"bill, i really don’t think signing jensen up for the swim team this year is a good idea.”

jensen stopped short on the steps, overhearing his mother’s voice as it floated from the kitchen. he’d been on his way down to get a snack, but he stood frozen now. his hand stayed put on the railing, and though his eyes shifted in and out of focus on the front door, his ears were on high alert, trying to hear every word.

"and what excuse did you come up for him this year, judy? hm?"

yeah, what excuse had his mom thought up for this time around? jensen gulped silently, his heart pounding loudly in his chest. he was sure that if it didn’t quiet down, his parents would hear it and he’d be found out.

"it’s not an excuse, honey, it’s the truth. he’s miserable every time you make him play some sport."

there was silence from his father, just for a moment. jensen licked his lips, waiting on pins and needles for an answer. or for him to say anything at all, really. it wasn’t like his father not to respond to something immediately. it was either a really good sign, or a really bad one.

"he needs to get out of his goddamned room. all he does is draw pictures of things that don’t exist."

okay, it had been a bad sign.

"but he’s happiest when-"

"he’ll be happy if he sucks it up and does what boys his age are supposed to do, damn it."

jensen blinked and swallowed again. he’d actually never overheard his parents talking about him like this. sure, he’d overheard what they were planning on getting him for chrismas one year, but this was different.

"but jensen is different from other boys his age."

"i can’t relate to him that way, damn it. i don’t understand what he’s talking about half the time when he talks about his pictures or stories. i just want a son who plays ball, who’s normal."

jensen blinked slowly, a strange feeling growing in the pit of his stomach. he… he didn’t know what to do. his dad just wanted a son who could play ball? jensen already knew that wouldn’t be him. he’d tried before, and like his mom had said, he’d been miserable. and jensen already knew, even though he was only in fifth grade, that he wouldn’t ever play ball.

"i never wanted a weirdo son who drew pictures and made up his own worlds or whatever the hell he does up there. i just want a normal boy, and i’ll make him that way, you’ll see, judy."

finally, jensen remembered to breathe. and with that realization that he could, in fact, breathe, he bolted down the last few steps, wrenched open the front door, and ran down the path to the sidewalk. he turned and ran up the street, not entirely sure where he was going. vaguely, he was aware that he ran past lorna’s house, but he didn’t turn to go to her.

it was one thing for the kids at school to call him weird. he’d almost gotten used to hearing it when people got bored enough to whisper it at him in the hallway. he’d gotten used to the fact that lorna was about the only person who ever wanted to be partners with him. he hadn’t understood why, exactly. he didn’t understand what exactly made him different from the other kids in his class, but he knew he was.

but it was another thing to have his own father call him weird. to find out he wasn’t the son he’d wanted. and to know, down to his core, that he’d never be the son his father had wanted, because he’d never be a boy who played ball, even if it was what he wanted most. he’d spent so much time wondering why his father didn’t talk to him as often as his mother did. why his father was so determined that he play a sport. why nothing he tried to do, like drawing his dad his best picture, seemed to help. and now he knew.

he felt like he could barely breathe, and it wasn’t just because he’d been running. jensen slowed to a stop, finding himself outside of his elementary school. he furrowed his eyes at the red brick building in front of him. he took a deep breath, filling his lungs up as much as he could before he flung his arms wide and let out a yell at the top of his lungs. the force of it pushed him backward, stumbling slightly as his breath ran out. he swung his arms and took another deep breath, letting out one more frustrated, heartbroken yell.

as it subsided, jensen sank to the ground. he was a quiet kid, a kid that put up with a lot in school that he didn’t fight back against, but yelling like that… it had helped.

"jensen?"

a cautious voice caught him off guard, causing him to look over his slumped shoulder. it was lorna. his eyes stayed on hers for a moment before he turned back around, picking tiredly at the grass in front of him.

"i saw you run past my house."

he didn’t respond, but he did glance at her as she sat on the ground next to him.

"what’s wrong?"

he glanced at her again, sighing heavily. "my dad doesn’t want a kid like me," his voice was almost resigned as he talked, though there was obviously pain underlying it. "he wants someone who can play sports. he thinks i’m weird. and i think he’ll always think that."

he creased his eyebrows together even further, grabbing at more innocent blades of grass. though, the hardness in his face softened when lorna reached out a hand and placed it on one of his.

"i think you’re perfect the way you are. and i don’t think you’re dad’s realized how lucky he is to have you."

jensen took a deep breath and turned his head slightly to look at her. she was being completely serious. she sounded like a mom when she said things like that, and it was nice. his lips twitched into a watery smile.

jensen sat cross legged on his bedroom floor, several pictures laying the hardwood in front of him in a precise grid. he had his hands clasped together in front of his face, his templed index fingers resting against his lips as he looked from one picture to the next. they were all of the same image, but each picture had been exposed for a different amount of time in the dark room, and jensen was trying to decide which exposure he liked the best.

he looked at each picture critically, so completely absorbed in what he was doing that he didn’t even hear a knock at his door.

"…jensen?"

he jumped up at the sound of her voice, whipping his head around. disoriented, he looked at her looking at him, confused as to why lorna was standing in his room at nine-forty-five at night. oddly, the same confusion seemed to be etched on her face. then he realized why.

"i just showered," he stated, explaining why he was only wearing a pair of boxer briefs. had this happened a few years ago, jensen would have turned beat red. but as lorna had already seen all there was to see of him and he never slept in anything except underwear, he wasn’t bothered.

it seemed to satisfy her, his explanation, and his eyes followed her as she trudged to the other side of his small room to sink into his old armchair. and while her confusion seemed to evaporate, his still sat on his face. "wait, why are you here, lor? what happened?" jensen clambered to his feet, pushing his door shut before he crawled over his bed to sit across from her.

she looked worn out. or stressed out. then again, they both usually had the same effect on her. jensen reached out, tapping her knee lightly.

"avery and daddy were fighting. badly."

oh. "oh." she didn’t need to explain anything more than that. he understood. one, lorna hated yelling of any sort. jensen didn’t blame her because he hated it just as much as she did. any sort of confrontation, especially one with raised voices, the pair of them usually stayed away from. two, lorna was a daddy’s girl. that much was made extremely clear (though he’d already known that for years) when he’d had the first talk with lorna’s father as her boyfriend. three, avery was lorna’s twin. so when her father and her sister fought, like they were apt to do, it upset her. and she seemed to be more upset than usual.

"well," he started, drumming his fingers against her knees, knowing it was his job was to cheer her up. or at least distract her. he looked around his room quickly, searching for something he could use when his eyes landed on his old cd player. grinning stupidly, he shoved himself off his bed and dug flipped through the case that held all the cds he owned. why he owned the particular one he popped into the player, he wasn’t sure, but that didn’t stop him from grabbing a pair of sunglasses and cramming them onto his face. he jumped up on the bed as soon as the music started playing, and sang along with the iconic ‘u can’t touch this’ while putting off his best, or worst, depending, dance moves.

at first, lorna was stone-faced, looking anything but amused. but, after she seemed to accept the fact that yes, her boyfriend was dancing to mc hammer on his bed in his underwear, a smile crossed her face and laughter started to bubble up. keeping a straight face as much as he could, jensen jumped down off his bed, taking both of her hands in his. he pulled her up to her feet, forcing her to dancing just as ridiculously as he was.

though, jensen’s room was small and wasn’t built for dancing, real or not, and jensen found himself tumbling backward onto his bed, pulling lorna down with him. finally laughing himself, he wrapped his arms tightly around her in a bear hug.

catching his breath, he pecked her obnoxiously on the cheek, wiggling underneath her but not loosening his hold on her. "i love it when you laugh, doone." he kissed her again, just as obnoxiously as the first time, just as a knock sounded on his door.

"jen? lorna? are you two okay?"

jensen glanced at lorna and then let out another loud laugh. the rules about lorna being in jensen’s room were far different than they were at lorna’s house where jensen wasn’t allowed in her room under any circumstances, and thankfully, it wasn’t a subject that their parents talked about with each other. "yeah, mom. we’re fine."

jensen climbed the last step, taking the opportunity of finally being out of lorna’s line of sight to wince at the state of his body. it was only tuesday afternoon and already he felt like his shoulder might be in an awkward state of dislocation, that his ribs were trying to find newer, safer homes, and that he had rug burn over his whole body. but even though lorna was most likely aware of the way he was feeling (she did sit in the stands during practice after all and watch every hit he took), she at least had let him try and act tough as they walked -slowly- back to her house.

he straightened his face, though, as he pushed himself off the handrail and lorna glanced worriedly over her shoulder at him. she swung the door to her room open and stepped inside, and jensen paused slightly to slump forward. he wasn’t sure how long he’d be able to pull off his whole tough guy routine, and he wasn’t sure how long lorna would let him. slowly, he walked into her room, letting his backpack slide off his shoulder and fall to the floor by her door. he shut the door lightly behind him, turning just in time to see lorna cross her arms lightly over her chest. he blinked tiredly at her, offering her a cheesy smile that showed all his teeth, a smile that he probably hadn’t used since their second grade class picture.

"are you done?"

"i don’t know what you’re talking about," he said, fumbling across her room to the yellow settee that sat at the foot of her bed. he collapsed onto it, but finding out that it wasn’t comfortable at that point in time, he stood back up, walked around the ‘couch’ that wasn’t a couch and lowered himself onto her bed.

"okay, yes, you’re done. don’t move. i’ll be back."

jensen watched as she spun around and walked out of her room, all business. "wasn’t planning on it!" he called after her, falling backwards onto her bed and sighing at the feeling of being flat on his back on something that wasn’t a sun-baked practice field. it seemed as though he’d just let his eyes shut when lorna returned, supplies in hand.

he shot her another lazy smile, completely abandoning the tough guy act that he’d been fronting. why he had, he wasn’t sure, since letting lorna take care of him seemed a lot better than ‘toughing’ it out at this point in time. he watched as she laid out the supplies on the bed next to him, following some sort of organization, no doubt.

"alright. come on. here, let’s sit you up and go ahead and put this on your face."

she reached out and helped him sit back up, handing him an icepack when he was slumped forward.

"okay. now, what else hurts?"

jensen pressed the icepack against turf-burn on his cheek and shot her a look that spoke for itself.

"specifics are always nice, jens."

the corner of his mouth twitched into the icepack, and with his free hand, jensen reached behind his head, grabbing at his shirt and pulling it over him. he switched his hands to hold his icepack and pulled his shirt the rest of the way off, letting it sit in a crumpled pile next to him. "specifics are hard," he said, showing her the different bruises on his shoulders, chest and side. and that was just his upper half, never mind the knees and cleats he’d gotten to the thigh.

he looked at her, waiting for some sort of reaction out of her. so far the only thing she’d done was wince at the sight of it. he watched as she looked over his chest, feeling self-conscious all of a sudden. was he not supposed to do that, to take off his shirt, when they weren’t at the beach? he swallowed roughly, color coming to his cheeks as he looked away from her and started to reach for his shirt.

"i think you might want to put that icepack on your shoulder instead of your face."

jensen sighed and laughed lightly, doing as he was told and moving the icepack from his face to his shoulder. he looked at her, watching her as she seemed to have some sort of struggle with herself. "it’s not as bad as it looks," he said weakly, understanding now why he’d instinctively wanted to put up the tough guy front. seeing him like this obviously wasn’t easy for her.

"how do you even get bruises there? or cuts there? what’s the point of wearing all those pads if you still come out like this?"

her voice wavered slightly from her mostly business tone while she reached for the some sort of cream for the cuts on his side. "not everyone comes out looking like this," he said, instantly realizing that it was something he probably shouldn’t have. "you should see the guys that get thrown around worse than me." he laughed lightly and a small smile tugged at the corner of her mouth as she dabbed some of the cream on one of the bigger cuts.

"that’s not funny, jensen."

"i thought it kind of was," he said, wincing and pulling away instinctively from the sting of the cream. "not one of my best, but still." he reached over, grabbing a box of band-aids and handing them to her. "a little funny?" she looked up at him, then down to his bruises and scrapes, and then back up to his turf-burned face.

"i wish you didn’t have to do this, jens."

he laughed quietly, watching her as she peeled open a band-aid. "well, that makes two of us." he sniffed slightly, reaching up to finagle the icepack so he could lean back on his palms and have it still rest on his shoulder. "well, i take that back. the guys probably think that too. they don’t like sarcasm very much on the field, i’ve found that out." he caught her frowning at him.

"everyone out there is bigger than you.. you… you could get seriously hurt, running around out there."

"thanks, lor," he said flatly, rolling his eyes. he was fully aware that he was the most uncoordinated person to probably ever step onto holly point high school’s football field, but despite the fact that the evidence spoke against it, he liked to believe he wouldn’t get completely and utterly destroyed. maybe just slightly destroyed.

"it’s idiotic. one of your dad’s worst ideas yet."

"can we not talk about him, please?" he asked, watching her as she finished up and started getting all of the supplies together. jensen caught her eye as she looked at him, and he offered her a smile. pushing himself over toward her, he pecked her on the lips. "thanks for cleaning me up, lorna doone," he gave her a repeat of the cheesy smile he’d used earlier. "you’re the best girlfriend a guy could have."

she smiled back at him, her face brightening at the compliment.

"don’t worry about it, hun."

she kissed him on the cheek and grabbed back up all the supplies she’d brought in earlier and went to go put them back. jensen looked around her room, biting the inside of his cheek. he wiggled the rest of the way onto her bed, crawling backward (and wincing) until he sat against the pillows at the head of her bed. he set his hands behind his head, waiting for her to return when his eyes landed on his backpack. he sighed.

moments later, lorna walked back into her room, and jensen was suddenly self-conscious again. he brought his hands to cross over his chest, wondering if he should have put his shirt back on. sure, she’d seen him without his shirt, but that had been at the beach. before football. and as much as he hated the damn sport, he was a bit proud of the fact that there were definite muscles on his chest and arms. he cleared his throat, "c-can you hand me my backpack? i’ve got math and i need to pick your brain."

she grabbed his backpack off the ground and handed it to him before climbing up next to him. jensen unzipped his bag and pulled out his books, feeling her eyes on him, but every time he looked at her, she would be looking at something else. clearing his throat again, he opened his notes and flipped to a page in his book. "this," he said, gesturing to the mess of letters and numbers that were scattered across the pages on his lap.

"anything more specific?"

jensen looked at her, enjoying the fact that he was still a bit taller than her when they sat, and being able to catch her as she looked out of the corner of her eye at him. "well, the parts of it that involve letters," he said, shifting slightly closer to her.

"jens, you’re taking algebra. that’s basically what it is."

"that’s my point." jensen heard her sigh softly, and couldn’t help but notice the fact that her hand stayed on his stomach longer than it needed to when she grabbed a page of his notes.

"this is a fraction of x. so-"

"i thought that was a function," he said, furrowing his eyebrows at the page she held out in front of him.

"that’s what i said."

"no it isn’t. you said fraction." he looked at her and saw a bit of color rise in her cheeks.

"i meant function, then. and what you do, is you replace the x in the system with the number that’s in the parentheses."

"what’s a system? i thought that was an equation." he grabbed another page of his badly taken notes. "yeah, yeah. that’s definitely an equation." the color in lorna’s cheeks rose further. he took a breath and then bit his lip. slowly, he pulled the notes from lorna’s hand and stuffed them inside his book. "let’s not do math right now," he said cautiously, setting the book aside.

"what other homework do you have?"

jensen paused before he spoke. "i wasn’t really thinking of doing other homework," he said, looking back at her, catching her hazel eyes with his brown eyes. his heart felt like it was hammering in his throat. the corner of his mouth twitching up, he set his hand on her cheek, leaning forward to press his lips against hers. after a moment, he pulled away from her, smiling. he leaned toward her again, his lips just hovering over hers before he lifted them and placed a kiss on the tip of her nose, and then her forehead. smiling still, he leaned back, pulling her with him, tucking her under his arm and against his side. he let his head fall back against her pillow, looking up at the ceiling, thinking. finally, he spoke.

"maybe sticking with football isn’t so bad if we get more afternoons like this. hm, doone?"

Where you off too, davis? gonna go take more of your shitty pictures?”

jensen clenched his jaw and exhaled evenly through his nose, hooking his camera strap around his neck. he didn’t look at them, brad, jared and sean, and he wasn’t going to. no, he was just going to keep going about his business and pretend that these guys weren’t ‘nice’ to his face seventy-five percent of the time.

"i mean really, dude. photography club? i bet it has just as many gays in it as drama club.”

jensen let out another slow breath, shoving his books into his backpack. this was routine. he could get through it like he had every other time. "actually," jensen said, still not looking at them. "it’s mostly girls. and i’d take bein’ with girls over a bunch of sweaty guys after school any day." he reached further into his locker and pulled the zipper shut on his bag. for a moment he wished he’d have seen the three of their faces when he spoke, but then decided against it, knowing that would make them rage a bit more than he wanted them to.

"say whatever you want, photografaggy. everyone knows you didn’t have the balls to make it out there with us, and that’s why you quit."

he grabbed his bag out of his locker and shut it, nodding sarcastically as he walked toward them, intending to go past them on his way to the art room. he glanced past them, seeing if lorna was on her way. seeing that she wasn’t he answered, "right. i didn’t have the balls to slap other guys’ asses every friday night, so i decided to hang out with a bunch of girls instead. that definitely makes me the gay one here.” he was just about to pass between brad and the locker bay when he felt himself get shoved backward. jensen stumbled backwards a few steps as the three others stepped forward.

"call us fags one more time. i dare you."

jensen straightened himself up and looked at the three of them. "i don’t think ever outright called you guys gay. i think i just implied that you were all attracted to each other. but hey, i don’t have a problem with that. y’all like whoever you like, i don’t care." he was about to sidestep them again when one of them grabbed hold of the camera around his neck and yanked down, successfully pulling jensen forward and snapping the strap. suddenly serious, jensen rubbed the back of his neck, holding out his hand for the camera.

"not so funny now, are you, jenny?"

he gritted his teeth, watching helplessly as they spread out around him, thoughtlessly tossing his camera from one person to the other. "seriously, jared, brad. sean, give me my camera." he stepped toward one then the other, uselessly following the path of his camera, like he’d be able to catch it. he’d about traveled around the circle a few times when the camera stopped in brad’s hands. jensen stopped and held out his hand, wanting his camera back, not caring about the strap at this point. brad held it out for jensen, and just as he was about to grab it, jensen saw brad throw his camera to the ground.

for a moment, they all just stood there, frozen. jensen just staring at the pieces of his camera on the ground, sean and jared watching brad, knowing he took the ‘teasing’ a bit too far this time.

"i guess that’s why i’m a quarterback and not a receiver. butterfingers, you know?"

there was a split second where jensen just looked at him, and then a second later, before he even knew what he was doing, jensen punched him hard in the face. he had just enough time to realize that punching someone hurt a lot more than the movies made it seem before brad’s fist caught him in the nose. hearing a crunching sound, jensen stumbled backward into one of the other guys. feeling himself pushed forward, back onto his feet, jensen blinked slowly, trying to shake the dazed feeling from his head. not thinking clearly, jensen stepped up to brad, swinging and making contact with the other guy’s side.

"jensen! what are you doing?"

"klingman! davis! my office, now."

jensen looked round to see lorna standing there, in complete shock, and then looked round again to see their principal standing there, briefcase in hand, apparently on his way to his car to go home for the day. jared and sean scattered, brad stuttered, and jensen bent down to pick up as many pieces of his camera as possible. principal owen walked past him and jensen followed, just glancing at lorna as he passed her, not looking at her long enough to make any sort of eye contact. he sniffed and then coughed, realizing at that point that his nose was bleeding down his chin.

—-

jensen held the pieces of his broken camera in his hands, just barely registering the fact that lorna was trying to clean him up as best as she could. he turned one of the smaller pieces over in his hand, recognizing it as part of the focus ring. he sighed, adding it to the pile of already inspected pieces. sure, it hadn’t been the fanciest camera, it was just an old, very broken in, thirty-five millimeter camera, but that wasn’t the point. it had been the first camera he’d gotten, one he’d had since he was twelve. his mom had given it him back then, and he knew she’d only just picked it up at a garage sale, but he’d loved it anyway. he’d always liked taking pictures, but having a camera of his own (no matter how simple, and as he would later find out, it didn’t need to be fancy) had given him the chance to really get hooked on photography. he took that old camera everywhere with him, almost to the point where it had become such a fixture in his life as lorna had.

frowning, he looked from the pile to her, catching on to something she’d said. something about his parents.

"the sick thing is, this’ll probably be the one thing that my dad is proud of me for," jensen said, laughing bitterly as lorna dabbed a wet paper towel at his nose. it was his senior year and he’d just gotten five days suspension for fighting, but his father would just be proud he’d done something ‘manly.’ lorna tsked at him and tilted his head back further.

"why did you do it jensen? why were you two even fighting? we’re all friends!"

jensen tilted his head back down, staring at her in disbelief. "they aren’t my friends, lor. they’re yours, but they definitely aren’t mine." she’d been quiet up until that point, but jensen hadn’t honestly believed it was because she didn’t understand how he’d gotten into a fight with people she thought he was friends with.

"what do you even mean? of course they’re your friends. i mean, they tease you, yes, but—"

"tease?" jensen asked, absolutely flabbergasted. "have you seen my camera? did you hear anything they—"

"i’m sure brad didn’t mean to break your camera. i bet it was just—"

"right, i just got in a fight with a guy and got suspended for five days because my friend was teasing me and accidentally dropped my camera," jensen interrupted, sarcasm dripping from his tone like the blood was dripping from his nose. he took the paper towel from her and pressed it to his nose himself.

"don’t talk to me like that. i’m not your dad. i’m on your side, jensen davis."

"really?" jensen asked, sarcasm gone but his tone scathing, something uncharacteristic of him. but hell, he wasn’t exactly being himself today anyway. "i don’t know how you’re friends with them. i don’t know why you’re friends with me if you’re friends with them.” he paused, wiping his chin with the paper towel. "why don’t you just go play up the twin act with your sister and go be shallow friends with them. it’s obviously something you don’t mind doing."

as soon as the words were out of his mouth, he knew that never meant them, that he should never have even said them. he sighed frustratedly as her eyes teared up and her lip seemed to quiver, wanting to reach out and apologize but feeling like too much of a tool to do so, especially after she nodded the way she did.

"we’re done."

jensen stared at her for a second before she hitched her back over her shoulder and stood up. he reached out to her, but he didn’t think she noticed since she’d turned and already started walking away. "lorna! i…" but he trailed off, knowing she wouldn’t come back to her, watching as she turned the corner. letting out a frustrated yell, he hit his head back against the locker he’d been sitting against, regretting that decision instantly as well. moaning, he slid down even further, pressing the paper towel to his nose.

jensen shut his eyes, seeing lorna’s face at the back of his eyelids. she was teary and looked absolutely heartbroken, and it literally made him ache that he was the one responsible for causing it. ever since lorna made friends with him back then, he’d only wanted to make her happy, and he’d gone and fucked that up over something they’d had plenty of conversations with. she was doing her best, he knew that, and he hadn’t made it any easier for her by saying what he had even though he hadn’t meant it.

gritting his teeth, he pushed himself up and put all the broken pieces of his camera in his backpack. he knew what he had to do.

his camera was broken, and he had a nagging feeling that his nose was broken too, but he was going to be damned if he let his relationship with lorna be broken as well.

shaking snow out of his hair, jensen walked into his apartment, shutting the door behind him and ducking under one of the hanging lines of photos. he set his camera on the table, pulling off his fingerless gloves and scarf soon after. he’d been out all afternoon shooting pictures during the snowfall, and he’d stopped feeling his fingertips over an hour ago.

sniffing as his nose warmed back up, jensen walked into his room and shrugged out of his coat. when he tossed his coat onto his armchair in the corner, he noticed his phone, blinking madly on his night stand. groaning, he realized he’d left it there all day and snatched it up. he brought up the screen as he walked back into his open kitchen, furrowing his eyebrows at the seven missed calls from his mother. that was odd. sure, his mother called him fairly regularly, but never during the day, never seven times, and never without leaving a voicemail.

pressing her name, he waited for her to pick up. she answered on the first ring.

"jen?"

he felt his heart start pounding at the sound of her voice. she sounded like she’d been crying. "ma? what’s wrong? he stopped in his tracks, his eyes losing focus as they landed at a spot on his floor.

"it’s your father.. he.."

"what did he do? ma, what happened? i swear, if he did something…" jensen let that hang in the air, waiting for his mother to answer. "i need you to come home, jensen elias."

"what is it?" jensen’s eyebrows came closer together as he started pacing back and forth. nothing about this conversation felt right to him, from the sound of his mother’s voice to the fact that she wasn’t coming right out to tell him what happened to the seven missed calls.

"your father… he’s gone."

"what do you mean, ‘he’s gone’?" jensen asked, accusation growing in his tone.

"he’s… he had a heart attack. he’s… he’s gone, honey."

jensen, he couldn’t… he couldn’t think. that couldn’t be right. his father couldn’t be dead. his father was too stubborn to just die. he blinked rapidly, pinching the bridge of his nose. "w-w-what?" he stuttered, picking up his pace. "he can’t j-j-just be dead. are you— are you s-sure?"

"i’m so sorry i had to tell you this way, baby. just, you need to come home. tomorrow."

"i…" jensen open and shut his mouth, walking into his room and turning to sit on his bed. "okay, ma. i’ll-i’ll see you tomorrow. i’ll let you know when i leave."

after his mom hung up, jensen tapped off his phone and tossed it lightly up to his pillow. he couldn’t believe what his mother had told him. his father was gone. dead. sure, he’d never had the best relationship with his father… but now he never had a chance to have one in the future. all that time, wasted. he could have tried to get along with his father more than he had, they might have gotten along better, but now he didn’t even have that opportunity.

jensen opened his mouth, his nose suddenly not doing a good enough job at getting air into his lungs. he looked over to his phone where it sat on his pillow, considering it for a few moments. finally, he reached over and grabbed it, bringing back up the screen and his list of contacts. before he’d even thought of one of his friends to call (what would he call them about, anyway? ‘hey guys, that guy i always described as an ass is dead and i’m actually upset about it. watch my apartment for me?’) his finger rested over top a familiar name. for a minute, he considered tapping it, but that didn’t seem like a good idea either. instead, he scrolled down one name to louis, tapped the screen and then put the phone up to his ear.

he couldn’t talk to her. not tonight. even though, years earlier, she would have been the only one he wanted to talk to.

nervously, jensen wiped his hands on his pants legs again, trying his best to be casual about the fact that there was nothing he could do to keep his hands dry. he jumped the last few steps up to holly point middle school’s gym, getting to the doors before lorna did, pulling them open for her. he was full of nervous energy. not only had he never been to a dance before (he hadn’t gotten asked to the sadie hawkins the year before, surprise, surprise, and he hadn’t wanted to go anyways), but he was pretty sure he and lorna would get more than a few looks. because, well, lorna was lorna, and he was himself. the popular girl with that weird kid that everyone tolerated because lorna liked him.

lorna gave him a small smile as she came up the staircase, tucking her hair behind her ear. and, just as she was about to walk in the door, she’d reached for his hand. for a split second, he wasn’t sure what he was supposed to do with his hand while hers just hung in the air, but eventually his brain kicked in and told him to take it in his own.

"it looks so pretty, like a dream. don’t you think?"

jensen swallowed roughly, stepping inside with her, but less aware of the decorations than he was of the few people that were looking at them. trying his best to ignore them, he looked around, seeing what she meant by a dream. lorna always saw things like that, dreams and fairy tales, and it seemed like this dance was decorated just for her. "yeah, he agreed, his voice rough. he coughed lightly and cleared his throat before speaking again. "it’s really nice."

they stood in the doorway, jensen looking around, feeling a bit lost. "do you want a drink or something?" he asked her, his eyes falling on a punch table and the teacher that seemed to hover over it.

"not right now. i think i want to dance."

already? jensen bit the inside of his cheek, hesitating. after another moment, lorna led them out to the dance floor toward a familiar group of kids, all clumped together and standing relatively still. they were greeted by a chorus of “hi lorna” and later, “hi jensen,” to which jensen just nodded toward them and mumbled back his own hellos.

"oh, look at alice frankel’s skirt. i really that pattern."

she had to raise her voice over the music for jensen to hear her, and his eyes followed her discreet pointing toward a girl across the room. "i like yours better," he answered, looking back to lorna honestly. "you look really nice, lor. i like your hair like that." he smiled at her, watching as she tucked more hair behind her ear.

"thanks, jensen."

the change in the song caught both of their attentions, and both of them looked up and then at the other. she smiled at him, and jensen swallowed roughly again. it was a slow song, the thing he’d been most nervous about. he hadn’t even known what to do until a few hours ago when he blurted out to his mother that he didn’t know how to dance. luckily, his mom had filled him in. so, taking a deep breath, he stepped toward her, setting his hands on her waist. but, instead of putting her hands around his shoulders like he expected, lorna wrapped her arms around his waist as well, letting her head fit right under his chin, the side of her face against his neck. he wrapped his arms around her waist completely then, noticing immediately the way they fit together so easily, like two pieces of a puzzle.

"did you tell anyone that we were coming to together tonight?" he asked her after a couple moments of swaying back and forth on the spot.

"only if they asked. why?"

"oh, he answered, resettling his hands behind her, starting to turn them slightly. "some… some people just look surprised." jensen felt her tighten her hold on him slightly.

"i don’t know why they would be."

he frowned. even jensen could understand why they were surprised. hell, he still wasn’t completely sure that this was actually happening.

"besides, i don’t care. i like you, jensen."

the smile that pulled at his lips was immediate. he didn’t understand why she did, but he wasn’t going to argue with her. he turned his head to the side, causing her to turn her face to look at him. still grinning, he kissed her on the cheek. once they’d settled back to the way they’d been, jensen spoke.

"i like you too, lorna doone."

she was avoiding the conversation. just like he expected her to do whenever they talked about the city. it was exasperating. "lorna," jensen sighed, rubbing roughly at his forehead.

"it’s so pretty outside when it rains. don’t you think so?"

he was tempted to throw his hands up in the air, but instead just settled for a frown. and that wasn’t the frown that he wore when he was concentrating or thinking, but the one he wore when something was really bothering him. "i know what you’re doing, lorna. this is really important so would you stop changin’ the subject and look at me? please?" his eyebrows folded inward, his dark eyes not leaving her as he waited for her to turn. eventually he did, and he looked at her seriously.

he wanted her to go to new york with him, but she didn’t want to leave their home town.

"i don’t know, jensen. i just don’t see what’s wrong with staying in holly point."

and this is where they differed. "it’s washed up, lorna," he stated brutally. he was through sugar-coating anything, not that it worked in the first place. jensen was never one with words. "surely you can see that too. you’re never going to be able to enjoy the latest fall fashions in a place like this. you have to go to atlanta now to really shop as it is, and you hate it. i know you do."

reaching for his camera bag, he fumbled with a side pocket’s zipper before he pulled out two black and white pictures: one of him and one of lorna. there wasn’t anything special about them in the pictures, they hadn’t been taken for a special occasion. just the two of them messing around with jensen’s camera on one of the endless sleepy days in their small town.

he started softly, holding out the pictures to her, "look at us, lorna doone. does it look like we’re happy here? because it doesn’t look like it to me."

"i’m happy here, believe it or not. sure, this place isn’t ideal for what i want to do, but that isn’t going to stop me! my family’s here. your family is here. our friends are. our whole lives are here, jensen. that has to count for something."

to jensen, it didn’t really count for something. besides lorna and his mother, there was no one that he really cared for enough to keep him in holly point, but even then, he was still aching to leave. "we can start a new life in new york. and we’ll come home to visit everyone!" he was doing his best to reason with her, but that was her forte, not his. "lorna, if we leave, it’s not for good. we need this."

"we don’t. maybe you do, but i don’t. i want you to be happy, jensen. i do, but a city like new york isn’t my calling. i love holly point. i love being around my sister and my brother and all the kids i grew up with. i love living in the house that belonged to my great-grandfather and that i’m probably going to live in when i have a family. i don’t want to leave all this, and i know you said we’d come back but let’s face it, everything would be different."

he just stared at her, unable to understand everything that she’d just said. she’d never said all of it, all at once before, and jensen had never connected everything together like she just had. as much as they loved each other, jensen realized, it wasn’t enough for either of them to give up what they saw as most important. and, on top of that realization, jensen saw that lorna would be miserable in new york like he would be miserable in holly point. and because he loved her, he didn’t want her to feel that way. so he swallowed roughly and set his jaw.

"it seems you’ve made your decision then." his fists clenched tightly and then opened them widely. and to make matters worse, she wouldn’t look him in the eyes.

"i guess i have. i’m sorry, jensen."

it felt like she was punching him in the gut with each word she said. "not nearly as sorry as i am. i love you, lorna."

"i love you too."

but he didn’t leave right away. no, instead, jensen stayed in his seat while lorna stayed in hers, neither talking and neither looking at each other. he knew what was coming when he got up and left, and he couldn’t bring himself to do it, not yet. so he stayed for what felt like forever before he reached for the pictures. the one of himself, he sat on the table for lorna. the one of her, he tucked back inside his bag, zipping it up neatly. he pushed himself to his feet, draping the strap of his camera bag over one of his shoulders. he leaned down to kiss her on her forehead, squeezing her shoulder lightly.

and then he straightened up, looking out the window, telling himself that it was time to go. he nodded, more for himself than anyone else, and turned to leave. moments later, he was walking out her door, into the rain. as soon as he was out of view from her house, jensen brought his hands up to his face, trying to steady his breathing.

he’d be left the only girl he ever loved, his best and only real friend, the only person who knew all of him, and who still loved him for it. and he didn’t doubt that she loved him simply because she decided to stay in holly point while he decided to go to new york.

it would be the hardest thing he’d ever done, leaving half of himself in holly point.

how was your first day of school, jensen elias?”

jensen looked up at his mother, pausing briefly in his game of jumping over the cracks in the sidewalk. he didn’t want to get distracted and break his mom’s back just because she asked him about school. he had a scowl on his young face, disliking that his mother used his middle name. usually, she only used it when she was upset with him (which rarely happened), but he hoped it wouldn’t be a normal occurrence now that he’d started pre-school. he looked back down to the ground and started back up with his game. "j-just fine."

if he was being honest, he didn’t talk that much at all. he didn’t have to just be starting school to know he’d get teased for talking.

"did you make any friends?"

jensen kept looking at the ground, but he nodded as he launched himself over another gap in the sidewalk. "one," he answered with his usual simplicity.

"oh really? that’s fast. who?"

he paused and looked at his mom yet again, indecision etched on his face for a split second. "a gggirl."

"what’s her name?"

"l-lorna." he answered it quickly this time, not a trace of hesitation in him. but he didn’t want to ask his mom how they’d become friends. he didn’t want to have to tell her about the teasing he’d gotten, followed around the playground by a bunch of stuttering boys until lorna had come up to him, scaring the boys off simply because jensen was no longer alone.

"lorna fletchley?"

jensen landed and looked up at his mother, surprise clear in his dark brown eyes. "h-how did you knnnow that?"

"i’m a mom. i know everything."

jensen furrowed hie eyebrows, confounded once again by his mother’s supermom powers. he ran ahead of her a few sidewalk patches before he turned to face her. "i-i-i know what i w-want to be when i grrrow up," he called back to her, rocking on his heels.

"not spider-man anymore?"

"st-still him. but s-something else, too," he watched her as she kept walking toward him.

"what else, then, jens?"

"a-a mom." he looked at her triumphantly. he’d be unstoppable once he had spidey senses and mom powers. his mother let out a laugh.

"alright. let’s just not tell your dad that bit."

"alright," he agreed, turning around and hopping down the sidewalk.

jensen didn’t even know what the hell he was doing. everything leading up to this moment hadn’t really prepared him. well, it had in some ways, but in others, jensen was feeling completely lost.

which, when he happened to be walking lorna home (awkwardly, to say the least) and had the fact that his mother would be waiting to see if he’d asked her to the valentine’s dance looming over him, was not entirely ideal.

beyond the ‘how was your day?’s and the ‘good’s, there hadn’t been much conversation between the two. then again, there hadn’t been much conversation between them really since she’d asked him to the sadie hawkins dance (which he stupidly said no to) the springtime the year before and now.

the whole way back to her house -she’d reluctantly agreed to walk with him when he asked her at the end of the day- lorna walked a few steps ahead of him, jensen awkwardly trying to catch up with her and then deciding to hang back multiple times. but, when they turned into the small path that led to her front porch, jensen knew he had to do something, even if he wasn’t sure how exactly he’d do it.

he jogged ahead of her up the path, jumping up the step (more like skipping the step from the path to the porch) all lanky arms and legs. he took a deep breath and sat down on the bench near her front door. "lorna, can, can you sit down for a min-minute?" he felt the color rush up his neck and into his face, making him look to the ground. he hated that stutter; it made him feel stupid because he sounded stupid. and he hated seeming that way around lorna, especially because he knew he wasn’t.

"sure."

he glanced up at her quickly before looking back to the small box he held in his hand. he’d been holding it the whole way home, but he hadn’t had the nerve to do anything with it. he still wasn’t sure if he could do it now. but, jensen took a deep breath and sat up straight. slowly, he handed out the little box for her to take, his hands surprisingly not shaking. that was one small blessing for him; his hands never shook when he was nervous. they were extremely steady, to the point that his dad kept telling him that he needed to be a surgeon. but he was distracting himself.

he watched her out of the corner of his eyes, not wanting to look directly at her but not being able to watch her full on. the box wasn’t anything special, just something that his mom had laying around but that he’d painted her favorite color. jensen’s eyes never left lorna as she opened the box, his heart nearly stopping when he saw the picture sitting inside it.

he knew he’d never be able to get the words out, so he’d taken a picture of them instead.

it wasn’t anything spectacular in his opinion, just a picture of the words “would you go to the valentine’s dance with me?” but it was enough, he figured, when he saw the smile pull across her face. and then, before he even knew what was happening, she was leaning over to him, pressing a kiss to his cheek. a smile of his own pulled at the corners of his mouth, feeling the color rush back up into his face. he’d take that as a yes.

now he needed to learn how to dance.

jensen groped blindly into the back of his locker, trying to find his extra film canister. he’d been sure the night before that he’d left it at school, but now he wasn’t quite so sure. he’d already looked into the mess of books at the bottom of his locker, and now he was shuffling through the papers and folders at the top, hoping it somehow got pushed farther back. he was just about to turn and actually try and see into the dark cavern of his locker when a familiar voice made his heart skip a beat.

"hi, jensen."

for a split second, he just looked at her. sure, they’d been friends since pre-school, but he still didn’t understand why. in fact, she was basically his only friend, the reason he had people he sat with at lunch, and the reason he rarely ever went partnerless when it came to class projects. he didn’t understand why though. her sister was popular, her friends just accepted him because he seemed to accompany lorna. he didn’t really get what made her single him out to be nice to. then again, lorna was nice to everyone it seemed.

not that he was complaining or anything.

"hi, lorna," he answered, giving her a small smile before he went back to digging for that missing canister, diving in and sticking his head into his locker.

“jensendoyouwanttogotothesadieshawkinsdancewithme?”

without even thinking, he backed out of his locker, knocking his head solidly on one of the hooks at the top. "w-what?" one, he couldn’t have heard that right. two, he couldn’t have heard that right. three, if he had heard it right, he must have overslept and been dreaming because there was nothing that could have been real about what was happening.

"do you want to go to the sadie hawkins dance with me?"

jensen just stared at her. for a moment, he just wanted to make sure this was really happening. it was one thing for her to let her sit with him at lunch, another to volunteer herself to be his partner for projects. but asking him to go to the biggest dance of the year? when she had so many other people she could ask to go? especially when jensen knew that there were guys that liked her.

"i, uh. i don’t think so." what was he saying? what was he doing? he was being absolutely stupid, he knew. he knew it as soon as the words came out of his mouth. and for some stupid reason, he’d said no.

actually, there were plenty of reasons he’d just turned her down. one, he’d not the slightest idea how to dance. two, the last thing he wanted to do was humiliate himself even more than he normally did in front of her. three, there was probably someone cooler than him she could go with.

“oh. okay then. i’m…”

jensen watched her as she just about ran off, his eyes on her back until she’d disappeared. he was stupid, he knew it. but… he couldn’t bring himself to say anything to her to bring her back. it would add to the humiliation of already telling her no. he sighed, turning back to his locker and hitting his forehead lightly on the shelf inside. when the girl whose locker was next to his appeared, he stopped, reaching down and pulling out his math book and folder, looking forward even less to math than he normally did.

he was an idiot. and he was most certainly not telling his parents about this. it was the last thing his father needed to hear about.

yet again, it was another family dinner for the davises and the fletchleys. they’d been having them since jensen was younger; they’d basically becoming a tradition for the two families.

as usual, jensen was sitting between his mother and camden, doing his best not to spill any food in his lap; but lorna sitting across from him (like she had nearly every other time their families ate together) wasn’t helping.

"so, we’re thinking about signing jensen up for that local baseball team this spring."

his father had brought the topic up casually as he tucked into a piece of turkey. jensen didn’t even need to look at him at this point, though. it was the same thing: his father was always talking about signing jensen up for whatever seasonal sport was coming up. and rarely had he ever actually gone through with it for the fear that his son would embarrass him in front of his town friends. so jensen just kept his eyes on his plate, cupping the side of his face in his hand, moving around the cranberry surprise with his fork. he didn’t have anywhere else to look, and he especially couldn’t look at lorna. things were weird between them, ever since he’d stupidly turned her down when she’d asked him to the sadie hawkins dance almost eight months ago.

"mr. davis, that is a terrible idea."

jensen’s dark brown eyes darted to lorna in absolute shock before glancing at his father and then back to lorna. she was flushed by that point, avoiding everyone else’s gaze as she started to sink into her seat. his father just kept sitting there, chewing on his turkey and choosing to ignore what had just been said.

and then someone changed the topic, letting conversation flow normally again. still, jensen couldn’t stop stealing looks at lorna as he continued to push his food around his place.

he’d been an idiot to turn her down all those months ago.

it wasn’t the first time jensen had been out with his friends, but it was definitely the first time his new friends had taken him to a place like this.

"wardo, where are we?” jensen shouted over the music.

"relax, jefferson. you’ll have fun."

wardo set his hand on jensen’s shoulder, patting it lightly. he fancied himself a history buff, and when he met jensen, couldn’t resist the opportunity to rename his new southern friend after the secessionist president with the same last name.

"i am relaxed," jensen retorted, somewhat stiffly. he was used to low key, he liked low key, and this… this thing they were about to enter was definitely not low key. "and quit calling me that."

"the girls here are cray-zee."

jensen’s eyes darted to marc who was leaning casually against the wall while they waited to get inside. seeing that he was absolutely serious, jensen shoved his hands in his pockets and nodded stiffly. "of course. fantastic."

an hour later, jensen managed to find himself standing alone, drink (that he knew he couldn’t be caught holding, but figured it wouldn’t be an issue in a place like this) in one hand, looking for wardo and marc among the sea of people. he’d just taken another drink when he felt a hand slip into his own as it hung at his side.

nearly choking on his drink, jensen stumbled after the dark hair as it pulled him toward the back of the place. he didn’t have any idea what was going, especially when she pushed open the door to the ladies’ room, pulled him in, and then pushed him up against a stall wall, seeming to lock the door behind her simultaneously. he was still in shock when she started speaking.

"you haven’t done one thing since you got here, you know that?"

jensen’s eyebrows furrowed as he looked at her, surprised by what she’d said, but not sure why because he hadn’t been sure what he thought she was going to say anyway. "i.. i don’t real— wait what?"

a smirk pulled at the corner of her mouth.

"so you do speak. and you’re definitely not from around here."

and then she was pressing her lips against his, shocking him even further. she moved from his lips and traveled along his jaw line, making him jump as he felt her hands at his waistline. "i-i don’t know if… what are you-?" she placed her index finger against his lips, silencing him as her other hand went to his belt. he grimaced slightly as he tried to scoot away from her, but failed when he only managed to bump into the stall wall.

"honey, i’m doing you a favor. if you stop talking you’ll thank me for it later."

he continued grimaced again as he felt her slide the end of his belt out of a belt loop. she’d moved her kisses down onto the exposed skin of his chest, and his eyes shot open as he felt her other hand grab the front of his pants. finally coming to the realization that talking wasn’t going to get him out of it, jensen brought his hands to hers, taking them firmly in his own. "look, i-i can’t… i’m sure you’re a nice girl and-"

"are you gay or something?"

jensen’s eyebrows nearly crashed together. "what? no!"

"you can pretend i’m a guy if that’s your thing, i don’t really care."

jensen pushed her hands away from him, finally sidestepping her. "i’m not gay, i just-" he didn’t know why he was trying to explain himself to her, so he stopped. "look, i’m sure you’re a really nice girl and all," he said, holding one of his hands palm out in front of her, like it would keep her away as he unlocked the stall door. "and i’m sure you’re great at" -he waved his hand vagely- "just… sorry."

as soon as the door swung open, jensen bolted out of that club faster than he’d ever thought possible. at this point, he didn’t really care whether or not marc and wardo were still inside; they’d find their way back home somehow. he wasn’t sure whatever happened to his drink, but he hardly cared as he reached back to his wallet, flipping it open and pulling out his worn black and white picture of lorna. he looked at it and sighed, turning down another street and heading for home.

wind blew past jensen’s face, blowing his hair in a million different directions.

"put a smile on your goddamn face. you’re getting what you wanted."

jensen inhaled deeply, shutting his eyes as he exhaled frustratedly. he knew what was coming, he’d been hearing it the past couple of days and some of it his whole life. so he just kept his eyes closed, waiting for it.

"this is what you wanted, right? to leave your family behind and go to the big apple because your home isn’t good enough for you, right?"

his eyes still shut, jensen just nodded his head. right, right, everything his father was saying was completely true. he’d always thought he was better than holly point, he always wanted to leave his family behind. yeah, he thought sarcastically. exactly what i always dreamed about.

jensen’s silence seemed to only add fuel to his father’s fire. but this wasn’t anything new to jensen. his father hadn’t always been pleased with his son, and was even less so when he found out that he’d made up his mind that he was going to the city.

"where’s your girlfriend, anyway? guess she didn’t love you as much as you thought she did."

slowly, jensen opened his eyes and spotted his father looking at him in the rear-view mirror. that wasn’t even close to being the case what-so-ever.

he understood why lorna wasn’t coming to new york, and he couldn’t hold it against her. jensen knew that she would be as miserable in that city as he would be if he stayed in holly point. to lorna, her family was everything to her, just like photography was everything to him. it didn’t say anything to how much he loved her or she loved him. saying that lorna didn’t love him enough to leave her family behind would have been like saying jensen didn’t love lorna enough to let his photography dream continue to be a dream. he understood that she would have been as unhappy in new york as he would be if he stayed in holly point.

and once he’d realized that, he’d stopped trying to convince her and made his plans to go to new york without her. it didn’t mean that he loved her any less. if anything, to jensen it showed that he loved her enough to value her happiness over his dream of the two of them in new york together. she was letting him go the exact same way that he was letting her stay.

he met his father’s eye for an instant before jensen looked back out the window. but just because he’d accepted that lorna wasn’t coming with him didn’t mean he didn’t feel like he was ripping himself in two and leaving one half behind.