No one quite knows what to do with the new kid.
He’s quiet, keeps his head down and his eyes hidden beneath his bangs. He doesn’t stand awkwardly in front of the cafeteria his first day, hoping someone will take pity and invite him into their group. He heads straight to the loner table, pulls a plastic yogurt container, a fork, and a battered English textbook out of his bag. He opens the yogurt container, frowns slightly, and then shoves a forkful of the contents, some unappetizing yellow mush—macaroni?-- into his mouth.
“Should we invite him over?” I ask.
“Doesn’t seem interested,” Emma leans over and steals one of my French fries, “Probably just needs a couple days to adjust.” Her brother’s autistic, so she’s comfortable letting people get comfortable. It’s one of the things I like most about her.
Most people aren’t Emma. The rich kids notice his battered tennis shoes, the frayed hems of his t-shirts, and the way his pants don’t quite reach his ankles and say “trash.” The gossips notice his silence, his guarded stares, the way he jumps when someone pops a bag of chips and say “psycho.” The jocks notice the bags under his eyes and his curve-busting grades and say “nerd.” Other bullies call him “gay,” “weirdo,” and “freak,” just because they can.
After a week or two, people mostly forget Sam, which seems to be how he likes it. He sits in the back of the class getting perfect scores on everything, eats his small lunch from old yogurt containers, and keeps his head firmly in books.
Until Greg Engels, football captain and douche extraordinaire, decides to be an ass.
Sam, despite his awkward, gangly appearance, is good at sports. He never drops a ball or stops to catch a stich in his side, doesn’t even seem out of breath after running laps. Most people grudgingly admire him for it. The jocks hate him.
They mostly keep things tame. Don’t pick Sam for teams, even if he is better than half of them at any sport, make snide remarks about his tattered shoe laces and too-short shorts, hiss at him in the halls.
Sam ignores them, doesn’t seem to give a shit. Even when I ask him if he’s okay after someone (Greg) tapes a note that says “ASS-KISSER” to his gym locker, complete with an illustration.
“They’re just morons,” Sam says and crumples the note.
Then, one brutally hot and humid day, Sam leads us non-jocks to flag football victory. It’s an incredible upset, and even I feel proud of myself, even if I hadn’t made it two minutes into the game.
Greg Engels glares at Sam the entire walk into the locker room. I open my mouth to mention his death-stares to Sam that before closing it again. I have no desire to get on Greg’s bad side, and Sam can obviously take care of himself.
I feel pretty shitty about that decision when Greg, accompanied by a couple henchmen, stomps up to Sam, who’s about to put his shirt on, “You cheating fucker!”
The whole locker room turns to stare. I expect Sam to rush to put his shirt on, but he just holds it against his chest, “What Greg?”
“Ah, you too scared to show us your boobs?” Before Sam can say or do anything else, Greg tears his shirt away.
If the locker room was quiet before, it’s silent now. Sam’s chest is a horrible pattern of black and purple bruises, with the occasional accent of yellow and green. Even Greg stares, slack-jawed at the sight.
Sam’s bright pink now, and he takes a deep breath before extending his hand, “Give me my shirt, Greg.”
Greg glances between his two henchmen, clearly debating the merits of looking weak verses being a quarter-decent human being. After a long moment, he balls up Sam’s shirt and throws it across the room.
Everyone gasps like we’re in the middle of a soap opera. Sam’s face goes dark enough to match the bruises on his chest. His fists clench. Greg’s do the same, and his henchmen follow.
No matter how good Sam is, he’s gonna lose this fight.
In a moment of what Emma will call stupidity and my little sister will pronounce chivalry, I walk forward and punch Greg Engels in the jaw.
It barely counts as a punch, but it redirects Greg’s considerable rage and gets everyone’s attention off Sam.
Greg’s fist to my nose definitely counts as a punch, but there isn’t time for it to escalate because coach Jeffries barrels in with his whistle. He looks from Greg, to me, to Sam, back to Greg, then me, before settling on Sam’s mottled chest.
“I don’t want to hear it,” he says as all three of us open our mouths. “Principal’s office, now.”
“You didn’t have to do that,” Sam says as he and I sit on the scarred, wooden bench outside Principal Jamison’s office.
“He’s an asshole.”
Sam makes low sound in his throat that somewhat resembles a laugh, “Yeah, but at least he’s an asshole that punches like a toddler. You nose doesn’t hurt, does it?”
I shake my head, more than a little freaked by Sam’s words. He got his shirt back before they went to the office, but all I can see when I look at him are those marks.
“Who did that to you?”
Sam’s eyes shutter, and he grips the end of the bench, “No one. It was an accident.”
“I won’t say anything if you don’t want me to, but my Dad’s a cop. He could . . .”
“Look, I appreciate the offer, but it was just an accident, okay? I’m fine.”
“Sam . . .”
“Sam?” principal Jamison opens the door. Greg slouches out without looking at us, and Sam stands up.
“Thanks again,” he says, giving me half a smile “But I’m fine.”
I watch him go, stiff with nerves, pain, or both. A few minutes later, the assistant principal calls me into his office, gives me a token “fighting is wrong” talk sandwiched between heaps of praise for standing up for a classmate, and sends me to English.
I never see Sam again.
Greg Engels is a grade A asshole who’s in for a nasty surprise when he gets to the real world. Until then, I suspend him for a couple days and send him on his way.
Sam Winchester’s a different story. I hadn’t paid much attention to him when he enrolled in school a few weeks ago, but a couple teachers mentioned he was smart, if quiet. I was mostly relieved to have avoided another Greg Engels.
Now, Sam sits in front of my desk, staring at his shoes as Sondra, the school social worker, enters and grimaces at the sight of Sam. Dealing with fucked-up kids is our job, but coach Jeffries says he’d never seen bruising like that ever. Much less on a kid.
We introduce ourselves. Sam nods without meeting our eyes. Then I ask, “Can you tell us what happened, Sam?”
“It wasn’t Eric’s fault. Greg was goading him. That punch doesn’t really count anyway.”
I raise my eyes at Sondra, whose expression mirrors my own. It’s kind, noble even, for Sam to worry about the kid who took on the school bully on Sam’s behalf, but . . . “Why didn’t that punch count?”
Sam’s shoulders stiffen, “Look, I just like boxing, okay? That’s why I know what a punch looks like. There’s nothing to worry about.”
“Sam, Coach Jamison said you have extensive bruising across your chest. Can you tell us how that happened?”
“What kind of accident, Sam?” Sondra says.
“Have you called my brother?”
“He’s on his way,” I say, and lean forward, inwardly begging this kid to let us help him.
“I want to wait for my brother.”
Sondra and I share a look. The brother’s either the abuser or trying to protect him from the abuser.
“Sam,” Sondra says, “We’re here to help. If someone’s hurting you. . .”
“No one’s hurting me. I’m not hiding anything. It was just an accident.”
“Sam . . .”
The door bursts open and young man in an oversized leather jacket marches in, followed by Diane, my poor, harried secretary.
“Dean,” Sam relaxes and even smiles a little. Protector, then.
“Sir. They’re in the middle of a meeting . . .”
“Someone called me and said my brother was in a fight. There’s my brother,” Dean points at Sam, “And I’m assuming this is where we’re talking about the fight. This is exactly where I should be.”
“Sir . . .”
“I want Dean here,” Sam says, “It’ll make things faster anyway. I know you’re all busy.”
“We have as much time as it takes,” I say. Nice try young man. “You can stay for now, Dean, so long as you agree to step out if and when I need to speak to Sam privately.”
“Fine,” Dean sits in the only remaining chair, clapping Sam on the shoulder as he does. I don’t miss how Sam leans into the touch.
“Now who the hell . . . I mean, what happened to my brother?”
“A classmate stole his shirt during gym and then threw it across the room. Another classmate punched that classmate in the jaw.”
Dean frowns, “And what did Sam do?”
“Nothing,” I say carefully.
The frown becomes darker, almost jagged “Then why are we here?”
“When Coach Jeffries broke up the fight, he saw that Sam had extensive bruising across his chest and abdomen.”
Sam and Dean share a swift look. It’s calculating, not threatening or scared, but it doesn’t sit right.
“Kids play sports,” Dean says, “They get roughed up.”
“This is not a sports injury,” Sondra says, “The bruising covers his entire chest, and that’s just what Coach Jeffries could see.”
“It what?” Dean looks at Sam, who keeps his eyes on his shoes. Dean could be a fantastic actor, but he definitely seems surprised, and scared.
“So, Coach Jeffries was wrong, and you don’t have massive bruises across your chest?” Dean says it before I can.
Sam lets out a breath, “I was walking home, okay? There was a car. I didn’t see him. He didn’t see me, but he stopped quick enough that he only knocked me over.”
“When did this happen?” I ask. Dean’s lips form a tight line. He looks much older, now.
“Yesterday, on the way home from school.”
“And this person didn’t stop?”
“They did for a second, I think. But they drove off before I could get a good look at them.”
“What about the car?”
Sam shakes his head.
“And did you tell anyone about this until now? Did you go to the hospital?”
“You know better than that, Sam,” Dean says, “Especially if there was a car involved.” He looks up at me, “You’ve got a nurse around here, right?”
Sam’s ready to kill me by the time we reach the nurse’s office, but tough. The principal needs to be completely convinced I didn’t know about this shit and that if I had, I’d have done something about it.
It’s weird because it’s actually the truth. We haven’t been on a hunt in a week, and the last two hunts have been pretty tame.
So, what the fuck happened?
Sam doesn’t stop glaring as the nurse has him sit on one of those weird doctor’s tables and asks if he needs help taking his shirt off. He ignores her and pulls it off himself, fast and in one go to handle the pain all at once.
The nurse gasps, and I can’t stop my “holy shit.”
My little brother’s chest is an ugly rainbow of bruises. I step closer, well aware of the nurse’s eagle eyes on me.
It’s worse up close, especially when I check his back and see two large, dark bruises there too. It sure looks like a car accident, but why the hell wouldn’t he say anything?
“Are there any tests you should run?” I ask the nurse. Sam gives me another deeply betrayed glare.
There’s no broken ribs, by some miracle. Sam swears he’s not pissing blood, and there’s no signs of concussion. They let me take Sam home. CPS could still stop by, but that’s not my biggest problem right now.
“Okay spit it out,” I say as I drive us back to our motel-of-the-month.
“I wasn’t lying.”
“Then why did you hide it from me.”
“I didn’t hide it. It just never came up.”
“How does. ‘I got hit by a car and my chest looks like morbid tie-dye’ not come up?”
“Says the guy who said getting his head knocked against a tombstone was like a massage.”
“Yeah, but you’re supposed to be the sane one,” I say as we pull up to the motel.
Sam rolls his eyes, “Look, I’m fine. I even got checked out by a real-life nurse. Drop it.”
He gets out of the car, tries to sling his indecently heavy bag dramatically over his shoulder, staggers when it accidentally hits his chest, and marches inside.
We both need some time to calm down, so I leave Sam to geek out over his homework, and I take a look under Baby’s hood. Nothing’s been sounding weird, but it’s always better to catch a problem before it presents itself.
It’s not long before muscle memory takes over, leaving plenty of room for me to figure out what the hell happened to Sam and why he wouldn’t tell me.
The thing is, he and I are never apart for long, aside from when Sam’s at school, and even if he’s okay getting hit once or twice for the sake of being “normal,” there’s no way he’d let his ass get handed to him like that.
Then he comes to the motel and works on homework or the next hunt, half-watches re-runs with me, unless he finds Star Trek, in which case not even the geekiest of textbooks could pull him away. We go to bed, get up, rinse and repeat.
The only interruptions to the routine are hunts or when Sam and Dad fight.
Dad gets back just as the moths start gathering around the motel lights. I’m sitting on the hood of the Impala with a beer. It’ll piss him off. I don’t care.
“Get off there,” he grunts.
“Got a call from the school today.” I hadn’t planned on jumping in like that, but there’s no good way to start this conversation.
I couldn’t see Dad’s face in the rapid darkness, but I did catch the stiffening of his shoulders and the raising of his chin.
“Yeah, some kids in gym noticed his impression of a blueberry.”
“Fuck,” Dad mutters to the ground then looks up, “He feeling okay?”
“As good as can be expected, I think. Said a car hit him.”
“Would’ve been a big one, too, now that he’s gotten so tall. The bruises went to his collarbone.” I try not to look at Dad’s new truck, but I can’t stop myself.
Dad sighs, “Yea, he got hit by a car. Didn’t want me to tell you.”
“Couple nights ago, when he stormed out.”
And you went after him in the goddamned truck.
“You didn’t see it happen?”
“Got there right after. He’d crossed the street without looking. Driver barely stopped in time but kept driving.”
Dad doesn’t speak for a moment, “Dean. You’re not actually wondering if I—that I could have . . .”
“I don’t know what to think, Dad. Sammy tells me everything, but he didn’t tell me this.”
“He didn’t want to worry you. Felt a little embarrassed about what happened, too.”
“Goddamit Dean!” Dad’s voice rises to a level usually reserved for Sam, “How could you fucking think I’d do that? To my own kid? Christ!”
Dad turns, crossing his hands behind his head and looking up at the muggy stars.
Guilt creeps into my gut. The surety that kept me sitting on the Impala’s hood until Dad pulled into view hesitates . . .
This is Dad. He'd do anything to keep us safe.
. . . then slowly retreats.
Of course it was some random asshole. He would never do something like that. How could I ever think . . .
“It’s fine, Dean. Hurt like hell to hear that, but it’s fine.” Dad reaches back into the truck and pulls out a bag of burgers, “Now let’s eat some dinner and check on your brother. We’ll head out in the morning. Don’t want to take the chance with CPS.”
I slide off the Impala and follows Dad’s shadow inside. Most of the anger’s gone now, and the confusion, and the fear.
It was a random asshole. Sam will be fine. Hell, he'll get a few days off from training. That's better than fine.
I pause in the doorway and look back at that truck, thinking once more about those bruises, about Sam’s silence.
"Dean," Dad calls, "Food's getting cold."
He would never do something like that.
I turn to my family. Dad's sitting at the table, opening a beer. Sam's on the couch, picking at a chicken sandwich while reading one of his enormous. A M*A*S*H re-run is playing on the TV.
I grab my own burger and sit on the other end of the couch, nudging Sam's legs with my foot. "Scoot over, bitch." Sam rolls his eyes and throws a french fry at my head.
I barely notice the door close behind me.