Word Count: Approx. 7K
Warnings: Outsider POV. Schmoop on the sidelines, courtesy of J2. Miss Piggy. No, really. (Okay, okay, not really.) This fic is an interlude for The Courtship of Jensen’s Co-Star, and it would help if you’ve read that first, but then again, that was a non-AU story, so I’m sure you can fill in the blanks even if you haven’t read it. Each part of the Epiphany series stands alone, but read Sherri's before Donna's for added impact.
Author’s Notes: Miss Piggy once said, Express your feelings all the time…unless you're trying to hide something. Miss Piggy actually says some pretty awesome things, none of which have anything to do with Jensen or Jared or this story except that they’re strangely appropriate, and that I have way too much time on my hands, and that my Google-fu skills are mad.This series will bridge the gap between The Courtship of Jensen’s Co-Star and its companion piece aka sequel, Romancing Jared’s Roommate (coming in 2013, a whole year behind schedule. You can blame RL). Thanks as always to asher_k for the beta! You’re the best, babe!
For Sharon Padalecki, it started with a phone call.
Sherri took one look at the caller ID and crooked an eyebrow up at her husband. “Finally,” she said, smiling at Gerry as he lowered his newspaper and grinned back at her, the overhead light in their kitchen reflecting off the top of his bald head. She ran her hand lovingly over his peach-fuzz pate before clicking the phone to speaker mode so they could both talk to their intrepid offspring. “What’s the verdict?” she asked in lieu of the customary hello.
“His name is Jensen Ackles and he’s gorgeous,” her younger son bemoaned, his voice just a tad muffled, and Sherri had no difficulty picturing him talking with his head buried in his arms, shaggy hair flopping all over the place.
“Sit up straight, JT.”
“Yes, Momma.” Good. He was coming through a lot clearer now.
“And I didn’t mean his looks. Of course he’s good looking – he’s an actor. But what’s he like? Personality-wise?” Sherri asked, sharing an amused look with Gerry.
“He’s gorgeous, Mom. So, you know, he’s a little stuck up but it’s totally justified.”
“There is no excuse for poor manners. He wasn’t rude to my baby boy, was he?”
“He was the epitome of a polite, perfect, aloof, perfect, gorgeous, perfect person.” Jared heaved a heavy sigh. “I’m doomed. Who’s gonna buy that I’m his brother? We don’t look anything alike!”
“Oh honey, you’re gorgeous! I would know.”
“Momma, you’re a little biased.”
Gerry chuckled and Sherri swatted him with her dishtowel. “Well, all right, so he’s polite, what else?”
“I didn’t really say much of anything – the network bigwigs were doing all the talking. I just, you know, said hello, gave him a hug, and he got all standoffish and...” There was that big sigh again. “It’s just…he was the only one there, you know? And with Kripke, that’s pretty much a done deal. Which means that there's a good chance I'll have to work with him on a daily basis. What if he hates me? I mean, I think we nailed the scene they had us read for. It’s like we both slid right into our characters, and everyone was just bouncin’-off-the-walls excited! I could barely sit still! And he was just…there. Unruffled. Like he couldn’t care less.” Jared huffed, then sighed, then huffed again. “I shouldn’t have hugged him, huh? Maybe he’s one of those hands-off Hollywood types who just kiss the air instead of people’s cheeks. What if he’s a jerk? A beautiful jerk, but a jerk anyway? I can’t work with a jerk everyday!”
Gerry laughed. “Breathe, JT. And: he’s ‘gorgeous’ and ‘beautiful’? Is there something you want to tell us, son?”
Another heavy sigh sounded over the telephone line. “I dunno, guys. I just… I dunno.”
“Hang in there, baby boy,” Sherri soothed, all of Jared’s anxiety settling into her through that weird mother-son psychic gradient they shared. “Things’ll work out just the way they’re meant to. For better or worse. They always do.”
A couple of months later, Jared was in LA filming the pilot for Supernatural and, since both he and Jensen Ackles had been signed on as the show’s leads, Sherri’s nervousness for her son increased exponentially. Honest to God, it felt like she was sending him off to kindergarten all by his lonesome all over again.
“This is him,” she told her husband when the phone rang.
“Quit your frettin’,” Gerry said. “He’s twenty-three. Time to cut the cord, Sher.”
“Oh, hush. He will always be my baby,” she grumbled, answering the phone, happy as always to hear the sound of her son’s voice.
“Momma.” Jared sounded awestruck. “Jensen is from Texas. Well, he’s from Dallas – Richardson, actually – and unfortunately, that makes him a Mavs fan, but whatever, nobody’s perfect...”
“A Texas boy, huh? Well, he can’t be all that bad.” Sherri and Gerry exchanged smiles and Sherri’s nerves settled nice and calm. Why she’d been worried, she would never know; as if anybody could resist her baby boy. “Besides, perfect people are overrated, anyway.’
“He’s comes pretty darn close, Ma.”
“So not stuck up then?”
“Not stuck up at all! I was so wrong! That’ll teach me to judge a book by its cover – I mean, you taught me that! I should’ve known better. Anyway. He’s…he’s shy,” Jared confided, his voice hushed and almost reverent.
“Shy?” Sherri and Gerry asked in unison, both of them laughing.
“Shy. It’s so freakin’ cute, Mom; you’d love him! You’d probably pinch his cheeks or something. I mean, he blushes for Pete’s sake!” He laughed. “He actually blushes when I say or do something to embarrass him. It makes him all red and his freckles kinda… Did I mention he’s got freckles? I mean – he’s a grown man! He shouldn’t be that cute! But I swear, sometimes he looks like a six-year-old. Oh! And he’s got these pretty green eyes and these mile-long lashes, all curled up, like a girl." He chuckled wryly, his insecurity apparent in his tone. "Man, I still don’t think the viewers are gonna buy the whole brother thing…”
“So nice! And clean!” Jared exclaimed, his excitement palpable as it always was whenever he called home. “You know, it’s very…Canadian!”
Sherri laughed. “Canadian is not an adjective, JT.”
“Y’all come up here for a visit and we’ll see if you still feel that way.”
“All right, all right. So? What’s it like filming on a regular basis? Tiring?”
“Yeah, but also…amazing, exciting… Just awesome!” Jared breathed. “It’s so different from Gilmour Girls, Mom. Night and day!”
“Well, you’re the lead here…”
“It’s not just that,” Jared argued. “I mean, the crew’s great, the production team’s awesome, the show… It’s really something special, you know? I feel blessed. Oh, and the food tent is, like, the most wondrous place in the world outside of your kitchen! But the biggest difference…”
Gerry chuckled. “Let me guess… Gilmour Girls didn’t have Jensen?”
“Yeah,” Jared agreed, Gerry’s teasing tone going right over his head. “Jensen makes this show. I can’t imagine doing this with anyone else and we only just wrapped filming on the third episode! I mean, just wait ‘til you guys see the pilot when it airs. He’ll blow you away as Dean Winchester.”
“I’m pretty sure he won’t hold a candle to Sam Winchester,” Sherri insisted.
“Nah, Dean is my official favorite character on the show.”
“And Jensen is your official favorite person outside the show?” Gerry asked, tongue firmly in cheek.
“After you and Momma and Meggie, Dad,” Jared said. “But before Jeff, of course.”
“Of course,” Gerry repeated mockingly.
Sherri snorted. “Aren’t you forgetting someone?”
“Who?” Jared asked, sounding genuinely puzzled. Sherri could almost hear the sharp intake of breath as it suddenly struck him. “Sandy! Well…duh.”
“I didn’t forget,” Jared told them, chuckling to himself. “I just didn’t remember... Jensen!” There was a whole lot of clattering and shuffling over the receiver as Jared’s cell phone was undoubtedly dropped and picked up again. “Here, Momma, Daddy – say hello to Jensen!” Sherri smiled indulgently but Gerry just groaned in commiseration with Jensen as they heard his futile protests drowned out by Jared’s enthusiasm. “They’re my parents, moron! It’s the polite thing to do.”
“I’m pretty sure it’s not,” a deep, honeyed voice said clearly, and Sherri unconsciously sucked in a breath; Jensen sounded very…er…nice. “Hello?”
Sherri tried to speak but her tongue got a bit tied up just then; Gerry rolled his eyes and picked up the reins of the conversation. “Hello, son.”
“Mr. Padalecki? Sir, I’m Jensen. Er…Jared’s…co-star.”
“And best friend,” Jared piped up.
“Shut up, Jared. We hardly know each other.” Jensen awkwardly cleared his throat, as if once again recalling that Jared’s parents were listening in on the conversation. “Not that Jared isn’t great. He is. And, you know, we are probably gonna be friends. Good friends, even. Probably. Soon. Eventually.”
“We’re already there, baby.”
“Fine, all right. We’re the Paris and Nicole for a new generation. Happy now?”
“Thrilled.” Jared laughed. “Momma? You still there?”
“I’m here,” Sherri said, beaming at Gerry; it was so nice that the boys were getting along so well. “Hello, Jensen.”
“Hi, Mrs. Padalecki. It’s good to…er…talk to you.”
“Call me Sherri, darlin’.”
“Heh! He’s blushing,” Jared chortled delightedly.
“I am not!”
“It’s just warm in here! Maybe if you didn’t always sit so close to me…”
“It’s Vancouver! Ca-na-da! Warm schwarm!”
“Whatever, it’s not hot!”
“Says the guy who’s sweatin’ all over me!”
“It’s my natural musk – you’ll learn to love it.”
“I’m gagging on it, Jay. Get away from me! No tickling!”
“Well, stop bein’ so ticklish then!”
“I swear to God, Jared…”
“Can’t do nothin’ to me – my Momma’ll hear you!”
“Oh! Oh. I hate you.”
“You love me.”
“Pretty sure it’s hate.”
“It’s love, baby!” The sound of a loud, smacking kiss was heard over the line, followed by a deep, resigned sigh, and a hasty: “Bye Mom, Dad! We’ll call y’all later.”
Sherry and Gerry stared at each other for a good minute afterwards before shaking their heads and going back to their business.
Jared had been right about the show. It was good, and the thing that made it so gosh darn special was the interaction between Jared and Jensen; they didn’t just have chemistry, they redefined it. And God Almighty, Jared hadn’t been exaggerating about Jensen. He sure was pretty, and it made Sherri blush to the roots of her hair that she thought that about a boy who was Jeff’s age, but she wasn’t blind. No sir, she was a normal, red-blooded American woman and she could, with a clear conscience, admit that that boy was beautiful.
But it was that undeniable chemistry between them that took the cake and made the show such a treat to tune in to week after week; it was darn near glorious to watch. Sherri nearly burst with pride because she’d never seen Jared act like that before, like he was bringing his A game for every single scene, and he was right, the two of them were Sam and Dean. They just were.
“How’s Sandy, baby?” Sherri asked when she had her next weekly chat with her middle son.
“She’s good, she’s spending the weekend up here; her flight should be getting in any minute now.”
“You didn’t go to pick her up?” Sherri tried not to let it, but her tone sounded disapproving even to her ears.
“I know, Momma, but I’m beat and Kim wants to get this scene just right and…yeah. It’ll be worth it when you see this episode air. It’s awesome in ways that’ll blow your mind.”
“I’m sure it will, honey,” Sherri agreed indulgently. She was more interested in what was going on with her hopefully soon-to-be daughter-in-law, though. “So, what’re you and Sandy doing this weekend?”
“Same ol’, same ol’. ‘Cept I’m trying to get Jensen to come to dinner with us so he can get to know Sandy better and he’s being an ornery jackass about it and diggin’ his heels in.” Jared spoke as if Jensen was right there next to him, hearing every word and, come to think of it, Sherri was absolutely certain he was.
“Say hello to Jensen for me, baby.”
“Momma says hello.”
“Hi, Mrs. P!”
“Ask him if he’s really afraid of flying. He looked pretty convincing on screen.”
“I’m not afraid of flying. Per se,” Jensen said directly, which meant that Jared had put Sherri on speaker. “I’m just rationally concerned.”
“Or you’re just a wuss.”Jared chortled in delight. “Hey, next time we fly together, I’ll let you hold my hand and rest your pretty little head on my strong manly shoulder. How’s that? That make you feel any less like a fraidy cat, baby? Knowing I’ll be there to protect you?”
“You’re asking for it, Padalecki. Put up your dukes.”
“Bring it, cowboy.”
“Boys,” Sherri warned. “Play nice.”
“Yes, ma’am,” they answered in unison, immediately obedient and contrite.
From behind his newspaper, Gerry snorted, and Sherri marveled at how she seemed to have unwittingly gained another son.
“And did he really pat your ass, son?”
“Gerry!” Sherri exclaimed with a laugh just as Jared sputtered. “Dad!”
“Just checking. Opportunities like that don’t get handed to you every day, you know? Am I right, Jensen?”
Jared huffed. “He did for that take. Before that, though? He pinched me. And before that? He goosed me. And before that, he smacked me and spanked me and I was black and blue and I couldn’t sit right for, like, a week.”
“You deserved it, ya little punk,” Jensen yelled in the background.
Sherri hid her smile behind her hand, even though Jared couldn’t see her. “Glad y’all are gettin’ along so well, honey.”
“BFFs, Momma. Told you so.”
True enough, Jensen charmed his way into the heart and soul of their family just as surely and completely as he’d enchanted Jared, and meeting him for the first time – wet from a shower and wrapped in just a towel, for goodness sake, and how was that for a first impression? – merely solidified the notion. He was adorable, just like Jared had claimed, and with every second spent in his company, Jensen endeared himself to the rest of the Padalecki clan: Megan was entranced; Jeff was happy to have someone to tag-team with when he took on Jared and Meggie; Gerry liked the boy’s dry humor and loved that Jensen laughed at all of his jokes, and Sherri? Well, she was smitten. By the way Jensen spoke and laughed and smiled and generally was. His shyness was endlessly sweet, but he was also confident and strong yet soft around the edges, easy-going and laid back in a way that was a perfect foil for her son’s breathless exuberance.
But mostly, Sherri was struck by the way he treated Jared; it was exactly the way they – Jared’s family – treated him, like he was someone special, like he was important, well-loved, close to his heart like Jared was close to theirs: a wonderful son, a terrific brother, the best friend ever.
It all made sense when they finally met the Ackleses: Donna reminded Sherri of her sister and they got on famously from the get-go; Alan and Gerry came together like two grumpy old peas in a pod; Josh and Jeff bonded over sports and the sport of picking on baby brothers, while Mackenzie and Megan channeled a pair of long-lost twins separated at birth, so long as you ignored the differences in their ages and DNA.
So, of course, Jensen and Jared were the way they were. It was both funny ha-ha and funny strange; Fate worked in mysterious ways.
Still, her favorite thing about Jensen was that, unlike his family, he didn’t hold himself back, not even the teeniest bit. Even Mack, although she loved Meggie to death, was always mindful of how she behaved when her family or friends were around. Jensen was different, though, and Sherri adored that he couldn’t be bothered with outward appearances, that he showed rather than told how much he so obviously loved Jared, how he cherished Jared as more than a friend, as part of his family, because Jared had welcomed him into his life that way a long time ago, and it would’ve broken Sherri’s heart if Jensen hadn’t returned the sentiment.
And in all the years in between Jared meeting Jensen, and Jared falling in love with Jensen, and Jared marrying Jensen, the look on Jensen’s face whenever he looked at Jared never changed.
“Happy Birthday, Mrs. P.”
“Jensen, honey, thank you so much!”
“You’re welcome,” Jensen responded quietly, and Sherri could almost see him trying to fight back a bit of shyness. “Did you have a good day so far?”
“I did. Gerry made me breakfast in bed and Megan took me out for lunch.”
“That’s great. You must be missing Jared, huh?”
“I always miss my baby, but you’re right, it’s more so on special occasions. Is he there? He hasn’t called me yet.”
“He… What?” Jensen sputtered. “Oh, man… I called you before he did? I was sure he’d call first thing in the morning! He’s gonna be so mad I beat him to it.”
“We’ve been missing each other all day, sweetheart. I was in the shower when he first called, he was filming when I called back, then when he called again, I was out with Megan and I guess the reception was bad in the restaurant we were at or something because Gerry told me he called home looking for me.”
“This morning was a bit stressful, lots of crying. It’s draining.”
“Oh, you’re filming Heart.”
“Yeah. Heard about that, did you?”
“Only that it was going to be emotional.”
“There’s an understatement if I ever heard one. Sam’s being put through the wringer this episode.” Jensen sighed.
“You okay, honey?”
“Yeah,” he rasped before he stopped and cleared his throat. “It’s just…hard, you know? I mean to see him like that. I know he’s acting and all, but…he’s standing there, looking at me, and he’s crying and it… It breaks my heart, he’s so good.” Jensen cleared his throat again, his voice deep with emotion. “Watch it when it airs and you’ll see. He’ll make you so proud. He really will. Well, you know, more proud than usual.”
Sherri smiled. “It’s so nice how supportive you two are of each other. I thank God every day that JT has you to lean on, so even though he doesn’t have us around, he still has family.”
“You know, Jensen, if you’re not gonna call me Sherri, you may as well call me Mom like JT tells you to all the time.”
“Well, he does call my mom Momma Ackles.”
“There you go. Tit for tat.”
Jensen chuckled. “Yeah. Oh, they’re calling me back on set. We have the closing scene to film and then we wrap for the day, so we’ll probably call you before Jeff comes by to take y’all out to dinner.”
“How’d you know about that?”
“I spoke to Jeff last night.”
“Told you you were one of us. An honorary Padalecki.”
“And proud of it. Grateful, too, but if you tell Jared that, I have no qualms calling you a liar. Respectfully, of course. Ma’am.”
“Mm-hmm. Of course.” Sherri laughed delightedly. “All right, darlin’. You get back to work and I’ll talk to you soon.”
“Take care,” Jensen said. “And Happy Birthday again…Mom.”
Sherri beamed. It was a little thing, but that made her day more than the huge bouquet of flowers and silk scarf Jensen had sent her by special delivery.
Admittedly, things got a little strange when the Supernatural-watching world suddenly decided that Jared and Jensen were gay and in love.
Jeff had laughed until he cried.
Megan had blushed like the schoolgirl she was, looking startled, then guilty, and finally – and Sherri knew her daughter well enough to know – really, really, far too intrigued at the prospect.
Gerry had lowered his paper long enough to crook an eyebrow up at her in silent question and, when she shrugged, he muttered something about not being able to understand kids these days before he’d gone back to reading the news.
Sherri looked at it all scientifically.
After all, she was a teacher. She’d spent far too much of her life surrounded by pre- and post-pubescent teens and young adults, where all things sex-related tended to come up more often than not, and apparently it seemed that the majority of Supernatural’s audience fell into that demographic. And she could admit, clinically and from a neutral perspective, that both Jared and Jensen were two very attractive young men; it wasn’t all that far-fetched that their fans, those girls – no, women, or men, she supposed, and dear God, she hoped the people writing those stories were of legal age – were enamored at the prospect of them together. Sexually.
Scientific, clinical dissemination of the situation went right out the window with that thought and, hand to heart, she was never thinking about it again. Let the fans do and say what they wanted to; her baby was getting married to Sandy – someday sooner than later she hoped – and Jensen was probably dating some lovely girl and once everyone accepted the glaring truth right in front of their eyes, they’d give up on their preposterous assumptions.
When no one had given up on anything even as long as two years later, she reluctantly (and very covertly) examined the evidence at hand. Not the stories – God no, give her a little credit – but the photographic evidence. She didn’t even attempt to try the internet; Jeff had warned her off of that ages ago and he’d looked like he’d been scarred for life at the time. Instead, she checked out the album Megan kept of all of Jared’s public appearances. Clicking through picture after picture of Jared on the family desktop, from Jared’s days before Supernatural (Lordy, he looked so young) to the time he moved up to Canada. She’d seen all the personal pictures – whatever Jared’d sent them over the past couple of years – but the fans didn’t get to see those. They were basing their assumptions and the stories they wrote on images available to the public. Well, that and the purported unrequited and incestuous love – she still shuddered at the thought – between Sam and Dean.
Of course, that’s when it hit her.
Yes, they were two beautiful boys. Yes, they went around in public like personal space was a completely alien concept – that was probably Jared’s fault – and sure, they quite obviously enjoyed working together and spending time in each other’s company. But then Sherri detached herself and looked closer. She knew her son. Very well, in fact, and some mothers couldn’t still say that about their twenty-five-year-old offspring. Jared was friendly and full of energy and joie de vivre and he attracted people to him like moths to flame; he always had and Jensen was no different. Sherri could see it all in those pictures: Jared, his mile-long arms always wrapped around Jensen, his wide dimpled grin, his goofy, gorgeous face, his legs doing weird things like they had a mind of their own, like he thought it was okay to climb Jensen in public, or flail about like a daddy-long-legs walking on something slippery.
What was different, though, was that sometimes, Jared just had this muted expression on his face when the camera caught him looking at his co-star – it was a soft look, his gaze beyond fond – like he couldn’t quite believe he was lucky enough to be standing next to Jensen, like he couldn’t understand how they’d gotten this far, this lucky, this blessed. Sure, it could be all about their success as actors and the popularity of the show, but Sherri knew him so well, and she knew that look on his face, and while she never admitted it to another living soul, not even to Gerry (the other half of her), not even in her weakest moment, she grew afraid. Afraid for Jared, afraid for Jensen and, maybe most of all, afraid for Sandy.
The fear abated when Jared and Sandy returned from Paris with a shiny diamond on Sandy’s finger and a marriage proposal in the most romantic city in the world behind them, but it crept to the fore again when Jared started sounding like a stranger every time he called them, and Jensen stopped calling them altogether.
Sherri really wasn’t too surprised when, just months after announcing their engagement, Sandy and Jared went their separate ways, and if she thought the speculation about Jared’s and Jensen’s sexuality was bad before, it was nothing compared to the buzz generated by Jensen moving in with Jared in Vancouver and, as much as it shamed her to admit it, even Sherri had no idea what was real and what wasn’t anymore.
“I just don’t know what to do.”
“About what, Jensen?”
“Jared.” Jensen heaved a sigh and Sherri and Gerry looked at each other in concern. Jensen sounded defeated.
“We spoke to him this morning,” Gerry said, “and he seemed fine.”
“I know he may say all the right things but you can’t see him. It’s like he’s a shell of himself.”
“You’ll need to be patient with him, son. JT was never a broody kid, but when he did get broody, he stayed that way a good long time.”
“Yeah, Dad, I get that but…what do I do about it? How do I make it better?”
“Baby, you are doing it,” Sherri said before Gerry could respond. “He needs someone to be there for him. No questions asked, no demands made.”
“Yeah, son, just do what you always do: Be the Jensen to his Jared.” Gerry sighed. “It’ll work out. He’ll get over it. This is JT we’re talking about. He always bounces back. Like Tigger.”
“More like Eeyore right now, truth be told,” Jensen grumbled.
“Well, how ‘bout this,” Gerry started, honestly surprising Sherri with how much advice he was dishing out to Jensen; Gerry firmly subscribed to the ‘stay strong and silent’ school of parenting when it came to dealing with his boys when they had girl problems; when it came to Meggie's boy problems, he chose to stay strong and silent with a hunting rifle close at hand. Now, with Jensen, he appeared to be channeling Oprah all of a sudden. “If you can’t be the Jensen to his Jared, then why don’t you try being the Jared to his Jensen?”
“Huh?” Sherri asked rather ineloquently; Jensen echoed the sentiment over the phone line.
“Well, JT always did say you were a broody sumbitch,” Gerry teased, chuckling. “So, if he’s turned the tables on you, then maybe it’s your turn to be the touchy-feely, I’ma-make-everything-better-with-the-pow
“That sounds like a way better plan than calling Chad.”
“You called Chad?” Sherri tsked admonishingly. “Jensen.”
“I know, I know. But Mom, I’m way outta my depth here. I mean, he’s even lost his appetite.” Both Sherri and Gerry gasped. “I know, right? Anyway you look at it, I’m doomed.”
“We’d offer to come up there but I don’t think JT’ll take it too well.”
“Not in the mood he’s currently in,” Jensen agreed.
“I think Gerry said it best.” Sherri sighed. “Just be there for him. I’ll add my two cents and tell you to feed him some home-cooked meals. Donna told me once than she made sure you and Josh could fend for yourselves in the kitchen, so just make him some simple comfort food. You can’t go wrong with spaghetti and meatballs. The way to a man’s heart and all.”
Sherri swore she almost could feel the heat of Jensen’s flushed face all the way from Canada. “Oh hush, you know what I mean, baby.”
“Just love him, Jensen. You’re all he needs to get through this.”
“I hope you and Dad are right. For all our sakes.”
Sherri gave her husband a long, considering look when Jensen hung up the phone. There was a storm brewing, she knew it in her gut, and it was best if Gerry was prepared to batten down the hatches, too. A lot was said in that look, lots of things of great import, lots of things that didn’t need words to bring them into the light of day and, by the end of it, Gerry looked like he’d been blindsided by a bus.
“Well, I’ll be damned,” he muttered gruffly. “Really?”
“Don’t you think so?” Sherri asked softly.
“But it’s JT, Sher, he doesn’t…swing that way. Least he never did before.”
“I know, but…it’s also Jensen we’re talking about and you’ve seen them together.”
“It may have been at one point, but it’s much more than that now.”
“I don’t know about this, Sher. I mean, what’re we gonna do?”
“Support our son,” Sherri said, and it felt right to say it like that, confident and strong. “’Sides, Jensen’s a good boy.”
“It’s not about Jensen. Lord knows I love that boy like one of my own, but…if this is true, if it turns out that they want to be together…” He sighed. “It’s not an easy road to take. This is Texas.”
“Yeah, but they don’t live here. And since when has loving someone that much ever been an easy road to take?” She smiled ruefully at her husband, her soul mate. “Remember the ruckus my daddy caused when I brought you home to meet the family? Son of a Polish immigrant, he said. A foreigner, he said, like it was a cuss word or something.”
Gerry grinned. “The course of true love never did run smooth.”
Sherri blushed and swatted him. “I’m trying to have a serious conversation here, Gerald, and you know how you quoting Shakespeare at me gets me all flustered!”
“Why’d you think I do it so much? You’re pretty when you blush like that,” Gerry teased, grabbing her hand and kissing it. Then he sighed again. “You reckon this is how they feel about each other? Like we did, like we still do? Because, sometimes I look at them together and… I can’t wrap my brain around the fact that they’re two grown men, but still, that’s what I think.” He swallowed visibly. “That’s what I think.”
Sherri smiled and leaned forward for a hug, her husband’s arms around her making her feel loved and safe; in all their years of marriage, that had always stayed the same. “I think that’s exactly how they feel about each other. Question is: Are they ever going to do anything about it?”
Sherri heard the muted thuds of Jared’s footsteps over the phone as he took the stairs doubtless three at a time.
“Slow down, baby,” she warned. “I love you but you’re not exactly the most graceful of men.”
“Oh, ha ha, Momma. Hang on, Jensen’s still snoring,” he said as Sherri waited patiently to speak to the man who’d brought Jared back from the brink of whatever ledge he’d been standing on since he broke things off with Sandy. True to form, Jensen’d stuck by him and Sherri was beyond grateful to have her baby back, happy and whole and teasing his best friend. “Wakey, wakey, baby.” Sherri heard a few muttered expletives in response and suppressed the urge to giggle. Jensen wasn’t exactly what you’d call a morning person, after all. Then came the sound of a loud smack, accompanied by the warning: “I’ve got Momma on speaker, so watch that potty mouth of yours.”
“I hate you,” came Jensen’s disgruntled reply, right before he yelped.
“Lies and untruths,” Jared calmly quipped.
“Get your freaky cold legs away from mine, Jay!”
“But you’re warm!”
“Exactly,” Jensen mumbled, his sigh muffled as Sherri heard all sorts of shuffling noises. “G’morning, Mom. Can you please tell your son that I’m not his personal plush toy?”
“JT, Jensen is not your personal plush toy,” Sherri repeated indulgently, knowing it wouldn’t do a lick of good. Jensen was probably being smothered in cuddles as she spoke. She chuckled at the heartwarming image in her mind. “And good morning to you too, sunshine, since I suppose it must be morning somewhere on this great big planet.”
Jared laughed and Jensen groaned. “Sure, pick on the guy who just woke up and can’t make a decent witty comeback.”
“Your comebacks are lame at best,” Jared retorted. “’Sides, Momma wanted to ask you something important. ‘Cause you can’t seem to give me a straight answer.”
“What is it, Mom?”
“Just wanted to know if you were coming to see us over Christmas? I know Donna said y’all were having a big ol’ Ackles gathering, but we’d love to see you, honey, even for a short while.”
Sherri didn’t need to see him to know that Jensen was glaring at Jared for putting him on the spot. He sighed. “I’ll be there, Mom. I promise.”
It was a good Christmas. In fact, the only thing that would’ve made it better was Jensen’s presence at their table, because, despite his promise, something had kept him from making the drive out to see them. He was remembered in their prayers that night, though, and Sherri was sure Jared checked in with him at least twice a day. Jared had definitely seen him – there was no keeping them apart from each other for too long – even if he’d had to drive out to Temple to do it. They’d spent the night out there, on the bed of Josh’s pick-up, under a starry Texas sky.
She and Jared were splitting the washing and drying of dishes after dinner that night when he told her all about it. She peeked at her husband to make sure he was paying attention before striving for the most innocent, nonchalant tone she could muster. “Sounds romantic.”
“It was,” Jared said, sighing dreamily as the newspaper Gerry was hiding behind rustled in the still of the room. In the sudden quiet, Jared straightened, panic etched in every worried line of his face as he turned to look at her. “Momma…”
“Hush, baby,” Sherri said, smirking up at him. “It’s as plain as day how much y’all love each other, and if you two don’t have a problem with it, I sure as heck don’t either. He makes you happy, which makes me happy. And just in case you’re wondering, it makes your Daddy happy, too. Isn’t that right, Gerry?”
“That’s right, Sher,” Gerry said, lowering his paper and winking at his son.
Jared’s eyes flooded with tears and he bit his lip, his eyes startled and flicking between her and his father, staring hard at them both as she turned off the tap and spread her arms in invitation. She didn’t have long to wait before she was engulfed in a big, warm hug like only her middle son could ever give. “Thank you, Momma,” he whispered.
“Is this a private hug or can anyone join in?” Gerry asked from behind them, and Jared opened his arms and buried his face in his father’s shoulder.
“Thank you both.”
“For what, baby?”
“For being okay with this.” Jared swallowed as he pulled back, his Adam’s apple bobbing in his throat, as if he was still trying to compose himself. He looked so relieved to be able to finally talk about it that Sherri’s heart went out to him. ‘Course, that also meant he started babbling. “I was so scared myself, you know? For the longest time. I mean, I’ve never felt this way about a guy before… I’ve never felt this way about anyone before. No one. Not even Sandy and I swear to God, Momma, I loved her so much, but Jensen…he’s – I don’t even… He’s like the other half of me, you know? Like he’s my soul mate or something sappy like that and I don’t even care if that makes me sound like Meggie in her Backstreet Boys days. It’s like when his face is the first thing I see when I wake up, that’s a good day. He makes me feel… He just makes me feel. I just wanna watch him all time. I wanna touch him all the time. Be with him all the time. Feel the warmth of his body and see those beautiful eyes and kiss that gorgeous smile of his and just everything about him is amazing and…perfect.” He stopped to breathe and scrub a hand down his face. “He’s not perfect,” Jared corrected himself, his voice soft, “but he’s perfect for me.”
“Oh, baby,” Sherri whispered in awe.
Gerry squeezed Jared’s shoulder. “Wow,” he said.
“I’m in love with him. I love him. So much. So, so much… It scares me how much,” he confessed, sniffing and swiping at his tears, and Sherri couldn’t resist gathering him up in her arms again. Jared’s breath shuddered out of his body. “If only he loved me back.”
Sherri pulled away in shock. “What’re you talking about? Of course Jensen loves you back, don’t be a ninny!”
“Well,” Jared hedged, “I know he loves me, but…”
“There’s no buts about it, JT,” Gerry said gruffly. “That boy thinks the sun shines outta your…”
“Er…” Gerry cleared his throat. “He worships the ground you walk on, son.”
“You think so?”
Gerry manfully refrained from rolling his eyes. “A blind person would think so.”
Sherri smirked at Jared. “So, let me get this straight: You haven’t told him how you feel yet?”
“We’ve been dancing around each other,” Jared admitted with a sigh. “Sometimes I think he feels the same way but other times, he’s so distant that I don’t know anymore. He’s got me all tied up in knots and I… Half the time I have no idea what to do.”
“Well, good thing you’re the one who knows him best then, ain’t it?” Gerry asked wisely.
Jared blinked at his father. “I guess.”
“You know,” Sherri corrected. “The only person in the world who may know that boy better is his momma.”
“You got this one in the bag, son,” Gerry agreed.
Sherri beamed at her husband before nodding at her son. “You sure do.”
“Maybe I’ll ask him to come spend New Year’s with us.”
“Sounds like a good place to start. A new year, a new love and the promise of the best yet to come,” Sherri encouraged.
Jared smiled, soft and sweet and oh so full of hope. “Sounds good to me.”
It didn’t end up working out quite that way, but no matter; the important thing was, it worked out, and the next time she saw her son, it was with Jensen in tow, the smile on Jared’s face blazing like a ten thousand watt bulb, while Jensen looked guilty and miserable.
Sherri was beyond confused until Jared explained, Jensen by his side and blushing to the roots of his spiky hair.
“He thinks that y’all think that he corrupted sweet lil innocent me.”
“Aww, honey,” Sherri admonished, pulling Jensen into her arms and smothering him. “We love you, baby. Never doubt that.”
“Yes, ma’am,” Jensen whispered, clinging to her.
Sherri stared him down. “Are you all right? Is there more to this than what you’re saying?”
“It’s nothing,” Jensen mumbled. Then he straightened and, fortifying himself with a deep breath, looked her and then Gerry in the eye. “I love Jared. More than life itself. I’m gonna do right by him, I give you my word.”
Sherri didn’t stand a chance under the quiet sincerity in Jensen’s voice and, before she knew it, she was blubbering and Gerry’s eyes looked suspiciously misty and Jared was sniffling and crushing Jensen in a hug and the poor boy looked like he needed CPR.
Luckily for Jensen, Jared was there to administer it and, just like that, Sherri and Gerry watched their son kiss another man for the first time, chaste and sweet and so full of love that all Jensen could do was hold on, his hands fisted in Jared’s shirt.
Sherri grabbed her husband’s hand; as he squeezed hers in return, she couldn’t help but think of weddings and matching tuxes and and cake (hey, she was a Padalecki; it was a given) and, oh, adopted grandbabies. And best of all: happy endings and sweet beginnings.
It just figured that Donna Ackles had to go and ruin it all.
The course of true love, indeed.
“Donna, what is wrong with you?” Sherri asked in frustration, confronting the woman in her own home after driving all the way up to Richardson to do it. Sherri had never had an inclination towards violence in her life but after that fiasco in San Antonio a few days ago, she’d felt righteously justified. Sure, maybe she and Jared shouldn’t have butted in on Jensen’s life and tried to reconcile things between him and Donna, but really, how stupid could one person be? In Sherri’s mind, there was absolutely no excuse for Donna’s shoddy behavior towards her own son.
“Nothing is wrong with me,” Donna responded belligerently. “It’s them. They’re what’s wrong.”
Sherri stiffened. “I can’t believe you just said that about our boys. What they have…what they’ve built over the years…everything about their friendship…their relationship is…beautiful.”
“How can you condone what they’re doing?” Donna asked, her eyes wide and a little terrified.
“They fell in love!” Sherri exclaimed in exasperation. “What’s there to condone?”
“You can’t be that naive, Sher. You know what people are like here. Good lord, what’ll they say in church if they ever find out? You know how we were raised, and what happened to boys who… It wasn’t pretty.” Donna gulped and that petrified look in her eyes intensified. “It's an abomination.”
“So change your church! Choose another one! You don’t get to change or choose your child!” Sherri yelled. Then she took a deep breath, striving for calm. “That is an abomination.”
“I…I won’t do it,” Donna said, her voice quivering. “I can’t stand by and watch it happen again…”
“What are you talking about? For heaven’s sake, Donna, the boys don’t even live here!”
“But this is their home! You don’t think they’ll want to come back here and settle down? You were the one who told me about Jared’s dreams to buy a ranch out here. How do you think those dreams’ll pan out now?”
“Maybe he’s got different dreams now. That’s what happens when you fall in love; dreams change when you’re dreaming for two!”
“Jensen’s always had that dream, too,” Donna whispered. “He’s always wanted someplace big and beautiful with a stable full of horses…”
“They can still have that…”
“Not here!” Donna shouted. “I won’t let it happen!”
“Wherever they choose to live on God’s green earth, it’s up to them! It’s not up to you!” Sherri huffed angrily. “I swear, Donna Joan, you are sorely trying my patience! I’m so tempted to just sock you right in the eye!”
“This is for the best,” Donna insisted, ignoring Sherri’s not-so-empty threat. “You’ll see.”
“I don’t know whose liquor cabinet you’ve been breaking into, but hear this: I will not stand by and watch you drive a wedge between those boys. In fact, I will do whatever it takes to make sure they stay together and they’re happy for as long as they want to be, and I refuse to let you ruin it all!”
Donna looked defeated. “They’ve brought ruin on themselves.”
“If that’s what you think…” Sherri collected herself, more than disgusted with what she was hearing from a woman she’d thought she’d known as well as a sister. “If that’s what you truly think, then I feel sorry for you. But it’s your loss. You hear that? Yours and yours alone. Because Jensen won’t forgive you for this. He won’t. You’ll lose him. Can you live with that?”
It felt like a century'd passed before Donna spoke again, sighing in defeat. “I can live with that.”
Sherri gasped softly, horrified beyond measure. “Then I have nothing left to say to you. Goodbye, Donna.”
And good riddance, she thought as she walked out of the Ackleses’ home, head held high and heart beating a furious rhythm at the finality of it all. No matter, though, for, whatever it was worth, Donna’s loss would be her gain; Jensen had always been a son in her eyes anyway. This just made it official.
And that was the only decision she was willing to live with.