I really fucking hated running. I hated the way I looked, I hated the way I felt. I hated how sweat dripped down my back and my face, how it pretty much soaked my underwear. I hated the burning in my lungs most of all.
I was pretty out of shape. Jogging halfway around the high school’s track had me out of breath and by a full lap my legs were screaming at me to stop.
“You wanna take a break, Dave?” John grinned, trotting his ass along side me, “we just started, I can’t believe you're tired already!”
“Fuck off man, I can’t help it,” I huffed, “I’m out of shape.”
My best friend laughed. “I’ll say.”
“Hey, I don’t know why you wanna submit yourself to this torture, but it’s not for everyone. Like myself for instance.”
“Track is fun!” John countered, “you get to exercise and exercising makes you happy! Like in your brain and stuff. Plus you can compete and win stuff!”
“Sure. Whatever. If exercise makes you happy maybe we should tell Rose that. Her ass is constantly miserable,” I snarked. John took a moment to think about that.
“I think your sister's problem is deeper than that, no offense.”
“None taken,” I replied.
“You should join, it’d be fun. We could do it together,” John suggested.
“No,” I rejected immediately.
“Yeah, do it!” John insisted, “hey, maybe your dad would get off your case about the boxing lessons?”
It was my turn to think. I fucking hated those boxing lessons. I had absolutely no upper body strength and the instructor had no faith in me.
“Yeah but like, what would I do? I’m not exactly Dave the fastest kid in school, or Dave the strongest kid in school. I’m kinda just like, Dave the guy, you know?”
John laughed, never faltering a step. “That’s okay! We can find something you're good at. Like uh, we could work on running this year and do two man relay? Or uh, you by yourself could do shop put or something. And the coach is nice!”
“Sure, let me get right on that,” I huffed, using my wrist in a failed effort to wipe some of the sweat off of my face. “Seriously, who runs in the summer, what the fuck?”
John just laughed.
We jogged a little longer, rounding a curve on the black top.
“You really think he’ll let me quit boxing?” I asked.
“I could see if my dad would ask him?” John offered.
“Sounds like a marvelous fucking plan.”
The conversation lulled for a whole lap before John started it up again.
“Summer feels like it’s going so fast, this isn’t fair,” John huffed. His sneakers hit the track rhythmically, and I tried for just asecond to get mine to sound the same as his. My legs were longer, I realized, John was about Karkat’s height, a whole head shorter than me, and it wouldn't happen.
“I know, right? It’s already almost August. You doing the county fair again this year?”
He just sort of laughed. “Yeah, I’m pretty excited. I got an extra ticket to the grandstands, you wanna come see the figure eight on Monday night after we get the rabbits settled?”
“Yeah man, totally, you need help with the rabbits? You got like fifty of them.”
Okay, that was an exaggeration. He’d started with two, one for him and one for his sister Jane, but then Jane lost interest and one of the rabbits that was supposed to be a boy was actually a girl and well, John got to keep all of the babies. He showed them, and while they didn’t always do so well, he did have a couple of blue ribbons in the stash with the reds and yellows.
“I don’t have fifty, I have five, and yeah, sure. That’d be great actually! The barn manager usually buys everybody popcorn too. Do you wanna show one?” John asked without missing a beat.
“I’m good.” Rabbits weren’t my thing.
It was quiet, for just a second, until John broke the silence with a strange, awkward tone.
“Hey, can I ask you a question? Like, a weird question?”
I gave him the side eye, but answered, “sure.”
“Is Karkat everything you hoped for? Like, um,” he paused to clear his throat, “like, how, uh, how did you know he was what you wanted?”
Oh. I guess I figured he was gonna ask me something totally off the wall. That certainly was a totally different subject, but it wasn’t an offensive question.
“Uhh,” I started lamely, “I guess I didn’t? I mean how many people know what they want? No offense but a ton of people can’t tell flirting from just talking. I mean, no offense but your sister hadn’t hung out with Gamzee Makara a day in her life but suddenly they’re spending like every day together.”
John pulled a disgusted face and rolled his eyes. “I know. ”
“Right,” I continued, “and I mean teenagers are bad at this shit anyway. Kanaya confessed to Rose like female Romeo and fuckin’ gay Juliet and they’re a thing. I’m off topic though. I guess I didn’t know I liked Karkat so much until suddenly I did. It just hit me one day and we flirted our dumb asses off until he kissed me and it just sort of got official from there.”
“Are you happy?” John followed up.
“Oh hell yeah, man. Karkat and you have always been my best buds but it’s a good different. But it’s not always flowers and sunshine out the ass. We fucked Terezi over hard core. She still won’t speak to either of us. Why do you ask?”
John jogged on for just a minute, his face looking deeply unhappy.
“You don’t gotta tell me,” I assured, “I’m just curious is all.”
“Well so,” John’s voice wavered before he cleared his throat a second time. “Well so, um. Can I ask you one more question before I tell you?”
John was nervous about something. I couldn’t pin just what yet. “Yeah.”
“Like even if it’s invasive? I don’t wanna be an asshole.”
I rolled my eyes. “Yeah dude, fuck, just ask.”
“Do you and Karkat do, uh, like do stuff? Like, like, sex stuff?”
I stopped dead with my jaw slack. Little John Egbert that’d been the same hight since the sixth grade, and whose dad fixed him lunch every day honestly just asked me that? I couldn’t believe my goddamn ears.
John, noticing I’d basically just flatlined, doubled back around and stopped. He put his hands on his hips while he breathed deeply.
“Uh,” I stammered, “No, no, not usually. I mean, not yet. We might like to later? I guess? But no.”
John took a deep breath and nodded. He looked away, still very worried. We just sort of stood like that for a while, panting and sucking in huge gulps of air and wishing we had brought water. He finally broke the silence as I wiped sweat off of my face.
“So I was online the other night and stumbled across this forum talking about- er. So I kinda think that I’m-”
Oh fuck, here it comes. Mr. John “I’m not a homosexual” Egbert was about to tell me he was gay.
“Okay, remember three years ago when Jade figured out she was bisexual? And she was so happy that it was a thing she could be and she told us how good it made her feel to know that?” He asked.
“Yeah?” I agreed.
“I was sort of thinking about that. I was online the other night and I saw some people talking about this thing, called Asexuality. And then I saw some more stuff, this time on stuff like aromanticism, which, that’s where you don’t get feelings. For anybody."
"I was so confused, you know?” John rubbed his eye in a way that vaguely looked like he was crying. I’d never seen this kid look so upset, not even at his sixth birthday party when Jane hid a fake mustache in the cake.
“Like how does that happen? How broken of a person do you have to be to be that way? But the more I read about it the more I noticed it sounded just like me. I guess I just asked so, um, I guess so I could judge for myself how I’m supposed to feel, you know?”
He laughed a little in the blubbering sort of giggle, choking a little on his tears, and sniffed. “I mean, I’m only sixteen. I guess I still have time to feel differently.”
“Jesus Christ, John,” my words fell outta my mouth in pure disbelief, “you aren’t broken.”
“Should I want to fall in love though? To meet a pretty girl and get married and have the kids and dog and white picket fence? Just like my dad?” John’s face was red and it wasn’t from running.
“Fuck no!” I said a little louder than I needed. “Dude, your the only one who can decide what you want. There’s nothing wrong with not wanting any of that.”
Oh god. I didn’t sign up for a nervous breakdown today but I got one anyway. I wasn’t sure if it was the sight of my best friend crying or the fact that I’d felt just like that not too long ago. I remembered realizing I was in love with Karkat, and the horrible dread it brought.
Not because I didn’t want to be that way, but because of the way my dad treated my siblings.
I didn’t know how John felt. I’d felt similar, and I was going to offer him whatever help I could.
“Hey, John, let's go see Karkat. He’s really good at this sort of stuff, maybe he could help you?” I suggested. Karkat was definitely better at this than I was.
John hiccuped, rubbing his eyes and sniffling. He was trying so hard to get this under control. I took the poor kid into a one armed hug, trying to keep my sticky skin off of his, and John returned the hug with an arm of his own.
“Yeah okay, let's go see Karkat,” he finally agreed into my shirt.
We parted ways without even as much as a no homo, and left the track, walking across the football field to the parking lot. The high school wasn’t too far from home. Only a couple of blocks. It seemed like a lot longer in the suburbs, walking on the side of the road.
The cul-de-sac was a welcome sight. Karkat looked to be home, and thankfully his father was not. Kankri’s car was there, but I’d gotten to know him over the past month and a half. He was chill, in a Kankri sort if way.
I lead John around the house instead of using the front door, and let us in though the back sliding door. I’d been informed I could come and go as I pleased. I used those instructions liberally.
We entered the house to shouting.
“Kankri, you stupid fucking dicklicking shit for brains! Stop it!”
“Now, now,” Kankri’s voice was as calm and condescending as ever.
“Yo! I’m here!” I shouted through the house.
“Great! Now Dave’s here!” Karkat groaned loudly, “come in, I guess.”
I lead John through the house, passing through the kitchen to the living room. I knew the way since this house was an exact copy of my own, besides the furniture.
I found Karkat in the living room, standing on a chair with a sweater on. The charcoal grey knit was only half finished, his bare belly on display and only one sleeve attached. Kankri stood on one side of him with a magnetic strip of pins and a measuring tape. Porrim Maryam stood on the other side of him, looking miffed at what I think might have been the other sleeve. The older Maryam girl was so tall, Karkat had to have the chair so she wouldn’t be bent over the whole time.
“You gettin’ pretty for me, babe?” I snickered.
Karkat rolled his eyes. “Porrim was nice enough to make me one like Kankri’s, can it.”
“This one will be finished soon, so he can use it in the fall. I’ll make you one too, if you’d like, Dave,” Porrim grinned, looking away for just a moment. I grinned back.
“Naw, that’s okay. Thanks though. I actually brought John to see Karkat, if you don’t mind?”
“Kankri pin this here,” Porrim instructed, holding the top of the sleeve up to the sweater. Kankri reached over sticking a pin in the woven fabric, and in Karkat’s shoulder.
“Ow, Jackass!” Karkat snarled. This time Kankri ignored him.
Porrim reached over, pulling the sweater over Karkat’s head and off of him. “Let's take five.”
As Porrim and Kankri left the room, Karkat stepped down from the chair.
“So what’s up?”
“I thought maybe you could help John out. Your really good at like, helping other people feel better,” I answered.
Karkat rose his eyebrows and turned to John. John shrunk back.
“Spill it Egbert, I don’t have all day.”
“Okay, well, so,” John stammered.
“Spit it out!” Karkat was aggressive. Sometimes he needed to be.
“Jeez, no need to be so mean,” John whined. I could tell he wasn’t wanting to continue, so I elbowed him in the ribs to prompt him further. “Okay, okay, you guys are gonna choke it out of me either way, I get it. Fine. I think I’m aromantic, alright? Do I need to say more?”
Karkat didn’t look surprised, more like apathetic. I knew that look well, and I was pretty sure John did too
“Aromantic? As in like, not interested in romance?” My boyfriend inquired.
“Yeah,” John affirmed.
Karkat’s expression didn’t change. “Oh, good for you. What’s the problem?”
“Don’t you think there’s anything wrong with that? It’s not normal.” John expressed.
Karkat rolled his eyes. “Listen. Kankri goes on and on about this shit after he gets off those Internet forums of his. There are tons of people like you. It is normal. Normal is a subjective term.”
“Normal is not! Normal is two parents and their kids. It’s a family,” John argued.
“Alright, Egbert. Who’s in your family? You know who’s in mine? A dead mom, a brother, an asshole dad, and two sisters I lived next to my entire life and never knew. Arguably, there's a second mother. I’m gay. I don’t have a nuclear family. I'm normal. You're normal. Dave is normal. You know what’s not normal? Freaking the fuck out about being yourself.” Karkat huffed angrily once he was finished speaking. He was annoyed, I could tell. He was more annoyed than he was letting on though, for John’s sake.
“Do you suppose I could add something?”
My head twisted around, and so did John’s to Porrim rendering the room. She held a bottle of water, and stood square, trying her best not to intimidate John. Porrim smiled warmly, I could see her rolling the ball on her lip piercing.
“I guess,” John muttered.
She came closer, placing a reassuring hand on John’s shoulder and steered him to the couch so she could sit eye to eye with him, talk on the same level. She was definitely the mom friend of her friend group.
“John, just because you feel this way doesn’t mean things have to change. You’ve lived your life this way up until now, and no one can stop you from following along that same track. Aromantic people still get married, asexual people still have kids. If you have an image you want to fit, chase it, but do so because it makes you happy, not because it’s what society thinks is right. You don’t have to fit in someone’s boxed idea of a label.”
I watched the gears turn in John’s head, and the oil clear out of the water. Realization hit him like a hammer, and it clicked. He just sort of nodded dumbly.
“Great,” Porrim’s grin widened, “Kanny’s gonna make us some mac and cheese for lunch. Would you boys like to stay?”
Just then, something crashing in the kitchen, like a hundred metal pans pounding on each other. Porrim’s expression did a one eighty, scowling and standing up.
“Kanny! Can’t you even boil water without making a fuss?”
“Porrim, please!” Kankri shouted from the other room, and Porrim quickly left to finish the argument she’d just started.
John sort of laughed, and sat back on the couch. He took a deep breath and put a tired hand over his face, like a load had just been taken off of his shoulders. I elbowed Karkat with a smirk. My boyfriend narrowed his eyes.
“Dave, go get a fucking wash cloth. You guys reek.”