Michelle calls out to the empty foyer, eyebrows furrowing when she doesn’t immediately hear a holler back. She knows she saw his car in the driveway, surprised he had come home so soon from his business trip and doubly so that he hadn’t told her.
Michelle had heard the hints and whispers from their friends at dinner, knew from the way he looked at her that he was getting impatient about their life together. He’d mentioned marriage not even a year after they started dating, had even tried proposing three times over the past year.
She hadn’t really ever planned on getting married before she hit thirty and the thought of marrying Harry wasn’t something she could really imagine. But they’d been together for three years. Michelle was twenty-eight. It was a good enough time as any.
It seemed just like him, to come home to surprise her - another proposal that this time Michelle considers that maybe she’d change her answer to, knowing that a trip home for the holidays with a ring on her finger would stop the nosy questions from his family.
“Harry?” Michelle calls out again, hearing voices coming from the bedroom.
Huh, maybe he’s on a call . Michelle thinks, walking forward.
Only to pause, hearing the unmistakable giggle of a woman behind the door.
Michelle short-circuits, immediately know what this means but instead of waiting - barrels forward, opening the door only to hear the shocked yelps of Harry and…
“ Felicia? ” Michelle yells, Felicia grabs the covers while Harry jumps out of bed, hand extended out to Michelle.
“Michelle, it’s-- it’s not what it looks like, it’s not--”
But Michelle doesn’t even give him the chance to explain, everything clicking into place. Later, Michelle would think she had been willfully oblivious, acting stupid - blinded to the reality that had been in front of her.
That the whispers from their friends hadn’t been over another surprise proposal, the way Harry had looked at her a sign of more than impatience about the two of them.
She doesn’t even give herself the chance to react - to yell or to scream, knowing she wouldn’t have been able to bring herself to cry.
Michelle just grabs her keys.
Michelle sighs, closing her eyes as she lays across Betty’s couch.
“Nah, that’s Felicia’s job now. I’m over it.”
She can hear Betty’s snort from the kitchen, hearing her come up beside her - peeking an eye open as Betty places a cup of tea on her coffee table, Michelle sitting up so that she can sit next to her.
Michelle takes the cup, blowing on it while Betty settles beside her, curling her legs under her. She can feel Betty’s stare on her but Michelle concentrates on the tea, already anticipating the question she’s going to ask.
“I’m fine, Betty. Promise.”
“I know,” Betty says, Michelle getting the distinct impression that she doesn’t believe her, “But it’s not right, Michelle. He shouldn’t be able to just kick you out--”
“He didn’t kick me out. I left.” Michelle interjects, taking a sip of the tea even if the liquid burns her tongue. She’d never been really good about being patient about what she wants and now - sitting on Betty’s couch in an apartment across town, she realizes just how ill-suited her and Harry really were.
He was impulsive and headstrong, she was organized and reserved. Harry insisted that he was right about everything, refusing to budge once he’d decided on something, while she liked to constantly think of new ideas or ways of looking at things.
If she wanted something, she went for it - just like with the tea - trying now to remember why she’d fallen in love with him in the first place when they were so incompatible.
It hits her that maybe she hadn’t really been in love with him to begin with, though she wonders how much of that is true or just the sting of walking in on her now ex -boyfriend sleeping with her now ex -assistant.
“Besides, it’s two weeks till Christmas. I’ll just…” Michelle waves her hand around, “Get an early start on my vacation. Find a hotel, rack up a credit card bill I can worry about in the New Year.”
Betty plays with the end of her sweatshirt, Michelle watching as she quirks her lips. “I don’t think that’s such a good idea, Chelle.”
It’s Michelle’s turn to laugh. “Yeah, well dating Harry wasn’t a good idea so,” She sighs, feeling her shoulders sag. “Might as well end the year strong.”
Betty perks up, like she has a plan - one that Michelle can already tell she’s going to be suckered into doing.
“How about you take a mini-vacation? A real one? Cindy’s going on a cruise with Liz and her place’ll be empty until they’re back for Christmas. You could stay there, just so you’re not moping around LA.”
“I don’t mope .” Michelle scoffs, “I wouldn’t mope. Not over a man . I have standards, Betty.”
“Regardless,” Betty’s voice is soft but firm - already knowing from the years of being friends with her that she’s not going to win this particular argument, “you need to get out of here and what better way than to run to the other side of the country? I’d go with you now but I have to finish out the school year. Why don’t you stay at Cindy’s, clear your head for a bit? Just until we can all get together.”
Michelle sets the tea back down, glancing out the window - ignoring Betty’s gaze as she thinks.
Being a glorified apartment-sitter for Betty’s sister wasn’t exactly the kind of dream vacation she was imagining - thinking of luxurious thousand-count bed-sheets and constant room-service - but Betty did have a point.
Michelle hated to admit it but she did have a habit of… moping for lack of a better term, regressing back to her reclusive introverted days like she had when she was in high school or her first year of college, when Betty had first met her.
The idea of being back in New York by herself around Christmas time was unappealing - a city full of ghosts that she didn’t want to wrestle with. But then she thought of Harry, of running into him and Felicia somewhere - knowing that even if she was the one who’d been wronged that she would somehow appear to be the loser - was enough to make her turn back to Betty, saying words that she hopes she won’t regret.
“You got a suitcase I can borrow?”
Michelle swore as her suitcase got stuck on the landing again, cursing the fact the elevator in Cindy’s apartment building was broken and that the apartment she was staying in for the next two weeks was on the fifth floor.
“Fucking--piece of shit-- come on.” Michelle muttered, pulling it forward only to fall - hard - on the steps, already feeling the bruise on her thigh.
Michelle sighs. It’d been the worst travel day she’d ever had - saying something, for as much as her work as a journalist took her across the country.
She was always the first person to jump on an out of town assignment, wondering to herself if that somehow contributed to Harry jumping into bed with Felicia - shoving away the thought, knowing that it wasn’t her fault for any of it.
No one forced him to cheat - ‘emotionally unavailable’ or not, as he’d yelled at her once during one of their arguments. But the thought is still there, no matter how wrong it was, the travel day from hell doing nothing to help.
Her flight had been delayed, then cancelled - her original seating in first class being lost in the shuffle. She’d tried to upgrade her next flight, only to get told it was booked - settling in between a snoring college boy who clearly never discovered the inside of a shower on one side and an overeager and entirely too talkative grandmother on the other.
This, along with her luggage - the one that caused her to be splayed out on the stairs - was “lost” for a few hours when she finally made it to New York, only to be found without so much as an apology - Michelle remembering why she’d left the city in the first place.
People in LA weren’t necessarily nicer , but people in New York just plain didn’t give a shit - something that was ingrained into her very being and yet something Michelle really didn’t want to deal with right now.
Michelle sighs, pushing herself up as she grabs her suitcase - forcing herself up the stairs with the promise of a shower and a clean bed to sleep in the only thing keeping her going.
Come on, Michelle. No moping. Let’s go.
The shower helped in getting her clean but not in helping her relax, Michelle never managing to figuring out how to get the hot water to work.
Great start to this vacation, she thinks to herself - freezing and bundling up as she shuffles into the living room, one of their blankets wrapped around her.
Meeting Betty in college had been one of the better things that had come out of moving across the country, remembering her shock that they’d never met before since they both grew up in Queens. Right up until Michelle reminded her in the blunt way she had been back then that New York was a city of millions and it was statistically impossible.
Michelle winces at the memory, glad that Betty was resilient - pushing forward with a friendship and ingratiating her into her and her sister Cindy’s life.
She’d been so angry back then - at the world, at people, until she’d channeled that anger into something productive - now wondering if she’d gone into too much of the opposite direction, considering she hadn’t cried about her breakup or about catching Harry cheating on her.
She settles on the couch, taking in the small apartment - one filled with pictures and a lightness that Michelle wishes she still had. Betty and Cindy has become her pseudo-family after her dad had died - celebrating birthdays and holidays, filling in the gaps for the big moments that Michelle had always figured she’d spend alone.
Michelle had gotten used to it, essentially raising herself since her dad had worked all the time after her mom died before she’d even reached kindergarten.
But then she’d met Betty her first week of college, ended up living with her and her older sister Cindy the next semester and ever since - had unwittingly become a part of their family.
Her eyes land on a picture of Cindy and her girlfriend Liz, wondering if the cruise that they were on was just that or if it was something more - remembering Betty mentioning that they were also planning on getting married soon.
She was happy for her and liked Liz well enough the few times she’d met her, but the reminder of seeing them again in a few weeks for Christmas with an engagement to celebrate reminds her of Harry all over again.
Michelle pulls the blanket around her shoulders tighter, feeling… something in her gut, even if she can’t quite call it heartbreak.
She knows she should be more upset about being cheated on, should be more upset that the relationship she’d invested three years in had gone down the drain in an instant.
But Michelle can’t help but feel almost… relieved, almost glad that Harry had found someone else to waste his time with since Michelle certainly felt now like she had wasted hers. She leans back on the couch, debating how hungry she was and if Cindy or Liz had any wine in the apartment.
She lifts herself off the couch, going to the fridge - only to see the message she’d missed before, Cindy’s scrawled handwriting putting a smile on her face.
Hey Chelle! Take out menus are in the third drawer, boxed wine in the fridge. Liz and I send our love! See you in a few weeks!
Michelle opens the fridge to see the unopened box of wine waiting for her - smiling at the realization that it was the exact brand that they’d used to get drunk with in college.
She may not have a family anymore in the traditional sense but she did have Betty, Cindy and soon Liz - thinking that even if Harry’s the one living it up in their high-scale apartment back in LA, that Michelle got the better end of the deal.
Michelle hears the door but doesn’t think much of it, knowing how thin the walls of the building likely were. She didn’t miss a lot about New York and shitty apartments and their complete lack of privacy were at the very top.
She was however surprised when the front door flung open, so much so that she jumped off the couch - grabbing her phone.
The intruder - a man, because of course it was - immediately looks surprised, raising his hands as he backs up before saying, “Who the hell are you?”
He’s a little drunk but so is she, Michelle’s heart racing as she goes to dial for help.
“Who the hell are you ? Leave, right now, or I’m calling 911.”
The man looks at her up and down, Michelle noticing for the first time the keys in his hand when he says, “I’m gonna ask this again. Who are you and what the hell are you doing in this apartment? I know who lives here and you ,” he points straight to her, though Michelle can see that he’s wobbling slightly, “aren’t either of them.”
Michelle’s immediately on the defensive, though she still hasn’t called for help - her mind stuck on the keys in his hands, knowing that he didn’t force himself in.
He could’ve copied them, right? But why would a thief come in drunk?
“Who gave you those keys?” She asks instead, watching as his eyes narrow.
“You didn’t answer my question. I’m serious—“ he swallows, Michelle could almost laugh at how focused he was trying to be as he blinks a few more times than necessary and asks, “Who are you and what are you doing in Liz’s apartment?”
“You know Cindy and Liz?”
The man makes a face. “Shit, I shouldn’t have said that. Wait,” he points to her again, “do you know Cindy and Liz?”
Michelle studies him for a second, watching as he sways slightly. He’s drunk - clearly - but overall still well-dressed, his brown coat barely covering the sweater underneath it. She likes to think she has a gut feeling for bullshit - pushing Harry out of her mind as a fluke - and for as startled as she was, the man swaying slightly in a kitchen that wasn’t hers didn’t send off any warning bells.
Maybe it was stupid or maybe it was the alcohol but Michelle humored him, nodding as she said, “Yeah, Cindy and I were roommates in college.”
The man huffs, steadying himself on their table. “Wait… you’re Michelle.”
She pauses, watching as he sighs and shakes his head. “Shit, I forgot. I’m sorry, Liz told me that you’d be staying here. Shit. Shit , I knew going out was a bad idea tonight.”
He’s talking to himself now, running a hand over his face as Michelle looks at him - her journalistic curiosity taking over as she asks, “Wait, so how do you know Liz?”
He’d clearly been told that she would be here but Michelle can’t help but wonder why she wasn’t looped in, though from the looks of it - neither Cindy nor Liz anticipated him ever possibly showing up.
The man sighs again, shaking his head as if he was trying to clear it. “Liz and I went to high school together. Her and Cindy let me crash here when I’m—“ he gestures vaguely towards himself, “when I’ve had a little too much and can’t make it home.”
The reason for the keys makes sense, Michelle asking, “And they told you about me?”
“Yeah, yeah. They did, told me to not to do… exactly what I’m doing so I didn’t freak you out.” He laughs now, Michelle feeling herself relax a little at the sound - how light and airy it was, even if the idea of letting her guard down with a stranger was beyond ridiculous.
This could all be a story, some psychopath who knew they were going to be out of town, copied their keys and let themselves in. But Michelle also trusted the logic of Occam’s razor when it came to these kind of things: the simplest answer is usually the right one.
And the man’s eyes - a little bloodshot but honest - didn’t twinge anything in her gut that he was lying.
“I’m sorry,” he continues, waving his hand as he goes to leave, “I’ll uh, I’ll figure something out.”
“How far away is your place from whatever bar you were at? Don’t they have bars in your neighborhood?” Michelle asks, not meaning to be rude but still curious, hearing him laugh again.
“Oh I live downstairs but uh,” he makes another face, one that Michelle can’t place before saying, “yeah, can’t go home like this.”
He straightens his shoulders, turning to leave again. “It’s fine, I’ll be fine. Sorry again for freaking you out. Don’t tell Liz I forgot.” He winces. “Better yet, don’t tell either of them that I was here.”
Michelle almost smirks, already trying to figure out the time difference so she can call Betty about this as soon as he leaves. But there’s something in his eyes, a look on his face that makes her pause - seeing a sadness in them that she recognizes all too well.
Maybe it’s the wine, or how cold it is outside or that it’s so close to Christmas, but Michelle does something that surprises even her as the words come out of her mouth.
“You don’t have to go.”
He looks back at her confused, Michelle wondering what the hell came over her, even if something in her gut told her that it was the right thing to do.
“You don’t— you can stay, if you want.”
He seems to consider it for a second, blinking before looking at her up and down again - Michelle suddenly feeling self-conscious in her Stanford hoodie and tattered Hello Kitty pajamas.
They were a gag gift from Betty but they were also some of the comfiest damn pajama pants she’d ever worn. It’s not like she was expecting anyone to see her tonight.
He shrugs, setting the keys on the table as he says, “I don’t know, you could murder me in my sleep. Cindy and Liz aren’t always the best judges of character.”
Michelle snorts. “Clearly, if they let random drunk neighbors crash at their place instead of sending them to their own apartments for whatever mysterious reason.”
He smiles, Michelle inexplicably smiling back as he takes a step forward, putting a hand out - almost losing his balance as he does so
“Michelle.” She shakes his hand, laughing at how unsteady he is. “But you already knew that.”
Peter smiles, taking off his beanie - his hair sticking straight up as he nods towards the bathroom. “Yeah, I did. Sorry again for scaring you. I’m gonna— go try and sober up a little.”
Michele shrugs. “Hot water’s out so you won’t need that much help. Forgot how cold it was in the city.”
“Figures a California girl can’t handle the snow.”
Michelle frowns at his statement, only to remember the hoodie she’s wearing. “I’m from Queens.”
Peter perks up at that, smiling. “Oh me too.”
It’s awkward for a few moments, Peter swaying a little before he shakes himself, heading to the bathroom before saying, “Did you hit the faucet twice?”
“What?” Michelle asks, seeing the smirk on Peter’s face.
“For the hot water. You gotta,” he mimes hitting something, “give it a little love tap and then it’ll work.”
Michelle says nothing, watching as he makes his way to the bathroom only to stop - pointing to the bedroom.
“Can I grab some things from in there? Liz always keeps some extra clothes for me in her drawer.”
It takes Michelle a beat too long to realize that he’s asking for permission because her stuff is in there, nodding as she waves him off. “Yeah, it’s fine go ahead.”
Peter walks in, leaving Michelle alone to her thoughts - and wondering just why the hell she let a strange man stay in an apartment with her for the night when all she wanted was to be alone.
He didn’t look like he was a murderer, but that could be the point - knowing from experience that people weren’t always what they seemed.
But then Peter walks out of the bedroom, sweatpants in hand and a goofy smile on his face, stumbling on to the bathroom and Michelle sighs, thinking that he was likely as harmless as he looked.
It’s not exactly how she pictured the start of her vacation but she trusted her gut.
And even if she’d been willfully oblivious about Harry, Michelle was fairly confident that she wasn’t wrong about Peter.
“You like the Yankees?” Peter exclaims, mouth full with the egg roll Michelle had given him.
She doesn’t - hasn’t cared about sports her entire life. But Michelle figured that Peter, like any other red-blooded Queens resident, was a Mets fan and would get a fire under his ass about her daring to like the enemy. And for as much alcohol is flowing through both of their bloodstreams, it makes for something easy to keep the conversation focused on - even if neither of them had really needed it.
While he was still in the shower, Michelle’s food had arrived - moving it to the couch to avoid eating it at the table as a way to avoid a weird date scenario, eating in silence.
Yet she shouldn’t have worried - about it being awkward or not having anything to talk about it - Peter diving headfirst into conversation like they weren’t complete strangers, sitting on a couch that wasn’t theirs and joking about the Mets.
It was easy, a comfortable back and forth that she hadn’t had before with someone - much less an attractive someone so quickly.
Michelle shrugs, slurping up a lo mein noodle. She felt a lot more relaxed than she probably should be with a total stranger but she really couldn’t bring herself to care.
She hadn’t shaved in a week, her hair was wrapped in a tight bun and she didn’t have a shred of makeup on. And yet Peter seemed completely oblivious as he stared at her - letting his eyes linger on her for a beat too long at times before continuing the conversation.
It wasn’t enough to make her uncomfortable but it did make her question how drunk he actually was, so visibly checking her out when she knew she probably looked like she felt - like someone who had traveled across the country and had went through the travel day from hell.
Peter shoved another piece of chicken in his mouth, Michelle holding back a laugh. She’d ordered enough with the intention of having leftovers but she didn’t really mind, thinking that Betty would be proud of her for making an almost friend so quickly.
“They’re fine, I just think you,” she points a chopstick to him, seeing the stupid way his eyes focus on it, “should keep the judging to a minimum, seeing as how the Mets suck .”
Peter gasps, clutching his heart as if he’s been mortally offended, spilling a little soy sauce on his sweatpants. He notices just as Michelle does, cursing and grabbing a napkin.
“And you say you’re from Queens. Shame but I guess that’s why you left the city. Traitor.” Peter says absentmindedly, seemingly rubbing the sauce further into his sweatpants.
Michelle doesn’t answer, not drunk enough to confess the real reason why she left - thinking that unloading dead parents onto a stranger not even an hour after they met was probably a bit too much information, choosing instead to focus on the fact that he was just deepening the stain on his sweatpants.
“You’re supposed to wet it first.”
“I know how to get stains out of clothes.” Peter scoffs, though he seems to realize she’s right, blinking down and frowning - seeing the small spot that was now a noticeable splotch.
“Does this look bad?” He asks, the sincerity in his voice making her almost giggle - something she knows she wouldn’t do if she was sober but couldn’t stop herself now.
“You going to the Met Gala or something? It’s sweatpants, you’re fine.”
Peter snorts, eyeing her pajama bottoms. “You’re right, shouldn’t take fashion advice from someone wearing Hello Kitty pajamas.”
It’s Michelle’s turn to scoff, rolling her eyes as she takes another bite of her lo mein. “It’s not my fault you’re taste in fashion sucks just as much as your taste in baseball.”
Peter rolls his eyes but Michelle can see the smile on his face, watching as he settles back on the couch, twirling a chopstick in his hand.
“I love Chinese food.”
Michelle snickers. “Do you love Chinese food or are you just drunk?”
Peter seems to think about it for a minute, way too long and too hard on a dumb question before answering, “Both? Why do I have to choose?” Peter shoots her another goofy smile, a trademark of his it seems - though she wonders how much of that side of personality comes out when he’s sober.
“Life’s short you know?”
Michelle does know, her face falling at his statement - noticing how his does too, though she doesn’t feel up to asking what his traumas were when she barely liked to deal with her own.
She changes the subject, facing him as she asks, “So what do you do?”
“Huh?” Peter blinks at her in confusion, Michelle asking again.
“Like for your life. Your job. Do you just drink all day and take advantage of Cindy and Liz’s temperamental shower or...?”
Peter laughs again, a sound that Michelle is quickly realizing that she loves hearing as he shakes his head, setting the chopsticks down and situating himself so he’s facing towards her - mirroring her own stance.
“I work at Columbia.” Peter offers, seemingly content to leave it that until Michelle frowns.
“And you… what? Clean floors? Work in admin?”
Peter snorts. “I feel like I’m on a job interview. Do you know how to just relax? It’s Friday night, can’t you just,” Peter waves his hands, as if trying to calm her down, “chill?”
Michelle raises an eyebrow, as she sets her own food down.
“You didn’t answer my question.”
She leans forward, feeling a little braver than she probably should sitting on a couch with someone she just met but Michelle’s curious and feeling up to some harmless flirting.
She watches Peter’s eyes focus in on her as she asks, “What are you hiding, Peter?”
Peter blinks before leaning forward, his own eyes a little glazed and yet still locked on hers - a look so steady it feels like he’s seeing right through her. “Who says I’m hiding anything?”
He’s so close that she can feel his breath on her face, the smell of alcohol and general tsao chicken mixing in a way that makes her want to wrinkle her nose. But she doesn’t, Michelle’s eyes suddenly darting to his lips before looking back into his eyes.
It’s a bad idea, to flirt with a stranger - much less so soon after the breakup of a three-year relationship, even more so in an apartment that isn’t hers.
But Michelle’s on vacation. It’d been awhile since her and Harry had sex. And it hasn’t escaped her notice that Peter’s biceps are defined, wondering from his slight frame if he’s hiding something else underneath his white-tshirt, burning with curiosity and maybe something a little less intellectual to find out what it is.
He’s cute, attractive enough that Michelle knows that that was a not so insignificant part of the reason why she was ok with him staying for the night.
Maybe it was wrong and a lot more stupid than she would usually be, but the point of this whole “vacation” was to run away from her life anyway, to run away from how she normally is.
At least I’m not moping.
Michelle comes back to herself for a moment, enough to smirk and lean back - breaking the moment as she says, “Just kidding, I don’t care.”
Peter just smiles, eyes narrowed. “Whatever you say, Michelle.”
It’s something in the way he says her name that makes her reconsider, staring into his eyes as he looks back at her - watching as his eyes starting to shift downwards, clearly checking her out.
“This a bad idea.”
Peter’s face changes at that, eyebrows perking up as he asks, “What?”
“This,” Michelle motions between the two of them, “you giving me that… look .”
“I can’t look at you?” He asks, Michelle rolling her eyes.
“Not like that. You’re drunk. I’m drunk, let’s just…” Michelle sighs, feeling like the day’s events are finally catching up with her.
“Let’s just call it a night before either of us do something we’ll regret okay?”
Peter watches her for a beat for nodding, shifting himself to get off the couch - grabbing the food as he goes. She goes to tell him to save it for later, seeing how much there still is but Peter is already ahead of her, folding it back up and motioning for her to give her the box that held her food.
“I doubt that but sure,” Peter says, balancing the boxes in his hands as he walks to the fridge, Michelle watching him over the couch as he places them into it, closing the door and looking back to her, “we’ll call it a night.”
Michelle doesn’t take the bait just yet, staring at him as he walks back to the couch - looking back at him in confusion as he stares back at her.
“What?” He laughs softly, pointing towards the couch.
“You’re kind of still sitting on my bed.”
“Oh.” Michelle immediately stands, a little too quickly - making the blood rush to her head too fast. Peter’s not in any position to steady her but he reaches for her anyway, Michelle’s skin tingling at his hands on her arms - holding her in place.
“Thanks. Sorry, I’ll uh, leave you to it I guess.” Michelle glances to the clock, simultaneously feeling tired and not - a part of her muddled brain thinking it had to do with the time difference while another saying it’s the way her heart skipped a beat at how close Peter was, the air around them suddenly feeling thin.
He’s still staring at her and she at him, barely a foot between them as she sways a little now. She hasn’t moved, something grounding her into place as he still looks at her like he had been just a moment before.
Peter’s eyebrows furrow.
Michelle waves her hand towards him, realizing how little distance there is between them as she says, “Stop staring at me like that.”
“Is it creeping you out? I’m sorry, you’re just really pretty.” He goes to apologize but Michelle’s eyebrow raises, smirking as she asks. “You don’t have to butter me up, you have more right to stay here than I do.”
Peter blanches, Michelle laughing as she says, “It’s not creepy, it’s--” Michelle cuts herself off, not even wanting to give it a name - not when she doesn’t feel sober enough yet to make sense of her own thoughts.
She shouldn’t flirt with him, probably shouldn’t have even let him stay. But there was something immediately disarming about Peter, realizing that she doesn’t even know his last name.
And that’s when it hits her.
Harry had no problem moving on when they were still together. What was the harm in hooking up with a complete stranger - a hot one at that - when she’d literally never have to see him ever again?
I’m on vacation. I’m single. Why not?
A voice speaks in the back of her mind that says that Peter knows Cindy and Liz, that taking advantage of the way he’s looking at her might make things awkward in the future - but Michelle’s mind is one a one-track focus now, thinking that maybe she overthinks everything anyway and there wouldn't be a future to contend with anyway.
She’d be here for two weeks tops, would only visit New York again for the next holiday or Cindy and Liz’s wedding - whichever came first.
Michelle really didn't have anything to lose.
“You look pretty too.”
Peter gives her yet another goofy grin, giving her the confidence to blurt out her next words.
“Do you want to have sex?”
Peter’s eyes widen in surprise, as if Michelle had asked him if he wanted to jump out of an airplane.
“ What ?”
“I mean, look,” Michelle starts, forcing her mind to work in overdrive as best as she can, “you’re attractive. I’m attractive. You’ve been checking me out since you got here and it’s not like I haven’t noticed you’re hot as fuck so why not? We’re drunk, it’s Friday night and we’re basically strangers.”
“Yeah…” Peter answers, Michelle pressing forward.
“So it’s not like we’ll ever have to see each other again. I’m on vacation and you clearly needed a little escape from your life so—”
Peter winces at that, Michelle finishing with, “Life’s short, right?”
She pauses, letting him absorb her words before saying, “I mean, unless you don’t want to. I don’t--”
But Michelle’s cut off, Peter’s lips suddenly on hers - closing her eyes as she pulls him closer, feeling his arms wrap around the small of her waist, her own hands cradling his face as her lips part.
It’s immediately intense, sloppy and uncoordinated but Michelle doesn’t care, feeling like a match’s been lit between them as his lips move with hers, slipping her tongue into his mouth as his hands start to roam downwards.
“For the record, I don’t usually do this.” Michelle whispers into his mouth, Peter moving backwards as he brings her closer.
Michelle starts to pull at his t-shirt, Peter’s own hands dipping just below her pajama pants, his thumb hooking under the elastic.
“ This , I just— I don’t,” Michelle’s having a hard time focusing now, his mouth moving from her lips to her neck, feeling her up as one hand travels under her shirt and up to her chest before he brings his head back - glazed eyes searching hers.
“I don’t either.”
“Don’t say that just to make me feel better.” Michelle whispers, Peter’s hands feeling like they hold lightning, leaving a burning trail everywhere he touches her.
“I’m not.” His mouth finds hers again, Michelle moaning as she pulls him even closer - her own hands getting lost in his hair.
“Are you sure about this?” Peter pants, Michelle takes a breath, nodding as she starts to pull at his shirt again.
“Yeah what ?” Peter looks dazed but is insistent, holding on to her wrist as she opens her eyes, seeing how intensely he was staring at her.
She’d been the one to initiate this but she can see the question in his eyes. Michelle almost feels as if she’s the one taking advantage of him, wanting to laugh even if she can see the sincerity in his face.
“Yeah, I’m sure I want to have sex with you.” Michelle replies, feeling overly explicit but not wanting to take chances - pressing her other hand to his chest as she asks, “Are you?”
Michelle laughs, Peter smiling as she asks again, “Are you sure you want to have sex with me ?”
Peter purses his lips, tilting his head. “I don’t know, you’re a Yankees fan. Definitely capable of murdering me in my sleep.”
Michelle laughs again, Peter bringing her closer as his eyes start narrow - looking at her like he had on the couch before.
“But yeah,” he whispers, Michelle feeling his breath on her face and his tone sending a shiver down her spine. “I’m very sure.”
Michelle wakes up immediately disoriented, feeling the headache forming in the back of her head as she groans. She shifts in bed only to stop, feeling her hand land on someone’s back.
The night starts to come back to her, bits and pieces as she slowly opens her eyes - seeing a familiar mess of curls and Peter’s bare back, knowing without even looking that he was naked under the sheets.
Cindy’s gonna kill me for having sex in her bed , is the first coherent thought Michelle has, wincing as she goes to move, only for Peter to shift next to her.
The night feels… hazy now, though the longer she allows herself to wake up, the more that starts to come back to her.
Stumbling into Cindy and Liz’s bedroom, giggling like they were going to get into trouble. Stripping off each other’s clothes. Peter’s mouth on her neck. Her chest. Her hands roaming his body, feeling the abs she knew he had hidden under that plain white shirt as he knelt over her.
There are more memories as Michelle’s mind starts to clear, enough to warm her from the inside out. The memory of her sharp gasp as he pushed into her. Of hiking her leg up, running her nails down his back as their hips moved together.
The sensible part of Michelle feels bad that she might’ve left a mark but the hungover part of Michelle wishes that she did, hoping she made some kind of impression on him that he’d remember.
Michelle pushes the thought out of her head as as quickly as it came.
Peter starts to stir enough that lets her know that he’s waking up when it hits her that she’s been out of practice with this for awhile - thinking back to the last time she slept with someone who wasn’t Harry.
She glances over to him, seeing as his head lifts, sleepily blinking and taking in his surroundings - seemingly just as disoriented as she was.
As he starts to rub his eyes, Michelle thinks that while it had been a few years since she’d last had a random hookup that Peter had been a good jump back into the swing of things, so to speak.
It felt good, not just having sex but the intensity of it - a sense of abandon that she hadn’t felt in awhile, relieving the tension of the past day and a half as his hips moved against hers.
Even wasted, Peter had made a valiant effort to get her to finish with him, taking her directions but just being a little too gentle - getting her own self there just for him to collapse onto her a few moments later.
It wasn’t the most coordinated hookup she’d had but it was still good, one that made her think that the next time they did this, Peter seemed like a quick enough study that he’d know more of what to do.
Michelle’s mind snaps into focus at that, shaking herself as Peter sits up.
This isn’t happening again. She thinks to herself, less because she didn’t enjoy it but more to the point that it defeated the purpose.
They had been drunk. They were strangers. She was leaving in two weeks.
Michelle wasn’t looking to among anything more complicated than it needed to be.
And yet this was the part of casual sex she always hated, the morning after - if the other person even stayed over - doing the awkward goodbye.
Peter yawns as she smiles at her, his hair sticking straight up as she greets him.
Peter smirks, glancing around the bedroom before sighing. “Liz is going to kill me for having sex in her bed.”
Michelle laughs before saying, “I won’t tell if you won’t.”
Peter rubs his eyes again, glancing at his watch only for his eyes to widen. He immediately throws the covers off of him, running for his clothes before Michelle can even say a thing.
She’d expected him to feign indifference, give some excuse for why he had to leave but she hadn’t quite expected this, Peter rushing to put his clothes back on like he had somewhere to be.
“Sorry, I gotta--I gotta go.” He says, pulling his shirt down as he rummages around for his jeans - having already slipped on his boxers, Michelle studying him from her place in the bed.
She could probably help him find his clothes but she’s intrigued, wondering why he was so insistent on rushing away - getting the distinct feeling that it had less to do with any kind of post-hookup awkwardness and more for something else.
“Yeah, yeah I just-- somewhere I gotta be.” Peter says absentmindedly, zipping up his jeans before pausing, seemingly realizing how this looked.
“I had a good time last night.” Peter says, Michelle smiling.
“Yeah, you’re not bad… you know, for a Mets fan.” Peter rolls his eyes, throwing his sweater over his head.
This is the part she was always bad at, giving off the awkward ‘lets meet for lunch sometime’ knowing full well neither anticipated seeing each other ever again.
But Michelle’s struck with the idea that she very much does want to see Peter again, thinking that even if she liked sleeping with him that she possibly liked his company more - feeling more invigorated by their simple back and forth last night than she had in weeks.
But it was irrational and defeated the entire purpose of what this was supposed to be, wondering how to approach it without looking like she was just trying to get laid again.
Peter beats her to the punch, straightening his sweater as he asks, “So, you like pizza?”
“Huh?” Peter laughs, running a hand through his hair.
“Look, I know this was,” he gestures towards the bed, “just supposed to be a drunk thing but Liz told me you were gonna be in the city for a few weeks and,” Peter laughs again, his hands still ruffled in his hair - seemingly undoing whatever purpose he had in trying to contain it, “I don’t know, it was nice talking to you.”
Michelle raises an eyebrow, seeing as how they hadn’t done a lot of talking after falling into bed together - even if she felt the same. Peter for his part seems to blush, scrunching his face up as he tries to find the words for whatever he’s trying to say.
“I—you know what I mean. I’m sorry I know this is… probably weird as hell.” He glances to his watch, his eyes narrowing as he sees the time. “I gotta go, but,” Peter smiles, Michelle’s head still pounding slightly even as her heart beat starts to quicken at the sight.
“You wanna… get together sometime?”
“If you want to have sex again, you could just say that.” Michelle replies, acting braver as she felt as Peter laughed.
She can’t get the idea of sober sex with Peter out of her mind, though a part of her wonders if it’s just horniness or something more - no matter how ridiculous that would be.
“Are you always this blunt?”
Michelle shrugs. “I know what I want.”
Peter just stares at her, a small smile on his face until his phone buzzes, grabbing it out of his pocket only to look at the screen.
“Yeah, I gotta go but,” he looks back to her, hand to the doorway, “I’d like to see you again, if you’re okay with that.”
Michelle considers it, thinking that this was the exact opposite of what she had originally wanted to do - even if the idea of seeing Peter again sounds more and more intriguing.
He was nice enough, funny and even drunk - good in bed. Michelle could do worse as far as rebounds go.
He seems to register her hesitation, tapping his fingers against the door pane.
“Look, I’m supposed to meet up with some friends tonight for pizza around 9. Old tradition, which,” Peter laughs, “You don’t care. Anyway, it’s uh, Gino’s about two blocks from here. So if you want to, you’re free to join. No pressure.”
He smiles once more, Michelle hearing his phone buzz once again.
“But either way, you know. It was nice to meet you.”
Michelle smiles again, nodding towards his phone. “You should probably get that.”
Peter takes the hint, tapping his fingers against the door pane again. “Right, yeah. Uh, see you around.” He goes to leave before turning around. “Or not. You know, your choice.”
Michelle smirks as he winks, running out the door - finally slipping out of bed and grabbing her hoodie and pajama pants as she goes to the bedroom door, barely catching a glimpse of him on the phone as he pulls his coat on.
“Yeah, sorry I’ll be right there. See you in a minute.” He shrugs his coat on, Michelle watching curiously as he grabs the keys from the table, going for the front door.
He waves a hand once more, Michelle awkwardly waving back to him and then he’s gone - leaving Michelle alone to her thoughts.
The least she could do now was wash the sheets, debating whether Cindy really needed to know the details of what happened even if she remembered that she never did end up texting Betty last night.
It’s as if Betty knows that she’s being thought of, Michelle’s own phone buzzing from its place on the coffee table. Michelle walks to it, picking it up as she answers.
“Hey Chelle! I know it’s early over there but I was heading to the gym and I never heard from you last night. How are you?”
Michelle does the mental math in her head, rolling her eyes at Betty’s diligence on a weekend. “Yeah, I’m fine. Just had a long day yesterday.”
She can hear Betty closing a door in the background, imagining her carrying a yoga mat and some weird protein shake, remembering the many times Betty had tried to get her to join her only to fail miserably.
“Is everything okay then?” Michelle’s eyes dance around the apartment, debating whether or not she wanted to tell Betty about Peter - wondering if she knew about Cindy’s penchant for letting a drunk neighbor sleepover for reasons Michelle still didn’t know but also wondering if it was worth mentioning, especially if she wasn’t sure if planned on seeing him again.
But there it was - a feeling in the pit of her stomach, Peter’s invitation still hanging in the air. It was silly, wanting to see him again when they’d only just met - the whole purpose of having sex with him being a way for her to get over Harry, jump back into singledom head first with the kind of drunk casual sex she hadn’t had in years.
Yet there was something about Peter that immediately disarmed her, something she rationally couldn’t explain - enough to the point where she wondered if she wasn’t just hungover but still a little drunk, knowing that there was no reason for her to be so stupid about this.
The invitation to meet for pizza was there, knowing the ball was in her court so to speak. She could easily just never show up, knowing she’d never have to see him again and that would be that.
Michelle sighs, sitting down on the couch and staring at the tv in front of her - her own reflection mirrored back at her until she leans back, staring at the ceiling.
You’re overthinking this. It’s just pizza. And sex. Maybe pizza and sex on vacation is just what you need.
“Yeah, everything’s good.”
“Good!” Betty proclaims, hearing the noise of the gym she’s walking into, seemingly satiated with the knowledge that Michelle was okay. “Got any fun plans for today?”
Michelle glances around, shrugging even if Betty couldn’t see it. “Nah, maybe just lounge around. It’s cold as fuck outside.”
Betty’s laugh through the phone makes Michelle smile, hearing her voice ring through the noise. “Well promise me you won’t mope alright? Do something fun! Maybe go out tonight? See the sights? Grab some pizza?”
Michelle smirks, wondering if the universe was messing with her - making her third impulsive decision in less than forty-eight hours.
“You know what, that sounds like a great idea.”
Michelle’s leg bobs up and down, glancing around the crowded restaurant. She hadn’t ordered food, getting a soda but not much else - even if the waitress that kept passing by kept giving her a look of almost annoyance at her taking up a table to herself.
She realized she didn’t have Peter’s number, didn’t have any way to tell him that she wanted to meet and to ask what his friends looked like.
Which was the point - why he had made such an opaque invitation in the case that Michelle didn’t feel pressured, appreciating again how considerate it was.
The bar for men was on the ground, but Michelle wasn’t about to diminish how nice that was - considering her and Harry had dated for years and he didn’t seem to show that same thoughtfulness.
As the bell rings, signaling a new group of people coming in, Michelle sighs - taking a sip of her soda. She knows she’s being unfair - cheater or not, Harry did seem to love her back when it was good, more than she had ever loved him.
It always came up in their arguments, how unavailable she was emotionally, how they’d dated for years and yet Harry still felt like she didn’t trust him.
Guess I was right , she thinks to herself but even if what he did was wrong, Michelle still can’t help but wonder about her part in it - inexplicably comparing how she was with Peter when she’d barely met him.
If the first time she’d met Harry had been the same way she had met Peter, Michelle’s not sure that she would’ve been as easy-going - her eyebrows knitting in confusion at the thought.
It was completely irrational - gut feeling notwithstanding - and yet here she was almost twenty-fours later, having slept with him and now waiting around for him and his friends to show up.
Michelle doesn’t get the chance to decipher what the hell is going on with her thought process because that’s when she sees him, feeling the smile on her face as he walks in - cheeks flushed from the cold.
It reminds her of how he looked when they were in bed, moments before collapsing on top of her - her own gut stirring as she chases that away, wondering what the hell came over her.
Her and Harry had an active sex life once upon a time but this thing with Peter - heart skipping a beat as he locked eyes with her - already felt different in less than a day that three years with Harry had ever been.
He makes a beeline straight towards her, stopping as he seems to try and figure out how to greet her - Michelle standing up.
Peter smiles, reaching for a hug and Michelle giving one - feeling his lips brush her cheek, a soft kiss like they were friends and not the relative strangers they were.
“Hey! You’re here. I didn’t…” he shakes his head, “I’m glad you came.”
“Yeah well,” Michelle shrugs, gesturing to their surroundings, “I’m not one to turn down fine dining.”
Peter smiles, Michelle watching as it seemingly lit up his whole face. He motions towards the back of the restaurant, Michelle turning to see a guy and a girl sitting together - waving at the two of them.
“Come on, my friends are back here.”
Peter’s hand rests on the small of her back, gently pushing her forward but Michelle can’t help but feel like the warmth of it is burning through her sweater - wondering if he feels the electricity between them that felt like something out of a stupid romantic comedy.
She sneaks a glance to him, seeing how his eyes are still steadily on her - smiling back at her.
The look in his eyes was just as it was last night - searing, filled with warmth and something a little less innocent - even if Michelle looked light years different in her eyes, having actually gone to the trouble of putting on makeup and dressing in something nicer than pajama bottoms.
Michelle just turns around though, facing towards his friends - pretending like she still didn’t feel Peter’s eyes on her as they walked back to greet them.
The cold air sent a shiver down her spine, walking back to the apartment building with Peter in comfortable silence as she rubbed her hands together.
His friends - Ned and Katie respectively - were nice enough - seemingly knowing who she was without much introduction, making Michelle wonder just how much Peter had talked about her beforehand considering they had barely met.
It was over dinner that she learned that Peter didn’t just work at Columbia, but taught there as a professor in biochemistry, a fact which made her eyebrows raise.
“You’re a little young to be a professor aren’t you?” Michelle had asked, silently wondering how the hell someone so smart could be stupid enough to forget about her staying there - though after last night’s events, she wasn’t really complaining.
“We come in all sizes.” Peter had smirked, taking a sip of his water before explaining, “I’m an assistant professor, just started this year actually.”
“Yeah, Dr. Parker in the house! So proud of you, man.” Ned smiled, slapping his hand on his shoulder as Katie had smiled at Michelle, leaning forward.
“And what do you do?” Michelle brought herself back to the conversation, realizing again then she hadn’t even known Peter’s last name much less the fact that he was smart enough to get a doctorate, recovering as she said, “Oh I’m a journalist for the LA Times .”
“A journalist?” Katie’s eyes sparkled, knowing from the earlier conversation that she was an off-Broadway actress. The musicality of her voice carried throughout the restaurant, wincing as she exclaimed, “What brings you out to the big city?”
Michelle hadn’t really felt like sharing the details, much less with complete strangers. But Katie seemed nice enough, noting the thinly veiled curiosity Peter had on his face as he took a bite of his pizza.
“Just needed a change of scenery. Had some vacation time you know so…” Michelle trails off, Peter rushing forward - sensing her discomfort.
“Speaking of scenery, how's the show going Kat? You guys ever figure out who was the backdrop paint thief?”
It was enough to get the focus redirected, shooting Peter a thankful smile as he winked back at her. Now, walking back to the apartment building together - having said their goodbyes to Ned and Katie who walked in the other direction - Michelle felt the sudden need to explain.
“My boyfriend cheated on me.”
Peter blinks in surprise, almost stopping as he looked back at her - Michelle realizing that that had come out of nowhere.
“Sorry, I meant about earlier. Katie’s question… why I’m here?”
Realization dawns on Peter, nodding as he says, “Oh. I mean you don’t have to explain—“
“We dated for three years. Caught him with my assistant. Or well,” Michelle scoffs, “I guess ex-assistant. I knew having one was a bad idea.”
Peter’s silent as they walk, Michelle cursing at how awkward she was being - only for Peter to interrupt her thoughts, shoving his hands in his pockets as he said. “Yeah well, if you think assistants are bad, try having grad students.”
Peter snickers as if he had said some personal joke, explaining as he takes one hand out of his pocket - waving it around, “I used to talk shit about my own professors when I was in grad school, all of seven months ago and now,” Peter sighs, putting his hand back in his pocket.
“I get it. Grad students are the worst.”
Michelle laughs, seeing the smile on Peter’s face as she does.
“So Dr. Parker is it?”
Peter blushes, shrugging as if it wasn’t a big deal - getting the impression that he wasn’t trying to diminish it but rather seem embarrassed to talk about himself.
“Yeah, it’s funny. Waited four years to be called that and now it just feels pretentious as hell.”
“I don’t know,” Michelle muses, “If I had a doctorate, I’d changed everything I owned to introduce myself as Dr. Jones.”
Michelle looks back at him in surprise, a sheepish smile on his face when she realizes that she hadn’t shared her last name either.
“Yeah, sorry. We uh, kind of skipped all that last night huh?”
They’re right in front of the apartment now, Peter opening the door - Michelle hearing him whisper as she walks in, “I didn’t mind.”
They walk up the stairs in silence, Michelle pausing as Peter seems to stop on his floor - looking back to him, wondering how the night was gonna end.
She’d be lying if she didn’t like the idea of having him pressed up against her again, wondering how much better they’d be together now that they were sober.
But there's hesitation written all over his face, Michelle wondering if she’d misinterpreted his intentions.
Maybe Peter was just trying to be friendly - in that weird post-hookup way - seemingly being a good guy from the impression she got and the company he kept.
But Michelle felt bold, knowing she wouldn’t be acting this way otherwise if she was staying any longer than a few weeks.
“You can come up, if you want.”
A flash of something flies behind Peter’s eyes, Michelle throwing away the assumption that he was just being friendly. But there’s something holding him back, closing his eyes as he sighed and shook his head.
“I.. I shouldn’t tonight. I need,” he absentmindedly rubs the back of his head, glancing down the hall to what Michelle assumes is his apartment, “I need to get home.”
“Oh, that’s okay—“ Michelle starts but Peter interrupts her.
“I want to.” He laughs, running a hand through his hair. “Believe me, I really want to.” Michelle feels herself warm up from the way his eyes travel down her body, looking back up at her with a look she recognizes - seeing it on his face before.
“But I can’t tonight.” He bridges the gap between them, Michelle inhaling sharply as his face is inches from her face, seeing as his eyes go half-lidded, parting her mouth slightly as he leans forward.
Michelle answers by pressing her lips against his, immediately feeling enveloped by him - his arms wrapping around her waist as his mouth moves against hers.
The kiss isn’t nearly as sloppy as they had been last night but just as intense, Michelle wondering when she’d ever felt so much raw sexual chemistry from someone before - or if she ever had at all.
She almost allows herself to regret it, feeling as if this thing with Peter was dangerous - a thought she can’t explain until he breaks the kiss, feeling a little breathless when he does.
“Yeah, rain check.” Michelle pants, Peter smirking as he kisses her softly once more before leaning away, walking backwards.
“How about Monday? You got plans in the afternoon?”
Michelle smirks, shaking her head. “What do you think? I told you, this was really a last-minute trip.”
Peter shrugs, still walking backwards. “I don’t know Yankees fan, who knows what you got up your sleeves.”
Michelle rolls her eyes, nodding her head towards him. “Where at on Monday?”
Peter stops, seeing how the gears in his mind seem to work, pulling his phone out of his pocket. “What’s your number?” He asks, Michelle smiling as she gives it to him.
She feels the buzzing in her pocket as Peter puts his phone away, winking back at her.
“I’ll text you where later tonight. Don’t be late.”
“I wasn’t late tonight was I?” Michelle lobs back, seeing the grin on his face.
“No you weren’t, Michelle Jones.” He brings his keys out, turning away from her as Michelle turns towards the stairs.
“See you later, Dr. Parker.”
She hears his laughter from down the hallway, walking up the stairs and ignoring a feeling she can’t explain stirring in her gut.
“You did what ?”
Michelle sighs, cringing as she washes the dishes in the sink - hoping that Betty would keep her promise to keep what she’d told her between them. Betty was a loyal sister but she was banking on her being an even more loyal friend.
She’s starting to regret that trust when she hears Betty’s voice ring in through the other line.
“Chelle, I love you but damn. Cindy’s not gonna want to hear that her and Liz’s apartment has turned into a little love shack.”
“And that,” Michelle warns, even if Betty’s tone is teasing, “is exactly why I didn’t want to tell you what I’ve been doing. Do not tell her, Betty. She’ll never forgive me.” Michelle turns off the water, hearing Betty snicker through the phone.
“I think you’d be surprised, Chelle. Cin’s relaxed a lot since she’s met Liz.”
It’s silent for a beat while Michelle dries the plate she was washing, Betty speaking up again. “Though Liz probably won’t want to know that you’ve been banging her high school best friend in her bed either.”
“ Betty .”
Betty’s laughter on the other end makes Michelle laugh too, not really embarrassed so much as she was almost giddy, feeling a lot lighter than she’s felt in months… maybe even years.
Michelle had finally heard from Harry on Sunday afternoon, expecting that he’d give her the weekend before reaching out. He was apologetic for what happened with Felicia and how she had found out but Michelle could sense that it was over for him just as much as it was for her - saying as much as they ended the call.
“I hope you find whatever you’re looking for, Michelle.” She remembered him saying, hearing Felicia on the other line.
“Have a good life, Harry.” Michelle had replied before ending the call, meaning it without any trace of spite. They weren’t right for each other - they hadn’t been for a long time.
And even if walking in on him with Felicia had been a shock, Michelle couldn’t really say that it had been a surprise - she hadn’t walked in on the love of her life cheating on her, thinking that her and Harry had felt more like roommates than anything else.
Michelle wasn’t looking forward to dealing with all of that when she got back, having gotten Felicia’s resignation email not even five minutes after her call with Harry had ended - knowing from what Harry had said that he’d already taken the steps to move out of their apartment.
But it was done. It was over and the rest of it, figuring out if she could afford the apartment without Harry’s share and how she’d manage work without her assistant was a problem she couldn’t bring herself to dwell on yet.
It was a mess, her life back in California felt like a mess. But the few days she’d had to distance herself from it helped.
She knew a not so insignificant part of feeling better about everything had to do with Peter. Even if it was probably just the rush of endorphins from having better sex in the past week than she’s had in six months, there was just something about Peter that made Michelle lose all sense of reason.
Betty wasn’t completely wrong about the love shack comment even if it was more of an exaggeration, Peter taking her up on that rain check after their Monday meet-up - a long afternoon where he’d shown her around Columbia, buying her coffee and sneaking his hand into hers like they were in college themselves.
It was nice, like she was on a date - even if Michelle didn’t allow herself to think of it that way. The way their hands brushed against each other, the wild way her heart was beating as their pinkies touched before she interlaced her hand with his.
It was almost silly to feel that way considering they’d only just met but also since they’d already had sex.
There was no unresolved tension or weeks long build up - just a few days after a hookup, strangers meeting up to possibly fool around with each other again.
And yet there it was, catching him staring at her while they walked around the city - asking him questions about his job as she saw that same look in his eye that she’d seen the first night.
It was just a fling, she knew it - and yet the way he looked at her twisted her stomach into knots, the way she actively looked forward to see him made her feel almost silly.
Michelle knew it was stupid, to feel so giddy about something so benign but she did. Knowing that Peter was feeling it too from the static in the air as they had kissed goodbye, only for it to almost inevitably lead towards something more.
They barely made it back to her place before tearing their clothes off each other, Michelle entirely too focused on his mouth and his hands to wonder why they hadn’t gone over to his.
It was good - he was good, just like she had thought he would be. She’d been more intentional about raking her fingernails down his back, hearing his moan as he moved faster. It was like an electric pulse between them, making Michelle feel like she was back in college - sneaking around and stealing moments wherever she could.
But Peter wasn’t in college and neither was she, bringing him closer as they chased their finish.
It was just a hook-up, on paper looking nothing more than “attractive strangers” having some fun.
And yet Michelle had been more than a little disappointed when he said he had to go - giving some excuse for why he couldn’t grab dinner though the rational part of Michelle knew he didn’t really need an excuse.
“Can I see you again? On Thursday?” He had asked afterwards, putting his boots on.
“For sex or for dinner?”
Peter had laughed, a sound that was just as welcoming and relaxing as it had been the moment she first heard it.
“For dinner.” He has clarified, though Michelle saw the smirk on his face as he continued, “but I wouldn’t be opposed if it led to other things.”
Michelle had only smiled but agreed - waiting impatiently for the days to pass by until she saw him again, like a schoolgirl with a crush.
When Thursday finally came it felt like a date - picking her up outside her door, laughing at his stories about his stressed out grad students, Peter asking questions about her job and what pieces she thought were most interesting.
Michelle still remembers the flush on Peter’s face from teasing him over dinner, one of those sushi train places that she adored and Harry hated.
“So you’re a mean professor?” She asked after Peter mentioned how difficult class had been, rolling his eyes as he popped some tuna into his mouth.
“I’m as mean as I need to be.”
“Don’t you believe in second chances?” She countered.
“Definitely, but a person’s grandma can only die so many times before you start calling bullshit.” Peter laughed, saying “What’s with the twenty questions? Is this a job interview? Don’t you know how to just be on a date?”
“Whoever said we were on a date, Dr. Parker? I thought it was clear that we’re just using each other for sex. ” Michelle said, Peter laughing again as she poured more soy sauce into the holder - seeing the mild disgust on his face as she did so.
“You’re ruining it.”
Michelle laughed, pointing a chopstick at him again - a mirror of that first night, something she recognized at this same time Peter seemingly did.
“Says the man who drenched his general tsao with soy sauce and then got it all over his sweatpants.”
“It was a spot, Michelle.”
Michelle snorted. “See, this isn’t a date. A date wouldn't argue this much. Aren’t you supposed to try and impress me?”
Peter waved his hand around the low-key restaurant, as if it was an opera house. “What are you talking about? Fine dining here.”
Peter had winked, Michelle laughing at his words like they knew each other long enough to have inside jokes, something in her chest twisting as he continued.
“And I’m not, by the way.”
“What?” Michelle had asked, seeing the serious expression on his face - almost as if he hedging a bet with himself.
Michelle hadn’t known what to say, not trusting the completely irrational feelings she shoved down as she took a sip of her drink.
“But if that’s what you want, that’s fine.”
Michelle wasn’t sure what she wanted, Peter sensing her discomfort and deftly changing the subject - only for Michelle to say, “It’s not.”
Peter looked back at her, a curious expression on his face.
“I mean don’t get me wrong, sex is great.” She can see the way Peter’s ears tinge red, even if he stares right back at her as she continues, saying something that felt right even if it didn’t make sense, “But I wouldn’t be opposed if it led to other things.”
Michelle smiles at the memory of that night, the way Peter had lit up at her statement, bringing his own words back to him. Dinner had resumed it’s friendly banter back and forth. The night ended like she expected - fooling around in the back of a taxi before they found themselves once again at Cindy’s.
Yet Michelle was curious enough now to wonder why he was so hesitant about bringing her to his place but also knew it wasn’t really any of her business.
In the few days since - Michelle can hardly believe it’s been barely over a week since she’s met him - they’ve spent more time together than she could have ever anticipated, a part of her wondering just how smart it was for her to become so invested in a fling that wasn’t meant to last.
And she was - becoming invested - even if Michelle knew that from the beginning that this only a rebound, thinking back to that first night and her semi-awkward proposition to him.
It didn’t help that when she wasn’t with him - considering he still had classes to teach and a life to live - he still texted her constantly, little jokes throughout the day and going back and forth about what shows she was watching and plans for the day.
Despite everything, Michelle felt herself starting to… feel something for Peter, even if the idea of developing any kind of feelings for what was essentially a rebound was ridiculous.
Especially since Michelle got the sense that Peter was feeling something too, catching him staring at her when they went to a museum together one free afternoon, showing it by remembering how she took her coffee when they met up one morning, and the way he looked at her after they had sex - a look she couldn’t explain, not in any rational way.
It was intimate, the way he treated her - in a way no fling she’d had ever had been before.
Michelle felt like she was out of practice - with flirting, with dating - but it was like as if it came naturally with Peter, chatting with him throughout the day even when they didn’t get to see each other - making her feel less like a glorified booty call and more like someone on the cusp of dating someone.
Which she couldn’t - not so soon after Harry, much less with a man who lived across the country. But it was nice nonetheless, sending him pictures of the things she saw while walking around the city with her own commentary and laughing at the faces he made while grading papers in his office.
“Please tell me you’re at least sanitizing anywhere you’ve been.” Betty snorts, bringing her out of her thoughts - Michelle rolling her eyes as she puts the plate up.
“This is why I don’t tell you anything anymore.”
“Chelle, you tell me everything.”
“I regret it now,” Michelle says, hearing Betty laugh over the phone, “You’ve lost your privileges.”
“Oh what will I ever do now?” Betty sighs dramatically, Michelle smiling despite herself as she glances around the apartment, thinking that she should likely invest in some kind of cleaning service - more for Cindy’s peace of mind than anything else.
They’d had sex three times in the apartment - not counting the first drunken time - but it was enough that it made Michelle wonder now, with Betty on the phone, why he was so hesitant for her to go over to his place.
Peter’s phone buzzed all the time, to the point where Michelle saw the name Ben of May on more than one occasion, saying nothing even in seeing the way his face lit up at the sight.
A part of her knew that it was likely that Peter was seeing other people, or had been - before she came along.
But for being as bold and as seemingly fearless as she had been since she had arrived, something held her back from asking the question that she wasn’t sure she wanted to know the answer to.
For as much as she liked sleeping with him, Peter was also a genuinely fun person to be around. It was stupid to compare him to Harry but she did anyway.
Whereas Harry was rude when it came to wait staff, Peter was endlessly kind - something that Michelle noticed that he did even when she wasn’t around, catching him talking to a lady clearing the table next to them when she walked back in from the bathroom.
Peter was smart, arguably more than Harry was from number of degrees alone. But unlike Harry he wasn’t obnoxious about it, just as low-key and as unassuming as he’d been the night she learned that he didn’t just work at Columbia, but was one of the youngest professors in the biochemistry department.
What surprised Michelle most of all was how comfortable she felt around him, not just because of the proximity but a sense of belonging that Michelle couldn’t bring herself to fully trust, even if she wanted to - if only because the realization that she was leaving just made it that much more risk free.
But even as Betty starts to chatter about something else, Michelle’s mind starts to wander to after Christmas and what that would mean for the two of them.
She wants to laugh, the idea of even thinking of there being a “two of them” when there wasn’t.
He was Peter. She was Michelle. They went out and had some good nights but it wasn’t supposed to mean anything.
He was her rebound and she was likely just a fun distraction for him before the holidays.
Yet even thinking that, Michelle can’t help the gnawing in the pit of her stomach - wondering if this was really as risk free as she was trying to make it to be - his words at the sushi restaurant coming back to her.
She hadn’t felt this way about someone in a long time, giddy at the idea of spending time with someone - thinking of them when they weren’t around - wracking her brain to remember what it had felt like with Harry in the early days - wondering if she’d ever felt this… whatever it was… at all.
It was foolish, like something out of those romance novels Betty loved - the sense of loss she was already anticipating from not being around Peter anymore, especially so considering the real losses that she’d faced.
But as Betty’s voice continues in the background, Michelle leaning against the counter - she sighs, glancing at the time, knowing she needed to get ready before he showed up.
Whatever it was, Michelle didn’t have to think about it now or make it more complicated than what it was - even if something in the deepest parts of her heart whispered that it had been anything but simple from the moment she’d met him.
Michelle nodded, closing her eyes as pressed his lips back to her neck, steadily moving his hips as she sighed.
“Do you think this is a mistake?”
Peter brings his head back up, slowing his movements as he searches her face, feeling his chest move against hers as he braces himself over her.
“What? Did you want to switch positions? I can--”
“Not, no not that.” Michelle laughs, the action of it making her hips move again - encouraging him to continue as she brings a hand to his face.
Michelle pants, moving her hips upwards as he groans, one hand lacing through the hair at the back of his neck while the other brought him even closer.
She doesn’t even know what she wants to say or if it was even worth mentioning - wondering if she’s putting too much thought into something that by any definition - was casual.
It was just sex between not-quite strangers, a flirty distraction between two attractive people before the holidays.
They’d spent all Saturday afternoon and evening together, browsing some outdoor market hand in hand as if they were a couple, laughing when an angry tourist that had yelled at a cabby driver got sprayed with slush from the street, before finally sharing a pie at a bakery that Peter loved.
And now, back at Cindy’s place - again - Michelle was really starting to question whether this had been a good idea in the first place.
Peter doesn’t push her train of thought, moving his arms to wrap them around her, jerking his hips faster as Michelle responded in kind.
She was definitely going to have to buy Cindy and Liz an entirely new comforter set, a new mattress maybe - knowing that Betty was a great friend but a better sister, already sensing the betrayal from the moment she’d hung up the phone.
Peter’s breath felt hot as he panted into her ear, Michelle’s hands bracing herself against his back as they move even faster.
This didn’t have to be a big deal if she didn’t allow it to be, Michelle’s mind starting to lose her train of thought as she felt it - a sensation building that she never wanted to leave.
But as Peter started to whisper her name into her ear, the sound of it just pushing her so close that she started to lose herself to it, Michelle wonders if this thing between them - if there was something at all - was really as casual as she kept trying to tell herself that it was.
“You know what I missed most about New York? These damn bagels.” Michelle said with her mouth full, Peter looking at her with yet another goofy grin on his face.
“What?” Michelle asked, chewing as Peter laughed - shaking his head.
“They don’t have bagels in Los Angeles?”
Michelle gives him a look, swallowing down the food in her mouth before saying, “You think a New Yorker would understand. Come on Dr. Parker, where’s your city pride?”
Peter just smiles at her, Michelle seeing the sadness in his eyes that she can’t explain before seeing how his face changes, shrugging as he says, “I don’t know, that’s rich coming from someone who says they’re from Queens and is a self-professed Yankees fan.”
Michelle rolls her eyes so hard it almost hurts, giving Peter another look as she says, “It’s been almost two weeks, Peter. Let that shit go.”
Peter purses his lips, leaning forward as he grips his coffee cup, staring into her eyes. “I don’t know, I’m a big fan of nicknames. Builds character, sets you apart.”
“Of course you would think that.” Michelle scoffs, Peter’s face transforming into a genuine smile.
“Sure do, MJ.”
Michelle wrinkles her nose, Peter laughing as she asks, “MJ? Where the hell did that come from?”
Peter motions towards her, looking at her like she was missing something obvious. “You know, Michelle Jones? MJ?”
Michelle just rolls her eyes again, hearing his phone buzz. She glances over to it the same time he does - seeing MAY flash across the screen.
“I gotta take this.” Peter immediately replies, his eyebrows furrowing as he grabs it, leaving his coffee cup on the table as he answers the call.
“Hey, what’s wrong? You okay?” Is all Michelle hears but she’s immediately intrigued, wondering who May was that he immediately captured Peter’s attention - her mind inexplicably going to Harry and the quick way he would exit out of dinner conversations, thinking back now that she’d missed the obvious signs that he was with Felicia long before she’d ever caught them.
Michelle immediately shakes it away, knowing that she was being ridiculous - even if the idea starts to take root now, a sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach.
Notwithstanding the growing feelings she’s having a hard time denying - no matter how foolish it was in such a short amount of time. Especially since it was the Sunday before Christmas and Michelle was leaving in a few days.
Cindy and Liz were due to come back from their cruise on Tuesday, with Betty on her way the day before.
Christmas was Thursday, they’d spend it together and then her and Betty would be flying back home - to California - across the country and out of Peter’s life forever.
It shouldn’t matter if he was seeing someone else - though when she didn’t know since it felt like to her that he spent every moment when he wasn’t at work with her.
But then it occurs to Michelle that that wasn’t exactly the case, now with almost two weeks’ worth of evidence that for as much time as she spent over at Cindy’s apartment, she’d never once been over to his.
She immediately feels sick, wondering why the hell she’d been so blind - though the idea of Peter somehow cheating on a boyfriend or a girlfriend back at home made her stomach do flip flops, not only for her potential part in being the other woman but at the idea that her gut could’ve been so wrong about him, about someone, again.
Peter walks back just then, a look on his face that she automatically recognizes - knowing the words that are going to come out of his mouth before he even says them.
“I’m sorry, I thought we’d have the day but I have to--”
“Go? It’s fine. Don’t worry about it.” Michelle snaps, Peter’s eyebrows immediately furrowing in confusion.
“It’s fine, Peter. You can go.” Michelle says calmer now, kicking herself for allowing herself to get so wrapped up in what should’ve been just a meaningless hook-up, knowing she’s responding entirely too harshly for something that may not even be true.
Just the idea that Peter could be using her to cheat - that Peter would be cheating on someone in the first place - is completely incompatible with the person that she’s known, even if the rational part of her brain keeps telling her that it was impossible for her to really know him considering the length of time she’d been around him.
Yet Michelle felt that she did know him, in the only way that you can know someone from being so instantly connected to them - something that her mind keeps telling her is just purely physical even if she knows in her gut that it isn’t the case.
“Michelle, is everything--”
“Just go, Peter. You need to go so,” she waves him off, barely containing the hurt she can’t explain in her voice, “go.”
Peter just stares at her, clearly debating something within himself - until the call from May seemingly decides for him, shoving his phone in his pocket as he goes to lean in - only for Michelle to back up away from him.
Peter’s face immediately looks hurt, feeling bad as she sees the confusion in his eyes but she’s too far gone now - feeling more emotional about the possibility that Peter was seeing someone else - was using her to cheat on someone - than she thinks she’s felt for her breakup with Harry.
It was her own fault for getting so invested emotionally for something she should never have, but Peter looks so torn - so visibly confused - that she almost breaks, working her courage up to ask him what she desperately needs to know. But then Peter just sighs, nodding to Michelle before turning to leave.
“I’ll uh, I’ll text you.”
He sends her one more look, a storm brewing in his eyes before he leaves - Michelle feeling a rush of air leave her lungs as he does.
Michelle spends entirely too long at the coffee house, running over almost every interaction she’s had with Peter - wracking her brain to try and make sense of who May or Ben were and why Peter had never invited her over to his apartment.
She finally finds the courage she hadn’t had when he was there, grabbing her bag and rushing back towards the apartment building - her steps purposeful and her mind focused.
It didn’t matter in one sense, if Peter was seeing someone else. They weren’t exclusive, they weren’t anything really. But Michelle’s stomach churned, thinking that if she allowed herself to become the Felicia to someone else’s Harry, she would never forgive herself.
She runs through a thousand scenarios in her head, trying to figure out how to best play this - a small voice in the back of her mind saying that this was an overreaction, that if she only talked to Peter and asked him point blank what was going on that maybe she’d get an honest answer out of him - knowing that he’d clearly been hiding something, even if she couldn’t figure out what it was.
He was entitled to his privacy, she barely knew him - but Michelle had made plenty of reckless decisions since she’d been in New York and at this point, it seemed only right to rush forward with this one.
She half-runs up the apartment building’s stairs, stopping at Peter’s floor - realizing that she didn’t know which one was his.
Michelle takes out her phone, about to text him to see if he could talk only for the door to open - a brunette woman leaving the third apartment door to the left, hearing his voice call out.
“Thanks May, I appreciate it.”
Well there’s May.
“Of course sweetheart. Call me if you need anything.”
“We’ll be okay. Love you.” Michelle hears from the hallway, still frozen in place as the woman smiles back from the door, saying, “love you” before closing the door behind her.
She looked old enough to be his mother, making Michelle wonder if she was.
May smiles at Michelle, nodding her head as Michelle gives a half-smile in return, shoving her phone back in her pocket and hoping that she hadn’t heard incorrectly and wasn’t about to knock on a stranger’s door.
As soon as May passes her on the stairs, Michelle makes a bee-line towards the door she had left - knocking furiously.
This was a complete invasion of his privacy and completely irrational - thinking that even if he wasn’t hiding some kind of secret partner from her, that he was perfectly within his right to sleep around with whoever he wanted.
They weren’t dating, they were just sleeping together - even if that rolled something around in her gut, almost wishing that wasn’t just what they were doing.
She shouldn’t be here, demanding an explanation for something she wasn’t owed.
But just as Michelle’s common sense returns to her, Peter opens the door, his voice carrying through until it suddenly stops.
“Did you forget--”
Peter stops, completely frozen as he stares back at Michelle, immediately closing the door as much as he can behind him.
“Michelle! You’re… what are you doing here?”
Michelle sighs, pinching the bridge of her nose. “I’m-- I’m sorry, this was a mistake. I shouldn’t, I don’t know why I came here.”
Peter seemed uneasy, giving fuel to the fire that there was someone behind the door that he didn’t want her to see, even if Michelle’s mind started to whisper to her that it clearly wasn’t what she was thinking. But she pushes forward, bringing her hand down as she sighs.
“I’m sorry I was rude, before. I shouldn’t have been. I’ve just-- I’ve been in my head about this,” she motions between the two of them, “thing between us. Not that there’s an us , I know I’m leaving in like five days but--”
“Michelle, can we uh,” Peter shifts from the door frame, glancing backwards into his apartment, “Can we talk about this later?”
Michelle’s uneasiness gives way to burning curiosity, the question of whether he was using her to cheat on someone else rearing its irrational head back up as she asks, “Wait, is-- are you with someone right now?”
Peter opens his mouth and closes it, closing his eyes as Michelle starts to shake her head in embarrassment.
“Look, I’m not trying to make this a big deal. I leave in like five days and this is-- this isn’t smart, this is complicated. I’m not really trying to do complicated right now--”
“Michelle--” Peter interjects but Michelle just shakes her head, closing her eyes as she puts a hand to her face.
“I’m sorry, this was stupid. Don’t-- don’t worry about this, I’m just gonna go and--”
And then she hears a voice from inside the apartment, the realization crashing down onto her as being so obvious that she wonders how the hell she had missed it before.
“Daddy? Who’s at the door? ”
Michelle’s mouth opens then closes, her eyes widening as Peter gives her a small-smile, leaning back into the apartment.
“I’ll be right there, buddy.”
He turns back to Michelle apologetically, Michelle wondering why since she’s the one who showed up to his apartment unannounced.
For as much time as they had spent together, Peter hadn’t mentioned a kid - immediately wondering how the hell she’d missed that particular piece of information, realizing again how little they knew of each other.
“Dad.” She hears through the door, Peter grimacing as he opens the door slightly, nodding for Michelle to come in even if she feels frozen in place - walking forward until he closes the door behind her.
Michelle glances up, seeing the mistletoe up on the door before Peter gives another sheepish smile, “We don’t have to uh— it’s just a tradition, putting it up on the door.” Michelle nods, a thousand emotions running through her before turning back to the hallway.
Peter has a kid. Peter lied to me.
Is it really lying when I never asked?
Oh fuck, is he really using me to cheat on someone?
She shakes her head, pushing her racing thoughts out of the way - knowing he wouldn’t have invited her in if that was the case.
Michelle sees him then, a little boy who couldn’t be more than five or six - walking into the hallway with a blanket in his hand, eyes looking a little red and glazed.
Like he’s sick . Michelle sighs, realizing the reason why Peter had left so quickly.
“Hey bud, what’d I say about getting out bed?” Peter’s voice is soft, Michelle watching as the little boy - Ben, she guesses - looks to her, sniffling as he asks, “Who is she?”
Peter turns to her, clearly at a loss - the first time she’s ever seen him speechless. Michelle’s mind goes into autopilot, coming up with an answer that she hopes will make sense.
“I’m uh, MJ, one of your daddy’s friends.”
Peter’s eyes flash with something that looks a little like a mix of surprise and relief, Michelle hoping that it was enough of an olive branch for how she acted earlier.
She looks back to Ben, seeing him sniffle as he nods sleepily.
“Hi Ms. MJ. I’m Ben.”
Michelle smiles, Peter turning back to his son.
Peter’s a dad.
“Hey kiddo, head back to bed okay? Daddy’ll be there in a second alright?” Ben just nods, sending a smile back to Michelle.
“Nice to meet you, Ms. MJ.”
“Nice to meet you too, Ben.” He shuffles out of the hallway, presumably back into his room when Peter turns to her, Michelle immediately rushing forward - needing to know.
“Are you married? Tell me fast.”
Peter opens his mouth and closes it, shaking his head. “No, I’m… I’m not.”
Michelle glances around the apartment, looking back into his eyes.
“So you’re… D-I-V-O-R-C-E-D?” She asks, hoping that Ben was too sick to overhear her.
It’s none of her business yet she’s here anyway, barreling forward as her curiosity takes over.
Peter gives his head another shake, his voice lowering as he replies. “W-I-D-O-W-E-R.”
Michelle immediately feels like shit - for showing up here, for assuming the worst, for not leaving well enough alone.
“I’m sorry.” She whispers, Peter shifting in place.
“It’s okay. Two years ago now.” He bites his lip, looking back to Ben’s door when Michelle remembers that she’s the one out of place right now, barging in when Peter clearly needed to attend to his son - feeling the hot shame roll over her for assuming the worst of him and for putting herself in a situation that he clearly didn’t want her to be a part of.
For as much as time as they’d spent together in the past two weeks, they didn’t really know each other.
And from what she’d walked into tonight, it was evident that Peter had hidden a massive part of his life from her - for reasons that Michelle could immediately understand, knowing that whatever they were doing was temporary anyway.
“I’m—I’m gonna go.”
“I’m really sorry, Peter. I shouldn’t have just shown up here without texting.” She whispers, looking meaningfully towards the direction Ben’s room was.
“You’re busy, I get it.”
Peter bites his lip again, staring into her eyes with that same look that sees right through her. It’s a look that still sends her stomach into flip flops, even now.
“Can I call you later?” Peter asks, his eyes searching her face.
Michelle nods, feeling embarrassed but accepting it - knowing that it’s a lot more generous than what she deserves, considering the massive invasion of privacy that she’d just committed.
She can’t even feel upset that he didn’t tell her something like this, considering that she hadn’t shared her own history with him - beyond surface level information about her work and the places she’d been.
And she wasn’t upset, not really - feeling more ashamed that she’d doubted her perception of Peter, even in recognizing that she couldn’t possibly know him that well to have any set idea about who he was.
“Sounds great.” Michelle affirms, opening his own door as Peter offers her a small smile, Michelle returning it as he closes the door behind him.
As soon as the door closes, Michelle sighs - feeling her shoulders sag with the exhale.
Michelle spends entirely too much time pacing the apartment, waiting for Peter’s call.
She almost thinks to call Betty but isn’t sure what to say, knowing that her romance-novel reading best friend would think this was the start of some torrid love affair.
And it wasn’t - it couldn’t be, not even considering the glaring practical obstacles in their path. She’d just gotten out of a long-term relationship not even three weeks ago - no matter how distant her and Harry had been. And she lived in LA, an entire life and career waiting for her back at home.
There’s nothing keeping you there. You were just wondering how to cover rent and your job, her mind whispers - Michelle shaking away the thought for being as silly as it was.
She liked her job, had plenty of friends. And aside from everything else, Peter had a whole dimension of his life, an entire history that he’d never shared her.
One that she doesn’t really hold against him but just further proves to her that whatever it is she’s feeling, it’s way too complicated for her to even consider.
After an hour passed and just after she’d convinced herself that it was all too much, her phone buzzes - grabbing it and answering as soon as she sees his name.
“Hi.” Michelle answers back, feeling awkward with him for the first time since they’d met - thinking that it hadn’t felt like this even that first night.
“I’m sorry that I didn’t—“
“I shouldn’t have—“
They both start at the same time, Michelle hearing Peter’s soft laugh on the other end.
“I’m sorry for just showing up like that.” Michelle says, hearing Peter sigh.
“It’s okay, I didn’t— May was watching Ben for the weekend but then he got sick and she got called in to the hospital for a shift so…”
“You don’t have to explain.” Michelle offered, hearing Peter clear his throat.
“No, I think I do. And I know I said I’d call, but I’d really like to talk to you in person. If that’s okay.” Peter asks, Michelle debating how good of an idea that was.
She still wasn’t sure what she felt about Peter and whatever it is they were doing, much less about the possibility of him having a kid he’d never told her about.
And yet Michelle was curious, intrigued beyond just nosiness. She liked Peter, she could admit that to herself.
But this was far beyond anything than she could’ve imagined - her mind literally never going there though all the signs, in retrospect, had been obvious.
Peter must sense her hesitation because he continues, saying, “I get if you don’t— if you’re upset or if it’s too much, but—“
“No, it’s okay.” Michelle says, thinking that it was - her curiosity and the feelings she can’t explain pushing her forward as she asks, “Is now a good time?”
“Yeah, yeah Ben’s asleep. I’ll uh, I’ll see you in a minute?”
Michelle nods her head, even if he couldn’t see it - already grabbing the keys to the apartment.
“Yeah, be right there.”
Michelle had debated whether she should knock only for Peter to be waiting for her, beckoning her into his apartment - Michelle letting herself take in her surroundings.
It was cozy, about the same size as Cindy and Liz’s - but there was a noticeable difference, seeing now why Peter had been so hesitant to bring her over.
It was so evident that a child lived here - toys sprawled out in the living room, hand drawn pictures on the walls and pictures of Ben everywhere.
There was a Christmas tree in the corner of the living room, a dozen or so presents all wrapped up in paper with cartoon figures that Michelle vaguely recognized.
Michelle turned away from the living room and back to the hallway, one picture catching her eye as Peter closed the door behind her, of Ben when he was much smaller, held by Peter and flanked by a beautiful, smiling blonde woman.
Michelle stares at the picture, feeling Peter walk up beside her - quiet as she tries to come up with the words to say.
Peter breaks the silence first, saying. “We met in high school.”
Michelle turns to him, Peter’s eyes focused on the picture.
“Sophomore year. We dated all throughout college, got married right after graduation.”
Peter laughed, a sad smile on his face as Michelle watched him. “She got sick, a year or so after Ben was born.”
Michelle bites her lip, seeing Peter get lost in his memories for a moment. She wants to comfort him, but isn’t sure what to say - thinking that this was information that she desperately wanted to know but didn’t want to push him, finally coming up with, “I’m really sorry. You don’t have to tell me, if you don’t want to.”
Peter shakes his head, eyes shifting away from the picture and meeting hers.
“I want to,” Peter moving so that he extended a hand out towards the living room, following his lead while she sat on the couch.
He sat next to her, running his hand over his face - propping his chin up as he laughed again.
“I wanted to tell you about Ben, that night after pizza.” Michelle remembers the conflict on his face, letting him continue. “But it’s complicated, trying to date and be a single dad.”
Peter closed his eyes, shaking his head again as he lifts his hand. “Not that this— I mean, we’re—“
“Attractive strangers who sleep together?” Michelle offers, seeing Peter laugh even as he looks back to her.
“Yeah, something like that.”
He positions himself on the couch to face her, looking contrite as he says, “I really did want to tell you. I’m sorry, Michelle. I should’ve—“
“It’s— it’s really okay, Peter.” Michelle says, meaning it wholeheartedly and hoping he understands, “I mean, I’m leaving in what, five days? I get it.”
Michelle sees the way his face falls, hating the sinking feeling in her gut. She tries to ignore it, asking, “So is May your mom?”
Peter raises an eyebrow but Michelle explains, “I saw her in the hallway.”
Peter genuinely smiles at that, leaning back on the couch. “My aunt but yeah, basically. Her and my uncle Ben raised me, after my parents died.”
Michelle immediately feels sympathy for him, seeing Peter’s eyes shift away - knowing in some unexplainable way that his son was named after someone who had also passed.
But Peter confirms it, looking back at her as he says, “Ben’s named after him, it’s just… it’s just May and I now.”
Michelle almost feels overwhelmed - with sympathy and with confusion at how well-adjusted Peter is, knowing now that he’d seemingly suffered loss after loss. The death of her parents had pushed her across the country, something that even after years of therapy she wasn’t sure she had handled all that well.
She says as much, tilting her head. “My parents are gone too. I don’t know how you do it, you’re—“ she gestured to him, a smile on her face, “you got your shit together, Dr. Parker.”
Peter smiles but it doesn’t reach his eyes, saying, “I don’t know about that. I mean losing my mom and dad, Ben” he shakes his head, “it was hard. And then when Gwen died…” Peter trails off, seeing how his lips pursed as he continued, “I uh, couldn’t fall apart you know?”
He nods back towards Ben’s bedroom, still looking into her eyes. “I had Ben. He needed me and he’s… he’s the best thing that’s ever happened to me.”
Peter stared at her for a beat, Michelle feeling a warmth she didn’t understand in her gut as he continued, “Ben’s my whole life. He’s— he’s everything to me, but I—I don’t know how to do this and still be a dad.”
“I don’t think you should have to choose, Peter.”
She smiles at him encouragingly, Peter searching her eyes as he continues.
“But that makes this…” she sees his hand twitch, sensing that he wants to reach over and take her hand but refrains, saying, “this makes things complicated. Even more than what it was already. I mean,” he takes a deep breath, exhaling out of his mouth.
“Two for the price of one, how’s that for a package deal?”
Peter leans forward, facing Michelle. “But I can’t help the way I feel about you. And I’m tired of trying to deny it.”
Michelle feels her heart start beating faster, watching as Peter continues. “I can’t stop thinking about you, Michelle. It’s crazy, I know it’s crazy cause we just met but, I never thought I’d ever feel this way again which is incredible you know? I didn’t think I ever would.”
It is crazy, ridiculous that he feels it - wilder that she feels it too, even though she knows that neither of them can just brush past this.
“I’m leaving, Peter. Your life,” Michelle nods towards Ben’s door, “is here . And I don’t, I don’t know how we can make this work.”
She laughs, closing her eyes. “What am I saying? We can’t. It’s—it’s impossible. This isn’t a movie, Peter.”
Michelle opens her eyes, seeing the certainty in his before whispering, “This doesn’t make any sense.”
“When does life ever ?” Peter asks as he laughs, Michelle seeing the pleading his eyes.
“Look, I can’t figure out the mathematics of this and you could probably give me thirty reasons for why this is a bad idea.” He grins, Michelle remembering her words that first night as he does.
But Peter reaches his hand forward now, palm out - asking for her to take it. “But I really, really like you, Michelle. And I want to see, just— see what this can be.”
Michelle doesn’t get the chance to answer, seeing Ben shuffle in out of the corner of her eye. Peter senses the shift as he leans back, turning back to him.
“Kiddo, come on. We talked about this, you shouldn’t be up.”
“I can’t sleep.” He sniffles, Peter immediately opening his arms for Ben to walk up, hoisting him in his lap. Ben is the spitting image of Peter, the same soft curls and wide brown eyes - watching as he stared back at her curiously.
“Hi Ms. MJ.”
“Hi Ben, your daddy says you’re not feeling well.” Peter smiles, looking down at him as Ben leans his head on Peter’s chest.
“There’s a bug going around his school. I thought we’d managed to avoid it but,” Peter brushes some hair out of his face, Michelle’s heart constricting at the clear love he has for him as he says, “wouldn’t be like Parker luck to give us a break, huh kiddo?”
Ben sleepily nods, Peter leaning back as he runs a hand down his back - looking back to Michelle apologetically. She thinks that this is her cue to leave, only for Ben to lift up his head, looking to Peter.
“Can I have a cheesy?”
“A… cheesy?” Michelle asks, Ben turning to her with a smile on his face - seeing for the first time that he’s missing one of his front teeth.
“Daddy makes the best cheesy’s.”
Michelle looks to Peter, seeing the smirk on his face as he mouths “grilled cheese”.
“Ahh, okay.” Michelle smiles at Ben, surprised when he asks, “Do you want one? Daddy can make you one too.”
She glances back to Peter then to Ben. “Oh that’s okay, I’m—“
But Michelle’s stomach betrays her, thinking of their failed lunch plans as her stomach growls. Ben giggles, Michelle feeling inexplicably embarrassed as Peter sits up.
“Three cheesy’s coming up then.” He looks to Michelle, seeing the offer to stay written all over his face. She nods, seeing how Peter’s shoulders relax as he kisses Ben on the temple, shifting off the couch and setting him down.
“You-“ he playfully pushes Ben’s face into the couch, Ben giggling as Peter does so, “stay right here. We don’t want Ms. MJ to get your germs.”
He stands up, reaching for the remote and putting some kind of kids show on, looking apologetically to Michelle.
This wasn’t the date she had expected, knowing that she was free to leave - considering that complicated was the opposite of what she was looking for, if she should even be looking for anything at all.
But Michelle just smiles, Peter’s face lighting as she does so - ignoring once again the sense of loss she was already feeling about the possibility of not seeing it again in less than a week.
Michelle tries to hold back a laugh as Peter tries to pick Ben up, shifting away on the couch without waking him.
“Is he a light sleeper?” She whispers, Peter shaking his head.
“No, when he’s out, he’s out . Just,” Peter grunts as he picks him up, winking at her as he does, “a little bit of kicker. Trying to avoid getting socked in the face.”
Michelle bites down on her lip as he carries Ben back with ease, hearing his soft snores fade as Peter walks to his room.
Peter’s “cheesy’s” were surprisingly good, a mixture of several cheeses Michelle didn’t catch the name of on some kind of market bread - Peter mentioning later that it was something he used to make with his Ben.
While Peter puts his son to bed, Michelle takes in her surroundings - taking a sip of the cocoa that Peter had made the three of them, even if Ben’s had long since cooled since he’d fallen asleep halfway through whatever movie Peter had started.
It was nice, a quiet afternoon that Michelle had enjoyed, Ben perking up after his sandwich - talking so fast and with so much excitability that she wondered how he normally was.
He was so curious, asking questions about who she was, where she was from - chattering so much that even Peter blushed, gently chiding him to let them eat in peace.
But Michelle didn’t mind, laughing at the animated way that Ben talked - seeing glimpses of Peter in the way his tiny hands moved around.
She did the mental math, knowing that since Ben was five that he’d been three when Gwen died, her heart breaking at the loss she knew so well - thankful that at least Ben had a dad in Peter who seemed more devoted than her father had ever been.
Michelle had seen firsthand what that kind of loss could do to a man and even if Peter had made it seem as if he didn’t have a choice - he did, choosing instead to push forward and make, from all Michelle could gather, a loving home for Ben.
Peter returns then, bringing her out of her thoughts, hands extended as he said, “And he’s out for the count. The meds should help him sleep a little better. He’s through the worst of it now, at least.”
He sighs, coming back to sit on the couch - Michelle just smiling as she watches him. Peter lays his head back, closing his eyes as she says, “He’s cute, really smart too.”
Peter laughs, rubbing his eyes. “Smart ass is more like it. You should see him when he’s not sick.” Peter opens his eyes, smiling back at her. “May says it’s karma for me being a little shit when I was younger.”
Michelle’s smile deepens, setting her cocoa down as she curls her legs under her - leaning her hand against her propped up arm.
Peter watches her, eyes traveling all over face - the quiet between them feeling so loud until she says, “He seems like a good kid.”
“Yeah,” Peter’s eyes don’t leave hers, “he is.”
“Must have a great dad.”
Peter waits, Michelle watching as his eyes flit from her lips and back up to her eyes - Michelle slowly leaning forward, pressing her lips against his.
The kiss is gentle, one of Peter’s hands immediately coming up to cradle her face - Michelle putting a hand to his chest as she leans back, Peter’s eyes half-lidded as he looked into hers.
“I should go.” She says, seeing how his eyes are now firmly set on her lips.
“Yeah.” Peter whispers, Michelle just leaning forward - kissing him with a little more purpose, Peter sitting up so he had more leverage, running his hand through her hair.
“Don’t want you to get sick.” He whispers as he continues to kiss her, neither of them moving in any other direction than closer to each other, Michelle’s own hand traveling across his chest to his back, pulling him in as she grips his shirt in her hand.
“Wouldn’t want that,” Michelle feels breathless, bringing Peter to almost hover over her, “no germs for Ms. MJ.”
Peter huffs, a small laugh then kisses her again, slipping his tongue into her mouth as his hands travel down to her thigh, Michelle pulling him in even closer as she parts her legs, dragging her hips against his.
It’s like a match has been lit between them again, the electricity in the air crackling so loudly it’s as if she can hear it. His lips are insistent against hers, his tongue mapping the inside of her mouth as he presses against her, her own hands touching as much of him as possible - like she can’t get enough.
It’s intense enough that when it finally breaks, Michelle’s out of breath - panting as Peter presses his forehead to hers.
“You don’t have to stay. If you don’t want to.” She hears him whisper, knowing that whether she stays or goes, it would be as if she was making a decision about the two of them.
It wouldn’t - not really, knowing that this was a conversation they would have to actually have in words and not just in actions.
But Michelle knew that she’s already decided, from the moment Peter had asked her to consider the impossible - whispering into his mouth before kissing him again.
“I want to.”
They’re quiet as they walk down the hall, Michelle’s hand in his as he leads her to his bedroom. She trusts Peter’s words that Ben is a heavy sleeper.
But she was still glad that Peter’s bedroom was at the end of the hall, not wanting to terrorize a sick little boy for as much as she wanted Peter.
And she did, still, Peter closing the door behind her and locking it as she steps into the room - glancing around his bedroom.
It’s messy, bed unmade and some clothes on the floor. The boots he always wore are in the corner, papers everywhere on one of his dressers.
She doesn’t know him that well and yet it’s so him it almost hurts, Michelle wishing that she’d had the chance to wake up here with him - chasing away that thought as quickly as it came.
She turns to face him, Peter’s mouth back on hers in less than a second, breathing him in as he kisses her. She feels his hands travel down to her waist, her back and her ass, pressing herself against him as she feels him - letting him push her down onto the bed.
“I didn’t think you’d want to stay.” He whispered, Michelle seeing the vulnerability in his eyes as he hovers over her, Michelle kissing him in response as she draws him closer.
She lets her lips speak for her in ways that words can’t, grabbing the hem of shirt to pull it over him - breaking the kiss as she whispers, “I didn’t think you’d want me to.”
Peter moans into her mouth as her palm travels down his bare chest and runs over his jeans, bringing her even closer as he grinds down onto her.
It’s like that between them for a few moments, Peter unclasping her bra, wrangling her shirt off and then her pants, their lips greedily finding each other’s until Michelle’s only in her underwear, Peter still in his jeans.
“I want you.” Peter almost pants into her ear, Michelle shivering as he leans back, unbuttoning his jeans as Michelle works her underwear off, Peter going to hover over her again - with nothing between them anymore.
“Fuck,” she hears him whisper as she takes hold of him, pumping her hand as he hardens underneath her touch, the sound of his moan just spurning her own further.
“Condom.” Michelle whispers back, Peter nodding as he kisses her once more, moving off of her and running towards the en-suite bathroom. He fumbles around there for a bit, Michelle just staring up at the ceiling as she waits.
This may be a bad idea, knowing how vocal they both were but then Peter’s back and on top of her, kissing her once more until he locks eyes with her, positioning himself.
It’s quiet between them, Michelle thinking it wasn’t just because Ben was in the other room but because this felt different than before, like they were crossing some kind of invisible boundary in a relationship that neither of them could really afford.
Peter searches her eyes before he leans down, kissing her again as she felt him tease her before she gasps, slowly pushing into her.
His movements are shallow at first, short and quick before Peter shudders when he finally bottoms out in her. Michelle sighs as she wraps her arms around him, bringing her head into his hands.
Peter brings his head up, kissing her as he starts to move his hips, Michelle moving with him - chasing nothing yet but the sensation of being together.
“I want you too.” Michelle finally says, Peter’s eyes opening as his hips move faster, Michelle seeing the question in his eyes.
It’s as if time moves in slow-motion, moving together like they had before but something shifting - as if Michelle would be able to pinpoint this moment as a time before Peter and after him.
“I want you.” He murmurs again absentmindedly, Michelle letting everything else fade away as she wraps a leg around him, angling herself for him to go deeper.
She lets herself think of what she’s saying, the improbability of everything and what this would mean - for their lives, for the relationship they can’t possibly have.
Michelle had never really considered the possibility of kids as anything more than an abstract thought. And yet Peter was a single dad to a five-year old.
She lived in California, thousands of miles away from the life that Peter had created for himself and for his son - knowing it would be unfair of him to ask her to move just as it would be unfair of her to ask that of him.
This was impossible, completely impossible. And yet Michelle was already thinking of how they could try and make it work, the vacation days she had saved up and the academic schedule Peter was on.
Yet as their movements start to speed up, Michelle adjusting herself and pushing forward until Peter was on his back, his hands appreciatively running across her thighs and her chest as she starts to drag her hips against his, she also knows that this thing between them was different - special in a way that would be impossible to rationally explain.
Michelle had only known for Peter for almost two weeks and yet she wondered how she could ever imagine a life without him, his hands touching almost every inch of her - knowing that it wasn’t just sex that bound them together, but a feeling of belonging that logically, she couldn’t understand.
Peter was smart and funny, made her laugh in ways she hadn’t in years - thinking that even if she didn’t really know much about him that she still inexplicably wanted to, wanted months and years to learn all about Peter’s secrets and - what surprised her - to tell Peter all about hers.
She leans forward to kiss him, Peter gripping her thighs as she starts to pant into his mouth, knowing they have to be quiet but feeling her sense of control starting to wane as his hips jerked upwards, sharply inhaling as does.
Michelle knew they would have to actually talk about this - whatever this thing was supposed to be.
But as her breathing starts to get more ragged, seeing Peter’s eyes focus in on her as they move together, she lets herself let go - just for the moment - allowing herself to enjoy one more afternoon without thinking of what was to come.
“Chelle. Chelle, are you listening?”
“Hmm?” Michelle turns her head, only to see Cindy, Liz and Betty smiling at her - sharing a look between them as she furrowed her eyebrows.
“What?” She asks, seeing Betty’s smirk as she nudges her with her elbow.
“What’s going on with you ? Still thinking about a certain hot dad?”
Liz groans, rubbing her temples as she says, “Don’t remind me about what you and Peter are doing. Did. In our bed. I can’t believe he didn’t just tell you about Ben in the first place.”
If Michelle could blush she would, feeling legitimately embarrassed even as she feigns indifference, shrugging. “Yeah well, we worked it out. On the couch. In the bathroom. On the table--”
“Ugh, Chelle are you fucking serious?” Cindy exclaims, Michelle laughing as Betty joined her.
“No, Cindy shit, calm down.”
“Is this payback for college? This is payback for college.” Cindy replies, shaking her head in disgust as she gets up from the couch, Michelle watching in amusement as she looks back at her in distrust.
“Don’t be such a drama queen, Cin.” Betty replies, winking at Michelle. “You know our girl deserves the best. I stalked him on Instagram and damn Chelle, he’s hot .”
“Gross! Please, this is Peter we’re talking about. Nerdy, asthmatic Peter who could barely run a mile without falling over.” Liz says, shuddering as she does so.
They start to go back and forth, arguing over something that Michelle stops paying attention to - her mind going back to Peter and the last time she saw him.
They’d stayed in each other’s arms for awhile, holding each other as they caught their breath once Peter had returned to bed.
He stared into her eyes and her into his, without saying a word. Partly because of the necessity of Ben still being in the other room, with another part of her being unable to escape how different this time had felt.
It was almost domestic, in a way that she hadn’t felt with Harry in a long time, even if the thought of him had reminded her that it was much too soon to consider starting anything with anyone else.
But she liked Peter, and he liked her - even if what they were doing was something that wasn’t built to last.
Peter offered for her to stay for dinner but Michelle initially declined, debating how difficult that would be to explain to Ben.
“Are you sure?” He’d asked, Michelle moving away from him only to stop - Peter’s hands on her arm. He ran his thumb against it, a tender gesture that makes her sigh.
“Peter, what’s Ben gonna think? You talk to him about adult sleepovers yet?”
Peter softly laughs, closing his eyes as he burrows his head into the pillow. “No. I--I don’t know what I’m doing, Michelle. This…” He opens his eyes, Michelle seeing the tears in them as his grip loosens on her arm.
“I know this isn’t what you wanted. I’m--” Peter sighs, “My life is complicated. Even more complicated than you being in California.”
Michelle grimaces, bracing her head against her arm as she brought a hand to his face. This thing with him is impossible, something she can’t really even reconcile as being even remotely capable of being real.
And yet it is - the idea of being without Peter being something she can’t wrap her around anymore than she can try and make sense of what this thing actually is.
“I have holidays, breaks I could take,” Peter continues, Michelle silent as he starts to trace circles on her arm. “I’ve always wanted to see LA.”
“Cross country flights are expensive. I can’t ask you to—“ Michelle whispers but Peter shakes his head.
“I got some savings. We could—“ he sighs, “maybe we could alternate. I fly to you, you fly to me.”
“Or we could meet halfway. Find some—some place in Oklahoma or something, I don’t know.”
She can see the pleading in his eyes, everything within her wanting to just agree.
But she can’t - not completely, thinking this was entirely too complex to be decided right now, especially just moments after they’d had sex.
Even if she knew it wasn’t the case, she let herself consider the possibility that Peter wasn’t thinking rationally and that neither was she.
“I like you, Peter.”
He sighs. “But?”
Michelle leans her head back down on the pillow, letting Peter bring her closer.
She could fly back and forth to New York, knowing she had the miles to do so - but that would only go so far. It was ridiculous to think about, pouring so much into a relationship that felt impossible to begin with but she could sense it - that if her and Peter did this, it would mean something.
That if her and Peter tried to make this work, that it would matter.
“It’s just a lot— it’s a lot to think about. I like you. I like Ben…” she trails off, Peter understanding even if the look on his face cuts through her.
She means it - every word. She likes Peter, so much more than she could’ve ever expected.
But she didn’t sign up for this, for complicated - no matter how much she liked Ben - and this was something she’d have to think about, something that she’d need just a little more time to wrap her head around.
Michelle hated how it sounded, that she needed to reconsider everything considering he had Ben.
But she did - it was the truth - and Peter seemed to understand, even if it clearly hurt in a way she hated, knowing Peter well enough now to recognize that he didn’t blame her for her hesitancy.
Michelle pushes that away for now, reminding herself that they don’t have to make any kind of decision right now.
She leans forward to kiss him, his arm moving to wrap around her waist as she says, “I don’t know, Peter. We don’t have to talk about it now.”
“Are you sure?” Peter asks, Michelle nodding as she leans in closer.
“Not today.” Michelle whispers.
Peter kisses her again, soft and gentle in a way that makes any sense of her resolve start to crumble even if Michelle knows she can’t let it.
“What’s the plan for dinner?” Michelle redirects, Peter sucking on her bottom lip as he leans in closer - his hands traveling downward, Michelle wondering how long Ben would actually be asleep, considering it was still a few hours away from a respectable dinner time.
“I could think of a couple different things.” Peter’s voice is heavy with intent, Michelle feeling her heart race as she kisses him again.
“Like what?” She whispers, sharply inhaling as Peter’s hands start to wander downward - knowing she won’t be able to stay quiet if he keeps moving his fingers like he was.
Peter seems to understand, kissing her again on the mouth as he teases her, twisting his hand until his thumb is rubbing against her.
Michelle huffs, closing her eyes as Peter kisses her again - moving so that he was hovering over her, his fingers and his thumb working her over as she starts to pant.
“Peter.” Michelle whispers it, hips involuntarily raising as his fingers start to move again - kissing her before moving down to her neck, her chest, her stomach until his intentions for what he was interested in are made known - Michelle putting a hand over her mouth to try and keep quiet as he settles between her legs.
His tongue replaces his fingers and it takes every bit of Michelle’s control not to cry out - arching her back as Peter continues his movements, gripping her thighs as he does.
Distantly, Michelle thinks that they’re on a time crunch - for Ben to wake up, for the conversation they need to have about this.
But Peter’s tongue is insistent as he works her over, causing any last shred of resolve to crumble - knowing that for as much as they need to talk about what could happen next, Michelle was now infinitely more interested in Peter’s mouth moving in a different way.
Peter’s actual plan for dinner turned out to be make-your-own-pizzas, something Michelle questioned whether it was a good idea or not considering Ben was supposed to be sick.
But Ben had been overjoyed, Michelle quickly realizing that it was something of a tradition for the Parker household.
“Do you have the cheese, Ms. MJ?” He asked politely, Michelle smiling back at him as she handed it over to him.
“Yeah right here, which one?”
She could see Peter watching them out of the corner of her eye but Michelle stayed focused, watching in amusement as Ben seemed to consider his options.
“Mozzarella please.” Michelle passed it over him, finally meeting Peter’s eyes as he turned his attention back to the pasta sauce - pretending as if he hadn’t been staring at the two of them.
Making the pizzas had been anything but quiet, Ben’s nap and the medicine he had clearly doing it’s intended effect - talking a mile a minute.
For just a moment, she let herself consider the possibility of fitting into their little family - wondering how that would look - even if the idea terrified her a little.
It was too much to think about, even then - entirely too forward thinking and real with a man she hasn’t even known a month.
But it was still there - this nebulous feeling in the pit of her stomach, this understanding that even if she hadn’t known Peter long that she desperately wanted to.
That being with him - not just sleeping with him but being around him - was something that felt more right than anything in her life had ever been.
Ben’s laughter brought her out of her possible spiral, both of them turning to face him as he arranged his pepperoni into a smiley face.
“Look daddy! Ms. MJ!” He squeals, the feeling in Michelle’s chest tightening and realizing again in a way that feels redundant that Peter was a dad.
She didn’t know if she even wanted kids and yet choosing to be something with Peter automatically came, as he said, with a package deal.
Michelle knew she had taken too long to react when she could feel Ben and Peter’s stares at her - Ben’s curious glance and Peter’s tortured one, as if he somehow knew what was running through her head - when Ben asked, “What do you think, Ms. MJ?”
“Come on buddy, why don’t we stick these in the oven?” Peter attempted to cover for her, his face falling as if he knew that Michelle was fully coming to grips with what this thing between them would be.
She hated that - hated how it hurt him, but there was a part of her that recognized that what she was feeling was valid.
That even if she liked Peter and wanted to be with him, willfully accepting everything in his life would require a lot more of her than it would of him.
But she stuffed it down for now, Michelle smiling as she said, “It looks great, Ben.”
She met Peter’s eyes, seeing the question in them as she says, “Let’s put them in the oven together.”
Michelle still heard the chatter of Betty and Cindy in the background, thinking of how that night had ended - looking up at the stars.
Another tradition in the Parker household, she learned, was snuggling in the canopy tent - a part of Ben’s rooms that had string lights and pillows. He’d been eager to show her as soon as they’d eaten, but Peter had tried to distract him at first with a movie - as if sensing Michelle’s hesitation, trying to give her space even if she had been the one who seemed willing to stay.
But Michelle kept it down, telling herself she could panic later - if she even wanted to fully panic - and to live completely in the moment as best she could.
As she took a sip of her coffee, feeling Liz’s stare on her, she could still remember what it felt like to crawl into his canopy under the lights - looking up to see the pictures and decorations that Ben had up, listening to his little voice as he described some story from school.
Peter had been in the kitchen, cleaning up - Michelle’s heart warming that he trusted her implicitly with his son so soon even if it made her feel torn.
She could still remember Ben turning to her, gesturing to her hair as he had said, “You have curls like mine.”
Michelle laughed, nodding her head. “Yeah, I do.” She’d half-expected him to reach out and touch it but he didn’t, just staring at her as he said, “You’re very pretty.”
Michelle smiled brightly, thinking that there was something about the Parker men who just said what they felt.
“Thanks Ben. You’re pretty too.”
Ben giggled. Then said, “Daddy doesn’t bring grown-ups that are girls around.”
Michelle hadn’t known what to say at that, only for Ben to continue. “You know if you wanted to sleep over, that would be okay. We could push our beds together and it could be really fun.”
Michelle smiled warmly again, hearing Peter walk into the room as she answered, “That’s very nice of you, Ben. But maybe another time, would that be okay?”
Ben had nodded, Peter kneeling down and wiggling Ben’s leg, shifting him over so he could lay on the other side of him.
“Nice place you got here.” Michelle says.
Peter laughed, a sound so soft that she could hardly hear it. “Yeah, little booger here decorated everything.”
Ben giggled, a sound that just made everything feel lighter than what it was, Michelle holding back a laugh as Ben yawned.
“And now it sounds like someone’s ready for bed.” Peter scooched out of the tent, tugging on Ben’s leg as he whined.
“But I’m not tired.”
“Come on kid, don’t fight this.” Michelle could see the way his eyes started to droop, looking over to Michelle as he said, “Will you stay?”
Ben couldn’t have possibly understood the double meaning of his words, the storm that was brewing in her heart at everything.
Peter froze before snapping into focus, motioning for Ben as he said, “Come on Ben. Maybe another time.”
Ben sighed loudly but listened, crawling out just as Michelle did. She let herself out of the room, only for Ben’s little voice to call out. “Goodnight Ms. MJ!”
She turned to face them, the picture of Peter tucking in Ben making her stomach do flip flops. “Goodnight Ben.”
She’d waited out in the hallway for Peter by the door, watching as he closed the door to Ben’s room behind him and walked to meet her.
“I should go.” Peter nodded.
“Yeah, I--I know Cindy’s sister is supposed to come in tomorrow?”
Michelle shifted uncomfortably in place, the awkwardness filling the silence between them until she sighed, shaking her head.
“I like you, Peter.”
Peter waited, as if this was it - as if he’d been preparing for her to break it off with him.
But she didn’t want to, even with everything. She just takes a step closer, taking her hand into his.
“I like you.” Michelle whispers, “I just--I don’t know what to do here either.”
She could see the hope in his eyes, but also the recognition of what she was saying - that this was something they’d have to talk about, knowing that any kind of understanding between them would be more complicated than either of them had ever anticipated.
But Michelle needs time to process, leaning forward to kiss Peter feeling his slight surprise until he leans into it, his hands reaching for her as she places a hand to his cheek.
“Goodnight, Peter.” She said, leaning back and going for the door.
“Goodnight, Michelle.” He’d replied, closing the door behind her - knowing that they hadn’t decided anything and yet feeling as if it was goodbye all the same.
Michelle took another sip of her coffee, staring out the window. It’d been a few days since then, the rush of the holidays all swirling around and pushing everything else away.
They’d texted back and forth a few times, most notably today - wishing each other a merry Christmas.
But it still felt like goodbye, like they were already separating from each other - something that Michelle wondered if it would be such a bad idea, all things considered.
It was awful, something that just twisted around in her gut to think about - even if on the surface, it would just make her life easier.
But she doesn’t want it to end, she doesn’t want this holiday to end - wishing she could just press pause on her life and live in the moment with him forever.
Michelle could feel someone walking behind her, sighing as she said, “I’m really not in the mood, Betty.”
“Good thing Betty’s in the shower.”
Liz’s voice surprises her, turning to see the smile on her face.
“Oh, sorry. Sorry, Liz. I’m just--”
“Distracted?” She offered, Michelle smiling at her before looking back at her coffee.
“Yeah, it’s fine. It’s--I know you don’t want to hear about all this.”
Liz tilts her head, leaning against the wall as she folds her arms. “I mean the details of what you and Peter got up to in my apartment? Absolutely not.”
Michelle laughed despite herself, watching as Liz rolled her eyes. “I’m actively trying not to think about it. But,” she met Michelle’s eyes, Michelle feeling like she was staring right through her as she said, “you know he hasn’t-- I haven’t seen him like this, in a long time.”
Michelle understood her meaning, trusting that Peter had told the truth beforehand but feeling somewhat lifted by her admission all the same.
“And I know it’s not my place to get into all of this. I know we don’t know each other all that well and you just got cheated on,” Liz sighs.
“The timing of this is… less than undeal.” Michelle replied, Liz’s smile widening.
“Yeah, timing’s a bitch but what else is new?”
Michelle doesn’t know what to say, her mind going back to how this would work - mulling over the possibilities that had kept her awake for the past few days.
She had a life in Los Angeles, a life - outside of Harry - that she had loved. Betty was over there, she had friends and a career, this wasn’t something she could just give up for a guy - much less a guy she’d known for barely over two weeks.
And she couldn’t - it was antithetical to everything Michelle stood for as a person, knowing that if she did it would also be the death knell to any kind of long-lasting relationship with him.
But this thing between her and Peter felt different - the most cliche thing imaginable, the kind of statement she would kick anyone else for saying - no matter how inexplicably true it felt.
It couldn’t be different. The odds were stacked against them.
But she couldn’t help what she felt all the same.
Liz’s voice cuts through her thoughts again, bringing her focus back on the day. “I know we’re not as close but,” Michelle caught the glint of the engagement ring on her hand, smiling at the knowledge that she was adding someone else permanently into the only family she’d ever really known, “I do care about you. I know life hasn’t given you a fair hand.”
Michelle is silent, waiting as she continues. “It hasn’t given one to Peter either. And I don’t know,” Liz shrugs, “I just wonder if maybe that’s saying something.”
“What? That damaged people are attracted to each other?” Michelle didn’t mean to be as biting as she was, seeing the way Liz winces.
“Maybe not in those exact words. You’re not damaged, Michelle. And neither is Peter.”
“I didn’t mean it like that--”
“You did,” Liz interrupts, “But that’s okay. I know this really isn’t my business.” She shrugs again, looking out the window.
“But I think, just knowing from experience, that sometimes it’s easier to end something before you can get hurt. Especially if you’ve been hurt before.”
She meets her eyes again, Michelle taking a deep breath as Liz continues. “I just hope that you don’t stop something that could be good, for both of you, before it even has the chance to begin.”
Michelle sat on Liz’s words for hours afterwards, late into the night and even the next day when they woke up - eating leftovers from the Christmas dinner Betty had made the day before.
Her and Betty’s flight out was that evening - a sense of dread at packing and leaving New York, something she hadn’t felt about the city in years.
But Michelle knew as impossible as it was, that it had nothing to do with the city and everything to do with a person - someone she’d barely met and yet already felt like she didn’t want to live without.
The laughter and the back and forth of the apartment did nothing to calm the storm in her heart, wrestling with the impossibility of what this thing could be.
Liz was right - in a way that was almost scary considering how little they knew each other, of Michelle’s penchant for cutting things off before they had the chance to begin.
If Betty and Cindy hadn’t been so insistent, so determined to ingratiate themselves into her life - Michelle’s sure she would’ve let them go years ago, wondering now where her life would be without them.
And it’s that that realization that hits her - the what-if - that washes away from everything else, feeling something in her gut that she hadn’t ever anticipated feeling, a sense of belonging that felt as visceral and as real as she felt with Cindy, Betty and now Liz.
It was a sense of belonging, of family, of being connected - a sense that she’d felt immediately with Peter, knowing it had less to do with having sex with him and everything to do with him .
His laugh. His smile. His sense of humor. His kindness. Maybe she was being silly and irrational but there it was - the inescapable feeling that she couldn’t let this thing go before she had the chance to try.
Rationally, Michelle doesn’t know how this is going to work - a small voice in the back of her head telling her that it wouldn’t , that any kind of relationship was doomed to fail before it would really have the chance to begin.
But Michelle had never taken many risks in her life and she was tired of playing it safe - the comfort of being surrounded by the people who loved her most in the world giving her the courage to do something she’d never thought she would.
She grabbed her phone out of her pocket, quickly tapping out a text asking if Peter was at his apartment - knowing that this was a conversation that she needed to have in person.
He answers immediately saying that he was, asking if everything was okay.
Michelle doesn’t answer him, just standing up - the surprised stares of the table back at her as she says, “I’ll be right back.
“You okay, Chelle?” Cindy asks, seeing the smile on Betty’s face.
“Yeah, I’ll-- I don’t know. I’ll be back.” Michelle doesn’t wait to hear their reply, rushing out the door and down the stairs - her heart pounding in her chest as she walks with purpose towards Peter’s apartment.
This was stupid - foolish, more romantic than she’s ever felt - but she has to do it, she has to tell him what she feels.
Michelle had to tell him that she wants to try.
She knocks on the door, her hands shaking as she does so only for Peter to immediately open the door, her hand still extended.
“Hi, look I’m-- this is crazy. This is, this is beyond any kind of rational thinking.” Michelle says, Peter’s surprised expression on her face.
“But I really like you too, Peter. I-- I don’t know what we’re doing here but I--” Michelle leans forward, seeing the small smile on his face.
“Whatever it is, I want to figure it out. Together. With you. If you want.”
Peter lets out a laugh, shaking his head. Michelle goes to say something more - what, she didn’t know - only to be cut off by Peter’s lips on hers, pressing herself against him in their doorway in a kiss so intense that her heart feels like it’s going to leap out of her chest, the movement of their lips feeling just as vibrant and as electrifying as it had the first time they’d kissed.
She pants when it breaks, leaning her forehead against his as he laughs and says, “I don’t think I’ll ever get used to that.”
“Me neither.” Michelle leans her head back, only for her attention to be lifted upwards - seeing the mistletoe she’d seen a few days back still hanging there as it had before.
Peter’s eyes drifted upwards, the smile on his face so bright that it was almost blinding. “Looks like we’re doing something traditional, at least.”
Michelle laughs, putting her arms around his neck, hearing Ben’s voice call out from the living room.
“Daddy! Who’s at the door?”
Peter doesn’t answer yet and neither does Michelle, staring into each other’s eyes - that sense of belonging and of home so clear in Peter’s eyes that it almost overwhelms her.
It doesn’t make sense. And yet staring into his eyes, the surge of something greater than herself flowing through her - Michelle couldn’t help but think that it made perfect sense.
She’s left New York years ago to run away, an intentional decision to leave the ghosts of her past where they belonged.
And now Michelle had run right back to New York, an impulsive decision that makes her wonder now if it’s changed everything.
Michelle had left behind the memory of a lost family and had found another, with Betty, Cindy and Liz.
And in leaving California, coming back to New York, it felt like she’d inexplicably found something with Peter that she hadn’t ever expected to find.
Something she hadn’t even been looking for.
Something she could already tell, she never wanted to give up.
“It’s Ms. MJ. Wanted to tell us merry Christmas.” Peter finally answers, Michelle smiling as Ben’s voice calls out again.
“Ms. MJ! Invite her in daddy, I want her to meet Grandma May. Can she stay and play with my toys? Can she sleep over? Can she--”
Michelle hears a soft voice in the living room, knowing that was likely Peter’s aunt, ruffling her hands through the hair on the back of Peter’s neck.
“What do you say, Dr. Parker? Can I come in?”
Peter smiled once more, bringing her closer before kissing her again, Michelle feeling the smile on his lips before he whispered.
“Yeah Yankees fan, I think we can work something out.”