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Chapter 6 …
Dean didn’t show the next night. Or the night after that.
Jess paced and waited in the diner downstairs until midnight. He paced and waited in his room upstairs after that. By next morning, he’d let his disappointment (and frustration) settle into a low ebb, and was working doubly hard to pretend he didn’t care. Not about Dean. Nor about his stupid sleepwalking problem, that seemed to have miraculously vanished overnight.
Jess kicked at the stupid futon mattress, sending it flying to one side.
No, he really didn’t care.
He went to the grocery store both days, only to find Dean didn’t do Saturdays and Sundays. Instead he dedicated the weekend to this new in town landscaping contractor he was working for, who knows where. Jess could find out, of course, it was a small town after all, but he was not going to start stalking Dean everywhere he went. He wasn’t that far gone you know.
At least Dean hadn’t blown the whistle about Jess’ sexuality – for that he was both grateful and surprised. Could it mean Dean didn’t hate Jess so much after all? Or that maybe, like Jess had seen Dean in a new light these past few days and developed certain, uh, feelings for him… maybe Dean had done the same?
It was a stretch, but Jess couldn’t help but hope. Course it didn’t explain why he stopped coming over to the diner and why he was avoiding Jess like the plague. Bet that overgrown dork was suppressing it all as hard as he could. Like he was suppressing everything else – his anger and his frustrations, his fears and disappointments…
Jess contemplated paying his sister, Claire something, a little visit; see if she remembered him from that disastrous carnival date three years ago. God she was such an annoying little thing, just like her brother (who wasn’t, by any stretch of the imagination little, of course).
Wasn’t she at the local public middle school in walking distance from the diner?
“Jesus!” He threw his pen across the counter, making the early Monday morning patrons at Luke’s diner look up. He winced apologetically and looked away.
“That’d be so low, even for you, Mariano.” He muttered under his breath and stalked back into the kitchen to check up on a couple of orders.
When Monday came around with still no sign of Dean anywhere (he tried the grocery store again – Dean had taken the day off) Jess started to get fidgety. Try as he might, he couldn’t shake the feeling that something was very wrong. And that quite possibly, Jess was to blame for it.
The answer came to him shortly after lunch. Hell, it actually walked right into the diner all by itself.
A slender, middle-aged woman, with almond shaped green eyes and beautiful auburn hair tied loosely at the back of her neck, slid into the seat closest to Jess across the counter. She looked… tired, and lonely, and discontent. Jess immediately recognized her as Margaret Forester, even though he’d never seen her before.
“Hi.” She tried meekly and Jess returned it in kind. “Is Luke around?”
He nodded eagerly and went into the kitchen to call his uncle out.
“Marge, hey!” Luke rushed out soon as he could, wiping his hands on a hand towel.
The greetings were kept short, thankfully. Jess hung in the background but within earshot, tapping his feet on the floor nervously.
“How is he?”
The woman sighed. “Not good. I thought the last two days were good but I was wrong. Luke, Dean’s fallen off the wagon. He’s taking the sleeping pills again.”
Luke looked alarmed at that. Jess frowned hard and took two steps closer.
“Is he alright?”
“Oh, he is better. Just drowsier. Keeps knocking his knees against furniture and tripping over his own two feet like the last time. That’s how I figured what he’d been up to actually.”
“God, that kid, doesn’t he realize this could lead him straight back to where he started? Where did he get hold of the pills anyway?”
Margaret grimaced painfully and looked down at her hands. “He broke into my prescription cabinet. It is my fault. I should have noticed something was off sooner. He’s been on edge all week, well, more so than usual.”
“You can’t watch him all the time, Marge. He’s a big boy now. He should be making more responsible decisions than that. Where is he? I haven’t seen him around in three days.”
“At home, I finally got him to take a day off. He is working himself to the ground, Luke, and there is nothing I can do to help him.”
The woman started to snivel softly, prompting Luke to slide next to her, putting a comforting arm around her shoulders.
Jess had heard enough. He picked up his jacket and stormed out of the diner.
That stupid sonofabitch.
Jess headed straight for the Forester house. Not like he needed to stop for directions. Everyone knew where everyone lived in Sleepy Hollow.
The door opened after a couple of bell rings. It was the little squirt alright. Except she wasn’t so little anymore. It was obvious she had inherited the same height gene her big brother did. Her hair was a respectably dark shade of blonde and eyes were green like her mother’s but the jaw-line was unmistakably Dean’s.
“Yes?” She asked, raising her eyebrows up to her hairline, almost like her big brother. Jess stared for a moment before she cleared her throat and snapped him out of it.
“Sorry, uh, you’re Claire, right?”
He tried to smile. “Jess Mariano. I don’t know if you remember, we met at the carnival three years ago?”
The girl frowned in confusion.
Recognition dawned at last and suddenly she didn’t seem too happy to see him.
Jess grimaced apologetically. “Is Dean home?”
Claire, sorry, Clara huffed, crossed her arms and stepped aside, but only barely. “Would you like to come in?”
Jess shook his head. “Thanks. Please can you just tell him I’d like to speak to him for a second?”
She glared at him (just like her brother) and slammed the door shut in his face making him flinch. He heard her inside running up a staircase, and he waited.
He was made to wait for longer than would be considered polite, and when the door finally opened, it was the Sasquatch. He stepped out onto the patio and stood with his arms folded against his chest, eyes full of wariness. Red was a becoming color on his face of late.
Jess didn’t let him say anything further. Nor did he say anything in return.
Dean didn’t see it coming. His eyes were wary and narrowed one moment, wide and utterly astounded the next when Jess’ fist connected with his face.
“Oww!” They both howled at exactly the same time. Dean because he just got punched obviously, and Jess because he wasn’t expecting it to hurt him so much.
Dean staggered back two steps, sliding down to the floor against his door and holding his jaw in one hand.
“What the hell??”
Jess blinked back the tears suddenly starting to spring up to his own eyes. Talk about truly screwed up timing.
“That’s for being the pathetic wimp that you are, Forester! I knew you were an annoying, pigheaded jerk so far deep in denial that you can’t tell your own face from your ass. But I didn’t know you were such a spineless idiot that you’d rather drug yourself to sleep than face your fears like a man!?!”
Dean just… sat there, staring up at Jess with a blank expression on his face. That perfect chiseled, ‘made by the hands of God himself’ face. Jess swallowed the rest of his rage down, suddenly feeling awkward and at a loss for words because dammit Dean was supposed to fight back. Argue back, say… something. And the fact that he didn’t just pissed Jess off more.
“Who exactly is going to benefit from your relapse into addiction, huh? Your mom? Or your sister?”
Dean stood up then, planting both his palms against Jess’ chest and shoving with all his might. Jess staggered back, nearly slipping on the sprinkler-soaked porch.
“What gives you the right, Mariano? What the fuck do you know about my life???”
Dean had found his temper now, and all six feet and four inches of him were advancing on Jess with a vengeance the shorter boy was strangely delighted to see. This was the passion that’d been missing. This was the Dean he’d been missing.
“So your dad left you, well boo-hoo! My dad’s been gone since before I was born and I had to look out for my mom all my life! At least you had nineteen good years and a family that loves you and wants you around, so stop your freaking whining and grow a set for God’s sake!”
Dean hyperventilated, his eyes screwed up to angry little slits and he clenched his hands into fists. For a moment Jess thought he was going to take a swing at him, but Dean didn’t. He just stood there, looking right into Jess’ eyes as if struggling to understand this unwarranted, out of the blue rain on his pity parade.
“What gives you the right to come into my house and judge me? Who are you, Jess? Why – why are you here at all? Just… damn it, why do you care??”
Jess smiled, and he was pretty sure it came out creepy as hell. Oh well. He suddenly bent forward to rest his hands on his knees, realizing he was out of breath too for some reason, then straightened up and glared at Dean one last time.
“You better sleep-walk your skinny little ass to me tonight, Forester. Because if you take the pills again, I’ll come back tomorrow and make a bigger spectacle of you than I did three years ago.”
Dean looked affronted obviously, and at the same time curious – like he was trying to make up his mind about Jess’ intentions. “If I remember right, and I do, it was me who threw the first punch three years ago. And the last one.”
“Yeah well, the stakes are higher for me this time. Besides with you drugged up to your eyeballs, anyone can take you. Clara can take you.”
“What do you mean stakes are higher for you this time?”
Jess bit his lip and started to walk away. “Tonight then? Better be there, Forester, or else…”
“Like I’m afraid of you?” Dean scoffed miserably. “Fuck you!”
Jess laughed out loud. That should happen too, soon, if he can help it.
“Get over yourself, Mariano!”
Jess just kept walking, didn’t turn back.
“Why are you doing this to me?”
“I’m not coming to you, you hear me? I’m not coming!!”
Midnight struck and the knocks returned.
Jess smirked, more than a little relieved admittedly, and got up from his place behind the counter to open the door.
Earlier that night, he’d convinced Luke to go to sleep.
“You should go to bed. You look really beat, Uncle Luke.”
“Uncle? What are you up to, Jess?”
“Nothing! Look I’ll take care of Dean if he comes in. No I won’t dunk his head in the toilet, or do anything to hurt him, I promise. You just go get some sleep, alright? Trust me!”
“Trust you? With Dean? I don’t think so.”
And that had gone on for about an hour until Luke had finally relented. Of course Jess wasn’t born yesterday. He knew his uncle was crouching right next to his slightly ajar bedroom door, watching his every move.
“Come on in, Dean.”
The boy was sleepwalking, of course, which meant he hadn’t found (or looked for) the pills to knock himself out tonight. Thank God.
Jess led the taller guy in his Smurfs t-shirt and black track pants up the stairs to the bedroom they’d come to share this past week. He heard Luke’s door softly click shut and smiled.
“Here, Dean, come on.” Jess found himself unconsciously mimicking his uncle’s actions.
Putting a hand in the small of Dean’s back, he ushered him gently towards the bed. He pulled the covers back and waited until Dean got in, then he tucked the covers around him and watched as Dean slowly closed his eyes.
“It’s okay, you’re safe here.” He whispered, then quietly backed away and sat down on his futon mattress on the floor.
He folded his knees, holding them against his chest and rested his chin on the back of his hands, watching Dean sleep.
It had been drizzling all night and Dean’s clothes were slightly damp. Jess worried Dean might catch a cold or something but he didn’t dare do anything about it. He knew he’d been partially (or maybe fully?) responsible for freaking Dean out so much that he’d resorted to the sleeping pills. So no, he was not about to do anything to hurt Dean again. Every nerve ending, every breath in his body yearned to reach out and touch the beautiful sleeping boy. But this, after promising Dean that he’d be safe here…
Jess didn’t move from his spot all night.