After a minor editing/republishing incident, we are back full-force and better than ever!
I've also decided I may add a second chapter, set in the current season concerning soulless-Sam (who I dislike very much). Thoughts? Questions? Cries of outrage? Let me know!
Much thanks, more love, no Winchesters para mi,
There comes a moment in every kid's life, where, for one second, the world stops. The whole concept is very romantic, like something you'd read about in a long-winded novel (and with four years of high school under my belt, I know about those. Just two more months, and…well. I digress): the light's all soft, and everything blurs around the edge, and maybe there's music playing somewhere, like a violin, or maybe a harp.
Either that, or everything screeches to a halt so hard you don't know how you're still standing. This was one of those moments.
It's trippy. This kid who walked in had to be the tallest dude I had ever seen—almost six five, if an inch—and big, too. Not the awkward, gangly, six foot, 100-pound guys I'm used to. No, this kid—I say kid, he was probably a few years older than me walked like a tall dude with all the confidence of a regular sized dude. He didn't look like he didn't fit in his body, and with those arms…well, I'd guess he was anything but awkward.
But it wasn't his size that threw me.
It was the sheer air of…well, I couldn't describe it, but it was there, and it was coming off him in waves.
I've been working at this mega-mart grocery store now for a few years. We got everything and some here, I swear. It's the kind of place you could walk for days and still turn around and say, "They have these? I haven't seen these in years!"
My point is, at least once a week, a kid gets lost. I don't have any official title here (some would say it's my work ethic, or rather, lack thereof, but I just think I'm the only one who plans on getting out of here—why burn myself out so early in my 'career'?), so whatever needs doing, I'll do it. Clean-up on aisle three? I got this. Soup cans need restocking? Look no further. Lane five is open? Kasey's on it.
But it seems the job I get landed with most is the reuniting of sobbing toddlers to their equally anxious mothers. People lose kids here so often, it's a wonder we don't sell those creepy white windowless vans, too.
Okay, bad joke. Moving on.
My point is I get to know that 'lost' look even before the kid is crying. It's more than regular 'grown-up' lost, like 'do we turn here, or on Elm?' It's like, to that one kid, for that one moment, everything is upside down. The one person who's been there as long as they can remember, who is their world, their sun and moon and sky, and everything else that matters, is gone. Without them, there is no functioning, there is no reason to function. It's more than being lost. It's having lost. Having lost everything.
Hey, it sounds melodramatic, but I'm telling you, you gotta see these kids cry.
Anyway, its rare I see anyone with that expression over the age of seven. So when this twenty-something giant walks in with that look on his face, it sort of throws me for a loop, and even though I should be shoving all the out-of-date milk cartons to the back, it's everything I have not to go and kneel down in front of him (or maybe stand on my toes) and say in my gentle voice, "Hey, kiddo. My name's Kasey, and I'm gonna help you find her, okay?"
It's then I notice this kid has another dude with him. They don't look all that much alike—the tall guy has real dark hair, longish, so it hangs in his face, and I recognize the same hidey-thing the kids do when they're lost, like the two-inch fringe of bangs will protect him from the world that's suddenly become so terrifyingly void. The shorter has blonde hair, kinda spiky, and a leather jacket which—I swear—he is totally pulling off. And if I weren't so thrown off by his expression, I'd think he was kind of cute. Matter of fact, they both were. My lucky day.
So, weird as it sounds, this other kid is also wearing a very familiar expression. Where his brother (the word pops into my head unbidden, but it sticks, and I know it's right—they're brothers) is the epitome of lost little kid, this dude could be the poster child, albeit the too-young, male poster child, for the moms, once they've found their children.
He's got that almost-hungry look they always get, like a cornered animal, that says, "Next person to try and take away my child is gonna go home with stumps for hands." There's the fear and the pain, too, that isn't quite hidden by the burning desire to console the child, to remind them that they aren't alone, really, that there was just a minor lapse in an otherwise perfect presence, that everything will be okay, just hang on. And there's the guilt. Always the guilt, a thin layer of it the child never notices, but I can always read.
The mother always knows I'm reading it, too, which maybe adds to the shame. I know this, because they always say the same thing, after the 'thank yous', and the 'bless yous' and the 'you have no ideas.' These gratifications always vary ever so slightly, but the last part never does: "It was just an accident," they say, referring to the half-second of faulty vigilance, or the unheeded request to 'stay right there' or whatever it is that results in a sobbing child being sent to me. "It was just an accident," and then, "If there's anyway I could repay you…"
And I always say, "Don't worry about it. I understand."
Most of the time I'm lying. I'm eighteen. I don't have any kids, or even a younger sibling, but I can read everything in the mother's eyes, and I can never understand why she would risk going through that, even if it was accidental.
By this time, I've realized I'm staring at these two brothers who so emulate another pair, and I turn away sharply with a blush. Too sharply, it would seem. The condensation on my fingertips causes me to drop the carton of milk I'm holding, and splatter wetly across the floor, and my shoes, and the hem of my pants.
"Aw, crap," I mutter. Welp. That's coming out of my paycheck. The puddle of milk is spreading, and I've lost sight of the tragically adorable brothers, anyway, so I head to the back to grab a mop and a yellow 'Danger!/Cuidado!' sign.
When I get back, there's a small crowd, and I can hear my manager—pleasant man that he is—yelling.
Now, I feel, would be the opportune time to make a joke about crying over spilled milk, but I'll spare you.
Instead, I walk a little quicker toward the mess I left halfway down the refrigerated isle. Mr. Burton isn't my best friend, but I didn't think he'd stoop to yelling at my mess.
Turns out, he wasn't yelling at my mess, though it was still there for me to clean up. Not too far down, there was a puddle of orange juice—definitely not mine—and the tall dude from before—whom I would have no problem laying claim to, if I could.
He was standing there, staring at the puddle of orange juice, plastic jug cracked wide open at his feet. Two or three other jugs were there, too, each leaking in varying degrees, and there was a giant rift in the otherwise solid wall of green-and-orange jugs of the same orange juice sitting up on the shelf. It looked like someone had taken personal offense to the orange juice—just that brand—and attacked for all they were worth.
And given whom Mr. Burton was yelling at, I could guess whom.
I pushed through the small crowd, mop and tub in hand, and was about to offer to clean it up, when the tall dude looked up to catch my eyes.
Now, I'm not exactly a girly-girl, but, I have a soft spot for those kids I reunite with their mothers. And Tall Dude was certainly not a kid, but if he didn't look more pathetic than anyone toddler I'd ever helped…
I stood there, speechless. Tall Dude kept right on staring at me, expression painfully unchanging, and I kept staring at him, trying to remember how to speak. Burton, on the other hand, was not suffering the same inarticulation, and kept right on berating the poor kid.
"…and if you're not going to pay for this mess, you sure as hell better get the hell out of my store! In fact, whether you pay or not, you got two seconds before I call the cops, you crazy son of a—"
"Hey!" I expected Tall Dude, or maybe his brother—where had he been?—had shown up to save him. I was surprised to find out it was me who'd spoken up.
"Uh…sir," I continued. "It's fine. I spilled some milk earlier, and this guy slipped and fell. Took a little juice with him, I guess. It's my fault. Anyway, no use crying over it, eh?" I told you I'd spare you that joke. Please accept my humblest apologies. But if you had seen Tall Dude's face, you would have tried to make him laugh, too. Not that he heard me.
Burton looked both suspicious and incredulous. "You're telling me you did all this?"
I bent and held up the broken milk carton. "Oops," I said.
"You know it's coming out of your paycheck?"
"You come see me after your shift."
Burton mumbled an apology to Tall Dude—who still looked stricken; maybe he'd gone into shock—and lumbered away, as did the rest of the crowd.
It was then Tall Dude's brother showed up, which was just as well, because I had no idea what I was going to say to him. As natural as it seemed, "I'm going to help you find her," didn't seem appropriate for this situation.
So, I just went back to mopping, turning my back on the two, though I could still hear the conversation.
"Hey…hey, Sammy! Hey!" That was Shorter Dude. The older brother, I knew immediately. "Hey, Sammy, c'mon, man, talk to me. What happened? Was it that jerk? What'd he say to you, Sammy? What happened?"
"Dean?" There. That was it. That was exactly it: the same tone the toddlers used when they found their mothers. Still teetering on that brink of lonely chaos, hopeful and tragic at the same time.
"Yeah, Sammy. I'm here. What's up?"
"I see that, dude. If you want orange juice, you coulda just—"
"No, I did it on purpose. All of it. I…I couldn't…"
I was wrong. Tall Dude—'Sammy'—wasn't exactly like the kids I usually found. They were young enough, their wounds shallow enough, that when reunited with their mothers, things were better. Instantly. The balloons we gave them were icing on the cake.
I could hear it in Sammy's voice: a million balloons weren't going to help him.
"Sam, dude, you gotta tell me what's wrong, or I can't fix it." From over my shoulder, I could see Dean cup a hand around the back of Sam's neck. Sam was shaking, gasping for breath. I felt painfully useless. I had no doubts that if I even looked at Sam the wrong way now…
"It was her favorite, Dean." Sam's voice was little more than a haunted whisper. "The orange juice—that brand—it was her favorite."
'My name is Kasey, and I'm going to help you find her.' The words suddenly seemed so much more appropriate, and so much more of a lie. I wondered how Dean would respond.
"Alright, Sammy, okay," he said finally, rubbing soothing circles on his brother's back. "It's okay. We'll just…we'll pay for this and leave—"
I decided to risk it. I turned. "Hey," I said gently. "Don't worry about it. I got it."
Sure enough, 'Dean' looked like it was an effort not to kill me. I actually flinched back a step, almost tripping over the handle of my mop. Then Sam said, "She helped me, Dean. She…told the manager it was her fault. That she spilled. But she didn't. I did. I messed up. I messed up. Me."
The way his voice cracked at the end made me look down to stare at my feet. His pain was too private.
The resultant silence was so long, I expected them to have gone when I looked up, but they were still there, Sam still staring at what remained of the orange juice puddle, Dean still staring…at me.
"Thank you," he said after a while in a tone I knew all too well. "Thank you."
He interrupted me before I could speak my customary words. "It was an accident," he said. "If—"
"It's fine," I said, because it was. "I understand," I added. Because, for once, I did.
Dean seemed to know this, the way he nodded at me. Then he put a protective arm around Sam and proceeded to guide him down the aisle, away from me, and away from the orange juice.
"Hey, Sam. Wait." The words were out of my mouth before I knew what I was going to say. I nodded at Dean, then looked back to Sam. "My name is Kasey. He'll…he'll help you find her." It sounds stupid, I know. Awkward. But it feels…
They both stared at me for a long time, long enough I felt a blush rise on my face. Then Sam moved. He looked at Dean, studying the side of his brother's face, then, when Dean turned, his eyes. Then he looked back at me, and for a moment, the lost look lifted.
He said, "I know."