“ Law school?”
“It's a perfectly respectable place, daddy.” Thirteen-year-old Jensen pouted up at his father from where he was hanging onto the edge of the pool in his parents’ backyard. The hot California sun beat down on him, quickly drying the little droplets of water that fell from Jensen's spiky blonde hair onto his wildly freckled shoulders.
“But Jensen, law school is for people who are boring, and ugly, and serious. And you, sport, are none of those things.” His father flashed his million-dollar, movie-star smile placatingly down at him before taking a drink from the extra-dry martini their housekeeper had brought out a moment before. His mother lay reclined a few feet away from the pool's edge under the shade of a large umbrella, sipping daintily from her own fruity beverage. She leaned forward, pushing her sunglasses into the messy pile of bottle-blonde hair on top of her head, and addressed Jensen with an impatient sigh.
“Sweetheart, you’ve had the lead role in every school play since you were seven. With all your talent and your daddy's connections, you'll be a star in no time! Why would you want to throw that all away?”
Jensen searched his mom's sweet, patient but frowning face, then pivoted to study his dad's concerned, furrowed brow. With a quiet sigh, he pushed away from the ledge, kicking his feet to tread in the tepid water.
“Was just a thought, is all. Forget I mentioned it.” Taking a deep breath, Jensen let himself sink to the bottom of the pool, settling cross-legged on the cool cement. He tilted his head back and slowly released a line of bubbles from his nose, opening his eyes and ignoring the sting of the chlorine to watch them rise to the sunny, shimmering surface. He counted the seconds, hoping to break his current best time before he had to resurface for air. He knew he could do it – all it took was patience and practice… and stubbornness. His counselor at school – the one who had shown him the college brochures, had talked to him about what steps he could start taking, even as a high school freshman, to work towards becoming a lawyer if that's what he truly wanted – called it ‘perseverance’. And Jensen knew that, just the same as learning to hold his breath, he could make this happen, too. Whatever it took, he would find a way to convince his parents that going to college to be a lawyer was the only future for him, and then he'd use every trick in the book to persuade them to help him get there.
Forty-five seconds (and a new personal record) later, Jensen shot to the surface of the water, drawing in giant gulps of air. He had a brilliant smile on his face, and the beginnings of just as brilliant a plan forming in his mind.
Watch out, Harvard, here I come.
*Seven years later...*
Jensen pushed away from his desk and released a heavy sigh. Leaning back in his office chair, he scrubbed both hands roughly over his face before closing them into fists and pressing them into his over-tired eyes. The final essay for his first semester senior thesis class at UCLA was rapidly draining all his energy; he was down to the zero hour – the last possible day it could be turned in – and Jensen had been working on it for fourteen hours straight, ever since he’d woken to his alarm at six a.m. Thankfully, all his exams had ended the day prior, making this the last project he had to worry about before Christmas break started tomorrow.
Jensen let his head fall back onto the well-worn leather with another sigh, dropping his hands to the arm rests. He could feel where the material was wearing thin from years of use and abuse; the chair, along with many of the larger pieces of furniture in his room in the frat house, had been a gift from his parents as soon as he moved out of the dorms his sophomore year. The solid oak desk that housed his computer (a desktop pc custom-built by Jensen; just because he was going to be a lawyer someday didn’t mean he couldn’t also embrace his tech-y side, too) had suffered nearly as much wear as the chair. Jensen sat up straight again, studying the wide surface with a frown; were it not currently completely covered in research papers, depleted coffee cups, and other rubbish, he knew he’d see the once gleaming wood now marred by many scratches and scrapes and stains.
As he regarded the chaos in front of him, his lips curved into a smile when he glimpsed the few framed photographs proudly displayed on the top shelf behind the monitors. There was a small one of his family, of course, taken at his high school graduation – father, mother, and son, a neat little unit, all with impeccably styled hair and toothpaste-commercial smiles. Though the teeth in his family may have been unnaturally white, the expressions were of genuine happiness. Jensen knew his parents were proud of him. While they were probably the first parents in the history of the world to have wished their son would become an actor instead of a lawyer, they had always been his biggest supporters, and had been easily swayed to his ideas for his future.
The other two photographs were of him and his boyfriend of the past three years, Tom. They weren’t really the type of pictures one would usually frame and display so prominently, but 1) this was Jensen’s private bedroom and he could decorate however he damn well pleased, and 2), they always always made Jensen smile, often to the point of laughing out loud. The first was from their freshman year when they had crashed Lambda Kappa Pi’s tighty-whitey contest. Rush-party drunk and high on being young and on their own for the first time in their lives, they’d stripped off all but their underwear and streaked through the entire frat row. Jensen’s best friend from forever, Danneel Harris, had been sober enough to snap a picture, and then she’d printed it and gifted it to them for their one-year anniversary. Tom had blushed profusely and handed the framed photo to Jensen who had grinned and immediately placed it on top of his desk.
The second photograph was more recent, taken towards the end of their junior year when they’d again gotten mostly naked in public – but this time for charity. Some girl from Delta Nu had designed a line of faux fur panties and put on a fashion show right before finals week, and, on a dare from none other than Danneel, both Jensen and Tom had signed up to be models. It had been a lot of fun, and – though Jensen was obviously biased – he and Tom looked damn fine. They’d both gotten athletic scholarships to UCLA for swimming, so with their broad shoulders and narrow waists, they looked like modern-day Tarzans in the barely-there animal print fabric.
The photographs were only a small representation of all the crazy shenanigans he and Tom had gotten into over the years. Aside from their ill-advised participation in a Ricky Martin video, Jensen had no regrets from their long-term relationship. Jensen had been ‘out’ to his family and everyone he knew pretty much since he first realized he liked boys as a teenager, and he couldn’t be happier to have found someone like Tom almost as soon as he started college. With graduation approaching fast and grad school – law school – looming on the horizon, and their plans to attend Harvard together, Jensen was pretty sure that Tom was going to pop the question any day now. Jensen had always been determined to become a lawyer, and he was so glad to have found someone – Tom – with whom he could share that dream and a future together.
A pile of papers on Jensen’s desk fluttered to the floor when his phone started vibrating underneath them, buzzing its way dangerously close to the edge. Jensen managed to snatch it up just in time. His lips tugged up into a smile when he saw the caller ID.
“Hey, gorgeous. I was just thinking about you,” he answered, pleased to be interrupted from his thoughts of Tom by the man himself.
“Hey, babe. Say, have you got plans for tomorrow night?”
Jensen’s eyes went starry, and his mind filled with dreams of tungsten rings and matching gray suits and happily-ever-after. He wrote down the name of the restaurant where Tom had made reservations for 7:00 the next evening, then said goodnight to his boyfriend and ended the call. He went back to his paper with a renewed determination, and delighted hope for his future.
Tom’s hand was warm where it rested at the small of Jensen’s back, and he steered him gently as they entered the restaurant. Crisp white linen surfaces were dimly lit with small groupings of pillar candles, creating an intimacy around each table. Jensen and Tom settled into the more secluded space the maitre’d had assigned them, and Tom ordered a bottle of champagne and two house salads to get them started.
“This is a really nice place,” Jensen said, glancing around at the other couples conversing quietly nearby, hearing the faint notes of classical music playing over discreet speakers, noticing the perfect posture of their waiter. “No offense, babe, but this is a lot nicer than our usual dates. What’s the occasion?”
“What, I can’t take my boyfriend someplace fancy to celebrate the end of the semester?” Tom retorted, leaning back in his chair and crossing his arms with a huff, a slight frown on his face.
“No, that’s not what I meant to imply at all! I... I was just noticing.” Jensen reached for Tom, who sat up straight again and let Jensen take his hand. Jensen gave it a small squeeze. “It’s just really nice. Thank you.”
Tom relaxed a little with Jensen’s unspoken apology – though Jensen wasn’t really sure why he’d felt he’d done or said something wrong in the first place. But then Tom was smiling at him softly, and Jensen forgot his momentary hurt at the misunderstanding.
“Can’t believe we actually did it,” Jensen said, smiling brightly across the table at his boyfriend as their salads arrived and the waiter quietly poured the champagne. “Now it’s just Harvard applications over Christmas break, and we’re set , babe.”
Jensen lifted his flute, the light from the candles reflecting off the delicate bubbles, their effervescence an echo of his internal bliss. Here he was, out with his gorgeous boyfriend at one of the best restaurants in town, celebrating the end of another successful semester – their second to last one before they moved on to the real deal, actual law school, Harvard – and he was as happy as he could ever remember being. It was the perfect moment, and Jensen meant to savor it.
“Here’s to us,” Jensen proposed, raising his glass high and stretching his arm towards Tom.
Tom leaned over the table and reached for his own drink, his long, tan fingers wrapping around the thin stem as he lifted it. Jensen held out his arm, waiting patiently for his boyfriend to clink their glasses together and complete the toast. Halfway there though, mid-air, Tom dropped his drink back to the table heavily, causing the shimmering liquid to slosh about and nearly spill over the flute’s edge. Tom fell back into his chair, shaking his head and lifting up his hands in a sign of surrender.
“I can’t… I can’t do this.” Tom pushed away from the table and dropped his elbows to its surface, resting his forehead in his upturned palms as he continued to shake his head.
Jensen inhaled sharply and set his own drink gently on the table. His mind started whirling with any and every possibility for Tom’s sudden change. Everything had been going so well, and now Tom seemed so distressed. That, of course, was all wrong; they were there to celebrate – right?
“What is it? What can’t you do?” Jensen tried to keep the panic welling up in his throat from sounding in his voice, but he couldn’t, not in the slightest. His eyes frantically scanned Tom’s hunched shoulders as he scoured his mind for any clues, any hint of what was happening, what was causing their dinner to turn into whatever unpleasant experience was currently unfolding.
“Seriously, Tom, talk to me. What’s going on?” Jensen gripped the tablecloth with both hands, wrinkling the fine linens with nervous sweat. After several excruciating moments, Tom finally, finally lifted his head from his hands and met Jensen’s gaze.
“Babe, I am so, so sorry.” And Tom certainly looked it, too, his deep blue eyes full of sorrow as he watched Jensen from across the table. This only served to increase Jensen’s rising panic.
“What? What in the world are you sorry for? Tom, you’re scaring me. What is going on ?”
Tom took a deep breath and straightened his back. Jensen loosened his hands, smoothing out the abused fabric covering the table, and did the same, doing his best to steel himself, prepare for the worst.
“It’s just that, well…” Tom started, clearly unsure how to express himself. “We’ve had a lot of fun these past three years, right?”
Jensen nodded tensely, silently willing his boyfriend to just get on with it.
“And I know we’re both planning on going to Harvard, and we’ve been talking a long time about what our future together could be like there.”
Jensen nodded again, confusion starting to creep in right alongside his anxious concern. All these things Tom was talking about were good things – so what could possibly be wrong?
“Yes? And?” Jensen prodded, hoping to have answers sometime before he went completely out of his mind.
“Well…” Tom hedged. Jensen snorted impatiently. This was so typical – Tom never was good at just saying what was on his mind; it usually took a bit – okay, a lot – of prodding on Jensen’s part, and it had been a constant source of contention between them.
“Just spit it out, babe. Taking all night isn’t going to make it any easier to say.”
Tom huffed out a breath and then settled back, slouching, into his chair, apparently resigned.
“Well, you know how you’ve never met my parents?”
“Yes. Go on.” Jensen was rapidly starting to see where this conversation might be heading, but he didn’t want to let himself believe it. Not when everything was finally so perfect.
“Well, East Coast people are different, ya know? I come from a long line of senators, and my family expects a lot from me. They…” he paused again. He looked at Jensen, his eyes pleading. “They… they don’t know I’m gay.” He spit the last part out, and quickly continued.
“If I’m going to be a senator by the time I’m thirty, I can’t be out in law school. Which means I can’t be dating a guy . Which means I can’t be dating you. So… I’ve thought a lot about it, and… We need to break up.”
Shit. No. Nonononono no no no.
Jensen sat and stared blankly at the man seated across the table from him, absolutely stunned. The dread that had started growing about halfway through the conversation settled like a dead weight in Jensen’s stomach and started pulling his heart down along with it.
“ What ?” he half whispered. His boyfriend – no, just Tom now, apparently – just shrugged helplessly back at him.
“It’s not like I have a choice here, sweetheart,” Tom whined. That - that was enough to break Jensen’s utter shock, and he glared at the man who’d only moments earlier still been the one he’d been hoping to marry .
“Don’t have a choice ?” Jensen was quickly regaining his voice as the anger started to settle in. “You always have a choice, Tom. Some choices are tougher than others, but you always have a choice.” The whole situation was rapidly overwhelming Jensen, so he stood, pushing back his chair calmly over the fancy carpet. He reached for his still untouched drink.
“The thing you need to remember, Tom ,” he continued, his hands shaking, but his gaze steady as he stared furiously, “is that there are some people that you have to make those tough choices for. People that are worth making those choices for. I’m sorry you don’t think I’m worth that.” Jensen slammed his eyes shut against the threat of tears, then threw back his head and gulped down his entire flute of champagne. Returning the glass to the table, he shot one more withering glance in Tom’s direction before turning on his heel and hurrying to exit the restaurant and escape his nightmare.
“Jensen, wait!” Tom cried out, fumbling to remove the napkin from his lap as he scrambled after Jensen. Jensen ignored him, not pausing for even a moment; he just pushed right past the affronted-looking maitre’d and out into the night.
The cool evening air was a sweet relief on Jensen’s overheated cheeks, soothing away the redness of his anger, his hurt, and his embarrassment. He rubbed at his eyes in frustration, really not in the mood to cry just now. It took a moment for him to orient himself once he reached the sidewalk – he hadn’t been paying very close attention when Tom drove them to the restaurant, but it was near enough to campus that Jensen was fairly certain he’d be able to find his way back. He’d just determined the correct direction, making it a block or so down the road, when he noticed a car pull up slowly beside him, distracting him out of his daze.
Jensen turned to look at the shiny blue convertible, but quickly directed his gaze forward again when he realized it was Tom’s vehicle with, of course, Tom behind the wheel.
“Babe, come on. Can’t we talk about this?” Tom pleaded from the driver’s seat.
Jensen kept his eyes set stubbornly in front of him.
“Nope. I think you made yourself pretty damn clear, Tom. And don’t call me ‘babe’, babe ,” he returned, scathingly.
“Well, at least let me drive you home?”
Jensen paused for a moment to stare unbelievingly at his ex-boyfriend. Words failed him, so he just shook his head and continued on his former trajectory.
Tom made one more last-ditch effort to get Jensen to deal with him – “You’re gonna ruin your shoes!” – to which Jensen’s response was to stop walking altogether and glare just above Tom’s head where he had also stopped the car next to the curb.
“Babe?” Tom tentatively squeaked out. Jensen dropped his eyes and met Tom’s gaze dead-on.
“No. Fuck you, Tom. Take your car, and your ride home, and your fucking future plans and your closeted life – and shove it all up your pansy ass.” When Tom still sat there, car idling, Jensen crossed his arms and increased his glare as much as he possibly could, saying nothing and just staring at Tom with one eyebrow raised high in expectation. Tom opened and closed his mouth a few times, but it only took a few moments of withstanding Jensen’s hard, unblinking gaze before he threw the car into gear and sped off into the night.
Jensen watched the taillights fade away, a sob catching in his throat when he finally relaxed his posture. Shoulders slumped and arms in loose fists at his sides, Jensen headed back in the direction of campus and, this time, he let the tears fall.