They eat lunch together for the next two days after that.
It’s like they came to an unspoken agreement. They meet in the cafeteria and get their food and then Jared guides him to some random, secluded spot on campus with a hand placed low on his back.
On Tuesday it was the empty football field. They sat in the grass and Jared leaned against the goal post, long legs stretched out in front of him. On Wednesday it was the abandoned cement path that runs behind the tech building. It’s like Jared has searched out all the secluded spots on campus. It’s like he’s showing Jensen all the best places to hide.
They don’t talk all that much. When they do it’s mostly about superficial things in an effort to get to know each other. Jared asks him about his old school and tells him about his new town. He talks about his friends with such a reverence that Jensen feels guilty for taking him away from them.
Jared flicks little bits of food at him and knocks their feet together, but he doesn’t get too close. He’s giving Jensen time to warm up to him and get comfortable around him. Thing is, Jensen has never been more comfortable around anyone in his entire life.
But at the same time, he’s never been more terrified of anyone either.
Jared makes him think things that he shouldn’t, feel things that he shouldn’t, and it scares him. He tries to push those things to the back of his mind, but it’s hard when he’s faced with Jared’s expressive eyes and wide, bright smile.
Seeing Jared has become the highlight of Jensen’s day – the bright spot he looks forward to. But Jared makes him want, and that’s bad.
Jared is confusing. Jensen knows he should run away but he can’t. He can’t give Jared up, not now. Not even when he shakes him up so badly.
Jensen walks into the cafeteria on Friday and tells himself that this is a bad idea.
He spent years trying to shove that secret part of himself into a tiny little box and put it in the back of his mind. He’s worked so hard on never revealing that bit of himself, but as soon as he first saw Jared standing on a table in the cafeteria it all went to hell. It’s like Jared took the box, shook it up, and dumped it upside down on Jensen’s carefully sculpted life.
Jensen knows he shouldn’t be doing this.
He runs his hand through his hair and squeezes his eyes shut, and then turns to walk away before Jared can find him. He has to put a stop to this. He has to stop giving himself false hope. His plan backfires massively when instead of escaping he smacks right into Jared’s broad chest.
“Whoa, Jen!” Jared calls out with a laugh. The nickname makes Jensen’s heart do a little somersault. He freezes, every muscle in his body locking down until he can’t move. Jared’s hands are on his shoulders, long fingers curling around his biceps and burning where they brush his bare skin. Jared smells like sugar and clean sweat and Jensen jerks out of his grasp.
“Sorry,” he mumbles, keeping his eyes trained on the ground. Jared has rainbow shoelaces in his black Chuck Taylors and he’s sort of everything Jensen wishes he could be. Everything he knows he’ll never have.
“Hey,” Jared says softly. He reaches up to put a finger under Jensen’s chin and lifts his face. Jensen’s eyes flutter open and he swallows again, gaze fixed on Jared’s friendly eyes. “You never have to be sorry about anything with me, okay?”
Jared drops his hand with a crooked, bashful smile and Jensen wants to cry and scream why can’t I have this? Instead, he just forces his features into a blank expression. It’s easy by now. He’s been doing it for years.
“Ready to go?” Jared asks. Jensen can’t do anything but nod. Jared places his hand against the dip of Jensen’s spine, the tip of his thumb brushing the waistband of Jensen’s jeans. He leads him out of the cafeteria and into the cool air without any food. Jensen looks over at him with a confused expression. “Oh, I thought it’d be nice to get off campus today. I know this great little pizza place. And it totally beats the school’s mystery loaf.”
Jensen bites his lip. He’s never seen Jared outside of school. Right now it’s like a fantasy, an escape. Leaving school with him would make Jared bleed over into his real life and blur all the lines.
“Jared, I don’t think – “ He starts, but Jared cuts him off by curling his fingers in the hem of Jensen’s shirt and giving it a yank.
“Come on,” Jared says with an awkward little smile. He almost looks nervous. “It’ll be fun. I have cupcakes. My mom made them. And they’re just chocolate. No gay toppings this time.”
“Okay,” Jensen says, nodding to himself. He’s not sure he could actually deny Jared anything. “Sure.”
They walk off campus in relative silence. Jared hastily explains that they aren’t technically supposed to leave during lunch but so many people do that they don’t really even try to enforce it. He gives Jensen a guilty little look like he’s done Jensen some great disservice, like he could ever be capable of hurting someone.
A car horn sounds behind them and Jensen jumps, inwardly cursing himself when it turns out to be a carful of people waving at Jared. He’s so jumpy all the time, caged up and tense. He doesn’t get what Jared sees in him.
And that’s the thing – the giant elephant in the room. Jared knows what he is and he doesn’t care. Jensen is torn between just confessing his secrets to this tall, gangly boy with the dimpled grin or keeping up this ridiculous charade and pretending Jared can’t read him in a way that is honestly pretty terrifying.
Jensen chews on his lip and squints against the crisp February air. Jared starts talking; rambling like it’s his second nature. Jensen just walks alongside him, a tiny smile unknowingly tugging up the corners of his mouth.
It’s nice to have someone to fill the silence.
The pizzeria Jared leads them to is only a few blocks from campus. It’s a tiny brick building tucked away in the corner of a shopping center. A bell chimes when they enter and Jensen looks around. The place is nearly empty and Jared bounces up to the counter.
An elderly woman peeks her head out from the back and when she sees Jared her entire face lights up. She comes up to the counter and grins at him, something warm and fond in her eyes.
“Jared!” She shouts. Jared smiles widely. “My little activist. It’s been too long.”
“I was in here last week,” Jared tells her with fond exasperation. She just keeps grinning. It makes the corners of her eyes crinkle.
“Exactly,” she replies. “Too long.”
“It won’t happen again,” Jared says. He looks over his shoulder at Jensen and motions him forward. Jensen steps up next to him and shoves his hands into the pockets of his jeans. “Susan, this is Jensen. He just moved here.”
“Hello Jensen,” she says fondly, and Jensen smiles and ducks his head. “Oh, shy and gorgeous.”
“Hey, don’t go breakin’ my heart,” Jared admonishes. Susan winks at him. “How’s Isabelle doing?”
“Better,” Susan says, and her eyes lose a little bit of their playful sparkle. “She’s a tough little girl.”
“She is,” Jared agrees. Jensen doesn’t miss the way his brows furrow slightly in concern.
“She wanted me to tell you thanks for the teddy bear,” Susan says, voice thick with emotion. “She also said she wants to marry you when she grows up, but I don’t think I was supposed to tell you that part.”
Jared blushes and Jensen is suddenly fascinated with the way his cheeks turn pink. Susan reaches out to pinch Jared’s cheek and he wrinkles up his nose.
Jared is beautiful.
The thought hits him like a punch to the gut, because as obvious as it is, he’s never allowed himself to think it. He stands there staring blankly ahead, barely listening as Jared gets their food and leads him to a table.
He sits down and tries not to panic. In less than five days this boy has completely mixed him up, forced him to feel things he vowed to never let himself feel. His carefully placed mask is slipping and Jared continues to be a little more perfect at every single turn.
“Isabelle is Susan’s granddaughter,” Jared says once they’re settled in opposite sides of the booth. “She has leukemia.”
That snaps Jensen out of it. It makes his problems seem miniscule in comparison.
“Oh no,” he says. He nearly reaches out to touch Jared’s hand where it rests on the table. He resists at the last moment and instead lets his hands rest awkwardly on either side of his plate. Jared just gives him a soft, resolved smile.
“It’s okay,” he replies. “She’s responding well to treatment. She’s going to be fine.”
“Good,” Jensen breathes. Jared gestures towards his pizza as he picks up his own slice and Jensen tears off little pieces of it. His stomach is fluttering too much to really eat. He’s alone with Jared, pressed into this tiny booth tucked away in a hidden corner. Isolated.
“So how is it going so far?” Jared asks before taking a huge bite of pizza. He talks with his mouth full and somehow it’s charming. “Everyone better be being nice to you.”
“Yeah,” Jensen says, furrowing his brow. “They are, I guess. I don’t really talk to anyone but you. I’m – well, I’m not great at talking to people.”
“You lie!” Jared says, letting out a mock gasp. Jensen looks up in time to see Jared wink at him. Jensen laughs a little and reaches up to rub at the back of his neck.
“I guess it is pretty obvious,” Jensen says, looking out of the window as he continues. “People talk about you a lot.”
“Whatever they said about pink spandex, it isn’t true,” Jared retorts immediately. Jensen looks back at him with a tiny smirk.
“No,” he continues. “Not in a bad way. It’s just – I’m sort of amazed by how often your name pops up in random conversations. Like you’re a part of every story worth telling.”
And it’s true. People talk about Jared all the time. Stories about how he made them laugh or helped them with a problem, everything up to and including how awesome his mom’s cookies are.
It’s like he’s touched everyone’s life at some point or another, and Jensen is sort of in awe of him. It’s amazing how one person can have an impact on so many lives and still have time to live his own.
When he meets Jared’s eyes he sees something indecipherable in them. If he didn’t know any better, he’d say Jared looks sad.
“It’s cool,” Jensen reassures him, and Jared blinks a few times. He smiles a little and runs his hand through his hair.
“No, that’s not – “ He cuts himself off and looks at Jensen head on. “I’ve sort of always liked to help people. Everyone feels like they can talk to me, I guess.” He gives Jensen a meaningful look at that, like he’s giving him a hint. Jensen wants to talk to him. About everything, even.
“My parents had all these people from the Baptist church over the other night,” Jensen blurts out, and he figures that’s close enough. He blinks a few times, surprised that he’s actually talking about this. “It was pretty horrible. We’ve been here for less than a week and they’re already trying to impress the pastor.”
Jared’s eyes go soft, not full of pity but understanding. Jensen looks away and pulls his bottom lip between his teeth. But when Jared just leans in closer, Jensen finds himself leaning in as well.
“Ah,” Jared says, clearing his throat and threading his fingers together. “I’m, well, not the most popular person with that crowd.” He looks up at Jensen, meets his gaze, and Jensen fights the urge to look away. “Your parents are really religious, then?” Jensen swallows and nods.
“I – I can’t be myself around them,” Jensen says in a pained whisper. It’s the closest he’s ever come to admitting he’s not the good little straight boy he was raised to be. Jared purses his lips and reaches out to touch Jensen’s wrist. Jared’s fingers are hot like a brand against his skin and he shivers.
“Some people refuse to see the good in others,” Jared says, voice pitched low and serious. “Just because of something some stranger said was wrong thousands of years ago. They judge, and they hate, without even bothering to try and understand.”
Jensen’s throat tightens and he looks at Jared desperately. His heart is pounding in his chest and he stares at the tiny mole next to Jared’s nose as his vision blurs slightly.
“You’re amazing, Jensen. I’ve only known you for a few days and I can see that,” Jared continues, fingers curling around his wrist and pressing against the delicate skin underneath. “I’m so sorry that anyone has ever made you feel like you can’t let yourself be happy.”
“I want to be,” Jensen whispers as his eyes slide shut. He can’t take looking at Jared’s gorgeous face anymore. “I don’t even – I can’t remember what it even feels like.”
“You will,” Jared says adamantly, and it sounds like a promise. It sounds like you can be yourself with me. Jensen is shaking. He can feel his hand trembling in Jared’s loose grasp and he pulls it away because his emotions are too close to the surface. He’s too close to letting them out, and he can’t do that. Not now.
He sits back in his seat and presses the heels of his palms into his eyes, trying to regain his composure.
When he finally looks at Jared again, he’s gazing out of the window and chewing a bite of pizza. Jensen sees it for what it is – an escape route, and he takes it gratefully.
“I believe you mentioned cupcakes,” Jensen says, and he’s proud of how steady his voice is. Jared looks at him and gives him a comforting smile. Pizza grease shines on his lips and Jensen’s belly clenches shamefully.
“They’re in my backpack,” Jared says, wiping his fingers on a napkin and tossing it onto his plate. “We’ll have to eat them on the walk back.”
“Okay,” Jensen says, and gets up to follow Jared, who takes out his wallet and pulls out a ten.
“Put that away!” Susan shouts. Jared rolls his eyes like he was expecting it.
“You caught me,” he replies. He hands the money to Jensen underneath the counter. Jensen looks at him with confusion and Jared vaguely gestures towards the tip jar. “Tell Izzie I said hello, okay?”
“Of course,” Susan says. As she leans out to pat Jared’s cheek, Jensen stealthily slips the ten into the tip jar and wonders just how much more amazing Jared can possibly get. “You two are gorgeous together, if you don’t mind me saying.”
Jensen freezes, feeling hot and cold at the same time – feverish at the mere implication.
“I wish,” Jared says with a flirty wink. “But no, Jensen here continues to break my heart by being straight.”
“Well, that’s a shame,” Susan says, and turns to head into the back again. Jensen relaxes slightly and shoots Jared a grateful and embarrassed look. Jared just bumps their shoulders together and gives him a little smile that proves just how well he can keep a secret. The smile fades quickly, brows knitting together, and Jensen frowns. It’s obvious Jared doesn’t like to lie.
Jared’s eyes are a myriad of colors – burnt gold shifting to bright blue around the edges. The moment he notices that is the first time he’s ever thought that there might by a reason to stop keeping secrets. Like maybe there’s something that could be worth coming clean for.
The air outside is freezing cold and Jensen regrets forgetting his jacket yet again. His mother says he’s scatterbrained and he’d forget his own head if it wasn’t attached. Absentmindedness is a horrible quality in a person, according to her, and she thinks he has it in spades. Jared puts his backpack on the ground and unzips it to take out the small container holding two cupcakes.
He looks up, brows knitting in concern when he notices how badly Jensen is shaking. He sets the container on the ground and stands up to unzip his hoodie.
“No, it’s okay,” Jensen says adamantly, and Jared just rolls his eyes. He drapes the sweatshirt over Jensen’s shoulders and he immediately melts into the warmth of it. After a moment of deliberation he slips his arms into the sleeves. It’s soft and black, a little worn and faded from too many washings. He zips it up only to realize that he’s nearly swimming in it. “Thanks. But aren’t you cold?”
“I’m good,” Jared says. He takes the cupcakes out of the container and hands one over. “I’m always warm.”
Jensen knits his brow and licks some of the chocolate frosting from his thumb. He’s always cold. He can’t help but think that it sounds like a sign.
Jared asks for Jensen’s phone on the walk back to campus. Jensen crumples up the paper wrapper from his cupcake and sticks it in his pocket, licking his thumb clean before digging it out of his jeans and handing it over.
Jared plays with the buttons and Jensen can only assume he’s programming in his number. Jensen bites his lip and squirms a little. Jared is no longer just the boy he sees at school, no longer an escape. Jared is slowly but surely worming his way into Jensen’s life. He’s inextricable now.
Jensen needs him.
When they get back to campus Jared squeezes his shoulder and gives him a warm smile. He lets Jensen know to call him if he needs anything and tells him to have a good weekend.
Jared fidgets a little, mouth opening and closing like he wants to say something else, but he just smiles and walks away.
Jensen still has his jacket. He looks down at his hands, curling his fingers into fists and pulling the long sleeves over them as he walks to class.
Jared is in an uncharacteristically bad mood when he gets home late that night. He drops down onto the sofa, dislodging Harley and Sadie from the rumpled cushions. He stretches out onto his back with a sigh and stares at the ceiling with his hands interlocked on his stomach.
He’s still on the couch when his mom comes home, flipping through the channels but not really paying attention to anything on the screen. She drops her purse on the coffee table and does a little double take when she sees him.
Jared pouting is out of the ordinary – a very rare occurrence. She sits down at his feet and rests her hand on his knee.
“What’s wrong?” She asks. Jared just lets out a sigh. “Tig, tell me.”
“I had lunch with Jensen today,” Jared mumbles, and his mother furrows her brow. “I took him to Susie’s.”
“I don’t see how that’s bad,” she says slowly. “I thought you liked him?”
“Oh god, I do. He’s just so sad, Mom,” Jared says, looking at her hopelessly. “It’s written all over his face. He’s devastated all day, every day, and I want to take it away. I want to help him.”
“Well,” she says thoughtfully as she pulls Jared’s feet into her lap and bites her lip. “Jared, did he ask for your help?” Jared narrows his eyes slightly and swallows hard before shaking his head sadly. Sherri lets out a tiny sigh and pinches the bridge of her nose. Jared blinks, watching her closely.
“Look, Jared. I have seen so many kids come in and out of this house, sleeping on this very couch, because you wanted to help. Help them come out to their family, or get away from a bad situation. You’ve helped kids whose parents hurt them, and you’ve helped kids who’ve gotten mixed up with drugs. Christ, Jared, you’ll help anyone with their damn homework if they ask you to. But all those kids had something in common. They all came to you. You can’t force help on someone who hasn’t asked for it.”
“He can’t ask for it, Mom!” Jared cries, pulling himself into a sitting position. “His parents sound like these religious psychos, and I just know that he’s grown up hearing that being gay is sick and evil and wrong, and now he’s realizing he is and he’s freaking terrified.” Sherri’s eyes dim and she looks pained for a moment. “People like Jensen are the reason I fight so hard. He needs me!”
“I know that,” Sherri replies softly, reaching out to cup Jared’s flushed cheek. “But you’ve gotta understand that you can’t save everybody.”
“I know,” Jared admits. He looks at her and his eyes are bright and determined. “But Jensen? Mom, I have to save him. I just – I need to.”
They stare at each other for a moment, and Sherri sighs as she pushes Jared’s hair back from his face. He’s working himself up, getting upset enough that his eyes sting. He hasn’t cried in so long. But he can’t help thinking of Jensen’s eyes and the pain in them.
Jared’s phone goes off with a shrill chirp that makes them both jump. Jared blinks and wipes at his eyes as he pulls it out of his pocket. He has a text from an unfamiliar number and he furrows his brow as he opens it.
Hey. It’s Jensen. I still have your jacket, sorry.
Jared grins suddenly, heart speeding up just from a text message. But this means something. Jensen contacted him just because he felt like it. It feels like a tiny step closer to him asking for help. It gives Jared hope and makes him feel lighter than air.
“Jensen?” Sherri asks. Jared nods excitedly as he creates a reply, thumbs moving so fast they slip on the tiny keys. He misses the way Sherri’s brow wrinkles as she bites down worriedly on her bottom lip.
Don’t worry about it. It looks good on you. He sends the reply and sighs deeply, slumping back against the cushions.
He knows Jensen will come to him eventually. All he has to do is wait.
Jensen bites down on the tip of his thumb as he stares at the reply from Jared. He’d been so nervous to send the message, nearly deleting it three times before finally hitting send.
But now he’s smiling, and he’s wearing Jared’s jacket. It smells like him and Jensen sort of wants to leave it on forever. He sighs, a small smile playing at his lips as he pulls the sleeves of the jacket over his hands. He stares at the wall and loses himself in a daydream. It’s not something he often allows himself to do.
“Hey.” Jensen jumps, nearly falling off of the bed as he whips around to look at the doorway of his room. Mackenzie is standing there, strawberry blonde hair falling in her face as she bites down on a thumbnail, half covered in chipped pink polish.
“Oh, hi,” Jensen says, clearing his throat and shifting his hips a little. He gives her a tiny smile that feels incredibly fake and reaches up to scratch the back of his neck.
His relationship with his little sister is sort of awkward. One day they’ll get along and the next he’s just her weird older brother. But right now she’s looking at him like she cares, like she wants to keep him rather than disown him.
“How’s school going for you?” Mackenzie asks, coming into his room and shutting the door. Jensen rolls his lips into his mouth because his first instinct is to smile at the question and that’s odd. He raises an eyebrow as Mackenzie roams idly around his sparse bedroom and randomly touches things.
“It’s…good, I guess,” Jensen says carefully, looking up at her. “Better than the last. How about you? I know you were sad about leaving.”
“Well, as it turns out,” she starts, heaving a dramatic sigh. “Seventh grade is no more or less awesome no matter what school you’re suffering through it in.”
“That’s what you’re doing? Suffering?” Jensen asks. He’s not sure she knows the meaning of the word. She just shrugs and plops down on Jensen’s bed like they do this all the time.
“No, I’m – it’s nice here,” she admits. She shrugs her shoulders like that’s her apology for how much of a brat she was about the whole thing. “I’ve made some friends.”
“That’s good,” Jensen says, nodding as he stares down at the frayed edges of his sleeves. He imagines Jared picking at the loose threads, always moving. Mackenzie pushes his shoulder playfully and leans in to rub his back. Jensen furrows his brow. This is new.
“And you,” she begins, clearing her throat and starting over. “You seem – well, happier. You’re different almost.”
“What?” Jensen asks. He jerks away from her and turns to face her with wide eyes. “What do you mean?”
“Whoa, calm down.” she laughs and holds her hands up, flipping her hair over her shoulder. “I’m just saying. You smile more. Or well, you smile. Period. That’s good. Did you make some friends?”
“Uh, yeah,” Jensen says, taking a deep breath and meeting her curious gaze. “I think I did.”
“I’m happy,” Mackenzie says, clapping him on the shoulder and getting up. “Because they make you happy.”
She nods at him as she leaves the room and closes the door behind her. Jensen blinks a few times, shaking his head with a small smirk. His baby sister is an enigma, but then again, pretty much all girls are that way to him.
Jensen reads the reply from Jared again. He smiles to himself before putting the phone on the nightstand and falling back onto his bed. The sheets are soft and the moon is a bright orb hanging just outside his window. He sighs happily and lets his eyes slip shut.
He falls asleep wearing Jared’s jacket.
On Monday Jared gets to first period a little late. Sadie had gotten out of the yard and Jared spent half an hour chasing her in his pajamas. She’d thought it was a game, ducking and dodging and refusing to come when Jared called her.
He needs to spend a little more time training his dogs.
He has a slight scowl on his face when he finally trudges into his English class with a tardy slip in his hand. He forgets why he was even upset when he looks over to see Jensen watching him. His messenger bag is slung across the empty desk next to him like he’s saving it for someone. For Jared.
He hands his late slip over to Mrs. Chandler and practically bounces down the aisle to the back of the classroom. Jensen pulls his bag off of the desk as Jared drops into it. Jensen gives him a soft smile and Jared grins back, biting down on his lip when Jensen lets out a soft snort.
“What?” He mouths. Jensen glances at the teacher before leaning over and plucking something out of Jared’s hair. He holds up a leaf and Jared rolls his eyes, smacking it out of Jensen’s hand. He lifts up his desk to move it closer but Jensen holds up a shiny new copy of their textbook with a small shrug. Jared deliberates for a moment and scoots closer anyway.
He rifles through his bag for a Hershey’s Hug and sets it on Jensen’s desk, same as he’s done every morning since that first time. Jensen smiles as he pulls it over and picks it up. He unwraps the candy and pops it in his mouth, sucking on it as he wads up the foil and flicks it at Jared. It hits him in the middle of the forehead and Jared’s jaw drops as Jensen laughs silently.
This is incredible. He’s never seen Jensen in such a good mood before.
The teacher stops talking soon after that, letting them loose to work on their essays. Jensen takes his notebook out of his messenger bag and opens it to a page of notes taken down in small, neat font. Jared doesn’t have notes. He was too busy staring at Jensen to take any.
“How was your weekend?” Jared asks once the volume in the room starts to climb. Jensen shrugs, dragging his eraser over a doodle in the corner of his paper.
“Long,” Jensen says, wrinkling up his adorable little nose. Students are usually happy when their weekends seem long, but Jared gets what Jensen means. It was unbearably long. Almost endless. “So, what secluded location are you dragging me off to today?”
“Well, actually,” Jared says, tapping his pen against his paper, “I know this great little place called the cafeteria.”
That gets Jensen to look over at him, one brow raised over the rim of his glasses. He looks confused and just a little nervous. Jared runs his hand through his hair and leans in slightly.
“You’ve gone and made yourself a mystery,” Jared tells him, and Jensen just blinks. “My friends want to officially meet you.”
“But you’re friends with everyone,” Jensen says like he’s only half joking. Jared laughs slightly at the apprehensive expression on Jensen’s face. “I don’t want to meet everyone.”
“Okay, my best friends,” Jared clarifies. “They want to meet you. Have lunch with us?”
“Jared, I don’t –“ Jensen starts, but Jared pokes him in the shoulder. He gives Jensen a reassuring smile and touches his wrist, fingers barely brushing the jut of bone.
“It’ll be fun,” he says, pleading Jensen with his eyes. “I promise.”
“Okay.” Jensen relents and smiles nervously. “I’ll be there.”
Jensen sort of hides in the bathroom for five minutes after the lunch bell rings, sitting on a toilet and chewing on his thumbnail.
He has two options here. He can chicken out, find Jared later, and apologize. He’s pretty sure Jared would forgive him and then Jensen could continue to keep Jared to himself, selfishly making him ditch his friends day after day. But Jensen doesn’t want to be that person.
The other option is to suck it up, to go out to the damn cafeteria even though he feels seconds away from throwing up. He doesn’t understand why he’s so nervous – if these people are half as wonderful as Jared he has nothing to worry about.
Jensen sighs and gets up, trying not to glance at his reflection in the mirror on his way out the door. He walks down the hall slowly, gnawing on his lip as he enters the cafeteria with his head lowered. Someone grabs the back of his shirt and he jumps, whirling around so fast he finds himself chest to chest with Jared, the taller boy’s arm wrapped around him and Jensen’s hand on his chest.
They stare at each other for a moment; Jensen’s face tipped up towards Jared’s, mere inches apart. He watches as Jared’s eyes go dark, cheeks flushing pink as his fingers stay curled in Jensen’s shirt. Jensen can feel his own cheeks fill up with blood and his pulse pound in his ears as his hand stays pressed against Jared’s body.
“Hi,” Jared breathes. His hand slides down to the small of Jensen’s back before he steps away. Jensen blinks a few times, eyes flicking down to his hand as it slides down and off Jared’s chest. “Thought you were gonna bail on me.”
It takes a few tries for Jensen to get his voice back.
“Wasn’t,” he finally breathes. Jared’s answering smile is radiant. It’s like the world starts up again. Jensen suddenly remembers where they are, realizes what they were doing, and he takes another step back. Jared’s eyes dim a little and he feels slightly guilty.
They get in the food line and Jensen grabs items blindly. All he can think about is the way Jared felt up against him, his arm wrapped firm and tight around Jensen’s waist. He closes his eyes as conflicting emotions tear at his belly. He shouldn’t be feeling like this. Shouldn’t want this.
But God help him, he does.
Jared nudges him with his shoulder once they get to the register, jarring him from his thoughts. They pay for their food and Jared leads him towards his normal table with one giant hand pressed against the small of Jensen’s back as they maneuver though the crowd.
Once they reach the table everyone stops talking and turns to look at him. Jensen forces himself to keep his head up and even manages to smile.
“Is this the illustrious Jensen?” The girl is tiny, with pretty almond eyes and long brown hair. Jared has talked about his friends enough that Jensen can guess who they all are. The girl that just spoke is obviously Sandy, and the girl pressed up against her side has to be Sophia. The blond guy is Chad and the blue-eyed guy must be Misha. Jensen sort of feels like he knows them all already.
“It is.” Jared laughs and sets his tray down as he sits at one of the round table’s four benches. There isn’t an empty one so Jensen is forced to sit next to him, thighs pressed tight together and elbows knocking. “Jensen, this is Sandy and Sophia. And that’s Chad and Misha. They’re all crazy and you don’t have to listen to a word they say.”
“Hi Jensen!” They all chirp, and then they crack up together.
“We’re like the goddamn Bradys,” Chad says as he throws a tater tot at Misha. “Fuckin’ pathetic.”
“Your face is fucking pathetic,” Misha retorts. He throws a celery stick and hits Chad right between the eyes. “Fifty points!”
“That’s it,” Chad growls. “I’m about to commit a hate crime.”
“Let’s try to behave for once,” Jared says. He glares playfully at Chad who just sticks his tongue out in return. The light catches on the shiny metal stud piercing it and Jensen’s eyes widen.
“So, Jensen,” Sandy says sweetly. “Where’d you move from?”
“Texas,” Jensen says slowly, fiddling nervously with the cap of his soda bottle. “Near Dallas.”
“Ooh, that’s quite a change,” Misha replies, leaning in and looking interested. “How are you handling all the scary liberals out here in California?”
“Well, I haven’t burst into flame yet,” Jensen says. The unexpected joke surprises him. He knocks on the table top with shaky fingers. “So, there’s that.”
“Gorgeous and funny,” Sophia says in a rough voice. “Better hang onto this one, Jay.”
“Anyway,” Jared says quickly. Jensen blushes and ducks his head. “I’m meeting with Jane tomorrow after school.”
“GLSEN Jane?” Chad asks.
“Yeah,” Jared replies. “She’s going to give me the info for this year’s Day of Silence so we can start making preparations.”
“Oh, awesome,” Misha exclaims, clapping his hands together. “It’s always hilarious to watch you try and shut up for an entire day.”
“Screw you. I can totally stay quiet for one day,” Jared retorts, raising his nose haughtily in the air. Everyone else at the table snorts and Jared rolls his eyes. “Whatever. I can.”
“I still say we should make buttons that say STFU for Awareness! on them,” Chad says excitedly. “Black Helvetica on pink. They’d be a total fucking hit.”
“And they’d get confiscated just like your Jared/Chad in 08, bitches! campaign buttons did,” Jared replies, flicking a tater tot at Chad.
“Jesus! The next person that throws something at me is getting that something shoved up their fucking ass,” Chad screeches, and then snorts. “But you two would probably enjoy it.”
“Can we not talk about ass play while I’m eating?” Sophia adds. “At least give Jensen a chance to settle in before you get vulgar.”
“Oh BTW, Jensen,” Chad says, leaning across the table. Jensen raises a startled eyebrow and leans back slightly. “I’m fucking vulgar. Just an FYI.”
“Quit speaking in acronyms, Chad,” Jared tells him. “I swear to god.”
“DIAF,” Chad replies simply. Jared chucks another tater tot at him. “Oh, that’s it.” Chad stands up and everyone except Jensen throws something at him. Chad sighs and plops back down. “FML.”
Jensen has no idea what Chad is saying, but everyone else seems to have no trouble understanding him.
“What’s Day of Silence?” Jensen asks curiously, picking at the crust of his pizza. Everyone looks over at him and Jensen ducks his head.
“They didn’t have a GSA at your old school?” Sandy asks. Jensen thinks of what Jared told him the acronym stands for, gay-straight alliance, and his lips curve up into a bitter smirk.
“No,” he replies quietly, staring down at the table and curling in on himself slightly. “Nothing like it.”
Jared’s foot knocks against his under the table and Jensen glances over at him. Jared smiles reassuringly and hooks his foot around Jensen’s ankle. The touch makes Jensen feverish and he shivers against the desire to pull away and push closer at the same time. He stays sitting perfectly still – a compromise.
“Well, GLSEN stands for gay, lesbian, and straight education network and as the acting president of our GSA, I work closely with them,” Jared starts. He seems to be aware that the subject matter is making Jensen uncomfortable. Jensen knows he could change the subject and Jared wouldn’t be offended.
But as uncomfortable as he may be, he still wants to learn the things he was never allowed to be taught. He’s already sitting with the kids that support and defend what he was raised to stand against. He’s sitting with a boy, pressed warm and intimate against his side. He’s already breaking all the rules. He might as well go all the way.
He presses his foot against Jared’s and nods for him to continue.
“Day of Silence is an annual GLSEN sponsored event. It’s a day of action to bring attention to the silencing of LGBT students and their allies,” Jared says, giving Jensen a meaningful look that makes his cheeks heat up. “We take a day-long vow of silence to symbolize those who stay quiet because of who they are. Those who think they have to stay quiet.”
People like me, Jensen thinks. There is a nationwide event to support people just like him, people who are too afraid of what they are to even speak. And then there are people like Jared and his friends to fight for them. His throat is dry and he swallows, unable to tear his gaze away from Jared. He can’t even find words now.
“Oh,” he finally gets out. Jared gives him a small smile.
“Whatever,” Chad says, making Jared look away from Jensen. “I’m totally getting the STFU for Awareness! buttons made.”
“Fine, but it’s on your dime,” Misha tells him, waving a plastic fork menacingly. “We don’t have enough in our fund to spend on something that’s just going to end up decorating the bottom of all the teacher’s trash cans.”
“You mean alongside your dignity?” Chad asks innocently. Misha hits him with another tot. “You know Misha, you should really think about cutting back on carbs.” He throws the tot back at Misha and it pegs him in the chest, leaving a little greasy mark on his shirt. Misha just sighs.
“Or you two should just find an empty classroom and get it the fuck over with,” Sophia says, smirking and raising an eyebrow. Chad and Misha just share a startled look and shut up. “Hate to eat and run, but I have to drop off a book at the library before class.” She turns her attention towards Sandy and leans in close. “See you after school, baby?”
“Yep,” Sandy replies. Sophia grins before leaning in to kiss her on the mouth. Jensen stiffens, eyes darting around the cafeteria quickly. No one seems to be paying the girls any attention. Jensen cautiously glances back towards the kissing girls with his back ramrod straight and shoulders tense.
He’s never seen two people of the same sex kissing before, and now that he knows no one in here seems to care he allows himself to look.
He thinks of what his parents would say, how they would call his new friends disgusting sinners and talk about how they’re going to burn in hell.
But Jensen doesn’t see that. He just sees two people in love and he can’t understand what is supposed to be so wrong about it.
Jared’s long fingers circle Jensen’s wrist. His thumb presses into Jensen’s palm and rubs back and forth. Jensen looks down at their hands, noticing the way his fingers twitch towards Jared’s without his permission. Jared is staring ahead and no one would even know he was paying attention to Jensen if it weren’t for the way he was cradling Jensen’s wrist so delicately under the table.
Jensen looks at Sandy and Sophia again, watching as they pull apart. Sandy tucks a lock of hair behind Sophia’s ear and Jensen can damn near see the hearts in her eyes.
He glances over at Jared and lets his eyes drift down to his lips. They’re pink and soft-looking, curling up at the edges in a near permanent smile.
Jensen looks at them, licks his own lips, and thinks about – well.
He just thinks.
Jensen excuses himself from the lunch table a little early, claiming he has to drop off a paper at the office before heading to his class at the opposite end of campus. Jared can’t think of an excuse that would allow him to go with Jensen; his own class is in the opposite direction.
So instead he tries very hard not to watch Jensen leave and doesn’t even care that he fails miserably. When he turns back to face his friends they’re all looking at him with sympathetic, concerned expressions.
“What?” Jared asks. His smile fades a little.
“Nothing,” Sandy says quickly, sharing a look with Sophia. “He’s adorable.”
“It’s just,” Misha starts. He sighs a little. “He’s so scared. He doesn’t look like he’s going to come out any time soon.”
“No, I know,” Jared is quick to say. “We’re just going to be friends.”
He’s met with four matching blank stares. He can feel his cheeks heat up and he ducks his head so they can’t see the way their doubt makes him ache. He needs them to understand and have hope that this can all end well.
“Right, Jared,” Sophia says. “You’re already totally gone for this boy. I’ve never seen you all smitten like this.”
“Fine,” Jared admits in a somewhat snippy voice. His shoulders slump in defeat. “I like him. A lot.”
“I just don’t see this ending well,” Chad supplies as he wipes tater tot grease from his lips. “There’s a lot of shit in the way.”
“Thank you all for the vote of confidence.” Jared’s voice is sardonic and a little defeated. His friends all sigh and lean in.
“We just don’t want to see you get hurt,” Misha says earnestly. Jared flicks his bangs out of his eyes. “You or Jensen.”
“Yeah, Jared.” Sandy leans across the table to touch his hand. “We like Jensen. He’s sweet.”
“Good,” Jared says defiantly. “Because he’s going to be around a lot.”
“Jared – “ Misha starts, but he’s cut off by their friend Adam dropping down next to Jared and putting his arm around him.
“What’s up, moody blues?” Adam asks. He leans forward to snag a tater tot from Chad’s tray as he flicks his jet black hair out of his eyes. “Why’s everyone so somber?”
“What’s up, Glambo?” Chad asks amusedly, allowing everyone to dodge the question. Adam is a good friend but he doesn’t need to be a part of this particular conversation.
“Jared,” Adam says urgently. He grabs Jared’s shoulders and forces him to turn and look at him. “Who was that delectable morsel that was just sitting here? Talk about beauty. He’s new, right?”
Jared swallows hard. Adam is, well, pretty much the definition of flamboyant. He came out with a vengeance their sophomore year, much to the shock of absolutely no one. Jared loves Adam, truly he does, but he takes a look at the chipped black polish on his fingernails and the black kohl smeared around his eyes and swallows hard.
“That’s Jensen,” Jared tells him. “But Adam, he’s sort of – “
“He’s super closeted,” Chad interjects, and Jared glares at him. Adam makes a sad clucking sort of noise and pets Jared’s head.
“Honey,” he begins, “the boy looks like he’d burst into tears if I walked up to him. He’s just not ready for me.”
“The world isn’t ready for you, babe,” Misha tells him. Adam sticks his tongue out at him and holds up his middle finger.
“Anyway,” Adam continues, still holding Jared tight. “Don’t you worry, baby. There’s a love story brewing here, I just know it.”
Jared can’t help it – he grins. Adam’s constant optimism is something he really needs right now.
“My work here is done,” Adam declares, leaning in to kiss Jared’s temple. “I need to go find my wifey before class. She has my favorite lip gloss.”
“Say hi to Danny for me!” Jared calls out as Adam scampers off. Jared chuckles and shakes his head before turning back to his friends. “See?”
“Well, if the fairy god-homo says it’s going to be fine, who are we to argue?” Chad asks, batting his eyelashes innocently.
Jared hits him in the forehead with the very last tater tot.
Jensen begins to settle into a routine. Jared’s friends welcome him into the fold with open arms and more than that, Jensen is glad. He likes these people. He likes Chad’s vulgarity, Sandy’s sweetness, Sophia’s feistiness, and Misha’s incredible intelligence. So yeah, he likes them.
But not as much as he likes Jared.
After a casual conversation brings out that they live in the same neighborhood they start walking home together on the days Jared doesn’t have some after school function (which regrettably isn’t often). Some days Jensen even waits for Jared in the library, doing homework or reading a new book until Jared swings by to get him.
It beats going home to his mother.
Every morning starts the same. They sit together in English class, desks moved closer together. They smile at each other with their cheeks flushed pink from the cold and maybe something else, and Jared gives him a Hershey’s Hug. It never changes and it’s a routine Jensen has come to love. He doesn’t know what he’d do without his morning chocolate fix.
His eighteenth birthday comes and goes with little fanfare. His parents take him out for an awkward dinner more out of obligation than desire and Jensen casually mentions it to Jared in class the next morning. By lunch that day Jared manages to conjure up a cupcake and everyone at the table sings happy birthday to him. Jensen blushes at the attention, but all their voices are so terribly off key that Jensen can’t help but laugh as he bites into the chocolate treat.
It’s nice, this friendship he and Jared have developed. But Jensen isn’t foolish. He knows that what they have could be so much more. It’s been weeks of casual touches, heated glances, and flirty remarks. At least Jensen thinks Jared is flirting. He doesn’t have much experience in the area. Or any, really.
Problem is, Jared makes him think too hard.
He thinks about Jared all the time. He thinks about Jared in class and when he’s studying. Thinks about him at night and wakes up with sticky boxers and presses his palms to his eyes, flushed with arousal and shame.
He’s always warring with himself, constantly deliberating. It’s like he’s at a fork in the road and now he has to try to determine which way to go.
Jared is waiting for him; that much Jensen knows. Jared looks at him like Jensen holds his heart in his hands. One misstep and he could break it. The responsibility is nearly too much to handle.
He doesn’t want to mess up, but he doesn’t really know what to do. He wants to take that step; he thinks about it all the time. But he’s still terrified and he doesn’t have the faintest idea as to how to go about it.
After a few weeks he feels ready to crack, like a string drawn taut and ready to snap. He feels right on the precipice, on the edge of something life-altering.
So, of course, that’s when it all comes crashing down.
“Josh is coming!” Jensen’s mother shrieks. He nearly drops the dish he’s trying to wash, hands all wet and slick with soap.
“What?” Jensen asks as he sets the plate down in the sink. “What do you mean?”
“Your brother,” Donna says like he’s slow, setting the cordless phone back down in its cradle. “He finally got some time off. You know how busy he is at the office. Anyway, he’s coming to pick us up and take us to his place in the city for the weekend.”
“I can’t go,” Jensen says impulsively. His eyes widen and he rolls his lips into his mouth.
“What do you mean you can’t go?” She snaps, glaring at Jensen. He takes a step back and clenches his fists behind his back. “What’s so important that you can’t spend some time with your brother? We haven’t seen him in months.”
Truth is, Jensen can’t think of anything he’d enjoy less than sitting on the sidelines while his parents fawn over his amazing, wonderful, successful big brother and his gorgeous wife. He just doesn’t want to go. A few weeks ago he would have shut up and packed his bags, no matter how he felt about it.
But not now.
“I have a paper due,” Jensen says. It’s one of the only times Jensen has ever lied to his mother. To her face, at least. “It’s important, and I need to spend the weekend working on it.”
She looks at him with her face pinched with exasperation and disappointment. Jensen holds his breath.
“Fine,” she says as she waves her hand in the air. “Stay here, if you absolutely have to. Do you think you could find time in your busy schedule to have dinner with us at least? Think you can manage that?”
“Yes,” Jensen grits out, fingernails digging crescents into his palm. She just turns away from him and heads down the hallway. Jensen grips the edge of the counter and lets his head fall forward as he takes in a deep breath.
He finishes the dishes and then goes up to his room to hide and mentally prepare.
This is going to be hell.
Onto Part 3.