Notes: Companion to A Little Less Conversation. BIG thanks to 2ndaryauthor over on livejournal for general helpfulness and a keen mind.
A Little More Action
She has Mom hair.
Not short, neat, soccer mom hair, but long, blonde waves that cover her shoulders and hide her face.
The bar is beyond packed. There's supposed to be a band on stage in about twenty minutes and Dean guesses it's the most exciting thing happening in a town like Cantonment, Florida, on a Thursday evening.
Cantonment, he'd told Sam, was not even a town. It was an affliction of the liver.
Still, that doesn't help them now, holding beers and plastic baskets with fries and sandwiches and with nowhere to sit. The only semi-empty booth, the one they might have a chance at platonically sharing, is occupied by one, lone woman with Mom hair.
Dean nudges past Sam and strolls over with a half-grin on his face.
The woman is looking away, one arm hooked over the back of the booth, turned toward the stage.
She turns back, frown pulling her mouth downward.
Dean gestures with his food. "Mind if we join you? The place is packed."
She waves at the other side of the booth, eyes not quite focusing on them. "Nobody's sittin' there."
Dean slides in after Sam. Seeing her up close, the lady is way older than he'd thought. Her skin is weathered and brown and her limbs are too thin. Her t-shirt has an obnoxiously large picture of Elvis Presley on it, mouth open, singing into a microphone.
Still, Mom hair.
"Are you here alone?" Dean asks, and then realizes how that sounds. Sam shoots him a confused glare. "I just meant…I didn't want to take anyone's seat if you were…waiting for someone?" He finishes with a big smile and hunches over his food. Food never lets him down.
Dean doesn't see the woman's face, but he feels Sam shift uncomfortably next to him. "Sorry. It's been a long day."
"I can imagine," she says in a skeptical tone. "You two here for the show?"
"Just for the food." Sam nods and smiles.
"Well, that's good, too."
"Sorry," Sam says again. "I'm Sam. This is my brother, Dean."
Dean rolls his eyes. All he wants to do is eat and Sam's apologizing for not having picture-perfect manners.
"Marla Thompson." The woman nods, chin tipped up in a challenging posture. She pulls a pack of cigarettes out of her bag and holds them up. "You mind?"
Sam shakes his head.
Sam does mind. Dean can tell.
"Well," Marla says. "As long as you're quiet and let me listen to my music, I think we'll get along just fine."
Dean looks up and meets her eyes for the first time. The table in front of her is empty, but her eyes are watery and rimmed red like she's been sitting at the bar for way too long. "Who's playing?"
She grins, showing off surprisingly white teeth. "Elvis Presley."
Dean's pretty sure she's dead serious. He smiles complacently. "Maybe…maybe you could get an autograph?"
She frowns. "I don't have a pen."
The lights go down then and a spotlight heats up the stage. Marla turns away as the curtain comes up on a full band and maybe the cheesiest looking Elvis impersonator Dean's ever seen. Pink suit and silver studs, collar up to his ears, and hair to the ceiling.
The first chords of "Jailhouse Rock" shake the tables and Dean thinks of another Elvis, a very different Elvis, five states away. Dean wonders what he could be up to now, and where he might be if Sam hadn't decided to drive him all the thousand miles home.
"Hey." He elbows Sam and leans close to yell in his ear. "You remember--"
Sam isn't listening though. His hands are flat on the table and he's watching Marla with squinted eyes.
They're just twenty minutes outside Pensacola.
Sam spends the first set clenching his fists and taking deep breaths.
Dean nudges him occasionally and points to his food. But, when it becomes apparent Sam's not eating, Dean helps himself. Sam at least finishes his beer and Dean sacrifices his own, pushing it toward Sam in hopes of calming the storm with a little lubrication.
At the end of "Love Me Tender" the band signals a five-minute break and the bar falls into a rumbling chatter.
Marla turns back to them, smiling wide. "Not bad, huh?"
"Excuse me," Sam says, as if she hadn't spoken. "Do you have any children?"
Marla freezes, glances at Dean for clarification. "Who's asking?"
"I am," Sam replies coldly.
"Hey, Sammy." Dean tries to find the right words, but Sam brushes him off.
"You don't have a son by any chance, do you? About fifteen years old?"
Marla's eyes narrow. There's a glimpse of clarity behind the glassy gaze. "What's it to you?"
"His name's Elvis. Isn't that funny? You're such a fan."
This could turn ugly fast. Dean sees it and still isn't sure what to do about it.
"Who the hell do you think you are?" Marla snaps, voice too loud in contrast to Sam's calm tone.
Dean starts to stand, hands held out calmly. "Hey, it's okay. He didn't mean anything. We were just leaving, right, Sammy?"
Sam remains seated, voice even, hands flat on the table. "Kind of funny how you can manage to be at the bar on the right night, but you can't find the bus station."
Marla's on her feet in a second and has a handful of Sam's hair in the next.
She's like a woman possessed, swinging and clawing and yelling. When Dean jumps in to try and wrestle her grip off Sam, her cigarette sizzles against the white skin of his wrist. He yanks his arm back, hissing out a breath between his teeth.
Suddenly, Marla is yanked away, taking a handful of Sam's hair with her. One of the waiters has an arm around her shoulders from behind and holds her back, pushes her down into the booth.
Marla's huffing out heavy breaths and curses between her teeth.
The waiter eyes them harshly and tosses a look toward the door.
Dean tugs at Sam's sleeve. "C'mon. Let's go."
"Well, that was awesome, Sam."
Sam slumps against the passenger side window, one hand pressed over a blackening eye. There's a thin scratch along the side of his neck that looks angry. "Don't say it."
"I think you just lost a fight with a 100-pound lady."
"She wasn't a lady…she was, like,…crazy."
"You still lost."
"Shut up, Dean. I didn't see you jumping in there."
Dean turns his wrist over to see the blistered, red circle from her cigarette. He works on loosening his watch a notch or two so it doesn't rub. "She was a scrapper, Sammy. What can I say?"
"She's also Elvis' mother."
"I know." Dean sighs. "How did you know it?"
Sam takes a deep breath, in and out through his nose. "They have the same eyes."
Dean definitely doesn't remember that stoned, dry look on Elvis. But, the color was the same, and the shape, and maybe something deeper, somewhere behind the eyes themselves.
"What, you're just going to let that go?" Sam drops his hand from his eye and glares.
"It's not my business."
"What would you say to her anyway? You're a crappy person and a shitty mother. I just wanted you to know. That's not going to do any good, Sam."
Sam presses his lips together and turns to glare out the window.
Dean shakes his head. "You want some ice for your eye before we go?"
Dean gets out of the car and heads back into the bar.
The guy behind the bar is the same one that pulled Marla off of Sam, which is basically how their luck tends to run. Dean straightens his back as he makes his way through the crowd and puts on his best apologetic smile.
"Hey. 'Scuse me." He nearly has to yell to be heard over the crowd and the music.
The guy looks up with a frown.
"Uh, look, sorry about before. We didn't mean to cause any trouble for you."
The guy crosses his arms and nods.
"Things…just got a little out of hand and, you know, my brother he's, well, he's got a little bit of a temper, you know what I mean? We try and make sure he takes his medication, but he tends to be a real pain in the neck about it. Plus, seems like Marla there seems to give better than she gets, am I right? So, if it's not too much trouble, I was hoping I could just get a bag of ice for his eye?" Dean waits for a response, plastic grin fixed on his face.
The guy doesn't blink.
"Okay… Great." Dean nods and starts to back away. "You have a good night, dude."
"You know Marla?"
Dean turns back around. "You could say that."
"Friends of her family."
Dean gives the guy another look. "What's it to you?"
The guy's arms drop and he leans forward onto the bar. "Look, it's just that, I've known Marla for a long while and the only family she ever talks about is her son and he lives up in Indiana or somewhere. Comes to visit maybe once a year."
"Yep." Dean nods. "That's the one. What about it?"
The bartender glances around the room, hesitating. He shakes his head and leans closer to speak more softly. "I always thought, maybe if there was someone else, someone elses, they might have a shot at straightening her out."
"Seems to me she's old enough to take care of herself."
"You get on the stuff she's on? It don't matter how old you are."
Dean nods, filing that information away. "Right."
"It's been worse lately. The past six months or so? I see plenty of stragglers come through this place and I hate to see another one get lost, you know what I mean? 'Specially when there's family."
Dean rubs a hand over his mouth. "Sure."
"I'm Ron, by the way."
"Here." Ron fills a sandwich bag with ice and hands it over. "Tell your brother its water under the bridge. Come back for a meal on the house. And I hope he can straighten himself out, too."
Dean nods and chuckles. "Will do." He turns to go.
"Hey, hang on." Ron pulls out a napkin and scribbles a number and Marla's name down. He holds it out. "If you talk to the family again." He shrugs.
"I'll see what I can do." Dean tucks the napkin into his pocket.
April 12, 7:30, First floor, Sam's note says. Room next to the ice and vending machines. Laundry.
The alarm clock on the nightstand reads 8:42.
Dean rolls out of bed and gathers his things for a shower. Sam left exactly one set of clean clothing for him, laid out on the foot of the bed.
Twenty minutes later, as he's heading down the stairs, his cell rings.
"Hey, are you up?"
"No, I'm sleep-talking."
"I'm going for breakfast. Want anything?"
"Coffee?" Dean scratches at his chin. "Are you taking the car?"
"Okay." Dean stops at the bottom of the stairs. "Make it quick, would you?"
"Sure." Sam laughs. "See you later."
An hour later, Dean's arms are rubbery from too many push-ups and his stomach aches inside and out, from too many sit-ups and not enough food. When Sam finally walks in, Dean's torn between yelling at him and just going for the bag of take-out.
He stands up. "Traffic jam? Flat tire? Demon spawn?" He yanks the bag from Sam's hand. "Kitten stuck in a tree?"
Sam squints at him. "What are you talking about?"
Dean sits at the table and opens the bag of food. "Just trying to think of a reason why it would take you over an hour to get breakfast from a place that's five minutes away. Must've been pretty busy in there?"
Sam doesn't say anything, but shifts on his feet and stuffs his hands in his pockets.
"C'mon, Sam. What the hell? Where'd you go?"
Sam shuffles forward and tosses a piece of paper on the table in front of Dean.
Dean picks it up to find that it's not paper, but a napkin. The napkin with Marla Thompson's name and number.
"Found that in your jeans pocket."
Dean stares up at him. "Do you always go through my pockets?"
"I was doing laundry," Sam bellows, arms spread wide. "And that is so not the point. That—" He points at the napkin. "—is so, so messed up, dude."
"What? I didn't ask for it."
"Right." Sam snorts. "Do you ever?"
"Whoa. Wait a second." Dean stands up. "Do you honestly think I would…even… Sam, seriously. That's just wrong. I didn't ask for it. The guy at the bar gave it to me."
Sam's eyes widen.
"Not like that! He said he was a friend and wanted to see her get some help. That's all. I was going to tell you about it."
"Well, now you don't have to." Sam sinks into the other chair at the table with a sigh.
"What?" Dean sits back down. He closes his eyes. "Sam, please don't tell me there's a body in my car."
"I just did some research."
Dean opens his eyes. The purple and yellow around Sam's bruised eye is sharp in the morning light. "Research? Remember two days ago, Sam? Dead swamp ape? I'm pretty sure that was you behind the rifle. Our work here is done."
"I was trying to find an address to go with the number."
"Okay…so, what, you could be a totally creepy stalker-guy?"
"No." Sam rolls his eyes. "So we could talk."
"What were you going to say, Sam? She's an addict, okay? You can't talk her straight."
Sam traces a pattern on the table's Formica top with one finger. "I could try."
"It's probably not worth your breath. Why are you so worried about this anyway?"
"Dean, our family is basically screwed, right?" Sam taps his fingers on the table.
Dean opens his mouth, closes it, shrugs.
"I just thought I could help some other family out."
Dean swallows and wipes at his mouth. "That's why we hunt. There are shrinks and doctors for all the other stuff."
"I wanted to help, Dean. That's it."
"You wanted to bitch her out."
"I wanted her to get it. I wanted to make her see. I guess sometimes it isn't worth the effort." Sam leans back and takes a swig of his coffee. "All I found was a bunch of old D.U.I.s anyway. No address. I don't think she has a job or anything." He drums his fingers on the table. "When are we leaving?"
"Why not today?"
Dean grins. "We have an offer of free food, Sammy. Can't ever pass that up."
The bar is crowded again. Not as much as the previous night, though, they actually find an empty booth all for themselves.
Ron's there, but working in the back and comes out just long enough to say hi and write off their tab.
The band is some hometown rock quartet that stumbles through a couple of sets. Dean watches the crowd. He finishes eating before Sam's even halfway through and wanders over to the pool tables.
People are crowded around every table, cues held up like shepherd's staffs. A pair of guys offer a game of cut-throat, but Dean declines. Not his favorite game. Too many people.
On the way back to the table, he catches a glimpse of Mom hair over by the restrooms. He counts to ten before making his way through the crowd.
She's slouched in the corner between a booth and a pay phone, cigarette between her lips.
"How's it going?"
"Go to hell." She turns away.
Dean glances over his shoulder to see Sam back at their table, still eating and watching the band. "Listen, I've got a little story for you."
Marla glares up at him, hair in her face.
"It's about this kid, named after some famous dead rock star. Took a bus halfway across the country to visit his mother, 'cause he cared about her that much, see? Except when he got there, she wasn't around." Dean shrugs. "No money. No license. No friends for about a thousand miles."
Marla doesn't say anything, but she leans forward, listening intently.
"He walked a lot. And then he hitched a ride all the way back home. All that way, and you know what? He still wasn't angry with his mother. He got that she had problems." Dean leans close. "I don't know about you, but that kid sounds to me like a really, really good reason to clean up."
The open desperation on Marla's face closes down and she reaches out to weakly shove at him. "You don't know me."
"I know enough."
She swings an arm toward his head, but he catches it easily. She's trembling. "You don't know what it's like."
Marla's eyes are watering. "It's not easy."
Dean rests a hand on the wall and the back of the booth, boxing her in. He tosses a glance over his shoulder at Sam. "See that guy? You might remember him. That's my kid brother. He's the best person I know. He's also been through more shit than anyone I've ever met."
Marla blinks and the tears run down from the corners of her eyes.
"So, yes, I do know what it's like to struggle. I know it's hard. But, I also know that you can come out the other side. You have family that cares about you in spite of yourself and you'd be an idiot not to go after them."
"What am I supposed to do?"
Dean backs off and digs into his pockets for a quarter. The pay phone actually works and when he dials the number, Matthew answers on the second ring.
Dean introduces himself and says, "I've got someone wants to talk to you."
"Okay…" Matthew sounds confused.
Dean holds the phone out to Marla. "Be honest. Go home. Beg if you have to."
Marla nods and takes the receiver with shaking hands. "H-hello?"
Dean digs through his pockets and comes up with a small handful of change. He stacks it carefully on the edge of the phone cubicle.
It could be a long call.
Sam's done eating and is stretched out in the booth, nursing a glass of cola.
Dean sits down heavily. "Hey."
"Hey. Where'd you go?"
Dean waves a hand toward the other side of the bar. "Pool."
"Nah. They were playing cut-throat."
"You hate that game."
Dean shrugs. "You want some dessert? I'm starved."
"I think that's a chronic condition for you."
"Whatever. I saw a diner a little ways north. We could grab our stuff from the motel and head out."
"You want to leave tonight? Are you okay to drive?"
"Yeah. I'm not tired." Dean stands and surveys the room once more. "Let's get out of here."
They're thirty miles north of town with strawberry pie and burnt coffee sitting heavy in their stomachs when Sam says, "I saw what you did back there."
Dean shifts his grip on the wheel. "Oh, yeah?"
"You think it's worth it now?"
Dean chews on his lip and glances over at his brother. "I think family is always worth it."
Sam doesn't say anything.
"The good and the bad. It's the only thing you can count on."
"What about when you can't count on it?"
The way Elvis couldn't count on his mother. The way Sam was always locking horns with their father.
The way you couldn't expect your mother to be around forever.
Dean shrugs. "You figure it out."