"What A Mother
Leaves Behind" by Ridley C. James
”To live in the hearts we leave behind is not to die.”-Clyde Cambell
Caleb Reaves entered the small room, his heart quickened and his palms began to sweat. The cheerful blue paint and wall paper with the cute puppies and kittens frolicking about wasn’t fooling him for a minute. A principal’s office was never a good time. They could coat the place with cotton candy, pass out sugar cubes on a stick and Caleb would still rather have his teeth pulled by a demonic dentist than enter the den of doom for all little children.
“May I help you?”
The old gal was smiling sweetly, but Caleb had no problem seeing past the perfected mask to the heart of a sadist. Her glossy nameplate with the sunny flowers might have said Shirley, but Caleb new her true name -- Hell’s Gatekeeper. He cleared his throat. “I’m here to see Mr. Reynolds.”
Shirley checked her planner and glanced up with a knowing grin. “You must be his eleven o’clock. Mr. Winchester, is it?”
“Yeah.” Caleb would never forgive Pastor Jim for making him come. So what if the cleric was hosting a bedside vigil for a parishioner. At twenty, Caleb was supposed to be safe in college from such persecution. “I was asked to be here as soon as possible.”
Shirley nodded robotically, pod-person smile still in place. “I’ll let him know you’re here.” She pointed her bony finger to a row of chairs. “You can have a seat over there.”
Caleb swallowed thickly and made his way towards the bright yellow seats. A little girl with golden blond curls and doe-like eyes had already claimed one, her sandaled-feet dangling above the floor. She grinned crookedly, swinging her legs back and forth. Caleb took the chair three seats over.
“Hi. I’m Katie.”
“Caleb,” the hunter said, annoyed the distance hadn’t deterred a conversation. He fidgeted in the uncomfortable chair looking for a magazine or book to take his mind off his surroundings, and dissuade any further communication with the natives.
“What are you here for? Are you from the high school?”
Caleb jumped when the small voice came from much closer this time. Katie had slid herself into the chair next to him with all the stealth of a spirit. ”No,” he replied. “I’m in college.” Apparently the kid had no clue about social cues. He bit back on his instinctive reply and forced a tight grin. “And I’m here to see the principal.”
“Me too,” Katie said. “I’m a witness.”
Caleb arched a brow. “A witness?”
“Yeah. I witnessed a crime. Like in Matlock.” The little girl held up a piece of folded construction paper. “I have something important that could break the case wide open.”
Caleb thought Katie watched too much television. “Right.”
Katie shifted, turning towards the hunter. She brought her feet up, sitting cross-legged in the chair. “I’m in the second grade, Miss Karen’s room and two boys in my class got into a big fight.” She didn’t need any encouragement from Caleb as she launched into elaborate detail. “They were calling each other names-Gregory even said a four-letter word. Then they started pushing and shoving, and one of them punched the other one right in the nose. Splat! Blood went everywhere.” Katie’s eyes widened as she flailed her arms wide in a sweeping motion. “I even got some on my Beauty and the Beast shirt. See?”
Caleb looked down to where the little girl was pointing to the picture of Belle on her pink tee. There were a few tiny rust-colored specks. The psychic recognized the cartoon because he’d been duped into taking Sam to the movie last year for his birthday. Kind of the same way he’d been tricked into coming to Sweet Oaks Presidential School today. “Soak it in Clorox and cold water, kid. It’ll come out. Trust me.”
Katie shrugged. “Okay.” She twirled the bracelets on her arm. “I wasn’t scared, you know.”
Caleb looked longingly up at the clock on the wall. “You don’t say?”
“Gregory picks on a lot of us kids because he’s bigger and thinks he’s so great just because he’s ten already and his Daddy drives a pig.”
Caleb frowned. “You mean a hog?”
“That too,” Katie agreed. “I call it a motorcycle, but my Mom calls them death traps and she won’t let my daddy have one.”
“I’m eight,” Katie added. “I haven’t been held back in school like Gregory.”
“That’s good to know.”
“You know what else?”
Caleb couldn’t help himself. “What?”
“Gregory cried like a baby.”
Caleb gave her a knowing nod. “Bullies are usually big sissies on the inside. If this Greg was picking on you, he probably needed to be brought down a notch or two.”
Katie’s smile widened and she scooted closer. “Do you have a girlfriend in college?”
“Mr. Winchester,” Shirley called, ringing a little silver bell on her desk. “Mr. Reynolds will see you now.”
“Great.” He stood quickly, accepting his fate. “Catch you later, Katie.”
Mr. Reynolds office held no cats or dogs, and was lacking in the flowers and happy birds. Instead there was sparse décor punctuated by plaques, diplomas, a framed collage of baseball cards, and the huge wooden paddle.
“It’s mostly a deterrent.” Mr. Reynolds stood, gesturing to the instrument of torture Caleb was staring at. “Like an unmanned police car.”
Caleb blinked, glanced suspiciously at the hand being offered in greeting across the cluttered oak desk. “That was never my experience,” he said. Returning the firm grip, Caleb took a seat in one of the leather chairs. “Deterrents didn’t seem to work for me.” Growing up in rural Louisiana had left him a little jaded towards the public school system and corporal punishment. But even after moving in with Mackland and attending the elite private schools, Caleb found the more politically correct reprimands of detention and in school suspension just as distasteful.
“I hear that.” Mr. Reynolds laughed. He was about Mac’s age, around the same height with a little more mass and a little less hair. Caleb surmised it was the stress of the job, which was humorous because his father's jobs of neurosurgeon and one third of the leadership of a secret organization bent on saving the world from an unknown fate, should have trumped the warden of kiddie prison. “That paddle was given to me by one of my former teachers. I think Ms. Tally used it on me daily and when she heard I was coming back to work in this system, it was her way of saying welcome to my world.”
“All you need now is a bullwhip and chair.”
Caleb was only half kidding, but Reynolds laughed again. “I see Sam gets his humor from you.”
“Sam?” Caleb raised a brow. “I thought this meeting was about Dean?” Jim hadn’t filled him in on all the details, telling him only that he needed to go the boys’ school immediately, meet with the principal and then bring Sam and Dean to the farm for the long weekend. Caleb had assumed the most likely culprit was John’s eldest.
Reynolds glanced down at a yellow legal pad in front of him. “No. This concerns your younger nephew, Samuel. Dean is in the seventh grade. Middle school discipline is usually handled by another vice-principal, Mr. Wheeler.”
Suddenly the conversation with Katie was becoming a lot more relevant. “Did Sammy get into a fight?”
Reynolds glanced up. “He did.”
“Is he alright?” It wasn’t like Sam. He glanced to the paddle again. “You didn’t punish him did you?” The idea of Dean being in trouble was bad enough, but in Caleb’s eyes Sam was just a baby.
“No.” Reynolds shook his head. “I try to get all the facts of a story before passing judgment. Sam has yet to tell me exactly why he punched Greg in the nose, so I’m giving him a little time to process. He pointed to a door off to the side of his office. “He’s in time out.”
The term ‘time out’ might not have been coined back in his day, but Caleb recalled spending his share of time ‘processing’ a bad decision. It was usually the authority’s way of saying ‘when you’re ready to tell me what I want to hear you can come out’. “Word on the street is that this Gregory is a real piece of work.”
Reynolds smiled, leaned back in his seat. “I see you’ve been talking to Katie. She thinks Sam is the next best thing since detective shows.”
Caleb shrugged. “I know Sam. He’s about as aggressive as a bunny.”
“Sam’s teacher, Ms. Karen seemed to have the same opinion. She praises your nephew’s work since coming here last month. He’s in her gifted reading program and seems to be thriving in the new environment.”
“Then that should tell you something about your boy Greg.”
“I know all about Gregory, Mr. Winchester. I just need for Sam to give me his side of the story. Greg’s singing a completely different tune than Katie. He claims Sam punched him because Gregory said a picture Sam drew was stupid. Although that’s rude and definitely not behavior we encourage here at Sweet Oaks, it doesn’t warrant an act of violence. You can understand my concern that Sam took such drastic measures.”
Caleb refrained from rolling his eyes at the familiar diatribe. He’d heard so many similar speeches concerning his own ‘drastic measures’ and acts of violence while in school that it was hard to remain objective, especially where Sam was concerned. No one at school ever seemed to care to listen to Caleb’s side of the story back then, but he would make damn sure Sam was heard. “Can I talk to him?”
Reynolds pushed his chair back and stood. “It’s why I called. When I couldn’t reach Sam’s father, I used the emergency contact number we’d been given. Jim Murphy explained you are the boys’ uncle and were close by.”
“Yeah. John works construction. It’s not always easy to reach him on site.”
“I’m just glad someone came. It’s important for the school and family to work together.”
“You bet.” Caleb recalled previous times when he’d had to play the ‘Uncle Caleb’ card to keep John’s ass under the radar. “I’ll do what I can.”
The principal gestured to the door. “Take your time. I’ll speak with Katie again. It appears Nancy Drew has uncovered some new evidence.”
Caleb opened the door and stepped into the small conference room. Sam was sitting at a long table with his head down. “Hey, Runt.”
Sam’s head snapped up. “Caleb.” He blinked, rubbing at his eyes. “What are you doing here?”
“Apparently even eight-year-old thugs have a right to representation.” Caleb made his way around the table, stopping in front of the little boy. “Unfortunately, I’m the only lawyer available to take the case.”
Sam stood up and wrapped his arms around Caleb’s waist. “I’m glad you’re here.” He maintained his grip, but raised his eyes to gaze up at the older boy. “I was afraid Daddy would come.”
Caleb ruffled his hair with a grin. He could understand that healthy fear. “Johnny’s not big on the whole making a scene at school, Rocky.”
Sam sighed, letting him go before sinking into his chair once more. “He’s going to be really mad.”
“Only if he knows.” Caleb claimed one of the seats facing Sam. “We’ll see what we can do to keep it on the down low. Lawyer-client confidentiality, you know.”
Sam shrugged. “I guess.”
Caleb took a moment to look the little boy over. There weren’t any marks on him. His shirt had taken the brunt of it. Unlike Katie’s, Sam’s yellow tee was covered in dried blood. He pointed to the mess and then flicked Sam’s nose when the kid looked down. “You must have really nailed Gregory with a good one. You taking a page out of your big brother’s book, or what?”
Another shrug. “I guess.”
Caleb reached out and lifted Sam’s chin. “I need for you to talk to me. How else am I going to save you from the chair?” Or the wooden deterrent on Mr. Reynolds’s wall.
“But you’ll tell.”
“I told you we could try to keep your old man out of it.”
“Not Daddy. Dean.”
“Dean? You don’t want Dean to know?” Not telling John was one thing, but keeping Deuce out of the loop was a different story. The kid had a sixth sense when it came to his role of the runt’s protector.
Sam nodded. “It would make him sad and I don’t want to make him sadder than he already is. He would think it was his fault.”
“Okay.” Caleb took the easy way out. “Then I won’t tell him.”
Sam’s brow furrowed. “But Dean said you’re his best friend. Best friends don’t keep secrets.”
Caleb sighed. Sam logic was littered with pitfalls. “Dude, I think you’ve got it all wrong. Deuce won’t be sad about this. Trust me. He’ll be pretty damn pleased when he finds out you took your buddy Greg out with one shot. From what Katie said, the beast deserved what he got.”
Sam sat back in surprise. “You know Katie?”
Caleb shook his head. “It’s a long story. One I’m not going to share with you unless you share yours with me.” The psychic waited for Sam to look at him. “I could always read you…”
Sam frowned. “But Pastor Jim says…”
Caleb held up his hand cutting off the familiar scolding. “Yeah, yeah, yeah. I know what Jim says and I didn’t say I was going to only that I could. I’d rather you tell me yourself, but I’m not letting you take the fall for something that I know wasn’t your fault.”
“I did hit him.” Sam pointed to his fist where his knuckles were red and slightly swollen. “Hard and fast. Just like Dean showed me.”
“I believe you. But I know it had to have been for a good reason. Mr. Reynolds said something about Greg saying your picture was stupid.”
Sam brought his hand to his mouth, chewing on the side of his thumb. “It was a card.”
Caleb reached up and pulled the little boy’s hand away. “What kind of card?”
Sam started to shrug again but Caleb gripped both his shoulders, holding him in place. “Talk to me, Runt. What was on the card?”
“A picture of my family.”
“And?” Caleb prompted.
“I drew me, Dean, Daddy and the Impala.”
Caleb squeezed the little boy’s shoulder. “And what did Gregory think was so stupid about that? Lots of families have pets. The Chevy is like Atticus Finch minus the fleas and doggy breath.”
“He wasn’t laughing at the Impala.”
Sam looked up; bit his bottom lip as his watered. “I…”
Caleb’s chest tightened. Jim was so going to owe him. “Sammy?”
“I put Mommy up in the sky…with wings because she’s an angel watching over us.”
And it all suddenly made perfect sense. Shit. Caleb ran a hand over his mouth. “Sam…”
“This weekend is Mother’s Day, and the teacher wanted us to draw a picture of our family. She didn’t say we had to put our mom in it, but I thought I should, since it’s her day. All the other kids had pictures of their families. I wanted to make something for her. She’s still my mom,” Sam’s voice dropped, “even if she is dead.”
“And this Greg kid decided to give you a hard time about your picture?”
Sam nodded. “He said I must have been a really bad kid if my mom left me. I told him my mom didn’t want to leave, but that she died in a fire and he said I probably caused it.”
“Greg sucks,” Caleb interrupted. “And you know you had nothing to do with what happened to your Mom. Right?”
“Yeah.” Sam swallowed. “That’s what I told him. But then he said Mom must have done something really bad to get burned up like that and that there was no way she could be an angel. He said only good people went to Heaven and that God must really hate us.” Sam rubbed his cheek with his fist. “He said Mom was in the other place.”
Caleb clenched his jaw, wondering where Sam’s teacher was when all this took place. “And that’s when you hit him?”
“No.” Sam shook his head. “I hit him when he said my punk-ass brother was probably going there too.”
Caleb held back on the ‘good for you.’ Pastor Jim trusted him to be the adult in the situation. “Gregory sure does have quite the vocabulary for a second-grader.”
“He’s supposed to be in fourth, but he’s not very bright. His brother is in the seventh grade and he’s almost as old as you.”
Caleb twisted the silver ring on his finger, trying to find his ‘inner Jim. “I get why you were mad, Sammy, but reacting the way you did isn’t always the best option especially when you’re at school. Maybe you should have told your teacher…”
“What would you have done?”
Caleb squirmed under the intense scrutiny. Sam was staring at him all wide-eyed and expectant. “It doesn’t matter what I would have done, Einstein. I’m not you, and John Winchester isn’t my dad. Understand?”
“Dean said Daddy had to get you out of jail once for fighting.”
“Exactly.” Caleb jumped on the chance to use some Jim Murphy logic. “You don’t want to end up in prison do you? That would put a crimp in your career as a police officer.”
“I don’t want to be a police officer anymore. I want to be a veterinarian.”
“News flash, Runt. Not a lot of call for animal doctors in the big house. Your giant sponge brain would shrivel to a tiny stone.”
Sam folded his arms over his chest. “But I didn’t like him talking bad about Dean.”
“I get that... It’s a brother thing. Really, I do. . I don’t want anyone talking bad about you or Dean, but you just can’t go around punching everybody that makes you mad” At least that was what Mac was always saying. “Why didn’t you tell Mr. Reynolds what Gregory said about your picture?”
“If Dean finds out, he’ll be upset. I know he told Ms. Karen I didn’t have a mom so this wouldn’t happen. She changed the assignment for me, but I didn’t mind doing it.”
“He’s just trying to make it easier for you.”
“I know.” Sam let his arms fall to his side. “But I wish he would talk about her. Sometimes I think Dean doesn’t want me to think about her, or even remember her. It’s like I never had a mom.”
“That’s not true. Talking about her is just hard for him.” Caleb understood all too well. He had the same problem and he’d had years longer to deal with his mother’s death. And he knew Dean wanted to spare Sam that kind of pain. “You know there was this one time when you were just a baby, we’re talking barely out of diapers baby, and I found Dean in Jim’s attic. He was looking through your Dad’s old things for a picture of your mom because he wanted to make sure you had one, so you’d never forget who she was.”
Sam perked up. “Really? He never showed it to me.”
Caleb licked his lips. He suspected as he did at the time that Dean wanted the picture for himself as well. It would explain how upset Deuce had been. Caleb remembered his own feelings of panic when he stopped being able to easily recall the way his mother looked, the curve of her smile, and the sound of her laughter. “Have you asked him?”
“No.” Sam sighed. “I was afraid he’d get mad, like Daddy does when I ask questions about what happened to her.”
“I don’t think Dean will get mad at you. He’s just trying to protect you, Kiddo.”
“Because that’s what brother’s do?”
“Yeah. It is.”
Before Sam could reply, Mr. Reynolds opened the door. He had a two-way radio in his hand and motioned for Caleb to follow him. “Mr. Winchester, I have a situation in F-pod that I could use your assistance with.”
Caleb’s brows drew together. “Me?”
“Dean’s class is in F-pod,” Sam said.
“Great.” Caleb knew a harmless bloodied nose was too simple for the Winchesters. He reached out telepathically to Dean, instantly sensing the anger and adrenaline rush the older boy was experiencing. He pointed his finger at the second grader. “Stay put, Sammy.” Caleb saw the protest building and added, “That’s an order.”
Mr. Reynolds quickly strode out of the office, Caleb on his heels. They had barely made it out the door when a giant of a man in a cheap business suit came barreling towards them, a chubby blond boy with a buzz cut held firmly in tow. The kid was holding an icepack to his nose. “Reynolds! What the hell kind of school are you running here? I can’t be taking off work at the drop of a hat and my boy…”
Reynolds held up a hand to cut him off, only slowing his pace slightly. “Levi, I told you what happened on the phone. I have more pressing matters at hand right now and so do you. Follow me.”
“What matters?” Levi demanded, keeping pace with Caleb, dragging the kid behind him. They followed the principal through a tunnel like hallway that opened up into another set of classrooms.
“You’re other son.” Reynolds gestured to a set of wooden doors, glancing to Caleb. “They’re in the cafeteria.”
Caleb didn’t wait for Reynolds to lead the way as he stormed into the crowded lunch room. Kids parted like the Red Sea, opening a straight shot to the two boys rolling around on the linoleum floor. A young teacher was yelling at the teens to stop while a gray haired lady in a pair of scrubs and a hairnet, waving a pair of metal tongs, repeatedly blew her whistle.
“Break it up! Now!” Reynolds barked. The small cafeteria went completely silent except for the fight, which only seemed to escalate. The striking of flesh against flesh reverberated as Dean continued to pound on a larger boy pinned beneath him.
Caleb moved past the teacher hovering on the outskirts of the fray. He grabbed Dean from behind and hauled him up and off of the other boy. Dean struggled, trying to twist out of Caleb’s grip. “Deuce! Stop.”
Dean was breathing hard, still caught up in the moment. Caleb wasn’t sure if his voice had registered, so he pulled him back a few more steps before loosening his hold. “That’s enough. It’s over.” He gave him a hard shake then leaned in closer, pulling Dean’s back against his chest. “Deuce. Shake it off.”
“It’s me.” Caleb released him.
Dean spun around to face him, wiping the back of his hand under his bleeding nose. “What…how did you get here?”
“Pastor Jim sent me.”
“Is Dad okay?”
“John’s fine. I came about Sam.”
Dean pointed to the other boy, currently being helped off the floor by his father and Mr. Reynolds. “Was that son of a bitch telling the truth? Did his little brother do something to Sam?”
“Sammy’s fine.” Caleb placed a hand on Dean’s shoulder, jutting his chin to the smaller child still holding the ice to his face. “But I’m guessing Gregory’s going to be nursing two black eyes in the morning thanks to that right jab you coached the runt on.”
“Sam hit somebody?”
“Imagine that.” Caleb snorted at the look of surprise on the teen’s face. He reached out and gingerly touched the small cut above Dean’s eye. “A Winchester with a temper.”
Dean hissed, swatting his hand away. “Is he in trouble?”
“Not as much trouble as you’re in, Mr. Winchester. If I have anything to do with it, you’re going to learn how we handle attitudes like yours in Sweet Oaks.” The gray haired woman with the whistle moved in front of Dean. “I’m not having hooligan boys tearing up my cafeteria, trashing food that my staff has worked all morning preparing.”
“Not like it’s fit for anything else,” Dean muttered.
The old woman’s face reddened further and she poked her tongs at the boy. “What did you say, young man?”
Caleb pulled Dean away from the irate cafeteria manager. “Easy there, Betty Crocker.”
“Excuse me? Who are you?”
“Stella, why don’t you try to get things back to normal in the kitchen?” Mr. Reynolds stepped forward. He glanced to the students now sitting quietly at the long tables, their teacher looming over them. Caleb couldn’t help but to think now would have been an appropriate time for the whip and the chair he’d mentioned earlier. “We have some hungry kids out here.”
She pointed the tongs at Dean once more and Caleb resisted the urge to tell her exactly where she could stick the kitchen utensils. “When Mr. Wheeler gets back on Monday you’ll be in for a world of trouble then.”
“I can’t wait,” Dean said.
Caleb clipped the boy on the back of the head. “No more talking.”
“That sounds like good advice, son,” Reynolds said. “I think your mouth is what got you into this mess.”
“It wasn’t me,” Dean countered. He jerked his head towards the other boy. “Cory’s the one who doesn’t know when to shut his pie hole. He was asking for everything he got.”
“My son says differently.” Caleb tensed as the muscle bound gorilla in the bad suit lumbered towards them, Cory skulking behind him. The other teen was taller than Dean by nearly a foot and probably outweighed him by forty pounds. But the way he kept his head down and stayed his distance, spoke to how little those stats had helped him in the fight. “And he’s been here a hell of a lot longer than you, kid.”
“Watch your language, Levi,” Reynolds said. “Why don’t you take Cory to the nurse and we…”
“Doesn’t mean he’s telling the truth.” Caleb couldn’t help himself. He moved in front of Dean. “Just means he probably knows who he can snow.”
“You calling my boy a liar?” Levi puffed out his chest, the buttons of his polyester shirt threatening to pop off as the man’s bulk bulged beneath the thinly stretched material.
Caleb smirked. “I was merely pointing out your faulty logic.”
“Maybe I should point out a few things to you. Like the fact that punk hit my boy from behind, took cowardly advantage.”
“No, I didn’t!” Dean started forward, but Caleb caught his arm. “I hit the hulk square in the face.”
Levi jabbed a meaty finger at Dean. “You heard him, Reynolds. He admits to hitting my kid.”
“And what did your kid do?” Caleb asked. Dean didn’t need to take any unfair advantage with some overgrown delinquent. In fact, Caleb was confident the teen could have taken Cory’s old man out without much effort.
Dean shook his head. “He said something about Sammy.” Caleb sighed at the stubborn look. He reached out telepathically touching Dean’s thoughts. He knew the teen wouldn’t tell him in front of the others, but Deuce’s memory was an open book. Caleb’s own anger flared at the cruelty of the other boy’s words.
“Name calling?” Levi let out a bark of laughter, pointing to his youngest son who was standing off to the side still nursing his busted nose. “That sounds like second-grade stuff.”
Caleb moved his hand to Dean’s shoulder, giving it a slight squeeze before cutting his heated gaze to Levi. “Do you really want to bring intelligence into this? From what I hear, you’re not really raising a couple of academic over achievers.”
“Gentlemen,” Reynolds started. “Let’s take this back to my office where we can…”
“My sons are none of your concern, boy.”
Caleb let go of Dean and took a menacing step towards Cory’s father. “When they mess with my family they are.”
“Mr. Winchester!” Reynolds snapped. “Please take Dean back to my office. Now.”
Caleb looked at the principal, felt the stares of the other students and their teacher. It wasn’t the place or time to deal with the ignorant bastard. Wasn’t he the one preaching to Sammy about controlling his anger, about knowing how and where to pick your battles? He raised a hand in truce. “Whatever you say, Sir. You’re in charge.”
Caleb turned, guiding Dean along with him. He had every intention to walk away, until he heard Levi’s rumbling laugh.
“And that boys is a lesson in why we shoot the bitch when you get a bad litter of pups. The blood always tells.”
The last thing Caleb remembered before he blanked out in a white hot
fury was the sound of Dean saying his name.