It's the third week of September, and Sam is in love.
He walks to the garage where Dean works in the dumbest-looking uniform known to man, a pair of dark green coveralls that looks suspiciously like footie pajamas, and recognizes his brother by the flash of his ring, his hands the only part of him not completely underneath the car.
"Hey," he says, going to Dean's locker and twirling the combination lock - 5, 28, 3 because Dean is a sap - so that he can claim the turkey on rye and Cheetos hidden inside.
"Hey," Dean calls back, his voice muffled by . . . some car part. Maybe the muffler.
He waits for a moment, sure that Dean will roll out from underneath the car and give him a dirty look for stealing his lunch, but Dean just keeps working, humming something terrible. Sam scarfs down the sandwich despite the spicy mustard and pops open the bag of Cheetos. Now that Dean has a steady paycheck, he can buy himself a new bag of Cheetos every day if he wants to. And Sam's a growing boy; he needs sustenance.
He rifles through his backpack and decides to leave his Algebra II homework until they get home and Dean can push the papers off the kitchen table and explain how to do the problems, casually, like he's just telling a story. He pulls out his English notebook instead and flips it open, looking at the notes he took while Miss Brantley had lectured about Victorian England and female novelists. His handwriting is never particularly neat, and it slants across the lines of the page every once in a while, probably when he was looking up at her, at her cheeks, pink with enthusiasm, and the excited movements of her hands whenever she said "genius." And her sweater, a soft-looking cream-colored fuzzy thing that made it difficult to care about anybody who'd been dead for a hundred and fifty years.
He sits on the floor with his back against the lockers and cracks open Wuthering Heights. It's easy to let the book take him away, set him free.
He slaps away Dean's heavy hand when it ruffles his hair. "Quit it," he grunts, tearing himself away from a hundred pages of the cold moors of England only to find himself staring up at his brother. Dean's tiger-streaked with grease and dirt and grinning like he has not a care in the world.
"Dude, that book blows," Dean says, popping the snaps of his coveralls open. He pushes the material to his waist and washes up at the sink with cold water and Lava soap.
Whatever. Sam keeps his place with a finger tucked inside the book and gets to his feet. "How would you even know, Dean?"
Dean's voice drifts over, unhurried. "Read it. That one and the other one, what's it called . . . yeah, Jane Eyre."
"When?" He can't even picture it, Dean hunched over a thick paperback, caring in the least about fictional characters who don't have guns or cool cars.
"Winter we were in Montana and Dad's leg was broken? No hunts, remember?" Dean shivers happily as he splashes the water and finally gets all the way out of the coveralls. He hangs them in his locker and finds the empty brown paper bag. "Man, you could have at least left me half the sandwich."
The VCR is so old it doesn't even have a remote, so Miss Brantley has to keep bending over to stop and check the tape. Sam's never been better served by his habit of taking the seat in the corner; he can see both the pretty curve of her ass and the swell of her breasts where her blouse gapes open a little.
She checks her watch and keeps fast-forwarding. "Next we'll see the moment Heathcliff comes back," she announces, finding the right spot and smiling dreamily up at Laurence Olivier.
He wants to make her smile like that.
He's read lots of books for lots of classes at lots of schools, but there's something about this one that goes deeper somehow. Like Miss Brantley's offering up something intensely personal by having him read it, and if he can find the right words for his essay, then she'll know that she was right to trust him with her favorite book. He wonders what it is that she loves about it.
Trust Dean to make sloppy joes on a night when Sam needs one hand free so he can start taking notes for his essay. "You still reading that book?" Dean asks, completely unashamed about talking with his mouth full.
He nods and takes a long pull at his milk; Dean's obeying Dad to the letter, surprise surprise, and hasn't even bought soda or beer since Dad set out for Kentucky.
"Sucks, huh?" Dean grins, fishing another bun out of the bag and loading it with spicy meat.
"Actually, I like it."
"Dude. No way." Dean looks bemused as he licks around his sandwich, keeping it from dripping. "It's so pointless."
That's just vintage Dean; it's a literary masterpiece, but if it didn't make John Winchester's list, then it doesn't count. "Oh, that's the word I was searching for!" Sam says. "Think I'll make that the title of my essay."
Dean just grins. "You could, you know." He reaches for a third roll, then changes his mind. "You done here?"
"No. Tell me, what makes it so pointless?"
Dean frowns at him a little. "It's just, you know, a waste. They know what they want but they think they're too good to go after it? That's just fuckin' stupid. The ghost part was pretty cool. But the rest of it . . . total letdown." Dean clears the table and takes the dishes to the sink.
"So you only want stories with a happy ending?" It's not like life is a fairytale; Dean of all people should know better. It's kind of sad that someone Dean's age should still be waiting around for happily ever after.
Dean looks right at him. "That's not it at all, Sammy," he says, and turns on the radio too loud for conversation.
With Dad gone, they've each got a room, so Sam locks himself in his, lies back on the bed, and thinks of Miss Brantley. She's taking off her plain black skirt, and her bright hair is down against her shoulders when she walks toward him. "Sam," she says softly, her voice clear and high as a windchime, and pushes him back against the bed. He slips his hand into his underwear and strokes himself firmly while she watches and encourages and finally spreads her legs and sinks down on top of him.
He doesn't feel like dealing with Dean, so he just fudges his math homework and tries to get started on his essay. Going through his notes, he remembers the cadence of her voice on each phrase, the way she'd stood all golden in the sunlight when she was talking about Emily Brontë's sheltered life. There's a lot of appeal in the recluse's life, she'd said, and he'd wanted to take her away, just the two of them, somewhere safe and warm, somewhere they could be happy.
He hears a noise from the main room, a loud click that lets him know that Dean's cleaning the stash of backup weapons again. He remembers the one compliment Dean paid the book, and flips back to the beginning to find the part where Lockwood tries to hurt Catherine's ghost by pulling her wrist across broken glass. It's laughable, really, to think that that was the way to get rid of a ghost, to try to bleed a ghost into some sort of death after death, and he wonders if maybe that's the place to start his essay. But he doesn't want Miss Brantley to know anything about ghosts or how to kill them; he remembers her pale, excited face when she read this section out loud, wants to make sure she never needs to know the truth.
The words just aren't coming. He turns off the lights and tries to think, hoping inspiration will strike in the morning.
Dean is scrambling eggs and buttering toast when Sam walks into the kitchen. The tang of gun oil still lingers and there are bags under Dean's eyes.
"Didn't sleep?" Sam asks, helping himself to the first plate.
"Dad should've checked in by now." Dean's voice wobbles just a little on the last word.
Sam can't see the point of worrying about Dad, too sure of his place as village god to be mortal. "Does he ever check in when he's supposed to? No. You know it, Dean." He takes a long swallow of orange juice. "I'm sure he's fine."
Dean doesn't nod or back down. Sam sighs. "What was he hunting?"
"Hellhounds," Dean says.
"He'll be okay. He will, Dean."
Dean just looks at him for a long moment, then turns away to get his own food. "No math homework last night? Or you just getting the hang of it?"
Sam stuffs his mouth full of eggs and shakes his head.
Dean's unintentional warning has him on edge for the rest of the day, spilling over even into English 11. Dad could show back up at any time, pull up stakes again, and he'd have no way of talking to Miss Brantley ever again. Putting his foot down will do him no good; he'd almost lost the foot last time, the first time he'd tried.
He needs to get this essay done, to give her words to see him with.
As he sits on Dad's bed, his English notebook resting on his knees, he feels trapped between two lives. He knows which one he wants and he knows which one he's got. Not doubled, but halved; he can't just be either one completely, so he ends up with one foot in each and it's pulling him apart.
He starts to write.
He doesn't stop until the next morning, and he's got only an hour to nap and then get ready for school. Dean smiles at him and hands him a cup of coffee.
He writes out a clean copy of the essay during study hall and drops it in her mailbox just before lunch. There's a buzz in his blood when he imagines her reading it, her fingers playing with a lock of her hair, frowning a little in concentration. She'll be drinking peppermint tea, her red pen uncapped and ready.
He's changing for gym when he catches a glimpse of his haggard face in one of the mirrors. He's forgotten how long it takes for adrenaline to bleed out of him.
She gives them a free period, time to finish the book or start on their essays. He looks down at the blank page of his notebook and puts his pen down.
"Sam," Miss Brantley says. "May I speak with you, please?"
He follows her into the hallway. This close, he can see that her lips have been bitten pink, and he revises his image of her reading to include that detail, banishing the peppermint tea and thinking about her pretty hands - bare of rings - flipping through the pages.
"I read your essay," she says, tilting her head back to look at him. Her eyes are bluer than he'd realized. "It was excellent. The theme you chose - the doubleness, the split between the worlds - was a little unexpected, but you were very eloquent." She hesitates. "You really wrote with authority."
He smiles, glad that she has only good things to say, charmed by the way she worries her lip between her teeth. There's another pause before she speaks again. "Were you trying to tell me something?"
Yes. His words have done their work.
She keeps going before he can respond. "Do you feel like maybe you're caught between two worlds too? I pulled your transcript and I saw that you've been moved an awful lot. Are there . . . any problems at home? With your family?"
She looks so young, so worried about him, and this is not what he wanted at all. He doesn't know how to say yes and no at the same time, can't figure out how to ease her suspicions without breaking the connection between them. Truths and lies spring to his lips.
"No, I'm good," he says, watching the relieved slump of her shoulders with a practiced eye. "Just got a good idea for the essay and wanted to get it done, that's all."
She smiles up at him. "Well, it really is a very fine essay. You might want to consider using it on your college applications. I'd write you a recommendation in a heartbeat, you know that." She hands his essay back to him, red A circled at the top.
"Thanks," he says, and she turns to lead him back into the classroom like she hasn't just thrown him a red-inked lifeline. He can build his own escape hatch, pick the world he lives in after all. No more half-lives; college is the answer to it all.
"Got an A on my essay," he answers when Dean asks what he's so happy about.
Dean pretends to look confused. "Like that's a shock."
"Ha ha," he says as the phone rings.
Dean says, "Hello," says, "Yes, sir," and starts to pack.
Sam puts aside the books he needs to return to the school and puts the rest of his stuff back into the two duffels he'd unpacked six weeks ago. His essay goes into the clean bag with his favorite clothes and some books, away from the weapons and the rags smelling of gun oil that he stuffs in the other. He walks to the door with a bag in each hand.