My dad’s a badass. No one knows it but me. It’s a secret I’ve kept since I was too little to really understand that I was keeping a secret. He told me not to tell anybody or our family would be in danger. If I didn’t really get anything else he was saying, I got that. He trusted me with our safety and I really got that too.
Dad has a day job that sucks ass and is kinda embarrassing when I tell people what he does but it’s a front. It’s not the truth. It’s a bunch of facts he’s memorized to get by but it’s not what he really does, it only covers up his real job. When he’s supposed to be at work and we’re at school, he’s really tracking down and fighting monsters who used to be people and tracking down people so close to monsters that definitions almost don’t even matter.
“Yeah, Dad?” He’s at my room door and I guess I didn’t hear him with the headphones on.
“We’ve been calling you. Dinner.”
“Sorry,” he’s always telling me to turn it down but you just can’t appreciate Metallica at anything under Eleven.
We live in Texas. We have for a few years. Its okay here I guess but I’m a little small for football and that’s all they play here. I know what I’m good at and what I’m not. I can knock any 6’4” tank-sized jock on his pasty white ass but preferably with my fist, okay? Before Texas was New York and it was easier to blend in living in the city—people didn’t really care about fitting in there. Before that was Kansas . . . we don’t really talk about Kansas anymore.
Sam’s around the dining table, reading. Kid’s always reading. It’s like, when I was thirteen I had a million other things to do instead of sticking my nose in a book.
“Put it away,” dad tells him and Sam scuttles the book under the table. Dad has this way of saying things that no matter exactly how they were said, he always sounds like he’s giving an order. It’s the ex-Marine in him and we’ve gotten used to it.
“I keep telling him not to read around the table but it’s become some kind of habit,” mom says. “And I love it,” she smiles, leaning to her side and kissing Sam on his still baby-fat cheeks. She loves he’s a nerd. It’s some kind of vindication after the holy terror that was me. Her blonde hair’s like mine but I take after dad and Sam’s a homebody just like she is.
I sit down completing our family of six, my mom and dad at the heads of the table. Sam to mom’s left, me to dad’s right and the babies were opposite us. My little sister was across from me, next to dad. She looks like me and mom and my other little brother is in his high chair across from Sam.
After grace we have the usual Sunday dinner—pot-roast and potatoes, green bean casserole and macaroni and cheese. With four kids my mom has to cook for an army and me and dad eat enough for a battalion.
“So, Dad, how was your trip?” Sam asks and I can see him itching to pull out his book and finish whatever sentence he’s been stopped at. He’s talking just to talk and mom’s right, his reading’s become a really sick habit.
Halfway through a bite of potato my dad pauses and I’ve seen this game played before. It’s like instant replay which is the only part of football that stays with me. He kinda smiles into the fork and I know what he’s thinking and what he can’t say.
“It was alright.”
“Got everything done?”
Taking his napkin and dabbing the corners of his mouth he shrugs and I’m grinning. I know whatever happened on his trip, it was fucking awesome.
“I’m just a paper man, Sam,” he says, adjusting his black, horn-rimmed glasses.
“Don’t say that, Noah,” mom says. “He’s interested in what you do.”
Some green bean casserole hits me in the face and I freeze like one of mom’s dogs just pissed on my favorite boots. I look up and have to remind myself that my baby sister’s only five. “Claire!”
She just giggles which cues everybody else to follow her lead.
“Claire-bear, don’t throw your food at your brother,” dad says and he’s laughing at me.
“Funny,” I say, wiping my face but I can’t help smiling. I’m thinking I’m lucky to have food on my plate and I’m thinking I’m lucky to have family all around me. After Lawrence, after the fire that took our parents, Sam and me had nothing and nobody except one of dad’s army friends and drinking buddy who took two small kids into his home with little more than a hope and a prayer that those new additions wouldn’t tear apart a year-old marriage.
Noah and Sandra Bennet got the house the kids and the white picket fence all in the same year and Dean and Sam Winchester got the family we never would have had otherwise.
Yeah, at that moment, at that instant in time, even with food on my face, I was lucky.
Three years later I became a paper man, like my dad, and my entire world changed.