The three of them made it back to Tinsley’s house with only the minimum of tears from Sam, who had caught sight of the cereal aisle, with its growing number of shelves filled with colorful, too expensive brand cereal. Tinsley allowed him to choose two, which floored Sam for a good ten minutes, who began to cry as they left the aisle, as he was now certain he would never see such richness again.
Dean tried to block out the sound of Sam’s cries, and fight back his own frustration -never tears – at the thought of returning to gas station food and vending machines outside of rancid motel rooms.
Tinsley, though she didn’t know the source, seemed to sense that the boy’s sorrow went deeper than just too tired from errands, and immediately announced an early lunch, complete with more candy, and both of the precious cereals Sam managed to pick at the last minute.
Sam cheered up instantly at this, and dug into his colorful lunch with abandon. Dean was more circumspect, eating his cereal slowly, watching Tinsley out of the corner of his eye, and his thoughts constantly returning to the man in the hoodie.
It bothered him that he hadn’t seen the man approach. Especially at that speed, the sound of his feet should have been loud enough and fast enough to have caught Dean’s attention. Dean could almost hear John’s voice berating him.
The rest of the day Sam spent in front of the TV (eating), or in Tinsley’s ‘craft room’, which Dean stuck his head in and immediately backed out of. Sam, on the other hand, found the bolts of material and myriad colorful threads fascinating, and he apparently had a lot to say about interior design, as he discussed with Tinsley, quite seriously, what color she should paint on the walls of a client’s house: “Not pink,” he kept saying with horror when she showed him the salmon color they picked.
Dean left them to it, choosing instead to wander the huge house, checking the locked windows, eyeing the quiet neighborhood outside. He wandered in and out of rooms and found himself inside the master bedroom, obviously Tinsley’s, the bed unmade and clothes strewn around the floor.
Dean glanced cautiously behind him, knowing that Tinsley was still with Sam in the craft room, but the woman had silent feet, and had snuck up on Dean at two times. Reassured that it was clear, Dean tip-toed inside, an easier feat now that Tinsley had suddenly laid the law down on shoes in the house. The soft carpet felt soothing on Dean’s bare feet.
He snuck into her closet first, his eyes widening at the lacy dress things in the back, and the rainbow collage of colors and styles inside her overstuffed closet. So far, Dean had only seen her in jeans and a shirt, and he briefly wondered where she wore these outlandish outfits. There were boxes on the top shelves, but even though Dean was tall for his age, he was still too short to reach shelves that high.
There wasn’t much else to search through in her room. The dressers were just as stuffed as the closet, with even more alarming types of lady clothes, lacy and colorful and Dean shut the dresser drawer with a muffled bang, pausing to listen for footsteps approaching the bedroom door. That just left her nightstands, and Dean quickly shuffled through the drawers, his eyes widening at the sight of an address book. He rifled through the pages, glancing over his shoulder. A bunch of lady names, probably Tinsley’s friends, a few male names, some couples, one couple with the same last name as Tinsley, probably her parents.
Dean paused at the entry of his father’s name. Tinsley had written ‘Johnny’, but it was unmistakably John’s third number, the landline that was at Uncle Bobby’s house, which John had made Dean memorize, including the number at Uncle Jim’s and the P.O. box address in Kansas.
There was no address in the address book, no last name.
There was a heart next to John’s name.
Dean stared down at the red ink. It was such a girlish thing to do. Dean remembered seeing the girls in the third grade class he was in briefly circle River Phoenix’s face on their girly magazine covers and covering it with hearts. This read heart was perfect, obviously drawn by an adult, but the little heart spoke of a girlish crush that Dean, as young as he was, knew wasn’t returned.
Dean shoved the address book back into the nightstand, and with one last glance around, left the room.
John called, briefly, that evening. The conversation was short. How was Sammy? Good. Are you salting the windows? Yes. Put Tinsley back on.
Tinsley’s conversation with John was just as short, if not more so, and Dean watched Tinsley’s mouth become straighter, and then wilt into a frown, the phone pressed so hard against her ear it burned bright red when she gently set the phone into its cradle.
“It’s going to be just a few more days.” Tinsley said.
Dean heard the false brightness in her voice, and for a moment, he was four years old again, and his mother, Mary, was standing before him. A false smile was on her face, and her voice too bubbly, and she was saying something to him about how his dad will be home too late to eat dinner with them.
Dean blinked and his mother was gone. Tinsley was staring down at him, her hair mussed, her toes curling and uncurling under her jean’s hem. She was so much older than him, but he kept seeing her as a girl. Just a girl.
“Dean? Did you want to go to a restaurant?”
“Eat out! Yes!” came Sam’s enthusiastic agreement, and Dean looked sidelong at his brother as he shrugged. Sure. Eat out. Whatever made Sammy happy.
It was full dark when Tinsley pulled the car into the driveway. Sammy was sleeping off a hamburger and a quarter of a piece of chocolate cake in the back seat. Dean felt deja vu, him in the front seat, Tinsley driving, Sammy quiet in the back. This was how they had arrived, except John didn’t absentmindedly stroke his hair, like Tinsley did, carrying Sammy on her hip as they walked to the door. Dean tried not to lean into her hand, but he took a step closer anyway, his shoulder brushing against her side. Tinsley curled her hand around the back of his head, then let go.
Tinsley handed Dean the keys. He was turning the bolt when a weight hit his back, thrusting him forward into the door. His right eye went dark briefly. For a moment, he thought he was blind, until the darkness traveled down his face, warm and sticky.
Someone was screaming. Two someones. Dean propped himself against the door and twisted sideways, still disoriented. Sammy lay screaming on the porch just behind him, his legs entangled with Dean’s, his gaze fixated beyond the steps.
Dean glanced beyond the steps at the two figures struggling. His mind understood what was happening and skittered back, shutting down. He lunged toward Sammy, dragging him to his feet. Holding the shocked boy against him, Dean reached back and twisted the doorknob and Sam and Dean fell through the front door of Tinsley’s house. Dean scrambled to his feet and slammed the door closed, locking the deadbolt against Tinsley’s screams.
Sam had stopped screaming but his loud sobs echoed throughout the house. Dean felt tears mix with the blood on his face. He shook his head, wiped the blood, erasing the tears with it, smearing the blood like a Jackson Pollock painting, study in red. Still holding onto Sammy, Dean dragged his little brother along, shuffling quickly through the foyer, through the kitchen, and heading down the basement steps, a room he had only entered once.
He couldn’t hear Tinsley anymore.
Dean deposited Sam on the bottom step and ran toward the cupboard above the washer and dryer. Boosting himself onto the dryer, Dean fung open the cupboard door and burrowed his hand under rags and extra towels. He drew out his father’s 1911 Colt, the weapon heavy and cold in his hand.
Dean slid off the washer and turned to find Sammy staring at him with wide eyes. “Stay here,” Dean ordered, not bothering to say goodbye, not thinking about anything other than what he was trained to do. He bolted up the steps, closing the door behind him, the pale face of his little brother looking up at him, almost translucent with fear and gleaming in the dark like a ghost. Dean shut his mind to the image and found himself, before he knew it, back at the front door.
He paused, trying to breathe slowly, but his lungs kept working like miniature locomotives, and the sound of his breathing was loud and harsh in his own ears.
The hand holding the Colt was shaking and Dean knew if he let off a shot, he would miss.
There were no sounds behind the door. Dean kept listening for a whimper, the sound of eating, mashing teeth and sinew and blood being slurped and dripping from a fanged mouth, but there was nothing, and that scared Dean, because either the monster had gone somewhere else (maybe somewhere in the house) or he was listening too, his monster ears pressed to the door, whatever he was. Dean placed the barre of the gun against the wood of the door and considered pulling the trigger. He reconsidered and backed up, covered his eyes with his hand, but the Colt still shook, and Dean couldn’t know what was behind the door.
A soft knock, and Dean nearly pulled the trigger, his finger spasming, his hand jerking, which would have made the shot go wide. Dean lowered the gun, but kept the safety off.
The soft knock sounded again, then, a voice. “Dean Winchester?” The voice said, the tone uncertain.
Dean stood frozen. The voice wasn’t familiar to him. He had never met this man. But there were a lot of hunters who knew his father, and therefore knew of Dean and Sam, but then again – there were a lot of monsters that knew of his father too.
“My name’s Elkins. I was hunting this . . . creature that attacked your babysitter. I’m a hunter. I know your dad. If you want to call him, I’ll stay outside. I’m on your side, Dean.”
Dean answered with silence. Tinsley had a third phone in the foyer. Something rich people could do. Dean had been impressed, in spite of himself, and now the phone, behind him on an ornate end table, seemed to grow larger in his vision, pulsing out at him like a beacon of light.
Dean longed for and dreaded to hear John Winchester’s voice.
Dean edged backwards until he was by the phone, the Colt half up, pointed more towards the bottom of the front door, the man’s legs maybe, than at any spot that would actually be helpful. But the gun made Dean feel grown up, and Dean did not need to remember that he was just an eight-year old boy, not just then.
Dean found himself dialing, the phone pressed between ear and shoulder, his free hand pressing the numbers with trembling fingers. The line on the other end picked up instantly, and the voice filled Dean with a sense of safety he should not have felt.
“Uncle Jim,” he said, then he started to cry, even as the story left his lips.
Uncle Jim didn’t pause, didn’t ask many questions, except for Dean to repeat the name the man had said (“Elkins,” Dean had sobbed out and almost sunk to the floor when Uncle Jim recognized the name), and when Uncle Jim promised to be there by the end of the day tomorrow, Dean thought he was going to throw up. He hung up with Uncle Jim, not even bothering to dial the other numbers he knew, and shuffled to the door to let Elkins in.
The man called Elkins looked sorrowfully down at Dean, and moved to block Dean’s view when his head jerked up and he looked at Tinsley, laid out half on the ground, half on the bottom step, her neck a gory, open hole, red, red, red.
And beside her, a human looking head, separated from its neck and body, mouth agape and strange looking-
Elkins stepped into Dean’s space and Dean automatically raised the gun an inch, but Elkins ignored this and Dean let himself be led back into the house.
It took an hour for Elkins to talk Dean into sitting, and another hour for him to talk Dean into telling him where Sammy was. Elkins offered to get Sammy, but Dean wouldn’t let him, and walked down the basement steps himself, scooping the nearly comatose boy into his arms and trudging back up the stairs.
Sammy hadn’t made a sound the entire time Sean and Elkins were in the kitchen, and he still made no sound, even after Dean realized Sam had peed his pants and took him into the bathroom to clean him up.
Same didn’t talk the next day, either, not while Elkins was gone, burying Tinsley, and getting rid of the monster, nor when Elkins brought back food, nor when Uncle Jim finally arrived, nodded to Elkins, who left without saying a word, and then bundled the boys into his car.
It took three days for Sam to speak again, a day after John showed up at Uncle Jim’s. When he did begin to speak, he asked for cereal, he asked to watch TV, and he asked Dean to play games with him, but anything about Tinsley never left his lips. Ever.
John and Dean exchanged glances. Dean had spoken briefly to John about Tinsley, telling him what had happened, telling him what he hadn’t noticed, if there was anything to notice, because he was trained for this and he should have seen the monster coming.
For the first time, John shook his head, and told Dean it wasn’t his fault.
Then no more was spoken about it.
Most of the events of that time had faded in Dean’s memory. When Dean picked up Sammy from Stanford, the only memory that remained clear, that hadn’t disappeared under a blur of blood and the fog of time, was the image of Tinsley walking on her jean cuffs. By this time, Dean had known a lot of women, biblically and literally speaking, but barefoot women in jeans made him stop in his tracks, and the image of dark hair and pale skin and a wide smile would fill his mind. But then he’d shake his head and focus on the hunt, whether it be a monster or a warm body beside him that night.
Sammy still said nothing, even after the search of Elkins cabin, even after the letter from Elkins to John, and John’s confirmation. When the word ‘vampire’ fell from John’s lips, Dean met his eyes and saw Tinsley in them and Dean knew John saw Tisley in his. They both looked at Sam, but he was too angry about being kept out of the loop, too angry about Jess’ death, his childhood, even the parts he couldn’t remember.
Dean never saw the connection click in Sammy’s eyes, as if within those four days, Sammy had erased Tinsley from his memory, erased every moment of those few days. Dean didn’t mind. He would keep all of Sammy’s bad memories, and give him only the good ones, if he could.
So Dean said nothing, as well, and only, almost without thought, curled his hand around the back of Sammy’s head as they drove to their next hunt.
Sam shook Dean off, but said nothing. His finger traced a letter into the fabric of his jeans on his thigh over and over again.
The letter was a T.