Your name is John Egbert and you are unbearably dizzy.
More specifically, all the blood has rushed to your head in the two minutes you’ve been suspended upside-down by your knees from your tree in the front yard, and your sister’s face is beginning to swim in front of your crossed eyes more and more with every second. She goes an awfully funny shape in front of you, your vision blurring enough that she doubles and overlaps herself for a split second before you feel yourself slip down from the tree branch ungracefully.
The only thought going through your mind is a panicked shit shit shit, followed by ow, fuck as your back hits the freshly cut lawn.
You groan. “Remind me why I thought that was a good idea?” you mumble. Jade laughs, and it sounds like a fire alarm echoing through your pained head.
“Because you’re being stupid, stupid,” she snaps good-naturedly, sticking out her tongue as soon as you open your eyes. “And because I owe you five dollars now.”
That gets you to sit up, ignoring the protests from your probably-bruised skull and making grabby hands at the bill she waves in your face. She hands it over with a practiced pout.
“Go again for another?”
“Fuck off,” you whine. No way in hell are you getting back up on that tree, not for love or money, and definitely not for your sister. “Don’t you have anything better to do?”
“What’s better than watching you willingly give yourself a concussion out of boredom?”
Your eyes go wide, and she laughs. “Jade,” you say, voice mock serious and full of fear. “Jade, do I have a concussion?”
She laughs harder.
“Jade, am I about to die?” You’re well aware you’re playing up the dramatics, but she just doubles over, wheezing out a laugh and clutching her thighs for support. “Jade. Jade.”
“ John ,” she chokes out, barely able to speak through the laughter.
“Jade. When I die-” you break off, faking a sob for theatrical effect. “Make sure Karkat doesn’t touch my computer.”
You throw a hand across your face and collapse back to the lawn - which, ow, you might not have a concussion but you definitely bruised something there, fuck. Jade all but howls with laughter, her shoulders shaking as she drops to her knees, shuffling forward to slap a hand gently against your cheek.
“Come on,” she says, tugging you forward by your shirtsleeves. The fabric lifts away from your skin just as a breeze blows by, a cool reprieve from the sticky heat of summer. The ever-present buzz of cicadas swells and dies back down.
You grimace. “There’s gotta be something to do,” you mumble. Jade gets a look on her face that screams get back in the tree, and you cut her off with a flat stare. “Something other than breaking my bones for money. I’m an adult , you know. I’m too old to be climbing trees.”
Jade scoffs, standing up abruptly and brushing stray bits of grass from her skirt. She hoists herself into the tree with her arms alone, dangling precariously from one of the lower branches. “You’re barely an adult. And no one is too old to climb trees.” A twig hits you in the chest, and it takes you a second to realize Jade threw it. You pull a face.
“I’m bored,” you whine. You drag out the O to annoy her, a petulant booooooooooooooored echoing back at you off of the pavement in front of your painfully suburban house. “There’s nothing to do.”
“There’s never anything to do,” Jade replies, somehow managing to make it sound like she’s disagreeing with you despite saying the exact same thing. “Is Karkat busy?”
“Not talking to me.”
“What about practice?”
You visibly wince, and Jade fixes you with a look of flat unamusement. “Fuck practice,” you say, picking up the twig she had thrown at you and snapping it like a glow stick. “If I have to spend one more minute behind that piano I’m going to tear my hair out. And then I’ll tear your hair out.”
Pulling a face, Jade barks a laugh and scuttles up to a higher branch.
“You’d have to catch me first,” she teases, throwing down another stick. It catches your left ear and drops harmlessly to the ground behind you. “But seriously, is it really that bad?”
“ Yes,” you whine, emphatic. “I’m so sick of this stupid town.”
You even mean it, mostly. Maple Valley is one of those time-locked places, a suburb that seems to exist in some uncomfortable combination of the mid-80’s and the late 00’s, white picket fences and green lawns and identical little cookie cutter houses as far as the eye can see. You know everyone that lives on your street, the next street over, and the street past that. You’ve gone to school with the same handful of kids since the first grade. Nothing has ever changed, and you highly doubt it ever will.
“Well,” says your sister, hopping down from the tree, as graceful as you are clumsy. “Where would you be, if you could pick?”
You blink. It takes a second to think it over, to turn the question in your head and actually come up with an answer. You’ve never considered it, really - you never had a reason to, after all. Maple Valley is your whole life.
“Somewhere warm,” you say, even as the sticky summer heat clings to your skin like a blanket. “A big city, maybe.”
Jade raises an eyebrow.
“Yeah,” you say, more entranced by the idea now that it’s popped into your head. “I’d want to be a cool big city kid, I think. Penthouse apartment, swanky new clothes, the whole deal.”
“I’d want to be on an island, ” Jade says, cutting off your train of thought. “Just me and Bec and a whole world of adventure.”
“What, am I not allowed to come?”
Jade pretends to consider it, cocking her head. “Hmm...nope.”
“No brothers allowed,” she says, making a face at him. “I could take Jake, though. He likes adventures.”
“I like adventures!”
A laugh bubbles up from Jade’s throat, echoing giddily out over the empty street. “ Please, ” she groans. “You wouldn’t know adventure if it bit you on the ass.”
You have to grant her that one, sure. Your vision swims a little bit, and you close your eyes and let yourself fall back against the cool grass of your front lawn.
Just a little nap couldn’t hurt. It’s not like anyone will bother you out here, in your idyllic little suburb. They’re all too busy indoors, making lemonade and watching reruns of The Voice or whatever it is typical suburban families do on unbearable summer days like this one.
Maybe, if you’re lucky enough, you can wake up a city boy after all.
You don’t, of course, but when you blink your eyes open, you aren’t on the lawn anymore.
Light streams in through your window and spills over your face, bright and harsh. It takes a second for that to sink in - your room in on the east side of the house, you never get direct sunlight past ten AM. You must have slept through the afternoon and night, maybe Jade wrangled you back into your bed at some point so you weren’t passed out on the front lawn.
You hardly notice it at first - you don’t even realize until you go to rub the sleep from your eyelids. Your hands come away wet, shiny with smeared tears.
A hesitant press of fingertips against the skin under your eyes proves that yes, you woke up crying.
What the hell?
A distant taptaptaptap of footsteps down the hallway is the only warning you get before Jade busts into your room like a hurricane, slamming your door open hard enough that it bangs against the wall and careens back towards her face. She catches it with her elbow, staring down at you with big eyes made bigger by her glasses and her wild hair framing her face like a lion’s mane. You groan.
“Breakfast!” she chirps, way too chipper for - you check your clock - seven in the morning. You groan again, louder. “Come on, it’s your turn to cook.”
“Didn’t I cook yesterday?”
Jade huffs. “No, I cooked yesterday, and you complained about me putting blueberries in your pancakes.”
That doesn’t sound right - you love blueberry pancakes, and you feel like you would remember something like that, but you’re too tired to think too deeply about it. Maybe you do have a concussion, after all.
“I feel like I got steamrolled last night,” you whine as she follows you down the hallway, leaning bodily against the doorframe of your shared bathroom while you brush your teeth and splash yourself awake with icy water. “Did you drag me up the stairs?”
She doesn’t answer your question. When you look up from the sink at her, she has a pinched, confused look on her face.
There’s another beat of silence, and she wrinkles her nose at you. “You’re being weird,” she says, pulling a face and flouncing off down the hallway.
By the time you get downstairs, Jade is already sitting on the kitchen counter with a bowl of cereal in her hands. She waves at you when you walk in, the spoon stuck in her mouth.
“Why’d you wake me up if you were just gonna get your own food?”
She shrugs, and you tip your head back to the ceiling and let out a pained whine. When you look back down, she’s staring at you - not at your face, but somewhere vaguely around your midsection, and you follow her gaze to a smudged ink mark on your arm you hadn’t noticed before. You twist to get a better look at it, squinting to focus your eyes.
In glaring red marker and handwriting that very distinctly isn’t yours, you read three words.
who are you
“What the fuck.”
Jade, to her credit, looks just as confused as you do. She motions you closer, mumbling unintelligibly around the spoon in her mouth, and you reach out your arm to show her. You have to maneuver your arm around a little so she can read - the words are written facing you, like you had written them on yourself.
“What the fuck,” she parrots, your voice pitched up an octave echoing back at you. “Did you write that on yourself?”
“Does that look like my handwriting?” you deadpan, and she hums in hesitant agreement. It’s nothing like your handwriting, it’s barely legible chicken scratch that looks like whoever wrote it cared less about making it legible and more about making it look like the KISS logo and a bolt of lightning had a weird red sharpie baby.
You pad over to the sink and begin methodically scrubbing the ink off of your arm. There’s a shuffling sound behind you, the clink of Jade’s spoon against the ceramic of the bowl. “Are you sure it wasn’t you?”
“When would I have the time?” she snaps back. “You barely talked to me yesterday.”
You scoff. “When I was passed out for like fifteen hours straight, maybe? You know, after falling out of the tree yesterday?”
Jade makes a confused, strangled sort of noise behind you, and you leave off scrubbing your skin long enough to look back at her.
“John,” she says, words measured. “That was two days ago.”
“The tree? That was two days ago, it’s Monday now.”
You blink, confused. The last thing you remember is falling asleep on the lawn on Saturday - you pull out your phone to check the date. Sure enough, MONDAY, AUGUST 5 stares back at you from the top of the screen.
“I slept through the whole day?”
“You were awake ,” Jade counters, petulant. “You just avoided the hell out of everybody. Karkat had to drag you out by your collar for Sunday night movie marathon, and then you just complained about Ten Things I Hate About You for like an hour and a half straight.”
She’s lying, she has to be. You would never bash the best romcom this side of the eighties. “I love that movie,” you whine defensively. “I picked that movie. ”
“Hey, don’t pin this on me!”
You scoff. “Come on, Jade,” you say. “Prank time is up.”
“I’m being serious!”
Like hell she is. You punch your thumbs at your phone screen haphazardly, pulling up Karkat’s contact and hitting the call button before she can say anything else. He picks up on the third ring.
“John,” he says, and his voice is hazy and rough with sleep. “Do you have any idea how fucking early it is? Please tell me you’re done with your egotistical shitfit, I don’t think I can handle another day of Egbert a la Dickweasel talking trash about my favorite movies.”
“What day is it?’
Karkat lets out an unintelligible groan into the phone speaker, incoherent syllables interspersed with a healthy scattering of swears. “I’m hanging up,” he says eventually. “Good fucking bye, call again during business hours-”
“No wait, Karkat, just tell me what day it is, please.”
“Is this a joke?”
“Tell me and you can pick next week’s movie.”
There’s a thud, something that sounds vaguely like a head hitting a wooden headboard. “Monday. Fuck. Goodbye.”
The line clicks dead. You blink at your phone, Karkat’s contact info still pulled up. His contact image is a charming candid photo of him with half a hot dog stuffed into his mouth and one middle finger straight up, and you’ve never felt more personally targeted by it in your life.
Silence hangs heavy between you and Jade. You could cut it with a butter knife.
“So,” you say, after a long moment. “It’s Monday.”
“I fucking told you,” says Jade, emphasis on fucking. She always swears more after listening to Karkat. “Do I need to take you to the hospital? You’ve been weird ever since you hit your head-”
“I’m fine,” you say, even though you’re starting to believe it less and less by the minute. You try your best to pull up some memory of the day before, but the only thing you can grasp at are the vaguest hints of a dream you must have had. “I’ll just-”
Jade raises an eyebrow.
“I’ll go apologize to Karkat or something later. I probably just need some fresh air.”
She doesn’t seem very mollified by your answer, but she goes back to eating her cereal without argument. You switch on the tap again and keep scrubbing the red ink from your arm.
You decide to wait until the sun is high in the sky before you chance an encounter with Karkat, passing the time flipping through Pesterchum absently. You have a couple messages - all read, even though you don’t remember reading them. Two are from your sister, a simple don’t forget about movie night! followed half an hour later by geez, are you ever gonna come out of your room? Your gut twists uncomfortably; you don’t like the implication that you had been a jerk to Jade and your friends, even if you can’t remember anything about it. Maybe especially then.
Below that is a long-winded paragraph from Karkat, sent in the early hours of the morning. You don’t bother skimming through it, you have a feeling it’s just a rant about your alleged hatefest during movie night. Besides, you don’t particularly feel up to your friend’s personal brand of cinema-fueled rage at the moment.
Something else catches your eye - a blip at the bottom of the page that flashes in just as you’re about to close out of the window. Friend request accepted, it tells you in signature Pesterchum yellow. You don’t remember sending out any friend requests - but then again, that line of thinking is getting pretty stale by now. Maybe it was just someone Karkat had brought over for movie night, or someone you ran into while you were apparently living through the gaping blackout in your memory.
-- turntechGodhead accepted your friend request! --
-- turntechGodhead is now an active chum! --
You squint. Something about that searing red looks gratingly familiar, and not just because you spent half the morning trying to scrub it off of your arm. The user is online, and you hover your mouse over the red text for just a moment before the chat box pops up, unprompted.
-- turntechGodhead [TG] began pestering ectoBiologist [EB] --
TG: yo who uh
TG: who is this
TG: i mean not that im not thrilled ive gotten pretty used to batting fans off left and right but this is a personal account yknow friends only
TG: gotta keep it close to home what with my web fame all oozing out of me like some kinda fucked up aura
TG: chakras aligned third eye opened hot babes busting down my door for a piece of sweet strider action
TG: tell me what you want baby you want a signed comic you want a dedicated song just say the word
EB: dude, what?
EB: hell no.
TG: oh thank god that one was kinda getting away from me there
TG: striders the name trying to figure out who the hell you are is the game
EB: your name is strider?
EB: like from lord of the rings?
TG: oh thats just all hells of offensive
TG: ill have you know good old jolkien rolkien rolkien tolkien named his hot hunk of ranger ass after me thank you very much
EB: ehehe, sure.
TG: but no dude its dave
TG: dave strider illustrator extraordinaire
TG: purveyor of the illest beats this side of the atlantic
TG: connoisseur of shitty candid polaroid photos
TG: taker of mind numbingly tedious econ classes
TG: breaker of hearts and kicker of asses
TG: oh shit i could do something with that lemme write it down
TG: okay now that i took care of that i still dont know who the fuck you are
EB: oh! its john.
EB: john egbert.
EB: this might sound kind of dumb but i don’t actually remember adding you? yesterday was kind of blurry i thought you might be one of karkat’s friends.
EB: i was going to ask him but i think he might be mad at me. which i guess i understand apparently i ripped into one of his favorite movies last night.
EB: even though i don’t remember doing it? and it’s one of my favorite movies too so i don’t know why i would but karkat and my sister both said i did.
TG: car cat haha wow
TG: nah sorry dude i dont know a karkat
TG: or a john unless you count meeting you just now
TG: but hey you dont seem too bad barring the blackout but who am i to judge
TG: maybe getting fucked up and becoming an amateur film critic is your thing thats cool i can get behind that
EB: i wasn’t drunk!
EB: i just don’t remember it.
TG: you know what
TG: maybe i get that too
TG: anyway whatever i gotta dip i have a hot date with my sisters therapy couch feel free to stick around and ill talk to you later i guess if you havent unadded me yet
TG: good luck with your cat car man that sounds rough
EB: it’s karkat! but thanks.
EB: good luck with your uh. sister therapy?
TG: yeah that sounds skeevy enough to cover it
-- turntechGodhead [TG] ceased pestering ectoBiologist [EB] --
-- turntechGodhead [TG] is now offline! --
Well. Okay then.
You push yourself away from your desk, your chair spinning a full 180 before you hop down onto your feet. Something in your stomach does a weird sort of flip-flop-sink, and you groan and brace your hands against your thighs.
Maybe you are sick.
Or, you reason with yourself as you look through your window and catch sight of a beat-up old Toyota pulling up to the curb in front of your lawn, maybe you just need to get your bearings back.
Time to talk to Karkat.