"Love Reminds Us" by
Ridley C. James
Author's Note: This is
number two in my Back to School series I started last year at this
time. You don’t have to have read Love Remembers,
but it might help. I work with high school seniors and always feel for
them this time of year. It’s tough having one foot in childhood and the
other stretching out for that first step of freedom. Sometimes I think
those of us who have been on the other side of the fence for quite some
time forgets what that’s like. I love teens because they’re quite good
at reminding me. Thanks to Tidia and Tara, who said she really missed
the old days when John and Pastor Jim were around. Me, too. Enjoy.
There are little eyes upon you
and they're watching night and day.
There are little ears that quickly
take in every word you say.
There are little hands all eager
to do anything you do;
And a little boy who's dreaming
of the day he'll be like you.
John Winchester sipped his coffee, watching The Scholar pace back and forth in front of the kitchen table. Mackland had worked himself into a tizzy as he retold the incident which had led him to summon John to Pastor Jim’s for the weekend.
“Just stick with the script,” he said. “How you say it, the inflections, will be crucial, every detail scrutinized.”
John put his mug down, shooting Jim a dubious look. The pastor was sitting at the far end of the table, pretending to be interested in the New York Times crossword puzzle Mac had brought him. He glanced up briefly, quickly returning his eyes to the paper. John caught the hint of mirth in his blue gaze. “You’re serious?”
“Of course I am.” Mackland stopped in front of John, hands perched on his hips as if addressing some wet behind the ears intern. He tapped the yellow legal pad lying in front of John. “I’ve written it down for you.”
“Why don’t you just let me talk to the kid?” John picked up the paper, holding it out away from him so he could read Mac’s neat script. Unlike most doctors, Mackland’s writing was meticulous. Jim teased that John should give The Scholar lessons on indecipherable penmanship. “He’s never going to believe I would say this shit, Mac.”
“I know how your chats go.” Mackland took the empty chair beside John. “I might not get the end result I want.”
“Meaning?” John tossed the notes aside.
“Meaning…” Mackland gathered the papers, sliding them in front of John once more. “You and I are not always on the same page.”
“You want him to go to school. It’s not that complicated.” John grabbed his mug, ignoring the Scholar’s written directive. He pulled his flask from the inside of his jacket, adding a dash of his favorite whiskey. “Although, I got to say I don’t understand why you’re making such a big deal out of what happened.”
“He got suspended, Johnathan!”
“It’s not like he’s not going to graduate, Mac.” John knew enough about the fancy prep school where Caleb went to know the board wouldn’t risk the healthy endowment that Cullen Ames invested. “Hell, even if he doesn’t go the traditional route, Junior is more than smart enough to ace the GED. Let him take it and be done with it.”
“That is exactly what I’m talking about! You will not deviate from the plan.” Mackland banged his fist on the yellow paper. “No improvising.”
John took another drink of coffee, savoring the bitter burn as it went down. His generous mood was quickly fading. He had picked up his sons from school and driven the better part of the night after Mac's call. John hadn’t looked forward to the unplanned mentoring session with his smartass protégé, but he’d been willing to give it his best shot, or give Caleb his best shot depending on the tone of the conversation. He had not agreed to be Mackland Ames's spokesperson. “Maybe you should just let Jim give one of his sermons like last year when you caught him with the two cheerleaders in his bedroom? That bit on chastity worked really well because we all know about the purity of Caleb’s virtue.”
“Johnathan.” Jim gave him a disapproving look. “Your snide remarks are not helping matters.”
“Obviously Mackland doesn’t need my help.” John gestured to the notes. “He’s got it all covered, down to the last crossed ‘T’ and dotted ‘I’. Let him find another puppet. Maybe Bobby will help.”
“Caleb will listen to you.” Mackland clasped his hands together, leaned closer to John. “He won’t talk to me. He refuses to see reason. If I have to listen to anymore of his attitude I might do the unthinkable and consider shipping him off to military school.”
“Maybe you’re just not presenting the material in a convincing manner?” John met Mackland’s gaze. The Scholar wasn’t a pushover, but sometimes he used his big old brain and psychobabble when he should use was his weight. “More action, less rewrites. Go with the hard sell.”
Mackland leaned back in his seat. “You’re suggesting I take a page out of your book and pound some sense into him? That’s not the Ames way.”
“Then consider Junior’s Winchester side.” John snorted. “It will get you farther with him than that speech, or shipping him off to some private low security prison for the young and wealthy. I can guarantee you that.”
“I don’t think either tactic is going to make an impression on the boy,” Jim said. “Instead of using your strengths, perhaps you should concoct a plan to use Caleb’s weakness against him.”
John focused on The Guardian. The old man could be sneaky, but it wasn’t like him to be cruel. “You seriously want me to use the boys to blackmail him? He goes back to school like a good little boy or he doesn’t get to play nanny anymore?” John had spent the last four years convincing Caleb it was his job to protect Dean and Sam, a directive Jim had ordered. John was not above using the resulting connection as leverage, but was surprised at Jim condoning it.
“In theory that might work.” Mackland shook his head. “But a parent should never threaten something they are not willing to carry through. I could never deny Caleb seeing Dean and Sam.”
“Neither would I.” Jim stood to make his way to the counter. He returned with the coffee pot. “I didn’t say manipulate Caleb’s fears, I merely suggested using his Achilles Heel.”
“That’s what I was attempting to do,” Mackalnd defended. “Caleb’s biggest flaw is he thinks John is heroic, regards him as a role model. It started that first night John held us at gunpoint, an obvious defect in the boy’s logic, but one that has served its purpose both on and off the field.”
“Thanks.” Now John was being insulted, too. “I think Jim’s referring to the kid’s other personality quirk, the one where he wants to make sure he measures up to everyone’s expectations. That sounds like an Ames issue to me.”
Jim cleared his throat. “I was referring to the weakness we all share.” Jim refilled his own cup, then John's and Mac’s. He took his time in taking his seat; a tactic John knew he used to garner attention. “Caleb wishes to always do right by the boys. He doesn’t want to let them down.”
Mackland ran a finger along his eyebrow. “You think we can convince him by not going to school he is failing Dean and Sam?”
Jim cupped his hands around his mug. “I think Johnathan can lead him to that assumption. Yes.”
“If he counters with spending more time in the field will make him a better hunter and therefore make him more beneficial to Dean and Sam?” John scratched his beard. It was an argument he used for skipping out on a lot of things. “Because he will.”
“Then I give you The Guardian’s blessing to pound the boy until he comes around.”
“Jim…” Mackland started.
“It won’t be necessary. I have faith in Johnathan.” The pastor patted Mac’s arm, the smile returning to his eyes. “I have faith in Caleb, too.”
Mac picked up the papers, shoving them into John’s hand. “Just take the script.”
“Where the hell is the high school dropout?” John had carried a sleeping Sam upstairs after they arrived. Dean had gone in to Caleb’s room, disappointed to find it empty except for Atticus Finch, who quickly abandoned post to scramble into bed with the boys.
“Check the barn,” Mackland said. “He refused to come into the house, yelling something about the chickens being better company.”
“I’ve felt that way after being on a long car trip with you.”
Mac smirked. “I assure you the feeling has been mutual.”
“Johnathan.” Jim raised a brow. “Tell him I saved him some dinner and there’s pie.”
John stuffed Mac’s speech in his jacket pocket and stood. “Fine.”
He found Caleb stretched out on a stack of hay bales, headphones on, horse blanket draped across his legs. The overhead lights were on, but the teen feigned sleep. John slapped the bottom of his boots. “Enough with the roosting, Junior. You can’t hide out with the chickens forever.”
“I’m not hiding.” Caleb sat up, hitting the stop on his CD. “I heard the Impala come in earlier. Figured Dad called in the big guns to whip me in shape.”
John flipped a feed bucket over and used it for a seat. “Suspended from school during the first week? That might be some kind of record.”
“Who knew Headmaster Andrews had it in him? It’s not like I haven’t done worse.” Caleb looked at John. “The goat only got me in school suspension for a week.”
“Your old man is worried.”
“Spare me Mac’s touchy feely shit.” Caleb kicked off the blanket, bringing his feet to the barn floor. “He’s freaking out over nothing.”
“Mac doesn’t usually freak out easily.” Mac and Caleb clashed over school from the beginning. Mac made Caleb’s education a priority and a prerequisite for hunting. College was going to be the same kind of deal if Junior made it through high school alive. “He’s afraid you’re not going to graduate.”
“I knew you’d take his side.” Caleb crossed his arms over his chest. “No one cares what I want.”
John tried to remember what it was like to be in the teen’s shoes. At Caleb’s age he was arguing with his dad on the finer points of quitting school and going off to war. “What do you want?”
“I want everyone to leave me the hell alone. I can take care of myself now, make my own decisions.”
“I got to say you’re not showing a real knack for making good ones, Kid.” John understood getting into trouble. Boys would be boys. Caleb liked to balk, but usually backed down when his father was concerned.
“I’m not a kid anymore.”
It was true. Caleb had shot up another couple of inches over the summer catching up to John in height, bulking up under the new training regiment The Knight implemented. The gangly thirteen-year-old was quickly being replaced by a young man who would soon be eighteen and legally capable of telling his father where to stuff it. John studied Caleb’s face, recognizing the stubborn set of his jaw. Jim was right. Butting heads wasn’t going to work. “Then we’ll talk man to man.”
Caleb brought up his guard, giving him a wary look. “Is that code for you’re going to kick my ass if I don’t do what you want?”
“If you’re as smart as you think you are it won’t come to that.” John watched as the teen slumped, shoving his shoulder length dark hair behind his ears. He was going to try and work a haircut into the deal, but he’d take one battle at a time. If worse came to worst, he’d make short hair a condition for the kid getting his ring.
Caleb snorted. “Is that how your old man handled it back in the day when you walked two miles back and forth to school in the snow, Johnny?”
John took a deep breath, trying to remember all the reasons he was crazy about Caleb. John’s father was strict, quick to stamp down any act of rebellion. He’d been tough on his son, a pattern John had not wanted to repeat with his own children. After Mary’s death he’d fallen back on those lessons, grateful for the strength his father had helped forge. “My daddy wasn’t big on the touchy feely shit as you call it, Junior, but I do remember my grandfather sharing a little parable when I found myself in a similar situation as this.”
“Parables?” Caleb rolled his eyes. “Are you joining Jim on the pulpit?”
“You want to hear this or you want me to read the Scholar’s script?” John pulled the crumpled yellow papers from his pocket, waving it in front of Caleb’s face. “Mac made quite the effort.”
Caleb slouched against the wall. “Go with the parable.”
“That’s what I thought.” John cleared his throat, recalling the words of wisdom his grandfather had given him. “There once was this young sparrow hawk that went out hunting one night. He got caught in a pretty nasty storm, so bad that the snow and ice coated his wings and feathers, freezing him. Unable to fly, he fell from the sky into a snow covered pasture where a huge elk proceeded to drop a stinking load right on top of him.”
“You’ve got to be kidding me.”
John ignored the eye rolling and Caleb’s muttering. “The young bird was surprised at his good fortune when he realized the steaming pile was actually warming him up, thawing his wings. He’d be able to fly again soon, and fetch his dinner. He began squawking about-a loud cocky tune. Too bad for him, a wise old bobcat was out on the prowl and heard the noise. Going to investigate, the cat found the bird and dug him out of the pile. He had the sparrow for his dinner.”
Caleb frowned when John let the silence drag between them. “That’s it?”
“Yep.” John rested against the barn wall, folding his arms over his chest. “That’s it.”
“Maybe you should read Mac’s speech because I didn’t get anything from that.”
“There were three very important morals in that story, Junior.”
Caleb looked doubtful. “Really?”
“One.” John held up his finger. “Not everybody who shits on you is your enemy. Two.” He held up another finger. “Not everybody who gets you out of the shit is your friend. And most importantly…Listen to this one carefully.” John waved three fingers in the air. “When you’re in deep shit, you should keep your goddamn mouth shut.”
“So let me get this straight.” Caleb leaned forward, elbows resting on his knees. “You’re saying Principal Andrews is my friend, the guys I’m hanging out with are bad news, and I should just take Mac’s punishment and carry on.”
“That pretty much sums it up.” John reached out and clipped the boy on the side of the head. “You’re smarter than you look.”
John raised a brow.
Caleb huffed. “That sucks, Sir.”
“You’re a quick learner, too.”
“Which is why I think I don’t really need to go to school. Everything I need to know I can learn from you, Bobby, and your parables.”
“Kid, you’re not dragging me into this battle with your Dad. If he says you’re finishing high school and going to college, then I’m with him. Do you get it?”
“Because he’s The Scholar?”
“Because he’s your dad and he knows what’s best for you.” John would be hard pressed to admit it, but he admired and respected Mac's skill as a father.
“Being a parent doesn’t always mean that’s the case.”
John was certain there was a jab at him in there, but decided to let it slide because Caleb looked so miserable. “What is it with you all of sudden? Just last week you were playing the back to school fairy for the boys and now you’re down on finishing out your measly senior year.”
“Nothing’s up with me. I’m just not buying into all the ‘best days of your life’ crap.”
“You made a hard sell of it for Dean and Sammy.” John had come home from a hunt to find his boys outfitted with new backpacks, lunch boxes, clothes and shoes. At first he’d been surprised he’d forgotten the start of school, then pissed Caleb, or worse Mac, had assumed he would forget the start of school. Sam’s enthusiasm over his new kindergarten experience, and Dean’s unnatural interest in his science teacher overshadowed John’s anger and stinging pride. “Sam sleeps with his Alf lunch box and even Ace has cracked a few books.”
“Tiny Einstein doesn’t need any building up.” Caleb shrugged. “It’s not like I’m going to encourage Deuce to be a fourth grade flunky.”
“Isn’t that just what you’re doing?”
“He sees you quit school, he’ll think he can do the same thing when he gets your age.” John cocked a brow. “Have you forgotten the smoking incident?”
Caleb rolled his eyes. “Dean and I aren’t the same.”
“What’s so different?” John briefly wondered if the eye rolling thing could be extinguished if he started slapping the kid every time he did it.
“For one, you’re not going to be shoving college applications down his throat and setting up study buddies for the SAT.” Caleb stood suddenly, pacing in a fashion very similar to Mac’s earlier tirade. “You’re not going to drag him on campus visits all over the freaking map, and hire a former presidential campaign speechwriter to help him with the entrance essays.”
John rubbed the back of his neck. There was no denying that. Unless something changed with the demon situation, the thought of Sam or Dean being somewhere out of his reach was beyond him. “College is a long way off for the boys.” John held back on the, ‘Thank God’.
“Unfortunately, I can’t say the same,” Caleb said. “Apparently, I have to decide this very minute. My major, my minor, everything up to and including my five year post graduate plan for the future. Cullen’s pushing for a business minor by the way and a summer internship at the Ames Foundation. If I haven’t mentioned it before, it sucks to be me.”
“Is that what this is really about?” John looked up at the teen. “You think getting thrown out of high school is going to squash Mac’s Joe College dreams?”
Caleb stopped pacing, dropping down onto the hay bale. His voice lowered, thickening. “Did he tell you he wants me to study abroad? Some fucking architectural exchange program in Italy?” Caleb blinked, his gold gaze growing glassy. “It’s like he’s trying to get me as far away as possible.”
John exhaled heavily. He rubbed a hand over his beard, wondering if Mac even realized what he was doing. “Your old man is all about giving you options, Kid.”
“If that’s true then he should give me the option to focus on hunting full time, on getting my ring instead of a fucking diploma. I want to stay here, with him, close to you, Dean and Sam. Instead he’s trying to push all this other crap on me.” Caleb cradled his head in his hands, his fingers fisting in his hair. “It’s all too much.”
“Look, Junior, I’ll talk to Mac; tell him to ease up on the pressure.” John reached out and squeezed the teen’s shoulder. “But you’ve got to clean up your act and get through high school. Dropping out isn’t an option.”
“I didn’t actually mean to get suspended.” Caleb looked up, rubbing a hand over his eyes. “I was just blowing off some steam.”
“Would you want Dean blowing off steam?” John watched the kid’s face as he mentally visualized Dean in the same situation. “He tries to be like you.”
Caleb paled. “I’d kick his ass.”
John steadied his gaze. “You still think your dad is freaking out over nothing?”
Caleb didn’t sigh, shrug his shoulders or roll his eyes. “Maybe not.”
“Then how about you give him the night to cool off and try talking to him in the morning.”
“God-the speech.” Caleb held his head in his hands once more. “I’m not getting out from under that pile of shit, am I?”
“Suck it up, Junior. Take your punishment like a man.” John laughed at the familiar scowl. “It might actually do you some good. Just keep quiet and you’ll be fine.”
Caleb pushed open the barn door. “Are you sure bobcats, sparrow hawks and elk share a habitat?”
John snorted. He might have jazzed up the animals a bit. “Ask your buddy Dean. He’s all excited about science this year.”
Caleb smiled. “I bet you ten his new teacher is hot.”
John took great pleasure in rolling his eyes. Dean had yet to discover the opposite sex. Like college it was one problem John had some time to prepare for. “You’re on, Junior.”
Caleb bypassed the kitchen, going in the front door to gain access to the stairs in the living room. He would take John’s advice and face Mac in the morning. He quietly made his way into the boys’ room, surprised when an empty bed greeted him. A moment of panic had him reaching out psychically.
“Deuce?” He pushed open the adjoining door to his room, stepping inside. The small reading lamp on the table by his bed cast a warm glow. He could see Sam tucked safe and sound under a blanket on the far side of the bed against the wall, Woobee fisted tightly next to him. The five-year-old was softly snoring. Atticus was stretched human-like beside him, his head resting on Caleb’s pillow. The dog’s chocolate brown eyes tracked his movement, but Atticus didn’t offer to get up. Dean was sitting on the floor beside the bed, knees drawn to his chest, his face buried against them. Caleb kneeled, placing his hand on the little boy’s shoulder. “Hey? What’s going on?”
“Damien.” Dean lifted his head. “You can’t quit school.”
Caleb had sensed the kid’s distress, but was surprised by the fear in the boy’s eyes. His face was splotchy as if he’d been crying. “Dean? What’s wrong? Are you sick?”
“No.” Dean reached out and clutched the end of Caleb’s shirt. “Mac is going to send you away to some kind of prison, and Dad said you wouldn’t get to take care of us anymore. We won’t even see you.”
“What?” Caleb knelt in front of Dean, his own heart jumping at the thought. Maybe he had finally screwed up one time too many. “Deuce, you’re not making any sense.”
Dean licked his lips, looking over his shoulder when Sam stirred.
Caleb gave his hand a tug, keeping his voice to a whisper. “Talk to me. Tell me what’s wrong.” He was tempted to look, but would rather Dean oblige willingly. “What are you, Sammy and the walking flea circus doing in here?”
Dean wiped the back of his arm over his eyes. “When Dad left us upstairs, I came in here to wait for you. I was afraid I’d fall asleep.”
Caleb looked at the alarm clock. It was after two in the morning. Dean had to be exhausted. “The runt followed you?”
Dean nodded. “Sammy’s always doing what I do.”
“Yeah. I get that.” Caleb ran a hand over the boy’s hair. “What upset you?”
“When you didn’t come up, I waited for Sammy to fall asleep and then went to sit on the steps to find out what was going on.”
Caleb knew there was a spot on the stairs that led into the kitchen, about halfway down. If you were really quiet you could make out the voices in the room below. He and Dean sometimes listened in on hunting business. “You heard Dad and Johnny talking?”
“Pastor Jim, too.” Dean scooted closer to him, his green eyes accusing. “You shouldn’t have been a stupid idiot and gotten kicked out of school. Now you’ve ruined everything.”
Caleb felt slightly better at the nine-year-old’s more typical reaction. “Dude, you didn’t get all the facts. Mac has been threatening to send me to military school for years, and Johnny has pulled that bluff before.”
“Mac was pissed. You didn’t hear them.”
“And you probably only heard half of the conversation.” Caleb knew the voices were rarely clear, especially if the door to the stairwell was shut. Jim and Mac’s tones were softer than Bobby’s or John’s. He used his abilities to fill in the gaps. Dean didn’t have the advantage if he was flying solo.
“Did you get kicked out of school?” Dean asked.
“Yeah.” Caleb had never felt guiltier. “Suspended for two weeks.”
Dean’s green eyes widened. “What did you do?”
“Something stupid and dangerous,” Caleb said. “Don’t ask.” He didn’t want to give Dean any new ideas.
“Why did you do it?”
“Because I wasn’t thinking clearly.”
Dean bit his lip. “Can you fix it?”
“Probably.” Caleb hoped so.
“What if you can’t?”
He squeezed Dean’s shoulder. The last thing he wanted was to play into the kid’s insecurities. “No one’s going to keep me from seeing you and Sammy. Trust me. I wouldn’t let that happen. We’re family.”
Dean leaned against the bed. “Sometimes families fall apart, jerk face.”
“Not ours. I promise you I won’t let that happen, ass wipe.” Caleb bumped his knee, trying to garner a smile. “Will it make you happy if I promise to go back to school, study for the SAT and graduate with honors like a good little boy?”
“Dream on, Damien.” Dean snorted. “Wishful thinking isn’t going to make up for years of you slacking.”
“I don’t know.” Caleb grinned. “Stranger things have happened. Johnny tells me you’ve actually been bringing home books.”
“I have to set a good example for Sammy now that he’s in school.” Dean glanced at him. “And I knew it would hurt your girly feelings if I didn’t put your old backpack to use, Reava.”
“Right. I’m the girly one.” Caleb stood. Dean was doing a better job of reminding him of his priorities than Mac’s speech or John’s whacked out parable ever could. He patted the bed. “I think it’s time you hit the sack, Deana.”
“But there’s pie downstairs. Apple pie.” Dean stifled a yawn. “I thought we could pull a midnight raid.”
“Bobby’s not here.” Caleb shook his head. He’d caused enough trouble for one night. “It will still be there tomorrow. We’ll have it for second breakfast.”
Dean climbed into bed beside Atticus, yawning. “Where are you going to sleep?”
“I guess I’ll crash in the midget bed. Take my punishment like a man.”
“Can I ask you something?”
“Shoot.” Caleb took a seat on the mattress. “As long as it’s not about what I did to get kicked out of school.”
Dean looked up at him. “Are you going to go far away to college?”
Caleb wasn’t sure he was even going to college. “No where I can’t get to you in a day tops.”
Dean seemed to be satisfied with the answer for now. “Okay.”
“Can I ask you something?” Caleb pulled the blankets up, tucking them around the kid. “What’s up with the sudden interest in being a science scholar?”
Dean shrugged. “I like learning about plants and animals.”
“Sure you do, Deuce.” Caleb grinned. “What’s her name?”
“Miss Holly.” Dean’s mouth twitched and even in the minimal light Caleb could see his face had reddened.
“She’s not like most teachers. She smiles a lot, laughs at my jokes. When she leans over my desk to show me something, her hair smells just like strawberries, Dude.”
“You don’t say.”
“I might even make an A.”
doubt you’ll score big.” Caleb smirked to himself. Collecting the ten
dollars from his mentor would at least counter having to endure his
father’s speech. “I have a feeling you’re going to grow up to be just