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The Other Side of Fear

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“Boy, don't you worry, you'll find yourself.

Follow your heart and nothing else.”

– Simple Man by Lynyrd Skynyrd

 

Jared shoved the key into the lock, turned it until the bolt sounded a loud snap, then swung the door open. He glanced inside and felt all the tension in his body drain at once. Finally. Pushing through the doorway with his two overstuffed duffel bags slung over his shoulders he stepped into the common area of the suite, then made his way down the short hall to the bedrooms. His eyes darted around until they landed on the door marked ‘3’, then he pushed himself and all his belongings through the door, letting the bags fall to the floor before flopping down on the rickety, metal-framed bed with a loud sigh. He’s finally away, finally at college, finally on his own. Finally, he’s out of fucking Texas.

The slightly off-white brush strokes in the paint on the ceiling began to form patterns as Jared lay there staring at them. He was in no hurry to unpack, to do anything, really – right now, it was enough just being here.

He’d formed his plan to get out when he was 13, and now, five years later he’d finally made it. And three days early, too, thanks to some fast talking and a few lies to the housing office. His story about his ailing grandmother (true) and his parents’ need to travel to Florida to be with her (lie) and how they couldn’t afford their flight as well as his flight if they’d scheduled it for the weekend (true the mid-week flight was way less expensive; lie that his parents couldn’t afford it) had won him early entrance to the dorms due to ‘extenuating circumstances’. In reality, Jared just wanted to get the fuck out as soon as possible.

So Jared was blissfully alone in his suite for the next three days, none of his roommates scheduled to arrive until Friday. So maybe he’d lied to get it, but he fucking deserved a few days to decompress, to let the last remnants of his fucked-up existence in Texas fall away before starting his new life. He’d worked damn hard to get here, studying till he had straight As all through high school, suffering through extra-curricular activities and volunteer work he couldn’t have cared less about – all so his college application would be perfect. He’d managed to score himself a full scholarship, too, so when his parents tried to bully him into staying in Texas he never had the threat of them not paying for school hanging over his head. That was the plan. That’s what he’d worked so hard for – to get out, and get out on his terms.

It wasn’t that his parents were bad people – Jared wasn’t abused or neglected, never lacked for anything he needed, or even most things he just wanted . They just didn’t get Jared. He was well aware that a lot of kids had it a hell of a lot worse than he did and he really did appreciate all his parents had done for him. That’s why he’d always kept his mouth shut, even when their comments about his dream of being a writer cut deep. Even when their disapproving glares at his clothing and hairstyles made him so angry he wanted to punch walls. But at the same time, he never gave in, never changed who he was or who he wanted to be no matter how much his family disliked it. And that’s definitely why he never came out to his parents and just excused himself to hide away in his bedroom any time the subject of relationships came up. He didn’t blame his parents, not really. He blamed Texas, and that was exactly why he planned to never set foot in the state again.

An itchiness had crept up as Jared lay there musing, an uncomfortable prickliness under his skin that he’d always identified as ‘The Texas Creep’. He pulled himself up from the bed and knelt down in front of his bags, digging through until he found his towels, soap and shampoo. He wandered out from his room and into the bathroom, turning on the shower as hot as he could stand it so he could wash away the remainder of Texas from his body and let the freedom of his new life in Boston work its way in.

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After an extra-long shower and then an hour spent unpacking, Jared flipped through the packet of papers he’d been given when he checked into the dorm and dug out the subway map. The campus dining hall wouldn’t be open until the rest of the students moved in, so he was on his own for food and was already anxious to start checking out the city. He’d spent a fair amount of time in the past couple of months studying maps of Boston, searching the web for bookstores, coffeehouses and any other places he wanted to check out. He tucked the map into his messenger bag along with a fresh notebook and a handful of pens, grabbed his keys and headed out.

The Wayward Bean was two blocks from the Copley Square T stop on Newbury Street, and as soon as Jared passed over the threshold he felt like he’d come fucking home. It was a coffee shop with a full sandwich menu along with the usual selection of overly sweet, awesome baked goods. The bitter aroma of coffee mixed with bread had Jared’s stomach rumbling as soon as he took his first deep breath. Past the counter, the space opened up to a field of tables and couches, the mismatched furniture arranged haphazardly around the room. He could hear strains of hard indie rock wafting over the din of dishes and conversation, and the walls were crowded up to the ceiling with artwork and photos.

“Large Americano and a turkey club, please.” Jared gave his order to the short, dark-haired girl behind the counter after reading over the menu scrawled on the chalkboards on the wall over her head. He tried really hard not to roll his eyes at the too-bright smile she gave him in return.

“You’re not from around here,” she stated – Jared assumed she noticed his drawl – her smile just as broad as she leaned over the counter slightly, her low-cut v-neck falling forward.

“Nope. New in town. Also gay,” Jared said, cocking an eyebrow and darting his eyes briefly to her chest and back up. “Just to save you the energy.”

“Well, shit. All the hot ones are gay. Fuck.” She leaned back and stood straight, then thrust her small hand across the counter. “I’m Gen. Welcome to Boston.”

“Jared.” After a quick handshake, Jared watched Gen punch his order into the register, then turn to make his coffee after handing him back his change. Two minutes later she was sliding a tall steaming cup across the counter toward him.

“There you go, large Americano. Sandwich will be a few, you can take a seat, I’ll bring it over when it’s ready.”

Jared settled at a table tucked in the corner next to a couch and two padded chairs with a low table between them. He brought his coffee cup up to inhale the rich scent before setting it on the table to cool, then dragged out his notebook and a pen, flipped open the cover and started to scrawl.

Thirty minutes later, a group of three took over the couch and chairs next to Jared, laughing and chattering as they took their seats, various beverages and plates of baked goods cluttering the table. One of the men – with shoulder-length, almost black hair and bright blue eyes – along with the slender red-headed woman, didn’t really catch Jared’s attention. The third, though – almost as tall as Jared, short brown hair with the front spiked up and tipped with blue; bright, round green eyes ringed with black eyeliner dragged out to sharp peaks at the corners; full, pouty lips and a smattering of freckles along the bridge of his nose – he caught Jared’s eye. And wasn’t letting go. No matter how hard Jared tried to go back to his writing, he couldn’t stop glancing over at the man Jared ever-so-logically suspected might be his soulmate.

After a few minutes, Jared realized how obvious he was being, so he pulled a book from his bag, leaned back in his chair and let his long, black-dyed hair fall down over his face and pretended to read, his eyes safely hidden whenever they darted up at the bursts of laughter that boomed from the guy, his whole body shifting backwards on the couch, head tilted back as the corners of his eyes crinkled with mirth.

It was shortly after he’d drained his coffee cup that Gen showed up at his table, gathering up his empty plate and cup then leaning down to whisper to him.

“His name is Jensen. Also gay.” She stood back up and stepped away from the table, turning back with a quick wink and leaving Jared sitting there limp-limbed, mouth hanging open and heat rising on his face.