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21 July 2009 @ 06:38 pm
Live & On Stage: 1X Everything  
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1X Everything

“Oh. My. God,” Whitney said before her hot pink High School Musical backpack had even landed on her desk. “The Disney tour is coming here.”

Braylin choked on the sip she had just taken from her juice box and Payton put both hands over her mouth.

“It. Is. Not,” Payton answered while Braylin coughed.

Whitney dropped into her seat and thrust a computer printout at the other girls. “It so totally is,” she said. “Hannah Montana, the Club and –” she took a dramatic breath, “Five Times Everything.”

Payton and Braylin both squealed and grasped at the printout with greedy hands. “I can’t believe Five Times Everything is going to be in the same state as me,” Payton said, bouncing in her seat. “We’ll be breathing the same air!”

Braylin won the printout and gripped it tight in both hands. “And the Club! I can’t believe I’m going to see Jared and Chad like, live, like, it’ll really be them!” she gushed.

“I already texted my mom,” Whitney said. “I want to be there when the buses arrive.” She took a breath to continue but right then Mrs. Johnston closed the classroom door and said, “All right, everyone, settle down,” and the girls’ conversation had to be completed in hand signals and exaggerated faces.

“And don’t forget to brush your teeth,” Jared’s mom was saying, and he felt his face flush as Chad snorted behind him.

“Mom, it’ll be fine,” he repeated for what felt like the zillionth time. “It’s not like I haven’t done this before.”

His mom sighed and crossed her arms in front of her chest. “Not without me, you haven’t,” she said. “And besides, what am I going to do all summer if I’m not fending off your fans and making sure you have clean socks?”

“Mo-om,” Jared said, affection and embarrassment equal parts. “You’ll be fine, too. You can’t spend your whole life following me around.”

“Yeah, Mrs. P.,” Chad piped up, “those middle-aged Club fans are so sad. And don’t worry, I’ll take good care of our boy here.” He slung an arm around Jared’s shoulder.

“Oh, don’t make me think about that,” she answered. “I won’t let him out of this parking lot.” She sighed. “All right then,” she said, and held out her arms. Jared shrugged off Chad to hug his mother. “Call me. Lots,” she ordered.

“I will, Mom,” he promised. “And I’ll see you and Grandma and Grandpa at the San Antonio show.”

“So far away!” she said as she pulled back. “All those empty days!”

“You have other children,” Jared reminded her.

“I know, I know,” she answered, waving a hand vaguely. “I think I can pick them out if I try really hard.” She set her mouth resolutely and nodded.

“You’d better go now or you’re going to find yourself chasing after the bus, Mom,” Jared said, and she laughed shortly.

“I’m going, I’m going,” she said. “I don’t want to get in the way of Chad’s summer of corruption. Just don’t call me for bail, boys.”

“Never,” Chad promised. “That’s what Kripke is for.”

Another quick hug to Jared and one to Chad and she finally climbed into the car and left the lot. Jared and Chad stood shoulder-to-shoulder and watched her drive off. Behind them, other Clubbers were hugging good-byes, hauling baggage around, and starting to clamber onto the bus.

“Padalecki,” Chad said, “we’re free men.”

Jared felt a grin starting. He was 18 years old, he had no parental escort, and he was about to go on a cross-country tour with his best friend with thousands of screaming fangirls awaiting at every stop.

Sometimes, it wasn’t so bad to be a Mouseketeer.

The tour had already officially started, with that Saturday’s huge concert at Disneyland, and wouldn’t end until Labor Day weekend, in Florida’s Disneyworld. It was Jared’s third Club tour, his fifth year with Disney, and the thrill had long since worn off. It was Chad’s fifth tour, his ninth year with Disney, and his thrill had worn off before he’d hit middle school. As soon as they got on the bus, Chad plugged in his earbuds, put on his sunglasses and zoned out, leaving Jared alone in a tin can with his castmates.

Behind him, Tristan and Dustin were already at the Nintendo DS. Across the aisle, AnnaLynne had stretched herself out over both seats with Cosmopolitan and a don’t-touch-me air. Outside, he could hear Shenae and her mother arguing with Kripke about how many bags Shenae was allowed to bring and how large they could be. Jared sighed. Adult or not, how different could this summer be from last?

“Hey,” a voice said, and a shadow dropped over him. Alexis was situating herself in the seat ahead of him, having finished trying to suck her boyfriend’s lungs out through his mouth as they said good-bye.

“Hey, yourself,” he answered. “Here we are again.”

Alexis grimaced. “Tell me about it. I swear, this is my last Club tour. They think we’re little wind-up toys, singing and dancing all year for the camera just to spend the summer singing and dancing for the crowd.”

Jared shrugged. He knew Alexis really didn’t mind that much – they could be serving up fries and mopping up spills all summer. It was a privileged life, and they all knew it. But after a few years doing it, you did start to feel like a wind-up action figure.

“So, no Mrs. P?” Alexis said. “You’re a big boy now?”

“You know it,” Jared said, and waggled his eyebrows at her. Alexis laughed in delight. “I think she’s having some major separation anxiety about it,” he confessed.

“Aw.” Alexis made a face of sympathy. “Your mom is so sweet. I’m going to kind of miss her.”

“Me too,” he admitted. “Although I do think tour will be more interesting this year.” He nudged Chad, who snorted in half-sleep.

Their attention was drawn to the front of the bus by a piercing whistle. “All right, everybody, listen up!” Kripke was shouting. “Welcome to the Mickey Mouse Club 2009 Tour!” There were a few halfhearted claps and from the back Tyler gave a cowboy yell. “Until you have all been returned to this parking lot months hence, I am in charge.” This got a roar of laughter.

“You won’t be laughing when you need me to clean up your mess,” Kripke said, completely serious. “So, please, please, please, try to play nice this summer. Murray, that means you.” Beside Jared, Chad help up a hand, one finger extended. “Thank you, I love you too, buddy,” Kripke said. “Now everybody sit down and shut up because San Francisco here we come!”

This brought a more enthusiastic round of applause and cheering. Kripke took his seat behind the driver, the doors shut and the bus roared into life. In the back, Tyler started singing, “On The Road Again,” quickly picked up by some of the other kids and a few off-tune parents.

“Kill me now,” Chad groaned, and slumped further in his seat.

Alexis rested her chin on the back of her seat. “We’re not even out of the parking lot, Chad,” she said evilly. “We have a whole glorious summer ahead of us.” Then she grinned happily at Jared.

He grinned back. The bus pulled onto road.

San Francisco looked the same as it had last year, and the year before that. The venue was the same, the rehearsal only slightly different. However, once they called it a day, Jared found himself with nothing to do until final rehearsal the next afternoon. When he was still in the under-18 crowd, their time was carefully filled with group meals and fun/educational/torturous tourist activities, not to mention mandatory lights-out and security. And here he was, money and keycard in his pocket, with no one to report to.

His mouth was dry, and he jumped when Chad slapped him on the back.

“I’m so ready,” Chad drawled, and Jared grinned at him, the flutter in his stomach telling him that fun and noise and dancing and possible vomiting and yelling were just out there waiting for them.

“I’m past ready,” he said, and let Chad pull him into the city.

Going out with Chad always looked better in foresight than in hindsight, which was why Jared was wedged in a grimy employee bathroom at the stadium the next day rather than suffer through the clamor of the Clubbers’ Green Room as they waited for show time. Tyler and Rick were in the talent men’s room trying to light their farts, so he had quickly vacated and sought safer haven where he could close his eyes and press his aching head against the cool mirror and try to pretend that he didn’t have to smile and perform and not break a sweat in front of 4,000 people in less than an hour.

“Hey, is this, uh, sorry,” someone said as the door creaked open. Jared didn’t bother to open his eyes or acknowledge the person, figuring they were stadium staff. “Um, you okay, man?”

Jared opened his mouth and got out a croaky, “Yeah.” He could practically feel the person at the door wince.

“Oh, you cannot go on like that,” he said, and then the door swung shut. Jared heard someone shouting something on the other side of the door and then it was blessedly quiet again. At least, as quiet as it could get with the swarms of Hannah Montana fans already in house.

The door swung open. “Here,” someone said, and thrust something plastic and cool into his hand. Jared squinted open his eyes and looked down. It was a water bottle. “Step one,” the person said and Jared looked up.

“Oh,” he said, straightening up immediately. “I’m sorry, I thought you were some staff person.”

The man shook his head. “No, just some lost person. Opened the wrong door. That’s okay, you look like you need the healing effects of the Four-Step Rapid Detox.”

“Uh,” Jared said intelligently, and the man nodded at the water bottle.

“Step one,” he repeated, so Jared dutifully downed it.

Step two was cold water on his face. Step three was eye drops. And step four was mouthwash, vigorously gargled.

Jared had to admit, he felt better. His companion eyed him critically. “Better?” he asked.

“Enough better,” Jared said. “I don’t usually –” He waved a hand vaguely.

The man shrugged. “It’s cool. Happens to all of us. Especially if you hang out with people like that Murray kid.”

Jared groaned. “I should know better.”

“Something we’ve all told ourselves about that kind of buddy,” the man said, and gave Jared a blinding grin that left him momentarily stunned and blinking.

“Um, I’m sorry,” Jared repeated. “I’m also super-rude. We’ve never actually met.” He held out a hand. “I’m Jared Padalecki.”

“Jensen Ackles.” The man had a nice handshake, confident and warm.

“Yeah, well, I mean, I know,” Jared said. “I did a movie with Tom once.”

“Oh, right,” Jensen said. “That Hillary Duff thing with all the kids.”

Jared nodded. “Anyway, nice to actually meet you. And thanks again. I better go or Kripke is going to come looking for me.”

“Can’t have that,” said Jensen, heading for the door. “Nice to meet you too, Jared. And remember, just because Murray says something is going to be super-cool does not make it true.”

Jared laughed despite himself.

“I cannot believe these pictures of Jared and Chad at that amusement park,” Braylin said, pouring over her Tiger Beat in the lunchroom. “That is so cool that they go do things together when they don’t, like, even have to. I told you guys they were really friends.”

“Just because Jared has to keep Chad out of trouble,” Payton said, giggling.

“I don’t believe half of what people say about him,” Braylin said primly, her lips pressed tight. “I bet he’s actually super-sweet.”

“Otherwise, why would Jared be friends with him?” Whitney pointed out. “Everyone says that Jared is like the nicest guy ever.”

“I still say Alexis is his girlfriend,” Payton said, but Braylin was already shaking her head.

“No, she’s dating that guy she was at the Teen Choice Awards with,” she said with assurance. “I don’t think Jared goes out with anyone now that he and Sandy broke up.” She slapped her magazine down angrily. “I can’t believe you two watch her new show. I mean, she broke up with Jared and left the Club!”

Whitney rolled her eyes and Payton sighed dramatically. “But it’s so good!” she told Braylin. “Bedtime Stories is, like, the best show not on Disney.”

Braylin ripped the lid off her yogurt viciously. “Traitors,” she muttered, and the other girls threw up their hands in defeat.

Jared had decided that he had some kind of moron gene that activated whenever Chad suggested they do something and made him think it sounded awesome. There really could be no other explanation for why he was standing in the parking lot alone, with no Club buses in sight.

“What do you mean, you got a ride with someone else?” he demanded of his phone.

“Dude,” Chad said on the other end of the line, “twins. Identical twins. With a convertible.”

“So you’re coming to pick me up?” Jared asked and Chad snorted.

“Are you retarded? How will that work?”

“Um, because there’s two of them,” Jared pointed out.

“One set of twins, buddy,” Chad answered. “One. Just take the luggage bus if the Club bus has left. That’s what we were going to do in the first place.”

Jared grit his teeth. “Chad,” he ground out, “did you tell the luggage bus that we needed a ride?”

“Uh, no,” Chad said. “Actually, I told them that I had a ride.” He was silent. “So, I guess they left without you, huh?”

“Good-bye, Chad,” Jared said, and snapped his phone shut. He stomped around in a tight circle while debating whether it was best to call Kripke or his mother or to just find someplace safe to hide and hope he woke up back on the Club bus.

“Hey, Jared,” someone said before he could decide on a course of action. Jared turned around to broad shoulders and blue eyes.

“Tom, hey,” Jared said, forcing a smile. After all, Tom was the lead of 5X Everything, and had been super-nice to Jared on their movie set. Jared’s mom had always been good at drilling the importance of positive connections into him.

Tom was scanning the parking lot. “Is it just me, or did the kiddie buses leave you behind?”

Jared barked a laugh. “It’s not just you. Actually, it’s just Chad. Or I guess it’s just me, since Chad is long gone.”

Tom laughed, but it was warm and sincere. He put a hand on Jared’s shoulder. “Come on, man. You can hitch a ride with us.”

Jared ran a hand through his hair nervously. “Are you sure? That would be awesome, but I don’t want to butt in.”

Tom shook his head. “After four years together, we welcome new blood. There’s only so many times you can hear Rosenbaum tell about his donkey-show trip to Tijuana.”

Jared felt his eyes widening despite himself, but Tom laughed again. “Come on, I’ll tell him to be on good behavior,” he said, and really, they were all going to the same place, weren’t they? Surely Rosenbaum’s stories couldn’t be worse than calling Kripke.

“What’s the jail bait doing on the bus?” Chris Kane boomed as soon as Jared climbed the steps behind Tom. He was smiling, though.

“Abandoned to his fate by the Clubbers,” Tom said, and swung himself into a seat. Jared sat in front of him. “Do you know everyone?” Tom asked, and then pointed. “Steve and Chris, in the back. Michael, on the laptop. And here, joining us late, is Jensen.”

Jensen, just coming down the aisle, sat in front of Jared. “Hey, Jared. Catching a ride?” he asked, but didn’t wait for an answer before arranging himself in his seat.

Jared looked around. The bus was the same size as the Club bus, but while their bus held 15 teenagers, numerous parents and Kripke, the band members were the only ones on board besides him.

“Just you guys?” he asked Tom, who nodded.

“If we have friends or family with us, they’ll come along, but we’re all solo this summer. Our manager finds her own way. It’s kind of nice, having a quiet ride,” he said, and Jared nodded. The Club bus was never quiet.

Tom talked to Jared about the summer for a bit, but before the bus was even on the highway, his phone beeped at him and he excused himself, moving a few seats down.

“Don’t mind him,” Jensen said. “He’s always trying to sneak in private time with his girl, even if it’s just on the phone.”

“Personally, I appreciate him being a little private about his phone sex,” Michael said dryly from across the aisle, not looking up from the laptop.

“He’s still with Jamie, right?” Jared said, and Jensen nodded. “She doesn’t come on tour?”

Jensen grimaced but Michael answered, finally looking up. “Channel doesn’t like it. Thinks it detracts from his appeal to sex-starved pimply teens if he’s in a serious relationship.”

“Oh.” Jared didn’t know what to say. The Club loved their kids going out together. Of course, they only loved it if you dated other Club kids and never fought or broke up or did anything more than kissed and held hands. Jared wasn’t sure how old Tom was, but definitely in his mid-20s, and probably past the holding hands phase.

“Besides,” Jensen said, “Michael has to watch the filthy mouth of his when we have other people on the bus.”

“You know it, bitch,” Michael said cheerfully. “And don’t expect me to clean up the language for the junior mint over there.”

“I’m 18!” Jared protested and both Jensen and Michael laughed.

“Eighteen,” Michael murmured. “That was a gazillion years ago, wasn’t it, Jen?”

“Gazillion and one,” Jensen answered.

The bus was quiet, and Jared found himself half-dozing as he stretched out across the seat – also a comfort the crowded Club bus usually didn’t allow for. In the back, Steve and Chris were both strumming guitars and singing together softly. Jared was surprised – he didn’t know any of these guys could play instruments. Tom’s voice murmured softly on the phone. Michael typed busily on the laptop, and Jensen got some papers out of his bag and sorted and made notes.

“Hey, Jared, aren’t you from Texas?” Jared jerked out of his reverie to find that the sun had moved and Jensen had put his work away. He shifted and stretched, nodding.

“San Antonio, originally,” he answered. “My family moved out to LA when I got picked for Club.”

Jensen nodded. “My family’s right outside Dallas,” he said.

“Still?” Jared asked, and Jensen nodded.

“I went out to LA when I was 18, said I’d try the acting thing for a year and if it didn’t work out go back home to college,” he said. “Did that Disney musical movie and the next thing I knew, got offered Five Times. And here we are.”

Jared grinned. “Not bad for being 18 on your own, huh?”

Jensen shrugged. “I enjoy the music, and we’re lucky that we all get along – no real bad apples here. None of us cared much for our first manager, Dawn, but now we’re with Samantha and she’s a great fit. I miss acting, though – that’s what I really wanted to do.”

“Oh,” Jared said, then stopped himself from wincing. He was suddenly the worst conversationalist ever. “You’ve done some movies, haven’t you?”

Jensen nodded. “Couple of Channel movies, one studio. But we’ll see – never know what’s in the future, right?”

Jared nodded. He hadn’t thought much about his own future, and Jensen’s words were making him wonder where he was going to be in four years, when he was Jensen’s age. He hoped he wasn’t still on a Disney bus, he suddenly realized.

As if sensing his thoughts, Jensen asked, “What about you? Turned 18, gotta be getting close to the end of your Club days. Any big plans?”

Jared rubbed the end of his nose nervously. “I don’t know,” he said slowly. “I haven’t thought much about it. I’m signed for another year.”

Jensen nodded. “Well, you seem to like it,” he offered, and Jared found himself nodding in agreement. He did like the Club – he liked most of his castmates, and he enjoyed the music and the skits and the touring.

“Just, listen, Jared,” and Jared looked up, surprised by Jensen’s softly serious tone. Steady green eyes were looking right at him. “You should really put some thought into what you want and where you want to go. If you don’t make decisions, people end up making them for you, especially in this business. You don’t want to wake up five years from now and not know how to get back from where you are.”

“Yeah,” Jared said slowly. “Thanks.”

Jensen smiled at him and leaned back in his seat, shutting his eyes. “Sure thing,” he said, and stretched out for a nap.

“No,” Jared said. “No no no.”

“Dude, I can’t believe you’re still mad at me over that twins thing,” Chad said.

“You left me stranded in the parking lot!” Jared said.

“Just that once,” Chad said. “And anyway – twins.” He held out both hands in a what-could-I-do gesture.

“Girls!” Kripke yelled, popping open the door. “We’re waiting on you. And you’d better not be doing anything I need to cover up out here.”

Jared snorted and pushed past Kripke. “Dude!” Chad implored again as he followed him. “Hey, Kripke, talk some sense into him. He’s turning into a bigger drama queen than Shenae.”

“Not possible,” Kripke muttered. “Anyway, you two are big boys, sort it out yourselves. I’m not your baby-sitter.”

Both Jared and Chad turned to look at Kripke with raised eyebrows.

“Anymore,” Kripke added. “Kind of.” He sighed and ran a hand over his thinning hair. “What’s your gripe, Murray?”

“Jared’s a little bitch,” Chad said.

“Chad left me stranded in a parking lot,” Jared shot back. “For girls.”

Twins,” Chad corrected.

“Identical twins?” Kripke asked. Chad nodded and smugly folded his arms over his chest.

Kripke patted Jared on the arm. “Sorry, buddy, you lose. Now, get your butts on the stage, you’re holding up rehearsal.”

Jared tossed his hands up angrily and stomped toward the stage, a laughing Chad in tow.

“Seriously, man, I’m sorry,” Chad said as they bounded up the stairs. “Come out with me tonight. I’ll be good, pinky-swear.” He held up his hand, pinky finger extended.

Jared rolled his eyes and hooked his pinky through Chad’s, then pulled back hard. Chad howled and doubled over. “Only if we bring Bret,” he said.

“Owwww,” Chad whined, shaking out his finger. “What, you need a chaperone to be alone with me, Padalecki?”

“Apparently,” Jared said dryly. “Maybe it will keep my neurons firing.”

“Your what?” Chad said, and then shrugged. “All right, fine, whatever, Bret’s cool. Watch out Salt Lake City, the Mormons are about to lose some virgins!”

“You mean yourself, I assume,” Jared said, then ducked and ran out on stage, laughing, as Chad swung at him.

“Again, Jared? Really?”

Jared ignored the people entering the talents’ men’s room and finished putting the eye drops in his eyes before grabbing his mouthwash and gargling enthusiastically. Behind him, Jensen and Michael were shaking their heads. Jared spit and wiped his mouth.

“I thought I had it all worked out,” he said, waving a hand wildly for emphasis. “I thought, I just need some back-up. So we brought Bret with us.”

“Harrison? Did that help?” Michael asked, not bothering to hide his amusement.

In response, Jared just pointed at one of the stalls. Jensen jiggled it, found it unlatched and swung it open. Bret was kneeling in front of the basin, panting.

“I’m just gonna stay here until our 10-minute call,” Bret gasped. “No point in getting up.”

“Dude, is your vomit blue?” Jensen asked.

“Blue Maui,” Jared supplied, and both Jensen and Michael groaned, “Ewwww.”

“So where’s Murray?” Michael asked.

“Beeee-yaches!” someone yelled, slamming open the door. “Come on, girlies, it’s almost 10-minute call. Shake it off and let’s go!”

“Wow, you’re chipper,” Jensen said to Chad, who grinned.

“Why shouldn’t I be?” Chad said. “This is an awesome city. I hope you old folks are enjoying it as much as me and my homies, sad lot that they are.”

“Us and our homies are down with it,” Michael said, and Jensen made a choking noise. “We’ll see you kiddies later,” and with a wave they were both gone.

“Dude,” Jared said tiredly.

“What?” Chad said. “And where’s Bret? Show time!” He clapped his hands, loud and quick, then added a howl.

“Show time,” Jared said, and went to help Bret off the floor.

2X Everything