Fic: Today’s Special
Author: Nakanna Lee
Pairing: More gen, but Jimmy/Dean if you squint
Summary: Jimmy Novak takes his young family to a diner every Sunday, and one time Sam and Dean happen to be there, too.
( The taller one surveyed the diner quietly as the hostess seated them. The other winked at her, then flipped his menu open to the dessert list.Collapse )
There was a diner that Jimmy Novak brought his family to every week, always on a Sunday. It was a small place with booth seating and plenty of high chairs. From the outside it looked still and metallic, tucked aside the highway. But inside the lighting was just soft enough and the TVs played inoffensive weather channels, and the air had a low, clinking hum about it. Local people exchanged utensils between their hands and murmured about middle school sports and new babies and asked for bottled ketchup with their scrambled eggs.
His family didn’t have a large circle of friends, but Jimmy could recognize by face familiar members of the suburb. Which was why, one winter Sunday, he noticed the two men who walked into the diner almost immediately. While everyone else was dressed in clean church clothes, or had the softened look of weekend’s rest, the men came in with boots and jeans and flannel and durable jackets. The taller one surveyed the diner quietly as the hostess seated them. The other winked at her, then flipped his menu open to the dessert list.
A small, wheeling whine flared up in the back of Jimmy’s head. He winced and it disappeared.
“No, honey, we don’t eat straws, remember?” His wife ducked in towards their daughter, drooling happily, her pudgy legs flapping from her high chair.
Jimmy’s eyes bounced from the men, to his wife and the way her hair fell forward. He smiled once, saw an approaching waitress, and glanced at his menu. The letters looked strange.
“What can I getcha this morning?” the girl asked.
Jimmy blinked. It wasn’t the letters, he discovered, but the space between the letters. It was—bigger somehow, deeper or more porous. He looked up and realized the whole room was like that. It was the same, but there was more. He felt like he could pass his fingers through his wife’s hair and become lost in acres of tangles; that he could pick up his daughter and never hold all of her; that the words spoken from his throat would be too large to encapsulate in any sound.
The high-pitched whine was back again. He could hear it reverberating inside the metal of the forks and spoons wrapped up in their thick diner napkins.
He felt selfless, almost guided. The urge was back: the urge to give himself over, although to whom or for what purpose he had no idea. He’d been praying, trying to be a good man. But lately all he’d received was headaches.
“And for you?” the waitress asked.
Jimmy squinted through a sudden painful light. Her notepad was tilted towards him. She had written, Behold, I stand at the door, and knock.
“You liked those blueberry pancakes last time,” said his wife.
The notepad now read, 2 Egg Special, Applesauce.
Jimmy blinked and the diner shrank back in on itself. The noise in his head was a fluttering buzz dwindling in the lights above.
Jimmy stuttered, ordered what his wife suggested. When the waitress moved away towards the kitchen, he could see the unfamiliar men drinking their coffee, trying not to watch him.
As they waited for their food, his wife asked whether they had made the right decision starting their daughter in preschool a year early. They’d had this conversation many times. What his wife was really asking about was the construct of their lives, the decisions that had led them here or which ones might hold them steady. Jimmy loved her, loved their daughter. But as his wife spoke of preschool with its alphabet letters and faint smells of rubber glue, he felt that love was a separate thing unto itself. It was not necessitated by a connection, or shared lives. It was a separate object, love a thing that existed without the action of gift and reciprocation. He was beginning to think that love, while manifesting in action, had preceded all action. That it had weight and density and required more than bodily commitment, more than waking up in bed together, working for another life jointly created. It required more than self-sacrifice, more, even, than direction. Love required faith.
Over his wife’s shoulders, he could see the men sitting across from one another in their booth. The taller one was speaking intensely, glancing up at the other’s face now and then. The other had a tight grimace on his face and kept scanning the crowd. After a moment, he got up. Jimmy thought he was rising to pay, but he walked past the cash register and its glass bowl of pastel mints and stopped right at Jimmy’s table.
His wife glanced up. She’d been wiping laughter drool from their daughter’s chin.
“Morning,” the man said. He smiled, gave a nod and a laugh. His voice was deeper than Jimmy would have guessed. “Sorry for interrupting, but I couldn’t believe it was you.”
“Who?” asked Jimmy.
“You. Jimmy Novak.” The man paused, gave a grin and held out his hands. “Baseball division champs, ‘97.”
Jimmy’s wife glanced at him, confused. “I didn’t know you played baseball.”
“I’m sorry,” said Jimmy, “but you must have the wrong person.”
The man tried to look enthused, but there was something tense and plastic about his mood. “You’re not Jimmy Novak?”
“I am. But not the one you’re remembering.” Jimmy paused. “Who did you say you were?”
“Ah, doesn’t matter,” said the man. He took a step back but his eyes didn’t leave Jimmy’s face. Jimmy’s head ached. There was a vague stir somewhere at the tip of his spine. He could feel the man’s companion watching them both, and there it was again—a desire for dedication. The man had stopped walking away. His hands were in his pockets. He wore a necklace, a sort of amulet, that Jimmy hadn’t noticed until now, up close.
A shrieking noise warped in Jimmy’s ears. It was worse than he’d ever felt, more intense than the aches that woke him up at night and drove him to wandering around the house, asking the surrounding silence aloud what he needed to do. In the diner now he flinched, ducked from the sound, felt his wife reach out and touch his bent elbows. Her voice was a small thing, engulfed by a shattering of light and the man’s strong grip on his shoulder, pulling him out of sudden suffering.
Jimmy Novak picked his head up and the diner was a shell. There were no booths but the one he was in. There were no people but the man who claimed to know him. There was light but it was in the air and existed from itself, not from any external source. Jimmy felt on the outskirts of himself, like he was trusting something to take him even though he did not know it or could not understand it.
The man sitting across from him was examining him, on high alert.
“Has this happened before?” the man asked.
“This?” Jimmy looked around the contorted room. “No, not like this.”
“But the sounds.”
“Sounds? Yes.” Jimmy regarded him with a hopeful frankness. “Are you an angel?”
“Is that what you think you’re hearing?” asked the man. “Like heavenly hosts speak in some high frequency radio feedback?”
“I don’t know how I know,” said Jimmy.
The man didn’t look away. “I don’t know if I believe all this shit yet.” He paused. “I’m not an angel, by the way.”
The noise in Jimmy’s head was still high, still painful, but he felt it aligning with him. It was no longer an external factor affecting him internally; it was becoming part of him. He was getting closer to understanding it.
“You were sent here for me,” said Jimmy.
The man nodded, slowly. “My brother and I. We’ve dealt with a lot of… interesting sons of bitches. Things you wouldn’t believe unless you saw them.”
“What do you believe I am?”
“I believe you’re Jimmy Novak,” said the man. “I don’t know if I believe what you will be.”
Jimmy studied him, the stubble on his face, the crease of his clothes, the smell of gasoline.
“Do you believe in God?” Jimmy asked.
The man laughed, once. It was not derisive. “Believing in God does not make a person religious,” he said. “From my experience it’s actually a practical thing. Like believing in shape-shifters and demons and tricksters.”
“God does not deceive,” said Jimmy.
“How can you be sure?” asked the man. He prodded the table with a pointed finger. “Even if it’s not intentional, come on—God deceives. What brought us here? Why don’t we get straight answers, direct conversation? You’re just as confused as I am. Why do we have to be confused?”
“Our misperception does not implicate God for deception,” said Jimmy.
“It sure as hell doesn’t exonerate him.”
The anger and frustration in the man’s voice made Jimmy sit up straighter, steady himself.
“Are you here to kill me?” asked Jimmy.
The man looked down at the table, gave a wincing smile, and looked out across the empty diner. Jimmy could feel it in the space—they were existing someplace far from physical. Around them was pure illusion. Their bodies, too, were images presented for some sort of stability or comfort, because they were incapable of perceiving where they actually were, on what level they currently existed. He considered, momentarily, for whose sake was a supernatural sleight of hand. Was God fond of hocus pocus? Did it elevate man just to participate or did it dehumanize him by stripping away free will of perception? Was free will ever part of being human? Then what was duty, what was faithfulness?
Jimmy wondered, aloud, if love was a choice.
The man didn’t answer. “Something is going to happen to you,” he said. “I saw it. Call it a vision, call it a divine message, call it whatever the hell you want. And we’ll know each other. We’ll help each other. But I was sent here to give you a choice.”
“I know what I’ll choose.”
“You don’t have all the facts,” said the man. “I’ve seen it. These things, whatever, these angels—they’ve showed me. Your family is destroyed. This body you have, it’s beaten to a pulp a million times over. And you won’t be you. You’ll be…” The man paused, as if he were remembering the correct term. “You’ll be a vessel.”
“I want to do God’s work.”
“What makes you sure it’s God’s?”
The pain in Jimmy’s head was closer and yet more bearable. “Faith,” he said. He looked at the man and a surge of loyalty rose within him. There was fire and heat in his ribs—something expanding, cataclysmic, broken yet redemptive. He looked at the man before him and knew, between them, the capacity for resurrection. He would allow it. He would accept it, deny himself and be grateful for it.
“You were not sent here for me,” said Jimmy. “You were sent here for you.”
The high-pitched whine refocused, and Jimmy heard cadence to it now, actual depth and rhythm and purpose to the noise. It was not noise at all anymore, but a landscape of meaning, the same expanse that the lettering on the menu had had, that the room itself encompassed. He was composed of a heavenly language, brought to understanding through terms that did not translate.
They were, Jimmy realized, sent here for each other, and there was no deception in that.
Jimmy smiled at the man across from him, but it was not Jimmy who did it. “I will see you again soon, Dean,” the vessel said.
An old woman at the booth next to Jimmy’s sneezed. Her neck was wrinkled like a dishcloth and she wore two strands of pearls.
“Bless you,” Jimmy said. Across from him his wife smiled. The diner was crowded and chattering, comfortable and safe.
The old woman thanked him and his daughter splashed applesauce out of the bowl. She laughed, and Jimmy unfolded his napkin to clean her pudgy hands.
Behind his wife’s shoulders, two men rose from their booth and paid at the cash register. They moved hesitantly, as if in confusion about their place. They looked familiar but so did everyone at the diner, everyone soft from Sunday’s church and rest, their spoons clinking in their coffee mugs. To Jimmy the noise was high and sharp. It hung in the air just long enough to mimic a headache, and then it was forgotten.