"Daaahdee? Dean, Dahdee? Dean?"
Baby Sammy, just sixteen months old, was standing on the couch, staring out the front window, tapping on it with the flat of his hand. He was looking for Dean. All day he'd been there, in toddler jeans that were a little too big and a Scooby Doo t-shirt that was a little too worn, wobbling on legs that didn't know how to stand on an unsteady surface, not understanding – no matter how often he'd been told - that Dean was a big boy now, starting his first day of Kindergarten. He only understood that Dean wasn't right next to him, like he'd been all day every day for all of Sammy's life.
"Dean? Dahdee? Dean?"
"Soon, Sammy. He'll be home soon."
He didn't understand the concept of 'soon', either, of course. Same as Dean at that age, there wasn't 'soon', there was only now or never. He thumped the window again.
"Is Dean, Dahdee? Is Dean?"
Whenever he said it like that, I'd get up and have a look out the window, just to be sure Dean hadn't decided he was too cool for Kindergarten and hoofed it on home. But there was only the car and Sammy's straightforward logic that since the car was the last place he'd seen Dean, that would be the first place he saw him again.
"No Dean, Sammy. Not yet. Another couple of hours and he'll be home. Not yet."
He huffed, sounding disappointed, and stared out the window again.
He'd marched himself right up onto that couch the second we got back from dropping Dean off at school, all hair and eyes and single-minded determinedness. And he'd hardly moved from there since. He even fell asleep there, mostly standing up, draped over the back of the couch, and I didn't have the heart to move him away from the window.
When I'd given him his lunch of sliced hot dog and tater tots an hour or so before, he carried the hot dog slices in bunches to the couch and ate them staring out the window. When those were gone, he brought messy fistfuls of tater tots to the window to eat. When those were gone, he rested his chin on the back of the couch, and kept staring out the window. I practically had to change him while he was standing up because he was so determined to keep his eyes glued out that window.
Truth be told, I was missing Dean just as much – or nearly as much – as Sammy was. Since that night, since everything permanently and violently changed in our lives, I'd never been farther away from my boys than a phone call and never more than a couple of hours at a time. And even Sammy's persistent calling for his brother didn't fill the well of quiet in any room where Dean wasn't.
"Hey, Sammy…" I called to him. Maybe we could take a walk or something. Go to the playground outside Dean's school. Kill the next hour and a half until we could go pick Dean up.
"Is Dean?" Sammy asked, so hopeful and expectant that I hated to have to tell him again.
"No, Sammy. No Dean. Not yet."
That did it. Sammy crumpled. He dropped onto the couch and pitched forward, with his butt still pretty much resting on one cushion and his face resting on the next. He didn't cry, he hardly ever really cried, but he let go with a pitiful moan like he was pissed and confused and disappointed and frustrated all rolled up into one.
I knew exactly how he felt. Only a year ago, Mary and I had been discussing where to send Dean for Kindergarten. I didn't care what it cost; Dean was a whip-smart kid and I wanted to give him the best education I could. The first day of school that year, on my way to work, I'd driven past parents and kids out in their driveways, waiting for the school bus, some parents taking pictures, some younger kids holding tight to older siblings' hands.
That would've been us. That should've been us, but - it wasn't us.
It would never be us.
"Dean, Dahdee. Deeeaaan." Sammy did cry then, heartbroken and confused, missing that one piece of his life that held everything else together.
"I know how you feel, Sammy. Believe me, I know how you feel."
I pushed myself out of my chair and scooped Sammy up, feeling his wet, warm, messy face pressing into my neck as his arms and legs put me in a death grip. He was crying himself breathless and I decided enough of this crap. My wife was dead and my baby was in agony and nobody – nobody – was going to keep us from seeing Dean if I wanted to.
And I wanted to.
We were out the door and I was unlocking the Impala before Sammy got the clue that something was going on.
"Dean? Dahdee?" He sat up away from my neck and squirmed around, looking for Dean. "Is Dean? Dahdee? Is Dean?"
"That's right, kiddo. We're going to see Dean."
I fit him into his car seat in the back and grabbed some napkins out of the glove compartment to scrub his face. That usually made him holler but this time he only shook his head, like I was annoying him. His crying was done.
"Dean, Dahdee. Dean."
"You bet, Sammy. One big brother, coming up."
Honestly, I didn't have a plan more than drive to the school and ask to see Dean. Demand it, if necessary. But I started the car and headed in that direction. In the rearview, I could see Sammy coiled and ready, straining over the bar of his car seat, intently scanning all sides of the street, determined to not let Dean escape his notice. I pulled in at the curb of the school and before I shut her off, Sam was Houdini'ing himself out of seat belt and latches.
"Dean, Dahdee. Is Dean. Munna go Dean."
Sammy had never been this excited about anything in his tiny life. I think he would've climbed out the car window if I hadn't opened the door right when I did and scooped him out onto the sidewalk. And as soon as his Keds hit that sidewalk, he was a blur, running away from me, heading for the playground just past the front of the old brick school.
"Sammy – wait!" I called after him. I caught up to him pretty easily and took his hand, but he pulled me forward, intent on the huge herd of kids climbing and playing all over the equipment. I scanned the crowd, but didn't see Dean.
All it took was one bellow, "DEEEEAAAANNN!" from Sammy Super-Lungs and Dean popped up from behind a miniature space shuttle and in a second was running for us. An older teenage girl in a bright orange t-shirt put her hand out to stop him but he blew past her with a 'that's my little brother!' tossed over his shoulder. Sammy was tugging me so hard I thought he might dislocate his shoulder and I was afraid that if I let him go, he'd go face-first into the hard-packed earth.
"Is Dean, Dahdee. Is Dean." He kept insisting, like I couldn't tell for myself. As soon as Dean was close enough to take the hit, I let Sam's hand go and he did practically explode into Dean's waiting arms.
"Dean! Is home, Dean! Is home, Dean, now!" Sammy insisted as he tried to hold Dean as close as possible and still look him full in the face.
"I can't go home yet, Sammy. I can't go home until school is over."
"No school, Dean. No school. Is home, Dean. Is home now, Dean. Is no school."
"Yes, there is school, Sammy. I still have one more class before I can go home. Just one and then I go home."
"NO!" Sammy insisted. "NO SCHOOL! HOME NOW, DEAN! HOME NOW!"
I had to wonder if Sammy was more upset that Dean wasn't coming home right now, or that Dean wasn't doing what Sammy wanted him to do, right now.
"Sammy – listen." Dean pushed Sammy back a little, pushed them both onto one of the scattered park benches set around the playground. He put his hands on Sam's shoulders and bent down to be eye to eye. "You know how I read you a storybook, every night? Just before you go to bed?"
Sammy looked a little skeptical, but he nodded. His lip was pushed out just about as far as it could go, and then some, in a mighty fierce pout.
"Well, they've got books and books and books all full of stories here in the library and I can borrow them and bring them home and read you all the stories, anytime I want. I can read you one every morning before I go to school, and I can read you another one when I get home from school, and then after dinner and then just before you go to bed. You'd like me to read you all those stories, wouldn't you?"
Sammy gave him another skeptical nod.
"Well, I can't take the books out if I don't go to school every day. And if I don't take the books out, then I can't read you the stories. So, I have to go to school, 'cause I want to read you all those stories."
Sammy start to huff and he kept huffing. It wasn't his 'about to blow' huffing, I knew that kind of huffing. This turned out to be the inaugural launch of his 'I hate logic when it works against me' huffing.
"Is no now?" he finally asked. "Is soon?"
"That's right, Sammy. I'll come home soon. You can even stay and play on the playground until I'm done. Okay?"
"No want playground." Sammy said, his pout back in place.
"They have swi-ings." Dean sing-songed. He knew – we both knew – Sammy loved swings. But Sammy shook his head.
"No want playground."
An electronic bell rang and the kids on the playground started lining up and Dean huffed his own complaint. But then he got that look in his eye.
"I have to go Sammy. You're gonna wait for me, right?"
Sammy nodded, sadly.
"You're sure? You're gonna be right here, right?"
Sammy nodded again. A little more vigorously.
"You're gonna stay right here so I know where to come out, right? I need you to be right here. Okay? It's important, you sure you can do it?"
And Sammy nodded again, enthusiastically this time.
"Great!" Dean said, just as enthusiastically, and gave his brother a fast, tight hug. "Thanks, Sammy!" And with a quick "Bye, Dad!" he was off to his place in line, looking back at Sammy as often as he could, until they were all gone back into the old brick building.
I sat on the bench next to Sammy and he crawled into my lap. He put his head over my heart and stuck his thumb into his mouth.
And kept his eyes glued on that building.
"Is Dean soon." He said around that thumb, after a while.
"That's right, Sammy. Dean'll be here soon."
And then a little while later, when 'soon' apparently hadn't come soon enough, he pulled his thumb out and huffed, "Sammy no like school."
I laughed and kissed his hair.
"Give it time, kiddo. Give it time."