“Lucas,” she began slowly, which made the hairs on the back of his neck stand up. In the three years he had known her, Maya had only called him by his first name maybe three times. “I don’t think we should tell Riley yet that we got things figured out.”
“What? Maya—“he sputtered, jumping up to face her.
“Hear me out first!” She implored, holding up her hands. “Riley and I talked last night. All she sees is what everyone else did – us bickering and flirting and whatever. I couldn’t convince her that you were interested in her from that first day on the subway, not me.”
“You pushed her.”
She nodded. “I did. Twice. It was an experiment. The first time, she babbled something about me, right? Since I had literally gone over to talk to you—“
“At me, actually,” he muttered.
“—not even a minute before. Think about it, Lucas. What else do you remember about that day?”
She was absolutely adorable.
Thirteen year old Lucas Friar usually scoffed at the thought of describing a girl over the age of eight as “cute”, but the wide-eyed, blushing little brunette who had just tumbled into his lap was exactly that. He had noticed her almost immediately, initially catching the mischievous and shrewd gaze of her friend first. She had smirked and returned the look fearlessly, which both intrigued him and made him a bit wary. She reminded him a bit too much of the girls at his old school in Austin, Texas–as his mama would say, ” they learned the time honored tradition of man hunting at their mama’s knee, as soon as they could bat those pretty (fake) eyelashes.” The blonde was pretty, in a flashy, wanna be rebel type of way. She had long, wavy, yellow blonde hair and blue eyes and was tiny – like a little Tinkerbell in camouflage and gold sequins, Lucas thought in amusement, watching her glance over at him again before turning back to her friend.
The little brunette glanced over too. Lucas had been watching out of the corner of his eye, although most of his attention had returned to the history book in his lap, so he was quick to meet her gaze and flash a friendly smile. Her eyes widened at being caught looking, and she whirled back around to face her friend, although her expression made the blonde grin. They were too far away to overhear their conversation so he returned to his book, but still kept watch out of the corner of his eyes. Sure enough, not thirty seconds later, the blonde came sauntering over. His first verbal encounter with little Miss Maya Hart went something like this:
“Hi. I’m Maya. You’re really cute. We should go out. You make me happy. You make me sad. You don’t pay enough attention to me. We should break up. It’s not me, it’s you. But we can still be friends (not really).”
This was all said without pause. Lucas rolled his eyes as the crazy girl–were all New York girls like that?–sauntered away again without waiting for a response. Shaking his head, he tried to return to his reading once more. A startled feminine yelp caught his attention–right before the cute little brunette came flying backwards, straight towards him. He instinctively reached up to slow her momentum, using his right arm as a brace behind her back and grabbing her by the hand just in time to swing her so that she landed neatly in his lap, instead of crashing into the wall next to him.
Up close, the first thing he noticed were her eyes–wide and brown and slightly tilted at the corners, and almost too big for her face. And then she looked up and met his gaze, and he lost his breath. Her eyes were dark, liquid brown with little flecks of gold in them that sparkled like stars.
The thirteen year old boy in him scoffed at such a flowery phrase; that was for girls and fairytales. Fifteen year old Lucas, looking back at that moment, could say with perfect clarity that at that moment he had gained at new purpose – to never let the stars in her eyes go dark when she looked at him.
“Hi, I’m Riley. We were just talking about you. You used to go out with my friend Maya.” She blurted out, her voice light and sweet and a little breathy.
Lucas glanced briefly over to the crazy blonde, but was far more interested in the girl in front of him.
“I’m Lucas,” he replied instead, silently cheering when his voice didn’t crack.
“I love it.” Riley’s eyes widened the instant the words were out, and she squirmed slightly as color bloomed on her cheeks in embarrassment, forcing him to let her go enough to sit next to him on the seat.
He didn’t want her to move. She felt comfortable in his arms; it felt right. He didn’t understand the instant connection, but he didn’t fight it, either. So he compromised by scooting close enough that their legs and shoulders still touched lightly, aware of the reactive shiver that ran through her at the contact.
Unfortunately, they were interrupted before he could strike up further conversation. Riley gave up her seat to the pushy older woman, and returned to her friend as Lucas watched in disappointment. Maya had that mischievous look in her eyes again as she deliberately caught his eye and glanced between him and Riley over her friend’s shoulder. His eyes narrowed slightly in response; she was up to something; he could feel it. Sure enough, here came Riley again, this time stumbling past him to land in the woman’s lap. Lucas watched as they stared at each other; Riley’s eyes were wide and an apologetic ‘please don’t hurt me’ smile stretched across her face as her companion glared at her. But then her face lightened into a smile. “It’s for you.” She announced as she slid one arm under the girl’s knees and the other behind her back, lifting her high and depositing her back into Lucas’ lap like a present.
Can I keep her?
Riley met his gaze with an apologetic smile, which he returned more openly. She tugged her skirt down to cover her knees a bit more, and he moved his hand, but still kept the other one lightly resting on the small of her back. They sat in silence like that for the rest of the trip.
“So I was right. You did like her from day one.” Maya said smugly, interrupting his reminiscing. “The problem is, I love Riley to death, but she has a tendency to believe in and have hope for everyone in her life except herself.”
“What’s your point?” He demanded impatiently.
“If you go tell her you choose her over me right now, this won’t be the end of it. Because in Riley’s mind, she will be wondering why you chose her over me. Even though we both know there wasn’t a decision to really be made in the first place.”
Lucas groaned loudly, pacing away a few steps and running his hands through his hair in frustration. “So then what do you suggest?”
Maya took a breath. “Tell her that you like both of us, but in different ways. And that you choose friendship, rather than making a decision right now. That will give us some time.”
“Time for what?”
“Will you please just trust me?” She implored, her mind racing. “I have an idea of how to solve this once and for all, but you’re going to have to be patient.” She met his gaze, her own hard with resolve. “We’re playing the long game here. I’m on your side, but you have to trust me. Got it?”
Every instinct in him was screaming to ignore her, to go find Riley and spill everything. He blew out a hard breath. “Fine. What do I tell her when I talk to her later?”
Maya jumped up and started pacing. “Don’t do it individually. Come over to the Matthews’ house tonight, around six. Everyone will be there. I’ll text you later on what to say.” She strode towards the door, leaving him staring after her in bewilderment.
“Lucas, this is really important. You can’t push too hard, too fast.” Maya warned sternly. “We’re trying to create a diamond, not dust.”
He didn’t like it. Didn’t like that she was out with another guy, didn’t like that he was still firmly stuck in the friend zone. He had waited over two years for this girl, and was more than ready to take the next step. Too much time gave Riley the opportunity to over think the situation and over analyze her emotions—and gave Gardner the chance to get closer to her.