“Look Lucas, I don’t have time for this! I have to get back inside to work, before my mom–”
Lucas kissed her again before she could finish the sentence, a bit more demandingly this time. This time when he drew back, she licked her lips, clearly thinking about her next sentence, which made him smirk.
“I thought you wanted to talk.”
The smirk turned into a genuine smile, amused and finally feeling back on firm ground for the first time since the girl in front of him had fallen literally into his lap on the subway. “I do want to talk. That was just to get your attention.”
She raised her brows at that, but moved away to sit on the intricate iron wrought bench on the far side of the courtyard. He followed her, deliberately sitting close enough that their knees touched.
Riley took a deep breath, bracing herself. “Lucas, whatever you’re going to say – we can’t. Even if you’re not with Maya, which she hasn’t told me one way or another, I already told you. We don’t work as a couple. We’re better off as friends.” She said quickly.
He sat back and regarded her for a long moment. “Why exactly not? And don’t give me any BS about Maya, Riley. Even if she did actually have more than friendly feelings towards me, I don’t feel the same way about her.“
“That changes nothing.” She said, jumping up and walking away from him before he could catch her. “Whatever crush I had is gone.”
“Yeah, so you’ve said, but I don’t think that’s true.” He interrupted, before she could get started. “I think that you do care for me, and you’re running scared because things are changing and we’re growing up. And I’m also very hurt and kind of insulted that you think so little of me after three years of friendship.”
“I am not scared!” She sputtered. “And I do think a lot of you. It’s just that we’re not compatible as a couple, so— “
“You decided this after one date that we were pressured into by our classmates? C’mon, Riley.” He snorted scornfully. “Admit it. You’re just scared that you might actually have feelings for me, and that we could have something really good together.”
“I am not scared. And I had a crush on you, but it’s gone. And you’re with Maya now.”
“First off, if you honestly believe that I would kiss you while being with your best friend, then you don’t know me, and we were never really friends at all.” He snapped, incensed. “Friends talk and real friends listen, Riley. Well, you’ve did a lot of talking lately, both in Texas and on New Year’s. Now it’s your turn to listen for once, because I’m about to make some things explicitly clear here.”
She stilled, taking a deep breath. “Very well.”
“I care about Maya; she is a very good friend, and I can’t imagine life without her.” He said, watching her stiffen. “But dammit Riley! Maya can feel however she wants. This is between me and you. And how I feel, since you haven’t yet bothered to ask, is that I don’t want to be your brother. Or just your friend.”
“So then what do you want, Lucas?”
“I want another chance to be with you.” He answered instantly, intensity vibrating from every pore. “We had two dates, Riley. Neither one of which were on our terms. That first date, we were both too young but there was a promise, an unspoken understanding – or so I thought. The second time we were pressured into it, and while it wasn’t nearly as awkward as your imagination has made it out to be, the timing still wasn’t right. And now you claim that your feelings have changed, that you don’t like me like that anymore.”
She licked her lips. “They have.”
“Liar.” He murmured, leaning closer and watching her gaze drop down briefly to his lips. “You told me that you loved me.”
“As a brother.” She corrected weakly.
“Prove it then.” He challenged fiercely. “Kiss me again, and then look me in the eye and tell me that you love me ‘like a brother’.”
Her eyes widened, but she didn’t move. Lucas held his breath, waiting to see what she would to do. She worried at her bottom lip with her teeth for a moment, before she took a deep breath—and closed the distance between them, covering his lips with hers.
He had always known that Riley was an incredibly quick learner but he had never been more grateful for it than at that moment, when she tentatively moved her lips against his, as he had done earlier. He was careful to follow her lead, but she took it one step further, applying a bit more pressure, asking for more but not quite sure how to get it.
He showed her, one large hand going up to the nape of her neck, and the other dropping down to the small of her back as he urged her closer, flicking his tongue out to lightly lick at her closed mouth and tasting a hint of her raspberry lip gloss.
Lucas was surprised at the possessiveness that roared through him as he fought his own instincts to deepen the kiss even further. He won, but only by the barest margin, made harder by the fact that she chased his mouth as he tried to draw away, prompting him to indulge in another brief taste of her before he finally put some distance between them.
He watched the emotions chase each other across her expressive face as her eyes remained closed for a long moment.
“So,” She murmured. “Was that your moment?”
Lucas stifled a reluctant smile, even as he wanted to kiss the sassiness right out of her. That was his princess – a beautiful mixture of sweet and stubborn, with a bit of defiance even in the face of trouble. Most people just saw the sweet, occasionally naïve, bubbly Riley, but he knew better than nearly anyone how stubborn she could be.
“No.” He answered. “Not even close. I got my answer though, so consider this…a statement of intent.”
Her phone dinged, and her entire demeanor changed. She quickly backpedaled, heading for the door. “It doesn’t change anything.”
“It changes everything.” He countered hotly. “This isn’t over, Riley. Not by a long shot.”
She paused at the door but didn’t turn to look at him as he continued. “Go ahead and run, little rabbit. We’ll go back to being friends, and you can continue to go out with Gardner and not talk or hold hands. We both have a lot of growing up to do, and the best way to do so is by remaining friends. For now.” He had been moving quietly as he talked, so that when she looked up he was right there again, just barely edging into her personal space. He searched her gaze for a long moment, his eyes hard with resolve and fire. “But I meant what I said to Gardner earlier. I was here before he was, and I’ll be here long after he leaves. I can promise you that much.”
“We’re fifteen, Lucas. Don’t make promises you can’t keep.”
“But Riley,” he murmured. “Didn’t you know? I’m in this for the long game.”
She sucked in a sharp breath, and shook her head. “It’s nothing but a crush. Feelings fade, but friendships don’t. Admit it, Lucas. If Charlie hadn’t asked me out, would anything have changed between us? You assumed that we were going to the semi-formal together because that’s what we’ve done for all the other dances and school events. We’ve gone together. As friends. And it was nice. Because that’s what we are. We’re nice. We’re safe. We’re comfortable. We’re summer rain, not fire.”
He opened his mouth to speak, but she wasn’t done. “Do you remember how you described me and Maya to Zay before he came here? ‘The blonde beauty. And the pretty brunette, who would do anything for her friends.” The corner of her mouth lifted in a sad smile, but the look she sent him was full of anguish. “I know what I am, and where I stand. I’ve accepted that. You should, too. Be my brother or be my friend, but those are the only choices I have to keep you in my life.” She slipped out the door, leaving him alone and staring after her.
Lucas stared after her, utterly bewildered. “What just happened?” he asked the empty air. He had thought that this was just a case of normal teen nerves – Riley had always been the type of person who worried more about the unknown, rather than focusing on what was solid and tangible in front of her – but this was more than that. He pulled out his phone. Something big was going on with his favorite brown eyed girl, and he intended to get to the bottom of it. It was time to call in the big guns.
Riley stopped just before re-entering the café, taking a deep breath to still the trembling and tears, and to send a reply to the last text she had received.
It’s done. I did what you wanted. Now will you leave me alone?
The reply came almost instantly.
No. You’re still in my way.
Her jaw clenched as she typed furiously. Why are you doing this? I am nothing to you!
That’s true. You are nothing. But somehow, you still get everything I want. Stop taking everything I want, and I’ll go away.
I can’t force him to stop being my friend.
No…but you can stop being his.