Peter heard the bell ring, not even looking up as he yelled out, “We’re closed.”
It’d been a long day and Marty had already closed up the kitchen, Peter hearing the rain outside steadily pouring. Whoever had walked in, they were probably just looking for some kind of reprieve from the thunderstorm - a downpour that had started last night and represented Peter’s mood perfectly.
But Peter was tired, uninterested in whatever sob story they had to share. Wanting nothing more than to drag himself home, take a shower and hole up in his room - away from his loud roommates and sleep off this cold that hadn’t gone away.
Ned had told him it was probably a health risk for him to go out and serve tables, but Peter couldn’t afford to call in sick. His scholarship to NYU thankfully covered his tuition but anything else came straight out of his meager paycheck, something that Peter couldn’t afford to skip out on.
May helped when she could and Peter was glad for it, but he felt awful about taking her money - even if she said time and time again that he didn’t have to worry about her.
But May, like Ned - seemed to care about him, something Peter appreciated.
Ned was a good friend and a good roommate, all things considered. Peter was glad that of the four guys he shared an apartment with that Ned had been the one he’d gotten closest with.
But Ned also came from money - private schools, house in the Hamptons, going to NYU because he wanted to. Even if they’d grown up in the same city, Ned had no concept of what it was like to go without.
It hadn’t made sense to Peter, why anyone with his kind of bank account would want to slum it up in a small apartment with three other guys of varying levels of cleanliness but Peter wasn’t going to complain.
Ned was a good person, shown in his care for Peter’s health. But Peter needed the money and sickness be damned, he was going to get it.
But now Peter’s shift was over and when he didn’t hear the bell ring again, signaling that whoever it was had left - Peter sighed, bringing his attention away from the table he was wiping.
“I said we’re—” Peter stops dead in his tracks, seeing the woman in front of him.
She was beautiful, even soaking wet - the water dripping from her clothes starting to leave a puddle on the floor. Peter can see the broken umbrella in her hand, a confused and slightly exasperated look on her face.
“I know the sign said closed but I just needed a place to think and this was the closest place lit up. Can I use your bathroom?”
“Um sure, yeah. In the back.” Peter croaked out, clearing his throat as he tried to calm his racing heart - wondering if his hair was sticking straight up, “You okay?”
The woman nodded, Peter taking in her appearance. Aside from being soaking wet, she was dressed nice - far nicer than anyone who usually walked into Marty’s run down diner. Peter had never been one to look a gift horse in the mouth, thinking that if the universe wanted to bring by a pretty girl by in the last few minutes of a shitty week and a terrible shift, then he would be the last one to complain.
“Yeah, yeah I’m fine. Just, the rain, you know?” She answered, Peter nodding a bit too quickly as he wiped his hands on his apron.
“Yeah, it’s crazy out there.”
They’re silent before she nods towards the back. “Do I need a key or—”
“Oh no, go ahead.” Peter said, waving her towards the bathroom. She seems to consider where to leave her umbrella before deciding to take it with her, Peter watching as she walked back and disappeared behind the double doors.
A crack of lightning startles Peter just then, reminding him that he needed to close up. Marty was in the back, finishing up the dishes in the specific way he wanted - a process that would take some time. Peter was finished with his shift and even if he liked Marty, he didn’t really need to stay behind - knowing the man could lock up without him.
He finishes up the table, putting up the dishrag and dish bucket only to pause, wondering if he should stay or not. The woman in the bathroom didn’t look like she was up to trouble but even if she wasn’t, something in Peter wanted to stick around and see if she was okay.
As if she heard his thoughts, she walks out of the bathroom again, wiping her hands on her still wet clothes.
“No problem. You— you okay?” Peter asks, seeing the slightly aggravated look on her face.
“Yeah, fine. Just lost.”
“Oh,” Peter says, shifting uncomfortably as she looks at him up and down. “Anything I can help with?”
She shrugs, sighing as glances out the window. “Nah, it’s fine. I didn’t want to go anyway.”
Peter doesn’t know how to answer that, feeling like he’s missing something. She seems to recognize that, turning back to him saying, “I was going to a party.”
Peter nods, the woman rambling forward before he can answer. “My friend Cindy said I should go. I’m not usually in the habit of letting people talk me into things, but she’s been bugging me about not going out with her for weeks. But then I couldn’t figure out what subway stop I was supposed to get off and the MTA is shit but what else is new. Some idiot blocked the door, then some baby started crying at the next one. And now I’m late and I tried texting but service didn’t work and when I came out, my umbrella broke. Now I’m here.”
She stops herself, looking at Peter. “Sorry. You don’t care.”
“I do.” Peter says, a little too quickly. “I mean, sounds like you had a rough night.”
She gives a small laugh, shrugging. “It’s fine. Story of my life.”
Peter taps his hands against his jeans, straightening up. “Well, can I get you anything?”
She furrowed her eyebrows. “Aren’t you closed?”
Peter smiles, clearing his throat. “It’s fine, we all have bad days.” He extends his hand, beckoning out to the booth he’d just cleaned, “Besides, I make a great cup of coffee.”
She seems to consider it, glancing to him and the booth.
“I’m Peter, by the way.” He smiles again, hoping it’s affirming as he goes to shake her hand.
It must be because she smirks, looking down at it before shaking his.
“Nice to meet you, Michelle.”
Michelle was funny.
Smart too, Peter finding out that she was a student at Columbia, studying anthropology and business.
Peter was enthralled by her, captivated by the way her curls bounced when she talked - seemingly unloading on him as he listened.
He got the sense that she didn’t do this often, spilling her guts to people - but Peter figured maybe it was the fact that he was a stranger that it helped, though a part of him wondered if she would’ve stumbled across Marty if she would’ve been so willing to share.
She was just as curious, asking him if he went to school and where. When he told her that he studied chemistry, she seemed impressed.
“I liked chem in high school, but I couldn’t imagine majoring in it.
Peter shrugged, nodding towards her.
“I don’t know, it sounds like you have your hands full. Business and anthro seem…” Peter trailed off, Michelle smiling.
Peter shrugged, hoping he wasn’t offending her. “I mean, yeah kinda.”
Michelle seemed to consider that, pursing her lips before saying, “Well, if anyone’s gonna run the world someday, might as well be me. What better way to do that than knowing how people tick and then taking their money from them?”
Peter laughs, Michelle’s own face breaking out into a smile as he shook his head.
Michelle was… something else. And Peter wanted to learn all he could about mystery girl in front of him.
It wasn’t until Marty came out from the kitchen that Peter realized they’d been talking for half an hour, seeing the confused expression on Marty’s face.
“You’re still here? I thought you cleaned out and clocked out.”
“Shit, sorry man, sorry.”
Marty waves him off, looking at Michelle before meeting Peter’s eyes again. “It’s fine, kid. Lock up for me when you’re done.”
He nods knowingly to Peter, making him blush as he scratched the back of his neck. He watches Marty walk towards the back before turning around, seeing Michelle get out of the booth.
Michelle looks apologetic, almost sheepish. “Yeah, sorry. I didn’t mean to keep you here if—“
“It’s fine.” Peter says a little too quickly, knowing he’s sounding too eager. “You sure you don’t want to stay?”
Michelle looks at him up and down again, Peter feeling the desperation emanating off of him. He just wants to talk to her more, realizing how creepy he must sound - a random guy in a diner trying to get her to stay with him, alone.
They’d been talking amiably for the past thirty minutes but Michelle didn’t know him, wincing as he realized that even if they’d been friendly so far - they didn’t know each other.
Every lesson May has ever taught him comes running back to his mind, thinking how he didn’t want to make her feel uncomfortable - not if he had any chance of seeing her again.
And even if it had only been thirty minutes, Peter was sure that he did.
“I mean, I don’t want to keep you.” Peter stumbles forward, hoping he didn’t come across as awful as he thought he did, “I just—it’s been nice, talking to you.”
Michelle doesn’t answer, Peter barreling forward. “But if you have to leave then, that’s cool too. I’m—“
“I don’t.” Michelle answers, Peter pausing as he stared at her.
“Have to leave, I mean. I just didn’t want to keep you from going home.”
Peter shrugs, feeling his shoulders relax as she smiled back at him.
“Maybe… give me a couple minutes? Let me lock up and then we can go somewhere else? There’s a twenty-four hour place down the street.”
Peter takes a deep breath, before saying, “If you’re interested.”
Michelle seems to consider what he’s saying, Peter hoping that he hasn’t said something to scare her off. It’d been awhile since he’d been on a date, wondering if this really qualified as one.
But Michelle was interesting, fascinating in a way that made him want to know all that he could about her - a draw towards her that he couldn’t really explain, considering he’d known her for less than an hour.
She seems to decide just as Peter thinks of speaking again, thankfully stopping him from embarrassing himself further when she says, “Yeah, that sounds great.”
Peter smiles. Michelle smiles back.
And Peter decided then and there that he’d do almost anything to keep seeing it.
Peter nodded, eating a french fry. “Rembrandt?”
“Classic.” Michelle stole a fry from his plate, Peter giving her a look.
“What? They’re good.”
“You said that you didn’t want any.”
Michelle rolled her eyes, taking another fry as Peter feigned annoyance. “I changed my mind. Is that allowed?”
“What would you do if I said no?”
“Find another boyfriend.” Peter laughed, seeing the smile on Michelle’s face as Marty walked up to them, a stupid grin on his face.
“You know it’s your night off, Parker. You don’t have to be here.”
Peter shakes his head, watching as Michelle steals another fry from his plate. “No but MJ likes it here.”
“I would’ve figured you’d take your girl some place fancy for an anniversary. Six months right?” Peter burned bright red, watching Michelle. She didn’t like being referred to as ‘his girl’, if only for how possessive it sounded, something he knew not just from dating her but from her relationship with her family.
Marty wasn’t wrong in a sense, Peter had wanted to take her somewhere fancy. Had saved up enough of his paycheck to do just that, wanting to surprise her but also knowing how much she hated them - giving her warning a week out when he planned to make a reservation.
Michelle had laughed, goodnaturedly when he told her where he wanted to go - not even realizing that the place he was interested in had been booked for months. It was something Peter never would’ve known otherwise, having never been in those kind of circles. Even if Michelle seemed fine with their current plans, he wished he would’ve asked Ned for more recommendations.
But then, Peter hadn’t really seen a lot of Ned in the past six months.
As much as he was able, as much as his schedule and his classes that he was able to manage, Peter spent any free time with Michelle.
That first night at Marty’s - running under his covered jacket towards the next diner, laughing as they made it under the entryway - was forever seared into Peter’s memory.
They’d talked long into the night, Peter already thinking of how he was going to have to beg around for notes for the morning class he knew he was going to miss.
But Michelle - MJ as she had told him to call her before they parted - seemed worth it. And months later, Peter still didn’t regret it.
His cold had only gotten worse, going into a full-blown sickness. And while it killed Peter not to be able to see her in the following week after they met, he was almost glad for it now - thinking that if he had, that he might’ve scared her off.
He’d learned so much about Michelle in the eight months he’d known her, even more in the six months that they’d slipped into actually dating. It felt seamless, even if Peter knew it had been anything but.
Getting to know Michelle felt like peeling an onion, thinking that he could spend decades trying to unravel her and still wondering if he would ever really know her. The looseness that she’d had that first night hadn’t gone away - but she was guarded, in a way that Peter only learned why in the months that followed.
Michelle told him about her own upbringing - of a controlling, socialite mother and distant father, one who had so many affairs that Peter wondered why they even stayed married. She told him of being the only the only and therefore micromanaged child. Of her parents’ high expectations for her life and the control she didn’t feel she had.
Michelle told him that she wanted to be a journalist when she was little, the idea of getting to tell people’s stories being something she had been so interested in. The complicated majors that he’d teased her about that first night made more sense now, with the knowledge that business was her mother’s doing and that anthropology - after much debate - was her way of trying to carve out a life for herself, in some small way.
Peter couldn’t fathom having that kind of pressure in his life, even considering the financial stress he’d lived with. May had been nothing but supportive towards him, encouraging him to do whatever he wanted in life.
When he was younger, Peter always used to imagine that living in one of the lofty penthouses in Manhattan had to have been a dream - imagining countless butlers and maids and of a world where you didn’t have a care in the world.
Now with dating Michelle, in loving her - Peter understood that even life in an ivory tower wasn’t without it’s problems.
But he did - love her, even if he hadn’t told her yet - knowing that for Michelle, it would be too soon.
“Six months? Shit, Marty now you’re making me wish I had made him take me somewhere else. Is it too late to dine and ditch?”
Marty’s laughter is loud and booming, enough for some of the other patrons to look their way as Peter catches Michelle’s eye, seeing the mischievous glint in them.
That - the look on her face and the sparkle in her eye - was just one of the many reasons why he loved her, why he was so glad that they’d met eight months ago.
Why he hoped that he had more to look forward to.
“Too late, kid. But hey, Pete.” Marty nudges his shoulder with his elbow before moving away, “Keep this one around, alright? You don’t find women like her often.”
Peter doesn’t blush this time, winking at Michelle even as she rolled her eyes.
“Yeah. I know.”
“I think I hate it.”
Peter laughed, glancing at her as she stared up at the ceiling of their empty apartment before turning back to look at it with her.
“Well it’s a little late for that. You remember that lease we signed? Like, three hours ago?”
Michelle hums, Peter sneaking another glance back to her as she scrunched her nose up, making him laugh as she said, “Yeah but, we didn’t look at the ceiling before. We’re looking at it now and Pete... this is just awful .”
Peter turns to his side, something that’s uncomfortable on the bare hardwood floor. Getting the keys to the apartment had been fairly benign as far as life experiences but it felt monumental to Peter all the same.
Ned seemed sad for him to go, even if Peter promised - and meant - that he would stay in touch. But Peter couldn’t bring himself to feel too bad about leaving.
Not when the prospect of living with Michelle was everything he could’ve dreamed of.
As Michelle continues to stare up at the ceiling, Peter thinks of the road it took for them to get here - and how unhappy her family had been at the prospect.
He’d finally met them, a few months back - almost a year into their relationship at the time. Michelle had met May within the first month, too excited and eager for the two of them to get to know each other - knowing, if not hoping, that they would get along.
And they did, just as Peter suspected. But it had taken much longer for Michelle to feel comfortable with the idea of bringing him around her family.
The dinner - the only one - had been one of the most awkward nights of Peter’s lives, sitting there as her parents sniped at each other the whole night, holding her hand under the table.
They weren’t mean to Peter, not outright - but he got the impression that they didn’t think he was good enough for her, even if Peter knew by now how hypocritical that was.
When the staff cleared the table for the next course - something that still baffled him, Peter had leaned in towards her whispering, “You want to go?”
“Peter, we can’t just leave.” She had whispered back, glancing to where her father was sitting, both of them watch as he said something sarcastic to her mother.
She had just looked at him, Peter remembering that she had looked at him as if he had said something profound - almost as if he had told her he loved her.
And he had, in a way - giving her permission to leave, that she didn’t have to subject herself to the drama her family wanted to give her.
It wasn’t something Michelle needed from him - knowing how independent she was from the control her parents had always exerted, but it seemed as if Peter’s question had been a wake up call all the same.
He still remembered the rush of adrenaline as they slipped out, Michelle giving a passing goodbye before they left - seeing the surprised looks on her parents’ faces. Later, holed up in some pizza place across the city, Michelle had just smiled at him, going to wipe some cheese off his face.
“Anytime.” She had paused, staring into his eyes before saying, “Thank you, for tonight. I forget sometimes, when I’m around them.”
He knew what she meant when she said it. And when he kissed her, Peter could feel that she meant more than just thanks for the night - but a thank you for understanding, a thank you for loving her.
Later, when he held her in his arms, panting into her ear as their hips moved together - trying to keep quiet so that her roommates wouldn’t hear, Peter tried to show her that it was him who needed to thank her.
That she allowed him to love her.
Moving in together had felt like an inevitable step in their relationship, even if it took months for Peter to convince Michelle that it was a good decision. Especially when working around their roommates comments and going so long without seeing each other because of their own schedules wasn’t working anymore.
When she finally relented, Peter hoped that it was a good decision - not because he doubted his feelings for her, but because he knew how reluctant she was in repeating her parents’ mistakes.
“You’re staring at me again.” Michelle’s words bring him out of his thoughts, blinking a few times as she looked back to him. Peter smiled, leaning forward to kiss her.
“Better to stare at you than than our ugly ass popcorn ceiling.” Peter said, causing Michelle to groan as he leaned back.
“I had just reminded myself that it didn’t exist and there you go, reminding me that it’s real again. What am I going to do now?”
“Not look up?”
He expects the hit to his arm when he gets it, Michelle propping her arm up and turning to her side to face him.
“I think I know a way for you to distract me from our ceiling.”
Peter raised an eyebrow. “Do you now?”
Michelle nods. “Yep. Think it’s something you can help me out with?”
Peter lets himself get pushed back, grinning as Michelle moves to straddle him.
As Michelle laughs, leaning down to kiss him, he pushed aside those worries for another day. He loved Michelle.
And he knew she loved him back.
Peter thinks of that first day in the apartment as he looks up to the ceiling, grinding his teeth as he closes his eyes - trying to figure out what to say.
It was stupid, the fight they were in. Something that had been building and festering all week. Peter knew even then that it was only a matter of time before it blew up in their faces, even as Michelle fumed back at him.
“I can’t do this anymore.”
Michelle goes to leave the kitchen, Peter following after her.
“MJ, what are you doing?”
She goes to grab a bag, opening up the drawer to the dresser they’d found at some flea market. The drawers always creaked, jamming when you pulled them open too fast - something Michelle was doing now, frustrated.
“MJ, stop. You’re going to give yourself a splinter.”
“A splinter is the least of my worries, Peter.” Michelle said, Peter hearing her voice break. He sighed, going up to walk beside her only to see her with tears in her eyes, a hand up.
“MJ, come on.”
“No, Peter. I can’t, I can’t do this anymore.”
“Do what? Just talk to me, MJ please.”
“About what, Peter? What?” She sighed in frustration, jiggling the drawer a few times even as Peter could hear her voice waver.
“About how my family fucked up my birthday? How they called you a gold digger, right in front of May? That you keep acting like it’s not a big deal? How the hell are you okay with this, Peter?”
“I’m not, MJ but it’s not your fault—”
“Can you stop with that bullshit?” Michelle exhaled, jiggling the drawer more. “We never should’ve went. I should’ve never dragged you there again.”
“MJ, look at me.”
“I’m sorry for tonight, Peter. I’m sorry for everything. I’m just--I’m going-- FUCK. ” Michelle yelled, banging the dresser as she tried and failed to open it again - resting her hands on top of it as Peter walked up beside her.
“MJ, none of this was your fault. Your parents are assholes but they’re not you .”
Michelle let out a sharp laugh, Peter hearing her sniff as she wiped her nose. “I don’t know how you can even stand to look at me. They’re terrible people and they’re mine . I come from them .”
Peter felt his shoulders sag, going to reach for her - shifting her to look back at him. He can see the tears in her eyes now, Peter wiping one of them with his thumb.
“I don’t give a fuck about your parents, MJ.”
“I don’t.” Peter says, moving his hands to cradle her face.
“I love you , MJ. I don’t care about your parents and neither does May. I grew up in Queens, I’ve been called worse.”
Michelle rolls her eyes, bringing her arms around his waist.
“I’m sorry, Pete. We shouldn’t have gone.”
Peter shook his head. “You don’t have to apologize for their shitty behavior, MJ. That’s on them, not you.”
Michelle bites her lip, locking eyes with him as he says, “I love you. They’re not yours , okay? You’re your own person. Fuck them okay? I love you .”
She stares into his for a beat before rushing forward, Peter closing his eyes as she kissed him, willing for her to understand what he knew from the minute that she walked into the diner.
That he loved her, that he would always love her - that there’s nothing in the world that could happen that would take him away from her.
The kiss starts to get a bit more desperate, Peter feeling a little breathless as she leans back.
“I love you.” He says again, searching her eyes.
And when she says, “I love you too,” Peter feels that finally - she understands.
That it didn’t matter where she came from, didn’t matter what her parents ever said or did - that nothing else in the world could shake what Peter knew to be true.
That he didn’t care about where she came from, didn’t care about her shitty family or anything else.
Peter loved her.
And as she leaned in again, Peter bringing her close, he knew —
Michelle believed him.
“Did you get that recipe I sent you?” Michelle laughed through the phone, adjusting it on her ear as Peter tried - and failed - to untangle the Christmas lights.
“I did, thank you May.”
“Let me know if it works. I didn’t try it, but the comments say that it tastes great.” Michelle just grinned, both at May’s attempt at sharing a recipe for something that she hadn’t tried - knowing that it was better that she didn’t - and at Peter’s growing frustration at the lights, seemingly getting more twisted the more he messed with them.
May continued to chatter on the phone, but Michelle leaning against the counter as she watched him.
Growing up, Michelle had always imagined what it would have been like to have a good family. Her parents were awful people, using their money to buy affection in a way that had made Michelle guarded about the world and about love.
She knew this about herself and hated how it made her approach the world, but until a year and a half ago - she’d resigned herself to the idea that nothing would ever change.
But then meeting Peter had changed everything.
Michelle didn’t talk to her parents much now, but she didn’t really care. Listening to May ramble through the phone, boxes all around their cramped, tiny apartment as they tried to decorate for Christmas - it was the kind of coziness she had only seen on tv when she was growing up.
Peter seems to catch on to her staring then, the frustration on his face melting away as he looked back at her - smiling in a way that still made Michelle’s heart flutter.
It was the same smile she’d seen that first night, when he had invited her for coffee - feeling more brave and at more at home with a stranger than she had ever felt.
It was irrational - even then, but now Michelle was glad she had allowed herself to throw caution to the wind.
Michelle loved him. Felt at home with him.
She used to hate the idea of marriage and of love, seeing the model for it that she had with her own parents.
But as Peter winked at her, going back to the Christmas lights - tongue sticking out in concentration as he worked, Michelle’s heart soared.
She’d seen the ring in his drawer when she was looking for a pen, knew from not so subtle hints from May that it was coming soon.
It was cheesy, romantic in a way she had never used to allow herself to think possible for her.
Leaning against the counter, hearing her future mother-in-law on the phone and watching the man she loved more than she could express - Michelle just smiled.
She hated the idea of being owned by anyone.
But Michelle considered that maybe belonging to someone - belonging to them - wouldn’t be so bad after all.
You made a rebel of a careless man's careful daughter.
You are the best thing that's ever been mine.