Word Count: Approx. 6K
Warnings: Outsider POV. Angst. The use of derogatory terms and mentions of violence and suicide. Miss Piggy again. 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 it's best if you read Sherri's part before Donna's.
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 for sure, I promise! Just gimme a few months). Thanks again to asher_k for the beta! You’re brilliant, babe!
For Donna Joan Ackles, it started with a hunch.
She knew her son, of course she did; she was the one who raised him after all, and she'd sure done a bang up job of it. Well, Alan had occasionally helped, but she was the one who had carried Jensen around inside her belly and she was the one who had the stretch-marks to prove it. Besides which, Alan had been preoccupied with Josh most of the time, making sure their first born didn’t feel neglected as his parents eagerly braced for the birth of their second child.
Jensen’s arrival into the world had been heralded by the shrillest set of lungs the small county hospital in Richardson had ever borne witness to; his tiny, flushed body kicking up a storm as he pushed his way into the world like he couldn’t wait to get started on this thing called life. Goodness, he'd been the loudest, grumpiest, most cantankerous of babies Donna had ever laid eyes (or ears) on – and theirs was a big, big family that had plenty of experience in the raising of young'uns. Thankfully, Jensen had grown up to be...well, less loud, at least.
That was certainly more than she could ever say about Kenzie, who had come into the world like a little angel and was now a not-so-little imp.
Since her daughter’s birth, though, Donna had always worried that perhaps Jensen would succumb to middle-child syndrome worse than most. He was painfully shy at times – especially with new people – and slow to trust, although, once his friendship was earned and fortified, he was loyal to the core. Well, all her children were wonderful in their own right: Josh, the lovable, affectionate, responsible one; Jensen, the strong, silent, steadfast one; and Kenzie, the princess of mischief and mayhem.
She would never play favorites with her kids – never had, never would – but she freely admitted that even with a daughter, she tended to worry more about Jensen.
Alan told her she was overcompensating for the fact that Jensen was the middle child, but Donna never put any stock in that refrain; she’d caught Alan indulging Jensen often enough himself, after all. If Jensen allowed it, of course.
He was a conundrum, her middle son: Friendly but reserved; affectionate yet aloof; and both compassionate and condescending. He was bright and brilliant and talented just as much as he was sarcastic and grouchy and stubborn. He was a bit of an old soul yet young at heart. He was fiercely independent and had been since he was a kid. She'd always thought that that was the reason he'd found success in Hollywood.
So, yes, she knew him better than anyone else in existence. She knew about his weaknesses and insecurities just as well as she knew about his strengths. There had been also been a time in his life when, between Alan and her, they had known all his hopes and dreams. She thought they still did, but, perhaps, at some point, Jensen had stopped sharing all of them with her or with Alan, and she supposed that was part and parcel of a boy becoming a man. She admired that the most about him, how he'd grown up, become his own person, followed his dream and forged his own future.
Sometimes she missed the adorable little boy he'd once been, or the bright, happy teen, and even the sullen young man who hadn’t quite known how to handle his new life away from home. In the beginning, she'd thought that she would lose him to the glitz and glamour of Hollywood but her fears were soon allayed in that respect. Jensen had showed time and again that he still wanted his family around and that made her happy; it told her that she'd raised a good man, one who still loved his family and who stood by them and with them even though he technically didn’t need them in his life.
Still, though, over the years and all the things that had changed about Jensen, one thing remained the same: When Jensen needed comfort, he came home to his momma.
Well, Daddy too, but mostly Momma.
She knew that landing the role of Dean Winchester wouldn’t change much of the status quo they'd set up since Jensen'd left the nest. Production was up in Canada, just like it'd been with Dark Angel, but Jensen'd been down to Texas more often than he'd visited since moving out to LA. He'd been busy as soon as Supernatural got picked up and the first time he'd made it home was after the fiasco with that woman, that stupid blonde trollop; he'd come home to lick his wounds (not that he'd ever admit to it), for a little southern comfort (his momma’s hugs and home cooking) and some sage advice from his daddy – which was just as it should be – so she did what she did best and they sent him back to Canada heart-whole and without worrying that he wouldn’t be back soon.
And come back, he did. Sometimes for an extended weekend, and longer over the holidays and hiatus. Even when he was exhausted, he still made the effort. In fact, Donna had never seen him so happy and relaxed and carefree – which was not careless; Jensen was never that – about his work, like he was really getting a kick outta filming that show, and she supposed a lot of that was due to the fact that he and Jared had struck up such an uncanny rapport right out of the gate. 'Sides, Jared was from San Antonio and they flew down together more often than not, attached at the hip, just like the brothers they played on TV.
It never occurred to Donna to question it, but hindsight being what it was and all, she should've seen it coming. The signs were all there; she was just blind to them because never in a million years would she have ever thought that Jensen would ever take that particular detour down the road of life.
She noticed straight away that Jensen was a different person with Jared around. Well, not different, perhaps, but not the same either. There was an exuberance to him when he was with his co-star and newfound friend; he was more prone to smiling wide and open and honest, his eyes crinkling in the corners, his face lit up from the inside, his laughter joyous.
It was the only reason that Donna thought Jared Padalecki was a sweetheart, because Jensen so obviously adored him.
And Jared was very much like Jensen, even though it didn't seem that way at first glance. He was more extroverted, certainly, but underneath it all where it really counted, they were cut from the same cloth. Donna reckoned that that was why they got on like a house on fire, especially when Jensen never generally fraternized with his costars; he always liked to define his professional boundaries right from the get-go and he stuck to them. It would've explained their camaraderie since Jared was a lot different from Brady, who had been Jensen's best friend all through school, and very different from Chris and Steve and Jason, who were Jensen's best friends now. Of course, Donna was basing all of this on what she'd heard Jensen say about his new costar; that he was talking about him at all was a miracle in itself.
It took meeting Jared to realize how wrong she'd been.
Sure, Jensen and Jared shared a lot of things in common: two boys with similar upbringings and similar familial backgrounds and how, she'd thought in wonderment at the time, what with each of them having an older brother (Josh and Jeff were the proverbial two peas) and younger sister (Kenzie and Meggie had become instant best friends and partners-in-crime), and two sets of parents who were mirror images of each other in temperament: Donna and Gerry, and Sherri and Alan.
It only stood to reason that Jensen and Jared would be the personification of Yin and Yang: opposites existing in perfect harmony with each other.
If only she'd seen how intricately entwined their lives had become (from home to heart and everything in between), though; if only she'd noticed sooner how deep that friendship had burrowed into their skins (until it'd settled right down into their souls), then maybe she could've stopped it, slammed on the brakes, or even derailed that slow train running to its only inevitable end. But she hadn't, and by the time she got the guts to call a spade a spade and confront Jensen with it, it was too late.
Then again, watching them that day at Sherri's place, long after Jensen had made his stance known, when Sherri had tricked her into coming to visit, Donna wondered if anything could've gotten in the way of those two boys colliding.
She'd seen them, out on the patio that day; she'd watched with her heart in her throat. She saw Jensen trip on a step, bang his knee, and her first instinct was to open those glass doors and check on her son, but Jared was already there, squatting low to inspect Jensen's bruised knee, rubbing it soothingly, kissing it better... Kissing him better.
That kiss – it was something else.
It wasn't the first kiss Donna had ever witnessed between two men, but it was the more memorable one, full of joy and love and passion and something indefinable but infinitely sweet and it made her heart ache that the person who made Jensen look that enchanted, that content with his lot in life, that happy…was Jared.
When Jensen was a newly-minted thirteen, he'd come home all excited about a girl asking him to the Sadie Hawkin's dance at school. It was his first dance and the first time he'd even admitted to liking a girl. Until said girl (the little harlot) had changed her mind the day before the dance and asked the school's resident bad boy instead.
Jensen had been inconsolable as he’d sat with Donna that evening, watching with rapt but misty eyes as she sewed together another patch on the quilt she was working on. Not that he’d actually cried (at least not in front of Donna), but he'd definitely circled his wagons, protecting himself from something like that ever happening to him again. It'd made her usually reserved son even more introspective.
"Why'd she do it, Momma?" he'd asked her, all quiet and innocent and heart-broken and no mother ever wanted to see that. "I was so nice to her, too," he continued before Donna could say a word. "Too nice, she said. She said I was boring. But Mike's a jerk; he's a bully. So how come she likes him better? I don't get it." He sighed. "I just don't get it."
"Some girls aren't worth getting, Jensen," Donna told him. "They aren't worth your time and your attention, no matter how sweet and pretty they are. That's just on the outside. The right girl will appreciate it when you do nice things for her. That's how you know you've found a keeper. She'll always love it when you treat her special, and you'll always want to treat her special because you won't know how to treat her any different."
Jensen mulled that over before huffing in frustration. "Brady says nice guys finish last. I don't wanna finish last, Momma, I don't!"
"You won't. Not with the right person. Because she'll love you for who you are, and you'll always come first."
"How did you know you loved Daddy like that?"
Donna smiled; that, at least, had been an easy question to answer. "It was 'cause I loved him best," she'd said. "Better than anyone I'd ever known before, or ever met since. Better even than my own family. Better than my kids," she teased, explaining herself even further when she saw the confusion on his little face. "And it's okay to love the person you're going to spend the rest of your life with like that. They're like a part of you, you know? Like the other half of you. It's okay to love them that much, to love them more than you love us. That's just how it is."
"Nuh-uh," he'd responded indignantly. "I'm never gonna love anyone more than I love you. Ain't never gonna happen."
Donna had laughed, hugging him close. "Never say never, JR."
Meeting Jared for the first time had been memorable, not so much because of Jared himself, but because of how Jensen was around him. Her usually intrepid son had been dropping not-so-subtle hints that the episode they were shooting at the time was going to be an emotionally draining one for him. On the phone, he'd sounded like he was dreading it and anticipating it with equal fervor and he'd turned to his daddy for advice on the acting side of things. It was the episode where Dean was to lose his brother, the one where Sam was meant to die in Dean's arms, where Dean (and Jensen) then had to watch Sam's (and Jared's) lifeless body just lying there on a sorry excuse for a bed while Dean's heart broke and his soul fractured from the loss of a beloved brother who meant more to him than life itself. Given how close the boys were off-screen, both she and Alan knew the episode would take its toll on Jensen's psyche.
So they flew up to Canada for a few days. Ostensibly, it was to visit their maverick son; in reality, it was so they could hold his hand, have Momma near enough to wrap him up in a hug when all was said and done and Daddy close by to cheer him up afterwards. Nothing could've kept Donna and Alan away.
Turned out, they weren't really needed.
They showed up without telling Jensen, because he would never stand for it, seeing as how he was a grown man and all. Alan’s sneaky ways and a quick call to the agent he and Jensen shared had taken care of the little details and, as soon as they arrived at the airport, they were picked up and chauffeured to the set where a PA led them to a dark room overlooking the dimly lit set.
The few members of the crew on set were all dressed in black, the PA had whispered to them, to keep Jensen’s visual field free of distractions, so Jared was the only one he would see. Jared was lying on a cot, his chest rising slowly up and down beneath his folded hands, his eyes open and trained on a corner of the room where Jensen stood, hands braced against the thin plywood walls as he got into his headspace. When Jensen drew a deep breath and turned towards his place, Jared closed his eyes, his breath stilling as Kim Manners waved his hand, silently calling action.
The scene was excruciatingly difficult to watch: stark and solitary, somber and heartbreaking and poignant and perfect. Jensen’s performance was astounding, and no, that opinion had not been in the least bit biased.
When Kim called an end to the shoot, his voice full of understated pride, Jensen stood and stalked off the closed set, the door banging behind him. Donna was on the move before she knew it, Alan at her heels as they stepped out onto the dark lot, watching the hunched-shouldered shape of their son walking away from them.
“Hold up,” Alan said, gripping her elbow. “Let him be for a bit. He’s not gonna appreciate his momma and daddy barging in on an emotional moment.”
“He’s hurting,” Donna tried to argue, but Alan kept a tight hold on her.
“Give him a minute to…” Alan’s words trailed off when the door to the set was thrown open again and Jared’s gangly figure appeared briefly silhouetted in the doorway before he jogged out after Jensen. Alan sighed. “Jensen’s gonna bite that boy’s head off in a second,” he said as they watched Jared slow his stride as he approached Jensen from behind. Jensen had stopped and was leaning against a picnic table like he couldn’t hold himself up anymore.
Everything about Jensen’s body language screamed back off, don’t touch, but Jared paid it no mind, instead wrapping his long arms around Jensen and pulling him back against his chest, ducking his head so that his face was pressed to the nape of Jensen’s neck.
“Oh lord, he’s gonna get it now,” Alan muttered as they hurried a little closer, just in time for them to see Jensen viciously struggle out of Jared’s hold – their son was such a crabby brat sometimes – and turn around angrily.
Whatever he’d wanted to say, however, never got said, because he took one look at Jared and shuddered, his face crumpling. Donna and Alan watched in amazement as their ornery offspring slowly (like he couldn’t quite believe Jared was really there) wrapped his arms around his costar’s shoulders, tucking his head into the crook of Jared’s neck as he simply stood there, letting himself be comforted and held and soothed by soft words that his parents couldn’t hear and a sure touch that brought him back from the dark place in his mind that he’d gone to filming that last scene.
It was a bit of a miracle to behold.
It was the first time Donna had ever seen Jensen trust someone outside of their family enough to seek comfort from them.
Truth be told, it was a bit shocking.
Donna actually startled when Jensen suddenly threw his head back and laughed, the sound – so ridiculously joyous after what they’d just witnessed – carrying in the frosty night air. She heard a soft grunt from behind and turned to see the infamous Kim Manners, although when he’d joined them outside was anybody’s guess.
“If anyone can bring Jensen back from a dark place, it’s Jared,” he told them, the corner of his mouth quirking up in what Donna assumed was meant to be a smile as they turned to watch the boys horse around like a couple of kids. “Those two…” Kim shook his head and sighed. “Say goodnight for me. Tell them they’re free to go.”
“Sure thing,” Alan replied in bemusement, shaking the man’s hand when he offered it.
When Donna turned around to look at the boys, she found them a lot closer, Jensen almost walking past them before he did a double take, a wide grin splitting his face. “Mom?” He blinked and looked at Alan. “Dad! What’re you guys doing here?”
“Surprise,” Alan said sheepishly, and it earned them hugs and kisses and a radiant smile from their son that practically lit up the night.
Jensen’s hand fisted in Jared’s shirt as he yanked him close. “This is Jared,” he said simply, beaming, like that was all he needed to do.
Donna and Alan turned to Jared as one, smiling up at him just as wide and happy as their son. “Howdy, Jared,” they said in unison, making both boys laugh.
“Howdy,” Jared replied, grinning toothily, dimples cutting deep into his cheeks. Then he scooped them both up into a hug and secured his place in their lives and hearts forever.
Because, years later, even when Donna hated him (for he’d stolen her son away from her), underneath it all, she’d never stopped loving him.
She supposed her first inkling that all wasn’t what it seemed to be came later that night, after Jensen and Jared had dragged them to an all night diner for a lavish dinner of pancakes sticky and sweet with real Canadian maple syrup. It was the sort of place she’d been to many a time in her youth, the kind of mom and pop operation that had a jukebox in the corner and Elvis spilling from speakers scattered around the room. Many of the crew had joined them, but the four of them had a booth to themselves, Donna and Alan sitting across from the boys and indulgently looking on as they teased each other and goofed around, Jared’s long arm never once straying from its place around Jensen’s shoulders as they waited, thick milkshakes in ice cold glasses staving off their hunger until their pancakes arrived.
It was a silly little thing that gave the game away, really: Jensen grasping his straw between his teeth, ready to blow off the thin paper covering the other end of it so he could dip it into his strawberry shake, just like he used to do when he was a kid, just like Donna had thought she’d never see him again because he figured he was too old for such childish shenanigans. Instead, his eyes lit up with impish delight as he turned, straw still grasped between his teeth, and poked Jared right in the dimple. Jared didn’t so much as blink as he smiled wider, like that was something Jensen did all the time, like Jared was used to it or something, and not like it was so out of character for Jensen these days that it may’ve well have been a pod person there in his place.
Neither she nor Alan missed the openly affectionate look the two boys shared after that, love and friendship all rolled up into something Donna had thought she’d seen before; something she thought she recognized from a time in her life that she’d thought she’d put behind her.
Donna was relieved beyond measure when Jensen casually mentioned that he was dating again, yet, for a split second, she'd thought he'd meant Jared. Then she remembered that Jared was with Sandy and if Sherri was to be believed, they were practically married, so she breathed easy again.
So what if there were more pictures of Jensen and Jared out there looking like a couple in love than there were of Jensen and Danneel?
Still, it couldn’t hurt to talk to Jensen about it, she thought, because she’d once vowed never to keep silent about things that mattered and things needed to be said, and so she made her views on the subject clear to Jensen. She could tell how uncomfortable it made him; she could see how unsure he’d been even as he denied his fledgling feelings, and she’d made sure that he understood how wrong it all was. She hoped it would be enough to nip this…thing…this unhealthy obsession he had for Jared right in the bud, and for the longest time, she’d deluded herself enough to think it had.
The last vestiges of her fears abated when Jensen brought Danneel down to Texas to meet them all and Donna had beamed, happy because, for once, here was Jensen with a woman who was worthy of all those affectionate glances he was sending her way.
Donna breathed easier, even when Jared joined them and Jensen still looked at his costar as if the sun rose and set on him.
When Jensen asked them to go to Jared during the convention in Dallas in his stead, to be there for Jared since he’d broken off his engagement with Sandy, Alan agreed without giving it a second thought, without even bothering to consult with Donna first. It’d been hard for her, but she’d taken one look at Jared’s sad eyes and she’d folded, his pain worn on his sleeve just for them to see; not the fans, not his friends, just them, just family. She’d pulled Jared into her arms and comforted him like he was her own son, smoothing his brow and wiping away his tears as he’d cried into her shoulder and let her baby him.
She hadn’t done that for Jensen; she’d done it for Jared.
But she should’ve known better.
She should’ve known, period.
The first time Donna'd seen two men kissing, she'd been sixteen and naive enough to be shocked and a little entranced at the ways their mouths had fused together, like they were breathing in each other’s air; like they were each other’s air. They'd pulled back briefly, so caught up in the moment and each other that they hadn’t even realized they’d had company, that they’d been caught out themselves; they’d been too busy looking their fill, smiling at each other with hearts in their eyes like no one else existed in the world.
Donna’s best friend, Julie Jackson, who'd been with her at the time and whose brother had been one of the men involved, hadn't been quite so spellbound. Instead, Julie had balked, her pretty face twisted in disgust as she'd grabbed Donna and stalked all the way home, straight into her daddy's study where she'd tattled on her older brother Nate, using Donna as an unwitting witness.
Donna had never known real fear until that moment when she saw Jeb Jackson's face darken like a thundercloud as he listened to his daughter point the finger at their English teacher, Mr. Tilley; Joe Tilley, she'd accused, making him a real person, not just their really cute and funny (and favorite) teacher. Jeb had sneered: Damn Yankee, he'd declared, coming up in here, in our house and corrupting our own with his filth. Donna's ears had burned, bile rising in her throat just as surely as hate had bubbled and seared onto Jeb's face, and onto Julie's face; a face Donna'd known and loved all her life, a face she'd barely even recognized in that moment.
She'd tired to stay away as much as she could after that, even though Julie had wanted to hang out and talk about their faggot teacher and his evil ways: how he'd ruined her stupid, gullible brother; how he'd brought shame and humiliation on their family. Donna didn’t know what to think or do or say because the right things seemed wrong in everyone else’s eyes; because sympathy for Joe Tilley and empathy for Nate Jackson were the only emotions she could bring herself to feel beyond the fear that gripped her as hatred spread like wildfire through their friendly little community. She distanced herself, even as her own parents and most of the neighborhood came out in support of Jeb and his vendetta against Joe Tilley, getting him fired from his job at the school, getting him thrown out of the modest little townhouse he'd been renting ever since he'd moved to Richardson…getting him beat up and left in a broken and bloody mess at the local hospital (the same one that would welcome Jensen into the world many years later).
Donna never knew who'd been a part of the mob that had taken Joe Tilley down; she didn't want to think her father would've been capable of doing something that hateful, despite the fact that he and Jeb had been good friends. It'd made her sick to her stomach thinking about it, especially when the hospital declared Joe Tilley brain dead, because that's how hard he'd been pummeled (right down into the ground and into an early grave).
The doctors pulled the plug on his short life, the police mostly looked the other way under the guise of conducting a fair investigation, their church stayed silent and still and judgmental and no one ever paid for that shameful crime.
No one even came to claim that poor man's body.
Donna didn't know why she'd done it, but she went to the spot where Joe Tilley'd been buried in the local cemetery, just days after the funeral director and grave-digger (and no one else) had laid him to rest. She left a bunch of daisies (pilfered from her momma's garden) on the small stone that marked his grave, and she'd cried for him because everyone deserved someone to mourn their passing. She never expected to see Nate there, his eyes red-rimmed and haunted as he, too, stared down at Joe Tilley's name etched in stone.
"I loved him," Nate had whispered, his voice broken and hoarse. "He was it for me." Donna hadn't known what to say in response to that, but it hadn't mattered to Nate. He just stared and stared and stared as if he could see through the new sod and dirt and right into the coffin beneath their feet. "What they keep saying about him? That he made me... That he turned me somehow? It's not true. I fell in love with him like I'd been waiting my whole life for him to come along and all those girls I thought I'd loved before... They don’t compare.” Nate drew in a shuddering breath, his jaw tightening, his tone firm like he’d just made up his mind about something serious. “I didn't know what love was before him."
And Donna hadn't known what grief was before Nate.
Those were the last words Nate Jackson spoke to her (or to anyone) ever again.
She'd heard from Julie that it'd been their father who'd found Nate's body in the tub in their upstairs bathroom, bleeding from slit wrists, blood everywhere. Everywhere, she'd said, because she'd been the one to come running when Jeb had hollered for help and she’d watched as Nate's blood had soaked right into the grout between their bathroom tiles.
Donna went to Nate's funeral along with the rest of the town and it broke her heart that, even in death, Nate was buried as far away from Joe Tilley as possible. She stared at the dirt and sod at her feet but she couldn't see through the tears in her eyes, couldn't get over the shame and humiliation (and hate, always hate) still simmering in Jeb's eyes, and in Julie's; couldn't get past the fact that, however small, she'd also played a role in the death of those two men.
Then, and sometimes even now, all these years later, she would still see the faint traces of their blood on her hands.
“Momma, I’m gay.”
When Jensen told her, when he came right out and said it in that soft yet firm voice of his, like it was a given, like it was an undeniable truth, Donna's mind had flashed back to that day at the cemetery and the quiet way Nate had made the decision to end his life and follow Joe Tilley to a place where, if nothing else, they’d at least be free. She’d seen Jensen in his place in that moment and the thought had terrified her. She knew where they lived – it was hard to forget anything about Texas, good or bad – and she knew what some of her family were still like, what some of Alan’s family were still like and she feared for him, her middle son, her precious boy, who had now set foot on this path to ruin, because that’s all she could see for Jensen when all was said and done. Because he loved Jared and Jared didn’t love him back, not like that, not the way Jensen deserved to be loved, not the way he was meant to be loved.
As they drove home in silence, all she could hear was that sermon in church on that last Sunday before Nate had gone and killed himself, everyone eying him like he was something repugnant – an abomination, she’d heard them whisper behind Nate’s back, and tell him, straight to his face – as the preacher’s thundering voice rang out through the church hall, rife with accusation and fire and brimstone.
Suddenly, all she could see was Nate’s coffin being lowered into the ground.
And Donna couldn’t unsee it after that, the words and memories haunting her as she stood silently by as Jensen left their home (his home) and their lives for good, his decision made, her heart and home broken because she couldn’t bear the thought of burying her own son before his time. Not for this; not because he was brave enough and stupid enough to fall in love with another man.
It was easier to let him walk away. It was easier to lose him this way, on her terms and not anyone else’s.
It was foolish, but Donna never claimed to be smart.
“I’m not getting married without Jensen and that’s final, Momma!” Kenzie declared, huffing in irritation. “Why are you not over this yet? Jensen can love Jared; the world’s not gonna end.”
“I don’t mind Jensen being there, and I don't mind Jared being there,” Donna said quietly. “But I do mind them being there together.”
Kenzie gritted her teeth loudly enough for Donna to hear it. “That’s like asking Josh to leave Allie at home! I can’t do that! ‘Sides, Jared’s family. The Padaleckis are family.”
“You could leave them all off the guest list…”
“I’m doing no such thing, Momma. You need to get off your high horse and realize that Jensen hasn’t done anything wrong. All he did was fall in love. Like I fell in love with Nick.”
“It’s not the same thing and you know it.”
“Yeah, it is,” Kenzie insisted. “You’re the only one who sees things differently. Even Daddy is all right with it, so why can’t you be?”
“Your grandparents will be there.”
“They come from a different time,” Donna tried to explain, just as she tried not to plead. “They won’t understand. They won’t be subtle with their comments if they see him and Jared together.”
Kenzie rolled her eyes. “We’re not gonna out them, Momma. It’s up to Jensen to decide who he wants to tell and when he wants to tell them.” Kenzie paused, her sharp green eyes seeing more than they should as she stared at Donna. “What’re you so afraid of, Mom?”
Donna swallowed past the boulder in her throat. “Nothing,” she choked out finally. “And everything.”
Because deep down, Donna had a feeling that Kenzie’s wedding would be memorable for all the wrong reasons.
It physically hurt to see Jensen again, especially in their home (his home, always his). It hurt to hear him speak to her in that civil tone, making it painfully clear that he was only there because his father had insisted on it, and Jensen’d never been able to deny his daddy anything. He didn’t sleep under their roof, though, choosing instead to rent a house not too far from theirs, where he and Jared moved in for the short haul, for the duration of their winter hiatus amidst the mad preparations for Kenzie’s wedding.
Donna couldn’t bring herself to look at him, and she couldn’t tear her eyes away and, on what was supposed to be the happiest day of her daughter’s life, she couldn’t purge the sadness from her soul.
It was watching Jensen and Jared during the wedding reception that did it, made up her mind once and for all. They weren’t doing anything, just sitting at their table, looking tired and happy, their body language speaking volumes as they leaned in across the empty seat between them and spoke in hushed voices in between staring at the couples on the dance floor.
It was the longing in Jensen’s eyes that did it; or maybe it was in the way that Jared reached out to hold his hand and then pulled back, his hand closing into a fist, his knuckles white as he stayed mindful of who might be watching them in a way he never was. Or perhaps it was the way they looked at each other, like there was no one else in the world they’d rather be with, even if they had to sit apart at the same table, even when they couldn’t reach out and touch, even though they didn’t dance.
“I didn’t know what love was before him,” she remembered Nate saying, crystal clear as if he’d spoken the words in her ear in that moment.
Nate was right, she decided then and there. Nate had been right and Joe Tilley’d done nothing wrong and Donna’d never gotten over it all.
She got over it that night, though, and, for the first time in what seemed like years, she breathed easy.