Both girls slept fitfully that night. Cory and Topanga exchanged a look at the two rumbled, grumpily quiet girls that stomped into the kitchen for breakfast, but mercifully didn’t ask questions. That look was the one of parents the world over, asking without words whether they should poke the sleeping teenagers or let teenage drama lie.
“New Year’s Day. National holiday. I’m on vacation. I am not imparting any lessons today. It will keep until we go back to school on Monday.” Cory hissed to his wife.
Topanga rolled her eyes but nodded agreement, and kept the silence – and peace – for the moment. She had a couple of other ideas in mind, but that meant a few phone calls first.
Maya escaped soon after breakfast, giving off the excuse that there was no one home with her grandma, and Riley disappeared back into her room immediately after. Unbeknownst to her, Maya did indeed go home briefly, but only long enough to shower and change her clothes before picking up her phone.
“What’s up, kiddo?”
Maya’s heart leapt at the familiar greeting and rumble of Shawn’s voice, tinny and static though it was over the phone.
“Shawn? Where are you?”
“Stuck in traffic, but on my way to pop in and surprise everyone before I have to really leave.” He replied distractedly. She could hear car horns and the sounds of faint cursing and yelling in the background.
“You’ve got awesome timing then, because I have a bit of a problem that needs your…unique perspective.”
On the other end, Shawn’s focus sharpened at the pensive tone in the girl’s voice. He and Maya had had a quite a few conversations that had covered a plethora of topics. Recently though, she had been very interested in his adventures as a teen, especially those that involved Cory and Topanga (which admittedly, were most of them). He had enjoyed sharing them with her, figuring that she could both learn from his mishaps and enjoy the possibility of future material to tease Cory with.
“I’ll be in the neighborhood in twenty minutes.” He said. “Do I need to pick up bail money? Cuz I still haven’t recovered from our shopping spree.”
She laughed, the sound light and carefree and making him smile in response.
“No, no bail money. No schemes. I just…need you to listen.”
“Anytime I can.” he replied warmly. “Go grab us a table at Topanga’s.”
“Thanks, Shawn.” She said quietly, and hung up.
No fool, Shawn had immediately called Topanga to get the inside scoop.
“Forewarned is forearmed, especially when it comes to teenage girls. I may not be a dad, but I’m not stupid,” he scoffed when she had teased him. “And I’ve got about ten minutes until I actually see her, so spill.”
Topanga sighed, growing serious. “The short version? It’s you, me, and Cory all over again. The best friend and the potential boyfriend, and how to balance the three. And the confused teenage feelings between the best friend and the boyfriend before they figure out where they fit in her life.” She paused. “I’m glad Maya called you, actually; she beat me to the punch. I was about to divide and conquer – send you to Maya, while I have a little talk with Lucas. I have a feeling that we could provide some unique clarity to the situation. Which would be fantastic – I’m choking on all the teen angst right now. Were we really this dramatic in junior high and high school?”
“They could’ve created a television show around our lives, with all the drama we created. Especially around the love triangle that wasn’t a triangle.” Shawn grinned. “Despite all the rumors that went around in high school and college.”
“High school? They started in junior high. You weren’t considered a stud just because of the flippy hair and smoldering looks, you know.” She snorted. “You still haven’t ever told Cory that you were my first kiss, have you?”
“Heck no! He’d go all Cory Matthews and make us go on another date.” Shawn mock shuddered. “That kiss, by the way, is still the worse of my career. Blech.”
“Glad to know I hold such a special place in your heart and life.” Topanga replied dryly. “Love you, Shawnie.”
“Love you too, ‘Panga.”
He laughed and hung up, turning his attention to the conversation ahead.
Maya was curled up in the chair with her back to the door, absently flipping through and art history book, when someone lightly tugged on a curl of her hair.
“Shawn!” She exclaimed, jumping up to greet him with an impulsive hug that left them both stuttering and awkward as they sat down.
He settled in, fixing her with a look, and waited. When she didn’t immediately start talking, he raised his brows. “What’d I miss, and who do I have to beat up?” He was only half joking, but it was enough to bring a brief smile to her face.
“Did you ever have a crush on Topang–Mrs. Matthews?” She blurted out.
He didn’t seem surprised by the question, merely taking a sip of his drink and sitting back in his chair.
“Yeah, of course I did. We grew up together, practically from first grade on up. And once she got over the weirdness, she turned out to be really hot.” He said candidly, just to see the teen roll her eyes and blush. “But I knew, probably before they did, that Cory and Topanga were meant to be together.”
“How?” She frowned. “How did you know? Because I’ve heard the stories, and don’t get me wrong, I love the Matthews. But they don’t seem to have any…spark…between them.”
“Spark? You think Cory and Topanga don’t have any spark?” He sputtered through his laughter.
“No – of course they do!” Maya hastily placated him. “But like I said, I’ve heard the stories. And I see how they are now. There’s genuine affection and love. But there isn’t really any…”
“Fire?” Shawn suggested dryly. “You’re expecting big fights, with bigger makeups – and make outs – like you see on television and in the movies.”
She wrinkled her nose, probably at the fact that they were discussing her history teacher and best friend’s parents’ love life, but nodded.
“Maya, most relationships aren’t like what you see on television. They’re not that extreme – going from one emotion to another like that. It sounds exhausting, quite frankly.” He said gently.
“But everyone – including them – has said that they were acting like an old married couple since they were Auggie’s age, practically.”
Shawn didn’t immediately respond, thinking about his answer – and the reasons behind her questioning.
“I knew that Cory and Topanga were meant to be because even when we were kids, and thought the opposite sex had cooties, they still gravitated towards each other. They thought the other person was fascinating, for some inexplicable reason.” He smirked, caught up in old memories. “And trust me, Maya, the spark was always there. Cory and Topanga were just that oddball fairytale couple that actually got to know, like, understand – mostly – and appreciate their partner’s mind before they got to the physical.” He laughed. “Their first kiss? Cory had Einstein hair and he and Topanga were hand-cuffed together to the lockers at school for some reason – probably a feminist protest of Topanga’s that she pulled him into.”
Maya grinned, cuz yeah, that did sound like Riley’s mother.
“Maya, Cory is my best friend; my brother. Do you know who my other best friend is?”
“Stuart Minkus.” She deadpanned.
“Nice try, but no. Topanga is, without a doubt, the second most important person in my life. In some ways, I’m closer to her than I am to Cory.”
“Why?” She sounded so forlorn and lonely as she asked that he wanted to pull her into his arms, but this was too important.
“Because we balance each other out, but our common bond is our love for Cory. We both want the best for him, and that brought us closer than anything else could have. Topanga is more pragmatic than starry-eyed Matthews. Part of it is just her personality, but part of it is her background. Did you know her parents got divorced when we were in high school?”
Maya shook her head, wide-eyed. She remembered all the times that Riley’s mom had held her hand as they walked home from school, the easy acceptance and quiet encouragement when Maya had begun coming over every morning for breakfast and every day after school, often staying through dinner and sharing Riley’s bed with her. The warm hugs and shoulders to cry on. The knowing look in her eyes when the teen had confronted her father for the first time in that very cafe.
“She’s one of us too.” She murmured.
Shawn nodded, giving her another moment to collect herself before he continued. “So we had that in common, and she was there for me, and I for her, in a way that Cory just -couldn’t.” He half-smiled. “Plus she’s also the only person to consistently go toe-to-toe with me when I was being deliberately obtuse. Anyway, back to your original question. My crush on Topanga,” he reminded her when she looked confused. “Like I said earlier, of course I did. We grew up together – she was familiar and cute and I trusted her. We were a lot like you and Lucas, from what I’ve heard.” He raised his brows. “I went from teasing her and making fun of her being a girl, to noticing that she was a girl.”
She winced. “You know everything already.”
He laughed. “I may not be a parent, Maya, but I know better than to go into any conversation with a teenage girl blind. If nothing else, Riley has taught me that.”
She smirked; her best friend’s quirky way of thinking and blunt questioning caught a lot of people off guard, which she suspected was deliberate on Riley’s part. You got a lot more information out of someone when they didn’t have a chance to think about their answers.
“So what happened with you and Topanga?”
“I asked her out to a party in seventh grade. Cory was still waffling, so I made my move.” He grinned, remembering. “A lot of our classmates were rooting for us because of how good we looked together – the pretty blonde and the dashing, good looking brunette.” He flipped his hair, making her laugh again.
“Of course.” She agreed dryly.
“Problem was, we were too much alike to get along, and so we were always sniping at each other. Everyone else saw sparks, but it was really just smoke and mirrors. Without Cory, we had nothing to talk about.” He grimaced. “And kissing her was like kissing my sister. No spark.”
“Nothing?” She said skeptically.
He shot her a wary look, aware of the sudden wheels turning behind those guileless blue eyes, but nodded. “Less than nothing.” Blowing out a breath, braced himself. “What’s really going on, Maya?”
“I don’t know whether or not I like Lucas, and Riley lied because she thinks that I do like Lucas, so she stepped aside,, except now the truth is out and I’m all confused because they’re Riley and Lucas and I’m Maya, but it’s supposed to be Riley and Maya.” She blurted out.
Shawn blinked as he tried to sort through her jumbled, frenzied explanation and put it together with previous conversations that he and Topanga had had.
“So…you believed that because there wasn’t any obvious spark that Riley and Lucas didn’t have romantic feelings for each other anymore.” He said slowly. “And then Riley compounded on that by lying and agreeing that she loves him platonically, and pushed you and him together instead. Except that she lied about her feelings, and Mini Minkus outed her on New Year’s, and now everyone’s avoiding the whole situation.”
She nodded miserably.
Shawn closed his eyes and blew out a breath, running a hand through his hair. “Oh boy.” He opened his eyes to the miserable teen girl across from him. “Why did you think their feelings had turned platonic?”
“They went on two dates, then broke up – or became unofficial. But they never got all couple-y; holding hands, looking all lovey dovey or whatever. Nothing changed before or after.”
“That you could see.” He pointed out. “What you did see was two people getting to know each other’s minds–”
She slumped, finishing his sentence before he could. “–before they got to know each other’s bodies.”
“And leaving out the whole lecture and fact that no one better be getting to know Riley’s or your bodies until you’re at least 45—” Shawn grumbled, making her snort. “Kiddo, did it ever occur to you that maybe you don’t actually like Lucas – that you like the idea of him? And the reason you teased him so much is because you knew that things were eventually going to change, starting with your friendship with Riley?”
Her jaw dropped.
“You said it yourself.” he said softly. “They’re Riley and Lucas, and I’m Maya, and it’s supposed to be Riley and Maya — and Lucas.” He smiled wanly, his eyes dark with understanding and empathy. “It’s understandable, because you and Riley have been best friends since you were seven. “ He sat back, gathering his thoughts. “I went through the same love hate relationship with Topanga. I was the best friend, but she was my best friend’s girl. And as we grew up, and feelings changed and expanded, she began to take precedence over me. Which is how it should be between a couple, though I didn’t see it that way for a long time – right up until their wedding, actually.”
Maya looked away, playing with the straw of her drink.
“Maya, Topanga is my best friend, as is Cory. I love them both. But I’m not, nor have I ever been, in love with her – and more importantly, she was never in love with me.” He finished pointedly. “Let me ask you this: given the parallels here and how intimately I know the legendary stubbornness and idealistic nature of the Matthews family, have either of you actually asked Lucas how he feels?”
She opened her mouth, and closed it. “I – um – actually – no.”
“Then I suggest that you start there. Because the one other factor that overruled all other emotions that I may have felt or developed for Topanga was the absolute fact that she had chosen Cory first. And I refused to be anyone’s second choice.” He held her gaze for a long moment before standing up. “I need to head out.”
“What about the others?” She said, standing up too.
“This is a stopover, technically. I need to go home and grab some fresh clothes. My next assignment is in Philly, so I was just going to rent a car and drive from here. I’ll see them next time though.” He said easily, leaning down and kissing the top of her head in a fatherly gesture before tugging once again affectionately on a curl. “Think about what I said. And Maya – change isn’t always a bad thing. You and Riley will always be you and Riley. Believe in that. But don’t be afraid to be your own person too. It’s okay to be -just Maya- while they’re being Riley and Lucas.”
She nodded slowly, her cornflower blue eyes dark and pensive.
“It was good to see you, kiddo. I’m glad you called me. You know you can do that anytime, right? Call or text. I may not be able to be here physically all the time, but I’m still right here whenever you need me.”
He was gratified by the smile that lit up her whole face. “Thanks, Shawn.”