The day Stiles turns sixteen is the most exciting day because he’s been waiting for it since he turned eleven and his mom said she would give him her Jeep when he was old enough to drive. His mom isn’t there to see him pass his driving test, but he feels her right next to him in the passenger seat the first time he takes the Jeep out for a spin around town.
Stiles spends the second semester of sophomore year cruising down Main Street with all the other high schoolers. The juniors and seniors that populate Slim’s Diner parking lot are intimidating so he sticks to Delgado’s Taquería. He loves curly fries, but he loves Scott more, and since Scott’s aunt owns the taco shop and he works there part time, Scott gets a discount and Stiles isn’t one to turn his nose up at heavily discounted tacos.
They drive up and down Main a few times after sunset and check out the scenery. The store fronts are mostly shuddered for the night, but the street is well lit by the neon signs. Scott looks over at Deaton’s Animal Clinic and Stiles keeps a vigilant watch over the turnoff toward the Sheriff’s Department. He knows it’s a slow night and his dad is safe when he doesn’t hear sirens or see flashing lights.
Scott has horrible taste in music, but at least they can agree on Blink 182 and they blast it as they cruise up and down the street, laughing about stupid shit that happened at school. Around 9:30 they stop at Delgado’s. Stiles parks the Jeep and together he and Scott hop out and make their way inside to place their late night dinner order.
“Diez tacos de carne asada, por favor,” Scott says to his cousin Rosa who’s on cash register duty.
She smacks her gum at him and rolls her eyes. “Really, Scott? Ten?”
“What? I’m hungry.” Scott makes eyes at her and she caves. She comps his order and he puts a few bucks in the tip jar.
“What do you want, Stiles?” she asks.
“Just a soda.” Stiles pulls out his wallet. He doesn’t have scratch so he takes out his debit card.
“There’s a five dollar minimum if you use a card, you know that,” Rosa grumbles.
“Where’s your allowance?” Scott asks helpfully.
Stiles rolls his eyes. “I’m putting it toward Lydia’s birthday present.”
Scott just shakes his head but doesn’t say anything. He swipes a cup meant for water and fills it up with soda instead, but he doesn’t offer one to Stiles. Scott’s only so willing to abuse his family discount.
Rosa taps her finger nails on the counter and waits for Stiles to cough up the money. They do this every week.
“Fine, I’ll take a side of chips and guac with my soda, then.” Stiles sighs.
“Why don’t you just get a job here,” Rosa suggests as she takes his card.
It’s not a terrible idea. Stiles needs money for gas and insurance, but so far his dad hasn’t insisted so he’s not going to volunteer.
Scott’s cousin Vince sets Scott’s order down on the pick-up window. “Order up!” he calls.
Rosa puts together Stiles’ order of chips and guacamole and pushes their tray toward them.
Scott reaches across the counter and tweaks Rosa’s pony tail. “Thanks, Rosie!”
Scott and Stiles head for the door before Rosa can complain about being fourteen and stuck at the taquería on Friday and Saturday nights. The tables in the front of the taquería are already filled with other high schoolers doing their cruise and taco routine. They squeeze in next to Isaac Lahey and Vernon Boyd, two of the bigger guys on their lacrosse team. They’re just sophomores like Scott and Stiles, but they’re good enough to not be stuck on the junior varsity team like them.
“Hey guys!” Scott says.
Boyd gives them a nod and Isaac sputters out a greeting. It’s fairly awkward, but not unfriendly. Stiles would have a lot more to say usually, but he’s currently loading his half of the tacos up with salsa. He sinks his teeth into a taco and half of the contents spill out onto the tray.
“Can you fit two more?” a disembodied voice calls out.
Stiles looks up in time to see Derek Hale and Erica Reyes pull up in his ugly brown minivan. Stiles gives him a manly head nod and Scott waves enthusiastically.
“Yeah, man. Here,” Scott says as he squishes up against Isaac.
Erica looks really good when she walks up to them, or rather, struts. She’s done something to her hair and she’s walking differently. Stiles checks her out a bit more and realizes she’s wearing thigh high boots, the kind he’s seen in magazines and the internet but never in real life. He’s not going to lie, she’s super hot, but way off limits. Boyd has a crush on her and Erica likes him back, but they’re both too shy to do anything about it. Derek has on his letterman jacket and Stiles gets a little thrill from the smile he flashes at him. Stiles should be used to Derek’s friendly nature, they’ve been sitting next to each other in math class for the whole year, but it still surprises him that Derek’s kindness extends outside the classroom.
Stiles pats the bench beside him. “It’s all yours, buddy.”
Derek sits in between him and Scott and reaches across the table to dig into the nachos that Boyd and Isaac are sharing. Erica scoots in next to Boyd on the other side of the table. They make eyes at each other and seem to hold a whole conversation without saying a word.
“Good game, you two.” Derek says to Stiles and Scott in between bites.
Scott lights up. “You saw our game?”
Stiles snorts. Derek’s on the varsity team and one of the few players who deigns to watch the younger, less skilled players when they’re on the field. Most of the other varsity players arrive only in time to do warm ups and harass the JV players when they lose.
“Yeah.” Derek grins. “Scott, your aim has really improved.”
“Thanks, man. I really hope you get Captain next year.”
Derek blushes. “I don’t know...there’s going to be some stiff competition for it.”
“You have our vote,” Stiles says. It’s no secret that Jackson is vying for the position, and it’s also no secret that Stiles can’t stand the fucker.
“Thanks, Stiles.” Derek smiles at him again. There’s cilantro in his braces.
Before Derek can continue, Stiles makes a subtle gesture to his mouth. “You have a little…”
Derek covers his mouth with his hand. “Oh.”
“Left,” Stiles says when he shows him his teeth again. “One more over.”
Derek picks at the wire and frees the piece of food lodged there.
“Got it,” Stiles says and gives him a thumbs up.
“Thanks.” Derek’s ears turn red.
Stiles knows he would want a friend to tell him if he had something in his teeth and he hopes Derek’s not too embarrassed. He doesn’t know Derek all that well, but what he does know he likes. Even though he’s a varsity lacrosse player and a junior, Derek actually cares about the younger members on the JV team unlike Jackson Whittemore. Derek doesn’t get the most play time, but only because he’s not flashy or aggressive like Danny and Jackson. Coach Finstock usually puts Derek in after Jackson’s been benched for fighting because Derek never loses his cool on the field and he’s a solid player. Derek has never made an issue out of the fact that Stiles and Scott are two of the biggest social misfits of the sophomore class, and for that, Stiles is grateful.
“Hey,” Derek says after a second, “your footwork was really good on the field,” he compliments Stiles.
Stiles drops his mouth open into an O. “Me?” he says.
“Stilinski?” Isaac snarks.
Stiles reaches around Scott and punches Isaac playfully in the meaty part of his arm. “Hey!”
Derek continues, “Yeah, you were quick out there.”
“We got creamed, Derek,” Stiles reminds Derek.
“Well, it’s not all about winning. You two and some other players put in solid plays. You probably could have won if Dunbar hadn’t gotten thrown out of the game for fighting.”
“Just what this team needs, another hot head like Whittemore,” Boyd supplies.
“Thanks, man,” Stiles finally accepts Derek’s compliment.
Derek blushes again, or maybe it’s just the glare of the parking lot lights.
The others go back to talking about the spring homecoming dance and Stiles tunes out because it’s not like he’s going. Stiles wouldn’t mind going solo if Scott were planning to be his wingman, but he’s set his sights on Allison Argent. He asked her to the dance and everything. Stiles will most likely binge watch Robot Chicken and cry himself into his curly fries. The group finishes up their food and they head back toward the parking lot to shoot the shit a bit more before piling back into their cars.
“Bye, Stiles,” Derek says from his rolled down window.
Stiles smiles and waves, but he can’t help the little flutter in his stomach. It’s not weird for Derek to be nice to Stiles, but he’s still not used to the attention. Stiles is used to being ignored by just about everyone at school, and the attention he gets isn’t usually the good kind. He gets hounded by Harris and Finstock on a daily basis, and he’s a favorite for Jackson, too. Things have only recently gotten better--Stiles and Lydia are the only sophomores in Calculus and she told him last week that he’s not that bad. Stiles just about died and went to heaven. She promised to invite him to her birthday party if he stopped asking her out. Stiles decided to cut his losses and work on being friends. She clearly has terrible taste in guys anyway, she’s been dating Jackson for two years.
Stiles honks his horn when he peels out of the driveway. Isaac gives him the finger from Derek’s passenger seat when the ugly minivan stalls in the parking lot.
“Well, kiddo, we can take it into the shop, but be prepared to break into your piggy bank.”
“Mr. Oinkers has long been tapped, Dad.”
“Okay, well, what about a J.O.B.?”
“Blasphemy!” Stiles mocks.
His dad just gives him a stern look.
“Right. I’ll get on that. I’m pretty sure Scott’s tía would give me a job.”
“You spend enough of your money at that taco shop.”
Stiles makes a face. He’s left out the part where he hasn’t spent more than a few bucks there a week since Scott got a job there two years ago. Stiles thanks him for the ride and then heads into school about a minute before the tardy bell rings.
Around eleven in the morning Stiles’ dad texts to tell him he called Triple A to tow the Jeep to the auto garage. Their mechanic says the prognosis isn’t good. At lunch Stiles catches up with Scott and broaches the subject of getting a job at Delgado’s.
“Hey, so your tía Isabel likes me right?” he asks.
Scott scrunches up his nose. “What makes you ask that?”
Stiles smiles sheepishly. “Well, the Jeep needs some repairs and my dad says I need to pay for them myself.”
Scott looks concerned. “What do you mean? Is that why your dad drove you this morning? Is the Jeep out of commission?”
Stiles nods grimly. “Looks like it. I’ll know more this afternoon.”
“No!” Scott deflates. “We just got marginally cooler. We had a car and we were cruising on the weekends!”
Stiles hates to disappoint Scott. “Sorry, man.”
“I just got Allison to agree to go out with me. I was going to borrow your Jeep for homecoming!” His face falls. “What am I going to drive now?”
“Um, your mom’s car?”
“Stiles, it’s a mom car. Allison is going to think I’m lame.”
“I think she already knows you’re lame, but it doesn’t seem to bother her,” Stiles teases.
Scott punches him in the arm. “Don’t mock.”
“Well sorry, Scott, I didn’t realize what an impact my defunct Jeep would have on your love life.” He pushes his chair back from the lunch table a little too hard and it goes clambering to the floor. “I have to get out of here.” He realizes a little too late that he’s making a scene in the middle of the cafeteria. Stiles rights the chair and then darts outside.
Stiles sulks around the perimeter of the school, he’d look pretty stupid loitering in the parking lot without a car. Stiles kicks a rock and it bounces off the pavement, but it does nothing to calm his irritation.
“Everything okay?” Derek asks. He’s leaning back with one leg up against the brick wall of the cafeteria, the picture of cool. Derek’s wearing his letterman jacket, as usual, and just has that air of cool confidence that Stiles admires.
Stiles tosses a hand out in frustration. “It’s nothing.”
“Doesn’t look like nothing.”
Stiles walks toward Derek and leans against the wall before he sinks down on to the blacktop. “Stupid fight or whatever with Scott.”
Stiles snorts. “The fact that my Jeep is probably dead and I need a job to earn the money for the repairs, and all he cares about is going out with Allison Argent and how he won’t be able to borrow my car and he’ll have to drive his mom’s car to the dance.” He rolls his eyes.
Derek sits down on the blacktop with him but doesn’t say anything.
“I’m just mad because he doesn’t get it. He’s only concerned with how this affects him.” Stiles plays with the cuff of his flannel, rolling it up and down his forearm. “This was my mom’s Jeep.” He clears his voice. “I’ve been waiting since I was a kid to get to drive it.”
“I’m sure he didn’t intend to be insensitive,” Derek says.
Stiles slumps his shoulders. “Yeah, I know. Scott’s incapable of being intentionally mean.” Stiles looks around at the empty field that the blacktop overlooks. “What are you doing out here?”
Derek shrugs. “I just wanted some peace.”
“Cafeteria too intense for you?”
Derek barks out a laugh. “Something like that.”
Stiles sags against the wall. “Sometimes I just wish I could just stay mad at him.”
“Yeah. He’s my best friend, and even though I’m pissed as hell at him right now, I also feel for the guy. We’re two of the biggest dorks of the tenth grade and we finally had an ounce of cool.”
Derek raises his eyebrow. “The Jeep?”
“I think you’re really overestimating the allure of the Jeep.”
Stiles elbows Derek in the side playfully. “Jerk.”
Derek laughs. “Hey, come on. The car doesn’t make the man,” he says with a straight face. “At least, I hope not.”
Stiles thinks about Derek’s ugly brown minivan. He chances a look over at Derek and he’s got his lips pursed like he’s trying with all his might not to break. Stiles tries to stifle his laugh, but it’s no use, he busts out laughing and Derek follows. They laugh together for a solid minute. Derek holds his side like it aches from laughing. Whatever anger Stiles felt is gone, replaced now by the rush of endorphins.
“So, what are you really doing out here?” Stiles presses him.
Derek sighs. “Coach is going to announce his pick for team captain for next season today during practice.”
Stiles grins. “That’s good, right? You’re a shoe in. I know Jackson thinks it’s going to be him, but everyone knows you’d make a way better leader.”
Derek’s face falls.
“What, did I say something wrong?” Stiles asks.
Derek shakes his head. “No, it’s just...if I get captain, it means I have to go to an intensive lacrosse camp for the summer.”
“But that’s good, right? You love lacrosse,” Stiles says cheerfully.
Derek gives him a lopsided grin. “It’s for the whole summer.”
Stiles furrows his brow. He feels disappointed at the prospect of more than two months without Derek’s dumb face at Delgado’s on Friday and Saturday nights. They’ve been math buddies all year, but in the last month they’ve become something more. It’s now a routine to meet up at Delgado’s and eat dinner together, and honk at each other while they cruise Main Street. Stiles glances over at Derek and he’s watching Stiles expectantly.
“It’ll be a bummer. We’ll miss you, but you’re going to be so busy at your fancy camp, you won’t even have time to miss us.” Stiles gives him an encouraging smile.
Derek reaches over and ruffles Stiles’ hair. Derek looks less like someone kicked his puppy, and a little more hopeful about what the summer will bring.
“Hey,” Stiles says, knocking his knee against Derek’s, “thanks for making me feel better.”
Derek laughs. “Sure, no problem.”
“I guess I better go and talk to Scott.”
“Kiss and makeup?”
Stiles makes a kissy face at Derek. “Yeah. I need him to get me a job at Delgado’s.” Stiles gets up and puts a hand out for Derek.
Derek takes it and pulls himself up. “See you in math class. Have a good day, Stiles.”
Stiles gives Derek a mock salute. “You too, Captain.” Stiles tries to ignore the way he feels after Derek lets go of his hand. He feels tingly all over and a little warm, but he shakes it off when the bell rings, signalling the end of lunch.
The next weekend is Stiles’ first as a working man--yes, Scott’s aunt agreed to give Stiles a job. Instead of cruising with Scott, they both work the evening shift on Friday and Saturday. It’s not as bad as Stiles anticipated, but it’s not that great either. Teenagers are notoriously bad tippers, but timing his dinner break so Stiles can hang out with Derek is a small price to pay.
As homecoming approaches, Stiles realizes that he’s more bummed about Scott’s date than he initially thought. He’s truly happy for Scott, but Stiles also feels abandoned. Objectively, Stiles knows he’s a bit of a social reject, but he never really fretted about it too much when he had Scott’s company. When Derek mentions in the middle of math class that he’s taking his ex-girlfriend to the dance, Stiles feels absolutely gutted. Stiles doesn’t understand his own reaction, so he tries to play it cool.
“Paige just really wants to go with a date. None of her other friends are going solo, so she doesn’t want to be a third wheel,” Derek says.
Stiles had high hopes for the night, despite having to work the closing shift at Delgado’s. He assumed that Derek would stop by like he has been ever since Stiles started working at the taquería, and Stiles would take his break so they could eat dinner together. “Great, now I’m literally the only person not going to the dance.”
“Why don’t you go with the group? Isaac, Boyd, and Erica don’t have dates.”
“Everyone knows that Boyd and Erica like each other,” Stiles whispers. “Why don’t they just make it official?”
Derek twists his mouth thoughtfully. “They don’t want Isaac to feel like a third wheel.”
Stiles rolls his eyes.
“Look,” Derek starts, “I know there are people who totally want to go to the dance with you.”
Stiles looks at him in shock, because Derek must be high, or have sustained serious brain injury on the lacrosse field. “People? I highly doubt that,” he hisses, trying to keep his voice low so their teacher doesn’t give them detention.
“Okay, not people, but person singular,” Derek insists. He nods his head emphatically. “No, it’s true. I happen to know for a fact.”
Stiles snorts. “If someone wants to go with me, all they have to do is ask.”
“They have their reasons why they can’t,” Derek says cryptically.
Stiles knows Derek is just trying to be polite; there isn’t some girl secretly dying to go out with him. Derek doesn’t understand what it’s like for a regular guy like Stiles--Derek has a persistent five o’clock shadow and rock hard abs, while Stiles has patchy peach fuzz and the gait of a newborn deer. “Whatever.” Stiles drops it and pretends to work on his calculus assignment on finite difference.
A little while later, Derek flicks Stiles’ shoulder with a note. Stiles unfolds the intricate paper triangle and finds Derek’s neat cursive asking a simple question. You’re not mad at me, are you?
Stiles can’t figure out why he’s mad at Derek, but he honestly sort of is. It’s an indescribable feeling and he can’t make sense of it at all. He writes, No. I don’t care who you take to the dance.
When Stiles punts the little triangle back at Derek’s desk, it catches Lydia’s attention. She gives Stiles a dirty look and a judgmental eyebrow raise. Stiles hangs his head and stares blankly at the last problem of the assignment until the bell rings.
Even though Hayden is younger and a less experienced worker than Stiles, she takes the lead and bosses Stiles around. She orders him to restock the salsa bar and clean the bathroom, the two messiest and grossest tasks of their job. Half-way through restocking salsa, Derek surprises Stiles when he stumbles into the walk-in refrigerator dressed in his suit and tie.
“Hey,” Derek tries casually, awkward wave and all.
“What are you doing here?” Stiles asks, arm-deep in tomatillo salsa.
He gestures toward the front of the restaurant with his thumb, “That girl, Hayden, she told me I’d find you back here.”
Stiles nods dumbly. He wipes his hands on his apron, it’s stained orange, red, and green. Stiles can feel his sweat-soaked t-shirt, now cold against his back, and he suspects he might smell like grease from the deep-frier. “I suddenly feel really underdressed for the walk-in,” Stiles teases.
Derek flashes him a blinding smile, and it’s only enhanced by the shininess of his braces.
“You look, um, nice,” Stiles stumbles over the words.
“Paige picked out my tie to match her dress,” Derek explains.
“Oh.” Stiles hears himself deflate at that. He turns back around to finish the task of pouring more salsa from the large vats into the smaller containers. When Derek doesn’t leave or start talking on his own, Stiles starts up again. “What are you doing here anyway? It’s only ten, the dance isn’t even over yet.”
“Well,” Derek begins, “I know it’s a little bit later than usual, but I was wondering if you’d eaten yet?”
“I took my break already,” Stiles half lies. He and Hayden shared a plate of nachos around eight. They planned on clocking out early and leaving a mess for Scott and Rosa to clean up during their Saturday morning shift. Serves them right for having dates and leaving their less cool friends to fend for themselves.
“Oh, okay.” Derek shuffles backward. “Maybe I should go. You seem pretty busy.”
Stiles knows he’s being ridiculous, and he really doesn’t want Derek to leave. “Wait, don’t go. I’m just in a mood.” Stiles turns and scratches the back of his neck. “I’ll be off in an hour, if you want to wait.”
Derek smiles sheepishly. “That depends, are you going to hook me up with chips and salsa or what?”
Where Scott has integrity and an unflinching commitment to never abuse his power with the freebies, Stiles has no such qualms. “Of course man, I’d never leave a bro hanging.”
Stiles picks up his pan full of containers and hefts them toward the door. Derek opens it for him and lets him go first. As Stiles passes, he notices the quizzical look on Derek’s face and just under his breath Derek says, “Bro, right.”
Stiles enjoyed the closeness he felt to Derek all night. He liked seeing Derek all dressed up, and he was thrilled when he learned Derek had skipped out on his date with Paige earlier than planned. Stiles was damn near over the moon when they hung out under the stars in the Beacon Hills nature preserve, like something out of a movie.
It was epic, and as Stiles replays it in his mind, he realizes that it was kind of romantic.
Only, that can’t be right, because Stiles and Derek are two totally platonic dudes. Stiles looks up to Derek the way a puny sophomore looks up to his athletic idol. And isn’t there some adage about never meeting your heroes? Only, Derek is so much better now that Stiles actually knows him. Derek is kind and thoughtful, an excellent teammate, and smart (but not genius-scary like Lydia). He’s popular, but nice and down to earth. He’s Derek, and Stiles thinks he’s pretty perfect.
Stiles inhales sharply. He shuts off the water and grabs his towel, busying himself with drying off, and resolutely does not think of Derek. No good can come of thinking about Derek in a towel, or rather, no good can come of Stiles thinking about Derek while Stiles is in a towel. Stiles rubs his eyes and tries to banish every fleeting thought from his mind. He pulls on some ratty pajamas and brushes his teeth. Once he’s in bed, he thinks of baseball, not for any particular reason, he just really likes baseball. And Derek. Stiles is pretty sure he likes Derek, and he has no idea how he feels about that. Stiles groans aloud, there’s no one in the dark house to hear him. He stops rattling off baseball stats in his head and lets himself think about Derek for a few minutes before drifting off to sleep.
May and June pass without Stiles making a total fool of himself in front of Derek, and the flurry of activities keep Stiles’ mind too busy to fret over his weird feelings for Derek. There’s a bunch of lacrosse games to get through, and somehow the JV team actually manages as many wins as losses. Stiles gets a week of detention from Harris, and when his dad finds out why he gets grounded for another week. Then there’s final exams to keep him occupied. If Derek notices the way Stiles looks at him differently now, he has the grace not to say anything before he leaves for lacrosse camp.
Distance offers Stiles some clarity about his feelings for Derek. He admires Derek, looks up to him, even, but it’s probably nothing more. The thrill he gets from talking to and being around Derek is typical for a guy like Stiles, someone who has hard time making new friends and prone to forming intense attachments. Stiles hopes that once he stops worrying so much he’ll feel perfectly safe to respond to Derek’s text.
They start off gradually--a text about something random Derek saw that reminded him of Stiles, a series of emojis that Stiles sends Derek when he’s homesick--until they’re texting throughout the day and night about everything and nothing. And if Stiles still feels that familiar little thrill whenever his phone goes off, then no one is the wiser.
The rest of the summer is a blur of taco slinging with Scott and exchanging texts with Derek. Stiles gets reprimanded by more than a few customers for texting on the job, but he doesn’t really care. Hayden and Rosa are way worse about being on their phones, and Scott has been caught more than once making out with Allison in the supply closet. None of them are exactly exemplary employees.
“Okay,” Stiles says without even looking up from texting.
“You’re going to drop your phone into the salsa bar,” Scott jokes.
Stiles’ head snaps up. “Shit.” He puts his phone gingerly back into his pocket and finishes cleaning up the salsa bar.
“So, I finally saved enough money for a dirt bike,” Scott says nonchalantly.
Stiles snorts. “Now you just have to convince your mom to let you get one.”
“Oh my god, you got her to say yes!”
Scott nods and smiles. “I made a deal with her at the beginning of the summer.”
“Why didn’t you say anything?”
Scott looks bashful. “I didn’t want to jinx myself. I told her I’d bust my ass in my summer classes if she’d let me get the bike.”
“Cool. I’m proud of you, buddy.” Stiles puts his fist out for a bump.
Scott bumps him back. “I don’t think she thought I could do it.”
“I’m sure that’s not it. I’m sure she just thought the stick was a little scary?”
Scott gives him a confused look. “What stick?”
“You know, the saying about the carrot or the stick”
Scott shakes his head. “But we’re talking about a dirt bike.”
Stiles smiles. “Never mind.”
“If I can get my mom to cave about the bike, what are the chances Allison can get permission from her parents to ride on it with me?”
“I’m sure there’s a better chance of hell freezing over.”
“So you’re saying I have a chance?” Scott jokes.
“Well, maybe I have a better chance of saving enough for the last of the repairs to the Jeep and I’ll let you take Allison out in it.”
“Yeah,” Stiles says, pulling up his banking app, “I have enough now for the transmission.”
“Hell, yeah!” Scott gives Stiles a high five. “Junior year is going to be awesome.” Scott goes to turn the sign to open. “We’re finally on the varsity team for lacrosse.”
“Never mind that we have to get through three-quarters of the school year before lacrosse season starts.”
“I finally have a girlfriend.”
There’s an awkward pause where Stiles thinks about Derek for no good reason at all. He coughs. “Lydia made me her official study buddy.”
“You’re ruining the moment, Stiles.”
“Shutting up now.” Stiles laughs.
Later that month, Stiles gets the text he’s been waiting for all summer.
I’m finally back from camp!
How was your flight?
My shift is starting now. :( Txt you later.
It’s okay. My mom’s calling me to dinner.
You going out cruising later?
Ugh. Jealous. Come by Delgado’s and rub it in and I won’t hook you up with chips and guac.
Yeah you will!
OMG I’ve been craving Mexican food. I’m so sick of dining hall food.
You closing tonight?
Stuck here indefinitely, I guess.
Turns out I need another two grand for the brakes and alignment. FML.
Apparently leaving the Jeep out on the drive way for the past five years was worse for it than we thought.
That sucks. I’m really sorry.
Go. Enjoy your family dinner, you big nerd.
Stiles gets a torta roll right to the back of the head. Hayden has killer aim. He whirls around on her. “What the?”
“Stop talking to your boyfriend. We have a line.” She points to crowd lined up ready to place their orders.
“He’s not my boyfriend,” Stiles grumbles.
He brushes the crumbs from his hair and walks to the register to help Hayden out with the dinner rush. It’s mostly families right now--this is his least favorite shift because the kids are messy and they end up having to sweep and mop before the late night diners come in.
“You make stupid heart eyes at your phone every time Derek texts,” Hayden says in between customers.
“I do not.” He shoots her a withering glance.
“Do you have plans with him already?”
Stiles’ cheeks turn pink. “Maybe.”
“Is he coming here later?”
“Maybe.” There’s no use in denying it, really.
Stiles mulls everything over while he restocks napkins and straws and wipes down the tables. He doesn’t really know how to take Hayden’s comment about Derek being his boyfriend. Derek dated Paige Krasikeva for over a year and he knows they still send each other flirty texts because Derek told him so back in July. And besides, Stiles isn’t gay, he’s just not, even his dad said so that time he caught him with a fake ID at The Jungle.
Stiles makes a deal with Hayden that she’ll clean up the floors, and in exchange he’ll cover for her at eight o’clock when the high schoolers start coming in to eat. Hayden prefers to hide in the kitchen to avoid seeing her classmates--she’s still under the illusion that anyone cares about her social standing. Hayden’s only going to be a sophomore and she scares the living daylights out of most people anyway because she’s constantly harassing Liam Dunbar, and everyone knows he’s the one with anger management problems.
Hayden takes pity on Stiles at about nine o’clock and sends their dishwasher, Jaime, another of Scott’s cousins who can’t be more than thirteen, out to the front of the restaurant to bus tables and expedite food. Stiles keeps his cool during the rush, only glancing out the front windows to see if Derek’s there yet approximately every five minutes. He figures that’s better than Scott-- he checks for Allison every two minutes. Yeah, Stiles timed him once.
It’s an arresting thought when Stiles realizes he’s comparing himself to love-sick Scott. He’s just excited Derek’s home after the long summer away. By the end of the school year, Stiles and Scott were basically in Derek’s crew. Sure, neither of them had the requisite letterman jackets, but Derek always sought them out at Delgado’s on Fridays and Saturdays. Derek is an awesome friend, and objectively Stiles knows that he’s a great guy. And all right, he’s easy on the eyes, too. But he’s also smart, funny, athletic, and a giant goober whose favorite cereal is Raisin Bran and he can quote 90s Disney movies word for word.
Stiles feels like there’s a giant rock forming in the pit of his stomach. He looks around and notices the lull in customers, so he takes the opportunity to hide in the supply closet. He bypasses Hayden who’s perched on a stool by the ice machine and ignores her as she calls after him.
“Hey, what are you doing? You can’t just leave the front of the house!” She puts her hands on her hips to emphasize the point.
Stiles waves the cooks off too as they give him concerned looks. Stiles puts his head between his knees and lets out a shaky breath. “Breathe,” he says out loud. His pulse is jumping around erratically and he feels a cold sweat trickle down his neck. “This can’t be happening,” he mutters. He shuts his eyes and starts counting. He ignores Hayden pounding on the door when he reaches seventy-five. When he reaches one hundred, he pulls out his cell phone and texts Scott, ignoring the dozens of notifications on his home screen.
I’m having a sexual identity crisis
Stiles knows that Scott’s out on a date with Allison. They were supposed to go see the new horror flick out at the theater and then cruise around afterward. Allison’s parents are out of town so she’s using their time away to her advantage by riding around on the back of Scott’s dirt bike.
Stiles waits to see if Scott is going to text back, but after a few minutes when nothing appears, he gives up. He cracks the door open and sees Jaime back at the sink doing dishes.
Jaime pauses while rinsing, “Dude, Hayden left that for you,” he points to a soda cup and a plate covered in foil. “She thought you might have low blood sugar.”
“Thanks,” Stiles says, lifting the foil and inspecting the food. Stiles smiles. It’s a plain cheese quesadilla and a cup of Sprite, his go-to comfort food. Stiles checks the clock on his phone and it’s 10:30 PM. Technically he was supposed to take his break hours ago, but Stiles had been waiting all night for Derek to show. He wonders if maybe he missed Derek while he was having his freak out in the supply closet.
Stiles nods at the cooks as he passes them again. The restaurant must be slow because they both look like they’re starting on their closing duties already. He walks to the front of the house and spots Hayden leaning over the counter giving some poor kid a feral grin. Stiles gives her a grateful smile and takes his food to the bar where hardly anyone sits. He tucks into his food and looks over all the stuff he missed on social media for the night.
He sees Scott and Allison posted cutesy selfies on her locked Instagram account about ten minutes ago. It already has a dozen likes. Danny live Tweeted a whole fight between Jackson and Lydia, it’s both hilarious and aggravating. Derek changed his Facebook picture and it pretty much solidifies whatever doubt Stiles had about whether he likes Derek like that. Derek’s smiling with a mouth full of shiny, white teeth. He updated his status to No more brace face.
Stiles drops his head down onto the bartop and knocks it gently over and over again. “Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck.” He goes back to Facebook and sees a bunch of pictures Paige posted and tagged both Erica and Derek. Stiles swipes to look at them. In one she’s sprawled on top of a sleek black car, back arched and looking like some sort of pin up girl. In the next, Derek’s in the driver’s seat wearing a black leather jacket that matches the car’s interior. Erica is in the passenger side giving a come hither look that makes Stiles want to gouge his eyes out. There’s a few more pictures of Paige posing with the car, but the very worst one is of her holding onto Derek in a way that’s, well, sexy. Stiles imagines them together in a movie about drag racing teenagers. Stiles blinks and when he opens his eyes, Paige has changed her relationship status to It’s Complicated. Stiles feels like he wants to throw up his quesadilla, go home and hibernate for the rest of the weekend.
It doesn’t really matter how Stiles feels about Derek, what matters is he doesn’t have a chance in hell with him now. Derek is obviously back together with Paige, and why shouldn’t he be with one of the prettiest, nicest girls in school? Derek’s the captain of the lacrosse team, doesn’t have braces anymore, and apparently drives a badass muscle car now. Derek just leveled the fuck up--he’s an all-American beefcake, and Stiles is still a social zero. The fact that they are both dudes bears little concern, they couldn’t be further from a perfect match if they tried.
Stiles hops down off the barstool and goes to flip the sign to closed. It’s a few minutes shy of eleven, but there’s no one in the restaurant except the kid Hayden is still flirting with, and the parking lot is totally empty. He lowers the lights and starts working on cleaning up for the night. Tía will be by soon to collect Jaime and close out the cash registers. The cooks have already scrubbed the kitchen down and put most of the food away. Stiles doesn’t even bother trying to get Hayden to help him. It’ll be quicker if he does everything himself anyway. When they work together they bicker about everything.
Stiles works fast and efficiently through his checklist of closing duties. Hayden makes herself useful by clocking out for the day and not giving Stiles any shit for his strange behavior earlier. She even squeezes Stiles’ shoulder on the way out, but her comforting touch makes him cringe. Clearly she knows all about Derek and Paige getting back together. News travels fast in Beacon Hills. Someone somewhere is probably making a banner to hang in the school cafeteria announcing the news.
Stiles helps Tía when she asks for him to close out the registers. He takes solace in counting out the pennies, nickels, dimes, and quarters. He helps Jaime put away clean dishes, and lends a hand to Manny with the garbage. Stiles is really milking it tonight, lingering way past when he normally takes off; in his defense, he literally has nowhere to go.
“Are you waiting for your dad, Stiles, or do you need a ride home?” Tía asks as she locks up the back office.
Stiles shakes his head. “Nah, I was going to walk,” he lies. Stiles hadn’t planned on getting a ride home, he assumed Derek would come by Delgado’s and he could hitch a ride home in the ugly brown minivan. Nowhere in his plan did he account for Derek getting a slick new car and reuniting with Paige.
“Okay, well if you’re sure?” she says, fighting a yawn.
“Go, you’ve had a long day.” Stiles shoos her. “I can finish and lock up,” Stiles offers.
“All right. I’m going to send the cooks home then if you don’t mind doing the final sweep and mop?”
“No problemo.” He turns toward Manny and Victor and says, “Buenas noches. Hasta luego.”
Manny and Victor follow Tía out and return Stiles’ farewell.
Stiles grabs the broom and starts at the front of the house, sweeping the dust and debris, getting lost in the repetitive movement. He takes a break once he finishes that task and checks his phone again. Scott has returned the message.
What is that supposed to mean? Are you okay? Should I be worried?????
Stiles tries to play it cool.
Never mind. False alarm.
Stiles contemplates what to write. There’s no use in having this conversation over text. He’s not sure he could explain his feelings to Scott right now anyway.
Yeah. It was a joke.
It would be okay if it wasn’t a joke. You know that, right? I love you bro.
Stiles can feel the watery grin breaking through.
It means the world to me that you’d still love me if I wanted to bone down with a dude.
He shakes his head and laughs. Stiles knows Scott will get a kick out of that.
But I’m not sure that’s the case anyway. I just checked out Hayden’s butt and I got a little bit of a fear boner.
You know it’s okay if you like both, right?
Stiles furrows his brow. Sure, bisexuality is a thing. It’s what the B stands for in LGBTQ. But he’s not sure it’s his thing, and if it is his thing, he’s not sure he’s ready to talk about it. He spent all summer denying his feelings for Derek, so it’s going to take a while for him to get used to them. And when he’s ready, then maybe he’ll talk more about this with Scott and his dad.
Of course it’s okay if I like both. But right now I don’t like guys plural.
It’s one guy. Maybe. Or maybe it’s just heartburn.
Stiles knows it’s not heartburn, but he’s just not ready to put a label on himself or his feelings. It’s too big and too scary.
Can we forget we even had this conversation? It doesn’t matter. It less than matters.
Are you talking about Derek?
Stiles can feel his blush creeping from his cheeks down to his neck.
See, now you know it doesn’t even matter. Because he and Paige are back together. And I’m happy for him. If he’s happy, I mean.
Where did you get that news?
Paige changed her relationship status on Facebook.
And you’re sure she’s talking about Derek?
Stiles opens the Facebook app and check’s Derek status. It’s blank, like it was before.
Whatever. It doesn’t matter. Ugh. Just go back to making out with Allison.
Stiles puts his phone on silent and tucks it back in his pocket. He can’t deal with Scott trying to cheerlead his identity crisis. Scott always wants to see the good in people and keep a positive outlook, but that’s not really Stiles’ way of dealing with the world. Stiles grabs the mop and heads to the front of the restaurant to finish his last task before heading home.
When he gets to the front he sees the outline of a figure in the windowed doorway. Stiles arms himself with the mop and walks closer to check it out. The person, definitely a man, turns around and it scares the shit out of Sitles. He drops the mop with a clatter and clutches at his racing heart. He flips open the lock and opens the door so the man can walk in.
“What the actual fuck, you creepy creeper, you nearly gave me a heart attack,” Stiles says to Derek.
Derek grins and laughs. “Sorry, I thought you were closed. I was just about to go back to my car when I saw your shadow and turned around.”
Stiles stands up tall, squares his shoulders, and does his best to sound mad and not elated and terrified that Derek’s right in front of him. “What are you doing here? It’s almost midnight.”
“I’m so sorry, Stiles. It’s been crazy. After dinner my mom and dad took me out to the garage and handed me the keys to Laura’s Camaro.” Derek sounds sincere. “She got into NYU, she’s transferring this semester and isn’t taking her car.”
“Cool.” Stiles tries to look it, but he doesn’t sound like it.
“I meant to get here at nine, but I got held up,” he says sheepishly.
“Over at Paige’s?” Stiles raises an eyebrow at him.
“Yeah, Erica, Boyd, and Isaac all insisted we go over and say hi.”
“And by ‘say hi’ you mean take sexy pictures on top of your car?” Stiles can hear the bitterness in his voice.
Derek laughs nervously. “Oh, you saw those?”
“I guess Paige is pretty bummed. She was talking to this guy she met at band camp and it turns out he sort of had girlfriend back home.” Derek frowns. “She just wanted to take those pictures to mess with his head.”
“What about her relationship status?” Stiles schools his expression, he’s going for anything but jealous.
“It worked. He dumped his girlfriend and I guess he and Paige are talking again and trying to figure out how to do long distance. He lives in Sacramento.”
“Oh.” Stiles feels his head nodding, but he’s not really in control of the muscles.
“It’s good to see you,” Derek says, pulling Stiles into his solid chest and enveloping him into a bone crushing hug.
They’re the same height now, and Stiles can feel every inch of his body where it lines up with Derek’s. Derek is warm and smells amazing. Stiles recoils after a moment. “Sorry, I’m just...like really sweaty and smell like a taco shop.”
Derek beams at him. “I don’t mind.” He takes a step forward, as if he’s seeking out Stiles’ personal bubble.
Stiles needs to get a grip. There’s no way Derek’s interested in Stiles for the myriad reasons he’s already gone over in his head all evening, regardless of the fact that he’s not dating Paige. Stiles puts his hand out. “I need to finish and close up.”
“Can I help?” Derek offers.
Stiles shakes his head and mutters something about liability insurance. “No, no, just…” Stiles isn’t sure what to say. He wants Derek to stay, but he also feels too confused to deal with him in person. Derek was much easier to talk to when he was a thousand miles away, just a text thread in his phone.
“I can wait.” Derek jerks his thumb toward the parking lot. He doesn’t wait for a response, just walks back out the front door and heads toward his shiny car.
Stiles watches him go and can’t really figure out what just happened. His mind kind of went blank the second he saw Derek with a bit of scruff on his face and his gigantic smile sans braces. He remembers grilling Derek about the pictures, and his jealousy getting the better of him. Stiles has second hand embarrassment for himself. He does feel like a weight has been lifted though knowing that Derek and Paige aren’t back together, but he knows better than to get his hopes up.
Stiles grabs the mop and starts cleaning the floors. He tries not to think about the fact that he’s a sweaty mess and Derek’s waiting for him. When he gets to the kitchen he sees the clean grill and the food all put away in the walk-in fridge, but he gets an idea anyway, and before he can stop himself he’s dumping the sudsy mop water and washing his hands. Stiles clocks out after his tasks for the night are thoroughly done.
He decides to scrub down as best he can, stripping out of his work shirt and pants right there in the kitchen. Who knows what kind of health code violation this is, but he can literally smell himself. He scrubs down with a clean dish rag and runs his head under the faucet. He buzzed it for the summer, so at least he can’t mess up his hair. Stiles goes to his locker in the employee lounge and pulls out a clean white t-shirt and a spare pair of jeans he keeps there. He gets dressed and stuffs his dirty clothes into his backpack.
He checks the time and it’s only been twenty minutes. He goes to the walk-in fridge and grabs some tortillas, the container of shredded cheese, and some carnitas that haven’t gone cold entirely yet. He fires up the stovetop and makes carnitas quesadillas. He loads them on a plate and fills a container with pico de gallo, sour cream, and the extra spicy aguacate salsa that Derek likes. Stiles slings his backpack over his shoulder, puts the food in a to-go bag, and locks up the restaurant for the night.
Derek is leaning against the driver’s side door like something out of chick flick. He’s wearing perfectly fitted jeans, a tight v-neck shirt, and a black leather jacket. Stiles hopes he’s not drooling.
“Hey,” he starts. “I brought you food. I wasn’t sure if you’d eaten.”
Derek beams at him. “I’m starving.”
Stiles turns toward one of the outdoor tables and Derek follows him. They sit on the same side of the bench, straddling it so they are facing each other.
“Did you shower?” Derek leans in and sniffs him.
Stiles laughs. “Not exactly. I just cleaned up and changed out of my work clothes.”
“Oh. You smell nice,” Derek says it quietly, but Stiles catches it.
Stiles pulls out the food from the to-go bag. “It’s not much. I didn’t want to mess up the kitchen. The cooks will kill me.”
“No, this is awesome. Thank you.” Derek heaps pico de gallo on his quesadilla. He takes a big bite and moans. “Oh my god. I really missed this.”
Stiles takes a sip from his soda and watches Derek demolish his food. He talks about getting home and going straight to the orthodontist to get his braces off, then home for dinner, and getting his sister’s car. Derek looks happy and animated, more open than Stiles has ever seen him. Stiles remembers their texts conversations and how he’d wondered if they’d be like that in person, the back and forth, the easy flow of conversation. But somehow this is better, because Derek’s here and it’s real and it’s spontaneous. There’s no delete button, and there are no long pauses or interruptions. Derek jumps around in his conversation and he smiles a lot, his skin around his eyes crinkling when he laughs. Stiles loves the way Derek throws his head back when he finds something particularly funny.
And because he can’t help himself, Stiles says out of the blue, “Hey, I’m really glad you’re home.”
Derek stops mid-sentence and stares at Stiles for a beat. “I missed you,” he says, breathless.
Stiles looks at Derek with his mouth agape. He feels like his heart is going to crack open, all his feelings can’t be contained.
Derek reaches across and holds his hand, dragging his thumb across Stiles’ knuckles lightly. Though his touch is tentative, Stiles knows this thing between them is actually happening, it’s not something he imagined, and the feelings aren’t just one-sided.
“Do you like me?” Stiles dares to ask.
Derek smiles. “Yeah, I like you,” he says like it’s not a big deal.
“What? Why?” Stiles croaks.
Derek smiles and laughs, but it’s not mean spirited. “You didn’t make fun of me when I had cilantro in my braces. You talked to me and thought I was cool when I drove an ugly brown minivan.” His cheeks turn pink and he squeezes Stiles’ hand. “You’re nice to look at, too.”
Stiles can’t think of what to say. No one’s ever told him he’s attractive. “I never even considered the possibility that I liked you and maybe you could like me back...until, just now, actually.”
Now it’s Derek’s turn to ask, “Why?”
Stiles shrugs. “No one’s ever liked me like that before.”
Derek squeezes his hand. “Hey,” he starts, “do you want to go cruising with me next Friday?”
Stiles grins. “I’ll have to switch my schedule, but yeah, that would be cool.”
“Saturday’s fine with me too if Friday doesn’t work for you.”
Stiles shakes his head. “What about Friday and Saturday?” He has no intention of missing a chance to spend time with Derek.
“Only if we can stop at Delgado’s for dinner,” Derek insists.
“Sounds good.” He squeezes Derek’s hand back. Stiles doesn’t want the night to end just yet. “What are you doing now?”
Derek shrugs. “Not much. Just waiting for Boyd and Erica.” He points to where they’re perched on a table at the opposite end of the parking lot making out.
Stiles laughs. He hadn’t even noticed them until now. “Do you want to walk over to Slim’s with me?”
“Right now?” Derek chuckles. “I just ate.”
“Yeah, but I’m craving curly fries.”
Derek smiles and holds up a finger. “Give me a second.” He walks back to the Camaro and closes the moon roof and rolls up the windows. Then he jogs over to his friends to let them know where to find him.
“Let’s go,” Derek says as he approaches Stiles with his hand outstretched, a familiar object in his grasp.
“What’s that for?” Stiles looks down at Derek’s letterman jacket.
Derek smiles sheepishly. “You looked cold.”
Stiles grins wide. It’s a warm August night, but there’s no way Stiles is going to turn down Derek’s gesture. He slips the jacket on and feels a thrill wash over him. The letterman jacket fits Stiles perfectly. While Derek was away at camp bulking up, Stiles had a growth spurt of his own. Emboldened, Stiles pulls Derek closer and drags him in by the belt loops for a kiss. It’s unpracticed but nice. Derek’s lips are warm and soft, but the way he holds onto Stiles is firm and sure. Stiles has a lot to think about after Derek’s confession, and he’ll probably lose some sleep over it, but right now he just wants to kiss the boy he likes.