My instinct was to make a flippant dismissal. I pushed it down. Mike had that pleading twinkle in his eyes. He wanted to go very badly. With a date. Namely, me.

"You're going to make me do the whole picture thing and everything, aren't you?"

"You're my boyfriend." Mike defended.

"How'd I get roped in to that, again?"

Mike faked a pondering eye roll.

"Hm…" He mused. "I think I seduced you with my vampire charm."

"That wasn't it."

"Must've been my femme boy wiles, then."

"Aren't those the same thing in your case?"

Knowing when to laugh at himself, Mike let me have that one.

"I'll let that go this time. But, be nice or you're not getting your souvenirs."

"...aren't those for like out of state or country? Not out of town?"

I anticipated some silly or thoughtful trinkets. Like a coffee mug and artisanal biscotti's or something. Mike gave me an opaque black bag without any brand or logo on the front.

"The store likes to keep their packaging discreet." He explained. "It's for the best."

My souvenirs were from the adult shop he went to. I pulled out brand new duel-vibrating bullets. They were red.

"The red made me think of you." Mike pulled out the bottle of lube he bought with them. "And since these are staying here with you, you'll be needing this."

"...Jesus, Mike." I put the boxed toy back in the bag. "M-Most people bring back snow globes, or T-Shirts."

"Aw, baby bat. Are you embarrassed?"

Mike put the lube back in the bag, and stored it in my trunk for now- With the risqué outfit I'd stored away in there and forgot about.

"I know you won't forget about this." He said It too smug for my liking.

"I might."

"Yeah? That toy is rechargeable. Comes with a USB wire." He informed me. "Don't have to buy batteries, and it's fully charged in an hour."

Mike delicately shut the trunk, tapping his nails along the wood with a wink.

"Very convenient. You're welcome."

"You're impossible."

"I recall you loving mine. Squirming and-"

"Okay, okay! Thank you! For fucks sake."

Xxxxxx

I reluctantly took Sebastian with me to Henrietta's our next get together. They wanted me there, but I didn't want to leave him home all night. He was just a baby.

Keeping him in the carrier all night seemed cruel, too. I held him close, weary of all the stuff he could get in to.

"Can I hold him, Pete?" Georgie innocently asked.

I couldn't say no. Not to Georgie.

"Yeah, just hold on tight." I told him. "I don't want him running and jumping around in here."

He took the black kitten, grinning ear to ear like a little kid. Sebastian purred in his arms, eventually falling asleep there.

"I love him." Georgie decided. "Sebastian's a good boy."

Neither Michael or Henrietta cared much for animals, no matter what kind. They felt bad when my last one died, because it upset me. But, they didn't get it.

"Pets seem like a lot of work...you keep them alive, spend all that money and for what?" Henrietta drawled.

She scrutinized Georgie with a sisterly kind of taunt.

"That?" She pointed to the kitten he held.

"Cats are good!" Georgie defended.

"Don't they cough up gross fur balls, or whatever?"

Not knowing how true that was, or wasn't, Georgie looked at Sebastian and then at me.

"Do they?"

"Longer haired breeds are more prone to it, especially if you don't brush them frequently enough. Because they'll groom themselves and swallow the fur that they shed." I told him, because I didn't really care how Henrietta felt about it. "Sebastian has short fur, so it's not as much of an issue. And, he's still a baby. He might get them once and a while when he's older and can actually groom himself."

"Oh. Make sure you brush him a lot, then. Throwing up hair balls sounds awful."

"You can come over and help me."

Michael blew smoke out of the window, inspecting one of Henrietta's plaster skulls she'd found on a thrift run. She had painted it herself with dead rose vines.

"He'll never go home." Michael warned me. "You'll have two pets."

"Georgie eats mostly frozen pizza. Wouldn't be hard to keep him."

"At least he's toilet trained."

Henrietta slapped a hand over her mouth to hide her snickering face. It was hard to get her to laugh. But, here she was. Georgie would've thrown his arms up if he didn't have Sebastian there.

"Most fifteen-year-olds eat pizza, and use the toilet." He defended. "That's not funny!"

"We're just grateful you're one of the them." I kept from laughing for his sake.

Michael wasn't laughing. But, he and Henrietta looked at each other and she just starting cracking up harder. It sounded like a cackle.

"...am I missing something here?" I asked.

"That's what I want to know, too." Georgie huffed.

"You're just the baby of the group." Henrietta caught her breath. "You've always sort of been the pet."

With having Georgie around, it did always feel like he was someone we were responsible for taking care of. Not in a bad way. We didn't resent him for it. He was always welcome, and we never minded.

"I feel like 'baby brother' would be more appropriate." I suggested, because 'pet' just didn't seem like the right word even though we were joking.

"I'm not a baby, Pete!" Georgie complained, getting flustered. "You don't actually see me as a baby, do you?"

"Of course, not." I promised. "We're all equal."

The assurance put Georgie somewhat at ease. Michael snuffed his cigarette out in the ash tray, taking it to the bathroom to flush it since it was full.

"We're still older than you." Michael told him as he left.

I worried maybe Michael was being an ass. He didn't look like he was in a bad mood. If anything, he'd calmed down some lately. The guy wasn't on edge or ready to bare his teeth at everything. He was rolling with the punches more, these days.

"What does that matter?" I asked.

"Doesn't." He said, short and simple. "But, he is still a kid no matter how you spin it."

"I don't consider fifteen to be a kid."

"Legally it is. The age of consent in most states is sixteen or seventeen, so."

I raised a brow at that.

"Um, what does that have to do with anything?"

"Just making a point. Fifteen, in most accounts of the word, is a kid." Michael put the clean ash tray back amongst Henrietta's things. "Which is fine. No law against being friends with kids."

"...I feel like if anyone older than us was friends with fifteen-year-olds, there's something wrong there."

Michael didn't disagree,

"Don't be jailbait, Georgie." Henrietta cautioned.

"Okay, wait. If some creepy old man or woman comes after him, they're in the wrong not him." I felt the need to point out. "Plus, I think he knows better than to humor some adult interested in a high schooler. Nothing good ever comes out of that."

"No, Yeah. That's definitely true. Remember that old dude I told you about at the mini mart who used to hit on me Sophomore year? He paid for my cigarettes once, and tried to get my number."

Georgie hadn't heard that story before. He made a grossed-out face.

"That's so creepy."

"Old men who like minors tend to be."

"I had a neighbor when I was like ten that would offer to have me over after school because he knew my parents were always working...ick." Georgie shuddered. "Thankfully I already had you guys to hang out with so I wasn't home alone with him around."

Georgie was naive as a kid, but at least he hadn't been lured in to some creep's house. None of us knew about this until now, though.

"...why didn't you say something?" I asked. "Jesus, Georgie. That dude probably wanted to molest you."

"Like I said, I was always here with you guys. I didn't have to worry." He shifted Sebastian in his arms when the kitten woke up and stretched. "That guy got arrested like a year after he moved in to the neighborhood. Didn't come back."

"Yeah, he molested someone's kid. No doubt."

Georgie was old enough now that he didn't outright look like a child. You could tell he was a teenager. But, he was small and I still worried about him. At first glance, the wrong person could get the wrong idea.

Even so, plenty of old creeps out there look for boys his age. The thought that someone could have preyed on him made me uneasy.

Michael was more than capable of handling physical threats. His boney stature didn't take away from his brutal swing. As long as he had that cane, and his bitter resentment for the cruel people in this world, anyone with him was safe.

Henrietta carried mace with her at all times. Georgie and I never carried anything. We didn't need to, because one of them was already there. If not both. It wasn't like that anymore.

The conversation at Henrietta's house made me reconsider the situation. I started carrying Trent Boyett's pocket knife with me when I left the house. Didn't find myself needing it, but I felt better having it.

Xxxxx



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