John unlocked the door to his auto repair shop, started the coffee going in the waiting room because no matter how hot it got, some people had to have their coffee, then unlocked the door of his office before heading to the large roll-up doors of the garage bays. Heated Kansas air swirled inside, making the space as muggy in the bays as it was outside. He quickly turned on one of the large fans and sighed at the relief it provided. Just another summer day in Lawrence.
"Hot one today," Abe Mason said, walking up behind John.
John smiled at the mechanic. Abe always commented on the weather instead of a more formal greeting. The ritual was comforting. "We'll look back on this fondly in the middle of January." Abe rolled his eyes and kept walking. John laughed and followed. "Jerry's gonna keep us busy today, dragging in a lot of overheated cars. Wanna tell me again why I thought it was a good idea to buy out Mike when he decided to take Kate and travel the U.S. in an RV?"
"It's home," Abe said wisely.
John couldn't argue with that.
About eleven o'clock he felt a shadow fall on his legs and slid out from beneath a '84 Ford. He squinted up into the sun and saw Ray Vanderpool, the varsity football coach at Douglas High School. "Hey, Coach, what can I do for you?"
"I'd like to talk to you about your son for a moment, if you have the time."
"Sure. Give me a minute to clean up, and I'll meet you in my office. There's coffee in the waiting area or help yourself to a pop in the mini-fridge next to my desk." The coach nodded and walked away. John stood and headed over to the sink to wash up with Goop. Stupid name, but nothing got rid of auto grease and grime better.
Abe gave him a look as he walked by him, and John shrugged. Dean, at this very moment, was supposed to be at practice for the junior varsity team. But at fourteen, Dean did things at his own speed, in his own time, and in his own way. John only hoped he hadn't done something stupid and blown his chance to play football at the high school.
"What's the problem?" he asked as he plopped into the chair behind his very messy desk. He was grateful that Abe's granddaughter kept the books.
Coach Vanderpool took a long sip of his Country Time lemonade. "There's no problem, Mr. Winchester."
"John." Maybe if he was friendly with the man, he could get Dean out of whatever trouble he was in.
"I've been watching the JV team work out, John. Dean's a very good ball player. If only the varsity quarterback had an arm like his. I have no doubt that he'll have scholarship offers from a lot of colleges by the time he's a senior. Always hits his man square in the numbers. Could possibly go pro."
John smiled. Who knew teaching his kid to throw knives could come in so handy? He grew solemn as he realized there was a certain tone to the coach's assessment. "Do I hear a 'but' in there?"
Vanderpool shrugged. "I've studied a lot of players in my day and this is my own opinion, but I don't think Dean has the fire to go pro."
"You mean he lacks the discipline?"
"Hell, no. That boy of yours--he gives one hundred percent from what I've seen."
That was shocking, considering how much he dragged ass at home. The coach took another long pull of his drink.
"The thing is, John, Dean has a hell of a lot of potential to be great at whatever he wants to be. I think him going pro would be a waste."
"I've talked to his teachers. So far he's an average student, but he's average without any effort. He's a freshman and this is when grades start counting. According to his past teachers, if he tries even a little, he can be in the top tenth of his class easily. If he stays there, maybe gets on student council, does some public service work, I'm pretty sure I can get him an appointment to West Point."
John wanted to laugh. Dean? At the U.S. Military Academy? He wanted to laugh but couldn't because the coach was looking quite serious. "My Dean?" he had to ask.
"I know the kids joke about the slogan, 'Be All You Can Be In The Army,' but it's true. I think Dean will find his place there and thrive."
John was stumped. Dean was a solid "C" student. He was a good athlete. Although he muttered under his breath a lot, he kept to the rules, albeit the very edge of the rules. But West Point? His boy officer material? He had no doubt Dean could handle the physical parts of the training; hell, boot camp would be a treat for him after years of sports practices and John's own disciplinary program (heh! He liked the sound of that). Dean also wouldn't have trouble when it came to weapons. He was already a better shot than John, could assemble and disassemble almost anything blindfolded, and load and re-load on the move. Leadership skills were easily learned--he himself had learned to make soldiers get their asses in gear and he'd only been an average grunt. And Dean, as a quarterback, was already a team leader who could act under pressure.
However, the academic program was a bitch, and he didn't want to set up Dean for failure. Maybe with all his skills, Dean should enlist after graduation. A tour or two would give him direction and focus without making him feel stupid like washing out of the Academy could. But the coach looked so earnest, so sure that Dean could do this... He shrugged. "I'll take this all under advisement, Coach. Thank you for watching out for my boy."
The coach pitched his empty bottle into the trashcan. "He's a good one. Wouldn't want him to get lost."
They shook hands and the coach left. John was still pondering the conversation as he waited in front of the elementary school for Sam's bus to arrive. Sam was attending a science day camp for the week and enjoying the hell out of it. For all of Sam's attitude, he was easily placated by something academic. If someone came up to John and suggested West Point for Sam, he would've still laughed--because Sam? Following orders? Was so not going to happen--but he wouldn't have been shocked. But Dean? Could he have missed something? What had the coach seen?
"Hi, Dad! We got to cut up frogs today--frogs we caught at the pond! It was great!" Sam said as he scrambled into the Impala. "Josh didn't gas his long enough and right when he came at it with a scalpel, it jumped off the table. You should've heard him scream!"
John listened as they made their way home and when Sam finally stopped to take a breath, he asked the question he swore he wasn't going to ask. "Sam, do you think your brother's smart?"
"A smart as--aleck, sure," Sam said gleefully.
"No, I mean, seriously."
Sam frowned and batted at the window handle. It'd been his favorite toy as a baby and for some reason still fascinated him. "Seriously? He's okay."
John took his eyes off the road long enough to make it plain to Sam that he needed a real answer. "What does that mean? You think he can cut college? Even without an athletic scholarship?" Sam just looked at him. "What?"
"Dad, he won the science fair three years in a row when he was at my school. And last year, he and his Math Bowl team made it to the state finals."
John was glad for the red light because he wasn't sure he could continue to drive. "He what?"
"Jesus, Dad. Don't you read anything you sign? I know he had to get your permission to ride the team van."
Sign? Right. But he'd just assumed it was some athletic competition. Science and math. Mary had gone to KU on a math scholarship. Why was he just remembering that? "He's that good?"
"Yeah," Sam pouted. "But I'm better in English and history because Dean hates reading. That's why I can't believe he does research for you. Besides, I don't need math to be a lawyer."
But hadn't reading been the reason Dean had wanted to go to school in the first place? What had happened to that little boy? And why was his father completely lost when it came to the young man? "I've never seen any of his awards. Why doesn't he put them up on the fridge like you do?"
"I don't put mine up there, Dean does."
"Oh." Well, he knew one thing that wouldn't be going on there: a Father of the Year Award. "Isn't he proud of what he's accomplished?"
Sam shrugged. "You go to his football, basketball, and baseball games. Maybe he thinks that's all you care about."
Damn. This was going from bad to worse. "Why? Why would he think that?"
"You ask me about school. You ask him about practice."
"He's never said anything about school," John protested.
"The only time the two of you talk is when you're giving him orders about the weekends you're hunting, or you're giving him instructions about our training."
Nah. That couldn't be right. "We talk in the mornings before you come to breakfast."
Sam nodded. "About what time he has to be home. And what's for dinner. And what team he plays next. I can hear you from the bedroom, you know."
Okay. Score one for the ten-year-old going on forty-five. John gave up. "So, what are you guys going to be cutting up tomorrow?"
"Can I play soccer?"
"I wanna join the school's soccer team. Can I?"
Sports? Sammy wanted to play a sport? And Dean was a closet scholar? John shook his head, trying to make the world turn right side up again. How had he lost sight of his children like this? He was with them almost every day. They sat down to meals together...sorta. He went to PTO meetings (at least once or twice, hadn't he?). He signed report cards (scanned for "F"s and shrugged at everything else). He clothed and sheltered them (well, paid the bills anyway). Who were these strangers and what had they done with his boys?
"Yeah, sure. Tell me when your games are, okay?"
"Dean'll put the schedule up on the fridge."
Of course he would. Because Sam had a parent; Dean was an orphan. He looked up at the sky, searching the clouds for lightning. Because if Mary was looking down on them, he was in for a serious ass whupping. "Sounds good."
"Okay. So, tomorrow we're going on a nature hike, and we get magnifying glasses and everything. Hope I don't find any poisonous spiders. Are there many poisonous spiders around here, Dad?"
"Maybe that's something you should look up when we get home," John suggested.
"Dean'll help me," Sam agreed.
Of that, John was sure.
John smiled as his son crossed the blacktop towards the car. He'd known Dean would zoom in on the Impala as soon as he left the gym. "Hey, kiddo!"
"What's wrong? Why are you here? Something happen to Sam?"
Okay. Not the reaction he wanted. "Nothing's wrong. Sam's fine. I just came by to ask if you wanted to have lunch with your old man."
"Lunch? What about work?"
John shrugged. "I'm the boss. So how about it?"
Dean looked a little undecided. "Um, I'll have to go tell Pinky's mom. She always takes me home after practice."
"Go on. I'll wait." Gerard Bowman had been Pinky since he caught pink eye in kindergarten. Because the nickname didn't bother the boy in the least, no parents stepped forward to discourage its use. John winced as he thought that one day someone would be calling him Grandpa Pinky, and that was just wrong. But since their two boys did everything together, he and Eloise Bowman had a standing arrangement about carting the boys around--she did most of the day work and he took care of evenings.
"So, I was thinking take out and eating in the park. Sound good to you?" John asked as Dean joined him in the car.
Best burgers in town. "Sounds like a plan."
They got their food and found an empty picnic table in the shade of a spreading elm. Dean wolfed down his burgers like the growing boy he was and snagged John's fries when the old man proved too slow. "What's the deal, Dad? We've already had 'the talk,' so why lunch?"
They'd had 'the talk'? Oh, yeah. It had consisted of, "Dean, about girls..." "I already know, Dad." "Oh, really, what do you know?" "Kissing can't cause babies, but sex can. Always wear a condom because you know where you've been but you don't know about your partner. Respect girls. If they say no, they mean no. Don't let peer pressure make you do something you don't want to do. Love and sex aren't the same thing. And keep your mouth shut if you do manage to score because bragging is just overcompensation for some shortage on your part." John hadn't had anything to add, so kept his mouth shut. Apparently the schools were better at that sort of thing than they'd been when he was a boy. Good. Then he wouldn't have to suffer through it with Sam. Of course, he was pretty sure Dean would take care of it anyway.
"I--I want to talk about your future, son. You're starting high school. Your grades are going to follow you for the rest of your life, so now's the time to make changes if you want to."
Dean looked affronted. "What changes? You told me I only had to keep a 'C' average to play sports, and I've been doing that."
"And that's good. But playing a sport isn't your only option for the future. Surely, you've thought about what you want to be when you grow up?"
The idea warmed John's heart, but he heard the question mark in his son's answer. Dean was fishing around for what John wanted to hear. "You're good under the hood of a car, but do you really want to do that for the rest of your life?"
Dean shrugged. "I considered maybe working for NASA."
"You want to be an astronaut?" God. After a couple of days of watching Dean, Coach Vanderpool knew his son better than he did. Sam had been saying for ages that he was going to be a lawyer, and he watched more Court TV than he did the big networks. Dean'd never said anything. And John had never asked.
"Heck no! I--I don't do well with heights, Dad. I want to work on the shuttle, or maybe design a new kind of space vehicle. Or maybe just a new engine. Cars, too. It's just not right that we're still using a combustible engine. I mean, it's still technologically the same engine that the Model T used. The Model T, Dad!"
His son sounded outraged at the idea. Passion. Fire, Coach Vanderpool had called it. "Well, if you want to work at NASA or design new engines or whatever, don't you think you should do better than a 'C' average?"
"It's just a dream," Dean mumbled.
"Everything starts out as a dream, Dean. That's not a reason not to go for it. You kick ass in science and math. If you try in the other subjects, I'm sure you can do better."
"No maybe about it. I think it's time you raised your goals a bit higher, son. Winchesters suck at just settling, you know. You think it was easy for me to go from being your Uncle Mike's junior partner to owning the entire garage? If something goes wrong there, it's my head on the chopping block, and no one else's. I'm responsible for the welfare of six employees. There are bills and taxes and all kinds of headaches. But I'm glad I did it. It's made me...happy. I want you to be happy too, Dean."
"Okay. I'll give it a shot."
"Since I've seen you shoot, make 'A's your target, kiddo, and you'll have nothing to worry about." He bumped his shoulder against Dean's. This had gone well. "And by the way, join the student council."
Dean groaned and bounced his head on the wooden table.
"Sammy's camp becomes an overnighter this weekend," John continued, feeling a reward was in order for both of them; Dean was thinking long-term, and he had survived another one of those rites of passages talks. "How about you and me go on a hunt while he's gone?" It was a simple salt and burn. The only possibility of injury would be blisters from digging the grave, which as the junior member of the team, would be Dean's job.
Dean grinned, balled up his burger wrappers and did a mock jump shot toward the metal trashcan. "Awesome, Dad. Awesome."
Onward to Infrangible Road 1995
U-Turn to 1991, 1984, or Infrangible Road On-Ramp
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