Word Count: 4076
Summary: Anno Domini 1951, fifty years after the failed Fertility experiments, the world still deals (somewhat successfully) with the mutations the experiments brought. With the advent of successful mechanical wombs, and a resurgence of female fertility, Carriers finally won full civil rights, and a new type slavery was abolished. Still, in many small towns and rural parts of America, in isolated communities, carriers were still viewed with suspicion, distaste, or horror.
This is the world Jared finds himself having to navigate.
Story at AO3
(oops! missed a chapter in-between there! I'll try to remember and fix it--it is posted at AO3)
The snow had pulled back somewhat from the sidewalks and streets, leaving clear, if slushy, paths to walk.
Jared was taking advantage of a nice day—a relatively nice day. The snow had pulled back somewhat from the sidewalks and streets, leaving clear, if slushy, paths to walk. He strolled along, ignoring the lub-dub sounds his slightly-too-large rubber boots were making. It was worth sacrificing a bit of his dignity to keep his feet dry and more or less warm. He'd found the pair of green boots while cleaning up his attic room, along with a box gone soft and crumbly with age, but miraculously holding a few pairs of gloves and a couple of hats in wearable shape. It'd felt as fine as winning the Seventh Year's top speller—maybe better, because the prize for that had been a fountain pen and a couple of nibs, and that had been...underwhelming.
Judging by the looks he'd fielded from the girls when he walked through the lounge, the items he'd found had not been the most fashionable. Fine, neither was he; no part of him was fashionable, from the top of his shaggy head to the ends of his skinny, finger-toes. He'd swept out of St. Maggie's sporting a purple beanie and matching gloves—boots wobbling around his calves, but his head held high.
Once out of sight of St. Maggie's, he happily strolled along, enjoying a pleasant walk while exploring the park he could see from his attic window. At the moment, he was thoroughly enjoying a sweet bun he’d bought at the Milk Bar to take along for breakfast. His wandering took him beyond the park, into a small business district, where the foot traffic was less frantic than in the deeper parts of the city he’d crossed days before. Jared nodded with approval; definitely more comfortable here than he'd been in those huge crowded streets and the shops here made more sense to him—something he was about to take advantage of. He had some dollars in his pocket, courtesy of St. Maggie's, and he was certain he could make the best of them.
A couple of hours later, the dollars Jared had left were a pleasant weight in his pocket—it was comforting to have a bit of money left over after having bought essentials, like socks and underwear. The bright yellow bag he carried also held a new shirt in Outsider style—it was a rather severe cut, but a lovely, crisp white, and he liked that the collar button was a bright blue. He had brand new pants, too—he’d decided the pants were a necessity after the salesperson explained they would stretch to accommodate his growing middle. Peanuts—now that conversation had been a special kind of embarrassment. At least, thank goodness, he now had pants that covered his bare ankles...Jared frowned. There must be doing something wrong with the way he did his laundry, the way his pants had shrunk up in the wash. He wished he knew how to ask one of the girls how he was ruining his wash, but none of them had warmed to him any….
Jared concentrated on the positive, like the fact the new pants were so reasonable, he was able to buy two pair. Then, feeling pleased that he'd done so well, he decided to splurge, and bought some tea guaranteed to settle a queasy stomach, and a totally unnecessary, but awfully pretty blue cup to drink the tea from; a treat to celebrate his not dying on the streets.
He shoved the last bit of sticky bun into his mouth, licking his fingers quickly before switching the bag he carried into that hand. He smiled to himself. He was a regular Mr. J.D. Rockefeller now, what with all his fancy new things.
The sun was high overhead by the time he came panting up to one long block full of book-selling stalls. He was feeling the strain of walking and carrying Thing along, even if it was still small. Despite the chill, the exercise was enough to break him out in a sweat, and he stopped to loosen the buttons on his coat and unwind his scarf. While doing that, his eyes were drawn to one of the stalls, a colorful thing papered over with bright drawings of planets and stars and weird-looking monsters.
Jared took his time poking about there, enjoying the variety of books and the chance to slow down and regain his breath. Like most of the city's stalls, this one was open to the streets, but its heaters kept it comfortable enough that Jared could tuck away his gloves and open his coat completely. They also wafted the scent of books into the air; paper and ink and leather covers—seductive as a siren's voice. He ran his fingers lightly over the spines of a stack of books, from their covers, fantasy books—title after title he'd never heard of. On higher shelves, there were the odd metal books he'd watched Mrs. Mond use...his fingers twitched to have a go at them, but he didn't have to look to know they were out of his price range. Besides, the slightly-worn paper backs piled up on the 'specials table' were more than good enough for him.
Picking one up, thumbing through the pages, Jared sighed happily. It was like being let loose in a candy store, with no one to tell him he couldn't have whatever flavor he wanted.
The woman behind the cash register let him take a bag for ten cents—five books in all. He walked along holding his treasures, and beaming so brightly that people passing by smiled just as brightly back. The way back towards St. Maggie's led him past a little shop that had windows full of curious items: brass bells, wooden animals painted in bright colors, boxes and vases and prints of all sizes. Curiosity drew him inside; a bell over the door rang out his presence.
Besides all the wonderful items piled up in the shop, he noticed there were rugs as well. Now that was an item he could really use—something to keep his feet off the icy floors. He imagined sitting on a nice warm rug, with a book and his caffee—coffee, darn it. He eyed the rolls of rugs as tall as himself leaning against the wall, and smaller, bright rugs hung like wash from the ceiling. He ran his fingers over the rolls, eyed the price tags and sighed.
"Shopping for a rug for your mother, young man?" the counter person asked, and Jared shook his head.
"No sir, I need a rug for my room," he replied, "but I can't afford any of these."
"So, buy a rug on time," the man shrugged.
Jared had no idea what that meant, and taking pity on his obvious confusion, the salesperson patiently explained, "What you do is pay a bit each week, you know? You put a percentage of the whole price down to hold the item, and then pay what you can—there's a minimum though, in payment and in the amount of time we'll hold the item," he said. "It works very nicely."
When Jared left the shop, rug-less of course, he thought about what the salesperson had said, the 'paying each week'.
For right now, he was set—more or less. He was in a place where it was clean, and safe to sleep and wash, he had food, warmth. He'd been promised medical care. He was even assured he'd have a bit of spending money each month. He was enormously grateful for all of that but...he needed a job. Money for little things that made life livable. Like pretty rugs, and books. And coffee. Things he certainly didn't expect St. Margaret's to pay for—he had enough on his conscience already.
He was nearly back to the shelter when a shop that sold stationary items enticed him with banners declaring, "WHAT A SALE!" hanging over its doorway, and tempting him inside with neatly ordered stacks of notebooks and sketchbooks, pencils and paints, and jars full of something new and exciting—to him at least: ball-point pens. Pens that didn't need to be filled with ink, or cleaned, or their nibs replaced. Pens that were ready to write whenever the mood struck. Fascinating! He picked up a thin metal tube from the counter, and stroked a line on the sheet of paper laid next to it. He couldn't help but smile as he spelled out 'Jay' in a bright blue line. "Wow..."
There were bottles of ink and fountain pens sitting on the counter as well, but really, nibs were of the devil, and he gladly bought two ball-point pens, a notebook, and some envelopes. He had an idea….
Eventually Jared ended up back at the Milk Bar. He planned to have one last treat for the day. Taking one of his notebooks out of the bag, he opened it to the first page and wrote, 'Special Coffee' across the top of it, and under that, a big, bold 1.
It was with deep satisfaction he took a sip of a coffee with one pump of hazelnut syrup and a cap of snowy, whipped cream.
“I see St. Maggie’s is being good to you,” he heard, and jumped, startled to find the stall owner, Mr. Sonne, so close to him.
“Oh! Oh Yes, thank you, I’ve...settled in,” Jared said and shrugged. “It’s not a bad place.”
Mr. Sonne nodded, his habitual frown warming infinitesimally. “They’re decent people.”
Jared looked away, feeling awkward and unsure. He glanced down at the counter. Mr. Sonne’s hand was partially obscuring a handbill, but Jared could still make out the Help Wanted in a bold typeface printed across the top. "Oh, there you go—just what I need," he said.
Mr. Sonne glanced down at the handbill, reading it out loud. "Hmmm... 'Help wanted at Golden Morn. It's a diner—that's a small restaurant. Do you have any kind of experience in this profession?" he asked, as he pushed the bill towards Jared. "It’s very different than working on a farm, you know.'
Jared closed his eyes and counted to ten. “I...am sure it is, sir, but so is teaching, something of which I also have experience of. I’m sure I’d be able to get the hang of—” he held the handbill up and read, "—'waiting on tables. Light dish-washing, good at numbers' quiet handily. Plus, I am good with people, which I'm would be a benefit, working at a diner." He nodded decisively, and Mr. Sonne made a strangled little noise that in another person, Jared would have said was a chuckle.
"I saw that right away, young man. You have a lot of potential."
"Thank you, sir. I’m Ja—Jay,” Jared said, blushing as he held out his hand. “If you'd be kind enough to point me in the right direction, I think I have just time enough to apply.”
The place definitely was a small restaurant—very small—but clean and bright, looking like a nice place to eat. He eased his way inside, ignoring all the looks directed at him, before catching the eye of a tall girl with blonde hair, and a friendly smile.
"Hello, hon. What can I do for you?" Her eyes went right to his middle, as if Thing was a light bulb, blinking out its presence madly. She pursed her lips before smiling again. "Would you like a table, can I get you a menu?"
"I've actually come about the job, if it's still open?"
“Oh! Well, yes, sure! Here, why don’t you sit while I go get the boss?" She pulled out a chair at a table covered with papers, ledgers, and a couple of half-empty coffee cups. It definitely was not a table meant for diners. The girl left him with a fresh cup of coffee and he edged some of the ledgers over to make room for his cup. He was half-way through his coffee, before a loud voice startled him.
"Hey there, come about the job, have ya? Great—the kids have either gone back to school or off to serve their Year, and we're pretty short-handed at the mo'."
Jared just stared and nodded at the man leaning over him. a tall, brown-skinned man whose thick black hair was swept back with maybe a touch too much pomade, and whose eyes were wide and round over a huge grin.
He whirled away and flopped down on the chair across from Jared, still smiling. His sleeves were rolled up, his bow tie was cock-eyed, and there was a big, blue splotch of ink marring his shirt pocket. He began sweeping papers and notebooks away, stacking cups, and snapping his fingers impatiently at the blonde girl who steadfastly ignored him, until finally he leaned backwards and began stacking the cups himself on a table behind him, all the while chatting about needing dishwashers and busboys and scrubs or something like that...it was like sharing space with a talkative whirlwind.
Jared waited, quietly sipping coffee, until the man ran down, stopped chattering, and actually took a look at Jared. His gaze jumped all over: left to right, up and down, taking in Jared's hair—which he was going to get cut like the city boys as soon as he could—and his barn coat, Mr. Beaver's bright sweater peeking out from under it, and the way he held himself. The man met his eyes then, leaned elbows on the table, and asked Jared, with all seriousness, "Can you read?"
Why did everyone presume that Family was illiterate? Jared scowled despite himself and replied sharply, "Yes, I certainly can—I was an assistant teacher at home."
The man lifted an eyebrow. "Well, Sonny, that's good to know if I need someone to help with the orders."
Jared blushed; he knew his tone had been snippy, and that wasn't exactly the impression he was trying to give. "I'm sure I could do that. I'm very smart, and I pick things up quickly."
"Oh, there you go then, we're a modest one, aren't we?" the man drawled, a smirk picking up one corner of his mouth in a way Jared thought was terribly unattractive.
The man tapped fingertips against formica, rat-tat-tat, apparently waiting for Jared to answer—so he did.
"False modesty," Jared replied, "is as bad as vanity. I won't brag that I'm good looking when I know very well that I'm not; I won't pretend to be dumb when I know I certainly am not."
The man laughed out loud, giving him another slow look up and down. "Oh you think so? I don't know about all that, now. What's your name, Modest One?"
"Jared," he said shortly, and bit his lip. Peanuts—he sounded snippy again, but it was just...just that he was a little stung that the man had so freely agreed that Jared was ugly and then practically laughed in his face, but gosh, he needed a job, and this was probably his best bet, considering his lack of knowledge when it came to city life, plus it was in walking distance, so, "No...I should be completely honest though, " knowing that this would more than likely cost him his chance at this job. "I'm...I'm a carrier?" he said, wincing at how it sounded more like a question than a statement.
The man blinked big eyes at him, slightly confused, slightly...interested. "Oo-kaay, that's...I'm not sure what that is."
"I'm carrying now," Jared said, forcing his voice to sound much decisive and bold than he felt by far.
"Oh! Oh, alright..I guess when you're on the books you'll get covered like a citizen, so, ah...yeah, you'll get maternity for...uh, when are you, ah, due?"
"I'm hired?" Jared stared at the man open-mouthed, gulped at his affirmative nod. "You—you don't care? About me being—" Excitement at the possibility of having the job warred with fear that he'd lose it when the man realized who he'd hired.
The man dropped back in his chair and sighed. Jared noticed just how long the lashes framing those big eyes were when the man looked up again. "Well, you know, I've never met a carrier before, but I always thought being one must be a tough row to hoe. It's not really been that long since the laws changed, and you all got your proper rights. My grandparents kinda went through the same troubles, in a way. So I promised myself I'd never be a jerk if I met a carrier. So, this is me, Orlando, not being a jerk. Trying not to be. About you being a carrier I mean, the rest of my crew will tell you being a jerk is my default setting. Anyway, them upstarts call me 'Lando. You are…?"
He held his hand out, and Jared took it, trying to remember to keep his grip firm—but not too firm. And not too soft, and should he have dried his palm first, was it too sweaty?
"Jared…Padalecki?" Oh gosh, he groaned internally. He sounded like he wasn't sure of who he was! He tried to smile and act like he knew what Mr. Lando was going on about—rights and rows and grandparents—and gave him his new address when asked, which Mr. Lando seemed to approve of, as well as his full name and when the man asked for personal information was needed, Jared found once again that he needed say nothing more than Family, exiled, and the name of his former community.
"You'll find out there are a lot of dumb rules to follow out here in the non-Family world too, no offense, but you'll get used to it," Mr. Lando said. "All kidding aside, my crew are good people, my customers too; anyone gives you problems, you let us know. I mean, hey, you're definitely going to get crap from time to time, but dollars to donuts won't be nothing like home. Mostly. Take this paper with you back to St. Maggie's, and once you get it signed off, that should be it. You're…" he squinted at Jared, looking him up and down, before saying, "...seventeen?"
"Yes, I am," Jared agreed instantly. "Yes, indeed—you have a good eye," he said, crossing his fingers mentally and adding the lie to the list of sins he prayed forgiveness for, hoping no one caught on to the fact that he was fifteen...besides, in another four months he'd be technically an adult, anyway.
Lando smirked, looking awfully proud of himself. "I do, don't I? Okay, so, say we start Monday, bright and early.” and with that, Mr. Lando swung out of his chair and headed toward the back of the diner, whistling and calling out greetings to his customers as he went.
The tall blonde girl sat in the chair Mr. Lando vacated. "Hi hon—I knew O was going to fall for you. Strays—picks them up by the bushel, that one. So, my soon-to-be co-worker, I am Addie. And you are?"
“Jay,” Jared said and held out his hand. He had the feeling See'em would have been proud of how bold he was. “Pleased to meet you.”
"Oh, aren't you a darling, polite boy. How far along are you?"
"I—I—" Jared stopped, took a breath and started over. "I’m sorry, I'm not sure how to talk to people about it. I’m about, um, five months along. I—" Jared hesitated, but there must have been volumes in his expression, because Addie took his hand and patted it gently.
"Hey, it’s okay, hon. We don't have to talk now—why, you don't even know me yet. But something tells me we’re going to be the best of friends."
Jared smiled shyly, thinking how nice it would be to have a friend, someone he could talk to.
Back in Mountain Grove, before it had all gone so wrong, people were friendly enough, sure, but the only real friends he'd had were family and they kind of didn't count. Family had to like you. Anyway, that's what he'd thought, back then.
Here in the Outside, most of the people he met had been kind to him—not counting the girls at St. Maggie's. Even then he understood, in a way, why that was. But to have a real friend? A friend who wanted to talk to him, would be glad to see him? How wonderful that would be! And Addie was—well, she was beautiful, with her bright smile and perky, blonde pony-tail, and wasn't it monstrously unfair that her moles were adorable, while his looked like he’d had mouse droppings glued to his face. Plus, he noticed, leaning forward a bit—she had the most beautiful green eyes, a shade of green that was really—
Addie flapped a couple of sheets of paper under his nose, snatching his attention back. “Okay, so—get that paperwork taken care of, eat something—ah-ah—" she said, holding her hands up, "don’t tell me you’ve eaten today, because whatever it was, it was not enough. I could cut bread on those cheekbones. Come in Monday morning—clean white shirt, and do you have black pants? Good."
She stood, and walked Jared back through the diner, ignoring curious looks. She stopped at the entrance, kissed him on the cheek and said, "And wear comfortable shoes."
Jared walked out onto the street, hand pressed to the warm spot on his cheek and feeling a little dazed...and triumphant. He had a job! He had a job, and maybe even a friend.
"Ha! Told you I'd make it. Told you I'd survive,” he muttered to himself, but if thoughts were birds, they'd fly straight to Mountain Grove and let everyone know that despite what they'd wished, he was making a bad situation into something good.
That evening, in his attic room, Jared carefully put the papers Mrs. Mond had signed into his bag. He buffed his boots, trying to get them as clean as possible. He hung up a pair of his clever, stretchy-waisted black trousers, that the salesperson assured him would expand with his growing waistline, and brushed them for probably the fourth time that evening. His white shirt practically glowed in the low light of his room, crisp, new, and spotless. Though he worried it wouldn't stay like that long, and it was the only white shirt he had. Maybe he could ask Addie how to keep it clean—and buy another shirt with his first paycheck.
First paycheck...the thought made him smile wide, and pleased. First paych—oh!
Jared nodded firmly, and went to his desk.
He carefully detached a sheet piece of paper from the back of his notebook, smoothed it out on his desk. He took one of the clever roller-ball pens in had and wrote neatly as possible:
Dear Mr. Beaver,
Even though you don't know me besides as the thief who stole your goods, I wanted you to know that I am now in the city, and am standing on the eve of being gainfully employed. I will soon be able to pay you back for what I owe, a prospect that makes me very happy, and you as well, I imagine.
The room I’m staying in now is very nice and roomy, but not as homey as your cabin. I’ve never stayed anywhere nicer, and with apologies included, I thank you again. You saved my life even if you didn't know that's what you were doing.
My full name is Jared Tytus Padalecki. You will be hearing from me soon.
He hummed to himself as he addressed the letter, and decided not to add a return address to the envelope. He saw no reason why Mr. Beaver would want to respond. And there was the issue of Mr. Beaver tracking him down and having him arrested for theft...though in his heart of hearts, he just couldn't imagine Mr. Beaver would really be that vengeful. Not a man who bought sweaters like this one, Jared thought, stroking over the soft material of what had become his favorite article of clothing. In the morning, after chores and lectures, and before work at his brand new job, he'd find a post box and mail it. He felt just a tiny bit lighter, knowing that this at least, was something he could fix.