The minute Sammy sees the stuff he's gotten, he's pulling a face.
"That's not it."
"What do you mean?" Dean stares at him. "Of course it is."
"That's not what I'm talking about."
Dean thinks about Pastor Jim saying, "Patience is a virtue," and says, "Well, what ARE you talking about, then? Because we always get this sh – stuff, and it's always been okay before."
Sammy looks down at the table. "You know what I mean," he whispers.
"No, I don't," says Dean, who now remembers why Pastor Jim said that to him a few weeks ago. "And I don't care. This is what we got, Sammy, so shut up."
Sammy sighs and props his chin on his arm, finally looking up at Dean. "You do know," he murmurs. "You're just being mean because Dad isn't here."
"Mean? Jesus, Sammy, how am I being mean?" Dean grabs one of the sacks and dumps it on the table. "I went out and got all this –"
"Stole it, you mean."
"GOT it, and look, we got sparklers, we got cherry bombs -- Hey, remember last year, that place in Florida? The alligator?"
"It wasn't hurting anybody," Sammy says reasonably. "Why'd you wanna hurt it?"
"Just – funny, that's all." Dean's grin fades, and he slumps down, tapping the end of a sparkler on the tabletop. "Didn't hurt it anyway."
"Because it ran away, that's all."
"Look." Dean fixes him with his hardest stare, and sees Sammy narrow his eyes. "Dad said we stay here, all right? So we stay here. You know the rules."
Sam sits up. "But it's the Fourth of July, Dean," he says earnestly. "And they're gonna have REAL fireworks. Like they have on tv and stuff. It won't even take that long, and it's not real far. Dad won't ever even KNOW."
Dean snorts and says, "Wanna make a bet?" Sammy draws a breath and Dean adds, "No. We got this sh – stuff, and this is what we're gonna have. That's all."
"You suck," Sammy says before he stomps away into the bedroom.
Dean watches him go, and throws the sparkler on the table.
Thing is, he thinks, scowling at nothing, Sammy isn't the only one who wants to go see the fireworks. This town has a big thing on July 4th, and with the door open he can hear stuff now, through the screen. The commotion from the parade, people having fun and watching the floats, and tonight there's a concert and stuff, and he doesn't much give a shit about the music but he hears stuff like the fireworks are pretty damn good, and it IS a holiday.
And Dad's been gone two days, just a phone call this morning saying he'd be at least until Thursday and you boys doing all right for food, did you have enough money to buy groceries. Not a word about going to the parade or the thing tonight, which Dean's pretty sure Dad didn't even know about, even if he cared, which he doesn't. Dad's never been much about observing holidays and stuff. They usually do something for Christmas, except they're always so broke the presents suck. But birthdays and other kinds of holidays, well, Dad says, "Demons don't take holidays, boys," and as much as Dean knows he's right, it still sucks. Sucks hard.
He takes his lighter out of his pocket and lights the sparkler right there at the kitchen table. It hisses and sprays sparks, and he thinks it's not as fun and pretty as it had been last year. Wants to like it more than he does.
He waits until the sparkler dies out, and sticks his lighter back in his pocket.
Sammy sulks all day, shut up in his room with books and his coloring stuff, and Dean prowls the house, fixes them hot dogs for supper and yells at Sammy to come eat, isn't real surprised when he won't.
"Come on, dumbass," he says, leaning against Sammy's closed door. "It'll get cold. Besides, you like hot dogs."
"No, I don't," comes Sammy's voice through the door. "That was last week."
Dean rolls his eyes. "Man, you are so LAME. Such a baby."
The door swings open and he's met with Sammy's fiercest nine-year-old glare. "I'm NOT a baby," he says, "and you're an asshole."
"What'd I do?" Dean makes a face. "I fixed supper and I got your stupid fireworks, and I'm an ASSHOLE? YOU'RE the asshole, you know that?"
"It's not real."
"What's not real? Look, those fireworks are the real deal, and just because you –"
"They're not – big." Sammy's glare fades, and he looks wistful again. "Big like they have on tv. You know."
Dean does, and doesn't want to admit it. "So?" he asks gruffly. "Those big ones don't even go off half the time anyway. Bunch of duds."
"How do you know?"
"Just do. You'll just be disappointed. You get all these ideas, and then –"
"I won't be disappointed." There's a look in Sammy's eye now that Dean recognizes, says he thinks he's got Dean's angle. Trouble is, he usually does. It's how lots of their problems start. "You'll see," Sammy tells him conspiratorially. "It'll be great. It'll knock you out."
"No, it won't."
"Why not? You –"
"Because we're not going, that's why," Dean says, and turns to go back to the kitchen. Hot dogs are cold by now anyway. Stupid Sammy.
"You wanna go, too, don't you? Just as much as I do! Maybe more!"
"Man, would you just shut up?" Dean turns and scowls at him. "Doesn't matter what I want, anyway. Dad said stay in the house, and we stay in the house. He'll kill me – us – if he comes back and we're gone."
Sammy cocks his head a little to the side and says, "You said this morning he wasn't coming back until Thursday."
"Maybe Thursday. But maybe he'll get done early, and it'll be tonight."
"It's a will-o-the-wisp," Sammy says practically. "They only come out at night, so he can't finish until at least tonight."
"How do you know?" Dean asks, and Sammy rolls his eyes, because they both got briefed before Dad left and Dean knows that, just sorta talked before he thought, and Sammy's smarter than that. "Maybe," he says after a grudging moment. "But that doesn't mean we get to do what we want."
"So you do want to." Sammy's smile is triumphant. "Knew you did."
"Maybe," Dean repeats. "But it doesn't matter, see? We're supposed to stay HERE."
Sammy looks at him, and Dean makes a face and goes over to the counter. "Your hot dog's cold."
"We can get another one there. You still have money, don't you?"
"A little." Dean sighs. "God, you're such a pain."
"So can we go? Dean, it's just a few blocks, and it's nearly dark now, and that means we can run over there and see the fireworks and we'll be back here real quick." Sammy's nearly tripping over his words, all big eyes and stuff, giving Dean the whole workup. "Please? Come on, just this once. Next year we'll be someplace they don't even GOT fireworks, probably."
Thing is, that part's true, too. Last year they were in a mildewy cabin next to a Florida swamp, and most of the stuff Dad bought fizzled out because it was so humid. And before that -- Dean can't actually remember where they were the year before that, but wherever it was, there weren't any town fireworks displays to see, that much is for sure.
"And," Sammy adds in a whisper, "I bet Jennifer Anderton'll be there."
Dean shoots him a dirty look, but inside he kinda feels funny, because he's been trying not to think about Jennifer and her blonde hair and blue eyes, or to remember the last day of school and that smile and her saying, "See you around this summer, Dean," because he hasn't seen her in six weeks. Dad'll probably want to leave when he gets back, job's finished, and they'll go to school someplace else in the fall, no more Jennifer. She likes him, he's just sure of it, and if only they weren't leaving he could maybe get something going.
Sammy just looks back at him, and Dean says, "Oh, okay."
"Dude, you're gonna fall and break your neck or something, would you slow down?"
"Come ON," Sammy says, hands on his hips. "We're gonna miss it!"
"No, we're not, it's barely even dark."
"That's when it STARTS!"
"Oh. Yeah, well, wait up."
He follows Sammy at a trot, through the empty field separating their little house from the last street in town, glad when they hit pavement and he isn't collecting more burrs in his jeans. No doubt where they're going: the open area next to the power station is lit up like daylight, and he can hear people laughing, yelling, smell food in the air. His stomach rumbles; neither of them ate the hot dogs, and he's hoping the ten dollars he has left will be enough to buy them both something to eat.
Sammy's dragging the blanket on the ground, but his smile when he looks at Dean is something else. He's so damn happy Dean doesn't have the heart to tell him they're gonna be lying on a burr blanket. "Come on," he repeats, grabbing Dean's wrist with his free hand. "Hurry."
Then they're walking over to where folks are gathered, tons of blankets and picnic baskets, lawn chairs and kids littler and louder than Sammy running all over the place. There are stands set up along the perimeter of the field, big signs for funnel cakes and Italian sausages and curly fries and cotton candy, and his mouth waters.
Sammy drags him into the thick of things, like he knows where he's going. Dean thinks it would be best if they didn't go in too far, so they can make a quick getaway, but Sammy won't hear it, just keeps going until they're not very far from the rickety little stage when some guys are playing twangy music and singing about patriotism and apple pie, and squeezes them into a space between a man and woman with like twelve kids and a couple that are totally making out in front of God and everyone.
The chick's hot, even if she is kind of obviously spoken for. Dean doesn't complain too much, just helps Sammy lay the blanket out and sits down.
"So when do they get this show on the road?" he asks Sammy, who's plopped down looking absolutely ecstatic to be there, wide-eyed, smiling at the toddler lumbering by on the right.
"Soon. You'll see."
"You will." Sammy's eyes take in the food stands. "I'm hungry."
"You weren't a few minutes ago."
"You said we had money."
Dean looks over, sees the clot of kids standing near the curly-fry stand. "Yeah," he said idly. "Guess we do. A little."
"Can I have a sausage?"
"Give me some money."
Dean looks back at him, frowns when he thinks about Sammy wandering around this zoo by himself. "I'll get it. You stay here."
Sammy shrugs. "And a coke."
"All right already."
"And a funnel cake."
"What am I, your waiter?" Dean snorts. "You'll get whatever I can afford, man."
"Okay," Sammy says sunnily.
"And don't move off this blanket, or I will kick your butt."
"Not an inch, Sammy, I swear to God."
Sammy rolls onto his stomach and gives him a blissful look. "I won't. I promise."
"You better," Dean mumbles, and climbs to his feet, brushing at the burrs. "Anybody tries anything, you –"
"I know," Sammy says, rolling his eyes. "Scream really loud and if it doesn't stop, run really fast."
There's a line at all three of the sausage stands. He picks the one that looks shortest, and glances over at the clump of kids nearby. He doesn't recognize but a couple of them, and one, he sees with a jolt of excitement in his chest, is Jennifer Anderton. She's wearing pink shorts and a white tee shirt, and her legs are long and tanned and her hair shines in the floodlights. He wishes fiercely for her to turn around, see him standing over here. Then he could go over, maybe, even if it does mean losing his place on line. Not sure what he'll say to her, but he'll think of something, always does, and he wishes he'd worn a different shirt. The gray one, that was the one he had on when she smiled at him. She liked that shirt.
But she doesn't look around, and he inches forward, tries to ignore the heavy lady on line behind him, griping about how long the wait is. Her kid is Sammy's age and much whinier.
He's got two people between himself and Sammy's sausage, when Jennifer waves. Only when Dean smiles he sees she's not even looking at him, somebody else behind him, and sure enough Jennifer comes over with her friends and starts talking to some girls, from school he guesses. Doesn't recognize them. Not nearly as pretty as Jennifer.
"Oh, for God's sake," the heavy lady says, taking her whiny kid by the wrist. "NOW?" And drags him off in the direction of the toilets. There's no one between himself and Jennifer's little fan club now, and he waits until she looks around and then smiles at her again, lifts his chin.
Her pretty blue eyes meet his, blink slowly, and then move right past him, scanning the crowd as if she's looking for someone and it definitely isn't him.
Dean faces forward, cheeks burning even though he isn't sure why exactly, and holds out two dollars to buy Sammy's sausage. It comes on a stick, piping hot, and he wraps it carefully in paper and thinks about going to get some fries. He isn't big on sausage, but the fries would be okay. He's really hungry.
A girl laughs loudly behind him, and he clearly hears someone say, "He LOOKED at you."
"Let him look," Jennifer says airily, loud enough to carry. "He's just trash. His father doesn't even work."
Dean can't help it. He looks back, because this isn't the Jennifer he remembers, saying shit like that. Jennifer was nice, sweet, perfect, and this girl has a narrow mouth and chilly eyes set too close together, and when she sees him looking at her she tosses her gleaming blond hair and adds, "He's not even that cute."
Dean opens his mouth and shuts it, feels his fingers burning on the sausage-on-a-stick, thinks about saying, Well, I'm not rich like your daddy and my dad doesn't work in a bank or whatever like yours does, but I'm sure as shit cute, and somebody bumps into him and makes him stumble a little, and by the time he looks back the girls are wandering away, in a huddle, ignoring him entirely.
He buys two cans of Coke and fries, although he isn't very hungry anymore. When he gets back to their blanket Sammy pounces on him, grabbing the sausage and tearing into it, almost biting into the paper in his excitement.
"Whoa, it's just food," Dean mumbles, and pops the top on his Coke.
Mouth full of sausage, Sammy's eyes widen. "Hey, look!"
It's not a very big one, just a short puff of electric white and Dean misses most of it, but it's like the cue people have been waiting for: the lights dim, even the rugrats in the family next to them gather up on their blanket, and the couple sucking face on the other side break the liplock to look up.
Then something explodes over their heads, a dull thump Dean can feel in his bones as well as hear, brilliant red sprays over their heads, almost close enough to touch, and he leans his head back and doesn't even care that his mouth is hanging open.
"Wow," Sammy breathes next to him. "Cool."
"Yeah," Dean echoes, nodding.
The next one's so big and near that Sammy grabs Dean's arm, and for once Dean doesn't mind it, lets Sammy scoot over and puts his arm around his skinny shoulders, both of them gawking up into the sky while the fireworks pour out, soar up and blast open into showers of radiant color. More and more, making Sammy flinch, and even Dean a couple of times, not caring when the littlest kid next to them starts to bawl. It's sort of scary, and spectacular, and Sammy's right. It's cool as shit.
They sit, and he sort of forgets about bitchy Jennifer. Not completely, but for the moment it's not really that important.
"Is it over?" Sammy whispers.
Dean shifts a little, realizes his butt is half-asleep. "Guess so," he mumbles. He finishes his forgotten Coke and glances at Sammy. "Ready?"
"That was neat," Sammy tells him. He looks sleepy and happy, and Dean smiles and reaches out to ruffle his hair.
"Yeah. It was."
"Yeah, yeah. We gotta go. Come on."
Walking back across the field, angled to hit the street and beat it back home, the good feeling starts to fade away, like the afterimages of light on the backs of his eyes. He doesn't give a shit about bitches like Jennifer, what the fuck does she know, never had to fight a day in her life and never had to watch out for anybody, take over when her dad left to go kill something evil. She doesn't know shit.
But he wishes sometimes, wishes it wasn't like this. Wishes he didn't have to sneak Sammy over to see fireworks, like it was something wrong, like it wasn't something that every single other person in the United States was doing tonight, every year, having fun and eating crap and being with their families. He gets so tired of Sammy carping on shit like this, getting ideas into his head from the tv or other kids or books or someplace, but sometimes he thinks maybe it's so annoying because he'd like it, too. But unlike Sammy, he knows they aren't LIKE those people, never have been and never will be, and thinking it makes him feel like his teeth itch, like there's something just beyond his reach he can't grasp, will always stay just far enough away that he can want it and know that he can never have it. Sammy hasn't figured that out yet.
Sometimes Dean hates that. And sometimes he's scared of the day Sammy finds it out on his own.
It occurs to him then that Dad might have come back, the car'll be there in the gravel drive and Dad'll be standing there with that look on his face, the one Dean remembers, and he grabs Sammy's wrist and starts walking faster, jogging really, with Sammy whining about too fast, Dean, I'm tired.
"I'm tired, too," Dean says sharply. "This was your idea, remember? Stop whining."
"I gotta tie my shoe."
"Leave it. We gotta hurry."
"Jesus, would you shut the fuck UP ALREADY?"
Sammy does, and all there is is his breath coming in uneven little pants, his hand sweaty and limp in Dean's own.
Their car isn't there. The house is dark, still, except the porch light and the overhead in the kitchen Dean left on because he's hated walking into dark houses ever since Enterprise, and the spiders.
In the porch light Sammy looks tired and sad, and Dean unlocks the door with a savage jerk of the key and says, "Go on. Brush your teeth, you gotta go to bed."
"I know," Sammy mumbles, and trudges inside.
Dean stands on the porch, listens to the crickets eeeing in the grass, looks back at the field below, distant lights still blazing.
I hate you, he says in his mind, but isn't sure whom exactly he hates. Just feels it, inside, like a moth captured inside a glass Mason jar, beating against the walls with no way to ever get out. I hate you all. Not trash. He does good things, better things than you ever will.
Hands shoved deep into his pockets, fists like stones weighing him down, he turns. "What?"
Sammy's changed into his pajamas, steps barefoot out onto the porch. In his hand he holds one of the sparklers. "Wanna light it?" he asks, coming to stand beside him.
"Thought you said it wasn't real."
"It's not as big. Doesn't mean it isn't real."
Dean swallows shame and says, "Kinda crappy after all that big stuff," but he takes the sparkler and fishes for his lighter.
When that one's gone Sammy goes back inside for the sack, and they say nothing while they light them one by one, Sammy giggling because the sparks feel funny when they touch your skin. Not a burn, just a prickle, doesn't hurt.
Sammy's face is all light and shadows, flickering while the sparklers burn. "Wouldn't be the Fourth of July if we didn't have these," he says after a while, softly, and Dean nods and bumps him with his shoulder.
"You're just lucky Dad didn't come home early."
"Knew he wouldn't. Think he's okay?"
"Course he is. He's kicking its ass right now, I bet."
"Did you get cherry bombs?"
Dean grins and says, "Mailbox?"
Sammy nods vigorously, and Dean fishes one out of the bag. "Oughta put it in the toilet. See what happens."
"Wouldn't it go out because of the water?"
"I guess. Dunno. Other people do it."
"We'll do that one next year."
"Yeah," Dean says, tossing the firecracker from one hand to the other. "Okay."
The cherry bomb blows the mailbox all to hell and gone, and Dean laughs until there are tears streaming down his face, and Sammy just about never goes to sleep that night because he's giggling and talking about blowing up toilets. Dad gets home the next afternoon, sees the remains of the mailbox, and Dean braces himself for a lecture that never comes. Instead Dad pats his shoulder and messes up his hair, grins through bruised lips and says, "Save any sparklers for me?"
Dean and Sammy exchange aghast looks, and Dean stutters, "We, ah, aw jeez –"
Dad brandishes a sack he's been holding behind his back, keeps on grinning and says, "I got bigger ones. You boys feel like helping me light a few of these tonight?"
"Sure!" Dean says immediately, and grins at him and Sammy both.