Let it be known MJ whole-heartedly abhors heteronormative high school tropes and all that they stand for. Hates it. Let’s make that clear.
Because her sitting with one knee tucked under her chin, feet propped on the seat of the chair and the bottom of the counter at the back of the little flower shop six blocks from her apartment one night, would probably prove her otherwise.
She never really understood the reasoning behind what made giving someone flowers the standard for nice gestures, never got the appeal of receiving them either. They die after a few days and don’t smell as wonderful as everyone says they do when they stick their noses in her neatly crafted displays. Why people pay a lot of money for any generically pretty looking bouquet beats her. MJ would rather be given a sensible umbrella, everyone needs an umbrella, or a tea mug, maybe a thoughtful high-five if she was feeling her most sentimental.
So this flower shop gig? Solely based on the fact that books cost money and there were some books you just had to have.
And it’s not like she has anyone to tell to give her books instead of flowers.
So job. She needed a job. And with a reminder that she would love nothing more than to take down patriarchal romantic standards, Forget Me Not Flower Shop was hiring.
It should also be made clear that MJ may not like the concept of giving flowers, but she never said they weren’t interesting if you had more than two braincells.
With the hours she’d spent the last few months working here, she’d learned the meaning of just about every flower in the shop and then some. If people weren’t just handing out red roses because they saw the guy on The Bachelor do it, MJ thought it was kind of cool that there were things you could say with flowers.
She knew lots of Latin names and obscure meanings for flowers they didn’t even carry. Cinquefoil for daughters and round-leaved sundew for surprise and bramble for envy (and she realizes no one is buying envy flowers, even if she thinks that’d be the most badass move ever).
Turns out she was much too smart for her own good and had far too much free time, and no one really cared that she could recommend yellow zinnias to express that you think of someone every day, or give gardenias to wish luck on a new beginning.
People liked ‘the pretty pink ones’.
So she sat quietly on her stool behind the counter and wrapped up roses in between chapters of her book.
The shop was so small that they usually only had one person working at a time, but MJ liked it. She had a good view of the window, what wasn’t blocked by flower displays, to observe busy New Yorkers rush around the city and sketch and read and listen to the averagely okay radio station they played and keep up her overall brood.
It was a Thursday night after academic decathlon practice, MJ had just helped a man pick out the right color roses for his girlfriend’s birthday tomorrow (lavender, for a growing relationship), and business was slow enough that MJ deemed it late enough to close up and leave.
The street outside lit only by the lights from other shops lining the sidewalks, with no help from the dimmed and busted streetlamps.
Her boots hit the ground with a thump as she stands from her stool and locks up the register, then swings her backpack over her right shoulder and starts for the door.
And by all accounts, this should be the end. Nothing exciting ever happens at a flower shop with a cheesy name that gets customers in February, May and never really any other month and has one few-friends-that-aren’t-books teenager as their most dedicated employee.
It’s been a long day, and really, MJ just wants to enjoy a peaceful walk home.
But someone has other plans.
She’s about to close the door and moves to pull the key out of her pocket to lock it when a sudden thwap sounds loudly on the door and something white flies by her face, missing my centimeters, and landing on the glass in front of her.
“Hey, hi, don’t move. Cool. Okay.”
MJ whips to face the muffled voice and the string projectile seems to pull the door shut behind her.
Her back up against the now closed door, MJ’s eyes follow a man in a dark hoodie run away from the shop that surely signals nothing but trouble and she knows it, but instead of any worry, she just laughs. Honest to god laughs.
Really, it doesn’t matter how long you are sort-of-kind-of friends with the city’s spandex savior, it never feels any less laughable that this is truly her life.
Fucking Spiderman, man.
To her left he’s swung up above the dark sidewalk, and shoots a second web from his free hand. It slings around the man’s ankle, causing him to stumble and walk right into the pole of a streetlamp.
MJ winces at the impact, even though the guy was just about to mug her, and catches the tail end of Spiderman’s innocent little sigh.
The masked teen turns up to the man and wraps his arms in web around the pole, then shrugs, “Dude, you have got to be the lamest criminal I have ever met! Who steals money from people who sell flowers? And doesn’t even know how to properly run away?” MJ can practically hear his smug giggle before he hops on his feet and backflips over the man, “Enjoy your night, sir!”
He picks up with a run after that, back to MJ who crosses her arms across her chest.
“What?” His voice stays muffled by the suit, begging to know why MJ could possibly be giving him that look after saving her life, that look that is reserved only for when Peter Parker misses 3 decathlon practices in a row to play superhero and for their awful physics teacher.
And MJ needs two hands to count the number of practices he’s missed in the past month, so…
She resigns to pushing the door open behind her, and ushering the giddy boy inside before he accidentally splits his mask with how wide his grin is.
“To what do I owe the pleasure, Peter?”
“I was passing by,” he says, skipping through the small aisle of the shop and jumping to sit atop the counter, “Wanted to say hello to my good friend Michelle. Sue me for generously saving her ass while I was at it.”
“Just saying hi?” She questions again, locking the door and flipping the sign to read ‘CLOSED’.
“I missed you.”
“Wouldn’t miss me if you showed up to practice, or actually, showed up to school at all,” she says pointedly, walking back towards him.
He sighs melodramatically, swiping the mask off the top of his face and laying back with his eyes shut, “I’ve been busy!”
“The whole world is busy, Parker,” she leans her back against the counter near the middle of his stomach, then nods her chin to the side, “And get your dirty spider feet off my counter.”
“You make it very hard to be friends with you, MJ,” he laughs.
“I know,” she quirks the right side of her lips up in a smirk, “But that’s all on you. You’re the one who actively beat me down until I went to one of yours and Ned’s lame movie nights.”
“And you loved it.”
“I don’t love Star Wars, there are so many fundamental problems—“
“You like Star Wars, you just don’t want to admit it.”
“I’d like having you not fail school even more,” she elbows his shoulder on her left, “So stop saving me from guys I could beat up with my pinky finger and go crack open a textbook.”
A beat, then a signature Parker giggle, and a “You’re welcome.”
“However, while we’re on the subject…” his voice raises a few octaves and MJ rolls her eyes, “I could really use some help with my English paper.”
“Just stopping by to say ‘hi’, huh?”
He sits up quickly, like he’s actually hurt by her insinuation, and she feels a sudden and immense (and unexplainable) urge to put a smile back instead of that worried scowl.
“I’d be happy to help, loser,” she rolls her eyes in an attempt to squash that feeling even more, just for her own sanity, but likes the way he beams when she agrees.
“God, MJ, I owe you. Really, say the word, I’m yours.“
MJ turns her head to look at his, about level with her as he sits on the counter, legs now crossed in front of him. “Call it even, I mean, you did just help me out there—“
“I thought you could beat that guy with your pinky finger?” He smirks.
“The more I think about it, I’d probably need at least a good book to take him down, preferably hard cover.”
“That sure is a terrifying image,” he laughs, making it clear that her whacking a mugger over the head with nothing but a hardcover copy of To Kill a Mockingbird is the furthest image from terrifying.
“Can’t all be bit by radioactive spiders, now can we?” MJ says, looking up and down his suit, “You are okay, right? I just realized you strolled in here like nothing happened.”
“I’m good. Guy was a piece of cake,” he says, running and hand up one arm and landing crooked behind his neck sheepishly, “though a hardcover book would have helped.”
“Don’t knock it ‘til you try it, Spidey.”
He laughs, “I still owe you.”
“Come to decathlon all next week.”
“Nah, I was gonna do that anyway,” he shakes his head and hops off the counter, his feet landing with a small thump.
“Really?” MJ crosses her arms over her chest again and quirks her head.
He hums in assurance then starts to wander the small rows of flowers, “I know I have to practice. I really want our fearless leader to let me come to nationals,” he eyes her with a twinkle.
She is fascinated by her shoelaces.
She fidgets with the tile under her foot and scoffs, “Well, fearless leader knows that practice or not you’d still be lightyears ahead of Flash, so…”
He suddenly stops and picks up three flowers from a bucket on the right side of the store. He holds them up over his head, barely visible to MJ over the rows of flowers still between them, as she hasn’t moved from her lean on the counter. “How much for these?”
“What are you doing?”
“What does it look like I’m doing? I’m buying you flowers,” he walks back towards the center of the store, three red and yellow tulips in his right hand.
“Because coming to practice isn’t a good enough gift, especially for the mess of an essay I’m making you read.”
He stops about a foot in front of her, and she drawls, “I don’t need flowers, Parker.”
“Okay,” he smiles, “But I wanna give them.”
“You can’t buy them,” MJ says quickly, her heartbeat thundering, “We’re closed,” she lets out a sigh through a gritted smile.
“Really?” He turns his shoulders around and squints at the sign on the door, which MJ flipped to show ‘CLOSED’ outside when they walked in. He leans to the side so MJ can view and scratches his head, “Looks like it says ‘open’ from where I’m standing.”
Which, technically, is true. Damn it.
“Karen,” he ignores her, “Do I have a wallet in my suit?”
“No, you do not.”
“No? Crap.” He looks down to his feet, but still holds the flowers, “Oh well, I’ll just swing by after dinner with the money. I’ve got an in with one of the employees here.”
“Oh yeah?” MJ tilts her chin down slightly at him.
He holds the flowers out to her, but she just shoves her hands deeper into her back pockets and rocks on her heels.
“You don’t wanna give me those.”
“Why not?” He perks, then brings them back to his own face to examine them closely, “They’re so pretty.”
“Oh god, you’re one of those? I had more faith in you, nerd. Just picks the prettiest ones,” she says, eyeing the flowers he picked that she knows the meaning of and knows he wouldn’t want to give to her if he knew too.
“Well how would you like me to pick them, Michelle?” He challenges.
“All flowers have a meaning.”
“Hmm,” He looks at his flowers again, then quickly deflates, eyes wide up at her, “God, did I try to give you death flowers or something?”
MJ giggles (but we’re not acknowledging that) at his honest-to-god worry, then shakes her head, “No, no, much worse than that actually,” she watches him quirk one eyebrow, then decides to study the laces of her shoes again (they’re more interesting than you’d know, actually), before adding quietly, “Those are, uh, variegated tulips. They mean, um, ‘you have beautiful eyes’.”
All MJ hears is the bustle of the street outside for a moment, and the obnoxious thumping of her heart that she can’t seem to calm down.
“Yeah, yup, sounds about right.”
She lifts her eyes just enough to see that, yeah, he really actually wholeheartedly believes they’re beautiful.
“I stand by my choice. I’ll take 3 Watergated tulips, please.”
“Isn’t that what I said?”
MJ shakes her head, and, yup, takes the beautiful-eyes tulips from him.
Sirens erupt suddenly and interrupt the small trance she’s settled into. She blinks at the flashing lights out the window.
“Woah, it worked!” Peter jumps excitedly then reaches around MJ, body almost flushed against hers, to grab his mask from the countertop. “New suit feature, Karen can call the cops!”
Unbelievable, this stupidly brilliant boy and his boyish penchant for city-saving.
She turns to face him and tries to bite her bottom lip out of showing a smile.
He slides the mask on, “Up for a swing home?”
“Two feet on the ground, thank you.”
“Such a loser,” he shakes his head, “See you in the morning, MJ!”
“So little faith in me, really,” he shakes his head and take a running start out his routine secret back door, “We’ve got an English grade to salvage, Michelle. Wouldn’t miss it for the world.”
He’s gone as quickly as he first appeared, and Michelle is left alone in her cheesy part-time flower shop holding the first flowers she’ll ever personally walk out of the place with.
Reminder, MJ doesn’t support the reinforcement of gendered stereotypes surrounding the act of giving and receiving flowers, but—
Like hell if she doesn’t walk the whole way home holding those tulips like she was had gained something a little cooler than spidey senses.
Her boss stops her on her way into the shop the next afternoon and asks if she knew anything about a note with five-dollar bill attached that he found shoved in the doorframe when he got there this morning.
For the employee with the pretty eyes who helped me with my late night purchase,
Thanks for the flowers, I think she loved them!
MJ buys a new hardcover book with her paycheck that night and really enjoys her new bookmark.
MJ can’t pinpoint exactly when Peter Parker decided they needed to be friends and started actively working on beating her down with his messy curls and graphic tees and goddamn giggle until she decided the same. But she figures, a lightness in her step as she walks side-by-side with him from school now, exact moments don’t really matter in the messy world of feelings-for-Peter-Parker.
“See what happens when you show up to school?”
“Yeah, I nearly gave myself a bloody lip trying to restrain from punching Flash square in the nose.”
“You know he’s just jealous,” she sighs as they round a corner, her shoulder bumping his lightly.
“Doesn’t make him any less of a stuck-up prick-y asshole.”
“A jealous, stuck-up prick-y asshole,” she sing-songs, and he chuckles under his breath.
“If I can’t punch him, can you?”
And MJ would seriously consider it, for him, and her head-tilted half smile must give enough visual indication for Peter to know it.
“Well, thank you, anyway, for basically bullying me back into being a normal teenager.”
“A loser, normal teenager.”
“Michelle, you are literally the only one in the world who knows I can stick to buildings and shoot webs, yet still thinks that’s not enough to outdo my previous stint in marching band,” he says, exasperatedly, shoulders shrugged up and hands pushed into his pockets.
“Your status as a loser has absolutely nothing to do with your ability to do cartwheels while wearing spandex.”
“I’m gonna win you over one day, just wait,” he shakes his head and stays in step with her.
“But not today,” she turns her head to look at him with a smirk, “Or is that why you’re following me to work and pretending I don’t notice? Starting your campaign already?” It wouldn’t take much to realize, not even at her most observant, that he should have made a left about 3 blocks ago to get home. Yet, here he still is.
“So is this you noticing and telling me to go home?”
She thinks about it for a second, and the universe must have a really good laugh at its timing, as a piece of hair falls over his eyes and his nose scrunches and his lips pucker when he tries to blow it out of the way and makes MJ’s heart grow at least three sizes.
“Just me noticing.”
He likes that answer a lot, apparently.
He all but runs down the last block and skids to a laughing stop in front of the door, swings it open and waits to the side for MJ to catch up, his head turned away and peering into the side window of the shop.
“You know chivalry does nothing for your case,” she says, starting to walk in, but it seems he doesn’t register her words right away, just continues staring at something in the window, “Don’t tell me you’re planning your next purchase.”
“What, sorry? No,” He shakes his head and walks in before MJ. So much for chivalry. He makes a sharp pivot after his entrance and stops in front of the row of roses he was looking at, “I just didn’t know there were these many colors of roses.”
“Yup,” she pops, and walks back to the counter.
“So, they all mean something different?”
“Did you really not know about this stuff?”
He shakes his head and his eyes follow the rows of colors, “Sorry we’re not all geniuses.”
“You have your superpowers, I have mine.”
That makes him giggle. And that makes MJ’s stomach jump.
“Okay so if I point to any flower…”
“Hit me,” Mj challenges, flopping her bag down and sitting on the stool, a book already propped open in her hand and Peter’s impending interrogation not feeling troublesome.
“Is it light or dark?”
“There’s a difference?”
“Light pink is more for joy and happiness, darker pink can say ‘thank you’.”
“Why didn’t you tell me that last week?” He yells, flipping to face her. “That’s literally exactly what I wanted to say.”
“You didn’t ask,” she says, flipping her book open and hoping if she just focuses on the pages of her history textbook, her cheeks won’t turn pink, “And you didn’t seem to mind your choice.”
“I did,” his eyes soften (MJ doesn’t know how eyes can physically ‘soften’, but all she can explain is that they do as he stares at her right now) and he looks suddenly flustered, “I mean, uh, I did, as in, I do still think, you know, um, I made a good choice.”
For how long MJ’s been staring at the page below her, you’d think she’d have made it past at least the first paragraph. She hasn’t even read the first sentence.
“I guess I probably shouldn’t mention peach roses are also good for thank-yous.”
“What else are you hiding from me!?” His exasperated yell turns him back to the flowers before he can make out the oh you have no idea deep breath she takes in. He continues his questions, “White?”
“Purity, or a new beginning.”
“You don’t know what red roses are for?” She drawls, drumming her fingers on the edge of her textbook and watches him pick up a red rose.
“I know exactly what they’re for…” He turns and walks towards her, sounding a bit like he’s plotting something. He stops in front of the counter, rose in hand, and uses his free one to straighten out his sweatshirt like it’s a suit jacket. With a dramatic breath, he holds the rose out to her, “Michelle, will you accept this rose?”
“Oh my god, get out of my store,” MJ yells, swatting a hand as to push him away as he collapses in laughter, “Do not tell me you watch that garbage!”
“What? Aunt May loves it, and it’s actually pretty entertaining,” he says on the edge of his laughter.
She shakes her head and suppresses a laugh with him, “You took a rose from a paying customer for what now?”
“Who said I’m not a paying customer?”
“Do not buy me that rose, Parker.”
“I can buy the rose if I want to!” He drops it in front of her.
“Mhm, sit and do your homework,” she points to the floor next to the counter by her feet.
Peter blows air between his lips and ends his huff with a smile, “You love me.” He drops his bag and sits with his back against the side of the counter, unzips the top of his backpack.
“Yeah, and according to the rose you just gave me, you love me too,” she says it without thinking, meant to be nothing more than one of her witty, smart-ass remarks to prove she knows what all the different colors of roses mean, but once it’s out it feels very far from the sharp and sarcastic tone she uses to say it.
Peter’s only answer is, “Correct.”
Do with that what you will, MJ decides she’ll hear it over and over again instead of registering a single word on the page for another hour.
Peter leaves before 5 to get back in time for dinner, and doesn’t pick up the rose.
MJ feels it would be a shame to leave it there, as she locks up that night, and let it die.
So for that reason only, she carries it home and adds a red rose to her variegated tulips.
“Who’s got 2 bags of Chinese take-out and is the best friend in the entire universe?”
MJ eyes peer over the top of her book when she hears the bell of the door signal a new arrival.
“Oh, you brought Ned today?”
“I’m ignoring that, because I’m just glad to see you alive,” Peter rolls his eyes and sets said bags of Chinese takeout on the counter, “I’ve been texting you all day. No answer.”
“I’ve been working all day.”
“Yeah, you seem swamped,” he looks around at the empty shop. It’s about 6 o’ clock on a Saturday. The rest of the city is bustling but for the tiny flower shop on the corner, the world sits still and quiet. He adds, “Seriously, does no one else work at this place?”
“There’s maybe three of us, plus the owner,” MJ says, standing on her tip toes to look up and into the bag.
“Maybe if they hired more people you wouldn’t be working all the time and you’d be able to answer your dear friend’s urgent messages.”
False. A false statement. Because MJ had definitely seen the text messages Peter sent her that consisted of him freaking out because Ned got a girlfriend and was no longer willing to be his bro date to prom. Had seen them, was actively choosing to ignore them.
“Well, if it bothers you so much, why don’t you work here?”
He slides up onto the counter and MJ feels his feet kick the front with a little swing, then he grabs a container of food out of the bag and sighs, “You know I’d do anything to spend more time with you, give you more opportunity to make fun of me, but I don’t think I have that kind of time.”
“Yeah, yeah, you just can’t admit you’re not cut out for the high-stakes world of floristry,” MJ take a bite of a dumpling and shoots him a crooked smirk, “You know you wouldn’t be good at it.”
“Woah, woah, woah, wait,” he stops and turns quickly to lock eyes with her, “I would be an excellent florist, thank you very much.”
“Mhm, sure, you wouldn’t know the difference between and an azalea and an acacia if you tried!”
“I can, and I will,” he hops off the counter as quickly as he’d hopped on, and starts for the rows of flowers, examining each of them intently.
MJ giggles and slides his container of lo mein over to eat while he struggles, watches him pick up lilies and zinnias but not anything near an azalea or an acacia. She chuckles as she twists a noddle around her fork.
“Got it yet, spidey?”
“An uncalled for mocking tone in use of the superhero name,” he swats her off, nose deep in a bucket of carnations.
After another few minutes of pacing, much to MJ’s amusement, he finally grabs two flowers and stands with them, one in each hand, at the center of the aisle.
“Got it,” he proclaims proudly, his smile quirked to one side, “Did you eat my lo mein?”
“No,” she mumbles, slurping up the noodle she was mid-forkful on when he accused her, pushes the container back to his side of the counter. He does that giggle thing again that MJ is sure is the physical manifestation of sunshine, and that knots her stomach so she focuses on her most cool and uncaring voice she can muster to say, “Even if I did, I’d deserve it for being right, because you, my friend, are ‘oh’ for two.”
“What? Really?” he quirks his head to look at his flowers, which now limp sadly in his hands. “I thought for sure I at least got the azalea.”
“The pink one is a dahlia, and the white one is an arum lily,’ she corrects simply, and he walks back over, flowers still in hand.
“If I can guess what they mean, do I get to keep the job?”
“You don’t have a job,” she says, pointedly, and goes back to rustling through the take-out bag for her next food of choice, but he looks really excited to try, like he’s the next kid in line for a rollercoaster he just learned he’s tall enough to ride for the first time, so she smiles down at her lap, “If you can get both, you can take my job personally.”
He paces around to join her on her side of the counter, leans back against it with arms crossed and head tilted over to her on the stool next to him, “The dahlia means… ‘Spiderman is the greatest superhero’.”
She nods slowly, “Oh man, yeah, you got it!”
“I know, I’m a genius, what can I say?” He presses one hand back to lean on the countertop next to him and it lands dangerously close to her own, like, pinkies touching close, then bites his bottom lip (pull yourself together, MJ) and thinks about his next answer.
“Should I get my boss on the phone, am I about to resign my job over to you?”
“Yes, because the arum lily, that’s what it was called right?” he stage-whispers off to the side, and she nods, “Means, ‘MJ you’re the greatest person in the whole entire universe, which I can accurately deduce as true because I’ve been to actual space, and I would really like to go to prom with you’?”
“That’s a lot for one flower,” Is all she can think to answer.
Just like MJ is very unclear as to when she became best friends with Peter Parker, she is even less clear about when she got this awful, life-consuming crush on him.
Because here she sits, cursing whatever may or may not be up there for making her work in a flower shop, of all places, eating her favorite Chinese take-out with her favorite boy, being asked by favorite boy to prom with one of her actual favorite flowers that secretly means ‘intense feelings of love’ but she’ll never tell aforementioned boy that. The thought alone leaves her out of breath, and then he smiles and she’s feeling lightheaded from forgetting what lungs are for.
It should be clear, once again, that MJ whole-heartedly abhors heteronormative high school tropes and all that they stand for.
But good god, who gave him permission to smile like that?
“Let me know if this never-ending silence is indication that I should go pick out a flower for a corsage or cry in the bathroom about how I’ll be going to prom with Flash.”
She blinks twice, knows going to a stupid school dance with a guy she likes shouldn’t mean anything because it’s a stupid school dance, but she kind of wants it to mean something.
“I think it’s really sad that I’ve spent enough time around your dorkiness to be actually thinking of the best flower to give you to say ‘yes’ right now.”
“Em-Jayyyyyyy,” he drawls, stupid cute grin spread wide on a blush as he leans his forehead close to hers, all mushy and wonderfully loving. And she’s allergic to that sort of thing (or at least, pretends to be) so she softly pushes him away by the shoulder and smiles, chin tucked.
“Yeah, yeah, I just feel bad for you,” she picks up her fork and starts to eat again, but Peter doesn’t move from his spot, body still slightly pitched towards her, pinky by her pinky, eyes shining with something that warrants a variegated tulip. “If you’re gonna be a dork about this, I’ll take it back.”
“MJ,” he repeats, still smiling at her.
“That’s my name,” she trains her eyes off him, continues busying herself with take-out, “Are you going to eat this? Because you said I couldn’t have your lo mein but you still haven’t touched it and I feel like it should be rightfully mine now anyways.”
“I would’ve asked you anyway,” he blurts. She drops the arm that was reaching for his food again and slowly turns her head to face him, “Even if Ned hadn’t ditched me for some girl, I still would’ve asked you.”
“So you would have ditched Ned for some girl, is what I’m hearing,” she shoots a signature MJ smirk up under her long lashes and he smirks back.
“You can have my lo mein,” he says, turns and leans his elbows on the counter, body bent slightly over and reaches for a fork, “And you’re not some girl.”
“No, I’m ‘the greatest person in the whole entire universe’, right?” she says, their faces very close for the third time that night.
“And don’t you forget it!”
The store stays empty most of the night, except for one customer about an hour before closing.
MJ politely welcomes the teenage boy into the store and lets him wander the aisles for a while, but after several trips past the same flowers multiple times, MJ knows he has absolutely no clue what he’s doing. Typical.
Peter must realize it too, because before MJ can stop him he runs out from behind the counter and walks next to the customer, “Hey there, need any help?”
“Is it that obvious?” the boy laughs, “I’m asking my girlfriend to prom.”
Peter’s face instantly contorts into something out of a cartoon, mouth popped in a wide ‘o’ shape, then moves across the store quickly and signals for him to follow with his hand, “Man, have I got the flower for you.”
MJ is glad the arum lily display Peter has ushered the customer over to blocks her giggle.
The thing about working at a flower shop is you get pretty good at keeping flowers alive.
A pink dahlia and a white arum lily make good company for her red rose and three variegated tulips.
A red and blue she hasn’t seen in a while shows up at the back door of the flower shop a few days later.
“Am I not allowed in?”
“Why weren’t you at practice today?” MJ raises an eyebrow, arms crossed and blocks her superhero’s entrance.
“I’m really sorry, Em. Something came up.”
“That’s three in a row. Again.” She doesn’t move. His mask makes it hard to note any facial features, but she thinks the way it droops a little means he’s frowning, and she honestly didn’t want to make him feel that bad.
“You have every right to hate me—”
“I don’t hate you,” she interjects quickly.
“But if you let me in I’ll show you why I’ve been extra MIA lately.”
MJ purses her lips to the side and pretends to consider it.
“Purple hyacinth,” he blurts.
Now MJ’s brows furrow for real.
“Purple hyacinth means ‘please forgive me’,” he rocks back on his heels nervously and knots his fingers together by his chest, “Looked it up on the way here. Karen knows a lot about flowers, actually, which is useful.”
And MJ wouldn’t have hid the smile if she wanted to.
“Get inside, loser,” she says, and moves to let him past her.
When he settles inside he swings his backpack down and takes off his mask, she follows and assumes her standard position on the stool.
“You should invest in keeping a change of clothes here, that cannot be comfortable,” she says, offhandedly.
“Eh,” he looks down at his suit, “it grows on you.”
“Wait—” she stops, points, at his backpack, “Do you always carry that with you when you’re saving cats from trees?”
“I don’t—” he starts to yell, defensively, and MJ smiles, knowing he hates when she makes fun of his superhero gig. He repeats, at a lower, calmer octave, “I don’t just save cats from trees, thank you, and I swung home to get this before coming here but thought I’d miss you before closing.”
“You do know where I live.”
“Do you really want me to swing up to your window?” he asks, pointedly.
“Say the word and I’ll keep it unlocked.”
“No, no, do not,” he shakes his head vigorously, “Don’t keep your window unlocked, are you crazy?”
“The only one who can get to my window on the 7th floor of an apartment building is you, dude,” she says, “Unless you have an evil spider-twin you’re not telling me about.”
“Don’t let my overall concern for your safety make you think I didn’t just hear you say I can come over whenever I want and plan to take advantage of that statement,” he eyes her, then picks up a folder from his bag, “But what I came here for, other than to hang out with my favorite girl, of course,” he says cheekily, and his tongue peeks out the right corner of his lips as he concentrated on finding something in his overflowing folder.
“I’m telling Aunt May you said that.”
“Go right ahead,” he shuffles through a few more paper, then peers up at her behind messy curls that fall in front of his face and those beautifully long lashes, “Aunt May likes you better than me too, so we’re even.”
Is this normal? A heartbeat this fast? Because, something tells her it shouldn’t be normal at all, yet it always feels like she’s running a marathon around him.
“Aha,” he pulls out a paper victoriously, “Don’t know why it was shoved so far in the back, but here, is my English paper.”
MJ takes the paper from him and runs a finger over the title:
The Symbolism of Flowers in Shakespeare’s Hamlet by Peter Parker
“A- baby! Peter Parker is passing English again!” He jumps up and smiles so big it could light the store. “All thanks to my brilliant tutor and literary inspiration.”
“I can’t believe you wrote a whole paper on flowers,” she flips through a few of the pages and reads some of the lines. This boy was unbelievable. “You really are trying to come for my job, aren’t you?”
“Did you know there are flowers that symbolize adultery? And suffering? It’s crazy!” his eyes shine, amazed, so fascinated by his little discoveries (all of which MJ already knew, of course, but doesn’t let him know), that MJ can’t help it if maybe her eyes shine a little back.
“Yeah, we don’t carry those here.”
“Thank you,” he says, placing a hand on top of hers and holy shit it’s the freaking forth of July in here, “Really, you’re… you’re really amazing.”
MJ is hyper-aware of the way her fingers almost slip between his as he smiles at her, simultaneously forgets the entire English language, and feels like crawling under the countertop.
He just keeps holding her hand.
And saves her from having to say anything by continuing, “And I wanted to thank you, again, and know you don’t like flowers, so…” he finally moves his hand to get something out of his backpack again, and MJ gets the change to breathe and start reteaching herself how to speak.
“…I got you this instead,” he says with a nervous smile.
It’s a light blue mug with black letters on the front that read: A day without reading is like… just kidding, I have no idea.
This boy will be the death of her. She’s sure of it.
“Do you like it?” He asks, so nervously it’s adorable, like he really thought long and hard about it, stood in the mug aisle of the store and contemplated about six different ones before choosing just the right one.
“No one is ever going to be able to get me flowers ever again, I hope you know,” she holds the mug between her hands, “The bar is really high for grand gestures now.”
“So you like it?”
“Yes, dork,” she bumps his shoulder and he loosens with a sighing laugh, “I like it so much that I feel willing to share with you my secret ice cream stash I hide in the freezer in the back,” she slaps a hand to her knee, then stands.
She takes a moment, away from him, staring at the freezer, to let her face cool down from its flush and silently scream about how god awfully wonderful he is.
She’s got it under control.
MJ doesn’t realize when it happens, maybe when she goes to lock the back door or get the key to close the register, but when she walks back to the counter, Peter has flown out of the shop in his shiny suit without her, routine so as not to avoid suspicion, and there are two flowers sitting in her mug.
An iris and an arum lily.
His essay is tucked underneath, with something scribbled on the top.
Your friendship means so much to me, she reads the first part, which is for the iris, but once I looked it up I realized I liked the real meaning of the arum better than my made up one. See you tomorrow!
MJ tucks her second white arum lily in with the new blue iris, adds it to her first white arum lily and pink dahlia and red rose and three variegated tulips (that are definitely past their point of use, but she doesn’t have the heart to toss them just yet).
And for a second she thinks maybe she remembers the wrong meaning for arum lilies, but a quick google search proves that she’s right.
She tries not to stop the first person she sees on the walk home that Peter Parker has an ‘intense feeling of love’ for her because how do you keep that kind of thing to yourself?
“That’s my job!”
“Peter, I get paid to do this. If you think I’m trusting anyone but myself, you’re really a lot less bright than I thought.”
She grabs 2 daffodils from their bucket at the right side of the shop and carries them over to the wrapping counter. For her corsage. For prom tomorrow.
And she clearly remembers the cute face he made when he saw she picked daffodils, kind of a strange pick for standard prom flowers, but when has she ever done anything not strange?
“Fine, but only because that’s going to look really nice on you,” he swings his feet and they thump on the front of the counter he’s sitting on to her left. “What are those called, again?”
“Daffodils,” he repeats, “I’ll have to ask Karen about it when I get home.”
“No, you don’t need to.”
“Em, I know you wouldn’t have picked that flower if it didn’t mean something special.”
“Yeah, it means, ‘It’s Peter’s turn to order us take-out’,” she sneaks a slight look over her shoulder at him, then continues arranging her flowers in front of her.
“Where are we going?”
“Stop asking questions!”
“I feel like this is the kind of thing I can appropriately be concerned about…” MJ eyes Peter as he runs ahead, his left hand behind him holding her right.
Because yeah, that’s a thing we’re doing now. Holding hands and not acknowledging it.
He doesn’t look back to ease her concern as they continue to weave between people and down streets, just past 11:30 on the Friday night of prom. MJ refused to wear heels for the sake of refusing to wear heels, but is suddenly thankful she’s so stubborn as she tries to keep up with him.
“Relax, we’re almost there.”
“Oh my god, can you just accept my stupid surprise gesture and deal with it?!” he yells, sneaking a look back at her as they round a familiar corner, but turns back to look at her again just as quickly.
MJ would like to blame the city lights for the way he’s glowing right now.
She feels herself squirm under his gaze, “What, do I have something in my teeth?”
“No, no,” he shakes his head, turns back forward and keeps them moving, “I don’t know, it’s dumb. You look really pretty.”
“You said I looked pretty before, idiot,” she teases, because it’s true, he’s said it about six times tonight (like she wasn’t going to count and recount and memorize the exact number of times it happened), so she doesn’t know what’s made him so nervous to do it now. Number seven.
On a whim she decided to add, “You look pretty too.”
MJ is sure her grip on him is the only thing that keeps him standing. It’s wonderful.
“So much for those superhuman reflexes, huh?” she laughs.
“Are you kidding?” he watches the crosswalk light switch to ‘walk’, then keeps them moving, “I feel more super than I have in months.”
“I know I say this a lot, but I can’t stress it enough,” MJ says, and when she looks past the back of his head where they’re stopped in the dim light of almost midnight in the city, she makes out the sign of a very special little flower shop, “You’re such a nerd.”
“I know,” he says, drops her hand and nods towards the door.
“Was this the big surprise?”
“C’mon, I’m being sentimental!” he throws his hands up.
“I don’t have my key,” she tilts her chin over to him.
“Oh Michelle, who said anything about a key?”
She watches his eyes squint up, like they’re trying to make room on his face for a smile so big.
It turns her all inside-out and stuff.
“Peter, please,” she shrugs away from his hand that reaches out and spins to his other side, “Look, I’m using my big girl nice words, please.”
But she isn’t quick enough for his spidey reflexes this time, and with a giggle she isn’t too proud of, he wraps an arm around his waist and uses his free arm to shoot a web up to the side of the shop’s roof. She yells into the top of his hair when the sidewalk disappears from under her feet, the bottom of her long, dark blue skirt flies up and her bouncy curls whip them both in the face, but when they land Peter’s smile hasn’t moved an inch from its wide and wonderful grin. His grip loosens almost instantly, she likes the way the back of his suit jacket seems to flutter a bit when he runs across the roof for something.
And truthfully, he’s surpassed any normal levels of pretty, standing up here, after dragging her through the air against her awful fear of his flying and a little twinkle in his eyes that marvels the stars she assumes she’s be seeing right now if they lived anywhere other than New York, still looking for dorky ways to make her smile after their senior prom.
“This is probably illegal, you know?”
“I think law enforcement owes me, I do their job for them so often, they can spare me a night with a girl.”
“The greatest girl in the whole entire universe, if I remember correctly?”
“Person,” he corrects, “Greatest person.”
“Oh so not just girls, I beat everyone?” she walks, heel-to-heel in a single line she traces with her eyes on the ground, hands linked behind her back.
She believes it. She believed it when she knocked on his door this afternoon and he didn’t say more than three words for ten minutes after opening it. She believed it when she saw Peter’s smile in May’s as she took pictures of them. She believed it when they stood at the side of the room and laughed at Ned’s dancing. She believed it when he whispered in her ear and asked her to ‘ditch this lame thing’. She believed it then and she believes it now.
“I got you flowers,” he shrugs his right shoulder, hand behind his back.
“I already have this thing,” she smiles weakly and swings her left hand in front of her, quirks her head as she looks at the daffodil corsage.
Daffodils. Unrequited love.
It’s laughable, really. Being hopelessly in love with your superhero best friend and still thinking he doesn’t love you back even after he pulls stunts like this.
But that’s MJ. So she just shakes her head and wanders slowly closer to him.
“I know, but since I wasn’t allowed to look up what those mean, I did my own research,” his lips turn up in a half smile tilted to the right, then he pulls his hand out from behind to reveal a full bouquet of viscaria flowers.
“Peter, we don’t even sell those.”
“I had to make a pit-stop, but they were worth it,” he pushes the flowers forward again, signaling her to take them, “They literally mean ‘dance with me’.”
“The perfect prom flowers.”
“So,” he shakes them a little, nervously laughs, “Using my big girl nice words, please.”
She wiggles her toes in her shoes and looks down at her dress.
He thinks you look pretty, she remembers. Her long skirt blows a little in the midnight wind.
“You’re a really good friend, Peter.”
He sighs, a long breathy sigh, and must catch the ‘my shoes are really interesting’ bug.
“Yeah, I’ll dance with you, nerd,” she laughs, her signature sarcastic drip quickly reinstated as she grabs the bouquet. And for the first time since she’s started working at a flower store and swore she’d never be one of those girls, she sticks her nose at the tip of the flowers and smells.
And for good measure, she pulls one short stem out and tucks it behind his left hear so the petals stick out between some of his wispy curls.
His full-face smile is back and he doesn’t waste a beat before pulling her close.
“I lead,” she whispers.
“I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
The vase on her desk is so full now, the viscaria breathing new, bright, purple and pink life into it. So with her bunches of purple and pink viscaria, her two white arum lilies and three variegated tulips, a blue iris, a pink dahlia, and that darn red rose, MJ thinks she might have to start at least calling it a crush. Probably more.
It doesn’t happen on a rooftop, over a plate of their favorite lo mein, or when even on some romantic walk where they’re almost holding hands.
No, it happens, it happens on a random Tuesday night when MJ really hadn’t been very prepared.
The sun isn’t even setting. The stars aren’t out. She’s wearing a sweatshirt she stole from him the last time she got roped into movie night with him and Leeds and she smells like sweat from hauling buckets of flowers and display cases around for a restocking.
Nope, it’s just a normal Tuesday night, her hair pulled back in a ponytail that’s half falling out and her nose tucked in a book instead of flowers (that was one little lapse in judgement), when the bells on the door rings to signal it’s opening and quickly as it shuts.
She knows it’s him, call it her spidey-sense, so she doesn’t even look up from her book to say, “Dude, I cannot look at a single more math problem tonight so don’t even try it.”
“No math problems,” his voice sounds jittery, nervous, “I uh, I know you think I’d be a terrible florist but I’d like a re-do on that corsage.”
“You’re a little late for that, Parker,” she shuts her book and leans forward on her elbows.
He doesn’t come to her though, just walks the rows of flowers, the store empty as usual, and look intently, for something in particular.
“We don’t sell any flowers that mean ‘MJ, I’m sorry I missed practice right before nationals, yet again’, so you can quit looking.”
“Yeah but you do have arbutuses,” he says, still poking and prodding through various flowers, “You have a honeysuckle, you have lavender, you have orange blossoms,” she watches him search, make his way to the center aisle, where it’s open and he can look right at her, his fingers knotting together in front of him, “You have orchids and marigolds, and well—actually I don’t know if you have that one, or the honeysuckles, because I’ve never seen them here but…”
And as he continues to ramble, maybe mentions something about dandelions and forget-me-nots while he does, MJ realized what they all have in common:
They all mean love.
I love you.
“Well, whatever, I don’t need to give you an aster flower, that’s not important, what’s important is—” she picks up as he slows his stumbling words, eyes wide and lips parted slightly to let out a loud breath, “I think your daffodil was wrong.”
“Very wrong,” he nods furiously, “So, so wrong that I owe Ned like half of my savings for all the Lego pieces I lost running out of my room in a rush to get here when I realized it.”
“How are you ever going to afford those Legos and all the flowers you just said you were going to buy me?”
“Did I say that?”
MJ is really proud for how composed she’s right now.
“You’re going to kill me for this, but all I ask is you let me kiss you before you do, so I can at least die happy,” he says, shakes out his hands and walks towards the counter as he continues, “I red rose you, MJ.”
A beat. And also a million and two heartbeats. It’s going so fast and he’s looking at her likt that and—
“You’re right, I do have to kill you now.”
“I know, it’s only fair,” he says, places two hands on either side of her book, their faces less than centimeters apart.
She can feel his breath on her cheeks, it’s warm and somehow sweet, and kind of everything she’s always wanted. But she’s MJ, and this is Peter, her idiot genius lame superhero best friend who red-roses her.
So she has to answer, “Well, get on with it, Spidey. I’d hate to have you die unhappy.”
And she doesn’t think she’ll ever be able to unseen the smile that lights up his face right before his lashes flutter shut and some of his curls hit her forehead and his lips press against hers.
It’s no sweeping romantic gesture, but it’s the most wonderful thing she’s ever experienced.
She’s kissing Peter Parker.
For real, kissing him, repeatedly, over her hardcover book across the old counter at the back of the small flower shop on the corner 6 blocks from her house.
When they break apart, noses still touching and smiles just visible if she looks up under her lashes just right, she sneaks out a whisper between heavy breaths, “I’m going to ask you to do that again. Several more times. But I hope you know I’ll never forgive you for how god-awfully cheesy that was. Even for you.”
He lets out a loud laugh that seems like it springs through every part of his body and leans back, “Well, if you had let me kiss you after prom like I was planning, I wouldn’t have had weeks to come up with that sweet little speech.”
“You wanted to kiss me at prom?”
“MJ, I have wanted to kiss you since the moment Ned and I realized girls don’t actually have cooties.”
“Really?” she adopts one of his full-face squinty smiles as he jumps and giggles in front of her, then leans back forward on his elbows, “I thought you knew! I still have cooties. They’re contagious and I just gave them to you.”
“Dammit, I knew something was up!” And she doesn’t stop her giggle this time.
It stills for a second and she quirks her head to one side and whispers, “You were really going to kiss me at prom?”
“I didn’t think I was being very subtle, Em.”
“If it was in a book I would have paid better attention.”
“Well, I may love you, but not enough to write you a book,” she smiles and lets their foreheads bump together, “So I figured flowers were the next best thing.”
“You’re very cute when you need to be, Peter Parker.”
“Cute enough to kiss you again?”
She scoffs suddenly and pushes him away by his shoulder, “Dude, I’m at work!”
He stumbles back, head hung, “C’mon!”
“I’m a working woman and you will respect that!”
He groans lightheartedly and backs up towards the door, “Okay, fine, fine,” he lets out a sigh, “But I could get us up to the roof right after closing.”
“That’s even worse and more illegal!” she says, pulling her book into her lap and looking at him.
And MJ decides she was wrong. She hates every stupid high school thing and every stupid romantic trope, except for this one stupid high school boy who gives her stupid romantic flowers.
“I love it. Let’s do it.”