February 1995 (Southfield, Massachusetts)
He showed up in English class on February 9. It was odd to get a new student that far into the semester, but odder still that he came in on a Thursday. New kids always started on Mondays.
The first thing she thought, so help her, was that he was the prettiest boy she'd ever seen. She stared, fascinated, as Mrs. Lane, the assistant principal, escorted him into the classroom. He looked seriously bored as he slid into the empty desk closest to the door while Mrs. Lane continued into the room to talk to Mr. Szabo.
From her seat Megan had a perfect view of his profile. His dirty blonde hair was parted in the center, bangs pushed to either side of his forehead. In back it just grazed the collar of his faded plaid shirt. Eyelashes a girl would die for, straight nose, and she could just see the cascade of freckles across his smooth cheeks. And how unfair was it that his freckles made him more attractive? Not like her own, which caused despair when she looked in a mirror.
She itched to pull out paper and pencil and sketch the curve of his full lips.
"Class, we have a new student who's just transferred in from Torrington, Connecticut, Dean Winchester."
Of course pretty much everyone'd been looking at the boy anyway, but the stares intensified at the teacher's introduction.
The boy's lip corners turned up in the barest acknowledgment of being the center of attention, but he looked straight ahead, not meeting anyone's eyes.
Megan began discretely marking the margin of her notebook, trying to capture the softness of lips that were almost feminine in their roundness.
Mr. Szabo was giving Dean a fast summary of what the class was doing this week. "…Slaughterhouse Five. We'll need to find a copy for you so you can catch up with the rest of the class."
There's a copy in the school library, Megan thought. She almost volunteered that information, but Mr. Szabo had moved on, and well, she really didn't want to have attention directed at her.
She watched the new boy surreptitiously for the rest of class. He gave the weirdest impression of being and not-being present. The way his eyes were focused on the chalkboard and yet his attention seemed to be on everything happening around him. By the time fifty minutes were over, Megan had filled a full notebook page with doodles of his likeness.
Her next class was phys ed, her absolute least-favorite class, but after that she had study period and she asked the room monitor for a pass to spend it in the library. She'd been right, there was a copy of Slaughterhouse Five on the shelf, and she might as well do the new boy a favor.
Ms. Dooley, the librarian, was willing to hold the book at the desk and said she'd leave a note in Mr. Szabo's mailbox.
Ironically, the new kid was in the cafeteria line ahead of her at lunch. As he was picking up his plate of overcooked spaghetti she spoke.
"Hey, um, Dean?"
He set his dish on his tray and looked at her with a cool smirk. She was almost at his eye level. She was the only girl in school as tall as most of the boys.
With those green eyes staring directly at her it was almost impossible to be coherent.
After an interminable pause she managed, "The book? You need? Its … Ms. Dooley has it – she's the librarian, in the school library …"
He quirked a brow and continued to gaze at her as he slid his tray along the counter rail, pulling a dish of pudding off the shelf without looking.
Much as she wanted to die of embarrassment, Megan did want to make him understand what she'd done, so she tried again.
"Mr. Szabo's English class, you need the book Slaughterhouse Five? It's on hold for you. Under your name, Dean Winchester, right? In the library. Ms. Dooley, ask her for it."
She could see when he caught the gist of her babbling and he nodded.
"Oh, thanks." He looked like he might say something more but they'd reached the drink dispenser and he turned away.
For a wild moment Megan thought about asking if he wanted to sit at her table but he'd picked up his tray and headed to a corner before she could nerve herself to say anything, so she just topped off her drink and headed to where she usually sat with Shannon and Pam.
"What'd you say to the new kid?" Pam had been in English with Megan.
"I, uh, told him he could get the book for class in the library."
"He's cute, what's his name?" Shannon was staring at him now.
"Dean. Dean Winchester."
The three of them watched as a couple of the boys from the basketball team wandered over to talk to Dean.
"D'ya think he's a jock?"
"How would I know, Shannon?"
They watched Dean shake his head at the basketball players, who walked away.
"How's your brother, Megan?" Pam always asked. Megan appreciated her trying to show concern. At the same time it was always hard to answer. "The same."
By the end of the day Megan had run into Dean in two more classes, social studies and biology. She had covertly added sketches of his face to each of those subject notebooks. Drawing with a ballpoint was frustrating, though. She'd have to grab a pencil for tomorrow if she was going to continue this silliness. Dean had nodded an acknowledgment of her when he saw her in biology. A couple more classmates approached him as well, but all his interactions seemed short. Except, of course, with AnnMarie. The new boy was cute so that made him fair game.
Dean took off at the final bell without a backward glance, clearly in a hurry to get somewhere.
Megan did her social studies homework in Kevin's hospital room. She still came nearly every day, as did her mom. Only Dad had stopped a daily visit. Megan chose to believe that was because of his work schedule, not because he couldn't handle watching Kevin lie in bed unresponsively. Waiting for playful brown eyes to open again and laugh at the great scare he'd pulled on all of them.
Friday morning as Dean walked into English he caught her eye and held up the Slaughterhouse Five book for her to see and gave a slight nod. Megan gave a little smile back, noticing that Dean was wearing the same well-worn flannel shirt as yesterday. She was distracted when she realized he was the subject of discussion between the girls in behind her.
"… same clothes?"
"Maybe he hasn't unpacked yet. I'll ask him after class," AnnMarie snickered.
Maybe it's none of your business, Megan wanted to say, but she didn't.
Sure enough, AnnMarie managed to catch Dean at his desk when class ended. Megan simply stayed where she was to hear the exchange.
"Hey, Dean, isn't that the same shirt you wore yesterday?" Her bright pink lips twisted with just the littlest bit of sneer.
"Yep. Same shirt I'll wear tomorrow, too. Prob'ly all next week, in fact." A pause. "Wanta see m' boxers, so you can check if I change them tomorrow? But then you have to do the same for me, let me see your underwear."
The mocking glare as he delivered his challenge was an expression Megan hadn't seen on his face before. AnnMarie looked like she'd sucked on a lemon and flounced away. It wasn't too often AnnMarie was rendered speechless. Megan gave a silent cheer.
Dean was near her in the lunch line again. Feeling incredibly bold, Megan blurted, "Want to sit with us?" as she stepped away from the counter.
Dean shrugged but followed her.
"Pam's in English and social studies with us." She didn't want to embarrass Dean if he didn't remember. "And Shannon's not in any of our classes together …but we've been friends since, like, second grade."
"So where'r you from?" Trust Shannon to start the inquisition.
"No, I mean, like, originally? 'Cause you don't talk like you're from around here."
For a minute Megan didn't think Dean was going to answer, but finally he said, "Kansas."
"Wow, you've moved pretty far!"
"M' dad travels." Dean had doused his burger with a ridiculous amount of ketchup and now, as if to forestall more questions, he started chowing down his burger like the skinny, dry patty was the best thing he'd ever tasted. The runny cafeteria ketchup looked liked blood around his mouth and dripping on the table.
For a few minutes all of them focused on eating. Megan desperately wanted to come up with something witty to say – heck, she'd settle for something that wasn't horribly lame at this point – but she couldn't think of anything to save her life. Pam was even shyer than she was.
So Shannon simply continued her inquisition. Social niceties never slowed Shannon down.
"So where do you live?"
The two streets Dean named were in the run-down section of town. Which, of course, Shannon had to point out.
""What'r you living over there for?"
" 'S where Dad could get an apartment." His next bite of hamburger was clearly intended to forestall more questions. Shannon didn't get it.
"So what do your folks do?" she asked as she slurped the dregs of her milk with a straw.
Dean continued to chew, then took another bite. Megan figured he wasn't going to answer, but then he surprised her.
"Just m' dad and m' brother. Little brother. He's over at the middle school."
"Oh, that's why you left in a hurry after biology. You were meeting him after school."
It was one of those times where Megan's mouth moved ahead of her brain. Dean's eyes narrowed a little, but he nodded. Megan continued in an attempt to explain.
"I used to meet my little brother, too. If you walk really fast you can get from here to the middle school just as it's letting out."
"Where's your Mom? Are your folks divorced?"
Megan seriously wanted to smack Shannon for the third degree she was doing, and then Megan watched as Dean's face went still and his eyes just … shuttered.
"She's dead," he said, and then in one movement he stood, picked up his tray, and walked away.
Megan did kick Shannon under the table then.
Megan hated weekends. Teenagers weren't supposed to hate weekends, but either she sat in the hospital room and watched Kevin sleep, he was just sleeping or she did chores around the house because her mom was at the hospital instead.
She'd finished Slaughterhouse Five and was done writing out ideas for Monday's class discussion. As she flipped her notebook closed, the page full of her doodles caught her eye, and with nothing better to do she spent the rest of the afternoon in the hospital trying to capture that mesmerizing quality of the new boy's face.
Monday morning, Mr. Szabo jumped right into splitting the class into five- and six- member groups and giving them twenty minutes to decide what the three main themes of Vonnegut's novel were. Megan found herself with Dean, AnnMarie, Dawn and Jason.
No one seemed inclined to start, so finally Megan offered the first idea from her notebook.
"Um, it's pretty clear, to me anyway, that Vonnegut was trying to get across the stupidity and waste of war …"
"The whole book was a mess." AnnMarie was filing her fingernails, clearly bored.
Jason looked from AnnMarie to Megan, then said, "Yeah, that comes across pretty clear in how he talks about Dresden being bombed. You know, like what a waste it was."
"He was there, you know." The rest of the group looked at Dean. "At Dresden," he clarified at their confusion. "The description of coming out of the cellar and finding the city gone? That's what actually happened to him."
Six pairs of eyes stared at him in surprise. Dean shrugged. "We were reading the same book in my old school." He rifled the pages of his copy. "Kinda glad you were reading it here. Wanted to know how it ended." His lips lifted in a self-amused grin.
Megan grinned back and returned to the subject at hand. "So, do you think the narrator is actually Vonnegut himself, then? 'Cause I wasn't sure if the narrator and Billy Pilgrim were the same person."
Dawn, who hadn't said anything yet, answered Megan's question.
"I think he's giving Billy Pilgrim his own experiences in some places, but Vonnegut is separate from Billy."
"Okay, so one theme is war is a waste," Jason asserted. "What's next?"
Dawn tapped her pen against the desk. "There's no point in worrying about when you're gonna die. It happens when it happens. That whole 'and so it goes' bit he keeps saying."
"I think there's more than that," Megan started.
"He's questioning whether what happened to Billy happened by accident or whether Billy could control what happened to him. Or,' Dean shrugged, "whether it's all destined to turn out a certain way no matter what. Billy didn't even try to get away from being shot. But what woulda happened if he'd tried to get away? Would he have escaped his 'destiny'? But he just figured it had to go that way. So he didn't even try."
AnnMarie was rolling her eyes but everyone ignored her exaggerated sighs.
"So we've got our three themes?"
"War is stupid, everybody dies, and, what do we want to call the third one? There's no escaping destiny?"
Dean corrected Dawn's summation. "I don't think Vonnegut says whether or not you have to follow your destiny, I think he just asked the reader to think about it. He never showed whether it would have been possible to avoid it."
Megan spoke up. "Don't you think if he wanted to show that was possible, Billy would have tried?"
Dean shook his head stubbornly. "He didn't give Billy a chance so we don't know what Vonnegut really thinks."
"We need to pick who's gonna say what we decided when Szabo calls on our group, guys," Jason said, as Szabo told the class to turn back to the front.
"I think Dean should do it, he can explain about the two ways of looking at the destiny thing," Megan said quickly. The rest of the group nodded. Dean looked less than thrilled but didn't have time to argue.
None of the other groups had quite the same point about destiny as their group did. Megan thought Dean did a good job of explaining, and Mr. Szabo said that was an interesting way to look at it.
The bell rang.
"Hey, Dean …"
He stopped and looked at Megan over his shoulder.
"Look, if you want to sit with us at lunch again, I'll tell Shannon to knock off the twenty questions …"
Megan couldn't guess what the look on his face meant, but after a moment he nodded.
She read Shannon the riot act on the way to the cafeteria. Shannon didn't get what she'd done wrong, so finally Megan just flatly said Shannon should just not ask any questions unless Dean brought up something. And that if Megan kicked her Shannon was to shut up. She was disgruntled but agreed. Megan loved Shannon, she had a huge heart and would do anything to help someone out. But socially awkward didn't even begin to cover it.
Dean apparently had given some thought to handling Shannon on his own, however, because as soon as he sat down he started firing questions at her.
"So, Shannon, how long have you lived here?"
"Um, my whole life."
"And how many people are in your family?" And Dean kept it up for the entire lunch period. It was actually kind of funny how he drilled her, leaving just enough time for an answer before moving to the next subject. At one point Megan made the mistake of looking at Pam and they both almost spit out mouthfuls of food trying not to laugh at the sight of Shannon being on the receiving end of non-stop questioning.
All four of them headed to return their trays when a sarcastic voice cut through the lunchroom babble. Not directed at them, but clearly meant to be heard.
"… not even sitting with the nerds, Winchester's hanging with the total losers!"
Megan stopped dead, feeling an embarrassed flush on her cheeks. She had no illusions about her place in the popularity pecking order, but hearing it broadcast in front of the entire room – and Dean – hurt in a way she thought she'd gotten over.
Dean, however, kept walking toward AnnMarie's table, never actually stopped moving as he addressed her.
"Hey sweetheart, I changed my shirt … and my boxers. Guess you should pull your bunched-up panties outta your ass so you can change yours."
He continued past, dumped his tray, and disappeared into the hall. Megan, Pam and Shannon followed suit, but Dean was gone when they reached the hallway. Shannon thought the whole exchange was hysterical. Megan was pretty sure all it had done was set them up to be the focus of AnnMarie's unpleasant attention. And she'd had enough of a taste of it in middle school to feel her stomach twist at the thought.
Megan tried to tell herself she was imagining that Dean deliberately avoided looking at her for the rest of the day. But she could understand him wanting to distance himself from the 'losers.' She consoled herself with making more drawings in her notebook margins, concentrating on capturing one feature as best she could before trying another one. By the end of social studies she had eyes and noses and lips bordering all of her notes on the relationship between immigration and the rise of the Labor movement in the early 1900s.
There was no time for art during biology, they were doing lab work today. And Dean was gone again as soon as class ended.
It was harder than usual to sit next to Kevin's still form. For the first time she wondered what would happen if this was all there ever would be of her little brother. "And so it goes," she said bitterly.
When the accident had first happened she had wanted so badly to trade places with him. There was such an enormous Kevin-sized hole in Megan's world without his effervescent personality, without his troop of little friends always in the kitchen, without his obnoxious burping and farting and awful jokes … She hadn't realized how much her baby brother was just a 'given' part of her life. How brittle their family would be without his comical way of teasing all of them.
She felt it would have been a much smaller hole in the rest of the world if it had happened to her.
Megan was startled by Dean's "G'morning" when he sauntered into English the next morning right before the bell. She managed "Hi" before Mr. Szabo began discussing the significance of Billy Pilgrim's profession as an optometrist in context of trying to educate the world about the teachings of the alien Tralfamadorians.
At lunch she was equally surprised when he walked over to their table.
"You don't mind if a loser sits with you, do you?" he joked.
"It's a pretty exclusive club," Megan found herself saying, breaking into a smile. "You have to work hard to qualify being in it."
"Oh, I've been told I'm a natural," he smirked. Then he looked at Shannon. "Can we put the third degree on hold today?"
"Don't you think you have to ask Megan and Pam all those questions, too? Otherwise you'll know more about me than about them and your knowledge will be unbalanced. And you wouldn't want to fall over."
Megan rolled her eyes but Dean said, "You actually have a point. So Megan, how long have you lived in Southfield?"
"And your little brother – is he still in middle school?"
"No." Dean must have seen her flinch at the question and he smoothly switched his questioning to Pam. The two bites of mac and cheese Megan'd had were congealed lumps in her stomach and she couldn't eat any more. She hastily excused herself and retreated to the girls' restroom, where she hid in a stall fighting tears and her stomach until it was almost time for the next class.
Dean stopped her outside the social studies room door.
"Hey, I'm sorry about your brother. Pam and Shannon told me about what happened. I'm really sorry."
He seemed genuinely distressed that he had caused her pain.
"You didn't know, not your fault."
"Pam said you go to the hospital every day."
She couldn't handle the sympathy emanating from his eyes.
"Uh, yeah, Dean, I don't want to … I can't … talk about it here."
"Sure. I get it." He stepped aside so Megan could enter the classroom first.
He hustled out after last period again, but he gave her a nod as he took off.
Instead of doing her homework she spent her time in Kevin's room murmuring, "Open your eyes, Kevin," in sync with the beeping of the heart monitor. She'd stopped doing that months ago and didn't know why she was doing it today.
Linzy was one of the nurses who had been there since the beginning, and she stopped to rub Megan's back after she had checked on Kevin.
"Having a bad day, honey?"
Megan wanted to ask when is my brother gonna wake up, but knew Linzy didn't have an answer. No one did. Or at least no one could give her the answer Megan wanted.
Dean continued to eat lunch with 'the losers,' as they decided to refer to themselves, for the rest of the week. Megan was a little surprised that AnnMarie ignored them. Until Thursday provided some illumination.
She had gotten another library pass from the study hall monitor and was taking her time walking through the hall. As she passed the corridor leading to the cafeteria she happened to glance in that direction and almost tripped as she saw Dean and AnnMarie leaning against the wall very much wrapped around each other.
If Shannon were here she would call it 'sucking face' and Megan tried to appreciate Shannon's snarkiness even as she felt like she'd been punched. No wonder they were beneath AnnMarie's notice.
Megan continued to the library while reviewing Dean's behavior in English this morning. She didn't know which other classes he had with AnnMarie, but now that she was looking for it she could see that AnnMarie had been watching him avidly. And the random smirk Dean had been wearing hadn't been so random after all.
Megan met up with Pam outside the lunchroom fifty minutes later.
Megan just shook her head and grabbed a tray. She was taken aback to see that Dean was already sitting with Shannon at their table. No evidence that a little while ago he'd been lip-locked with Miss Popularity.
"Hey, Megan, something wrong?"
Clearly she wasn't cut out to be a poker player. She just shook her head at Dean's question.
Why should it bother her if Dean wanted to make out with another girl? There was absolutely no reason to think he'd be interested in her.
She picked at her lunch as Shannon and Dean traded barbs. They definitely had worked out a way to get along that consisted of smartass remarks alternating with discussion of Star Trek versus Star Wars. Pam was even tossing in a rejoinder occasionally.
The day took forever to end. Megan had curled under the covers when she knew what she had to do. It took just a minute to pull out all her notebooks and rip out the pages where she had made sketches of Dean's face. She would rewrite the pages with important class notes over the weekend, but the pages that were just drawings she dropped in the trash.
On Friday morning, sitting at her desk, Megan noted how AnnMarie brushed her hand on Dean's shoulder as she sauntered to her seat. He must have felt it, but Dean didn't react. He seemed focused on something entirely unrelated to English, scribbling in some sort of journal during the class discussion, periodically gazing out the window while chewing on the end of his pen, and then writing some more.
Watching him, Megan itched to capture that furious concentration and finally surrendered to the impulse. She'd just finished shading his eyes when her name was suddenly called.
"So, Megan, what else crops up as a reoccurring motif in the story?"
Just because her eyes and fingers had been focused on drawing didn't mean Megan hadn't been listening to the discussion. "No one's mentioned the colors yet. Vonnegut uses blue and ivory to describe Billy Pilgrim's skin in several different scenes."
Mr. Szabo snorted. "I see you can multi-task – listen and draw at the same time. Want to share your artwork with the class?"
Szabo could be a jerk sometimes.
"Not till it's framed." Megan fixed him with a stare that dared him to keep going. As she expected, he was done picking on her and moved to a new target.
"Dean, let's see if you're as good as Megan at paying attention even when it looks like you're not. Can you give me another motif Vonnegut uses?"
"The bird call. Poo-wee-teet. Billy hears it several times." Dean didn't even look up as he answered.
"Hmm." Szabo was clearly disappointed at getting an answer. By that point class was almost over and he decided to let them go five minutes early.
Before Megan could shut her notebook, it was pulled off her desk and AnnMarie had ripped out Megan's drawing. "Oh, check this out!"
AnnMarie began waving Megan's sketch around.
"Hey, give it back!"
"But it's so good, Megan! I bet everyone can tell who it's supposed to be. Right? Who do you think Megan drew, Dean?"
AnnMarie waved the paper in front of Dean. He took it from her hand before she could pull it back.
He studied it a moment before he returned it to Megan.
" 'S good," he said matter-of-factly, meeting her eyes. "You're talented."
Megan knew her face was hot, but Dean's simple statement calmed her.
"Uh, thanks," she managed to murmur as she folded the incriminating evidence and stuck it in her backpack.
"See you at lunch."
However, Dean waylaid her in the hall before she got close to the cafeteria.
"I, uh, actually, have to leave early. I didn't want you to think I was blowing you off."
"Oh? Why?" Megan immediately wanted to smack herself for sounding like Shannon.
"Have'ta go with m'dad. Um, listen, I gotta go." The uncertain look on Dean's face was disconcerting. He put something in Megan's hands. "Would you, um, return this for me?" It was the library copy of Slaughterhouse Five.
"I don't think we're done with it yet."
"Yeah, probably not, but in case I'm not here Monday …"
"Sure, okay, but why wouldn't you be here Monday?"
"Just in case, okay?"
"Okay." Megan fumbled open her backpack and stuck the paperback in the front pocket, then looked back at Dean.
Neither of them had to angle their head for their eyes to be level. Dean's green eyes stared intensely into hers and abruptly he shifted closer and put his lips on hers.
Megan suddenly understood what 'heart-stopping' meant. She closed her eyes without thinking and just savored his soft, slightly salty kiss.
When he pulled back and she opened her eyes Dean had a sad little smile.
"I'm sorry," he said softly.
Dean looked down for a moment, then back at her eyes.
"I checked out what happened to your brother, and it just was a … a norm- … a car accident. Nothing else. I wish I coulda helped."
Megan wanted to ask him what he meant, how he thought he could possibly have done anything for Kevin, but he was starting to turn away.
He flashed her a smile that would have melted snow.
"Take care of yourself. And keep drawing, you really are good. Bye, Megan."
Twenty minutes into Monday morning's class, as Mr. Szabo asked for opinions on whether the Tralfamadorians' concept of time negated all possibility of free will, Megan finally stopped looking at Dean's empty seat.
Her mind drifted away from Mr. Szabo's lecturing, and wondered instead at the seeming randomness of everything. It had to be random, didn't it? A soldier being killed in a battle field? A car crashing? She imagined herself like Billy Pilgrim, granted the ability to jump through time. What moments would she revisit in her own life? But if events couldn't be changed, what would be the point?
Dean hadn't said what he believed about changing destiny. He'd only pointed out that Billy hadn't even tried.
Maybe it wasn't about believing. Maybe it was about trying.
A glance around the classroom, and Megan wondered if anyone else would remember Dean in a few months. She swallowed down her irritation at this thought and started to rummage through her backpack. It should have been right in the front pocket. But it wasn't.
She emptied the entire bag as Mr. Szabo glared at her.
The last drawing of Dean she'd done was missing.