Dean Cassidy woke up on Christmas morning, to his younger brother Zack pounding on the door like he was five years old. “C’mon, Dean! Wake up – it’s Christmas!” Dean scrubbed at his eyes as it sounded like Zack moved on to their youngest brother, Scotty’s, room – or at least, that’s what he figured, given the unintelligible yells coming from the next room. Checking his phone, he wasn’t surprised to find his phone already had a message.
Belle: Merry Christmas, sleepyhead!
Dean fired back: “Only you would get up at the crack of dawn to bake a yule log.”
Her reply was instantaneous: “Have you MET your best friend?”
Dean chuckled, Belle Thomas was something. Thumbs hovering over his phone, Dean was thinking up a witty reply when Zack started pounding on his door. With a yawn and a groan, he tossed his phone on the bed. “Alright, alright. I’m coming!” He called, stretching with another yawn before finally exiting his room.
By the time Dean made it to the living room and finally got all the sleep out of his eyes, Zach had managed to get Scotty, his dad, Phil, and even Sybbie – Dean’s best friend who seemed to prefer using their oven at the diner over her own – and her mom, Kelly, up and out to their small tree with a river full of presents underneath.
“Merry Christmas!” Zach exclaimed with all the energy of a person that was either high on sugar or on life could muster.
Phil smiled at his middle child – the one arguably most like his late wife – and pulled the excitable puppy of a teenager down to the sofa he was reclining on. “Merry Christmas.” Sybbie yawned out, leaning her head on her mother’s shoulder. Contrary to the yawn, his best friend was already dressed in a Christmas sweater and a pair of jeans, which told Dean she’d been up for a while baking – just as Belle had. No wonder they get along so well, he thought before sitting down on a free easy chair.
“Alright, presents!” Zack cheered, kneeling down to distribute. Starting off, he handed Phil a thin package wrapped up in silver paper. “This one says it’s from Sybbie.” Phil ripped off the wrapping to reveal a Happy Days album. This brought an excited smile to Phil’s face and elicited groans from Dean and Scotty – Zack being way too busy with present distribution for any distractions to capture his attention.
“You really do hate me, don’t you?” Dean asked her while accepting the present Zack handed him, a moderately cubic box wrapped in the same silver paper his dad’s had been.
Sybbie smirked, “More like I love Happy Days. If I hated you, I wouldn’t have gotten you that.” she gestured to the gift Dean was holding as she pulled her coffee-brown hair from it’s typical ponytail. Although he heard his youngest brother snicker, Dean ignored both of them in favor of opening the present to see a black, waterproof pouch with a small notebook and pen advertised to write “in all weather” inside of it. He looked up, “You said you wanted to get into geocaching more.” she shrugged while Dean stood up to hug his best friend.
“Every year you put way more thought into your gifts than I do.” Dean said after thanking her.
“Well, makes up for the other 364 days of the year.” Sybbie wisecracked. “Now, get off of me.”
Dean laughed as Zack continued to hand out presents, watching as Sybbie’s gifts from all the Cassidy males turned out to be cookbooks. “Sometimes I think you guys only like me for my baked goods.” she said, flicking through the recipes nevertheless.
“Thank you works as well.” Scotty said, flicking through his own book – this one on advanced coding that Zack had given him.
“Thanks.” Sybbie replied drily before turning to Zack, Dean, and Phil. “Really, thank you. I’ll be putting them to good use once we can finally re-open again.”
Phil nodded, and Dean could see the worry in the crows feet around his dad’s eyes. The pandemic really had cut down on the diner’s profit – and between that, and their mom’s passing a year ago, he had only seen his dad grow more and more stressed out. “Hopefully you’ll bring some over before then. Those ginger snaps you brought over yesterday were out of this world.”
Dean added on, “Not that they made it much farther than the door.” With that he turned to Zack, playfully glaring as the middle child acted “natural”, having been the one to eat a majority of the cookies the day before.
“In my defense,” Zack said, “It is my birth-month.”
“And that’s relevant to the current topic of conversation, how?” Dean asked, despite knowing the answer – Zack had a tendency to use the fact that he was born a week before Christmas to get away with eating all the sugar he could.
“Because, my dear brother, because…” Zack began dramatically before Scotty cut him off with a smirk. “Because he thinks that gives him a reason to have first dibs on all of Sybbie’s baked goods.”
Phil and Kelly laughed while Sybbie patted Zack, who was sitting on the arm of the couch closest to her, on the shoulder. “In his defense, the sticky note on top did read, “Zack, Phil, and Scotty.” Sybbie said.
“I meant to ask you about that.” Dean said, remembering. “Did you forget about your so-called best friend? Or…” He gave her what was supposed to be a stink eye, but Scotty never failed to tell him that that was one expression he could never quite pull off – in fact, Dean ignored him presently when he did so again.
“I thought that I’d show the other Cassidys some love for once. Besides, from what I’ve heard, you’ve found another baker…” Sybbie’s knowing look and trailing off combination, had Dean flushing.
“Aww, is Dean in love?” Zack crooned – or rather, tried to croon, but coughed as Scotty playfully batted him over the head. “Don’t worry, just choking here…”
Even Kelly looked intrigued as Dean floundered for a way to get out of this situation. “Now if you guys will excuse us, Dean has to help me with inventory if I want to get done baking by the time that Larry gets here to work on dinner. Merry Christmas!” Sybbie said, always equally ready to get Dean out of a mess as she was to get him into one.
Once they were in the kitchen, and (ideally) away from prying ears – one could never be sure when it came to younger brothers – Sybbie leaned against the door to the pantry and stared at him the way she always did when she was wanted an honest answer. “So are you going to tell me what happened and why my two best friends can hardly hear the other’s name without blushing?” she asked.
Dean shrugged, not sure how he wanted to answer that. Sybbie would see through a lie if he tried that option, yet telling your best friend that you’ve been crushing on her other best friend for about a month wasn’t exactly an experience he looked forward to. Opening his mouth, Dean couldn’t quite form any words, instead he rubbed the back of his neck then exhaled deeply, until he felt like if he expelled any more oxygen he’d go light-headed.
“Alright, I’ll begin it for you.” Sybbie said, turning around to the center table in the kitchen and flipping open a beat-up spiral notebook with an “S” monogrammed in the center encompassed by a circle. “It had to have started around Thanksgiving, because it wasn’t until after that I found myself friends with that are so completely besotted with each other that they can’t see straight.”
“Besotted? Is this Shakespeare in the kitchen?” Dean interrupted, Sybbie’s nose-in-her-recipe-book monologue proved to push a button in him that made him relax enough to fire a quip her way.
“Yeah, this morning’s show is Love’s a Labor for Sybbie.” she shot back, finally glancing up from her recipe book she’d been flicking through, assumedly finding the recipe she was looking for. “Now, please. Spill. I can help if I know how the hell this came about. Look,” she continued, turning around to the pantry. “I won’t even look. Act like I’m not even listening.”
Dean chuckled despite himself. “Fair enough.” he replied. Leaning with his back to the table, putting his weight on his hands and facing the walk-in pantry his best friend was currently inside. With another deep exhale, Dean began.