Mike sat on his couch, laptop in front of him and a pizza box with two slices missing next to it. He had been trying to distract himself all night, but his foot kept bouncing, and his heart refused to lift itself from his stomach. He blasted music, tried to work on his latest campaign, started and abandoned about four different things on Netflix before giving up - nothing could keep his mind off the fact that El was on a date right now and he was alone in his pajamas in his apartment at a quarter past nine on a Saturday night. She couldn’t forget the way she had talked about it, how excited she had been. Some guy she’d met on tinder. Mike’s skin felt too tight any time he thought about El on tinder, but she insisted that ever since graduating from college it was the easiest way to meet people. Mike had to admit that his own situation proved her right, but that didn’t mean that he had to like it. Who knew what kind of creeps were on that app? He knew El was more than capable of handling herself, but the thought of some guy who only chose to go out with her because she was ridiculously beautiful, some skeevy guy who didn’t even know how much she loved dipping fries in shakes or how she cried at nature documentaries, made his blood boil. They didn’t know how smart she was, how clever, how witty and funny and kind. They just knew she was hot, and apparently that was enough to lead to a date.
Mike tried to rationalize his way through it, reminding himself that she had been talking to this guy for about a week, that mutual interests had probably been discussed. He reminded himself that El could make her own decisions. And while it quelled the anger and some of the worry, the anger just turned back to heartache, the way it always did.
He nearly jumped out of his skin when he heard a knock on his door. He shut his laptop and got up to answer it. For a moment he was self-conscious of the fact that he was home alone in his sweatpants on a Saturday night, but he figured the person knocking knew that anyway. Still, he straightened out his t-shirt, despite his awareness of the futility of the action. He opened the door and there was-
She was standing with her arms wrapped around herself, looking small as her hair hung in her face. It took her a moment to look into Mike’s eyes as she asked, “Can I come in?”
“Always.” Mike gave her a small smile as he stepped aside to let her in and closed the door behind her. She looked dressed for a date - nothing fancy, but a nice, short sleeved black sundress, the kind with the buttons down the front, and a pair of heeled boots. Mike also noticed the glitter on her eyes and cheeks, and he noticed that her expression didn’t match her look. “What’s up? I thought you had a date tonight.”
El took a minute to take a breath before telling Mike, “He stood me up.”
“What?” Mike asked, genuinely incredulous.
El shrugged and shook her head. Mike could see some anger there, and maybe some pain, but mostly she just looked annoyed as she explained, “He just didn’t show up. I waited for half an hour and texted him twice and he just texted me, ‘oh, lol, sorry, I totally forgot about that. I’m out with my guys right now - rain check?’” Mike couldn’t help but smirk a little at the obnoxious voice she donned while quoting her no-show date.
“What did you say?”
“I just unmatched with him. He doesn’t have my number, so I guess I won’t be talking to him again.” Mike felt guilty about it, but there was warm happiness glowing in his chest and a wave of relief crashing over him.
“Damn, that’s pretty ruthless,” he chuckled. He was glad she didn’t seem too broken up about it. “He deserved it, though.” El gave him a tell me about it look before plopping onto his couch and kicking off her shoes. He tried and failed to suppress his smile at how comfortable she clearly felt in his space. He was glad she knew she was welcome any time.
“I didn’t interrupt anything, did I?” she asked as Mike took a seat next to her.
“Just some Saturday night writer’s block,” he assured her.
“So I can have some of this then?” She smiled at him with glittering eyes as she slowly opened the pizza box.
“Actually I’m saving those six for myself,” he joked. El rolled her eyes, but she gave him a small smile as she half-heartedly tossed a pillow at him. He watched fondly as she tilted her head back in order to eat the slice of pizza in her hands. She looked over to him and caught him smiling at her.
“What?” she asked, her mouth full.
“Nothing,” Mike giggled. “That asshole doesn’t know what he’s missing.”
“Are you making fun of me?” El playfully shoved his shoulder, but she followed her own movement and scooted closer to him.
“I would never.” Without thinking, Mike pressed a kiss to El’s cheek. He blushed when he realized what he had done, and he thought he might’ve seen some pink in her cheeks as well, but if she was fazed she didn’t show it.
“Whatever,” she grinned, having swallowed her food. Mike’s heart jumped into his throat as she snuggled into him. It wasn’t unusual for them; they were both pretty physically affectionate people, and since their other friends weren’t as much they ended up magnifying it in each other. Still, Mike’s heart kept on racing as he secured his arm around her shoulder.
“Can we watch something?” she asked, looking up at him with those golden hazel eyes that got him every time.
“Of course,” he smiled down at her. Retrieving the remote from the side table and turning on Netflix he asked, “What do you wanna watch? Nature documentary?” To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before was her favorite movie, but he figured it wasn’t the best night to suggest that.
“Ugh, no, I don’t wanna cry right now. Can we watch Queer Eye?”
“Right,” Mike laughed, “because you’re definitely not gonna cry at Queer Eye.”
“Hey, I deserve a good happy cry, I’ve had a bad night,” El giggled. Mike pulled her closer; he knew she was joking, she didn’t seem to actually be that upset, but that didn’t matter. She had had a rough night, and he wanted to be there for her. He wanted her to know that he was there for her, that he always would be. He reminded himself that she had shown up at his door, that she knew she could go to him. Still, it made him feel better to hold her. “Hey, can I borrow some clothes?” she asked. “I wanna get out of this.” She lifted the skirt of her dress to emphasize her point, her nose wrinkled in distaste.
“Yeah, sure. You know where they are,” he smiled.
“You’re an angel,” she grinned with a kiss to the top of his head before popping up off the couch and heading down the hall for his bedroom. Mike took the opportunity to catch his breath. He ran his fingers through his hair and called up the show on Netflix, picking one of El’s favorite episodes. He fucked around on his phone until she got back, though now he was far too distracted to focus on anything. It didn’t help much when she walked back into the room absolutely drowning in one of Mike’s old t-shirts and flannel pants. All Mike wanted to do was pull her onto his lap and hold her close, cover her in kisses. But it wasn’t his time to initiate; he needed to see where El was at, what she needed. And if a giddy smile pulled at his lips when she draped herself over his lap, well, he could keep that to himself. “Ooh, I love this one!” she exclaimed as she cuddled closer to him.
But as the show went on, Mike snuck a few glances at El, and each time she seemed… distracted. He ran his fingers gently over her shoulder, and while it got her to relax a bit, there was still that divot in her brow that told Mike she was thinking about something, something that probably didn’t have much to do with moisturizer or home décor. “Hey,” he said softly, “everything okay?”
She seemed to shake herself out of a fog before she looked up at him. Her eyes searched his, and he wished desperately that he could give her whatever she was looking for. “Can I sleep here tonight?” she asked. The smallness in her voice made Mike’s chest ache. He hoped she knew that he would do anything for her.
“Of course,” he murmured back, his voice soft but sincere, and full of everything he could only show in gestures, never words. He rested his forehead against hers and watched as she closed her eyes and let out a sigh. His hand slid from her shoulder to her waist and stayed there protectively. Noticing her attention wasn’t on the show, he asked, “Do you wanna go get ready for bed?” It took her a moment again, but she nodded, her eyes still distance. He helped her up, only for her to stop in her tracks and groan. “What’s wrong?” Mike asked, his hands gently taking hers.
“I don’t have makeup wipes with me,” she pouted. Though she looked adorable, Mike wanted to kiss it right off.
“I think I have some left over from the last time you stayed the night. You wanna come with me to check?” She nodded and shot him a soft smile - one that still had that melancholy tugging on its sleeves, but a smile nonetheless. He led her by the hand to the bathroom, scared to let her go.
She hopped on the counter as soon as they got to the bathroom, her feet swinging back and forth. It was so cute Mike thought he might explode. Thankfully, he had to search through a few drawers before finding what he was looking for, so he had time to catch his breath. He took out one of the wipes and stepped into the space El made for him in front of her. Wordlessly, he took her face gently in her hands, and she closed her eyes to let him begin taking her makeup off. It eased Mike’s racing heart a bit, that she let him care for her. He appreciated being able to do something, even just something small. He took his time, delicately swiping the glitter off of her eyelid so as to not hurt her. He gently wiped away her mascara and eyeliner, telling her when to open her eyes and look up so he could get the makeup below her eye off as well. “Men are trash,” she stated, a sudden noise in the silence which made Mike snort.
“Can’t argue with that,” he grinned. “I don’t think the Queer Eye guys are trash, though.”
El met his eye then, gave him that soft smile again, and reached out, pressing her knuckles lightly against his chest and running her thumb over his shirt. Mike hoped she couldn’t feel how hard his heart was beating. “Yeah, I guess you’re not trash, either.” Mike couldn’t tell why she sounded so sad as she said it, but it made his stomach fall to his feet.
“Well, thanks,” he grinned bashfully. “Close your eyes.” His voice was soft, his caress of her cheek softer as he tried to control the shaking of his hand.
But she didn’t close her eyes. She kept looking at Mike, and this time the sadness was written all over her face. “Why doesn’t anyone want to spend their time on me?” As if the question itself wasn’t enough to break Mike’s heart, the quiver in her voice made it shatter. “Why is it so hard to find someone who will love me?”
“Love doesn’t always happen quickly,” Mike said, choosing his words carefully. His hand was still cupping her cheek, his thumb stroking lightly over her soft skin. His eyes scanned her face, taking her in. Noticing she was waiting for more, he continued, “I think it’s probably better when it takes time. It takes time to get to know someone, and to know someone is to love them. Someone’s gonna get to know about the way you gush about your degree, and they’re gonna love it. And someone’s gonna love the way you eat way too much cookie dough even though you know it’ll give you a stomach ache.” He smiled at her, and while she was smiling back, whatever was dragging her eyes down seemed to be getting heavier. He took both of her hands in his own and kept going. “Someone’s gonna love that Spice Girls poster in your room, and they’re gonna love when you recite every line of High School Musical. They’re gonna love watching you get ready in the morning.” He could hear his voice getting more wistful, but he couldn’t help it. “They’re gonna love that you look over every menu item even though they could tell you once you picked what restaurant to go to what you’re gonna order.” He realized that he’d been smiling to himself and made sure to meet El’s eye as he said, “Someone is going to love you so much, El. You’re the most loveable person I know. I promise the wait will be worth it.”
“Why don’t you love me?”
Mike’s heart stopped. “What do you mean?” He hated the way his voice broke, but his throat felt like it was close to caving in. “You’re my best friend in the world. Of course I love you.”
El shook her head, and Mike could feel himself starting to panic as tears welled in her eyes. Were those tears his fault? How was he supposed to make this better? “You don’t love me like I want you to love me,” she said through a small hiccup of a sob. Mike was speechless - and El, apparently, wasn’t done. “You say to know someone is to love them. But no one knows me better than you. If you don’t love me, how is anyone else supposed to love me?” All Mike could do was shake his head and hold her hands, show her he wasn’t going anywhere. “You do all these nice things for me, and you say all these lovely things, but you don’t love me. No one treats me as well as you do. How am I supposed to find someone better?” Mike honestly couldn’t believe what he was hearing. It sounded like a love confession, but how could El be in love with him? How could she share his feelings and he hadn’t even realized? El was full on crying as she told him, “And I get so tired of waiting, and so I try to put myself out there, but no one is what I want because all I want is you. I don’t want someone like you, or someone who treats me like you do, I want you. And sometimes I think you want me to, when you say things like that, but you never do.”
“I do,” Mike blurted out finally, so softly his voice came out a hoarse, choked whisper. He continued, more steadily, “I want you. You’re everything I want, you’re all I want.” El’s eyes looked apprehensive, surprised, but at least that seemed to stop the tears. He wiped away the wetness on her cheeks and cupped her face as he confessed, “I want to hold you when you eat too much cookie dough and your stomach hurts, and I want to comfort you while you cry over nature documentaries, and I want to take you out to dinner and hold your hand and come home with you and kiss you and play with your hair. I wanna brush my teeth next to you and listen to you talk about the things you love for hours. I wanna hear about your day, every day.” El’s hands were on Mike’s waist then, and he could feel them shaking as she gripped his shirt and pulled him closer.
“Mike,” she whispered.
He realized that he was shaking as well - nearly his entire body was, his heart ricocheting in his chest. But his voice remained steady and confident, true, as he said, “El, I love you. I’ve always loved you.”
A smile spread across El’s face, one that finally reached her eyes. She rested her forehead against Mike’s and let out a choked, “I love you so much.” Mike just looked at her for a moment, as though to check that this was really happening, before tilting his chin up and catching her lips in a kiss. A shiver went through him as her hands relaxed and ran up his chest to wrap around his shoulders. He smiled into the kiss as she pulled him closer. He placed his hands on her waist and mirrored her actions, pulling her as close as he could. He loved the way she felt in his arms, like it was where they were meant to be. Then, as if the feeling of El’s lips moving against his own wasn’t enough to have his head spinning already, she wrapped her legs around him, pulling him in just that extra little bit closer. He could feel his blood rushing, his heart racing as her fingers slid into his hair. He wrapped his arms around her waist then, desperate for her; he’d been dreaming about this for years, and he needed her to know how much he meant everything he said, everything he did for her. He wanted her to know that he would do and say those things a million times over. He wanted her to know that he wouldn’t let go until she wanted him to.
It was El who pulled back first, a breathless giggle on her lips. “Oh my god.”
“I know,” Mike beamed, his cheeks bright pink as he caught his breath.
“No,” El giggled again, “I mean, oh my god, I kissed you for the first time with half a face of makeup on.” Mike looked up to see that she was right. And while the sight made him giggle with her a bit, it did nothing to make the moment any less amazing.
“You’re still the most beautiful person in the world,” he grinned, pulling her close again and peppering kisses all over her cheek. She let out another laugh and wrapped her arms around him. Mike thought he could definitely get used to her holding him that tightly.