The steak place she's been talking up is closed for a private party, but the host, a sallow man in a crisp tuxedo, apologizes personally to Sarah and takes it upon himself to recommend other restaurants she might enjoy while eyeing Sam's flannel shirt, battered jacket, and broken-in jeans. Sam can tell from the set of Sarah's head that her careful attention is mere politeness, and he admires her effortless code of conduct; that has to be something she got from her mother and not from the man who had taken such pleasure in ridiculing his brother and throwing them out of his little empire. His stomach rumbles alarmingly.
"Come on," Sarah says, tugging at their clasped hands. "I just thought of a much better place. It'll be much more fun."
Despite the unsteadiness of his ankles, he still beats her to the front door and holds it open for her. She drops into a cute little half-curtsy at the courtesy, just a quick little bob, and walks into the place. From over her head, he can see they've entered a bar, but the waitresses going by have full platters of food on their trays too, the kind of stuff Dean would just love to roll around in - wings, fries, burgers, mozzarella sticks, jalapeno poppers. Sarah walks right up to the bar and gets an enthusiastic kiss on the cheek for her trouble. Sam can hear the smack from four feet away, and Sarah's answering kiss is just as loud.
The bartender raises one thin, perfectly groomed eyebrow when Sarah gestures behind her and Sam comes up with his hand outstretched. Up close, the bartender is small, slim, and a bleached blond. "The pleasure's all mine, Handsome," he purrs, then turns to Sarah to demand, "You're letting this out of the house instead of locking him up for good?"
"Darby," Sarah says with an affectionate smile, "Sam here would rather get a burger than see me dance naked right now, so could you make sure someone comes by soon?"
"Sure, sugar, just sit wherever you like." Darby points out a few open tables, then goes back to wiping down the bar. "You and the straight-me want a couple beers while you wait? Or, no, you want my mulled wine, right?"
"Guilty," she laughs, and finds a table in the corner, near the coat rack and in a warm pocket of air. Sarah sits, then looks up at him, considering something before getting back up and offering him her seat. Sam takes it, marveling at how she knew he wanted to sit with his back to the wall, taking on the protective, watchful Dean role whenever Dean's not around. She smiles conspiratorially at him when they're both seated and he's happy and relaxed enough to smile right back.
"So, the 'straight-me'? What does that mean?" he inquires, shifting the bottles of ketchup and mustard aside to make room for his menu, just one thin, laminated sheet covered in grease stains with a hot pink logo of a hamburger with the words Screaming Mimi's standing in for the meat patty.
"Oh, Darby's my gay boyfriend," Sarah says airily, as if that explains everything. He thinks back to Jess, trying to recall if that was a term she'd ever used, but he doesn't think it was.
"Uh-huh," Sam says, while he watches her scan the menu and pull off her gloves finger by finger.
"Every girl needs a gay boyfriend, Sam," she says matter-of-factly, daring him to challenge her authority with a playful look.
"Hi, Sarah," a quiet voice says, somehow cutting through the clamor of the bar. Sarah swivels in her seat and Sam looks up to see a tall blond waiter holding a tray filled with glasses of ice water with lemon wedges.
"Hey, Jason," Sarah responds, sounding a little surprised. "I didn't know you worked the lunch shift too."
"You know how it is," Jason says, eyes taking in every detail of Sam's appearance but shifting away when Sam tries to look straight at him, nod a hello. "Need to save up money so that grad school isn't as excruciating as college was."
"Yeah," Sarah says, as if she experienced the Ramen Noodle diet herself while she was studying within Princeton's ivy-covered buildings. But her tone is friendly, and Jason doesn't seem put out by the response.
"You guys know what you want?" Jason pulls a pen out from above his ear and a pad from the pocket of his dingy apron.
"Bacon cheeseburger for me," Sarah says, looking up at him, then leaning across the table to assure Sam. "They're really good here."
"Not really in the mood," Sam says, surprising even himself. "Double order of chicken wings, please, extra spicy, bleu cheese on the side and celery if you've got it."
Jason scurries off with their order and Sarah leans in again, maybe a little less certainly than she had before. "Sam, what did you mean when you said that Dean sold his soul to bring you back to life?" She hesitates, her eyes flicking between his face and the tabletop. "Did you mean it? Were you really dead?"
He frowns. This is not really something he ever wanted to talk about, not even with Dean, who seemed bent upon blithely insisting that the trade - his death - was the best possible outcome. But Sam had broken the deal, and happy endings are not so common that they count as run of the mill, as ordinary. "Yeah, I was."
"Got your mulled wine here," Jason says, gliding smoothly up to their table. "Careful, it's hot."
Sarah smiles a little impatiently and Sam sees the corners of Jason's mouth turn down with disappointment; he wants to tell the guy you only get a shot with a girl like Sarah if you man up enough to tell her you're interested.
The moment they're alone again, Sarah continues. "I don't understand."
The wine is in thick, clear, oversized mugs, and Sam can see slices of orange and lemon floating around in the maroon liquid, and a reddish-brown stick of cinnamon leaning against the lip of the mug. It smells incredibly good.
It tastes even better, heady and thick on his tongue, and when he puts the mug down, Sarah is waiting with poorly hidden curiosity and excitement.
"What do you want to know?" he asks, wondering what has her so worked up. It's not like a more thorough explication of the fact that he was once dead for days is going to be a turn on for her; she's not that kind of girl.
"Everything," she says, convincing him with the serious set of her pretty mouth, before Jason interrupts again with their food.
"We'll talk about this later," he promises, before tearing into a steaming chicken leg, the bone slippery with grease.
Sarah's tied up on a phone call with the curator at the Dorsky, the art museum she'd promised a painting to, and her questions have gotten Sam itchy, made him imagine that the jagged scar at the base of his spine was starting to tingle. He should check in with Dean anyway, see if there's anything Dean wants for his birthday that he could only get from around here. Not that he can think of anything New Paltz is notable for.
He presses 1 on his speed dial and waits for Dean's sarcastic greeting. But the phone rings a dozen times, then a dozen more, and he finally hears the message Dean had recorded in the car as Sam was driving them through Kansas with no intention of stopping once in the entire state. "Hey, this is Dean. I'll call you back if you leave me a number that actually works."
There's no point leaving Dean a message about Sarah's questions; Sam knows better than to give Dean that kind of ammunition. All he says is, "Call me when you get a chance. Just not at the crack of dawn, alright?" He clicks the phone shut and it lies heavily in his hand. He gets up and heads to the living room, where Sarah's huddled under a blanket, notes on her lap, still on the phone. There's a fireplace in the room, and he hauls in a few of the applewood logs stacked in the mud room and lights the fire, sitting back on his heels and listening to the crackle until he can't hear Sarah's voice anymore.