~ Jared ~
“Jensen Ackles is getting married.”
Jared hears Sandy’s words but they don’t process. “What did you just say?”
His best friend touches his cheek. Jared flinches because touching. But he fights it back. Be normal. “Jared. I’m sorry.” She removes her hand but keeps his gaze. He pushes against the disquiet. Loses. He drifts his eyes up and looks at her perfectly shaped eyebrows instead. She knows what he’s doing. Most don’t realize. But she knows his tricks. Usually he doesn’t have to use them with her. But … He sucks in air and waits for her to continue. Because it’s not possible he heard what he thinks he heard.
“I’m sorry, Jare. Jensen’s getting married. He told me himself.”
“M-married? But. But … that’s not. Who?”
“Tom Welling. You know how hard they’ve been working to get the marriage equality bill through the legislature. I think they want to be the first two to show up at City Hall. It’ll be a media circus. You know how Tom thrives on that.”
A single word flashes like a beacon through his mind.
No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No.
Sandy shakes him. “Jared … Jared, stop!”
The tremors zip up his spine and vibrate like a current ripping through him. He gulps for air but his throat is clamped shut, tight and constricted and his face is ablaze and the stars start twinkling out, falling away, swirling like a cyclone out of reach. Filling the world with black.
“Jared! Oh god. Honey, breathe, please … take it slow. You’ll be okay. I know … I know how much you liked him. I’m so sorry. An’ it’s wrong because he doesn’t love Tom. It’s just a show. Dammit. Jare, please … slow, deep breaths.”
Familiar and warm. Like a song. Like music. With its steady beat and repetitive rhythm. And sense. Music made sense. Sandy. Sandy is singing.
“Twinkle, twinkle little star … how I wonder where you are? … “
He opens his eyes. Her pretty face gazes down at him in what he guesses must be concern. The tile is cool and smooth beneath his fingertips as he pushes himself up slowly. “I … What?”
“You had a panic attack. Fainted. Breathe slow, okay?”
He inhales air carefully. Feels it pass his nostrils, down his chest, filling the cavity with gaseous nourishment. In the lunar program the astronauts breathed pure oxygen. “Caused the fire.”
“What?” Sandy’s brows rise.
“Apollo One. The astronauts warned them, you know. The crew, Grissom, Chaffee, White. They were worried about flammables in the cockpit. Should have listened to them. After that, crew concerns were taken more seriously.”
He is gifted with a weak smile. Sandy knows that talking about space makes Jared feel better. Safe. She’s always indulged him.
“Twelve humans walked on the moon.” Her smile is small but steady as she brushes his hair back from his face.
Jared smiles back. “How incredible is that?”
She tucks her long, wavy hair behind one ear. “Feeling a little better? Want to talk about it?”
Jensen. Married. Out of Jared’s reach forever. Not that Jared has him anywhere near his reach. Jared is just about invisible. Oh sure, Jensen is polite. Sometimes Jared gets to drop off a package personally to Jensen and not to Sandy, his assistant. On those occasions, Jensen always smiles and says, “Hey Jared. Howya doin’?”
And Jared forces his eyes up to meet Jensen’s like he knows he should. Because you look people in the eye if you want to be friendly. He knew all that even before he met Sandy. She reinforced it is all. Years of therapy have taught him how to act. How to blend in. When you make eye contact, just make sure you're smiling (even though it feels uncomfortable). Some people misconstrue this as flirty, but (almost) no one will be put off by it or misinterpret it as aggressive. Mirror the person you're talking to. If they break eye contact, look away for a moment or two. That way they won't think you're staring.
“He’s getting married?” Jared asks now, voice wispy soft. Of course Jensen is getting married. He’s Jensen. The most beautiful man in the universe. Not that Jared believes that extraterrestrial life would necessarily be humanoid. In fact, it is highly unlikely that this would be the case. But it doesn’t mean that Jensen wouldn’t still be the most beautiful living thing ever. Some things just are.
“He asked if I would manage the wedding plans.” Sandy pauses, fingers twirling her hair into little curlicues. Jared knows that means she feels bad. Some Aspies can’t read people at all. Jared isn’t like that. He can suss out NT ticks. Especially if he knows the person well. If he tries. Doctors called him atypical and high functioning. Whatever. Only some people make him stupid. Make him forget to fake it. Well, not really people. More like one person.
“It’s stupid to always answer fine. But I always feel fine when he’s smiling at me. Have you noticed how his eyes crinkle in the corners? Like little pathways that trail along his temple. And he tips his head back when he laughs and his eyes shut sometimes and the sound is like a bark … only smoother … like it was drowned in expensive whiskey.”
Sandy’s fingers trail his face again. It didn’t bother him this time. Felt soft. “I’m sorry,” she repeats.
“I’m stupid. So stupid to think—“
“No. Jare, you’re not stupid. Don’t say—“
“Oh my god … Jared, are you okay?”
Jared’s heart implodes like a stone reentering the atmosphere. Because that’s Jensen’s voice. He struggles frantically to get up, nearly toppling petite Sandy down in the process. Jensen reaches for her before she tumbles backward. Then a tight grip squeezes Jared’s bicep. And the scent of expensive cologne fills his nostrils. It’s getting hard to breathe again. No. Shit. Stop. Not now. Not in front of …
“I … I’m fine.” Stupid. Stupid. Stupid. Say something else. He just found you flat on your ass in the mailroom, you idiot. “I mean. I … well, I … didn’t feel so good. But now. Now I feel fine.” See? Stupid. Like he forgets how to talk altogether.
“Did you pass out? We should call a doctor. Or c’mon, we’ll visit the ER for a quick look over.”
“No! I don’t want to go to the doctor. I’m okay.” He forces a calming breath into his lungs. “You know lots of folks think the Lunar Module, the Lem, was covered in foil. The gold covering, it looks … looks like foil but really it’s plastic. A super thin film that was coated with aluminum. It absorbed the sun’s rays and protected the craft against micrometeoroids.”
Jensen’s brows come together and Jared thinks he should know what that means. But he doesn’t. “Um-hmm.” A large hand settles on Jared’s shoulder. It’s warm but it doesn’t make him flinch. Weird. “Jared … you sure you’re feeling alright?”
“He just skipped breakfast. Affects him sometimes.”
Jared meet Sandy’s eyes gratefully and manages to hold her gaze a few moments before looking away. He forces himself calmer. “Breakfast is important. Can I help you with something, Jensen?” Jared stares at the FedEx that Jensen holds in one hand.
Jensen seems surprised at the envelope. He pulls back and Jared misses his touch immediately. Really, really weird. “I just needed to drop this off. Figured I’d bring it by since Sandy was … well, I guess she was here.”
“Sorry—“ Sandy interrupts.
“No, not at all. It’s fine,” Jensen brushes off her apology. “I’m glad you were here.” His eyes return to Jared. So beautiful. Jared didn’t think anybody could have eyes that he’d think beautiful. He doesn’t look at people’s eyes very much. Usually make him feel flustered, crowded, even queasy. But not Jensen’s. They are oddly calming. Like studying a planetary nebulae glowing a sparkling green within an inky black void.
Jensen blinks, breaking their stare. Sandy told him NTs also got lost in their heads sometimes. He appreciated hearing that. But Jensen is here with a job for Jared. “Drop that on my desk. I’ll take care of it.”
Stepping back, Jared’s eyes follow Jensen’s arm putting down the envelope.
“Okay. I … thanks.”
Sandy coughs, catching Jared’s attention. “I should get back to work.” She takes a quick glance toward her boss, looks back. “We’ll talk again later, Jare. It’ll be … later, okay?”
Jared nods at her, forcing himself to meet her eyes so that she’ll know he is alright. He expects Jensen to follow her out of the mailroom and is surprised when he is still standing there after she leaves.
“I just … Can you email me the tracking number so I can follow it at my desk?”
“I’ll track it for you. It’s my job to do that.”
“I know. I didn’t mean you wouldn’t … I just want to check it myself. It’s a contract for a new author. Very skittish. Wanna make sure she signs.”
Jared nods. Once more he expects Jensen to leave. But he doesn’t. “Are you sure everything’s okay?”
Flushing, Jared looks down at his desk, practically staring a hole through its carefully stacked piles. “Yes. Sure. I … Sandy … she told me. So I should … I mean I want to say, congratulations.”
“Thanks. This bill’s been a long time coming. Shame that New York should take so long to simply offer us what everyone else had all along, you know.”
Jared looks up. He knows how important this is to Jensen. He thinks it‘s important, too. Only in his stupid fantasies it included himself and Jensen. You’re an idiot. Like Jensen would ever consider you good enough to …
“ … Maybe you’ll get married one day, too, Jared. Right?”
“Are you dating anyone now?”
“N-no. No one. I don’t—“
“Well that’s fine. You’re still young. One day, though, you’ll meet someone special. That’s why this matters. Why it’s important. For you. For every gay man or woman who wants to be able to commit to someone.” Jared can’t identify the look that passes over Jensen’s face. “Been fighting a long time for this. Feels like my whole life.”
“Tom Welling. His book. You brought it to everyone. And the Arcus imprint. That made a difference.” Jared was seventeen when Welling’s book hit the bestseller list. And he begrudgingly has to admit it made a difference in his mixed up world. One more thing he needed to understand about himself. Welling’s stark memoir about a gay boy figuring things out. Even though that boy was nothing like Jared. It helped.
Jared knows that Jensen discovered the book as a young assistant editor. That he pushed it up the chain until it got noticed. That he initiated the Arcus imprint that dealt with lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues as well as promoting LGBT writers. At thirty-three, Jensen is now one of the youngest publishers in the business, running his own imprint and introducing a slew of new writers to the public.
And that doesn’t even touch on his political activism.
“Yeah, Tom’s a good pal.”
Jared startles at this. “You mean partner?”
Jensen blinks. “Yes. Of course. Partner.” He runs his hand over the back of his hair, a nervous habit that Jared has amazingly noticed. Only Sandy told him it wasn’t one of those he was supposed to imitate. It’s hard to keep it all straight sometimes. “I should … “ Jensen points vaguely toward the door.
“I’ll take care of your FedEx and email you the tracking info.”
Jensen takes one step toward the doorway before turning back. He runs his hand through his hair again. “I know you didn’t have breakfast. So I guess you didn’t have lunch yet either?”
“No. Not yet. I’ll input this first and then—“
“No. I mean, that can wait. You should eat. Hell, can’t have you passing out again.” Jensen meets his stare dead on and Jared feels like the nebula is going to swallow him whole. “C’mon, I’ll take you to lunch.”
“N-no. I can’t. I have work and … “
“Gotta eat, right?”
“Yes, but … “
“Burgers okay? You look like a burger kind of guy.”
“I look like I like meat?”
Jensen colors slightly and drops his gaze. Jared figures it means something but damn if he knows what. Stupid NTs with their so-called body language.
Despite thinking that this will turn into a disaster of Titanic proportions Jared follows Jensen out the door.
~ Jensen ~
Jensen takes a bite of his burger, licking around his lips as the ketchup squirts out. Wow. He must have been hungrier than he thought because it’s just about the best thing he’s ever tasted. It’s been a long time since Jensen bothered to eat lunch out. And even longer since he’s invited anyone with him. Jared’s sitting directly across from Jensen. His peculiar coworker puts his own burger down and picks up a French fry, carefully dipping it in the little well of ketchup he’d squirted before bringing it to his broad lips.
And that’s another thing … why is Jensen noticing Jared’s lips all of a sudden? It’s just that seeing the tall man sitting on the floor, clearly looking like he’d just fallen, face ashen and eyes moist … it had just about stopped Jensen’s heart cold. It’s not that he’s never noticed Jared before. How could he not? The boy is gorgeous. Tall and built with eyes that shimmer like the sun bursting through a misty gray blue sky. Openly gay, which pleases Jensen. Nothing upsets him as much as someone who believes he has to negate who he is. Jared is a little odd, admittedly. Jensen long figured Jared has a learning disability or some such thing. But he does his job well and always bestows Jensen a smile that could melt butter. Has these little nervous habits like looking down too often. Shame. With eyes like that he never needs to hide.
“ … mother committed suicide about a year before the mission.”
Jensen starts from his musings, realizing that Jared is still talking about the Apollo missions. It’s pretty much all he’s talked about since lunch began. He’s never met anyone quite as obsessed with the moon as Jared.
“What?” he asks with an apologetic look.
“I said that Buzz Aldrin’s mother took her own life a year before Apollo 11.”
“Wow. I didn’t know that.”
Jared twists his head in a considering way. “You know, twelve human beings walked on the moon. Name more than two. Name the third person to ever set foot on another planet.”
“Nobody.” Jared’s face scrunches in confusion. Jensen waits a beat. “The moon isn’t a planet.”
It takes a second for Jensen’s words to register and then Jared’s lips curve up in a dimples-producing smile. It warms Jensen like he’d stepped under a heat lamp. Jensen gives in. “I’m teasing. You are right. Everyone should know Pete Conrad and Alan Bean’s names.”
Jared’s mouth opens in a gape and Jensen laughs. “You knew,” Jared blurts.
Jensen smiles, oddly pleased with himself at surprising Jared. “I did. But only because we did a book covering Bean’s art. Truth is, until that book I didn’t know. And … I still don’t know the fifth or sixth man to walk on the moon. Hey, how many were there again altogether?”
“Twelve walked on it. And another twelve got within about sixty miles. I always wonder what it felt like to be the Command Module pilot. To get so close but not land.”
“Oh man, think that would have made me nuts.”
Jared shifts a fry on his plate further away from the slight bit of leftover burger. Jensen notes the pile of lettuce and tomato that Jared has moved completely off his plate, eating his burger plain. Nothing on it. No cheese. No ketchup. To each his own, he figures.
Jensen peers across the table. “Not you what?”
“I wouldn’t have minded being the Command Module pilot. Circling the moon, waiting to bring his crew home. I don’t think they could have done what they did without knowing he was there, you know. He was their lifeline. They were two-hundred and forty thousand miles from home. So far away that our entire world looked no bigger than a kid’s marble. They were the only two people in their entire world. When … I feel alone, I think of that. And then I think of the CM pilot. Orbiting a dead satellite. That’s alone. Really, truly alone. Except you have a very important job to do. And that’s enough to keep you going. Even when communication vanished on the far side. On Apollo 11, Michael Collins orbited the moon fourteen times. Every time he reached the far side he spent forty-eight minutes in complete silence because the radio communication cut out. They call it ‘Loss of Signal.’
“I think … I mean to me ... that’s what a hero is. It’s not being disappointed. It’s doing your job. It’s bringing your comrades home.”
Jensen is surprised at the moisture suddenly behind his eyes. Just as he is shocked to find Jared’s equally liquid gaze staring at him. Jensen’d been feeling pretty special lately. He’d felt like he accomplished something worthwhile having helped bring about New York’s historic marriage equality legislation. And it is important and will benefit so many. But there is something about the loneliness he senses in Jared’s unexpected stare that helps bring perspective.
“I recognized his name, Michael Collins, when you said it. But before that. If you’d just asked me to name the Command Module pilot for Apollo 11, I wouldn’t have known it. And that’s just wrong. So, thank you for sharing that.”
Jared keeps looking at him. Almost to the point where Jensen starts to feel self-conscious. He blinks and picks up his Coke.
“You don’t have to thank me.” Jared gently nudges his plate away from him. “I know I get carried away with this. It’s stupid and I’m not supposed to—Anyway, thank you for taking me to lunch. Nobody has … well, Sandy. But she’s my friend. I mean even out of work. I mean, she helped me get the job.”
“Jared. It’s fine. I’m glad you accepted. I don’t get out of the office enough.”
“Of course not. You’re important.”
Jensen pulls out his wallet and leaves enough to cover their modest lunch plus tip. “You are, too. Hell, we couldn’t function without you. Email hasn’t replaced everything. And as much as E-books are clearly the future I sure hope there will always be a place for traditional books. What do you think?”
Jared is staring at the ring on the table left by his glass, long finger curving around and around the shape. Jensen doesn’t remember the last time he’d had chocolate milk. Jared had ordered one and downed it before the meal arrived. Jensen tries to imagine Tom with chocolate milk and the immediate never that comes to mind leaves him chilled.
“I have to go back to work,” Jared exclaims suddenly.
“Oh. Okay, yeah sure. Bill’s all taken care of.”
Standing up quickly Jared heads to the door. “I have to go to the bathroom.”
“Oh … that’s fine I’ll wait for you—“
“No.” Jared’s face pales. “I … I can’t go here.”
“I know this place isn’t fancy but the restrooms are clean. Why be uncomfortable?”
Jared ignores him and quickly steps around the crowded tables until he’s back on the sidewalk.
Jensen hurries to catch up. “I always go in the office. I know it there.” Jared stares at the pavement beneath his feet.
“Sure, buddy. Let’s get you back, alright?” Jensen isn’t sure what to make of this.
Jared’s eyes are still down and he fidgets until Jensen starts walking in the direction of the office. Once they reach the elevator Jared looks toward him fleetingly. “E-books are fine. But real books smell better.”
Laughing despite himself Jensen has to agree. “They sure do.”
He follows Jared into the men’s room and silently both men take care of business. Jared washes his hands slow and deliberate. Something about it strikes Jensen as childlike and it brings a smile to his face. He’s a mystery, this one. Whatever difference he has he’s clearly intelligent. Yet … at his age and obvious intellect why isn’t he doing better than the mail room? He wonders if it’s just a matter of opportunity.
“How long have you been working for us now, Jared?”
They stop in the hallway outside the mailroom. “Six months.” Jared’s nervousness is evident in his quiver.
“Relax. You’re doing a great job. Just wondering if there was something else for you in our organization. What your goals are.”
“I … You won’t … It’s stupid.”
Jensen reaches out and puts a hand on Jared’s arm. “I won’t think it’s stupid. What were you going to say?”
“I draw this comic. It’s about a boy who is living on Earth but really he’s from another planet. Not from here at all. And so he has to learn everything. Figure out everything. Because it’s not easy being the only one on the planet who’s not really from here.”
“I would imagine it would be. So you’re a writer and an artist?”
“No. Not a writer. Not really. Not like … Tom. He … his words. I can understand why you—“
“Tom’s very talented. Made my career.” At the word Jensen realizes just how long he’d been away from his desk, it pushes all other thoughts away as the million things he has to do come front and center. “Got a lot to take care of if I’m going to go off on vacation in a month. See ya Jared.”
Jared’s voice drops an octave. “Vacation?”
Jensen smiles at him. “My honeymoon.”
“Assuming your friend Sandy pulls it off. But you know how amazing she is, right? We’re going to be among the first gay couples to get married under the new law. Show ‘em all, you know.”
He walks away as Jared slowly enters his windowless domain. It bothers Jensen a moment that the mailroom is located in such a dark spot. Doesn’t seem fair. Jared looks better in the sunshine. Makes his already sun-kissed skin glow even more.
~ Jared ~
“Sandy, you can’t know that. You can’t read minds. If he’s marrying Tom Welling then he must be in love with him.”
Sandy twirls her hair and juts her chin up. Jared ponders the combination while taking in her words.
“They’re friends. There’s no question there. Been friends a long time. And they share the same passions. But that’s not the same as having passion between them.” Sandy turns away. Her voice is raspy and Jared suddenly gets that she’s frustrated. Possibly angry. But why would she be angry?
“Are you mad at me?”
“What? No. Not at you. Why would I be … ? Jared, Jensen’s my boss, so it’s not really my place to tell him what to do. But his need to make a point is robbing him of a chance at a life.”
“Having a husband. A family. That’s a life, Sandy.” It’s a life he wishes he could have. His chest feels tight suddenly and he quits trying to look Sandy in the eye.
She’s gone back to chopping vegetables. They are cooking together. She often comes over on Sunday and they make a big batch of something and then split it up and have food for the week. This works for Jared. He can separate things in small, freezer-ready containers. And things don’t have to mix that don’t need to. Jared doesn’t like his food touching other foods any more than necessary.
He’s spreading the no-boil lasagna noodles in a baking dish. His mouth purses. “This will work? How can it cook?” Despite the attempt to distract himself away from her words, he can’t. He imagines Jensen in a tuxedo standing next to Tom. They look like dolls in their inhuman perfection. Of course Jensen will marry Tom. They are alike. They fit. Jared can’t even imagine what that feels like. His mind reverts back to the pasta.
“John Glenn was charged with making sure astronauts would be able to eat in zero-gravity. They were afraid he wasn’t going to be able to swallow. The food wasn’t very good – he squirted it into his mouth out of a tube. Of course, Glenn was able to eat and so it was proven that microgravity didn’t affect our ability to swallow. By the time of Apollo they improved it because the astronauts had hot water so they could reconstitute freeze-dried items.” His glance falls on the pasta box. “Betcha this is similar.”
Sandy giggles. “See. We’re eating like the astronauts. I knew you’d like that.”
He smiles back at her before layering the sauce and cheese over the noodles. She comes over and spreads the vegetables she’s chopped over the top. “No meat,” he tells her unnecessarily. She already knows how he feels about mixing meat with other things. He eats meat. As long as it’s by itself.
“Hey, it’s fine. I love vegetable lasagna. Healthier, too.”
She helps him finish and holds the oven door open for him as he inserts the baking dish. Back in his living room she plops on his sofa. “Damn. I don’t know how he thinks I can pull this off in a month. Well, the truth is I won’t be able to without a lot of—“
Jared waits but she never finishes. “San?”
“You have to help me.”
“Help you what?”
“Plan the wedding.”
Jared stares at her. Which really shows how nuts he thinks that idea is. “Are you out of your mind? Why not just jab a pen through my eye. Be quicker.”
“Not as much as you are. What can you be thinking?”
“Nobody is as organized as you are, Jared. Or a better planner. I … it’s too much to take this on by myself. I need you to help me. Please. I’ll get Jensen to talk to your supervisor and get your normal work covered for the month. You can be my assistant. They’d do anything for Jensen.”
“I don’t want to.”
Sandy’s eyes grow bigger. Even he knows blatant pleading when he sees it. She’s like a cartoon character with her expression. “Please Jared. That’s why it’s a favor. Remember what I told you about that?”
“Favors suck. But we do them anyway.” He sighs. If this was anyone else. But she’s done so much for him. Told him about this job and worked with him for a week straight to get ready for the interview. She’s his best friend. His first best friend.
“Okay. Talk to the bosses. And if they can work out coverage then I’ll help you.”
Sandy’s eyes twinkle. Gratitude, Jared assumes. He fights an inner groan. Now he has to help the man he’s uselessly crushed on since he first laid eyes on him go begin his happily ever after with someone else.
“This sucks,” he breathes out.
“Jare. I know. But … trust me. Okay?”
“Trust you about what?” he asks puzzled.
Her gaze locks with his for another enigmatic moment before she springs up to tidy the kitchen.
~ Jensen ~
“But I thought we agreed that you’d work with a wedding planner?” Jensen gawks at his assistant, unsure why Sandy’s new suggestion has so completely thrown him for a loop.
She dismisses his objection with a quick wave. “They’ll take over and won’t listen and it’ll just make more work for me. Trust me, Jensen. I can do this. Just let me have Jared to help me.”
Jensen runs his hand over the back of his head. It’s not like the idea is so left-field given the friendship Jensen knows Sandy and Jared share. It’s just that since taking Jared to lunch he hasn’t quite been able to stop thinking about him. Not every thought being in any way appropriate. And if he’s helping to plan the wedding then Jared would be around more and …
“Jensen. Will you speak with John about Jared’s duties?”
“Yeah. I … I will. And Danni already said whatever you need while you help me out.”
“I know she did. We have it covered. No worries about that. Besides, your schedule is being wound down so you can take your vacation.”
Jensen looks up from where he let his eyes rest on the manuscript he’d been reading until Sandy came in to restructure his world. “Jared’s organized?” he repeats even though Sandy had already told him this.
“Yes. The best. Well, you’ve seen how he runs the mailroom. There hasn’t been a package that didn’t make its destination since he was hired. Remember when Stanley was in charge, and before him Rhonda? Jeeze … it was like potluck trying to get something delivered.”
Jensen chuckles. “I remember. She’d treat the mailroom like her personal spa. Never knew what to expect when I went in there. One time she was clipping her toenails.”
“What? Ugh. No.”
“Yep. And let me tell you. That is one sight that would turn even the straightest guy gay.”
Sandy snickers. “Stanley would sneak in naps. Snored like a plane taking off.”
Now they are both giggling. “It’s definitely better now. Whenever I go into the mailroom Jared’s working away. Hard to get his attention.”
He hadn’t meant it as a slight but Sandy is quick to defend. “Once he focuses it’s hard for him to turn away. But if you’re patient—“
“I didn’t mean it like that, Sandy. It’s … “ Jensen cuts himself off because he was about to say that Jared’s concentrated intensity is sort of adorable and why in hell is he thinking this? He swallows. “He’s very diligent. Does a good job considering he’s … “ Jensen stops again. Since when did he develop foot in mouth disease?
Sandy takes pity. “The word you’re looking for is different.” She eases the momentary tension with a small but heartfelt smile.
“You’re Jared’s friend and I don’t want to put you on the spot. I just couldn’t help but notice … he’s obviously very bright. Yet there is something, isn’t there?”
“I have to respect Jared’s privacy. But it’s okay to ask him directly. Truth is, he’s the most honest person you’ll ever meet.”
* * *
Tom is perfect. All-American good looks -- tall, built, aqua-blue eyes and mahogany hair. He speaks in a flat non-accent and smiles like there’s a camera pointed at him at all times. Jensen met Tom when they were both twenty-two. He’s still not sure how Tom got Jensen’s name. Jensen’d been working at the publishing house for barely three months. He was an assistant to an assistant. He was nobody. But Tom is the consummate networker. Taught him everything when it came to that. Made both their careers.
Despite the press buzz it isn’t true that they were fast friends. More like good acquaintances with a shared drive and common beliefs. Tom wanted to get published. Jensen wanted to share Tom’s book with the world. He knew what it would have meant to have a book like Tom’s just a few years back when he was struggling with his own baggage. Now, of course, they are friends. Sometimes fuck buddies. And soon to be married.
Jensen reminds himself how important this is. How hard he worked for it. How much it will mean to others.
He’s been studying Tom across his small dining table. After a moment his friend squints under the unexpected scrutiny. “What’s up?”
Blinking quickly Jensen pokes at his steak. “Nothing. Work is winding down. Not used to the free time. ‘S odd.”
“Yeah. I know. Nice to have dinner together though, right?”
“Yeah. Sure.” It has been a while. The conversation tonight has been sparse. For so long it had been about passing the bill. It’s like they’ve both run out of steam.
Tom makes quick work of his dinner. He wipes his mouth with his napkin and looks at his watch.
“Well. I’d better get going.”
“What? I mean, I thought we’d get to hang out. It’s been forever since we had a free night. Do you—“
“Yeah. I got some folks to meet up with. We’re trying to jumpstart the NJ coalition. And there’s still the California thing. You know.”
Jensen knows all that. It’s the way it always is and this stupid engagement certainly isn’t going to change that. It’s just that Jensen suddenly has extra time on his hands and it’s left him rattled. It’s nothing.
“Hey, since you have time can you work on the list?” Tom slips him a sheath of paper from his pocket. Jensen looks it over. Mostly members of LGBT organizations and liberal-minded press.
“Is this for a press conference?”
Tom’s eyes narrow. “No. It’s the guest list for the wedding.”
“I thought … I mean I knew before or whatever. But the wedding itself is private. Isn’t it?”
“Jensen. Please. Nothing is private. You know that. Everything I … we … do is watched. But that’s good. Because everyone will see two gay men getting married in the state of New York. About fuckin’ time.”
Of course that’s what this about. Will make a difference. Inspirational.
Tom comes closer and squeezes his upper arm. “You okay, bud?”
Jensen lifts his face and presses his lips dryly to Tom’s. They are slightly chapped and sticky with steak sauce. For a fleeting moment he thinks to deepen the kiss, which is odd in and of itself because they don’t kiss much and never for long. Tom seems to be on the same general wave length as he pulls Jensen closer.
“Mmm. Might have time for a quickie.”
Jensen has no idea why he’s twisting away and saying he’s tired when he’s not. He’s irritated suddenly. Not sure at what or whom and Tom’s words are irking him in a way they never had before.
He walks Tom to the door. For a moment he wonders what it’ll feel like when he can’t do this. Can’t show Tom out. It spills out of his mouth before he can think better of it. “Guess we’ll have to decide which apartment to keep.”
“What?” Tom questions, eyes wide.
“I mean after we’re married. Gotta pick one to live in. Yours is bigger. I’m just used to this place is all.”
Tom chuckles. “You can keep your apartment Jensen. It’s the twenty-first century. And we’re redefining all of it, right? Why crowd ourselves. Works this way, right?”
Five minutes later Jensen is sitting on his sofa alone nursing a beer, feeling both restless and lethargic simultaneously. Tom is redefining marriage and Jensen wonders when it became about that. Because it isn’t about change to him, not that way. It’s about being allowed the same traditions everyone else has had all along. It’s about proving he’s just like everyone else. Not that he expects hearts and flowers. Tom’s not like that. Hell, Jensen’s not like that. And deep down he’s relieved to be able to keep his apartment. Retain his space. Yet …
Unbidden, Jared’s nonstop chatter comes back to him from their lunch. Jared’s chewing his plain burger messily. Mouth a little too open. He’s on a roll talking about the astronauts. Sharing his version of the right stuff.
John Glenn met his wife, Annie, when they were both practically babies. Their parents were friends and they shared a playpen. Glenn says he doesn’t remember saying ‘I love you’ for the first time because he always loved her. They’ve been married for sixty-seven years.
Jared’s eyes had unexpectedly met Jensen’s when he shared this. They sparkled like the inside of a polished seashell. It wasn’t the first time Jensen’d noticed Jared’s eyes. But it was the first time he’d felt how beautiful they were.
Annie had a speech disability. It was hard for her to deal with the attention, the press. That’s when Jared had looked down again. Playing with his French fries, stacking them into in a neat pile on the side of his plate, like he was building a little fort with them. So really she was as brave as her husband. They’re a team. I don’t think that they could have accomplished what they did without each other.
Jensen wants to think of himself and Tom as a team. Most people would call them that. They worked together toward a common goal. And they’d won.
He takes a slow look around his empty apartment before succumbing to lethargy and flicking on the television.
~ Jared ~
Pushing his mail cart one last time before his temporary reassignment, Jared minutely moves back an envelope that jiggled too far to the right when the elevator stopped. Starting tomorrow Jared will report to Sandy as her assistant. Really he’ll be helping to plan Jensen’s wedding. It still hurts. He wonders if maybe Sandy doesn’t truly get that part. He’s told her because it’s the only way he knows how to communicate how he feels. He knows that NTs usually think that if he’s not looking all sad or whatever then he’s not feeling anything. He can still hear the mumbled words at his poppa’s funeral. He’s a cold one, that one. Not a tear.
He’s in front of Jensen’s office before he realizes it. Sandy isn’t there. Dammit. He could just drop all the mail on her desk for her to sort through later. But he’s already segregated Jensen’s. He always separates the managers’ mail out and all the assistants seem to appreciate it. They smile when he hands both stacks over and he knows that a smile is almost always a good thing. Sometimes it’s not. Like the teachers that would smile before sending him to the principal’s office for whatever he did or said that wasn’t right. Later when a diagnosis had finally come down and everything he is comes down to a funny name that enables even more teasing, he’s taught to try to identify differences in smiles. Tightness around the lips, the jaw. He wished then that someone could invent glasses he could put on that would lift the fog and just let him see.
Today he’s not so sure he’d take those glasses even if offered. Not if it meant losing other things. Like the ability to focus and see the beautiful symmetry the world can fall into. The patterns and the notes and sense of order he detects where others see chaos.
Taking a deep breath he enters Jensen’s office. He’s behind his desk but smiles when he hears Jared step inside. There are dark circles under Jensen’s eyes and his normally faint freckles are standing out a little harsher in the window’s bright glare. Jared’s momma would get dark marks beneath her eyes when she didn’t sleep enough. Jared gets them, too. But he knows things like that can mean other things. It can mean something bad. He doesn’t like seeing this on Jensen.
“You look terrible.”
Jensen stares and then chuckles. “Hi to you, too.”
“Did you get enough sleep?”
“As a matter of fact, I didn’t.” Jensen swipes the back of his head with his hand. “Can’t deal with free time, I guess. Not used to it.”
“But now you get to spend time with Tom. When I have nothing to do I like to be with Sandy. She’s my best friend.” Jared feels proud announcing this. It’s special to have a best friend.
“Sandy’s a great girl. A good friend.”
“Tom’s your best friend, right? I mean … I think people should marry their best friends. Not that I want to marry Sandy because she’s a girl and I … prefer men, you know. But your husband should be your best friend.”
Jensen doesn’t answer and fumbles through the papers in front of him. Jared guesses it must be a new manuscript. He must have interrupted. He should shut up and let Jensen do his important work. He holds out Jensen’s mail and packages.
Jensen’s eyes move to Jared’s as he takes the proffered mail. Once more their deep green surprises Jared because he almost never notices or remembers anyone’s eye color.
“Jared?” Jared nods, indicating he’s listening. People like responses like that. It’s become almost automatic now for Jared although at first it was always a conscious effort. “I want to thank you for agreeing to help Sandy plan my wedding. Clearly this is above and beyond all your responsibilities and, well, I really appreciate it.”
Jared bites his bottom lip hard to keep from blurting out how he really doesn’t want to do it. Lying, even by omission comes very hard to him. It’s foreign and tastes bad and he knows everyone does it all the time. But he just isn’t wired like that, even after years of passing for NT. “You’re welcome,” he forces out after a pause that he knows went too long.
Jensen is standing now. Jared’s too flustered to even attempt to ‘read’ him. He turns, giving his back to Jensen. “I have to finish my deliveries.”
He’s stopped by a hand on his arm. Before Jared can stop himself he’s shrugging the touch away. Jensen jumps back. “I’m sorry. Didn’t mean to startle you.”
“You didn’t. I just don’t like to be touched. Especially if I don’t know it’s coming.”
“Is that? You’re … you fall on the Autism Spectrum somewhere, don’t you?”
“I have Aspergers Syndrome.” He’s not ashamed of saying it. At one point he was but that was a long time ago. His momma and poppa told him that being different was nothing to ever be ashamed of. Of course, that doesn’t stop him from getting down on himself. Especially when it comes to someone as obviously out of his league as Jensen.
“I only noticed because we’ve been spending more time together.”
Jensen’s voice is tight. Jared makes himself look. It’s a little easier to read Jensen because his face is so beautiful to look at that he doesn’t mind it like he does others. If Jared has to guess he’d say Jensen is uncomfortable, although why is a mystery to Jared. “I pass for NT most times.” At Jensen’s over-the-top questioning eyebrows he tacks on, “Neurotypical.” He points. “Like you.”
It’s silent a few more moments and then Jared says quietly, “I let my Aspie out when I feel comfortable around someone.”
That draws a smile from Jensen. “What’s that mean, letting your Aspie out?”
“Well. People with Aspergers are on a spectrum. Different symptoms, degrees, like that. I have some atypical symptoms. Like I’m not as bad at reading nonverbal cues as some. But it’s still hard sometimes. Like trying to read a book in which the words have no definition. So when I relax I don’t try as much. I just say what I mean and hope who I’m with will do the same.”
“People don’t always say what they mean, do they?”
Jared lets out a little laugh that comes out more bitter than he intends. “Most of the time they don’t say anything at all. Expect you to be a mind reader. One of my most difficult struggles in life is knowing that people are reacting to me but not understanding what the reaction is. It was worse when I was younger. It’s easier now.”
“What else is atypical about you?” Jensen asks.
“Well. Eye contact. I don’t love it but I can handle it so that most folks don’t realize anything most times. Touching. If I’m not surprised, I’m fine with it. Lots of Aspies give off a flat impression, like they aren’t engaged. It’s not true, you know. They are. I am. Even if I don’t always show it. But mostly, I’m able to express myself, I guess. Well enough to pass for NT.”
Jensen is studying him and Jared squirms a little. “Remember at lunch we spoke about the movie Apollo 13?” The sudden subject change surprises Jared.
“Did you get to see it? It’s my favorite movie. Tom Hanks is an Apollo-buff as well—“
Jensen interrupts before Jared can get too far along. “I bought it. Haven’t seen it yet. I thought, maybe … if you were free. I thought it would be fun to see it with you?”
Dimples erupt. “Yeah? Really? I’d like that. Really like that. I promise not to talk all through it. Sandy says she can’t watch some things with me because I chatter too much. But I promise I won’t. Later, though, I mean … I know some stuff from when they filmed it. From interviews and such. I did some research.”
“After work tonight, if you’re free. I’ll order us some pizza.”
Jared knows he’s bouncing slightly on his heels. He adds quickly, “Plain. I don’t like toppings.”
Jensen laughs and Jared doesn’t get it but it doesn’t seem like Jensen is laughing at him. At least Jared hopes that’s the case. Truth is, he’s never completely sure.
“Plain is my favorite, too.”
That makes Jared happy. He doesn’t want to think that Jensen has to compromise on his pizza. He just doesn’t get the need to combine too many foods. He’s still standing by the door. Jensen said he’d swing by and get him at five. His hands clutch the handle of the cart and on a deep breath he turns back around to face Jensen who is now sitting behind his desk again.
“Why are you doing this?”
There’s a delay before Jensen says anything. “Inviting you to pizza and a movie?”
Jared nods. It really is on autopilot at this point.
“Because I want to be your friend. Is that okay?”
The happiness spurt is sharp and buoyant and Jared feels like he’s gonna float through the rest of his delivery. “Yeah. That’s super okay.”
~ Jensen ~
They made it through their pizza well before Houston was ever apprised of a problem. Jensen steals a glance at Jared, riveted to the screen, softly repeating dialogue as it happens. The movie is good. He was a teenager when it came out. But he forces those thoughts away. Now is not the time. Of course, since then there are many fine films he’s missed over the years. School, his career, gay rights causes took up all of his time. Tom, of course, has been a constant for the last eleven years.
Jared has combed his hair back. Jensen admires the high cheekbones and sharp angles of his exceptionally handsome face. It is okay to look. It’s not like he’s a monk. With an inner sigh he forces his attention back to the screen.
“Oh … this is such a good part!” Jared announces. “I tried this. I researched and got all those same parts and tried to put them together myself.”
A group of engineers are being told they have to fit a square peg in a round hole using what looked like packing tape, string, some thick paper and a spare sock. It really was a flipping miracle those men made it back alive. “Yeah? Did you manage it?”
Jared is facing him now, which surprises Jensen because he didn’t think anything would get Jared’s eyes off the screen. “I did.” His smile is soft.
Jensen looks back where a dozen men are frantically rigging an extra air filter to save the astronauts’ lives. “Could have used you there.”
“Nah. I mean, it’s not like mine worked or anything. I just got it to fit. Like a puzzle. I’m good with those.”
“And you also draw?”
Jared looks down. “My comic. Yeah.”
“What’s your character’s name? The boy from the other planet?”
Jensen gets it and says nothing as Jared quickly becomes absorbed again in the film.
The three men reach the moon and Jared is sitting forward on the sofa. “So close,” he says wistfully.
The astronauts in the film are waxing poetic about that same thing. Jensen’s surprised when Jared speaks again, saying the same words coming out of Astronaut Lovell’s mouth, “Gentlemen, what are your intentions?” After a pause he adds. “I’d like to go home.”
It’s not that the film isn’t interesting. It’s clearly exceptional. But Jensen can’t keep his eyes off Jared. Those brown-blue eyes are shining, graceful throat swallowing as the drama unfolds. What’s odd is that Jensen has always considered himself and those he’s surrounded himself with as committed individuals. Yet Jared’s all-consuming involvement in what he cares about seems to put all of that to shame. And it doesn’t matter suddenly how long ago this happened. Because for Jared, it’s right now.
Is this the Aspergers? The ability to be so in the now?
As if sensing that he is being stared at, Jared turns to look at him. “You should watch,” he admonishes gently.
Jensen smiles and returns his attention to the film and bites back the urge to let Jared know just how much he’d rather look at him.
They shift closer as the movie continues and Jared’s thigh ends up touching Jensen’s on a few occasions. Jensen ignores it. Doesn’t think of the warmth emanating from the man next to him. Doesn’t even allow the notion of how stupidly hot Jared is to enter his mind.
Abruptly he hits pause, apologizes, and offers Jared a beer or soft drink or something. Cold.
It seemed like a good idea until he catches himself watching Jared pull the long neck to his lips and take a deep swallow. Jensen jumps up again and opens the window some more.
Jared is studying him. “Are you okay?”
“Sure. Fine. Sorry I interrupted the film. It’s really good.”
“I may not read people well, but you seem … fidgety. If you don’t like it, we can stop. I’ve seen it dozens of times—“
“No. I don’t want to stop. I like the movie. Really. A lot.”
“Maybe we should have waited for Tom.”
“Well … I assume you normally watch movies with him and that’s why—“
“No. Jared, really he and I don’t … we’re both really busy. We don’t see each other all that much. It’s complicated, I guess. We go to some local premiers.” As long as the press is there. Jensen scoots closer to Jared and tells himself to stop acting like a thirteen-year-old on his first date. Because this isn’t a date. And the damn word shouldn’t even be in his vocabulary. Not anymore. “Let’s watch the end. Wanna make sure they get home.”
“Failure is not an option,” Jared quotes from the film again.
Jensen takes another draught of his beer, leans back, scoots closer until their thighs touch again and lets the power of a happy ending unfold before him.
* * *
“This isn’t a guest list … it’s a press list. Jensen, you can’t be serious.”
Jensen has gotten used to Jared’s bluntness by now. But that doesn’t mean he necessarily likes the constant honesty. Never before has he appreciated the power of a white lie. “I know how it looks. But it’s important that these people … “
Jared’s eyes grow huge. “The venue is limited. If you insist on these people we’ll have to cut some of the family invitations.”
Tom had provided an expanded list to Jensen yesterday. Now the ramifications of Tom’s request are being felt. Jensen isn’t looking forward to dealing with his mother’s disappointment at hearing who will not get an invite. The fact that she’d given him a decent list of people she wanted to come had been a bright moment in the whole affair.
“What about your father?”
Jensen is still on the last topic and Jared’s switch has him suck in air. “Wh-at about him?”
“He’s alive, right?”
“Yes. But we don’t … he won’t be an issue.”
“He’s not on the guest list. I don’t understand.”
Of course Jared doesn’t. And these days when he doesn’t he just tells Jensen that. He looks around for Sandy. Wonders where she disappeared to. He asks about that to deflect Jared’s tenacity.
“She’s negotiating with the florist.”
That makes Jensen chuckle. “I didn’t realize buying flowers required a negotiation.”
“Tom had specific requests. I am uncertain what they are but Sandy said her charm would be necessary. I suppose I don’t possess sufficient charm.”
It’s not a self-deprecating joke. It’s stated as a fact. Jensen can’t help but disagree. Jared charms the hell out of him. He chooses to say nothing.
Sighing, he rises. “Let’s get out of here.” Jared looks at him puzzled. “Outside. Can’t talk about it here.”
He’s followed out silently. He knows Jared is clueless about why Jensen wants to leave suddenly. They hit the summer air and Jensen absorbs a moment of sun before facing the man beside him. “We can walk to the plaza.”
“Is this part of the wedding planning? Do you want photos taken there?”
What to say? How to answer? The last thing he wants to do is plan one more thing related to this blasted wedding. He says nothing and walks, certain Jared will simply come along.
The plaza is crowded now that the weather is nice. They take a shady bench that gives the illusion of privacy within its shadows. Pigeons swirl overhead and children are squealing around the fountain. Children. Another fun conversation he and Tom had two nights ago.
I guess you’re right. We’ll have to go for it. Adoption would be more impactful, get them to fight us more.
I didn’t mean it like … I mean, Jesus, Tom. Not everything is about the cause.
Jensen, don’t get naïve on me, bud. Not now. Come too far to play coy. We’re a same-sex couple. Everything we do is under scrutiny from church groups and right-wing bigots. Just gotta plan it right. See where the fight will be the biggest.
It’s starting to feel a little like quicksand. After Tom left, Jensen had picked up his phone to call someone. To talk about this. But who could he call? Who’d want to hear it anyway?
He’s surprised and not at the same time. Jared says he can’t read people. But this isn’t the first time that Jared has picked up on things people who’ve known Jensen longer have missed.
“My dad and I don’t talk,” he says, picking up on the thread from before. If Jared thinks the time between question and answer is odd he doesn’t say.
“Because I’m gay.”
Jensen was fifteen years old before he let himself think the word gay in relation to himself. Of course, that’s not the word he actually thought. He thought the word faggot and he was so scared he dropped nearly ten pounds because he could hardly swallow his food. His mother feared he had some sort of virus and wanted him to visit the doctor. She said maybe he had mono. Jensen nodded along but never went to the doctor and eventually he started eating enough to get her off his back.
His father chastised her for sissying the boy and wrote it off as teenage metabolism and it got dropped.
He tried dating girls. Willed his body to respond to them. Came home early from his dates and jerked off in the shower and the traitorous images in his mind never had any curves.
Jensen blinks to push the memories back as hazel eyes lock with his. Jensen always notices when Jared looks at him. It always feels like … more. “That’s a really stupid reason not to talk to your own son.”
“Yeah. When I … when it came out, it split up my family. My dad … he left us.”
“No,” Jared disagrees. “If your father chose to leave, that’s not your fault. That was his choice.”
Intellectually, of course, Jensen knows Jared is right. He’s said the same thing to countless teenage boys over the years. It’s not you. It’s them. They can’t handle it. Not your fault.
Maybe this wedding business is turning him into a hormonally challenged teen, because dammit his intellect just isn’t in charge right now.
“Your parents are fine with you being gay?”
Jared looks down. “My parents are dead.”
Jensen didn’t know that. Jared’s expression is bland but Jensen has learned to see deeper. “I’m sorry. Have they been gone long?”
“My mother died when I was eighteen. Poppa died … “ Jared stops to calculate. “… ten days ago.”
Jensen’s heart squeezes. “Jesus. You’ve hardly had any time … I don’t remember you even being off of work.”
He’s graced with eye contact again. “I didn’t take off from work. There was no purpose to taking time off. I wouldn’t miss my poppa any less at home.”
“I didn’t mean … “
“It’s okay. They thought it was wrong that I didn’t cry or yell or whatever it was they thought I was supposed to do. But he knew. And that’s all that mattered to me.”
“Everyone expresses grief differently. I didn’t cry when my dad left.” Jensen stops because Jared’s father is dead and he doesn’t want to diminish that. “It’s not the same. I get that … never mind.”
“If he is not a part of your life any more then it is the same. My parents didn’t care that I preferred men. After Momma passed, Poppa told me to find and marry my best friend. I asked him how I’d know who the right person was. It’s hard for me. Well, harder.” Jared looks at him now, eyes as expressive as Jensen has ever seen them. They are this side of mesmerizing. “He said, I’d be able to see him. But I don’t know what he meant.”
A child laughs loudly nearby and Jensen automatically turns to look. When he shifts his gaze back Jared’s eyes find his again. “I tried to believe him for a very long time.” Jared’s gaze drifts up toward the cotton-ball-filled sky. “But Poppa was a romantic. My ability to see people, to read them … it’s about as good as it’s ever gonna get. Love doesn’t change that. I loved my parents very much. And I could read their body language better than others. But there were still times that unless they told me I had no idea what they were feeling.”
“You knew something was upsetting me before.”
“Your face is easier to look at.”
Jared looks away, stares at the pigeons crowding around bread crumbs someone has thrown. When he speaks again he’s jumped topics. “You know there are those on the internet who think that John Young is an Aspie.” Jensen nods his head in a negative fashion to indicate he doesn’t know who that is. Jared rolls his eyes. “Apollo 16.”
Jensen waits for more but Jared is uncharacteristically silent.
“No. I don’t think so. They wouldn’t have let him fly if he … of course, they wouldn’t have had that diagnosis then. But still. Seems impossible.”
“Why do they think that about him?”
“He has this flat way of speaking in interviews. Very focused. But that just makes him an amazing astronaut is all. He went to the moon twice, first time was Apollo 10 where he orbited the moon. He also commanded the first space shuttle. He retired not that long ago in 2004.”
Jensen smiles. “The right stuff, eh?”
“They all had it.”
“You do, too.”
Jared’s head turns away from the feeding birds. The laugh that leaks out holds no mirth. “I work in a mailroom, Jensen.”
“You’re writing a book.”
“It’s a comic.”
“A graphic novel.” Jensen stops any further dissention. “And it’s going to be important.” He knows Jared enough by now to know that word holds impact.
Jared is openly staring at him now. He looks like he’s going to speak but then bites his bottom lip. Jensen fights the absurd craving to lick where Jared has placed his teeth.
“Especially since your father isn’t going to be there you should have as much family as possible. Tell Tom that.”
The wedding. The reason Jared is with him at all. It would be easier to get Tom in a wedding dress than to cut one press member off the guest list. Jensen, unlike Jared, can lie though. “Sure. I’ll talk to him. Don’t worry about it.”
~ Jared ~
“So how’s it going with Jensen?”
Sandy’s face is in her notebook, crossing things out and scribbling new things. She appears so distracted it’s almost as if she hasn’t spoken at all.
“What do you mean?” He wonders if Jensen has complained about him? Did Jared say something stupid? Act inappropriately? He can’t remember anything out of the ordinary but that means nothing.
“Just that I noticed you’ve been spending extra time with him.”
“Yeah, well, because I’m helping plan his wedding.” Jared fights off a touch of annoyance. It was Sandy’s idea in the first place that Jared be involved. Despite the fact that every day brought that damn day closer. The day Jensen was forever off limits. Not like he’s in limits now. Or ever was.
“He told me you and he watched a movie and hung out some, too.”
She’s still engrossed in her checklists. He can’t figure out a thing about what she might be thinking. Not that he could easily even if she were staring right at him. But this way, it’s absolutely impossible.
“We watched Apollo 13. I love that film. You know they took some artistic licenses with it even though it’s very accurate in most regards. For instance, the scene where we see Mattingly standing by himself in the nearby field as the rocket takes off. He couldn’t have done that. Too close. Would have broken security protocols.”
“But it made for a lovely shot.”
“Jensen said that.”
Finally Sandy is looking at him. “Did he enjoy watching the movie with you, Jare?”
“He said he did.” His face scrunches slightly. “Was that a lie? Did he tell you he had a bad time?”
“No! Not at all,” Sandy quickly rebuffs. “In fact, he told me he had a great time. Jensen isn’t like that … he’s not a liar. Why would you say that?”
Jared feels guilty. He sometimes has moments of thinking everyone is lying to him. It’s wrong. And Jensen has always been honest with him. He knows that. “I … I don’t think that. He bought me pizza. Plain. He says he likes it that way, too.”
She smiles at him and Jared doesn’t know why. “I’ve finalized the venue you found. Next up is to get Tom to sign off on everything. Have you met Tom yet?”
“Well, I’ve seen him on television. And sometimes I’ve spotted him here … coming out of a conference room or office.”
“Good. Then this will be your chance. I want to present all our work together. It’ll save time that way and you know how busy both he and Jensen are. I think they’ll appreciate that.”
Jared is scared to meet Tom. He’s … larger than life. A hero. A legend. And Jared is … the weird kid that misunderstands and says the wrong thing.
“Jare … breathe.”
“I … why do I have to be there? You know everything.”
“No, I don’t. You’ve handled logistics on dozens of things from the music to hotel accommodations for out of town guests to arranging for the press area.” That last is said oddly … her voice pitched unnaturally high. Blatantly so because Jared noticed.
“I asked Jensen about that. I guess it’s important. You know, for the cause. But it’s his wedding. The most important day of his life. And these strangers are getting more attention than—I mean, who cares where the New York Times reporter sits?”
“I want … it’s important that Jensen have a special wedding.”
“… a special person,” Sandy murmurs to herself.
Jared hears only the word ‘special’ and figures she agrees with him. It had been fun watching his favorite movie with Jensen even though Jared had seen it so many times. Mostly alone, a bunch of times with his parents, and a half dozen times with Sandy. But Jensen, he seemed to get it.
When the capsule splashed down he joined Jared in applauding. They burst into it together, spontaneously. Now Jared … he always applauds at the film’s end, always feels that flush of amazement and thanks. He thinks of how it might have been if the astronauts had been lost forever circling the moon. How every glance up at a nighttime sky would be sad. The moon would have been turned into a tombstone. Jared is immeasurably grateful that hadn’t happened. He’d told Jensen that.
Jensen’d been quiet, eyes moving from the capsule bobbing on the blue ocean and back to Jared, eyes wide and slightly moist and Jared nearly gasped at his own awareness. So odd to understand so much without anyone saying anything. Sometimes with Poppa he’d get glimpses like this. An inexplicable connection that usually vanished in the next blink. But Jensen’s was holding. “That would have been terrible,” Jensen had said. Then he’d picked up Jared’s hand where it sat on the sofa between them. Jensen’s palm was warm and dry and he’d squeezed Jared’s hand lightly. It wasn’t the first time Jared had wanted the impossible. And he doubted it would be the last.
“What’s the matter, Jare?”
Sandy’s soft voice startles him out of his memories. He meets her eyes. “I don’t want to plan this wedding,” he tells her honestly.
“I know, hon. But … do you trust me?
“Of course.” He’s confused because he didn’t remember ever saying anything to her that would indicate he didn’t trust her.
“Then help me with this. Be … be a friend to Jensen.”
“I am his friend.” He continues to be confused. Knows that he’s missing something. Doesn’t know what.
“I’ll set up the meeting with Tom.” She’s changed the subject again and Jared is grateful because he doesn’t like that left out feeling.
~ Jensen ~
“ … believes gays should have the same legal rights as all other couples.” Tom snorts loudly. “Just as long as they don’t taint the holy word of marriage by using it -- hypocritical son of a bitch.”
Jensen sighs. “Tom. He’s hedging because saying too much, too soon, could cost him the election.”
Tom spins on him, clicking off the television set. “You’re too easy on them, Jensen. Always have been. We helped put that man in the White House. And we’ll damn well toss him out if he doesn’t start using the right words soon enough.”
“Uh-huh. And I’m sure President Bachman will treat us much better.”
“That twat will never get near the White House.”
Jensen cringes. Not that he likes or agrees with the congresswoman on anything. But he was raised better than using language like that about any woman. “Tom, c’mon.”
“Christ, Jen. How can you remain so complacent? She’s known for her anti-gay legislation in her home state. Known for it. Feather in her cap. Can you imagine anyone running on their anti-black or anti-Jew or anti-fucking-blued-eyed people agenda? We’re the new acceptable scapegoat.” He pauses, runs a hand over his chin. “Well, us and the Muslims, I guess. Only we didn’t exactly bring down any buildings.”
“Tom! Now you’re as bad as she is.” Jensen’s temper is rising. If there’s one thing he has zero tolerance for, it’s bigotry.
Tom backpedals quickly. “I know. I shouldn’t have said that, an’ I don’t believe it—It’s just … where’s your fire, man?”
Jensen has fire. Just burns slower. He’s always been more patient, more methodical, more orderly than Tom. In a way that’s why they make an interesting pair. He likes to think he grounds Tom. Sometimes it’s good to run. And sometimes it’s nice to just sit still. And watch a good film with a special person.
He remembers the men of Apollo 13. The astronauts, the engineers, the nerds and the geeks and the hundreds of unsung heroes who never gave up. “Sometimes patience works.” Once the words are out he wishes they could be put back. He didn’t really answer Tom’s question. He doesn’t have an answer that Tom hasn’t heard before. It’s an old question and one Jensen is getting tired of being asked.
And it’s not like he’s never allowed himself to be swept up in the energy surrounding Tom. Hell, that’s how they’d gotten engaged in the first place. They were at the Pride Parade following the passage of the Marriage Equality Act. The atmosphere was electric. Joy blazed off the smiles of his brothers and sisters, all marching openly. Holding hands and opening their hearts. The press caught up to him and Tom near Washington Square Park. He’d been around Tom enough now that he was just about used to it. It was still difficult. Because deep down he was still a private person. But this was important.
One young reporter got right in their faces. “So. After this amazing win in New York, what are you going to do now?” No surprise that the question was directed at Tom and not Jensen. But that was fine. Only this time Tom unexpectedly threw his arm over Jensen’s shoulders and stared at him hard, mouthing go along. Then he dropped to one knee.
The crowd shimmered around them gasping and laughing and clapping. Jensen’s eyes went huge and his breath sputtered at Tom’s words.
“Jensen. You’ve been my steadfast partner since first reading the angst-ridden book of my youth. You took a chance on a young, gay writer aching to be heard. You helped me find my voice. You helped me reach others and show them what was possible. Help me one more time. I want to come full circle and be among the first gay couples to get married in New York. Marry me, Jensen?”
His heart had pounded because they’d never talked about this. Not even close. Hell, they weren’t like that. They fooled around when they got bored. Marriage? He never thought he’d get married. He fought for it for others but it was never even a blip on the radar for himself. And in a way, that’s why he said yes. Because rather than face a life alone, why not join with Tom and make a point? Lead, as Tom always said. Those after him would have better reasons for getting married. Or maybe they wouldn’t. Who knew? But at least now, they had a chance.
With a shaky smile he nodded and then said, “Yes.”
The crowd erupted and Tom placed a quick kiss on his lips before turning immediately back to the flashing lights and press microphones.
Tom touches his arm, drawing him back to the present. “Didn’t you say we had to meet with Sandy about the wedding plans? When’s that happening?”
“Tomorrow at noon.”
Tom pulls his phone from his pocket. “No can do. Meeting with the governor.”
Jensen inhales slowly. “That’s the third time you had us change it. But if I go ahead without you then you bitch that you don’t like the setup.”
“Day after. I promise. Same time, okay? Your office.” The glint reaches Tom’s eyes and his earlier peevishness is gone. That’s Tom. Ever changing. Jensen wonders what it would be like to be with someone who just stayed the same. He refuses to acknowledge how Jared popped into his mind. How his steady calmness works the knots out of Jensen’s muscles as surely as a massage.
“Imagine being honest all the time.”
Tom stares at him. “Dude, you’ve been saying odd things all night. You okay?”
“Think about it. Not having to be on. To smile on cue. To shake hands with folks you can’t stand.”
Tom responds with a deep chuckle. “I guess. But what would be the fun in that?” Tom tilts his head and then steps close enough to nip at Jensen’s lower lip.
“I think maybe you just need to get laid, bud. Keep all those weird thoughts at bay, yeah?” He’s quickly working the buttons on Jensen’s shirt open. Jensen lifts his head for another kiss but Tom digs into his neck instead. It’s warm and familiar and Jensen lets his hand wander over thick hard muscle. They’ve done this on and off for nearly five years now. Coming together when neither was dating anyone else. Which, in Jensen’s case, was most of the time.
It’s solid and slightly punishing and quick. He’s naked in minutes, kneeling on the sofa, stomach draped over the back. Prep is efficient and brisk and he responds to being filled hard with a sharp intake of air. There’s an obligatory pause before Tom starts fucking into him in earnest and Jensen brings his hand down to get himself off. He struggles to stay in the moment, not think about the crazy dreams of his screwed up youth, poems scribbled in secret notebooks begging for affection and passion and want. Tom’s deep thrust has Jensen feel a hot white flush of pleasure. Between that and his hand gripping his own flesh he feels his orgasm climbing up his spine. He buries his face in his arm on the sofa’s back, lips pressing into the soft crease of his elbow in a hollow parody of a kiss.
He’s swallowing hard and fighting a sharp sting in his eyes as his body releases. Seconds later, Tom grunts behind him and pulls out quick enough to scrape Jensen raw. He hisses and Tom mumbles sorry, tone as perfunctory as ever.
Tom disposes of the condom and cleans them both up with Jensen’s discarded tee-shirt before turning to Jensen, eyes wide and deeply blue.
Jensen doesn’t know what’s wrong with himself. He sinks into Tom’s side and holds on and thinks that the other man must imagine Jensen’s gone off the deep end because he doesn’t do this. Tom just squeezes him back once hard before pulling back, lips grazing his forehead. “Hey … what is it?”
“I don’t—just the wedding I guess.”
Tom sighs. “I know you’re shyer than me. But it’ll be over quick enough. And then things will be normal again. We’ll put on the show and let them snap their pictures. They’ll write pretty stories. But in the end, it’ll just be us. You’ll have the same freedoms you had before. Nothing will change.”
Jensen pulls away with a start and grabs for his clothes. “Freedoms?”
Tom eyes him warily but also gets dressed. “Yeah. Look, I know you’re not big on change. And that’s cool. We’re just gonna show ‘em all how normal a gay couple getting married can be. But afterward, it’s our lives, you know.”
“Tom … I’m not sure I … are you talking about an open arrangement?”
Tom smiles assuredly at him. “I’m saying that nothing has to change. We come together when we want.” He licks his lips. “Like now. But when we need … something else, we take it, discreetly. It’s perfect now, right? Why change it? Jensen, I thought that’s what you wanted, too.”
Jensen’s legs feel rubbery and he forces them steady enough to get over to a chair because he doesn’t want to sit on the sofa where he just got fucked. So his soon-to-be husband wants to fuck other men after they’re married. The words were never said but it’s so obvious now he feels like an idiot for not realizing it. Tom really never lied to him. He’s said from the very start that the wedding wouldn’t change anything.
Tom’s phone beeps and he has it out and is texting frantically. Jensen sees Tom’s eyes look to the door and his lips twist as he contemplates Jensen’s reaction.
“I … you know, you don’t have to stick around. I have some manuscripts to read and that’ll probably take up the next several hours.”
Tom’s relief is palpable. “Yeah? It’s just some of the guys need some help with some wording for a petition.” He hesitates. “You can come with if you want.”
Jensen nods no and points to a random stack of manuscripts on his desk. “Nah. Like I said … work.”
“Good. Right.” Tom approaches and goes to kiss him but Jensen turns his head and it lands on his cheek instead. Tom doesn’t try again. “Hey … thanks for … “
Jensen nods again because he thinks if he speaks he’ll either yell or cry and if either starts he’s not sure he’d ever be able to stop.
He’s alone for some time before he moves again. The phone feels oddly heavy in his hand and the part of him that knows this is wrong is overwhelmed with the side that just needs to breathe in something good if only for a little while.
“Jensen? Hey. Hi.” There’s a short pause and then Jensen hears Jared breathe in. “NASA didn’t invent Tang. Most people think they did. But they didn’t. But did you know that the material used in our running shoes came from the space program? It was called ‘blow rubber molding’ and originally it was used in helmets but then the engineers thought to use it to make athletic shoes with hollow soles that were filled with shock-absorbing foam.” He hears Jared breathe in again. “But you don’t want to know that. That’s not why you called. Why did you call?”
The laugh that escapes Jensen’s lips is shaky and high. “This. Jared, this is why I called. To hear you. To hear something true and real.”
“Jensen. That doesn’t make much sense. Are you okay?”
“No. I’m kinda not.” Lying to Jared feels like stealing from a blind person and Jensen just doesn’t want to do it. “But I will be. Just … for now. Do you mind talking to me a little?”
“Tell me about your heroes.”
Jensen walks into his bedroom and lies down and lets Jared’s voice warm the cold spots in his soul. Jared speaks of the original Mercury astronauts. Of the early testing and training. Of time and dedication and sacrifice. Working together to meet a greater goal.
“So Yuri Gagarin, the first human ever in space, never lived to see a man land on the moon. He died a year before in a jet crash.”
“But he had that. Being first. Nobody ever can take that away from him.”
“Like you,” Jared says.
“What?” He’s not positive what Jared means, but no matter what, his instinct is to deny. “No. I’m no … I’m nothing like that.”
“You are to me,” Jared says gently. He yawns loudly. “Jensen. I really need to go to sleep now. Did I help?”
Words war in Jensen’s head. Yes. No. I’m no hero. I’m not worthy of being anyone’s hero because it’s all one big lie. “Good night, Jared. Thank you.”
Jared’s parting sigh makes Jensen’s heart skip. He’s so screwed. He wants what he can never have. It’s ironic in a way, Tom’s open marriage idea. Because if he ever dared to suggest taking advantage of it to someone like Jared he’d get punched in the nose. In twenty-three days he’s getting married. In front of politicians and activists and probably some protestors, he’s going to proclaim his commitment to Tom.
He makes it to the bathroom about a second before the bile rises and splashes into the toilet.
~ Jared ~
“Twelve episodes, eh?”
Jensen is standing in Jared’s doorway as promised at ten o’clock on a Saturday morning. His smile is sun bright. It’s been a week since Jared got that odd phone call at night. He’s seen Jensen at work as the wedding planning has continued but the phone call never came up. And he’s yet to officially meet Tom.
He blinks once because Jensen’s smile is sort of dazzling. “Yeah. It’s amazing. I told you Tom Hanks is a space program buff, like me. He produced this miniseries. Also he introduces all of them. And all the intros end with the words ‘From the Earth to the Moon’ which is cool. But that’s not … Oh and he’s in the last one. Which is really cool because it’s about A Trip to the Moon -- have you ever seen that? It’s an old French silent film. The first science fiction film, really. I mean looking at it today, it’s funny, but back then it stunned people with animation and special effects they’d never seen before. Anyway, that episode splices Tom Hanks playing the director working on that film with the last Apollo mission. It’s very clever. So it takes the series up to Eugene Cernan, who was the last man to walk on the moon. He made a very moving comment right before they lifted off. Most don’t know it, not like they know Armstrong’s first words.”
Jensen interrupts. “But you do, right?”
Jared catches his breath. He knows he’s been on a ramble. He has to slow his thoughts. They fly ahead of him sometimes. Like time will run out if he doesn’t get it all out. His poppa would tell him ‘Brake, son. Hit the brakes.’ And then he’d smile and Jared always knew that Poppa’s smiles were good. He’d never do the sneaky, not-good smile.
“Yes,” he answers Jensen now, breathing in and out carefully to calm himself. It takes everything he has not to recite Cernan’s words. And he’s proud of himself for finally shutting up for once. He still doesn’t know why Jensen continues to be so nice to him. Sure, Jared’s helping to plan his wedding and Jensen was always nice to him at work before. But now he’s become a friend. Jared hasn’t had very many of those. Sandy is the first best friend he’s ever had. And now Jensen is starting to feel like one, too. He doesn’t know if he’s allowed to have more than one. “Can people have more than one best friend?”
Once more Jared is aware of green eyes meeting his, and that realization surprises him every time. “Sure. Why not? Friends are individual people and we … click with different people in different ways.”
“Like the way a parent can love each of their children equally?”
“Yes, exactly. We care for our friends differently as well. But each is special in their own way.”
Jensen has never visited Jared at home. But he agreed to watch From the Earth to the Moon with Jared, a miniseries that covers the space program from Gemini through Apollo. Jared has been chattering nonstop since he opened the door. Now he realizes he should ask Jensen to come inside, offer something – food or drink. That’s what one did. But he’s still sorting through what Jensen just said. “You’re right,” he decides. “I love Sandy and you differently. So I think you can both be my best friend.”
A few steps inside and Jensen’s gaze lands on the single photograph on Jared’s living room wall. It’s large – 24" x 36" – and immediately visible when turning the corner from the small entryway. The photo, called ‘Earthrise,’ was taken by the Apollo 8 astronauts. It’s an actual print, his father bought it from NASA. And it’s the most beautiful thing Jared owns. Every time he sees it he has to stop.
Now, forcing his eyes away from the photo, Jared studies Jensen as he takes in the image. He’s struck suddenly by the most beautiful man he’s ever seen looking at the most beautiful photo in the world. Jensen’s eyes are focused and mouth slightly open and Jared thinks he can see every emotion surging through the other man’s soul. As ever, his filter fails him. “I never thought I’d see this.”
Jensen turns to him and Jared thinks he can still see that gorgeous blue marble reflected in the black of Jensen’s eyes. Shut up. Don’t say more. He is screaming so loud to himself he fears Jensen will hear him.
“Jared? Are you okay?”
Tears sting his eyes. Wouldn’t be the first time this photo makes Jared cry. But it’s more than that hitting Jared hard. Having Jensen here. In his home. He’d dreamed of it so often but now he realizes those dreams were nothing. Because Jensen’s face staring at that photo told Jared things. And the miracle of that is turning Jared’s insides to jelly.
“I just. You … I could see you react to it. Not … used to that.”
Jensen’s smile is small but fond. “I’ve seen the photo before, of course. Everyone has. It’s just … seeing it here. On your wall. Knowing how you … Yeah, got to me.”
Slowly, so not to surprise, Jensen moves closer and brings his arm over Jared’s shoulder pulling him in. They stand before the photo silently a few moments. Jared feels the warmth and waits for that too close feeling but it never comes. It feels. Perfect.
Jensen speaks softly, “Tell me about it.”
“It was taken during Apollo 8. That’s my favorite of all the Apollo missions.”
“Yeah? Not eleven?”
“Oh eleven was amazing. No question. But eight. That one was magic. And this is part of it. They set out to reach the moon. To orbit the moon and make all the subsequent missions possible. But what they found was so much more. It wasn’t the cold gray little body circling us. Even though that has its own ethereal beauty. What they really found. Was us.”
Jensen is looking at the photo again. Jared can’t make out this time what he’s thinking. In a way that’s comforting because it’s familiar. Normal. “A lonely blue marble in the endless black,” Jared continues. “It’s nothing. And it’s everything. It’s a speck. And all we have. Every life ever lived. Everyone who ever loved or cried. Ever died. It all happened on that gorgeous body coming up behind the moon. So precious and fragile. They say the environmental movement started with that photograph.”
The lips that suddenly press against Jared’s cheek are warm and soft and gone before Jared can even blink. He stumbles back a step, hand moving up to cover the spot. It practically tingles beneath his fingertips and he knows his face is red and his breath is too fast but he can’t stop any of it. “Wh—what … why did you--?”
“You’re incredible, Jared Padalecki.” Jensen is staring as if he can see inside of Jared. But his face is a mystery. “I’ve been so caught up in myself, and the fight to change the laws and, yeah, it’s important because what’s right still matters. Yet … you … you can care about who made Tang with equal fervor to our place in the universe. In seconds you shine a light to things bigger than just me. Or … T-Tom.” Jensen runs his hand across the back of his head. There’s a bounce in his step as he swings closer to Jared again and takes his hand. “C’mon. Let’s watch that miniseries. All twelve episodes. Take me on a voyage to the moon.”
“But that would take hours. All day and into the night. “You’d have to sleep here.”
Jensen shrugs. It is Saturday and there’s no work the next day but Jared still never expected …
“Got nowhere else to be.”
Jared frowns slightly. “Oh. Is Tom busy? That’s … I’m sorry.”
He’s met with another shrug. “I’m not. Glad to be spending the day with my best friend.”
It’s one thing to think it and another to hear it. Jared’s heart pounds fast. “Yeah? Me, too.”
He settles next to Jensen on the sofa, sitting closer than he normally sits with Sandy. It’s like Jensen said. You care for different people in different ways. That must explain why everything is just a little easier with Jensen. Of course, it’s hard to not remember his parents. They always seemed to touch. As the DVD menu boots up Jared’s eyes are drawn back to Earthrise. “Poppa gave me that,” he says.
Jared nods. “For my birthday, when I turned twenty-one. He knew I’d love it.”
Next to him Jensen barely nods in that non-speaking way of saying a bunch. Jared is proud for noticing. “He told me once that Momma was his Earthrise.”
An arm surrounds Jared again and without thinking he leans into Jensen’s shoulder. The miniseries theme music is playing in repeat in the background. Jared should start the first episode but he’s comfortable and does nothing. “You miss him,” Jensen whispers in his ear. The sudden puff of breath makes Jared shiver.
“Every minute,” he answers. Because it’s true. The absence is there with every heartbeat.
“I wish I could have met him.”
And then the strangest thing happens. Jared starts to cry. He didn’t cry when he found his father lying on the bedroom floor when Jared came home from work. He didn’t cry as the paramedics told him it was too late to try to resuscitate him. That he was dead. Didn’t cry during the funeral. But now the tears fall fast and hot and he’s swallowing in air in big thirsty gulps.
Jensen has both arms around him now and is holding him closer than he remembers being held before. It’s too tight and he starts to squirm. Instinctively Jensen loosens his grip but doesn’t let go. Soft words of comfort are murmured directly into his ear. Lips brush his temple and down his cheek and for the first time since his father died Jared feels loved again.
As soon as he’s able to control his voice Jared pulls back, wiping his snot with the back of his hand as he manages to croak out, “Thank you.” Now he’s too worn out to even try to read Jensen so he wishes the other man would just speak. After a long silence Jensen simply says, “You’re welcome.”
Then Jensen pulls Jared’s head back to his shoulder and kisses his temple again. Jared hasn’t been kissed this much since his momma died. It should be wigging him out but it’s not.
“You good to watch?” Jensen asks.
“Can always watch this.” With a push of a button the familiar music fades to Tom Hanks’s opening narration about the start of the space program and calm returns to Jared in soft waves. He’s not sure what comes over him but right as Tom Hank’s last words are uttered Jared turns and kisses Jensen’s cheek. For a split second he’s afraid, because he’s never done that. He doesn’t do spontaneous affection. Except Jensen lets out a soft sigh and sinks deeper into Jared’s sofa and doesn’t move away from Jared for hours.
* * *
“All night? Really?” Sandy’s voice does that sing-song rise at the end that Jared has come to interpret as ‘no freakin’ way.’
He smiles because it was a great weekend. “Yep. I made us brunch. Well, just eggs really. And some of that pre-cooked bacon. And he didn’t say anything when I gave us each two plates, because, you know. He just took ‘em both and he didn’t automatically bring his bacon over to his egg plate. He asked if it would bother me. And I said, it would, sort of. And then he smiled and kept it all separate. I worried a second that he was laughing at me even though he wasn’t really laughing. But smiling, you don’t always know. But I think … I think it was really okay.”
Sandy smiles now. Jared always trusts her smiles. “Jare. He spent the night?” Her voice is very gentle making Jared think there’s more to the question than it seems, but he doesn’t know what she wants him to say.
“Yep. We watched till we couldn’t keep our eyes open any more. I dozed off first. And then he … well, I woke up.” Jared knows he’s blushing slightly. Can feel the warmth blossom on his cheeks. That night with Jensen he’d been awakened by the softest brush of fingers through his hair. For a split second he thought he was dreaming of his momma. But then the touch got a little deeper and his scalp felt tingly and his whole body got this charge. He’d snapped up and then quickly apologized for practically knocking Jensen over.
Jensen had apologized back for crowding Jared. But that wasn’t it. Not at all. Because Jared had gotten aroused and that wasn’t right. Not with Jensen. Not when Jensen was in love with someone else. Was going to marry someone else.
Jared had disappeared into the bathroom and splashed himself with cold water to calm down. Nothing happened after all and hopefully Jensen didn’t realize. It’s not like his eyes were looking at Jared’s crotch. Sighing he talked to himself softly in the mirror. You can’t have Jensen. Even if there was no Tom it’s not like a man like Jensen would ever want you. So keep a grip and be a friend. It’s more than you had before. It’s good.
“Then what happened?” Sandy prods.
“I brought out a pillow and blanket and he slept on the couch.”
Sandy brings her Starbucks cup to her mouth. Jared gets her coffee every morning on his way in. It’s what they do. She’s twirling her hair and Jared wonders again what’s up. Her voice is normal, though, when she asks, “Did he talk much about Tom?”
Jared’s brows furrow. “No. He never does, though. I guess, you know, that’s personal.”
Her lips twist unpleasantly. “Still can’t get Tom to meet with us. Always too busy. But if Jensen makes a decision by himself he gets grief later from Tom. I can’t imagine how Jensen puts up with it.”
It’s hard for Jared to process that. He imagines planning one’s wedding would be the most wonderful thing in the world. He’s actually having trouble understanding any time Tom spends away from Jensen. Because nothing is better than being with Jensen.
“Oh, Jared. I know, hon. And Jensen loves being with you, too.” She sighs loudly. Jared thinks he shouldn’t have said that last part aloud. He sometimes gets lost in his head and blurts things without realizing. Now he’s afraid he’ll do that with Jensen one day and make Jensen mad. It’s the worst thought in the world.
Jensen rounds the corner just then, eyes widening when he sees Jared and Sandy standing before his office. Jared tries not to stare but it’s hard. Jensen is dressed as usual, suit with no tie, fitting gorgeously on his muscular frame. He’s not as buff as Jared. But Jared can remember the feel of his muscles as they sat close on his sofa. He still doesn’t understand how all that cuddling didn’t drive him nuts. But Jensen seemed to instinctively know when to pull back and when to come closer.
“Good. You’re both here,” Jensen says but his eyes are on Jared. He looks rested and Jared is happy about that.
“You look good.”
Jensen smiles. “A pleasant surprise, eh?”
Jared blushes. “I didn’t mean … you always look good. Just that you don’t look as tired as last week.”
“I had a great weekend. Spent it with my best friend.”
Sandy’s smile is hitting nuclear levels and Jared isn’t sure why his other best friend is practically radiating happiness. Maybe she had a great weekend, too? He didn’t really get to ask her. “Jared said you and he spent some time at his place,” she says to Jensen.
“Yeah. Watched that Tom Hanks-produced moon miniseries on Saturday. Pretty much all day.” Jensen chuckles. “Can’t remember the last time I marathoned like that.”
“I’ve seen it. It’s good. What did you guys do yesterday?”
Jared is about to answer but Jensen speaks up first. “Jared made me brunch. And then he showed me around his apartment some. Didn’t get a chance Saturday as we got caught up with the show. Lots of history in that old place.”
“Jared’s parents inherited the apartment from his grandparents. It’s neat, right? Those pre-war buildings are always amazing.”
Jared never thinks of his place as special. It’s always been just home. Now it’s just safe. A little lonely. But not that weekend. Jensen didn’t rush off Sunday morning like Jared assumed he would. That’s when Jared offered the brunch. That led to the tour and somehow they ended up looking at old family photographs. Jared hadn’t pulled them out since well before Poppa died. His momma had dozens of albums and scrapbooks. Jared couldn’t believe Jensen could really be interested in all that. But his attention never wavered as he sat next to him on the table asking question after question.
“We spent a long time looking through my momma’s old photo albums.”
Sandy looks up at that, eyeing Jensen carefully. Jared tries to read her but he can’t. Jensen runs his hand over the back of his head. “Yeah. It’s great how many photos he has, going back decades. I don’t … well, after my dad left my mom destroyed a bunch of photos. Made her sad, I guess. There’s not a lot of family pictures.”
Jared’s heart squeezes and he’s touching Jensen’s arm before he realizes it. “I didn’t know that. I’m sorry. But … what about Tom? You’re gaining a new family with him, right?”
“Tom’s family never came around, Jared. Well … they tried once Tom became successful but he never let them back in.”
“I didn’t mean—I meant Tom, himself. He’ll be your family.”
Jensen doesn’t answer. He pulls back away from Jared and enters his office silently. Jared looks at Sandy.
“What did I do?” Clearly he said something stupid. Something he shouldn’t. Part of him wants to follow Jensen into his office and make him tell him what’s wrong. Why he turned away? But Jensen has shut his door.
A small hand rests on his arm. “You didn’t do anything, Jare.”
“But … why did he—?”
“I’ve been trying to tell you—“
“No. It can’t be. Jensen wouldn’t marry Tom if he didn’t love him. Nobody would do that. It doesn’t work that way. You marry your best friend, your lover. The person who makes you smile inside all the time.”
Sandy reaches up and strokes Jared’s face. Her eyes are wide and glossy and Jared suddenly is getting more than he wishes. Sometimes it’s better not to read people. “I don’t think it’s one-sided. He cares for you.”
“Sandy. Stop. He feels friendship. And that’s enough. It’s a lot. And it’s all I’m ever going to get. In fourteen days he’s marrying Tom Welling.”
Jared steps away from her. He has work to get to. Behind him he hears Sandy ask, “Even if he shouldn’t?”
~ Jensen ~
There’s a quick knock and then Sandy enters. Jensen looks up from the contract he’s been reviewing. Truthfully the words aren’t registering. He’s back in Jared’s apartment in his mind. Casual touches and easy affection that surprise him mostly in how not surprising it felt. Jared says he doesn’t like touching. But he didn’t protest much. Not that Jensen would ever consider himself touchy-feely. But there’s something about Jared that brings out the tactile in Jensen.
Saturday was spent mostly on the sofa, pressed close. The miniseries episodes drifted one into the other. They broke for lunch around one. Didn’t go out, ordered Chinese food. Jensen didn’t say anything as Jared ordered each dish separately, giving special directions to not mix the chicken and the beef and the vegetables. It arrived in dozens of small containers. Jared disappeared in his kitchen and returned with paper plates that were cut out with little wells to separate food – like old-fashioned school cafeteria trays. Jared was beaming.
“Aren’t these great? Dixie makes ‘em.”
Jensen nodded in amused agreement and watched quietly as Jared carefully placed a couple spoonful of rice in one of the slots, vegetables in the other and some strips of white chicken breast in the third. Nothing touched. To be polite Jensen tried to do the same thing. He supposed it all got mixed up in his stomach anyway and didn’t make that much difference how it went in.
“You can taste each flavor this way,” he told Jared.
“Yes! That’s what I think.” Jared is looking at him oddly, face tilted adorably.
“What?” Jensen asked.
“It’s just that nobody bothered ever finding anything positive to my … way of eating … everyone thinks it’s weird. Even my parents teased me about it.”
Jensen looked around at the aging dining space, dark wood table speckled with nicks and scrapes. It was good. It was well used. “You’ve lived here all your life?”
“Um-hmm,” Jared said between mouthfuls of food. “I think my parents wanted me to move out after high school. I got into some out-of-state schools and they were encouraging me to maybe go out on my own. But. I dunno. I was scared. Didn’t want to.”
Sandy’s chuckle breaks through Jensen’s fog. “Boy, that must be one boring document. You seem a million miles away.” She eyes him with a smile. He swears it’s like she can see right through him.
“Why didn’t you tell me Jared graduated from Hunter College?”
“I didn’t keep it from you. You never asked.”
“Did you know he was accepted at UPenn? Among others.”
“He’s smart. But you know that.”
Jensen nods. “His book. It’s really good.”
Sandy’s brows shoot up. “Book?”
“The comic. ‘S good.”
Huge brown eyes gape at him. “You read it?”
“A little bit. He showed me a page or two.”
She shakes her head. “He never let me see it. Only his father has ever been allowed to read any of it.” Sandy’s voice deepens slightly and her look is mother-protector ferocious. “I’m going to say this once. Don’t screw with him.”
Jensen looks down. Can’t hide the immediate slight flush and curses his fair complexion. It’s no use pretending he doesn’t know what she means. Before she can say anything further she’s touching his sleeve and her gaze is soft again. “Jensen … “
“Sandy. Don’t. I’m … I wouldn’t … won’t. And even if … it’s too late. Things are set. An’ no matter what Tom thinks once we’re married I couldn’t … Well, never with someone like—“ He cuts himself off because he’s already said way too much.
“It doesn’t have to be too late—Jensen, just … think about what you fought for and do right by it.”
“I’m trying to do right by it!” The exasperation leaks out.
She shakes her head slightly and looks down at the calendar in her hand letting out a slight sigh. “Tom really will be by at noon, right?”
“Yeah. He swore he wouldn’t miss our appointment this time.” Jensen hates the defensiveness in his voice.
“Okay. Jared and I will meet you in the conference room. I’ll order lunch.”
“Jared will be there?”
“He’s my assistant on this. I need him.” She meets his eyes determinedly. “Will it be a problem?”
“No.” Jensen fights his inner anxiety. “Not a problem.”
~ Jared ~
Look them in the eye. Shake firmly. Nod after every pertinent comment. Watch for pauses that last too long. Arms crossed mean closed off, back off. Eyebrows up is questioning, perhaps doubting. Squinting is confusion. Eye rubbing is boredom.
The mantra runs through Jared’s mind like it does with all new, important meetings. So many ticks and clicks to remember. Why can’t people just say what they mean?
“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Mr. Welling.”
Tom grips his hand and shakes firmly, holding on longer than Jared is comfortable with. He fights the squirm and is relieved to feel Jensen taking hold of his arm and pulling Jared away gently. Why Jensen’s touch is actually a comfort is beyond Jared. He smiles at him to show that it helps.
“Call me Tom, please.”
Tom locks eyes with Jared and that squirmy, slightly queasy feeling comes back. Jared drifts his eyes to Tom’s forehead and hopes it’s not noticed. “You’re the reason I’m gay.”
The quiet in the room lets Jared know he just blurted something he shouldn’t have. So, of course, he immediately starts adding to it. “I … I mean … your book. I was wondering why I kept getting erections when thinking about men and I passed this bookstore and the photo on the cover of your book – with those two men -- got me aroused, so I bought it. And then … well. Your story … not that anything like that happened to me because my parents they took the book and also read it. Then they asked if I thought I was homosexual and I said I thought so. Not that I ever … I mean with a boy … well, with anyone really … “
“Jared.” Sandy’s voice breaks his ramble. “It’s okay. Tom’s book was the turning point for many young men.” She turns to Tom, charming smile in place. “Bet you get that a lot, huh?”
“Don’t flatter him anymore. Head’s too big as it is.” Jensen laughs and Jared figures maybe this is funny, except Sandy has that slightly off smile. The one he’s learned means way too many things for Jared to attempt to suss out. He looks toward Tom as both Jensen and Sandy are also peering that way. But he doesn’t know Tom and can’t figure out anything and thinks maybe he’s missed something. His heart starts pounding.
“We could never have been Apollo astronauts. None of us. You are just about my height. Jensen is over six feet. That was the maximum cut off. Used to be five-eleven but then in 1962 they increased it to up to six feet.”
“Twelve men walked on the moon,” Sandy says softly grinning at him.
“How incredible is that?” he replies automatically. He sees Jensen throw a soft sort of look at Sandy. Jared thinks he sees gratitude and marvels once more how Jensen speaks to him in ways no one else does.
“Okay. Jensen, I barely had time for this as is. What the—?”
“Tom,” Jensen interrupts quickly. “Let’s just sit down and finish making some decisions.”
Tom mumbles something like excuse us and pulls Jensen to the window leaning in close to him. Jared takes a seat near Sandy on the other end of the long conference room table and tries not listen but the men’s loud whispers are inescapable.
“Why the hell is the mailroom clerk in on my wedding planning?”
“Tom. Shush. He’s helping Sandy.”
“Do what? The invitations went out last week.”
“He’s doing a lot more than mailing things out. He planned the hotel arrangements and is dealing with the seating shenanigans and most importantly, he’s a good friend … so stop being an ass right now.”
Tom lowers his voice and Jared hears only bits now. “Since … friends … weird … “
“Since the amount of time you have for me can fit on the back of a matchbook!” Jensen’s loud whisper is harsh in the enclosed space.
“What is with the nagging boyfriend act? What the fuck is wrong with you lately?"
Tom and Jensen are standing practically on top of each other now and Jared’s chest feels like it’s caught in a vise. Sandy stands up abruptly and pulls Jared’s arm. “C’mon … we should wait outside.“
He follows her, reeling from the tension running through his body at what he witnessed. They are outside the conference room door for several minutes while Jared tries to steady his nerves with his breathing exercises. He feels Sandy’s eyes on him. “I’ve never. I mean, sure, people fight. I’m not stupid. But Sandy … that’s not … what did he mean ‘boyfriend act’?”
Sandy’s been saying from the start that Jensen and Tom weren’t real. But he couldn’t let himself believe it. Yet if it’s true … how can Jensen do this? It’s wronger than just about anything Jared can imagine.
Tom emerges and Jared figures if he could read his face he’d know things. But he can’t. Tom stops in front of Sandy and ignores Jared. “E-mail me the seating chart and I’ll sign off on it. The hotel you found is fine. I’m still working on getting the mayor to officiate – I’ll let you know.” He takes a step back. “Oh and book us two weeks somewhere with a beach. He just needs to get away or something. He’ll be okay. This is stressful and he never could handle the publicity all that well. Couple of weeks and it’ll all be behind us and we get can back to normal.”
Sandy looks around Tom and Jared sees Jensen standing in the doorway to the conference room. His face is flushed and his shoulders are hunched and Jared has no idea what he’s looking at. Just knows it’s all wrong. Jensen takes an audible breath before blowing it out. “Sandy. Do what he says, please.”
“But it’s your honeymoon – don’t you want to—?”
“A beach. I don’t care where.”
Tom nods like he’s satisfied with this meeting. Like it’s not the equivalent of a wake. Jared should know. He just organized one recently. “Sandy,” Tom says by way of goodbye. He looks toward Jared and doesn’t say anything. Jared nods automatically thinking they probably had some sort of silent one-sided conversation that Jared just can’t be bothered to care about.
Jensen walks over slowly after Tom has left. Jared hasn’t moved a muscle. He feels like his legs are paralyzed in place. “I’m sorry,” Jensen begins slowly. “You two shouldn’t have gotten caught up in that.” He runs his hand over the back of his head and the familiar motion makes Jared swallow hard. Shining green eyes meet his and widen at what they see in Jared. “Jay, it’s okay. Really. It’s my shit to deal with. Don’t worry.”
Voices drift over from down the hall where folks are walking. It breaks through Jared’s lost spell. “Momma told me that planning her wedding was one of the most fun times of her life. She said she and Poppa had a hippie wedding, complete with bare feet and flowers in her hair. Said my grandparents thought they were deranged but since it barely cost anything they couldn’t complain.”
Jensen tries to interrupt but Jared speaks over him. “Poppa said that wedding planning was for girls and then Momma teased him that she’d take out the scrapbook and prove how into it he was and they chased each other around the house after that before falling together on the sofa laughing and I remember thinking how weird it was that they didn’t mind smothering each other like that because I hated being held down like that.”
“Jared … “ Jensen says gently. “Not everyone is like your parents.” They’ve drifted back into the conference room and Jared doesn’t even remember walking. The door is open but they have the illusion of privacy. He looks around and doesn’t see Sandy. It doesn’t matter. He has to get this out.
“The news was already talking about the Marriage Equality Act before Poppa died. He was happy about it. Said now I could have a family. I told him I already had one and he didn’t say anything more but I bet he said a whole bunch to me without talking but I was too stupid to see it. Bet he knew he wasn’t feeling well. Except he never told me.”
Jensen swipes at his eyes and Jared knows he’s supposed to feel sad that he’s made Jensen cry but something inside him is numb.
“Do you love him?” Jared asks finally. The silence is deafening and Jared feels like screaming. His voice is raising before he can help himself because he’s not his father and he doesn’t want to go through life not saying things. “Do you love him like I love you?”
Jared isn’t given a yes or a no. “I’m sorry,” Jensen utters before running out.
The window is cool beneath Jared’s fingertips, the city sprawling in an intricate maze as he rests his forehead on the unyielding glass. Sandy calls Jared’s name softly but Jared puts his hand out to indicate not now. His breath ghosts the glass and he pushes a line through it. He wants to go home. Except no one is there. And somehow just standing here staring at strangers far below is slightly less lonely.
~ Jensen ~
It was more than half a lifetime ago that Jensen last heard the word ‘love’ directed at him from another boy.
Jensen was fifteen years old and living in Dallas with a secret too big to contemplate.
His older brother Josh was graduating high school that year. He’d been accepted to the University of Texas. Josh had a steady girlfriend. Jensen had seen them making out, licking into each other like they were the icing to every cake ever made. Every kiss Jensen ever had has left him bored at best and queasy at worst. He wanted to kiss a boy. He needed to just fucking know.
It seemed impossible. He could never approach any boy in school that way without expecting to be punched. In the end, another boy approached him. His name was Caleb and they’d been in some of the same classes since grade school. He was slight and shorter than Jensen by a couple of inches. Except Jensen remembered him from the locker room and knew that his lithe muscles were defined beneath the loose fitting clothes. Jensen’s face burned when he thought this and he couldn’t meet Caleb’s eyes as he spoke with him.
The boy asked tentatively for tutoring help in math. Told him the teacher recommended Jensen. It’s true that Mrs. O’Neil asked Jensen on Monday after class if he’d be willing to tutor some students having difficulty. He’d nodded without thinking about it and they agreed to meet up after school.
Two weeks later Jensen was in Cal’s room and they were sitting side by side on the bed. Caleb was doing better in math class and probably didn’t need tutoring any more. But he didn’t ask to stop and Jensen kept visiting him. There’d been one incident so far at home about that. Josh rolled his eyes during dinner one night and said, “You still teaching that fag? Jesus, he must be dumber than a post.”
Their father had chuckled and Jensen’s mother chirped in that it was nice that Jensen was helping out. Jensen fought to swallow what was already in his throat and swirled his fork through the rest of his meal without eating any more. After an appropriate time gap he asked to be excused.
Caleb touched his arm to get his attention as Jensen had drifted off. “You okay?”
The boy’s hand was warm where it pressed against Jensen’s bicep. Jensen shut his eyes a moment. “Yeah. I’m fine. Sorry.”
He opened them again to find Caleb staring intently, not dropping his hand from Jensen’s skin. Caleb moved forward slightly and licked his lips. “Jensen … I … if I’m wrong, please don’t … don’t hit me, okay?”
Jensen’s eyes narrowed and he was about to ask what Caleb was talking about when he realized that Caleb was still moving closer, that his face was inches away. He shut his eyes and let it happen. Warm lips met his tentatively and then grew bold as Jensen shifted closer and inhaled and opened up slightly to deepen the kiss. It was so good he thought he must be dreaming. Jensen brought his arms around Cal and let his fingers run up and down firm, lean muscle. His tongue was tangling with another boy’s and his heart was going to pound its way out of his chest but that feeling of yes didn’t go away. Because this was right. And he knew then that it would be his life.
No matter how terrifying that thought was.
They got caught by Caleb’s mother within a week of their relationship turning romantic. She was fine with it. Caleb already told his parents he was gay. Caleb thought that Jensen would be happier if he just came clean. Jensen thought Caleb was insane.
“It’s not like your family’s all super religious or anything. It’ll be okay, you’ll see.”
“My dad … no, it’s not gonna be fine.” His father thought gays were disgusting. Said it all the time. If something went by on TV or whatever he got this twisted look. Dad and Josh made fun of fags for years. Jensen couldn’t even think about coming out. “Don’t you dare say anything!”
Caleb flinched and Jensen felt bad because he just scared him and that wasn’t his intention. But Cal was tougher than he looked. “There’s nothing wrong with it. With us.”
He looked at Caleb’s pleading eyes. He’d first noticed how pretty they were back in middle school. To placate he told Caleb that. “You’re one to talk, so freakin’ hot.”
Caleb’s chocolate brown eyes grew even softer as he murmured, “I don’t remember a time I wasn’t crushing on you.”
The words made Jensen’s heart thump in his chest. Jensen opened his arms and took Caleb in a tight hug. He kissed along his temple before working down toward his lips. They made out a long while until things escalated and Jensen experienced his first orgasm from another person.
Jensen was at war with himself. He wanted Cal. Wanted them to have everything all his other dating friends had. But the voice in his head that sounded like his dad and his brother was yelling, disgusting, shameful, unnatural.
Nonetheless, he lost his virginity just past his sixteenth birthday. He and Caleb took turns bottoming. At first it hurt more than anything he ever felt before and he thought maybe his father was right … that it wasn’t natural, that it was wrong. But Caleb started touching him slowly, fingers squeezing and pulling and the flames turned into a slow burn, turned to something indescribable. Pleasure was shooting through him with every strong thrust of the other boy’s hips, rising through him like a geyser. He came for what felt like forever sputtering Caleb’s name.
Later that same night he pushed into Caleb as careful as he could, remembering how much it hurt at first. Caleb breathed through it and then told Jensen to go ahead. As much as Jensen had eventually enjoyed being on the receiving end, this totally blew his mind. It was hotter, tighter and more spine tinglingly wonderful than anything Jensen had ever felt before. Caleb was squirming beneath him and if groans were any indication was slowly losing his mind.
When they both came down enough to get words out Caleb turned to him. “Okay. We can do that again. Like, a lot.”
Jensen laughed. “Which one?”
Caleb’s eyes blackened. “Inside me. Loved it.” Caleb stared at him a long time and then whispered, “Love you.” Jensen knew that Cal was waiting but it was too much. He stayed quiet.
It all blew up a week after that.
Jensen thinks now that he should maybe go track Jared down and tell him not to care about him. Loving Jensen never leads to anything good.
* * *
“We lost the mayor, dammit!”
Jensen is used to Tom’s barking on the phone. He doesn’t remember the last time Tom actually said hello. Goodbye though, that his fiancé has down. Jensen hasn’t spoken to Tom since earlier in the week and the disastrous visit to his office.
Well that isn’t strictly true. Earlier today they met so that Jensen could participate in a quick interview with the Village Voice. He answered the two questions directed at him with an actor’s smile glued on his face. Tom kept his hand loosely on his shoulder the entire time. The touch so light it might not have been there at all.
“What’s going on?” Jensen asks.
“Bloomberg is gonna marry those two gay staffers of his. But … I managed to get that judge from the second circuit instead.”
“That’s still good, isn’t it? Makes the judge’s opinions clear finally.”
Tom is quiet. “Yeah. I’m just being a bitch.”
Jensen laughs. “What else is new?”
“Screw you. Hey, Vanity Fair wants us.”
“Us or you?”
“Us. They are going to cover the wedding. Jensen, seriously, not like you weren’t a prissy bitch before but what the hell is going on with you lately?”
Jensen wants to hang up. Doesn’t want to argue anymore. “Nothing. It’s just … I’m coming to terms, I guess, to being married.”
“Jen … I keep telling you it won’t change anything. It’s not about us … it’s the greater point that matters. You know what your problem is … you never got the fact that people don’t matter as much as you think they do. What we’re doing isn’t for any individual. It’s for the nation at large. It’s for fairness and equality. It’s about what’s right.”
“What’s right,” Jensen repeats.
“Yeah. I get that you’re nervous. I am, too. It’s a brave thing to pave the way.”
Jensen almost laughs. “You think I’m brave?”
“I think you’re gonna do what needs to be done. Because what else is gonna give all the bullshit we went through to get here meaning?” Jensen can hear someone talking to Tom in the background. His friend laughs loud and hearty. It takes a few minutes before his attention comes back to Jensen. “Gotta go. I won’t be around much the next few days. Crazy schedule. Bye Jen.”
Tom hangs up before Jensen can say another word. He listens to the quiet for a long time before disconnecting the call. Silence. Maybe it’s karma. Because that’s the last thing he ever gave the boy that first dared to love him.
A week after losing his virginity Jensen’s world fell to pieces.
Someone at school saw Jensen and Caleb kissing and the news spread like wildfire. Jensen was terrified. He blamed Caleb for initiating the intimacy. Jensen never let anything happen in school. But the locker rooms were empty and Caleb cornered him and for one careless moment Jensen just let himself be and fell into the kiss with a smile. Super jock, Timothy Bracken came in with his friends, Bob and Mike in tow. The three went, “Oh shit” at once and then broke into cackling.
Upon being discovered, Jensen pulled away frantically, practically knocking Caleb down. He yelled, “Get off me!” The stunned, devastated look on Caleb’s face felt like a punch but Jensen couldn’t help but lash out like a cornered animal.
“What the fag do, jump you?” Timothy asked Jensen pointedly.
Caleb stared at him, tears filling his huge eyes and Jensen felt the floor sinking beneath his feet. He didn’t say another word, just spun and ran out as laughter rang loud behind him.
Words followed him all day. Jensen walked home as if facing the guillotine.
Josh attacked as soon as he entered the house. Their mother stood stock still looking dismayed. Dad wasn’t home yet. “What the fuck, Jensen? You’re a homo now?”
“Josh. Stop. I’m sure there’s an explanation … Jensen … did that boy force you to do anything you didn’t—“
He wanted to say yes. It was on the tip of his tongue to blame Caleb. To say the boy shoved him up against the locker and kissed him unwanted. It was Cal’s fault anyway for kissing him in the open like that. In school. He knew the rules. Only in Caleb’s house. It wasn’t safe anywhere else. Because then …
Jensen looked up into the disgusted face of his brother and the frightened stare of his mother and went up to his room silently. The quiet was his confession. He sat in his room and waited for his sentencing.
There were murmurs downstairs at six-thirty. He heard his mother’s voice raise slightly saying to calm down. Jensen opened his door and walked to the top of the steps but didn’t come down.
“Calm down?! You’re telling me my son is a fucking faggot and you want me to calm down?”
“Stop. That language it’s not – he’s gay, Alan.”
“I can’t … I’m not … How can I even look at him? He’s been with that boy for months. Holed up in his bedroom. Do you realize—“
“We don’t know—“
“Right. They were kissing in the boys’ locker room.” His father coughed and it sounded like he was gagging. “It’s sick. Disgusting. I can’t—“
The conversation continued for some time. His mother tried to calm Alan down, while Alan ranted and raved.
Jensen stopped listening around the time his father disagreed with his mother when she said, “He’s still our son.”
Josh knocked once before entering. It was nearly midnight. Jensen had done nothing but stare at the ceiling and his eyes were burning and dry. “You let him fuck you up the ass?” his brother asked.
Jensen didn’t reply. Didn’t turn his head.
“Ugh. That’s just sick, dude. I can’t believe we’re related. Thank god I got college coming up.”
In the past week he and Cal had sex. A lot. Wrapped up in each other on Caleb’s too-small bed. Sinking into the smaller boy’s body until he thought he’d die from pleasure. Laying there afterward in the chill of sweat-soaked skin touching cooler air with Caleb mouthing, “I love you,” directly into Jensen’s ear.
Jensen stumbled through school the next day somehow. Caleb tried to talk to him but froze at Jensen’s silent wall. He knew he should talk to him. Knew he should be feeling something other than ice in his veins. Caleb gave him one last devastated stare. But the best Jensen could do was shake his head firmly before turning swiftly and walking away as fast as he could. He knew it was over in that instant.
He came home to find his mother crying. A moment later he spotted his father at the top of the stairs holding a suitcase. His heart sank.
Alan came down and stood before his mother. Jensen was ignored. “I’m sorry Donna. I just can’t.”
“Dad?” Jensen spoke for the first time.
“I can’t even look at him right now,” his father said, eyes only on his mother.
“Then go!” his mother yelled, veins popping near her throat.
Dad’s eyes were down to the carpet as he picked up his bag and headed out.
“Oh my god,” Jensen said falling into the sofa next to his mother. “He left … he left us because of … “
“It’s not your fault,” Mom said, but her eyes didn’t meet Jensen’s.
“I’m sorry, Mom. I’m so sorry.”
Watery blue eyes met his. “Jensen. You’ll never get married. Have a family. You’ll never have a life. People will--Why … why do you want this? Can’t you fight it … try to be with a girl?”
He wanted to tell his mother he’d try. That he’d change. That he’d be what they all wanted. Only it didn’t work that way and he didn’t know how to change that. “I’m sorry,” he repeated. So little. Worthless. He wondered if she was right. If he’d never have a life. A relationship.
His brother walked in then and stared hard at Jensen. “Way to go. You made Dad leave.”
“Josh, that’s not—“ his mother tried.
Jensen saw tears flow down his big brother’s cheeks. He didn’t remember the last time he saw that. His own eyes were dry and felt like they were filled with sand.
That September Josh went away to school with barely a goodbye. His father came by occasionally when Jensen wasn’t home. Jensen could tell by smelling his cologne lingering in the air and by his mother’s red-rimmed eyes.
Caleb stopped trying to speak to him and eventually hooked up with another boy. Jensen didn’t date anybody else.
Jensen worked his tail off until high school mercifully ended. He got accepted to Columbia’s writing program. His writing was just good enough for him to recognize really exceptional writing when he read it. After graduation he stayed in New York and drifted into publishing.
A manuscript came his way about a young man dealing with his sexuality. About the world falling apart while fire burned in the young man’s belly. About being abused and eventually abandoned by those who were supposed to protect you always.
Jensen cried for a very long time reading that book.
Tom didn’t comfort. Didn’t coddle. Just told him that there’s only one way to make it better. Make it worth it. Make Jensen worthwhile.
They need to change things. Take a stand. Make a difference.
It’s not about love. Because love doesn’t make a difference.
~ Jared ~
It’s not like Jared can really go without seeing Jensen given that they work in the same place, but they haven’t really been together in days. It’s like the Earth and the moon – they are circling around each other.
The wedding is next week.
He sees the sadness in Sandy’s eyes even if she doesn’t say anything more aloud about it. This perception should surprise Jared, but it doesn’t because when he really knows someone, when he loves them … it’s easier to read them. At least some of the time. It was true, of course, with his parents. True for certain teachers and counselors whom he got to know well. And it’s extra true with Jensen. Except Jensen will hardly even look at him now.
Sandy wants to do something this weekend. Clearly she wants to get Jared’s mind off things. She’s already apologized but that’s ridiculous because it’s not her fault. He turns Sandy down and says he just wants to spend the weekend alone. When the doorbell rings on Saturday night he assumes it’s her not taking no for an answer.
This is why he swings the door open without looking and falls dead silent when instead of looking way down he’s caught by green eyes nearly at eye level blinking nervously at him. Jensen immediately raises his hand to hold up a DVD case.
“It’s called In the Shadow of the Moon. A documentary. You probably saw it. Hell, you probably own it … but I thought … “
Jared waves Jensen inside, confused. “You’re giving me a documentary about the moon?”
Jensen walks directly to the Earthrise print and stands before it, his back to Jared. “No,” he says softly turning around but not quite meeting his eyes. “I wanted to watch it with you. If that’s okay.” His hand runs over the back of his head. “I’ve missed you.”
The unexpected honesty jolts Jared. His face breaks into a grin. “I’ve missed you, too.” He points to the DVD. “I have seen it, do own it. But it’s really good.”
Jensen smiles at him. Jared can’t tell just then how real the smile is and has to assume the best.
Jared remembers his manners and offers Jensen a beer. They sit but the DVD is ignored as Jensen tucks his leg under himself on the sofa and says, “Tell me more about you.”
That’s a strange request. He doesn’t recall anyone ever asking him that before. “What do you mean?” Jensen’s face is completely unreadable now and Jared feels like he’s missing things but there’s nothing he can do. He tamps down the frustration.
“Anything. How about telling me what you don’t like.”
Jared mulls this. Tries to think for a minute what the right answer should be. Jensen confuses him. He’s not even sure why he’s here. In the end he does what he always does and spits out the truth. “Um … I hate hot weather, always preferred winter. Don’t like it when I know I’m going to be late. That really bothers me. And walking through doors I've never been through before. Oh, and … public toilets.” He looks down and feels stupid because that’s stupid. His parents had tried to break him of that one for years.
Jensen is looking at him neutrally. Or the closest Jared can perceive as neutral. “I don’t like public toilets that much myself.”
Jared’s eyes widen because really? It’s like too good to be true. “I know, right? They’re always dirty even if they’re clean. And I find it hard to pee if anyone is listening.”
He thinks the laugh he gets at that is with him and not at him. At least he really hopes that’s the case. “Nobody can, dude.”
It’s quiet again and Jared still doesn’t know why Jensen is here. He watches the other man wriggle the leg under himself and turn back to Jared. He looks toward the DVD but he thinks that Jensen isn’t done talking yet. “What don’t you like, Jensen?”
His friend seems surprised by the question even though Jared thought it made sense to ask it back. “I don’t like rude people. Or folks who don’t wear their seatbelts. I hate being spoiled about endings. Mostly though I guess I hate being judged for who I am, rather than what I do.”
“My Poppa said that to me … actions rather than words. But for me … I need the words. I need to hear what someone is saying and I have to hope that they are being honest.”
Jensen meets his eyes and holds them and Jared blinks once but holds the connection. “What are your favorite foods?”
Jared guesses they aren’t yet done getting to know each other better. He wonders if Jensen will spend all night asking him questions. It’s doesn’t bother him exactly. It makes sense but he’s questioning the need to concentrate it like this. He knows there’s something going on beyond what he’s hearing and it’s bothering him. “I like grilled cheese sandwiches. And Kix cereal. And I love to drink chocolate milk.”
The beer that he’d handed Jensen is on the table barely touched. Jensen glances at it briefly before saying, “Yeah? Can … do you have chocolate syrup?”
Jared’s heart skips slightly because he always has chocolate syrup and he’s always up for chocolate milk. But it’s childish and Sandy said not to offer that to people, told him to offer soft drinks or beer. He doesn’t mind an occasional beer. But it’s nothing compared to a tall, cold glass of chocolate milk. He bounces up. “C’mon.”
They head into the kitchen together. Jensen is looking around again and Jared wonders once more what he’s seeing. Is he judging the old cabinets, the far-from-modern almond colored appliances? “Momma wanted to renovate one day. But then she … well, once she was gone Poppa and I just never cared that much about the kitchen.”
“What? No, it’s great. Like a trip back in time.” Jensen’s lips purse slightly. “I didn’t mean that in a bad way. It’s just … so warm in here.”
“Oh, I can turn up the AC when we get back inside. It never reaches in here. I can turn on the window fan.”
Jensen touches his arm. “No.” He feels a gentle squeeze and looks down to where Jensen is gripping his forearm. Jensen suddenly lets go and Jared misses the touch. “I suck at saying what I mean, don’t I? I meant that it’s cozy, lived in. Real.”
Jared looks around at the shabby chipped wood finish on the cabinets, his eyes skim the counter stains that will never come out. If he closes his eyes he can still smell the cookies his mother would bake sometimes or the sound of his father’s voice saying, “Woman … what’s for dinner?” before breaking into his deep throated chuckle.
He’s not sure what to reply to that. “Your kitchen is very clean.” It had looked like a mirror with all the stainless steel.
Jensen laughs and Jared wonders if he said something stupid again. “Hey, chocolate milk, right?”
That gets Jared’s attention back to task. He opens the fridge and removes a carton of milk and a large bottle of Hershey’s syrup placing both on the counter.
Lifting up the syrup Jensen says, “Didn’t think you had to refrigerate this.”
Jared smiles. “That’s the secret. Everything has to be very cold.”
He removes two tall clear glasses from the cupboard and pulls open the drawer beneath for his extra-long soda fountain style spoons.
As he squeezes a generous amount of syrup into the glasses he sees Jensen playing with the spoons. “Neat. Haven’t seen these in years.”
Jared studies the long, thin neck of the spoons. They’ve always been in that drawer. It’s one of those things he’s just taken for granted. Jensen hands him the milk.
“Whole milk,” Jensen declares.
“ ‘S just that everyone seems to drink fat free these days.”
Jared scoffs. “Ugh. Disgusting. That’s ridiculous.” He pours and starts flicking his wrist super fast to mix it up. “Besides I work out enough to make up for it.”
Jared looks up and his stirring slows slightly. Jensen is staring and licking his lips. Jared squints and remembers that usually means someone is hungry. He finishes stirring the first drink and then tackles the second. Soon both are frothy and perfect.
“You hungry? I can make us grilled cheese.”
His words seem to break whatever spell had captured Jensen because the other man nods. In a few minutes Jared has buttered the pan and peeled back the plastic on the individually wrapped Kraft American cheese slices. Jensen keeps looking at him with this indescribable expression. Of course indescribable is pretty much what most expressions seem like to Jared but he’d gotten used to reading Jensen a little better than that.
He uses a thick plate to squish down the sandwich so that cheese oozes slightly at the sides as the bread browns. Once it reaches a perfect golden color, Jensen helps carry it all into the dining room. They sit kitty-corner to each other, knees knocking together slightly under the table.
“We could eat inside and watch TV if you want.”
“No,” Jensen says. “This is nice.” His eyes again wander around the dining space. Momma’s flower painting hangs on the wall. She wasn’t much of an artist but she wasn’t shy about hanging her stuff.
He tells Jensen that his momma painted it. Jensen’s eyes go soft as he puts down the sandwich. “My mom also paints. Well, she used to. I haven’t seen her pick it up in years.”
Jared doesn’t know what to say. He picks up his chocolate milk and goes to drink when Jensen interrupts him. “Wait … a toast?”
Toasting with chocolate milk seems strange but nothing about Jensen is ordinary so Jared goes along. He lifts his glass. “Should we toast your … I mean you and Tom?”
Jensen’s impossibly large eyes seem to grow even bigger. “You’ll be there, right? I mean, I realize that the invitations went out already—Jared, you’ll be there, yeah?”
The glass suddenly feels heavy and Jared puts it down quickly, a little spilling over the edge. “Wh-at? No. I can’t. Why would you want—?”
“I need to see a friend. I need to see you. Please Jared, promise me.”
Jared picks up the milk and gulps a bunch down to fight the pressure building inside him, behind his eyes. He wants to yell again but that’s not right. You don’t do that. Jensen needs a friend. And Jared’s heartbreak has nothing to do with that. “Sure. If that’s what you want.”
Jensen’s lips tilt up slightly before he lifts the milk to his lips and takes a swallow. Jared watches his Adam’s apple move slowly up and down. The motion is slow and sensual and signals are sent south. He swallows hard. “Neil Armstrong isn’t in that documentary. Doesn’t do many interviews. But a lot of the other astronauts are in it.”
“I read the back of the box. Looks good.” Jensen chuckles at him. “You have a chocolate mustache.”
Swiping at his lips Jared smiles back. “So do you.”
Jensen goes to lick it off and Jared literally squirms in his seat from the tingle that gives him. He goes back to his sandwich and finishes it off in three quick bites. A look up and he sees Jensen has also polished off his sandwich and is slurping down the last of the milk. He releases a tiny burp and looks at Jared like a twelve-year-old caught at something naughty. Jared can’t help himself and bursts into laughter. Seconds later Jensen joins him and they both giggle until tears fill their eyes.
“Dude, at least it only came out that way,” Jensen says catching his breath. “All that dairy and it could easily get worse.”
“Oh … that’s nasty.”
“You served it.”
“Dairy doesn’t get to me.”
Jared thinks about this. “Once we were taking a family vacation. Poppa was driving and didn’t want to stop even though Momma did. So he ended up pulling into a drive-thru. But we didn’t eat fast food much. Don’t remember now which it was.”
“God, I hope it wasn’t Taco Bell.”
A laugh escapes. “Maybe. Can’t remember. All I know is that suddenly my folks are cranking down all the windows even though it’s freezing out.”
Standing to take his plate to the sink Jensen laughs again, deep and hearty. “Where were you going?”
“Williamsburg that year. I always liked history and so my parents took me to historical sites a lot.”
“You studied history, right?”
“Mmm. Not the most useful degree. Poppa said it didn’t matter. To study what I loved.”
“What did your father do?”
Jared looks down as he puts the glasses to dry in the rack. “He ran the foundation.” At Jensen’s raised eyebrows Jared continues. “My grandparents had money. So they set up this … trust, I guess, to funnel funds out to other charities. Grandma Padalecki ran it. Poppa did a bunch of different things growing up. Worked all over. In a library, sold shoes, did a stint at the Fulton Fish Market.” That last one makes Jared smile. He peers over at Jensen who looks, well, enthralled. “He was coaching basketball when he met my mother. She was a teacher.”
Pausing, Jared leads Jensen back into the living room and they take up their places again on the sofa. Jensen grabs the long discarded beer and tastes it experimentally before making a face. Must have gotten warm.
“When his mother died he took over,” Jared finishes quickly. Jensen has no trouble picking up on the lost thread.
“Who is running it now, Jared?”
He looks down. “It’s not … I mean it is a lot of money in a way, but not as much as … I’d been doing it for Poppa the last few years anyway. Takes a few hours each night. I meet with the attorneys once a month.”
A hand cups his shoulder. “Why are you working in our mailroom, Jay?”
“Sandy. I mean … I met Sandy when she was soliciting for the Lower Manhattan Family Shelter. She applied for a grant. After that, I don’t know … we kept talking. She knew that the foundation wasn’t really full-time for me. And she thought maybe it would be good to have somewhere to go every day and a place to meet people.” Jared looks at Jensen and smiles involuntarily. “She was right. I met you.”
“Will there ever be a time you won’t surprise me?”
It happens fast. One minute Jared’s breathing his own air and the next he’s breathing Jensen’s and the warmest, softest thing he’s ever felt is moving against his mouth. It’s over so quick he finds himself tumbling forward in an effort to keep up.
Jensen stands quickly and swirls around. “I … I’m sorry.” Jared rises with him. He doesn’t know what to think. That was his first kiss. Part of him is dancing and the other wants to crawl into a hole and die.
“I broke the heart of the first boy I ever kissed,” Jensen says softly. He turns slowly and they are facing each other again.
“So it’s a pattern, then?”
He can’t make out what’s going on in Jensen’s expression but just then he can’t care. He walks closer and brings his hands to each side of Jensen’s face. He thinks he should ask if it’s okay but then again Jensen didn’t and the want overtakes everything. This time Jensen parts his lips slightly and Jared tilts his head instinctively and Jared thinks this is the best thing he’s ever felt until he feels the moist end of Jensen’s tongue reach tentatively toward his own.
The kiss deepens and Jared realizes the moans are coming from him and that things are moving faster than he knows how to process. A sharp tug at his lower back brings them closer and he feels the sharp edge of Jensen’s erection against his thigh. He’s hard himself and lets himself thrust forward once before fear overtakes him and he pulls back gasping.
“Why?” he gets out as his lips still tingle.
“Because I’m too fucked up for words.” Jensen shrugs and Jared learned that means indifference, but that hurts so he hopes that’s wrong. “And I needed to feel something one last time.”
The words swirl until their meaning crystallize. “I can’t … you can’t expect me to still be there.”
That reaches Jensen and his face seems to just crumble. “You promised.”
Jared can’t stand to be in the same room with Jensen any longer. His body is literally shaking and he struggles to breathe slowly. “You should go.”
He follows Jensen as he makes his way to the door. “You’ll be there?” Jensen asks again.
“Jesus fuck, Jensen … “ The pleading look doesn’t end, doesn’t stop, doesn’t quit.
“Twelve men walked on the moon.” Jensen is staring right at him but Jared can’t make anything out. It’s blank. Jared blanches because he doesn’t know if Jensen is making fun of him. And Jensen’s been many things but never mean and Jared will break if that’s what’s happening.
Jensen must sense Jared’s distress because he quickly speaks again, “I’m sorry, Jared. I heard Sandy say that and—never mind. You deserve so much … You’re sweet and funny and so smart. I hope … someday you’ll find someone who deserves you. And you’ll have a family again. And what I’m doing … maybe it’ll help in a way to make that possible.”
Jared can’t keep back the choked anger any longer. “What you’re doing is a lie!”
“Yeah, but it’ll be the top lie on the eleven o’clock news.”
* * *
It’s the fastest week in history. Jared has a hundred small things to finalize and logistics to plan. Guests start flying in Friday and he’s arranging airport pickups to drive folks to the hotel. He finalizes the menu and provides the caterer all the special requests. He plans a surprise for Jensen for the rehearsal dinner Saturday night and hopes his friend appreciates it.
Sandy is a blur of activity. She shepherds both grooms for their final tuxedo fittings. Jared doesn’t understand why they don’t go together but Sandy says it’s impossible to get their schedules to match. Jared listens to this silently. She’s asked more than once about what happened at Jared’s house on Saturday night. He’d told her about Jensen’s visit but not about their kiss.
Truth is, Jared is feeling guilty about that. Jensen isn’t his to kiss. You don’t kiss someone who is engaged to marry someone else. He feels ashamed of his actions even if Jensen initiated it. He doesn’t think the excuse of surprise and holy shit first kiss is good enough. The fact that he’s in love with Jensen comes a little closer to assuaging the guilt. But not all the way. Love doesn’t give you the right to do the wrong thing. Far from it. Love is supposed to fill your soul in a good way.
“Jare, you seem a million miles away.”
Jared looks down at Sandy. “Sorry. I was … What did you ask?”
“You’re thinking about Jensen?”
Sandy’s smile is small and nontranslatable. “It was wrong of him to ask you to be there.”
That much he had told his best friend. “I like supervising my work, so it’s okay.”
“Does he know you love him?”
Jared looks at Sandy. Wonders if he was supposed to have kept this truth to himself. He just doesn’t know how to lie. It tastes sour and makes his insides feel queer. “I told him. Do you think I shouldn’t have?”
“I think you had no choice. I think you are worth one hundred Tom Wellings. I think Jensen is making the biggest mistake of his life. I think it stinks.”
Now Jared can’t agree any longer. “Tom is a great writer. His book changed the lives of thousands of men. Heck, even my own. Jensen is a phenomenal book editor. They belong in each other’s worlds. I could never—“
“You’re this bright light that turns shadows into rainbows. That sadness Jensen carries around all the time. The one he thinks people don’t see behind that cool façade. When he’s with you … it lifts. His smile gets real.” Frustration makes her slam the folder she’d been holding down on her desk. “Dammit. I thought … Jared, I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have brought you two together the way I did. I knew you’d be good together. I just didn’t realize Jensen was too screwed up to do anything about it.”
“That was your plan all along? That Jensen would give up Tom for me?” Even as he says these absolutely ridiculous words he can’t bring himself to be angry at Sandy. She cares for Jared. She tried when someone else would have laughed at the idea. Just the notion truly is ludicrous.
“I knew he wasn’t in love with Tom. I just didn’t know that wouldn’t matter.” Sandy sounds defeated.
He looks at her glazed brown eyes. “How can Jensen fight so hard to legalize something he doesn’t even understand?”
She squeezes his arm. “I think it has to do with Jensen’s past. He never talks about it.”
Jared wonders how much he should share. What Jensen divulged was just between them. But he can’t lie. “I know … that things didn’t go that well when he came out.”
“I guessed something like that. When I asked about his father he said his father and he weren’t speaking. That’s so sad. I think that losing his father … well, he has some abandonment issues. I’m just saying this so you understand, Jare, that it’s not you. You’re wonderful.”
She believes this, he realizes with a start. Believes that someone like Jensen would really fall for someone like him. He’s not naive. He’s heard what people say about him. He knows he’s weird. Comes across as detached and that he bores people with his obsessions and drives the rest nuts with his habits. He doesn’t think Jensen should marry Tom. But that’s not because he believes Jensen should be with him. It’s just that no one should marry someone he didn’t love. Or worse. Someone who didn’t love him. But that thought makes Jared’s tummy hurt, so he bats it away.
Sandy leaves him alone then to return to his task list and methodically tick off everything that he’s accomplished. He refuses to think that each check mark is tearing out another little bit of his heart.
~ Jensen ~
Not unexpectedly, Jensen doesn’t see Tom for the rest of the week. His activities navigate around Tom instead, like they are on parallel roads. On Friday afternoon Jensen goes with Sandy to his last tuxedo fitting. He’s aware that Tom went early that morning. A part of him knows he could have rearranged his schedule, changed some meetings around and gone with Sandy and Tom in the morning instead. But then again, so could Tom. He thinks now that it’s better not to see him before the wedding events. Lately, he’s been as snappy as a turtle around Tom. The shell he usually can hide behind is being poked by a stick until he can do nothing but snap out repeatedly.
Sandy told him she arranged for them to go to Puerto Rico after the wedding. Some really nice resort, room right on the beach. Privacy. He wishes he could go alone on this vacation and realizes how bizarre that notion is. His phone interrupts his ever blackening thoughts.
“Hi, Mom.” The tailor stepped away for a last second fix and will return any minute. Even though he’s alone in the fitting room he feels a little foolish standing there in his dress shirt and jacket but no pants.
“Hi honey. I’m in the cab with that lovely young man you sent to get me.”
“Huh?” He knew that transportation had been arranged. For a crazy second he wonders if Tom has gone to the airport. Tom had met Jensen’s mother once or twice before.
She interrupts quickly. “Jared. Such a sweetheart. He says you and he have been spending some time together. That’s wonderful honey, you need a friend. It’s not good to always work all the time like you do.”
Jared is with his mother? When did that happen? “I don’t understand.”
“Don’t understand what?”
“I thought Jared said he was arranging for a car service to pick up folks. He came to get you himself?”
“Oh, there was a driver waiting with a sign but Jared was there, too. He took some crazy combination of train and bus to get to the airport because he said he knew how intimidating it could be to get around the city if you aren’t used to it. I told him on the phone that you always came to get me whenever I visited and I was a little leery of being alone and well … he came to escort me to the hotel himself. Like I said. He’s a real doll.”
It’s true that his mother is a nervous traveler and Jensen had felt bad that he wouldn’t be able to meet her at the airport like always. But it was so crazy busy these last few days that it was impossible. Jensen fights the tightness in his throat at the sweetness of Jared’s action. “Jared is special,” he says softly.
For a moment he thinks he’s spoken too low for his mother to hear but then she agrees softly back. “Jensen … “ she begins again. “I spoke to your father right before I left. I know you told me not to get my hopes up. I guess I should have listened.”
Oh god, this is the absolute last thing he needs right now. His parents divorced years ago but keep in touch. Every once in a while his mother gets determined to fill Jensen in on the goings on in Alan’s life. Even if Jensen always tells her he doesn’t want to hear it. Of course, he always listens anyway. But this is worse. Because this means she shared what’s going on in Jensen’s life. And Jensen can hardly deal with it himself. “Don’t Mom … it doesn’t matter.”
“It does. I thought … I don’t know, that maybe you getting married would make him realize. He’s still … well, he doesn’t understand. Can’t get past his prejudices.”
Jensen doesn’t say anything. Because it doesn’t matter. “When are Josh and Brittany getting in?”
“Early tomorrow. Jared wanted to come meet them as well but I told him it wasn’t necessary.”
Jensen chuckles. “No. It certainly isn’t. Josh won’t appreciate being babied.”
They both laugh. The tailor comes back in with his pants. “Mom. I gotta get back to my fitting. I’ll swing by later, okay?”
“Yes. Of course.”
“Oh and Mom? Tell Jared … “
When the pause lasts too long his mother urges him on. “Mmm?”
“Nothing. I … I guess I’ll see him Sunday at the wedding.”
She hangs up with a quick goodbye and Jensen shuts his eyes as old bony hands smooth the legs of his trousers. The tailor had to take them in a little at the waist because Jensen had lost weight.
~ Jared ~
Donna is a striking woman with high cheekbones and full lips that remind Jared immediately of Jensen. Her golden shoulder length hair gleams in the sunshine as they work their way closer to the city. She just hung up from speaking with Jensen. Jared didn’t want to listen in but he was just inches away. The part that caught his attention the most is when Jensen’s dad was mentioned. Part of him hoped that he’d decide to attend. Maybe even surprise Jensen. As soon as Donna ends the call Jared turns to her.
“How could Jensen’s father not come watch him get married?”
He’s met with a chuckle. “Sandy said you were direct.”
“Sandy spoke to you about me?” Jared doesn’t like the idea of people talking about him behind his back. He wonders now if Sandy warned Donna that Jared was weird. He hates thinking this about his best friend.
“She told me that you and my son were spending time together and that you were being a very good friend to Jensen.”
Jared smiles. “I love spending time with Jensen. He’s my best friend now, too. First there was Sandy. I didn’t know if I could have more than one. But Jensen said it was okay.”
Donna meets his eyes. Jared forces himself to not look away. “What did Jensen tell you about his father?”
“That he left when Jensen told you both he was gay. How could he do that? When I told my parents, they were surprised, I guess. It’s not what one expects. Of course, most everything with me is not what one would expect but this was one more thing. My poppa looked at me for a long time and he asked if I was sure. I told him yes and then he asked again. That’s when I knew he would have rather I’d said no. But I’d read Tom’s book and given it to my parents to read and I got scared that maybe they would suddenly hate me like Tom’s parents suddenly hated him. Except … I didn’t see how that was possible. Nothing my parents could do would make me hate them.”
“Jared … Alan doesn’t hate Jensen. He just … He’s scared. Everything he understood, expected, got turned around that day. It’s like you have your life planned out a certain way. He expected to raise his boys a certain way. This … Jensen’s … well, his orientation, it just, it’s like it was outside of Alan’s world. Like his son was suddenly a stranger. And that was terrifying.”
“And how scared do you think Jensen was at sixteen with his father leaving?”
There’s silence and Jared tries to see if he said something wrong but Donna is a stranger and her face is a foreign language. Eventually she replies, “You don’t hide from the truth, do you?”
“That’s all there is. Either it’s true or it’s not real.”
He’s suddenly caught by her eyes and for a shocked moment they remind him of Jensen’s and he sees sadness. “Do you think Jensen should marry Tom?”
Her voice is direct and Jared likes that. Besides, that’s an easy question. “No.”
“Because he doesn’t love Tom. I don’t know if Tom loves him. I hope so but I don’t know Tom. He’s not a partner like he should be though. They don’t have fun together. Jensen doesn’t laugh with Tom. Jensen’s got the best laugh. The way it comes from deep in his belly and his eyes crinkle and his whole body shakes.”
She’s staring at him now and Jared squirms. He tries the eyebrow trick and raises his eyes up a notch and it helps. “Jared … are you in love with my son?”
There really are times Jared wishes he could just lie. “Yes. But that doesn’t … that’s not why I think he shouldn’t marry Tom. I know I’m not … It’s not about that. I just want to be his friend. I want him happy. I want him to shine with happiness so that even someone like me could see it.”
He’s surprised to suddenly feel a squeeze to his hand. “Oh, I wish Jensen wasn’t quite so much like his father, they are both so blind.”
Jared doesn’t understand this. He doesn’t think Jensen could ever feel toward gay people like his father did. It makes no sense. After a few too-hot moments he wriggles his hand away.
~ Jensen ~
Brittany was the best thing to ever happen to Josh. College mellowed Jensen’s big brother but it wasn’t until Brit came into his life during his junior year that things between Josh and Jensen began to heal. She was a transplanted Californian who moved to Texas with her family when her father was relocated for work. But she kept all her liberal sensibilities. They met at a coffee shop that featured an open mike night once a week. Josh was expecting a friend to be performing. But he’d gotten the week confused. Brittany sang her folk songs and Josh stared at her until she missed a note.
Jensen remembered the day Josh called to say he was dating someone new. They’d spoken only maybe once a month up to that point. His brother had really called to speak with their mother but she wasn’t home and in his excitement he started telling Jensen about Brittany instead. Jensen remembered smiling despite himself. And then Josh mentioned that Brittany was a member of the campus’s GSA and Jensen had nearly choked.
“You know what that is, dude?” he’d yelped at his brother.
He’d gotten a snort in return. “Of course. Gay Straight Alliance. I thought … well, given circumstances I thought I might go to a meeting. Jensen swallowed hard and replied that he wished they had a chapter in his high school. Now in his senior year Jensen was managing by living for the future. It was only about getting away. Getting out.
That night Jensen told his mother what Josh had said and she’d beamed back at him that things were going to turn around now. That it would be fine. Except despite his brother’s newfound openness, Jensen’s father never came around. His parent’s divorce finalized and by the time Jensen left for New York he’d seen his father only once more for less than five minutes. The older man had looked at Jensen for a long moment before asking, “What did I do wrong?” At Jensen’s stunned silence Alan scurried past him to his car. Jensen’s mother had again asked for Jensen to be patient but Jensen raced upstairs muttering that it didn’t matter.
Pulling up to the restaurant that Sandy arranged for the rehearsal dinner, Jensen is excited to be seeing his family again. He spent the day with his mother but hadn’t seen Josh or Brittany yet. They arrived in the afternoon and Donna had spoken to them on the phone and they were going to rest up a bit before the evening’s event. Hanging with his mother was a welcome distraction. She didn’t bring up his father again and aside from an awkward question or two about Jared everything went smoothly. She filled him in on what his aunts and uncles and cousins were up to, so that he’d have things to say to them at the reception.
Tom is meeting Jensen at the restaurant. Jensen had suggested meeting up and arriving together but Tom had some conference planned that would take up the afternoon. He said to apologize to Donna and promised that he’d be nothing but attentive all evening.
Jensen isn’t late but nonetheless it appears everyone is already there, including Tom. It takes a moment for Jensen to place the men surrounding his fiancé, but then he realizes they are from the latest committee Tom formed to fight the Defense of Marriage Act. He is certain that Sandy didn’t include these people that Jensen barely met on the guest list for this dinner and so he tries to get Tom’s attention.
“Hey, about time,” Tom teases, kissing his cheek.
“Why are they here? This is a family dinner.”
Tom’s eyes go instantly cold and Jensen realizes his mistake a beat too late. Tom has no family. The split was total and complete and Jensen knows this and is trying to apologize before Tom can get a word out. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean that. Shit. We gotta get this wedding over with before I go off the deep end.”
His friend’s eyes warm again. “I hear ya. Been saying it all along. Need to have it done and get back to normal, yeah? Not to mention two weeks on the beach.” He winks at Jensen and leans in. “Who knows? Maybe we’ll find ourselves an island hottie and try a little sharing again.”
Jensen jumps back. Jesus. Instantly he’s taken back to the night Tom showed up at his place with some dude he’d picked up somewhere. Tom was oddly insistent and pushy and Jensen still doesn’t know why he went along other than a stupid macho reaction to being called a pussy. Only he wasn’t used to intimacy being that crowded and while it was hot watching Tom get it on with the other dude, if he was honest it left him feeling achingly lonely. Enough tequila and Jensen got with the program as Tom phrased it, fucking a stranger’s ass with his eyes tightly closed because he didn’t want to see the back of the guy’s head bobbing down on Tom’s cock as he was plowed from behind. And he really didn’t want to see Tom at all.
All of this must show in Jensen’s face because Tom laughs boldly. “Sorry Jen. I forgot how vanilla you are. No worries, babe, nothing you don’t want. I promise.”
What he wants. The words ring in his ears until Jensen feels like his head is one giant gong. Now there’s something that seems to have absolutely nothing to do with his life. Tom looks around. “Where’s Fee-Fi-Fo-Fum?”
Jensen frowns, but doesn’t bother correcting Tom. He’s been calling Jared some giant reference since the day they met. It’s insulting and ridiculous given that Jared is barely an inch or so taller than Tom. Sandy is passing by sipping at her cocktail. “Jared couldn’t make it,” she says pointedly, her eyes narrowing slightly.
“But he’ll be there tomorrow?” Jensen asks quickly. Because this is important. Vital. He needs his friend there. Hell, he wishes Jared were here right now.
Sandy’s gaze falls on Jensen. “Yes. He said he would be. You know you don’t need to question it then.”
“Right,” Tom says. “Saint Jolly never lies. I forgot.”
“Quit that already,” Jensen barks loud enough that folks look over. He lowers his head. “Tom … I gotta … “ he points in the general direction of his family who are now staring his way. He’s yet to say hello. Tom is nonplussed. He squeezes Jensen’s shoulder and goes back to his new friends. One of them smiles a little too wide as Tom returns and Jensen knows, just knows, that Tom fucked him. Probably not all that long ago. On his way to his mother and brother he pulls a glass of wine off the waiter’s tray and downs it so fast he coughs slightly.
Donna and Brittany hug him tight and Josh does the straight boy half hug. It’s good.
Josh looks around. “Wow. Nice place.” He looks Jensen over and his eyes dim slightly. “You okay, bro?”
To say that his brother isn’t the most observant person in the world is beyond an understatement. So Jensen figures he has to up his acting like two hundred percent. His face breaks into a smooth, practiced smile. “Of course. Night before my wedding, why wouldn’t I be?”
Brittany smiles at him weakly. Jensen avoids her eyes. Maybe he needs to improve three hundred percent. That’s when their mom smiles pointedly at him and Jensen stiffens his resolve. This was not going to turn into an analyze what the fuck is wrong with Jensen session. It was way too late for that.
Donna puts an arm around each of her sons. “I love this,” she says warmly. “I wish we all lived closer.” She sighs. It’s an old complaint and Jensen has learned to ignore it. He can never live in Texas again. And he can’t imagine his brother living in New York City. So that’s that.
Josh surprises him. “I spoke to Dad.” There’s an open bar and Jensen now seriously regrets not stopping there first. The wine isn’t cutting it. Josh continues despite the death glares Jensen is shooting his way. “I told him he was being a selfish jerk to miss his own son’s wedding.”
His mother pipes in, “I told Jensen.” She squeezes his arm. “I’m sorry.” She’s always done this. Apologized for his father. For his father no longer wanting anything to do with Jensen. But it’s not her fault. “Maybe if we just gave your father a little more time … “
More time?! Jesus Christ, the man’s had seventeen years.
“Mom, Josh … I know how much you … but let’s drop it, okay? I don’t want to talk about him now. Please. That’s the last thing I—as it is I don’t know how I’ll—“ Jensen sucks in air cutting himself off. “I need to be surrounded by people I love. Gotta look at something good. It’s my wedding day.” He stumbles on the word ‘wedding’ and gets this look from Brittany that unnerves.
Nonetheless his sister-in-law takes his side. “I agree. While it would be wonderful if Jensen and your father can reconcile one day, this isn’t the right time to talk about that. It needs to be special for Jensen. It’s a lifelong commitment he’s making to the man he loves. We need to respect that.”
“I fought for this,” Jensen says into the quiet that follows Brittany’s declaration. “Since turning eighteen and leaving Richardson behind. Tom … his book. It was everything to me. That’s all I’ve done is fight for those like me, to prove we’re just like everyone else and worthy of … ” His voice is rising and his eyes are burning and he’s fucking losing it. A strong hand touches his back.
“Excuse us,” Tom says as he guides Jensen away. He doesn’t stop until they enter a back hallway and exit out a fire entrance. The warm air is soothing after the interior’s air conditioned chill.
“They don’t get it. They never will.” Tom’s voice is strong and confident. It’s the voice Jensen remembers on the phone saying his manuscript must be read. Please.
“I know. They mean well. And Josh tries. Mom just wants the impossible.”
Tom places his hands on Jensen’s shoulders, leaning down so that their eyes meet. “When I was in the Camp.” It’s always just the Camp when Tom talks about that time – capital C heard loud and clear. “I was told over and over how much my parents love me. How god loves me. How everyone meant only to help me. It took a long time for me to see how intentions are meaningless. It’s what you do, Jen. You know that. Because you do good. You stand up and do things that are uncomfortable for you, but they’re important. I’m not blind. I know this wedding is scaring you silly. All that attention. I get it.” His arms bear down and Jensen can only stare at Tom’s expression. Steady like a rock. How can anyone be so sure about anything?
“Tomorrow we’re going to put on a show. For the boys and girls who are told that they can’t have that. That somehow they don’t count when it comes to the normal things in life. When it comes to what everyone else takes for fucking granted. That they’re on the other side of some fence. Well, guess what? We knocked it down.”
There’s no question Tom believes every word. But a voice is speaking in Jensen’s head, sounding suspiciously like Jared, saying you can’t prove a truth with a lie.
But he doesn’t say that. He doesn’t say anything. Tom is pure in his own way. He’s too fucked up for anything real. And so is Jensen. That’s why this works for them. He steels himself and brings his lips up in a smirk. “It’s gonna be a heckuva show.” He fist pumps Tom who smiles back at him happily.
“That’s my boy. You keep your eye on the goal an’ it’s going to go fine.”
They head back inside and Jensen immediately meets his mother’s worried eyes. He smiles at her, giving her a wink and purposely throws an arm around Tom’s waist. Tom looks down at him questioningly a moment because Jensen hardly ever goes for spontaneous affection. Nonetheless he lets Jensen lead him to the table and dinner begins.
It goes smooth after that with no further comments about Jensen’s dad. The conversation is topical and lively and Jensen is falling into his publisher mode. He’s charming the guys on Tom’s new committee, he’s regaling his family with funny stories of temperamental authors. He only stumbles once when Sandy shares a Jared story with Brittany and the two laugh warmly. Jensen feels a pang of jealousy. Wants to participate and share his own tales but he can’t.
The evening winds down and the waiter comes around pouring champagne and clearly it’s time for a toast. Right before they get to Jensen’s and Tom’s glasses though, another waiter comes out with a silver tray. Jensen looks up and the warmth fills him like a flash fire. Two, tall, frothy glasses of chocolate milk are placed in front of them. The waiter leans down and whispers in his ear, “From Jay, with love.”
Jensen is smiling so bright his cheeks start to hurt. Donna laughs. “I haven’t seen you drink chocolate milk in years.”
“I started again,” Jensen says.
Tom is staring at the glass as if it were hemlock. “What’s this?”
Jensen turns, still smiling broadly. “Chocolate milk, bud, drink up.”
He picks up his glass and starts downing it fast. It’s not as good as Jared’s but it’s sweet and ice cold. He puts it down and realizes he’s looking around like he expects to see Jared’s sweet smile appear out of nowhere. But Jared isn’t here.
“Fuck this. Can’t toast with this.” Tom ushers the waiter over who promptly fills both their flutes up high with champagne.
“You won’t even taste it?” Jensen asks needlessly.
Tom’s face is an ugly snarl. “No. I’m not fucking five. This has to be the Jolly Green Moron’s idea. Jesus, if he’s gonna do something to embarrass us tomorrow I don’t want him there.”
“He has to be there.”
“Like hell he does. I’ve lined up the Good Morning America crew. This isn’t some childish joke.“ He turns to Jensen. “What is it with you and him anyway? I get helping out special needs people or whatever but this is important.”
“Jared is important. And he will be there.”
Tom’s staring at him now. Hell, half the table is looking but Jensen isn’t noticing. “Why does it matter so damn much?”
“Because … “ He’s honest, genuine, real. And I need to see one true thing before committing my life to a lie. “He’s become a good friend. That’s reason enough.”
The conversation is dropped when one of Jensen’s fellow editors picks up his flute and offers the couple a toast. Jensen accepts the toast by downing the last of the milk. As soon as he reasonably can he sneaks back out the rear exit alone this time.
Jared’s voice is slightly sleepy. “Jen?”
“Did I wake you?”
There’s a rustling sound. “Yeah. I guess I fell asleep watching TV.” There’s a pause. “How’s it going?”
“Okay. Wish you were here. I got your surprise. It was great. Thanks!”
Jensen can hear the joy in Jared’s voice. “Yeah? I’m glad. Wanted to be sure you had one fun thing. But you have your mom and brother and sister-in-law, so that’s great.”
“It was fun. It was perfect. Thank you, Jared.”
He can hear a wistful tone in Jared’s voice. Maybe it’s his imagination. But Jared was speaking of Jensen’s family and that only serves to remind Jensen how Jared has no family left. “I have to do this Jared. Make a difference. You know that, right?” He hears an apology in his own voice. Wonders what Jared hears.
“Jensen. I only want you happy. It’s all I can want for you. I don’t … I don’t know what you want me to say.”
Tell me you love me again. “Jay … tell me something about the space program I don’t know.”
“Um … okay. This is neat—the only geologist to visit the moon, Harrison Schmitt, discovered the coolest samples. It was near Shorty Crater and it was orange.”
“Hey is that a short joke on my behalf?”
Jared laughs. The sound surrounds Jensen like a blanket. “No. That’s its real name.”
“Okay … I never knew there was orange rock on the moon.”
“Not really rock. More like soil. He wasn’t sure at first because of reflections and such but then he started shouting, ‘It’s orange.’ And Cernan came over and he confirmed. But Schmitt was so excited he couldn’t stop shouting. The recordings are fantastic. You gotta hear it one day. I’ll play it for you. He was yelling, ‘It’s all over. It’s orange!!”
“Why’s it special? The soil, I mean.”
“Well, it indicated oxidation, was probably volcanic and meant a good chance that there was ice or water on the moon once.”
Jensen can’t help but grin at the excitement in Jared’s voice as he retells the story. He’s as excited as the astronauts who found the colorful soil. The desire to share that excitement, to sink into a sofa and tug Jared against him, and rewatch From the Earth to the Moon or do a marathon of moon documentaries spikes through him. For a crazy second he’s about to suggest that for next weekend and then he remembers.
“I have to go back inside. They’ll be wondering … Jay, I’ll see you tomorrow, yeah?”
He hangs up and fights the instant chill. Tom spots him as he returns. He’s leaning into the new guy slightly, like they just shared something private. Young, shorter than Jensen, slight. Very much Tom’s type. From the other side of the table Jensen can feel his family’s eyes upon him. Tom pulls away from the guy and stands before him, looking down to get Jensen’s attention. “Look. I’m gonna head out, okay?” He glances back toward the other man, doesn’t even try to hide it. “Need to burn off some steam myself before our big day, you know? But you got your mom, they’ll take care of you, right?”
Jensen hears all this but it’s registering slowly. Instead, he imagines the thrill that the first, the only geologist allowed to visit the moon must have felt when he discovered an orange rock on a black and white world. He gets why Jared loves that story. It’s so unashamedly honest. Does he love you like I love you?
“Okay. Goodnight Tom.” He says this loud enough for most to hear. Tom looks like he’s going to lean into kiss him but something about Jensen stops him. He squeezes Jensen’s shoulder before walking back to the table and murmuring something to the people seating there. Jensen sees the guy walk out of the restaurant.
Returning to his family Jensen faces the inevitable question, “Tom’s leaving?”
Tom comes over that second and begs off, saying he’s exhausted and needs to be rested for the big day. He teases Donna about keeping Jensen up too late. He goes to kiss Jensen again but Jensen turns and it lands on his cheek.
Brittany is looking at them both with a slight scowl but then Josh shares a look with their mother and whispers in his wife’s ear. He doesn’t know what his brother tells his wife. Only nobody mentions Tom again for the rest of the night.
~ Jared ~
The last place in the universe Jared wants to be is at Jensen Ackles’ wedding.
It’s all perfect. Exactly as Sandy arranged it. The flowers are white with touches of lavender mixed in. The hotel’s chandeliers are gleaming overhead. The crowd is contained with a red velvet separation for the media. As instructed the seats are slipcovered in white with lavender bows. The crowd is a pretty even split between Tom’s side and Jensen’s. Jared knows which of the people on Jensen’s side are there because Jensen or Donna invited them, which are there for Tom’s publicity angle.
Sandy wants Jared to sit with her. “No, San. I’d rather sit in the back. I promised I’d be here. Didn’t say I’d take an Orchestra seat.”
“I’ll sit with you,” she insists.
“Nope. Go sit with Danni and your friends up front. I’m fine.”
Jared nods. It’s true. Doesn’t change anything. Like when Poppa died. Why do people think that wailing about something can change it?
“God, I feel so guilty.”
Jared is surprised by Sandy’s words. “Why? You didn’t do anything.”
“I knew you had a crush on him. I pushed you two together. It’s just … dammit, I wasn’t even wrong! This is so stupid.”
“Having Jensen as my friend is wonderful. You didn’t do anything stupid. Unless you think I did.”
Sandy touches his hand. “No! Nothing about you is stupid.” She sighs loudly. “Never mind. Let’s get this farce over with. “If he’d rather have that two-timing slime bucket then maybe he deserves this.”
“Wait? What?!” Jared’s heart races.
“Tom isn’t exactly what you’d call ‘true’. And, from what I hear, even after the wedding that part’s not going to change.”
“I don’t understand.”
She meets his eyes. “They plan to have some sort of open arrangement. You know, they’ll fool around with others even though they are married. I heard it from one of the guys at dinner last night. Hell, Tom left with some twink.”
Oh god. Jared doesn’t know how to begin to process this. He remembers Jensen kissing him. His first kiss and it meant the world to him. But. What if Jensen just thought it was part of the arrangement he has with Tom? What if Jensen thinks that Jared would do that … keep doing that … He suddenly feels ill to his stomach.
“I … excuse me.”
He races out to the men’s room and clutches the sink basin hard. It’s mercifully empty. He splashes water on his face. He can’t be that kind of friend to Jensen. As much as he loves him. As much as he values his friendship … that’s just … no. He didn’t think today could be any worse. Watching Jensen marry someone else and losing him romantically forever. But now it feels like he’ll be losing Jensen in all ways.
Men are talking on the other side of the swiftly opening door and Jared rushes into a stall. He doesn’t want to see anyone. Tom’s voice is clear and strong. “Stop. Not here. C’mon, I’m supposed to be getting married.” But he laughs.
“I’ll blow you. Get the edge off?”
“What if Jensen walks in, man?”
“You told me he doesn’t give a fuck.”
“He doesn’t. Didn’t. Lately I don’t know, he’s been all weird.”
“Fuck … he’s not going to turn all wife on you, is he?”
“Nah. An’ I think he’s got his own boy toy on the side. Mail clerk at work.”
“Oh, man, that’s just wrong.”
“I know, right? Talk about slumming. I told him that, too.”
The tap shuts off and Tom says he has to get out there, that it’ll be starting soon. The other man protests lightly but they both leave.
It’s a good thing Jared is already in the stall because his breakfast rises fast, burning his throat as he kneels over the toilet.
~ Jensen ~
Tasteful, Jensen thinks. Subdued and classy. He looks around. The Empire Hotel has a long history. Yet it’s intimate enough to feel cozy. They took photos earlier, near Lincoln Center. Some magazine arranged the shoot. Tom was impressed. Vanity Fair maybe? Or Esquire. Whatever it was made Tom happy. I only want you happy. Jensen spotted Jared earlier. They didn’t speak. He doesn’t even know if Jared noticed him. He and Sandy had been huddled discussing something.
He hears the music and breathes deeply and bites back the sheer panic threatening to paralyze him. Tom is waiting at the doors of the room where they’ll be married. They agreed to walk down the aisle together. Jensen’s family is already inside. Tom comes over. “You ready, buddy?”
Jensen says yes. But his stomach is cramping. He points to the men’s room. “They can wait a second, right?”
Tom looks annoyed but then his face softens. “We’re good. Go powder your nose one more time, princess. I’ll just have them play the music till you’re ready. Can’t start without the bride, eh?” He’s smiling indulgently at Jensen and Jensen is grateful and guilty. It seems to be his default emotion lately.
Nonetheless, he disappears into the men’s room, relieved to have a few moments by himself before it all begins. He’s at the sink, trying not to look at himself in the mirror when a stall opens and Jared steps out ashen-faced. He sidesteps Jensen silently and cups water up to his lips, spitting it out rapidly. He glances around and spots the courtesy basket. In seconds he’s got the toothbrush ripped out of its plastic wrapping and has located the tiny sample toothpaste. A few minutes later he’s rinsing his mouth again with the tap water.
Jared turns then but still won’t meet Jensen’s eyes. He speaks slowly and calmly. “I was feeling a little ill but I’m fine now. You should be inside.”
“I wanted … “ Jensen turns the tap on for something to do. He rubs his hands in the water, bringing them up to his face and splashing his eyes.
“See you inside.” Jared starts for the door.
“Wait Jared, I … “
Jared stops but still doesn’t look at Jensen directly. He waits and Jensen doesn’t know what to say. “I … Remember what you told me about John and Annie Glenn?”
He has Jared’s attention now. He’s standing ramrod straight and is striking in his suit. He told Jensen that Sandy took him shopping and it shows. The material is soft and sheens slightly. The cut is tapered and perfectly tailored. Even Jared’s normally wild hair has been tamed with gel and makes his already chiseled features even more prominent. He’s known Jared is gorgeous from the day he met him. But Jensen absorbs the other man’s beauty now and he’s humbled by just being allowed to look.
They are standing close and the bathroom seems suddenly tight. Jensen wants to touch and has to dig his fingers into his palms to stop himself. He can’t control his words, however. “Is it really possible to just be in love with someone? To not know when it started? Like it just always was that way?”
Jared doesn’t reply. His eyes meet Jensen’s and they swirl with color and passion. It’s the stuff he’d written about years ago in hidden notebooks. Poems of eyes clashing and souls baring. Jared’s face reddens and he leans down swiftly, bringing their lips together in a quick, nearly violent crash, before backing away as if someone shoved him. He shuts his eyes and gulps in air, running out of the small room like a tornado that flattens everything in its path before dissipating to eerie stillness.
~ Jared ~
Tom stares at Jared as he slips inside but Jared doesn’t meet his eyes. He feels Tom’s condescending gaze burning into his back as he slinks into the back row. Looking forward he sees a few eyes upon him. The door opening must have led some to believe that Tom and Jensen were coming in. He sees everyone turn back in disappointment. Donna and Brittany are in the first row. Josh is standing near the judge, waiting for Jensen. He is Jensen’s best man. There’s another man standing on the other side but Jared doesn’t recognize him. Must be a friend of Tom’s. Jared knows that all of Tom’s family shunned him. He still can’t imagine what that feels like. He’s lost his entire family. He wonders if it feels like that. Except his family didn’t want to leave him. His mother fought so hard for so long. Jared heard her crying. Heard her say she didn’t want to go.
When she was gone his father had pretty much fallen apart. Jared took care of him best he could. But it wasn’t the same. He could never replace Momma. His poppa had tried after that. Tried to make up for their loss. Tried to be patient. He hardly ever lost his temper. Jared remembers the time he did. It was a month or so after his mother’s passing. Jared didn’t remember now what they were doing but something came up that his momma loved and for a second his father had forgotten. Had told Jared he should go get her because … And then he stopped.
He’d looked at Jared and after a moment his eyes got hard. Frozen on Jared. “Dammit, don’t you feel it?!” he’d yelled. “Don’t you realize she’s gone forever? That we’re never going to hear her laugh again? You just sit there looking the same. Always the damn same! She said it wasn’t so. That inside you were filled with colors and starbursts and that it was just invisible to us. But what if she was wrong and this is all there is?”
Jared had looked at his poppa and apologized that day not knowing for what, like he had a million times before. Only that seemed to hurt his father even more. The older man had cried and apologized back like his heart was breaking. Jared allowed his father to squeeze him much too tight and forced back the nausea that brought. After that he worked even harder with his therapists, fighting to become really good at every trick in the book. So that he could be what his father wanted. What everyone wanted. And in time, it got better, back to normal. His poppa understood him better than anyone and would even call him on it sometimes when he realized that Jared was faking it. Told him to be honest. Be himself because it didn’t mean anything if it wasn’t true.
The door opens and Jared stares straight ahead as Tom and Jensen pass by slowly. He feels Jen’s eyes on him. Like they are pleading but Jared doesn’t know what the other man is asking. He hopes it’s not some sort of illicit friends with benefits arrangement because Jared just isn’t equipped to handle that. Except the weird question in the bathroom didn’t feel like Jensen was asking for that. It felt like Jensen was working extra hard to break Jared’s heart.
The music stops when they reach the judge. He’s a middle-aged Hispanic man wearing a sharp dark suit, he’s smiling broadly and looks over the grooms and the crowd with a slight nod. “Dear family and friends of Tom and Jensen, I want to welcome you on this historic day to share in the marriage of these great friends, leaders, and spokespeople for those who for a long time have been voiceless. Today is the day that they will formally and publicly make their promises to one another. Although this is indeed a high point, marriage is a journey not a destination. Marriage is more than any one single event or promise. It is a series of decisions that have been made, and will continue to be made over and over again, every day, that shows their care and concern for the one whom they each love most in the world.”
Jensen turns his head then, eyes spanning the crowd, he twitches in place until his eyes land on Jared and then he seems to exhale. Tom coughs and Jensen faces forward once more.
The judge continues, “From trauma to struggle to success and triumph these men have persevered in the face of obstacles and stood tall for their convictions.” He stops and looks up. “And in the case of Tom, quite tall.” There’s an appreciative murmur of amusement from the crowd. Jared just feels empty.
Jensen has twisted his neck and is looking at Jared again. Jared blinks and notices a few others turning around to see what Jensen keeps staring at. It makes Jared squirm uncomfortably. What does Jensen want? He bites his lower lip to keep from speaking aloud.
“I have been asked by Tom and Jensen to thank you all for being here with them today, and for supporting them through everything that it has taken to make this day a reality. They know that your taking the time and making the journey took considerable effort for a good many of you and they wanted you all to know the deep appreciation and gratitude that they feel in their hearts for this. All of the time, and conversations that you have had with them, even before they met, have helped to make them who they needed to be to first find themselves and then each other. You have shared in their best and their worst days, and you are an irreplaceable part of their lives.”
Tom and Jensen both turn at that and smile at the guests. Jensen’s eyes lock with Jared’s again. This time Jared looks back, tries to see what Jensen is trying to tell him. It feels more like Jensen is asking something, only Jared doesn’t know the question. As always the silent language of human bodies is evading him. He lets the frustration flush through him and pulls at his tie slightly when its tightness threatens to choke. He loves Jensen. He’d do anything for him. Including sitting here watching him bond his life to another’s just because his friend asked him to. What more can he want?
Smiling, the judge draws everyone’s attention back to him with the simple words, “Now let us begin. When you accepted Tom and Jensen’s invitation to join them here today, you accepted also a very special responsibility and role in their lives. By asking you to bear witness to all that is in their hearts, they share with you precious memories and a knowledge of why and how all is so right for them.” He pauses and waits a moment for Jensen to once more face forward. “Jensen, Tom, please face each other.”
Jensen is in profile now. Jared remembers when he first noticed the perfection of Jensen’s profile, the slight curve of his nose that should have marred but only enhanced. The strong jut of his chin and cut jawline. He’d stopped by Sandy’s desk after delivering the mail and blurted out, “Your boss is the handsomest man in the world.”
She’d laughed. “Yeah, he’s a hottie.” She’d eyed him consideringly. “He your type, Jare?”
“I don’t have a type,” he answered honestly.
“But you think he’s hot?”
“No, I think he’s beautiful.”
The judge’s voice gets a little louder or maybe it just seems that way to Jared. “Tom, do you take Jensen to be your husband, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better or for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish; from this day forward until death do you part?”
Tom’s voice is rock steady. “I do.”
Jared knows what’s next. He hears the start of the judge’s question to Jensen and feels the air rush out of his lungs as if he’d been thrown out an airlock. He stumbles up, hands scrambling to whip off his tie. The chair scrapes backward making a hard clack against the back wall. “Sorry,” he mumbles to no one before running out.
~ Jensen ~
Jensen listens to the judge’s words about marriage. He wonders if this is what Jared meant about human expressions being a foreign language. Because nothing makes sense. It’s only sound. Tom nudges him to face the guests and he realizes that the judge must have said something to warrant that. He must have thanked them. They discussed this, he remembers now. Tom asked that their guests be thanked explicitly. Something about good PR. His eyes go to the only guest he sees. It’s like he’s in this tunnel with Tom on one end and Jared on the other and his vision can only bounce between these two men.
Even sitting Jared stands so tall and his posture is rigid. He’s proud and loyal. And so excruciatingly beautiful it almost hurts to look at him. Jensen can’t take his eyes off Jared and it’s only Tom’s slight huff that breaks his focus. He knows it’s only moments before tears will leak out. He wants to swipe at his face, feels himself redden, his throat tighten until swallowing is impossible. The tie is choking like a noose. He looks sideways and sees his brother, sees Josh, eyes puzzled but warm. Reaching out to him silently in a what’s wrong signal. He wants to be ten again and have his older brother take care of him. Take care of the boy that stole his lunch by just standing there and looking menacing and saying don’t mess with my kid brother. He wants his daddy back. The one that read to him at night and pulled out his guitar when they were alone and let Jensen pluck a few strings. It was their special thing. He said Jensen had potential. Told him he’d get him lessons one day. A day that never came.
Tom says, “I do.” Loudly in his deep, rich voice. Jensen likes Tom’s voice. It was a beacon when the world had dimmed. When every man he’d loved had told him he wasn’t good enough. Except what Tom just promised he doesn’t mean. And all Jensen hears is a lie. Another man who can’t love him.
The judge continues and Jensen knows the words are being addressed to him. The sounds are like random musical notes now, they undulate higher and lower. They have feeling but no meaning.
Jensen stands in the black of the tunnel and he can’t see either end now. He’s surrounded on all sides. Buried alive.
“I … what?“ he breathes out.
The judge laughs. It’s slightly broken and anxious. “Happens, son. No worries. I’ll just repeat it, okay?”
Except Jensen doesn’t really need it repeated. He knows the question and he knows the answer. He only has to be brave enough now to get the word out.
Jensen meets Tom’s eyes in a final search. Steel blue stares back. Confident, sure, proud. Jensen thinks I’m sorry to Tom. He might even mouth it. Even though it’s practically meaningless because what he’s about to do is unforgiveable. He turns and faces the judge directly.
The judge takes Jensen’s gaze as a signal to begin anew and his speech speeds up. “Jensen, do you take Tom to be your husband, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better or for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish; from this day forward until death do you part?”
“I … “ Jensen looks at Tom once more. He’s staring back puzzled, a little annoyed, trying to rein it in. It’s quintessential Tom. Jensen will always love Tom. But he’s not in love with him. He’ll never be in love with him. They fought for this. For so much more than a legal document. Dad, maybe I’ll never make you proud. But I can at least respect myself as much as I wish you could. “I’m sorry,” he says voice clear, and Tom’s eyes widen. “I can’t.” His voice strengthens even further. “I won’t.”
The crowd murmurs in a wild ripple. Cameras flash madly from behind the cordoned off press section. Tom’s eyes darken in fury. “Jensen.”
“I’m sorry, Tom. I can’t marry you. I shouldn’t have said yes. What we fought for. That was real. How we were using it … it wasn’t. Same sex couples have the right to marry in this state now. And that’s so much more than legal rights, no matter how important those are. If it were only about the legal rights then we didn’t need to fight for marriage.” He laughs and it’s bitter. “Hell. Truth is I didn’t believe in marriage. And neither of us had a clue as to what love is. Except now I … “
He’s met with wrath. “You fucking can’t—“
“Wait.” A hand cups his shoulder and Josh’s eyes lock with Jensen’s. His big brother takes a step closer and Jensen worries he’ll see disappointment. Again. Josh puts a hand out to stop Tom. “Give us a minute.” He leans into Jensen, turning him away from everyone, away from his furious fiancé.
“The day you came out, Dad and I acted like assholes. I was wrong, Jensen. So wrong. And I’m so sorry. Dad’s a bigot and a jerk and living only to prove him wrong was costing you too much. I know you’ve been fighting to prove yourself since you were a teenager. But it’s your life. And I’m behind you on this – one hundred percent. Like I should have had your back from day one.” His brother pauses, leans up and kisses Jensen’s temple. “I only want you happy.”
For a moment it’s impossible to see past the water filling his eyes. He tries to smile to show Josh how much this means to him. A quick movement catches his attention and he turns in time to see Tom stalking rapidly to a side exit away from them and the ever growing camera flashes. Jensen ignores Tom for now and searches the back row, desperate only to see one face. The only one that matters.
But Jared is gone.
Jensen races up the aisle. His mother tries to stop him. Brittany touches the older woman’s arm and says, “Let him go.”
He dashes out the door, leaving a cacophony of shocked sounds behind him. He doesn’t care. He’s shouting Jared’s name as soon as he exits the hall, head spinning frantically. But he doesn’t see him. No. God no.
Reporters are in Jensen’s face throwing questions at him. “No comment,” he spits out automatically.
He races to the steps and descends the staircase to the hotel’s lobby. His eyes are darting around the dark wood and rich furniture. There. In a shadowy corner he spots a swatch of chestnut hair.
“Jared,” he yells again. Eyes stare at him from the front desk but he ignores everyone who’s not Jared.
“Jensen.” Jared stands. His face is tear tracked and his eyes red-rimmed. He sniffs and swipes at his eyes and then his hair, which is no longer as slicked back perfect as it had been.
“I answered my own question.” Jared doesn’t say anything. Nods but Jensen knows he doesn’t understand. “You can just always love someone.”
He reaches to pull Jared down and presses their lips together briefly but Jared shoves him back hard. “What the hell? Do you not know me at all?! How could you think I’d want that after—? Maybe if I get lonely enough I’ll go fuck a stranger. But not you. Not going to happen.”
Jensen has never seen Jared furious like this. He fights a flutter of anxiety that it’s too late. Knows he has to explain, defuse, and fast. “I said no.”
Jared is breathing hard, he’s wiped his mouth repeatedly and Jensen doesn’t like that. He has to make Jared understand. He tries again. “Jared, I didn’t marry Tom.”
The words register slowly. “What?”
Jensen exhales at the shocked hope in Jared’s eyes. “The judge asked. I answered no. No, I don’t take Tom to be my husband. No, I don’t want to marry him. Can’t. Not when I’m in love with someone else.”
Jared staggers a step back. He stares at Jensen hard, which throws Jensen because it’s unusual.
“You hurt me.”
“I know. And I’m sorry. I can’t even promise not to do it again because it’s gonna take more than one epiphany to get my head on straight. But I’m gonna promise you the truth. Always. Is that enough?”
“I love you,” Jared answers with that nakedness that Jensen can feel down to his soul.
He reaches up again because he has to touch. “I love you, too,” he whispers into Jared’s mouth. Their lips part and meet on a sigh. He lets himself taste the sweetness of Jared’s lips, tongues dancing slowly around each other’s. It’s sunshine and apple pie. It’s truth and it fills him like he’s bathing in nectar. Sweet, rich, clingy.
A babble of voices penetrate Jensen’s bubble of perfection. Cameras are flashing and they are both suddenly pushed backward by one hundred pounds of sheer female exuberance. “Jay, Jensen … I have a car waiting outside. Go. Now.”
Jensen grabs Jared’s hand and they race out of the hotel. Sandy follows. She leads them around the corner to where a private cab awaits. “Sandy … “ Jensen begins. “Is Tom … ?”
“He’s pissed. But you know him. This will get his face plastered everywhere. First gay groom to get runaway brided.” She smiles broadly before her face turns serious again. “You should have called it off sooner.” Jensen accepts this. It’s true. “But you did it in time.”
Jay takes Sandy’s hand. “He loves me,” he tells her. His face is wondrous.
Sandy beams back at him. “Of course he does! I told you that. It was never about that.” She pulls open the car door. “Now go. I’ll hold off the hounds.”
“Tell my mom and brother I’ll be at Jared’s. Have them come there.” He turns to Jared. “Is that okay?”
“Of course it’s okay. I like your family. Well, except for your dad because he’s an idiot.”
Jensen startles at the bluntness although he should be used to it. “Tell it like it is, Jay.”
But Jared doesn’t get the attempted humor. “Okay. Only an idiot would not love you.”
Sandy’s eyes meet his, moist and caring. “Thank you,” Jensen tells her. It’s nowhere near enough but it’s all he has to offer.
She nods once and kisses both their cheeks before shutting the door behind them.
“Let’s go home,” he whispers to Jared who continues to gaze at him. His gorgeous hazel eyes well up and his best friend is more emotionally open than Jensen has ever seen him. It’s slightly scary and very humbling.
“Did you know there’s someone buried on the moon?”
Jensen can’t help but smile. He reaches up to tuck a strand of stray hair behind Jared’s ear. “Nope. I didn’t know that.”
“Mmm,” Jared begins. “Dr. Eugene Shoemaker. He’s the geologist that trained the Apollo mission astronauts about what to look for on the moon. He wanted to go on a mission but he couldn’t because of medical issues. They placed his ashes on the Lunar Prospector and launched it in 1998. It crashed into a crater in an effort to determine if there’s water on the moon. Anyway, that’s his final resting place.”
“Nothing. I … just … I love you.”
He’s met with a dimpled smile that would light up the dark side of the moon.
~ Jared ~
They pull up in front of Jared’s building and ride up together quietly. Jensen stands in front of the Earthrise print and Jared comes up behind him. He wraps his arms around Jensen’s waist and pulls them together. It’s still shocking. How they’ve come to be here. How Jensen could be his. “Jensen,“ he begins because he has to know. Because it’s either true or it’s not real. “Could I really be enough?”
Jensen squeezes Jared’s arm where it sits across his belly. Then he turns and meets his eyes. Startling green and filled with emotion. There’s no way Jared can read what’s there. It’s too much.
“Jay … when I was little my dad would read me stories. One was about a bunny.” Jensen squirms and Jared can sense that he’s embarrassed. Once more he’s surprised at how much he can tell about Jensen without words. He squeezes Jensen gently in encouragement. “The little bunny would ask his father how much he loves him and each time his father answered it got bigger.”
Jared feels his eyes fill again. He hasn’t cried this much since he was a little boy. He knows that book. His poppa read it to him, too. “To the moon and back,” he squeaks out through a throat tight enough to hurt.
“Is that enough?” Jensen asks.
Jared dips into a kiss. It’s salty and more wonderful than he knew possible. “Don’t know … it’s a big solar system,” he answers when his vocal cords can work again.
“Pluto and back?”
The gleam in Jensen’s eyes reminds Jared of the North Star. “Pluto’s been demoted. Only a sub-planet now.”
“What?” Jensen steps back. “No man, that’s just wrong.”
Jared giggles but then he wants to be sure he answers because maybe Jensen meant more than what he asked. “To the beginning of the universe and back.”
It takes a second but Jared can see Jensen figuring it out. “That’s kinda forever.”
Jared decides to try it the NT way and let his eyes answer. And damn if Jensen doesn’t seem to understand because his eyes glow even brighter and his smile explodes like a super nova and Jared just has to start kissing him all over again.
Kissing Jensen is Jared’s new favorite thing. It’s better than watching Apollo 13. It’s even better than looking at a full moon with a telescope. He tells Jensen that.
“Yeah? You like my mouth?”
Jensen’s voice is thick, like he swallowed honey. Jared feels his knees wobble. While they were still in the cab, Jensen’s mother called them and said they were going to head to the hotel first to change. She said not to expect them for several hours. And she said she’d call again before they headed out. Jared thinks she was trying to give them privacy.
He appreciates that, but he’s also scared. He’s never done anything like this before. “Like what?” Jensen asks, lips trailing down Jared’s neck, sucking on his skin until Jared feels a twinge of pain laced with pleasure.
“Everything,” he murmurs into Jensen’s mouth. “It’s like nothing else. You are like nothing else.”
Jensen practically growls in his ear. “How long she say we have?”
“About three hours.”
He pulls back and meets Jared’s stare dead on. “Trust me? I just want to make you feel good.”
He’s kissed again before he can answer. Jensen’s tongue dances in his mouth and the slow, tickling pressure is filling his dick like there’s a direct wire between his lips and his lower body. He chuckles slightly. “You left good a few stations behind. I already feel amazing. Is kissing always like this?”
Jensen takes a last nip. “Only with you. Let me kiss you, Jared. All of you.”
He can’t say no even if he is still scared. Jensen instinctively knows how to calm as he steers him slowly into Jared’s bedroom. “As much as you want and no more.”
“I want you.”
“That you have. I’m yours. And this … is absolutely only the beginning.”
And like that Jared’s fears start to melt. Clothes slip off and Jared thinks it should be odd all this touching, groping. He worries he’ll freak out and get queasy but it doesn’t happen. Jensen’s body is tight and lean with a gorgeously muscled back that Jared wants to spend hours worshipping. He starts doing that. Turning him over on the bed and running his fingers down. Jensen giggles when he touches his sides and Jared stores that tidbit for the future. His ass is round and gorgeous and Jared thinks he could come from just looking at it.
Jensen flips back over and it’s even better being able to look at his beautiful face, open and flushed and slightly panting as he reaches up to kiss Jared again. “Jesus, Jay … “ Jensen runs his hand down Jared’s chest. All those hours in the gym and Jared can’t help but feel a little proud at Jensen’s obvious admiration. A grip squeezes his cock and Jared nearly stops breathing. No other man has ever touched him like that before. He falls partly to his side but thrusts into Jensen’s fist as the heat flares through him.
“Fuck, that’s so good.”
Jensen smiles at him and kisses him again. It’s sloppy and their teeth clash as their noses collide and Jared decides that this must be what free-falling in zero-G must be like. He reaches down and takes Jensen’s dick in his hand. It’s slightly smaller than his own but a little wider and he rubs the sticky liquid leaking from the head around his fingers. “Is this okay?”
“Anything.” Jensen’s voice sounds wrecked. Like he ran a marathon. “Anything you want.”
After that there’s only grinding and thrusting and a race reaching toward each other, gripping tighter, faster. Matching rhythms with the thumping in their chests and the panting of their breaths. Jared has never been closer to another person. Either physically or emotionally. It’s too much and not enough and so very human. His eyes are filling and it take a second to know what’s going on beyond the incredible release soaring through his body. Jensen’s hips piston into his clenched fist and Jared feels wet heat against his hand.
Jensen wipes his hand on the sheets and brings his hands to cup Jared’s face, thumb wiping at the moisture there. “What?” he breathes into Jared’s mouth, lips grazing gently against his own before pulling back to gaze at him in obvious adoration.
“I feel like I belong. Here. On the planet. With you. And … he was right. I can see you.”
“Jay … “ Jensen’s eyes well up and he swallows hard before continuing. “I love you.”
“I love you.” Jared kisses Jensen lightly before lifting up to look at his bedside clock over Jensen’s shoulder. “Hey … there’s still some time.”
Jensen’s smile turns into a full on leer. “Yeah? For what?”
“More kissing?” He loses confidence a moment as the reminder of his inexperience once more rears its head.
But Jensen again seems to read his mind. “Kissing sounds perfect. I will never, ever not want to kiss you.”
The wind blows his curtain open just then and a sliver of street light makes Jensen’s skin glow. It’s not moonlight but it could be given the flash of brightness. “The moon was full about a week and a half ago.”
Jensen’s attention centers and Jared can sense he’s waiting.
“I could see it out that window,” Jared points toward it with his chin. “Not from the bed, but standing in front of it. And I was wondering where you were. Because we were sharing it.”
“I was too busy being self-absorbed to see the moon. At war with myself. Next full moon, we’ll share it. I promise.”
“No. You don’t understand. Whether you looked at it or not. It was there. When it’s full, it looks exactly the same for everyone -- on both hemispheres. Like a constant. Balancing us and our planet. We will always share it because we always have.”
Jensen looks at him only this time Jared is having trouble reading his face. He’s pulled into a hug and it should be too tight and weird but it’s not. “How do you do that? Make me fall in love with you more with every breath?”
~ Jensen ~
The day after the wedding Jensen is back in his office. Sandy is screening calls and since he isn’t scheduled to be at work his calendar is clear. Jared has stayed with him and took a seat on the opposite side of his desk. He’s immeasurably grateful for Jared’s gentle presence.
Sandy tried to talk Jensen into going to Puerto Rico and leaving the mess behind him. His mother suggested it, too. Jared, of course, bluntly told him the truth.
“You need to talk to Tom.”
And that was the simple truth. There was no going anywhere until that happened.
There are three messages on his voice mail from Tom and Jensen listens, growing paler with each one. He’s just hung up.
“He’s mad at you,” Jared states without judgment.
“You shouldn’t have said yes. But … I understand.”
Jensen looks up at this. Last night had felt like a dream. After telling Jensen that one and only time how much Jensen had hurt him, Jared had simply dropped it.
Jensen’d asked why. Had pushed because in his stupid NT way he thought maybe Jared was holding back anger. Was repressing it or something.
“You’re not going to marry someone else again to make a political point, are you?”
“No, of course not.”
And it really had been as simple as that. When he lets himself think about Jared and how giving, how special, how incredible he is, it’s just about impossible to not get emotional.
After Jensen’s mom called to say they were on their way, Jensen asked Jared again if it was okay for them all to descend upon him, take up his space. He knew it was selfish but he had to know his family really was okay with what he’d just done. Jared smiled at him and said Jensen’s family would always be welcome.
Jared made them grilled cheese sandwiches and tall glasses of chocolate milk. Josh took one sip and looked like he’d died and gone to heaven. Brittany had giggled like a child and his mother licked at her chocolate mustache with obvious delight. Later his mother pulled Jensen aside and whispered he’s wonderful into his ear. Then she said, “I’m so proud of you.”
Jared shared many Apollo adventure stories. The missions weren’t nearly as safe or boring or routine as many folks thought. Josh took to them like he was reading comics again at twelve.
Jensen watched with delight and at one point his eyes met Jared’s and his breath caught as his lover’s face broke into a beam so bright it nearly blinded.
“It’s really nice having family around this table again.”
Speechless, Jensen squeezed Jared’s hand beneath his and hoped the gesture conveyed the love that couldn’t stop growing in his heart.
Sandy had shown up a little later, bringing a section of wedding cake she’d nabbed from the abandoned reception. Jensen wondered if it was wrong to eat it but Sandy said they might as well since Jensen already paid for it. Even with Sandy’s approval, Jensen had looked at Jared to see if he minded. Jared’s face seemed closed to him though.
He asked Sandy to excuse them and asked Jared to stay in the kitchen to speak with him privately. Sandy disappeared into the dining room where the others sat.
“I don’t want to remind you of anything hurtful,” he told Jared.
“It’s just cake.” Jared uncharacteristically took Jensen’s hand in his and squeezed. “There was no wedding.”
Jared poured so much into those four words. Which is why Jared saying now he understands about Jensen saying yes to Tom’s wedding proposal makes no sense. “I don’t understand,” he replies. “How can you … you said yourself it was wrong to agree.”
“I’m a pretty straightforward guy.” Jensen continues to stare, he can’t disagree with that. “Yet … I also said yes to something I didn’t want to do.” Jensen can’t help but continue to look at him questioningly. Jared practically rolls his eyes. “I agreed to come watch you get married. Even though it was breaking my heart. Sometimes we do stupid things.”
Jensen stands and walks around his desk to Jared’s side. “Why did you say yes to me?”
“Because you said you needed me there.”
He’s about to try to respond to that naked comment when the door bursts open.
“Of course. Shoulda guessed Andre’d be here.” Tom turns on Jared with a vengeance. “You play dumb but you are so far from it. What’s in it for you, eh, mail room guy? The money? Got some draft of the great American novel hidden in your closet. Delusions of publishing grandeur?”
Jensen’s in Tom’s face in a flash. “Don’t you speak to him like that.”
Tom shoves back and the heat between them boils. “How fucking dare you?! I made your goddamn career. You’d still be crying for Daddy if it weren’t for me. We had a deal. An arrangement. How could you embarrass me like that in front of all that media?”
Jared is now standing next to him and Jensen feels a firm hand on his back. It grounds him. “You’re right we had an arrangement. And I thought I could live with it. Thought that was all I’d ever get. Maybe I never stopped crying for my father. Maybe I never will. But at least I can still cry.” He moved closer to his one-time closest friend. “Tom, what about you? When will you ever let it go?”
Tom flushes and his breath whooshes out. He swipes his hand through his hair and looks back and forth between Jensen and Jared. “When I can stop closing my eyes and still feel the zap where they shocked my dick every time a guy excited me. When the nightmares fucking stop. When the scars on my back magically disappear. When no boy ever feels like I did again. That’s when I’ll let it go.”
Jensen thinks that it’s only Jared’s arm tightening around his waist that’s holding him up. He knows what Tom’s scars look like and the thought that he added to them even a little is twisting him up inside.
Tom’s shoulders slump, like this exchange has drained him just as much. “Do you love him?” Tom’s voice is barely a whisper.
He meets his friend’s eyes straight on. “Yes.”
“Should have told me that.”
“I know.” He doesn’t bother to apologize again.
Jared’s soft voice surprises them both. “I don’t want Jensen’s money. Don’t need it. I have more than him anyway. And I certainly don’t want him to publish anything of mine.”
Tom’s face twists. “You aren’t from around here, are you?”
“Used to be from another planet,” Jared says matter-of-factly.
Tom actually laughs. “Yeah well, unfortunately, I gotta go deal with the press on this planet.” He turns back to Jensen. “The wedding … “ the word comes out bitter. “Is on you. Coulda called it off in time to get our deposits back. Your fault.”
Jensen nods. Tom looks back to Jared. “What do you want with him?”
“He makes my heart smile.”
Tom doesn’t say anything. After a long, silent moment of nothing but breathing he looks between them once more. “I expect an invite.”
“Just you. No reporters.”
“Always was the shy one.”
Tom nods in agreement. “Yeah. Were is more like it. Never seen so many damn flashes go off at once.” He glances up at Jared. “Jolly’s many things but shy isn’t one of them. Gonna be interesting.”
Jensen’s eyes gleam. “I hope so.”
Tom leaves without another word. Jared immediately grabs Jensen’s upper arms. “You okay?”
Jensen looks from the closed office door back into Jared’s amazing eyes. “Yes. Because you’re still here.”
A smile tilts Jared’s lips and brings out his dimples. “Best friends are always there for each other.”
Jensen’s heart flips in his chest. Their eyes meet again and hold for a long while despite Jared’s stated discomfort with that and Jensen knows Jared has to be puzzled at the fact that there are inexplicable tears falling from Jensen’s eyes. Jared brushes his cheeks and instantly looks concerned.
“Someone really smart told me that I should marry my best friend.” Jared lets out a breathy gasp. Jensen’s stunned his friend speechless. That’s okay, because he already knows the answer. At least to that question. “But you are wrong about something.”
Jared’s brows crunch together adorably in inquiry.
“I’m definitely going to publish something of yours.”