Title: Cookbook for Boys and Girls
Challenge: spnchallenges Firsts Chart Challenge - writer's choice
Characters: Sam, John, Dean
Word Count: 4,245
Feedback: - constructive criticism welcome
Disclaimer: None of the Winchesters belong to me, alas.
Summary: Sam finds something of Mary's in a storage unit.
Notes: This was inspired by wenchpixie, who suggested writing a story about one of the boys' first cooking experience and by janissa11, whose depiction of Dean's introduction to cooking in Red Beans and Rice totally feels like canon to me.
Mary Catherine Burkett
Sam ran his finger lightly over the two lines in pencil on the title page of the book. Wow, this was Mom's book. He turned around and looked over his shoulder, but Dad and Dean were still bent over the trunk of supplies. Sam looked back at the book in his hand, tracing the curly letters of the year and doing the math in his head. She was twelve, then, just like him. Weird.
Weird that he'd never seen this book before. The box must have always been here, in the corner of the storage unit in Kansas City. They stopped by the unit about once every year, dropping off new things that they didn't need to drag around with them (school projects, weapons in need of repair) and picking up other things they needed (ammo that Dad must have bought in massive wholesale bulk at some point, Dean's hand-me-down clothes that Sam was ready for).
Dad usually didn't let him touch the older boxes piled in the back corners, but Sam had gotten bored and figured it couldn't hurt to open one that was down on the floor already. And kind of hidden behind an old dresser. "BOOKS" was written on the outside of the box, and it was just too much of a temptation. Dean and Dad were off in their own little world, and Sam just had to open the box.
Sitting there on top was a small, faded hardcover. Cookbook for Boys & Girls. He almost set it aside, but something made him open the cover, and that's when he saw his mother's name. It almost made her feel real, seeing her name like this, written by her in pencil almost thirty years ago. He imagined the blonde woman in the pictures with Dad, but younger and smaller. Maybe she had braids. Yeah, braids, for sure.
He flipped through the book, and it fell open to a page near the end, a recipe for brownies. The page was a little warped, like it had been touched by wet fingers, and there was a brown smudge, chocolate, on the top of the page. When Sam brushed his thumb over the smudge, small, dry grains came loose from the page and settled into the binding.
"Sammy, time to hit the road!"
He startled at Dad's voice, and made a quick decision. He crammed the book into his backpack and shoved the flaps of the box closed before coming out from behind the dresser and joining Dad and Dean outside the door of the storage unit.
Sam didn't get to look at the book again for a while. He wanted to keep it to himself, even though it felt kind of wrong, keeping it from Dean. He didn't know how mad Dad would be if he found out. Those boxes were supposed to be off-limits, and Dad was pretty strict about touching things he was told not to touch, but there wasn't anything dangerous about a cookbook.
He wasn't sure what Dean would say either, though he was pretty sure he wouldn't tell Dad. It was a cookbook with "girls" in the title, after all, so Sam could imagine a renewed round of "Samantha" jokes. If he ended up going to school with a bow in his hair again, well, that would just suck. It didn't feel right to keep something of Mom's from Dean, but then Dean had things Sam didn't have. He had memories.
Sam didn't have anything other than a couple of pictures and the stories Dean had whispered to him after lights-out. But now he had the book, and as they drove down the highway toward their new place he found himself sneaking a hand into his backpack just to feel it, the soft cloth cover, the rounded edges of the corners, where they had bumped into other books. He imaged his mother holding the book in her hands a long time ago, just as she must have held him in her hands.
He stretched out on the back seat and daydreamed about a big, clean kitchen in a nice house and coming home from school with Dean to find that his mom had made them brownies. She would smile at him, and call him Sammy, and he wouldn't even really mind. Dad would come into the kitchen, smiling like he did in the picture, and put his arm around Mom. She'd kiss him and get chocolate on his cheek, and he'd laugh, like Dean says he used to.
"Do you have to go?" Dad suddenly asks her.
Even in the dream? Even in the dream Mom has to go?
Sam snapped awake as the door he was leaning on opened away from him. "Yo, sleepy-head, you need to go? We're at a rest stop."
Sam blinked in the sunlight and nodded, pulling his hand out of his backpack and getting out of the car to follow Dean and Dad to the restrooms.
In their bedroom in the new apartment, when Dean wasn't there, Sam would pull out the book and look through it. It had some seriously goofy stuff. Who would want to eat something called Cabbage Wedgies? He definitely couldn't imagine ever wanting to eat some kind of weird salad that involved peaches and carrots. And Heart Cake made him think about what Dean told him about that heart-eating witch back in Wisconsin.
The recipe for brownies kept drawing him back. He liked brownies, after all. Liked them a lot. Dean made some from a boxed mix one time, but the best brownies he ever had were at Pastor Jim's. Some lady from Pastor Jim's church had made them, and he thought at the time that free brownies might pretty much make up for the no girls thing.
And Mom had made these brownies, so maybe she liked them, too. Maybe that was something they had in common. He wondered if he was like her in other ways, but he knew he couldn't ask Dad. Dean always said not to, and Dean always knew what was right.
He decided he'd have to make the brownies. He'd never really cooked anything before, at least not anything that couldn't go in the microwave, but it didn't look all that hard when Dean did it. And this cookbook made the steps pretty clear, so he thought he could do it. And he even had the perfect time to do it.
On Friday, they only had school for a half day at the middle school so that the teachers could go to some kind of in-service. The high school was on the normal schedule, so Dean would be stuck there all day, and Dad had picked up a day job for a while. Dean had wanted to cut out of school early to walk Sam home, but Dad decided that Sam was finally old enough to be at home alone for a few hours.
So, all he needed were the ingredients. The apartment's kitchen had come stocked with the basic equipment, and among the battered burned-looking pans he saw one that looked like it was probably 8 x 8, like the book said he needed.
They had plenty of sugar and salt, always. The fridge had butter and eggs in it, and when he begged for pancakes Dean picked up flour and baking powder at the grocery store. The only thing he still needed was unsweetened chocolate. He crossed his fingers, and when he went into the CVS on the way home from school that Friday he found it in a little flat box.
When he got home, he let himself in with the key Dean had pinned to the inside of his backpack and ran to their bedroom. He kept the book underneath his mattress, wrapped inside a plastic grocery bag so that it wouldn't get scuffed up. He ran back to the kitchen and opened the book to the brownies recipe, lightly running his finger over the chocolate smudge again.
He turned the oven on to get hot and then pulled out the little pan, a little bowl, a big bowl and a mixing spoon. The book said that the butter was supposed to be soft, so he had left a stick out of the fridge before they left for school that morning. He read the little lines on the butter wrapper and cut off 1/3 cup then let the soft, slippery butter flop out of the wrapper into the little bowl. The book said to grease the pan, so he smeared the leftover butter from the wrapper onto the pan and hoped that was good enough.
Next, he opened the box of chocolate and unwrapped two squares. He broke a tiny piece off one of the corners and stuck it in his mouth, but then he had to spit it out in the skink. Gross! Nasty! How could that be chocolate. He hoped it would taste okay once it was all mixed in.
He thought that the microwave would probably be okay for melting the chocolate and sugar, so he put the little bowl in there and watched it go around and around until it looked all liquidy. He broke two eggs into the big bowl, fished out a couple little pieces of shell, and then added the sugar and mixed it all up together. Then he poured the chocolate goop in there and mixed it up some more.
He measured out the flour, trying not to get any of it on the counter and failing, and dumped it in the bowl, followed by the baking powder and salt. He mixed it together with the mixing spoon until there weren't any more lumps, and then he swiped his finger across the spoon and stuck it in his mouth.
Yum! The chocolate tasted way better once it had all that sugar and stuff in it. He picked up the bowl and scraped the batter into the pan and stuck it in the oven. The heat from the open oven door shocked him a little when he bent down to put the pan in, but he just gave the pan a little shove and then let the oven door slam shut.
He looked at the clock--1:30. The brownies should be done at 1:55 or 2:00, and Dean got out of school at 2:30. Sam couldn't wait to surprise Dean and Dad with the brownies, and he really hoped they came out okay.
He put away the ingredients and wiped the flour and chocolate goo off the counter, then he washed up the bowls and spoons and measuring cups. By the time the kitchen looked about like it had when they left that morning, it was starting to smell really good. Sam started opening the oven every couple of moments, braving the heat that blasted out to look at his brownies, rising and getting less shiny, and then it was time to take them out.
He couldn't find a cooling rack like the book said to use, but he thought the burners on the stove would work just about the same, so he put the pan there to cool off and turned off the oven.
Sam knew he ought to be working on his homework, but he couldn't concentrate on anything other than his brownies. He got himself a soda and sat down at the kitchen table to drink it, but then couldn't stop bouncing up and down, so he got up and looked outside to see if Dean was coming down the street yet.
He looked at the clock and reminded himself that Dean only got off school 2 minutes ago, and it took him at least 15 minutes to walk home. He went over to check on the brownies and decided they were probably cool enough to take out of the pan.
He used a butter knife to cut them up into squares and then used the spatula to pry them out of the pan and place them on a dinner plate, piled up in two layers, as neat as he could make them. He didn't want to east any yet--wanted to have them all to show Dean and Dad, but there were a whole lot of little crumbly bits left in the bottom of the pan. He scooped them out with his fingers and popped them in his mouth.
Yum! He thought his brownies were just about as good as the ones from that lady at Pastor Jim's church, and he grinned, imagining that Mom's brownies probably tasted just like his. He hurried up and washed the pan and the new utensils he'd gotten dirty, and when he heard the door open he was sure it was Dean.
He turned around from the sink, calling out, "Hey, Dean, guess what--"
"Hey, buddy, it's me." Dad walked in, pulling off his coat and hanging it on the hook by the door.
"Dad! You're home early!"
"Just thought I'd check up on you, here by yourself. Everything okay?" Dad sniffed, looking around as he walked into the kitchen. "It smells good in here. What've you been up to?"
Sam froze for a moment, realizing for the first time that he really should have asked permission to use the stove. "Ummm, I made something."
"You made something, huh?" Dad looked at him with a hard expression for a moment and then smiled. "Well, it looks like you didn't burn the place down, so I guess that's okay. What did you make?"
Sam jiggled a little with the return of his excitement. "Brownies! Try one!" He pointed at the loaded plate that sat on the counter.
Dad eyed the plate, then picked one up and sniffed it before taking a bite. His eyes lit up, and Sam felt his grin widen. "Mmm, Sammy, these are delicious!" He grabbed a glass from the cabinet and pulled the milk from the fridge, pouring himself a glass one-handed and took the glass and brownie over the table.
He sat down to finish off the brownie and milk, and when he was done he reached over to ruffle his hand through Sam's hair. "That was a real treat, buddy. Where'd you learn how to make brownies?"
Sam froze. He should have come up with a story ahead of time. Dean would have. Dean would have had something believable to tell Dad, but Sam hadn't thought ahead. He opened his mouth, hoping that he could come up with something off the top of his head, but Dad's eyes were already narrowing. He'd been quiet too long.
Dad looked around the kitchen again, his gaze sharp this time. Hunting eyes. He didn't have to look far before he spotted the old cookbook sitting on the table. Sam gasped and bit his lip. He'd been too excited. He had forgotten to hide it away again.
"What the hell?" He stood and picked the book up, then looked inside before dropping it on the chair. " Where did that come from?"
Then the front door slammed again as Dean walked in. Sam stood across from his dad, frozen. He didn't want to have to explain, but Dad's eyes were boring into his now. Dean walked into the kitchen and looked back and forth between them.
"Hey, what's going on?"
Sam cut his eyes away from his father and looked at Dean, pleading for something--distraction, salvation. Dad clenched his jaw and them looked over at Dean.
"Your brother's about to explain to me how he came to be in possession of your mother's book. Did you know about this?"
"Sam. Explain." His voice was tense, and Sam knew he wouldn't have any patience for excuses.
"We, uh, when we were at the storage unit last month, I was looking in a box. And this book--this, uh, cookbook I pulled out had Mom's name on it."
"Mom's cookbook?" Dean asked in a quiet voice, shutting his mouth with a snap when Dad cut him a zip-it look.
"Yeah, and, um, I wanted to look at it some more, but we were leaving. So, I kind of took it."
Dad looked down at him, shaking his head. "You know very well, Sam, that you are NOT to go in those boxes. They don't belong to you, and you have no business even touching them. Haven't I told you not to touch those boxes?"
"Dad--," Dean interrupted.
"Why the HELL did you go in that box? And what POSSESSED you to take something from it?"
"I don't want to hear any excuses!"
"Dad, come on--," Dean tried again.
"I'm sorry!" Sam yelled back. "I'm sorry! I just-- I'm sorry I opened the box. I was bored, and you were looking at the guns, and I shouldn't have looked in the box, but then I saw that it had books in it, and I thought, I don't know. I just pulled one out, and it had Mom's name on it, and she was my age, and it felt like-- It felt like I actually had a Mom, like she'd been real, and I couldn't put it back! I couldn't!"
"Sammy--" Dad's voice sounded softer now, but Sam couldn't stop.
"I don't know anything! You don't tell me anything, and I can't remember, and I thought if I had the book it would be like, like I had a mom." And then he couldn't help it anymore. He started crying and ran into the living room. He heard Dean's light footsteps follow him and then felt a warm hand on his shoulder. He took at deep breath, closing his eyes and trying to stop crying.
He tensed up as he heard Dad's heavier steps enter the room, but the steps passed him, and when he opened his eyes he saw that his dad had slumped down in the middle of the sofa.
"Oh, boys," Dad sighed. He propped his elbows on his knees and rested his head on the heels of his hands. He stayed that way for a minute while Sam stood with Dean next to him, not sure how much trouble he was in. When Dad sat up again, he looked calm.
"Sammy, I'm sorry for yelling. Come here." He held his arm up next to him in invitation, and Sam sat down, relaxing as Dad hugged him in close to his side. "Come on, Dean."
Dean sat down on Dad's other side, not as close as Sam. He sat stiffly, with his hands pressed together between his knees. "It's okay, son. Relax." Dad patted him on the back, rubbing a little until Dean sat back more comfortably.
"I never told you how I met your mom, did I?"
"Okay. This was about five years before you were born, Dean. I had just come home, back from 'Nam. I was--I didn't know what to do with myself. My buddies from high school were all gone off to college or just…gone, so I just stayed in the house until your grandma must have been pretty tired of me holding down her sofa.
"One day, she went out grocery shopping, and somebody rang the doorbell. I just sat there and listened to it ring, but then it rang again, and then the knocking started, and I figured I wasn't ever going to get any peace unless I went and answered it. I dragged my raggedy ass to the door and opened it, and on the other side I saw the prettiest girl that you could imagine. Long blonde hair and long legs sticking out under her little summer dress.
"I just stared like an idiot, but she smiled at me and said, 'Hi, Johnny Winchester. I made you some brownies.' She shoved a plate in my hands, and it was all wrapped up with foil and warm in my hands, like they had just come out of the pan. I didn't even say thank you, but she just smiled at me again, and walked down the steps from the porch and back over to her house across the street."
"Were they good?"
Dad looked down at Sam's quiet words and hugged him a little closer in to his side. "They were the best brownies I ever had in my life. Until tonight, of course."
"What happened then."
"Well, I ate some of those brownies. And the next day I took a shower and put on a clean shirt and went across the street to give her back her plate. I started sitting outside on the front porch instead of inside, and she'd come over to talk to me. I wasn't much good company, but she didn't seem to mind. She was just out of high school, and by the end of the summer, when she went off to start her college classes, I had a job at the garage, and I'd joined back up to the Reserves to help save up some more money for a house. I asked her to marry me the day after Christmas.
"That book you've got, Sammy, that's the recipe she always used to make her special brownies, and she always kept it in our kitchen. It was just a little bit of a shock, seeing it again."
Dad lapsed into silence, and Sam turned his head to rest against his father's chest. "Thanks, Dad," he said, his voice muted by the soft cloth of Dad's shirt.
Dad squeezed Sam's shoulder. "I should tell you boys more, I know. It's your family. It's just not real easy for me to talk about."
"I'm sorry I looked at stuff I wasn't supposed to."
"Just don't make a habit of it, okay?"
Sam nodded and sat up straighter, pulling away from Dad a little, and looked across his father at Dean. His big brother's eyes were shiny with tears, and his lips were squeezed into a straight line. Sam wiped tears from his own eyes with a wet sniff. "Dean?"
Dad looked over at Dean then, too, and rubbed his back again until Dean sat up away from the touch. "You okay, kiddo?"
Dean nodded with a short jerk of his chin and then stood up and walked stiff-legged, just short of running, to his and Sam's bedroom and shut the door. Sam looked back and forth between the closed door that hid his brother and his father sitting next to him on the couch. "Dad?"
Dad reached a hand up to ruffle his hair. "Go ahead."
Sam grabbed the cookbook from there chair where it had fallen, ran to the bedroom door, knocking quietly.
"Leave me alone."
Sam opened the door anyway and walked into the room, closing the door again behind him. "It's my room, too."
Dean sat on his bed with his back to the door. When Sam walked up beside him, Dean turned his shoulders toward the other side of the room, but Sam got a glimpse of his face, and it looked suspiciously flushed and a little bit wet. Sam knew he'd really screwed up this time because he couldn't ever remember seeing Dean cry before. He bit his lip, not sure what he should do, and sat down on the edge of Dean's bed.
"I'm sorry I didn't tell you about the book."
Dean took an audibly unsteady breath before replying. "Doesn't matter."
Sam scooted over to kneel next to the wall that ran alongside Dean's bed and then flopped forward onto his stomach so that his shoulder's brushed up against the side of Dean's leg. He put the book on the bed in front of him. "You wanna look at it?"
"You'd think a smart kid like you would understand English."
Sam opened the cover to the title page and pointed out the name written at the top. "See, she wrote her name on it."
Dean remained silent for a moment, but then he reached out with his finger, touching the words and then backing off. "Yeah," he said quietly.
"Maybe we can make something else from the book? This weekend maybe?"
"Oh!" Sam realized that Dean hadn't even tried his brownies yet. "I made brownies. On my own and everything. Dad said they were good."
"Really. They're in the kitchen. I made them for you and Dad."
"Well, thanks, Squirt." Dean flipped the page, rubbing it lightly with his thumb. "So, what should we make?"
"Cabbage wedgies?" Sam tried to keep a straight face while he asked.
"Hey, if you're not getting enough wedgies, all you had to do was ask!"
"No!" Sam shrieked as he felt Dean's hand latch onto the waistband of his underpants and tug. "Dean!"
Sam rolled over, reaching back to fix his underwear, and watched Dean stand up from the bed.
"I'm going to get myself a brownie. You want one, too?"
"I'll come, too."
Dean walked out of the room, and Sam stood up to follow and then reached back, taking Mom's cookbook from the bed. Out in the living room, Dad was still on the couch, staring at his ring the way he sometimes did.
"Hey, Dad," Sam asked quietly.
"Could we maybe keep the book in the kitchen? All the time?"
Dad still looked sad, but he smiled. "I think that's a great idea."