Jealousy is a very funny feeling.
It tricks you into believing a certain little detail doesn’t bother you, a group of certain little details don’t bother you, and you go through the days ignoring that little feeling at the back of your head that makes you sad and annoyed and helpless, until all those little details merge and transform and become one big issue, and you’re left still sad and annoyed and helpless, but also feeling pretty pathetic at yourself.
The worst part, you think, is that you seriously can’t help it, swear to god.
And you don’t want to be that guy — you know who you’re talking about. The awful selfish person who decides to ruin everyone else’s fun because he can’t share, because he can’t play nice, by the rules. But you still can’t help it, so you sit around, quietly annoyed and helpless and sad and pathetic.
Jealousy is a very funny feeling.
You finally break on Sunday.
What’s worse is that it’s Movie Sunday, and the clocks are chiming in the living room of your apartment. John and Rose are already sprawled on the sofa, jumbo sized bowls of popcorn and candy littering the coffee table. Most of the time that’ll be John and Roses’ time, but they’re watching Back to de Future and you know you’re gonna be welcome, know they wouldn’t mind you, wouldn’t mind you at all.
And yet here you remain at the doorframe, stuck like your feet are made of cement and left to dry on the floor.
The little green monster, you feel its tendrils wrapping around your stomach, squeezing at your chest, spreading through all of your body, slowly slowly. The little green monster, it is you.
But it’s not the jealousy that is problem, that you can deal with — it’s the feeling that comes afterwards, cold and infinitely sadder.
You feel so out of place it hurts.
And they haven’t noticed you yet, and you hate that you’re relieved. Sending one last look behind is all you do before you turn back on your heels, silently silently, unable to stop your mind from playing over and over the way Rose curled into John’s side, his arms around her waist, his lips against her temple, breathing her in, and you love them both so much it hurts, and it isn’t fair.
You try to make it back to your room, and kind of fail halfway there. You decide being out of sight is almost as good as away, so you slide down the wall in the half lit hallway, and everything’s stupid. You love them. You love John and you love Rose and you shouldn’t feel this way because seriously, it’s pathetic — especially because this sort of arrangement is meant to keep everyone happy, and you wouldn’t trade it for the world, promise promise, but sometimes it’s messy and not enough and too much and it’s turning you into a mess. Especially because you’ve agreed on this kind of one on one time, because you’ve discussed all sort of accommodations, time spent together and who cooks dinner, beds and bedrooms and sex and everything in between. Everyone tries their best so no one will get hurt, and you hate yourself that you’re still are, anyway.
You don’t realize you’ve curled into yourself in a tight little ball of blonde hair and too-big sweaters until you feel arms around your body, softly rubbing at your shoulders and down your arms, as if coaxing you out. Soft kisses being pressed to your temple once you’ve raised your head enough, and fingers threading through your hair. Jade asks, “What is it, Dave?” and presses close to you, your sides flushed together.
You mumble, “Nothing.” Because you’re stupid and you’re stubborn, and also because you know Jade knows better.
“Nothing my ass,” she says, a frown twisting her delicate eyebrows. “Mopping around for no apparent reason just isn’t attractive, Dave.”
“You’re not funny.” You drawl back, but still leans your head on her shoulder when she throws her arms around your neck, softly massaging your scalp with her fingertips, short nails scratching the back of your head like you’re a cat. “I’m stupid.”
Jade snorts into your hair. “Yeah, no kidding.”
“And you’re super obnoxious.”
“Hmm,” she agrees, trailing kisses your cheek. She’s so touchy-feely, and you’d never admit you love it. “Rose says communication is the key to a happy relationship, you silly. So does Cosmo. I think you know what the right thing to do now is.”
“And you do anything Cosmo tells you?” You snort, unimpressed.
“Is your dick still attached to your body?”
You let out a dry laugh and pretend to check. “Yep.”
“Proof of my selective advice taking.”
You stay like this for a while, let her pamper you with soft little caresses and kisses to your face. You press her closer in return, and the silence is comforting. At some point Jade begins humming a song, and the vibrations of her throat tickle against your cheek, and she becomes soothing and warm and you love her, too. You say, “I’m jealous.” Like it’s the most obvious thing ever.
You don’t know if you should feel better or worse because Jade sighs, like she was expecting this exactly and who knows, maybe she was. She turns around in your arms a little to look you in the eyes and smiles, reassuring, her hands moving to cup your face. “Okay.”
You bite your lip. “What the flying fuck do I do.”
Jade hums, thinking for a bit. “I don’t shun it,” she tells you. “I like to understand it. I delve into it. I give it its space, and explore it. You can only get over jealousy after you’ve held space for it!”
You frown. “Okay so I got to be jealous first. Done. What now.”
Her fingers run up your cheeks, caressing all of your face. “And then, you find the reason. I think jealousy is a signal that something needs investigation and care, much like if one of your limbs hurt, or if you’re depressed.”
And weirdly enough, it makes sense. You think about it for a bit, her fingers still threading through your face. She whispers sweet little nothings into your skin, her nose cold against your face. You kiss her a bit at some point, relishing in the feeling of being held; and it’s not exactly what you need, but it’s a start. She calms you. The lights coming from the skylight slowly dim to a point of almost-darkness.
Jade asks, “Rose or John?”
“John,” you say, voice small, like you’re defeated.
“Thought so. Want me to take Rose out for a bit?”
You breathe, “yeah,” and it sounds a bit like thank you.
She unwraps from you slowly, like you’re something breakable. Kisses you one last time before standing up, Rose’s sundress short and a little wrinkled around her thighs, she’s barefoot, and you wonder if she isn’t cold. Maybe you should have given her your sweater.
It feels like she’s only been gone for a few moments before she comes back, with Rose surprisingly, and you feel a little guilt sting in your stomach. Jade slips her fingers between Rose’s and squeezes, and Rose tilts her head a bit, confused, like a bird. Jade kisses her cheek. Says, “Dave would like some time alone with John to talk a bit.”
Rose’s eyebrows rise, “Oh?” and you stand up, feel like fumbling. You force yourself to look up and meet her eyes, she’s a little shorter than you but her gaze makes you feel small. Opening up has always been just too hard for you, and it’s embarrassing.
You mumble, “m’sorry.” And hope she understands.
And Rose does – of course she does. She’s the most sensible of you all, she knows what to say and what to do to keep everyone comfortable, everyone’s needs fulfilled. She stands on her tiptoes to thread her fingers through your hair, brushing your bangs back, and kisses your forehead. “It’s completely fine, my dear.” She says against your skin, her hair tickling your nose a bit.
Jade is wearing shoes already, and one of John’s jackets. Rose has her little purse in her hand, the other still in Jade’s when they walk to the living room and she announces, “Jade and I are going on an impromptu ice cream date, guys.”
John looks up from his place on the couch, sprawled in boxers and an old, long sleeved t-shirt. Any other day you’d snort at his and Jade’s choices in apparel, it is early winter and they refuse to wear a little more than a layer of clothes until after they’re sneezing all over the place. He says, “Oh, uh. Okay!” and sits up when the girls approach, give him both a peck on the lips before turning for the door, where Jade winks at you. Rose blows you a kiss. You roll your eyes at them. “Don’t stay out too late!”
They close the door behind them.
You consider for a moment pretending to busy yourself up in the kitchen, maybe prepare you both a mug of hot chocolate, like a peace offer. Decide against it because it wouldn’t taste like John’s, anyway, and the thought is a little depressing. He hasn’t made hot chocolate for you in god knows how long, and you kind of miss it.
You don’t have to consider for too long, though, because John scoots over, making space for you in the couch. Says, “that was a little weird,” and laughs a bit. Fumbling a little with a whole in his sleeve before mumbling, “C’mere.”
And you shove your hands into the pockets of your hoodie and shrug, feeling a lot more tongue-tied than you thought you would. Holy shit, you have a little moment of epiphany in which you realize that you suck at this. You suck, in general.
John, of course, decides this is the best moment to stop being oblivious and who knows, maybe it is. He pokes your ribs softly when you sit next to him, drawing your knees to your chin. There is a hole in one of your hello kitty socks, your pinkie toe pokes out, and you can’t even remember if they’re yours or not.
He says, “They… Did that on purpose, didn’t they?”
The question isn’t accusing, he isn’t complaining. It’s just quiet, a little worried. A little uncertain. You shrug again, looking ahead. “Yeah.”
He says, “Oh.” And after a moment, “so...”
“So,” he smiles, mostly to himself. Scratches the back of his neck, and lowers the telly’s volume. You’re making this more awkward than it needs to be and you know it’s probably killing John. He scoots closer to you, his knees touching your side, resting the side of his head against the back of the couch, and brings his finger to draw little question marks over your knees. “Feelings jam time, right?”
“Well, I’m all ears.” He laughs a little. Then, softly. “If I did something to upset you, I really want to know, Dave…”
You take a deep breath, in and out, slowly, because talking about a problem always makes you feel like you can’t breathe. “It’s not…” you try, carefully. “It’s not. You,” and before you realize what you’re saying, “it’s me.”
You wait for him to say something, and when he doesn’t, you turn to look at him and meet big, doubtful blue eyes. “Dave,” he starts, ever more carefully than you, voice tiny, “you’re not...?”
“No,” you cut him off. “No, I’m not breaking up with you, oh my god, John, don’t jump to the worst conclusion ever, holy shit.”
“Okay.” He says, quickly. “Okay, whoa.” He laughs, the tension practically melting out of him. He presses his forehead to your knees, with a little laugh. “Well don’t use that kind of lines with me, oh my god!”
“It wasn’t on purpose!” You huff, racking your fingers through your hair.
“Okay,” he laughs. Then, a little more seriously, his eyes warm, looking at you. “Okay.”
“It’s just… I feel… the thing is…” You realize you’re making wild hand gestures into the air, praying to every god you know that John gets what you’re trying to say. Of course he doesn’t, though; he’s looking at you like you’re speaking in Russian and it’s the most frustrating feeling ever. Not finding the right words, when it really matters. “The way you treat Jade and Rose.”
John’s eyebrows furrow. “Why would something like that upset you?”
You bite your lips and close your eyes for a second; become an observer from the outside. How would you describe this young man’s feelings? When you open your eyes, you detach yourself from the situation. “Because you’re too sweet with them.”
“Dave, what the hell?” He laughs a little, incredulous. “I kind of can’t help it? I’m sorry, but I thought it was kind of obvious you’re not the only significant other in my life?”
You know he’s trying to crack a joke, but it’s still kind of burns. “Of course I know, stupid. That’s now what I meant.” Aaand you say goodbye to explaining the situation in any kind of calm and composed way. “It bothers me because. Like. Right now, with Rose? How you were laughing, and saying the stupid lines into her ear and playing with her fingers and…” You catch yourself doing the hand gestures again. “I felt. Really upset. When I saw you.”
John gives you this confused look, the once specifically held for really confusing equations back in High School, and you almost feel like laughing. Then he gets very serious, and says, “but you’re the one who spends the most nights with her, Dave. And you have your private feeling jams and everything, and Jade and I respect that. I… I want to spend time alone with her too, sometimes.”
“I know. It’s not that. Of course you can— it’s not that.”
John sighs, and you can tell he’s growing more confused, and a little upset. “Well, what is it then, Dave. I really want to help, but I don’t think I’m following you.”
You groan into your knees, brushing your hair back, anxiously. Then, accusingly, “That stupid thing you do with Jade. Before she goes to bed.”
“What? Checking under her bed for monsters? Dave that’s just us being silly!” His eyebrows raise almost comically, eyes wide, “I know it’s kind of stupid, but it makes Jade happy! Why would any of that bother you?”
“Because it’s sweet! And you take them out dancing sometimes, and when we watch movies you do that stupid thing where you pretend to yawn and instead you throw your arm around them, and you hug them from behind when they’re helping you in the kitchen, and kiss in between their fingers, and braid their hair, and bring them flowers sometimes—”
“… you want me to bring you flowers?”
“That’s not the point!”
“Well, then what is it!”
“You never do that with me!”
It sounds infinitely stupid, the moment it leaves your mouth.
You feel your face growing hot, embarrassed and open and vulnerable and defenceless. John could laugh at you right now, call you needy and insecure and terrible and horrible and this is why you’ve always hated talking about yourself, you hate letting people close. Too close means close enough to hurt.
“You never do that with me,” you whisper, your voice small and helpless. And he just looks at you, his eyes wide and a little sad. “We don’t go on stupid ice cream dates, like ever. It’s just. We fuck sometimes, and that’s it.”
You regret it the moment it leaves your mouth because John is not like you — he isn’t warded, he doesn’t have a wall around him to protect him. His expression twists into something wounded; his voice breaks when he says, “Dave, that’s so not true…”
“I know.” You reply, quickly. “I know. I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said— I’m sorry.” You take his hand and squeeze his fingers between yours, his skin cold, knuckles red.
“It’s okay,” he says, biting his lip.
You wait a little before continuing, feeling like you’re walking on ice. “Lately it’s just been so. Physical. And I. I don’t know… I miss you.” You whisper. “I miss my best bro.”
He touches his forehead to the side of your face, his breath warm against your cheek. You look down at your intertwined hands, his skin pale and milky against yours, marred with dark freckles. Your nails are short and bitten raw, your palms hard and calloused, a few scratches from your sword painting your skin an ugly shade of pink here and there. You wonder for a moment if it’s because you’re like this — hard and edgy, boney and awkward; not soft and tender and gentle, like the girls are.
He drawls against the skin of your cheek, “I thought you’d be annoyed…”
You shake your head, his nose bumping against yours when you turn to look at him, “No, I wouldn’t.” he hums softy, with his eyes closed, enjoying the feeling of your forehead against his. After a moment, you say, frustrated. “I’m stupid. This is stupid.”
John smiles, and presses his lips against yours, once. “No it’s not. I’m sorry, Dave.” He says, his voice honest and concerned. “I should have paid more attention. I’m sorry that I let you feel neglected.”
You sigh, pushing at his shoulders to hug him more properly. “You better be,” you say, biting his shoulder. He squeaks, and then laughs a little.
“I am,” he tells you. “I’m gonna make it up for you, Dave.”
Jealousy is a very funny feeling.
You wake up alone, the next morning.
Dread, heavy and icy settles in your stomach and you bury your face in your pillow for a second, become overwhelmed by John’s scent, like chamomile and sunshine and tobacco. You reach out blindly on the bed, finding nothing but soft cool sheets and creased pillows.
You rub your eyes with the heel of your palms. Sit up and discover you are wearing nothing but boxers and a blue hoodie that you definitely don’t remember putting on yesterday, and the sheets are fresh and warm, tickling the hairs in your legs. You don’t think your face is anything but sleepy right now, but it must have been, because John curses, loud and surprised, at the door.
He tells you, “m’sorry,” meekly, his hands occupied with a mug of something that smells sweet and warm. “I was just… ” he trails off, and you try to roll his eyes at him when he sits on the bed facing you, but you’re really too sleepy to put the kind of effort into it you’d really like. He passes you the mug — it’s hot chocolate, the ‘special’ John Egbert recipe.
You put it on the nightstand and, after you’re satisfied enough by John’s baffled expression, you pull at John’s shirt until he’s half-lying on top of you, his face pressed against your neck, warm and a little scratchy. “You’re so stupid.” You tell him, half-heartedly.
John laughs against your skin, presses a kiss, softly. Your legs are tangled together and your lost your hello kitty socks somewhere through the night so your feet are icy but you could swear it’s one of the best feelings in the world, ever.
You hear footsteps just before you see Rose, in her obnoxiously unsexy flannel pyjamas, knocking softly on the door frame. Jade is behind her, arms around Rose’s waist, naked like the day she was born, and shivering slightly. Rose asks you, “Is this a formal invitation to a cuddle puddle, or would you fine gentlemen prefer a one on one snuggle session?”
John smiles up at them, but still asks, “Dave?”
You grin, scooting closer to John. “Dave Strider cordially invites you to attend his Monday Morning Snuggle Session. RSVP right the fuck now.”
Jade giggles and jumps to the bed, half crushing the side of your body John is not occupying. Rose is a lot more classy, though, and fixes the sheets until you’re all inside them before slipping in behind Jade.
Jade says, “I love you, Dave.” Her arms snaking around your waist.
“I love you too, Dave,” John sighs.
“Welp,” Rose laughs, “I guess this is my cue. I also love you, brother. Very much.”
You sigh, and can’t really help the grin that spreads through your face. You bask in the warmth with your eyes closed for a moment. “I love you all too, you dorks.”
Jade squeals. You let out a loud groan.
“Shut up, Dave.” Oh god, she’s gonna start. “I love you, John.”
John laughs a little. “I love you too, Jade.”
“And I love you, Rose. “
“I love you too, Jade, dear.”
“I love you, Rose,” John continues, with a conspiratorial grin.
“And I love you, John.”
“Yeah we are this big fuzzy ball of love and feelings I get it.” You say, trying to sound annoying. “Can we go back to the Dave Appreciation, because I’m getting fucking cavities, I swear to god.”
They laugh, and you think jealousy is a very funny feeling.
But love is too.