“I got 3/8ths for fourteen,” MJ says, shading her pencil back and forth in the corner of her notebook.
She looks up.
Peter and Ned huddle by the window, curtains pulled back.
“I think school’s gonna get cancelled,” Peter says. He leans forward, and MJ wouldn’t be surprised if his nose is smooshed against the glass.
“Totally,” Ned agrees. “There’s gotta be at least five inches by now. I’ll check the radar.”
“Did you finish the homework?” MJ asks.
“We’ll do it tomorrow,” Ned says.
MJ tilts her head before pushing herself into a sitting position. “What if school doesn’t get cancelled?”
“We’ll do it later,” Peter says.
Yep, there’s definitely nose to window contact.
“We’re supposed to be doing it now.”
Peter turns to look at her, and if she was closer, MJ could probably see a smear on the glass. “It’s snowing, MJ!”
“It’s not supposed to stop until tomorrow afternoon,” Ned says, a celebratory fist pump with the air.
Followed by one with Peter.
“That doesn’t mean we won’t have school tomorrow,” MJ says.
“Look!” Peter gestures emphatically toward the window. “There’s no way. I bet parts of the MTA will shut down.”
Clasping her hands and raising her arms above her head to stretch, MJ wiggles a little bit from side-to-side, trying to elongate her spine. “Isn’t that even more reason to finish your homework?”
Ned squints. “No?”
“You don’t want to spend your snow day worrying about homework.”
“I just won’t worry about it,” Ned decides.
MJ rolls her eyes. “And if Midtown doesn’t close?”
“We don’t need that kind of negative thinking, MJ.”
“Have you shown her the radar?” Peter asks.
Ned shakes his head.
“Ned, you have to show her the radar!”
“I don’t care about the radar,” MJ says.
Ned gasps, shoving his phone in front of her face. He points. “See this? This is the front. We’re supposed to get 14 inches!”
“And weather predictions are never wrong?”
“It’s literally snowing right now,” Peter insists.
Ned shakes his head, an upside down smile on his face. “If we have to go to school tomorrow, I’m going to blame you for putting this out into the universe.”
“Multiverse,” Peter corrects.
“Dude! Do you think it’s snowing in other universes?” Ned gasps. “What if this is the only universe where we have school tomorrow?”
“Statistically unlikely.” MJ picks up her pencil, tapping it against her notebook. “I’m going to finish the calc homework. Don’t expect any help later.”
“Do you want to write an equation figuring out the probability of getting snow days in every universe?” Peter asks Ned, ignoring her.
“If there are an infinite number of universes,” Ned starts, each word speeding up as the sentence stretches on.
MJ elects to ignore them, too. She only has one more problem left and a history chapter to finish. She used to be ahead on all her note-taking; turns out, having friends and a boyfriend cuts into her studying time. MJ still finds room in her schedule to doodle and read through the Women’s Prize long list. She finished her college applications early. So it’s not so bad.
It’s pretty great, actually.
She has five pages left as Peter and Ned condense their equation, and all three of their phones go off: Ned’s ringtone a quick snippet of Darth Vader’s theme, Peter’s some factory-setting melody, and MJ’s a silent buzz against her thigh.
MIDTOWN TECH WILL BE CLOSED THURSDAY DEC. 7TH DUE TO INCLEMENT WEATHER.
“Well, well, well.” Ned wiggles his eyebrows, grin smug.
“You still have five calc problems to do, and Peter has to read an entire act of Hamlet.”
Peter winces. “Two acts.”
“Ms. Cumel went over act three today,” MJ says.
“So, one act?”
“I’m sorry! It’s weird. It’s supposed to be a play, like you said. How it’s hard to read to yourself and really get the most out of it when it’s meant to be performed and experienced? And it’s especially hard to do at 2 AM after I’ve stopped a mugging.”
“Excuses,” MJ tsks, but a smile slips out.
“I’ll read both. Promise.”
“Nah. I’ll send you a faithful West End adaption to watch.”
Peter grins. “Thanks, MJ.”
“You can do that tomorrow,” Ned cuts in, back at the window.
Peter twists toward him. “Now?”
“What?” MJ asks.
Both boys eye her with matching grins.
MJ could have guessed that Peter and Ned are the kind of idiots who bundle up and leave the house to play in a snowstorm at 8 PM. She didn’t need the confirmation, but now that she has it, she dips her nose, trying to loosen the hot pink scarf she borrowed from May enough to keep said nose underneath it.
“This is great!” Peter throws his arms out, tilting his head back and sticking out his tongue.
“Snowflakes are carcinogens.”
Peter spins around. “Everything is a carcinogen.”
“That sounds right,” Ned agrees. He glides along the maybe-sidewalk as though ice skating, passing Peter by. “I read oxygen can cause cancer. Isn’t that wild? We need it to breathe, but it’s also killing us.”
The streets are relatively empty. Most people in for the night and avoiding the bad weather, but a car’s headlights flash as it crawls by.
“The snow can collect smoke and exhaust from the air,” MJ clarifies.
“Can you two stop?” Peter frowns. “We’re supposed to be having fun.”
“I’m having fun,” MJ says.
“Me too,” Ned agrees.
Peter shakes his head. “More like joining forces to use snow against me.”
Ned looks over his shoulder, grinning. “That’s what we’re here for.”
“Yeah, I half-expected you to brag about your enhanced arachnid DNA or something.” MJ stops. “Wait.”
“What?” Peter tries to elbow her through her lumpy coat. It super doesn’t work.
“Are you cold-blooded?”
“Woah,” Ned says, fully turning. “How cold do you think it’d have to be before you’d like, go dormant?”
Peter scrunches up his nose. It’s flushed with cold, and everything about the action is very cute.
Does MJ think Peter’s nose is cute? She might have to review some things, this is just too embarrassing a reality for her to consider.
“I don’t go dormant, guys,” Peter whines.
“Maybe not now, but spiders have something like antifreeze in their bodies and can survive without being affected about ten degrees below freezing. Five below if we’re using a logical system of measurement.”
Peter’s face softens. “Aw, MJ, you looked up spider facts for me?”
“She totally did!” Ned points at her, lighting up like a (excuse her) Christmas tree.
“I thought we were a team, Nedward.”
“For life, MJ,” he says, holding out his fist.
She rolls her eyes, returning the fist bump.
The park lights cast orangey, circular shadows around the snow. The flakes slowly and steadily fill in prints left by dogs and their owners.
“Oh, cool, a snowman!”
It’s a lump of snow about the size of a basketball with another, smaller clump sitting on it. Calling it a snowman is very generous, but Peter always has been.
“Let’s build them a friend,” Peter says.
MJ tilts her head, shoving her hands deeper into her pockets. “You don’t want to fix it first?”
“What d’ya mean?”
“It doesn’t even reach my knee,” MJ says.
“What if it’s a baby snowman?” Ned asks.
“Aww,” Peter coos, patting the baby snowman’s head.
MJ shrugs. “Fine.”
The snow is fluffy and thick, but light. It doesn’t pack well. Undeterred, Peter and Ned kneel to start the base of their snowperson. MJ walks in a slow circle, trying to find the best path toward sticks or rocks.
“Did you just spit?” Ned asks.
“The snow’s too dry,” Peter argues.
MJ watches Ned consider this advice before grabbing a handful of snow and spitting right into it.
Her boyfriend does the same.
Wrinkling her nose, MJ heads in the direction of the playground. Trees spot the entrance, and she finds a few twigs, presumably shaken from their trees due to high winds. The wind has settled now, but it still chaps against MJ’s cheeks.
She ducks her head, finally getting the bottom half of her face underneath the scarf. When she inhales, it smells like the Parker’s apartment. It’s nice.
Returning to her losers, she drops a pitiful pile of sticks onto the ground. “Nerds,” she greets.
“Do you think the snowbaby and our snowperson look related?” Ned asks.
MJ steps back, cocking her head and blinking at the flakes drifting through the air. “Kind of?”
“We need to fix the hip,” Peter offers. “You see how the baby’s base curves more on the right?”
Ned’s eyes widen. “Ooooh.”
“That’s… right,” MJ says. “Do you want me to fix the baby?”
“The kid who built them probably likes them the way they are,” Peter says.
“How do you know it was a child and not a high schooler?”
“MJ,” Peter protests, sitting back on his thighs and twisting toward her. He blinks up, wide-eyed and pouting.
She likes him the way a Christmas tree’s pine needles like the floor. “You’re right. You and Ned are the only seniors I know who would fuss over building a snowman.”
“You’ve gotta make winter fun, MJ,” Ned says. “Betty and her friends do a snowman building contest every year. This is practice.”
Peter nods, faux apologetic frown on his secretly smug face. “And you don’t want to leave the snowbaby alone without a snowmom.”
Peter’s frown turns upside down. “Thanks for the mouth.”
He struggles to pick up the sad excuses for branches, opting to pull his gloves off before breaking the twigs into pieces. Peter’s gentle, pressing a growing smile onto the top ball of the snowmom.
“What about the eyes?” MJ asks.
“Oh!” Peter, absolute moron, breaks both zipper’s off his coat pockets. “There!”
“I could have found more sticks.”
Ned takes the zippers from Peter. “This way her eyes shine.”
“Yeah,” Peter says.
“Like her voice.” Ned presses too hard, cringing when some snow cascades off Snowmom’s head.
“How does she look?” Peter asks, slipping his gloves back on. His cheeks are rosy from the cold, similar to his blush, but different somehow. MJ commits the pinkish-red to memory; she started experimenting with color, and Peter’s face is one of her favorite subjects. A secret only he knows.
“Awesome!” Ned agrees, standing and brushing snow off his jeans.
Despite putting his gloves back on five seconds ago, Peter pulls them off again. The skin between his eyebrows crinkles cutely when he realizes he cannot unzip his coat pockets and has nowhere to shove said gloves.
He settles for dropping them into the snow. He better hope he has that arachnid antifreeze coursing through his veins with the way the wet is going to soak through the absorbent material.
“Get in the picture,” he says.
His phone has appeared from his front pocket. Camera open.
Ned positions himself behind Snowmom and waves MJ over. “Come on!”
“I don’t know…”
“Only one cell phone in sight!”
MJ shakes her head, but she feels her mouth succumbing to a grin, toothy and charmed.
The first picture is blurry. The second one, too, but that’s because Ned tried to give her bunny ears, and MJ had to nip that in the bud real quick. Her face is tellingly fond, but she decides not to mind.
They all shuffle into frame, the three of them and their creation: Snowmom and the faceless snowbaby.
It’s a good picture.
MJ thinks she’ll print it out and pin it into her cork board.
Ned tries to throw a snowball at Peter. It falls apart almost instantly.
No snowball fight tonight.
It’s probably for the best. There’s a new chill in the air and a brief respite from new flakes. MJ tilts her head back, looking up at the sky. Dark and expansive. It’s going to open up again, sooner rather than later.
MJ grabs Peter’s hand, the awkward feel of their fingers laced together through their gloves new and exciting.
“Elf when we get back?” Ned asks.
Peter looks to MJ, silently asking if she’d rather go home now than try to navigate the streets closer to midnight. Public transport will no doubt be delayed and rerouted.
“As long as you walk me home.”
He squeezes her hand, looking at her in a way that makes her practically feel her heart thump against her chest, stomach flipping pleasantly.
“We could try swinging?”
She squeezes back. “Not a chance.”
“How come you’ve never taken me swinging?” Ned asks.
Peter frowns. “You’re sleeping over, right?”
“Dude.” Ned raises his eyebrows.
“I’ll swing you home?”
“I’m just messing with you. I trust you with my life, Pete. But you remember how I used to get intense motion sickness as a kid?”
“I don’t trust you that much.”
“He pretended to drop me,” MJ adds, leaning around Peter to catch Ned’s eye. “I wouldn’t trust him, either.”
“Hey! It was a joke.”
“Because the screaming-- And you were-- I was just--” he sputters.
“That’s what I thought.” She nudges him gently, leaning over to press her cold lips to his cold cheek. “Loser.”
May makes hot chocolate, cheap little packets she mixes with hot water, topping the mugs with marshmallows. It’s not as good as the stuff MJ makes herself at home, melting real chocolate into warmed milk with a hint of maple syrup, but May’s warm smile more than makes up for it.
Peter prepares popcorn, pouring an absurd amount of m&ms into the bowl.
Ned sprawls on the floor with pillows and blankets from Peter’s room. May sits on one side of the sofa, Peter in the middle, and MJ on his other side. They share a blanket, and she sticks her fingers through holes in the knitting.
Until Will Ferrell shows up.
“What?” Peter whispers.
Ned turns to glare at them.
“Sorry. But MJ hates Buddy.”
It’s Ned’s chance: “What!?”
“I don’t hate Buddy. I dislike Will Ferrell. He’s too broad and over the top.” She frowns, freeing her fingers to cross her arms over her chest. “It’s annoying.”
“Wow.” Ned shakes his head. “Unbelievable.”
“I don’t know,” May hums. “I think he’s earnest.”
Peter pokes MJ in the side, and she squirms away. “See? Even May agrees.”
Her brain conjures up three different comebacks.
Ned reaches back, and Peter leans down with the popcorn bowl, allowing Ned to grab a handful.
“Why’d you even agree to stay?” Peter asks, nose brushing against her cheek.
MJ feels his soft stare. Probably accompanied by a small, sweet smile, the one MJ’s noticed he only uses for her. She thinks that’s good. She has about five different smiles she only uses for him.
She stares at Ned’s socked feet, kicked up behind him. She doesn’t turn to confirm Peter’s affection. She doesn’t really need to.
When MJ’s pretty sure Peter’s attention is back on the movie, she turns to study his profile. She leans in, feels the surprised huff of air leave his mouth when she kisses the place between his eyebrows followed by his nose.
“Thanks,” he mumbles, all flustered.
MJ rests her head against Peter’s shoulder and closes her eyes.
She falls asleep before Buddy can give her a headache.
As promised, Peter walks her home. He puts his suit in his backpack and his web shooters around his wrists so he can swing back to his apartment. He’ll probably patrol a bit, too.
Peter can never really help himself.
“Ned and I usually go to this bakery for breakfast on snow days,” he says as they round the corner to her block. “It’s really good.”
“I’ll probably sleep in.”
“We won’t go until like, eleven.”
MJ hums. “Thanks, but I don’t plan on leaving my apartment.”
“You dorks still have homework to do,” she reminds him.
“I could come over and you could explain Hamlet to me?”
“I’m not doing your homework for you.”
“That’s not what I meant, and you know it.”
“I do.” She smiles, pulling her hat more securely over her ears.
They stop outside her apartment building. It’s snowing again. Large flurries floating to the ground like feathers from a pillow.
“Text me when you get home?” MJ asks.
“I will.” Peter nods.
He kisses her goodnight, a short, sweet thing that makes her smile against his mouth. With the snow falling, his red nose, and the way he makes her feel all warm and gooey inside, it’s pretty cliche.
It’s pretty great, too.
MJ looks out the window to the side of the entrance, because Peter waits for her to get inside. He always does.
She flips him off, and he grins, eyes crinkling around the corners.
She likes Peter. A lot.
She lets it roll around in her mind as she gets ready for bed: brushing her teeth, pulling on fuzzy socks and wrapping her hair in a silk scarf. MJ has liked Peter for a long time, and it changed when he started liking her back. She can feel it changing again. In a good way. Scary, but kind of amazing.
She lies in the dark with her phone over her heart until it vibrates with Peter’s text: Home! Checked on Mom and Baby snowpeople! They’re good! Goodnight MJ!
Too many exclamation marks, but MJ cannot find it in herself to mind.