There were days when Jensen couldn’t move.
Okay, “couldn’t” was the wrong word; Jensen was well aware that his body was fully capable of rolling out of bed and walking around the apartment. Still…there were days that even that small expense of energy seemed colossal. So Jensen stayed in bed; he had plenty of sick days to spend.
Jared was talking to him again, and he never brought up their disastrous first date. It was like it had never happened, like it was all just a bad dream. Jensen knew it wasn’t a dream because Jared didn’t joke with him anymore, and if he did laugh, he acted like it was an accident.
That, and Jensen never remembered his dreams. Well, nightmares.
Jensen’s phone chimed from the bedside table.
He ignored it in favor of remaining absolutely still, paying attention to his breathing and how his heartbeat seemed as lazy as Jensen was. Then again, Jensen had a tendency towards the dramatic, according to Steve.
When his phone chimed again, he grunted and slapped at the side table. His phone bounced onto his mattress and Jensen squinted against the electric light. He had two new texts.
I tried to make your snicker doodle recipe for my friend Chad. They turned out terrible.
Can’t tell if it’s the recipe or me.
Jensen might have been reading too much into it, but the second text felt like a dig at Jensen. He sat up, frowning as his thumbs flew over the keys.
Aren’t you at work?
The reply only took seconds.
Yeah, but they let me use the kitchen. Now I’ve got a bunch of failed cookies.
Jensen could bond elements and recite poisons and antidotes in his sleep, but his everyday logic sometimes took a vacation. He could have just texted Jared that maybe if wasn’t such a lousy cook, he wouldn’t be so confounded by a simple recipe. Or, if he wanted to go for the “nice” approach, than he could have simply replied with a frowning emoticon.
Instead, Jensen got dressed, brushed his teeth, and went to the farmer’s market. He bought all the snicker doodle ingredients and it was as though as soon as he paid for the hand-churned butter, the glass doors of the hospital were sliding open and he was stepping inside.
Jensen froze as the insanity of what he was doing caught up with him like a runaway train. He began to turn around when he heard softly twinkling bells, and then a hand closed over his shoulder. Jensen sucked in a breath and he whirled around, irrational panic overwhelming his body.
Misha held up his hands, a charming smile on his face.
“Whoa. Just saying hello.” Misha bowed. “Hello.”
The bags in his hands were too heavy and his heart was beating too fast for Jensen to get a grip on what was going on. That, and a male nurse had just bowed to him like that was completely normal.
“Hi.” Jensen looked at the closing glass doors. “I, uh, shouldn’t—”
“What’s in the bag?” Misha peered in without waiting for permission and lit up at the contents. “Oh, did Jared tell you to come in for another shot at the cookies? I’ve been seriously craving some. Come on, I’ll show you our floor.”
Jensen found himself being led into an elevator; Misha tapped his foot, each beat sprinkled with a merry jingle. When the doors opened again, Jensen was overwhelmed by the smell of rubbing alcohol and the painfully bright fluorescent lights. Misha waved at people Jensen didn’t know, other nurses and doctors, and then Jared was coming out of a room.
In his jeans and white coat, he was like a pin-up. Jared turned, Misha’s name on his lips, when he saw Jensen. The carefree smile that Jensen had imagined before their first date vanished, replaced by a worried crease between his eyebrows.
“Jensen?” It was times like those that reminded Jensen why he didn’t go out and try to meet people anymore. “What are you doing here?”
Misha must have figured out that Jensen was a freak because he didn’t say anything; he just rocked back on his heels so his silver bells chimed. Jensen’s arms ached from holding the bags and he should have excused himself, said he was sorry, but his brain betrayed him.
“There’s nothing wrong with the recipe.” Jensen lifted the bags a little. “I’ll show you.”
Jared’s frown deepened, and Jensen wished he’d never found the energy to get out of bed. His face itched, he hadn’t shaved, and he knew that his eyes were red and had dark circles under them. He probably looked awful. Misha cleared his throat, a bright smile illuminating his stupidly handsome face.
“The kitchen is free, right?” When Jared directed his frown at Misha, the Bohemian snorted. “What? I’m hungry.”
Jared put his hands in his pockets.
“Yeah, okay.” Those hazel-green eyes shifted back to Jensen and his bags. “But I’m leaving Chad with you because he seems to think that he’s my only patient.”
Jensen nodded. What Jared had said was perfectly reasonable.
Chad Michael Murray, better known as “The CMM,” was a professional blogger who claimed to be a voice for all underground artists. He found Adele before anyone else and he’d had a huge following ever since.
He’d also broken his ankle. Jared said that Chad had helped his grandmother move a bookshelf but it toppled and Chad had managed to get her out of the way before it crashed down on his ankle. Chad said he broke his ankle while trying an expert Kama Sutra position with “a hot chick with the biggest tits you’ve ever seen.” Jared said that Chad was lying, and Jensen wondered: What kind of douchebag lies about saving his grandmother’s life?
“Do you think a girl’s tits affect her singing?” Chad scratched at the golden stubble on his face, squinting at his iPod as Jensen closed his eyes and focused on measuring the flour by feeling the weight of it in his hands. “I mean, what if they inhibit her ability to breathe deep, to, you know, belt it? Maybe she could if all that tit wasn’t getting in the way.”
Jensen grabbed a serving spoon that would have to cut it as a mixing utensil and poured in the eggs. He didn’t mind the ache in his arms if it was for cooking.
“I mean, it’s not like guys with big dicks can’t sing. Usher is a great example, that man’s cock is a masterpiece.” Jensen sampled the cookie dough. It was delicious. “If Beyoncé had a dick, it would be massive.”
The next step was shaping the cookies and quickly mixing the glaze that he’d drizzle on later. Jensen liked cooking because it was exactly like chemistry; everything had an order, an equation where the end result was, when Jensen was the one solving it, delectable. He liked that he could follow a set of directions and have a successful result.
With all the things that Jensen constantly did wrong, the few things that he could do right were something to be savored. Some people practiced deep meditation; Jensen cooked.
Chad’s grating voice faded into silence, and Jensen lost himself in the best batch of snicker doodle cookies to ever grace the stark and neglected hospital kitchen. He felt like a conductor directing the heat, the flour, the sugar, all of it working together to make something beautiful.
He was finally in control of something.
The timer let out a merry ding and Jensen bent his knees, his hoodie wrapped around his hands in order to protect them as he pulled out the cookie sheets. He slipped them on the counter and heard the strangest thing.
Jensen turned, confused, to see Chad, Misha, Jared, and a crowd of kids all clapping. Chad crossed his arms, his good foot bouncing on the ground.
“That was grade-fuckin’-A shit right there.”
Jared rolled his eyes.
The blogger’s mature response was to flip Jared off, making the kids giggle. Jensen knew his cheeks were bright red, his neck and ears all pink and splotchy. When he spoke, his voice was high and cracked all over the place.
“I didn’t know you were watching.”
Misha waggled his eyebrows, his ankles ringing.
“We weren’t at first, but then…”
He winked and Jensen kind of wanted to die. He looked to Jared for help, and Jared had a strange, sheepish expression.
“You’re, um…” He scratched the back of his head. “You’re really good.” Jared cleared his throat. “You didn’t even use measuring cups.”
“I don’t need them,” Jensen said quickly. “I know how the right amounts feel.”
Jared’s mouth was doing some weird thing like it really, really wanted to smile. Before Jared could respond, a little girl with her arm in a cast tugged on his jacket.
“Can we have cookies now?”
Whatever expression Jared had been contemplating allowing his face to make was gone when he looked down at his patients.
Children surrounded Jensen, and he felt like a king or a deity who they all revered. Jensen wrapped the cookies in paper napkins, handing one out to each child so he could do a quick estimation of whether there were enough for seconds. He met Colin, a boy who’d broken his leg and needed to get used to being able to walk with it again. Then there was Anna, who’d lost an eye and had to adjust to her new depth perception. Jensen felt like an asshole, giving the kids cookies when they deserved a whole lot more.
Chad reached for another cookie and Jensen slapped his hand away. He didn’t feel that bad for Chad.
After all the cookies were gone and the crumbs were cleaned up, Jensen allowed himself to take Chad’s seat. Chad kicked at Jensen with his uninjured foot.
“Asshole, get out of my seat.”
Jensen watched Jared’s hand shoot down and pinch Chad’s side, making the blonde shriek.
“You need to be on your feet anyway.”
Chad sneered but did head off, his crutches clicking against the tiles; Jensen listened to him mutter as he hobbled away.
It took Jensen a few seconds to realize that he was alone in the kitchen with Jared. Jared watched Chad go with a tired smile, and then he turned to Jensen. It was like all the air had been sucked out of the room; suddenly, it was impossible to breathe as Jensen jumped up from his chair to get to the sink.
“I’ll, um, start cleaning up.”
Hot water sloshed into the metal mixing bowl and Jensen couldn’t find a sponge. He reached for the soap, but it was gone, where did it go…?
“Here,” Jared had the soap and a wadded-up paper towel in his hands, “let me help.”
Jared rolled up his sleeves, white suds gathering between his fingers, and helped clean. Jensen hated that his heart stuttered every time Jared’s shoulder brushed against his. He hated that Jared’s arms looked fantastic, subtle muscles under tan skin, and he hated that he wanted Jared to like him.
With the two of them, it took no time to clean up at all.
“Don’t you work today?”
Jensen jumped a little at Jared’s voice.
“I called in sick.”
“No.” Jensen didn’t want Jared to think that he’d been feeding the kids germ-infested treats. “No, I just didn’t really feel like going in.”
Jared had been drying his hands, and when he looked at Jensen, his lips were curled into a crooked smile. It wasn’t easygoing; in fact, it made Jared look tense, but like he was truly trying. Jensen’s stomach clenched at the sight of it.
“Well…thanks for coming to make cookies.”
Jensen shrugged, wiping his hands off on his jeans.
“Anytime.” Jensen grabbed his bags. “How does your weekend look?”
Jared walked him to the elevator, and Jensen wondered if he was doing it because he wanted to, or because he had to. Jared pushed the down button for him, rocking back on his heels.
“Probably just microwaving a few mini pizzas and watching the game.” Jensen’s breath tripped because—well, because microwaving anything for nutritional sustenance was blasphemy in his and Steve’s apartment. “What?”
“Nothing.” Jared raised his eyebrow and Jensen sighed. “That’s just gross.”
“Yeah, well, I can’t cook.”
The elevator opened and Jensen stepped inside. He hit the button for the lobby. Jared raised his hand, not really a wave but more than Jensen had hoped for. He returned the gesture just as the doors closed, the taste of snicker doodles still on his tongue.
Revolution Pharmaceuticals was an independent company that was in no way affiliated with any government. Their goal was to heal and relieve pain for all those who were ill. That was on the website and was on every pamphlet.
What the general public wasn’t aware of was that tucked away in a cabinet in an underground lab, there were medications that would easily have fit into a dystopian novel. In order to understand how to cure the chaos of deterioration, the knowledge of how to harness it was necessary. Jensen was the mastermind behind most of the formulae, little bottles full of death and pain. His personal collection of homemade poisons.
Jensen stood before the white vault in his lab. Only his personal ID card would open it up. In there, in that cabinet of doom, was a path to some of the greatest discoveries in modern science. For every pill that induced seizures there was a pill to prevent it. For every dose of joint deterioration, there was relief for arthritis.
Green eyes swept over the collection to find that one was missing.
A drug that induced retrograde amnesia should have been there, right on the end next to the orange pills that dissolved bone marrow.
It was gone.
Jensen hadn’t opened the vault in years; he never had the need to. He’d finished developing the symptom for the memory loss cure three years ago. He didn’t have a new project yet—but his first step was gone.
He was out of the labs and into Kripke’s office in a matter of minutes. He hadn’t made an appointment, as the secretary kept shouting at him, but Jensen didn’t have time for appointments. He closed the door, and Kripke looking up from the call he was on. He took in Jensen’s shortness of breath, light perspiration, and flushed cheeks and turned back to his phone.
“I’m going to have to put you on hold.” Kripke pushed a button and hung up on whoever he was on call with, immediately giving Jensen his undivided attention. “What’s up?”
“One of my poison samples is gone.” Jensen wrung his hands, panic growing in his chest. “I know you know what I’m talking about because you know everything. The retrograde amnesia pills are gone.”
Eric frowned and immediately began typing away on his computer.
“When was the last time you checked them?”
“I don’t know.” Jensen ran his fingers through his hair. “A long time ago, it took a while to get past the memory deterioration and to find a way to measure it. But only I have the access to the vault, why would I give it away—?”
“Ah, according to the records, before today, you accessed the vault just over three years ago. In your report, you said that you were getting outside analysis. The personal code belongs to…” Kripke’s fingers flew across the keyboard, each click making Jensen’s shoulders tighten a little more. “Christian Kane.”
Jensen’s vision was overcome with the color red and he was already out the door when Kripke called after him.
Corporate and research never mixed. There was no need to, but that didn’t mean that Jensen didn’t know where Christian’s office was. He stormed past another flustered secretary and slammed the door behind him. Christian was putting down his phone, and his eyes widened once he saw Jensen. He opened his mouth but Jensen spoke first, not interested in hearing any of Christian’s bullshit.
“Where’s my sample, asshole? Whatever ‘research’ you’ve been doing for the past three years is over.”
Christian’s mouth was slack; he fumbled on his bookshelf, removing a binder and reaching into the empty space. He took out a pill bottle and Jensen snatched it out of his hand. He inspected every detail; it looked like it hadn’t been touched in a long time, a thick layer of dust coming away on his fingers. Christian stood up, looking like he wished he was closer to Jensen’s height.
“Shut up.” Jensen made a small sigh of relief as he pocketed the pills. “Just…shut up.” Jensen glared at Christian. “I don’t know how you got into my lab, I don’t know how you got into the vault; but if you ever do it again I swear it will be the last thing you do here at Revolution.” Razor-sharp silence impaled Christian Kane’s office. Jensen slowly caught his breath, not once looking away from the lawyer’s gruff face. “Are we clear?”
Jensen was so angry that he could barely speak, let alone string an eloquent sentence together. Jensen stalked out of Christian’s office, his head throbbing and his fingers itching for Excedrin. He was still shaking when he got back to the lab, and Mike was talking to him, asking him what was wrong, but his voice sounded too soft, like he was underwater. Everything was muted and the world was numb as Jensen put the pills back in their rightful place, next to all the other nightmarish concoctions that needed to be locked away.
As soon as the vault’s door closed, sound and feeling came back into the world and Mike was shaking him by the shoulders.
“Fuck, Jensen, are you okay?” Mike’s hot breath washed over Jensen’s face and his automatic response was to recoil. “Dude?”
“I’m fine.” Jensen gently but firmly pushed Mike away. “Took care of it.”
Mike didn’t believe him, Jensen could tell. But Jensen’s phone chimed, and he didn’t have time to back up his claim as he checked the message.
So my microwave broke. Looks like I’m having PB&J for dinner.
Jensen was still trembling and a weird rush of impulsiveness overtook him, as if all that released rage had given him a weird emotional high. He typed back quickly.
Or I could come over and make you a pizza.
If the pills hadn’t been missing and if Jensen hadn’t almost dissolved into a panic attack, he never would have sent such a forward and possibly flirtatious text. But he was coming down off all that stress, and he didn’t give a shit about anything that wasn’t in his lab. For example, Jared’s weird former-hatred-turned-hesitant friendship with him. His phone chimed in his hand.
How does 7 sound?
Jensen thought it sounded great. It only took a few moments for Jared to text him his address.
An anger high couldn’t last forever, and by the time Jensen knocked on Jared’s apartment door, it was completely gone. He swallowed nervous bile and wondered what he’d been thinking when he’d offered to make Jared dinner. Then the door opened.
Jared was in sweats and a t-shirt, instantly making Jensen feel overdressed in his dark jeans and button-down shirt. Jared coughed awkwardly, moving to the side.
“Come on in.”
Jensen stepped forward, trying not to panic when Jared closed the door behind him. Jared’s apartment was…nice. Not that Jensen had thought it would be bad, but it was…discreetly upscale. The furniture was modern; each room looked like it was about to be photographed for a catalogue. For someone who didn’t cook, the kitchen had a lot of expensive tools that were almost as good as Steve’s.
It was very bizarre and Jensen wished he could ask where Jared had found the money to buy all of it. Instead, he set his bags down on the black marble countertop and turned back to Jared.
“Do you want to know how to do this?”
Jared sat down on a barstool, his elbows resting on the table.
“You can tell me, but I’m a lost cause when it comes to cooking, so don’t expect me to be able to recreate any of it.”
Jensen took out the pre-made dough and began to roll it out. He felt Jared watching him, an itching prickle on the back of his neck, but Jensen found that if he just kept thinking about the pizza, he didn’t notice it as much. So he lathered on the oil and diced up the mozzarella and tomato. He sprinkled on bits of sausage and feta with green peppers and slid it into the oven, feeling confident in his creation. He closed his eyes, picturing the heat bringing all of the ingredients together—
Cold water washed over Jensen’s hands and Jared wasn’t sitting down anymore; he was right next to him at the sink. This time was slightly less awkward than it had been with the cookies. Jared washed and Jensen dried, and by the time everything was put back in the cupboards and refrigerator, the pizza was done.
Jensen had just checked up on his masterpiece when the front door opened.
“Hey, Jared, I’m home—oh God, are you cooking?” Megan wheeled into the kitchen and Jensen almost smacked himself in the forehead when he realized why Jared’s apartment seemed so big. The doorways were wider than usual, giving plenty of room for a wheelchair to pass through. Megan stopped once she saw Jensen. “Hi, Jensen.”
“Good evening, Megan.” Jensen opened up the oven, his hands protected by potholders as he slid out the rack that the pizza was on. “Don’t worry, I’m doing the cooking.”
Megan inched forward and her eyes widened. She grinned.
“Oh, Jared, you’ve got to keep him.”
Jensen felt his cheeks get warm and Jared pinched his little sister’s side.
“Keep running your mouth off and you won’t get a slice.”
“Aw, come on! Since when is that fair?” Jared couldn’t keep a straight face, and a beautiful, genuine grin cracked out across his lips. “Asshole.” Megan smiled and quickly wheeled back out into the hall. “Hurry up, Parks and Rec is on!”
Jensen swiftly cut up the pizza and put some slices on the two plates Jared was holding. He wanted to ask if he should leave, and Jared’s mouth twisted into an awkward shape like he was thinking the same thing. There were only two plates out and it wasn’t like this was a date, or that they were even real friends. Jensen opened his mouth to ask when he was cut off by a cheery shout from the living room.
“I saved you a seat, Jensen!”
Carbon dioxide whooshed out of Jensen’s lungs. The decision had been made. Jared nodded toward the cupboard.
“Plates are up there.”
Jared left, his bare feet quiet against the wood floor. Jensen got a plate, slid two slices onto it, and followed the soft footsteps and the sound of the television.
Megan was eating her pizza. She hadn’t lied; there was a spot on the couch for him. Megan was still in her wheelchair and Jared was right on the edge of the couch, closest to his sister. Jensen sat down and Megan smacked her lips, her tongue darting out to catch a small piece of feta at the corner of her mouth.
“Wow—Jensen, this is really good!” Megan grinned. “I don’t think I’ve had pizza this good in my life. Isn’t it good, Jared?”
Jared nodded, mumbling around a slice.
Jensen smiled a little.
The show started, and Jensen took a bite of his pizza as Amy Poehler ran away from a possum. They were right; it tasted delicious.
Steve was stirring a creamy squash soup when he decided to instigate an intricate plan designed to ruin Jensen’s life. Jensen was helping with the bullion cubes when Steve bumped his hip against Jensen’s.
“So…who’s the new boyfriend?”
Jensen dropped the cubes into the mixture.
“I don’t have a boyfriend. Do you want Cheddar or Havarti?”
“Havarti, Jensen, come on.” Steve laughed and Jensen cut up cubes of the cheese. Steve kept stirring, sprinkling parsley into the pot as he peeked out from under his wild blonde hair. “Come on, you can tell me. You stay out late, you’re texting all the time—”
Jensen rolled his eyes and dropped the cubes into the pot.
“You do.” Steve was right; Steve noticed these things. “So, who is he?”
Steve brought up the wooden spoon, and Jensen gave it a taste. Creamy without being too rich; it really was a perfect soup. As Jensen let the taste settle on his tongue, he tried to think of a way to avoid the issue of talking about Jared. Because he did go out late, in order to make Jared and Megan dinner, and sometimes after watching the newest Parks and Rec or Modern Family episode… Sometimes he’d fall asleep. Megan used to be the one to wake him up by throwing a pillow at him if Harley or Sadie didn’t start licking his face.
Lately, though, Jared was the one to gently rouse him around eleven or eleven thirty. It was disconcerting for several reasons. One, whenever Jensen fell asleep at the Padalecki house, he never dreamed. It was the deepest sleep he’d gotten in years, and he could always feel a protest on his tongue when Jared shook his shoulder to wake him. Two, and the most conflicting reason, was…just the atmosphere. Megan really liked him, and Jared… Well, Jensen wasn’t sure.
When Jared woke him up, he’d slide his fingers over his shoulder, pull back, and say, “Jensen, wake up,” tired but only slightly hoarse. In the dark and on a soft couch, it was strangely intimate, and Jensen wished, for once, that his life could be like a movie and he could just lean in and put the stupid, probably one-sided sexual tension to rest.
Alas, Jensen was a pussy who let the cycle keep going and going.
“I’m not really—he’s not my boyfriend.”
“Right.” Steve ladled soup out into three bowls. “Well, let your not-boyfriend know that he’s invited to the big potluck this weekend.”
Jensen’s spoon slid off the rim of his bowl and sank into the soup with an uninteresting “plop.”
“What—since when are we having a potluck?”
“Since it’s been too long since we last had one.” Steve took the other two bowls out to the main table. “And…I want Chris to come.”
As if waiting for the cue, a key slid into the door. The door opened and Christian strode right inside. Jensen had to give Christian credit; he didn’t react when he saw Jensen. He just walked up to Steve and kissed him, a sweet greeting, but Jensen saw that Christian kept his eyes open. Steve pulled back, a lovesick smile on his face that made Jensen avert his eyes.
“You’re just in time.”
When Christian smiled, Jensen wanted to roll his eyes, but he distracted himself by fishing his spoon out of his soup. They all sat down. Christian occasionally shot Jensen cautious glances, but he didn’t say anything as they ate amicably together.
Steve reached for Christian’s hand under the table.
“Jensen and I are having a big potluck party this weekend. You can come as long as you make somethin’.” Steve winked. “Jensen’s going to bring his boyfriend.” Jensen opened his mouth to protest, but Steve beat him to it. “Excuse me, not-boyfriend.”
Christian’s eyebrows shot up.
Jensen ate more soup; it was either that or tell Christian to go fuck himself, and then he realized that he’d have to let Jared to know…even though Jared probably had no interest in going.
Jensen, of course, waited until the last minute to extend the invitation. He ran through all the possible outcomes over and over until he finally had to go ahead and get it over with so his headaches would lessen.
He knocked on Jared’s door, his bags weighed down with flour and milk.
“Who is it?” Megan’s voice carried through the door.
“Uh, it’s Jensen.”
The door opened and Megan wheeled back.
“Jared’s got a late shift.” Jensen closed the door behind him and followed Megan into the kitchen. “He said to eat without him.” Harley and Sadie ran around Jensen and he smiled, letting them lick his fingers as he put the bags on the counter. Megan’s usual crooked smile was missing that day and she wasn’t insisting on a Modern Family marathon. She took a Coke out of the refrigerator and snapped it open as Jensen reached past her into the cold shelves and began unloading the leftovers. She took a long sip, licking her lips when she was done. “I’m starving.”
Her slight smile didn’t reach her eyes. Jensen slid the leftovers right into the oven and cleared his throat.
“Want to help me with dessert?’
Five minutes later, Megan was using an electric mixer to make whipped cream while Jensen stirred the batter. Harley and Sadie ate out of their bowls. Normally, Megan played some music while she helped him and it was a challenge to see who could keep the better beat, even though they both knew that Megan always won. She didn’t play any music that night.
“I didn’t even know you could make whipped cream.” She rotated the mixer, frowning when it hit the side of the bowl. “We usually just buy it, you know, in a can.”
“After this, you’ll never go back.” He poured the batter into a pan and took dinner out of the oven. The cake replaced it and he set their dinner out to cool. “How was your day?”
The whipped cream was coming out nicely, but it still wasn’t done.
“It was okay, I guess.”
Megan shrugged, focused on her task. “Prom bids went on sale today.” Jensen’s eyes widened slightly. He wasn’t sure what to say; his prom had been fairly standard. There had been dancing, laughter, and loud, boisterous declarations of friendship. It was nothing special because to him, it seemed ordinary. His eyes dragged over to Megan’s wheelchair. He couldn’t picture having the same kind of prom that he had in a wheelchair. He felt nauseous, disgusted, because if anyone knew how to have a great time, it was Megan—
“I have a date, Jensen.”
When Jensen glanced up, he saw Megan staring at him. His stomach clenched.
“Oh, um, that’s good, right?”
Megan’s lips curled.
“Yeah.” She huffed. “I think it’s just because he doesn’t want to dance.” Her lips curled crookedly at the statement, like she wanted to try and make something that wasn’t funny work. She pulled the mixer up; sure enough, the whipped cream was done. “But he’s cool. He’s in all the musicals.”
Jensen put saran wrap over the whipped cream and slid it into the refrigerator. They ate at the counter, leftover penne with Steve’s special vodka sauce. Megan smacked her lips together, stabbing the pasta with her fork.
“I never did musicals in high school.” Jensen wiped his mouth with napkin. “I didn’t like the idea of trying out in front of people.”
Megan perked up, a refreshed smile on her face.
“You can sing?”
Jensen never had a chance to back out of it; his pink cheeks and terrified expression gave him away. That was how they ended up in the living room so that Megan could grab drumsticks and toss Jensen a phony microphone. Jensen’s hands were already sweating and his throat was dry. She booted up the Xbox 360 and Jensen cleared his throat.
“Wait a second—”
Megan rolled up to a set of what Jensen figured were supposed to be the game’s version of drums. She fiddled with a controller as Paul McCartney’s and John Lennon’s voices filled the living room.
“Come on, man. Everyone knows The Beatles.” She twirled the drumsticks in her hands like batons. “I’ll let you pick all the songs.” Jensen tried to speak but all that came out was a feeble wheeze. Megan’s smile fell. “You don’t have to.” Her eyes dropped away from Jensen. “Jared barely has time anymore…and neither of us is any good at singing.”
Even an idiot couldn’t have believed that the perfect and practiced pout that graced Megan’s lips was genuine. Jensen sighed and gripped the microphone tightly.
“A Hard Day’s Night.” When Megan didn’t respond, her mouth agape, Jensen shifted awkwardly. “You said I could pick any—”
After a few quick hits on the fake drum set, the song began and Jensen took a deep breath.
The first two songs were shaky, but as Jensen kept going, his breath wasn’t as hard to catch and suddenly the tunes weren’t hard to carry at all as his confidence came back to him. He found himself swaying to the beat and smiling as he sang, and the only time he stopped was to take the cake out of the oven.
He ended up closer to Megan so that they could share the microphone. They were both belting out “Hello Goodbye” when Jared came home; neither of them heard the key slide into the door or his bag gently thump to the floor.
Right when Jensen let out a “woo-hoo,” Jared cleared his throat and started clapping.
The microphone in Jensen’s hand dropped to the floor and rolled away. He turned to find Jared smiling, wider and brighter than he’d ever seen before. Jensen’s face was hot and his throat was tight; thankfully, Megan saved him.
“We made cake!”
Jensen watched Jared enjoy the cake as Megan complimented him, and it just fell out of his mouth.
“Steve, he’s my roommate, is throwing this big potluck dinner this weekend.” Both Jared and Megan looked up from their desserts and Jensen’s mouth became bone-dry. “We do a few every year, and—well, a bunch of us and our friends all get together and make something.” Jensen pushed a dollop of whipped cream around on his plate. “You two, uh, you’re welcome to join us this Saturday.”
Megan cheered, “We’d love to,” right as Jared murmured, “I don’t cook.” They looked at each other and Megan slapped Jared’s arm.
“God, Jared, we can buy something.” She shot Jensen a quick glance. “That would be okay, right? If we just got something from the store?”
Jensen almost laughed at how concerned Megan was.
“That’s fine. You don’t even have to bring anything if you want.”
“Don’t be stupid.” Megan waved her hand, taking another slice of cake. “We’ll find something.” She smiled, so bright and youthful that she made Jensen feel old. “Who’s your roommate?”
Jensen’s lips twitched.
“He’s a master chef, his name is Steve Carlson.”
Megan shrieked and Jared smiled a little.
“Steve Carlson? Your roommate is Steve Carlson?” When Jensen nodded, Megan’s mouth dropped open. “Oh my God!”
Jensen wrote down his address and the time. Megan was hyped up, and Jared’s hand squeezed Jensen’s shoulder. Jensen said that he looked forward to seeing them both there; Megan was enthralled, and Jensen was pulled down into a hug. When he pulled away, he caught Jared’s eyes—and Jared smiled. Not a whole one, no, not even close, but Jared’s lips quirked up ever so slightly at the sides. It was ghostly, almost a mirage.
Jensen smiled back all the same.
August 5th, 2009
Blurred ceiling tiles gradually came into focus. For a short moment, a horrible flicker of a moment, Jared believed that all that had happened, all that glass and screaming—it was too horrible to be real. But as the world faded back into view, Jared felt dull pain; he looked down.
His legs were in casts and a small plastic tube tickled his nose, an uncomfortable, itchy flow of oxygen filling his lungs. The more awake Jared became, the more he hurt; he panicked when he realized he was alone in the room.
“Megan!” Jared jerked his wrists free of the wires that clung to him, making the monitors by his bedside shriek. “MEGAN!” A nurse rushed in, trying and failing to reconnect all the wires and tubes that had been attached to Jared. He grabbed her wrist. “Where’s my sister?”
The nurse’s eyes were wide; she looked like a frightened animal. She turned toward the door.
Jared let her go right as the doctor came in, an older fellow with deep wrinkles in his face.
“Mr. Padalecki, I need you to calm down.”
“Please,” Jared sucked in a breath, “just tell me where my sister is.”
The doctor had a grave smile on his face.
“Your sister is in the ICU, Jared.”
Jared hiccupped, his eyes burning.
“She’s alive?” The doctor nodded and Jared relaxed back down against the pillows, hot tears rolling down his cheeks. “Thank God… Just—thank you.” Jared blinked past his tears in time to see the doctor’s smile twitch. “What? What is it?” Jared swallowed past the hot stone in his throat. “Tell me.”
The doctor told him in that detached, sympathetic voice that Megan had barely pulled through and that her spine had been badly damaged. The long and short of it was that Megan would never walk again. As soon as that sunk in, Jared’s head flopped to the side as he shut out the rest of the world, remembering the face of the man who’d ruined his sister’s life.
He wasn’t sure how long he was there; he felt like he was in Purgatory. Jared couldn’t be sure when he received his first visitor; all he knew was that the man stepped out of the shadows. The only reason Jared turned to look at him was the strange, expensive-smelling cologne he wore. He had dark hair pulled back into a tight ponytail and he kept rubbing a scrubby beard that spoke of stress and negligence. He had a suitcase and cufflinks that glimmered in the moonlight. Jared’s lips were cracked and when he spoke, he sounded like a corpse.
“Are you my lawyer?”
“No.” The man’s gravelly, country voice fit him well. “I’m not your lawyer, I represent the man who—”
Jared’s fists clenched.
“Get the fuck out,” Jared snarled. “He ruined our lives. My sister will never walk again!”
The lawyer flinched, a barely visible twitch in his shoulders. Jared felt a dull throb of surprise. The lawyer took his time to gather himself and pulled a file folder from inside his suit jacket.
“We’d like to settle this out of court.” Jared opened his mouth to speak; no amount of money could ever equate— “Your student loans, Megan’s education, it will all be taken care of. Living arrangements and all medical care will also be provided for the duration of both your lives.”
The violent rage that ignited in Jared’s body settled into a vicious simmer. He licked his lips, gripping the hospital sheets tightly.
“Is he some millionaire?”
The lawyer shook his head.
“No, but he is very important to the company he works for.”
Jared watched the man fall silent, waiting. The electric monitors blipped and whirred. He felt the bruises and cuts on his face, and he could already tell he’d have to go through years of physical therapy. It would be hell; it would hurt and it would cost so much money, and Megan—she deserved all best and more. Jared promised her the best.
“If I say yes, she’s going to get the best doctors.”
“You both will.” The lawyer approached the side of the bed. “It will all be taken care of.” He laid out the papers out on Jared’s lap, and the pen he provided was heavy. “Any questions?”
Jared sighed; sure enough, everything the lawyer said was present, right on the still-warm contract. The face of the driver was still fresh in his mind, and he swore he’d never forget that face. He looked up at the lawyer as he handed him the signed contract.
“What if there’s a problem?”
“There won’t be. But, just in case there is,” the lawyer produced a business card, “here’s my card.”
Jared’s fingers ran over the raised lettering. When he lifted his eyes back up, the man was gone. Jared looked back down at the card; even in the dark, he could clearly read the name.