Chapter Nine: Addendum
Dear my awesome readers,
So, I spent time on the story and chapter titles but if you're anything like me, you probably bypassed the titles & the effort to think about them because, damn it, a story's a story and this is fanfiction, not a friggin homework assignment.
Thus, I'm going to show my hand (har har) on this one in case you're interested.
Story Title: The "house's edge" refers to the statistical advantage built into the rules of every game played on a casino floor. In this story, it's meant to represent the unfairness and inaccuracy inherent in the popular opinion that a 'functional' family in society is a typical suburban household (and the typical distancing that happens with teens under those circumstances).
The dealer is the house's agent. Any references to the dealer's hand is indicating whether the house will, simply put, 'win,' or, 'lose.' The dealer at a blackjack table starts on their left and works their way to the right. The dealer's right is the most advantageous position on the table for a card-counter, as you've watched and kept track of the cards that've been dealt out during the shoe before the dealer turns to you and asks you what you want to do with your hand.
This story was about Sam's decision to 'play into' the inaccurate perception that a typical suburban household is more functional - thus more desirable - than his family's structure. Throughout the story, we want the dealer to go bust because we want Sam to thwart the house edge (ie: reject the notion that his family is dysfunctional simply because it is atypical).
Chapter 1: "Ante Up," is the phrase given by the dealer prior to the shoe. Before the cards are dealt, you set the amount you're willing to gamble on the table: this amount doesn't change unless you split or double-up (I didn't use those options as metaphors in the story, though). The chips were meant to represent personal self-worth. The root of Dean's self-worth is found in his role as Sam's guardian though, so while losing all his chips was devastating, it couldn't fully destroy him.
Ultimately, the very first scene of chapter one features Sam and Dean sitting down, placing their bets, and Sam makes his first, 'hit' (literally and figuratively).
Chapter 2: "Hit me." Besides the obvious literal interpretation for this chapter (Dean getting hit by a car), in blackjack this term is used to ask for another card if you think it can get you closer to 21 (blackjack) without busting (going over 21 and losing your chips). However, it's not as cut and dry as that.
John likens Sam's behavior towards Dean as repeatedly instructing the dealer to hit his hand as he keeps getting low cards. Those low cards, though, would've helped Dean in his hand - as he uses strategy to determine how to play his hand in order to increase the odds of busting the dealer. When the dealer busts, everyone on the table 'wins.' Thus when Sam hits to improve his hand and forfeits the table so he can beat the dealer's hand (if the dealer doesn't go bust), he's still playing to the house edge: his hand might be over the dealers', but not the rest of the tables'. The dealer pays out to Sam only and the rest of the table loses their bets (resulting in a greater profit for the house even though Sam still gets to take down his winnings).
So, when Sam, 'hits,' he's still playing to the house's edge by allowing the house to take down the rest of the tables' chips - including Dean's (recall what the house and chips represent).
Chapter 3: "Playing Policy." The blackjack dealer plays, 'house rules,' otherwise known as, 'house policy,' or just, 'policy.' When a player sits down and plays policy, they're mimicking the dealer. What's relevant here is that a player going by policy hits until he or she reaches 17 or higher in their hand. Sam's behavior - consistently hitting until he reaches a high number (17+) - is an example of playing policy. In this chapter though, Sam breaks policy by touching Dean when he wakes up in the hospital. Dean, who's been consistently denied the opportunity to bust the dealer, has lost all his chips (recall what the chips represent). When Sam is suddenly willing to break policy for Dean, Dean tells Sam to keep playing like he has. The damage was done: Dean was out of chips. So why stop now?
Chapter 4: "Dealer's Ace in the Hole." Starting now, the chapter titles reflect the ups and downs of tension in the players (and my readers ;) while the dealer plays out their hand. The first card you see revealed is the dealer's, 'hole card,' - the card that was facing down the entire time players managed their hands. An ace in the hole is incredibly unpredictable, as several more cards than is usual can/will be dealt out to the dealer to determine their final number (if they didn't automatically get blackjack with the ace). This is because an ace can represent two values: eleven and one. When the dealer reaches any number assuming the ace's value is eleven, it is called a 'soft number.' When the dealer reaches any number assuming the ace's value is one, it is called a, 'hard number.'
I don't want to go that far into it, but just know that the minute you see the ace in the hole (and the dealer didn't get blackjack), you're going to have to brace yourself for an emotional roller coaster as you get set to watch the dealer play out their hand for what could be a longer-than-normal period of time (a similar feeling to the end of this chapter with Dean breaking down and Sam's arrested ability to make up for it: we simply don't know how long this impasse will last).
Chapter 5: "Dealer's Soft 17" is a reference to a house rule. Dealer always stands at a hard 17. However, when 17 is soft, dealer must hit. It's highly unlikely 2, 3 or 4 value cards will show. So, when the dealer receives anything higher than 4, they must switch to assuming the ace is at a value of 1 (to avoid busting), thereby landing their hand all the way back to a total value that can be as low as 7 (an ace and a six, for example). Whether this is a good thing or not is best determined by having counted cards beforehand but no matter what, it feels like you're getting a second shot at busting the dealer (and beating the house edge). Sam's conversation with John was introducing a Dealer's Soft 17 to Sam.
If you're interested in knowing, for card-counters, the basic understanding is this: if a lot of face cards have been recent in the shoe, the odds that more will show up as the dealer plays their hand out is lower. But if the table's gotten a lot of low cards, the odds that a face card will appear is higher. You might be wondering why it's terrible for Sam to use up all the low cards in his hand - after all, it increases the odds that the dealer will go bust. However, because Sam is in the middle of the table, when he's finished with his hand, dealer goes to Dean and Dean has to either stay at a suspiciously low card value (indicating that he's probably counting cards - and might get caught) or hit and end up using the face card that would've busted the dealer.
Chapter 6: "Dealer's Hard 16," is pretty much the best place the dealer can be for going bust. By policy, they must hit on 16. Players generally rejoice, as the dealer only has about a 38% chance they'll be able to stand on something. The Dealer's Hard 16 represents Sam's apology - a moment where the house's edge is almost definitely about to fail. I emphasize, "almost," because if Dean rejects Sam's apology, it is the equivalent of the dealer getting to stand and the house winning again. If Dean accepts Sam's apology, the dealer goes bust in the face of a solid team of card-counters (ie: a cohesive functional family) and the house must pay out to its players.
Chapter 7: "Dealer Busts," represents Dean's acceptance of Sam's apology, and the overall rejection of playing into the house's edge by sticking together and supporting one another.
Chapter 8: "House Pays Out," should be obvious, now. At the end of the shoe, the house must pay out to every member of the table if the dealer goes bust. Easily symbolic of the fact that the typical suburban household is indebted to the atypical - yet functional - Winchester family for literally saving their lives.
Some of you may have qualms about how I wrote the act of counting cards as representing a functional family dynamic. All I can tell you is that it's how Dean would teach it - and it's how I learned it from my badass older sibling. ;)
Also, I acknowledge that it's a little weird I wrote this in a way that seems to alienate anyone that currently lives - or ever grew up - in an Average Suburban Household. I think the story itself has a universal, attractive theme to it though, which is that the circumstances under which you grow up never determine whether the family dynamic is functional or not. Furthermore, that sometimes what may be a functional dynamic in one family does not mean it is (or should be) a trait of all functional families. Circumstances do affect families, and the way families are shaped by their circumstances, if those families are functional, means they won't give a damn what others think of them as long as every member's welfare is upheld & maintained.
Additionally, I'm pretty sure that a lot of kids, no matter their circumstances, go through a similar phase that Sam went through in this story - the idea that maturation is gained by giving and receiving rejection, overvaluing possessions, devaluing their support systems, claiming isolation, dealing with pain alone, etc...
Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately) for Sam, the only way in which his family functions (given their circumstances) is as an unconditionally tight-knit unit. Of all families in the world, Sam could never have hoped to fly under the radar with his.
Finally, John's quote: "Stay away from the softer sciences, bud." Probably one of my favorite lines in this story, as without my education in the 'softer sciences,' I probably wouldn't have been able to write this story. So for all of my fellow soft-science-educated readers - just know it was completely tongue and cheek on my part.
I'd LOVE to hear your thoughts - whether this made sense to you or not. It was a strangely emotional yet cerebral trip writing this fic. How'd you guys like it? - How do you like it now after reading through this essay of sorts? I actually kind of encourage you guys to reread the story (just zip through it - it's actually kind of short at just under 16k) and see if these explanations make it better - I've got my fingers crossed - Let me know!
Thank you so so much!