“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.