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Nov. 8th, 2014 | 12:12 am

Title: An Unwillingness
Rating: PG13
Summary: On a joint trip to Sarasota over fall break, Stan experiences a series of firsts.
Author's note: This is a birthday gift for the beautiful and talented negniahn, who is a very dear friend of mine. She drew a gorgeous illustration for this fic, which is a prequel to my other FTM Kyle fics. I wish I had more time in the day to devote to Nhaingen, admiring her art, and writing her stories, because she deserves love and attention on her birthday, and every day of the year. Thank you, Negs, just in general. V.v.V

There comes a time at the start of June, when eighth grade is winding down for Stan, that his mother sits down to a take-out roast chicken dinner and idly announces to her family that over Columbus Day weekend, they are going on vacation. Stan’s father, who presumably knows this already, grunts collusion into his beer can; Stan’s sister, who rarely bothers to look up from her phone, narrows her eyes at their mother and asks, “Where?”

“To Florida,” says Sharon Marsh. “To Sarasota, specifically.”

“Oh.” Shelly will be at college then, and she shrugs and asks, “Am I going?”

“I don’t know,” says their mother, “do you want to?”

“I don’t know anything about the trip.”

“Well, Sheila invited us.” Immediately, Stan’s attention is piqued. Sheila is his best friend’s mother.

“Is Kyle going?” Stan asks. He feels his heart begin to beat; he can hear it.

“Well, yes. Their family is going, and our family is going, and the Stotches are going—”

Shelly rolls her eyes. “Oh.” She picks up her phone again. There is no one her age in this group.

It’s not the first time this had happened. In fourth grade they all went on a disastrous trip to Aspen; when Stan was in sixth grade, it was a rodeo weekend in Taos. In contrast to the drama that has circled around that time in Aspen, Taos left Stan and Kyle bored shitless, suffering through educational walking tours and the visitors’ center on the reservation.

As they do every night, Stan and Kyle talk on the phone before bed. They live next door to one another, which is fortuitous; they are so seamlessly in each other’s lives that Stan sometimes forgets to be conscious of the fact that Kyle does not actually live with him.

“It’s my aunt’s place,” Kyle explains, “and she offered it to my mom that weekend.”

“So how come we’re going?” Stan asks, meaning his family.

“My mom’s bragging, you know, showing off. It’s supposed to be a nice place? I’ve never been there.” Kyle pauses. “It’s three bedrooms.”


“So I think we’re all going to have to share the living room.”

“Oh. With Butters?”

“And my brother.”

“Is, um — is Cartman invited?”

“No,” said Kyle, “why would he be invited?”

“Well, he came to Taos.”

“Well, I don’t think my parents are interested in impressing his mother. Otherwise she’d be invited, and him too. It’s not like we want him to come—” Meaning Stan and Kyle specifically. It’s true that Liane is not fully friends with the other eighth-grade mothers; she mostly keeps to herself and Stan never hears his parents discussing her the same way they idly chat about members of two-parent families. For that matter, Stan doesn’t bother asking if Kenny is invited. Stan might like him there, in theory, but his family couldn’t afford to send him, anyway. “I mean, is your sister coming?”

“I don’t know, she’ll be at college. Why?”

“I just feel weird sharing a room with a girl. What if she sees me?”

There’s nothing Shelly might see that she doesn’t have herself, though. Kyle has been feeling self-conscious in the extreme, carrying himself with a fraught, closed-off posture as he begins to develop little tits. Stan has glimpsed them only briefly, the result of his overfamiliarity with Kyle: in the locker room before gym, when changing before a sleepover. It's problematic for Stan, because he would like to get a closer look at Kyle's tits, and yet, Kyle clearly does not want them looked at. Stan has the pallid, smooth chest of a little boy; Kyle's is like that of a young lady. He has copper armpit hair that curls thickly out from under his T-shirts when he runs around in gym class, and his figure is beginning to emerge.

"You could change in the bathroom," Stan suggests. "I promise not to look."

"I don't want to change in the bathroom," says Kyle, "that's so lame. I want hormones."

"I'm sorry."

"It's not your fault!"

"I know, but I'm still sorry." Stan is living in a perpetual state of apology. He wishes he could get his head on straight. When he wakes up with a mess between his legs these days, it's usually after dreaming about Kyle.

They go sit at Stark's Pond the following afternoon with Popsicles purchased from a man who sells them out of a cooler in front of the storage place near the movie theater. Kyle's mouth is ringed with orange, and Stan decides not to mention that it makes Kyle look, from some angles, like he's wearing lipstick. "I don't really want to go to Florida," Kyle says. He's wearing a gray sweatshirt that makes his waist look thick and his tits look nonexistent. "It'll be so hot there."

“But it might be beautiful,” Stan says. “They have such weird birds in Florida.”

“Well, what’s beautiful about that?” Kyle asks.

Stan just shrugs. He really doesn’t know, but the promise of exotic and startling birds excites him. Stan admires the way Kyle’s hair is a mess on his head, like the nest of some kind of rare and hideous thing that only lives in coastal marshes. Stan studies Kyle, blunt orange popsicle in his mouth and tries hard not to think about how Kyle’s lips must taste like the popsicle, a bit tart and sickeningly sweet. “Don’t tell me what I can find beautiful.”

Kyle sighs. “You’re such an idiot, Stan.” But he says it without malice, just resignation. Perhaps some affection? Stan edges closer on their bench. Kyle looks over at him, beads of orange spit at the corners of Kyle’s mouth. “What?”

“Oh. Um. Nothing!” Stan, trembling, eases up, returning to the spot where he was sitting before, a few inches over.


Where Stan does not like airplanes — he doesn’t hate them, just doesn’t like them; really it’s best to say he doesn’t mind them — Kyle is reluctant to get on one. A week before the flight he brings Stan a stack of computer print-outs, webpages about the full-body scanners that can apparently get a picture of what’s under a person’s clothes.

“Did you know about this?” Kyle demands. “Is this even legal?”

Of course Stan had known about it, but until this moment it had never bothered him.

“How can they do this?” Kyle demands. “Just — look at what someone looks like naked? In the name of security? How is that security? It’s an invasion of privacy! I don’t feel very fucking secure!”

“Well, yeah, but. I dunno. Can’t you ask them to do something else? Like, can’t you opt out?”

“Yes! But then they pat you down! Stan, this is crazy — I don’t want some TSA asshole seeing or touching my body.”

This is the kind of thing Stan hates, because Kyle is right, he’s so right, and yet — Stan can’t do anything about it. “I’m really sorry,” he says, handing the stack of papers back to Kyle. He pats the couch next to him, hoping Kyle gets the message and sits down. “You’re right, dude, that sucks.” He waits a moment, and then repeats, “I’m really sorry.”

Sliding onto the couch, Kyle buries his head in his hands. “What am I going to do?”

It’s a sad moment for Stan because he is genuinely without any idea. Schemes are racing through his head, but they overwhelm him. He sits on the couch with Kyle, both of them silent, until Kyle has dropped the papers on the floor and folded his knees up under him.

“What do you think is on TV?” Kyle asks.

“I don’t know,” Stan says, “let’s check.” He then gets the remote and thanklessly spends his afternoon flicking through the channels, knowing full-well that there’s nothing good on, and it’s a Wednesday after school, so why would there be?

“I wish we weren’t going,” Kyle says. He pulls his legs up underneath him on the couch and watches Stan flip from station to station, arms crossed.

What Stan wouldn’t give to see the look of worry fall from Kyle’s face. He carries it to school with him, throughout the day, and then back home on the bus at the end of the day. He calls Stan to ask what Stan is packing: “Are you bringing a swimsuit?”

“Well, yes, I mean — it’s Florida, right?” All Stan’s mother has told him is that there is a “beautiful” aquarium with manatees, on the last day they will be in Tampa at Busch Gardens and, yes, they are going to the beach. The phone hooked under his ear, Stan creeps over to the computer room and gets online to look up the weather. “Well,” he says to Kyle, it’s going to be very hot, like in the high 80s and low 90s. So you should probably bring sunscreen.”

“My mom is bringing that.”

“Well, you should bring shorts and T-shirts, and probably a bathing suit. I mean, right?”

“Um.” Kyle makes the longest possible pause, lasting for several seconds. “Yeah.”

Trying to remember if he saw Kyle in a bathing suit at all over the past summer, Stan draws a blank. Now that they are back to school, the summer is a fading memory that recedes into the distant past, something that happened to another Stan who was younger and dumber and not distracted by the pitfalls of high school education. He sighs into the phone, walking back to his room, where the slight sour smell of his laundry, which he left in a wet clump in the laundry machine for too long, lingers around his bed. Cramming shirts into his suitcase, he says, “You should bring a sweater, because it might cool off at night.” Kyle owns many of these, big baggy ones, two sizes larger than he needs.

“Yeah, that makes sense. Thanks, Mom.”

“Dude, I’m not your mom!”

“Well, you’re more helpful than she’s been.”

“Oh. Well, I’m glad!’ Stan say this even though he doubts he’s been much help — his packing advice to Kyle is pretty basic — and something about the idea of being Kyle’s mother makes Stan’s stomach turn, just a little.

On the plane they find themselves sitting in a three-person row, with Butters on the aisle. “Boy,” he says, "I sure do love watching the plane take off!”

They are sitting at the gate, waiting for Zone 3 to finish boarding. Kyle, who’s pressing his face upon the window, unlatches his seatbelt, saying, “Here, Butters, switch with me.”

“You don’t have to!”

“That’s okay,” Kyle insists, “I really would prefer the aisle. I’ll probably have to use the bathroom.” He’s been complaining about having to go since they left South Park, but wouldn’t use one in the airport. Stan had gone first through security, standing at the scanner exit until a TSA agent made him clear the area. So Stan didn’t see Kyle go through the scanner, but by the time they were finally dawdling in the terminal he was already refusing to pee.

“Well, I’m going,” Stan had insisted.

“You do that!” Kyle had snatched a copy of People from the newsstand rack and refused to budge. If Stan is being honest he hadn’t felt fully comfortable in the men’s room himself, given that on either side of his urinal some adult man was aiming his half-hard dick. Still, Stan had just stood there feeling marginally annoyed that Kyle hadn’t come in and used a stall.

Now Butters gets up, blocking everyone who wants to get to their seat at the back of the plane, and before Stan knows if he should get up, too, Kyle is climbing over Stan’s lap.


“Stan, relax,” his mother chides from the row across.

Unbuckling his seatbelt, Stan is about to get up when Butters says, “I’ll be quick!” and does an awkward shimmy over Stan’s knees. “It sure was sweet of you to switch with me,” he says to Kyle.

“Don’t mention it.” Kyle sits down and buckles in again, crossing his arms.

“Do you think there’s a crossword in the magazine?” Stan asks.

“I don’t know,” says Kyle, “why don’t you check?”

“I love reading SkyMall!” Butters rifles through the seatback pocket until he finds it, tearing it open. “A kitty litter box that’s also a fake plant? Ha! Boy, what will they think of next?”

“How long is this flight?” Kyle asks.

“Too long,” says Stan; once beverage service begins he notices that his parents buy bloody marys, though it is not even noon yet.

"It's a brunch drink," Stan's mother insists, when she spots him staring at her. "It's noon in Florida."

"We're still over Nebraska!"

"Oh, I'm sorry," says Kyle, "did you want to have a conversation over me? Because if so we could just switch."

"No!" says Stan, "it's fine. Sorry."

After the drink cart passes Kyle gets up and tiptoes down the aisle to the lavatory. Stan thinks about a select porno he's seen, where one guy does just that and his seatmate follows him. What stood out most, for Stan, about this film was the fact that the "airplane" "bathroom" was pretty clearly just the powder room in some gross McMansion. Anyway, Stan stays buckled in next to Butters, who's listening to music and humming to himself; across the aisle, his mother is reading the latest issue of Time and his father is drooling onto her shoulder. Stan has the urge to follow Kyle to the bathroom, maybe to make a point about Kyle refusing to go with him earlier, but Stan doesn't have to go and actually now has an erection, thinking about this. He balls up his hoodie and arranges and rearranges it until he's satisfied that it's undetectable.

"Yeah," says Butters, "I get cold on planes, too."

"You could, um, adjust the air nozzle above your seat."

"I guess," says Butters, and he reaches up for it, his T-shirt lifting to reveal his pinkish, smooth skin. Stan feels guilty for staring at it just when Kyle returns.

"How was the bathroom?" Stan asks.

"It was fine." Kyle sits, buckles again, reaches under his seat and pulls out an eye mask.

"Are you seriously going to wear that?" Stan asks.

"I think it's a great idea!"

"Shut up, Butters."

Kyle says, "I didn't get a lot of sleep last night."

"Why not?"

"I don't know, Stan, maybe I was apprehensive about this whole thing!"

"Flying can be hard but you have a great destination to look forward to."

"Oh my god," says Kyle, "is he for real?"

"I am for real." Butters puts his headphones back on, turning to press his nose against the window.

"I'm going to sleep," says Kyle, "if I'm lucky. Wake me up when we land." Within five minutes he is lightly snoring; another 10 and he's slumped against Stan's shoulder, his pile of hair bristling against Stan's jaw. Kyle smells so familiar, it lulls Stan into a light sleep himself. He is woken when the pilot announces their initial descent over the intercom; Stan leans over to glance out the window, or at least the sliver he can make out from around the periphery of Butters' staticky hair. Beneath them is a cloudness view of the greenest, most irridescent waters Stan has ever glimpsed. He thinks of the murky pond they swam in over the summer back home, and his heart skips a beat. He feels a breath on his neck and turns to see Kyle waking, pulling the sleep mask from his eyes, and asking, "What?"

"We're landing."


"Well, soon," Stan says, "like maybe in half an hour."

"How the fuck do you know?"

"I heard the pilot say so."

Kyle shoves the mask back into his bag and gets up to pee again, despite the fact that the seatbelt sign is illuminated.

Upon landing and opening their phones, all three discover they have received a group text message, from Eric Cartman: hope you fags are having fun without me

Stan deletes this immediately. Five seconds later, his phone buzzes and he sees that Kyle has texted back, we are, thanks

"Dude," Stan says, "why?"

"I don't know, Stan, why anything?" Kyle seems to be in a better mood when they get off the plane, though his family immediately yanks them away from Stan so they can all pile into their own rental car.

"So, we'll see you at the condo," says Sheila, waving her hands awkwardly because she is in charge here. "Just follow Tamiami to where it hooks around downtown, and then make a right onto Guanabana and follow it to Pelican Key. It's the first complex after the light. It's called Conch Vista. Unit 395. Okay?"

Having rented a car, a compact Ford that smells plasticky and cheap, Stan’s parents shove him into the backseat next to his own suitcase; the trunk will not accommodate all of their bags. They argue about the radio, on which the choices appear to be between country music and insane Christian talk. The Marshes are Catholic in a soft way, and his parents make fun of the born-again stuff that seems to pop up on every other station. The highway doubles as a main thoroughfare, and Stan rolls down the window, fierce breeze carrying the day’s heat into the car. They pass numerous relics of the old Florida, as his mom calls the neon motel signs and palm-festooned roadside attractions, but there are strip malls dotting this concrete jungle, too. Then they round the bend where the harbor comes into view, and Stan catches a sliver of the sapphire bay he last spotted from the plane window. That oceanic scent fills the call, and his father whines, “It smells like dead fish in here, Stan, close the window.” He does, but the sun withstands the challenge of the window that separates them now, the heat intense on his face. Stan tolerates it because it feels real, especially in contrast to the dry, stale air being forced into the car through its vents.

“Wait a minute,” Stan’s father says, pulling off into a nondescript parking lot astride a Winn-Dixie. “Let’s pick up some beer.”

“I’ll sit in the car,” Stan insists.

“Stanley, no, people die that way. It’s too hot in here!” His mother drags him inside and they loiter at the deli counter while Randy pillages the liquor aisle. It’s only a half-hour diversion, but Stan resents how inevitably long this side trip feels.

When they cross over the gulfs between the mainland and the keys, Stan spies a world of island life, great banyan trees and fronds and vines, grassy dunes off the side of the highway from which old men sit on the hoods of their station wagons, fishing. On the guardrails perch great white birds with long beaks, possibly storks. Stan has heard they have ospreys hear but he doesn’t quite know what an osprey is; he wants to call every bird an osprey because it feels appropriate. He texts Kyle, Have you spotted any ospreys? Kyle texts back immediately: I don’t know what that is.

“It’s a kind of bird,” Stan informs him, when they are standing outside of the condo. It’s in a complex on the water, off the busiest road on the key.

‘Well?” Kyle seems impatient. “What kind of bird?”

“I spotted a dead fish by the side of the road!” Butters shouts.

“Don’t mind Butters,” says his father, “he gets very excitable in new situations.”

“We like to think of him as being sort of like a new puppy you’ve just brought home,” adds Mrs. Stotch.

“It’s okay,” Stan’s father says, “we’ll just ignore him if he gets annoying.”

“That’s our strategy,” says Mr. Stotch.

“Oh my god,” says Stan. “Butters, your parents are horrible.”

The condo is mostly white with a very subtle peach melba aesthetic, complemented by touches of mint green and little bits of gold metallic here and there. “Oh my god,” Kyle exclaims, “this is so fucking 80s.”

“Kyle!” his mother responds, “it was very generous of your aunt to lend her apartment to us!”

“Surely it was but do you even see the décor?” He picks up a giant enameled conch on the cocktail table. “Are you looking at this?”

There is a fat, frail puffer fish on the kitchen counter. The longer Stan stares at it, the sadder it makes him, the fish's face so simultaneously dead and lifelike. While his parents settle into their bedroom and Kyle's mother chats idly on the phone to her sister, Stan goes outside with Kyle and Butters and searches for lizards in the parking lot. They are everywhere, no bigger than a few inches in length. Some are miniscule and fleet, others are slightly larger and less swift, but none of them are able to be caught. Stan just wants one good picture with his phone, but all he manages are blurry shots of Butters' hands and Kyle's care-worn features. He looks so much older than 14, his brow permanently furrowed. For a moment Stan longs to kiss him where his skin creases at the very height of his nose, but then their parents come downstairs and announce that everyone is headed to lunch. Kyle's brother whines that he is tired and wants a nap, but he apparently doesn't get that option.

They head to a famous Cuban restaurant for lunch, driving back onto the mainland and then over the bay to another key, St. Quentin's. The entire party sits on the patio, a group of 10 pasty visitors from Colorado. Stan and Kyle order iced teas; Ike has a Coke and Butters asks for chocolate milk. Despite the fans turning overhead and the relative shade on the patio, it's quite hot out, and the idea of milk makes Stan's stomach churn. On the other end of the table, the adults are laughing over Cuba libres.

From their seats Stan and Kyle people-watch, marveling at how "Florida" everyone is. They are around the corner from a Lilly Pulitzer, and a number of women in many shapes and sizes shuffle by with bleached hair and palm-print dresses, their faces shielded by a visor. Stan sees more fake white leather than he knows what to do with.

"There's something manufactured about these people," Kyle says, "like, who is actually from Florida? Do people even grow up here?"

"Well, yeah," says Stan, "I mean, everyone's from someplace."

"But it's a total vacationland. I'm sure people don't live here year-round?"

"What a silly idea," says Butters. "There sure are a lot of old people. They must live here year-round, because the winter is bad for their arthritis."

"Then they go back north for the summer," says Kyle.

Stan leans forward, grabbing for a hunk of the cheap, crumby bread. "Not everyone can afford that, dude."

"Yeah, well. Do you guys remember my fucking cousin?"

“Well, yeah," says Stan, since it would be hard to forget him.

"He's got millions of dollars and they buy a house here of all places? How lame is that?"

“I don’t know, I think there’s something beautiful about this place. It’s no worse than South Park, anyway.”

“Well, who said anything about South Park being beautiful?” Kyle asks. “Honestly, you’re not listening. Look at these people.”

“I think South Park is beautiful,” Butters says dreamily, around the straw protruding from his chocolate milk. “At least, when the snow falls, and everything is all sparkly — I bet nothing in Florida sparkles like that!”

“The ocean does,” says Stan, “I mean, the bay. Have you seen it?”

“Yes, we saw it, we drove over it to get here.” Kyle reaches his knife across the table into the little dish of soft butter on the table. Scooping a portion onto his plate, he scowls and brushes away the bread crumbs littering his lap. “I’m just saying, Stan, look at these fucking people.”

“I’m not going to bother looking at the people! This is Florida, dude, there’s fucking manatees.”

“Manatees my ass.”

“I would never tease you about your ass,” says Stan.

Butters nearly chokes on his milk, laughing, “Good one!”

“Ugh.” Kyle pretends to concentrate on his phone until their salads arrive.

After lunch they go to the aquarium; Stan read in his mother’s guidebook that it’s very good, so he is shocked at how run-down it looks, and yet how expensive it is to get in. The volunteers are enthusiastic, though, and right inside the entrance is a tank with a little turtle, and around them are lively jewel boxes of fish, mostly native species. There are invasive lionfish, too, and Stan is captivated by the silky undulations of their striped fins. This rippling movement is enough to entice Kyle over, and he marvels, “Jean-Luc Picard has a fish like this.”

“He does, yeah.”

“His name is Livingston.”

“How do you know that?” Stan asks, though he’s heard that somewhere, too.

“Please, Stan, everyone knows that. It’s common knowledge.”

“I guess so.”

When Butters overhears them, he calls them nerds. He also goofily taps on all the tanks, trying to get the fish to notice him.

“Aw, don’t do that,” says Stan. “Come on, dude, don’t bother the fish.”

“They’re so sleepy, though. I paid good money to see these fish, and I don’t want to be ignored.”

This reminds Stan of Cartman at the sea park in Denver at age 9, torturing and splashing the rays. He doesn’t say anything, though, partly out of fear of invoking Cartman’s name. He has not texted back since they landed, not even in response to Kyle. If Stan wants the magic of Florida to do anything for them, he would like it to seal them into a bubble impenetrable by the least enjoyable aspects of their life back home. Perhaps that’s why he delights in sitting in the sunny spot by the manatee tank, while Kyle and Butters squat in the shade, trying to get pictures with their phones.

“Sailors thought they were mermaids,” explains a docent, while the scarred manatee lumbers through the habitat after scraps of lettuce that float upon the surface of the water, far above the observation window. “They sure don’t look like beautiful women, though, so we think maybe it was weeks at sea that made men think this way. All that sea air can make anything look good. If you boys know what I mean. You look at a big gray manatee hide and start thinking, sure! Why not?”

Kyle gets up. “Okay. I’m over this. Thanks, though.”

“Anytime,” says the docent.

When Stan doesn’t get up to follow, Kyle clears his throat and says, “Stan, come on.”

“I’m not done looking at the manatees, though.”

“Fine! Just look at the stupid manatees forever.”

“Maybe he thinks they’re beautiful women!”

“Shut up, Butters,” says Stan, “of course I don’t.”

“I’m sure Stan can tell the difference between beautiful fish-women and lumpy manatees,” says Kyle. “I mean, I guess, whatever. I’m going to get an ice cream in the café.” The café is back across the street, in the aquarium’s other building. Stan does not go after them immediately, choosing instead to go upstairs and see the dolphins.  There is only one, it turns out, and she is a spotted dolphin. The trainer is stroking her back and discussing how much fish a spotted dolphin eats in captivity, and why it’s important to support the work the facility is doing in taking in and sheltering injured marine mammals. Since the dolphin isn’t doing much Stan tears himself away, pushing a donation of one five-dollar bill through a collection box before wandering back across the street. Kyle and Butters are finishing their ice cream outside.

It turns out that the adults have settled into the café, drinking mid-afternoon mini-bottles of wine and talking about parent shit. When Stan approaches his mother, she says, “Stanley, why don’t you go see the bird sanctuary across the parking lot?”

It’s frustrating for Stan, doing this with Butters, because he just laughs at all the birds, even the ospreys, which turn out to be swift little birds of prey, hawklike, nothing like what Stan had imagined. He feels stupid, even as Butters giggles, “They’re funny guys! They don’t move like people!”

“We’re like an hour in and I hate this vacation already,” says Kyle. He is looking sunburned, and Stan mentions that his cheeks are red.

“Seriously?” Kyle shrieks. “Jesus Christ!” He runs into the bathroom and pokes at his pink nose, scowling, while Stan thinks to himself that their morning flight seems to have happened in the distant past now. “Well, great. Everyone loves a sunburned redhead.”

Stan wants to be sympathetic, and he opens his mouth to say something kind. Unfortunately, when the words come out they are: “You know, dude, you’re being incredibly negative on this trip.”

“I didn’t want to come on this trip! I hate Florida.”

“Have you ever even been to Florida before this?”

“Well, no. But I hate the sun, I hate nature, I hate this self-indulgent beach-people shit.  I’m from the mountains!”

“I know, okay, I am too. But we’re going to the beach, tomorrow, okay? Can you look forward to that?”

“Are you kidding? Fuck you, Stan. All I’m thinking about is what it will actually feel like to get sand in my vagina.”

The words hang there for a moment; they are actually a shock to Stan. “I’m really sorry,” he finally manages to say.

“Ugh, don’t be. It’s not your fault. You didn’t make me come on this trip, my stupid mom did. Cartman’s right, she is a bitch, or at least she’s being a total bitch to me lately.”

“Well, then I’m not sorry in, like, a personal sense, but I am sorry to hear that.”

“Forget it, Stan. Let’s just go get sunburned some more and look at goofy birds, why not?”

“Well, I like goofy birds,” Stan agrees, and they find themselves on a half-shaded stone bench that is engraved with the words Jenny’s Bird-Mitzvah. Apparently it took place in 1992. Stan would like to point this out, since it reminds him of Kyle’s bar mitzvah last year, but Kyle just sulks.

Butters carries over a dead lizard in his hands. “I think one of the birds got him,” he says, sadly. “Poor little guy.”

“That’s so depressing,” Kyle says, recoiling form the sight of a lizard.

“Maybe it wasn’t a bird,” Stan suggests. “Maybe it was another lizard.”

“Do lizards eat each other?” Butters asks. He is cradling the dead lizard in his cupped hands, its tail snapped off.

“I’d like to think they don’t,” says Kyle. “How depressing!”

They turn the lizard in at the front desk, to a shocked-looking volunteer.

“Rest in peace,” Butters says, solemn.

“This place is cursed.” Kyle kicks at the pebbles that line the pathway back to the lot, where they’ll meet their parents to go back to the condo. Now it’s nearly 5 but the sun hasn’t cooled down at all.

They spend the rest of the afternoon decompressing; even Stan is too tired to go out and explore, as he had assumed they would after the sun began to set. Instead, he watches it sink below the gulf horizon from the living room window of Kyle’s aunt’s apartment, their parents partly obscuring the view as they laugh through their cocktails. Through the open, screened windows, Stan hears his father below, “Thank god we stocked up, huh?” They all clink glasses. Beside Stan on the couch Kyle is reading their English homework, Homer’s Odyssey, and trying to talk to Stan about the boorish suitors who want to goad Penelope into marriage. Stan hates Homer, definitely didn’t enjoy the Iliad when they read it last year, and is not looking forward to The Aeneid, which they’ll read first next year in world literature. He looks down at Kyle and sees the last glint of the setting sun bounce off of Kyle’s shiny cheeks where his mother has spread a patronizing sheen of aloe. Stan much prefers the texts they’ve read in conjunction with the Greek stuff, and he thinks of Louise Gluck’s poem about Circe, or perhaps not about Circe, the one that begins, “I never turned anyone into a pig.” Looking at Kyle, he thinks of the line: “I’m sick of your world that lets the outside disguise the inside.” He tries to think of where the slash goes, where the line breaks up, but it makes more sense to him as a piece of prose that’s merely hiding inside the form of a poem.

Piling back into the cars, they head to an oyster bar for dinner. The food is horrible, but there are mai tais on special. They sit on a deck astride a creek and Stan’s father shows him how to eat an oyster. “You make sure the flesh is loosened from the shell and tip it back, see? First put some hot sauce on it, then you just tip it back.” He does it with ease, some oyster liquor clinging to his mustache when he swallows it down. “See, now you try.”

“I don’t know,” Stan says. He is sad for the faceless little creatures, piled up on their shell-backs in a greasy tray of melting ice.

“Aw, come on. Here, see, I’ll do it again.” Randy repeats the gesture, tossing the shell away, into the creek, when he’s done with it. “Real men know how to eat oysters, Stanley, come on. Just try it.”

He doesn’t really want to, but sometimes letting his dad watch him comply is the best way for Stan to get the old man off his back. He’s loathe to admit that the oyster is delicious, briny and puckering at the same time, like a little bit of the ocean. He’s about to admit that, sure, perhaps Randy is correct. Then his father says, “They’re aphrodisiacs. Women can’t resist ’em. Go ahead, go offer one to any girl.”

“What? Jesus, no, I’m not going to bring an oyster to some random girl! What the hell!”

“I just think you could learn a few things on this trip, Stan.”

“Well, I learned I hate oysters,” he says, tossing the empty shell in his hand back onto the tray of half-price Wellfleets. He goes back and sits down beside Kyle, who offers him some fried shrimp. They’re cold, but Stan doesn’t mind, letting the concealed grease sink into the pads of his fingers as he eats one.

“These are okay,” Kyle says, sipping from a Shirley Temple.

“Have you ever had an oyster?” Stan asks.

“No, why?”

“My dad just forced me to eat one.”

“Are they good?” Kyle asks.

“I don’t know,” Stan confesses. “It was good in theory, but then he just manages to ruin so many things by virtue of being, you know, my dad.”

“Well, you can’t pick your parents.” Kyle shrugs, offering Stan a sip of his drink. “What are we doing for your birthday next week?”

After swallowing his sip of watery Shirley Temple, Stan says, “Let’s get through this first, okay?”

“Okay,” Kyle agrees. “I can only deal with one thing at a time anyway.”

continued in part 2.
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