Peter’s anxiety was a handful, and no one knew this better than Sam. Sometimes, Peter didn’t even realize it himself, which caused a whole host of problems between him and his classmates. Saying the wrong thing could set Peter off in the wrong direction, don’t even try to discuss movies in front of Peter, and Sam took it upon himself to ensure that didn’t happen. After all, Peter was his best friend, and being in 8th grade was hard.
It was the end of year dance, and Sam thought they looked good. He was wearing a suit he wore for his Bar Mitzvah but with a new shirt and tie. Peter, ever being the most supportive best friend, was clad in a matching ugly tie, albeit different shirt, they had found in clearance at Target and convinced Peter’s mom to buy them for them.
It had started out as a game of chicken, a simple, ‘Bro, I bet you won’t wear this ugly tie to the dance,’ ‘I bet you won’t wear this tie to the dance!’ but ended in them wearing matching lime green ties to their middle school blow out dance. They spent most of the night by the food table chatting about everyone and hung out with a couple of their friends on the outskirts of the gym.
“I’m glad neither of us have a date,” Peter said. They watched the couples sway awkwardly in the middle of the dance floor. The DJ had put on a slow song for the students, and Sam and Peter crept closer to the wall with every second.
“Me too,” Sam replied. “We’re both terrible at dancing, it would be a shame to inflict that on anyone.”
“I’m not terrible,” Peter scoffed. “But your Bar Mitzvah speaks for itself.”
“Fine,” Same replied, eyes widening and focusing on an approaching figure, “then you won’t mind that Katlynn is coming over here to most likely ask you to dance.”
Peter and Katlynn had first period gym together. Throughout the year, they were partnered for a lot of in class activities, since they both had asthma and had to have certain accommodations in terms of the activities they could do. Peter had confided in Sam several months ago that he was pretty sure she had a crush on him, since she always tried to touch his arm to get his attention, instead of just saying his name, something several teen rom coms have told him means romantic interest.
“Do you not like her too ?” Sam had asked.
“One word ,” Peter replied. “Horses .”
As Peter’s eyes focused on Katlynn’s approaching form, panic rose in his throat. He turned wide-eyed to Sam, taking in his gleeful smirk. When he noticed Peter’s face, he schooled his features into something more neutral. Just before Katlynn reached them, he pulled his phone out of his pocket.
“Hi, Peter,” she said, twirling her hair around her finger. It was pulled back into a high ponytail, showing off a pair of metal horse shaped earrings.
“H-Hi Katlynn,” Peter stammered out. He looked at Sam again for some sort of out but Sam was still looking intently at his phone.
“Do you want to-”
“Oh dang,” Sam cut her off, “my mom’s outside. Apparently she got called in for a late shift and has to come get us now, sorry Pete.”
Relief flooded into Peter’s bones as he bit down on a smile.
“That’s okay,” he said. “I get it, saving lives and all.”
“Bye, Katelynn,” Sam said as he grabbed Peter’s hand and dragged them out of the gym.
“Bye!” Peter called as well, turning and not waiting for a response.
Once they were out in the hallway, they slowed pace and began walking to the front of the school building.
“Your mom’s not really here, is she?” Peter asked, still not dropping Sam’s hand as they walked. He found it odd that even though they were 14 years old and both boys, they still held hands like two toddlers walking through an elementary school.
“Nope,” Sam replied, “but she will be in about 5 minutes. Then it’s back to casa Ecklund for movie night galore.”
It was quiet for a minute as they sat outside waiting for Sam’s mom’s minivan to pull up.
“Can we make a fort?”
Sam laughed. “Who do I look like, someone who doesn’t want to be comfortable? For such a smarty, you can be a real dummy, Pete.”
Peter couldn’t believe Sam had roped him into this. Even though they had spent quite a bit of time practicing their bit together over the weekend, Peter still felt like running and hiding out in the library. He looked at himself in the mirror and clenched his jaw before shaking his head. He wouldn’t do that to Sam. He couldn’t abandon him after all the work they put into this.
Freshman year had started off rather difficult for Peter. His only close friend was Sam, classes seemed ten times more difficult than last year, and he woke up half of the mornings with a stomach ache. He still went to school everyday and trusted enough that at the end of 4 years he would have a purpose- something to do with his life. But for now, he felt trapped.
Sam on the other hand took to high school like a duck to water. He immediately made friends, thanks to Gabi who adopted him into the already tight knit group of theater kids she was a part of, and seemed to be acing every class, especially English. He started off each day with a smile, and chatted happily on the bus next to Peter as they headed to school each morning.
“Maybe we need some more friends,” Sam had said several weeks ago, “friends of our own.”
Peter had scoffed, but when he had seen the flyer for morning show auditions, he knew deep down that it was an opportunity for them to meet new people. Plus, they’d already had some experience in filmography making shitty home movies on Peter’s iPhone 4, so why not give it a try?
Peter exited the bathroom, not forcing himself to smile, but at least attempting to turn off his resting bitch face for a moment. He could do it- for Sam.
“You ready? We’re next,” Sam said, patting the seat next to him, getting Peter to sit down.
“Yeah, I’m good,” Peter replied, settling down next to Sam. His leg began twitching and hopping up and down without his consent, foot tapping along. Sam shot him a concerned and calculated look for a moment before nodding to himself and turning away.
“What?” Peter asked.
“Plan B,” Sam replied.
“What?!” Peter asked, more nervously this time.
“Don’t worry about it, Pete, I got this.” Sam bent over to search through his backpack when the door opened and to students walked out.
“Okay, Samuel Ecklund and Peter Maldonado. We don’t get too many people who sign up together for this. C’mon in.”
Sam took another moment to locate what he was looking for before standing up and following Mr. Baxter inside. Peter took a deep breath as he stood and followed Sam inside.
“Okay, boys. Scripts are on the table, same as the ones posted to prepare from. Just take a seat and when I call action, you guys can begin.”
Peter’s heart was beating a fast rhythm and had jumped up to his throat. He swallowed as he took a seat. He looked down at the script in front of him, attempting to find the solid words in the gibberish of letters swimming in his vision. He looked over to see Sam had yet to take his seat and was instead talking to Mr. Baxter, handing him a flashdrive.
“Actually, Mr. Baxter, Peter joined me today even though he was feeling really under the weather, but we had some previously recorded work to show you if you were interested. We worked on it over the weekend, and think it might be better to watch that first.”
Mr. Baxter seemed a bit surprised but responded, “You two were already a bit unconventional, let’s see what you got,” and plugged the USB into his computer.
“ Let’s use the camera to practice,” Sam had said on Saturday as he placed the tripod in front of Peter, “ That way we can see if we used the right amount of eye contact with the camera.”
Had he recorded the whole day? Peter asked himself as Mr. Baxter began playing the footage off of Sam’s USB. He could barely hear his own electronic voice coming from the computer, but mouthed along to the words as they were spoken. He could hear other effects as well, ones that Sam had seemingly edited in after their recording session like music and whooshing when the camera panned away.
As Mr. Baxter watched the video Peter sat stewing in anxious silence behind the desk. He was fidgeting with the end of his sleeves and felt a hand squeeze his shoulder. He looked up to see Sam’s confident and cocky smirk.
“We got this,” he mouthed at Peter then winked.
After the short video was finished, with a couple of chuckles coming from Mr. Baxter’s direction, Peter felt better. Sam’s hand had stayed on his shoulder and slunk around until his arm was spread over the span of Peter’s shoulders instead of just resting on one. Peter’s nerves had dwindled to a soft simmer in his gut, like the heat had been reduced from high heat instead of boiling over.
“Well boys, this certainly has been the most entertaining audition so far, but I still need you to do a quick live read for me.”
Sam slid his arm to himself before nodding at Peter and beginning.
It had been years since Peter had been this angry and upset. The feelings associated with his father come to mind, but a ten year old memory wasn’t one he could easily slip back into. The whole case had been one huge road bump after another- a rollercoaster of emotional turmoil. He was excited to be putting his years of observational skills as well as video editing to the test, but his emotions and anxiety were ruling his heart. And right now, they seemed to be ruling his head.
He screamed at Dylan. He hunted him down, broke into Lucas’ backyard and ripped Dylan a new one. It wasn’t like he had any evidence- he just felt broken and exhausted and stupid. He felt incredibly and irreversibly dumb.
Sam eventually dragged Peter away from the glass door and kept him moving until they were back in the car. Since Sam and Gabi weren’t on speaking terms, his older sister had stepped in to drive them. Thankfully, she saw the state of their clothes and Peter’s face and decided to just drive them to Peter’s house without much input.
Once inside, Peter made to flop down on the couch in his front room but was stopped by a soft voice.
“Pete, lets go dry off, yeah?” Sam had grabbed his upper arm and ushered him to his room upstairs. Peter nodded and let Sam drag him along. They both quickly changed, Sam just grabbing an extra pair of sweats and a t-shirt from Peter’s dresser before leaving to change in the bathroom. Peter went through the motions and by the time Sam had returned he was curled up on his bed.
Sam laid down next to him, leaving space between them. This wasn’t unusual, but it also wasn’t unusual for them to cuddle up next to each other for movie night. It had become more common in the past year, especially with the doc bringing them closer together. Peter could feel the distance between him and Sam. His brain quantified the half foot of space as an infinite abyss that needed to be crossed. Without much thought, he scooted over until his head was next to Sam’s and their arms were pressed together.
“So...” Sam began after a few minutes of silence.
“Yeah,” Peter replied.
“You’re obviously not okay, but that’s okay. Just... don’t let it build up like this, Pete. It’s not healthy.”
The tears that had been forming at Peter’s eyes during the screaming match and car ride home were now leaking out in full force.
“You think the doc is so important,” Sam started, turning on his side to face Peter, “But you’re more important, Pete. You don’t need to try to be someone you’re not just to do Vandal. It really isn’t worth it.”
Peter just shrugged, turning on his side as well, this time away from Sam. Sure, Sam had seen him cry before, like when his dad showed up on his 13th birthday or when he sprained his ankle in P.E., but emotional vulnerability seemed... new. Logically, he knew this wasn’t true, but his insides pulled his outsides until he was turned away.
Sam took this in stride, simply resting a hand on Peter’s upper arm and pressing his forehead against Peter’s back.
“We’ll be okay, Pete.”
Even with the shit they had gone through that day, Peter believed him.
Getting the news that Vandal was cancelled by Netflix ruined Peter’s day. It was a Friday at school which meant he only had one class in the morning and then was free for the weekend. It also meant that he had time to beat rush hour traffic to drive to Sam, who was going to school 3 hours away.
It had been rough in the beginning, finding their footing as not just Sam and Peter but as Sam&Peter . They had to bridge the gap between best friends and business partners to boyfriends. Eventually, they had found a groove senior year, and filming season two only helped solidify it. Then they had an amazing summer together, as they worked on final touches and just generally had a great time not being in school.
The transition to college had been rough yet again. They had to learn to be together while being apart. The learning curve was steep, but 8 years of friendship as a foundation helped them follow it together.
Peter got up for his 9AM class, none the wiser that that day would turn out so differently than planned. Season two had been well received, and he hadn’t thought it could go this way. He made it to his intro to directing lecture on time and in his seat before getting his laptop out and flicking open this email. It wasn’t even the Vandal Email he was looking at, it was his own personal email. Or his professional personal email, not the terribly named one he used for all his social media accounts that he made when he was 10.
The email was from Katherine, their contact at Netflix and had the subject, ‘Pressing News’. Confused, Peter clicked the link only to read the first few lines before slamming his computer shut. The students who were seated around him all glanced in his direction, but he paid them no mind. He shoved his laptop back into his bag and all but ran for the door.
He paused for a moment to stutter out, “I-I... There’s an emergency and I-” before his professor shooed him away.
“Send me an email and we’ll talk.”
Peter was thankful his dorm building was so close to the academic buildings as he made his way back to his dorm disoriented and barely breathing. He flopped onto his bed shaking, barely thinking to set his bag on his chair before curling up. He continued to shake, tears beginning to prick at the corner of his eyes as he let out a sob.
After a moment, he realized it wasn’t just him shaking, but his phone shoved in the front pocket of his jeans vibrating. He pulled it out, if only to stop the uncomfortable sensation of vibrations. He was about to shove it under the pillow, while smashing his own face there as well, but something stopped him- it was Sam.
Sam who without took Peter’s half baked idea and ran with it until American Vandal had a fully realized plan. Sam who held Peter up so often and so wonderfully, Peter had a hard time encapsulating sometimes. Sam who was also on the email, same as Peter. Sam who Peter had forgotten in the past 5 minutes of grief and loss.
I’m a terrible boyfriend.
Peter answered the call.
Sam’s nervous face filled the screen. His hair was flat- he didn’t have class until noon- and his teeth were worrying at his lip.
Peter sniffled a “Hi” in reply.
“You saw the email.” It wasn’t a question, but rather a soft and understanding statement. Sam wasn’t pressuring him to answer or respond, but being his thoughtful and observant self.
Peter nodded in response.
“Pete, I’m so sorry.”
Peter sniffled again, tears finally bursting forth past his eyes. His chest felt like it was collapsing in on itself and he probably could use his inhaler, but instead he just let himself cry. In front of Sam and away from the world. He threw aside his glasses and rubbed at his eyes as Sam sighed on the other end.
They sat like that for a moment- comfort in the quiet.
“Why don’t you take a nap?” Peter nodded his head. “You can set on a playlist and just go back to sleep. That might make you feel a bit better.”
“Okay. I’ll see you tonight, Sammy.”
“Love you, Peter.”
“Love you too.”
He quickly slumped back down and shoved his face back into his pillow. He must have fallen asleep at some point, in between setting the right playlist and trying his best not to soak his pillow with tears, because the next thing he knew there was a knock on his door. He wasn’t in the mood to see which one of his, or his roommate’s, friends were at the door so he stayed where he was. It was hard to find motivation for his new life when his old life seemed to be crumbling around him.
He was perfectly content to stay where he was, except the knocking continued and would not stop. So Peter found himself dragging his heavy body to the door to answer.
“Yes?” he asked impatiently as he threw the door open.
“Hey” was what Sam greeted him with when the door was open enough.
Peter was awestruck and flung the door open completely before collapsed against Sam. “How did you-”
“It doesn’t matter,” Sam replied, dropping his bag to the floor to pull Peter in fully. Peter responded in kind, bringing his shaking arms up resting them around Sam’s middle. His face found the crook of Sam’s neck, and before he knew it, he was tearing up again. Before, he was holding himself together until he got to his dorm. Then he was holding himself together enough to fall asleep. But finally, the floodgates were opened.
Sam squeezed him for a second before doing some fancy footwork to kick his bag into the room and close the door behind them. They moved towards the bed where they both collapsed into one another, crying tears not so silently. Peter was grateful his roommate wouldn’t be back until later.
“What are we going to do?” he said, eventually breaking the silence.
Sam turned and pressed a kiss on his forehead before saying, “We never needed them. Sure, the money was convenient and nice, but we never needed it. We started this thing as two dumb high school kids with a dream, so why can’t it be two college kids with the same thought?”
Peter nodded against him. “Tomorrow.”
“Tomorrow,” Sam agreed.
It could always wait.
It had been the best day of Peter’s life. Sure, the Netflix launch party for Vandal had been great, and presenting his senior movie was fantastic, but this day really took the cake. It had only been one short year since graduation, but at the ripe age of 23, Peter married the love of his life.
During the reception, his mother had joked sharing that him and Sam had had, “The longest engagement there was! I remember the first day Peter brought Sam home and said, ‘We’re going to be best friends forever!’ which in Peter talk is like pronouncing his love to the world.”
In reality, they had gotten engaged right before senior year. Peter had just finished setting up his schedule for the semester when he had a minor freak out about his future. The third season of AV had hit the ground running, but they were still not sure exactly where season 4 would take them. Some funding from private donors had helped out, but Peter wasn’t sure what was next.
Sam had come up for the weekend, settling into Peter’s apartment like it was his own. The realization hit Peter that it could be. So, amidst Peter’s internal freakout about his future, he knew one thing clearly: his future was Sam.
His initial proposal that day, simply set the course for a grander one later on, but it was enough that they had already begun their planning. They had over a year to plan, and in the fall of their first year as real adults they had their wedding.
It was only fitting that they invited all the original Vandal people, as well as their current friends and family, which meant the event itself was huge. The ceremony was all about Peter and Sam, and honestly Peter hadn’t even noticed anyone else there. But the reception was full of people, all wanting to wish Peter and Sam well. It was an endless chain of their past wanting to give them blessings for their future.
Sure, they had a moment together for their first dance, and a small amount of time for the delicious food they had paid a fortune for, but they hadn’t really had a moment alone to let it all soak in. At the core of it, behind the ceremony, it really was a giant party- and Peter was never one to love being at a party of too long.
He had been hiding out for a second, sitting down at the table to enjoy some more desserts, when Sam slid his arms around Peter’s shoulders.
“Let’s get out of here,” he whispered in Peter’s ear, before kissing the side of his head.
“But, don’t you think we like... owe them a little more time?” His attention was brought back to the dance floor where he had left Dylan and the Wayback Boys drunkenly dancing.
“These fools?” Sam laughed, gaze looking at the scene in front of him, “we don’t owe them anything. C’mon.”
He grabbed at Peter’s hand, pulling him up as he bagan sneaking out of the room. As they left, they ran into Gabi, who smiled saying, “I’ll cover for you,” before winking and sending them off.
In the elevator Peter smiled in awe at his husband. Husband!
“What’s got you smiling?” Sam asked, kissing Peter quickly.
“My husband,” Peter replied kissing back, “He always takes such good care of me.”
“Ahh, it’s nothing.”
“It’s not, Sam. Thanks for getting me.”
Sam just smiled back and rest his forehead against Peter’s.
Peter had noticed the new student earlier. It wasn’t often that Peter’s attention was drawn to his peers around him, but a new student who was in his homeroom and many of the same classes as him stuck out. It was right before winter break and in English they had been tasked with discussing their winter break plans, or as most kids called it, their “Christmas Break” plans.
Peter’s mom would be working most of the break, and his Grandmother wasn’t able to come down for the holidays this year, so he wrote about being alone. By this point, Peter’s peers knew not to ask him about his plans since they were always the same- go home and hang out. Not much. They knew they wouldn’t get much of a response.
But poor Samuel “Sam” Ecklund hadn’t been given the courtesy of having years of knowledge. So when Becky asked him at lunch, “What are your plans for break, Sam?” he was thrown in with the sharks.
“Well, Hanukkah was earlier this year so I’ll just be home, I guess. I already saw all my family.”
Peter looked down the table to see most of the other kids faces crinkle in confusion and rolled his eyes at his peers.
“Okay,” Becky continued, “But like, what are you doing for Christmas?”
“Oh, uh, we don't celebrate Christmas.”
Becky laughed like it was some sort of joke before noticing Sam’s face. Peter noticed Sam’s face too- the face of a kid who wanted desperately to fit in but might have just ruined his chances.
“You don’t celebrate Christmas?” Jessica asked, “How can you not celebrate Christmas? Everyone does!”
“Not jewish people,” Sam mumbled under his breath.
“Not everyone is a Christian,” Peter blurted out. The entire table turned their heads towards him. Peter never talked at lunch. “Not everyone has the same religion, Jessica. We just learned about this in Social Studies.”
“Yeah but like, those are people from other places, not here. ”
Peter caught Sam’s eyes and rolled his own. Sam looked confused, but at Peter’s action a small smile began forming. He was several seats down from Peter, but Peter was unsurprised to find himself chatting with Sam on the way to their next class.
“So, I know you don’t have plans for break,” Peter began, twisting the ends of his shirt, “But maybe you want to hang out over break? My mom will be working a lot so I’ll be by myself and-”
“That sounds awesome, Peter. After school?”
“Yeah,” Peter agreed, “That sounds perfect.”