“I… Yes, I know I’m an idiot, Gabriel.” I agree. Of course I know. I’ve been an idiot for Dean for nearly half of my life now; it’s hardly news to me or anyone who knows me.
“Well, what the fuck do you think you’re doing?” He flails his arms exasperatedly. “I mean seriously, Cassie! How many times has that dick broken your heart by now?!”
“Three,” I tell him calmly and marvel privately how I’ve become someone who can discuss his foolish, battered heart so serenely. “But don’t forget that it was I who let him come back and do it again every time.”
“Well that’s my point exactly! You’re an idiot for him, Cassie, and you fucking need to stop! How many times do you have to come to me shaking all over and telling me he’s broken your heart?”
“I love him,” I say simply and I know it doesn’t excuse anything in Gabe’s book, but it pretty much excuses everything in mine. “I love him and that’s that.”
“Look, Columbo, I know you’re a teensy little bit crazy for that special snowflake, but even you have to know this is not what love is supposed to be!”
“No? And what is it supposed to be? Flowers and giggles?”
“It’s shits and giggles, Cassie, and no.” Gabriel sighs. “But it sure as hell is not your boyfriend dumping you for a cheerleader over a freaking gay panic; and it’s sure as hell not you calling off your wedding a week to the damn thing because of what that dick did to you; and it’s definitely not your husband leaving you for another family he found while married to you! And dammit, Cassie, it’s not you screwing your ex husband while he’s still with that said family!”
“No?” I smile, if somewhat sadly. “Sure sounds like a love story to me…”
IN AN OPEN RELATIONSHIP
All things considered, English Lit is definitely not something one should study if his ambitions involve riches of any sort. Good thing then that mine certainly do not. I’ve wanted to be a writer for as long as I could remember myself. Books have always held a certain fascination for me – they offered freedom my home could not. I grew up in a strict household. It wasn’t unloving, but it was not the most giving either.
My parents both worked full time, so more often than not my siblings and I were left to our own devices, nanny notwithstanding. Inias and Hester were both older than I, seven and six years older respectively, and Alfie was the youngest – two years younger than I. So naturally, Inias and Hester kept to themselves, while I took care of Alfie.
Alfie was the reason I learned to read at the age of five. He was three when he was diagnosed with ALS. I remember him walking. Once. Then I remember him being in and out of hospitals. I remember countless hours that I spent in a hospital bed with him telling him stories I made up. We were always the heroes of my stories – brave kids in the colorful world of a five-year-old’s imagination.
Our mother read to us sometimes – stories about Peter Pan and Aladdin and Bluebeard, but she was always busy and I think… I think it was hard for her to see Alfie like that. It wasn’t hard for me – he was my little brother and I loved him. It was as simple as that.
Alfie loved it when our mother read him stories, so naturally when she couldn’t – I did. Comic books first. I didn’t read them, of course, not in the beginning, but I told him stories that went well with the pictures. I asked my nanny to teach me to read and I remember the time when I wouldn’t let go of the colorful alphabet book until I knew each letter and could read short words.
Alfie was six and I was nearly nine when I read him a book that became our favorite book of all time – The Brothers Lionheart by Astrid Lindgren. It starts with Jonathan, the older brother, telling an ill and dying younger brother Karl a story about the afterlife. We both cried so much as I read it that my mother came to see what was happening. I thought she would ban the book, but she kissed our foreheads instead and promised it would get better.
Jonathan dies saving Karl in that book and I remember Alfie wrapping his stubbornly uncooperative and aching arms around me and making me promise I’d live my 80 years of life before I came to meet him in the afterlife. I’m twenty-one now and I’ve read this book countless times, and yet when I read it now, I still can’t hold my tears.
How can I not love books and how can I not want to write my own stories when I know what power they hold? It was books that helped two little kids fight a losing battle with a degenerative disease with laughter and whispered promises and jokes. It was stories that helped my little brother run wild and jump fences, swim in the ocean and climb the tallest mountains when his own body betrayed him so much he could no longer lift his hands. And finally it was books that helped my ten-year-old self to survive the loss of my little brother I loved more than anything in this world.
So yes, riches are not my priority, they never were and so here I am, doing my BA in English Lit and creative writing at Boston University. I’m scoffed at more often than not for wanting to write for kids, but I couldn’t care less. I also write science fiction and horror stories, because they amuse me and let me stretch my imagination wide, but even in those my main characters are usually children. And then there are no better readers than kids and no one can love the characters you create and storylines you weave more than a child.
It’s surprising, therefore, that Gabriel disagrees. Gabriel is my cousin, who is two years older than me on paper, but nearly ten years younger than me judging by how he acts. I love him, I really do, and I’m glad he’s at BU, too, because otherwise I don’t think I’d have any friends at all, but I could sure live without his constant tricks and never ending jokes. I think he somehow convinced himself his mission in life is to be the most annoyingly obnoxious human being in the whole world. He says he was born to entertain. So far the only person to find his antics entertaining is Gabriel himself, so I rest my case.
Anyway, it is of Gabriel’s doing that I find myself in the most unlikely of places for me – a frat house party.
“Cassie, if you keep frowning like that, your face will get permanently stuck on the ‘I just ate a lemon’ setting.” Gabriel flops beside me on the couch by the wall. I roll my eyes.
“I’m not frowning, I’m squinting. I can barely see with all these flashes and to be honest I think they could actually induce seizures,” I nearly shout through the music, but Gabriel just laughs.
“Come on, Cassie! I didn’t bring you here so you can mope on a couch all night long. Come on, come on, go mingle!”
“From what you know about me, do you honestly think I'm capable of ‘mingling’?” And yes, I totally do the air quotes.
“Fair point.” He concedes and before I know it, I’m dragged across the room to a group of frat boys who I’m fairly certain are also a third of the BU baseball team.
“Boys, boys, boys!” he singsongs and pushes between them, pulling me with him. “You have a greatest pleasure to meet the apple of my eye and everything I’m not, my dearest and nearest cousin – Cassie!”
They stare at me and then at Gabriel like we’re both insane. I can’t say I blame them.
“It’s Castiel.” I say. “And I’m sorry for this. Gabriel, leave them alone.”
“Now, now. Where’s your team spirit?” he chides and I groan inwardly. “These here are our alma mater’s finest baseball players, Cassie,” he tells me, and I see the gleefulness in his eye that never means anything but trouble. He turns to them. “And here, boys, is a writer that will soon be your all time literacy achievement. You see, Cassie here wants to write books for tykes just like you. Know your audience, Cassie, toodles!” And just like that, with the blink of an eye he’s gone and I’m standing there alone facing five baseball players, four of which are glaring bloody murder. With a very eloquent “Um…” I focus on the fifth one. Just like the rest of them he is tall and broad shouldered, but unlike the rest of them he’s… smiling.
“Just what the hell was that all about?” one of them yells, and I take a hesitant step back.
“Well… It would seem that my cousin insinuated you are as mentally developed as prepubescents for whom I plan to write my books. He has also left me here for tearing should I not be smart enough to get out of your sight before the message filters through your not insubstantial skulls. In all fairness it seems I still have time for a couple of drinks before that happens, so please, do take your time and think this through while I go grab myself a beer,” is what my foolish mouth says as I step away from them. Yes, so Gabriel and I are related after all.
I weave through the crowd quickly, because no matter what I said, it really doesn’t take a genius to get I just insulted the whole bunch of them. I’m nearly at the door when I hear an uproar begin behind me. Before I reach it though, I’m grabbed by the elbow and pulled down the hallway to an empty room. I spin around to see who’s dragging me and I see the smiling guy from before closing the door silently and shushing me with a finger to his lips. I can hear feet stomping as god knows how many of them run outside trying to find me. Once the front door closes with a thud, the guy smiles again and lowers his hand.
“So you have a death wish?” is the first thing he says and I really can’t help it, I laugh.
“I’m fast,” I tell him, still laughing. I think it’s actually adrenaline.
“Yeah, and an idiot to boot. You have any idea what they’d do to you if they caught you?”
“I’m more interested why you’re here helping me as opposed to being with them and doing the aforementioned unspeakable things to me?”
“Dude! Who the hell talks like that?”
“Clearly not the baseball team.” I can’t help myself.
“You do have a death wish.” He chuckles and extends his hand for a handshake. “Dean.”
“Castiel.” I shake his hand.
“Do you mind if I call you Cas?” he asks. “Or do you prefer Cassie?”
“I don’t prefer Cassie under any circumstances.” I frown. “Gabriel is the only one to get away with calling me this and that’s only because I really don’t think there’s anything I could do to stop him and it would be inevitably worse if I tried. There was a time when he thought calling me Cassiopeia was acceptable in public. Or Casio. And don’t get me started on his Casserole phase…”
Dean laughs at that. “That guy is something else.”
“You haven’t answered me. Why are you helping me? I kind of insulted the whole bunch of you.”
“Nah, dude, I’m fine. I have a soft spot for sarcasm and it’s only an insult if you actually don’t get what’s been said, so… Anyway, it takes guts to say something like that and I wanted to know what kind of a guy you are after all.”
“Oh… Well in that case, hello Dean,” I say with a smile and he laughs again.
“Yeah, hi, Cas,” he says, and we smile at each other. This is how I meet the love of my life.
“Dean, you cannot be serious!” I all but whine. “Do you think I don’t get enough of Gabriel as it is?”
“Come on, Cas! Don’t be an ass. I went to that stupid foreign movie with you, it’s the least you can do. Besides, I think Jen’s gonna be there and I need my wingman.”
I snort at that.
“Since when do you need my help to get laid, Dean?”
“I don’t.” He laughs. “But you need to learn a trick or two. Seriously, dude! I’ve never even seen you with anyone – you need to get laid.”
“Just because I don’t show up with a new girl every time I go out doesn’t mean I don’t know how to get one. And I do get laid, thank you very much.”
And it’s true. I have this sort of… Well, almost friends with benefits arrangement with Meg. And the almost part doesn’t come from the benefits – those are a sure thing. It’s just I’m still not sure if I can call her my friend. Meg is… Different. She’s wild and feisty and I love that about her, but she also has a mean streak that I’m just not sure about.
“You do know beating off doesn’t count as getting laid, right?”
“Yes, Dean, I’m aware. But thank you for trying to enlighten me.” I roll my eyes.
“So you’re seriously telling me you’re seeing someone? Then why are you hiding her?” he asks, and then brightens. “She’s ugly, isn’t she?”
“Well firstly, I wouldn’t be attracted to someone based on their looks only,” I start, but he cuts me off.
“Knew it! Ugly!”
“She’s not ugly.” I roll my eyes. “As a matter of fact, she’s really pretty. But what I was saying, before you so rudely interrupted, is that I like people, not their looks.”
“Save this shit for the chicks, buddy.” He nudges my shoulder.
“Why the hell am I even talking to you?” I marvel. “It’s clear you are yet to reach the maturity of a sponge.”
“Nah, you love me.” Dean laughs. “Anyway, go, go! Get your ass into something that fits you better than these terrible slacks and let’s go.”
“There’s absolutely nothing wrong with my slacks,” I mumble, but I do get up from the couch we’ve been lounging on for the last couple of hours. In fact, we’ve been spending a lot of time in my apartment since the day we met. Dean’s roommate Roy is an ass, so he likes to come over to watch movies or play games or just to hang out. Lately I’ve managed to convince him to come study, because honestly, there’s so much of Star Trek I can take. And don’t get me started on that awful, awful show Cleopatra 2525 Dean made me watch, because he thinks the women in it are hot. Seriously, sometimes I wonder why I’m even friends with this guy. Apart from the fact that he’s actually a great guy – he’s caring and fun to be around and he’s actually wicked smart, even though he goes to great lengths to hide this. He’s also a bundle of issues, but then again – who isn’t?
I change into jeans and henley that Meg says makes me look hot and frown at myself in the mirror. I do really hate parties.
“Stop moping in there and come on!” Dean shouts from the living room, and with a last sigh, I walk out my bedroom and let Dean drag me along to yet another frat house party.
I think I’m buzzed. No, scratch that, I’m definitely buzzed. Of course, that’s the only reason I’m still here after all – there’s no way I could ever survive parties like this without getting at least a little bit drunk. And it’s because I’m a little drunk I let Meg straddle me on the couch and suck bruising kisses down my neck and collarbone.
When we got to this party, Dean was straight away ambushed by his jock friends and their groupies, so I was left to my own devices. The last time I actually saw them, I think it was half an hour ago or so, just before Meg came over, they were all actually pretty hammered and were starting a game of truth or dare. I think my assessment of them being at the prepubescent state of development was rather accurate. Except for the hammered part. Which, to think of, I suppose I should actually sober up a little, since I will definitely have to drag Dean home. Unless he gets laid, that is.
Speaking of Dean. I hear a roaring laughter at the far corner of the room and as both Meg and I look up to see what’s that about, I’m met with Dean’s calculating stare. His friends are laughing and nudging each other, but Dean seems to be deliberating something. I cock my eyebrow in question and Dean takes a deep breath and starts weaving through the crowd to come over. He doesn’t break the eye contact until he reaches us and when he finally does, he mumbles a slurred ‘excuse me’ to Meg and pretty much drags me up from the couch, making Meg shuffle back. She hisses something that I’m pretty sure is an elaborate insult towards Dean, but I can’t focus on that, because at that exact same moment Dean reaches for me, wraps his hand around the back of my neck and yanks me forward so he can kiss me. Now, I’m usually quite well versed and I nearly always have things running through my head, but in that moment I feel as blank as a sheet of paper. There’s a pleasant, numb buzzing in my head as Dean tilts his head a little to fit our lips better and then slides his tongue along my bottom lip before sucking it in. I let it go on for couple of seconds, the blankness dissipating slowly, replaced with jolting realization – it’s a dare. Well, alright then. I pull back so our foreheads are touching just slightly.
“You fucker, I knew you were hot for me.” I whisper and try to suppress the grin while Dean looks at me, his eyes huge and confused. I finally grin and ask. “Dare?”
It takes a second for him to understand, but then he grins too, knowing full well I don’t actually think he’s into me.
“Alright then, let’s dare,” I tell him, and then I kiss him. I grab the back of his head to angle him just right and probe his lips with the tip of my tongue. I think he opens up in surprise, but I plunge my tongue deeper all the same, letting it tangle lazily with Dean’s. I’ve been with a few guys before, so the scrape of stubble and hard chest pressed to mine doesn’t startle me, but I think it does Dean, because he’s suddenly clutching my waist where he rested his hands a second ago. I think I hear a groan reverberate through him, but it’s loud in the room so I can’t be sure. What I can be sure of, though, is the hardening stiffness I feel where he’s pressed against me. As soon as I realize that, there’s a very real bolt of want zinging through me and now I groan as Dean sucks my bottom lip into his mouth again. Before either of us can do anything else we hear catcalls and whistles erupt all around us and Dean jolts back with a start. We stare at each for a few heartbeats still, eyes darting to each other’s mouths, but then Dean’s friends are clapping him on the back and dragging him back to their game. Game, it’s a game , I remind myself, but before I can parse what just happened, I can feel Meg wrap herself around my back.
“Damn, that was fucking hot, Clarence!”
“Um…” I mutter eloquently.
“Did he break you?” She smirks and finally, finally I get my footing back and turn to her.
“No, I think it’s the other way around.” I grin. “I am told I’m an excellent kisser.”
“You’re always going to hold that against me, aren’t you?” Meg laughs.
“Can you blame me? It’s not every day someone tells me they could probably get off just from me kissing them.”
“I knew it’d bite me in the ass.” She pouts. “But what can I do? You’re my unicorn.”
“As long as you don’t ask me to fart rainbows,” I tell her seriously, and then we’re laughing again. Just like that I think I got my equilibrium back and just like that the world tilts again, because the next second I glance at Dean and find him watching me. There’s an odd expression on his face, a mix of curiosity and incredulity, I think. I cock my eyebrow at him in question, but he just shakes his head and turns back to his friends.
“I think you just rocked his world.” Meg giggles and settles back on my lap.
“I highly doubt it.” I tell her truthfully and try to push the whole thing out of my head. I’d be more successful if not another 15 minutes later, as I go to get another drink – I’m not in the mood of staying sober after all – I get an armful of Dean again. He’s swaying, clearly drunk, and using me as a crutch to stand.
“Caaaas…” he slurs. “I’m waaasted.”
“Very eloquent, Dean,” I chuckle.
“How’d you not… drunk?” he stammers again and I laugh.
“Oh, trust me, I am, just not your level of drunk. So, do you need me walk you home? Or are you crashing here?”
“Home… you…” He’s very nearly asleep as he is, so I sigh and fold my arm under his, so I’m pretty much doing the standing for the both of us.
“Roy’s going to kill you.”
“Home! You!” He whines again. “With you…”
“You want me to take you to my apartment?” I ask, and he nods and grins sappily.
“Jesus, how much have you had?” I ask him shaking my head.
“Home…” he mutters yet again, and with the sigh I wave at Meg and start walking Dean to my apartment.
In the time it takes me to drag Dean across the campus, he sobers up a little. I know he’s still pretty drunk, judging by the way he clings to me and stumbles every few steps, but he’s no longer half asleep at least. Regardless, I help him up the steps, lead him to my kitchen and before anything else, I pour him a big glass of water. As he drinks it, I get him a spare blanket and a pillow and then walk him to the couch. He flops down on it heavily and sighs.
“Fuck, I’m drunk…”
“That happens when you drink a liquor store.” I chuckle and turn to leave, but before I go, he grabs my hand and pulls me down with him. I admit - the squeak I let out is the farthest thing from manly, so I’m not surprised he starts laughing. I scowl, while I arrange myself so I’m not crushing him, but rather slumping on the other end of the couch.
“Don’t go.” He hiccups. “I wanna talk.”
“Dean, you’re barely awake.” I smile at his pout, but he shakes his head and sits up a little.
“Cas, can I ask you something?”
“I think you just did.”
“You know your jokes are lame, smartass?”
I laugh. “That doesn’t even make sense, Dean.”
“Your face doesn’t even make sense,” he mutters and I laugh again.
“So what did you want to ask me?”
“It’s like… You know how… I mean…”
“Is there an end to this sentence somewhere?”
“Jesus, just let me talk! So… Fuck.” He takes deep breath and then mumbles the question so quickly I barely catch it. “Have you ever been with a dude?”
I consider him for a moment. Sexual histories are not something we ever shared, beyond some jokes and teasing. It’s not like I think it’d matter to him, but I’ve seen enough to know some people just can’t get over their hang-ups. Then again, Dean did kiss me and didn’t even freak out significantly after. So I shrug and decide to tell him the truth.
“Couple of times, yes.”
His eyes widen minutely. “And um… I mean… What’s it like?”
I briefly wonder what kind of can of worms did that kiss actually open, but since I already decided to go with the truth, I shrug again.
“What’s it like for you with women?” I ask.
“You know what’s it like with women.” He says frowning. “If nothing else, I’m sure Meg has shown you a thing or two.”
I stare at him for a second surprised at the petulance in his voice. This night just keeps getting weirder.
“But what’s it like to you?” I insist.
“Exactly,” I tell him. “It depends on whom you’re with. If the guy knows what he’s doing or at the very least is not a selfish bastard, it can be pretty amazing. But sometimes it’s just not.”
“Yeah, but I mean… How do you even know who’s supposed to do what? I mean… you know…”
I laugh at that.
“Dean, you are aware people can actually talk to each other? You talk!”
“So, but… You like it both ways?”
“Um, well… I do have a preference, but not an overly strong one, so yes, I suppose I do like it both ways.”
He hums thoughtfully.
“Dean, why the sudden interest?” I ask.
“I’ve never been with a guy,” Dean says slowly.
“Well… Have you ever wanted to?” I ask curiously. I understand Dean’s only talking about this because he’s drunk and we kissed, but I still hope I’m not taking advantage of his state. He asked me first and I was honest with him, so perhaps he won’t be mad that I asked as well. Besides, I really do want to know. Dean is… Well, he’s my best friend by this point, but I’m neither blind, nor ignorant. He’s very handsome, but beside that, or despite of that, or whatever, he’s actually an amazing person. He’s kind and caring and he’s wildly protective of his friends and family. Yes, he can sometimes be an ass, but overall, if that was at all in the cards, I could see myself falling for him easily. He’s… significant, all things considered, so I really do want to know.
“I don’t think I have.” He says quietly and there it is. Whatever latent hope I had been harboring, it’s over now. Dean is straight and while I might sometimes be a stubborn jackass, even I know pining after straight boys is at the very least stupid. So I close my eyes and force myself to smile.
“I can tell you what’s it like with women then.”
“Right, like you can tell me something I don’t know.”
“Your modesty astounds me., I deadpan and we both laugh, but then Dean groans.
“Cas, d’you wanna watch TV with me? My head’s spinning…”
“Yes, I guess I better should.” I nod, turn the TV on and settle into the coach comfortably. I really shouldn’t leave him alone – he’s way too drunk for my liking. Besides I don’t think it’ll take more than couple of minutes before he’s out anyway – he’s nearly passing out as it is. I’m not entirely right though, because about 15 minutes later, when I’m pretty sure he’s asleep already, Dean speaks up suddenly.
“I kissed a boy once.”
I turn to him fully, but he doesn’t meet my eyes.
“You did?” I ask carefully. “You want to talk about it?”
“Not much of a story,” he mutters and I think that’ll be it, but Dean continues. “I was 10, I think. He was my best friend. It was his birthday.”
“What was his name?” I ask trying to make Dean a little more comfortable. I can see now that he’s tense and his voice is strained.
“Rob. His name’s Rob,” he tells me quietly. “Anyway, I remembered mom kissing my cheek when she’d give me something she knew I’d like, or when she was trying to cheer me up. So… I brought him a gift and I kissed his cheek.”
“He must’ve been happy.”
“He was, for a second. Then we were all scared.”
“Scared? Why’s that?” I ask confused.
“Because my dad saw it and he threw a shitstorm,” he says in an emotionless voice that is the most concerning of everything that happened tonight.
“Why would he?...” I try to ask, but Dean laughs bitterly.
“My dad’s a mean drunk, Cas. It was a birthday party for a 10 year old, and still he was hammered within an hour. So. When he saw his oldest son kissing his best friend like some ‘disgusting fag’, he threw a fit. He yelled and yelled at me and I think our neighbors were shocked at first, so they let it go on for a long time. Or at least I thought so then. Anyway, Rob’s dad had a mean right hook, so he clocked my dad and threw him out. There were words exchanged, I didn’t get the majority of it. But I remember my dad telling me as he dragged me home that if he ever saw me even making ‘fag eyes’ at anyone ever again, he’d kick me out of the house and never let me see Sammy again.”
“Jesus, Dean…” I mutter, quite frankly shocked.
“The funny thing – I don’t think he wasn’t serious. He’d have thrown me out if by the time I actually hit puberty I’d shown any interest in guys.” He carries on with the same emotionless voice. “So I didn’t.”
“Fuck,” I mutter and then I reach out and wrap my fingers around Dean’s wrist gently. “Fuck, Dean, I’m so sorry.”
“I don’t think he even remembers Rob’s birthday, you know? The next morning he couldn’t understand why his jaw ached where Rob’s dad clocked him. But that doesn’t mean he wasn’t being serious.”
“No, it doesn’t., I agree. “It also doesn’t excuse him.”
“No, it doesn’t,“ he agrees and I squeeze his wrist once again.
“You are the first guy I really kissed,” he says after a bit and finally meets my eyes. “And the first who kissed me back.”
“Well… I’m sorry it was on a dare, then. Although I am told I’m an excellent kisser.” I smile and he chuckles before becoming serious again.
“Dean, you know he was wrong, right?” I ask.
“Yeah, I know.” He nods without looking at me.
“There’s nothing wrong with liking guys,” I reiterate and he nods again. “There’s also nothing wrong with not liking them.” I finish and he looks up. “Dean, you’re a person, not a sexuality. It’s absurd to place such importance in this one thing. What we are is the sum of everything about us, so defining someone by what they like to do in the privacy of their bedroom is beyond ridiculous…”
“Can I kiss you again?” he asks, suddenly cutting me off and frankly I’m so surprised that I gape at him for a few seconds.
“Why?” I finally stammer, because didn’t he just say he never wanted to?
“Because… Um… I kind of… I think I liked it.”
I blink at him owlishly. Seriously, I’m pretty sure I look like a moron by now, but it’s just so hard to wrap my head around the fact that Dean wants to kiss me again.
“Dean, how drunk are you now?” I finally ask and he chuckles.
“Not that drunk. Look, Cas, I know it’s messed up and probably all kinds of not fair to you, but you’re my best friend and the only one I’m actually comfortable with. And I didn’t kiss you on a dare. Well, yeah, I kinda kissed you on a dare, but the dare was to kiss a guy, not specifically you. I think Matt wanted me to kiss him, to be honest. But I couldn’t even think about it not being you. So. I mean if you don’t want to, it’s fine. Really. I guess I shouldn’t have asked… You know, forget it. Can we just pretend all of this didn’t just happen?”
I can see he’s anxious and ashamed, so I do the only thing I can think of and I kiss him. It’s different this time. Dean’s surprised at first, but he melts into the kiss all the same. His hands clutch my t-shirt and he pulls me even closer all the while kissing me, if a tad desperately. I ease off slightly, not moving far, just resting my forehead against his. “I think I liked it too,” I tell him, and he smiles and kisses me again. It’s surprising how right this feels. I never consciously thought of Dean this way. Yes, a few inappropriate thoughts did cross my mind, but I’ve been burned enough not to dwell on impossible crushes on straight men, especially if those straight men are my friends. So I pushed these thoughts away. Now though… Now, with a heavy weight of his hands on my hips and warm softness of his mouth on mine, I can’t stop but think how amazing this feels. We kiss for a long time. It’s not urgent anymore, exploring and comforting more than anything else. We’re both tired and frankly drunk, so in the end we share a couple of more sleepy kisses and drift off to sleep.
I wake up from a marvelous feeling of being pushed off the couch. To make things even more delightful I get the wind knocked out of me by a heavy body landing squarely on top of me. Amazing. I groan pitifully and push said body off me.
“Are you freakin’ kidding me?” I grumble. “Did you seriously just push me off the couch?”
“Sorry.” Dean groans near me. “My arm fell asleep and you were lying on top of it and I just tried to get it out.”
“Hell of a wakeup call.” I glare at him still.
“Sorry,” he says again and shifts on his elbow so he’s nearly over me. We look at each other for a while and finally I chuckle.
“So that did happen, huh?”
Dean blushes slightly and smiles.
“I kind of thought it was a dream for a little while,” he says.
“Are you in a habit of dreaming about making out with your best friends?” I ask and his blush deepens. “Jesus, you are!”
“I might’ve had an inappropriate dream about you. Once. Or twice.”
“Really? Care to share?”
“No. No, no, no.” He shakes his head and we both laugh.
“You never said anything,” I tell him and he nods.
“Not sure if you noticed, but I’m really not a sharing type.” He sighs and sits up. I get up and look at him expecting him to continue. He does.
“Look, Cas… I’m… Jesus. Okay, so yesterday’s chick flick was more than enough for me, so I’ll make it short. I’m fucked up, Cas. I have no idea what I’m doing, but I know a couple of things for sure. First, I’m not looking for any sort of relationship. I mean yesterday was… Fuck, it was great, but I can’t be with a guy, okay? I just can’t. Definitely not now, but maybe not ever, so there’s that. And I’m sorry if I pushed you into it, but Cas, I really can’t.”
“Dean,” I interrupt, placing my hand on his shoulder. He stiffens at first, but then relaxes. “You’re getting way ahead of yourself here. You didn’t push me into anything I didn’t want and it’s okay not to want any relationship. It bothers me you feel you can’t, because it’s not fair to you – you should know and be able to do whatever you want, but not wanting a relationship is completely understandable.”
“That’s the thing, Cas… I want parts of it. I want to kiss you again and I want way more than just kissing you, but… I don’t want any strings and I don’t want to be a boyfriend to anyone, much less have one.”
“Is this your very complicated way of asking me if I want to be your fuck buddy?” I ask fighting a grin. It’s slightly disappointing Dean doesn’t want a relationship, because I, for one, would definitely give him a shot, but at the same time it’s still much more than I ever thought he would want. So.
“No, because there’s a second thing I know for sure and that’s that I don’t want to lose you. You’re my best friend and I won’t do anything to put that in danger. I need you, buddy.”
“Why would you lose me?” I ask, genuinely surprised.
“Because I don’t know anyone who’s had a successful fuck buddy arrangement. Feelings get involved and then someone gets hurt and I don’t want that to happen to you.”
“You seem awfully sure I’d be the one getting my feelings hurt.”
“Well, who wouldn’t fall for me?” He grins cheekily and I laugh.
“Seriously – you and your modesty. Look, Dean, the truth is we made out once and suddenly I’m getting my feelings hurt over unrequited love. You’re my best friend too, and I care about you, but I’ve never really been in love and I don’t think I’m at a risk of falling for you. Would I give you a shot if you wanted to date and stuff? Sure. Am I fine with no strings attached kind of thing? Hell, yes. We’re 21, Dean. And in college. And I’m not delusional. So if you want a fuck buddy kind of thing, why don’t you ask me, instead of assuming how madly in love I’m gonna be.”
“You really think we could be okay with that?” he asks, and I can see hope in his eyes.
“I don’t see why not. We just need to agree to tell each other if at any point either one of us starts getting too attached. Then we’ll just go back to being friends. It’s as easy as that,” I tell him firmly, not knowing that there will be a time I’ll be eating my own words. But everything’s possible when you’re in your early twenties and you’re never at risk of a broken heart until one day you find yourself unable to breathe with how much it hurts.
“Cas, do you want to be my fuck buddy?” Dean asks grinning brightly.
“Why, I thought you would never ask!” I reply with a faux Southern belle accent and we burst out laughing again.
“So, you wanna go brush our teeth and make out some more?”
I wake up to Dean sleeping with his head on my chest, his arm wrapped around my middle and his thigh wedged between my legs. He’s a cuddler, Dean. Ever since we first had sex, back in December, I routinely wake up wrapped in his limbs. It wasn’t easy at first. Dean was freaking out so much back then I had to talk him through the simplest of things. Even now, this mental block he gets sometimes when he realizes he’s sucking dick and he likes it, is difficult on both of us. But it’s getting better. Much better, really. He’s much more relaxed and he enjoys the things we do so much that it’s the biggest turn on for me ever.
I stretch carefully trying not to disturb him, but he tightens his hold on me nonetheless. He does that sometimes too – holds me as if I was the one trying to get away. That’s not true though, and it’s not how this arrangement works. Dean is the one setting the rules and boundaries. If it was up to me, I’d be with him all the time, but Dean was very clear with me – that’s not what he wants. It’s alright; it’s still more than I ever thought I’d have. Besides, I can see it changing for him too.
In the beginning he’d only come over once or twice a week and we didn’t even necessarily get up to something – sometimes we simply hooked up my Playstation and played all night long. He started coming over more often by the end of February and by now he spends 4-5 days a week with me and I don’t even remember when was the last time he spent the night on the couch. We also get out more. At first we’d only stay at my place or go out with a bunch of his friends, and never alone. Now, however, the two of us go out quite a lot by ourselves and some of the outings are very much like dates. He’d never call it that, of course, but what else do you call taking someone to dinner, then movies and finally going back to their place for drinks and sex? In my books it’s a date.
There were also other things, like him coming with me to dinner with Hester and Inias and me going to Sam’s debates with him. Or going on a road trip for our spring break – full week of days spent driving in his beloved car and nights huddled in the beds of frankly questionable motels. Or just last week, him sitting with me by Alfie’s grave, his arms around my waist and his head on my shoulder. I’d told him about my little brother and he’d insisted on coming with me to visit him. I never felt more grateful to have Dean in my life. I might’ve even said something to this accord to Dean when we were driving back. And naturally he freaked out some, but I think we’ve moved past it. So yes, I know this is just an arrangement for him, but there’s this relentless hope I have that maybe someday it doesn’t have to be just that. It’s stupid, I know, but sometimes he looks at me like he has the same hope and so I let it continue, even though it was I who said we should tell each other if either one of us starts getting too attached. It’s too late for me by now anyway.
Dean stirs in my arms, stretching and flexing muscles that must be sore from holding me tightly the entire night. I chuckle and kiss the top of his head.
“What time is it?” he asks; his voice low and sleepy.
“Around 8.” I yawn. “You have a class at 9.”
“Fuck,” he mutters, and I chuckle again as he scrambles off the bed and darts to the shower. By the time he’s out, I have our coffees and toasts ready. He gulps what must be half the cup of coffee and starts on his toast.
“Hey, I was thinking about Crossroads after the thing tomorrow,” I tell him.
“Don’t tell me you forgot!” I laugh. Dean had wanted to go to Linkin Park’s concert from the moment he heard on the radio that they’d be coming to Boston. The tickets were nearly impossible to get and way too expensive for a couple of college students, but I had some savings and Gabe knows some people so in the end I got us the tickets. I don’t think I ever saw Dean as excited as when I showed him the tickets. “Linkin Park, Dean!”
“Oh, fuck!” He groans. “Fuck, I completely forgot! How could I have forgotten?”
“I’ve no idea.” I laugh again. “You talked about this for weeks and now you forgot?”
“Jesus, Cas, I’m so sorry!”
“Why?” I frown.
“You remember our new cheerleader – Cassie? I’ve been asking her out this whole week and she finally agreed to go on a date with me tomorrow…”
“A date?” I ask and then mentally make myself stop. He has a date. A date. “Oh… well…”
“Fuck, Cas, I really am sorry! I completely forgot about the show. Look, maybe I can reschedule? I mean she’s gonna be pissed, but it’s not like Linkin Park is coming every…”
He keeps saying something, but I tune him out for a little bit. Dean has a date. It shouldn’t surprise me and I’m pissed at myself that it does. I’m furious that it actually hurts me. He said very clearly from the very beginning he had no interest in a relationship with me so why? Why the hell does it hurt? When did it stop being purely physical to me? Was it ever? And again, why does this hurt?
“Cas?” I hear, and I shake myself out of this stupid hurt. Not now , I tell myself, just not now. He can never know.
“Sorry, I spaced out. What were you saying?”
“I just… look, I’ll call Cassie and try to move the date to Sunday, okay?”
“Don’t be ridiculous, Dean,” I tell him trying to sound indifferent. “You have plans, it’s fine.”
“It’s not fine! I wanted to go! And you got tickets for us and I really wanna go…”
“Of course you want to go.” I cut him off. “That’s not what I meant. You wanted to go to this thing from the moment you heard about it – of course you’re going.”
I turn away from him and get the tickets from the counter.
“There. Take your girl to a nice show; I’m sure she’ll appreciate that.” I hand him the tickets not meeting his eyes.
“What? No! Jesus, Cas, I can’t do that. You bought the tickets for us, how could you think I’d do that?”
By now I feel completely numb and blank save from the mantra of “not now” going through my head.
“Dean, we both know you wanted this much more than I ever did. So take the tickets and go have a great date,” I tell him firmly. I can already feel my numb mask cracking at the edges, but I hold onto my impassive face as best as I can. He can’t know.
“Fuck, Cas… I’m sorry, I really wanted to…”
“It’s okay. It doesn’t matter.” I say and get my mug once again. My hand is shaking so I clutch it tightly in both hands. “You should go or you’ll be late for your class.”
He glances at his watch and curses silently.
“Fuck, yeah, I gotta go. Look, I’ll be back after class, okay? We can hang out today.”
“Um, actually I have been putting off two of my papers and I really need to get to them done, so today’s not the best for me.”
“You sure? I can come later, after you’ve finished.”
“Honestly, I don’t think I’ll be able to finish them today. There was a reason why I postponed it to the last minute – they both suck.” I force myself to smile. “So I really can’t do anything else today.”
“No, I get it. Um… How about Sunday? We could go see a movie or something.”
Jesus, why is he doing this to me?
“I don’t know. Maybe. I’ll call you when my papers are done, we can hang out then. Now you really need to go – you’re almost late. And don’t forget the tickets.” I turn away from him and back to my coffee, so he doesn’t try kissing me goodbye. He’s been doing it more and more lately. I wait for the click of my door being shut, but he doesn’t leave.
“Cas, are we… Is everything okay?”
“Of course, why wouldn’t it be?” I tell him calmly although there’s part of me that wants to scream and lash out. He’s breaking my heart here and he’ll never know. It’s my own fault anyway.
“You seem… Is it about the date? Because I really can reschedule.”
“Don’t be absurd, Dean. You’re going to have a great time on your date and I’m sure you’ll score some points for taking her to a concert. All good.”
“I’ll pay you back,” he promises, and I scoff internally. Right, money’s what I care about.
“Don’t worry about it. It’s already paid for and it’s not a big deal. Just… Well, have a good time.”
“Uh… Thanks, Cas. I kinda feel like a dick and I really do owe you one.”
“As I said – don’t worry about it. And you’re already late, by the way.”
“Fuck!” He curses and scrambles to leave. “I’ll call you later, okay? Don’t spend the whole day on those goddamn papers!”
As soon as I hear the door close, I bang my head against the table. What an idiot! What the hell was I thinking? I knew this! I knew he didn’t want me, not really, so why the hell did I start hoping? And why the hell does this hurt so much?
He has a date. A date with someone he’s been trying to ask out the whole week. He clearly likes that girl and… And so what if he spends the nights with me – it’s obviously just an itch to scratch. Fuck, what a goddamned idiot I am!
I wipe furiously at my eyes. I won’t let this become worse than it already is. Dean doesn’t want me and that’s that. I just need some time and distance and I’ll get over him. After all, I don’t pine after impossible and Dean is absolutely that.
I just need to get away for a little while and I know just the right place to go to.
“I screwed up, Gabe.” I tell him and sink onto the couch. “I’m such an idiot…”
“You’re starting to scare me, Cassie. What could you have possibly done? Did you get someone pregnant?”
“No.” I shake my head and sigh. “I think I fell in love.”
“Um… So? I mean as long as it’s not that creepy professor of yours, Mr. Miller, how bad can it be? It’s not Mr. Adler, is it? Oh fuck, is it me?”
I can help the laugh escaping me at that.
“Firstly, if I’d fallen for Mr. Adler I’d be admitting myself to a mental facility right now. The man’s creepy as hell. And secondly, Gabe, that’s disgusting! You?”
“Hey, I might be on the shorter side, but I’m hot stuff. And there’s nothing short about me where it matters, if you know what I mean.” He waggles his eyebrows and I roll my eyes.
“You’re my cousin, Gabe. More of a brother really.”
“So what is it then? Who got your panties in a twist?”
“Look, I’m going to tell you, because frankly I don’t have anyone else to talk about this to, but you have to promise me you’ll never breathe a word of it to anyone. And I’m serious Gabriel, not a word.”
He frowns at me for a second, but then shrugs.
“Fine. Who’d I tell anyway?”
“Knowing you? The entire freakin’ school.”
“Jesus, way to be overdramatic, Cassie. Come on, spill.”
“Dean?! As in Dean Winchester? As in hunky jock Dean? As in your second best friend after me, Dean?”
“Well, do you know any other Dean?” I mutter.
“Wait, wait, wait! I thought after Michael you were done pining after straight guys!”
“Um, well… He’s not… He’s not exactly straight.” I admit sheepishly. I remember the time this actually made me quite happy, now though… It doesn’t really matter if a guy’s straight or not when he’s just not into me.
“Seriously?” Gabe chuckles. “You’re seriously telling me ‘Mister Manly Man Straight as an Arrow Dean’ is into your hot ass?”
“This is wrong on so many levels, Gabe…” I groan. “And he’s not exactly into me. We just had…”
“Oh fuck, don’t tell me you had a drunken one night stand and then he freaked out?”
“If you’d let me talk, I’d tell you what I mean!” I snap at him. For the life of me I don’t know what possessed me to speak to Gabe about all this. Oh, right, I don’t have anyone else to talk to.
“Fine, fine, Cassie. Sorry. So tell me how is he not exactly straight and not exactly into you. But damn, I’d never figured he’d be into your little ass.”
“Again, not exactly.” I groan. That’s true though, because even though Dean insisted on topping in the beginning, he was really fascinated by the way I liked it. So when I managed to convince him to at least try bottoming, it was a rather shocking surprise for both of us how into it he was. We switch, of course, but it works out for us beautifully, because he has a slight preference for bottoming and I have one for topping. Except for the part where he’s not into me. Fuck.
“Look, Gabe, what happened is… We had an arrangement. You know, friends with benefits kind of thing. Neither of us was interested in a relationship and we do like each other and we’re friends, so it was pretty much perfect. Until I had to go and screw things up by falling for him.”
“Friends with benefits? You?” He asks incredulously.
“Don’t be so surprised, I had the same thing going with Meg,” I tell him.
“So… You had an arrangement. You’d fallen in love. What about him? Are you sure you’re the only one in this?”
“Pretty sure, yeah.” I sigh. “He has a date tomorrow. With somebody he’s been trying to convince to go out with him for a while.”
“Wait, but isn’t tomorrow that concert you begged me to get the tickets for?” He frowns and I sigh again.
“Yes, it is. Apparently, he forgot. So now he’s taking her to the concert.”
“What?!” Gabe snaps. “I got those tickets for you! How dare he?”
“He didn’t. I told him to go with her.”
“What?!” He snaps again. “Why?”
“Because he likes her,” I tell him simply. And it is simple to me. “You should’ve seen him. He likes her and… Fuck.”
“Jesus, Cassie, you are an idiot. Why would you give your tickets so he can take someone else on a date?”
“Because I want him to have fun, Gabe. He wanted to go to that concert from the moment he heard about it and he really wants to go out with that girl, so… Besides, I really can’t see him now, you know?”
“So what are you going to do?”
“Well, for starters I’ll spend a few days with my favorite cousin.” I smile and he laughs.
“Flattery will get you everywhere.”
“And then… I don’t know. I think I just have to get myself busy for a little while and get over him. It’s not like I have any chance with him anyway, so… Besides, as you said, I’m not into pining for unavailable.”
“You know what, Cassie? How about we get drunk tonight? Get your mind off things and just hang out?” He offers and just like that I know coming to Gabe is the best decision I made in a long while.
Dean calls me on Sunday, but I’m so hungover from drinking with Gabe for the last two days that I have no intentions to deal with anything, much less listen to him gush about how great his date was. So I let it ring.
He calls me again on Monday, but by then I really am late with my papers, so I shut my phone off and get back to work. I’m lucky that being unhappy actually makes me very productive, so I harness all this stupid hurt and work on my papers like there’s no tomorrow.
I’m done with all my work by Tuesday afternoon. I’m also out of coffee by then, so I decide to go visit Gabe at the coffee shop he works at. Incidentally, Gabe has driven one of his colleagues up the wall with his never ending pranks, so I witness a shouting match of epic proportions and then the poor guy storms out swearing never to come back. So they’re hiring and I’m in dire need of distraction, not to mention money. I’m hired and start working within the next twenty minutes. Being busy doesn’t really help me stop missing Dean, but it does help me not to think about it all the time, so I count it as a win.
I find Dean waiting for me as I get out of the class on Wednesday. I’m not really surprised – we haven’t spoken since Friday and I’m pretty sure it’s the longest we’ve gone without speaking to each other since November. I make myself smile at him as I come closer.
“Cas.” He smiles. “I was starting to think you were dead in a ditch somewhere. Where have you been?”
“Busy. I told you – I had couple of papers to finish up and some tests to prepare for. Finals are kicking me in the ass, even though they’re not even here yet.”
“Oh, yeah, tell me about it.” He nods. “I don’t think I have a class that I’m not behind in and the practice schedule is insane.”
“Sorry,” I tell him honestly.
“I’ll get by.” He grins. “Hey, how about I come over tonight to study? Roy’s an ass and I could use some time to actually work.”
“Um…” I mutter. I don’t want to tell him no, because he really needs to study, but at the same time I know being alone with him is just not an option. “I actually have plans with Gabe tonight, but if you need a place to study, why don’t you just go to my place? I can give you a key and you can come over.”
“Oh…” I want to think he sounds disappointed, but I know it’s wishful thinking at best. “I was hoping we could hang out. Um… So what are you doing with Gabe?”
“Nothing much. Just haven’t seen him in a while, so we decided to hang out. You know, family thing.”
“No, yeah, I get it.” He nods. “I take it you’re staying at his tonight?”
“That’s the plan.” I nod hoping against hope Gabe doesn’t have any other plans.
“What about tomorrow? It’s been weeks since we went to that pie place,” he offers and suddenly I realize he misses his friend too. It’s not what I really want and damn it’s painful, but it’s still something.
“That’d be great, but I’m busy tomorrow.” I tell him. It sucks to turn him down, but I’m just not ready yet. And yet. And yet his face falls and I hear myself offering, “How about Saturday? I should be okay with my things by then, we could go get you that pie for lunch?”
I expected him to relax at the very least, but he tenses even more.
“Uh… I… I can’t Saturday.” He mumbles looking uncomfortable. “I’m taking Cassie out.”
Oh. Right. That’s why all of this hurts – he has a girl. I make myself grin despite it tearing me apart.
“Well, I’m glad that’s working out,” I tell him and I see he wants to say something else, but I really, really can’t stand here listening to him babble excitedly about his hot date. Not yet. So I trudge on. “And about us hanging out – I guess I’ll call you next week and we’ll figure something out.”
“Next week?” he asks quietly, and if I didn’t know any better I swear I’d think he’s sad. That’s ridiculous of course, I’m simply projecting. “Okay, next week.”
“Alright. And if you need a place to study – you know where the spare key is, just use it and get to my place tonight.”
“Thanks, Cas.” He nods. “I… Well, um, have a good one at Gabe’s.”
“Thank you. I’ll see you around?”
“Sure.” He nods, but as I walk past him he grabs my wrist suddenly. “Cas?”
I stare at our hands maybe a bit too long and then force myself to look him in the eye. “Yes?”
“I’m sorry you didn’t get to go to the concert. I wish you could’ve seen it - you would’ve loved it. And I feel like a selfish dick for making you miss it.”
“Come on, Dean.” I pull my hand gently out of his grasp and make myself smile again. I don’t want him to feel bad after all. “You didn’t make me do anything. I wanted you to have fun and I take it you did. Seeing as she agreed to go out with you again.”
“Doesn’t make it fair anyway.”
“Fair is overrated. Look, you’re making it a bigger deal than it is. It was you who wanted to go to that concert. You took a girl you really like on a date you both seemingly enjoyed. You should really just thank Gabe for being able to get those tickets. And look, if this turns out to be an epic love story, he’ll have the bragging rights for getting you those tickets for the awesomest first date ever!”
“Cas…” He mutters, but I’m quite literally at the end of my capacity to act here, so I brush past him. “I have to go Dean, I’m already late to my next class. I’ll call you.”
With that I rush forward and force myself not to look back. I’ll just have to try harder avoiding him. I can’t let this happen again or I might actually crack. And the last thing I want is to lose his friendship over my stupid broken heart.
I spend Thursday and Friday nights at Gabe’s as well. It works out pretty well for us – we go to work, then to a bar next door and then to his apartment together. It would be pretty perfect if Gabriel wasn’t actually Gabriel, because by Friday night he most likely grows tired of my company or even better, thinks I had enough time to mope around and resumes his usual pranks.
I go home early on Saturday, ready to spend all day wallowing in my ‘stupid manpain’ – Gabe’s words, not mine - but then I’m offered a shift at the café which I gladly accept. And it is a perfect distraction with Saturday’s crowd being much more demanding than what I’m used to and my hands full the whole time. That’s apparently exactly what I need now, so I let myself forget for a little while. And it’s blissful. Absolutely blissful, until I greet my next customer with the usual ‘Hi, welcome, what can I get you?’ and look up to find Dean with what must be Cassie standing next to him and holding his hand. Blissful day, my ass.
“Cas?” Dean’s eyes are wide and there’s beginning of smile at the corners of his lips. “What are you doing here?”
“Well, I’m making ridiculous coffee drinks and to a lesser extent I’m preparing god awful sandwiches which I’m pretty sure can only be appealing to someone who’d smoked pot in the last 45 minutes or so. You?”
He laughs at my explanation and then nods to his girl.
“I’m on a date. This is Cassie, I told you about her. Cassie, this is Cas – my friend and the best almost roommate I ever had, considering we’re not living together.”
“Nice to meet you, Cassie.” I smile at her. She seems nice though – good looking and has this humorous spark in her eye that makes her even more beautiful. They look really good together. It fucking hurts.
“You too. Dean’s told me much about you.”
“Well, to be honest, I wouldn’t go as far as believing him.” I smile again. “Okay, so what can I get you guys? You’re holding up my queue.”
They give me their coffee orders and of course Dean wants his pie which I promise to bring shortly. By the time their coffees are done, my hands are shaking considerably less, but I still don’t want to go to them. I mean seriously – isn’t it some sort of cruel karma is a bitch kind of joke to have to cater for the date of a guy you’re freakin’ gone on? I must’ve been a real jackass in my past life. I take a deep breath trying to get myself ready for this when Gabe comes out of the kitchen and sees me. I don’t really know what it is he sees on my face, but he’s at my side then next moment.
“What is it?” he asks, “Are you alright?”
“I’m fine, Gabriel. I’m being overdramatic. I have to take these coffees over to Dean and his date…”
“What? He has a date here? What a fucking dick!” he hisses, but I shush him.
“I never told him I work here. It’s okay.”
“Like hell it’s okay. Go back to the kitchen and take a break. Fuck, go get a smoke or something. I’m taking over your tables.”
I stare at Gabriel for a long second and then I can’t help myself and hug him.
“I… Thank you.”
“Yeah, yeah, you love me little bro. Go. Take a break.”
“You can’t say anything, Gabe. You promised.”
“I won’t, I won’t. I’ll just bring them their order,” he promises, and I have a moment where I think this is a terrible idea, but the next second I shrug it off – fuck it, I don’t want to be here for that. So I walk out. I go to the back alley and just as Gabe suggested, I get a smoke. I don’t smoke often, but frankly I think all this constitutes as a reason enough to smoke. I sit down by the wall and lean my head against it. It shouldn’t hurt this much. It was never real so why the hell does it hurt this much? Dean’s happy with his new girl – he looks at her with smiling eyes and he very rarely looks at anyone like that, Sam being an obvious exception. It’s only been a week, but they already look like a couple. They look happy. And the worst thing, the absolute worst thing ever is that there’s a big part of me that’s happy for him! I’d like to be mad and pissed at him for breaking my heart, but instead there’s this big part of me that’s happy to see him smile, even if it’s not at me anymore. Logically I know Dean was always going to choose a nice girl to be with in the end. It’s more than likely it’s not going to be Cassie – they’re both 21 for crying out loud, but it’s going to be some girl, because whether I like it or not, Dean prefers women. Maybe not sexually, but definitely mentally and that’s just as important. So of course he was going to end up with a woman. Which makes even less sense for me to be this hurt. What the hell was I thinking? I’m his friend – it’s all there is. And I do want his friendship – I genuinely like Dean. I just need to focus on getting over him and finally getting our friendship back.
We call each other a couple of times in the following weeks, but between my work, his practices and our approaching exams, there never seems to be enough time to meet. Not to mention that I do whatever I can to actually avoid it.
I keep myself so busy that it’s with a jolt of surprise I realize I haven’t seen him in three weeks. It shouldn’t come as a surprise with me avoiding him and him having better things to do, but from the very first day that we met we have always been seeing each other every few days. I miss him. I miss his jokes and his smirks. I miss him slumping on my couch or resting his head on my shoulder. I miss his hands touching me, but even more I miss his smiles. It’s sickly sentimental and I’m pissed at myself for that, but still, I miss him. I wonder sometimes if he misses me. I think he might, but he has Cassie now and I know how exciting the beginnings of relationships are so realistically – I don’t think he’d thought much about me at all. Which is why I’m surprised to find him on the other side of my door as I open it up at a loud knocking.
“Hey, you’re alive!” He laughs. “I was beginning to think those goddamn books of yours have actually swallowed you up!”
“Dean. What are you doing here?” I ask, and he waves a six pack in my face.
“Break time, buddy,” he says. “We haven’t hung out in ages and I know you’re busy, I know you have papers, exams, work, what-the-fuck-ever, but it’s time to relax.”
“You should’ve called,” I tell him, furiously trying to come up with an excuse this time.
“Yeah? So you can tell me you’re busy?” He glares. “I fucking know. You’re always busy. But I haven’t seen you in forever and if I know you at all, you’ve been buried under your books for way too long. So. Can I come in?”
“Well… I suppose I could take a break,” I tell him finally stepping aside to let him in. Maybe I can handle it. It’s just beers with a friend. I should be fine.
“Great!” He laughs and plants his ass on my couch. “So – Playstation or Star Wars?”
We work through his six pack playing games and laughing and it feels good. Fuck, it feels amazing. I knew I missed him, but I was starting to forget how much fun we had together before I screwed things up with my stupid feelings. He’s my best friend and I honestly missed just hanging out with him. Maybe I can finally do it, maybe we can just be friends again.
“Hey, you want to order a pizza?” I ask him some time later and he nods enthusiastically.
“I know, Dean.” I roll my eyes and he laughs. Once I order it and sit back down on the couch, he turns to me.
“So, you’ve been cooped up with your books all this time?” he asks.
“I have a job,” I tell him. “I think I might’ve misjudged the timing to get a job though. I don’t think finals is the best time to start working…”
“Yeah, no kidding. I kinda forgot what you look like for a little while there.”
“It hasn’t been that long, Dean. Besides, it’s not like you’re not busy.”
“I know, I know.” He nods. “So, I’ve been to your work a couple of times. When the hell do you work – I haven’t caught you since that time on Saturday.”
I know this, of course. Gabriel told me he’d seen Dean coming in a couple of times, but the only time I was there when he came, I shamefully hid in the kitchen. I don’t say any of this though.
“My hours are hectic – they try to match it to my schedule, so I work at random times.”
“Must be tough.”
“Not more than juggling school and your practices.”
“Yeah, but you’re not failing in nearly all of your classes.”
I want to tell him I’m not dating either, but that’s something I’m not touching with a ten foot pole.
“I’m sure you’re not failing either,” is what I say.
“Feels like it. Anyway, you know there’s a party at Ash’s this weekend? You wanna come?”
“I don’t know. I might have to work.”
“Come on, man! You need to get out more. Cassie doesn’t really want to go, but I figured maybe we could meet up there and hang out. What do you say?”
Ah, here it is, this tightening in my chest.
“I’ll think about it.” I tell him, but I think we both know there’s no way I’m going. He looks at me for a while longer then sighs.
“Hey, so, you know we haven’t hung out in a while” he says slowly and I roll my eyes again.
“I know, Dean, we covered that already.”
“So. Um… Do you…” His hand wraps around my wrist and drags slowly up my arm and all the while he’s staring at me. Oh God, no! “You wanna…”
“No.” I flinch back and he pulls his hands away from me at once looking at me as if I’d slapped him.
I stand up to put some distance between us. Fuck, I really don’t want to do this now, but I suppose it had to happen sometime.
“Look, Dean, you have a girlfriend.”
“What?” He blinks at me, seemingly confused.
“What does that… Oh, fuck! Jesus, Cas, I’m not cheating on her! Who the hell do you think I am? We’re not exclusive.”
“Well, good for you.” I snap but then try to pull myself together. “I’m not, however, used to sleeping with people who are steadily dating someone. So no, Dean, I don’t want to.”
“What’s that supposed to mean? We’ve been dating other people the entire time.”
Ouch. Now, that’s just pathetic of me. How could I have ever thought he felt something for me is beyond me now. I take a deep breath and try to relax.
“Be as it may, I don’t want to sleep with someone who has a girlfriend. We said no strings attached, Dean, this is strings to me.”
“So what – it’s either I’m sleeping with you, or I’m seeing Cassie? How’s that ‘no strings attached’?”
“No, there’s no either/or. You’re seeing Cassie, it’s all there is.”
“Is that why you’ve been avoiding me? Because you don’t want to sleep with me anymore?” He asks and I swear I see something painful flash in his eyes. Great, so now I’m back to projecting.
“I’m not avoiding you, Dean,” I lie. “That’s what happens when people have classes, work, practices and girlfriends – there’s just no time.”
“It’s a load of crap, Cas. You could’ve just fucking told me you don’t want to sleep with me. We agreed to tell each other if our arrangement stopped working, but instead you just stopped seeing me!”
I sigh again and pinch the bridge of my nose.
“Alright, Dean. The arrangement stopped working. Can we go back to being friends now?”
He stares at me for a long moment and then I see his shoulders slump.
“When did it stop working? Was it before Cassie?”
“Yes, it was before Cassie,” I tell him honestly, because frankly I just don’t have it in me to lie anymore. If he leaves… Well, how likely was it I’d manage to keep his friendship anyway? Turns out I’m not a very good friend.
“Why didn’t you tell me? Is it something I did?”
“No, Jesus, Dean. No, it’s nothing you did.” Of course he blames himself – this guy’s guilt complex is something remarkable.
“Because I didn’t know it stopped working, okay? Look can we just put it behind us and just try being friends again?”
“Dude, you avoided me for a month – I think I should know what the fuck I did to get that.”
“You didn’t do anything, Dean. It was my fault and my fucked up reasons, okay? Please.”
“No, you know what – fuck you! I thought we were okay, Cas! It was fucking great for me and now it turns out it sucked for you! What the hell?”
“It didn’t suck. Jesus, can’t you just let it go?”
“No, I can’t! What the hell happened? Did you meet someone or something?”
I can’t help but laugh bitterly at that.
“No, I didn’t meet anyone. It’s just… Fuck, okay, you want to know the truth? Alright. I realized this arrangement is not working for me, okay? It’s not working because even though I thought I don’t want a relationship, it turns out I fucking do. So there. It’s not working, because I want the real thing.”
“But… But… I don’t get it. So what’s stopping you? I mean, I get this part – you want a relationship, fine. But you don’t have one now, do you? So I get it if you find someone and we stop screwing around, but why would you want to stop now? Jesus, go on dates, find someone – it’s not like I’m stopping you!”
I stare at him for a little while longer marveling at my own stupidity. Seriously, how could I have ever thought he might have any sort of feelings for me?
“I think you should go, Dean,” I tell him at last. I’m on the verge of saying things I’ll definitely regret later.
“What? What the hell, Cas? Why are you acting like I fucking did something to you?”
“You didn’t do anything,” I snap at him again. Fuck it, just fuck it – he wants to know, well I’ll tell him then. “Look, Dean, I know you couldn’t care less about me dating and trying to find someone. I get it – this is what we agreed on after all. But it turns out I’m an idiot who can’t keep two separate things apart. So you want to know why this isn’t working anymore? You want to know why I don’t want to sleep with you or frankly even see you? Fine. I don’t want to see you because I’m in-fucking-love with you, Dean. There. Happy? I’m fucking head over heels for you and God but does that suck!”
“You what? What…” He goldfishes and I laugh bitterly.
“You wanted to know, my friend. So there you have it! Go on! Tell me you told me so. Tell me I’m an idiot! Trust me, there’s nothing you can say that’s even close to what I’ve been telling myself.”
“But… Cas…” He stammers staring at me wide eyed, clearly pretty much shocked.
I laugh again – it’s an ugly sound even to me.
“Don’t worry, Dean, it’s not contagious.” I shake my head to clear it. “Listen, how about you go now?”
“Jesus, Cas!” Dean visibly pulls himself out of his stupor. “You can’t just tell me you’re in love with me and then throw me out.”
“Well, what else is there to say?” I ask, genuinely surprised. I would’ve thought he’d be out the door by now. “Look, I’m not delusional and I know where we stand with each other. That’s why I didn’t want to tell you anything in the first place.”
“So you figured you’d just stop seeing me and I’d never notice something’s off?”
“Honestly, I thought you’d be busy enough not to notice we’re not really hanging out anymore.” I shrug.
“Are you fucking kidding me? You’re my best friend!”
“Well, it’s not like I planned to never see you again. Seriously, Dean, I just need some time. It’s not a big deal.”
“Not a big deal? You tell me you’re in love with me and it’s not a big deal?”
“It’s not. I’ll get over it. You’re my friend, Dean, and I really, really don’t want this friendship to be over, but for that to work I need to stay away from you for a little while. It’s not like our paths cross all that much – you do your things, I’ll do mine. The semester is nearly over and then it’s summer. By the time we get back to school in September, I’ll be long over you and we can see if we can be friends again.”
“Wait, wait! You’re telling me to get out of your way until September? Seriously?” He growls suddenly.
“Dean, you have your finals, practices, new girlfriend, and family to go to for summer – it’s not like there’s a place for me in your life anyway.”
“Right, so you have it all figured out, right? You know what I want and you know what fits in my life and what doesn’t. Fuck you, Cas!”
I take a deep breath. It’s not fair, that’s what this is. It’s not fair that I feel his anger at me like physical blows and it’s not fair that apparently anger is all that’s left of our friendship. But I can’t pretend anymore and it’s not like I can take my own words back.
“Go, Dean.” Is what I say and turn away from him.
“I don’t want to go!” he yells, “I want things to go back to what they were!”
“What do you want me to say?” I sigh. “I can’t go back to what we were right now. Don’t you get it? I’m in love with you, Dean! And it sucks! And it hurts! And I can’t turn it off like a fucking switch!”
“Listen, Cas, maybe the whole thing is just a stupid misunderstanding?” He asks hopefully. “I mean it’s me we’re talking about! You can’t be in love with me. Maybe you just got messed up or something?”
I look at him for a long while and then I shake my head.
“I will never understand how you can’t see yourself clearly, Dean. You’re… everything. So please don’t stand here saying I don’t know what I’m feeling – I know, alright? I realize this is not what you want, but it doesn’t make it any less true. I know what I feel and that’s that.”
“But you can’t. You can’t!” He growls. “You promised this wouldn’t happen! You said there’s no way!”
“It turns out I’m an idiot!” I yell back. “It’s not like I planned on it. It just happened, okay?”
“No, it’s not okay! I don’t want your love!”
“Don’t I know it, my friend.” I flinch despite myself. I honestly think it’s a new low for me, having someone throw my love at me with such contempt. And that’s something coming from a guy who spent nearly a year pining after his deeply closeted classmate. Still, Dean is my friend and I have to try. “Look, I’ll get over it. All I ask of you is some space. It’s all I want.”
“So what? Am I to pretend I don’t know you? If we bump into each other, should I just walk away?”
“We won’t. And even if we will – it’s not like I’d be struck by lightning or jump your bones. Jesus, you’re blowing it way out of proportion, Dean. And I really don’t get it – all I ask for is a little space. Is it really too much to ask?”
He stares at me silently for a little while and then visibly deflates.
“I suppose not…”
“It’s not a big deal,” I repeat, but clearly it’s the wrong thing to say, because he glares at me.
“Fine!” He snaps. “Fine! Not a big deal, sure! I’ll just get the hell out of your way. Have a great summer, Cas!”
With that he jumps off the couch and before I have a chance to say anything else, he’s out the door. I stare after him long after the echo of his footsteps fades, and even though I’m sure I didn’t have any hope anyway, it still hurts. He’s what I want and it has never been clearer than in the minutes after he slammed the door shut that I’m definitely not what he wants. And it still hurts.
I’m pleasantly buzzed and I think I made the best fucking decision in a long while to come out to Meg’s party. After all, Meg’s always been excellent at getting me out of my own messed up head and I really do need help now. We’ve been steadily drinking for a while now and I love how numbing it is. Meg has her head in my lap and I’m threading my fingers through her hair. She’s warm and beautiful, and soft, and familiar. She’s exactly what I need right now.
“Stupid as it is, I missed you, Clarence.” She purrs and I smile at her.
“I haven’t been the best of friends to you.”
“Yeah, well, it’s not only a friend part that I missed. So what have you been up to?”
“Stupid things, really. I got myself into trouble for a little while. Nothing big, just really stupid.”
“You look it, you know?” She asks. “You look like you’re in trouble.”
“Not anymore. Well, not entirely, anyway. I’ll get over it,” I tell her.
“You also look like your heart’s been broken.”
“Well, that’s because I never knew how to use the damn thing right. I’ve been an idiot and I think I still am.”
“Aren’t we all, sometimes?” she asks with a smile and then sits up to kiss me. “I can help you, Clarence.”
“I was hoping you could,” I agree and kiss her back. We make out for a little while and I let myself get lost in her warmth and easy affection. It was never easy with Dean – it’s a constant battle against all the judgment he’s internalized. We fought it together and it made it worth everything. Now though… Dean’s with someone who makes it easy for him and I just have to do the same.
“I’m glad I came here,” I tell her and she laughs.
“So am I, Clarence.” She looks somewhere behind me for a moment. “Looks like your jock’s here.”
I frown and then turn to see what she’s talking about. I’m met with angry green eyes and despite having told myself I’d be okay if I ever saw him, I’m lost for a moment.
“I thought they were going to Ash’s party.” I mumble.
“Mine is obviously better.” Meg smirks. “Is that his new girlfriend? Let me guess – cheerleader?”
“Yes and yes.” I nod and focus on Meg. I don’t want to look at them after all. “She’s nice though. Haven’t seen much of her, but from what I’ve heard – she’s a nice girl. Dean’s lucky.”
“Hmm, well, good for them, then.” Meg kisses me again. “You wanna dance?”
“When do I ever?” I roll my eyes. “I’m going to get something to drink. You want something?”
“No, I’m good,” she says and I walk away. I try not to think about Dean and Cassie, but frankly – why? Why do they have to be here of all places? And what the hell have I done in my past life to deserve this shitty karma?
“So, Meg, huh?” I hear Dean ask as I’m pouring myself a drink.
“I didn’t expect to see you here,” I tell him instead.
“Can’t say I expected to see you. So, Meg?” He repeats with an odd look on his face.
“What about her?”
“Are you two back together?
“We were never together in the first place.”
“No? So what, you just fuck all of your friends?” He sneers and I know I should be pissed at him, but honestly I’m more surprised than anything. He’s not usually an asshole and I really have no idea what brought this on.
“What is this?” I ask him.
“Or are you in love with her too?” He continues in a mocking, condescending tone and I swear for a moment there I feel like I can’t breathe. I space out entirely, because there’s this big part of me that can’t believe my friend is cruel enough not only to throw my stupid love right back at my face, but also mock me for it. Who is he and why have I never seen it before? I understand him not loving me, that much I definitely get, but this… This is low and cruel and I don’t think I ever did something to him to deserve it. So I simply turn and walk away. If this is how he chooses to end our friendship, well. I just expected more of him.
I quickly say goodbye to Meg, but I think I’m shaken enough not to hide it properly, because she watches me curiously.
“Call me, when you need to talk,” she says slowly. “Or not talk. Doesn’t matter, Clarence. Call me.”
“I will,” I promise and I do think I will. Just not now. I really don’t want to talk to anyone right now and most of all I don’t want to be anywhere near Dean and his perfect and easy life. Life that I have no place in, apparently.
Once I’m back home, I decide not to get drunk for a change, so instead I get on my writing. It helps, definitely, because for a long while I’m so immersed in words that float through my head and down to my fingertips that I don’t notice or think of anything else. So I’m really surprised when I hear a quiet knock on my door. I glance at my watch and I’m even more surprised, because it’s nearly four in the morning. I open the door anyway.
“Dean? What are you doing here?”
“I… Can I come in?” he asks slowly, and I’m surprised, because he’s not drunk. I’d have thought the only way he’d come to see me was if he was blindingly drunk and in a mood to mock me again.
“I don’t think it’s a good idea,” I tell him slowly.
“Cassie broke up with me.” He sighs and I curse inwardly.
“Jesus, Dean… I’m sorry, I know you liked her… Fine, come in. Do you need something?” There’s no way I’d turn him down now – after all he was my friend and… Well, it’s hard to even see him like this – silent, dejected. Of course, I’ll do what I can to help.
He walks silently in and settles down on the couch. “I didn’t wake you?”
“No, I was just writing, it’s okay. Dean… Do you want to talk about it? What happened? You two seemed okay…”
He closes his eyes for a moment. “I told her I was bi.”
Fuck… He came out to her and she… As if he wasn’t screwed up enough about these things – it must be devastating to him. I mean I didn’t know they were so serious he’d come out to her, but I can’t even imagine coming out to someone you really care about and being turned away.
“I’m so sorry, Dean. Really… I don’t understand why she’d ever… Listen, I know it sucks and it’s horrible really, but you can’t think everyone would react this way. This shouldn’t matter, Dean, and I know not everyone would care about it. Honestly, I don’t get it! Why would Cassie care? I mean you’re with her, what does it matter you’re bi? She’s what you want, why would she break up with you just because you’re attracted to men too?”
“Um…” He sighs and looks up at me. “I also told her I’m in love with my best friend.”
“You what? Wait, what?!”
“Cassie didn’t have a problem with me being bi, but she did have a problem with me being in love with someone else.”
“But… But…” I stammer, and even to myself I sound like a goddamn idiot. But seriously – what?! Then suddenly I think I get it – he must be talking about someone else. Fuck, of course he’s talking about someone else, of course he’s not talking about me! He was very clear about how he feels about me, so what the hell is my problem? Am I really that desperate I try to see hope everywhere?
“I didn’t know… I mean, I thought I… Jesus, it’s ridiculous.” I groan. I’ve no idea why, but it hurts me even more that he managed to get a new best friend so soon. I guess I’m just that replaceable in every aspect of his life. “Who is she?”
“Who’s who?” He asks me confusedly.
“Your best friend, the girl you’re in love with,” I clarify, but his eyes widen even further and I realize something. “Or is it a he?”
“What the hell are you talking about?”
“You don’t have to tell me if you don’t want to. It’s okay.” I sigh tiredly and make myself continue. Apparently now I’m expected to pep talk him into going after someone else. “Look, Dean, whoever they are – I’m sure you have a decent shot with them. Just tell them.”
“Wait… Wait, you think I… You fucking moron!” He jabs his finger at my chest and then grabs the back of my neck and pulls me so close our noses are almost touching. “You, you goddamn fool! You! I’m in love with you!”
I blank out for a second and then shake my head and pull away from him. I’ve been down this road – not again.
“No,” I tell him simply.
“What do you mean ‘no’?”
“I mean no, you’re not in love with me. I don’t know what this is, Dean, but you’ve been very clear with me. You don’t want my love and you’re very much not in love with me.”
“How about you let me decide what I’m feeling, huh?” He frowns.
“Dean, you told me you don’t want me.”
“Yeah, and you’ve told me you won’t fall in love with me. Things change.” He sighs. “Listen, Cas, I know I’ve been a dick to you. I know I screwed up and I’m really, really sorry for many things, but none of this makes me falling for you any less true. I’m an asshole and I screwed up, but I’m head over heels for you, buddy.”
“A few hours ago you had a girlfriend – I think it’s pretty clear where we stand with each other.”
“I also broke it off with her, because it’s pretty clear to me where I stand with you.”
I turn away from him with my head buzzing. I don’t want to hope again, but… He’s right here and he sounds so sure that I can’t just close my eyes against it. He wraps his hand around my wrist.
“Cas, please look at me,” he asks and helplessly I turn to him. “I’m an idiot, Cas. This… This thing I feel, it’s not even new, you know? I freaked out.”
“What are you talking about?”
“At the cemetery, remember? You told me you were happy I was part of your life and… Fuck, it made me feel so goddamn happy! And it wasn’t supposed to. I wasn’t supposed to feel things. We agreed to have fun – easy, no strings attached, best friends fooling around. That’s what it was supposed to be. But somewhere, somehow it stopped being just that. I couldn’t even remember the last time I went out with anyone, or even wanted to. And I realized at that moment that it was nothing but strings. I’ve never felt like that before and I realized that if I didn’t get out then, I never would. And I… freaked out. That’s why I asked Cassie out – to prove myself nothing has changed and I could do whatever I wanted to.”
“Yes, well, you did what you had to do. I would have probably freaked out too, if I realized I was getting attached to someone I don’t want.” I pull away again. “Look, I’m sorry and you are right – this was not supposed to happen. And you did the right thing – you got out. When I realized I was gone on you, I decided to just let it be. It was stupid and irresponsible and I should’ve stopped it then, but I was happy for once and it was easy to convince myself you might have wanted it too. Or that at least it wasn’t doing you any harm and that I could walk away as soon as this changed. Then you met Cassie and that was that – I backed away.”
“I don’t want you to back away. Fuck, I just want you.”
“No, what you want is things to go back the way they were and I’m really sorry Dean, but I can’t do that.”
“Why? You said you loved me.”
“And that’s precisely why. Look, it was easy to be together, no strings attached. It made sense then that it was private and just for us. But I can’t go back to that, because that’s not how I feel anymore. There are strings. I’m in love with you and I don’t want to be a dirty secret for someone I love.”
“Who said anything about being a dirty secret?” He frowns and I sigh.
“You said very clearly you didn’t want to be anyone’s boyfriend, much less have one. That leaves very little choice.”
“Yeah, and you said we’d be fuck buddies. Look, Cas, don’t you get it? Things changed.”
“Have they really?”
“Yes, they have. I just came out to Cassie and I’m not here to ask you to be my fuck buddy. I’m here to ask you to be my boyfriend, as stupid as it sounds.”
“Are you seriously telling me you’d be willing to come out? To be with me?”
“Listen, there are very few people I care about. Their opinions actually matter to me. Other than those few - I don’t care what anyone thinks. I’m in love with you and I’m not going to hide it.”
I gape at him for a few seconds.
“There’s just one person I don’t want to tell and I’m pretty sure you can guess who.”
“Yeah, my dad. Other than him, I’m okay to tell everyone. Fuck, I actually called Sammy already. I kinda needed help to get my shit together.”
“You told Sam?” I ask and frankly I think that’s the most surprising of everything that happened tonight. Not that him confessing his love for me isn’t surprising, but still. “And?”
“And he said to get my head out of my ass and go do something about it. He likes you and he said it was obvious we had something going on between us and I’d be an idiot to screw it up. So when I told him I kinda already have, he said to stop being a dick, apologize and grovel until you take me back. So. I’m groveling.”
“And you’re okay with this? Really okay with telling people?” I ask, because I need to know.
“I’m bi, Cas. With you or without you. So, I’d probably have to do it anyway some time. But I’d rather be with you.”
I look at him for a bit longer and then I very literally jump his bones.