When he looks at you, you can’t help but stare.
And when you look back, he can’t help but blush.
Your heart is going a thousand miles a minute, and this is so sick, so stupid, because you know that’s not him, it isn’t, but they just look too much alike.
Way too much.
Your name is Dave Strider, and you really hate yourself right now.
One day, you opened up your eyes and stared at the ceiling.
One day, just like that, you started remembering things. Things that you weren’t supposed to remember because they were about things that you didn’t do, a life you didn’t live, people you never met. They weren’t you own memories, and at the same time, they were just as well.
It was the 13 of April, and you still lived in that hellhole people dared to call an orphanage. You got up, the images of weird memories still fresh and vivid in your head, flashing and poking and dancing before your eyes, as if they had only happened yesterday. When you stared at your reflection in the mirror, crimson red eyes and silver white hair stared back at you, and for some reason, you felt naked. Where were your glasses anyway? No, wait, you only wore your glasses when it’s too bright, why would you miss them like that. And yet…
You rushed to your nightstand, opened the drawer and placed the shitty sunglasses onto your face in a hurry.
Buy they still didn’t felt right.
Frustrated and confused as hell, you turned around, stared at your notebook, thought of logging in to chat with your best friend –
But your best friend is sleeping in the bunk bed right next to you, jackass, what the fuck are you even talking about.
Your head hurts. Your head hurts and it hurts and it hurts so much to think, so you just walk over to the notebook and login to pesterchum, and you don’t think. Letting your subconscious do the trick, you find yourself typing in a chumhandle you’ve never yet heard of before you even realize what exactly you are doing.
It’s not five minutes later, the owner of that ridiculous screen name accepts your request and a purple text is pestering you.
TG: whoa shit
TG: thats fucking creepy
TG: how the fuck do you know my name
TT: Well, I should be asking you just the same.
TT: How do you know my chumhandle?
TG: good point
TG: and i dont know
TG: i dont know what came over me i just typed the name in
TG: thought it meant something
TT: Well, it does mean something, Dave.
TG: also how do you know i guessed your chumhandle
TG: someone couldve given it to me
TG: thats a much more likely explanation dont you think
TT: It is, and at the same time, it isn’t.
TT: At least not to you and me.
TT: I was actually expecting you, Dave.
TT: I’ve been expecting you for the past three years.
TT: The fact that you took this long to contact me means that my theory was correct, and you are now, in fact, younger than me, much like your brother was younger than my mother.
TT: But I’m glad you finally found me. I was beginning to worry that I was all alone in this whole madness.
TG: what the fuck are you talking about
TT: Let me put this in a way you might understand.
TT: You’re thirteen years old now, aren’t you.
TT: Actually, to be more precise, you turned thirteen in the end of last year, on December 3rd.
TT: Hint: that was not a question.
TG: how do you know that
TT: That’s what I thought so.
“Bro, this is Jake English. Jake, this is my older brother, Dave.”
Jake, you remind yourself, Jake, is rubbing the palm of his hands on his shorts, which are way too short for his long tanned legs. He keeps staring at you with those unbelievably green eyes from behind the thick frames of his glasses, forehead already gleaming with sweat of nervousness; you hold back a chuckle, trying your best to keep the poker face on. You don’t want to make the kid even more nervous than he already is.
He scrubs his palms on the fabric a couple of times more for good measure and offers his hand to you, trying to look as serious as possible in his current situation.
“Jake English, sir. I am delighted to meet you, and if I may say, I adore your movies. Watched every single one of them.”
You shake his hand, and the boy’s grip is firm and confident against your larger palm. You give him a heart-warming grin, and his face blushes with what is obviously a fanboy glee that you are more than very familiar with.
“It’s very nice to meet you too, Jake. Please, make yourself at home.”
And then he smiles at you, a happy, genuine bucktoothed smile, and despite the hair that is combed back the wrong way and the weird accent that seems to be something like British and Australian jumbled together, when this boy standing in front of you smiles like that,
you are one hundred percent sure that he is John in the flesh and bone.
Your heart aches, worse than you’re willing to admit, and you release the boy’s hand, failing to keep the fake grin up for much longer. You worry that your poker face isn’t as convincing as before, but it’s the best you can muster at the moment.
“Dirk, I have stuff to do. Be a good host and keep your guest entertained, will ya?” you tell your older brother – no, no, fuck, your younger brother, god damn it – and turn around mid-sentence, shoving your hands into your pants pockets as you walk away. And even though you’re facing the opposite way already, you can see Dirk nodding and doing just the same.
“Will do, bro.”
When you wake up the next day, you remember the names.
John Egbert and Jade Harley.
But mostly John Egbert.
The mysterious girl from pesterchum – Rose Lalonde, a now 16 years old girl that lives in New York (shit how do you remember these things anyway) – didn’t want to tell you a few details from your past lives because she was one hundred percent sure they would come to you in time; unfortunately, you’re not a very patient person, and you wish she could just cut the crap and go straight to the point.
Immediately, you jump out of the bed, already wide awake, and rush to the computer. The sun isn’t even up yet and Rose is already online; but you don’t want to talk to herjust yet. You need to have a private chat with your friend Google for a few seconds.
After what seems like a hundred searches later, you finally give up.
There’s nothing anywhere on the internet slightly related to either one of these names.
TG: what does that means anyway
TG: you think they didnt exist or something
TT: No, I don’t think that’s the case.
TT: See, Jade’s grandfather was her direct guardian before he died, and John had his father.
TT: I can only imagine that John is now his father’s father and that Jade might be... well, dead, much like her grandfather was when we started playing the game.
TT: My thoughts exactly.
TG: but i remember john telling me about his dad
TG: that must mean hes alive
TG: so why cant i find anything about him on the internet
TT: Another theory of mine is that their surnames have changed when we came back.
TT: I am not quite sure yet why our own names remained the same, if that is really the case, but perhaps that’s something we’ll find out only later.
TG: okay so
TG: what do we do now
TT: Well, we can either keep searching for them or wait for them to find us, much like you found me; the latter sounds like the most reasonable option. We have already tried our best seeking them out with the info we have.
TT: But if my theory is correct, John must be around the same age as I am, and he should’ve contacted me or you already.
TG: so you think he doesnt remember shit like we do
TT: That, or...
TT: Or something else.
TG: something else like what
TT: I don’t know.
You know she’s hiding something fierce from you there. You just know it, but you decide not to push the subject for longer, because even if she had thought of why John hadn’t shown up already, it’s probably another theory that still can't be confirmed, so it’s probably not worth mentioning for now.
And when you think of John, of all the times you two talked and how he’s not here anymore, and apparently he’ll never be, your chest aches.
It aches worse than it ever did before.
You go to bed early that day, and even though you only dream about burning hot gears and red molting lava, you wake up in a cold sweat and an accelerated heartbeat, thinking about cloudy blue skies and soft windy breezes.
Jake is a lot like Jade, you realize.
It makes sense, since he’s her clone, not John’s, and from the pesterlogs you sometimes read in your brother’s computer, it’s obvious that Jane is a lot like John in many ways.
Jake is like a badass version of your friend. He’s also very formal and polite for most of the time, and he and Dirk spend the days working with all kinds of robots, poking and prodding and testing and fixing everything they can get their hands on. Jake asks many things to Dirk, and Dirk responds with all the technical words he can fit in his vocabulary, and even though sometimes it takes Jake a few seconds to process the sentence he just heard, he usually nods and smiles, eyes shining with excitement, and asks a second question, just to make sure he really got it.
He’s a real good kid.
Sometimes, though, you get caught staring, standing beneath the door frame. Usually, when they notice you there, Dirk simply shooes you away, but when he’s taking one of his epic long showers and Jake is left alone to try and make the gears and the systems work perfectly on his own, he allows you to stare. He knows you’re there, and you know he knows because he keeps pulling a tissue from his back pocket and wiping his forehead with it; you notice he only starts doing that after he’s aware of your presence. Sometimes, he even dares looking back for a second before trying to focus back on his work, and it’s so adorable, and his expression then reminds you so much of John, John, god fucking dammit, John, that it makes you want to puke.
When you’re too disgusted with yourself to keep doing this sick, twisted game of stalking the wrong person, you turn away to have a smoke in the rooftop, trying to remember and to forget all about John at the same time.
It’s nearly impossible, but you try anyway.
You find Dirk when you’re seventeen.
You’re already living on your own, and the salary you get from working full time at McDonalds is nearly impossible to sustain you, let alone you plus a hungry and moody baby who just won’t. Stop. Crying.
TG: rose rose rose rose rose rose
TT: What is it, Dave?
TT: I’m a little busy at the moment, so please make it quick.
TG: i need help
TG: help me
TT: Well, you see, Dave, it so happens that I was five minutes away from asking you just the same thing.
TT: But since you beat me to it, I guess there’s no need postponing the request any further.
TT: I require assistance.
TT: Send help. Please.
You sigh. Rose was kind of your last hope, but if she’s having half the trouble you’re having when it comes to taking care of a baby, you figure she won’t be of much help.
The two of you are struggling, you know that – but you are not going to give up. Ever.
Rose knows her mom must’ve gone through the same stuff she’s going through right now, the same way you’re pretty sure your brother must’ve sacrificed everything in order to take good care of you, being able to support you two, and…
Puppet porn was probably a really good alternate source of income. Even better than McDonalds, you think.
You stare at the computer and the unironically shitty camera Rose sent you for your birthday last year, and you cringe.
It’s time to make movies.
You and Jake talk, sometimes.
Usually you talk during dinner, when the three of you get together on the kitchen table and share a pretty modest meal that you cooked yourself, like some cute housewife or something. You tell Dirk you do stuff like that ironically, but it’s really because, deep down, you actually like it, especially when Jake compliments your food until Dirk smacks him in the back of his head and yells okay okay we fucking get it already stop kissing my brother’s ass. You snort and Jake blushes, and it’s because of enthusiastic people like Jake that you still cook and why you still make those shitty movies.
Some other times you allow yourself to chill on the couch after foresaid dinner, and Jake asks you if it’s okay to join you before sitting as far away from you as possible, as if to not make you uncomfortable or some shit like that, and slowly but surely, starts something that might resemble a small chat. You two talk about everything: your movies, other movies that aren’t half as bad as yours are, other movies that actually manage being worse than your own movies, the island where Jake lives and all the adventures he and the robot your brother created for him have. You two laugh and talk with ease, and eventually Dirk joins you two, and suddenly there’s popcorn and the three of you stay up until sunrise without even noticing it.
These moments of peace make you genuinely smile.
That is, until you look at him, and the memories come back all at once, like a fierce blow to your chest.
You excuse yourself and walk away, grabbing the cigarettes on your way out.
They barely have the same effect on you anymore.
A little after Dirk had turned thirteen, you found out he had internet friends during breakfast. He mentioned being friends with the girl that would take over the Betty Crocker corp one day, and he wondered out loud if she was telling the truth.
You simply stared at him, wide eyed, and remembered about John’s aversion for anything Betty Crocker related. The missing pieces of the puzzle started coming together in your head.
Dirk crooked an eyebrow from behind his pointy shades.
“Her last name is Crocker?”
“Well, that’s what she says.” He shrugged, and filled his mouth with even more cereal. “She could be making this all up, but it doesn’t seem like she is, you know? I mean, why would you lie about being the future owner of a company ran by a fucking demon alien trying to control our minds, that’s really fucking stupid. And she said --”
And then Dirk went on an on about the girl, but you really weren’t listening anymore.
Later that day, you hacked Dirk’s computer while he was at school and read all of his pesterchum chatlogs. You felt pretty bad doing so, really really guilty actually, because fuck, only paranoid parents and stupid assholes invade people’s privacy like that, but you brushed off that feeling of guilt when you finally found what you were looking for: a photo Jane sent him of her and her father standing side by side.
Your blood turned cold.
Another Google search, the last one, you remember telling yourself, and instead of “John Egbert”, you typed in “John Crocker”, thinking about how John would kill you if you ever even tried to call him that.
The search results came back, and this time, a bucktoothed young lad smiled up at you in a black and white picture, standing next to a fat, tall woman that was probably Betty Crocker herself. The thick framed glasses, the light colored eyes, the goofy grin. The young man in that photo, staring back at you, was a vintage version of your John, and you covered up your mouth with your hand in awe.
The Wikipedia entry on Betty Crocker had a hyperlink to her son’s profile, and you clicked, hands shaking with nervousness. It was a brief entry, and a quick glance at it told you that he had been a somehow famous comedian – you couldn’t be less surprised even if you wanted to. His page photo was also black and white, where he’s apparently doing a stand up show, sitting on the edge of a wooden stool on top of a bar stage, holding a microphone and smiling – of fucking course, when was that man not smiling –, a big, thick mustache curling upwards to the shape of his lips. You would’ve spent more time laughing at how dorky he looked with that puff of black hair on his face, but your eyes wandered down to the bit of info you dreaded to find and the suspicion that you dared to confirm.
Born April 13, 1910
Died April 13, 1996 (aged 86)
You closed your eyes and rested your head over the table, fighting back the tears.
You will not cry.
“I already told you to stop calling me David. Just call me Dave, seriously. No ‘sir’ either, makes me feel like a goddamn senior, and I am not that old.”
“And stop apologizing, too.”
You turn around, and Jake is about to babble out another apology when you stare at him from behind your shades; he promptly closes his mouth and hugs himself, staring at the floor.
Jake is under your doorframe, waiting, and you’re sitting on your computer, finishing drawing another page of one of your comics. You don’t move, waiting for him to do something. When he looks up, about a minute later, you can see he’s blushing. Hard.
“If, if you are busy, I could come back…”
“Don’t.” He flinches at that, even though your voice was pretty low, and you sigh. “I’m not busy, kid. Get in. And close the door behind you.”
He does as you say, silently, and sits on the edge of your bed, still staring at his own feet. You save your work and put the computer on sleep mode, turning around in your chair and leaning back to take a better look at him.
“I heard you two arguing.” You say, trying to start a conversation, and Jake winces slightly. “Is everything alright?”
“Yes, everything’s fine.” He says, waving his head, and sighing slowly. “We discussed over silliness. We’re both thick heads. I’ll make up with him in the morning, but he doesn’t want me to sleep in his room tonight.” Finally, he looks up at you from behind his glasses, awkward as ever. “Could you, uh… please borrow me a blanket and a pillow so I could crash on your couch? He locked his bedroom door with my stuff inside.”
You raise a single brow. “You’ll wake up with your back sore as hell, kid.”
He shrugs, and looks away from you yet again.
“I guess. But it’s better than the floor.”
“Well, you could crash here.”
The words come out of your mouth before you can stop them. Jake shudders, his breathing quickens, and he looks at you, directly at you now, wide eyed and mouth agape. It's too late to take it back now.
“I offered you half of my king size bed, dude. I really don’t use it anyway, it’s way too fucking big.” And then you get up and move towards the drawers, pulling out the nicest blanket you have and throwing it at his head. “Here. You can take that side. I’m a heavy sleeper, so don’t worry about waking me up. If you’re not comfortable with this you can just snatch a pillow and take that blanket with you to the living room. Suit yourself.”
And with your back still turned to him, you start taking off your shirt, trying to ignore the way your heart is beating faster, how your hands seem to be shaking. Your poker face remains impeccable though. With the shirt long gone, your start unbuttoning your pants; that is, until you feel a cold, smooth touch to the middle of your back. You stop halfway.
“Why are you doing this.”
You pause and wait, but you don’t answer. He clenches the fist on your back, and you can feel his warm breath coming closer and closer to your skin.
“…you know Dirk likes me.”
“And apparently, so do you.”
When you turn around, he doesn’t even have to look up to stare deep into your eyes. He’s very tall, almost your own height, will probably get bigger in a couple of years or so. It’s the first time since you two first met that you’re able to stand up before him, and now you really take your time to notice everything about him in the dim light of your room. The tanned skin beneath the warm blush on his cheeks, his dark green eyes, his long neck and thin lips… Jake doesn’t look scared nor intimidated before you. He actually looks almost a little offended and hot at the same time.
You think of John.
“You look a lot like Dirk when he’s not busy trying to drown his scalp in hair gel.” He whispers, looking down and taking a step closer, the tip of your toes touching.
“So people have told me.”
He reaches up, places a loose fist upon your left biceps, and when his fingers uncurl, he softly brushes his skin over your white pale hair, amazed and intrigued all the same.
You still think of John.
He bows his head down further, places a hand on your waist, rests his open palm on your shoulder.
“Kid, this is not a good idea.”
“With all due respect, mister Strider, you were the one who placed the offer upon the table.”
And for a second, you want to say that he’s wrong, that you really intended to just sleep, that your intention when offering the empty half of your bed was to honestly just sleep, but you know he’s not stupid. He’s not that young and innocent. He knows from the way you looked at him all week that there was something else going on. Something bigger.
“I’m way too old for you.”
“You’re only thirty-three.” He scoffs, and looks up. “And I’m already sixteen. I am not a ‘kid’ anymore, and you know that.”
“I like someone else.”
You blurt out the words before you change your mind, and you’re rather surprised at how you didn’t stutter or hesitate. He remains unmoved though, still staring at you with those beautifully serious eyes. It’s the first time you say it out loud, that you actually admit it to yourself thatyes, you love that boy called John, a boy you never even knew, how does that even makes sense, but it does, it does and you just know it does and that’s good enough for you. You also know this argument is your last hope of getting Jake to back off, to stop you from hurting him badly, so you keep going, trying to back him out of this insanity.
“I like someone else, and damn you, Jake, you remind me too much of him.”
He gives you a sad, sad, sad half smile, one that pretty much cracks your already broken heart all over, and leans forward, placing a peck on your lips. Slowly, it becomes an affectionate french kiss, one so soft and sweet you almost forgot how it felt to be touched that way. He pulls back, ever so slowly, only to dip onto your neck and place multiple wet kisses on the stiff muscle.
“It appears that we are on the same boat, mate.”
TG: you knew didnt you
TT: Excuse me?
TG: that he was dead
TG: you knew
TG: you just didnt want to tell me because you thought id be crushed
TT: I’m sorry for not saying anything, Dave.
TG: dont be
TG: its alright i guess
TG: i mean he died when i was only a kid
TG: i didnt even knew who he was then
TG: but its hard you know
TG: knowing hes not here anymore
TG: how is it possible to miss a guy that i never even knew
TG: thats ridiculous
TG: i feel like a goddamn idiot
TT: Don’t be so hard on yourself, Dave.
TT: I know how you feel.
TG: no you dont
TG: i mean yeah he was your friend too and youre probably just as bummed but
TG: fuck rose
TG: i think i loved him
TT: I know.
When you enter him, you feel him shudder against your hip and his hands grabs the bed sheets with a visible desperation. You tighten the grip to his thighs, and thrust. The sound that comes out of his throat can only be described as a keen.
You thrust again, this time harder, and he gasps, biting his lip to keep from moaning too loud; Dirk would never forgive him – hell, he’d never forgive you – if he ever found out what was going on in the room next to his. You wonder why Jake won’t just confess to your brother if that’s how he really feels about him, but you decide not to complain. Maybe a part of this has to do with his fanboy obsession with your fame and movies, which wouldn’t make Jake the first one that you got in bed because of your status.
Another thrust, and before he can even breathe in again, you thrust again, deeper, harder than before, then again, and again, until everything’s a blur; before you know what you're doing, you crawl up onto the bed, kneel between his hips, still moving, still swaying, never stopping, and Jake is screaming onto the mattress, pulling and twisting the fabric between his fingers, arching his back just so, trying desperately to move, even if just a little, to match your own movements, but you keep him firm in place with your hands.
Slowly, you bring one hand down, the one slicked with lube, and you start pumping him in the rhythm, prying his weak and shaky hand away. Your other one you bring up to his chest to pull him closer to you until both are kneeled upright on the bed, torsos lined up, and Jake is leaning back against you, hands now clutching onto your thighs and butt cheeks for support, and you can hear him moan every time he exhales.
You bite his earlobe, and you’re getting close, so close, you can tell you’re almost there…
You thrust again, and Jake cries out, not loud enough for Dirk to hear you, but enough to make him worry.
You really don’t really give a fuck anymore.
Jake comes only five seconds later with your wet lips still over his ear, still whispering that name, and when you feel him clench and throw the back of his head against your shoulder, you shut your eyes so tightly you can see white spots dancing in front of your eyes.
TG: you think he remembered anything
TG: or was it just us who were cursed with this motherfucking bullshit
TT: I really don’t know, Dave.
TT: I am not a seer anymore.
When Jake comes back from your suite bathroom, he crawls up to his side of the bed and adjust himself under the blankets, completely naked, not even bothering to reprehend you from smoking right next to him. Not even bothering to ask you who the fuck is John.
And you had prepared yourself to give him a really good answer, too.
Ten minutes later, he’s already asleep.
You take a long drag from your cigarette, and the usual calming effects are not kicking in. You still feel nervous, you’re still shaking, you’re still replaying the whole thing in your head like a bad porno or something, and you can’t help but think that this was probably the best sex you ever had in your life.
And it was with the wrong person.
You don’t even exhale the smoke in your lungs before taking another drag, and you find yourself unable to take it all in, because your throat is closing up and your nose is not working properly anymore.
With the cigarette still between your fingers, you hide your eyes in your palm along with the tears that are slowly blurring your vision.
There’s only two things going through your head, along with the infinite replay of the sex and the faded with time flashbacks of thirteen years old John and the black-and-white photos of him you saw on the internet.
What have you done
I miss you.