August 2nd, 2009
The inside of Jensen’s mouth tasted undeniably…pink.
A small part of Jensen’s mind told him that colors didn’t have tastes. That was absurd; sure, people could link colors to taste, but to say that colors themselves had taste? Pure silliness.
Static hissed. Maybe a faulty television.
No. Jensen knew what it was—a radio that was mangled—the tune garbled and rasping out its last breath. He smelled smoke and over the taste of pink—was blood.
The world was spinning, going in and out of focus so fast that Jensen didn’t have a chance to get a good look at anything. All he could lock onto were the details. Asphalt. Flashing lights. The feeling of being hated—and hating himself. He could smell smoke and burning plastic. Someone close choked out a sound and it cut through Jensen, slicing right down to the bone.
He still had the sticky, too-sweet taste of pink in his mouth…
March 1st, 2012
Jensen woke up with a start, his whole body tense and drenched in cold sweat. His lips were parted and his throat was tight like it had been prepping to unleash one hell of a scream. His heart thundered against his ribcage and salty saliva filled his mouth. Jensen glanced over at the clock and groaned when he saw that it was two minutes until six. He shut off his alarm and rolled out of bed.
It wasn’t until he was holding his razor in his fingers that he noticed that his hands were still shaking.
Sighing, Jensen reached for his electric razor and buzzed away all the fuzz that always seemed to spring up after a night’s of restless sleep. It wouldn’t be close enough for his liking, but even when he’d finished his fingers still jerked every so often.
A cheery whistle floated into Jensen’s bathroom and even though adrenalin still had his heart beating overtime, Jensen smiled.
The smell of freshly brewed coffee always made Jensen think of Steve. Every morning without fail, Steve was up making coffee, only the best, for himself. The aroma was strong, reliable, and a comfort—just like Steve. Jensen shuffled into the kitchen as Steve reached his whistling refrain. Jensen made his way to the refrigerator, the cold rush of refreshing him as he took out a carton of orange juice.
Jensen watched as the orange juice left its carton and sloshed into his tall glass. Steve’s coffee’s steam wafted over him as he narrowed his still-sleepy eyes at Jensen.
“I didn’t hear your alarm go off.”
The orange flow stopped, and when the sharp taste of citrus burst over his tongue, Jensen knew it was the right thing to wake him up.
“Nightmare.” Jensen rubbed his eyes, like maybe that would conjure up memories of what had woken him up yet again in such a frightened state. “Don’t remember any of it.” Steve frowned and Jensen could hear the gears in his friend’s head clicking and whirring despite the early hour. The concern was…appreciated, but it still made Jensen’s shoulders tighten up. “Probably for the best. Nightmares aren’t exactly pleasant.”
Steve opened his mouth but Jensen turned quickly, shielding himself with a long slug of orange juice and the pretense of making toast. It wasn’t that Jensen typically blew off his friend’s worry, but he already knew what Steve would say.
Not if you’ve been having them every night for the past month and a half.
What Jensen didn’t have was the guts to tell Steve that it wasn’t a month and a half of nightmares. Jensen let his toast burn, popping up right as spots of black began to spread over the bread. He dropped it onto his plate, the blue chipped one, and began to scrape butter over it. Steve swallowed whatever he’d thought of saying and instead to chose to pinch Jensen’s side.
“Christ, Jen, eat something. You’re a nerd, not a model.”
Jensen jerked away from the slight sting and crunched down on his toast.
“Shouldn’t you be chopping lettuce or something?”
Steve laughed, his blonde hair shaking with his quivering shoulders.
“That’s the beauty of assistants and interns.” Steve tied his hair back, smiling entirely too wide for such an early hour. “America’s Top Chef, baby.” Jensen rolled his eyes, a sharp retort about the fact that Steve had earned that title some time ago withering away behind his teeth when a loud buzz made them both jump. Jensen almost crushed his toast in his fist. Steve’s phone flashed and Jensen let his shoulders gradually lower back down. Steve laughed. “Shit.”
He swiped his phone off the table; and the smile that spread across his face was one that immediately told Jensen that it was Christian. Steve’s thumbs were already flying away on the keypad, typing out a response that was no doubt full of emoticons. Jensen crammed the rest of his toast into his mouth, a muffled goodbye barely making it past the half-chewed mass.
Jensen waved and Steve looked up from his phone.
“Wait, Jen, don’t go on any more midnight pizza runs with Mike. That’s probably what’s screwin’ with your sleep.”
The sound of Steve’s fingers scampering across his phone followed Jensen out the door, and he yawned. He checked his watch and frowned, jogging to the elevator.
A horrible nagging thought scratched and nibbled at the back of his mind. It squeaked and hissed, like a rat gnawing away at his brain cells one by one.
What would Steve do if he knew that Jensen couldn’t remember the last time he hadn’t woken up with his mouth open mid-scream from a nightmare he couldn’t remember?
Mobiles made out of sea glass splashed green and purple across the floor of The Vantoch Teahouse. Jensen walked into the quaint tea and coffee shop just in time to brush past a man in scrubs with a lazy smile, crazy blue eyes, and a piping hot cup of tea. Each one of his steps jingled, but Jensen was too tired to look for a bell.
Vicki caught Jensen’s eyes and smiled.
“Why couldn’t you have been here five minutes earlier?” She exhaled with a dramatic swoon. “He was here and I didn’t have anyone to back me up.”
Jensen dug into his pocket for crumpled singles as Vicki moved behind the counter, taking a teapot out and pouring a custom mixture into a tall cup.
“Who’s he?” All Vicki had to do was glare at him and Jensen’s mouth fell open. “The nurse? That was him?”
Vicki nodded, looking absolutely morose.
“Nurse Hotpants.” Vicki pushed the cup toward Jensen as soon as he gave her the money. “You know…the worst part is that he’s actually cool.” She sighed, running her painted nails through her dark hair. “I almost wish he was a total square, you know?”
The beauty of Vicki’s tea was that she made the blends herself; and Jensen liked to close his eyes and imagine every ingredient that went into them, breaking them down to the bare bones. When he opened his eyes, Vicki was still staring at him.
“I guess.” He lifted his cup. “Thanks, Vicki.”
“No problem.” She waved him off as Jensen slumped into his usual seat, right by the door. “Stay cool, Jensen.”
Jensen sipped his tea, watching the mobile rotate slowly. He didn’t have to wait long before Christian walked briskly through the door. He had a Starbucks cup clenched in his hand, and Vicki crossed her arms. Christian flashed her a crooked smile that would make a cowboy’s heart skip a beat.
“I know, I know, nothing corporate in your place.” He looked over at Jensen. “Let’s go.” Jensen’s knees were already locking, and he spared one look back in time to see Vicki stick her tongue out at Christian’s back. Christian was dressed in slacks, a nice white, button-down shirt, and a black blazer, and even though he was shorter than Jensen he carried himself like a warrior. Well, a warrior who prided himself on hundred dollar ties and slick leather shoes. “No offense, but you look like shit.”
Jensen’s knees popped when he went down the steps into the subway, getting to the subway just as the train was pulling up.
“I haven’t been sleeping well lately.”
Christian slipped on a pair of sunglasses, ones that probably cost more than the shoes. His long dark hair reminded Jensen of shampoo commercials, too shiny and smooth that it couldn’t be real.
Jensen shook his head.
“No. Just…light sleep.”
Jensen rubbed his eyes, and when he took his hand away, he was inside the crisp, sterile lobby.
The thing about not getting enough sleep was that time seemed to melt into one stringy, incoherent mess. Christian’s phone chimed and Jensen wondered why he didn’t just admit that he was going out with Steve. Christian reached out for Jensen’s shoulder without looking away from his phone.
“I’ll see you at lunch, man.”
Christian sauntered away to the Finances and Law division; and Jensen wondered if Christian was in the closet. He turned and walked in the opposite direction, toward the labs.
Revolution Pharmaceuticals was perhaps the biggest pharmaceutical company in the world. The general public wasn’t even aware of how much Revolution was involved their lives. Aspirin, chapstick, even Viagra were all products from the minds of Revolution. The not-so-general public, those who were subscribers to Forbes or scientific journals, knew additionally that Revolution was a monetary and intellectual powerhouse.
Four floors down and five ID card swipes later, the door to Jensen’s lab hissed shut behind him.
The walls were white but had three-dimensional projections of different combinations drifting across them. Jensen took a sip of his tea—there were probably about three more left—when the door hissed open again.
“Make way, make way, the Duke of Erections has arrived!”
Purple converse popped out of skinny jeans as Michael Rosenbaum began to strut across the tile, his white lab coat flowing out behind him. If it wasn’t against the dress code, Jensen was certain that Mike would have sewn on sequins. Jensen picked his head up off his fist, fixing Mike with a semi-concerned frown.
“Do we have a presentation for Viagra today?”
Jensen hated those; Revolution always poured so much money into them and it always came across more like a rock concert than a business meeting. Mike waved his hand like he was trying to disperse Jensen’s negativity.
“No. I wish. They always throw the best parties.” Mike cracked his knuckles as he pulled up holograms of the compounds he was working on. His current project was a better pain reliever for arthritis-related joint pain. It was scheduled to release next year and Jensen already knew that it was going to be a hit. “Let’s get crackin’.”
Jensen turned back to his own slides, to the base poisons he was studying. Mandrake, phytoplankton, and tetrachlorthylene. Jensen smiled and exhaled. It was always his belief that before progress could be made, the study of what hindered said progress was necessary in order to find the way forward.
Pen in hand, Jensen began to plan out a medication that would prevent and in a few years, with much more research and testing, even reverse memory loss.
Life was a series of routines.
Get up, walk three blocks to Vicki’s, ride the subway with Christian, work, take the subway back to SoHo, walk four blocks home, sleep. Hypothesis, research, idea, breakthrough. Work, work, work.
It was around eight o’clock when Jensen pushed open the door to his apartment. He flicked on the light and immediately got an eyeful of Steve and Christian kissing, Steve’s hand tangled in Christian’s hair. Jensen closed the door loudly behind him and Christian tore himself away from Steve so fast that it was funny. Jensen wanted to laugh but the sound didn’t make it past his teeth.
“Relax.” Jensen kicked off his shoes and hung up his coat. “It was obvious.”
Steve crossed his arms, raising his eyebrows at the flustered man in their living room.
“I told you, man. Chill out.”
Christian recovered his composure, though his cheeks were still scarlet. His arms were crossed over his chest and he jutted out his chin out like a pit bull backed into a corner.
“I’m not out at work, Jensen.”
Jensen ran his fingers through his hair.
“Neither am I. Well, I think Mike knows. He doesn’t count.” Jensen wasn’t annoyed about Christian; he was mostly irked about the fact that Steve somehow thought that Jensen couldn’t keep Christian’s secret. He turned to his Californian roommate. “What the hell, man? Why didn’t you tell me?”
Steve shrugged, scratching the back of his neck nervously.
“It’s kinda new, Jenny. And he’s not exactly comfortable with the whole world knowing.” The comment made Christian blow his bangs out of his face, muttering about getting water as he stalked off into the kitchen. Steve waited until Christian had left before he continued. “Besides, you’ve been kind of down lately.”
The first thing Jensen wanted to say was, “Don’t be stupid, I’m not depressed,” but he couldn’t quite commit to the denial. He didn’t want to say that he felt depressed… He just felt like weights were being added to his legs every day. Besides, he had a great job, Steve as a great friend… Jensen had every reason not to be depressed.
Something pressed at the back of his mind, and it felt like an oncoming migraine.
Steve got a weird look on his face, like he was constipated. Jensen knew that face and it just made the sapling migraine throb and twist until it was firmly rooted in his skull. He went into the kitchen, ignoring Christian, and dug through their pantry until he came across Steve’s bottle of Excedrin.
Jensen popped two pills into his mouth, wincing as they dragged down the inside of his throat. He didn’t care that he was technically supporting one of Revolution’s biggest competitors; aspirin didn’t cut it, not for his migraines. He heard Steve come in, speaking softly to Christian, and Jensen knew he couldn’t escape his worried friend. Not in their apartment.
Heaving a resigned sigh, Jensen opened the refrigerator and grabbed a bottle of water.
“You’re not fine. I know you, man.” Jensen turned to face the onslaught like a man, and that was when he saw something odd. Christian stood in the corner, arms crossed and head down. A frown pulled his lips downward—and it wasn’t the frown of a man caught in an awkward situation. Christian looked—frustrated, almost, and when his eyes lifted and caught Jensen’s, he immediately looked away. Steve’s hand closed around Jensen’s wrist, making Jensen shift his attention away from Christian and his weird face. “I’m serious. When’s the last time you cooked something?”
Icy water eased the burn in his throat and Jensen’s shoulders rose.
“I’ve been busy.”
Jensen’s fingers absorbed up the chill from his water. He glanced at Christian, but the strange frown was gone, replaced with awkward, neutral politeness. Steve stood up straight, his feet a good distance apart. Jensen could tell that he’d lost this battle a long time ago.
“You should start dating again.”
“No.” Jensen shook his head as his chest constricted painfully for a reason that he couldn’t pin down. “Steve, I’ll do all the cooking—”
“I’ve already set up a dating profile.” Jensen’s whole body went slack, but not with relief. Steve’s smile was cautious and sheepish. “You really shouldn’t leave your computer out in the open, Jen.”
Jensen bit his lip in order to keep the tsunami of shouting at bay because Christian didn’t deserve to hear it, and he seemed to make Steve happy. Jensen didn’t want to drive him away just yet. He clenched his fists.
“Steve, I swear to God, if I didn’t love you—you’d be a dead man.”
Tense silence grew between them, and then Steve sighed, his head bowed. Watching Steve deflate was akin to watching a sunflower wilt. Jensen knew that Steve did things for him only with the best intentions. He held out his water as a peace offering. Steve smiled and took it, taking a long swig before wiping his mouth with the back of his wrist and giving the water back.
“You’ve got a match.” Steve’s smile got a little brighter and he reached back for Christian’s hand. “We’re gonna go out. You should send your match a message.”
Christian seemed more than happy to leave. The door swung shut and Jensen was alone, his half-empty water bottle in hand.
Congratulations! You have a new match to your profile!
The message seemed to mock him in its simple yet elegant font. Jensen’s leg bounced as he stared at the happy exclamation. His profile was fairly accurate, and Jensen reminded himself to thank Steve for not uploading a picture. Overall, Jensen had to admit that Steve had done a pretty good job portraying him.
His cursor hesitated over the flashing mailbox icon. Jensen took a deep breath, finished his beer, and clicked.
He watched the spinning wheel as the new page loaded.
A profile without a picture appeared. JarPad. All Jensen could gather was that the mysterious JarPad also lived in New York City and that he loved dogs. It was frustrating, but also a comfort to know that the website took privacy seriously.
Spreading his fingers over the keys, Jensen began to type.
My friend set up this account for me and it looks like we’ve been “matched.” I don’t actually want to date anyone. I’m not saying this to be rude or anything, but I figured I would message you first before there was a misunderstanding.
Good luck finding a match.
Before he could second-guess himself, Jensen clicked Send. He got up and left his laptop out in the living room as he slipped into the bathroom, turning on the shower.
With his clothes piled in a heap on the floor, Jensen stepped under the spray. He half-heartedly massaged shampoo into his scalp. He hoped that JarPad wouldn’t be too mad; at least Jensen had been polite. He closed his eyes, leaning into the spray. Keeping his eyes closed, Jensen let his hand wander down his abdomen, redirecting streams of water. His breath came out in misty puffs and he idly brushed his fingers lower—
The migraine’s terrible weight returned and Jensen jerked his hand back up, fumbling to turn off the power.
Jensen dragged his hand down his face, wiping water from his eyes. He rubbed his temples, wrapping a towel loosely around his waist before shuffling out to the living room. Jensen didn’t mean to look at his laptop, but his gaze happened to pass over it before he went into his room.
He had a new email.
Jensen paused, then huffed and sat down, clicking on the new message.
What loaded made Jensen’s eyes widen with surprise.
Haha, that’s funny; my sister set up my account. It looks like we both have meddling friends. I’m not really interested in dating either, but would you mind if we kept emailing? As long as I tell her I am she’ll be happy.
It would mean a lot to me. Even a blank email would be better than nothing.
Water dripped down Jensen’s cheek, his face illuminated by the light from the screen. He wiped his hands off on his towel before he stretched his fingers over the keyboard.
That night, Jensen barely got any sleep. He kept tossing and turning, fading in and out of consciousness. When he glanced at the clock and saw that it was ten after five, he got up.
In his boxers and worn t-shirt, Jensen opened the refrigerator. He got out a carton of eggs, onions, sausage, and green peppers. Jensen breathed deeply as he diced up the green peppers and sausage. It was satisfying to wield the knife with the cutting board under his other hand.
His frying pan, shallow and stainless steel, felt good in his hand, and as he watched the butter melt across it, something inside of him relaxed.
Cooking was just like chemistry; it was all about finding the right compounds and bonds to create a great and satisfying taste. Jensen cracked open four eggs and whisked them together in a green bowl. He spun the spice rack until he found the dried slivers of garlic and sprinkled some in, following them with a dash of salt and pepper.
He poured the eggs with all the add-ins into the pan; the resulting sizzle was like an hour-long massage condensed into a few seconds. Jensen’s lips curled up into an easygoing smile as watched the eggs bubble and get fluffy.
After a beat, slow claps and a low whistle sounded from the doorway. Jensen jumped, whirling around to find a groggy Steve leaning against the doorframe.
“You know, I was only semi-serious about the cooking thing.” Steve yawned, his bare feet shuffling against the files as he slowly made his way to Jensen’s side. “Christ, you made a feast.”
Fighting past the adrenalin, Jensen shoved Steve.
“Jesus, you scared me.”
Steve shrugged and took the spatula to flip the omelet.
“I woke up and smelled somethin’ good coming from the kitchen.” Steve opened one of the drawers and pulled out his lucky apron. “Move over, I’m makin’ waffles.”
The aroma of great food filled the kitchen. Jensen and Steve worked side by side, passing utensils and bowls back and forth without hesitation. By the end the entire counter flourished with breakfast food. Scrambled eggs and omelets, waffles, bacon, and orange juice. Steve lifted his fork to clang it against Jensen’s and they were off, eating up their hard work.
Soon, Jensen was stuffed and Steve leaned back in his chair, his hands resting on his stomach.
“Buh.” Steve grinned. “I won’t have to eat for a week.”
Jensen licked his lips and smiled a little.
Jensen slid off the bar stool, walking back to his room. He picked a pair of jeans up off the floor, sniffing them to make sure they weren’t too rank before he put them on. He dug through the closet for a nice shirt and was halfway through pulling it over his head when Steve’s voice floated in from the kitchen.
“So was your match any good?”
With his arms stretched up over his head and his shirt bunched up around his shoulders, Jensen paused. He quickly shoved his shirt onto his body and slipped on his sneakers. Steve was pulling his hair back, his hair tie hanging from his teeth.
Jensen grabbed his laptop and slipped it into his bag, smiling in a way that seemed natural.
“It was interesting.” Steve quirked his eyebrows and Jensen rolled his eyes. “I’ll see how it goes. I’m neutral.”
Steve spat the hair tie out into one hand, swiftly fixing his hair into a firm ponytail.
“That breakfast wasn’t neutral, Jenny.”
Jensen tugged on his coat and left, but not before flipping Steve off.
Thanks for helping me out I know I could lie but I’m really bad at it. Is it technically still a lie? Well, whatever.
My sister stopped by to make me breakfast this morning. I shouldn’t have been surprised that it was a hot pocket…but I was looking forward to Eggo waffles. Oh well.
Cheetahs can run up to sixty-five miles per hour.
At least these emails can be educational.
The email came in at eight. At the time, Jensen had been in the subway with Christian, but he opened his laptop in the lab at nine thirty and clicked on it immediately.
He snorted at the cheetah fun fact. A small crash made Jensen jerk his head up.
“Oh my shit, I thought you were choking.” Mike clutched at his heart theatrically. “You’re not choking, are you?”
“No.” There were days Jensen had to remind himself that Doctor Michael Rosenbaum was handily considered a genius in their field. It looked like today was one of those days. “I was laughing.”
Mike relaxed, grinning.
“I don’t know which is more terrifying: you choking, or you laughing.”
Jensen raised his eyebrows, leaning back a little.
“How is me laughing scary?”
“Easy, dude. Geniuses laughing is a pretty big sign that they’re about to become mad scientists.”
Jensen narrowed his eyes.
“Mike…you laugh all the time.”
As if to prove Jensen’s point, Mike threw his head back, his boisterous giggles filling up the lab. He wiped his eyes, winking at Jensen.
“Yeah. And I’m a mad scientist.” Mike waggled his eyebrows, lowering his voice. “Come over to the dark side, padi-wan. We have cookies. And hunky sidekicks.”
Jensen rolled his eyes. He turned back to his laptop, the cursor blinking.
Hot pockets are not a part of a nutritious breakfast. This isn’t my educational fact but that doesn’t make it any less true.
My breakfast was an assortment of omelets, waffles, and bacon. Usually it’s tea and toast but I woke up early so I treated my roommate and myself.
Gold is from supernovas that condensed and exploded at the beginning of the universe.
A brief feeling of genuine excitement bubbled up in Jensen’s stomach when he clicked send.
It took a while for JarPad to respond, and in that span of time Jensen had almost completely filled up his side of the wall with all sorts of chemical bonds and compounds; red for detrimental, blue for possible cures. Mike preferred to work on the computer, but Jensen had to do his calculations by hand. There was something about the feeling of a marker sliding against the wall that just made Jensen feel like he was getting something done.
Jensen was halfway through a salami sandwich when his computer blipped. There was another email, JarPad’s response.
Is that true?
(Hyperthymesia is the phenomenon when someone can remember every moment of his or her life, including birth!)
Jensen’s lips twitched and he quickly typed out a response.
Yeah. One of my professors in college opened the class with that fact.
(One of the effects of cyanide besides death is that it turns the blood purple.)
Just over a minute passed before JarPad’s next email appeared.
Lucky you. One of my classes opened with our professor threatening to slice open our Achilles tendons if we ever messed a lecture.
(Everything, unless it’s a feather or paper, falls to earth at a rate of 9.8 meters per second per second.)
A lump of chewed salami caught in the back of Jensen’s throat and a coughing fit overwhelmed the laughter that threatened to pass his lips. He recovered and began to type.
Really? That’s basic physics—and also the only real physics fact I can remember from high school.
(The statue of David isn’t perfect; there is one vertebrae missing.)
Even though the sun was too bright and people bumped into him in the subway, Jensen couldn’t help smiling on the way home. Even the smell of smoke, rotting garbage, and cat piss didn’t seem as disgusting as it usually did. Instead, he let his laptop bag swung form his shoulder as he wondered what JarPad’s response would be. He almost began to hum during the elevator ride up to his apartment.
Steve had left a note on the refrigerator that said he was spending the night with Christian. Jensen flopped down on his bed, pulling out his laptop.
Whatever, man. Thinking up random facts is harder than I thought and I was never a huge Snapple fan. There, that’s a fact.
Jensen had a schedule; he wasn’t without things to do. He had to shower, put away clean dishes, and get around to dinner whether he cooked or called in yet another order of Chinese. He smiled at the curt email and hit Reply.
It’s the sentiment that counts. Fact.
This time, he didn’t have to wait more than fifteen seconds for JarPad’s reply.
My name is Jared.
I’m Jensen. He paused, not quite ready to hit Send. He held his tongue between his teeth as he continued to type. Should I order out or cook dinner?
He watched the letter icon blink, the enveloped sealing as it flew through cyberspace to Jared’s inbox. He drummed his fingers over his stomach and closed his eyes; the little electronic tone signaling a new email was like a crystal bell amidst the hysteria of the city. Jensen smiled.
Jensen used to be a morning person. He remembered that he had been able to easily wake up at five easily and feel refreshed and ready to face the day. Just over three years ago, Jensen hadn’t had dark circles under his eyes and a thin stomach lining with periodic ulcers.
He woke up drenched in sweat and he immediately ran into the bathroom, dropping roughly to his knees and squeezing his eyes shut, dry-heaving and trembling above the toilet bowl.
Nothing came up. It rarely did. Jensen fell back, raking his hand through his hair. His fingers were still shaking and he had the strangest too-sweet taste in his mouth. He smacked his lips together, trying to get rid of it, but it was useless.
After a few semi-calming minutes, Jensen was able to get back up on his feet. He went to wipe his eyes and felt how wet his face was. He pulled his hand away, going to the mirror.
Sure enough, his eyes were puffy and bloodshot.
When Jensen staggered back to his bedroom, he saw that it was three in the morning. His heart was still pounding, and Jensen resigned himself to remaining conscious. He lugged his laptop to the kitchen and decided to shift his focus onto what recipe he should type up for his morning email to Jared.
Jensen tugged at his purple tie, fidgeting where he sat in the Revolution corporate lobby. Mike was also in a blazer and slacks, though he was much more relaxed because Michael Rosenbaum was more than a little insane. Jensen checked his watch for the seventeenth time in the past ten minutes and Mike groaned, his head falling back.
“Fuck you, Mike.”
Mike rolled his eyes, his face scrunched up into a frustrated scowl.
“It’s not the first time you’ve been evaluated. Christ, we’re both awesome; we know it and so does Kripke.”
Jensen glared at Mike.
“Abrams is going to be there too, asshole.”
Suddenly Mike’s calm confidence evaporated and the blood in his face drained away until he was paler than an albino ghost.
“Since the email Revelation sent out this morning. Everyone got it.”
“But nobody reads those!”
The secretary, who had been diligently ignoring them, glanced up with a professionally bored expression on her face.
“Mr. Ackles, Eric and JJ are ready for you.”
Jensen stood up, brushing off his knees, and Mike began looking himself over, scrambling to pick lint balls off his jacket.
“Shit, shit, shit, this has a fucking stain on the sleeve!”
The secretary’s lips pulled down into an annoyed frown as she ushered Jensen through the smoky glass doors that led to the founders of Revolution Pharmaceuticals. Mike’s fretting got softer and softer, and Jensen took a deep breath before pushing open the door to Kripke’s office, affectionately termed “the dragon’s lair.”
Everyone who knew anything about the legal drug business knew the names Eric Kripke and JJ Abrams. Eric was a miracle worker with money; even during the economic fallout, Revolution’s stock hadn’t so much as wavered. He was financially creative and in charge of all things marketing. JJ was a whole different phenomenon altogether; his skills lay in chemistry. If Jensen and Mike were considered geniuses (and they were), then JJ was God.
“Hey, Jensen. Have a seat.”
Eric was enthusiastic, as he always seemed to be. He waved Jensen in, oozing energy. Usually, a quarterly review was done by Eric alone in his office, and more often than not it ended up in a conversation about whatever fantasy sports team the company was operating at the time. But this time, another man sat in Kripke’s chair. He had curly dark hair, glasses with thick black frames, and a stare that could slice through diamonds.
Side effects of meeting JJ Abrams for the first time include but are not limited to: light-headedness, dizziness, irrational giddiness or anxiety, sweating palms, light nausea, and the sensation of staring into Paradise.
JJ got up, and Jensen’s first thought was, “He’s shorter than I imagined.” He moved with a grace that made Jensen’s head spin, and he held out his hand.
“It’s great to finally meet you, Jensen. I’ve heard a lot about you.”
When Jensen slid his hand into JJ’s, he saw stars.
“U-um, it’s great to meet you too, sir.”
“Please,” JJ smiled like it was no big deal, “call me JJ.”
Jensen managed to nod; if he’d tried to speak he would have ended up wheezing. Luckily, he remembered that he could sit, so he did. JJ and Kripke sat on the edge of Eric’s desk, side by side. Eric drummed his fingers on his knee, his one foot swinging, bumping against the wood to a frantic beat.
“So, what’s the latest, Jensen?”
It took a considerable amount of effort to tear his eyes away from JJ long enough to answer.
“I’ve made considerable headway with the memory strengthening drug; by the end of the month, I should have at least five formulas ready for testing.”
Eric clapped his hands together once.
“Awesome. Sounds great, fantastic.”
JJ adjusted his glasses, leaning forward.
“What’s your process? If you don’t mind my asking.”
Jensen’s mouth was bone dry and he had to take a moment to clear his throat.
“I like to study poisons, so I’ve been working with phytoplankton, mandrake, and tetrachlorthylene.”
“Oh, working backwards.” JJ smiled. “I like that. If I’m working on a tougher project, I like to start at the cause, too.”
While Jensen’s mind was somewhere in the stratosphere, Eric’s brain began to run wild. The only way Jensen could tell was that Eric leapt up and began to pace.
“We’ll release it with a new and improved Celebrex, that one’s been due for an update for a while. The fifty-five to sixty-five market is gonna go nuts.”
Eric faded into marketing and advertisement jargon. JJ sat back, a bemused curl on his lips. His eyes slid to peer at Jensen from behind his glasses.
“We should grab a diet Coke sometime.”
“Really?” Jensen immediately wanted to swallow his words, and JJ had the decency to laugh. “I mean, yeah.”
Eric waved his hand, ending the intense debriefing.
“All right, Ackles, you’re done. Keep up the awesome work!”
Jensen floated out of the corporate division. He slipped his hand into his pocket, sliding his phone open so he could immediately fire out a text to Jared.
Out of the big meeting. It went really well. Have you left for the conference yet?
Christian came out of the elevator and waved at Jensen. Jensen waved back and slowed down as the corporate lawyer made his way over. In the meantime, Jensen’s phone chimed.
Not yet, still saying goodbye to my pups. I hate leaving them.
“How did the meeting go?” Christian smiled, and it didn’t have as much strained politeness as it had before; only a small bit remained. “JJ is pretty cool.”
Describing JJ as “pretty cool” was an atrocity of an understatement and it was only because Steve liked Christian so much that Jensen bit his tongue. He nodded.
Jensen didn’t know what to say in order to continue the conversation, so he just stayed silent. He watched Christian’s shoulders tighten with every passing second, but Jensen honestly couldn’t think of anything to say. It wasn’t that he didn’t like Christian; he was sure that he was a fine guy, and he must be one of the best lawyers or else Revolution wouldn’t have him.
Still, Christian had started talking to Jensen out of the blue a few years ago. Research and corporate never mixed, and yet Christian had somehow managed to seek Jensen out. For what, Jensen wasn’t sure, but he did know that it didn’t feel like a coincidence. Christian sucked in a breath, tucking a few locks of hair behind his ear.
“Well, I’ll, uh, see you around. Tell Steve I, um, I said hey.”
Christian booked it, never looking back. Jensen rolled his eyes and slid his phone back open.
Jensen knew quite a few things about Jared, considering he’d never met the man. He knew he was a physical therapist and worked mostly with children. He loved dogs and had two. His sister was heading off to college soon. He loved food but couldn’t cook worth a damn, and when he got a song stuck in his head, he sang it around the hospital until everyone felt his pain.
Some of the subtler things Jensen knew about Jared were that he was really funny and actually seemed to get Jensen’s weird sense of humor. He took a genuine interest in Jensen’s love of chemistry. Jensen didn’t know if it was weird that he looked forward to hearing from Jared every time he woke up.
It was a Friday when things went to the next level.
Jensen’s foot had been bouncing all day. Jared’s conference was over and he had to take a plane home. Jensen kept bouncing away until Mike chucked a Sharpie at him and told him to chill out. Then, a few seconds later, Steve texted him to tell him to chill the fuck out and to fill him in on what was up when he got home. Jensen looked up fast enough to see Mike tucking his cell phone away. Even though he had been caught texting Steve, Mike still had a smug, victorious smile stretched across his face.
As soon as the clock struck five, Jensen beat Mike to the door. When his phone chimed, Jensen almost dropped it, he’d taken it out so fast.
Hey, just landed. I’m beat, so I’m afraid the big low down is going to have to wait until tomorrow. I’ll give you a little teaser: Drinking games with anatomy charts are awesome.
Jensen broke into a smile that didn’t taste sour. When he typed, he had to backspace due to the fact that his fingers were shaking and pressing the buttons more than once.
That’s not fair, making me wait for such an obviously fantastic tale about what happens when nerds get drunk.
Jensen burst out of Revolution, breathing in the city air deeply.
You’re one to talk. You probably take drink mixing way too seriously.
Jensen rolled his eyes, even though Jared couldn’t see it.
Whatever. Get some rest and maybe I won’t feel so gypped tomorrow.
Usually, their texting bursts ended like that, and so after the short ride on the subway, Jensen was surprised to see a new message waiting for him.
Want to meet up over coffee?
Jensen’s heart decided to take a long vacation in this throat. He only managed to respond once he was in the elevator.
Like a date?
The walk from the elevator to the door had never felt so long in his life. With each step Jensen wondered if he’d finally crossed the line, if he’d managed to fuck up this awesome, easygoing relationship. Then his phone chimed.
I like the way you think ;)
Steve opened the door and his eyes widened.
“Holy shit, what happened?”