Jensen dreams about being lost in caves again. Him and Jared, twelve years old, abandoned in a network of cold and clammy caverns underground. He’s trying to listen for the sound of Jared’s voice but all he can hear are his parents’ voices calling him in counterpoint to each other. “Jensen, where are you? Where are you?”
He jerks awake, covered in sweat, the sheet sticking to his skin and the smell of his own body heavy in his nostrils. There’s a loud knocking at his bedroom door. “Time to get up, Jensen. It’s after nine. This is not a hotel. Nobody’s going to serve you breakfast in bed. I want you to help me find something.”
“Like you ever served breakfast in bed to anybody,” he says to his pillow, wrapping it over his head so he doesn’t have to listen to his dad complaining as he walks down the hallway.
So many of their conversations were held through walls and doors.
“How the hell do you find anything in this?” he asks, two hours (and five cups of coffee) later as he trawls his way through a mountain of paperwork dumped on the kitchen table. Insurance policies, bank statements, bills and various other documents are all jumbled together.
“Your mother always did the paperwork. Everything just got into a mess after she passed.”
“You shouldn’t have let it get this bad. It’s not that hard to just file all the same stuff together.”
His dad takes a swallow of coffee and looks at Jensen over the top of his reading glasses. “You think I give a crap, Jensen? I’m going to sit around like some secretary shuffling paper when I know I’m dying? I’ve had better things to do with my time this past year.”
It takes a minute for something in that to snag. “What do you mean the past year? You got diagnosed three months ago.”
His dad shrugs and pushes his chair away from the table. He gets up and refills his cup from the old metal coffee pot on the stove.
Jensen sits there and allows it to sink in. “You mean you found out a year ago that you had cancer and you didn’t tell me?”
His dad shrugs again and stares out the kitchen window at the dogs scuffling in the yard.
Anger flares up inside Jensen’s chest. No, not anger, absolute fury. He takes a deep breath so that it doesn’t pour out of him all at once. “I am your son. How do you not pick up a phone and tell me something like that?”
His dad turns around to face him, leans his hip against the kitchen counter and just stares at Jensen for a minute. “Well, that’s half of the problem right there. It’s not something you say to a person over the phone.”
Jensen grits his teeth. “I had a right to know.”
“You were away, living your own life. Doing whatever it is that you do. Acting. Pretending to be other people.” He manages to make it sound both ridiculous and seedy. “Why do you think you had a right to know?”
Jensen stands up and grips the edge of the table, surprised to feel himself shaking. “I am your son. I needed to know.”
“Let me ask you a question then, son, when was the last time you called me dad?”
“What?” Jensen’s voice comes out high and surprised.
His dad looks at him coolly. “Jensen, you turned fifteen and I didn’t even know who you were anymore. You might as well have been a stranger living under my roof. I just don’t understand what you’ve done to yourself. And you had so much potential when you were a kid. Smart, good at sports, your mother’s looks. You could have had any girl you wanted, could have made your mother happy by giving her the grand-kids she always wanted. Look at this house and look at the yard out there,” he gestures towards the window. “Everything’s going to ruin. I can’t manage this place on my own.”
A crushing guilt settles on top of Jensen. It’s a familiar weight.
“You’ve never accepted help from anybody,” he starts, the desire to defend himself inherent, even if he doesn’t fully believe in what he’s saying. “You’re surrounded by friends and a community who would be here in an instant if you needed them. It’s not like you haven’t done it for them. But you’re so stubborn. Hell, you could have hired somebody. It’s not like you can’t afford it.”
“I wanted it to be you, goddamnit!”The sound of his dad’s coffee mug being slammed on the counter rings through the kitchen.
“I don’t know what the hell’s wrong with your generation. Hank’s boy got arrested on drug charges in Thailand last year. The Fischer girl is still unmarried, has some Silicon Valley job, comes home once a year and looks down her nose at everybody like we’re hillbilly hicks. No respect. That’s the problem. And what happened to the sanctity of marriage and family? You broke your mother’s heart, Jensen.”
Jensen’s breath gets stuck in his chest as he sinks back into his chair and breathes hard through his nose, clenching his hands tightly together. “Don’t you put that on me,” he says staring down at the oak table, worn with years of use and history. “Your disappointment I can deal with, but not hers.”
“You were best friends with that boy since you were knee high. What the hell were you thinking? It’s not right, Jensen. You were the stronger one; he used to follow you around like a puppy. And now he’s split up with that girl he was with. He’s messed up in the head. Both of you are. Are you— Have you been— Actually, don’t even answer that. I don’t want to know what you’ve been doing with those actor friends of yours.”
“You didn’t even ask the question, Dad.” He uses the word purposefully.
“I don’t want to know.”
“No, you don’t.”
There’s no way his dad would understand the few empty encounters he’s had with anonymous men picked up in bars when loneliness forced him to seek out some physical contact, some sense of knowing he was still alive and connected with humanity. Over the past year he’s been dogged by homesickness, in the true sense of the word—sick, ill with a longing for something that felt like Home.
His dad is looking at him like there’s a bad smell in his nose. Jensen stares back at him in silent defiance. His dad sighs and unconsciously rubs his hip as if it was causing him pain. Jensen’s defiance melts back into guilt and sorrow at the impossible gulf between him and this old man.
“I’m sorry,” he says, knowing the apology means as little to his dad as it did to Jared last night. “I can’t help being who and what I am.”
His dad sighs again. “Everything is a choice, Jensen.”
Jensen doesn’t tell him that some things aren’t. He wouldn’t understand. They don’t even speak the same language.
His dad doesn’t look at him as he leaves the kitchen, slamming the door shut behind him. He always liked the dramatic exit after having the final word. Jensen hears the pickup start a few minutes later and then it rattles away from the house.
It takes him another hour to find his dad’s will in the mountain of paperwork. He’s left five grand each to the Armed Services YMCA and to a rare and endangered horse breeding program. Two policies worth twelve grand in total that will pay out on his death have been earmarked for Mrs. Betty Campbell, a friend of his mother’s who runs an art and craft shop in town. That gives Jensen pause. He wonders if his dad has been finding companionship with the Widow Campbell. He’s not quite sure how that makes him feel.
There are no other surprises. Everything else has been left to him.
It takes him another hour to create some semblance of order. Paperwork is something that he, too, despises. He uses the floor to make piles of documents, then shoves them into folders.
It’s almost two in the afternoon when he finally finishes. There’s no sign of his dad so Jensen decides it’s time for a liquid late lunch. Daytime drinking is exactly what he needs right now.
Three leathery old guys prop up the bar when Jensen walks in to Layla’s half an hour later. Another guy in a cheap business suit sits in front of a laptop over in one corner. A posse of beer-gutted truckers cluster around a table in the center of the room.
Jensen’s entrance is marked with indifferent glances. He settles on a bar stool and orders a beer and a shot of Jack, tries to quiet his rumbling stomach with peanuts as he watches a Cowboys vs. Rams rerun on the TV screen, engaging in occasional banter with the old roughnecks and the barman, a guy Jensen went to school with.
He drinks steadily during the game and is pretty far along the road towards dead-drunk by the time it finishes.
He goes to the toilet, unsteady on his feet, and when he comes back, two new arrivals are sitting at the bar. They size Jensen up in the way that macho Texan guys of a similar age and physique do in a place like this. For no other reason than he’s drunk and in a bad mood, Jensen feels like knocking their heads together.
Jensen’s not an aggressive person when he’s sober. A lot of the time he has to work hard at not being quiet and reserved. Jared was always the out-going one who told people exactly what he thought, even when it got him into trouble.
Jensen should go home. There’s always a bottle of whiskey in the kitchen cupboard. He could just sit on the porch and drink until he’s ready to go to bed and pass out. This day really needs to end already. He’s had enough of it.
But he doesn’t feel like being in the same house with his dad so he orders another beer instead. He can always sleep it off in the car in the parking lot. It’s not like that’s unheard of at Layla’s. Hell, legend goes that tough old Buck Williams, drunk and fast asleep on the ground, got run over in the parking lot—on two separate occasions—without major injuries either time.
Jensen half watches the start of a baseball game on the TV and listens to the conversation being held by the two guys next to him. It’s hard not to. They’re loud and obnoxious. He should just move away from them. Another should that he ignores because of the alcohol short-circuiting the higher brain functioning of his cerebral cortex.
His blood starts a low simmer and hits boiling point when one of the guys recounts a story about how he put a guy in the hospital because this “pussy faggot” was spending too much time with his girlfriend and started turning her against him. The other guy laughs and says something about him being better off without the “fag hag” anyway.
Jensen doesn’t remember what it is that he turns and says to them, but it results in some trading of verbal insults along the lines of a general undermining of each other’s masculinity, quickly escalates into somebody throwing a punch and ends with Jensen being head-butted in the face, falling backwards and hitting his head on the edge of the bar. And then everything just goes black.
Consciousness arrives hand-in-hand with physical pain, enough to make him wish for the dark oblivion of being knocked-out again.
He groans as he opens his eyes.
It takes him a few minutes to figure out where he is. There are water-stains on the ceiling and he’s lying on a threadbare couch that smells like old beer. A filing cabinet is against the wall in front of him next to a girly calendar. He’s in the back office at Layla’s.
“Ryan knows first aid and thinks you’ll probably be okay, but I think we should take you to the emergency room to have you checked out anyway.”
It’s Jared, of course.
Jensen turns to see him sitting in a chair next to him, watching him with a closed expression, his forehead furrowed into a deep frown.
“What are you doing here?”
“Ryan called me. He didn’t call the cops, but you’re going to have to pay for the damage.”
Jensen sits up, grimacing at the pain that thunders through his head. He lifts a hand and gingerly rubs the swollen lump at the back of his skull, hissing at the painful contact.
“Here.” Jared hands him a glass of water.
Jensen takes it and downs half of it, places the glass on the floor next to him when he’s done.
He sits up and then stands carefully. The room sways slightly, then rights itself. He’s got a headache and a painful cheekbone. His knuckles are swollen and grazed and his stomach feels a bit queasy, but otherwise he feels okay.
Jared stands up. “C’mon, I’m taking you to the emergency room.”
“I’m not going to the emergency room, Jared. I’m fine.”
Jared looks like he might be thinking about taking a swing at Jensen himself. “How did I know you were going to say that? You are so bull-headed.”
“It’s why you love me, right?” Jensen aims for casual cockiness with a wink, groaning inwardly at how much the simple movement hurts.
Jared snorts and mutters something under his breath.
Jensen doesn’t need to hear it. He knows there’s probably something inherently unlovable about him. He goes over to the sink in the corner of the room and looks at his reflection in the cracked mirror above it. His cheek is inflamed and swollen. The white of his eye is purpled with burst capillaries. He’s going to have a black eye by tomorrow. It’s a good thing he doesn’t have an acting contract to go back to. Producers don’t take kindly to the merchandise getting damaged.
Jared’s face appears above his left shoulder. “You look like hell.”
“Thanks. You, on the other hand, look like—”
He doesn’t quite know where he was going with that so just leaves it there. Jared locks eyes with him in the mirror. Jensen jerks when he feels Jared’s arm snaking around his waist but Jared just pulls him back firmly against the heat of his body, cranes forward and presses a careful kiss against Jensen’s jaw.
He steps back before Jensen can get over his surprise and says, “Rinse your face. I’ll get you some ice.”
Jensen does as he’s told. Jared comes back and hands him a bar towel—thankfully clean—holding a mound of crushed ice. Jensen takes it, wraps it up and gently presses it against his bruised cheek.
“If you won’t let me take you to the emergency room then you’re coming home with me so I can keep an eye on you tonight.”
Jensen starts to protest. He doesn’t want to face his dad like this but going home with Jared sounds like an infinitely worse idea. Before he can get the words out, though, Jared holds up a hand and stops him.
“You’re not in a state to say no, and if you resist, I will literally drag you with me by force, Jensen. I’m not even kidding.”
“Fucking Neanderthal,” Jensen mutters grumpily.
“Says the man who just got into a bar brawl in the middle of the afternoon.”
Jensen snorts, unable to argue with that. Jared gives him a crooked little smile. “Face it, Jen, you’re a Texas redneck, just like the rest of us. You can’t deny your heritage. What would your fancy West Coast friends say if they saw you now?”
“Fuck you. Are you seriously going to taunt an injured man?”
“Aaw, you want me to carry you out to the car? I could do that. You look like you lost some weight the past year.”
Jensen gives him the most threatening look he can manage with his damaged face. “I will make you pay for that.”
Jared pauses, then says in a low, quiet voice, “Promises, promises, Jensen,” before turning on his heel and walking out the room.
“Fuck,” Jensen mumbles, feeling like a doomed man as he obediently follows him.
Ryan takes his time berating Jensen and makes him pay for a couple of broken barstools and some smashed glasses. Jensen’s aware of Jared behind him, probably smirking the whole time.
They drive back to Jared’s family’s place without speaking. The sun’s already mostly set, just a long hinged crack of gold glimmering along the horizon separating sky from land.
“Nobody’s here but me. They’ve gone away for the weekend,” Jared says as they pull up to the house. Jensen’s grateful for that. Much as he likes Jared’s family, he really doesn’t want to see them right now.
The house is so familiar to him. It smells of dogs and family and the sweet lingering scent of something baked. Everything’s big, open-plan, airy, and filled with colorful handmade crafts and custom mesquite furniture.
They go into the kitchen and Jared says, “Sit down,” as he starts rummaging around in the big double-door fridge.
“Yes, boss,” Jensen mutters and sinks into a chair at the long wooden table in the center of the kitchen.
Jared takes a plate of something out of the fridge and puts it in the warmer drawer of the traditional wood cookstove. He pours Jensen a glass of milk and places it in front of him. “Drink that and stay there,” he instructs.
“Want me to roll over and play dead?” Jensen aims at his back as he walks out.
“I think you’re probably beyond any proper training already. Also, you couldn’t shut up for long enough to play dead,” Jared’s voice returns from the room next door.
He comes back a few minutes later with a first aid kit and places it on the kitchen table in front of Jensen.
“There better be some painkillers in there. I’ve got a fucking monster headache.”
“I don’t think you should take anything. You might have a concussion.” Jared opens the kit and gets out some disinfectant and gauze pads.
“I’m not concussed, Jared. Been there before, remember? I think I’d recognize it.”
Jared pauses with the bottle of disinfectant in his hand and looks down at him. “Yeah, I remember.”
They were sixteen when it happened. Out in the hills racing each other on their bikes when Jensen’s brakes failed coming down a really steep rise. He hit a rock, went over the handlebars and then went bouncing down the side of the rocky ravine next to the dirt track, headfirst into a tree. He ended up in hospital with a broken arm and collarbone and a pretty severe concussion.
“That was the first time.” Jared opens up the bottle of disinfectant and dribbles some of it on the pad. He lifts Jensen’s chin and turns his face sideways so he can dab his grazed cheekbone.
Jensen hisses at the sting. “First time for what?”
“First time I realized I didn’t just love you but that I was in love with you.”
Jensen silently watches Jared’s averted profile as he puts the bottle of disinfectant back into the first aid kit. He faces Jensen again, so much concentrated intensity in his expression. “I remember looking at you lying there with your shoulder fucking twisted like that, your face so white and all that bright red blood on your forehead. I thought you were dead. And then I thought, he can’t be dead because I’m in love with him.”
They look at each other silently, a paused moment weighted with their history and all the perfect things they’ve shared together and all the shit things they’ve done to each other.
“So when did it go away?” Jensen asks quietly.
“It never went away, Jensen, you did.”
“I mean before I left.”
“What makes you think the way I felt about you changed? It didn’t. I just couldn’t deal with the secrecy anymore and your constant angst after your dad walked in on us that time. I wanted you so much and I just felt like I couldn’t have you completely. And it was somehow worse for me only half having you.”
Jared sits down in the chair opposite Jensen and starts tracing his finger over the red cross on the first aid kit. He keeps his eyes down as he continues, “The way you used to withdraw from me after we’d just had sex. I could literally see you putting up all these barriers, distancing yourself and then beating yourself up over it. I couldn’t just be your dirty, guilty secret. It was eating me up."
He looks up at Jensen. “It was a mistake, though, being with her. If I’m honest, I used her to get your attention, to make you realize that I was what you wanted. I’m so ashamed that I did that to her. And then you just left anyway. Just like you always said you were going to.”
Before Jensen can respond, Jared gets up and goes over to the stove, removes the plate from the oven with a dishtowel and puts it in front of him. He gets a fork and brings it back, sits down again and says, “Eat your supper and drink your milk or there will be no dessert,” as if he hadn’t just said all that.
Jensen gives him a sad smile that Jared returns. It makes him look twelve years old. The scent of the chili drifts up and Jensen breathes it in. He picks up the fork and starts to eat, needing just a few minutes to process his thoughts. Jared gets up again and gets a beer from the fridge, sits down and watches him.
Jensen manages half the food, pushes the plate away from him, wipes his mouth with the back of his mouth and downs the glass of milk.
“It wasn’t really like that for me,” he says. “I mean, I don’t remember a single moment like that.”
Jared looks back at him, waiting silently for him to continue.
“You were my best friend, and when we started fucking around, it just felt like a natural evolution, like it was always going to happen. It felt so right, so normal at first. But—”
Jared raises his eyebrows.
“But then it changed, and I can’t remember when that happened either. It just did. You were never my dirty, guilty secret. It wasn’t like that. I just thought as long as nobody found out about it then I could get to keep it for longer. I knew that it couldn’t go on indefinitely. I knew at some point you’d meet a girl you wanted to be with.”
Jared clenches his beer bottle so hard his knuckles whiten. His jaw tightens but he doesn’t say anything.
“Jesus, there were enough of them lining up for you,” Jensen continues. “And you were always such a flirt. It used to drive me insane. After we had that fight in the tenth grade and you ignored me for two weeks afterwards, I realized I didn’t have any claim on you. I wanted to kill you, Jared. I’m not kidding. I had this moment—”
Jensen’s hands are shaking and he clenches them to hide it. Jared notices anyway.
Jensen laughs humorlessly. “Yeah, I guess you didn’t realize at the time how close I came to really hurting you. It scared me. So I guess I was just trying to protect myself by keeping at least some distance between us while I waited for the inevitable to happen. And then it did.”
Jared scrapes his chair around the side of the table and forcibly pulls Jensen around to face him, gripping his arms tightly. “Do you ever actually listen to anything I say to you, you stubborn fucker? Just listen to me!”
His breath is hot and beery in Jensen’s face. Jensen tries to pull back but Jared just holds on. “It wasn’t some phase that I was going to grow out of. I am never going to meet a girl that I want to be with. Not ever. You pushed me away and I was stupid enough to let you do it. Do you know how fucking self-fulfilling waiting for the inevitable is?”
Jared draws in a sharp breath and blows it out, his eyes wild. “Ask me to come with you.”
“I said, ask me to come with you, Jensen. All the years you spoke about getting out of here, you never once directly asked me to come with you.”
“But I’m leaving tomorrow,” Jensen says inanely.
Jared rolls his eyes, takes another deep breath and speaks really slowly, enunciating each word. “Ask me to come with you.”
“I can’t. It’s not easy out there. And this is where you belong.”
“I don’t belong anywhere, Jensen. This is just a place. It’ll still be here if I decide to come back. Is it that difficult to just ask?”
“Yeah, it is that difficult.”
“Ask me,” Jared says quietly.
It’s like standing at the edge of a cliff. Surely it can’t be that simple, just a matter of asking for something and then receiving it. It cannot be that easy. Or that difficult. Because putting it into words, making yourself vulnerable like that, throwing yourself off the edge is impossibly difficult. In his mind, Jensen can feel himself backing away from it and he knows that Jared knows he’s doing it because he can see the hesitation and fear written on Jared’s face.
Jensen can’t do this again. He can’t walk away again from this person he has always loved.
“Do you want to come with me, Jared?”
A grin splits Jared’s face and his whole face lights up. “Yes, Jensen, I want to go wherever the fuck you want to go. We can go to the goddamn North Pole if you like.”
Jensen feels light-headed and starts to suspect that maybe he is suffering from a severe head injury. “Okay,” he says.
Some of the light and happiness fades from Jared’s expression. “Are you sure?”
“Yeah, I’m sure.” And he really is. Wanting Jared is one of the few things he’s ever been sure about. “I’m sure,” he says again and leans forward to kiss Jared softly. Jared reaches up and cups his cheek. Jensen hisses in pain.
Jared pulls back, bites his lip, his expression apologetic. “Shit, I’m sorry. You okay?”
Jensen laughs. “Yeah, I’m fine. Just be gentle with me, you Neanderthal. No rough stuff.”
“What the hell made you take on two guys like that?” Jared asks, grinning.
“What, besides the fact that they were homophobic knuckleheads? I guess it was the realization that nothing I ever do will be good enough for my dad.”
Jared’s grin dies away. “He’s a hard man, Jensen. He’ll never be okay with it.”
“But you don’t need his permission to be happy.”
Jensen takes a minute to consider that. He recognizes the truth in it and knows he has spent years trying to compensate for being gay by being really miserable and not allowing himself to have what he wants. “Yeah, I know. You’re right. Are you… are you really serious about coming with me?”
Jared leans forward, clasps his hands and looks him straight in the eye. “Never been more serious about anything in my life.”
Jensen starts to feel embarrassed. “Jesus, are you going to go down on one knee?”
Jared grins. “ Say what now? You want me to go down on you? Here, in the kitchen? On my knees where my family has breakfast every morning. You’re pretty perverted, Jensen.”
Jensen laughs. “It’s not like you haven’t done it before, bitch.”
Jared gives him a look of mock indignation before laughingly saying, “Do you remember that weekend?”
“How could I forget. It was like a fucking sex marathon. I’m pretty sure we did it in every single room in this house.”
Jared’s family had gone away for the weekend to visit some relatives and had left the two of them in the house on their own. Just the weekend before Jared and Jensen had gone camping on the Saturday and Jensen had fucked Jared for the first time. Jensen can remember the ecstatic, frightening intensity of being inside Jared like it was only yesterday. Ever since then he has a weird sort of Pavlovian response to the idea of camping or even the sight of a tent. It’s impossible for him to go into a camping store without getting a hard-on. It’s like some weird fetish.
“I’m pretty sure we broke records.”
Jensen smiles at the memory, “Yeah.”
Jared stands up. “Do you want to come to bed with me, Jensen?”
Jensen matches Jared’s serious expression and nods his head. He stands up and Jared takes his hand. It’s cheesy and sweet, so typical of Jared, and makes Jensen’s heart clench.
They go upstairs to Jared’s room, take off their clothes and lie down next to each other. The light from the lamp next to the bed bathes them in warm light. They take their time. It’s slow and gentle, has to be because Jensen’s hurting in so many places.
Jared seems desperate to touch Jensen everywhere. He tenderly explores Jensen’s body with his hands and mouth until Jensen’s skin feels like it’s singing, sensitized to every little touch and flutter of breath. He’s lost in a haze of sensation when Jared turns him on his side and works him open with wet fingers, nuzzling into his neck as he does it. He slides in and Jensen thinks he might come just like that, but Jared won’t let him, he stills, waiting until Jensen has calmed down and then he starts moving again, just smooth, little thrusts of his hips, buried so deep inside, his arm wrapped around Jensen and their bodies flush against each other, chest to back and hips to ass, their legs and feet entwined.
Jensen’s orgasm draws out long and slow. His entire body flushes with heat, like his skin’s sunburned. Jared’s making these broken, breathy little sounds near his ear and turns Jensen’s face when he starts to come so that he can kiss him as his body jerks and then ripples with the tremors of his release.
Afterwards, just before they fall asleep together, Jensen tells Jared that he loves him and Jared says it back to him, and it feels natural and true and un-embarrassing.
They grin at each other when they wake simultaneously the next morning, and that does feel dorky and embarrassing so Jensen insults Jared’s morning breath and Jared pulls the covers over Jensen’s head before letting off such a terrible fart that Jensen almost throws up.
They’re playful in the shower, teasing and pushing each other, until they’re standing face-to-face jerking each other off with soapy hands and Jensen has this dazed moment of thinking that the line about losing yourself in another person’s eyes or eyes being windows or something is all completely true.
Jared’s big, noisy family turn up just as Jensen’s about to leave and everybody exclaims over his black eye. His mother looks knowingly at the two of them, grins and says, “There you are, Jensen. Just the other night I had this strange dream about you finding your way back to us though a tunnel underground.” His dad looks gruffly pleased, but awkward, so he leaves the room. One of Jared’s little sisters puts her finger in her mouth and pretends to be throwing up so Jared tickles her until she almost cries from laughing.
Jensen has a moment of mild resentment. Jared’s easy disposition comes from his family’s completely laid-back attitude to everything. He remembers an overheard conversation from when he was a kid at some social event when a pursed-lipped mother had whispered something about Jared’s parents being hippy communists when they were young.
“They’re going to miss you,” Jensen says to Jared in the car on the way over to Layla’s to pick up the rental car. He can’t help the hopeful note, like he’s just checking on things for the hundredth time.
“Nah, they’ll be happy to finally get rid of me,” Jared replies and grins casually at him.
They arrange for Jensen to go back to Jared’s house for dinner and then Jared pushes him up against the rental car and kisses Jensen until he’s breathless. He pulls back, gives Jensen a quick kiss on the mouth and another on the end of his nose. “I’ll see you tonight.” He gives Jensen this wide grin and strolls back to his truck.
Lost in thought, Jensen stands there next to the rental for a minute after Jared has driven away.
Yesterday he believed certain things to be true but today those things are no longer his reality. The future stretches wide open in front of him and he has a moment of such intense happiness he thinks his heart might burst.
He quickly gets in the car when he realizes he’s just standing there grinning to himself like a crazy person.
There’s a song on the radio about moving on which encapsulates everything important about anything and he decides it’s the best song he’s ever heard.
He gets back to the house, notices the unknown car in the driveway but he’s still so lost in his head and all the possibilities of tomorrow that he’s not really expecting to find anyone in the kitchen as he walks through the door.
It’s a shock when he sees a slender female figure, silver-gray hair pulled up into bun standing with her back to him over at the sink. He does a double-take. When the woman turns around, he realizes he’s not having visions of seeing his mother’s ghost.
“Hello, Jensen.” Betty Campbell smiles brightly at him. Her silver and seashell earrings project light from the window behind her.
“Hi,” he says, worrying that it sounds prickly without him meaning it to.
“Would you like a cup of coffee?”
It feels a bit weird being offered coffee in his family home by a woman who is not his mom but Jensen nods awkwardly. “Uh, sure.” He sits down at the table and watches her moving easily around the kitchen. She is clearly comfortable in this room.
He accepts the cup from her and she sits down opposite him. “I bet you’re surprised to see me here. I don’t imagine your father has spoken about me, am I right?”
“I’m not completely surprised to see you, no, but you’re right about him not talking about you. I got the idea that you were…uh…friends from someplace else. ”
“I see. And what do you think about that, Jensen?” Her expression is open, warm and honest.
“I think you’re a brave woman, Mrs. Campbell,” he responds dryly.
“You mean stupid and possibly nuts, right?” She puts up a hand when he starts to protest. “That’s okay, Jensen. I’ve been called many things in my life. I’m also a terrible busybody and believe in speaking my mind. So I’m just going to say this whether you like it or not. If your daddy leaves this world and you’re still estranged from him, you will regret that for the rest of your life.”
Jensen isn’t annoyed at her meddling. He can see that she means well. “I hear what you’re saying but it’s a two-way street.”
“No, honey, it isn’t. Not with your dad. Everything only runs in one direction with that man. He was always like that, but he’s gotten worse with the years. You have to be the better man. And you have enough of your mother in you to be the better man.” She laughs at the way that comes out. “I know she struggled some with finding out about you batting for the other team.”
Jensen snorts at her choice of expression.
She taps the side of her coffee cup, runs her finger around the rim. “Sorry, Jensen, I mean you no disrespect. What I’m trying to say is that it was a terrible tragedy she was taken so suddenly from us before she was able to come around to the fact you were never going to marry a nice girl and raise some kids. Because she would have come around to it. She just worried about you, that’s all, but she loved you and she would have wanted you to be happy. We used to talk a lot so I know that’s true.”
“Thank you,” Jensen says, his voice gruff, the thread between his mom and this friend of hers connecting him to the source.
“Are you happy, Jensen?”
Jensen considers the question. “I wasn’t happy yesterday but today I’m feeling hopeful. I think I’m going to be. And that’s why I’m not going to allow his disapproval to stop that from happening.”
“Good for you!” she exclaims, patting the table happily before leaning back in her seat. “I think for some kids they’ve got to get to that point before they can move on with their adult lives. Family life can be full of trial and tribulation, Jensen, I know that. Sometimes it feels like they’re only around to test us. But they’re still family. I’m not asking for a miracle here. I just don’t want you to walk out that door with no intention of ever coming back. Don’t leave here with bitterness between you and your dad. Just phone him occasionally and come back and see him. That’s all. He really very ill, Jensen. And I truly believe the two of you can negotiate your way around this. I know you probably think it’s all or nothing. If he can’t accept that you’re gay, then there’s no place in your life for him. You’re young and that’s how young people think. But life is full of compromise, honey.”
“How come it’s only me doing the compromising, though?
“Did I not just convince you with the whole being-the-better-man argument?”
Jensen smiles. “I can see you’re very experienced in the art of argument. Working on my ego is a pretty smart move. You were doing a good job there.”
She laughs and stands up. “You were always so adorable. Your mother would have been proud of you. I think your daddy is mostly proud of you too. He’s just got some very entrenched ideas in his head. You need to forgive him for that.”
She picks up a handbag from the table and hangs it over her shoulder. “Just think about it, okay? Nothing’s impossible.”
Jensen returns her smile as she leaves, thinking his dad is luckier than he deserves to be.
Later that night, as he sits at the dinner table with Jared’s family, and Jared starts aiming these dirty, leering, eyebrow-waggling expressions at him when nobody’s looking to make him laugh, that’s what Jensen thinks about—that maybe nothing is totally impossible.
Right now, catching Jared’s bright gaze, he feels like anything’s possible.