Set in late Season 3
"Picnic." Sam stared at me like I'd suggested we give some crispy critters time off for bad behavior.
"Yeah. Picnic. You know – outdoors, trees, grass, fresh air, food we cook ourselves. Picnic."
"Picnic." He said again.
"Yes, Sammy. Picnic. It's something people do. Spend time together, kick back, relax. Have fun."
I wanted to ask, 'Is there an echo in here?'
"Fun. You're not entirely unfamiliar with the concept are you?"
No echo this time, no answer until,
I rolled my eyes and sighed.
"Fine. We won't do it. I just thought it would be a nice change. We have to stop for dinner anyway and instead of getting out of the car just to get into a booth, just to eat something we might not even recognize, with a crabby waitress and dirty silverware, I thought we could eat out in the sunlight and fresh air, maybe even eat food we recognize, 'cause I gotta tell you, that 'all you can eat walleye' sign we passed a little while ago just isn't doing it for me."
He looked at me like he was still considering the holy water.
"All right." He finally said.
"Okay. Great. Okay. We'll find a store and get some food. It'll be fun."
"There's that word again." Sam said.
"It's not a four-letter word."
"You forget – I've seen your report cards. To you, it might be a four-letter word."
"Ha. Ha. Ha. C'mon, keep a look out for a store and a place we can eat."
I pulled into a grocery store parking lot a few miles down the road. I grabbed a shopping cart on the way in and Sam walked along beside me.
"Okay, what do we need? Hot dogs, soda pop, potato chips, potato salad. C'mon Sammy, let's split up and grab everything we need."
"No hot dogs." He said.
"What d'you mean? Why not?"
"I don't like hot dogs."
"What d'you mean you don't like hot dogs? You eat hot dogs. I've seen you."
He wouldn't look at me; he started paying very close attention to some wilted broccoli in the 'Reduced' bin.
"I don't want to eat anything I had to burn."
That had so many connotations for us, I didn't want to think about it.
"Well, thank you for that visual." I told him. "Okay. We can get something to make sandwiches, or – I know – I saw one of those Carry Out Deli thing kind of things on the far wall. That'll be even better." I tried to sound like it was the best idea we'd ever had. Sam nodded and kept on not looking at me while we made a fast circuit of the store and got on the road again.
Another few miles down we found – I found – a parking area with picnic benches and a small playground next to it. Sam ate his pre-packaged salad with the same enthusiasm as if I'd ask him to eat gravel, and he read out of a book while I tried to engage him in small talk.
When the salad was gone, Sam moved onto potato chips. I gave up talking to him while I watched his process. While he kept on reading his book, he took a potato chip out of the bag and put it in his mouth. As he chewed it, he rubbed his thumb and finger together to get rid of the salt then reached into the bag for another chip and held it until he was done with the first. Then the cycle repeated. It took him three chips to get through two pages of his book; he turned the page, and then took a swig from his can of soda pop. I watched him through three page turns and had had enough.
"Hmm?" He didn't lift his eyes from the book.
"SAMMY." I used the voice I saved for times when something evil and dangerous was sneaking up behind him. He only stopped reading long enough to look at me.
"You know I wanted us to have this picnic so we could spend some time together."
And Sammy, overthinker that he is, looked down at the table and I could almost hear him mentally calculating the exact distance between us, hear him wondering, 'but we ARE together.'
"Real 'letter of the law' kind of guy there, aren't you, Sammy?"
"What does that mean?"
I got up from the picnic table and went to sit on one of the swings just a few feet away.
"Nothing. I just thought – I just wanted us to spend some time together."
"Dude, we're always together."
At least he didn't say it like it was a bad thing.
I just shook my head and swung back and forth a little.
"Dean – what's going on? Why are we here?"
I didn't want to have to explain it. I thought, hoped, almost prayed, that I wouldn't have to explain it, that we'd just have the picnic and get back on the road, and I wouldn't have to explain it. But Sammy kept looking at me with those 'something doesn't make sense and I need you to explain it to me' eyes. I caved.
"I don't know if I can take any memories with me when I go, but if I can, I want it to be memories like this. Us. Hanging out. Having fun. Being brothers, being family."
"Being normal?" Sam asked.
"As normal as possible under the circumstances, I guess."
Sam nodded but looked confused, tried to say something but nothing came out.
"I want you to have good memories, Sam. When you think about me, when you remember me, when you ever tell your kids about me – I want you to have at least a few good memories of me."
"I only have good memories of you."
Well, that had to be a full on lie and my face had to show it and now Sam caved. He stood up from the table and took the swing next to me.
"I'm not saying we haven't had bad times, I'm just saying all my memories of you are good."
I love my little brother but he can't lie worth a damn.
Actually, no, he can lie pretty good, so if I didn't know he was lying, I wouldn't have known he was lying.
Wait – did that mean he wasn't lying?
And he grinned that goofy grin of his, the one I like seeing because it means he's OK. It means we're OK.
"Who else but me can say they have the best big brother in the whole world? The bravest, smartest, coolest, neatest, meanest kick-ass brother in the whole world. We might've had our fights, but nobody who ever touched me ever touched me twice, did they? I can even nearly rebuild a transmission all by myself. You're the best big brother in the whole world."
I had to roll my eyes – not because I didn't believe him but you know, to maintain my cool guy image.
And then I looked at him, at Sam, at my oversized-but-never-too-big-for-me little brother. A million images crowded my mind, the first time I held Sam when he was less than a day old, holding his hand while he learned how to walk, teaching him to read, realizing one day that he was taller than me, watching him leave for college. I could remember every bullet I took out of him and every stitch I ever put in him. He was the smartest, most fearless, most single-minded person I'd ever met. God help anybody who got between him and his objective. And I got to tell people, 'that's my little brother.'
He was the best thing that ever happened to me. Not because I had nothing else, but - because I had Sammy - I didn't need much else I couldn't be picky about.
I realized that Sam was grinning at me again, that shit-eating grin that says he knows exactly what I'm saying every way but out loud to him. I just rolled my eyes again and we swung a little while longer, not putting much effort into it, not saying anything.
"So admit it." I said after a while. "This was fun."
"It was fun. It was better than fun. We should've done it a long time ago."
"Same time tomorrow then?"
"Sure. Maybe we could even get a football or something to toss around."
"Sure – because I would so destroy you at soccer."
"Bring it on Sammy, bring it on."