“What are you guys, doing, like a triple date?”
Nancy’s words echoed in Max’s head, reverberating and repeating over and over. No, no, no. If Mike’s sister was just going to expose Max’s feelings like that, she’d have another reason to want to punch him. (Because it was easy and not to mention, fun to blame Mike.)
Of course, there’s no way Nancy thought Max was dating El. Why would she assume that they were… well, wouldn’t she think El was with Mike or something?
Then again, as Max looked over at her friends, it was pretty clear who the assumed “couples” were. Dustin and Lucas seemed to be having a conversation with their eyes, and Mike and Will? They were leaning against a wall, their arms touching. Meanwhile, Max held El’s hand in her own. She slid her hand away. Wouldn’t want her to think… that .
As Nancy walked away, her words seemed to sink in. All six of them fell quiet, and all for different reasons. Will seemed uncertain, and looked to Mike, who was glaring at the place Nancy had stood a moment earlier. Dustin was amazed, while Lucas looked puzzled. El seemed completely indifferent. Which sucked for Max, because how was she supposed to know how she was feeling?
“Just… ignore her,” Mike said, struggling to get the words out. He finally turned to Will, communicating something that Max could only guess about. (And she did have a guess.)
Dustin cleared his throat. “Would it bother you guys? I mean, if… two people in the party dated?”
Max thought about it, (no, it wouldn’t bother her, because dating El was what she wanted more than anything), while Mike and Will got really quiet. El noticed and stared them down.
“Mike. Will.” They turned to her, obviously nervous. Because it was El . The one who could fight monsters and also burn any secret out of you. Except for Max’s crush. But maybe that’s because it was buried so deep, Max couldn’t even admit it to herself.
“Yeah?” Mike asked, trying to be chill. And failing.
“What are you hiding?”
Silence. The two boys shared a glance, then looked back at the party. Will cleared his throat. “Um, actually… we kind of are . Dating, I mean.”
Dustin, Lucas, El, and Max erupted into conversation, but none of them were really surprised. Max always had a hunch that Mike and Will were a thing.
“Dude, really? For how long?” Lucas asked.
“Like, a month…” Mike answered, a little embarrassed.
“So, you guys don’t mind?” Will asked, watching them all carefully. All four of them erupted into a chorus of “no, of course not!” and “you’ll always be our friends,” and, “I thought you guys were a thing since middle school, to be honest.”
Mike and Will both smiled, and Will immediately slipped his hand into Mike’s. Max wondered how they kept it hidden for so long-- if she was dating El, she was certain she’d give it away immediately with touches and soft glances and forehead kisses. (No, of course Max hadn’t thought about this.) But at the same time, they hadn’t done a great job of hiding it. During group hangouts, it seemed like they would always find a way to be touching, and the looks they sent each other were tooth rotting.
“Now we’re like a bunch of third wheels,” Lucas commented. Dustin stared at him like he’d never seen him before.
“What if,” Dustin cleared his throat, “we were on a triple date?”
Max looked anywhere but at El.
Lucas was clearly confused. “So, like, me and Max, you and… El?”
Dustin slapped his forehead. “No, dummy. You and me.” Realizing what he said, he immediately covered his mouth with his hand.
Lucas took a moment to process, then, “Ohhh.” He stared at Dustin for a long time, like he was trying to memorize his appearance, before smiling. “Yeah, okay.” Dustin grinned and offered his hand, and Lucas took it.
You two are next. No one said it, but it seemed fairly obvious from the four boys stares. Max kept her eyes trained on the floor.
El mumbled something, but it was so quiet that Max couldn’t decipher the words.
Whatever it was, it made Will smack his head in exasperation. “We went over this. The only way to know is to talk to her . ”
Are they talking about me?
Max finally let herself look at El. She was beautiful, as always, and nervous . It was strange to see on a girl who was always so confident and strong.
El cleared her throat. “Max… I like you.”
Max just about choked on her own saliva.
“What?” El smiled shyly, and Max smiled wider than she thought possible.
She likes me back? I’ve got to be dreaming. Max pinched herself, hard, just to make sure. (El saw this and was very much confused.)
“So…?” Shit. Max hadn’t answered yet.
“Yes! I mean, I like you, too.” The words came easily- she imagined saying that for so long, and now, she could.
El smiled back at her, and Max offered her hand. El grabbed it.
“Called it,” Mike muttered to Will, who snickered in response. Max shot daggers with her eyes.
“Well? Shall we?” Dustin asked, still in a state of amazement at the hand he held in his own.
“We shall,” Lucas responded for all of them.
And the six of them left for their triple date.