September 30, 2009
Jared’s fingers slid over the raised lash marks on Jensen’s back. They were a startling blood-red in contrast to the pale skin that is almost always hidden beneath a shirt. He could feel his friend shivering under his light touches and so he pulled his hand away. The angry lines ran unevenly up to the shoulder blades and down the small of his back. They glared at Jared with a mocking illusion of belonging among fading bruises and pale white scars. With a glare of his own, he raised the camera.
He snapped a shot of each individual, purpling stripe—darkest one on Jensen’s right side to the thin, red scratch marks that ran the length of his shoulders. Then, he back up a bit and captured the whole mess of it, pulsing sores immortalized on the 2x2 screen of Jared’s digital with a flash and a click.
“You know, I’m thinking I should pursue a career in photography,” he joked, scanning Jensen’s back once more for anything he missed. “I’m getting pretty good at this. Turn around.”
Obeying immediately, Jensen chuckled behind a sardonic smirk. The first time, it had taken him nearly an hour to let Jared convince him to take off his shirt and there was absolutely no room for snide remarks. This was an act of treachery then, not to be taken lightly. This was just begging Lars to cuff him to the bed again and administer all holy hell on him. Now, he was more comfortable. Now, this was more like a chore that, while unpleasant, had to be done before the rest of his daily routine could continue. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that he looked forward to it, but now he wasn’t so nervous when he called Jay to tell him to bring the camera.
“You gonna start making me pay? or paying me?”
“How about both since they cancel each other out?”
Jared’s hands were always gentle. When he reached out for Jensen’s face, the resulting flinch was more out of habit than any actual fear. This time, though, Jay did manage to stick his thumb into a sore spot so that Jensen pulled away. It was then that he saw the yellowish blotch on the man’s jaw.
“Sorry,” he quipped quickly, adjusting his hand appropriately. “Didn’t see the bruise.”
When the picture was taken, Jensen averted his eyes from the lens, the pain still apparent on his face. Some of the little bitches didn’t look too bad, but they sure did hurt like nothing else. He absently reached up and pulled Jared’s hand away—it was still hurting his jaw, if unintentionally.
“Does it smart that bad?” Jared asked.
Jensen saw the solemn look on Jared’s face and didn’t like it. The only thing that the college boy needed to express was happy-go-lucky goofiness. “Don’t worry so much. You’ll wrinkle that pretty face and I won’t want to hang out with you anymore.”
Jay broke out into a small grin. Rolling his eyes, he tossed Jensen his shirt back and started putting his camera back in his book bag. “Yeah right. Like it’s my face that you stick around for.” The sarcasm was well-placed with a deeper meaning. He knew full well that Jensen was more than just attracted to him. His new friend clung more to his gentleness and acceptance than anything else.
“Yeah, you’re right,” Jensen played it off. “Your ass is pretty great too.”
The moment passed easily before Jensen stiffened. They looked up at each other, one pair of eyes wide like a deer in headlights and the other wide like a flustered beauty queen. Jared’s cheeks were a bright shade of pink and he looked at first like he was trying not to smile. When he noticed that the other man wasn’t quite as amused, he grew more serious. Whatever Jensen was thinking—Jared could probably guess by now—it had something to do with Lars and thus scared the crap out of him.
“I…I shouldn’t have said that.” Jen’s hands were now shaking as he desperately tried to sort out his shirt so that he could pull it over his head—cover himself, not be so vulnerable. “Sorry.”
Jared knew that he had to act fast. Something like this had already happened a few times and Jensen always seemed like he was about to freak out or run away. The first time, Jen closed himself off for the entire time they were together and then ended up triggering Lars’ violent side that very night. Jared needed to prevent that; needed to do something. “Don’t be sorry,” he put a hand on the other’s shoulder. “Seriously, it’s okay for you to say things like that. I’m really alright with it.”
“No,” Jensen insisted. “It isn’t. I mean, what straight guy wants some fag flirting with him all the time? Besides, I have a boyfriend.”
If you can call that a relationship—but Jared bit that comment back. He didn’t need to start an argument. “Look, don’t call yourself a fag, that’s derogatory. I take the flirting as a compliment…Besides, it isn’t bad if it’s true. My ass is great.”
At this point, Jensen had finally wormed his way into his shirt and was shimmying it over his head. After a short paused he started to laugh and finally got the damn thing all the way on. It wasn’t “rolling on the floor, side-splitting” laughter, just a bright smile and a steady rumble of chuckles. However, it was just what Jared was going for. “See?”
Jensen nodded lightly. “Yeah, I guess.”
“It’s harmless! Just a bunch of harmless flirts and you know nothing’s going to come out of it, right?”
“Sure. I know.”
Just then, a voice called from the other room. It was Professor Fossum, the acting teacher, wondering just what the hell they were doing in there for so long. “Jay! We have to get in to the prop room eventually, you know!” With that, Jared jumped slightly and checked his watch. It was 6:55, meaning Lou was impatient to start the 7:00 class. Crazy old man…
He got up and shouldered his satchel before looking back to Jensen. “Besides,” the older man went on, as if they hadn’t been interrupted at all, “seeing you get all blushed and flustered is kind of worth it.”
Jared immediately blushed again, eyebrows furrowed, looking back over his shoulder at the man sitting a little awkwardly on the prop bench at the back of this huge storage closet. There was a rather shy smirk on the other’s face that Jared wasn’t sure how he was supposed to react to. At first, there were butterflies in his stomach, but he pushed that feeling away. “Shut up,” he snapped playfully.
It was nice, seeing Jensen smile like that. He almost couldn’t look away.
They walked out of the prop room together and there was snicker from the seats across the small stage. Milo Jenkins sat in the front row, holding her notebook up to half-cover her face as her large, blue eyes stared at the two men. “I’m sorry,” she quickly apologized, “but seeing you two huge guys trying to squeeze through the door at the same time is just hilarious.”
Jared rolled his eyes and passed her. Jensen just smiled awkwardly at her and followed Jay. He wasn’t quite used to these people yet—didn’t know them very well.
Jensen had seen some small bathrooms. He hadn’t been to Europe of anything, but he’d been around. The restroom that was backstage in the theater, however, managed to take the cake. He opened the door to a three foot wide, five foot long kind of short hallway of a room. The sink stuck out of the wall so far that he almost had to turn sideways to get to the toilet. Aside from that, the walls being bright pink and that the only soap was a bar, it was okay. Yeah, not really.
Though it didn’t smell bad, per say, the illusion was there. He supposed that, psychologically, he paired crappy bathrooms with a rankness like dead cat and piss. Being in a theater, it would probably be bad for business if people thought someone was hiding a dead body backstage; he still found himself nearly suffocating, desperate to get out of there.
Maybe it’s claustrophobia, he thought awkwardly, while he zipped up his jeans.
Whatever the case, he washed his hands and got out of there as quickly as he could. No one takes that long to pee anyway. Maybe Jared was already wondering if he’d taken off. Jensen smiled wryly at the thought—because Jay would probably have a search part out on him if he was MIA more than thirty minutes. So Jen started out of the long trek across the empty stage to the “Little Theater” in the back.
Or at least, he thought that the stage was empty. When he got to the wings, he realized that the music he was hearing and shrugged off as some asshole’s iPod on speakers wasn’t Vanessa Carlton after all. Looking out, he could see her at the piano, sitting there with her back to the vacant audience and her hands a blur over the keys. She was singing “White Houses” as if she’d written it herself. Her chest voice was powerful, but soft and flowed easily into her head voice.
It was blatantly obvious as he walked out towards center stage that she didn’t see him. In fact, she was playing like she thought that no one was listening—Jensen remembered how being able to do that felt. He didn’t want to disturb her, but he couldn’t cross the stage without her seeing and the stairs to the pit creaked something terrible. So he waited out the bridge, delighting in the soft tumble of eighth notes and the pounding chords. She sounded light and free, without a care in the world. For a short, guilty moment, Jensen let himself wish he could remember how it felt.
The music reverberated all through the auditorium, but it always seemed to bounce right back to the stage where Jensen stood. It was an odd spell, it seemed, and it shattered with a short squeak and a loud, messy chord. As Jensen snapped out of it, he saw her staring straight at him, eyebrows raised and a hand pressed against her bright red coat covering her chest.
“Jesus Christ,” She gasped. “You scared the shit out of me.”
Clearing his throat awkwardly, Jensen took a step back. “Sorry, I—I didn’t mean to disturb you or anything…I heard you play and you’re really good.”
With a few deep breaths, she seemed to recover enough to smile. “No, its fine,” she told him, raising a hand to silence him. “It’s hard to demand privacy while sitting on stage. Just be careful that I know you’re there. Scare me bad enough and I’ll literally fall over and die of heart failure.” At first, the thought was horrifying, but then she laughed—that light, carefree tone back in her voice—and Jensen smiled too.
“So, I’ve never seen you around here before. You a student?”
Jensen had to blink a few times to keep up. That was a full spin from impending death to—by the way she was sitting with her legs crossed and her head cocked to one side—shamelessly hitting on him. He noticed that her jacket was now, miraculously, open just enough to reveal the cleavage left uncovered beneath. I have to say, I love women. Which is probably why I wouldn’t have sex with one. Then, his mouth ran off without him. “Uh…I’m gay,” he said. He meant to, you know, try to throw her off the scent, but he didn’t quite mean to say that.
For a beat, she was still, lips pursed, eyes calculating. It was as if she had a built in lie-detector and was trying to discern Jensen’s honesty. “Fuck,” she sighed at length, putting her feet flat on the floor and zipping up her jacket. “I let my tits get cold for nothing.”
His eyebrows kind of crawled to his hairline as a pinkish heat crept up his neck. He’d heard Lars cuss up a storm a few times, but he’d never heard a girl talk like that. It was interesting, he had to admit.
She giggled lightly. “I like you,” she stated, “You’re cute. I’m Rusty.”
“Jensen,” he replied, awkwardly. He thought there was something odd about the way she was talking. I mean besides the blatant act of ignoring most social boundaries. There was a lilt, or an accent of some sort
“Well, Jenny-boy. Walk with me.” With that, she picked up her books of sheet music and stuffed them into a burgundy and black back-pack which she promptly zipped up so hard that it should have broken. Then, she got up and went quick-paced across the stage.
No other choice but to follow like a lost puppy, Jensen tried to keep up with her head start. “Um…please don’t call me that,” he requested, as politely as he could.
“Make you uncomfortable?”
“Nah, it’s just…” My boyfriend calls me that, and right now I’m so scared of him that I could probably vomit if I thought about it too long. But he didn’t say that because that just really wouldn’t go over well. “Some of my friends call me Jen, but Jenny-boy…”
“I hear you,” she waved it off with a smile. “So, Jen, you aren’t a student here, are you?”
“No, I’m not,” he replied, rubbing a hand awkwardly over the back of his neck. “I’m here with a friend who has a class with Professor Fossum. Took him forever to get me to come, in the first place.”
When they were out in the hallway and Rusty was giggling lightly and dancing with her back pack, chirping something that sounded like “A Whole New World,” Jensen was really starting to either like her or wish he was never born. There was a seeming permanent blush on his cheeks and it wasn’t any better that he’d just met her and she was being so—was there a kinder word than crazy? Maybe she was just being herself and at that thought, he realized that he was more than okay with that.
“You really don’t care what I think of you, do you?”
“Why would I? If you were a shmuck, you’d already be out of here, not wanting to be seen with me.” That being said, she took a bow and slung her pack over her shoulder. “Being that you haven’t bailed, you’re either being very polite or you don’t care what I think of you either. So there.”
Raising his eyebrows, he considered this. “You’re right,” he told her. “In a rather brutally honest way…”
“Of course I am! I’m always right, I’m Irish.”
Jensen scoffed, his smile widening a bit more. So that’s where her accent came from. That was one mystery about her solved, and that was progress enough to give him a taste. He wanted to know more about her, figure out what made her so enthralling. Then again, she was kind of like Jared. No, she was exactly like Jared in the sense that she was what Jensen was not and could not have. The deciding factor was that she was female and that made it so much easier for Jensen not to be afraid of her; he wasn’t put off by the fear that Lars would get mad if he found out.
“And what else can I be but honest?” She was going on as if she didn’t notice that he was staring at her. “I don’t like pretenses and I don’t like being lied to, so I won’t do it to anyone else. If you’re being a dick, I’m not going to sugar coat it for you.”
“That’s very kind of you,” Jensen said with a chuckle.
That wasn’t Rusty’s soft, feminine voice, or even her feisty, low flirty tone. In fact, it was coming from behind them. They both turned around to see all six feet and three inches of Jared Padalecki standing by the door into the “little theater.” He looked a little confused and even more put off—probably because he thought Jensen was ditching him.
“Hey, Jay!” Rusty called to him obliviously.
Jared blinked a few times like he hadn’t seen her there and then smiled thinly at her. “Yo, Rust-bucket. You stealing my friend?” It was a teasing kind of insult that was taken quite well.
“Don’t be a douche,” she snapped, “I told him to walk me to class and he’s too much of a gentleman to say no to a lady.”
Rolling his eyes Jay walked up to them, his hands in his pockets, trying to be casual. However, something in the set of his shoulders said that he was really annoyed that Jensen was walking out on him. “You’re no lady,” he teased, obviously knowing her well enough to be this friendly, “Now hand him over, or I’ll sick Sandy on you.”
She quickly feigned terror and nudged Jensen away from her as if he were a poisonous snake. “You didn’t tell me you were Jared Padalecki’s friend.”
Awkwardly, Jensen wondered whether or not to laugh at all of this or choose a side. “Is—is that a bad thing?”
There was a long pause. Rusty and Jared slowly looked at each other and mirrored a raised eyebrow. Then, as if on cue, they started laughing, good-natured, hearty laughter—probably at Jensen’s expense. Not that he minded, he’d just like a little insight onto what the hell was so funny. It was kind of like talking loudly in a theater: you don’t know why they’re doing it, but it annoys you and you wish that they would stop.
Rusty seemed to catch on to his confusion first. “Sorry,” she apologized through her giant grin. “Jared’s my best mate, been that way for a while now. We sort of nag at each other sometimes.”
“Didn’t mean to confuse you,” Jay said.
With a slightly shaken hesitation, Jensen nodded slowly. “Yeah, it’s fine. I’ll just pretend I know what the hell you’re talking about when you do that again.”
Rusty’s laugh was pure as gold and almost as pretty. She wasn’t cutesy girl, but she had the voice of a Prima Donna no matter what she did. It demanded attention and even Jared seemed to be affected by the captivating tone quality. “That’s good. Well, since Jared likes you, I no longer have the slightest of doubts that we will get along grand.”
Fall mornings. They are damp, they are cold and they seem even damper and colder on the property of “Stone Wall Cemetery”—named as such because of the stone wall that surrounds it. Gray rocks piled one on top of another gave way to dark, dim green of necropolis grass that spanned out almost as far as the eye could in some directions. Eight thirty am mist blurred the trees and benches and tall, standing memorial blocks. There weren’t many of the traditional stones, but just enough loomed in the distance to give the effect of watchful eyes or lingering spirits. The mood was not quite gloomy and at the same time, not quite comfortable.
The three were moving a bit brusquely for mourners and too slowly for passersby taking a short cut. The men remained behind the third figure, dark coats and dark jeans fitting in to the sliver, dim surroundings. However, in front of them, she wore a red sweater with bright white, clean slacks, standing out like a sore thumb. In her hands, she held a bouquet of cheerfully arranged, multicolored flowers. The two men held similar offerings, a bit smaller.
Jensen wasn’t quite sure how they’d talked him into coming with them, but he was pretty sure it was something to do with Jared’s damn, adorable pout. It was obvious that this was Rusty’s idea and she was dragging the giant man along, so Jay must have thought that Jensen should shiver with him.
“Who’s grave are we going to see?” Jensen called. His voice was a little hushed, even though he thought he was talking louder than that.
With a light, out of place chuckle, Jared shook his head. “We aren’t really going to see anyone’s grave.”
Rusty looked over her shoulder. She was smiling, and it seemed that she rarely stopped doing that judging by the soft creases in her face. The flowers that she held just beside her face gave her a look like a model in some morbid photo shoot. “Here are the rules:” she began proudly, “Find a gravestone that doesn’t look like it’s been visited for a while and read the headstone. Think about the person and put a flower or two on the grave.”
Leaning in next to his friend, Jared decided to explain. “Every once in a while, Rusty likes to respect the dead by refreshing forgotten graves with flowers.”
“I’ll start in the East plot. Jensen, you come with me.” Rusty motioned him to follow her.
Jensen looked at Jared, uncertain. He didn’t know Rusty well enough to understand her intentions—if she in fact had any. Sure, she seemed nice and fun to be around, but she was Jared’s friend and he barely knew her. In other words, Jensen wasn’t fast to trust someone. When he saw that Jared was already walking away to the west side of the plot, he sighed.
As he walked with her, looking out for dirty stones, undecorated graves, or names half buried in dirt, he wondered if he should say something. She struck him as a talkative person, and would probably dominate a conversation once started. But right now, she also seemed perfectly suited to being quiet and reflective. In a weird way, she fit into the surroundings very well, despite her crimson jacket and cloud-white pants.
“There’s one,” she said quietly, pointing a few feet away. Together, they wandered over and she immediately knelt down and smoothed away a layer of damp grit. “Wanna read the name, Jen?”
Gazing down at her, an eyebrow lifted, he wondered just what the significance of all this was to her. It wasn’t his place to question it, though, she seemed to take this very seriously—in her own, carefree way.
“Okay… Kim Manners, beloved son and brother. Born January 13, 1951, passed January 25, 2009…”
Just like that, a wave of emotion passed over him, tensing his heart muscles and clinging in his chest. He didn’t know who this guy was or anything, but the way “beloved son and brother” fell off his tongue tightened his throat. Somewhere, someone was probably thinking about this guy right now—a sister, perhaps—about his past, who he was. Someone was wondering why he was gone, how God could be so cruel as to take him away? It stung a little at old wounds he had, and tickled some irritations. What if that’s me one day? A grave no one visits amongst a bunch of dead people.
He felt himself dropping to his knees and placing three stalks of Baby’s Breath at the bottom of the tombstone. Rusty placed a bright pink rose next to them.
“Jensen,” she said, not taking her eyes away from the small picture of a smiling, thin, gray-haired man set into the granite. “Do you think his family just can’t make it here? Or that they just don’t want to?”
With a short hesitation, Jensen wondered if this wasn’t one of those “glass half full” questions. What did she want him to say, or did she honestly care what he thought? Again, he wasn’t quite sure he could trust her. Well, he’d trusted Jared with his deepest, darkest secret, so why not the crazy, piano girl? “Sometimes, when someone dies, it’s hard to be here. They probably aren’t ready to come yet, to think about it.”
“I lost a cousin, back when I still lived in Ireland: Tanya. I wanted to visit her every day that I could. I’d run out to the graveyard after school and talk to her like she was still there, put flowers that I picked onto her stone. And when we moved, I wondered if anyone goes to her grave anymore, talks to her.” The smile didn’t leave her face. This obviously was a fond memory, not one she ran from. “I still wonder that. Will I find flowers if I went back there?”She raised her head, her eyes locked with his. “Just because someone is dead doesn’t mean they should be lonely.”