“Come on, Jen! Hurry up!”
Jared’s voice was loud and shrill in his ear, and Jensen flinched away, instinctively curling in on himself and covering his ears with sluggish, sleep-heavy arms. He felt a small hand pushing against his shoulder after he turned his back, and he tried shrugging it away roughly to no avail.
“Jenseeeeeen! I wanna go to the park! Come ooooon!”
Jared shifted tactics to sitting on his back to try to get him to move, and it was kind of working because Jared wasn’t nearly as light as he looked, and Jensen was starting to have trouble breathing.
“Ungggggnghgh,” he groaned, flailing in hopes that Jared would fall off of the bed. Instead, Jared just pulled the covers down away from his face, letting the incredibly bright sunlight streaming in through the window hit him right in the eyes, and then climbed up in front of him to poke him in the forehead.
“Oh my Goooooooooood,” Jensen whined, because there was no-one else around to hear him except for Jared, and he wouldn’t care if he sounded like a four year old. “How did you even get here, man?”
It was kind of a dumb question. There were only two ways Jared could’ve gotten to Jensen’s house, really. Someone drove him or he rode his bike. And though Jensen did want to know whether an actual adult brought Jared over, or he just decided to sneak over to his place without telling anyone, he’d actually meant to ask how Jared he got here, like, into his room, onto his bed, face hanging directly over Jensen’s with a stupid pout plastered onto it.
Jared answered both questions though.
“My mama drove me. You know she doesn’t like me to bike up here. Anyway, your mama let me in on her way out.”
“I’ll kill her,” Jensen croaked, rubbing one hand across his eyes.
“She’d kick your ass.”
“What? It’s true!”
Jensen twisted and turned in his sheets, knocking both the covers and Jared’s pushy, grubby hands away. He then made to start the slow and painstaking process of rolling out of bed.
“Yeah, it is kind of true,” Jensen sighed. “But don’t curse like that. Your parents already don’t like that we’re still friends. Don’t want to give them another reason to hate me.”
“They don’t hate you,” Jared claimed, frowning.
Jensen stood up lazily, yawning and stretching his arms toward the ceiling, popping his shoulders and knees in an effort to chase away the faint echoes of growing pains that liked to cling to his joints in the morning these days.
“An extreme dislike, then.”
He couldn’t help the wry smile that skated across his face at the quick agreement, but he turned to punch Jared in the arm for it anyway.
Jared splayed across his bed dramatically, one hand probing lightly at the opposite shoulder. Knowing Jared, it probably wasn’t even the shoulder he hit. Jensen knew it didn’t hurt.
“Such a smartass. I’ll be outta the shower in ten minutes. Try not to break all of my stuff while I’m gone, loser.”
“I’ll do my best,” Jensen heard Jared call out of the door into the hallway.
“You’d better!” he warned back, before shuffling into the bathroom and slamming the door behind him.
He still had a smile on his face as he went through his morning routine.
Jared did that for him sometimes; just made him smile for no reason.
Jensen tried no to question it much.
It wasn’t too long before Jensen was out, dressed, and being pushed toward front the door, nearly empty cereal box in hand.
“Just eat it on the way,” Jared protested when Jensen tried to complain about missing breakfast.
“There’s no milk!”
“You don’t need it.”
“I don’t have a spoon,” he whined, dragging his feet.
He was maybe purposefully trying to piss him off now, just a little, but it was funny seeing how worked up Jared got when he was trying so hard to get his way.
Did he not already know by now that Jensen would give him pretty much anything?
Jared stopped pushing at him to fold his arms across his skinny chest, scrunch up his eyebrows, and tap one converse clad foot against the grimy, threadbare carpet in front of the door.
“What, Jay? Why do you care so much about the park, anyway?” Jensen said, rolling his eyes.
“Jeffrey said he’s bringing his skates today, and plus, what if the ice-cream truck comes around early? We’ll miss it, just like yesterday!”
“Dude…we’re gonna miss it at…” Jensen checked the weird cat clock in the kitchen for the time. “…12o’clock? We’re gonna miss the ice-cream truck at twelve, Jared?”
“Well, it won’t still be around twelve when we get there if you don’t move faster.”
He looked ready to explode. Messy, fly-away strands of chestnut brown covering most of his forehead and his ears so that all Jensen really had to focus on was his angry brows, his downturned mouth, and dimple-less red cheeks. It really was unfortunate that Jared’s angry face was more adorable than intimidating, and Jensen’s response was just unhealthy.
The stupid warmth that was spreading through his chest, and the stupid smile he had to bite down on to keep from stretching across his face…
Jensen just rolled his eyes again and said, “Fine, fine, whatever. Let’s go. I’ll be fine with my milk-less, bowless cereal.”
Jared was quick to push him one last step through the door before shutting it behind him and jumping down the steps, bony limbs flailing in his excitement. He shoved open the apartment building door with a bang.
And just like that all was well; Jared back to his overly cheery, chatty self, and Jensen sighing in fake reluctance as he trailed him down the street toward the closest neighborhood park.
When they got there the park was pretty empty. It turned out that Jeffrey had caught the summer flu that day, and didn’t, in fact, bring his skates for Jared to borrow. A girl from Jared’s class the year before, Anna, was there though. She’d brought her Pokémon cards with her, so she and Jared got into a heated battle on the blacktop. Jensen wasn’t much for card games so he sat in a swing close by trying to determine whether he should risk looking like an idiot by sitting under the jungle gym so he wouldn’t freckle, or just stay where he was.
His freckles were always so annoying. They kind of took over his entire face during the summer. He couldn’t remember if he’d ever felt so weird about them before but he worried about them now. Of course, he’d always been kind of a worrier, but not about stupid stuff like his skin, or his hair. Plus, Jared never seemed to care how he looked. Jensen watched, squinting through the hazy heat at Jared in his red spider-man t-shirt with the faded lettering, growling and galloping around that Anna girl with the short cropped blonde hair and plain green t-shirt. Jensen was just twelve, two years older than his best friend, but sometimes he felt like they were worlds apart. More often these days than ever before really.
It might’ve been because of last year when Jensen had to go to the middle school for 6th grade and leave Jared behind in elementary for a year. Jensen had hated the new school without him, and missed Jared terribly, but eventually he had to get used to not having him around most of the day.
Jared sat down again, knocking his shoulder into Anna’s before quickly turning to dart over to the jungle gym and count out loud, completely missing the little girl’s blush. Anna scurried up to hide, and Jensen thought maybe Jared was just really oblivious about things like that. Maybe Jared was really oblivious to the effect he had on people.
Jensen turned his head to see a girl from his math class last year, Sally or Susan or something, sit down in the swing two away from his. He started to pump his legs with intent, instead of idly like before, letting his weight drop heavily as he swung back and making the swing set shake. He chuckled under his breath as Susan, or Samantha, or something squeaked in protest and clenched her orange painted nails into the thick, rusted chain of the swing. Girls were such scaredy cats.
“Jared,” Jensen called, digging his heels into the ground to stop as he was hit with a sudden strike of genius about how to get rid of his boredom and not think about his inevitable freckling.
“Jared, come here!”
“Just…one…minute!” Jared yelled back across the park, loudly, voice broken from labored breathing as he chased after Anna. Somehow their game of hide and seek had been reduced to a game of tag, in which Jensen could tell Anna wasn’t trying too desperately hard not to be caught.
“No, come now!”
“Don’t…be…an asshole!” The park had a few more people in it than when they first arrived and Jared’s dirty mouth drew some strange and wide-eyed stares. The lady in the kiddie part of the park with her toddler frowned in their general direction.
Jensen acted like he didn’t care, even though he could feel his face heat up in slight embarrassment at Jared’s words, and how much he actually didn’t care who heard him speak like that.
Jared was just so….
“Hurry up an’ catch her then!”
Jared did just that; lanky legs and arms pumping faster. Just fast enough to yank at the back of that green t-shirt and stop Anna’s forward momentum, tripping her up and catching her in his arms as they both fell backwards onto the unforgiving asphalt.
“Awwww!” Anna giggled, not looking sorry at all, as she stood up and brushed off the back of her shorts, and ran over to gather up her Pokémon cards.
Jared jogged over to the swing next to Jensen and sat down.
“What’s up, Jen?”
He was still a little out of breath, his skin shining with a light sheen of sweat, his cheeks pink with exertion, sweaty bangs swept behind his ear from when he’d roughly run a quick hand through his hair to keep it out of his face as he was on the chase.
Jensen had to take a second to unstick his brain from the image, and stop focusing so hard on the way Jared’s crazy long eyelashes cast heavy shadows against his cheeks when he blinked. Why was he so…
Jensen swallowed thickly, ignoring the heaviness in his chest, and reminding himself that he wasn’t meant to think that boys were pretty.
“Hey, let’s swing race and then jump and see who gets the farthest.”
Jared started pumping his legs vigorously and Jensen, refusing to be left behind, did the same. He nearly always won these types of games, because he was growing faster than Jared. He’d already had a growth spurt in the middle of last year, and his mom kept saying he was due for another “one of these days” because of how he kept complaining about body aches.
Jared was never discouraged, though. He always took the bait, always thought he could beat him just one time, was always so eager to show Jensen up. It wasn’t Jensen’s fault Jared couldn’t say no to a challenge.
“Hey, Jay!” he yelled across the space between them.
“How about we make this a little more interesting?”
“I said let’s make this a little more interesting!”
“Loser gets the ice-cream!”
“What? How is that bad?”
“Loser gets the both of us ice-cream with his allowance, and the other one doesn’t have to wait in line!”
“Okay…I think we’re high enough. Ready?”
“We jump on three!”
Jared got this determined look on his face like there was no way he’d lose, no possible way. He carefully moved his arms from the back of the swing chains to the front, not stopping any of his momentum, and turned to shoot a quick look at Jensen before he started to count.
Jensen maneuvered his arms the same way and counted, “Two!”
At the same time, they both yelled “Three!” and jumped out of their swings, suspended in the air for a split second before falling gracelessly toward the ground.
Jensen stretched himself forward as much as he could in the short second that he was up in the air and landed in a crouch, one hand against the hot asphalt. He looked to his left to see Jared right there, almost in the exact same position as he.
Jared didn’t, and Jensen tried to eyeball it but there was no way of telling who was first. If they were in dirt or woodchips they could draw lines at the toe of their shoes to get a better estimate, but this was asphalt and there was no real way of getting that close to the mark.
“It’s a tie!” Jared said, sounding outraged.
Jensen could relate. No way they tied. That was not an option.
“No, no, my toe is totally in front of yours, see?” Jensen pointed to the position of his foot to show him, but Jared just scoffed.
“No way, Jensen. Just because your feet go all weird does not mean you won.”
Jared was talking about Jensen’s unfortunate, slight bowlegged-ness. His toes turned a teeny bit inward as a result, which was why his foot looked like it was a bit forward, but it didn’t matter why it looked that way. It only mattered that it did. Duh.
“Yes, it does,” Jensen said, coming out of his crouch. He could hear the music of the ice-cream truck now, faint but there, which meant it’d be coming close very soon. “And if you don’t get the ice-cream, you won’t get to have any, because I’m not moving from this spot.”
He sat down heavily in his swing, leveling a smug look at Jared as he turned around and glared at him.
“Fine! But I’m getting you chocolate,” Jared said sourly, knowing Jensen hated chocolate ice-cream.
“You wouldn’t dare!”
“I aaaaam!” Jared yelled over his shoulder as he started to make his way toward the edge of the park where the ice-cream man would stop the truck. People were already heading in that direction, having heard the high pitched, off key music that announced its impending arrival, just like Jensen had.
He’d been too distracted with Jared in general to notice, but it looked like a lot more people had come to the park since they’d come earlier. He hoped Jared didn’t actually have to wait in line too long. He was kind of hungry.
As soon as the truck pulled up, kids started running to get in line. Even the littler ones took it at a fairly fast waddle as their parents stayed behind and slowly made their way up the slight incline to the sidewalk. Jared was behind the truck to line up on the side with the window pretty quickly, and Jensen was positive that he’d be one of the first in line.
He may have been slower than Jensen, but he was quicker than a lot of the other kids.
Jensen tipped his head back, turning his face toward the sun and closing his eyes. Today was a good day. Nearly every day in summer was, and in two weeks he and Jared would go camping with his family, the start of a yearly tradition now that his little sister Megan was old enough to go. The Padaleckis were big on family traditions, and Jensen was kind of surprised when Jared had invited him along, because he knew how Jared’s parents felt about him. Jared just said that his parents had allowed each of the kids to bring one friend, and why would he ask anyone but Jensen? He couldn’t say no to that kind of logic, mostly because of the stupidly warm way it lit him up inside, and despite being a little nervous about sleeping in the wilderness, Jensen was sure both he and Jared would have an awesome time.
Jensen sighed and let his mind wander and flit from one vague thought to another, not touching on anything in particular for too long. His mouth was kind of dry after the swing jump and the back of his neck was starting to prickle a little from the heat. He was really looking forward to that ice-cream, cool and sweet on his tongue. He looked up in anticipation at the thought of it, expecting that by now Jared would be making his way back across the blacktop, two cones in hand. He wasn’t, though, and Jensen wondered what was taking so long. Maybe he’d ordered something super crazy?
It wasn’t unlikely. Sometimes, Jared would try things just to be able to say he’d tried it; for bragging rights alone. Jensen hoped that this time it was something that he ended up liking, because he sure didn’t feel like sharing his own.
He waited a little while longer, eyes shifting back toward the direction that Jared was meant to be coming from every two to three seconds, and watched as four, five, six kids came tumbling back to the park area, licking broad stripes across multi-colored cones.
Seriously, what was taking him so long?
Jensen stood up, frowning a bit in confusion as he started to walk toward the ice-cream truck. More and more kids (and their parents) were walking away from the truck with their treats in hand, and none of them were Jared.
Did he get distracted or something? Let some other kids in line before him? That wasn’t like him.
Jensen started to walk a little faster, scrambling up the small hill to get to the sidewalk and search behind the truck on the window side. There was one kid still in front of the ice-cream truck with a blue hat, reaching up to grab his SpongeBob pop from the man in the truck, but no one else was in sight. There were cars going up and down the street, and Jensen saw a woman and her daughter walking on the opposite side of the street with ice-cream too, but no…no Jared.
Where was Jared?
Jensen’s heartbeat started to pick up, but he told himself to calm down. He probably just missed him coming back while he was daydreaming or something. He started back down the small hill as the ice-cream truck drove away.
“You all have a good day, now!” the man in the driver’s seat called out.
He got a mixed response of “You too”, “Thank you” and “Bye, Mister ice-cream man” ’s, but it all sort of blurred together in the background for Jensen as he got closer to where he’d been sitting before, looked in a wide arc from where he was standing, and still didn’t see Jared.
Maybe he was hiding? Trying to get back at him for the swing thing.
“Okay Jared, you got me!” Jensen yelled, rolling his eyes. “You can come out with my ice-cream now, yeah? Maybe I’ll let you win next time!”
Jared didn’t come out of hiding.
“Come on, dude, I get it. You win. Now, can you please just…stop hiding?”
Again, no Jared. Some of the kids on the playground were starting to look at him a little funny, but honestly, Jensen was starting to feel like this wasn’t a joke anymore. Jared needed to show himself…now.
“Jared?” he said, starting to walk around and look behind the jungle gym, the monkey bars, the various trees, and the occasional bench.
“Jared, come on, this isn’t funny!”
Jensen’s heart kicked against his ribs. His palms were getting sweaty. What if…no. No, Jared was here, he just…got distracted by something. He saw a cool bug or he found a nickel, something.
“Excuse me?” A woman that was in the kiddie area with her son called out to Jensen, and he moved closer to the fence to respond.
“Yeah?” He didn’t mean to be rude, but unless she was going to say she knew where Jared was, he really didn’t have time for-
“Are you looking for a little boy?”
Jensen sighed in relief, “Yes, have you seen him? He’s not that little. He’s nearly eleven, about yea high?” Jensen said, bringing his hand up to about his chin. “He had brown hair, and a red shirt on, and-”
“Oh, wait, yeah…that skinny kid? The fast one that was in line first?”
“Yeah, did you see where he went?” Jensen asked, urgency clear in his tone.
Jensen’s pulse pounded in his ears. He was pretty sure that if Jared had been here and playing a joke he’d have come out by now, just to point and laugh at seeing Jensen running around behind trees like an idiot. That meant that Jared wasn’t here, and if this lady was the last person who saw him…
“No, I saw him run to the line, but then I turned away to check on Michael when he pulled at my shorts,” the lady explained, hiking her messy-faced toddler up higher on her hip. “I’m sorry, when I looked back he was gone, and some other kid was getting waited on. I just assumed he’d gotten his ice-cream and went back to the playground.”
Yeah, Jensen had thought that too.
“Thanks, anyway,” he said, as he started to turn away.
“Hey!” she said, making him turn back toward her.
“Good luck finding him.”
She sounded sincere, but her eyes were sad, like “Good luck finding him” actually meant “Sorry you lost him” and that he wasn’t going to be easily found. Like “Good luck finding him” actually meant “You might not ever find him.”
Jensen took a deep breath and closed his eyes tight enough to see shapes in the darkness behind his eyelids. He had to keep it together. He had to find Jared, and he couldn’t do that if he started creating crazy scenarios in his head about what had happened.
He let out the breath he’d been holding tight in his chest.
“Thanks,” he repeated before going around the perimeter of the park in search of Jared.
Jensen searched the entire park grounds, asking person after person if they’d seen him, giving them the most detailed description he could in the shortest amount of time. Most people had seen him run to the ice-cream truck, but no one had seen him leave.
When he ran out of park to search, he started looking around the closest streets, still calling his name.
Most of the random people walking on the street had no clue what Jensen was talking about. He even ran into the woman and girl he saw across the street when he stopped in the local gas station to ask if they’d seen him. Maybe Jared had had to go to the bathroom. The clerk in the store said he hadn’t seen him, and the woman and her daughter said they hadn’t even seen him in the ice-cream line.
It was starting to get late and Jensen was really freaking out. He couldn’t go home without Jared. He couldn’t go home without him. He had to be out here somewhere. He had to be. Kids didn’t just disappear, okay? People didn’t just vanish into thin air, and he could only move so quickly if he was on foot, especially if he had food in his hand, and where the hell would he even go and why? Jensen was right there. If he’d needed anything he could’ve come to him. If he really didn’t want to go to the ice-cream truck, Jensen would have gone instead, if he’d just come back and told him.
If he’d just come back and-
If he’d come back…from the ice-cream truck.
The ice-cream truck?
The ICE-CREAM TRUCK! Crap!!!
Crap, Crap, Crap, Crap…Oh God…
Jensen ran home as fast as he possibly could, heart pounding, hands trembling. How could he have let this happen!? Please, God, please let him be wrong.
When he got to his apartment building he had to steady his hand to get the key in the lock twice; once for the front door and once for the apartment door. Jensen saw that the kitchen light was on.
Donna Ackles came marching out of the kitchen area, nurses uniform pressed immaculately, waving wooden spoon in hand. She wore an irritated scowl and narrowed her eyes at Jensen dangerously.
“I thought I told you to be home before I got back, and if you were going to be late or something because you were over Jared’s, to call.”
A completely unintelligible noise gurgled out of Jensen’s throat at the mention of him, and he was honestly entirely incapable of holding back the tears that were pressing against the back of his eyes. They had been threatening to fall all afternoon, since the second he realized that none of this was a joke.
Jensen’s mother hadn’t stopped ranting since he’d come in the door, but Jensen heard next to none of it.
“Moo-om!” he said, voice breaking, interrupting her tirade, and when she turned to look at him he saw all of the anger on her face melt into concern.
“Baby, what’s wrong?” she said stepping closer to bracket his shoulders in her hands and look him in the eye. Jensen almost never cried, so she must’ve known it had to be something serious.
“Jared…h-he, h-he….and the video at school about…I think maybe..J-Jared…”
Donna pushed Jensen down to sit on the couch, and sat on the coffee table in front of him, hands still pressing gently on his shoulders. “Take a breath, hun. Breathe,” she instructed.
Jensen tried to do as she asked but every breath got caught in his throat half way to his lungs, because Jared.
“What happened?” his mother asked slowly, seriously.
“H-he, I think he got taken by the ice-cream man!”
And in any other situation ever that sentence would probably have made Jensen’s mother break out into laughter, Jensen knew, but the terror that was clawing through his chest must’ve been showing on his face because all she did was frown in confusion and tell him to start from the beginning.
Jensen wanted to rail at her to fix it, to move, not ask him more questions. Jared was gone and he didn’t know where he went, and telling her the whole story wasn’t going to make this make any more sense, but she needed to know what happened, he knew, because people were to going to ask her. Police were going to ask her what she knew, and Oh God, this was actually happening.
Jensen went through the entire story, everything from the second he woke up to the second he came back home, and his mother’s face got more and more grim the further the story went on. When Jensen finished, hands still shaking, heart still trying to climb its way up his throat, and feeling even more emotionally rung out than when he’d run into the apartment in hysterics, his mother just dropped a quick kiss onto his forehead before picking up the phone and calling the Padalecki residence. He knew it was their house and not the police because she asked first.
“Hi Sherri, I don’t mean to worry you unless there’s cause for worry, so I just wanted to ask you really quickly if Jared has come home yet?”
Jensen didn’t even realize he was still holding out hope for that until the answer came and crushed it.
“No. No, he’s not here, either. Okay, well…I’m going give you the short version so that we can get this to the police as quickly as possible. We might not have much time.”
They didn’t really have any time.
Jared wasn’t here. Jared was gone. Jared was gone.
“Sherri, Sherri, I understand that you’re worried, but you need listen to me so that I can call the police. Jared has gone missing. I’m going to call the police and report it first, then we’ll be over to your house and Jensen can tell you the entire story himself, alright?”
If he could get it out again. Force himself to tell Jared’s parents how he’d let his best friend get taken.
“…..I’m really sorry about this, Sher- Yes, I know, I know you don’t understand. I don’t much understand it myself. Look can you…can you put Jerry on the phone if he’s near?”
Jensen sat in numb silence as his mother repeated herself to Mr. Padalecki.
“Yes, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to upset her more than she already is, but I thought she should know before I reported it that… Jared has gone missing.”
“….Yes, Jerry, missing. I know, I don’t…Look, we’ll be over to your house to give you the entire story shortly, and I’ll give the cops your address so that they can just get all of the statements over with at once.”
“Right, I just thought you should know. Okay, I’ll see you soon.”
After she hung up Jensen’s mother hustled into the kitchen, turning off the burners and grabbing her keys. She was making her way toward the door and Jensen tried to get up and follow, but he could hardly feel his legs so he wasn’t sure he could even stand anymore.
“Look at me, Jensen,” his mom said, crouching down in front of his face.
Jensen shifted his gaze from the unseeing middle distance to his mother’s dark, worried eyes.
“I need you to be strong and keep it together…for Jared, okay? You have to tell the Padaleckis what happened, and then you have to tell the police what happened. You’ll have to tell the story over and over and over again so that it’s like they were there, and they know how to find him. In order to do that, you have to ignore it. Do you understand me, Jenny?”
Jensen nodded numbly.
“You ignore all of the horrible things you’re feeling and imagining going wrong. You shove it all away for right now. Just for right now, so that we can get through this. Okay? Can you do that? Can you be strong for Jared…huh?”
Jensen nodded again, a little more aware of what he was nodding to. Be strong for Jared. He had to stay strong for Jared. They had to find him, and in order to find him, they needed Jensen to stay strong and tell them what happened. Jared needed Jensen to stay strong. He could do that. He would do that.
Jensen swallowed back his tears, and with them, every heavy feeling that was keeping him weighted down and motionless on his living room couch. The crushing guilt and the agonizing fear, and the gnawing worry that Jared was gone forever; he pushed it all down and locked it in a tiny box inside himself.
Then he got up and followed his mother out of the door to go find his best friend.
Jared woke to darkness. His head ached, his mouth was dry, and his body felt sore and tired, like he’d run really hard, really far without any breaks or drinking any water. He had no idea where he was. The ground underneath him was hard, and smooth, and cool.
He was curled up on his side and when he tried to stretch out he realized that he couldn’t move his hands. His wrists were bound together in front of him with what felt like rope. It was rough and scratchy against his skin, too tight to wriggle out of, and too strong to break.
He realized he was naked and alone.
It took him a few minutes to remember what had happened, and even as he did he didn’t want to believe it was real.
He’d just wanted some ice cream.
He’d run faster than the other kids to get to the truck, and he’d gotten there first, had been ready to order when the man inside the truck had smiled and said;
“Hey, Jared! What’s going on?”
Jared had looked up in surprise that the man knew his name, but had looked closer and realized that he’d seen him before, duh. He was the ice cream man on Jared’s street. Well, sometimes. There were two of them, one older guy with a weird mustache and a funny tattoo on his arm, and this one, Mr. Jake.
One time Mr. Jake had given him a free ice cream, for nothing! He’d just handed it to him and wouldn’t take Jared’s dollar. When Jared had asked him why, he’d said that he thought Jared was a cool kid, cooler than all of the other kids on his street, and that he deserved it. Jared wasn’t going to say no to free ice cream, so even though he’d felt a little bad for not paying when the other kids had to, he’d taken it, said thank you like his mama taught him, and skipped away with a wave and a big smile.
When Jared saw Mr. Jake today he’d been surprised but happy all the same, hopeful that he’d get another free ice cream. When Mr. Jake had told him there was actually a special for the first kid who made it to the window every time the truck stopped, he couldn’t believe his luck! Mr. Jake had told him to come around to the back for the free vanilla cone, so that the other customers wouldn’t see and get upset, so Jared had.
That was when things had gotten weird.
It had all happened so quickly, there wasn’t time to fight or even cry out for help.
He’d just rounded the side of the truck when an arm had shot out and he’d felt a shock go through his body, like that time he’d stuck scissors in the socket when he was small, but more, and not just in his hand, but everywhere.
He’d been pulled into the back of the truck and thrown on the ground, one hand covering his mouth and an arm tight around his throat.
Mr. Jake had dropped him quickly then, and he’d hit the floor of the truck hard. Then the hand had been gone, but he’d still he found it hard to yell, to SCREAM that he needed help. His limbs had felt heavy, impossible to move, like he’d been swimming through honey. His head had been buzzing, and he hadn’t been sure but he’d thought he might have peed his pants. He hadn’t done that since he was six years old. It’d made his cheeks heat in embarrassment and made him frown in even more confusion. Why…why couldn’t he move? Why couldn’t he…
He’d blearily watched Mr. Jake walk back and forth to the ice cream a couple times, figured he was serving the rest of the costumers.
He’d tried to make noise, any noise even though he couldn’t make his tongue work, but the music, that stupid off key ice cream truck jingle, was too loud, and he couldn’t even hear himself over the sound of it.
He must’ve zoned out for a time, because the next moment he’d been conscious of anything it was to the rocking movement of the ice cream truck and the sound of Mr. Jake saying,
“Perfect. Perfect. You’re so perfect. I can’t believe that it worked, Jared. I can’t believe it…”
Jared couldn’t believe it either.
Why was he here? Where was here?
What did this man want with him? Why did he take him, and when could he go home?
Please, please, he just wanted to go home.
Jared’s head hurt, and his eyes felt gritty and heavy with the tears that he wouldn’t let fall.
He decided he’d close his eyes for a minute. Just a minute.
He was so tired.
The next time he woke up he could hear the sounds of something moving above him, like feet shuffling, like he was in a basement, underground somewhere.
It wasn’t too long before a door above him opened, letting in dim light that he had to close his eyes against, and letting in Mr. Jake.
Mr. Jake came down the stairs that Jared hadn’t even noticed were there and smiled at him.
It was a nice smile.
It didn’t make Jared feel any better, though. He was scared, and confused, and alone, and no amount of smiles from this man would make him feel any better.
He tried to ask why he was here and all that came out was a croak and a cough. His throat was so dry.
Mr. Jake sat him up against what felt like a wooden wall, and brought a straw to his lips, holding a cup that Jared hadn’t seen in his hand.
Jared didn’t make any move to drink what was in the cup. This man had taken him, somehow kept him from being able to move his body in the truck, and then he’d taken his clothes off and tied him up.
Jared didn’t know what else the man would do, and that was what had his stomach churning so horribly.
“Drink, Jared. It’s just water.”
Mr. Jake smiled again, white teeth bright in a face shrouded in shadows. It was still dark in here, even with the door cracked open.
Jared didn’t want to take anything from him, but his throat was so very dry, and Mr. Jake was still holding the cup to his lips, and kneeling, waiting in front of him.
“Go on. I promise, Jared, it’s just water. I don’t want to hurt you. Why would I hurt you? You’re perfect.”
Jared’s stomach twisted further into knots at the compliment. He wasn’t sure what made him feel so weirded out by it, but it didn’t sound like a nice thing coming from this man. Jared believed him, though, in that moment, that he wouldn’t hurt him, or at least, that he wasn’t trying to poison him, so he sipped at the straw, slowly, carefully.
The water was cool and wet, immediately soothing to his dry mouth and throat, and Jared drank more quickly, so grateful for it.
“There you go. See?” he said, stroking a piece of Jared’s hair behind his ear. “No one’s going to hurt you here. My perfect boy.”
Jared didn’t say anything back as he finished the water and leaned back against the wall. He was tired still, and it wasn’t easy to keep himself sitting upright, but he also wanted to get away from the man’s hand in his hair.
It didn’t feel right.
“I’ll be back later, alright? Don’t worry. Everything’s going to be fine, now. Everything’s going to be fine.”
Jared wanted to tell him that nothing was fine. That he was here, he didn’t know where. (How far away from home was he?) His family didn’t know where he was. Jensen didn’t know where he was. And he was so, so scared. Everything was not fine.
But Jared knew that it probably wasn’t good for him to argue with the man. He didn’t know what he would do. Anyway, he was halfway up the stairs before Jared could open his mouth, and all that came out after the door was shut behind him was a soft:
Those first few days after Jared was taken were the most horrible days of Jensen’s entire life. He must’ve told the story at least twenty times, trying so hard to remember anything, anything at all that would give the police a clue as to what had happened and where Jared had been taken.
He was asked all kinds of questions about what the man in the ice cream truck looked like, what he was wearing, what Jared was wearing, what the man had sounded like, and what he’d said as he’d driven away.
They kept asking if Jensen had seen him anywhere before. Jensen really couldn’t say. He knew the man had been young, mid-twenties to early thirties, something like that. Light eyes, maybe. He hadn’t gotten that good of a look. Brown hair.
Normal looking. So freaking normal looking.
Jensen had trouble remembering details. It was like it had all happened in a dream; everything was covered in a film of disbelief and denial. He didn’t want to believe that this had happened at all, let alone happened to Jared.
How could he have let this happen?
They were told that the police had put out an APB to all surrounding districts and an Amber Alert so that anyone who saw anything would get in contact with them.
They said that the first twenty-four hours were crucial.
They said that they’d do everything they could to find Jared as soon as possible. The longer he stayed missing, the more dangerous the situation.
They said pretty soon the FBI would have to get involved, as there’d been time enough for the perpetrator to cross state lines, and it wouldn’t be in their jurisdiction anymore to try and solve the case.
They said a lot of things that Jensen had to ignore so he wouldn’t break down into a gutted mess of terror and guilt and misery, his insides turned out and torn apart, spilled onto the scuffed grey linoleum of the police department floor.
He had to keep it together.
His mom was amazing, by his side nearly the whole time, there when he told the story to the Padaleckis and Jensen was scared they’d be angry enough to kill him. He knew he would be.
She was there for him every day, there for Mrs. Padalecki every day too; a shoulder to cry on and a strong voice to tell everyone it would be alright.
The bad thing was that Jensen was no longer sure that everything would be alright. It was three days until they heard back from the police that they had a lead that’d gone cold, lost the trail, and weren’t sure that the guy was even still in state. The FBI would be taking over, and they’d keep on the lookout, but there wasn’t much else they could do.
Jensen told the story again, to two FBI agents and they gathered information at the Padaleckis. Then it was all out of Jensen’s hands. They said there was nothing else that they needed him for, nothing else he could do. They’d keep in touch about the progression of the case, but he should try and get on with his life.
From then on it was like time sped up.
His mom went back to work at the hospital, taking odd hours to be home more often when Jensen was awake. Josh came home from sleep-away camp. The Padaleckis put up signs in their neighborhood and paid for Jared’s face to be put on the local news a few times.
Jensen never watched the local news.
He didn’t do much of anything after it all except shuffle around the house in his pajamas, sleep, eat, and dream about Jared.
Sometimes the dreams were really nightmares, sometimes good memories, but Jensen always woke up with tears in his eyes, heart beating out of rhythm, and it was always a little difficult to breathe too. His chest felt heavy, his throat choked with guilt and anguish.
God, Jared was gone.
Jared wasn’t really sure exactly how much time. It was always dark where he was, always slightly cool, and the light was always the same kind of dim when he would come and visit.
Eventually Jared realized it must be twice a day he’d come to pet him, to call Jared nice things, and tell him he was “perfect”. It was difficult to tell, but there were sounds, even if he couldn’t see much. He’d hear a car pass by, or a dog bark, or a lawn mower start up and know that there were people around, that they were up and moving, and that it must be day. Night was nearly silent.
Those were the worst times.
His hands stayed bound, and he still didn’t have any clothes, but he would bring him food. Good food. Sandwiches, and milk, and apples sweeter than any Jared had ever tasted before. He’d eat it out of his hand, feeling like a baby, unable to do anything himself, and embarrassed because of it. But there wasn’t anything else that he could do.
He’d tried refusing the food at first, like he’d tried to refuse the water. He didn’t want to take anything from this man.
But before long Jared was hungry; hungry in a way he’d never really felt before, the pain of it gnawing at his stomach and aching in his tired limbs. So when Mr. Jake refused to leave the food there for him to eat on his own, he just ate it out of his hand.
Every time Jared would ask one question; just one. He was afraid to talk too much for fear of making him angry. Mr. Jake had been nice so far but Jared still had no idea why he was here, or what Mr. Jake would do to him, so he was wary. He had to ask, though, when he could go home. He couldn’t imagine that Mr. Jake would keep him there--in that dark, quiet room--alone forever. He had to get home.
Besides, his Mom and Dad would pay to get him free. If it was money that Mr. Jake wanted, Jared knew his parents would pay “through the nose”, like his dad sometimes said to mean a lot of money, to get him free.
So he asked each time, when he was going home, sometimes why he was there, but usually when he was going home, and Mr. Jake always said “Don’t worry. Everything’s going to be fine.”
But Jared was already not fine, and that didn’t answer his question.
He had to try really, really hard in those moments to keep from panicking or screaming at having absolutely no way of knowing how long he’d be there, and where he was, or what to do.
He didn’t know what to do.
There was a bucket that he brought down every day, twice a day, when he brought Jared’s food and Jared was told to go to the bathroom in it. He’d walked around his dark space once and felt four walls, some shelves, maybe, with nothing on them, some wooden boxes with nothing in them, and what might have been an old lawn mower, but no bathroom, and no place to go that wouldn’t make it smell down there.
So, when he brought the bucket Jared went, standing on shaking knees, holding himself and feeling wrong and uncomfortable when Mr. Jake would watch as he did. Number two was even more uncomfortable, but at least Mr. Jake brought toilet tissue and didn’t stay long after Jared did that.
Jared tried to mark down how many meals he’d gotten in the wood wall with a rusty nail he’d found in the corner of the room. It helped him keep track of how long he’d been down there. For some reason he felt like it was important that he know.
It was fourteen meals, eight, nine, maybe ten days by his count, when things changed.
Nearly two weeks after Jared went missing, a week after his brother Josh came back from sleep away camp, a week after his mother started work again, Jensen had his first panic attack.
He was at the sink in the kitchen pouring himself a bowl of cereal and realized suddenly that it was the same cereal that he’d finished on the way to the park that day. He ignored the thought as best he could, and made to get on with eating, but his hands were shaking and his heart was beating too fast again, and he just wanted to not be inside his body for just one minute. To not ache like this all the time, not wonder where Jared was or how he was hurt, because Jensen was no idiot and he knew by now Jared had to be hurt, and he just…couldn’t…
He couldn’t breathe, or he was having trouble getting air, and he couldn’t think clearly, his mind was racing, filled with all of the things that he’d done wrong, all of the things that could possibly go wrong.
Was Jared dead? Was he alive? Would it be worse for him to be alive or dead? And where was he? Why was he taken? Why him? Why not Jensen? Why him?
Jensen’s felt like he might faint with how dizzy his head was, and the panic, the pure unadulterated terror that swept through his veins like ice and gripped his heart inside his chest. It was unlike anything he’d felt before. He was terrified but he didn’t quite know what about anymore. Whether it was fear for Jared or for himself he wasn’t sure. All he knew was that nothing would ever be right again, and he was probably going to die. Right here, he would die of a heart attack, and Jared would die, and nobody would even know. Nobody would ever know.
Jensen heard his name as if from far away, muffled, and yet still too loud in his ears. At least it drowned out the sound of his heart hammering inside his chest.
Suddenly Josh was there, hands on his shoulders too hot and too tight, settling Jensen into a kitchen chair and telling him to:
“Breathe, breathe, little brother, god, you’re okay. You’re okay. Here, look at me.”
Josh crouched down in front of Jensen, eyes boring into his.
“Look at me. Everything’s going to be okay, now. Alright? I’m here, you’re here. We’re just going to sit here and breathe together, right? And…and it’ll be okay.”
Jensen could tell that Josh was trying to help, and it was good to have him there, but his hands felt heavy and Jensen couldn’t sit still and didn’t want to sit still. He wanted to run, as far and as fast as he could away from all of this, from himself and Josh and the pain and confusion and just everything. But he couldn’t. He was stuck here, in this stupid body, in this stupid house, in this stupid life, and nothing would ever get better, and nothing would ever be okay.
He made to stand up, to move, to do something. Despite how dizzy, he was feeling sitting was not helping. It wasn’t making him feel better.
“I just, I just, I need to move, can you…”
He could barely speak, but Josh noticed what he was doing and caught on quick.
“Yeah, yeah, what? You wanna walk? We can walk. I’ll walk with you, okay? We’ll walk together. We’ll walk and we’ll breathe. It’ll be okay.”
Jensen nodded and started pacing from one end of the room to the other with Josh following him every step of the way. Eventually, Josh steered him out of the room with a light hand at his back and they walked around downstairs, out of the door, around the corner.
Jensen couldn’t tell how long it was until he felt like he had better control of his body, when his hands stopped shaking, his lungs stopped seizing, and he stopped feeling like he was going to burst out of his skin.
It stopped almost as quickly as it had started. It wasn’t jarringly sudden, but the shaking in his hands got less and less obvious in the span of just a few seconds, and breathing became easier. His heart rate dropped to a more comfortable level.
Jensen looked at Josh as they made their way up the steps back into the house, blinking sweat out of his eyes and wiping his brow with the back of one hand.
Now, he felt like sitting.
“What do you need? You want some water?” Josh asked as he bustled into the kitchen and Jensen fell down into a chair.
He finished his water, sat silently for a time and then asked Josh what was going on.
“I had a friend last year who had panic attacks. I can’t be sure, but…that’s what it looked like to me.”
Jensen nodded, hating the fact that it sounded right, hating the fact that this was a part of him now. Panic. Worry. Always settled in his bones, waiting to rise up in him and strike at any moment.
“Was that the first time something like that happened?”
Jensen nodded again, “Yeah.”
“We need to tell Mom.”
Mr. Jake came down the stairs with his food on the eighth, or ninth, or tenth day and Jared was actually happy to see him. Not because he truly wanted to see him but because he hadn’t eaten in what felt like a while, hadn’t seen anything other than darkness for what felt like too long, and he was happy to see anything other than that.
The food was different this time. Mr. Jake had ice cream and two cookies with Jared’s sandwich. Two cookies with one silver spoon set between them.
He smiled at Jared, like he always did, and then set down the food.
“Hey, Jared. Did you miss me?”
Jared didn’t answer. He never knew what to say to him when he asked these questions. Questions like Jared actually wanted to be here. So he just said nothing.
“Are you hungry?”
Jared nodded silently. He was hungry. Not starving, and not nearly as bad as it had been when he’d been trying to ignore it instead of eating, but hungry all the same.
“Okay, you can eat it,” he said, nodding towards the food on the floor.
Jared reached for it with his bound hands, confused as to why he was letting him feed himself this time, but not of a mind to ask and have the privilege taken away.
But Mr. Jake stopped his progress, putting a hand on his arm and pushing him back toward his corner.
“You can eat it…after.”
After what? Jared wanted to ask, but he had a sick feeling in the pit of his stomach and something told him he didn’t really want to know after what.
“I’m going to take off my clothes and you’re going to make me feel good, okay? Do you know how to do that, Jared? Do you ever make yourself feel good?”
Jared started to shake his head from side to side, not wanting anything to do with making him feel anything. He wasn’t completely stupid and he was almost eleven, so he had some vague idea of what Mr. Jake wanted from him, but no way of knowing exactly what or how or why.
All he knew was he was scared, and he didn’t want this.
Mr. Jake took off his t-shirt.
“You don’t know how to make yourself feel good, Jared? Well, I’ll have to show you some time. But not today. Today, you’re going to help me, okay? Now, don’t fight me. We’re going to have a real good time together, okay?
He took off his shoes.
Jared didn’t move. He stayed curled up in his corner, muscles stiff with tension and fear. He didn’t want this.
He took off his pants.
“Come here, Jared. I promise, if you’re good, everything will be fine. Come here.”
His voice was low, coaxing. He wasn’t yelling and he wasn’t angry, but Jared flinched away anyway as he felt him move closer. He had his head tucked under his arms, his face toward the wall now, eyes shut tight, doing anything he could to make this nightmare disappear.
Mr. Jake pulled him up by his arm, hand rough and squeezing too hard.
“Come here, Jared.”
His voice sharpened, just the tiniest bit. “I don’t like having to repeat myself.”
Jared couldn’t help but fight against the hands pulling at him, pushing at him, trying to force him to his knees. He put all of his energy into trying to get away, into trying to get Mr. Jake off of him. He’d never been so terrified of what was going to happen to him. His heart was hammering so fast it was painful, and it felt like there was a golf ball lodged in his throat. The back of his tongue buzzed, like he’d been stung.
He’d held back because of fear before, but right then he was more afraid of what he knew was going to happen than what could happen if he ran. It was all he could think of, getting away.
He kicked and flailed, head shaking back and forth, and biting anything that got in his face.
He got in a few hits before he was overpowered by the man, his body too big and his limbs too long for Jared to fight against.
He struggled ineffectually against the weight of him, but couldn’t do anything more, pinned to the floor like a bug trapped by its wings.
Mr. Jake tsked slowly, a sad, almost regretful look coming into shape on his face.
“You’re supposed to be good to me. Not fight.” He emphasized the last part, pushing down harder on Jared’s shoulders and splayed knees, grinding his bones into the cement.
“Don’t you understand? You’re supposed to be a good boy for me Jared. You’re being a bad boy right now. Do you know what happens to bad boys?”
His voice was sweet, soft, and pleasant.
Jared just whimpered, his terrified mind coming up with all kinds of horrible things that hecould do to him.
“Bad boys get hurt, Jared,” he said, softly sliding one grimy palm across his cheek. The dirt scraped across Jared’s sensitive, bloodwarm skin, and he tried to turn to get away from that hand, but Mr. Jake dug his fingers in, with a grip in his hair, and his long thumb digging into the soft underside of Jared’s chin.
“I don’t want to hurt you,” he explained in a low, slow drawl, “but when you misbehave you give me no choice but to punish you.”
He leaned down and Jared didn’t know what he expected. To get hit, or punched maybe, but Mr. Jake didn’t do either of those things. Instead he gripped Jared’s two wrists in one hand as he leaned toward him and bit his arm.
At first, Jared was just confused, but then there were more. More bites, and more pain, like Mr. Jake was actually trying to bite through his arm, sharp teeth digging jaggedly into his skin.
He tried to stay quiet at first, but it hurt too much for him to keep from crying out.
Jared felt his hot breath, heavy and wet against his skin as he bit him again and rutted against him.
He squirmed and twisted, fighting against the pain, against what he knew was already going to happen to him.
“Shhhh, shhhhh, baby boy. It’ll be so much easier if you just calm down,” Mr. Jake said into his neck, stroking Jared’s hair, pulling just the tiniest bit.
Jared didn’t want to make him angrier, but he didn’t want this. He felt sick, and hurt, and twisted, and wrong in so many ways.
Mr. Jake just adjusted his hold, shifted his weight and pushed down harder, shoving Jared’s face sideways into the concrete and digging his nose into Jared’s collar bone as he grunted and sweated and strained above him.
There was no fighting this off, and no running away. He was stuck here, underneath this man until he decided to let him go.
Jared went limp and lifeless. He couldn’t help the cries of pain, though, especially when Mr. Jake forced his way inside him.
Jared didn’t even know it was possible, and kept trying to say no, that he’d be good, that he’d stop fighting, he was sorry. He was so sorry.
But he didn’t listen, he just kept shushing him, just kept going, and Jared felt like he was being torn in half.
Everything hurt. Everything. It was a burning, dragging, tearing pain that wouldn’t stop. At some point he felt wetness against his thighs and thought it might be blood, but he couldn’t smell past his sweat and skin.
He couldn’t be sure how long it went on. It felt like he floated in and out of his body, like sometimes it hurt so badly, and all he could do was lie there, crying out helplessly, voice gone hoarse and raw at the edges, and sometimes he wasn’t there at all. He was just somewhere else. Not there, not anywhere.
When he was done and pulled out and away, Jared felt a mixture of relief and even more terror. He was afraid that Mr. Jake would hurt him more, afraid that he’d stay and try and feed him, and Jared would just throw it back up and make him angrier.
Afraid that he’d leave and Jared would be left alone, in the dark, cool room to bleed and bleed and bleed until he died.
Afraid of everything.
But Mr. Jake didn’t do any of those things. He did go upstairs after dressing, but after some time he came back down. He cleaned Jared up with something wet and warm and Jared was too tired to move, to do anything but let him.
He wrapped a towel around his waist, told Jared he could eat then. With a soft kiss to his hair, he left, locking the door behind him with a heavy, hopeless clunk.
Jared looked over at the melted ice cream, two cookies floating sadly in the sticky white mess…. and cried.