We check out of the motel at 8 a.m., hit a McDonald’s for breakfast and are on the road shortly after.
Sometime around 9 a.m. I drift off, the lack of sleep and motion of the Impala overriding the less-than-soothing music Dean’s popped into the cassette deck.
When I surface from a blessedly nightmare-free nap, I feel much better than earlier. Running a hand over my mouth, I wipe away a tiny line of drool and check my watch. Almost noon.
“Sleeping Beauty awakens. And how fares my little princess?”
It’s not Dean’s teasing that commands my attention, but the congestion in his voice. He looks terrible. His skin is leached of all color, save for dark smudges under his eyes. He sniffles and shivers slightly, his gaze flicking to me before settling back on the road.
As he fidgets in his seat -- uncomfortable with my scrutiny or maybe hurting from those bruises -- my shoulders slump. Despite what he said earlier, and what he’ll probably say now, he’s sick, and that means the next few days will probably be fairly miserable for both of us.
“Dean – ”
I try to keep my tone light, because the more concern he hears, the more stubborn he’s gonna be. “You don’t look fine.”
“Dude,” he smirks. “I always look fine.” A sneezing fit seizes him. One, two, three, all into his left hand, which he wipes on his jeans. “I bet if I walked into a bar right now, I’d score at least three phone numbers.”
I snort. Generally speaking, it takes very little effort for my brother to hook up. I’m fairly confident that wouldn’t be the case today, though.
“Dean, the only thing you’d get from a woman right now is a ‘God bless you’ and maybe a bowl of chicken soup.”
“As long as she’s feeding it to me in bed, I can deal with that.”
Shaking my head, I stare out the passenger-side window and watch the scenery streak by in a blur of sun-dappled brown and green.
“It’s just allergies, Sammy.”
Cocking my head to the side, I give him a pointed look. “You don’t have allergies, Dean. You’ve never had allergies.”
“Then it’s the dust from the motel.”
“Gimme a break.”
“Just shut the hell up and let me drive.”
I do shut up, not because I’m giving in, but because I need a few minutes to figure out my next move. I stare back out the passenger-side window, and for a while we’re both quiet. Every so often, I peek at him out of the corner of my eye. Judging from the lines in his forehead and the pinched look on his face, he has a headache. That explains why Motorhead is only at a dull roar.
Given how quickly his health went downhill, and the symptoms he’s showing, he probably has the flu. He should be lying down somewhere, sleeping it off. Convincing him of that isn’t gonna be easy, though. It’ll probably involve a lot of grumbling, swearing, and maybe violence. And that’s just on my part.
Such is life with a big brother who thinks he’s invincible.
Maybe I could talk him into stopping at a bar, and pay some hot young thing to lure him into bed. She could tie him to the bedposts, and then he’d have to rest.
Before I can pursue that idea, Dean takes a curve entirely too fast and nearly veers off the road as he overcorrects.
“Dean!” I yell, gripping the dashboard for support as we settle back into our lane. My heart is thumping so hard it’s almost painful.
Our eyes meet, and I get a glimpse of how startled he is by what just happened before he jerks his attention back to the highway.
There’s no time for cleverly devised plans. I need to get him off the road, and quick. “I think we should stop at the next motel, before you get either us or your car killed.”
He pales, steals a glance at me, and then caresses his steering wheel, thoughtfully chewing his lower lip. It looks like appealing not just to his health, but mine and the Impala’s, too, was a wise move.
“How about a compromise?” he offers.
I groan. Dean’s compromises always suck.
“I’ll pull over at the next restaurant and we’ll get something to eat. We’ll kick back for an hour, and then you can drive.”
It’s actually a fairly decent compromise, as it gets him out of the driver’s seat. But when he launches into a sneezing fit and then an intense round of coughing that leaves him red-faced and teary-eyed, I know it’s not good enough.
“You need some sleep, man. We should go to a motel.”
Scoffing, Dean glares at me for a moment before staring at the winding road. “I’m not two years old, Sam. I don’t need a nap.”
“No,” I say, striving for patience, “you’re not two years old, but you are sick, and you could use some rest.”
“I’m not sick! A little run down, maybe, but I’m not sick.”
“Yes, you are.”
A dark glance, and then he says petulantly, “Am not.”
“Are -- ” I break off with an exasperated groan. “I’m not gonna do this, Dean. We’re going to a motel, and that’s that.”
He huffs. “I don’t take orders from you.” Two sneezes and a cough, all into the crook of his elbow.
Taking a deep breath, I decide that since logic and arguing aren’t yielding the desired results, it’s time to switch tactics. I adjust my expression accordingly. “Please?”
He groans but keeps his eyes on the road. “I’m not gonna look at you, so you can ditch the whole Puss in Boots routine. Those big eyes and quivering lips aren’t gonna work.”
I suppress a smile. “My lips aren’t quivering.”
“But you’re not denying the big, soulful eyes thing, are you?”
He sighs. “All right, we’ll stop at the next motel for a few hours.”
“Not for a few hours. Overnight.”
Dean frowns at me, and this time, I throw in the quivering lips.
He snorts, coughs, and looks away. “Fine, Puss. We go to a motel for one night. But come morning, we head out again. Deal?”
We end up at an unpretentious, two-story motel whose vacancy sign promises free basic cable and a pool. The portly, middle-aged woman in the lobby checks us in with barely a glance, most of her attention on a local news segment about credit-card scams.
If only she knew.
Our room is set nearly at the end of the first floor. Unlocking the door, I usher my brother inside, cringing as I take in the décor. Brown, brown and more brown. The carpet, the bedspreads, the drapes, the walls, all of it the same shade of Hershey’s chocolate.
After we drop our duffel bags on two chairs nudged up against a tiny round table, I survey my ailing brother. The dark smudges under his eyes are no longer the only color on his face, as red splotches have surfaced on both cheeks. Tiny beads of perspiration dot his forehead, and yet he’s shivering so hard it’s a wonder his teeth aren’t chattering. Even as I study him, his shoulders hunch forward as he tightly crosses his arms over his chest.
It’s the sneezing, though, that seems to be bothering him the most. It’s grown to epic proportions. Every few minutes -- Yup, there’s another one.
Dean groans and heads stiffly toward the bathroom, returning with a wad of Kleenex and a trash can. He dumps the tissues on the nightstand that separates the two twin beds, and the trash can lands with a soft thump on the carpet. He sits heavily on the mattress, eyes glassy and unfocused. I wait for him to stretch out, but he doesn’t. It’s as if he’s too tired to move.
“Dean?” I make my way over to stand next to him. “Why don’t you lie down?”
He blinks and looks up at me. “Huh?”
Chuckling softly at his confusion, I squat down and start tugging off his sneakers.
“I can do that,” he protests, leaning forward and batting my hands away.
After his shoes and jacket are off and his favorite knife is stowed away in the nightstand, he crawls into bed. Lying on his back, he pulls the comforter over his shoulders and frowns at me. “Maybe you should get a separate room. I don’t want you getting sick.”
I arch an eyebrow. “So you admit you’re sick?”
Grinning, I go rummage through my bag, removing the first-aid kit and pulling out the thermometer. “Don’t worry about it, man. If I’m gonna get sick, it’ll be because I’ve been around you and your little germ convention for the past few days, not because I’m around you now.”
Coming over to the bed, I hold up the thermometer. “Open up, bro.”
I’m rewarded with a glare, one I’ll probably see a lot in the next couple of days.
“Gimme that,” Dean growls, snaking a hand out from underneath the covers. He pops it in his mouth and we wait for it to beep. When it does, he takes it out, frowns at it, and hands it over.
The results are about what I expected: 101.6. Sighing, I set the thermometer on the nightstand and sit on my bed, arms on my thighs and hands clasped together. “I’m gonna hit the convenience store up the road and get some supplies.”
Dean’s bleary eyes light up. “Beer?”
He scoffs, coughs, and shifts in the bed, heavy eyelids closing.
“We have ibuprofen, but we don’t have any flu medicine,” I explain. “I’ll get you that Theraflu stuff. It has a fever reducer in it.” Pausing, I consider what else we might need. “I’ll get some Kleenex, too. Chicken noodle soup. Maybe some stuff to drink.”
I throw him a pointed look, which he doesn’t see, since his eyes are still shut. “Like bottled water, or Gatorade. I know how much you hate tap water, and you need to keep hydrated.”
“There anything else you can think of?”
Dean looks at me and flashes the kind of smile that never bodes well. “Magazines.”
“I’m not buying you porn, Dean.”
His smile morphs into a pout. “I buy it for the articles, Sammy. The naked chicks are just a bonus.”
Snorting, I get to my feet. “I’ll be back soon. Try to get some rest, okay?”
“Uh huh,” he replies tiredly, and then lunges for the Kleenex as a series of sneezes burst forth. There are five of them this time, followed by a coughing fit so severe that my hand is hovering over his back, ready to start thumping, when he waves me off.
“Water,” he croaks.
I quickly retrieve one of the short, squat glasses from the bathroom counter and fill it up.
He drains it halfway before handing it back, grimacing and rubbing his forehead. “Yeah, definitely get the bottled water. And Gatorade. But make sure the Gatorade’s the plain green stuff. I don’t want any of that funky-flavored crap.” He points at me. “You bring back blue or red Gatorade, and I’ll kick your ass.”
Go to part three