candygramme: (Jensen It's okay)
[personal profile] candygramme

Long after Jared had showered and gone to sleep, Jensen lay awake. His mind wouldn’t stop going over everything that had happened that day. He’d been so sure that he was going home, and then Jared had taken care of him, making him eat and getting Brock to work with him. He didn’t understand why Jared cared so much whether he went home or not. And then Jared had kissed him. It just made the whole day, and the whole callback week so far, so confusing! He’d never had a romantic relationship. There weren’t too many opportunities for a gay boy in North Texas, not to mention a gay boy steeped in hip-hop culture. But he’d never really missed it either. He didn’t have time for one thing, and from what he’d seen, they seemed to be more trouble than they were worth. But now … maybe there had been something missing from his life. He found himself thinking of Jared all the time. He missed him when they weren’t together and couldn’t imagine how he’d have felt if he had gone home today. But Jared had made sure he wouldn’t.

Eventually, Jensen did manage to go to sleep. The next morning came all too soon and they were back at it again. Today was their solos and then the brutal wait as they told everyone whether they’d been selected for the top twenty. There were still 33 dancers in the competition, and while he felt good about his upcoming solo, his abysmal failure in the contemporary round had shaken him. He’d just have to make sure this solo knocked their socks off.

His dancing had more energy and explosiveness when he freestyled, so there was little he could do to prepare. He watched the rest of their merry little band as they went over their routines, and gave his opinion when asked. Brock was really a very good dancer, once you got past the horrible first impression he’d made. Nicki was beautiful and knew exactly how to dance to show the best of herself. Sandy was good too, just a little bit lacking in confidence. And Jared … Jared was utterly stunning. The way he moved was poetry in motion. Ballet had never made him feel anything until he’d seen Jared dance. Now he wanted to laugh and cry at the same time. Or maybe that was just Jared’s effect on him.

“What are you gonna do, Mav?” Jared asked, after he’d gone through his own routine three times.

“I’ll do the same music I did at the mall that day,” Jensen answered.

“Do you know your routine?” Jared pushed.

“I don’t really work that way,” Jensen answered. “Everything flows better if I just go with it in the moment. I have a basic idea of what tricks I’m gonna do, a couple of different flips and several freezes and there’s one section of the music that just screams for some locking. But that’s it.”

“Okay, sounds good. Just go up there, do your thing and blow their minds,” Jared responded. “Did you stretch? Is that hamstring still bothering you?”

“Stop being a nervous nelly,” Jensen admonished. “I’ll be fine. But if you’re offering to massage my leg, I wouldn’t say no.”

To Jensen’s surprise, Jared actually did massage his hamstring. He also showed him a couple of stretches that targeted the sore muscle. Must be all those years of training coming in handy.

One by one they danced for all of the judges. They didn’t get any feedback, just a simple ‘thank you.’ Sandy was the first from their group, and was certain it hadn’t been good enough. They all reassured her, and for Jensen’s part, he wasn’t just trying to make her feel better. She was as good as any of the others, and better than several that he’d seen that afternoon.

Brock was next, and from his body language, he was as cocky as ever. Jensen found it technically brilliant, but a bit cold. All flash and no substance. Nothing like Jared’s dancing. Then it was Jared’s turn. As usual, he took Jensen’s breath away. Dizzying spins, leaps that made it seem like he could fly, beautiful poses with all the technique that Jensen was learning to recognize, if not always do himself, and all in special shoes, up on his toes ‘en pointe’ as Jared called it. Jensen’s feet hurt just watching Jared dance.

Jensen was glad that there were a few dancers between Jared’s and his own turn. He took deep breaths and thought about his music while stretching the hamstring again for good measure. Then it was time. As usual, he remembered little from when he danced. The music started, and he hit his opening cue, and the next thing he knew, he was finished and the whole audience was applauding wildly. The judges’ faces were impassive, but he was sure he caught a little twitch to Julian’s lips. He made his way back to their little group to wait for Nicki’s turn to dance. Jared hugged him excitedly, and he couldn’t help but hug him back.

“That was awesome, man,” Jared whispered once Jensen was seated. “Just what you needed to do.”

“Thanks,” Jensen whispered back, trying not to disrupt the girl preparing to do her solo. He felt good about his own, but you never knew. “I hope so.”

Soon Nicki danced — and nailed everything perfectly. There were only a few more dancers after her until they broke for dinner. After dinner, they were to wait in Hall H until they were called to learn their fate. Jensen was so excited and nervous that he could barely eat. The rest of the group seemed to be feeling the same. Everyone finished eating quickly, so it wasn’t time to report to the conference room yet. They headed outside, and luckily their patio was free. They sat around chatting, joking around and trying to distract each other from their anxiety.

“Jensen, you and Jared are for sure gonna make it in,” Brock said. Even he seemed a little nervous now that it had gotten to be that time.

“They’d be stupid not to take Nureyev here,” Jensen agreed. “Not so sure about me.”

“You had that great group round,” Brock insisted. “I’m not sure I’d have made it through without you that round.”

“Yeah,” Nicki agreed. “That other group was impossible, even before Chad Murray and Brock started butting heads.”

Jensen blushed at their praise. “I think we will most likely all five get through. None of us are anywhere close to the weakest ones left.”

“I hope so,” Sandy murmured quietly. “I’d hate to be the only one of us that doesn’t make it.”

“Stop thinking like that,” Jared said, a bit sharply. “You’re really, really good, and you’d be even better if you’d realize how good you are.”

Jensen nodded. Jared had put it better than he could have. “What he said.”

It wasn’t long before it was time to head to the Hall H to await their fate. The atmosphere in the conference room was even more tense than it had been outside with just their small group. Many dancers had apparently come here straight after dinner, and there weren’t five chairs near each other, so they went to sit on the floor to the side, but another dancer — Jensen thought her name was Katharine — got her friends to move a bit so they could sit together. And then they started calling people. Half of the first six got through, and it was obvious from their faces who was who as soon as they came back to the room to collect their things and celebrate or commiserate with the friends they’d made during the week.

Jared was next, and Jensen found the wait excruciating. Time seemed to fly and stand still at the same time. It could’ve been two minutes or two hours by the time Jared returned with a huge grin on his face. He hugged Jensen enthusiastically, whispering in his ear that it would be his time soon, he was sure of it. He hugged the other three as well, before gathering his things, giving Jensen another hug and making his way out the door.

After that, the wait was even more agonizing. Katharine and a contemporary dancer got through and another three dancers were cut. Next was Nicki’s turn. She came back with a big smile and hugs for all of them before disappearing through the same door Jared had.

Another four dancers were put through and three cut before Sandy was called and then returned with a huge smile and a big sigh of relief. She had hugs for Brock and Jensen, and soon she was gone as well.

“How do you think they pick the order they call us in?” Jensen asked, after trying not to think about it and failing miserably.

“When Jared went early, I thought it might be that the obvious choices would go first,” Brock answered, obviously having given it quite a bit of thought. “And Nicki going early would’ve followed that theory, although I would’ve expected you to go around the time Jared did. But then they took Brit, Genevieve and Chad Rook, and that blew my theory completely. So … I have no idea how they decide who finds out next. Gotta say this waiting is brutal!”

“You know you’re gonna make it through, right?” Jensen assured Brock.

“I hope so,” Brock answered. “This has been my dream since I was little. This show is what got me started dancing.”

“I think I’ve always danced,” Jensen mused. “Dancing is what got me through the dark times after the accident. We’d lost Dad and Josh, and had no idea if Mom would ever wake up, much less walk again. Mack poured herself into her schoolwork, and I danced. It was both my refuge and the only way I could release all the pain and anger.”

“You never talk about that,” Brock said, obviously surprised that Jensen was opening up to him. “You must be desperate for something to talk about.”

“Yeah, probably,” Jensen agreed, laughing. “It’s better than stressing about when they’ll call our names.”

“You know you’re gonna make it through, right?” Brock echoed Jensen’s words back at him.
“I hope so,” Jensen answered with a smile, glad that he had someone to talk to even when Jared wasn’t around.

“Dude, how are we friends?” Brock asked, sounding genuinely perplexed. “I was a real dick to you and to Sandy the first few days we were here.”

“Yeah,” Jensen agreed. “You were. But when it came time to work, you buckled down and gave it your all. You held up your end, learned the routine, and did the group proud. I don’t ever ask any more of my crew than that. I figure the initial awkwardness was just nerves and integrating into a new group of people. Happens to everyone. How could I not give you a pass?”

“Thanks, man,” Brock said warmly. “Our little group has been a life-saver for me. And if you hadn’t accepted me, Jared and Sandy wouldn’t have either and I’d still be awkwardly trying to fit in and being a dick to everyone.”

“I knew you were good people while we were doing the group thing,” Jensen answered. “And you confirmed it by helping me through that brutal contemporary round.”

“Well, I appreciate it,” Brock reiterated. “And we’re both gonna make it through. So whoever gets called, the other of us can’t get down while we’re waiting by ourselves in this room. Okay?”

“Deal,” Jensen agreed, unsure if he’d be able to follow through on his promise. He’d try his hardest though. This waiting game was agonizing.

By the time Brock’s name was called, two more had been put through and another two cut. Relief and excitement were obvious on his face when he hugged Jensen, grabbed his things, and followed the same path as the rest of their group. Leaving Jensen to wait alone. Or with six other people, the only one whose name he knew was an oddball tapper called Travis. Jensen waited.

Three more made it through and two more were cut. Mack might be the math whiz in the family, but Jensen could count, and he knew there were only two spots left. Finally, it was Jensen’s turn.

“You learned to dance on the street, right?” Julian asked, unexpectedly. “No lessons at all?”

“That’s right, sir,” Jensen answered simply.

“Tell us what dance means to you,” Pellegrino asked.

“I’ve danced as long as I can remember. But about five years ago was a really dark time in my life. Dance is what got me through.”

“It shows,” Traci said kindly, surprising Jensen, since he’d been sure she’d be voting against him after that disastrous contemporary round. “There’s a lot of heart in your dancing, not just machismo like a lot of B-boys.”

“You know that you’ll have to work twice as hard as the studio trained dancers to even hope to keep up,” Sam said then, and Jensen’s heart soared. He was going to make it! “We expect you to be able to compete in all styles, just like everyone else.”

“Yes, ma’am,” Jensen tried to keep the excitement out of his voice. They still hadn’t said the words. “I will, ma’am. I will work harder than I ever have in my life.”

“We think you will,” Sheppard agreed. “That’s why we’re putting you through.”

Jensen whooped with elation.

“Congratulations,” Julian said, smiling broadly. “Go join your friends.”

When he went back to Hall H to collect his gear, Travis and the other boy were sitting next to each other, biting their nails. Both were called together as Jensen left the room.

The other four of them were just outside the door when he came through. He nearly ran over Jared in his haste to go find them. He grinned at them and said, “I guess we all made it after all.”

“And you doubted,” Nicki teased, laughing.

“I wasn’t the only one,” Jensen returned. “I think we all had our insecure moments this evening.”

“That we did,” Sandy agreed. “And yet here we are.”

They moved away from the door, still celebrating. It wasn’t long before Travis came through the door, bringing their number to twenty. Soon after Travis, the four main judges came out and all the dancers gathered around.

“Congratulations to all of you,” Sam Smith said. “You have all earned the right to celebrate. Great job!”

“But the real challenge starts in three weeks,” Traci continued. “We’ll see you back here then.”

“So go home, rest up, and say goodbye to your friends and family back home,” Rick Worthy advised. “You’re not going to see much of them for a while after that. The longer, the better, right?”

They all laughed and agreed. Jensen was sure the rest of the group was feeling the same giddy sense of relief that he was.

“So, for those of you that don’t know each other,” Sheppard smiled, and Jensen thought that might be the first genuine smile he’d seen on the lead judge’s face. A few smirks maybe, but not a real smile like this one. “Let us introduce for the first time, our top twenty!

“For contemporary dancers, we have Alona Tal and Nicki Aycox,” the two girls each stepped forward as Traci called their names. Then the boys stepped forward in their turn as she called their names. “Brock Kelly, Chad Rook, and Dylan Everett.”

“For jazz, we have Sandy McCoy and Genevieve Cortese,” Sam Smith went on, and the dancers stepped forward as their names were called. “And for ballroom, we have Brit Sheridan, Katharine Isabelle and Gil McKinney.”

“Our breakers are Jensen Ackles, Osric Chau, and Felicia Day,” Rick Worthy introduced. Jensen couldn’t stop smiling as he stepped forward and gave Felicia a fist-bump. “And hip-hop gives us Lindsey McKeon, Emily Perkins, Madison McLaughlin, Chad Murray, and Demore Barnes.”

“Our tapper is Travis Wester,” Sheppard finished. “And ballet gives us Jared Padalecki.”

They all greeted each other warmly, but Jensen was sure everyone was sizing up the competition just as he was. At least he could count on five friends in the group, and Osric and Felicia seemed like good people as well. He couldn’t remember ever feeling happier, or not for five years, anyway.

“Okay, settle down,” Traci called them to order and passed out envelopes to each of them. Jensen stared at his name written on the front of his in disbelief. There it was in black and white. “Here are your plane tickets home, and then back again in three weeks. Don’t lose them. In the packet, you will also find general information about the contest and how and when your friends and families can contact you once you return. There’s also a number you can call if you have any questions that aren’t on the list of frequently asked questions.”

Jensen hoped Jared was processing all of that information better than he was. Or maybe he should just read the packet. Later. When he wasn’t on cloud nine.

“Someone will be contacting you in the next few days to get information to do a quick background check.” Rick continued, and Jensen’s ear picked up on that. Another thing to stress over, though he had no idea what he might have to be concerned about. They couldn’t take this away now, could they?

“Don’t worry,” Sheppard reassured them. “Unless one of you lied about something serious, like a felony or work permit, no one has anything to fear. It’s just stuff that legal makes us do.”

And with that, they were dismissed, and the next thing Jensen knew, he was back in the airport with Jared and Sandy, just as they’d been the week before. Only now, they were returning triumphant. None of them could stop smiling.

This time, waiting to board the plane was too exciting to be scary, and Jared couldn’t help ribbing Jensen about his panic on the way to L.A. Jared wasn’t alone any more. They’d seen Nicki off to her terminal, where she was heading back to New York. Brock was to accompany them to their terminal, but his flight to New Orleans left a good hour before theirs, so very soon they were on their own, still high with the excitement of getting into the live show.

“I can’t wait to tell my mom about things. She’s gonna be out of her mind.” Jensen was in the center of the row this time, and Sandy had the window seat, which left Jared on the aisle, and grateful for that fact.

“Not sure how my folks will feel.” Jared really didn’t want to think about his family just then. He knew Jeff would shrug his shoulders and tell him that he hoped he’d enjoyed his vacation, but that it was time to get to work if he wanted to amount to anything. As far as his family, he wasn’t anticipating joy from them. The most they’d ever shown him was antipathy.

“You’re kidding!” Sandy looked horrified. “They’ve got to be on cloud nine for you.”

“Yeah. You don’t know my parents.” Jared’s mood had plummeted, and for the rest of the flight, he was pretty much lost in his own thoughts as his demons attacked him, making him second guess his desire to be on the show at all.

Back in Dallas, Sandy gave a squeal of joy as she spotted a tall, well-built man leaning up against the wall, waiting for her. Muttering a quick goodbye and see you later, she took a run up and jumped into his arms. The guy swung her around and swept her into a very passionate kiss, while Jensen watched with a smirk.

“Guess she’s got someone waiting to collect her,” murmured Jared.

“Nah.” Jensen was grinning now. “Never seen him before in her life.”

They were laughing, good mood restored, as they collected their bags and then made for the exit.

“Let me give you a lift home.” Jared was starting to be afraid that all of this would end and that he’d find himself waking up to discover that it had all been a dream. Jensen, who had been about to go wait for a bus to take him into Dallas, gave him a sharp look.

“Are you sure?” he said.

“Never been surer.” Jared stopped for a minute, and Jensen turned to raise quizzical eyebrows at him. “Listen, I’ve always been alone. I didn’t think I knew how to be anything else, but you...” He took a deep breath. “Somehow you’ve managed to break through that and show me how to make friends. I’m scared to go back to my...” He paused, searching for a way to express what he was feeling. “To my life,” he said at last. “I want... I want to be with you while I can.”

Jensen shook his head with a smile. “Okay. Come on then. Let’s go.”

Jensen’s house was a modest affair, and quite frankly it could use a coat of paint, Jared thought, but the front yard was neat, and there were a couple of trees to the sides that gave it almost a fairytale appearance.

As the cab drew up outside, Jared reflected that this was the first time he’d ever been invited to visit someone’s home. He was nervous and desperate to make a good impression.

The blonde girl he’d seen at the auditions opened the door before they had even pulled their bags out of the cab, and as Jared settled up with the driver, she gave an ear-splitting screech and hurled herself at Jensen.

“You’re here! OMG! What happened? Did you kill it? Are you in the show now? Can I have your autograph? You must've made the finals. Did you? Come on, tell me. Who’s this?” she said finally as she ran out of breath.

“For heaven’s sake, brat! Your tongue runs on wheels.” Jensen hugged her and then peeled her off him. “All will be revealed in due course. This is my buddy Jared. Say hello politely and don’t crowd him or you’ll scare him — if you didn’t already.”

He turned to Jared. “Come on in, man. Ignore the attack dog here. She’s harmless.”

Jared, who had been trying — and failing miserably — to imagine his elegant, fashion conscious sister greeting him like that, flashed the girl a smile and crowded a little closer to Jensen.

“Ignore him. I’m Mack, and I don’t know why I even put up with Stinky here.” She went back into the house, and Jensen rolled his eyes before towing Jared inside after her.


“In here.” The voice was a soft drawl, and Jensen dumped his case in the hallway, indicating that Jared should do the same, then gripped him by the arm and pulled him into the room. Jared went, feeling somewhat shaky at the thought of the kind of scrutiny he was expecting.

“Hey, Momma.” Jensen knelt beside a slender blonde woman and kissed her cheek. “Allow me to introduce my pal Nureyev, aka Twinkletoes. He’s an awesome ballet dancer, but he lives here in Dallas.

“Jared Padalecki, ma’am,” Jared said, hurriedly, holding out his hand to her. “Jensen’s teasing, but I’m really happy to meet you.”

“Call me Donna, please.” Donna rose to her feet somewhat unsteadily and took his hand. “So Jensen met you in L.A.?” she asked. “How funny to go all the way there to meet someone from right here.”

“We actually met on the plane. Jared here was sitting right next to me, and we kind of got talking. He studies dance, and he really helped me when I hit a rough spot, and...” Jensen’s mother laughed and gestured for Jared to take a seat beside her on the couch.

“You poor thing. Has he been chatting at you like that all week? You must be exhausted.”
“Oh, no, ma’am.” Jared blushed. “He helped me out too. We had a terrific time.”

“So are you going to tell us?” Mack came in at that moment, carrying a tray with mugs, coffee, and a cake that looked like one of Mr. Beaver’s finest. “Are you going to be a star, or am I going to have to pay Consuela five dollars? She bet me that you’d be thrown out, but I told her you were gonna go through to the main show.”

“Mack!” Jensen looked horrified. “You didn’t! Five dollars is money we need for Mom’s pills and stuff.”

“Of course I did. I knew you’d get into the show.” Mack paused for a minute and then blurted out, “So did you?”

“Of course he did,” said Jared, when he saw the sneaky smile on Jensen’s face that meant he was going to string her along some more.

“We both did.” Jensen grinned at his sister, who was trying to decide whether to jump for joy or smack him for making her wait.

Donna intervened, smoothly. “Let’s remember that we have company, sweetie,” she said. “Jared, how do you like your coffee?”

For a moment, Jared toyed with the idea of admitting he wasn’t allowed coffee, and then he smirked. “Cream and two sugars, please,” he said. “It’s not considered good for ballet dancers, but Maverick here is gonna teach me to dance like him, so I need the caffeine!”

“If that’s the worst thing you ever do in your life, you’ll definitely go to heaven,” said Mack, giggling.

“I know, right?” Jared laughed but then sobered up. “Is it really wrong of me not to want to go back to the school? Honestly, I was having so much fun doing all the different styles, and Jeff’s gonna hit me with his cane if I try any of the tricks I was doing in L.A.”

Mack shuddered. “You should stay here with us. You can dance with Jensen and not get hit with anything.”

“Whoa! Hold up there, sis. Maybe Jared doesn’t want to give up his ballet education and turn into a slug like me.” Jensen’s eyes were wide. “He’s got a chance of joining the Ballet Company here in Dallas. Why should he give that up?”

“Well, because he doesn’t have any fun?”

“You don’t know that...” At that point, Donna interrupted the two of them, with the ease of someone who obviously knew well what would happen if she didn’t.

“Peace, you two. Jared, why don’t you stay here for the night if you don’t mind sharing with Jensen.” Donna gave him a warm smile. “You can think about what you want to do and make your decision without missy here trying to pressure you. I’d love to see you dance, though. I wanted to do ballet so much when I was a girl.”

A thrill ran through Jared. Stay? With Jensen? He beamed at Donna. “That would be wonderful. I’ll admit, I wasn’t feeling positive about going back to the school. There’s no... I don’t know. No life in it. Thank you.” He fluttered his hands, unsure whether to hug her or pat her or what. “And I’ll dance for you any time.”

“You can’t give up everything you’ve achieved so far, Jay. I won’t let you.”

It was much later, and Jensen’s mom and sister had finally called it a night. Jared couldn’t remember the last time he’d had such a good time. Dinner had been roast chicken, cooked by Jensen with ham-fisted help from Jared, who started to peel potatoes, cut his thumb and decided that the skin was the most nutritious part anyway. Mack, who evidently had developed rather a crush on Jared, made salad, and everyone had sat in the living room to devour it, while watching some movies of Jensen when he was a kid.

He’d noticed Jensen growing more and more introspective as the evening wore on until now he was just plain broody. It was something of a relief when he finally voiced what was bothering him.

“But dancing should be fun,” said Jared, frowning. “I’ve laughed more tonight here than I have at school over the whole of the past year. I want to learn what you do and have fun. Dancing should be fun, not a sacred quest for some holy grail.”

“I think it should be both.” Jensen rolled to his feet and turned to face him, hands on his hips as he formulated what he was trying to say. “Listen, you can come dance with my crew whenever, but I have to work, so I’m not available ‘til mid-afternoon anyway. That’s when the crew gets together. I think you need to keep on with the ballet because you’re so beautiful when you dance. It’s like you don’t have to obey gravity any more. You can fly, or float. I could never do that. I don’t wanna be the one who dragged you down to earth.”

Jared gave Jensen his sweetest smile. “Okay, I guess. Here’s what we should do. I’ll go back to jail, and tomorrow, once you get out of work we’ll go get you a phone.”

“What do I need a phone for?” Jensen frowned. “I can’t afford a phone.”

“No, maybe not, but I can, and I want to.” He could see Jensen open his mouth to protest and carried on talking very quickly. “No. Just think about it. It’s not for you. It’s for me. It’s so you can call me if you get out of work, and you’re going to dance, so I can come. Most of my practice is in the mornings, so by afternoon, I’m bored, and I think it would be awesome. Besides...” He lowered his voice, wondering if he was being too frank. “I guess you noticed already, but I kind of like you. I want us to be together if we can.”

“Yeah, I noticed.” Jensen still looked serious, “And...” He paused, a red stain rising from his neck to color his cheeks. “And I feel something too, but dude, this is Texas. We’d be likely to get our asses tarred and feathered if the crew got wind of my... my preferences.” He blinked back a tear that had welled up in the corner of his eye and reached to touch Jared’s cheek. “I want to,” he said.

“Oh, Jen.” Jared cupped Jensen’s face in his hands then bent and captured Jensen’s mouth with his own, all the longing he felt going into the kiss. He knew that Jensen wanted it as much as he did. He could feel the desire in Jensen’s taut body, but after a moment, he broke the caress and moved back.

“I’m a good guy. I won’t press at the moment, but please don’t cut me off completely. I want to get know you.” Jared fixed Jensen with his most imploring look.

“How about we keep it cool until we’re back in L.A. for the show and talk about it then?” Jensen touched his lips where Jared’s had pressed against them. “Till then, we have to keep it out of the limelight, k?”

Nodding, Jared allowed the knowledge that Jensen wanted him to fizz through his veins like tonic. He could wait for Jensen; he would wait. Three weeks wasn’t long. He could do it. It would hurt, but it would go by quickly.

“One more?” he implored, and Jensen lifted his face to meet Jared’s. “I never kissed anyone before,” he mumbled and found Jensen’s lips again.

Twelve days into the three weeks before they were due to return to L.A., and the days were dragging so badly, Jared thought time was actually starting to go backwards. He’d returned to school and resumed his studies, and Jeff was characteristically unimpressed by his achievement and merely commented that it would set back his studies an unacceptable amount if he wanted to get a place in the Corps de Ballet that fall.

He answered a call from his mother, who complained that he was vulgar. The auditions and elimination rounds in L.A. had begun to air, and Jared guessed she had seen the hip-hop routine with Jensen, Sandy and the others. He’d let her moan at him for several minutes, before finally snapping.

“Mom, I’m old enough to make my own choices. I’m not your puppet, and I’m going to learn every form of dance they can teach me, and I’m going to have a life.” He could hear his voice rising and took a couple of deep breaths, knowing that his mother would discard what he was saying if he lost his temper and shouted. “I’m going to go to L.A. I’m going to learn what I can. I’m going to win if I can, and I’m going to have a blast. If that offends you, I’m sorry. I kind of wish you cared enough about me to be happy for me, but if that isn’t the case, then I guess I’ll have to build my own family.”

He stopped talking, waited. He could hear his mother breathing, but she didn’t say anything. Shaking his head, he said, “Goodbye, mother,” and replaced the receiver.

Jeff, who had been listening, opened his mouth to tear Jared off a strip as he turned away from the phone, but Jared had had enough. “Mind your own business, Jeff. I’ve made up my mind, and I’m going on the show.”

As Jeff opened his mouth to protest, Jared pushed past him. “I’m going out,” he growled.

It was just after 1 p.m. when Jared knocked on the door of the house where Jensen lived. Mackenzie was in school, and Jensen was at work, but they weren’t the ones he’d come to see.

Donna pulled the door open at his knock and gave him a warm, friendly smile. “Jared? Are you okay?”

“No ma’am. I’m pretty far from okay right now,” he said, and she stepped aside to let him pass her.

“You’d better come in and tell me all about it,” she told him, closing the door again and following him down the hallway to the living room, leaning heavily on her walking frame.

Jared gave her a wan smile as she settled back into her recliner. “I was hoping you could give me some advice about my parents,” he said.

That, apparently, was the last thing that Donna expected. She looked surprised as she sat up a little in her chair. “I... Your parents?” she said.

“They don’t love me.” Jared shrugged his shoulders. “It doesn’t matter what I do, I can’t please them, and it doesn’t even seem as if there’s any point in trying anymore.” He drew a breath. “You’re proud of Jensen for getting into the finals, aren’t you?”

“Of course I am.” Donna’s eyes flashed, and it was obvious to Jared that she meant it. “Jensen has worked really hard to get there, and he’s never stopped taking care of me and his sister. He deserves this.”

“What happened to make him like that?” Jared was temporarily sidetracked as an opportunity to talk about Jensen showed itself. “He hasn’t ever said anything directly to me, but it feels like he’s somehow trying to atone for something terrible.”

Donna sighed. “Yeah. That’s just how it is. Jensen was only thirteen when the accident happened. We were returning from visiting my parents. Mack had elected to stay for a birthday party with one of her friends, so she wasn’t with us, and it was just the four of us. A truck ran the lights as we were on our way home and slammed into the side of us. Alan and Josh, his big brother, died instantly. I smashed my head against the side window and sustained a fractured skull. Jensen was the only one to emerge without serious injury. I’m pretty sure he feels guilty for being the one to walk away, and ever since then, he’s done everything he could to make up for it.”

Jared couldn’t help wondering if he’d have been the same if it had been his parents, and tried to picture his perfectly groomed mother using a walker and lounging around in a recliner. Both concepts defeated him. “That must have been horrible for all of you.”

“It was that,” Donna grinned. “Jen and Mack stayed with their grandparents for over a year. I was in a coma for the first little while, then paralyzed. My ability to move around is improving now, and I don’t often get the seizures I used to, but I still need medication and I’m still getting therapy. I owe him so much for that.”

“I was just wondering if I’d do the same for my parents, but it could never happen.” Wincing a little at the thought, he looked away, unable to meet Donna’s gaze. “Mom considers her parents to be less than socially acceptable, so I’ve only met them once, a long time ago, and as soon as they could, my parents sent me off to boarding school, so I guess I’m not socially acceptable either. I kind of wish I was.”

There was compassion in Donna’s eyes as she reached to touch his hand. “You should reach out to your grandparents, Jared, dear. I bet they’d be overjoyed to see you. If your mother has rejected them, they’re probably just as unhappy as you are about that. Where do they live?”

“Near Ferris, I think.” Jared looked excited as he tried to remember what he could about his lost relatives. “Grandpa has a ranch where he breeds and trains horses. I’ve never been, but I’ve seen him in the news once in a while. Mom always grumbles about him when that happens. I should... I should go see them.”

“I think you should,” Donna gave him a smile and squeezed his hand. “Nobody should be completely without family.”

“I knew you’d have the answer for me,” murmured Jared, squeezing back and smiling.

They both heard the key rattle in the lock, and Jared looked up as he heard Jensen’s voice.

“Mom? Hey, mom, are you ready for some...” As Jensen came into view, Jared felt the butterflies in his belly begin their struggle to invade his being.

Stopping short, Jensen looked between the two of them. “Jared?”

“It’s okay, Mav, I was just proposing to your mom, but she turned me down. She said I’m too young.” Jared could feel a flush starting as he gazed up at Jensen.

“Good for you, mom. He’s unseasoned. We need to teach him about life before he’ll be ready for marriage.” Jensen grinned. “I brought some chicken pies from work. They didn’t sell yesterday, but they’re really good. I know. I made them.”

“What are we waiting for?” Donna gave her son a sweet smile. “I think they would make a lovely lunch.”

“Oh, hey, Nureyev, Brock called.” Jensen was bubbling over with excitement. “He’s coming down to Dallas next week so he can travel back to L.A. with us. Sandy’s around too, so maybe we can all go dance with the crew before we go.”

“That would be cool.” Jared let go Jensen’s mom’s hand and followed Jensen into the kitchen.

Jensen was expertly slicing up vegetables for salad and arranging the pies onto 4 plates. “Mack’s will go in the fridge for when she gets home,” he said.

“I don’t suppose you could do me a favor?” Jared felt unaccountably nervous, and Jensen turned to look at him in surprise. “I want to go visit my grandparents. Would you... could you come with me?”

“Me? Why?” Jensen looked puzzled. “Here, take this in to mom, would you?” He handed over the plate, cutlery and napkin.

“I’ve never met them, and it’s kind of scary,” said Jared as he took the food and turned to make the delivery.

“In that case, for sure. When do you want to go?”

“As soon as we eat, if that’s okay with you?” Jared’s heart was leaping, and he wanted to turn cartwheels. Maybe he didn’t have to be alone for the rest of his life. He had friends, he had family, and he even felt as if he had a surrogate mom to whom he could bring his troubles. Life was looking up.

Chapter 1 | Chapter 2 | Chapter 4 | Chapter 5 | Chapter 6 | Masterpost | Amazing Art


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