Prompt: I could have avoided all that trouble if only I had remembered to…
Summary: The Miltons own a haphazard produce store, and Mary Winchester is their most frequent customer. (Dean/Cas.)
Milton’s Produce Supply isn’t much of a place, and that’s saying it kindly. The paint is peeling, the display stands don’t match, and the floor is a mix of weak grass and dry dirt. The soda machine will hum until Gabe kicks it just right, and Anna has to perform a complex set of keystrokes to pry the register drawer open. Cas, more often than not, is balancing himself on a ladder in hopes of fixing the light by the window—he’s bought new bulbs for it, and has checked the wiring as best he can, but nothing ever seems to work. It’s Cas who’s the most unusual, Mary thinks. Not in a bad way, or even a creepy way, but he tends to frown too much and never picks up on any of Gabriel’s jokes. He’s so serious, with his paperwork and pocket calculator, and most days Mary wants to drag him home to have dinner with John and the boys. He looks like he could use a good meal and some human interaction outside of his family.
Regardless, Mary has grown extremely fond of Milton’s. They sell everything she needs (produce, garden seeds, fresh milk and eggs), nothing she doesn’t (candy bars at the check-out counter), and they’re so much closer to her house than the chain grocers. She’s losing track of how many times she’s run out of an ingredient and made a quick run to Milton’s without losing more than twenty minutes of her day.
“Heads up, Lady Winchester is makin’ her way!” Gabe calls from across the store as Mary walks through the doors. The Miltons know the majority of their customers by name, but Mary comes in often enough that they have developed a real friendship.
“Good morning, Gabriel,” Mary says, smiling up at him as he works on the light that has brought Cas so much frustration. Maybe he’ll have better luck than his brother, who has pored over wiring books with the same academic drive that Mary sees in Sam. “How’s it going up there? Any luck?”
“Oh, you know, just the usual.” He shrugs like it’s no big deal to sit atop a tall ladder, and Mary resists the urge to tell him be careful. Thirty years worth of John and Dean's DIY projects has made her paranoid. “Wires need wiggling, contacts need cleaning, we need to buy the right type of bulb.”
Castiel, who’s hunched over an ancient computer (it’s beige, which Mary knows for sure must mean it’s old), glares up at his brother. Anyone else might think Cas lazy for being online rather than stocking or cleaning, but Mary knows he’s doing the one task Anna and Gabe would prefer to avoid: truck delivery schedules and product inventory. Of course he helps with the physical labor of running the store, but Mary has never seen him without his clipboard and spreadsheets, checking off things they have and making note of items they need to re-order. Mary doesn’t envy him in the slightest.
“All the bulb boxes looked the same,” he says, pretending to be angry though Mary can tell he’s embarrassed. “It’s not like you were there to help me choose.”
“I didn’t know you’d need help.”
Mary moves over to Cas and rests her hand on his shoulder. She’s had enough experience with Sam to recognize when a man’s home repair pride has been wounded. Sam, for all his height and bulk, still looks at a broken fence or leaky washing machine like it’s an ancient language yet to be deciphered.
“I once mistook powdered clothing detergent for dish detergent,” she says, squeezing his shoulder. “Until you spend two hours cleaning the suds from your dishwasher, you’re off the hook, as far as I’m concerned.”
Cas smiles up at her, a barely-there thing that Mary has learned to read.
“That’s very kind, Mrs. Winchester. Thank you.”
“I’ve told you a hundred times, it’s Mary,” she replies, playfully swatting the back of his head. “Now, I have a taco salad at home in desperate need of avocados. Am I in luck?”
“You are indeed,” he answers, leaping out of his chair to help her choose the perfect avocado. She swipes an extra tomato, too, and updates Cas on John’s latest attempt at lawnmower repair. They’ve all met John a number of times, so Gabe takes pleasure in equating the usually gruff, burly man they know to the broken, despondent man Mary describes.
Anna is waiting at the check-out, gracefully ringing up the purchases despite the lousy register. Just as Mary is pulling out a few dollar bills, she spots Milton’s newest shipment: boxes upon boxes of seed packets and seedlings. The photos on the packets are bright-colored and vibrant; the seedling leaves are enticingly green, and it’s all Mary can do to remember the promise she made to John last summer: no more big gardens. Maybe a vegetable bed, or a few pots of flowers. Amending the soil is an intensive effort and keeping stocked in fertilizer is pricey.
“We just got them this morning,” Anna informs her, having followed Mary’s gaze. “I was going to set them out after lunch, but you can have first pick.”
“John will kill me if I bring home more plants,” Mary replies, thinking fondly of last year’s garden, where she grew a myriad of vegetables and melons. It had taken a lot of work to get the soil just right, but she had loved the process of growing, of getting up every morning to check the tomato blooms and corn stalks. She sort of liked having something to take care of again, since Dean and Sam were, naturally, far too old to need anything from their mother aside from the occasional homemade pie.
Anna shoots her a sly look.
It’s a delicate art to find room in the car for all the seedlings that Mary brings home, and John really might kill her—but she doesn’t ask for jewelery or clothes or fancy things, so when they get down to the wick of it, how can he complain?
She calls Dean that weekend in hopes he’ll help her with the tilling. She can do it herself, but there’s a lot of ground to cover and it’s more enjoyable to have someone to work with. Besides, Dean’s been so busy at the garage that he hasn’t been over for dinner in nearly three weeks, and Mary isn’t ashamed to admit she misses a few extra voices around the house.
“Wow,” Dean says, shaking his head when he sees the multitude of seedlings Mary has kept hidden in the shed. “Dad’s going to kill you.”
She wordlessly produces a tall stack of seed packets.
“He’s really going to kill you,” Dean amends, grinning.
“I have a master plan,” she announces, surveying the old garden space with a thrill of anticipation. “And that plan is to have the potted stuff in the ground before your father gets home from Bobby’s. The packets are easier to hide, so I can worry about those later.”
“What are you, a Pod-Mom? First you start sneaking around, then you’re hiding stuff, and now you’re plotting behind Pop’s back—”
Mary ribs him with her elbow. “No comments from the peanut gallery, please,” she says. “I stashed the manure bags beneath the porch. I’ll help you get them.”
“The porch? Nice one, Agent 86.”
They till and turn the manure while John’s ratty stereo blares the music of Mary’s life. She never listened to classic rock before John, but Dean and Sam grew up to it, always the same radio station or tapes, and now Mary can belt out the lyrics as easily as Dean (which they do when Journey comes on—Dean’s not a big fan of Don't Stop Believin', but it amuses him to see his mother sing, so he joins in for the entertainment value). By noon the soil’s turned and most of the manure is spread, but she's still one bag short.
“This is what I get for trying to save money,” she muses, gloved hands resting on her hips while Dean shakes the last bag empty, ensuring that nothing is wasted. Mary considers the situation. She could just pick up a new bag the next time she’s at Milton’s; they’ve covered enough ground to get the seedlings planted, and the seeds can wait until sometime next week, when John’s not home to give her the stink eye.
“Tell you what,” Dean says, wiping his forehead with the hem of his t-shirt, “I’ll go down to that place and pick up another bag, and you make us some sandwiches in the meantime. My stomach won’t stop bitching.”
It’s a sweet offer, that’s for sure. Dean doing the legwork; Mary tossing together some lunch and getting to spend time with her kid.
“Deal,” she happily agrees. “Do you know where Milton’s is?”
“Who doesn’t? It’s that scary shack past Sandover Street. Gotta say, I’ve always wondered how you ever started going there.”
“Get out of here,” Mary says, laughing as she slaps Dean’s arm. He grins and holds up his hands, keys dangling from his fingers.
She listens to the Impala rumble to life and watches as Dean eases out of the driveway and onto the road. The house is quiet; the clock ticks and a few glass jars clink together when she opens the fridge door to take out some lettuce, tomatoes, pickles, mayo, and the last of the sliced turkey. She drags down a half-empty bag of potato chips and locates some juice for herself and a beer for Dean. She never acquired a taste for alcohol, though her memory is seared with a lifetime of Dean and John working on fargone engines in the backyard, beer bottles sitting somewhere close by.
Lunch is ready by the time Dean gets back. He plops into a chair and sets two squash plants on the corner of the table before digging in.
“Oh, Dean,” Mary says, surprised. She’s pleased that Dean had bought her two additions for the garden, but fairly surprised; he knows that she’d bought a packet of squash seeds already. “You didn’t have to.”
“I didn’t,” Dean replies, taking a big bite of his sandwich. “One of the owners gave ‘em to me when he was helping me find the manure. He said they were just shipped in this morning and I had to try ‘em. We can put them next to the bell peppers, if you want.”
“Gabriel gave you free seedlings?” Mary asks, trying to picture the scene. Gabe doesn’t really handle customers so much as maintenance and displays, but Mary can sort of imagine it, if she stretches her mind. Maybe he’s in a good mood today, or they’re overstocked. Even with Cas’ iron-tight spreadsheets, Milton’s does overstock on occasion.
“Didn’t catch his name,” Dean apologizes. “It mighta been Gabriel. He had dark hair, sort of nerdy? Carried a clipboard like a shield.”
Cas, who monitors their profits and losses like a stock broker, gave Dean two plants as a gift.
Well, that’s… not so weird, is it? Maybe Dean mentioned Mary. Maybe it’s a friendly gesture, since Mary has invested all her grocery money in Milton’s rather than a chain store.
“So you mentioned me,” she fishes.
“Nope,” Dean answers, popping the beer top from the bottle. “But I can see why you like it there. I mean, don’t get me wrong, it’s scary as hell outside, but the inside isn’t so bad.”
They finish their food and get back to work, singing along to the radio and planting until there’s almost nothing left to put into the ground. The oddity of Castiel’s gift to Dean is written off as a one-time thing, and the two squash plants are placed next to the peppers, just as Dean suggested. Mary makes a light dinner as Dean puts the tools into the shed, unplugs the radio, and tries to hide all the gardening evidence. It’s a fruitless venture, though, because John walks in around 6:00 and freezes in the doorway. He sniffs the air like a dog.
“You’re filthy,” John tells Dean, who’s sitting innocently at the table and eating the chicken salad Mary has just finished making. “And you smell like shit in the most literal sense of the term.”
Dean grins around his fork and says nothing, but John’s not stupid, and groans when he notices the smear of dirt on Mary’s cheek. He accepts her hello kiss like she’s a fate he must endure.
“Tell me you planted some watermelons, at least,” he says, because John loves those things, and he wants something out of the gardening weekends that populate his future.
She doesn’t return to Milton’s until Wednesday, when she realizes John stole the last of the apples for his lunch and there’s no more milk. Mary dons her favorite cotton shirt and a pair of jeans before hopping into a Nissan that John fixed up just for her, and that he maintains with a diligence that leaves her fond and heartened.
The small bell above the door rings as Mary walks into the store. Cas glances up the moment he hears it, eagerly checking to see who’s coming in, while Gabriel announces, “Lady Winchester approaches! Look alive, peeps!”
He’s not by the ceiling light, which seems fixed now; instead, he’s kneeling next to the tomato display that wobbles precariously if too much weight is placed on the right side. She stops to give him a smile.
“The light looks great, Gabe,” she compliments him. He preens a bit and then shrugs dramatically.
“All in a day’s work, my darling woman,” he replies. “But as you see, my work here is never done. Hey Cas, where’d we buy these tables from anyway? The Dollar Store? Cheap pieces of crap, man.”
“They were purchased at a garage sale,” Castiel informs him, his brief excitement gone and his usual calm demeanor now in place. “How are you, Mrs. Winchester?”
Mary swipes a gallon of milk and a bag of apples as she replies, “My name is Mary, Castiel, and I’m recovering from a wonderful gardening weekend. How about yourself?”
“Oo, let me tell her!” Gabriel says, popping up from the floor. Cas looks horrified already, but Gabriel steamrolls onwards, sidling up next to Mary with a gleeful grin. “As it turns out, while you were busy planting what’s sure to be the most marvelous garden in Kansas, my baby brother fell in love.”
“I’m not in love!” Castiel heatedly argues, but Gabe just ignores him. Mary gets the impression that he does that a lot.
“This guy came in last Saturday, right? We call him Semi-Tall, Somewhat-Blonde, and Totally-Handsome since someone didn’t have the guts to fish for info.” Gabriel sends Cas a pointed look; Cas, in response, sinks behind his computer in an effort to hide his face. “Anyway, this dude buys a bag of manure and my innocent little Cas is so smitten that he not only engages in a pathetic dialogue about the wonders of cow shit, but then insists he take a couple’a plants on the house, you know, in the interest of making sure this guy’s garden does well.”
“I was being friendly,” Cas feebly defends, which even Mary finds weak.
“And now Cas salivates every time someone comes into the store because he thinks, for about a millisecond, that it might be his mystery man,” Gabriel finishes, rolling his eyes. The tips of Castiel’s ears are red enough to match the tomato display Gabe had been working on and Mary can’t help herself: she smiles, because she loves Cas and always has, and there’s nothing cuter than Cas having a crush on Dean. Oblivious, clueless Dean, who didn’t seem to understand those free squash plants were the ultimate romantic token from a man who’s spent his life in a garden.
Just then Anna strolls in from the supply room, tying an apron around her waist. Her gaze darts from Gabe to Cas to Gabe again.
“Cas looks horrified,” she observes. “Are we talking about Semi-Tall, Somewhat-Blonde, and Totally-Handsome?”
“It’s been a riveting tale,” Mary agrees as Anna waves her to the checkout counter. Gabriel gets back to work and Cas seems too humiliated to speak, so Anna leans a little closer and whispers, “I’m kinda glad it happened. The only real relationship Cas has ever had is with this store.”
When Mary gets home, she collapses into the porch rocker and considers the situation. It’s not her business; she shouldn’t get involved because she’s obviously biased and in favor of Dean and Cas meeting again. And why shouldn’t she be? If Cas refrains from dating, then Dean’s just as bad. He used to go out all the time (which worried her), but now he’s not interested in anything besides work (which also worries her). He’s just over thirty and solitary as he’s ever been.
Mary walks out into the shed, unearths the vegetable markers from last year’s garden and, without talking herself out of it, throws them into the kitchen garbage. She moves from there to the fridge and takes out the apples she’d just bought.
She’ll need bait, of course, and the only bait that ever works on Dean is pie.
Dean, she types, could you pick up some garden markers on your way over Saturday? The reward is apple pie!!! :)
During his last Christmas break, Sam had spent one memorable afternoon teaching Mary how to text. She’s glad he did; Mary loves getting a random picture from Sam or a message letting her know he’s okay and that he’s on the precipice of graduating near the top of his class. Mary has gotten pretty fluent with texting, too, and will occasionally send him a picture of something funny happening in Lawrence.
You got it, Dean texts back. Tell that pie its days are numbered.
It’s amazing how different her boys are. Sam is her studious healthy eater, tall and somewhat thin, like Mary; Dean is her sweaty carnivore who’s direct and able-bodied, an echo of his father. And, just like John, Dean chose not to attend college. Her friends bemoaned this, insisting Dean continue his education—but Dean barely graduated highschool, flourishing only in shop class, where he could work with his hands. Of course Mary wanted him to have a college degree, but Dean isn’t wired to spend four years in a cramped classroom, and she’s finally learned to accept that. Besides, he’s intelligent, resourceful, and has been living on his own for the past ten years, which is more than Mary can say for some of her friend’s children.
Mary hears a familiar car horn around 10:00. She glances out the window, smiles as the Impala pulls up, and unlocks the front door just as Dean’s hopping out of the driver’s seat with a white plastic bag in hand.
“Garden markers,” he announces, handing them over with a flourish. “And—” Here he hands her the bag, which contains some sort of heavy bottle. “—neem oil. Whatever the hell that is. Cas said it’s an organic pesticide and helps with rust.”
“This stuff is ten dollars a pop,” Mary replies, frowning at the bag. “I have some money in my purse, if you’d like me to reimburse you.”
“Nah,” Dean answers, pressing a quick kiss to Mary’s cheek and then heading for the kitchen. “He said it was going on clearance pretty soon so he just gave me the bottle. I know nothing’s grown up enough to attract pests yet, but it’s best to be prepared.”
Mary stares at the oil. It would be a cold day in hell before Cas put anything on clearance; the vitality of their business relies on customers paying full price for everything they purchase, and he has the spreadsheets to prove it. In any case, pesticides aren’t really clearance material since they’re in demand all season.
“The dude’s a nice guy,” Dean says, already snacking on a generous piece of pie. “It’s no wonder you go there. His brother’s kinda a dick, though.”
Mary coughs into her hand, trying not to laugh. Gabriel is… Gabriel. John isn’t his number one fan either, but the Miltons are a package deal, and anyway, Mary has grown pretty fond of Gabe’s unusual sense of humor.
They spend the weekend planting the last of the seeds and marking each variety so they won’t have to guess what’s sprouting and what’s struggling. Mary pays Dean with pie, which has always been a valuable currency in the Winchester household, and spends her weekday mornings pursuing the garden in silence. There’s a peace to be found in the early hours: the dew is still cool on the grass, the sky isn’t yet bright with sun, and the road is mostly absent of commuters. Sometimes she’ll look up and see John, dressed and ready for work, watching her through the kitchen window; there’s always something fond on his face, like he can’t imagine loving a woman whose nails aren’t caked with soil.
On Thursday Mary spends her day in town. She visits the bookstore to pick up some of her favorite magazines and then treats herself to a meal at the Roadhouse, where Ash makes her blueberry pancakes for lunch while she flips through one of the titles she’d bought earlier.
Her last stop is, of course, Milton’s. She’s out of apples again (no thanks to Dean) and ground cloves, a spice that refuses to be substituted.
“Lady Winchester!” Gabriel announces, as per usual. This time he’s replacing windows. The old windows were… well, ancient. Mary would like to say they were charming, but the truth is no amount of Windex could get the grime off, and the replacements are a welcome change to Milton’s overall appearance. Anna, for her part, calls a cheerful, “Hi, Mary!” from her place at a citrus display.
Castiel looks up from a stack of papers and smiles.
“Hi, Cas,” Mary says, walking over to give his shoulder a light squeeze. “New windows, huh?”
Castiel clears his throat and answers, “It’s been pointed out that the store’s appearance could use a freshening up, so I looked into the budget and found the necessary funds to replace the front windows.”
“It’ll take a bit to save up for the sides,” Anna says. “I’ve been saying we need new windows for years, and all Dean has to do—”
“Mrs. Winchester isn’t interested in hearing about that,” Castiel quickly cuts in, returning his attention to Mary with the utmost professionalism. “What may we do for you? We received a new shipment of zucchini seedlings just this morning, if your garden is still in need of vegetables.”
Mary can’t believe it. It is Dean that Cas has become so fond of. She’d been sure, naturally, but to hear Anna say the name is still surprising.
“The whole thing’s filled up,” Mary answers. “I’m good to go, as far as that’s concerned.” She pauses before asking, “I’m sorry, but who suggested the—”
“Deeeean!” Gabriel gleefully cuts in, like he can’t bear to wait for Mary to finish her question. “You know, Semi-Tall, Somewhat-Blonde, and Totally-Handsome? He’s got a name, and it’s Dean. Cas, in the spirit of romance, gave him pesticides.”
“It’s a useful tool for the garden!” Castiel defends. Normally Mary would have to side with Gabe on this one, but John has bought her a lot of things—a new wheelbarrow, expensive cookie sheets, handmade curtain rods—that other women would discard. She likes what she likes, and if Cas thinks Dean is investing time and money in a garden, then he’s going to give him something that will aid in the effort.
“I think that’s very sweet,” Mary reassures him. “My husband does the same thing.”
Castiel’s face turns a shade brighter.
“Yes, well, Dean mentioned that the store’s exterior is not as inviting as others. I thought it would be wise to invest in our appearance.”
“You should paint the door next,” Mary suggests. “That might give it some life.”
“We’ve already bought the paint. It’s a really pretty bright red,” Anna replies, and then stage-whispers, “Dean suggested the color.”
With Anna busy with oranges, lemons, and limes, Cas rings up Mary’s bag of apples (which, incidentally, match the color of his face). As he hands her the receipt, Mary says, “Maybe you should ask this guy on a date, Cas. You seem to really like him.”
“I’m sure he has a girlfriend, if not a wife,” Castiel objects. He glances over at his siblings, both immersed in their respective tasks, and lowers his voice. “In any case, I’m not… wealthy, and I don’t have much to offer. I’m afraid this store is the sum of my life.”
And oh, Mary knows that feeling well. It’s a song she’s heard from her neighbors here in Lawrence, from every small town on the map: we don’t have much; this is all we can offer. It’s how John grew up, waist-deep in cars and labor, and that’s how Mary grew up, too, counting pennies, making and mending her own clothes because their wallets were so thin. It always hurts her when people apologize for not having as much as others. Like their finances are the end-all-and-be-all of their self-worth.
“You know,” she says, gathering up the bag, “John hardly had a penny to his name when he asked me to marry him, but we tied the knot anyway.”
Castiel frowns, his eyebrows furrowing as he asks, “Why?”
“Because he loved me,” and sure, it’s a little Disney-esqe and corny, and Mary knows a lot of marriages collapse beneath the strains of financial struggle—but rarely, if you’re lucky, love can carry a family through the ups and downs until they reach the other side.
After that, Mary tells herself not to meddle any further. She doesn’t ask Dean for more fertilizer or garden markers because she knows it’s not her business. That Saturday, Dean even asks if she needs anything from Milton’s before heading to the house; she’s strong in her refusal, ignoring a little voice that says third time’s the charm!
But when Dean shows up toting a familiar white bag, Mary must also resist the urge to dance in her chair.
“Bought us some stuff for lunch,” he announces, holding up the bag as he hightails it to the fridge. Mary thinks she saw some cheese and bread in there, and maybe some oranges bulging near the bottom. She holds out her hand, silently asking for one.
“I don’t remember you gobbling much citrus,” she says as Dean hands her a fine specimen of fruit. It’s perfectly round and brightly colored, indicating the inside will be juicy and sweet. Dean shrugs.
“Cas said I had to try ‘em. Apparently they’re an amazing batch, so he slipped a couple in,” he replies. Mary bites into the skin of the orange to hide her smile, and then begins to peel it.
“Well, that’s very nice of him,” she says, trying desperately to play it cool. “I hope you said thank you.”
Dean shifts his weight from one foot to the other. He clears his throat, takes the chair across from her, and fiddles with the salt and pepper shakers. Mary finishes peeling the orange and then splits it; she gives one half to Dean and keeps the other for herself. She hums happily as she eats. Cas was right: these are perfect.
“I did,” he promises. “‘Course I did. But—Mom, look, I—about Cas—” He cuts himself off, clearly struggling with what to say next. She swallows and gives Dean the whole of her attention. Something’s different, something’s bothering him, and her intuition, finely honed after years of parenthood, gives her the answers before Dean can begin to explain.
“Dean,” Mary quietly says, grabbing her son’s attention without raising her voice in the slightest. Dean’s expression is a study in masked anxiety; he’s not giving himself away, but he doesn’t need to—Mary already knows. Her real problem is discussing feelings without Dean making a run for the door, so she picks her words very carefully, traversing the conversation like the floor is made of glass. “Did you know,” she continues, “that certain birds give food as a sign of courtship?”
Dean stares, and she doesn’t blame him. That may not have been her best line to date, nor as subtle as she was going for, but if it gets the point across then she’ll take it.
“Sam definitely gets his nerd genes from your side of the family,” Dean finally states.
“I was trying to be smooth,” she counters. “Did it work?”
At first she thinks Dean might try to deny the whole thing, pretend his anxiety had been from another source entirely—but he finally smiles, and starts separating his half of the orange into their individual segments.
“Yeah, Mom,” he answers, grinning. “I think I got it.”
With summer quickly approaching, Mary becomes focused on one thing: Sam will soon be on break, meaning she’ll be able to interact with her baby boy through one-on-one conversation rather than electronic messages. She marks the calendar—one week!—and starts clearing out his old bedroom. It’s not often she gets to see Sam; summer break and Christmas are about the sum of his college holidays, and there’s nothing she looks forward to more than spotting his “Japanese Princess car” (Dean’s words, not Mary’s) roll up the driveway.
On the day of his arrival, Mary tells herself all she’ll make is some spaghetti for his homecoming dinner… but she might as well bake some breadsticks and toss a salad while she’s at it, and it wouldn’t hurt to throw together a peach cobbler, since the oven is already hot.
“I knew I should have supervised,” comes John’s resigned voice. She turns to see him and Dean standing in the doorway, looking at the kitchen with a sort of unease, like maybe the stack of dirty mixing bowls are going to beat them up and take their lunch money.
“What are you cooking for, an army regiment?” Dean asks. “We are but three men, Mom.”
“Three grown men,” she corrects. “You’re like termites, only handsomer.”
John’s home from work since Sam’s coming in, and Dean was at their house by eleven to help excavate the dining room. It’s nice to have the men do some housework for a change, though Dean and Mary’s definition of “clean” has never really meshed. For Mary, clean means vacuuming and mopping a tile floor; for Dean, it means hurriedly sweeping up the biggest dustballs and letting nature take care of the rest.
“Is that peach cobbler?” Dean peers over her shoulder. He may complain that cobbler’s nothing but sloppy pie, but he’ll certainly eat his share when it’s passed around the dinner table. “Not a lotta peaches.”
“I know. Your father is a secret fruitaholic,” she replies, sending John an evil eye. Was she going to be forced to start hiding things? Perhaps buy a miniature fridge with fingerprint recognition? Retina scanner? Ten-character password? First the apples, now the peaches. Mary fears for the grapes.
“Didn’t know they were for anything special,” John mutters. Mary has a very clear memory of telling him exactly the opposite, but the truth is the oven’s preoccupied with the bread sticks, so it’s not like she can’t afford to buy some more peaches while they bake. She hands Dean the timer, which is counting down the minutes until the bread is done, and removes her apron.
“Filthy lies,” she declares. “But we need some more paper towels anyway. I’ll make a run to the store. Dean, you’ll take these out when the timer goes off, won’t you?”
“You sure you’re not too tired? I can buy peaches just as well as you,” Dean offers. Mary smiles but shakes her head. When it comes to choosing the perfect produce, Mary prefers to be there firsthand. (Even after thirty years, her boys still bring back ripe bananas for banana bread and red tomatoes for fried green tomato recipes.) “Okay,” he reluctantly accedes, “but take my car. I didn’t know you’d be leaving so I parked behind you.”
“Done. And you,” she says, poking John in the chest, “had better start cleaning those mixing bowls while I’m gone.”
“Oh, sure. Give Dean the easy job.”
“Dean didn’t eat the peaches!” she calls over her shoulder.
The drive to Milton’s is pleasant, and it’s nice to get off her feet for a few minutes. Mary hums along to the tape Dean has in the deck; she’s so excited about Sam’s arrival, about the good food she’s making—she’s even excited about driving the Impala (a rare treat indeed, considering Dean protects it like a lioness would a cub). The song switches to another and all the traffic lights stay green. Mary turns on to Sandover Street and then, a minute later, onto the gravel parking lot of Milton’s Produce Supply. Gabriel had just finished painting the door its new red color, and it looks fantastic.
“Afternoon, everyone!” she calls, before Gabriel (who’s currently crouched behind Cas’ desk, battling a snakepit of extension cords) can beat her to it. “Hello Anna, Gabe! Where’s Cas?”
“Out back,” Gabriel answers. “You’re mighty perky, Mrs. W. Good day at Black Rock?”
“My son’s visiting from college,” she answers, hurrying to the peach display. “I was going to make a cobbler but John’s been late-night-snacking on the main ingredient.”
She starts choosing a few perfect fruits; behind her, Anna and Gabriel exchange a look and then hurry over, hunched over like conspirators who risk being caught by enemy forces.
“We have news!” Anna whispers. “And we’ve been dying to tell you. Cas took your advice and asked Dean on a date, and Dean said yes!”
“Our baby brother finally grew a pair, and by the gods, I wept,” Gabriel agrees. He and Anna share a high-five over Mary’s head.
“If they work out, we should have dinner or something so you can meet him,” Anna continues. “I mean, I know that’s not a standard customer policy, but I figure we’re past all that. What do you say?”
Anna’s question is punctuated with the sound of the back door swinging open and Cas’ voice calling for Dean.
“Would you quit it with the wishful thinking?” Gabriel says. “He’s not here.”
“I saw his car pull up,” Castiel protests, ever reasonable even as he eagerly seeks Dean out. “Certainly there aren’t two vintage Impalas in town.”
Anna raises her eyebrows and casts an eye around the store, on the off-chance Dean is hiding behind the shelves of canned goods. Gabriel just shrugs.
“Sorry, bro. Maybe he’s chillin’ outside.”
Castiel looks like he’s ready to march out front and check for himself, but Mary coughs into her hand and shoots him a half-smile.
She’s never felt uncomfortable or formal or judged around these people, but Mary is suddenly struck with all three sensations at once. The concept of wrong-doing hits her square in the chest, and though she’s not sure she’s been lying to Cas, Mary’s still scared all the same—this whole thing has been funny and silly to her, but Cas takes things to heart. What Mary views as a white lie might be a violation of trust in Cas’ eyes, and her voice comes out apprehensive when she says, “Actually, Dean let me borrow the car. John and I gave it to him on his twenty-first birthday.”
“John and…?” Cas trails off. There’s a silence as he evaluates this information. “You are Dean’s mother?”
“Guilty,” she admits, frowning when Cas frowns, his brow furrowed, like he’s trying to make sense of this. “He’s… become very fond of you, and I didn’t want to make things…”
“Strange,” Cas supplies, smiling uncertainly.
“Strange,” Mary agrees. “Being his mom and all, I thought you two could figure out… whatever needed to be figured out, and then we’d invite you over for dinner, welcome you to the family.”
Cas looks pained. Mary’s relieved by the absence of anger, but the way he seems to be closing off, bit by bit, puts her on edge.
“I appreciate that you—you tried to help, but I wish you would have come forward sooner. I wouldn’t have been so…” He struggles for the right words. “…frank. About Dean.”
“Dude,” Gabriel says. “That makes John Winchester your father in law. Christ, Cas, you’re doomed. One mistake and he’ll hunt you down like a dog. Not even Mexico could harbor you. You’ll sleep with the fishes—”
“Stop being an idiot,” Anna cuts in. “Mr. W is extremely nice.”
“He is,” Mary hurriedly agrees. “And he wants you to join us tonight for supper, Cas. Sam is coming home.”
“Please,” she says again, and leans in closely because he needs to understand: she can’t be the one who scared Cas off. She can’t do that to Dean, and she won’t let Cas hide behind whatever rules he thinks they’ve broken. “Please come. Half an hour.”
His lips are a thin, unhappy line as she scrawls the Winchester address on the back of her receipt, refusing to give Cas the opportunity to decline.
Driving away, she feels unsettled and anxious. If he doesn’t show up then she’ll have a lot of explaining to do to Dean, but she chooses to believe the best: Cas will be there because he cares about Dean, period, and by 4:40, Sam is home; by 4:45, the cobbler is in the oven; by 5:00, Cas is standing on the welcome mat like a stranger in a foreign country, clutching a white bag and shooting Dean an apologetic look, saying, "Your mother insisted I join you. The hostess gift isn't much, unfortunately."
"Dude, get in here already," Dean laughingly orders, pulling Cas inside. Mary swipes the bag as they tumble past: inside is a succulent variety of fruits and vegetables, things Cas knew Dean would tolerate and Mary would cherish. She supposes he's appealing not only to Dean, but to his family in hopes they'll accept him—though they already have, ages ago, since the first day she stepped inside a little market and met three of the best people in the world.
It’s not summer anymore.
The mornings and evenings are cool enough to warrant jackets, and Mary has begun baking prolifically—a mystical kneejerk reaction to encroaching winter. During warm months John gets home while it’s still light, but the days have condensed and now it’s dark when she hears the familiar rumble of the truck.
The Miltons and Bobby are coming over for lunch this afternoon, but Cas is already here, helping Dean pick the last of her garden’s crops. Mary holds a cup of coffee in one hand and pulls back the curtain with the other. Dean and Cas are on their knees, yanking up a few renegade radishes and squash; their heads are close together as they whisper back and forth, like two mischievous youngsters up to no good, but then Dean laughs about something and Cas smiles at him fondly, reaching out with soil-encrusted hands to pull Dean into a kiss.
Mary smiles too, and lets the curtain fall back.
I believe in the future of agriculture, with a faith born not of words, but of deeds - in achievements won by the present and past generations of agriculturists;
in the promise of better days through better ways, even as the better things we now enjoy have come to us from the struggles of former years.
-FFA Creed, written by E.M. Tiffany