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A Postcard for Castiel

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When Mrs. Bradbury called out Dean’s name, followed by Castiel’s name, a rumble of young voices went around the room. Sounds of relief, mostly. Nobody wanted to write to the autistic kid.

Relief was immediately followed by snickering, and Dean was elbowed in the side by Henry. “That’s gonna be so hard!” Henry jeered, loud enough that Mrs. Bradbury heard. She frowned.

Children were too honest. Yet, Mrs. Bradbury couldn’t deny that Dean might have a difficult time thinking of compliments for the other boy. The children rarely spoke to Castiel, and he rarely spoke at all, so what was there to know about him?

“Quiet, Henry,” Mrs. Bradbury said. She glanced towards Castiel, who sat at the desk in the front corner of the classroom, hidden under the hood of his brown sweater, unreacting. There was no real way to know he’d even been listening. Sometimes he wasn’t.

Taking a breath, Mrs. Bradbury returned to announcing the pairings she’d chosen for her class.

Dean was a smart kid. He’d figure something out.

··· ♥ ···

“Dean,” Mrs. Bradbury called when the bell rang for recess. Dean looked up from his gym bag, busy stuffing his sneakers inside. Mrs. Bradbury let out a slow breath, standing up from behind her desk. “I need to speak with you.”

Dean gulped, looking down at his bag.

Henry got up from beside him and shoved his head in a friendly way, and Dean watched him leave the classroom, hopping out into the sunshine to join the rest of the school for recess.

Mrs. Bradbury went to perch on the desk beside Dean’s, both her hands together on the lap of her floral skirt. “I checked over everyone’s postcards while you had gym class,” she said, concern weighing heavily on her words. “I noticed something. Do you know what I noticed?”

Dean looked up, his green eyes rounded, eyelashes fluttering as he blinked halfway. His lips parted but he didn’t reply.

Mrs. Bradbury sighed. “You didn’t hand your postcard draft in, did you? Did you get anything written down?”

Dean shrugged.

“Castiel is going to be the only student in this class who doesn’t get a postcard,” she said sadly. “That would really hurt, wouldn’t it, being the only one without a compliment?”

She wondered if it was fair to ask this of him. Just because Dean excelled at science, gym class and making friends, and was progressing well in the art of spelling, it didn’t mean he would be good at this, too. Mrs. Bradbury had seen Dean be kind to his fellows – and on the flipside, she’d pulled him out of physical fights – but deep down she was sure he was capable of thinking up at least one kind word to share.

Dean murmured something, head lowered.

“What was that?” Mrs. Bradbury asked, leaning closer.

Dean glanced up, a blush on his tanned, freckled cheeks. “It was stupid.”

Mrs. Bradbury raised her eyebrows. “What was stupid?”

“My card.” Dean looked down at his grubby fingers and twisted them together on his desk. “Was stupid.”

“I’m glad you set a high standard for yourself, Dean, but I think I’ll be the judge here,” Mrs. Bradbury smiled. “Let me take a look at it. Tomorrow we’re going to write it out neatly, remember, with all the spelling tidied up. If there’s mistakes in it now, you’ll have a chance to fix it tomorrow before you give it to Castiel.” She held out a hand, expecting Dean to put his card in her palm.

Dean was blushing as bright as a lollipop, his ears red, his cheeks blotchy and pink. He didn’t move for a while.

“Dean...” Mrs. Bradbury slid off the desk and crouched beside Dean, looking up at him. “Is something the matter?”

“Eh— Everyone’s gonna laugh at me if they see,” Dean said under his breath. “I saw Henry’s card and Samantha’s card and they were both really different from my one.”

Mrs. Bradbury turned her head. “What kind of different?”

Dean shrugged again.

“Let me see,” Mrs. Bradbury said kindly. “I won’t show it to anyone. We can go through it together and make sure you’re happy with it. Oh, how about this— We can even make up a second version now, and tomorrow you can pretend it’s what you made first.”

Dean looked Mrs. Bradbury in the eye. He nodded, hopeful in his agreement.

With a smile, Mrs. Bradbury once more held out her hand for Dean’s card.

Dean shuffled back in his seat and lifted up the top of his desk. He put a hand inside the storage space, rummaging around for his card. When he found it, he pulled it out and put it in Mrs. Bradbury’s hand without looking at it.

Mrs. Bradbury was surprised by what she held. Dean was right – it was miles different from everyone else’s.

“Oh, Dean,” she breathed. “This is beautiful.”

One side of the draft postcard had already been decorated, which wasn’t meant to be done until tomorrow. Dean had drawn a teddy bear in the middle, with big fluffy ears, blue eyes, and a blobby black nose. When Mrs. Bradbury turned it over, she grinned in delight. Dean’s handwriting was pristine. All the letters were almost the same size, the Bs were facing the right way, and—

“You’ve written about three times as much as anyone else did,” Mrs. Bradbury said, smiling up at Dean. “That’s nothing to be ashamed of, Dean. You really put some effort into this.”

“But it’s stupid!” Dean cried, thumping his head down on the desk, wrapping both hands over his tufty blonde-brown hair. “He’s gonna hate it.”

Mrs. Bradbury was about to reassure him that that was impossible, but she thought it might be sensible to read what Dean had written before saying so. She picked up her glasses from where they dangled against her chest, and she slipped them over her nose, bending her head to read Dean’s card.

To Castiel!
I like yor Bear hoodie. Henry said it was a poop hoodie But it has EARS. Yor eyes are a nice Blue and you are very cuut. cuot cuet? I do’nt know how to spell cuet sorry. I like when you look at plants and Bugs alot. And you feed the s q u i rrul at lunch. I think you are very smart and int er e sting. You shoud talk more so everyone knows you are smart. 8 or more people in our class said you are w e i rd But I suspect you are the good weird. When you start cry ing and shout ing I want to hug you tight. But Mrs Bradbury says we haf to stay where we are and she takes you to the Sick Room. When you are not at class it is Boring sometimes. lots and lots of hugs and love from Dean xoxo.
p.S. will you Be my Boyfrend ?

Mrs. Bradbury looked at Dean with her eyebrows raised, slowly sliding her glasses off and letting them dangle once more. “Gosh... Dean...” She’d always been aware the boy was full to the brim with empathy, but she’d never realised he paid such close attention to those who were always forgotten.

“Grandma Deanna writes letters with that,” Dean said, pointing at the circles and crosses where he’d signed his name. “Lots ‘n lots of hugs and kisses, ex-oh-ex-oh.” His pointing finger wavered, and slowly curled up. “I don’t want to kiss him yet, so I changed it.”

He frowned and looked at his hand, then moved it to nestle against the other one. Then he sat quietly.

Mrs. Bradbury struggled to find something to say. “Uhm. Is— Are you worried about giving him this because he’s a boy?”

Dean looked up, lips parting. “Why?”

“Well, you’re also a boy...”

Dean looked confused.

Mrs. Bradbury huffed out a breath, shaking her head. “No. No, never mind. That’s not it.” If Dean didn’t know anything of older people’s prejudices, she didn’t want to be the one to tell him. Truly, if the world were a kinder place, he’d never need to know at all.

“Okay,” Mrs. Bradbury began. “Why do you think Castiel will think your message is silly?”

Dean shrugged, both shoulders up to his ears. “Mm...” He kicked his shoes along the carpet, eyes lifting to the ceiling to look at it. “Maybe he won’t like me.”

“Have you ever spoken to him?”

Dean shook his head roughly. When he steadied himself and looked Mrs. Bradbury in the eye, he appeared mortified, mouth agape, eyes wide.

Mrs. Bradbury chuckled, feeling a nugget of delight glowing inside her. Ah, sweet, young love, she thought.

“Well, Dean – you know what?” she said, putting the card on the desk, resting her fingertips on it, “This is a perfect way to open the channels of communication. And I’ll tell you now, there’s nothing wrong with this card. If I were Castiel, I’d be overjoyed to get something so well-made. Honestly... you might not even need to do a second version. This one’s... pure, in a way. Raw. Straight from the heart.” She felt her face crinkling up in a smile, and she was sure her eyes sparkled like they did when she was younger, peering as she was at little Dean, who sat there and stared back, all nervous. “But,” Mrs. Bradbury added, “if you’d like me to go through it and fix some spelling, we can do that together.”

“Now?” Dean looked eager.

Mrs. Bradbury checked the clock. “You only have fifteen minutes of playtime left. Wouldn’t you rather run around outside?”

Dean hesitated, but then shook his head. “I want it to be perfect.” He really meant it, too.

“All right, sweetheart,” Mrs. Bradbury said, nodding. “Let’s fix it now.”

Dean grabbed his chair and scooted closer to his desk. Mrs. Bradbury had never seen anyone so completely keen on learning how to spell boyfriend correctly. She grinned, and pulled up a chair to sit beside him.

··· ♥ ···

The next day the class spent a full forty-five minutes decorating the second versions of their cards. Glitter, glue, sequins and crayons littered the carpet, and as much as cleanup was going to bother her later, Mrs. Bradbury always felt happy when she found shiny things stuck to her shoes.

Throughout the craft session, she kept an eye on Dean, who she couldn’t help but feel proud of. She’d kept the first iteration of Dean’s card in her desk. She wasn’t going to get rid of it, not ever. After three full decades years teaching children, she knew instinctively which creations were the most special, and a tiny love letter from one six-and-a-half-year-old boy to another was one of those precious things.

When all the children were finished prettying up their cards, Mrs. Bradbury told everyone to line them up on the wooden shelf under the window, where the sun would dry the glue until the afternoon. Between the shady green fish tank and the vase of overgrown leaves, twenty rectangular postcards made up a colourful, reflective stripe that caught her eye every time she looked that way.

She had no doubt that she was as excited about the afternoon session as the kids were. She couldn’t wait to see their faces as they read a compliment tailored specifically for them. Even after thirty years, exercises like this still brought her joy.

The time came soon enough, and she felt the excitement simmering throughout the entire classroom when she announced what was going to happen.

“Now, when I say so, I’ll point to each row of desks, and that row will stand up. You’ll go over to the window and get the card you made. Then you’re going to find your buddy, and you’re going to stand next to them until they have their card too. Then you sit down, and swap cards. Does everyone understand?”

An affirmative mumble spread through the class, and Mrs. Bradbury nodded. “All-righty then. Right side, along the wall, you first. Stand up and get your card.”

Everyone who sat along the wall stood up – Castiel included. They scrambled to grab their cards, then there was a jabbering of excited noises as they rushed to stand beside their buddies.

Castiel lingered, however, walking up and down the row of cards, squinting. His hands were deep in the pockets of his bear hoodie, his shoulders hunched. Up and down. To the fish tank, to the plant. To the fish tank again.

“Castiel, is there something wrong?” Mrs. Bradbury asked.

Castiel looked at her hopelessly, then his eyes lowered to the carpet. He didn’t say anything.

Mrs. Bradbury went to the window, ignoring the muttered questions and interested whispers from students behind her. She stood beside Castiel, scouring at the row of cards. “What does your one look like?” she asked. She bent down and leant close to Castiel, knowing he didn’t like to talk loudly.

“It’s green,” Castiel said. “With green glitter.”

Mrs. Bradbury immediately looked on the floor, remembering seeing something green on her walk over here. She’d ignored it, supposing it was discarded work, since it was torn.

She retrieved the card with a sorry heart, knowing straight away what had happened – it wouldn’t be the first time. She showed Castiel the torn card. “Is this yours?”

Castiel stared at it without reacting. Stared and stared.

Mrs. Bradbury swallowed. It was obvious the card was torn on purpose; there were dents in the cardstock where a child had pressed their cruel fingers. Mrs. Bradbury turned her eyes on the class. “Who did this?” she asked, feeling anger lurch alive inside her. “Who took Castiel’s card off the shelf and tore it?”

The class was silent. Nobody dared breathe in case they looked guilty.

“I can’t believe anyone could do this,” Mrs. Bradbury said, even though she could. “This is meant to be fun activity – one about love and acceptance. Everyone in this class was paired with someone I thought had something valuable to say about you. Didn’t you wonder why I didn’t pair you with your friends? I’m sure most of you wondered. See, I wanted you all to hear something kind about yourselves, something you might not have heard before. This was meant to be special.”

She looked at the ripped postcard, turning it over. On the back was some of the tidiest handwriting she’d ever seen Castiel use. Since the letters were large, the entire space was nearly full of words. “Castiel put a lot of effort into this,” she said, trying not to let emotion tug on her vocal chords any more than it already did. “Just like all of you, Castiel wanted to make sure his buddy had something nice to take home.”

Mrs. Bradbury’s chin raised, and she glared at everyone in her classroom. “Whoever thought it would be funny or clever to destroy what Castiel made, you— Oh, you were sorely wrong. Now Dean – who also poured his heart into this task, by the way – he doesn’t have his gift. If you thought you were only going to hurt one person by tearing this...! No. You’ve hurt Castiel. You’ve hurt Dean. And you’ve hurt me. I’m so ashamed of this behaviour.”

She hung her head, shaking it with her eyes on the card. “Someone owes all three of us an apology,” she said. “And if the culprit has any human decency in their heart, we’d better get it.”

She waited, looking from child to child. She noticed Dean looking incredibly anxious, but her eyes moved on, waiting for someone else to speak. “If anyone knows who did this, speak up now.”

Chances were, nobody would going to own up. Not in front of the whole class.

“Very well,” Mrs. Bradbury said, after nearly a minute of uncomfortable silence. “I expect a written apology and explanation on my desk by tomorrow morning. There’s no making up what’s broken,” she lifted the card, “but amends can be made. I won’t be forgetting about this, either, so don’t hope for that.”

Still fuming inside, she lowered the card. She turned to Castiel, who stared at the floor. Mrs. Bradbury crouched before him, handing him the card. “We can fix it with tape,” she said.

Castiel shook his head.

“No?”

Castiel shook his head again. “Tape’s sticky. I wanted it to be perfect.”

Mrs. Bradbury felt a hard ache in her chest, all her heart going out to both Castiel and Dean. “Would you like some time to make a new one?”

Castiel shook his head again. “I have...” He frowned, looking at the floor. “Can I give Dean the old one?”

“The original one? Without glitter?”

“Glitter makes my fingers angry,” Castiel said. “The other one was better anyways.”

Mrs. Bradbury felt like he was just trying to make a good thing of a bad situation, and she smiled, admiring that in a child so young. He had a generous heart, and Dean had seen that without ever exchanging a word with him.

“Go on, then,” Mrs. Bradbury said, standing up, waving Castiel back to his desk. Castiel went off, going to his desk and getting out the old card. He looked at it, and was still looking at it when Mrs. Bradbury called for the second row to collect their cards.

When the third row got their cards – Dean included – Mrs. Bradbury saw Dean go up to Castiel’s desk, which was one of two right at the front, pressed edge-to-edge with Mrs. Bradbury’s taller desk. Mrs. Bradbury didn’t hear what Dean said, and she wasn’t sure he even said anything, but Castiel responded by moving to the corner seat and sitting down. Dean pulled up the chair from the unused neighbouring desk and sat beside him.

Dean swung his legs, stared at Castiel, and smiled.

··· ♥ ···

“It’s stupid,” Dean said quietly. His voice was barely heard over the chatter of the classroom, because everyone else was busy exchanging their cards. He fiddled with his teddy bear postcard, angling it to see the gold glitter shimmer. “You probably won’t like it.”

“Oh,” Castiel said. “Okay then.” He fiddled with his card too. It had a green scribble on the front. The scribble had been a placeholder for greater things, but greater things turned out to be not so great on the second version. The first draft he held was calmer in his hands. Without glitter, the card’s texture was gentle, like Dean.

“Can I see yours?” Dean asked, peering longingly at the green card in Castiel’s hands. “It— It looks cool.”

“Really?” Castiel looked up.

Dean nodded. Then he kicked his feet and stared at his own card.

Castiel reached over, wanting to see what Dean wrote about him. Dean saw his hand reaching and looked up, also stretching out to take Castiel’s. Their eyes met and they swapped, smiling together.

Dean happily sat back in his chair, looking at the green blob. “It looks like a frog!” he said cheerfully. “Uncle Bobby has frogs in his yard and they look just like this.”

“I don’t like glitter,” Castiel said in reply.

Dean bit his lip. “I put loads of glitter on.”

“I just won’t touch it,” Castiel said, putting the card down on the desk with his fingertips, so the glitter didn’t come into contact with his skin. “You made me a bear.”

“‘Cause of your hoodie,” Dean smiled, leaning over. “I thought you like bears.”

“Bears are my most favourite.” Castiel set his eyes on Dean, staring at his lips, observing how his teeth showed with his smile. “I go to the zoo at the weekends and see the bears.”

Dean frowned. “You go to the zoo every weekend?”

“Yes.” Castiel looked up. “Is that strange?”

Dean blinked a few times, then shut his mouth. “No, it’s cool. The zoo’s a cool place.”

Castiel blinked back. Cool meant good. Good was... good. That meant Dean liked him.

“Cool,” Castiel said.

Dean didn’t seem to understand that Castiel was saying he liked him too. Dean’s smile was awkward and his cheeks were pink but he wasn’t mumbling that he had to leave, or making faces like he wanted to be somewhere else, which was reassuring.

Dean started to read the green card, hunched forward, his freckly nose almost pressed to the words as he examined every letter. Castiel resisted reading his own until Dean was done.

Dear Dean,
You are not extremly annoying, and you are only loud on ocazon. Thank you for hiting Robin in the nose when he said I was a freak. Nobudy ever hit a nose for me befor.
From Castiel.
Also i’ts green because your eyes are green when I saw you looking at me

Dean twisted his legs together and squeezed his body up tight, beaming at the card. “I love it,” he said, eyes shining. He grinned at Castiel. “And you’re welcome! I’d hit a million more noses for you.”

Castiel shrank back, hiding under his bear hood. He took the ears and pulled it down, squealing long and shrill, kicking his feet against Mrs. Bradbury’s table in front of him.

Dean touched Castiel’s arm, and Castiel jumped, staring at him with wide eyes.

“Are you okay?” Dean asked.

Castiel nodded vigorously. He pushed his shoulder into Dean’s and rubbed his face against Dean’s t-shirt, like his cat did when she was pleased with him.

Dean giggled, almost falling off his seat.

Castiel took a deep breath and sat up straight, toes wriggling fast inside his shoes. Dean was wonderful. Very, very, very wonderful. And he smelled clean, which Castiel was glad about.

“Now you read mine,” Dean insisted, turning it over for Castiel so he didn’t have to touch the glitter. “I spent ages on it, and Mrs. Bradbury helped me. I kept in some of the spelling mistakes on purpose because Mrs. Bradbury said it was roar that way. She fixed them but I put them back.”

Castiel squinted. “Roar?”

“Like when food isn’t cooked.”

R-a-w,” Castiel said, enunciating the letters. Then he tilted his head, peering curiously at Dean. “I like saying it’s roaaar though. Like a bear.”

Dean grinned widely. “It’s really, really roar.”

Castiel snickered, hiding under his hoodie for a few seconds longer, rocking back and forth in joy. Then he peeked out, eyeing Dean’s postcard, which was crammed tight with writing. He read it slowly, digesting each tiny, squished-up word, as every word tasted precious in his mind.

To Castiel!
I like your bear hoodie. Henry said it was a poop hoodie but it has EARS. Your eyes are a nice blue and you are very cuut. Mrs. Bradbury says c u t e. I know how to spell CUTE now. I like when you look at plants and bugs a lot. And you feed the s q u i r r e l at lunch. Squirrel is a fun word. I think you are very smart and interesting. You should talk more so everyone knows you are smart. A few people in our class said you are weird but I suspect you are the good weird. When you start crying and shouting I want to hug you tight. Mrs Bradbury says that happens because school is a lot of stim u lat ion for you and its tooo much. But when that happens Mrs Bradbury says we ha v e to stay where we are and she takes you to the Sick Room where its quiet. When you are not in class it is boring sometimes. but not all the time becuse I like science. I will try not to forget that I miss you when I do science. Lots and lots of hugs and love from Dean. xoxo.
P.S. Will you be my boyfriend?

Castiel reached the last lines, and his eyes widened. He re-read it to make sure it was real.

Lots and lots of h u g s and l o v e from D e a n. xoxo.
P.S. Will you be my b o y f r i e n d?

Castiel curled up in a ball on his seat, nose tucked between his knees. He whined, squeezing his eyes up tight.

“Castiel...? Hey... Hey, Cas...”

Castiel tugged on his bear ears for reassurance. He didn’t hear Dean’s questions or feel his inquisitive prodding; happiness was all over Castiel’s brain and he couldn’t think about anything else for a while.

It took him some time to gather himself up. Sometimes feelings were overwhelming.

When he was ready, Castiel uncurled himself and reached inside his desk drawer and got out his notepad and special grippy pencil.

He wrote something down – Dean couldn’t see, because Castiel’s hood was in the way – but soon Castiel was finished, and he slid the notebook along the desk.

Dean picked it up to read it.

OK Dean I will try to be your boyfriend.

Dean jumped in his seat, utterly ecstatic. “Awesome!” He settled down, staring at the notepad and reading it over and over. Again, under his breath, he whispered, “Awesome.”

Mrs. Bradbury came to her desk, and she sat down slowly, eyes on Dean and Castiel. “How’s it going, you two?” she asked.

“I have a boyfriend,” Dean said with a huge smile.

When Mrs. Bradbury looked over at Castiel, Castiel hid under his hood. The bear on his hood smiled back at her, and she smiled at it in return.

··· ♥ ···

The miscreant who defiled Castiel’s green-glittered card was never found, but no real actions could be taken to find them, short of interrogating each student individually. Mrs. Bradbury did try, but children could be such convincing liars...

In the end she had to let it go. As much as it saddened her, she knew this kind of thing was going to follow Castiel around for the rest of his life. Middle school, high school, college and beyond. It was just the way he was. There was nothing wrong with him – alas, those who didn’t understand him thought it was entertaining to torture him.

What made the situation more bearable – for Mrs. Bradbury, yes, but more importantly, for Castiel – was Dean.

Dean was a caring child. At parent-teacher conferences his mother Mary had always mentioned the way he cared for his younger brother, and now Mrs. Bradbury had something similar to say about him next time a conference came around.

Dean had taken Castiel under his wing like a duck. His words, not Mrs. Bradbury’s. But they were perfect words. He sheltered Castiel from any storm that came his way – from literal rain to a shoving hand. Mrs. Bradbury had to pluck Dean from a fight more than once, but rarely did she have the heart to tell him he was wrong for fighting. Always protecting Castiel.

The two of them held hands at breaktimes. Mrs. Bradbury looked out of the staff room window and she’d see them walking alongside the planters, looking at the flowers, hands swinging. When Castiel spoke, Dean listened. Then Dean spoke, and Castiel listened.

Dean had other friends, but Castiel only had Dean. Yet, in a matter of weeks, that changed. Mrs. Bradbury wasn’t entirely sure what Dean had done, but she was sure the change was his doing.

It was as if all the mystery surrounding Castiel had been erased. Henry patted him on the head when he passed by, just like he did for Dean. Perhaps he was gentler with Castiel, which was satisfying in itself.

When school cut for spring break, Castiel had four friends. When they came back to school, he had six. A written account of his vacation informed Mrs. Bradbury that much of his time away from school had been spent at Dean’s house, with Dean’s family and Dean’s neighbours. They accepted him like he was one of their own.

When the end of the school year came looming, nobody had put wet-paint handprints on any of Castiel’s artwork or thrown things at him for five whole weeks. Five weeks and counting, Mrs. Bradbury thought to herself.

And still Dean was by his side at recess. Hands entwined.

When Dean spoke, Castiel listened. Castiel spoke, and Dean listened.

In that manner, looking through the affectionate eyes of one compassionate young boy, the whole world seemed to understand a peculiar child a little bit better.

Mrs. Bradbury felt as if, whether today or many years in the future, when Castiel had something important to say, Dean wouldn’t be the only one around who cared enough to listen.

{ ♥ }