Halfway through the fourth ring, her eyes adjust to the dark enough that she can see "Cowboy" on her caller ID. She makes a groaning sound into the phone as she rolls over with it.
"It's midnight, baby," Sam tells her from way back in California. His voice is low and deeper than usual, and there's no thumping bass or screaming drowning him out. She could have sworn he said he was working tonight.
"Rabbit, rabbit," she yawns back at him.
They sit in silence for a few minutes while Jess tries to wake herself up more. She knows she should probably feel sorry about making Sam call her, even though he's the one who volunteered to do it, but it's not like he was asleep or anything; it's only nine back there. Besides, he knew she was superstitious when he started dating her.
"Do you really think it works? I mean, has every month really been lucky?"
Jess stretches and smiles a little. She thinks it's cute how pessimistic and skeptical he is about everything, even if it is a little annoying sometimes. "Well," she starts. "I haven't died yet. So, yeah, I'd say it works."
"Isn't that like saying that since I didn't brush my hair today and I'm still alive that I shouldn't ever brush my hair again or I might die?"
"Did you just compare my health and well-being to brushing your hair?"
"No! No, no, no! I didn't, I was just saying... that you have every right to believe in what you want to believe?" Jess decides to be merciful and let him off the hook this time.
"Why didn't you brush your hair today?"
"Because I am a man, and we men don't brush our hair."
"You have no idea where your brush is, do you?"
"I know it's somewhere around here. At least, I think it is. I haven't seen it in a while, but it's not like I take it with me when I leave, so it has to be here somewhere."
"Sam. You need to go buy another brush, then. I bet your hair is all knotted up and tangled-looking."
"I don't need to look pretty for anybody but you, so I figure I've got at least another week or two before I have to gussy myself up again."
"Gussy yourself up? Please stop talking like my grandmother. It's not sexy." There's silence where Jess expects some kind of half-assed comeback. "Sam? Hello, Sam? Are you there?"
"Sorry, sorry about that. Kurt came out to tell me I've got five minutes till I'm late. I'll call you when I get off, okay?" Jess tries to hold back an irritated sigh. She doesn't mind him calling; she loves it, in fact. She thinks it's sweet. It's just that he still thinks has to ask whether it's okay if he does it, because god forbid Sam be anything but absolutely perfect. He has made progress, though. Yesterday, he admitted that there was something she liked that he actually didn't, and she hasn't gotten a random two am call from him on his lunch break in at least a month.
"You know you can call. You don't have to ask my permission."
"Are you sure? It's okay if you're not."
Jess can't hold the sigh back this time. "If I didn't want you to, I would tell you. I've done it before, right?" Sam makes an affirmative-sounding noise, and Jess feels like she just stomped all over a sad puppy. How the hell do you train someone out of being a complete doormat? "Go on, don't wanna be late for work."
"Yeah, okay. Good night, babe."
"Good night, Cowboy. Call me when you're off."
Dean's sitting in a Waffle House in Paris, Texas with his dad, getting ready to fake an allergic reaction to the onion in his omelet, when it comes to him. Sam's allergic to blueberries—what if he didn't tell anyone? He could accidentally eat one, and no one would know until it was too late.
Logic smacks into Dean right after that. Blueberries aren't something that people put into everyday foods. And besides, Sam's not deathly allergic to them; he'd just be a bitch and covered in hives for a while. Even so, it freaks him out enough to start thinking.
And as anyone who knows Dean will tell you, that is never a good thing.
Sam wouldn't say that he's panicking, per se. Maybe slightly worried. Freaking out a little bit. Two seconds away from losing it.
But, really, it's not like he doesn't have any reason to; he did just get thrown through a window. It doesn't actually matter that it was a first story window or that the cuts were minimal. That takes force, and hitting the hard ground with that much power behind it just plain hurts.
Sam pushes himself up, ignoring the sharp twinge in his back, and kicks out the remaining shards of glass from the window before climbing back in. His adrenaline's kicking in, making his hands shake and hiding any pain under the sudden rush of endorphins.
The sledgehammer he used to break the wall trips him, and he skids on his hands and knees, then crawls the rest of the way to the body. He manages to empty the bottle of vodka—less conspicuous than a jug of gas and a hell of a lot better smelling, too—on the corpse before the damned ghost comes back.
Another hole gets knocked into the wall as the sledgehammer goes flying and Sam ducks it by mere inches. Rocks and beer bottles go flying at him next, a few hitting him but most missing, broken glass raining down from where they hit the wall and beams. He gets half the salt out of the Pepsi bottle he's carrying it in before the ghost remembers that it can pick him up instead of just pelting him with things.
He misses what's left of the window this time but slams into the wall with his back curved just enough for his shoulders to take the brunt of the impact. Everything swoops and goes dark when he climbs to his feet, and his stomach rolls as the world rights itself again. Sam makes his way back to the body as fast as he can, pulling out the matches and snatching up the dropped bottle as he does.
Sam's kneeling on the sledgehammer this time, and he's sure that's the only reason it doesn't go straight through his skull while the fire struggles to take root. "Fuck, fuck, please be enough, come on," he begs as he pours the last of the salt onto the pathetic fire. "It's a fucking full-sized body. I couldn't have missed it all, come on, please."
Just then, Sam is knocked flat on his ass again. Before the sledgehammer or the roof or something else can be thrown at him, he takes off, throwing what's left of the vodka and its bottle in the direction of the gaping hole in the wall before climbing back through the window. He can hear the fire crackling behind him as it finally hits the alcohol and gets the fuel it needs. There's no time now to check if he managed to get enough of the body, but he can always come back later to make sure.
The Budget Suites Sam is staying in until the dorms open again is two and a half miles away, Sam's bike is a block away, and Sam is face down in the dirt in front of a half-remodeled dorm. Various parts of his body are numb, throbbing, or shooting with pain. His heart is racing, his head is spinning, and all he can think about is how much easier salt and burns were with Dad and Dean.
He's halfway back when it dawns on him that it's Tuesday. He only has two hours until Jess's plane lands, and he didn't even remember to ask anyone if he could borrow their car. It takes half an hour to get to the airport, probably forty-five minutes to an hour in a cab at this time of night, so Sam figures he has an hour to get home, lick his wounds, and change his clothes before he leaves.
The cab ride there is spent fighting his way through the adrenaline crash and trying to think up some kind of believable story for Jess as to why he looks like he just had his ass handed to him. Sam succumbs to the crash and falls asleep at some point because the next thing he knows, the cab driver is waking him up to tell him they're at the airport and ask which terminal to go to.
Sam gives the driver half the fare so far and tells him that if he doesn't take off while Sam runs inside real quick, he's got a return trip to the college and a good tip waiting for him. Traffic must've been worse than Sam thought, though, because he doesn't make it to the luggage check. He barely even makes it into the terminal before Jess attacks him out of nowhere in a flying hug that knocks Sam flat on his already abused back.
Jess smiles down at him, two blonde pigtails framing her shiny and makeup-free face. "Oh, baby, look at you. You look worse than I did during finals. How long has it been since you slept?"
She's still straddling him at this point, so before Sam even begins to answer, he maneuvers them back onto their feet, shoulders Jess's backpack, and takes the rest of her bags for her. "I had a nap on the way here. Don't worry about it."
"Fuck that," she says, climbing in the cab. "We're going back to wherever you got picked up from, we're ordering Chinese on the way, and then I'm going to stuff you full of food, turn something on the TV, and scratch your tummy until you fall asleep like a good little boy, got it?"
"Jess, I'm fine. And also, not five."
"Don't care. The only part up for negotiation is how long you want to wait to order the food. And possibly the TV thing, but it depends on what's on when we get there."
"Becky. Becky! Becca! Becky, Becky, Becky, Becky, Becky, Becky, Becky, Becky, Becky, Becky! Pick up the phone, I know you're there. You have no job, and you're too lazy for summer classes. Becky! Rebecca! Zach? Anyone? Fine, if you guys ever come home or whatever, I'm stuck at work, and I need a ride home. Please? Come on, guys, you have to be there. Hello? You both suck." Jess hangs up and tries Becky's cell again.
She tries Zach's after that, then Carrie, Alysin, Evan, Eric, Tasha, Chris, the other Chris, Becky again, and then Zach's house phone two more times before she gives up and goes back inside the restaurant to wait.
Jess is on her fourth free refill when Becky finally calls her back. "You failure, tell me you're not still sitting at work."
"I couldn't get back to the apartment!" Jess throws a ten on the table for her dollar fifty drink and pushes her way through the doors outside.
"I own a dress that costs more than you've made your entire time working at your job, and you're still a million times more spoiled than I am. You won't catch herpes from a cab, Jess."
"Fuck you, I've been in a cab before. I don't know Zach's address. And where the hell were you guys? I called you at least fifty times."
"Zach and I got bored, so we went to a movie."
"You went to the movies with your brother? I know Zach has no life, but don't you have a boyfriend you can go to movies with?"
"Ryan has horrible taste in movies, and he hates when I talk during them. We're on our way to get you. Tell Zach 'thank you.'"
Jess yells, "Thank you, Zach," into the phone, ignoring the stares she gets. "And I think it's clear that you and Ryan should never have kids. The last thing the world needs is more people who shush during movies."
"Yeah, speaking of children, I can't help but notice you haven't bought tampons in more than a month," Becky says. In the background, Zach makes a gagging noise and says something unintelligible. "Oh, be quiet, don't act like you've never bought them for Lisa."
"I don't know why I'm late, but I know I'm not pregnant, Beck, so don't worry."
"You know that condoms aren't a hundred percent effective, right?"
"But not having sex is."
Becky pauses. "You two haven't had sex yet? You've been dating for two months—shouldn't you have done it two months ago?"
"Shut up, Sam wants to take it slow. I think it's sweet."
"Are you sure he likes girls?"
"He's bisexual, not gay. Just because a guy likes dick doesn't mean he can't like pussy, too. It's that kind of narrow—"
"Jess! Oh my god, get off your soapbox! I've been to the meetings, too. I've heard your screaming—"
"Whatever. I was making a joke, and it flew so far over your head that it may as well have been a satellite."
"Sorry, you hit a sore spot." Zach's SUV pulls up, so she snaps her phone shut and climbs in, continuing the conversation without missing a beat. "Sam's moved on from the suffocation and smothering, mostly, but he's still all paranoid that I think I'm not enough for him."
"Okay, wait," Zach starts. "I'm lost. I only heard Beck's half of the conversation, so I think I'm missing something."
"No, I'm lost, too. I think she skipped a sentence somewhere."
"I'm the first girl Sam's ever been with or dated." Jess fishes around for the exact word, the right way to explain it. "I'm the only girlfriend he's ever had."
"Really? I mean, I know Sam's kinda weird, but he's not ugly or anything."
"No, he's had tons of boyfriends, just nev—wait, did you just admit that you think my boyfriend's hot?"
"Jess, I swear, if you start talking about my brother and anything even resembling him having sex, I'm going to throw myself out of this car."
"Sorry, sorry. Like I was saying, Sam's had boyfriends. He's been with guys before, but I'm the first girl he's ever been with," Jess explains. "Not 'been with' been with, but you know. Anyway, I know this, and he knows that I know this. And he's Sam, so now he's all terrified that I don't think I'm enough for him."
"Not to sound obnoxious or anything, but is it possible that maybe he's worrying so much because you aren't enough for him?" Zach asks. "Don't start yelling, I'm not done talking! I'm just saying that maybe he likes you and your brain all well and good, but your body just doesn't get him going."
"No, Zach, trust me. He likes my body just fine. The problem isn't Sam not getting it started; he just backs away before it gets really good."
"Yeah, okay. I love you, Jess, you know that, but I think this might be crossing a line. I mean, Sam's my friend, too, and I don't think he'd be all that comfortable with me knowing this kind of stuff about you two."
"Oh, please, it's Jess," Becky scoffs. "If he doesn't expect everyone she's ever met to know their sex life, then he's obviously delusional or retarded."
"Still. I don't feel right about it."
Jess huffs impatiently. "Then sing a song in your head or something, I'm not gonna be offended if you wimp out. Girl talk is scary to the untrained ear."
"I'm not scared."
"Yes, you are," Becky disagrees.
Jess smiles at him from the backseat. "Wuss."
"It's a wonder I still like girls after you two."
"You know, if you ever feeling like trying out for the other team—"
"I'm unlocking the door, Jess." Jess stops, even though she knows Becky probably isn't actually going to throw herself from a moving car like some idiot.
"Fine, fine. I'm stopping. Except to ask Zach how long he's ever waited to have sex with a girl and why."
"Jess, come on!"
"It's the exact opposite of asking about him having sex! And you know what, go ahead and throw yourself out of the car. Sam and I have been dating for two months, and I've never even seen him shirtless. Hell, I've never even seen him wear short sleeves. I just want to have some kind of clue as to why my boyfriend will only occasionally try for second base with me."
"Shut up, Zach, he's shy," Becky says. "He's practically Amish. They barely even kiss."
"Yes, or he's shy. Go with that."
"We kiss! We kiss a lot—just not in public."
"Well, okay, you said he just had a bad breakup, so maybe he just wants to take it slow right now."
That makes no sense at all to Jess. "He's a guy; what kind of guy wants to take it slow?"
"A gay guy."
"We're ignoring you now," Becky tells Zach, voice sing-song and teasing like Jess's little sister pretty much every time she opened her mouth until she turned fourteen.
"You guys are no fun."
"I'm gonna tell Sam you think he's gay," Becky threatens him.
"So?" Zach shrugs it off. " Guys say things like that."
"Children. This is serious. I'm talking about my sex life here."
"You know what you should do? You should 'accidentally' spill something on your shirt and then—"
"Did it. Didn't work."
"Really?" Becky pauses for a moment, trying to think of something else. "Okay, I know what to do. You need to get him to go swimming with you. Try it in the middle of the night when there's no one else around, you in your bikini, him in his trunks...."
"Tried that, too. He pulled off his jacket, emptied his pockets, and jumped in fully clothed. It was sweet and romantic and all that but not really conducive to sex."
"You could always just ask him."
"Oh, yeah, that's a great idea. Zach, what would you say if your girlfriend asked why you wouldn't have sex with her?"
"Well, if I were Sam, I guess I would say something like, 'I'm sorry, Jess, but between working my fifteen jobs and studying for my seven classes this quarter, along with the time for emoing and being mysterious, I just don't have time for sex. And you don't have a cock, either, so that's a deal breaker.'"
The kick to the back of Zach's seat, when it comes, surprises no one.
Dean is drunk off his ass in Oklahoma—because there's nothing to do in Oklahoma but get drunk and pretend Kansas is farther away—when he writes the first version of the letter.
He's smart enough to get trashed in his room and not some random bar in this little podunk, piece of shit town, but that's the only thing smart about him that night. He has a bottle of rum next to him on the bed—fucking rum, what kind of liquor store doesn't take credit cards—and a half-bent notebook in front of him.
The letter starts out, You stupid bitch, you took my brother, and goes downhill from there.
Dean wakes up in the morning to John kicking his bed. The TV's going full blast on some shitty rap video on MTV, ten thousand bad drummers are all playing the Wipeout solo in his head, and his mouth is the level of slimy that usually only happens when he gets sick. He has a hangover. He hasn't had a hangover since Sammy was thirteen and broke both his arms falling out of a tree. Kid might be a pussy lightweight, but he matched Dean swig for swig that night, and together they polished off almost an entire bottle of whiskey.
Dean braces himself for the ass-chewing he's about to get, but it never comes. John just tosses the remote on the bed and tells him that he better be ready to go get breakfast by the time John's out of the shower. Dean waits until he hears the creaky groan of the pipes before he pushes himself off the bed. His stomach lurches once he's upright, and sheer force of will keeps him from throwing up all over himself and the bed.
He finds the notebook under the sink next to the bathroom, pages bent and splayed open like it was thrown there—probably in a fit of rage, if Dean's honest with himself. He's not sure what makes him go over there and pick it up; maybe some random pain-loving part of his brain leaps up and takes control of him, because the next thing he knows, he's halfway under the sink and reading the damned thing.
He tries to skim it, but he can't tear his eyes away. It's like watching a car accident. Or a video of a car accident he was in, that he caused, possibly involving nuns or orphans or small puppies or all three.
It's that bad.
He starts with Jessica—You don't even feed him, what the fuck is wrong with you—and rolls from her into Sam—You ungrateful asshole, how could you just leave like that? Dean's mouth goes dry, and it gets hard for him to swallow. There are three pages devoted to what a horrible little brother and human being Sam is, how hard Dean wants to hit him, and just how much Dean still hasn't convinced himself that he doesn't care about him anymore.
The next page and a half is rage at his father—You can't just leave me here like this—followed by another two pages of drunken wallowing—Why couldn’t you just stay, damn it, it's only one night.
The last four pages are variations of I miss my mom and I can't remember her voice, and Dean's thankful that he doesn't have the energy to cry or sob like he knows he wants to.
When John comes out of the bathroom, Dean's no more ready to leave than he was when John went in. He's still in last month's jeans and the same foul smelling shirt he had on last night. He's pulled himself out from his cramped hiding space, though, and is instead sitting next to the sink, the pages from the notebook torn and shredded around him as he rests his head in his hands and tries to will away the stinging itch in the back of his eyes.
This is what Dean really hates about hangovers; not the nausea or anything like that, but the way they drain all his energy and then turn him into a girl without even having the fucking decency to give him tits.
Dean doesn't resist when his dad pulls him to his feet or shrugs him into his jacket. He lags behind a little on the way out, though, confused when his dad heads towards the Impala rather than the truck.
"I'm driving," is all the explanation Dean gets with his raised eyebrow. He thinks he's doing okay at hiding what a stupid mess the alcohol has turned him into, but his dad's proving him wrong with a hand on the back of his neck. It makes him feel small again and reminds him of when he was getting his words back, coming home from school with this big ball of anger inside him.
Dad was still "Daddy" then, and he used to let Dean hold Sammy, pull them both into his lap, and rub Dean's neck. And he'd keep rubbing his neck, no matter how long it took, until all those stupid teachers and stupid kids and their stupid mothers all just went away, and Dean's world was nothing but Daddy's deep breaths under his head and Sammy's wet fingers at his neck.
Between the safe feeling associated with his dad's touch and the exhaustion that comes after a night of drunken, fitful half-sleeping, Dean has no chance at all and is asleep long before they get anywhere near the diner.
He writes the second version of the letter in Idaho. He's bored again but not nearly fucked up enough to go buy a bottle of rum to chug like an angry teenager, so this time, the letter gets written while he's sober.
He spends three hours on two pages and another week thinking up excuses not to send it. It's too short, it's too long, his handwriting is crap, he spelled "asparagus" wrong, he uses her name too much, he repeats himself, he had to use two different pens, half of it is in red ink, there's a rip in the corner, it's got coffee on it, she could get a paper cut while opening it and it could get infected and she could die.
Or she could open it and show it to Sam, and he could find out it was Dean and continue never speaking to him again.
Three days later, he's stuck in a graveyard without any accelerant because he forgot to fucking fill the car before he left and "accidentally" uses the letter for kindling.
The third letter is crumpled up into a ball and shoved under the front seat. He was drugged or something when he wrote it, maybe watched too many borderline chick-flicks on Showtime. He got to writing the letter, and before he knew it, he went from, "Don't let him near the stove," to, "He sucks his thumb when he's really exhausted, so don't make fun of him, just make sure he gets more sleep."
It's too close, crosses too many lines, and cuts too close to the bone. Or maybe hits too close to home. Something like that, with rhyming pairs and other girly poem things.
He finally sucks it up and grows some balls halfway out of West Virginia, where he snatches up a postcard from a gas station and writes down a quick note on the back. Dad calls him once they cross the state line to tell him they're pulling over at the next truck stop to gas up and get some grub.
Dean takes it as a sign, and while Dad's gassing up the girls, he sends off the postcard from a Flying J in Winchester, Virginia.
It's a really, really lame and weird prank. That's Jess's first thought when she sees the postcard in her mail. Come on, it's a West Virginia postcard with a black and white cannon on it. Can you say random?
And the writing on the back—He likes that pasta shit with the spinach, take him to an Italian place.—chicken-scratch and cryptic and just plain fucking weird.
She's positive that it's Zach at first. He watches all those weird-ass independent films like Donnie Darko and Memento, and this is the kind of vaguely avant-garde thing he's been known to do when he's bored or drunk, so she tosses the rest of the mail on her bed and asks Becky where her idiot brother is. It takes a surprisingly long time to find him—what is wrong with that boy, can't he stay in one spot for more than ten minutes at a time?—and it's almost dark by the time she does.
She kind of wishes she hadn't, though, because if she had looked at the damn postcard a little more closely instead of worrying about finding Zach, she might've noticed the Virginia postmark on it. Who the hell looks at postmarks anyway?
She still thinks it's a prank. She's not positive anymore because she can't name anyone she knows in Virginia—Winchester, Virginia at that—but she's pretty sure. If it is a prank, her main suspect is now Sam because he's that adorable sort of dorky who would think that the Winchester thing was hilarious, plus she's pretty sure he moved around when he was little. It still begs the question of why, though. She would say that maybe he's spending too much time with Zach, except that she knows that all Sam does is work and study.
It's obviously about Sam because when she hears "he" without a name attached, Sam is the first person who comes to mind. Anyone who's spent more than two days with her knows this. Therefore, using a complex algorithm and a lot of eenie-meanie-minie-moe, she's decided that if it's not from Sam, it has to at least be from somebody who knows them. Which means it's safe.
Becky tells her that she's completely insane, and not in that cute, quirky way she usually is.
"You are a sociology major! Do you even pay attention in class? The Milgram Experiment? The Stanford Prison Experiment? You aren't supposed to do things just because someone tells you to!"
"The Stanford Prison Experiment was actually a psych study on the psychology of imprisonment."
"Oh my god, I so don't care! You do not follow the directions of a fucking postcard that doesn't even have a return address on it."
"Breathe. It's noodles and spinach. There's nothing to worry about. Worst case scenario, Sam hates it, and I've wasted about ten dollars."
"What if he's allergic, huh? You could kill him."
"For the seven millionth time; it's noodles and it's spinach—"
"That doesn't mean he can't be allergic to it!"
"Let me finish talking. Damn. There's no other ingredients except for water and butter. If he's allergic to either of the two things in the food, I'm pretty sure he'll see them and tell me. Okay?"
"You need to be committed."
"You're overreacting so much."
"You are following instructions on a postcard from absolutely nowhere and making food for your boyfriend because of some half-assed logic that tells you the thing must be serious and trustworthy and about him."
"I didn't say I trusted the card, just that there's not a big downside to listening to it."
"I just can't even talk to you right now. I'll end up doing something stupid like knocking you out and taking you to the hospital to check for a brain tumor or something."
It ends up taking a little more than a week for Jess to make Sam the dinner. She has to get Becky out of the townhouse, he has to get someone to cover a shift for him at one of his way too many jobs, and then there's the part where she has to convince Sam to actually eat in front of her.
Sam's really lucky that he's hot because she barely tolerates that whole supermodel, "Oh, I don't eat much," thing with girls, and she's put up with it a lot longer with him.
He likes the dinner, though, even though it's plain, and eats three helpings before he smiles that sheepish smile of his and finally fills himself up.
Jess tells Becky there was nothing to worry about.
"Do I have to go, Jess? This is a family holiday, right? So it should be just your family."
"It's Thanksgiving, Sam; it's barely even a holiday. It's just an excuse for friends and family to stuff themselves full of food and try to pass out before the fighting starts."
"And besides, Zach and Becky and Alissa and Aaron are all coming, too. And Becky's bringing a date I haven't even met yet, so you have no excuse not to come."
"I just..." He trails off, and she feels his thumb rubbing across the back of her hand. "I don’t do good in those kinds of settings. Parents don't like me."
"Baby, my parents are gonna love you. You're polite, and you treat me well, so you've already got my dad right there. And you're gorgeous and smart, and you tell me not to waste so much money, so Mom's already threatening to leave Dad for you."
"Can't I just stay here? I'm sure I can pick up some extra hours at work."
"Sam, no. Look at it this way—I like you. A lot. And the odds are in your favor that you're gonna have to meet them eventually. Would you rather do it later, alone, with no one but me there to detract attention from you, or now, with so many people in the house that you'll be lucky to get ten minutes alone with them all weekend?"
Sam gets this small, slow-spreading smile on his face as he looks up at her from under his dirty, floppy hair. "You and your wacky Earth logic," he teases her.
"Hey, that's my line," Jess pouts at him. And really, the puppy eyes aren't fair when they're aimed at him.
"Stop using my eyes against me, and you can have it back."
"Fine, fine, I'm not above sharing."
"Oh, gee, thanks." They sit there for a few minutes, and Jess enjoys the quiet and the feel of Sam's rough hand in hers.
"You know, psych boy," she starts. "If I was taking your classes, I might say that you waited until an hour before we left because you really do want to go."
"No, it's not that—not that I don't want to go—I just thought that something would come up, you know?
"Well, I just... like your dad deciding that he doesn't wanna deal with all the people there right now and making it a family thing, or... you might decide that you want to wait to introduce me to your family—which would be okay, you know, I wouldn't mind."
Jess is such an idiot. She forgot that this isn't just her boyfriend coming to meet her parents or her friend coming because his parents gave the okay—this is Sam. Sam, who she's pretty sure sleeps at work over winter break and who she knows stayed with an ex he can only barely stand over the last summer break.
This is her boyfriend, Sam, who has only mentioned his family twice in all the time she's known him, making a trip up to spend four days with nearly everyone she's related to. His backup plan isn't even to go home or to another friend's; it's to work.
And all that is completely ignoring the part where Sam thinks she's going to uninvite him. Jess knows that most of his exes are "straight" guys; she knows Sam's used to being hidden away.
"Listen here, Cowboy," Jess starts out. She uses her sternest voice and makes her face as flat and cold as she can, overacting by miles so that Sam knows she's teasing him. "I like you. A lot. But I don't love anyone enough to let them off the hook for this thing."
Sam laughs at that, and she squashes the urge to do something stupid like telling Sam that she loves him. She smiles again and leans in, butting her forehead against his. "Becky is practically my sister, and I'm still making her come. Every new person there is another hour I'm not tearing out my hair."
"Fine, then," he sighs, all big and dramatic. "I guess I'll go. But only to save your hair."
"Good, because you wouldn't like me bald. I've got a weird shaped head. It's all bumpy."
Sam draws her closer, wraps his arms around her waist, and kisses the spot right behind her ear that he loves to nuzzle. "I promise I would still like you if your weird, bald head had razor burn and a point."
Jess's hands come up around his neck, and she rubs at the short fuzz there. "You are, without a doubt," she says, brushing her lips across his, "the oddest person I have ever met. You freak."
"Takes one to know one."
They rent a van because between the six of them, they have one car that seats four, one car that refuses to start, and nine bikes that are of absolutely no use to them right now.
"It's not even a minivan! You could fit a fucking dorm in there. Why didn't you get an SUV or something?"
"It's the day before Thanksgiving, and we're in a college town." Zach climbs out of the huge, white monstrosity they own for the next four and a half days and slams the door. "Be glad I didn't have to rent a U-Haul and throw all your dumb asses in back."
"Rawr, testy, testy."
"Fix your fucking car."
There's a small fight over who gets to drive—Sam wants to drive because he thinks Zach drives like a little old lady, Zach's never driven with Sam and plans to keep it that way, and Alissa is threatening to throw them both in the back and drive them all herself, suspended license be damned. Sam ends up driving once he swipes the keys from Zach's pocket and makes a mad dash for the driver's seat.
It's only a three hour trip, but Sam enjoys his staked claim of the radio all to himself, which lasts until Jess begs and he caves to the evil sounds of the Backstreet Boys, Boston, and Aqua all on the same horrifying CD.
It's actually kind of a fun ride, despite what Sam first thought about three hours in a vehicle and just how much he was sure it was going to remind him of pretty much the entire first eighteen years of his life.
It probably doesn't hurt that everyone seems to mentally regress about ten years in age, playing games like I Spy, License Plate Bingo—Becky actually made boards for everyone because she's the most anal person ever—Twenty Questions, and Geography, which Sam learns is much more fun when it's not entirely in Latin or the names of creatures in their native languages.
Eventually, they move on to Truth or Dare, and Sam is glad he's driving because it gives him an excuse not to play, since he can't really do any dares without possibly crashing the car and horribly disfiguring them all. Over the course of that game, everyone moons oncoming cars at least once; Zach tells everyone about how he messed around with a guy back when he was a freshman ("And I didn't like it, so, sorry Jess, still straight."); Jess admits that if it wasn't for Becky, she probably would've dumped Sam back when they started dating—Aaron is a dick; and Alissa describes one of her favorite fantasies in graphic detail, involving Jess, of course, because God forbid Sam should be able to concentrate on the road while driving.
Becky makes Sam stop and pull over no less than eleven times. "It would've been nice if someone could've warned me about how badly she got motion sick before I let her ride shotgun."
"Hey, do you guys know why they call it 'shotgun'?"
Sam pipes right up with that answer; he's known this one since he was about six. "Back when everyone was still riding around in stagecoaches, the driver had to keep both hands on the reins. So whoever rode up front with them had to keep hold of the shotgun in case they were ambushed."
"Really?" Alissa asks with genuine interest in her voice. For all her possibly clinically verifiable insanity, she's got that ravenous appetite for new knowledge that might make her attractive to Sam if only she weren't so damn scary.
"You weren't supposed to know that," Zach pouts.
"My dad's a Marine. I know more about guns than probably anyone who lives in California and doesn't battle gun laws should."
"Can you say anything but 'really'?" Becky asks.
There's a dull thudding sound as Alissa kicks the back of Becky's seat. "Shut up."
Becky winces as she gets lurched forward from the force of the impact, and Sam's pretty sure her stomach just rolled hard. And, see, that right there is one of the things that bothers Sam about Alissa. He knows it was a friendly kind of kick, but that's exactly the problem; she's violent with her friends, and every time she socks Sam or kicks him, he has to pull in every instinct he has so he doesn't retaliate in some way that would cause lasting harm and a lot of questions.
Zach laughs that stoned-sounding laugh of his and snaps Sam back out of his head. "Apparently, she can."
"Did you know that if it weren't for monks, we might not have guns?" Sam asks them all.
Sam waits for someone to ask for more, mostly because he wants to see how long they can be quiet.
Jess breaks the silence, of course. "How did that work?"
"Thank you for asking, Jess. The first formula for gunpowder that was ever written down was written by a thirteenth century English monk. And the first person to use gunpowder as a projectile was a German monk—I don't remember what century he was from, though."
"You know, you're really kind of scary sometimes."
"I'm a guy; we think guns are cool."
"It's true," Zach agrees. "We totally do. They make loud noises and hurt people."
"I bet if you were one of those people who was hurt by them, you wouldn't think they were so cool anymore," Aaron pipes up from behind Sam. Sam's getting some good lessons in restraint on this trip—has it really only been an hour and a half?—and he uses it to keep from shooting back that he has, in fact, been shot, pistol-whipped, and once had a gun jammed so far down his throat that the guy holding it should've at least bought him dinner first.
Instead, what Sam says is, "You know what? You aren't allowed to use that argument until you've been shot, okay? So find something else to bitch about." It might not be much better, but it's a start.
Jess, who has had the bad misfortune on several occasions to break up the fights between Sam and Aaron, jumps in early this time. "Both of you are going to stop right now," she tells them. "It's Thanksgiving; there's already going to be enough fighting without you two idiots trying to kill each other in the living room."
"Sam! Zip it! Listen closely; this applies to everyone, but mostly to the two of you. If anyone tries to pick a fight this weekend, there will be hell to pay. Aaron, I promise that I will do my best to make sure no one at Stanford has sex with you ever again if you start. And you, Sam...." She trails off, and Sam tries to pretend that he's not suddenly very uncomfortable. "I'll find a way to punish you."
The silence that descends in the car is awkward, to say the least. That is, until Alissa speaks.
"I love that you're such a nympho that you can't even withhold sex from him."
Just when Sam thought it couldn't get any more awkward, it does.
Sam knows it's a little weird that he wants to wait, but he's a psych major. That pretty much requires a little bit of self-analyzing. So Sam knows that he has, or had, this problem where he would sleep with someone right away and then mistake them liking sex whenever they wanted with them liking him. He's getting better, though. Kind of.
He's had many hypothetical conversations with the Dean in his head about this. Dean's responses range from the realistic, "Cry me a river, build a bridge, and get the fuck over it, you fucking pussy. What more do you need than awesome sex?" to the blatant lies he knows are his own thoughts trying out the Dean voice. "It's understandable that you want to wait; you want to know that Jess likes you for you and not because you're good in bed."
That last one is even creepier when he pictures Dean being all soft smiles and caring voice when he says it.
"We're not talking about sex while Sam's driving, so pick a different subject."
"Why not? Come on, this isn't like Truth or Dare. He doesn't have to move around or do anything."
"Because I want my dad to like him, and if we start talking about sex, I'm going to say something that will make him whip around and do that kicked puppy glare at me. Then we'll hit a Toyota or something, and it would make a very bad impression if their first meeting was while my parents were visiting all of us in the hospital."
"God, you have an overactive imagination. We're in a van the size of Canada—Alaska, at least. If we hit a Toyota, we won't know until we get to your house and notice an unusually shiny bug stuck in the grille."
"Hey, no sex talk!"
"Sam, pull over."
"Again?" he asks, but Becky's already scrambling at the door, trying to get her door unlocked. As quickly and smoothly as he can, Sam cuts over two lanes of traffic and onto the shoulder, pulling the car to a stop just in time for Becky to wrench open her door and practically throw herself out as a siren flares up behind him.
Well, at least he's already on the shoulder.
"I hate you all."
| Two |