More Than You Know. J2, R. 3,770 words. Jared and Jensen go on a roadtrip. Why do I do this to myself?
It all starts with a flippant comment, something about showing up in living rooms across the country without having seen much of it. Jensen says interesting things like that all the time, and you like to make irrational plans.
The summer's coming up, fast and hot, and there are a million other things you could do, should do.
"Why the fuck not?" Jensen says, cracking his gum.
Between you, you have: four parents, three girlfriends, an almost-fiancée, a movie about a painter, a movie about a sandwich shop, $300K in a bank account, a case of Corona and a pack of Doublemint.
"Why the fuck not," you reply, putting on your sunglasses. The truck isn't as roomy as an Impala, but it gets way better mileage.
You imagined it would be harder to walk out of your life. Other people have been guiding you through it for years now, and at first you're not sure if you have the chops to pull this off. There's no one to tell you what to wear and think and say, but it comes back to you just like riding a bike.
"That's the point," Jensen says. "That's why we're here."
You don't have plans, just rules. No visiting family, no visiting graveyards, no cell phones.
You keep out of cities; you pass through populated places with your heads down. It's amazing how many people don't even bat an eye out here, out in the real world. A grizzled motherfucker rings up your gas in Idaho and squints at you like he's close to putting his finger on it.
"You ever been in the Weekly World News?" he finally asks.
"Oh, yeah," you grin, tossing down a fifty. "I own the world's largest disco ball. It was pulling in alien transmissions."
No one's looking for you here, so no one sees you.
The scenery looks like movie sets, like the sky couldn't possibly be that blue, or the clouds that far away. The mountains are an endless ridge until they're not there at all, and the horizon looks dusty and wide-open and ready for John Wayne to come thundering out of it, into it. You fall asleep with the sun in your eyes, burning everything orange-yellow, and wake up to thunder clouds, dense over the prairie.
"Are we there yet?" you ask, and Jensen reaches over from his lazy grip at the bottom of the steering wheel to punch your shoulder.
"Don't make me turn this car around," he says, and you fall back asleep until he rolls the window down with the controls on his side.
You both suck at reading maps. You get the basic concept of the scale with miles and how it equals half a pencil, but there's no fucking way to use that when the road's a twisting blue line. You get lost, Jensen gets you lost. You drive eighty miles out of your way on a deserted highway in a place that seems like nothing but hills, and you haven't seen an informative road sign in over an hour.
"Chinese fire drill," Jensen says, and you get out, switch seats. He makes an illegal U-turn that no one else sees and takes you all the way back to the small town you got bad directions in, and you start all over again.
Jensen stops cutting his hair, and it's only noticeable after the first few weeks. His bangs hang in his eyes when he forgets or forgoes gelling them up, and he keeps pushing them back before yanking his baseball cap down, to keep them in place.
You get shaggier, messier. Without a stylist and the patience to mess with it for a half-hour every morning, your hair's gone curly. The humidity doesn't help. Your skin doesn't break out much, because suddenly you're normal again, and normal means not wearing make-up all day.
In Rawlins, Jensen buys a pack of cigarettes.
"You don't smoke," you point out. You know it's true; he's the former athlete, the one with sweet pink lungs. Jensen makes a big show of lighting one up.
"If you can't smoke in the middle of fucking nowhere," he says, and it's half a thought, but it's one you follow.
In the southwest you pass Blistex back and forth religiously.
You wake up with Jensen shaking you arm, face lit up like a kid on Christmas. "Check out those rocks," he says, and you blink at the rough, reddish walls of mountain all around you. Nature's a lot different than you remember. You've flown over this same stretch of land so many times you can't even count the flights, and somewhere along the way, that's what it became to you - shapes seen from airplanes, smatterings of houses and gullies.
Jensen looks like he can't believe he arrived in the middle of nowhere, and you hide a grin in the sleeve of your sweatshirt.
You count off landmarks, even ones you didn't know existed. This is where they grow Christmas trees, this is where they grow Easter lilies. You've never had lilies on Easter in your life, but that's what the sign says.
In diner booths you sprawl, happy for the leg room, happy to steal any and all you can get from Jensen. It's funny to dwarf him at press calls and photo shoots, but it's hilarious to dwarf him out in the real world. People look from you to him and back again, like you're an object that's been placed next to a quarter to establish size.
Jensen can't completely shake his fake movie star attitude, and in mid-June he's still wearing shades whenever you stop for food. You kick his legs and make fun of him, tell him he's just drawing more attention to himself than normal, until he takes them off and scowls at you over eggs Benedict.
You expected to feel like Sam out here, but you're more like Jared than you can remember being in a long, long time.
You promised your sister you'd send her postcards, and halfway through the country you realize you forgot. You make up for it by sending her them from everywhere you stop at for a week, from the minuscule towns where Jensen refuels to the weird places that are more truck stop than anything. You keep things short and concise: jensen's still an asshole. iowa has lots of corn. walk the dogs!
You always thought bad diner food was some kind of myth, but Arkansas opens your eyes to that one. Sticky waffles, burnt coffee, runny eggs.
"I'm a celebrity, get me out of here," Jensen says.
You look up from a postcard with a picture of a black bear on it, your scrawled message to Megan half-finished ( - jensen got eaten by one of these yesterday, i'm going it alone - ), and you laugh, loud and bright and attracting glares from old people.
Jensen's allergic to something in Ohio, and he spends four hundred miles sniffing and bitching about it. He wipes his nose on his sleeve and you call him gross, and he calls you an ass, and you don't speak until you stop for food in Brimmington. You suck it up and take him to McDonald's, even though you're a devoted Carl's Jr. person, and he dares you to ask for a girl's Happy Meal toy along with your Big Mac, and things go back to normal.
You stop in bars, but only gross ones where you figure no one inside has watched TV in five years. Broken concrete or gravel in the parking lot and flickering neon lights in the windows, outlining the words BUDWEISER and COORS. You order the same beer in five states until Jensen makes you switch to shots, and shots lead to talking too much, laughing too much, and thinking about how great Jensen is.
California chases you in weird ways. The rest of the world isn't the way it is in country songs, where there's a chicken in every pot and people are happy. People are pretty much pissed off in every zip code, and you see Jamba Juices in states that don't get sunshine more than three months a year. It's all strange. You make notes of stuff you want to tell Sandy about when you get home, but eventually you realize it wouldn't make sense, anyway.
You buy a disposable camera in Alabama, and Jensen manages to fuck up all two of the settings on it, so the pictures wind up out of focus and zoomed wrong. A roll wasted on blurry thumbs, or statutes that are full-size and the both of you in front of them, peach-pinkish blurs that could be absolutely anyone. You keep them anyway, shove them up between the visor and the roof of the truck, and they rain down in your laps about once a day.
In the Wal-Mart parking lot there's a Sedan with its windows all rolled down and two dogs in the front seat. You reach right in and scratch behind their ears, get covered in drool. Jensen looks around, like he's expecting their owner to come out and yell at you.
Right then, you miss Harley and Sadie in a ridiculous way. You miss their heavy weight on top of you when you're sitting on the couch, the comforting sound of their ragged breathing. You miss Sandy, with her perfume that smells like coconuts and her moist, glossy mouth. Sandy, who laughs at your jokes and punches you in the side and doesn't let you get trapped in your own head. That's love, or something.
Jensen shakes the keys so they jangle, and someone else's dog licks your chin.
In Nebraska a waitress named Suzanne might recognize you, you're not sure. She smiles widely and tilts her head, and when you compliment her crucifix she brings you a piece of apple pie.
Jensen watches her, watches you, with a smile in the corners of his mouth. He looks like he knows this situation better than you do, but it's just pie. There are some things that just aren't worth the storm they bring, and you don't need to tap the ass of a waitress in the middle of nowhere to feel more alive. Those were the rules, right? No cell phones, no women, no matching tattoos.
People told you a lot of shit when you got started in this business, almost always variations on, Hey, cutie, don't trust anyone. What they didn't tell you is how much you were going to have to give up. All the normal landmarks were a given, but there are things you never counted on. The isolation, for one. How lonely you are, how you can't talk to the people in your family straight-up like you used to. You know your father is frustrated by the fact he doesn't understand your life any more than you understand his, and you can't come to him with questions, with problems. You're all on your lonesome, and all you can do is cling to the people who seem to be in the same situation.
You know Jensen's been down that road, too. You've seen the pictures. And the thing is, you never really think of him as being older than you. He's just Jensen, that stupid fuck who clowns around with you between takes. But sometimes it seems a lot more real than that, like when he's sitting on the other side of the table on the second leg of your excellent adventure, watching you like he's studying wildlife.
You eat your pie and smirk at him for not getting any. He chews on the end of his sunglasses, the black lenses smudged with fingerprints and dully reflecting the harsh lights.
Somewhere past Fort Madison, you sprawl in the back. It's the side of the road and it's past eleven, so it's just the two of you and night air, with dirty t-shirts wadded up to pad your spines against the metal bed of the truck.
Jensen's still trying to smoke, and you lazily pass one cigarette back and forth, neither of you really inhaling. You feel fifteen again, doing stupid things because it's fun, because it feels like getting away with something. It feels like a secret between the two of you, something health trainers would freak out about.
"There's Orion," you say, and point up, dragging your finger along his shape. You'd be total shit at this if it weren't for an astronomy project in the sixth grade, and it's impressed a few girls. Jensen's rarely impressed, though, and gamely points at another cluster of stars.
"There's... something," he says, and you roll your eyes, glad for the chance to laugh at him.
"You suck at this game, dude."
"Nah, that's - I used to know what that one is."
"Pisces," you say, because you remember the strange slopes of it, looking like a flower to you but two fish to some fucked person hundreds of years ago.
It's too deep in summer to be cold, but there's a breeze in the air, enough that you can feel Jensen's body heat seeping through your soft cotton layers. You think, this is my best friend, like it's a revelation and not something obvious, and that's what on your lips and in your mind when he rolls over and looks down at you.
When you kiss, it tastes like cigarette filter and diet soda.
You blow him for the first time in Tennessee.
He doesn't taste like marshmallows or moonbeams or anything other than cock, thick and sweaty and salty and weirdly, weirdly real.
You rinse your mouth out with Coke afterwards and turn up the AC.
"Bet we can make it to the border by night," you say, shifting back into gear.
"Jesus," Jensen says, fingers still tight on the handle of the door. "Okay."
Jensen hates the beach because it means being in the sun, and being in the sun means his freckles stand out even more. You think it's funny; when he passes out in South Carolina, you take a right and don't stop driving until there's no more land.
"Motherfucker," he mumbles when he wakes up, rubbing sleep out of his eyes with the back of his hand. "I told you - "
"I know," you say.
Jensen stands in the parking lot and watches you chase seagulls, leaning against the side of the truck and tugging the hood of his sweater up. It's windy enough here that he's probably not burning up, but you still think he's a pussy for doing it.
When you're done making an ass out of yourself, the hems of your jeans bleeding salt water up to your knees, he's sitting on the fender of the truck and watching other tourists washing their sandy legs off in faucets along the edge of the parking lot.
"Ready?" you ask, hair feeling sweaty and hot from the sunlight, nose already tingling with what might be a burn. He's wearing aviator sunglasses and slings an arm around your waist, pulling you in until his forehead presses against your stomach. You touch your fingers to the back of his neck, nails scraping across his nape, and it doesn't feel awkward at all.
Jensen drinks Red Bull like it's water, and he picks you up different kinds of candy in every gas station he goes into. Sour strawberry straws. Lemon drops. Big Hunks. Jolly Ranchers. Twizzlers. You hate chocolate, so it's all just different colored sugar, and he knows it. You know it. He thinks it's funny when you eat too much of it and sing along with his iPod, drumming out rhythms against the steering wheel and your own knees.
It doesn't bother you that you amuse him, or that he looks at you like that all the fucking time - even more, now.
Thinking about Sandy is your go-to mental place. You think about her between takes, you think about her when you're stuck in traffic, you think about her when you're jerking off at night. You're used to the long-distance thing, and that's just part of it.
Now you close your eyes on empty stretches of road and think about Sandy in summertime - Sandy sunbathing, or diving in a pool. Sandy and her nice tits in a string bikini, Sandy's dark hair wet with pool water, tasting like salt and chlorine when you go down on her. Sandy's round thighs and sweet voice.
You feel like shit when you stop to think about it, because this isn't you. You don't cheat; you're a good guy. A great guy, that's what the girls who've dumped you have all said. The thing is, Jensen doesn't feel like cheating. Jensen feels like your own hand, more skilled and less sensitive. Your extension of self. Maybe gay stuff doesn't count. Maybe your best friend doesn't count. Maybe, maybe, maybe.
You feel like shit about Sandy, but you don't break the rules. Summer laws - no karaoke bars, no cell phones, no matching tattoos. No girlfriends. No almost-fiancées. No movies about painters or sandwich shops.
Jensen ambles out of the AM/PM, shuffling in flip-flops and a hoodie that claims he went to Brown. He throws you a box of gummy worms, and you grin.
His geography changes subtly. He shaves every day, so his chin is baby-smooth and smells like mint and soap. A fine dusting of hair shows up on his chest, as golden and soft as what's on his legs and in the hollows of his armpits.
In the mornings he looks bleary for forty-five minutes, cheek cut through with lines from cheap pillow cases, lips dry and puffy and mottled pink and red.
You roll around on hotel beds like lunch-hour adulterers, springs shrill and sheets rough, worn-in. Jensen's slow at what he does, like he's got it all planned out ahead of time and is just following the steps. You're reminded of the Playboy girl, that interview you laughed at and read aloud. He gives me the best orgasms. You're the one getting his mouth now, his fingers, and if it's not world class, it's pretty fucking good.
Jensen falls asleep with his boxers still around one calf, twisted around so you can see the Calvin Klein label.
You completely lose track of days and weeks, only paying attention based on what it says on newspapers in restaurants. Saturday the twenty-sixth; the president gave a speech somewhere your sister wanted to visit when she was ten.
"No newspapers," Jensen says, tugging it out of your fingers and flinging it on the other Denny's table. "No real life."
"Then buy me a fucking calendar," you laugh, and steal the packets of grape jam.
In Wisconsin the signs all say cheese and fireworks, and the Midwest is lousy with American flags. When everything's closed on the Fourth of July, you only figure it out by counting backwards from that Saturday.
The air's full of smoke and the sparks and flares of nearby bottle rockets and streamers. It's sooty at the back of your throat, and tastes like being a kid, like growing up, like family and life changing bit by bit.
"You're gonna get sick of each other," Sandy had said, folding her arms and shaking her head. She gave you the same looks Jensen does sometimes, that expression of amusement, bewilderment, indulgence. "You're a couple of idiots, and you're going to get so sick of each other."
You don't get sick of each other. At least, you're not sick of Jensen. He gives you sleepy smiles from under hoods and rubs his knuckles against the back of your neck when you watch cartoons in the mornings (no television that's not animated) and lets you play the same song over and over again when you want to, so you're pretty sure he's not sick of you, either.
But what's going on starts to become familiar, and that's scary. You're a couple of idiots for thinking it wouldn't, it couldn't, become a routine unto itself. The car smells like too many days on the road, like corn chips and warm cotton. You've got a pair of jeans that still smell like the Atlantic ocean, stiff at the ankles and raining sand from the cuffs. You've given up on saving the truck's integrity, and you exist in it like hobos, with your waste basket of a Burger King bag and stolen Super 8 Motel pillow in the back.
He doesn't shave for two days, just for the hell of it, and you learn what the burn of his stubble feels like. You think, this is what he would feel like in Vancouver.
You come curling your toes in ratty motel carpeting. You pretend it's the flat, cushy stuff in your trailer.
You decide to go back in Kentucky. Jensen's sucking at the hollow of your throat, where you taste like sweat and sunblock. You've been everywhere and confused everything, and it's August now.
"Why the fuck not," he says, licking his lips and looking out over the tobacco fields.
Between the two of you, you have: four parents, an almost-fiancée, a movie about a painter, a movie about a sandwich shop, $24K in a bank account, a lot of fucked-up self-realizations, thirty-two blurry matte prints, and something that makes you happier than you can remember being.
It's still three thousand miles until you're home, but you're right where you're supposed to be.