Cake. John Egbert really hated cake. His whole life seemed centered on that singular horrific confection. Every day he was sure to find his kitchen overflowing with the delectable pastries that his father seemed intent on mass producing. The reason his father was a baking fiend wasn't even something that begged a question in his mind anymore. It was something he had grown up with, a fact of his life, and he accepted it with the same objectivity as he regarded the tree in his front yard or the fireplace in his living room. These things were there, always there, since before he could remember anyway, and rather than ponder their origins it was easier to leave them as components of the backdrop of his life. Ignored, but not so much. The day that cake suddenly disappeared from his home couldn't come soon enough. As far as he was concerned, he had begrudgingly ingested enough cake to last him through the next two lifetimes. Simply put, he was just sick of cake.
So why was it that one trivial day while he was surfing the internet as his free time usually dictated -- why had he come across the image of a cake and followed the link underneath it? It was really an unremarkable cake by his expert standards. His father had baked dozens upon God knows how many cakes, and by all means it was only natural he was desensitized to their sugary interior and equally aesthetically sweet exterior. What feature of this one cake in particular had prompted him to follow that link? What characteristic had kept his attention long enough to inhibit him from closing the window immediately due to his inherent disgust with the over-glorified pastry?
It didn't appear to be overtly special in any way, yet something -- something about it had enticed him. Was it so ingrained in him that he couldn’t resist a thorough investigation of its ingredients? A twitch of the hand while his mouse happened to be hovering over the link? No, there was something else. Try as he might, he could not ascribe this to mere chance, coincidence, or fluke. The reason John Egbert had followed the link under the picture was of the caption emblazoned on the bottom of the photo itself.
Cake is better than sex.
And despite his misgivings for cake, John couldn't have agreed more.
The website was AVEN, and it was the source of all his trouble. There were several internal conflicts emerging through his subconscious as soon as the page fully loaded. He wasted no time in tearing into the site. All of those nameless loose ends he had shoved in the back of his mind emulsified as he swept through the forums. John scanned through question and answer, discussion after discussion, and found himself wholeheartedly agreeing with a good majority of these people -- these individuals that called themselves asexuals.
Asexual? What did that even mean? John hadn't heard of the term used in relation with people before. As he read through the formal definition, his confusion strengthened.
Someone that didn't experience sexual attraction.
What classified as sexual attraction anyway? He had...feelings. Crushes. He liked certain people in a way he assumed was special. In a way that he thought would be conducive of a relationship. But then, a relationship didn't have anything to do with sex, did it? That was for...adults. Well, okay, he wasn't naïve to what some teenagers his age were doing. But...he had other things to focus on...he just assumed that feeling would come later. Everything would fall into place eventually, or he would cross that bridge when he got there.
Apparently that 'when' was starting now.
That day, he spent an hour navigating the site, reading, acquainting himself with the terms. Asexual, demisexual, gray-a, aromantic, heteroromantic, panromantic, biromantic...
He froze up as his eyes tripped across homoromantic, and he closed out of the window. This was all a bit silly, wasn't it? Sure, some of these people had valid points about sex having no relation with love or expressing it. However, that didn't make him one of them. He barely even knew what asexual meant! Besides, it wasn't really an issue. Okay, so hypothetically even if he were asexual, it wasn't like he was in a position to jeopardize himself. He wasn't in a relationship and he certainly wasn't the person to seek out that sort of activity. There was no expectation for him, he didn't need to think about it, didn't need to worry. Anyway, relationships weren't about that. Sex wasn't a requirement...was it? No, of course not. Everyone knew relationships were built on trust and understanding and...he had always just pictured enjoying spending time with someone, feeling his heart race, maybe holding that person's hand or something. His thoughts on the subject never really advanced past that.
Although he tried to convince himself it didn't matter, wasn't important, and didn't apply to him, he was back on AVEN the next day. And the next day. And then every day that week. Most days that month. Reading, learning, evaluating. By the end of the third month since his initial discovery of the site, he realized that all of his bookmarks were in some way related to asexuality. It was becoming his inconvenient truth. Yet he still desperately wanted to know more.
He got an ace ring -- ace, that was what they called it, slang for asexual. A black ring on his right middle finger. He wished someone else like him would notice. Rose noticed and asked him about it. She said that asexuals wore rings like that and was he finally coming to terms with his sexuality or lack thereof. He just laughed it off, pretending it was a coincidence. In reality, he still wasn't sure about himself. He only wore the damn thing in hopes of finding someone that was secure with his/her own asexuality and could help him figure out his. He needed to talk to someone, and not on AVEN but in real life. He needed to ask. Confirm. But with a reported 1% of asexuals in the population the chances of stumbling across someone like that seemed daunting.
The other problem John had with all of this was the classification of homoromantic. Immediately there was a glaring issue with the denotation and the fact that the first thing that came to mind was his relationship with Dave. Friendship. Because they were just friends, and it wasn't anything more than that because he didn't want anything more than that, and what they already had was close enough to...
Shit. It was a great friendship and Dave couldn't be a better friend, and John could honestly say that there was almost nothing else he wanted...Almost? Damn it! What was with those limiting words? Close enough? Almost? What was he hoping to gain? He wasn't a homosexual!
Well, that was the thing. Three months and he was pretty sure he was asexual. A romantic asexual. He wanted to pursue a relationship, it was just...with whom did he want to pursue it?
So he ignored it about as well as he had ignored AVEN. Sadly, now that the information was all there, it was hard to ignore. He couldn't help but look back and overanalyze his past actions. Exhibit A was the ironic flirting. In retrospect, it was so audacious. Now it just made him feel guilty, so he had stopped condoning it about a month ago. It wasn't that if he chose to flirt with Dave now that it would affect him in any different way than back then. The difference was it didn't seem fair anymore... he was getting more out of it than Dave. It was like John was in a one-sided relationship that Dave didn't know he was enabling. And that just wasn't right.
Ironic flirting was just a joke to Dave. And John had known that all along, but before it had been safe. It had been an outlet. It wasn't going to lead to anything because Dave was only joking and John wasn't a homosexual. But now that there was nothing to lead to...John felt like he was taking advantage of what was only supposed to be harmless fun.
Dave noticed that John was getting more subdued in their conversations. Or at least, that's what John concluded when Rose suddenly seemed a lot more intrusive. Her conversations took on a pattern where they started and ended with a phrase like, "John, if you need to talk," or "John, if you ever need anything, “or "John, I'm always here for you".
It was painful to pretend like he didn't know what she meant, though it was worse to feel her pity. He didn't need her help. There was nothing about him that required help. He was just being himself and...keeping secrets from his friends...
Four months and he had determined that he was biromantic asexual. He should have felt happier now that he had discovered a part of his identity. On the contrary, everything seemed to be going downhill. He'd even witnessed something he hadn't previously thought possible. Dave Strider, the coolkid, the most collected and nonchalant dude in the world, angry and with John no less.
John could attest to having been a shitty friend, especially lately. Each new encounter with Dave became increasingly difficult. What was he supposed to do? They were best bros but where was the distinction of friendship from what John wanted in a relationship? It had been an obstacle to wrap his mind around the fact that liked Dave in that sort of way. Sure, he had been holding onto those feelings before, but it hadn’t been acknowledged like this. He hadn't had a name for it. It was just an extension of their friendship. Now he finally understood what his feelings meant, what he wanted, what he still wanted. Even so, it still made him feel a bit strange admitting he liked boys. On top of that, he had no idea how he was supposed to let everyone else know. It had taken him four months to come to terms with it on his own! Then again, they'd all been putting up with him anyway, and he knew he'd been distancing himself both intentionally and unintentionally.
They had argued over something stupid. Something about music or something, it wasn't even important and it was obvious to both of them that it wasn't the real source of their contention. It was a convenient excuse, and when it was over at least a little of the tension had eased. Temporarily anyway. John couldn't keep doing this if he didn't want Dave to end up hating him.
Damn. He could rationalize this whole situation like it was nothing, but he couldn’t afford to take it lightly. First and foremost Dave was his friend, his best friend, the first guy he felt comfortable talking to about anything...well, up until he realized just how strong those feelings were. It scared him to think that maybe Dave's ironic flirting hadn't been so ironic after all. The way he saw it, he had three options: stay in the current limbo they were in, tell Dave and be rejected which would consequently risk their friendship, or tell Dave and be accepted. He couldn’t discern which outcome was more frightening. On the surface acceptance probably seemed like the most desirable, but then if Dave did accept him, just what would Dave expect out of their relationship?
Finally he felt ready to talk to Rose, but she had already bombarded him with so much unnecessary pity that going to her would seem pathetic. He didn't know what to do, and his irresoluteness continued to isolate him.