When Sam Winchester got his acceptance letter from Stanford University, he expected his older brother Dean to be fully on board with the idea of his little brother getting an education. Sam had been wrong. Other families would have been thrilled to hear that their child, sibling, or other relative had got into one of the most prestigious universities in the country. It would have given them the opportunity to brag to their middle-classed friends about how they knew someone studying law at Stanford. After all, were bragging and gossiping not the major driving forces keeping the harmony of the American suburbs intact?
However, Dean and Sam had not grown up in a fancy suburb. Sam did not remember the home in Lawrence his parents used to live in before his mother died in a house fire. Sam had only been a couple of months old at the time. After that tragedy had befallen their family, John Winchester had moved to Sioux Falls to live closer to his childhood friend, Robert Singer. Bobby had lost his wife to an incurable illness only several years earlier, and John felt that if anyone would understand what he was going through, it was his faithful friend Bobby. The widowed father of two young boys turned up on his friend’s doorstep, hoping that Bobby would be able to provide a shelter for him and his family at least until John found a job and earned enough money to move out. Bobby owned his own garage, where he specialised in the repair and revamp of old cars. He had enough money on the side to feed another three mouths for the foreseeable future.
Weeks turned to months. Months turned to years. John Winchester managed to find jobs, but ended up being fired from most of them. He had developed a severe drinking problem since his wife’s death, which had made it difficult for employers to keep him around for too long. Sam remembered the many arguments which had often kept him up at night between his father and Bobby. On those nights, Sam would often sneak into Dean’s bed and cuddle up to his brother for comfort, something the older Winchester had never denied him. Dean had always been very protective of Sam, and even more so after Bobby kicked John out for raising his hand on Dean, threatening to call social services if John even came close to his kids again. Ever since that day, Sam and Dean had become inseparable, knowing that they only had each other and Bobby left in this world.
Which is why Sam had been all the more surprised by Dean’s reaction when he announced that he had been accepted into the law programme at Stanford.
“So, you’re leaving? Just like that?”
“Dean, it’s for my future. It doesn’t mean that I won’t come back. I’m not abandoning you, I’ll come back for the holidays…”
“You’re going to California, dude! It’s like the other end of the country”
The brothers had argued back and forth until Bobby decided that enough was enough. He had a long chat with Dean about not standing in Sam’s way. The kid has a shot at a better life, and I sure as hell ain’t gonna let you be an idjit about it! Sam had never been more grateful for the man’s intervention, and although his decision to leave for Stanford had strained his relationship with Dean, the younger Winchester did not regret any of it.
Well, he regretted agreeing to a night out with the people he always sat next to in class, but that was a completely different kettle of fish.
“Come on dude, cheer up a little. It’s gonna be fun”, the guy (Mike?) on his right told him. Sam hated parties. He could not even remember agreeing to this per se. He had been in his lecture listening to some professor going on about American contract law when next thing he knew, this group of people were dragging him to a frat party at five in the afternoon. Seriously, who started drinking that early?
Turns out, pretty much every freshman ever started drinking that early. The group directed Sam to the Florence Moor Halls of Residence on the west side of campus. The grey, slightly asymmetrical building looked nothing like the place Sam lived in. To reduce the living costs, Sam had decided to opt for a work exchange scheme. He was living with Mrs McCarthy, a charming elderly lady, who after losing her husband three years ago thought it would be nice to have someone willing to help her out with the more challenging aspects of her daily life. Sam’s job mostly involved taking her grocery shopping, helping with the chores, making sure the elderly woman kept track of her medication, and reading the newspaper to her every day, which because of her growing cataract she could not do herself.
The party was held on the ground floor of the residence. As soon as Sam stepped inside the confined one-bedroom flat, he felt out of place and old. It was bad enough that he applied to Stanford in his early twenties which meant that he was surrounded by people several years younger than him. Now this? The flat was filled with boozy students, most of which were probably underage, too. A couple was making out in the bedroom, too drunk to notice that they had left the door open so everyone could witness their heavy petting session. Sam ignored the appreciative whistles and followed his ‘friends’ into the living area. Several girls had already taken their shirts off and were dancing on the coffee-table in their bra and mini-skirts. Justin, probably the only person of the group whose name he had memorised, passed Sam a bottle of beer which he reluctantly accepted.
“Hey dude, you want a taste of this?”, Justin asked, waving a joint in Sam’s face. The taller man merely shook his head and barely managed an apologetic smile to the boy standing before him.
“Sorry. Got a doc’s appointment tomorrow”, Sam lied through his teeth.
“Ah, I hear you man. That sucks”
Justin left him be for the rest of the night. So, did most the people at the party. Sam was leaning awkwardly against the wall most of the time, feeling like the chaperone of the group no one had asked for or wanted there. Sam wondered if he would manage to discreetly sneak out of the flat without anyone noticing. Thinking about it, the people whom he had come in with had probably realised how boring he was by now. Sam was sure that they would not miss him, or even spare him a second thought. It’s now or never, Sam thought as he headed to the main door determined to leave the party. A young girl who looked no older than eighteen chose this exact moment to dance seductively (albeit drunkenly) in front of him and managing to block the only escape route Sam had.
“Hiya handsome… what they be calling ya?” The girl’s make-up was smudged around her eyes and her breath stank of Jack Daniel’s whiskey.
“I’m Sam. Sorry, have to go”
“Whaaat?”, the girl whined, flicking her platinum blonde hair over her shoulder in a huff, “but the party just started. It’s only like…”
Sam watched with amusement as the girl lifted her slender wrist to her face, attempting to check the time on an imaginary watch. His smile quickly disappeared when he noticed her face turn all shades of green before she hunched over and began throwing up. Her puke landed mere inches away from Sam’s feet, and only God knew how he managed to avoid getting his only good pair of trainers stained. Soon enough, the host discovered the mess the young girl had made and immediately voiced his displeasure out loud.
“For fuck’s sake, Cheryl. That’s twice this week now!” The girl merely snorted, wiping her mouth using the cuff of her hoodie.
“Don’t worry, babe, the janitor’ll get it”
Sam already felt bad for the poor guy who would have to clean up this mess. He did not appreciate the girl’s attitude, but he also knew deep down that she was probably too drunk to realise how inconsiderate she was being.
“Hey, we could always go to my flat”, a dark-skinned boy piped up, “that way you guys can call the janitor and we don’t have to put up with the smell”
“Yeah man, I’m game”
The host (whose name Sam did not know, and would not make the effort to find out) announced the change of location in a loud, boisterous voice so everyone could hear him over the music playing in the background. Everyone cheered him and his friend as they followed them outside. Sam managed to avoid the people who had dragged him to this disaster of a party in the first place. He pretended to be texting someone so people would have the common sense to leave him alone. It seemed like his plan was working, and as everyone left through the main door, Sam wondered if he should stick around until the janitor arrived. It felt like the decent thing to do, even if it was just to apologise for the mess they had caused.
“Hey kiddo, all your friends are outside”, a voice echoed against the bare walls of the stairwell, “don’t you wanna join them?”. The sound startled Sam ever so slightly. He spun around and came face to face with a short man perched on the second step of the staircase. The name sown on the front of his dark red t-shirt read ‘Gabriel’.
“Hi, I… they’re not my friends. I didn’t really want to be here”, Sam admitted somewhat sheepishly, blushing a soft shade of pink when the man raised a questioning eyebrow. “Uh, do you know how to get in contact with the custodians? Someone was sick in there, and… well, I guess I just wanted to apologise to someone for the mess”
The man’s puzzled expression indicated the surprise he felt at Sam’s words.
“Name’s Gabriel. I’m the new janitor, so I guess you can apologise to me”
“Oh…”, was all Sam managed to say, “well, guess someone managed to call you then?”
“Nope. They were all too drunk to notice that I was already cleaning up spilt booze out here” Gabriel pointed at the stairs, which only caused Sam man to blush even more. Only then did he notice the pungent smell of alcohol and the pine green cart carrying all kinds of cleaning supplies next to the short man.
“I’m so sorry”
“I don’t know why you’re apologising to me, kiddo” Gabriel shrugged his shoulders and grabbed a mop from his cart before hopping off the steps, intent on getting back to work. “Someone’s got to do deal with the mess, amiright?”
“I know, but… would you like some help?”, the taller man offered, earning himself an even more confused look from the janitor.
“Really?”, Gabriel enquired, disbelief lacing his tone, “you want to help me clean up vomit?”
“Well… it’s the least I can do. I mean, I don’t have any other plans and… look, it would make me feel a lot better about the whole situation, just let me give you a hand?”
Gabriel seemed to consider Sam’s request, eyeing the taller man up and down suspiciously. Sam offered the smaller man a shy smile, hoping that Gabriel did not think he was being mocked. Sam genuinely wanted to help clean up the mess. After a short while, the janitor sighed in defeat.
“Just grab the bucket and carry it in here”
Sam nodded his approval and diligently grabbed the bucket filled with grimy water. As he stepped inside the flat, he heard Gabriel instruct him to empty the filthy water into the bath, rinse the tub and bring back the bucket filled with fresh warm water. The taller man immediately got to work, following Gabriel’s directives. The bathroom was even tinier than Mrs McCarthy’s, something Sam had never thought possible. He felt slightly claustrophobic during the five minutes it took him to do as the janitor had asked. Not before long, Sam brought the bucket of warm water to Gabriel and was rewarded with a grateful smile.
“Thanks for that. Was definitely a first…”, the smaller man commented with a smirk as he finished cleaning up the floor. Sam merely chuckled nervously.
“Well, I better head home now. Still got loads of stuff to do before tomorrow”
“Sure, kiddo”, Gabriel said, his tone reassuring, “I’ve kept you around for longer than I should have anyway. Maybe don’t go about telling that story on campus… not sure what my manager would think if he knew that I outsourced labour to a poor student for free”
“Alright”, Sam agreed as an amused grin appeared on his face, “I’ll make sure this stays between us”
Gabriel merely wiggled his eyebrows, winking jokingly at Sam as he did so. The taller man did not quite understand why he suddenly felt so out of breath. Dismissing the thought, Sam turned around and left the building, desperate to get home and shower. The weather was chilly, causing Sam to zip up his leather jacket to retain some warmth until he reached the flat he shared with Mrs McCarthy. Absent-mindedly, he dialled her number and let his host know that he was on his way, and that she should not worry.
The party had been a complete disaster, and it had in no way convinced Sam to take part in more social events in the future. However, all things considered, Sam’s unexpected meeting with the handsome janitor could be seen as a silver lining to this dreadful evening.
Sam wondered if he would ever see Gabriel again.