Chapter One: Welcome to New York
"Welcome to New York
When we first dropped our bags on apartment floors
Took our broken hearts and put them in a drawer
Everybody here was someone else before
And you can want who you want
Boys and boys and girls and girls
Welcome to New York
It's been waitin' for you
'Welcome to New York' by Taylor Swift, 1989
Freedom. Or at least that’s what this was supposed to be. Jared Padalecki pushed the duffel bag he was carrying up higher onto his shoulder and stepped off of the subway into the surging crowd. He allowed the crowd of people to carry him forward, their energy pushing at him as much as their bodies and their bags. Freedom felt an awful lot like being smothered…
As Jared surfaced and stepped into the sun and bustle of the city around him, he took a moment to get his bearings. He had been to the city, maybe, once in his life. And he had been way too young to remember anything about it. Most of his New York City knowledge came from what he had seen in movies or TV. He knew, because of the subway stop, he was on Broadway. To his left was 76th street; he pulled a folded letter from his pocket to look at the address.
The Lucerne Apartments
Sophisticated and Elegant Family Style Living
350 East 79th Street, New York City, NY
Dear Mr. Padalecki
Thank you for your interest in our establishment. We look forward to welcoming you and your family as one of our own. Please find enclosed the proper paperwork and labels to assist in moving your furniture and belongings into your new home.
Your apartment will be available June 1st. Please stop by the front desk upon arrival for confirmation of emergency information and to pick up your keys.
Your apartment will be 515E. Attached is a copy of the rental agreement of 6 months lease at $3,700 a month.
We look forward to providing you with all the comforts of home in the greatest city on Earth.
Assistant Director of Management Operations
He looked back up at the street signs to make sure he was heading in the right direction and started off. As he turned onto the street, he still couldn’t believe he was here, as far away from his family as he had ever been, and spending more on an apartment than he had ever spent on a car.
“You need this.” He muttered to himself, trying to shake away the doubts that continued to threaten in the back of his mind. Even this morning, as he stepped off the plane at JFK, he contemplated buying a one way ticket back to Texas and forgetting this entire thing. He half wanted to call up Jeff and tell his older brother that he accepted his offer to move in with him.
But, even across the country… he still couldn’t escape the pain in the pit of his stomach or ignore what had happened. Staying a few towns over from him wouldn’t make this any easier. Even now, his feet safely planted half a country away, he had to push back the fear and guilt that was constantly suffocating him.
Yanking himself out of his thoughts, he looked ahead to see he had arrived at the building. The apartment complex towered over him, the golden doors and window frames glinting in the sunshine. As he approached the door, a short man pushed the doors open, a smile plastered on his face.
“Afternoon, Sir.” He tipped his head and held the door until Jared cleared the threshold.
“Thank you.” Jared nodded back at him. Just like the outside, the lobby was decorated in deep shades of mahogany and gold, with marble floors and columns. Large bouquets of freshly cut flowers were littered around on almost every flat surface, their perfume erasing the smell of the city.
“Can I help you?” The doorman asked after a pause, seeing that Jared hadn’t booked towards the elevator, unlike the other patrons he was probably used to.
“Uh, yeah… I am looking for the front desk to pick up my keys.” Jared turned towards him.
“Ah, a new home owner?” The doorman smiled at him and held out his hand. “I’m Marcus.”
“Jared.” Jared gripped the man’s hand firmly, giving it a shake.
“Our front desk for residents is on the second floor of the lobby. There are a set of stairs to the left,” he motioned his arm over to point them out to Jared. “Or there is an elevator in the back of the room.”
“Thank you, Marcus.” Jared waved a short goodbye and headed towards the stairs. After a quick stop at the desk to pick up his keys and the apparently very-much-needed receptionists personal cell phone number, he was standing in the foyer of his new apartment.
Jared exhaled a breath he hadn’t known he was holding and quickly kicked off his shoes.
“Home sweet home…” He muttered, walking around the apartment. All of the carpet was a light tan color, all of the walls painted nearly the same shade. If he found himself here longer than the six months he signed for? He would definitely have to put an effort into decorating.
All of the furniture was wrapped in plastic and put in the respective rooms, boxes pressed against them or stacked on top. The boxes he hadn’t labeled were stacked in the far end of the living room. He stood in the center of the living room for a moment, contemplating where to start. He supposed the only rooms he had to get cleared today were the bedroom, so he had a place to sleep. He went back to the foyer where he had dropped his duffel bag and found his iPod and the French fry speaker his sister had gotten him for his birthday a few years ago. He put his playlist on shuffle before heading towards the first box.
An hour into rearranging boxes around the room to clear a path to the bed, Jared finally was able to rip the plastic off of the mattresses and drop them onto the frame. He climbed up onto the bed and lay across it, breathing hard. He needed to start going back to the gym… At least there was no one to stop him now. He sighed, frustrated that his thoughts were yet again, going to him. This was a new start, but apparently he couldn’t get his mind to think that way.
His phone started vibrating in his pocket and he smiled, seeing it was his mom calling.
“Jared? Are you in New York now? You didn’t call me when you landed…” He could tell his mom was trying not to sound panicked on the other end of the phone. “I was watching the progress of your flight on the computer, so I knew you landed okay… but I just wanted to make sure.”
“I’m fine Mom, don’t worry.” Jared said, chuckling slightly. “I was just trying to figure out where I was going and then started unpacking. I should have called, I’m sorry…”
“Oh, don’t worry about it. It’s not that big of a deal… How’s your new place?”
“It’s bigger than I thought it was going to be.” Jared replied honestly, looking around the bedroom.
“Well, that’s good considering the price you’re paying for it!” He could sense the big of anger in his mother’s voice. Here we go again…
“Mom…” He started but was cut off quickly.
“Jared, you know you could have just come home. Or gone to stay with Jeff! You didn’t need to go so far away… After everything that happened, being close to your family and your friends is probably the best thing.”
“I need to do this.” Jared closed his eyes, running a hand over his face. “I can’t be there right now… everything reminds me of him.”
“Well it shouldn’t! Did Jeff tell you Chad tried to break bail?” Jared winced at his name. “He’s going to be in jail until the trial.”
“If there is a trial…” Jared mumbled, cursing himself for not keeping the thought in his head when his mother exploded on the other end.
“There will be a trial, Jared! Are you honestly thinking about not pressing charges? He deserves everything that’s going to be coming his way. When I think about everything that he put you through… I know you didn’t tell us everything, and I hope that the things my mind makes up are far worse than reality, but--”
“Mom, I don’t want to see him again. I don’t want to come back down there to be reminded of something painful… to rehash the entire thing over again in front of a jury and judge. He can’t hurt me anymore, and I just want it to be over and move on. I don’t want to think of him anymore.”
“He almost killed you, Jared.” His mom’s voice was a whisper and he knew she was crying and trying to hide if from him. Even hundreds of miles away, all he managed was to hurt the people he cared about.
“I have to go, Mom.” Jared replied after a pause. “I’ll think about it… okay?” They said their goodbyes and Jared hung up the phone, his other hand absentmindedly rubbing against the puckered scar on his lower stomach.
Jared sat on the end of the bed and reached into the closest box to pull out a comforter. Although the bed hadn’t been made yet and he hadn’t managed to find his pillows, he felt exhausted. He was far enough away now, he knew that he was safe, but even the mention of Chad had icy tendrils of fear racing through his body. He laid back down and curled up on his side, pulling the blanket over his head.
As he exhaled and closed his eyes, the last thought he had was the hope he didn’t have the nightmares, before sleep claimed him.
He took the elevator up to the seventh floor, and let himself into his apartment. The smell of old Thai food hit him hard as he shut the door behind him and he cursed himself, remembering he had left the boxes out on the coffee table all night and all day. After sweeping he boxes into the trash can, he peeled off his ACUs and made his way to the shower.
Even though they had been released early, he had stayed an extra hour and a half to work out in the gym at the base. Although part of the rent he paid every month went to the gym they had in the building, he couldn’t bring himself to ever work out at home. It was too much of a distraction, knowing there was a flat screen and couch waiting for him only six floors up.
After washing away the sweat from his workout, Jensen leaned his forehead against the cool shower wall, letting the hot water pound down on his shoulders. He increased the temperature of the water slightly, wincing as his skin adjusted to the heat, and knowing it would be good for his muscles tomorrow. Working out his arms was always his favorite – until the next morning.
His phone ringing made him groan and pull himself away from the warm water. He shut the faucet off and wrapped a towel around his waist, reaching to the floor to pick up his jacket and get his phone out of one of the pockets.
“Yeah?” He answered, almost dropping the towel as he pressed the talk button on his blackberry.
“Ackles, is that how your Mother taught you to answer the phone?” The familiar voice boomed at him from the other end before busting out laughing.
“Welling, it’s been an entire fifteen minutes since I saw you. Miss me already?” Jensen pulled the phone back to put it on speaker phone so he could dry off.
“You know I miss your pretty boy face the moment you leave me.”
“Oh, don’t I know it with the way you call me all the time. What’s up Tom?”
“Plans tonight? Any hot girls coming over or anything?” Jensen rolled his eyes, and couldn’t help the smile that appeared on his face. His best friend was many things and most of all, predictable.
“Are you asking me out on a date, Welling?”
“Yes, Ackles. I need your pretty boy face to score me some chicks.” Tom laughed. “You in?”
“Yeah, I just got out of the shower so let me get dressed. Meet you in an hour?”
“Oh well now you have me thinking of you wet and naked… Might need to give me a few minutes.”
“Goodbye, Tom.” Jensen laughed, hanging up the phone. He padded into the bedroom, leaving the damp towel hanging over the shower rod. He picked out a pair of jeans and a black t-shirt and finished the look by replacing his dog tags with a silver chain necklace.
After applying deodorant and spraying on a bit of cologne, Jensen grabbed a navy coat from the back of the chair in the kitchen and headed out the door. If he could get Tom hooked up with someone early tonight… he, himself, might be able to get lucky. The past few times they had gone out to the bar, Tom had been so hung up on the ‘one that got away’, Jensen was forced to talk to more twins and best friends of the wrong sex than he could stand. Tonight, he hoped, would be different.
Jensen made his way through the city, entertaining a polite conversation on the subway, and met Tom in front of their favorite bar just as an hour passed. Tom met him with one of his dazzling smiles, pushing dark locks away from his forehead. Jensen smiled back at him, giving him a quick hug. Tom was attractive, chiseled features with deep green eyes, much like his own.
When Jensen had first gotten transferred to Fort Hamilton, he was instantly drawn to Tom. Now, three years later, he had gotten over the instant crush he had felt and found one of the best friends he had ever had in Tom. Even if he sometimes had to struggle to get Tom to think with the head on his shoulders, he could count on him for anything. Or, mostly everything.
“Ready to go chick surfing?” Tom asked pushing open the glass doors to the building.
“Oh, most definitely.” Jensen rolled his eyes and pushed past his friend. “Are you in a blonde or brunette mood tonight?”
“Let’s change it up… How about a ginger?” Tom raised his eyebrows, laughing as he followed Jensen towards the bar in the back of the room. “What’s on tap?” He asked when the bartender approached. “Beer Jen?”
Jensen nodded and looked around the bar. Even for a Wednesday, the bar was pretty dead. Jensen stored away the slight feeling of disappointment and slid into one of the bar stools beside Tom. He accepted the beer pushed towards him with a smile, and lifted the glass up.
“To getting laid.” Tom said, clinking their glasses together before taking a huge sip.
“Yes, please.” Jensen laughed, taking a sip of his own beer. They turned in their chairs to face towards the seating area of the bar and the small dance floor that was set up in the corner. There was a group of four girls sitting at one of the tables close to them, but other than that, people looked coupled up or completely uninterested in anything other than the booze before them.
“So, think they’re going to give us the big speech tomorrow?” Tom asked, throwing an arm over the back of the stool to face the door. Jensen knew this was his ‘prepare for the one’ stance, hoping that the next hot girl to walk through the door would instantly be drawn to him sitting at the bar.
“I don’t know man… It hasn’t been that long since we’ve gotten back. You really think they would send us again?”
“Maybe they’re going to ask for volunteers. I’d be game.” Tom shrugged and looked at Jensen. “What do you think? Want to do another tour with me?”
“Oh, yes. Being stuck with you for a year in some desert sounds like exactly what I want to be doing.” Jensen rolled his eyes and laughed. “Maybe… I think my mother would kill me if I told her I volunteered to go.”
“Eh, what she doesn’t know won’t kill her… I’d like another shot at those bastards. Maybe if I go again I could shoot something.”
“You’re ridiculous.” Jensen punched Tom’s arm. “You seriously just joined the army for the guns, didn’t you?”
“Sure as hell wasn’t for the fucking money.” Tom gave him a look and Jensen was forced to agree.
Jensen knew that Tom had signed up the same time he had, October of 2011. He had been in law school at the time, but as he watched the news cast of September 11th, something in him had changed. A lot of the guys in his unit had even admitted to resigning contracts after the attack. Jensen had never expected to actually be stationed in the city, and had a huge culture shock, even coming from a big city in Texas. But now, he couldn’t imagine living anywhere else.
“It’s kind of dead tonight isn’t it?” He said after a moment, breaking them out of their individual thoughts.
“It is a Wednesday night, boys.” A voice came from behind them and both he and Tom turned to look. A tall woman had slipped into the seat behind Jensen while they were talking. She was wearing a tight black dress, leaving very little to the imagination. Jensen gave her a quick once over and determined she was pretty, but had blonde hair instead of red.
“We could pretend it was ‘Topless Tuesday’.” Tom winked at the girl, leaning over Jensen to give her a dazzling smile. Jensen, having raised his glass for a sip, almost snorted in his beer and have his best friend an exasperated look. The girl hesitated for a moment, determining her comeback. Then slowly, smiled.
“I’m not sure if I’m interested in an indecent exposure charge.” She laughed and slipped off her chair to move to Tom’s side. “Do you dance?” She asked, and before waiting for an answer, left her drink on the counter and moved towards the dance floor. Tom watched her for a moment before draining the rest of his beer and slamming the glass down.
“I’d tap that.” He said to Jensen before laughing and following after her.
“That was easy…” Jensen muttered to himself, leaning back into his chair and watching Tom and the girl start to dance. He was finally able to look for a date of his own, and the bar had to be completely empty.
Three beers in, Jensen had spent most of his time chatting up the bartender and watching Tom and little black dress’ drinks. Tom currently had his arms wrapped around her, his hands sliding way too high up her skirt to be appropriate for public, as he was teaching her how to shoot pool. Jensen had been invited, but decided to pass before he saw a bit too much of LBD’s legs.
“I’ll have a blue moon.” A chill went up Jensen’s spine as a voice behind him wrapped around him. He turned away from watching his best friend and his date to look at who the voice belonged to. A man had slid into a seat beside him and looked up to meet Jensen’s eyes and nod a small hello.
This man, was absolutely, gorgeous.
Jensen swallowed hard, and tried not to stare. The man smiled as he was handed his drink, showing deep dimples in his cheeks. Jensen watched as long fingers wrapped around his beer, and lifted it to the most perfect lips… He cleared his throat and turned back to his own beer. Acting like a teenage girl pining over the football quarter back was definitely not going to score him any points. Hell, as far as he knew, this man could be here for the same reasons that Tom was.
From the corner of his eye he watched the man pull his cell phone from his pocket and lay it down on the bar. Jensen could hear and feel the vibrations as text messages came rushing through, dashing any hope he had felt. This man was definitely waiting for someone…
Jensen sighed and downed the rest of his beer, signaling the bartender for another one. One look over at Tom and Jensen knew this was going to be the longest night he’d had in a while.
Jared placed his cell phone on the table and watched as each new message from his brother popped up on the screen. He had spent fifteen minutes on the phone, arguing with him, before giving in, getting dressed, and going out. Although Jeff meant well, he was well on his way to obtaining the award for ‘most annoying brother’.
Jared had been content, curled up in his comforter and fast asleep. He had ignored three phone calls, before Jeff started texting him in between calling.
“Dude, if it was my first night in New York City? I would be checking out the night life and working on picking up some chicks! Or, you know, dudes in your case.”
“Not really looking for a relationship here, Jeff.” Jared had responded, pulling the blanket back up over his head.
“Sex, Jared. Good, old fashioned, get your rocks off and leave in the morning, sex. I really don’t think you need a new relationship right now. But you could totally go for a one night stand.” Jeff had retorted, exasperated. “Jared… I know you. You can’t just stay locked up in your apartment, going to bed when it gets dark and waking up when you can’t stand the sun anymore. You can’t stop living your life because of this…”
“I know, Jeff.” Jared said softly. “I’m going to try… But it doesn’t just go away. When I let you take me out before I left? Every guy that tried to talk to me, reminded me of Chad. I’m not really interested in a random hook up where I’m constantly battling my thoughts.”
“Well…” Jeff sighed and Jared could hear him moving around in the kitchen, probably making dinner. Jared briefly wondered what time it actually was… “At least go get yourself a beer or two. You deserve that after a day of traveling and unpacking. Plus, have you even eaten today?”
“No…” Jared said honestly, and threw the blanket off of himself and sitting up. “Fine. I’ll go out, happy?”
“I want pictures.”
After hanging up, Jared dragged himself back out into the city. Marcus had suggested a well known bar a few blocks down. As Jared pushed the doors open, he exhaled a breath he didn’t know he was holding as he looked around the almost empty bar. There were a few couples, one had taken over the entire pool area. A few tables full of girls laughing and throwing glances over at the bar. Jared followed their eyes and stopped short.
There was a man sitting at the bar, shaking his head at the couple at the pool table, a smile playing on his lips. Butterflies started flitting through Jared’s stomach as he took in the man. He was attractive… The man had a hint of stubble, and as his lips curled into a smile at the couple Jared wondered what they would feel like…
Jared walked towards the bar and hesitated again. The man was the only one at the bar which left plenty of seats open. Biting his lower lip, he decided to bite the bullet and pulled out the chair next to the man’s.
“I’ll have a blue moon.” The bartender took his order as Jared slid into the seat. The man turned around to look at him and Jared melted. Green eyes pinned him to the spot and all Jared could manage was a small nod of hello. From his pocket, he felt his phone starting again. He pulled it out to set against the bar, flooded with his brother’s messages.
At the bar, I’m not taking a selfie for you pleasure. Jared texted back and looked over at the man from the corner of his eye. Jared shoved his phone back in his pocket and sighed, knowing he probably looked like he had some clingy date.
He chewed on his cheek for a few minutes, nursing his beer. He had meant what he said to Jeff earlier… he wasn’t looking for any sort of relationship – short lived or not. But there was something about this man… He’s probably straight. Jared licked his lower lip and turned his body towards him. New city, new friends, right?
“Hey, I’m Jared.” He said, clearing his throat.
“Oh, hey.” The man turned towards him fully, a smile on his lips. “I’m Jensen. Long day at work?” Jensen motioned to the beer Jared didn’t even realize he had finished.
“Oh… no…” He laughed and set the empty glass down. “Moving day.”
“Ah, yeah, moving sucks.” Jensen laughed and Jared swore that smile made the room a bit brighter. “What part of town did you move from?”
“Out of state.” Jared said, signaling the bartender for another. “Came up from Texas, so spent most of the morning in the airport and then a subway station.”
“Texas, huh?” Jensen’s smile widened. “Whereabouts? I’m from Dallas.”
“No shit?” Jared smiled back at him. “I’m from San Antonio. Small world, huh? Do you like New York?”
“Yeah, I love it here. Took a bit to get used to… plus, there’s snow and cold half the year.” Jensen laughed and took a sip of his beer. “But I love it.”
“That’s good to know… my family wasn’t all that thrilled when I told them I’d chosen to move to New York.”
“I can imagine. So, is it just you? Or did you come with a wife or kids?” Jensen asked, trailing off at the end.
“Oh… no.” Jared shook his head quickly. “Single… and…” Jared tightened his smile. Here goes nothing. “Not into the whole wife thing… or women thing, in general.”
“Oh.” Jensen replied, looking surprised. Well, Jared thought as he turned to his beer again, I guess I won’t be entertaining any of those thoughts… “It’s just surprising. Usually the attractive ones are taken, or straight.” Jared looked again and Jensen winked at him.
“Ackles!” Jensen suddenly straightened, swinging himself around as the couple from the pool table approached. “What the hell man? You’re not going to get anywhere facing the bar. Or talking to dudes.”
“This is Jared.” Jared looked between the two of them, surprised at Jensen’s sudden tight posture. “And I’m talking to people, making friends. You can’t expect me to be stuck with you as my best friend for the rest of my life, can you?”
“Ha. Ha.” The man extended his hand to Jared. “I’m Tom. Nice to meet you.”
“Likewise.” Jared shook his hand before sitting back, studying them again. Jensen threw him a tight smile before turning his attention back to Tom.
“You heading out?”
“Yeah, Nancy and I are going back to my place. We saw a hot blonde over at that table complaining to her girlfriends you hadn’t noticed her all night…” Tom winked suggestively. “See you tomorrow?”
“Yeah.” Jensen nodded at him and smiled at the woman one more time as he watched them leave. At the door, Tom turned around and gave Jensen a thumbs up before slipping out with his date.
“Best friend?” Jared asked as Jensen turned back to him.
“He’s impossible. I’m sorry.”
“He seems fun.” Jared laughed at Jensen’s expression and was glad when the other man started to relax again. “You know… if you want to go pick up that hot blonde…”
“Oh shut up.” Jensen pushed Jared’s leg with his own, letting their knees rest together.
“So, come here often?” Jared laughed, looking down at their knees, trying to keep the goofy smile off his face.
“Trying to pick me up, Jared?” Jensen’s voice got deeper at he leaned forward.
“Naw,” Jared shook his head and leaned back into the chair. “Just moved in… place is a mess… can’t really extend a proper offer.” He laughed but stopped short when Jensen licked his lower lip.
“Well… then let me.” He said and slipped off of the bar stool. “I haven’t eaten yet, I’ve probably drunk too much, but I have a take-out menu and no boxes to put away?”
Jared opened his mouth to refuse. He was exhausted… his nap hadn’t done much with Jeff constantly bugging him. He definitely didn’t need to entertain the idea of a relationship… Hell, the only one night stands he had ended up in booty calls or long term relationships. And the last one ended well. No, he definitely wasn’t ready for this at all.
“I’d love to.” He smiled, accepting the offer.
“Great.” Jensen smiled back. Jared exhaled, nerves settling in his stomach. He reached back to down the rest of his beer before following Jensen back out into the city.