Title: You Can't Disguise
Rating: PG, for one small bit of language
Summary: Maggie Bradford might be an old busybody, but she's also a retired schoolteacher, and she can tell that the boy raking her yard, Dean Smith, isn't exactly telling the full truth.
Notes: For hoodie_time's third Dean h/c meme. doylescordy requested "Gen. To earn some extra cash, teenage!Dean does chores for the old lady who lives next door to the Winchesters' current residence. As the days go by, the old lady slowly befriends Dean, and begins to see glimpses of the scared and troubled kid hidden behind the walls that Dean has erected around himself." Hope you enjoy!
When Maggie Bradford first asked the older son from the duplex next door to rake her yard, it had been for purely selfish reasons. Perhaps it was an aftereffect from being a schoolteacher for fifty-odd years, but she liked to know things about people, and the family on the top floor of the home that used to be the Davies' weren't the type to come over and introduce themselves. And she was okay with that –ever since James had gone and left her the big old house, and ever since her school had been bulldozed to pave way for a district-wide middle school, she hadn't had much to do. Spying was something of a relief from the monotonous, really.
So she had cornered the two boys on their way back home from school, and had offered the older one a job. The father didn't seem to be home –the car had been gone for two days- and whatever caretaker they were with wasn't showing his or her face. There had to be someone, of course; the boys couldn't be older than fourteen and ten, and so they couldn't have been left alone. But as long as that person refused to come out of the house, she would have to content herself with learning about the sons.
The older one was Dean –Dean Smith, he'd said, and Sam Smith was his younger brother. And yes, he had also said, he would like to rake her yard for a total sum of twenty whole dollars (to be fair, the yard was large and surrounded by a quartet of ancient oak trees, and Maggie knew that today's kids didn't come cheap, not to mention that twenty dollars wasn't much when you didn't have any heirs.) There had been something in eyes that had looked like relief when she had offered him the job, but she was probably interpreting that wrong. She wasn't infallible when it came to reading people.
That was then, though. This was the present, and she'd been watching him for the past ten minutes from her window. She had offered him some cookies (macaroons, homemade with an old family recipe) before he had started the work, but he'd kept his head down, refusing; saying that his didn't want to waste time.
So she just directed him to where James had kept the rake and leaf-bags and had let him get started. And he clearly was not one to let any minutes slip through his fingers; the yard was half-done already, and looking neater than it had in months.
Maggie she watched as he worked diligently for several minutes more, keeping his head down and focused only on the task at hand, and then she finally realized what was wrong with the picture. It was the middle of a very cold October, and he wasn't wearing any gloves or a hat. His cheeks were red, and his fingers must have been ready to fall off.
She frowned and wondered if she should interfere, watching as he paused for the first time and blew on his hands, rubbing them together. There wasn't much that she could do –having never had children of her own, besides students, she wasn't keeping any gloves on hand, no pun intended, and all of James' items had long since been donated to a better cause. She had nothing to offer him-
Well, almost nothing.
He came back into her kitchen less than ten minutes later. "Your yard's all done and the leaves bagged up –ma'am," he added awkwardly.
"Is it? Oh, good. The leaves always look so nice on the trees, but they lose their allure when they're dead and crumbling on the ground." She poured out the mug of hot cocoa she had been making and thrust it into his hands. "Here, drink up."
"Look, I really can't…" he shifted his weight to from foot to foot and rubbed his nose with the back of his hand. "My brother…"
"I'm sure he'll be fine. You can easily see your apartment from here." She frowned; he was an odd boy, mumbling something that had sounded like "Christo" when he had first come in with her, and then blushing and stammering when she had asked him to speak louder, and now refusing to take her hot chocolate, a drink that had warmed many of the neighborhood's now long-gone children over the years. "Please. You look like you're frozen through."
He looked longingly at the drink, and hesitated. "I suppose… but I need to be quick…"
"Of course. Sit down." She took a seat across from him at her kitchen table. "Tell me, where's your father been? I noticed that your part of the driveway's been empty for several days." She didn't mind sounding like an old busybody; really, she was one, and it was nothing to be ashamed of. "Off on a business trip, is he?"
"Yeah." Dean Smith gulped down his hot chocolate; he hadn't been kidding around when he had mentioned being quick. "He'll be back soon." He didn't sound so confident on that, but she could see how he wanted it to be true. Over the years, more of her students had been lying to themselves than to her, and she could always tell. It was something in their eyes.
"I'm sure he'll be back soon. I hope I get to meet him."
Dean didn't reply to that, and so she tried for another opening. "You know, I've been alone here for the past eight years, and there are a few things around here that need doing, and my back just isn't what it used to be. How would you like to come by here –say, every Friday? I'll pay you depending on the job, but I think I can guarantee for at least ten dollars every time."
He looked up eagerly. "Really? I mean, my dad, he doesn't stay in one place very long –I don't know how long we'll be here…"
"We'll cross that bridge when we come to it," she said firmly, noticing, in the back of her mind, how his jeans were almost worn through at the knees, how short the sleeves on his shirt looked. "Next Friday?"
"Sure. I mean, yes, ma'am. I'll be there." He stood up, drink finished. "Thanks for the hot chocolate."
"My pleasure." She counted out the money, slipping in an extra five, "For a job well done," she insisted when he noticed.
He blushed and muttered a quiet, "thank you," and then hurried back to his house
Dean didn't stay in the house for long; he left not more than five minutes after entering, his younger brother in tow. Had she been watching outside, instead of catching the early-evening news, she would have seen how they came back half an hour later, arms full of brown paper bags carrying groceries, and she probably would have thought that odd –but of course, she wasn't watching them, and so it wasn't until the following Friday that she saw Dean again.
This time she put him to work shredding old papers and receipts. He seemed distracted, and kept glancing out the window.
She followed his gaze once and saw nothing. "Is your father on another business trip?" The car had returned on Sunday and disappeared Tuesday, right around noontime, when both of the boys would have been in school.
"Yeah." He didn't elaborate or look up from where he sat sorting and shredding several decades' worth of paper that had yet to prove useful, and never would now.
She decided to press for information, since he certainly wasn't volunteering any. "What does he do for a living?"
"He... travels," Dean said vaguely. "Car parts... does trading a lot, you know..."
"That's a good job. Work for an honest man, I'm sure. And what of your mother? Does she stay with you when he travels?"
"My mom's dead," he said quietly as a car roared by outside. "My... my uncle, he lives nearby. He'll stay with us when dad is out."
"I'm so sorry to hear that." Maggie didn't mention the apparent uncle; she'd seen nobody new enter the house since the father came back, but perhaps he had slipped in during the night, taken a cab, which explained the lack of car in the driveway.
"Uh huh." He stood suddenly. "My dad's home. Can I -I mean, I'm sorry that I didn't finish; I might be able to come back tomorrow- next week, definitely-"
"Of course. You must be glad to see him." She peeled a ten-dollar bill out of her wallet and handed it to him. "Have your father introduce himself to me. I don't get to meet very many people these days. No one ever thinks to visit an old woman."
"I'll see if he can -he might be, you know, busy." Dean took the money from her hand, muttered his thanks, and hurried outside.
She never did meet the father. Dean wasn't there walking to school with Sam the following Monday, and the car was gone from the driveway. The thought that first popped into her head was that they had left town, unable to pay off a rent, or having run into some difficulties with authorities. For one reason or another, she couldn't seem to shake it.
Her first reason, at least, was incorrect. Jeanna Quinley, the landlord of the duplex, was an old student of hers who was always willing to chat, if she had the time, and she informed Maggie that, "They slipped in just under the wire, but the rent was due on Saturday, and I got it paid in full."
The notion that they were a family of con-artists was soon proved incorrect as well. Police Chief Arthur Solemn said that while he would be more than happy to look into them when -if- they came back, there was nothing suspicious on record about them. She assured him that it wouldn't be necessary.
All things considered, she didn't expect Dean to show up on her doorstep Friday at five, and she especially didn't expect him to show up with a bruised eye and a fat lip, the latter of which looked as though it had only just stopped leaking blood, and might start again at any moment.
Her face must have showed her surprise, because he was quick to say, "Don't worry about me. It's nothing."
She stepped aside to let him in the house. "Nothing? Are you sure about that?"
"Yeah. I was just out hiking, my brother and dad and me, and I wasn't watching where I was going. 'S nothing," he repeated faintly. "Sammy got the worst of it, trying to help me..."
Maggie wasn't a fool, and she had been born many, many yesterdays ago. Her years as a teacher had allowed her to develop a talent for discerning lies, one that, of course, she'd already had to call to duty with Dean Smith once before, and she could hear this one as if it were being broadcast through a radio, blaring from a giant stereo. "Did someone hurt you?" She almost asked if it had been his father, but he would, of course, deny that.
"No! No, of course not. I screwed something up, is all." He rubbed his nose with the back of his hand and gave her a quick, weak grin. "Messed up, I mean."
And he wasn't lying, not about that. At the very least, he believed that what he was saying was true. She could tell that much, and she could also tell that he would stubbornly refuse to answer any more questions that she asked him, or else would lie or dodge them. "The work that you started is over there." She nodded to the corner where the files, folders and shredder were waiting.
He nodded and got straight to it, dilligent as ever, and she would have been sincerely impressed, had it not been for to small sniffles and congested breathing that even she, whose hearing had been going downhill since Nixon was in office, could hear. The boy wasn't in a condition of 'nothing,' regardless of what he was saying, and she wasn't going to force a sick child to work for her.
"Dean," she said crisply. "You're sick."
"No I'm not. It's just a stuffy nose." He sniffed loudly, as if to illustrate his point, and then gave what sounded like an extremely painful cough.
"Nonsense. I didn't teach for over half my life only to not be able to recognize whether a student was sick, faking, or lying. Your father shouldn't have even let you come out like this."
"'S not his fault," Dean said quickly. "He's busy with Sammy... broke his ankle, I think; that's more important. He was kinda pissed... angry, I mean; I don't think he wanted me in there. 'S was my fault Sam was injured." He sniffed again.
"I don't know what you're talking about, but it's nonsense. You're far too young to be blaming yourself for such a thing." And far too young to be so concerned with his brother's welfare, or to be blamed for whatever had happened, but she didn't dare say that out loud, knowing full well what his reaction would be. "Sit down. You look as though you're about to collapse on the spot."
Dean didn't look like he wanted to, but he obeyed, perhaps too weary to try anything else. "I'm sorry. I'll get back to the shredding tomorrow," he mumbled, not looking as though he'd be up for much more than sleeping for the next two days.
"You can worry about that later," she said tartly. "Let me get you something to drink. Tea? Cocoa? Probably not that; it might be too rich for you."
"Nothing, thanks. I'd better go." He started to stand from his seat and broke into a coughing fit halfway through.
"Sit down." Maggie removed the tea-kettle from the oven, glad that she had decided to have a cup while he was working. She slipped a teabag into it and set it next to him. "It should be allowed to steep, but you look like you need something now. Milk or sugar?"
"No. Thanks." He wrapped his hands around the teacup and shivered. "I can't stay."
"You can have your tea, and then you can leave. I don't care how short the walk is, it's freezing out there -looks like it's going to rain any minute now- and you're in no state to go outside without something warm in your system." He wasn't even wearing a coat.
If he wanted to protest, he hid it well, and they sat in silence, except for Dean's sharp coughing. "You ought to get that checked out," she told him.
He made a sound in the back of his throat, something between a laugh and a grunt, and sipped his tea, wincing only slightly when the hot cup touched his split lip.
When he was done, he stood up and rinsed his cup out in her sink, ignoring her sharp order to just leave it be. "Thanks for the tea. I better go now. Dad'll be wondering, and I don't like leaving Sammy alone when he's hurt... I shouldn't have left at all."
"Here." She held out a ten-dollar bill to him. "Take it. You worked today."
His face reddened, and he shook his head, not meeting her eyes. "No. No, I didn't work, and I can't take it; it's not fair. I should be paying you for the tea, if anything. Sorry." And he hurried from her house, ignoring her attempts to hand it to him.
She watched as he walked back to his house, slowly climbed the stairs to let himself into the upper apartment. He didn't look good, not at all, and she hoped that he felt better than he appeared -doubted it, but she was allowed her wishes.
The next day, she decided, she would go to the house and introduce herself to the father. It was later now, and surely he wouldn't appreciate a call from an old woman when he was dealing with two injured children. Everything looked different in the light of the morning, though, and she was sure he'd be up for a visit then. Yes, tomorrow morning, certainly, and she could see how Dean was feeling, and how his younger brother was doing. It was a plan.
The Smiths left town that night.