"He's in the closet." Pastor Jim whispered to me. "Go easy on him."
So I went to the front closet and sat down against the wall next to the door that was open a crack. I could hear Sammy sniffling inside. The kid was eight years old and crying, for crying out loud.
"You gonna come out here and talk about it?" I asked him. "Or are you gonna sit in there crying like a little girl?"
"Shut up." Came the sharp command. "Jerk."
"Bitch." I offered back automatically, then had a fast look around to see if Pastor Jim heard me. A rectory didn't quite seem the place for that particular word. But we were alone. Me and my weeping little brother. Gee whiz.
"You gonna make me come in there?"
"No. No, just go ahead and leave. Leave and don't come back, see if I care."
Right, he 'wouldn't care' so much he was already crying his eyes out.
"Sammy, c'mon. It's a salt and burn. No big deal. We'll be back tomorrow night. It's no big deal."
"Then why does Dad need you?"
"I have to start learning sometime."
The truth was, I'd been aching for Dad to take me hunting for years now. But as long as Sammy didn't know the score, Dad didn't want him left on his own, even with Pastor Jim.
"THEN GO!" Sam screamed at me, actually screamed. "GO AHEAD AND LEAVE ME ALONE. I HATE YOU!"
That was kind of extreme, even for Sam. There was no way he was jealous that I was going hunting when he wasn't. But he couldn't be that freaked that I was going somewhere without him. Could he?
"Sammy, I told you. We'll be back tomorrow night at the latest." Maybe I'd get Dad to turn right around and head back, and not stop off for the night.
"No you won't." Sammy sniffled. He'd gone from screaming to miserable. "You'll never come back."
What the -?
"All right, Sammy, I'm coming in."
I turned from where I was sitting and crawled in among the long coats and ancient galoshes, and all the while I could hear Sammy pulling himself away from me into the farthest corner he could get to.
"No, go away, get out, go hunt, go ahead."
He pushed away at me but there wasn't much energy behind it and even in the tangle of outerwear I got him in a lock with his arms pinned to his sides and his back pressed to my front. He struggled, but not hard. Then he just leaned back into me.
"All right – what? It's just a salt and burn. Not even a vengeful spirit. What makes you think I won't come back?"
One really noisy sniff preceded his answer.
"You'll be a hunter."
"Yeah, that's kinda the point…"
"It won't be us anymore." He struggled against me holding him until I realized that all he wanted was to be able to wipe his eyes. "It'll be you and Dad. You'll come back just like Dad and all it'll be is hunting. You won't wanna play games with me or watch TV with me or do anything but hunt." He started breathing fast again, crying again. "And I don't hunt and you'll hate me just like Dad hates me."
"Hey – hey -." I tried to move around to be able to look Sam in the eyes, but the closet was dark and Pastor Jim had some long coats and I nearly smothered myself before I got us sitting face to face. "Dad doesn't hate you. Dad loves you more than anything else in the whole world. Why do you think he hates you?"
"B-b-b-because…" Then he was crying again. "It's always you. Dad always wants to talk to you, he always wants to work with you, he never – I never do anything he ever wants to do with me."
He choked and hiccupped and struggled on around his crying.
"And when you come back, it'll be the same with you. All hunting, all Dad, all nothing with me. You won't come back and I won't have anybody…"
That was the end of Sammy's last straw and he broke down sobbing for all he was worth. I gathered him up like I used to when he was a littler kid. I bundled him against my chest and between my knees, I wrapped my arms as tight around him as I could and rocked him as much as I could in the little space we had.
"C'mon, Sammy. It's not like that. I am coming back. Me. Your awesome big brother." I paused for any reaction, but didn't get any. "I promise Sammy, nothing will ever be as important to me as you are. I promise."
There was finally a break in the weeping.
"You really promise?" He asked in a whisper.
"Cross my heart, hope to fly, stick some Cool Whip on my pie."
That made him laugh. That always made him laugh.
"We okay?" I asked.
"No." He shook his head under my chin.
"We gonna be okay?"
It took a couple beats of thinking, but he nodded finally, "Yeah," and nestled himself into my arms. "I love you, Dean."
"I love you too, Sammy."