Title: Dandelion Bouquets
Rating: Rated R here for the sexual content, but that may be pushing it, as I was wavering between PG-13 and R ratings. I figured, in the end, it was better to err on the side of caution.
Author's Notes: Thanks, of course, to Tarien Lakilea Tel'anor (sapphiredreams) for the thorough and awesome beta job on this one.
Disclaimer: The following characters and situations are used without permission of the creators, owners, and further affiliates of the Warner Bros television show, Supernatural, to whom they rightly belong. I claim only what is mine, and I make no money off what is theirs.
Dandelion bouquets bounce in a blue plastic pail that swings by a white braided handle as she skips and sings rhymes of the garden she's been taught about over the years. Even though her mother patiently explains the names of all the flowers when she stops long enough to listen, it won't matter in five minutes when she's found the fuzzy caterpillar beneath the bleeding heart. She runs through the piles of weeds they've pulled up, scattering them across the warm summer grass and laughs when she tumbles and somersaults. Her older sister, thinking herself more mature than a six-year-old pain in the neck, scolds her for the grass-stained knees and mud-smeared fingers.
There's a friendly whistle across the lawn, and they all turn as their father strolls up the driveway. Having the weekend off from work, and he's spent the day helping their neighbors put up the first cutting of hay. There are fine green clippings in his arm hair and around the curves in his eyes, and he smells sweet and wholesome. Something too natural to be tainted.
At the dinner table, they all link hands and say their prayers to sweet Jesus before they eat. The food is good and warm, and even though she's merely a child, she knows that nothing will ever taste better than her mother's home-cooking or sound better than her father's laughter. When her father compliments her on the yellow dandelions in the middle of the table, she sits up proudly and says, "I picked them just for you, Daddy."
- - - - -
In high school, she cheers for winning touchdowns and scoring passes under glaring stadium lights. After the games, the football players ask her on dates, and she accepts their offers. They all treat her well and hold her close, but when she looks into their eyes, she doesn't really know the person looking back at her. When she talks, they agree with her, but don't understand her. Her mother frowns with disapproval after each ended relationship, wanting to know who will take care of her daughter when all is said and done. Doesn't she know there's a war going on overseas? The world's a dangerous place now.
"That's why I'm going to college," she says, pushing her hair out of her way as she reads the morning newspaper, but her mother only shakes her head. College, she thinks, well that's nice and all, but a woman still needs a husband. A college education won't fix your appliances and shovel your drive or give your poor mother grandchildren before she's too old to spoil them.
She shakes her head at her mother's words and finishes her cereal. "He'll be around," she says. "I just haven't found the right one yet. I'm not going to settle just so I can get married. I'll get married when I'm ready."
Her mother pffts and turns back to the soapy dishes. Love and college. Where has her practical daughter gone?
- - - - -
Her car is in the shop, and she stays in the break room as he eats lunch across the ruddy, muted carpeting. At first, he doesn't say anything, while keeping his eyes downcast to the cold cut sandwich in his stained hands and ignoring the heavy silence in the room between them. Then an awkward, fumbled sentence here and there opens into a conversation that flows and wraps around them and says, Yes, yes.
By the time the owner turns the sign on the door to say they're closed for the evening, her car's still not finished. When she says she needs her car for tomorrow—she has school and her grandmother's in the hospital with pneumonia and there are groceries to be bought—the dark-haired man from the break room offers to finish the repairs for her. The shop owner laughs heartily and gives a wink to the break room man. She pretends not to know what thoughts are passing through the air.
The rest of the shop is closed except for the back bays, and she sits on a cupboard covered with newspapers so she doesn't stain her clothes. She swings her legs, crackling the pile of newspapers beneath her. As she has completed her homework ages ago, she reads a book while he works nearby. Then he moves himself, splattered with oil drops on his blue jeans, out from underneath the vehicle, and he pats the hood. The car's finished and she can go home now, he says. No extra charge. Think of it as just a helping hand.
She's met him only today, started talking this afternoon, and yet, she's known him for a lifetime. She slides off the shelf and gathers her things while he puts away the metal tools behind her. Her school papers rustle, and his tools clank in the silence. They shake hands, a formal gesture, and then one of them moves, the other bends, and their lips touch.
It's only a meeting, a joining of warm flesh and a tasting of the future. When they pull away, he looks down at her and apologizes in a rumbled stutter. "I don't normally do this to people the first time I meet them," he says, hot flush rising into his cheeks.
Before he can turn away in embarrassment, she grabs his arm. A playful smile flashes on her lips and she whispers, "And I don't normally do this in a car garage either."
They kiss again, and when her mother asks about the grease stains on the back of her shirt, she'll blush and try to find an easy excuse.
- - - - -
He removes his shirt and lays it beneath her to protect her skin from the prickled straw beneath. His body above her calms her in its warm presence, and they breathe in soft whispers of hot air against their cheeks. One of his hands, comforting and callused, rests on the side of her face and the other on the naked swell of her breast. She trembles slightly, happiness and anticipation quivering over her skin. The rightness of this scares her in some way she can't begin to understand.
He kisses her forehead, cheeks, and lips as her hands run along the naked muscles in his back, tracing the war scars he'll only tell her about years later in the protection of the fresh morning light. "Are you sure?" he whispers, while meeting her eyes. "We can wait."
She smiles. "No, no more waiting. This is right."
They meet and kiss. Sigh and gasp. Rise and fall together.
- - - - -
When she tells him about the acceptance to the prominent college out east, he doesn't say anything at first, nodding slowly and congratulating her in a painful murmur. Then he mumbles that they won't be seeing each other anymore after the summer ends and her new university life begins. Shocked by such a response, she asks hopefully if he'll come with her.
"You know I can't do that," he says. "I've got my job out here."
"But I don't want…this to be over."
"Then stay at the community college here…you've already gotten a year in. Why quit now?"
She tells him that this eastern school may give her the job she's been looking for, and it's the college she's always dreamed of for herself. She can't just settle for the community college now even though she'd earn her degree faster here than away.
Maybe, he says, and rises from his seated position on the grass near the edge of a riverbank, maybe things are better this way. He doesn't want to hold her back. She needs to find a man who will be at her level. He can't be that person. He's just a shop boy who fought in the war, and he'll be labeled by both for the rest of his life. He can fix her cars and defend her country, but he can't be any more than that for her.
When she asks again, he turns and walks away from her with the excuse of needing to return to work.
The days pass slowly, and the nights grow longer. She pleads for him to join her because he means everything to her. Why can't he understand that? She searches for a compromise, but she wants both the eastern school and him, and unfortunately, neither of her desires is willing to move together for her.
One night after dinner at her parents' house, they sit in the living room together, when she asks him again for help in making their relationship work. He freezes on the couch next to her, and he shakes his head and stands up from the couch. She follows him across the living room to the doorway where he now stands. "If that's the way you're going to be," she says, trying to mask her pain with anger, "then maybe we shouldn't try to keep things going."
"I don't see how things are going to work. You'll be over a thousand miles away. And I'll just be here. I don't want you waiting for me. You have so much ahead of you."
She doesn't remember who ends it first, if he does when he closes the door behind him without saying good-bye, or if she does when she turns away from him and starts to cry into her hands.
After he's left for the night, and the days pass in silence, she packs her belongings for school and gets in her car for the long drive. With the suitcases jumbled in the backseat, she'll wonder if leaving him was the right thing to do. Hours later, she glances in her rearview mirror when she pulls into the university parking lot and wipes her eyes with the back of her hand. The university professors tell her that these will be the best years of her life, and she feels guilty, as if she's broken a promise to something greater that she does not yet know.
Outside the door of the great halls, the dandelions, grown in a clustered bunch, turn to silent gray whispers and float away on a cool breeze.
- - - - -
She returns home after two years out east, and while she's been with others, this town with its streets and smells reminds her of him in every way. She forces herself to remember that he's no longer in her life, she's a grown woman now, and he's probably moved on too. After all, that door slammed closed between them long enough ago. She's not about to go reopening rooms that needn't be.
She's in the grocery store one afternoon pushing her cart down the aisle when she sees him coming her way. He doesn't ignore her—perhaps it would have been easier that way; he smiles in a courteous, distant manner and continues on. Once again, he moves away from her life.
This time, though, instead of continuing to push further away and allowing him to leave, she turns back around. She runs towards him down the white tiled aisles in her fancy city shoes and calls his name. The second time she speaks his name, he turns and the time separated falls away. His arms are around her, fisting in her freed hair, and her hands are all over him, on his chest, on his neck and arms. She can't seem to get enough of this, get enough of him.
"I though you said this wouldn't work. I thought you were going to stay out east," he says, and she'll later wonder if he was trying to choke back tears.
"I was, I was," she whispers breathlessly.
"You'll leave again."
"No," she says. "I'm staying here. I'm staying with you. It's always been you." Next to the macaroni and cheese and boxed spaghetti noodles, she kisses and kisses him. When he at last believes her, he kisses back, and down the aisle, a flustered employee knocks over a display of cans. The cans clatter loudly down the aisle, and she laughs into his mouth.
- - - - -
He officially proposes and gives her a ring when she comes to visit him one day after work. When he lifts her off the ground and twirls her around, the other mechanics whistle and holler in happiness that their quiet Vietnam soldier finally has a reason to smile again.
She says "yes," of course. Was there ever any doubt?
- - - - -
Dean is born at night, blonde and blue-eyed. Sam comes in the morning, brown hair and dark eyes.
When Dean is born in the hospital, John holds her hand and talks her through it all. The nurses are talking in a foreign ramble, and the doctor's telling her something she doesn't hear. Then, Dean's shrieking cry cuts through the sweat and tears, turning her labor of pain into one of love. John will later recount the story to all who will listen of how Dean winked at the nurse as if to say, Hey, world, get ready because I'm here.
When Sam is born, everything happens so fast, and she hopes this isn't an indication of how her youngest son will continue to live his life. She thought that she would have known after one child what to expect. But, her water breaks, and suddenly, Sam's ready. There's no time to get a baby-sitter for Dean, so they load him up into the car, and John drives white-knuckled down the roads. Finally, she tells him to pull over and help her because Sam's coming now. And there, alongside the wet dewed grass and dotted sunlight through the trees, her son is born. He wails and screams, kicking chubby legs and thrashing small fists.
John kisses her while she holds their new baby, and Dean wipes the sticky hair on his younger brother's head and talks to him of all the great things they're going to do together. When all four of them gather together, she feels a sense of completeness that tells her, It's about time.
- - - - -
There's Dean and Sam. She wasn't sure she was ready for motherhood, but her sons are ready for her, and she can't turn away from them now.
She's in the kitchen, making cookies with Dean while Sam coos in his playpen nearby. Dean has sugar on his face, and more of the chocolate chip cookie dough batter seems to end up in his mouth instead of on the floured pan she's given him. His long shaggy blonde hair falls across his forehead, and when he looks up at her—"Like this, Momma?"—it covers his playful eyes. He makes a cookie for Sam, and she doesn't tell him that Sam can't eat such things just yet. When it comes to Dean's love for Sam, there's no use in arguing with him.
They clean the kitchen together, and Dean eagerly helps with anything that needs to be done. She's always surprised to hear her sister complain about her own son and his recklessness because Dean is the complete opposite; he's everything she could ever imagine for a child. He's kind and loving, smart and clever. He surprises her everyday with just how wonderful he is.
When she picks up Sam, he smiles a toothless grin, and Dean bursts into a lively story of cooking with Momma. She lays Sam down next to Dean in the living room where Dean plays with his younger brother. From the doorway, she watches her two sons together and feels a nostalgic pain caress her heart when she thinks of how much they've grown since they were born.
The cookies are still warm when John returns home, smelling of the familiar touches from the shop, and Dean runs into his arms. "Hey, little man," he says, swinging his younger son up onto his shoulder. While Dean chatters on about his day, John leans over and kisses her. "How was your day?" he asks as she picks up Sam, who has dozed off on the living room rug, one chubby fist tucked to his cheek.
"Good," she answers. "Yours?"
"Better now that I'm home," he smiles.
- - - - -
It's warmer than usual for early November when she lays Sam down for the night, and she changes into a light nightgown instead of the thicker fleece ones she owns. Dean's a ball of energy that refuses to sleep until he's said good-night to Sam too, and even then, she knows he'll lie awake in bed and plan for all the fun things she's promised for the next day.
She turns back the covers and slides into bed with a welcomed sigh of relief. John sits down on the bed next to her, pulling a lock of blonde curls behind her ear when she smiles up at him. He says he's going to go downstairs and watch some television before heading to bed, if that's all right with her. She nods and yawns. It's been a long day, and she needs the rest. There's still so much to do tomorrow yet, and the whirlwind of motherhood waits for no woman. Dean's preschool class has invited the parents to read with their children tomorrow, and Sam seems to be outgrowing everything she puts on him. There are groceries to be bought for dinner tomorrow night, and there are bills to be paid. Even though relaxation seems to be a dream of the past, she wouldn't have her life any other way.
John rises from the bed and walks to the doorway. Just before he turns out the light, she says, "You know I love you, right?"
He looks confused for a moment, one hand resting on the doorframe of their room. "Of course I do. Why do you say that?"
She pauses and looks out the window. The night is thick and black, filled with the silent promises of the devil that will take her life tonight. She senses something rising on the wind, something beyond her understanding. "No reason. Just wanted to make sure you knew."
He smiles back at her. "I love you too, baby. I'll let you get some rest."
He turns off the light, and the room is pitched into darkness. She snuggles against the pillows, pulling the covers close against her shoulder and letting the thick fabric drape its arms around her. She thinks of Dean and Sam, and she thinks of John. She thinks of the moments that have brought her to now, and she wonders if this is what she would have designed for herself all those years ago. But, no matter what her childhood wishes would have imagined, she has learned that this happiness is perfect just the way it is. Life is not perfect, but the happiness that wraps itself around her is. This right here and right now, this is everything.
And she sleeps and dreams of dandelion bouquets to pick for tomorrow.
But when the sun rises again, the dandelions will not be gathered, and they will bow their yellow heads in private mourning, fading to gray fog and black eyes until the wind scatters them across the earth where she rests.