Disclaimer: Jared and Jensen are completely original characters. Any resemblance to persons alive or dead was unintentional. *cough* Ahem, right.
Summary: Jared and Jensen are best friends in high school fighting feelings for each other, school work, team sports, and most of all the required ballroom dancing unit.
Genre: High School!AU
Rating: PG-13, will become NC-17 later.
Acknowledgements: Thanks go out to cerberos, mytigerhobbes, Misha, and Kaley for hand holding, brain storming, and beta work.
Notes: Title taken from an Andy Bell song of the same name.
“Ballroom dance?” Jared asked, slumping onto Jensen’s basement couch. He picked up a game controller, but held it limply without entering the game. “You’ve got to be kidding me!”
Jared looked down at the newsletter Jensen's mom had handed him when he walked in the door and tried to steal some of her freshly baked cookies.
“You know as much as I do,” Jensen replied, intent on taking down a soldier in Call of Duty. Jared sighed and entered the play. "Just last week I was going on and on about how I'd never have to take the Dance unit."
"That's because athletes are supposed to be able to get out of it! We run laps and shit. That counts."
Jensen laughed. "Afraid to see you dance, more like."
“But learning to waltz?" Jared went on, ignoring Jensen. He fired off a rocket launcher and then considered aloud, "That square dancing thing in seventh grade sucked balls. I'd go on trash duty to avoid that."
Jensen shrugged, tongue sticking out of his mouth in concentration.
"You know, you wouldn't be cool as a fucking cucumber, if you weren't graduating," Jared pointed out. "I'm going to have to do this next year too, and they'll probably have like...African interpretive dance."
"You'll really need that in life," Jensen replied, sarcastic.
Jared sighed. "I tried that argument in Calculus, once."
“Ugh, four weeks of stepping on girls' feet and getting slapped.” Jared sighed as Jensen poetically blew him up.
Jensen looked over at him. “Speak for yourself, klutz boy!”
Somehow Coach Morgan, the head of the PE dept, had coerced an Austin based dance company into teaching them. Must have threatened their candy asses with his brass knuckles or something. They had a rep as being pretty sick dancers, like choreographing for Hollywood and shit. Sandy had said so anyways, like she was excited or something.
Jared just felt sick. He was going to embarrass himself horribly. During basketball practice, it kept throwing him off his game.
“God, I hope they have hot chicks in the company,” Andy said as he shot the ball.
Jared caught the rebound and then put up one of his own. “Not like it matters, we’ll be dancing with other students.”
Tom dribbled at the side, moving the ball back and forth between his legs, showing off. “I hope they separate us by class.”
Jared said, “Worried some poor freshman girl is going to cling to your legs and start sobbing?”
Tom turned scarlet and pushed in front of Jared to take a shot from the free throw line. The ball arced up beautifully. He said, “I fuckin' hate you.” Jared cracked up as the ball bounced off the rim. "So much," Tom reiterated.
Andy spent the rest of practice complaining about the dearth of hot girls in his PE period, the PE period he hadn't been to since he made the team.
"Don't complain," Jared said, "I remember back in seventh grade, they had us rotate partners, and I managed to get every pimply, gothed out or semi-psycho robotics team girl in one long streak."
Tom and Andy laughed.
"They were crazy!" Jared shuddered.
“But you don't get it. The girls are happy about it!” Andy shouted as they went through a lay-up drill. "I know you heard Sandy going on like prom was announced early."
“Girls like romantic shit!” Jared replied, catching the rebound and popping the ball up with his other hand. "Too much Mario Lopez, man."
“Hey, Padalecki, Wright, this isn’t a tea party,” Coach Morgan called from across the gym. “I don’t wanna see your mouth move for the rest of practice.”
Coach Morgan started them on liners, whistle blowing in sharp staccato bursts. When Jared stumbled, Coach caught his eye with a glare. It was a warning. Jared grinned back, but he gladly headed off to the shower when Morgan finally let them go.
"I don't want to hear any of you complaining about the dance unit!" he called after them as they limped off the courts.
Jared had just started toweling off when Tom came around the corner, hair and clothes already pristine. Jared made a face at him.
“We’re meeting up at Jensen’s house today before we go over to the flats, you need a ride?”
Jared nodded as he tugged his boxers up over his hips. “Yeah, that’d be good.”
“Sandy’s gonna be there,” Tom replied, his voice morphing into that tantalizing sing-song Jared hated.
“So?” he said, turning around to dig his jeans out of his locker.
“So? Man, that chick is hot for you!” Tom shook his head and sighed. “Greatest tits in school and you don’t notice.”
Jared shrugged. “Never said I didn’t notice.”
Tom laughed. “Man, you need to let Jensen give you some tips about making it with girls.”
“Please,” Jared scoffed, ignoring the weird feeling in the pit of his stomach at the thought. “Jenny doesn’t do nothin’—they just jump all over him for breathin’! If he had to work for it, he'd be a virgin at 30.”
Jared sat by himself on the hood of Jensen’s car, sipping a Coors, and watching the sky. Somebody with money had been buying tonight, or god only knew they'd all be drinking Keystone and Natty Lite.
His friends ran rowdy around him. They'd lit a fire in a rusted out trash can and were dancing to the Sean Paul blasting from somebody’s car stereo. The same thing all over again. He hated this song. He hated this place. He lay back against the windshield and sighed.
Some sophomore was shrieking with laughter at something Tom had said, and Tom looked like he was awkwardly trying to extricate himself. Jared enjoyed watching him flounder. Mikey Rosenbaum, Tom's official wingman seemed to be exacerbating the whole situation with a series of lewd puns.
Not a surprise. On the fifth grade camp trip Mike'd refused to give him his towel when his swim trunks came off the first time they went water skiing. He'd had to fight his way up the beach, naked, while everybody laughed.
Jensen flopped on the car beside him, swaying. “Hey, sweetheart,” he said against Jared's neck. Jared sighed. Wrecked already. Jensen laughed for no reason. “You miss me?”
“Miss your ugly mug?” Jared asked. “Never.”
Jensen slung an arm around him and Jared ignored the warm feeling in the pit of his belly, the way the sharp scent of Jensen's aftershave went straight to his groin.
He’d been ignoring it since was he was twelve—he’d gotten pretty good at it. Sometimes he ignored it so well, he almost forgot it existed. And then Jensen would catch his eyes or cock his head, and he'd curse the universe all over again.
“Baby, you know you do,” Jensen slurred, head on his shoulder. The gaggle of girls dancing next to the car stereo raised their brows at them and started laughing. Jared flicked them off.
“Aw, lookit, love birds!” Chad said, looking unimpressed. Jared glared at him. He’d been friends with Chad since the 8th grade when Jensen went off to high school without him and he’d had to do something to keep from being friendless and alone for the last year of his middle school career. "I got a dollar, will you gimme a show?"
"Please, I'm worth at least ten dollars, Jared only five," Jensen grumbled, still slumped against him.
Jensen cupped his hand around his mouth and said in a loud stage whisper, "I maintain that befriending Chad was the worst decision you've ever made."
"Yeah?" Jared said, watching Chad's face. Chad was also the only person in the whole world who knew Jared had an epic crush on Jensen.
"Yeah, worse than jumping off the school roof that time. Worse than going in UFO pants to the first middle school dance." Jensen tugged himself upright. "Possibly not worse than the UFO pants."
"Nothing was worse than the UFO pants," Chad said and then shot Jensen a hard look. "You're a douche-nozzle."
“Jealous?” Jensen asked, nuzzling along Jared’s neck. Jared tensed and his skin flushed all over. Chad gave him an exasperated look. Jensen was still talking, “Sophia finally decided she was tired of the pencil between your legs? You need to come steal my one and only?”
Jared ducked his head and tried to shove him away. "Get off, you're being a dick."
Jensen laughed and held on tighter. "What would you do without me?"
Probably avoid the level of hell reserved for fags, Jared thought. "Hang out with Chad all the time."
"See?" Jensen replied plaintively. "You need me!"
“You're a sloppy drunk, Ackles,” Chad said resignedly and shook his head. He gave Jared another pointed look and walked off.
“So eloquent, that boy,” Jensen said, his mouth against Jared’s neck. “Remind me, did you ever actually like him?”
"You're so immature," Jared shifted, tugged Jensen off the car. “Come on, you’re drunk,” he said, trying to get him to the door. “I’ll drive you home.”
Jared said their goodbyes, gave Sandy a quick hug, and rolled his eyes at Tom who gave him an thumbs up. Collecting Jensen's coat from the shoulders of some pouty-mouthed girl who looked like she needed a couple of deep-fried twinkies took some doing.
Jensen leaned against the passenger door of his car, looking lost. One drink more and he knew Jensen would be pulling out his guitar and wailing about how his deep feelings for his lady of the moment.
"You never know when to stop," Jared said and shoved him in the car.
Jared got Jensen home, pushing and shoving him up into bed.
Jensen started humming Proud Mary.
"Shh, shh, be quiet!" Jared clamped a hand over his mouth. "Your parents will flip a bitch if they see you like this."
Jensen licked Jared's palm and he pulled it away with a curse. They passed by Mack's room and Jensen started humming again. "Shut up! Mack will tell the entire neighborhood about that time with Christina if you wake her up."
"That time with Christina was kind of amazing," Jensen whispered back.
"In a your parents will kill you kind of a way." They reached Jensen's door.
When they were younger, Jensen's dad hadn't let him go over to Tom’s house because his parents were liberal hippies who espoused earth saving sentiments and passed out wheat grass and whole grain crackers rather than juice and chips. They thought all of their children were going to their marriage beds untouched by anybody other than god. If they knew how many notches Jensen had in his bedpost they'd weep and then send him off to some christian camp preaching hellfire and damnation.
He got Jensen’s shoes off, and Jensen lolled on the bed, blinking sleepily.
“You stayin’ the night?” Jensen asked, hand snapping out to grab Jared's arm.
“Don’t got a way home, dickwad,” Jared answered as he kicked off his own shoes. He shoved Jensen over on his bed, and then snuck into the hallway bathroom to get him a cup of water.
Jared kind of hated that it was such a well-practiced routine, but there were always the nights that Jensen went home with a girl. He'd take maudlin and pathetic poetry-boy over loose-hipped, grinning well-fucked asshole.
“Drink it,” he ordered, thrusting the cup in front of Jensen’s face.
Jensen glared at him and then fastened his lips around the rim, allowing Jared to tilt it back like he was a two-year-old. Jensen looked up at Jared for a moment after he’d finished, his gaze direct. Jared turned away and stripped off his jeans. When he’d turned back Jensen was already sprawled out under the covers. Jared sighed and pushed his friend over again, before crawling beneath the covers himself, his head at Jensen's feet.
The next morning he woke to Jensen sealed to his back, face mashed against the nape of Jared’s neck. Somehow he'd rotated in the night so that he was lying the same direction as Jared. Jared shuddered and let himself remain that way for a few short seconds, knowing that if Jensen’s parents walked in, they’d probably spontaneously combust. There should be a minimum of at least 12 inches of space between young people or the devil will crawl inside them. Jared remembered hearing that, waiting in Jensen's kitchen to go to the first middle school dance.
Thankfully, they weren't up yet. His mother would be banging around in the kitchen if they were. He glanced at Jensen's orange digital clock. 6 AM.
Jensen let out a snore and Jared snickered.
He dressed and decided to walk the four miles home. It was early and the morning was pleasant. He just wasn’t going to think about it.
Jared's PE period all stood waiting awkwardly in the mirrored room off the gym. It was the rave room at dances. It looked far more threatening without the glow sticks and the strobe light. Jared tugged idly at the hem of his t-shirt, trying to calm his heart down.
The dance unit was the only time in PE that they were allowed to keep their regular clothes on, and Jared winced at the sight of so many girls in platforms and heels. How would his feet survive?
Tom’s wish had been answered and upperclassmen were separated from underclassmen. He'd been woefully eyeing a miniature freshman who blushed and giggled and pointed at their group like she could bray them all into loving submission. She would probably battle to the death to dance with Tom. But Coach Morgan had blustered in and tossed the younger students out.
Jared clapped Tom on the shoulder."I do feel kinda bad for her though," he said, unable to restrain a laugh. "She obviously likes you so much."
"Mike got out of it, can you believe it?" Tom whispered. "His mother taught him to dance when he was little or something."
"The world's an unkind place," Jared replied. All the athletes were assigned 7th period PE so that they'd have free time between school ending and practice starting. He only counted himself lucky that he missed being grouped with the cheerleading squad.
A crowd of dancers pushed through the back doors, talking and laughing with each other, clicking heels as they swept across the floor.
"Totally flat!" Andy said out of the side of his mouth, obviously disappointed. Jensen shoved away from his crowd of track buddies, and inserted himself between Jared and Tom. They leaned against one wall with the rest of the guys as they watched the dancers warm up.
"Now if only I had Pam Anderson doing those exercises in front of me," Andy quipped as a dancer made an impossible looking arch with her back.
Jared scuffed his sneaker against the ground and sighed. He tried not to feel exasperated with the way Jensen watched a girl in spandex bend over backwards to touch the floor.
He glanced at his hungry-looking female classmates sitting on a collection of mats, watching the boys lined up against the wall like hawks. Jared figured they were each being parceled off. He cringed.
Easton, the instructor according to Coach Morgan, leaped across the room and then popped up into a dramatic spinning jump.
"I am not doing that," Jared whispered furiously. "There has to be money and sexual favors involved to get me to do that."
A dark-haired woman strode over, heels striking the wood dramatically, hands at her hips. “Well? Get warmed up! There will be no dancing if you have torn ligaments.”
They grumbled, but Tom nudged him in the side with a slight grin as Rosemary Stevens spread her legs in a straddle and bent downward, giving the entire room a good view of her cleavage.
Jared looked away and pulled his leg into a quad stretch. After a good ten minutes of bending themselves into improbable positions as the woman shouted at them. They sat and watched the company pull off a series of seemingly impossible dance moves that they would never hope to emulate in a million years.
Easton smiled at them all and excitedly gestured them to their feet like he couldn't wait for them to get started hopping around like monkeys.
“Before you learn to Tango with a partner, you’ve got to know the basic footwork,” Easton said.
They all started out in a line, learning simple back and forward steps. The girls stepped back from the line as the guys stepped forward. It wasn't difficult, but Jared worried for the moment when he would be paired up. He looked down at his shoes to make sure he made no mistakes and when he looked up again, he saw Easton looking back, smiling slightly as he leaned against the wall. Jared blushed, looked back down, and promptly stumbled.
Jensen thumped him on the back, "Two left feet, man."
Jared didn’t reply, but he felt Easton’s smile on him for the rest of the class.
After a week he'd quite possibly convinced the class he had cerebral palsy. He hated it. It was mortifying. He had to be the worst ever. When the bell rang signaling sixth period (only a period away) he seriously considered ditching.
He ran into Sandy in the hall. She was dressed for a day at the beach with sunglasses and sandals.
“Hey, I just came from the tango palace,” she told him, enveloping him in a hug before he even opened his mouth.
“Don’t remind me,” he groaned, hugging her back. “I have it last.”
She nodded and pulled back. “I got partnered off with Kristin, because there weren’t enough guys.”
“Better than Mikey,” Jared said.
She hit his shoulder and said, "You shouldn't talk that way about your friends."
Jared rolled his eyes. "You don't know them well enough."
“I didn’t say that being with Kristin was bad, I just wanted to dance with Chris!” Before Chris, Sandy had liked Jared for a while, and Jared had been terrified. He’d never been liked by a girl. For a week, after Sophia had walked up to him and told him Sandy was in love with him in no uncertain terms, he’d honestly debated asking her out. Then Jensen had dragged him off to a zombie movie marathon at the old Park Theater, and he’d realized there wasn’t anybody but Jensen and thinking otherwise was a painful delusion.
But he liked Sandy a lot, especially after she asked him out to a café simply as friends and she ate two entrées, a baguette, and a dessert. Anybody who could put a way that many carbs in a single sitting was a friend for life. She was all artsy and went on and on about Chris, so sometimes there wasn't a lot to talk about. Jared didn’t exactly dislike him, but he didn't exactly like anybody who encouraged the maudlin drunken guitar strumming that Jensen could get up to either.
He was also pretty sure she suspected, especially recently. She hadn't come right out and said it, but she watched Queer as Folk like it was going out of style, and kept making references to condoms and lube.
Jared half-smiled at her and shook his head. “Jensen and Tom are in my group. It's misery.”
“Aww, does Jared wanna dance with his bestie Jensen?” She poked him on the shoulder.
He rolled his eyes, but couldn’t prevent a fire engine red blush from suffusing his face. Sandy’s expression changed rapidly as he watched, going from teasing to serious.
“Look, if you ever need to talk—” she started, and then final bell rang. She made a comical face and then reached out to Jared. “If I’m late to photo again, I’ll get dropped. But, if you ever need to talk...” She made a telephone sign with her fingers and then ran off, all the key chains on her backpack jangling.
The hall clock showed 1:15. He had to jog to auto. Sophia, the only girl in his auto shop was bringing her car in today, and Jared had a burning desire to get elbows deep in the machinery. She and Jared were the only ones who actually did any work in the class. Chad and the rest of the guys messed around with the sandblaster and the plasma torch, writing their names in old car doors.
“Hey, Paddywhack, you’re late!” Mr. C, the shop teacher called from the back as he worked the hydraulic lift. Mr. C had come up with nicknames for everybody--horrible nicknames that stuck. Paddywhack was written on the back of Jared's team sweatshirt. He was thankful, however, that he’d escaped Chad’s nickname of “twinkie.”
“Sorry, Mr. C,” Jared replied as he stowed his stuff. “Had to stay late for English.”
Mr. C waved it away. Jared was his best student and the only one allowed to work on the Model A they'd started restoring in March. They were trying to have it ready for the June car show.
“Just got this engine from one of my friends, took it apart to fix a valve problem, and now the cam’s not turning right. Wanna take a look?”
About halfway through the period Jensen walked by the garage with another senior, Rochelle. Jensen had AP Physics B and the students got let out during the period to go "experience" mechanics and gravity in the works.
"Hey," he said, setting the wrench aside and shading his eyes from the sun.
Jensen smiled, and Rochelle gave him a bored looking 'hey' back.
Jared mopped his brow with the faded rag he kept handy in his back pocket. "I have no clue what's wrong with this fucking thing," he said.
Jensen smiled brilliantly, eyes all flashing green crystal and long-lashed. Jared felt it in his belly. "You'll figure it out," Jensen said serenely.
Jared narrowed his eyes. "Are you high?" He looked at Rochelle. "Is he high?"
Rochelle shrugged. Jared slapped Jensen's hand away as he reached out to fiddle with a set of bolts Jared was in the process of torquing. "You know you shouldn't get high on school grounds, idiot," he said, with a sigh.
Jensen ignored him. "There's your problem," he said, "with the crank shaft." He pointed. Jared peered at it and wanted to brain himself with an alternator. It was so blindingly obvious. Jensen was in second period, for which Jared was grateful. He doubted he’d ever get anything done if he was confronted with Jensen covered in engine oil on a regular basis. He'd have to douse Jensen in 90 weight and hope the smell would put him off.
“Me and the track team are going out for lunch, I’ll see you for ballroom dance,” Jensen called over his shoulder.
“Lookin’ forward to it,” Jared called back darkly, twirling his wrench.
Jared, like Sandy, got assigned a partner when he arrived in PE. He'd been running late all day, but he lucked out with Rosemary, who was neither going to render him sterile, nor stomp on his feet.
The music started and he continued his long spree of fucking up. Only Rosemary's fast maneuvering saved her from Jared’s long legs.
He stumbled around for another three days, Rosemary wincing at every turn, while Jensen smoothly moved on, learning backbreaks and dips, flashes and turns. It was like God was laughing at him. Tom wasn’t fumbling around like Jared, but he still wasn't about to win gold standard.
Finally Easton got fed up and practically yanked him away from Rosemary.
“In ballroom dance a woman only knows where to move because you tell her,” Easton said as he circled around Jared, correcting his posture, hands brusque on his body. “Your body is how you tell her!”
“Uh…” Jared replied.
Easton sighed and turned to another dancer, Scott, and said, “Put on track two.”
Scott nodded and went to the stereo. Before Jared could protest, Easton had positioned Jared’s hand on his shoulder and grabbed the other one, hauling him in close. The music started and Jared, afraid they were going to attempt some grand waltz, was surprised when Easton simply started walking him backwards across the floor, the other students parted to let them pass.
Easton smelled like soap and water and cinnamon chewing gum. His hands were warm where they touched Jared. Jared swallowed and tried to focus on where Easton was leading him. He wondered just how monumentally his father would flip out if he saw him like this. Easton was gay, Jared was gay, what if something happened? What if their gayness met and combined and then exploded or something? Okay, so maybe he was having a freak out of his own.
Guys wrestled and touched each other, they played sports and roughhoused, they used each other for support when they were stumbling drunk, but they didn’t do this. They didn’t guide each other across the floor, and they definitely didn’t demand that Jared look in their eyes, the way that Easton kept doing.
“You’re doing good, Jared,” Easton said as they reversed directions. “I'm glad that you don’t look down at your feet, but looking over my shoulder isn’t right either. When you ballroom dance you must always, always hold my gaze.”
Jared’s gaze snapped to Easton’s. He wasn’t shy. He could do this. It didn’t matter that he was being led around by a guy who was only marginally shorter than him with pretty blue eyes and bright blond hair. It was PE, school-enforced dance, and nobody cared who he danced with anyway. Okay no, that was a lie. Jared was going to die. Maybe he could also fool himself into believing he could fly or breathe in outer space in the process? Easton moved into a snap without warning and Jared was so lost in his own worries that he copied the move without thinking.
The dancers clapped, and he caught Tom nudging Jensen in the side. When he looked around the room he could tell everybody was trying hard not to laugh at him. Jared sighed and ignored the way Easton smiled up at him, his hands warm and sure on his waist.
“That’s how you cue a woman,” Easton answered. He replayed the move, showing how the flat of his forearm nudged Jared’s shoulder to turn, how the rock of his hips pulled Jared back in again. When the lesson was over, Jared couldn't get away from him fast enough.
“Heard you were quite the lady today?” Andy said as they did push-ups during practice. Tuesdays were conditioning days and coach worked them over, hard.
Tom cracked up beside them, his arms faltering as he raised himself up off the ground. “Jared just can’t fuckin’ dance.”
“Yeah, whatever, man,” Jared replied as he lowered his chest to the floor. “Y’all know ballroom dance is all about the woman anyway, just means I get to show my fine ass off.”
“What are you smoking?” Andy shot back. “Y’all are butt ugly!”
For the rest of practice they made jokes about dresses and panties in Jared’s company.
When Jared met Jensen after practice at his car he tossed his bag in the backseat and asked, “You going to make fun of me?”
“Nah,” Jensen said, smiling as he spun the dial on the radio. “I figure bein’ as uncoordinated as you is punishment enough.”
Jared punched him in the shoulder. “Fucker.”
“But I'm so good at it,” Jensen smiled at him and shook out his arm, before peeling out of the empty parking lot. The sun’s angle made everything a faint orange and Jared smiled back. "You'll always love me."
"Yeah, I really do" Jared said, "especially when you offer to buy me a cheeseburger."
Easton snatched him back up again on Thursday, ignoring all the catcalls and hoots the other students made at them. Gradually they got more and more advanced with the routine. Easton spun him around, his arms fully extended to avoid knocking Jared’s head.
It grated that he was learning the girl’s routine, because, you know, he had his masculine pride, but it was okay. The guys were just ribbing him and Easton wasn’t doing anything suggestive. The majority of the time there was a river of space in between their bodies.
He caught Jensen staring at them after Easton dipped him like he was a 5’4 adolescent girl, but he didn’t know what to think about the glance.
Lord, please don’t let him think anything of it, he whispered internally when Easton turned him around again.
When Easton ran him through a pattern of back-breaks, he said, "Maybe next time I'll let you lead."
"Thanks." Jared said flatly, realizing it probably didn’t matter, because he was still dancing with a guy when everybody else had a girl, but somehow, it made him feel better.
Coach had canceled practice for a PE department meeting and after class let out, he rushed to the parking lot and was lucky enough to bum a ride from Sophia to the Diner.
"How can you be hungry, you ate a huge lunch," Sophia said as she fiddled with her tape deck.
"My momma’s lunches are the best, but a growing boy's gotta eat," he told her, "You don't rib Tom."
"That's because Tom’s dad packs him whole wheat tuna, plain yogurt, and carrot sticks. I would eat a horse every day if that was my lunch."
Sophia broke at least ten different traffic laws on the way to the diner. When they got out of the car a women with two kids in a stroller walked by and said, "Aren't you two a darling couple?"
Jared blushed and ducked his head, but Sophia sucked the praise right up. "Thanks, ma'am."
Jared didn’t generate a lot of interest from girls--too shy. Today it seemed like every girl from their school who passed the table was waving at him and asking him about basketball and offering him a sip of their milkshake. It was terrifying.
Sandy dug into her cheese fries and told him with her mouth full, "Suddenly you have layers." Jared knew she meant the whole dancing thing and reached out to grab a fry. She smacked his hand away.
“Like onions?” Mike said as he slid into the booth next to them. Sandy ignored him.
“You look less like a block-headed jock when you let Easton dance with you,” she clarified, pointing a fry at him. "Sensitive, even."
“Well aren’t you nice,” he replied dryly, tossing back a gulp of coke.
“Girls are fuckin’ nuts,” Chad replied, fries half in and half out of his mouth.
Sophia furrowed her brow. “We are not, we just aren’t so blindly predictable as you lunkheads.”
“A nice way of saying bipolar." He turned back to Jared. “Listen, Jared, Easton's nice right?”
Jared choked on his burger. “Ugh,” was all he managed to hack out, as his eyes watered and his throat stung. Of course Chad would try and set him up with the only other gay person they knew.
The guys teased Jared so much in PE that day, even though he had begun to learn the guy part that Easton threw up his hands in exasperation. "Enough, boys will dance with boys, and girls will dance with girls."
Jensen and Tom went along with it meekly, possibly because they were Jared’s friends, and would’ve felt bad about complaining.
Everybody else grumbled.
Easton said, "I don't care if it screws up your routines, you have to learn to get over yourselves, or god knows, I'll make you regret it."
Jared was paired up with Tom and he had a sneaking suspicion that this had more to do with their similar stature than anything else.
Jared was completely unprepared to be dancing with somebody who honestly had no clue what they were doing, but for the first time in days, it was funny. They tripped all over each other and offered each other the wrong hands and stomped on each other’s feet. Jared whirled Tom about exaggeratedly while Tom batted his eyelashes. By the end of the hour Jared felt lucky that he hadn’t peed himself with laughter. Or killed himself getting tangled in Tom's shoelaces.
Jensen rolled his eyes at them, and managed to make dancing with this skinny theater kid, Sean, look like an art form. When he turned back to Tom, he was looking at Jared with an inscrutable expression.
“What?” Jared asked, as he backed Tom up across the floor.
Tom shrugged. “Nothing.”
Jared didn’t look over at Jensen for the rest of the period.
Jared lay beside Jensen that evening on his bed. They had hit the convenience store earlier and the covers were strewn with wrappers and soda cans. Jensen’s body was warm against his arm, and his lips were cherry red from sucking on a tootsie pop.
“Y’know, Ballroom dance can be kinda hot,” Jensen said suddenly, staring up at the ceiling. Jared rolled over onto his side to look at him.
“I mean,” Jensen rushed on before Jared could say anything, “there is some pretty insane body to body contact and can you believe what those girls wear sometimes?”
Jared cleared his throat and sort of sagged back down onto the bed, listening with resigned disinterest as Jensen continued. “When I went out with Joanna she totally made me watch Moulin Rouge with her, and those guys had it pretty tight.”
“I bet you liked the outfits, you conceited prima donna,” Jared retorted, poking Jensen’s side.
“What?” Jensen cried. “God, shut up! Why do I put up with you?”
Jared chuckled. “Because I love you for your crummy personality, not for your pretty face.”
“You’re such a crackhead!” Jensen rolled his eyes up to the ceiling.
“You’re supposed to say, Jared, thank you, if it weren’t for you I would be all alone.” He laughed as Jensen sat up and started whacking him with his pillow.
When a particularly strong thwack connected directly with his eye, he shouted, “Oh, now it’s on!” and rolled himself on top of Jensen, jabbing any sensitive bit of flesh he could reach. They grappled at a stalemate for a good ten minutes before finally quieting when their ribs began to hurt.
Jensen sat on Jared’s hips, holding his wrists pinned next to his head. He was just slightly stronger than Jared was.
“What you gonna do now, bitch?” Jensen crowed, before he shifted against his hips. Jared became suddenly aware of their position, his best friend above him, their faces only inches apart.
Maybe he was only imagining the way Jensen’s pupils suddenly swallowed the green of his irises, maybe he was only imagining the way Jensen was tilting his head downwards, the way the tip of his tongue was running across his mouth.
“JENSEN! I NEED YOU TO TAKE ME TO THE MALL!” Mackenzie called from downstairs. Jensen groaned and rolled away, muttering something about bratty little sisters who never shut up.
Jared was so busy with practice for a while he didn't think about Jensen.
During the semi-finals game, they nearly tanked out. With only three minutes left, they were down by eight points. Their timeouts were all used up. Jared knew that if the Hawks fouled Tom a couple of times they’d be able to even the score. But it was not like you could expect someone to just blithely walk up and make a technical. They had 19 seconds left in the key and the Hawks were fencing them out like nobody’s business. Jared didn’t know what to do.
Andy passed the ball to Ryan and Ryan put it up for a shot, but the angle was all wrong and Jared knew it wasn’t going to go in. Number 42 and 00 were double-teaming him. Jared caught the rebound and number 42 slammed into his back, his arm clipping him across the face. When Jared hit the ground he still had the ball and by the ref’s call, two shots.
Jared sank them and then stole the ball from the Hawks' point guard when it changed possession. He passed to Tom, who dribbled around number thirteen, and put up another shot. It bounced off the rim, but he caught the rebound and passed to Andy on the other side of the key. One minute left.
Andy shot another basket and it swished through the net. They needed just one more to put it into overtime or a three-pointer to win. When the ball changed possession, Jared was afraid the Hawks were gonna just sit and dribble at the halfway line, but somebody forgot to teach 38 how to play defensively and with thirteen seconds left in the game Tom swiped the ball away and passed to Jared who was just outside the key. The bounce pass got intercepted by 15 but before he could cross the line Ryan stole it back. Two seconds. Jared was the only one with a clear shot and Ryan lobbed it to him in a pass worthy of John Stockton. As long as the basket went in they were safe.
Jared dribbled two steps, stopped just outside the key and popped it up into the air. The shot swished through just as the buzzer rang. A win, which meant going to State.
“Sweetness!” Tom called, dashing towards him and pounding him on the back. Jared looked at the hoop in wonderment as Titans’ half of the stands flooded onto the court. They hadn’t made State since 1992. And Jensen was there, standing in front of him, pulling him in for a tight backslapping hug.
After the team showered and changed, everybody headed to the diner for takeout. They were all proud and euphoric and crazy. He and Jensen sat on the hood of Jensen’s car, scarfing down fast food. Jared bet that about eighteen different girls had walked by Jensen in attempt to lure him off to some secluded corner, but Jensen wasn't interested today. He continued dipping his fries into his shake and reminding Jared how he'd tumbled out of bounds in the first half trying to save the ball.
"Figures," Jared said, "I scored the winning basket and all you can do was remember my most embarrassing moment."
Jensen cracked up all over again.
“Dude, sometimes, you’re worse than Chad,” Jared shook his head, taking another large bite of his burger.
Jensen chuckled. “But at least I always smell nice.” He nudged Jared’s shoulder.
“Eternity for men—yeah, hard to go wrong there,” Jared said without thinking.
Jensen paused in the middle of his chewing and looked at him.
“What?” Jared asked, furrowing his brow. Jensen’s expression was impossible to read and it was kind of freaking him out. “Do I have food on my face?”
Jensen swallowed. “No—I—Get in the car. We have to talk.”
Jared looked at Jensen blankly and then did as he was told, opening his door, and sitting down in the passenger seat slowly. He felt like there wasn’t enough air—his friend knew, Jensen knew. His brain couldn’t get past it—all because Jared had made some offhand remark about cologne. Jensen’s expression was completely blank and cold knot of fear started welling up in his stomach.
He hadn't had a single plan for when this happened, he'd never thought anybody would figure it out.
Jensen merged onto the highway, and it felt like he was being driven to his own funeral. He almost would’ve preferred the other boy to punch him in the face and be done with it.
Jensen drove too fast and turned off the radio when Sublime came on. Jared was trying to rack up the courage to ask what was going on to buy himself some time, to get ready to rebut the inevitable sermon, to deny whatever it was that Jensen was thinking.
Jensen pulled off onto a dirt road--perfect hell upon the car’s undercarriage. No doubt later that weekend he’d be under the engine, looking at the dings and pockmarks and cursing Jensen for his carelessness. If they were still friends, which seemed to be increasingly unlikely. Jensen started driving too fast again and Jared grabbed the door.
Finally Jensen slowed to a stop, hands clenched on the wheel.
“Jared, I can’t do this anymore.”