Kathryn Newton scurried into her supervisor’s office unable to suppress a high-pitched squeal. “This is it, Jared! Are you nervous?”
Jared stood up from his desk, straightened his sweater and took a deep breath. “No. Excited, yes, but not nervous. I’ve worked for Dee Wallace for five years. Managed the area’s largest events for the last three. I’ve earned this.”
Kathryn’s grin widened. “That’s right. Next time I see you, you’ll be President Padalecki.”
Jared smiled at her vote of confidence and headed for the conference room. “Wish me luck.”
“Luck! Not that you need it!” she called after him.
As accounting gave their report, Dee Wallace looked at the staff gathered in the room. She loved these people and truly wanted the best for them, but she wasn't changing her mind. She was out of there. In less than sixty days she would be relaxing on the beach with a cocktail in one hand and a cabana boy in the other. Closer to forty-five days if everything went her way.
Her way meant that her nephew seamlessly took over the business. She smiled and nodded as the meeting moved from accounting to processing and checked the clock at the back of the room. Her nephew had texted that his flight was delayed, but he hoped to arrive at the office before the end of the staff meeting. He was cutting it close. There were only Jared’s report and her announcement left on the agenda and her announcement would be uninspired if her nephew didn’t make it.
The sound of voices in the hallway disrupted her thoughts and there was a quiet knock at the door. A man peeked in and smiled when he saw Dee at the table. The room silently stared at the intruder. “Sorry,” he said excusing himself for interrupting.
Dee stood and held out her hand to him. “Jensen! Welcome!” She turned to her staff once Jensen was by her side. “Everyone, this is my nephew, Jensen Ackles. Jensen this is my wonderful staff. You’ll meet each of them in just a moment. Right now Jared is reporting on the event calendar for the season.”
Jensen pulled up a vacant chair and sat next to his aunt. Putting on a friendly smile, he nodded to Jared. “Sorry for interrupting. Please continue.”
While Dee made her introduction, Jared had been openly staring at her nephew. He had never seen anyone so gorgeous. Jensen had perfectly styled light brown hair that begged to have fingers comb through it, broad shoulders, green eyes and the most kissable lips Jared had ever seen. Jared was aware he should be doing something, saying something, but it took all his will not to climb over the table and into Jensen’s lap.
“You were telling us about Thanksgiving,” Dee reminded him.
Jared shook his head to erase thoughts of her sexy nephew and looked at his tablet.
“Right. Thanksgiving.” He cleared his throat and said, “We’re still short volunteers for dinner at St. Ben’s, but the donations are right on track. Volunteers are in place for Black Friday’s toy drive, but I could use a hand back here at the end of the event. The Washington wedding is complete except for finishing touches that day. The holiday parties scheduled for the first weekend in December have everything they need, but I’ll need help at the Richfield Auto party.” He glanced up from his tablet because Jensen had his hand raised. Confused, Jared’s brows knit together. “Yeah? I mean, yes, Mr. Ackles?”
Jensen shifted nervously in his seat. “Please call me Jensen and uh, I’m in or down or whatever you want to call it. I can do Thanksgiving and Black Friday. I don’t know what you need for the auto party, but I’m sure I can help with that, too,” he offered with a shy smile.
Jared looked from him to Dee and back. This guy would seriously volunteer at a soup kitchen? “Uh, yeah, sure. If you want to help out, we can always use more donations --”
“You said volunteers,” Jensen clarified. “I’m volunteering to help. These people shouldn't miss their Thanksgiving.”
Dee smiled at her nephew. “But Jensen, aren’t you coming to mine?”
Jensen returned her smile. “Sure Aunt Dee, but we can do both.”
She patted Jensen’s hand and looked back at Jared. “What time do you want Jensen and me to be at St. Ben’s, Jared?”
“They serve dinner from three to five. You’ll have to get there by two thirty to get your assignment.” Jared hoped his amazement didn’t carry over into his voice.
Smiling at his aunt, Jensen said, “We can do that, right Aunt Dee?”
“You bet we can,” she replied, matching Jensen’s enthusiasm. At that moment, she was certain her decision was right. “What else do you have for us, Jared?”
“Well, the Christmas parade is this Saturday at noon. I’ll need everyone to be at their posts by ten. Food bank staff needs to remember that they work an hour after the parade.” He scrolled through his agenda. “That’s it for me, Dee.”
“Alright.” Dee took a deep breath and rose from her chair. She regarded her staff and took strength from their friendly faces. “I built this company from a sad excuse of a wedding deejay to the premiere event planning company in the tri-county area.”
She glanced at Jared. “With the help, hard work and dedication of the people in this room, my company has grown to be the most in-demand event planners in the state. Being selected to organize the Governor’s Inauguration in January proves that.”The staff clapped at that announcement and Jared received a pat on the back from some of his co-workers.
“However,” she continued, “I have decided to retire at the end of the year.”
Jensen noticed that the only person not stunned by that news was Jared. His aunt paused for a moment to let the news settle, then she raised a hand to calm the room and regain her staff’s attention.
“Now don’t worry, I’m not planning on closing up shop, I’m merely handing the reins to an accomplished young man. I’m hoping all of you will do your best to help with the transition and answer any questions Jensen may have as he takes over my day-to-day duties.” Dee smiled at her nephew. “Now Jensen, would you care to say a few words?”
Jensen cleared his throat and stood. “Thank you, Aunt Dee. My plan for the immediate future…”
Jared didn’t hear Jensen’s plan. The ringing in his ears was too loud. So was the voice in his head repeating: What the fuck?! What the actual fuck?! There was polite laughter from his coworkers but then the evil pretty boy spoke again and the rage inside Jared boiled.
Excitement bubbled within Kathryn as she followed Jared into his office after the staff meeting. “Oh my god, how was it? And who was that hot guy that walked in towards the end? Katie swears she recognized him like he’s someone famous, but I’d remember a guy that hot.”
“That was Jensen Ackles, Dee’s nephew. The new president of the company.” Jared slammed his desk drawer and surveyed his desk for something to destroy.
Kathryn’s mouth fell open. “That nepotistic bitch! After everything you’ve done for this place? Is she senile?” She sat in the chair across from him. “What are you going to do? Are you quitting?”
Jared paused and studied Kathryn as if her face held the answers he sought. Then he sneered. “Yeah, I am. Fuck her, fuck her pretty boy nephew. I am better at this job than they are. By this time next year, no one will remember Wallace Entertainment.”
“You’re going to open your own company?”
Jared considered it for a moment. “Why not? I’ve got a killer resume and I wouldn’t have the overhead of this place. Let them try to get through the holidays without me.” He couldn’t start over alone. He and Kathryn were a well-oiled machine. “You want to come with me?”
While Jared ranted, Kathryn slumped in her chair. She adored Jared and would quit with him but that meant giving up benefits and her chance to go the Governor’s Ball. Her phone chimed and she read the text to him instead of answering his question. “Dee wants to see you in her office.”
Jared stood and straightened his shoulders. “Good. I can rip this job off like a bandaid and be out of here by lunch.”
Dee greeted Jared at her office door, taking his hand and leading him to a comfy overstuffed chair.
“Jared, I’m so glad you had time to meet with us. I couldn’t wait to give you the news, but Jensen thought we should do this privately. He didn’t want the others to think I was playing favorites.” She winked at him and turned to a cart full of beverages and baked goods. “Can I get you anything, Jared? Juice, coffee, pastry?”
“No, I’m fine.”
Dee nodded and continued, “Of course, you’re busy and we don’t want to waste your time, but this is important.” She sat at her desk. “Jensen and I discussed your role with the company and we want to give you a promotion.”
Jared sat back in his chair as a bit of his ire faded.
“But we can’t,” Jensen added. Again, Jared fought the urge to crawl over the table, though this time it was to strangle the guy, not straddle him. “At least not now.”
Dee noticed the indignant glare from Jared and quickly interjected. “What we can do is give you the benefits of a promotion without giving you the title.”
Jared looked from one to the other in utter confusion. “What? I’m promoted without being promoted?”
“Yes, sort of,” Dee began. “While talking with Jensen about taking over the company, we decided to make changes. Currently, we’re a sole proprietorship. Jensen is turning us into a corporation.”
“Until we make the restructuring legal, and file the paperwork, we can’t give you a title,” Jensen explained. “But you’re far too valuable to be just ‘Jared Padalecki, Event Planner Extraordinaire’. And making you a vice president now would just be silly when we’re restructuring at the start of the new fiscal year in a month.”
“But in January we’d like you to accept the title of Chief Creative Director.” Dee turned to Jensen and asked, “Was it ‘director’ or ‘manager’?”
He shrugged.“I think it was director, but we batted around so many titles I can’t remember what we landed on.” He turned to Jared. “What I can tell you is that you will be compensated as a director beginning immediately. If you want a different title, we can work something out. Ultimately every creative decision would go through you.”
Jared smiled to himself. For the next six weeks he’d be paid to see if he liked working with the nephew. If he didn’t, the new position gave him the money and time to set up his own place. “Thank you. I appreciate that you acknowledge my accomplishments. I look forward to working with you, Jensen.” He stood, shook Jensen’s hand then turned to Dee. “I don’t mean to be rude, but I have a very demanding schedule.”
“Do you mind if I go with you?” Jensen asked, following Jared to the door. “I’d like to address the bullpen and I’d rather do it sooner than later.”
“You’re the boss. You can do whatever you want,” Jared replied with a saccharine smile.
Jensen shot a worried glance at his aunt who gave him an encouraging nod in response.
As they approached the open concept workspace, Jensen broke the silence. “Is there anyone I should avoid? Any workplace drama?”
Why spoil my fun? Jared mused and answered, “No, everyone is really friendly and open. The staff is like family.”
A feeling that he was being set up wormed through Jensen. But Jared had no reason to set him up, he had just given the guy a huge raise. And yet the guy seemed stand-offish. Jared and Jensen separated once they entered the bullpen. Jared walked toward his office and Jensen strode to the center of the room.
“Excuse me everyone. Could I have your attention?” Jensen waited a moment until nearly every eye was on him. “Hello. I’m Jensen Ackles. Yes, that Jensen Ackles. If you recognize me or have googled me, I’d like to say a few words to address the elephant in the room. Yes, I was on that tv show and that other crappy tv show and no I didn’t date that guy and I’m not married to that woman. Those photos are photoshopped. If you haven’t googled me, then you are in for a treat when you finally get around to it. Yes, those brick pants are real, I have them in a vault for safekeeping. And I cringe at the very thought of the cowboy hat pictures.” Stifled laughter floated around the room and he pointed towards it. “Those people know what I’m talking about.”
“However, what you might not find on google is that I earned my MBA at UCLA and I am Dee Wallace’s nephew.” He continued, “Aunt Dee is retiring in January and she is handing the operation of this company over to me.” Jensen waited a beat for his employees to absorb that information. He looked for Jared, hoping to find a friendly face but the man was a complete blank. With a slight tremor he continued. “I’m sure you’re concerned about how these changes will affect you. Let me assure you that for the near future your jobs will remain the same. However, all of you, from senior staff to the most junior employee, will receive a raise.” A couple loud cheers broke out and startled Jensen.
"At the start of the next fiscal year Wallace Entertainment will be incorporated. All of you will get a memo explaining the full details as soon as possible. If you have questions that need immediate attention, I’m setting up a temporary desk in the annex and I’ll be happy to answer what I can. Um, I guess that’s it. Thanks for listening. I’ll let you get back to the work you do that makes this company so successful." With a small nod and a nervous smile he left the room.
The instant Jensen was out of earshot, the staff began to gossip. Each trying to top the other with the most scintillating items they uncovered about their new boss. Jared turned to Kathryn and whispered, “I need you to do a real estate search for office space. Try to find one attached to a small warehouse.”
“On it, boss,” Kathryn nodded, but she’d much rather be gossiping with the others.
Jared shut his office door and began his own research on Jensen Ackles. Was he the only one who had never heard of the man? Twenty minutes later Jared had found the brick pants and the cowboy hat pictures, but he also found so much more. There was a woman claiming to be Jensen’s wife, but she was a stalker. Jensen’s last co-star had a breakdown, and some fans blamed it on Jensen. Their show was subsequently cancelled. It was at least part of the reason Jensen was available to run the company.
Something about the co-star pinged Jared’s radar. He vaguely recalled a scandal surrounding the young man. Jared did a quick image search and his screen filled with pictures of them together. Some were from the show or paid public appearances and a few were clearly photoshopped, but many showed them with their arms around each other. These two did not recognize personal space. Jared did more cyber detective work and landed on a gossip site that claimed Jensen and Colton Haynes were living together and much more than friends and co-stars. But when Jensen made a homophobic comment in public, Colton had a nervous breakdown and quit the show. The site didn’t repeat the comment, so Jared wasn’t sure what Jensen said, but Jared assumed it must have been awful.
Jared glared at Jensen’s image on the screen. “He’s either a homophobic asshole or so deep in the closet he’s found Narnia.”
He read the search suggestions and found the pair had homoerotic fan fiction written about them and their characters. Jared giggled to himself and sent the link to his phone. He definitely wanted to read those in the privacy of his home.
At his tiny desk in the annex, Jensen took a moment to check his personal texts. He found several from the best friend he left behind. His co-star that became like the little brother he never had, Colton Haynes.
Miss you man.
Where did you buy that good coffee? The stuff from that one Sunday remember?
You can do this Jensen. They will love you. If you handled the network assholes, you can handle this.
You’re the smartest guy I know. Sure I don’t know many people but... you’re smart enough to do this.
Did I tell you I miss you?
Jensen smiled though his heart ached. Deep down he knew Colton would be fine, but it’s difficult to let go of that kind of concern after letting it consume the past year of his life.
Miss you, too. The coffee was DD breakfast blend. I suck at this job and they hate me. I took your advice and told them about the brick pants and cowboy hat. Call me tonight.
Jensen rocked back in his chair. Aunt Dee had sung Jared’s praises since she hired the man. Apparently, he was a genius, capable of working miracles even with a tiny budget. Jared had saved her sanity. However, she never mentioned his stellar good looks and he looked like a Greek god wrapped in business casual. Jensen allowed himself a moment to contemplate the man’s arms based on the muscular bit that peeked out from the rolled up sleeves. Jared’s broad shoulders made him more of a Dorito than Chris Evans.
Jensen thought Jared’s eyes sparkled as he talked in the staff meeting, but they looked resentful in Dee’s office. Jared was gorgeous but he definitely wasn’t a fan of Jensen.
Jensen groaned to himself. He didn’t have time to daydream about Jared. He shouldn’t think twice about the man until the company was running smoothly.
Jensen opened his business plan pdf and printed the pages he thought he’d need for his meeting with human resources. It was going to be a long afternoon.
The week passed quickly. Jensen met with every department and as many employees as possible. The only department he didn’t meet with was also the one his aunt said was the most important: Jared’s. The Christmas Parade consumed every minute of Jared's time, but by Thursday afternoon, Jensen was sure the man was purposefully avoiding him. Jensen didn’t want to bother Jared, but he needed to set an appointment to talk with him.
Kathryn’s desk was covered in colored paper indicating parade line up and locations and participants. Behind her desk was a white board with a calendar of events and about a thousand post it notes. Jensen stood back trying to take it all in. The schedule looked impossible. No wonder Jared hadn’t been able to see him. Perhaps he needed to reassign some staff or even hire new staff to help Jared and his assistant for the next month.
He was about to walk away when Jared’s office door opened and Kathryn flew out. She had a pencil in her mouth, another behind her ear, her clothes looked slept in and her eyes flicked from her phone to her desk. From the office, they heard Jared saying, “Yes, sheriff, the businesses along that part of the route handle the road closures…. Yes, that would be great, thank you.”
Kathryn made a note before noticing Jensen. She removed the pencils and brushed a hand over her shirt. “Mr. Ackles. How can I help you?” She subtly shut Jared’s door, her expression politely said ‘I’m happy to see you but I’m swamped.’
“First, don’t call me Mr. Ackles. Jensen is fine. And I need to speak to you and Jared.” With wide panicked eyes, she glanced at the office door. Jensen quickly added, “Not now. I’m hoping you can put me on the schedule for next week.”
She took a breath and nodded. “Of course. Uh,” she looked at the whiteboard and then her phone. “Monday at seven a.m. or five thirty. Which works for you? Although I should warn you that the five thirty will probably disappear due to other meetings running over.”
“That’s all he has next week.” Her strained smile said ‘hurry up’.
“Okay. Monday seven a.m.. Thank you.”
The words had barely left Jensen’s mouth when cursing could be heard from Jared’s office followed by him yelling, “Kathryn!” The assistant spun on her heel to attend to her boss.
Thinking they needed help sooner rather than later, Jensen called HR to see if any staff could be reassigned. As he waited for their answer, he overheard Jared talking.
“The entire thing smashed to bits.” Kathryn gasped. “No one was seriously hurt. The truck driver was taken to the hospital and the animals are spooked but alive. However, we’re screwed. Santa’s the whole point. Without him it’s not a Christmas parade.”
Jensen tentatively knocked on the door frame. “Sorry to eavesdrop but I can help with Santa Claus.”
Skeptically, Jared smirked at Jensen. “Ours had eight reindeer and a sleigh. You have that laying around somewhere?”
Duly rebuked Jensen ducked his head. “No.” But he could offer what he had. “I have a Santa and a sleigh. How about we use horses and tell the crowd the reindeer are resting up for their big flight?”
Jared shook his head. “I don’t think so. We have a certain level of authenticity and professionalism. We can’t have some sidewalk Santa you pull off the street and throw on a ratty wagon.”
Before he could argue, Kathryn showed Jensen pictures from previous parades. “Damn, that does look like the real deal.” He looked from Kathryn to Jared. “Well my offer still stands. It won’t be a sidewalk Santa, he’s a professional. And sure, horses aren’t reindeer, but if you can’t find anything else, please let me help."
Jared sighed. “Thank you Mr. Ackles. We’ll call if we need you. I’ve got to get back to work.”
Knowing he was dismissed, Jensen left, but he didn’t give up. He scrolled through his phone and called in some favors.
Jared grimaced at the distaste his boss left in his mouth. What a narcissistic asshole. Did Ackles really think Jared couldn’t do his job? “Kathryn, please tell me you found some office space. I gotta get out of here.”
Kathryn sighed. “I did, but with your schedule I thought it best to wait until after Thanksgiving to make an appointment.”
Glaring at the spot Jensen just vacated Jared growled, “I don’t know if I can wait that long.”
By six o’clock that evening Jared hadn’t found a Santa or a sleigh that was available that Saturday. He hated admitting defeat. He hated asking Ackles for help. If it wasn’t for his reputation as the best in the state, Jared would let this last parade crumble. He swallowed his pride and called Jensen. “If your Santa and sleigh are still available, send me a picture of them. I’ll see if changes are needed for the costume or sleigh.”
Jared looked at the images Jensen sent and was impressed. The Santa costume was gorgeous, and the sleigh was decent. Jensen also included pictures of the horses. And though it made him eat crow, Jared told Jensen to hire them.
On Saturday the parade participants came together perfectly. The floats, the marching bands, the Shriners in their tiny cars and Jensen’s Santa Claus looked even better in person. There was only one problem that Jared noticed; neither Dee nor Jensen were there. Dee Wallace had never missed the parade. After getting the first marching band started on the route, Jared covered the mouthpiece of his headset and whispered to Kathryn, “Where the hell is Dee? She never misses the Christmas parade.”
Kathryn scrolled through her tablet. “She’s heading up the volunteers at the food drive.”
Jared spun to stare at her. Complete shock covered his face. “She’s what? The food drive?”
Kathryn shrugged. “I know, it’s weird, but that’s where she is.”
“Is Jensen with her?”
Kathryn checked her tablet again. “He’s not listed. I have no idea where he is.”
Jared turned back to the parade. “He probably assumes a parade is beneath him.”
“At least his Santa looks good,” Kathryn added before she signaled the nutcrackers to march. “He even brought elves that hand out candy along the route.”
When the parade was over, Jared joined the volunteers at the food bank. The moment Dee saw him she wrapped him in a hug. “Jared! We watched the coverage on channel six. That was the best parade ever! You should be so proud.”
Jared glowed under her attention for a moment before he remembered her nephew. “Too bad Jensen missed it. Where is he?”
Dee looked around. “I think he’s in there.” She pointed to a room towards the back.
Slightly deflated that he couldn’t dwell in his anger, Jared left to thank Jensen for the Santa and sleigh. When he entered the room, he found Santa stripped down to his skivvies and fat suit top. He shut the door immediately. “Sorry. I was--”
It didn’t seem to phase the man. “Don’t worry, I’m used to changing in front of people.” He unstrapped the fat suit, set it on the small table and pulled a shirt from a bag. “Aunt Dee said the parade was awesome. It looked like you had a great turnout.”
Jared wanted to reply but he was wrapping his head around the fact that Jensen had been Santa. Jensen had not only been there, he had been the star of the parade. Which okay, Jared could almost get there but then Jensen was nearly naked in front of him. It took all his brain power to not lick the man’s chest.
The odd expression on Jared’s face made Jensen laugh. “Oh I forgot.” He removed the beard and white eyebrows. When he pulled the shirt over his head, he broke Jared’s stare.
“I, uh, I want to thank you for Santa and the sleigh. He’s, uh, you, I mean, Santa’s always the highlight of the parade.”
“I should thank you. I had no idea it would be so much fun.” Jensen pulled on a pair of jeans and stepped into some shoes. His grin was intoxicating and Jared felt himself weakening. “So what do you do after you're done with the food bank?”
Jared knew Jensen was only asking for information, he wasn’t asking him out. A small corner of his heart almost warmed to the man... but then the part of him containing his sense of self-preservation kicked in, reminding him that Jensen was a homophobic asshole. Jared schooled his features and turned away. "I go back to work," he responded. "Excuse me."
In the main room, Jared and Kathryn met at a small table and discussed their notes for the parade. Even if they would not be with Dee’s company, Jared hoped to use the parade’s success to bolster his resume.
Jensen helped the other volunteers pack the food donations and load them onto the food bank’s truck. “Do I know you from somewhere?” another volunteer asked Jensen after handing him a box. “You volunteer with Dee’s group before?”
Jensen smiled to cover his panic at being recognized. “I’m Dee’s nephew. I helped out years ago but last time we talked I was dressed as Santa.”
The man laughed. “Oh, that was you under all that stuff! I knew you looked familiar.”
“Jensen was Santa Claus?!” Kathryn whispered to Jared in shock looking from Jensen back to Jared.
“Yeah. He just changed out of the costume a minute ago,” Jared answered sounding very uninterested.
“I would have paid to see that,” she said under her breath.
Jared looked confused. “See what?” he asked matching her hushed voice.
“Jensen naked or nearly naked.” She blushed when she noticed Jared’s wide eyed surprise at her statement. “What? Don’t give me that. He’s hot and I have a pulse.”
Jared did his best to appear annoyed but the image of Jensen in nothing but his underwear flashed in his mind. He had to agree, Jensen was easy on the eyes. But just because the man was attractive didn’t mean he wasn’t an asshole.
Back in his apartment for the night, Jared poured himself a glass of wine and relaxed back into his couch. He was tired of noise so he kept the television off. Instead, he picked up his kindle to read the latest mystery in his library. The main character’s resemblance to Jensen made images of the man come unbidden to Jared’s mind. By the end of the chapter, Jared was so distracted he put aside his kindle and drained his wine.
He couldn’t relax with Jensen on his mind. Or could he? He grabbed his phone and sent the fan fiction link to his kindle. What better way to relax than read mocking stories of his rival? Jared scrolled through the page trying to decide what to read when he realized there were over eighty thousand different stories. He narrowed his choices by word count deciding not to spend his whole evening with poorly written stories about a person he didn’t even like. He didn’t understand the abbreviations the authors used but chose a three thousand word pwp rated E (for everyone?) as his starting point.
When he finished, Jared was practically panting. The room temperature had risen significantly, and he was almost hard. ‘This is like free porn!’ he thought to himself. ‘How can this exist?’ It wasn’t at all like he’d been expecting. It was well written, emotional, and the sex was scorching and he had eighty thousand more entries to read.
Jared read another and palmed his dick through his pants before he finished it. He’d never be able to look Jensen in the eye again. If he read another story that mentioned Jensen’s scratchy voice and had him talking dirty while he bent Colton over and fucked him, Jared would lose it. He unzipped and stroked himself. This was the worst idea he ever had. As his hand pumped his hardening dick, he groaned and thought, ‘or the best.’