"Dad - can I go say goodbye to Harry before we leave?" Sam asked. "I'm all packed up."
Dad stopped packing his duffel long enough to check his watch.
"Where are you gonna meet him?"
"Down at the school. He'll be at the playground. It's just a couple blocks away."
"All right. Fifteen minutes, then we come looking for you."
"Yes Dad." Sam said, even though at seventeen he didn't think he needed to be kept track of. He rushed out the door but only got as far as the trunk of the car where Dean shot an arm out to stop him.
"Where're you going?"
"To the school. To say goodbye to Harry. Dad said I could."
"Be back in ten minutes."
"Dad said fifteen."
Dean checked his watch and gave Sam a look. Sam grumped out a sigh.
"Dad said fifteen." He repeated.
"All right. Fifteen. Or we come looking for you."
"Yes Dean." Sam growled. "I'm seventeen you know. I don't need you keeping tabs on me."
Dean only raised an eyebrow and looked at his watch again.
Sam growled again and took off for the school. They'd been here, in Cedar Rapids, a couple of weeks and Sam'd met Harry at the library where Sam was doing research and Harry was doing homework for summer school.
They'd met up almost every day, mostly at the library where Sam would help him with his homework, or at the playground where they'd sit around with Harry's friends, just talking about stuff, stuff that didn't have anything at all to do with hunting.
Now their hunt was over and they were leaving. Sam knew he'd probably never see Harry again but he wanted to say goodbye.
He'd gotten almost to the corner of the school, where a turn would take him onto the playground, when he heard the other kids talking. What they were saying made him stop dead where he was.
"Where's Wimp-chester?" A boy - Erik - asked.
"He's probably with his Daddy. Or his big brother." Sam recognized Chelsea's voice.
"Maybe he tripped on those big clown feet of his." That was Harry.
"I thought you liked him." Chelsea said.
"I only let him hang around to do my homework. He's such a dork, why else would anybody want him around?"
"He actually has to tell his father where he's going." Erik said. "My parents could care less where I am or what I'm doing."
"Did you see his sneakers?" Chelsea asked. "He said he got them at a thrift store. He probably got all his clothes there. I'd die if I had to wear anything that was used. If my Mom doesn't buy me what I want, I just take the money out of her drawer and get it myself."
Sam felt a strange pain in his head and he realized he wasn't breathing and he couldn't make himself breathe. If he wanted to, he could go in there and beat down Harry and Erik without even trying, and he'd spit on Chelsea just because it would hurt her worse than a punch.
But then they'd know he'd heard them. They'd know that they'd hurt him. And he wasn't going to give them that satisfaction.
He was half a block away from the school and playground when he could finally drag in a gulp of air.
When he got back to the motel, Dad and Dean were just finishing packing up the trunk.
"That didn't take long." Dad said. "Wasn't he there?"
"I didn't see him." That wasn't a lie. He hadn't seen him.
"Everything OK?" Dean asked. Sam knew he'd never be able to lie convincingly to Dean, so he just shrugged and shook his head, hoping Dean would just think he was bummed that he didn't say goodbye.
"Anywhere else he could be?" Dad asked. "We could drive around before we hit the road."
"Nah, it doesn't matter. We can just get going."
"You sure you're OK?" Dean asked again.
"I'm just tired."
He saw Dean and Dad exchange a look. He knew if they both got to thinking something was wrong, he'd never be able to withstand their attempts to find out what it was. He'd been PO'd at Dad enough times that he knew the pissy drill by heart. He opened the back door and plunked himself into the car, and stared out the window as they got on the road.
An hour passed heading east on the I-80. Sam rested his head against the window, watching Iowa go by. Up in the front seat, Dad and Dean talked about the last hunt, and where they should go next. All Sam could think about was what a loser he was.
He didn't used to feel this way. He could remember, up to his freshman year of high school, or a little later, things didn't bother him. Not like this. He could have friends or not, whatever. His life was his life and what else was there?
But since freshman high school, since Truman High School, it'd been different. Life was different. Sam's look at his own life was different and it felt like ever since it'd just been dragging him down. His life was his choice, that was the first time anybody had told him that. Mr. Wyatt practically insisted that Sam had to make that choice for himself.
Sam wasn't sure he wasn't happier when he could tell himself he had no choice.
There was never any question in the family what either boy would do when they grew up. Hunt. Other kids in all the schools Sam'd gone to had been full of ideas what they wanted to be when they grew up. Doctors, lawyers, firefighters, teachers, actors, politicians. Little Patty Gibson had had a different idea every single day for at least the eight days Sam went to school with her: veterinarian, car mechanic, religious sister, President, candy store owner, foley artist, wife and mother of a dozen children, recluse author. He wondered what she came up with after he left the school.
Dean was saying his name like he'd said it a few times already. He was turned around in his seat, looking at Sam.
"What?" Sam didn't lift his head from the window.
"Lunch? Y'got anywhere you want to stop for lunch?"
"No. Whatever. I don't care."
"Y'okay kiddo?" Dad asked. He turned to look at Sam over his shoulder.
"You coming down with something?"
"No. I don't think so. I don't know." Sam didn't want to talk about it. He didn't want to talk at all.
"We'll stop pretty soon for lunch, then you can close your eyes and get some sleep."
"Yeah." It almost wasn't a word, Sam slurred it out so thickly. They'd eat a manufactured lunch at a plastic restaurant with fake waitresses and questionable cleanliness. Then they'd get back in the car and drive another three hundred miles of repetitive road until they stopped for dinner at another plastic restaurant.
Laura Reilly had a stay-at-home Mom who made a fresh batch of cookies every single day. Billy Ingraham had a stay-at-home Dad who went to every single soccer game. The last time Sam had a homemade cookie was the past June at the party on the last day of school. As for soccer -
He sighed again.
Well, Dad had come to a few soccer games, including the championship game. They'd even stayed in town the extra week until the award ceremony and picnic so Sam could get his trophy.
That was something anyway.
Wasn't enough though, was it? A voice he didn't want to recognize asked. Wasn't every single game. Wasn't fresh cookies every single day. Wasn't - normal.
Sam knew, normal would never exist for him. Other than a few months at the beginning of his life, it never had existed for him.
"Hey Dad - there's a all-you-can-eat buffet place at the next exit." Dean said. "I just saw a billboard for it back there."
"Great. That's a lifesaver for a man with two growing boys."
"Hey, we don't eat that much."
"You should eat more."
"I'll see what I can do. What d'you think Sam?" Dean asked, looking over his shoulder.
"I don't know. Whatever. I'm not hungry." Sam turned to look out his window, but not before he saw the look that Dean shot Dad. He wasn't deliberately trying to piss them off; he really was tired. He really wasn't hungry.
Well okay, he was hungry. But eating wasn't going to make him feel any better.
They took the next exit and found the restaurant pretty soon after. Dad parked and Sam clumped along behind him and Dean into the restaurant. They paid and picked a table and split up to get their food from the lengthy buffet. Sam got chicken and mashed potatoes and corn and went back to the table.
He looked around the dining area as he ate. It wasn't an upscale place, people were dressed mostly the same, casual clothes, jeans, sneakers. Mostly families, which meant kids and Dads and Moms.
Just to rub it in, off to his right, near the dessert bar, he heard a little girl yell,
He looked over and saw a little girl in a pretty dress covered in ice cream running from the dessert bar to a table.
"What did you do now?" Her mother demanded loudly. "Look at you - your new dress. Oh - look at that!" She sounded pissed and she dragged the little girl in direction of the restrooms.
Back at the dessert bar Sam heard somebody laughing and when he looked back he saw a guy, maybe Dean's age, tall, thin, and trying to be scary looking with some black leather, buzz cut, tattoos and piercings. Small town goth, Sam thought. The guy was laughing and Sam wondered if he had anything to do with the ice cream dripping down the little girl's dress.
Dean and Dad came back to the table together, talking about whether they should go to Illinois or Kentucky. Dad sat across from Sam, and Dean sat next to Dad. Sam kept his eyes on his plate or looked around the restaurant, and listened to them talk. A year from now, five years, ten or twenty years from now, he'd be sitting at this table, listening to them talk about which hunt to go on next. All he wanted right now was for the two of them to shut up.
"What do you think Sam?" Dad asked.
"Does it matter?" Sam groused. "We'll do one, then we'll do the other. What difference does it make what I think?"
That wasn't really fair and Sam knew it. Dad always took his serious ideas seriously. He didn't ask just to make Sam feel better or just make him feel part of the conversation. He really wanted to know.
So before Dad got on his case about his attitude, Sam offered,
"The activity in Illinois is doing less damage, but it's happening more frequently. Kentucky isn't due to happen again for at least three weeks."
Dad nodded but watched Sam. Not angry, not confused, just - concerned.
Yes, no, maybe. Sam didn't know. He was tired. He was pissed.
"I'm gonna get some more food." Was all he said.
He turned in his chair, getting ready to stand up, when he saw that goth guy again, just in time to see him jostle a boy, younger than Sam, dumping the plate of salad the kid was carrying all over the kid.
Idiot, Sam thought. Big man in a little town.
As if he heard him, the guy looked at Sam, giving him a challenging look. Sam stared back. Today was not the day he was going to back down. Goth guy gave first, sneering but walking away, giving the salad kid a shove as he walked past.
When he was gone, Sam stood up and walked down to the far other end of the buffet, down to tacos, nachos and pizza. He'd just filled his plate when he sensed trouble next to him. It was only a quarter of a second warning but it was enough that when goth guy elbowed him, Sam made sure his fully loaded tacos launched right at the idiot, hitting him square and sticking in dripping clumps to his cheap leather.
"Hey, you little creep!" Goth guy hollered at him. "What the hell d'you think you're doing?"
He made a move like he was going to backhand Sam and before Sam could move, Dad was there. He grabbed goth guy's hand, bending his thumb impossibly close to his wrist.
"Did you really think you were going to touch my son?" Dad asked him, talking in his low, even, dangerous voice. Sam took a step back, right into Dean.
"It's okay." Dean said. "He touch you?"
"Is there a problem here?" The manager asked. He was maybe Dad's age, maybe a little older, a little heavier. Sam wondered what story Dad was going to give him.
"Yeah, there's a problem." Dad said. He kept his eyes on goth guy. "This guy just knocked my son's plate out of his hands on purpose." Goth guy made the mistake of chuckling and Sam saw Dad increase the pressure on his thumb. "You did it before didn't you?" Dad asked. "The kid at the salad bar? The little girl with the ice cream before that, right?"
The manager folded his arms and addressed the guy.
"I think it's time you left son."
"I didn't do anything." Goth guy tried. The pain in his thumb came through in his voice.
"You know, I am off duty." Dad said, assuming a cop persona. "But I would be happy to escort him off of your premises."
"Is that gonna be necessary son?"
Goth guy actually seemed to try a stare down with Dad, but it didn't last more than a few seconds.
"No. Not it won't be. I'll leave."
Dad still took another second or two to release his thumb, and he didn't step back, making the idiot have to walk around him. Dean stepped in front of Sam as the guy walked past him and they all stared at him until he stalked out the front door.
"Sorry for the trouble." The manager said to Dad.
"No harm done." Dad said. He put a hand on Sam's shoulder. "We're just going to get another plate and have some more of your fine food."
He smiled and when the manager walked away, Dad turned to Sam.
"You okay? He hurt you?"
"I'm okay. He didn't hurt me. I'm okay."
Dad still gave Sam a once over before he nodded and put a hand on each boy's shoulder and guided them back to the buffet.
"Okay, so what were you getting - tacos? Let's get some plates and try this again. Dean - you're getting some more food. Right?"
"Oh yeah. You're okay Sammy?" Dean asked and looked him up and down and waited for Sam's answer -
"Yeah. I'm okay."
- before he went down to the dessert display.
Dad stayed with Sam as he loaded up on tacos, even though the danger was passed, even though Sam could've put goth guy out of commission all by himself.
"I don't know how you boys eat that stuff." Dad said. He kept a hand on Sam's shoulder. "Give me steak and potatoes any day."
"Tacos are good."
"Well I didn't think you were eating it because it was bad. We didn't have food like this when I was your age. You got enough food there? Are you sure? Well c'mon back to the table."
On the way back to their table, where Dean was already eating his dessert, an old lady stopped Dad.
"Good for you getting rid of that boy. He was nothing but bad news."
"Happy to help." Dad told her, flashing his charming smile. She smiled back like if only she was twenty years younger...and Sam couldn't help thinking, 'ewww gross'. Dad was old, he was like almost fifty, too old for even an even older old woman to be interested in him.
"Get her number?" Dean asked Dad when they got back to the table.
"No, but I gave her yours." Dad said. Dean only laughed and they got started talking about Illinois again while Sam ate his tacos.
Dad pulled out his journal and was showing something to Dean and for right now, Sam liked just sitting there with them. The food was good, the place was clean, the jerk was gone. Dad and Dean were just Dad and Dean. They'd both been there, right there as soon as goth guy made a move on Sam.
One time he was talking with the other kids, Harry talked about getting picked on by some bully in grammar school and how all his parents had told him was that Harry should avoid him. That was all. No help, no advice, no self-defense lessons, nothing. They just let him face it all by himself. Not in his wildest dreams could Sam imagine Dean or Dad knowing that was happening to him and them sitting back, doing nothing.
Even when they left the restaurant, Sam ended up bracketed between them, Dad walking outside first and doing a casual - but Sam knew thorough - visual of the area, making sure goth guy was nowhere around, while Dean kept watch behind him until they were all safely in the car.
"Wanna see if there's a car parts store around?" Dean asked Dad. "That windshield wiper is getting a tear in it."
"No, not here. I want to put a couple hundred miles between us and Chuckles before we stop again. We'll look when we stop for dinner. Sam?"
"You lie down now, get some rest."
"Use my jacket if you want." Dean offered.
Sam folded Dean's leather jacket for a pillow and stretched out as much as he could along the back seat. One deep breath and he was gone.