Juliet climbs the stairs slowly afterward. Just one step after the other until she’s standing silently in their living room and watching Peter watch the telly. It takes him a minute to register that the front door has closed and her footsteps have stopped, but that she hasn’t sat back down. He immediately turns to her with that beautiful, familiar furrow in his brow. The one that somehow says I love you, and asks if she’s alright, and also why is she all the way over there still?
“I just kissed Mark,” she says. She listens to her own voice as if it’s someone else’s. Like there’s a gentle blanket of shock between her and her own actions.
Peter blinks at her for a moment, confused. “What?” he asks. “But… the carol singers-“
“Mark told me to say it was singers,” she explains, and then puts her hand to her cheek and laughs helplessly. “It wasn’t. He… oh. You won’t believe it when I tell you, but Peter. The important thing is that I just kissed Mark.”
Peter continues to stare at her for a long time, but eventually his confused expression begins to give way to wonder. “Did you…,” he starts to ask, hesitantly, as he slowly gets up from the couch and takes her in his arms. “Did you like it?”
“I don’t know,” she answers, her voice calmer than she feels. “But I think I might, maybe, like to find out.”
She looks back at him steadily as she says it, but before she’s even gotten the last word out Peter lets out a whoop and swings her up into his arms. He spins them around much faster than their frankly tiny flat can or should be able to accommodate. She yelps in alarm as he does, worrying about this lamp or that chair. But somehow, miraculously, when he puts her back down steady on her own two feet nothing is broken.
Perhaps something might even be fixed.
“I should- Is he- Why didn’t you invite him up?” Peter asks, straightening his shirt and looking towards the stairs as he starts to finally put all the pieces together.
“He wouldn’t have wanted me to, I don’t think,” Juliet says as she walks over to the television and hits eject on the video machine. A familiar, home labelled cassette tape pops out, and she carefully removes it from the machine with one hand while she smooths her fingers thoughtfully along the handwritten label. Her fingers trace the letters of her and Peter’s names as she purses her lips. “He left, anyway. I think he thinks we’re done with him.”
“Right,” Peter says, and abruptly stops fidgeting with his clothes. He looks a little forlorn for a moment, but it’s soon swept away by determination. “We’ll just have to prove him wrong then, won’t we?”
Juliet laughs and puts the tape away, before she wraps her arms around Peter again. “Absolutely,” she says, and then kisses him deeply until he suddenly drops them both down onto the couch together while she shrieks with laughter beneath him.
In hindsight, it began with what Juliet had always thought of as The Conversation. At the time she’d thought that was all there would ever be to it. Just a short, unexpected revelation over lunch. It had only been a few months after she and Peter had met, but that already felt about two months overdue for making some kind of commitment. Because she’d known from the first night, when he’d tried to fetch her a drink and somehow fumbled it all over both of them. His relieved laugh when she wasn’t bothered by the spill had been so wide that all she’d wanted to do was laugh right back, and she'd just looked at him and thought, yes.
“I’m sorry if it’s a bit awkward,” Peter had said after he finished explaining the most likely reason for why Mark was being a bit cool towards her. There had been a grimace fixed on his face, even though he had tried to smile gamely through it all.
“It’s fine,” she’d replied, and she’d even meant it. “I suppose I just… I guess what I don’t understand though is why, if you were both finally single at the same time, you started dating me? I mean, don’t get me wrong. I’m happy you did! Very happy. I’m just a little confused, and I suppose I can see where he’s coming from.”
“What? You’ve never had an awkward thing with your best friend where you’ve danced around each other for so long that you’ve both sort of accepted it’ll never happen without needing to discuss it?”
Juliet snorted. “No, no I have not.”
“Ah,” Peter said, and leaned in kiss her. He lingered for a long moment and then pulled back with a self-deprecating look. “Well, I promise you it’s about ten times more complicated even than you can imagine. Besides. Once I met you, I knew I wanted to-”
-Marry you. But he’d cut himself short, wide eyed, before he said it. Juliet had just smiled and covered his hand with her own. “Me, too,” she said, just as equally vague enough that they both relaxed. But there was a sparkle in their eyes, and something in the air, and Juliet knew. This one.
True, his best friend was sort of in love with him. That wasn’t going to be simple, especially when he was also sort of in love with his best friend. But there wasn’t going to be any sort of competition, because he was her Peter and she would be his Juliet, so that was okay. Complicated. But worth it, and eventually, with a little bit of time, she had been sure Mark would get used to the idea as well.
“Should we ask him to dinner?” Juliet suggests over breakfast the next morning.
“No, don’t try that,” Peter mumbles, still half asleep over his coffee. “Too obvious, and Mark hates obvious dates. Besides, he’ll probably panic and think I want to have a stern talking to with the both of you in a public place where nobody can make a scene.”
Juliet wrinkles her nose. “I thought you said he’s always loved you. Surely that must mean that he knows you well by now?” she asks pointedly, with a skeptical raise of her eyebrows.
Peter chuckles and drops a kiss right between her wrinkled brows before he shuffles off to shower. They’re already running late for Christmas with Juliet’s parents, so much so that she’s half tempted to join him in the shower. Purely for efficiency reasons, of course. But she also already knows they’ll just get distracted discussing Mark if she tries.
“Remember, we made a point to never talk about it,” Peter calls from the bedroom as he shucks off his robe and slippers. “Which means we never discussed things that do, or don’t, make me jealous.”
Huffing, Juliet takes a large chunk out of her pastry and chews grumpily while she listens to the water turn on. It’s not fair. Her husband and her maybe future boyfriend have been flirting with each other for years, already. One of the benefits should rightly be that they’ve already had all the hard conversations without her.
The first time Mark trawled through all of the wedding footage, he immediately had to stop and put it away. It’s Peter, and Juliet, and Peter and Juliet, and he didn’t realise. Not until it was laid out on a screen in front of him. But somehow the camera had lingered just as much on Juliet as it had on Peter.
Somehow his impossible, ridiculous situation had gotten ten times worse.
He went for a long, long walk along the river that day. Let the wind cut him to the quick, and refused to regret not grabbing a warmer jacket. By the time he got home, he was decided. He sat back down in front of his footage, and started editing.
It might have surprised him, seeing just as much of Juliet there. But he needed to understand it, so he could conquer it.
So he could let them both go.
By New Years Eve, they have a plan. Peter makes the call to invite Mark to join them. It has the added bonus that Peter can play oblivious and double down on insisting when Mark gets hesitant about the idea. Juliet waits patiently by Peter’s side while they talk, with her fingers clenched between her teeth so her impatience can’t slip out as audible background noise and scare him off.
“Well?” she demands the second she’s sure the call’s been hung up. “What did he say?”
“Not a lot,” Peter says as he reels her in for a kiss. “He was incredibly reluctant, so I think we’re probably right about the whole plan to trick him into coming back here to talk thing.”
Later, Juliet packs the bag of alcohol to take to their friends place with a twinge of guilt. But it vanishes when they arrive and find that Mark is already there, and that he is refusing to meet her eyes. She watches him greet Peter and sees the bright, happy, genuine edge to it that she normally never gets to see, and she wants. She wants, and she knows Peter was right. Mark will keep dodging and weaving them if they’re not careful.
So Juliet drops off the extra drinks in the kitchen, and mixes up a few cocktails while she’s there. She makes sure hers and Peters are a little heavier with the non-alcoholic mixers than she’d normally make them, and then she carries all three back out into the living room.
“Happy New Year,” she cries, as she walks up beside them and shoves drinks into hands. “It’s good to see you,” she continues as she slips an arm around Peter’s waist and smiles earnestly at Mark.
I really mean that, she tries to convey with her eyes. But she doesn’t think the message has made it through. Instead they both watch as Mark spends most of the evening talking to anyone but them, and gamely tries every kind of drink that anyone offers to him.
“Why don’t you tag along home with us, mate?” Peter asks after midnight, gesturing widely and a little more emphatically than his level of drunkenness can explain. “Our place is much closer and tonight we’ll be lucky if we can get one cab, let alone two.”
“No, no, no,” Mark protests, as they say their goodbyes and all but frogmarch him out the door with them. “That’s not, not a good idea!”
But Peter just claps him on the back and plays dumb, and Juliet slips behind them and out of sight, out of mind, as they walk. Until they get home, and then she joins forces with Peter to tip Mark’s drunken arse into their bed and convince him to stay there.
“We’re going to be up for ages yet,” she says, as she tucks him in for the third time.
Peter nods enthusiastically beside her, and gestures over his shoulder toward the living room. “We were planning to watch the other fireworks happening around the world, anyway. You should at least make use of the bed while we do that.”
They slip out the door before he can put up another, proper fight. Not that, slurring slightly and eyelids drooping, he stood much of a chance anyway.
“It’s nice to have him here,” Juliet remarks at the bedroom door few hours later, when sleep also starts to catch up with them and they go to fetch their pyjamas
Mark is snoring lightly before them, and he’s already obligingly rolled right to the edge of the bed. Peter raises an eyebrow at her and then crawls onto the bed, clothes and all.
“You can’t sleep like that,” she hisses, but he just makes a shushing noise and motions her closer.
“It’ll be less awkward if he really wants an out in the morning,” he explains, tugging on her hand until her choices are to climb on as well or be pulled down sharply enough to jostle the mattress.
So she relents, and slides in next to him. It’s a bit weird not having any covers over her in her own bed. But Peter is a familiar wall of heat against her, and when she slings an arm over him she feels Mark pressed against them both. She’s still second guessing the decision when suddenly there’s sunlight, and the furtive movements of somebody trying to disentangle themselves from bedclothes without being noticed are what seem to have awoken her.
“Mark,” she whispers, and the movement stops.
“Come back to bed,” Peter groans. His chest shifts underneath her cheek, jostling her as he reaches for Mark. But she can’t bring herself to complain about it.
“I, um, it’s okay. I’m awake, and-“
“For fucks sake,” Peter just says. Juliet’s eyes snap open in surprise, but when she looks Peter still has his own eyes closed and his face is serene. Though she notices he seems to have managed to grab Mark’s shirt in a haphazard sort death grip. “Don’t you get it yet? We want you to tag along with us, Mark. For everything, just like last night. Now go back to sleep. I’ve only had two hours myself, unlike some, and I have a splitting headache.”
Juliet muffles a giggle with her hand, and takes in Mark’s wide eyes. “It’s true, we do want you here,” she says softly. She gestures broadly to the room, the apartment, the bed, and then she reaches out for him as well. “If that’s what you want, Mark?”
Mark stares back at her, wide eyed. His lips flick out to moisten his lips as he looks quickly at Peter, whose breath is already smoothing back out into sleep, and then back to her.
“Mark?” she tries again, and he takes a deep breath and climbs back in.
“Oh, we’re going to be so late,” Juliet says as she goes to-
“Watch the door!” Mark cries with a pre-emptive wince.
-slam the car door. She pauses in the backseat and smiles sheepishly at him, before quickly shuffling to the middle and buckling herself in. “Sorry,” she says. “I just promised Jamie we’d be there on time to greet them properly and make Aurelia feel welcome, you know?”
“We know, we know,” Peter says as he gestures for Mark to start the car already. “And we won’t be late, I promise.”
Juliet leans forward for a kiss from Peter, and then lingers there. Her arms are slung around the back of both of their seats as she sits forward, a feat only made possible by the truly tiny size of Mark’s car. But it also means that her fingers are close enough to card through the hair at the nape of Mark’s neck as he drives. The sensation makes him shiver pleasantly. He’s still smiling about it as he waits for a green light, when Peter’s hand ghosts affectionately over his on the gear stick.
As they drive, they remark on how much different everything looks now the Christmas decorations have finally come back down. Mark makes his usual derogatory comment on the commercialisation of holidays. He points out the red love hearts already starting to decorate the windows of a florist they’re driving past, and Peter and Juliet exchange an amused look.
Mark bites back a smile of his own when he catches the glance. He already made the reservations weeks ago for a Valentines dinner for three. Even though it pains him on principle to think of participating, he’s already caught himself looking forward to it.
He’s also particularly looking forward to the shocked looks on their faces when they figure it out.
“Make sure you head for the parking,” Juliet instructs once they near the airport. “You are going to park so you can tag along, right Mark?”
Peter turns an expectant look on Mark as she does, and Mark just grins helplessly in response. “Of course,” he says, as he follows the signs to short term parking. “Always.”