When Derek arrived at the meeting, an argument was already in full force. He hovered at the door, seriously considering turning around and dealing with his mother's wrath later, but unfortunately she spotted him and motioned him in. He hesitated and she motioned again with that look, the one that said, "I'm going to count to three". Growing up he never let her get past one, and he wasn't about to test those waters now.
He slunk into the room, keeping his back pressed against the wall, until he got to the row of seats in the back. Derek sat down three seats away from the other guy in the back row. Derek mentally named him Floppy Hair until he turned and sent Derek a cheery smile. Then Derek named him Idiot, because no one could be happy to be sitting in this room.
"All I'm saying," said one of the arguers standing at the front, "is that the blatant cheating needs to stop!"
"What, exactly, are you accusing me of?" Arguer Two was a middle-aged woman with reddish hair and a deadly glint in her eye but her opponent, a young guy in a t-shirt with a stripper's pole on it, didn't seem that scared.
"I didn't realize I was accusing anyone in this room. Do you have something to feel guilty about?" Arguer One sent a smug smile towards Arguer Two.
"Do you want to know what you missed?"
Derek jumped at the soft voice beside him. Floppy Hair had moved to sit beside him and was now leaning into his personal space. Derek leaned back.
"Stiles is a bit upset about the cheating that happens. You know, with the plants? You're supposed to grow them yourself, but people -" Floppy Hair cut off at a pointed throat-clearing that Derek knew well. "Sorry, Mrs Hale," he said, that sunny grin back on his face.
"I think this is a problem for the competition committee and not something that needs to be addressed in a full meeting."
"But we don't have a Plants and Flowers coordinator!" Stripper Pole - Derek assumed his name was Stiles, but preferred Stripper Pole - exclaimed, with a wild flailing of hands that made it seem like this was the worst news ever. "I'd do it myself, but I, well, the baking."
"Stiles' Nan used to coordinate the baking," Floppy Hair murmured. "She died last Christmas so this is his first year coordinating it himself. Some of the old biddies weren't very happy."
As Floppy Hair's voice faded, his mother's came into sharp focus. "-and Derek is back to stay, so he'll be taking over as coordinator. Derek, stand up and introduce yourself."
Floppy Hair gave him a big pat on the back, grin threatening to eat his entire face. A glance at his mother showed the 'you'd-better-agree-with-me' look, so Derek slowly rose to his feet.
That had changed for one brief, shining moment when Kate had dragged him out of his shell and into her light. And ended when she'd set his nursery on fire, leaving a wreck of burnt plants, shattered dreams and insurance investigators in her wake.
And now he'd had to move back into his parent's home and start from scratch, five years of work, of new hybrids and established stock up in flames. And as penance for being such an idiot and having to rely on his parents once again, his mother was forcing him into the hell that was the Beacon County Fair Committee.
"It's not penance," his mother said when he voiced that thought at dinner. "Don't be silly, Derek. You're not being punished for what that woman did to you, nor do you have to do penance for falling in love."
She exchanged one of those looks with his father and he could read the worry there, and he was suddenly glad that he was the only child in the house at the moment, as strange as it was to eat dinner alone with his parents.
"Son," his dad said gently, "do you think what Kate did was your fault?"
"I thought we were talking about the Fair?"
His dad sighed and sat back, and this time the look his parents shared was exasperated.
"Well then, about the fair. You're trying to establish a new business. Being involved in the fair committee can only help. It will engender goodwill in the community, give you contacts with the gardeners of the county, since you'll be organising everything, and if you'd consider sponsoring a prize it would be wonderful advertising."
"Maybe I'll go work for you instead."
"No you won't," his dad said. "This is your dream, and you're not letting Kate Argent win by giving up on it. And don't think quitting your nursery will get you out of helping at the fair. It's good for your mother's mayoral race to have children involved in the community."
"Stiles helps out every year partly to help his Dad's race."
"He has a name, so please don't refer to him by his t-shirt. Otherwise one week you'll be calling him Stud Muffin."
"What's his dad do?"
"He's the Sheriff. And his son enters almost everything and organises the baking, so organising one section is certainly doable for you."
"That was the Stilinski kid?"
Derek remembered him from high school. He'd skipped a year somewhere along the line, so was a 13-year-old Freshman when Derek was a senior. The kid had been picked on a lot because he talked incessantly, was small and skinny, and his dad was a cop so certain seniors called him 'narc'.
Derek had only thought of him as 'Stilinski' but he seemed to remember a nickname because his first name was Polish and unpronounceable. Clearly he still talked too much, but he'd certainly grown up in all the right places.
"Yes, that was Stiles Stilinski. You'll be spending a lot of time with him on the competition committee, so be nice."
"He just lost his grandmother?"
"Yes." His mother looked surprised. "How did you know?"
"The kid sitting next to me -"
"Scott. Stiles' best friend."
"And what does he do?"
"Provide Stiles with moral support mostly. He's just graduated as a vet, so he's on-call on the day for the animals."
"And why am I the only Hale child roped in?"
"Well, your younger siblings are still at college, Robert no longer lives in town, and Laura terrorised too many people and got banned. You will not do that to me, understand?"
"Am I really the type to terrorise people?"
"Well, you do have resting bitch face, so maybe you could work on that?"
"How about we accept that Derek will do his level best not to upset people and we turn the subject to other matters?" That was his dad. Always the peacekeeper. "But, Derek, I'd like to talk to you tomorrow about the nursery, if that's okay?"
"I'm not offering you a loan."
"What?" It was six in the morning and Derek was eating breakfast standing in the kitchen. He'd been planning to sneak out for the day and try to avoid the conversation.
"I've known you for twenty-seven years, Derek. I know you were going to try to avoid me today. So, I'm telling you, no loan. Not even an investment. Everything monetary will have to come from your pocket."
"So what did you want to talk about?"
"I'm offering you land."
"You know that half of the land people think of as the Beacon Hills Preserve is actually Hale land, right?"
Derek nodded. "Yeah, it never got developed because your great-grandfather died before he could clear land, and his son wasn't a farmer."
"There is that area halfway to the house that was cleared by my dad. He was going to build a new house. You kids played baseball there in the summer."
"What I'm proposing is that I give you that land. It's a huge spot, you can develop your greenhouses again, build a little shop and perhaps even a small house, and get your business up and running again."
It was incredibly generous, but it wouldn't work.
"Thanks, Dad, really, but even if it were zoned for commercial use -"
"You have contacts on that committee."
Derek nodded in acknowledgement. "Even so, it's not exactly going to get foot traffic. It's not in town. Who’s going to drive out just to buy a few plants?"
"You'd be surprised at the amount of foot traffic it gets; a lot of the walking paths cross through there and a lot of people park there to start their walks. If we have parking that the town can use both for your nursery and for the trails, I think you'd get a lot of business. Maybe think about a little cafe as well so people can get a drink after their walk and then buy a plant. Or maybe you can talk to your sister about the more sociable aspects of the business." His dad must have seen the look of disdain on his face at the idea of serving people coffee. "And for people who don't use the trail, we market the location. Talk about it as a nursery existing in the wild, sell plants native to the area for people worried about the drought and local wildlife. Make it somewhere people want to visit."
“Can I think about it?
"Of course. But I did talk it over with your mother, and she wants the paperwork filled out so she can get it approved soon."
Derek's face must have fallen because his dad clapped a hand on his shoulder.
"Don't let her walk all over you on this. I think you could make it work, but if you'd rather find somewhere closer to the town center we'll support you. Just remember, people will travel for quality."
"So I can't let her walk all over me on this, but I still have to be on the fair committee?"
"I pick my battles, son. So should you."
He was surprised to see Stiles jump down from the truck, obviously part of the crew that were helping him get set up.
"Hey, I know you!" Stiles said as soon as he landed on the ground.
"Derek!" Apparently Scott was part of this crew as well. "Good to see you, man. Stiles, this is Derek from the fair committee. He's going to be in charge of plants and the fruits and vegetables, so you should be nice to him."
Derek was leaning forward with his hand outstretched when - "Wait, what? The fruits and vegetables?"
Stiles shook his hand, even as Derek stood there frozen. "That's what it says in the minutes, dude. You should really read them. Talia loves to sneak things in there." Derek's face must have gone to 'resting serial killer' as Laura called it, because Stiles took a rather large step back. "I mean, uh, your mom loves to sneak things in there?"
"Don't call me dude."
"Sure thing, Mr Hale." Stiles rolled his eyes and turned back to the truck, passing a large black guy heading his way.
"Derek, this is Boyd. It's his show, we're just helping out because of student loans."
"Mr Hale," Boyd said, shaking his hand.
"Isaac's the last member of our crew." A curly-haired kid who looked no older than fifteen waved to him.
"We all went to school together," Scott put in happily, forcing Derek to seriously reconsider his assumptions about Isaac's age.
"Scotty, stop gossiping like an old lady and come give me a hand!"
With one last smile, Scott turned and went to the truck, helping Stiles lift things to the ground as Isaac handed them down.
"My favourite days are the days I don't need extra help," Boyd murmured, and Derek couldn't help but laugh.
"I know how you feel."
"Okay, then, Derek. Where would you like them?"
Derek had spent the weekend pacing out the site and marked out the space for the greenhouses in some spray paint. This meant he could just point Boyd at the right spot and watch him get the three boys to work. It seemed odd that Boyd was in charge of a group of guys his own age, but that mystery was answered when two cars pulled in around lunchtime. One had 'Boyd Greenhouses' painted on the side, much like the truck the boys had come in. The other was a cruiser, and the Sheriff stepped out.
"Sheriff. Is there a problem? I have all the paperwork saying I'm allowed to build here." Damn, he sounded nervous. The thing with Kate really messed up his reactions to law enforcement, even Sheriff Stilinski, who he'd known since his early teens when his Mom was elected to council at the same time the Sheriff first became Sheriff.
"No problem, Derek. Vernon and I thought we might be able to help you if these four were being too painful. I know how Stiles is."
"Hey!" Stiles squawked from where he was walking up to them. Derek was trying not to look - had been trying not to look since Stiles took his t-shirt off earlier in the day. He had way too much to do to get a crush on someone, and as pretty as Stiles was, the kid just did not shut up. So Derek looked at the man the Sheriff had called Vernon instead and was greeted with what Boyd was sure to look like in twenty-odd years.
"Vernon Boyd," he said, holding his hand out. "Call me Vernon."
"Derek." Derek had forgotten how many hands he had to shake when he wasn't regularly gardening. A glove covered with alpaca poo was generally enough to ward anyone off.
"The Sheriff and I actually just wanted to drop some lunch off for the boys since they left the cooler sitting on the bench in the office. And I wanted to make sure everything had gone smoothly. We've remembered all the parts? It was as you expected?"
Everyone had dropped tools at the mention of lunch and had crowded around the cooler, grabbing at sodas and sandwiches. Derek hadn't thought to bring lunch down to the site with him; he was going to have to walk back up to the house.
"There's enough for you, Sourface."
"Stiles!" The Sheriff sounded appalled.
"I mean, Mr Hale. Ham and cheese okay? We've even got a spare soda."
Derek chose to ignore any and all comments about his face and accept the sandwich. It came with a can of soda, some carrot sticks and a handful of potato chips from a large packet Stiles confiscated from the cruiser.
As Stiles bit into a third sandwich, he hopped up onto the truck bed beside Derek.
"So," he said. "I feel we should have a conversation before the committee meeting Thursday night."
"There's a committee meeting Thursday night?"
"You really should read the minutes. There is indeed a committee meeting for convenors, and as you're now in charge of two schedules which, I think, is really a bit much for anyone to have to deal with, especially the morning of the fair, but what do I know, right?"
"You didn't finish your sentence."
"As you're now in charge..." Derek waved his hand in a way that he hoped conveyed 'get on with it'.
"Oh! As you're in charge of two schedules, you really need to be there. Otherwise they'll stick you with the worst prizes, Mrs Whittemore will nominate you to be the gofer on the day and the results system will continue to be the most unwieldy manual piece of crap known to man. Honestly, I could do with some under-50 support. Someone who knows how to use a computer."
"Mrs Whittemore, the wife of the public prosecutor?"
"Nooo." Stiles drew the word out, lips pursing in a pout. "Mrs Whittemore, the widow of the former County Judge. The mother of the public prosecutor."
"Indeed. So you'll be there?"
"What's a gofer?"
"You know, an errand boy. You gofer this and gofer that? I'm not doing it this year, I refuse. If you're not there, I'm totally saying you volunteered."
Derek sighed. "I'll be there."
"Good morning, Derek," his dad said, pushing past him to get to the table with more bacon and some toast. "Eat up, Kira; there's plenty."
"Thanks, Mr Hale," Morning Person said, reaching towards the toast at the same time as Stiles, and Derek hurried to the table before there wasn't plenty any more.
"Derek, this is Kira," his mother said. Kira waved and Derek nodded in her direction, even though he knew it annoyed his mother. "Kira has very kindly offered to take over the fruit and vegetable section at the fair."
The fact that Derek hadn't even known about the fruit and vegetable section had been a topic for discussion at the dinner table Saturday night. And Sunday, Monday and Tuesday nights. The only reason it hadn't come up Wednesday night was because his parents had eaten out in what Derek assumes was a successful attempt to avoid the topic which, Derek had to admit, had devolved into his own barbed, passive aggressive comments when what he thought was a reasonable and frank discussion had failed to get him the outcome he desired.
"Thank you, Kira," he said as sweetly as he could muster.
"You're welcome, Derek. When Stiles mentioned it to me, I just jumped at the chance. I mean, I'm new in town so it's good to meet people, you know, and I love growing fruit and vegetables. I was totally going to enter some of my own. Can I still do that?"
"Yup," Stiles said around his scrambled eggs.
"Oh, good, I've got some good heirloom carrots in the ground at the moment and I think some cabbage will make the grade. This is so exciting, don't you think, Derek?"
"Thrilling," he said, as dryly as he could manage.
"You'll have to excuse my son," Talia said, sending a glare his way. "He doesn't believe in showing emotion."
"Derek shows emotion," Stiles said, reaching for the plate of bacon.
"Thank you, Stiles."
"He does annoyance particularly well."
Just for that, Derek shot his hand out to grab the last piece, and stuffed it in his mouth, ignoring Stiles' outraged cry. His mother shot him one of her 'looks', but his dad was trying to hide his grin so he figured he wasn't in too much trouble.
"So you came over to tell me about Kira taking over the produce?" he asked.
"No. I'm trying to convince Talia to get a new computing system. Or a computing system, since the current one is non-existent."
"It's not in the budget, Stiles. I'm sorry."
"We're willing to do it half-price in exchange for advertising space in the booklet. You have to admit, having someone enter the data and having the results just spit out, including prize money required and overall winners is a darn sight easier than adding things up by hand."
"I have to add things up?" Kira asked. "Maybe this isn't such a good idea."
"Not if I can help it." Stiles looked like he was going into battle.
"Okay, at half-price we can afford it, but it's not my decision. That's the convenor committee's decision. And think of the logistics. Who is going to do this data entry for you? On what computers?"
"Well, all we need is a couple of laptops, and I'm sure Laura and Cora would be happy to sit in the office and enter data, wouldn't they?"
"If you get the committee to agree, I'll get my daughters to agree."
"Great!" Stiles looked over at Derek. "Do I have your support in the vote?"
"If it means Laura and Cora stuck in the office all day? Absolutely."
The day went far too swiftly and before long Derek was sitting in a cramped room at the back of the town hall with ten other poor, unfortunate souls. There was an argument happening already.
"I just think Stiles has too much going on, what with starting his new business and all. I think I should take over the baking section."
This was the first time Derek had ever seen Stiles at a loss for words. He was opening and closing his mouth but no sound was coming out.
"Oh, shut it, Joyce."
Everyone immediately turned to look at the newcomer to the argument, a woman about his grandmother’s age, with bright purple hair.
“You know as well as I do that Stiles has been pretty much running that section for the last two years. I’m sorry Stiles, but you know Zofia didn’t have much energy; she was very open about you doing most of the running around.”
“S’okay, Bev. Thanks. And just because I have a full-time job, doesn’t mean I don’t have time for this. Same with Derek; we’re both all-in. Right?”
Suddenly everyone was looking at him and Derek almost opened his mouth to disagree and offer the spot to someone else, but he didn’t want to imagine what his mother would say to that, so he just nodded in agreement.
A knock at the door had everyone turning in that direction and Kira poked her head in. “Oh, I’m in the right place!” she said, and slipped into the room, then into the spare chair beside Derek.
The woman Stiles had called Bev clapped her hands. “Okay, I think that’s everyone, so let’s get this started so I can get home in time for Real Housewives. First off, I’d like to thank Stiles, Derek and Kira for volunteering to convene a section. It’s so good to know that there are young people willing to help out in the community.”
One of the old men sitting in the circle said, “Hear hear!” and there was a lot of nodding from everyone except Joyce.
“Now, I think we should all introduce ourselves quickly. Stiles knows us all, but Derek’s been away a while and Kira’s only just moved to town.”
Derek was about to tell Bev that there was no need for that when Kira jumped in with a chirpy, “That would be so great!” So Derek sat through the interminable introductions, discovering that Mrs Whittemore looked after the art, that there was a section for caged birds and that there were enough alpacas in Beacon County to necessitate a section for both the animals and their wool.
Joyce, in charge of preserves, was clearly not a favourite, going by Stiles’ glare the entire time she was talking and the general eye-rolling from the rest of the committee. Derek made sure to mention his new nursery and the upcoming opening date.
Bev kept looking at her watch, obviously keen to get back to Ramona and Bethenny (Derek only watched to have something to tease Laura about - absolutely no reason besides that). She led them quickly through an agreement to Stiles' new computer-based results system.
"Finally," she said after cutting through everyone's arguments about the database. ”Finally we need to get the schedules for this year finalized. I've got a copy of last year's schedule. Go through it over the next two weeks, and come back to the next meeting with a final list. That's all, see you at the next meeting."
With that, Bev handed him a list and waved as she ran out the door. Derek's watch said she had 5 minutes, but given how small Beacon Hills was, he thought she'd only miss the opening credits.
Then Derek looked down at his sheet of paper and finally found out exactly what he'd agreed to.
"So, " Stiles said, patting him on the back. "I'll come over in the morning and you can complain. In the meantime, Real Housewives is on."
And Derek was left staring down at the paper, alone.
The soil was stuck in his fingers and under his nails and Derek didn't look at Stiles' long, clean fingers at all.
"I was wondering," he said as he put another cutting into a pot of soil.
"It's a thing. Did you have a look last night?"
Derek had in fact, had a look last night. There were not quite a hundred million categories in the 'floriculture' section, but it seemed close. It was closer to a hundred and fifty, which seemed like far too many.
"Why is there a category for two roses in a bottle as well as three roses in a bottle? And what is ‘floral arrangement in recycled container’?"
"One - Okay. The second question is easier to answer. A floral arrangement in recycled container is normally a bunch of flowers in a tin can. The reason there are categories for two roses in a bottle as well as three roses in a bottle and one rose in a bottle, and single flower, double flower, three lilies, two lilies and what have you is because of the State County Fair Association."
Stiles picked up a cutting and began to twirl it between his fingers. Derek picked it out of his fingers and plunked it into a pot.
"Tell me about the State County Fair Association."
"Joyce used to run this section."
"And Joyce liked to do well at the State Fair."
"This isn't telling me much so far."
"The State Fair collects the scores people have gotten from the different county fairs and aggregates them to decide the winner of the State Fair categories. You know, the overall winner. So the more categories someone goes in and gets points in, the better they do at the State Fair."
"You're telling me that the reason I have a hundred and fifty bloody categories of one rose, two rose, red rose, blue rose is because of some old lady wanting to win twenty dollars at the State Fair?"
"Okay, for starters, it's more than twenty dollars. The overall State Fair winner gets, like, five hundred bucks or something. Secondly, Joyce's sister, who she hates, lives down in San Diego county and is her biggest competition each year. There is more to this than just money."
"Does that mean I need to keep the hundred and fifty categories? And what do I actually have to do?"
"No. Don’t keep the categories. And the main thing we do is answer questions and, you know, make sure things run smoothly on the day."
"Smoothly on the day?" Stiles' fingers were now getting soil in them since he'd started running his fingers through the pile on the table.
"Yeah, look after the judges, put things on the table, make everything look pretty."
"Pretty?" Derek snorted.
"Yeah. Like this greenhouse. Pretty. And then record the results and send them to Laura and Cora to enter the data."
Derek finally slammed his hand down over Stiles’. "If you can't sit still, then put the soil in the pots instead of making a mess."
"Sure." Stiles happily started putting piles of soil into the small cardboard pots. "What are you planting?"
"Very descriptive." Derek smiled. "When are you opening?"
“Another week." It seemed like it should be longer. Everything had happened so quickly, but he'd got a small shop set up, using a transportable, and enough stock from outside sources that he could start selling. His trees were getting set up and there was a shipment of natives ready to go. He even had a fridge in and had stocked it with iced tea and sports drinks for the people who were already parking in his lot before they hiked into the preserve.
"I'll have a look at your website."
"Derek, please tell me you have a website."
"I have a website."
"I don't believe you."
"Nor should you." Stiles and Derek both turned at the voice behind them.
Derek let Stiles sound excited to see his sister and gave her the normal half-nod. She rolled her eyes at him.
"Hello, Stiles. Always good to see you."
"I don't believe you, either," Stiles said with a wry smile and Derek found himself giving Stiles a sharp look. He wasn't as confident as he seemed.
"Nor should you," Laura said again and Derek shot her a dirty look.
"So the point is, Stiles and Derek, that Derek needs a website and also an espresso machine. I bought the espresso machine and I think Stiles can help with the website."
"I don't need an espresso machine."
"Don't worry, Der-bear; I'm going to be the one running it. I know you can't handle humans as well as you can handle plants. But you need to get Stiles here to design your website."
"I thought you wrote programs, like for the show."
"Yes. The show database,” Laura said, giving Stiles a ‘look’. Obviously she was getting training from their mom.
Stiles gave a nervous laugh.
"It'll be easy; I promise. But, yeah, that was just a little database to make life easier for the convenors. The business I run with Danny is mainly website design. He does all the technical stuff, like forums and shopping pages and anything requiring coding, and I make it pretty and do the writing. It's a partnership made in, well, college, really."
"Good God, no," Laura said. "Half the time Danny won't let him in the office."
"It's not an office, it's Danny's spare bedroom, and I'm allowed in for an hour every Monday morning for the meeting. And it's the way I like it. I like working in new and varied places. That's the joy of this sort of work - I can do it sitting at Starbucks or my living room, or under a tree. Even at a tall table covered in dirt, though I'd be worried about the dirt getting into my laptop."
"It's not dirt - it's a high-quality mix of compost, blood and bone and soil."
"Why do they call it blood and bone? I've always wondered."
"Because it's made by mixing the blood and ground-up bones of animals?"
"Ugh!" Stiles jumped away from the bench. "And you let me touch it without gloves on or anything?"
"It's just a little dirt."
"You just said -”
"This is lovely, watching you two flirting and all, but back to the website. I'm proposing that Stiles give us a friend's discount for a simple website and blog, no shop or anything at the moment, and to set up the Facebook page."
"Why do I need a Facebook page?"
"Has he always been this hopeless?"
"And what do I get for giving you friend's rates? Because every time I give a discount it comes out of my share, unless I can show the business is getting benefit."
"Free coffees? As many plants as you like, in perpetuity?" Laura was talking and Derek briefly wondered why she was negotiating before he remembered how hopeless he actually was at this sort of thing.
"None of these things is very convincing."
"How about friend’s rates or Derek sides with Joyce on every vote for the next two years?"
"That's cruel, Laura. How could you be so mean?"
"Is it a deal?"
"Is this something you're going to agree to, Derek? Are you going to let your sister take over and turn you into one of the mean girls?"
"She's my business manager." Derek thought it was a good decision.
"I am? I totally am, which means I'll be making coffees and also getting a raise. It also means Derek's going to vote against you."
"And If I do this thing for him, he votes with me, yes?"
"Fine. Deal. Do you have a logo? What's the name of the nursery? What are your thoughts on branding?"
"Am I supposed to have answers to any of those questions?"
Laura and Derek laughed as Stiles' face went very red.
Derek didn't want a big grand opening, so one morning he just switched the sign from closed to open and then went about his normal routine of watering things, potting things and moving things. Laura was the first one to show up and when she saw the sign said open she hit him and then set up a few tables and umbrellas that she'd charged to her card and ordered him to pay her back for. The next people to come through were a couple who had parked before he arrived for the day and stopped for a drink before heading home.
"We're actually hoping to plant some fruit trees in the backyard," the woman was saying.
"Oh, that's Derek's specialty." Laura was happily moving around the big coffee machine she'd made him drag in the day before. He hadn't realized she knew how to make anything besides instant. "Derek, do you have any trees ready?"
"Of course." The woman and her husband turned at his voice. "What sort of fruit are you looking for?"
"I'd like lemons and limes as well as peaches and mangoes and nectarines, but our yard just isn't that big. I thought buying a smaller plot would be good, but now we want to grow some of our own food and it's way too small."
"Well, mangoes are out; it's far too cold. But I have a grafted citrus at the moment - it produces lemons and limes - and peaches and nectarines can both grow in pots, so they don't need a lot of space. And don't forget about the berries; plenty of fruit in very small spaces."
Laura smiled at him in a really obnoxious way - like she was both proud of him for the words and laughing at him that they were all about plants.
"I hadn't thought about berries, even though I love blueberries. You don't have any of those, do you?"
"Actually, I had a shipment yesterday that included a couple of blueberry bushes. I'd have to order in strawberries, or you could wait a few months until mine get established properly."
The wife, Mandy Lehmann, followed him towards the greenhouses while her husband stayed sipping coffee with Laura. Derek learned that they'd recently moved to the area to get away from the pollution and high real estate prices in the big city. Since both Mandy and Leo could work from home they thought a place away from all the evils of the city would be better. "We want our kids,- which we're trying for, you know? - to go to school without needing to go through metal detectors. Beacon County is such a safe, friendly place. Even the city mayor came to say hello when we moved in; you don't get that in the city."
"Yeah, Mom's a bit enthusiastic."
"Your Mom's the mayor? Wow, what an amazing woman. Must have been amazing growing up with her."
"Yep." Derek was learning that Mandy was a talker.
"My Mom just wasn't like that. Not involved. Are you involved in anything?"
"Yeah. I run one of the sections in the County Fair."
"Really?" And she was off again. Eventually Derek sent her away with the citrus, a blueberry, some herbs and pots and a few bags of potting soil, as well as a promise to enter the cooking competition in the Fair. While he'd been helping Mandy, a blonde girl had arrived with what had to be her grandmother, and they were looking at the flowers, and Laura was serving some more people in the cafe.
The blonde sought him out as soon as he was free again and he spent some time answering questions about agapanthus that were clearly coming from an expert. He thought the grandmother was the expert and that was proven when the blonde translated his answers into Spanish for her.
After the blonde left, Boyd came past with his Mom, Joyce spent an hour peering at the pot plants and left without buying anything and Bev came through with a cheery wave and left with a box full of flowering shrubs.
Sometime around eleven it finally slowed down and Derek headed to the little shop to ask Laura to make him a coffee. He found Stiles and Kira sitting at the long wooden bench looking at a computer screen. Laura hovered behind them, looking over their shoulder.
"A catchier name wouldn't go astray."
"Mmm-hmm." Laura sounded like someone who'd said that same thing many times before, probably because she had. 'Hale's Nursery' was simple and said everything he wanted to say. He didn't need to be clever.
"I like alliteration," Kira said, sipping her coffee.
"Yeah," Stiles said. “But there's not really an H word that works for plants. Derek is all about fruit and flowers and that doesn't work with H or D."
"What about 'Horticulture' you idiot?" said Laura.
"Hale's Horticulture? Could work, but do we assume people in the town know what horticulture is?"
"Cruel," Derek said and all three of them jumped. "But possibly fair."
"So we go with Hale's Horticulture?"
"No. It's Hale's Nursery because it's my business and I say so, and also because I've registered the business name."
“What about things that do alliterate with plants or flowers?” Kira said as if she hadn’t even heard him. The three of them suddenly had thinking faces on.
“Ugh,” Stiles said. “Now I can only think of bad P-words.”
“Well I’m taking it seriously,” Kira said. “What about Heavenly - no wait. That’s back to H.”
“So we’re sticking with Hale’s Nursery,” Derek said.
“Freedom Flowers,” Laura said.
“Are you going to serve Freedom Fries as well?”
“Pretty Plants,” Kira said. “Perfect Plants. Fresh Flowers. Fiery Flowers -”
Derek felt the blood rush from his face and Stiles and Laura both froze, but Kira was still talking. At least someone didn’t know what had happened back east.
“Was one of them bad?” Kira asked when she suddenly realised something was wrong.
“No. No, it was good,” Laura said suddenly.
“No, Derek. Firebird Flowers.”
“What?” Stiles asked, but Derek was thinking about it.
“There’s a bit of symbolism there about being reborn from the ashes, but even without it.”
“Even without it?” Kira asked.
“Derek loved phoenixes growing up.”
“Oh, shut up. It’s cute. He liked the Harry Potter books and adored Fawkes and had pictures of phoenixes and it was all adorable and then he planted like, five different kinds of flowers called ‘Firebird’ down the side of the house. They’re all still there, this big path of orange, red and yellow that comes up every summer. Firebird Flowers. It’s perfect.”
“Yeah. Yeah, it is,” Derek said. “Firebird Flowers and Plants.”
“I like it,” Stiles said. “But it means I’ll have to rework the logo and sort out a new domain. I’ll double-check it isn’t trademarked anywhere and get you sorted out.”
“It also kind of hints back to the drought,” Kira said.
“It does.” Laura kind of jumped around on the spot a bit. “This is so exciting. Stiles, can you get the website done by the Grand Opening?”
“Probably. Facebook definitely, I can have that done today.”
“I’m not having a Grand Opening.” Derek found himself faced with three bitch faces as good as anything he could pull off.
“I’m going to run up the hill and tell Mum and Dad!” Laura said.
"I have to get going. I have another job interview. I can drop you up there."
"Thanks!" Kira and Laura headed off, leaving Derek with Stiles.
"I'd better get out of your hair as well."
"No need to hurry off. Tell me about this website?"
Stiles opened up his computer and brought up the website. It had lots of greens and browns, like a garden in itself, with a hipstery sort of logo that still said Hale’s Nursery. "I’ll mix the colors up a bit, add reds and yellows to keep with the name and redesign the logo. It's just one page for now, but when you're ready we can do a products page to show what new plants you've developed and what they should be doing each season. It'll be good."
"And the Facebook page?"
"You should put lots of photos up there and if you're having a sale and that sort of thing. But I'm pretty sure Laura will take care of it."
"She'd probably be better at it than I am."
Apparently Laura had put on the Facebook page that it was their grand opening on Saturday and talked about sales, great discounts, free coffee and delicious cakes. Derek didn't know where the cakes were coming from, had neither the time nor skill to bake them himself, but Saturday morning he came into the kitchen to find large batches of chocolate and vanilla cupcakes on the kitchen counter. His Dad was taking another tray out of the oven.
"These are honey-flavored, and they're gluten-free," he said as he started putting them on cooling racks.
"Thanks, Dad. You're a lifesaver."
"Yes, well. Your sister called me to tell me she'd made a horrible mistake and I had to help. She's always the one with the horrible mistakes, isn't she?"
Derek could feel his mouth twist. "Not always," he said.
His Dad put a comforting hand on his shoulder. "That wasn't your fault," he said, and he almost sounded convincing. "Now, you'd better head down - take a smoothie - and I'll bring the cakes in an hour or so."
Derek walked down the hill to the nursery, arriving at the store just as a familiar blue jeep pulled up.
"Hey, Derek!" Stiles called as he jumped out. "Help me with this stuff?"
Stiles turned and started reaching into the backseat and Derek didn't look at his ass - he didn't! Instead he walked calmly over to the car.
"What am I helping with?"
Stiles turned with his arms full of tupperware containers. "I have some fancy cupcakes - lavender and honey, lime and pistachio, vanilla chai - as well as a bee sting cake, some fruit tarts and a couple of gluten-free pies. It's close enough to October for pumpkin, I think.”
“It’s barely August.”
“Well, I used canned pumpkin and, quite frankly, the fact that we can only enjoy pumpkin-flavored treats near Halloween is atrocious. It’s an attack on our freedom! People should be able to enjoy pumpkiny goodness anytime they want.”
Stiles flashed him a bashful grin. “Laura said your Dad was doing chocolate and vanilla?"
"Great! And I asked Erica to bring some berry ones - strawberry, blueberry, she'll probably make those cranberry ones she's convinced taste good."
Derek took two of the containers and headed towards the store. "Who's Erica and why is she helping?"
"She said she met you the other day when she came here with her abuela."
"Blonde girl? Blood red lipstick? Looks like she eats young men for breakfast? Her grandmother was all about the agapanthus?"
"That's the one! Used to be the shyest thing in high school. Anyway, she's helping because Laura asked and also because Laura agreed to a bit of cross-promotion - you'll send people towards the bakery she's planning on opening in January."
They walked back towards the car for another load just as a van with Reyes' Baked Goods emblazoned on the side drove up.
"Catwoman!" Stiles cried.
"Batman," the blonde replied with a grin. "Derek. Come use those ridiculously large biceps to help me unload the van. I have all the berry things you wanted along with some mini-quiches and cheese tarts. Some gluten-free." She and Stiles fist-bumped at that.
"Why is everyone making gluten-free?" Derek asked.
"Please, Derek. It's important to be inclusive of those people unable to ingest gluten due to intolerances or digestive issues. Please try to contain your prejudices for those with delicate constitutions."
"Shut up, Stiles." Erica handed Derek a couple of containers.
"Gluten-free is a new category in the baking section. Everyone is getting their practice in."
"The fair is almost a year away."
“We take these things seriously."
Laura pulled up then and she, Stiles and Erica got tables with cakes set up and started the coffee as Derek did all the things required of having a nursery, like watering and making sure everything was looking pretty. He also worried about the amount of food that had been organised between his Dad, Stiles and Erica. How many people did they really think were going to turn up?
"Well, we'll want to at least feed the helpers," Laura said.
"That's us!" Scott called. Derek thought he and the bunch of friends he'd brought with him were just there because Stiles had asked them.
"We're going to paint the name of your shop on the side. A big mural! Boyd's designing it."
Derek turned to Laura, because, really?
"Yup," she said. "And anyone who turns up today can put a handprint on it. It'll be a big draw!"
Well, even if no one turned up, at least Derek wasn't going to have to paint the store.
Whether it was due to Laura’s advertising, the fact Derek was related to the Mayor, or simply due to there being nothing better to do in Beacon Hills on a Saturday, their grand opening was ridiculous. Laura had brought Scott, Stiles, Erica, Boyd, Isaac and Kira in to paint the mural, and his younger siblings, Cora and Patrick also came down from college to help out. But Derek ended up grabbing them for other things; Kira knew lots about growing food and apparently Isaac used to look after the gardens in the cemetery when he was growing up and he was very skilled at growing flowers, so they ended up helping with customer questions, and Erica was more than happy to help serve coffee and cake.
Finally at five o’clock, an hour after their advertised close time, everyone except Hales and Laura’s little band of helpers had left for the day. Derek looked around and even though he knew a lot of people had come by because they were nosy and wanted some free coffee, he was still going to have to put in an order for more plants a lot sooner than he’d planned. He grabbed a coffee and sat at a table with his Mom to observe the last of the mural-painting. The hand-prints Laura had been talking about had been turned into grass at the bottom of the picture, with a few child-size hands becoming colourful flowers, but Derek’s eye was immediately drawn to the main part of the wall where a large phoenix in reds and golds curved around the first ‘F’ in ‘Firebird Flowers’. ‘And Plants’ was printed in smaller writing underneath. There were a number of flowers that used the name ‘firebird’ in some form or another, and Boyd had used the majority of them to make up the bird’s tail.
“It’s perfect,” he said into a lull of conversation. Boyd grinned, everyone applauded and Stiles suggested retiring up the hill for pizza. By the end of the night Derek had to conclude that he now had friends.
Beacon Hills never got too cold - it was a hill, not a mountain - so people kept hiking and buying coffee and walking out with a little pot plant right through winter. They were even taking orders for Christmas presents even though it was only November - poinsettias and winter roses were especially popular.
It wasn't quite as busy, though, as it had been in the fall and with Laura in the shop taking care of all the paperwork and new employees Isaac and Kira answering questions and serving customers, Derek got to spend his time in the greenhouses doing what he loved - experimenting with new breeds and creating beautiful new flowers. He only really left to get coffee and make sure everything was running smoothly.
"Nah, Derek's really a flower kind of guy," Laura was saying as he walked in.
"He looks more like a wolf kind of guy, you know? Like he'd train wild animals to attack on command?" Stiles said.
Derek snorted and Stiles jumped, almost falling off his chair. "Dude, wear a bell!"
Stiles had taken to working out of the shop. He was paying for Laura's wages on the amount of coffee he bought. Every day except Monday would find him chatting away to Laura. Derek wasn't sure how he got any work done given that he was always talking, but he never failed to show Derek some website he'd designed and published or improved that day. Mondays, he’d said, were for important meetings, bullshit admin, and annoying Danny.
"Don't think poorly of Derek just because of his resting bitch face," Laura was saying. "He actually likes flowers better than people."
"Flowers don't talk," Derek replied. "Or break their mother's antique crystal vase and blame it on their little brother."
"That was twenty years ago! When are you going to let that go?"
"Never." Derek turned to Stiles. "Are you getting work done today?"
"I am, but I'm afraid I'm going to have to start frequenting Starbucks for the foreseeable future."
"What?" Laura sounded surprised. "Why would you abandon me?"
"Laura finally got that annoying, huh?"
"No, nothing like that. But it's cold as balls in here, man. You need a heater, or a pile of hot water bottles to offer loyal customers. You're seriously walking around without a sweater on right now? Does your general hotness keep you warm?" Stiles went bright red after he finished his little speech and quickly gulped his coffee then choked on it. Derek looked to Laura for help, but she was giggling helplessly behind the counter.
He turned back to Stiles. "What?"
"Oh, don't give me that! You own a mirror; you know you're good-looking. It doesn't explain why you're not feeling the cold."
"I'm working on the greenhouse. The greenhouse is designed specifically to stay warm. I don't need a sweater."
"Damn, I wish I could work in the greenhouse."
"You can. There's a second bench and I even have electricity in there so you can plug your computer in."
Laura had stopped laughing and was staring at him in shock. If he could stare at himself he'd be staring in shock as well. Why the hell did he make that offer?
"Really?" Stiles had already started gathering his things. "Dude, that would be so cool. I don't want to go to Starbucks, their cakes aren't as nice as Erica's and the main barista during the day doesn't understand the right balance of flavours for a hazelnut mocha."
Derek thought about taking it back, opened his mouth to do so, but instead said, "As long as you don't talk too much. And don't call me dude!"
"Sure, of course." Stiles picked up his coffee as Derek poured his own and they both walked towards the door. "But perhaps we can talk about 'too much'. I mean, one person's too much is another's just right, am I right?"
He could hear Laura laughing behind him and Derek knew he was going to regret this.
Somehow Stiles' company in the greenhouse never became too much. Yes, he hummed or sang or talked to himself as he worked, and whenever Derek complained he said, "Derek, this is all good for the flowers. They've done research!". But even though Derek took time to growl at Stiles', his babbling was usually quite soothing. Sometimes, when he was in a 90s grunge mood, Derek even sang along.
Usually they sat on opposite sides of the long bench in the middle of the greenhouse. That was where Derek had added electrical outlets, since he needed to get electricity up for the lights anyway, and occasionally Stiles' foot brushed Derek's calf and Derek didn't think it was always a accident.
Every Tuesday Stiles brought his baking experiments in and Stiles always put the plate on the bench between them as they worked and only let Laura and Isaac have some after Derek had eaten his fill. Derek had to get up half hour earlier these days just to run it off.
All was going well. Derek had two new staff members, a steady stream of customers, and his and Stiles’ friendship was growing like the jasmine Derek was training to grow over the doorway of the greenhouse, until the talk turned to the Christmas party.
"I'm not going," Derek said, expecting that to be the end of it.
"You have to go."
"I really don't."
"It's a fundraiser for the fair, Derek. All the convenors have to go."
The topic had come up at the committee meeting the night before and Derek had readily agreed to provide fresh flowers for centerpieces. He thought that would be his whole contribution, but now Stiles was insisting he actually go.
"I don't even know why you're arguing. Your Mom will make you go anyway."
"My mother doesn't organise my social calendar."
"Sure she doesn't."
Derek didn’t reply to that, though he felt the force he was using to push soil into small pots probably conveyed all he'd want to say.
"Look, even if you don't want to come keep me company, and I really think you should want to do that, you need to see the look on Joyce’s face when she sees your beautiful centerpieces."
"Normally she does the centerpieces, you know. That's why they made the decision last night while she wasn't there. Like, all the decisions. The year she was in charge of the dinner they spent more money on the food than they could reasonably charge people for turning up - like... they were spending $80 a head - who in Beacon Hills is going to spend that?"
"Yeah, sorry. Thanks. Joyce. She's not allowed to be in charge of anything anymore so they give her the table decorations to do, but they're usually these blue bottles with, like, two or three flowers in them and that's it and everyone is sick of seeing them but she can't do anything else because she kills everything she tries to grow but she acts like she's better than everyone so instead of feeling sorry for her everyone just enjoys the schadenfreude. And there will be plenty of schadenfreude when she sees your beautiful floral centerpieces. And everyone wants to meet you. It'll be good a advertisement for the nursery."
"Don't you already have people to keep you company at this thing?"
"We're back at that?"
"I'm doing the centerpieces anyway, I don't need to see Joyce's face afterwards. So we're back to you needing company."
"Yeah, Scott's asked Kira to be his date and Dad has to work that night, so it's just me as the third wheel, you know?"
"I'm sure Laura will be there. And Erica."
"Erica's going with Boyd, Laura gets drunk at these thing and danced on the bar a couple of years ago, so your Mom banned her. Isaac said he couldn't afford the ticket price and even though Danny will go because he likes to support the community he can only take me for short spaces of time."
"One day you're going to tell me how the two of you managed to start a company when it seems like you don't get along at all. But if you really want company for the night, I'll go. And I'll pay for Isaac's ticket as well."
Stiles grinned like a proud mother and gave him another cookie.
The morning of the winter fundraiser found Derek standing in the store, forty identical bottles set up on one table and a pile of cut flowers on another. A third table had one bottle with three lonely looking winter roses in it and another empty bottle that Derek was staring at forlornly with a bunch of flowers in his hand.
"Why aren't we going with potted poinsettias in pretty tubs again?" His mother had come to the nursery for a coffee and meeting with Boyd's mother, and Derek was unhappy that the two of them were witnessing his humiliation. Bad enough that his mom had to make her own coffee because Laura was laughing so much she couldn't keep the cups still.
"Stiles told me that flowers in bottles were tradition."
"I think he's pulling your leg, sweetheart."
"No." Derek sighed. "I just thought the bottles would make him laugh."
"Aah..." His mother exchanged a knowing look with Mrs Boyd and then they both looked at him with identical smirks. What was worse was that he couldn't even tell them to shut up because any protest was just going to make him seem more guilty and he wasn't guilty of anything except wanting to make his friend laugh.
There was a fresh peal of laughter from the office and Derek stuffed all the flowers he had in his hand roughly in the bottle.
"What are you doing to those poor flowers?" Kira had walked in and he hadn't even noticed. That's how frustrating he found all this.
"Derek is trying to display them to their best advantage and is quickly learning that even though he can coax beautiful blooms from plants, he has no skills in floristry."
"What?" Derek could feel a smile teasing at his lips at the thought of handing this off to a staff member.
"Yeah. Mom told me I had to learn one traditional Japanese skill when I was little. When I asked to learn to be a ninja she signed me up for ikebana."
"Bummer," Laura said, finally calming down enough to join in the conversation.
"Yeah, I had to wait til I was ten before the martial arts place let me sign myself up for ninja lessons. But the ikebana is going to come in handy today, I think. Unless you were enjoying doing it yourself?"
"No." Derek took a giant step back. "If you can make these bottles and flowers look good, then please do so."
"You're making your staff do Fair work on the clock, Derek?"
"It's going to be advertising for the shop." Derek didn't feel guilty in the least.
"What's with the bottles?" Kira asked.
"Joyce," everyone said and Kira just nodded. She'd been to enough committee meetings to understand the frustration that went with Joyce Jamieson. Their last session had run two hours over, all of it Joyce complaining about Derek paring the floriculture competition down to match the number of categories offered in the neighboring counties.
"Do you know," Mrs Boyd said with a tone that said whatever followed was going to be both infuriating and delightful, "she stopped me in the supermarket last month to complain to me for half an hour that we're killing Christmas?"
"What?" Laura sat down at the table with her own coffee, ready to join in the gossip. She did this regularly. Derek sometimes wondered why he paid her, though he was sure he never agreed to hire her.
"Yup. Because we changed the name from the Christmas Party to the Winter Party, we, mainly you and I obviously, Talia, are what's wrong with this county."
"Ugh," Kira said with feeling as she did exactly the same thing Derek had been doing yet somehow made the bottles and flowers look like works of art.
"Do you remember when Stiles first suggested the computerised system?"
"Oh, yes! The sanctity of the traditional pen and paper."
"It was just easier for her to cheat that way. A little calculation error and suddenly she's won the overall prize again."
"Why do you let her be involved then?" Derek asked.
"Well, they are a founding family of Beacon Hills, Derek," his mother replied. "And volunteers aren't exactly thick on the ground. Lose Joyce and you lose all her kids as well, and all three of them plus some grandkids do a lot of work on the day. We're stuck with her."
Just then a customer walked in the store with a question about his fruit trees. "Go do some proper work, dear," his mother said. "We'll take the flowers with us once Kira's finished."
And just like that he was dismissed from his own little shop and out into the cold. Whatever, Derek thought. The cold never bothered him anyway.
Derek got a call from Stiles as he was pulling on his suit jacket. "Dude! My jeep's broken down. Can you pick me up?"
"Isn't your dad going?"
"Yeah, but he got held up at the station, so he's gonna be late."
"Yeah, I'll be there in twenty."
Derek thought walking up to the door would be a little too date-like, and Stiles seemed to think the same because he was sitting on his front steps waiting. He stood up and Derek almost swallowed his tongue. The slim fitting suit showed exactly how wide Stiles' shoulders were and how they narrowed into a slim waist and hips. His legs seemed oh so long and Derek couldn't help but picture them wrapped around him. He shifted in his seat, suddenly aware of how tight-fitting his own pants were.
"Dude!" Stiles said, flinging the door of the camaro open. "This car! I thought you drove a soccer-mom van."
"That's for the store and it's covered in dirt. This is the car Laura and I shared in high school."
"Well, I'd rage about spoiled rich kids, but I don't want to ruin the mood of this ride."
They walked into the Town Hall together, Derek clenching his hand into a fist to avoid putting it on Stiles’ lower back and guiding him forward. His mother was greeting people as they came in and she had that stupid knowing smile on her face again. Unfortunately, kind of a lot had happened since that morning – namely Derek had seen Stiles wearing a suit – so he couldn’t even convince himself that there was no attraction there. Well, that he felt no attraction; he’d seen no evidence that Stiles felt any attraction to him.
He chose to ignore all of that and focus on having a conversation with his mother that didn’t embarrass him and then finding some hors d'oeuvres so he could distract himself with food.
“Don’t you boys look lovely,” his mother said, all innocence, when they finally reached her.
“Not as lovely as you, Mayor Hale.” Then Stiles kissed her hand - actually kissed her hand – and how was it that Derek was jealous of his mother at this moment. Or at least her hand.
“It’s Talia, Stiles. But thank you. Always the charmer.”
“I think you mean never the charmer, but Dad’s been teaching me that one since last year.” Stiles cheeks went a bit pink at that and Derek found himself wondering what happened last year. Unfortunately, it looked like no one was going to enlighten him, because his mother moved on to the decorations.
“Do you like what Derek did with the centrepieces? I watched him working on them this morning.”
Stiles looked to the nearest table then burst into laughter.
“You can take him to his table now, darling,” she said, kissing his cheek. “My work here is done.”
“Derek, that’s beautiful. Oh, you’ve just made my night. Is she here yet? Has she seen them?”
“Don’t look. She’s over there.” Derek gestured with his head to a point just behind Stiles where Joyce was talking furiously with her daughter. Stiles whipped around so quickly he tripped over his feet and Derek had to grab his arm to keep him steady. “So subtle. I’m sure she has no idea you were talking about her.”
Derek left Stiles behind to sit at a nearby table with Scott and Kira, where he assumed they were sitting and Stiles collapsed into the chair beside him a few seconds later.
“The bottles are hilarious, but you’ve done things with them that Joyce never managed.”
“I only grew the flowers. Kira did the arranging.”
“Well, Kira, you’re a genius with those flower things and little bottles.”
“Those flower things?” Scott said laughing. “How do you even manage to enter the flower section?”
“Spite is an amazing motivator.”
Soon Isaac and Cora turned up, apparently deciding appearing together was better than arriving stag, and then Erica and Boyd slid into the final two seats, rounding out their table of eight. An hour later, Derek was surprised at how much fun he was having. Boyd had a dry wit and was content to share his observations with Derek about the conversations the rest of the table were having, the food was as tasty as one could expect from a County Fair Committee fundraiser and although Stiles insisted on introducing him to everyone who walked past as “The owner of Firebird Flowers and our new fantastic floriculture convenor,” his leg stayed pressed against Derek’s and he was constantly turning to Derek to include him in conversations or ask if he wanted to finish Stiles’ carrots. There was something there, Derek thought, and he wanted to explore it.
He’d thought after Kate that he’d never feel intrigued by someone again, so the whole thing left Derek feeling hopeful and slightly confused.
“Looks like Lydia Martin is still better than the rest of us,” Scott said into a lull of conversation.
“I’ve been telling you that since third grade, Scotty.” Stiles was craning around looking for this Lydia Martin, finally focusing on a petite redhead leaving with a guy whose suit was far too expensive for this venue. “She didn’t even stop by and say hello,” Stiles added a little forlornly. “Just leaving before dessert with Jackass Witless.”
Erica leaned over Boyd to fill Derek in. “Stiles has been in love with Lydia since he was nine. She’s never noticed him, but it hasn’t stopped him pining. None of us ever had a chance.”
Derek felt his heart drop, a sudden, heavy weight sitting in his stomach. The conversation continued around him, but he could only hear buzzing. He stood abruptly, and had to grab at his chair to stop it clattering to the floor.
“Hey,” Stiles said, grabbing his arm. “You okay?”
His eyes reminded Derek of his favourite orchid, one he’d developed for years, with brown petals deepening to amber in the center, and they were looking up at him with concern and Derek suddenly realised how damned deep he was already, and Stiles was in love with a girl called Lydia Martin and it was all a disaster.
“Bathroom,” he said, and Stiles nodded, letting go of his arm. In the bathroom he splashed cold water on his face, squared his shoulders and looked at himself in the mirror. He was going to go back to the table. He was going to join in the conversation. He was going to drive Stiles home and then hole up in his bedroom for one day. Just one. Then it was back to work and his friendship with Stiles, because Derek didn’t have enough friends to be able to let one go because of his stupid crush.
Stiles did drop off a box of cookies for everyone at the nursery and a smaller box for Derek. It was full of his favorite peanut butter kisses and a note that said, “So you don’t have to share. Merry Christmas. Stiles.”
Derek managed to put on a brave face and knock on Stiles’ Dad’s door on Christmas Eve. He’d put together a herb bowl with mint, sage, coriander, parsley and savory that would grow inside during the winter months.
He thrust the bowl forward, forcing Stiles to take a step back to be able to take it. He closed his eyes for a second; how the hell did he manage to get so awkward? It didn’t afflict anyone else in his family.
“Merry Christmas,” he said, and he wanted to hit himself at how gruff he sounded.
“Thanks, dude! What’s in this? Mint, sage?”
“Parsley, coriander and savory. It’s an indoor bowl so you can keep using fresh herbs through winter. Just water a little, maybe every three days?”
“Thank you! Do you want to come in? We have eggnog.”
Derek could hear voices in the background, Scott definitely, and he thought he could hear the Sheriff.
“No thanks. I have to get to the family dinner.” Derek had actually timed this visit so he’d only have enough time to hand over the present and head home.
“Oh.” Stiles face fell, Derek thought. Or maybe it was just his imagination. “That’s a shame. Next time.”
“Yeah, next time.”
“I miss you,” Stiles said suddenly and Derek’s heart grew three sizes, just like the Grinch’s. “I mean, our bench, where we work. Your bench, I guess. I shouldn’t be saying it’s ours.”
“You can say it’s ours,” Derek said, even as his heart shrank back to it’s normal size, which he was sure was smaller than most people’s.
“Thanks,” Stiles said with a small smile. “Anyway, I’m looking forward to the new year when I can come back to work.”
“Stiles, who was at the - Derek!” The Sheriff came into the hall. “You coming in?”
“No, I have to go. See you in a week or so, Stiles.”
“Yeah. Can’t wait.”
Derek looked over his shoulder as he got to the car and saw Stiles still waiting. He lifted his hand before he got in the car.
“There’s just so much, you know, hotness,” Stiles was saying as Derek reached the door.
“I really don’t want to think about it,” Laura replied.
“But wouldn’t you -”
“Oh my God, no! Eww. Shut up, Stiles.”
“But Laura,” Stiles said, his voice turning into a whine.
Laura heaved a sigh which Derek recognised as her ‘100% done with this’ sigh. “He’s an idiot, you’re an idiot. You’re both idiots.”
“Who’s an idiot?” Derek asked as he decided to finally step into the shop.
“You.” Laura accompanied the statement with a glare even as she plopped Stiles’ coffee down in front of him.
“What? No. Of course you’re not an idiot. It’s Danny. Danny’s an idiot.”
And, yeah, Derek saw the elusive Danny at the Winter Party. He wasn’t Derek’s type but he could definitely be described as hot. That must be who they were talking about.
“What are you doing today?” Stiles smiled up at him, looking calm for about one second before he shifted his elbow and knocked the coffee off one side of the counter and his bag off the other. Somewhere in there he also managed to hit himself in the head and Derek wasn’t quite sure how. “I’m okay!” he said finally. “Hope my computer is as well.”
Laura rolled her eyes, but Derek was hiding a grin. “I’m working on my orchids today,” he said, answering Stiles earlier question. There wasn’t a category for them in the County Fair, but Derek was planning to take them to the State Fair. Derek stepped forward to take the coffee Laura had put on the counter for him, then headed for the door. “Coming?” he asked Stiles.
“Oh. Yeah!” Stiles scrambled to collect his things, and eventually Derek went back and plucked the coffee out of his hand. Laura would not be happy if she had to clean up a second spill.
“Beryl’s a sturdy girl, isn’t she?” Stiles asked as they trekked along the path Derek had carved out of the snow.
“Which one’s Beryl?” Derek pushed the greenhouse door open and held it open for Stiles.
“The one in my bag!”
“Beryl’s my computer.”
“Oh.” Derek paused. “I thought it was that woman that sometimes falls asleep when Mom’s talking.”
There was silence for a moment as Stiles set his computer up. “Come on, come on, come on,” he murmured as he pressed the power button. “Yes!”
“Looks like she was sturdy then,” Derek said.
“Yup!” Stiles looked up with a grin then looked back down at his screen. “So, uh, how much did you overhear this morning? When I was talking to Laura.”
“Just that you and, apparently, Danny are idiots. What did I miss?” Derek didn’t know why he asked that. Did he want to hear more about how hot Danny was?
“No,” Stiles was saying. “Nothing else at all.” Then he switched on his music and they both returned to their work.
Then one morning Stiles turned up with more clothes on than Derek had ever seen on one person. It covered up Stiles’ lithe body, but Derek still thought he looked adorable with only his face peeking out from the layers of scarves, hat and earmuffs. Still…
“What on Earth?”
“Derek! Look what I’ve got!” Stiles made a motion that could only be described as spirit fingers.
“No! Wait.” He grabbed something from the counter and then shook whatever it was in Derek’s direction. “Gloves!”
Derek reached into his back pocket for his own gloves and then held them up for Stiles to see.
“You have your work gloves, I have mine. They’ve been on backorder and just arrived.”
“What’s so special about them?” Isaac asked.
“They have special pads on the fingers so I can use a touchscreen even with gloves on. And it’s still cold enough to need them!”
It was. Winter was holding on this year. “So you’re moving back to the store?” Derek hoped he’d managed to hide his disappointment.
“Why do you need all those layers in the greenhouse?”
“I bought the gloves so I can sit outside and work and keep you company?”
“Yeah.” Stiles grinned and Derek his mouth curve into an answering smile.
“Wait,” Isaac said. “You ordered some special gloves so you could sit outside in the cold - which you hate - to keep Derek company as he digs holes. A man who hates company is who you want to keep company here?”
“I don’t hate Stiles’ company.”
“Yeah.” Stiles was sticking out his tongue, Derek was sure. “He doesn’t hate my company. And there’s nothing weird about that at all.”
Derek turned and saw that Stiles’ face had gone bright red. In the meantime Isaac was making weird gestures and facial expressions that he probably thought meant something but Derek wasn’t sure what he was missing here. “I’m pruning the citrus,” he said finally before walking out the door.
He heard Isaac making a sound like a wounded cat as he stepped onto the door, but he didn’t care about that. All he cared about was Stiles chattering beside him and the fact that he’d have Stiles’ chatter all day.
“So this is it?” Stiles asked when Derek stopped.
“Cool.” Stiles dropped to the ground at the base of a tree which was clearly already pruned and Derek was happier than he had been in a while. He even sang along with some of Stiles’ pop songs and didn’t stop despite Isaac dragging Laura out from the shop to laugh at him.
With spring edging towards Summer the Fair was also coming up fast. His mother and Mrs Boyd were constantly at the Hale kitchen table with maps of the fairgrounds, calculation of the amount of money needed for change and lists of volunteers.
The conversation in the greenhouse was focussed on the Fair as well, along with all the things Stiles still had to get ready. The day he delivered the finished database for results - with entrants already in the system - he came into the greenhouse without his laptop, and plopped his head straight onto the bench.
“Ugh,” he said.
“Just exhausted. This was meant to be finished months before the actual fair and we’re only, like, two weeks out?”
“Three and a half,” Derek corrected.
“It just kept getting pushed back because it was pretty much pro-bono so I’ve spent the last week getting all the data entered and haven’t done any of my own prep, you know?”
“You could choose not to enter a few things.”
This was a common argument between them; Derek just couldn’t understand that much community spirit, though Stiles always said that wasn’t what it was about.
“There are just so many people I have to beat, Derek.”
“Oh, but I did get time for this!” Stiles whipped a tupperware container out of nowhere. Sometimes Derek wondered if he could do magic with the way he seemed to pull food from out of thin air. “Lemon Sage cookies. I’ve been looking for something to make with the herbs you gave me for Christmas.” Stiles was looking almost bashful. “It was such a good present, you know. Everything’s still alive and I use the herbs all the time. Here, try one.” He waved a cookie under Derek’s nose. “I made them specially for you.”
“Thanks.” Derek wasn’t sure about sage in cookies, but Stiles had yet to serve him anything bad. He took a bite. “Wow. These are pretty good.”
“Always the tone of surprise.”
Derek snorted. “Sure, Ron. Because you’re such a terrible cook.”
“Your sister wasn’t wrong about you loving Harry Potter.”
Stiles bit into a cookie of his own; apparently sugar was enough to bring his energy back.
“Normally I’d have veg in the ground by now as well, but I just haven’t had time.”
“Well, it’s hardly too late for that. You can keep planting veg all the way into summer. Want me to come help?”
Stiles finally lifted his head from the bench. “Really? That’d be great. Except I pretty much won’t have a day free until, like, the Thursday before the Fair, and you have to work.”
“We’ve been at this for nearly nine months now. I think I can take a day off and leave it to Isaac and Kira.”
“Okay. It’s a date.” Stiles blushed. “Or, well, -”
“I know, Stiles.”
The Thursday before the Fair, Derek went to Stiles's dad's house for their 'not-date’.
"You don't garden at your place?" Derek asked as he walked in.
"No, I live in an apartment! Your herb bowl is generally the best I can do. "
"You can do the same thing with salad greens, you know. The cut-and-come-again type."
"I don't know what that means."
Derek sighed. "Why are you even entering the gardening section?"
"No, really, your front yard here is beautiful, but you rarely buy things at the nursery. You get into huge arguments about rules with Joyce and Natalie Martin, but you asked me to pick whatever would grow well. Do you even like gardening?"
Stiles looked terribly embarrassed all of a sudden.
"Look," he said. He was holding his hands out as if he thought Derek needed placating. "I do like flowers and I like the idea of gardening, it's just never been something I've had a huge passion for. It doesn't hold my interest the way a list of ingredients does or some code that I can change to make a corner of the internet look a little different. The front is all Dad. He loves gardening, just doesn't have a lot of time for it. He gets out there and waters at 4 a.m. before early shift most days, or at 2 in the morning after the late shift. I like to enter the flowers because he won't and his stuff needs a bit of recognition."
"Do you actually want a vegetable garden?"
"Fine. Show me what we're working with."
It was later than they'd planned to get started since they both had to help at the Fairgrounds in the morning. Derek had tried to get out of it, but there were certain look of his mother's... well, it'd gotten him into the convenor mess in the first place and since he and Stiles were apparently two 'big strong men' they got roped into the heavy lifting. Derek had started to say that flattery wouldn't work, but Stiles had looked so completely smug about being called big and strong that he'd kept his mouth shut.
That meant that the sun was low in the sky when they got out into the garden.
"At least the sun's going down," Stiles said, echoing Derek's thoughts. "It'll be a bit cooler as we work."
There was a plot already laid out so Derek got to turning compost into the soil and got Stiles to gather all the plants from the truck. They worked in companionable half-silence (Derek was the silent half) for the rest of the afternoon and into evening, pressing seedlings into the ground, laying mulch and watering it all in. Around eight they were finally done, and Stiles ran off to get pizza for them while Derek cleaned himself up.
"Let's eat outside," Stiles said. "We can look over our work and see that it is good."
"Just give me the pepperoni."
"Wait! You wanted pepperoni?”
Derek growled and Stiles laughed and their hands touched as Derek took the pizza box and he thought Stiles felt it too, that bit of excitement, the same clench that Derek felt in his gut. But Stiles just sat on the steps, pizza box beside him, and talked about the new Star Wars as the light finally faded from the sky.
It was eleven before Derek finally stood to go.
"I've been talking your ear off," Stiles said. "You should tell me to stop."
"I like it," Derek said in an alarming moment of honesty.
"Thanks. No one's ever said that before. Not even past partners."
"They shouldn't be with you if they don't like you talking."
They stopped in front of the door. Stiles hadn't bothered to turn the lights on and his expression was hidden in the shadows. "Sure you don't want to stay? Watch a movie?"
"I have to drop by the nursery and drop stuff off. Make sure Laura didn't flood the greenhouses by forgetting to turn the sprinklers off."
"Nah, of course. Okay. I guess I'll see you Saturday then. I'll be here baking all day tomorrow since the air conditioning in the apartment isn't working. Dad’s starting to think I've moved back home."
Neither of them made a move for the door, but Stiles did step closer, close enough that it could be described as an invasion of personal space, but Derek didn't think it felt like an invasion. More like Stiles was accepting an invitation. Like basil stepping up closer to a tomato plant, since the both of them grew so harmoniously together. They'd planted basil and tomatoes together earlier. Derek really needed to stop thinking, what the hell? Basil and tomatoes? This was why he never dated.
"So, um, I guess you'd better go."
"Yeah, I'd better." Derek took a deep breath in and took a step forward as well. Stiles shouldn't have to do all the work.
"Until Saturday then."
"Yeah," Derek breathed. "Saturday." They were both leaning in, and Derek felt like his heart was beating out his chest, then he heard something outside.
"Did you hear that?"
"What?" Stiles jerked back. "Hear what?"
There was a sound of a pot moving in the front yard. "That." Derek said.
Stiles' mouth opened, and he looked like he was lost for words before he doubled over laughing silently. He moved away from the front door to the back of the house then took out his phone.
"Dad?" he whispered into it a moment after dialing. "There's an intruder in our yard. Front yard. Can you send a car around? ... Clearly a creeper. I'm scared for my life. No, Derek heard it, too. Thanks, Dad. We'll wait til you're here before we go out."
"What's going on?"
Stiles grinned with what could only be called unholy glee. "I don't want to spoil the surprise."
There must have been a car close by because it was only a couple of minutes before they saw the red and blue lights flashing through the front windows. Stiles pushed the door open wide and stepped out. "I want her arrested!" he said loudly.
'Her' it turned out, was Joyce. She had a bucket full of water and a pair of garden shears and was cutting flowers from the sheriff's garden. She looked mortified. All along the street doors were opening to see what was going on.
"Stiles," the Sheriff said. He sounded completely worn out. "I'm not going to arrest Joyce Jamieson.”
"Why not? She's trespassing and destroying property!"
"Trespassing on my property and destroying my property, and I don't want to do the paperwork."
"Well, I at least want her disqualified," Stiles said, turning to Derek.
Derek froze. “Er..." he said intelligently.
"Take the flowers off her," the Sheriff said, "then she'll have to enter with her own. In the meantime, I want to get some sleep. Parrish, I'm signing off for the night. Take the car back to the station."
The deputy nodded and headed off, while the Sheriff emptied Joyce's bucket of flowers and handed the bucket back to her. "Mrs Jamieson, I trust I won't see you in any gardens except those belonging to people you're related to?"
Joyce glared, but managed to say, "Of course, Sheriff" before heading to her car. Her car! She'd driven down here. She sent a healthy glare towards Derek and Stiles as she climbed behind the wheel then took off.
"Don't worry, Derek. Life will get easier for all of us once Monday rolls around."
"Sunday's for clean-up."
The Sheriff stood on the porch with Stiles and waved as Derek drove off and Derek realised he had another reason to hate Joyce.
Derek and Laura had convinced their mother that the shop couldn't stay closed for two days in a row, and since they were closing for the Fair they had to stay open the Friday before. That meant that they were in the shop instead of at the Fairgrounds. Everyone in the town was apparently preparing their entries, and since Derek had instituted a 'no selling to gardening entrants' policy a month before after Stiles got into a screaming match with some woman about the pot plant rules, the nursery had been quiet all day.
Derek had started out telling Laura about Joyce's attempt to steal the Sheriff's flowers and she had been completely unsurprised.
"Last year they caught her stealing from the rose garden out front of the town hall, and the year before that she got spooked when one of the deputy's swapped his night shift and caught her in the act. She should either go out of town for her little pruning forays or get better at burglary."
"I looked at the rules a while back."
"Of course you did."
"Of course I did. I'm the convenor. Anyway, technically the flower arranging doesn't have to be done with flowers you grow yourself."
"No. But that doesn't mean you can steal the ones your neighbour was probably going to enter and enter them as your own."
“Anyway, enough about Joyce. Who wants to hear about her? Tell me about you and Stiles. What's going on?"
"Nothing. I was helping with his garden, that's all."
"Derek Hale, you're blushing. What sort of gardening are you doing at eleven o'clock at night anyway?"
"He bought me pizza as a thank you."
"What else did he do to thank you?"
"Nothing. Joyce turned up," Derek muttered.
Laura burst out laughing. "Seriously?"
"It's not funny! We were about to kiss, I think. I'm pretty sure. But then I heard the noise -"
"And you said something?"
"It could have been an actual burglar you know. Someone dangerous."
"I despair of you. I truly do."
"Anyway, Stiles called the Sheriff -"
"Wait. Stiles called his dad."
"Yeah, told him there was a prowler. His dad turned up in the squad car, lights going. The whole street came out to see what was going on."
"Oh, that's beautiful. You should have shared that part earlier. No one's ever - wait! Stop trying to distract me. This is about you and Stiles."
"It really isn't."
"You have to go over there and kiss now. There's like a twenty-four hour rule from the almost-kiss and if you don't kiss in that time frame then it'll never happen."
"I think that's a Scrubs episode."
"I don't care. Go over there now and take the initiative. If you don't, I'm telling Mom."
"You really think that'll work? Telling Mom that I can't get my love life together."
"Oh, I know it will."
Unfortunately Laura was right, but fortunately some out-of-towners came in from Beacon Valley wanting to update their whole garden to make it drought resistant, so Derek couldn't go down to see Stiles right away. However, once the day was over, Laura started pushing him out the door. "I'll close up. You go see him."
Derek found he wasn't resisting too hard. After all, he did want to kiss Stiles, and after all his worry that Stiles was interested in girls, the almost-kiss as well as Stiles dropping some comments about how attractive he found Ryan Reynolds into the conversation the night before, had convinced him that Stiles was attracted to men.
Derek arrived at the Sheriff's house at the same time as the Sheriff, which he supposed meant kissing wasn't on the menu, but he could at least say hello. He followed the Sheriff in the door and they could hear conversation coming from the kitchen.
"Looks like he's in there," Sheriff said. "Head on through."
Derek paused at the sound of a woman's voice as he got closer.
"Why are you doing that," the woman said as Derek pushed the door open, "when you could be doing me?"
Stiles was pressed up against the counter, Lydia Martin pressed up against him, making a sound like a cat being strangled. Her breasts were practically in his face. And Stiles was looking at them, quite earnestly, even though he had his flour-covered hands held up and away from her.
"Dad?" he said. Derek must have made a sound, because Stiles was suddenly aware of someone else in the room. Then Stiles finally looked away from Lydia's... assets ... and straight into Derek's eyes. "Derek!"
"I - this was a mistake." Derek turned and walked out.
Derek heard Stiles calling, but he was already in his car and heading back home. This was a good reminder to never listen to Laura's advice.
Derek had decided that the whole experience of being a convenor on a Fair Day was horrible and his mother was getting the collected works of Eminem for her birthday for making him do this.
Stiles had already been there when he arrived, carrying trays of cookies, pies and cakes into the judging hall with one of those baker’s crate things. He tried to catch Derek's attention, but Derek just walked past him to the gardening area he'd set up on Thursday and after that they were both too busy to speak to one another.
Thankfully Derek had asked all the questions he'd needed to on Thursday and he'd managed to keep the whole thing going smoothly, answering questions from judges and entrants and keeping his area looking nice. Joyce had managed to find flowers for all her entries, but the roses did not look as nice as the ones she'd cut from the Sheriff's place, or as nice as the ones Stiles had left for his entries before Derek arrived.
He got the results filled out and glanced over at the baking section, but there was no Stiles in sight for the first time that morning. Not that he'd been looking over there every five seconds or anything.
"Derek, are you taking the results over?"
"What?" Derek turned to find Kira smiling at him.
"Can you take mine as well?” Kira held a bundle of papers out to him. “Scott asked for my help with the sheep. Congratulations by the way. I know we're not supposed to say anything, but your strawberries were miles above the rest, and I think you got some other prizes as well."
"Yeah, I'll take them."
He would. He would drop them off in the office, and then sneak on home to his nursery. It was so busy no one would even realise he'd gone. It was only eleven and he didn't need to be back until five to give back people's entries and pack up. That would give him a solid four hours in the soil and hopefully he could return to equilibrium. He couldn't go in the greenhouse of course - he was trying to not think of Stiles - but he wanted to do a little floral display out the front of the outdoor tables Laura had set up. He could at least get the soil prepared and that was hard work that wouldn't leave time for thinking.
“It’s the worst idea you’ve ever had!” Laura was shouting as he walked into the office. Stiles was standing against the wall, looking terrified.
Derek looked at Cora; she was stabbing at the keyboard as if the keys had just kidnapped her puppies and sent her multiple videos of them all having fun without her. “Cage numbers, huh? I’ll give you cage numbers, Bird Man. Pluck your damn cage numbers,” she was muttering to herself.
Derek took a gigantic step back, intent on getting out of the room without them seeing him and leaving the results with Joyce’s granddaughter who was answering the customer enquiries out the front.
“Have you got your results?” Cora asked. She sounded quite manic. “You know how to fill in a form, don’t you? Your results will be easy to understand. Hand them over.”
“You’re still doing the caged birds, Cora. That means I get to do Derek’s.”
Laura started walking towards him, but Cora grabbed her around the waist and hauled her back. Stiles was using the opportunity to sneak around them and get out of the room.
“Just throw it up in the air and let them fight over it,” Stiles murmured as he moved past.
“Ow! No hair-pulling or I’m telling Mom!”
Derek left the results sheet on the desk and headed out, thanking God that they’d stuck them in the back of the small cabin they used for the office and that the sounds of the fight couldn’t be heard by anyone out the front. Stiles jumped a little at the sound of crashing glass.
Probably couldn’t be heard.
He followed Stiles back to the front office then edged past him out the door while he answered a question.
Derek was already out the door and wondered if he could conceivably get away with pretending he hadn't heard, but then Stiles' hand was on his arm.
Derek took a deep breath then turned to face Stiles. He wanted to say something, anything to go back to being friends and have that almost-kiss have never happened, but he couldn't think of anything to say so he just stood, staring at Stiles.
Unfortunately, Stiles seemed to have run out of words as well, he just stood there fidgeting. Derek considered turning away, but he wouldn't do that to a friend, and Stiles was his friend. He still wanted Stiles as a friend, even if he couldn't have more, so they continued to stand in silence until Joyce stomped towards them.
"You're blocking the door," she said, using her cane as a weapon, and they jumped apart to let her through.
"Come ride the ferris wheel with me," Stiles said.
"I want to go on the ferris wheel. Come with me."
They wandered in silence towards the ride, and Derek felt horribly conscious of the inches between their arms. If he leant just a little to the side they'd be touching.
But he didn't, so there was just charged silence and energy sparking along his side that he wasn't sure Stiles could feel.
They got on the ferris wheel and Stiles waited until they'd got to the nine -o'clock spot before he started speaking.
"The apple pie competition is kind of a big deal."
"What?" What did that have to do with anything?
"The apple pie. The winner from here can enter the state fair and the state fair winner goes on to a national competition. There's big money, prestige. It's a big deal."
"The winner is normally between Natalie Martin and me. That's why Lydia was at my house yesterday. It wasn't because of me, she just wanted me to get distracted and mess up my pie."
"Oh. I thought - I mean, I know you love her."
"I guess," Stiles said and Derek's heart sank. "In some sort of weird nostalgia from my youth sort of way. I had a crush on her right through school, from third grade, but I got over it a long time ago. She'd make a terrible girlfriend, especially for me. Besides, there's someone else I'm interested in. A new crush, you could say."
Derek didn't want to hope; didn't want to presume, so he just asked. "Who?"
Stiles looked him straight in the eyes and said, "You."
"I'm interested in you too." Stiles started to smile. "But."
The smile froze. "But?"
"Laura said we messed up our first kiss opportunity and now it's been too long and we'll never manage."
"Okay, first off? JD and Elliot totally got together - twice! - despite the missed kiss thing, so your sister knows nothing. Second?"
And Derek leaned in and kissed him. Stiles kept talking for about five seconds before his brain seemed to catch on, but really, thought Derek, that was just Stiles. And it was probably cliche but it felt terribly romantic that they were still kissing when the ferris wheel came back around to the bottom.
"Woo-hoo!" Laura's voice dragged them out of it.
"Bout time!" Cora added.
"Aren't you supposed to be typing things?" Derek asked as he helped Stiles out of the carriage.
"Sanity break. Sorry about the pie," Laura said turning to Stiles. “Better luck next year."
"Mrs Martin won?" Derek asked.
"No. Erica did. As long as it wasn't Natalie or Joyce, I don't care."