“What do you do out here when you just want to look at each other’s faces for a little bit longer?” asked Riley, looking around at her friends standing beside her.
Pappy Joe chuckled, and led them behind the house where he set up a campfire. They all gathered around, Riley sitting next to Farkle and Maya next to Lucas. Zay sat by himself.
“I wish I’d grown up here with you guys,” said Farkle, looking up into the sky.
The stars shined brightly above them, twinkling happily. Peace and happiness wanted to encompass the clique, but certain issues stood in the way of that.
Riley thought back to earlier in the day, when Lucas had ridden Tombstone. She hadn’t really been very scared for him. All she knew was that she should encourage him and cheer him on. Give him confidence.
Then she thought about Maya. She’d only seen Maya that terrified and worried about her. Clearly, Maya liked Lucas. She’d stepped back for Riley, and she shouldn’t have.
Someone’s arrival interrupted her train of thought.
“Zay. Hi. I think I may have misjudged you before,” said Vanessa.
“Really?” said Zay.
“Yeah. I mean, you have so many great friends who stood up for you, so I must’ve missed something. Do you want to go get some ice cream?”
Zay cast a look at the others.
“Go ahead, Zay. Maya and I are officially breaking up with you,” said Riley, smiling at Zay. He smiled back, and let Vanessa lead him away.
Riley looked over at Maya and Lucas, who kept glancing at each other but weren’t saying anything.
“Hey Farkle, do you want to go get some ice cream with me?” asked Riley, looking at her best friend.
Farkle looked confused. “What?”
Riley looked at him pointedly. “Do. You. Want. Me. To. Buy. You. Ice. Cream?”
“Oh. Sure,” said Farkle, catching onto the hint.
“Great, let’s go,” said Riley.
Riley walked over to Lucas. “Maya likes you.”
“Riley!” Maya gasped.
“Maya, no matter what happens, we will always be friends. Remember that. You need to feel whatever you need to feel.”
Then Riley walked away, and Farkle followed her out.
Maya and Lucas were left alone, neither knowing what to say.
“Riley doesn’t know what she’s talking about,” said Maya quietly.
“So you don’t like me,” said Lucas. “Then why did Riley say you did? Answer me, Maya.”
“Look, if I had feelings for you, don’t you think I would just come out and say it? Well, I don’t, so what I do say is ha-hur—”
Lucas grabbed Maya’s face, silencing her words.
In that moment, everything between them changed. Maya’s feelings for Lucas were confirmed. Lucas felt something that he never had with Riley.
“What are you doing?” Maya whispered.
“I wanted you to stop talking,” Lucas answered quietly.
“So that’s what you decided to do?” she asked.
His hands were still on her face. They were so close that Maya could feel Lucas’ breath on her face.
Lucas didn’t answer. Unconsciously, he began leaning toward Maya, and his eyes closed.
Maya wanted to push him away. Okay, no, she didn’t, not really, but what about Riley?
She voiced her question and Lucas opened his eyes but didn’t move his face away from hers.
“She said to feel what you need to feel, Maya. So do it. Feel.”
And with that Maya pushed forward and pressed her lips to his, not caring what the consequences might be.
It was Maya’s first kiss. They kept their lips pressed together for a few seconds before breaking apart.
Lucas leaned his forehead against hers. “I like you, too, Maya.”
They couldn’t help leaning toward each other again.
Riley wasn’t speaking. She was sitting across the small table from Farkle. He tried to make conversation, but all she did was nod or say things like “mm-hmm” or “yep, sure”.
“Riley!” Farkle finally snapped.
“What is it, Farkle?” she asked, licking absently at her ice cream cone.
He had already finished his. When Riley had asked him to go eat ice cream with her, at first he foolishly thought that she actually wanted to go somewhere with him alone, because she finally saw him in a romantic way. But no, she was just giving Maya and Lucas some alone time.
Farkle could tell that Riley wasn’t her usual happy, bubbly self. Something was wrong; he just didn’t know what it was.
“Riley,” he said again, “I know something’s up. We’re best friends, Riley. Tell me what’s wrong. You know you can tell me anything.”
She finally looked up at him, and he saw tears forming in her eyes. He motioned for her to come over to him. She dragged her chair over so that it was right beside him, and sat down heavily. A tear slipped down her cheek.
“Riley…” Farkle whispered, using his thumb to wipe away the tear.
He let his hand linger on her face for a while. Her skin was so soft; he hated to see tears running down it. Riley should never be crying. It meant he hadn’t protected her from something.
She sighed heavily. It seemed like her happy self had gone and had been replaced with someone that Farkle hardly recognized at all.
“I’m fine, Farkle. Don’t worry about me,” said Riley, mustering a smile from beneath her sadness.
“No, you’re not. Riley, I know you. I know you almost better than I know myself. But I won’t press you on it. If you want to talk later, find me. I’m perfectly fine sitting here with you in silence, too. I’ll always be here for you, Riley.”
Riley looked at him sadly. Where had all her happiness gone? he thought. She leaned her head on his shoulder and sighed again.
“That’s the thing though, Farkle. You won’t always be there for me. It wouldn’t be possible. You have a girlfriend. I’m just a friend.”
Farkle put his hands on Riley’s shoulders and turned her to face him. “You’re not just a friend. You are my best friend. I promise you that I will always be there for you. Yes, I have Isadora too, but I’m sure she’ll understand. If she doesn’t, she’ll have to learn to. You have no idea how important you are to me, Riley. Don’t ever call yourself just a friend of mine. You’re more than I could ever ask for.”
Riley’s eyes shined, and Farkle saw that happy glow return to her eyes.
“That’s my Farkle,” said Riley contentedly. She settled beside him again and put her head back on his shoulder.