A pop quiz first thing Monday morning sucks. At least it's pretty easy, and he can write his answers without struggling to remember the lines from the play.
He does manage to wait for Pete by the door, which means Jaime has to brush past him. She smells really good, like always. Today she smells like a creamsicle, oranges and ice cream, and his mouth starts to water.
Today. He's going to line up next to her in gym and start a conversation. He just can't wait any longer.
Coach Snyder doesn't get them into a line to pair them off. He just jumps right into the instructions. "Alright, folks, today we're starting the tango. This is the basic step. Pay attention, because this one's complicated."
Sam can't figure out where his feet are supposed to go, and watching Snyder doesn't seem to help, not when he's really paying attention to Jaime's slim figure, three people down the line.
"I honestly have no idea what I'm doing right now," Pete mutters, stumbling a little over his untied shoelaces.
"Me neither," Sam says out of the side of his mouth.
Snyder blasts his whistle and looks down at his attendance sheet. "Okay, I want Fisher and Mills over here. Winchester and Barnes here." Sam looks around for Sarah Barnes, and together they head for the far corner of the gym where Snyder had been pointing. It looks like Snyder's trying to give all of them plenty of room for this dance, like they're suddenly going to start tearing up the floor with their awesome moves.
"And Crawford and Zipes over here," Snyder finishes. "Get in your dance positions," he calls, then heads over to the boombox.
From behind him, Sam can hear the scuffle of sneakers on the parquet floor, then a loud smack that he knows without even looking is the sound of a punch landing and echoing. He turns, and Pete's got a hand up over his face.
Sam doesn't even think about it; before he's aware of what he's decided, he's already across the gym, fists clenched and ready to rain down on Zipes. Zipes has no idea what he's in for, still too busy shoving Pete and growling that he's not a fag and doesn't hold hands with guys.
Snyder comes up behind him and grabs Sam's fist before he can let loose with it. Snyder's other hand hauls Zipes up by the collar and shakes him a little. Zipes manages to kick Sam in the gut as he struggles, knocking Sam to the ground.
"Winchester," Snyder says, his voice calm, "you and Crawford head over to the nurse's office. Barnes, you're running the class; I'm taking Zipes here to have a chat with Principal Bergen." He looks down at Sam, who flushes and scrambles to his feet. "Go on, now."
As the heavy double doors to the gym bang shut behind them, Sam asks, "What just happened in there?"
Pete shrugs and swipes at the blood flowing from his nose with the back of his hand. "He didn't like having me for a dance partner."
"But we've all danced with other guys before; there aren't enough girls in the class."
"Derek and I were never friends," Pete says flatly. "This is different."
"He's an idiot anyway," Sam says truthfully as they turn the corner. "And maybe he'll be suspended."
"That would be pretty awesome," Pete agrees, smearing the blood around some more. He looks down at his shirt, at the red spatters on it. "This is just gross."
Nurse Downey's door opens, and Pete's face is clean of blood, though it's still all over his shirt. There's a faint bruise darkening his left cheek. Sam raises his eyebrows and Pete nods. Nurse Downey says, "Sam? This way, please?" and Sam and Pete bump shoulders as they pass.
"Could you tell me what happened, please?" Nurse Downey asks.
"Uh, this guy, Derek Zipes, is an idiot. I don't know how that happened." He's surprised when she starts laughing, because he wasn't trying to be funny.
Suddenly, it occurs to him that he could talk her into coming over to the house for Dean, and that would be enough to win Dad's deal.
"Let's try this again," she says. She's even prettier when she smiles. "What happened to you? Why were you sent here?"
"Oh, um, cause he kicked me in the stomach."
"Goodness!" She looks alarmed now, her eyes all big. "And you didn't think to mention that before?"
"I'm okay, really." She looks like she's totally not buying it, so he tries again. "Not even a mark on me, I swear."
"Would you mind lifting up your shirt for me, please?" she asks.
Yeah, that's just what he wants, is for her to see the little rolls of fat on his stomach. What he needs is a distraction. "Hey, Nurse Downey. You're dating my brother, aren't you?" He immediately wants to kick himself in the gut; clearly, he hasn't gotten any sneakier since he called Tina and got himself threatened in return.
She looks surprised, and then she figures it out. "You're Sam Winchester. Yes, I've seen your brother a couple of times."
"And you like him, right?" he prods.
"It's very hard not to like him," she says. "Your shirt, Sam."
"I was just thinking, you could come by the house sometime, you know, to meet Dean's family." She's his last hope. He had no idea Dean saw any of the girls he slept with more than once; he must really like her, and that makes this totally okay.
"Why would I need to do that?" she asks. "I've just met you. Your shirt, please."
In desperation, he heaves his shirt up until the hem touches his nose. She bends her head to look closely at his gut, and he looks down at her shiny black hair and points out, "But you haven't met our dad."
"I've got a dad of my own, who's all I can handle," she says, then pulls his shirt back down. "Okay, hop down. You're done. I'll write you a pass for your next class."
"Don't bother, I've got lunch now," he says. "Don't you want to come over?" It's his last-ditch effort.
"Getting what you want isn't always the best thing for you," she says, straightening up the office and then looking him in the eye. "I hope I don't have to see you in here again, Sam. Good luck out there."
He's totally out of ideas. He's used them all up, and anyway, he still hasn't gotten up the nerve to just talk to Jaime, so maybe he should just forget the whole thing. And if Nurse Downey isn't awesome enough for Dean to bring home, he can't imagine who would be.
So he should just do his homework and go to bed like this is any other school in any other town, not the one place where he could actually be with somebody. He pulls his Latin workbook out of his bag and starts on the vocabulary exercises; at least with this class, he doesn't even have to think to get the homework totally right.
Halfway through the diagram of an animal cell for Ms. Kupchik, his stomach growls. He checks the clock. Dean should have been home hours ago. He heads down the hall and knocks on Dad's door. No answer, but it's not like this is an emergency. Dad probably lost track of time, going through Uncle Bobby's books, and maybe Dean called him and said he was getting a beer with some of the guys, or more likely, another garage bunny was all over him and Dean was having the time of his life.
Sam finds a can of chicken noodle soup in the cupboard and gets back to work, slurping up noodles as he labels the nucleus and mitochondria. He saves the little cubes of chicken for last, chewing them like gum as he puts all of his work back in his bag.
He tries to read a little more of The Hobbit once he's in bed, but he can't pay any attention to the characters when Jaime keeps dancing through his mind, dancing just out of reach. He turns out the light and lies there in the dark.
Dean's footsteps come thunking down the hall, and the bedroom door opens and Dean flips on the light. Sam blinks and squints against it. "Dean? Are you okay?" Dad had better not have dragged Dean on some hunt without telling him about it.
"Yeah. Oh, sorry, the light." The light snaps back off, but that glimpse of Dean looking all lit up is enough for Sam.
"Where have you been?" he demands. "What were you hunting?"
"I wasn't on a hunt," Dean protests, lying on his bed still fully clothed. Sam can hear twin thumps as his boots hit the ground. "I've been at work. Oh, man, Sam, you should see her -"
So he was right before about the garage bunny. "I don't want to hear it, Dean. I want to go to sleep."
"She's the one, Sammy," Dean says, still sounding dazed.
That's it. He's had just about enough of this. Sam turns the light back on, but Dean doesn't even shy away; Sam gets up in his face, but can't smell perfume or booze on Dean's skin or hair, and Dean's eyes look a little glassy but mostly okay.
Dean's eyes grow huge. "Oh, shit. Hopefully sleeping in Bobby's guest room."
"You're going to get in so much trouble."
"Not after Dad meets her," Dean says, his voice going all dreamy again. "You're both gonna love her."
Sam shakes his head and gets back into bed, turning off the light as he goes. Once he's got the sheets and blankets arranged properly, he finds himself grinning in the dark. He has Dad beat, and Dad doesn't even know it yet.
Sam's tired of waiting for Dean to just bring this girl home already. Dean's been coming home really, really late for a week, and there are dark circles under his eyes, but he still doesn't smell like smoke or alcohol or even perfume. "She's not ready to meet all of you yet," is all Dean will say, then smile his big dumb stars-in-his-eyes smile, when Sam asks. "She needs a little time, okay? Don't push."
Sam's starting to wonder if Dean found some freaky religious girlfriend who won't let him past first base, because there aren't any marks on Dean's neck and back anymore.
It's too weird to picture Dean with someone shy. Dean hasn't even told him her name or how he met her or anything; it's like Dean's protecting her or something. The whole world is topsy-turvy, as far as Sam's concerned. He wakes up early and slips a little holy water in Dean's morning coffee, but Dean just gulps it down and dashes off to work.
Dad's only adding to the weirdness levels. He's actually around more now that Dean's out at all hours, and one day he lifts his head from his journal, which Sam had figured would need to be surgically detached from his fingers, and offers, "Want to play a game of chess?"
Sam's got a test in World History he should be studying for, but he's never been able to turn down a chess match with Dad; this is their thing, just like Dad and Dean talk about cars. And hunting. And, okay, fine, pretty much everything else in the world.
He runs to his bedroom and pulls the little travel set out from under his bed. All the pieces are already in their proper slots, ready to get started. Dad always plays white and gets the opening move.
Forty-five minutes later, Sam, with his chin on the table and his body in a swayback sprawl, smiles victoriously up at Dad. Dad sighs gustily. "Best two out of three?" Dad says, and Sam nods eagerly.
The second match goes a little more slowly, now that they're remembering each other's favorite strategies, and at first Sam thinks Dad's conversation is merely a diversionary tactic meant to throw his concentration out the window.
"Bobby mentioned a hunt," Dad says, and Sam's heart sinks, because he'd hoped that this year would be time away from all of that. Dad, though, just won't let that happen. "I was thinking of heading out to take care of it this weekend."
Why wait? Sam thinks bitterly. Not like you're going to work Monday through Friday. He plucks his bishop from its space and moves it diagonally across the board, capturing one of Dad's pawns.
"I was thinking you could join me," Dad says, looking at the board with a faint frown.
"Me?" Sam hadn't considered that. "Not Dean?"
"Dean'll probably be working." Dad smiles. "'Sides, if the two of us left you alone, most likely you'd throw some wild party and get hauled off to the county jail."
Sam rolls his eyes. "Yeah, that's me," he says sarcastically, but Dad's grin is too infrequent a weapon to resist for very long, and he can't keep himself from smiling back or playing along. "There'd be strippers and music and drugs."
Dad nods solemnly. "That's what I figured. So. Bobby says there's something going on in a place called Snake Creek."
"Snake Creek Recreation Area? Right near Lake Francis Case?"
Dad looks up sharp at that. "How did you know?"
"Pete's dad has a fishing cabin there, so I've heard him talk about it."
"Pete ever mention anything weird?"
"No. I would have told you if he did, Dad."
"Yeah, I know," Dad says, surprising him. Dad pulls a folded sheet of paper from his back pocket. "This is all Bobby had to go on. You're going to handle the research on this one. I'll pick you up after school on Friday and we'll head out from there."
Sam doesn't mention how much he hates camping. He just sits back and waits for Dad to make his next move and get one step closer to total annihilation.
According to Dad's transcription of Bobby's recollections, college-aged men had a tendency to disappear from the area right around Lake Francis Case; some of them had been camping solo, and were only reported missing days later, but some were with groups who'd reported the disappearances within hours.
Sam gets as much of his homework done during Latin as he can. It's not like Mr. Lott is saying anything he doesn't know already, and this way he can keep his after school hours free for research. He ends up finding a lot of books on the area because it's the only local tourist attraction, and it stands to reason that the school and town libraries would be treasure troves to anyone looking for information about Snake Creek.
"What are you doing?" Pete asks when Sam comes back to their table with another armful of books.
"My dad and I are taking a trip over the weekend, and he warned me there'd be a quiz," he says, depositing the books on the table and then making the crazy sign by spinning his index finger near his temple.
"That's awesome," Pete says, and the lack of sarcasm in his voice throws Sam until he realizes Pete must have seen how jealous he was of the fishing expedition.
"Yeah," he agrees simply, and gets back to work. After a minute, Pete takes a book from the stack nearest him and settles in to read too.
Of course Dad wouldn't take Dean on this trip, not if this thing they're hunting likes to snatch college-aged guys, but given how easy things have been between him and Dad the whole drive up, Sam thinks that maybe Dad really did want him to come, for the two of them to work this hunt together.
The car's loaded up with salt and gasoline, guns and knives. Dad's got the radio off and a look fixed on Sam. "Talk to me, Sam. What do you think we're dealing with here?"
"I'm not sure yet. I think we should inspect the area before deciding anything."
"This doesn't have to be something supernatural," Dad warns, as if Sam's going to be seriously disappointed if it's not. "Boys that age can be a little reckless, and maybe a couple of them got lost or hurt."
"I couldn't find anything on any of those guys being found, though," Sam points out, and Dad nods approvingly.
"Alright, what did you find, then?" Dad asks, and listens while Sam goes through his notes, carefully cross-referenced and annotated.
They've got their flashlights out, ready for the moment the sun sinks low enough to be useless to them. They walk the path, clearly marked as part of the Lewis and Clark Trail, but nothing jumps out at them. They can't find any natural traps, any signs of struggle, or even a dip in the temperature.
"Nothing, Dad." Sam's flashlight beam zeroes in on an object just to the right of the path. "Hey, Dad? Have you been seeing a lot of animal bones?"
"Yeah. This area is known for deer and eagles especially."
"Right." Sam starts to move ahead, but Dad grabs his arm and pulls him back.
"Tell me what's on your mind, Sammy."
"I think the deer skulls I'm seeing . . . don't really look like deer. They're kind of deformed."
"And?" Dad shines his flashlight over to where Sam was looking last.
"And while it's possible that the local deer population has some kind of mutation, it seems weird that I couldn't find anything about it when I was doing all of this reading. Especially when a lot of the information in the brochures is about the local wildlife."
"Strange, but not impossible," Dad says. "Let's go back down to the camping grounds and go through your research again. We'll figure this out."
"Run that by me one more time," Dad says in the morning, squinting at him over a tin cup of coffee.
"Okay, so, a guy named George Shannon, nineteen years old, a member of the Lewis and Clark party, got separated from the rest of the group when a couple of the horses bolted, and he was sent to find them. He found the horses, but then couldn't find the rest of the group for twelve days. When he finally caught up with them, he was bearing three deer skins."
Dad takes a big bite of his hard roll. "And you think Shannon's the thing we're dealing with?"
"No," Sam says, sitting up but staying cocooned in his sleeping bag. If his theory is right, then this is one seriously cool hunt. "I think one of the deer he killed wasn't a deer at all. It was a shapeshifter who got caught wearing the wrong skin at the wrong time, but Shannon had no idea he'd killed a man. And that's the spirit we're dealing with."
Dad puts down his coffee cup. "That's pretty damned clever, Sammy," he says, exactly the way he says, "That's a fine shot, Dean," and Sam ducks his head down so Dad can't see his cheeks getting pink.
Dad stands and stretches. "Of course, we still need to test your theory out, so up and at 'em, boy."
Sam groans and worms his way reluctantly out of his nice warm sleeping bag.
"I gotta say, Sammy, you got a real talent for this kind of thing," Dad says, grinning in the passenger seat. "That was real smart, the way you put this case together."
"Thanks, Dad," Sam says, searching for a victory march on the radio. He settles on the Rolling Stones for lack of anything better, and Dad taps his fingers in time on his thigh.
"How's your other little project coming?" Dad asks, unable, or more likely unwilling, to keep the smirk out of his voice.
"Good. Really good," Sam says, beaming aggressively at Dad. Dad's face loses its amusement in an instant.
"And if I talk to Dean?"
"I haven't said a word to him about this. Swear on whatever you want."
"That's good." Dad clears his throat and folds his arms across his chest, looking out the window for the rest of the drive back home.
"Good job, dude," is all the congratulations Dean offers, but he makes Sam's favorite dinner that night - spaghetti with meatballs and peppers - and insists on hearing every detail of how Sam pieced it all together. In the morning, there's a stack of pancakes kept warm under a plate waiting for him.
It's raining out, so everyone's crowded into the gym. The banners from the pep rally are still up. At this distance, Sam can read the date of the homecoming dance, a week away.
He's got nothing to lose. He catches sight of Jaime coming in and then pulling her hair out of its ponytail to try to shake it dry. Each step he takes toward her echoes the thunderous beats of his heart. "Hi," he says when he's at her side.
She looks up through a veil of pale red hair. "Hi," she says, sounding surprised.
"I was wondering if you wanted to go to Homecoming. With me," he clarifies, just so she doesn't think he's taking a poll or something.
"Oh!" She flips her hair back and looks at him like she's never really seen him before. "Can I, um, can I let you know later?"
As if the knots his stomach is tying itself into will allow him to survive more than a few minutes. "Yeah, sure."
"Thanks, Sam," she says, and he turns and walks away before he can ruin the moment.
When he walks into English, he sees her and Emma, whispering and gesturing madly; he can't tell if they're arguing or agreeing with each other, but Emma looks right at him while Jaime's gaze never quite makes it all the way across the room.
He leaves a wake of whispers behind him everywhere he goes, and he wonders if Jaime's answer will factor in the opinion of every ninth-grade girl.
In home ec, while they make broth for their vegetable soup, Pete leans in and says softly, "So you finally did it?"
"Yeah," he says, stirring idly while Pete chops vegetables into precise rectangles.
Pete's eyes don't lift from the cutting board. "That's cool. And it's not even like you're having her over, so your dad can't say anything about this, right?"
Oh, man, how is he going to get this past Dad? "Right," he says weakly, and Pete frowns at him and puts the knife down.
Sam starts to babble. "You have to ask someone too, okay? I mean, if she says yes?"
Pete rolls his eyes. "You want a chaperone on your date? I don't think so."
"Not a chaperone. More of a double date, just so no one's nervous, that's all."
"Yeah, okay," Pete says. "Just let me know when she says yes."
"You're totally going to jinx this for me, shut up."
"You're such a dweeb, Sam," Pete says, smiling as he stirs the vegetables into the broth.
"Boys," Ms. Bonling says, materializing behind them, "are you quite done with this little argument and might you be able to concentrate on the project at hand?"
"Yes," they both mumble, and Sam starts washing up the cutting board and knife while Pete dumps the vegetable ends in the trash.
That was a good point Pete made, about dances not being covered under the deal, but Sam still makes sure that Dean's around and alert when he brings the subject up. "So," he starts while they're all sitting around the kitchen table, a bucket of fried chicken equidistant from all three of them. "The homecoming dance is this Saturday, and I asked Jaime to go, and she said yes."
"Dude, way to go," Dean says when he's finished licking the grease from his fingers.
Dad just sits and waits to see how Sam will get out of this one. "And if one of you would give me a ride, we could pick her up, and she wouldn't even have to come over." He's proud of himself for making it sound like this is an added bonus he's just thought of, instead of an idea he's been wrestling with for two days and nights.
Dad nods slowly. "I should be able to manage that. Saturday night, what, seven o'clock?"
"Eight. And maybe we could pick up Pete and his date too?"
"It'll be a tight fit, but I guess we could squeeze you all in. Not like you'll mind being on top of each other."
Sam heaves a sigh of relief. Of course that's when Dad has to go all evil again. "Dean, did you ever find that camera we bought back in Skokie? I think we might need it again on Saturday."
Dean smiles angelically. "Ed's got a video camera I'm sure he'd let me borrow," he says.
"The number of hours you're putting in, he better have a kidney he'd let you borrow," Dad says, and Sam excuses himself before Dad can think of anything else to torture him with.
Sam picks up the phone and flops back down on the couch. "Hello?"
"Sammy, hey. Are you, uh, going anywhere tonight?"
"It's ten o'clock on a Friday night in Rapture, South Dakota, Dean. Where could I possibly go?"
"Is Dad there?"
"Are you in trouble?" Dean sounds really shifty.
"Is Dad there?" Dean repeats.
"Yeah, you want me to get him?"
"No, I'm just bringing her home to meet you guys. I wanted to make sure you both were there."
Sam's jaw drops, and the sound of the dial tone is loud in his ears. "Dad!" he shouts.
Something in his tone must have told Dad this was serious, no-kidding-around stuff, because he comes out of his bedroom looking wary.
Sam takes a deep breath. "Dean's bringing his weirdo girlfriend over."
"And what? You want to lay salt down?" Dad asks. "For a minute there I thought something had happened to him."
Dad shakes his head. "You know this one's name? Seems like you've been expecting him to bring her by."
"No. I don't know anything about her, except that he met her at work and he's crazy about her."
Dad laughs sadly. "Crazy, huh? I wasn't sure I'd ever see the day."
"Yeah," Sam agrees fervently.
Dad's eyeing him now. "I guess this means you get your way. You can have Jaime over if you want to. But not more than once a week, and you are always to stay here, in the living room, got me?"
"Uh-huh," Sam nods.
There's a honk coming from the driveway, and Dad says, "Guess his girlfriend's got wheels. Come on, Sammy, time to meet her."
They open the front door, and Dean's standing there with the biggest grin Sam's ever seen on his face. Next to him is -
Dad whistles. "A '67 Impala." Dean's eyes are tracking Dad's progress around the car. "You did this yourself, Dean?" Dean nods like he can't trust his voice if he tries to speak. "Hell of a job you did," Dad says.
"Where's your girlfriend?" Sam asks, feeling like something's going right over his head, but that's normal when Dad and Dean talk about cars.
They both start laughing. "You'll understand when you're older," Dad says, claps Dean on the back, and leads him inside. Dean trails his fingers against the side of the car as he goes, and Sam brings up the rear.
Dean's "girl" doesn't have all that much in the way of interior lights, but Sam can make out something really familiar about Pete's date when she and Pete get into the back seat. "Hi, I'm Lori," she says, sticking her hand over the back of the front seat to shake his.
"I'm Sam, and this is my brother Dean."
"Hey," Dean says. "Yo, Pete."
"What a cool car," Lori says, and Dean elbows him as if to say that he approves of Pete's date-wrangling abilities, and Sam better not have let him down in this department.
Sam's palms start to sweat when they make the turn onto Jaime's street. "Number sixteen, right?" Dean asks. Sam gulps and nods. Jaime's house is white with red shutters and a red front door, and when Sam gets out, the white stone path to the front door looks terribly short.
He rings the doorbell. A woman with hair that's blonder than Jaime's answers the door. "Hello, Mrs. Collins, I'm Sam. I'm here to pick up Jaime. For the dance."
"Aren't you just precious?" she asks, smiling at him. He hopes that was a rhetorical question. "Won't you come in?" That one's definitely not, so he does what she suggests and follows her into a living room with a cream-colored carpet and pale blue walls.
"Jaime's upstairs. I'll just run and fetch her."
"Okay," he says, but she's already halfway up the stairs and couldn't possibly have heard him.
Jaime comes down the steps then, in a soft-looking dress that matches her eyes and a fuzzy white cardigan on her shoulders. "You look great," he says as his palms go completely wet.
"Thanks," she says, grabbing her purse from where it's looped around the banister. "Bye, Mom," she calls, hustling him out the front door. "She was looking for the camera before," she explains, leaning close to whisper into his ear.
She smells like perfume, like flowers on a bright summer day. He leads her to Dean's big black car and grins and waggles his eyebrows at Pete, who's looking out through the rear window.
The ceiling of the gym isn't even visible through all of the streamers, and Sam guesses it looks pretty festive. Too bad they couldn't do anything about the smell of old sweat that still lingers in the air.
"So, this is your gym," Lori says over the music, looking around curiously, then bumping Pete with her shoulder. "Where you learned to dance and also get beat up by idiots."
Pete just says, "Yeah, this is where the magic happens," like it's no big deal that he's told this girl all about that. It seems weird to Sam that Lori knows all of this stuff when he's never even heard of her before.
"So, Jaime, I really like your earrings," Lori says next. "They're so pretty."
"Oh, thanks! You know, I got my ears pierced just before school started, because my sisters got theirs done when they were fourteen, and so my mom agreed that it was only fair that I get mine done at the same age, and I was really excited, but I can't believe none of them told me how much it was going to hurt, and oh my god, I was sitting in the chair, and the girl says, 'Hold still,' and then it was like my stomach just disintegrated inside me and I wanted to just leave, but then I'd only have one ear done, and I figured that if my sisters could take it, I could too, you know?" She says all of this in one breath, and Sam's a little alarmed at both her lung capacity and her pain threshold. "I really liked these, and my mom said I could get them because they matched my dress so perfectly."
Sam looks again. The earrings are silver, and her dress is blue. He shoots a confused glance Pete's way, but Pete looks just as bewildered. If Sam's supposed to know this kind of stuff, he's so, so screwed. How come Dean never let him in on any of this?
The Macarena ends, and it fades into "Open Arms." Sam groans, hears it echoed by Pete, and is just about to launch into a rant against Journey and all hair bands when Jaime turns to him. "Want to dance?" she asks, holding out her hand.
"Yes," Sam says firmly. He can waltz in his sleep now, doesn't even need to count the beats or pretend he's listening to Morse Code, and this is really happening. Once again, Jaime's charm bracelet is resting against his chest. Since Lori's remark about the earrings went so well, he figures he can't go wrong with the rest of her jewelry. "I like your bracelet," he says.
She's practically floating in his arms, she's so light, and this close, her smile nearly knocks him out. "Thanks! I got it when I was little, and every year, I get a new charm for Christmas." That sounds like a nice tradition. "I got this horse because I wanted a pony that year. And I got this five-pointed star because I'm the fifth person in the family. And I got this boat because I read Anne of Green Gables that summer and tried to do the boat thing with Emma. And I got the ballet shoe last year. That one's my favorite."
He wonders briefly if there's going to be a quiz later. No, maybe he's being unfair because he can't think of anything like that that his family does that he can tell her about. "That's cool," he says, and the song ends.
"So, what about you, Sam? What do you like to do?"
"Um," he says, heading back over to Pete, who's laughing at something Lori said. "I - I like to read and play chess and darts and stuff like that."
"Oh," Jaime says. "I've never played chess. Is it hard?"
"Not if you know the rules," he says. "Do you want some punch?"
"Okay," she says, smiling, and they head over to the refreshments table; while they go, he's explaining the different pieces and how they're allowed to move. She's just saying "uh-huh" over and over, and she sounds as bored as he felt when she was going on and on about her dumb charms.
Man, this is not at all how he pictured his night of triumph going. Why can't he think of something interesting to say?
He drains his cup and stalks back to where Pete and Lori are still standing and having a great old time. He needs to consult with Pete on how to make this night work. Just before he and Jaime reach safety, some idiot who's way too into Hootie and the Blowfish bumps into them, and Jaime's cup of punch gets knocked out of her hand. Her shoes have a new pink tint to them. "No," Jaime wails. "I just bought these."
Lori takes charge. "Don't worry; we can wash them off in the ladies' room. Come on." In that moment, when Lori reaches out to hold Jaime's hand and guide her away, Sam notices how much Lori looks like Pete's mom.
"Dude," he says, "is she your cousin?"
"Yeah," Pete says. "She lives three towns over."
"You totally cheated! You were supposed to ask some girl!"
"Lori is a girl, Sam," Pete points out, though the look on his face says he knows what Sam's getting at. "Anyway, how's it going? You guys looked good dancing together."
"Really?" Sam brightens a bit, then deflates when he remembers the mess he's made of the evening so far. "No, you were right. I don't know anything about her. She thinks I'm boring, and I have no idea what she's talking about when it comes to that charm bracelet of hers."
"So, what? You want to leave?"
He sort of does. Not that he'd ditch her or anything, but it would be nice to get out of these stupid chinos and button-down shirt and just hang out.
"You should give her another chance, Sam," Pete says. "She's probably as nervous as you are."
"Yeah, I guess."
"You could talk about Romeo and Juliet or something."
"Shut up." Sam laughs and punches Pete in the shoulder.
"Okay, okay. So, when did Dean get that car?" Pete asks, and Sam launches into the story of how he won Dad's deal.
He and Pete are arguing about kung-fu movies when Jaime and Lori return, and they all pile into Dean's car. This time it's him and Jaime in the back seat, and his hands are sweating again, even though she's left enough room between them that he doesn't have to touch her. She's still talking to Lori about something - sounds like it's Anne of Green Gables after all. Pete's totally ignoring Lori and the whole conversation to say something that's making Dean smile so wide that Sam can see it in the rearview mirror like a flash of light. Sam feels like he's on a different planet than them, nervous and tense and miserable. He takes a deep breath, sits up straight, and faces Jaime, but he has no idea who Matthew and Marilla are, and there's no point butting in if he can't say something awesome to impress her, once and for all. Slouching back down, he wishes things with Jaime could just be as easy as they are with Pete.
Maybe that's the answer. Maybe the person he brings home shouldn't be someone he likes from afar but doesn't know anything real about. Maybe it should be someone he can talk to all day, every day, about whatever pops into his head. Maybe it should be someone who thinks Dean is awesome despite his dumb jokes, someone who even likes Dad too.
Someone who thinks he's awesome.
It hits him like a dodgeball to the head, and Pete's eyes are smiling at him in the rearview mirror.
He kind of can't wait for school on Monday.
Many adoring thanks to my girls girl_wonder and janissa11, who did whip-smart betas on this story for me and were gracious enough to say they had fun while doing so. I usually owe them big time, and this is no exception.
A shout-out to the awesome keyweegirlie, who picked my story to illustrate and then did a bang-up job with it. Her artwork is here, and it's just wonderful. Go, give her some love for her mechanic Dean, her chubby Sam, her awesome Pete, and her flat-out perfect Jaime!
Huge thanks to audrarose and wendy, for having the guts to run a challenge this enormous for the second year, and for making it totally easy to participate. The stories written for this challenge are a treasure trove.
About George Shannon: he really existed, really was part of the Lewis and Clark party, and really did get separated from the group, not once but twice. I conflated the two getting-lost episodes and made up the whole shapeshifter explanation. You can find out more about Shannon on these websites.
The Taming of the Shrew part of this story (the deal John offers Sam) came from an old prompt someone left at spn_flashback.
And all of the town names in South Dakota are real, except for Rapture.
(One more time, here's a LINK TO THE FABULOUS ART!)
As always, I'd love to hear what you think.