Your name is John Egbert and you hate going to school. In the past year alone, you’ve needed your glasses repaired four times and replaced twice. Your chest and stomach are covered in bruises that you haven’t told anyone about. Sometimes you limp, other times you can’t breathe. Once or twice you’ve come home with a black eye.
And you absolutely hate it.
But you’re John Egbert. You don’t tell your father about your weekly beatings. You don’t tell your best bro, Dave, about how your chest aches sometimes. You don’t tell a single one of your teachers about how scared you are.
This is your problem and you don’t want anyone to worry.
You stay quiet. Your tormentors have been nice and have respected your wishes of being beaten below the neck. Every once in a while they forget, but you always forgive them. It was a simple mistake that a simple lie to your dad can fix.
When you come home after a beating, you always go straight to the bathroom, leaving your backpack and shoes by the door. You always shower after a beating. Once in the bathroom, you hurry and strip down to nothing before the water’s even up to temperature.
It’s become a habit to look at the bruises in the mirror before you shower. It’s kind of haunting, really. New bruises mingle with the old ones. Some are dark purple, others are a sickly yellow. It’s this moment when you’re standing in the middle of the bathroom, in front of the mirror, naked, that you let all of your walls come tumbling down. It’s this moment when you allow yourself to feel the pain of your bumps and bruises. This moment where you let the tears welling up in your eyes fall. Nervously, always nervously, you run your shaking hands over your chest, gently pressing the bruises. You try to understand why someone would hurt you. What have you done to deserve this? Why you?
Every time you ask yourself this, you come up with the same answer: they don’t care.
Some days this answer works. Some days it makes you cry harder.
You always run the water too hot after a beating; you’re not sure why. Today is no different. It’s already fogging up the mirror. You slide your glasses off your face and set them on the counter, wiping away stray tears. Sticking your hand into the water, it burns, but you don’t pull your hand away. You just let the hot water run over it as you use your other hand to adjust the temperature. It still burns, just not as much.
Slowly slipping into the shower, you shut your eyes. The water, while burning, feels good on your bruises and aches. You relax and run your head under the water. Soon you’re dumping strawberry scented shampoo on your hair and massaging it into a strawberry scented lather.
Your shower lasts for almost an hour, but it’s still too short when you step out and you want to just get back in and stand there under the water, maybe let a few more tears fall. You sigh softly as you wrap the white fluffy towel around yourself. Your skin is pinker than usual because of the hot water.
You look at yourself in the mirror, except it’s all fogged up, just like your glasses on the counter. You use the towel to wipe them off before putting them on. That’s better. You feel better with the cold metal against your face.
The humid bathroom threatens to fog up your glasses again. Quickly, you scurry to your room and finish drying yourself off. You change into a t-shirt and jeans. Things are starting to go back to normal. You throw the used towel on top of your magic chest, you can hang it up later, and sit at your computer.
Running your left hand through your hair, you log onto pesterchum with your right. Immediately, Dave starts pestering you.
-- turntechGodhead [TG] began pestering ectoBiologist [EB] at 16:03--
TG: sup egbert
TG: you took your sweet time getting online
EB: sorry! i was in the shower.
TG: shit dude
TG: for like an hour
TG: i think john egberts best bro is no longer me
TG: but his right hand
EB: ew! no!
EB: i was just thinking about stuff.
TG: what kind of stuff would keep you in the shower for an hour
EB: i was thinking of pranks!
EB: don’t act like you don’t take you time in the shower.
TG: i do it to get back at bro
TG: i use all the hot water
TG: that shit pisses bro off
TG: but still
TG: youve got to have something heavy on your mind to spend an hour in the shower
TG: spill dude
TG: im all ears
You hesitate. Maybe you should tell him? No, you can’t. This is Dave. No matter what he says about being cool and ironic, he does care about you and you know it. Telling him will probably piss him off or make him feel guilty or even make him fly all the way up to Washington to chew you out. But the biggest reason you don’t want to tell him is because he’ll make you tell someone.
EB: it’s nothing! just pranks.
TG: pinky promise
TG: because thats ironic as fuck
EB: yeah. pinky promise.
TG: bros being a whiny bitch
TG: talk to you later man
--turntechGodhead [TG] ceased pestering ectoBiologist [EB] at 16:15--
You sigh. You hated lying to him, he was your best friend. He may be in Texas and you two may have never met in person, but he was still the only one you were confident telling anything too. But this was different. This burden was too big of a thing to tell him. Sharing it would be selfish. This was your burden; not his, not your dad’s, nobody else’s.
You groan and slump back in your chair. You don’t like going at it alone, but you have to. You don’t like the pain, but you can’t stop it. You don’t like the fear, but you’re powerless. You don’t like any of this.
But what you hate more than all of that combined, is the possibility of someone losing sleep over you. You aren’t special. You are John Egbert and sometimes you feel like you’re less than a person.
You shut your eyes. This isn’t fair. You shouldn’t have to live through these godforsaken beatings and in this godforsaken fear that one day someone will find out what you’ve been hiding. It sucked. All of it. Sometimes you want to scream and shout and break down sobbing, but you’re stronger than that. You’re not going to cry outside of the confines of the bathroom.
To get your mind off your aches and bruises, you get up to pick up after yourself. Might as well do something productive, you figure as you go and grab the towel and head to the bathroom. By now, the mirror is clear and the room is cold. You look at yourself in the mirror and you see someone else entirely staring back. They’re sad, their eyes scream it at you. You smile just to see if you can, but it’s obviously forced. Sighing, you carefully hang up the towel and kick your dirty clothes into a pile. You scoop them up into your arms and take them to the laundry room, dumping them there. Your father isn’t home yet. Maybe he’ll be home in another an hour or two.
You go and grab your backpack from where you tossed it when you got home, heading to the kitchen table where you sit yourself down and start your homework. See? You’re a good son and student. You ignore all the pain you’re in and work through your Algebra 2 homework. Then your Chemistry and English.
This works for a while, distracting yourself with busy work. You barely notice the pain at all. Once your homework is done though, you feel your aches and pains resurfacing. You don’t want to think about that. You need to find something else to do.
And you’re in the kitchen, putting away clean dishes, loading dirty ones into the dishwasher. You start hand washing bowls and pans that can’t get put into the dishwasher. You’re wiping down the counters and the stove, getting dried cake bits off. How did your dad even manage to get some on the fridge? Sheesh…
It’s mindless work that keeps your hands busy and that’s all you really needed at the moment.
There are parents out there who would love to have a son like you. A sophomore in high school doing his homework like he’s supposed to and the dishes because he’s bored? When can he start?
You chuckle softly at the thought. You were pretty much the perfect son. You were a good student who didn’t get in trouble. You cleaned up after yourself. You bathed regularly. You always had a smile on your face. You were polite. You were cheerful. You greeted everyone with a smile. You were a gentleman.
Too bad the guys at school didn’t see that.
You sigh as you finish the dishes. There’s not much you can do now. Gazing around the clean kitchen, a box of Betty Crocker cake mix catches your eye. This must be the cake your dad will be baking when he gets home. For a moment, you feel sorry for yourself. You’re going to have to fight tooth and nail to get away with not eating the damn stuff. An idea hits you, you’ve got time, why not make a cake from scratch?
You scrap this idea. Cakes are your dad’s thing and you are tired of them. Plus, you kind of just want to go and lay on your bed and just think. You find yourself yawning and soon you’re shoving your homework in your backpack.
You take the steps two at a time. You’re trying to hurry up and plop down on your bed. You’re planning on drowning yourself in nothing. No pain, no emotions, nothing. Or at least that’s the plan.
Laying yourself down on your bed, you put your ear-buds in your ears. You hit shuffle on your iPod and smile when soft classical music starts playing. You really enjoy music with no words when you relax. It’s soothing to not have to fret over the lyrics and what’s being said. To just fall into the sounds of violins and pianos and…
You’re not sure when you fell asleep, but you slept soundly, dreamlessly; which is good because recently you’ve been having nightmares. Nightmares where you’re trapped, surrounded by faceless men who just beat you relentlessly until you’re crying and soon you’re puking blood and it’s just… It’s terrible.
You figure out that you were awoken by the sound of the front door closing. Not being slammed, just being shut with enough force to make it stay.
“How Do I Live Without You” has started playing on your iPod. You’re not sure which of the many versions this one is, but do you really care? Nope. It’s still the same song. You sing it softly under your breath as you sit up, grabbing the iPod and slipping it into your pocket. You go over to your computer, checking pester chum. It looks like Dave’s back on.
—turntechGodhead [TG] began pestering ectoBiologist [EB] at 17:04—
TG: dave fucking strider is back
TG: fucking hell john
TG: you are a dick
—turntechGodhead [TG] ceased pestering ectoBiologist [EB] at 17:20—
—turntechGodhead [TG] began pestering ectoBiologist [EB] at 18:24—
TG: you better be awake
TG: john we need to talk
TG: wait capslock makes it more intimidating
EB: calm down!
EB: i’m here.
EB: i just did my homework and took a nap.
EB: what’s up?
TG: bros fucking nuts ok
TG: wait you took a nap
TG: what the fuck dude
TG: anyway more important things
TG: bro wants to go to some smuppet con in seattle
TG: and he wont let me stay home
TG: do you see where this is going
TG: a smuppet convention
TG: bro will be in his element
EB: oh my gosh! that sounds terrible!
TG: this is where you come in
TG: youve got the potential to be superman
TG: can i crash at your place while bros at his sick con
TG: sick as in puking
TG: smuppets are gross
EB: yeah, of course!
EB: but if you’re here on any weekdays, i’ve got school.
TG: no problem
TG: its a week long con
TG: maybe ill follow you around school
TG: or just hit on all the hot girls
TG: either way itll be pretty sweet to see you
TG: i may even hug you
EB: woah, a hug from dave strider?
EB: that day will go down in history.
TG: hell yeah it will
TG: theyll have to declare it a national holiday
TG: son why arent you going to school today
TG: dad dont you know that dave strider the eternal badass hugged someone on this day in the past
EB: when will you be coming?
TG: this weekend
TG: that cool
EB: should be, i’ll ask my dad at dinner.
EB: oh, speak of the devil, he’s calling me down for dinner.
EB: talk to you later!
—ectoBiologist [EB] ceased pestering turntechGodhead [TG] at 18:44—
You’re grinning. You’ve forgotten about all your beatings and now all you can think of is that your best friend was going to be coming for a whole week!
You go downstairs and find your dad setting the table. You help and get two glasses of water, setting them down next to the two clean, white plates already there.
“You seem excited,” your father notices. “Care to share?”
You watch him serve you then himself dinner. Peas, chicken, and mashed potatoes. You chew a mouthful of peas thoughtfully, trying to figure out exactly how to word what you want to say. What if he shoots you down? What if you’ll never get to ever see Dave in person? You feel your heart twinge in sadness at that thought.
“Well, you know my friend Dave, online?” You pause and wait for his nod that tells you to keep going. “Well, I guess his bro’s got somewhere to go up in Seattle, but Dave doesn’t want to go with him and well… Could he stay here for the week? He‘d be coming up this weekend…”
“A week? Hm…” your dad says softly as he cuts his chicken into bite sized pieces. You’re so anxious, waiting for his answer. You’re impatient. You want to the answer now! Right now! You end up fidgeting and picking at your food. Why can’t he just hurry up and decide?
After what feels like ages, he says, “Okay.”
You’re ecstatic and when you tell Dave it’s a go, he’s just as excited even though he’s too cool to show it. You end up talking to him on webcam that night, both of you too excited to sleep. Your father peers into the room and you introduce him to the image of Dave on your computer. He manages to get Dave’s bro’s number and soon you overhear him talking on the phone in the other room. Both you and Dave are giddy with excitement. You can tell because a smile is playing at his lips.
And when Dave is walking towards you, ironic as fuck Dora suitcase being dragged along behind him, you’re speechless. It’s really him. Dave. Holy fucking shit.
Nothing matters except that your best friend is walking towards you and you have a black eye. Hopefully he’ll believe you when you say, “Oh, this thing? Got hit in the face with a baseball. No big deal.” Hopefully he’ll believe you, because that’s not the truth. Not even close to the truth.
Before either of you have a chance to say a word, you’re hugging him; like really hugging him. Your arms are wrapped around him tightly and it’s only him coughing and clearing his throat that makes you realize, maybe he can’t breath.
You let him go and take a step back, grinning so wide your face starts to hurt, but you really don’t give a damn. He chuckles slightly and fixes his shades, the same shades that you gave him for his thirteenth birthday.
But soon you can see the edges of his mouth are turning down. He’s seen your black eye and now he’s worried. You beat he’s already figured out what it’s from, but you’re still going to lie. You’re still going to tell him that it was a baseball, not those guys at school. Hopefully he’ll believe you…
“Damn, Egbert. What’s this?” You can tell he’s trying not to cuss in front of your dad.
“I got hit in the face with a baseball the other day. No big deal!”
The look he gives you says he’s not buying it. It’s not much different than his poker-face, a slightly cocked eyebrow right above his shades speaks volumes.
You give him a look that says ‘later’ and he seems to let it go.
“Alright, let’s blow this popsicle stand,” he mutters.