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The Illusion of Knowledge

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He was nervous.

He was rarely nervous but today felt a little overwhelming and Sam Campbell had never been a big fan of overwhelming. He was more of a study up, be prepared, no surprises kind of guy. But with new possibilities before him and a life he’d secretly dreamed of for years seemingly within his reach… Well he knew he’d be a fool if he walked away now that he was there.

He thought of what his father might say to him in this moment, if he’d been there.

“Stop over thinking every damn thing, son, and put one foot in front of the other.” The man’s deep no-nonsense voice sounded off in Sam’s head. The words were there automatically as though his father had become part of his subconscious, or maybe he always had been. Sam wasn’t sure anymore. “You may not get to where you thought you might be going but at least you can say you were never standing still.”

Of course, Luke Campbell had lead his wife and son from one end of the world to the other and back again for the better part of twenty years so standing still had never strictly been a problem.

Sam came to a halt in front of an overlarge medieval style building, looked down at the computer printout in his hand and then up at the building once more. Besides unnecessary buttresses, there was also what looked like a battlement along the top and what he hoped was a faux portcullis above the tall entryway. Beside the tall darkly stained door was an ornate gold plaque, which declared it the Department of English Studies and even the font seemed pretentious in a way that only an English Department could get away with.

It was like something out of the imagination of his thirteen year old self. He could feel the nerdy kid in him clutching his book on King Arthur and His Knights of the Round Table to his chest and gazing awestruck at what he would see as a scaled down version of Camelot.

He almost giggled.

“Alright,” he said firmly, “last class of the day. You got this.”

He had arrived half an hour early for this particular class as his Sociology class before it had consisted of little more than a first-day introduction and a quick run-down of the semester’s syllabus. As he entered the building he wondered if everyone had the same idea.

The wide tiled hallways were full to the brim, bustling with activity. Students bounced off of one another like metal bearings in a pinball machine and there seemed to always be one or two people that refused to adhere to the unwritten rule that hallways run just like roads as they walked against the flow of traffic.

He managed to get turned around twice in the chaos, once taking the wrong set of stairs and another where he ended up in a wing that housed the professors’ offices, but Sam finally managed to locate room 318 well before the class was due to start.

Even with eighteen or so minutes to spare, there was already a large group of people milling around outside of the closed door.

“Waiting for British Lit?” he asked no one in particular as he adjusted the heavily laden backpack on his shoulder.

There was no response forthcoming to confirm that he was indeed in the right place and he soon noticed that over half of the group had headphones on or ear buds shoved in their ears.

“Yeah, man,” he finally heard someone speak up from behind him.

Sam turned and smiled in relief. Relief that he was in the right place and hadn’t made some colossal mistake over the date or time or location… It seemed that this first day stuff was bringing out some irrational paranoia.

He took in the guy that had spoken and who was leaning casually back against the wall across from the classroom door. The guy seemed normal enough. He was of average height, maybe five foot ten. He had dark hair and eyes and was extremely well dressed right down to the flawless shine on his shoes. He had a natural polish to him that screamed ‘money’ but Sam wasn’t one to hold things like that against people.

“Hey, thanks,” he finally managed in response. “This is my third class today and I swear I think you’re the first person so far to talk directly to me.”

Sam immediately wanted to pause life, pluck the words out of the air between them, and stuff them back down his own throat. He couldn’t believe he had just admitted that to a total stranger. Could he possibly make himself look any lamer?

“You’re new here,” the guy said in a matter-of-fact way, seemingly choosing to ignore Sam’s own unintentional self-deprecating comment.

“Yeah. First day. How’d you know?”

The guy looked at the crowd around him as if mentally cataloguing everyone. “Kind of a small campus, in case you haven’t noticed.”

Oh, Sam had noticed. It was one of the reasons he was there. What better place to start over than in a tucked away in the middle of nowhere hamlet which housed little more than a university, a bottling factory and a handful of stores? He hoped that the lack of external stimulation would help him stay focused. It would also keep him out of trouble and typically he needed all the help with that he could get.

“Also,” his new acquaintance went on, “I make it a point to know everything and everyone on campus. I find it to be very beneficial in a multitude of circumstances.” He grinned cheekily like there was something more to the statement than Sam could know. Still it was a contagious smile and Sam found himself smiling back.

“I’m sure you do. Sam Campbell,” he said by way of introduction.

“Craig Reagan,” the guy replied, grabbing Sam’s extended hand and pumping it in a firm shake. “Nice to meet you.”

“So, um…what are you here for? What’s your major?” It was a cliché question but Sam wasn’t quite sure he had anything else to say and he really didn’t want the conversation to end just yet.

Because, what was even sadder than this being the first person to speak to him that day, was the fact that Sam was pretty sure he was the first person to converse with him all week. That is, if you didn’t count his roommate, and with a majority of their conversations so far revolving around grunts and monosyllabic answers to simple questions, Sam did not count his roommate.

“Political Science and Government.” Craig nodded gravely as if he himself found the idea somewhat disconcerting. “I know. It seems like terribly boring stuff right? But the ultimate goal is law school, then a meteoric rise in the ranks of a prestigious law firm and finally politics. I’m thinking a Senate seat by thirty-five.”

“That sounds like it might just suit you,” Sam laughed, thinking the guy seemed confident enough for politics.

“What about you? What brings you to our fine center of learning?”

“If you’re asking my major, currently it’s English. I’m actually considering law school as well.”

“Ah-ha! I thought so!” The guy held a finger aloft as if he’d just proven a point, though Sam wasn’t sure what that might be. “I completely had you pegged for a law school candidate. You just have this look…”

Sam looked down at himself and then at Craig. They were dressed nearly identical, in a button down shirt and khakis, and maybe that’s where ‘the look’ he spoke of came in. The only real difference was the crisp, less worn look of Craig’s clothing and the fact that Sam had thrown on a tie, which he’d purchased from the university supply store the day before. It bore the school colors of aubergine and gold and he wore it proudly like a banner of new beginnings.

“So do you know your focus? Like corporate law, maybe?” He rubbed his chin as he sized Sam up with a sharp look in his eyes. “No…that’s too stiff, right? Family law? Gonna go after the cheating husbands while you’re consoling those poor lovely heartbroken wives?” He waggled his eyebrows but Sam shook his head, more out of amusement than having ever thought it was a sincere question. Craig narrowed his eyes. “You’re not one of those hippy-dippy environmental law types, are you?”

Sam stared at him and gave a little snort of laughter. Finally when Craig seemed to be waiting for an actual answer instead of trying to provide one of his own, Sam replied, “Criminal law, actually.”

“Oh excellent!” He nodded enthusiastically.

Of course, Sam wasn’t going to expound on that. It wasn’t like he could say that it was due to a lifetime of breaking most of the laws on the books that he had become interested in law in the first place.

One had to have a good grasp of a rule, he’d knew from experience, before they could really break it, good and proper.

But that was then and this was now and now he wanted to work on the side of law that didn’t get him thrown in jail or placed on probation.

“So…Reagan?” Sam asked, trying for a casual foray onto a different subject altogether. “Seriously? Like former president, Reagan?”

“Yeah. Unfortunate, I know.”

“Guess that depends on who you ask and what side of the isle you plan to sit on when you get that big Senate seat.”

Craig laughed at this and Sam grinned a little wider than the moment called for but he blamed it on the feelings of elation brought on by the fact that he had actually made some sort of intelligent human contact. He hadn’t been sure how he would do out in the real world when it was just him being him, but maybe he wasn’t as socially impaired he feared he might be.

Just then, the class that had been occupying the room let out and everyone stood aside as a flood of students exited, looking slightly shell-shocked. Sam thought nothing of it and moved his bag onto his other shoulder as they prepared to head in.

The first thing he heard upon entering the classroom was a surprised female voice perk up with, “Well, aren’t you a tall drink of water?”

Considering his well above average height of six foot four inches, he had actually heard that one once or twice and assumed – correctly, as it turned out – that it was aimed at him.

A woman in her late thirties, maybe early forties, grinned saucily at him from the front of the lecture hall. It was obvious from her place beside the lectern as well as the way most of the students gave her a wide birth and looked at her as though she might lash out at them at any second that she was the professor.

Sam hadn’t the slightest clue how to handle the pointed remark so he just ducked his head and moved further into the room towards the stairs of the auditorium.

Halfway up the steps, he heard what sounded like choking behind him and he turned to see Craig shaking his head, fingers spread wide like frozen jazz-hands and a look of unparalleled shock on his face. “I cannot believe that just happened. Did Professor Mason just hit on you? She did, didn’t she?”

“Hit on? Hardly,” Sam scoffed and followed Craig to one of the top rows, taking the seat next to him on the end.

“Sam, she is a raging beast! Pseudo-feminist with a capital cut your balls o-F-F. I’ve never heard her say anything nice about anyone, much less anyone of the male persuasion.” Craig looked closely at the woman; scanning her as if it were the first time he was seeing her. If Sam had to pinpoint it, the guy looked a little disappointed, like he was let down that the teacher hadn’t said something mildly inappropriate to him as well. “Always thought she might be a lesbian,” he said as if it had previously been his sole consolation.

He busied himself retrieving his notebook, several pens and the thick English textbook that had been pre-assigned to the class.

“Samuel Campbell? Is there a Samuel Campbell here yet?” Mason questioned from where she stood stiffly at the front of the room, her thick black cat-eye glasses riding low on the bridge of her thin nose.

“Uh…yeah. That’s me,” Sam raised his hand hesitantly, attempting to draw the least amount of attention possible to himself.

The teacher’s face morphed from a tight-lipped scowl to a softer curious smile in a heartbeat. “Mr. Campbell. How are you already in British Lit II? This is considered a senior level course and you, though you certainly do not look it, are registered as a freshman.”

He felt his face flame and knew he was turning five shades of red as dozens of eyes all swung his way, all wanting to check out the new guy. “I-I took several years at another school, but the credits…um, didn’t all transfer. The dean signed off on it herself. I can show you the paperwork.” He started for his bag but she put up her hand to halt him.

“Unnecessary, Mr. Campbell. If you say it’s so, I shall give you the benefit of the doubt. But I won’t slow down for you and I will not give you any breaks. Keep up or leave.”

“Of course,” he said, relieved that he was being allowed to stay. He had a seriously questionable schedule and thank goodness the dean was as understanding as she was, otherwise he would have found himself sitting through English 101 all over again. And no one deserved to sit through that tripe twice.

“Mind shoving over?” He heard a deep voice ask from above him several moments later.

“Uh…” Sam looked up and eyed the new arrival warily. He had one arm draped around a scantily clad girl and the other holding a notebook down at his side. The couple was surreally gorgeous as though they had stepped straight out of the pages of a magazine. Both had blonde hair but where she was statuesque and her features classically beautiful, the man had a harder look about him. He was all rugged good looks and piercing eyes.

Soft grass-green eyes.

Eyes that were still on Sam. Waiting for an answer.

A little dazed, he looked down at the seat he was currently occupying, considering what was being asked of him.

Sam did not like the idea of not being in the isle seat. The ability to position himself for maximum safety and hasty exists was engrained into his bone marrow. Yet that wasn’t his life anymore and he couldn’t continue clinging to old habits if he expected to move forward.

He glanced back at Craig and shrugged before looking back up to the newcomer. “Sure.”

They moved over two seats but the guy sat on the end in the seat Sam had vacated while the girl draped herself on his lap instead of opting for the other chair.

“You know you can’t stay for class,” he murmured against her mouth.

The girl grinned as he outright licked along her bottom lip. “I’ll take what I can get.”

“Hmm… and what I wouldn’t give to give you all that you could take.”

Sam almost laughed out loud at the exchange. He looked at Craig who rolled his eyes dramatically. “That’s Winchester. Get used to it. He’s always like this,” he muttered.

The girl was running her fingers through the guy’s short spiky hair as he nibbled on her neck and whispering to her, his own hands running patterns across her bare legs.

Sam sighed. He was firmly on the fence about the whole situation. On one hand, it was fairly tasteless for them to be full-on making out in class. Who needed to see the hetero love-in?

On the other hand, Sam hadn’t had any kind of anything in what some would consider a very long time and it was making him far more interested in gawking at the couple than he ever wanted or would claim to be.

Still, for propriety’s sake, he was toying with the idea of saying something to the guy when Professor Mason stepped in and did it for him.

“Mr. Winchester. It’s so lovely to see you again. I do ask that you leave your date in the hallway so that the rest of us may proceed with class. If you don’t mind, of course.” The tone was perfunctory, light, and airy like a flight attendant making announcements before takeoff, but the undertone was definitely biting. She was a hard-ass that brooked no argument. Mason was anti-bullshit and it showed.

“Anything for you, Joyce,” Winchester replied loudly, blatantly winking at the professor who simply arched an eyebrow in return. He nodded to the girl in his lap and gave her rear a pat. “See ya ‘round, doll.”

The girl looked a little dejected but stood and leaned down to catch his mouth in one last enthusiastic kiss. “Call me?”

“You bet.”

Sam winced. That was a ‘you bet’ that almost anyone, outside of the person it was being said to, would interpret as actually meaning ‘I highly doubt it but I’m going to let you walk away with your head held high and hope alive’.

“Poor girl,” Craig lamented, following the girl’s lone trek to the door with a pitying gaze.

“Poor girl? I just gave her the best hour of her life,” Winchester leaned forward to look past Sam. “How’s it hangin’ Craig?” The two guys nodded to one another and Sam pressed himself back against his seat so as not to be in their line of sight.

Craig made a show of thinking about it. “To the left today.” He laughed at his own bad joke.

The other guy shook his head. “Leave the comedy to the bears, Reagan. Seriously.” He looked at Sam and his eyes ran up and down as if he were only just now noticing his presence and was trying to place the face. “And you are…?”

Sam’s mouth opened and closed like a fish out of water. It was as if he had forgotten the English language in its entirety in the face of one simple question.

What was wrong with him today?

Craig, thankfully, saved him from what was sure to have been either minutes of awkward silence or a sudden stumbling three-minute dissertation on how awkward introductions could be and how Craig was the only person that had talked to him that week.

“Sam, this is Dean Winchester. Don’t mind him, I’m sure he just left his manners in his other pants. Dean, this is Sam Campbell. He’s new to our fair university.”

Sam blinked and nodded. He stuck his hand out intending to shake the man’s hand but Dean sat unmoving and stared blankly until Sam retracted the proffered hand.

O….kay.

“So, Freshman, you got a pen I can borrow? Maybe some paper? I didn’t bring anything.”

“I…yeah, I guess.” Sam glanced at the spiral-bound notebook that was now resting on Dean’s lap where the girl had just been but decided not to rock the boat since he was technically the new arrival. No need to make a bad impression his first day out, especially when you didn’t know the lay of the land. The guy could be the dean’s third cousin or something. Then it occurred to him what Dean had called him. “Wait, how did you know I was a freshman?”

“How did I know?” Dean chuckled and shook his head as if the answer should be fairly obvious. “Well there’s the clothing situation you have going on here,” Dean fingered the collar of Sam’s dress shirt and tweaked the perfect Windsor knot of his tie. “Way over dressed, dude. This is a school – Sunday best is not required. The hair,” he reached up and tugged gently on a strand of Sam’s ever so slightly too long dark brown hair. “The hair is mussed to the point that it looks overworked, like you styled it three or four times before you got it up to first-day standards. Your little supply store you have there,” he continued, pointing at Sam’s feet where his bag sat unzipped and gaping.

It was true. Besides his used textbooks, the bag contained four shiny new notebooks, three packs of pens, one pack of retractable pencils, at least eight highlighters of various hues, and a brand new calculator. There was even a correction tape pen that also had little paper flags for marking pages in your books. It really was something of a supply store but for Sam, who had never had those little things many took for granted, it was a most glorious sight to behold.

He had even set them out across his bed the night before, the new purchases spread evenly and at ninety-degree angles, just so he could stand back and stare at them. Pride and the simple thrill of ownership had settled warmly over him.

“Also,” he heard Dean begin again and he turned back in time to see him roll his neck like it was tight. “I heard Mason saying you were a freshman while I was making my grand entrance. Don’t worry. I’m certain you’ll inevitably fall to peer pressure and be crawling into class ten minutes late wearing pajama pants and yesterday’s hair just like the rest of the matriculating masses before you know it. So…paper? Pen?” He stared expectantly at Sam. “Class is starting and I can’t have her on my ass this semester. We have a love/hate relationship and I would prefer to stay away from the dark side presently.”

Sam handed the paper and pen over and tried not to get too annoyed with the guy never said thank you.

Professor Mason, it turned out, wasn’t one of those ‘welcome to my class, now go home’ kind of teachers and had launched straight away into teaching, much to Sam’s delight. An hour later she finally bid them good day and as soon as they were dismissed, Dean was the first one out of his seat, shooting out of the room without so much as a glance backwards.

Also…he took Sam’s pen.

“Your friend is kind of…” Sam began, searching for the correct word. He didn’t know how tight Dean and Craig were and he didn’t want to put his foot in his mouth any more than he may already have.

Craig laughed in his face outright. “An ass? Believe me when I say that I’m aware. Anyway, he’s not my friend.”

“But…I thought-,”

“Like I said, I know everyone to some degree or another. I belong to one of the fraternities on campus and Winchester hangs out with some of the brothers. He’s just one of those guys, ya know? Everyone seems to know him. The ladies want to be with him. Some guys want to be him but more than not they want to kick his ass.”

He thought about the brusque way Dean had asked who Sam was. He thought about his casual dismissal and the somewhat mocking way he’d pointed out the evidence of Sam’s first-day excitement.

“I can see why.”

“Definitely rough around the edges.”

“Yeah…” Sam thought about where he had been only a few short months ago. He had been living hand-to-mouth, most of his money coming from shooting pool, and hitchhiking his way from California to Nebraska. Sometimes he even found himself hopping trains or stowing away on trucks, but he had drawn the line at stealing a car. If he no longer had an end to justify his means, then he wanted to keep things on the up and up.

He wondered what Craig Reagan would say about him if he knew all of that.

“Well, we’re all a little rough around the edges if you look hard enough,” he said just above a whisper.

Realizing straight away that he was being maudlin, Sam shook his head and laughed softly at himself. “That’s way too deep for the first day of class, right?”

“Completely.” Craig gave him a light punch on the shoulder to let him know that he wouldn’t hold it against him and followed Sam down the stairs and out into the hallway. “So where are you headed? I was just about to meet up with some friends for coffee at the shop down the street. You’re free to come with.” He hitched a thumb in what Sam assumed was the general direction of the coffee shop.

He thought about his choices. He could go and meet people, get a coffee, and try to start things off on a good foot or he could go back to his dorm room and sit there reading while simultaneously watching his roommate zombify himself playing video games for hours on end.

Sam grinned broadly but quickly tucked his lips between his teeth so as not to look like too eager. “Yeah, coffee sounds great.”

“Great! I will give you one piece of advice though. Tell them up front that you’re a freshman. That way they get the hazing over with quickly. Like a band-aid.” Craig’s teasing expression had an evil glint to it.

Sam groaned inwardly but after all he’d been through in his life, all the crazy unexplainable shit he’d seen, he knew he could take a little good-natured verbal harassment from a few college kids. No problem.

So he followed alongside his new companion, matching him stride for stride.

One foot in front of the other.