So Fantasy Free Me
The second time his mom yells up the stairs that he's going to miss the bus if he doesn't get a move on, Jensen grumbles sleepily and stumbles out of bed. He hates mornings. Downstairs, he can hear his little sister’s chipper voice, probably telling mom about what her many friends are up to and which ones are in the same classes with her this year. She's been on the phone with her BFFs for the past week, class schedule in hand. Jensen shakes his head as he shuffles into the bathroom to brush his teeth and take a shower.
He only knows one person who will be in his classes this year, but that doesn't bother him. Most of his friends are starting at Indian River High School today while he's beginning the Science and Medical Academy at Deep Creek High. The program is tough to get into and nobody else he knows passed the entrance exam except Osric. They only take a few kids from each district in the city of Austin. It's okay though because everyone in the Academy will be in the same boat, leaving middle school friends behind and making new friends in high school while getting a head start on their medical education. Also, Jensen is planning to try out for the football team which is a good way to meet people and, besides, he's never been the kind of person who feels the need to be popular. One or two close friends and he's good.
After his shower, he dresses in a short-sleeve navy Henley and khakis. He completes his signature look with a grey fedora tilted at just the right angle. There's a pretty decent chance that he'll be the only one at his new school wearing a fedora and that's perfectly fine with him. In fact, he'll be a bit disappointed if some other kid is sporting his style because he doesn't want it to look like he's copying anyone else.
"Nice," his mother beams at him when he comes downstairs and pulls him into a tight mom-hug. "You look so handsome."
Jensen rolls his eyes and gives her a half-smile. His mom can be a little overenthusiastic sometimes and Jensen prefers to be understated. He's a guy, after all, and guys don't gush about stuff, especially not about how they look.
Mackenzie makes a grab for his hat, but he easily dodges out of the way. His little sister is predictable, and Jensen knows all her moves, has a counter for each and every one of them.
"Jerk," she pouts. "I just want to look at it."
"Look with your eyes, not with your hands."
Breakfast is a Pop Tart and orange juice. It's all he has time for before he's slinging on his backpack and heading out the door. The bus to Deep Creek comes early since they have to trek all over Austin to pick up the other kids in the program.
It’s already muggy outside and Jensen’s glad he remembered his deodorant this morning. Late Summer, early Fall in Texas means temperatures that can easily reach triple digits by afternoon most days. Luckily, he doesn’t have to wait long in the heat before the bus comes.
Osric is already there, sitting toward the back, his nose in some thick, hardcover book that looks like it could be a medical text. Not surprising, Jensen thinks as he makes his way to the seat next to him.
Looking up, Osric grins. "Hey Ackles."
"Hey Chau. Whatcha reading?"
Osric's mouth twists into a wry slant, but there's a triumphant gleam in his almond-shaped eyes. "Got my hands on an advanced copy of this year's biology text. I've been reading it all summer."
Jensen huffs out a short bark of laughter. "So typical, man. You're gonna wreck the bell curve for the rest of us." He presses his head against the tall seat back, tilts his hat forward to cover his eyes, ready to nap for the rest of the long ride. "There's more to life than school, ya know? You need to broaden your horizons. Have a little fun."
It's good advice. Some people take life too seriously. Jensen believes in working hard, but playing harder.
"Yeah, yeah, tell that to my parents," Osric mutters.
From behind his hat, Jensen hears the sound of pages turning and assumes the other boy has gone back to his reading.
The medical program only accepts twenty-five kids each year and those students have all their classes together. First period is homeroom and biology. Jensen and Osric make their way through the teaming hallway where clusters of kids move in groups like migrating herds, upperclassmen easily distinguishable from the freshmen in the easy, cocksure way they navigate the labyrinth of corridors.
Large banners on the walls proclaim this as the HOME OF THE WILDCATS in the school's obnoxious, bright orange and blue colors. And wow, whoever came up with that color combo deserves to be strung up on the flagpole out front. Jensen smirks at the ridiculous posters until he realizes that, if he makes the football team, he'll be wearing those ugly colors himself on a weekly basis.
"Well shit," he says out loud.
"What?" asks Osric.
"S'nothing, just, those colors, man. They're making my eyes bleed."
Osric slows down, looks at the nearest banner for a few seconds before his gaze shifts to a group of cheerleaders talking at the other side of the hall. Their uniforms are electric blue with a large white diamond shape on the front and back that features a snarling, orange wildcat in the middle. "I don't know, they look alright to me," he says as he nearly collides with another student who is similarly distracted.
Jensen rolls his eyes and grabs Osric's arm, steering him out of the way in the nick of time. It's moments like these that he's glad he's gay. At least he doesn't have to worry about drooling all over the floor whenever a cute girl walks by.
The dopey look doesn't leave Osric's face until they've reached their homeroom, Mrs. Darby's classroom according to his schedule. The classroom is already teaming with a raucous bunch of students all jockeying for the prime seats at the back. Osric, being the nerd he is, happily slips into an empty seat right in front of the teacher’s desk. He’s welcome to it, Jensen snorts to himself while he eyes the remaining options. One seat near the wall with a poster of the human heart taped to it looks promising, but before he can get there, a girl with straight, black hair and a pale, thin face claims it. Okay. That leaves the seat next to Osric, also right in front of the teacher - no thanks - or a seat two rows back next to a boy hunched forward over his desk, dark hair falling into his eyes and obscuring his face. Meh...it’ll do.
Once seated, Jensen casually studies his new neighbor without outright staring at him like a creeper. Now that all seats have been picked, they’ll probably be sitting next to each other all year. Might as well find out now if he made the right choice in seating arrangements.
The guy is totally focused on the notebook paper in front of him where a cartoon figure - superhero? Is that a cape? - is coming to life with quick, sure strokes. It’s not bad, not bad at all. In fact, it’s pretty damn good.
The bell to start the period hasn’t rung yet, so Jensen decides to feel the kid out, see if he’s friend material or not. Turning sideways to face him fully, he asks, “Whatcha drawing?” He follows the question with a smile to show he’s not being an asshole.
The dark-haired boy startles slightly as though not expecting anyone to talk to him. A quick assessing glance is thrown Jensen’s way before he ducks his head again. “Um, nothing much, just doodling. Passes the time, you know?” Another glance, longer this time, and a shoulder shrug.
In those couple seconds, Jensen is mesmerized by exotic blue-green eyes, a cleft chin, and an adorable mole next to his nose. Jeez.
“If that’s what you call doodling, I’d hate to hear what you thought of my attempts at artwork. Even my stick figures look like a kindergartner drew them.” Jensen leans back in his plastic chair, crossing his legs at the ankle. “I’m Jensen, by the way.”
“Jared,” the guy says and smiles.
And holy dimples, Batman. What the fuck? Jensen might be just a tiny bit smitten. He wipes his chin with the back of his hand. What had he been thinking earlier about being glad he was gay and not prone to drooling?
The bell chooses that moment to go off and the loud scrape of chairs adjusting on linoleum fills the classroom as twenty-five students all turn to face forward at the same time. Reluctantly, Jensen follows suit. Mrs. Darby begins by writing the class rules on the chalkboard. They’re the same rules he’s heard at the beginning of every year in every class he’s ever been in. Be on time, no cheating, no bullying other students, turn in your homework, blah, blah, blah. Then, she passes out the class syllabus. More lecturing about supplies and points for test grades and assignments. It’s boring and that’s the only reason he spends most of the period trying to see, from his peripheral vision, what Jared is drawing. A cartoon? Comicstrip?
The bell rings and everyone jumps up, bottlenecking at the door as they race off to find their next class. Jensen’s not sure what all the fuss is about. All the freshmen in the Science and Medicine Academy have the same classes. From here, they all go to Honors English and then an elective of their choice followed by lunch, Honors Trig, and lastly, Honors Earth Science. Yes, it’s a school full of geeks, at least the twenty-five attending the Academy can all easily fit into that classification. Although, Jensen doesn’t like labeling himself and tries hard to be his own person.
Of course, there are also other kids going to school at Deep Creek high. In fact, the Academy only makes up a small percentage of the students, so the halls are jam packed with excited teenagers. No need to add to the chaos when, if he only waits a few minutes, the corridors will unclog as if by magic.
Jensen takes his time putting his book and pen in his backpack. Jared seems in no hurry either. Soon, it’s just the two of them left in the classroom.
“Were you on the bus this morning? I don’t remember seeing you.” Jensen says, swinging his backpack over one shoulder.
Jared finishes stuffing the loose paper he was drawing on into a side pocket of his messenger bag, then looks up, shaggy hair still halfway covering his eyes. “No, I uh, my mom, she drove me.”
“Lucky. It probably took you half as long to get to school as it took me. That bus ride takes forever. Which school district you from anyway?” The hall looks less crowded now. Jensen moves toward the door.
Jared stands up and matches his stride. He’s taller than Jensen and that’s saying something, ‘cause Jensen is already almost six feet (and still growing, thank you very much.) “Hickory, how ‘bout you?”
Looking down at the ground while they walk, Jared says, “Greenbrier’s not that far. How long did it take by bus?” His voice is quiet, hesitant.
“Forty-five minutes,” Jensen mock groans.
Jared’s eyes widen. “Forty-five minutes! Shit man. I didn’t want my mom to drive me to school - sometimes I swear she still thinks I’m in the 3rd grade - but now I’m almost glad.”
Jensen can’t help but laugh. It’s the most he’s heard Jared say at one time, and at almost normal teenage-boy volume too. “Eh, it’s not that bad. I figure I’ll use the bus ride to get my homework done. And next year I’ll have my driver’s license. I can handle the bus for one year.”
They walk along the corridor in silence while Jensen checks the numbers on the doors they pass, making sure they’re heading in the right direction.
“I, uh, I like your hat. It’s different,” Jared says, quiet again.
“Are you calling me different?” Jensen feigns indignation, well aware that to most teenagers ‘different’ is the last thing they want to be. They’re looking to fit in, to belong, to define themselves as part of a larger group. If anyone ever called his sister ‘different’, she’d probably die of shame.
Color pinks Jared’s cheeks and he bows his head. “Sorry,” he mumbles.
Jensen grins and bumps his shoulder into the other boy’s. “Dude, I’m just messing with you. It’s no big. Different’s good. I like different.”
A slow, shy smile brightens Jared’s face. “I like different too.”
Their English classroom has posters of famous writers all over the walls. There’s one of Shakespeare that says “Shakespeare Rocks”. Jensen spots Osric sitting at the front again, talking with the pretty Asian girl sitting next to him. When Osric sees him, he waves and Jensen gives him a thumbs up which makes him nod and smile so big it looks like he just won the lottery.
Most of the seats are already taken, but there are two seats next to each other in the middle of the room. Jared and Jensen head for those two seats automatically, as though it’s a given that they’ll be sitting together from now on.
The teacher, Mr. Marks, hands out copies of Steinbeck’s The Pearl and makes them each read a section out loud. Jared’s voice is nearly inaudible when it’s his turn, his ears flaming pink, and the book almost touching his nose so no one can see him, or maybe so he can’t see everyone watching him. Jensen feels bad for him. It must suck to be that shy. Jensen’s never been shy a day in his life. People want to look at him? Let them look. If they want to judge him, they can, he doesn’t care what anyone else thinks. The people who matter will see who he truly is and that’s what’s important.
Jared pulls out his drawing and gets back to work once his turn reading out loud is over. Jensen’s going to have to get Jared to teach him how to do that because he’s seriously good at it. His sure, clean strokes make it look effortless.
An interminable amount of time later, the bell finally rings and the students jump up as though each and every one of them has just been stung by a bee. The Pearl is shaping up to be a somewhat depressing story. Why are the books they’re assigned to read in school always such downers anyway?
“What did you pick as your elective?” he asks as he adds The Pearl to the growing stack of books in his backpack. He’s going to have to make a stop at his locker soon.
“Art,” Jared answers. “You?”
“Of course you’re taking art. I should have guessed. I’m taking guitar, always wanted to learn and this is as good a chance as any, right? Actually, it surprised me that they offer guitar class here. It’s good though because, turns out, teaching yourself how to play guitar is hard. My parents bought me one for my birthday last year and I’ve been trying, but I’m kinda terrible.” Laughing at himself, Jensen shrugs. “Okay, I’ll shut up now. I talk too much.”
Jared grins, a full-on grin that makes his eyes gleam and his dimples flash. “I like listening to you talk. You’re like the Energizer Bunny, wind you up and you keep going, and going, and going.”
“Rude,” Jensen replies in his mock offended tone.
Jared just raises an eyebrow at him as he begins gathering his papers together. “True though.”
“Yeah, you have a point. Hey, can I take a look at what you’re drawing before you put it away?”
There’s a beat of silence before Jared answers. “Um, later, okay? It’s not ready for anyone to see yet.” He shuffles his feet uneasily, watching for Jensen’s reaction to his refusal through his long shaggy bangs.
“Sure, man. Whenever you’re ready. I’d really like to see it though. You’ve got talent, I can tell.”
Jared blushes again, quickly shoving the papers into his bag.
Making friends with Jared feels both like the most natural thing in the world and the most challenging at the same time. He’s never met anyone as reserved and shy as Jared before. Bringing Jared out of his shell could take some work, but something tells Jensen it’ll be well worth the effort.
Link to Chapter 3
Link to the Master Post