"It smells nice!"
Sam was peeking inside of the cooking pot, lid in one hand, the other resting on her hip, just where the apron string hugged her slim frame. Said-apron was utterly ridiculous – yellow with blue polka dots, "I have no idea what I'm doing" plastered across the chest in big bold letter, with rolled-up sleeves and tied-up hair to complete the mom aesthetic – and yet, she somehow looked good.
Josh was glad to have her in his kitchen, though she had bossed him around for the last half-hour as she tried to teach him to cook instead of relying on frozen meals and Uber Eats. It had been a real pain to cut all those vegetables – yes, because there was no way in hell she was ever going to cook meat –, but it was all worth it to see the proud smile on her face as she inspected their work.
"Mike, can you get the plates?"
"Yes mom," he smirked, getting up from the chair he had slumped into.
The wooden spoon Sam was planning to stir the vegetables with was instead sent flying across the kitchen, narrowly missing its target as the young man ducked at the last second.
"You asked for it."
"She's right, man, not a way to treat your girl. I thought that our local class president would have more- eh, no, no, forget what I said!" he quickly uttered as Sam raised menacingly yet another cooking tool, fully ready to alter its intended purpose once again.
His hands shot up in the air, a playful grin barely concealed on his face, and she lowered her makeshift weapon, raising an eyebrow:
"Am I really that scary?"
The honest cry came from both guys and she couldn't help but laugh.
"Well, glad you think so! And by the way, these plates, are they coming…? I think it's done and it would be a shame to let it blacken!"
There was a rush of activity as Sam grabbed the first plate she looked at and began to serve, Josh trying to help and to not get burned at the same time, which was quite a feat considering the stove was way too small for two persons to gather around it – he didn't cook much on his own, so he never felt the need to upgrade it. Soon after the three of them were sitting in the living room, food and skin unharmed.
"You see, you can cook Josh!" exclaimed Sam after they all came to the conclusion that dinner was edible, if not good.
"Only when you are here to give directions…"
"Eh, that's a start!"
The conversation flowed on easily as they ate their meal, punctuated by occasional giggles and the sound of cutlery scraping against the plates.
Mike looked at Sam, who had been uncharacteristically quiet for the last minutes, and found her on her phone, a frown twisting her pretty features. He extended his leg to poke her under the table and her head shot back up.
"What's up Sammy?"
She sighed and put down her phone, screen facing the table.
"My mom," she simply said. "She's ranting again about how I should spend most time at home, but whenever I do she just spends her entire day hovering over me, coming into my room for any and every reason, and during the dinner… God, I hate it so much, it's just this awkward silence, she tries to get my dad to talk about his day except nothing ever happens at his job apparently, when I talk she just oh-s and ah-s and everything she says after sounds so freaking fake, and-"
"Eh, watch out with this knife."
She paused just long enough to realize she had been gesturing wildly with her knife and fork still in hand, coming dangerously close from Josh's face. She forced herself to set them down, gripped the table edge instead, taking a deep breath to try to regain her composure. Her shoulders slumped slightly. When she spoke again, her voice sounded weaker:
"It just makes me feel… small. Broken. More than I already feel without her, I mean."
Mike didn't like the sadness clouding her eyes. Sam usually seemed like the strongest amidst them all, balancing both her studies and her constant, helpful presence for her friends, all cheerful smiles, sympathy-filled green eyes, and mom-like concern. It was all the more heart-breaking and almost wrong to see the cracks in her façade – or the two big, round tears that came rolling down her cheeks.
Mike impulsively reached for her hand, large palm coming to rest on top of her smaller, softer one, and he couldn't help but grin when he noticed Josh doing the same on the other side of the table. Sam tensed up a bit, then relaxed visibly, and a slight smile blossomed on her face. She was looking down at her plate, where her tears had formed two little halos in the sauce, but it could see that the light had returned to her green eyes as she squeezed his hand back.
"This," she said with a glance that embraced the whole room, "feels much more like my home anyway."
"I couldn't agree more."
"Josh, it is your place after all."
"Yeah, I meant, not the flat, but you, Sam… or you two, actually. But it seems like you're a package these days no matter what."
Sam blushed and it was the cutest sight ever.
"Erm, well, I guess…"
"Okay, okay," Mike interrupted, "I take my cue, I'm gonna leave you two alone while I wash these dishes, alright?"
"I'm not forcing you out, mate, I meant-"
"Eh, it's okay Josh, I'm kidding. It's my turn on the dishes too, so I better get on with it before I pass out on the couch, you know?"
"When you put it like that…"
As Mike passed the kitchen doorway, used plates in his arms, he turned around to glance at the others. Josh was still holding Sam's hand like it was the most natural thing in the world. He had to admit they looked sweet together.
He tried his best not to eardrop on their conversation as he took care of the dishes. The running water helped a bit at it drowned out the sounds of their voices and Sam's quiet laughter that Mike could recognize everywhere. He smiled slightly to himself. She was right, their friend's place felt like home nowadays – much more than his cramped, impersonal dorm room, or his mom's tiny flat, inhabited by too many shadows for him to feel comfortable.
Halfway through scrubbing a saucepan, he found himself wishing to actually live there.
His hands came to a stop, his fingers squeezing the sponge tightly, as he reflected on what that meant. He was now dating Sam, there was no denying that though they never stated it formally, and every one of their friends knew, even Josh – especially Josh. He remembered when Josh had admitted to having a slight crush on her, in high school, just as Beth did. She was always hanging out at with the Washington family, and she was beautiful and kind and lively – lovely, and – ahem, don't get carried away now –, so it was only fair the two siblings fell for her. He wondered if Josh really grew out of this crush – to be honest, he wasn't so sure of it.
Yet again, it wasn't Sam who had kissed Josh, totally sober and aware of what was happening, a few weeks prior.
"I don't think she knows…"
He bit down on his lower lip, as if to stop more words from escaping his throat – fuck, he really needed to lose that habit of talking to himself, not when they were other persons in the very next room at least.
But yeah, Sam probably didn't know, since she didn't hear about it from him and he doubted Josh would have told her, not when they hadn't even brought back the subject between them. He probably wouldn't have minded that, though.
The word floated across the kitchen to his ears, and it was probably one of the most misleading word to hear when he had been thinking about kisses and love and such. He couldn't help but listen more intently.
"I indeed feel like I sleep more on couches or mattresses than in beds these days," Sam laughed. "I was at Ash's place yesterday, and before that with Mike, and… ah, I think last Sunday I was at my parents'!"
"That was five days ago!"
"Well, that's what I'm saying!"
"And I haven't slept anywhere else than just there," Josh added, probably pointing to his bedroom's door, "since the hospital… I nearly stayed with Chris once, but I got the feeling Ashley wouldn't like that."
"Yeah, I think not… She probably needs more time to process everything, that's all..."
"Oh, uh, I believe she did process it, and came to a very logical conclusion."
"Don't say that."
Sam's tone had shifted, quieter and softer, and Mike could picture the look she currently had on her face surprisingly well – not because he had spent so much time staring at her since the mountain, not at all…
Josh's voice broke down slightly, her name barely making it past his scarred lips.
"Hey, anyway, speaking of Chris and Ash," he resumed with a half-forced joyful tone, "I'm happy that my favorite moron finally had the balls to ask her out!"
"That sure was a slow burn! I'm glad for them too, they look really cute together. Oh, and I got a coffee with Em last week, she and Matt are talking again, they seem on pretty good terms now."
"They are still on break?"
"Officially, yeah. I think it's the first time I see Emily get close to a guy without dating him… It's weird… Or nice?
They were silent after that, and Mike listened to the quiet ruffle of the wind outside as he wiped the remaining plates. Maybe it hadn't been the best idea to chat about relationships right now, because he could feel the question hanging in the air, just as clear as if Josh had spoken it out loud; and what about me?