Jensen leaned against his car and pulled at his tie, fiddled with the lapels of his suit jacket and straightened his belt. Misha circled the car with a joint pinched between this thumb and his first finger. He took a long drag and held it in, speaking through his exhale in a way that made his voice sound deeper. “Time to pay your penance.”
Reedy’s house loomed ominously before them, light spilling out through the tall windows. It positively screamed conspicuous consumption, from the curtains thrown open to reveal an expensive looking crystal chandelier in the dining room, to the plate glass window on the opposite side of the door that allowed for a shotgun view right through the house to the water on the other side.
Jensen gave Misha a grateful nod when he passed the joint over. This sort of get together wasn’t exactly what he wanted to do with his Wednesday evening. “The sooner we start, the sooner we’ll be done. These people are so goddamned up on themselves.”
“Comes with the territory,” Misha noted. “All writers are like that. You can barely see over their egos.”
“Present company excluded, right?” Jensen asked. Misha kept silent, and Jensen sucked down half the joint, pinching the cherry off of the end. He stuck it in the inside pocket of his jacket. “Just for that, I’m keeping the rest of this.”
A throng of people could be seen in the glassed-off porch to the side of the house, and Jensen and Misha slogged through the slushy snow to the side door. It was stuffy inside, and not because of the temperature.
Folks from the college rubbed shoulders with minor dignitaries and well-known financial supporters of the school. The whole thing was a fairly shameless ploy to get people to donate to the college’s school of creative writing. It left a bad taste in Jensen’s mouth.
He wound his way through the thin crowd in search of Jared and the cocktail bar, in no particular order. Jared was in the dining room, an expensive looking crystal wine glass in his hand and a more expensive looking suit on his shoulders. His other hand was jammed into his pants pocket, and Jensen noted a distinct lack of casual touches going on. A little confusing, since he’d thought that Jared simply worked that way. He was speaking with an older woman wearing a sparkling silver evening dress that matched the color of her hair, a false smile plastered onto his face.
Jensen detoured toward the bar, downed a Crown and Coke in three gulps. No use beating around the bush with it, he surmised, and started to weave his way toward Jared.
His end goal was almost achieved when he was intercepted by Reedy, who slid in right in front of him and stopped him in his tracks.
“So good to see you.” Reedy stuck out his hand and Jensen just stared at it.
“Thanks for the bash,” Jensen said, proving that his mama did fetch him up right after all, no matter what anybody said.
“I picked up Limited Break, and again read your passage on South Dakota the other day.” The dark red wine in the man’s glass sloshed dangerously near the lip as he gestured.
“Did it change much?” Jensen asked as he slid past the guy, leaving Reedy behind him to gape for a moment. He really needed to work to perfect the act of artful dodging.
He joined Jared, and gave the woman he was speaking to his most disarming smile. “May I steal him away for a moment?” he asked.
“Thanks for that,” Jared said when the woman moved on. “C’mon.” Jared pulled him along with an arm wrapped around his shoulders. They ended up in the vacant entranceway of the house. Jared pointed up to the ceiling. “See?” he said, “track lighting.”
Jensen approached the display case. There it was, Reedy’s most prized possession, his National Book award front and center for all to see. There wasn’t a lick of dust on the thing, and Jensen had visions of the guy polishing it daily with fancy cloth bought specifically for the purpose, a smug, stuffy grin on his face.
“I think you should have gotten one of these instead.” Jared came up behind him, curling himself close against Jensen’s back, his hands finding their way to Jensen’s hips. “In fact, this one would look so much better shoved into your desk drawer. Right underneath your very first rejection letter.”
He circled around Jensen, kneeling in front of the lock on the cabinet door. “Besides, something behind a locked door is just begging to be taken, isn’t it?”
A thrill shot through Jensen, and he checked the open parlor door to see if anyone was there.
“Keep an eye out,” Jared whispered. He pulled a couple of hairpins from the inside pocket of his jacket. “I took them from Mrs. Reedy,” he explained when Jensen gave him a shocked look. He started in on the lock, his tongue peeking out of the corner of his mouth as he worked.
They both heard footfalls approaching, and Jared jumped up, two long strides eating up the space between them. “Roll with me on this,” he said, and then he was maneuvering Jensen against the wall, one leg shoved between Jensen’s thighs and his tongue down his throat.
It was like a really awful spy novel, but Jensen still found himself fully on board with this turn of events, and buried his hands beneath Jared’s jacket, smoothing them along the soft material of his dress shirt.
Someone cleared his throat from the doorway and they broke apart, Jared holding Jensen’s gaze for a beat before looking over. “Thank god,” he said, eyes lit up with mischief. “It’s just Misha.”
“I was wondering what you two were up to,” Misha started, but went silent when Jensen shushed him with a hiss and a finger across his lips. Jared dashed back to the case and started working on the lock again.
Misha’s expression turned comically surprised. He stammered for a second, a huge grin spreading across his face. “I’ll be on look out,” he hissed.
“How did you learn how to do this?” Jensen whispered to Jared as he leaned over the guy to watch.
Jared glanced back at him. His smile was positively wicked. “Research for a book,” he explained, trying to hold back his laughter. “I can also hotwire a car, and disarm a home security system, depending on who made it.” There was a satisfying click and the door swung open on silent hinges. “I’ve also cracked open a safe. Only once, though. I doubt I could do that again.” Jared gingerly grabbed the award and held it out to Jensen.
Jensen took it with hands that were shaking from adrenaline. It was small but heavy, probably about the size of a piece of paper.
“Gentlemen?” Misha said from the doorway. “I enjoy a good act of larceny just as much as the next guy, but you should probably get going.”
He disappeared into the sitting room, sliding the pocket door closed behind him. Jensen could hear him clearing his throat, and then he said loudly, “Mr. Kelley, Mrs. Kelley, lovely to see you two again.”
Jensen was still struggling to figure out what was actually going on, and trying to catch up with the fact that this could sink him into a hell of a lot of hot water, when Jared started to yank at his arm, pulling him toward the front door. “We gotta go.” He grabbed his coat from the rack.
Crime novels and mysteries had never been Jensen’s forte, he was much more of a character study type of guy, but all those hours of watching police procedurals on television had worn off on him to a degree. “But your fingerprints?”
Jared paused before opening the front door. “I’ve been staying here. They’re all over the place. Besides, I never touched the case. The thing’s clean,” he said, like it was the most obvious thing on the planet, pushing Jensen out the door. “Shove it under your jacket.” Jared nodded to the stolen property in Jensen’s hands.
“That won’t be suspicious at all.”
Jared waved toward the sea of parked cars in front of the house. “There’s no one out here. You don’t want to get it wet, right?”
They slipped and slid toward his car, the sidewalk a slushy mess beneath their feet. Jensen’s heart was lodged somewhere in his throat, and he was fighting a lunatic urge to giggle.
He fell into the driver’s seat of his car, unlocked the passenger door and handed the award over to Jared. The gears ground and squealed going into reverse, Jensen hitting the gas too heavy, shooting them into a backward slide. The rear end of the car slid into the neighbor’s lawn, mud and water in a spray as they spun.
Jared thumbed the radio. ‘Midnight Rider’ poured through the speakers. “It’s time to make good on our escape,” Jared said with mock seriousness.
The whole situation started taking on a very surreal cast, like Jensen wasn’t a part of it, as if he was watching it in a movie. He leaned forward, his forehead landing on the steering wheel for a moment. Gregg Allman was on the stereo telling them that he wasn’t gonna let them catch the midnight rider. Jensen thought the guy had a point and worked the clutch, rocking them out of the rut and pulling out onto the slick pavement.
The ice was coming down hard, sticking to the windshield and making the light look alien and refracted. The windshield wipers scraped ineffectively along the glass. Jensen knew he should slow down. He felt the tenuous grip of the tires on the asphalt slipping with every slight curve of the road.
Jared was still grinning beside him, clutching the plaque close to his chest. “I’d give anything to see the look on his face right about now.”
“I’d give anything to be three states over right about now. Where to?”
“I hear Mexico is nice this time of year,” Jared suggested. “They’d never find us.”
“Canada’s closer, though,” Jensen said.
Jensen drove without a goal in mind, vaguely in the direction of home but with no real desire to go there yet. The road was deserted, bare trees standing like ice covered skeletons on either side. He took a curve a little too fast, the back tires swinging around and losing their grip. He tried to correct it with hands moving quick on the wheel, but the car was hell bent on dancing to its own drummer and they spun out, oddly slow. Jared slapped the dashboard, his hands spread wide as the car came to a jarring stop, the front end of it colliding with a snow bank on the shoulder.
“Holy fuck,” Jared said, maniacal laughter bubbling up out of him. “Holy fuck,” he repeated, the stolen plaque sliding off of his lap and into the foot well of the car.
“Can we? I just.” Jensen was rattled to the bone, a million miles away from a rational thought. His airways felt narrow, too narrow for a deep breath, and damn it he couldn’t stop his hands from shaking. His car chose that moment to give up, and stalled out with a shudder and a pathetic little cough.
With a quick check to see if Jensen was alright, Jared jumped out of the car, circling to the front end. “I don’t think we’ll be able to rock out of this one. I might be able to push it,” Jared said through the open passenger door. He kicked some snow out from behind one of the front tires. “Want me to call a tow truck?”
“I need a minute,” Jensen said as he got out of the car, grabbing his coat from the back seat and judiciously avoiding a glance at the front end of the thing. He didn’t want to see.
Immediately, ice started sticking to his hair, melting and running down his scalp in shivery trails. It snuck into his shoes and numbed his toes. He knocked some of the ice off of the trunk of his car and lifted himself onto it. “I’ve got some matches in the glove compartment,” he said to Jared without turning around.
The frame of the car swayed some when Jared closed the door. He held the matches out to Jensen and said, “I don’t think this is enough to melt your way out.”
Jensen dug around in his pocket for the joint he’d commandeered from Misha and lit it, sucking down a long drag and holding it in. He exhaled, the smoke rising up in a long, thin line, and passed it over to Jared. The knot at the base of his neck started to loosen by a fraction.
Jared took a hit and leaned forward, pressing his mouth to Jensen’s. Jared’s lips felt cold as he shotgunned it, his tongue sneaking a taste of Jensen’s mouth before he started to pull away, but Jensen moved with him, breathing it back into Jared’s lungs.
Jared joined him on the trunk, shoulder to shoulder and hip to hip. The distant sound of sirens cut through the quiet. “You think that’s for us?” Jared asked.
“Maybe,” Jensen replied. “Probably not.” He rubbed at his eyes. "My car," he said plaintively.
"It's just a hunk of Detroit pig-iron," Jared reminded him.
"Technically, it's English pig-iron."
"Doesn't matter where it's from. It's still just stuff. Maybe you're getting too bogged down in it."
Jensen grunted. The guy had a point. But what he didn't understand was that his car was more than that. It was a bright, shiny reminder that--not terribly long ago--Jensen had been talented enough that someone had willingly paid him because of the way he put thoughts down on paper.
“Besides, it's only a busted headlight,” Jared said. “Everything else looks fine. It’s just a busted headlight.”
“Good to know.”
Jared shifted some, obviously cold. His hair was sticking to his face in icy clumps. “Maybe we should call the tow truck,” Jensen said. “Your lips are moving past blue and heading straight into purple.”
“Purple,” Jared mused. “What were you trying to describe the other day, anyway?”
Jensen smiled. Yesterday felt like a year ago. “The smell of wisteria,” Jensen answered.
Jared blew into his cupped hands for a few seconds. “It smells like honey. Like burnt cork and honey,” he said.
Jensen nodded. Sometimes it was best to be literal.
“You’re looking for springtime,” Jared said, squinting at him.
“I always am.”
They were bone soaked and mud splattered by the time they pushed the car back onto the road. Jensen was irritated, his head thumping with a deep ache, starting to feel slightly hung over from the booze and the grass.
“You’d better take me back,” Jared said. “It might look weird if I disappear completely right now.”
Jensen eyed Jared’s clothes, filthy and disarrayed, looking like he’d gone a few rounds with an avalanche. There was a streak of mud on his forehead, and Jensen scrubbed at it with his sleeve. “It might look weirder if you showed up.”
Jared shrugged. “I’ll put some spin on it. We’re storytellers, Jensen. Professional liars. It’s what we do.”
“Speak for yourself,” Jensen shot back, but Jared let it slide.
If Jensen let go of the steering wheel, his car tried to make a left hand turn on its own. The alignment was screwed up, and there was a discouraging clanking noise when he shifted into second. He ignored Jared’s wince at the sound and kept the wheel turned to the right to keep them on the straight and narrow.
Only a few cars were parked in front of Reedy’s house by the time they made it back. The ground floor was dark, but a soft, golden light shone through one of the upstairs windows, and Jensen felt a stab of hope that Jared might be able to sneak in, no questions asked.
“I’ve been thinking,” Jared began, “about your book and what you said.”
Jensen bit back a groan. He was so very tired of living under the shadow of that book, and scared to death that he’d unintentionally set the bar so out of reach that he’d never be able to even touch it again.
“You said that the main character wasn’t you. But I think that’s kinda bullshit,” Jared said.
“I’ll let you in on a secret,” Jensen said, propping his arm atop the wheel of the car and leaning in toward Jared. “Limited Break doesn’t say anything. There is no higher message in it. Nothing about class-consciousness. It’s not allegory or satire, or whatever else reviewers might have read into thing. Hell, I nabbed the title for it off of a pack of cigarettes I’d found in the glove compartment of my car. That book?” Jensen shook his head. “It’s about a guy just trying to get home, and making a conscious decision to take the long way there. That’s all it’s ever been about. It never meant anything.”
Jared nodded slowly, the melting ice on the windshield painting shadows that streaked down his face. When he spoke, he didn’t meet Jensen’s gaze, only continued to squint through the glass. “You wrote a review once, a few years ago for The Post, maybe? I can’t remember, and I can’t remember which novel you were critiquing, but that’s not the important part.” He heaved a breath, his chest expanding. Jensen could smell the mint of his chewing gum. “Anyway. You said that the meanings of some books don’t exist outside of the reader's mind.”
Jensen chuckled at that. “Yeah, sounds like me. I probably wrote that because I had no idea what the book was about and needed to hit a word count.”
Jared ignored him and barreled forward, “I think you just proved your own point right now. That quote…I’ve never forgotten it.” He reached for the handle on the car door. “Because your book? It does mean something. At least it does least to me. I suppose in a big way it always will.” He got out quickly, the force of the door closing behind him rocking the car on its tires.
Jensen watched as Jared made his careful way up the sidewalk, slipping a little on the ice with his hands buried in his pockets and his shoulders hunched forward. Jensen sat there for a while, listening to the deep purr of the engine and staring at the book award still resting on the floor mat, the light a dull reflection on the brushed brass nameplate.
He’d fucked up, but he didn’t know how. He wasn’t sure why it mattered, only that it did, somehow.
Historically, morning always had a way of sneaking up on Jensen. The smell of coffee rising up from the kitchen below brought him back to the here and now. He had graphite on his fingertips; they were shiny grey and slick with the stuff, and dark red indentations marred the first two fingers of his right hand from gripping the pencil too hard. Ticonderoga number two’s. The good ones.
Jensen growled at the hesitant knock on his office door, and Misha came in, a coffee cup in his hand and a hopeful expression on his face. “Have you been up all night?”
“Looks that way,” Jensen said, trying to hold on to the thread of the story he was working on: an allegorical tale of a tall, broad-backed soldier with angled, hazel eyes trying to fight his way out of a mission gone sour in a snow packed region of northern Siberia. At some point the snow had turned into a metaphor for the military industrial complex. In the harsh light of day it would probably read a bit heavy-handed, but at this moment Jensen didn’t actually give a damn.
He turned his attention back to his notebook, read through the last few paragraphs and started to write again, his pencil scratching across the paper. Misha kept quiet, pulled a book off of Jensen’s shelf and started thumbing through it with the occasional idle but interested glance over Jensen’s shoulder.
Another page and a half scribbled out in longhand and Jensen was done. He ripped the pages out of the notebook, small tags of paper littering the surface of his desk. “Here,” Jensen said, all but throwing them at his editor. “All yours.”
“Aren’t you gonna do another read through?”
Jensen shook his head. “Don’t think I need to.”
“Is this your ego or your confidence talking?” Misha asked.
“Probably both. Plus exhaustion.”
“The holy triumvirate. Praise the lord,” Misha said, and wandered back down the stairs, his coffee forgotten on the desk and his eyes glued to the pages.
The morning was bright, sunlight glinting off of the ice-covered streets. Jensen finished Misha’s abandoned coffee, squinting through his window. He felt vaguely nauseated with lack of sleep. Jensen went downstairs, scrubbed his face in the kitchen sink, rummaged around in the cabinets and came up with a box of cereal.
He joined Misha on the couch, propped his heels on the coffee table and waited for Misha to finish reading.
“Any chance I could get you to type it up?” Misha asked once he was done.
“Slim,” Jensen said around a mouthful of dry cereal. “Does it pass muster?”
“It’s great,” Misha said. “But you already knew that.”
“It’s still good to hear it coming from you.” He leaned back on the couch, his eyes stinging when he closed them. “How about a book of short stories? An anthology? You think you could slide one of those through?”
“Give me a dozen more like this, and I’ll manage,” Misha said. Jensen felt the cushions shift as Misha stood. He scuffed a hand through Jensen’s hair. “I’ll wake you up in an hour. Young minds to mold and all that.”
Jensen sat on the steps to the building, chewing on the end of his pencil, reading over the last paragraph he’d written and curiously craving butterscotch.
The walk to the college had taken twice as long as it should have. Jensen had found himself repeatedly stopping, pulling a notebook out of his bag and jotting down notes, words and phrases. By the time he got to the building, he had another story completely plotted and partially written, leaning his notebook against telephone poles and parking meters on his path.
Staring across the nearly empty quad, Jensen watched as Jared drew closer, accompanied by a man that Jensen didn’t recognize. The guy’s business suit and briefcase told him that he was probably an editor or an agent. They shook hands. Even from this distance, Jensen could see the smile quickly slip from Jared’s face as he turned in Jensen’s direction.
Jared dropped his backpack and sat down near Jensen on the marble stairs. He was only two feet away, but it felt a lot further.
“Fun night last night,” Jensen said.
“At least it wasn’t boring.”
“Are we on the lamb yet?”
Jared shook his head. “The bastard drank three bottles of wine last night. His wife had to pour him into bed. And then she tried to hit on me. Talk about awkward.”
“Did it work?” Jensen teased.
Jared quietly chuckled. “Of course not.”
“Good. I didn’t want to fight her for you. It wouldn’t have been a fair fight.”
“For you or for her?”
“For either of us,” Jensen said. He wondered if Jared was cluing in on what he was really saying: that today was the last day of the workshop, the last time they’d have a convenient, ready-made excuse to see each other, that Jensen didn’t like the idea one iota, and was hoping that Jared didn’t either, and finally that Jensen was too chicken to actually say any of this outright. “It looks like we might have dodged a bullet, huh?” Jensen asked instead.
“Only temporarily. We still need to keep an eye out for the ricochet.”
Jensen had come to the end of his outline for the workshop. He opened the floor to some questions to kill some time.
“How do you get published?” Annie asked him, and Jensen smiled. Truth was, it always came down to that.
“Alchemy,” Jensen replied. Confused expressions confronted him all around, and he realized some elaboration might be in order. “It’s basically one part science and three parts magic.” Jensen circled to the whiteboard and leaned on the metal tray. “First you’ve got to write something amazing. And believe me when I say that the writing has got to be the easy part.”
There were snickers around the table, a lot of sidelong looks and eyes rolling. Jared leaned his elbows on the table and propped his chin in a hand, started twirling his pencil between his fingers in a hypnotic sort of way.
“You don’t have to take my word for it, but the science is in the writing,” Jensen continued. “It’s the only part that you can control. I’m sure that every single one of you has something that could be published squirreled away somewhere.”
He was met with more dubious glances, but powered on. “But actually getting it published is where the magic comes in. Or maybe it makes more sense to call it synchronicity,” Jensen mused. “The right set of eyes has to see it at exactly the right time, and hopefully that set of eyes belongs to an editor or an agent. That guy has to be in the right frame of mind to read whatever you’ve written, have the right kind of connections and enough persuasion at his command to convince the powers that be to give it a chance. Add to that a whole lotta luck, and you’ve got it made.”
The front door was curiously open when Jensen got home, he could hear music coming from the living room and the sound of too many people banging around in the kitchen. Misha met him in the hallway, two cases of beer weighing him down.
“You’re back,” he said, passing the beer over to Jensen. “Put this in the fridge. I’m having a party. I hope you don’t mind.”
Jensen stammered. “A party?”
“That shindig last night left a bad taste in my mouth. Had to throw my own to wash it out.”
“But this is my house.”
Misha smiled at him. “Well, you’re invited, obviously. But only after you hand me over another ten good pages. It’s your ticket for admission.”
A group of people came storming in through the front door, talking loudly. Jensen didn’t recognize any of them and had to dodge out of their way. Moments later, a clatter came from the kitchen that sounded like someone had just upended his utensils drawer into the kitchen sink.
“How am I supposed to do that?”
“I’ve seen you write a complete short story sitting smack dab in the middle of Union Station. I have faith in you.”
Two hours and seven pages later, and the party downstairs had worked up to a very loud roar. A thunderous bang against his office door vibrated the walls. “That’s it,” Jensen gritted his teeth and yanked the door open, only to have all six and a half feet of a very tipsy Jared topple into his arms.
“There you are,” Jared slurred, his limbs a sloppy tangle. He reeked of booze. “Reedy’s down there. I think he’s on to us.” Jared blinked owlishly.
“Fuck,” Jensen spat. “Who let him in?” He’d thrown the award in the trunk of his car last night, and it was still in there. Nothing but a thin sheet of metal and a canvas tarp separating him from a certain dicey fate.
“Front door’s open.” Jared swayed a little in the middle of the room, gesturing in the direction of the front of the house. “I think I’m gonna be sick.”
“What have you been drinking?” Jensen asked, trying to steady Jared on his feet and having little success.
“Don’t know. Tasted like rubbing alcohol. This dude brought it over in a mason jar. Said he made it in his back yard. It snuck up on me.”
“Moonshine? Reedy’s here, I have his stolen property in the trunk of my car, and you’ve been drinking moonshine?”
Jared seemed to consider it for a moment, his mouth set in a small pout. “I’d say that pretty well sums it up, yeah.”
Jensen had to do something. The plaque couldn’t stay in his trunk, and he couldn’t count on not seeing Reedy on his way out the front door. That left only one option. He crossed to the window that opened out onto the slanted roof of his small porch. “You,” he said, pointing to Jared. “Sit down. Don’t break anything.”
“You can’t leave me alone,” Jared said, a little too loudly. “What if he comes up here? What if I squeal?”
“Will you?” Jensen said, struggling with the screen covering the window.
“I can’t honestly answer that question with any degree of reliability at the moment.”
“C’mon then.” He popped the screen loose. It flew from his hands and went skittering along the sloped roof, the corner of it lodging thankfully in the gutter. He had a heart stopping moment when he climbed out onto the ice-covered shingles and slid a full three feet before finding purchase.
Jared was behind him, trying to find the right angle to fit his wide shoulders through the small opening of the window. “If you fall and kill yourself, I swear to god I’ll bury you right along with the fucking award,” Jensen said.
Jared crawled out onto the roof on all fours, and in an oddly graceful move borne of drunken carelessness and some inborn agility, he swung off of the gutter to land in a crouch among the winter brown shrubbery. He staggered to his feet and held his arms up, as if he could somehow catch Jensen just like that. “I think the landing mighta knocked some of the buzz out of me,” Jared hissed up at him.
“At least it was good for something,” Jensen whispered back.
The plan was to scale the downspout, but his hands were frozen and his sneakers didn’t have the best traction. His fingers skidded on cold metal as he slid gracelessly toward the ground and landed in a heap on top of Jared, his elbows prodding into Jensen’s back and Jared’s knee digging into his hip. “I’m thirty years old,” Jensen muttered as Jared shoved him off, “and I’m sneaking out of my house. That I own. And live in by myself.”
“You’ve never snuck out before?” Jared asked.
“Never really had the occasion, no.”
"Were you ever a teenager?"
"No," Jensen answered, "I sprung out of my father's head, fully formed."
"Remind me to thank him then," Jared said, keeping lookout while Jensen dug around in the trunk for the award.
“What are we going to do with it?” Jensen said, shoving the thing at Jared.
“I have an idea,”
Like so many historic spots in New England, the college campus had a statue sitting in front of the main administration building of some Revolutionary War hero on horseback. Jared scrambled up onto the pedestal, holding on to the horse’s neck for balance. The statue’s arm was raised, a sword in hand pointing defiantly at some invisible foe. With a crack, Jared stuck the award on the sword point and jumped down, backing up to admire his handiwork. “The pen is mightier than the sword,” Jared intoned in a solemn voice as he joined Jensen.
“Heavy on the symbolism. The writing department should appreciate that,” Jensen agreed.
Jared curled an arm around Jensen’s shoulders, and Jensen leaned into him, fitted himself to Jared’s side, and slid a hand into Jared’s back pocket.
With a mock salute, Jared said, “One if by land, two if by sea.”
“Dude, that’s not Paul Revere.”
They started off in the direction of Jensen’s house, cutting between two tall, looming buildings full of classrooms. Jared’s arm was solid and warm around him, holding him close. “That guy you were talking to today, he’s an agent right?” Jensen said. “Did you cut a deal?”
Jared made a face. “I don’t want to think about it,” he said, his steps a little slower and hesitant. “I only have a couple of days left here, and…” he trailed off for a moment, looking over at Jensen. “Let’s just stick to the good stuff, okay?”
Jensen didn’t want to think about what his life was going to look like a week from now. This was just a fling, a weeklong diversion. It had to be. Maybe he’d call him from time to time, and maybe Jensen would try and look him up next time he went to the city, and he’d definitely be sure to keep his ear to the ground and hope to see Jared’s work show up in the literary rags or on the bookstore shelf. But that was it.
Jensen stopped and faced him full on. “Theft and vandalism is your idea of a good time?”
Jared smiled. “It is when you’re around.” He scrubbed a hand through his hair, licked his lips. “Jensen, I—“
But Jensen didn’t want to hear it; he was certain that whatever Jared was about to say was going to scare the hell out of him. Instead Jensen kissed him, buried his hands in Jared’s hair and sealed their mouths together. Jared’s lips were dry, a little chapped from the winter air, and his nose was cold as it slid along Jensen’s. Jared traced a thumb along Jensen’s jaw and deepened the kiss, heady traces of liquor on his tongue.
Jared walked him backward, their feet stumbling together, aiming for the building’s uneven brick wall. His hands felt insistent on Jensen’s hips. His mouth was hot, a contrast to his frozen fingers when they inched beneath Jensen’s shirt and wandered to the small of his back.
Jared had him pinned to the wall, their chests pressed together snug, and was working small miracles with his mouth, his lips and teeth and tongue. He slipped his thigh between Jensen’s and rocked into him slowly, a delicious pressure that went straight to Jensen’s dick. He was getting hard, every nerve in his body sandblasted with want. Jensen broke the kiss, skating his teeth along Jared’s jaw and down his neck. He flattened his tongue on the tremor of Jared’s pulse point and tightened his fists in Jared’s hair.
Jared bucked forward with a low, snarling sound, grinding his thigh against Jensen’s dick. “Fuck,” Jensen gasped, his eyes slamming closed. “Do that again.”
Jared’s fingernails dug into the flesh of Jensen’s back, and he pulled Jensen closer, not a sliver of space between them, his cock a hard line pressing into the cut of Jensen’s hip. Jensen licked at Jared’s bottom lip, sucked it into his mouth and nipped at it.
Jensen saw red behind his closed eyelids, and a second later a harsh shout cut through the sound of their breathing.
They both jumped, Jared’s hands darting away from Jensen and slapping the brick wall by his head. Jared swayed some in front of him, blinking like he’d just woken up.
A light blinded Jensen, a barely visible silhouette of a man coming into focus behind it. It was only when the man lowered his flashlight that Jensen could see the yellow patch on the arm of his coat that marked him as campus security.
The guy looked young, barely twenty, a baby face peeking out from beneath the hood of his heavy coat. Jensen guessed that he only had to shave twice a week.
Jared peeled himself away from Jensen, turning with a mischievous smile as he swiped a thumb along his lower lip. Jensen tried to adjust himself in his pants, and missed the subtlety mark by about a mile.
“Is there a problem here?” the guard asked.
“Not until a couple of seconds ago,” Jared said.
“What…” Realization slowly dawned on the guy’s face, and a blush began to color his cheeks. “Oh.” He clicked off his flashlight. He squinted in Jensen direction. “Wait a minute. Are you Jensen Ackles?”
“Well, fuck,” Jensen muttered to Jared, and Jared snorted a laugh.
“You are,” the guard said, his voice cracking some. “We read your book in my contemporary lit class.”
Jensen opened his mouth to speak, but Jared cut him off, already shoving Jensen in the direction of the street. “You might wanna go see what’s happening in front of the admin building. We saw a couple of kids sneaking around there earlier.”
“It was a really great book,” the kid called after them.
Jensen bit the inside of his cheek to stop from laughing. “Always happy to meet a fan,” he shouted over his shoulder.
“I’m never drinking again.” Jared had his head on the small round table at the coffee shop, some frothy, sugary thing sitting ignored in front of him. Dark specks of cinnamon floated on the top. His eyes were bloodshot and swollen, his clothes were rumpled, and he smelled like booze was fleeing his body through his pores.
“Moonshine,” Jensen said with a sage nod. “Mix half a glass of that stuff with some orange juice and you’ll be able to see Jesus and all his twelve apostles.”
All Jared could manage was a moan.
Jensen tried to pull him out of his daze. “Let’s get your head working before it caves in completely.” A woman dressed for work walked in and headed straight for the counter. There wasn’t anything particularly noteworthy about her. She had medium length brown hair, was average height, pretty in an everyday sort of way. “Write me something about her. Go.”
Jared cracked open an eye and looked at the woman. “What?”
“It’s a game. Make me want to read about her. Alright. I’ll start. Her name…her name is Oedipa Maas, she’s getting ready to cheat on her husband, who’s a car salesman.”
Jared took over, showing a little bit of life. “But he used to be a DJ at a radio station. She spent the first ten years of her life walking on her hands, and when people asked her why, she told them it was because she wanted to look at the world from a different point of view.”
Damn. Off the cuff, the guy was really good.
They continued with every person who walked through the door, their names and scenarios and back-stories growing more and more farfetched. Jared had his chin resting on his forearm. “This is fun,” he said, and touched his fingertips to Jensen’s knuckles. “Sure beats moonshine.”
“There’s not much in this world that’s better than moonshine.”
Jared hooked their pointer fingers together. Something in his face softened. “You are.”
Jensen became lightheaded, felt something like a sudden change in cabin pressure, and somewhere inside of him something was falling. But Jared was still looking at him with an expectant sort of expression that was about to cross the border into wariness.
There were two ways to go. Jensen could take the easy road, lie through his teeth and make some kind of joke out of it. In the end he decided on the truth, and it was easier than he thought it would be. “Yeah, Jared. You too.” He brought Jared’s hand to his mouth and kissed his fingertips. “You’re a lot better than moonshine.”
Jared grinned, dimples deep and his bloodshot eyes shining. Blinding, beautiful, and Jensen didn’t know how he was going to manage living without it.
Jensen’s house looked like it had been run over by a freight train. Red plastic cups dotted every available surface, and bottles spilled out of the trashcan and onto the kitchen floor. Two people Jensen didn’t know were asleep in his guest room, and Misha was passed out face down on his couch. A honey brown leather coat lay crumpled beneath his coffee table, and Jensen fished it out, frowning appreciatively at the designer label. He tried it on; a little snug around the shoulders but not a bad fit overall. “The spoils of war,” Jensen said to the sleeping form of his editor and hung it in his closet.
He ambled into the kitchen, picking up trash here and there. The sink held something that looked a lot like cherry flavored kool-aid.
Cautiously, Jensen sniffed it, only to stumble backward a few quick steps, his eyes watering. High chance that his nose hairs were incinerated for good. Gingerly, he pulled the plug on his sink, surprised that his hand didn’t come out of the deal with a chemical peel.
The window to his office stood open from last night, and the usually stuffy room was so cold Jensen could see his breath. He leaned out the window, grateful that the screen was still lodged in the gutter, and that the gutter itself remained intact. With a curse, Jensen jimmied himself onto the roof.
“There’s got to be a good story behind this one.”
Jensen startled at the hoarse sound of Misha’s voice through the window, the screen dropping from his hand and clattering on the shingles.
Misha looked rather green, even the bright blue of his eyes seemed a little faded. His hair was stuck flat to his head on one side and standing straight up on the other.
“Maybe it’ll make it into a book one day,” Jensen said. He caught hold of the screen and shimmied back inside.
“I always meant to ask you,” Misha said, rubbing his eyes. “The character of Dmitri in Served with a Side of Redemption, that’s me, isn’t it? I’ve always wondered if you wrote me in as the butcher.”
“You’ll have to keep on wondering,” Jensen replied. “I’m not the kind to kiss and tell.”
“Bastard. Speaking of which, is Jared around?”
Jensen shook his head. “Dropped him off at his patron’s a couple of hours ago. We’re gonna hit up that new Thai place for dinner tonight. The food’s so spicy I’m thinking it’ll shock the hangover right outta him. ”
Misha crossed the room, dumped a pile of magazines from a chair unceremoniously onto the floor and sat down. He chewed on his lips for a minute, eyes downcast. “You like him, don’t you?”
“Yeah. I really do.” There was no point in dodging the question.
“Hmph.” Misha picked at his fingernails and looked at all points around the room except for Jensen. He shifted in his seat, crossing and uncrossing his legs. Everything about him screamed jittery and ill at ease.
“What? Do I have to come to you so that you can vet my hook ups?” Jensen asked, only partially teasing. Misha’s demeanor was setting him off balance. A terrible thought smacked him in the face. “Are you jealous?” he said, incredulous.
Misha rolled his eyes. “Jensen, if I wanted to get in your pants, I would have figured out a way to do it years ago. It’s not that.”
“Then spill,” Jensen commanded.
Misha took a deep breath and finally met his gaze. “Jared might have…implied that he wants me to sign him on.”
Warning signals lit up in Jensen’s mind: flashing red lights, screeching sirens, the whole shebang. “What did he say, exactly?”
“That he wanted me to read some of his stuff.”
Misha scoffed. “No, of course not. I’m all yours. You know that. I won’t do it, especially because of you and me, and particularly because of the two of you. It all seems a bit too incestuous.”
“Then what’s the problem?” Jensen’s mind was busy putting puzzle pieces together, and he really didn’t like the picture that was starting to appear.
“It’s probably nothing.” Misha tried to wave it away, but the damage was done. “I’ve just spent too many years dealing with cut throats and scoundrels in this business. You writers are a deviously amoral bunch, every single one of you.”
Jensen paced the length of the room, thoughtfully chewing on his thumbnail. “If that’s what he wants, then give it to him,” he told Misha.
“Am I still high? I must still be high. Or you are, because I swear I just handed you a no-frills outline of exactly why I wasn’t going to cut him a deal.”
“It might be worse if you don’t.” Misha started to question him, but Jensen barreled over it. “I’m calling in a favor, brother. Okay? Just do it.”
“You don’t even know if he’s good.”
Jensen grabbed a copy of The Columbia Review from his desk and tossed it in Misha’s lap. “Page forty-seven. The guy’s good. In fact, he’s great.”