It was two weeks before she heard anything more. On Sunday evening, her phone rang. It was the Pastor. As he talked, he explained that he had good and bad news. The good news was that John Winchester had agreed to move with both boys to a place near the Pastor and that he would accept the Pastor's help to care for them for now. The bad news was it would mean Dean moving school again as the journey was too far to be made twice daily.
She was saddened by the turn of events but reflected that it was truly in the best interests of the child. "I understand Pastor. I hope you will pass on my good wishes to Dean."
She was surprised when he asked if they could visit with her the following lunch, in order for Dean to be able to say goodbye himself.
The following lunch she waited in her classroom until she heard a tentative knock on the outside door. She unlocked and opened the door to see Dean alone waiting for her. "Dean, come on in. I'm glad you could come."
He looked shy and uncertain. "I..." he stopped, swallowed and tried again. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to cause so much trouble."
"Dean it's fine. You didn't cause trouble." She bent down to hug him. "Just always remember there are times when we all need to ask someone else for help and it's okay to ask."
"Pastor Jim was cross," he said sadly.
"He was?" She couldn't believe it after the conversation in which the Pastor had assured her he would take care of the boy and that he would not be punished. Had she been misled?
"He said I should have called him when I was worried about Dad or Sam. He said we shouldn't have been on our own. He argued with Dad too. Dad says we're going to live near the Pastor all the time for now. They haven't said anything about the... the ... stealing." He barely whispered the final word and she could see the shame that coloured his cheeks as he thought of that night. "I don't eat cookies anymore. I want you to know I'm sorry for what I did. I won't do it again. I promise."
She smiled at him and rested her hand on his head. " I think it's okay to eat cookies again now. I think you've shown you're sorry. Now tell me about your new home." Relieved she realised that he hadn't been punished or told off even for anything more than not asking for help.
"It's near Pastor Jim's. It's on the side of this really old lady's house. She's so old, she doesn't go out much, only to go to church. I help her. I go to the store for her sometimes. She's kinda nice even though she's old. She asked me to read to her the other day, she said I did okay, but I need to do it more often so I get better at it."
"And Pastor Jim?"
"He comes round a lot to help Dad. He picks us up to go to school and to come home. Sometimes he brings Dad too. He gets Dad to the hospital or Caleb... Caleb's stayed a lot too. That's good because he lets us go to the park after school for a bit, but because the Pastor is helping Dad so much, he just rushes when he gets us. He always makes time to make me do my homework though. He hears me read and tells Dad to as well."
There was another knock at the outside door. She opened the door, surprised to see John Winchester there with the Pastor and Sammy.
"Madam. I'm sorry for all the trouble we've caused you." His voice was gravelly as she took in the grim-faced man sitting in a wheelchair before her, one leg and arm in plaster and stitching across a wound in his head. "I was in an accident. I was sedated, the boys..." she saw the same look of shame that she had seen on Dean cross his features. "I never intended for them to be in that position."
She waited, her arm still resting protectively on Dean's shoulder.
"I have spoken to Dean. I hope he knows now that if he is worried he should call Jim. They should never have been alone like that." She could hear the horror in his voice as he contemplated the reality of what could have happened.
She nodded. "I agree," she said it calmly, as non-judgmentally as possible. Her eyes flicked up to the Pastor in his position pushing the wheelchair, her arm never leaving Dean.
"We have registered Dean in a new school," said the Pastor. "I have the details. Would you be able to arrange for all the relevant paperwork to be forwarded to them?"
"I'll arrange for all the paperwork to go as soon as possible. I'll also add a few words about what a good student Dean is, what a flair he has for math and how much his reading is coming on. He tells me he's still practising."
"He is," the answer came from his father. "He's getting to be a good reader. We have got him a card at the library, so he and Caleb go down at least once a week in search of books. He reads to anyone who sits still long enough. It's good to hear." She could hear the pride in his voice and saw the shy smile on Dean's face at the praise. "Talking of books, Dean, isn't there something, you..."
"Oh! Yes!" The child dashed from her side to the back of the wheelchair, knocking the Pastor out of the way in his haste. "I...I brought back your books, the ones I borrowed from here. I'm sorry."
She smiled at him, fully appreciating that this was a child, not frightened of the adults in his life, or the harm they might do to him. His biggest fear was of disappointing them. She realised then he was a child who was growing up without a mother to show him that love and affection could be unconditional. He was surrounded by men, men who cared and loved him, but men who didn't show that in the obvious demonstrative ways you would expect of a woman and he hadn't yet learnt to understand that.
"Thank you Dean."
"I got you these as well to say thank you." He held out a bunch of flowers. "Pastor Jim helped me pick them for you."
"Thank you, they're beautiful."
"You like them?"
"I do." She bent down to give him another hug. "Would you like to say goodbye to Todd before you go?"
"We'll be back in just a moment, gentlemen."
She led him by the hand down to the cafeteria to find Todd. At the door she started to look, amazed at the speed with which Dean spotted him. "James!" she heard the disappointment in his voice. "You have to do something," he said to her. "Todd keeps getting hurt by James. Look! Can you see?"
She could see from here, something she would not have seen walking around. James had one of Todd's arms pinned under the table and was squeezing and twisting it whilst pressing down on the smaller boy's foot with his own.
"You chat to Todd. James and I are going for a walk." She went over quietly, approaching the boys without James noticing. "James! You can come with me."
"But... my lunch!"
"Yes well, lunch will wait. I think we have more important things to discuss down at the Principal's office."
"Come on." She led him away, leaving Dean to sit in his place.
"Dean!" she heard the light tone in Todd's voice as she left.
It only took a few moments to deliver James to the Principal before she headed back to the classroom and the waiting adults. "Dean is spending a few minutes with Todd and some of his classmates. Are you in a rush?"
"No, we have time for this."
"May I say something?" she asked.
Both men nodded and John replied, "Please do."
"I think Dean would benefit if you could perhaps show him how much you approve of his efforts. Praise him more often. Let him know you love him so to speak. I think it would help his confidence."
The Pastor smiled, "You are suggesting we be more demonstrative."
"He misses his mother." The sadness in John Winchester's voice was evident. "He doesn't talk about her except to his brother." His eyes flicked to the preschooler who was looking at a book he had carried with him.
"It doesn't stop you telling him about her or how important he is. It may be that he's afraid of upsetting you by talking about her."
"Yes." The reply was thoughtful.
At that moment, the door opened and Dean came in. "I've said goodbye. I... told Todd he had to tell you if James tries to hurt him again."
"That's right, Dean. It's all about asking for help, honey. Don't you forget that either."
He hung his head and she patted him on the shoulder. "I want you to let me know how it's all going at that new school of yours. You let me know okay and I've got you a bit of something to take with you." She handed him a parcel. He took it tentatively and she smiled in encouragement.
He unwrapped it carefully. "A new book," he gasped.
"A new book and I hope you enjoy it."
He smiled and returned the hug she had given him earlier. "Thank you."
She saw the two adults watching her, acknowledging the truth of the statements they had all made earlier.
He let go and turned to his brother , "I'll practise this one Sammy, then when you're a bit bigger, I can read it to you. It's going to be a good one."
"Well we should be making a move, we have to get back home." Dean nodded at the Pastor's words. He put the book on his father's lap and went to fetch his brother.
As they left, she smiled as both father and eldest son turned and said "Goodbye ma'am and thank you."
She watched as the family walked away the Pastor pushing the wheelchair as the boys walked alongside. Dean talking animatedly whilst attempting to keep his brother by his side. She saw his father reach out his unplastered arm to the pre-schooler who settled to walk calmly holding his brother's hand.
She knew in that instant that Dean was not a child without hope for the future. He was a child in difficult circumstances, a child facing a set of ever-changing obstacles, but there were people who cared and those people included his father, a man who was struggling to keep his family together. She hoped that the recent scare would have drawn all their attention to the needs of the children so that they would be better protected in the future. There was hope for both boys. She prayed it would be enough.
I wouldn't normally do this, but... a number of people asked for a sequel to 'Hope for a Child' and at the time there wasn't one, although a lot of people left the story on alert. I have now written one with Dean meeting the teacher as an adult. The story is called 'Recovery' if anyone is still interested and I have now finished posting it.
I hope people enjoy it.
Best wishes to you all