Disclaimer: Never happened, of that I can be downright sure. People who don't graduate college don't get to work at McSweeney's.
Summary: Jensen is the bitchy lead-guitarist in a successful rock band. When their bassist pulled a Richey Edwards, they needed to recruit a new one. In walked Jared. Jensen is determined to have nothing to do with him. But sometimes the best laid plans...
Notes: This harkens back to the poll I gave in January of which movie adaptation to do. None of you said no to this idea of Rock My World, which clearly means yes. Thanks to memphis86, cerberos, and notthequiettype for brainstorming help along the way. Extra special thanks to Misha for the beta at 2 AM. If anybody is a fan of The Unicorns, I apologize in advance.
Jensen kind of wanted to drown himself in his tiny stall of a shower when he found out about Chris. He thought, there it goes, my life is over. And his ultra professional ten-setting razor didn’t look like it was going to do the job. Hayden called after that, voice cracked on too many cigarettes, and said “We need a new fucking bassist, get here.”
Jensen looked at the black plastic phone in his hands, thought about his plan to light every candle in his apartment, and then brain himself in the bath, and realized it was really too Sylvia Plath. He found some shoes and a battered black sports coat and called a cab to Hayden’s house. It was raining, at least that was fitting.
He sat in one of those creaky folding metal chairs, rocking it back onto its hind-legs out of boredom. Hayden had insisted that they hear every single idiot that could twiddle their thumbs over the strings, rather than have the label set up some kind of screening process. Mike didn’t mind because he’d brought a hookah along with him, and had been inhaling strawberry flavored smoke and blowing badly formed rings at Tom for over an hour.
Jensen was starting to reconsider his Sylvia Plath stance. He hated the way Hayden was a fucking Marxist about music. One of the people, the unwashed masses, would show up and inspire them all to higher enlightenment. What the fuck ever, idiot had been watching too many Soviet films for inspiration.
“Hey, cuntface,” Mike finally spoke up, addressing Hayden, “none of these assholes can play, alright? Do you want the label to fucking drop us, just because we won’t let them give us a new bassist?”
Hayden clenched his jaw. “I want to keep the process organic.”
“Ugh, your pretentious bullshit makes me want to kill myself,” Jensen said and put his head in his hands.
Hayden shot him a look. “Not having Corn Pops at the craft services table makes you want to kill yourself, sunny days make you want to kill yourself, Tom’s purple shirt makes you want to kill yourself. Killing yourself, is like, your hobby.”
Jensen chucked his Bic pen at him and Hayden grinned, flashing the evidence of a lifetime of good dental work at him. Mike blew another smoke ring and propped his Doc Martin-ed feet on Tom’s lap.
“Excuse me?” They jerked in their chairs, Mike nearly tipping out of his, when this tall guy poked his head through the door. “Is this the audition for Second Treatise of Sound?” The guy looked at them like he didn’t really think so.
Hayden tripped over himself trying to stand up. “Yeah, yeah, we’ve agreed to listen to one more guy before Jensen kills himself, so if you wanna plug in…”
The guy laughed awkwardly, like he couldn't tell if Hayden was serious or not. He brushed messy hair out of his eyes and stepped fully through the door, tugging his case with him. He gave Jensen a careful look, like he might seize Mike’s lighter and light his head on fire at any moment.
“Uh, so, anything you want me to play?” The guy asked when he was set up. He was wearing black converse and jeans, and thankfully no idiotic Ramones t-shirt that all the kids bought at Urban Outfitters or whatever it was.
“Please, just not your own material,” Jensen bit out before Hayden could say anything else. The guy looked totally hapless and hopeless.
“Oh, I don’t write,” he said. He kicked a set of wires out of his way so he wouldn’t trip and blew his bangs out of his eyes. “So, um, I guess I’ll play ‘Get Your Rocks Off’ by Primal Scream.”
Jensen looked over at Hayden who was writing ‘doesn’t want to play Classic rock, good’ in bold letters on the stupid notepad he had in front of him. Fucking Hayden.
The guy took a moment to tune his instrument and then set right in. Jensen didn’t even know the song he was talking about, but the kid wasn’t attempting to be John Entwhistle or Mick Jagger. He just powered through the song, neat and clean. It was good. Really good even. If anything it made him want to kill himself that much more.
“What’s your name?” Tom asked, the first time in four hours that he’d looked up from doodling dirty pictures all over a sheet of yellow steno paper that Hayden had forked over.
The guy looked down at his bass guitar, strummed a chord, and said, “Jared, my name’s Jared.”
They were supposed to kick off their second European tour when the whole disaster with Chris happened. Tom and Mike asked for some time to rest and recuperate and mess around with a little music, and the record company gave them four months. They started their hiatus with a bang, reassuring the world that Chris hadn’t killed the band, that they were still around, new bassist in tow. Jared hadn’t been much of a debate.
Hayden had said he’d kind of wanted a woman to give their sound a new edge, until Mike had started shouting that they weren’t Rilo Fucking Kiley or The Postal Service or New Pornographers or whatever the fuck. It was a token protest, since they all knew Jared was it. But Tom still had to smooth things over by suggesting a female session artist if they wanted some soprano vocals.
Jensen didn’t even weigh in. The last thing they needed was a female bandmate fucking everything up, sleeping with like, all of them, and then making them record horrible backstabbing songs about each other while the rest of the world laughed when it hit VH1’s pop up video.
The press conference in London was insane. Jared showed up to the limo dressed like he was going to the movies, not to get his face splashed across every music magazine sold in the civilized world. Jensen tilted his blue-tinted sunglasses down his nose and raised his eyebrows. Jared just smiled back, popping on a pair of mirrored aviators like it would make him fit in better. Not possible with Hayden was running around in the fuzzy mouse hat with the ears knitted on, and Mike was decked out in the Vintage French WWI uniform that he’d blown his first paycheck on.
Jensen settled in to be asked which rock girl twat he was sticking it to now, but thankfully the press found the appearance of Jared so consuming they’d forgotten all that stupid stuff about Jessica Simpson and Jenny Lewis…at the same time.
“Just who is Jared Padalecki?” Some asshole from The Telegraph asked, flashbulbs going off.
Jared cleared his throat and shrugged, and Jensen sighed. Well, he had none of the charm of Chris, but he was like two feet taller, so maybe that would get them somewhere.
They were riding in this crap-ass van as a decoy, while two perfectly good limos drove off for the fans to scream over. Jensen had called the back bench, but Hayden had climbed in with him, mouse-hat all askew. Mike and Tom and the hospitality guy the label had sent—Kripper, Krupkey, something—were all thrown together with Jared, who’d pulled out this heavy tome of a book.
Jensen doubted he was reading it. Don Quixote for Christ’s sake? Jared barely said anything that wasn’t about power chords or how complicated the bass line was in Iggy Pop’s “Search and Destroy.” He just sat there with his long-ass thighs splayed, like they were going to give him points for bad posture or something.
“So, Jared, is there a woman in your life?” Tom asked, lighting up a blunt.
“Hmm?” Jared grunted, barely looking up from Cervantes.
Tom shrugged and handed the joint off to Hayden, who was reaching over the seat for it. “Man with your package probably has a woman in his life.”
“Or a man,” Jared replied, before licking his finger and turning the page.
It was the first interesting thing Jared had said so far. Jensen asked where they were going before Mike could start in on how everybody was making out on stage these days, like riding around in a tour bus made them want to grope people or something. Apparently he was absolutely blind to the way he was always feeling Tom up.
“We’ve rented a mansion in the countryside for you to rest and recuperate,” Krikpe said. “The ancestral manor of Lord and Lady Foxley.”
“Where?” Hayden asked.
“What’s the nightlife like in Yorkshire?” Tom asked.
Jensen sighed and sank back against the seat.
Tom claimed the biggest bedroom in the place, throwing himself on the giant four poster bed, and rolling around on it. Jensen and Mike grumbled. Hayden was too busy looking at portraits in the east wing, and Jared had gone to assist in the sound check. Jensen’s room was obviously intended for a woman. It was painted in pale peach and there were pre-Raphaelites in heavy gaudy frames tacked up on the wall.
Jensen couldn’t stand Waterhouse. He’d had this girlfriend when they were just starting out as a band, when he still thought they would change the world with their music. She’d papered their shitty studio apartment with Waterhouse. She’d told him he’d lost his soul when they broke up, and emptied her metallic camo green nail polish all over his favorite jacket. He got her back though, he wore the jacket anyway and got to call her a crazy bitch whenever people asked about it.
He wondered bizarrely if Jared was really gay, or if he was just provoking Tom. Jensen didn’t know him well enough to tell. He was spending a lot of time with Mike and Tom though, so Jensen figured they would be able to tell. Whatever, didn’t matter. Although Hayden would probably think it was cool if they broke the Queer Artist’s group on last.fm.
Dinner was disgusting, and it was made all the more heavy because they had rehearsal that night, and Jensen didn’t want—well, not without Chris.
All the equipment had been set up in the ballroom, and he got there before everybody else, footsteps echoing hollowly on the marble floor. If he rewired the PA system, how much electricity would it take to kill him? He sighed and picked up his Gibson. It was a new acquisition because he couldn’t stand to look at his Gretsch after the whole thing with Chris hit the papers, and there slammed down on print, it had become real.
He picked out “No Rain” by Blind Melon, and if his E string snapped again, he’d strangle himself with it. He looked up and found Jared watching him from the double doors, slouching like he was trying for a punk rock John Wayne.
Jensen raised a brow and pulled the guitar off, setting it back in its stand. Before he could say anything to Jared about staring at him, Mike and Tom thundered into the room, fencing with old foils from the east wing, screaming and jabbing at each other.
The butler, Paige, watched from the door with a mournfully resigned expression.
It took fifteen minutes to get them to pick up their instruments, and then Hayden wanted to play this new song he’d written back on the tour before Chris had done a Houdini on them. Jared had been given all the tabs, so if he’d been doing his job, he’d be up to speed.
It was fine, it was going fine, only it sounded—something wasn’t right. They paused with Tommy’s last few notes on the keyboard.
“How you doing, Jared?” Hayden asked.
Jared nodded his head. “I’m fine—yeah, I was just trying something.”
Jensen blew out a breath. “You know, we’re here to teach you this stuff, not for you to play around. There was a kick over there and you need to reference it.”
Jared sighed. “Right, yeah, sorry—we’ll just—”
Jensen ignored the glances that Tom and Mike traded and the uneasy way Hayden was staring at him.
“So how did you come up with your name?” Jared asked over breakfast. Tomatoes on toast. Jensen shoved at it with his fork. “I know it’s a Locke reference, but like did you just wake up one morning and know that was going to be it?”
“No,” Mike said, shaking his head. He was still wearing his pajamas with the little steam boats on it.
“We had a bunch of names, actually,” Tom broke in.
Mike ate marmalade straight out of the jar. “Jensen and Hayden were both history majors in college, so they wanted to do something with that. They came up with Irreverent Look Backward.”
“Which I still maintain could’ve been good,” Hayden spoke up.
“We would’ve been called ilb for short,” Tom protested. Jared laughed.
Hayden glared. “That is such a lie. Nobody calls Manic Street Preachers misp.”
Jensen remembered how attached he’d been to that name, and how Chris had just torn it apart. He forked the bloody-looking tomato into his mouth and then winced.
“Chris really wanted to be Strawberry DNA, because he thought Strawberry Alarm Clock was the coolest band ever,” Hayden pointed out. “But imagine having to tell people that? We were referencing the band that did ‘Incense and Peppermints?’ Christ no. So that was out.”
“Chris was a really big hippie. He had like, Hendrix tapestries on his windows, and wore tie die,” Jensen told him.
Jared laughed. “But that’s not your sound at all.”
Jensen sighed, remembering battles about trying to experience everything, trying to do things the ‘old way’ with a bucket of psilocybin and a paint brush. “Yeah, no, somebody played him The Sex Pistols when he was fifteen, and while it couldn’t replace psychedelica in his heart, it did kind of push it to the side.”
“All right, so what came next?” Jared smiled at him.
Tom blushed as he always did when the subject came up. “The Kingdom.”
Jared cracked up.
“I couldn’t help it!” Tom defended.
“That was during his Final Fantasy VII stage,” Mike said and clapped him on the shoulder. “The first few songs we demoed had video game music run under it, and Hayden kept going, ‘what the fuck, I didn’t write that, what is going on with the keyboards.’”
Hayden chuckled, eyes going blank as he looked back. He said, “And then Jensen’s girlfriend suggested History of Beauty, which sounded really girly, but we all felt good about it, but they broke up like two weeks later when Jensen was caught with his pants down, so we couldn’t keep the name. Jensen’s really afraid of Pop-up Video.”
“Shut the fuck up,” Jensen’s cheeks burned.
Jared arched his brows. “Hey, not like I don’t know about your exploits. I read that article that Tokion did on you guys.”
“Ah, Jesus,” Jensen dropped his head to the table. That was the mod spread they’d done. The author had been much too busy asking Jensen about what kind of underwear he wore and all the starlets he’d fucked to ask about their sound. Chris had thrown a shitfit when he’d seen the final copy. There’d been barely any mention of him in it, and he’d acted like Twiggy Ramirez with every reporter they’d talked to after. Hayden had nearly brained him with Chris’s own copy of Milk It.
Mike said, “So, anyway, we were at loose ends, so I suggested Eunuchs Singing Tool.”
“Which nobody liked,” Jensen pointed out.
“Hey, Chris liked it!” Mike defended.
Hayden replied dryly, “He was humoring you.”
“How awesome would we be if we had that name?” Mike asked Jared.
“It’s very clever.” Jared coughed.
Tom made a face. “By the end we needed a name, and Hayden and Jensen went through their books, and came up with all the punny references they could, and we voted. Now we sound incredibly smart.”
“Yeah, now we sound like assholes,” Jensen asserted.
“Oh shut up, I can still remember that happy look on your face when it won the vote.”
Hayden asked for some help on his latest song when Jared and Mike were out learning cricket from Paige. He could see Kripke falling all over himself on the lawn. Jensen laughed and looked at the guitar tabs Hayden had already set down. He’d made notes to Tom about the synthesizer and double track he wanted.
“I want a homage to Kasabian,” Hayden said when Tom said it looked familiar.
“Looks like you got it all figured out,” Jensen said, digging through a packet of chocolate digestives. “Let’s see the lyrics.”
There was a great whooping outside. Jared was running around the lawn, cheering. Jensen’s felt a twinge of pain lance through his skull. Hayden handed him the lyrics, but he was too distracted.
“What do you think?” Hayden asked.
Jensen looked down at the page in his hand absently. “Hmm—fine.” He popped another digestive in his mouth and looked at the bridge. “Wait, Hayden? What the fuck? Are you trying to make us sound like The Unicorns on Class A narcotics?”
“What?” Tom pulled the page out of his hand, gave it a quick glance and started laughing. “Jesus, I think it’s surpassed that and is in full on Xiu Xiu territory.”
“I just wanted to try something different,” Hayden said and snatched the paper back.
Jensen put his head in his hands and laughed. “And you thought writing the next ‘Thunder & Lightning’ was a good idea?”
“I maintain Xiu Xiu still—"
"'Crankheart,'” Tom interrupted. "Or that horrible cover of 'Fast Car.'"
Jensen shuddered and nodded.
Hayden shoved his hands in his hair. “God, I fucking hate you two, I’m trying so hard—” he made a harsh noise in the back of his throat. “If I really wrote what I wanted to right now, you’d be telling me I was being a lunatic and making us sound like Christian Death or fucking Taking Back Thursday.”
Jensen fell back in his chair.
Tom swallowed. “Well, I mean, you could write those lyrics, and then—then we could try for cheerfully ironic music like The Smiths or Pulp or something.”
Hayden shoved his papers aside, disgusted, and got to his feet. “Why am I so fucking derivative?” he said, after a moment.
“Maybe you need to stop trying so hard for the song that’s going to change peoples’ lives,” Jared said from the doorway, cheeks flushed red from the autumn cold. Jensen looked away from him. He was like Hannah Montana: everywhere.
‘What the fuck do you know?’ was threatening to burst past Jensen’s lips, and he had to stand up and turn away to keep from saying anything.
It was an unseasonably warm day. Mike and Tom had gone into the village with Kripke, and Jensen and Hayden were sitting out on the garden terrace, reading through the pile of magazines the band had appeared in, in the last month.
Jared was helping Paige put in a neat row of Dahlias in—punishment for knocking over a 16th century vase when he'd tripped over a telephone chord. He was smudged, dirt streaked across his white t-shirt and over the bridge of his nose. His muscles flexed.
Jensen looked down at the magazine in his lap. The matte cover betrayed a scowling model with mohawked hair. Jensen had done this interview by himself—a full spread of domino masks to match an endless parade of designer black suits. He looked like plastic, lips and skin flat. Chris would’ve laughed if he could’ve seen it.
“Holy shit—Jared!” Hayden shouted. He was holding a copy of The Believer that came out after their British panel. What had Jared done now? Crapped on the magazine from forty feet away? Mike would be jealous of that skill.
Jared raised himself from his crouch over the flower beds. “What’s up?”
“You worked for McSweeney’s?” Jensen was disappointed that Hayden hadn’t unearthed some horrid rumor. But he supposed he’d be upset also if their latest bandmate had turned out to be a secret coke addict. At least over the energy he’d have to expend sitting through more stupid auditions for a new one.
Jared shrugged. “I had to support myself somehow.”
Hayden shook his head and the copy of the magazine. “So when we did that interview, you were there the whole time?”
Jared laughed. “Keri, the one who did the write-up on you guys, actually convinced me to audition.”
Hayden nodded. “That’s hardcore.”
Jensen realized he knew nothing about Jared, not where he was born or if he had siblings. It all happened so fast. One moment he was playing some crazy Britpop song, and the next he was jumping on the plane with them, worn converse and leather wrist cuff, surfer hair and a grin.
If this was it—if Chris was…gone, than Jensen was stuck on the stage next to a stranger until a beer gut and philandering ways shoved him off of it. Jared could be anybody, but Jensen didn’t care. He didn’t want to know. He dumped the magazines off his lap, and walked back in through the French doors.
“I’m going to get something to drink.” He pretended that Hayden and Jared couldn’t even see him.
Jared and Tom were dueling over the pool table, while Hayden futzed around on a scrap of paper (“I’m writing a song about Napoleon”). Jensen didn’t know why he was here instead of kicking ass on his PSP, but there was only so much of that he could do before even he started to miss humanity. The place only had one TV, but all of the programs were British, and Jensen had no clue what was going on.
“Jeez, is this a crystal radio?” Mike said suddenly, tinkering with a little box on the dry bar. Jensen looked up. He was high off of some shit Tom gave him, and the room was spinning slightly.
“Doesn’t look like crystal,” he slurred. Mike threw a wadded up napkin at him, and started fiddling with the dials—plowing through static until he found elevator music. They all cringed and he started furiously turning the knobs until he got something else.
—think about it, there must be higher love, down in the heart or hidden in the stars above. Without it, life is wasted time—
“Ugh, Steve Winwood,” Tom hit the cue-ball too hard, and it fell into the pocket right after the three.
Jared pumped his fist and went to set up a rail-shot. “‘We walk blind and we try to see, falling behind in what we could be,’ ” he sang along as he stared in concentration at the fourteen. Jensen watched his plain white t-shirt ride up, revealing the dip in his spine.
Hayden looked up from his scribbling. “We could totally do a rock cover of this song.”
Mike switched to a classic rock station, and straddled the back of a chair. “Haven’t you learned your lesson from the Hanson incident?”
They started bickering, but Jensen was too busy staring at the revealing slide of Jared’s hemline to notice. Jared turned to get out of the way so that Tom could take his shot and caught him staring.
“I’m so high,” Jensen said before Jared could ask him what he was doing.
“Okay,” Jared said, tongue poking out over his lower lip.
“I just saw the Loch Ness monster,” Mike shouted, shoving past the heavy front doors.
Paige shut the door behind him, and brushed leaves off of his coat. “That would be quite impossible, sir. Yorkshire is quite a long way from the wilds of Scotland.”
“Some kind of monster then!” he grabbed Tom’s wrist, “You guys have to see this.”
“You’re having a bad trip,” Hayden said, lacing up his combat boots.
Mike’s mouth gaped. “I’m more serious then I’ve ever been in my entire life. You guys have to come see this!”
“I’m not going anywhere.” Jensen took a sip of the heavily sweetened green tea he’d been sucking down since Penny, the housekeeper, had decided he drank too much caffeine and had locked up the pantry. He’d gotten down on his knees in front of Kripke, but the power-mad hospitality guy had told him the “vacation was for rest, free from insult.”
“Dude, it’s crazy, and it’s probably going to eat all the geese and bunnies and furry things around here.”
Jensen didn’t care. Maybe if he tapped a straw directly into his vein he’d feel the caffeine faster.
Tom hoisted Jensen out of his chair by his collar. “Come on, let’s go see what’s got him twisting in knots.”
Jared grabbed his other arm, and they followed after Mike who was babbling about the demon down by the river. They had to go tramping through the woods, fighting past whip thin branches and decomposing leaves. It had rained the night before, and the ground was muddy and slick, hidden under ivy and creepers. Jensen slipped on the sludge, and Jared had to loop an arm around his waist to catch him.
“Thanks,” Jensen told him, and shrugged the arm off maybe a little too abruptly.
When they got to the spot where Mike saw the monster, there was only a pitched tent, a small campfire, and a man standing with his torso bare, a wetsuit rolled down around his hips. He was desperately reaching around the campfire for something.
“That’s your monster?” Jensen cackled, looking at the guy’s knobby spine.
“I swear it was here!” Mike cried.
“And you’d be right,” the guy said, and shoved a pair of hip, thick-framed glasses on his face. “It was me you were screaming your bloody head off at.”
Everybody erupted in laughter at Mike, except Hayden who was staring at the guy. Penny and Paige showed up, they'd been huffing along behind them when Mike first started screaming about monsters. Just the botanist, they said, the one from the university, and then hustled them away. Jensen snorted and tramped ahead of them, making sure to be careful so that he couldn’t revisit the sensation of Jared’s arm banded tense around his body.
“Back to the house everyone,” Penny pushed at Mike’s shoulder. “I’ve prepared a wee snack.”
Hayden took a little time to follow.
Tom held the last note on the keyboard and Mike tapped the high-hat once, twice, three times. And Mike whooped. “Oh man, guys, we really hit it that time.”
Hayden smiled and clapped Jared on the shoulder. Jensen shrugged his Gibson off and made a face.
“God, Jared, what did you do?” Tom asked. “That was awesome!”
Jensen looked up and stared at Tom, but he was too busy talking to Jared about the new bass tabs to notice. “Are you guys crazy?”
Tom froze. “What?”
“That wasn’t us! That was just you,” he broke off, disgusted, glaring at Jared, “fucking around!”
“Jensen,” Hayden started.
“I just—who do you think you are?” Jensen said. His shoulders tightened and Jared took a step back.
“Whoa, sorry, it’s just, in my experience when you’re trying to make some music, you play around a little, find something that fits.”
Jensen pulled out a crushed pack of cigarettes and lit up. “Well we had a bass line that fit, now you’re just stomping all over the rest of us.” Hayden tugged at his arm and told him to calm down.
Jared held up his hands in symbolic surrender. “I’m sorry you feel that way.”
Jensen couldn’t believe it. Jared was trying to soothe him like he was a five-year-old who’d lost his favorite toy.
“You know what, fuck you,” Jensen replied. “Chris is going to come back, and then you’ll be gone.”
“Jensen!” Hayden cried, pulling harder on his arm. “That was totally uncalled for.”
Jensen glared at him, and before he knew what he was doing, his fist was snapping out, connecting solidly with Hayden’s high cheekbone. Tom tried to grab for him, but he was pushing through the equipment, running, getting out. He could hear Mike swearing after him and Jared apologizing quietly.
He felt poked full of holes, like he was dropping parts of himself all over the floor as he slammed his way back to his bedroom.
He found the half-empty bottle amid the layers of his clothes. It was always there, a festering testament to his childhood days of making seven and seven highballs for his grandpa before he could tie his shoes. The room looked like an explosion of expensive fabric, Oscar De La Renta, Hugo Boss, Alexander McQueen.
He remembered the days of torn jeans and ratty striped shirts—the days where he lived hand-to-mouth to keep feeding his record collection, to buy strings and picks, and a new amp after Chris thought he’d make like The Kinks and stuck a fork in it. The days of wearing a pair of converse ‘til the heels peeled off. The days before Hayden read The Sartorialist and Facehunter.
He unscrewed the cap on the bottle, and poured Glenlivet in the empty teacup leftover from Penny’s elevenses. Everything had spun so far out of control, Chris had fucked off, pulled a freakin' Richey Edwards on them, and if Jensen had enjoyed Manic Street Preachers before they found Chris’s ridiculous Tony Lamas boots and Helmut Lang suit on the beach, he couldn’t stand them now.
He wished he’d never picked up the phone the night Hayden had called. He wished Hayden had gotten his way, and they’d hired the next Gillian Gilbert, and Jensen wouldn’t have to feel so distraught every time he caught himself staring at Jared’s ass.
The whiskey burned going down, and Jensen had lost his soul, and all he had to show for it was a heavily notched bedpost, and a guitar case he couldn’t bear to open.
He woke up at six AM when Penny thrust the curtains open and made him down nearly a gallon of water.
“I was really stupid last night,” he told her after she handed him an apple to settle his stomach. His eyes were watering at the corners.
She cocked her head and brushed his hair away from his forehead. “Seems like God spent a little more time on your face then the rest.”
He wiped his eyes and smiled weakly. “I suppose I deserved that.”
It was nearly eleven before Jensen got the courage to go talk to Jared. He owed him an apology of rather epic proportions, and if there was one thing Jensen sucked at, aside from trigonometry and roller blading, it was apologizing.
He knocked on Jared’s door and pushed through when Jared called “Yeah?”
He found him pulling jeans up over a pair of soft boxer briefs, chest bare. “Ah, sorry,” he said and backed out the door again.
“No it’s fine,” Jared called him back into the room. “What do you want?”
Jensen winced and pressed his palms together. “I just…I owe you an apology, and I just, I just thought maybe I should explain myself, so that you don’t—think I’m prone to random acts of meanness.”
Jared leaned back against the wall, hands in his pocket, waiting for Jensen to go on.
“Chris and I started this band because music was the only thing that made us feel better, and we never—we never thought we’d get anywhere. But we did, and after a while, nothing made me feel better anymore. Chris always wanted to be in the lights, and he left me behind, and I just—everything you do comes from yourself, your playing and everything.” Jared stepped forward, away from the wall, and Jensen swallowed and bowed his head. He couldn’t believe his verbal dump, but it was still pouring out, “I want that so desperately.”
It was silent in the room and then Jared finally said, “Okay.”
Jensen looked up at him. “Okay?”
“Yeah, it’s okay.” Jared reached out like he was going to touch him, but Jensen backed up and nodded.
Jensen spent some time reading in the library. The label had dumped off his subscription of The Economist for the last three months, and he had a ton of issues to get through. And Stephen King had his new book out, and he was clearly totally out of ideas, but The Shining was one of the books nearest and dearest to his heart. He’d managed to soldier through the entire Dark Tower saga.
He looked out the window, and saw Hayden standing on the lawn under the big oak tree, mouse hat on with his leather jacket and jeans. The guy from the river stepped out of the shadows, and twined their arms together. And Jensen realized they’d broken the queer artist’s group on last.fm already.
When Jensen went down for dinner the guy was sitting at the table next to Hayden. Hayden watched him closely, and Jensen purposely chose the open seat next to Jared so that Hayden would know his open yet petty war with Jared was over.
“Jensen, this is Ewan,” Hayden told him.
Jensen pushed himself up in his chair to shake Ewan’s proffered hand. “Where are you from, Ewan?”
“Um Crieff, Scotland,” he said, after he resettled in his own chair.
“So you could’ve been the Loch Ness monster!” Mike said and thumped his empty water glass on the table. Everybody groaned.
Jared caught Jensen’s eye and grinned.
Jared located the bicycles after breakfast. Jensen was still munching on a jam covered crumpet when Jared came bursting into Jensen’s haven in the library.
“Let’s go for a ride over the moors.”
“I have stuff to do.” Jensen shoved a pile of magazines in front of him like a barricade.
Jared whacked him on the back of his head. “Brooding over how one of your eyelashes isn’t perfectly curled in every single picture is not stuff to do.”
Jensen grumbled, “I don’t want to go biking.”
The bike was much too big for him, but Jared insisted that he needed a 19” seat tube at least, even though Jensen remembered his bike in college was a 17”.
Jared cackled. “My sister rides a bigger bike than you!”
Jensen swung his leg over, sure he was going to topple right off. The seat was so high. “Your sister as gi-fucking-gantic as you are?”
He said it so deadpan that Jensen pictured 6’7 sisters with messy hair and soft eyes. But Jared snorted and Jensen glared at him. How would Jared feel if Jensen rode his bike right off a cliff? He could just imagine the horrified look on Jared’s face at the sight of Jensen’s twisted body, one bicycle wheel still spinning, and his eyes narrowed in purpose, but without life.
“What’d you want to be when you were little?” Jared asked as they pedaled away from the manor, off into the trees and up into the hills. He yanked Jensen away from his thoughts on The Bell Jar. It was a windy balmy day, sky gray and stormy. Today, Jensen liked the way he felt in his skin.
“I wanted to be a masseuse.”
“Really?” Jared pedaled, hands off the handle bars, upright on his seat. Jensen looked at him and realized it said so much, an entire metaphor for Jared.
“I was stuck in a waiting room at the dentist, in like, third grade and I read this article about a woman who went to India and got a massage, and it sounded cool to me.”
“She went to India for a massage? Not for like, you know, India?”
“Shut up,” Jensen said without heat, and thought about taking his hands off the bars. He could do it. He knew he could, but only one fist unclenched.