"Ellicottville, New York..." Sam read off of some brochure he'd picked up at our last pit stop. "Aspen of the East."
"Yeah." He scrunched himself around in the passenger seat, trying to find a comfortable position.
"Your back's no better?"
Stupid question. If it was better, he wouldn't be squirming like the seat was hot.
He sounded frustrated and I couldn't blame him. Late the day before he'd thrown his back out sneezing or something equally stupid. He'd spent the night not sleeping, only tossing and turning and saying he was okay.
"I'm okay." He said again. He had a sweatshirt jelly rolled behind his back and about eight more ibuprofen in his system than he should have had in twelve hours.
"All right..." Sometimes the easiest thing to do is agree with him. "So - skiing. Snow bunnies."
Sam rolled his eyes and hunched his shoulders.
"Why don't we stop up here in this town?" I offered. "We've been in the car three hours now, we'll take an early lunch. You can get out and walk around."
"Ellicottville is only another twenty miles. Let's just go there."
He made a noise that sounded like an agreement and said, "You wouldn't want to keep the snow bunnies waiting."
Well, I couldn't disagree with that.
There wasn't much traffic, we were the only car heading south, the only car crossing the bridge out of town. There was one lady on the bridge, walking the other way, heading into town.
We got past her and Sam turned around to watch her.
"Hey - she was crying."
"That woman walking there - she's crying."
"Stop the car. Dean - stop."
I stopped the car.
"Maybe she just had a fight with her boyfriend."
Sammy made a 'and maybe you're stupid' gesture and got out.
"I'll turn around." I conceded. Who knows, she might need a ride somewhere.
As I drove ahead to find a place to turn, I watched Sam in the rearview. Half dead with pain and drugged to the edge of oblivion, he still had to help a complete stranger. I looked at the road a second then back in the mirror. Something was wrong - Sammy had started a jog. I stopped the car again and turned around to look - the lady was climbing over the wall of the bridge and Sam was running to save her.
I jammed the car in park and ran after him.
"Hey! Wait!" Sam was calling to the lady.
"Sammy! Wait!" I was calling to him
He was running; thank God I was running faster. I got to him just as his feet left the sidewalk as he tried to grab the lady as she took a backward header off the bridge. I grabbed two handfuls of his jacket and hauled his sorry ass back to terra firma. Well, sidewalk firma anyway.
Was he grateful? No.
Did he thank me? No.
Was my heart about to pound itself out of my chest?
Sam kept trying to reach the lady and I kept trying to keep him with me. People started to show up, sure now. They were looking over the bridge, sounding shocked, making phone calls. I only cared about Sammy - he stopped trying to get out of my arms and got so quiet I thought maybe the pain in his back had made him pass out.
When I looked at his face though, his eyes were open, a little too wide. His breath was too fast, too sharp. Moving as hard as he had trying to get to that lady, his back had to be agony.
"What happened?" Somebody asked.
"He tried to save her." Somebody else answered.
Sam whispered something but I couldn't make it out.
"Is he okay?" The second somebody asked, a man, kneeling down next to us.
"I have to get him up, over to our car."
"I called the Sheriff. Maybe we should wait, get an ambulance."
I wasn't going to let Sammy hang out there in public in agony.
"No, no, he'll be okay. I just have to get him to the car."
SPN SPN SPN
Sam hates me. Well, that's nothing new is it? We said it to each other a lot when we were growing up. I expect we said it to each other a lot when he was at Stanford and I was with Dad and we were both incommunicado. He pretty much said it to me when that dead possessed whacked out doctor fried his brain. Maybe some of those times he even meant it. Maybe some of those times I deserved it.
But I don't know what I might've done this time to make him say it.
Sure, the pain in his back is making him cranky. It's making me cranky. On top of everything else in his life that sucks, Sam doesn't need a bad back. I don't like seeing him hurt like that. I don't like seeing him hurt at all.
So I sit on my bed in the dark motel room. Sammy's asleep on his bed. We've shared enough rooms under enough circumstances in our lives that I can tell from his breathing that the narcotic effect of the codeine has worn off and he's just asleep. Finally.
There's no motel room in the world, in the continental United States anyway, that is ever completely dark, even at 2:37 A.M. Parking lot lights, security lights, street lights, together or singly they always manage to shine in, around, and sometimes through the curtains. So as I sit there, at 2:37 A.M., I can see Sammy without having to turn on the light and risk waking him up. He's sleeping and with any luck, he'll sleep another twelve hours.
He's corner to corner on the bed. The difference three inches can make and the things I take for granted. He's corner to corner, but at least he's asleep. I check but I don't see the light on the heating pad switch. Don't tell me the idiot didn't turn it back on, just because of the TV. Idiot. So I switch it on. Then I sit on my bed and stare at the little orange dot that means it's working.
I wonder how often he threw out his back at Stanford. I wonder if his bed was long enough. I wonder how often he forgot to eat. I wonder if he ever looked up spooky things on the internet and wondered if Dad and I were there. I wonder if he worried about us the way I worried about him.
Sam doesn't move, there's nothing to disturb him. All's quiet here on the northern front. We're in a small town that apparently has zero traffic after midnight. The Sheriff is the biggest thing in this town. You can tell me how far away I'd be standing from Sammy and I know exactly where to look so I'd be looking in his eyes. The Sheriff walked up to me this afternoon and my eyes nearly rolled back in my head he was so tall.
"How's your brother doing?"
"Beating himself up."
By this time we had a motel room and Sam had already tried to drown his backache in a hot shower. Now he was lying down and not getting any rest. I was outside our motel room for the express reason of keeping people away from him.
"Yeah. Witnesses say he tried to stop her, tried to keep her from jumping off."
"We were driving past, he saw her crying and got out to see if he could help."
"A total stranger?"
"What - you don't have that small town 'help everybody' attitude around here?"
"We do. We're just not used to it from tourists." He smiled when he said it, and it wasn't a 'make my day' kind of smile. And when he said, "I'd like a word with your brother," it was actually a request.
"He's not up to it." I tried to keep my voice as light as his. "His first suicide."
"Mine too." The Sheriff agreed.
"You weren't close enough to touch her just as she went over." Nice Sheriff or not, no way was he getting near Sam until I knew Sam was ready. He nodded and shrugged and looked embarrassed.
"I knew her. I went to high school with her. Our Moms went to high school together."
"I'm sorry." And I meant it.
"Small town." He reminded me. "When do you think your brother might be up to a word?"
"He hasn't been feeling well, on top of everything else. He hasn't gotten a lot of sleep the past couple of nights. I'd like him to get seven or eight hours now before he does anything else."
I really expected the Sheriff to look at his watch and calculate to the minute when I could expect him back on our doorstep. But he didn't.
"Okay then. You're planning on staying the night? You let me know when he's ready. I'm not hard to find." He started to walk away.
"Don't you even want to know our names?" I asked before I thought about whether or not I should.
"Dean and Sam Wingate." He told me, then smiled again. "My wife and I own this motel."
I can't help thinking, sitting in the darkness in that motel, looking at my little brother having to scrunch up and make do just to sleep, that somebody as tall as Sheriff Piper ought to make some effort to put extra long beds in his motel. I'll have to remember to leave that on the 'comment card' before we blow this place.
When Sammy first got so tall, when I first realized that he was having trouble fitting into bed at night, I started asking at motels if they had extra long beds. Sometimes they did, usually the higher end motels and we don't stay in those very often. But Sam asked me to stop doing that, stop asking. He said asking for something out of the ordinary was like leaving a signature for anyone looking for us. I think he just doesn't like needing something different, he doesn't like being different. All his life he got the whispers and remarks, 'his mother died', 'he's so smart', 'he's a little sensitive' 'he's so tall'. And what has Sammy been striving for all his life? To be normal.
So, anyway - my little brother hates me. Maybe because beds fit me and nobody has ever asked me 'how's the weather up there?' Maybe because sneezing doesn't throw my back out and I can actually tuck my shirts into my jeans and they stay there. Anyway, not much I can do about it now, at three o'clock in the morning, with him sound asleep and me completely in the dark - no pun intended - why he hates me just now. He's hated me before, he'll hate me again. It hasn't broken my heart yet.
With nothing much else to do, I lie down.
Then I sit up once to make sure the heating pad light is still on.
Then I lie back down and go to sleep. Sam is still asleep when I wake up again and it's daylight. He hasn't moved and the orange light still glows on the heating pad, so I walk out into the glow of early morning to stretch my legs and get some fresh air. I can see the motel office from where I'm standing. The lights are still on but I don't see Mrs. Piper behind the desk. She was great yesterday.
I was at the trunk of the Impala, trying to scrounge up the heating pad Sam said we had to throw out in Duluth. I vaguely remembered that but I was still hoping to find it so I didn't have to drive back however many miles to the nearest Walmart and buy a new one. I didn't want to leave Sam that long and I didn't want to make him get back in the car when he was so miserable.
"Hey, I wonder if these might help your brother." Mrs. Piper walked up to the car and offered me a plastic bag which among other things I could see held a giant sized heating pad.
"You're a life saver." I told her.
"I'm a woman whose husband has a bad back." She said. "When I saw your brother trying to get from the car to the motel room I could see it. He looked like he was in agony."
"There's a hospital in Salamanca. Thirty miles."
"He won't go."
"He's an idiot." I shut the trunk and took the bag.
"There's liquid codeine in there too. My son's from surgery he had a couple of months ago. And some unscented Ben-Gay and some stick on heating patches. And some 'buy one get one' coupons for McDonalds."
"You do this for all your customers?"
"Just the ones who risk their lives for someone they don't even know."
I smiled and thought, 'Lady, you've got no idea...'
"That's Sammy. He can't not help."
She smiled, but it didn't last.
"I thought you'd want to know, they found Emilia just a little while ago."
"That was her name, Emilia Ryan. I just heard on the scanner that they found her a mile or so down the river."
"I take it she's -."
"At peace." Mrs. Piper finished when I didn't. "Well I won't keep you. Your brother will need that heating pad. My Doug can't sleep at all without a heating pad when his back is acting up."
"Sammy either. I don't think he's slept since the night before last. He'll appreciate this."
And so would I.
Now, this morning, Sam's gotten an actual fifteen hours of sleep give or take and I want to get some breakfast for us. I take the coupon Mrs. Piper gave us and drive the half mile or so down to McDonalds. Sam's still asleep when I get back and the light is still shining on his heating pad.
He hates me and I hate that it bothers me. I know he doesn't mean it, not in the 'let me run you over with your car I never want to see you again' kind of hate. This is more the 'I'm in pain, I'm tired and I'm tired of being in the car with you every freaking day' kind of hate. Normal sibling hate.
But it bothers me.
I don't think he meant for me to hear it. He's been whispering it, when I ought to be out of earshot I guess. It bothers me that Sam is stuck with somebody he can't stand being around just now and I hate that that somebody is me.
So instead of hanging around waiting for him to wake up, I leave him a note and his breakfast and some money because I know he'll want to hit the bookstore, and I get in the car and just take a drive around town.
When I've been driving just a half hour or forty five minutes, I see Sam walking from the motel towards the bridge Emilia died from. His back isn't on fire anymore, I can tell from the way he's walking, but he isn't 100% either. I head the car in his direction.
By the time I get to there, Sam is sitting on the sidewalk of the bridge, curled over so far he's almost folded in half, looking about as dejected as I've ever seen him. I pull off on the side of the road and walk down to sit next to him. There's a lot of things I can say to him to introduce the subject, but I finally just take the direct route.
"So - you hate me."
"I don't hate you." Sam answers me like I said he ran down an old woman with the car.
"C'mon Sammy. I heard you, at least a couple times yesterday."
"I didn't say I hate you."
How long is he gonna keep up the pretense?
"I heard you."
"I wasn't talking to you." He says. I do a fast search of my memory for any signs I might've missed. Sulfur? Flickering lights? Demon? Trickster? What?
"Who else was there?" And why didn't you tell me?
"Nobody. Nobody - I was talking to myself."
Whatever Sam answers me, I'm expecting to be able to answer him back. That answer stymies me. I stare at him.
"You hate yourself?" That couldn't be right.
Nope, still couldn't be right.
"Well that's just stupid."
"Stupid?" Sam really hates when I disagree with him. He hates it even more when I'm right.
"Yes stupid. You don't hate yourself." Sam's a lot of things and absolutely sure of himself has always been near the top of the list. When did he decide he hates himself? "Okay, new rule - you don't get to hate yourself."
"'New rule'? Geez Dean, this isn't some kid game I'm playing."Sam shakes his head. His back is starting to bother him again I can tell. He's pressing his hand against his back, sitting up and shifting like he's trying to find a more comfortable position.
Ever since Sam - ever since I told him what Dad said, his mission has been to save everyone, anyone. The fact that Emilia was in our lives less than two minutes didn't change Sam feeling like a failure.
"Sam, you tried. She just tried harder. If we'd been two minutes later, we wouldn't even have known it happened. You did your best."
"If it hadn't been for my back, I would've been able to reach her."
"You don't know that."
And if he didn't have his back to blame, he'd find some other reason to blame himself.
"I know that I was three inches away from her and if my back hadn't felt like it was ripping in two, I could've reached her. I could've saved her."
"You can't hate yourself for that."
"It's not just that." Sam says and then he doesn't say anything else and I give him my patented 'don't make me force it out of you' look. Sam never can resist that look. I'm expecting an answer but not the paragraph I get.
"I'm tired of motel beds that aren't long enough, showers that aren't high enough. I'm tired of throwing my back out just opening my laptop. Forget all the bad stuff we've been through in our lives, there are days I'd give anything for a back that doesn't feel like I've got somebody's fist wedged next to my spine."
Dammit. As if regular evil isn't bad enough. Poor Sammy. Traveling the way we do, there's not a lot of chances for 'meaningful relationships'. I'll try to find a little nooky wherever I can, but Sam doesn't, and for the first time it hits me that all the physical sensations he gets to experience come down to scratchy sheets, lukewarm showers, and back spasms.
"So you're tired, and you're in pain. I can understand that. How does that make you hate yourself?"
Sam looks away from me. Towards the mountains in the distance. Skiing. Snow bunnies.
"I'm the reason you're going to hell."
No, you're not.
"Dammit Sam - how many times are we gonna have to go over that? It's not your fault. Anyway - you think you're not worth that to me?"
"I know I shouldn't be."
Dammit Sam. I'm freaking tired of this.
He still isn't looking at me but that isn't going to last one second longer. I grab his arm and - bad back or not - I make him turn back to me.
"For the last freaking time Sammy, you're worth hell to me. If you say you hate yourself, you might as well say you hate me."
I know Sam. He's going to give me that look, tell me he doesn't hate me, promise he's going to save me. He takes a deep breath. I brace for it.
"All right. I hate you."
"You hate me? Just like that?"
"I'd say anything to make you shut up."
Sure, but I can think of better ways of doing it than saying you hate me.
I'm going to say just that when the Sheriff pulls up right near our feet. First time in a long time that Sam - I mean that guy who hates me - is gonna see somebody taller than he is.
"Let me guess, Mrs. Piper's husband is the Sheriff?" Sam asks me.
The Sheriff acknowledges me with a nod as he gets out of the car then gets straight to business.
"Feelin' up to a word?"
Sheriff Piper turns back to me. "The coffee's fresh at the café." He so helpfully informs me. And just as soon as a pig flies over to get me some of that coffee, I'll let him talk to Sam alone.
"It's OK Dean." Sam knows I'll be waiting to hear it from him.
But even Sammy's say-so only goes so far with me. I get up and walk away but only as far as the car where I sit on the hood. I mean I don't want to be conspicuously eavesdropping. Much. I can hear their voices, not enough to hear the words, but I'll hear if Sam needs me.
It doesn't take long, I have the impression that the Sheriff wants Emilia laid to rest as completely as possible as soon as possible. It isn't but a few minutes that I hear Sam's long steps come walking up behind me, and he sits on the hood next to me.
"I hear the coffee's fresh at the café." He says. I'm sorry I've been so much trouble.
"I hear there's a sale at the bookstore." I offer back. Don't worry Sammy, I know you don't really hate me.
"When my back hurts, everything hurts." He says. "I get tired of it."
"I know you do." I know it's more than Sam's back that's hurting him. I know it's the past two years of living on a Tilt-A-Whirl from hell. It's everybody we've lost, everything we'll never have, it's bad food, short beds, unending roads. It's being three inches too tall and three inches too late to save a woman who'd apparently been trying to kill herself for thirty years. I know that.
"It's just -." I see it in my head again, Sam running after Emilia, chasing her, almost going with her over the bridge into the oblivion. "You don't know how close you came to going over that bridge too Sammy. Those three inches that might've saved her would've lost me you. You're still here and you don't get to hate yourself for that."
He's so easy. I can get him to cave to just about anything. Especially when I tell him the truth.
"You can still hate me if you want though." I offer him as a consolation prize. I slide off the hood and walk to my side of the car and he does too.
"Hey, people way cooler than you hate me already."
"Bookstore?" I offer, another consolation prize, when we're in the car.
"Think we could just pack up and head to Bradford?" He's looking at the bridge. "I think the sooner we're out of here, the sooner Emilia can rest in peace."
We're packed and out of there in no time. As we cross the bridge one last time out of town I slow down at the memorial, the balloons and flowers and stuffed animals huddled around one of the girders.
"Guess there's worse things than a bad back." Sam says, and the list of those things that comes to my mind is longer than this road we're on.
"Guess there is." I agree.
"I wish I could've saved her."
"I know you do."
I kept going then and Sam turned and watched the bridge and the balloons and flowers until we followed a bend in the road and he couldn't see them anymore.