Title: In Harm’s Wake
Word Count: 13,151
A/N: This is a third story in the Aunt Sissy Universe. It’s not a sequel to the other two, Out of Harm’s Way, or Safe From Harm, but more a companion piece that takes place a few years after both stories. Sam wanted to have his own story about her, and who am I to resist such a cute little face?
Dean had said to stay close behind him, so Sammy did. The dining hall was filled with boys (Dean had reckoned on around fifty), but it sounded like a lot more. Maybe more like a thousand, the way the sound of their voices punched off the smooth, cold walls and ceiling. Lunch was coming, but it would be the same as it had for the past three days, minced beef, creamed corn, bread, and milk. Dean would make Sammy eat it, even if he didn’t want to. Then Sammy would get half of Dean’s dessert, for eating the swill anyway and keeping his strength up.
Dean stopped in front of him, and Sammy stepped on his heel.
“Dude,” said Dean. That meant: Knock it off, not so close. Dean was in one of his touch me not moods, the way he got when there were lots of strangers around. He didn’t mind Sammy near when they were alone, or just with Dad or Pastor Jim.
Some boy pushed into Sammy from behind, which made Sammy push into Dean.
“Sammy, I mean it.” Dean turned around with a scowl pulling his mouth down.
Sammy pretended he didn’t know what Dean was talking about. Otherwise, if Dean found out a boy had pushed him, there would be a fight. Not that Dean wouldn’t win, of course he would. But that would mean stepping onto the grid, which they were supposed to avoid at all costs. That’s what Dad said. And Dean liked to do what Dad said, even if he wasn’t here.
“He’s going to be so pissed,” said Dean now. Again. For the millionth time.
“You’re the one who wanted to go play pool for money,” said Sammy.
“Well, you should have waited outside,” said Dean over his shoulder. He was busy slipping two plastic, divided lunch trays off of the stack. He handed one to Sammy. “You’re the one who attracted attention to us, not me.”
“I’m almost as tall as you, nobody was gonna notice,” said Sammy, grabbing his own knife, fork, and spoon.
“You’re still only ten. With that baby face, it’ll be years till you can pass for a man.”
Which is what Dean thought he was, at fourteen.
The pool sharking on a warm, summer afternoon in Vernon, Iowa had gone really well. Dad had left them at the motel, and the boys had been bored. Leary of leaving Sammy on his own (which Sammy knew Dean was never supposed to do because Dean had told him), Dean had dragged his younger brother along. Pool halls smelled. They were stuffy and dark. Summer days were meant to be spent outside. Swimming. Skipping rocks. Playing with a friendly, stray dog. Not being locked up watching older brother hustle his way through several games. The wad of money that Dean had been stuffing in his pocket, though, was going to purchase several boatloads of candy later, this Sammy had known. Unspoken. Dean’s money bought cool stuff. So Sammy had sat there. And sat there. And sat. Finally, he’d wandered up to the bar to buy a coke.
That’s when the ruckus started. Dean had broken the rule about not attracting attention by winning too much. The bartender had decided the rule about no minors at the bar should suddenly be enforced. Someone had been called. Two men had shown up, and when Dean and Sammy could not display proof of a local parent, they were packed up and shipped off. The bus ride through Nebraska and into western Kansas had been as thrilling as mud. Not much more fun was watching Dean try to bribe the bus driver into letting them off. Anywhere. His money had been taken away, and Dean had been handcuffed to his seat. Somehow, the man hired to take them to the Colby Detention Center for Boys had known that Sammy would not strike out on his own. They were right.
The meal he had served to him now, and that he sat down at a long chipped table to eat, was his punishment for not being more bold. But even if he’d managed to slip off the bus, in the middle of Nebraska, in the middle of the night, what could he have done? Dad was not at the motel to call, besides which, neither of them could remember the name of the motel. Pastor Jim was at a seminar in Switzerland. He and brother Dean were on their own.
Dean sat across from him, and motioned at Sammy with his fork. That meant: You eat that, you hear me? You gotta eat, cause when it comes time to blow this joint, we might not get to eat for a while.
Dean had a thing for old black and white movies about guys in prison. Con flicks, he called them. Sammy had an idea that this whole detention center thing was almost a lark. Almost. He could see that Dean’s eyes were constantly watching the room over Sammy’s shoulder. Keeping his eyes on the doors, and any older boy who looked like he wanted to cause trouble for Winchester and Co.
The question was, was the detention center better or worse than the place they’d ended up in Colorado a few years back? Social Services. Him and Dean, one minute in the parking lot of some motel, then, the next, locked up in a grey room with two beds, a high up narrow window, an old TV, no books, and no exit. Afternoons, they’d gotten let out to play, as it was called, but the room they were led to had only a little bit more going for it than the room they slept in. Dean had acted cool about everything, until the staff locked the door to their little cell each night. Dean hated that. It wasn’t the small space, or lack of privacy, it was the not being able to get out that bugged him. He paced at night. Kept checking the door. No exit.
Sammy made himself eat the minced beef, tried not to gag on the creamed corn, and downed the milk. He did not want to watch Dean eat his meal, though he wasn’t sure if it was Dean shoveled it in so fast, or because he ate it as if it tasted good. Dean could eat anything and not choke on it. The only thing that saved the meal was dessert. Always the same at lunchtime, something that was called Apple Brown Betty but which looked like a square piece of apple pie. Dean wanted to eat all of his, but Sammy watched him cut his serving in half, to give it to his brother for being good.
Sammy shook his head. “I don’t want it. I’m full.”
“Yeah?” asked Dean, his eyebrows going up. “But you ate—”
“You eat it.”
Sammy nodded. Had there been ice cream to go with it, he would have taken the dessert. But it was almost as satisfying to watch Dean plow into it, eating the whole thing in three huge bites. Getting that smile as Dean wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. Dean sure did love pie.
The detention center was better than the social services place, then. There was dessert that Dean liked, and though they were locked inside the building all the time, they weren’t in an isolated little room. And it wasn’t their first time being taken away from Dad, so maybe it was easier to handle. The only thing better that time was the rescue by Aunt Sissy. Of course, she’d not known she was their Aunt Sissy, not even when Dean had walked up to her, bold as anything, and called her that. It had taken her a while to take to it, but Dad had been right. Had predicted her early on, and there she was.
He still had the t-shirt she’d given him, it was packed away for him to grow into. Sometimes, he would take it out and unfold it, and hold it up next to his chest and measure with his eyes. Then he would fold it back up again, and put it away at the bottom of his duffle. It didn’t smell like her house anymore, but sometimes, if he closed his eyes, he could still see that girly room with the crisp sheets and soft pillows. The brightness of the bathroom light as she held his head when he threw up. The kiss she’d given him upon saying goodbye, letting them go, the sheen in her eyes as she waved to them from the door.
Dean was looking at him.
“What is it?”
“We could call Aunt Sissy.”
Dean’s mouth fell open, and then the bell clanged, signaling the end of lunch. They carried their trays up to the counter that opened into the dishwashing area. Sammy let his utensils fall into the soapy water with a splash. He got a look from Dean. That meant: You better knock it off. That kind of shit will land us in the hooscow an’ you know it. You wanna cause trouble? Make it worth something, don’t just do it to be a jerk. Jerk.
But as they walked down the hall to the games room, he saw Dean out of the corner of his eye. Dean was nodding.
“I wish I’d thought of it,” he said, glancing at Sammy.
Which is how cool a brother Dean was. He gave credit where it was due. Sammy had seen brothers in the movies, and on TV. None of them did that. None. Something in his chest felt warm and bright. He liked it when Dean looked like that at him. Like someone had told him what he needed to know, when he needed to know it.
“But there’s no phone,” said Sammy. This wasn’t true, of course. There had been two phones in the front office when they’d been processed, and even a pay phone out front. What he meant was, there was no phone they could get to.
They walked into the games room, and Sammy tagged behind as Dean led them to the couches in front of the TV. It was a pretty safe spot, low key, and it didn’t matter what was on. Neither Winchester would protest, no matter what channel was chosen. To stay off the grid, they had to keep their heads down. If Dean had joined in on a poker game, winning would have followed, and then a boy with hurt feelings would have made sure that Dean went on the grid. If Sammy started a conversation with anyone, it would lead to blows, because, for some reason, Sammy tended to say things that Dad said were provocative. Sammy’d had to look that one up. He still didn’t get it, so even without Dean telling him, he’d been trying to keep his mouth shut.
They sat on the couch that also allowed Sammy to look out the window. Weather in Kansas was pretty straightforward. Sunny, sunny, sunny. The wind blew all the time, too, by the bend of the grass and the stunted trees. Sometimes, tumbleweed or two whisked by on its way to Old El Paso. But yesterday, there’d been a thunderstorm that rolled overhead. It hadn’t stopped, but it had been loud. Dean, amazingly, had not teased Sammy about getting up to stand by the window to watch. Sammy was hoping the same would happen again today.
For the meantime, they looked at the TV. Marking the time till the supper hour. The screen had reruns. Sammy thought it was the Dukes of Hazzard, because of the car, but the Bo and Luke characters just did not look right. He sighed, and started to swing his foot until Dean jabbed him with an elbow.
“Quit it.” That meant: You’ll piss someone off doing that. Remember the guy, that big one, the first day? I don’t wanna get into that kinda situation again, so knock it off. Sammy remembered quite clearly the first day. They’d been watching TV (Wide World of Wrestling) and he’d been swinging his foot, as he did when he watched TV. Somehow, he’d swung his foot into someone walking in front of them. They could have gone around, but they’d gone in front of him, so it wasn’t his fault. Only the boy, a big boy, seemed to think it was. He’d bent down and grabbed a handful of Sammy’s hair and pulled hard. Dean was on his feet in a second, fists clenched, protesting. All Sammy could hear was the boy hissing in his ear, something about, don’t touch me, don’t ever touch me. Then he’d pulled away, let go of Sammy, and stalked off. Leaving Dean standing, noticeable, fists clenched as though demanding that someone fight him. For a second, their area of the games room was quiet. Then, Dean had socked Sammy in the shoulder, as if it had been his intention all along. It had been a hard punch, that later showed up as a round purple mark. Dean’s eyes for the rest of the day had said he was sorry. That meant: I had to do it, doncha see? I was all ready, an’ if I’d just sat down, everyone in the room woulda thought I was backing down. Can’t have that. Dad always says, when you stand up to fight, you gotta commit till the fight is over. So I had to punch ya, so don’t be mad.
Sammy had forgiven him long before the day was over.
Someone changed the channel to Hogan’s Heroes. Sammy watched Dean try not to laugh while they watched (because when Dean laughed, he laughed out loud and tended to throw back his head and howl with it, which would definitely put them on the grid), but it was hard. Something about Colonel Klink getting outsmarted by Hogan got to him. Every single time. Watching Dean was funnier than Klink and Hogan and the gang. It made Sammy snigger, which he tried to keep under his breath, but of course, Dean heard him and jabbed him with an elbow.
“Sammy.” This meant: You can’t laugh out loud and you know it.
“You’re laughing,” said Sammy.”
Dean rolled his eyes. That meant: You’re a jerk.
Sammy kicked him in the leg.
Dean kicked him back.
Then Sammy punched him in the chest.
They looked up. One of the orderlies (or warden, Sammy wasn’t sure what they were called) stood in front of them.
“Fighting is not allowed. One more act up from you and you will go into isolation. Is that understood?”
“Yes, sir,” they both said, though it was an effort for Dean, Sammy could tell, to make his voice so meek. The orderly moved away, and a commercial came on. Dean had his hands in his lap, where he laced and unlaced his fingers. That meant: I have an idea.
“Yeah?” asked Sammy.
“There’s a phone in the kitchen off of the cafeteria. Did you see it?”
Sammy thought about this. To the right of the counter where they trundled past to get their food, there was a doorway. It swung in two directions and had not, while they’d been there, been locked. There was a little window in the door. If he concentrated, he could see through the window the beige wall phone hanging against the smooth, green brick.
“Yeah,” he said. “I saw it.”
“I betcha they use that phone to make orders, so it’s got an outside line. You know what that means, right?”
“Yeah,” said Sammy. “You have to dial nine first to get out.”
“No,” said Dean. “It means you have to dial nine first to get out.”
“Well, what are you going to do?” Why was Dean making him do all the work?
He heard Dean take a breath, though no part of him seemed to move.
“Somebody’s got to distract them while you call Aunt Sissy.” That meant: I am going to be bait. I will step on the grid at supper, and you will sneak into the kitchen and use the phone. Do I even have to ask if you know how to make a collect call?
“I know what to do,” said Sammy. “But what if she’s not there? Operators won’t leave messages, that’s what Dad said.”
“Then we’ll keep doing it till she does.”
Sammy looked at the TV screen and did not allow himself to think about this. There’d been a movie on once, in some motel, Sammy couldn’t remember the name of the motel or the movie, only that Dad and Dean had been out hunting something. He’d been asleep when they’d come back, and couldn’t remember what they’d been hunting either. But there was one scene in the movie that stood out like a sharp clang of a bell. Some guy, a soldier in some army in some war, had been in a room with his buddies. One of the enemy had thrown a grenade in the room. The guy, in his funny, old fashioned soldier uniform, had thrown himself on the grenade and absorbed the explosion with his own body. He’d died of course, and his buddies had thrown him a great funeral, and in the end, their side had won the war. But it was the guy that stuck in Sammy’s mind. He reminded Sammy of Dean. Just now. He’d had that same expression that Dean had, the carefully blank lines of his face betrayed by the bold gleam in his eye that said, I will do this. I will make this sacrifice so you won’t get hurt.
Sammy didn’t let himself sigh out loud. “Why don’t I be the bait?”
He watched Dean’s eyebrows rise into his hairline. “What?”
“I’ll be the bait. I’ll step on the grid. I’ll throw myself on the grenade. But I’m only ten, so they won’t hurt me. As much.”
Sammy was sure that Dean had seen the same movie, but of course, would never picture himself in the role of sacrificial lamb.
“I can be the bait, Dean, why don’t you ever let me?”
“Because I’m older, and besides, Dad would kill me if I did that. I’d rather die at someone else’s hands, thank you very much.”
Then Dean shut his mouth, leaned back on the couch, and the conversation was over. There wasn’t even anything to translate. Dean had made up his mind. He would be bait, and Sammy would scurry into the kitchen and dial as fast as his fingers would let him. He began in his mind to will Aunt Sissy to be there the very first time he called. Otherwise, Dean was going to have to throw himself on more than one grenade. Sammy didn’t think he could bear to watch it happen more than once. Let alone the once.
Some kids had chores. Sammy and Dean had not been at the detention center long enough to be on anyone’s chart, so in the hour before dinner, as boys scurried around sweeping and hauling off trash (some boys even got to go outside to pick up stuff in the yard), they had to wait it out. At least the TV was still on. Reruns. Space Ghost. Sammy watched it, remembering how he’d like that monkey when he was a little kid, but for the life of him, unable to remember why now.
“You think when she comes an’ gets us she’ll take us home with her?”
There was no need to explain the she Sammy was talking about, but the question had done something to Dean, otherwise he would not have answered so fast. Sammy could see his brother’s face, which had closed up quicker than a cartoon clamshell slamming shut. But if Dean’s memory of her were half as strong as his own, it would explain why Dean didn’t want to contemplate it. Because, well, when you went to Aunt Sissy’s (or when Aunt Sissy came to you), the bad part was, no matter how nice it was, you always had to leave. Or Aunt Sissy had to leave and go back to her regularly scheduled life. And then there was Dad, who’d been extra hard on them each time, as if trying to undo the damage that her softness had wrought.
After the first time, when they’d stayed at her house, Dad had taken them back to the motel in Boulder, thrown everything in the car, and then took them on a long drive that had lasted all day and all night. They’d ended up in the south somewhere, some desert, and then, he made them hike up a canyon. To toughen them up, Dad said. It had not been a long hike, but then they’d had to sleep in the car afterwards, half sitting up. Sammy could still taste the metallic water out of the canteen they’d shared. And the way the heat of the day and the cool of the night made his skin feel like it was on fire. He’d been six then.
The second time, Aunt Sissy had stayed for a few days at that motel with the greasy green carpet, tending to Dad, and taking the brothers on hikes in the mountains. Dad had approved of the hiking, but what he’d not known (and would never know) was that Aunt Sissy’s idea of a hike was quite different than Dad’s. She liked to find
well–marked paths that led to waterfalls to sit next to and streams to wade in, or glassy, sky-blue lakes to walk around. Walk around. There was no trotting, no sprinting. No quiz afterwards about what they’d seen, or measurements of how far they’d come. Afterwards, Aunt Sissy liked to drive through the mountains to what she’d called cute little places with odd things on the menu like cucumber soup and steak salad and towering desserts with French names where only Aunt Sissy knew what they meant. She made sure, as well, that the menu had things she felt that boys would like, cheeseburgers and fries, or chicken dippers, or that one place with the chili where they’d melted the cheese on top. Dad had made them work on their knife throwing after she left, but he didn’t want to think about that.
“Remember the chili, Dean?”
Dean looked at him, eyebrows twisting down. That meant: What?
“That chili in that mountain place that Aunt Sissy took us to.”
“Christ, Sammy, that was two years ago, you still thinkin’ about that meal?”
“You remember it too, Dean,” said Sammy. Supper, he knew, would be beef stew and cornbread, sliced peaches with cottage cheese, and milk. Better by far than what was served at lunch, but it was getting lame fast. Still, he was old enough not to cry about it, as Dean liked to remind him that he used to do when he was little. But maybe, since Dean was stepping onto the grid, they wouldn’t even get dinner. When Dean got thrown in the slammer, the authorities somehow managed to snag little brother and throw him in there too.
“I’ll do it at dessert,” said Dean, looking at the TV screen, his lips barely moving. It was the old con flick game again. It was the great escape and Dean was Steve McQueen.
“But you like peach cobbler,” said Sammy.
“It’s a sin and a shame, but it’s gotta be done.” That meant: Any later than dessert and a distraction won’t help us. Just be ready.
By the time the supper bell rang, Sammy thought he was ready. The hardest part was not staying calm or eating a meal that was a repeat from yesterday, and the day before that, and the day before that. It was not difficult, either, watching Dean take a quick bite of his dessert before sacrificing it to the wall gods as he hurled both his and Sammy’s plates to the back of the dining hall. It was even cool to watch Dean jump up on the table to do his best con imitation, and shout out loud that the screws could put him in the hole for a month, he was never going to talk! No, the hard part was watching him get slammed on by two orderlies and then having to turn away because he, Sammy, had a job to do. He could hear the shouting (mostly by Dean), and the thuds and the crash as he raced into the kitchen. He could hear the doors being slammed open, and as he dialed the phone, the din smashed against the ceiling.
The operator came on.
“Collect call for my Aunt Sissy, please, operator.”
“Whom may I say is calling, sir?”
“Sammy Winchester,” he said. Thinking of the tender curve of Aunt Sissy’s mouth when she said his name. Maybe she knew of one of those places to eat in Kansas. His meal felt like a brick in his stomach and he sure could use something good to eat.
The phone was ringing and then it was picked up.
“Hello?” the voice asked.
It was Aunt Sissy. The echo of her voice along the line thumped in his chest. He made himself stay quiet so he didn’t screw up the ritual.
“I have a collect call for Aunt Sissy from Sammy Winchester, will you accept the charges?”
Without a second’s hesitation, she said, “Yes, operator I will.”
“I’ll connect you now,” said the operator, and with a click, she was gone.
“My goodness, Sammy—”she began, her voice pleasant, but then she stopped. “Where are you? Is everything alright? Is anyone hurt?”
Sammy’s heart continued to thump. He could hear the sounds in the dining hall receding and at any moment, someone would come through the swinging doors to deal with the dirty dishes he could hear piling up along the counter.
“Dean and I got taken,” he said. “Dad is hunting, not at the motel in Vernon, Iowa. I don’t remember the name, but it’s a cheap one.”
“So where are you?”
“Colby, Kansas. They put us on a bus. Dean was in the pool hall. We’re in the boys detention center, an’ we need—”
Someone came in. He was grabbed from behind so fast, the phone flew from his hand and thunked against the wall. An orderly dragged him away. He could still hear her voice coming through, like a faint cry, from the mouth of the receiver.
“Sammy? Sammy, where did you go—”
Then the door swung closed behind him, and Sammy was marched in disgrace down the hall. He didn’t feel disgraceful, he felt victorious, so it was hard to keep his head down and the smile from his face. Dean would be so pleased. Mission accomplished. Maybe next time, Dean would let him be the bait.
The orderly took him past the boy’s dormitories and back down the hall where the front offices were. He opened a metal door with a heavy key, and then shoved Sammy inside. Sammy had been expecting that. Troublesome cons always got separated from the main group of prisoners, Dean had told him that when—
But there was Dean, in a heap on one of the thin mattresses on a metal bed attached to the wall. He was crumpled like folded paper that someone had tossed aside.
Dean grunted. That meant: Go away, go away, go away.
But there was no where to go. No where to walk but forward and put his hand out to touch Dean on the shoulder to ask what he could do.
“Get off me.” That meant: Get off me.
Then Dean moved, shuddering as he undid the bend in his body to shift his head along the pillow and face the wall. Something on his head left a red stain on the mostly white pillowcase. Sammy could see that Dean was shivering.
He got silenced as his answer.
This was the part he’d been dreading. This thing that Dean did, this grenade-covering thing that seemed to be part of what Dean saw as his duty as older brother. Whatever scared him, and Dean would take care of it. Whoever bothered him, and Dean would show them who was who. Whatever he wanted that Dean had, and it was his. But any previous joy he’d felt in successfully reaching Aunt Sissy was doused by the stain beneath his brother’s head and the face his brother would not show him.
His hands hung at his sides. He could feel something working its way up from his chest. Feel the heat behind his eyes that wanted to spill out. Dean could not save him this time, Dean could not make this better. He had to make this better for Dean.
“I got hold of Aunt Sissy, Dean,” he said, his voice low. “Told her everything before they found me.”
Dean grunted, in a way that might have been agreement. Or acknowledgement.
“She’ll find Dad. One of them will come and get us.”
Dean grunted again, the sound in his throat going up at the end. A question?
“I don’t know. However far it is from Longmont to Colby. Or Vernon to Colby.”
“Hours,” said Dean, startling Sammy.
“Yeah, I don’t know,” said Sammy. “Five or six?”
There was a low, throaty sound which might have been Dean agreeing or swallowing. The stain on the pillow was spreading a little, and was dark. Sammy knew that when you got smashed in the head, it bled a lot.
Aunt Sissy or Dad (maybe both) were on their way. Sammy wished Aunt Sissy were there already. Dad, hopefully, would arrive after Aunt Sissy, because he was liable to tell Dean to sit up and buck up, and put some awful herb on Dean’s cuts to stop the bleeding. Aunt Sissy, on the other hand—
What would Aunt Sissy do?
Sammy looked around the room. There were two metal beds attached to the wall, each with a blanket, a sheet, and a pillow. There was a sink at one end of the room, and above that, a barred window. A trashcan sat under the sink. And alongside the sink, hanging on a loop of metal, was a washcloth and a hand towel. Sammy almost smiled as he walked over to it and started the water on cold. The colder the better. He put the washcloth under the running water, and let it run for a minute. Then he twisted it out. Folded it in his hands as he turned back to Dean.
“I’ll be the Aunt Sissy, Dean, an’ you—”
Dean snorted, and then hissed. But he rolled over and tried to sit up, not looking at his brother as Sammy saw what the orderlies had done. They’d smashed him up, alright, the whole side of his face was darkening into a bruise. A slice along his forehead was streaming blood past his ear, and his mouth was swollen as though someone had punched it directly. He was holding one hand close to his chest, propping himself up with the other. All of his knuckles were raw.
“You’re gonna need a bed sheet,” said Dean, showing the blood on his teeth. “Besides, Aunt Sissy you will never be. You don’t smell like roses.”
Sammy found himself remembering that smell, the thick sweetness of roses when Aunt Sissy would hug him. The trace of it on his skin where she’d pet his face. The scented candle in the bathroom, unlit but opened, making the girly room so girly, he’d not liked it at the time. But now, in this dank, grey room with Dean, bleeding all over himself, he wanted—
“Hand me that, an’ don’t cry,” said Dean.
“I’m not gonna.”
“Yeah, you are, now give me that.”
Dean snatched the washcloth out of his hands and placed it against the side of his head as Sammy felt two hot tears slip down his face. He wanted nothing more than to sink to his heels, and fold his arms around his head. But Dean was grimacing as he held the cloth there, and so Sammy scrubbed his eyes with the back of his hand, and reached out to take the washcloth. Dean’s eyes widened a bit when he did this, but said nothing as Sammy folded the cloth as he’d seen Aunt Sissy do, and wiped the blood from Dean’s forehead.
“Don’t—” he began. That meant: Don’t scrub across the cut like Dad does.
Sammy shook his head. “I won’t.”
He wiped Dean’s forehead, and then refolded the cloth to blot around the cut itself. He let the cold cloth sit on the bruise on Dean’s face, and then realized his hand was shaking.
“Gonna rinse this out,” he said. It was what Aunt Sissy would have done.
He ran the cold water again, twisted the washcloth, and hurried back to Dean. The blood on his forehead was clotted and still, the bruise darkened to full purple.
“Look at your hands,” said Sammy.
“I’ll do it,” said Dean, snagging the washcloth.
Sammy tried to reach for it, but Dean shrugged him off with an elbow.
“I said I’ll do it. You just quit lookin’ at me like that, okay?”
His eyes felt hot again, as he sat down next to Dean, who was using the washcloth to wipe at his knuckles.
“Go sit on your own bed,” said Dean. He had the washcloth balled up in his hand and was using it on the back of his neck. “And don’t look at me. At all.”
It was all Sammy could do to keep his mouth still as he got up and stomped over to the other bed. He lay down on the bed and faced the wall and screwed his eyes shut tight. Kicked off his sneakers, not caring where they landed. Breathed in and out, counted to a hundred and back again, ignoring Dean the whole time. Felt the evening slip into night while the pounding in his heart slowed. If Dean wanted to be bait ever again, then he, Sammy, would wait in another room. Another town. Another state if he could. Steve McQueen was an asshole, as was anyone who wanted to be like him.
It was dark when he woke up, feeling the body slip into the bed behind him. Feeling Dean’s heartbeat as he settled himself on the pillow. Not touching Sammy, but there, in the dark, breath slowing into sleep. That meant: I’m sorry. Thanks for tryin’.
It was midmorning the next day when they were escorted from their little cell into the visiting room, where the clean and shining form of Aunt Sissy greeted them from the other side of a wooden table. She was pleased to see them, Sammy could tell by her smile, that she wanted to hug them in spite of the sign telling her she could not, but it only took her one second of looking at Dean before the smile turned into that scowl she’d so often aimed in Dad’s direction.
She slammed her purse down as Sammy and Dean sat in the chairs across from her on the other side of the table. There were two other families in the visiting room, so when she leaned close to talk to them, the boys leaned close, as well.
“What the hell happened to you?” The words fell like cement blocks on the table.
They couldn’t even pretend to make like they didn’t know what she meant. Dean’s bruises looked worse in the light of day than they had last night.
“Who did this to you?”
Sammy started to open his mouth to say it was his fault, when Dean smacked him on the arm.
“I was bait, Aunt Sissy, so Sammy could get to the phone.”
“They wouldn’t give you a single phone call?” Her voice rose to the ceiling, propriety be damned.
“It’s not a prison, Aunt Sissy,” said Dean. “They don’t have to. Besides, Dad said—”
“I don’t give a shit what your dad said.” The words spat against the tabletop. “Whose ridiculous idea was it to have you be bait? What, did you just let yourself get beat up while Sammy called me collect?”
Dean nodded. So did Sammy. It all had made so much sense yesterday, but looking at it through Aunt Sissy’s eyes put a different spin on it.
“I wanted to be bait, Aunt Sissy,” said Sammy, ignoring Dean as he rolled his eyes at this possibility. “They wouldnta hurt me. As bad. But Dean said no.”
“Oh, for Christ sake.” She covered her eyes with her hands and rocked into the palms.
“Don’t be mad, Aunt Sissy,” said Dean, his voice shaking in a way Sammy could not remember hearing. “Please don’t be mad, it was the only way—”
Her hands fell to the table and she looked at him. “But your face, my sweet Dean, have you seen it? It looks like someone took a baseball bat to it.”
It took a few seconds for the hairs on the back of Sammy’s neck to stand up when Dean didn’t answer. And only a few more seconds for Aunt Sissy to be on her feet, face white, eyes sparking as though someone had taken a flint to them. There wasn’t even time to take blink as she marched to the door and swung it open, and even from where he sat, Sammy could hear the hiss as she drew in a huge breath.
“It wasn’t a baseball bat, Aunt Sissy, it was just a—”
“MISTER CLARKE,” shouted Aunt Sissy, loud enough for her voice to come bouncing back into the room. “I would like a WORD with YOU.”
Someone showed up in the doorway just as the door closed, his reply to Aunt Sissy’s summons cut off. But then, they could hear her shouting again, and a thump, and then something loud. And then silence. Aunt Sissy’s purse sat on the table. Sammy looked at it, and then at his brother.
“Is she coming back?” he asked.
Dean shook his head. “I dunno.” His eyes never left the door.
They waited five minutes. Then ten. Then almost twenty before Sammy reached out to touch Aunt Sissy’s purse.
“She wouldn’t leave it,” said Dean, now looking at Sammy. “Let’s go.”
They got up and Dean took the purse, just as the door opened and in walked one of the orderlies. Nameless, as they all were, the name on the badge too small to read properly, the blank lines of his face not telling them anything they could use.
“Where’s our Aunt Sissy?” asked Dean.
The orderly was reaching for the purse, so Dean handed it back to Sammy, who took it and held it behind his back.
“You boys come with me,” said the orderly.
“We want our Aunt Sissy,” said Dean. “She’s come for us, where is she?”
Sammy could feel himself nodding in agreement, but his heart was thumping too hard in his throat to allow him to say anything.
“Your Aunt Sissy is going and leaving you here and she wants her purse, so hand it over.”
“No,” said Dean.
Sammy shook his head no, now, to help out.
The orderly was tall and his arms were long and in a second, he’d pushed Dean out of the way and snatched Sammy up, purse and all. Sammy tried kicking and pulling away, but the orderly had him in a lock so hard, his chest felt like it was being crushed.
“Let the purse go, Sammy,” said Dean, his eyes wide, the skin under the bruise turning white. “Just let it go. We’ll find another way.”
Sammy gave the orderly one good kick and then let go of the purse. The orderly dropped him, hard, and looked like he wanted to deliver a smack as well, so Sammy skittered back out of the way. Behind the wall of his brother, looking up at the orderly, feeling the boil of hate rise up inside of him.
“You boys get to the games room, and mind your manners or you’ll find yourselves with more days in detention than you’d care to count.”
The orderly folded the purse under his arm and stalked away.
“I wouldn’t care,” said Dean, tugging on Sammy’s arm to lead him down the hallway.
“Me either,” said Sammy.
Dean grunted. That meant: Oh sure. You’d be cryin’ like a baby if it lasted longer than a day or a night.
Sammy frowned, feeling the tumble as his breath came back and his anger refocused on Dean.
Then Dean snorted. “Never mind, we’ll be outta here soon.”
“Hopefully before lunch,” said Sammy.
“You’ll eat it anyway,” said Dean.
Sammy knew he would. He had to. When they broke out, it might be miles and miles of walking before they were able to hook up with anyone who could take them to Dad.
Just as they got to the games room, the bell sounded for lunch. Sammy felt hungry, but at the same time, he didn’t want to eat. Aunt Sissy had left them inside of the grey and metal building, with the green walls and terrible food. Why would she do that? Did she not like him anymore? Had Dean’s bruises been too much for her?
As they got in line for their plates, Dean jabbed him in the ribs.
“Just knock it off, okay? She didn’t just leave us here. It’s something else.”
“How do you know?” asked Sammy, hearing the pout in his own voice. Not liking it.
Dean reached up for two trays and gave Sammy one. They went through the line and let the cafeteria attendants pile their trays with food. The same food as yesterday. Then they sat down at a nearly empty table.
“Eat your lunch,” Dean said.
“I don’t think I can.”
He watched as Dean began forking the creamed corn into his mouth. It was so gooey, it looked like it was cold.
“I really don’t think I can.”
Dean looked up, almost smiling. “I know what you want.”
“You want Aunt Sissy to take you to that place. With the French fries. Remember?”
“Which French fries?”
“The greasy ones, they were so greasy they were limp.”
“With the gravy to dip them in?”
Now Sammy remembered. It had been on the last day in the mountains, the day Dad’s bandages had come off. They’d all gone celebrating at some burger place near the gate where the park rangers took money for going into the forest. Dad had remarked that it was a nice treat, because of course, he hadn’t known that his boys had been eating that way for days. They’d all gotten cheeseburgers and then the French fries had come out in a basket, piled so high that some spilled onto the table when the waitress had laid the basket down. And, wonder of wonders, she’d placed a large bowl of white gravy next to the basket. Dad had wanted to know if the gravy was extra, but Aunt Sissy had shushed him to never mind that now. Dad had shushed, and it had been fun to see him do as he was told, the way they always had to do as they were told. Probably no one else could have gotten away with it, but Aunt Sissy could. Then she’d given the boys a look that seemed to say check me out, bossing your dad around. Which had made both Dean and Sammy snicker, which they did on and off during the meal, and especially each time Aunt Sissy spoke to Dad, either to remind him to use his napkin or to take his elbows off the table.
It hadn’t lasted past the meal, but it had been fun. Which had made it even harder to say goodbye to Aunt Sissy afterwards. They’d driven back to the motel and helped her pack up her car, and then she’d stood next to it, looking at them, while Dad stood in the open doorway. Keys in her hand, mouth drawn down into a frown like she sometimes got. She was wearing the jeans she’d won on the day she’d arrived, and they had a bloodstain from Dad’s leg on them that she seemed not to notice. It was right at her waist, and Sammy made himself stare at it instead of at her face, because if she was going to be sad, then he was going to be sad. And then, after she left, Dad would probably yell at him. But, if it was possible, Dean looked worse than Sammy felt. His face was long and drawn, like something was pulling at him from the inside. Or like his mouth tasted bad. Like someone had smacked him and it had just stabbed at him. And would again. And would forever. Then he’d walked up and hugged her, which meant that Sammy could too, because Dad couldn’t really say anything if both Dean and Sammy had gotten soft.
Aunt Sissy’s returning hugs had been hard and fast and then she’d jumped in the car and driven off as fast as she could, spitting gravel from underneath her tires.
“Time to clean up and pack up, boys,” Dad had said. As if Aunt Sissy had never been there, and they must be on their way.
“Those were some good fries,” said Dean now.
“I still don’t want to eat that—” Sammy gave his tray a shove. “I’m not eating that crap.”
Dean raised his eyebrows in mock shock at his brother’s language, but then he winced.
“Don’t do that,” said Sammy.
The door at the far end of the dining hall opened. Someone walked in wearing a suit and a tie and no name badge. He was carrying a clipboard, and stood a head taller than the orderly at the door.
“Winchester boys,” the man barked. “Come with me.”
Dean froze. “Jeezus, it’s Dad.”
Sammy had to look again. Yeah, it was. The suit had thrown him off, and the tie, and the neat part in the man’s hair. And he was clean-shaven.
They got up, trying not to hurry, and dumped their trays at the counter. They walked up to him. Sammy tipped his head back to take in the unaccustomed vision of his dad wearing a tie.
“Look sad,” Dad said, muttering down at them. He consulted his clipboard in a loud way as he escorted them to the door. “Being transferred, I see, for causing too much trouble.”
He nodded at the orderly at the door, the orderly nodded back, and Sammy and Dean followed him through the doorway, heads down, looking as contrite as they could. Sammy concentrated extra hard. He wanted out, and didn’t want to screw it up.
“Dad,” said Dean.
“Be quiet,” said Dad.
Dad’s black shoes made clicking noises on the polished floor.
Dad stopped. His glare at Dean felt like bullets, even if they weren’t aimed at Sammy.
“I told you to be quiet.”
“But Aunt Sissy’s here,” said Sammy.
The glare was aimed at him now. He shrank back behind Dean.
“Well, she was here,” said Dean. “She went out of the visiting room shouting and left her purse.”
The glare disappeared, and Sammy felt his chest relax. At least Dad was listening now.
“She never came back for her purse?” asked Dad, bending close.
Dean shook his head. “No, but they took it.”
“I thought that was her car in the parking lot,” said Dad. Then he straightened up.
“Okay,” he said. “Stay close.”
He lifted the clipboard up high again and they marched down the hallway as they had before, towards the front office. When they got there, an orderly sat behind the desk. It was one that neither Sammy or Dean had seen before, which seemed to be the way of the detention center, there were no repeats.
“I’m looking for Ramona Blessing,” said Dad, his voice strong and powerful. “I understand she was here this morning?”
The orderly checked the book in front of him. “She was, but we had to lock her up.”
“Lock her up?” asked Dad.
Sammy felt the yelp inside of him gather itself up to be released, but then Dean stepped hard on his toe. Sammy glared at him, but kept quiet. If Aunt Sissy was locked up, they would have to get her out. It would be scary, but at least Dad was here. He would take care of it.
“I need her released to me,” said Dad.
“Mr. Forbes, I don’t know who you’re with—”
“Social Services of Denver,” said Dad.
“Okay, Social Services, fine, but she’s under arrest for assaulting an employee of the United States government.”
“Assaulting?” asked Dad. His eyebrows went up in his forehead. Dean and Sammy looked at each other, and Sammy could feel his own amazement reflected in Dean’s face. “What do you mean, assaulting?”
“Evidently she attacked Mr. Clarke, and landed several punches before being subdued. We’ve got her handcuffed in detention room number two.”
Now Sammy yelped. He could not help it, and was grateful when Dean did not reprimand him with a smack or a jab.
“You can release her to me, I’ll take care of it.”
“Sorry Mr. Forbes, but we’ve called the local sheriff to come and get her. She’s under arrest, like I said.”
“And I say,” said Dad, echoing the snotty way the orderly spoke, “that you are going to take us to detention room number two right now.”
Dad reached behind him with his free hand and pulled a 45 pistol from the waistband of his pants. With his thumb, he clicked off the safety loud enough for everyone to hear it. Then he laid the clipboard on the desk so he could cock the gun.
The orderly looked like he wanted to say no, but with one quick reach, Dad placed the barrel of the pistol against the orderly’s forehead.
“And the keys to unlock her,” said Dad, as if all of this were a foregone conclusion.
The orderly’s forehead was slick with sweat and his eyes looked glassy, the way Sammy had seen sometimes when people weren’t used to guns. Sammy couldn’t really blame him because Dad had that look on his face that he sometimes got when you got the feeling he didn’t care who he hurt, as long as he got his way. Sammy swallowed a shiver.
The orderly was reaching into a drawer in his desk.
But they had to hurry, even Sammy knew that, for who knew who else might come along and screw everything up.
Dean leaned close. “They’re all at lunch, Sammy, don’t worry.”
“Dean get the door keys. Sammy, you get the handcuff keys.”
The boys did as they were told. This separation of keys was so that when it came down to it, there would be no confusion as to who was to do what.
Dad kept the gun to the orderly’s head, and the orderly led them out of the processing office. Then Dad slipped the gun down to the orderly’s side, in case anyone else was in the hallway. But there was no one, and Dad’s shoes clicked on the floor at a fast pace that matched the hammering of Sammy’s heart.
“This it?” asked Dad, when the orderly stopped in front of a metal door. It looked a lot like the door behind which Dean and Sammy had been locked the night before.
“Yeah,” said the orderly, sounding as hoarse as if he’d just run a mile.
Dean slammed the keys in the lock and pulled the door open so hard that it almost hit him, and then smacked loudly against the wall. Dad gave Dean a glare and then shoved the orderly in front of him into the room. There were so many bodies in such a small space, that all Sammy could see were backs and the walls and the edge of a table. It was not the same room that he and Dean had spent the night in the night before, except for the walls being the same green color, and there being a barred window along the far wall.
A gap appeared between Dad and the orderly, and he felt Dean pushing him forward. There was Aunt Sissy, sitting in a chair at a metal table, her purse on the table next to her. Her hair had pulled itself out of the ponytail, and went everywhichway like she’d just gotten out of bed. Her t-shirt was ripped at the neckline, and there was a dark smudge along her jaw. And she was handcuffed to the table.
“Sammy,” she said, “oh, Sammy.”
He moved forward as fast as he could, fingers tightening around the keys, working them into the tiny keyhole as well as he could, his heart shaking. His hands shaking. Little stiff jabs marking time behind his eyes, which felt hot enough to burn in. He knew he couldn’t have taken very long, but it seemed that he did because when he felt the cuffs fall away from her wrists, he felt a hand on his collar, jerking him back. It was Dad, face darkened because he looked mad enough to start hollering, maybe even deliver a smack or two to make a point. But instead, he handed the gun to Dean, who held it on the orderly, and pulled Aunt Sissy out of the chair with one long move, and then shoved the orderly down. Snapped the handcuffs on his wrists, and took up the purse to give to Aunt Sissy. But it seemed she wouldn’t, or couldn’t take it, so he tucked it in the curve of her elbow, and then tucked Aunt Sissy inside the curve of his shoulder.
“It’s gonna be okay,” he said.
Dean nodded at her, and then put the safety the gun as he eased it down.
Which is when she started to cry.
“Don’t be scared, Aunt Sissy,” said Sammy, slipping his hand into hers. “Dad’ll get us out of here.”
“Who’s Aunt Sissy,” said the orderly, looking up at them.
“I am, you bastard,” said Aunt Sissy, sounding like she was choking. Then she reached out smacked the orderly across the face. “How DARE you treat these boys this way, HOW D—”
“Time to go,” said Dad, pulling her back.
Her hand was pulled from Sammy’s and it was all they could do to match Dad’s pace as he hustled them down the hall, through the front office. At the far end of the hall, people were spilling out from the cafeteria, and Sammy tugged at Dad’s suitjacket and pointed.
“Okay, Sammy,” said Dad. “Get the door.”
They stopped long enough so that Dad could rip a page out of the registration book at the front desk. Then they walked out the front door, and Dad kept their pace in the direction of the Impala to a walk so as not to attract attention.
“What about my car?” asked Aunt Sissy, wiping her face.
“We’ll get it later,” said Dad. “We need to lay low for a while.”
Sammy knew what she was thinking, that her car might get towed. But the parking lot was full of cars. No one would notice if hers was there for a while. He wanted to say this to her, and hurried to walk beside her. But when she looked down at him, she started to cry again.
“Get in the back, Dean,” said Dad, reaching in his pocket for the keys. “Sammy you too.”
He escorted Aunt Sissy to the passenger seat and Sammy could see that she was shaking from head to foot. When they were all in, Dean put the gun under the driver’s seat, and Dad started up the engine, and drove out of the parking lot and down the road at what he liked to refer to as a stately speed, the kind that would bring them to the attention of exactly nobody.
“Did you get a room last night anywhere?” Dad asked Aunt Sissy when the Interstate came into view.
She pointed, and Sammy could hear her sniff. “The Super 8,” she said.
“Good and cheap,” Dad said, wheeling into the parking lot. “We can hole up there and get your car back come dark.”
“I’m not a convict on the run, you know,” she said. Her profile as she turned to face Dad, looked hard, in spite of the tear marks streaking her face. “I had every right to—”
“You don’t,” said Dad. “You can’t strike a government official, let alone two, and expect nothing to happen. Even my boys know that.” He put the car in park and turned off the engine.
“Your BOYS—” began Aunt Sissy, taking a deep breath.
“Not now, Aunt Sissy,” said Dad. “Besides which, you were an accomplice in taking Sam and Dean out of the hands of the same aforementioned government officials.”
“It’s not a jail, Dad,” said Dean.
“Shut up, Dean,” said Dad. “So, Aunt Sissy, I’d say you’re a wanted woman. And, being wanted, you need to lay low. For a while.” His voice softened. “Just until dark, okay? Then you can go home.”
“I’m not driving across Kansas in the dark,” she said. “There’s herds of deer roaming around and I could hit one. I almost did last night coming in.”
“Dean and Sammy, out.” This came out as a bark, and as the boys did as they were told, they could see Dad lean in close, looking up at her. Trying to be nice. “I’m sure the boys are hungry. I know what kind of food those places serve. Could you help me find a good place to eat?”
“Don’t you patronize me, John Winchester,” they heard. “I have every right to be furious. Have you seen the condition of your sons? Have you seen Dean’s face?”
“Okay,” said Dad. “You’re right. But could we please not attract attention in the parking lot by shouting about it?”
This settled her as nothing else had seemed to. She got out of the car, purse in hand, her eyes going to Sammy and Dean right away. She ducked her head to wipe her face, and Sammy let the explosion in his heart move him forward to slam himself into her. Arms going around her waist, burying his head in her side. She smelled nothing at all like she’d been handcuffed to a table, or that she’d gotten into a fight and punched some guy out. No, she smelled like her house, like roses and tea with cream, and fresh air. Or maybe that was just the Kansas wind whipping through her hair.
Her hands wrapped around him, and he looked up at her as she pushed his hair back from his forehead. “Sammy,” she said. Her eyes were damp. She reached for Dean, who took her other hand.
“Don’t cry, Aunt Sissy,” said Dean. “Or you’ll get ole waterspout here going.”
“’m not a waterspout, Dean,” said Sammy, tucking his head to glare.
“Inside,” said Dad. “Can we get inside. Now?”
Dean, not to be outdone, folded himself in the curve of Aunt Sissy’s other arm, so she could touch his head too, and look down at him and smile.
Dad moved them inside as fast as he could, given that Aunt Sissy had to be forced to let go of both her boys to get the key card from her pocket to unlock the door to her room. Dad looked like he approved of the fact that it was on the first floor, but he didn’t say anything, and Sammy was glad, because it would upset Aunt Sissy to think that even the motel room she picked would have to answer to some criteria that implied that danger was at hand.
Once in the room, Dean dashed from Aunt Sissy’s side to throw himself on one of the neatly made queen beds.
“A bed, a real bed,” he shouted.
“Dean, pipe down.” This from Dad as he propped himself on the edge of the same bed.
Aunt Sissy went over to Dean, and bent close to touch his face.
“You need a butterfly bandage and some aspirin,” she said.
“Naw, I don’t need nothin’,” said Dean, but there was a catch in his voice that told Sammy that he was willing to submit to any care Aunt Sissy might be handing out.
“This time,” said Aunt Sissy, “I came prepared.”
And indeed she had the first aid box she pulled out of her suitcase was brand new, never been opened. She tore off the plastic and got what she needed, motioning Dean to sit up as she came back over to him.
“You’re spoiling those boys,” said Dad, shaking his head, but not stopping her.
“They deserve to be spoiled,” she replied. “Sammy, you can help me. Hold this.”
She gave him the butterfly bandage to hold, still in its wrapping, and a little tube of antibiotic cream. Then she opened a little cloth that unfolded, which she used to clean the rest of the blood from Dean’s face. Then Sammy handed her the cream, and watched as she spread it with great care around the cut on Dean’s forehead. Lastly, he handed her the bandage, which she opened and laid into place.
“Get me a glass of water for your brother,” she said, and Sammy ran to do this while she got a bottle of aspirin from her purse
“Take these,” she said, handing two white pills to Dean.
Dean took the pills and drank the water and this, at last seemed to satisfy Aunt Sissy. Then she sat in one of the armchairs that was beside the little round table in the corner. She leaned over to pat the other one, and looked at Sammy. A grownup chair? For him? He was grinning, and he should not have been, for a second later, he was thwacked with a pillow thrown by Dean.
“They’ve been cooped up too long,” said Aunt Sissy.
“Maybe a hike is in order,” said Dad, looking at each of them in turn.
Sammy could not quell his wiggle of pleasure. It was okay now. Aunt Sissy was here. And while she was, Dad was not in charge. There would be no hike. Not today.
“I need to freshen up,” said Aunt Sissy. Her hand went to the neckline of her t-shirt as if she wanted to pull the jagged ends together. “Will you boys be alright with the TV if I leave you to it?”
“Yes, Aunt Sissy,” they all said together.
She got some things out of her suitcase and went into the bathroom, and the shower started running. Dean reached for the clicker and turned the TV on. Now Sammy had to move and lie down on the bed next to Dean to see the TV. It was good to stretch out, to have Dad pat his leg before standing to look down at them both.
“You did good, getting that call through,” said Dad.
“Dean threw himself on the grenade, Dad,” said Sammy.
“So I see.” Dad paused. “I hope you gave as good as you got.”
Sammy turned his head to look at his brother. He could see that Dean’s eyes were shining with pleasure.
“Sammy made the phone call,” said Dean, obviously feeling generous. “Collect an’ everything.”
Then came the nod in Sammy’s direction. He tried not to smile, but failed.
“Jeezus, I’m beat,” said Dad now. He moved to the other bed and lay down on it, and Sammy let himself be lulled by the slow breathing that started up almost right away. Then from Dean too, the clicker falling from his hand to land on Sammy’s leg, a deep, quiet breathing while the air conditioner kicked on and hummed at them. Sammy took a good, deep breath of the cool air. Listened to the shower run. And then didn’t wake up till Aunt Sissy stood beside the bed, neat and tidy, her hand on his shoulder, giving him a little shake.
“Who’s for fried chicken,” she whispered to him. “I know this little place not twenty minutes along the highway.”
“Do they have French fries?” he asked, opening his eyes right away.
She leaned close to kiss him on the forehead. Then she sat down next to him. “Oh my, yes. The very best.”
“And chocolate shakes?” This from Dean who could wake up faster than anyone Sammy knew.
“And strawberry,” she said, reaching over Sammy to pat Dean on the arm. “And if we’re lucky, Fred’s homemade chocolate cake will be on the menu.”
“You shouldn’t coddle those boys,” said Dad, his voice still sleepy.
“You don’t have to come, John Winchester,” said Aunt Sissy with a snap. “That’ll leave more for everyone else.”
“Nag, nag, nag,” said Dad, sitting up. He swung his legs to land his feet on the floor and scraped the hair back from his eyes with both hands. Then he looked at her. “Sometimes I wish I’d never invented you.”
“Oh, don’t say that, Dad,” said Sammy, throwing himself upon her, his arms almost choking her. “Don’t ever say that!”
“She’s not gonna disappear, Sammy, don’t be such a baby.” This from Dean who looked like he wanted to throw himself on Aunt Sissy, too.
“Well you did invent and so here I am.” She patted Sammy’s arms as they clung around her neck. “But your puny powers no longer have any control over me.” This made her snigger as she stood up and reached under Sammy’s arms to pull him off the bed to land him on his feet. “C’mon, let’s go. Being a criminal on the land has me hungry.”
“On the lam, Aunt Sissy,” said Dean, rolling to his feet. “On the lam.”
“Lam. Okay. Right. So who’s driving?”
Dad jingled the keys in his pocket, Aunt Sissy made sure she had her purse and hotel key, and they headed out to the parking lot and the Impala. She wanted to sit in the back with Dean, so Sammy got to sit in front and help Dad navigate.
“Twenty minutes down the highway, Aunt Sissy said,” Sammy told him.
“Which way?” Dad asked. “East or West?”
Aunt Sissy whispered the directions in Sammy’s ear, and he told Dad where to go. Where to turn. When they pulled into the parking lot of Al’s Chickenette restaurant, he got another nod from Dad. That meant: Job well done.
They were quickly seated at one of the wooden tables, and ordered their drinks, chocolate shakes for the boys, and coke for Aunt Sissy and Dad. She told them what was good on the menu, and after they had ordered and the menus were taken away, she folded her hands on the table and gave them all a serious look.
“We might as well talk about this now. Since we’re in a public place, it will keep us all from shouting.”
“Keep you from shouting, you mean,” said Dad.
“And you,” she said. “You shout too, I’ve heard you.”
Dad sighed. “Fair enough. So what’s the problem? The boy are out, no one’s in jail. We’ll get your car back, and everything will be fine.”
“Until the next time you become separated from your boys. What would have happened had they not been able to get hold of me? They could not remember the name of the motel you were in. They could barely remember the name of the town. I had to call practically all of the hotels in Vernon before I reached you.”
Sammy heard Dean’s indrawn hiss as they both tried to slouch down in their chairs.
“And don’t you glare at them,” said Aunt Sissy, snapping her fingers at Dad. This only made him madder, but she was fearless. “You obviously have no plan in place for something like this, in spite of it not being the first time.
Oddly, this made Dad relax, made the scowl ease from his face. “I see what you’re getting at.”
“Bet you thought I was going to yell at you for handing a fourteen year old a pistol,” she laughed, putting her face in her hands. “Oh, my lord. A pistol to a fourteen year old.” Then she looked up at Dad, still half-laughing, but still worked up. “Please don’t get me started about how Dean handled that gun like no fourteen year old should be able to.”
“He did pretty good, didn’t he,” said Dad.
“Or how Sammy knew how to unlock a pair of handcuffs.”
“He gets faster every time,” said Dad.
Sammy’s joy at Dad’s pride sat at odds with Aunt Sissy’s worry about the whole gun and handcuff thing.
“Don’t worry, Aunt Sissy,” he said. “Dad didn’t give me my first 45 until I was nine.”
For some reason, this did not help. Aunt Sissy’s jaw dropped and she went white.
“John Winchester,” she said to Dad, like she was accusing him. “What in the world were you thinking?”
“But I learned how to shoot when I was six. Like Dean did.” Sammy nodded at her, knowing that this would settle the matter. She shouldn’t worry. They knew what they were doing.
“Shut up, Sammy,” said Dad. “Please, for once in your life, just shut up.”
“Shutting him up is not going to change facts, you know,” she said, letting her voice drop as the waiter came over with their food. There were several baskets of fries, bowls of gravy, a platter of biscuits, and a mound of fried chicken in front of each of them. For a few minutes, they were all silent, passing each other the butter or the honey with only gestures and pokes. Sammy could hear Dean moaning as he ate.
After a bit, when Dad had polished off most of his chicken, he began buttering some rolls and putting honey on them. Sammy liked to watch him do this, liked the way he managed not to get honey anywhere but where he wanted it. And, as always, one of the buttered rolls was for him. The other was for Dean.
“So tell me what facts you want to change. I won’t change the way I’m raising my boys, so it can’t be that.” Dad handed the rolls out to each boy.
“Alright,” said Aunt Sissy, taking a sip of her coke. “Your boys are small warriors, and I’ll take that as a given. But you don’t have a plan B. You don’t have a backup plan.”
“Yes, and here’s an example. Both times your boys called me, they called collect. I don’t mind the charges, but I think they ought to have a cell phone to make calls on, so that the next time there isn’t a phone available, Dean doesn’t have to be bait. And Sammy doesn’t have to stand by and watch him be bait.”
“Yeah, I hear you, but I thought you didn’t believe in cell phones.”
“Sometimes they are necessary, but quit interrupting. Second, they didn’t know where you were.”
Dad was nonplussed at this. “I left them at the motel while I went hunting, so of course they couldn’t say exactly where I was. It was safer for them that way. I thought you, of all people, would appreciate that.”
“I do,” she said. She paused a moment to dip some French fries in the gravy on her plate. Then she used the fries to point at Dad. “But Sammy couldn’t tell me the name of the motel you were in.”
“He couldn’t?” Now Dad was glaring at Sammy, who wanted to sink even further into his seat.
“Even if you told him, even if he saw the sign with the name of the motel on it, he’s ten. He’d been absconded by government officials, and shoved in some horrible black hole. How could you expect him to remember, especially with all the places you stay at?”
Dad had no answer for this. Instead he looked at each of his boys as they chewed through their rolls with honey. Sammy had to look away, though he knew that Dean still had the guts to meet Dad’s eye.
“So what do you suggest?” he asked, lifting his head to look at Aunt Sissy.
“Very simple. If you ever get separated, you should always plan to meet up at the first motel in the phone book. Register under the same assumed name each time, so you will always know that it’s one of you.”
“What if we’re not in the same town any more?” asked Dad.
Aunt Sissy threw up her hands. “Then you’re on your own. Use a magic spell or something. Or plan on going back to the last town where you were together, and do the same thing. First motel in the phone book. Even a ten year old under duress can remember that much, because it never changes.” She made a scoffing sound at Dad and then started eating her fries.
Dad was quiet as he buttered a roll and put honey on it. Then he handed it to Aunt Sissy.
“You’re right,” he said. “You’re so right. I’m glad I invented you.”
She took the roll and bit into it, smiling. Then, talking over her food, she said, “But you still have no control over me and that’s what gets you. Admit it.”
“Yep,” said Dad. He was trying to be stern, but Sammy could see the smile fighting its way to Dad’s mouth. “Okay, boys, we’ve got a new rule, courtesy of Aunt Sissy. First motel in the phone book if we ever get separated.”
“Two new rules, Dad,” said Dean, licking his fingers. “We have to get cell phones.”
“Smart ass,” said Dad.
Dean only smiled and reached for some of Sammy’s fries.
“Dean!” Sammy reached out and smacked the back of Dean’s hand. The fries went everywhere.
“Okay, that’s it.” Dad reached into his pocket for his wallet, but while he was doing this, Aunt Sissy grabbed the bill.
“I win,” she said, waving it at him. Then she signaled for the waiter.
“Aunt Sissy, give that to me.” This from Dad and in that voice that usually had either of his boys shaking in their sneakers. He even reached for the bill, but she only smiled and stood up to be out of arm’s length. She paid the waiter standing up, and left the tip money on the table, and began to walk out of the restaurant. Dean got up and followed her, and Sammy followed Dean. There was nothing Dad could do but get up and leave too.
Outside, the sun was going down and as they stood next to the Impala, Sammy realized that they would have to be leaving soon. Dad sometimes liked to start out at night, besides which, he wasn’t likely to stay in a town where there was nothing to hunt, even if Aunt Sissy was there.
“I guess you’ll be taking me back to my car now, huh?” asked Aunt Sissy, her words coming out like there was something in her throat.
“Looks like it,” said Dad. He turned to look at his boys and shook his head. That meant: Don’t make a scene.
Both boys were silent as they got in the Impala, where Dean allowed Sammy to sit in the back with Aunt Sissy. She held his hand during the short drive to the parking lot of the detention center, where Aunt Sissy’s car sat alone under one of the tall lights. There were other cars in the parking lot, but they were closer to the building.
They got out. Aunt Sissy was clenching her purse very hard, and her fingers were shaking.
“A quick goodbye then,” she said. “Till I see you again. Which doesn’t have to be an emergency, right?”
Dad nodded, and the night fell silent around them as the sun set and the wind picked up. Aunt Sissy gave them each a hug. First Dad, who gave her a squeeze, and patted her on the back. Then Dean, who seemed to melt inside of her arms, and who tried to hide his smile but failed when she kissed him on the top of his head. And then she hugged Sammy, with arms so warm and safe, he wanted to stay there forever. And a kiss too, which she placed on his cheek and whispered a soft goodbye meant just for him. Then Dad pulled him back so Aunt Sissy could be on her way. She got into her car, started it up, and drove off, headed west towards Longmont, without looking back.
Sammy felt the tears slip down his face, then, but he did not let himself make a sound. Not a single one, not while getting in the back seat of the car listening to Dad and Dean talk about where they were headed next. He didn’t want Dean, who was sitting in the front seat next to Dad, to call him a baby or a waterspout. He didn’t let Dad’s eye catch his, not wanting the lecture on being tough. He wiped at his face with the back of his sleeve as Dad drove out of the parking lot. He wanted Aunt Sissy here, he wanted her now. Instead he had only the back seat of the Impala, with its lumps of backpacks and half empty water bottles, the metal frame surging as the car raced up the onramp to the highway.
He lay down and reached with his hand into the darkness that was his duffle bag. Dug till he found the purple shirt, which looked black beneath the dog that seemed to glow, and folded it under his head. Stared up through the passenger window and felt his tears dry as they made their way into his ears. It was darker now that he was lying down, though he could see the flash of lights on their poles as the Impala whizzed past them. He closed his eyes. Felt the flash of the passing lights through his eyelids. They were headed east into the darkness, into nowhere Sammy had ever wanted to go. Not without his Aunt Sissy. He turned on his side so he was facing the back seat and tried to imagine as he inhaled that the shirt still smelled like Aunt Sissy’s house. It was as close as he was going to get for a long, long time.