“And what are you going to be when you grow up, sweetheart?”
“A fireman! Wait no— I wanna make skyscrapers!” a small voice says, air whistling through the gap where his two front teeth used to be.
Castiel glances up briefly at the wiggling freckle-faced boy then goes back to his coloring. His purple crayon is no longer as pointy as it was when he began and it’s becoming more difficult to stay within the lines.
“And you, Castiel?”
He doesn’t look up as he has no interest in Mrs. Davis’s placating smile or watching it sour into a perplexed frown as it’s wont to do in his presence, but he answers earnestly, as always.
“I’m going to be a teacher and teach first grade during the day and dance class at night and during summer vacation I’m gonna train the sea lions at the zoo.”
Castiel frowns at his fire hydrant. There are still white spaces and he went out of the lines a few times. He’s never been a good colorer, but last year Ms. Holliker had to help them color a lot for their take-home crafts so he knows he needs to keep practicing if he’s ever going to be as good a first grade teacher as she is.
“Are you really gonna do all that stuff?”
Castiel looks up and meets the green eyes of the freckled boy who’s now standing directly beside him at the end of the long cafeteria table watching him curiously. Mrs. Davis is way across the room helping Josie with her card for her sister’s birthday. It’s raining (again) so they get extra craft time instead of recess. Castiel is relieved. He’d much rather work on improving his coloring skills than play dodgeball in the loud echoey gym… again. That’s the problem with living in Florida, his mom says. It’s either raining or sweltering.
“Yeah,” he answers hesitantly. It wouldn’t be the first time he’s been made fun of for his plans, but this kid seems nice enough.
“Cool,” the other boy says with wide green eyes. “Why sea lions?”
“They swim good.” There’s an awkward pause as the boy watches Castiel expectantly, but whatever he’s waiting for never comes and he must realize that it’s not going to because he continues.
“…Right. Well, giraffes are cooler, but I guess the sea lions are alright.” He shrugs. “But you know boys don’t dance, right?”
Castiel squints at him. “Of course we do. Haven’t you seen Swan Lake or The Nutcracker ?”
Freckles frowns. “No. What are those?”
Castiel’s not sure how to answer that so he copies what his mom always says.
“They’re classics .”
“Oh!” Freckles lights up with understanding and with it returns his enthusiasm. “Like Pink Floyd!”
Castiel’s frown intensifies and he tilts his head to the side. “I don’t know what that is. Is it a classic?”
“My dad says it is.”
“Then I guess Swan Lake is like Pink Floyd.”
“Awesome!” Freckles grins, showing off the gap in his teeth. “Could you teach me how to dance?”
“I don’t really know how yet; I’m still learning. But when I get my dance studio I can teach you if you take my class.”
“What’s a dance studio?”
Castiel blinks. All the questions are starting to get frustrating. All he wants to do is finish his drawing, but he figures he should get used to it if he’s going to be teaching kids this age for the rest of his life.
“It’s a building where you get taught how to dance.”
“A building!” the boy exclaims. “Hey, I can make you your dance studio!”
“It’s not gonna be a skyscraper,” Castiel says shortly, remembering the boy’s answer from before. The boy rolls his eyes and Castiel finds himself feeling offended.
“Well I can’t make just skyscrapers. I gotta make lots of different stuff so people know I’m good at it, don’t I?”
That makes sense, Castiel supposes, but he doesn’t want his studio to be the first thing the kid builds. What if he’s not good at it yet and ruins it? Like Castiel with his coloring, some things take lots of practice before you get good at them and it’d be no good for Castiel to have a ruined studio before he even gets to teach his first class.
The boy must see the skepticism on his face because he tightens his jaw and gets a defiant gleam in his eye. “Gimme your drawing and a pencil and I’ll show you,” he demands.
Castiel hesitates, considering telling the kid ‘no’ on principle. He doesn’t even know him and here he is bossing him around. But he’s curious too, and it’s the curiosity that has him handing over his fire hydrant picture and his favorite pencil that he got from the zoo over summer break. It has sea lions and penguins on it.
The boy starts to climb onto the bench, forcing Castiel to move over lest he be sat on. Then the boy settles and flips Castiel’s picture to the blank back side and starts to draw. His lines are much neater than Castiel’s and he doesn’t have to stop and erase as much either. As Castiel watches, a building begins to form and take shape under the boy’s hands.
With an excited flip in his belly Castiel starts giving the boy instructions. It’s going to be made of brick. There’s only one small window in the front cuz otherwise the dancers might get self-conscious. There hasta be two levels because Castiel’s gotta have a place to live and he’ll probably be tired after teaching all day and not want to leave so it might as well be there. Yes, the top floor needs windows because otherwise he would miss the sun. And could he have a shelf thing on the windows so he can have some flowers there? Yes, just like that. Perfect.
They become so engrossed in their project that neither notice Mrs. Davis calling an end to recess and ushering kids off to their classrooms.
“Dean, Castiel, don’t make me tell you again. Recess is over.”
The boys blink up at the surly woman and only then does Castiel notice they’re the only ones left in the cafeteria.
“No buts. It’s time to go back to class.”
Castiel frowns sadly at the unfinished studio, but gathers his crayons and his pencil box and does as he’s told.
“Don’t worry,” the boy, Dean, whispers. “I’ll finish it at my place and bring it back tomorrow. I’ll find you at lunch, okay?”
“Alright,” Castiel agrees, good mood returned with the simple promise. They whisper last minute specifications and suggestions all the way to the second grade hallway where they’re forced apart, Dean on the left in Mr. Covey’s class and Castiel to the right with Mrs. Jones.
“See you tomorrow?”
“Tomorrow, “Castiel agrees.
Not five minutes later Castiel realizes Dean never gave him back his favorite pencil.
“Hey! Hey you! Sea lion kid!”
Castiel turns away from his burrito with a frown, but then he catches sight of the boy from yesterday hustling across the room waving a red folder and his frown eases into a small smile. He’d almost forgotten about his drawing from the day before; he’d had a busy evening spent at dance class and then at home practicing what he’d learned until he fell asleep.
The boy, Dean he’s pretty sure, wedges himself onto the bench beside Castiel, forcing Ralphie to scoot over, which Castiel doesn’t mind. The older boy had been eyeing his bread roll and Castiel likes the bread here.
“Did you finish it?” Castiel asks, the forgotten excitement from yesterday bleeding into his tone.
Dean smirks and slaps down the folder. “It’s awesome.” He flips it open and there’s Castiel’s dance studio.
“Wow,” Castiel breathes. He gingerly removes the carefully flat page and his jaw drops as he notices several more behind it detailing an intricately drawn interior layout that includes two dance rooms, a lobby, and an office.
“ Dean we gotta go! ”
“Crap.” Dean’s voice draws Castiel out of his head, filled with fantasies of twirling tight clad legs and graceful leaps.
“I gotta go,” Dean says, screwing his face up into an ugly expression of distaste. “We’re moving again, but I convinced dad to wait until after lunch since I worked so hard on that. I had to use the computer at the library to figure out what the inside’s supposed to look like. I hope it’s alright.”
“It’s perfect,” Castiel blurts, running reverent fingers over the waxy colored lines. His excitement dims when the rest of the boy’s words register and his voice drops to a low disappointed tone. “What do you mean you’re moving? Do you have to change schools?”
Dean shrugs and his smile falls away along with his eye contact. “Yeah. Dad’s thinking Virginia. Who knows, maybe this time we’ll stay.”
Even Castiel can see Dean doesn’t believe it.
“Maybe Virginia won’t be so rainy and you can have more outside recess.”
“If it wasn’t for inside recess we wouldn’t have met,” Dean points out.
“True,” Castiel agrees, looking down at his dance studio. His heart fills and overflows with warmth and happiness. “I love it. I’ve decided you can build it for me when I get money.”
Dean scoffs. “I don’t wanna build ‘em. I wanna make ‘em, just like I did yours. But when I’m grown up I can do a real blueprint like what my dad looks at when he does the building. He says the mook behind the desk who draws the blueprint gets to decide how it’s gonna look and everybody just does what he says and hopes nothing falls down.”
“Oh.” Castiel knows the word for that, he does. It’s ark… Arti… Arky…
“Anyway, I gotta go.” Dean clambers out of the bench, narrowly avoiding knocking over Castiel’s chocolate milk.
“Oh okay. Good luck with your drawing.”
“Thanks!” Dean flashes a grin that Castiel can only blink in response to and then he’s jogging across the cafeteria. Castiel twists around in his seat and watches him reach the door where an impossibly small brown-haired boy is waiting with his arms crossed and his bottom lip stuck out. Dean ruffles the boy’s hair, tugging a reluctant smile from the kid as they both turn and head for the exit.
With a start, Castiel realizes that he’s probably never going to see Dean again. This is his one and only chance.
“Hey! HEY DEAN! You still have my pencil! ”
Dean doesn’t hear him and a moment later he and the small boy disappear through the doorway and out of sight. Gone.
With a heavy sigh, Castiel turns back to the table. His roll is gone and beside him Ralphie’s cheeks are bulging. Castiel shoots him a glare, but says nothing and goes back to what’s left of his lunch. His eye catches on the “blueprints” of his future dance studio and a smile curls his lips. It’s a fair trade, he decides: his favorite pencil for a visualization of his future. In fact, Castiel thinks as he runs his index finger over the painstakingly printed DW in the bottom right corner, he might have gotten the better end of the deal. The eraser was almost all the way worn off anyway.
He carefully tucks the drawings back into the folder and tucks it under his thigh to keep it safe and clean in the volatile elementary school cafeteria. He can’t wait to show his mom and dad.