Lucas showed up after about fifteen minutes, sandy blonde hair sparkling with raindrops and his eyes wary as entered the cafe. Maya was already there, sipping from her coffee as she chatted with the barista behind the counter. She hadn’t noticed him yet, which gave him a few minutes to observe her.
There was no doubt that she was beautiful – long, wavy golden blonde hair, slightly exotic cornflower blue eyes and a curvy, powerhouse little body at a petite 5’5, although she often enhanced her height with the heels she loved to wear. Maya was confident and brash, but often used that sarcasm and bravado to cover her insecurities and shy away from emotions. Although they had known each other for nearly three years, Lucas still hadn’t decided if he admired her or was afraid of her, which amused him a bit, since he had friends who had sisters, and they described their relationship much same way (not in those ‘exact’ words, and all off the record, of course. To a man, not one member of the Varsity baseball team would ever actually admit that they were afraid of their sisters, but the insinuation was there.)
She finished her cup and got up, finally noticing him standing just inside the door. He made his way over to where she was.
“What’s the emergency?”
“Not here. Come on.” She walked away, heading behind the counter of the cafe. Bewildered, he followed her through the kitchen and out the back through an iron-wrought gate, into a small courtyard. “Riley showed this to me when her mom was having the renovations done.” She said before he could ask. “Mrs. Svaroski owned the apartment right over there too. Don’t tell Riley, but I think her parents are thinking of giving it to her as a graduation present eventually, especially if she goes to NYU.”
Lucas nodded absently as he looked around. The courtyard was whimsical, almost like a secret garden, complete with ivy and wisteria climbing up the walls and an old fashioned bench swing in the corner under a modified gazebo cover. He breathed in deep and caught the faint smell of honeysuckle and the buzz of hummingbirds as they flitted from flower to flower.
“It totally fits her.” He murmured, thinking of the brown-eyed girl who still believed in Pluto and looked at the world with stars in her eyes. Shaking his head, he returned to the topic- and girl – at hand. “Maya, why are we here?”
She walked up to him, moving before he could react to grab the lapels of his jacket – and pull his head down to hers, mashing their lips together.
One one thousand, two–bleech!
Lucas jerked away, sputtering. “What the fucking hell was that?”
Maya’s brows shot up in surprise, despite her disgusted expression; in the two years that she had known him, she had never heard him curse.
“I’m a military brat and a rancher’s grandson. Just because I don’t say or do certain things around you or Riley doesn’t mean I don’t do them.” He snapped, reading her expression and wiping a hand over his mouth. “Why did you do that?”
“Because nobody does anything!” She exclaimed, throwing her hands up in the air.
His eyes narrowed as he recognized the phrasing. The last time she had used it, it had been when she had asked him out to the movies because she was tired of him and Riley dancing around each other. He had responded to that invitation by showing up to the Matthews’ apartment later that afternoon to ask Riley out on a date. “Well, unlike last time, you failed to ‘light the spark’ this time around.”
“But at least now we know.” She retorted with a grimace, digging into her pocket for a piece of gum. She wrinkled her nose and offered him half, which he quickly accepted.
“You mean now you know.” He corrected. “My feelings never really changed. If you had bothered to just ask me, I would have told you that I like you, but platonically. Not romantically.”
“Then why did you go along with the whole dating thing in the first place?” She frowned, genuinely curious.
“Because around the time of art rebellion, I was getting to see the real you.” He said quietly. “It took two years, but you finally have started to trust me enough to get past the sarcasm and cynicism. I’m not stupid, Maya. I know that there aren’t many guys our age that you explicitly trust, probably because of your dad. You trust Farkle the most, because he’s been there for everything. No matter how much you tried to scare him away, he just kept coming back, and now you have come to depend on him. And I think that you’ve grown to trust me enough to let your guard down too – not to the same level as with him, but more than you do with anyone else. It’s why you still tease me and call me those dumb names. You’re comfortable enough to treat me like family.” He smirked. “Like a brother.”
She was silent for a few moments, biting her lip. “What about the moment by the campfire? You almost kissed me.”
He nodded slowly. “Yeah. Almost. You’re gorgeous, Maya, and I’m not blind. But you also aren’t Riley.” And that had been the difference that night, as he had stared down at the blonde, their lips inches apart, knowing that he could close the distance between them and she would respond. But as he stared into her wide eyed blue gaze, all he could think about was that he wished it was Riley’s warm chocolate brown eyes staring back up at him instead. And because it wasn’t her, he had drawn back instead of stepping over the precipice.
He grimaced. “Our classmates see us interacting and arguing and teasing –and yeah, flirting – and they assume sparks and fire. But the thing about fire is, it will flare up fast, but burn out just as quickly with nothing to sustain it.” He sat back, still holding her gaze and willing her to understand. “And I’ve always believed that actions speak louder than words.”
“And you stepped back instead of forward.” She murmured, looking away.
He waited while she mulled things over. Maya had a tendency to leap before she looked, following her impulses and emotions. Lucas had learned that about her on his first day of school, where she had led their seventh grade history class in an impromptu rebellion against doing their homework assignment. He had also learned that the quickest way to get under her skin was to not react to her teasing and poking and prodding, which she used as a defense mechanism. Push people away before they leave on their own, and you don’t get hurt. It was a hard lesson, one that she had learned at too young of an age when her father had left her and her mother. The trick was to come back despite the pushing and shoving, and prove to her that he wasn’t going anywhere.
She groaned loudly, unknowingly following his train of thought. “You’re never going away, are you?”
“Nope.” He declared smugly, pulling her into a brief hug. “You’re stuck with me. We balance each other out, but only when Riley is in the middle.”
She had automatically stiffened at his touch, but slowly relaxed in his embrace as his voice rumbled against her ear. She squeezed tighter for a moment, then slowly released. When she pulled back, her eyes were a bit shiny, but she still managed a smile that had some of her old mischievous sparkle.
“Well, I suppose that there are some perks to having a brother.” She smirked – right before she hauled back and punched him in the biceps. “Pow!”
“Riley’s right – you do say that just like a brother would.” She grinned as he scowled. “Huckleberry.”
They grinned at each other, finally comfortable once again as they mutually decided to share the bench swing. Lucas stretched out his legs, lazily rocking them, content with the silence – until he noticed that Maya had that little crease in her forehead that she got when she was thinking. That never boded well. He narrowed his eyes and waited.