Today is April 13th, year... something-something post-game. You really haven't been keeping track of time all that well.
You haven't been keeping track of a lot of things, lately.
Your name is JOHN EGBERT and you haven't felt like yourself in a while. Something beyond the obvious bothers you about that statement, but you've yet to put your finger on it.
You take a deep breath, and look at the smashed screen of your phone. Well, that was a bit of an overreaction- it's not like that does anything to the green sonuvabitch on the other side. Now you're down one phone, good job. At least you can just easily alchemize another, or probably just have your Ecto-Nana Jane send you one-
Today's not just your birthday, is it?
How long has it been since you've spoken to any of your friends? Maybe once or twice in the last few months? And aside from that, Jane's family- maybe not like someone you grew up with, but still. And you've missed how many birthdays, now?
God, how do you think she feels about that? Your stomach twists up in knots. Classic fucking Egbert, not giving a thought to what he does. Stupid, stupid!
You're grinding your teeth together, one hand pinching the bridge of your nose. No, it's okay- it's only... three hours past noon? Maybe there's still time, maybe you can make it up somehow.
But you certainly aren't going out dressed like this- sweaty tee shirt and pajama pants is no way to try and socialize. A quick look around your room and you realize that laundry might need to be your second priority, just as soon as you can convince your friends that, yes, you ARE a functioning member of society and not a sad sack stuck in his room, spending day after day trying to distract yourself from your own thoughts.
One alchemizing session and a healthy bottling of emotions later, you're at least presentable- you're gonna need to shave and proooooooobably shower before you head out, and you still don't have any sort of peace-offering to bring to any potential party. What do you get for the Nana/Grandaughter that already has a successful business on Earth C? Gotta be something heartfelt, something genuine.
You're ruminating over this as you pick up your newly alchemized phone, and hover over your contacts list.
Hoo boy. This is gonna be difficult. You'd much rather pop up and surprise everyone rather than give a heads up, but maybe it would be better to ease this whole thing rather than fumble it in your classic Egbert way.
You tap on Dave's name and start to type.
EB: hey, dave! been a while!
EB: i don't suppose you know if the gang is gonna be uh
EB: i dunno celebrating at jane's place or something today?
EB: thought i'd drop by or something
You wait. Tense seconds seem to stretch on for hours in your head. God, how long has it been since you last messaged Dave? What if he's pissed at you for cutting everyone off like that? What if- the phone dings and you see a new message.
TG: yeah dude me and karkat have been chilling here for like half an hour already
TG: shits god damn abysmal you feel me all the corporate decor of a vaporwave album with none of the underlying irony
TG: i thought you already knew about this coulda sworn i texted you
TG: you lose your phone or something its been a hot second
You release a breath you didn't realize you were holding. That definitely could've gone a lot worse.
EB: haha something like that!
EB: it might take me a bit to get over there, i uh....
EB: still need to figure out what to bring. whoops.
TG: its chill
TG: i mean maybe
TG: i aint jane so maybe shell do some kind of flip if youre coming by empty handed
TG: cant tell a god damn thing about some of these dudes lately
TG: all running corporations high and mighty like we even need more dough swimming in it like a bunch of old scottish ducks as it is
TG: but shit man its gonna be hells of good to see you again been way too long
EB: i'll be there soon as i can bullshit something up, lol.
TG: fuck yeah
You lean against the kitchen counter, locking your phone and pocketing it. Alright, well you're obligated now. No weaseling out of this one! But the issue of gifts is still unsolved. As you think it over, your eyes slowly start to drift over to the oven, then around to the pantry, and back again. You hum, walking over and cracking open the door- as expected, you find boxes of cake mix, still unopened.
An idea firms up in your brain.
You shift nervously from one foot to the other, grimacing as you check the cake in your sylladex. Stupid icing melting off the stupid thing, this was a mistake. Could have easily just gotten a store bought one, URGH!
You take a deep breath, and let it out slowly. It's done, it's over, whatever- might as well deal with what you've got. Ignoring your hesitation, you raise a fist and knock on the door- took a bit over an hour to get everything ready to arrive, and now the sun has started to lean closer to the horizon than overhead. Hopefully someone's still here-
The door opens, and like looking at some kind of weird mirror, Jane is standing there. Even in the comforts of her own home, she's wearing a killer business suit that gives off an air of... er... business. Wait, is this party supposed to be fancy dress? Your clothes are new, for sure, but they're definitely not business-casual. Her eyes are wide, mouth open in a small 'o' in shock.
Jane: John! This is... well, this is certainly a surprise!
That twinge in your gut starts up again, but you grin through it. You must be feeling more guilty than you thought.
EB: haha, yeah it's uhhhh... been a bit!
EB: sorry i missed your last birthday, and-
Jane: Well, don't just stand out there like a stranger! Come in, come in!
Jane beckons you through the door, and you shuffle inside. Her place is... somehow swanky and yet reminds you of your own house at the same time? Like someone got a mansion, but was definitely trying their hardest to make it less intimidating. It's probably not quite as successful at that as Jane hopes.
Before you get much further, you turn back to her.
EB: oh, uh- i brought something!
EB: i'm not as good at this as you are, but....
EB: happy birthday!
You present her your artifact of confection, and Jane blinks a few times. She puts a hand to her mouth, smiling at you with almost parental warmth.
Jane: John, that's...
Jane: Well, maybe your icing technique could use a little brushing up, but that's very sweet of you!
Jane: This actually means a lot to me, thank you!
Before you can register it, she's got you in a one armed hug, the other carefully balancing your gift. You're a little shocked, and awkwardly return the hug. God, what is up with you today? Surely you haven't COMPLETELY forgotten how to be close to other people?
Jane: I'm going to bring this to the kitchen, everyone else is in the parlor!
Jane: It's just to the right outside the foyer- oh, and if you need to head upstairs for any reason, make sure to leave your shoes!
Jane: The carpets are an absolute pain to clean.
EB: oh- right, yeah, sure!
EB: hey, i'm not under dressed for this, yeah?
Jane gives you a quick look up and down, before waving a hand.
Jane: Oh, heavens no, don't worry about it!
Jane: You certainly aren't the least casually dressed one here, hoo hoo!
She gives you another smile, and heads, presumably, to the kitchen. Alright, good, okay- things are going okay. You're... relieved. Some part of you was still expecting someone to get mad at you for dropping off the face of Earth C for as long as you did. Though, you suppose the night is still young, and there's a whole room of friends you haven't spoken to in a long ass time you still gotta deal with. You draw in a shaky breath, and proceed onward.
The sounds of light chatter backed by faint smooth jazz pick up pretty much as soon as you exit the foyer, and after a single, short hallway you've found the parlor. Hardwood floors complementing the vintage looking wallpaper, various paintings and photos lining the walls that you're pretty sure match the ones your dad put up in your own house for the most part, and some of the plushest looking recliners and chairs you've seen. Jane sure knows how to decorate, it seems. You definitely catch sight of more than a few familiar faces gathered, but there are new faces, as well- some carapacians and humans that, you assume, must be some of Jane's coworkers? You're not quite sure how that phrase applies to the CEO, but whatever.
You spot Dave and Karkat standing together by the appetizers. Dave is holding a plate absolutely loaded up with cocktail shrimp. Karkat's face is stuffed with food already chewed-up enough to be unrecognizable, but you're pretty sure it's more shrimp. You take a step forward.
Roxy: o. m. G! joooooooooohn!
-And you are immediately taken by a friend-contact fakeout, as Roxy Lalonde wraps an arm around your shoulders and starts giving you a most righteous noogie. She's beaming with absolute delight, and just past her you see Calliope standing primly and a little apologetically. Their looks couldn't be more different, with Calliope dressed up to the nines with some galaxy-themed dress ensemble, while Roxy is just sporting one of her cat shirts with ripped-off sleeves and capris.
EB: ack, hey- ow, come on, quit it!
Roxy: nah, u had it comin nerd
Roxy: its whatchu get 4 pullin that disappearin act!
EB: how are you doing that with your mouth?
Roxy just grins at you and gives you a mysterious wink. She's not telling. The ways of the Lalondes are mysterious and ephemeral, and not to be understood by nerds like yourself. You just kind of hang there in her headlock and accept your fate, face burning. This is DEFINITELY kinda awkward for you, for at least three reasons you could name right now.
Thankfully, a few of your friends have noticed your plight by now, and are making their way over. Dave's plate of endless shrimp is forgotten, with Karkat scuttling behind him. You also notice Rose and Kanaya walking in step towards your little kerfuffle. Where were they hanging out this whole time?
Dave: yo stop manhandling my best bro
Dave: shits mega embarrassing look at him
Dave: hes like putty in your grip cant even fight back come on john youre making us beta chads look bad
Rose: Roxy, would you please release my friend so I can greet him properly?
Roxy blows a raspberry, but complies. You stumble just a little, quickly straightening up. The silence between you all seems to stretch forever, but soon Dave takes a step forward. His face is placid, eyes hidden behind his trademark shades. You scratch your head.
EB: haha, uhhhhhhhh... i made it?
He reaches out a hand, places it on your shoulder, and slightly lowers his shades. What is going on?
EB: what are you doing with your voice?
A small smile finally cracks his facade, and he shrugs.
Dave: cant a dude express his feelings about missing his best bro in a subtle and memeable way these days
Dave: damn dude get with the times havent you seen spiderverse
EB: spider what?
Instead of answering your question, Dave just pulls you into a hug. Sure is a lot of physical contact going on today; it's almost like your friends actually missed and maybe even worried about you.
Karkat: WOW, WHAT AM I YESTERDAY'S GRUBLOAF? GET A FUCKING HIVE, YOU TWO.
Kanaya: Karkat Dont Be An Ass
Karkat waves a hand dismissively, making a disgusted face.
Karkat: I AM NOT "Being An Ass" I AM TRYING TO BRING SOME LEVITY TO THE SITUATION.
Karkat: READ THE ROOM KANAYA, THESE IDIOT WIGGLERS ARE JUST GONNA STAND AROUND THE WHOLE TIME CRYING OR SOMETHING
Karkat: YES, WE GET IT, EGBERT FINALLY LEFT THE HOUSE, WE'RE ALL VERY PROUD AND MISSED HIM
EB: yeah, haha, i missed you too.
Karkat stops his rant, looking you dead in the eye. His mouth is a thin line, and he seems to be seriously studying your face. You're starting to wonder what the hell is going on with him, and his lip starts quivering.
Karkat: DON'T DO THIS TO ME, YOU INSUFFERABLE NOOKHOLE!
Karkat quickly joins in on the hug sesh going on, eyes watering and streaming his- oh my god, is he wearing eyeliner? Oh, you dramatic bitch. You pat Karkat softly on the back and shoot a look over at Rose. She's smirking a little bit, but less of an insufferable know-it-all smirk and more of a "this is such a cute situation you've gotten yourself into, Egbert" smirk.
Rose: It's good to see you, John.
And there's that weird gut-wrench again, what is going on with you? You manage a smile, gesturing with your head.
EB: well, join in, rose. the feels are happening.
Rose: Hahaha, oh that's funny.
Rose: Thank you, but I think I must decline. You might want to check with your physician after such prolonged physical contact with those two.
Rose: If the state of their home is anything to go off of, you've probably caught something.
Karkat: YEAH, FUCK YOU
You snicker a bit at all this, and eventually extricate yourself from the iron grip of the Strider-Vantas household. And now comes the hardest part of this little reunion.
EB: so, what's everyone been up to this past year?
Rose: -and they were roommates.
EB: oh my god, they were roommates?
Dave and Karkat both look a tad miffed as Rose started to spill the hot goss about Jade's brief stints crashing on their couch while she went off to travel.
Dave: aight actually fuck this shit i dont gotta subject myself to this heap of embarrassment i got a plate full of shrimp and a stomach full of empty to see myself to cmon karkat
And with that, Dave grabs Karkat’s hand and drags him back to the buffet. Roxy gives Rose a little frown, one elbow on your shoulder as she basically uses you as a wall to look mature leaning against.
Roxy: rosie, u kno u shouldnt bully ur little bro like that. max uncool.
The awkward silence strikes again, as Rose grimaces at Roxy’s ironic maternal act. She clears her throat, and looks to her wife.
Rose: Dear, I think I could use a breath of fresh air, care to join me?
Kanaya: Oh Of Course
Aaaaaaaand there they go. Now it’s just you, Roxy, and Calliope. Roxy huffs, crossing her arms, and Calliope pats her on the shoulder.
Calliope: there, there, yoU were only trying to lighten the mood.
Roxy: yeah, an look how fuckin GOOOOD that went! cant any of us just stick around together or some shit? they’re always goin off to their own new little gangs or whatevs. shit STINKS!
Sure enough, you look around at all the little cliques that have formed in Jane’s parlor- and while Rose and Dave avoiding each other at the moment seems at least a little justified, it’s really hitting you now that you’re not the only one who seems to be cutting yourself off from everyone else. Jane is chatting up her work friends, Dave and Karkat have once again sequestered away in the buffet, Rose and Kanaya exchange hushed words by a bookshelf. Jade apparently didn’t make it, but stranger still is that you don’t even see Dave’s bro or Jade’s grandpa anywhere.
Your frown deepens. Seeing everyone apart like this kind of just... fucking blows.
Roxy: john, u ok?
You close your eyes, holding back a grimace. Honestly, if you can’t even lie convincingly about it then why bother?
EB: i don’t... i don’t know.
EB: there’s some kind of funk going on and i don’t really...
EB: god, how long has it been like this?
Roxy’s doing her best to downplay her concern, but she’s only marginally better at hiding her feelings than you.
Roxy: i mean... 4 a bit, yeah? rose an kanaya started kinda driftin off when they got married, then u stopped textin back...
Roxy: dirks always been kinda aloof and shit, y’kno
Roxy: he tries! like, a lot- even if jake’s gotta drag his ass to social gatherins when he gets too deep in cold metal robo-heiny
Roxy: even janey-
She stops, looking over at the woman in question. There’s conflict and sadness on her face, breaking through her attempt to be the strong one here.
Roxy: she throws these parties, invites all a us here, and doesnt even say more than like 2 words at us...
You really feel like shit. You should have tried harder- put yourself out there even if you felt like you were just floating through life after SBURB, feeling more and more fake every day. If you had kept it up, would everyone else have stuck around? If you stuck around, would someone else have maybe actually picked up on your bullshit?
God, are you depressed?
You’re open your mouth to say something, but how do you even start here? Fortunately (or maybe unfortunately?) your brain is interrupted by a body skidding right into the doorframe of the parlor’s entrance. A very out of breath Jake English is standing there, all dressed up and apparently with somewhere to be. That somewhere being here.
Jake: Great gadzooks im so sorry im late!
Jake: Might have lost track of time there for a moment!
A second afterwards, Dirk Strider comes into view, much less dressed up than his- are they boyfriends? You remember them being strangely evasive about it last time you heard someone ask.
Dirk: Apologies. Got a bit too deep in cold, metallic robo-heiny.
Their ruckus certainly drew attention from most of the gathered folks. Rose looks like she's getting a headache. Dave glances over at the pair, then back to Karkat, shrugs and continues to gather up free shrimp. How does he keep finding shrimp? The platter should be empty by now, at the rate they're going at.
Jane's hands are planted firmly on her hips as she marches towards the two latecomers, a stern look of disapproval on her face.
Jane: Do either of you have any idea what time it is?
Jane: Shame on the two of you, making me wait so long!
Jake tugs at the collar of his shirt, looking apologetic. Dirk simply pulls out his phone.
Dirk: Oof, yeah we fucked up big time here.
Dirk: Before you have us rightfully summarily executed, let me just text my bro my last wishes.
His thumbs fly across the screen. A moment later, Dave pulls out his phone. His expression remains neutral, as he turns and shouts across the room to his bro-dad, making extra sure his voice is as toneless and deadpan as possible.
Dave: hahaha wow that joke is still just as funny the first time you said it
Dave: yeah hold up lemme just pull out the sword i havent used in like two years and decapitate you so you can get out of this situation
Dave: very cool love it 10/10 definitely a joke i dont absolutely god damn despise
You're pretty sure he's being sarcastic. Jane lets out a breath, laughing a little.
Jane: Well, don't just stand there like a bunch of goofuses. The party's already started, as you can see.
Dirk: Oh shit, nah I didn't even notice.
Jane rolls her eyes, and Dirk pulls something from his sylladex with a quick rap. It looks like a DVD case?
Dirk: Oh, anyways- I made you something. Give it a watch when you've got the time.
Jane raises both her eyebrows, taking the DVD and squinting at it suspiciously.
Jane: Dirk Strider, what have you done to my favorite television series?
Dirk: WAFO, my good bitch.
You find yourself being dragged along as Roxy makes her way over to the rest of the Alpha crew, a broad smile on her face and a tight grip around your wrist.
Roxy: bout fuckin time you got your ass here!
Dirk holds out a fist to bump, and Roxy doesn't leave him hanging. There's the smallest of trademark Strider grins on his face.
And then he turns to you, and hesitates. You swallow.
Dirk: You're... here.
Dirk: What's the occasion?
EB: haha, uh... jane's birthday?
You can see a single eyebrow rise above his pointy anime shades. There's something just a little unnerving about the man- maybe it's just you conflating too much of what Dave's Bro did with him, but you can't shake the weird feeling in your gut.
Dirk: Well, yeah, obviously.
Dirk: You just tend not to attend these types of gatherings, is all.
EB: i just, uh... felt like a change of pace.
He nods, and starts walking past you, clapping you on the shoulder in an attempt to be friendly, you guess? It honestly just kind of weirds you out.
Dirk: Well, either way- good to see you.
Dirk: Give me a bit, before my bro eats literally every shrimp in this joint.
You're more than okay with letting him leave the conversation. Jake beams at you, giving a thumbs up.
Jake: Jolly good to see you john!
Jake: Youve been a right hard fellow to get a hold of these past few months!
EB: haha, that certainly is an objectively true thing you've said!
Jake laughs, a loud belly-laugh, genuinely tickled by your thinly veiled attempt to not draw attention to your perhaps newly discovered depressive tendencies. Roxy and Jane both look less amused, and you try your best not to break under their x2 womanly intuition gaze combo.
You're starting to feel like this is going to be a long, long party.
It's been a little over four hours, and the time is now 8 pm. All in all, you've decided... this hasn't been that bad, actually? Definitely some rough patches- patches you think you might have to work extra hard with Roxy to bridge between all your friends- but for the most part it's felt nice to just...
Be with your friends.
You've slipped away from conversation for a little bit, nursing a glass of punch by the punch bowl. Baby steps, at least.
You take a sip. It's nice and fruity, a classic flavor you've had at many birthday parties in the past. And thankfully, totally non-alcoholic. You're pretty sure that's both for Rose and Roxy's benefit, but truthfully you still hadn't developed much of a taste for the stuff.
Jane walks up next to you, grabbing a cup and pouring herself some of the bright red beverage. She gives you a polite nod, and takes a sip.
EB: uh, hey-
EB: thanks for not, like... turning me away at the door, or anything.
She gives you a bewildered look.
Jane: What? John, what gave you the impression that I would do such a thing?
You kind of just shrug, not really looking at her.
EB: i dunno, i just... i haven't exactly been all that present.
EB: i was kinda scared that every one might be
EB: mad at me?
Jane stares at you for a long, LONG time, before setting down her cup. Her expression is one of the most serious ones you've seen on her face.
There it IS again- is it your name? Is that what's been eating at your gut this whole time? What is even up with your fucking name? God, it's like the single most boring, average, dude name out there. Is that what this is? Your name just being so... painfully boring???
Jane: John, is something wrong?
You take in a sharp breath of air, and continue avoiding her gaze, staring at your own reflection in your glass of punch. After everything, is that still you?
EB: i think... i think i'm depressed?
You hazard a glance over at her. There's something worryingly maternal in her expression. God, please don't just stand there, staring at you with pity. You do NOT need that, right now.
Jane: Have you... told anyone else this?
You shake your head. Silence drowns the both of you, and she takes another sip of her punch.
After a few moments, Jane starts fiddling with her sylladex.
Jane: Listen, I might not be a psychologist, but...
Jane: John, you're family, alright?
Jane: If you need a shoulder or anything, please- do talk to me, okay?
You nod, feeling even smaller than before. There's a barely audible notification, and you look back to Jane- she's set a new cake down on the table. It looks just a tad familiar.
Jane: If nothing else, I know having a sweet or two makes me feel better when I'm at my lowest.
She's already bitten into a slice of the cake you made, now somewhat re-frosted, and smiles at you.
Jane: It's honestly quite good! Just need to remember to let the cake cool before you ice it.
You let out a small chuckle.
EB: maybe i can drop by later and you can give me a few pointers?
Jane blinks, and then remembers to swallow.
Jane: That sounds like an excellent idea.
Jane: Have just a day to do some family bonding?
Jane: I'd like that very much, actually.
There's almost something... urgent, to her voice. A kind of familiar urgency. Just how lonely is it at the top, Jane Crocker?
You find yourself nodding, and grabbing a slice of your cake with a newfound enthusiasm.