Word Count: ~ 4,500
Disclaimer: I asked Santa. We’ll see if he comes through.
Summary: It may be a little cliché, lonely little rich boy running away to try and find himself on the back roads of America, but that’s what it is.
Notes: I rely heavily on dialogue in my fics. I wanted to challenge myself to write a story with minimal dialogue. My brain apparently took it literally and this came out. Thanks to kamikaze_redux for the lightning quick beta. ♥
The world keeps spinning. Round and round it goes and where it stops nobody knows.
Especially not Jared.
He’s having what his parents like to call an ‘existential crisis’, which is just their way of sugar coating ‘spoiled little rich kid who doesn’t want to grow up and accept responsibility’. That’s fine. Jared can accept that. It’s not what he thinks is going on, but he can understand why other people would think such a thing.
He graduated college six months ago with a degree in Liberal Arts because he never could pick an actual major, much to his father’s chagrin, and ever since he’s been exploring the country. He bought a beat up old pick-up off of craigslist (and they call him spoiled) and he’s just been… driving. No particular destination in mind, no end to this journey in sight – just driving.
It may be a little cliché, lonely little rich boy running away to try and find himself on the back roads of America, but that’s what it is. He’s cut off all contact from his old life and he’s sleeping in fleabag motels and eating at greasy spoons; avoiding freeways whenever he can to take the road less travelled. It’s all very Jack Kerouac, and Jared has even taken to writing down his thoughts on scraps of paper and the back of gas receipts in case he ever wants to take these experiences and write the next great American novel.
It’s not likely, but Jared still hasn’t found what he’s looking for on this godforsaken road trip. Maybe after awhile he can put all these little pieces of thought together like a puzzle, look back and finally figure out what exactly the hell it was that he tried to figure out along the way.
Freeways glitter under the sun, light glinting off glass and debris, scattered remains of yesterday’s tragedies, reads the outside of a taco wrapper from some place in southern Montana, and what the fuck does that even mean, anyway? It’s just shattered glass on cracked asphalt. Nothing to wax poetic about.
Jared has always been a little bit dramatic.
Since starting this trip he’s only spoken when absolutely necessary, and in the last week he hasn’t spoken at all. It’s sort of strange. He was always a bit of a chatterbox, spouting random bullshit to anyone that would sit still long enough, but there’s no one around now. His vocal chords are atrophying from lack of use. Maybe it’s a good thing he rarely talks anymore because all the bullshit he used to spout was just that. Bullshit.
He tries to see how long he can go without speaking, like a personal challenge. In eastern Kentucky he wanders into a smelly little fill-up joint and slaps two crumpled twenties down on the counter and holds up three fingers. The sleepy looking man behind the counter gives him a lazy nod and Jared goes to fill up his tank without uttering so much as a single word.
He starts to take this no talking thing really seriously around week two of utter silence. He’s not going to speak again until he has something important to say, some life-altering question he needs answered. All his bullshit never got him anywhere. Actions are what counts and actions are all he has to go on now.
He gets his food and motel rooms and gas by pointing at signs. He doles out cash wordlessly and smiles instead of saying thank you. Most people think he’s mute, or retarded, or maybe even both. He doesn’t give a shit. These people don’t matter. They don’t have the answers he’s looking for.
His life is starting to look like the anticlimactic punch line to one long boring joke – a great big fucking question mark. That’s it? Really? What a waste of time.
He watches the sun rise over the Grand Canyon. He thought maybe there would be some magic in that, but there isn’t. Sure, it’s pretty and everything, but at the end of the day it’s just light filtering through ozone and landing on a giant hole in the dirt.
Jared wonders if he was born a cynic or if it’s something that happened to him along the way.
The Grand Canyon doesn’t hold any answers for him, so he continues to drive. The muted misanthropist in his shit-colored truck, doing nothing other than warming diner booths with his ass and contributing to global warming.
Three weeks pass and Jared realizes that even if he wanted to talk, he doesn’t really know what he’d say.
He spends a month visiting every shitty roadside attraction on the map. He draws lines from one to the next like the world’s stupidest game of connect-the-dots, and still nothing moves him. It’s all meaningless, and Jared has an alarming moment outside the world’s largest ball of twine where he wonders if maybe there isn’t an answer to his unasked question. Maybe he’s doomed to feel this bitter and empty inside for the rest of his life.
Is it possible to have a life without a purpose? Jared ponders in Sharpie on the side of a coffee cup he picked up somewhere on the Washington peninsula. Can you truly live without actually LIVING, or are you merely an empty shell masking a wasted existence?
Jared hasn’t spoken a word in three months.
It’s getting cold so he heads south. He travels over mountains and around lakes and through flat pains of grass to end up in Texas of all places. He’s generally avoided the state since he left it six months ago, and he isn’t sure why he’s going back now, but that’s what he’s doing.
He gives San Antonio a wide berth and spends some time down by the coast. He suns himself on a deserted beach and plays fetch with a stray dog along the water’s edge. The dog does this little flip in the air, something hilarious, and that’s when Jared realizes that not only has he not spoken, he hasn’t even laughed.
Have I smiled? This gets written on a smooth, flat stone he finds on the beach. It’s a good question, if not the question and Jared doesn’t have the answer to that one either.
Maybe it’s time to leave Texas.
A few hours later his stomach starts rumbling, and as much as he wants to get out of Texas, he pulls over to eat. The place he picks is some squat little diner across the street from some no-name motel and nothing else around. Instances of this happen all over the country, Jared has discovered. Eat, sleep, and get the fuck on your way.
He throws himself into a cracked red vinyl booth with a little more force than necessary and stares gloomily at the scratched Formica table top. He’s been listless for months but this is the first time he’s actually felt scared.
He takes his ever-present black Sharpie and scribbles What if this is all there is? in distressed, sloppy font across the corner of the paper placemat.
“Then we’re fucked,” comes a rough, lazy voice from above him. “Coffee?”
Jared looks up to glare bitterly at whoever dares to disrupt his existential panic, but once he catches a glimpse of that face he can’t really remember why he was so bitter in the first place.
Very green eyes. Pink lips pinker than the pinkest pink that Jared has ever seen. Tan freckles and white teeth and hair the color of mud but still somehow beautiful. It’s like a whole fucking color wheel dumped on the prettiest canvas there ever was.
“I’m gonna go ahead and take that as a yes,” the guy drawls. The voice is honey-thick and lazy, so Texan, but somehow not sounding like any other voice Jared has ever heard. He vaguely registers that he’s not even sure what his own voice sounds like anymore.
The guy flips Jared’s coffee cup over and fills it with sweet-smelling dark roast, leaving little room for cream or sugar. The guy pushes the cup closer to Jared and he can see his hands, worn and strong, blunt-tipped fingers with slightly jagged nails like they’re always getting bitten.
“Name’s Jensen, and I’ll be takin’ care of you,” he says. Jared swallows and looks back at the coffee once more before his eyes land back on Jensen’s face. “I’ll give you and that caffeine a few minutes alone while you look over the menu.”
Jared drinks the coffee and it burns his tongue, burns his throat and burns his stomach. Something happened when he looked at Jensen. Something inside of him stirred – something has been dormant for far too long. Jared can’t exactly place what it was.
A few minutes later Jensen’s hands slip into his eye line as he takes Jared’s Sharpie, crosses out his panicked question about the meaning of life, and writes Don’t worry about it. Smile and enjoy the ride.
“Know what you want?” Jensen asks like he didn’t just offer Jared surprisingly simple advice on how to go about living. Jared opens his mouth but then snaps it shut and randomly jabs at something on the menu he never even looked at. Jensen leans over and Jared can smell him, the thick cloying smell of grease trying but failing to mask the subtly spicy scent of his cologne. “Meatloaf? Well, alright then. You sit tight and I’ll be back.”
Jared sits tight. He watches Jensen work, watches him gracefully dance around the diner with simple steps, topping off coffees and serving up slices of lemon meringue pie. Jared’s meatloaf platter is the best meal he’s ever had at a greasy spoon, and the view isn’t bad either.
Jensen brings him his check and slides it across the counter. Jared takes it and glances at the price.
“I’d sure love to see you around here again,” Jensen says, but Jared can’t imagine why. “But you’re probably just passing through. Everyone’s always just passing through.”
Jensen’s pleasant smile droops for the first time since Jared has seen him. He looks wistful for a moment, maybe even a little lost, and then it returns. He gives Jared a polite nod and then disappears into the kitchen.
Jared leaves a twenty dollar tip on a twelve dollar bill and goes across the street to rent a room for a week. If anyone asked him why, well, he wouldn’t answer them because he doesn’t talk and it wouldn’t be any of their damn business anyway.
That night Jared takes a long, hard look at himself in the dingy mirror in the cramped little bathroom of room number seven. He hasn’t let his hygiene go completely to shit. Just because he’s trying his hand at being an aimless drifter doesn’t mean he has to smell like one.
But his current appearance does leave a little to be desired. He was at one time a vain man, very much aware of his body and his good looks. That’s long gone by now. He’s not that guy anymore. Now he just wants to look presentable.
His hair is long but there’s nothing he can do about that short of going at it with a pair of scissors himself, but that’s not an option. It looks far better curling around his ears and hugging the back of his neck than it would after being haphazardly attacked by someone with little to no coordination. He takes a long shower and shaves the awkward patchy beard off of his face, leaving nothing but smooth, tan skin behind.
He takes his clothes to the motel’s “laundry room” which is actually little more than a derelict shack with one avocado colored washer and a cream colored dryer, both from different decades that are nowhere near the present. Jared washes all his clothes and clips his fingernails under the bare, dim bulb at the lopsided table while glancing idly at faded, outdated magazines. Once his clothes are done he gets in his truck and finds a convenience store to get some basic food items, a book of crossword puzzles, and a newspaper.
It’s been a long time since he really got a good night’s sleep, but that night he does. The sheets are warm and barely even scratchy, and he drifts off with an entire color wheel behind his eyelids – green, pink, tan – over and over again.
Jared wakes up around ten the next morning. He hasn’t set an alarm in almost six months and it’s a freeing feeling.
He washes up, gets dressed, and then looks at himself in the mirror and almost does a double-take. He’s smiling. His eyes are bright and his cheeks are flushed and he’s smiling. He’s not exactly sure of why that is but it isn’t hard to guess.
Jared grabs his newspaper and crossword puzzle book and then jogs across the street to the diner. Jensen has his back to the door when Jared wanders in. He’s yelling at the cook in a loud, good-natured sort of snarl. The back and forth is amusing. Jensen wants table number two’s eggs and Carl is taking his sweet time and doesn’t seem to give two shits about it. There’s real humor in their voices, obvious friendship. Jared is mildly surprised he can still recognize the sound.
Jensen finally gets his eggs, turns around, and stumbles to a halt when he spots Jared. The smile that spreads across his face is radiant enough to make the smile Jared saw reflected in the mirror look like a melancholy grimace.
“You’re back,” Jensen says. His eyes flicker up and down Jared’s body, linger momentarily on his cleaned up face, and then he clears his throat and ducks his head a little. A warm feeling washes across Jared – almost a relaxed calm. “Uh, well. Just take a seat any place and I’ll be right over.”
Jared picks the booth in the corner, the same one he sat at the day before that afforded him the view of the entire diner. Jensen bustles around a bit, checking on other customers, but he keeps glancing at Jared out of the corner of his eye. Finally he wanders over to Jared’s booth, hip cocked out slightly to one side.
“So you’re stayin’ in town?” Jensen asks. Jared nods once and points out the window towards the motel. Jensen nods and Jared just shrugs when Jensen asks why here, why now. “Still ain’t talking, huh?”
Jared presses his lips together. He’d like to talk Jensen’s ear off, but even though the little voice in his head is screaming warmer, warmer! he still hasn’t found his answer. He looks up at Jensen with sad eyes and an apologetic shrug.
“Well, we got time,” is all Jensen says. He gives Jared a flirty little wink and he nearly melts into the cracked vinyl. “Just wish I knew what to call you.”
Jared may not talk but he definitely isn’t shy. Jensen’s apron is hanging loose on his hips, notepad pulling it down just below his belt buckle. Jared reaches forward and slowly extracts the notepad, fingers brushing the worn leather of Jensen’s belt. He gulps and Jared smirks as he pulls his Sharpie out of his pocket.
It’s Jared, he writes on a clean sheet of paper. And yeah, we got time.
And so goes the next week or so. Jared hangs out at the diner and half-focuses on his crossword puzzles while drinking too-sweet coffee with a splash of milk. Half of the book is done in under a week and that’s even after spending most of his time surreptitiously glancing at Jensen as he works.
Jensen is important. He holds some clue as to what it is Jared has been searching for. All he knows right now is that Jensen is the most fascinating person he has ever met – the most honest, the most real. Jensen works hard and smiles harder but he doesn’t take shit from anyone. He’s mysterious and intriguing and pays attention to Jared even though he’s the awkward mute guy that’s well on his way to becoming a certified stalker.
After Jared’s twelfth straight day of hanging out at the diner, Jensen approaches Jared’s designated booth with two plates. For the first time since this all began Jensen actually slides into the booth across from Jared. He drops his pen and it rolls across the table, tip pointing directly at Jensen as he sets the plates down. Two turkey clubs. Jared swallows hard as Jensen pushes one over.
“I’m on my break. This alright?” Jensen asks. He doesn’t bother to wait for Jared’s stilted nod before digging into his sandwich. Jared tries to act casual but his eyes keep being drawn back to Jensen’s face. “You know,” Jensen says as he sucks a drop of mustard from his thumb, “every day I keep thinkin’ that it’ll be the last time I see you. I sure wish I knew your story, Jared.”
Jared stares at Jensen for a long moment, noting the carefully masked concern in his bright green eyes. Jared picks up his pen and leans over to write on the placemat. I wish I had a story to tell you, he scribbles. He pauses for a moment, and then keeps writing. And I’d never leave without saying goodbye to you.
He slides the placemat over to Jensen who reads it carefully as he crunches down on a dill pickle spear. Juice dribbles down on his chin and he wipes it away with a calloused finger. He doesn’t say anything, doesn’t even acknowledge what Jared has written. They spend the rest of Jensen’s lunch in complete silence. After his plate is cleared, Jensen spends a long moment just looking at Jared’s face with a strangely intense gaze. He blushes under the scrutiny.
Finally Jensen’s expression softens a little. He wipes his hands on a napkin and grabs Jared’s pen, twirling it once in his fingers before pressing it to the paper just underneath Jared’s words. He writes something out, pushes it back towards Jared, and gets out of the booth without another word. Jared looks at the scribbled ink and feels his throat constrict.
What if I don’t want you to say goodbye?
Jared doesn’t go back to the diner for two days and tells himself that it isn’t because he’s a coward.
Instead he spends his time thinking. Being here in this piece of shit little town feels more right than any other place he’s been so far. He’s seen the wonders of the world, the most awe-inspiring and gorgeous parts of this country, and none of it compares to the corner booth of a no-name diner in some forgotten town.
That, he’s pretty sure, has the propensity to mean something big.
Jared travels into town. There really isn’t much – a post office, a general store, a church, and a quaint little library make up the center of it. Jared is pleasantly surprised to find that they have internet access inside the library. There’s one ancient desktop with dial-up, but it’s internet access nonetheless.
The ear splitting whine of the internet dialing in takes Jared back to the days of junior high and he nearly smiles. Twenty minutes after sitting down his e-mail finally loads. Twelve thousand unread messages. Jared raises an eyebrow and then bypasses them all to open a new e-mail. Aside from the occasional I’m still alive text and never-ending credit card bills, his parents don’t have any clue as to what’s going on with him.
It’s not like he’s trying to hide. If they ever wanted to know where he was at any given time all they would have to do is log in and check their credit card history. They don’t care enough to do that and Jared doesn’t really mind. He’s the one that ran away. If he wanted someone to come looking for him he wouldn’t have done that in the first place.
He sends them a quick e-mail and then shoots another generic one off to his brother and a few friends, if any of them still even care. He opens a new e-mail to his sister. She’s the only one that ever truly understood him and got why he had to do this.
I think I found it, he starts – no greeting, no pleasantries. Straight to the point. I might have found what I was looking for, but I’m not sure. I’m starting to realize that maybe the answer isn’t going to come to me on its own. Maybe I need to reach out and grab it. All this time I was waiting for the answer to just fall into my lap, but nothing good comes easy, right? I have to make it work. I need to go for it.
Jared sighs and runs his fingers through his hair. It’s far too long, all full of tangles. There has to be a barber around here somewhere. All small towns have a barber shop, right? One of those ones with the candy cane striped pole out front.
He’s Google mapping the nearest barber shop when he receives a new e-mail. It’s from his sister. She always was wise for her age.
Jared, I knew from the moment you left for this ridiculous journey the reason why you were doing it. You’re the worst kind of romantic. What’s his name?
And that’s it. That’s all he needs.
Jensen, he replies. Just one word, six letters, the answer to everything.
Jared logs off and goes to get a haircut.
The next day Jared sleeps in late. He wakes up, showers, and waits for his hair to dry before jogging across to the diner. There’s a slight chill in the air and excitement thrums through Jared’s every nerve. This is it. Today’s the day.
Jared is so sure of that simple fact until he pulls on the diner’s door and finds it locked. Jared furrows his brow and jiggles the door, but it’s obvious that the place is closed. The lights are off and the stools are all flipped up onto the bar.
Wind whips around him, fluttering through his hair and whistling in his ears. Jared is close to devastated as he slowly trudges back to his empty motel room. The sheets on his bed are fresh and Jared throws himself back onto them and stares at the water stains on the ceiling until the sun dips down to meet the horizon. Just as his eyes begin to droop there’s a knock on the door.
Jared’s eyes snap open. Nobody has ever knocked on his door. He gets up cautiously to answer it, pulling it open and gasping with shock when he sees Jensen on the other side.
“I, uh, asked Jerry at the front desk which room you were in,” Jensen explains. His hands are shoved in the pockets of his jeans and the wind ruffles his hair. His pink lips are bitten red and his eyes are shadowed. “Merry Christmas. Or well, Christmas Eve.”
Jared blinks. No wonder the diner was closed. Jensen cocks his head to the side.
“Wow, you really do live in your own little world, don’t you?” Jensen asks with a soft chuckle. “You didn’t even know.” Jared just shakes his head. He’d seen the decorations going up and the commercials on television, even noticed the music playing in the library, but the date never clicked. “Well, no one should spend Christmas alone. And I’m alone, and I figured you were too, so I thought maybe – “
Jensen cuts himself off and stares at Jared’s face. His heart is pounding and he swallows hard, unable to make his throat work.
“Never mind,” Jensen mutters. He looks so lonely in that moment, as broken as Jared feels. “You don’t need anyone. That’s obvious. I’ll just – “ He doesn’t finish his statement, just turns to walk away with a shake of his head. Jared knows this is it – the moment he’s been waiting for. He swallows hard and takes a step out into the chill.
“Jensen,” he calls. His voice is so rough it’s almost raspy, barely audible over the wind. It feels strange to yell so loud after months without making a sound. It hurts his throat and he clears it as he calls out again, clearer this time. “Jensen!”
He said he wasn’t going to speak until he had something important to say, an answer to some unasked question. That’s Jensen. He’s it. He’s everything.
Jensen freezes and spins around, almost slipping as he stares at Jared with disbelief. Finally a brilliant grin graces his beautiful face and he turns his head to the side, cupping a hand around his ear.
“What was that?” He calls. “I didn’t quite catch it!”
“Jensen!” Jared calls with a laugh. It feels so good to talk again, to laugh again, to have his answer. “Come here!”
Jensen runs up to Jared and throws his arms around his shoulders. Jared stumbles backwards into the room and barely manages to stay standing as he wraps his arms around Jensen’s waist. He hasn’t touched anyone in almost a year, hasn’t been touched. The feeling of having someone in his arms, especially Jensen, is nearly overwhelming.
Jensen tangles his fingers in Jared’s freshly cut hair, fingers tugging at the strands as he surges up on his tiptoes to press their mouths together. Jared lets out a whimper that under different circumstances he would find embarrassing, but Jensen just swallows the sound and kisses him harder.
“I thought you were looking for something,” Jensen says breathlessly as they tumble back onto the bed. Jared rolls them over and fits himself between Jensen’s splayed legs. Green eyes stare back at him, bright and happy. Jared clears his throat again, clears away the last of the cobwebs, and speaks.
“I was,” he says roughly as he puts his hand on Jensen’s cheek. “I just found it.”
Jensen smiles and pulls Jared down into another kiss.
They wake up the next morning, naked and tangled together in sheets that are only slightly scratchy. They kiss and fuck and make love and talk – oh god do they talk – all through Christmas Day.
Jared pays for one more night at the motel and on the back of his room key he writes I found the answer. And now? I really start to live. in neat, black font. He throws the Sharpie in the trash can at the far end of the lobby. There’s no need for it anymore.
Jensen gives his notice at the diner and Jared loads up his truck. He has a full tank of gas and a credit card with no limit. The sun is shining and there’s a brand new year stretching out endlessly in front of them.
Jensen is next to him, fingers tangled with his as they look out the windshield at the long, narrow road ahead. There’s a whole lot of world Jensen wants to see and Jared is just the person to show him.
They better get started.