"Red, or blue?" Emma asked, holding two identical dresses in front of the mirror, examining them both. She turned to face Dean, who was slouched in the fitting room chair with a tired expression on his face.
"Aren't they just going to be underneath the robe?" Dean asked, holding his hands in the air looking for the answer. It seemed pointless to debate the two dresses when no one would see them on Graduation Day anyway.
"Dean, please?" She groaned, and held the dresses higher to force his decision. His eyes shifted from each hand-red, blue, red, blue- and shook his head in frustration.
"Uhh..." he hummed, crinkling his forehead as he thought. "Red." He said finally, satisfied with his answer.
"Great." Emma said, and smiled. "Blue it is." She set the red dress on the rack and skipped out of the dressing room, leaving Dean sitting in amazement. He groaned as he hopped out of the chair, but still smiled as he trailed after her.
"You're crazy. You know that, right?" he asked, shaking his head with a big grin. They stood at the register, Emma carefully unzipping her purse and pulling out her wallet, Dean's large frame towering over her as he leaned against the counter. The cashier slid the dress into a bag.
"Here you go," The cashier said, handing the bag across the counter and snapping her gum. Emma handed it off to Dean while she finished paying. The cashier watched them carefully, the way his eyes were always on her, the way she almost-blushed when their hands touched at the handing-over of the bags. She smiled a little.
"Have a nice day." She said happily, and Emma wished the same to her. She pressed the clasps of her wallet closed again, and then looked up to Dean with a sigh.
"Done," she said enthusiastically, and he just laughed.
"What?" she asked playfully, quickening her steps to match his as he reached the sliding doors that led to the parking lot.
"Nothing," He said, and she nudged him with a giggle.
"Liar," She shook her head, her eyes searching for Dean's truck. She found it, and swerved to head the right direction. She carefully set the dress along the back seat as they reached it, and then hopped into the front seat next to Dean.
As he started the ignition and began to pull from the parking space, Emma clicked through her phone for any messages. There was only one, from her sister.
We're going out to dinner. Mom said get something while you're out.
"Are you hungry?" She asked Dean, not glancing up from the phone as she typed a quick response.
"Yeah, starving actually." He said, and she slid the phone back into the bag. The words felt odd coming off his tongue, though, considering he'd been a lot hungrier than this before. But he just shook his head.
"Where do you want to eat?" Emma asked, running the list of restaurants around through her head.
"Chinese?" He suggested, gripping the steering wheel and easing into a stop at the red light. Emma shook her head.
"No, I had that last weekend." She sighed, watching cars zoom by.
"Hm." He hummed. Trivial decisions like these sometimes frustrated him. It seemed like Emma had more easily slipped back into normality than he had. Or if she hadn't, she was very good at pretending. He knew she still had a hard time with some things, but she so easily became the same busy, chipper student she was before she left. She was different, yes, but she was the same in many ways, too. Maybe that's why he loved her so much.
They settled on McDonald's, walking hand in hand into the busy restaurant, filled with whining toddlers and greasy trays. Emma did not particularly enjoy the food here, but there it was more of a ritual than anything. McDonald's was, in her eyes, the essence of a regular, American life. And that's what she wanted.
"I probably shouldn't be eating this." She sighed as Dean balanced the tray of food in one hand and the drinks in another, an act he was quite proud of. He slid them onto the table with a chuckle.
"That's the fun part." He insisted, and he tapped his straw against the table until it shed its wrapping.
"I think you and I have different perceptions of fun." She said, plucking a fry from the bag. He parted his lips to respond, but the buzzing of his phone in his pocket interrupted him.
"Hold on," He said, holding up a finger and pulling the phone to the table. Dad, it read.
"Hello?" He answered quietly, barely audible to Emma over the buzz within the restaurant.
"Where are you?" His father asked, but his mind was obviously somewhere else. Dean sighed.
"Out." He shrugged, and Emma watched him as he did so. She knew the relationship he shared with his father. It had improved upon his arriving home, but only slightly. There was still a distance between them that might never be filled. She wondered if her presence in Dean's life only widened this gap.
"When will you be home?" He asked knowingly, all too parent-like for Dean.
"Seven?" He responded, looking to Emma for confirmation. She idled to a moment, and then nodded. It was only five now; she wasn't sure what would hold them up for another two hours. But she didn't argue it. She certainly didn't mind spending time with Dean.
"And you've finished all your shopping for graduation?" He asked, and Dean nodded until he remembered that this action was not visible through the phone.
"Yeah," He nodded.
"Good." His father said, and the line went dead before Dean could do it himself.
Dean shook his head with a sigh as he slid the phone back into his pocket, and began to unwrap his burger. Emma watched him worriedly.
"You're all right?" She asked, and he sent her a half-smile.
"Yeah, yeah. Fine." He said, but he could see the doubt in her eyes. "Promise." He smiled, exaggerating the word to coerce a smile from her. It worked.
They finished the dinner in mostly silence, with the occasional head nod or smile. A look could speak a thousand words.
"Oh," Emma remembered at she shook the garbage from the tray into the bin, "My mom wants to know if you're coming for lunch before graduation."
"Is that what you want me to do?" He asked, taking one last sip from his drink before discarding it.
"If you're up for it." She smiled, and he took her hand into his as they pushed through the door into the parking lot.
"I don't know. I do have a busy schedule to keep. I'll try to fit you in." He addressed, and Emma let out a laugh Dean knew would be the death of him. He almost hated to part hands as they reached the car.
"Wonderful." She mocked. She jabbed the button of the radio as she clicked her seatbelt on, searching thought the stations for songs that all sounded the same. She settled on a CD that was already sitting in the player, one she'd heard countless times before. It was one of Dean's favorite bands, and she'd actually grown to enjoy it over time. It was just another thing they shared.
"I love this song." Dean chimed, and blasted the volume as they zoomed from the McDonald's parking lot.
"We'll both go deaf!" Emma shouted, but Dean didn't hear, or decided to ignore it. He tapped his thumbs against the steering wheel, occasionally nodding his head. Emma leaned her head on the window and tucked her legs against the seat, watching the life outside blur into one mass.
Busy strip malls soon melted into suburbs as they turned down the road toward Dean's house. Emma glanced at her watch, 5:32. Two hours before Dean was expected home, but they still headed there anyway. Certainly Dean would not be going home early on purpose.
"What're we doing?" Emma asked as they began down Dean's drive. The song that Dean so enjoyed hummed to an end, and he smiled.
"It's a secret. Shhh!" He held one finger to his mouth, and Emma rolled her eyes. He let out a phlegmy cough, and Emma's eyes narrowed in worry.
"Are you all right?" She asked, and he nodded.
"I'm fine." He insisted, turning into the garage. She nodded, but wasn't sure. She'd hate to see him get sick now, just days before graduation.
"So," He began, pulling the keys from the ignition and sitting back to the silence of the dark garage. "Graduation is on Sunday. That's four days."
"Mmmhm..." Emma nodded. She'd been carefully counting down the minutes, but let him continue on.
"And I know that you've got everything planned out already. But there's something I want to show you before Sunday." He nodded, and Emma's heart picked up. There was something oddly excited about the way he spoke.
He smiled, and then leaned popped open the cupboard on the passenger side. It sprung open, filled with food wrappers and manuals and insurance papers. He shuffled through them quickly, his arm pressed across Emma. She watched him carefully, eager to understand what all this was. It wasn't like him to be so secretive.
"Dean..." She began hesitantly, watching as he tugged an envelope from the console. He pushed it shut again and then wagged the envelope in the air proudly.
"Just wait." He instructed, and she sealed her lips in defeat. She had never particularly enjoyed surprises. She liked to know what was happening before it happened.
"Okay," He said as he tore the letter open, bits of paper falling on his legs. "So my uncle Buzz-I've never told you about him-lives in Florida." He said plainly, sliding the contents of the envelope into his hand.
"On the beach, to be specific." He clarified knowingly, and Emma kind of laughed at his odd enthusiasm. "Buzz and I, we get along better than most of my relatives. He's my mom's brother." She watched as his eyes crinkled slightly at the mention of his mom, but he composed himself. This was Emma's moment, Dean reminded himself.
"A few weeks ago, right after your birthday, I wrote to Buzz. I would have called, but Buzz is a big believer in the written message. We used to write a lot, before my mom, but after...I don't know. But anyway, I've talked to him a bit about the trip we took last fall, everything after. We seem to agree on the fact that you and I could use a break."
"A break?" Emma questioned, her eyebrows raised. Dean smiled deviously, and handed her the papers in his hand.
"Plane tickets? Yes." Dean cut her off, beaming happily. Her mouth fell open as her eyes scanned over the tickets in the dim light.
"My dad, he already talked to your parents." He said, and finally, she broke into a wide smile as she realized what this meant.
"We're going...to Florida?" She half-shouted, biting her lip to contain her excitement. He nodded.
"On Monday." He smiled, and then, she couldn't contain her excitement. She threw her arms around Dean and practically hopped into his lap. He was taken by surprise, and clutched the seat as she leaned into him happily. Her wavy hair fell into his neck, sending a shiver down his spine. She kissed him happily.
"So we're really going?" She sighed as she slid back into her seat, her stomach buzzing with excitement.
"Better work on that tan, Prom Queen. You'll be the whitest on the beach." He mused, and she thumped him playfully on the arm with a chuckle. She could not believe it. Dean had arranged for them to go to Florida without her knowing? It was a complete surprise, probably his goal. The last time she'd had genuine time with Dean was, well, on the island. The beach would be nice, especially after the hectic haze leading up to Graduation. She could scream from the excitement built inside her.
"His house, it's right on the beach. There's not another for miles. It's beautiful." He nodded, in the daze she saw him settle into whenever he talked about something he really loved. And of course he loved his uncle-he was the one happy reminder of his mother's life instead of her death.
"I love you." She smiled, and he squeezed her hand happily. He had been nervous to share this with her, afraid she might not be willing to go. They'd been home for months, but he wasn't sure if she was prepared to leave her family again. This time he'd bring her home, though.
And so he backed out of the garage, back down the lane and began the descent to Emma's house. He'd chosen the garage as a ceremonial ground for this reveal, although he wasn't sure why. It felt like this place that was his, but apart from his father. And it wasn't perfect or furnished, but it still deserved purpose, he believed. Everything did.
And so he watched as she hurried down the walk to her door, and then smiled back at him one last time before being consumed by the home. He'd miss her, he knew. He always did.