For whatever reason, this chapter fought me tooth and nail with every single paragraph. When I read it back to myself, I have to be able to hear the characters' voices in my head with the dialogue, so I kept tinkering with it to try to make it sound more like they do/did in the series. After driving myself crazy over it for about a week, I decided that I was as happy with it as I was going to get, so here it is. I was aiming for sweet but not sappy. I hope it worked. . I'm curious to hear what you think.
John took a deep breath as he placed his hand on the doorknob of Sam's bedroom door. He rapped his knuckles against the door to knock a few times as he opened it and peeked inside.
Sam's room was dark except for the glow of a small reading lamp at the head of Sam's bed. Sam was lying on his stomach on top of the bedspread, propped up on his elbows reading a book. His right hand held the book open, his left hand was pressed against his forehead, serving to both rest his head on as well as keep his hair out of his eyes as he read. John couldn't help but smile slightly at the sight of his youngest son. Always reading. John couldn't remember the last time he saw Sam without a book in his hand and at least two more in his backpack that he was reading at the same time.
Upon seeing John, Sam sat up a bit and turned to face his father. His face held no expression as he greeted him. "Hi, Dad. Did everything go okay with the hunt?"
John nodded as he took a few steps deeper into Sam's room. "Yes, Sammy. Everything went fine. The wolf has been exterminated and both Caleb and I got out of it without a scratch."
Sam nodded back at his father with a half smile, but then turned back to his book. "That's good." He answered as he resumed his reading. "I guess that means we'll be leaving here soon, right?" Sam asked, without looking up from his book.
John ambled to the side of Sam's bed and sat down on the edge of it. As he sat, he noticed the massive contraption that was Sam's volcano on the other side of the bed. It was at least two feet tall and wide, with little ravines grooved into the side of it where the flow of lava was to pour down. Small trees and greenery adorned the base of the mountain, with a deep canal carved into the bottom. The volcano itself was amazingly colored with deep browns and greens, and from the residue stuck to the sides of it, it appeared that the lava was a brilliant glowing orange. Dean was right, Sam's project was actually really great, and John couldn't imagine another sixth grader creating anything that could top this. A sharp pang of guilt hit John's heart as he realized, much to his shame, that even though Sam had been working on this for several weeks, this was the very first time he had seen it.
John's attention turned back to Sam as he answered his question. "Yeah, we'll be heading out first thing on Monday. Uncle Bobby found a hunt for us close to his neck of the woods, so we'll be leaving California to head out to the Dakotas, you and Dean can stay at Bobby's house while we go check out the case."
Sam sighed as his eyes continued to scan the words across the pages. "Great, another new school."
John figured this was as good a time as any, so he approached the sensitive subject with Sam. "Speaking of school, how did the science fair go tonight?"
John could see Sam's features darken a little as he shrugged. "It went okay."
"Yeah, okay. No big deal."
John blew out a slight breath. "Sam, close the book for a minute and look at me while I'm talking to you. I don't want to stare at the back of your head during a conversation."
A look of annoyance passed Sam's face as he closed his book, but he sat up to face his father. "Yes, Sir."
"I asked you how the science fair went, and I would like a better answer than 'okay' this time."
Sam raised his arms slightly in a shrug as he answered his dad. "I don't know what you want me to say. It went fine. We all did our presentations, they announced the winners, then Dean and I had some punch and cookies and we came home. Like I said, no big deal."
"Well, was your volcano one of the winners?"
Sam looked to the floor as he shrugged his answer. "Yeah."
Judging from Sam's reaction, John guessed that maybe the presentation didn't go as well as he assumed it had, as Sam didn't seem very eager to talk about it. He was almost hesitant to ask the next question.
"What place did it get?"
Just as nonchalantly as the rest of his answers, Sam's gaze remained on the floor as he sighed. "It placed first."
John's eyes opened wide as he gasped. "You won?"
"That's great, Sport." John smiled at Sam, but Sam didn't even meet his father's eyes. "So did you get a medal or something for getting first place?"
The corner of Sam's mouth turned up a little as he glanced across the room. His voice remained expressionless as he casually pointed toward his bureau. "Yeah, I got a trophy."
"Well, let's take a look at it." John tried to keep his demeanor upbeat, but he could easily tell that Sam was acting very down.
John rose from the bed as he walked toward the bureau where Sam directed him. A look of confusion crossed his face when he failed to see anything. "I don't see it."
Sam sighed as if bored with the entire conversation. "It's beside the bureau…on the floor."
In the darkened corner of the room, John was impressed to see a large trophy beside the bureau, until he got closer and realized that right next to the side of Sam's bureau was a trash can, and the trophy had been placed inside it.
Trying to get past the knot in his stomach, John retrieved the trophy from the can and held it up to look at it. "Wow, look at this." He said as he returned to sit beside Sam again. Sam never looked up, and now seemed to be staring down at his hands, which were folded on his lap in front of him. John set the trophy down next to the bed and quietly asked his son a question.
"Sammy, why did you put your trophy in the trash?"
Sam shrugged without looking up. "Cuz I don't want to keep it."
John looked down at the trophy. "Why wouldn't you want to keep it, Sam? It's great, and it should mean a lot to you."
Sam's eyes moved to peer at John through his bangs. "Well it doesn't. It doesn't mean anything to me. It doesn't have any value…..it's not important."
"Is that really how you feel?"
"Yeah, it is. So you can go put it back in the trash, where it belongs. It's just a stupid piece of plastic."
John was beginning to think that maybe he should have driven 110 miles per hour to get home tonight. The pain his son was trying so hard to hide was showing like a neon sign across his face, yet Sam clenched his jaw tight and maintained his stare at the floor. So stubborn. John really had to think about how he would handle this and what course of action he should take next. Ultimately, he stood from the bed, picked the trophy up and brought it back across the room. He opted to place the trophy on top of the bureau rather than return it to the trash.
He walked back to the bed and knelt down in front of Sam, placing his hands on his son's shoulders as he spoke.
"Sammy," He began, "I've got to tell you something, and I want you to listen….don't interrupt me while I'm talking, just….. listen."
Sam's eyes briefly met his father's. For a moment he wondered if he was about to get in trouble, but his dad didn't look angry, so Sam relaxed a bit. "Okay." He answered.
John looked down for a moment and then brought his head back up. He took a breath and held it an extra second, as if trying to decide what he was going to say. He gave a sad smile. "I'm sorry. I should have been there for you tonight, I really should have. I wish I had been there to see your volcano presentation. I wish I had been there to see you get your award. Hell, I even wish I had been there to have some punch and cookies with you and Dean…."
Sam shook his head, "It's okay….." He began.
"Sam, I said no interrupting, remember?" John reminded as he started again, "And you were wrong, the trophy is important."
"Why?" Sam asked, interrupting yet again. "What's so important about a volcano, or a sixth grade science fair, for that matter? What you and Dean do is important. You guys save lives, you make a difference to people….keep them safe. What I do is stupid."
John couldn't help but raise his voice a little. "Sam, don't talk like that, you hear me?"
"It's true! Now that Dean's old enough, he goes out with you now and then and helps you with the hunts. I stay in motel rooms and apartments and do research. It's lame."
As irritated as John was becoming, he was adamant that this discussion was not going to turn into an argument. He closed his eyes and kept his composure in check. He returned to his spot beside Sam on the bed and turned his son's shoulders toward him so they were facing one another.
"Look, there are many words to describe you, Sammy, but 'lame' and 'stupid' will never be on the list." The expression on Sam's face showed John that he was not convinced. "Even at eleven years old, you are already the brains of this outfit, do you know that? Your 'lame' research is what helps us discover what we are up against, and nine out of ten times it tells us how to kill it. You don't think that's important?"
Sam cast his eyes downward and shrugged.
John continued, "Well it is. It's damned important. Sometimes it's a matter of life and death for us, so you keep us safe, and you make a difference in our lives. Your research skills are incredible! I've seen seasoned hunters who can't identify monsters as well or as quickly as you can, and that's no joke." John then blew out a deep breath and scrubbed his hand down his face. "I guess I never really tell you that you go a great job with both the hunts and with school, and now you're feeling like what you do doesn't matter, and that's my fault, that's on me. Both you and Dean make me very proud." John paused for a moment, hoping his words would sink in for Sam. In the end John couldn't help himself, he leaned in closer to Sam and bumped shoulders with him. "Did you ever know that you're my hero?" He joked.
John was happy to see his comment made Sam give a slight smirk, so he decided to finish his lecture. "So I don't want to hear you saying what you do isn't important or doesn't matter, you hear me?"
"Yes, sir." It took a moment, but Sam returned a smile to his father.
Just to drive the point home, John added one more remark. "Do you know how old I was when I won my first trophy?"
Sam shook his head, but looked up at his dad for the answer.
John smiled. "I'm still waiting to win one, so that tells you how talented I am! You must get your brains from your mother, 'cuz they sure as Hell didn't come from me." John stood from the bed and walked back over to the trophy. He held it in his hands as he turned back toward Sam. "So, we're going to keep this, and everywhere we go, we're going to set it out for us to see, because it is important, and I think it's pretty damned great." John's eyes held a hint of sadness. "I'm just really sorry I missed seeing you get it."
Sam shrugged his shoulders again. "That's okay. Maybe you'll be able to go to the seventh grade one."
John set the trophy back down. "Well, maybe I don't feel like waiting that long." He replied.
Sam scrunched his face in confusion. "What do you mean? There isn't another one this year, it's over."
John pulled a pamphlet out of his back pocket as he returned to Sam's side. He handed the pamphlet to Sam as he sat down on the bed. "Take a look at what I saw on a diner bulletin board."
Sam opened the flier and began to read the advertisement. As he read, his eyes brightened and held excitement. "An honor's science fair at Stanford University?"
John nodded. "Yep, for honors students aged 10 through 17, and it's Sunday afternoon. Do you think you can get your volcano ready to go again by then?"
Sam nodded his head as his eyes continued to read the pamphlet. "Sure." He answered, but at that very moment his shoulders slumped in disappointment. He looked up at John. "But, the registration deadline was for yesterday."
John's face dropped as he reached for the flier. "What? Where does it say that?" he asked as his eyes skimmed across it.
Sam pointed, "Right there." Sensing his dad was upset at the discovery, Sam tried to pacify him. "It's okay, it was a nice thought, anyway."
"Hmm," John replied, and then gave a mischievous smile at Sam. "Well then, I guess it's a good thing I called and registered you yesterday, right?"
Sam's eyes shot open wide as a huge smile finally made an appearance on his face. "You did?"
"Sure did, so I figure you'll have all day tomorrow to get your volcano ready, then the three of us will head out to the college first thing Sunday morning. I need to see for myself how awesome it looks when it erupts."
"You won't be disappointed."
Sam and John both turned their heads to see Dean standing at Sam's bedroom door. Sam smiled as he held up the pamphlet, "Did you hear what Dad signed me up for?" he asked.
"You bet I did, Kiddo, and you're gonna do great!" Dean turned to John in a 'take charge' manner, "He's gonna need some vinegar, and some more baking soda….oh, and maybe some touch up paint for the trees that got covered in the lava goop the first time."
John put his hands up as he couldn't help but laugh. "Okay, okay. We'll make a trip to the store tomorrow and get all the stuff he'll need." He turned to Sam, "Which means you have a very big day tomorrow, so get some shut eye, ya hear me?"
"Yes, Sir." Sam answered as he stood and wrapped his arms around his dad in a tight hug. "Thanks, Dad."
"You're welcome, Son."
Sam released his father and plopped back across his bed, tucking the pamphlet under his pillow. "Good night, Dad. Good night, Dean."
"Good night, Sam." Dean and John said in unison as they left the room and closed the door.
As Dean and John walked down the hall, Dean stopped and turned to his dad. "Dad, I owe you an apology."
John stopped Dean from saying anything else. "It's alright, Dean. I understand that you were upset and were concerned for Sammy. I know how protective you are of him."
"That was really great what you did for Sam, with the Stanford fair. That little brain will fit right in with those guys. It'll be like he died and went to geek heaven." Dean joked.
John laughed at Dean's remark, "Get yourself to bed, now, Son. We've got a big weekend ahead of us."
Dean yawned and stretched. "Yeah, sounds good."
Before Dean could turn to leave, John had one last thing to say. " And, Dean, I know that sometimes I fall short on some of the things going on with you boys, but I want you to know that I always try to do the best I can do."
"I know, Dad."
John smiled as his oldest son gave him a hug and plodded his way down the hall to his room, closing the door behind him. John went into the kitchen and poured himself a drink. Tonight had been a big night for him. One less monster out there, another night he and his fellow hunter made it home safely, and for once, both his sons were happy with him at the same time.
As always, I thank you very much for taking the time to read my story. I do hope you enjoyed it. If you have a moment, please leave a review. I'd love to hear from you.