Everybody in Cypress Grove knew the Winchesters, and being a part of the Winchester clan was like being part of a really awesome gang. Dean fixed just about anything mechanical, and Cas healed the sick, and Sam was quickly becoming known as someone who could deal with pregnant livestock or a lame horse.
People knew the Winchester kids, too. The clerks at the grocery store let them pick things up on credit, knowing Dean and Cas would be good for it, and that they wouldn’t abuse that privilege.
Cal thought that it had maybe taken a whopping two weeks before everybody in town seemed to know he was a Winchester now. They might not have known his name, but they knew who he was.
He was a Winchester.
For the most part, Cal loved it. He loved having Casey back, and having an older brother and sister who gave a shit about him. He loved the younger kids, and how everybody trusted him to look after Cora and Ryan, especially after what happened to him. He loved going to school and learning from Miss Julia.
He loved not having to worry where his next meal was coming from, or where he was going to sleep, or whether someone was going to pimp him out.
Cal wasn’t such a fan of sticking out, though. Getting noticed had never been a good idea in his experience, and being a Winchester meant he couldn’t just slip by without anybody knowing he was there.
The current situation he found himself in was just an example of how right his instincts usually were.
He hadn’t meant to get separated from the others, but Ben and Mary weren’t attending school anymore, and the younger kids wanted to go play tag in a nearby park. Cal wasn’t quite done with his history essay, and Casey told him to take his time, because he was such a giant nerd.
But she said it while she hugged him, and he knew she didn’t mean it in a bad way, not like Rich would have.
He finished his essay, then lingered to help Miss Julia clean up as they talked about the current situation compared to past historical events.
It was later than he planned when he left Miss Julia’s house, and the kids had left the park by the time he arrived.
Cal wasn’t sure where they were, but the drugstore was always a good bet, so he headed there. He was thinking about his history lesson and not really paying much attention to the world around him, which he never would have done before he’d come to Cypress Grove, at least not once his mom died and his dad left them at the farm.
“What’s the matter, Winchester?” someone asked, right before they shoved him hard from behind. “Where’s your entourage?”
“Maybe he’s such a nerd that they abandoned him,” another voice said. “Maybe they don’t want him anymore.”
Cal knew that wasn’t true, although the words made his stomach twist into a knot. He couldn’t even formulate a decent comeback before someone else grabbed him and hauled him up, only to punch him in the stomach to knock Cal back down.
He’d taken some beatings in the past, but this one was all too reminiscent of the one he’d had right before that perv had—
And suddenly Cal was right back there, and he couldn’t breathe. His breath caught in his chest, and he was cold and shaky and felt like he might throw up.
The world came rushing back when he felt a gentle hand on his cheek, and he blinked the tears out of his eyes to see Miss Maryanne.
“There you are,” she said. “You’re back with us now.”
Cal was still having a hard time catching his breath, though, and his heart was racing, and he couldn’t speak.
Maryanne smiled reassuringly. “I know you feel pretty bad right now, sweetie, but you’re having a panic attack, and that’s normal. I’m going to breathe in and out, and you’re going to match me. You’re going to be just fine.”
Cal tried to match her, and eventually he could draw in a breath when she did and let it out when she exhaled loudly. His heart slowed to a normal rate, the sweat cooled and left him shivering, and Maryanne pulled him to his feet.
“Come on,” she said briskly. “You need some of my special hot chocolate.”
“The others?” Cal asked.
“They’re at my place,” Maryanne said, “but they won’t ask questions if I tell them not to.”
She put an arm around Cal’s shoulders and led him back to the drugstore, putting off the other kids with the comment that they could each pick five pieces of candy and no more. “Cal and I need to have a conversation about a little job he’s going to do for me.”
Maryanne led him upstairs to her cluttered apartment. There was something on every flat surface, things hanging on the walls, which was so different from Papa Dean’s place. There were toys on the floor, and books scattered around, and that sort of thing, but Dean and Cas didn’t collect stuff the way Miss Maryanne did.
“You know,” Miss Maryanne began as she busied herself at the stove. “I seem to recall that Mary had a problem with J.D.’s older brother when she first came into town. Their dad’s a bully too.”
“I guess it runs in families,” Cal said weakly.
“Those who get preyed upon often turn into predators themselves,” Maryanne said. “It’s good that you didn’t.”
Cal gave her a look. “How do you know?”
“Because you stuck it out here when your brother cut and ran,” Maryanne says. “Now, you try some of that.”
Cal recognized the flavor right away. His mom had loved Irish cream, and she’d made these mini-cupcakes every Christmas with the liqueur and chocolate chips. He’d always felt a little rebellious when he ate them, knowing alcohol was forbidden, but the cupcakes weren’t.
The hot chocolate tasted like those nearly-forgotten treats, and Cal’s breath hitched. His mom would be so disappointed.
Miss Maryanne sat down next to him and hugged him tightly. “You know, my hot chocolate doesn’t usually make people cry.”
Cal sucked in a breath, having a hard time breathing through his nose. He was too stuffed up. “My mom used to make these cupcakes with Irish cream and chocolate chips. She’d—she’d be really disappointed.”
Miss Maryanne was quiet for a long few seconds. “She might be, Cal, but that wouldn’t have anything to do with you. Think about it—you survived, you helped save your brother and Jace, and now you’re doing good here. If your mom were here, she’d say the same—she might be sad because she never wanted you to be in pain, but she would be proud of how you handled all of this.”
Cal shook his head. “I just lost it. It was stupid.”
“Our brains can do funny things that aren’t always under our control,” Maryanne replied. “You’ll be just fine given some time. You haven’t been safe for so long that your brain has had time to catch up.”
A knock came at the door, and Cas stuck his head inside. “Cal? Maryanne? Is everything okay?”
“Cal just ran into J.D. and his friends,” Maryanne said.
Cas frowned. “Hm. I guess I’ll have to have a conversation with them.”
“No,” Cal said immediately. “I don’t want to make it worse.”
Cas ruffled Cal’s hair. “Don’t worry about it. I know most of the parents, and with the exception of J.D.’s dad, they’re decent people who won’t appreciate having any trouble from us. If J.D. doesn’t have his friends backing him up, he’ll be less likely to come after you again. And, in the meantime, you can learn some self-defense with Dean and Ben. I’m sure Casey and Sam would love to help, too.”
Cal had never been the kind of guy to solve a problem with his fists, but being able to exercise any sort of control over that kind of situation made him feel a lot better. “I’d like that.”
“Then that’s what we’ll do,” Cas said. “Finish your hot chocolate, and then we can head home.”
Cal had to admit that he liked the sound of that.