He sees him when he’s passing through Loveland, Colorado; a few weeks into the haul.
He’s sitting on the side of Route 287, a few scarce fingers from the yellow line dividing him from the wandering shoulder to Limbo, USA and instantaneous death. His thumb pokes out of a hole in his ratty black gloves, arms covered in flannel and denim, and his whole body is strapped under worn, beaten overalls. The line of his legs, constantly stepping backwards, becomes fractured at the calf where steel-toe boots begin.
Overalls, Jared thinks.
“Are you kidding me? Frozen chicken? That ain’t shit!” Noah tuts from his side of the pool table, and all the other drivers start hooting. “Carry a bed full of prescriptions through New York, then we’ll talk.”
Jared watches contently from his quiet pocket of the driver’s lounge as Noah then leans over and shoots his striped green ball into the corner pocket, swiftly as ending a sentence. Joseph grits his teeth – he only had three solids left, now Noah’s in the lead again.
Larry shakes his head and tosses back another gulp of lager, clearly unimpressed. Jared assumes it’s because Larry drives a pike of electronics up and down the east coast all the time, and he’s had his fair share of freight-jacks the same as anyone else in the business. Jared’s never experienced it himself yet.
“You’re shitting me,” Larry spits. “You’re telling me you got robbed four times in the same state? What’d you do? Drive through the same neighborhood every time?”
“It’s called a black market for a reason, chumps.” Noah laughs. “I’m lucky I still got my life.”
“Not much of it left, bucko.” Joseph nudges another solid down the hole.
Noah shrugs. “I’m sixty, but I ain’t dead yet. Been driving my rig for forty damn years.”
“Yeah, and explain to me again what the hell you’re still doing on the road?” Larry asks.
“Debts, son.” Noah says simply. “Words of wisdom; don’t ever get hurt, don’t ever invest what you don’t have, and don’t ever stop working. Keep on truckin’.”
Larry honks a laugh and lights a Marlboro. He offers Jared one, which he respectfully declines.
“What about you there, big guy?” He asks him. “What’re you carrying?”
Jared stalls with a slow swallow of his coffee (he skipped the beer being passed around since he had to get back on the road soon). He wasn’t supposed to talk about what he was carrying – nobody was. It was against policy. But it’s not like he was carrying pharmaceuticals, or electronics, or food, or anything worth stealing. Hell, he didn’t even know what a chain gang would do with his cargo, or how they could fence it to someone else.
“Wood chips,” He eventually replies. “S’family business.”
“Oh! The lumber business.” Noah grins. “I remember those. You’re the truck hamsters love.”
“You ain’t seen a single highway gang your whole life, have you Jay?” Larry snickers.
“Nope, and I don’t plan on it.” Jared replies, easily.
“That’s a good lad. Keep to yourself. Don’t let anyone near the truck, on the truck or in the truck. That’s how you haul.” Noah nods.
“Oh c’mon chief, even for you that’s mighty.” Larry scoffs. “If some sweet young thing stuck her leg out for you in a lot somewhere, you’re telling me you wouldn’t let her in your sleeper?”
“Hell no I wouldn’t!” Noah starts, indignantly. “I’ve got a beautiful wife waiting for me at home. She’s the only sweet thing I need.”
“What about you Joseph?”
Joseph pauses, pool stick rigid in his hand. He shrugs. “I’ve got a double-bunk.”
The lounge is momentarily filled with proud hollers from the boys. Noah shakes his head with displeasure.
“Laugh now. You won’t be laughing when your britches start itching.”
“How come you don’t bring your wife on the road with you, Noah?” Jared questions; curiosity getting the best of him. Noah lets out a groan the size of a whale.
“Lord, have mercy.” He starts, the strain of age tearing through his lungs. “I’ve been through lots of things, son. Seen lots of shit. I’ve seen wet wheelers hit a ditch and go up in flames. I’ve seen boys gel-up in the middle of a storm and freeze to death. I’ve seen a boy go straight over a cliff in the middle of a white-out, and the cops never found his body. But if I had to look in the eyes of the woman I love, sittin’ next to me in my cab, and watch them fill with nastiness and hate after three weeks of truck living…well, I’d rather heaven just take me now.”
A wave of grunts and reluctant agreement shifts through the room in a warm murmur, some tilting their drinks back benignly. Jared nods his head. He takes another sip of his hot, bitter coffee.
“I think it kills the fun of the job,” Larry throws in, unnecessarily. “I love my solitude. If a woman wants in, sure, but she ain’t staying.”
Joseph shrugs. “I don’t know. Between me and ol’ Buddy, it can be pretty slow. Poor dog barely even goes out for walks with me anymore during breaks. Might be nice to have a warm body around – one that talks.”
“You’re setting yourself up for a hurtin’ there, boy.” Noah warns. “Keeping a dog in the cab with you will only make the job harder once he’s gone. Take it from one old dog to another.”
“Ah, I couldn’t leave him. He’s my buddy,” Joseph smiles fondly and shoots another solid in – clack. “It’s just me and Buddy against the world. Ain’t nobody else waiting for me. Right Jared?”
A polite smile dances across Jared’s face. “I don’t got a dog. Prefer the quiet.”
“That’s a boy,” Larry’s tipsy paw pounds Jared’s shoulder, hotly. “That’s what this life is all about, ain’t it? Nobody becomes a professional tourist because they love people.”
“Nope,” Noah snaps his wrist back against his pool stick, and suddenly two solids are ricocheting into the same pocket. “There’s always a reason.”
The eight ball just sort of dribbles down the socket, like a whisper.
His palm was filled with leather as he gripped the gear shift, a baseball under his fingers, coffee breathing through the cab in a wafting blanket. There was an empty energy shot tossed over in his cup holder – spilled with flecks of unnatural pink against the rim, lord knows what they put in those things.
He was drifting fifty-five miles per hour through Chugwater, Wyoming, which wasn’t much of anywhere at all. It was a little town with a big heart, the same as every small town peppering these fifty states. Not every place could be a concrete jungle, or tinsel town, Jared imagined. It’s when he’s rolling through scraps of ghost-town such as this that he feels he’s surpassed a metaphysical border, and driven straight on through to the other side; a limitless stretch of nothingness, an endless field filled with more fields, hills that never stop winding, skylines without an end. Deathlessness.
He flicks on his wipers to combat the mist that has begun, and remembers none of that’s true. Jared is a truck driver, driving in a box. He’s driving through a state shaped like a box. Jared lives in a box, and death is real.
The radio is swallowed by the county line and replaced with white noise. He’s forced to tweak it to find some music somewhere, eyes darting between the dial and the looming city Welcome sign, and as he leaves Chugwater and enters Wheatland, his fingers stall between numbers.
Overalls is walking alongside the faded yellow line.
He can see him better now in broad daylight than when he did the first time, which was stained by sunset. He’s wearing the same clothes as yesterday; same boots, same dilapidated denim overalls, except his flannel and jean jacket has been tied around his waist in the overbearing heat and his arms are now free to the world. There’s an exhausted cramp to the posture of his right arm, which begs his thumb to the road.
There’s nothing but bare skin to his arms, but judging by his fashion, Jared would’ve expected an overalls-wearing punk to be covered in tattoo sleeves. His nakedness makes Jared wonder if perhaps he wasn’t a punk at all, but a farmer. How could you tell with an outfit like that?
He sees the truck – stares at it. Jared can tell he recognizes it by the way his tired reflection turns as if to follow Jared, form shrinking in the rear view.
Jared drove a Western Star 4900, custom painted. It was simple, but not all bland. It had chrome exhausts, straight pipes, and a white base with a blue cap – which looked more like a traditional, retro white and blue semi from a distance. But anyone within a few lanes might be able to see the navy blue trim detailing the sides, where thin silver flames fanned out like the underside of a blue jay’s wings. They even shimmered in the right light; dusting the road like industrial magic.
He kept it in good shape – he had to. Anything that happened to it was on his dollar, not the company’s. It was his truck after all, and his burden. Some days it would look rusty from all the salt coating snowy highways, so he’d have to stop and give the whole thing a good rinse. It might take hours, but Jared wasn’t in any rush. He was always ahead of schedule. He always found a way to keep moving.
Coffee wasn’t infinite though, and he’d thrown back his last drop somewhere around Wheatland. He’d have to clean out his cab at some point because he’s got Styrofoam cups hiding in every nook and cranny and compartment right now.
He parks himself between two bobtail trucks and slams the door behind him, both its hinges and his sea legs groaning with age as he shuffles toward the run-down five-and-dime.
“G’mornin’ man, how you doing?” A homeless man croaks from where he squats at the entrance, and Jared just nods and ducks inside quickly.
There’s a cool, refrigerator chill and a radio tucked behind the counter playing John Denver as he scans the barren aisles. There’s no driver’s lounge in this place, that’s for sure; it’s far too homely for that. He tugs his beanie down to his scruffy jaw and dives for the tall silver pots in the back, clip art pictures of coffee taped to them.
The plastic cup sheds warmth to his fingers as it fills.
“Pass me a cup?” Someone says.
He nearly groans at the loss of heat as the brown stream halts, and he peels back another plastic cup with a fump. It feels awkwardly cold against his palm as he turns to give it, and then pauses.
The guy looks nervous. His hand is outstretched, though his thumb isn’t out, and his eyes are darting up and down Jared like the cup could turn into handcuffs at any second.
“Thanks?” He sort of says, still waiting for it. Jared’s brow knits and he hands it over, going back to his habits with sugar and cream.
The guy takes it and sinks in next to Jared in the small corner. Pouring sounds fill the gap. He smells like the road – asphalt and dust, tires and gas, cigarettes and old unwashed smells.
Jared doesn’t look at him exactly, though his gaze nips and paws at the overalls from Loveland and Chugwater and Wheatland like they belonged to a ghost.
He’s not quite sure how the guy managed to hike so many miles in so little time, or what he had to do to get here like this. The thought pokes holes at him, like the holes that scatter the overall’s legs and knees and chest. He’s got a black beanie on his head and a band t-shirt on underneath his denim – Jared can spot it easily since one of the overall straps are dangling by his knee, still clasped like suspenders.
“Nice shirt,” Jumps out of his lips as soon as he recognizes the band name, and no sooner are the guy’s eyes plastered to him in bright green bulbs.
“Eddie Vedder’s the man,” The guy grins, revealing a clean set of teeth – yeah, Jared had expected otherwise.
“Yeah, yeah he is.” Jared smiles back and pours his sugar.
“Ten was their best album. Hands down. I could listen to that thing for a year straight and it’d still be the shit – hell, I have.” He goes on excitedly. “Never saw them live though. I bet they were fucking amazing.”
Jared is hesitant to reply. For all the guy’s enthusiasm, he doesn’t seem to notice his coffee’s gonna overflow. But Jared would be punching his fifteen-year-old self in the gut to walk away from a conversation about Pearl Jam.
“Were?” He asks. “Last I checked they were still around.”
“Sure they’re around, but it’s not really Pearl Jam anymore, is it? I mean, Lightning Bolt? Sirens? It’s got nothing on the classics. Shit,” He suddenly hisses when he feels steaming coffee bite his knuckles. He pulls the cup away and sets it down on the counter.
Jared grimaces at the pink flesh. He stuffs his hand with napkins and hands them over mercifully. The guy looks a little flustered, his cheeks a little dark.
“Thanks,” He smiles warmly. Jared shrugs.
“That’s alright, it’s cold out.” He replies.
There’s a hint crawling under those words, creeping into Jared’s space. He’d be a fool not to notice. He just nods and hurries on finding a lid and a cardboard cozy.
“You drive a big rig?” The guy finally asks.
Jared smiles tightly. “How could you tell?”
He shrugs. “Look the type. Beard and all.”
Jared holds his hand back from reflexively touching his scruff. It’s not bushy yet, though it must be getting there.
“Where you headed?”
He’s not supposed to say, really. “Northwest.”
The guy nods, holding his coffee with shifting fingers. “Y’got room for one more?” He asks. Jared smiles politely, and the guy instantly barrels on with, “M’not going far – really. I just need a –”
“Sorry man, I’m not supposed to take passengers. It’s against policy.” He lies, watching the light fade in his eyes like a blown out candle. “Take it easy.”
And just like that, Jared skirts away.
“You too,” He hears behind him, faintly, as he bee-lines toward the snack aisle.
There’s probably some energy shots in there. Maybe he could find a salad or a sandwich to stuff in his fridge.
Five minutes later his items are scattered across the cashier’s counter, and he’s dredging up the ten he buried in his back pocket two days ago. As his fingers rummage around, he hears no jingle of keys.
A shock of panic laces his spine in a quiet tingle. He can't find his keys.
He quickly pays and rushes to his truck.
No pick-pocket thief could steal a truck, he tries to tell himself. Nobody can just do that on a whim. You have to plan it. You have to know how to drive it, for Christ’s sake.
You have to follow a driver from town to town and state to state – from Loveland to Wheatland.
That’s insane - yet his arms are buzzing and his fingers are twinging something awful, like a thousand ants have swarmed him. His skin is crawling and he’s got no control of it.
You can’t take the truck. No one can just take the truck, that’s impossible. That’s unfair. All he did was look away for a second to pour some cream. You can’t take it away because of such a small thing. It’s too big. It’s too heavy. It’s his.
His heart nearly stops. His feet stutter on the concrete, and he lets out a big, heaving breath -
There it is; the mountainous gleam of blue, white and silver, parked just where he left it.
The keys are fallen on the ground by the door, waiting for him. Jared must be getting slow or something. He doesn’t remember dropping them.
His cab is blasting Pearl Jam.
He had Jeremy stuck in his head all day, so he slid Ten in. He has all the albums, and maybe this is the only honest reason he doesn't carry passengers. It’s a miracle he still has his hearing. He turns the music up and drowns a little, like the Wyoming sun under steely clouds. The ominous tint says rain.
Jeremy’s smokin’, smokin’…
It’s spoke in, nimrod.
Shut up Jared, art is subjective.
He used to hang posters of Eddie Vedder on his bedroom wall as a kid, until they became hand-me-downs, and then hand-me-downs became wordless give-backs.
There’s a fried chicken place in a plaza nearby that tempts him to stop for an hour, but he knows he ought not to. He’s got a whole mini-fridge of green things and some snacks. It’s not like he ever burnt any real calories most days, aside from the mandatory breaks he had to take where he went for walks – nothing too crazy. If he got sweaty running, he’d have to wait hours for a truck stop shower. Most of them were clean, but he still liked to avoid them.
He eventually hits a rest stop in Billings, Montana, the engine letting out feral whines as it dies. Rain is pelting the hood and windows by that time like angry drums. He figures a quick sandwich and bed.
There used to be a claustrophobic feeling that would haunt him whenever he settled into his eighty-two-inch studio apartment for the night, but after a while it started to feel right. Eighty-two inches is bigger than a pair of lungs, or a tight chest of air, or a twenty-eight-inch-wide casket. Twenty-nine inches for someone a little bigger than Jared.
His flannel droops off his shoulders. He clicks open the small closet to tuck it away – and out falls a sudden, loose thump. Jared’s eyes bulge.
“What the hell?”
“I can explain,” Overalls says and instantly fans his hands out to show their emptiness. “Don’t panic.”
“What the fuck are you doing in my cab? How did you get in here?” Jared rails loudly, fists clenched and ready to yank out the gun case hidden in his lower glove compartment.
But Overalls isn’t attacking him. He’s just groaning as he uncurls from the fetal position he’d squeezed himself into, bones cracking under him.
Jared can’t help but stare. That closet was about big enough for a teenager on the young and thin side. The guy had to be crazy. He pulls himself on the bed so he can pant heavily and watch Jared with nervous, shifty eyes.
“I’m not trying anything, I swear. I’m not with anyone and I’m not trying to steal your shit.” He blurts.
“You stole my keys, didn’t you?” Jared grits. “I knew it – I never drop my keys anywhere.”
He adjusts his beanie with unsure fingers. “Probably, sure. But it’s not a big deal –”
“Probably?” Jared echoes in disbelief.
The guy swallows. “I mean yeah, I took them. But only for a second and then I gave them back. I told you I only needed a ride, man. Nothing else.”
“Get the hell out of my cab.” He demands, in a tone that’s still mostly in awe. Overall’s face suddenly falls into this crushed look, like crumpled glass.
“C’mon, dude. You’re kidding me right? Look at that rain outside. I’ll freeze.”
“There’s a shop over there.”
“There’s probably a bathroom around there somewhere.”
“A bathroom? What kind of guy are you? Do you want me to end up on 60 Minutes?”
“You already are an episode of 60 Minutes.” Jared hisses, and starts to open the passenger door.
A clammy hand latches onto his wrist suddenly. Jared jerks back, ready to swing – but the guy doesn’t let him go. He looks up at Jared with bubbling green eyes lined with red, probably from exhaustion, and takes off his beanie - as if to beg.
“Wait,” He breathes, chest thudding quickly. “Look, I – I don’t have a home. I don’t have anything, man – no house, no car, no backpack, nothing. I’ve got nothing except the clothes on my back and an empty wallet. I’m harmless. You can check me, if you want.”
Jared’s gaze is narrow and steady, like a cowboy in a southern draw.
He can see the faint smudges of dirt and tar dotting the guy’s neck – and from this close, the guy’s not much of a guy at all. He’s just a kid. His forehead wrinkles are few and his stubble is close, like fuzz. His eyes are crinkled with short, tired bags, and his grip on Jared’s wrist says he’s holding on, not holding back.
“Let me see your wallet.”
He frowns. “There ain’t nothing in it.” He tries, but Jared’s mouth is firm, so he pulls a thin brown leather wallet from the front pocket of his overalls and hands it over. Jared flips it open with one hand:
2120 HOPE BLVD
BOULDER, CO 80303
He checks the side pockets for traces of anything else – cash, credit cards, drugs, cigarettes, business cards, anything – but it’s as if moths ate a hole through it.
Twenty-two. The kid was twenty-two.
“Long way from home, aren’t you?” He flips the wallet closed and hands it back. The kid – Jensen Ackles – takes it and quickly stashes it, finally releasing Jared’s wrist so he can use both hands.
“Something like that.” He mutters, scratching his head. He’s got a strange haircut, sides shaved real close to his head so the top tufts out. It’s as if he ran out of cash before they could finish buzzing off the top. Jared supposes for his fashion choices, it makes sense.
“Let me guess, you’re heading north.”
“I could be.”
“You trying to tell me you broke into my truck just to take a five-hour nap?”
He shrugs and looks down, shifting. “I’m not trying to be shady, alright? I just need a ride.”
“Yeah, the shady ship has sailed, kid.”
“I told you I’m harmless. Frisk me if you want, but trust me, if I was out to get you I’d have already done it about three hundred miles ago.” He spills, and even though a look of panic crosses his face at his choice of words, he just keeps snowballing. “I’m not out to get anyone, I mean. I just need a ride.”
“Looks like you already got one,” Jared replies dryly, starting to feel bitter about the reality that he drove a complete stranger across state lines and didn’t even know it. He must really be getting slow. “I’m not a bus driver. I’m a truck driver. And you’re out of your goddamned mind to think I’d let some stealing punk spend the night in my cab with me.”
Jared whips open the passenger door, looking pointedly at the kid. Rain flecks his face in cold pebbles, patterning the vinyl. He aims his wet cheeks and eyes up at Jared imploringly.
“C’mon man,” He pleads, eyebrows knotting into something desperate. “It’s freezing out there.”
Jared’s not a monster, but he has his limits.
His mouth tightens as he reaches behind him for the bundle of fleece blankets he keeps under his bunk for winter hauls. They aren’t anything special – he could pick up another box of them at the next mini-mart.
“Here,” He tosses them over, watching the kid flail and grab it. “You don’t have to steal those. Now go on.” He gives Jared one final pleading look – Jared’s voice drops a peg. “Go.”
His boots scrape the gear shift as he scrambles into the front and reluctantly slides out of the cab. The rain instantly soaks him. He screws his beanie down over his ears and looks up at Jared as he slams the door shut, eyelashes fluttering with droplets.
Jared watches him disappear into the darkness of the lot.
Morning yawns through his windshield and spills a lemon yellow sun across his wood-paneled wheel. His eyelids peel apart in sticky clumps, the taste of sugar sweet energy shots transformed overnight into something monstrous. He digs his knuckles into his face.
He can hear bass thumping from another car somewhere as he rises, pulling on a flannel and a beanie. His fingernails scrape through the bristles on his cheeks and he thinks about the shaver in his draw, wondering how long it would take to see skin again.
It's not like he needs to. Most truckers don't care. He can't remember the last time he even bothered. Maybe that's scary.
He grabs his morning kit, throws the shaver in it - some barbasol ought to do it - and then climbs into the front to kick open the door.
Overalls stands right outside, green eyes boring so straight into the cab that a sudden shocked sound punches out of Jared, muffled in the cab.
His fleece blankets are folded carefully in one arm, the other holding a big cup of joe. He doesn't look as well rested as one should be, but his expression is nothing but bright and earnest. It’s almost inappropriate for someone as ragged and reckless as he is to look at people that way.
Jared opens the door, an exasperated creak as he steps out.
“I brought your blankets back,” The kid stiffly explains to Jared’s bleary face, and holds out the coffee. “And stuff.”
His stomach rumbles fiercely as he gives the brew a suspicious look, and then starts shuffling towards the bathrooms without a word. The kid should take a hint - he's given him enough charity already, coffee isn't gonna get him another free ride.
But Jared hears footsteps trailing behind him into the men's room.
Water hisses through a squealing faucet as he soaks his brush and paints his teeth frothy white and blue. He takes extra time scrubbing the sugar off his tongue, and in the middle of it glances up at the kid leaning against the mirror, watching him.
He looks like he's waiting for something. Jared spits and rinses, starting to feel somewhat awake.
“You should brush your teeth after coffee,” Overalls says. “S’no point in brushing them twice.”
He hands the blankets and coffee to Jared again, but he doesn't take them. “Said you could keep them.” He rumbles, hoarse and morning-thick.
His eyes glint at Jared. He tucks the blankets under his arm again and ducks his head. Jared wonders why – if it’s maybe because he’s smiling.
“It's got a hole in it though.”
“I guess that's why it’s free then, isn't it?” Jared replies flatly, and exits the bathroom without shaving.
Boots scurry at his heels. He stops and spins around.
“Quit stalking my truck, kid. You're not getting another ride.”
“I'm just trying to give you some coffee, that's all. How’s that stalking?” He grins, brightly.
Jared eyes the coffee. “How'd you get it?”
The half-grin falters. “Get what?”
“The coffee, genius. You don't have any money.” Jared reminds him. “How'd you buy it?”
He rolls his shoulder, weakly. “I bartered.”
Jared's mouth lines deepen. “You stole it.”
“Oh right, cause somebody's really gonna miss the whopping sixty-nine cent sale.” He snorts, but Jared’s already marching back to his truck. Overalls follows him. “Hey, I'm just trying to be nice, alright? You allergic to poor people or something?”
“No, just ones who like to steal my keys from me when I'm not looking.” Jared throws over his shoulder.
“I gave them back,” He reminds him, and backs against the driver side door with the steaming cup. “I promise you it's not poisoned. Be pretty stupid to poison the driver, wouldn't it?”
Jared’s teeth grit at the way the kid says it like he assumes he’s getting in the cab, too. He's in the way of the door, so Jared can't open it without smacking the poor guy. He just sighs and leans against the cab.
“How long have you been waiting out here for me to wake up?”
He shrugs. “Don't know.” He pauses to think, making Jared's brain automatically answer his own question with hours. “Bathroom floors are tricky.”
Guilt tugs at his chest. “You really slept in there?” Jared asks. He nods.
“Blankets were nice though.” He drops casually, but Jared sees the way his eyes flicker with hope.
He didn't know what he thought, but he didn't actually think the guy would go sleep on some seedy tile floor. God knows what even hid in between the crevices of those things. He thought the kid would just fuck off to someone else's car and hitch a ride someplace else. Perhaps he underestimated the rain.
“I'm not trying to hassle you, or anything.” The kid goes on, looking anywhere but at Jared.
His jaw tenses uncomfortably. “I've got nowhere to go. Okay? There's no place around here where I could even camp for the night. I'm not asking for a round-trip ticket here. You could drop me off anywhere, as long as it’s civilization.” He pauses, then adds, “Please.”
Jared’s teeth grind, silently.
An eternity later, he shoves open the cab door. “Get in.”
His eyes pop, face falling. “What?”
“Get in the cab, c’mon. Before I change my mind and call the cops.” Jared mutters.
Overalls looks at him disbelievingly, hesitating like maybe Jared had something bad in store for him. Finally, he stumbles up into the cab and crawls into the passenger seat, careful not to spill the coffee.
Jared swallows his sigh and climbs in.
He has a hard time keeping his eyes on the road. It's not like there's anything to really steal in the cab besides food, clothes, blankets, caffeine, and various emergency packs for the cab and himself – and if this kid is out to jack wood chips from him, then bears don't shit in the woods.
“You gonna tell me your name, Jensen?” He asks, remembering the name on his driver’s license vividly.
The kid suddenly looks up from where he's gently touching the shiny wood-paneling on the dashboard. His fingers keep hovering in the air over things, like he was a leper.
“Didn’t think it mattered much,” He replies.
He watches Jensen take a long sip of coffee, quietly. Jared, without so many words, told him to have it in the end – or at least it became clear to Jensen that he wasn’t going to drink it.
“What's your name?”
“Jared.” He says. “Just Jared.”
“Jared,” Jensen shapes the word with his puffy, chapped lips. “Sounds like you were a cool kid at some point.”
A sudden scoff wisps through him. “S’that supposed to mean?”
Jensen shrugs. “Just telling it like it is.”
“Kind of risky to call someone giving you a free ride uncool.” He says, with a long side-eye.
“I like to live on the edge.” Jensen grins.
His teeth are narrow and some slightly angled but otherwise clean, gums pink and smile lines shadowing his mouth. He's a full-face-smiler, with eyes that crinkle and cheeks that round whenever his lips quirk up. Again, Jared finds that inappropriately optimistic for a bag-boy.
“That's for sure,” He eventually replies. “Least your hair says so.”
The megawatt grin stumbles. He jerkily pulls out the beanie bunched down in his chest pocket and yanks it over his ears. “It was an accident.”
Jared laughs. “How is that an accident?”
“I busted my razor before I could get the top. I was planning on shaving it all.” He doesn't look at Jared.
“Right. Because you actually bought a razor.”
Jensen's eyes narrow coldly at him. “You know I might not be as rich as a big-wheeler, but some of us can't spend their lives sitting behind a dashboard. I have needs.”
“If you have needs then why don't you just steal a car and drive yourself home?”
“I'm not trying to spend the rest of my life in the big house.”
“Why not? You'd have food and a bed.”
His eyes drift downwards, quietly.
“You probably think I'm just a dirty street rat, huh? That I don't have any respect for myself? That I don't deserve a house or a job because I probably don't even want one?”
Jared's mouth twists wryly. “Do you want one?”
“Yeah. I do.” He replies in a blunt voice.
“So why don't you have one?”
“Why don't you have a big mansion with forty corvettes and a butler?”
“I wish.” He chuckles, fighting to keep an amused smile from messing up his mouth. The kid acted sort of crazy, sure, but he was pretty funny doing it.
“Yeah, so do I.” Jensen leans back in his seat and crosses his arms, biceps flexing.
“You're only twenty-two, y’know. It's still possible.”
“And what are you, ninety?” Jensen snickers.
“Close. Thirty-six.” He clarifies.
Jensen hums thoughtfully. “Can't really tell with the beard. Maybe you should grow a real one.”
“Maybe you should get a real haircut.”
“Maybe you should buy me a real haircut.”
A laugh snorts out of his mouth; crisp, fresh, and alive.
He pulls into a gas station maybe four hours later, slipping into the nearest diesel lane and letting the engine die.
“We're here.” He grunts.
There’s a muttered snort next to him, followed by the rustles of Jensen waking up. His head was tilted against the window, beanie slouched down to his nose lazily during his sleep. Jared watches him scramble to pull it back up to his eyebrows piteously, eyes darting around at the scene.
“Right,” He murmurs, and Jared gets out.
He's shoving the pump into one of his 150-gallon tanks when he hears the scuffling of rubber soles.
“You want some help with that?”
He looks up. Jensen’s two big, pink and green eyes are staring at him.
“I can do the windows or something,” Jensen suggests.
“Y’mean climb all over the cab?”
“I'm a good climber.”
Jared takes one glance at his dirty boots and replies, “I think they're alright.”
Jensen nods quietly, eyes bouncing around like he was lost. Jared wonders if he's trying to figure out which direction to start walking - or maybe he was looking for a sign or something.
“Spokane.” He says. Jensen gives him a disoriented face. “You're in Spokane.”
Little lightbulbs flicker on and off. “Where's that?”
“Montana.” Jared frowns, wondering if the kid even knew just how far from home he really was.
Jensen just nods, again. “Right. You want anything from inside?”
“Sure, since you're buying it and all.”
A tight fret plays at Jensen's lips; like Jared could actually offend him by denying stolen goods.
“I'll just grab some water or something.” He mutters and then starts marching to the station.
Jared's jaw flexes. “Jensen.”
Jensen spins around. “What? It's water. Should be free anyways.”
“I said I'd give you a ride.” Jared reminds him. “This is called a stop.”
His eyebrows twist, a taut divot in between like Jared just fed him an obscure riddle. He shoots a look back at the store and then at the cab, and doesn't move for a second that's stretched out wide.
Jared steps on it by sighing stiffly. Jensen tenses.
“Yeah, sure.” Knocks out of him, brief and sharp. He rips open the cab door and drags out the blankets Jared gave him, punching them into rolled-up bunches in his arms. “I get it.”
Jared’s brow furrows. “What’s that mean?”
“I mean I get it - your whole guilt trip thing. You feel like because I had to spend the night in a sleazy toilet that you had to at least take me a state over, but no farther than that. Seems fair.”
“You’re saying that like it's my fault.”
“You saying it’s not?”
“No,” He replies. “It’s not my fault that you're…you.”
Jensen's eyes fold into thin daggers. “That I'm what?”
Jared shakes his head and refocuses on the spinning fuel numbers.
“That I'm what - a hobo? Bum? Loser? Trash?”
Jared blinks. “You're insane.”
“I guess I am to have accepted charity from you. Elitist asshat.”
“What?” Jared snaps. Jensen falters, angling backwards. “You stole my keys, and I gave you blankets when I should’ve been calling the cops. That sounds elitist to you? Cause it sounds crazy to me.”
Jensen shrugs. “Crazy for someone like you maybe, who lives in the Land of Precious Blankets and Cabs Big Enough for One Beard Only.”
“Oh so now you admit it's a beard.”
Jensen lets out a hot breath, tired and frustrated. “You can't honestly feel good about leaving me here in the middle of nowhere. There isn't even a bus stop around here.”
“You don't have any money.”
“News flash, Officer Friendly! You can get on a bus without money.”
“It doesn't matter.” Jared suddenly thunders, finally boiled through. “You're not gonna weasel your way back into my truck. Just get a move on.” Jensen stays put. “Go.”
“Fine.” He spits, pulling his thin jacket tighter around him, and with short shuffles he starts backing away. Jared glares at him, but he's already got his back turned as he disappears, wind whipping at his heels.
The nozzle suddenly clicks under Jared. He grits his teeth and shakes it loose rougher than intended, and then turns to get his receipt, but the screen is frozen and telling him to go see the cashier.
He lets out a beastly groan. Perfect. He needs the receipt to get reimbursed by his boss. He stomps off with heavy feet. Walking it off should help, maybe.
Kids are crazy.
Drivers are only supposed to drive about eleven hours a day, which meant Jared was pushing it. He was driving angry at first, but eventually he simmered down and started looking for a place to park for the night.
The cab felt eerily quiet; an uncommon feeling, like a night feeling darker, a walk seeming harder, or an hour counting sixty-five minutes. Usually the silence relaxed him, but now it felt the opposite. A tsunami crept down his backbone, a stampede tender in his veins.
Elitist. He grins now, slow and small.
How would you even know what subjective means?
Uh-oh, here we go. Jared the art-snob appears.
I'd love to hear how much you know about art.
You don't have to go to a big fancy university to know about art, princess. Art imitates life.
Then tell me the meaning of ‘subjective’.
Jesus, Jay, it means shut up and let me sing.
There’s a truck stop in George, Washington that ends his day. He went over his schedule by an hour and a half. Though Seattle, his drop point, was only two hours and some change farther, by law he had to stop and crash. Unloading could take up to three hours anyways. It was best if he dropped dead for the night.
He throws off his flannel, pulls on his sweatpants, and then fumps down on his bed.
It groans and wiggles under his ass.
“What the fuck,” Jared shoots up and tears off the blankets. “Jesus Christ.”
“Don’t be pissed,” Overalls pleads – scrunched up into the most inconspicuous ball he could manage, face striped with pillow marks and eyes red like he just woke up.
“The hell I am,” Jared barks on high-alert, suddenly fuming. “How the hell did you get back in? I told you to scat.”
“I couldn’t go.” He replies, throat pulsing. “I – I couldn’t get on a bus nowhere.”
“So you figured why not just break into my truck again? Of course.”
“I didn’t break in, I stepped in while you were talking with the cashier.” He explains in a shaky voice, like he wasn’t sure if these were his last moments or not. “It’s not a big deal – really.”
“Not a big deal,” Jared echoes, and lets out a dry laugh. “I’m calling the cops.”
He crouches into the front seat to grab his cell phone from the cup holder. He doesn’t know how long it would take for a squad car to make it to him. It’s a small town, though. Ought to be quick.
“Wait. Just wait,” A hand slaps down over his forceps – moist and overheated from the warmth of his blanket cocoon. “I’m sorry for saying those things at the gas station, back in Spoken.”
“Spokane.” Jared corrects, unlocking his phone screen. “And I told you, it doesn’t matter. I gave you more than enough chances to walk away from this scot-free.”
Jensen looks in between him and the phone with frantic eyes. “M’not a danger – I promise. I mean, you spent two days in a cab with me and nothing happened, doesn’t that count for anything?”
“Yeah, all prison sentences have counts.” He mutters, and finally, it’s dialing.
“But am I really worth the jail time?” He begs. “All I did was get you coffee and take a nap in your car.”
“Nine-one-one, what’s your emergency?” The phone buzzes.
“Right, I’ve got a vagrant stow-away in my truck –” Jared starts, before the phone is suddenly whipped out of his palm. He jerks to grab it but Jensen throws it on the bed and sits on it.
Jared stares at him with cool, livid eyes. He swallows, fear sweating down his neck.
“Kid, you are a step away from a real episode of 60 Minutes if you don’t give me that phone back.”
“I can’t go home, okay?” He pleads, whisper-quiet. “I mean I literally can’t – I’m a thousand miles away.”
“Then why did you hitch-hike your way out of Colorado?”
“Because I don’t live in Colorado anymore.” He says – but Jared knows it’s a lie. “I mean yeah, I used to, but I can’t go back.”
“Why? You got people after you or something?”
“Then you’re in debt.”
“I don’t have any money to be in debt with.”
“Then why won’t you hitch a ride back home?”
“Because I can’t,” He repeats, emphatically.
“That’s not an answer,” Jared snaps. Jensen just looks away. “Hey – you’ve got problems, alright? I get it. Everybody has problems. But I’m not some joy ride you can jump on for as long as you damn well please.”
“I don’t plan on it.”
“I don’t care.” He says. “This is my job, and I don’t take passengers. Give me my phone.”
Jensen’s face shutters with panic. He shifts, tensing, and then looks at Jared with shiny marbles.
“Look at me,” He tries again. Jared nearly groans. “Do I look like I’ve been popping caps, snorting crack and robbing old folks? I’ve got no record to speak of. I don’t do drugs. When I was a kid, I went to church. I got straight A’s in school sometimes. My mother loved me. All I’m trying to do is find a way to sleep somewhere that ain’t a dirty toilet floor, or a piece of cardboard in the street.”
“I’m not a homeless shelter, kid.”
“And I’m not a kid, I’m a person. I can help. I can clean the cab, help out, do truck stuff.”
“I don’t need help.”
“Then I’ll give you company,” He insists.
Jared turns away instantly, nostrils flaring with irritation. His eyes are locked on where his gun hides in the lower compartment, but he knows he can’t do anything with it. He doesn’t want to find out what sort of hell is reserved for men who point guns at kids – even if it is just to kick them out of a cab.
The night is black around them, the roads bare. Jensen’s face twists desperately at him.
“Please, man. I haven’t slept in days.”
Jared’s jaw clicks. He knew he didn’t sleep on that bathroom floor. No one could.
“Where are you headed?” He finally asks. Jensen’s face sparks.
“Anywhere. Any place, I don’t care.”
“Yeah we tried that and it didn’t work.” Jared snorts, bitterly. “So where can I drop you off where you won’t actually get back in my cab again?”
Jensen shrugs, delving into thought. His brow knits, and for a long moment Jared thinks he’s not going to name any place. It doesn’t make sense for a wanderer to have any destination in mind, anyhow.
“What about Seattle?” Jared prompts. “Plenty of buses there.”
“I don’t know anyone in Seattle.”
“Well where do you know someone?”
He scratches his beanie. “Texas.”
“Perfect,” Jared huffs, dryly. “I’ll just take you all the way back to Texas. Makes sense.”
“This is a Texas truck, isn’t it? I mean, your license plate said so.” He explains, uneasily. “Aren’t you headed back there anyways?”
“Sure.” Jared says, but the kid couldn’t have known that just from looking at his plate. “If you expect me to drive you a thousand miles south.”
“You can get rid of me at any time you want, I swear.”
“Tried that, remember?”
“I promise you I’ll get off at Texas,” He begs. “I have family there – an aunt and uncle who will take me in. I won’t cause any shit, I swear. Whatever your playbook is, I’ll follow it. And if I don’t, you can toss me into the closest police station. I won’t fight it, I swear. I just need a ride.”
Jared pinches the bridge of his nose hard enough to sting. The chances of this going wrong is exponential – then again, if there was any harm intended, it would’ve been done hundreds of miles ago. The kid didn’t look any meaner than a really dirty Chihuahua.
“Please,” He swallows.
“Are you gonna give me my phone back if I don’t?”
“No.” He replies – shifting around uncomfortably. Jared sucks in a tired breath, rattling in his chest, and looks at the mess of a kid with a softening glare.
Jensen’s Pearl Jam shirt is black with a picture of a little girl deciding between crayons and a gun.
Whenever you sing, Eddie Vedder’s mother dies a little.
Don’t be jealous, Jay.
Her hand is reaching for the gun; as bright yellow letters spell the word ‘choices’ underneath her.
Jared had a shirt just like that once. Choices.
“You cause me any problems, and I’ll kick you out on the side of the road. Doesn’t matter where we are,” He finds himself saying, still staring at Jensen’s ratty shirt. “And if you try anything with me I won’t be that kind. Understand?”
Jensen’s face crashes like a dozen fireworks went off inside him. “Told you, I’m harmless.” He grins.
“And I don’t want you touching the dashboard. ‘Fact I don’t want you touching anything – especially not the wheel or the gears. Or my keys.”
“And stay the fuck out of my closet,” Jared goes on. “And give me my phone back.” His smile dims, momentarily frozen. Jared groans. “I’m not calling anyone, just give my stuff back.”
The hard grunt of his voice makes Jensen sit up and unhand the phone, awkwardly. Jared swipes it and tucks it back onto its charger.
“Good,” He mutters. “Now get off the bed.”
“Not keen on sharing, huh?”
His gaze hardens. “Off the bed.”
Jensen shrugs and shuffles into the passenger seat, nuzzling all his bits and pieces into the cushioning. Jared lands in his bed, instinctively checking all the blankets, as if looking for DNA. He could still see Jensen’s body imprinted on the foam mattress, as he fits himself inside it. He feels a pang of pity, wondering how long it’s been since Jensen’s slept in a bed. He glances up.
Jensen’s groping around underneath for something. Jared becomes tense.
“The seat lever’s on the side.”
“Oh,” Jensen murmurs, and then suddenly he’s flopping back with an oof. His beanie nearly comes off, but he tugs it back down. Jared shakes his head. He reaches down for the fleece blankets beside the bed and chucks them, Jensen grabbing them up instantly.
“Gonna sleep with your beanie on?”
“S’warmer this way.” Jensen replies, burying every inch of him in fleece.
He frowns. He imagines the tickle of cold that would keep someone on the street up all night long, nipping and biting at ears and necks and dancing through hair. Jensen hugs his blankets tight and tries to make himself one with the vinyl seat, tired like he’d just argued the life out of himself. Jared tries to settle in under the covers – tries. He’s exhausted, body and soul, limbs ready to fall off, but he can’t force his eyes to shut. They stay trained on the kid like a glock. He must be profoundly fatigued, because he slept for hours in Jared’s bed before they stopped. Maybe he’s making up for lost time.
“Y’gonna keep staring at me all night?” He murmurs, sleepily. Jared startles a little. His voice seems so loud in the cab, even when he whispers.
“Just until you fall asleep.”
He pulls his blankets tighter around him. “Shouldn’t be long then.”
Jared knows if he wanted to try something he would have already – he’s spent more than twenty hours in the cab already without Jared knowing, having more than enough chances to – but he can’t shake the feeling of unease boxing him in. He props his head deep into his pillow and lays on his side, watching. Jensen’s mouth is slack and soft, eyes drifting, drifting, drifting.
He hears a dream-filled thank you mumbled in the darkness.
There’s a beautiful marquis sign covered in letters he can’t read. He can hear the thunder of bass from the speakers of movies playing inside the theater, shaking the earth and making his ears vibrate.
Genevieve wanted to see Charlie St. Cloud, but he couldn’t find her in the lobby. It was filled with faces rushing by. None of them were his friends though, the ones he came here with.
They were on a double date, just him and Gen and her friend and Justin. Getting Justin to come was like pulling teeth. That must be why he’s so late and can’t find them. Justin made him late. Typical Justin.
The floor grinds like tectonic plates as shrieks fill the theatre. He becomes afraid – he knows it’s just a movie, but Charlie St. Cloud is a drama.
He hurries to find Gen and Justin. Somehow he knows they’re behind this one specific door down the hall, and it feels like he’s running underwater towards it.
Everything is wrong.
He finally gets to the door. There’s a homeless man kneeling beside it – the one he saw back in Wheatland, at the mini-mart – and he’s crying. Howling. He looks like he’s been shot, he’s crying so hard.
Jared hesitates out of fear. A feeling of dread fills him like dirty water, and he suddenly doesn’t want to open the door. He can’t.
“I can’t go back home,” The homeless man says.
Gun shots rip through the door and blast through Jared’s body, turning him into red paper.
Jared wakes up with a violent start only to find himself already upright, facing the rectangle window across from him. His eyes feel dry and red. There’s something hammering in his chest, hard and wild like a horse, and it takes him a second to realize it’s his heart. It’s going so fast, it’s like he’s dying.
The theater. He has to –
Something tears softly next to him. His head jerks to the sound painfully fast.
Jensen’s sitting in the passenger seat, right where he left him, and he’s got a six-inch deli sandwich in his hands. He picks apart the plastic wrapping with hasty raccoon fingers, nimble and eager, cheeks already stuffed full of grilled pastrami, mustard and pepper jack. He chews loudly, and before he’s even finished his first bite he shoves two or three potato chips in. The crunches feel like earthquakes to Jared.
He watches in morbid fascination, feeling his chest slowly quiet.
That’s his sandwich – he got that yesterday and was particularly excited about it (which wasn’t saying much, since Jared’s form of excitement could be rather disappointing). Those were his chips too, and if his money is right, he remembered also grabbing a coke too – and like clockwork, Jensen washes it all down with a pirate-like swig of his soda, hidden by the cup holder.
Somehow, he’s not bothered. He scrubs a hand through his messy hair and breathes in deep, reality sinking in comfortably with every crunch of Lays.
“You were saying stuff in your sleep.” Jensen breaks the silence. He glances up, but doesn’t say anything. His heart feels like it’s on fire.
Jensen watches him with a knowing green gaze. He looks like a cat. His blankets cover his lap snugly, covered in crumbs of all sorts, and he’s leaning against the seat with a perfect view of Jared, like he’s been watching him. His beanie is far back on his head, revealing short, barely-there blond bangs.
His face is bright and refreshed, Jared notices.
“Help yourself,” He mutters, and gets up to find his bathroom kit.
“You said I could stay.”
“That doesn’t give you privileges.”
“I can go get my own breakfast if you want.”
“No.” He groans, giving him a serious look. “No stealing while you’re in this cab.”
Jensen shrugs. “Well duh, the point is to steal while you’re in the store.”
“You know what I mean.” He goes back to rifling through his things. Jensen takes another bite and chews, thoughtfully.
“What was the dream about?”
“Don’t remember. How’d you sleep?”
Jensen seems taken back by the question. “Okay,” He poorly recovers. “Really good, actually. I don’t know how you don’t fall asleep at the wheel every day. These seats are great.”
“I guess that’s why I’m the driver and not you then, right?”
A crooked grin sweeps across Jensen’s face. “You always this sweet in the morning?”
“You always this perky?” He climbs into the front seat with disgruntled sounds.
“Only the luckiest people know what I’m like in the morning.” Jensen replies, and then tears a chunk of sourdough into his mouth. Jared pauses, looking at Jensen wearily.
His eyebrows with pinched in concentration as he fought to keep the mouthful in, licking his fat bottom lip clean of mustard.
“Let me guess, you haven’t had a meal in days either.” Jared surmises.
“In a week.” He corrects through bulges of pastrami, his throat clearing noisily before he continues. “Been snacking here and there, but it’s kind of hard to grab something while it’s hot.”
“What happened to your money? Didn’t you have a savings or something? A job?”
“Something like that.” He nods, less than surely – like he can’t remember. “Didn’t last, though.”
The answer irks Jared, but he should know better than to try and figure Jensen out before he’s had coffee. Just the thought makes his stomach twinge. He grabs his keys and his bag and pops open the door.
Jensen sits up – spilling crumbs everywhere. “Where you going?”
“Bathroom.” He replies. “Don’t have a heart attack.”
He settles, frowning. “Wait.”
“What?’ Jared asks, irritably. His gaze becomes shifty.
“I used your toothbrush this morning. It’s not that bad though – I mean, it’s not like I was eating much before then, if it helps.”
Jared stares at him and feels his insides churn in a profound mix of disgusted and tired. Jensen takes the biggest bite he can of sandwich and tries not to look up, like a dog eating a sock.
“I’ll use mouth wash,” Jared says, rigidly. “Please – stop touching everything.”
He comes back maybe ten minutes later to find another sandwich missing from his fridge.
There’s a convenience stop further down the road that’s bigger than anything the town of George has to offer, so Jared stops there for coffee and more snacks. Jensen had completely devoured half the contents of his mini-fridge before they’d even made it ten miles (although to be fair, it wasn’t exactly packed full, and it was a mini-fridge). Jared doesn’t know where the kid puts it all, he was like a weed. Maybe his overalls hide more than it looks.
He barks at Jensen to stay in the cab – he doesn’t want to risk security stopping them because Jensen’s pockets are full (though that would cure him of his passenger problem altogether) – but he ignores it and tags along with Jared in the end. He disappears as soon as they step inside. At first Jared wonders if he plans on ever coming back, and then he remembers he shouldn’t bother. It shouldn’t matter. Still, he kept looking out for overalls.
In the meantime, Jared sets to work on refilling his mini-fridge, grabbing double of everything he usually gets. He adds an extra toothbrush and toothpaste to his basket too, seeing as Jensen took over his own.
He doesn’t see Jensen as he checks out, or when he gets back into the cab. Time passes as he restocks the fridge and his cup holders with hot Starbucks, yet no sign of scuffy boots appear. Jared leans back in his seat and gives it about ten minutes.
He doesn’t know much about the hitch-hiking types, or types like Jensen. He figures they’re bound to wander. How’s he even supposed to know if they’re all there, upstairs? Jensen could just be on a bender or something, having an episode. Jared doesn’t want to be part of some emotional roller coaster. His fingers twitch to turn the key and just drive off without Jensen. Nothing’s stopping him.
God, Jared. What took you so long?
I’ve been parked here for an hour, nimrod.
It smells like ass in here.
Shut up. S’not my fault you couldn’t just take the school bus.
Yeah, ‘cause people would love to see that: a bus in a bus.
Don’t say that. Here, c’mon. Let’s grab Arby’s.
The passenger door flies open and suddenly Jensen tumbles inside.
“Sorry about the lag,” He snaps his seatbelt on and slams his door – locks it. “Let’s go.”
Jared frowns. “What’s that?”
He points at the canvas bag between Jensen’s feet. It’s one of those flea market kind of things, all patterned with pretty colors, and it’s so full it’s bulging. Jensen averts his gaze from where it bounces all around the parking lot outside and looks down at it.
“Just a bag I found.” He tries for casual, but it sounds more like a question.
Jared’s jaw sets tightly and his knuckles go white. “A bag?”
“It’s not a big deal.”
Anger flushes through him like poison. “You didn’t.”
“With all due respect your majesty, I think we should go now. Right now.” Jensen taps the dashboard impatiently, and looks up at him with worried eyes. “Please?”
“No!” Jared thunders. “Goddamnit. I knew I shouldn’t have –”
“Jared,” Jensen interrupts, quietly.
“What?” He snaps, glaring. Jensen’s staring at the store entrance, across the parking lot. Jared follows his gaze to see two big guys dressed in black marching outside, a disgruntled store manager pointing them to the semi-truck area. He swallows.
Jensen’s mouth twists stiffly. “Now? Please?”
The key rat-a-tats in the ignition as Jared jerks it to start, the engine booming to life beneath them, and seconds later he’s gunning for the exit. Jensen bounces in his seat as they pass the store manager and his cronies, a smile stringing out his lips. Jared grinds his teeth, a dirty feeling polluting his gut, and rolls them down the ever-looming highway.
“Alright!” Jensen whoops, once they’re back in the slow-lane, nothing but cars and hills sliding by them. “That’ll wake you up in the morning.”
Jared swipes on his signal for the off-ramp. Jensen’s eyebrows furrow.
“Where we going?”
“Shut up,” Jared hisses.
Jensen’s shoulders tighten. He presses further into his seat and becomes silent – fingers rapping against the arm rest uneasily.
Three minutes later, Jared’s parking and cutting the engine off in the middle of a truck stop. The cab is a graveyard. He turns and burns holes into the canvas bag with his thin eyes, and Jensen’s jaw clicks.
“Before you lose it and kick me out of the cab, hear me out.” He starts, carefully. “It’s not that bad.”
“I don’t want to hear you out.” Jared’s voice is unnervingly low. “I said no stealing while in the cab. That was yesterday – it hasn’t even been a full day yet. What the hell are you trying to do?”
“I was just trying to help.”
“You’re not helping by getting me pulled over in the middle of a haul. I could get my license revoked. I could lose my truck. Everything I have depends on this truck. I need it. Do you even understand what that means? To have something you can depend on?”
“Of course I do. I’ve depended on lots of things before, Jared. I’m depending on you right now.”
“Yeah? Do you like to screw up everything that keeps you afloat, then?”
The words fly out of him so fast that he can see them slapping across Jensen’s face, a flicker of hurt. Thousands of micro-expressions dance around like a glitch, like he doesn’t quite know what to do, until finally he just looks away, his mouth a taut line of anger and his nostrils flaring, pink dotting them.
Jared swallows. “I’m sorry.”
Jensen nods, though he still doesn’t look at him. “Do you want me to go?”
He pauses. It feels like he’s in a magician’s box, being sawed right down the middle.
No, Jay – let’s not. C’mon. You shouldn’t be doing this for me.
This is for us, man. I want some curly fries. Plus, I can’t chill with you if you’re gonna be all sad and mopey.
Fine. Only because I need a ride, though.
Whatever loser, get your own car and I won’t have to pick you up from school anymore.
“No,” Jared scrubs a hand down his face. “No – just forget it. I’m sorry. Just don’t steal anymore, alright? You don’t need to.”
Jensen’s eyes lift up finally with a rueful bow to his lips. “I just wanted to make up for breakfast.”
Jared’s brow knits. “Breakfast?”
With a quiet sigh, Jensen hefts up the canvas bag and starts to pull out items: deli sandwiches, bagels, fruit, candy bars and cans of Campbell’s.
“Didn’t want you to spend anything replacing stuff,” He explains – and then shows Jared a twelve-pack of energy shots. “I saw a bunch of these in the cab, figured you’d like them. And I got espresso too – I don’t know if you’re into that whole iced coffee shit, but whatever.”
He keeps bringing out things like it’s Christmas; little things, easy to pick out. Gum, jerky, a lighter, a toothbrush and a travel tube of paste (at least Jared knows he’s backed up in case of a dental disaster), lollipops, honey buns and ding-dong’s, batteries.
“What’d you do? Steal the whole store?”
“Kind of got carried away,” Jensen shrugs, and tosses up a baseball cap.
Jared laughs, and it feels like the universe is happily sighing. “I might be a trucker, but I’m not wearing any trucker hats.”
“Who said it was for you?” Jensen grins. He swipes off his beanie and replaces it with the baseball cap, twisted on backwards. “Gotta stay in fashion.”
Jared shakes his head. “What’s that thing?”
Jensen looks down at the next thing he’s pulled out: a rough paperback of On the Road – Jack Kerouac.
“Thought it was right,” He shows Jared the glossy cover. “What do you think? Too hip?”
“You? Hip? Man, I don’t know.” Jared gives him a once-over. “Think Tom Sawyer wants his overalls back.”
“Says the lumberjack.”
“Did you not see the wood chips I’m carrying? I’m the lumberjack.”
“You’re not selling yourself,” He laughs. Jared just snatches the twelve-pack from him and snaps off an energy shot. It crackles as he uncaps it.
“Least I’m not a vacuum.” He says, swallowing a belt of caffeine.
“If you’re trying to say you don’t suck –”
“Shut up,” He grunts, knowing he walked into that one. Jensen cackles confidently.
It was two hours away in reality, but in the end Seattle felt like it was five minutes away. Jared could barely pay attention to anything else behind the wheel that wasn’t Jensen prattling on about this and that; what that sign over there looked like, why Washington DC wasn’t in Washington, how truckers washed their clothes, what Canadians were like.
“Why wood chips, though?” He asks, as they enter the city.
Jared shrugs with his eyebrows. “Family business.”
“Your family owns a wood company?”
“Wood recycling company,” He corrects. “Tree stumps, yard clippings, branches, old used Christmas trees. They take it and turn it into energy. And no, my family doesn’t own it. Belongs to a friend.”
“Cause that’s not sad at all,” Jensen snorts. “Poor Christmas trees.”
“S’better than being thrown in a landfill somewhere.”
He gives Jared an intrigued look. “But why do it?”
“Whole family did it. Grandfather did it, my father did it.” He explains. “Used to, anyways.”
“Stroke.” Jensen pauses silently at this, but Jared isn’t bothered. “Happened ages ago. I had to be about your age.”
“M’sorry,” He murmurs, softly.
“Don’t be. He wasn’t that great of an eater, I guess. Spent a lot of time in the cab, ate a lot of truck stop food. He knew that was gonna be his way to go. Said he always knew he would bite it,” Jared smiles, boldly – remembering. “People liked him.”
“Did you like him?”
Jared gives him a funny look. “Yeah,” He says. “Miss him all the time.”
Jensen’s eyebrows tangle together in a way Jared can’t understand, like how simple his answer was didn’t make sense to him.
“What about your mom?”
Jared shakes his head. “She didn’t stay long after him. I wouldn’t either.”
“Why would you?” Comes, dry and flat. “Was already hard enough that she only saw him once or twice a month, when he wasn’t on the road. What’s the point if he’s gone? Wasn’t much else to live for. That kind of loneliness will make you feel dead inside anyways.”
Jensen picks at the stray threads of his overalls. He feels a whisper of shame for laying it on so thick – it usually doesn’t come out this hard.
“So you don’t have any family now?”
His answer isn’t immediate. “No. Not anymore, no.”
“No wife? No kids?”
A laugh breezes out of him. “No thanks.”
“Why?” Jensen teases. “Because you don’t ‘take passengers’?”
His face is either shocked or impressed – Jared can’t tell. “What’d she do?”
“What’d you do?”
Jared glances at him, his curious eyes, and says nothing because the GPS, right on cue, drones that they’ve reached their destination.
“There we are,” He announces easily, as he pulls the truck into the lot of a large warehouse. “Ahead of schedule, too.”
Jensen squints at the scenery. “What is this place?”
The lot was littered with semi’s dragging their trailers around; some dropping off, others picking up. Growls and rusty spouts from chrome exhaust pipes, tires crushing cracked pavement like tiny fireworks, industrial machines whirring and howling, and the clouded sky was stained with black and grey fumes. Jared pulls his trailers into the dock with tight maneuvering.
“Drop yard,” He says, unclicking his seatbelt. “This is the part where I go inside and talk to my boss, and you sit pretty in the cab while the boys come and do a quick drop and hook with the trailers. Don’t get too excited.”
Jensen looks really unsure about that. “Are you kidding me? I’m supposed to stay in here while some huge machine fucks with the truck? No thanks. I’ve seen The Mangler.”
“That’s a laundry machine,” Jared gives him an incredulous stare. “There won’t be any machine fucking with the truck, trust me. Just a couple of guys unhitching the trailers while I check in. Just stay put and don’t talk to anyone. Have a snickers.”
He reaches into the canvas bag and tosses the candy bar into Jensen’s lap. His eyes glitter at it, before the door opens and he remembers that Jared is leaving him.
“You could at least leave the radio on,” He says, as the door slams.
The terminal was pretty minimalistic in terms of design. It was just a busy, noisy warehouse, with one lonely office upstairs. It takes Jared less than five minutes to check in his haul (it was only a matter of scribbling things down and punching in numbers) before he skips into the quiet waiting room and gives his boss a call.
Jim Beaver, owner of Beaver Biomass, stayed at the Texas HQ. He used to be a trucker like Jared, back when he was young and his father owned the company, but now he’s old and grumpy and preferred to stay in his cozy office down south. He was the guy Jared turned to whenever he needed a new route, new haul, new job – just like how Jim’s father was the guy Jared’s father would turn to for work. His family had worked for Beaver Biomass for generations. Jim was more than a boss; he was a friend.
“Beaver Bio, how can I help you?”
“Hi Kate, it’s Jared. Can you patch me to Jim?”
“Oh, Jared! Hi! Yeah, hold on a sec.”
There’s the moan of a phone transfer. Jared taps his foot, fidgeting.
“Yeah – Jim here.”
“I’m in Seattle,” He says – and he can hear the moment Jim recognizes his voice.
“Jared, what the hell? I left you two messages last weekend. The hell you been doing in that cab, jackin’ off?”
“Supposed to keep two hands on the wheel at all times.”
“It’s called a bluetooth, dumbass. Try one. Better yet, I’ll get you one. New company policy.”
He grins. “Right. I’m sure all the guys will love that.”
“No they won’t, cause you’re the only one getting it, cause you’re the only one who don’t answer his phone when his boss calls.”
“Because you’re the only boss who calls me three times a day.”
“I wouldn’t have to if you just picked up the first time, dumbass!”
“Now you know how all your girlfriends feel,” He tuts. “Speak of the devil, how’s Carol doing?”
“My wife is doing fine,” Jim grumbles, static-thick. “Worried sick about you. Can’t stop asking when you’re coming back.”
Jared’s neck pulses. “Yeah, well. Tell her to keep the casseroles warm, won’t be long now. I’ll be back in a few days. See you soon, Jim.”
“Jared – wait.”
He pauses with his thumb hovering over the screen, stifling his sigh. “Yeah boss?”
“Gen called for you. She wants to talk.”
An old familiar dread pours into the pit of his stomach; like swallowing dirty water.
You like her, don’t you Jared? Man, you can’t even hide it well.
Shut up, nimrod.
Yeah, you like her.
“What’s she want?”
“You know what she wants, Jared. She’s worried. We all are. You haven’t been off the road over three weeks. You’re pushing it.”
“That’s not her problem anymore.”
“C’mon. Just ‘cause you two fell through don’t mean you aren’t still friends. Hell, you two got hitched in high school practically. She can still worry about you.”
“Sure she can, I guess, when she’s not busy playing trophy wife to her new man, Mr. CEO-Of-The-World.” He muses. “Doesn’t change anything though.”
Beaver lets out a gruff breath. “Well I’m worried about you, and I don’t have a man so I ain’t too busy to say it. In fact, I’m your boss, and I still ain’t too busy to say it.”
The way things were, the whole fucking town was talking about him. A thick layer of distress groans through him. If he could put off seeing his neighbors for just one more day, he would.
He knows what it’s like to have all eyes on him – how heavy it feels.
“Right,” He says. “So boss, you got any new loads for me?”
There’s a sigh that fogs up the speaker. “Jared, I told you. You’re pushing it.”
“Spare me, Jim. You know I hate bob-tailing. Give me work to do.”
“No, goddamnit. You’re gonna drive yourself into a ditch somewhere. You’re spreading yourself thin. Just come back home, Jared.”
“I can’t,” He replies. “You know that, Jim. Help me out here.”
The line goes quiet, fumbling with static. Jared licks his lips, tries harder.
“Just give me something short. I’ll come back after that. I promise.”
“You know it won’t change nothing, Jay. You can’t change what happened. We all can’t.”
He swallows. “Just something short, Jim.”
He knows he’s pushing it. He can tell by the way Beaver breathes, all heavy and disappointed, that he’s going to one day force Beaver to act like a real boss and cut him loose. Maybe that’s the day Jared’s life will really drive into a ditch somewhere, and maybe Jared isn’t exactly fighting it.
But Jared drives in a coffin, doesn’t he? He’s just prepared.
“There’s a pick-up in Minneapolis that needs to be taken down to Little Rock.” Beaver finally says, reluctantly. “It ain’t that off schedule, should only set you back a day or two. You can haul it on your way back home.”
Relief floods Jared’s shoulders. “Alright Jim, thanks. Thank you.”
“Just this one and that’s it, y’hear me? You ask for another load after this and I’m cutting you off for at least two weeks.”
“Thanks Jim, I mean it. I owe you.”
“You owe my wife,” He grunts, and then hangs up.
Jared smiles to himself and heads down to the cab.
It only hits him when he’s rattling down the shaky steps that he’s still got Jensen in the cab, and now because of his new pick-up, they’ll be riding together for longer – assuming Jensen doesn’t run off somewhere or Jared doesn’t lose it altogether and kick him out. Nobody said he had to take him all the way back to Texas, though.
Time did seem to fly around Jensen, but Jared didn’t want it to. He wanted it to stop.
He shoulder-checks another driver on his way through the lot.
“Sorry man, didn’t see you,” The guy beats him to the punch – and then freezes. “Jared?”
Jared recognizes the other man’s stubble and crow’s feet with dread. He was one of the drivers from El Paso – lived in Jared’s neighborhood, even. They’d gone to high school together, like most guys who grew up in a small town and then into a family business. He’d call him a friend, except they hadn’t talked in months really, mostly because Jared kept on the road and didn’t speak to much of anyone.
“Stephen,” He forces a smile. “The hell you doing here?”
“I’m dropping one off from El Paso, then I’m headed to Portland and back. Fuckin’ two weeks on this gig, it’s the worst. The Beaver keeps loading me up, you know how it is man.” Stephen rolls out with a cheery ease. “You heading back home?”
“Yeah. I mean no, I got a stop in Minnesota and Arkansas first.”
He nods. “How’s the neighborhood? You still on Peach street?”
The name thuds in his gut like a rock. “Sure, yeah, same place.”
“How’s Gen? You guys still talk?” He asks, and Jared laughs hoarsely.
“Been kind of tied up lately, with Beaver. You know how it is.”
“Sure, sure,” Stephen’s eyebrows quirk in a happy but suspicious way. “Wife says you haven’t been at church or nothing lately. Haven’t seen you around.”
“Just been workin’ man,”
“Yeah I get it. We’re on the highway to hell anyhow, right?” He claps Jared’s shoulder and glances over at his truck. “Looks like you still got the Dallas Cowboy running. Family would be proud of you.”
“If they could see me now, right?”
“Who knew you’d ever sell out and become a trucker?” Stephen laughs. “Nah, you did the respectable thing Jared. They’d be proud of you. Really.”
His mouth quivers like a cold wind blew by. Stephen’s hand is still firm on his shoulder, and his gaze is so heavy with sympathy that Jared feels bogged down. His smile isn’t fooling Jared – he knows pity when he sees it. Still, his heart warms.
“Yeah,” He smiles, politely. Stephen gives him another clap before finally peeling his hand away.
“So what’s with the guy?”
If God was a DJ, he might have scratched that moment. “What guy?”
“In your cab, genius.” He points at Jensen – who sits passed out in the passenger seat, head lolled back against the vinyl and beanie tugged down over his eyebrows.
He couldn’t have been gone more than ten minutes. The kid had a metabolism like no other.
“You picking up strays now?” Stephen nudges. Jared shakes his head.
“He’s just some kid stuck in Bumsville. I told him I’d get him a ride back home.”
He lets out a thin whistle. “Really now? He don’t look like a kid to me.”
“He’s a brat, is what he is.”
“Gotta be careful with those types, you know.” Stephen gives him a scrutinizing look, like maybe someone had body-snatched him. “Could cause some serious damage.”
“I’m careful,” He nods. “Kid doesn’t deal any damage except to my fridge. He’s a weed. If he didn’t have clothes he’d fly away.”
Stephen stares at him. “Really? You? With a total stranger? I mean, I know you got a big heart Jay. I know you were into that whole caring and sharing stuff before – but a hitch-hiker? Really?”
Jared shrugs. “Doesn’t bother me. He’s just a ride along – until he gets back to wherever the hell he came from.”
“That could be anywhere,” He scoffs. “People like that are wild cards, man. Drugs, crime, debt. Mental problems. Or maybe they’re just from a broken home or something. Watch yourself, alright? I know it’s your truck now, you can do what you want with it. But companies don’t allow passengers for a reason, you know? Just be careful.”
“Spare me, man.” Jared grips his shoulder, reassuringly. “I can take care of myself.”
“Sure, yeah.” He smiles, wearily. “You do that, alright Jay?”
“You got it,” They exchange taut grins, and after some quick, manly back-pats Jared is watching Stephen hustle into the warehouse.
“Town misses ya,” He calls over his shoulder, just before disappearing into the shadows.
Jared’s grin aches on his face. He shuffles into the cab, boots heavy like he’s walking a plank. The door slams behind him, despite his effort to keep it soft, but when he looks over at Jensen he’s still dead as a doornail. His lap is covered in candy bar wrappers – probably about four – and he’s still got streaks of chocolate glazing the pink ring of his mouth, fingertips smudged. He looks as full as a tick. Jared pauses with his fingers on the key, unsure for a brief second whether to wake him or not.
Just admit it dude. It’s not like she’s out of your league. I mean, she’s an English tutor, and it’s not like you need any tutoring in that department dude.
So stop being such a scab and just tell her Jay. Be a man.
Yeah, okay. I’ll tell her when you get off your ass and go out with Mandy Schmidt.
C’mon, that’s cheating.
Jensen murmurs something in his sleep, shaped like oh. Jared twists his wrist and wakes him up.
“Truck looks fuckin’ weird without any trailers on it.”
Jared looks over at Jensen amusedly. “Yeah, s’called bob-tailing.”
“It looks like a really big head with a tiny little body.” Jensen stares at the right rearview, eyebrows scrunched together. “Kind of like you.”
Jared’s 6’4, he’d hardly consider himself tiny. “I wouldn’t go on talking about yourself out loud.”
“That’s funny,” Jensen observes. “Didn’t know you could be funny.”
He tosses him a glare. Jensen just stares at him with curious eyes.
“You didn’t answer my question before.”
“About your wife,” He explains. “Or ex-wife. Why you divorced.”
“Why does the sun set in the west?”
“You could just admit you did something bad,” Jensen shrugs. “Everybody fucks up.”
“Yeah?” Jared looks at him. “Then what did you do?”
A bitter smile infects his face. “Oh, y’know. Broken home and all that.”
Jared blinks, slowly realizing. “You weren’t asleep, were you?”
“You mean I’m not deaf? Yeah. I’m not.” Jensen replies to the window.
His knuckles tighten on the wheel, wondering how much he might have heard. Stephen talks kind of loudly and all. For all Jared knows, he might’ve heard their whole conversation.
“Those weren’t my words,” Jared eventually says. “Stephen just doesn’t like to beat around the bush.”
“Yeah well, he should find another bush.”
He grins. “You’re awfully pouty about things, aren’t you?”
Jensen’s gaze jerks at him in offense, his brow dipping irritably. “What?”
“You just act so sore sometimes.” He muses. “I’ve seen babies pout less. And eat less.”
“I have a strong appetite,” Jensen says defensively. Jared just shrugs, happily.
They’re passing through Vantage, Washington now, and the sun is barely setting. There’s an orange glaze to the sky with yellow flecks, like something exploded somewhere and the flames licked the clouds clean. Jared turns up the radio. Some old country station is fighting the static.
“My mom died when I was ten.”
His voice startles Jared – gentle, like a kid tugging on apron strings.
“She had tuberculosis,” He tells the hills, rolling by them. “Bad lungs, I guess.”
Jared feels the pang, and tries to look at him sympathetically. “M’sorry to hear that.”
“Yeah,” He nods. “Her health was crazy bad. She was suffering for a while before that. Half of the time we couldn’t pay for anything else besides the hospital.”
Ten years old. Jared remembers being ten; the Texas sun on elementary school asphalt, barbecues on the fourth of July and bright, shivering Christmas.
“My father eventually gave up and let her go.”
Jared’s mouth is a tight line, discouraged. He doesn’t know the kinds of things that might distract Jensen, or brighten him up, unless it was food (he’s probably wrong, but he thinks that Jensen might burst if he put another chocolate bar in him).
Then, as if on cue, he remembers that they’re passing the Vantage bridge over the Columbia river, and pulls down the eastbound off-ramp. Jensen sits up in his seat, alarmed.
“What’re you doing?”
“Something to see here. Just watch.” He drives down for a quarter mile, and then eases into forty miles per hour. Jensen frowns, brow tangling, but when he finally stops and looks around he sees it.
His mouth hangs. “Are those horses?”
Fifteen horses, exactly. Wild ponies carved from steel and twisted into lean, graceful shapes. They charged for about two hundred feet across the hillside, crowning the golden ridge with a mythical sort of air. They seemed to be put there to remind drivers that things were different once. Free.
“Sculptures of horses,” Jared says. “Started in the eighties. There was supposed to be a whole lot more attached to it, but the artist never finished. Now there’s just steel ponies all around, watching us.”
Jensen stares at him; magnetic and quiet. “You wanted to show me this?”
He shrugs. “Just something to see. If you’re gonna be a professional tourist, might as well see the sights.”
“Right,” Jensen looks like he doesn’t quite believe him, and Jared’s alright with that.
The sculpture is called Grandfather Cuts Loose the Ponies.
It took so long climbing up this hill, Jared’s legs felt broken.
He doesn’t know why they didn’t just go to the theater.That’s what the girls had been talking about all week. Gen holds his hand tightly and drags him up the yellow slope, making sure he doesn’t lag behind. Lord knows he’s already stopped and stared down the summit half a dozen times already.
She was getting frustrated. She really needed to show him something.
Jared knew how this kind of thing went. Gen probably had another picnic set up again for them, just like the one they went on during their first date. Their first ‘real date’, Gen insisted. Seeing each other at school every day didn’t count for nothing.
Eventually he gets tired of climbing and slows down. Gen ought to understand – he’s only human. He can’t keep on keepin’ on like this. Jim understood – why couldn’t she? He was exhausted.
She tells him to get his ass up, and pulls him with otherworldly strength to the top.
There’s a bright field of wheat, a lemon yellow sun above them. Mandy and Justin sit together under a tall green tree filled with ripe apples, each one tantalizingly red.
His heart nearly stops.
It’s beautiful. Maybe this is why Gen didn’t want to go to the theater – the dark, stormy theater thundering with noise and danger.
He can hear Pearl Jam playing in the tree. He steps up to join them, but Gen jerks him toward her with a Cupid’s-bow smile.
She tells him she loves him, and wonders why he left. He should come back.
Jared explains that he never left.
She kisses him; soft, scalding burns across his mouth. Down his jaw, his neck, and piercing his pulse with stings. Snakes curl and tighten in his gut, like he’s seasick suddenly – and when he looks up, the clouds have gone dark. He becomes afraid. He looks back at the tree.
Justin and Mandy are gone.
He can feel himself start to panic. His hands run through Gen’s long brown hair and he tries to pull her away from his chest, where her teeth nip and bite at his heart hungrily. Her fingers are running like spiders down his clothes, palms skidding past his belt. She’s so hard to pull away.
Everything is thinning, like wallpaper peeling off the walls. If they stayed here, they’d die.
Her canines finally find his stomach, and her grip finally meets its mark with stifling heat. Power bursts from his arms. He throws her face up against his –
Her face is white and sick with red mouth-stains, like tuberculosis.
Jared’s head knocks against the wall as he shudders alive. He can still feel Gen’s lips on his stomach, pressing in short, hot pulses into his skin, and her hand snaking between his legs. He tries to sit up, half-dead, hoping that Jensen hasn’t heard anything.
Then he finds Jensen’s mouth sucking on the skin of his hip bone. His lips are flushed red, wet, and his hair tickles. His hand is working him hard, over his pants – trying to undo them.
He’s frozen in time for a second. He doesn’t know if this is real or not, if the fog in his mind was getting worse somehow, but when Jensen scrapes his teeth against his drawstrings he suddenly snaps – and Jensen is vaulted against the wall.
He lands with a jarring thud, smashed in between the back of the passenger seat and the bed. His eyes are lividly confused when they find Jared again.
“The hell’s wrong with you?”
“The hell’s wrong with you?” Jared pants, chest bobbing. “I was sleeping. And you…were you trying to come on to me?”
Jensen swallows, dragging himself up. He winces as he touches his head, not wearing his beanie Jared notices, and pointedly doesn’t answer the question.
“Jensen,” Jared’s brow knots, angrily. “Answer me.”
“You weren’t supposed to throw me across the cab,” He hisses.
“What the hell did you expect me to do?” Jensen falls back into silence. “Stay asleep? Wake up?”
He doesn’t look at Jared. He’s breathing unsteadily and glaring at the dark floor, lips twisted, and his nostrils keep flaring like he’s angry or embarrassed – both.
Jared doesn’t know what to make of it. He doesn’t know if he just stopped a crime from happening, or if –
“Holy hell,” He breathes. “Jensen – this ain’t that kind of cab.”
The glare now points at Jared, full-throttle. “What are you trying to say?”
“This ain’t cash, grass or ass, Jensen. I’m not that kind of trucker.”
“Yeah? Could’ve fooled me.”
Jared’s brow furrows. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
He shrugs. “You don’t want my stuff, you won’t take my help, and then you want me to believe you don’t want anything else from me?”
“Why? What’s the matter? You got problems down there?” He hurls. Jared can see his upper lip twinge with shame. “Or you just don’t shack up with poor people?”
“Knock it off, Jensen,” Jared shuts him down, instantly. The shock makes Jensen go stiff. “I said you could tag along, that’s it. That’s all I expect. Nothing else. If you wanna help, then do something normal, goddamnit. Man the radio or something. Talk to me. But don’t try to turn me into some sleazy truck driver. M’just doing a fucking favor.”
For a long while, the cab is soundless. Jensen burns holes into the blankets in silence.
“You were dreaming,” He murmurs, low. “You said my name.”
They get pancakes the next day – Jared’s idea. It was almost like an apology. He felt bad for snapping at Jensen last night, even if he wasn’t to blame for why.
He must’ve been getting awful bad with dreams. It felt like they’d slip right through reality sometimes.
Jensen wolfs down his platter and lets Jared small-talk him into relaxing again. Soon he’s back to asking questions about everything; the road through Montana, Gary Cooper, why huckleberry was on every menu.
His stomach would squelch whenever Jensen’s canines flashed, remembering their deep bites.
Jensen sleeps in the cab afterwards, sprawled out on Jared’s bed. He doesn’t mind it, though it picks at him to think that Jensen doesn’t get enough sleep. It briefly crosses his mind that perhaps Jensen is a restless sleeper – a life on the streets could do that to a guy. But Jared wouldn’t know. He’s always too busy being haunted by his own demons to notice if Jensen has any.
They stop to fill up at a gas station two hundred miles away. Jensen rustles awake as soon as the engine croaks to death.
“M’awake,” He mutters, before his eyes are even open. Jared scoffs.
“Go back to sleep. M’gonna fill her up.”
He climbs out and slams the door, but no sooner than he uncaps the tank does he hear Jensen fumbling out of the cab behind him. Jared slots the pump into place and looks up. Jensen leans against the cab, yawning.
“Want me to get the windows?”
“Nah,” Jared sighs, since his orders meant squat. “Just man the pump. I gotta hit the head.”
“Don’t hit it too hard. You’re the only driver.” Jensen calls. Jared just hustles off. “Twenty shots of caffeine a day will do that to you.”
Jensen checks the rushing numbers. He can’t believe Jared pays this much for gas. The amount of things a person could do with that kind of money is ridiculous. He could buy a whole aisle of fruit roll-ups. Or one of those memory foam pillows. A heated blanket. A shirt without holes under the pits.
Throw down a deposit for an apartment, maybe.
“What’s a kid like you gotta do to get a big rig like this?”
He turns to the scratchy voice behind him and feels his skin prickle.
The guy’s probably about forty, fifty. Stubble down to his neck and his muddy hair is thrown back into a tight ponytail, poking out of the back of his Peterbilt trucker hat, the red brand stamped right into the center. He’s tan for a trucker. Smells like cigarettes. Walks with hands buried deep into his Levi pockets.
“It’s uh, not mine.” Jensen eventually says. “M’riding it.”
“Should’ve figured it. No kid drives a Western Star this nice,” He clucks and feels up the cold, steel exterior. “How far you come?”
Jensen pauses, though he’s not that sure how much damage a state name can do. “Texas.”
“My,” He whistles. “A hop and a skip, ain’t it? Don’t tell me you’re trying to get back there.”
“No, m’not.” Jensen agrees. “Then again it’s not my truck.”
“Damn good choice though, isn’t it?” He goes back to admiring the semi. “Looks fine enough to end up in a show. People pay good money to see one like this, all clean and shiny and ready to ride.”
His eyes finally land on him – like a target. Jensen’s mouth twinges.
“Yeah, I guess they would.”
“I’m talkin’ the big bucks, kid. Few rounds in the ring could get you a new car and a full tank of gas, never have to spend the night in a cab again.”
Jensen’s throat bobs.
A car’s a car, new or not. He glances back at the gas station – Jared might be a while, who knows – and then back at the trucker.
He didn’t want to end up back on the streets. Or worse – Colorado.
“How many rounds are we talking here?” He steps in, voice even.
The trucker shrugs. “Depends on if you’re willing to switch cabs or not.”
The prickles on his skin turn into a swarm of fire ants. His knuckles tighten, so he tucks them into the pockets of his overalls and stares back at the gas station, like he could just will Jared to appear.
He’s twenty-two years old, he can handle himself. He doesn’t need some old stranger with the stability of a Vietnam vet to be dogging him all the time, throwing him blankets and sandwiches like he was on a commercial for St. Jude.
Like he didn’t have a mother at one point, like he came from a broken home.
“What happens if I do?” He asks, and the trucker reveals his teeth in a long pale line. He presses his palm flat against the cab, boxing him in, and slumps down to his level.
“What are you so worried about, kid?” His thumb grazes Jensen’s pink bottom lip, tugging it to show teeth. “You never done it before?”
His heart rate kick-starts like a jack rabbit. He can taste salt, the sharp nail where he usually bites.
You try and get away boy, and I’ll get you when you sleep.
“Don’t be afraid,” He scents Jensen’s shiver. His hand drops down to find Jensen’s cock through the thickness of his overalls, and then Jensen realizes he’s not fooling himself.
He likes blankets. He likes sandwiches. He likes hearing someone else’s nightmares, for once.
Jensen grabs the man’s wrist and jerks it away. “Thanks, but I – I think I’m good.”
“Good enough for two grand?” The guy flips two bright green bills out of his pocket casually, like he didn’t have them prepped and ready to go. “S’more where it came from.”
Jensen stares at the paper, whispering against each other. “I don’t wanna know where it came from.”
The trucker pauses. Suddenly he’s laughing; a quiet rasp.
“C’mon, now. What’s in this cab that ain’t in mine? It’s all the same.” His eyes narrow at Jensen. “Someone already fucking you in there?”
“Get off my truck, asshole.” Jared’s voice cuts in.
Jensen nearly jumps out of his skin, looking up at him like a deer in the headlights. He’s got this hard, disappointed slant to his face as he slowly clears the proximity between them, shoulders tight and bunched and round like they were sitting on top of the Chrysler building.
The trucker clucks his tongue and steps away, smiling. “It’s a nice cab you got there, man.”
“Hit the road. I won’t tell you twice.”
He sweeps across the lot like a wind-up toy. Jensen’s chest hammers as he watches it happen, pressed against the cab with clenched fists. Jared’s gaze is a pendulum swinging over his head.
“That was quick,” He tries for light.
“What the hell was that about?” Jared’s words are low, threatening, even though the threat was gone.
“Nothing my ass.”
“It was nothing, alright? We were just talking,” Jensen glares. “I was handling it.”
“Yeah, I saw the hands.”
“When the hell did that become your business?”
“When you decided to step foot into my cab, it became my business.” Jared throws right back, looming into Jensen’s space like a giant shadow. Anger and confusion tear at his eyebrows. “What’re you trying to do Jensen? Huh? You think that if you can’t fuck me you can at least fuck him instead?”
Jensen’s cheeks flood with dark color. “You wish that were it, don’t you?”
“No I don’t, Jensen.” He says emphatically.
“Good, cause it ain’t.” Jensen hisses. “I told you I was handling it. I don’t need you to stomp around thinking you’re protecting me from my own choices. I’m an adult.”
“I know –”
“No you don’t know! You don’t know me at all. You just met me.” He slams. “You’re just doing a fucking favor, remember? I don’t need you to do anything else besides that. You’re not my dad, Jared.”
Jared’s eyebrows dip in confusion – dad. Jensen swallows. He throws himself back into the cab, yanking the door shut behind him. Jared just stands there.
The pump clicks.
It’s taut silence in the cab. Jensen sits staring out the window next to him, lips tight, and Jared drives with knuckles that are still unclenching from earlier.
It comes to him in a quiet thought that maybe he was overstepping his boundaries. Sure, it’s his cab, but Jared’s not a fascist. He should be able to let Jensen make his own choices. He’d barely noticed it, really, but ever since Jensen stumbled into his path he’d slowly grown into an ever-present shadow, as if there was a cliff waiting further down the line and Jared was somehow trying to catch Jensen before he fell.
The past was coming back around on him hard like a boomerang – catching up.
“You’re right,” He finally says out loud.
Jensen gives him a thin look. He frowns, trying to focus on the road.
“I should’ve let you handle it.” He goes on. “I’m sorry.”
“Don’t be,” His lips quirk at Jared. “It’s fine, it’s…it makes us even, I guess.”
Jared scoffs. “Yeah, you guess.”
Jensen smiles, like he’s been dying to this whole time. “You scared the shit out of that guy.”
“M’sure that was all you, Crazy Eyes.”
“I’m serious,” He insists. “He looked like he was about to shit his pants. You’re like the Undertaker under that flannel.”
A laugh pummels out of Jared. “Yeah? I guess you eating all my food works for me.”
Jensen shrugs. “Somebody’s got to.”
Jared studies him out of his side-eye. He’s got a warm smile on, reaching up to scratch his head through his beanie and then taking it off completely to pick at the threads.
“Last night,” He suddenly starts – before he can reel himself in. “And today, just now…you don’t do it often, do you?”
Jensen blinks at him. “You mean am I a hooker?” He asks, and when Jared nods he scoffs. “No. I’m not.”
“Then why did you do it?”
“When you’re living hand to mouth, y’know.” He replies. “Sometimes you gotta use your hand and mouth.”
The words roll down Jared’s spine like a ball of wax. “You’ve really done that before?”
He gives a pregnant pause. Jared’s gotten tense.
“No,” He finally admits. “It’s not a big deal, though. If it was, nobody would do it.”
Jared has to look away for a second; at the clean white overcast sky, no dark stains to it yet.
“So last night, you were just gonna do it.” He concludes to the window with mouth lines deep. “Just like that? First time and all?”
“Yeah, I was.” Jensen replies casually, and gives Jared a funny look, like he should’ve known.
Jared can’t find it in him to say much else. His gut sinks under bricks of discouragement, disappointment. Jensen was making it vividly clear that he intended to fuck himself over, no matter who it was with, and now Jared can’t tell if pushing him away last night was the best or worst thing to do; for all he knew he could’ve been throwing Jensen off the cliff.
Why Jared was fighting a cliff, he didn’t know.
“Why did you lie to me about taking passengers?”
Jared frowns. “What?”
“I heard that whole conversation between you and Tweedledum back at the drop yard. He said you could do what you wanted with the truck, and that guy back at the station didn’t have any passenger policies.”
“Pretty sure that guy didn’t have any policies about anything.”
“Neither do you.” He stares at Jared. “Why didn’t you wanna take me?”
Jared counts the yellow lines of the road, shoulder rolling like it didn’t matter.
Jensen doesn’t let it go, though. “Is it because I’m a bag-boy? Sketchy? What did I do wrong?”
“Nothing,” He replies, loosely. “You didn’t do anything wrong. Just chose the wrong trucker, probably.”
Jensen waits on him expectantly to finish his answer. Jared clenches down on the fight inside of him; the boxer in his chest and stomach beating down his gut. Suddenly it became apparent that one black brick was being shook loose from a tall dark mountain, a small bolt to a truck hitch, and he felt fear.
Fear. When was the last time he felt fear?
He looks at Jensen again. His eyes are clear, unfurled green; open like arms.
“I just don’t usually take passengers.” He drops, pennies down a well. “Never have.”
“Just don’t,” He starts, steadily. “When I got into this gig, it wasn’t a social thing for me. Was the opposite, actually. It was just for me.”
“You like being alone?” Jensen’s brow is permanently furrowed at him, like none of it made sense.
No, none of it did make sense. Jared didn’t like to be alone – that’s not the Jared he knows. The Jared he knows loves people, loves his friends, his family. The Jared he knows would take passengers in need. The Jared he knows wouldn’t lock himself in a cab for months and let every thing that ever made his heart flutter slip through his fingers and disappear.
The Jared he knows would give blankets and food to someone desperate, and care.
“No,” He tries to say. “I don’t.”
Jensen’s mouth twists. “Then why are you? Did your ex not want to come with you or something?”
Jared nearly forgot she existed for a blissful moment, but Jensen hits the nail on the head and makes him feel old and timeworn as he remembers everything; reopening an overly read chapter. Every word was the same, consonants just as sharp, but when he saw her eyes crease over and over again in concern, worry, fear, desperation, and finally, apathy – cold as a razor.
C’mon Jay, just look at me. Talk to me.
Jensen must notice it – could scent it, even. “Is that why you broke up?”
I need you to eat something. Drink something. Just get out of bed, Jay, please.
“Yeah, something like that.” Jared admits, only half-true. “She wasn’t into the driving life. Didn’t like that I was on the road all the time, wanted me to keep my old job and stay home. Eventually she got sick of it.”
Realization dawns on Jensen’s face in short nods, still staring at him confoundedly.
“What was your old job?”
Jared glances over and laughs at him suddenly. Jensen glares.
“You don’t wanna know, trust me.”
“Are you kidding? You’re talking to me, dude. The bar’s pretty low here.”
“Nah, I’ll never hear the end of it with you.”
“Oh c’mon, you can’t sell it like that and not make me want it.” Jensen sits up in his seat agitatedly, beanie balled up in his fist. “Tell me. I won’t stop asking until you do.”
A sigh steams out of him. “Teacher.”
Jensen blinks at him, doesn’t know if he’s joking or not. Jared struggles not to roll his eyes.
“An English teacher.” He continues, slowly like Jensen might not understand. “For high school.”
“Jesus titty-fucking Christ,” Jensen murmurs. “Were you always a masochist?”
“I liked my job,” He defends. “Wasn’t that many students anyways, it was a small town school. But it suited me. I was good at it.”
“People are good at lots of things, but no one decides to become a high school teacher for it. That’s like, being good at horse riding and deciding to become a -”
“Horse riding teacher?” He finishes. Jensen goes quiet. “I liked it. I liked helping kids. It was rewarding. Best job I ever had, really.”
Jensen’s gaze flickers. “So that’s why you took me on, then?”
An even harder laugh punches out of Jared now; big scoffs that fill up the cab.
“Are you serious? What the hell kind of reward would I get from helping you? The kid who steals my food and molests me in my sleep – ow,” He breaks off when Jensen’s fist thumps his shoulder. “And beats me while I’m helpless and driving.”
“You’re a dick,” Jensen turns to the window again.
“Oh now I’m the dick,” He echoes, grinning. His shoulder was throbbing – kid packed a punch – but the pain blossomed like a flower to him.
Fear, pain, feelings; shivers of the living.
He’s in an eighty-two-inch cell, covered in dark steel bars. There’s barely any light, save for what spills from the hallway, and when he looks around he finds all the other cells empty.
It’s Death Row; nobody stays here forever.
And it’s hot. It’s smelly. His orange pajamas itch and the shrieks of guillotine blades echo through the halls, over and over again like a clock ticking. For some reason, he’s not afraid. He’s tired.
She appears through the bars, bathed in light. She tells him she’s worried about him.
He doesn’t listen. He keeps craning his neck to see further down the hall, see how close the guillotine is.
When he turns back to her, she’s not alone. Mandy and Justin are standing next to her casually, as if they were bringing him lunch in his classroom. He’s always too swamped with grades to go order out.
Justin tells him this gig sucks, and yeah, it does. It’s good he’s got a cell mate.
Then it dawns on him, that yes – he has a cell mate. Jared spins around and sees Jensen sitting on the top bunk, legs dangling, looking bored.
Suddenly he’s drowning in fear, feeling cold all over. Jensen can’t be here. Why did he follow him in here?
Goliath’s footsteps march down the hall like twin earthquakes. The guard is coming. Jared starts to panic. He begins looking for a way out of the cell, clawing at stone and prying at bars and using every muscle in his mind to try and break the spell.
It’s not fair. It’s too soon.
Gen smiles at him and says, “Broken home and all, y’know.”
No, that can’t be right. No – it’s not right. None of this is right. This was his cell. His.
A man dressed in black appears and throws open the cell doors. He tells him time’s up, and that he’s got to go, but instead of reaching for Jared his coal-smeared fingers beg for Jensen.
Jensen shrugs and jumps off the bunk – but Jared shields him with his body. “No – wait.”
“Wait?” The man laughs; lung-less rasps. “Fine.”
He grabs Gen and Justin instead, and slams the cell doors shut. Jared screams.
“No, nuh – no,”
Jared’s shocked alive. His flip-flop heart palpitates like a broken cuckoo-clock, arms feeling sore as if he’d been tautly flexed this whole time, and the world is so dark and quiet it’s almost fake.
Soft whimpers escape the passenger seat.
“No,” Jensen is whispering, breaths smothered against the vinyl. “N-No – no…”
He blinks heavily, eyes feeling dry and red as he slowly comes to. Scrubbing one with his knuckles, he leans forward in his bed and furrows his brow at Jensen.
He’s shifting and clenching under his blankets. Jared can’t see that well in the dark, but he can make out the disturbed wrinkle in Jensen’s eyebrows, the lower lip that won’t stop trembling, the blankets that are bunched up in his fists.
“Please,” He slurs, sleep-drunk and mouth barely open.
His voice cracks in the highest notes. It’s so unfamiliar to Jared. The world is dead to him when he sleeps, soundless, lost in silent typhoons, and as he watches Jensen’s throat bob erratically, like he’s choking, he becomes uneasy. Jensen’s repeating his words on a wet loop. He doesn’t look like he’s going to come out of it any time soon.
Something glistens down Jensen’s cheek in a shiny curve.
“Nuh – no,” He swallows – and his voice starts to rise. “No.”
Jared grabs his charging phone and turns up the volume. The ringtone blares.
A gasp sucks into Jensen’s frogging chest. He lurches up in his seat so quick his palms slam against the dashboard, blankets pooling in his lap and beanie flying into the darkness cradling his feet. When he looks up at Jared and his phone, his eyes are wide and wet. Jared swallows his guilt.
“Sorry,” He mutters, thickly. “Accident.”
Jensen’s chest undulates like a balloon. He breathes heavily, brow knit like he didn’t know where he was. Jared puts his phone away.
“You okay there?” He asks, minimally, and reaches over for his water bottle casually as if he hadn’t noticed a damn thing.
Jensen nods, numbly. “Y-Yeah,” He clears his throat. “Chocolate dreams.”
“Gotta lay off the snickers.”
He doesn’t agree with Jared, exactly, he just nods his head again. When he turns away he drags a sleeve across his face like Jared can’t see him doing it, and it makes the elephant in the cab rear its ugly trunk.
Fargo sits just between the shoulders of North Dakota and Minnesota, but technically it belongs to North Dakota. Belonging in two places at once must be hard, Jared imagines, until he remembers how badly Beaver wants him back in Texas right now.
Jensen is bleary and quiet all day. Jared decides early on to stop for coffee, fingers crossed it’ll wake the kid up again. He still seems to be stuck in a dream.
He doesn’t bother telling Jensen to stay in the truck – mainly because he knows he won’t listen to him, and then because he’d rather see Jensen up and about than staring out the window.
They step through the sliding glass doors to be greeted with a cool rush of air, clouds of coffee and donuts swirling around them and noise of grinders in the backrooms. It’s not so much a convenience stop as it is a market place. Aisles of dry goods, canned foods, refrigerators and magazines fill the squared space. Jared’s eyes target the Caribou Coffee stand in the back and zoom toward it like a magnet.
“How can I help you today, sir?” The barista smiles.
“Yeah I’ll have an Americano, thanks. Jensen –”
There’s nothing but air behind him. He steps away from the barista’s confused eyebrows to look around – just in time to catch a flash of overalls sweeping into a busty aisle of magazines.
His jaw tightens. There are cameras everywhere. If Jensen tries to five-finger this place, hell will rain down on them in no time.
He orders a large regular coffee for Jensen, and then hurries after him.
Every aisle is void of Jensen. He feels like an idiot running around with his hands full of coffee. His nerves are zinging though, and if he doesn’t find Jensen quick he might start worrying.
Aisle eight. No Jensen.
Aisle nine. No Jensen.
His chest rattles. He should’ve told Jensen to stay in the car – should’ve made him stay in the car. After that creep who tried to buy him yesterday, it was clear he should keep a better eye on him. God forbid someone try something in here, where every walk way was overflowing with people, and Jared couldn’t manage to keep Jensen by his side for longer than two seconds. He’d have no one to blame but himself.
Aisle ten. No Jensen.
He shoulder-checks a passerby as he speeds up and down, and though the man grumpily mutters something at him and his hot coffee spills across his knuckles, he doesn’t stop. He barely registers the skin-deep sting.
Jared spins around. Relief breaks out across his forehead in a cold sweat as Jensen stands there, a neon green shopping basket slung over his arm and a befuddled expression on his face.
He feels his heart slowly die down, like an old generator giving up.
“Forgot your coffee,” He eventually replies, heavily.
Jensen approaches him slow and amused, eyebrows tight. He takes the coffee with his spare hand and sips, hissing wetly afterwards.
“S’hot,” Jared tries, but he sounds weak. He feels exhausted, all of the sudden. His gaze dips to the basket, and he wheedles out some sarcasm. “That’s new.”
There’s a full layer of candy bars and sweets, a Rolling Stone and Kerrang! magazine, aviators, a baseball cap, wrapped deli burgers and more sweets.
“Eddie Vedder’s in one,” He grins. “You gonna check me out or what?”
“Yeah, sure,” Jared nods, but it feels like shaking a goldfish bowl, and his choice of words don’t help.
“Cool. I’m gonna grab something real quick and be right back.”
“Right. Hey –” Jared stops him. “Don’t go far, alright?”
Jensen looks at him like he’s crazy, but smiles. “Whatever, mom. You dropped your keys.”
His gaze drops to the floor. They’re winking right at him.
“You know that Eddie Vedder lost his eyelashes when he made the music video Life Wasted?”
There’s a thirsty slurp as his lips slip and slide around the shiny jade ball, struggling to keep it in his mouth. It’s one of those green apple blow pops, bulbous and sticky. He must’ve picked out a handful of them back at the store. Jared can hear his cheeks hollow, his tongue flick louder than words.
It pops out of Jensen’s mouth. “His eyelashes. He lost them when they were making life casts of their head for the music video. Took months to grow back.”
Jared pictures a neat row of lashes that abruptly stop halfway across Eddie Vedder’s steel blue eyes – slurp.
“Sounds like an experience,” He mutters, looking at the road. Jensen hums in agreement.
“Sounds like hell,” Jensen flips the magazine page, noisily. “Can’t get any freebies without my butterfly kisses, can I? They keep me young.”
Jared laughs. “I don’t think butterfly kisses are what got you across the country.”
“Worked on you didn’t it?” He winks, and licks a stripe off the wet globule. There’s a neon green shadow growing on his lips, already covering his tongue and speckling his teeth.
“Sure, if breaking and entering is what you call a butterfly kiss.”
Jensen gives him some thin side-eye, like he’s offended, and then whips to the next page.
“You know that Gossard and Eddie played in a movie as a band called Citizen Dick?”
Slurp. “You know Alive was about a mother who wanted her own son?”
Jared looks at him. “You do know that I’ve been a fan of them longer than you have, right? You weren’t even born when Pearl Jam got together.”
“You trying to tell me I like older men?”
He blinks at him. He feels swindled, somehow. Since when was there a rug beneath him for Jensen pull out? His eyebrows furrow and he’s at a loss for a reply. Jensen’s lips pucker around the lollipop, cheeks vaulted, and gaze narrow with knives as he waits for the wrong answer.
Jared turns up the radio and Stevie Ray Vaughan clogs the cab. Jensen instantly frowns.
“Aw c’mon man, do you have to?” He whines.
“Are you kidding me? He’s basically every Pearl Jam solo ever.” Jared defends.
Jensen shakes his head and tugs his beanie down over his ears. It doesn’t work for long though, as the tinny whine of country music crescendos unavoidably. He eventually tosses his magazine down and starts digging around the seat and cup holders.
“What are you doing?” Jared grunts.
“Looking for actual music,” He clicks open the upper compartments for some trace of it; CD’s, tapes, anything, but all he finds are window wipes and air fresheners. “You can’t seriously drive five hundred miles a day without something. An iPod? A mixtape? Anything?”
“I like the radio. The stations change from county to county, it’s refreshing.” Jared hedges.
Jensen finally drops open the lower glove compartment, and the clatter of plastic CD cases ignites Jared’s bones like a sudden heart attack.
“No shit,” Jensen stares in awe. “Seriously? I’m sitting here reading this crap and you wouldn’t even tell me?”
His chest starts drubbing fitfully as he watches Jensen pull out case upon case, endlessly.
“Jesus, Riot Act? No Code? You even have their shitty ones,” His green eyes unfold with glee. “Ten? We could’ve been listening to Ten this whole time? Goddamnit, Jared. You really are a masochist.”
“Put it back.”
“Not on your life,” Jensen starts to open Ten – and sets Jared’s lungs on fire. “This is gonna fuel our ride all the way back to Texas, baby! We can –”
“I said put it back,” Jared suddenly hears himself boom. “Don’t touch those.”
Jensen’s big eyes flash at him like a deer. His fingers shake the way a chandelier would during the first tremor of an earthquake, and he doesn’t move. The CD is still dangling from his fingertip.
Jared is burning up. Blood fills his cheeks and he imagines it’s from the surplus his heart is kicking out to his entire body. His knuckles are white hot on the wheel, and when he realizes Jensen is waiting for him to break the spell, he’s flooded with guilt.
Jensen’s looking at him as if he’s reliving last night’s dream.
“Sorry,” He breathes. “They’re old – scratched. Collectables. You can’t listen to them.”
He nods, slowly coming back to the world, and gives Jared a wary stare as he stuffs everything back into the compartment. Jared listens to the silent clicks and clacks of plastic with a gun wound in his chest. Apologies beat and beg at his tongue, but he swallows them back. Jensen would hate him all the more if he even mentioned last night.
When he’s finally done, he leans back and watches Jared like a scientist.
“You know you’re crazy, right?”
Jared does a double-take. “What?”
“You’re insane,” He elaborates, stressfully. “You’re like one of those vets from ‘Nam who sits on his porch with a shotgun being racist.”
“That’s actually a movie called Gran Torino.”
“Right, well case and point. You’re fucking nuts.”
“Me?” Jared scoffs. “I’m the one who’s nuts? Not the guy who broke into my cab? Twice?”
“For practical reasons,” Jensen protests, and then his lollipop becomes a prop to gesticulate wildly with. “There’s absolutely nothing practical about hiding Pearl Jam CD’s instead of playing them, or refusing free food and supplies, or bringing your shaving kit into the bathroom and never shaving.”
“Shaving kit,” He echoes, face wrinkling. “When do I do that?”
Jensen’s gaze turns, blow pop shoving into his cheek. “Every morning.”
Jared tries to remember how he notices that – how Jensen, who sleeps all day and can’t stay on one topic for more than five seconds, could notice that.
“Didn’t know you were stalking me,” Jared brushes off, uneasily. He’s visibly perturbed at that.
“It’s just obvious, man.” He hisses. “You have a fat ass electric razor in there. Why don’t you use it?”
Jared shrugs. “Why don’t you, peach fuzz?”
“Because I’m not the one growing a botanical garden on my face.”
He scoffs. “Because you can’t, junior.”
“Fine,” Jensen looks at the window. “Ignore the question then.”
Jared fights the sigh within him.
He wishes Jensen wouldn’t ask so many questions. Old Jared would know how to answer them. Old Jared lived for that kind of shit; popping Q and A’s in the middle of class when the kids were least expecting it, spending hours dragging a student through three chapters before a test, stalling his lectures like the gullible Mr. Padalecki he was so he could give each and every question a long, thorough reply. Old Jared would spend his lunches explaining what a symbol was to freshmen, with his smooth, clean face.
He looks at Jensen. He’s curled up in his seat watching the cold, steep hills trundle by, lips half-way enveloped over the shrinking green pacifier like sucking the life out of a tiny world. His other hand is fiddling with a hole in his shirt, which only made it worse. It’s not like his overalls didn’t have enough pokes in them already. One side was even missing buttons, leaving a few sparse ribs of air under his hipbone, where the slit unveiled the waistband of his grey boxer-briefs.
“Ever get cold in that thing?”
Slurp. “Not when I’m in here.”
“I meant out there,” Jared grumbles. “You got any leggings underneath that thing?”
“Wanna find out?” Jensen looks at him – sharp, sunlit greens choking with pale blue mountains, golden hills and endless white clouds in a reddening sky.
He doesn’t understand why Jensen is doing this.
What are you so afraid of Jay? It’s not like you’re the worst looking guy in school.
Stop it, man.
I mean it. If you’re ugly, then I don’t know what that means for me. Don’t steal my thunder dude.
Goddamnit – I’m not doing this with you. Ask Mandy, and we’re square.
You’re such a pussy. Look at you – you’ve got the shakes.
Jared’s eyes trail to the dusty denim jacket and sweater at his feet, all stained and pocked with tears from roughing it. This was northern territory; it would devour him in seconds if he ever left the cab.
He turns Stevie up a little more and ignores the question.
The drop yard in Minneapolis takes longer than he’d hoped. It takes three hellishly long hours for the boys to hitch up a new trailer of sawdust due to the fact that some other driver parked in the wrong dock, then two trailers were marked off wrong, and to get the sign-off for his load made him want to throw himself into a woodchipper. He could see why Beaver was holding off on giving him this job. It was clearly for someone below his pay grade.
By the time he gets back to into the driver’s seat, Jensen looks like a cat in heat.
“Congratulations, I’m eighty years old.”
“Thought you’d be asleep,” Jared pulls the door closed and adjust his rearview, since it was knocked awry by a dock worker.
“Can’t exactly sleep in this place, can you?” Jensen drums his fingers against his knee, skin peeking through the frayed threads.
“Thought you could sleep through anything.” He snickers, and starts up the engine with a rowl. “You at least stretch your legs or something?”
“Yeah, took a walk.” Jensen sits back in his seat and sighs. His leg is still jittery, jostling his overalls like it was covered in ants. Jared pauses with his hands on the wheel.
“Where’d you walk?”
“Along the fence over there. Was thinking about hitting up the café,” He thinks out loud – but then he sees the frown deepening on Jared’s face and adds, “But I didn’t – see? No coffee anywhere. Lesson learned.”
Jared can’t help but smile, though it’s tight. “Good.” He mutters, and starts to pull out of the yard.
“Why?” Jensen’s eyes rest on him, heavy. “You keepin’ me on a short leash or something?”
“Because that’s not a loaded question.”
“You’ve been on my ass all day,” He points out – Jared tenses. “Why?”
Jared shrugs. “S’a lot of sketchy guys around here.”
It was a loaded question – he knew that, and Jensen confirms it with the sullen hook of his jaw.
“What, you think I’m gonna hop into the nearest orgy-filled cab I see?” He asks; low and provoking.
Jared shifts in his seat. Jerks, more like it. His brow tangles with disbelief at Jensen, but all he gets is a steady, unyielding stare, like the warning flicker of a cat’s tail.
“I’m pretty sure the last thing you’d wanna see is more than one trucker naked, dude.”
Jensen’s eyes narrow for a second, brow dipped, before Jared makes a funny face at him and suddenly a short, relieving laugh breezes out.
“I mean I don’t know, maybe you would like that,” Jared goes on.
Jensen punches his shoulder, hard.
They drive for about three hours south into Iowa, but it doesn’t last long. Jensen’s energy is threatening to break open the window. He becomes sort of combative when he’s this hopped up, Jared realizes. All that pent up need turns Jensen into a boxer, taking jabs and licks at him whenever he gets the chance. Jared shortly realizes he’s running out of fuel to keep dodging and blocking it all.
“Hey – what’s that?” Jensen stabs the window with his finger; a tiny thunk against the glass. Jared glances away from the road. There’s a small square of lights, busy with cars.
“Looks like a plaza or something. Mall.”
He looks at Jared pleadingly. “C’mon, dude.”
Jared’s brow furrows at him. “Seriously? The mall?”
“I’m dying in here man,” Jensen wipes the sweat of his palms across his overalls, anxiously. “We’ve been in this rig all day. Isn’t there like laws against this kind of shit? Aren’t you pushing it or something?”
He groans. “I’m gonna die in here if we don’t stop somewhere.”
Jared’s nostrils gust out air, irritably. He calculates the chances of the mall having a bus lot; he could fit his truck in there. It’s Iowa, after all. Chances weren’t bad.
“Could use a nice steak,” He guesses, and Jensen’s fist pounds the ceiling with a whoop.
Ten minutes later, they’re pulling into a lot filled with RV’s, buses and semi-trailers, easy as butter. The plaza isn’t nothing special, but it’s more than either of them have seen in days. The endless ring of discount stores and restaurants make it a classic strip mall, the scent of garlic potatoes, oily pizza, fried fish and dark chocolate donuts saturating the air.
Jensen busts out of the cab, face filled with light. “Finally – civilization.”
“You poor thing,” Jared mocks, eyes glued to the neon Murphy’s Seafood & Steak sign. “C’mon.”
He crosses the white lines of the lot to the entrance, listening for the shuffle of boot scrapes behind him.
They’re instantly hit with the savory redolence of butter and red meat as soon as they enter. It’s packed elbow-to-elbow, a whole line of people sitting tiredly in the waiting area. Jared briefly realizes he wasn’t dressed for dinner. Neither was Jensen – who might not have even put on deodorant today. He wonders if people can smell them; the stench of being in each other’s space, day and night, musky and entwined.
“How many?” The hostess asks when it’s finally their turn, not batting a lash in their direction.
“Two, for Jared.” Jared replies, feeling far too large in the small foyer. He felt like his head was touching the ceiling, his fingertips breaking through windows, his heels sinking into the basement and his chest cramming people into corners. Even words felt like boulders on his tongue.
“It’s gonna be a forty-five-minute wait,” She smiles politely. “That alright?”
He scratches his neck. They really weren’t supposed to stay for that long – although they were ahead of schedule. He glances out the windows at all the other fast food chains to choose from.
Jensen’s face cuts into his peripherals suddenly, eyes wide as moons and a creeping, hopeful grin.
“Yeah that’s fine,” He replies belatedly. “We’ll wait outside.”
“Perfect!” She scribbles down his name, and Jared pushes out the door and back into the cool night air.
His breath pours out in a moonlit fog, relieved. Jensen is stepping on his heels and grabbing his wrist.
“C’mon,” He beams, fingers sinking into his pulse. “Let’s look around.”
“Not much to see. You know they have these in every state.”
“You’re probably the best at parties,” Jensen says, and then drops his wrist when they round a corner.
Jared pauses as he follows Jensen’s gaze to a beat-up bar up the road. It’s hard to miss; there’s a bright red cowboy hat lighting up the entrance, big letters above it spelling Red Rim Saloon and LIVE GIRLS. There are bikers and truckers pouring in and out of it like bees, smoke clouding up the parking lot which was lined with semi-trucks.
There was usually a lot of places like this dotting the usual trucker routes. Jared never stopped in one, but he knew more than two handfuls of drivers who do. Truckers were the main buyers, probably.
Jensen waggles his eyebrows at him. “Wanna kill some time?”
“Sure,” Jared scoffs. “You wanna be DD?”
“What are you scared of? Don’t have enough singles, Mr. Never-Stops-Working?” Jensen teases. “Or you just don’t want another man to see you pitch a tent over a cow-girl?”
“I wouldn’t project so much kid.”
“Me project? I’m wearing overalls dude, I ain’t got nothing to worry about when it comes to tenting.”
“Since when do overalls negate boners?”
“C’mon,” Jensen urges, getting insistently close. “We can be Texas boys, yeah? I bet they got some great country in there.”
“If you want it you go right ahead,” Jared waves his hand freely. “If you puke in my cab though, I’m throwing you in the back with the sawdust.”
“You’re not coming with me?” He looks at Jared skeptically. “The guy who’s been dogging my ass all day isn’t going to come with me into the den of inequity?”
Jared’s jaw flexes, the way it does when he’s playing poker. “You’re an adult, aren’t you?”
He burns a hole through Jared’s eyes with scrutiny. In the end, he sighs exasperatedly.
“Fine.” His fingers rewrap around Jared’s veins. “Square.”
He follows Jensen’s hand into the nearest discount store – one of those big knock-off types with prices lower than the ninth level for everything under the sun. Aisles upon aisles await; home goods, groceries, jewelry, books, movies. It’s crowded, but not as much as the restaurant, which makes Jared relax.
“How much would you think I could lift from this place before the cops find out?”
Jared glares blackly. He laughs; crisp and taunting.
“Don’t worry, mom. I’ll keep my hands to myself.” He licks his lips, and his boots kiss the linoleum in tight squeaks as he disappears toward the music section in the back.
Jared watches him until his shape is a speck amidst fluorescent white. He stood there for the next few seconds, and briefly found it incredible that a person so big to him could actually shrink; like how asteroids can hurl through time and space and shoulder-check any planet in its way, determination so fiery that it destroys anything in its path, yet even asteroids can still burn into nothing but a pebble by the time it lands. And even with this knowledge, Jared should already know this because he’s watched it happen a handful of times over. Mom, Dad, Gen. Fallen stars.
Jensen was acting strange lately, and it made him feel strange too.
He scans the rows of meaningless stock in front of him. Clothes racks span the distance ahead in plains of multicolored patterns, and one flashback of Jensen’s holy shirt and jacket has him grabbing a basket and plunging into the maze. There’s a sales rack of outdated sweaters in every shape and size; crew neck, boat neck, V-necks, buttons, zippers, padded shoulders. He knits his brow and flips through each hanger with discernment, trying to measure Jensen’s chest and arms in his head.
You can’t let Mandy see you in that, man. Trust me. Just c’mon.
No – I don’t wanna, Jay. I hate shopping.
It’s not like he got to see much of Jensen’s actual shape. The overalls did a great job of hiding his silhouette. His chest was kind of boxy though, shoulders round. From the hips down, Jared was at a loss. He might as well just stick to the upper-body. Jensen looks like a medium.
She’ll love this, dude.
It’s not my size.
He picks out a six-pack of black tee’s, a thick 80’s style Cosby sweater, few plain cotton crew necks in basic colors, and a tie-dye sweater for two dollars. Dexterity and thickness weigh more to him than looks. Jensen will thank him when winter comes and he finds himself turning into an icicle on the street.
It vaguely occurs to Jared that he doesn’t want to see that happen.
Just try it on.
It’s too small, Jay. Just forget it.
Finally, his fingers pause on a single threadbare sweater. It’s one of those long, heather-grey 80’s style ones, and on its front are letters blown into a wide black font spelling: NAP QUEEN.
It’s not that small – just leave the bottom part unbuttoned –
I said just forget it, Jay! Let’s just go.
It’s obviously for women, meaning it might be a little tight on Jensen – if he ever wore it – but it makes a fat grin spring across Jared’s face. Jensen will hate it. He tosses it in the basket.
Awhile later he hears the sounds of shuffling.
“Hey man – look what I found for the cab,” Jensen holds up Nirvana’s Nevermind album with a toothy smile. “You’re not gonna freak out over Kurt Cobain though, are you?”
Jared gives him an up-down look. “You know he hated Pearl Jam, right?’
“What? They totally slow-danced together at the VMA’s.” He chucks the album into the basket – and then catches the pile of fabric inside it. “What’s that? Fashion therapy?”
“Something like that,” Jared eyes the album with a frown, until Jensen’s head blocks his view as he suddenly steps into his space. He picks through each sweater with a dip slowly forming between his eyebrows.
“These are mediums. You’re not a medium.”
He stares at Jared when he doesn’t say anything. His eyes flicker confusedly.
“Are these for me, Jay?”
Jared shrugs, despite the dolphin-kick of his stomach. “You forgot to grab some at the last pit stop, figured I’d fill up stock. Gets cold in these parts real quick.”
Jensen’s expression slowly dies, like a puppet with snipped strings. Jared doesn’t know what’s happening exactly. maybe it’s just Jared’s intuition at this point, but there are shadows filling his eyes, and his jaw is setting, and Jared knows he’s said something horribly wrong.
“I don’t wear sweaters,” He says, pushing the basket away.
Jared frowns. “You don’t wear…sweaters.”
“What did they ever do to you?”
“You said I was an adult.” He suddenly snaps. “What kind of adult has other people buying his clothes?”
“You didn’t mind when it was candy and magazines.”
“That’s different! I’m not a charity case, Jared. I thought you were starting to get that.”
“I never said you were. Since when were adults not allowed to buy clothes for other adults?”
“Since I said so,” He glares coldly. “I’m not your Big Brother project, okay? I’m not your good deed of the day, I’m not your foster orphan, and you’re not my dad. Okay? I have one, and he’s not you.”
“Dad?” Jared parrots dumbly, but Jensen just backs away with twisted lips.
“I’ll be in the truck,” He hisses, with no regard to the reservation they just made for dinner, and skirts out of the aisle.
Jared’s so dumbfounded he doesn’t move. He looks over the rack of clothes to catch a trace of his beanie, but he’s lost between aisles and shopping carts. His knuckles clench on the basket.
The dolphin kicking in his stomach has melted into something molten and lead. He’d had it up to here with Jensen’s constant squabbling over petty things. He doesn’t know what kind of crazy carousel is spinning in the kid’s head, but he needs clothes. He’ll get over it once he realizes how nice it is to not freeze.
Mostly Jared was pissed off about losing his steak. He was looking forward to that.
He checks out at the cashier and begrudgingly drags his feet back to the truck with a full bag of clothes and an extra Nirvana album, the eponymous one – who knows, maybe a non-clothes gift would break him out of his stupid temper tantrum.
It’s when he’s about ten feet away from the truck that he sees the passenger seat empty, nothing but darkness filling it.
Fear laughs down his back.
She’s got tits as big as her head and blonde hair like the girls in Coyote Ugly. Granted, she’s no Tyra Banks, but she’s got tiny denim shorts on and a flannel mini-shirt that’s tied loosely around her sternum. Her red, leather cowboy boots dig into the stage floor as she twists her ankle like a crank, pumping her hips gut-wrenchingly slow. She tips her hat to the boys up front and money falls in. A coy smile later, and she’s untying the knot of her flannel and dropping it to some gold-watch-wearing John happily.
Jensen’s shot glass hits the bar with a slam and he waves for another, ignoring the wild chorus of hollers filling the joint. It’s amazing anyone can even see the tits in this place through the heavy soup of smoke and vapors filling the air, lights flashing red and blue like sirens. Some awful country thrummed in the stage area, where all the peaches and good girls danced, but he’d nailed himself to the farthest corner of the bar he could find. His stomach vibrated with the smoky oak-barrel flavor of top-shelf whiskey – which he didn’t plan on paying for.
Hell if Jared ever finds him.
You wanna end up like your mother, boy?
All he wanted was a ride.
Then take your vitamins and shut up.
Hell if he ever goes back. He can’t. He won’t.
He looks up – and then up some more. The guy, six-foot-five or something, has a clean button-down on with rolled up sleeves, rumpled khakis and a stubbly face, looking like he just came from working in a cozy office somewhere. Jensen regards him – all of him – by throwing back his shot. Thud.
There’s a warm chuckle from above him before he sinks into the stool next to Jensen, and their shoulders are finally level. The bartender beckons to him as he waves.
“Another one for me and my pal here, Tony. Double for me.”
The bartender nods and gets to work. Jensen side-eyes him and waits impatiently for his drink.
“That kind of night, huh?” The guy asks.
“Something like that.”
“Where you headed?”
He looks back at the entrance irritably. “Your wife know you’re here?”
“Didn’t know I was married. You trying to hook me up?”
“Fat chance, pal.”
“I bet.” He replies, easily, and notices that he’s still staring at the door. “You waiting on someone?”
Jensen’s gaze jerks back to the bar. “No. Passing through.”
“Awful young to be a trucker, ain’t you?”
“Awful old to be in a place like this, ain’t you?”
Guy laughs – kitty’s got claws. “Trust me, I’m not the oddball in this shindig.”
“Trying to say something?”
“No,” Guy shrugs. “It’s just that you haven’t eyeballed a single tit or ass since you been in here.”
Anger makes Jensen’s nostrils flare. “I think you’re doing enough eyeballing for the both of us.”
“Just picking up the slack, kid.” He smiles; short teeth in a big mouth, like a possum. “You’ve got a face about as straight as a silly straw.”
His shoulders reverberate with white hot feelings. As if a miracle, the bartender drops down two shots in front of them the very next second. Jensen pours his down with a quick clap against the wooden finish, and then tears out the door.
The night air slaps him awake. Muffled bass kicks behind him, sounds like garbled Garth Brooks, and his boots multiply for a second as he plants himself firmly into the cement. Four shots gurgle in his guts. He shuffles past the line of Harley Davidson’s towards the army of semi-trucks in the back lot.
Guy steps out of the darkness with a smile.
Jensen startles so quick he falls back against the brick wall, feeling bass vibrate against his jacket.
“Jesus Christ, guy. Take a fucking hint.”
His space is instantly filled with six feet and five inches of ego. Jensen glares as his arms box him in.
“Thought I was, sugar.”
“You’re doing it wrong then.”
“C’mon, kid,” Guy rolls his eyes. “You can’t tell me you were sittin’ pretty in there just for fun.”
Guy bites his lip, thoughtfully. “Alright, I see you. Here.”
He reaches into the deep pocket of his khakis and pulls out a money clip – supposedly all singles, but it was thick and packed with fresh green, no wrinkles anywhere.
“Was gonna spend it on some damsel in there,” He grins. “But if you’re looking for a fish, I’m biting.”
The clip comes off with a snap and he fans out the heavy wad. It goes for miles.
“That’s a whole bonus right there.”
“How much?” Jensen suddenly asks. Guy smiles.
“You wanna count it?” He drifts it closer to Jensen’s face, ends fluttering like butterfly wings. “Go ahead. There’s enough for the night in there, and then some.”
He eyes the floating fan with a red-rimmed gaze. The stench of cologne is getting awfully close, tingling against his cheeks, and it smells like something his father might wear. Cheap, like the finest number at Walmart. He always taught Jensen money was power. Money meant he was his own man.
“Enough for a car in there?” He asks, raspy. Guy gives him a shrug.
“Maybe not a new one,” He says, and then leans in close to Jensen’s ear. “But it’ll buy you one hell of a ticket outta here.”
Jensen nods vacantly, staring past the greenery to the semi-trucks.
He could buy his own clothes.
“Kay,” He murmurs – and then his wrist is snatched up tight.
The backrooms of Red Rim Saloon were down a long narrow hall covered in blue light, each door sharp with the sounds of the desperate behind them. He manages to grab another shot on the way in. There’s only a bed and a couch inside, mirrors on the ceiling. Guy locks the door behind him and gives him one glance around before his back slams against the discount wood of their red room.
His chest pumps deeply as a laughing six-foot-five shadow falls over him.
“Don’t be scared, kid,” Guy warns, and dives down to kiss him.
Jensen turns his head at the last second. He doesn’t seem deterred – his breath steams into hot clouds against his pulse as he sucks on flesh, teeth teasing with his veins, and his fingers slot against the thick fold covering his cock.
He goes ramrod straight, mouth popping open, oh. Guy smothers his groan against his neck and rubs, digging between his legs to fatten it up in his hands. He’s tall, making Jensen stand on his tip-toes to try and spread his thighs – make it easier – but the guy’s so riled up he doesn’t seem to care. He tugs and pulls at the taut denim of his overalls, pressing his cock against his thigh as his palm flattens and Jensen is shuddering. He hasn’t touched himself in a while – no room in the cab for that. His breath starts to skitter – noisy wind.
“That’s it,” Guy says. “Get noisy for me, wanna hear you.”
His heart punches in his chest. Blood drums in his ears. His eyes sink to the fat bulge fighting against the guy’s khakis and he looks away – focuses on the couch. The hand on his cock squeezes him so tight he gasps, and Guy bites at the clamps of his overalls.
“Pop these off for me babe.” He whispers. “Gonna make you feel good.”
Jensen swallows. Guy wanted to blow him – fine. His hands struggle with the clamps, arthritic. There are lips sucking at his collar and licking at his fingers as he tries to undo the straps, and Guy’s hand is groping between his legs at his balls, gripping anything he can find. Jensen doesn’t know if this is his first time with a guy or not, maybe he only does girls, but he definitely wasn’t service-oriented.
The straps finally fall free with some clatter – and then he’s being thrown face-first down on the couch.
He lands on his elbows, bent over the arm, beanie lost to the floor. Guy’s peeling the straps down until air hits Jensen’s ass, nothing but boxers between them, and his wide hands are spanning the round shape under grey fabric with a hiss.
“Fuck, baby,” His squeezes each cheek – jolting Jensen. “M’gonna fuck your tight ass so hard.”
Jensen tries to rise up, craning his neck behind him. “You’ll what?”
“M’gonna fuck your ass up,” He purrs, sliding a hand around his boxer-clad cock and gripping. “Gonna shove my big fat cock in you, you look so tight. Got me so hard.”
He shoves his hard-on between Jensen’s cheeks – a taut arch that sinks into his ass – and Jensen’s heart kicks into his throat mercilessly.
“Never done that before,” He says. Guy just chuckles.
“Trust me, you’re gonna love it.”
“Never done it,” Jensen echoes, and tries to stand up – but a firm hand across his neck pushes him down into the velvet cushions. “Wait – wait.”
Guy hisses at him and starts to unbuckle his belt – tinkling bells that ring like ice down his back. His lips twist angrily and he pushes away the hand at his neck.
His arm is wrenched back against his shoulder blades like a crowbar – and he yelps.
“Ssh,” Guy mutters. “You’re fine.”
Panic surges through him like lightning bolt. He starts kicking, cries shuttered off into fractured whimpers whenever his arm is yanked up higher vindictively. He can feel a belt buckle unfurling, tongue falling loose against his thigh and a zipper.
He’s about to beg when something slams against the door. Guy freezes, looking back against the lock.
Suddenly a foot busts through it, wood chips flying everywhere, and a hand is punching through the hole to unlock it from the inside. It’s thrown open with a bang.
“Hey man, this is a private rental,” Guy yells, and Jared’s fist sends him barreling into the mirror against the wall with a shriek of glass.
Jensen falls to the floor in a scramble of limbs, chest frogging, and flails to yank his overalls up around his waist. When he looks up, Jared is blocking the light from the hallway with shoulders like mountains.
His eyes are obsidian – all the light inside him burnt out. He stares at how ruined Jensen looks; straps undone against the floor, hair mussed, lips red and puffy, and cock still flagged. Jensen’s throat bobs.
“What the fuck,” Guy holds his bleeding nose with wide, trembling eyes. “Security –”
Jared shoves the words back down his throat with his fist. The sick sounds of raw bone-against-bone fill the room. Jared snatches his neck up in one hand and rains fire on him with the other, choking and beating the guy until his face is nothing but streaks of red and spit.
You try and get away boy, and I’ll get you when you sleep.
“Stop,” He trembles.
Jared can’t hear him over the sound of the guy’s cheekbone crunching under his knuckles.
“Stop,” Jensen begs, and when Jared doesn’t he flings himself in front of Guy. “Stop Jay – please.”
His fist freezes in the air, red and purple splotching his knuckles. His black eyes land on Jensen, whose breath is in threads, gaze blurry around the edges. There’s a halo of red light around Jared, and his cheek is salt-wet. Slowly, his eyes shrink into glittery black blades.
He grabs Jensen by the arm and drags him outside.
The emergency exit sets off a high-pitched alarm throughout the entire bar, their heels on fire as they disappear into the maze of semi-trucks.
Everything is burning inside him right now. He can barely find where he parked the truck – can barely walk straight, his legs wobble with fury. His breath turns to steam in the cold night air.
Jensen shuffles and trips beside him, trying to hook his strap together. “Slow down,” He hisses.
Jared ignores him as he rounds the trailer of his truck to the cab, pulling open the door with the intent to drag Jensen into it – but he shoves away suddenly.
“Let me go,” He snarls, cradling the spot on his arm where Jared’s fingerprints burned red.
“Why?” Jared snipes. “So you can go back to your new friend in there?”
His cheeks flood with crimson. “That was none of your fucking business.”
Jared’s jaw clicks. “I probably just saved your goddamn life in there, kid. None of my business?”
“It wasn’t like that.”
“Then what was it like?”
Jensen stares into the concrete mutely, leaning against the trailer with only one overall strap on. Jared clenches his teeth.
“What the hell were you thinking?” He barks, letting it echo through the lot. “How could you do that? Because I bought you some fucking sweaters?”
“The last thing I need right now is some crazy old man who lives in a truck to lecture me on my life choices.”
“Right, because living on the street and giving head for money is the higher road. How much was the guy gonna pay you? What was he gonna give you?”
Jensen’s upper lip twitches. “You wanna know?”
“Lay it on me.”
“A fucking way outta here.” He seethes, eyes glinting. Jared’s own shutter with feeling, nostrils flaring. He feels it in his gut – the knife wound.
“What happened to Texas? What about your family there?”
“I don’t have any family there. I never did. I said it because I knew it was your last stop, and I wanted to ride for as long as I could. I lied.”
“Big shocker, there.” Jared scoffs, even as his eyes flash with hurt. “First you steal, then you lie. I’m loving the pattern here. Very adult-like.”
Jensen’s brow tangles into a knot of hate. “Get off my dick, Mother Mary! I’m not here for you to fix – you haven’t even fixed yourself. You’re just a broken divorcee with no personal life. You’re not the pope, and you’re not god, and you’re not my dad –”
“Yeah I’m not your dad, kid,” He yells. “And I don’t know what the fuck he did to turn you into such a wrecking ball, but man, I bet there are stories. What’d he do? Did he beat you? Pimp you out on the street? Make you wear a dress and called you Jenny?” He pauses when Jensen doesn’t reply, glaring daggers at the pavement. “Or worse – did he cut you off from the trust fund and not let you buy a new Porsche?”
“He drugged me.”
Jared’s mouth clamps shut. Jensen looks up from the dirt with drunk, crystal eyes, cheeks furiously red, lips twinging.
“He was a dealer,” He keeps going, unsteadily. “He made me shoot – shoot up. He’d do it himself, right here” – He points at the soft give of his arm – “to keep me in line. If I didn’t, he’d find a way to dose my food, and when I fell asleep, he’d – he’d do it then.”
Jared’s mouth is hanging. More than anything, he wants it to stop – wants to shove all the words back in Jensen’s mouth and never relive them again. The blood in his veins feels polluted with the phantom poison Jensen might have felt.
“Got me addicted,” Jensen goes on – quivering in the cold. “It was how he kept me around. Kept me from running. Kept me from fighting. Did the same thing to my mom.”
She had tuberculosis. Bad lungs, I guess.
He stares in awe of Jensen’s shaking body, still alive after all those years. His stomach revolts, cramping in a sick and queasy way. He wants to throw up, but he can’t, not while Jensen is staring at him like he’s just woken up from a bad dream.
“He killed my mom,” He whispers.
Jared swallows down a thick ball of acid in his throat and grabs Jensen – shoves him close.
“Don’t touch me!” He throws Jared off, but his trembling defenses mean nothing. Jared pulls him in until he’s hiccupping softly into his shirt, muffled and sharp.
He holds him with one arm around his back and a hand on his head, fingers tangled in the sweet, shorn locks of his hair because his beanie was left inside the watering hole with the devils.
He can feel Jensen’s body jerk and shiver, gently seizing like he was dying.
There’s an Arby’s the next town over. They decide to leave both their steak reservation and Red Rim Saloon in the dust as they burn holes in the road. It doesn’t bother him that he’s missing out on steak anymore, not in the slightest.
He liked curly fries, anyways.
Jensen was a ghost in the cab the whole way. Tears were stale on his cheeks; dried river ways that made his face look longer, older. They can’t go through the drive-thru, so Jared has to go in and order for the both of them. By the time he comes back with two fat, wrinkled brown bags, letting it fill up the cab with the stink of grease, he’s able to spy petals of color creeping back into Jensen’s cheeks. He fishes out a curly-fry and flicks it – hitting him square in the eyebrow.
Jensen smiles, and eats it.
There’s a rest stop not further down the road. In the back of his mind, Jared’s already called it a night – he’d called it a night the second Jensen started arguing over sweaters – so he cuts the engine with a twist of his wrist in a cozy corner space and digs into their feast with Jensen over a soft, muffled radio.
“It wasn’t tuberculosis,” Jensen says, between mouthfuls of bacon cheddar melt and oily fries.
“I know.” Jared replies.
Jensen nods. He takes a sip of coke, washing down the lump of food in his throat with a noisy gulp. His lips are covered in drippings, slick and shiny under the electric blue glow of the radio screen. When he licks them, it doesn’t clean them even by an inch.
“She OD’d on H,” He goes on, eyes staring at the dust-bunnies floating in front of the radio. “He had her hooked on it for years because she wanted out so badly.”
Jared watches him carefully, as if the storm that they’d just passed through together could come back at any second. He doesn’t know if Jensen has talked to anyone else about this. Judging by the way he acted less than an hour ago, he’d guess not. He seems more relaxed now. Jared owes it to the food – they were hungry before all this shit happened, maybe a good, heavy meal is what’s softening Jensen up. Either way, he keeps an eye on him, just in case he falls back into that dark closet of memories again.
“He didn’t start me on it until I was sixteen.” He explains, idly picking out the fattest fries he could find and stuffing them into his burger. “I got louder. Angrier. Wanted to sell him out to the cops. I was just as big as him by then, so he had to find a new way to keep me down besides his usual methods.”
A harpoon slings into Jared’s chest. He suddenly feels the stab of remorse for saying the things he did back at the saloon.
“It didn’t stop until I was nineteen. I don’t even remember being seventeen, or eighteen. I don’t even remember what school was like. I’d wake up at four in the afternoon every other day feeling sick, or hungry, and then I’d always end up in the toilet puking my guts out. Just waiting for another one.”
“How did you get out of it?”
Jensen’s eyes flicker at him – guiltily. “My aunt lived in Boulder. Most of our relatives disowned my parents because of their lifestyle, but my mom still had one good sister left. I broke out of a high one day when nobody was home yet. Gave her a call, and then I ran.”
“What happened then?” Jared asks. “He look for you?”
“Tried to. I told her everything. She had enough evidence to put him away. But he always cared about the business more than family anyways, so he didn’t come.”
“What did your aunt do?”
“Sent me around the bend.” He says, low. “It felt like hell. Some days she’d just lock me in my room until I shut up. She wouldn’t let no doctors give me anything either for it, didn’t wanna risk me getting hooked on something else. She did everything short of throwing me in rehab – probably because it cost too much. Eventually I kicked it, but some days I wonder.”
Jared nods, numbly, brow stuck in a permanent dip. “What happened to your aunt?”
“Heart trouble,” He replies – and takes a big, crunching bite of his burger. “Stroked out at Walmart on Mother’s day.”
Mother’s day. That was maybe about six months ago – meaning Jensen could have been living on the street for months before he met Jared. Six months.
“I’m sorry,” Jared tries, but the words feel too light in his mouth.
“Don’t be,” He shrugs. “She was a great woman. One of the people I owe my life to, maybe.”
He smiles, fascinated by how easy Jensen makes it look. The way he spoke about her sounded like a toast, not the bottom of the bottle. Like a bump in the road, not a roadblock.
“What happened after that?”
“After that,” He drops a fry into his mouth, grinning. “I found you.”
Jared scoffs, lightly. “Just like that? You hit the road?”
“Couldn’t stay at her house – it was being auctioned off to her kids. My other relatives didn’t want anything to do with me. And I didn’t know anyone else. All my friends from high school had gone off to college.” He seems nonplussed by all this. “S’not like I had any money. Didn’t wanna be there anymore, anyways.”
Jared nods, head dropping down to the three-cheese steak sandwich in his lap. Mostly untouched, aside from the two bites he took before Jensen began narrating. Belatedly he covers it with his teeth, tearing. This was the first time he’d eaten fast food in a while, usually grabbing pretty green stuff at the mini-marts. It somehow feels right, just this one time, to eat something this heavy.
It somehow feels right, just this one time, to flip on Ten.
You ready to go man?
Just go ahead Jay, I’ll catch up with you later.
Right, when? After the movie’s over?
C’mon, dude. You know how it’s gonna end.
No I don’t. I’ve never seen a Zac Efron flick – like ever.
Not the movie, Jay. You know what I mean.
A truck horn blares so loud it throws Jared out of bed.
His head hits the floor with a dumb thud, and suddenly his cab is being shook by an earthquake.
“All the single ladies! All the single ladies!” Jensen crows. “All the single ladies! Now put your hands up!”
“What the fuck are you doing?” Jared yells hoarsely.
“Up in the club, just broke up, I'm doing my own little thing,” He ignores Jared pointedly and turns up the radio – which was already blowing his speakers up. He’s got the bass cranked up to ten and Jared’s sure anyone passing by right now might see the cab hopping.
“You decided to dip and now you wanna trip, cause another brother –”
Jared lunges between the seats and punches the off button. The silence is deafening. He pants, staring at Jensen with eyes that are two parts shock and three parts murder.
Jensen tips a cherry blow pop out of mouth and grins with red teeth. “Morning sunshine.”
He’s two words away from hell hath no fury. Jensen’s just sitting there, smiling with his Kerouac paperback halfway opened in his lap, and a sweater covering the upper part of his overalls.
Anger dies on his tongue. His throat is chalky with sleep as he clears it. “Couldn’t wait another hour?”
“Are you shitting me?” Jensen glares. “You’ve been asleep for like, ten years. You were never gonna wake up.”
“Waking up doesn’t matter when you’re ahead of schedule.” He grunts and flops back into his bed. His hand scrubs his face wearily, blinking the crust from his eyes.
“But you’re missing out on all the beautiful scenery,” Jensen waves at the flat, sandy grey truck stop, with nothing but toilets in it.
He stifles his sigh and starts to look for his morning kit. “You’re the worst passenger.”
He can hear Jensen snicker as he grabs his shit and clambers out of the cab towards toilets. As soon as he’s cleared the lot, he hears his speakers blowing Beyoncé behind him.
Ice cold water from old pipes slaps his face inside the men’s room. He runs it across mouth, scenting of spearmint from the toothpaste, and then through his oily hair, letting his beanie fall aside. When he looks at his reflection, he takes a pause.
His hair is looking thin from grease and his beard is getting scraggly – scratchy and coarse. He hasn’t really been packing balm or oil in his bag for it; all he possessed was a razor and travel-sized barbasol. It made his eyes look smaller and cheeks gaunt, and somehow on this day instead of all the days before it, he winces at his reflection.
The razor is cool in his hand, too-loud in his ears when he plugs it in, and when he looks up in the mirror he sees someone different staring back.
“What took you –” Jensen starts when Jared hops back into the front seat.
Jared looks at him, brow furrowed. Jensen’s staring at his cheeks.
“Took me what?”
A warm, satisfied look sprawls across Jensen’s face. “Nothing.”
Jensen is uncannily peppy throughout the day. It’s as if yesterday hadn’t happened at all, and Jared wonders if perhaps that’s what Jensen wants – to just pretend it didn’t happen.
It’s no bother to him. He does the same thing every day of his life.
“You think we can stop at another Arby’s for breakfast?”
His face wrinkles. “Why would you wanna eat breakfast at Arby’s?”
“Why wouldn’t you?” Jensen talks with his blow pop shoved into his cheek.
“I don’t even think Arby’s has breakfast food.”
“Who cares? You can have burgers for breakfast.”
“You can have snails for breakfast too, with that logic.”
“Are you trying to call the French idiots?”
Jared glares. “Shut up.”
He grins, sucking the spit-shiny red ball and twirling it against his puckered lips. They glisten with sugar.
Jared turns the radio up. It’s country, and bad country at that – none of that Stevie Ray Vaughan or Hank Williams stuff. It’s some pop artist singing with an accent.
He waits to hear Jensen start to groan or whine, but he doesn’t.
They don’t stop at Arby’s, but they do stop at some backwoods diner called Franny’s for actual breakfast food (mainly because Jared couldn’t find an Arby’s before all members of the cab started screaming bloody murder from hunger pains).
He parks the truck in a spot that’s mostly dirt and follows Jensen, who practically sprints to shove them both into a corner booth. It’s packed with long-haul drivers and regulars, most of them packing mullets and flannel. Jared guesses he didn’t actually need to color himself pretty with cologne before stepping out of the cab after all, but last night’s steak restaurant was a shameful reminder that he was a person, and other people could smell him.
The same could be said for Jensen, who didn’t really seem to care that he was walking around Butch Central wearing a NAP QUEEN sweater and a backwards cap, probably smelling like a thrift store. Neither of them have showered in days – for Jensen, it could’ve been weeks.
“How are you fine folks doing today? You like me to tell you the specials?” A woman’s voice comes. Jared’s too busy digging through the menu for a steak skillet to notice her.
“Sure,” Jensen does the talking for them in a thick, lazy drawl. “Go ahead, darlin’.”
He suddenly looks up. She’s a young thing; a thinly framed brunette with pillowy lips and brown eyes. Her powdery yellow uniform dress clings to her skinny frame and everywhere is flat and lean, like a mannequin. A bloody tint kisses her round cheeks as she speaks.
“Alright,” She smiles in a red bow. “Today we’re serving chicken and noodles over mashed potatoes, smothered chips with cheddar and bacon, cream of broccoli for seniors, and haddock is our catch of the day.”
“Haddock?” Jensen frowns. “I figured the catch of the day in Iowa would be you.”
She looks between him and Jared, and Jared looks between her and Jensen, before she lets out a nervous kind of laugh. Jensen turns his grin up to eleven, menu forgotten between his elbows.
“Um, do you guys need a few minutes to decide?” She asks them both.
“I already have.” He doesn’t miss a beat. Her lashes flutter without response.
“And you, sir?” She asks Jared.
“Coffee. Black.” He tells the menu.
“Got it,” Her smile is a less than smooth recovery as it turns back to Jensen. “How about you, sir?”
“Call me Jensen. Why don’t you just go ahead and surprise me?” He squints at her nametag. “Jamie.”
Air bubbles out of her. “Um – I’m not…”
Jensen winks at her.
“Okay,” She shrugs, and scuttles into the kitchen.
When he turns his grin on Jared, he finds him staring at the menu still. It doesn’t harsh his glow. He laces his fingers together and leans back, cool as a cat. Jared cocks a brow at him.
“You know we’re surrounded by a dozen older gentlemen with arms as big as your head.”
“So?” Jensen toys with a sugar packet.
“So if one of those turned out to be her boyfriend, I’m not stepping in to help you.”
His grin grows. “You worried Jay?”
“I’m worried about losing my steak.” Jared says. “Two days in a row ain’t right.”
His eyebrows twitch inward for a second, as if some niggling thought was pulling at them from the inside hopelessly.
“Here we go,” Jamie comes back with hot mug and tin for Jared and big, tall frothy green milkshake for Jensen. Jared stifles himself; he can’t tell if he should laugh or groan. It’s probably mint or something - even got a cherry on top.
“Jesus, Jamie,” Jensen utters. “How could you?”
Her face drops into horror. “I’m – you said to surprise –”
“You didn’t bring an extra straw.” He points out, and then leans over for a long sip.
A relieved smile breaks out across her pink-lined mouth. “Oh, well.”
“Yeah I’ll have the sirloin steak and eggs,” Jared drops in. “Biscuits and gravy on the side, please.”
She scrambles for her notepad and pen. “Perfect – got it. And you, sir?”
“Jensen. What would you like?”
“You mean who?”
“On the menu.”
“Are you on the menu?”
The pen shakes in her hand. “I-I have to write something down for the chef.”
“What he’s having, doll.” He finally replies, mercifully, and the wave that crashes over her is nearly touchable.
“Gotcha,” She smiles. “It’ll be about ten minutes.”
Jared watches her trip over her white kicks to get away. “Hurry back,” Jensen calls. He shakes his head and plucks the dessert menu from the side, out of boredom: apple pie, brownie cup, frozen custard.
The thin shriek of slurping is heard as Jensen happily siphons mint chip down his gullet.
Banana split, cream filled twinkie, cherry pie.
“Could’ve got the steak platter.” Jensen says, still swallowing. “You wanted steak so bad.”
“Yeah, but it’s breakfast.”
He rolls his eyes. “You’re such an old man.”
“Respect your elders,” Jared tuts, and tosses the dessert menu away. Jensen smiles and ducks his head – pausing to whip off the cap and scratch at his scalp. Tufts of bedhead blond pop up in all kinds of directions. It looks shiny, like Jared’s. “When was the last time you washed that?”
Jensen frowns at the cap. “Just bought it yesterday.”
“Your hair, genius.”
“Oh,” He screws the cap back on, quickly. “Don’t worry about it. The beanie kept it all safe.”
“Safe doesn’t mean clean.” Jared’s brow furrows. “We’ll hit a truck stop somewhere soon.”
“Or we could just shave it off,” He shrugs. “Since your razor is working and all.”
He glares at him, reaching up to scratch at his beard before realizing it’s nonexistent. His finger pads touch at his chin, his jaw, his alien skin. Cold, naked.
“Wouldn’t wanna break the blades on your hard head.” He eventually grunts. Jensen laughs.
A few minutes later, two scalding skillets on pot holders are delivered by hands covered in blue oven mitts. Sirloin hisses against the black iron, handle hot to the touch. Jared never fails to miss the flood of boyish joy that washes Jensen’s face whenever he sees food – especially when it’s a lot of food.
This time it lasts maybe a second before it’s swallowed up by Jamie.
“Anything else I can get for you boys?” She smiles, oven mitts in the air.
Jensen opens his mouth – “Just the check,” Jared says, struggling not to grin at Jensen’s glare.
“Perfect – yeah that’s great, actually, because I’m off in ten.” Jamie beams. “I’ll be right back.”
He nods and swipes the pepper for his eggs. Eyes bore into his skin like fire bolts.
“You’re a great wingman, anyone tell you that?”
“I love flying.” He deadpans, and cuts into his steak. It tastes like heaven.
Jensen’s antics evolve within hours. Jared watches the Darwinism of his dick-talk whenever they encounter civilization with morbid fascination. Jensen’s charm is something quiet and unnoticeable until he flicks his eyes up at his target, like a serpent’s tongue, and suddenly they’re disarmed.
Jared hasn’t been that way with anyone since Gen. One time she tried to give him a hall pass, a few weeks before they got married, but he wasn’t born yesterday. He knew it was a test, and he aced it. He was a loyal husband.
They pass the Missouri border after sunset, and stop for gas. Jensen announces that he has to hit the head and skips off into the station while Jared pumps.
Something pulls at Jared to follow him - at least keep him in his sight.
Minutes pass, and he’s still waiting.
The nozzle eventually clicks and gurgles with a metallic cough, and Jensen still isn’t back. Jared shoves it back into the pump harder than needed, and looks back at the gas station.
He doesn’t see Jensen anywhere.
His boots feel like elephant’s feet as he barges into the mini-mart. His spine is popping with fire crackers.
He can’t have another yesterday. Yesterday, he could barely stop his fists.
The doors punch open with a ding from the electric bell, maybe just two aisles of gum and magazines in the closet-mart.
Jensen is leaning over the counter, head tilted with a wry grin at the cashier, nametag reading Jake. The guy looks about Jensen’s age, maybe a little older than Jamie, with messy black hair and sky blue eyes. His lids are low and confident as he watches Jensen chew gum with more tongue than teeth, gaze like embers when his cheeks hollow, and out comes a fat, round pink bubble.
Jared swallows down the firecrackers, and tries to ignore the anger of a false alarm.
The hours spent in the cab feel like a puppet show; some things forced, others too absurd to laugh at – like when Jensen asks to borrow his phone so he can text Jake (the answer was no).
Mostly, Jared feels like a kid forced to endure the show; where Jensen was the main star in some diabolical quest to get laid. He wants to remind him that this is his cab, and he won’t be letting any strangers in here regardless if Jensen himself was an exception to the rule.
Of course, he keeps his opinions to himself.
It gets old quickly.
“My first girlfriend’s name was Aubrey,” Jensen monologues when it’s far past Jared’s bedtime, and far past his attention limit. “She had a huge rack. Everybody liked her cause she could do the splits, but she only dated me. Said I was the nicest guy in school. I bet she could do an upside-down cowgirl.”
He turns up the radio. Jensen turns it back down.
“After her came Breanna, who wasn’t as hot, but all the guys talked about her like she was some sort of mutant in the sack, so I gave her a shot. Super emotional, that one. And a total prude.”
Seeing as he was stuck having this conversation, whether he liked it or not, he ventured in.
“What about the guys?”
Jensen pauses. “Didn’t date any guys. C’mon man, it’s Texas. I wasn’t like that.”
Kind of hypocritical, considering – well, everything.
“Anyways, Alyssa was the best. Great body. All the guys wanted her. She was super chill about letting me do my own thing too, not all up in my space like Breanna was.”
“She put out?”
Another pause, and then Jensen is snorting. “Dude, it was high school.”
He waits for Jensen to continue. He doesn’t. “Yeah, and?”
“And,” Jensen shrugs. “I mean, we were kids.”
Jared laughs. “Are you kidding me? You’re joking, right?”
Jensen turns up the radio. Jared blinks, the answer dawning on him, and slaps the radio back down.
“Holy shit. You haven’t done it yet, have you?”
“I’m tired. Let’s stop somewhere for the night.”
Jared can’t fight his grin. “Jensen.”
“M’tired. Let’s stop.”
“It’s not –” Jared halts, falling short of encouragement. “Jensen, it’s –”
“You’re one to talk, caveman.” He suddenly spits. “You been living in this cab for how many years now? When was the last time you stuck your dick in something? Ten years ago?”
Jared’s mouth clamps shut. Jensen’s cheeks and ears run red. His chest is rising and falling fast, like his heart just shot out of it, and his lips struggle to form words. There’s a bob in his throat.
“Yeah,” Jared eventually says. “Let’s stop for the night.”
Jensen nods, settling in his seat.
He was wrong. It had been five years.
There’s a truck stop called Road Warrior in Branson, Missouri that has showers. It costs him an extra fifteen minutes of silence in the cab with Jensen for the detour, but they need showers, and though they might be too beat to take one tonight, there’s always tomorrow.
“I’m gonna grab some things,” He mentions, as soon as he finishes parking. “You need anything?”
Jared doesn’t really believe that. Jensen won’t look at him, though, so he lets sleeping dogs lie and heads inside.
It’s a nice, clean stop, with a bit of a produce aisle, which is good. He noses around until he finds a driver’s lounge in the back. It’s a busy place; there are a handful of drivers already in there chatting up a storm over pool and beers, and more watching a football game on flat screens. Call Jared impressed.
“Who’s got the six-pack?” He asks, approaching a friendly looking group in the back. It’s all guys in caps and sweaters, save for two women; an elderly one standing next to an elderly man, and one middle-aged.
“Came just in time,” The old woman says. “Barnie here was about to hog the last one. Here,”
She tosses Jared a Bud. He nods his thanks, popping the cap with a shnick.
“Looks like this is the place to be, isn’t it?” He tries.
“Tonight it is,” The old man replies. “We’re just passing through, me and my wife. On our way to Oklahoma.”
“Mississippi.” Another guy says.
“Louisiana,” The middle-aged woman says, and looks at Jared. “And you?”
“Makes sense,” She takes a swill of her drink. His brow furrows.
“Makes you say that?”
“All the big ones come from Texas.” She says, and grins at him something cocky and smart.
Equations float through his head for a moment. It slowly dawns on him – she’s flirting. He stumbles for a moment, and really looks at her. She’s got a long brown French braid trailing down to her belt, denim everywhere – definitely the trucker type – and her smile is infectious.
He’s never actually talked to a trucker woman, before.
“How do you know I came from Texas? Could be just going there.”
“You smell it.” She teases. “You’ll hear a Texan before you see one.”
“I’ve never heard that,” He tips back his beer.
“Take it from someone who was married to one for years.” She adds, in a distinct main land accent. “It’s everything it’s cracked up to be. Names Elma, by the way.”
“Jared.” He shakes her hand – her grip is like iron.
“You been on the road long?”
He shrugs, counting the ones before Jensen. “Few weeks, maybe five.”
“Five weeks,” The old man whistles. “You really are a long-hauler.”
“Big fan of the road.” Is all he can really say. He never really had a good way of justifying it to folks.
“I get it,” Elma nods. “You like your privacy. I do too. No one ever takes this job thinking they’re gonna miss all the chat, y’know? Except for every now and again. I like the peace.”
Something lights up in his chest, just from hearing someone else say it. He opens his mouth to reply –
“Oh, boy. Look at this kid.” The old man suddenly says. “Wet behind the ears, drivers these days.”
Jared frowns and looks at the entrance. Jensen is standing in the doorway, staring at him like a raccoon caught in the trash. There’s color in his cheeks, and whether or not it’s anger or embarrassment picking at his skin, Jared doesn’t know.
“Jensen – c’mere,” He says, nodding for him to join them. “He’s mine.”
At first he looks ready to run, but when Jared waves him over he drags his feet past the threshold.
“Kid?” Elma asks.
“Passenger.” He clarifies, as Jensen stands a careful distance away. “Picked him up in Wyoming.”
“Was going to say, you look a little young for kids.” Elma chuckles. “Though I suppose no one really is.”
“Something wrong?” Jared asks Jensen, casually.
“No – nah, just,” Jensen looks between all of them insecurely. “Wondered what was taking you.”
“No one yet,” Elma hoots. Jared laughs, but it’s stifled by Jensen’s tightening shoulders.
“I’m gonna,” He nods toward the mini-mart. “Grab some things. Be in the cab when you’re done.”
“Okay,” Jared says uselessly. Jensen just shuffles out quickly.
“You taking him to Texas with you?” The old man asks.
“Something like that.”
“Amazing. Your company lets you take passengers in their truck?” Elma asks.
“Nah, truck’s mine.”
“Very nice,” Her eyebrows raise. “Seems like an easy kid. Not much to worry about there, ey?”
A brash scoff pumps out of Jared. “You have no idea.”
“We’ve got a few sets ourselves.” The old woman chimes in. “Me and Walter here had our first when we were still in high school, and a few more after graduation. Now we’ve got great-grandchildren!”
“Freeloaders, the lot of ‘em.” The old man, Walter, grunts. “Couldn’t get away fast enough. Hitting the road was the best thing we ever did!”
“Besides each other,” Elma clucks, tipping it back. Jared mirrors her and tosses his back, trying to drain it. When his voice appears again, it’s wet and clicking.
“Thanks for the beer guys. I better hit the sack.”
“So soon?” Elma asks with an unabashed grin that only grown women can achieve – not like young blushing waitresses.
“Didn’t know if you noticed, but my cab’s a little full.” Jared smiles, politely.
“I’ve got one of my own, y’know.” She winks. “Peterbilt.”
He ducks his head, dimples on display. “Maybe next time, Elma.”
“Rain check,” She toasts him, and finally lets him go.
He throws back the rest of his beer and dumps it before leaving the lounge, feeling her eyes follow him the whole way. It makes him feel a little alive again, a little warm under the skin.
Miracle what shaving will do.
Cold breeze hugs him when he steps outside with a shopping bag of green things and sandwiches. He hopes Jensen didn’t get up to no good in the store while he was busy – it was a nice place, and if they got kicked out of it there won’t be another chance at showers for the next three hundred miles.
He hopes Jensen found some way to drain the sour out of his lemonade. A whole night spent in a cab with crabby Jensen meant fistfuls of ibuprofen for Jared.
He rounds a corner, and his bag suddenly hits the floor.
Jensen’s palms are pressed up against a wall with his denim-clad ass jutting out against some leather-vested, grey-haired trucker’s bulging tent.
When Jensen sees him, he grinds back harder.
His legs swing past the spilled pears and deli wraps with stomps loud enough to make the trucker’s gaze perk up from Jensen’s ass. He’s got glasses on, Jared notices, and as soon as he sees him he pushes Jensen off sharply. He’s not prepared for the blow and hits the ground with a grunt.
Jared’s eyes blacken.
“I’m sorry man, he said he wasn’t with anyone,” The guy holds his hands up high.
“Get the fuck out of here.”
He stumbles away – no, limps away; a slow, ambling gait. He must’ve been disabled or something, Jared realizes with white hot shame.
Jensen knew he wouldn’t have fought a disabled man. This was his way of keeping Jared’s fists in check. This was his way of fucking with him. His chest puffs up and down from where he lies on the ground, glaring up at Jared.
“Why don’t you ever mind your own business?”
Jared’s nostrils flare. “Get in the cab. Now.”
“I’m not your kid, remember?” Jensen mimics Elma’s voice. “I don’t have to do what you –”
“I said get the fuck in the cab, now.”
A muscle pings in his jaw. He clenches it and climbs to his feet, dusting off his kneecaps, and throws himself inside the cab. It slams shut on Jared’s face, before he goes to retrieve his fallen groceries.
One of his pears dented. It’ll be rotten in no time. Figures.
Jensen’s staring out the window when he throws himself into the driver’s seat. His hands wrap around the steering wheel with a punishing grip, just needing something to crush. When he looks up, Jensen’s chest is still puffing quickly.
“What the fuck is your problem?” Finally comes – as calmly as he can muster.
“Just trying to see how far you’ll go. Y’know, since you’re my pittbull now and all.”
Jared’s brow twists into something unbelievable. “Are you shitting me? That’s what today’s been about? I’m sorry, did you not want me to intervene yesterday?”
“It’s my business, Jared.” He tells the window.
“Yeah I know it’s your business, it’s not like you ever do it for free.” Jared snaps, staring at him we. “Are you trying to fuck yourself over? Is that what this is? You needing to destroy yourself?”
“You would know all about that.”
“No I wouldn’t, Jensen, because I never tried to fuck a guy for money,” He snarls. “Whenever I threw a temper tantrum as a kid, I cried and broke shit like a normal person. I didn’t go around chasing the first skirt or pair of jeans I could find because I was young and angry and a virgin –”
His lips smash against Jared’s.
They’re soft and thick, covered in a blue raspberry taste from the jolly ranchers he was feasting on earlier, moving against him in quick, wet smacks. His hands latch to Jared’s jaw – pinning him close. Breath punches out of Jared’s nostrils, confusion knitting his brow. His palms press against Jensen’s shoulders to shove him back, but Jensen braces against them and climbs on his lap – knocking the arm rest up so his thighs fit around Jared’s waist. He’s going so fast, it’s like he doesn’t want Jared to realize that he’s kissing him.
Finally, Jared grabs him by the sweater and shoves him away. His back hits the steering wheel, making it honk like an irritated goose.
“What the fuck are you doing?”
“Jay,” Jensen swallows, lips red. “Don’t –”
“I’m not doing this with you,” He says, brow twinging with anger. “I told you. It’s not that kind of –”
“I know what you said,” Jensen breathes, shakily. “I-I know, I just – I want it to be you.”
Shock falls through every pore on his face. “What?”
His moment of weakness is stolen when Jensen dives in and kisses him again, thighs tightening around his waist like he’s afraid Jared will buck him off. He plunges his mouth against his, knocking Jared’s head back against the headrest. He kisses like a high schooler; clumsy and fast, mouth open against Jared’s closed one. His tongue flicks against Jared’s lips, begging, but Jared doesn’t budge. He can feel something high vibrate in Jensen’s throat, and then he’s sinking down to Jared’s pulse and nipping at it; short pulls of teeth that try to wheedle him into this.
“C’mon Jay,” He whispers into his skin. “Please – m’sorry for today, m’sorry for everything.”
Jared pants at the speedometer, as if it could count how fast Jensen’s moving, how fast his own thoughts were moving. It didn’t make sense – none of it did.
“I just – just wanted, I.” Jensen stumbles against his neck, body tight. “You know how this is, Jay.”
You know how it’s gonna end.
“I don’t,” Jared utters.
“You do,” Jensen insists, eager eyes coming level with his. His brow is knotted desperately, eyes pink-hazy like they’ve already fucked. “You do, Jay, you know it.”
Jared stares into the pink clouds. They look almost wet.
“I know you know,” Jensen kisses him; the corner of his mouth, his jaw, back to his neck. “Don’t make me ask.”
His hips press down – and fire rolls through Jared’s gut when he feels Jensen’s hard-on, listens to the skitter of air kicked out of Jensen’s lungs, his thighs so tight they hurt.
“Want it so bad Jay,” He rolls against him again, gasps broken whenever he feels Jared’s cock between his thighs. “Please – please, fuck.”
Jared’s suddenly watching his hand slap the cap off of Jensen’s head and knot its fingers deep into his hair – and yank.
Jensen’s throat winds back with a whimper, too loud in the too small cab, and Jared’s teeth sink in harder than he knows they should when he sees Jensen’s pale jugular. His breath stutters, and his hips slam down against Jared, pressing in as deep as he can go. Jared’s paws land on those hips and pull him in – drag him in tight, fucking upwards, denim against denim.
“Fuck, Jay – touch me,” He grabs Jared’s hands and tugs them further back, through the loose slits on the sides where the overalls part. His wrists pass easily into the dark, nothing but scalding skin under his palms. Jensen’s stomach, his sides, his ribs, his spine – they’re all bare. He’s got nothing underneath his overalls. Jensen’s heart is hammering against every naked inch of him. Jared’s hands fall like magnets on the ass that everyone has been trying to fuck into lately, and he’s right – he’s got nothing underneath his overalls, at all. A dizzy wave crashes against his skull.
Jensen might have planned this.
“Jay – I need –”
His words waver when Jared’s fingers spread, dip into the warm, round flesh. It bulges in his hands. Jensen arches his back for him, nothing but insecure breaths falling out of him – like he wasn’t sure. He lets Jared run a finger down the slick dip – and then shudders, shifting his hips away. Jared slides his other hand to the front to wrap his fingers around his thick, leaking cock.
Jensen’s moan is muffled against Jared’s throat. He makes a fist around it and jacks him, quick and suffocating. Jensen goes rigid, chest puffing like his heart was stuck in his throat.
“Jay,” He pants into his skin. Jared's grip tightens – “Jay.”
He wants to ask. It itches at him like a rake; whether Jensen wants to be fucked by him or just fucked. He can already feel the question melting in his mouth, because as far as he knows Jensen always wins. He’s pinned. He's been up against the wall ever since he first met the kid, and Jensen knows it.
He trembles when Jared’s index feels at his hole again. His finger slips in with a squelch.
Jensen grinds against Jared, rolling into his fist, back onto his finger. He’s so tight around Jared’s fingers, barely taking him, and he thought slow might be best for someone like Jensen, but he was wrong. Jensen’s body bows, knees bending to try and press back deeper.
“Jay,” He sounds wobbly, lips hanging open over Jared’s. “F-Fuckin’ long, I can’t –”
He forks up into him, chasing shivers and hiccups. Jensen is trembling on top of him, thighs shaking. He wraps his arms around the headrest and buries his face in Jared’s neck, muffling himself. He bites against Jared’s shoulder, worrying the flesh with his teeth.
Jared can barely keep his fingers clamped around his cock; slippery and sinuous with come, wet smacks of his fist. Come soaks his knuckles down to his wrist, virgin shakes whenever Jensen clutches at him. Jared sinks as deep as he can go into his ass and hears a deep grunt.
“A-Ah, fuck – fuck –” He lifts his head and kisses Jared, smothering frantic trills. He pushes his ass out so much his back curves like a ballerina. Jared wants to shove another finger in, see how much he could take, but he bets he’d bust before he could even fit his knuckle in. He’s so hard and wet it’s a miracle he’s made it this long.
He suddenly whimpers – their lips parting with a smack. “T-There, there – fuck Jay, please,” He begs. “Fuck me there, m’gonna.”
Jared thrusts up against him on instinct. He moans, spreads his thighs more. He presses one hand back against Jared’s knee and grinds into him, rolls his hips with wide legs, shoves his cock into Jared's fist. His eyelids clench, brow tangled, and his breaths are hot warning puffs against Jared’s neck. He digs his finger right up against the spot inside Jensen with tight, fixed nudges – and his breath instantly chops into pieces.
“Ah – ahn,” He hiccups, nose buried in Jared’s pulse, and then he seizes.
Wetness splats across his hand, his wrist, his forearm. It shoots out thick and heavy, endless like he had it backlogged for weeks, and Jared stares down like he could see it covering Jensen’s thigh, running down his balls, drooling at the tip. A dark blotch seeps through the front of his overalls, a warm touch at Jared’s jeans.
Jensen’s moans are broken gasps, chest thundering, and Jared shoves inside one more time just to hear him whine. Come spills obediently against his fingers, with a low groan from Jensen. He thumbs the head, slow and easy, but Jensen jerks and shudders. Jared’s entire hand is wet.
“Jay,” Jensen’s voice comes, thready and hoarse as he finally lifts his head from Jared’s neck and stares at him. His eyes are big glazed moons. They shine with a sex-sheen, gazing up at him with pinched brows like Jared was Atlas. It’s so loaded with awe Jared feels drunk; like they were two hot spotlights on him.
He slowly pulls his hands out of Jensen’s overalls and holds them up. They’re twitching – shaking. Glistening with wetness, both of them. Jensen’s lashes shutter, already pink cheeks tinging with more pink. His head ducks down, and Jared thinks he’s going to hide it against his neck again, but suddenly he’s yanking off his sweater and shoving it around Jared’s paws, scrubbing them clean. Something about seeing NAP QUEEN covered in come makes Jared swallow.
His eyes fall on the round balls of Jensen’s bare shoulders, the sharp bones of his collar and the tiny red pock-marks rising against the skin of his neck where Jared bit him. His cock throbs in his jeans. He can’t believe he’d been driving around with Jensen like this all day – hiding his bare skin with a sweater. There’s nothing but two worn, thin denim straps covering his chest, slung low around his sternum, sweat glinting in the dip between his collar, outline of his cock covered in dark wet fabric, nipples peeking out. Jensen throws the sweater away and pants, chest pumping, but as soon as he’s facing forwards Jared latches onto the pink nub with a wet, panting mouth.
Air gets stuck in Jensen’s throat. Jared laps with the flat of his tongue and suckles, lips tight and red. Jensen twitches in his lap, over sensitized tweaks, and his hands clumsily unsnap his strap buckle. It falls down to his lap. His fingers run through Jared’s hair, pushing his chest out and bowing his back and reminding Jared to send a hand back down to his full, plump ass cheek. His hand fans around it, digging in.
He hisses when Jared nips at him, tugs at the tip. “Fuck, y-yeah – yeah Jay, c’mon.”
His lips smack against it, dragging spit across until it’s bright pink and shiny. Jensen’s fingers tighten in his hair whenever he bites it, hiccupping air when he flicks his tongue. He hears another buckle click and suddenly Jensen’s whole chest is exposed – everything on display. Jared lunges for the other nipple and works it until they’re both wet spots on Jensen.
When his other hand pinches one idly, Jensen’s hips knock forward.
“Don’t –” He rasps, unsteadily. “Don’t tease – c’mon Jay.”
Jared’s brow furrows, eyes darting upwards. Jensen leans down and kisses him, edgy and uncoordinated. His throat thrums, high like he was still hard. Jared twists the nub in his fingers, feels him jerk in his lap – and then a hand drops down to his cock, tenting his jeans.
He instantly breaks the kiss. “Let me,” Jensen rushes, fumbling to undo his belt. “Wanna.”
Jared watches as the buckle falls aside with a series of shaky clinks, a small voice screaming from within that maybe he shouldn’t let Jensen do this – but then Jensen’s pulling him out with slender, quivering fingers. The thick head smacks his stomach with a sloppy wet tip. Jared hisses, catching the unsure flutter of Jensen’s abs.
“Fuck,” He whispers, dragging his hand all the way up it. “Jesus Jay, want that in me.”
Jared’s words clog his throat. Jensen jacks him with a grip that’s almost tight enough, weakened by the shivers of his muscles, and murmurs half-sentences against his jaw.
“Want you to put that in me,” Comes, unevenly. “Wanna feel it inside me. So fuckin’ big.”
He doesn’t even know if he should. But Jensen’s mouth was stumbling over itself, dropping out things Jared wasn’t sure he meant to say out loud, and his hand was picking up the pace – grip going taut.
“C’mon Jay, please – do it,” He looks up and kisses him – one quick, needy peck. “Fuck me.”
Jared’s mouth hangs. Jensen kisses him harder, rolling him back against the head rest, and starts to claw at the buttons of his flannel until each one is popping. He gets all the way to the bottom, shirt snapping apart, and then he flattens his palms to the wall of muscle underneath; hair dusting his chest, the firm shape of his pecs and abs, trailing back down to his fat cock and jacking it, quicker now.
Jared hasn’t come in god knows how long, but it’s not gonna be from a hand now. Not when Jensen is half-naked on his lap, begging; reminding him soundlessly that if Jared doesn’t do it, someone else will.
“On the bed.”
Jensen’s gaze bounces all over his face at first, disbelieving, before he rolls off his lap and into the darkness behind them. Jared makes quick work of his boots and jeans, and when he turns around, Jensen’s overalls are in a crumpled heap on the floor with his shoes. He’s lying on his elbows, eyes wide at Jared as he stands above him, chest undulating, hair messy – naked from head to toe. His cock is half-hard against his stomach, come cleaned off with the sweater. It looks pink.
Jared’s so hard he’s shaking. Jensen swallows and rolls on his side to grab something under his seat – lube, probably – but as soon as his back is turned Jared’s chest plasters to it. Jensen blurts out a sound as his teeth sink into his nape.
“Where’d you pick up the lube?” He asks, vibrating in his ear.
“T-Truck stop, with the guy in it. Gave it to me for free.”
He goes cold. “Did he help you with it?”
“No,” Jensen says, quietly. “Did it myself while you were talking. W-Wanted you to find me – it’s cherry.”
The thought of Jensen fingering himself in a truck stop bathroom makes his cock throb. Jared grinds down against his ass, cock dragging against wet slick, and he gives his ear a sharp nip before kissing his way down his spine. Jensen braces himself on his elbows, head craning back to watch with nervous, tangled eyebrows. Jared counts his freckles with his tongue and flattens his hands against both cheeks. Each globe rolls against his palm, round bubbles when Jensen tips his hips up for him. He reaches back to hold one for him, spreading like Jared’s gonna shove in right now like this, and doesn’t expect when he runs his tongue up between instead. His body twitches away, but Jared holds him still.
Cherry stings his mouth. He drags the taste out, shoving his tongue inside and cleaning it out. Jensen pants, hips twisting unsurely. His hand falls from his cheek down to his thigh idly, body clenching, and when Jared pinches the fat of his ass cheek and smacks it he lets out a soft cry and presses back, obediently. Jared pulls his ass into his face and tongue-fucks it, quick and dirty. Breathy hiccups are muffled into the blankets under Jensen’s mouth, athletic pants.
Jensen finally snakes his hand down to his cock; the soft slaps like whispers. Jared rolls his balls, pulling them back so he can suck on them with his sloppy mouth, spit-shiny. Jensen’s mouth falls open, speeding up. He keeps them tight and plump in his palms.
“You let any of ‘em touch you?”
He runs the flat of his tongue up them – slow. “They kiss you? Put their tongue in you?”
Jared can feel his fingers darting up and down, their hands touching here and there. His other hand is buried deep in the blankets, and Jared wishes he could see his face – see if he’s lying.
“What about that guy at the bar?” He asks, low, and his thumb gently presses against Jensen’s pink hole.
A hiccup of air racks his throat. “Jay – don’t.”
“Did he touch you?” His thumb digs into the tight, slick skin. Jensen trembles.
“No,” He whispers. “Nobody did – ah,”
He slides in easier than butter, hot muscles clamping down on his knuckle. Jensen rocks on his elbows for a moment, fist squeezed still on his cock. Jared slips in and out, hypnotized by how easy it is. When his thumb pulls out, covered in cherry, and his finger drives in Jensen clenches.
“Fuck,” His fist starts up again – quick and loud. “I can’t – c’mon, please.”
He pushes in as far as it will go until Jensen’s thighs spasm. There’s sweat starting to shine down the curved spine of his back, highlighting the dimples above his ass. Jared leans in and licks around his knuckle, feeling his body jerk.
He’s virgin tight – too tight.
“C’mon,” He pleads, rocks backwards.
Jared presses a second fingertip against his hole and hears him choke. He white-knuckles his cock, shuddering, and then spreads his legs a little farther for Jared. Jared pulls up and covers his damp spine with his chest, nuzzling his fingers in deep. As soon as he’s within range, Jensen leans up and kisses his neck. “Please – please. Just fuck me, just do it.”
He peppers his jaw with nips, still pulling at his cock frantically. Jared twists up into him, nudging for his prostate – and digs into it with two thick digits. Soft, broken gasps mount up and spill past his lips, chest fluttering asthmatically. He starts jacking his cock fast, slaps becoming wet, and Jared knows he’s staining the blankets. He’s whimpering – sounds mimicking the first time he was close.
Jared pulls his fingers out quickly. Jensen groans, and then goes quiet when Jared presses the soaked head of his cock against his hole. He tenses, shying away at first, but Jared sinks his fingers into his hip and drags him back onto his cock – all the way down his cock.
His cry reverberates against the walls. Jensen twitches, trying to crane his neck to see, his thighs instantly parting further to fit Jared between his legs. His cheeks jut up into two round balls and he squeezes the life out Jared. He feels like he’s being strangled – it’s so tight. He wraps an arm around Jensen’s chest to hold him steady as he sways forward, deeper.
“Uhn,” He punches out. “Jay, Jesus.”
Jared’s transfixed to the shape of Jensen’s thick ass squeezing in his cock, bulging around the heavy girth with silent spasms from his thighs that send ripples throughout his cheeks. He’s loose-limbed beneath Jared, sprawled out on his forearms with one hand slowly stroking his cock. Jared pumps into him, balls slapping against his ass. He can barely hear the tight, muffled grunts below. Jensen’s eyes are glistening, mouth open as he stares back in awe. Jared’s cock splits him open wide. He can see his pillowy lips mouthing against the blanket – big.
Jared doesn’t remember the last time he fucked someone, but it feels like another life and that someone feels like they never existed. It all comes crashing back on him now, sunken deep into the tight wedge of Jensen’s body, and suddenly he’s never wanted to come more in his life. His hips snap with jack-knife thrusts, fingers digging into Jensen’s waist, and animal-fucks him into the bed like he’s gonna break him, breed him.
The cab shakes with noise; so loud anyone walking by could hear Jensen grunting, punching out a hurt ah sometimes – but then spreads himself out more with a nervous glance behind him, like he didn’t want Jared to notice. But Jared does, and fucks him harder for it – wants to watch him shake, hear him whine.
He knew Jensen was all talk. He’d never taken a cock before, probably never even fingered himself, and even if he was twenty-two, Jared should’ve known that it would be too much. Setting himself loose on Jensen was like setting a wild dog off his leash. He watches Jensen’s eyebrows twist desperately and his fingers wrench into the blankets, and for all his breathless sounds, he’s looking at Jared like he wanted more of him somehow.
“Say it,” He whispers, hoarsely. Jared can’t hear him over all the slapping. “Say it.”
He slams into Jensen so hard his ass bounces off – cock slipping free, Jensen slumping into the blankets. Jared pants, chest heaving. He pulls Jensen into his lap by the hips, listening to him moan as his cock slides between his full cheeks, big like a spear. Jensen leans up and suckles his jaw, dragging his ass back and forth on his cock.
“Say you want it,” He starts again, unsteadily. “Wanted it the whole time.”
He breaks off as Jared fills him up again, his whole length getting sucked into his cheeks – twin basketballs. Jensen’s back arches with a needy edge.
“Wanted this,” He pants against Jared’s jaw, fucking himself back. “Wanna fuck me, be my daddy.”
The words go straight to his cock. Jared groans and shoves into him, slapping hard. Jensen cries out. He fucks into him with jack-rabbit snaps, and looks down and sees Jensen’s hand fisting his cock, fingers rolling up the pink head with slick noise.
“Yeah, fuck yeah,” He hiccups. “Fuck me daddy.”
Jared can feel his guts tightening like an arrow. He doesn’t know how long Jensen’s had this pent up – he sounds fucked-out, needy. He braces himself with one hand against the wall when Jared gets rougher, shoving in deeper – and then he jerks when Jared fucks against a white-hot spot. He throws his head back, and he clenches around him, muscles flexing under him in a sweaty glaze.
Suddenly there’s nothing in the cab except a litany of yes and fuck and there. Jared can’t hear anything over the blood pounding in his ears. He can see Jensen sob into the blanket, his elbow shaking from how fast his fist was going, shoulders bunching up. Jared dives down and bites the ball of his shoulder.
He can feel the vibration of Jensen’s voice hitting the ceiling, before everything clamps down on his cock in an iron grip and Jensen comes all over the blankets in thick stripes. He keens, high and airy.
Jared sinks his teeth in as he ripples around him; fucks him through it with deep lunges. Jensen’s mouth falls open against the bed. He throws his hips up, so spread out on the bed he’s practically sprawling, and curves his back so there’s nothing but ass for Jared to fuck into.
He comes buried deep in it, and his name sounds brand new in Jensen’s voice.
It’s his tenth birthday, and his cake is bigger than he is.
A mountain of red velvet and white swirl, his name looping in fat blue swirls across the top tier which sat on the highest peak, blotting out the sun. Bright rays of yellow sang like kaleidoscope beams through every inch of his periphery, a vignette of red, white and blue circled in sunlight. His tiny hands were the size of spoons, his fingers arched like talons, body airless like a bird. Wings fluttering in his chest.
He couldn’t reach even the bottom tier, creamy smooth and round. There’s a beautiful silver knife looming above his head like the sword of Damocles, swaying softly like a pendulum or an elderly couple dancing their last dance. It falls straight through the cake, easy as butter, and a slice the size of the moon sends crumbs scattering through his hair, pixie dust.
His hands raise up and his palms are dirty, fingernails dark. Whatever ominous god has his birthday slice swings it past him though – it’s so large, he doesn’t understand how it fits on such a slender knife, thin like fate’s thread and sharp like scissors. He follows it behind him.
It lands in the lap of someone small, someone young, and as it sinks into the boy, it makes him swell up large.
He watches his whole cake be devoured through tiny teeth and tiny jaws, hands of god carving his life into endless triangles that feed this soul full; wind his muscles with chord, bloat his skin, and suddenly he’s larger than Jared’s whole world –
And Jared couldn’t be happier. His cake feeds a miracle. He is creating a star, turning it into the sun. There’s never been a baby happier than the one on his throne now, and Jared would trade every memory in his brain to make this blip permanent; this ephemeral bliss, a cosmic giggle.
Then he hears coughing – the shudder of an earthquake. The big baby hacks and wheezes, clutching at his stomach, so full of wonders, and fear attacks Jared’s nerves.
It’s his birthday – this can’t happen on his birthday. Not today.
He can do nothing with hands so small. He can’t reach out to help or hold the world that is whimpering into a cold, dying speck. His bright cake, his beautiful frosting and his burgeoning sun, dying.
Bright, colorful cake-boy collapses into fresh green grass, and the needle-point knife rolls out of his mouth covered in red velvet.
There are tendrils brushing against his face like feathers. Cold tips, dotting his cheeks. His eyebrows twitch and the world peels open in front of him stickily, mouth pulling down in a tired frown. There’s a dry, red feeling to his eyes, salt tinging the corner of his left.
Twin green planets gaze up at him like telescopes.
“I like your skin,” He whispers, thumbs dragging against his jaw.
Jared’s forehead wrinkles as he sucks in the picture of this morning. The cab is dim, grey fingers of light seeping in through the windshield cover. Clothes are strung about the seats and floor in colorful sags and stains, and his mini-fridge is hanging open by a hair – explaining the iced coffee breath dusting his face whenever Jensen lets out tiny, stifled exhales, like he was trying to hide it.
There’s a messy bush of blond on his head, tufts pointing in every direction. His bare shoulders poke out from under the blankets, too hot between the two of them, and his legs are wrapped around him like an octopus. Jared remembers them falling asleep in two separate heaps. His hands feel moist on his face, stroking his cheeks with big, pink eyes.
“Why?” His voice comes out thick and rattled, and Jensen’s eyelids pop wider.
“It’s soft,” He says quietly. “Makes you look less like a trucker.”
“Thought that’s why you liked me.”
His fingers fall under the covers, which he hitches up over his shoulders – hiding his skin. “Guess you’ve got other things going for you, too.”
There’s a rustle as he shrugs, shifting so his smile is muffled. “Good food. Great service.”
Jared’s brow cocks, grin raking across his face. The flush swarming him is bright and proud, mouth wolfishly twisted. He snorts and rolls over – can’t let his breath out against Jensen’s nose as he laughs in short scoffs. It’s a sacrifice really, because as soon as he turns and smells himself it becomes apparent his breath isn’t the only issue. His hands grope around for his bathroom kit. He can tell his hair is a scraggly mess, last night’s sweat sealed against his skin, the scent of two bodies clinging to his one. Cologne cans and air fresheners clatter below him as he rifles around.
Two warm arms girdle his waist, palms and fingers sticking to skin.
He pauses, trying to glance behind him – and then weight straddles him so he falls on his back again. Jensen’s shape moves under the blanket like a shark, crawling up his bones. His hair peeks out of the covers, and when he looks up at Jared, there’s blood in his cheeks.
“Hi,” Jensen smiles, and then leans down and kisses him. Jared keeps his mouth closed, but his tongue darts out at it like it didn’t matter – like he couldn’t even smell or taste anything, but if he did, he’d love it. He licks like any part of Jared was what he wanted. Jared’s appalled inside, and turns his head. Jensen kisses the corner of his mouth, and then his cheek, and then disappears under the blankets again. He waits for Jensen to reappear, but he doesn’t.
“You can’t stay under there, y’know.” Jared mutters as he continues searching for his bathroom kit, feeling the wriggle of Jensen’s body smoothing downwards. His lips are stuck to Jared’s ribs, soft and quiet. He can feel his hands sprawling across his chest, stalling as he presses his thumbprint into each divot, carefully avoiding his nipples – like he didn’t want Jared to notice his hands. His half-hard cock is pressed still against his hipbone, unmoving, but Jared can feel sense-memories playing just knowing it’s there. His ears ache with memory.
Finally, his fingers stumble across the fabric of his bathroom kit bag and he hauls it out. Leaves it on the floor next to the bed, and then flips up the covers.
Jensen shies away from the light, ducking further back into the darkness. Jared gives him a look.
“Are you scared of the boogey-man?”
He doesn’t say anything for a moment; just traces his ribs with his thumb. “M’cold.”
“It’s warmer in the shower.” He tries, but Jensen looks down at the cross of his stomach to his sternum and remains quiet. He looks like one of those sloths; long arms wrapped around Jared like a tree, body plastered to him, hair tickling his chest. He seems set on not moving at all. Jared takes pity on him and finger-combs his hair. He pushes back into Jared’s palm, eyes closed.
There’s something different about him today, though Jared might be thinking too soon. If Jensen was the same that would be more worrisome, but he’s not – just reassuringly shaken; like a snow globe that’s been rattled around, yet all the pieces are still there. Jared lets him reach up and take his hand, curling them together. His lips are dry and warm as he presses Jared’s fingers against them, ready to kiss them though seeming more content to just keep them where they are.
“Are you still mad at me?”
“No,” Jared watches him with idle curiosity.
He nods, drawing a finger into his mouth and biting it. Jared’s brow furrows as his teeth dig into his knuckle, nipping up his hand to his wrist. His gaze turns up on him, big shiny glaze, and then he’s poking out of the blankets again to sting his chin.
“You slept real quiet,” He murmurs, nose digging into his jaw. “Didn’t make a sound or nothing.”
“You thought I was a snorer?”
He smiles against his skin. “Know you are.”
Jared turns his head in lieu of shaking it. “Stalker.”
Jensen’s cold nose runs up to his ear and catches the lobe between his teeth, tongue tickling. Jared wonders if he’s always like this in the mornings – if he’s ever been this way before.
“Last night,” He hears, a thrum against his ear. “You slept like a rock. Didn’t move or talk for nothing. Couldn’t even hear the other trucks leave this morning. Dead to the world.”
His throat feels dry. “You’re gonna scare off the ladies if you tell them you watch them sleep.”
Silence. He glances up and sees lashes fluttering, some loud thoughts flickering across Jensen’s face.
He suddenly dips down and kisses Jared again – and this time when he weasels his tongue inside, he doesn’t fight it. Air sneaks through Jensen’s lungs hastily. His chest sidles up against Jared’s and his hips twitch, almost moving against his own. The kick of coffee sparks in his mouth.
“You’re no lady,” He mumbles.
“I’m barely human right now. Neither are you,” Jared replies, looking between them unhappily. “We’re rank.”
A grin bursts across his face, flushed and wide. “Yeah.”
“Rank. As in Darwinism is likely to occur.”
“If you say so,” Jensen shrugs and goes back to kissing his jaw – suckling loose skin.
“I’m pretty sure something died in your overalls this past week too. They’ve got detergent inside – probably get some bleach too. Maybe some baking powder for the shoes,” He watches his words fly in and out of Jensen’s ears. “Hey – you’re going to take a shower today, even if it’s in a fucking sink.”
Jensen’s face pops up with an irritated bow to his mouth. “But I won’t have any clothes.”
“Why wouldn’t you?”
“Because the clothes will be in the wash, genius.”
Right – Jared forgot Jensen didn’t have more than one pair of clothes, and all of his new sweaters should be washed, too. Should’ve washed them before wearing.
“What am I gonna wear now?” Jensen frowns.
He practically swims in Jared’s shirts. The flannel looks all heavy and stretched out on his limbs, falling down to mid-thigh, and his pants are too long to reason with. Jared rolls up the hems but it doesn’t help. Jensen waddles around, following him to and from the laundry room uselessly, embarrassed and frustrated. Jared swears something breaks in his eyes when he sees his overalls chucked into a whirling watery grave, followed by all of his sweaters – especially NAP QUEEN.
When they get to the shower rooms, Jensen falters.
“It’s clean,” Jared grunts, watching him from the doorway. “Trust me, you’re dirtier than the bathroom.”
He scratches his arm, pushing up the thick sleeve. His eyes wander up and down the hall lined with bathroom doors, each one set with a toilet, sink and shower inside. There weren’t that many, only about three, but it was clear they wanted the truckers to have a nice private bathing experience. He looks down at his towels and bath caddy, packed neatly with red and blue tubes of soap and two-in-one shampoos and conditioners, a bright yellow loofah flopping over the side, and looks like a kindergartener on his first day of school. Jared briefly wonders if he’s afraid of water.
“C’mon,” He nods to the second door, next to his. “Get in there and make it count.”
The door squeaks under his arm as he then drops it shut on Jensen’s still, unsure form. He waits for a few silent seconds to hear the pipes rattle next door, but then figures Jensen’s a big boy – he can handle this.
The bathroom is a white square with clean tile walls, a pristine toilet and sink, granite countertops, a soft ottoman for sitting, and a spacious shower. He wonders if he picked the handicap bathroom, because there’s enough room in the shower for five people. Lucky him.
It feels like decades since his last shower – maybe even two weeks ago. He’s a low maintenance guy; he’s gone for a month without showering before. Most of the time there was no reason to. It’s just him and the truck, and trucks aren’t offended. And most of the time, he wouldn’t even notice.
That was when Jensen wasn’t around.
He shakes his hair like a dog and sends droplets flying, quickly brushing his teeth and then lathering up his loofah. He could literally see the dirt scraping off him, swirling down the drain.
It looked almost red, like cake.
He can hear Jensen before he feels his arms girdle him, slow and wet through the foamy layers on his waist. His dry chest is soon soaked as it flattens to Jared’s back, nose hiding in his nape, lips pressed against his shoulder. Jared kind of knew it would be like this.
“No hot water in yours?” He keeps soaping up his chest, not bothering to turn around. There’s no sound coming from behind him though; just the sharp points of teeth grazing where his neck begins. After a while of nothing, Jared finds himself turning around.
He’s staring up at him expectantly, hair wetted down to his ears with short bangs on his forehead, eyes having a silent conversation. Jared can’t understand it – he doesn’t speak eyes. He hasn’t spoken eyes with someone in over five years. But Jensen’s eyes are on full-blast, and it’s like something snuck in and bit him today.
“Spit it out, Jen.” He says, low.
Something struggles across his face, a worried twinge to his brow like he’s actually going to obey. Like there’s something heavy and ready to drop from his mouth to the floor, but instead he just mashes it into Jared’s neck and bites his pulse; suckles it as he backs Jared up into the shower spray.
“M’sore,” He whispers. “M’so sore, Jay – can barely sit.”
Jared tenses, gazing down the long line of Jensen’s spine to the globes jutting out below it. He can see Jensen arch purposefully, presenting himself, and his paws sink into the dimples above his ass like they were shaped for his fingers. His skin is soaked and slippery under his soapy fingers.
“You’re real clingy, you know that?”
He pulls out of Jared’s neck, scrunches his eyebrows at him – worried – and then grabs his hand and drags it down between his cheeks. His fingertips are pressed into his soft hole that gives too easily. A hurt breath skitters out of Jensen’s mouth. Jared digs in a little harder and watches his jaw fall slack, lashes tangling together.
“Y’want me to fuck you again?” He reverberates, and Jensen sways closer to him with a shaky inhale. “Y’want everyone to hear you in here? Watch you limp around later?”
He swallows, quietly shocked; like he didn’t know Jared had these kinds of words in him. Jared smiles and leans in so their lips brush, noses circling around in a ghost-nuzzle. Jensen follows the soft gesture like how someone on ecstasy might follow glow sticks.
“S’that why you’re in here?” He waits for Jensen to crack. “Don’t wanna ask?”
Jensen licks his lips. Jared takes that as his cue. He never realized someone could be this shy about sex – least of all Jensen. He dips his head for a kiss.
“W-Wait,” Jensen says, and ice tickles through him. He obeys instantly, watching the flakes of anxiety in his eyes like a ticking time bomb.
The linoleum squeaks under Jensen’s feet as he sinks to his knees, without a sound. Jared’s brow furrows. Jensen stares up at him, blinking in flutters against the droplets raining down, and hot coal drops hard in his gullet when wet, puffy lips become level with his thick cock. It hangs heavy between his thighs, thatch of dark hair dusting above it. He can feel Jensen’s moist breath shivering on it.
He can tell he’s nervous – he can see the tremble in his fingers as he wraps his hand around it, looking up at Jared for guidance. Jared can’t focus on anything except the gaps between each pink knuckle, dark skin, thumb not quite making it all the way around. The way his grip tenses off and on. The way his lower lip just barely touches the head – and sends heat rippling through him stronger than fire.
“Like this?” He asks, watching Jared’s face, and he can’t tell if he’s asking if Jared likes it or if he’s doing it right. When Jared doesn’t reply, he makes a fist and drags it all the way up to the head.
He inhales sharply, brow tightening. Light fills Jensen’s face and he does it again, staring. He screws his fist up and down in slow, iron-tight strokes that make Jared’s thoughts stutter.
“Jen,” He murmurs under his breath – before Jensen pops his lips over the head and sucks.
His chest balloons with air. Jensen’s mouth vibrates around him, and when his hips pitch forward he can hear a hiccup shoving down his throat. He swallows, muscles undulating over his cock, and takes him with baby inches – one by one. Jared’s head tips back against the wall. His body goes lax as Jensen slowly envelopes him in tight, wet warmth, tongue flat like a bed, cheeks hollow.
There’s a gag building up in him. Jared can see it fighting in his throat – would be surprised if there wasn’t one. His lips are tightened into thin lines that stretch wide and circular around his cock, cheeks bunched up, and tiny noises gurgle deep inside. He’s almost all the way down, but can’t make it. He stops inches from the base, looking like miles, and uses his fist to snatch up the space and wring it out. His other hand wraps around Jared’s thigh; digs his fingers in deep and holds on.
When he finally reels back to the tip, upper lip unfurling into a shiny pout around it, he swallows loudly and pants. There’s a thin bridge of come hanging from it, and he swipes it with his tongue like an apology for not being able to fit him all inside. His eyes dart up at him with uncertainty – fear of rejection. Jared can’t do anything except sink his fingers into the short, wet strands of blond. He leans into the touch instantly, eyelids shuttering, and while they’re still closed he shoves himself back on Jared’s cock, pushing himself to the brim.
It feels like spit-slick heaven. His lips are vacuum-tight, dripping on either side, jaw wedged open and stuffed so full he can’t even suck his cheeks in. He tries to bob his head, go quicker, but it’s so big. Jared can feel his throat fluttering around him, muscles twinging and swallowing frantically. Eventually he picks up a steady pace of rolling it in and out, in and out, choked sounds kicking out. He doesn’t even try to stop Jared’s hips from punching into his mouth, knocking his head back. He just opens his mouth wider for him – so wide his eyebrows tangle desperately.
Jared’s fingernails dig into his scalp as he rocks into his face, abs flexing with each careful pump. Jensen’s eyes are filled with water and he’s not sure if it’s from the shower or not, but when he turns them up at him he looks wrecked. Strained, needy. His lips are stretched so wide he looks like a blow-up doll, and Jared can hear the strangled ngh notes every time he hits the back of his throat. He drops his hand from his cock and lands it on Jared’s other thigh instead; finally just lets him punch his hips out and fuck his mouth with a wrinkled, pleading face.
His gaze zeroes out into a haze of white tile haloing Jensen’s face as he thrusts into that tight red ring, shoving in so far his balls slap against his chin and Jensen whimpers, sounding full. He lets Jared grip him with ten fingers knotted in his hair and tug, feral snaps of his muscles. He can barely breathe, but he keeps his spine arched, his jaw wide, and his eyes pinned on Jared’s face, like a good boy. The slaps of skin on skin echo against the tile, nothing but the ghostly rush of water and Jensen’s mmf-mmf-mmf track filling his ears.
He knows Jensen would let him come in his mouth – he’d swallow it all down in a heartbeat, lick Jared sloppy clean, beg for praise.
He pulls out for half a second just to stave himself – keep himself from shooting all over Jensen’s face, stripes of white across his mouth and cheekbones. Jensen’s eyebrows tighten unsurely, panting hard. He laps at the head of his cock, tasting the beads, swallowing with a moan so soft Jared can barely hear it. His fingers twist a warning into Jensen’s scalp, sharp.
“Fuck,” His breath hitches – and that’s all Jared can take. He yanks Jensen back down and buries his cock deep in his throat, shuddering at the rocky moan caught there. It breaks into pieces as his cock pummels in, fucking fast and dirty with nasty wet slaps.
Jensen sounds broken, like he won’t be able to talk later. His hand jumps away from Jared’s thigh and disappears down his back, down between his cheeks, and Jared can feel everything constrict around his cock when he shoves a finger inside. His throat-noise goes high and shaky, spine curving even more. His ass pops out like a peach behind him and Jared hears nothing at all from the world during the second he takes to look at it – all he wants to be is buried to the hilt in it. The way it fucks back on his hand, tries to match Jared’s pace. He bets Jensen would be so good with two cocks shoved in him; he’d try to be so good for them, would love having his ass and mouth stuffed full, the neediest cockslut.
His other hand slips off Jared’s thigh, aiming for the diamond-hard cock hiding between his legs – but Jared grabs it like a hawk and yanks him to his feet, his own cock dragging out from his puffed-up lips with a slurp. Jensen’s back hits the tile wall with a grunt, eyes wide and red around the edges. A surprised, muffled sound jolts out of him when Jared kisses him – tastes his puffy, loose mouth.
“Please,” He manages, voice cracked. “Wanna make you come, Jay.”
His heart knocks around in his throat for a second. He can feel Jensen’s cock sliding against his, his thighs already parting and hips already grating forward willingly, and Jared barely registers how hard of a grip he has on Jensen’s wrists when he throws him face-first against the wall. His cock slicks in between the fat beds of his ass as he stretches himself out for Jared with a moan. His palms flatten against tile, shoulder blades flexing, ass heart-shaped.
“C’mon Jay, please. Do it again, want it harder.”
His words fracture when Jared shoves into him, cheeks like bubbles around the thick, dark girth. The thatch of hair scrapes against them as they ball up against his hipbones, all jiggles.
Jared pins him against the wall so his breaths are cut short and fucks into him like a dog. One bicep bulges around his pale throat; sharp, vicious hips jack-rabbit into him, and his cock spears so deep he couldn’t squeeze away even if he wanted to. Jared fucks him like a pussy-starved convict.
His ass spanks against Jared’s hips, an erratic slap-slap-slap echoing against tile. He’s stretched to the hilt on his cock, bruised hole stuffed full of angry throbbing, giving it up so easily for Jared even though he’s still aching. His knees buckle and twitch under the weight of an animal on his back – mounting him, breeding him. Jared swears he can feel his own come fucking out of his ass from last night, sliding down his thighs and making him hiss at the sight.
“Like this,” Jared says, all teeth. “Gonna fuck you into place.”
Jensen whines – clenching around him. Jared’s bicep flexes around his neck, other hand palming his plump ass with digging fingers. They leave red trails as he drags them up and down.
“Fuckin’ tight,” He hisses, staring down. Jensen yelps when Jared smacks it, watches the skin turn pink. “Fuck my cock.”
His arm unravels from his neck, letting all the air out in a rush. Jensen shakes on his feet for a second, nothing but the wall to lean on. His eyes sneak over his shoulder at where he’s split open, and he swallows. Starts to rock back, eyes crimping.
Jared groans, palms wandering all over Jensen’s slippery back; his handles, his curved spine, the round balls of his shoulders. They land on his neck, thumbs flat on his nape, muscles loosening under his touch.
“Yeah,” Jared’s voice is thick. “Fuckin’ good, Jen.”
He makes a sound that’s more like a stutter. “Can’t –” He ducks his head, chin on his chest.
His words are sucked into space. Jared’s eyes tunnel into the jerks and stammers of him moving too-fast, cock stuck in him all wrong; python sucked into a mouse hole. Jensen bends his knees and pushes against the wall, muscles fluttering and flexing around him and hiccupping nonsense.
“Fucking big, Jay – please – can’t do it, m’gonna – fuck,”
“Fuck it harder. C’mon,” He grips his nape harder, like a warning, voice low.
Jensen croaks brokenly and bobs his hips; flicks his ass up and down on his cock. He stumbles – has to reach one hand back and grab Jared’s hip for balance – but in seconds he’s got it. His ass starts clapping against Jared’s lap, bouncing and smacking together like the most obscene thing he’s ever seen.
Jensen can barely string a word together. His eyes are clenched shut, only opening here and there to check Jared’s face, eyebrows tangled together desperately like he was waiting for something. Jared’s fingers crawl into his hair and pull, lightly. Jensen’s mouth drops open.
“Please,” He whispers, chin canted up into the spray and lashes fluttering against dew drops.
Jared’s knuckles go white as they reel him back – just an inch tighter. A silken moan curls out of Jensen, bright and echoing, and suddenly Jared yanks him hard and he’s keening, wailing like a housewife. Frayed notes and scraped fingernails fill Jared’s ears with euphoria – make his hips snap forward.
Jensen’s back bends in a tight, beautiful arch, ass bursting and spine curving like a feline, breaths so sharp and so high they barely make it out of him. He points his screwed-up face at the ceiling; teeth grit, brow knit, and eyes clamped shut against the hot torrent raining down. He’s nothing but a wet, slippery mess. Jared could come just from his sounds; the short, breathless ‘ah, ah – ah’ moans that crack dangerously whenever he shoves in too hard – like a warning shot when he can’t take anymore, can’t fit anymore.
“Touch me,” He swallows, tries to speak over the slap-slap-slap – faster now. “Please Jay, m’so hard.”
Jared fact-checks that with his unoccupied fist, letting it fill up with rock-swollen cock that pulses against his veins. Jensen’s throat clicks out a vulnerable noise. He chokes a ring around the base with his thumb and index just to feel his body flex and clench up around him. Jensen pulls him in deeper by the waist.
“C’mon Jay please,” He whimpers in jostled half-words.
“You want it?” Jared grinds into his ear. “Y’gonna be good for it? Gonna let daddy come in your ass for it?”
His breath hitches and chokes. “Yes.”
“Gonna be good,” He echoes – a pale imitation. Jared’s knuckles tighten. “I’ll be good – please.”
“What’re you gonna let me do?”
There’s a pause. “C-Come in my ass,” He whispers – hiccups.
“Ask me to.” He goes tight all over – air caught in his throat, silent. “Ask.” Jared vibrates.
Jensen swallows. “Please,” He starts – quiet, shaky. “Come in my ass, daddy.”
The word burns down his back. He shoves in quick – a pop of hips that makes Jensen hiccup – and the arrow in his gut makes him fuck into his thick ass with spastic hips. He hits a spot like a white hot buzzer inside Jensen and suddenly he’s jerking in Jared’s hold – whimpering a high scale.
Jared slaps into him quick and sloppy, messy sounds, cock punching in and out like a blur. Jensen spreads his thighs out more and whines louder, louder. It’s all Jared can hear – all anyone passing by could probably hear. Incoherent pleads; broken down shards of thoughts that don’t make any sense to Jared but stumble out of Jensen’s mouth like eyes unable to hold tears.
“There, fuck me there – fuck me daddy. Fucking come in me, wanna feel it, wanna be your boy – yours.”
Jared stutters. Suddenly white noise sucks into his ears and his jaw punches open, heat flooding his gullet and his hips buckle and he’s shooting off deep into his ass – wetness that shudders throughout Jensen, makes him writhe.
He fucks it into him, makes him feel it fill him up, drops both palms to the dimples above his ass and watches in fascination as come spills out from his between his cheeks. Drips from his cock whenever he pulls out – shoves back in. Keeps it inside. Wants to watch Jensen squirm the rest of the day.
Jensen groans. He slides back on him with wide, glazed eyes; clenches and wrings it out of him, big cock squelching, and when Jared gives him a sharp warning thrust he sobs, shoulders sagging. Jared rides him until it hurts, until he’s nearly bent over from spreading himself open. He lets out tiny moans – strangled and tight.
His fingers finally loosen around his cock, letting them trail up to the pink tip – soaked. White leaks through Jared’s fingers. He squeezes it just to be sure, listening to Jensen swallow down sound like he didn’t want Jared to know – didn’t want to be caught looking too-quick and needy. Jared’s breath is heavy against his neck, vibrating. Trapped moans shudder inside of Jensen as he strokes him, slow and reverent. He trembles underneath him.
“Your –” He whispers, thick. “Your boy, Jay.”
Jared feels every bone in his body shake.
Coffee hisses into his large Styrofoam, steam curling over the rim in grey braids. Heat bleeds through to his bare fingers. He caps it tightly, and then fills up the second one, as slow as he can. Sugar pours into it in a stream of fairy dust and cream swirls like a spinning planet. He knows Jensen likes it sweet.
Jared likes his red-eye black.
He can’t lie and say he’s stirring at the most optimum speed. Jensen, in his flowing shirt and droopy pants, was waiting for him in the laundromat, keeping his eye on the dryer holding his overalls hostage. He can already see him tugging his sleeves up impatiently, biting his nails – darting looks over his shoulder for anyone approaching him who might not be Jared. But Jared drags the flimsy plastic spoon through sugary-sweet mocha with all the strength of a senior.
Pouring coffee for him used to feel like such a casual gesture before; now it felt like a bouquet of roses.
The laundromat smells like dryer sheets and warm sweaters. His palms are heavy with heat from the coffee cups as he surveys the near empty aisles for the single large chrome dryer he shoved all of their rags into; between the two of them, there wasn’t much of a load. All of the truckers had started their route early this morning (the usual crack of dawn Jared used to wake up to, before his cab got infected with life) which meant there was nobody in the place.
Except for Jensen, who was carefully piling flannels into a basket like they were made of porcelain.
His shoulders jump at the sound of Jared’s voice. He turns and lets Jared see the way he rolled up the billowy sleeves of his shirt into tight folds at the top of his arms, bunched up thick. His biceps are foreign to Jared; tan bulges that flex insecurely. He half-expects a tattoo, but Jensen’s clean.
“Yeah, it went pretty fast actually.”
Jared’s gaze slips over to the basket. He frowns. “You folded them already?”
Jensen glances back at his work – like he wasn’t sure if the neatly stacked piles of shirts and jeans he’d arranged counted as folding. It’s better work than Jared would’ve done. Jensen sort of shrugs.
“I had time to kill. It’s not a big deal.” He swipes his coffee away and sips – hisses at the heat. “C’mon, we’re burning daylight.”
His shoes narrate his exit in tight squeaks against the linoleum. Jared stalls by staring at the basket of linen skyscrapers; bricks of cloth in a colorful wall of neatness.
There was an earthquake brewing in him today; seismic mumbles.
They stop for breakfast at a dive called Dolly’s off the highway about an hour later. Jared’s stomach won’t quit gurgling like a sink, and even though Jensen already pilfered his breakfast from Jared’s fridge earlier and doesn’t voice a peep of his suffering, Jared knows he’s still hungry. He’s always hungry.
“What do you want? I’ll grab it to go.”
Jensen looks up from where he picks at his beanie threads obliviously. “I don’t know.”
He fights the urge to laugh. “You want me to grab you a menu or something?”
“Just get me the same thing you get.”
The tip of his voice rises like a question, even though Jensen orders the same thing he gets more times than not. In fact, now that Jared considers it, Jensen almost always gets what he gets (without regard to coffee). He frowns.
“You sure you don’t want anything else?” He asks again, trying for casual. “Cake for the road or something?”
Jensen shakes his head softly. Jared knows it’s a straight up lie. He gives him a brief survey, checking for any sad lines on his face, but there’s nothing sad about him.
He catches Jared’s eyes with a glint and smiles, small. “What?”
“Nothing,” He replies, and finally steps out. “I’ll be back.”
“Hasta la vista.”
The door slams and doesn’t reopen again until Jared’s got two bags full of breakfast burritos, home fries, and a homemade ding dong. It takes about ten to fifteen minutes to cook, all of which he chooses to spend at the diner bar watching the news, alone.
Maybe something snuck in and bit Jared today, not Jensen.
“Here,” He tosses one bag on Jensen’s lap as he sags into the driver’s seat. “Dig in.”
The plastic wrinkles stressfully as he tears at it to get what’s inside. Jared starts up the engine in the meantime – burritos were the perfect eat-n-drive meal. A second later he hears Jensen grow quiet.
He glances at Jensen, who is paused with a burrito in one hand. Jared’s brow knits.
“It’s a ding dong, not a new car.”
“Yeah, I know. M’just saying,” He shrugs and looks away. The moment comes to a quick death as soon as he shoves the burrito into his face. Jared rips a chunk off of his own and pulls them out of the parking lot, chewing pensively.
Jensen’s like a kid – he never says thank you for his food.
By the time they’re back on the highway, both of the burritos are long gone. Jensen tucks his ding dong box under the seat and leans back in his seat, comfortably.
“You’re not gonna eat it?”
He shrugs. “M’saving it.”
Jared laughs, airy. “For when? An eclipse?”
“Later,” He gives Jared a knowing look – like it was a secret. “Food coma now.”
His blond hair musses up against the window. Jared gets stuck on the way Jensen’s eyes slowly drift, all of the tiny muscles in his face loosening like puppet strings and letting him fall.
The book is rough and worn in his rough and worn hands. The edges are frayed, spine beaten from thoughtless stretching and tearing, pages like butterfly wings. The adhesive is so thin some pages are stuck in place with tape. Jensen’s thick callouses paw and thumb through each printed feather like he digs through food.
On The Road.
It’s quiet enough on the highway for Jared to steal generous glances at the rare picture of his passenger seat; Jensen, calm and silent as river with his eyes stapled to an endless stream of words. It’s not that he thought Jensen didn’t like to read – for all his worldly innocence, he didn’t think Jensen was dumb. But Kerouac. Maybe he was the dumb one for always being so surprised.
The radio dial spins and suddenly a steel pedal and warm, Kentucky-honey notes pour out of the speakers. It sounds like Willie Nelson. Jared watches with hawk eyes, but Jensen doesn’t say a word. The soft acoustics and sweet, mournful trills fill the quiet cab with like it was made of glass.
“You need me to get that?” Finally comes when Jared reaches for his unopened can of Red Bull. He doesn’t even get a chance to say anything before the lid is popping off with a cool snick and fizz hisses from inside. Jensen’s fingers linger on his as he hands it over.
“Thanks,” He mutters.
Jensen just smiles; lips sealed tight and curved deep like he was hiding a million words behind them, so many that they crawled up into his eyes and sparkled. Jared looks away.
“Still reading that thing?”
“That thing?” He echoes. “I can’t believe you were a teacher.”
“Yeah, a high school teacher. Not a beatnik.” Jared grins. “What’s with Kerouac anyways?”
“Why not?” He shrugs. “You can’t seriously tell me you haven’t read this or taught it.”
“Sure I have. Just don’t know why you do. Kind of on-the-nose for you, isn’t it?”
“I don’t worship him, if that’s what you mean.” His words are tinged with bitterness. “Some of us didn’t get to choose our life.”
“Then why do you like him?”
“I don’t like him. I just prefer to see things differently sometimes.”
A pause creeps into the cab, against Jared’s intentions. He glances over and Jensen is staring into the pages deeply, as if it were a looking glass.
It makes sense for Jensen to wish his past were different, given the circumstances, and if he wanted to direct a remake of it through a beautiful book then Jared would be the first to understand. For five years, he’s been doing the same thing with a Western Star truck. But if Jensen wanted his whole life to be different, Jared had to wonder when the film reel ended and began again.
Kerouac didn’t write about him and Jensen. There’s no book, no pages, no words printed anywhere about the day they first met, the first words they exchanged, the first time their eyes leveled at each other, their first touch – and there won’t be any made for their last moments together either. Jared knows that. He knows better than anyone to believe that the most important moments spent with someone, when finished, are unforgettable.
And quietly, like an echo, the thought that Jensen might be trying to forget them already created rare, revitalizing hurt.
“Sometimes,” Jared echoes. “Like now?”
Jensen smiles at his pages like they winked at him. “No. Not now.”
It was only three words, but they crawled into Jared’s personal space like a sudden draft. Jensen looks up at him after a moment and he turns to the road – his friend, the road. His wife, the road.
His air, the road. His skin, the road. His knuckles, the road. His stomach, the road. His heart, the road. His blood, the road.
“You tired or something?”
“No,” Jared replies instantly. “Yeah – a little, maybe.”
Jensen doesn’t drop any lines about last night, like he expects him to. “Sucks we both aren’t drivers, doesn’t it? Then I could take the wheel for a few hours.”
His body tightens like rigor mortis trying to picture Jensen behind this tank of metal, driving this monster down a flowing black ribbon like his hands even had enough muscle to push the weight. Jared’s iron boulder road, the road.
The earthquake wasn’t just mumbling.
The rattle and crunch of gravel under the eighteen wheels shakes the cab like a crib. Jared knew it would wake up Jensen no matter how slow he drove into the flat, dirt-and-pebble yard, packed with blaring truck horns and the whistles of exhaust pipes. Jensen’s eyelids flicker and Kerouac, sprawled open on his chest with his thumb still stuck between chapters, slides helplessly to the floor.
They’re finally in Little Rock, Arkansas.
“Sorry,” He says as Jensen comes to life next to him, limbs unfolding like heavy, windless flags.
“S’okay,” His voice is sleep-thick. “Where are we?”
“I know that, dingus.” He scrubs his eyes clean with his knuckles. “I mean where.”
“Little Rock.” Jared replies. “Last drop yard we’ll see. Well – second to last. Texas is the last one.”
Jensen just sort of nods; paused, like Jared said something wrong.
As he pulls into an open dock in the yard, it feels like years pass between them in silence. Jensen blinks his tired baby-crinkle eyes out at the dust clouds rolling across the pavement, staring through them like they were swallowing up the sun on the horizon. Soft and rueful. Jared feels responsible for every blink.
“Y’want me to go grab coffee or something for you?” Jensen asks decades later.
It’s so sudden Jared stumbles. “Grab coffee?”
“Yeah,” His grin is wry. “Coffee. Typical trucker beverage. Brown. Your breath smells like it.”
“Thought we were passed the whole grabbing stage.”
Jensen rolls his eyes. “Wasn’t gonna grab it, Einstein. Thought it was on you.”
“Oh,” Jared realizes belatedly, and fishes out a ten from his pocket. “Get yourself something too.”
He hands it to Jensen, whose fingers bolt at the chance to wrap around Jared’s own. Warmth bleeds through their locked knuckles.
“Thanks, papi.” Jensen winks a spark of green and slides out of the car. His legs carry him swiftly across the street to a cozy place called Grinds, oversized jeans stuffed into his boots and arms bare to the mist drizzling into everyone’s hair.
He must be cold. He didn’t even grab a jacket. Jared doesn’t think his coffee was that important.
He shoves a cool jean jacket over his hoodie and kicks out of the driver’s seat to go handle the truck. It’s hardly necessary, because there are already dock workers rushing out to unhitch the trailer. Jared makes it his prerogative to find the office and sign-off as quickly as possible. Rain was coming down in a thick, shivering haze, coating every surface and slanting into his face despite his hood. His lips and lashes tinged with tears. He tucked his fists into his pockets and booted through the front door.
“It’ll be about twenty to forty minutes tops, hon.” The elderly red-mouthed ciggy-and-manicure woman rasped once he’d finished signing. “The boys gotta finish haulin’ some loads out from terminal C and D. They’re backed up. Feel free to wait in the lounge, there’s a soda machine.”
“Thanks,” He grunts, and promptly decides to wait in his cab instead just to avoid getting ugly with her.
Drop yards were usually quick, but occasionally they weren’t, and yeah, he knew this, but today didn’t feel like the day to be stuck for an extra forty minutes. Today didn’t feel like the day for a drop yard at all – much less the second to last one.
Texas was right around the corner. It felt like a monster hiding in the hall.
The truck is swarmed by workers right then, blocking his way inside. With a sigh trapped in his chest, he slides to the chilly concrete floor of the porch and yanks his hoodie further down his head. Flecks of rain dive like spears against his face – his bare, naked face, nothing but flesh and bone.
“Tall and dark, just like you.”
He sees the coffee before he sees Jensen, standing above him with a toothy grin. There’s another tall coffee cup in his other hand, most likely sweeter than Jared’s own. He’s relieved to find Jensen got himself something warm, too – even though he always does.
“Thanks,” He takes the cup and dips it back, scalding and all. It colors his gullet red and stings. “What’d you get?”
“No way I’m telling you,” Jensen scoffs and leans against the wall, eyes playful. “Not gonna let you drink-shame me just because I didn’t order a red-eye, extra red.”
“Hot chocolate it is then.” He nods, and gets kicked in the toe. It didn’t bother him – as long as it was hot.
“So what’s the damage?”
“Twenty to forty minutes.”
“Seriously?” Jensen sounds unusually happy for someone who should be disappointed. “You wanna find someplace dry to sit? Read a newspaper or something? Do a crossword puzzle together?”
For a joke, it feels awfully serious to Jared. “No – I gotta keep watch of my truck. These guys are about to break their paws off trying to unhitch this thing. I might have to step in.”
“Right, cuz it’s not like it’s their job or anything.” He brushes off.
Jared shakes his head. “Why don’t you go wait in the cab? Finish napping or something.”
His face trips and falls. A dark tint covers it like one of the clouds above, and Jared’s stomach is suddenly ropes.
“Sure,” He says eventually, and scuffles off without another sound.
Jared’s mouth falls open to call him back, but nothing comes out. Jensen muscles past the workers buzzing about the truck and climbs inside, throwing himself into the bed in the back – beyond anyone’s view. He was like a teenager.
Or maybe Jared was just treating him like one.
There – that was what confused him. The fork in the spaghetti. Jensen always acted like a teenager. He whined at Jared’s music. Pouted about the drop yard. Slept through a tornado. For once Jared was telling him to do that very thing, and Jensen didn’t like it. He didn’t like being told what to do, yet he followed Jared’s every move like a mime. He ordered the same food as Jared everywhere they went. He was a kid, but then he wasn’t. He wanted to be something different to Jared – a different person.
Jared curls his arms around himself, drags his hoodie further down his head and swallows a mouthful of bitter blackness because he feels a chill underneath a rain. His thoughts roll in like a fog and his heart pumps with the waking dead, quiet feelings like claws and fingers through stale soil and crust.
If Jensen was a different person now, was Jared different too?
The earthquake said yes. It shook his bones and fractured them, split him open and freed a spiral of black birds, dirt and light, groaning in relief. His ribcage was unlocked and blood was rushing like it were brand new. His life had changed. The air had changed. His face had changed. He feels, and it feels different. He is different. He is new. His life is new. It’s bright, sharp, and filled with crippling fear.
His life is suddenly more than just the cab, the load, the road. Jensen, the road.
Two hours later, his muscles are screaming at him in different tongues. He ended up being right about the workers – they couldn’t tell their left hand from their right. It took them more than an hour and a half just to get the trailer unhitched and loaded into the right dock, after getting roped into unhitching a few other trailers as well. All he knows is Beaver better have a fat bonus waiting for him.
The driver’s door to his now naked truck wheezes open and he throws himself into his soft, worn seat. The slam jolts Jensen to life with a muffled hiccup. He crawls out of their bed and into the passenger seat with all the grace of a fish on land, eyes red and hair messy. Jared cracks open a fresh energy shot as Jensen stares him down.
“You can say I-told-you-so if you want.”
Jared swallows a sugary shot with a click of his throat. “What?”
“About the workers.” He explains. “You were right about them.”
He snorts. “Yeah, understatement. Buckle up.”
Jensen obeys without as even half the sass he had before. In fact, his hands were rushing eagerly to strap himself in, eyes stuck to all of Jared’s bits and pieces like he was falling all over the place.
“You look beat.” He drops, as Jared starts the engine up. It billows like a whale.
“Probably because I feel it.”
“Y’wanna stop for a break somewhere? Grab a bite?”
“Nah,” He answers instantly, before he can think about it. “Got leftovers still. We should get as many miles as we can in. Texas ain’t far now anyways.”
Jensen swallows. Something like fear sparks in his gaze, and it unsettles Jared.
Nobody said he was going back to his father’s house. Jared certainly never did. In fact, they hadn’t made any conclusions about the end of this trip. Still, Jensen looked like they were driving into a black hole.
“Aye-aye, captain.” He says, with a wavering smile. “Long as you’re sure. Don’t want you to fall asleep at the wheel, y’know. This face is too young to become one with the dashboard.”
Jared looks over at him with surprise. No sass, no pouts, no strange silences; just a shy eye about Jared’s sleep patterns. If Jensen coddled him any harder, Jared was going to buy him an apron.
They drive for four hours until Jared finally parks at a rest stop somewhere past the Texas border, far beyond the second Jensen’s head nods forward and his eyes shut, and by the time he gets back from washing up in the men’s room, his bed has been taken captive by Jensen’s shirtless limbs and sprawling legs. The blankets are curled around his waist in a greedy bundle, his hands fisted deep into the sheets, pillows stolen. Jensen takes up residence in his life like a burrower in fresh earth.
A hitch hiker, or a permanent passenger.
A warm, silken cocoon stretches around him like white velvet. He can feel the soft blades against his skin; feathers that flutter and tremble up and down his cheeks, bright lashes of butterfly kisses peppering his bones, sore muscles and bruised flesh. Like quiet raindrops, they race down to every pulse point on his body and brand him with purifying heat; God’s breath into his veins. Angel dust on his lips, flowing in and out, bursting in his lungs and pumping his chest full.
The feathers trail down to his mouth and tug on his bottom lip, gentle hooks. The world is sliced open in one clean slit, eyes heavy and weak, and freckled green pours into them. Pink cheeks, wild thatches of blond. Bare shoulders. The pine and citrus soap that they shared in the shower this morning permeates his nostrils with a sharp, distant tang.
“There you are,” Jensen whispers above him, with a grin like a slow sunrise.
“Jen,” His voice is ragged and low with warning. It’s not nearly morning yet.
“I wanted to see you.”
Something weighty rolls against his hips, and he realizes now that it’s Jensen. Perched on top of him, pushing weakly, spine curved languid and sinuous and naked. His thighs bracket Jared’s body and his hands are fanned against his jawbone, gaze spilling into every nook and cranny of his face; his cracks, wrinkles, scars, stubble, veins, atoms, and his eyes are filled with delight.
“I wanted you,” He noses the fine line of his jaw, his sharp cheekbones. “Your snores. Your eyes.”
Jared lets his head fall to the side without struggle. Lips press deep into his pulse – so taut and strong that teeth appear. They dig into his flesh, drag against skin and pull with stifled bloodlust. He can feel the energy vibrating against his hips, tight like a bowstring. Jensen feels like a nuclear warhead.
“You sleep so quiet now, s’hard to know you’re there. I can’t tell without touching you.”
Heatwaves ignite under his shirt, beneath the whorls of fingerprints sealed to his pecs. Lips follow their direction and suddenly cotton is wedged against his collar as Jensen kisses his chest. He finds Jared’s heart and bites at it, hungry, tongue darting out. Hands fall to the drawstrings of his pants. He lets them come undone, lets them slide past his ankles and get sucked into the void of black hiding behind Jensen’s bright aura. Lets him sink himself down on Jared with a fractured breath.
It feels like a sun the size of a fist is being slowly wedged deep into his gut; he can’t breathe.
“I had a dream with you,” He whispers. Jared’s throat feels full.
“What was I doing?”
His hips reel back on him, sweet and slow. “Singing,”
Whenever you sing, Eddie Vedder’s mother dies a little.
Don’t be jealous, Jay.
“Never get used to this,” Jensen mouths against his lips, unsteadily. “Feel so good Jay.”
He kisses Jared’s open mouth; rolls their lips together until the fog clears and he kisses Jensen back, spiking the flames. Jensen’s thighs quiver as he starts rocking down on him, unsure and needy. His eyes are wet marbles. They look at Jared and become warm, glazed.
Jared can feel where their skin meets, can hear it echo against the tin walls. Jensen’s ass becomes flush with his balls whenever he slaps down, and the sound sparks a bright red stain across his cheeks like he’s never had Jared’s cock in him before. His eyebrows furrow and his mouth hangs, hard as a rock between his legs and pink-tipped.
“God – feel so full. Gonna come like this, Jay, with just you.”
His hips jerk up at those words and kick a hurt sound out of Jensen’s throat – too full. He wishes he could see what his ass looks like bouncing up and down on his cock, wants to feel it. His hands wander out of their own volition and grab at it, fingers sinking into taut roundness. Jensen thrums, bending down to his lips.
“Love your hands. Love how they feel – feel on me,” He gasps when Jared hits someplace deep.
He’s gotta have a bruise by now. On his fat cheek, in the shape of Jared’s hand. If Jared could just see it –
Jensen slowly reaches back, takes his hands and pins them above his pillow. Their fingers tangle together lazily, and Jensen keeps them that way – refuses to let them part. Jared worries for a second until he sees the hot, glowing way Jensen is looking at him; like Jared was being sneaky.
“Wanna last,” He murmurs. “Wanna go –”
Jared suddenly kisses him before he can say it – slow. Jensen lets out a muffled sound and grinds, deep.
He doesn’t know why Jensen’s chosen to be a narrator all of the sudden – or why it’s so different.
His knees bend and he starts thrusting up into Jensen, meeting his hips. The angle shoves him in better, makes them clap louder, and Jensen doesn’t know what to do besides spread himself further out and try to keep up, breaths short and heavy. He makes a noises against Jared’s neck whenever he nudges deep.
“Can’t get used to it,” He hiccups. “Couldn’t have been anyone else Jay – ah,”
It sounds close to too much, but he doesn’t back down. To Jared’s quiet and confusing relief, he sacrifices their entwined hands in order to lift himself up and start bobbing quick and sharp on Jared’s cock, air punching out of him. His whole body is blushing, face twisted into something soft and agonized, curses stumbling out of his mouth. The noise of their bodies sounds like the grateful static of a radio to Jared; taking him far away from Jensen’s words – tiny drops of epinephrine straight to his heart. Every syllable came laced with fear, like they were the beginnings of a spell, and each word rolled down Jared’s spine like smooth blades.
“Couldn’t, Jay,” He drops down and kisses him again, hard and edgy. “Wanted you like this since the first time I – I saw you,” He gasps when Jared thrusts again. “First second.”
Jared grabs his hips and shoves them together – yanks Jensen down onto him. Half of a sound breaks in his mouth. He throws his arms around Jared’s neck and holds on while Jared jack-knife’s into him. His grip is anaconda-tight, fingers twisting in his hair, whimpers stuttering. Jared’s heart rails miles per minute inside him – a jackhammer that chokes when Jensen’s voice tumbles out in bits and pieces of breathy whispers.
“Want you, Jay. Wanna be your boy,” He swallows. “Wanna be yours,”
It feels like the first sign of a seizure. A tremble from the earth. His muscles spasm before he can think; he throws Jensen down next to him and mounts him like a shadow. A glimpse of shock dances across his face as his legs are suddenly strapped around Jared’s middle, thighs wide open. Jared juts into him like iron and punches out a shaky moan – wastes no time in fucking into him so hard he won’t be able to sit.
He grips Jensen by the thighs and spreads him out even more, gaze spiraling down on the slippery blur where his cock pummels into his sore, pink hole. The way Jensen arches his back makes it look like he’s hitting him deep as his stomach, his whole body clenching around him in a desperate vice grip. His fat, red bottom lip is bitten between his canines and his eyebrows are in a frantic knot, eyes warm and glassy up at him. He sneaks his hands down under his knees and holds himself open for Jared; earnest and ready for him. Such a good boy that Jared knows he’d let him do anything to him – he’d do anything for Jared.
He’d roll over for him without being told twice, he’d do his laundry and wear his oversized clothes, he’d live off greasy burgers with fake cheese for him, stay stuffed in this 82-inch tin can every day until God knows when for him. He was so far gone he threatened to take over Jared’s whole world. It was as if a big, beautiful burning meteorite crashed into his backyard one day and belonged to him now.
What are you so afraid of Jay? It’s not like you’re the worst looking guy in school.
“Don’t,” He spills when Jared goes to touch him. “Want it like this. Want you. Fuck me Jay – fuck me.”
His hand lingers on Jensen’s throat as he hammers into him like a spasm. He can feel the soft pants knocking out of his voicebox, the warm puffs of uhn-uhn littering his knuckles. The racing heartbeat drumming in his pulse; a baby bird’s wings. The way his throat bobs frantically with every swallow, the way his eyes gleam with a terrifying sense of trust while his fingers encircle his neck. Jared strokes the smooth skin with his thumb. He feels sweaty. He feels like he’s riding a comet.
You’re such a pussy. Look at you – you’ve got the shakes.
Jensen’s moan echoes in his ears. His thighs tighten around Jared’s waist and his arms lace his neck, breaths pulsing against his ear that he’s close. His voice is stuffed into Jared’s throat and vibrating against him, and it feels like electricity. No matter how hard he throws his hips against him, or how roughly he shoves into him, it just makes the hot, dangerous diamond between them burn brighter. It fills up his chest and glitters between his ribs. Sharp. Killing him slowly.
“Look at me Jay,” Jensen’s nose bumps his. His mouth hangs open with air stuttering out of it, eyebrows knotted towards the sky like he’s praying, and his eyes are bottomless. “I-I – Jay – look at me,”
A hammer slams down on his gut like a white-hot anvil, and he looks.
You know how it’s gonna end.
It’s closer to lunch time than it is to breakfast when they wake up – or rather, when Jared wakes up. Jensen remains a faintly breathing lump of blankets as he slithers off to the truck stop bathrooms to wash up. There was something about crawling out from the too-warm nest that followed him all of the way out of the cab; a clinging shadow sensually curled around both him and his truck. Even looking back at it felt like staring at something completely brand new.
Even looking at himself in the bathroom mirror felt like dodging the eyes of a stranger; a warm-blooded, content stranger who actually looked healthy. The icy water from frigid pipes rolls down his bones, sticks to his lashes and cleanses the skin that’s still pink from where it was pressed against Jensen’s nape and shoulder; reminding him of when he was baptized as a child and thrown into a tepid pool. He came out feeling bizarrely normal. Only now, he feels different. He’s wet, cold, and there’s an unseen line tied from his rib to the bundle of flesh and pillows in his cab that makes him sort of like a balloon; light, floating. An out of body experience. His soul is nearly escaping through his pores.
There’s stubble on his chin, and he shaves it without a second thought.
Jensen is sitting cross-legged on a bench overlooking Texas, back facing the blazing sun. Slopes upon slopes of bald hills with thatches of green roll across the horizon in mounds like an ice cream sundae. He’s poking his fork into the giant ding dong Jared got him yesterday, still wearing the shirt Jared let him borrow yesterday, and when he sees Jared staring he waggles his eyebrows at him and waves him over. Jared shakes his head, laughing, and sits down next to him. He instantly winces at the scalding bench metal.
“How are you comfortable right now?”
“Got this,” He scoops up a big gooey bite of the mostly melted dessert. “Open wide.”
Jared scoffs, “Fat chance.” And Jensen shoves it in his face.
His protest is muffled under fluffy cake, gaping at Jensen like he’s a lunatic – and he’s laughing like one too. He stuffs the whole bite in his mouth and wears a proud, dopey grin as he watches Jared struggle to eat it. It’s so sweet it sticks to the roof of his mouth.
“Looks good on you,” He nods smugly and feeds himself a bite much smaller than Jared’s.
“Crazy.” Jared mutters, wiping the chocolate off his smile. Jensen just shrugs and chews happily. “You ready to hit the pavement?”
Jensen groans. “Can we not enjoy the beautiful weather and scenery? Truckers are supposed to be professional tourists.”
“What beautiful weather? It’s hot as ass out here. It’s east Texas, not Hawaii.”
“You’re such an old man.” He murmurs, and then looks away for a moment. “Where are we, anyways?”
Jared frowns. Good question. He searches for a sign around the rest stop, and then remembers –
He nods, vaguely. “Never heard of it.”
“So much for being a professional tourist.” Jared slides. “Doesn’t matter. Everywhere’s the same once you been around it twice.”
Jensen gives him a curious look. “What made you wanna be on the road so much anyways?”
“What made you?” He shrugs, and Jensen shakes his head, like Jared wasn’t serious. “I mean it. What made you so comfortable with hitch-hiking? Getting into stranger’s cars?”
“Nothing. I never was comfortable.” He snorts. “Most of the time I wasn’t getting into people’s cars anyways. I was sneaking on buses and trains. Getting kicked off, usually. People who gave me rides were sometimes okay, but.”
He lets the rest hang off an invisible cliff. Jared’s eyebrows knit together, dismay in his heart, but he doesn’t take it any further for Jensen’s comfort.
“Why my truck then?” Jared asks. “You don’t even like truckers. They’re creepy.”
“Yeah, you are.” He grins.
“Not what you said last night.”
Air knocks out of his throat when Jensen’s fist snaps against his shoulder, laughter half-pained. Jensen glares at him, stabbing his dessert with his fork. His smile is like sunbeams on water.
“I was…” He starts, eventually. “I hadn’t eaten in a while, when I first saw you. Your truck.”
Loveland, Jared’s mind supplies. Back when Jensen wore overalls, not his clothes.
“I don’t even remember how far I walked along that road. All I remember is the pain – my muscles, my stomach.” He goes on casually, scooping up chocolate like he was recalling any other day. “I was pretty out of it. By the time you passed by, I didn’t even feel awake. I saw your truck…the colors, the wings…” He pauses. “Thought it was an angel.”
Jared watches him shove a hunk of cake into his mouth, almost reflexively – like he didn’t want to hear the teasing. But he didn’t have to.
“Dallas Cowboys colors.” He smiles, heart thudding. “My brother loved them. Had to have them on his truck.”
Jensen’s brow dips. “You mean your truck.”
“It’s not my truck. It’s my brother’s.”
His eyes cloud. Jared doesn’t meet look up; he loses himself to dry, empty lands below them, hills of fire and hope, and clenches one fist secretly like he’s trying to keep the soul from leaving his body; this magnificent weight slowly dissolving and freeing his bones.
“It was given to me, when he passed.” He lets go of each word like a wish. “There was no one else around at that point. No parents, no other siblings. No wife or kids. Just me and him.”
“He wasn’t married?” Jensen’s mouth twists down.
“Nah,” A small smile toys at him. “He, uh. He never got that far. Might’ve, though.”
Smashed, under a giant, filthy black boulder, he was pinned; half-under, half-out. His fingers, clawing at freedom and his legs trapped. Five years of this made him weak and foggy. But he can still feel crisp, clear water on his smooth, smooth skin. He can still feel fear laughing down his spine. He’s just as much alive as he ever was.
“We were going on a double-date, about five years ago. Me, Gen and her friend Mandy. I’d just gotten married, and I wanted to help him out. Always tried to help him out. He was, uh. Unlucky. He was a big guy, like our dad. It always made him feel bad. I tried to get him out often, make him feel better. I did my best. He didn’t have a lot of friends. Had more bullies, probably.” He shrugs. “He didn’t wanna go on the date, but I made him. I wanted him to be happy. Like I was.”
He can feel Jensen’s eyes grow heavier and heavier on him. His mouth is dry.
“We went to see Charlie St. Cloud. Total chick flick,” He chuckles. “It was the most fun I’d seen him have in forever. The plan afterwards was to grab food and head to the park. It was sunny. The girls got lost in the crowd leaving the theater, so I told him to wait outside and I’d go find them. He didn’t like crowds, anyways. I got them, and when I came back, he was, uh…gone. I looked for him, everywhere. And when I found him he was in an alley next door, with a gun on his throat.”
For a second, his own heartbeat feels so loud it’s like a flood in his ears. His fist clenches harder, sharper.
“Mandy had this ex, this crazy, crazy ex. He used to be a real douche in high school, especially to my brother. After Mandy dumped him, he stalked her. Found out about our double-date.”
Jensen’s denim jeans scrape against the bench as he draws near, his eyebrows pinched. Air rattles in Jared’s throat, words barely created. They slice open old scars like tiny knives.
“He had a gun. Said he was just – just trying to scare my brother off. That’s all. But when he saw me, in the alley, I caught him…I caught him off guard.”
“Jay.” Jensen whispers.
“He didn’t make it to the hospital.” Jared finishes, like rolling a car off a cliff, and he doesn’t know if silence follows after that or if he just can’t hear the world. There’s an incredible headiness swarming him, and at the same time, he’s lighter than air.
Jensen slips his warm, open fingers around Jared’s fist. They sink into each other peacefully, tangled.
“What was his name?” He asks, breath sweet. Jared looks at him with a smile.
“Justin. My little brother Justin.”
His grip squeezes around him, tight, and when the sun hits Jensen’s eyes Jared realizes they’re glistening. It’s the most beautiful expression he’s ever seen on his face; warm, touchable pain, like he’s swapped Jared’s heart for his own. Jensen takes his fist and kisses his knuckles – bright sparks that shock his fingers, his wrist, shoulder and finally his cheek.
“You remember those horses we saw? Back in Washington?” He murmurs, and Jared nods. “They should make some of those here.”
His lips press against Jared’s temple, and hot, wet salt escapes from Jensen’s skin down to his own; quiet rivulets washing his cheekbone. His eyes slowly close, drowning in the light pool.
This is his second baptism.
The GPS lets out short irritated beeps whenever he punches in the address to Beaver Biomass.
“You live in El Paso?”
“No. My boss does,” Jared replies, brow pinched. “I live just south of that in Socorro.”
Jensen nods, turning down to The Road, opened flat in his lap. His attention is perturbed by the insistent beeps, though. The truck isn’t even moving, but his eyes are already darting out of the windows anxiously.
He’s reaching for paper towels in the men’s room of a gas stop in Nash when his cell phone spits off. Water drops dot the screen as he fumbles to fit it against his ear.
“You’re three days behind schedule Jared. Where are you?”
He hasn’t heard Beaver’s voice this angry in a while – mainly because he doesn’t call Beaver too often, nor does he answer his calls either.
“Behind schedule?” He echoes, chuckling. “Think you dialed the wrong driver, Jim.”
“The deadline was from the first to the eighth of the month, jackass. Remember?”
He flips back the calendar in his head, and then looks at his watch. It’s the thirteenth.
“Yeah but I grabbed the cargo to Little Rock on the way back,” He defends.
“And that was supposed to arrive on the tenth. I gave you a three-day extension – as per policy. You know the rules, Jared. The whole trip was supposed to be less than a week – a week tops. Where the hell are you?”
His fingers pop up and down as he counts the days. Behind schedule. He’s never behind schedule. When did he lose three days?
“I got distracted.”
“With what?” Beaver snaps. “I don’t know what you’re getting up to out there Jared, but I hope it ain’t what I think it is.”
“What?” He scoffs.
“You heard me. Me and you both know for a fact that a lot of boys get into this gig because they think it’s easy. They think they can drive all over the map and do whatever the hell they want while no one watches. Drink. Smoke. Do Drugs. But you ain’t no boy, Jared. You’re a grown man.”
“Jim, calm down.”
“Pains me to say it, but at some point I gotta stop babying you and be your boss. If you don’t bring yourself and that truck home by the end of the day tomorrow, I’m terminating your contract.”
Jared can feel a knot start to tighten in his chest. “Now hold on a minute –”
“You know how long I been feeling this way Jared. You’ve been out on the road for weeks. You’ve been hiding away in that truck off and on for months – for years – and now it’s just out of hand. I have to call and beg for you to come home! Back to your own house, Jared! Do you know how ridiculous that is?”
“I understand,” His hand clenches on his phone, like he was lying.
“I don’t pay boys to hide from their lives. In fact, this ain’t even about the job, Jared. It’s about you.” Beaver sighs, air crackling. “I know what happened won’t ever be right. I know it feels like yesterday. But you can’t just go off and lose yourself on the road over it. I won’t let you.
The sharp sting feels like splashes of ice water. Words lie at the bottom of his stomach, and he’s suddenly too small to dredge them up and out.
“It’s been five years, son. It’s time to come home.”
He can still feel the exact spots on his cheeks where Jensen’s tears fell.
“I know, Jim.” He says. “I’ll get us back by tomorrow.”
“Good,” Beaver pauses. “I’m sorry Jared. You’re family to me. Sometimes family has to use the boot.”
He leaves out the part where Jared doesn’t have any family left.
“Just get here quick and in one piece. I’ll be in my office waiting.”
One piece, he thinks, as they make amiable goodbyes – more like see-you-soon. He tucks his phone back into the pocket he wished he’d never taken it out of and reenters the brightly lit convenience store.
His back thuds against a rack of potato chips. The bags all crinkle angrily at him as Jensen flattens into him, knees slipping between his and fingers curling into his shirt. He’s got a brand new Texas flag hat on his head and a smug smile twisting across his lips – which he presses against Jared’s with a hot smack.
“I stole a five from your glove department and bought this hat. Let’s christen it in the bathroom.”
Jared laughs and shoves him off. “Do I want to know how to christen a hat?”
“Oh yeah you do,” Jensen drags him close by the collar of his flannel. “Because this hat is the sexiest thing on me right now – besides you. And if we go in that bathroom, it’ll be the only thing on me.”
His scoff is smothered by Jensen’s mouth, soft and nipping and weaseling handfuls of kisses from him. In some tight corner of his stomach, it feels like these could be the last he’ll ever have.
But despite his earnest tugs toward the men’s room, Jared braces two palms on his smooth shoulders – covered in another one of his stolen shirts – and holds him back, because the only ephemeral thing here was his job.
“You know what’s sexier than a gross bathroom? The cab.” He grunts. “And we’ve gotta hit the road.”
Disappointment fills Jensen’s eyes. “Now?”
“More like three days ago.”
“What do you mean?” He follows Jared like a kicked puppy as he starts off to the exit.
“Boss just called and put the fear of God in me.”
“But I thought we were ahead of schedule.”
“Me too,” Jared can’t help but feel a sliver of shame at the reality. He’d never been behind schedule before. Footsteps shuffle up on his heels; worried scuffs against the concrete, and Jensen’s shoulder bumps into his, reminding him to slow down.
“What’s a few extra minutes gonna do?” He asks. “We’re gonna be there by tonight anyways.”
“Can’t really take any risks right now.”
Jensen falls quiet as the truck grows near. Jared swings open the door and plants himself inside, waiting for him to join. By the time he does, his silence has permeated the entire cab.
The GPS had warned him about traffic heading through Dallas, though it didn’t have to. Jared had driven through Texas more times than he could remember. What he didn’t expect was the multiple collisions and construction littering the highway heading out of Dallas. They had to have been in Dallas for at least three hours already, which meant Jared had blown six hours of his eleven-hour day.
“You’d think we’re in New York,” He says at some point, disdain coating his voice.
“Never been there,” Jensen replies, head resting against the window. His new hat is being picked apart by his fingers in his lap, nails scraping and tugging at an obnoxious price tag – $3.99.
“Good for you. It’s a nightmare.”
“Really? All of it?”
“Maybe not all of it. It’s a big place,” He thinks, frowning when a tiny white car decides to cut him off. There’s a few beats of nothingness in the cab, and when he glances over Jensen is staring at him.
“What’s your favorite city you’ve seen?”
He never really paid attention much to the cities. In fact, driving wasn’t even about seeing the sights to Jared. Thousands of cities awaken in his mind, like peeling through a flipbook; a hundred frames per second. Big, shining capitols. Tiny ghost-towns dusted off the edge of society. Transient slums, and suburban nests. A vibrant, textured mural of a sometimes radiant America on boiling asphalt.
“Loveland. Wheatland. There was a weirdo in overalls who showed up wherever I went.”
Jensen’s lips stretch into a smile, first one he’s seen since the truck stop, and he’s pink.
“That’s funny because I had a weird old trucker guy showing up wherever I went.”
“Don’t you even try to act like you weren’t following me.”
“Yeah,” He grins even more. “Wasn’t hard. You definitely wouldn’t last in witness protection.”
“I’m sorry if I can’t fit inside of closets the size of children.” Jared adds after a beat, “Kid.”
“You like – shit,” Jared slams on the brakes when a motorcyclist speeds in front of him. The cab gives a faint jolt. Jensen clutches his seatbelt and watches Jared as his rearranges his gears.
“What did your boss say?” He eventually asks. “That he was gonna fire you?”
“That’s the soft-core version of it, yeah.”
He nods, eyes pointed away. “S’that a bad thing?”
Jared didn’t really have time to be flabbergasted right now, but he was.
“Considering that I wouldn’t have a job afterwards, yeah.”
Jensen shifts in his seat. “You were a teacher before, weren’t you? You liked it?”
“That was a whole different book ago.”
“But wouldn’t you wanna be that again?”
Picturing himself as a teacher again felt like trying to squeeze on an old glove.
“I don’t know,” He says. “Maybe one day I would. Maybe I wouldn’t, though.”
“Don’t you think it’d be nice to put on a different hat?” Jensen’s words are unpracticed and unsure. “Let it go?”
He gives it serious thought.
“I kind of like the spot we’ve got ourselves in. Don’t you?”
Jensen’s expression flickers like a ghost rustling unwitting curtains. He ducks his hand, ears tipped with blood, and stares at his hat. Jared’s fascinated by the life that springs to the surface of his skin – quick, thrilled, and feverish; swollen with weakness.
“What do you wanna do with your life?” He asks when no reply comes, and the traffic is a great distraction from how long Jensen sits in silence. When his answer arrives, it’s predictably youthful.
“Live it, mostly.”
The clock was ticking dangerously close to seven, and the traffic only seemed to swell each second. Jensen seemed to notice the tension hemorrhaging in his veins and knuckles with every passing hour. He’d spent most of the drive reading, and sleeping, but his naps were getting cut shorter and shorter by the rocky stop-and-start grunts from the engine, creating a foam in his belly like seasickness.
Eventually, it had become contagious. Jensen started clenching his fists too.
“We’re not due there until tomorrow, you know.”
“We were due there three days ago.” Jared’s correction slips out sharper than he means it to. He swallows down the rest of his words – about how he’s never missed a deadline. He’s always on time.
His life is slipping like water through his fingers, yet for the past five years, it’s been raining.
Jensen digs a nail into the soft upholstery, picking at it softly. His head turns to the descending sun outside his window beyond the highway, it’s faded ring swallowed by the neon blue mask of dusk, and everything on the road looks like it was dipped in violet; a living bruise broken by static red brakes and headlights, blood vessels and bones.
“Don’t we have to stop soon anyways? After eleven hours?”
Jared shifts in his seat. He’s right, though if they don’t make it as far as they need to be tonight they’ll be late tomorrow.
“We’ve still got three hours.”
This doesn’t soothe the tightly-stitched look sewn across his face. He goes back to his picking, flexing and staring across the lanes like he could will another three-car collision to occur and slow them down again; they’d already encountered a handful of crashes and construction along this route. Any more, and they might not even make it by next week. Jared itches to reach over and flick his cap, pinch his cheek, tickle the spot under his ear; bring a smile back to his face.
“You wanna stop somewhere for a bite? We can wait out the traffic.” Jensen suggests.
“It’ll mess up tomorrow’s schedule if we drive through the night.”
“Either way we’ll get there.”
“Here,” Jared reaches into his pocket and pulls out a milky way, tossing it into his lap. Jensen’s brow knits as he lifts it toward his eyes. “Saved it. Knew you’d get peckish later.”
The wrapping crinkles between his slender fingers, but he doesn’t open it. After a moment Jared stretches his hand out to do the work for him – but it’s quickly filled with Jensen’s warm palm, folding around his own like a starfish. He stares up at Jared, an unpredictable stiffness in his gaze.
Jared cracks a smile. He has to jerk his eyes back to the road after a moment, but Jensen’s bones remain firmly clamped over his with the growing strength of a blood pressure gauge.
The candy bar stays untouched in his lap.
Odessa sucks the light out from the sky, and like a giant maw it swallows the truck up too. It drags them into a small, dry stop jammed in between sandy Texas rock, nothing but some bathrooms and a parking lot. Jared knows these parts pretty well. He knows they could’ve found a cozier hole somewhere farther, but driving nearly twelve hours can drain even a seasoned driver.
Jensen sits back in his seat without a sound. He knows he’s cataloging the irritation and dismay on Jared’s face anxiously, and Jared doesn’t say anything to prove him wrong.
“I’m gonna go stretch,” He suddenly cracks open the door and slips out – shifty.
“Don’t wander too far. Coyotes.”
It shrieks closed. Jared sighs through his nose and eyes the bathroom before sliding out too. He looks around for where Jensen ran off, but finds not a single trace of him. It makes his nerves flail, cold energy pulsing in his fingers. Some part of him might never be reassured by the thought of Jensen coming back; the only pacifier he has is when he’s in arm’s length.
God knows the only time he hasn’t lost something is when he’s had it right there, in his hands, and finally, he’s found something to hold on to.
When he finishes in the bathroom he walks out and finds Jensen reading his book on a boulder, pale light from the dying sunset peering over his shoulder.
“You checking out?”
Jensen shakes his head. “Nice night, figured I’d stick around for a bit.”
His mouth dips with disagreement. “Sure. Just stay close to the cab, alright? I’ll leave it unlocked.”
He gets a nod, and then Jensen buries himself in his book again. A twinge in his leg tells Jared to stay, sit next to him, or even stand a few feet away just to watch, but he fights his gut and goes back inside the cab.
His body drapes across his bed, beautifully loose and free, unstuck from the taut, inflexible hold of his boots cemented against the gas and brake; like breaking paralysis in a cold sweat. He cushions himself against the wall with a soft pillow, and waits. There wasn’t much light left. Jensen would be on his way in about ten, twenty minutes he’d wager.
Jeremy’s smokin’, smokin’…
It’s spoke in, nimrod.
Shut up Jared, art is subjective.
How would you even know what subjective means?
Uh-oh, here we go. Jared the art-snob appears.
I'd love to hear how much you know about art.
You don't have to go to a big fancy university to know about art, princess. Art imitates life.
Then tell me the meaning of ‘subjective’.
Jesus, Jay, it means shut up and let me sing.
Every seat in the theatre was teeming with families; tiny children and sweet couples. There should’ve been no place left for him and Gen, but like a miracle – or a strange coincidence – there are two empty seats waiting for them in the very, very front; as if fate made reservations for them.
They curl up in soft red velvet like koi fish, popcorn falling all over their lap as their fingers brush and toy with each other. He can’t quite see the previews playing on the screen – it’s all bright green and yellow bubbles. Out of focus. Faint shapes of people and animals. Happy pictures.
It’s a total chick flick. Jared doesn’t care – his side is warm and her hair smells nice. This is just their night. Just the two of them – nobody else. Finally, a moment alone with nothing and no one else. Not a single care in the world between them.
It grows dark around them. Jared realizes the lights are dimming, and when the previews finally end the screen empties into a void. Blackness swallows all. Before he can start worrying, irradiated white light instantly fills the screen, a luminous glowing square saturating the entire theatre. Gen smiles in excitement, and when Jared smiles back he notices the family that was beside her is now gone.
The family that was beside him is gone too. And the one behind them. Everyone. The theatre is empty.
Pictures shutter to life in front of them. It’s a grainy, grey film, so bright the grey actually seems blue, and the story begins outside of a movie theatre. Flocks of people exiting, smiling, arm-in-arm with each other. Sounds are distorted; everything is under water. Gen grips him tight. This was supposed to be a chick-flick – it was certainly a weird one.
The camera pans left. Everything drags away from the theatre and into the alley next to it instead, occupied by two vague black shapes. It feels familiar to Jared, yet at the same time it feels wrong. A deconstructed memory, like a still life portrait divided by cubism.
There’s a man in the alley holding someone up against the wall. He’s covered from head to toe. His hoodie, his jeans, his sneakers – even his gun looks grey. It’s wedged against the pulse of a younger man’s throat, vicious shakes of the thug’s arm digging it inwards with threat. The hostage is wearing a baseball cap, and overalls. It’s Jensen. Jensen, scratching at the thug’s hands and begging in faint, scratchy, diluted tones nobody can hear. Jensen can’t see Jared. Jared can’t reach Jensen.
He squeezes Gen’s hand and tells her he needs to go. He can’t watch this. Gen waves it off and tells him to stay – it’s date night.
The thug shoves Jensen against the wall hard and hisses at him, teeth bared in threat. Jensen keeps nodding, pleading, like he knows – he swears he’ll do as he’s told, he swears – but nothing seems to appease him. He cocks the hammer with a thick hand and stabs the barrel deep into his ribs, where a lung might be. Jensen’s chest frogs in and out frantically. Jared wants to leave. He doesn’t want this.
He stands up to leave.
Someone on screen rounds a corner into the alley at the wrong time and a gunshot echoes throughout the theatre like it were a cave.
It’s too real for a movie. The sound pierces through the speakers as if it were right next to their ears. Jared is so shocked his legs wobble, falling back down into his seat, unable to move as a red fountain burbles out of Jensen’s torn, frayed overalls. He sinks to the alley floor with a familiar expression on his face, one Jared has seen before, except it was someone else’s face.
Gen screams. The thug turns to the sound like he could actually hear them.
He’s staring right at the two of them – right at them. The gun is still hot in his hands, his familiar cheeks and eyes dark with blood, with no remorse for what he’s done. No remorse for what he’s done to Jared – what he’s doing. Jared’s heart is pummeling his chest. Gen gets up on shaky heels and starts backing away. He tries to tell her no –
Two gunshots slam out at once. Her scream is choked, and her body is like paper as it crumples.
Jared’s feels so much pain all at once. He stares up at the screen – the screen, where nothing is supposed to come out of – and Justin’s face has grown so near it blots out the image of Jensen’s innocent, lifeless frame. He fills it up entirely and stares Jared down; static, grainy, grey, and blood-hungry.
There is no escape. Jared’s surrounded by darkness. An empty black box. 82 inches. 82 inches.
“You know how it ends.”
The final shot cuts straight through Jared’s heart.
Air bursts out from Jared’s throat in a hoarse rasp. His springs up, but his chest is instantly held down by a familiar, comforting grip.
“Hey,” Jensen’s voice filters into his ears. “You okay? Jay?”
His face is inches from Jared’s. Eyes scanning the room, he slowly comes to. There’s a blanket slung over his hips, and his jeans and shoes are gone. He doesn’t remember falling asleep, and the idea that someone took care of him as he slept doesn’t rest easy with him – he’s usually aware of these things, he’s usually aware of everything.
Jensen brushes a thumb across his cheek, wipes away something there. His brow is furrowed, shoulders bare, and body pressed up against every inch of him.
“When did you come in?” Jared rasps.
“A while ago,” He replies, unsurely. “Stayed out reading. Came back, you were asleep. Got in bed with you.”
Jared nods his head, like the words are registering with him. He feels dizzy. His heart is on a coke-trip. Jensen frowns and takes both his clammy palms in hand, crawling up into his space.
“Hey,” He kisses him, warm and soothing. “You wanna talk?”
He shakes his head fiercely and grabs Jensen’s face, his jaw like porcelain in his shaking grip. There’s a muffled noise behind Jensen’s soft lips, worried, but it’s easily swallowed by Jared’s tongue. He buries himself in Jensen’s very real scent, his real skin and real pulse – real. He tastes clean and warm, soaked with night air. Jared nips and bites at every open inch, hot in his mouth.
Jensen twitches when his teeth trail down his neck in shallow pink marks, violent crescents. He can hear air rattling around in his naked chest before he even bothers to reach down below the seat for the slick, and once he gets it he’s shoving hands down under the blankets like it’s their last night.
It could be their last night. Any night could.
Their boxers tangle in a heap on the floor, and Jared hisses at Jensen’s slick hand when it wraps around him. It’s only there for sparse seconds before he’s pushing it away and reeling Jensen further into his lap, shoving up into him thoughtlessly. He feels hot and worn, easing in with only a choked whimper.
His body sucks in around Jared instantly. Jared digs his thumbs into the grooves of his hips and yanks him down on his cock, knuckles clenched so hard he’s trembling – he’s been trembling – and Jensen lets him shove him around with his bottom lip pinned under his teeth. Air punches out of him with every thrust – every spike of hips. He knots his fingers into the sheets beside Jared’s head, nose buried in Jared’s neck, breath pulsing against his skin. His voice is a thin knife in his gut.
“S’that what you want? Just like this?”
The blades of Jensen’s hips toss and turn in his hands, razor sharp turbulence, dragging him in and out. He can hear spastic bursts of air kicking out of his lungs like a beached shark. Out of his element – out of breath, out of touch with himself. Blood pounds in his ears. Noise is gurgling down a drain somewhere. Jensen’s words are louder than ever; thunder.
“Just me and you? Fucking? Like this?” Claps in his ear. “Just your cock, beating my ass up? Making me sore? Hurting me?”
A groan ripples out of him; Jensen hiccups softly in return, something unhinged and thready. Frantic slaps of skin burn in his head. He’s leaning forward over Jared and jerking up and down on his cock, tiny hitches in his brow whenever it spears up into him – whenever he hits something that makes his mouth fall, ah. Jared can’t see the green of his eyes in the dark. All he can see are two black beads burning into his with a heat that could scar.
“You fuck her like this? Quick and hard? Quiet?”
A sweep of chills burst across his skin. He freezes. Hips twitching, muscles in his thighs taut. Jensen wasn’t part of his mind or body though, no matter how deep into his heart or head he felt, so he kept slamming down on him. Dropping himself heavy and messy on his bones – breakneck hard.
“Did you?” He whispers – jerky. “You put it in her ass? Make her suck it after? Huh? You miss it?”
His vision swirls, and suddenly he doesn’t know if he really woke up at all. He doesn’t remember fighting free of the nightmare, alone, or feeling the usual cold, empty silence of the cab. No, he remembers dying and then finding himself alive again in Jensen’s arms. But now his hips and vicious twinkles are choking him. He’s paralyzed.
“You pretend I’m her? You want me to be like her? Like a girl? I’ll be your girl – be anything,” He begs.
Jared’s throat bobs. His fingers dig like talons into the soft give of flesh where Jensen’s ass begins, halting him as he tries to regain control. Sweat glints off the planes of his hipbones. They churn achingly slow and deep under the knives of his fingers. He thrusts up experimentally into the death grip of Jensen’s body, pushing out cracked whimper. His eyes are all wet and black above Jared. He finally gives in and tucks his face into Jared’s neck and breathes; stifled hiccups.
The tension in his body leaves nothing but absolute control for Jared to take. He pumps gut-wrenchingly slow into him and Jensen lets him steer his hips – lets him slip one hand down to his leaking cock. His gasp is sucked against Jared’s skin; a soft, wounded vibration. Jared almost feels like he should say something soothing, something warm, but he can’t kick anything out of his chest except air. Even if he could, he wouldn’t know what to say – Jensen was a bull in a china shop right now, and Jared was the china shop. He didn’t know why, but all of the blood in his body was running hot and cold.
Jensen’s whole body purrs when his empty hand sinks into the meat of his ass. Flesh bulges between his white-hot knuckles and he pinches it – wrings it in his fingers tight enough to bruise. A groan rumbles against his pulse. He full-on smacks it, so loud the cab echoes with it, and Jensen shudders alive.
“Fuck – yeah,” He twitches away from Jared’s neck. “Again. Do it again, Jay – hit me.”
The cold whip of his hand claps bright against the walls, followed by a moan. Jensen’s hips roll forward, sucking his cock in between the flushed cheeks of his ass that Jared would die to watch turn pink.
“H-Hard,” His skin smacks against Jared’s – sticky and thick. “Harder – c’mon.”
He does it again – this time pain snaps through his own palm, too. The broken yelp Jensen makes is worth it, curled and shaky. Momentum keeps him going. He does it three, four, six times and Jensen is a singing fountain above him, brow twisted up desperately and red mouth hanging, and when he surges up for a kiss he moans sweetly into Jared’s mouth. His hand suddenly falls atop Jared’s, the hot skin of his ass bleeding heat between their fingers, and slowly guides it up to his own face.
“Hit me,” He whispers, pinning their fingers flat against his cheek.
Jared’s eyes dance around Jensen’s face blearily. He strokes his thumb across Jensen’s cheekbone, touches his fat bottom lip. Jensen’s lashes flutter for a second, and then he’s squeezing Jared’s wrist.
“Do it Jay. Wanna feel it. Hit me,” His voice trembles against the frantic grind of his hips. “Want you to. Want you to own me. Do whatever you want to me. Pretend I’m not just a cab boy. Bed boy. Tight fuck.”
He pronounces the word with a sudden clench all around Jared, a low vibration in his chest. Air catches in Jared’s throat. He feels close. His gut is tightening up like an arrow and Jensen is getting faster – ass clapping against thighs. Jensen’s fingernails dig into the pulse of his wrist.
“C’mon Jay, please. Do it.”
He’s gonna come – but not like this. He can’t like this. He feels like he’s riding the edges of a sick fever dream. At any moment, a ghost could slip out. Jensen looks like a ghost above him right now, eyes haunted with dark, tenacious memories and fear.
“Hit me. Hit me, daddy. Hit me. Hit me.”
The world jerks into blackness as Jared flips over. Jensen tumbles into the sheets like tossing an empty can, and Jared gasps as he slips free. He curls in on himself and counts his breaths, deep swallows of air. They run straight into his blurry head. Nothing but exhaustion fills the cab for what feels like minutes – not even a word from Jensen. By the time Jared turns and meets his eyes, they look hollow.
“What the hell is your problem?” He stares.
Jensen is white and quiet. His shiny chest pops in and out, in and out – hostile lungs. Jared swallows, thick, and reaches a hand out to touch him.
The sheets whip away from him as Jensen lurches off the bed. He instantly scoops up his abandoned clothes and starts shoving them on, quicker than a sick drunk man needing a toilet. Overall buckles clink and Jensen manages to get one clipped with trembling hands before he throws on his shirt and bolts – kicks his way out of the backseat. Jared jerks up in full alert.
“Jen?” Jared rasps. “Jensen – wait –”
He dodges Jared’s hand and throws open the door, bolting out of it. Jared yanks on his jeans at breakneck speed and is hot on heels two seconds later.
“Jen,” He shouts, tripping over his bare feet. Jensen has the advantage of boots, laces undone as he flies into the shadows of trees and sand. His unbuckled overall strap is flapping against his knee, taunting Jared with the way he could just grab it if he were closer. Sharp rocks stab the soft bits of his heel and he hisses when one gets him good, but he keeps running. He runs as fast as he can. Jensen’s name grows thinner and thinner on his lips the farther Jensen gets, until his silhouette is finally swallowed up by trees and darkness.
Jared eventually pauses in the middle of a clearing and pants. There’s red leaking from his foot, but the pain only comes from staring at Jensen’s boot prints in the sand.
He screams his name out, and it feels like last words.
C’mon Jay, just look at me. Talk to me.
Couldn’t have been anyone else Jay.
Just get out of bed, Jay, please.
Grey light touches his face, and he wakes up from a dreamless night.
His foot is wrapped in gauze from the flimsy first-aid in his cab, heels worn down and cut from the hours spent plodding on dirt through trees. He doesn’t remember falling asleep – he barely remembers stumbling back to the cab when the wind got too fierce. The sky was nearly awakened by then. Peeling himself out from under the blanket in his bed, shirt still unbuttoned and dirt-stained jeans still on, he scrubs a hand over his face; his heavy eyebags, thin wrinkles and cracked lips. Vision unblurring.
Jensen is sitting in the passenger seat. Jared’s heart kicks into his throat hard enough to make him choke.
“I’m getting off in El Paso.”
His brow curls together in confusion. Jensen’s staring straight out the windshield, hat screwed on tight, sweater covering the top half of his overalls and boots laced under him. His hands are folded up.
“There’s a shelter down there and a greyhound in case I decide to check out.”
“What are you talking about?” Jared’s voice is salty and wrung.
“I’m not staying.”
There it is, like a kick-drum to his gut. They hadn’t even talked about El Paso yet – nothing was set in stone. But here Jensen was, etching his grave. His throat clicks at air, sleep still fogging his eyes and his brain. When did the world even decide that he’d awoken from his last nightmare?
“This about last night?”
He doesn’t look at Jared, but his face turns and now he can at least see his profile. He catches the shining marble of his green eye – painfully vacant.
“I can’t do it, Jay. I can’t have you following me around, watching me, cleaning up after me, treating me like your responsibility. I’m not.”
“I don’t want to,” He replies, and this time he looks up – and Jared wishes he hadn’t. There’s strength and resolution guarding all of his cracks and fractures, like red tape. “Last night was just one of many. I’m making the best decision for both of us.”
“Yeah? I didn’t know I was included.”
“We knew this whole thing was going to end at some point.” He firmly points out. “We’ve both been ignoring it, but what’s the point? What were we gonna do once you got back? Find me a job? Get me a truck license? Move in together – you and me, a street rat?” He scoffs. “This whole trip ends today – in El Paso. I’m not weaseling my way into your life anymore.”
Irritation flares in his chest. “Who said you were?”
“You did, Jared. And you were right,” Jensen fires back. “I have problems.”
“So do I. You of all people should know –”
“I don’t know all of your problems, and the ones I do know are more than enough. Do you honestly think you can lean on me? Trust me? The guy who broke into your car and steals his breakfast? Someone who could randomly dump you for a baggie?”
“Someone who does all the talking and makes all the decisions?” He hisses.
“Yeah, that guy.”
Yes nearly flies off the tip of his tongue. Biting it back is bitter and hard. His mouth hangs open, brow dipped angrily, but he can’t force it out.
Jared is a ticking time-bomb – everybody knows that. Everybody at his church, in his town, at his job knows that. He has been for five years. Maybe he hasn’t detonated yet, but any time he could. If he felt guilt at the thought of pulling his gun on Jensen the first time he found him stowed away in his cab, then it would make him feel ten times worse to unleash this on him.
“This isn’t my life, Jay. It shouldn’t be yours, either.” Jensen glances back at him, eyes darting like they’re afraid.
Jensen was twenty-two. He deserved to be with someone less complicated, perhaps.
“Is that what you want?”
Jensen says nothing for an endless second. When he finally looks up, there’s no doubt on his pale face.
“Yes.” Comes. “We can’t be our own person like this.”
Strangely enough, both of their bits and pieces combined felt like creating one whole person. It might be the closest Jared will ever be to his own self again.
Two-hundred and eighty-three miles slowly drained all of the life out from the earth. Color seeped away into an endless blanket of dust and sand, gravel and dirt, and mountains carved with pale, eroded rings. The sign to El Paso was dilapidated green. Jared’s knuckles were hanging off the wheel, weightless.
Jensen threw himself into a shallow grave of pillows and cotton as soon as they left like he was a vampire hiding from the emerging sun. His presence behind the driver’s seat tickled the nerves of Jared’s spine. The opportunity to stop and reverse this whole situation somehow lies in plain sight, yet he can’t grasp it. Every bone in his being is broken. His insides are out, and his body rests in shambles and threads across the highway, while Jensen sleeps with red under his nails.
Somehow, he feels satisfied. Yeah – he deserved this.
Every moment stretching from now all the way back to Loveland, Colorado, has led to this: tickles of post-mortem madness. A gruesome tale of Lazarus as he was brought back to life, killed, revived, killed, revived, and finally left for the crows, all by the same person. Maybe living in an eighty-two-inch coffin will do that to a man – make him beg for pain.
The most painful thing Jared’s ever felt was realizing he was still alive.
Dirt crackles under burnt rubber as the truck inevitably made its final stop in the parking lot of Beaver Biomass. He can already hear the rustling of blankets and sheets behind him as he kills the engine. It’s a tumbleweed breezing through a ghost town. His chest thuds for a long moment.
When he turns around, Jensen is sitting up straight with bleary pink eyes, messy hair, and a lost face. He looks so much like the first time he found him.
“I’ve gotta check in with the boss. I’ll be right back.”
“Sure,” He nods, sort of aimlessly, and the driver’s door croaks for oil when Jared throws himself out.
There was a particular stench of age in Beaver’s office. Old furniture, old coffee, old tires; the scent crept up on him like looking in a mirror one day and finding wrinkles and dots that weren’t there before. Jared felt old wherever he went, so stepping inside this small pocket of a room didn’t make him feel younger as much as it made him feel older. The familiar comfort and ease in which the threshold embraced him was like a snug grave. Time ended here, and death looks up at him like an old friend.
The familiar grump of his voice makes Jared smile. “Y’gonna fire me over it?”
“Shut up.” He kicks the chair out with his foot under the desk; it squawks against the floor. “And sit down.”
Relief blooms down his back. That was Beaver’s happy tone. “Don’t think they go in that order.” Jared says as he settles into the familiar vinyl seat.
“Jokes are a risk right now.”
“I like living on the edge.”
Hazel eyes razor into slits at him for a moment – as if he would actually fire Jared – before softening. He can hear a nasal sigh before Beaver leans back and scratches his thatched straw beard. It was a long rake that combed all the way back through the quasi-mullet hidden under his Sturgis hat.
“What the hell happened out there Jared?”
He shrugs. “Set backs.”
“For three days?”
“Major set backs.”
“Like what?” Beaver scoffs. “You gel-up? Hydroplane? Blow out? Trailer exploded?”
“Yeah, a professional like you making rookie mistakes. I’ll put it on the write-up.”
“When was the last time you filled out a write-up?”
He flexes his shoulder, noncommittal. “It ain’t like anyone here reads anyhow.” He says, and then his brow furrows. “Did you shave?”
Jared nearly forgot all about it. “Guess so.”
Beaver keeps scanning him, like a dog sniffing a stranger. “You been on a diet or something?”
“Why? Look like I’m dying?”
Threads of empathy roll across his face; the tender, hesitant, familiar pity Jared’s grown used to. Perhaps the kind that keeps his contract in one piece. He’s usually graceful when it comes to pity – after all, nobody could feel more sorry for him other than himself – but today that’s not true.
The last week that rolled by was like a fever dream, and he’s never been happier or prouder of being sick.
“I picked someone up on the way back.”
Beaver’s eyes bulge a little. “A friend?”
“Passenger,” He says, and when that doesn’t clear things up he adds, “Hitch-hiker.”
Jared’s heart flips with relief when the pity melts away into disturbance. “You picked up a bum?”
“Just someone who needed a lift.”
“A lift,” He echoes, and then pauses. “You mean a chick?”
His eyes bounce all over Jared like tiny lasers. It sparks a flash of indignation and pride. He meets Beaver’s gaze head-on and bores into it, like he could shove the reality right into his face and make him eat it. If he could shove his memories into the whole town and make them eat it, he would. His life wasn’t some burden to bear; it was just one strike of lightning after another in the same spot.
“You finally cracked your gourd, didn’t you?”
Laughter pours out of him in waves.
He walks back out into the parking lot a twenty minutes later feeling like a weight’s been lifted – possibly from the memory reel of him and Jensen that he handed over to Beaver in bits and pieces. Each detail was a rock; uncut stones. His pocket was filled with a paycheck, but it meant as little as quarters to him. He was more concerned for letting Jensen wait so long in the cab.
But maybe the time alone cleared his head. If he would just talk to Jared, maybe he could bring him down off the ledge.
Footsteps scuffle behind him. He turns and the face he sees makes him tense all over. Stephen, walking towards him with a big grin and a long cigarette hanging out the corner of it. Their chests thump as he’s instantly pulled into a bro-hug.
“Great timing, huh?” His words float out with sharp puffs of grey smoke. “When the hell did you pull in? You shave?”
This time Jared’s hand reflexively covers his cheek. “Yeah, I guess that’s breaking news now.”
Stephen laughs, warm and hoarse and tired, and claps a strong hand on his shoulder. “You look good! Smooth as a newborn, right? Goddamn. It’s good to see you back in town brother. We thought for a second you might never pull back in.”
“Well,” He shrugs. “I’m here.”
“And that’s a blessing, man. The wife will be glad to see you back in church for once. I mean, everyone will be glad to see you again. It’s been like having a ghost around with you gone.”
He can’t help but find that ironic. For someone with so much experience with ghosts, being called one himself as he still lived and breathed felt almost too literal; as if he were being slowly sucked into the afterlife by his family, and the rapture was so visible even the town could watch in fear.
“So you dumped off the stray, huh?”
Scratch. “The stray?”
“That hitch-hiker from Bumsville you picked up three-hundred miles ago?” He asks, scrutinizing Jared’s intelligence with his eyebrows. “You had me worried you were gonna start a bum-transport service back there.”
There’s only ease and breeze in Stephen’s voice, but it nonetheless strikes a low, sour chord in Jared.
“Sounds like a pretty good idea. Could fit a lot of bums in the trailer.”
“Yeah, right?” He laughs. “Least then you wouldn’t have to worry about them touching or stealing anything. He didn’t do anything like that did he?”
Jared gets flashbacks of all the times he’s woken up to missing sandwiches and candy bars, their wrapped lying around the floor like casualties, and smiles.
“Nah, he didn’t steal anything. I just gave him a lot.”
There’s a worrisome tug at the corners of Stephen’s lips as they’re forced into a smile, and laughter spills out. “That’s Jared Padalecki for you. Welcome back, brother.”
“Right,” Jared looks back at the truck, tension bleeding into his fingertips at how long he’s made Jensen wait. Stephen must sense it because he throws down his cigarette and digs his boot into it, as if on cue, and squeezes Jared’s shoulder purposefully.
“You take care of yourself now, y’hear? Don’t be a stranger.”
“Ain’t that the truth.” Stephen’s eyes trickle down his whole body; his leather soles, his dirt-stained knees, coffee-scented flannel and ruddy cheeks. “You look good, man. I mean good – y’know, healthy and shit. Tan. Different.”
He shrugs and takes a step back towards the cab. “Life is different.”
Stephen grins, like he’s not quite sure about that, and then walks away shaking his head. The warmth of pride glows in his chest.
It suddenly makes more sense than ever to him why he can’t drop Jensen off anywhere – he won’t.
He skirts over quickly to the truck and tears open the door, urgency biting at his muscles. His insides were painted gold and he was ready to spill it all over Jensen.
But there’s nothing in the cab except Jared’s folded blankets, and empty air.
He’s nine years old standing beneath an endlessly tall oak tree. Its roots were entwined with the age-old foundation of his childhood home, where his family once lived. He’s less than a mouse under the long, powerful branches. The trunk is muscular, thick and sturdy, and its vibrant leaves stretch across the sunny white sky like the Tree of Life under heaven’s starry glow.
Right in the middle of it was their secret treehouse. It wasn’t really a secret – Jared knew that. He was the one who helped his father build it. But at seven-years-old Justin believed otherwise. They spent every day after school in there; building armies out of little green men, stashing maps of the lost Confederate gold, fighting over who was the hero and who was the sidekick.
Justin’s boyish voice drifts above him like a far-off whistle. He’s staring down at Jared with big eyes as he dangles the rope to climb up over his head, whining for him to join him.
He can reach the rope, sure. But something keeps him from grabbing it. He’s supposed to be waiting. He spends every day with Justin, in the treehouse, but today is different.
The whines keep coming but he won’t budge. Eventually they turn into taunts, and Jared doesn’t like being made fun of and looking like an idiot, but he has priorities. He can’t move. There’s something missing and he has to have it back – no matter how irritatingly close Justin drops the rope to his head.
Suddenly his mother and father’s voices float out from the treetop. He looks up and they’re there, right beside Justin. They look like they’re having fun. They’re smiling and laughing, pestering for Justin to knock it off and tickling him as punishment. There’s so much joy all Jared wants to do is climb up.
Painfully, his heels remain planted in the dirt.
“He’s never coming back,” Justin sings.
Beige. The ceiling is beige above him when he jerks awake, heart pounding and air thick and scratchy in his throat. Fear poisons him for a few sharp seconds when he realizes he’s not in the safety of his truck, with the reassuring grey upholstery surrounding him, or the distant hiss of traffic outside.
It’s not his truck. It’s his bedroom. He’s lying in his cold queen-sized bed under starched, unwashed blankets and pillows that smell like three weeks ago. There’s a clock ticking on his desk. A refrigerator humming in the kitchen. A sunken weight of the old, worn mattress below his spine. He’s at home, in El Paso, on Peach street. Slowly, he remembers driving here and crashing almost instantly.
The sun isn’t up yet outside, but he doesn’t manage to go back to sleep.
He left nothing except the NAP QUEEN sweater, pressed into a neatly folded square on the passenger seat. Jared finds it when he’s cleaning out the cab the next morning, as if he’s scraping and searching for clues to Jensen’s disappearance. But this was no mystery or cold case. Jensen wasn’t missing, he left.
Somehow, part of Jared knew he would. He just didn’t understand why. Maybe Jensen knew he wouldn’t want him to leave, so he vanished before he could be stopped. After all, there were plenty of buses around. It’s not as if he would’ve been stranded.
Jared was the one who felt stranded. He’d searched the lot at Beaver’s before he left, drove to the nearest bus stop, and checked the local shelter downtown. It felt like searching for a myth – someone who didn’t even exist. Overtime, that small part of Jared that knew Jensen would leave grew bigger and bigger, a cynical demon, and he gave up and drove home around nightfall.
If his cab was a coffin, then his house was most certainly the grave.
“You sound like a goddamn lunatic, boy. You just got here! Take off your coat and stay a while.” Beaver yells through the phone.
“I don’t need a vacation, I need work. C’mon Jim, give me something. Anything.”
“For God’s sake, no! Even if I did have something for you right this second, I’m pretty sure the labor board would come down hard on my ass if I worked you five weeks in a row with no days off.”
“When was the last time anyone in this company complained to the labor board?”
“Far too long ago – which means I’m about due for another complaint any day now.”
“When was the last time I ever complained to the labor board?” Jared clarifies.
“I’m not taking that risk, Jared! I’m your boss, not some communist dictator. I don’t know what’s gotten into you but whatever it is, deal with it. Catch up with some friends. Go out for drinks. Read a book. I don’t care, just be normal for a day.”
He tries again, weaker. “Driving is my normal, Jim.”
“I know. I get it, Jared. I do. But you’ve gotta try. There’s nothing else I can do from here.”
The shelter in downtown El Paso was a dilapidated shack with a big black fence around the parking lot. In the back, there was a dumping area for people to leave their unwanted furniture, toys, clothes and other invaluables, and in the front there was a tall rack packed with breads, canned goods, and water bottles, which were usually donated by the church.
He takes his Honda there instead of the truck to preserve fuel. It’s an old jalopy that still runs, and that’s all that matters. He spent more time on the road in the truck now than in his car, which used to be his main commuter ride back when he was a teacher. Parking it under some shade in the back, he gives the shelter a careful once-over. Yesterday it was nearly nightfall by the time he arrived here.
The seatbelt unclacks around his shoulder, the strange weight of it – along with only five gears in the shoe-sized car – all feeling foreign.
A homeless man leaning against the entrance nods to him as he approaches. “How you doing man?”
“Hanging in there,” Jared smiles back at him, and slips inside.
There’s a scattered crowd of people hanging around; talking loudly, wearing baggy clothes and laughing. The robust scent of tomato bisque and butter wafts through the walls, covered in pale paint, which must mean they’re all waiting for dinner. He goes straight up to the information desk and is met with the same face he saw yesterday; a middle-aged woman with smile lines and big blonde curls. Her eyes flare as she recognizes him.
“Back again, are we?” She grins. The lack of formality makes Jared feel at home instantly.
“Just wanted to check your books again.”
“Right, of course. Give me one second.” Her hand dives under the desk and pulls out a log book, filled with the scribbles of many different lost souls. “What did you say his name was?”
It clogs his throat for a second. “Jensen,” He says. “Ackles. Twenty-two years old, about six-foot.”
The pages flap noisily for a few seconds as she scans each one. Eventually, she shakes her head.
“And what did he look like again? I’m sorry, we just get a lot of folks coming in and outta here.”
“That’s fine,” He replies, and thinks of a way to sum him up in just a few words. There’s too many pictures in his head of him – Jensen. “He’s, uh. Blonde. Green eyes. Kind of thin, but it’s hard to tell with his clothes. Wears a hat, usually…”
Hair is choppy and soft; too short to run fingers through. Could eat a house out.
“I’m sorry sir, I can’t say that rings any bells.” She gives him a sympathetic smile – and damn, if Jared hasn’t had enough of those to fill a lifetime or two. His teeth clench, a sudden tension clutching him.
“Overalls,” He shoots. “He wears overalls. Messy ones, with holes in ‘em.”
She shakes her head again. “I’m sorry.”
His fists tighten. Jensen said he would be here. Maybe he lied – maybe he knew Jared would come after him. Of course he would, he had to. Jensen wasn’t supposed to be alone.
“What about outside the shelter? You seen anyone like that around here? Anyone.”
A fretful look falls over his face. “If you want, I can help you file a Missing Person –”
“No.” He says instantly. There’s nothing that would make Jensen run away faster than that. “That’s alright. Thanks anyways, I appreciate it.”
His boots squeak against the linoleum as he lurches back out the door. He can feel sad, piteous eyes boring holes into his back.
“I hope you find your boy,” Her voice rings out behind him.
It feels terrifying, the muscle-tearing shriek in his chest: pain.
His house is decorated like a hotel room; impersonally.
The walls are old shades of coffee and wine from back when Gen was in charge of the aesthetic, and the furniture is the cheapest stuff they found at the mall. There used to be lots of photos hanging about of him and Gen’s family, but they’ve all been taken down, leaving nothing but nearly decades-old portraits of him and his own family.
It’s like walking down the halls of a haunted mansion, but his house is relatively modest in size.
The TV fills the living room with surrogate-emotions, noise that usually makes him feel less alone. He’s sunk down to the bones of his old chair with a beer that’s half-drank and getting warm in his lap, feeling like he’s looking through the windows of someone else’s life.
His mind and soul is being slowly swallowed by a green-eyed tint.
If Jensen wasn’t at the shelter, then he could be anywhere. He could’ve gotten on the first bus he saw at the greyhound station and disappeared. New Mexico, Ohio, Idaho, Kansas. Anywhere. He was barely alive when Jared first found him, starved for food and sleep and human contact. Now, he’s been sucked away into the vicious tide pool of America’s streets, without so much as a sandwich, a knife, or a good coat.
You know how it ends.
He shouldn’t have left Jensen alone.
You know how it ends.
He shouldn’t have left Justin alone, either.
The next morning, he wakes up to NAP QUEEN wrapped around his pillow.
“Beaver Bio, Jim speaking.”
“Kenneth Distributors provides transportation services for bulk tomato, freight and transplanting operations throughout East Texas. We also employ about six-hundred trucks in the summer and are now hiring for next season,” Jared recites the ad on the newspaper in front of him with perfect grammar. “Top drivers can earn about fifteen-hundred a week.”
Beaver sighs frustratedly. “You’re like a little teenage girl, you know that?”
“I need a job, Jim. My head’s about to explode.”
“You need a therapist.”
Jared looks back down at the newspaper. “Bonuses available after ninety days.”
“Alright! Fine!” He snaps. “Get your ass down here in an hour. And I swear, Jared, this time you better not miss a deadline or I am not making up any more excuses for you.”
Hope blooms in his chest. “Aye-aye, captain.”
The silence of a dead line sounds like music to Jared’s ears. He tucks his cell away quickly and lunges for his jacket, hanging haphazardly on his closet door.
NAP QUEEN lays gently wrinkled on his bed, sleeves warm and lifeless like crumpled butterfly wings.
You remember those horses we saw? Back in Washington?
Grandfather Cuts Loose the Ponies, the wild horses of Vantage, Washington. Their delicate metal frames casting shadows across the golden hills with ephemeral beauty, because by sundown they’re one with the night. Jensen, and his flighty legs, left a scentless trail in his wake. There was nothing left for him here.
He’d left a ghost of himself haunting the truck stop in Odessa, and it screams Jensen’s name.
The emptiness filling the passenger seat is a childhood home, now vacated. Always On My Mind drifts through the speakers, the uneven lilts of Willie Nelson rolling through the gaps and gasps of air inside an otherwise hollow cab. Like missing notes in a measure, the music feels soundless.
Beaver gives him paperwork for a route to Mt. Shasta, California; the northern tip. From there it’s east-ward and back down. The exchange doesn’t take too long, thankfully, and getting the trailer on is a breeze. It all feels so incredibly normal to Jared it’s numbing.
There’s nothing left to do eventually except open the driver’s door and pop behind the wheel, yet for the first time in five years, he hesitates. He pauses and looks around his town, his job. The road.
He clicks open the door, and throws himself inside.
“Don’t be pissed.”
A garbled curse punches out of his throat. His back slams against the door so hard it shoves open and dumps him on the pavement outside, jeans scraping on rock. His paperwork is scattered across the front seats, the door hanging ajar, and when Jensen’s messy, dirt-stained face creeps into the light, he chokes.
“What the fuck are you doing here?”
Color tints his ears and cheeks. “You left it unlocked while they were hitching the trailer.”
“No,” Jared says, hoarse. “What are you doing here? With me?”
Hope grew pale on his face. His eyes fall to the black pebbles below, and he slowly dismounts from the cab. Jared pushes himself upwards to loom over him like a tower, though he’s the one who feels vulnerable. Jensen, even with his torn flannel sleeves, tarnished backwards-cap and overalls – all which were dirtier than before – still made him flinch inside as he drew near. The only clean, bare, innocent thing on him were the green marbles staring up at Jared like he could lose him any second now.
“I heard you were looking for me at the shelter downtown.”
“You weren’t there.” Jared’s brow furrows.
“Not until today, no.”
“Where were you?”
“Around,” He shrugs. “Lots of places to find soup in El Paso besides a soup kitchen. Not a lot of places to sleep, though.”
The thought of Jensen wandering the streets for some desolate corner to crawl into tightens Jared’s stomach in knots.
“Why didn’t you come back?”
A familiar shiftiness plagues Jensen’s features. At first Jared thinks he might not reply.
“I didn’t want to.” He says, eventually. “I thought that all I was doing was taking advantage of you and – and maybe I was.”
“Taking advantage,” Jared echoes. “Food? Is this about the food?”
His eyebrows crumple angrily. “No – no, Jay. I’m talking about what I said that night, how I acted. How I acted all the time. I was scared because the last time I let someone take control, even for a little bit, I ended up in rehab.” He looks away. “I was wrong. I was – I was an idiot.”
He nods, the pain ringing in his chest like a bell. The fact that Jensen could believe even for one paranoid second that Jared was anything like his father was horrifying.
“So why are you here, Jensen?”
“Because I don’t believe in coincidence.” He bursts. “That’s why I followed you, back in Colorado. That’s why I broke into your truck. I needed to be saved, okay? I know it’s selfish, but it’s true. I’m sorry if I hurt you along the way.”
The words hit him dead center. Jared runs a hand through his hair, in such disbelief he could almost laugh at this whole thing; how Jensen could even believe Jared was a savior. His whole life has been in pieces and Jensen thinks those are gems.
“I just needed a chance at life.” Comes, weak. “And you did too.”
Jared nearly flinches. He’s staring at Jensen like he’s a ghost, like he’s got one hand fisted in his gut. He always did. He feels like a nuclear reactor inches away from him, and somehow he needs it.
Like he can sense it, he takes steps deeper into Jared’s space. The scent of ash and gravel fill his lungs.
“Don’t make me watch you go, Jay.” He begs, whisper-soft.
The tiny portraits of Jensen’s reflection in his rearview mirror are haunting. Jared’s had a lot of people go, but he’s never left. He doesn’t need any more bad dreams.
He wants to know how a good one ends.
“What’re we gonna do?” Jared asks. “My route’s gonna end at some point.”
“I’ll hop onto your next route. Doesn’t matter. M’going where you go.”
His eyes are apple-green moons up at Jared, brows twisted like he was afraid of no. He should know better, because Jared had already said yes before he even came back.
“I don’t have a choice in this, do I? You’re just gonna sneak back into my cab whether I like it or not.”
A smile cracks his face. When Jensen sees it, it’s like a dam breaking. His eyes beam like the sun, and he laughs – a beautiful, breathless whimper – before his arms are flung around Jared’s neck for a leaping kiss. Jared feels it spear right through his soul. He surges against him hard enough to rock him backwards on his heels, and kisses like he wants to crawl inside him.
“M'not going anywhere without you Jay,” He presses each word into his lips, like tokens.
“Shut up,” Jared shoves him toward the cab.
Another bright, rippling laugh pours out of him as he clambers into the passenger seat; quick and quiet like they’re climbing into a treehouse. This is their treehouse, Jared realizes, filled with secrets and safety, and life.
When Jared drives into a white sunrise, it feels like being reborn.
“Nothing behind me, everything ahead of me, as is ever so on the road.”
- Jack Kerouac, On the Road