Heber Springs, Arkansas. August 30, 1984.
Sammy dropped the square shape into the square hole on his plastic ball toy, raising his hands in triumph when the shape went inside with a hollow thunk. Dean raised his hands in triumph, too, if only because it was a nice change from getting that same hard plastic thing thrown at his head. Sammy giggled and made a high-pitched keening sound.
Dean winced toward his father's sleeping form, slumped over the Impala's steering wheel. "Shh, you're gonna wake up dad."
His little brother waited until Dean was looking and then (Are you looking? Are you looking?) dropped the round shape into the round hole, rattling the ball between his hands with both shapes clattering inside.
"You're getting good!" Dean said as close to a whisper as he could manage, but he was looking at the old, over-sized watch that dad had put on his wrist. The band was fastened as tightly as it would go, but it was still about to fall off. Dean was supposed to wake dad when the little hand was on the six and the big hand was on the nine, so dad could drive him from the campground where they were parked to his first day of school. He was anxious about missing his first day, but he was more anxious about leaving Sammy.
Part of him wanted to just let dad sleep, and just pretend he forgot. He didn't like the big room with the giant letters on the wall, or the little tables or being told what to do, but the woman who was going to be his teacher smelled like mom and she seemed okay. But dad had held his fingers up, though, in a capital "L" shape that was facing down, and made Dean say back to him where the hands would be. He told Dean, "Maybe they can teach you how to tell time, huh?"
Right now, the big hand was on the seven. He had two more numbers to go.
Putting the triangle shape into the triangle hole, Sammy went unnoticed for a moment while Dean was lost in thought. He rattled the ball, with its three pieces now, at his brother. "DEAN."
"Sammy, shhh!" Dean looked over at his father and back at his brother nervously. "Daddy. Say 'daddy.'" This was important. Dean said dad, but Sammy should say daddy because Sammy was little.
"DEAN!" Sammy exclaimed insistently. The way he had to say the word meant showing all of his little teeth, two on the top and three on the bottom, with another one coming in. "Dean."
Dean was thinking of the look on his father's face when Sammy had first opened his mouth and called out "Dean." How dad had looked at Sammy, then at Dean, before getting out of the car and walking around outside for a long time. Dean didn't know why, but he didn't like it. And Sammy was going to say "daddy" if Dean had to sit there and say it to him all the time. He frowned, wondering if dad had heard Sammy say "juice" yet.
Making sure he was looking, Sammy picked up the last shape. There was actually a fifth one, a circle that looked like it had been smashed a little flat, but they had lost it. This was a good one though, the star-shape, and Sammy always saved it for last.
"I don't think you can do it," Dean teased like he always did, shaking his head sadly. "That's the hard one."
Sammy held it up and looked at Dean through it with one eye, like a tiny magician, building suspense.
"Go ahead," Dean cajoled, but dropped his voice into a little whisper. "But the tickle monster is watching if you screw up."
Sammy's mouth went into a little O-shape. He knew what tickle monster meant. The only reason Dean had ever eaten peas or picked up his toys was because of his mom had sometimes turned into the tickle monster. If it worked for him, it would work for Sammy.
With as careful a motion as he could manage with his chubby hands, Sammy moved the star shape into the hole... crooked.
"Tickle monster!" Dean yelled out, digging his fingers into Sammy's side. Sammy folded over, clapping his hands over his head, laughing loud.
Realizing what he was doing, Dean suddenly shushed. He'd forgotten about dad. He braced himself for scolding, but dad didn't move.
Dean looked down at the big wristwatch and realized that the big hand was on the ten. He panicked for a minute, wondering if he had it backwards. Was it little hand on the nine, big hand six? Dean decided to take the risk, and climbed up on the backseat to shake his dad by the shoulder. "Dad? Dad?"
Dad wasn't moving.
Dean shook his dad's big shoulder harder. "Dad? Wake up! The big hand is on the ten!"
Dad stayed put on the steering wheel. Dean shook harder.
Dean left Sammy to climb over the front seat. When he had thrown himself over, he crouched down on the seat, trying to look up into his father's face. Dad's face looked gray and tired. Dean lifted his head as much as he could. The steering wheel had imprinted deeply into his father's face. Taking him by the big collar of his leather coat, Dean tried to shake him some more. Still nothing.
Dean started to panic, but he saw that Sammy was looking at him from the backseat, fingers in his mouth, eyes wide. Dean bit his lip, trying not to frown or look scared. "Dad is sleepy."
Dean gave dad another hard shake to the shoulder, without calling out this time, trying to keep his face still. Standing on the front seat, he looked all around them at the campground. He looked back at Sammy and he smiled a little, or tried.
Leaning over the front seat, he took the ball with the shapes out of Sammy's lap.
"Cover your eyes, Sammy."
His baby brother looked skeptical. But Dean had learned that "be good, Sammy" did not work a lot. Sometimes you had to give Sammy something to do so he could be good.
"Cover 'em up."
After a moment, Sammy covered up his eyes.
Dean unscrewed the ball toy and took the four shapes out. Checking to make sure Sammy wasn't peeking, he climbed over into the backseat and hid them. He put one under Sammy's seat, another one in the hole in the seat where the seatbelt was, a third one in the ashtray and the fourth one he put under his own side of the backseat where Sammy probably wouldn't think to look. He put the empty ball on the seat next to Sammy.
"Open 'em up," Dean said, too brightly.
Sammy moved his hands and looked down at the empty ball with delight. He loved this game.
"Find them all, Sammy, okay? Find all four, and I'll be right back."
"Dean?" Sammy asked.
Dean was already pushing on his door. "I'll be back before you find them, okay?"
When Sammy started crawling around on the backseat, Dean left quickly. He bit his lip again, and even though he wanted to be a big boy, his eyes started to well up when he turned around, tears falling out. Be a big boy. He told himself to wait, that he could cry later, and looked all around. There were other cars parked nearby, but they looked empty. Across the grounds, on the other side of the picnic tables, were some green tents and a big white truck thing that looked like a little house. His dad had called it an "arvee." Dean took off at a run toward it, knowing that Sammy was going to find all his shapes soon and realize that Dean had fibbed.
He ran as fast as he could by the picnic tables, by a shaggy brown dog tied to the trash cans, falling down once but making good time. He could feel the wind rushing past him as it cooled and then dried the tears on his cheeks. He sniffed, scrambled up the wooden board steps to the arvee's door and knocked on it with both fists. "Hello?"
"Hold on!" came a tired growl from inside. Dean heard stuff being pushed around and footsteps. The big man who answered the door in his blue robe was even a little bigger than Dean's dad, which Dean didn't think was even possible, but he kind of smelled like dad. He looked down at Dean, annoyed. Dean took half a step back, almost toppling off the steps. The man grabbed his arm roughly. "Do you know what time it is?"
Dean thought about telling him how the big hand was on the ten, but instead he just said, helplessly, "No."
The man laughed. "I guess you wouldn't. It's early though, kid. What're you doing?"
The words flew out of him in a rush, like he wouldn't have to think about them if he got them out fast. "My dad won't wake up."
The man looked all around the campsite, just like Dean had. "You in one of them tents?"
"We have a black car!" Dean pointed over the picnic tables and the dog to where they were parked.
The man grunted and cinched his robe. "Stay here. I'll get my shoes."
He came back out in a pair of brown slippers. Dean instantly took off at a run again, toward the car, frustrated that the man wasn't running, too. He slowed his run and started again, two or three times, trying to get him to hurry. Run, run, RUN.
In that moment, all Dean could think about was how he didn't know anything. He didn't know the name of the school where he was supposed to go, just that his teacher said to call her Maggie. He didn't know the name of the lady that his dad was going to have watch Sammy, or where she lived, or if she was even any good. He didn't know where a store was that had juice. He knew what diapers dad bought for Sammy... they were called Pampers and Dean knew all the letters from looking at the box. Dean even knew how to change them, but not where to get more and there were only three left. He didn't know how the powder in the yellow tin became the milk in Sammy's bottle, just that the nice waitress at the diner would take the powder for dad, and smile, and she came back with the bottles. But he'd never watched her do the bottles. And he should have. He should've asked to go back and watch. Because this man wouldn't know either. Dean didn't even know the man's name, but he knew he wouldn't know.
And before he knew it, Dean was crying so hard that he couldn't run anymore.
"Calm down, kid," the man said, pulling him up off of the grass. "Relax, okay?"
Trying to be calm, Dean pointed at the car, but he was still sobbing.
Sammy had pulled himself up in the backseat. He had his hands flat on the window. Dean couldn't hear him, but he knew what his own name looked like even through the fog on the glass.
Dean stood up straight, and calm and quiet. He made the OK sign with his fingers, but his hand shook a little anyway.
The man went up the Impala and put his arm over the class, peering in at dad. He tried the handle and the door opened. Dad's hand flopped out, and Dean started to sob again, but went still when he saw Sammy looking.
Putting his head close to dad's, the man stayed there for a minute. Dean didn't know how he was feeling. His throat was closed, he was being good, but he felt like he was going to fall down.
In his head, he came up with questions that he would ask the man. He would ask if the man knew a lady who could make the powder into milk, and if the man could take him to the store where the juice and the Pampers were.
The man sighed and raised up, looking at Dean sadly. Dean didn't like this. Lots of people looked at Dean this way, and he hated it more than anything else. He hated it more than dad yelling, Sammy crying and baths. "Kid, your dad isn't dead. He's just drunk."
"Oh." Dean said, but every muscle in his body suddenly went loose.
"He had too much beer," the man explained. The man reached into dad's jacket and pulled out a flat bottle. "See?"
"That's whiskey, not beer, and I know what drunk means," Dean said angrily.
The man put his palms up, "All right. Anyway, he'll sleep it off. Just give him an hour or so."
Dean blinked and showed him the big wristwatch. "Hands where?"
He shook his wrist at the man impatiently. "Big hand where, little hand where?"
The man took Dean's hand to turn the watch's toward him, squinting at it. "Uh, you want little hand 8, big hand 12, straight up. If he's not up by then, come knock on my door." The man gave Dean that sad look again. "Where's your mom, kid?"
"She's at work," he said quickly. He had learned how to say this. When he said this, no one ever asked more questions.
"You folks gonna be parked here long?"
"Well, if you are, my name's Hank. What's your name?"
"Dean Winchester," he said, but he thought maybe he shouldn't have said both names.
The man cinched the robe again, not looking as sad now. "Well, Dean Winchester, see you around. Take care of that little guy back there."
He turned to see Sammy still watching them. He grinned and shook the ball at Dean to show him he had found all four of the shapes.
Dean turned to the man, put his chin in the air and said, firmly, "I'm going to."