therapeutic thump

i like your moxie, sassafras!


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"Sunshine State" (4/4)
the arch of the eyebrows gives it away
innie_darling

He's got over a thousand dollars in the bank now, under his legal name. He's got a casually generous roommate, who always orders too much food and beer. He's got at least a dozen phone numbers on scraps of paper in his desk next to stacks of notecards and a ball made of rubber bands.

He looks up from the course catalogue on his lap to see Zach pointing at him. "First real bash of the year, and you and I are putting in an appearance," Zach says. He opens his mouth to protest, then realizes there's no reason to stay in his dorm room on a Thursday night. He gets off his bed and Zach high-fives him. "Wingman!" he crows.

The music is loud, the bass thumping, and the beer is ice-cold. He settles back against the wall, taking long pulls at his beer and watching Zach make his move on a girl whose chest size and hair color are equally unbelievable. The minute the girl puts her hand on his arm, Zach looks over with a grin, and Sam raises his Bud in a toast to his prowess.

He heads to the back of the frathouse, where he joins the crowd judging a wet t-shirt contest. The girls are tan and unabashed, and the guys shout their approval.

*

"Seriously, man, how many times a day does this show come on?" he asks, as the Law & Order theme music starts up again.

"Shut up, I don't think I've seen this one," Zach says, sounding exhausted, the sheets still tangled around him. "Wait, what are you eating?"

"Your sister dropped by this morning," he explains, licking the frosting off his fingers. "She made me a cake. Angel food, since I'm so sweet."

"You ate the whole thing? Bastard," Zach grumbles. "I like Bec's angel food cake too."

"She said you can have yours when we go to her place for dinner," he grins. "I'm going to the library. Meet you back here at six." He tosses the tupperware over to Zach. "I saved you a piece, man; what kind of roommate do you think I am?"

*

Becky has his chin in a vise grip. "Don't move," she orders, blowing on his cheek. "It's perfect. Look."

She spins him to face the mirror, and he angles his face to see the "SU" she's painted on his cheek in red and white. "Stop admiring yourself, Narcissus," she scolds, drawing hastily on her own face. "And Zach, get off my bed; if you get any paint on my bedspread, I'll kill you."

Sam is squeezed in between Zach and Jerry in the stands, and he can feel the roar of the crowd inside him; he goes along with the urge to yell and whoop and holler. He's jumping up and down and hugging everyone in reach when they win on a beautiful extra-point kick. He grins wide and bright when Becky turns her camera his way.

*

"You are the king, man," Zach says when Sam slides a new box of condoms under his bed, tossing the empty one in the trash.

He snorts and snags a Red Bull from the mini-fridge and tries to concentrate on his linguistics assignment. But it's hot and sticky and he could not care less about glottal stops. "Fuck it, man, I'm gonna go for a swim," he says.

He dives in and the water closes around him, comfortingly cool and heavy. He floats on his back, staring up at the bright overhead lights until he can only see black, and he keeps his eyes tightly closed as he begins his laps.

*

He burns, peels, and emerges tan from a week in the sun at Jerry's beach house. Jerry grills burgers while Sam builds a bonfire and the girls dance and clap when Zach and Ryan get back from another beer run. The firelight is soft and he sinks into the sand, happy and full. He feels like a different person in this new skin.

*

"It's not a birthday party, Sam!" Becky sounds exasperated. "It's an end-of-the-year party that happens to be the day before your birthday."

There's a flaw in her logic somewhere. "Why are you having it that day instead of the weekend after?"

"Because you'll be packing to move into the summer dorm and Zach and I'll be back in St. Louis, idiot." She turns back to her take-home final.

He looks down at his notes on Savonarola, pen hovering over the half-finished outline. He doesn't want to think about the way the campus will clear out for the summer, the uncomfortable quiet that will settle heavily over everything as he types numbers into a spreadsheet in the SFS office. He wraps his arm around her instead and says, "Thank you," waiting until she looks up at him before adding, "little Becky."




He wakes with a rope around his neck. His eyes pop open, slitting against the sunlight pouring in through the windows. This is not his dorm room. He sits up a bit and the pressure around his throat goes away; he looks down and sees that it's hair, not rope, and the long locks are slipping down his chest.

All that he can see of the girl in the bed is bright hair and a round, tan ass. He shifts again, hoping to jostle her awake. She doesn't stir, and he thinks maybe his best bet is getting out of here, away from that pretty ass and long blonde hair. That is, if he really wants to leave; he's already changed his mind ten times about that since he woke up.

He gets out of the bed, rubbing at his eyes. He finds his underwear immediately and slips it back on. He stumbles over his flip-flops. With one last glance at the girl's back, he heads down the stairs. His shirt is hanging off the back of a chair. He doesn't see his jeans anywhere; they've got his keys and wallet in them, so he's stuck.

He goes back to the bedroom and crouches down in front of the girl. Her face is hidden by her arm, and he coaxes the arm away with soft little touches. She's got plump pink lips and a mole between her thin eyebrows. She's wearing a short white nightgown, twisted underneath her belly.

"Hey," he says softly, feeling like a prize idiot. He wishes he could remember her name; he wishes even more that he could remember last night, since she's got a smile on her face. "Hey," he says again, shaking her shoulder tentatively.

Her eyes crack open. "Hey yourself," she says, drawing the covers up and turning to lie on her back.

Her eyes close again and he lunges forward. "No, no, wait!" he says, bracing himself on his hands, framing her hips. "Where are my jeans?"

"How the hell should I know, Sam?" she mumbles. He feels like a complete shit now. She peers at him and sighs, finally sitting up. "Sam," she says, snapping her fingers in front of his face to get his attention. She gets out of bed, and he rises with her. She's tall and fit, completely beautiful with her tumbled hair and pink skin; the smell of vanilla drifts up from her body. "Hand me my panties, would you?" she asks, pointing to a scrap of lace on the floor. She shimmies them on, her bare legs flashing, then ducks down. "Aha!" she cries, clutching his jeans in a fist. She stands back up and he's startled again by her height, the length of her scented limbs. "Not so fast," she says, holding the jeans behind her as he reaches for them. "What do I get in return?"

This is a game he's never played; the mornings after have always been waking up in his own bed to silence and sometimes a phone number printed carefully inside a heart, never this flesh-and-blood reality. "What do you want?" he asks warily.

"Hmmm." A little wrinkle forms above her nose when she purses her lips. "Breakfast," she says, so offhandedly that he knows that's just the beginning of a long list.

"Great!" he says, before she can get any further. "Breakfast. I can do that." He holds his hand out for the jeans, and she looks at him assessingly before handing them over.

"Thanks. I didn't want to give your housemates a free show." He pulls them on but doesn't bother with the fastenings; he stops in the bathroom to pee and gargle some Scope, then heads downstairs to the kitchen.

Her fridge holds cases of beer and soda, a few bottles of wine, a carton of skim milk, a pitcher of water, and an egg. He's pretty sure not even Wolfgang Puck could whip something up out of Diet Coke and egg yolk.

The cabinets are mostly empty. In one, high above the sink, he finds a box of Froot Loops and a few bowls and plates and mugs. He pours the cereal into a bowl and then the milk, remembering only afterwards to sniff it. It smells okay, so if he can just take the bowl up to her bedroom, he can go.

Of course she chooses to come down the stairs at that exact moment, her face lighting up when she sees the box of cereal on the counter. "Toucan Sam!" she says, digging in a drawer and fishing out two spoons. She drops one in the bowl and begins to eat with the other. "C'mon, Sam, don't you want any?" she asks with her mouth full as she winds her long hair into a messy knot high on her head. "You could at least have breakfast with me."

She drops into a chair at the kitchen table and looks up at him. Her eyelashes are brown, still spiky from being pressed into her pillow; her eyes are blue like the tiles at the bottom of the pool. He looks at her just as they flash with mischief; he glares and she grins, caught. "Yeah, I'm fucking with you," she admits, "but that doesn't change the fact that you don't remember my name."

He hangs his head and she laughs. "Come on, Sam. What's the last thing you remember, Sam?" She pushes a chair toward him, her leg stretching long and lean, and he wants to take a bite out of it.

He sits and grabs his spoon. Froot Loops are delicious, even if they're staining the milk all sorts of weird colors. She fills the bowl back up, waiting for his answer. "I remember the party," he says hesitantly. "And I remember doing body shots off some girl." He looks through his bangs at her. "That wasn't you, was it?" She just shakes her head, looking amused. "That's really it."

"So you don't remember Rebecca introducing us at your birthday party last night? Or saying that I smelled good enough to eat?"

"You still do," he says, and she blushes, and victory is his.

*

Somewhere between the kitchen and the front door she pushes him up against the wall and hikes his shirt up. The Sharpie she pulled from a kitchen drawer is in her hand and she makes her mark on him.

The chlorine in the pool makes the edges bleed a little, turn from blue to green, but even after he scrubs at his chest with soap, the four soft curves remain printed above his heart: j-e-s-s.

*

He knocks at her door, hair still wet from the gym shower, and she yells, "It's open!" in a way that makes him wonder if she ever locks her doors. She's got paint all over her hands and arms. Her smile is neither quick nor slow; it's just there before he can catch hold of it. It doesn't seem to shift any of the planes of her round face, doesn't change a thing.

"Hey," she says, bright and unsurprised, turning the easel around to face the wall. "Let me just," she holds up her hands, "clean up a little."

He wants to show her the marks on his chest, say something about how they match, but she runs up the stairs on her long legs before he can open his mouth. He hears water running upstairs, and the radio over it. She's singing along, loud and off-key, and he tunes her out as best he can.

It's her scent that he notices first, vanilla sweetness over skin. He closes his eyes for a moment to breathe her in and then he hears her coming down the stairs. She sounds like money; he opens his eyes at the faint tinkle of her jewelry. A heavy locket rests on her chest, above her blue tank top, and a slim sinuous thread of gold circles her wrist.

She looks like she sounds, like something he could never afford, and he wonders all of a sudden what he's doing here, in his frayed shorts, his too-long hair dripping water on her hardwood floor.

She takes him to a restaurant a few blocks from her apartment, nods casually at the bartender, and walks confidently to a booth halfway down the row on the left. The light above the table is bright, and her face shines. Her hair is pulled back in a ponytail, partially covering the swell of her left breast. He opens his menu to keep from staring at her, scanning the list of burgers that start at ten dollars.

She douses her fries with mayonnaise, catches his disbelieving eye, and shrugs, "Holland. Spent a summer there."

He looks down at his half-eaten burger, the fries that have gone soft and cold from pickle juice. When he looks back up at her she's watching him.

"What?" he asks. She just shakes her head and keeps looking.

*

Flashes of memory flicker in his brain when he's finally back in her bed, snippets of the first time they did this, and it's throwing his rhythm off. He keeps smoothing her down, running one hand over the flat of her belly and her hip, like he's rubbing a rabbit's foot for luck.

She makes a sound, halfway between a sigh and a gurgle, and twists them around, straddling him. Her breasts are heavy in his hands and her hair tickles his stomach; he wonders who got to be on top last time.

Then she's leaning down, resting her forearms along his sides, forcing the angle of penetration into something sharp and nearly unbearable, so that they're panting into each other's necks, hot and pained breath the only sound over the rustling of the pale blue sheets.

He lets her limbs lie over his, nearly as long, but rounder, softer, and waits for her to sink right into him. He closes his arms around her.




"I'm sure you'll be very happy here," the real estate agent says, standing a little too close to Jess, who smiles and leans into Sam like she's snuggled into him every day of her life and not just for the last four months.

"I just want to look at the bathroom one more time," she says. "I can't remember the color of the tile."

The agent's cell phone rings and as he checks the screen and connects the call, Jess grabs Sam's hand and drags him off to the bathroom, closing the door with a click. "Could that guy be any creepier?" she hisses, rubbing her hand up and down her bare arm. She leans back against the door and looks up at him. "So what do you think of the place?"

He takes in how perfectly the pink door frames her golden head, how her smile has slipped into something more private. But she's waiting, one eyebrow cocked in a show of interrogation, and it's a pleasure to submit, as always.

"It's a nice place, but they're asking for a lot of money. How many people are you planning on cramming in here?"

"Just us," she says, reaching out to play with the hem of his shirt.

He stares, waiting for her to crack a smile, but she looks up at him with limpid eyes and he has to work hard to keep the frustration out of his voice. He wants what she's offering so badly but he knows it's impossible. "Jess. I can't. I can't afford it."

Her frown smoothes out. "I know that, Sam. I can."

It shakes him a little to hear that she's aware of the difference between them; he's been keeping up with her all summer with his savings, rationing each new paycheck. "No," he says firmly.

"Sam," she says, and he braces himself for some impassioned plea. But she just repeats her earlier question. "Do you like the apartment?" He nods reluctantly. "Well, I do too. Living here would make me happy. Living with you would make me happy. Do you see how simple this is? Just move in with me."

He still wants to protest but the agent knocks loudly on the door. "Miss Moore?"

Jess opens the door and looks over her shoulder at Sam. "I'll take it," she says.

*

The space overwhelms him. He's accustomed to living in a single room, four thick, dingy walls around him. Now he's got a whole warren of rooms, big, bright, and airy, with Jess as constant company. He has no idea how they're going to fill it all up. Even after all the furniture they pick out from an artsy secondhand store is delivered and they've set aside the small room with the skylight to be Jess's studio, he thinks he can hear an echo when he calls for her.

She sets him to work, painting each room in a different color; he can't see how this is going to work, but he trusts her eye. They sleep with every window wide open to dispel the paint fumes, but they're still a little high for days.

Her studio is the first room he finishes and she disappears in there, radio blasting, while he moves to the bedroom. His arms and back are a little sore and his brain is on autopilot; the shadowy green she picked for this room is almost hypnotic. It takes him a few moments to be aware of her standing in the doorway, photographing him.

"What are you doing?" he asks, setting the roller down. He plucks at the bandanna she tied on him to keep his hair out of his face. Her fingers smooth it back down, then trail down the side of his face. She runs the flat of her nails along his cheek, opening her mouth before his even lands on it. His hands can almost span her waist, and his fingers dimple her soft back. She groans and steps back before he can push her against an unpainted wall.

She hefts the camera in her hand again, pointing it at him. She cocks her head. "You know, you're the first person I've met who doesn't duck away from a camera in their face."

He shrugs. It's not like he's all that familiar with cameras; Dad never had one, and all of his class pictures had gone unclaimed. "Let me see?" he asks, holding out his hand.

She places it in his palm, watching his fingers fold around the bulky zoom lens. He picks it up and aims it at her. Her smile gets shaky for a moment before she tosses her hair back to look confidently at him.

He snaps a picture, saying, "You don't run either." She smiles her real smile then, white teeth gleaming, and he clicks again.

*

She laughs at him, tells him he's wasting film and that the photography students who develop the rolls of film she drops off think she's a complete narcissist. But the camera is his now; he likes the weight of it in his hand, and the only thing he wants framed in its sights is her. She doesn't lock herself away; her thoughts and feelings are right there on the surface, offered up freely. He takes pictures of her painting, cleaning, on the phone, blow-drying her hair, sleeping. There are pictures of her naked, her tall frame bursting past the edges of the print. There are close-ups of her face, her eyes glittering above her round cheek, her plump lips out of focus. He keeps them all in a box under their bed.




His gusty sigh nearly blows out the flame of the fat, cherry-scented candle in the middle of the table. She looks up, still forking Thai take-out onto plates. "Something wrong?" she asks, licking her fingers.

"Nothing."

"Sam." She slides his plate in front of him, and he sweeps his papers away and closes her laptop.

"Just. I didn't realize how much of this French history class was going to be in French. And I can't seem to find translations of a lot of this stuff."

She gets a gleam in her eyes, sitting across from him, picking up vegetables with her chopsticks. "If I translate your stuff . . ." she says, then pauses to chew, "will you wear whatever I give you to Cindy's Halloween party?"

He tenses. It's not a big deal to her, and he can't make her understand without saying too much. She comes around the table to sit in his lap. "Baby," she says, then whispers, soft and breathy in his ear, "après moi, le déluge." He nods and she kisses him.

*

"Oh my God!" Jess pouts when she walks in, holding several shopping bags. "I thought it was hard finding costumes for a girl my height. It is almost impossible to find something that'll fit you."

She drops the bags and sits on the futon, eyeing him critically. "You must have been a nightmare when you had your growth spurt."

"That's what Dean always said," he says, his mind still on Cicero.

She goes still, half-predator, half-prey, like she can't help herself from pushing. "Dean?" Her voice is studiedly casual. "You call your dad by his first name?"

He looks up and she looks away, at the bags, reaching in and refolding the clothes inside. This is the first, last, and only time he's going to say this.

"Dean's my older brother. I don't call my dad anything. My mother is dead."

He moves his books off his lap and goes to the kitchen. He opens the fridge and looks over at her. Golden hair is spilling down her back. She's sitting on the edge of the futon, her knees together and her toes pointed inward. She's still keeping her curious eyes off him, so he relents.

He pulls out a beer and cracks it open. "There's not a lot to say. My dad's a drunk, can't hold down a job for more than a few months. Ex-Marine."

She's waiting for the rest and he braces himself. With his absence, Dean took on mythical proportions in his mind. But now he's grown up, made his mistakes, and knows he doesn't need Dean the way he always thought he did, the way Dean always thought he did. Dean's no longer his oxygen. He steps back from the fridge, takes a long sour swallow, and considers Dean with a clear mind. "My brother's right there with him. Following in his footsteps. A drifter."

She's snuck up on him, and she wraps her arms around him and kisses his ear. "I'm sorry, I'm sorry," she says, and she rocks him in her arms on a cloud of vanilla.




"Mmm," Jess says. "A little lower." He kneads his fingers into her back, easing the muscles beneath her soft pink skin. "Painting a fresco is worse than an hour of pilates," she laughs, moving her hair out of the way. "You'll have to come see it when we're done."

She wiggles when his fingers start to tickle rather than soothe, and he kisses the top of her spine. She settles back against his chest and reaches for the remote, clicking the TV on. "Oh, I used to have such a crush on him!" she says, and he looks up at the screen.

"The guy with the cane?" he asks incredulously. The guy's old and seems to be playing a complete dick.

"No, the other one. He hasn't aged a bit. Wow." She looks awfully impressed by this guy, who's got pale skin, brown hair, and brown eyes. Totally ordinary. And short.

"You know, I used to want to be a doctor," she says, and he tries to picture her swathed in a white lab coat instead of covered in paint. "Then my sister was born and she was sick all the time and I realized I hate hospitals." She laughs. "Wonder how different my life would have been."

"My roommate freshman year was pre-med," he tells her. "You would have hated it."

"Probably," she says, and snuggles back against him.

"I think we should host Thanksgiving," she says at the next commercial break, twisting around to look at him. "We've got the space. It'll be fun. We can invite all our friends."

It's best to know all the details up front. "What would I have to do?" he asks warily and she grins.

"Just sit there and look pretty. Also, help me clean the place, be ready to go out for ice and beer at any time, help me clean up after. And carve the turkey."

"I don't know how to carve a turkey," he protests, even though it doesn't sound too bad. He thinks about mashed potatoes and cranberry sauce and stuffing and apple pie with vanilla ice cream, all the things sitcom characters sit down to in November.

"I'll show you how to hold a knife, Sam," she says, rolling her eyes, "and you can Google turkey-carving if you want diagrams."

"Wait, are you cooking?" He's never seen her cook, and he remembers hauling only one small box of pots and pans up three flights of stairs.

"Oh, ye of little faith. I'll be baking. I'll leave the cooking up to Julia's."




"Let me get this straight," he says, and she frowns, unable to read his tone. He doesn't quite know if he's angry or charmed, and he supposes that's making her job more difficult. He looks at the stuff spread out across the bed. "You threw out all my underwear."

"Don't say it like that, Sam!" she huffs. "I bought you some new clothes. You needed them and between your classes and the SFS office you don't have time to go shopping."

"And?"

"And . . . along the way I got rid of your ratty old underwear and bought you beautiful silk boxers," she says, looking pleased.

"What makes you think I want to wear red underwear?"

"Wouldn't you, if I asked you to?" She laughs. "We won't go right to the red. We'll start off slow, with the blue, and work our way up."

He looks at her, smooth and bright and so goddamn beautiful, and it turns out he's charmed after all by the way she looks after him. "Thank you, Jess."

"I love you, Sam," she says, her voice a medley of pretty chimes, and her eyes glow when he pins her down against the heaps of silk, murmuring it back all along the length of her neck.




"You've never been on a plane before?" she asks, more kind than curious. He shakes his head and the cabdriver looks inquisitively at him in the rearview mirror. "Piece of cake," she says.

"Yeah." He's not nervous about the flight; it's the thought of meeting her family that's got his stomach in knots.

She holds his hand while they wait to check in, leaning into him and making him feel like the luckiest guy on the planet. He has a bad moment when he shows his phony driver's license after they ask for government-issued identification, but it passes muster; he forgot that his student ID wouldn't be much use in the real world.

She's nuzzling against him when they're jostled, knocking them into the girl in front of them in the security line. She turns, and it's Irene, her hair long and brown. "Sam!" she exclaims. Her gaze follows his arm to where it's curled around Jess's waist.

"Irene," he says, keeping his tone cool and light.

She just looks at him for a moment, her eyes big and her mouth twisted down at the corners, before she turns back around, her shoulders stiff and tense. He shakes his head when Jess looks at him questioningly, whispering, "Later" into her hair.

They get through security, the buckle of his new belt setting off the machines, and wait at the gate. "That was my ex," he says before Jess has to ask.

"Ahhh," says Jess, resting her head on his shoulder. "She clearly wasn't good enough for you."

*

"Jess!" he hears just as a smallish lump runs full-tilt into her and Jess staggers backwards, laughing. Once the lump stops moving at top speed and turns her face up to greet him, Sam can see that she is a pretty little girl, petite and flaxen-haired, delicate in a way Jess is too robustly healthy to be. She's small for twelve; if he had to guess, he'd have estimated ten.

"I'm Celia, Jessica's sister," she says, holding her hand out formally. He shakes her hand. She's got the same pretty dimples around her elbows as Jess.

He turns to discover that Jess got her smile from her mother and her height from her dad. They're both hugging her and he can hear "chérie" in a light, accented voice and "pumpkin" in a lower one.

Celia's edged back around to stand behind her dad, and Sam's left looking at the four of them, happy and whole, and tries to push back the sick spines of envy as they knife their way through him.

*

There's snow on the ground, but the driveway has been neatly shoveled. The house is large, dove-grey with black shutters; there's a Christmas tree in the living room and candles waiting to be lit in each of the windows.

The guest room has two twin beds, and for a moment he's reminded of the cheap motel rooms he and Dad and Dean used to share, only two beds necessary because one of them always had to keep watch. But the carpet is creamy, the walls blue as lapis lazuli.

He drops his duffel between the beds, then kicks it under the one near the door. He runs his damp palms over his chinos, standing in front of the mirror to straighten the collar of his green shirt.

*

He sits at the kitchen table while Jess and her mom and Celia all bustle around getting dinner ready. It's making him uncomfortable, but he's not sure enough of himself to offer to help out; that seems like a greater intimacy.

"Sam," Mr. Moore calls out from the living room, "can I have a word with you, son?"

Jess shoots him a reassuring look as he gets up. He goes into the living room and sits gingerly on the edge of the couch, waiting with his guts tied up in knots.

Mr. Moore is sitting in a brown leather chair, his back straight but not stiff. "Jessie tells me you're a scholarship student."

"Yes, sir," he says.

"That takes a lot of smarts, a lot of hard work. You keeping up?"

"Oh, yes sir. I'm majoring in history."

"Bright young man like you must have a plan for the future." Mr. Moore smiles, looking friendlier by the second. "What's it going to be, Sam?"

He sinks back a little further into the plush comfort of the couch, looks at the leather-bound books in neat lines on the bookshelves. He thinks about having a job where she'll look proudly at him across the kitchen table every morning. "I've been thinking about law school, sir."

"A practical-minded man." Mr. Moore nods approvingly. "That's a good degree to have in your pocket."

He stands and shakes Sam's hand like a benediction, and Sam can't quite believe that he's passed the first round with nothing more than words he's made up on the spot. "We better get to the kitchen and make ourselves useful," Mr. Moore says, clapping him on the shoulder.

*

It's driving him crazy, not being able to touch Jess in the ways he's used to, not being able to wrap himself around her at night. Her parents are permissive, but there are limits, and he's still working on winning over Celia, who pops up at the most unexpected moments.

He knocks on the door of their bedroom one morning, looking for advice on which shirt she'd bought to go with his new brown pants, and sees Celia lying on her stomach on her bed, talking to Jess, who's seated in front of the mirror holding a hairbrush. He catches her reflection's eye and she hands the brush over without a word.

The lights framing the mirror are pink, and her face is rosier than ever as he slides the brush over her long curls tentatively. He makes his next pass a little harder, remembering the way she'd tug a brush through her hair with enough force to tip her head back. Her neck elongates as he drags the brush down, catching small knots; she looks at him as he puts down the brush to untangle them with patient fingers. Her hair is still a little damp underneath, lying heavy in his hands, and he wishes he could crush her to him and make her eyes drift closed in pleasure.

*

He's very good at charming adults; his teachers have always taken a shine to him, rewarded his intelligence and perseverance with A's. But now, when it's so much more important than any report card, he can't seem to catch any of the lines the Moores are tossing him. They're opening up the vault of family history, bilingual inside jokes and baby pictures, and he's standing there, dumb and gangly, unsure of how to respond to her father's hearty humor or her mother's terms of endearment.

He's evidently got their approval, but somehow that's not enough, or maybe it's too much; he wants to pull Jess away and run, back to their home, back to safe ground.




The apartment feels empty without Jess, even with the smell of the cookies she baked for Becky's Desperate Housewives viewing party lingering in the air. A second batch is in the oven, and the buzzer sounds just as he's getting hungry. He pulls the baking sheet out and remembers he has to let them cool for at least ten minutes before scarfing them down.

The flowers and fruit she was sketching occupy most of the kitchen table, so he eats standing at the counter, clutching a cold green glass of milk. He sorts through their mail, tossing the junk and the flyers in the recycling bin near the door. There's a birthday card from her grandmother, and he realizes he's got less than a week left before January 24th.

He goes to the closet and pulls out the barracks bag, upending it impatiently, searching for the envelope of money. He'd forgotten how much was in there; it's enough to take her out to the best place in town and buy a jacket, tie, and shoes to get in the door.

He calls Daviot for a reservation, haphazardly stuffing the contents back in the bag while he's on hold. He flops onto the bed, his belly full, sighing contentedly.

*



She looks more beautiful than he's ever seen her, in her thin high heels and a frilled pink dress that makes her look like Venus rising from the foam. Her hair is pinned up with the mother-of-pearl clips Celia sent, the pink rose he bought her drooping under its own weight near her temple. It falls and burns in the flame of the candle stuck in her cream cake just as the violinist finishes playing "Happy Birthday."

She picks the petals out of her cake with careful fingers and smiles at him, her eyes dancing in the flickering light. "Love you, Sam," she mouths, then blows the candle out.

*

"This was the best birthday ever," she murmurs against his neck as they let the taxis drive by and walk home. Her thin wool coat is leaving cream-colored clumps of fuzz all over his black blazer and she bends her head to pick at them. He squeezes his arm around her and kisses the top of her head, reveling in her perfumed warmth.

She gasps and wobbles on her heels, and he looks up to see a man in the shadows in front of them. He's holding a knife with a wickedly serrated blade, and it gleams with deadly promise. "Your purse and your wallet," he says, cool and unruffled.

Jess is shaking, enough so that she jostles Sam's arm as he reaches for his empty wallet. He tosses it on the ground. "Your purse, baby," the man repeats, stepping closer to catch the strap and pull it away. His fingers reach back up to brush Jess's neck.

The hand holding the knife relaxes ever so slightly, and Sam pounces. "Jess, run!" he roars, grappling with the man, gripping his greasy blond hair to pound his skull into the pavement. The man swipes at him with the knife, and the blade sinks into his abdomen.

He can hear Jess screaming as he looks down at the knife sticking out of his gut, shifting to press a knee into each of the man's wrists, resting his weight on the man's torso. "I am going to kill you," he promises thickly, remaining unmoved as the man thrashes beneath him. He gets a good grip on the man's jaw and holds his head still, then leans down to hiss in his ear. "You think you're my first kill? Not by a long shot."

Jess's screams have given way to torrential tears, and he looks back up to see one cop leading her away, another approaching him carefully. He rises unsteadily, swaying on his feet.

"No hospitals," he says, and the bigger cop pauses in cuffing the man to laugh disbelievingly.

*

He's had bruises before, in more places than he can rightly remember. He's sprained each wrist twice and his left knee once. His right ankle broke when he was fifteen, his right arm when he was eleven, and three of his toes when he was ten. He can feel the twists, the wrongness in those bones when he runs his hands over them in the shower.

The raised, irregular line the mugger's knife marked underneath his bottom left rib is the first permanent scar his body bears that's visible to others' eyes.




She's had one song on repeat most of the morning, and he finishes the logic games section in his free practice booklet as the chorus rings out again.

"I think this is our song," she says when he appears in the doorway with a cup of coffee. She takes a long sip, then hands the mug back. "How are you doing on the LSAT?"

"Fine," he shrugs, feeling the new scar stretch painfully.

"Sam?" she asks softly, her hand hovering above the wound. "Please -"

"Don't worry about it. I'm fine."

She frowns, eyeing him doubtfully. He looks back at her with a level gaze. He doesn't want to talk about that night ever again. The memory of her shaking like a leaf, screaming herself hoarse, still haunts him like the grip of her fingers around his as they sat in the ER, soaked in blood. He doesn't know if he'll ever get over seeing her brightness tarnished in that way.

Something clicks behind her eyes and she steals the mug back. "I've got a great idea for Valentine's Day," she says, bubbly again and he sighs in relief.

"No cards, no presents, no dinner reservations," she elaborates over pancakes, slapping the Sunday comics out of his hands.

"Sounds good to me," he grins. "What's the catch?"

"No, think about it. People do all that stuff to find what we've already got."

His heart catches at the earnest look on her face. She goes from demure to vixen in the blink of an eye. "So my plan is to spend the whole day in bed with you. Does that plan meet with your approval?"

"I might need you to elaborate on it a little," he says, pushing his chair back away from the kitchen table and pulling her onto his lap. "Would any other furniture be involved?"

*

He's ready for her when she gets out of the shower, grabbing her and pulling her down. He never remembers how heavy she is until she's on top of him, and then his muscle memory recalls how pleasingly she uses her weight.

Her hot blue eyes have gone fuzzy at the edges, and he wants to roar with triumph that he can do that to her. Her breath comes fast against his cheek.

Her eyelids are already drooping in invitation, and he lifts his knees, tilting her forward into his kiss. His hand snakes up the back of her shirt, tenting the tight material, and he curls it around her ribcage and finds her nipple with his thumb. She's squirming against him like she wants to burrow into his chest, her hands cupping his head with a fearsome grip, and her tongue is fast and sloppy against his.

She breaks free and mutters, "God, Sam," as she sits back a little, hurried hands opening his jeans and tugging at his boxers. "Now," she says, shifting her hips and knees just enough to peel her boy-cut panties off, settling back over him with her toes tangled in the waistband of his jeans.

"Yes," she hisses as she sinks down onto his dick in one endless moment, the crown of her head pushed tight against his shoulder, her hands gripping the cool metal frame of the futon.

Her hair tangles between their mouths when she rocks back and finds his lips again. She shakes it back and grabs his shirt in her fists.

"Love you," he swears when she slams down onto him again. "God, love you."

His fingers dig into the soft flesh padding her hips, his thumbs catching the hem of her shirt. Her hand slips into his hair and tugs, and she digs her teeth into his neck, sharp little bites that syncopate with the slaps of her ass against his thighs.

She throws her head back as she screams and goes suddenly limp, loose hands dragging down his arms as he pushes up forcefully two, three, four times and comes, sinking back into the futon mattress and pulling her forward. She lies on his chest and they breathe in time with each other.

"Happy Valentine's Day, Jess," he says.

"Sorry, I didn't quite catch that," she lies, panting and grinning at him, squealing when he flips them and looms over her.




"Do we have company?" he asks when he gets back late from the library. One of these days he's going to get a microfilm machine that works on the first try.

She shakes her head with an odd smile. "Whose is that, then?" The bag on top of the kitchen table is soft brown leather, expensive-looking.

"Take a look," she says, and he frowns and steps forward. The tag dangling from one of the handles has his name on it. There's an envelope peeking out of the front pouch. He opens it to find two plane tickets.

She's watching his disbelieving eyes. "That's probably my parents calling about spring break," she says when the phone rings.

He thinks he protests, but they say don't be silly and our pleasure, chéri and you saved Jessie's life, we can never repay you. He finally hangs up, remembering only then to ask, "Where are we going?"

*

Paris in the springtime is a cliché for a reason. The air is sweet with the perfume of flowers; the sunlight seems warmer, richer somehow. It follows Jess like a spotlight, dancing across her hands as she tears a croissant in half, as she raises her café au lait to her lips.



They stand in front of the Mona Lisa, jostled by countless other tourists with cameras. They pay the fee to get to the top of the Eiffel Tower and look down at the vast swathes of land laid out before them. They wander among the statuary at the Rodin Museum, kissing in front of the Gates of Hell, and he thinks she might be rewriting his destiny.

Jess speaks French in bed every night that week, teaching him all over again with gentle kisses and greedy touches. Her mouth dips onto his skin as his fingers curl around her.




"Finally remembered my existence as soon as your girlfriend left town, huh, you fucker?" Zach says when Sam shows up on his doorstep with a six-pack. He grins. "At least you buy the good stuff. Come on in."

They savor the good beer over a huge dinner, then get trashed on the shitty Miller Lite that Zach has in the fridge. They play video games until dawn, when Zach finally crashes.

Sam throws his controller down and half-heartedly tries to clear away the clutter he's responsible for. He gives up after a few minutes and walks to the old gym.

He dives in, the water shockingly cold and thick against his skin, and he does laps until he's sore.

*

He buys every book of LSAT practice tests he can find and goes steadily through them, one section each day. He has no problem finishing in the allotted time, but he can't concentrate on the reading comprehension passages, five hundred-word excerpts from the most boring texts imaginable.

He finds vanilla candles at the arts and crafts store where Jess buys her sketchbooks. He finds it easier to focus on his work when the place smells like her.

She calls every night from Madison. "I miss you," he says instead of hello, and she just says his name, whispering because Celia's asleep in the bed next to hers. He likes it best when she doesn't even talk, and he can hear her quiet breaths.

*

He takes the June LSAT, just to see how he'll do. He's always been good at standardized tests, and anyway one day is much like the next without Jess around.

His results come three weeks later, far earlier than he expected, and he sits on the futon, puts his feet on the coffee table, and rips open the envelope. 174 is the number printed next to his name. He can't quite wrap his mind around it.

When it sinks in a few days later, he starts researching law schools and loans. He talks to a career counselor who looks over his transcript and his LSAT score and says something about the possibility of another full ride.

Jess can hear something different in his voice that night, but when she asks, all he says is that this is the longest summer of his life. "Oh, puppy," she says, and he laughs.

*

He starts to call her during the day too, and she talks to him while she's braiding Celia's hair or stretching canvases or driving to a coffee shop to meet her high school girlfriends for a quick bite. She offers up long discourses on the spectrum of reds used by Rubens, the lameness of bouquets of roses, the drawbacks of Wisconsin weather. He hears her say she loves him.




"Good luck, baby," she says, kissing him long and hard before handing him a new box of #2 pencils and a plastic Toucan Sam figurine. "I know the LSAT will bow down before you." He grins and walks downtown instead of across campus. He's only got a few hours to work with.

He's buzzed into the shop and has to turn his backpack over to the security guard behind the main desk. He browses the display cases, looking at each ring carefully. He's done his research - color, cut, clarity, carats - but he doesn't have a picture of what he wants in his head.

All he's sure of is that she'll light up when he offers her the ring, that it'll be all she wears when she comes to bed that night. Her flesh will warm the metal, and it will be smooth against his back when she holds him close, loving him.

*

She's bragging to her parents about the interview, and he slips his arms around her waist. "He's got a shot at a full ride to law school too." He kisses the side of her neck. "The interview's in a few weeks." He traces her ear with his tongue. "I'll call you when we find out and we'll celebrate," she says, smiling up at him.

"Did you just jinx me?" he teases after she hangs up.

"Not possible," she says. "I've got a good feeling about this. It'll all work out, Sam; you'll see."

She's never been wrong before, and he lets himself believe in the future he can see so clearly. He nips again at her neck. He'll go back to the shop after the interview, and he'll come home to her, pull out the ring, and kneel. She'll laugh and cry and hold out a trembling hand; he'll take her to their bed and lay her down.

*

He licks at her while he works her with his fingers, dimly hearing her strangled screams as she quivers beneath him. "Sam, Sam," she says, gasping, running her fingers over her breasts. She comes apart so beautifully, a whirlwind of pink and gold.

Her lips are swollen but she runs them over his skin insistently, her hands locked in his. She sits up and sinks down on him, and her eyes are the brightest things he's ever seen. He bucks up without warning, spilling her across his chest, and he holds her tightly to him.

*

She's flat on her back, a wide crimson sash across her waist, her hair spread out around her head like a sunburst. Her forehead wrinkles, the way it does when she's concentrating, but she doesn't relax into a smile when she sees him. Her eyes are burning when they lock onto his.

He realizes suddenly that he's looking up at her, that she's not in their bed but above it. Flames roll out of her belly before he can scream.

He cringes violently, waking himself up with the motion. He hasn't dreamt of fire in years, but his body remembers the drill, and he reaches out for Dean, lying in the bed next to his.


[illustrations by vengefuldemon69]

Author's notes, an outtake, and the start of something new!

I love this. You capture so perfectly what college feels like -- the way new experiences keep flying at you, the way relationships ebb and flow -- and what it must've been like for Sam, with his bizarro upbringing. I love all your OCs, and the way you write Sam and Jess, and everything. Poor Sammy, I'm glad he got to have a little fun in life before everything went to hell on him again.

Thanks for a terrific read.

You capture so perfectly what college feels like -- the way new experiences keep flying at you, the way relationships ebb and flow -- and what it must've been like for Sam, with his bizarro upbringing. Oh, that's lovely to hear. Thank you so much!

this is just...beyond amazing. i...am gonna have to write LONG and ridiculously extensive feedback, but i am utterly incapable right now because MY HEART OMG YOU RIPPED IT RIGHT OUT so uh. yeah. for the moment: this is pretty much going to be my Sam gold standard now. Like, the story to give people who are not convinced of Sam's AWESOME SAMNESS. So...yeah. SIGH. LOVE.

Please do! I live for LONG and ridiculously extensive feedback!

You are too kind. Thanks for reading!

Oh, man. This is...I'm not really sure how to describe what this did to me, but. This story is really special.

I love your OCs. Ben (BEN!) and Irene, of course and completely, but I love Sue-who-doesn't-want-to-talk-about-it, and Mark being all surly and protective, and the Moores with their random French in-jokes. And Jess--I think I'm in love with Jess now.

And, okay, Sam. I think this is gonna have to be my Sam from now on. I love Stanford through his eyes; how everything is a process at first and Dean is everywhere, and how he meets his boyfriend in a class he took to meet women, and how he slowly grows into this whole life that is so, so meant for him.

And the ending is perfect. In, y'know, a RIP MY HEART OUT sort of way.


I love this comment so, so much.

I too love my OCs, but I have to admit I was really worried about whether anyone would bother reading something that is essentially (as I wrote to one of my lovely betas) "Sam and his merry band of OCs." Dude, Ben is love. And I loved Irene too. And I'm glad that Sue and Mark worked with you. And I love the way you describe the Moores - you make them sound like a Monty Python sketch, which is just the most hilarious thing ever.

I was surprised, actually, by how much I liked Jess as I wrote her, because I started off being SO ANGRY that Sam had hurt Ben like that.

I think this is gonna have to be my Sam from now on. I love Stanford through his eyes; how everything is a process at first and Dean is everywhere . . . and how he slowly grows into this whole life that is so, so meant for him. That's just such a wonderful way to put it.

and how he meets his boyfriend in a class he took to meet women Hee! This amused me to no end, but I wasn't sure if anyone would really notice. Thanks!

This is so perfect. I love Sam's lack of context, his fragility, and his vulnerability to being loved. You justify my Sam!love.

his vulnerability to being loved Oh! That's gorgeous!

Thanks for reading!

wonderful storytelling.

That was wondeful. I love how well you depicted all the characters, especially Ben, and I love the way you wrote them.

Beautiful, all over.

Mmmmmm, Ben.

Thanks for reading!

This was awesome. A really great look at Sam. ♥

Thank you so much! I really appreciate your comment!

Such a great look at these in-between years of Sam's. I'm feeling terrible for the people he left behind in the middle there - but the way he can move on like that, with an almost callous ruthlessness - though I realise in that instance it's because he's shocked by the realisation of how alike Dean and Ben are - but this ability of Sam's to cut people out of his life mirrors definite aspects I see in the show. I thought this was such a wonderful read.

Oh, I'm glad that this Sam worked for you! It was a struggle to keep him sympathetic through all the pain he's inflicting, but of course he's in pain too.

Thanks so much for reading!

(Deleted comment)
Oh, it's so nice to hear that someone got lost in one of my stories!

Hmmm. Obviously, I knew how Sam/Ben would end up. I wonder if I wrote some of that doom right into the beginning of the relationship, and you picked up on that?

I agree that in terms of canonical characters, Supernatural is very stingy. But perhaps because of that, and because of the popularity of Wincest, so much of the fandom dislikes OCs. So thank you for giving this fic a shot!

And thanks too for the kind words about "Sita"!

You really are one of my absolute favorite SPN authors! You do such an amazing job in characterization, both canon and OC. And your stories are so richly detailed and with a wonderful sense of atmosphere. I had never really considered how, with Sam's sheltered view of everyday life, college would be this frightening and yet intoxicating journey of discovery.

But most of all, I appreciate how you draw out the brothers' personalities. Honestly, after the Pilot, I didn't especially like Sam's character until well into the first season. His cold reception of Dean after a four year absence, Dean's acknowledgement that he had left Sam alone at what sounded like Sam's requst, Sam's tacit admission that he wouldn't have answered had Dean called-I just couldn't understand how Sam could treat Dean so badly. And there was no indication that Dean had done anything to deserve it, only that Sam wanting a "normal" life. I admire Sam for choosing a different path but cutting Dean out entirely seemed so...mean spirited.

Your story has helped put things into a better perspective for me (since canon has a way of glossing over these things). It does seem to be within Sam's character that, when he can't deal with something, he goes to an extreme, black and white coping mechanism. Sam is afraid to tell Jess the truth so he takes that choice away from her and lets her see only what he feels safe with. Sam is afraid of his feelings for Ben (and by proxy, Dean) so he dumps Ben and runs away. He rejects/can't deal with his old life so now John's an alcoholic and Dean (poor guy!) is a drifter. Ironically, this actually helped me understand Sam better as a flawed, scared person rather than a selfish twit.

But it still hurts to think of Dean sendng that care package and kissing Sam goodbye. I wonder, aside from feeling badly about Jess/the effect her death had on Sam, what Dean must have otherwise felt when Sam came back. I mean, despite their previous estrangement, clearly Dean's happy to have Sam with him. But Dean had to realize he was the default; Sam wasn't hanging around because he loved Dean or wanted his company but because he needed Dean's help in hunting the Demon. I would think it would be very human for Dean to feel a little used and even resentful. I just don't know, because of Dean's well established habit of putting his family's needs above his own, if he would ever bring any of this up. (And, to be fair, the dynamics do change for the better over the course of the season; I'm just fasinated by their early time together.)


Well, there I go again....it's just that your stories make me think. Ow. I shouldn't do that too much. *goes off to get an aspirin*

Thanks again for your beautiful work!

You really are one of my absolute favorite SPN authors! Really? That's . . . mind-blowing, actually. And lovely to hear.

with Sam's sheltered view of everyday life, college would be this frightening and yet intoxicating journey of discovery. Oh, absolutely. And of course he's not going to like everything he discovers and it's never going to replace what his family has given him, for better or worse.

But most of all, I appreciate how you draw out the brothers' personalities. Honestly, after the Pilot, I didn't especially like Sam's character until well into the first season. His cold reception of Dean after a four year absence, Dean's acknowledgement that he had left Sam alone at what sounded like Sam's requst, Sam's tacit admission that he wouldn't have answered had Dean called-I just couldn't understand how Sam could treat Dean so badly. And there was no indication that Dean had done anything to deserve it, only that Sam wanting a "normal" life. I admire Sam for choosing a different path but cutting Dean out entirely seemed so...mean spirited. . . . But it still hurts to think of Dean sendng that care package and kissing Sam goodbye. I wonder, aside from feeling badly about Jess/the effect her death had on Sam, what Dean must have otherwise felt when Sam came back. I mean, despite their previous estrangement, clearly Dean's happy to have Sam with him. But Dean had to realize he was the default; Sam wasn't hanging around because he loved Dean or wanted his company but because he needed Dean's help in hunting the Demon. Yeah, I haven't always been the biggest Sam-fan, and I wondered if this fic suffered because I love Dean to an unhealthy degree, but I have to say that simply writing it out made me sympathize more with Sam than I had before. He's really trying, and he doesn't exactly mean to cut Dean off, but he's young and overwhelmed and falling in love, and at some point he just loses his way.

it's just that your stories make me think. THAT is a fantastic compliment! Thank you so much for leaving a comment - I always look forward to yours because you make me think too!

This is a great look at Sam learning to be himself, on his own, making friends and just...living in a way that feels really true and also fits with what we see of him on the show. Lovely.

Thank you very much! I really appreciate that assessment.

Oh man, I hate leaving feedback because I never know what to say except for stuff like 'great work' and 'I really loved this', which always seems so inadequate. But I've read this four times now, so I really think I have to say something.

So. This is one of the best Sam-at-Stanford fics I have ever read. I love how you show him adapting to this new life, and his initial awkwardness of girls and friends and this shocking absence of Dean. He has to redefine himself without Dean, and you captured that beautifully (Also loved the shout-out to John Malkovich). At the start Dean is still everything to Sam; and the scene where Sam is missing Dean during the storm because he's never slept through a storm without Dean before, to the scene where he finally looks at the package Dean gave him, to him telling Ben about the family. By the time he's with Jess, he's arranged himself and Dean is no longer this mythically amazing person, but a 'drifter', following in dad's alcoholic footsteps. It's heartbreaking, but you get that transition down beautifully. It's kind of like the only way he can really leave Dean behind is to put him down, lower his value. (That's just my interpretation. I could be wrong.)

And the OC's. Oh god, the OCs. Can I have a pet Ben, please? He's beyond adorable. I like how you've used the OCs to draw out Sams character as it changes. Irene and Ben bring out some wonderful things in Sam, and it feels like while he's with them he's being more honest to himself. He isn't claiming his past, but he isn't outrightly rejecting it (and Dean.) Once he leaves Ben though, it's a whole new ballgame. Anything to find oblivion, anything to leave the past behind. Zach and Becky, and later Jess provide him with this 'new' Sam, give him something to change to.

As for the Jess and Sam dynamic - it was brilliant. I like the idea of artistic Jess, and the photography part made me smile like an idiot. She's definitly the dominant partner in the relationship, and she just gives off this really sweet, open vibe. Manipulative as all hell, yes. But sweet, which balances it a bit. The Moore family is brilliant, and I love all the in-jokes that Sam keeps trying to understand but not really getting. Also, you're about seventy shades of awesome for including Toucan Sam and continuing it throughout the Jess and Sam section. I don't know, the idea of Sam wandering off to sit his LSATs with pencils, eraser and Toucan Sam figurine make me grin like a loon.

As for the ending. Words fail me, it's so abrupt and so damn powerful.

All my rambling was basically just to say 'this is great' and 'i really loved it', but you know - hopefully you don't mind long fangirly comments. Thankyou for writing this, it was wonderful ♥

At the start Dean is still everything to Sam; and the scene where Sam is missing Dean during the storm because he's never slept through a storm without Dean before, to the scene where he finally looks at the package Dean gave him, to him telling Ben about the family. By the time he's with Jess, he's arranged himself and Dean is no longer this mythically amazing person, but a 'drifter', following in dad's alcoholic footsteps. It's heartbreaking, but you get that transition down beautifully. It's kind of like the only way he can really leave Dean behind is to put him down, lower his value. (That's just my interpretation. I could be wrong.) No, you're not wrong, but I don't know if Sam would have had to put Dean down so firmly if he hadn't had his eyes opened by the Ben experience. Does that make sense?

Can I have a pet Ben, please? He's beyond adorable. I am having the hardest time letting him go. (Did you read the extras? He's there.)

Irene and Ben bring out some wonderful things in Sam, and it feels like while he's with them he's being more honest to himself. He isn't claiming his past, but he isn't outrightly rejecting it (and Dean.) Once he leaves Ben though, it's a whole new ballgame. Anything to find oblivion, anything to leave the past behind. Zach and Becky, and later Jess provide him with this 'new' Sam, give him something to change to. I really like the way you put that. He's so adrift when he first meets Irene and Ben that I think he hasn't really considered yet that he can make himself over. Later on, of course, he sees it as a necessity.

She's definitly the dominant partner in the relationship, and she just gives off this really sweet, open vibe. Manipulative as all hell, yes. But sweet, which balances it a bit. You know, I never really thought about that - her manipulativeness. But you're so right - she totally is. I just was picturing her as someone who's never really been denied anything, but has enough grounding not to ask for the moon. And the Toucan Sam thing was a last-minute addition, so it's nice to hear that worked for you.

As for the ending. Words fail me, it's so abrupt and so damn powerful. Hee! My endings are ALWAYS abrupt - I just never know how to stop telling the story, how to close the door on a certain world. I really need to work on that.

Thanks so much for the lovely feedback!

The last paragraph - I really thought that was the start of Sam's nightmares leading up to the pilot, and it worked perfectly, so perfectly that it moved forward and Dean's there (cause we all know the drill).

I love how you moved Sam's realisation through, from his brother being the biggest person in the room, to a drifter like his Dad. Sam gets criticism for being too hard on Dean, when this POV comes across (Dad's little soldier, etc), but it is a side of Dean. Much as I love him, you have to look and wonder how he'd ever settle, whether he can, whether he's too ingrained in the lifestyle.

Jess was lovely, and their relationship was very real. I love that he couldn't remember their meeting - that it wasn't Apocalyptically amazing, which would have been cheesy. But she's there in the morning, and aw, writes her name on him, and you can see why he'd like her.

Sam dealing with the family, fitting in yet feeling out of place there, was very well done, I really felt the trueness of that.

I felt like this fic overall mimicked the college experience - at times time seemed to fly by, and bits and pieces of info were given, at times I wasn't lost, but it was jigsawy, and then it would slow down more, and the meaningful moments would pop out. Structure wise, it worked well like that, I thought.

Sam's left looking at the four of them, happy and whole, and tries to push back the sick spines of envy as they knife their way through him.
Really liked the way you put this.


knows he doesn't need Dean the way he always thought he did, the way Dean always thought he did. Dean's no longer his oxygen. Lovely.

I liked how he breaks the 'truth' of his family to Jess - harshly, tells her the minimum. This is something I find interesting about the two of them, and comparing this to Lacuna...Dean has to tell Cassie everything, and it backfires. Dean has fun with the grey areas of life (making up stories), where Sam feels guilty about it, but ultimately Dean is quite black/white in his relationships I think - Sam's with him, or he's left. Sam sees it differently - he can be away, but can be with Dean - or at least now in the show he sees it that way. I thought you painted perfectly how at Stanford he'd think of Dean, but not be *able* to talk to him almost, because this is about Sam becoming Sam. Younger siblings always feel that I think - I know I did - and Sam would especially, given their too close relationship. And Sam with Jess - he tells her what he has to, so she'll understand, but doesn't feel bad about not telling her anymore.

I hope that all makes sense. I have rambled on! You inspired general thoughts about the boys and the show in me, you see, and that's great. This was a lovely, consuming fic about Sam's Stanford time. You should feel very pleased and proud of it!

Oh, I'm glad the ending worked for you! And I'm quite fond of the lines you picked out too, so yay for that.

I surprised myself by liking Jess so much. Before I started writing this story, I could take her or leave her, but not I really truly like her (at least this version of her).

I liked how he breaks the 'truth' of his family to Jess - harshly, tells her the minimum. This is something I find interesting about the two of them, and comparing this to Lacuna...Dean has to tell Cassie everything, and it backfires. Dean has fun with the grey areas of life (making up stories), where Sam feels guilty about it, but ultimately Dean is quite black/white in his relationships I think - Sam's with him, or he's left. Sam sees it differently - he can be away, but can be with Dean - or at least now in the show he sees it that way. . . . And Sam with Jess - he tells her what he has to, so she'll understand, but doesn't feel bad about not telling her anymore. I really like the way you put this, and I think too that Sam rations out the truth to both Ben and Jess, though Jess gets even less. But yes, I'd agree that Sam is okay with telling less of the truth than Dean was in a similar situation, which I find very interesting and revealing.

Wow, just wow. That was amazing. I loved the way you fleshed out Jess, made her feel so much more real to me, made me love her. And made me hurt so badly at the ending, even though I knew it was inevitable.

And your original characters were fascinating too, so real.

I loved the way it felt like a series of snapshot moments - sometimes long stories can get bogged down in exposition or introspection, but you let us see how Sam was feeling without having to tell us all the time, and let the events tell us all we needed to know. Which made it a sheer joy to read.

Oh, that's lovely to hear! I was worried about the length of this piece, and if it felt unbalanced.

I like Jess much more now that I've written her. The same thing happened when I wrote Cassie. And Sam? I think I like Sam more now, even given the way he treats Ben. Because he's young and confused and missing Dean so desperately.

Thank you so very much!

Oh, oh. I love that law school was about Jess. *nods* That works. The Sam/Jess here is superb. Not just sincere and sweet, but complicated and very sharp and vivid. You're filling in the blanks on her the show left open so beautifully. It felt to me like he was falling for *her*, for herself, even though I like the fandom theory that Jess is similar to Dean and that's part of it, but this part in comparison to the prior parts with Ben, it seems Sam got it right this time because there are all these quirky, true little Jess-type details that are only Jess and no one else from the show. You've turned Jess into an OC!


Yes! Sam and the mugger. The training is there just beneath the surface. Sam is *scary* when he's pissed off. Jess' fright was so realistic.

He'll go back to the shop after the interview, and he'll come home to her, pull out the ring, and kneel.

Oh, Sam ::sigh::

Beautiful story. Thank you :)

No, thank you for reading and leaving such wonderfully thoughtful feedback!

Oh, oh. I love that law school was about Jess. Sam doesn't seem interested in law except as a sign of normalcy, and Jess is wrapped up in that too.

It felt to me like he was falling for *her*, for herself There had to be something about Jess that set her apart from all the other girls Sam fucked, post-Ben; I'm glad this came across for you.

I like the fandom theory that Jess is similar to Dean You know, I keep seeing that and I don't think I've ever understood the idea behind it. How is Jess similar to Dean? The only point of similarity I ever saw was that they share a birthday.

all these quirky, true little Jess-type details that are only Jess and no one else from the show. You've turned Jess into an OC! That is very kind of you.

Yes! Sam and the mugger. The training is there just beneath the surface. Sam is *scary* when he's pissed off. Jess' fright was so realistic. I did want to write at least one total badass Sam moment. And also explain why Ben never commented on any scars on Sam's body.

Again, thank you so much!

You're my bus author. I took you with me to work, to school. Surrounded by people I squealed, I smiled, I tingled, I blushed, I felt like crying.

Everything in those four Stanford years, every single thing, was real. You have a gift for detail, for mood, for giving the reader the sheer physical existence of rooms, places, people. But you never overexplain. That's such a difficult balance to maintain.

Sometimes I manage to really explain what a story did to me, how it made me feel. Some other times, anything I say seems to fall short.

All I can tell you is that your stories always linger, this one more than the others. It's sunk its hooks in me, and it's not letting go. I keep going back to it, going back to Ben, to his immense beauty, his endearing strength, his vulnerability. I keep going back to Sam's first confusing, overwhelming days on his own. I keep going back to Jess, to this happiness that I didn't want for Sam at first, because I wanted him to stay with Ben.

I keep cherishing this story, touching it, like one does with a beautiful, precious object. And more than that, I can't say.

Oh, this comment! You're just too good to me.

(I do wonder how you think this plays against "Lacuna" because I envisioned this as a companion piece - each one about one boy without his brother for the first time, though Dean gets a few weeks and Sam gets over three years.)

You have a gift for detail, for mood, for giving the reader the sheer physical existence of rooms, places, people. I'm most surprised by this part of your feedback. Because I don't think of myself as someone who writes particularly evocative settings. I try to concentrate on the characters and trust that if I can get them right, the rest will sort of take care of itself. Thank you very much!

But you never overexplain. Really, that's just lovely to hear.

Sometimes I manage to really explain what a story did to me, how it made me feel. Some other times, anything I say seems to fall short. . . . I keep cherishing this story, touching it, like one does with a beautiful, precious object. And more than that, I can't say. Trust me, you nailed it here. I'm still reeling from your comment.

I keep going back to Sam's first confusing, overwhelming days on his own. I'm very glad that section worked for you.

I keep going back to Jess, to this happiness that I didn't want for Sam at first, because I wanted him to stay with Ben. Oh, the early Sam/Jess stuff I wrote was so mean that I had to toss it. I didn't want Jess to be someone worthwhile; I didn't want to reward Sam for treating Ben like that. But then I realized that Sam's behavior couldn't determine Jess's character, and I did some rewriting.

I keep going back to it, going back to Ben, to his immense beauty, his endearing strength, his vulnerability. I'm so glad you love Ben too! Check out the extras post if you want to see more of him.

Thank you again for such lyrical feedback.

I stayed up way past my bedtime last night reading this entire fic in one sitting.

I just...loved it. I love all of your original characters. I love how you show Sam's conflicts and not a few of his faults but in a truly loving and understanding way. And I found the way that Dean's absence in his life is so palpable that it itself has a presence in the story.

Also, my heart breaks for Ben, because I really got to like him quite a bit. And I really appreciated the subtle way that you developed that relationship.

And your Jess was quite well-fleshed out. I do really enjoy reading Jess!fic that turns her into a three-dimensional character.

And I think it's admirable how although this story definitely had its own tone and cadence, the events themselves and Sam's emotions about them felt quite canon to me--like the longest FitB ever.

And now I'm going to go rec on my journal. Thanks for sharing this.

Oh, that's incredibly kind of you! Thank you so much!

And I found the way that Dean's absence in his life is so palpable that it itself has a presence in the story. Oh, yes! This is exactly what I was going for - that Sam would have that kind of "phantom limb" pain now that he and Dean are no longer sharing the same space.

Also, my heart breaks for Ben, because I really got to like him quite a bit. meeeeeeee tooooooooooo (did you read the extras in the next post?)

And your Jess was quite well-fleshed out. I do really enjoy reading Jess!fic that turns her into a three-dimensional character. I kind of wasn't going to bother doing much with her character because I was just so hurt for Ben. But then I realized that Sam's actions have nothing to do with Jess's character, so I tossed what I had and started over with her.

And I think it's admirable how although this story definitely had its own tone and cadence, the events themselves and Sam's emotions about them felt quite canon to me--like the longest FitB ever. FitB?

Thanks again!

This was exhilarating to read. Your descriptions of Sam's experiences at college were so visceral, so real, I could taste them, and they made me nostalgic for my formative days at IU. You've sketched such a well-rounded, deep and colourful Sam that you've expanded my already wide love for Sam. If I keep reading stories like this I'm going to turn into a Sam!girl. Sam's lonlieness and disconnectedness was palpable. And your OCs!! Loved them, Loved them, loved them. I would totally be friends with Irene, and Ben, guh his Deanness was palpable. You made him enough like Dean but enough of his own character to make him interesting and thoroughly endearing. Great job.

Thank you so much! I'm very glad the college bits felt real - I kept worrying that I was pushing them too much to the side in my eagerness to get to Sam's relationships.

Of course we'd all be friends with Irene and sigh over Ben. And I'm VERY pleased that you felt his Deanness was palpable . . . enough like Dean but enough of his own character to make him interesting and thoroughly endearing. Thank you for such lovely feedback!

I'm here from a rec, and because my actual reaction is more *flail* than verbal, a question: Did you make Jess from Madison, as in Wisconsin? Because if you did you're my new hero - that's where I'm from. Also, *flail* this was really good. I've never seen such care put into the development of Sam's Stanford friends before.

I did make Jess from Madison, Wisconsin. For no other reason than wanting a good-sized city that wasn't on either coast.

And thank you for the kind words!

Thank you for this very compelling story -- you put Sam in a light that, while not unexpected or out of character or anything, made me think about him in new ways. Really nice construction and detail.

That's such an interesting way to put it! Thank you so much!

Oh, god. I just read all four parts at once - bad idea, I'm supposed to be studying for the SAT!

It took me an hour, but, you know, it was totally willingly sacrificed.

This was amazing. The OCs were amazing, Ben was amazing, Jess was amazing... my heart broke for Ben, and for Irene. There's not much more I can say, because I think everyone else has said it, but I enjoyed this thoroughly and am off to find what else you've written.

Thank you so much! I'm very pleased all the characters worked for you and that you found the story plausible. I really appreciate your feedback.

My love for this is so great that I don't even know how to express it. This is so much more than you described - it's Sam growing up all by himself. How it takes months before he opens the bag Dean gave him, how Sam loses his virginity, how he finds love with Ben, then with Jess. Ben tore my heart up and my Jess love grows from this story.

I had so much stuff to do today, but I ended up reading this story and it is worth every minute of lost sleep, chores, etc. I can't wait to read it again. Wow.

First of all, HELLOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO, ICON! Hot damn!

Second, hi baby!

Oh, I'm so glad you liked this! And you're right, it totally is "Sam growing up all by himself." I like that summary; I never can write them on my own.

Glad to see you around!

I've just spent hours reading this fic and rarely am I so satisfied. I've been longing for some good, detailed Sam at Stanford fic and you just. Nailed it. This is my canon now.

You totally captured the feeling of trying to find yourself that I think everyone goes through at that age and with Sam he had the added handicap of not coming from a 'normal' background.

Just.... it was gorgeous and real and just, just what I needed.

Oh, I'm so pleased that this story worked for you! Thank you so much for reading and taking the time to leave such sweet feedback.

I can't quite let go of this story - I've already got one series-ish offshoot, and I'm sort of plotting another for a new Get Sam Laid challenge. Funny how that happens sometimes.

I just found this story tonight and read all of it...even thought it's 4:40ish in the morning I just had to tell you how great I thought this whole thing was. I'm definitely gonna tell all my friends about this fic. But now, I think I'm gonna head to bed....

Thanks for the wonderfulness, and I promise if I wasn't so tired you would've gotten a hell of a lot better comment from me. *giggles*

~C~

Thank you so much! I'm glad it spoke to you. I appreciate your sweet feedback!

Ah, I love this fic. I love the life you gave Sam here, how you made Stanford real, not just the empty space it is in canon. I love your Jess. I love Ben and even that Sam left him like he did even though it hurt. In short, I love everything about it (except that I waited so long to leave you feed back that I can't remember the exact deatails of that love but at least I got to tell you that I love it in person).

Feedback in person is AWESOME, and you are wonderful to give me a second helping here.

I'm so glad this worked for you, that you believe that Sam's time at Stanford could have been spent like this. And, oh, Ben. It was right that Sam left him - Sam really is straight, I think - but it hurt unbearably at the time. At least he's getting another shot at being happy with Dean!

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