Sparks and Memories
Sam meticulously chewed his club sandwich, tasting nothing. He was in the last windowed booth in a diner off of US-20, in New Carlisle, Indiana. His hurried drive to Indiana, Pennsylvania had been a bust, the promised uber-grimoire and its hinted-at knowledge of Devil's Gate locations another dead end. Maybe he should give up on finding a Devil's Gate, and gaining access to Hell that way. It hadn't worked when he'd tried it two months ago in Wyoming, with that exact replica of the Colt. Now this second Devil's Gate approach had been a failure, too. But he couldn't stop searching; leaving Dean rotting in Hell forever...
Sensing footsteps, Sam roused from his depressing thoughts. A thirty-something year old blonde in an old-fashioned pink waitress outfit, complete with a crisp white apron and pink "Sally" nametag, approached his table.
"Can I get you anything else, sir? Some dessert, perhaps? We're known for our apple pie."
He'd probably choke on Dean's favorite pie. "No." Maybe he'd said that too forcefully; the waitress's eyes widened and she shifted backwards a step. "Uh, just the check, please."
The bell over the front door jingled and a small group of customers piled in: mom, dad, two little boys and a less-than-thrilled looking teenage girl, her down bent face focused on the Smartphone clutched in her hand. "Hi, Sally!" the little boys chorused as the family walked further into the diner.
"Hi, kiddos!" Sally greeted them, then nodded towards the cashier's spot in the middle of the diner's Formica-topped breakfast bar. "Your order should be just about ready. I'll go check on it as soon as I'm through here."
"Thanks, Sally," the mom said, continuing to walk towards the diner's main counter. She and her husband lifted the two little boys onto the two backless barstools closest to the register. The boys giggled and tried to whirl the stools around, squirming under the light shoulder holds that their parents had on them.
Sam took in this slice of family life, face expressionless. The boys' behavior didn't ring any bells with him; John Winchester would never allow such hijinks. "Do nothing that draws attention to us" had been dad's mantra. Privately, Dean had found ways to skirt the rules, and give Sam more of a childhood than Sam had realized at the time. In hindsight, it was one more debt he owed Dean. He just had to get Dean out of Hell, and start evening the score. Not that Dean had ever kept count, of course.
"Here's your check, sir." Sally placed the bill on the tabletop. Sam glanced at it, dropped a dollar and change on the table, then trailed the waitress to the cash register. Sally zipped behind the counter as Sam lined up behind the family and Sally completed their sale. "Hope you enjoy your evening," Sally said as the husband picked up the bags and his wife herded the kids towards the door.
Sam moved to the front and handed his check to Sally, who quickly rang it up. "Hope you enjoyed everything."
"It was fine," Sam answered, pulling out a ten to pay for his meal. As he collected his change, he asked, "Is there a motel around here with reasonable rates?" He really didn't want to stay in Indiana, the state where Dean had lost his stand against the hellhounds, but he'd been driving all day, after a long and disappointing night. He could make it to Illinois, but staying in the state where Dean was buried was hardly a better option.
"There's a Red Roof Inn about a mile down the interstate." Sally answered, tacking on, "Hey, if you're gonna be in town, you should come to the fireworks tonight." She handed him a neon blue flyer with "Fourth of July Fireworks" printed in bold capital letters. "New Carlisle's been staging them for decades, out in the fields south of town. They're pretty awesome."
Sam started at hearing one of Dean's favorite words. "Maybe I'll check it out."
Sam followed the handmade signs to the field, trailing a latecomer into the field-cum-parking lot. He had wrestled with his decision to attend; the hunter's under-the-radar lifestyle avoiding most normal activities. But he'd certainly be hearing other people's fireworks and firecrackers in his motel room; he might as well watch them, too. It beat being alone in his two-bed, two-bit room. Sam still requested double bed rooms, still expected to see Dean occupying the other bed when he woke—for the first five seconds, before he remembered where his brother really was, and why.
Following the teenaged attendant's pointing arm, Sam dutifully turned down the indicated aisle with mostly evenly parked cars, trucks and SUVs filling both rows. He turned at the end of the aisle, driving slowly down the next, equally full aisle. He made his way to the back of the makeshift parking lot and parked on the edge, the Impala's nose facing the entrance for a quick exit. He got out of the car, stepped towards the trunk and hoisted himself up, squirming a bit until he was leaning comfortably against the rear windshield. After a few seconds, he wriggled leftwards, claiming the center of the windshield, since he wasn't sharing it with anyone. Sam ruefully shook his head. He'd purposely chosen to sit on the trunk, since he and Dean had always plunked themselves on the hood, yet he was still accommodating his absent big brother…
He knew the rest of the attendees were much closer to the actual display; from his heightened perch on the trunk he could see the last few rows of families and couples sprawled on their spread-out picnic blankets. But he was here to observe the fireworks, not mingle with the crowd. Sam watched as the last rays of the sun slowly sank over the horizon and figured the fireworks would be starting soon. A few minutes passed the impatient rustlings and murmurs from the rest of the crowd drifting back to Sam. He checked his watch, then heard footsteps off to his right. Curious, Sam glanced in that direction, and saw two little girls walking along the outermost row of cars. Before they reached the Impala, the older girl – Sam judged her to be ten or eleven, the other girl three or four years younger – grabbed the shorter girl's hand and whispered something. Then they scampered off to the open area to the right of the parked cars, the moonlight catching their white t-shirts and matching stars-and-stripes skirts. Sam recognized the siblings-with-a-secret vibe he was picking up from the pair and he kept an eye on them.
The girls halted about twenty yards from the parked cars. The taller one reached under her t-shirt and extracted a flat, rectangular packet. Holding it in one hand, she reached into her skirt pocket and withdrew a lighter. The younger girl clapped her hands in anticipation.
"Shhhhhh, Hannah!" the older girl scolded, not realizing that the night air carried their conversation over to Sam. She opened the box and pulled out a sparkler. "Here, hold this." Then she half-turned from the smaller girl, flicking the lighter until it caught. She then carefully lit the end of the sparkler and retrieved it from Hannah's hands. "Watch this!"
Sam and Hannah watched as the older girl waved the sparkler in the air, the trail of green sparks creating figure eights and curlicues that lit up the night sky for seconds before fading.
"Oooo, Ashley! More!" Hannah clamored and the older girl reached for a second sparkler.
Immediately, Sam was thrown back in time, to when he was thirteen years old. Sam had been pouting and cranky because Dad was off hunting and they were stuck in another crappy motel room for the Fourth. Dean had waited until nightfall, then dragged him out to the middle of nowhere. Sam had been amazed when he opened the trunk and discovered the box of firecrackers. And lighting them up, watching them burst into a dazzling aerial display, dancing in the sparks, had been awesome…
Sam was jerked back to the present by the unexpected sonic boom. The fireworks show had started with a bang. Sam gazed skywards as a dazzling red and green firework burst into display. He glanced at the little girls and saw their faces upturned to watch the sparkling overhead show, too. Then Hannah nudged her sister and the older girl brought out another sparkler. This time, Hannah held onto the sparkler, making tentative motions in the air, watching their glowing trail of sparks until it faded. She started writing H-a-n-n-
The sparkler was almost finished, having burned down towards its end. Its sparks fell on Hannah's hand. "Owwww!" Surprised by the hot sparks, Hannah flinched, dropping the sparkler. It landed unexpectedly on her sister's skirt, getting caught in the bottom ruffle. The older girl stepped hastily away from Hannah, her movement causing the sparks to ignite into flame.
Another firework exploded overhead, falling gracefully towards the ground with dazzling gold streamers, drowning out the older girl's scream, its momentary glare clarifying the scene for Sam.
"I'll get Mommy!" Hannah yelled, then dashed off towards the distant crowd of onlookers.
Sam flung himself from the Impala's trunk, whipping his overshirt off as he raced towards the older girl in the flaming skirt, poised to start running herself. "STOP!" Sam roared, holding his denim overshirt out in front as he ran towards the girl. He reached the startled girl, fell to his knees, and wrapped her up in his shirt. The oversized shirt fell below the girl's knees, completely covering her flaming skirt. Sam grasped her tightly around the waist. He dropped them both to the ground, the girl landing on top of him. Sam's feet found purchase against the ground and he pushed, rolling them over and over. Sam wasted no time when they stopped after several cycles, pushing off to roll them firmly in the reverse direction. He rolled them twice more, wanting the fire to be completely snuffed out. They ended up back where they started, Sam still wrapped firmly around the girl. He sniffed the air, getting only at whiff of smoke. "Are you all right?"
"I-I th-think so," the girl answered shakily as Sam released her from his grip. "Is the fire out?" They stood up as the crowd oohed and ahed in the background, another firework exploding into brilliant color overhead. The girl removed Sam's overshirt and handed it back to him. "Thank you."
Sam absently accepted his shirt, draping it over one shoulder as he crouched closer to the ground. "May I?" He gently reached for the bottom of her skirt as he thoroughly examined the girl's legs for burns. "You appear fine, other than a scorch mark on your skirt." He released her skirt and stood up, pointed towards the almost hand-sized blackened blotch at the skirt's hem. A piece of ruffle was missing, burnt away in the brief fire and there was a hole in the center of the blackened area.
"Ashley! Are you all right?" A woman rushed into view, her hand clutching Hannah as the little girl ran to keep up. She looked in her early thirties, dressed in jeans, sandals and a red, white and blue t-shirt.
"She's fine," Sam tried to reassure the girls' mom.
"And who are you?" the woman demanded, whirling to stare at Sam.
Sam's answer was drowned out by another sonic boom, followed by a shower of blue and silver streamers, the temporary light revealing the woman's tense face.
Ashley stepped in front of Sam. "He's a superhero, Mommy! He saved me!"
Sam briefly explained what had happened.
Ashley interrupted excitedly. "He did the Stop! Drop! Roll! thing, just like they taught us in school."
"Thank you," the woman held out her hand to Sam. "I am deeply grateful to you, Mr.-?"
"Jones." Sam hesitated, almost adding 'Dean.' As far as he was concerned, there was only one Winchester brother who was a hero, but Dean believed in dealing honestly with kids, whenever possible. "Sam Jones, Ma'am. I'm just glad I could help."
"I'm Morgan Fletcher." A smile twitched her lips. "You've already met my older daughter, Ashley, and this is her sister, Hannah."
Sam stooped down to the little girl's level. "Pleased to meet you, Hannah."
Hannah smiled shyly just as another firework lit up the night sky.
"Sam should come watch the fireworks show with us, Mommy." Ashley announced, loudly.
"He's probably here with someone else, dear," Mrs. Fletcher reminded, gently.
Ashley turned to Sam. "Are you?"
"No," Sam answered honestly. "I'm here by myself."
"Then you must join us! We have lots of food for supper," Ashley insisted.
"Mommy made cherry pie for dessert!" Hannah chipped in.
"Please join us, Sam. It's the least I can do to say thank you," Mrs. Fletcher said. "Besides, the girls can use the treat. After tonight, they're grounded for two weeks for playing with fireworks without supervision."
"But, Mommy—" Hannah protested, before catching Ashley's firm headshake and quieting.
Dean would never turn down an invitation to eat homemade pie. Did Sam just feel the wind, nudging him gently in the shoulder? "I'd like that very much. Thank you."
"Good, I'm glad that's settled," Mrs. Fletcher said. "Now, let's go watch the fireworks!"