"Marla Jean, Marla Jean!" Jess shrieked into the phone, like she had since seventh grade, when she and Marla Hepworth had shot up to nearly six feet and been treated like lepers until everyone else's growth spurts kicked in.
"Jessie Lee, Jessie Lee!" Marla responded, then giggled like a woman that someone was doing delicious things to.
"Oh, please tell me you don't have some poor girl on your lap right now," Jess said, rolling her eyes.
"Okay, one, I bought a footbath yesterday after my French Empires class and I'm just now getting to try it out. And two, when did you become such a prude?"
"Would a prude be prepared to spill all sorts of dirty secrets to her best friend?" Jess asked, adjusting the pillow folded up behind her spine.
"Depends on the secret, I'd say," Marla mused. "Like, if it's 'oh my goodness, I had a moment of wondering what it would be like to hold Tommy's hand -'"
"Shut up. And his name is Sam."
"- okay, 'Sammy's hand, and then I swooned,' then, yeah, you'd be a prude. Which one is Sam, again? He's new, right?"
Jess didn't even bother affirming Marla's guess, a little distracted by the memories of Sam's big tan hands. "God, you don't even know what his hands do to me."
"Can't be any better than what Lily's tongue does to me," Marla said, and Jess could hear her smirk.
"Lily's a natural blonde."
"We're moving in together in September."
"We got matching vibrators."
"Okay, okay!" Jess laughed. "You win." She opened and closed her mouth a few times, willing the next words to come forward.
"What is it, Jessie?" Marla asked, her voice gentler.
"I'm going to marry him," Jess finally said, a tear trickling down her face as her heart swelled with happiness.
"Oh, honey! Does he know that yet?" Marla whooped, and Jess laughed as the spell broke, then got down to business and told her everything.
It was at times like these that Jess wished she were more than just a takeout queen. It would be nice if she could cook a decent birthday dinner for Sam, maybe not anything fancy, but something that would make those pretty eyes of his light up and get him to pull her down on his lap and kiss her till her lips went numb.
She somberly surveyed the smoking wreckage of her contraband twenty-dollar toaster oven, sighed, and prayed that the smoke detector was too far down the hall to pick up on the goings-on in the corner dorm. There wasn't much else in the mini fridge that she could slap together - just Red Bull, beer, and leftover pad thai.
She could visualize her mother's hands, briskly chopping vegetables and effortlessly forming hamburger patties. Of course, it would be Richie who'd inherited all of mom's skills in the kitchen even though he could barely be bothered to chuck a bag of popcorn in the microwave. She checked her purse and went through the pockets of all of the clothes lying crumpled in the laundry basket and came up with twenty-seven dollars. It looked like it was going to be another Pizza Kitchen night.
Sam's eyes lit up anyway and he gave her that damn dimpled grin as he blew out the candle she'd jammed into the sad little vanilla cupcake that was all the Pizza Kitchen could come up with on such short notice. It took so little to make him happy.
His phone buzzed before she could cajole his wish out of him, and he excused himself politely before flipping it open. All she could hear before he got out of earshot was something like, "Coordinates, please," and she busied herself with pulling the candle free and licking errant icing from her fingers.
It took so little, and she was going to do it every day for the rest of her life.
You could find anything on the internet, if you knew where to look. Jess clicked and clicked while the mouse grew warm under her hand, not letting herself get impatient; if she was going to be spending the money she'd earned waitressing all through high school, evading all sorts of wandering hands, she was going to make damn sure she wasn't throwing it away.
She jotted all of the numbers she found down on a couple of Post-Its, then stuck them to her mirror so that she'd have to look every time she brushed her hair or checked her teeth.
Three weeks later, when she knew she'd done all the research she could stand, she went to the mall and got a free makeover, running the numbers in her head instead of listening to the makeup lady describing her skin tone with a frankly worrying level of detail.
The guy at the used car lot never knew what hit him, just looked at her with his jaw hanging down around his knees, and she drove away in a bright blue 1983 Ford Mustang convertible with five hundred dollars still in her pocket. The only way Dad would've been prouder of her was if she'd named the thing the General Lee, but she figured one namesake in the family was enough.
"What is this?" Sam asked, with a revolted fascination that made her think he might have found her stash of tampons and depilatories, but he usually didn't have a problem with that stuff. He emerged from the closet with the object clutched in his hand and waved it under her nose accusatorily.
"It's a baton, Sam. Clearly." She rolled back onto her stomach and faced her Intro to Abnormal Psych notes again. This final was going to be a bitch and a half, and possibly she shouldn't have gone to class with a hangover quite so often.
"A baton, hmmm. Why is it a baton?" Sam sounded downright smug. He only had to assemble a bibliography for his last history paper, and then he would be done for the year. Bastard.
"Who are you, Plato?" She dug around in the bag for a full Frito and not just crumbs.
"You're very funny."
"Yes, I know," she said. "Get me some more iced tea?"
"Are you too parched to answer the question?" Sam asked, grinning down at her. "Just tell me why there's a baton in your closet, and why it's important enough to be in a box of stuff you want to move into our new place."
"Then can I study in peace?" Sam nodded. "No follow-up questions?" He shook his head obediently. "Fine. It's mine. I used to be in beauty pageants all the time, and that was my talent - twirling a baton."
She waited for the flood of questions sure to follow; she read the same line six times before she gave up and looked up at him. He had his mouth open, a puzzled pout on his face, but he was staying true to his word and leaving her alone.
She sighed, shook her empty glass at him, and sat up. "Okay. So you know I'm the only girl in my family, right? My mom really wanted a girl and kept trying until she had me, which is why I've got four older brothers. Anyway, while they were off playing football and being cub scouts and stuff, Mom would take me to these pageants, and . . . I don't know, it was kind of fun." There was no way she was telling him that the pageants were all on videotapes in her parents' living room shelves. "I won enough to pay for camp for a couple of summers." He still looked a little dumbfounded. "Can I get back to studying now, Sam?"
If he was good, maybe one day she'd put on one of the sparkly leotards and give him a private show.
If Sam didn't quit pacing, she was going to go after him with her fork. There was no reason for him to be nervous; he wasn't the one that had one more final to take the following afternoon. After that, she was going to sleep for a week and try not to miss him too much.
It'd be fine. She'd take all her stuff down to her parents' house, let them fuss over her, and start looking through the apartment listings on her own. It would've been nice if Sam could have been there, but she already knew there was no way to talk him out of heading back to see his family.
"Jess," he said, so suddenly that she choked on a cherry tomato before she could swallow it down, "come with me."
She coughed to clear her throat. "Where?" She gestured at her salad, at the binder of lab notes lying on the table. "I've still got one more exam, Sam."
"Come home with me," he said, words coming in one long rush. As soon as it was out, he relaxed, stood in front of her without fidgeting and spoke without stammering. "I want you to meet my family."
He was looking at her like he expected her to laugh, to mock him. There was something there in the word family that made his throat close up, and she had to tread gently. "Yeah," she said, smiling up at him. "Just let me ace this stupid chem final."
His grin was enormous, and she needed to remember to call Marla when she walked over to the auditorium for her exam.
Jess was toasting the end of finals hell with a couple of classmates, plastic spoons heaped high with frozen yogurt plinking against each other, when her phone buzzed. "Mmm," she said, tongue a little numb from the last bite of mint chocolate chip. You good? said Sam's text, popping up on the screen. "Shit," she said, checking her watch. "I have to get home, you guys." She stood, wiping the table off with a crumpled napkin. "Have a great break!"
"Hey -" she started to say as she unlocked her door, but Sam's mouth cut her off, hot and eager. He pulled her inside, tossed the keys on her desk, which was suspiciously bare, and got his hands on her face.
All of her stress over finals had finally dissipated, and she was totally on board with whatever he had going on here. It felt like she was melting underneath his mouth, the heat of him was so intense, so focused on her. Her fingers were tangled in his hair, skating across the long line of his shoulders, moving too quickly for her brain to keep up, and she just barely registered the movement when he walked her backwards to her bed and bore her down.
His lips worked down her neck while his hand dove underneath her tank top. Touch by touch, he wiped away her last lingering thoughts of school, replacing them with images of him, strong and heavy on top of her, of what they must look like together, all tangled up and half-naked. Her hands pushing at his pants, at the sheets twisting insistently around them, she clutched him to her, arms and legs strong around him. His shoulder bumped her chin and he was lying on her hair, but she wouldn't change a thing. Not when Sam was hot and hard between her legs, not when he was dropping kisses all over her skin. Not when he was telling her that he'd never been happier than when he was with her.
Sam was quite possibly the cutest six-and-a-half-foot tall creature in existence. He'd gotten the car fully packed, the first mixtape he'd made for her loaded in the cassette player, and a jumbo cup of coffee waiting for her by the time she stumbled downstairs. "Ready?" he beamed, handing the coffee over before he even tried to kiss her, and boy, did she appreciate a man who could prioritize like that.
She slurped down a blissful mouthful of coffee and croaked, "Yeah."
He let her get out of Palo Alto without any comments, directed her to the freeway, and flipped open the soft-cover atlas he'd had resting on his knees.
She checked the traffic - not too bad, which was probably why he'd wanted to leave at ass o'clock in the morning - and put the coffee down, finding his hand by feel. When she squeezed, he squeezed back, and they sang along to all the godawful stuff he'd put on that damn tape.
And when they got to their first rest stop, she tackled him against a picnic table and kissed him and licked at his flashing dimples until he begged for mercy.
"We have showers in the dorms, you know," she said, amused and maybe a little turned on by the way Sam's eyes still got wide and worshipful whenever he saw her naked. "And I know I've forgotten my towel a couple of times in the laundry basket." She finished taking off her clothes and pulled her hair into a wobbly little bun; she'd wash it in the morning and let the summer breeze dry it out as they drove along.
"This is different," he said, eyes fixed on her like she was going to disappear if he looked away.
"Oh, yeah? How's that?"
For an answer, he stripped out of his clothes in the blink of an eye. Somebody call the Olympic committee - he was breaking all kinds of land-speed records tonight. Before she could even protest that she needed a shower to wash off the grime of the day, he'd picked her up and carried her to the bathroom. He got them both situated under the hot spray of the shower and started soaping her up, and she gave thanks for hotel rooms with oversized bathrooms.
They didn't actually get around to much in the shower; the tile was treacherously slippery and the miniature bar of soap - looking even tinier in Sam's giant hands - kept popping free of his grasp. But it served to get them both flushed and panting a little, and they raced for the bed still mostly damp, counting on friction to get them dry.
Sam's mouth followed beads of water around her skin, his hands holding her down as he made a meal of her. She strained against him, flipping them over, and took her time with him, here on this big soft bed, where he surrendered to her and let her savor her victory.
The first sign that said Wichita blindsided her, even though she knew from Sam's painstaking navigating and budgeting for hotel rooms that they'd be reaching his house that day. She only had fifty miles to pull herself together and figure out how to win a place for herself in his family.
"Jess," he said, turning the music down low, "I love you."
"You better," she said.
"They will too," he promised, and she felt herself start to uncoil and maybe believe that it would all go swimmingly. Anyway, come hell or high water, Sam was hers. Her brothers could totally take Sam's.
"I need a restroom," Sam said carefully thirty minutes later, eyeing her with a complete and characteristic lack of subtlety. If he thought she needed time to get ready to face them, she wasn't going to disillusion him.
"Sure," she said and swung the steering wheel to pull into the gas station on the corner. There was a cherry Slurpee calling her name.
She's never seen a picture of Sam's family, but she'd spent many profitable hours dreaming up what his parents must have looked like to produce a boy that looked like him - all long muscles and deep dimples. Frankly, they should have put a patent on their genes, because there was no way anyone was going to top that.
So it was maybe a little bit of a shock to pull the car up in front of a little house painted green and have somebody practically pull Sam out of the car with a "Why the hell do you look like Cousin Itt?"
The words were insulting and the voice was nice, but all she could see were two strong-looking forearms crossed over Sam's broad back, two hands fisting the back of Sam's sweaty T-shirt, and a little crest of light brown hair just peering over Sam's shoulder. The guy finally broke the hug, and Sam turned to include her. "Jess," he said, "this is my brother, Dean."
Dean gave her the elevator eyes in a way that looked more like he was trying to rile Sam up than actually planning on making a move on her. She crossed her arms over her chest - forget her brothers, she could take Dean if he was going to be like that, because being totally hot did not mean he could get away with shit like that - and the movement jolted his gaze up to where it belonged. She frowned a little, wondering even as she held her hand out to his why his eyes looked so familiar to her. He looked nothing like Sam, didn't even feel like him, with those calluses on his fingertips.
"You are way out of my brother's league," he said, evidently thinking that he was paying her a compliment. "Just for the record." He squeezed her hand and let it drop and she smiled like this was all just a friendly meeting instead of the most nerve-racking thing since those weeks of haunting the post office, waiting to get her college admissions letters back.
"It's nice to meet you," Jess said politely, stepping to the side until she fit snugly up against Sam. Dean rose in her estimation when he got all of her luggage in one go out of the trunk and carried it inside, holding the door open for her with his foot.
Dean looked down at her hand, clasped tightly in Sam's, and led the way down a hallway with really ugly carpeting to a bedroom she wouldn't have been able to pick out from a lineup. There were academic trophies on a low shelf above a desk that had a paperback dictionary and a hardbound bible stacked in one corner, and a thin blue bedspread on the twin bed, but there was nothing Sam about the room. Maybe once he got unpacked, it would look more like the place where he had grown up and not just some anonymous motel room.
Sam looked around like Dean had asked for his sign-off, nodding at the desk and the stacked boxes sitting on the floor of the closet, smiling in disbelief at the debate championship trophies. "So," Sam said, his grip on her hand certain, if a little damp, "where's Dad?"
"Out getting some dinner and supplies," Dean said, then upended Sam's duffel on the bed. "I can start doing a load of laundry if you guys need it. I got some stuff of my own to throw in anyway."
She had a feeling she was actually going to like Dean.
Yeah, she really did have to pee, but there was no reason she couldn't investigate the contents of their medicine cabinet while she was in here, was there? The cabinet had been painted so many times the door didn't quite close, so it was pretty much like she had an engraved invitation anyway. She swung the door open and found a tube of toothpaste, a couple sticks of deodorant, and a small plastic comb like the kind her brothers used to come home with after Saturday morning trips to Buddy's barber shop. The cabinet was as bare as the rest of the house, and she got the feeling that something wasn't quite right. It wasn't like they were squatting here, and they definitely weren't waiting to see if they liked her before pulling some giant lever that would flip the place inside out and reveal all of their actual stuff. Still. The house was a little stuffy, like maybe they'd just gotten back from a long trip. She struggled with the window, nearly painted shut, and as a cool breeze finally wafted in, she heard the sound of the front door shutting firmly.
Great. Sam's dad was finally home, and she was going to march out there, charm the hell out of him, and have him eating out of her hand in no time. She scrubbed furiously at her mouth, still bright red from the damn Slurpee, rinsed, and tossed her hair back over her shoulders.
Jess wrenched the door open and strode out to the living room. "Jess, this is my dad, John Winchester," Sam said, his nerves evident in his voice. A big, strong shape unfurled itself from the ratty couch and stood up. She looked up into a face she knew, somehow, better than her own, and fell forward into his arms.