Dean was eight the first time he snuck out to the grocery store. It was Christmas Eve, and they were snowed in at a motel. His dad was passed out on the couch after a night of drinking while Sammy was asleep on their bed. He was drooling all over Dean’s pillow, but Dean forgave him, it was difficult staying mad at his baby brother.
He stuffed his ten dollars of saving into his coat pocket next to his travel-packet of salt and swiss army knife. It was a quick journey to the local shop, but the cold was crawling closer to him with every step. His shoes were worn-out, socks stretched, jacket thread-bare, and way too thin to protect him from the impending snowstorms.
A small part of his brain, the kid in him, wanted to spend his money on the Scooby-Doo pajamas he’d seen on television or a week’s worth of candy. Of course, he knew he couldn’t be selfish. There were no presents under the tree (a two-feet plastic thing that came with their room, decorated with air-fresheners and popcorn) for Sammy.
Dad had been out all week. He was busy, and while Dean didn’t understand what could be more important than celebrating Christmas, he knew better than to question his dad. It didn’t end well for him the last time.
Shivers ran down his legs at the thought. Shaking his head, he marched forward with a mission. Sammy likes books and the small, plastic army men, he thought. If I’m lucky, I’ll find us a pie to share. His dad didn’t like pie. The last time Dean asked for a pie, he got three hours of training drills and no dessert money that month.
The aisles were crowded when he walked in. Everyone was in a hurry, searching for last-minute supplies and stocking up on the essentials. He found the snack aisle empty, and there was no pie left in the bakery. Defeated, Dean walked over to the toy section.
A few parents gave him strange looks, but he shrugged it off. These people would never understand, he thought. We fight monsters. Our dad’s too busy to make time for shopping.
He settled on the bucket of green army men and a book of bedtime stories for Sammy. Then, he grabbed a fresh loaf of bread for breakfast. It smelt like garlic. We haven’t had bakery bread in ages, he thought, adding it to his basket. His arms hurt a little under the weight after a day of laundry, but he kept going. The items so far come up to seven dollars, he pondered, giving the toy cars a glance before walking away.
The cashier gave him an odd stare, “Where are your parents, kid?” she asked, accepting his crumpled up dollars.
Dean started saving in June when he found some spare change on the couch of a motel they were staying at. It was the first time he had any money of his own. He was proud of himself.
“My dad is waiting for me outside,” he lied. “He’s with my baby brother.”
She narrowed her eyes, but five other people were waiting in line, so she nodded before handing him the bag with his purchases.
It was snowing when he walked outside. White dusting the pavement and parking lot. People were gathering around the hot chocolate stand. He was shivering, and the idea of a warm drink was too tempting to pass by. Keeping his head down, Dean walked over to join the line, fishing two dollars out of his pocket. I can get extra marshmallows.
There was a boy his age sitting on one of the concrete benches. His coat was covered in snow, hands shaky as he curled into himself. The adults around them were ignoring him. Dean scowled.
When he reached the front of the line, he turned to see the boy smiling at him. His heart tugged on noticing his near blue lips. The weather’s not getting any better, he thought. And without thinking twice, he pulled the extra dollar out of his pocket.
“I’ll have two cups of hot chocolate please,” he said.
He couldn’t get himself any extra marshmallows, but it was okay. Dean wished the owner of the stall a Merry Christmas and walked over to the kid.
“Do you mind if I sit here?” he asked, before offering him the cup of hot chocolate. “I got this for you.”
“I, thank you,” his hands closed around the cup, “You can sit. It’s okay.”
Dean sat before taking a sip of his drink. It warmed him through. He tasted a hint of peppermint and cinnamon, his favourites.
“Why did you get me a drink?” the kid asked, staring at Dean. His hands were fumbling to hold onto the cup.
It broke Dean’s heart a little. He felt the snow seeping through his boots as he scooted closer to the kid. “You’re cold and alone. It was the right thing to do. Why’re you out here?”
“I don’t have anywhere else to go. The house where I stay… the kids there are scary,” his voice was low, closer to a whisper.
“Oh. I’m sorry man,” Dean replied.
“It’s okay. I get to leave soon,” he said, traces of hope peeking through his small smile.
“That’s good. It’ll be alright, just try not to stay out here too long. I heard there’s a storm on its way,” Dean smiled back.
He hoped the kid had a great life. It was a scary world there, but it was still filled with good. Silently praying to whoever was listening, he wished they never ran into each other while he was on the job. Dean hoped he got his shot at normal.
They finished their hot chocolates in comfortable silence. Throwing his cup out, he stopped to stare at the cloudy sky. It’s time to head back to the motel. Dean waved at his new friend and wished him all the best.
“Same to you! Happy Holidays,” he called back.
His feet were numb by the time he got back to the motel, and there was a tickle in his throat, but he had Sammy’s presents to wrap. Sneaking into their car, Dean turned the music on low, listening to the soft beats of Christmas music as he gathered the shiny paper over the book.
Breakfast will be toast and jam, he thought, curling into Sammy’s side later that night. Maybe I can convince dad to take us out for dinner. He felt a surge of joy at the thought.
Looking up at the patchy ceiling, he sent a pray out to listening ears. I don’t know if you’re out there, but if you are. Look after Sammy. He’s a good kid, but there’s only so much I can do.
He tugged the blankets closer as sleep caught up to him. Dean wished that there was an angel he could call out to for help. My mom said that you all are out there, watching over us. I hope that she’s right.