Matt and Tom, 1st July 2007.
It hit him around closing time at the art house, that sinking feeling of inevitability he would never forget. A throbbing hunch that things were about to change, and there was nothing he could do to stop it.
Matt Bomer was twenty-five then, a young, dynamic entrepreneur and proud co-owner of the beautiful E.Durance art gallery that his best friend and business partner, Tom, helped him build from scratch four years ago. Okay, maybe not from scratch. They bought out an old cynic who got sick of watching potential Picassos piss it all away on drugs, booze, and kinky go-go boys. They renovated her – rescued her, to be more precise, renamed her, and she was their baby now. But this story’s not about the gallery. Or even Matt, although he does have a significant role to play.
Usually, Matt was found sporting casuals – layers of sweaters, his favorite jeans made of the softest couture denim (Versace, of course), and his old college hoodie with the words ‘Carnegie Mellon’ embellished on the back. Of course he could dress sharp too, on occasion, if the occasion called for it. And that night, it called. Or so he thought.
He had on perfectly fitted silver slacks and a dinner jacket over an impossibly white silk shirt. It was their three-year anniversary, he and his boyfriend’s, and he wanted the night to be absolutely perfect. But Matt’s boyfriend had, as expected, forgotten all about it. He’d always known Jensen wasn’t the anniversary remembering type really, or birthdays even.
Sometime after six, he dialed Jensen’s number and waited seven rings before he got through. As always, he got a silent huff of breath for a hello, rolled his eyes and spoke first. “Hey! I’m calling to confirm our dinner plans? I got reservations at Le Bernardin for eight.”
He tried not to sound as smug as he felt. It was virtually impossible to get a table at that celebrated French restaurant on short notice, but happily a friend of a friend of a friend of Tom’s had come through. It had been a nerve-wrackingly long wait, and Matt couldn’t wait to tell Jensen all about it.
“Not tonight, Mattie. I gotta work.”
Matt felt his heart nosedive into the pit of his stomach. That moment, one could argue, was the beginning of the end, clichéd as that may sound. Later, he would find that Tom disagreed, that it had in fact been ending for months now, while he was still too blinded by love to notice.
“But I-I… I gave you fair warning, Jensen, three whole weeks in advance.”
“I know and I’m sorry, babe. It’s just… I’m on a roll here. You know how it is, I can’t stop. Not tonight.”
Of course. That street rat Jensen had picked up at the Farmer’s Market in Union Square last week, Tristan something.
Over the years, Matt had put up with a lot of Jensen’s crap – his mood swings, his tempers, his sudden bouts of inspiration that struck anytime anywhere. But there was only so much artistic leeway he could give to this eccentric painter he called a (steady) boyfriend. Especially with this new guy modeling for him of late. Matt hadn’t met him or seen him even, but the amount of time Jensen had been spending with the guy was enough to send up some clear red flags, even for someone as trusting as Matt.
“Honestly, Jensen, this obsession of yours with your new model is freaking me out a little.”
“What the hell does that mean?”
Matt sighed, actually chiding himself for feeling envious of what was clearly just work for Jensen. At least, he hoped that was all it was.
“I-I mean, what do you even know about him? You didn’t even get the agency to background-check him first, did you?”
“Yeah, look, I have to go. I’ll make it up to you, I swear. Why don’t you take Tom? He enjoys uptight pretentious places like that, doesn’t he?”
Matt sighed again, trying not to feel too hurt by Jensen‘s snide remark unmistakably directed at his own taste in restaurants. “Jensen…”
The man just chuckled on the other end. “I’m kidding, c’mon. I’ll see you tomorrow, okay?”
Tomorrow. Not tonight. Matt hung up, dejected. No point saying goodbye or “I love you”. It’d been awhile since he got a response worth writing about anyway.
Guess there was no forgetting that fateful day for twenty-six year old Tom Welling either. He sat perched on his desk, watching his best friend talk to Jensen on the phone. Matt stood with his feet crossed awkwardly one over the other, waist jutting out to the left subconsciously. It was the pose Matt struck when he wasn’t aware he was being watched.
Yeah, Tom noticed things like that. He was the BFF, after all. He also listened keenly to the one-sided conversation, not that he needed to. The sudden drooping of Matt’s shoulders was enough to tell what had transpired. That useless boyfriend of his didn’t remember it was their anniversary, and he was blowing Mattie off.
After he hung up, Matt managed to somehow conceal his flip-phone in his tight pants and compose himself as much as he could, schooling the sadness away from his face. He turned towards Tom with a dim plastic smile pasted on his paling face, shrugging helplessly.
“Okay, you win.”
Tom stood up, not happy at all to be right, again. He dug his hands into his own pockets, classic black Gucci suit accentuating his dark, full-body tan and contrasting with Matt‘s soft silver attire. (What? They were art curators for God’s sake.)
“I keep telling you, should’ve left that grouch and run away with me years ago.”
Matt cracked a real smile at that. “So says the happily married man of five years who runs an art gallery named after his beloved wife.”
Tom pursed his naturally red lips and went over to Matt, towering over him by a few inches. Matt calmly stepped forward and buried his face into the broad chest. They stood that way for a couple of minutes.
“I think you know what you need to do, Mattie.”
Matt didn’t reply, just shuddered quietly as he pulled away. Tom’s heart ached at having to be the one to do this, say this. But he wouldn’t be doing Matt any favors if he didn’t verbalize what he’d been sensing for a while now. If it wasn’t this model, it would be someone else. Something else.
“Would you mind if I join you for dinner? You know I love that place.”
Matt snorted. “You just love uptight pretentious places, don’t you?”
“I love the fact that we can afford uptight pretentious places.”
Matt rolled his eyes and Tom chuckled. Sure he had a penchant for the finer things in life. But what he really, truly valued were his friends and family, and was more than happy to splurge on them if it made them happy. Part of him knew though, that nothing so inconsequential would work for Matt. He wasn’t going to figure out what could until much, much later. But that’s another story.
“C’mon, let’s go. I’m hungry.”
Matt bit his lip. “Can we just, go to your place instead? Maybe just watch a movie, or something?”
Tom nodded, eager to do anything to help Matt forget this latest heartbreak caused by his callous, self-centered boyfriend. As it turned out, he needn’t have worried about Jensen hurting Matt again after that night. But to be honest, he wouldn’t have wished for things to go down the way they did, not even for his worst enemy.
Let alone Jensen.
Tom put a bulky arm around Matt’s shoulders and led him out of the gallery, switching all the lights off behind them, casting into darkness acclaimed works of eighty-three renowned contemporary artists, including Jensen R. Ackles.
Jensen, 1st July 2007.
On the eighteenth floor of the Chelsea Vanguard, Jensen Ackles stood in front of his easel and narrowed his eyes. His overalls were smudged with paint and charcoal, as were his hands, as he bent to pick out a fresh piece of charcoal from a box lying nearby on the floor. He looked at his half-done sketch critically, then gazed across the studio to the subject he was attempting to capture on canvas. An attempt he was failing quite spectacularly at.
When Jensen had first set eyes on Tristan, it was like a switch had been thrown somewhere in the back of his head and bright warm light pervaded his senses, chasing away years of darkness. He was tall and lean and youthfully slender. Couldn’t be more than twenty, maybe, give or take a few months. He was also kind of shabby, his bleached blond hair was greasy and wild, and his jacket and jeans had definitely seen better days. Jensen didn’t understand what it was that drew him to Tristan so intensely. Sure he was sort of symmetrically pleasing to look at, but not extraordinarily so. And yet, Jensen had found himself breaking away from his friends immediately, walking up to him, making quick introductions, and asking if he wanted a part-time job modeling for art.
At first, Tristan laughed.
“Is that a pick-up line? ‘Cause you sure could do a whole lot better, darlin’.” He drawled in a thick Texan accent. But he hadn’t retreated, his body language still accessible. He might have even leaned in a little.
Jensen handed him a calling card with his home address on it. “Not a pick up line, no. Just a job if you’re available. My name is Jensen. Jensen Ackles? I-I’m a painter.”
Contemporary artists weren’t exactly celebrities, and Jensen was hardly the publicity-hungry type. But deep inside, he’d quietly hoped the kid would recognize the name. Which, of course he didn’t.
“Tristan Winslow,” he said holding out a hand for Jensen to shake. “So, this job… you mean like sitting for you to paint me and stuff, right?”
“Well, not paint you, just, you know, your portrait,” Jensen grinned brightly, awkwardly, waiting for Tristan to quit chewing on the piece of gum in his mouth and say something.
“Um, I don’t know man, thanks and all, but, that sounds kinda borin’ to me…”
The last thing Jensen wanted was to let this man out of his sight. So he told Tristan how much he was willing to pay for an hour. Tristan’s mouth stopped moving, and he looked down at the card again and back up at Jensen with widening eyes.
“When do we start?”
That was six days ago. Tristan now lay on the pre-finished teak flooring, stretched out on his stomach right where Jensen wanted him. He’d taken off his shirt, putting the still developing muscles of his arms in tantalizing display. Pale white, almost alabaster skin contrasted with the dark floor to eye-popping effect. His jeans were faded and tattered at the knees and right under the curve of one hip. And they seemed two sizes too big, draped over Tristan’s narrow waist shapelessly, as low as low could be. They gaped slightly right at the cleft of his butt, and that little gap… Jensen found himself completely infatuated with it.
Matt was right. Jensen was obsessed.
Tristan’s face was turned towards Jensen, one cheek softly squished against the floor, mysterious almond eyes fixed on the artist who stood across the room. Jensen had drawn and discarded four sketches already, not convinced he was getting it right – this enthralling vision before him. The model didn’t seem to mind though. He was getting paid more than generously for his time after all. But a little voice (or hope) told Jensen the wages weren’t his only motivation to come back every afternoon after lunch, and stay till sundown every night.
The antique grandfather clock in the living room struck a loud nine, startling Tristan and making him look up. Jensen followed his model’s glance up towards the digital clock inside the studio.
“Big plans tonight?”
Tristan shook his head and resumed his pose. “I thought you did.”
Jensen remembered then: his short, unhappy conversation with Matt three hours ago. He wiped his hands on a cloth rag. “Yeah, I don’t think that’s happening.”
The model frowned a little, but didn’t comment. Jensen’s eyes were drawn again to the gaping space between Tristan’s jeans and his sinfully tempting ass. He ambled across the twelve feet or so to reach Tristan, going down on his knees beside the long, sinewy body.
“This keeps slipping off,” he whispered with mock-annoyance. He pulled the back of the fragile-looking denim upwards on Tristan’s ass. The responsive heat in Tristan’s eyes was unmistakable.
Jensen let his palm rest on top of the fabric and when Tristan didn’t protest, he slid his hand down the perfectly shaped backside in a soft caress. Tristan’s lips fell open as he gasped silently but didn’t take his eyes off Jensen, not for a second. The temptation to kiss him was undeniably strong. But something held Jensen back.
Maybe it was the realization that he was still in a relationship, defunct as it may be. Or maybe it was a niggling little hunch that Tristan wasn’t ready yet, despite the brave, almost cocky front he put up. Something was holding the kid back. Maybe nerves. Maybe something else.
“Would you like to take a break?”
Tristan licked his lips, dropping his eyes for the first time. “Uh, yeah, I need to make a phone call.”
He stood up and put his shirt back on, which Jensen instantly regretted. He couldn’t wait to finish the painting and maybe by that time he’d have plucked up enough courage to ask Tristan out. Or at the very least bend him over the nearest horizontal surface, sink into his depths and stay there until the sun came back up again.
Jensen stepped onto the balcony and lit up a cigarette. The view of Manhattan from the eighteenth floor after sundown never ceased to take his breath away even after five years of living in this city. At twenty-six years of age, Jensen was confident he was doing alright. He wasn’t very materialistically ambitious to begin with – all he needed was a place he could call his own where he could paint and sleep in peace, for his art to see the light of day and be recognized for what it was worth, and for his family back in Texas to be provided for generously. Given these needs, he was doing more than okay really.
Except for this situation with Matt, that he needed to resolve soon as possible. It wasn’t fair to Matt, and it sure as hell wasn’t fair to Tristan, if Jensen did decide to make his move sometime soon.
He leaned against the balcony door, turning to look at the man in the living room. Tristan looked agitated, one hand holding the phone to his ear and the other entangled in the back of his hair. He was biting his lip and looked like he was having an argument with someone, one he wasn’t winning. Jensen decided to linger on in the balcony for a bit, give Tristan his privacy.
Ten minutes later, Tristan came out. His eyes darted nervously, and he was still biting his lip like a twitchy little schoolgirl.
“What was that about?”
“Nobody, just a friend. He… asked me out to dinner last week and I said I would but, now…”
Jensen’s heart skipped a beat. “Now, what?”
“Now, since you don’t have any plans either, I was wondering if maybe, you and I could, you know, get something to eat?”
Jensen smiled and stepped closer. And when Tristan stayed, he put his hands on each side of Tristan’s face, pulling him down into a kiss. It didn’t last long, Jensen didn’t want to push and Tristan was still tense. Jensen slid his hands down to Tristan’s neck, then to his shoulders and down his elbows to his gigantic hands. Tristan seemed a little taken aback by the way Jensen held his hands, but he allowed it.
“Okay, you’re a growing boy, and I haven’t fed you all day.” Jensen smirked. “So how about I cook you something delicious? I make killer pasta.”
“Fine, if you don’t trust my culinary skills we could order in, whatever you want.” Jensen pretended to be offended, hoping that way his suggestion to stay in wouldn’t sound too... suggestive.
“I was sorta hopin’ maybe we could go out? To like, a steakhouse, maybe?”
Jensen sighed. Why he could never share his lovers’ inclinations for eating out, he’d never know. “Grab your stuff. I’ll be right back.”
Five minutes later, he’d changed into suitable outdoor clothes and plucking his keys off the mantle, they headed for the door. He punched the security code and locked up behind them, then rode an elevator down to the basement parking with Tristan lingering two steps behind.
Jensen drove a Toyota Tundra. His manager, Samantha Smith, and Matt always told him he could do so much better. He soon realized by ‘better’ they meant ‘costlier’, more ‘upstate New York’ and less ‘hillbilly Texas’, but he didn’t care. It got him from A to B and it could haul ass, that’s all that mattered.
“You seem nervous,” he said, after about five minutes of silent driving. Reaching out for Tristan’s closest hand, he realized it was cold and clammy.
Tristan turned to him, letting go of the lower lip he’d been chewing on. “Nah, just… this is so… I don’t know, new I guess. I don’t usually get to do this.”
“Go out with a nice guy like you.”
“Just nice?” Jensen pouted.
Tristan chuckled. “Well, nice and more.”
Tristan didn’t reply, just grinned enigmatically and turned towards his window. Jensen quietly relished the tingling beneath his skin, hoping Tristan would elaborate over dinner. He was sure Tristan would love Keens Steakhouse. The food was brilliant and the place was unpretentious, even if on the slightly expensive side. He figured Tristan wouldn’t have had a chance to go into a place like that yet, and a part of Jensen wanted to do this for Tristan, give him stuff he’d never had before, take care of him…
Jensen remembered then. He braked suddenly, the Tundra screeching to a halt by the side of a narrow street, followed by a loud cacophony of honking in the background that he completely ignored.
“What’s wrong?” Tristan asked.
“This is embarrassing, I forgot my wallet back home.”
Jensen put the gear in reverse and started to pull out of the one-way backwards. “It was in my other jacket, sorry, this won’t take very long.”
“Ho-how about we keep going? I’ll pay.”
Tristan couldn’t possibly afford the place Jensen had in mind. “It’s okay. We’re only like four blocks away.”
“Hey, no seriously, we-we don’t have to turn around. We c-could go to this other place – I know it’s really good, it’s by the pier and…”
“It’s okay, really. Won’t take very long, I promise.”
Tristan didn’t hold his gaze too long. He looked straight up ahead and sat frozen in his seat. Ten minutes later, as promised, Jensen pulled up in front of the Chelsea Vanguard. “Why don’t you wait in the car? I’ll be right back.”
Tristan stayed strangely still, face looking more ashen than usual. Jensen got out of the truck and took off running. He might have seen but didn’t quite register Tristan scrambling for his cell phone just as Jensen turned into the building. In retrospect, Jensen should have understood something was wrong then. And maybe a small part of him did, but he was too blinded by his growing feelings for Tristan at the time to pay attention.
Thirty-two hours later, Jensen woke up in a hospital bed, flanked by Matt and Tom on one side, and his parents and brother on the other. Matt looked stricken like he hadn’t slept in a week, and his mom looked like she hadn’t stopped crying in just as long. His right leg was broken, along with a bunch of ribs, and his left hand, the one he drew and painted with, was also in a cast. One eye was swollen shut, and his lip was split so badly they had to put in six stitches. They told him he’d been in a coma, owing to blood loss and a head injury, and that’s when he remembered the blood-spattered baseball bat.
Cops came in an hour later to get his statement. Jensen Ackles had walked in on a break-in in progress at his apartment. Jensen had gotten a brief look at the men in the five odd seconds of them being taken unawares by his abrupt return. They were just three ordinary men dressed in ordinary street clothes from the Bronx, one African-American and two Caucasian. But they had known Jensen’s security code and had easily strolled in while still managing to evade all security cameras. They had clearly already scoped the place out and planned their moves well in advance.
The cops asked him how they could have known his code, suspecting an inside job.
Jensen’s eyes blurred. All he could think was the first (and last) time he’d kissed Tristan in that apartment. It had been a perfect moment, a perfect day, and it could have been such a perfect night…
But now all he could remember was getting ambushed by a bunch of freaked out hooligans with knives and crowbars, and how just when he was on the verge of slipping into unconsciousness, Tristan had come bounding through the broken door, screaming: “No! Hartley, don’t!”
Jensen had turned towards Tristan, and the look on that face had been like a spear stabbing through his heart. He knew then he was about to pay for still being a stupid, naïve boy from Richardson, Texas in the heartless city of Manhattan.
They tried to kill him, why they couldn’t finish the job, he could only guess. Jensen told the cops everything that happened, but he left his model’s involvement out of it completely. Even told them he heard one white guy referring to the other white guy as Hartley. Jensen didn’t give the cops Tristan’s name.
But Matt did.
The abstract sketch Jensen had of Tristan was only a third done, and it showed an exaggeratedly thin male with exaggeratedly long limbs, lying on his stomach with a halo of bleached blond hair masking half his face. The color of the eyes was unreadable, actually it was still charcoaled in – there was no color at all. It gave no indication of how tall or how old he might be, nor were there any tell-tale signs or scars on the body. The cops got nowhere with it, not least because Jensen refused to recall any more details about his model. Doctors said it could be short-term memory loss or just PTSD blocking his memories, and didn’t let the cops push him too much.
Few days later, the cops caught up with the perps and arrested all three of them. Three, not four. The fourth accomplice, a yet unidentified young man known to his partners only as Tristan, was unaccounted for, and remained that way for the rest of the investigation.
Jensen didn’t care. He didn’t entertain any attempts from Matt or anyone to talk about what happened, nor did he show any interest in seeing justice done. He left it all to his manager and lawyers. The first words he uttered after waking up were to Sam, when she visited him in the hospital.
“Get rid of that damn apartment.”
Part One >>