Dean managed to stay awake for most of the journey from Kankakee, Illinois to Canton, Ohio. At least he didn't have a nightmare during the night in Canton. He was also still scared that this was all some vivid dream and any moment now, he'd wake up back in the foster home, or worse, the backseat of the Impala. The journey from Canton to Potomac wasn't very long, and when Dean caught sight of the Coulter's home, his stomach fluttered for a reason he couldn't explain.
From the garage, there was a small hallway that contained the washing machine and dryer and it opened into the kitchen. The stairs were on one side of the kitchen, hidden behind a door. The kitchen itself was something Dean had never seen the like of before. The stove, the oven, heck even the microwave all had lights attached to them. Outside of the kitchen was a large front room, that was a combination of family, living and dining room. Although the dining room table was covered by books, what looked like boxes of Christmas ornaments, and a stack of mail and newspapers, Dean could tell it most likely couldn't sit more than four people comfortably.
A hand on his arm caused him to turn, and he found himself looking into Elisa's face. “Did I do something wrong?”
“No.” She gave him a small smile. “I'll show you where your room is.”
His room. He was going to have his own room. Dean had not had that luxury since he was four. He followed Elisa back into the kitchen and up the stairs. She opened the door onto a room that faced the front yard. It was rather grandmotherly in his mind, with pale cream colored wallpaper with tiny blue flowers in a pattern on it. The curtains were lacy and on the full sized bed was a crocheted blanket in a riot of bright colors. Near the window was a rocking chair and a dresser stood on the wall opposite the bed.
Elisa turned and opened the closet door, pointing at the boxes on the shelves above the rack. “I haven't had time to move these just yet. As soon as I find a place for the holiday decorations, you won't have to worry about them.”
Dean nodded slightly. “I won't get into your things.”
“I know you won't.” She shut the door. “The bathroom is right across the way. Michael and I sleep down the hall. The drawers in the dresser are ready for you to use.”
“Thank you.” He looked to the side and saw Michael in the doorway. “Both of you.”
“Oh, you're very welcome, Dean.” Michael replied and then turned to his wife. “Why don't we all get settled and then we can talk for a while?”
Elisa nodded and went to the doorway, touching Dean's cheek before leaving with Michael.
Dean watched them go, and then turned to look around the room a little better. He set his duffel bag on the bed and opened it. He removed his few shirts and went to the dresser. When he opened the second from the top drawer, he blinked in surprise. Three stacks of shirts were already there. He put his shirts in the small empty space left on one side and picked up one from the another stack, frowning. What were these doing in here? He unfolded the t-shirt, noting it was a few sizes too big for him. On the tag along the neck, Dean could make out the initials A.A. Who was that? He carefully folded the shirt back and put it back on the pile, still not sure about the clothes. He shut the drawer and opened the one below it. More clothes. This one contained several pairs of pants and shorts. Dean quickly shut it and opened the top drawer. Unopened packages of socks and underwear.
What in the world was going on? Elisa told him the drawers were ready for him and... He jerked his head to the side as he detected movement. Michael was there.
“Is something wrong, Dean?” Dean could see the concern in his face – it seemed genuine.
“There are already clothes in this dresser.” He felt rather foolish – obviously he should just keep his things in his bag. The Coulters weren't going to keep him, after all.
Michael came into the room and looked into the open drawer, frowned, and then turned to him. “I believe these are yours, Dean.”
“Why would I already have clothes here?”
Something changed in Michael's face – his eyes softened and he shook his head. “Dean, we knew you were coming and you wouldn't have all that much with you. We wanted you to have things ready for you to use when you came here.”
“Why?” Dean still didn't know what to make of all of this. “And who is A.A.?”
“We knew you needed things, Dean.” Michael smiled. “And AA is my nephew, Aaron. Most of what's here are things he's outgrown.”
“You didn't have to do all this.” He turned his gaze downward. The better this place got, the worse he felt knowing he'd have to leave before too long. He just hoped he wouldn't have to find his own way back to the group home. A hand slipped under his chin and gently raised his head. Dean was even more confused – Michael looked rather... if he didn't know any better, he would think the man was upset.
“We're not going to send you back there, Dean.” Michael's face was somewhat stern – but still had a gentle look about it. “Elisa and I want you here.”
“Why?” Dean was starting to wish he had never left with the Coulters. They actually wanted him here? No one wanted him, not unless they needed him to do some work, or to take care of Sammy, or....
“Do we need a reason other than we care about you?” Michael replied, his expression unreadable.
“You hardly know me.” Dean inwardly cringed. That was the sort of remark Dad hated. Well, he may as well get it over with and find out just how much Michael and Dad were similar. That way he knew where he stood in the scheme of things.
“And you hardly know us, Dean. This isn't going to be an overnight miracle for any of us. We can only go day by day, the way all families do.” Michael looked thoughtful for a moment. “I know it's a bit girlish in here. Maybe we can all repaint it once winter is over.”
Dean looked around around the room, at the flowers on the walls and lace on the curtains. Well, the man had a point and he managed to give Michael a slight smile. “I like the blanket.”
“When you meet my mom, make sure you tell her that, she made it.” Michael reached out and absently ruffled his hair, as if he was uncertain if it was all right or not. Dean honestly didn't know what to make of it. “Do you need any help unpacking?”
“No, thank you.” He went back to his bag and pulled out the few pairs of socks he owned. When he turned back around, Michael was gone. As he put his socks and underwear away, he noticed the framed poster on the wall opposite the window. It was hanging over a low bookshelf that he'd not examined yet. The picture was of a boat caught in a storm, but a single beam of sunshine was hitting the sail, and everyone in the picture seemed to be in a panic, except a man dressed in blue sitting in front of the tiller. He stepped over to it and ran his finger along the bottom of the frame, reading what he guessed was the painting's title.
Storm on the Sea of Galilee – Isabella Gardner Museum, Boston, Massachusetts
Underneath that was written: Rembrandt 1633
1633? The real painting of this picture was that old? Dean hadn't been in an art museum since he was four and his mom took him to the Nelson-Atkins in Kansas City. It was funny – he couldn't remember a lot about that life before his mom died. It was a mass of discontented chunks; he could remember sandwiches with the crusts cut off and tomato rice soup, but he couldn't remember if his mom made cookies or not. He wasn't even sure what his mom had smelled like anymore. Dad smelled of whiskey and gun oil. Sammy smelled of peanut butter, milk and, on occasion, sweat. Everything else, it was all a blur.
Dean went back to unpacking, but kept glancing over at the poster every so often. For some reason, he was struck with the idea he wanted to go see the painting for himself.
Dean acquired a nickname at school before April. He wasn't sure what it was that suddenly made learning so easy, or so much more enjoyable. But it was the fact that he entered the American School for the Deaf at the beginning of February with an education level with the kindergarteners and had jumped ahead to the second grade level before March, the kids in his class and those around his age started using the sign for 'ketchup' with a 'D' when they talked about or to him – and the teachers had picked it up as well.
Ketchup wasn't all that bad, Dean considered. Elisa had told him that if he kept learning at this rate and took some lessons over the summer, he could be completely caught up with other kids his age and join the fifth grade in the fall. Just the idea of going to school regularly was enough of a reward – Dean would have gladly studied and worked until he was ready for the sixth grade in August.
For some reason, sometimes, Dean could swear that they were calling him Ketchup Coulter.
And oddly, he didn't care.
Dean would later mark down the thirteenth of January, 1989 as the start of his new life. Four months later was a second important date for him – on April seventeenth, he walked into his first gymnastics lesson.
He proved just as capable of 'catching up' in that field with boys who'd been doing the sport since they were five as he had been with his schoolwork.