What Could Have Been

Chapter 3

December 24th, 1983

“Are you going to help me put the angel on top of the Christmas tree, Dean?”

Dean frowned sceptically at the ornament his Dad was holding. “That’s not an angel.”

“Sure it is.”

Dean shook his head. “No. Angels don’t wear dresses.”


“I saw one, Daddy! And he would look silly in a dress.”

“Dean, we’ve talked about this. You were dreaming, alright, son? You didn’t really see an angel.”

Dean scowled, folding his arms. “Did too!”

“Dean, how many times-?”

“John, don’t upset him,” Mom interrupted, coming into the room with a freshly changed Sammy on her hip. “How about we just put a star on the top of the tree this year instead?”

Dean nodded and Daddy sighed, putting the angel back in its box. He pulled out a star and offered it to his son. “So you gonna help me or what? It’s too high for me to reach by myself. I need my super helper.”

Dean smiled and ran into his Daddy’s arms. Dad hoisted him up onto his shoulders and Dean stretched his arms out to carefully set the star in its place. “Did it, Daddy!”

“Good job, kiddo.” They backed away from the tree and admired their handiwork. Lights and baubles and streamers and decorations Dean had made out of paper and glue and glitter were jumbled all together in a mess of colour.

“It looks beautiful,” Mom said and Sammy gurgled his agreement.

Dean beamed with pride.

“It’s nearly bedtime, Dean,” Mom told him. “Remember we have to go to sleep early so Santa can bring your presents.”

“Jake next door says Santa’s not real,” Dean said.

“You believe the word of an eight year old and not your own father’s?” Dad muttered.

Mom shot him a warning look, but offered her son a smile. “But we baked him cookies, Dean. Remember you helped me cut out all the star shapes and put icing on the top? Who’s going to eat them now?”

Dean pondered the problem, and then his face lit up. “My angel! I bet he likes cookies. Maybe if we leave them out for him he will come back to visit me!”

“Alright, well why don’t you go choose the best ones to put on a plate for him?”

“I’ll get milk, too!”

“Good idea.”

Dad put Dean down and he ran off into the kitchen.

Behind him, he could hear his parents talking in low voices.

“It has been almost two months, Mary. We moved house, I started my own mechanic business – we left our old life behind us so we could start afresh. But Dean is still fixated on that night and his make-believe story of what happened. Why won’t he let this go?”

“It comforts him, John. He watched our home burn down. Believing that he has an angel watching over him probably makes him feel safer.”

“But there is no such thing.”

“Well, we were happy for him to believe in Santa Claus. Why is this any different?”

“Every kid believes in Santa.”

“And they grow out of it. I’m sure Dean will too. Just give it time.”

Dean chose the cookie stars with the blue icing because they reminded him of his angel’s eyes, and he put them on his plastic superman plate because his angel was a super hero too. He poured some milk into a glass and then carefully carried both out into the lounge room.

“Shall we put them on the mantelpiece above the fireplace?” Mom suggested.

Dean eyed the fireplace and then gave it a wide berth, deliberately putting the milk and cookies on the table across the other side of the room. “He won’t come through there. He doesn’t need to. He just appears where he wants to.”

“Well that’s one good thing, anyway. It is forecast to be a cold one tomorrow; it will be nice to have a fire burning,” Dad said. “We could even make s’mores, how does that sound, Dean?”

Wide-eyed, Dean frantically shook his head. “No, Daddy, no fire! Fire is bad.”

“Dean, it will stay inside the fireplace. It won’t hurt us.”

“But the bad man will make it burn us all up! No fire!”

Daddy sighed. “Okay, little man. No fire.”

Dean relaxed a little and focused on neatening the cookies on the plate. He wanted everything to be perfect for his angel.

“Alright, Dean, bedtime. Off you go.”

“Tuck me in, Mommy?” Dean asked hopefully.

She passed Sammy over to Dad and ruffled Dean’s hair. “Of course.”

After giving Sammy and Daddy a goodnight cuddle, brushing his teeth and changing into his new pyjamas, Dean clambered into his bed and snuggled under the covers. Mom tucked him in and pressed a gentle kiss to his forehead. “Goodnight, love.”

She moved to turn off the light but Dean caught her hand, tugging her back.

“Mommy, you forgot to say that angels are watching over me.”

Mom just squeezed his hand and gave him a soft, sad smile. “Sweet dreams, Dean.”

She closed the door behind her.

After a few minutes Dean climbed out of bed and pressed his ear against the crack of the door, listening for his parents.

It took a long time but he was patient. When he was sure everyone had gone to bed he snuck back downstairs. There were presents under the tree already, wrapped up in bright red and green paper and all tied up with string. He knew most of them were for him and Sammy, but he didn’t want to ruin the surprise for tomorrow. He had come down here for another reason.

Quietly, he dug through the box of leftover decorations until he found the silly angel ornament. Tongue sticking out of the corner of his mouth as he concentrated, he used a blue marker to make the angel’s eyes the right colour and to draw the proper clothes over the dress. With squiggles and lines to represent the tie and suit and coat, Dean placed the finished product on the table next to the cookies.

He folded his hands together and closed his eyes.

“Mr Angel? Cas? Um, Happy Christmas. We made you some cookies. I hope you like them. I gave you the ones with the most icing ‘cause that’s the best bit.”

He snuck a peek around the room, but the angel wasn’t there yet so he closed his eyes tighter.

“Do you know how to find our new house? ‘Cause we moved from the one that the bad man burned down but not too far. I hope you can find your way here. I know you can fly super-fast like Superman, so if you’re not too busy will you come and visit?”

He sneaked another look. The room was still empty.

“Cas?” He was a little more uncertain this time, not sure that the angel could even hear him. He had prayed lots of times since the fire but his angel never showed. “I miss you. Aren’t you my friend anymore? Did I do something wrong?”

He felt tears prickling behind his eyelids but brushed them angrily away.

“Daddy says you’re not real. But I saw you. You saved me from the bad man. And I know you’re looking after me, even if I can’t see you. But I’d like to see you.”

He chanced one last look. His shoulders slumped.

“Okay, I get it. You won’t come until I’m in bed. I’m going. I hope you like the cookies.”

He dragged himself slowly up the staircase, still looking back in hopes of seeing his angel appear to try Mom’s cookies and drink the milk he had left out for him.

But when he woke up the next morning, they were still there.

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