Peter grabs his keys from the dish on the shelf and stops for a moment in front of the mirror on the hall. He smooths down his hair a bit, pushes his glasses up all the way on his nose. It’s Valentine’s Day, and he’s foregoing his usual tradition to hang out with Dylan and the Wayback Boys. It’s probably a step up socially from sitting on the couch with his mom and a bowl of popcorn, but Peter was actually kind of looking forward to watching The Wedding Planner again. The scene where Jennifer Lopez gets her heel stuck in a grate always gets him—what if she gets hit by a car this time?
He smiles at himself in the mirror, which just makes him embarrassed. Peter looks down at his watch and decides it’s time to get going. He looks fine anyway.
The Wayback Boys have kind of drifted into the circle of people that Peter hangs out with on a daily basis, and while freshman him would never have guessed this would ever in a million years happen, Peter genuinely enjoys their company. He still doesn’t really smoke with them, because he, you know, doesn’t want to die of an asthma attack, but spending an evening hanging out at Dylan or Lucas’s house is not an uncommon thing. Tonight Dylan asked Peter to meet him at the diner for a Valentine’s day get-together, which Peter thinks is really nice. On a day so focused on the commercialization of romance, Dylan is choosing instead to celebrate his friends.
Dylan says it’s because they have a cheese fries special tonight in honor of Saint Valentine himself, but, well. Peter can take away his own meanings.
He swings by Sam’s house on the way to the diner to pick him up. Sam isn’t as much of a fixture in Dylan’s living room as Peter is, so Peter thinks it was especially nice of Dylan to invite him along. He pulls into Sam’s driveway, and Sam emerges from his house almost immediately in his flannel shirt and high-top sneakers.
“Hey, dude,” Sam says, sliding into the passenger seat. “Thanks for picking me up. I would’ve asked Gabi, but she’s coming straight from work.”
Sam looks at him like Peter’s missing something. “Yeah, she and Ganj are pretty tight.”
This never came up in all of Peter’s investigation into the social intricacies of Hanover, but Peter doesn’t know everything. He shrugs, and then Sam takes the aux cord, and several showtunes later, they’re at the diner. Dylan texted that everyone’s already inside, so Peter and Sam go in and find their table.
Dylan got the corner booth, which is nice, but Peter’s kind of thrown by his choice of guests. Sitting at the table is not Dylan, Ganj, Spencer, and Lucas, but Dylan, Ganj, Mackenzie, and Gabi.
“Hey, Pete!” Dylan says from his spot in the corner, and although Dylan doesn’t force Mackenzie to get up so that he can get out of the booth, Peter feels the ghost of a warm bro-hug.
“Hey,” Peter says, sliding into the booth after Sam. There are already a few glasses of water and a couple of plates on the table.
Dylan pushes one of them towards Peter. “I ordered mozzarella sticks for you and your boy. I heard that cheese is, like, a really powerful aphrodisiac.”
“Is it?” Sam says dubiously, already dipping a mozzarella stick in marinara sauce. Peter privately agrees with him.
“Cool of you guys to come tonight, though,” Dylan continues, putting an arm around Mackenzie’s shoulders. “You never want to come on double dates.”
Peter looks up from his placemat. It’s true, Dylan asks Peter to come out with him and Mackenzie, but he never has anyone to bring along, so he usually declines. What does this gathering of friends have to do with double dates?
Sam looks almost as confused as Peter is, but Gabi doesn’t even blink. Peter looks at her, not understanding, until he does. Gabi and Ganj are sitting just as close as Dylan and Mackenzie are, and how could Peter have missed this? He and Sam haven’t been invited to a chill Valentine’s day hangout with the Wayback Boys and company. They’ve been invited on a triple date.
“Uh,” Peter says, after what has definitely been too long, “yeah, sorry. It’s been busy.”
Sam starts to say something, but Peter kicks him under the table.
“It’s cool, honestly,” Mackenzie says, looking like going on a double date with Peter and Sam is far from her idea of a good time. “I don’t know why Dylan loves this shit so much.”
“‘Cause it’s romantic as fuck, Mack!” Dylan turns his full attention towards her and starts to explain why he loves being out with other couples and the joys of social society.
Peter takes this opportunity to gently elbow Sam. “Did you know about this?” he murmurs.
Sam shakes his head, and Peter can’t read his expression. The best thing for their friendship would be for both of them to just laugh it off, put down this night as a hilarious misunderstanding and go on with their lives, but Sam doesn’t look like he thinks it’s funny. Peter feels bad for putting him through this, and maybe a little annoyed at Dylan for assuming, even though he means well—just because they’re both gay doesn’t mean they have to be together.
And that guilt’s not even accounting for the fact that Peter, somewhat desperately, wishes Dylan was right. He loves being friends with Sam, really loves it, but in the past few months he’s realized that he feels something more than strictly friendship. There’s no one else he trusts so implicitly—to reassure him about edits to the doc, to be real with him that he needs to shave his “creepy porn mustache,” even to let him copy chem notes when he misses class. And there’s no one he thinks about more.
Peter should have corrected Dylan as soon as he realized the misunderstanding. It’s not fair to Sam to play along for one second, because it means so much more to Peter than it should. He’s going to say something to Dylan, of course, but first he needs to talk to Sam.
Peter slides out of the booth, pulling Sam with him. He starts to say something to the table about going outside to get some air, but no one is paying any attention. Dylan and Mack have pivoted conversationally to public displays of affection and Gabi and Ganj are deep in an actual public display of affection, so they just go.
It’s California, so February isn’t exactly polar, but the cool air of the parking lot is nice. Grounding. Peter allows himself a moment to gather his thoughts.
Before he can say anything, Sam does.
“I’m sorry, dude,” Sam says.
“I lied a little. I did know this was a date thing, I just. I wanted to… Never mind.” Sam exhales mightily and kicks a rock on the ground like a high school movie cliché.
A million things are running through Peter’s head right now, about Sam’s feelings and motivations and everything, but he asks, “How did you know?”
“Gabi told me when Dylan invited her. She and Ganj are hooking up,” Sam adds.
“How did I miss that?” Peter says, momentarily distracted.
“I don’t know, man. They literally post pics to Instagram all the time. And I told you when we were in the car.”
“I thought they were just… good friends.”
Sam shakes his head in mock disappointment. “This is the face of homophobia.”
Peter just rolls his eyes. A family parks near them and gets out of their car. One of them sometimes runs lighting for high school theater, and he waves at Sam before following his family up the stairs. Peter watches idly as they walk inside and then turns back to Sam.
“What were you saying before?” he asks. He knows that Sam knows what he’s talking about. “That you wanted?”
Peter has a feeling—a hope, really—that he knows what it is, but he doesn’t press Sam. Instead, he says what he came out here to say. “I’m sorry too. I should have corrected Dylan when he thought we were dating, it’s not fair to you.”
Sam stares at him for a long moment, and then says, “You know?”
What does Peter know? That the way he acts around Sam is crossing some sort of friendship boundary? He’s been afraid of this, trying to tone it down, but this is confirmation that he needs to forget about his feelings for good. “I know. I’m sorry,” he says again, not able to meet Sam’s eyes.
“What are you sorry for, dude? I’m the one who’s sorry. I was trying to, like, get over my feelings and shit, I never meant to be creepy about it.”
Sam grins sheepishly. “Feelings, crush, terrible taste in men, whatever you want to call it.”
Uh, what did Sam just say? Peter takes a moment to process. Sam has feelings for him? A crush? He hoped it would be true, but hearing it out loud is not something he ever expected. Peter’s never dated anyone before (kindergarten “marriage” to Emma Cruz aside), so he honestly doesn’t know what to do with this information. This was supposed to be the hard part, right? Finding someone else who felt the same way.
What he ends up saying is, “Terrible taste?”
“Yeah, I mean. There are a lot of other fish in the sea. Fish who don’t make me watch weird old movies I don’t understand.”
He hits Sam on the shoulder for that, because he has excellent taste in movies, and the tension fades. It occurs to Peter that he could just leave it here. They could go back inside, inform Dylan of his mistake, and all have a good laugh about it. Peter and Sam could go back to just being friends, and never have to face the risks of being anything more than that. This moment is something he’s daydreamed about for weeks, but Peter finds himself hesitating to seize it.
Sam turns around to go back inside, and Peter grabs his arm. They both flinch a little at the contact, and Peter takes a deep breath. This is Sam. His best friend in the world. His partner in anti-crime. They’ll figure this out together, no matter what.
Sam looks down at Peter’s hand still on his arm, and then up to meet his eyes. He lets Peter pull him back, and Peter loses track of everything he was going to say.
“Happy Valentine’s Day,” Peter says instead. And then, because every reason Peter ever had not to do it has been well and truly annihilated, he kisses Sam.
It’s not perfect, because Peter’s never kissed anyone before, and it’s not long, because they’re in a public parking lot and Peter has common decency, but it’s amazing. In that few seconds, Peter feels the promise of so much more.
“Dylan was right, I guess,” Peter says right after. It’s maybe not the most romantic thing he could have come up with.
“What, about the mozzarella sticks? I don’t think so, dude.” Sam puts a hand to his stomach. “That kiss was great and all, but I feel like I’m becoming lactose intolerant as we speak.”
“Gross. And, not about that,” Peter says. “Like how he always calls you my boy. It sounds so weird when I say it. But you know.”
Sam nods sagely. “The D in LGBT stands for Dylan Maxwell.”
Inside the diner, Gabi takes a sip of her water and looks out the window. “They’ve been out there a long time.”
“Yeah, I totally set them up,” Dylan says nonchalantly. “Peter thinks I’m too dumb to notice they weren’t already dating, but I’m actually just the best gay matchmaker of all time.”