Your name is John Egbert and you really wish you had been watching where you were going.
You're sprawled out on the ground, on your ass. Your books are scattered around you. Your glasses are askew, but you can still see enough to notice the guy you ran into is also on the ground. He's also on his ass, leaning back on one arm. The other hand is adjusting a pair of aviator sunglasses before running through his blonde hair.
It takes only a second for you to realize who he is. Your mouth falls open slightly as a feeling of dread wells up inside you as you realize you're in deep shit.
"Hey, retard, watch where you're going!" It's not the blonde who's yelling. It's one of the guys standing around him.
His voice snaps you back to your senses. You adjust your glasses, looking down at the floor. You close your mouth and rock forward onto your feet. You scramble to pick up your books and things before the situation can escalate. The others are already saying things, but you ignore them, just trying to abscond as fast as possible. Out of the corner of your eye, you see one of them offer a hand to the blonde. He pushes it away and stands on his own, brushing off his pants.
Once all your things are in your hands, you stand. You slowly back away, still looking at the ground.
"Where'd you think you're going?" One of the other football players asks. He steps forward and his large hand lands heavily on your shoulder. You flinch and he pushes you toward the blonde. You stumble and barely manage to avoid falling all over again. You end up standing right in front of him. "Well? Apologize!" The larger boy says, his hand still on your shoulder. He's standing behind you, blocking your escape route.
You look around frantically, searching for a way out. You don't find one. They're surrounding you, snickering and sneering. Your gut clenches. People are passing by with no more than a curious glance. Some of them look at you with pity, but no one bothers to help.
"I said apologize!" He squeezes your shoulder painfully and you wince. Snickers reach your ears. It's not fair! They know you can't speak. They just enjoy tormenting you. You gulp and bite your bottom lip, looking up at the blonde warily.
He still hasn't said anything. In fact, he doesn't have any sort of expression on his face. He's just staring at you. Well, you assume he's staring. You can't really tell with his sunglasses on. The others are laughing and you fidget under the weight of his unseen gaze. You look back at the ground, focusing on your toes, waiting and hoping that they'll let you go.
"What's wrong? Cat got your tongue?" More laughter.
You squeeze your eyes shut, bracing yourself to be hit or thrown to the ground or something. They always do something. Especially if you're alone.
"Excuse me, gentlemen, but I must as you to unhand that fellow there."
Your eyes fly open and your head snaps up at the familiar voice. The hand on your shoulder is suddenly gone, the bigger boy backing away as the comforting weight of Jake's arm falls across your shoulders. You look up at him with relief and gratitude plain on your face. But he's not looking at you. He's focused on the group of football players in front of you.
"That's better. Now if you'll excuse us, we have a class to get to." He turns you around and maneuvers you through the crowd, away from those who bully you. Jake's always been there to save you from bullies. You're forever indebted to him for that.
As you walk away, you glance over your shoulder. The others are already walking away, grumbling. But the blonde kid is still standing there, staring at you. You mouth the word "sorry" in his direction. You think you see an eyebrow raise over his sunglasses before you round a corner and he disappears from sight.
"Devil fucking dickens! Do those bulging bafoons ever give up?" His arm is still resting comfortingly and protectively over your shoulders. You don't mind. You appreciate the gesture. "Good thing I saw you there and wasn't a second too late!" You look up at him and give him a toothy smile, showing your appreciation.
He walks you all the way to class and lets you go only after giving you a tight squeeze. Then he trots away to his own class, waving enthusiastically over his shoulder. You wave back, a smile still on your lips. Jake is one of your oldest friends and one of your protectors during school. If it wasn't for him, you'd be picked on a lot more. He's not afraid to get physical when coming to your defense. "Fisticuffs" he calls it.
You hurry into your last class of the day, English, and sit in your usual seat at the front of the room. You set your books down on your desk and sit back, waiting for class to begin. Because of your inability to speak, you're never asked to read aloud in class and you're never called on to answer questions. You allow your mind to wander.
Without meaning to, your mind wanders straight to the blonde football player you knocked over. It had been an accident. You'd rounded a corner too quickly, without paying much attention to where you were going, and ended up running right into him. He's a good head taller than you, so you're surprised he fell too. You must have caught him off guard.
You don't know much about him. You don't even remember his name. You think maybe it starts with a D? You do know that he was new at the beginning of this year, and a senior like you. He strolled into your school, tried out for football, and became the brand new football superstar over night. He hangs out with all the guys who've given you hell for the past three years. Even if that hell mostly takes the form of verbal abuse nowadays.
When you were a freshman, they weren't afraid to push you around and be more violent. Especially after they found out you couldn't speak. All through middle school you were bullied and forced to do others' homework because you couldn't say no. You kept it a secret from your friends. Once you got to high school, they found out and weren't going to have any of it. Together, they've effectively scared off your tormentors for the most part. Now they only attack you verbally and only dare to touch you when you're alone.
You have the strongest friends ever and you've been able to enjoy the past three years because of them.
When the blonde kid merged flawlessly into the football crowd, you thought that would be just another person to hate you. You even feared that maybe some new blood would stir them up into starting trouble again. But whenever they bullied you, he never joined in. He just stood by and stared. Sometimes, if the verbal insults were going on and on, he would just turn around and walk away. More often than not, the others would follow him. You're not sure if he does that to help you or because he's bored. You think it might be the second option.
When the bell rings, you gather up your things and leave the room, hurrying toward your locker. Jade and Karkat are already there, arguing as usual.
"John!" Jade says, waving as you approach. You smile and wave back. Karkat mumbles a greeting before crossing his arms over his chest and looking away.
You shift your books into one arm when you reach your locker. Making eye contact with Jade, you point between her and Karkat, then point your two index fingers at each other, swiping them at each other while doing your best Karkat angry face. You then hold your free hand out to the side, palm up, and wiggle your middle finger, your eyebrows furrowing.
"Why are you arguing?"
She rolls her eyes. "Karkat wants to watch another one of his cheesy and terrible romance movies tonight."
"And she wants to watch another one of her fucking god awful action films!" He says, cutting into the conversation.
Jade puts her hands on her hips. "At least there're interesting to watch!"
"There's no fucking plot!"
You sigh and turn to your locker, doing the combination with practiced ease. Jade and Karkat continue to argue next to you, debating the pros and cons of romance movies verses action movies at a loud volume. There's also a lot of flailing, wild gestures, and cursing. You ignore them both and reach into the depth of your now open locker, pulling out your backpack. You shove the books you need for weekend homework inside, and put the others on the shelf in your locker.
It's not until you're double checking that you realize something's missing. You frown and check again. You have your biology notebook, your english notebook, your history notebook, and even your math notebook. But your personal notebook is missing. The one you used to communicate with your friends.
You sigh heavily. You must have dropped it and left it when you ran into that blonde kid. Crap. You hope they didn't pick it up. There were a lot of personal conversations in there. Nothing bad, but still personal.
You rub your eyes in frustration and sling your backpack onto your back. You follow Jade and Karkat out to the parking lot. You try not to worry about your missing notebook. Today is friday and tonight is your monthly movie night with your friends. You can always get a new notebook. It's time to spend some quality time with quality friends.
In the end, you win the argument and you all end up watching Ghost Rider. There's enough action to keep Jade and Jake pacified. Rose and Kanaya watch in polite silence and Karkat grumbles the entire time.
Your name is Dave Strider and sometimes you really regret listening to your brother.
Try out for the football team, he said. No one's faster than you, he said. Instant coolness, he said. Ironic as fuck, he said.
Yeah, okay, you did it for the irony. You could have been the cool kid even if you hadn't joined up with a team of meatheads for a sport that you don't care about. You could have been the new kid, strange, silent, and mysterious. But no. Somehow your brother convinced you that was too predictable. You needed to do something ironic. And what was more ironic than a Strider joining the league of jocks on a football team?
You swear your brother came in his pants when you told him you made it.
And then he preceded to piss himself from laughing.
Dirk says it'll be awesome. You'll live the stereotypical high school life you see repeated on so many shitty movies and TV shows. You'll be the guy all the girls want and all the dudes want to be. You'll rule the school with your new found instant popularity. You'll get the girl you want. You'll go to parties where kids think it's cool to get drunk off their parents' stash. Then you'll graduate with your usual good grades, move on to college, and leave behind jock life forever.
You might even get crowned prom king. You think your brother would have a heart attack if you did. The whole thing is as ironic as you could possibly get, fitting easily into a role that is the complete opposite of who you are just to fulfill an overused cliche. You didn't even know what a running back was until you got the position. You're still not entirely sure how the game works. You just do what they tell you to. Your brother thinks it's hilarious. You did too. But now you're getting pretty sick of it.
For one thing, you only thought about the games and winning and being celebrated. You had totally forgotten that sports teams practice. You hate practice. You hate wearing all your heavy all gear and running around in the sun hitting other dudes. Everyone else is so much more into than you are. Luckily not only are you fast, but you're able to stop on a fucking dime and go in a different direction. Your speed and agility is unmatched and puts your teammates in awe. Because of this, you're able to slack off during practices. Your coach hates it, and you give him either the silent treatment or some sass, but hey, they need you. He wouldn't dream of putting you on the bench.
The problem is mostly your shades. You can't wear them with your tight ass helmet gripping your head and shit. And there's no way in hell the first people to see your eyes since you left the foster care system are gonna be a bunch of jocks. So you convinced your brother to buy you some colored contacts. They irritate the shit out of your eyes, but you only wear them during practices and games. They make your eyes a dull, boring brown.
And if all that wasn't obnoxious enough, apparently as the new team star, you automatically get a spot in their little clique. It's a clique reserved for jocks, friends of jocks that are deemed cool enough, cheerleaders, and girls deemed hot enough. They're all arrogant, rude, loud, and obnoxious, but you can't escape them. You're not the leader by any means, but you're apparently cool enough that they like to stick around you and follow you everywhere.
The girls of the group are all over you. Everyone wants a piece of the hot new kid. Which would be cool if you actually liked girls. You don't, but that's hardly common knowledge. Instead you just brush them aside and act like an ass. Somehow that just makes them try harder. Maybe one of the reasons the dudes hang around you is to pick up your rejected pile of females.
So you pretty much hate jock life. It's too loud and arrogant. People aren't afraid to come up and talk to you or touch you. You hate being touched randomly like that. After a while of cold stares from behind your shades, they stopped the touching thing. But you'd still rather go back to the life of a stoic, mysterious, cool kid. At least then you had peace and quiet.
But Striders don't quit and you're just as stubborn as your brother, so you know you won't give up. You'll ride out this football thing to the end of the season and then disengage yourself from that crowd. Probably become a loner until you graduate. But you're okay with that. If you stay with the meatheads for too much longer, you know you'll go insane.
Just a couple more months until the end of the season. You can do this.
But as you watch the dorky kid walk away, you start to wonder if it's really worth it.
You've noticed him before. He's in a couple of your classes. He sits at the front while you sit in the back. He's got this messy black hair and skin that seems to have a natural tan, but he's still pretty pale. He wears these square, black rimmed glasses that could be considered hipster glasses if they were just a little bit bigger.
You know his name is John Egbert. And no, that's not because you stalk him or anything. You just pay attention sometimes when the teacher calls roll.
At first he was just another dorky kid in a public school. You noticed that the teachers never called on him in class, even though most of the time he seemed to be paying attention. Whenever he walked by your cliche alone, they would all yell things at him. You assume it's because he's clearly a dork and jocks pick on dorks. You never asked why him specifically. That would mean actually talking to them.
He never says anything in return. When he's with his friends however, they always say something. The tall tan guy with the weird accent is always polite, even though venom drips from his words. The small tan girl who has to be the other guy's sister, always yells back with her sassy don't-take-shit attitude. The short angry looking dude never passes up the opportunity to yell. The others are more quiet, but the looks they send the jocks could kill.
So his silence and over protective possy make him stand out from other dorks, but that's about it. Well that, and his smile.
You rarely get to see it. He's always looking down and avoiding making eye contact with you and your obnoxious group. He's always seemed timid to you. Quiet and timid. But once you were in the cafeteria and saw him in the comfort of his own friends. His smile was dazzling. It was such a drastic difference from the guy you were used to seeing. Your eyes started following him whenever he was around. You stared at him during class.
You were curious, that's all. It's not like you were developing a small crush on the guy. You can't imagine ever liking someone with the last name Egbert.
Then there you were, walking to class with a group of your meathead followers, when John rounds the corner and knocks you both on your asses.
You were totally prepared to brush it off and go about your business. But your "friends" weren't going to have any of that. They took advantage of the fact he was alone to hassle him. You said nothing, as usual. You didn't like to encourage them picking on the kid, but you also knew better than to go against them. So you usually just walked away. But this time you couldn't walk away. With him standing so close, you noticed a few things.
One, he's about a head shorter than you.
Two, his eyes are the brightest color blue you've ever seen.
Three, you were far too fascinated with him nervously chewing his bottom lip.
Luckily your shades hid where your eyes were actually staring. He never said anything and he looked like a trapped animal. You felt bad for him. You should have just walked away and the jocks would have followed you. But you couldn't stop staring at him. You've never been that close before. But then it didn't matter because his tall friend was there, scooping him out of danger and whisking him away.
You watched them go, totally not wishing you could have been the one to save him, when suddenly John turned around and mouthed the word "sorry" to you. It was so unexpected, you couldn't help the small smirk that curved your lips.
You were about to turn around and leave when you noticed it. He had left one of his notebooks in his scramble to get away. Without thinking too much, you pick it up and head to class.
You spend the class thinking about the dark haired dork who knocked you on your ass. After school, you head straight to the parking lot. A few of the guys from your team shout at you, waving and saying things like "see you tonight, man!" It's a friday in the middle of football season, which means you have a game. Tonight is an away game, which means you have to get back to the school earlier than if it was a home game. Then you get to ride on a bus with a bunch of hyped up jocks. Fun.
Rose is already at the truck, waiting for you.
She gives you a nod in greeting and you return it, unlocking your truck. It's nothing fancy, but it's not shit either. Just a simple bright red truck with two front seats, and a space behind them that had two little seats that could barely be called that. Rose slides into the passenger seat and you climb into the driver's seat.
"Have a good day at school?" She asks as you turn the key and the engine rolls over.
"Same as always. Testing my sanity as I deal with a bunch of arrogant douche bags. Seriously, Lalonde, I think I'm a masochist." You say, backing out of the spot and turning your trunk toward the main road.
"My office is always open if you need to talk about your method of self-harm." She says, carefully placing a strand of blonde hair behind her ear, a small smirk on her lips. When you first showed up, people honestly thought you two were related. Some of them probably still do.
You snort and roll your eyes. "So you can pick apart my brain and pull all your phycological bullshit on me? I don't think so." Sometimes it's nice talking to Rose about issues, but you really have to be in the mood for a feelings jam to allow it.
You've known Rose for a couple of years now. Your brother met her sister in college. Since the two of you didn't have any other family, Roxy always invited you to her parents' home in Washington for the holidays. You always went. You think maybe Dirk felt bad about not being able to provide you with a normal Christmas for the majority of your life. Either way, you both enjoyed yourselves in the Lalonde household. You and Rose got along in a quieter fashion than your louder older siblings. After the holidays when you went back to New York, you and Rose kept in touch through Pesterchum.
Roxy and Rose's mom is some kind of famous scientist. After Dirk graduated and was looking for a place to go, she was asked to take a year long tour in Europe. Roxy was going into grad school and couldn't move back home, and Rose refused to move away from where she'd made friends. Eventually they asked Dirk if he would like to live in their family home and be a guardian for Rose. He didn't say yes until he asked you first. You said you didn't mind, so off to Washington you both went.
So for the first time since you escaped the foster care system, you're living in a house and not an apartment. There's also a girl living with you, so no swords in the fridge.
The house is about a ten minute ride from the school. You and Rose have playful, snippy banter the entire way. You enjoy it. You tend to bottle yourself up during school hours to avoid talking to those who wouldn't understand your sense of humor. When you reach the house, you park next to Dirk's car in the driveway and you both trudge into the house.
Dirk's not in the living room, which usually means he's locked away in the garage, working on his robotics or something. Rose goes straight to her room and you go to yours without another word. You sit at your computer, open up your browser, and start opening up your usual tabs. It only entertains you for so long. Soon your eyes are drifting to your messenger bag that you had left abandoned at your feet.
You pick it up and fish out the notebook you'd picked up earlier. If you weren't already certain that it belonged to John, his name is written in his somewhat messy-but-readable handwriting on the top right corner of the cover. You set the notebook on the desk in front of you, dropping your messenger bag to the floor, and sit back to stare at it. It's a regular school notebook, metal spiral, college-ruled, one hundred sheets, blue. In your mind, John seems to be the kind of guy to label his notebooks with the class subject. This one doesn't have any label other than his name. Perhaps that's why you're drawn to it.
But you're also hesitant. Like peeking at the notebook is an invasion of privacy. It's just a notebook. What could possibly be inside? Probably school related things. But it's the first insight into the strange quiet kid with a killer smile. This is a monumental moment. This shouldn't be taken lightly. This is…this is stupid. It's just a notebook. Open it already.
You lean forward and do just that.
What you find is not at all what you expected. You expected something school related, maybe with some doodles in the margins. Instead you get pages and pages of what seems to be conversations. They're not all on the lines. The words and sentences are written all over, sideways, diagonally across the page, upside down.
John's handwriting is the most prominent, but there's others in there too. Sometimes he's talking with someone else, like writing notes in class. Other times it's just his hand writing, but he's obviously talking to someone else, they're just not writing it down in the same notebook. It's strange. You've never seen him writing notes in the classes you have with him. And your eyes often wander to him.
You flip through the pages, skimming the words on the pages. He's just as much of a dork as you thought he was, but he's a lot more talkative with his words. He writes a lot, about all sorts of things. You wonder why you've never heard him talk like this. You learn a little about what he likes and about the personalities of his friends. You learn that tonight is his movie night with his friends and while you're off playing a sport you hate, he'll be doing that. You learn that he's a crazy Nicolas Cage fan. And that he likes terrible movies.
Part of you feels guilty for the invasion of privacy, but the majority of you doesn't care. You're already sucked into his written world.
The notebook is only halfway full. You've made your decision before you even reach the end of what's written. When you reach the first blank page, you're already reaching for one of the pens on your desk. You pick a red one, because no one else has written in red in his notebook.
You're not sure why, but you want to leave your mark. You want him to know you exist and that you're not some dumb jock who wants to make his life hell. You want to make him smile like his friends do. It's stupid. It's totally stupid and you're not sure why you feel this way, but you do. There's no stopping it. Before you can begin to reconsider, you're already drawing. Too late now.
You draw several doodles of Sweet Bro and Hella Jeff, your own personal comic characters. You even write the url for your comic blog under one of them. You make fun of his love for Nicolas Cage. You draw a comic on the side of you both in your ironically bad comic style, you being the hero returning his notebook. You have a cape and he has a ridiculously pointy princess hat. You started out with a vague plan, but soon you were just doodling like you would on your own notes. You don't come out of your doodling daze until the page is completely full of your handwriting and drawings.
For a moment you start to panic, thinking that maybe this is a bad idea. Then you push that thought aside. Striders don't do regret. You sign the bottom right corner of the page with your name in as fancy cursive as you can manage. Then, under that, you write your chumhandle in very legible print. You stare at it. It was on a whim. You're not sure if he'll actually get the balls to message you. You don't think he will, but that doesn't stop you from trying.
Before you can think too much about that, you slam the notebook shut and shove it back into your bag.
Back to reality. You have a game to get ready for. Hopefully Dirk went to the grocery store and you can actually eat something before leaving. You get up and head toward the kitchen, leaving all thoughts of John Egbert behind.