April 14, 2008
For all intents and purposes Jared shouldn’t be awake at this ungodly hour and he has been doing nothing but curse Chad’s very existence for calling so early this morning and forcing him to get out of bed. Jared is technically a morning person but even he has his limits. Waking up at four in the morning is one of them.
Lethargy still has him under its spell as he makes his way out of his bedroom, clad in just a pair of baggy pajama pants and socks. He makes his way into the kitchen where the coffee pot is still brewing the coffee he added to it when he first woke up and takes a seat at the kitchen table to wait.
A yawn is pulled out of him as he sits there trying his damnedest to wake up. He got to bed pretty late last night and now his body and mind is rebelling against him, refusing to wake up no matter what he tries. Even the rich aroma of coffee filling the kitchen doesn’t energize him in the slightest.
Absentmindedly, he scratches the back of his neck, rising when the coffee is done and pouring some into a cup, adding in some cream and a ton of sugar. Leaning his hip against the counter, he inhales the coffee in his hands, grinning at the pleasing scent, before carefully taking a sip.
He glances up at the clock as the coffee gradually cools and sees it is half past four in the morning, giving him a half hour to get ready and stop by Chad’s place to pick him up. The things I do for my best friend, he grumbles in his mind as he finishes off his coffee and places the cup in the sink to be washed later.
Chad had called this morning freaking out because he had a major blow out with Sophia, his on again off again girlfriend, and she had taken off in a fit of anger. This isn’t anything new; every few months they get into these arguments and Sophia breaks it off with Chad. Jared honestly doesn’t know why Chad is freaking out so much, Sophia will take him back once she’s had the chance to cool down, she always does. But Chad doesn’t seem to think so and now here Jared is, partly awake way before he’d like to be, getting ready to pick up his friend and take him over to Sophia’s house so he can beg on his knees for her to take him back.
It’s a never ending cycle with those two, he thinks with a roll of his eyes. Wish they’d either work out their damn problems already or just end it for good, I’m tired of being brought into the middle of it.
Sluggishly he makes his way back into the bedroom, taking in the sight of the naked man sleeping in his bed, the top sheet covering his ass while his legs are exposed to the chilly air of the room. Justin’s hair is an unruly mess in his sleep, disarray of blonde strands sticking up on the side of his head where his face is smashed into his pillow. The man looks very content and peaceful and Jared just doesn’t have the heart to wake him yet, figuring that at least one of them deserves to sleep this morning.
He met Justin Hartley the day he started working at Applebee’s and they just clicked instantly. Justin has become one of Jared’s closest friends, Jared would even say he is his best friend, second in line to Chad of course. Jared enjoys Justin’s company, the man knows how to make Jared laugh when he is having one of the worst days and it is those times he’s most grateful to have Justin in his life. He has a lot of fun with the blonde.
They didn’t have the relationship they have today until a few months ago, going from just platonic friends to friends with benefits. This is something Jared never thought he would ever do in his life - sleep with one of his closest friends but not actually be in a relationship with said friend - but oddly enough this arrangement works for the both of them.
Jared isn’t all too sure how much longer they can do this; every time they fall into bed with each other they take a risk. Jared doesn’t honestly think they will develop any kind of feelings for each other, but there is still a risk it could happen, and he really doesn’t want this to ruin the friendship they have managed to build. For now this works for them, but he isn’t going to fool himself into thinking it will always be this way.
Justin is eventually going to want to be in a committed relationship, which is something he greatly deserves. He only comes to Jared because of his unrequited love for their mutual friend, Tom Welling, and Jared is more than happy to sate his need when it arises. Jared on the other hand doesn’t want to be in a relationship; he has only been in love once and no one comes close to the man he still keeps locked in his heart. He only goes to Justin when he needs a little release.
In a way they are using each other, but they both are aware of it, so it is mostly okay. It won’t last forever, neither of them are foolish enough to think it will, but it is nice to have someone to go to with no strings attached, at least for now. Jared really hopes Justin finds someone and moves on from Tom because he deserves to be happy and Jared hates seeing him pine for somebody that doesn’t even give him a second glance.
Forcing his eyes away from the slumbering blonde, Jared crosses the room and opens the door of his closet. He pulls out a pair of faded blue jeans and a beige button down shirt before grabbing a pair of boxers and socks from the top drawer of his dresser. Silently, he exits the bedroom, careful not to wake Justin, and quietly shuts the bathroom door behind him.
Showering only takes him ten minutes and then he is leaving the room in a cloud of steam. Feeling much more awake and energetic he heads into his room and kneels at Justin’s side, taking in the peaceful expression on the man’s face. The blonde lets out a low groan when Jared reaches out and gives his shoulder a slight shake, trying to wake him.
“Go away, too early,” Justin mumbles into the pillow, attempting to blindly swat Jared’s hand away.
“Hey, Chad called earlier, so I need to leave and help him out,” Jared says, making sure he has Justin’s attention.
“He having problems with Sophia again?” Justin asks in a sleep rough voice as he cracks an eye open to regard Jared.
“Yeah, he probably just needs me to drop him off at her house. Worse case scenario, she doesn’t take him back right away and I get stuck with his whiny ass for most of the day,” Jared says, making Justin chuckle slightly as he nods his head at the truth of that statement. “If I’m not back by the time you wake up though, just make sure to lock up before you leave.”
“Alright, no problem. Now, if you don’t mind, I’m gonna go back to sleep.”
Jared watches in half amusement and half longing as Justin covers his bare body with the sheet and slowly drifts off to sleep once more. Jared would like nothing more than to lie back down and join Justin in sleep but he knows that isn’t an option so, reluctantly, he rises to his feet and quietly leaves the room.
Grabbing his jacket and keys on his way out of the apartment, Jared takes off down the hall and decides to take the stairs rather than wait for the elevator - he only lives on the second floor after all. He reaches his Ford F-150 a few minutes later, turns off the alarm and climbs inside, escaping the early morning chill.
Chad’s place is only a fifteen minute drive away and in seemingly no time at all Jared is pulling into the driveway. Chad, who was waiting just outside his house, climbs inside once Jared leans across the seat and unlocks the door for him. Jared may be awake now, compared to earlier, but he is still quite tired so he sends Chad a glare to show how annoyed he is.
“What’d you do to piss her off this time?” Jared asks as he backs out of the driveway and onto the street once more.
“What gives you the idea it was something I did?” Chad asks petulantly, all the while fighting to put his seat belt on, growling when he can’t get it to pull out far enough to snap it in place across his chest.
Jared gives his friend a ‘don’t bullshit me’ expression before rolling his eyes. “Dude, when is it ever not your fault? Besides, you called me freaking out, and if it’d been her that fucked up you would have been pissed, not freaked out thinking she’s gonna leave you. So, do you want to try this again? What’d you do this time?”
Chad lets out a sigh, finally getting his seat belt to cooperate, and slouches down in his seat. “It doesn’t really matter what I did, just that I fucked up and need to make it right,” he says softly while gazing out the passenger side window. “I appreciate you picking me up like this, again. I really need to get a car of my own.”
“Yes you do, ‘cause there’s no way in hell I’m getting out of bed at four in the morning for you again,” Jared says half serious but kind of concerned by how downtrodden his friend looks. “Don’t worry man, I’ll get you to her house soon enough and you can beg on your knees if you have to.”
Chad looks back at Jared with a guilty and apprehensive expression on his face, giving Jared a bad feeling in the pit of his stomach. He knows that expression can mean nothing good, and it is likely bad news for him, so he finds himself reluctant to find out what surprise Chad has in store for him this time.
Glancing between his friend and the road Jared tightens his hands on the steering wheel and bites his inner cheek, mentally counting down from ten, waiting for Chad to drop whatever bomb he has for him.
“Dude, what is it?” Jared asks when the continued silence becomes too much for him to bear. “Why are you looking at me like that?”
“Um…” Chad shifts in his seat, looking uncomfortable. “Sophia isn’t at her house.”
Jared glances at his friend, trying to discern where he is going with this. “Okay, then where is she?”
“She uh, she went to stay at her parents’ house… in Richardson,” Chad tells him quietly, visibly bracing himself for Jared’s outburst.
Jared’s eyes nearly bulge out of their sockets as he stares at his friend in obvious disbelief. “That’s a six hour drive from here, give or take. You expect me to drive you all the way to Richardson so you can make up with Sophia? You really had to have pissed her off this time to send her running off to her parents place.”
“Look, I know it’s really shitty of me to ask you to drive all that way, but I’m begging you man. I’d have loved it if she had stayed here in San Antone, but she didn’t, which means I don’t know if we’ll be able to work things out this time. She’s never run off to her parents before, and it kills me that she had to get that far away from me, but I have to try to make this right,” Chad says in a pleading tone of voice, trying to give Jared the puppy eyes, but it just looks strange on him. “Any time you need a favor just say the word, but please take me to Richardson, Jay. I’ll do whatever you want me to if you just drive me there, please.”
“Alright!” Jared raises his voice to get Chad to shut up, tired of hearing his pleas, especially since he had already decided he’d take him to Richardson. “I’ll drive you there, just shut up already! And we’re stopping at Starbucks on our way out of town, I’m gonna need it if I’m supposed to drive for the next six hours or so.”
The sun is high in the sky by the time they reach the Richardson city limits and Jared’s body is starting to ache from driving for so long. Chad is restless in his seat, practically vibrating with anticipation, when they pull up in front of the beige and white house that Sophia’s parents live in. The truck has barely come to a complete stop when Chad thrusts open his door and scrambles out.
Jared steps out of the truck once it is in park, not planning to stay long, just needing to stretch his legs, and watches as Chad pounds on the front door, yelling Sophia’s name at the top of his lungs. All Jared can think is that this will piss Sophia off more, but he doesn’t want to get in the middle of this so he stands back and watches his friend make an ass out of himself. It’s not like anything Jared could say would make Chad see reason anyway so he isn’t even going to try, it would be pointless right now.
The front door opens a moment later and a red faced Sophia steps outside, slamming the door behind her. Sophia is yelling now, calling Chad every name in the book, while Chad is all but crawling on his knees begging her to give him another chance. Jared tunes them out at some point, figuring his own thoughts are better than listening to them argue.
As he stands there he makes a mental list of all the things he needs to do when he gets back home, although he can’t be sure at this point when that will be. He has today and tomorrow off from work so he figures he can get some of the things done that he has been putting off. His house really needs to be cleaned, it’s been a while since he’s vacuumed or mopped at all, and there are a few errands he needs to run, not to mention his fridge is looking pretty bare these days.
Reaching through his open window, he turns the car key far enough to turn on the radio but not start the engine, using some country music to muffle the sounds of the two people a few feet away from him. He listens to the relaxing sounds of Tim McGraw, leaning against his truck, staring up into the wide blue sky.
His mind wanders for a while, not staying on one particular thought for too long, waiting slightly impatiently for Chad to let him know if they can go yet or if Jared can head back to San Antonio. He can’t be sure how much time slides by before Chad slowly makes his way over to him, Sophia standing at the front door of her parents’ house, watching silently.
“So, what’s the verdict?” Jared asks as soon as Chad is within hearing distance. “You guys patch things up between you? Can I go home now?”
“She agreed to talk things over with me, give me time to explain a few things, but there’s no guarantee she’ll be heading back with me,” Chad says with a heavy sigh before looking at Jared with hopeful eyes. “I know it’s a lot to ask but can you stick around for just a bit longer? I’m gonna need a ride back if she decides she doesn’t want to come back yet, or we can’t work things out this time. I’ll make sure to give you a call as soon as I figure things out, and I won’t leave you waiting too long man, I promise.”
Deep down Jared had kind of been expecting this but hearing the words still forces a sigh out of him. He can’t deny that he will be waiting around for Chad though, there’s no way he could live with himself if he stranded his best friend here. Chad may be a jerk at times but he has never done Jared wrong.
“Alright fine, just give me a call the moment you know what you’re gonna do. I don’t want to get back home too late, it’s my day off dude,” Jared tells him firmly and rolls his eyes fondly when Chad practically beams back at him.
“Don’t worry, I won’t leave ya waiting long man, and I’ll call you the second I know what I’m doing,” Chad reassures him and then is running back up the driveway, following an unhappy looking Sophia into the house.
Jared climbs back into his truck, sitting there silently for a moment, contemplating what to do while he waits for Chad’s call. Grandpa’s old ranch isn’t that far from here, he notes silently as he looks at the street sign a few feet away from where he’s parked. His grandpa died a few years ago, leaving the ranch to Jared’s dad. No one lives there anymore but his dad didn’t have the heart to sell it. Jared can remember many a summer spent there, but one summer in particular is at the forefront of his mind. When he thinks about the time spent at that ranch he always remembers the summer when he was seventeen years old.
Decision made, Jared starts the truck and pulls away from the curb. Jared always returns to the old ranch, he stops by once a year even now that his grandpa has passed. The place holds so many memories, good and bad, and Jared has always taken the time to stop by and just relive them so to speak. He hasn’t been there this year though, and since he has some time to kill, he figures now would be a good time to stop by.
Jared pulls his truck onto the old dirt road of Maude Adams Lane, his grandpa’s ranch looming in the distance. He stops the vehicle in front of the old barn and steps out, breathing in the warm air while glancing around him, almost wistfully. The place is worn down now; the fields have become overgrown with no one there to take care of them and the paint on the house is weathered and chipping away.
The windows and doors of the ranch house are boarded up to keep anyone from breaking in, but the barn doesn’t have a padlock on it so Jared heads in that direction. He can remember many nights spent in this very barn; well past midnight he could be found in here, the smell of hay and horses all around him. The horses are gone now of course, but there’s still a faint smell that Jared knows will be gone within the year or so.
A melancholy feeling settles over him as he enters the barn and looks around. It’s the same barn he remembers, the same loft he spent so much time in, but all life has left the old barn and it is now unkempt. The air in the barn is musty now as well, nothing like it used to be when the doors were open to let fresh air in.
The state of the ranch always makes Jared feel sad, seeing it so run down feels wrong to him, and it is almost like he can feel the time he spent here slipping further and further away from his reach. The feeling is worse this year though, because it is looking more barren now than it ever has. We shouldn’t have let it get like this, he thinks despairingly as he lowers himself down onto the chair placed just inside the barn doors.
He really hates seeing this once lively place looking like this, it makes his heart ache in his chest. He still loves this ranch, it has a special place in his heart and so many precious memories were created here. Seeing the place unloved feels like part of his past is dying and withering away. It just kills him every time he comes back here and he wishes there was something he could do.
Every fiber of his being is telling him that he should talk to his dad and tell him that he wants to run the ranch, wants to fix it up and turn it into what it once was. He knows where they took the horses, he could get them back if he wanted to. He knows where to buy the hay and horse supplies and everything one would need on a horse ranch. Jared has spent enough time on this ranch to know how to run it, but one problem arises: he can’t run it on his own.
It would also mean that he would have to leave San Antonio and move down here to Richardson, which could prove troublesome seeing as he wouldn’t have enough money to run this place on his own. He would need a job, a well paying one at that, and that wouldn’t be the easiest thing for him to come by, not right away at least.
He realizes a lot of planning has to go into this if he actually decides to consider it, but the main thing is he can’t afford to run this place on his own; he needs man power, and he isn’t sure how he would do that. He highly doubts he can talk Chad into moving down here with him, and he doesn’t have many friends who he’s close enough to that might even consider his idea. He is kind of alone and that disheartens him because fixing up this ranch is something he finds he would really like to do.
He realizes how crazy this sounds, how spontaneous this is. It is kind of crazy to want to do this because of memories he can’t let go of - this would change his whole life around after all - but the memories this place hold for him aren’t the only things spurring him on. He was very close to his grandpa when he was alive, and Jared knows how much this ranch meant to him. He hates to see something his grandpa loved so much slowly rot away until it has to be condemned. No, Jared just cannot let that happen, he refuses.
But how am I gonna do this without help? he silently questions, feeling helpless and desperate.
Jared stands up and moves to the entrance of the barn, wrapping his arms around his middle as he stares out across the fields with distant eyes, reliving a past that seems so tangible he could almost reach out and touch it, can feel every emotion he felt way back then.
June 17th, 1998
Bright sunlight spills in through a crack in the curtains, streaking across Jared’s face, directly into his eyes. The slight warmth draws him out of his dreams, forcing him to turn his head away when he opens his eyes and is nearly blinded. Cursing softly under his breath he lies there for a moment longer, limbs limp with sleep, making him snug and cozy on the mattress, blanket twisted around his legs like a web.
A glance at the clock on the nightstand by the bed tells him it is eight o’clock in the morning and while he is content to just lay there he knows his grandpa will come barging in any minute now, demanding that he wake up and join the land of the living. Grandpa Ray has always been this way, for as long as Jared can remember, and while he would like nothing more than to sleep in during his summer break, he knows that isn’t about to happen. He isn’t going to complain though; he is used to the routine by now after spending many a summer here, and for the most part he is a morning person anyway.
Dragging his tired body out of bed, he makes a quick stop in the bathroom before heading downstairs. Grandpa Ray is sitting at the kitchen table when Jared enters, morning paper and cup of coffee in hand, appearing far more awake than Jared currently feels. He still manages to greet his grandpa with a smile however, as he makes a beeline for the fridge.
Pulling out the orange juice, he pours some into a glass and joins his grandpa at the table, slouching down into one of the chairs as he stifles a yawn with the back of his hand. His grandpa watches on in amusement before sliding the funnies over to Jared, knowing he likes to read them over all else. Jared smiles his gratitude and they fall into a companionable silence as they each read their sections of the paper.
Many minutes pass before Grandpa Ray closes the paper and lays it down on the table. “So, how did you sleep?”
“Really good actually, I’d almost forgotten how comfortable the mattress in the guestroom was.”
“Now none of this guestroom nonsense, that room is yours and you know it,” Grandpa rebukes him with a little smile, which Jared reciprocates with a toothy one of his own. “You got in pretty late last night. I figured you’d be pretty tired after a six hour drive with that worrisome mother of yours so I was gonna let you sleep in this morning.”
Jared groans when he hears this. “You mean to tell me I could’ve slept in and I got up early for no reason?”
His grandpa just smiles in amusement but he doesn’t bother to respond and Jared figures it isn’t really needed anyway. He is waking up more and more now and he finds that he doesn’t mind not sleeping in. It isn’t something he really does often anyway, and on the off chance that he does, he usually feels crappy afterwards. Besides, he is on his grandpa’s ranch, meaning there is a beautiful mare by the name of Sidney waiting for him to come see her.
Skipping breakfast for the time being, Jared finishes off his juice and then rushes up the stairs two at a time to get dressed. Pulling out the first pair of jeans he finds in his duffle bag, he slips them on over his boxers and then changes into a wife beater and a white and grey plaid shirt. Deciding he is presentable enough, he heads back downstairs and calls out to his grandpa, letting him know he is heading outside.
The sun is shining brightly in an otherwise cloudless sky when he steps out onto the ranch house porch and takes a deep breath of fresh air, the scent of hay and horses and grass filling his senses. It is a beautiful day and Jared plans to take full advantage of it.
As he stands there, leaning against the railing of the wrap around porch, he makes a silent list of things he intends to do today. For starters he is going to see his horse, the one Grandpa Ray gave to him for his thirteenth birthday. His parents didn’t have anywhere to keep a horse though, so his grandpa said he’d keep Sidney at the ranch and that Jared could come see her anytime he wanted. Jared is very fond of that horse and she is one of the reasons he makes sure to come stay here every summer.
Then he is going to see if Grandpa Ray will let him take the truck into town to get some breakfast at the local diner, the one he has been going to since he was a kid, where everyone knows him. They make the best pancakes and Belgian waffles around; Jared dares anyone to say any different.
After that he figures he will drive over to the Coffee House to see Sandy and he just hopes she is working today. He knows where she lives though, if today happens to be her day off. He has known her since she was in pigtails and lacy dresses and they have been the best of friends since they were eight. He always tries to spend as much time with her as he can when he is in town. In a lot of ways he is closer to her than he is to Chad, and she is the only person he has trusted enough to confide in that he’s gay.
Later, when he is finished catching up with his friend, he will see if his grandpa needs any help around the ranch. Before it gets too dark I’d really like to ride Sidney too, he thinks to himself with a nod of his head. Pleased that he has his day all planned out, he steps off the porch and heads to the barn with a bounce in his step, a wide grin spreading across his face. This is gonna be a good day, he can’t help thinking to himself; he is in such a good mood he’s practically beaming.
He stops short when he reaches the barn doors however, because there is a guy standing by Lightning’s stall who Jared has never seen before. The guy has his back to him, and Jared can’t help but notice the way that the wife beater he is wearing stretches across the expanse of his back like a second skin. Jared finds himself unable to tear his eyes away; they have a mind of their own as they trail over the guy’s body and Jared hopes and prays he doesn’t turn around.
Just from the back of his body Jared can tell the guy has some muscle but not overly so, and his legs are bowed like he has spent an entire day on the back of a horse and his body isn’t used to it. Something coils and tightens in the pit of Jared’s stomach, hot and tingly, when the guy bends slightly to pick up a pail. The faded blue jeans upon his hips cling to his ass, drawing Jared’s attention near immediately, and he has to bite his lip when the wife beater rides up a little, showcasing a sliver of tanned flesh on his lower back.
The guy turns around with the pail clutched loosely in his right hand and nearly jumps a mile into the air when he sees Jared, breathing rough and uneven as he stares at Jared with wide eyes the color of emeralds. Jared smiles sheepishly, toeing the dirt self-consciously as he fights the urge to fidget; for some reason he doesn’t want to look like some idiot in front of this really, really hot guy.
“Sorry about that, I didn’t mean to sneak up on you or anything,” Jared manages to say after a shaky intake of air.
“No, it’s alright, I just wasn’t expecting anyone to be standing there,” The guy responds with a soft chuckle, a radiant smile pulling at his lips, making the corners of his eyes crinkle. “You must be Jared, right?”
“Uh… yeah?” For the life of him Jared can’t say why that came out sounding like a question; it is as though all his higher brain function has abandoned him and is in turn making him act like a bumbling idiot.
“Ray’s told me a lot about you,” the guy explains, running a hand through his sandy blonde hair. “You’re all he can seem to talk about.”
“All good things I hope,” Jared laughs a bit uncomfortably. He is close to his grandpa, thinks he is the greatest man that has ever lived, but he is a little worried about what has been said to this guy. Jared hopes he hasn’t told him any embarrassing stories, because God knows he has a ton of them.
“He only has great things to say, he thinks very highly of you,” the guy responds with a grin before holding out his hand. “I’m Jensen, by the way.”
Jared takes Jensen’s warm hand into his own, pleased to have a name to refer to the guy with. “It’s nice to meet you Jensen.” He drawls out the name, testing it out and quickly deciding he likes the way it rolls off his tongue.
“Likewise,” Jensen says softly and then releases his hand, Jared feeling strangely disappointed when he loses the warmth of Jensen’s palm in his own. He mentally shrugs it off and steps around Jensen, moving to Sidney’s stall.
His white and beige mare nuzzles into his hand when he reaches out to caress her, running his hand down her mane. Jensen stands off to the side, silently watching Jared interact with his horse, a soft smile on his face and a warm look in his eyes. Jared doesn’t mind the audience, just grins broadly before turning his head away shyly.
Silence stretches out between them as Jensen steps away and moves on from Lightning to begin cleaning Thunder’s stall. Jared watches him quietly, secretly enjoying the way the muscles in his back and arms flex. The guy is simply gorgeous, there is no other way to put it, and Jared is eager to get to know him a little better. Please, oh please let him be gay, or bi at the very least, he pleads in silence as his eyes track Jensen’s every move.
He briefly wonders if he will eventually make Jensen uncomfortable with all the staring he is doing, and he knows he should probably leave the poor guy alone so he can get his work done, but he finds himself reluctant to leave. I wonder if he’d be interested in getting breakfast with me, he contemplates, feeling nervous anticipation coursing through his system.
“So, um, I was wondering… have you eaten breakfast yet? I was thinking about asking my grandpa for the keys to the truck and going to Molly’s Diner for some pancakes. Would you be interested in coming with me?” Jared asks and then waits with bated breath for Jensen’s answer, a little worried he will say no.
Jensen’s response is an immediate grin and a nod of his head. “Yeah that sounds awesome, I’m starving,” he says with a soft laugh. “Just let me finish cleaning up Thunder’s stall and then we can hit the road.”
“Great,” Jared tries not to sound too excited as he starts to back out of the barn. “I’ll just go get the keys and wait out by the truck for you.”
Jared runs to the house as soon as he is out of sight, a bright and beaming smile on his face the whole way. This day is certainly turning out better than he could ever have hoped it would.