In the pink house on the hill in the little town of Rínn an Scidígh in southern Ireland the air is heavy with food smells and alcohol fumes. Cherry’s gran has loaded the wooden table with every Irish holiday delicacy imaginable; meat rich in fat and cakes filled with fruit soaked in brandy, pudding and a mountain of seafood, pies, and chocolate pralines in perfectly arranged piles - Cherry smiles a little at the alliteration, changes it. Perfectly pyramidic praline piles. It is the only contribution she has been allowed to make to this table on New Year's Eve, her grandmother refusing help from family who has travelled to far to be with her, and she has taken such care to calculate the angle to make the structure a strong one.
She sits, carefully, watching the others as she has been watching them the entire holiday for she is so afraid to make mistakes with her mother's hard eyes trained upon her. It is worse than the few times they go to visit her maternal grandmother - a woman far stricter than her daughter - and Cherry does not understand why, as Granny Hayes is very kind and forgives every transgression so long as it is not made with malicious intent.
Perhaps she was not meant to understand her mother.
The others begin to take food, and Cherry accepts what is offered her so as not to seem impolite but takes only very little - she claims it is so she can taste as much as possible, and her relatives - her uncle, his and her father's cousins, and their cousins' children and spouses - laugh warmly, believing her even though she only eats a minimum of fish and vegetables while trying to keep up with the conversation.
These dinners are so different from what she is used to, with loud laughter and animated conversation and, oh, the swearing. Her uncle Declan tells her father to send the feckin' beak and is told by Padraígh, in quite a serious tone, to not act like such a feckin' langer in front of his girl, Jaysis, Dec. Cherry is not quite certain where to look and her second cousins laugh at her discomfort - not in a rude way, but it makes her feel very self-conscious and she can feel how her cheeks grow warm.
"Ah, boys, yer makin' Rachel and Beth go scarlet with the way yer talkin'. Now shut both yer traps and eat", granny Hayes says, smiling as she passes a pot of potatoes to her oldest nephew and so dinner goes on and the kitchen slowly gets warmer as alcohol flows and plates empty only to be refilled again. Even Cherry gets offered alcohol - white wine since it's a special occasion and she is, after all, fifteen now. She is careful to pretend as though she is not used to drinking, eliciting more laughter.
After a while - perhaps an hour and a half, if not more, she thinks - no one has room for any more food and the dishes are taken to be washed and Cherry, excusing herself, does as she has been doing every night and goes for a walk. Her mother disapproves but chooses to say nothing - walking the heavy food off is, after all, better than sitting still even if she is well aware that her daughter's portions are very meager.
As she exits the little house called Ard na Cuain - Above the Harbour - Cherry can feel the taste of salt in the air and walks down the path through the garden, follows a low wall covered in ivy, still green despite being only a few hours away from January, and starts walking along the harbour. Large ships are resting by each pier, waiting to be filled with cargo and people to go to England, France, Spain, America. On the other side of the dark water she can see the island of Cobh, from which Titanic once sailed, now just a cluster of lights.
She takes a turn, walks onto a small strip of beach. There is nothing but partially dried seaweed and shells of veneridae here, breaking against each other under her weight. Quietly, she listens to the waves, the sounds of her heels sinking into the layers and layers of remains of mollusks, the sounds of laughing people far away and she draws a shuddering breath into the night air.
Trembling fingers reach into her pocket and she thinks how it must be the wine making her so bold as she pull out her phone, removes a glove, opens the Facebook app and with a feeling of nausea finds Lucy's profile and looks at her list of friends.
It is easy to find the dark-skinned boy from South Park and Cherry nearly gasps when his profile is public. She looks at his friend list as well, nausea getting worse and mixing with excitement and the sound of the waves is loud loud loud and she almost cannot focus on his name.
Eric T. Cartman
The air is not enough to fill her lungs. The entire night sky lies dark and vast above her, the ocean penetrating her mind with its smell of salt, but there is not enough oxygen in the world to make her feel as though she can breathe freely. Her chest feels hard and constrained, her ribs trapped behind steel and thick fabric tied tightly around her, and she needs to grab onto the steel railing behind her, so immense is the feeling of knowing his name.
She breathes, slowly, wondering at the logic of a boy's name making her weak and strangely invigorated at once. Perhaps it is the strangeness of the place from where he hails.
Perhaps it is something far worse.
Swallowing, she touches his name, lets out the tiniest groan as also his profile is public and she almost feels like crying over the fact that she holds him in his hand despite the distance between them. Oh, how did she ever become like this? Is this the sin her mother has always warned her about, the terrible terrible desire that only bad girls feel? She must be a very bad girl, perhaps the worst of all, because the way her heart is pounding - oh, oh, oh, it is making her chest ache and she whispers his name as she scrolls down, reads the harsh words he has spilled into his status updates, thinks of the first time she saw him and wonders what sort of a boy can be so rough and bold and wonders why she is so soft and silent.
Wonders what sort of a boy can have such blue eyes and if other people get goosebumps when he stares at them, wonders if he looks at others the way he looked at her that one morning in September, wonders if his gaze ever softens, wonders why on Earth she is so wrapped up in someone whose name she only just learned. Wonders why his mere existence gnaws at her bones.
She has not been gone for long, cannot have been gone for long, and still her father's number lights up the screen as he calls her. It takes her a moment to compose herself, and her voice is shaking when she picks up but the wind from the open sea must distort her words, as he does not seem to notice.
"The same. Did you go down to the harbour?"
"Ah, good. We're goin' down to the Middle House, Dec and your mammy and I, and the others are coming once the dishes are done. They have a family thing tonight. Come meet us there, alannah."
"Yes, of course, I shall go there right away", she says, and the half-truth slips of her tongue too easily for her liking. As the call is terminated, she walks with quick steps to the end of Main Street, to the little chapel, and touches the face of the Jesus statue just outside.
Perhaps she can be forgiven. Perhaps it is already too late.
Steadying her breathing, Cherry turns around again and goes to the Middle House Pub to await the new year.
The bus rolls into South Park and it feels like every particle in Lucy’s body is telling her to run run run back to safety. She is not certain if there is actual danger here, or if it is just the old superstitions of her home town. She knows there have been things going on in this place, things supernatural and extraordinary, but does that make the sleepy mountain town as inherently evil as others would have her think?
Can people like Token and Clyde be the sort of people who'd start a war with Canada over swearing? Can their parents? She doesn’t think so, but every hair on her body is standing on end and her stomach feels as heavy as though she has swallowed lead and no matter the reason these streets have been stained red with blood more than once.
She gets off the bus, considers getting back on but she’s determined to see this through, now, and follows Clyde’s instructions to his house. It looks like any other on his street, moderately large, two floors, a free-standing garage. Remarkably unremarkable save for the fact that it is louder, brighter than the other houses and the snowy lawn is full of teenagers with cigarettes in their mouths and red cups in their hands. It’s like any other party. Lucy smiles a little, starts searching in the crowd and all the faces are just regular teens like herself, everything’s so normal and she relaxes as she sees Token whose smile is wide and welcoming, Clyde who hands her a drink and the taste of vodka and sweet strawberries fills her mouth as Craig says hey, Lucy and the blonde boy - she can never remember his name, doesn’t even remember if he’s ever said it himself - behind his shoulder nods, his left eye twitching.
It’s all so normal. Why was she afraid?
Lucky sort of just drifts, going from one room to another, trying to look like she’s searching for someone or something. It’s weird, not having the menacing shadow of her step brother looming over her, and she’s at a loss. What does she do when she doesn’t have to hide?
Kenny isn’t there to talk to her either, which he sometimes does and pretends like he was making sure she didn’t have too much fun. She likes him for that. Not so much for the innuendos, but now that nearly everyone looks away… she’d rather hear him mumble gross things about Annie Polk than walk around this guy Clyde’s house.
Maybe she should thank him for inviting her. He seems nice, in a jocky sort of way, and it’s just polite to thank your host, right? Yeah, can’t go wrong.
She moves with purpose, now, and soon realises he’s not inside so she grabs her jacket and steps out onto the porch, It’s cold, but not too cold with all the smokers huddled together and just off the driveway Clyde stands with his friends and a dark-haired girl, his arms thrown out to show the magnitude of something and Token and the girl laugh, heads thrown back, and the only person who sees Lucky is Tweek.
In a way, he reminds her of Butters - poor Butters who is even more isolated than she is and barely seeks her gaze anymore - with the way he avoids looking her in the eye and the way he shuts his eyes sometimes. But right now, standing a little behind Craig, he just blinks very hard and says hi, Lucky a little too loudly.
“Hey”, she says, holding up a hand in greeting. “Just wanted to thank you for the invite”, she says to Clyde, whose brown hair is lying unevenly all around his head.
“Yeah, sure, no problem!” he replies, his smile wide. “Fatass isn’t back yet, huh?”
“Sorry, what’re we talking about?” asks the other girl and Lucky thinks she recognises her from school but hasn’t seen her take the bus. Maybe her parents drive her. Maybe she lives close enough to take a bike. It doesn't really matter.
...Except she should know about the Nazi Menace anyway, right? So maybe she's not from South Park, which would be weird considering how the people from the other towns usually act around South Park kids.
"Lucky here is blessed with living in the same house as the most bigoted guy on Earth", Token says, "since their parents got married this summer. Right now Fatass and the other assholes are - where were they going?"
"Russia", Craig says.
The other girl looks confused, turns to Lucky. "So, what, your step brother and his parent went on holiday or...?"
"Nope", Lucky says again. "I think some cult had chosen Stan - that's a friend of his, for lack of a better term - as their spiritual leader or somethin'."
"Fucking Stan", Craig sighs. "What's the deal with religious freaks and him?"
"Shit, hold on", Clyde interjects. "Lucy - hey, it's not as bad as it sounds."
Lucky watches the other girl, who's taken a couple of steps back from the circle, her eyes wide and horror-stricken. She must've looked something like that herself once, when the strangeness of her new home revealed itself. And suddenly, looking into this girl called Lucy's face, she gets why no one in the other towns wants anything to to with anyone from South Park. They know about this place... and in a way they have no idea. They never come here.
She can't really blame them.
"I moved here from Savannah", she says then, softly. "I've never seen a place like this. It's weird, and you start expectin' things not to be normal anymore when you've been here a while, but it's not... bad. You don't have to be afraid of it."
"You know Thomas", Craig says suddenly. "He lived here. You know he's cool."
Lucy still isn't saying anything, but her shoulders are sinking a little lower, like she's relaxing.
"And that douche, the other blond one - he was even in our class for a while when we were kids. Gregory", Token adds. "He was pretty terrible when he got here and I don't think he got worse, so that's kind of a point in our favour."
"You are all so fucking weird", Lucy says, looking at them. "Back home everyone's scared of you. My friends Isaac and Cherry, they're really smart, and even they don't know how to explain this place. What's the deal with it?"
"Is there a deal?" Clyde asks, his voice so oblivious, so innocent.
"The deal is not about us", Craig tells Lucy flatly. "It's the four assholes off in Russia. They're the kind of people who cause giant robots to shoot lazers at people. I was with them once. We got to Peru."
"I went to Somalia", Clyde confesses. "It was so bad."
"I got roped into a Christian rock band", Token says.
Tweek makes a small, hurt noise and shakes his head. "I hung out with them for a while", he says, and his words are being pushed out through his teeth, like they want to slip back down his throat. "It was the worst."
"Basically, Lucy", Token explains, "most of South Park is just... normal. Those assholes, though? No one likes them. You ask anyone here about Cartman and they're gonna tell you they're glad he's not here. Same basically goes for Stan and Kyle."
"Kenny's allright though." The others look at Clyde for a second, nod in agreement.
"I can't even follow." Lucy shakes her head. "Just give me another drink. If I get fucked up and my 'rents get me home in a box, that's on you guys. It's New Year's and I just want to be at this party and not think about your weirdness for a bit."
"I could use some lack of weirdness myself", Lucky says, and Lucy grins at her.
"I like you. What's your name again?"
"Lucky." She hesitates. "Day."
"Get out of here, that is so cool!"
"Hey, Cherry?" Lucy says as they sit together on the Java Moose Café, a couple of days before school start again. They are alone for a moment, with Vivi in the bathroom, and Lucy's gaze is somewhere outside the window.
"I wanna tell you something but you can't get upset."
Cherry is quiet for a moment. She thinks of all the things that could be wrong, feels guilty for not already knowing. "I will not get upset."
Lucy smiles. "You can't promise that."
"Perhaps not. I can assure you I will do my very best to keep it to myself, though."
"I was in South Park. On New Year's."
The silence lies heavy between them, a lack of words filling up every space in the conversation and Vivi crashes into it like a car over which the driver has lost control. She is sudden, bright, full of stories about her trip to France and laughs at how both hers and Cherry's accents are a little more pronounced, and in the middle of her stream of words Rylee shows up as well and Lucy looks as though she hasn't said anything at all.
Cherry's mind is working fervently behind controlled smiles, however, and she thinks of all the time a boy's name has rested on her tongue unspoken, thinks of risks and probabilities and wonders if Lucy thinks she is judging her, condemning her while she is only wishing she had an ounce of her friend's carefree bravery.
Vivi and Rylee turn down their street, leaving Lucy and Cherry alone again and Lucy feels her stomach drop even further. She wishes she had never said anything. She's relieved she opened her mouth.
"Are you mad?" she asks.
"Oh, Lucy, no."
"I am just..." Cherry trails off, looks towards the mountains. "We have been fearful for so long. It is strange to know this... change."
"Yeah. I met a girl there I think you'd like by the way."
"I am certain she is lovely. I would like some... some time, though, before you introduce us, if that is allright."
"Of course it is. I wasn't thinking I'd do it, like, tomorrow anyway. I've got to tell the others first. Isaac's going to have my ass for going there."
Her words make Cherry smile a little, and that smile makes Lucy feel better, like she hasn't fucked up too bad. Neither of them speak of Lucas. Neither of them need to.
"I will be with you, if you wish it", Cherry says, a gentle hand taking Lucy's.
"Thanks, Cher. You're a rock."