"Break up into groups of four," Mrs. Sims says, and Pete turns immediately, spots him across the room, and waves him over.
He could kiss Pete, because Pete's managed to snag Jaime and some other girl, Emma, too. Sam parks himself in the seat between Pete and Jaime, and all is right with the world.
"One person from each group come to the front of the room and pick up the books, please," Mrs. Sims calls, and Jaime takes the initiative. Sam can hear the gentle clinking of her bracelet as she weaves gracefully between the desks, her hair gleaming under the fluorescent lights.
"We're going to be starting Romeo and Juliet today. I'd like you to read through the Prologue as a group, and then discuss the questions on the board. When you turn in your answers, you can pick up your poems, which I've graded."
Romeo and Juliet. Really, this couldn't be going better if he got to plan it. Sam figures Mrs. Sims has just made a strong case to be included in his thank you speech.
"Don't forget," Coach Snyder says, and Sam waits to hear more pearls of wisdom regarding the fine art of ballroom dancing; anything would be better than having to listen to stupid Steve Perry and his totally faked sincerity about his stupid open arms. But Snyder pulls out a memo from the main office and reads it out loud. "Picture day is tomorrow. All individual portraits will be taken during your regularly scheduled gym class, in the gymnasium. Class pictures will be taken during first period."
That means he's going to miss English, and the chance to listen to Jaime discuss Romeo and Juliet, but still, he's kind of psyched.
Maybe it's kind of lame that he's excited for class picture day. He's had his picture taken before, plenty of times. But he's never stuck around long enough to pick the pictures up; he has no idea how he looks in photos. He wonders what the photography company does with the unclaimed pictures. Maybe, somewhere, there's a corkboard with pictures of him and Dean from every grade tacked up, like that's where they belong, like they're family.
Man, he should never have mentioned to Dean that he was having his picture taken today. This stupid collar on the button-down shirt Dean had hung on the back of their bedroom door, draped over the dartboard, is catching him at exactly the wrong spot on his neck. It's rubbing against the bug bite that's been itching for a day or two. He lifts his hand to scratch his neck, jostling Pete again, but Pete just elbows him back without making a big deal about it.
Not like Dean's neck is in much better shape, from what Sam had seen this morning. He's got a giant hickey on one side, and scratches on the other. Neither one of those things makes all that much sense to Sam. What's so sexy about sucking on someone's neck hard enough to bruise? It's got to take a while, too, and he wonders if the girl counted down the seconds in her head or something, until she knew she could stop sucking and there'd be a huge dark mark on Dean's skin, proof that she was there.
He'd wanted to ask who the girl was, if Dean was seeing her again, and if he could maybe bring her by the house so he and Dad could meet her, but Dad had been sitting right there, and Sam has no intention of giving Dad any excuse to call off the deal. Not that he's intending to play fair - Dad taught him that there was no such thing, anyway - but he needs a plan of action.
"Line up," Snyder says, punctuating the order with another sharp bleat from his beloved whistle. "Boys on this side of the gym, girls on that side. When I call your name, walk over to the photography area." Sam looks over and sees the familiar sight of the camera on the tripod and the backdrop painted to look like a blue sky with a hint of fleecy white clouds.
"Oh my goodness, young man." Sam looks up and sees a woman marching over to him. She's holding a big bag of cheap black plastic combs, the kind that men over ninety keep in their breast pockets. "Please, feel free to take one," she says, pretending to speak to all of them. She walks down the line with the bag held out helpfully, but Sam can feel her eyes fixed on him, and he blushes and reaches up a hand to try to get his hair under control.
"I can't take you anywhere," Pete says, and they both snort and start to laugh.
"Shut up," Sam says after he's gotten hold of himself. "You've got to help me." Pete gives him a look. "Not with my hair, duh. How do I get around this deal my dad offered?"
"I don't get it," Pete says. "What's the big deal here? Why doesn't your brother ever bring any girls home? Does he not date or something?"
Sam snorts derisively. "That's pretty much all Dean does. He sleeps with everybody. He just, he just never brings any of the girls home."
Pete's face wrinkles like he's really trying to figure this out, and Sam feels a warm surge of affection for him. "Maybe he doesn't bring them home because he doesn't really like them. Maybe he's gay."
The affection vanishes, and Sam cuts Pete off impatiently. "No, that's not it. You should hear him go on and on about, oh, man, she was amazing and wow, that girl should come with a warning." He stops himself before he spills the real reason Dean never brings anyone home - living on the move means there's usually nowhere to bring a girl except a cheap motel room shared by three men and their innumerable weapons. "Anyway, if you want to help, just assume that he likes these girls."
He can see Jaime across the gym. Her tight white jeans have rivets like shiny little eyes, and she's wearing something that makes her lips all glossy and bright pink. Even from here, he can see that she's taken the time to make her bangs a bigger puff than usual. That's the picture he wants to have hanging in his locker, greeting him every time he opens it to hang up his jacket or take out his books.
"Collins!" Coach Snyder shouts, and Jaime starts a little, drops the lock of hair she was twirling around her finger, then heads off in the direction he's pointing. "And . . . Crawford, you're up next," Snyder continues, turning to the boys' side of the gym. Sam watches as Jaime sits and lets the photographer touch her pretty little chin and guide her into a good position. Her smile is blinding, and the flash goes off.
Pete trots off as Jaime rejoins the girls, and Sam tries to concentrate on how to get Dean to bring a girl home. "Are you still thinking about this?" Pete asks when he comes back. "Maybe you should just accept that Dean hasn't met the right girl yet."
"No, that's not it," Sam says, waving a dismissive hand. As far as Dean is concerned, everybody is the right body. He hears something and grabs Pete's arm urgently. "Wait, what did Snyder just say?"
Pete looks like he's ready to escort Sam to the nurse's office, or maybe the loony bin. "He called Brian's name, crazy man."
"And what's Brian's last name?" Sam whispers; he has to be sure he heard that right.
"Heller," Pete answers, still looking concerned.
Sam smiles complacently and drops Pete's arm. "And the plan is born. This is going to be a piece of cake. Just watch and see."
"Wait, what are you doing?" Pete asks.
"I'm just going to talk to my good friend Brian," Sam says innocently.
"Hey, Brian!" he calls when Brian starts walking back over to where he dumped his backpack. "Over here!"
"Hey, Sam," Brian says. Up close, he looks tired. "What's up?"
"Do you have a sister?" Sam asks, then grimaces. He'd meant to be much more roundabout than that. It doesn't seem to matter, though, because Brian just nods. "And does she go here?"
"Yeah, Gen's a senior this year," Brian says, and Sam mentally pumps a fist in the air victoriously. He knew he recognized the name Heller. "Why? You want to ask her out? She only dates guys with cars, man."
"My brother has a car," Sam blurts out. "Hey, maybe they could go out." If the frankly disbelieving and amused look on Pete's face is any indication, he's really not a master of subtlety.
Brian's eyeing him suspiciously. "Why do you care who my sister dates?"
"I don't, man," Sam says honestly, spreading his hands in a gesture like his motives are totally above reproach. He scrambles to find an excuse. "I just thought it would be cool to get my brother out of the house, have him not hang around for one night of my life," he lies.
Brian starts to look really excited. "Oh! I hadn't thought about it like that. Yeah, it'd be good to get Genevieve out of the house, so maybe I wouldn't have to hear another lecture on how she should apply to County for next fall."
"Great!" Sam grins. There's no way this can fail. Dean plus a girl who calls herself a hellcat equals victory. Dad is in for a rude awakening.
"Genevieve?" Dean asks, stripping off his clothes and getting into his unmade bed even though it's not even all that dark out yet. "What happened to Jaime?"
"No, no, Genevieve is for you to go out with," Sam explains patiently, waiting for the high-five Dean's sure to give him when he finally understands that Sam scored him a date with a hot senior and Dean didn't have to lift a finger.
"Why would I want to do that?" Dean asks, rolling onto his side and propping his head up on one hand, clearly settling in for a lengthy discussion.
"Well, because, um, she's totally hot," Sam flounders. "She calls herself a hellcat, Dean! And she's a senior."
"Sammy," Dean says, then pauses. "I'm done with school. What makes you think I want to go back, even for a hot girl?"
"Well, who are you getting those hickeys from?" Sam asks, confused. He'd figured Dean had found girls willing to blow off classes or just take off during study hall.
"Ahhh," Dean says, rolling onto his back and aiming a wide grin up at the ceiling. "These marks of valor are from women, Sammy. Women with lots of experience. They come into the shop all the time, and say they need a tune-up."
"Great." Sam can't believe this. He's been thinking that Dean's actually getting work done while he's at the garage, but instead his brother has turned Vanzini's Body Work into some kind of grease monkey grotto. "Aren't those women married?"
"Hey." Dean's voice is sharp. "I wouldn't do that."
"Sorry." He keeps quiet for a minute, and looks down at his homework. Curiosity wins out over algebra. "So who was she? Today?"
"Man, she was gorgeous. Said her name was Delia, and – actually she works at your school."
"You slept with Nurse Downey?" Sam asks incredulously. From what he's heard, every boy in the school has faked a temperature at some point or another just to have her hand on his forehead.
"Downey soft hands, that's for sure," Dean says, totally unabashed and reveling in every minute of this TMI grossness. "And man, did she know what to do with them."
"I don't believe this," Sam moans, dropping his head down on his algebra textbook.
"What? What's wrong?" Dean asks, starting to sit up in bed.
"Nothing." He just needs to regroup, consider a new plan of attack. Really, if he'd succeeded on his first try, Dad would never have believed it, and probably would have banned Jaime from the house anyway, just out of spite. "Can you help me with my algebra?"
"Some of us have to work in the morning, Sam," Dean says, rolling his eyes, but he sits up all the way anyway. "Get over here."
Sam's barely listening while Dean explains two-variable equations and how they're actually easier to keep track of than one-variable equations. Instead, he's looking at Dean, trying to figure out his secret. If Dean can get Nurse Downey to sleep with him, then Sam needs to step it up, and bring his A-game.
Someone famous said something about doing all their best thinking in the bathroom, right? If no one did, then Sam's totally going to copyright it and every time someone gets a great idea in the bathroom from now on, they'll owe at least a little of it to him.
After he turned in Mr. Van Buren's ludicrously easy pop quiz on the cradle of civilization, all about the Tigris and Euphrates, he'd snagged a hall pass and made his way to the bathroom.
He's just zipping up in front of the urinal when he sees the faded message on the dingy blue tiles, about half a foot above eye level: 867-5309. Sam snorts, wondering if anyone has actually called the number, or if someone who'll answer to the name Jenny lives there. He's never paid much attention to graffiti before, but he'd bet that that number was inked in a bathroom in every school he's ever attended. It's kind of hard to believe that it's lasted this long.
And there, right above the fabled Jenny's number, Sam sees it, the answer to his problem and a clean way to win the bet with Dad. For a good time, call Tina! The message is in washed-out blue ink, and it's been written over a couple of times. Still, the words shine out clearly. There's a clumsy drawing of a dick next to it, and a phone number just below, seven little digits that burn themselves in Sam's brain as his salvation.
"What is up with you?" Pete asks over lunch.
"Nothing," he snaps. "Why?"
"Oh, no reason. My mistake. You always twitch and tap your foot like a deranged squirrel." Pete rolls his eyes. "I'm gonna go get a Twinkie."
"Sorry," Sam says, even as Pete's getting up and lifting his tray. "I just have a really good plan, and I want to get home and try it out."
"Guess you don't want to come over after school then, huh?" Pete asks, then busses his tray without waiting for an answer.
"Tomorrow, maybe?" Sam asks when Pete's back with his dessert.
"Whenever," Pete says. "I've got the ping-pong table cleared off now. Prepare to be creamed."
"Yeah, whatever," Sam shoots back, and then the bell rings, and biology beckons.
He's not quite sure what Dean's hours at the garage are, but he figures he's got about thirty minutes at least to call Tina and talk her into dating his brother. Well, not really dating, but at least screwing him expertly enough that Dean will want to bring her home and never let her go.
Sam thinks about writing a rough script for himself, but decides after sitting with his pen poised over a blank sheet of paper for five minutes that he's better off just winging it. He rubs his damp palms on his jeans and picks up the phone. The cord is long enough to stretch all the way to the couch, so he leans back against one arm and dials the number from memory.
"Yeah?" It's a guy's voice, a little hoarse.
"Hi, may I please speak to Tina?" Sam asks politely. Damn it. He hadn't counted on Tina having a boyfriend, or maybe a husband. Still, maybe it's just her dad or her brother, or a neighbor.
"This is Tina," she says, coughing right into the phone. He can hear the phlegm rattling around in her throat.
"Oh," he says lamely.
"Nah, I'm just kidding. Lemme go get her," the guy says, chuckling rustily at his own dumb joke. "Hey, Teen!" he shouts, nearly deafening Sam and prompting another coughing fit. "Pho-one!"
"Who is it?" a thankfully female voice yells back.
"How should I know? Some punk from your fan club, maybe."
"Alright, alright," she says, then purrs into the phone. "Hi, this is Tina?" There's a seductive lilt to her voice, something that makes it almost a question.
"Hi, this is Sa - um, I heard - um, I was wondering -" Damn, maybe he should have tried harder to write something down.
"Who is this?" Tina asks, only now she sounds suspicious instead of tempting.
"I, uh, well, um," Sam stutters, wishing he could just start over.
"Uh-huh. How old are you?" Wow, Tina sounds pissed now.
"I'm fourteen." There. He managed to say that without tripping all over his tongue.
"You think a fourteen-year-old can handle me?" Now she sounds like he's mortally insulted her.
"No! I was, I was hoping you'd go out with my brother." Finally, it's out there. "He's eighteen," Sam hastens to add.
"He's eighteen and needs you to set up dates for him? What is he, the Elephant Man?"
"Never mind. Listen up, kid. I'm not going to date you. I'm not going to date your big brother. I'm not into pity fucks, and if you ever call here again, I'll get my big brother to pound you into nothing more than a stain on the middle-school playground, got it?"
"But -" he starts to say reflexively, then claps a hand over his mouth to keep from blurting out anything else. The lady was crystal clear, after all, and he likes his spine where it is. He hangs up.
Back to the drawing board.
"Shove over," some guy yells, and Sam scoots down the bleachers bench until he's practically in Pete's lap, the thunderous roar of yelling kids echoing all around him.
"This is awesome!" Sam says, and Pete gives him a look like he's crazy. "Oh, come on, we got out of eighth period, and all we have to do is sit here and cheer when the football team comes running into the gym."
"And do the wave," Pete points out grimly, like that's as bad as streaking or something. "Yeah, okay," he finally concedes, "this is definitely better than my Spanish class. You know, I've never gone to a football game."
"Me either. You and your dad never went?"
"Team sports aren't really our thing."
Sam nods and looks around the gym. It looks totally different than it did a few hours ago when he was foxtrotting with Stephanie Mills. Now the lights are dim, and he can just make out a big banner the length of the court away that shouts !HOMECOMING! in huge yellow letters and bears an enormous purple bird that looks like a hawk or an eagle swooping at either end.
Principal Bergen comes out to stand in the middle of the gym, where a spotlight is shining. The noise dies down as he waves his hands for quiet. "Welcome to the fall pep rally for our Rapture Raptors, five time state champs!"
There's a burst of applause, quickly stopped, and then some muffled giggles. Sam wonders how on earth Principal Bergen came up with his truly terrible deejay voice. "Please put your hands together for the man who led them, Coach Carl Snyder!"
Now the roar sounds more genuine, people stomping their feet so that the bleachers shake, and Coach Snyder comes out in a jacket and cap with the same swooping bird printed on them.
Principal Bergen waits for a few minutes for the cheering to die down. "And to get things started, heeeeeere's the Raptorettes!" He shoves the microphone back onto the stand, then hustles out of the way with the whole thing. The spotlight in the middle of the gym gets wider to accommodate the girls filing in from the locker room.
Sam catches a familiar flash of pale red, and he freezes in his seat at the sight of Jaime in her dance squad uniform. Her hair is up in a high ponytail, the ends just touching the purple flowers resting on the shoulders of her tight yellow shirt. Her purple skirt is short, revealing strong, toned legs.
"Oh my god," Sam whispers, watching her get in line with the other girls, her cheeks pink with excitement, and one hip cocked right at him.
The music starts blaring from the same painfully tinny boombox Snyder trots out at every dance session, some horrible club music with a beat that starts to dictate the rhythm of Sam's pulse, and Jaime begins to move, always perfectly in time, nothing on her face except her awareness of the music. He can see, off in his peripheral vision, some of the other girls falling out of step or frowning in concentration, but Jaime moves like this is all completely natural to her, like she was born to do this. It's that same look Dean gets on his face when he's got a gun in his hands.
Jaime's skirt swishes up to flash her upper thigh across his vision, and as he's still reeling from that glimpse, the music ends, and the girls on the gym floor are panting with exertion and beaming with relief. All of them except Jaime, who's cool as a cucumber, not even breathing hard, just holding her pose until the dance squad captain claps her hands and they all get back into a long straight line to take their bows.
"Hey, Sam," Pete says when the tip of Jaime's ponytail has almost disappeared into the shadows of the locker room. Sam can barely hear him over the thundering of his own heart; it's like all of Jaime's adrenaline got channeled into him by mistake.
"Hey," Pete says again, this time poking Sam in the ribs. "Are you still doing this?"
Sam cranes his neck to watch for the last gleam of red, then swivels around to face Pete. "Doing what?"
"Crushing on Jaime," Pete says bluntly, while Sam looks around, horrified, to see if anyone heard that.
"Yeah, of course. She's perfect, man."
Pete looks puzzled and weirdly frowny. "I guess I thought . . . all those crazy plans you had, asking about Genevieve Heller, calling that Tina lady, I guess I thought you were just trying to beat your dad at his own game. Like you were proving something to him."
Sam shakes his head. "The whole point of the deal is getting to have Jaime over," he says firmly. Though Pete's right about part of it; it would be awfully sweet to make Dad see he's not just a little kid anymore.
"Yeah, but you don't even know her!" Pete says, sounding frustrated. "I mean, you got beaned once in the head and saw her and decided she was the one, right?"
"That's not how it happened at all!" Sam says, wondering why Pete's getting so worked up over this. "I saw her, stopped moving, and then got hit in the head." Wait. It doesn't sound a whole lot better when he puts it like that.
"Okay, whatever," Pete says, waving his hand dismissively. "Since then, you've danced with her once, and you sit next to her in English and never really say anything to her that isn't about Romeo and Juliet."
"I'm not going to say anything in class, especially with you and Emma sitting right there, listening!" Sam huffs.
"Yeah, I'm totally telling you to put the moves on her in front of Mrs. Sims and the rest of the class, Sam. All I'm saying is, you don't know even one thing about her."
"I know she puked all through second grade!" Sam shoots back triumphantly, and they both pause and then burst out laughing at the weirdness of it.
When he sobers up, Sam can hear Coach Snyder rattling off each football player's stats. He blocks out the noise and tries to think about what Pete's said. The thing is, Pete's got a point.
"You're right," he says, turning to look at Pete again. "But," he continues, satisfaction pouring through him as he realizes the answer is staring him right in the face, "you know her, so you can tell me all about her, and then I'll have something to say to her when I do get to talk to her."
Pete gives him another long, weird look, then says, "Okay." He shifts in his seat a little. "I don't know much, but, um, I know she's been taking ballet lessons since we were in first grade. She has recitals and everything. I guess she's pretty good."
Sam nods eagerly and closes his eyes. He can just picture himself in the front row, getting to watch her, not having to make do with stolen glances, just watch as she moves her body to tell a story. Her face would be all pale and serious, her hair up in a bun, and then when it was over she'd peek from around the curtain to blow him a kiss.
"Yeah," he says, opening his eyes. "No wonder she was awesome when we danced together. That's the kind of stuff I mean. What else?"
"Uh," Pete says. "I don't know. She and Emma are totally obsessed with Anne of Green Gables."
That . . . is not nearly as useful. "Why?"
"How should I know? It's not like I've ever read it."
Well, if there's one thing Sam does know how to do, it's research. This should be a piece of cake. And if at some future point, after they've talked about everything else they have in common, he has to actually read the book at her request, he can count on his abilities as an excellent skimmer.
"Thanks." He nudges Pete with his shoulder.
"You do know you're going to have to actually talk to her at some point, right?"
Sam nods, making a careless I've got it covered gesture with his hands, as the football players finally come crashing through the bright banner the cheerleaders have been holding all this time.
"Best two out of three," Sam bargains, panting hard. The only reason Pete wiped the floor with him so handily is because he's never really played ping-pong before, he's sure of it. He always thought it was a game old ladies played, all sedate and gossipy, drinking sips of iced tea between points. But the way Pete plays, it's like a blood-sport, and the ball is a blur of white spinning past Sam's bewildered gaze and just out of reach.
"Do you have to win everything, Sam?" Pete asks smugly.
"No! I just . . . never played before, and now I know all the rules, okay?"
"Fine." Pete smiles as he bounces the ball over to Sam. "Your serve. Or should I say, your funeral?"
"Just for that, I'll let you in on a little secret," Sam says, stalling for time to get his breath back. "Draco Malfoy wins. He gets Harry kicked out of Hogwarts, and Harry has to go back to the Dursleys, and that's it. The end."
"Shut up," Pete says, laughing. "I'm already past the part with the fake duel at midnight."
"Oh. Well, then where are you?"
"Talk and play, man. Come on, serve."
Sam puts the ball into play, trying to think of this not as a game of skill but as a fixed mathematical outcome. Great. He's screwed there, too; Pete's a year ahead of him in math.
The ball zooms by him again. "I'm at the part where Harry's found that mirror," Pete says. "One-zip, me."
"Oh, yeah. The Mirror of Erised." That had been a really tough chapter to get through and Sam had nearly given up a few times. Given that their things were almost permanently packed up, he didn't know where exactly any pictures of his mother could be in the New Brighton apartment, which box they could be shuffled into, but he'd never been more tempted to rip apart all the cardboard in his quest to find them. He knew from Dean that she had blonde hair and a big, bright smile, but that was all. He couldn't remember her voice, what she smelled like, or how she'd looked at him. In that moment, he'd hated Harry for having a way around that, an unfair fix for a fact of his life.
"Hey," Pete says, and Sam looks up.
"I thought we were playing," Sam says, trying to clear his mind of such depressing thoughts.
"Yeah, we are," Pete says, squinting at him from across the table like it's vitally important that he sees the expression on Sam's face at that exact moment. Pete finally quits staring and serves the ball with a little less spin on it than usual.
Before Sam can call him on it, the basement door opens and Pete's mom descends a couple of stairs, just enough that Sam can see her high heels. She's got a tear in her pantyhose starting at her ankle.
"Hi, honey. Hi, Sam. Have you boys eaten, or are you going to want dinner in thirty minutes?"
"We ate and we want dinner in thirty minutes," Pete answers promptly, and his mom turns her sigh into a laugh at the end.
"Thanks, Mrs. Crawford," Sam says. He knows he eats a lot when he's at their house, but Mrs. Crawford is a really good cook. And anyway Pete always scarfs down a ton of whatever Dean dishes out, and those jokes and stories Dean spins never seem to affect his appetite.
"No problem, Sam, you know that," she says, turning around to head back up the stairs. "It's always nice to have you over."
Just as Sam can feel his face starting to go a little pink at the compliment, she continues. "It's good to see one boy who'll eat his Brussels sprouts without making a fuss like a two-year-old having a temper tantrum."
"Ha ha," Sam mouths, then sticks out his tongue at Pete, who rolls his eyes and serves the ball.
"Hey -" Sam starts when he walks into the house, only to stop when he gets a look at Dean. "Are you okay?" he asks instead.
"Yeah, of course," Dean says, slurring his words a little, but not like he's drunk. More like he's hurt, like he's taken a direct hit and is trying to pretend there's absolutely nothing wrong.
That makes no sense, though. Dean hasn't been hunting on his own, has he? Dad for sure hasn't sanctioned any side trips, and there's been nothing weird in the papers anyway.
Sam leans in close to look at Dean's face. "Are you hurt?"
Dean looks so genuinely surprised when the question registers that Sam knows that can't be it. "Nah, promise. Just tired, Sammy, okay?"
"Oh." Sam crosses his arms over his chest. "Free tune-ups for all the local ladies?"
"Smartass," Dean says around a grin. "No, just had a lot of heavy lifting today, and Ed was out, so it was just me."
"But you're still seeing . . . never mind." There's no good way to ask if Dean's still up to his old tricks; nothing has changed for him, so why wouldn't he be? And Dad and his crazy bat-ears are probably lurking nearby, just waiting to disqualify him.
"Get some sleep," Sam says instead. "I'll do my homework out here so the light won't bother you."
Sam finds Pete sitting on their usual bench, back against one arm and his feet flat on the seat. The book is propped up against Pete's thighs, so it's hard to see how far into the story he is, but from the disbelieving look on his face, Sam guesses he's just found out what was beneath Professor Quirrell's turban.
Sam checks his watch. They've got about fifteen minutes before the bell rings. That should be enough time for Pete to finish the book if he's left in peace. Sam heads in early instead of sitting in the sunshine, makes a pit stop at his overstuffed locker, and finds his seat in English. He might as well look over the scene they're reading today, just so he can stop stammering every time Jaime lifts her eyes from her notebook - she has the prettiest handwriting - to look at him and ask what he thinks of the scene.
And there she is, like he's conjured her up out of nothing more than a wish. She's sitting in her seat, elbows on her desk, leaning forward and talking to Emma in an urgent whisper. Sam can't make out a word of what they're saying from across the room; the noise in the hallway from kids shuffling into the school before the first bell is too overpowering.
Still, he could go over there now, say something to her, to both of them, maybe just play it casual. He checks his watch again. Twelve minutes. Nah, that's probably not enough time to say something great. He'll totally catch her later, when he's thought of the perfect thing and they have all the time in the world to spend just with each other. Besides, it would be really rude to interrupt the conversation she's having now.
Sam didn't say a word about this morning, but for some reason Pete's all gung ho about this today. "Okay, now," he hisses, and pushes Sam a couple steps ahead of him and slows his own pace.
Sam can see Jaime at the end of the hall, catching that sweep of fair red hair in one curled hand, and bending to take a drink from the water fountain. It's like it's all slow-motion in his head, Technicolor too, and her mouth is pink and open and inviting as it breaks and bends the water's perfect curve.
His can't get his legs to slow down, and he turns, panicking, back to Pete. Pete's making shooing motions with his arms, like a bored matador, and Sam faces Jaime once more. He's totally going to do it. He's going to walk up to her and think of the perfect thing to say and she'll laugh and agree and together they'll figure out how to get Dean to cave in this weird battle of wills between him and Dad and yeah. That's what's going to happen.
And maybe it would have, if Jaime hadn't been wearing a sleeveless shirt, and if her pale pink bra strap hadn't chosen that moment to fall past her shoulder, and the sight of it hadn't stopped Sam dead in his tracks and made some huge senior behind him plow right into him and send him careening toward the lockers. At least he manages to get his hands up to brace for the crash.
Dean pulls up in front of the school promptly at six, back to being obnoxiously alert and chipper. "Where's Pete? We could give him a ride home too."
Sam slumps in the passenger seat. His backpack is a heavy weight across his feet. "His dad just picked him up. They're going on some fishing thing or something this weekend." He's not sure why he's being so vague. It's not like he doesn't know all of the details: Mr. Crawford came by and got Pete and then they were going to drive down to Lake Francis Case tonight, stopping for dinner at Harry's House, home of the world-famous dill pickles as well as Pete's favorite restaurant, and then they were going to walk into their cabin on the lake. And in the morning they'd get up early and take the boat out and fish and just hang out.
Okay, so he does know why he's not spilling all of it to Dean. He's insanely jealous, and Pete's attempt to make things better by saying, "Maybe you can come next time, Sam? I'll ask my dad," had only made things worse. Because there's no way Dad will let him go, out with people who wouldn't have the first idea of how to stay safe, and there's no way Dad would take him on a weekend like that either, even if they had the money and the time to do it right.
Dean doesn't say anything, just shrugs and peels away from the curb.
It takes Sam a couple of minutes to realize they're not headed in the direction of home. "Where are we going?"
"Bobby invited us over for dinner," Dean says. "I figured you and Dad could get your geek on in Bobby's library while Bobby and I fixed dinner."
"Fine," Sam mutters, slouching down even further.
All it takes to defeat a bad mood, though, is a puppy determined to lick every inch of your face. Uncle Bobby and Dean have no shame.
Dad doesn't say a word when Sam finds him in the room where Bobby keeps his oldest books, but he clears half the table of his stuff. Looking up with eyes that have gone red from too much reading, Dad just nods at Sam before going back to the book in front of him.
What's the point of even hoping Dad will give up his quest and just take him fishing? This, right here, is Dad's quest, his whole life, and nothing Sam wishes is going to change that at all.
"Dad?" Dean asks, as Sam watches Uncle Bobby pat his belly like a man well satisfied with what he just ate. "You ready to go, get out of Bobby's hair?"
Dad doesn't answer, just keeps muttering to himself like he can't get his mind to let go of what he's been reading. Sam's convinced the only reason Dad didn't bring a book to the table is the possibility that a priceless text might get meatloaf all over it.
"Go on, now," Uncle Bobby says as soon as Dad gets up from the table and walks away. "I'll make sure your dad gets home later tonight, or I'll pour him into one of the beds upstairs if it gets that late. You boys have fun."
"You want Sammy to sit in for you?" Dean asks, grinning widely.
"Hell no, boy," Uncle Bobby retorts, then musses up Sam's hair. "No offense meant, son."
Sam just blinks at the two of them in confusion. "What're you even talking about?"
"It's poker night, Sammy."
"Do I have to play?"
Dean looks confused. "You don't have to, no. Didn't you finish your homework already, though?"
"I have a book," Sam says. "Pete's dad brought it for him, and Pete said I could read it first."
"Okay, whatever you want, Sammy," Dean says as he eases into his leather jacket.
"It's Sam," he points out for the billionth time.
Mr. Vanzini says Sam can sit in his office and read, if he'd really rather do that than play a couple of hands with the guys, and Sam retreats from the clouds of cigar smoke and beer fumes gratefully. A bag of those chips would have been nice, though.
He sits in the big chair behind the desk and opens Pete's book. There's an inscription on the inside cover, just the date and "Love, Dad," but it's enough to set Sam's teeth on edge. He flips the pages grimly, covering the blue ink, and settles down to read.
The book is kind of weird, and it's a little hard to keep track of all the names and what exactly the hobbits are talking about half the time, and he finally gives up. He wants to go home, get into bed, and forget this day ever existed. Dean can drive him and then come right back if he wants; it'll be just like sitting out one hand.
Sam cracks the office door open. Now he can hear the bright buzz of conversation, punctuated by laughs and whistles. Mr. Vanzini, who looks like a Santa Claus hired by a really sketchy department store, is sitting back in his chair and talking around the cigar clenched in his teeth. "Man, I tell you, there's nothing like a garage bunny. The girls I used to pull, ah, I could tell you stories about them."
"Yeah, but we've heard 'em all!" the red-faced guy sitting next to him shouts. "It's the new kid who should be spilling. C'mon, man, I'm dying here - oh, and start with that Delia chick who came in the other day!" he pleads, clapping a beefy hand on Dean's shoulder.
"Me kiss and tell?" Dean grins. "Never gonna happen, Chuck." Dean puts his cards down face-up and fans them out in one smooth movement. "Pot's mine, anyway. You fellas oughtta be entertaining me."
"Dean," Sam says, leaning one shoulder against the doorjamb and holding his backpack in a loose fist. "I don't feel so good."
"I'm out," Dean says, standing up and doing a swift tally of his chips. "We'll settle up next time. See you tomorrow, Eddie Van Halen."
There's a lot of grumbling coming from the table, especially from Mr. Vanzini, who looks entirely unamused by Dean's nickname for him, but it's not threatening. At least Dean doesn't seem to think it is, since he's focused entirely on Sam. "Come on, princess," Dean murmurs into his hair, draping a smoky-smelling arm around his shoulders. "Let's get you home."