Rain hits the car relentlessly. It patters against the roof and rolls down the fogged windows in rivulets like tears.
Jensen keeps his forehead pressed against the glass. He watches absently as his hot gusts of breath steam up the freezing window and then disappear, steam up and disappear, over and over again.
His hands rest limply in his lap. There is an ear bud shoved into his left ear but he’s not really listening. He thinks the music may have stopped. It’s hard to tell with all the noise.
His eyes flutter closed and then begrudgingly open again, watching listlessly as the cold, wet earth blurs as they pass it by and leave it all behind. It feels like it’s freezing in the car. It gets colder and colder the further north they go. Goose bumps pimple his pale arms and he crosses them loosely over his chest.
“This sucks,” his little sister says again. It’s the same phrase she has repeated over and over for the last three hundred miles, like saying it just one more time will make them change their minds and turn around. Jensen doesn’t turn his head to look at her. Her presence next to him feels almost like a stranger’s. He wonders when that happened. “I don’t want to move.”
“I know, sweetie,” his mother says from the passenger seat. The voice she reserves for his sister is indulgent and sugary sweet. “None of us do, but it can’t be helped. Your father has to go where the company sends him. And we’ll be closer to your big brother. You’ll make new friends, baby.”
“I want my friends,” Mackenzie whines, and Jensen grits his teeth against the sound.
“We all made sacrifices, dear,” their father says in a bored, placating drawl. “You don’t see Jensen complaining, do you?”
Jensen tenses and squeezes his eyes shut. It’s always the same reaction every time attention is focused on him. If he doesn’t acknowledge it, it’ll go away.
“That’s because Jensen didn’t have any friends to leave behind,” Mackenzie says coldly, and Jensen lets out a deep breath. No one moves to correct her. They’d be lying if they did.
“This is all a part of His plan,” Donna says, sounding so sure of herself. Of Him; of this omnipresent being that is more important than anyone. More important than family. “Good things will come to you if you have faith. You’ll see.”
Jensen stares at the back of his mother’s head; at her perfectly coiffed hair that she spent an hour on even though all they are going to be doing is sitting in the car all day. His eyes shift back to the scenery – the wet, black asphalt and the rolling brown fields. He watches as the earth changes, reshapes and forms anew. Gone are the wide, flat plains of Texas. They’ve been replaced with the rolling golden hills of California. His new home.
It doesn’t matter where he lives; things will never change. He’ll still have to wake up every day and pretend. Hide. Be the perfect middle child in a perfect, God-fearing family.
Jensen’s eyes slip shut as his head tips back against the seat. The car rolls smoothly down yet another freeway. They’re never ending, connecting and intersecting like veins. Jensen has seen enough asphalt to last him a lifetime.
His breathing evens out and he soon drifts into a light, uneasy slumber.
Carrying all of this weight is exhausting.
There is a house in a small town in northern California full of energy and warmth. The blaring sound of a catchy pop song blasts from the speakers inside, loud and rhythmic. Rain hits the window in an unrelenting pitter patter that can only be seen, not heard.
There’s too much life crammed into the tiny house to hear the sad, quiet sound of the rain. There’s too much laughter.
Jared sits on the counter in his cramped little kitchen, bare feet thump-thumping against the cabinet door in an uneven rhythm that doesn’t even come close to matching the music. There is flour on his cheek and smeared across his shirt in deformed handprints, and he’s pretty sure there’s egg in his hair.
“Chad!” Jared calls out, pointing a wooden spoon menacingly at his best friend. “We can’t make cookies if you keep eating all the damn dough. Stop it!”
Chad looks over at Jared with an arched eyebrow as he licks sugary dough from his lips. He looks from the spoon to Jared’s face, raising one finger in the air and moving it slowly towards the bowl.
“Don’t do it,” Jared warns, and Chad laughs.
“What are you gonna do, Jay?” Chad asks. “Gonna spank me with that big spoon, baby?” He turns around, bending over and thrusting his ass back towards Jared. “Go on, make it hurt.”
Jared places his foot on Chad’s ass and pushes. The action sends Chad sprawling to the floor to land in a crumpled pile under the sink.
“Hurt enough?” Jared asks innocently, and he smirks when Misha gives him a high-five. Sandy and Sophia pepper Chad with rainbow sprinkles, getting the confection in his hair as he pulls himself up off of the floor.
“And you call yourself my friend,” Chad admonishes, shaking his head like a wet dog and sending sprinkles flying in every direction. Sandy giggles and holds her hand up to protect her face from the candy attack. “We have approximately twenty-seven thousand cookies already made, and I get grievously injured when I try to sneak some fucking dough?”
“You can have cookies at the meeting tomorrow,” Jared tells him, hopping off of the counter when the oven timer dings to signal that another batch is ready. He generally lets the girls or his mother do the baking since he tends to disintegrate appliances when he gets near them. But taking them out of the oven? He can probably accomplish that.
“I don’t want cookies,” Chad whines, looking for all the world like he’s about to stomp his foot like a toddler. “I want the dough!”
“Just let the baby eat the dough,” Sophia says as Jared pulls on his mom’s oven mitts and takes the last tray out of the oven to cool. “We have enough.”
“Listen to the pretty girl!” Chad calls out, kissing Sophia’s cheek before snatching the bowl and hopping onto the counter.
“Hey now,” Sandy warns, slinging her arm around her girlfriend’s waist and pulling her in close. Sophia backs her against the refrigerator and tangles her fingers in Sandy’s long hair as they kiss softly.
Jared watches them fondly and leans back against the counter. Misha wraps his arm around Jared’s shoulders and leans in slightly.
“Man, good job on that petition,” Misha tells him, and Jared turns to face him. “I hear they aren’t going to cut the budget for the drama department now.”
“Yeah,” Jared replies, feeling the familiar rush of pride blossoming in his chest. He helped people. He did that. “I’m glad. You guys need your drama class.”
“That we do,” Misha replies, bright blue eyes going serious. “But when are you gonna go after something that’s just for you?”
Jared’s smile dims a little and he looks over at Sandy and Sophia, so in love it hurts to watch them sometimes. He wonders what having that sort of bond would feel like, what it would be like to hand over your heart like that. Sign here, no questions asked.
“I don’t know,” Jared responds, lips quirking up again as he shrugs. “When I find something I want?”
Misha just smiles and presses a quick, friendly kiss to Jared’s temple before hopping off of the counter and snatching some dough from Chad. They tussle over the nearly clean bowl until Misha finally uses his impressive flexibility to get Chad into a leg lock.
Jared runs his fingers through his hair and tries not to think about how he feels like he’s missing something. He watches his best friends, listens to them laugh, and decides that it’s enough.
He can’t go searching for something if he doesn’t even know what it is he’s looking for.
Jensen gets unceremoniously dropped off in front of his new high school minutes before the first bell is set to ring. His mother has just finished chastising him for taking too long to get ready. Jensen was downstairs fifteen minutes before they left, dressed and ready to go while his mother watched the news. He doesn’t bother trying to contradict her.
He steps out of the car and she pulls away from the curb as soon as the door is shut, leaving him alone. He stands frozen on the sidewalk and stares at the campus with wide eyes.
Whereas his previous high school was one giant building, cold and institutionalized, this one is different. It’s extensive and sprawling like a college campus, one school made up of a ton of smaller buildings with open, airy walkways that let the sun shine on your face for a much needed break while running to your next class.
He’s never changed schools before. In his old town everyone knew him. More specifically, they knew he didn’t like to be bothered. He was invisible there, and he preferred it that way.
Now he can feel countless pairs of eyes appraising him and he feels exposed, like a bright light against a black sky. He ducks his head and slumps forward as he walks through the crowd. He can feel their gazes heavy on his shoulders, each set of eyes weighing him down until it feels like he’s struggling through quicksand.
He can feel his cheeks flush, blood pulsing between his ears as his heartbeat pounds a staccato rhythm in his chest.
The bell rings and he is forgotten. Students scatter like they’re roaches and the bell is the light, sending them skittering in every direction. Jensen freezes as they rush by him, disappearing into classrooms while he stays glued to the concrete.
Silence falls over the hall and Jensen finally looks up to find that he is alone. His eyes trail along rows and rows of dark blue lockers sitting in the shade of an overhang, over brightly colored flyers and handcrafted posters.
It’s a whole new world.
Jensen swallows hard and covers his eyes with his hand as he takes a deep breath. It’s like the mask he wore at home doesn’t fit here, and he has to learn how to hide himself all over again.
He takes a moment to roll his shoulders back and lift his chin, relying on years of practice to smooth out his distressed expression, flatten the crease in his brow and let a cool indifference wash over his bright eyes.
Once he’s calm on the outside, terrified on the inside, he steps into the office and places his paperwork on the desk. He looks right into the friendly, warm gaze of the receptionist and introduces himself with a polite smile.
She asks him how he is and he tells her that he’s excited to be here, that he can’t wait to start.
Jensen is an exceptional liar.
Lunchtime is Jared’s favorite time of the school day. It’s not that he doesn’t enjoy learning, he does, but he loves getting to catch up with everyone. He likes knowing how people did on the tests they were stressed over and how their projects are coming.
He enjoys hearing what sort of jobs people are applying for, what colleges they’re hoping to get into. He takes pleasure in knowing if there is anything he can do to help.
Jared knows nearly every single person at his school by name, and everyone seems to know him. It’s not a popularity thing. Jared is just genuinely friendly. He really likes talking to people, helping them, and his fellow students just seem to gravitate towards him.
Jared risks a glance at his cell phone and his eyes widen when he realizes there are only about fifteen minutes left of lunch. He stops making fun of Sophia’s pom-poms and stands up, climbing onto the table and standing on either side of his lunch tray.
“Hey everybody, listen up!” He shouts, hands cupped around his mouth. Chad, Sophia, Sandy, and Misha all pound their fists on the table and the noise level in the cafeteria drops. Most people are used to Jared’s unorthodox announcements by now.
“I just wanted to make an announcement!” He continues, booming voice reverberating off of the walls. “Due to you guys continually being awesome, the Gay Straight Alliance has officially outgrown Mrs. Crawford’s classroom. We have nearly tripled our already impressive size since the beginning of the year and that is seriously incredible, people.” He has to pause when people start clapping, and it makes him grin.
“I just want to let everyone know that from we will still be meeting Tuesdays after school, but from now on we’ll be in the lecture hall over in the Tech building. Today’s meeting is gonna be a good one, so bring a friend. We made cookies, and that’s really something you shouldn’t miss out on.”
“Amen!” Chad shouts, throwing his hands up in the air.
“So we’ll see everyone at three –“ He trails off when his eyes land on a boy across the cafeteria. His face isn’t familiar in any way, and this face isn’t one he’d soon forget.
The boy is staring at him with wide eyes, mouth slack like he just can’t believe what he’s seeing. Jared suddenly knows the feeling. Intimately.
He has a crumpled schedule in his right hand and Jared knows that this is the new boy he’s heard mentioned today. The cute one, the quiet one.
When a new student arrives Jared usually likes to introduce himself, offer his assistance or a friendly ear. This boy goes beyond that. The desire to be face to face with him is amazingly strong. It’s like he needs him to be a part of his life, like he might be the answer to problems Jared didn’t even know he had.
Like he’s something Jared has been missing.
In his hurry to get off of the table he steps on his untied rainbow shoelaces and slips, grappling with nothing but air as he falls. He ass hits the edge of the table on the way down and his tray of food flips over, landing on top of him when he hits the floor.
People start laughing, but not really at him. Jared has been a spastic klutz since kindergarten. By now it’s sort of routine.
He just gets up and wipes the gravy off of his face with a napkin, blushing only slightly as he makes his way across the crowded cafeteria. The boy is still staring, and Jared is close enough now to see how his startlingly green eyes widen as he approaches.
“Hi,” Jared says breathlessly once he comes to a stop in front of him. “I’m Jared Padalecki.”
The boy freezes, eyes darting around the room before he clears his throat. He takes a deep breath like he’s steeling himself and meets Jared’s gaze.
“Uh,” he says, eyes flicking up towards Jared’s hairline. A glob of mashed potatoes rolls down Jared’s forehead and sticks to his eyebrow. Jared brushes it away and smiles sweetly. “Jensen Ackles.”
Jensen’s mouth turns up into the tiniest of smiles, and Jared wishes with a fierce intensity that he would grin. He would bet money that Jensen’s smile could light up a room – hell, an entire city block.
But Jensen’s eyes are incredibly sad and all Jared wants to do is make him laugh. He’s nearly overwhelmed by a sudden rush of emotion, the subtle swoop in his belly when Jensen looks him in the eye. There are freckles dotting the bridge of Jensen’s nose and it’s the most adorable thing Jared has ever seen.
“You’re covered in gravy,” Jensen says slowly, and Jared blinks.
“Huh?” Jared asks. He’s distracted by Jensen’s voice. It’s soft and honey-thick, words dripping off of his tongue in a sort of lazy drawl. It sounds almost southern – at odds with his own voice and all the other fast-talking Californians he’s used to. He likes it.
“Gravy,” Jensen repeats, gesturing at his torso. “All over your shirt.”
“Oh,” Jared says, looking down to see the congealed gravy from his school issued meatloaf clinging to his clothes. “I have another one in my locker. Come with me.”
Jensen stiffens for a moment, looking around rapidly before licking his lips and nodding. He slides his hands into his pockets and turns to walk with Jared out of the cafeteria. The walkway is nearly empty and they are silent except for their footsteps echoing off of the cement. Jensen seems quiet by nature, but Jared is just trying to think of something to say. He’s never wanted anyone to like him so badly before. He’s never had to work for it.
“So how is your first day going?” Jared asks when they stop at his locker. He tries to focus on the lock and Jensen’s face at the same time. Jensen looks startled every time Jared looks at him or talks to him, like he’s confused and unsure of what to do with the sudden attention.
“It’s alright, I guess,” Jensen says awkwardly, reaching up to scratch the back of his neck. “It’s a little weird starting a new school halfway through senior year. Everyone already has their friends and they aren’t interested in making new ones. But that’s okay, really.”
“I’d love to be your friend,” Jared says honestly as he pulls a plain black tee shirt from his locker. Jensen looks at him for a long moment, eyes shuttered and cautious before he finally smiles tentatively. It’s still small, but Jared knows he can make it brighter if given the chance.
“Maybe,” Jensen replies, blinking and furrowing his brow like he’s surprised by his own answer. “I mean, sure?”
Jared grins and pulls his ruined shirt over his head right there in the middle of the hall, crumpling it up and shoving it into his locker while hoping his mom can get out gravy stains. Jensen’s eyes land on Jared’s exposed chest and stomach for a moment before he swallows nervously and looks away. Jared pulls on the new shirt and feels warm all over.
“So you’re coming this afternoon, right?” Jared asks, pulling a pack of strawberry gum from his back pocket. He pulls a stick out with his teeth and offers the pack to Jensen. He nods politely and takes a piece.
“To where?” Jensen asks, popping the gum into his mouth and looking around again. The boy has to be carrying more tension than any person Jared has ever met. He can feel it coming off of Jensen in waves, can nearly see the bunching of his shoulders and the stiffness of his neck.
“To the GSA meeting,” Jared replies easily. “I’m the president. It’d be a good way to meet other people like us, and like I said – there will be cookies.”
Jensen’s jaw falls open to reveal pink gum against perfect white teeth. All the blood rushes from his face, leaving him pale as a ghost. He shakes his head and Jared tilts his head to the side, confused.
“What do you mean ‘people like us’?” Jensen asks tightly, taking a step back. His eyes widen a little and he holds up his hands like he’s surrendering. “I’m not – I mean, I’m straight, Jared. I don’t even – why would you think I’m not?”
Jared furrows his brow and looks Jensen up and down. Aside from his exceptionally pretty face, Jensen looks perfectly nondescript. He is wearing a soft looking blue cotton shirt and artfully distressed jeans. His hair is messily ruffled with minimal gel and there is dirt under his fingernails. There is nothing about him that screams homo but Jared’s gaydar has never failed him.
“Oh,” Jared says flatly. He remains unconvinced. “I’ve never been wrong before.”
“Well, sorry to break your record,” Jensen says, sounding almost panicked as his eyes dart around the nearly empty hall like he’s afraid someone will overhear them. “But you’re wrong about me.”
Jared knows the look in Jensen’s eyes. He saw it in their varsity quarterback’s when he cornered Jared in the parking lot after school and confessed that footballs aren’t the only thing he’s interested in catching. It was evident in the eyes of their ASB vice president when she told him outside their Chemistry class that her parents would kill her if they ever found out. He’s seen it in the eyes of too many GSA members fidgeting in their seats during meetings like someone is going to burst in and find them.
It’s the look of someone terrified of everybody finding out who they really are.
There are plenty of people in this school keeping secrets, desperate for someone to trust. Jared strives to be that person. He lets them all unload on him, dump their worries and anxieties and life altering secrets on him until he feels like his back is going to break from the weight of it all.
Jared just looks at Jensen for a long moment, watches his perfect teeth make an indent in his fleshy lower lip. Jared knows how lucky he was to have such an understanding family, just as much as he knows that some kids will never have such a blessing. It hurts him to know how many teenagers out there are struggling with who they are. He looks into Jensen’s eyes and knows he’s just found a prime example.
“That’s a shame,” Jared says, aiming for casual but he gets the feeling the look in his eyes is too intense. He pitches his voice low and flirty and tries to ignore the butterflies in his stomach. “Because you’re absolutely gorgeous.”
That seems to catch Jensen by surprise because his eyes snap back to Jared’s like a magnetic pull. He takes great delight in the way Jensen flushes, a stunning pink color slipping from his hairline and running down underneath the collar of his faded blue tee. He looks ready to bolt, like he wants to flee but his head and heart are at war and his feet are prisoners of the battle, unable to move.
Jensen doesn’t say anything – just looks at Jared with these sad, helpless eyes that break Jared’s heart. He wants to bundle Jensen up and protect him from all the hatred in the world.
But he can’t. Not until Jensen lets him.
So instead Jared leans into his locker again and pops open one of the rubber tubs of cookies stacked there. He pulls one out and hands it over. Jensen takes it, eyeing the rainbow colored sprinkles dubiously before looking back up at Jared.
The bell rings and Jared grabs his backpack off of the hook. He gives Jensen his warmest, widest smile – one he hopes tells Jensen that he is someone he can trust, someone that he can be himself with. No matter whom that person may be.
“I’ll see you around, Jensen,” Jared says casually but with a hint of a promise. Jensen opens his mouth like he’s going to say something but then snaps it shut, glancing at the cookie before meeting Jared’s eyes again. The conflict in them makes Jared ache, and he stands there as Jensen just nods and turns on his heels to walk away.
Jared shuts his locker and presses his forehead against the cool metal. His heart is racing and the butterflies in his stomach have multiplied tenfold.
They’ve known each other for less than fifteen minutes, but Jensen already owns a tiny piece of Jared’s heart.
And Jared gets the feeling that if Jensen asked, he’d happily hand over the whole thing.
Jensen walks home from school in a daze.
It’s cold outside but he was so nervous that morning that he forgot to grab a jacket, and he shivers in the February air, nibbling at his lips as he thinks.
The day had been fine, if not a little overwhelming. Everyone had been welcoming and receptive of him, asking him questions and offering to show him around the school.
He gave polite and vague answers to their questions, and graciously declined their offers. He began planting seeds in their minds, subtly letting them know that he was lackluster and uninteresting, that he’d be better off ignored in favor of people more deserving of their friendship. He was well on his way to being invisible.
And then he stepped into the cafeteria and saw that boy.
There he was, just standing on top of a table, shouting out loud. Making himself the center of attention. And he was happy about it! He was smiling and laughing and clapping his hands together. Everyone was looking at him, and he was just… fine with it. Pleased, even.
Jensen didn’t understand.
He was planning on finding some hidden corner, some socially invisible spot to hurry though his meal, but once he saw that boy he just sort of froze and he didn’t even know why. And then their eyes met.
The boy fell down, creating a scene and making a spectacle of himself, and he still had a smile on his face. Then he started making a bee line for Jensen, eyes locked on his face as he sauntered over to him. That’s the only word Jensen could come up with to describe it – sauntered. He exuded confidence and he took every step like he knew exactly where he was heading. People started looking at Jensen then, making him the center of attention, and he felt sick to his stomach.
But then the boy stopped in front of him. There were mashed potatoes in his hair and he grinned at Jensen like he had just won a prize, like the damn sun had just risen, and for some reason Jensen’s heart started beating faster and slower at the same time.
Jensen wants to say he was beautiful, but that isn’t right. Boys can’t be beautiful, and they definitely can’t think another boy is pretty. So he wasn’t beautiful, but he was handsome. He can say that, right? Probably not out loud.
He said his name was Jared, and he wanted to be Jensen’s friend. And for some reason, when usually he would have turned and ran in the other direction, Jensen said yes.
He wanted to get to know this boy – wanted to get to know someone for the first time in his entire life.
But then, within five minutes of knowing each other, Jared called him on it. On his secret. Jensen has been lying and hiding and perfecting himself for years, and this boy just took one look at him and knew. Just like that.
It was the scariest moment of Jensen’s entire life.
He denied what he was to Jared, but he couldn’t deny the sparks he felt when this handsome (not beautiful) boy handed him a cookie with rainbow sprinkles and their fingers brushed. It was heat and electricity and excitement, something Jensen had never experienced before igniting in his belly like a fire that couldn’t be contained.
He walked away from Jared in that hallway, scurried and fled like the coward that he was, but he knows he won’t be able to stay away from Jared.
He can still taste the cookie on his tongue.
He’s so afraid.
The next time Jensen looks up he can see his new house looming in the distance. It’s a cookie-cutter house in a picture-perfect neighborhood with flowers in the garden and an honest to god white picket fence.
Jensen turns up the path, footsteps slow and precise as he makes his way towards the front door. He takes a deep breath, squares his shoulders, and makes his way inside. He is greeted with silence.
It’s not uncommon.
Sometimes he wishes he could get a dog, just so he’d have someone that would be excited to see him. Someone that didn’t expect anything from him other than ear scratches and the occasional treat.
Jensen can hear movement in the kitchen and he closes his eyes. He has to walk by the kitchen to get to the stairs to go to his room. He looks straight ahead and tries to walk by quickly, falling back on the old childhood adage of if I don’t look at you, maybe you won’t see me.
No such luck.
“Jensen,” his mother says sharply, and he freezes. Tension coils in his shoulders and he spins slowly on his heels to face her. He clasps his hands behind his back, nervous fingers gripping the bottom of his backpack.
“Hi,” Jensen says, swallowing hard. The ingredients for apple pie are spread across the counter and Jensen closes his eyes. He’d almost forgotten that some people from their new church are coming over for dinner and his mother wants to impress them. Jensen begins to mentally steel himself, preparing for a night of casual conversation sprinkled with judgment and hate disguised as faith and belief.
His stomach turns at the thought of it. He doesn’t agree with these people but there’s no way he can let them know that.
“How was school?” She asks, but it doesn’t really look like she cares. She’s too busy chopping apples. “Aside from making a horrible impression by being late on your first day, of course.”
“It was, um, fine.” Jensen bites his lip and furrows his brow, forcing out the lie. “Uneventful.”
“Did you meet any nice girls?” She asks, and Jensen stiffens. His heartbeat quickens the same as it always does at this question and Jensen’s fingernails dig little half moon crescents into his palms.
“Not really,” Jensen says. He ducks his head so his mother can’t see the pained look in his eyes. “It was only the first day. I’m trying to get settled in.” She sighs disapprovingly, sweeping all the apples into a bowl and wiping her hands on her apron.
“Your brother was dating all the time by the time he was your age,” she reminds him. Jensen resists the urge to roll his eyes, feeling small and worthless. Not a day goes by that he isn’t compared to his big brother. Josh is the epitome of a perfect child, and Jensen learned at a young age that he will never measure up. So he’s just stopped trying. Jensen hums thoughtfully, nodding and focusing on a magnet on the refrigerator that reads good things come to those who wait.
Jensen is losing his patience.
“Well, go do your homework,” she tells him, not even looking at him. “Dinner is at seven. And good heavens, Jensen. Your father and I work hard to buy you nice things, and you wear those ratty old jeans? Put on something nice. The Johanssons are bringing their daughter. She’s about your age and if you try, you might even look presentable.”
Jensen just nods and takes the opportunity to escape. He trudges up the stairs, fingers dragging and catching on the banister. Once he’s inside his room he drops his backpack on the floor and leans back against the door, head hitting the wood with a soft thump as he presses his palms flat against the door.
That wasn’t so bad. She was preoccupied with making dinner, too busy to really concentrate on tearing him down.
The walls of this room are plain, boring white. He hasn’t really unpacked and there’s nothing in this room that makes it feel like his, but that’s okay. This house is huge and there isn’t a single spot anywhere in it that feels like home.
Jensen can’t help but remember that just a few hours earlier he was smiling. It was brief and fleeting, but it happened. He laughed. Jared’s wide, dimpled grin pops into his head, sudden and unexpected. He thinks of the way Jared made him feel, the terrifying fluttering in his belly that he got whenever Jared spoke – when Jared called him gorgeous.
Jensen thinks of what he wants, what he can never even imagine having, and closes his eyes.
A tear slips down his cheek and he absently wipes it away. His khakis and button-downs are still in a box, and if he wants to have the time to pick out and iron something that might make him look respectable, like a son someone could be proud of, he better get started.
It’s dark by the time Jared finally gets home.
Right after school he had a student body council meeting, and then directly after that he went to the drama club meeting. He’s not even an official member of the drama club (no time) but since half of his best friends are in it, he swings by sometimes to see if they need any help. That and they asked him to come so they could thank him for organizing the petition.
It was no big deal, really. He was happy to do it.
As soon as he unlocks the front door and steps inside he’s attacked by two giant dogs. They jump up on him and slam him against the wall, whining and wagging their tails. Jared reaches down to scratch at their ears, one hand on each furry head.
“Hello, children,” Jared laughs, kneeling down so they can give him kisses. “You miss me?”
Sadie barks like she understood him and Harley just runs around in circles. Jared chuckles again, tossing his backpack in the general direction of the sofa as he makes his way towards the kitchen.
He takes out a bottle of juice and drinks directly from it as he looks over the calendar stuck to the wall. There is something written on nearly every date, and Jared memorizes the upcoming week.
He sort of wants to add met Jensen omg! to today’s date, but he figures that would be pretty lame.
He does it anyway.
The front door opens as he’s sticking the pen back to the wall and the dogs start all over again. He hears his mom trying to quiet them down and he laughs.
“Jared, are you home?” Jared shouts out the affirmative. She meets him in the kitchen still wearing her work apron, hair spilling out of her messy bun. She looks exhausted and Jared frowns slightly. “Hey, kid.”
“Hola means hello,” Jared replies, pouring her a glass of soda (from a bottle he hasn’t slurped on). He sets it in front of her as she takes a seat on one of the barstools at the counter. “Long day?”
“Thanks,” she replies, taking the glass and drinking half of it down. She burps and Jared laughs. “You know it. How was school?”
“Oh, Mom. Oh. Mom,” Jared replies excitedly, holding up his hands and waving them around as he hops up on the stool next to her. “There’s a new boy at school.”
“I take it he’s cute.” Sherri smirks and Jared holds his hands to his chest.
“Mom, he’s so pretty there isn’t even a word for it. I would literally have to invent a new one, and it still wouldn’t do him any justice,” he says, heaving a dreamy sigh. “He has freckles. Green eyes and freckles!”
“Oh my,” she says, feigning a swoon. “Gonna ask him out?”
Jared’s smile falls, lips jutting out into a pout, and Sherri furrows her brow. Jared gets asked out a lot; both by boys at his school and delusional girls that don’t understand that he’s pretty much the gayest thing on two legs. He goes on dates sometimes, but he’s so busy. His life is such a whirlwind and he’s never clicked with anyone that made him want to slow down and relax a little.
Jensen though, he thinks he could slow down for.
“I’m pretty sure he’s gay, but like, when I invited him to a GSA meeting he acted like I asked him to strip naked and dance on a float in the pride parade,” Jared says, crossing his arms on the counter and resting his cheek on them. He looks up at his mother with sad eyes and she ruffles his hair. “I think he’s so far in the closet that he hasn’t even come out to himself.”
“Poor kid,” Sherri says sadly, smoothing Jared’s hair back from his forehead. “That’s too bad.”
“Yeah,” Jared says, sitting up and fiddling with a piece of paper on the counter. “It’s just – I think I could like him, and I think maybe he could like me.”
“Well, what are you gonna do?” She asks. Jared looks over at her. He spots a bag of candy on top of the refrigerator and gets up to grab it, looking down at it thoughtfully before turning his gaze back to his mother.
“I’m going to be whatever he needs,” Jared says softly. “And right now? He needs a friend.”
Jensen trudges towards his first period English class a few minutes before the bell rings. His crumpled schedule is in his hands, edges frayed and torn by his nervous fingers.
He’s staring at his shoes, which he is often prone to do, as he walks over the threshold to the classroom. Something compels him to look up, and he meets a pair of excited hazel eyes.
It’s Jared, waving at him and gesturing to an empty desk next to him. Jensen freezes and stares at Jared wordlessly. Someone walks into him, a slight nudge of his shoulder that gets him moving again.
It’s like he’s walking through molasses, struggling with each step until he reaches the empty desk. He sets his bag on the floor and sits down, fingers curling around the bottom of his chair. He’s afraid to meet Jared’s eyes but he is unable to look away. They’re just so… entrancing. Jared’s gaze makes him flush with heat. It makes him feel important.
“Hi!” Jared says breathlessly, pink lips stretched into a wide grin as he leans in slightly. He has tiny brown moles on his face and Jensen knows he shouldn’t notice these things. “You weren’t in this class yesterday.”
“Uh, yeah,” Jensen says, reaching up to cup the back of his neck. His hair is cut short and neat and Jared blows his own messy bangs out of his eyes. “I missed it yesterday because I was getting a tour of the school.”
“Well, I’m glad you’re here now,” Jared says easily, like he has no problem whatsoever expressing his every feeling. “Who showed you around?”
“Um.” Jensen furrows his brow as he thinks. He didn’t pay much attention to her, just sort of followed her around while she spoke. She was nice, though. She tried hard to make him feel welcome. “Katie, I think her name was.” When Jared just looks at him he thinks harder, glancing over at him. “She was tall. Long blonde hair? She was funny.”
“Oh!” Jared says, clapping his hands together. “Cassidy. We like her.”
“Okay,” Jensen says, drumming his fingers on the desk. The bell still hasn’t rung and people are still trickling in. Jensen hides a yawn behind his hand, blinking when his eyes water slightly from the action. Dinner last night had been particularly painful. The pastor himself was there, talking with Jensen’s parents about their beliefs. Their core values. Jensen had been unable to sleep after that.
“So,” Jared says. Jensen looks over at him again. He looks wide-awake, hazel eyes so bright and warm that Jensen gets lost in them for a terrifying moment. “Did you like my cookie?”
Jensen blushes at that and ducks his head. He thinks of the way he felt when their fingers brushed, the way he slowly broke off tiny bites of the cookie all through his History class and ate them bit by bit, dropping rainbow sprinkles all over the smooth, shiny desk.
“I – yes, I did. It was good, thank you,” Jensen squeaks out, scrunching his eyes shut and biting his lip. Jared leans closer and braces one hand on the corner of Jensen’s desk. Jensen shrinks back against his chair, turning his head and opening his eyes to find Jared mere inches away. He can feel the body heat coming off of him in waves, furnace-hot in contrast to the cool air of the classroom.
Jared opens his mouth to speak but the bell rings and effectively cuts him off. The teacher calls the class to order and Jared sighs, pulling away and slumping back in his seat. Jensen lets out a breath and clears his throat, putting his palms on the desk and listening as the teacher begins to talk.
Thankfully she isn’t like the others. She doesn’t make him stand up and awkwardly introduce himself like he’s interesting. Like he’s someone they should all care about.
“We have a new student. Jensen,” is all she says. Jensen bites his lip as everyone shoots a curious glance his way. The attention lasts for only a second before she continues. “We don’t have a book for you yet, but you can share with Jared.”
Jensen nods, jumping slightly when the sound of a desk scraping across the floor reaches his ears. He looks over to see Jared lining up their desks and opening a textbook. He smiles encouragingly as he positions it between them.
Jensen feels red-hot and his fingers tremble slightly as he touches the edge of the book. Jared is so close and Jensen doesn’t know what to make of it.
He wants to run away, but the scary part is – he likes it. He likes being so close to Jared in some terrifying, insane way. He can smell the soft scent of Jared’s cologne, something subtle and spicy. He stares at Jared’s wrist, at the curve of it, the soft jut of bone. He has rubber bracelets around his wrist, two black and one pink. His fingers are long and tipped with short, clean nails. He’s so close. Jensen could touch him if he wanted.
He tells himself he doesn’t. He tells himself it’s not a lie.
Jensen doesn’t relax all through class. He sits with his back ramrod straight, hands resting lamely in his lap as he looks down at the book. Jared sprawls, looking far too large for the tiny school desk. He stretches and chews on his pen and doesn’t sit still. He fidgets, taps his foot and drums his fingers. He squirms and plucks at his bracelets. He never stops moving. He is fascinating.
Jensen remains still.
Near the end of the period Jared suddenly leans over to the left to dig through his backpack. His thin tee shirt rides up and Jensen glances over, eyes landing on the exposed strip of soft looking tan skin over the slight curve at the small of his back. He jumps when he realizes what he’s doing and he jerks as if he’s been shocked. He swallows hard as shame rolls in his belly.
Jared sits up and sets something on Jensen’s desk. He jumps a little at the sudden proximity and looks down at the object – a small, shiny piece of candy. It’s a Hershey’s Hug from what Jensen can tell. He stares at it and Jared places the tip of his index finger on the top of it, sliding it closer. Giving it to him.
Jensen clears his throat and looks from the candy to Jared again. Jared just smiles warmly and slides it closer before pulling his hand away and turning his attention back to the teacher, unwrapping his own piece of candy. Jensen looks down at the candy and feels his heart thundering in his chest as he slowly reaches out to take it.
He unwraps it with shaky fingers, dropping it and catching it in his palm. He finally just pops it in his mouth and rolls it on his tongue, closing his eyes as the chocolate melts.
When he opens them again he can see Jared looking at him from the corner of his eye. He turns his gaze towards Jared, but he just ducks his head as a wide smile splits his face and his bangs fall in his eyes.
Jensen swallows and closes his fingers over the balled up foil in his palm. He brings his fist up to his mouth, surprised to feel his lips curving upwards.
Jared makes him smile.
Jared pretends that he’s not watching the doors of the cafeteria out of the corner of his eye. He pretends to eat his pizza, with the waxy cheese and the cardboard crust, chewing every bite distractedly while he unintentionally ignores all of his friends as they talk.
It’s just – he can’t get Jensen out of his mind. Ever since he first caught a glimpse of those green eyes he’s been completely transfixed and captivated in a way he hasn’t been in a long time. It’s almost the same sort of feeling he gets when he discovers a new cause to fight for, someone to help. But it’s more than that. He just – he needs Jensen in his life.
As if conjured by Jared’s thoughts, Jensen makes his way into the cafeteria. His head is lowered and his gaze is trained on the floor as he makes his way to the food line. Jared stares unabashedly, watching Jensen’s every move.
Jensen picks out his food blindly – a stale slice of pizza, an old apple, and a carton of chocolate milk. He fumbles with the crumpled bills in his pocket as he pays and a coin falls from his shaky fingers to roll underneath the register. Jensen closes his eyes hard like he’s waiting to be reprimanded and then takes his tray and escapes hurriedly, shoulders hunched and head low.
Jared aches for him.
He watches Jensen make his way across the cafeteria, most likely towards an empty table in the back. Alicia steps in Jensen’s path. He jolts a little and stumbles to a halt, curling in on himself even more. Alicia is a blonde, leggy junior that wears far too much eye make up and smokes behind the gym between classes. She puts her hand on Jensen’s arm, acrylic nails touching Jensen’s skin, and he shrinks away.
It’s like Jared stands before the thought even occurs to him, cutting Chad off mid sentence as he walks over to Alicia and Jensen.
“Hey!” He says, sidling up next to Jensen. He turns and blinks owlishly up at Jared from behind his glasses. “I was looking for you. We still on for lunch?”
“Uh, what?” Jensen replies nervously, shifting his weight from hip to hip. Alicia looks miffed, painted lips curling in a slight grimace.
“I was just asking Jensen if he wanted to eat with us,” she says, far too casual. Jared pastes on a smile.
“Sorry!” He chirps. “I called dibs this morning.” He puts his hand low on Jensen’s back and guides him towards the cafeteria doors. Jensen goes willingly, biting his lip as he looks anywhere but at Jared. He leads them outside and takes a deep breath of the cool air as he tilts his face up to the afternoon sun. Jared loves the juxtaposition – the deceptively bright sun disguising the cold air.
There are a few picnic tables scattered behind the library that are usually abandoned during lunch and Jared leads them there. He sits down on one side and motions towards the other. Jensen nods and sits down, setting his tray down carefully.
“Thanks,” Jensen says softly. Jensen looks up and Jared’s smile is dimmed by Jensen’s eyes. They’re so expressive; like a book splayed wide open, even though it’s obvious Jensen tries so hard to hide what he’s feeling. Even worse, they always look so sad, like years of pain have built up inside of him and he isn’t sure what to do with it. Jared would give anything to see those intense green eyes light up with happiness.
“Oh, you’re welcome. You looked like you needed to be rescued,” Jared says once he realizes he’s been staring. Jensen blinks and shakes his head a little like he had been staring too.
Jensen shifts awkwardly as his nimble fingers pick at his barely edible pizza. He opens and closes his mouth repeatedly like he doesn’t know what to say, brow crinkled as his cheeks turn pink.
“Hey, we don’t have to talk,” Jared says softly, splaying his palms on the table. Jensen looks up at him as he gnaws on his bottom lip. Jared sort of wants to reach over and pull his lip free before it bruises, but he doesn’t dare close that distance. “We can just sit here, enjoy the sunshine. That’s fine by me.”
“Okay,” Jensen says. He looks a little relieved. He opens his carton of milk and takes a slow sip, licking his lips as he sets it back down on the table. Jared fights against the sudden urge to bounce up and down in his seat. He’s ridiculously excited to be alone with Jensen even if they aren’t talking. He just hopes he can manage not to kiss the bridge of his nose. That’s pretty much all he’s been able to think about since the moment they met.
Jared spends the next few minutes sneaking little surreptitious glances at Jensen from the corner of his eye. He has freckles on the tip of his ear and a mosquito bite on the inside of his wrist. Jared is enthralled with every bit of him.
He’d pay to hear Jensen’s life story.
Jensen is staring off to the side. His bottom lip is red and full from biting down on it so much. Suddenly Jensen pushes his tray away, cheeks bright pink and brow furrowed.
“Why – why are you doing this?” Jensen asks suddenly. Jared’s gaze snaps to him, warm and attentive.
“Doing what?” He replies curiously, tilting his head to the side. Jensen glances up at him through the thick, honey colored fringe of his eyelashes, eyes bright and round.
“You… you’re trying to be my friend, right?” Jensen says softly, like the concept is completely foreign to him. He looks scared but also a little hopeful. “That’s what this is?”
“Beauty and brains,” Jared says, throwing Jensen a wink. Jensen just swallows hard and looks down at the table. Jared’s smile fades. He isn’t sure how to act around Jensen. It’s hard enough to resist the urge to hug him. He hugs everybody and, well, he’s never wanted to hug anyone more than he wants to hug the sad boy in front of him. The next words are almost painful to get out. “I could leave you alone, if you want?”
“No!” Jensen says. His eyes widen and he rolls his lips into his mouth like he didn’t mean to let that slip out. He looks up at Jared and his stomach flips. “I – keep doing it, okay?”
“You got it, Jen,” Jared says. The nickname rolls off of his tongue like he’s used it forever. Jensen meets his eyes and gives him a tiny, private smile.
It could be his imagination, but Jensen’s eyes look a little bit brighter.
Onto Part 2.