Things They Would Not Teach Me of in College

Disclaimer: A world of so not mine.
Thank You: To three incredible betas, On-A-Dare, Lynne, and lazy_neutrino. You ladies rock. Any remaining errors are mine.

It seems to have started with a fee for a lost library book. Or possibly it started with being in the mood for a fight, and the lost library book is just the excuse. All Sam knows is that one moment things are relatively quiet in the Bicentennial High School library, and the next moment, Kevin Zamora is yelling the sorts of things it's not a good idea to yell at a high school librarian.

Mrs. Grant tells him to wait right there while she calls the assistant principal. Instead, Kevin waits until she has gone into her office, and then shoves over the bookcase that holds biographies from Madison to Oppenheimer.

Sam is halfway out of his chair before he remembers Dad's Rules. And somewhere near the top of the list is Thou Shalt Not Call Attention to Thyself at School. (It's impossible to say exactly what rule tops the list; it changes based on the point Dad is making.) Sam sits back down and watches two of Kevin's football teammates catch him and try to calm him down.

After that, it all plays out fairly quickly. The assistant principal arrives, and he and Mrs. Grant and Kevin vanish back into her office. And the student library aide rolls a book cart over to the mess and starts picking up the books.

That's when Sam gets up. Single-handedly stopping an angry linebacker is something that raises eyebrows. But anyone can help pick books up out of the floor.

Besides, she's cute. And it wouldn't exactly be inaccurate to say that Sam has been looking for an excuse to talk to her.

"Here, let me help you with that," he says, and adds stupidly, "They really get a lot of books onto one set of shelves, don't they?"

She looks up at him, and if she finds this statement as painfully inane as he does, at least she doesn't let it show. "Yeah, I guess they do. Thanks."

"I'm Sam." They've haven't even lived here a month yet, and though Sam is the new kid often enough to know that everyone knows your name long before you know anyone else's, he still likes to introduce himself. "Sam Winchester."

"I know," she says. "I'm Clare Ellison. I'm in your English class."

He knows. Both those things. "My calculus class, too," he says, without thinking.

She pauses, a biography of Richard Nixon in her hands, and smiles at him. It's the sort of smile that makes him think about things that are probably frowned on in a school library. And is probably the reason he has just completely missed whatever she was saying.

"Sorry?" he says.

"I said," Clare says, "I sit behind you in math, and you always seem so focused on the board and your notes, so I'm surprised you noticed."

Sam feels the color rising in his face and wishes – not for the first time – that his older brother occasionally told him how to talk to girls, not just how to hook up with them. "Well, um, sometimes I see you come in. When, you know, I get to class first."

"Oh, right," Clare says.

"Right," Sam echoes. Idiot, he thinks.

"This is going to take forever," Clare says, looking at the books. "Putting them all back in order and everything."

"That guy's a real jerk," Sam says.

"Kevin? No kidding." She sighs. "I guess I just have to trust in that whole 'what goes around comes around' thing, right? Karma, or something?"

Sam's not big on karma or fate or destiny, but that's hardly a topic for a first conversation. "Guess so."

"So what were you going to do?" Clare asks.

Sam frowns in confusion. He doesn't think his mind has been wandering again. "What was I going to do about what?"

"When Kevin pushed the bookcase over. You looked like you were getting up to do something and then—"

"Just startled," Sam says. "Like a reflex."

"Oh," she says. And from the look on her face, whatever question she's going to ask next is going to be equally awkward.

"So, how come you work in the library?" he asks, cutting off whatever it is before she can get to it.

Clare shrugs. "I found study hall boring, and I wanted something interesting to do with my free period." She looks at the sprawl of the books. "Be careful what you wish for, huh?"

"Guess so," Sam says. He's still debating what to say next when Mrs. Grant comes over.

"Clare, we need you for a moment," she says.

"All right," Clare says, picking herself up out of the floor. "Thanks for your help, Sam."

"Sure. I mean, you're welcome," Sam says, and for lack of anything better to do, goes on picking up the books.

He's been able to tell when someone is watching him since he was nine. So when he turns, he's not surprised to find a security guard, obviously amused. And there's something in the man's smirk that sets Sam's teeth on edge.

"I don't suppose you want to help," Sam says.

The guard's smirk gets smirkier. "Not my job, buddy," he says, unwrapping a Snickers bar and leaning back against a sign that reads No Food or Drinks.

"It's not my job, either," Sam points out.

"Yeah, but they'd frown on it a lot more if I was the one trying to get into the pants of Miss Bookish But Still Cute there," he says around a mouth full of chocolate.

Sam feels the color rising to his face again, as the guard begins to laugh, and goes back to shoving books onto the cart.

X

Sam stands in the door to the cafeteria, brown bag lunch in hand, looking around the room. He keeps his shoulders slouched, clinging to the fiction that a little slumping hides the fact that he's taller than most of his classmates. That it somehow conceals that he's taller than Dean now, and almost as tall as Dad. That slouching lets him fade unnoticed into the background, here and at home.

He's about to do what he's done every day since he got here, and head for the most out-of-the-way empty table he can see, eat his lunch as quickly as he can, and get out. And then someone puts a hand on his arm, and he looks down to see Clare Ellison.

She has the most gorgeous eyes he's ever seen, a pale clear brown almost like honey. And it takes him a moment to process that she's just asked him to come and eat lunch with her.

He looks over to the table she's indicated. There are four other people there, and while Sam recognizes two of them, he can't remember their names. "Come on," Clare says, when he hesitates.

"All right," Sam says. "Thanks."

"Don't mention it," she says. "I remember what it was like to be the new kid. In fact, the only reason I'm not still 'the new kid' is that you moved here. We moved here last winter."

Sam follows her across the cafeteria, and wonders if the invitation is some kind of pay-it-forward thing, or she actually wants him to come eat lunch with them.

"Sam, this is Jake, Renee, Peter, and Vanessa," she says, pointing to each in turn. "Everybody, this is Sam." Sam settles awkwardly onto his seat in the midst of murmured hellos, half-waves, and nods. Cafeteria tables are barely designed for the use of human beings, never mind ones with legs as long as his.

"Peter was just going to tell us a ghost story," Clare says.

Sam straightens in his seat, forgetting to crouch and stoop, slightly tense and a little too focused. "Yeah?" he asks, and only the practice he's had with this kind of thing keeps it light.

"Yeah," Peter says.

"Well, so, go on," Vanessa says.

"Okay," says Peter. "Well, apparently, there was this girl who went to school here back when the building was new, right? And she had this boyfriend, and they were all crazy in love with each other, and they were going to get married after graduation and everything. So he got a job so he could buy her a ring. And he had to work the day of the prom, so he told her he'd meet her there, rather than like picking her up and stuff, because he wasn't going to have a lot of time. Only then there was a storm that night, and he ran off the road on his way here and he died. And she was here, all dressed up and waiting for him, and getting more and more worried."

Peter pauses, and Vanessa says, "And?"

"And," Peter says, "eventually, the police showed up and told her what happened. And she was so upset she went straight to the bathroom, the one right beside the gym, and she broke the mirror in her purse and used it to slit her wrists. And now they say she haunts the prom, in her blood-soaked prom dress, and makes sure everyone has a horrible night, just like she did."

There's a moment of silence when Peter finishes, that's broken when Vanessa sighs. "That's so sad," she says. "I feel so bad for her."

Jake laughs. "Come on, Vanessa, it can't be true."

"How do you know?"

"Because we all went to the Junior Prom last year, and nothing happened. No bloody ghosts, nobody mysteriously dying, nothing weirder than Brady turning up with Hope. It was just a prom."

"Maybe she only haunts the Senior Prom," Vanessa says. "Or maybe she only goes if there's, like, a good reason."

"Like what?" Renee demands.

"Oh, you know, like . . ." Vanessa says, and looks around the table for help.

"Like if the prom falls on the anniversary of her death or something," Clare suggests.

"Right!" Vanessa says. "Only if we don't know when that was, then we won't know if this year's prom—"

"What was her name?" Sam asks.

"No idea," Peter admits.

"Well," Sam says, "if she were a real ghost, you'd probably know her name."

"A 'real ghost'?" Renee says. "There's no such thing."

"Right," Sam says. "Of course. I just meant, if it had really happened. The school's only twenty-some years old, right? And the town isn't that big. So if something like that had actually happened, you'd probably all know about it already, and know the names of the people involved. So I don't think Vanessa needs to worry about anything happening at prom."

Everyone takes a moment to process this information, and then Peter says, "Way to ruin a good story, man."

Sam shrugs, a little sheepish, and the conversation moves on. He doesn't contribute much else, but he stays until the bell rings, and they all go to their next classes.

X

Dean, Sam knows, or Dad, would have checked a decade's worth of records and obits and grainy microfilm of the local paper for a girl who killed herself on prom night in the 1970's. Just to be sure. But the story had all the hallmarks of pure fiction, a story cobbled together from bits of campfire tales and late night movies and imagination. And Sam is tired of ghosts and ghouls and things that go bump in the night.

So he doesn't look into it, doesn't mention it, and doesn't worry about it. He just keeps his head down and his mouth shut and prays that any ghosts in this town will have the decency to stay away until he graduates. Because he'd really rather not move again.

Most people his age measure time in school years, September to June, a summer vacation, repeat. Sam measures in semesters, when he's lucky. They arrive some place in late August and stay till Christmas break begins. They spend the holiday on the road, settle some place else in January, leave in June. Summers are an endless succession of cheap motel rooms and rent-by-the-week cabins, and no one sane would use the word vacation.

Bicentennial is Sam's ninth high school. He picked up an extra when they moved abruptly in October of his sophomore year. He's never figured out exactly why. Given the nature of the looks and silence between Dean and Dad as they left town that night, Sam's willing to bet whatever had happened was his brother's fault.

That's probably why he has never asked for the details, and tried not to complain too much about the soccer team and the maybe-could-have-been-a-girlfriend he left without warning or explanation. But it was the last time he tried to join a team, or actually date someone. Even the shallow roots the Winchesters put down can hurt like hell when he has to pull them up.

The pattern of his life has shifted slightly since Dean finished high school. Dad is away even more, which isn't really a bad thing, given the way he and Sam tend to fight. Dean goes with him more, too, leaving Sam alone for the first time in his life. Dean occasionally handles something on his own. And even when he is in town, he spends time working – pick up mechanic work and odd jobs. The kinds that come with payment in cash and no questions asked.

Sam knows Dean and Dad are both counting down the weeks until he finishes high school, and they can spend all their time on the road. He has occasionally wondered if Dad would even be willing to stick around and let him graduate if there were much more than a month between his eighteenth birthday and the end of high school.

The idea terrifies him more than anything they've ever hunted. Days and weeks and years blurring into a meaningless haze of fighting and blood and silver bullets, of diner food and uncomfortable mattresses and power chords, of fear and pain and rootlessness.

He has stopped trying to explain this, though. When he did, Dad yelled and Dean got the pinched, helpless look he always gets when his brother and his father fight. Sam doesn't give a damn about the yelling, but the look bothers him.

So the arguments with Dad are mere skirmishes most of the time, now. Tempers flare up when Sam wants to skip training to study, or when Dad doesn't like his attitude. Slammed doors and raised voices, nothing like the full scale battle that would break out if Sam tried to talk about a life after June that still followed the rhythm of school years and semesters.

If he tried to talk about leaving.

So he doesn't say anything about Peter's ghost story. Doesn't say anything about school, or about the friends he might make there, or the girl he thinks he might like.

Most of all, he doesn't say anything about the letter from Stanford, hidden in a copy of To Kill a Mockingbird at the bottom of his duffel bag. The one that begins I am pleased to offer you admission . . . and might as well begin I am pleased to offer you a way out.

X

After the fourth time Clare invites him to join them for lunch, Sam decided that they must really want him there, rather than just feeling like they need to take some pity on the new guy. Maybe it would be have been better, or smarter, to go on eating alone, but he's tired of that. And it's different, he tells himself, because this time everyone is leaving in June. For the first time in his life, he doesn't have any less time left in a school than any of his classmates do.

Besides, he fits in here. He's a listener in a group that has all the talkers it can handle, an audience for Peter and Vanessa's entwined performances, for Jake's gentle mockeries and Renee's not quite cruelties. The drama plays out among the four of them. Sam and Clare are asked only to watch and laugh and agree as needed.

"We're the supernumeraries, you know," Clare tells him at lunch one day, quietly. Peter and Vanessa are interrupting each other's accounts of something that happened in their history class. "Like in an opera? Spear bearers and flower girls. We're the extras."

A part of him wonders if he should be worried or insulted about being described as an extra, but he's not. Because he's too far distracted by the way she said we, and the fact that she leaned close to tell him.

Clare breaks the edge off a cookie, and holds the rest out so he can break off a piece, too, if he wants. The fact that Sam doesn't like oatmeal raisin cookies has never mattered less than it matters right now.

His sleeve slips when he reaches out and reveals a dark purple bruise on his forearm. It's a memento from his last sparring match with Dean and a blow he didn't dodge quite quickly enough.

"Ow," says Clare, sympathetically. "Does that hurt as much as it looks like it does?"

Sam pulls his sleeve back down to his wrist and shakes his head. "No. It's fine." And that's true. Bruises rank below cuts and burns, and hurt is reserved for things that are broken, dislocated, or need to be stitched back together.

"What happened?" Clare asks.

"It's really nothing," Sam says. "Just roughhousing with my older brother. Don't worry about it. It's fine."

"Right, Sam?" Renee asks, and Sam shifts his attention back to the main conversation.

"Sorry, what?" he asks.

"I said, you could help us, right, Sam?" Renee says.

"Um, help you with what?" Sam asks. Across the table, Jake shakes his head and mouths no.

"With the prom, of course. We'll need help decorating, and selling tickets, and getting everything organized . . ."

"Renee is the head of the prom committee," Vanessa puts in, helpfully.

"Oh," says Sam. "Wow, um . . . well, I really wish I could, but—"

"So what's stopping you, if you want to?" Renee asks.

"Come on, Renee, cut it out," Clare says. "He's trying to be nice about it, but he doesn't want to help you hang streamers."

"He can answer for himself, Clare," Renee says.

"I can't, I'm sorry," Sam says.

"Why not?"

"Jesus, Renee, let it go," Peter tells her.

"You know, you're all perfectly happy show up and have a good time, but somebody has to do all the work," Renee says, glaring up and down the table. She picks up her lunch tray and stomps out of the cafeteria.

"We better go check on her," Vanessa says.

Clare sighs and hands what's left of her cookie to Sam. "If we must," she says, and follows Vanessa after Renee. Sam turns to watch them go – well, to watch Clare go – and so does the security guard by the door, the same one Sam had talked to in the library that day. Sam suspects the administration would not approve of just how obviously he's checking Clare and Vanessa out as they go past.

"Damn, Sam," Peter says. "I think someone's after you."

Sam startles. It takes him a second to remember that this is the kind of after you that means a girl is interested in you and not a ghost wants to flay you alive.

"Yeah?" he asks.

"Hell, yeah," Jake says. "What did you think Renee meant with all that prom committee shit?"

"Probably planning to tie you up with streamers and have her way with you," Peter says.

"Dude, we're eating," Sam says, and the others laugh.

Sam asks them about the baseball team, and how things are going, and then spends the rest of lunch listening to dire predictions about exactly how badly they're going to get clobbered that afternoon. He finishes the cookie Clare gave him, and decides that maybe oatmeal raisin isn't that bad, after all.

X

Sam sets his books on the circulation desk, and Clare looks up from whatever she's doing on the computer.

"Checking them out?" she asks, and Sam, whose eyes had been drifting down the V of her neckline, looks back up to her face hurriedly and guiltily.

"Um, the books, yeah," he says, and puts his student ID on top of them.

There's a beep from the computer as she passes the card under the scanner, and then she says, "Oh, hey, happy birthday." He's about to ask how she knows it's his birthday when she adds, "It's on your record here."

"Oh," he says. "Thank you."

There are three more beeps as she scans the books, and then she slides them back across the counter to him. He starts to take them, but she doesn't let go. They stand like that, on opposite sides of the circulation desk with their hands on a pile of books, for a second. "Question for you," Clare says.

"Sure," Sam says. "I mean, um, what?"

"Would you maybe want to go to the prom with me?"

He wants to go anywhere she likes, really – dinner, ritual human sacrifice, twenty-four hour marathon showing of Titanic.

But (and there is always a but, for the Winchesters) it's problematic.

"It's okay if you don't," Clare says, when Sam doesn't answer. "I just thought I'd ask."

"No, it's not that," he says. "I want to. But, um, it's um, kind of . . . expensive. And I don't . . ."

"I don't care about all the hoopla," she says. "I mean, if you're just trying to be a nice guy and let me down easy or whatever, okay. But if that's really the only problem . . . look, I want to go. And I'd really like to go with you. And I don't care about the fancy dinner and the flowers and all the nonsense. I don't care what you wear. And, hey, since I'm the one doing the asking, I'll get the tickets."

"I can't let you do that," Sam says.

"So maybe we could each buy our own?" Clare suggests. "But I get to take care of dinner."

"Only if I can drive."

"All right," she says. She grins at him. "And . . . was there maybe a 'yes' in there somewhere?"

Sam hesitates, because it's not really just about the money. Dad will object, a lot. Saturday nights are supposed to be for training. And, though it never gets said, Sam has figured out that Dad hates it when Sam wants to do anything too normal.

Well, Dad can deal. Sam is eighteen years old, and he'll damn well go to the prom if he damn well wants to.

And he damn well wants to.

"There was a 'yes' in there, yeah," he says, and gets rewarded with a dazzling smile.

"Thank you," Clare says, and it seems oddly formal to be paired with that smile.

"You're welcome," Sam says, and starts back to the table where he left his backpack.

"Sam," Clare calls, when he's few feet away, and he turns around. She pushes his books a few inches closer to the edge of the counter. "Forget something?"

Sheepish, coloring, he goes back, trying in the two seconds it takes to think of something to say that makes it into a joke. When he gets there, though, he just leans across the counter and kisses her, without thought or plan or preamble.

It's not his first kiss, but it's the one he'll measure the others by for a long time. It's soft, her lips against his, and her hair when he reaches up to touch it. She smells like some kind of flowers and she tastes of mint – the sweet, light mint of red-striped candies, not the bright tang of toothpaste.

He steps back when the bell shrills through the moment, picks up his books, and grins at her. "Thanks."

"Any time," Clare says, flushed and a little breathless. Sam's feet don't touch the ground again that afternoon.

X

Telling Dad goes about as well as Sam expected, only worse. Dad yells, and Sam yells back, and Dean hovers on the edges of the fight, trying to smooth things over without taking sides.

Nothing is resolved when Sam leaves for school the next morning, but when he gets home, Dad stiffly tells him that he can go if he wants. Sam wonders what Dean had to do to get that concession, how long and how many words it took. So he just says thank you, every bit as stiffly, instead of pointing out that he was hardly asking for Dad's permission; he is eighteen and his Saturday nights are his own.

Dinner is strained, and Sam's not sorry when Dad leaves immediately after, headed north to look into what might be a poltergeist. Dean carries Dad's bag out to the truck. There's no need for him to, really, except that it gives them a couple of minutes of semi-privacy, so they can talk about Sam's latest insubordination.

A free ride at Stanford – Stanford – and a date to the prom with a girl who works in the library. Sam can't imagine what his classmates' parents would say about John's problems with his younger son.

He can't actually hear what Dad and Dean are saying, just the rise and fall and rhythm of their voices, and then the slam of the truck door. It's only when Sam can't hear the engine any longer that he hears the front door open, and Dean's steps down the hall, slow, like he's trying to stretch out the time he gets to himself before he goes back to being the perfect Winchester son and brother.

"Tell me she's hot, Sammy," Dean says, leaned up against the doorframe to their room.

Sam looks up from repacking his duffel bag. "You probably wouldn't think so," Sam says. Clare's not showy enough for Dean's definition of hot, at least as Sam understands it. "She's . . . cute."

"'Cute'?" Dean asks, coming into the room.

"Pretty?" Sam offers instead. "And sweet, and smart." He stops, and grins. "I kissed her."

"Yeah? How'd that go?" Dean asks, the tension around his eyes finally starting to ease a little.

"It was . . ." Sam hesitates. "It was nice," he says.

"Sammy, if that's all you've got to say about it, you're probably doing it wrong."

"Hey, she didn't complain," Sam says. For a moment, he can almost imagine that this is normal for them, being the kind of brothers who talk about girls instead of hand-to-hand tactics.

"Well, yeah, but . . ." whatever Dean was going to say gets lost as he spots the thing Sam has dug out of the bottom of his duffel bag. Dean picks up the plain navy blue sports coat like it's a bomb or a viper. No, actually, Sam has seen his brother deal with both explosives and snakes, and he has never looked this wary. "What the hell is this, Sammy?"

Sam takes it back from him, and hangs it in the closet. "It's a jacket."

"Well, yeah, I can see that," Dean says. "Why do you have it?"

"I found it at Goodwill a few months ago," Sam says. "Figured I might need it someday, you know?"

"For what?"

For the day he met with the Stanford alum who did his interview. Which was the reason he bought the jacket, new at Sears, in the first place.

Sam shrugs. "Graduation?" he says. "I don't know, it was like six bucks and it fit, and I figured it wasn't a bad thing to have."

Dean looks like he's going to ask something else, and then doesn't. Sam picks up his duffel bag and swings it back into the closet.

"So, you're not gonna rent a tux?" Dean says.

"Dude, you wore a leather jacket to yours." Sam says.

"And I looked a hell of a lot cooler than you're gonna look in that thing," Dean says, nodding towards the jacket in the closet. "Well, if you ain't doin' the tux thing, this should cover things, right?" Dean holds out two crumpled twenty dollar bills.

"Dean, you don't have to—"

Dean waves off both Sam's objections and thanks. "Buy her some flowers or something. Chicks go for that kind of shit."

X

The problem with screaming, really, is that while it indicates that something's wrong, it doesn't indicate what. Sam's been around and through enough to know that some people scream when a cricket lands on their desk (Mr. O'Hare, his first fourth grade teacher). And that others don't scream when a ghost breaks their arm in three places (Dean, of course).

But you can't take the chance that something is startled-by-a-cricket screaming when it is, in fact, arm-broken-by-a-ghost screaming, especially when you recognize the voice doing the screaming.

He doesn't run, but he moves quickly, through the lobby and down the hallway. It's early yet, because he always gets to school early when Dad's home, just to be out of the house, and the halls are almost empty.

Vanessa, no longer screaming but rapidly dissolving into great hiccupy sobs, is standing in the doorway to the school newspaper office. She's the business manager; she sells ad space and oversees the budget and deals with the printer. Sam had been surprised to learn that until he figured out two things about Vanessa. First, that she is not nearly as silly as she pretends to be. And second, that Vanessa is just about impossible to say no to, which makes her a good person to put in charge of selling ads.

"Hey, Vanessa," he says, carefully. He's expecting it, sort of, when she all but throws herself into his arms, but it's still awkward. "Hey, what's wrong?"

It's hard to tell with the sobbing and all, but he manages to catch the words, "They're all gone." This statement, like the screaming, is one of those things that can apply to everything from Oreos to family members, and requires clarification.

Sam's trying to figure out how to calm her down enough to get some details, when he feels a hand on his arm, and turns to find Clare. She extricates him from Vanessa's grasp, takes over the mantra of hey, it's okay, and lets Vanessa cry herself out into Clare's shoulder instead of Sam's.

"I left them here last night," Vanessa says. "I did."

"Left what here?" Sam asks.

"The new issue of the paper," Clare says. "Right?"

Vanessa nods. "The copies came in yesterday afternoon and I left them here, so I could come in and distribute them early this morning, when Clare could help. And I locked the door before I left, I know I did, but they're all gone."

Clare gets Vanessa into the office and into a chair, keeping up the reassurances whenever Vanessa has to stop talking and breathe.

Sam searches the office, quickly, and then goes back out into the hall. The security guard is leaned up against the lockers about twenty feet away, eating a Hershey's bar and watching them like the whole thing has been a drama enacted for his amusement.

"Excuse me," Sam says. "I don't know how much of all that you heard—"

"It was kind of hard to miss," the guard says. "But you seemed to have the situation well in hand, if you know what I mean." He whistles. "Your damsel in distress there is a looker, if a little on the hysterical side. Figured you probably didn't want my help."

Sam counts to ten, and reminds himself that the school will really frown upon a student punching the security guard. Vanessa needs her papers back, not her honor defended.

"Right," Sam says, instead. "Well, okay, I don't suppose you saw anyone else go into that room, maybe yesterday afternoon or this morning?"

"Just the guy I let in," the guard says.

"The guy you let in?"

"Yeah, last night. Said he needed to get some stuff and forgot his key, so I let him in."

Sam counts to twenty, and reminds himself that anything the school would do to him for punching this guy would pale in comparison to what Dad would do to him. "Any chance you remember who he was?"

"Sorry, pal," the guard says. "All you guys pretty much look the same to me."

X

By lunch, it's all over the school that Kevin Zamora has stolen the latest issue of the Bicentennial Herald as a senior prank. Unfortunately, Jake tells Sam, the only proof is the smug smile on the bastard's face. "And since Kevin would take credit for the sun rising in the east if he thought anyone would give it to him and it would do him any good, that's not really 'proof.'"

They're waiting in a line of mostly guys, to buy their tickets to the prom. The line isn't that long, but it's crawling, because Renee is in charge of sales today, and she's all but interrogating people before she gives them their tickets. She wants to know what they think of the theme, and to ask if they prefer balloons or streamers, and to tell them why they're wrong if they prefer balloons.

"I'd wait for a day she's not here," Jake says, "but I kind of want to, you know, with the paper and all this morning."

He wants to do something for Vanessa, Sam translates, because Jake will never actually say it. It had taken Sam almost a month to figure out that Vanessa was, in fact, dating Jake and not Peter. And he still can't say that he gets it, but they seem happy with it, and that's all that matters, right?

"Well, I'm glad to have someone to stand in line with," Sam says, as they inch towards Renee's table.

Renee's questions for Jake seem to be mostly about what Vanessa is going to wear ("I'm just hoping she won't try to wear pink again. It's not a good color for her, really.") When he's finally allowed to purchase his tickets, he gives Sam a quick look of apology and a muttered good luck and escapes into the lunch room.

"Hi, Sam," Renee says. "It's twenty-five dollars for one, and forty for two."

Sam thinks for one misguided moment that he might get to just buy his ticket and go. "Just one, please."

Renee pauses with her hand on the cashbox. "One?"

"Yeah, one. Thanks."

"I thought you were taking Clare."

"I'm going with Clare, yeah," Sam says. "I have no idea what she's going to wear, though."

It seems, though, that Renee is not concerned with Clare's wardrobe. "Well, if you're going with Clare, obviously you'll need two. That'll be forty dollars."

"Oh, um, no. We're each going to buy our own ticket," Sam says.

"Well, that's not very gentlemanly of you, now, is it, Sam?"

"Well, no, I guess . . . but . . ."

"Forty dollars," says Renee.

Sam, slightly dazed, hands over the two twenties Dean gave him, and receives two small rectangles of cream-colored cardstock. "Have a good time at the prom," Renee tells him. "Next!"

Sam steps away from Renee's table and promptly runs into Clare.

"I, um," he starts.

"I heard," Clare says. "I'm really sorry. You didn't have to do that and she shouldn't have made you feel like you did." Clare flicks a glance that borders on a glare at Renee. "She doesn't deal well with hearing 'no.' But that was an impressive display of sour grapes, even for Renee."

"It's okay, I really don't mind," Sam says, but Clare gets twenty dollars out of her purse anyway.

"I said I'd pay for my own ticket and I will," she says. "I'm choosing to look at this as you being smart enough to save us both five dollars."

Sam's pretty sure that she reaches up to kiss him then as much for Renee's benefit as for his.

He's also pretty sure he doesn't care, as long as she's kissing him.