Pairings: Stan/Kyle, Kenny/Bebe
Summary: "Stan is a protective father."
Warning: Brief violence.
Note: This is a repost from southparkkink, with some minor polishing.
Enid is 12, but she looks 15, and acts older. She sits on the stoop outside the house, concrete steps painted ice blue like the placid pond back home, where she lived until she was 8. She misses South Park sometimes, the scent of pine and gasoline, blankets of snow and hard surfaces frozen over, the ground always so slick and the air so heavy in the summer, sweltering. They go back up there for holidays, to see her grandparents and her cousins, to chat with old redneck friends. She’s older now, and her parents worry that she’s shedding this part of her identity. Enid only hopes that’s the case, because she loves the city, loves that her father’s job brought them down here, to the galleries and the bungalow they bought and the way her new friends don’t have dry Rockies accents. She even likes her baby brother, who is learning to crawl now; her other father chases after him, prying his hands from the telephone cords and the wires behind the TV set.
Sometimes their old friends come to see them, every now and then, and today Enid’s waiting for Jilly and her father to rattle up in their old truck. The last time Enid spoke to Jilly, on IM, Jilly typed back a curt, it’s just jill now, or gillian, which made Enid hurt and she doesn’t even know why. Jilly is older, 14, and having a rollicking time in high school, Enid hears from her fathers, although when Jilly took her to a party in September (“Well,” Jill had conceded, “you look older, and you’re from the city”), no one really spoke to them. Enid had to hold Jilly’s hair back while she puked, and then Enid woke up the next morning on the fold-out in her grandmother’s basement feeling absolutely wretched, to the point where she had to tell her father, Kyle, who is very strict about grades, but somehow more forgiving when it comes to everything else. He gave her two Advils, took her out for steak and eggs at Bennigan’s, and forbid her from speaking of this to anyone.
“Let’s just keep this from Daddy, okay,” he said, flipping some of his hair back while he bounced the baby. Enid wishes she had hair like that, not that frizzy, maybe, but she’d look awfully cute with red hair, she often figures, and she would get her eyes done, wanting to fit in with them. “Oh, no, that would break Daddy’s heart,” he says, and sometimes Enid hopes the people eavesdropping on their conversations think her fathers are just talking in the third person, but they never seem to talk about themselves, only each other, and Enid’s never understood why, but she doesn’t want to know anyway.
When Enid hears a car pull up she puts down her magazine and looks up, feeling hopeful, but it’s not Jilly, just her dad, Stan, home from work. He doesn’t park in the garage, that’s where the other car is, and he slams the door and jogs to Enid, bending down to kiss her on the cheek, which she hates, and she wipes it away.
“Hey honey,” he says, not offended by this, or more likely, not noticing. “How are you?” Like they didn’t talk in the morning. He pushes her aside to sit on the stoop.
“Good,” she says, picking her Cosmo back up, hoping he’ll get the idea and go inside.
“How was school?”
“How’s your science fair project coming?”
“You do anything cool today?”
He sort of laughs at this, even if he seems hurt. He brushes some of her lanky hair from her face, fingering it like it’s silk or something, which it’s not, it’s just limp black hair. “Oh, sorry,” he says, not even sarcastic about it. “You’re busy, I guess. You know Ken and Jilly’s coming over—”
“Oh.” He lets go of her hair and puts his hands in his lap, where they belong anyway. “Well, what should we make for dinner?”
“I’m not making anything for dinner, Daddy, I can’t cook, you don’t let me use the stove.”
“Then what should I make for dinner?”
She tightens her grip on her magazine. “Order a pizza?”
“What if I made a pizza?”
“I want, like, Domino’s—”
“Are all little girls this grouchy?”
“No,” she snaps, “just me, and I’m not a little girl.”
“Okay,” he says, and it sounds so sad, it just annoys Enid. “All right.” He sighs. Then he asks, “How’s your brother, and how’s Dad?”
“Oh my god, they’re inside if you want to know.”
“Ah, okay. Well, come inside with me, all right?” He tugs at her peacoat. It’s power-blue, close to the stoop but more girlish. “Aren’t you cold?”
“I just wanted some time to read, okay, the baby won’t stop crying.”
“Well, I mean, he’s teething.”
“I know!” she says, and if it sounds annoyed, it’s not because she doesn’t like Jamie, because she does, she likes him a lot, even changing his diapers, which her dads will let her do if she’s careful, and only if she washes her hands before and after.
“Are you wearing eyeliner?” her father asks.
“No!” (Although she is.) “Daddy, shut up! Leave me alone.”
“Oh, okay,” he says, although he yanks her up by her arm — not forceful, but with parental authority. “Let’s go inside.”
The door’s unlocked, because she’s been out front reading, and her dad is sitting on the coach, a beer on the coffee table, flipping through the New Yorker. “Oh, are you done out there?” he says, without looking up.
“No! Daddy made me come in.”
Now Kyle looks toward them, rolling up his magazine. He’s smirking. “Oh he did, did he?”
“It’s not cold out there!”
“Enid, yes it is,” Stan says, dropping his briefcase by the door and slipping out of his shoes. “It is like 35 degrees out.”
“I’m not cold.”
Kyle starts laughing at them.
“What?” she says. “I wasn’t cold, I was reading my magazine and I wasn’t cold!”
“Did you do your homework?”
“Why don’t you start on it?”
“Dad, that’s not fair—”
“She has all weekend to do it,” Stan says, stepping over a mess of blocks and baby toys to get to the couch, where he bends over Kyle and says, “Hey,” in a voice that’s so soft that it makes Enid feel uncomfortable.
When they kiss, she turns away, and says, “Gross,” making it pointed, holding her Cosmo up to her face.
They don’t heed her.
“How was work?” Kyle asks.
“Yeah, it was fine.”
“Let me get you a beer.”
“Kay.” Stan climbs onto the couch as Kyle vacates it, pausing to grab his own drink off the table, and he crushes it and Enid realizes it was empty this whole time. Just seeing cans of beer in the fridge reminds Enid of that party, the way everyone’s breath smelled like that, bready and soapy. She gapes at her father while he settles into the couch, stretching his legs out on the coffee table, crossing his arms.
“Where’s my baby?” he asks, loud enough for Kyle to hear him in the kitchen.
Kyle answers when he reappears. “Oh god, I just him to sleep, like, half an hour ago.” He’s juggling two cans, and he cracks one open before he hands it to Stan. “Honey, did you want something?”
“Can I have a Coke?” She’s usually only allowed soda at parties, but she drinks it when she’s out with her friends and, of course, buys it from the vending machines at school; they keep liters of it above the fridge, though, to mix with liquor, and she dares not sneak any, because they’ll know, they just will.
“Oh, sure.” And Kyle disappears again.
Enid clears her throat. “Can I go back outside now?”
“What? No, stay in here.”
“Because it’s getting dark out,” Stan says, matter-of-fact.
“There’s a porch light.”
“Just stay inside here, honey, where it’s safe, okay?”
“Nothing bad is going to happen!”
Stan rubs his eyes. “Jesus Christ, it’s the city,” like this explains everything, like Alamo Placita is crawling with rapists.
“I want to go sit outside.”
For a minute Enid wonders what would happen if she just walked outside. It is getting dark, slowly, and the house doesn’t get that much light in the daytime, never mind late afternoon. Would her father chase her out there? She falls into the club chair across from the sofa, by the fireplace, and sits there glowering at him until he cracks a smile.
“You’re lucky you’re so cute when you’re bratty,” he said. “I don’t think I ever talked back to my parents like that.”
“Want me to call Grandma and ask?”
“Sure, you should call her more often,” he says. “Be my guest.” Stan maneuvers his phone from his pocket, and puts it on the coffee table, which is just covered in junk: teething rings, hair bands, old newspapers and magazines, the book Kyle is reading at the moment (The Marriage Plot, a brick of a hardcover), two beers, and a baby monitor. “So, go ahead.”
“I’m busy.” She unfurls her magazine. “I was reading this.”
“Which part, honey, that part about gifts for him, or new products for sexy complexion?”
“Gross,” she says, when she hears him say ‘sexy.’
This is when Kyle returns with her Coke, in a highball with a straw. It’s mostly ice, but she accepts it.
“What do we say?”
“Thanks,” she grumbles.
Kyle settles into the couch. He has an awkward sort of gait, and his movements are never very fluid, but when he puts his arms around Stan and says, “Hey, I missed you,” and pushes his hair out of his eyes, he looks happy, even if he’s tired.
“I know, me too. Long day. I was thinking about pizzas.”
“Yeah.” Stan is drinking his beer now, playing with Kyle’s hair so loosely that Enid wonders if he even realizes he’s doing it. “How’s everything around here.”
“Fine. We miss Daddy.”
“Yeah, well, we went grocery shopping today, and, um, watched some Sesame Street, and listened to All Things Considered.”
“That sounds nice.”
“Yeah, it was okay. These teeth are coming through” — Kyle points to his front bottom incisors — “and I think he’s unhappy, poor baby.”
This is the same conversation they’ve had every night this week, and Enid just wants to tell them to stop saying it, and they’ll probably have it again with Kenny and Jilly, and Kenny will say “poor baby” this time, and maybe the baby will actually wake up then, and Enid wonders if they’ll let him cry over the baby monitor, or go get him and bring him to the dinner table. Her parents are in a constant state of disagreement about the baby; he is six months old and very small, was six weeks premature, and is literally a crack baby. Jamie’s mother picked their family through open adoption, and was afraid she’d be rejected on account of having used cocaine until she found out she was pregnant. He’s physically perfect, just tiny, but Enid knows her parents are worried about him having cognitive disabilities, a phrase she’d never heard until recently, when Kyle explained it over dinner, the baby squalling over the conversation.
Enid stares at them across the room, Kyle licking his thumb before he turns the page of the New Yorker, reading to Stan in a low voice. Stan is completely engrossed, only glancing across at Enid every few minutes or so, but Kyle is the one with the big grin. When Enid was younger Kyle wasn’t like this, working very long hours and commuting to the city, while Stan worked in town. They’re both lawyers, or they were both lawyers, but Stan works for a nonprofit now, representing labor interests, which he likes because he can help people largely without ever seeing them. Kyle’s specialty was mergers and acquisitions, and apparently he was good at it. Once, when Enid was in second grade, a classmate called her a JAP. By the time she got home that night, she had to ask her parents, “Are we rich?”
Apparently they were, at least for South Park, where other families shared old station wagons while her dad both had Acuras. Apparently this was something to brag about. Kyle told her that night that people with money never talked about money, so she’s never asked again, but Enid figures they’re not rich anymore, although she can’t think of anything she really wants that she doesn’t have. A bra, maybe, but she hasn’t worked up the courage to ask Kyle to buy her one yet, more for his sake than for hers. When Jamie’s mother was living with them, before she gave birth, he always crept around her laundry, acting sort of clueless about her health issues and telling Stan more often than not, “You have a sister, you deal with this shit.” Of course, Kyle was still working at that point, exhausted and short with everyone. He’s still exhausted most of the time now, but Enid’s not afraid to get in his way anymore.
“I’m going to my room” Enid announces, getting up.
They don’t look up from the magazine, but Kyle turns another page.
“Sure,” Stan mutters. “Have fun.”
It’s a tight little house, with more room for company than living, with a lot of woodwork and cream-colored walls above the baseboards. Enid likes to run her hands along the walls as she walks back to her room, which is smaller than her South Park room; Stan says it just feels that way because she’s growing up. She creeps into Jamie’s room, but the lights are off and the curtains and shut and, it’s true, he’s sleeping. She sees the monitor blinking across the room, and she wants to get closer, maybe even to wake him up so she can show him off when Jilly arrives, but Enid knows from experience that if she wakes the baby he’ll start crying, and her dads will argue about whether to let him cry; Kyle will want him to cry and Stan will not be able to resist scooping him up and feeding him.
“But you got to see him all day,” Stan will say.
And Kyle will say, “He’s not a toy, you can’t just pick him up, it took two hours getting him to sleep,” which Enid knows is true because she was here while Kyle tried everything, letting Jamie gnaw on his fingers, and then singing, which is awkward because Kyle’s voice is sort of high and flat and even when Enid was a baby she never found it very soothing.
So she sits down in her room, at her desk, and opens up her laptop. They’re smarter than she is about this, and Stan insists on limiting her internet access to a mere hour a day, and practically everything is blocked. She’s not allowed to have a Facebook account, certainly. (“When you’re in high school,” she’s been told.) She can read newspapers and look at certain sites, but anything of interest is mostly verboten. She reads fashion blogs, making copious lists with a pen and a pad about what she wants for Christmas and Hanukkah. Enid has seen porn only once, at Jilly’s house, where the internet is certainly not blocked, and she looks at whatever she pleases. Jilly showed Enid gay porn, a movie of two naked men, neither of whom looked anything like one of her fathers, doing something that Enid can only describe as sort of bouncing against each other, and kissing. She started to cry when she saw a penis. “That’s what your parents do,” Jilly said, tone making it clear that there was something not all right with that. Later, back home, Enid realized her parents couldn’t possibly do that, they look nothing like the men in that video, and if there was something wrong with that, they wouldn’t do it anyway. So she no longer really thinks about it, although she wishes she had more freedom on the internet.
The doorbell rings at 6, and Enid slams her computer shut on Jezebel and comes running into the living room, where Kenny and Jilly have arrived, pulling off their coats and handing them to Kyle, while Stan rubs Jilly’s hair, which is long and deeply blonde, not pale but honey yellow. Enid is jealous of Jilly’s hair, which is kinky like Jilly’s mother’s but she irons it out and has done since she started eighth grade last year.
“Jilly!” she says, almost jumping.
“Jill,” Jilly corrects, giving Enid a hug, like they’ve always done. It feels sisterly.
“Hey.” Kenny picks Enid up when he embraces her, then sets her back down. “How’s school, girl?”
“It’s okay,” Enid begins, wanting to complain about The Door in the Wall, on which she has to give a report in two Fridays. Before she can get any further, she feels a hand on her shoulder.
“Enid’s doing great,” Kyle says, squeezing her. “Her midterm reports were all check-pluses. Soccer season just ended, so we’re thinking about chess club.” Which is true, and even though she sees him all the time now, it always surprises Enid when Kyle knows that’s she’s up to, because he didn’t used to.
“I hate chess,” Jilly says. “It’s stupid.”
“Yeah, Dad,” Enid says, shoving Kyle off her shoulder. “It’s retarded.”
“Enid.” Stan gives her a sad look. They’re gotten really sensitive about that word, that and ‘crack baby,’ both of which Enid thinks she can recall them saying all the time, back in some nondescript past, in South Park, pre-Jamie. Or even last year, in this very house. But it doesn’t matter, because that was forever ago.
“Where’s your boy?” Kenny asks.
“I haven’t even seen him since this morning,” Stan says.
“Oh, I wanted to see him.”
“If we order a pizza now, he’ll be hungry and wake up by the time it gets here,” Kyle says.
“Are we ordering a pizza?” Kenny asks.
“Stan thought we should. Gillian, how’s pizza?”
“Fine.” Jilly crosses her arms.
“You’re getting so.” Kyle narrows her eyes at her. He’s searching for the right word. “Pretty.”
“Thanks.” Jilly’s pulling her phone out, not bothering to look at Kyle as she speaks. “I’ve always been pretty.”
“Listen,” says Kenny. “I’ve got something I want to show you guys. Wait right here.” And he runs back outside, no coat on.
“What’s he going for?” Stan asks Jilly.
“You’ll see.” Jilly licks her front teeth and looks up from her phone.
The way Jilly is looking at Stan makes Enid so sad. She suddenly feels foolish for wanting to yell at her, and foolish for feeling protective of her fathers. Stan is still in his work clothes, a beige sweater with a tie and khakis. Kyle always wore nice suits to work, but all he wears now are jeans and a T-shirt, sometimes a hooded sweatshirt; he’s got on a blue one, discolored by patches of scrubbed-out baby puke, the sleeves rolled up to his elbows. They’re constantly falling down, and he’s constantly yanking them back up.
“Fine.” She flashes Stan a smile. “How are you?”
“I’m really good.” Stan reaches around Kyle’s waist, pulling them together. “We’re really good! Um. How’s your mom?”
“She’s fine,” Jilly sings, rolling her eyes.
“Is your dad okay?” Kyle asks.
“Isn’t that what you wanna ask him?”
Enid is so confused. This is when the doorbell rings again, and Enid decides to be helpful, pulling it open. Kenny’s back, and he’s got a monster on a leash.
“Kenny! Jesus!” Kyle clutches at his chest, yanking the strings of his hoodie.
“This is Banjo.” Kenny’s beaming, and he shuts the front door with the heel of his foot. He kneels down to pet the dog, who’s growling, but he stops when Kenny’s soothes over his head and scratches his chin. Banjo is a pit bull, short-haired and cream-colored with warm spots of fleshy pink coming through, and he is a stout, meaty-looking dog. “We picked him up at the humane society last week. Um. Bebe—”
“Mom’s not thrilled,” Jilly says. She rolls her eyes again. “Can we be excused now, please?”
“What?” Kenny gets back up. “Oh, yes, sure.”
“We’ll get you for dinner,” Stan calls after them, but Jilly is pulling Enid down toward her room.
“Isn’t he cute?” Jilly babbles, slamming the door behind them. She throws herself on Enid’s bed, fingering the trim on the overstuffed euro sham. Enid grabs one of the canopy posts.
“Yeah,” Enid agrees, “he’s super cute.” They’ve never had a dog, although Stan loves them; Kyle won’t hold with one in the house, because he doesn’t want to have to walk it. They had a cat until last autumn, Beruthiel, but she was 22 and she was deaf, yowling at them because she couldn’t hear herself. Enid misses her, but it’s very likely she’s getting a kitten for Christmas, or one night of Hanukkah. Sometimes Enid wants a dog, but not like a Banjo. A little dog Enid could hold in her lap might be nice, so long as it were big enough for Jamie to ride on.
“So,” Jilly says, gesturing at Enid to get on the bed with her. “Do you have a boyfriend yet?”
Enid climbs on, moving her sham out of the way so she can fit on the bed, which should be big enough, a full-size canopy, but Jilly is lying across it diagonally, which makes sharing the mattress awkward. “No, of course not. Why, do you?”
“Not anymore.” Jilly sighs. “She sits up. I was going out with Zack McHugh for a while, but we broke up.”
“Why were we going out? Or why did we break up?”
“Oh.” Enid thinks back to that party, where no one really talked to them. “Both, I guess.”
“Well, he’s pretty cute,” Jilly says. “He’s got this spiky hair—”
“I know what Zack McHugh looks like.” It’s almost as if Jilly’s forgotten that Enid went to school with them until third grade.
“But he’s so much hotter now.”
“I was at that party, Jilly—”
“—I was there, Jill, I saw him, he’s not hot, he’s probably going bald, like his dad—”
“You don’t know anything,” Jilly snapped. “Anyway, we broke up.”
“Sorry. I mean. Why’d you break up?”
“It’s complicated. You wouldn’t understand.”
“Yes I would.”
“You’re not even in high school.”
“You’re barely in high school.”
Jilly laughs. “There’s so much you don’t understand,” she says, twisting a thin tendril of her hair. It’s wan and brittle, not meant to be so stick-straight.
“Then tell me, because if you liked him enough to go out, why’d you break up? Did you.” Enid stoops down to whisper. “Did you have sex with him?” Zack is two years above them.
“No!” Jilly doesn’t seem offended; more amused. “I’m not a slut, Enid. I would not have sex with him. Or anyone! But.” Now Jilly cups Enid’s ear. “We got to third base,” she whispers. When Jilly pulls away, she’s not blushing. She doesn’t seem remotely ashamed.
“Jilly!” The extra y just comes out.
“There’s nothing wrong with it if it feels good, my mom says.”
“Did it feel good?”
“Yes, of course.”
“So why’d you dump him?”
“I didn’t dump him.” Jilly’s eyes narrow. “He dumped me.”
“Oh.” Enid pats her on the shoulder. “I’m sorry, that’s pretty awful.”
“Do you know what the weird thing is?”
Enid shakes her head. “What?”
“When he was dumping me, he said, ‘Fuck you and your guardian angel,’ and I said, I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Jilly shrugs. “What was he talking about?”
“I don’t know. Was he high?”
“In school? At lunch? Of course not!”
“Well, I’m sorry.” Enid pats her again, which is the most she thinks she can do for poor Jilly. She wants to sympathize. But the truth is, Enid doesn’t know what third base is, really, although she suspects fourth is all the way, meaning sex, and she knows that first is kissing, with tongue. She’s not sure what comes in between those, but Jilly says it feels good. There’s a boy in Enid’s bat mitzvah class, and she’s kissed him, or he kissed her, rather, once, behind the sukkah after class a few weeks ago. Now they don’t talk. His name is Brandon and Enid wonders if he knows what third base is, and if she should ask him. She definitely should not ask her parents, not even Kyle, and she knows she can’t ask Jilly. Maybe she’ll look it up online tomorrow, when Stan might let her have two hours of internet, but she’s afraid she’ll get in trouble if it turns out to be very graphic or disgusting. Enid sighs.
Seemingly out of nowhere, Jilly asks, “Do you ever wish you had a mom?”
Enid’s a bit taken aback. “I do too have a mom,” she says, “I just don’t know her. Or where she is.” Now Enid can’t help but frown. “Or why she didn’t want me. But, yeah, I have a mom, how do you think I got here?”
“Maybe one of your dads had an ass baby?”
“A what? That isn’t funny!”
“I think it’s funny.” Jilly hides her giggles behind her sleeves.
Enid sighs, wishing for dinner to be ready sooner.
They crowd around the kitchen table; things are never formal for Kenny and Jilly, like they are when Enid’s grandparents or aunts and uncles and cousins are over. They’re all coming next week for Thanksgiving, which is a big deal, because they only get to have it every third year. When Kyle still had that job he’d bring clients or work people sometimes, and then they’d really go all out, if Enid was even invited, with heavy silver forks and light china festooned with geometric patterns, almost Greek-looking like the chapter headings in Enid’s mythology book from last year’s lit unit. But with Kenny and Jilly, and sometimes, Jilly’s mom, they just sit in the kitchen, all six of them crammed around a round butcher block table meant for four, and Jamie in his high chair. Enid wants to kiss him hello, but she’s afraid Jilly will think that’s weird.
“Where’s Banjo?” Jilly asks.
“Oh, he’s out in the yard,” says Kenny, handing her a glass of Coke. Jilly’s allowed to drink Coke, no questions asked.
“What do you want to drink?” Stan asks Enid.
“Can I have Coke, too?”
“You already had Coke today,” Kyle says from across the room, where he’s mashing old bananas with a fork.
“Jill’s drinking it.”
“We have iced tea or water,” Stan says. He’s tapping his foot, still in his work clothes, although he’s taken his sweater and tie off.
“Water. No, I want both.”
“Okay.” Stan pats her on the head as he goes to fetch it for her.
Kyle sits at the table with the bowl of mashed bananas.
“That looks awesome,” says Kenny.
“If this looks good, wait until you see the donor breast milk.” Kyle grabs a foam ball from Jamie’s grip, and the baby squeals in protest, slamming his hands on the tray of the high chair.
“I know,” Kyle says, in a very warm voice. “Shhh.”
“Ew,” says Jilly. “You use other people’s breast milk? That’s disgusting.”
“Yeah,” says Kyle, scooping some banana into a pink plastic baby spoon. “It’s not disgusting, Gillian, it’s healthy for babies. He was doing really well on the tit before Hayley left, actually” — Hayley being Jamie’s birth mother, who stayed with them for two months before hitchhiking to Arkansas, probably not to be heard from again — “so we figured we’d keep it going. He was kind of early, so it’s important. And he seems really happy on it, aren’t you, baby?” Kyle maneuvers the spoon into Jamie’s periphery, and he eyes it, quieted.
“Who has extra breast milk?” Kenny asks.
“Fuck if I know,” Kyle says. He slips the spoon into the baby’s mouth, and Jamie sighs around it. “La Leche League finds it, we just pay for it. Oh.” Kyle catches some of the banana at the edges of Jamie’s mouth. “Hey, that one was all right.” The next one inevitably ends up on Jamie’s bib.
When Stan comes to the table with Enid’s drinks, he takes over banana duty from Kyle, and Kenny starts doling out cheese and pepperoni pizza.
“I hate Domino’s,” Jilly makes a point of saying.
“Yeah,” says Enid.
Stan takes time to shoot her a look, an I know your game look. But he can’t hold it for long, because he has to mop sticky banana glop from the high chair tray. “What a good boy,” he says, taking one of Jamie’s little hands and kissing it. The baby’s hair is russet and messy, and he is loud and raucous. He is at the age where he likes breaking, hitting, flinging, and making a mess of things, particularly blocks and stacks of stuff, and particularly the stuff in Enid’s room, if she lets him crawl around in there. He’s just figured it out in the past couple of weeks, and he likes to pull at things, and then make noises at them. Enid likes him. Her dads seemed to think she wouldn’t, but she does.
After about six slices of pizza (they bought three pies total), Kenny gets up to put his plate on the counter, and then sits back down, running his fingers through his crisis of dirty blond hair. Enid can see that he’s a handsome man, although she thinks of him mostly like an uncle. “I’m really sorry, guys,” he says, and he sounds so disappointed.
“For what?” Kyle asks.
“For bringing my drama into your house.”
“You really didn’t,” says Stan.
“Dude, it’s fine.”
Jamie takes this opportunity to screech, loudly, reaching out for something that’s eluding him.
“See, whatever, man, it’s all good.” Stan gets up to pull the baby from his high chair, so he can sit on Stan’s lap and babble quietly to himself.
“Things are gonna be okay with you and Bebe, all right?” Kyle reaches for his beer, and Enid counts, in her head, how many that makes for him tonight. Three? It only took her one to start feeling weird, that one time, at that party. “You guys are gonna be fine.”
“No, we’re not. I really don’t think things are going to be fine. Jilly, tell them—”
“Yeah, she said she had a lot of stuff to think about—”
“Yes, see, she has a lot to think about—”
“I bet what she’s thinking about is how much she’d miss you if you weren’t around,” says Stan.
“No, she’s thinking about Clyde Donovan.”
“Clyde?” Kyle almost drops his beer. “What? That’s insane.”
“Or, I don’t know, Craig or somebody, those guys are always around, it’s freaking me out.”
“It’s a really small town,” Stan says. “Who’s not always around? But better them than fucking Cartman, I guess?”
“Makes me glad we got out of there alive.”
“Oh, sure, joke about it,” Kenny says.
“Dude.” Kyle rolls his eyes. “I think this shit’ll blow over. It’s just a dog.”
“It’s not just the dog, Kyle, it’s — it’s like 25 years of built-up angst. The only time we really communicate anymore is when we’re fuuuuh, you know, Christ, why is it so hard?”
“We’re going to go play with Banjo,” Jilly says standing up. She yanks on the sleeve of Enid’s shirt.
“What?” Kenny turns to his daughter. “Um, yeah, cool. You guys do that.”
“I don’t know.” Stan shifts the baby to his other knee. “It’s dark out.”
“It’s the backyard, Daddy,” Enid says. “We’ll be fine.”
“It’s like, 9,” Stan protests.
“It’s only 8,” says Jilly.
“It’s fenced in, Stan.” Kyle shrugs. “They’re not babies.”
“Fine.” Enid can see Stan’s grip tighten a bit on Jamie’s sides; Jamie is probably too busy drooling on his fingers to notice. “Just, you know, wear a coat.” He doesn’t seem happy about this, but before Enid and Jilly can go to the front closet to get their coats, he’s turned his attention back to the baby, saying, “You need a change yet, buddy?”
The girls leave the room.
Jilly finds a branch that’s fallen off the aspen over on the far side of the yard, and she waves it in Banjo’s face. He starts to bark, and jump up to her. “Here, Banjo! Here, doggy.” She tosses it away, and he speeds after it, shaking it in his jaws like prey before he devours it. But it’s just a stick, and Banjo runs to back to Jilly.
Enid’s shivering in her coat, her jeans, her big snow boots, which are ugly and remind her of home, but they were easy to slip into and, more importantly, by the back door.
Banjo and Jilly play tug-of-war, with Banjo winning for a while, and then Jilly begins to overcome. Banjo’s young, but Enid doesn’t think he’s a puppy — too large. What he is, though, is reckless, and the way he growls and snarls at Jilly as she laughs and yanks the stick from his mouth gives Enid an ominous feeling. Waving her stick in the air like a trophy, Jilly runs around the yard in circles, shrieking for no reason, jubilant but unsteady on her toes, in her boots, which have a generous heel. As if Jilly needed help looking tall and lithe; she takes after her mother, so much, although her father is tall, too, and skinny as well. They’re all tall, skinny people. Jilly is almost as tall as Kyle, and taller in her boots, which is frightening for Enid. She never wants to tower over either of her fathers.
“Here.” Jilly comes to rest by Enid’s feet, and hands her the stick. “Go wild.” Banjo is panting on the other side of the yard.
“What do I do?” Enid asks.
“Just, like.” She whistles, something else Enid can’t do. “Here, boy!” She stands up again, next to Enid. “And just kind of — wave it around.”
So Enid does, and Banjo starts rushing toward her.
“Throw the thing,” Jilly says. She sounds bored.
“What do I—” Before Enid can internalize what’s happening, she’s on the ground, her head hitting the grass with a thud. It startles her, and before she knows it, Banjo’s no longer grappling with her for the stick, but ripping into her left forearm.
“Banjo!” Jilly shouts. “Oh — oh god!” She makes a dash for the house, yelling “Help!” as she jogs.
Enid’s trying to push Banjo off of her, but he’s strong, a hulking mass that won’t budge. There’s pain, but it’s surreal, like it’s someone else’s pain, pain she’s reading about and helpless to visualize. She’s struggling, and then she stops. She sees her parents at the door to the house, and Kenny behind them, looking ill.
“Banjo! No, what are you doing?” Enid hears Jilly scream.
Then Enid hears a shot, which pains her ears more than the teeth in her arm, and the dog collapses on top of her.
“Jesus Christ, Jesus Christ!” That’s Kyle shouting, and Enid can see that there are tears in his eyes, although she’s too dazed to say anything about them. He stumbles over to her, the frost crunching on the hard ground under his bare feet, and he’s rocking her against his chest now, having pushed the dog off, and he struggles and chokes on his breaths.
Across the yard her daddy is trembling, the shotgun still even in his hands, and Kenny takes it front him, saying, “What the fuck, Stan, Jesus!”
“Sorry,” Stan says drily, backing toward the house. “That thing—”
“Where the fuck did you get a gun, man?”
“Ah, I’ve had it for a while, you know, the city—”
“You need to put this away,” Kenny says. “I’m really sorry, fuck, what just happened?”
“Yeah, okay,” Stan says, slipping into the house with the shotgun. “I’ll just go—”
“Christ,” Kenny says, following. “I’m really sorry, fuck, what the fuck—”
“My dog, my dog,” Jilly is crying, and she runs over, where Banjo is bleeding, and so is Enid, but Banjo most of all. “Banjo, he shot him.”
“Ugh, calm down,” Kyle says, and even through his tears he sounds disgusted. “Go call fucking 9-1-1.”
“Banjo, my dog—”
“If it wasn’t Enid it probably would’ve been you, Gillian, so go call fucking 9-1-1!”
Jilly pushes herself up off the ground and runs into the house, crying all the while.
“Dad,” Enid says, “what?”
“It’s okay,” Kyle says, cradling her. “I’m going to pick you up and we’re going to get some pressure on your arm, okay? And go to the ER, yes.”
Inside, Kyle wraps her wound in towels, pulling them tightly with one of his old work ties. By now, Enid’s started hurting, and crying. “Shhh, it’s okay, it’s okay,” Kyle says, and he brings her back to the living room couch, where Kenny and Stan are sitting, and they vacate it so she can lie down. Kyle sits with her, stroking her face. “You’ll be all right,” he repeats, though he seems frazzled.
Enid’s other father is holding the baby, standing by the fireplace, a look of consternation plastered on his face.
“I’m really sorry,” Kenny repeats. “Oh my god. Are you guys gonna sue me?”
Stan shoots Kenny the first nasty look Enid thinks she’s ever seen exchanged between them, but maybe that’s just the pain clouding her vision.
“Sue you?” Stan almost laughs, bitterly. “What good is that going to do if my daughter loses her hand?”
“Well, um — you’re lawyers.”
“Kenny,” Kyle says. “It’s not your fault.”
“I bought it — him — into your house.”
“Just — Jesus Christ.” Stan clutches the baby tighter. “We can’t — I can’t think about it right now.”
“Enid—” Kenny begins, but that is when the ambulance arrives.
It’s Enid’s first trip to the emergency room, her first taste of triage. Stan stays back with Jamie, who needs a good-night bottle and a song before he can fall properly asleep. Kyle pulled a parka over his hoodie before running out of the house, telling the EMTs, “I’m her father,” which they don’t doubt — it’s charitable of them, considering they don’t look much alike, seeing as he’s got lots of copper hair falling into his eyes, and she’s a mature-looking Taiwanese adolescent. He’s shivering while she’s stitched up, glancing nervously at his Blackberry, maybe sending stealth texts to Stan. Yes, that must be what he’s doing.
When they get home, it’s quite late, 2 a.m., and Enid doesn’t know where that time went. It was 8 when she and Jilly begged to go outside. She stumbles a bit over the threshold at the front door; the pain meds they gave her, Vicodin, seem to be making he dizzy, or maybe that’s the mingled shock, terror, and exhaustion. She almost skips on her Cosmo, lying on the ground near the door.
“Hey, honey, shhh.” Kyle grabs her shoulder, and nods at Kenny, snoring on their couch. He leads her not back to her room, but upstairs to his, where Stan is curled in bed with the baby monitor.
“We’re back,” Kyle says, helping Enid into the bed. “Stanley, hey.”
When Stan stirs, he sits up, and rubs his eyes. “Oh fuck, how was it?”
“Well, the co-pay wasn’t too bad,” Kyle mumbles. He’s trying to kick off his shoes. He might not have slept for a whole day now, being up with Jamie for most of it.
“Jilly’s in your bed, honey, sorry,” Stan says, pulling the covers over Enid. “How many stiches?”
“Uh, um.” She yawns. “Like, 19.”
“Oh, fuck.” Stan lies back down, stroking her hair with his hand.
Kyle nestles in on Enid’s other side.
“I’m proud of you,” Stan says, pecking Enid on her forehead.
“My brave girl.”
“I’m so proud,” Stan reiterates.
“I’m proud of you,” Kyle says, reaching over Enid to grab Stan’s hand. “I mean.” His voice gets very low: “That shotgun.”
“My hero.” Kyle brings the covers up over his shoulder. “You saved my baby’s life. How am I going to repay you?”
Enid doesn’t like his tone, but she’s too drained to call it gross.
“Um.” Stan sits up, just for a moment, to turn off his bedside lamp, the only thing illuminating the room. “Can’t we talk about it tomorrow?”
“Of course,” says Kyle. “Night.”
“Night, Kyle. Enid. Love you guys.”
“I love you,” Kyle says. “More than anything, Stanley. Except for you, Enid, and actually, your brother, so—”
“Good night, Dad,” Enid says. She yawns. “Daddy.”
Enid falls asleep between them.