The Lost Art of Making Iced Tea: A True Story About Love
By: Ridley C. James
Beta: The amazing Ti, who took time out of her very busy schedule to make this a better piece! Thank you, Ti.
A/N: Pre-Series. Because I can't let February 14th pass without at least trying to squeeze in some wee Winchester sweetness for all my friends. This started out as a tiny plot bunny inspired by my own soon to be eight year old and her classmate Ethan, who alternates between being extremely sweet to her and pulling her hair. It quickly quadrupled in size over the weekend. I'm not sure it has any point at all, unless you consider shameless fluff and cuteness (think white teddy bear with a red bow) as mandatory to the holiday as chocolates and roses. Stuffed animal lover or not, I hope you'll enjoy this all the same.
"The heart has reasons, that reason does not understand."-
Jacues Benigne Bossuel
Eight year old Sam Winchester was under a spell. He was convinced it was a hex far graver and more serious than the one his Uncle Bobby claimed Missouri Mosley had put on him over Christmas when he accidentally, on purpose, forgot to get her a gift. Sam was certain he was in love.
He knew the grown-ups would laugh at his concern, smile in their 'I know a secret you don't' grown up way, pat him on the head and send him along to play. In Caleb's case give him a noogie that was sure to leave Sam's scalp sore, and his hair shooting out in a hundred different directions. Mac would assure Sam it wasn't a critical condition. He would diagnose it more likely puppy love, nothing to worry about. He'd prescribe some of Pastor Jim's apple pie, maybe some warm milk. Sam, in all his eight year old wisdom, knew better. He was suffering from a full blown case.
"Puppy love! What is that anyway?" Sam grunted as he plopped down on a bale of hay, convinced of his and his partner's temporary safety. He looked down at the Black Labrador Retriever at his feet and patted the spot beside him. "I love you, Scout, but you'venever made me feel sick to my stomach."
Scout, at nearly nine months, was now more half grown dog than puppy, but she obliged her boy by jumping onto the hay. Her current size was not a deterrent as she collapsed panting and boneless across Sam's lap, all boxy head and long gangly legs. The eight year old wrapped his arms around her lanky body, pressing his face into cold wet fur, and willed his heart to slow down from their long run. It was a small miracle the two had escaped with their lives, ducking into the barn, scrambling into the farthest empty horse stall before their pursuers were the wiser.
"My hands don't get all gross and sweaty when I'm around you," Sam continued in a hushed tone in case one of their tormenters was searching close by. "My tongue doesn't feel like its swollen three sizes when I try to talk to you. I've never once thought about pulling your hair, or kicking the back of a chair you were sitting in."
Scout whined, licking Sam's face in what Sam was certain was a mixture of understanding and he hoped forgiveness. Sam's heart just hadn't been in the morning's battle, obviously because it was no longer his own. Lucy Kate Carter had stolen it.
"Sorry we got pummeled by those jerks." Sam let go of the Lab and used his gloved hands to dust what snow hadn't melted from Scout's scruff. He unwound his wool scarf from his neck and wrapped it around the pup, though Jim assured him a Retriever didn't mind being wet and cold if there was fun to be had. "I think we could have taken Dean if stupid Caleb hadn't gotten the drop on us."
By getting the drop Sam meant Caleb had unfairly used his psychic ability to locate his and Scout's hiding place. It was cheating, and frowned upon by Pastor Jim, a point Sam would be sure to make at dinner.
Caleb had flushed Sam from his and Scout's wooded fortress. The eight year old in his rush to flee the older boy stumbled over the too-big boots he'd borrowed from Jim and went head first down the steep embankment they used for sledding. Scout gave chase either thinking Sam's acrobatics were some new game of fetch, or to rescue Sam from becoming a human snowman. Sam believed it was the latter.
Scout's sacrifice put her out in the open, vulnerable to Dean's deadly snowball bombardment from his and Caleb's snow fort. Dean showed no mercy to canine kind, which was why Atticus Finch had wisely slunk into the living room when the boys started piling on their hats, scarves, gloves and such. He obviously recalled last year's war that had ended with him and Dean in barbed wire. Pastor Jim was right. It was all fun and games until someone, namely Atticus, ended up in a cone.
Sam knew the only thing that had saved him and Scout was the fact Dean fired one of his deadly snow missiles at Caleb, catching the older hunter square in the back of the head. Dean swore it was an accident. Sam, but more importantly Caleb, knew Dean's growing supply of MVP baseball trophies made that a lame story. It had sparked retaliation from the older boy that would more than likely, as Pastor Jim warned that morning, end in someone's bloodshed.
Any other day Sam would have stayed out of concern for his older brother's welfare, but in his compromised condition decided it was in his and Scout's best interest to withdraw while they had the chance. Pastor Jim preached it was important a hunter know when to utilize the three R's- retreat, rest, revive. He guaranteed it ensured his men live to fight another day. Sam wasn't going to argue the point. The Guardian's strict adherence to policy was the whole reason Sam had been having the best winter of his life; right up until last week when Lucy Kate worked her Hoodoo on him.
"It's not like I'm glad Daddy got hurt," Sam told Scout as he rubbed her exposed belly in the secret spot that caused her to thump her back left leg like a bunny. Sam would never wish for anything bad to happen to his father, even if it meant him and Dean got to be happy for a change. "It was just an accident with very good timing."
Pastor Jim was always telling them, promising his congregation that God had a plan; that He worked all things for good. Sam wasn't sure about that, but this time God had worked a good plan for Dean and Sam, even if it hadn't worked out so well for their father. A hunt gone wrong had landed John Winchester, Knight of The Brotherhood, in traction. A broken leg and cracked vertebra had been enough to even put Sam's larger than life, invincible dad on bed rest. Jim had insisted the forced medical leave take place under The Guardian's watchful eye, which was just fine with John's sons.
The last month at the farm had seemed like an extended vacation, even better. Sam wasn't sure if it was the accident or all the forced rest, but something almost magical had taken place with his father in the weeks since he'd been injured. Not only was John Winchester physically altered for the time being, but he began to act differently as well. He read books with Sam, worked puzzles with him, and on one eventful occasion, engaged in battle as the menacing O'nathan Jay in an action figure free for all that found Power Rangers battling alongside mighty dragons and a fearsome troll. They talked about school and soccer. He helped Dean with math, and didn't even grumble all that much about the Super Bowl party extravaganza that Caleb and Dean hatched with Pastor Jim's permission. Sam and his brother had not only been allowed to stay at the farm they loved much longer than winter break typically allowed, but had been granted an unprecedented captive audience in their father. Throw in Pastor Jim's cooking; the unusually large amount of February snow in Kentucky that year, Mac's house calls, Caleb's weekend visits, and Sam was easily one of the happiest eight year old boys around.
"At least until Lucy Kate Carter came along," the little boy muttered. Oh how Sam rued the day that girl had set her sights on him.
Scout sighed, dropping her head onto Sam's lap as if she had heard this story before, but was too settled to make much of a fuss about its retelling. With Dean and Caleb more than likely reunited by their goal of search and destroy and back on their trail, Sam could understand her capitulation.
"Capitulation was the word of the day today on the calendar Mac bought me for Christmas," Sam explained to his current captive audience. "Basically, it's a fancy way of saying a person gives up."
Sam was pondering the possible consequences of surrendering to Lucy Kate's wiles when the door to the barn swung open, a cold gust of wind sending hay and some loose horse feed skittering across the floor, along with a light dusting of snow from the quickly accumulating inches outside. The horses whinnied, some hens clucked unhappily disrupted from their nesting, but Sam stayed deathly still and silent.
"I know you're in here, Sammy," Dean called in his best 'big brother knows everything' voice. Sam scooted farther into the dark corner, keeping one hand fisted around Scout's collar, the other snaking out lighting fast to stop her wagging tale from banging against the back of the stall and giving away their location. "If you and your little black dog aren't back in the game by the time I count to ten, we're taking your roosting in here with the other chickens as an admission of defeat."
Sam rolled his eyes. He wasn't the only one utilizing his word of the day calendar. Dean had gone so far as to memorize the synonyms.
"To the count of ten," Dean called again. There was a long pause when he thought his brother might have been faking him out, but then Dean's voice sounded from as close as the adjoining stall. "Winchesters never say die, Little Brother."
Sam swallowed thickly, but stayed quiet. When he finally heard the door close, Sam nudged Scout off his lap, and slowly pushed himself to his frozen feet.
"Dean's right," he told his dog. "We can't hide out forever."
Sam was not thinking entirely of his snow ball battle with Dean and Caleb. He knew what he had to do. Sam and Scout would go out and face their current enemy no matter how heavy the snow arsenal, and likelihood Sam would end up with the white stuff crammed under his coat, stuffed down his layers of shirts and shoved in other places he shuttered just thinking about. Then, after defrosting with some of Jim's hot chocolate, he would work on thwarting Lucy Kate Carter. He might go down, but he would not go without a fight.
Mac was constantly telling Sam that knowledge was power. The Scholar of The Brotherhood promised Sam there weren't many problems in life a man couldn't solve if he had the right information. Sam liked that knowing certain things opened doors for him, earned him praises and attention. Sam's brain really was a giant sponge when it came to information. He picked up not only things from books, but absorbed lessons from the people around him even when they didn't mean for him to. For instance, Sam knew a spell was only as good as the counter spell it took to break it. No boy had ever been better prepared to escape the bonds of love than Sam, who had an unlimited supply of supernatural texts and hunter's journals at his disposal in The Hunter's Tomb. The books were filled with countless ways to thwart heinous and horrible creatures. Surely, an eight year old girl could not be that much more difficult to defeat.
Sam merely needed to understand what exactly Lucy Kate had done to him, if he was going to figure out how to undo it. He was only slightly discouraged when a couple of hours of research in The Tomb left him no closer to the answer than when he started. Fortunately Sam had a secondary source of information at hand, a guaranteed expert that hunters turned to when their own skills didn't turn up the leads they needed. Bobby Singer was a walking talking encyclopedia of Supernatural lore. Luckily for Sam, his Uncle Bobby also had a ravenous appetite and an uncanny knack for showing up at the farm whenever Pastor Jim was making fried chicken and apple pie for dinner.
Sam entered the barn where the mechanic was working on Caleb's Jeep with complete confidence that Bobby would hold all the information Sam would need to find a way to fall out of love with Lucy Kate. Bobby didn't acknowledge his presence, but Jim's horses, Fat Chance and One in a Million nickered to him. Abraham and Lot, the barn cats leaped from a crate, dashing into separate stalls as if hell hounds were right on their tails.
"Hey." Sam made his way over to The Blue Beast as Dean liked to call Caleb's beloved heap. Bobby's tall form was bent at the waist, his upper body tucked beneath the hood. He shifted, looking over his shoulder so that he could peer out at Sam with a hopeful gleam in his gaze.
"You come to tell me dinner's ready?"
"Not yet." Sam circled around the car, leaning against the other side, watching the progress.
"Did Junior send you out here to see if the coast was clear?" Bobby pointed to a socket wrench by Sam's arm and the boy handed it across the engine to him.
"He's still helping Dean."
"Sure he is." Bobby snorted. "Funny thing that the napping college student became so interested in your brother's science project when John mentioned changing the oil and plugs in this monstrosity."
Sam smiled. "You've been using your present from Mac, too."
"What present?" Bobby grunted loosening the old spark plug and pulling it free. "I don't call a pretentious thesaurus dressed up as a fancy desk calendar any kind of gift in my book."
"Knowledge is power," Sam quoted. He'd been quite happy with his present, especially since it was accompanied by several other books, including one on magic tricks and the movie Back to The Future.
"Money is power, too, but you sure didn't see Doctor Pompous Ass Ames reaching into his fat cash roll to dole out gifts."
"It's better than what you got Missouri," Sam took the worn plug and handed Bobby one of the new ones.
"True." Bobby screwed the plug in with his grease covered fingers then proceeded to tighten it with the wrench. "But did you really come out here to swap words of the day, Twerp? I'd like to finish this bit of forced free labor before the pastor pulls the biscuits from the oven and your brother and his lab partner get their grubby hands on them."
It was the lead in Sam had hoped for. He pulled his trusty notebook from his back pocket, sliding the pen from the spiral. "Actually, I was wondering if I could ask you a few questions while we're alone. It'll just take a minute. I promise."
Bobby gave the socket wrench one more clockwise crank before leaning on his elbows to study Sam. He eyed the paper warily. "Is it the kind of question that's going to get your daddy's shorts in a wad? Because we both know what happened with the whole 'where do babies come from' fiasco a few years back, and I don't want to awaken the sleeping beast from its winter's hibernation."
"It's nothing like that," Sam assured, knowing he and Dean weren't the only ones enjoying their new dad. Bobby and John had actually made it through a game of poker last week without promises of gunfire being exchanged, and Jim threatening to bring in the water hose. "I want to ask about breaking a spell."
"You don't say," Bobby went back to work, pulling the wires from the next spark plug. "And what kind of spell might a second grader like yourself be interested in breaking?"
"I'm in third grade," Sam clarified. Second graders were practically babies. "But it's not really for me, more for a friend of mine."
"A friend?" Bobby raised an eyebrow at Sam, keeping his gaze on the boy as he blew air onto the sparkplug hole to remove some of the built up grime. "You don't say."
"He's in a bad way." Sam took the used plug Bobby had removed this time, exchanging it for a new one without meeting the mechanic's eyes.
"What kind of symptoms does this friend have?" Bobby went back to work and Sam quickly uncapped his pen.
"Well, he's had a hard time concentrating, even on school work, which he really likes." Sam read from the list he'd complied earlier in The Tomb. "Then there's the case of butterflies in his stomach, not to mention the sweaty palms, twisted tongue and dry throat."
"Sounds like it could be the flu," Bobby glanced up again. "That's going around you know. Does he have a fever? Maybe you should call, Mackland."
"It's not the flu," Sam assured. "I'm…I mean he's as healthy as a horse."
"Except he's under a spell." Bobby tightened the last plug, sliding the socket wrench into his back pocket.
"That seems to be the case."
"What kind of spell are we talking here, kid?" Bobby reached for the grease smeared cloth hanging from his belt and wiped his hands.
Sam looked down at his notebook again. "A love spell."
"Did you say a love spell?"
"You heard me." Sam raised his head, doing his best to challenge the mechanic's half smile with a John Winchester scowl.
Whether it was Sam's menacing tone or the stink eye he'd practiced when he was being bullied by Rose Gorman last fall, Bobby dropped his grin. "Love spells can be tricky business. There's a reason not many people toy with them."
"That's why I came to you." Sam scooted back as Bobby made his way to Sam's side of the Jeep, collecting the old plugs and other tools he'd laid out for the job. "Pastor Jim says you're different than most people-special."
"I'm definitely feeling the love tonight." Bobby gave Sam a pointed look as he pulled an oil filter and two quarts of oil from a plastic Walmart bag nearby, placing them on the ground beside his rusted red toolbox. "If I recall, Junior called me the best mechanic this side of Texas when he assured me I could handle this job all on my own. Now I'm special."
"Caleb was conning you, I'm just stating the facts."
"Okay, Perry Mason, what exactly do you want to know?" Bobby tossed the wrenches and pliers into the box, closed the lid and took a seat on it facing Sam.
"How do you counteract the spell? I've been through a bunch of hunter's journals and I haven't come across one mention of anything curing this kind of curse."
"Depends on what kind of spell the witch used." Bobby took his ball cap off, began reshaping the bill. "We are talking about a witch, right? Not a necromancer or shaman?"
"Well." Sam bit his lip, thinking about Lucy Kate. Sam had never seen a witch with long blond hair, blue eyes that sparkled like sunlight on the pond and skin the color of snow. Lucy Kate had just the tiniest sprinkling of freckles across her nose, not a hairy mole on her chin. Sam was certain witches probably smelled like licorice or brimstone not strawberry bubblegum and cotton candy, but he was willing to admit he hadn't done a lot of studying on the matter. "In your professional opinion, Uncle Bobby, can witches be pretty and smell good?"
Bobby's mouth twitched, but didn't quite make it into a grin. "Kid, in my vast experience those are the most dangerous kind."
Sam gulped. "That's what I was afraid of."
"Does your buddy remember how the spell was cast? Did he find any mojo bags in his desk? Hidden in his Spider Man backpack? Or maybe taped to the bottom of his chair?"
Sam shook his head. "No, no mojo bags."
"Did she give him anything of hers, an item of power that might have been enchanted?"
"She gave him a valentine last week, but it wasn't anything special." Sam recalled the card in question. A huge red heart, on the front a fluffy white cartoon kitten with a pink collar, her flowing tail curled around a black kitten's neck. Inside in bold black letters it had proclaimed Sam to be the 'Purrrrrfect CAT-ch'. Lucy Kate put her name and a row of X's and O's just below it. Sam knew he should throw it away with all the other non-super hero cards he'd received from his girl classmates. Dean would torment him mercilessly if it was discovered, but Sam couldn't bring himself to do it. He'd wrapped it in torn out pages of his math workbook and shoved it in his spelling binder, perfect camouflage in a place his brother would never look. Now, he wondered if stupidity wasn't a side effect of the love spell. "It's still in my backpack."
Bobby looked surprised. "You kept your friend's valentine?"
"It was evidence," Sam defended. "Should I go get it? Should it be destroyed with fire?" He started to move towards the barn doors, but Bobby reached out and caught his jacket sleeve.
"Whoa, whoa, Van Helsing." Bobby held firm. "You're a little too rookie yet for a salt and burn, especially in the pastor's barn full of winter hay."
When Sam didn't look convinced Bobby rushed on. "Besides, a Hallmark moment isn't the usual MO for a witch casting such a tricky spell. It wasn't signed in blood was it? Sealed with the eye of a newt?"
"No. Gross." Sam frowned. "It was signed with a red Crayola marker that smelled like cherries, and sealed with a glittery heart sticker."
"Then it's nothing to worry about." Bobby let him go. "She was probably just priming the pump."
"Okay." Sam settled back against the car. He wasn't sure what that meant, but Bobby was the expert.
"Did the witch take a lock of this kid's hair or maybe some fingernail clippings?"
Sam glanced down at his hands, then back to the mechanic. "No, nothing like that."
"Did she force him to drink a potion or maybe eat something she could have poisoned?"
"I doubt it. They sit at different tables in the cafeteria, and our lunch monitor runs a tight ship."
"I see." Bobby scratched his beard. "Then I can think of only one other thing that might have done it. It's a trap many a fellow more worldly than your buddy have fallen into."
Sam leaned forward, all ears, pen poised to pad. "What is it?"
"I know it's going to sound crazy, plum suicidal on your friend's part, but is there any way possible, any way at all, that this cute little witch might have put her lips on your pal?"
Sam went ramrod straight. His eyes widened, breath hitched. "How did you know that?"
Bobby shook his head, gave a long sigh. "Oldest trick in the book."
Sam reached his hand up, ghosted fingers over his right cheek, the corner of his mouth. He could practically feel the stickiness of peppermint Chapstick on his skin. The kiss had come out of nowhere. One minute Sam was alone in the M-R section of the library shelves, the next Lucy Kate was standing beside him asking if he could reach a book she couldn't quite manage. Sam gave the novel to her, not sure if he should admit he'd read Island of the Blue Dolphins, and liked it when she'd silenced anything he might have said with the kiss. Bobby was staring at Sam as if there was still an outline of pink lips stamped on his face.
"What should he do?"
"Not a lot you can do once spit has been swapped."
"I didn't kiss her back!" Sam cried. He'd thought about it, but then the librarian rang the bell for circle time, and he'd been saved from his moment of weakness. Obviously his delusional thinking was another sign the spell had been cast and was working.
"Why not?" Bobby grinned at him and Sam knew the gig was up. "I thought she was real pretty?"
Sam glared at the mechanic, flipping his notebook closed and shoving the pen into the spiral. "You're no help at all."
"Hold up there, Hot Head." Bobby held up a hand, before Sam could bolt for the door. "I'm just giving you a hard time."
"You knew it was me all along." Sam folded his arms over his chest, giving the mechanic his well-practiced stink eye.
"You might be a chip off the old block, but you're not in your old man's league when it comes to lying."
Sam huffed, capitulating in the face of the sad truth. "Dean says I need a lot of work on my poker face."
"Maybe you should just stick with the facts, be the straight shooter in the family. Lord knows that'd be a novelty in the Winchester clan."
Sam kept his eyes on Bobby's face. He might not be good at lying, but he was good at knowing if someone was telling him the truth. "Am I doomed?"
"This isn't any kind of nasty spell or a curse, Sam. Love doesn't work that way."
"Then what is it? How does love work?"
"Sadly, the mysterious workings of the heart do not fall under Robert Singer's list of extraordinary skills." Bobby's smile faded. "But I can promise you one thing. No one ever died from a broken one. I'm living proof of that."
Sam placed his hand over his chest. "It doesn't feel like Lucy Kate is trying to kill me, exactly."
"Give it time, Twerp." Bobby plopped his hat on Sam's head and jerked the bill down so that it was practically covering the boy's face. "It might not happen this go around, but when it comes to a gal, sooner or later you're going to bleed."
Sam shoved the rim of the hat away from his eyes, watching as Bobby opened his tool box and prepared to go back to work on Caleb's car. "So what do I do now?"
"Maybe you should talk to your big brother's homework buddy. He claims to know everything there is to know about the fairer sex."
Sam thought for a moment. "Daddy is always saying women are going to be the death of Caleb."
"As long as it isn't this old heap." Bobby slapped the side of the Jeep. "Doctor Pompous Ass would never ever let me and your daddy hear the end of that."
"I'm sure Mac appreciates your assiduousness." Assiduousness was yesterday's calendar word. It meant steadfast attention and diligence. Sam was nothing if not assiduous. Bobby's handicap when it came to hearts was a setback, but Lucy Kate would not best him.
"Yeah right, and maybe he'll show his copious appreciation with another extravagant gift on my birthday." Bobby snatched his hat from Sam's head, and swatted the eight year old with it. "Now scat, so I don't miss first dibs at dinner."
Sam took his time walking back to the farmhouse. It was getting dark out and the fresh fallen snow seemed to glow in the fading light. Everything was quiet and still. The peacefulness gave Sam a moment to think of how he'd handle the conversation with Caleb. Dean would be there, which would make outright lying impossible. If Sam couldn't fool Uncle Bobby, he sure couldn't con Dean, who knew all his tells. The complete truth was out of the question. Sam would never endure the teasing it would bring. In the end, he decided it had to be something the two would believe coming from him, and he'd leave made up friends out of the equation.
"I need to interview you both." Sam stood across from his brother and Caleb. They were seated at the round table in The Tomb, which had been covered in large sheets of wax paper. It was the one place in the farm Jim deemed safe for Dean to work on his project. Despite being a repository of sacred weapons and countless irreplaceable journals, it was structurally indestructible.
"What's up, Jimmy Olsen?" Dean looked up from painting the clay base of his version of Mount Vesuvius. "Is this exposé for another one of your rags covering the latest outbreak of pranks here at the farm?"
Caleb put down one of the intricate structures he was creating from sugar cubes. Judging by the picture they were working from, Sam guessed it was either the Temple of Apollo or Temple of Jupiter. "If I'm not mistaken that little bit of investigative journalism was sold to the highest bidder and the anonymous sources, meaning me and Deuce, did not have their identities protected. We mucked horse stalls for a week."
"It's not my fault that Jim narrowed down the list of suspects." Sam toyed with one of the people standing in what Caleb had called The Villa of Mysteries when he recanted the story of the doomed Roman city to Sam the night before. Sam almost felt sorry for the plastic representation of children and animals enjoying themselves in the bath houses now that he knew their fate. Dean and Caleb had gone all out to recreate Pompeii, taking Jim's suggestion that Dean use his knowledge from a class he loved, science, to help in a subject he wasn't particularly fond of, history. Dean had plans for the volcano to erupt and destroy Pompeii in front of his entire class on Monday.
"Hands off my homework." Dean slapped Sam's fingers away. "This masterpiece is all that stands between me and an F from Mr. Merle."
"And if that F happens, the unsuspecting Romans won't be the only one smoked." Caleb picked up the temple and started back to work. "Your brother will become just one more ash covered victim."
Dean snorted. "Mt. Vesuvius hasn't got anything on one of John Winchester's volcanic eruptions."
"Dad's different now," Sam challenged, his crisis with Lucy Kate temporarily put on the backburner. "The accident changed him. Jim say's he's in a better place."
"The only thing the accident did was put Johnny flat on his back for a few weeks, Runt." Caleb stopped working again, met Sam's gaze. "The Knight's current visit to his 'happy place' is courtesy of Mac's generous prescription pad. Don't start thinking it's a permanent residency."
"Damien." Dean glared at the older boy.
"What?" Caleb shrugged. "You and I already had this conversation. You really want him to get his hopes up for that, too?"
Sam didn't understand the current standoff between the older boys, but was thankful when Dean turned back to him with a look Sam recognized as full on big brother mode, his cooperation ensured. "What's the interview about, Sammy?"
"Love." Sam lifted one shoulder and let it drop. "It's a language arts assignment."
"And you want to interview us because we're the hugs and kisses type?" Dean smirked. "Maybe you should go talk to Pastor Jim."
"Speak for yourself, Deuce." Caleb put down the tiny temple and folded his arms on the table. "I happen to be an expert in when it comes to L-O-V-E."
"I think you misheard him, Ass Wipe. Sammy said 'love' not lust."
"What's lust?" Sam asked.
"Never mind." Dean growled, flashing his best friend another glare when Caleb opened his mouth to respond.
"Contrary to what your big brother believes I happen to know a lot about both subjects, but we'll stick to a PG rating for this second grade project."
"I'm in third grade!" Sam snapped. He didn't understand how his family had failed to notice he was no longer a little kid. "Second grade is for babies."
"Right." Caleb grinned. "I keep forgetting you have one foot in high school already."
"What exactly do you have to do, Sammy?" Dean asked.
"We're supposed to write a paper on anything about love." Sam decided to let Caleb's slight go in his desire to finally get some answers. "I decided to focus on what makes people fall into it."
"Then you definitely come to the right place, Runt, because women fall in love with me all the time."
"Give us a break, Romeo." Dean rolled his eyes at Caleb and then zeroed in on Sam. "This sounds like a paper you would have done last week, like around Valentine's Day?"
"Ms. Kelley assigned it then, I've just put it off for a while." Sam realized his misstep instantly.
Dean's eyes narrowed. "You put off homework?"
"I haven't exactly felt like myself lately." It wasn't like Sam was outright lying to his brother. He hadn't been feeling normal, not since Lucy Kate put the whammy on him.
"You're not getting sick are you?" Dean reached out a hand towards Sam, but the eight year old dodged the touch, feeling guilty when his brother actually looked worried. "Is your throat sore? Do you have a fever? The flu's going around, you know."
Caleb saved Sam by elbowing Dean. "Stop the mother hen routine, Deuce. Let the ace reporter get on with interviewing me, Auburn's Most Eligible Bachelor, according to the sisters of Sigma Nu and their Greek constituents."
Dean didn't look happy, but he sat back down. "Take anything the College Love Guru says with a big grain of salt, Sammy."
Caleb leaned forward. "Fire away, Brat."
Sam pulled out his notepad and pen. "How do you make women fall in love with you?"
"That's a no brainer. I mean, just look at me."
"Please," Dean made gagging noises.
"You, go back to work." Caleb pointed to the paint brush. Instead of Dean picking up the brush, he lifted his middle finger to Caleb instead.
Sam didn't bother wasting breath to remind Dean how Pastor Jim felt about that kind of sign language. "You were saying."
"I was saying," Caleb cleared his throat. "I happened to have been blessed with a face and body most women can't resist."
"So it's what they call love at first sight?" Sam didn't think that was the case with Lucy Kate. He'd been in class with her since the end of December and only recently began to have symptoms.
"Sometimes I have to throw on the charm, or reveal a few layers of myself so they get a glimpse of the huge personality I have hidden underneath."
Dean snorted. "And by personality he means his huge ego."
Caleb bobbed his eyebrows, flashing Dean a grin that told Sam he was once again not privy to the complete exchange. "That wasn't exactly what huge thing I meant, but women, besides liking things that are big, do appreciate a man with lots of confidence."
"So you don't use your psychic ability to brainwash them then?" Bobby might have ruled out Lucy Kate being a witch, but Sam wasn't convinced she hadn't somehow manipulated his mind. Lucy Kate Carter, medium extraordinaire.
"What?" Caleb looked insulted. Dean began to laugh. "I have never had to use those particular talents to coerce a woman into falling for me."
"He has however, on occasion, used cash." Dean managed through his fit of laughter.
"Shut up, dick head."
"You can pay someone to fall in love with you?" This was a new revelation to Sam. His question had his brother laughing harder, holding his side. Lucy Kate had never offered Sam any money, but she did buy him an ice cream one day at recess.
"You can pay a woman to do a lot of things, Runt, but falling in love with you is not one of them."
"Geesh, Damien. PG rating, remember." Dean straightened up, punching Caleb on the arm. "He's eight."
"Almost nine." Caleb hit him back, though Sam noted it was not thrown with the power Dean put in his. "In Winchester years, that's like fifteen, easy."
"Ignore him, Sammy." Dean picked up the bottle of vinegar and the box of baking soda he would use to create the volcanic eruption within the soda bottle covered with clay. Pastor Jim had forbidden him and Caleb from experimenting with it except outside. Sam watched as his brother bumped the two together. "The way I see it, love is basically chemistry, little brother- a mixing of two substances or in this case two people. You can get anything from major fireworks, to a slow fizzle."
"So love is like a science project?" Sam sighed. This was quickly spiraling down the same path as his spell theory. He and Lucy Kate didn't even have science together. They were in different homerooms.
"If you consider Frankenstein a science project, then yeah." Caleb gave Sam a serious look. "If a guy isn't careful where he puts his electrode and beakers, he can end up with a real monster of a situation on his hands, or on other important parts of his anatomy."
"Especially with the women Damien dates."
"Keep it up, Kid and you're going to lose your lead architect on this site, and I'd like to see how the construction of the amphitheater goes without me."
"But Bobby said love isn't like a spell or curse. I didn't think you could catch it." Sam wondered if love was like cooties, then grownups were remiss in making sure their kids had vaccinations against it, just like they did with the mumps and measles.
"Wait." Caleb clutched a hand to his chest. "You went to Bobby before you came to me? Our Bobby, who wreaks from Ode of Junkyard and considers his oil-stained Carhartt jacket a chick draw."
"Uncle Bobby has a girlfriend." Sam thought it was a valid point, though not exactly the reason he'd chosen to go to the mechanic in the first place. He knew his brother and Caleb didn't think that as a burly trucker, Fiona qualified as a girl, but Bobby didn't seem to mind her profession, or that she liked coveralls instead of dresses.
"He's got you there, Damien." Dean told Caleb with a snicker.
"I happen to be dating someone." Caleb defended. "Several someones in fact."
"Can you have two girlfriends at once?" Sam frowned. He hoped none of Lucy Kate's friends got any crazy ideas.
"You can have all the friends that are girls you want, as long as they don't find out about each other," Caleb replied.
Dean groaned. "Dad is so going to kill you when he crawls out of his happy place."
"Are you in love with all of them?" Sam asked. "What did they do to get you to react to their chemistry?"
"Whoa, whoa, whoa…back it up, Runt. I didn't say I loved them. Love is a four letter word in my book." Caleb shook his head. "I am way too smart and savvy to stray into Cupid's crosshairs."
"Cupid?!" Sam could not believe he hadn't considered a cupid as the culprit. Now he would have to go back and check the journals for mention of the mythical beings that infected people with love through their poisonous tipped arrows. Perhaps there was a simple cure, one that Sam could concoct with the supplies Jim kept on hand.
"Two words, Damien." Dean countered, bringing Sam's gaze back from studying the many jars of herbs and carefully marked vials on one of the Tomb's shelves. "Hannah Astor."
"I never loved Hannah Astor."
"Don't let him fool you, Sammy. He did too." Dean pointed an accusing finger at Caleb. "He acted like a complete idiot around her, even lost me at Rockefeller Center once when I was about your age because he was trying to chat her up."
"You lost Dean because of a girl?" Sam knew love made a person act crazy, but he could not imagine Caleb ever letting something interfere with his job of protecting him and Dean. It renewed his determination to find a way to escape Lucky Kate's clutches. "What did Daddy do to you?"
"Your daddy didn't know." Caleb lifted a brow. "Nor does he ever need to."
"Got it." Sam made a note to keep that bit of information tucked away for emergency purposes, but quickly moved on to the important question. "So how did you manage to fall out of love with Hannah?"
"Not that I was ever 'in love' with her, but she made it kind of easy for me to forget about her when she and her rich friends invited me to a Halloween party as the night's entertainment."
The somber edge Caleb's voice had picked up made Sam think of Bobby's warning about love. "When it comes to girls, sooner or later you're going to bleed."
Caleb laughed, though it didn't sound like Caleb was really joking. "Literally in this case, though I guess I was lucky it was fake blood."
"She obviously didn't know what she was passing up." Despite the teasing tone Dean used, Sam could tell his brother had shifted gears, was not so much poking at Caleb now as he was trying to take up for him. "I mean, just look at you, Damien."
"Exactly." Caleb's grin was back, more genuine now. "Obviously she was a budding lesbian."
"What's a lesbian?" Sam asked.
"Is this interview about over?" Dean gestured to Pompeii. "I really need my lead architect back on the job before Pastor Jim finishes dinner and Bobby beats us to first dibs on the biscuits."
"Sure." Sam closed up his notebook, not feeling one bit closer to figuring out how to escape Lucy Kate's hold. He was fairly certain she wasn't going to invite him to a party as the entertainment, although Lucy Kate had clapped the loudest when Sam performed his magic tricks at show and tell after Christmas break. "Love isn't a spell, or a curse. It's all about good looks, charm, and chemistry."
"Sounds about right." Caleb looked pleased with himself, picking up his sugar cubes once more. "I'm such a giver."
"Bull-shitter is more like it." Dean snorted.
"I'll see you guys later." Sam turned to go but his brother's voice stopped him.
"You sure you're feeling okay, Sammy?"
"I'm fine, Dean." Doomed by love, but fine.
"Maybe you should really follow up this interview by talking to Pastor Jim. I don't want you to get the wrong idea about what it's like to be in love with someone."
Sam was struck with sudden genius, something that happened to him fairly often these days. "Or I could talk to Daddy. He's been in love as long as I can remember." It was one of the reasons Sam knew to fear his fate with Lucy Kate. He wanted no part of the ugly thing that seemed to torment his father on a daily basis.
"I don't know if that's such a good idea, Little Brother." Dean looked as worried as he had about the flu.
"Why?" Sam didn't understand his brother's concern. "I need to know about love. Dad knows all about love."
"You also know there's some things dad just doesn't talk about."
"If there's ever been a time for such a conversation, it's now." Caleb's soft tone had both Sam and Dean looking in his direction, but he kept his eyes locked on Dean. "Johnny's as about as mellow as he's going to get, Deuce. You might as well let the Runt take a shot."
When Dean finally turned his gaze back to Sam, full on big brother mode was once again engaged and locked on target. "If he doesn't want to talk about this love thing, drop it, you hear me. Get out of there and go see Pastor Jim."
"You bet." Sam wasn't worried. He didn't know why he hadn't thought about it before, wasting time talking to his father about school and other unimportant stuff. This new dad would gladly answer all his son's questions about the topic which had always been off limits before, Sam's mom.
"What the hell kind of homework is this, Sam?"
The new and improved John Winchester had been completely open to participating in his youngest son's assignment, up until the point Sam had mentioned his mother.
"I told you," Sam dropped his eyes to the notepad in front of him. He realized he should have worked up to asking his Dad about what it felt like when he fell in love with Mary. Sam had been so excited at the prospect of not only finding a commonality with his father in this new and awful condition he was experiencing thanks to Lucy Kate, but also getting a glimpse into his mother, who he knew very little about. Knowing she liked birds, rock music and made awful peanut butter cookies was enough for a little kid, but Sam was nearly nine now. "It's a paper about how people fall in love."
"And your teacher, the one at that school Jim put you in, assigned it to you?"
The way his dad's dark eyes flared as he snarled the question had Sam fearing for Ms. Kelley's safety and questioning the store of Pastor Jim's patience. Sam scrambled to say something that would exonerate his very nice teacher and spare The Guardian a headache. "Well, we could write anything we wanted about Valentine's Day, I chose to research love."
"Why the hell would you do that?" John closed his journal. The presence of the book should have really been Sam's first clue that perhaps his window for this conversation had closed, that maybe Caleb had been right and John Winchester's metamorphosis only being temporary. Sam hadn't seen his father's hunting journal since the accident, but apparently it had merely been resting as well, waiting for the perfect opportunity to be reunited with its master, like the Gollum's ring in the Tolkien book Sam was currently reading.
"Because you say that a hunt should always be well researched." Sam tried for an answer that might resonate with his father, the old one, who lived to make everything about the job.
"Love has nothing to do with hunting!" John tossed his journal on the nightstand by his bed, and Sam thought about The Bible that Pastor Jim kept on his desk in the library, and the stacks of medical journals in Mac's office, the ones neatly stacked beside the silver-framed picture of Caleb at his high school graduation. Sam disagreed with his dad. When it came to their family, hunting had everything to do with love.
"You're always telling us that we should practice our research skills. Love seemed like a challenge. It's hard to prove it actually exists, sort of like Big Foot."
"It exists." His father stared at him. Sam tried hard not to look away, though he could feel his eyes start to sting, more from the crushing blow of disappointment, than the non-blinking. Then his father's face shifted, just the tiniest bit, not quite a smile, but not a scowl either. "Just like Big Foot. I've seen that bastard."
Sam released the breath he hadn't realized he'd been holding, trying not to let his hopefulness blossom when his dad patted the corner of the bed for Sam to sit. The eight year old clutched his pad of paper to his chest and carefully edged onto the mattress next to his father's hip, mindful not to jostle the patient.
"What has your research turned up so far?" John reached for a bottle of pills on the nightstand, taking out two which he popped into his mouth and attempted to dry swallow.
His dad sounded more tired, resigned, according to Mac's calendar, than he did angry now, so Sam turned a page on this pad. "Well, Bobby ruled out curses or spells."
"Bobby," Sam's father choked and Sam quickly handed him the glass of water from the nightstand. "You talked to Bobby about love?" He managed after a couple of sips and a coughing fit.
Sam shrugged. "You always call him when you hit a wall."
"What did he tell you?"
Sam decided Bobby might need protecting too and decided to say as little as possible about the conversation he'd had with the mechanic. "He said falling in love was not typically the result of a spell or hex."
"That much is true." John rubbed his eyes like he did when he had a headache. "Though it can feel like a curse sometimes."
"That's why I thought it was probably some kind of witchcraft, dark magic maybe."
"I can see why you might draw that conclusion." John took another drink of the water, setting the empty glass back on the night stand. "I'm glad Bobby set you straight."
"Honestly, he wasn't a lot of help," Sam said. "Love isn't really his specialty so he sent me to talk to Caleb."
"Sonofabitch," John rubbed his eyes again. "But you came to me first, right?"
"I thought you might be sleeping." Sam didn't want to ruin the moment by telling his father the idea of asking him about love hadn't crossed his mind until much later. "Besides, women fall in love with Caleb all the time."
"Junior doesn't have a clue about love, Son."
"He says it's a four letter word, which it is, but I think he meant that it's like the four letter word him and Dean get in big trouble with Pastor Jim for saying."
"Like I said, Caleb Reaves is not the person I want you talking to about love."
"I understand. Dean says Caleb knows more about lust."
Sam's father pushed himself up farther in bed. "What else did those two say to you?"
"Not much, really." Sam glanced at his paper, where he'd quickly jotted down the main ideas of the interview with his brother and Caleb before coming to see John. "Caleb said women like things that are big and that I could have as many girlfriends as I want as long as they never, ever find out about each other. But I'm not sure why anybody would really want more than one. Dean told me money can buy love, but Caleb said that wasn't really true, though it could get women to do things for me-like chores, I guess. He also said to be careful where I put my electrode because depending on the chemistry between me and the girl there could be a huge eruption. Oh, and there was something about lesbians, though they didn't really explain what those were, though I think it has something to do with the theater."
"Jesus." John growled. "When I get my hands on them…"
"They didn't do anything wrong," Sam quickly defended his brother and Caleb when he saw that his father was upset by the facts he'd gathered. "They just didn't want me to end up at a mean girl's party covered in blood, or even worse- with cooties on important parts of my anatomy."
Sam watched as his dad slowly ran his hands through his hair and drew in a few deep breaths. The eight year old was considering calling in Pastor Jim when his father finally spoke. "Promise me you'll forget everything you just heard come out of Caleb and Dean's mouths."
"Pastor Jim usually gives me a dollar when he asks me that." Sam smiled at his dad. "Sometimes five if it's full of those four letter words I was talking about."
"What if I just answer one question for your assignment?"
Sam thought that was fair. "Can it be any question, even one about mom?"
The patient shifted in the bed, looking far more uncomfortable and in much more pain than he had just moments before. "Yes."
"How did Mom make you fall in love with her?"
"She didn't." Sam's dad was looking at him, but Sam got the idea that he was seeing something else, maybe something from a long time ago. "I made her fall in love with me."
"Why the heck would you do that?" Sam asked the question with all the incredulousness his father had used when he inquired about Sam's choice of research topics.
John laughed, seeming to see his son once more. "Because she was beautiful, and smart, and kind and I felt like a complete fool every time I was around her."
"Did your stomach get queasy and your tongue feel kind of swollen?"
"Did you ever want to kick her chair or pull her hair?"
"I loved her hair." Sam's dad reached out and ran a hand over Sam's head, his hand lingering on the little boy's neck. "It was the color of sunshine, and soft as silk."
"Did she smell like cotton candy?"
"Better, like a summer night breeze."
Sam should have asked exactly what his father had done to make his mother fall in love so he could understand his situation with Lucy Kate better, but instead he asked the one thing he hadn't realized he needed to know more. "Will you ever stop loving her, Daddy?"
His father blinked, his hand falling away from Sam. "No, Son. I won't."
It was just as Sam feared. His father's was a full blown terminal case. "That's what I thought."
"And I think that more than completes my end of the bargain." Sam's father looked him square in the eye. "The subject's closed, Sport. No more talk of love." The 'or your mother' was left unsaid, but the eight year old heard it just the same.
"I understand." Sam slid off the bed, clutching his notepad and pen to his chest even more wary of his fate, and no closer to understanding how to escape it.
"Why don't you go see if Pastor Jim is almost done with dinner?"
Sam suspected his dad wanted to be alone once more with his 'precious' journal. "Yes, sir."
Pastor Jim was just pulling the biscuits from the oven when Sam arrived. Scout and Atticus were sitting at attention beside the stove, both their gazes locked on the hot pan as it was lowered onto the oven range next to the big bowl of mashed potatoes and platter of fried chicken. There was a long string of drool hanging from one side of Scout's mouth and Sam tried not to take offence when she didn't come to greet him. The comforting smells of home filling the room garnered a hearty grumble from Sam's stomach, but couldn't quite manage to lift the boy's mood.
"Samuel, you are just in time."
"Hey, Pastor Jim." Sam slumped into one of the chairs at the table. He looked down at the notepad in his hand, helplessness spurning a pinprick of tears.
"I hoped you might help me set the dishes?"
Sam glanced up, quickly blinking away any trace of his miserable failure. "Sure."
"Is everything alright, my boy?" Jim dumped the biscuits in a bowl, covered them with a clean dish towel and brought them over to the table, Scout and Atticus trailing behind as if they were in a trance.
"I guess." Sam made his way to the china cabinet holding Miss Emma's best plates.
"I've found that answer to quite often be a synonym for 'no'."
Sam shrugged a shoulder, carefully taking six dishes from the shelf. "I've been better."
"This hasn't anything to do with the snow war from earlier, does it?" Jim brought glasses from the dish drainer and a handful of silverware. "Or are you still bothered by Caleb's rather gruesome depiction of what happened to Pompeii? It doesn't make the tragedy less, but I can assure you the city was quite the den of iniquity, much like Sodom."
"It's not Pompeii and my toes aren't blue anymore."
"Good to know." Jim handed Sam a stack of napkins to distribute. "Frost bite can be quite nasty to deal with."
"Amputation is the only cure," Sam said glumly, wondering if perhaps a person's heart could freeze.
"That sounds rather drastic." Jim took a seat and pulled another chair out for Sam, gesturing for the boy to sit. "It's not like you to be so pessimistic."
Sam eyed the empty chair. "Shouldn't I go tell the others dinner is ready?"
"I think they'll be no harm in waiting a few more moments." Jim smiled. "Besides I haven't made the tea."
"It's not Friday night dinner without your sweet tea." Sam took a seat, trying not to look directly in the pastor's kind blue eyes.
"Don't forget the apple pie."
"I'd never do that."
"It's cooling in the pantry."
"On the very top shelf, behind the cans of turnip greens and healthy cereal." Sam's mouth twitched. "Dean's not going to look there."
"It does pay to know the people we love."
"Except when we know too much." Sam was discovering certain knowledge could also strip away a kid's power, the power to hope for a different kind of father.
"Perhaps." Jim pointed to Sam's notebook. "Have you been gathering facts for another story?"
"Kind of an assignment at school."
"I see." Jim slid the pad towards him. "May I?"
"Sure." Sam didn't see the harm in letting the pastor read his notes. It wasn't like any sense could be made from them.
"It appears you are on a noble quest."
"If you call finding Big Foot a righteous journey," Sam muttered.
Jim gave a slight cough, covering his mouth with his hand. "Well, yes, Big Foot is one beast I have not personally encountered."
"Daddy says he's real."
"Your father and Robert did report to me they had a run in with one a few years back."
Sam picked up on the hint of doubt in The Guardian's voice. "You don't believe them?"
"Sometimes a man needs to experience something first hand before it is completely tangible to him." Jim tapped the notepad. "Like love, for instance."
Sam propped his elbow on the table, rested his chin on his hand. "It's definitely hard to pin down a credible source on the subject."
"I daresay you did have an interesting time consulting the ones you chose."
"Bobby told me I was going to bleed, Caleb said I might catch something, and Dad asked I not mention it to him again-ever."
"That sounds about right." Jim shook his head. "And what of your brother? What did Dean tell you?"
"Dean's not really the hugs and kisses type. He thinks love is mostly about science, chemistry actually, but he did tell me I should probably talk to you."
"Your brother knows more about love than he realizes." Jim's mouth twitched. "I'm not sure I agree with his idea it is completely elementary, but a good mixture is a part of it, no doubt."
"So, you can tell me how a person falls in love, or better yet, how they can fall out of it?"
"How about I show you how I make my sweet tea."
"I know how you make your sweet tea."
"Do you really?" Jim raised one bushy silver brow in silent challenge. "Because there's somewhat of an art to it, you know. It's Miss Emma's secret recipe."
Sam thought back over the years, trying to recall if he had indeed watched the pastor prepare his favorite beverage. "What does tea have to do with falling in love anyway?"
"I can assure you it has as much to do with love as anything you've compiled on your list thus far."
Sam frowned, another growl from his stomach causing him to consider capitulating to Lucy Kate and enjoying his last meal as a single man his best option at this point in the game. Sometimes being assiduous was exhausting.
"Come with me." Jim encouraged, moving over to the stove where he withdrew a big copper kettle from the bottom drawer. After a longing glance at the covered biscuits, Sam grabbed his notepad and followed.
"This pot belonged to Miss Emma's grandmother, Alice. It's been passed down for generations. In fact, Emma and her sister Hannah had quite the quarrel over who would claim this particular item when their beloved grandmother passed."
"Dean says Caleb was once in love with a Hannah," Sam said thoughtfully as he studied the copper cooker for any signs of magical qualities or reasons two women might fight for it.
"Ah, yes, I remember." Jim turned the right front oven eye to high. "As I recall, Miss Astor was not the nicest of young ladies."
"Do you think she broke his heart?" Caleb had sworn he hadn't been in love, but Sam knew something was to blame for the sadness in the older boy's voice.
Jim took his time taking the box of tea bags from the cabinet, getting down the sugar, before answering Sam. "I'd say Hannah Astor rather strengthened our Caleb's resolve to guard his heart even more fiercely."
"Like how Atticus keeps his favorite squeaky squirrel hidden from Scout?" Sam glanced at the dogs in question. They were still sitting patiently by the table, Scout's drool now like a clear shoestring hanging from both sides of her mouth, stretching nearly to her chest.
"Precisely. I fear Caleb may be just as diligent in protecting his heart as Mr. Finch is in guarding his treasured toy."
Sam wished he'd known to be so wary before facing off with Lucy Kate Carter. "I think Caleb is being really smart."
"A very wise man once said that a ship in harbor is quite safe." Jim glanced at Sam, taking nine tea bags from the box before placing it back on the counter. "But that is not what ships were built for, now is it, my boy."
"Ships are meant to be sailed on the sea," Sam said, pretty certain he understood what the pastor and the very wise man was trying to say.
"Exactly, my boy."
Jim looked so pleased with his boy's astuteness that Sam decided not to mention the prospect of killer storms, icebergs, schools of random humpback whales and murderous pirates. "Do you want me to get the water?"
"Out of the cold water pitcher, please." Sam had been about to turn on the faucet, but Jim gave him a measuring cup, gesturing towards the refrigerator. "The colder the water before applying heat, the better."
"Why?" Sam asked.
"It takes longer for the water to reach boiling," Jim explained with a patient smile, as if that explained everything.
"That's your secret?"
"A small part."
"What else?" Sam asked, filling the measuring cup four times like Jim instructed. He watched the pastor put the pot with the four cups of cold water onto the red hot eye.
"Now we wait."
"For the water to boil."
Jim shook his head. "For the water not to boil."
"If the water reaches boiling we'll be right back at the beginning, forced to start over again."
"Because too much heat can be a bad thing, and we don't like bitter tea."
Sam stared at the pastor. "How do you know when water's about to boil?"
"By paying very close attention." Jim studied the water. "It will let us know."
"I bet we could use a thermometer," Sam suggested, staring in the pot. "Boiling point for water is 99.97 degrees Celsius and 212 degrees Fahrenheit."
"Where's the fun in that?" Jim grinned. "Sometimes strict science robs us of a little mystery."
Sam looked in the pot, concentrating on the water but noticing nothing out of the ordinary or very mysterious. It wasn't long before the pastor reached up and switched off the heat. "You can drop in the tea bags now, Samuel. They need to seep."
Sam did as the pastor said, watching as the water turned a rich amber hue. "Most people use seven or eight bags, but Emma's recipe calls for nine," the pastor explained. "My Emma was always a bit of a rebel."
"The box says we should use a bag per cup." Sam pointed to the directions. "We only have four cups of water."
"We'll add four more cups at the end."
"Then we're still using one too many bags." Sam was very good at math.
"Following the directions as a general rule is usually a good thing, Samuel but sometimes, like in the art of good sweet tea making, the directions don't account for uncontrolled variables like ice."
"Precisely." Jim took a wooden spoon and swirled the tea bags around. "What does ice do when placed into hot substances, my boy?"
"Exactly, and although we want our tea to cool to a comfortable, enjoyable temperature, we do not want its distinct flavor watered down."
"You want to keep things spicy, so you make sure to put more tea into it at the beginning."
"Exactly, my boy."
"Is this another parable, Pastor Jim?" Sam asked. "Like the ship?"
"Sometimes a tea bag is just a tea bag, my boy." Jim winked at Sam, removing the tea bags. He squeezed each one over the water before placing them on a waiting napkin beside the stove. "How about you pour in the sugar?"
"Sure." Sam smiled, knowing the pastor too well.
Jim dipped the measuring cup into the bag, bringing it out brimming with white crystals. "We put it in while the tea is hot, so every bit of sweetness is absorbed."
"We could always just add more sugar." Sam dumped the cup in, eyeing the bag hopefully.
"Sometimes less is more, my boy." Jim stirred the mixture with his wooden spoon.
"Unless it's gold bonds or 50 year old scotch," Sam parroted something he'd heard Cullen, Mac's father say over Thanksgiving in New York. He wasn't sure what it meant, but the other grown-ups at the table had laughed and toasted Cullen quite appreciatively.
"Wise words for Wall Street perhaps, but let's strive for balance, shall we?"
"Because gluttony is a sin?" Sam asked.
Jim laughed. "Because cavities call for fillings and those can be quite expensive, not to mention rather unpleasant."
"Can I cut the lemons?" Sam eyed the knife in Jim's hand. "I'll be careful."
"How about I cut and you squeeze?" Jim sliced the yellow fruit, handing Sam one section which Sam squeezed over the pitcher of tea before tossing it onto the napkin with the discarded tea bags. He repeated the process with the other half and waited for Jim to cut the final lemon into thin slices which he dropped into the pitcher before adding four more cups of cold water.
"Now give it all a good stir." Jim gave Sam the wooden spoon before moving to the refrigerator with two glasses which he filled with ice.
Sam swirled the mixture until the lemons looked like they were caught up in a tawny whirlwind.
"Excellent work, Samuel." Jim waited for Sam to remove the spoon, filling both glasses with tea. He handed one to Sam. "What shall we toast to?"
Sam thought for a moment, recalling several toasts he'd heard made at Cullen's, but thinking none of them were very appropriate for Pastor Jim. "Miss Emma?"
The smile that spread over Jim's face told Sam he had made a good choice. "Miss Emma."
Sam clinked his glass against the pastor's before taking a long sip.
"Ahh," Jim sighed. "As sweet as the first day I tasted it on Miss Emma's front porch. I can almost smell the fresh cut hay, clover from the fields, a hint of roses, the ones blooming all around her father's farm."
"Were you older than me?" Sam asked, taking another drink.
"Not by much, my boy." Jim looked down into the glass, reminding Sam of a fortune teller peering at her crystal ball. "I was fifteen at the time and had hired on to put up hay for Emma's father. Thirty cents a bale. I'd worked all morning in the hundred degree heat and that porch swing with its shade and built in breeze already felt like my own little corner of heaven even before Emma Grace stepped out the back door carrying a pitcher of this very sweet tea."
"What did you do?" Sam asked, trying to reconcile the Pastor Jim of today with that of the boy he was describing.
"I nearly tackled the poor girl in my haste to help her with the load she was holding, stumbled over my own big feet, her father's Red Bone Hounds and his pet chicken. I couldn't get a word of sense out of my mouth as I lay at her feet tangled up with two dogs and a hen that had perched on my head."
"Were you all sweaty and sick to your stomach?" Sam had a sudden image of Lucy Kate gliding from the school cafeteria with her lunch tray and him running into the back of his friend, Cooper because he was watching her, his own lunch hitting the floor with a clatter. Taco salad and peaches made a spectacular splatter.
"I can assure you there wasn't an inch of me that wasn't perspiring, my boy, and if I had eaten anything besides my dear mother's two day-old biscuits that morning, I'd have likely lost it right there on Miss Emma's patent leather shoes."
"What did Miss Emma do?"
"She laughed of course, as girls are prone to do when a man's grand gesture does not go as planned."
Sam remembered the giggling from Lucy Kate's table that his blundering had stirred. "Especially if there are other girls around."
"Oh yes, that does make quite the difference. When her sister Hannah sauntered from the house with the cookies, the two of them had quite the time making me feel the fool."
"That wasn't very kind." Sam recalled his own embarrassment, indignation stirring on Jim's behalf.
"Perhaps not, but I can assure you my sore pride was forgotten the moment Emma offered me a glass. Her hand brushed mine, and she smiled as she proclaimed the tea I was about to drink was a secret family recipe known to cure whatever ailed me, including clumsiness. I swore to her that it was the coldest, sweetest, most amazing thing that had ever touched my lips, let along quenched my blazing thirst and that I already felt like a new, more graceful, man."
"It is pretty good." Sam nodded to his almost empty glass.
Jim grinned. "I'm quite convinced it could have been pig swill and I would have still downed every drop with a big goofy grin on my face."
"Because you were in love with her."
"If not in that very moment, then most definitely by the end of the week when the job was done and her father's barn was brimming from my labor, and I was just as packed full of sweet tea and cookies."
"But that still doesn't tell me how it happened." Sam sighed. "Why did you fall for her, was it something in the tea?" Sam stared at the remains of his now empty glass, wondering if that was the point to Pastor Jim's story.
"It wasn't just the tea, my boy." Jim reached out and placed his hand over Sam's. "It was tea. It was her. It was me. It was that moment, and the million other seconds that had led up to it, and the days and years that would follow."
"I don't understand." Sam was beginning to feel much like the second grader everyone forgot he wasn't. Pastor Jim was a patient teacher.
"Love doesn't just happen, Samuel. Just as a good glass of tea doesn't just happen. It's not something you fall into like a fox hole, or fall out of like an oak tree. It's a process, a mixture, a waiting and sudden coming together that creates something wonderful, something worthwhile that you must make an effort to recreate every day."
"So you choose to be in love?" Sam didn't think he had much of a choice in the matter when it came to his feelings for Lucy Kate.
"Perhaps one doesn't have much of a say in those first initial feelings, the ones that cause butterflies to flutter in your stomach, or your words to become twisted, the ones that literally had me falling at Emma's feet, but if you are to truly love someone, it is most definitely an act of your will, more decision than feeling. Do you understand?"
"So I don't have to be in love with Lucy Kate Carter if I don't want to?" Sam blinked up at the pastor. "She can't make me do things like lose Dean at Rockefeller Center, or want to spend all my time hunting monsters because I can't be with her anymore after I switch schools when my dad gets all better?"
"I'm not sure who this young Lucy Kate Carter is, but I can assure you, my boy, no one else can claim your heart. It is completely a gift only you are able to give."
"So if I give it to her for a little while I can take it back?" Sam had once given his best friend Harry Litman his favorite blue Power Ranger action figure, only to decide over the course of the weekend that he and Harry really weren't that close, and he really wanted his favorite Power Ranger back.
"That part is a bit trickier." Jim gave a slight sigh. "Once something belongs to someone else, even if it is for only a little while, it is often changed forever. It's rarely returned in the same form as when we offered it."
Sam nodded in grim understanding. "My blue Power Ranger is missing his right leg. Harry let his dog eat it."
"People don't always appreciate or take care of the gifts they've been given."
"Like Uncle Bobby and the calendar Mac gave him for Christmas."
"It can be an issue of gratitude as in Robert's case, or the damage may be no fault of the person to which the gift was entrusted, or that of the giver either."
"Like when most of Daddy's heart got burned up with my Mom." Sam met Pastor Jim's gaze. "Or when you buried part of yours on the mountain with Miss Emma."
"Indeed." Jim's blue eyes watered, his voice becoming rough and thick as if he was as parched as he'd been on that hot summer day when Emma first found him. "There is always a terrible risk in loving someone."
Sam reached out and grasped the pastor's hand, giving it a squeeze. "But that's what hearts were built for. Right, Pastor Jim?"
"Right you are, my boy." Jim tugged him close for a quick hug. "Right you are."
"Still, I think I might keep mine in the harbor for a while longer." Sam stepped back when the pastor let him go. He picked up his empty glass and held it up to Jim, feeling an immense relief. "This love business is a little too serious for a kid like me, even if I am all the way in third grade."
Jim grinned, refilling Sam's glass before taking the pitcher over to the table. "You are a bit young to cast your lot on the sea of romance I suppose, but there's nothing wrong with running a short course of puppy love, you know."
Sam brought his drink and the bowl of mashed potatoes over with him. "Scout already has a piece of my heart."
The black Labrador whined, tail thumping wildly against the linoleum.
"Perhaps you should give her a treat as well." Jim threw back the dish towel revealing the golden chunks of bread. "She and Mr. Finch can have the coveted prime dibs."
"Uncle Bobby and Dean are going to be mad." Sam grinned, taking one of the warm biscuits for the dogs. He broke it in half, watching as Atticus swallowed his whole, Scout taking a little more time with hers, but both quickly returning their attention to the table for more.
Jim winked, handing Sam another biscuit. "What they don't know won't hurt them."
"Knowledge really is power." Sam took one big bite into the buttery bread, splitting the rest between the dogs.
"Their ignorance is our bliss." Jim winked, covering the basket once more. "You go get your uncle and I'll collect the others. We'll let them have their usual fun fighting to see who makes it here first."
Sam tugged on his coat and hat, letting the dogs out with him. Scout tackled Atticus, the retriever giving chase as they bounded ahead of the eight year old, barking and growling at one another as snow flew around them. It was completely dark outside now, the frozen forest still and hushed. The full moon reflected on the white blanketed ground providing all the light that was needed. Sam thought of Lucy Kate Carter as he trudged along the path he'd made to the barn earlier. He wondered if he'd still feel butterflies when she raised her hand in class, would his palms continue to get sweaty while he waited behind her at the water fountain now that Sam had decided third grade wasn't the right time for him to fall in love.
He glanced up at the bright yellow moon, sending a secret wish that when he did decide to give his heart away for real, it would be to a girl with long blond hair, blue eyes that sparkled like sunlight on the pond, and skin the color of snow. It didn't really matter whether she smelled like cotton candy or a summer night breeze as long as she took extra good care with his heart, and promised never to leave. After all, Sam was a Winchester, and once Winchesters loved someone, good or bad, that love lasted forever.
The End ;-)