Day 18- Bells
Cas hummed as he placed another ornament on the tree. This was his favorite time of year and though he lived alone, he still put up a tree every year. Decorating it made him happy, and every year he added a new ornament. It was a tradition his mother had started when he’d been born, and it was one he continued, even now. This year he had bought one with a tiny polar bear on a sled. The year was written on the side in gold paint- 2018. Every ornament marked the year he had purchased it.
The little bear ornament was hung on one of the upper branches. He always saved the tree topper for last. Some years he put up an angel, other years he put up a star. This year he had purchased the prettiest topper he thought he’d ever seen. It had bells and sprigs of holly, and there were lights and music. If he slid the little clicker thing, which he didn’t know the name of, it would begin to flash to the tune of Silver Bells. He was looking forward to putting that one up on the tree this year.
After the garland had been hung and all of the ornaments added, he headed to the kitchen to get himself a glass of egg nog. It was his favorite drink and he wished they sold it all year long. The song on his record player switched from Silent Night to O Come All Yee Faithful, and he began humming that. Outside the wind was howling and despite it only being the day after Thanksgiving, the snow was falling too. It was going to be a white Christmas. He just wished he didn’t have to spend it alone.
He didn’t want to dwell on that. This was a wonderful holiday filled with music and movies, egg nog and decorations. So what if he didn’t have someone to spend it with? He was his own best company anyway. Putting all thoughts of how he’d be spending the holiday alone out of mind, he headed back to the living room and got a fire started in the fireplace. Once it was lit, he curled up on the couch and pulled his Christmas throw blanket over his legs.
“Santa,” He sighed. “I wish you would send me someone this Christmas. Someone I can fall in love with, and that will fall in love with me.”
He took another sip of his egg nog and stared into the fire. It was silly, really, talking to an imaginary fat man in a red suit, but he did it anyway. There wasn’t anyone here to laugh at him or call him foolish for making a wish like that. If there was a Santa, maybe he would hear him, and maybe, by some miracle, he’d send the perfect man his way. It was a slim to nil chance, but that’s how wishes usually worked anyway.
He wasn’t aware of dozing off but the sound of someone ringing his doorbell pulled him from his slumber, and he threw the blanket back as he got up. After setting his egg nog down he went to answer the door.
“Hi! My name is Emma and I’m selling stuff to raise money for my school. Could I show you my book and maybe you could buy something? The kids that sell the most get to win prizes, and I want the teddy bear!”
The little girl at the door was what drew his attention first. She was adorable, dressed in her dark purple coat with matching gloves and hat. Her smile was bright as she thrust the catalog out at him.
“Emma, remember your manners,”
The deep voice of the man standing behind her drew his attention next. He looked up to see a man dressed in a green canvas jacket bouncing on the balls of his feet as he tried to stave off the cold. He was incredibly handsome. When he met Cas’ gaze, he smiled.
“Sorry, this is her first year doing this and she’s pretty excited.”
Cas looked down at the little girl again. “Would you like to come inside? I’m sure it’s better than standing in the cold to show me what you’re selling. I have hot chocolate and peppermint sticks,”
“Yes! Can we, Daddy? Please?” She looked up at the man with her, her gaze pleading. Her father looked at Cas again, taking in the oversized sweater with the garish Christmas tree on it, the sweatpants, and the fuzzy socks. Cas felt himself being assessed as to whether or not he might be a threat to the man’s daughter.
“Yeah, ok, but we’re not staying long,” He conceded. Cas was pretty sure he’d said yes because he was freezing. He stepped back to let them in.
“Oh! Your tree is so pretty!” Emma exclaimed. Cas smiled as he closed the door behind them.
“Thank you, I just finished putting it up,”
She looked up at him with the curiosity that only a child could have. “You don’t have presents to put under it?”
Cas’ smile was bittersweet as he led them over to the couch. Emma was already stripping her coat off, it was much too warm with the fireplace going.
“No, I don’t have anyone to spend Christmas with. But I like celebrating it anyway. This is my favorite time of year. If you give me a minute, I’ll get some hot cocoa, unless you prefer egg nog?”
“Hot cocoa, please!” Emma piped up. Her father smiled at her before looking at Cas again.
“That’s fine for us both. Thank you for offering.”
Cas smiled and nodded. “It’s no bother, I don’t get many visitors, so I’m happy to have you,”
He ducked into the kitchen and as quickly as he could, he made some homemade hot chocolate. He added the peppermint sticks and swirled them around a bit before carrying the mugs back into the living room.
“I’m Dean,” The man said as he accepted his. Emma was smiling brightly as she took hers. She took a sip and hummed happily.
“This is better than what Daddy makes,”
“Hey,” Dean laughed. She giggled and took another sip. He took a sip of his own and nodded. “She’s right. I use the powdered stuff in the box. This tastes homemade.”
“It is. I used my mother’s recipe. She used to make it for me when I was a little boy, and I have always made it this way. It’s much better than the boxed kind,” Cas sat at the other end of the couch and accepted the book Emma handed him. “My name is Cas, by the way.”
“Nice to meet you, Cas. We’re actually neighbors, just moved in a few months back. We live across the street, third house in from the corner of Elm and Third,” Dean offered his hand and Cas shook it, noting how cold the other man’s skin was. He was glad that he had invited them inside to get warm.
“Oh? I don’t know many of my neighbors, unfortunately. When I’m not working, I’m usually reading at this time of year. In the spring I am usually gardening,”
He opened the book and looked at each page slowly. There were a lot of things here, but he didn’t have anyone to buy things for, save for maybe his friend Meg. Would she like a pound of chocolate covered almonds though? Knowing her, probably. There were items he thought he might like for himself, like the Christmas mug with the sweater pattern, and the cake pan shaped like a Christmas tree.
“Well, I see several things here I would like. Let me grab a pen and paper so I can write them down,” He went back to the kitchen to grab the items from the drawer and then returned to the living room. Emma was standing by the tree looking at the ornaments.
“You have one for each year? Daddy buys one for me every year too. We have our tree up too. It’s white and we put up green and red garland,” She leaned in to look at the polar bear on the sled. “I like this one.”
“Thank you, I just bought that yesterday. I like getting a new one each year,” Cas opened the book again and began writing down the items he wanted. There was a lot of candy, but he didn’t need that much. The almonds he thought would be nice to give to Meg, so he wrote those down, and the cute mug. He chose the cake pan, a set of salt and pepper shakers shaped like Mr. and Mrs. Claus, and a few other things.
“You don’t have to buy that much stuff,” Dean leaned closer and dropped his voice so Emma wouldn’t hear.
“No, I want to. I have the money, and I want to help her get the bear. How much does she have to sell to get it?”
Dean frowned and glanced at his daughter. “Five hundred,”
“Goodness! Why do they make children work so hard to get a simple prize?” Cas shook his head in disbelief. “How much has she already sold?” Dean’s frown grew deeper.
“She sold thirty to my brother, twelve to my best friend, fifty to my parents, and walking the neighborhood, she’s sold another thirty five. I bought another seventy five cause you know, she’s my kid and all. I want her to have the bear, but I don’t think it’s going to happen. She’ll still win a prize though, she’s sold enough for that,”
Cas looked down at the book again. He flipped to the back where the prizes were listed. She’d made enough to win a cheap, drawstring backpack.
“Oh, that’s a lousy prize,”
Dean chuckled and nodded. “Yeah, and for all the hard work she’s putting in, it really is,”
Cas went through the book again. He added in another bag of candy, two pairs of socks with Christmas trees on them, a hat and scarf set that he figured he could donate to a homeless shelter. There were other items that interested him, so he added those in too. Dean watched in shock as his list grew longer.
“Really, Cas, you don’t have to buy all of that,”
“I have the money, I just don’t have anyone to buy things for, save for one friend, and I love this time of year, so buying Christmas items really doesn’t bother me. A few of these things I plan to donate, but the rest I’ll happily keep and use,” Cas had written each item number down and how many he wanted of each. By the time all was said and done, he’d bought a little more than two hundred and fifty dollars’ worth. Dean stared in shock.
“If you talk to a few more neighbors, perhaps you can make up the rest of the money she needs to get the bear,” Cas handed his list and the book back. “How do I pay you?”
“You pay when the products come in. You’re sure you’re good for this? Because if you don’t pay, I have to eat the cost,” Dean asked.
“I am a novelist with seventy two published novels. I am quite wealthy and could afford to buy everything in this book. I will, if that will help her, but I don’t know what I would do with it all,”
That was when Dean really looked around. There were bookcases, filled to capacity with books, and on the walls hung framed pictures and awards he’d gotten for his books.
“What have you written?”
“I mostly write young adult novels. I’ve written the Mandy Applegrew books, The Cat House Mystery series, The Susie Daring series, and several others. They’ve gone over quite well with children. I’m working on another series at the moment. The first book is already out and the second will be released in the spring. I’m writing the third one right now. I recently signed a contract to have the first Susie Daring book made into a movie, with my approval of the script. If I don’t like how they write it, I have the right to cancel the contract,”
“You wrote the Susie Daring books?” Emma came back, sitting down carefully with her mug. She’d already drank most of it.
“I did. Do you like that series?” He asked. She smiled and nodded emphatically.
“It’s my favorite series. You’re going to make a Susie Daring movie? For real?”
He smiled at the little girl. She was precious. “For real. It will come out in two years,”
She turned to look at her father. “Can we go see it, Daddy? Please?”
“Of course, sweetheart. Maybe I should read the books first, so I know what to expect when we go see the movie,”
She had taken her hat off and stuffed that and her gloves in her pocket but her long, dark blonde hair was mussed up. Her father smoothed it back down.
“You need presents under your tree, to make it pretty. Is Santa going to bring you presents too?” She looked up at Cas again. Her question made his heart hurt a little. Meg would buy him a present, and he’d bought her one too, but that was it. For a famous writer, he had barely anyone in his life and this time of year, as much as he loved it, it was a painful reminder of just how alone he really was.
“You know, I’m not sure. He might. It would be nice to have a present or two under the tree,”
“I bet he brings you what you really want. That’s what Santa does, he brings people what they really want. Do you have something you want?” She asked. He knew he looked sad as he tried to force a smile onto his face.
“I do, but I’m not sure it’s something he can give me. I asked for it anyway,”
He passed his list over to Dean who wrote his name and address on the form, and then spent the next ten minutes writing down everything Cas had ordered. In the background his record had switched to Jingle Bells, and that brought a smile back to his face.
“Is that a record player you’re playing music on?” Dean asked as he kept writing.
“Yes. I prefer to use that than my iPod. I save that for traveling, but when I’m home, I use my record player. Since it’s close to Christmas and I was putting up my tree, I chose to put on an album of Christmas music,”
Dean looked up at him, a soft smile on his face. “What kind of music do you listen to?”
“I have a variety of albums. Rock from the sixties on to the eighties, some jazz, but those albums came from my father’s collection, I’m not really a fan, classical, and some other stuff. I have a couple of Christmas albums. I almost put on an Elvis one but decided against it,”
“That’s really cool. I have a record player too, and a large collection of albums. A lot were my dad’s, but I’ve been collecting them for years,” Dean said.
“I like to look through thrift stores and the few record stores that still exist whenever I travel. Sometimes I find albums worth buying,” Cas watched as Emma finished the last of her cocoa and started sucking on her peppermint stick. It made him smile. She was sweet. He’d always wanted children and thought that by now he would have met someone worth having them with, but that hadn’t happened.
“Ok, I have it all written down. They’re supposed to have everything delivered to Emma the last day before she gets out for winter break. I’ll come with your things either that day or the next. You’ll have your stuff in time for Christmas,” Dean sat back, looking over the form, making sure he’d entered it all in right.
“And I pay you at that time?” Cas asked. Dean nodded.
“You can write a check and I’ll deliver it to the school,”
“Alright, that works,” Cas didn’t want them to leave, it had been a long time since he’d had visitors, but he understood that Emma had more people to try and get to buy things from her. Dean didn’t seem like he was in the biggest hurry though, he was still stirring his peppermint stick around in his cocoa and drinking it.
“This is probably the best cocoa I’ve ever had, can I get the recipe?”
“Of course, I’ll get it for you now.” Cas got up and went into the kitchen to get down his recipe box. He found the cocoa recipe and carried it back to the living room where he wrote it down. Dean accepted the sheet of paper with a smile, reading it over before tucking it into the pocket of the flannel he was wearing under his jacket. He was sorely under dressed for this late fall weather, but he’d probably only expected to be out a short time. He almost wanted to lend the man a warmer coat and a scarf.
Dean finished his cocoa and Cas reluctantly took both mugs back, moving slowly to carry them to the kitchen. His visitors would be leaving now, and he’d go back to being alone. He met them back at the door where Dean was tugging Emma’s hat back down over her ears. She was putting her gloves on but she smiled when she saw him walking over.
“We don’t want to impose any longer, but really, thank you for buying from her, and thank you for the cocoa,” Dean said. Cas smiled softly and nodded.
“Really, you weren’t imposing. I was happy to have you over, and I’m glad I could help with her fundraiser,” He hoped he would see them again, more than just when they came to drop his items off.
They said goodbye and Cas watched them walk down to the sidewalk before he finally closed the door. It was only the Friday after Thanksgiving, Black Friday, to be specific, and there was still a whole month before they’d be back with his items. There would likely be no one else that visited between now and then. With a sigh he headed to the kitchen to wash the pot he’d made the cocoa in, and the mugs. He really didn’t have anything else to do.
“So I met one of my neighbors,” Dean sat back on his couch, stretching his arms across the back.
“Finally? You’ve lived there three months now. Is it one of the people next door?” His brother sat back in the arm chair across from him and crossed his legs. He took a sip of his beer as he waited expectantly.
“No, actually he lives across the street. Turns out I have a bit of a celebrity living in my neighborhood. He writes some of Emma’s favorite books. I had to go up to her room to get one of them so I could see what all he writes, and it’s a pretty good book. I can see why she likes them so much. Dude bought two hundred and fifty dollars’ worth of stuff, just to try and help Em reach her five hundred dollar goal. He said he’d have bought more except he doesn’t have anyone to buy for. He’s really nice but I got the feeling that he’s really lonely,”
“Well, maybe you should talk to him more, maybe invite him over for a beer every now and then. Unless you got a weird vibe off him and don’t want him around Emma,” Sam said.
“No, nothing like that. He’s really nice, and Emma likes him. Like I said, I just get the feeling that he’s lonely. His face fell when I said we had to leave. I don’t think he gets many visitors. I don’t get how a famous writer can be that lonely. You’d think he’d be swarming with friends. He didn’t mention much family, but the way he talked about his father’s record collection, I got the impression his dad is dead. I’m not sure he has more family. It’s kind of sad. He had all these Christmas decorations up, even though it was only the day after Thanksgiving, and he was playing Christmas music. He was wearing this tacky but kind of cute sweater with a Christmas tree on it too. I mean, I love this holiday but he really loves it, and for someone that doesn’t seem to have anyone to spend it with, he really goes all out. That house across the street that already has their lights up? That’s his house,” Dean nodded towards the window so Sam got up to go look.
“The one with the moving reindeer on the roof?”
Dean got up to look. “No. I guess another neighbor has put their stuff up too. It’s that one there,” He pointed out Cas’ house.
“Looks like a nice house,” Sam commented before returning to his seat. Dean returned to his on the couch.
“It is. We still didn’t get to five hundred though. Emma’s going to be disappointed when she doesn’t get her bear, but no other neighbors wanted to buy anything. I’ll try Bobby tomorrow, and then Ellen. Maybe even Jo and Ash will buy something. I bet Benny will get something. Maybe we can get her to her goal,”
“Let her turn the puppy dog eyes on them and they’ll be buying,” Sam was sure of it. Dean was back to thinking about his neighbor. Cas had been sweet, and ridiculously hot, even in sweats and the sweater. He had the biggest blue eyes too.
“I think I’ll invite him over tomorrow,”
Sam swallowed his beer and looked at him. “Who?”
“Cas, my neighbor. It’s Friday and we get pizza on Fridays. I think it would be nice to invite him over, don’t you?”
“Yeah, I mean, if he’s as isolated as you say he is, I think he’d like having the invitation,”
“When I get back from work I’ll go ask him. First I have to stop by Bobby’s and Ellen’s to see if they’ll order something,” Dean said.
“Let me see that book again. Maybe I can find something else to order,” Sam held his hand out and Dean grabbed the book off the coffee table to hand it to him. Every penny they could earn brought them closer to the bear his daughter wanted. Hopefully his brother would find more stuff to buy.
Cas was sitting on his couch, listening to Credence Clearwater Revival while he worked on the next chapter of his book when someone rang his doorbell. He set the laptop aside and got up to answer it, wondering who could be at his door. Opening it, he was surprised to see Dean standing there. At least he had a warmer jacket on and didn’t look nearly as cold as he had the last time he’d come by.
“Hello, Dean, it’s nice to see you again,” He noticed Emma wasn’t with him.
“Hey, Cas. I was wondering, tonight is pizza night for me and Emma, and I was wondering if maybe you’d like to come over and join us. We usually just kick back, watch a couple of movies before she heads up to bed. I thought maybe, if you’re not busy, you might want to come have dinner with us and watch movies?”
A sense of excitement coursed through him at Dean’s invitation. He smiled wide and nodded.
“I’d love to. It beats sitting here eating a turkey sandwich and staring at my computer screen,”
“Cool,” Dean was grinning, happy that his invitation had been accepted. He cocked his head and leaned forward a bit. “Is that Credence you’re listening to?”
“Oh, yes, it is. I’ve been listening to music most of the day. It helps me write,” Cas replied.
“You have good taste in music. I’ll show you my record collection when you come by,”
“What time should I be there?” He asked.
“Seven. I’ll order the pizzas at six thirty and they should be there by the time you come over. Any special requests?”
“I like the one with all of the meat, or even sausage and mushroom. Really, I’ll eat anything, I love pizza,” Cas smiled again. He was looking forward to pizza and movies. He didn’t even care what movies they were going to watch.
“Awesome. Well, I have to get back, Emma’s alone. She’s supposed to be doing her homework but I’m betting she’s watching TV. I’ll see you at seven,” Dean started backing up towards the stairs.
“I’ll be there,” Cas promised. He watched Dean leave before closing the door. That was the first invitation to go out that he’d gotten in years. He looked down at his clothes. At least the tee shirt and jeans he was wearing were newer and clean. It meant he didn’t have to change before he went over to Dean’s. He checked the time on his phone. It was half past five. What was he going to do for the next hour and a half? He had no idea, but he had to do something to take his mind off the dinner invitation!
At seven the doorbell rang. Emma looked up from her spot on the couch and watched as her dad walked out of the kitchen, heading for the door.
“Who’s that, Daddy Is it the pizza?”
“It’s our neighbor, Cas,”
“The nice man that gave us the yummy hot cocoa?”
Dean smiled at her as he went to open the door.
“That’s the one,”
She turned around, getting up on her knees to watch him as he opened the door.
“Hey, Cas, come on in,”
“Hello again,” Cas was smiling wide as he stepped into the house. He unzipped his coat and when he slid it off, Dean took it and hung it on the hook on the wall. He closed the door and motioned towards the living room.
“I’ve ordered the pizzas and they should be here any minute now,” He explained as he led Cas over to the couch. “Move over, Monkey, let Cas sit down.”
Emma jumped down from the couch and walked over to a bean bag chair a few feet away. She flopped down onto it and looked up at the TV where a cartoon was playing. Dean sat down on the other end of the couch from Cas and turned so he was facing him.
“What did you do for Thanksgiving?” Dean asked the other man. Cas shrugged and twisted his hands in his lap.
“I volunteered at a soup kitchen in town. They serve the poor and the homeless a rather nice turkey dinner, so I helped with that. I ate dinner there. It was nice, actually. When I got home I enjoyed a slice of pumpkin pie and watched Black Panther,”
“Good movie,” Dean smiled in spite of how bad he felt for the guy. “So, tell me about yourself. Besides the fact that you write books.”
Cas glanced up shyly before looking at his hands again. “Well, what do you want to know?”
“Tell me about your family,” Dean urged. He really wanted to know why Cas was spending his holidays alone.
“Well, my parents have passed away, as has my sister. When I was nineteen I was away at college. My sister Hannah was sixteen at the time and she got drunk at a party, called our dad to come pick her up. Mom tagged along and on the drive home they were T-boned by one of the drunk kids that had been at the party. Everyone died. I lost my entire family. My grandparents had all passed away by then. I have an aunt on my mother’s side and two uncles on my father’s side, none of which want anything to do with me unless one of them needs money. Because I won’t give it to them, I’m not worth their time. They all have families but I’m sort of the black sheep. Sorry, I know you wanted to know why I spend my holidays alone. That’s the reason why,”
“Geez, man, I’m so sorry. I shouldn’t have pried,” Dean apologized. Cas smiled softly and shook his head.
“No, really, it’s alright. People are often curious. That’s what they ask me about the most, why I spend the holidays alone, or why no one comes to visit me. I don’t have many friends, and the ones I do have, they’re all out of state. Except Meg, but I suppose she’s not really a friend. She’s my agent, but she cares and calls to check on me sometimes. Maybe that makes her one after all? I don’t know anymore. I spend most of my time at home writing. Sometimes I go out to eat, I enjoy doing that, or I go see a movie. I’ve seen all of the Marvel ones in theater, even the first Spiderman. Even those awful first couple of Hulk movies,”
“Well, you have good taste in movies. Emma and I watch the Marvel movies, though she wasn’t really into the first Captain America movie when I played it for her. She liked the second one better,” Dean said. The doorbell rang again so he got up to go answer it.
“Pizza!” Emma exclaimed.
“You like pizza, huh?” Cas said, smiling at the little girl.
“I love it! It’s my favoritest food ever!”
He chuckled, finding her enthusiasm refreshing. Dean came back with two pizza boxes and a smaller box, setting them all on the coffee table.
“Em, go get the paper plates,”
She jumped up and hurried to the kitchen. When she returned she passed them to her father who sent her back to get cans of soda from the fridge. She handed one to Cas who accepted it graciously, and then accepted a plate from Dean.
“Help yourself, and eat as much as you want. The small box has breadsticks,”
Cas took two slices of pizza and a breadstick, sitting back with his food to start eating.
“Is your wife not going to eat?” He asked.
“Uh, no, not married. Long story short is that I had a girlfriend, she got pregnant, we broke up, she didn’t tell me until she was about to give birth. I was at the hospital when she delivered Emma, my name was added to the birth certificate and as soon as she and Emma were cleared to go home, she disappeared into the wind. She didn’t want to be a mom, but by the time she figured out she was pregnant, it was too late. She figured she’d tell me instead of just putting Emma up for adoption, and I’m glad she did. I took Emma home and three weeks later we were in court where she handed sole custody over to me. It’s been just us ever since.
“We actually just moved in here a couple of months back, just before the new school year. I took a teaching position at the middle school and got Emma enrolled at the elementary school which is next door. I get off work a half hour before she gets out of school, so it works perfectly. I’m still unpacking, but I got the living room and kitchen done. It’s a miracle I found the decorations for the tree. Our tradition is that after Thanksgiving dinner, we come and put up the tree and start decorating. On New Year’s day, we take the tree down. Emma’s favorite thing is to decorate the tree, and it’s one of my favorite things too,” Dean took a sip of his soda and pointed at the TV. “We were going to watch Christopher Robin, have you seen it? Probably not, unless you have kids?”
“No, no kids, but I’ve actually been wanting to see it. I was a fan of Winnie the Pooh growing up,” Cas had finished one slice of pizza and chased it with some of his soda before he had replied. He watched as Emma got up to put the movie in.
“I put in child appropriate movies now and then when she goes to bed I can watch things I really want to see, but that would scare her or teach her words I’m just not ready for her to learn,” Dean said with a chuckle. “I was thinking, after she goes to bed, I was going to watch The Equalizer. Have you seen it?”
“No, but I’ve really wanted to. I would gladly watch it with you,” Cas hoped Dean mentioning it meant he was being invited to stay to watch it with him.
“Good. She goes to bed at nine, so after this movie it’s her bedtime. I’ll get her into bed and then I will put on the movie for us,” Dean quieted as the movie started and Cas turned his attention to the television too.
They ate until they were stuffed, and when the movie was over Dean had Emma help him clean up before he was ushering her upstairs. Cas relaxed, watching the Law and Order episode that had been left on for him and twenty minutes later Dean was back.
“You want a beer? I don’t drink when Emma’s awake. My dad had a drinking problem when my brother and I were growing up and he drank around us kids. I don’t have a drinking problem but that kind of stuck with me, you know? And I don’t want Emma really seeing me drink. Once in a while if I’m at like, a barbecue and someone offers me one I’ll drink it, but I only ever have one, and I follow it up with soda or tea so she doesn’t smell that on my breath,”
“A beer would be nice. I understand not wanting her to see you drink. My aunt has a drinking problem, drinks away all of her disability money, then wants me to give her money so she can drink more. That’s why I don’t give her money. I’d help her if she didn’t drink. My uncles are just assholes. They both have good paying jobs but they figure that because I have more money than them, I should be willing to pay off their debt, their mortgages, their car payments, and a host of other things. They’ve both been living above their means and put themselves deep in debt, so they think I should get them out. Not going to happen,” Cas continued talking as Dean slipped into the kitchen to grab the beers, knowing the man could hear him from the couch without waking Emma upstairs. When Dean returned, he passed an already opened bottle to him before putting the movie in.
“That’s pretty selfish on their parts to expect you to take responsibility for their mistakes,”
Cas was taking a drink from his bottle but he nodded before swallowing. “That’s how I look at it, and I’ve said as much. Basically it got me banned from what little family I have left.”
Dean didn’t press play on the movie yet. He angled his body towards Cas and rested the hand with his beer in his lap while draping the other over the back of the couch.
“My parents are still alive. My dad’s sober now. Sam, that’s my brother, he has a girlfriend but no kids of his own. Emma’s the only grandchild until Sam has one. He’s in his residency up at Holmes Hospital. This is his last year. He eventually wants to open his own clinic, but that won’t be for a long time yet. My dad’s a chemical engineer, my mom’s a doctor, and Sam’s girlfriend is a teacher. She and I actually worked together at my old job. I introduced them and they just hit it off. They’ve been together eight years now? Something like that. When I left, she applied for a position where I’m at now and she got hired. They moved a few blocks away and they’re now closer to our parents, to Eileen’s new job, and to the hospital. She teaches special ed at the middle school while I teach math and science. Works well for us all. I get to see more of my brother and my parents, and Emma stays connected with them too. Eileen takes her out once a month for a spa day where they get their hair and nails done. Sometimes my mom tags along. They’re actually going tomorrow. Emma gets super excited. She loves spending time with Eileen. We were waiting for Sam to propose but turns out neither of them really believe in marriage, but they’re committed to one another, and she’s as much my sister in law as if she had married my brother. They’re talking about having a baby once Sam’s done with his residency. I’m looking forward to being an uncle,”
“It’s wonderful that your family is as close as they are. Do you have a lot of friends?” Cas asked. Dean shrugged.
“I have several close friends. The rest are somewhere between being casual friends and just acquaintances. My mom always told me, you can count the number of true friends on one hand. As a kid I was like, “pfft, she doesn’t know what she’s talking about, I have dozens of friends”, but now that I’m an adult? I totally get what she meant by that. I can literally count on one hand the number of real friends I have,” He leaned forward a bit, his expression turning somewhat serious. “Can I ask, how come you don’t have more friends?”
“Well, I had some when I was in high school, and I even had some in college, but after my family died, I was a very angry young man for a long time. The people I thought were my friends, they couldn’t handle dealing with me, or the pain I was in. Somehow I managed to finish my degree, and I wrote my first book during that time. It sold well, so I wrote another one, and then another one. By the time I’d graduated with my degree in English, I already had quite a bit of money. I moved back to my family home, which is where I’m still living. I paid the mortgage off while I was still in college, and all of the fees that came with burying my parents and sister.
“My friends, they didn’t come back around. They all got on with their lives, and I wasn’t a part of that anymore. It took therapy and medication and time to heal after losing everyone I loved, and I guess they didn’t want to wait. I spent the next twenty years writing books, doing tours and interviews, and I suppose making new friends sort of fell to the wayside. I’ve made a scant few, mostly because they approached me first, but they’re in cities I’ve toured, not any here. One I had a brief relationship with, but we sort of stayed friends. He’s a force to be reckoned with,” His eyes suddenly blew wide and he sat forward. “Oh my god! I’m so sorry!”
Dean arched an eyebrow, having no idea what he was even apologizing for. “What? Why are you sorry?”
“I-I know how this state is, and I don’t know if you have a problem with my being gay, and if you want me to leave and you don’t want to talk to me anymore, I’ll completely understand,”
“First? Breathe,” Dean nodded as Cas took a shuddering breath and exhaled it in a huff. “Second? It’s ok to be gay. Anyone that tells you otherwise is wrong. Who cares what other people think anyway. I’m not kicking you out of my house, ok? So let’s watch the movie and if you’re not tired, we can watch another one after that. I rented a couple others too. I have The Meg, ever seen that?”
“I read the book series,” Cas replied as he settled back against the cushions. At least he wasn’t panicking anymore.
“Well, I don’t think this is like the books, so you might want to think of it as though it’s something completely different. I read the books too, but I saw the trailers for the movie. If you want to stay, I’d like the company,” Dean turned back around and picked up the remote from where Emma had left it on the coffee table.
“I think I’d like to see that one, even if it’s different than the books. I’ll suspend all comparisons or else I’ll end up hating it. I’ve learned to do that with other book to movie adaptations. It’s why when my book gets turned into a movie, I have final say over the script. I know how much a storyline can get changed. I hate when the child in the book is twelve, but the person cast in the movie is sixteen to twenty one. It’s a pet peeve of mine. Susie is a twelve year old. I want an eleven to thirteen year old cast. They’re set to send me the second draft of the screenplay next week. I’ve already vetoed most of the changes they tried to make. They’re not happy about that, but I know they were just testing me to see if I would bend,” Cas crossed his legs and took another sip of his beer.
“And you’re not bending,” Dean concluded, chuckling at the smug smile on the man’s face. Cas seemed to always be very shy and reserved. He liked seeing this side of him.
“I refuse to bend. I’ll be a thorn in their side if they make me one,”
Dean grinned and took another drink. Yeah, he liked seeing this side of Cas.
Dean wiped the table down before moving on to the counter by the stove. The front door opened and he stuck his head out of the kitchen in time to see Eileen walking in. He waited for her to turn his way and spot him before he waved. Bringing his hands up he started to sign.
“Emma’s upstairs. I told her to dress warm, she tried to put on a dress but there are flurries today, so I made her change into pants,”
Eileen smiled and nodded before tapping her ear. “I have my new hearing aid in. It’s a little better than the last one,”
“Oh good! I knew you were waiting for that one,” He turned towards the stairs. “Emma! Aunt Eileen is here!”
The sound of feet rushing down the stairs commenced a second later.
“Hi, Auntie!” She ran over and hugged Eileen tight. Eileen smiled and hugged her back.
“So what color should we get our nails painted this time?”
Emma tilted her head and pursed her lips.
“She looks so much like you when she does that,” Eileen signed to Dean. He chuckled and shrugged.
“Can I get that one that is one color at the top and another at the bottom? Like pink and purple?”
“Sure. I think that would be pretty. Daddy says today you are to get your hair cut, so we’re going to do that first,” Eileen ran her fingers through the little girl’s hair. Dean had brushed it because she was able to easily comb through it.
“Then they can put in curls?” Emma asked. Eileen smiled and nodded.
“Sure. Think I would look pretty with curls too?”
“We can get matching curls!” Emma exclaimed.
“I like the sound of that. Go get your coat and we’ll get going. Remember your hat and gloves,”
Emma skipped over to the hooks on the wall and got down her coat.
“Is Sam at work?” Dean asked.
“Yes. He is supposed to get off at seven. We’ll be back by then. Do you want us to bring dinner back? Sam will meet us here and we can all have dinner together,”
“Sure, sounds good,” Dean nodded.
“Ok, we’ll see you later, Daddy,” Eileen waited for Emma to hug and kiss her father before steering her out the door. Dean watched them walk down the stairs and get into Eileen’s car. Just before he closed the door he looked across the street. He could see Cas out on his front lawn, putting up what looked like deer. Once Eileen’s car was gone, he grabbed his winter coat off the hook and stepped onto his porch. He put it on, then added his hat and gloves before closing the door and jogging down the stairs. He crossed the street and walked over to where Cas was trying to keep the deer from falling over.
The man jumped, knocking the deer over as he turned around.
“Hi,” He smiled happily.
“Putting up your outside decorations?”
“Yes, but I just bought these deer and they won’t stand up right. I think there are hooks in the box. I just have to find them,” Cas pointed at the box a few feet away, so Dean walked over to it and after pulling out the instructions, he found the hooks.
“You need a hammer to pound these into the ground,”
“Right there,” Cas motioned towards a tool box on the porch. Dean went and opened it, finding the hammer easily enough. He carried it back over to the deer that Cas had just righted again. While Cas held the decoration in place, he got the hooks through the feet, pinning the deer in place. They both stood back to look at it.
“This is where you wanted it, right?”
“Yes. I have three more to put up though,” Cas replied. Dean could see the other boxes leaning against the garage.
“I’ll help you get your decorations up, on one condition,”
Cas looked at him, his eyes even bluer in the morning sunlight.
“You help me get mine up after this.”
Cas smiled wide. “I would love to,”
The next two hours were spent putting up all of the yard decorations, the new ones Cas had bought to replace old broken ones, and the still functional older ones. They strung more lights than were already up, wrapped garland around the railings, even got up on the roof to put up the Santa sleigh and the moving reindeer. Dean refused to let him go up there on his own, so he did it while Cas held the ladder. By the time they were finished, the place screamed “Christmas”, and Dean found that he liked that a lot.
“I’m freezing, what about you?” Cas asked. Dean was pretty cold but he felt that he could keep going. He wanted to find out what Cas had in mind though.
“I’m cold, sure,”
“How does beef stew and coffee sound?”
Dean smiled and nodded. That sounded fantastic.
“Come inside then, I’ll get us both a bowl while I put on a pot of coffee. After we eat we can get started on your decorations. I think I’d like to put on a warmer coat too,” Cas started up the stairs and Dean followed after him.
He really didn’t understand why the writer didn’t have more friends. The man was incredibly nice and it was clear that he was thoughtful and caring too. He was beautiful as well, but he didn’t want Cas thinking that was just what he was interested in.
The house was toasty warm and as Dean looked around he noticed that there were even more decorations up, including four stockings hung at the fireplace. Cas noticed Dean looking as he stripped off his coat.
“I hang one for my sister and my parents too. They’re the ones my mom bought when we were little,” He said softly as he hung his coat on the coat tree by the door. Dean took his own off and hung it up too.
“Is that one Hot Wheels?” He asked, grinning. It felt better to not cast a sad light over the moment. Cas laughed and nodded.
“Yes, and my sister’s was Barbie. She was obsessed when she was little. My mom bought Mr. and Mrs. Claus ones for her and my dad. She’d always stuff things like toothbrushes, socks and underwear in our stockings. Hannah always hated opening the items in the stockings because we’d be made to open that stuff before we got to open the gifts under the tree, and Hannah never wanted me to see what underwear she was getting. I wasn’t too keen on her seeing the ones I was getting either, especially when she stole my Batman or Spiderman ones,”
Dean laughed as he followed him into the kitchen.
“Yeah, sounds like a younger sister. Trust me, younger brothers aren’t any better. Sam always wanted whatever I got. He still gets jealous. Last year our folks got me tickets to Disneyland, so I could take Emma this summer, and Sam got pissy because he didn’t get Disneyland tickets. He’s a grown ass adult, could pay for his own tickets, doesn’t even have any kids, but he got mad. My dad told him to grow up and act his age, and stop being jealous of a six year old. He stopped after he realized what an ass he was making of himself. I took Emma for her seventh birthday this past July, right before we moved. I wanted her to have a positive experience before I moved her across town and into a new house. She had a blast. We made sure to send lots of pictures to Sam, and I made sure he saw how happy his niece was in every single one of them. Made him feel guilty. My mom had pointed out to him that I don’t make as much money as him, and I couldn’t normally afford to take Emma somewhere like that. Hopefully he doesn’t act like that again this year,”
“He was jealous of a little girl?” Cas cocked an eyebrow as he took two bowls down and began filling them with stew. He already had the coffee brewing and once it was done he filled two large mugs and brought those to the table too. After carrying creamer, sugar, and silverware over, he sat down adjacent to Dean.
“He was, but he learned pretty quickly how immature he was being. A few years back he was jealous because my dad gave me a signed Colin Kaepernick picture, you know, before the whole kneeling thing. I admired him even more for that, but that’s beside the point. Sam threw a tantrum, not because he wanted that autograph, but because I’d gotten an autograph in the first place. He accused Dad of playing favorites and yeah, he almost ruined Christmas that year. Until he opened his own gift and saw that he had Broadway tickets to some play he hadn’t been able to get his own tickets to. I took Emma and went home, I was pissed by his behavior, and even Eileen was mad at him. She later told me that he got the couch that night, and the next night too. He called me later to apologize, but I gave him an earful for acting like that in front of my daughter,”
“Wow. Not even Hannah acted like that. A few things she got jealous about, but not to that degree. Our parents always tried to be equal in their gift giving. If she got a Barbie dream house, I got a Hot Wheels track, that kind of thing,” Cas said as he added creamer to his coffee.
“Oh, our parents have always been equal too. Last year was the only time they gave me extra, but that was because the gift was actually for Emma, she just couldn’t use it without me going with her. They knew that I haven’t had a real vacation since before she was born, and they wanted us to take one together. I was very appreciative, still am. The time spent with my little girl as she met all her favorite characters was probably the best time I’ve had in years. I bought her a Belle dress before we went, and she wore that when she met Belle. Sam apologized by buying her more dresses, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, and Rapunzel. Eileen bought her Beast’s costume too, because she loves him as much as Belle. Every day we were there, she wore a different outfit. Every princess, and even Beast were charmed by her. I even dressed up once as Prince Charming because she begged me to. We took pictures together like that,”
“That sounds really sweet. If I had children, that’s somewhere I would enjoy taking them. It feels like it would be strange if I went by myself,” Cas had that sweet, shy smile again that Dean found it adorable.
“So, you never married? No kids?”
Cas had a mouth full of food but he managed to shake his head before swallowing. “No. I’m not exactly getting out there and meeting people, not outside the signings I do, and then it’s mothers and kids. Not the dating pool I’m looking for,” He joked. Dean laughed and nodded.
“Yeah, guess not. It’s not easy with a kid either,”
“I’m sure there are women that don’t mind. They can’t all be that shallow,”
Dean shrugged. “I dated one woman, a few years back. I thought maybe since she had a kid too that it would work out, you know? She had a little boy only a couple years older than Emma. She actually was jealous of how much time I spend with my daughter, and wanted me to spend more time with her son, which I wanted to do anyway, but she didn’t want to do that with Emma. I caught her verbally abusing my daughter one afternoon when she was supposed to be watching the kids and I’d run to the store for some stuff. I forgot my wallet and came back. Heard that, bitched her out, packed my baby girl up and I never spoke to her again. I haven’t dated another woman since.”
Cas looked horrified. “She was abusing Emma? What a bitch!”
Dean did a double take. Hearing him swear like that was not what he’d expected.
“Yeah. I hate shallow, selfish people. I don’t want that ever happening to my baby again. She was three at the time and she doesn’t even remember me being in a relationship, but it’s kind of made me wary that it could happen again,” He finished his bowl of stew and sat back in his chair. That had been really good. He added sugar to his coffee, stirred it, and took a sip. It was better coffee than he bought. “What kind of coffee is this? Something fancy?”
Cas laughed and shook his head. “No, it’s Dunkin Donuts. You can buy it pretty much anywhere,” He finished his own bowl and got up to put both bowls in the sink. “I’m sure there’s a woman out there that would accept Emma and love her. She’s a wonderful little girl. Anyone would be lucky to have her in their life.”
Dean watched him wash the bowls and spoons before placing them in the dishrack.
“Yeah, not interested. Not in another woman,” His eyes wandered down Cas’ body as he went about dumping the coffee filter in the garbage. He held out the pot. It was still half full.
“Did you want any more?”
“No thank you,” Dean went back to watching him as he stored the coffee in a carafe and set that aside. A man had no right to look as good in jeans as Cas did.
“So you’ve given up on dating altogether?” Cas asked as he returned to the table and sat down. Dean liked the sweater he was wearing too. The blue brought out the man’s eyes.
“No, I haven’t,”
Cas didn’t seem to pick up on what he was saying, but he thought maybe that was ok. For now.
“We can finish our coffee and then we can start on your decorations, sound good?”
Dean smiled and nodded. He picked up his mug and took a sip. Cas was really the first person he’d been interested in at all since his last relationship, but he wasn’t sure if it was reciprocated. If not, at least Cas could say he had a friend.
“Would you like to come over for dinner tonight? My brother and sister in law will be there. I know they’d love to meet you,”
Cas smiled and leaned an elbow on the table as he shifted so he was facing him. “You’re not tired of me yet?”
Dean laughed as he shook his head. “Hardly. Besides, Eileen will love you. By the way, can you sign? She has her new hearing aids but if there are too many sounds going on at once or someone speaks too softly or too fast she has problems making out what is being said. If you don’t, that’s fine, just face her and speak a normal rate. Don’t draw out and speak slowly, she hates that. Just speak how we’re talking right now,”
“I can sign, actually. I learned it after I realized that there are quite a few children that come to my signings that are deaf, but it was when I started volunteering at local hospitals in the children’s wards, reading to them that I saw a need to really learn. I speak Spanish too,”
“Eileen will love you even more for that,” Dean drained the last of his coffee and got up to wash his own mug. A few seconds later Cas was at the sink with his own. Dean plucked it from his hand and washed it before setting both in the dish rack.
“I’m wearing a warmer coat before we go back out there,” Cas pulled down the sleeves of his sweater before making sure the tee shirt he had on under it was tucked in. Getting a draft under it would just make things worse,
“You, uh, you look good in that color, brings out your eyes,” Dean dried his hands on the dish towel hanging over the door under the sink before looking up at him. Cas was smiling again.
“Thank you. It was a gift last year from my agent, Meg. She says the same thing,”
He lingered a moment longer, and Dean felt like maybe he was being looked at differently, then he was walking out of the room, glancing shyly back over his shoulder as he went into the living room. Dean took a steadying breath and followed after him. Cas was putting on a thicker jacket, zipping it up before reaching for his hat and gloves from earlier. This time he added a scarf. He eyed Dean as he put on his own coat, then reached back to grab another scarf. He draped it around the man’s neck.
“You should stay warm, it’s too cold out there,”
Dean zipped his coat up before tugging his hat down over his ears. He wrapped the scarf around his neck a second time before tucking it into the front of his coat and putting his gloves on.
“Thanks, I don’t really own one,”
“Keep it,” Cas touched the front of his coat for a second before his hand twitched and he pulled it back. “You’ll need it this winter, it’s supposed to be a bad one.”
“You ready?” Dean asked. Cas smiled and nodded.
“What kinds of things are we putting up?”
Dean pulled his mouth over the top of the scarf so the other man could see his grin.
“Oh, wait til you see…”
The sun was starting to set by the time they’d finished hanging lights, putting up rope light Christmas trees, putting gingerbread men up on the roof, taping a giant plastic picture across the front of the garage door, and putting out the tacky, 1960’s plastic Santa and toy soldiers. Dean had told him that when his parents had upgraded their own decorations a few years back, they’d given their old ones to him. He liked how tacky they were, and Emma loved them. Cas found them endearing.
When they finished Dean wrangled Cas into helping him decorate more inside the house. He’d already put up the tree with Emma and they’d decorated it, but he wanted to do more, especially since Cas loved the holiday so much.
They hung lights along the mantle, strung through the garland, then added the stockings for Dean and Emma. A green and red runner was placed on the coffee table, more garland was added to the kitchen doorway, then Dean was placing a box on the table.
“This is the kitchen decorations. I didn’t unpack them because I was waiting until now,”
Cas peered into the box before removing things like Christmas tree salt and pepper shakers, a bouquet of fake poinsettias, a blue and silver tablecloth, and some other things.
“Ok, well, I’m seeing a clash in themes. The blue and silver doesn’t go with the green and red you have everywhere else,”
“Right, because I alternate every other year. Last year was blue and silver, but this year I did green and red. I have a red table cloth, but it’s in the linen closet in the hall because it’s not necessarily a Christmas one. I have used it at Christmas, Thanksgiving, sometimes just because I like the color red. All of my usual tablecloths are in there. Hang on, I’ll go get the red one,”
Cas continued going through the box while Dean went to get it. He returned with it and a plastic cover.
“If I didn’t use these Emma would ruin all of my tablecloths. My mom bought me a couple of plastic covers and I’ve used them ever since. They really are pretty great,” Dean took the cutlery holder off the table and together they put the tablecloth on. “Geez, I sound like an eighty year old woman, don’t I. Next thing you know I’ll be putting plastic covers on the furniture and barking at kids to get off my lawn.”
Cas laughed as they spread the plastic cover over the table. “That’s hilarious. You need to wait until Emma has at least gone off to college before you start yelling at the neighborhood kids,”
They picked through the rest of the box, pulling out the things that went with the green and red theme while Dean put the blue items aside to add to another Christmas box for next year. Just as he was storing the box back in the garage, the front door opened. He came back through the kitchen and poked his head into the living room to see Eileen and Emma taking off their coats. When Emma spotted him she came running over, thrusting her hands out at him.
“Look! Auntie Eileen and me got matching nails! Do you like my hair?”
She barely let him look at her nails before she was spinning around so he could see her curls.
“Wow, you look so nice! I see Auntie Eileen has curls too. You guys are twins, huh,”
Emma giggled and looked up at Eileen who was smiling. She noticed something over Dean’s shoulder and moved to the left to see the man standing in the kitchen.
“That is Cas, he’s one of my neighbors. We put up his yard decorations, then we came back here and put ours up,” Dean motioned for Cas to join them. “Cas, this is my brother Sam’s better half, Eileen.”
Cas offered his hand and smiled warmly. “It’s very nice to meet you. Dean has told me about you, and about Sam, and he speaks quite fondly of you both,”
She smiled and while Emma was showing off her nails and hair to Cas, she signed to Dean.
Dean glanced back at Cas who was gushing over how pretty Emma’s fingers were, and watching as she whipped her socks and shoes off to show him her matching toes. Turning back to Eileen he signed back.
“He can sign! And I know, he’s gorgeous!”
Eileen snickered but quickly sobered her expression when Cas looked her way.
“You have matching pedicures, she’s telling me. I very much like the ombre effect. I had no idea what it was called before she told me, but I like the pink and purple, it’s pretty,”
“We do, but I don’t think you want me taking off my socks and shoes to show you mine,” She joked. Cas laughed and grinned at her.
“No, not necessary,”
“Cas is staying for dinner. What did you bring?” Dean asked. Eileen shook her head.
“I didn’t want to stop, so I thought we’d just order in. How does sushi sound? Or just Japanese in general?”
Dean looked at Cas and shrugged. “Japanese sound good to you?”
“Will Emma eat it?” Cas asked. Dean smiled. He was considerate. That scored him big points in Dean’s book.
“Actually, she will. She likes fried rice and sesame chicken. She’ll eat crab Rangoon too. I’m lucky in that she’ll pretty much eat something from any country,”
Cas looked down at Emma, smiling at the way she touched the curls in her hair. “Have you ever tried sushi?”
“No, cause Daddy says raw fish is bad for me,”
“Well, there are some that don’t have raw fish. Do you like shrimp?”
“I love it!” She exclaimed. He chuckled and nodded.
“Ok, well, I’ll order some that you can try, and they won’t have raw fish in them. I’ll keep those ones for myself.”
“They have shrimp?”
“They do. Does Daddy eat sushi?”
Emma glanced at her father before shaking her head. “No, he says raw fish is yucky,”
“Well, maybe we can get him to try the ones with shrimp too, what do you think?”
She smiled and looked at Dean again. “You like shrimp, Daddy, you can eat the shrimp ones,”
Dean grinned and shook his head. Cas was going to have Emma on his side, and he didn’t want to set a bad example.
“Sure, Kiddo, if you try it, I’ll try it.”
They wrote down everything they wanted to order, and then Dean was calling it in. By the time they were done they had more than two hundred dollars’ worth of food, and he was a little stunned by the cost. He knew Sam would pay for a big chunk of it but he didn’t want Cas to think he was obliged to help pitch in.
The food arrived before Sam did, and Cas was at the door when Dean opened it to accept the food. He let out a surprised noise at the cost and quickly whipped his own card out.
“Cas, I didn’t invite you over tonight so you would pay for the food, I invited you over to spend time with us,” Dean argued and tried to pull the man’s hand back, but Cas was firm in handing his card over.
“I understand that, Dean, and I’m not trying to step on toes here, but I’d rather see you put that money into Emma. Maybe…we could do this again? You could pay for dinner at that time,” Cas was blushing and averting his eyes as he signed the slip and took his card back.
“Yeah, I mean, I want that, for you to come over again. We can do something else, Chinese maybe? Or Italian?” Dean took the shopping bags loaded with the food while Cas closed the door.
“I’ll eat anything, really. Shall we eat here or in the kitchen?” Cas was so shy sometimes, and it was the sweetest thing Dean thought he’d ever witnessed. He jerked his head towards the kitchen before walking into it.
“Come on, Sweetie, it’s time to get your daddy to try sushi,” Cas waved Emma over and she came with a huge smile on her face. Eileen joined them as they went to sit at the table.
It took them all a few minutes to sort through the items, making sure Sam’s sushi was set aside, and that the ones Eileen and Cas had ordered with raw fish were separated from the ones with shrimp. Dean got Emma settled at the table with her friend rice and chicken but she was too busy watching Cas as he used his chopsticks to pick up a piece of the roll with the sushi.
“Is there anything she’s allergic to?” He asked Dean.
“No,” Dean replied. He eyed the piece trapped between the man’s chopsticks before meeting the blue eyes looking at him. Cas held the piece out and smiled softly.
“It has cucumber, avocado, shrimp, and a tiny bit of seaweed, but I promise you won’t taste that at all. The mayo on top is not like American mayo, and it’s a bit hot, but not enough to really bother you,”
Dean leaned forward to eat the piece, chewing thoughtfully before swallowing.
“Ok, that’s actually pretty good,”
Cas’ smile grew wider before he offered Emma a piece. She happily ate it, smiling wide after swallowing.
“I like it!”
From there Cas shared a roll between Dean and Emma, offering them both a pair of chopsticks. Dean had a pretty good grasp on how to use his but Cas took the time to show Emma how to hold hers so she could eat.
“Look, Daddy, I can eat with the chopsticks!” She managed to get a piece of chicken trapped between hers and up to her mouth. Dean smiled around his own food before smiling.
“I see that. That’s how people eat in Japan,”
“That’s what Cas told me. I want to eat spaghetti with them!”
Everyone laughed as they ate. Halfway through the meal the front door opened and then closed. A minute later Sam was walking in the kitchen. He paused for a second when he spotted Cas, but then continued on to Eileen, kissing her cheek before he took the empty seat next to his niece.
“Are you Dean’s new neighbor?” He asked.
“I am. My name is Cas. It’s very nice to meet you, Sam. I would shake your hand except it’s rude to reach over food to do so. Still, I am happy to make your acquaintance,”
Sam smiled and nodded before accepting the food Eileen handed him. He did a double take when he realized his brother and Emma were both eating sushi.
“Did you do this? Get them to eat sushi?”
“I did. It’s shrimp, not raw, so they were both willing to try it,” Cas explained as he ate a piece of his own that contained raw salmon.
“What’s that one taste like? You sure it’s ok to eat raw?” Dean nodded towards the piece Cas had between his chopsticks.
“Well, there are different grades of fish. The kind you can buy in the store, you don’t want to eat that raw, but this is a much higher grade and safe to eat raw. You actually don’t taste the fish, at least, I don’t. Here, try it. It’s one of my favorites. They drizzle honey over it so it’s a bit sweet. It’s very delicious,” Cas held the piece out and Dean again leaned in to eat it. They both missed the knowing look Sam and Eileen were sharing. Sam looked at his brother, waiting to see what he thought of the piece.
“Wow, I can’t taste the fish at all. It’s really good,” Dean concluded.
“Can I try it?” Emma asked. Cas deferred to Dean who nodded.
“If you’re sure she won’t get sick,”
“She won’t,” Cas held another piece out to the little girl and she eagerly ate it.
“That one’s even better!”
Sam and Cas both chuckled.
“I can’t believe you have them eating sushi, and raw sushi at that,” Sam was still in disbelief, but he was happy too. They were actually eating something healthy instead of the fried food they usually ate.
They all talked as they ate, and both Sam and Eileen wanted to know more about Cas. He was so sweet and thoughtful, including Emma in their conversation while Dean made heart eyes at the man. When their meal was over, Dean pulled his brother aside.
“Look, the meal came to over two hundred, and he footed the entire bill. I don’t want him to cover all of that, especially when he only ordered about thirty dollars’ worth of food for himself. He wouldn’t let me pay, but I know you wouldn’t want him paying for all of it when most of the cost was the extra sushi you and Eileen ordered. Between the two of you it was over a hundred, cause you got something crazy, like thirteen rolls,”
“Yes, because I plan to take some to work tomorrow, and Eileen wanted some to take to work Monday. I will give him money. You’re right, it’s not fair for him to pay for it all,” Sam headed back to the kitchen where Cas and Eileen were having a conversation with Emma about their trip to the salon.
“Cas, I am paying for our portion of the meal, and I won’t take no for an answer,” He said firmly. Cas just smiled and nodded.
“Alright, that’s fine,”
Sam nodded, as though surprised the man had readily agreed instead of arguing, and pulled his wallet out. He fished out a hundred and fifty, glad he’s stopped earlier at an atm, and handed it over. Cas slid the money into his own wallet before sticking that back into his pocket.
“Cas was saying he writes the books Emma likes to read. I’m surprised she’s reading young adult novels, she only just turned seven, but she says she understands the books and likes the adventures in them,” Eileen said.
“I hadn’t realized the books were that advanced, but Emma’s been reading for years now. She takes after Dean in that aspect. He was reading by three, that’s what our mom said. She told me that Dean used to take his books and sit by my bassinet, reading to me. Apparently when I would fuss and no one else could calm me down, Dean reading to me would make me instantly stop. Even as I got older I would always sit and listen to him read to me. Mom says it’s what encouraged him to want to read bigger books, and that he was reading well above his age by the time he reached kindergarten. It’s why he was put ahead, he just learned faster than his peers. Of course, when I started reading, I didn’t pick up on it at first. I was six before I could read a chapter book, and they were pretty simple,” Sam looked back at his brother who’d been leaning back against the counter, staring at Cas again.
“That’s impressive, and don’t take it personally, everyone learns at their own pace. I was reading bef0re I started kindergarten, but the books were simple. I didn’t develop my love of the written word until much later,” Cas said. Sam nodded as he sat down again.
“My aptitude was for math and science. Dean had it for all subjects,”
They talked a little while longer, then Dean was ushering Emma upstairs to put her to bed. She made sure to include Cas in her hugs before she went upstairs. Sam turned his attention to Cas the second Dean was out of hearing range.
“So you live across the street? Which house?” He already knew, but he didn’t want to seem like he was stalking the man.
“I’m three down, 177. The only one with a yard full of decorations and Santa on my roof,” Cas replied.
“You must have helped Dean get his up because I’m pretty sure when I drove past the house last night there wasn’t anything out front,”
“Yes. He saw me putting mine out and came over to help me, then we came back here to put his up. I think mine took longer though, I had much more to put out,” Cas explained.
“I’d like to come by and see them sometime, if that’s alright,” Eileen said. Cas smiled warmly at her and nodded.
“Of course, any time you like. I work from home so I’m usually there, unless I’m on a book tour,”
“You must meet a lot of women on those tours,” She placed an elbow on the table and leaned her head against her hand.
“There are a lot of mothers that bring their children,”
“Do you get asked out a lot? Because I could see why, you’re incredibly handsome,”
He blushed hard and sucked his lower lip into his mouth for a moment before looking shyly up at her.
“I do, but I’m not interested,”
“You’re seeing someone then,” She knew he wasn’t, but she wanted to know if he liked Dean as much as Sam wanted to know.
“No, I’m not. I haven’t in a long time. A-and I’m gay, so they really don’t interest me. Dean says it’s ok to tell people I am, and that if they judge me for it, they’re at fault. I am careful who I tell because not everyone in this state is accepting,”
“Dean’s right. A lot of people still have that backward way of thinking. We’re not like that though. Hell, I had to listen to Dean with his first boyfriend when I was thirteen. He snuck him up to his bedroom when our parents were out. Actually, he snuck him in a lot. It was gross seeing them making out. Not because it was two guys but because seeing my brother making out with anyone is gross. It’s as bad as seeing my parents kissing,” Sam shuddered, remembering the time when he was eight and had a nightmare, so he’d gone to his parents’ room in tears, only to see them having sex. At the time he hadn’t understood what they were doing, but he’d quietly closed the door and gone to Dean’s room instead. When he’d explained that he’d wanted their mom, but their dad had been on top of her, his brother had burst out laughing. Then he’d explained what they’d been doing. He’d never gone to them again after that.
Cas was looking curiously at him. He wondered what the man was thinking.
“Dean’s not straight?”
Eileen laughed, careful not to be too loud. “Oh honey, no. Emma’s mother was one of two women he’s been with. He dated a woman a few years back but she was a bitch and abused Emma. After that he stopped dating anyone. Emma always comes first, her needs, her wants, they trump his own. He’s lonely though. I tried setting him up with Jerry, the P.E. and shop teacher at our old school but he nearly disowned me. Afterwards I realized Jerry is not really pleasant to be around. Plus he’s very hairy,”
Cas seemed surprised to learn Dean wasn’t straight, but he found that it pleased him very much to find that out. He felt less guilty about his attraction. Taking his mind off that for a moment, he thought about a hairy ex from his college days. “Yes, I dated a man once in college who was so hairy, even his back had hair. I couldn’t bring myself to have sex with him, not when every inch of his body was covered in it. Kissing his neck left me with hair between my teeth. It was a short lived relationship anyway,”
“Just because he was hairy?” Sam asked curiously.
“Oh no, that I could have come to deal with, it was because he thought he was a Casanova, flirting with every man he met, and sleeping with most of them. I abhor cheating,”
“Yeah, me too,” Sam agreed. Eileen nodded too.
“Sam is the first man I’ve been with that has been utterly faithful to me,”
“I would never cheat. No one compares to you, Sweetheart,” Sam leaned over to steal a kiss and Cas watched on fondly. They were a sweet couple.
“So what are you doing for Christmas?” Eileen asked. Cas’ smile fell away and she could see how melancholy he had become.
“Oh, not much. I’ll watch a couple of movies, drink some egg nog, maybe listen to some Christmas music. I might volunteer at the soup kitchen again like I did at Thanksgiving,”
Eileen frowned, glancing at Sam before looking at him again. “You don’t go home to your family?”
Cas took a minute to explain to them what he’d already told Dean. Sam’s expression was one of sympathy but Eileen got up and walked over to him. She hugged him tight and he hugged her right back. It had been years since someone had hugged him, and it felt nice. She returned to her seat just as Dean was walking back in.
“Did I see you hugging Cas just now?” He asked as he took his seat again.
“He was telling us about his family,” She explained. Dean nodded.
“Honey, why don’t you come with us on Christmas? We do a big gathering at Sam and Dean’s parents’ house. Friends, family, we all go. You won’t be imposing, right boys?” Eileen looked at them both. They both nodded.
“No one should be alone at Christmas,” Sam laid a hand on Cas’ shoulder and squeezed. Cas smiled softly at them, then at Dean too.
“You’re certain I wouldn’t be imposing?”
“No way, not at all. My friends come, my mom and dad’s friends come, Eileen’s brother and his family, it’s a big party. I should have asked you sooner,”
Cas’ smile widened. “Alright, I’ll come,”
Dean found he was actually excited about that.
They talked a bit longer, then Cas was excusing himself to go home. Sam and Eileen both rounded on Dean the moment the man was gone.
“You like him,” Sam said.
“It’s kind of obvious,” Eileen added. Sam nodded in agreement.
“Really? I was that obvious?” Dean worried his lower lip for a second. “Do you think he likes me?”
“I think it’s been a long time since he liked anyone, and he’s probably worried he’ll lose his new friend. But I do think he likes you,” Eileen said. Again Sam nodded in agreement.
“We laid the groundwork, it’s up to you now to follow through,”
“What does that mean? What did you do?” Dean demanded.
“Oh, just made it crystal clear that you’re not straight. He thought you were straight,” Eileen was smug. So was her boyfriend. Dean scrubbed a hand down his face and sighed.
“Jesus, guys, I can do this myself,”
“Right, and that’s why he thought you were straight,” Sam rolled his eyes.
Dean frowned and strummed his fingers on the table. “What did he say when you did that?”
“Well, he seemed surprised, but…pleased,” Eileen looked at Sam who nodded.
“I am pretty sure he has a crush on you, but probably felt bad about it when he thought you were straight. Have you even hinted that you’re interested in him?”
Dean looked down at the plastic covered table cloth. He’d invited Cas back here so he could spend some more time with the man, but that might not have been clear enough.
“No, not really,”
“Well, you need to. You’re really off your game. You used to be such a charmer. It’s time to tap into that again and seduce him,” Eileen was grinning and it had him laughing.
“Seduce him, right. I’d be happy not to trip over my own words as I asked him out. If he says yes, will you guys watch Emma?”
“Of course, she’s always welcome to come to our place,” Sam said. “But actually do it, ok? He’s a great guy.”
“Yeah, I know. The more I get to know him, the more I like him. You know, he doesn’t have any friends? Except maybe me now. I don’t get why he doesn’t though. His friends from college all abandoned him and he was so depressed after losing his family that making new ones fell to the wayside. After that I guess he just became reclusive. I really want to take him out though, someplace nice,”
“Well, make it clear first that you like him, then ask him out,” Eileen said. She was right. He just needed to grow a pair and do it.
Cas’ brain was running a mile a minute as he climbed the stairs and headed for his bedroom. He stripped off his sweater, then his jeans, all the while thinking about what Sam and Eileen has said. It had been pretty obvious that they were wanting him to know that Dean wasn’t straight. He’d also caught Dean staring during and after dinner, so he suspected the man liked him too. The fact that he would be open in his attraction when he’d avoided dating all these years was making dizzy. Was his Christmas wish actually coming true? Only minutes after he’d made it, Dean and Emma had knocked at his door, and since then Dean had made a point of wanting to be around him. He liked having Dean over, and being at Dean’s house. It felt nice talking to people, to make new friends, to just be a part of something, and he really, really liked Dean. Up until tonight though he’d believed the man to either be straight or so deep in the closet that there was no coming out. Finding out that Dean wasn’t straight and wasn’t in the closet just made his heart beat faster.
He tossed his clothes in the laundry and put on his pajama pants. After brushing his teeth and using the bathroom, he headed back to his room and crawled into bed. Would Dean want something more than what they had now? Did he understand that he knew Emma came first? His brain wouldn’t shut down, no matter how hard he tried to put Dean out of his head. There was the Christmas invitation too. Should he buy presents? He hadn’t really bought presents for anyone but Meg in years. What would they even like? He was still fretting over whether or not he should buy gifts when he finally dropped off, falling into a deep sleep. Dean, and even Emma figured prominently in his dreams that night. It was a very pleasant night’s sleep.
Dean took Emma to visit his parents Sunday, and then Monday it was back to work. He invited Cas over quite a bit but sometimes the man was unable to come over. His next book was due and he was working against the clock to get it finished. He still hadn’t found a way to make it clear that he was interested, or to ask Cas out.
When the book was finally complete and sent off to the editor, Cas was able to breathe again. He accepted invitations from Dean to come over, and more evenings than not he was at the dinner table with him and Emma, enjoying whatever Dean had made that night. Fridays were still pizza night, but he’d managed to convince Dean that they should make their own. Emma was excited to do it and eventually her father got on board too. The first time they made their own, Dean was hooked. He could make it any way he wanted, and at a quarter of the cost of ordering one. Emma liked making ones just big enough for her, and Cas started getting her to add more vegetables to hers, encouraging her to eat healthier, something Dean greatly appreciated.
The twenty first signaled the start of Emma’s winter break, and that evening, as Cas was curled up on his couch watching a sappy holiday romance movie, his doorbell rang. He got up to answer it and was pleased to see it was Dean and Emma. They were carrying bags with them and he stepped back to let them inside.
“Is that the stuff I ordered?”
“It is. You ordered a lot,” Dean laughed as he herded Cas and Emma both into the kitchen where they deposited the bags on the kitchen table.
“Did you get your teddy bear?” Cas asked. Emma smiled and nodded excitedly.
“I did! He’s so cute! He’s on my bed,”
“That’s wonderful. I’m guessing you sold enough to other people,”
“Uncle Bobby and Auntie Ellen bought lots of stuff, and Jo bought some candy and some socks and stuff. Ash got lots of candy. He says it’s cause he gets the munchies sometimes,”
Cas cocked an eyebrow and looked at Dean who held a finger up to his lips.
“Well, that’s good, I’m glad you met your goal, and I’m glad that I was able to help,”
He went through each bag, setting aside the things he wanted to donate and putting the items he planned to keep in his cabinets. The salt and pepper shakers went on a shelf where his collection sat and he sat down to put on a pair of the socks.
“What do you think, do they suit me?” He asked. Emma giggled and nodded.
“I got some too, Daddy bought them for me,” She pulled up the edge of her pants, revealing that she was wearing the child size version.
“I guess we’re twins then,” He grinned.
“Yay!” She exclaimed before throwing herself at him. He scooped her up and sat her on his knee as he went through more of the stuff. Dean sat down in one of the chairs and watched as Emma helped Cas go through what he’d bought.
“I think maybe my friend Meg would like a pair of socks. She needs to keep her feet warm too. I’ll give her a coffee mug too since I bought two,” He was telling Emma. She leaned back against his chest and looked up at him.
“Is she your girlfriend?”
“Who, Meg? No, she’s just a friend. She has a husband, his name is Fergus. They have a little girl, right about your age. Her name is Ruby. Maybe if Meg brings Ruby over, I’ll tell your Daddy to let you come over and play with her. Sometimes Ruby gets bored when she comes over,”
“Is she nice?”
“Yes, Ruby’s nice. She brings her baby dolls and her toy cars over when she comes,” He replied.
“Are you going to come over for dinner? Daddy says he’s going to make a loin. I don’t know what that is, but he says it’s yummy,”
Cas smiled and looked over at Dean. “A pork loin?”
“Yeah. I got one on sale and I marinated it overnight. It’s in the oven now,”
“I wanted pasta, but Daddy said no. I can eat spaghetti with my chopsticks. Daddy bought me some so I can use them all the time; I don’t have to throw them out,” She talked as she turned one of the bags of candy over in her hands, looking at the non pareils inside. “What kind of candy is this?”
“It’s a non pareil. I used to get them for Christmas when I was a little boy. They’re chocolate with little white balls of sugar on top. They’re one of my favorite candies,” He explained. “Maybe after you eat dinner I’ll give you some.”
“You’re invited to dinner, by the way. I’m making cheddar bacon mashed potatoes to go with the pork loin, and cauliflower. That’s her favorite vegetable,” Dean said.
“You know, I haven’t made myself dinner in weeks,” Cas laughed. “But I don’t mind, your cooking is much better.”
Dean smiled as he leaned an elbow on the table. “Well, I’m happy to hear that,”
Emma helped Cas store everything, and then he let her help wrap the gifts for Meg. He decided Ruby needed a gift too, so wrapped the reindeer hat and scarf set for her. Dean watched with a growing fondness as the man he was definitely starting to fall for interacted with his daughter, including her in everything he was doing. Cas was amazing. He was smart, sweet, honest, and he wore his heart on his sleeve. How people weren’t clamoring to be his best friend, he had no idea. His own life was better for having the man in it, and he wanted to have more of that.
“Hey, Cas?” He asked while Emma was busy tucking the gifts under the tree. Cas looked up at him, that same happy smile he always had for him or for Emma was on his face.
“Would…you like to go out sometime?” He realized he’d skipped right over what Eileen had told him. He wasn’t sure if he’d been doing a good enough job lately of letting Cas know he liked him, but he hoped that asking him out would do the job of making that crystal clear. Cas leaned over the back of the couch and looked up at him where he was standing behind it. He smiled wider.
“I would love to. How does tomorrow night work for you?”
Dean came around to sit down next to him. He watched as Emma examined the ornaments on the tree for a moment before looking at Cas.
“It works great. Eileen will watch Emma. How does dinner and a movie sound?”
“That sounds great. I haven’t been out to dinner with another person in years. I look forward to it,” Cas’ smile just made the man even more handsome. His blue eyes sparkled he just knew the man was incredibly happy in that moment. Emma came over and sat down between them.
“You’re going on a date?”
“We are. You’re going to go stay with Auntie Eileen and Uncle Sam tomorrow night,” Dean replied. She looked up at Cas, her brown eyes wide and full of curiosity.
“You like boys?”
“I do. What about you? Do you like boys?”
She wrinkled her nose and pretended to gag. “No, they’re gross. Joey Fischer picks his nose, and he eats it!”
Cas wrinkled his nose too, sharing in her disgust. “That’s gross, but not all boys do that. I don’t,”
“Good. Do you fart?” She asked. Dean barked out a surprised laugh while Cas just smiled.
“Everyone farts. Did they teach you why people fart?”
“No. Daddy says it’s gas that builds up in your tummy, and then it comes out your butt. If it comes out your mouth, it’s called a burp. He says I can’t call them mouth farts,”
“Oh my…,” Cas was laughing so hard he had tears in his eyes.
“That was a very interesting conversation,” Dean was still laughing and wiping at his own eyes.
“Yes, I suppose saying mouth farts makes it sound pretty gross. My mom used to call farts “tootin”,” Cas said.
“I got you a Christmas present, but Daddy says I can’t tell you what it is. He says you’re coming to Grandma and Grandpa’s house with us, but that you’re gonna come over Christmas morning to open presents with us. Auntie Eileen helped me pick out something nice for you. I wanted to get you a puppy, but she said no. I told her you’re lonely here all by yourself and a puppy would make you happy, but she says they’re really expensive. Do you want a puppy?” She was looking up at him with that innocence only a child had. He loved getting to experience it.
“Well, I’ve always wanted a dog, and you’re right, sometimes I do get lonely here all by myself. Maybe you could come to the shelter with me one day and help me pick out a dog. There are lots of dogs that need good homes, and nobody wants them. If Daddy says it’s ok, of course,”
“Can I, Daddy? Please?”
“You’re letting her talk you into getting a dog?” Dean chuckled. “There’s a lot of work that goes into having one. Make sure you have all the things you’ll need,”
“Oh, I know, and I’ll get it all. It would be nice to have a pet though. Maybe it can come on my tours too,” Cas was surprised when Emma suddenly hugged him, but it brought another happy smile to his face as he hugged her back.
“Ok, I’m going to go check on dinner and get the potatoes started. Come over in say, half an hour?” Dean stood up and waited for Emma to pull herself away from Cas. She finally did and stood up too.
“Will you help me build my Legos? I want to make a house. I have windows for it and everything!”
“I’d love to help you. I always liked playing with Legos when I was your age,” He stood up too and walked them to the door. “I’ll see you both in half an hour.”
He saw them out and once he closed the door, he leaned back against it. Dean had asked him out. Finally! He bit his lower lip and looked down at his clothes. Why was he always wearing baggy sweaters and sweatpants when Dean came over? He hurried upstairs to change. It felt like maybe his Christmas wish had finally come true. He had someone he could fall in love with, and he had the feeling that Dean could fall in love with him too. This was going to be the best Christmas he’d had in a long, long time.