Jensen doesn't understand why his mother apparently got his biological clock. He's twenty-seven, he's not over the hill or anything, but she seems convinced that he needs to make with the grandchildren right now.
"I don't care if they're not yours," she says, with a sad smile. Jensen has the most supportive mother ever, in terms of his homosexuality, which is actually kind of annoying. Because that means she's just deeply concerned that he's single. "I just love them, you know."
"You have grandkids," says Jensen. "You love Logan."
"Logan needs cousins," says his mother, undeterred. "And you're not getting any younger."
"Does Mackenzie get these lectures?"
"Mackenzie has a boyfriend. And she's only twenty."
"Look, you remember Mrs. Padalecki?"
"My high school English teacher?" he asks, looking around the fridge for something edible. He really needs to go shopping.
"Yes. Her younger son, you didn't meet him, he was at private school, I think, he's a very nice boy, just came back into town. I ran into her at the grocery store the other day, we started talking, apparently her husband is--"
Jensen finds a block of cheese and some bread and figures he can do something with that. "Mom," he says, as gently as he can, "is there a point to this?"
"He's gay and single, honey," says his mother. "I got his number if you--"
Jensen groans. There is no way he is hard-up enough that he needs his mother to set him up. It's just not possible. "Mom, I'm fine. I have a date tonight, actually."
"You do? Well, tell me about him! What's his name, how did you meet him?"
"His name is Tom, we met at the gym," says Jensen. "It's just a date."
"Well, if that doesn't work out, you really should give Mrs. Padalecki's son a call. You remember Jeff, he was very handsome. But straight. But his little brother--"
Jensen tries to picture his mother and his tenth-grade English teacher in the store, discussing their gay sons. It's kind of a horrifying image.
"Yes, mom," he says, glad they're on the phone and she can't see his eyes rolling.
"Let me know. And don't forget to buy Michelle a wedding present. I know you're putting it off."
Jensen can't help swearing. "Fuck."
"Jensen Ross Ackles," says his mother, "I raised you better than that."
"I know you're not thrilled about being in this wedding," says his mother. "But she's your friend."
"Yeah," says Jensen. "I gotta go. Get ready."
"Let me know how it goes!"
Michelle is pretty much the worst combination imaginable of rival and ex. They tried to make it work for a while in high school, and then Jensen realized he was gay and they broke up. By then they'd both decided on San Antonio State for college, and they both went after this kid Tim. Jensen won, and Michelle's never forgotten it. If they weren't family friends, it would be okay, but he can't really escape her, and he'd put "plus one" on his invitation to her wedding more out of spite than any genuine interest in finding someone.
He stops by the store on his way to meet Tom for some very non-committal "drinks," and he finds himself drowning in a sea of shit.
"Hey," says a smooth male voice. "Can I help you find anything?"
Jensen turns around and is pretty surprised to see someone's neck. There aren't a lot of people who are a lot taller than Jensen, and when he looks up he's greeted by dimpled cheeks and a wide smile. He tries not to stare. "Uh," he starts, "I'm shopping for a wedding gift."
The guy nods. "And you're trying to figure out what worthless shit you should buy," the guy supplies.
Jensen laughs. "That is exactly what I'm doing. I have never needed a waffle iron in my life."
"Don't get me wrong," says the guy, "I love waffles. But yeah, I've never made them for myself."
"Clearly you're not married," says Jensen, grinning.
"As soon as I am," the guy shoots back, "it's waffles every morning."
"Well, good luck with that," says Jensen. "Toasters are useful, right? This is a pretty nice toaster."
"Bet it's not on their registry," says the guy.
Jensen scans his list. "They want a melon baller," he observes. "But no toaster."
"Well, bread can go untoasted," says the guy. "But god forbid a melon go unballed."
Jensen snorts. "God forbid."
His phone alarm rings, reminding him that he's supposed to go get drinks with Tom. Who is not as tall as store guy, or as cute. But actually gay, which is an excellent first step.
"I guess I better think it over," says Jensen, with a kind of sheepish grin. "Really weigh the melon baller versus ice cream maker question."
"Just go with a Foreman grill," the guy suggests. "Practical and classy."
Jensen laughs. "Thanks for the help."
"Anytime," says the guy, with a grin and another flash of dimples.
Jensen has never been more disappointed to leave a store in his life.
"So how was it?" asks Danneel over lunch the next day. Danneel is pretty much Jensen's best friend. She works in the next building, a high-powered lawyer who has half the city eating out of the palm of her hand. Jensen's honestly a little in awe of her.
"Boring," he says, sipping his coffee. "Seriously, I have got to stop going for guys I find at the gym."
"I asked him what the last book he read was and he said Catcher In the Rye."
"So? That's a real book."
"In eleventh grade."
Danneel winces. "How do you even get through twelfth grade without reading a book?"
"You get your GED. I mean, nothing against mechanics, or people who haven't graduated high school, but, Jesus. I work in publishing. Literacy is kind of a thing for me."
"Don't worry," says Danneel consolingly. "I don't think you're a snob."
Jensen snorts. "Gee, thanks."
"I did meet a guy," says Danneel. "Can spell his own name and everything."
Danneel is pretty much the best friend ever, because she's really hot. If guys aren't into her, there's a 90% chance they're gay, and then she gives them to Jensen.
"Lawyer, of course," she says, "but not a scum-sucker."
"You're too good to me."
"His name is Nick," she says. "He's kind of goofy, but I figure you're kind of in to that."
Jensen thinks of the guy from the store the other day, all dorky smile and cute laugh.
"Yeah," he says with a shrug. "Why not?"
"You still haven't told me who you're bringing, Jensen," says Michelle. He's a groomsman, on the grounds that he can't really be in the bride's side, but he's closer to her than to her fiance, so he's at the dress fitting.
"Jensen's really popular," says Mackenzie. Jensen appreciates this. He's really glad his little sister has his back.
"You don't just bring a fling to a wedding," says Michelle.
Jensen sighs. "Um--Nick Welling," says Jensen. He kind of wants to beat his head against something hard and unforgiving. Combining the names of your last two dates to create some kind of amalgam third date? Not a good decision.
"Nick," says Michelle, looking dubious. Which is fair. "I'll have that put on his place card."
Jensen beams. "You do that."
"So you're making up a date," says Mackenzie. "Very mature, Jensen."
"Maybe it'll work out with this Nick guy," Jensen says, somewhat morosely. "And then I can ask him to lie about his name."
"I hear that's a real turn-on for some guys," Mackenzie agrees.
"Shut up," says Jensen, half-heartedly.
Nick is about Jensen's height, kind of funny, like an overgrown frat boy. He's fun, but halfway through dinner, he gets a call and says, "My ex-fiancee wants to get back together, I gotta go." Which is pretty much the worst date ender Jensen has ever had.
On his way home, he notices the registry store is still open and stops in. The hot guy is in houseware, and Jensen tries to look causal as he goes over to look at food processors.
"Hey!" says the guy, his whole face lighting up. "You were in here the other day, right?"
"Yeah, wedding shopping."
"Sudden burst of inspiration?"
"Yeah, nothing makes me want to go out and buy wedding presents like a bad date."
Jensen runs his hand through his hair. "She's my ex," he explains.
"Yeah, well," says Jensen. Then he just snorts and shakes his head. "Yeah, pretty much. She's never forgiven me for stealing this guy from her in college, either. So now that I'm single and she's getting married, she thinks she's winning."
"Oh," says the guy.
"Sorry," Jensen says quickly. "That was some pretty weird customer TMI, right?"
The guy shrugs. "I'm used to it. Weddings make people go nuts. I get a lot of verbal diarrhea."
Jensen laughs and ducks his head. "Thanks, I feel lots better."
"So let me guess," says the guy. "You want to find the perfect wedding gift to prove that you're the bigger person. And you want to find the perfect wedding date to prove that you're doing better than her."
"That obvious?" asks Jensen.
"Like I said," says the guy, with a wink, "I do a lot of weddings."
"So, any suggestions?"
The guy clucks his tongue. "I'll check out the registry list. You know, really see what looks good. I work four to close tomorrow, so if you wanna stop by, I'll have an idea for you."
"Yeah," says Jensen, "it's a date," and then regrets it instantly.
But the guy just grins back at him. "See you."
"Jensen," he supplies, because the "see you" sounds kind of like it's hanging. Like maybe the guy wants to know his name.
"Jared," he says. "Nice to meet you."
"So," says Danneel, "you're dating a billion people and looking for a perfect match, and you develop a crush on the guy who's selling you home goods."
Jensen rubs his temples. "It's not like I did it on purpose, Jesus."
"Yeah, but it's hilarious. Did you ask him out?"
"I don't know if he likes guys."
"Well, he didn't flip out and tell you to get out of his store when you said you were gay. So what's the worst that can happen?"
Jensen stares at her. "You're really asking me that with my dating history?"
"Jensen, seriously. You've been out with, what, five guys in the last week?"
Jensen sighs. "Probably something close to that."
"Well, just--see how it goes today," Danneel finally settles on. "Don't rule out the possibility of seeing if he wants to get a drink or something."
Jensen sighs. "Fine."
"And go close to closing," she adds. "In case he wants to do something after work."
"Maybe you should just come with me to the wedding."
"No way I could pass for a Nick," she says.
"Short for Nicole," he tries.
She shakes her head. "Maybe if you try it with this guy and totally strike out I'll consider it." She clucks her tongue. "Of course, you're still gay."
"I could tell Michelle it was just her. That'd show her."
"You're a jerk, Jensen Ackles."
"She started it," Jensen retorts maturely. Danneel just shakes her head.
Jensen shows up at the store at eight-thirty. It's pretty much deserted, except for Jared hanging around behind the counter, looking bored. He brightens so much when Jensen comes in that Jensen feels like maybe he does have a chance.
"Hey!" says Jared. "I was thinking you might have changed your mind."
"Nah, sorry, just--" Jensen laughs and rubs the back of his neck. "Running late."
"Okay, so, not that I know her personally or anything, but based on this registry? Your ex is kind of sucky. This is the I'm better than you registry."
"Yeah, that's Michelle in a nutshell."
"Doesn't really seem like your type," Jared observes. "Given your reaction to the melon baller."
"Yeah, family friends. My mom always wanted me to marry her."
"She must be crushed."
Jensen snorts. "She's good with the gay thing," he says. "Now she just tries to set me up with guys."
"Very progressive of her," says Jared.
"Anyway," says Jensen, flushing a little.
Jared clears his throat. "Yeah, um. I was thinking you could get her a few of the pots she was looking for. They're not as flashy, but they're really good quality, and she's actually going to use them. So whenever she does, she's gonna remember she owes you."
Jensen nods. "That sounds really good, actually."
Jared smiles. "It turns out I'm kind of good at this."
"Yeah," says Jensen. He feels suddenly nervous, because he thinks he's supposed to ask Jared out now or something.
"Hey," says Jared, interrupting Jensen's thoughts. "Um. If you're still doing your date quest thing, uh--you wouldn't wanna grab dinner with me sometime?"
Jensen stares. "Really?"
"If you want to?" asks Jared, looking nervous and hopeful.
Jensen manages to nod. "Yeah, no, um--have you eaten yet today?" he asks.
"Just a snack after class," Jared says. He's grinning so hard Jensen thinks it must hurt. "I'm closing up at nine if you wanted to stick around? Or--anything."
"No, yeah," says Jensen, kind of nonsensically. "That sounds great. I can play around with the melon ballers. Or whatever."
Jared laughs. "Here, lemme show you the fancy microwaves. Hours of fun."
Jared shows off all his favorite appliances, which is kind of hilarious, and then they grab a burger at a place he knows around the corner.
"You mentioned class?" Jensen asks.
"Yeah, I'm in grad school," Jared says. "My mama's a teacher, hoping to follow in her footsteps."
"Yeah?" says Jensen.
"Yeah. Like kids, so, you know." He shrugs and smiles. "What do you do?"
"I'm in publishing," he says. "Editor."
"Wow, that's pretty cool. Anything I would've heard of?"
"Probably not," Jensen admits. "A lot of non-fiction."
"I like non-fiction," says Jared. "You ever read Devil in the White City? And don't even get me started on In Cold Blood. Man. That's one of my favorites ever. You should give me some recommendations."
Jensen gapes. After Tom, the wonder ditz, it's kind of--amazing.
"I got something on my face?" asks Jared. He sounds genuinely concerned.
"This guy I dated last week," Jensen admits, "hadn't read a book since eleventh grade."
"Wow," says Jared. "That's kind of impressive, actually."
Jared takes a big bite of burger and gets ketchup on his face. Jensen snorts and wipes it off with the pad of his thumb before he can think better of it.
Jared smiles at him, and Jensen thinks, this is the best first date ever.
Jensen gets a goodnight kiss and Jared's phone number, and they go out three more times before they end up having sex on a blanket in the back of Jared's pickup truck. Which is awesome, and makes Jensen feel like he's in high school again.
"You want to come to this wedding?" he asks afterward.
Jared laughs, kisses the top of his head. "Thought you'd never ask."
Jensen groans and burrows in to Jared as best he can. It's not exactly easy for two six-foot-plus guys to cuddle in the back of a truck, but Jared's really invested in it.
"What?" Jared asks, sounding amused.
"Might've told the bride your name was Nick Welling."
"How'd you come up with that one?"
"Brief moment of total panic."
Jared laughs. "I think I can pretend to be Nick for, what, three hours?"
"You're the best boyfriend ever," Jensen says honestly. Then he realizes that they haven't actually had the boyfriend conversation, and instantly regrets it. But Jared just laughs again and pulls him closer.
"You better believe it."
"It's unfair that this worked out for you," says Danneel, but she looks happy.
"I guess I'm kind of awesome," says Jensen smugly.
"So you have a totally hot boyfriend."
"Incredibly hot," Jensen agrees.
"And he's willing to go with you to a torturous wedding and pretend his name is some random thing you made up?"
Danneel shakes her head. "Does he have a brother?"
Jensen laughs. "I'll ask."
It turns out that weddings, even sucky weddings, are way better when you have a boyfriend waiting to cuddle you at the reception. Jared is kind of generally ridiculously physical, and it turns out that, when he's trying to be a good date, he just touches Jensen all the time. It's really nice. Michelle looks radiantly happy too, which is nice. Jensen doesn't actually wish her ill, he just didn't want to have to feel like she was happy because he wasn't.
"Having a good time?" Jared asks, right into his ear.
Jensen shivers. "Awesome. I'm gonna grab a drink, you want one?"
"Yeah, please," says Jared. He goes back to chatting to Mackenzie and her boyfriend Brock, and Jensen takes off for the refreshments table.
"I told you," his mother says when he gets there.
Jensen almost jumps. "Most people start conversations with a hi, mom," he points out.
"I'm just so happy, Jensen," she says.
Jensen blinks. "What?"
"Jared," she says.
Jensen hasn't actually introduced his mother to Jared, on the grounds that he thinks Jared should be spared that for a while, so he's a little surprised. Plus, half the people here think Jared's name is Nick. "What?" he asks.
"But I don't understand why everyone is calling him Nick. But his mother will be so pleased."
"His mother," Jensen repeats.
"Yes, Mrs. Padalecki. Honestly, Jensen, you'd forget your own head if it wasn't attached to your shoulders."
"Right," says Jensen. "Um. Nick's kind of joke. Nickname. Um. I gotta--yeah."
He goes back over to Jared and rests his forehead against Jared's back, laughing quietly.
"What?" asks Jared, twisting to look at him.
"Padalecki," he says. "You're Jared Padalecki?"
"Yeah," says Jared, warily. "Or, you know, Nick."
"Your mom was my English teacher in tenth grade. My mom was trying to set us up."
"Looks like she did pretty well," Jared observes.
"Yeah, I wouldn't even let her give me your number. I don't really trust her hookups."
"Maybe next time you'll know better," says Jared.
Jensen lifts up his forehead, sees Jared still smiling at him. "Maybe," he says, grinning and pecking Jared on the mouth.
In all honesty, Jensen doesn't think there's gonna be a next time.