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Thanksgiving dinner is at Ron’s house like it is every year, and this year Ben made the gravy without any help, so he feels like a real, proper adult for once in his life.

“The gravy is wonderful, Benny,” Emily tells him as she drowns her turkey in it, and Ben beams at the compliment.

“It’s okay,” Sammy says, and Ben kicks him under the table.

This is how most Thanksgiving dinners play out, only this is the first year that Emily’s here as his girlfriend and not just a friend he stammer-invited to family Thanksgiving. Even though it’s all new and exciting, Ben is still swooning every time Emily gives him one of her little smiles and holds his hand under the table.

Sammy’s making mocking kissy faces in Ben’s direction, which was par for the course long before Emily was here as his girlfriend. This is the first year that Ben just smiles back at Sammy instead of frantically whispering for him to cut it out.

“It’s so good to see you happy, Ben,” Ron interrupts, clapping Ben on the back, and Mary says hear, hear! from the other end of the table where she’s trying to corral the kids into eating a full meal. “To Ben and Emily, the happiest of all happy couples.”

Everyone raises a glass, which makes Ben blush. Emily squeezes his hand under the table again as everyone else clinks glasses.

Thanksgiving isn’t a big affair, it’s just dinner at Ron’s house with Mary and Tim and their family, since Troy always goes to Loretta’s family for Thanksgiving. Their Annual Non-Denominational Holiday Party is much bigger, but Ben looks forward to Thanksgiving every year. It’s been tradition ever since he moved here after finishing college, and almost makes up for not having his mom nearby.

But Ron’s basically his dad, and Mary and Tim are some of Ben’s closest friends, and no holiday would be complete without Sammy and Emily, even as they bicker good-naturedly over Ben about the quality of the gravy.

“When are you gonna bring a date to Thanksgiving, Sammy?” Mary leans across the table to put a hand on Sammy’s wrist. Sammy cringes away from her with an exaggerated wince.

“Never, if you keep asking like that,” Sammy tells her with a disgruntled look as he scrunches up his nose, and Tim pulls Mary’s hand back.

“She just wants you happy,” Tim tells Sammy as Mary laughs. “And she might be a little tipsy.”

“Now, don’t bother him about stuff like that,” Ron pats Sammy’s shoulder. “We’ll just say Sammy is my date, if that makes you feel any better.”

Ben giggles as the table erupts in laughter, including Bella and Timmy down at the end as Sammy makes a kissy face at Ron instead.

“Platonic date, maybe,” Sammy ducks away when Ron actually tries to kiss him. “Let me be sad and single, Mary. I like to stay true to my brand, so I can’t give it up now. No one would recognize me if I started dating.”

“Yeah, ‘cause you’d stop moping,” Ben says and Sammy sticks his tongue out at Ben like a proper adult. “Seriously though, dude, have you asked –”

“No,” Sammy interrupts, shooting daggers in Ben’s direction, and he stomps on his foot for good measure. Ben pouts up at him, betrayed, as he massages his foot pointedly. “And I won’t. So drop it, yeah?”

“Who’s this?” Mary leans over with a conspiratorial look on her face.

“There’s this guy at the station –” Ben starts and Sammy groans, letting his face fall in his hands. “Sammy loooooves him.”

“I do not,” Sammy reaches for his fork and gets a glob of mashed potatoes on it, and flings it in Ben’s direction.

The potato lands on Ben’s face. Ben, not missing a beat, reaches up to wipe it off and then licks it off of his hand.

“Gross,” Sammy deadpans at Ben.

“You guys are worse than the kids,” Tim rolls his eyes, wiping at Timmy’s mouth where he’s spit out part of his carefully sliced up turkey.

“Do that again, Mr. Sammy,” Bella giggles from the end of the table as Mary shushes her.

“Gladly,” Sammy says, picking up his fork, and Ben wrestles it out of his hands.

The subject is dropped for the rest of dinner, but when Ron and Ben are alone in the kitchen figuring out what the hell they’re going to do with the endless sprawl of dishes they created, Ben sidles up to Ron with an innocent smile on his face.

“Hey, Ron,” Ben says as he takes a clean dish from Ron to dry it, “don’t you think Sammy needs a date? Like, a real date. That isn’t with you. Or me. Or Emily. Like – like a romantic date.”

“Now Ben,” Ron looks down at Ben knowingly, but with a smile twitching on his lips. “You know that just because you and Ms. Potter are together doesn’t mean the world is made of butterflies and sunshine and rainbows.”

“I’m aware,” Ben says, splashing Ron with the warm dishwater and making Ron splutter out a life and get Ben in a headlock. When Ben eventually squirms free, he says “It’s just – he’s only had one boyfriend since I’ve known him, and he was a total dick.”

“Probably still is a dick,” Ron corrects with a chuckle. “But I see what you mean. Still, it’s Sammy’s life, Ben. But I can talk to him, see if he wants to get set up with any of the guys I know. A few great guys go to my gym, and the guys I know from choir are a lot of fun.”

Ben makes a high-pitched humming noise that has Ron looking at him expectantly and a little amusedly. “Unless you have a better idea.”

“See, here’s the thing,” Ben turns to Ron with his biggest smile. “That guy from the radio station – I know I was making fun earlier, but Sammy really likes him, and I don’t think he’s gonna do anything about it.”

“You know, Benny, If I’m rememberin’ right, you’ve been banned from setting him up,” Ron swats Ben’s head with a dishcloth. “Under pain of death, I think were Sammy’s exact words. Ever since the Football Incident.”

“Don’t talk about that while he’s in earshot or he’ll never shut up about it,” Ben casts a surreptitious glance at the doorway, but no one comes. Presumably Sammy is properly distracted by playing Trivial Pursuit with the kids. “He won’t kill me. Sammy talks big but he’s all melty on the inside.”

“So what?” Ron blinks amusedly at him as he scrubs down one of the bigger pans. “You gonna talk him into goin’ out with this guy? I’m sure you can persuade him if you’re bothersome enough, and we all know you’re good at bein’ bothersome.”

“Well, see, the thing is, that would take months,” Ben says, shifting from foot to foot. “It would have to a very slow build over a long period of time, and then Sammy would only do something out of frustration with me. And he really likes Jack, and I want him to start on the right foot. So I was thinking….you could do it.”

“Let me get this straight,” Ron chuckles under his breath. “You want me to set Sammy up with some guy I ain’t never met, just on your word.”

“Jack’s great, Ron,” Ben says, all earnestness. “He’s the producer for the early mornings, and he always makes us coffee and he just started putting peppermint just in Sammy’s because Sammy said he liked it. He’s so tall and handsome and genuine, and he calls me Benny and I don’t hate him for it! Here, I’ll show you a picture.”

“Do you just – have a picture saved on your phone…?” Ron blinks. “Benny, you sure you don’t to set you and Emily up with a third?”

“No,” Ben blushes furiously. “Shut up, Ron. It’s just a Facebook photo.”

 He thrusts his phone in Ron’s direction.

“He’s a looker,” Ron says as he squints down at the phone. “Also looks straight, Benny. Who’s that girl he’s with?”

“Just his sister,” Ben says. “He’s gay. I know it. I’m almost completely sure.”

Ron gives Ben a knowing look.

“This guy, Ron! This guy is the best, please trust me on this,” Ben says, “and Sammy likes him so much, he can barely string two words together when Jack’s around. Please Ron, please help me out with this. I want to make sure that Sammy has a date to our Annual Non-Denominational Holiday Party next month.”

“You’re worse than Mary,” Ron tells him, but it’s with a smile. “Alright, Ben, I’ll help out with your harebrained scheme to get Sammy a date. But mainly because I do think he’s a little sadder about romance since you and Ms. Potter coupled up.”

“I know,” Ben says, sighing through his nose. It’s made him feel so guilty these past few months, finally being with Emily and knowing that Sammy’s still swimming in a sea of self-doubt when it comes to dating. “I just wanna make him as happy as I am.”

“You’re a good friend,” Ron claps Ben’s shoulder. “Just let me know my part in this plan of yours to get those two crazy kids together. But I want to meet this Jack fellow once it’s over, properly vet him myself. Can’t have Sammy dating any more assholes.”

“Jack’s the best,” Ben reassures Ron, and then cranes his neck to make sure Sammy isn’t looking, and then whispers “And I may already have a plan. A bad plan. But a plan.”


 

When Sammy goes into the studio on December 1st, he half-collides headlong with a ladder. He didn’t even notice it through all the tinsel and garland strung around it.

“Oh, shit,” he hears a voice above him as he staggers against the nearest wall, rubbing his head. That’s gonna hurt like hell later.

“Sammy?” He feels someone touch his shoulder and Sammy blinks up at – oh, God, it’s Jack, this is his nightmare.

Jack’s eyes are wide and dark and concerned and Sammy’s mortified out of his mind.

“Sorry,” Sammy says, trying to blink away the tears forming in the corners of his eyes from the impact of the wood on his forehead. “I didn’t see your ladder there. Is today decorating day?”

“Yeah,” Jack shoots a guilty look behind him at the ladder. “I was trying to get garland strung on the ceiling lights, you know, make the hallway a little more festive. The break room looks a lot better – we’re getting a tree tomorrow.”

“Fantastic,” Sammy mutters, closing his eyes again in hopes of making the pain recede.

“Are you sure you’re alright?” Jack asks, and Sammy hates how genuine he is. It would be much easier to not feel like he was on fire every time he and Jack were in the same room if Jack were a worse person. Jack’s hand is practically cupping Sammy’s head, too gentle for Sammy to think about. “Do you have a concussion? I can drive you to the ER.”

“Jack, I don’t have a concussion,” Sammy says, a laugh entering his voice unconsciously. “Don’t worry, my head way too thick for that. Ask Ben.”

Jack laughs too, but he still holds up a hand in front of Sammy’s face. “How many fingers am I holding up?”

“Six billion and twelve,” Sammy grins, and Jack laughs again. Sammy feels a rush of pride. “Three, genius. I told you I don’t have a concussion. Maybe a killer headache in the not too distant future…”

Jack’s gaze turns concerned again. “I can help fill in for you if you wanna head home early. Just let me know. I’ll be decorating for the next few hours.”

“How’d you get stuck with that detail?” Sammy asks but Jack shakes his head.

“I volunteered,” Jack says. “I like decorating. I think Chet’s gonna come in and help with the tree tomorrow, though.”

“Get us all in the festive spirit,” Sammy says. “Just so long as no one makes me play godawful Christmas music on my show…”

“It’s everywhere,” Jack shakes his head with a sigh. “Don’t get me wrong, Christmas is fun, but if I have to hear an acapella version of Silent Night one more time…”

They both laugh, and are interrupted by the swinging open of the front door. Ben bounds in, looking all too delighted, and Sammy glares at him on reflex.

“Hey guys!” Ben says, bright and cheerful but too close to shit-eating for Sammy’s tastes. “Wow, look at all the tinsel! What’s the matter with you? You look dazed.”

This is naturally directed at Sammy, because Ben would never be so rude to Jack. 

“He ran into my ladder,” Jack says with an apologetic look and Ben makes a sympathetic noise, getting up on his toes to look examine Sammy’s head. Sammy leans down obligingly, because otherwise Ben will just pout about being the shortest person in every room.

“You look alright to me,” Ben says, and he curls Sammy’s hair behind his ear, making Sammy blush and look at the ground. He’s told Jack at least six times that he and Ben aren’t dating, but Ben doesn’t make that easy to believe. “Are you sure you don’t have a concussion? How many fingers –”

“We’ve been over it,” Sammy says, giving Jack a sidelong look, trying to ignore the way Ben grins when he hears that.

“I’ve had way worse head injuries in rugby,” Jack pats Sammy’s shoulder and Sammy tries not to melt on the spot. “I’m sure you’ve had worse, too.”

“In…rugby?” Ben asks, bemused, as he looks back and forth from Jack to Sammy.

Sammy now wishes he’d melted before, so that he didn’t have to witness this interaction that he already knew Ben would lord over him for the coming days, if not years.

“We were talking about rugby last week and Sammy said he played!” Jack says with a beaming smile, and Ben’s confusion turns to absolute delight as he beams at Jack and gives Sammy a knowing smirk. “I invited him to play a match out in the park once winter’s over. It’ll be great. You can join in too if you want, Ben.”

“Oh, I don’t think I will,” Ben says, and Sammy hates the smug tone of his voice. “I think I’ll leave that to you two expert rugby players.”

Sammy resists the urge to put his face in his hands.

“I better let you guys get ready for your show, and I have to get back to Merv’s endless box of decorations,” Jack says, gesturing apologetically back over at the ladder. “Ben, there aren’t any Hannukah ones, but don’t worry, I already ordered some on Amazon.”

“Just for me?” Ben says, biting his lip with a wide grin, and Sammy again wishes Jack was a worse person, because it would be oh so easier to get over this unfortunate crush if that were the case.

“Well, I mean, in the spirit of inclusiveness and all that,” Jack says, but he moves to put an arm around Ben’s shoulder and squeezes. “But yeah, mostly for you. Have a great show, guys! Sammy, let me know if you want me to step in for you.”

Sammy waves at Jack as Jack heads back to his ladder and he and Ben head down the hall and toward their office, dreading the inevitable moment when Ben starts talking.

“So, like, maybe you could explain the rules of rugby to me?” Ben says in his most annoying voice as soon as they’re out of Jack’s earshot, and Sammy groans. “I mean, honestly, if you can tell me one single rule, I’ll buy you dinner.”

“Shut up,” Sammy grouses. “And wipe that smile off your face. I don’t want to hear a word about this on-air today.”

“No promises,” Ben says in a sing-song voice. “For radio purposes, I could replace handsome producer with hot chick and rugby with, um….something else you’re equally bad at. Football?”

“You’re not allowed to mention the word football in my presence,” Sammy reminds him. “Not after the Incident!”

“How many times do I have to apologize for that?”

“At least a few more!”

Sammy’s phone buzzes and he reaches into his pocket to find a message from Ron.

Hey, thinking about Thanksgiving. I know Ben and Mary mean well with all their date talk, but if you’re too nice to tell them to shove it, just let me know and I’ll pass on the message.

His phone buzzes with another message as he’s reading.

That said, if you do want a date, I can set you up with a great guy. Just say the word.

“Huh,” Sammy says, and Ben looks over at him expectantly. Sammy hesitates, but figures Ben will find out anyway if he doesn’t know already. “Ron’s offering to set me up. Should I see if he’s any better at it than you?”

Ben’s face splits into a wide smile.

“Rhetorical question,” Sammy shoves the back of Ben’s head, but it doesn’t make Ben’s smile any dimmer.


 

Ben ends up being absolutely delighted that Sammy managed to hit his head on a ladder today.

Not that he isn’t a worrywart or that he won’t be stopping at the store for extra Tylenol and Sammy’s favorite dinner, or that he won’t make Sammy check all over for injuries even through his grumbling once he gets home to their shared apartment.

What he’s delighted about is that Sammy went home an hour early after complaining about his head, and Jack’s been on the air with Ben ever since, leaving them a little alone time for Ben to wheel and deal Jack.

They’re packing up after Jack signs off and Ben turns to him with what he hopes is a nice smile and not a deranged one, though he’s been told that for him, they’re one and the same.

“Hey, Jack,” Ben says slowly and Jack looks over, an amused and affectionate look on his face.

“Hey, Benny,” Jack teases, and Ben wrinkles his nose but doesn’t tell Jack off.

“What would you say if I said I wanted to set you up? On a date. A date with my friend. Who is very cool. And who I think you will like,” Ben says, trying to keep his voice even and neutral.

Jack cocks his head in Ben’s direction, biting his lip. “Oh – um – you….know I’m gay, right?”

Ben bursts out laughing without meaning to, and Jack gives him a nervous look. “Dude, I should’ve specified, I’m sorry. Male friend. Man friend. Gay man friend that you would like a lot.”

“Oh,” Jack says, shoulders relaxing slightly and his grin becoming more genuine, the way it usually is but somehow brighter. “I – sure, I guess? I haven’t dated anyone for a while, so I’m out of practice. And I honestly don’t think I’ve ever been on a blind date before.”

“They’re easy and fun!” Ben says, ignoring the Sammy voice in his head that’s saying they’re instruments of torture that Ben sometimes decides to inflict on me because that voice is unhelpful right now. “I promise he’s a nice guy.”

“What’s his name?” Jack asks, and Ben’s planned for this, but it still makes his heart beat faster.

“Uh, Steven,” Ben says, and it’s not very original, but he also wants to be able to make it very clear later that he left the proper clues and it wasn’t his fault if neither of them figured it out. He thinks maybe he imagined it, but Jack’s face falls a little when he says that. “Here, give me your phone, I’ll give you his number.”

Jack obliges, passing over his phone, and so long as Jack doesn’t have Sammy’s number memorized, which seems unlikely, he’ll be none the wiser that it’s the same number under Sammy Stevens in his phone.

“No last name?” Jack looks for a second but pockets the phone in the next, so it’s obviously not going to be a big deal.

“Dude, then you’ll just look him up on Facebook, and that’s an awful way for a relationship to start,” Ben says and Jack laughs.

“Alright, fair point,” Jack says. “Did you already give him my number, or…?”

“Uh, not yet,” Ben says. “Wait for him to text you, alright? And – um – don’t be too put off by this, I promise it’s not weird – but I’m sort of banned from setting up my friends? So when he texts, it’ll probably say that Ron set you guys up. And Ron’s a really great friend of mine, so don’t worry about it! But. Don’t bring me up. Because I’m banned.”

Jack laughs, loud and open-mouthed. “Oh my God, why do I trust you with this, then? Is he gonna be an ax murderer? Or worse, someone who chews with their mouth open?”

Ben doesn’t think Sammy chews with his mouth open, so he feels justified in saying “Dude, that’s all in the past. I get better at this every time! I’ve had lots of practice! And besides, you’re amazing. Incredible. Any guy would be lucky to have you.”

“Alright, so what’s…Steven like?” Jack gestures down at his phone and bites the inside of his lip.

“I’ll let you figure that out for yourself,” Ben says and Jack just shakes his head.

“It’s a mark of how much I trust you that I’m not questioning this,” Jack says. “But if this guy’s your friend, I’m sure he’s legit. Um…does Sammy know him at all?”

Shit, Ben hadn’t planned on answering that particular question, but the nervous look on Jack’s face makes Ben all the more sure that Jack likes Sammy back. “Uh – they know each other, yeah. I wouldn’t bring it up around him, though, because then Sammy will know I broke my ban. He’s very particular about the ban. Ever since the Football Incident.”

“Sammy plays football?” Jack looks up, interested, and Ben resists the urge to cackle with laughter.


 

“Alright, here’s the scoop,” Ron says when Sammy heads out to his place on Saturday for dinner. It’s a bit of a drive since Ron lives outside of town, but Ben chatters the whole car ride.

Ben’s passed out in the living room right now though, and Ron’s programming a new number into Sammy’s phone, which is creating a little anxiety ball in the pit of Sammy’s stomach.

“His name’s Jake. He’s your type. Very handsome guy. Ask him to get dinner,” Ron says, rapid-fire. “You know I always shoot you straight, Sammy.”

“Do you?” Sammy says, holding in a laugh. “I didn’t think there was anything straight about you, Ron.”

Ron gives Sammy an amused look, followed by an eye-roll. “You know what I mean.”

“I do,” Sammy says. “And thanks, Ron.”

“But if you don’t like him, no skin off my back,” Ron says. “Any weird shit or signs of dickishness, you call me up straight away. You don’t need another asshole boyfriend.”

“I know,” Sammy sighs through his nose, trying to avoid thinking about how he’s never actually dated anyone all that likable before. “And I appreciate this. I know I should – you know, make an effort. So Ben will stop bugging me if nothing else.”

“He means well,” Ron smiles. “Even if he is….overenthusiastic.

Sammy laughs. “Well, your set up attempts can’t be any worse than his, so…”

Ron’s got a weird expression on his face, but it clears up in a few seconds. “What did happen with that Football Incident, Sammy?”

Sammy shakes his head, shuddering. “Please don’t make me talk about it, Ron. I still have nightmares.”

He’s joking. Mostly.

“Well, just think, this can’t be any worse,” Ron says and Sammy nods, more than sure that’s the case.

“Honestly?” Sammy says, craning his neck toward the living room in the hopes that Ben is still snoring and can’t hear him. “I’m hoping it’ll help me get over this guy at work.”

Ron tilts his head, considering Sammy with a frown. “This the guy Ben was teasing you about the other night?”

“Yeah,” Sammy blushes, looking at his feet. “His name’s Jack, he’s – he’s amazing. Really great. And I think we’re friends? But I’m too much of a chicken shit to ever do anything about it.”

“Hey,” Ron leans forward to put a hand on his shoulder. “You like this guy, you should do it. Fuck this blind date shit, if you really like a guy – and he’s a genuinely nice guy instead of the assholes you normally go out with – then go for it! Damn everything else!”

Sammy shakes his head, wishing he had even a fraction of Ron’s confidence. “Not gonna happen.”

“C’mon, Sammy, make this a Christmas Hallmark movie, go after the guy,” Ron says, nudging Sammy’s shoulder, but Sammy moves away automatically.

“There’s no such thing as a gay Christmas Hallmark movie,” Sammy tells Ron. “Besides, I can deal with a shitty blind date. I can’t deal with Jack rejecting me.”

Ron smiles a little sadly at him. “Alright. If you’re sure. But if that’s the case…”

Ron unlocks Sammy’s phone and begins typing something out. Sammy looks from Ron to the phone with a little alarm.

“What are you…?” Sammy asks, suspicion creeping into his voice.

“Texting your date,” Ron says and Sammy groans, burying his head in his hands. “Don’t be pissy, you knew you were gonna agonize over what to say for hours. I’m saving you time, kid.”

He tosses Sammy’s phone back to him and Sammy opens up his messages. His most recent one is under Jake and says hey I’m Ron’s friend – he said he was gonna give you my number?

“Thanks, I guess,” Sammy maintains his grumpiness even though he’s grateful.

“You let me know how it goes,” Ron says, and Sammy stares down at his phone, willing this to at least be a semi-survivable experience.


 

“So,” Ben says to Sammy two days later, a decent amount of time to avoid suspicion, when they’re at home, after dinner, far away from the radio station. “This guy Ron set you up with. How’s that….going?”

“I think we’re gonna get dinner this weekend?” Sammy says, and Ben’s delighted to see the hesitant happiness in Sammy’s smile. “We’ve texted a bit, he seems pretty cool. Better than anyone you’ve set me up with.”

“Rude,” Ben shoves Sammy’s shoulder, hiding a smile.

Ben waits for Sammy to say something else like, hey does he work in radio, by chance? Specifically our radio station?  but the question doesn’t come.

Ben had pretty much been counting on one of them being smart enough to figure out the ploy here and exposing him, but that’s clearly not going to be Sammy.

Ben figures that when one of them finds out what’s going on, the ice will be broken enough for them to know they like each other at least. If they’re still stupid, Ben can worm his way in and interfere, as is his way. He’s hoping to avoid that outcome, but so far it seems like Sammy’s plenty stupid enough that the plan is working in its original formation.

Ben checks with Jack in the break room at work on Tuesday to see if Jack’s equally as idiotic.

“I think I like him,” Jack laughs when Ben asks. “He kept bringing up Ron and I got nervous so I became the ultimate cliché and started one of those first date twenty questions games I found online? It’s been fun.”

“You’re a genius,” Ben tells Jack, immensely satisfied with exactly how well this plan was going. “Are you guys like, gonna meet up?”

“I think on Friday we’re gonna go to dinner,” Jack confirms, and Ben’s thrilled when Jack blushes, a slight smile on his cheeks. “A little presumptive since I haven’t met him yet but – thanks for this, Ben. It’s been really fun just like – flirting. Even if this doesn’t work out, I feel a lot better about dating in general now.”

“Still got game?” Ben asks and Jack laughs.

“Yeah, exactly,” Jack says, his smile bright. “I think we’ll have fun.”

Thrilled is an understatement to how Ben feels. He texts Emily a little victory dance, even though he knows he hasn’t won yet. Though he has no doubt that Sammy and Jack will end up making out by the end of this experience, he also has no doubt that Sammy’s going to threaten to drown him in the bathtub at least half a dozen times when he finds out Ben’s hand in all this.

Ben’s heart almost stops when Sammy comes into the break room to refill his mug of coffee, smiling over at Jack and Ben as he does.

“Hey, how’s it going?” Jack greets Sammy with a happy grin and Sammy smiles back, not quite making eye contact. They both look shy and sweet. Ben’s living for this. 

“M’alright, how are you?” Sammy says, suppressing a yawn. “Sorry. Up late last night.”

“Hey, same here,” Jack says, and it takes all of Ben’s energy not to shout because you were up all night talking to each other! “You guys got plans for Christmas? Or Hanukkah plans, Ben?”

“I’ll celebrate Hanukkah with my mom when we get a break from work,” Ben answers when Sammy doesn’t. “We do have this Annual Non-Denominational Holiday Party with our friends.”

“That sounds really fun,” Jack says.

Ben looks at Sammy, waiting for him to say what Ben is begging and pleading him with his eyes to say. Sammy misses the telepathy Ben’s trying to project, though, and says “Yeah, it’s always a good time. Ben usually gets plastered –”

“Don’t slander my good name,” Ben interrupts, giving Sammy a sulky look for a variety of reasons.

“Well, hopefully you get less drunk at our work party,” Jack pats Ben’s arm. “Merv even said he might show up.”

“Oh my God, miracle of miracles,” Sammy says, and they all break off laughing. Ben lives in hope that Sammy will be less stupidly repressed once he figures out Jack’s the guy he’s been texting.

It’s not likely, but Ben can still hope.


 

Morning person or night person?

Sammy looks down from the TV when his phone buzzes, and can’t help the smile tugging at his lips when he sees Jake’s name pop up. He’s pretty close to getting up to get ready for his date, anyway, and this just makes his nerves calm into something more like excitement.

Please god don’t make do anything before 9AM

Valid as fuck, dude

I know, right?

I have to get up super early for my job but at least there’s coffee

Coffee is the only reason I’m still alive and functioning

Sammy decides it’s as good a time as any, and makes his way to his bedroom, ignoring the urge to text Ben all of the different possible outfits he could wear. Ben’s out with Emily tonight, but he knows Ben would reply in a heartbeat if Sammy actually engaged with him on that level.

Sammy hasn’t gone out in a while, let alone on a blind date; he thought the Football Incident would be the final time. Jake seems like he’s actually got a lot in common with Sammy though, and he’s nice and funny, and Sammy hopes that he’s equally as great in person.

Sammy doesn’t have a great track record with guys, and he’s never had a good blind date. Or first date in general, for that matter.

 Okay, next question – the sport you’d win at the Olympics

Uhhhhhh none. I’m bad at them all and also hate them

Aww come on I bet you’re good at something!

Not Sports

Haha I play rugby – maybe you can see me play sometime :)

Sammy shuts off the part of his brain that thinks about Jack the second he sees rugby, and that pitiful lie he told to impress Jack. He’s such an idiot.

Part of him wonders if the two know each other, but Sammy has to block that thought out even faster.

As long as you don’t make me participate….sounds great

Sounds like sarcasm

Sort of – I’d be happy to cheer you on, tho

Alright, I can take a hint, I’ll change the subject – favorite app on your phone?

Sammy can already hear Ben groaning, but he’s typing out an answer with a smile on his face immediately.

He’s rummaged through his closet as Jake’s texted him, and found some clothes that don’t look awful on him, which is as good as he’s probably going to get. He can comb his hair, at the very least, that’ll help for sure.

Will I sound like an old man if I say the weather app

Yesssssss but also. Same actually? It’s my most used for sure. How old are you, just out of curiosity? Seems crazy we don’t know these super simple things

Yeah it’s a little weird, but better than the usual getting to know you stuff. I guess we can talk about the real stuff on our date? I’m 28 btw

Okay cool same actually :)  and I’m leaving to pick you up in like….ten minutes, so that’s gonna be soon

Sammy feels like a cliché when he can’t stop grinning at the message.

Yeah you still have the address? It’s the third complex on Silver Ln, I’ll wait outside just in case you get confused

Haha good idea. Though I think some friends of mine live in the area so I’m familiar

Cool :)

Can’t wait to actually see what you look like, though I’m glad we didn’t do the exchanging selfies thing

Yeah that feels a little too grindr-y to me

Oh c’mon that’s not grindr-y, it’d have to be dick pics for that

Sammy blushes involuntarily as he texts back.

Guess that’s true haha

On that sort of awkward note, I’m leaving! Can’t wait to meet you!

Sammy tries not to explode with nerves as he triple checks that his apartment’s locked just to waste more time, and he makes his way down the stairs and out into the mid-December afternoon.

It’s actually pretty pleasantly chilly outside, so Sammy doesn’t mind waiting. The cold air helps calm him down.

It’s alright. It’s fine. This is gonna be fun. And if it’s not, Sammy can put Ron on the Banned List too and refer to this as some different kind of incident.

Sammy doesn’t think that will happen, though. He thinks Jake is gonna be a great guy, and they’re gonna have fun, and Sammy won’t be covered in nacho cheese when the night is over.

He sees a car pull up and Sammy bites his lip hard enough to hurt, willing himself to make a good first impression.

When the car door opens, though, Sammy’s pretty shocked to see Jack Wright of all people. Sammy raises a hand in confused greeting, and Jack does the same.

“Hey,” Jack says as he approaches, giving Sammy an odd look, though he’s smiling, too. “What are you doing here?”

“I…live here?” Sammy says and Jack nods like he just realized.

“Oh, right, yeah, I knew you were in this neighborhood,” Jack says. “What are you doing outside? It’s freezing.”

“I think it’s pretty nice out,” Sammy shrugs. “And I’m just…waiting for someone.”

God, it would be mortifying to have Jack and Jake in the same place right now.

Sammy frowns when he thinks of their names like that, right in a row, in his head. That’s… a little too similar.  

“What…are you doing here?” Sammy says, suddenly unaccountably nervous.

“I have a date?” Jack says, and he’s looking nervous now, too. “I think they live here, unless I got their address and yours mixed up somehow in Google Maps…though I don’t know how that would be possible.”

“Hold on,” Sammy says slowly. “This isn’t….I mean, we can’t...who are you meeting here?”

“Uh, a friend of yours, actually, I think? I’m being set up through your friend Ron –” Jack starts and Sammy thinks a part of him dies in that moment.

“You know Ron?” Sammy manages to get out once he’s able to form words and Jack shakes his head.

“Uh, no, Ben told me – hold on,” Jack says, eyebrows rising up into his hair. “Ben. He said – he said he wasn’t allowed to set up his friends. That…that would presumably include you.”

“Ben’s behind this,” Sammy said faintly, losing all hope this is a coincidence. He stifles a groan as he pulls his phone out of his back pocket, and gets up his conversation with Jake, even though he suspects there is no Jake.

“Look familiar?” Sammy asks, showing Jack his phone, and stares at it with wide eyes.

“Uh, yeah,” Jack says, laughing a little weakly. “Uh, my name’s Jack, not Jake, but other than that…Ben told me I was talking to Steven, which is somehow even more painfully obvious.”

“This was not a cleverly constructed plan on Ben’s part,” Sammy says because he doesn’t really know what else to say. “I mean – it’s not like we wouldn’t recognize each other. How the hell did I not know it was you before now? I mean – we’ve texted a lot.”

“I guess we just didn’t talk about our jobs?” Jack shrugs, and for the first time, Sammy notices how nice he looks. He’s wearing a suit jacket rolled up at the sleeves, and his hair is more styled than Sammy’s ever seen it at work. “Still, a lot of room left for us to figure it out. Why would Ben –”

“Probably because he’s angry that he’s been banished from setting me up,” Sammy says with more force than strictly necessary. “Ever since the Football Incident, I knew he was gonna try something, I just knew it…”

“What’s the Football Incident?” Jack asks, a little alarm on his face, but his smile doesn’t go away.

Sammy heaves out an embarrassed breath, but figures he might as well make this whole mortifying event as bad as it can be. “The last time Ben set me up, it was with this meathead athlete that he went to high school with, and he took me to an awful football game. I don’t like football. I don’t understand football. He spoke two words to me the entire time and someone spilled soda all over my hair and he didn't offer to help me clean it up, he just laughed and ten minutes later, he spilled nacho cheese on me and didn't apologize. I left to clean it up and I don’t think he noticed that I never came back.”

Jack stares at him for a second before bursting out laughing. Sammy makes an offended noise.

“I’m sorry,” Jack giggles. “That’s horrible, and I’d ban Ben, too. But – sorry, I don’t even think I’m laughing just at that? I’m laughing at all of this. The utter ridiculousness of this.”

“Ben’s so fucking ridiculous,” Sammy says, but the heat drains out of his voice when he starts laughing too, and once he starts, he can’t stop. He and Jack laugh and make eye contact and it’s not unbearably awkward, it’s just – a little awkward. But kind of funny, too.

“I suspected, at first,” Jack says through a laugh. “Cause Ben was being weird, and Steven sounded a little too much like Sammy Stevens – but then again, Ben’s always weird, and when you texted, you kind of seemed different? So I dismissed it.”

“I didn’t even –” Sammy shakes his head. “I can’t believe Ben roped Ron into this thing. Ron’s usually way more level-headed than that.”

“Why’d Ben even want to set us up?” Jack asks. “I mean – he can’t have known that I like you.”

“You – what?” Sammy asks, suddenly short of breath.

Jack shrugs, blushing as he looks at his feet. “I mean, I like you. A lot. I have for a while. But I never told Ben that.”

Sammy finds it difficult to swallow. “Uh, well, I told Ben I liked you so – that’s presumably the root of the idea.”

Jack’s face breaks into a beaming grin. “Oh. Cool.”

They both start laughing again, suddenly nervous, and Sammy’s heart is in his throat.

“So like, I do have dinner reservations,” Jack says, gesturing toward his car. “If you still wanna go out. I promise, I’m a really good date.”

“Only if we don’t tell Ben,” Sammy says, but he can’t help from smiling anyway. “Can’t give him the satisfaction. And I have to leave him an angry voicemail first. If he thinks I’m getting him a present for the Annual Non-Denominational Holiday Party after this…”

Jack laughs as Sammy rings up Ben. As predicted, it goes straight to voicemail.

“Hey, Benny,” Sammy puts on his most obnoxious voice, and Jack hides behind his hands to keep from laughing. “You little shit. You were banned! Banished! For good reasons, I might add. Just so you know, we’re calling this the Jake Incident from now, and it’s why I’m never going to trust you with my love life again. You now get zero involvement. Not only do you not get to set me up, but you’re banned from helping me with dates, talking with me about dates, and knowing anyone I ever date for the rest of my life. And if I ever get married, you will not be my best man. You won’t even be invited to the ceremony.”

Jack leans over and pulls Sammy’s phone in his direction so he can talk into it. “I’ll keep you updated, Ben.”

“Don’t tell him that!” Sammy can’t even be angry, he just giggles at the look on Jack’s face. “Oh, and tell Ron he’s on thin fucking ice, too!”

Sammy hangs up before Jack can insert anything else into the conversation, and also because he knows that even through the message, Ben will be able to tell that Sammy can’t stop laughing.

“So,” Jack says, his hands in his pockets and looking coy all of a sudden. “What do you say, Steven? Want to go on our blind date? I promise nacho cheese will not be involved.”

“On that assurance alone….” Sammy teases, but follows Jack to his car nonetheless, feeling more than a little giddy.

“Do you really hate sports?” Jack asks as he opens his car door. “Not that it’s a deal breaker or anything but I thought you said you played rugby.”

Sammy can’t even feel embarrassment anymore. “I may have made that up,” Sammy admits and Jack’s smile becomes even wider. “To impress you or something like that.”

“You’re cute,” Jack says, and Sammy ducks into his car to avoid making eye contact. “I hope you forgive Ben for the Jake Incident soon, ‘cause I feel like it’s gonna be a lot more fun than the last incident.”

“Aren’t you confident?” Sammy says, but he hides a smile. “And I have to keep up pretenses with Ben. I’ll forgive him…eventually.”


 

Sammy speaks to Ben mainly through insulting jabs, but Ben isn’t fooled. It’s a very thin façade, especially since Sammy still lets Ben snuggle when they watch TV, albeit with a long suffering look on his face and a few muttered comments about Ben’s many annoying qualities.

Still, Sammy goes out with Jack more than a couple nights a week, and even though he isn’t telling Ben anything about what’s happening, Ben’s more than pleased just to know that it’s happening in general.

That doesn’t stop Ben from being so relieved when Sammy flops down in Ben’s bed about two weeks later, rolling over on top of him and making Ben laugh.

“Stop, stop, you have a boyfriend now!” Ben giggles, trying to shove Sammy off of him.

“You don’t know that,” Sammy’s voice is as petulant and grouchy as ever. “You have no information.”

“I have all the information I need,” Ben says, and then worries he’s being too smug, and the smile slides off his face. “I’m really sorry, you know. If you’re actually pissed. I think you’re mainly not, but – just in case – I’m sorry for interfering. I just wanted you to be happy – you know that, right?”

Sammy’s gaze is still long-suffering but it’s more affectionate than it’s been in the last two weeks. Instead of answering Ben’s actual question, he asks “Should I invite Jack to the Annual Non-Denominational Holiday Party at Ron’s?”

“Yes, oh my God, yes!” Ben beams, throwing his arms around Sammy’s neck. “Dude, this is all I wanted. You’re making my dreams come true.”

“Yeah, yeah,” Sammy says, hugging Ben back all the same. “It was a stupid fucking plan.”

“I didn’t really expect it to – you know, work,” Ben says, blushing a little all the same. “I thought you’d figure it out in five minutes and then at least you’d know you had a chance with each other and one of you would be brave enough to take it. I didn’t think you’d be stupid enough to see my plan through to the end.”

“You’re being really insulting to the guy who’s forgiving you,” Sammy says into Ben’s shoulder.

“For helping you get together with your boyfriend?” Ben teases.

“Mainly for the Football Incident, which I never forgave you for in the first place,” Sammy says with a slight roll of his eyes. “You’ve made up for it with this set up. You could destroy it with the next one –”

“Something tells me there’s not gonna be a next one,” Ben says in a sing-song voice. Sammy doesn’t even glare at him, just blushes and nods and Ben beams and jumps on top of him to hug him again.

The next weekend, Ron’s house on the lake is packed with people, and even though Ben’s very preoccupied with introducing Emily to everyone as his girlfriend even though they already know Emily and probably already know that she’s dating Ben, he still notices Sammy stumbling over the word boyfriend every time he introduces Jack to someone.

Ben couldn’t be happier.