Chapter 1: part i
Sam Ecklund had never been a romantic, exactly, but he had always had a penchant for falling in love too hard and too fast. It had happened exactly four times over the course of Sam’s young life.
The first was DeMarcus Tillman. He and Sam went to the same summer camp the year after fifth grade. Sam knew that he thought other boys were cute before DeMarcus, but he was the first one that made Sam realize what all those cheesy love songs were about. He was funny, charismatic, and shockingly good at basketball for someone so young. Sam’s crush burned hot and fast over the summer, and on the bus ride home from camp at the end of it all, Sam wrote a letter. In the letter he told DeMarcus everything he liked about him- and a few things he didn’t. Sam wrote everything he didn’t say to DeMarcus at camp in the letter; every secret thought and feeling, and when he got home he put the letter in a shoe box at the top of his closet. Never to see the light of day again.
After that, it got to be a kind of habit.
In the sixth grade, Sam met Jenna Hawthorne. They got to be fast friends- not unlike him and DeMarcus, though Jenna’s sharp and sardonic humour was leagues different from DeMarcus’s easygoing charm- and by the time sixth grade ended, Sam had fallen. Hard. So he wrote her a letter, outlining everything he liked about her- her determination, her sense of humor, how she didn’t look down on people (much) despite her family’s money- and placed the letter, safe and sound, next to DeMarcus’s. Sam moved on.
Which ended up being for the best, given that Jenna came out as a raging lesbian- to Sam and the rest of the school- halfway through 7th grade.
A little over a year later, at the beginning of Sam’s last year of middle school, there was Peter Maldonado. He had moved to Oceanside over the summer and ended up being in most of Sam’s classes that year. They were friendly enough, but at the end of the year Sara Pearson threw a party and invited almost all of the kids in their grade. And, like at most middle school boy-girl parties, they got roped into playing spin the bottle.
And when Sam spun, he landed on Peter.
Predictably, all the other kids in the circle started oohing and chattering. Not-so-predictably, Peter- cute, quiet, awkward Peter- leaned across the circle and looked Sam in the eye. And when Sam nodded, a tiny gesture in response to an unspoken question, Peter leaned in and kissed him.
Sam didn’t know what to expect from his first kiss. This was soft, gentle, and only lasted a few seconds. But the memory stuck in Sam’s mind, long after his friends had their laughs and moved on to the next couple in the game.
He wrote Peter’s letter over the summer.
Highschool started, and with it came the radical change in friendships it always brings. Sam joined the theatre department, Peter the AV club, and they slowly drifted apart. Halfway through freshman year, when Peter came out as gay and started dating Ashley Hanson, a sophomore, Sam took his letter and put it- and his crush- safely away to be forgotten about, alongside his other childhood fantasies.
Gabi Granger, however, had been Sam’s best friend and neighbor his whole life. They grew up alongside one another and despite every friend and family member cooing about how they’d eventually get together, Sam was more than contented with their friendship.
At least, he thought he was.
It was different, with Gabi. She was his best friend, his other half. She knew him better than anyone, and he knew her just as well. They had the kind of jokes and laughter and contented silences that only came with years of close friendship. When she and Brandon Galloway first got together, Sam thought the clenching discomfort in his stomach was because he didn’t like or trust Brandon. He was a douchey jock, the cliche of an asshole highschool guy, the one who always got the girl. Sam assumed his feelings were a result of his friendship with Gabi, that he wanted better for her, and that Brandon didn’t deserve her.
One day, a couple months into their relationship- near the end of Sam’s sophomore year- he ran into them at the movies. They were on a date and going to see some action movie that had come out that Brandon wanted to see, Sam assumed, because he knew Gabi hated action/adventure films. He was hanging out with his friend Ming, and they had just gotten out from seeing the new Marvel movie. They passed each other and had a brief conversation, before going their separate ways- Sam and Ming on the way home, Gabi and Brandon into the theatre.
It wasn’t until that moment that Sam realized what his feeling about Brandon really meant. It wasn’t that he was protective of Gabi or defensive on her behalf. He was jealous, pure and simple.
He wanted to go see movies with her- to drag her to films he wanted to see and be dragged. He wanted to hold her hand, or loop her arm through his, and have her lean her head on his shoulder like it belonged there. He wanted all the little things that came with a relationship that weren’t a part of friendship.
It wasn’t that he didn’t like Brandon; it’s that he wanted to be Brandon.
He was in love with Gabi.
Sam reeled from the realization, and eventually spilled his guts to his older sister Leah, telling her everything about his revelation in the hopes that she would find it in herself to be sympathetic. She just shook her head and said that of course he was in love with Gabi, that he had been for years and just hadn’t realized it.
Once he realized the depth of his feelings, Sam could not escape them. He started overthinking everything he said and did with Gabi, wondering if it could be construed as romantic- if he wanted it to be.
He lasted all of a week before he realized he couldn’t live like this- in a constant state of pain and pining, hoping she would notice, or leave Brandon, or feel the same way.
A nasty little voice in the back of his head whispered to tell her, to confess everything, to ask her to leave Brandon for him. But Gabi was his best friend. And that friendship, that history, was more important.
So he sat down, wrote his letter, and tried to move on with his life. Tried to pretend like it wasn’t killing him to see Gabi and Brandon together. Tried to pretend like her friendship was enough for him.
And then everything went to shit.
Somehow, someway, Sam’s letters were sent out. All four of them.
It was a normal Tuesday to begin with.
Sam was running the track with Ming in gym, when Peter Maldonado showed up out of the blue, looking wildly uncomfortable in his baggy hoodie and jeans. Sam saw him out of the corner of his eye, and kept jogging alongside Ming, assuming Peter was here for someone else in their gym class.
“Sam! Wait up!” Peter called, jogging after them. Sam slowed to a stop, Ming stopping a few paces away. Peter had a weird expression on his face, and Ming glanced at Sam before continuing to jog further down the track. This clearly didn’t have anything to do with him.
“Hey, Peter, what’s up?” It wasn’t that Peter and Sam weren’t friends, exactly. They just ended up going in different directions once highschool started. Sam started doing more and more theatre stuff, Peter started being on the Morning Show, doing things with the AV club, and they just stopped spending time together. That, and Peter dating Ashley Hanson really put a damper on Sam’s crush on him, which made being friends kind of awkward. So they were friendly, Sam would nod to Peter in the hallways, Peter would ask him questions about the curriculum in English, and life went on.
“Uh, so I think it’s really nice that you, uh think I have warm brown eyes, and that my glasses are the ‘cute kind of ugly’ and everything,” Wait, what? “But Ashley and I just went through a pretty rough break up, and-” Sam could feel his heart sink into his stomach, and then hit the ground. He glanced down and saw a horrifyingly familiar envelope clutched in Peter’s hand. Fuck. “Sam?” Peter asked.
Never let it be said that Sam wasn’t a true drama kid, because the level of theatrics he displayed at that moment was more than any non-theatre-kid could handle. He fainted.
When Sam came to, only a few seconds later, he was sprawled out on the track, and Peter was leaning worriedly over him. Frankly, it wasn’t the worst way to wake up after fainting.
“Sam? Are you ok?” Peter asked, carefully helping him sit up.
“Yeah, no, man I’m good.” Sam answered, running a hand through his hair- it had gotten messed up when he fell. “And about the letter, look, dude, I-” It was then, that Sam’s eyes slid past Peter, and saw Gabi standing at the edge of the track.
Looking towards him and Peter.
Holding an envelope.
And I thought my day couldn’t get any worse, Sam thought.
And then he did the first thing he could think of. “Sorry about this,” he muttered, and then he flipped Peter over on his back onto the track, and laid one on him.
Looking back, maybe kissing the guy he used to have a crush on- who had just received a letter about said crush- in front of his current crush- who had also received a letter- to convince her he didn’t like her wasn’t Sam’s best idea. But it was the one he had at the moment.
Sam sat up from the- surprisingly nice and not weird- kiss rather abruptly, gave a Peter a quick smile and a quicker “Thanks!” before getting up off the track, and running away. Past Gabi, away from Peter, and totally ditching his gym class. Good coping mechanism, Ecklund.
He ducked into the closest men’s bathroom and all but collapsed into one of the stalls. A few moments later, someone followed into the bathroom.
“Ecklund?” Jenna’s familiar voice asked, “I think this is yours.” And with that, she slid her letter under the stall door, and Sam almost died right there. Perfect, this is just perfect, he thought.
He left the stall to face her, and Jenna was leaning up against one of the bathroom walls. If it had been anyone else, Sam would have been confused and a little concerned about how comfortable she looked in the men’s bathroom, but this was Jenna. He should have expected this.
They stood there in a tense and awkward silence for a few minutes, until Jenna finally spoke. “You know I’m like, really fucking gay, right?”
“Cause I’m pretty sure I made a big deal of coming out in middle school.”
“Yeah,” Sam repeated, sighing a little, “I know, I wrote this before you came out, and it was never supposed to be sent and-”
“I knew it.” Sam looked up and Jenna was smiling at him smugly, like the cat that ate the canary. “I knew you had a crush on me, you little freak.”
If it had been anyone else, Sam would have been embarrassed or angry or upset, but this was Jenna. So he just laughed.
“Oh shut the fuck up,” he said in response, and Jenna was laughing too.
“So how did your fucking embarrassing middle school love letter get sent out, anyway?”
“Letters,” Sam corrected, and Jenna lifted one perfectly manicured brow.
“I’m sorry, plural? You wrote multiple letters?” She sounded like a kid on Christmas. Sam was regretting everything.
“Yeah,” he admitted sheepishly, “and I’m totally fucked because apparently they all got sent out.”
“Fuck,” was all Jenna said, but she held out the vowel for a few beats to really emphasize how much he was truly fucked.
“Any chance you’ll tell me who they are?”
Sam shot her his best approximation on her grin- sharp, cutting- “No way in hell.”
Jenna just laughed.
Sam managed to avoid Gabi- and Peter- for the rest of the school day, thank god. But a half hour after he got home, Sam heard someone ring the doorbell.
“Sam!” One of his sisters- Kara, by the sound of it- called from downstairs, “Gabi’s here and she wants to talk to you!”
Fuck. Sam froze, staring into nothing in the middle of his room.
“Sam?” Kara called again from downstairs. He didn’t respond
“Sammy?” A different voice asked from closer by. Sam turned and his older sister Leah was leaning against his doorframe. She looked somewhere between concerned and amused, and was waiting patiently for Sam to answer.
“You didn’t see me,” was all Sam said before opening his window and climbing out, Leah’s incredulous laughter echoing across his room behind him.
And if Sam tumbled and fell off the roof into the yard, there wasn’t anyone there to see it.
The 24 Stop Diner was an old favorite of Sam’s. It was close enough to his house that he could bike there easily, and it quickly became his go-to place anytime he needed to get out of his house for a while. Which, with two sisters, was fairly often. Sam all but collapsed into a stool at the bar, and ordered what he always got- a chocolate milkshake and some fries. Sam was more than happy to sit and wallow in his own misery, but apparently the universe had other plans.
“Peter! Dude, hey,” Don’t be weird, don’t be weird, Sam thought like a mantra, picking at his fries.
“Um, I stopped by your house and your sister told me you’d probably be here, and I just want to be super clear, cause Ashley and I just broke up and I’m not looking for… anything, so…” Peter trailed off, picking at the strings of his hoodie.
My family is fucking useless, Sam thought. “Right, um. Look, Peter, about earlier today, I uh… I don’t wanna make things weird,” real subtle, Ecklund, “I’m not interested in… that. So.”
Peter laughed a little, “Yeah, well, you say that now, but your, uh, mouth was saying something different… earlier.” Fucking kill me.
“Look, Peter, I don’t like you, I just didn’t want someone else to think I liked them.”
Peter looked mildly confused. “Well, who?”
“I’m not telling you.”
“No ‘cause you have to or else it’s either going to drive me crazy, or I’ll start thinking you do have a secret crush on me or something.”
Fuck everything. Sam stared at Peter for a bit. And the thing was, if had been anyone else, Sam wouldn’t have said anything. But Peter had this way of balancing interest, confusion, and earnestness so perfectly that it made you want to tell him everything. Sam wondered if he did it on purpose. “Fine,” he ground out eventually. “It’s Gabi Granger.”
“Wait, Gabi? Isn’t she dating that Brandon Galloway guy? The super popular jock?”
“Yeah. And she’s like my best friend and neighbor and she got a letter too, so you can see why it would be really fucking awkward if she thought that I liked her and-”
“Wait. Gabi got a letter too?” For a second, Sam thought Peter looked almost… disappointed.
“Yeah. And two other people on top of her, so don’t go getting a big head, Maldonado.”
Peter cracked a grin, and somehow, a little bit of the stress building in Sam’s chest lessened. “Shit, Ecklund, and a guy thinks he’s special.”
Peter ended giving Sam a ride home in his dinky little two door, and by the time they reached his house, Sam was thankful that this super weird spontaneous outing with Peter Maldonado of all people, was finally coming to an end. “Thanks for the ride, dude.”
“What are you going to say to Gabi?”
“You really don’t beat around the bush, do you, Peter?”
“I… I don’t know. I guess I’ll just figure it out and try not to get beat up by Galloway.” Sam forced a grin, and ducked out of the car as quickly as he could, pulling his bike out of the trunk- how Peter got it to fit in there, he still doesn’t know- and raced up the steps to his house.
“Sam?” Peter caught his elbow, half-turning him around. “Ok, hear me out. What if… we let Gabi think we’re together. Not- not just Gabi, even, the whole school. That way you can avoid telling her until you know what you’re going to say, and I can avoid all the post-breakup awkwardness with Ashley.”
Just when I thought my life couldn’t get any fucking weirder; Peter Maldonado.
“Peter, I’m not going to… fake date you like we’re in some made-for-TV-teenage-rom-com.”
Peter pursed his lips a little, nodded, and took a step back. “Just… think about it?” He asked, looking strangely hopeful, before jogging back to his car and driving away.
What the fuck just happened.
Sam was lying in his bed, staring up at his ceiling and considering the most ridiculous thing he’d ever thought about.
Fake date Peter Maldonado…
The thing about Peter- Sam remembered this startlingly clearly from middle school- was that he was right more often than he was wrong. He was quiet, and what loud people don’t realize about quiet people, is that they’re not being quiet for the sake of being quiet. More often than not, they’re listening .
Which was part of why Sam was even considering Peter’s proposal in the first place- Peter wasn’t someone to leap into something like this without thinking about it, weighing the possibilities; right?
This is what Sam knew:
He didn’t want to confess to Gabi that he was in love with her; and fake dating Peter would give him an easy out.
Peter said he and Ashley broke up- though, how had Sam not heard about this until now?- which meant they were both single.
It was Peter’s idea in the first place, which meant he must be comfortable faking dating Sam in the first place.
Sam had long gotten over his middle school crush on Peter, and Peter was fresh out of a long term relationship, so there wasn’t a chance of catching feelings. Right?
Here goes nothing, I guess, Sam thought, and rolled over, determined to fall asleep before he spent the whole night thinking about Peter Maldonado, of all people.
The morning came too quickly and too bright- as they always do after late nights- and Sam half forgot about his late night decision until he caught Peter walking into the school out of the corner of his eye.
It’s now or never, Ecklund.
“Peter!” He called, running up the stairs to the main entrance to the building. “Wait up!” Peter heard him- or heard something, at least- and turned in Sam’s general direction. He skidded to a stop in front of him, and tried not to think about how Peter almost immediately reached to grab Sam’s arm and support him as he wheezed from the run up the stairs. “About what you said yesterday,” Sam started when he caught his breath, looking up too see Peter’s somehow familiar expression of mixed confusion and interest. Sam steeled himself. “Let’s do it.”
Peter’s responding grin was blinding; Sam had forgotten what it was like to be on the receiving end of one.
“Right, yeah.” Peter said, “Boyfriend?”
Sam held up his fist. “Here’s to crushing this fake dating thing, Maldonado.”
Peter bumped his fist with Sam’s.
They managed to meet up later at lunch, grabbing an old abandoned picnic table outside, near the track. Peter sat on the bench. Sam sat on top of the table.
“So I was thinking about it, and we need rules if we’re going to do this right,” Peter said, and Sam didn’t know whether to laugh or groan.
“Peter, dude, really?”
“Yes.” Sam turned his head to see Peter, studiously pulling out a pencil and paper, and he let his head thump back against the table he was lying on. “Number one, no PDA.”
Sam frowned at the sky, but nodded. He didn’t know if Peter saw either of these things, but he continued writing his list either way. “Ok but who’s gonna believe we’re dating if we don’t have any PDA or anything?”
The pencil scratching- something Sam hadn’t even known he’d noticed- stopped, and Sam turned his head to see Peter looking at him critically. “Did you… want to kiss and stuff in public?”
“What?” Sam’s face was on fire. “No! That’s not what I said! I don’t want PDA, I haven’t ever had a boyfriend. I just… I don’t know how people are going to believe it’s real if we don’t… I don’t know… ever touch each other.”
“It’s not real, though.”
“No shit, Peter, it was your idea.”
“I don’t think that we need lots of PDA for people to believe we’re dating. I mean Ashley-” Peter cleared his throat abruptly. “I think that holding hands and leaning on each other, sharing space, that kind of thing, is enough. Especially at school.”
“So, what, just like no excessive PDA?” Peter scanned Sam’s face, and he felt the tips of his ears and his cheeks heat even further.
“Yeah.” He nodded, looking back down at the paper.
“Ok, and we can’t ever tell anyone about this, it would make it all moot,” Sam continued, getting into the groove of it.
“Right, yeah of course.” Peter scribbled it down, tapping the pen against the table after he finished, thinking. “We should probably go on the ski trip in December, if this is still going on, don’t you think?”
“You really think this is gonna last that long, Peter?”
He shrugged. “Think of it as a contingency plan. And we should hang out outside of school, go to parties and have dates and stuff.”
“Bold of you to assume I’m invited to parties, Peter,” Sam laughed, but trailed off when Peter looked up at him, confused.
“You’re not?” He asked. “But you’re so popular, everyone likes you.”
Sam cleared his throat. “Yeah, well, being well liked and being popular aren’t the same thing.” He forced a touch of levity into his voice, adding, “And who wants a theatre geek at their party anyway?”
Peter frowned at Sam, just a little, a frown so small Sam wasn’t sure he saw it, and looked down at the paper again. “Well we can go to the Wayback Boys’ parties together.” When Sam didn’t answer, Peter glanced up at him. “If that’s ok?” Sam nodded.
“Yeah, I just didn’t know you were friends with the Wayback Boys.”
“Yeah, Dylan Maxwell pretty much adopted me last year, and somehow I got pulled into their squad.”
“What?” Sam tried to ask, but he was laughing too hard for it to be entirely intelligible.
“Yeah,” Peter was laughing too, “it’s kind of fucking weird but I’ve learned not to question Dylan.”
“I can imagine.” Sam sobered after a minute, asking “Do you think they’ll be… cool with-”
“Oh, yeah.” Peter seemed to understand what Sam was alluding to, thank god. “No, they’re chill, Ganj is gay as fuck and Dylan has like… weirdly good gaydar.”
“Good to know,” Sam said, grinning. “Though not something I thought I’d ever hear said about Dylan Maxwell.”
Peter simply shrugged. “The man is full of surprises.”
Peter wasn’t wrong about Dylan.
Sam knew the two of them worked on the Morning Show together- Ming was on the show too- but he had never really spent that much time around Dylan or his self-named group of friends, the Wayback Boys. Sam had always thought Dylan was just a screw up stoner kid.
Which, he clearly was; but he was also surprisingly good at throwing parties.
Sam wasn’t a party guy due to a combination of a busy after school schedule and a small social circle and Peter definitely didn’t seem like a party guy. And yet, here they were, at a Wayback Boys party on a Friday night that Peter had dragged them to.
Sam hesitated at the door, already hearing loud music and boisterous laughter. The Wayback boys’ reputation preceded itself; the group was known for their idiotic pranks- usually recorded and uploaded to their similarly-titled Youtube channel- and their wild parties. Sam heard that some guy almost lost a finger at one last year. Peter glanced back at Sam, with one hand on the doorknob. Peter looked ready to just walk into the party, comfortable and put together in a way that Sam hadn’t anticipated he would be. And Sam certainly hadn’t anticipated how calming Peter’s smile would be.
“You ready?” Peter asked, and Sam tried to organize his face into something that didn’t make him look vaguely nauseous. He was only marginally successful.
As a force of habit, Sam reached up and pulled his hat off- an old baseball style cap he bought years ago from the 24 Stop Diner with his moms, which functioned most of the time as a good luck charm- to run his hands through his hair, spiking up his quiff and checking on the gel as best as he could without a mirror.
Peter did that tiny frown- the one Sam was realizing was a common feature of Peter Maldonado, something he did when he wanted to fix something- and grabbed Sam’s wrist, freezing it halfway in his hair. He pulled Sam’s hand away from his head, and grabbed the hat Sam was holding, swiftly and securely putting it back on his head. Seemingly satisfied with his work, Peter gave a serious nod before meeting Sam’s eyes. “Relax,” he said, smiling a little, “you’ll be fine.”
Sam shot him a questioning look, his hand halfway up to his head again, fingers brushing the brim of his hat. “You look cute with the hat on,” Peter said, and Sam could have sworn he was blushing.
“We should, uh,” Sam said abruptly, half-realizing this was the first he had spoken since they got out of the car, “we should take selfies. To put as our lockscreens. That’s a couples’ thing, right?” Peter fixed him with a look that was part amused and part baffled, but he nodded, pulling out his phone and leaning in. “Dude, no,” Sam laughed, correcting Peter’s awkward framing and position, “you’ve got to get my good side.”
“Shit, Sam, isn’t that kind of high expectations? For me to find your good side?”
“Fuck off!” Sam shoved his shoulder, but he couldn’t stop laughing.
They managed to get a semi decent selfie, and both set it as their lockscreen on their phones. Peter glanced back at the door, before looking at Sam with a questioning glance Sam can read perfectly- you ready to go in? Sam winced- clearly, he hadn’t been as subtle about his stalling as he’d hoped- but he nodded anyway. It’s now or never.
The inside of the house was as raucous and nuts as it had seemed from the outside. Someone was blasting at least two different songs from two different rooms, there were people everywhere, and from what Sam could tell they were all either drunk or stoned; some of them were both. It was still fairly early in the night, but it already looked as though the house has already been trashed, at least somewhat, and before Sam could take in anything else, something tackles Peter.
“Pete! Dude!” He heard a vaguely familiar voice call out, and Sam realized that it was just Dylan Maxwell pulling Peter into a bear hug. “You fucking came! Good to see you man.”
They broke apart, and there was something in Peter’s stance that was looser, more comfortable. Like he settled into himself over the course of the last two minutes. He grinned, “You saw me this morning, Dylan.”
“Dude, whatever.” Dylan clapped him on the shoulder, and turned to look at Sam. “Is this him? Your boy?”
“Yeah, what’s up, I’m Sam,” Sam said, and reached out to fistbump Dylan’s outstretched hand.
“Dude, I know you! Me and the boys went and saw that show you were in like last year.” He chuckled a little to himself. “Dude, we were so stoned, but like, your shit was good!”
“Uh, thanks?” Sam wasn’t sure whether to be offended or pleased, but something about Dylan’s smile, genuine and easy, made it easy for Sam to grin back at him. Dylan looped an arm around Peter’s shoulder, who was just standing there and smiling his tiny blinding smile.
“You got a good dude here, Pete,” Dylan said, “loads cooler than that Ashley guy-”
As soon as Dylan mentioned Ashley, Peter’s face closed off, and he ducked out from under Dylan’s arm, sidestepping to stand next to Sam and cutting him off by saying “Dyl, we’re gonna go get a drink.” There was no room for argument in Peter’s tone, and either Dylan read the mood or didn’t care enough to finish his thought, because he just nodded and yelled something to Spencer before running to the other side of the room. “This way,” Peter muttered, walking towards what Sam assumed was the kitchen.
Peter poured something into a red solo cup for himself, and then looked to Sam with a questioning expression, asking him what he wanted without words.
“Oh, uh, just a beer I guess?” Sam winced.
“Cool. And don’t worry,” Peter said as he poured a beer into a cup for Sam. “This,” he said, lifting up his own cup, “is soda, so I’m good to be DD.”
“Sweet, dude,” Sam said, clinking their plastic cups together once Peter handed him his beer, “good thinking.”
Sam wasn’t unfamiliar with alcohol. His parents had let him and his older sister Leah have champagne the last few times on New Year’s Eve, and he had been to a couple fairly rowdy cast shows over his tenure in the theatre department. He certainly wasn’t full on drunk now, with only a beer and a half in him, but he sure was tipsy.
“Hey Peter?” Sam asked. “Feel free to tell me to like fuck off if we’re not there yet, but like, what happened with you and Ashley Hanson? You guys had been dating since freshman year, right?”
Peter pursed his lips, peering into his cup like it held the answers to life, and for a second, Sam thought he wouldn’t answer. “Yeah.” He sighed, looking up but avoiding Sam’s gaze. “We were almost at two years, but it just… it wasn’t working any more. All of the newness and exhilaration of having someone like me after-” He broke off mid-sentence and shook his head once, decisively, before continuing with, “Of having a boy actually like me and want to date me, much less someone like Ashley, you know? He was older and cool and I was just this lowly closeted freshman. It was all so much for such a long time and I just realized this year, with college on the horizon for both of us, and Mac and Dylan breaking up that- that I didn’t need it. I spent two years feeling like I had to be with Ashley. But I realized I didn’t need to be with someone just because it’s what I had been doing, because it’s what people expected of us, because it was habit. So I broke up with him.”
“Yeah, that was pretty much his reaction too.”
“I’m guessing Ashley didn’t take it too well?”
“Not really,” Peter answered with the barest of smiles.
If this had been three years prior, in the height of Sam and Peter’s eighth grade best-friendship, Sam would have poked and prodded until Peter fully spilled his guts, and had gotten out everything that was tormenting him about the whole Ashley thing. Sam could see it, lingering just under the surface, and he knew Peter would leave it to sit and fester unless someone demanded he talk through it. But they had three years and a two year relationship- not to mention a few day old fake relationship- between them; Sam merely grinned and said, “He knows he lost out then, Peter, you’re a catch,” which was enough to make Peter laugh again.
The lingering awkwardness faded after that, and they returned to their drinks, milling around the party, talking to the Waybacks and each other, and falling back into a rhythm they had forgotten existed.
“Ecklund?” A familiar voice called out, about an hour into the party, and Sam turned to find an incredulous Jenna standing behind him. “What the fuck are you doing at a Wayback party?”
“I could ask you the same thing, Jenna,” Sam answered, and Jenna shot him a sharp grin.
“Ganj and I go way back.”
“Is that a pun? From the late, great, Jenna Hawthorne?”
Jenna raised her glass to her mouth to hide her smile, “You can’t prove anything, Ecklund.”
They talked for a few more minutes, shooting insults and quips back and forth like gunfire, until Peter came up behind Sam and slid his hand- surprisingly comfortably- around his shoulders.
“You ready to go?” Peter asked, seemingly not noticing Jenna.
“Ecklund?” Jenna asked, taking a step closer, “Who the fuck is this?” Her grin was feral and dangerous, and Sam couldn’t fight down the blush that rose to his cheeks. I really should have said something to her.
“Oh, I’m Peter,” Peter jumped in- thank god- leaning away from Sam to proffer a hand to a wildly amused Jenna, “Sam’s boyfriend.”
“Is that so?” Jenna’s comment was innocuous enough to the untrained ear, but Sam knew Jenna well enough to understand that he had an interrogation in his future.
“Yeah, well,” Sam said, “Peter, this is Jenna, Jenna, Peter, blah blah blah, I think we’re gonna head out!” Sam nodded at Jenna and grabbed Peter’s arm, dragging him towards the exit.
And if you asked him, Sam would swear that he didn’t hear Jenna’s whispered ‘coward’ over the sound of Peter yelling goodbye to Dylan.
Peter had driven them to the party earlier that evening. His car was this shitty little two door that had probably been his mom’s at some point, complete with days-old coffee cups and a back seat strewn with camera gear and odd pieces of clothes. Sam found it all strangely comforting and endearing.
After leaving the Wayback party- with extreme dignity, thank you very much- Peter had suggested they stop somewhere for food before heading home. They had ended up back at the 24 Stop Diner, the same place they had met up at the day of the letters’ release. They sat opposite on another at one of the tables, Sam with his preferred milkshake and fries, Peter with a soda; and if Peter ended up stealing some of Sam’s fries over the course of the evening, that was neither here nor there.
“So, ok,” Sam said after a while, “I’m going to be nosy here, and like feel free to tell me to fuck off, but like… how was it to, like, come out to the whole school freshman year?”
Peter looked down at the table, pensive. “I guess when it all happened I didn’t think about it in terms of coming out until it was already done. I had never had a boy like me back before, much less someone older or who wanted to date. Sometimes I think we… rushed into things we shouldn’t have.” Peter stared off into space for a moment, clearly lost in his own thoughts. “I was lucky, honestly,” he continued after a minute, looking back at Sam. “I think under different circumstances it could have gone a lot worse, and it got all the awkward coming-out conversations out of the way for the next few years.”
Sam laughed at that. “I know how you feel, those conversations are the worst . It wasn’t really a big thing at my house, Leah came out as Bi when she was in middle school, and I wasn’t really expecting my moms to be homophobic, but you know…”
“Talking about your sex life with your parents is always weird?”
“Yeah. I’m assuming your parents were like, cool with it, though?”
“It’s just my mom,” Peter corrected gently, “but yeah, she was chill about it. More so than I expected her to be. With me being an only child and it just being us, I kind of thought she’d make a bigger deal about my first boyfriend.”
“Shit, right, sorry. I forgot it’s just you and your mom.” Peter gave a half-shrug and waved away Sam’s apology. “But what’s it like being an only child?”
“I don’t know… it’s always quiet at mine, which I like, but it can be a little lonely.”
“I bet you have a great relationship with your mom, though.”
“Yeah.” Peter smiled, soft and loving. “She’s really great, I’m really lucky.” He turned his focus back to Sam and asked, “What about you though? You have two sisters, right? Leah and…?” Peter trailed off, waiting for Sam to fill in the blank.
“Kara, yeah. She’s in the fourth grade- which is like, crazy, if feels like yesterday that she was like two years old and my moms were bringing her home- and Leah’s a year older than us. And then, on top of that, I have a bunch of cousins my and Leah’s age on both of my moms’ sides so like it’s always crazy at my house, especially at the holidays. Both of my extended families are pretty close and sometimes when I was little, aunts and cousins would just show up unannounced.” Sam laughed a little at the memories- his childhood had been filled with chaotic antics.
“But that’s got to be- I don’t know- exhausting, right? For there always to be that many people in your house?”
Sam shrugged. “I guess, I mean everyone’s pretty good at like, personal space and boundaries-” Sam gave a sharp laugh. “Well, maybe not Kara. She’s still pretty bad about barging in unannounced and stealing both my and Leah’s stuff without asking. But like, kids. What are you going to do?”
“Oh, yeah,” Peter laughed, “I know I was a nightmare in middle school.”
“Weren’t we all, though? Ok, but do you remember that phase you went through in the eighth grade where you got a camcorder for your birthday and spend the next like, two months, recording everything you could?”
“A journalist in training,” Peter said, mildly proud, but mostly amused.
“You were a menace!”
“Hey!” Peter was laughing, albeit begrudgingly, “I seem to remember you stealing my camera half the time to make your own ‘movies!’ ”
Sam gasped, mock-offended. “That is not the same thing! I was preparing for my true calling on the stage!”
“Well you’re going to regret making fun of me when I’m the one writing a scathing expose on your career in ten years.”
Damn. Sam had forgotten how brutal and clever and funny Peter could be.
“Whatever,” Sam conceded, rolling his eyes. They sat for another few minutes in a newly companionable silence. I forgot how much I loved being Peter’s friend, Sam mused, finishing off his shake.
“Ok,” Peter said, breaking the silence. “You asked your nosy question about my personal life, now it’s my turn.” Peter was all business all of a sudden. The Peter Sam saw on the TV at school every morning. The serious journalist, all critical eye and determination. Sam shrugged, as if to say, ‘Shoot.’
“So, you’re popular, or at least well liked, right? You have lots of friends, you’re in the drama club, you’re funny and smart and, uh, reasonably attractive-”
“Damn, be careful doling out the compliments, Maldonado, I might start to get a big head.”
“You already have one,” Peter quipped back without hesitation before continuing. “So why, then, haven’t you ever had a boyfriend. Girlfriend? Either. Both. You get my point.”
Peter’s question caught Sam off guard, though he should’ve expected this from Peter. Even in middle school, he had always been on a constant search for the truth, even when it started to edge into nosiness, and even- especially- when they were friends. Sam was no exception.
“Shit, Pete, tough question.” Peter shrugged, unapologetic, and continued staring at Sam in that calm, unwavering way of his. From anyone else, it would have been unnerving,or even creepy, but from Peter, it felt almost supportive. He wasn’t here to judge, he just wanted to understand. And, at the end of the day, Sam knew that’s all Peter ever wanted.
“I guess...” Sam paused. “Ok, here’s the thing. Love and romance and all that bullshit? It’s fine and easy on paper and onstage. It’s clean lines, this happens here, this happens because of this, and it all works out in the end, right? The guy gets the girl, or the guy, or whatever. In real life, it’s not that simple. Things don’t work out everytime, and people get hurt.”
Peter frowned. “You can’t live your whole life avoiding real connections with people because you’re scared of being hurt.”
“Watch me,” Sam scoffed, half-joking.
“Why are you so scared of getting hurt, though? Did something-” Peter paused, weighing his words. “Did something happen?”
“Shit, no. Not like that I mean.” Sam took a long sip from his milkshake. “Ok, so, like when we were in middle school my older sister-”
“Yeah, she was just starting freshman year, and about halfway through the year she got a boyfriend.” Sam felt a little weird telling Peter his sister’s whole dark backstory, but he trusted Peter to keep it to himself, without Sam having to say anything.
That was another thing about being friends with Peter- you always felt like you could tell him anything, and he would never tell a soul. “They, um, didn’t last. For a lot of reasons, but Leah really loved him. He was her first love, but they were both really young and stupid and he made some shitty mistakes. He broke her heart.”
“Leah’s…” Sam sighed, “she’s the strongest person I know, pretty much. She doesn’t waver, she doesn’t break. My whole life, she’s been this constant, and that was the first time I ever saw her… crumple like that. It was terrifying. If a broken heart can do that to the strongest person in my life, like, what’s it going to do to me, you know? I guess I’ve always been wary of letting people in after seeing that. The more people you let in, the more opportunity they have to hurt you. It’s easier to stay with the scripted stuff. If it isn’t real it can’t hurt you, right?”
“Yeah, so, there’s my whole life story, I guess fair is fair.” Sam grinned, forcing levity back into the conversation.
Peter shook his head, “So, wait, why’d you agree to do this, then?” He gestured between the two of them, leaning against the table towards Sam.
“Because,” Sam said without thinking, “this doesn’t count. It’s not real either.”
What he didn’t say was that he had already let Peter in, closer than anyone but his family and maybe Gabi, years ago.
There was a flash of something- hurt, or shock, maybe- across Peter’s face, but it was gone so quickly Sam wasn’t sure he’d seen it. “Of course,” Peter said, a smile that felt slightly off settling on his face. “Sam Ecklund; you’re always good for pure honesty,” Peter said, his eyes darting away from Sam. He said it like he meant something else.
The problem was, Sam had no idea what he meant.
“Right,” he said softly, not sure what else to say, and they moved on, the moment broken.
Peter dropped Sam back at his house not much later, with a promise to text and an agreement to have lunch together on monday. They didn’t talk about the conversation at the diner.
Sam was half-ready for bed, music playing from his phone, when it buzzed with a notification.
@pm.productions tagged you in a photo.
Sam clicked through, surprised that Peter had posted anything to his instagram, much less something to do with him.
It was a set of two photos. The first was one of the selfies they had taken outside of Dylan’s house, very similar to the one Sam had set as his lock screen. Sam was grinning at the camera, his hat on haphazardly, but in a way that looked intentional, not messy. Peter was grinning too, facing the camera, but his eyes cut towards Sam, his head leaning the tiniest bit towards him. Like he’s halfway to leaning his head on Sam’s shoulder.
It was all very sweet and domestic, a classic people-who-are-dating photo.
The second one was a candid, one that Sam didn’t even know Peter took. It was of him at the diner, staring off into space, probably out of the windows. His face was at rest, soft and pensive; he looked calm and comfortable, and the soft yellow light of the diner placed gentle shadows across his face. Damn, Peter, Sam thought, who knew you were a photographer and a journalist?
The caption for the photos was a simple, “A Night Out with Sam :) ❤️” It’s kind of old fashioned, something like one of Sam’s moms would write, but it’s sweet and honest, and somehow Peter made it work.
Sam bit his lip, debating commenting on the photo, before saying fuck it.
@ketchuppacket commented on @pm.production ‘s photo: “aww babe u type like my grandma”
Sam shouldn’t have been surprised by Jenna cornering him the second he walked into school. The fact that Peter had driven them to school and they walked in together didn’t really help the fact that Jenna was probably going to kill Sam for not telling her.
And that didn’t even include the fact that between going to the Wayback party and the IG post, Sam was sure most of the school knew that he and Peter were together now.
“Sam!” Jenna’s sharp cry rang out almost as soon as he and Peter walked into school, and Sam cringed.
“I should go talk to her,” he told Peter, who gave him a sympathetic smile.
“Yeah,” Sam laughed a little, “hopefully I won’t die only a few days into this whole thing.” The resulting grin on Peter’s face made it all almost worth it. Almost.
“Hey, Jenna,” Sam said, smiling weakly as he walked up to his friend, “what’s up?”
Jenna’s smile was sharp and feral. “What the fuck, Ecklund?”
“Ok, listen, I’m sorry I didn’t tell you, it’s all pretty, like, recent and the party was like the first time we went anywhere, and I was going to tell you-”
“Stop.” Jenna cut him off, and lifted her hand in front of Sam’s face to compound the point. She closed her eyes and sighed, “Whatever. You’re happy, Peter’s a good guy, and you weren’t actively trying to keep it from me-” She paused, and shot him a sharp glare, “-right?”
Jenna relaxed, flicking her hair over her shoulder. “Then it’s whatever. Just keep me updated, yeah? I need to know all the gay details.” Sam smiled. For all her faults, Jenna was a good friend, and one of the only people Sam knew that understood his patented gay humor.
“Got it, bitch.”
“Ok now fucking leave I have to get to calculus.” Jenna shot him a wink, and then turned on her heel, stalking down the hall. Classic Jenna.
“Hey Sam?” Sam froze. Fuck.
He turned slowly, an awkward smile plastered on his face, to see Gabi standing behind him.
Sam had been avoiding her since the letters got out. Which ended up being fairly difficult, given that they lived next to each other.
Gabi crossed her arms, glancing to the side. A crowded hallway a few minutes before first period was not where Sam had wanted to have this conversation- if at all. Gabi had always been good at hiding her feelings, even from Sam, and today was no exception. She just stood there, staring at him expectantly. Like he owed her an explanation.
Which, to be fair, he kind of did.
Just because he owed her one, however, didn’t mean today was the day he was going to give her one.
“Gabi! Hey!” Sam grinned, trying to seem as innocuous and casual as possible. “What’s up? How’re your classes going?”
“They’re good. Sam, I wanted to ask you about-”
“I have to go! To class!” Sam cut across her before she could finish her thought. “I have Spanish with Shapiro first thing and she’s a bitch about tardiness! So,” Sam shrugged and gave what felt like the world’s most awkward wave before jogging away down the hall, calling out a brief “I’ll talk to you later!” behind him as he left Gabi in the dust.
Two for two, Ecklund, he thought to himself as he slid into Spanish at the last possible second. At least he had been honest with Gabi about Shapiro being a bitch, right?
Chapter 2: part ii
here we go folks!!
(feat. 16969 words like oh my GOD)
Sam still wasn’t one hundred percent sure how Peter ended up at his house at 9 PM on a Friday night, watching Disney movies with him and his sisters. Not that he minded, exactly, it just wasn’t something he had expected. Sam’s Friday nights tended to consist of rewatching old sitcoms with one or both of his sisters- not going to parties and having a movie night with his fake boyfriend.
Peter had driven Sam home after school that day. It wasn’t something they had agreed upon in the contract, but it had become something of a habit over the last few weeks that Peter would stop by the Ecklunds’ on his way to and from school to give Sam a ride. It was nice, Sam thought, to have some time just the two of us. Without any pretending or bystanders. To just be us.
The two of them had fallen quickly back into the friendship they had had in middle school, all inside jokes and habits. Which, apparently, now included movie night at Sam’s house.
Kara had demanded they watch Camp Rock- because despite it being more than a few years before her time, it was one of her favorite movies- and Sam had avidly agreed. It was one of his favorites too; he and Leah had watched it nearly every time it came on the summer it premiered.
“What do you mean you haven’t seen Camp Rock?” Sam demanded.
Peter just grinned sheepishly and shrugged. “I didn’t watch a lot of Disney growing up?”
“Camp Rock 2?” Leah asked, standing beside Sam, arms crossed, an incredulous kind of anger on her face. “Lemonade Mouth? Any of the High School Musicals?” Peter shook his head and Leah scoffed in disbelief. “I’m sorry, Sam, you’re going to have to break up with him; we can’t have a Disney non believer in the family.”
“I just watch more old movies,” Peter argued, “classics!”
“Camp Rock is a classic!” Kara declared, and Leah nodded in vehement agreement. Sam couldn’t help but smile. Say what you will about his family, the Ecklunds took Disney seriously.
“Sorry, Peter, you heard the girls... either admit Camp Rock’s obvious superiority and agree to watch it with us, or I’m breaking up with you and kicking you out,” Sam said, trying to be serious. He attempted to frown through the grin he felt rising, but given Peter’s smirk and raised eyebrow, he wasn’t succeeding.
“Is that so?” Sam nodded, unable to speak for fear of bursting into laughter. Peter smiled and nodded his head, turning to Kara in concession. “I guess I’ll have to watch the movie then, if it’s good enough for Sam to break up with me over.”
Kara nodded, terribly serious, and Sam saw Leah turn to him out of the corner of his eye. He glanced at her, and she was looking at him with her patented I-have-something-new-to-tease-Sam-about look, and Sam knew it was about Peter. Maybe bringing Peter to dinner and movie night with my family wasn’t the best idea, Sam thought, as a bolt of ice shot into his stomach while he imagined all the mockery he faced from his older sister the moment Peter walked out the door.
Leah was only a year older than Sam, but what she lacked in age over him, she made up for in height, and the inordinate ability to figure out nearly every secret he’d ever had. She was the only one who knew about his crush on Gabi, and had figured it out even before Sam had. She was annoyingly perceptive, a know-it-all, stubborn, and more than a little bossy. She was one of his best friends. And more than anything, she loved to make fun of Sam.
Teasing was something of a family tradition in the Ecklund household, and it was as common as it was brutal. Sam’s moms were sarcastic themselves, and had raised all their kids to be the same way, much to their chagrin now, because at this point all three Ecklund children gave as good and as often as they got. Which ended up turning most dinners into roasting sessions.
Sam wouldn’t have it any other way.
But it also meant that Sam bringing a boy home for the first time- Peter Maldonado from middle school to boot- was something he was never going to live down. He was just glad that dinner that night- pizza, ordered in- was just him and his sisters. Friday night was his moms’ date night. Which may or may not have been intentional on Sam’s part.
It was bad enough he had to introduce his (fake) boyfriend to his judgmental sisters; Sam didn’t think he could handle introducing Peter to his moms as well.They’d probably spend half the night rehashing every embarrassing thing Sam had ever done, and spend the other half outlining safe gay sex- because “school health classes are ridiculously heteronormative.”
The four of them managed to get through the whole first Camp Rock, and half of the second one with only minimal popcorn-throwing before Kara fell asleep on the couch; and Leah took her up to bed, leaving Sam and Peter alone with only a wink to her little brother.
“What time is it?” Peter asked after a beat of silence, mostly rhetorically, as both of them looked down at their phones.
“I don’t know if we should have brought our families into this,” Sam answered, looking up towards the stairs Leah and Kara had gone up only a few minutes prior. He carefully avoided Peter’s gaze. “It’s already weird not having Gabi around after- after everything, and Kara’s already attached to you.”
“Yeah, you think she argues about Camp Rock with just anyone?” They both burst into laughter, remembering the avid argument between Peter and the youngest Ecklund from earlier in the evening. “Still, though,” Sam continued after a minute, when their laughter died down, “I just… I don’t want Kar to get hurt, you know?”
Peter frowned. Sam had never really noticed it before, but Peter frowned with his whole face. Like it was a conscious decision. Eyebrows furrowed, mouth pursed, eyes narrowed, everything intentional. “You think I’m going to hurt your sister?” There was a note Sam didn’t quite recognize in Peter’s voice. Something defensive or hurt.
“No, god. But this thing is going to end, eventually. And when it happens, I just wish that Kara wasn’t, I don’t know, close to you. She was really close with- with the guy Leah went out with in freshman year. And she was like in kindergarten when it all went down, and she was really broken up about the whole thing. I wish that didn’t have to happen again.”
Peter nodded, all serious journalist. “I promise I won’t do anything to hurt Kara. Not intentionally. She’s such a sweet kid and she doesn’t deserve to catch the backlash of… of this.”
“What, are you gonna demand partial custody rights or something?”
“If I need to,” Peter deadpanned. “You know she’s already demanded I take her for ice cream next week, right?”
“Of course she did,” Sam said, and broke into a grin. “She’s been begging Leah for ice cream all month and she’s finally found someone who’s not immune to her puppy dog eyes that she can coerce into taking her.”
“What can I say? I’m a sucker for little kids.”
“You would’ve made a good older brother, Peter.”
Peter’s eyebrows rose incredulously. “Good thing I can steal your siblings, then, right?”
“God, Pete-” Sam threw his head back against the back of the couch they were sitting on. He could see Peter grinning out of the corner of his eye. And for some reason, that was enough to make Sam smile too.
Peter was driving Sam home after school, a few weeks after he first hung out at Sam’s. Peter had spent a couple more afternoons at the Ecklund house since then, and it was becoming an increasingly comfortable habit for the two of them to hang out everyday after school, even if there wasn’t anyone around for them to convince they were dating. They were just hanging out, Sam thought, like friends. Because we are. Friends, that is.
“Yeah?” Sam asked, shaken out of his thoughts.
“So, uh.” Peter drummed his fingers on the steering wheel of his car, almost absently. He was staring out the windshield, down the street from where they were parked outside of Sam’s house. “This is kind of weird, but my mom has been asking me to invite you over for dinner? For like, a couple weeks now, and I told her you could come over tonight?”
“Uh,” Sam laughed a little nervously, “Ok?”
“You aren’t busy tonight, right?”
“No, no, yeah it’s cool.”
“Ok, ok cool.” Peter nodded avidly, still staring out the window. Why is he so stressed about this? Sam wondered.
“Hey, Peter, it’s not a big deal, right?”
“Yeah, I just know you said you didn’t want our families involved because of everything, and I don’t want my mom to do anything weird and-”
“Peter. It’s not a big deal, don’t be weird about it. And anyway, if I remember right from middle school, your mom’s a straight hottie, so-” Peter burst into loud laughter, cutting Sam off before he could finish his thought. Which was probably for the best.
When they both stopped laughing, they agreed that Peter would pick Sam back up at around 6:30 to take him back to his house for dinner with his mom. Which is something dating couples did. Because everyone in their lives believed they were dating.
Dinner went surprisingly smoothly. Peter’s mom was sweet and considerate, asking questions about Sam’s productions and how he and Peter got together- they had agreed on a cover story early on in the contract- they had started hanging out after Peter came to one of the shows Sam was in early in the year, and eventually Peter had asked Sam out to the Wayback party. The rest was history. And, of course, Mrs. Maldonado was more than happy to share embarrassing stories of Peter as a baby, which Sam listened to eagerly- much to Peter’s chagrin.
“I can’t believe she told you that,” he all but groaned after dinner was over, and the two of them had volunteered to clean up the kitchen. Sam grinned, still glad that the tables had finally turned in his favor after weeks of his sisters- and on a couple occasions, his moms- telling Peter nearly every embarrassing thing they could think of about Sam.
“Moms love me,” He shrugged, jumping slightly to sit on top of the counter they had just finished cleaning. “What can I say?” Peter shook his head, but Sam felt like there was something fond and familiar in the gesture.
“You just have practice buttering up moms because you have two.”
“Maybe, but we’re both fucked if we ever have to get a dad on our good side.” Peter grinned at Sam’s joke, but Sam knew him well enough at this point to tell it didn’t sit the right way. “Shit, I didn’t mean it like that,” Sam said quickly. He didn’t really know what happened with Peter’s dad, just that he was very firmly out of the picture, but he didn’t want to step over any lines.
“No,” Peter shook his head again, and turning to look at Sam. They were about the same height normally, but with Sam sitting on the counter, he was about a head taller than Peter. “It’s fine, Sam.”
“Hey, you don’t have to answer this if you don’t want to,” Sam said, “but what happened with your dad anyway?”
Peter stared off into space for a minute, somewhere over Sam’s right shoulder, before answering. “He uh, he left my mom. They weren’t married when she got pregnant, he didn’t want a baby, she did. I never met him. And after what he did to my mom- left her the way he did, make her be a mom all on her own- I don’t want to.”
“But it doesn’t make the feeling of missing something go away?”
“No.” There was a beat of silence, and then Peter looked at Sam with his journalist’s I-want-to-figure-something-out face. “Do you ever feel like you’re missing out, with just your moms?”
If it had been anyone else, anytime else, Sam might’ve been offended by the question. But this was Peter, and he was so earnest about everything, Sam knew he wanted to understand, that there wasn’t any judgement in his question. “Not really,” he said slowly. “I have a lot of male role models in my family- uncles, my grandfathers, a couple of older cousins- and both of my moms are really great. They’re all I’ve ever known so I don’t ever feel like I’m missing anything, you know?”
“Yeah,” Peter nodded thoughtfully, “I can understand that.”
Sam loved that about Peter. That he didn’t feel the need to superimpose his own thoughts and feelings on top of what Sam had shared. He could just listen.
“You’re a good listener, Pete.”
Peter met Sam’s eyes, smiling softly. “You are too, Sammy.” And there was something in the way he said it, soft and wholehearted, that made Sam’s stomach squirm and his face heat up.
“God, you’re cheesy,” he said, pushing Peter’s shoulder and jumping past him off the counter. “We should finish up soon, or else your mom is gonna think we’re fucking in here or something.” Sam heard Peter splutter a little behind him, and turned to see his face had become a brilliant shade of red. Which, of course, is why he had said it.
Peter and Sam tended to split lunch between hanging out with either of their group of friends, hanging out with one group a few days a week, and the other group during the other days. The set-up had worked for the last few weeks, and Sam had gotten to know Dylan and the Wayback boys better. He still thought they were a little wild and ridiculous, and definitely not the crowd he would have expected Peter to fall into, but seeing the group of them hang out, he started to understand why it worked.
The Wayback boys were kind of dumbasses, but Peter’s level-headed nature helped to keep them from getting arrested too often, and the group of them managed to keep Peter out of his own head- and the editing room- constantly. It didn’t really make sense, but the group of them had embraced Sam with open arms and not too many questions, which he was thankful for.
Sam’s friends- Jenna, Ming, and a few others- also got along with Peter fairly quickly, despite the few- Jenna- that had early reservations.
Sam just hoped that after all this was over, he and Peter could stay friends. That the fallout from this whole fake dating thing wouldn’t mess up any potential for a friendship in the future, cause Sam was rapidly forgetting what it was like before he and Peter became friends again. And, frankly, he didn’t really want to remember.
“Sam!” Leah called from downstairs, “Someone’s here to see you!” Assuming it was Peter, Sam rolled out of his bed where he was attempting to do homework and wandered down the stairs.
“Pete, dude, my moms are going to start thinking you live here.” Sam called out as he walked towards the front door. “Not that they’d complain they-” Sam’s breath caught as he opened the door. Standing on the front porch wasn’t, in fact, Peter, but Gabi. Which shouldn’t have been that surprising, given that she lived next door and used to wander into their house nearly every day, but ever since the letters got out and Sam started ‘dating’ Peter, there had been some unsurpassable awkward barrier between the two of them. “-Love you,” Sam finished weakly, refusing to acknowledge the appropriateness of that phrase given the circumstances. “Gabi? What are you-”
“We need to talk,” she said, cutting him off. “Whatever’s going on between you and Peter, or whatever, I don’t like fighting with you. Or whatever this radio silence is.”
“What do you mean ‘whatever’s going on with me and Peter’?” Sam asked, stepping out onto the porch with Gabi, and closing the door behind him. He didn’t want his sisters eavesdropping on them, and he wouldn’t put it past them to try. Sam knew he was being petty- Gabi was trying to mend fences, giving him an opening to apologize or say he missed her too. Because he had missed her. He and Gabi had been friends since forever, and not being able to talk to her these last few weeks- about everything, but especially about Peter- had been hard. But something about how she had phrased his relationship with Peter sat wrong with him. Like she didn’t take it seriously or didn’t approve.
Gabi looked taken aback, frowning slightly. “I don’t know, Sam, what do you think I mean? I get a letter out of the blue announcing you’re in love with me, and then before I can say or do anything you’re dating Peter Maldonado of all people?”
“‘Of all people’? What do you have against Peter?”
“He completely ditched you in middle school, for one. And he’s friends with the Wayback boys. He dated Ashley Hanson, Sam, I don’t even know where this came from. I feel like I don’t even know who you are anymore.”
“Gabi, what are you even saying? You don’t even know Peter, you don’t get to make judgements about our relationship. Peter’s a great guy, he’s smart, and funny and he always listens to me-”
“Sam, I just don’t want you to get hurt in this.”
“I said the same thing to you when you started dating Brandon and you didn’t listen to me, Gabs.”
“Since when is this about me and Brandon?”
“He’s an asshole, Gabi! He always has been and I don’t know why you’re still dating him!”
“I’m not!” Gabi cried indignantly, and Sam froze.
“Brandon and I broke up like a month and a half ago, Sam, and you would have known that if you ever bothered to talk to me anymore.”
“Whatever, Sam.” She turned and walked away, and he distantly heard her front door slam before he realized what just happened.
Gabi broke up with Brandon. Gabi is single. Gabi missed me.
This is everything I wanted at the beginning of the year. Sam thought, slumping into a chair on the porch, still staring in the direction of Gabi’s house. I should be happy about this.
Why don’t I feel happy about this?
“Are you and Peter excited about the ski trip?” Jenna asked one day at lunch, smirking. Sam felt heat rise to his cheeks, and he was glad Peter had decided to go off campus with the Wayback boys for lunch that day.
The Hanover ski trip was infamous in the student body for its lack of adult supervision, and therefore overabundance of drinking, smoking, and sex. Needless to say, most students looked forward to the annual trip, free from parental and teacher control. Sam had never been.
Not because he hadn’t been able or allowed to- Leah had gone the last two years with her friends- but because he never felt comfortable going alone. Not to mention that he would have probably ended up third wheeling with Gabi and Brandon, which wouldn’t have been overly enjoyable for any of them.
The ski trip had always felt like a couples-only trip, or for the wilder partiers of Hanover, or for the people- like Leah- who were unafraid of judgement and did whatever the fuck they wanted, anyway.
“Cause he’s gone with the Waybacks the last couple years, right?” Jenna continued, the unspoken ‘and Ashley,’ hanging in the air between them.
“Right,” Sam said, and somehow the realization that he was expected to go on the ski trip with Peter hit him in the face for the first time since they started this whole fake-dating debacle. “Shit. Do you think he’s going to want me to come?”
Jenna scoffed, “What the fuck? Of course he’s going to want you to come. And what kind of useless boyfriend are you going to look like if you let him go on the ski trip alone? I have a feeling someone might take the opportunity to crawl all over your man. Are you really going to let that happen, Ecklund? I’ve heard he’s been telling his skeevy little friends about how he’s gonna get Peter back.
“And anyway,” she continued, as though she hadn’t just dropped a decimating bomb into the conversation, “why wouldn’t you want to go? It’s an adults-free trip to the mountains. No school, no homework, no parents.”
“If it’s so great, why don’t you ever go, Jen?”
Jenna tossed her hair effortlessly. “My family owns like three different mountain chalets with private ski slopes. One of them is in Europe, and I can go whenever I want. Why would I want to pay to go ski with a bunch of horny teenagers?”
“Touche,” Sam conceded, “but you’re not really succeeding in your whole convince-Sam-to-go-on-the-ski-trip thing.”
“How about this,” she said, as a sly grin slid across her face. “I bet you and Peter could get a room to yourselves.”
It hit Sam like a slap on the face. Jenna thought he and Peter were sleeping together; or at least working up to sleeping together. Which, given the fact that she thought that they had been dating for almost two months now, made sense. Sam had always known, in the back of his mind, that Peter and Ashley had probably had sex while they were together, but facing that knowledge head on and people expecting that he and Peter were doing the same made something curdle in the pit of Sam’s stomach. It wasn’t that he didn’t want to sleep with Peter- he was cute, hot really, when he did his hair and wore something other than an oversized hoodie- but that was the problem. Peter and Sam weren’t actually dating. Sam wasn’t allowed to think about Peter like that. Even if, sometimes, in the middle of the night, he wanted to.
“God, Jenna,” Sam forced a chuckle, “when you put it that way…”
Sam had always thought of himself as at least a decent actor, and maybe it was the shock on his face that shone through, or the fact that Jenna was just scary good at reading people, but she stopped and scanned over his face with a sudden and intimidating focus.
“Hold up; what’s up Ecklund? Are you and Peter ok? Did he do something? Do I need to kick some teenage boy ass?”
“No, no, Jenna, it’s fine,” Sam said, with maybe a little more defensiveness than he wanted to, “Peter’s fine, it’s just-”
“You’re nervous about the next step?” Jenna said, jumping in as blunt as ever, no holds barred.
Sam blinked at her, hoping that sheer will could prevent his face from bursting into flame. (It couldn’t.) When life gives you lemons, Sam thought faintly.
Jenna nodded, an expression as comforting as she could manage on her face. “Makes sense, especially considering Ashley’s track record; but that’s besides the point. The boy is batshit crazy about you, Ecklund, there’s no way around it. At this point I’m pretty sure he’d follow you off a bridge if you asked.” Something in Sam’s chest caught. She has to be exaggerating, right? He thought, staring at Jenna confusedly, either that or Peter’s a better actor than I thought he was, because there’s no way he actually… no. Sam shook his head a little to dislodge the train of thought.
Peter saw him as a friend. That was all; they were just two platonic friends pretending to date because of pre-existing circumstances. Peter was avoiding confrontation with Ashley and Sam was avoiding facing Gabi about a letter she got almost two months ago. In a few weeks, maybe less, they would cordially split and return to their lives, having avoided a ridiculous high school drama pit.
“Shit.” Jenna’s voice cut through Sam’s mental tangent. “You really love him, don’t you Ecklund? You hopeless gay fuck.”
“What?” Sam stammered, “No. Yes! Uh, what? No I don’t- we’re not, it’s not like, I mean I do but. Shit, do I- fuck. ”
And with that eloquent turn of phrase, Sam stood up from his seat at the cafeteria table, turned, and walked away; leaving an incredulous and bemused Jenna in his wake.
I have to talk to Peter, Sam realized as he wandered away, this has gone too far.
“Pete, babe,” Ashley said, leaning against the lockers, “whatever I did, I’m sorry, ok? Let’s just get back together, you’re not really going to make me go on the ski trip alone are you?”
Sam felt frozen, a few feet away and around a corner from Peter and Ashley’s conversation. He didn’t mean to eavesdrop, but when he heard Peter talking to his ex, he didn’t want to walk up to them mid conversation. Now though, he felt nauseous and wished he had joined them or walked away instead of hovering and listening in.
Sam always kind of assumed that Ashley felt the same way Peter did about the breakup. He always seemed so cool and aloof at school, the same unbothered persona he had had when he and Peter were still together.
Apparently, that wasn’t the case.
“Ashley, I-” Peter paused, and Sam could picture him rubbing the back of his neck uncertainly, “We broke up,” Peter continued, shifting easily into what Sam recognized as his professional journalist voice, “so does it matter whether I go on the trip or not?”
“Sure, Peter,” Ashley said, voice dripping with implications, “whatever you say. I’ll see you on the slopes, yeah?”
Sam heard Peter mutter a curse and slam his locker door shut as Ashley walked away.
If Sam had been paying attention, he might have remembered that Peter’s class- Spanish with Mrs. Shapiro- was right down the hall he was standing in. If Sam had been paying attention, he might have heard Peter turn and start to walk in his direction. However, Sam was too busy thinking about what Ashley had said- and more importantly, implied- to notice Peter coming his way until he ran into him. Literally.
“Oh, hey Sam.”
“Peter! Hey, dude, what’s uh- what’s up?”
“I think we should break up,” Sam blurted.
Peter’s face fell, the smile slipping from his face, and a mask of confusion rising to cover the flash of hurt Sam saw for a split second before Peter could recover. “What are you talking about?”
“This whole thing, the whole fake-dating thing. It’s gone too far. Gabi and I are cool now-” not really, the last time you talked to her she told you she broke up with Brandon and stormed off- “you and Ashley seem ok-” it’s none of my business if you want to get back together with your ex- “there’s no reason for us to keep doing this, right?”
Peter blinked, shocked into silence. “I… what about the ski trip? Wasn’t that in the contract?”
“As your contingency plan.”
“Well we’re still together, aren’t we?” Sam frowns. It’s not like he wants to see Peter get back together with Ashley on the trip, but it’s also not like he can tell Peter that. How do you tell your fake boyfriend that you want to break up with him because his ex is still interested and you’re starting to have real feelings? How do you tell your best friend you can’t pretend to be in love with him anymore because it’s starting to feel like you’re not pretending anymore? You don’t; you deflect.
“I’ll go if Jenna goes,” Sam said. He knew it was as good as saying he won’t go. With that, he stepped around Peter and rushed down the hall to class, wondering what the fuck he’d gotten himself into.
Later that afternoon, Sam was lying around his room, procrastinating on homework and pretending to be busy, when his phone buzzed.
Jenna: get ur ski gear ready hoe
Sam: wtf are u talking about
Jenna: the ski trip
Jenna: im going so u can get some obv
Jenna: and bc Leah thinks u’d be terrible at skiing and I think it’s going to be hilarious
Sam: I hate that u two are friends
Sam: also i thought u said u weren’t coming????
Jenna: plans changed
Sam: I hate you
Jenna: u’ll love me and thank me later promise
Jenna: let me know if u need gear for the slopes
Jenna: or gear for other places ;)
Sam: ur a lesbian wtf
Jenna: girl scout motto: always be prepared
Sam: u were never a girl scout
Jenna: my point still stands
Sam groaned, dropping his phone onto his stomach. He was lying on his back on his bed, and he took a moment to scrutinize the patterns on his ceiling, trying to ignore the hole he’s dug himself into.
“Fuck,” he said out loud. He told Peter he’d go on the ski trip if Jenna came, assuming she’d rather spend the first week of winter break at one of her family’s penthouses or chalets.
What Sam didn’t anticipate, was that Jenna’s desire to see Sam fail at skiing and ‘get some with his boo’ outweighed her disdain for the school-sanctioned sex fest.
He was well and truly fucked.
Sam clicked over to another text thread on his phone, taking a second to scroll and read through the last of his and Peter’s conversations before typing out and sending a message.
Sam: I guess we’re going skiing then
Peter: Jenna said yes?
Sam: I have no idea how you convinced her to come
Sam: she literally told me earlier today that she had no interesting in coming
Sam: what did you even DO
Peter: a journalist never reveals his secrets
Sam: i thought that was magicians
Peter: those too
Sam laughed a little to himself and rolled his eyes, dropping his phone face down on the bedspread beside him. God. This is why I can’t go, he thought, I’m in too deep already. If I let this go any further… Sam flipped over onto his stomach, shoving his face into his pillow frustratedly. I can’t keep pretending I’m ok with where this is going. I can’t stay this close to Peter without wanting it to be real.
“And here I thought you were going to quit all this pathetic pining when you and Peter got together,” Leah said. Sam rolled onto his side, glaring at his sister, who was leaning against his door frame and smirking at him. When Sam didn’t respond, though, Leah softened a little, and stepped further into the room. “Jeez, tough crowd,” she said, shoving his legs off of the bed and sitting down. She scrutinized him for a moment, probably using her weird older-sister-magic to read his mind, before saying, “Ok, spill it, what’s going on,” and crossing her arms expectantly.
Leah was a lot of things- obstinate, funny, grouchy, proud- but Sam knew that she always had his back. She had been his first and oldest confidant for as long as he could remember, and it was kind of killing him not to tell her the truth about him and Peter. But he knew that if- when- he did, she would be pissed that he hadn’t told her from the start, and that she would start listing the reasons why it was a bad idea from the get-go. Sam didn’t think he could handle her superiority right now. That, and he knew she’d see right through him, and she would just tell him to be honest with Peter about how he was feeling.
“Nothing, it’s cool,” Sam told her. Leah raised an eyebrow, disbelieving, but she let it slide. She nodded, not pushing the subject, and though Sam knew the conversation was far from over, he was thankful at least that Leah wasn’t going to press him.
“So now that you’re all buddy buddy with Dylan and his crew, can you hook me up on the details of the next Wayback prank? I heard they’re pulling something over on Kraz and if that’s the case I want to be there to see it.” Leah said, changing the subject cleanly and sprawling out on Sam’s bed.
Sam grinned, “You know that’s confidential information, right?”
“Sam!” Sam thought he heard someone call his name as he walked on the bus, but with all the shouts and chatter and laughter from all the people around him, he couldn’t be sure. The charter bus the school had rented to drive all the students up to the lodge was filled almost to bursting with teenagers, and all of them were laughing, shouting, eating, or some combination of the three. “Sam!” He heard again, and this time he could tell it was coming from the back of the bus. He pushed down the aisle, trying- and failing- not to bump anyone with his bag, and saw Gabi, a few rows up from the back, waving him in her direction.
Out of the corner of his eye, he caught Peter, sitting in an aisle seat with the window seat next to him intentionally empty. He was leaning forward, talking to Ashley Hanson, who was turned around backwards in the seat in front of him.
Sam saw Peter turn in his direction as he walked by out of the corner of his eye. He kept walking. If anything, he thought, it’s better if I sit with Gabi and Peter sits with Ashley. Right?
“Hey, Gabs,” Sam said, approaching her and sliding into the seat beside her, “what’s up?” They hadn’t really talked since their fight on the Ecklunds’ front porch a few weeks prior, so while Sam was glad she was trying to broach the silence again, he wasn’t sure what had brought it on.
“Look, Sam,” she said, “I’m sorry for what I said before; it’s not my place to judge your and Peter’s relationship, and it’s my fault things have been weird all year, too.” She smiled at him a little hopefully. “Can we just move past all that? I miss my best friend.”
Sam grinned back at her and something deep in his chest- a tightness he had gotten so used to carrying he didn’t even notice anymore- loosened. “Yeah. I’d like that a lot.”
“Ok, well we have a shit ton to catch up on. Like, first of all, I need all your suggestions for dinner restaurants Jenna likes back in Oceanside, because the place she took us last time-”
“Hold the fuck up,” Sam interrupted her, wide eyed and grinning, “you and Jenna? ”
Gabi blushed, and poked him in the shoulder. “Shut up.”
“Seriously? How long has this been a thing?”
Gabi rolled her eyes. “Well, Brandon and I broke up in like… October? And then Jen and I met at Sara Pearson’s Halloween party, and starting hanging out.” She grinned at Sam, “We talked a lot of shit about you, of course. And she asked me to dinner.”
“Holy shit, Gabi.”
“Good holy shit?”
“What the-” He poked her in the arm- “of fucking course it’s a good holy shit! That’s amazing! I’m so happy for you guys.”
“It’s not… I don’t know, weird?” She asked hesitantly.
And if Sam was being honest, three months ago it would have been weird. Three months ago he would have still been hung up on Gabi, and the thought of her and Jenna- one of his best friends- together would have driven him crazy. But now? Sam was happy to see that Gabi had moved on from Brandon and was in a happier, healthier relationship. Now, Sam was just happy to have his best friend back.
“Nah,” he leaned his head against her shoulder as the bus changed gears and pulled into traffic, “it’s not weird.”
“Let’s hit the slopes, bitches!” Jenna cried, flinging one arm around Gabi and one around Sam. She had sat in the seat in front of them on the bus, and the three of them had spent the duration of the ride talking- specifically, Sam had spent the entire trip trying to get as many details about their relationship as he could. He spent the last few months obliviously unaware of his two best friends dating, he had a lot of catching up to do.
The lodge they were staying in was huge, and even Jenna- with her high standards and expensive tastes- was impressed. There was a fire roaring in the huge fireplace in the lobby, surrounded by cushy armchairs and sofas, where people were milling about and chatting; even as high schoolers invaded. They could see the mountains as the bus drove up, and they were visible now through the huge floor-to-ceiling windows on one side of the lobby, looking out on a picturesque view of the mountains as miniature skiers wove their way down.
Gabi laughed and fondly pushed Jenna’s arm off her shoulders, saying, “There is no way that I am dying on a mountain at 18, let alone two weeks before Christmas. I am staying inside, where it is warm and they serve coffee.” She gestured to the little cafe adjoining the lobby for emphasis. “Have fun, though, babe.” Jenna scowled and turned on Sam.
“Let’s go, Ecklund,” she said, grabbing his arm and pulling him back towards the door, “it’s your fault I’m here, and I’m not leaving without seeing you almost die on the slopes.”
“Thanks for the vote of confidence, there, Jen,” Sam said as he let himself get dragged away, leaving a laughing Gabi in their wake.
Sam caught Peter’s eye as he was pulled through the lobby, but only briefly. He smiled and started to raise his hand in greeting, trying to think of something funny to say before his inevitable death on the mountain, but before he could, Peter turned away. Sam caught the edge of a frown on Peter’s face as he determinedly stared at Dylan, who was in the middle of telling some story to the him and the other Wayback boys gathered around him. Something heavy and cold settled in Sam’s chest as he and Jenna walked through the door, and he turned to catch one last glance at Peter’s turned back.
Jenna must have seen something in his expression when she let him go, just outside of the lodge, because she turned to him with a calculating frown, saying, “Are you really that scared of skiing?” She shoved at his shoulder lightly, “It’s not that bad, coward, I won’t let you eat snow.” She grinned, “That much.”
“Right,” Sam forced a grin onto his face, “yeah.”
“Ok, no.” Jenna crossed her arms, scrutinized him, and then grabbed his arm again, dragging him away from the entrance to the lodge where they were loitering, and under a little gazebo off to one side. “Sit,” she said, pointing to one of the benches, where the awning of the gazebo had prevented too much snow from building up. When Sam sat down- albeit a bit reluctantly- she gestured expectantly, saying “Out with it, Ecklund, explain.”
For a split second, Sam considered bullshitting his way out- or at least trying to. But Jenna’s always been able to see through him, just like Gabi and Peter, and while she’s let him get away with avoiding this conversation since Dylan’s party all those months ago, Sam had a sinking feeling that ended now. “I’m going to break up with Peter,” he says, because it’s the most honest thing he could say without telling her everything.
Jenna’s eyebrows rose in barely-controlled shock at his admission. She blinked a few times, eyes darting over to the side of the lodge, where Peter’s likely still waiting in the lobby, and then back to Sam. She frowned again, but it’s a softer, sympathetic thing this time, sitting down on the bench next to him. “If this thing stains my pants, you’re paying for the dry cleaning bill,” she said, but Sam knows she doesn’t mean it. She leaned her head against his shoulder, speaking quieter now, “Why?”
Sam didn’t know what to say.
The weight he’d been carrying around since this whole thing started sat like stone in his stomach. He hated lying to his best friends- Jenna, Leah, even Gabi- and he hated lying to Peter, that he was ok with where this was going, ok with the inevitable end to this charade, ok with the eventual heartbreak. Sam just shook his head, and he and Jenna sat outside in the silence of the December snow for a while.
They didn’t end up hitting the slopes that afternoon, not that Sam had had much interest in it in the first place. By the time he and Jenna got back inside the lodge, checked in, found their room, and settled in, it was already nearly full dark.
So they did what any pair of reasonable teenagers would do: ordered pizza and did face masks.
Gabi was rooming with another friend from her year, and Sam hadn’t seen Peter since he had ignored him in the lobby, but if he had to guess, he was probably rooming with Dylan or one of the other Wayback Boys. Or Ashley, a nasty little voice in the back of his head supplied, but Sam took another bite of pizza and ignored it as best he could. Jenna kept giving him suspicious side eyes every now and again as they watched their movie; some dumb old Christmas rom-com that was equal parts ridiculously sappy and hysterically awkward (Sam loved it, obviously) but Sam ignored her, too.
About halfway through the film, someone knocked on their door. Sam got up to answer it- his bed was closer and he knew Jenna well enough to know she wouldn’t get it- pulling off his face mask and tossing it in the trash as he went.
“Intervention time, bitch,” Leah said as she entered the room suddenly, brushing past him and silently settling onto the foot of Jenna’s bed as soon as he opened the door. “You’re going to tell us what the fuck is going on with you and Peter, or I’m going to stay here and death glare you all night,” she continued, crossing her arms.
To the untrained eye, Leah would have seemed irritated, or even angry with Sam, given how she stormed into his room without explanation- but Sam knew her better than that. He knew her well enough to see the concern under her thin veneer of brusqueness. Jenna sat up a little beside Leah, pausing the movie and pulling off her face mask, too. She eyed him carefully, and Sam glared at her a little as he shut the door behind Leah and walked back to his bed. You’re a snitch , he mouthed, but Jenna just shrugged unapologetically in response.
He flopped backwards onto the bed, groaning a little in frustration, before straightening, sitting cross legged on top of the gross hotel comforter. “Fine.”
And he told them everything.
He told Jenna about his long term crush on Gabi, and his revelation when she started dating Brandon. He told the about his letters, and how somehow they all got sent out at the beginning of the year, and how Peter convinced him that fake dating was both of their best options. He explained all the little moments, him and Peter hanging out at lunch and after school. He told them how he dug himself so deep without even realizing it, and how his only option now was to walk away before it ruined the friendship they got back.
“I’m sorry, what? ” Jenna said. Her eyebrows were comically raised, and she was staring at Sam incredulously. “Are you fucking kidding me?” Normally, Sam would have been at least a little offended at her tone, but in this context, he totally deserved it.
Looking back over the last few months, even Sam found it hard to believe everything that led up to where he was now.
“Sammy,” Leah said eventually, her gaze darting quickly to Jenna before looking back at him, “look. I don’t care how all this started, but you’d have to be blind to not see how Peter looks at you.”
Sam shook his head. “You’re just-”
“Don’t even say it,” Leah interrupted him, “I do not have protective older sister glasses on here. He likes you, Sam. And not in a pretending-fake-dating kind of way. I remember Peter from back when you guys hung out together all the time in middle school. He’s a terrible liar.
“And the way he looks at you? When you guys are having your movie night over at the house or he comes to dinner with all of us? He’s gone on you, Sammy, and that’s not something you can fake. And anyway,” she said, crossing her arms as she made her final point, “what kind of fake-boyfriend is going to put up with our weird family and your shitty rom-coms voluntarily? Who is he proving you guys’ legitimacy to in our house at 10 pm on a Wednesday night?”
“She’s right,” Jenna chimes in, “that shit’s love.”
“Shit,” Sam said, and Jenna and Leah were both smiling broadly now, far too proud of themselves. “Really?”
They nodded, in a weird simultaneous way that made Sam a little concerned that two of his best friends had some psychic link. They were far too similar, and if anything this intervention had proved that together they were a force to be reckoned with.
“And,” Leah said, laying back on Jenna’s bed and picking at her flaking nail polish, “I may or may not have seen Mr. Maldonado pining away in the Lodge’s library on my way up here.” She peeked up at him through her fingers, shooting Sam a quick wink. “If you’re curious.”
Sam rose carefully to his feet, forcing himself to move slowly and casually as he grabbed his cardigan- he’s pretty sure he stole this one from Peter, actually- from where he had thrown it on an armchair earlier. “I’m gonna go, uh, get some candy from the vending machine?” He said, the uncertainty in his own lie making it come out as a question.
Jenna and Leah both burst into laughter as he quickly turned his back on them and hurried out the door.
He had to get to the library.
Peter was still there when Sam reached the doorway to the lodge’s library; which was tucked into a corner, just branching off of the lobby and the small cafe, which was just starting to close down for the night. It looked like something out of a picture book, honestly, like someone had imagined what a library in a small mountain would look like and just dreamed it into existence.
The dark wood bookshelves reached floor to ceiling, with the only gaps being for the fireplace in the back of the room and a bay window on one side, complete with a perfect view of the mountain, shrouded now by clouds and lit dimly by moon and starlight. There were cushy armchairs and couches- much like the ones from the lobby- scattered across the room, with side tables and small lamps sitting neatly at attention beside each them. The bookshelves were stocked full with books of every age and color, and there was a miniature Christmas tree glinting gently on the mantle above the roaring fireplace, which washed the room in a warm, flickering light. Peter was sitting in one of the arm chairs closest to the fire, almost curled in on himself and staring into the flames. His back was to Sam, standing in the doorway, and the room was empty but for the two of them.
Sam wanted to turn back around, wanted to walk back to his and Jenna’s room- where he knew she and Leah were still waiting- wanted to avoid this confrontation, wanted to prevent this potential for heartbreak. Wanted to protect this fragile little hope his sister had built up in him for as long as he could.
But he didn’t.
“Pete?” Sam said, softly, and Peter startled and turned around, staring wide-eyed at him, the firelight reflecting in his glasses. Sam walked forward quickly, perching on the armrest of an armchair across from where Peter was sitting. He didn’t say anything for a minute, just stared at Peter, breathing in the last few seconds before he maybe-ruined everything. “What’s up, dude?” He asked, because he didn’t know what else to say. What does one even say to her fake-boyfriend they wish wasn’t fake, anyway?
Peter scoffed lightly, shaking his head a little, and looked back at the fire. “What do you think is up, Sam?”
“Look, dude, I’m sorry I didn’t sit with you on the bus.” Peter looked back to him, fixing him with one of his piercing, calculating stares. “But, like, you got to sit with the person you wanted to, anyway, right?”
Ashley Hanson’s presence- in the lodge, in Peter’s history, on the bus- hung like a curtain between them.
Peter frowned at Sam, and he knew him well enough to recognize it as Peter’s I-don’t-know-how-to-convince-you-that-you’re-wrong frown. Peter pursed his lips, choosing his words carefully, before eventually saying, “You thought I wanted to sit next to Ashley? That’s why you sat in the back with Gabi?”
“Sam, I-” Peter sighed, shifting in his seat, sitting more forward and looking him in the eye intently. “I wanted to sit next to you, ” he murmured, like a confession, like a promise.
Something like disbelief, against all odds, twisted deep in Sam’s gut. “Really?”
Peter softened. “Yeah,” he said, almost helplessly, “I even got Kara to help me make those chocolate chip cookies you love the other week while you were at rehearsal. I was going to give them to you on the ride up.”
“You made me cookies? With my little sister?” In the back of Sam’s mind, something was clicking together, but he couldn’t quite put it together.
“Yeah,” Peter said again, a little proud, a little sad. He kept glancing around Sam’s face, scanning for something.
“Oh,” Sam responded brilliantly. “Oh.”
Peter was still watching him carefully, a heartbreaking balance of uncertainty and hope painted on his face.
Sam steeled himself. And then he did what he’d wanted to do since middle school, if he was being honest with himself; he leaned in and he kissed Peter.
They were both sitting in different chairs, and between Sam’s hat and Peter’s glasses, getting their faces to line up comfortably was something of a challenge, but despite all that they fell together almost perfectly. Peter leaned in just as Sam did, catching him in the middle like he knew what Sam was going to do, and after a second of both of them leaning out to bridge the gap between their chairs, Peter scooted forward onto the edge of his seat, grabbed Sam, and pulled him almost onto his lap. Sam broke off with a surprised gasp when Peter settled him in the oversized armchair, and Peter gave a quick looked that asked, without words, is this ok? Sam just grinned, and gave the smallest of nods, before wrapping his arms around Peter’s neck and leaning back in.
“I thought- I thought you liked Gabi?” Peter said, the statement coming out more as a question, as he broke off after a few minutes and looked up at Sam earnestly.
Sam shook his head, biting down on a grin as he ran his hand through Peter’s hair- something that was quickly becoming his favorite thing to do. “It’s you, Pete. It’s always going to be you.”
Peter smiled. “You gonna break my heart, Sammy?”
Sam just laughed and leaned back in; he wasn’t going anywhere.