Riley finishes up her shift at Topanga’s by wiping down the countertop by the cash register. In the beginning, she hadn’t been thrilled about having to help out on the weekends whenever the café was extremely busy, but the more she works there, the more she starts to enjoy it. She gets to observe all the people who pass through. Some sit quietly and study, others talk and laugh with their friends. Riley gets the opportunity to see the emotions on their face, the way their eyes light up when they take the first bite of the pastry they’d ordered or the way they look reenergized when they take that first sip of coffee.
She’s starting to see why her mother turned down the promotion to London so she could keep this place open.
“Hi Riley,” Farkle’s voice breaks through Riley’s daydreaming. She looks up to see Farkle and Smackle just arriving. They’re holding hands but let go to wave at her.
“We’re three minutes early,” Smackle informs her. “I told Farkle we were going to be early, but he insisted on coming anyway.” She settles down in an empty seat at their usual table and waits patiently for Farkle to join.
Riley laughs as she finishes cleaning up, shaking the crumbs out of the rag before putting it away. “It’s okay. You never know about that New York traffic, right?” she jokes even though she knows the two of them walked here.
“There were an unusually high number of skateboarders on the sidewalk today,” Smackle concedes the point with a nod, seeming satisfied with this explanation. Farkle sits down in the seat beside her and shrugs. He’s already pulling textbooks out from his backpack.
“I’m thinking about learning how to skateboard,” a new voice joins the conversation. They turn to see Zay grinning as he walks through the doorway.
Riley takes off her apron now that she’s done with work for today and settles into her seat. “I’ll buy you kneepads for your birthday,” she says. “Safety first!”
Zay makes a disapproving face as he sinks into his chair, dropping his bookbag at his feet. “Screw safety. I wanna live life on the edge.” He straightens his shoulders like he’s proud of this declaration and everyone else should follow suit as well.
“This coming from the guy who refuses to climb up the fire escape to get to the Bay Window because he’s afraid of heights,” Farkle teases.
Zay deflates immediately. “That’s not a fear of heights, man. I just like to use the front door because it’s more polite. Right Riley?” He turns to her for support, but she just tells him that she doesn’t mind everyone climbing through the window to visit. Zay mutters something about “no manners New Yorkers” as he digs through his bookbag for his homework.
“Did you guys start without me?” Lucas asks as he joins the group, looking like he might have jogged the last few steps to the café to make it on time.
“You’re three minutes late,” Smackle says, looking up from her biology textbook. “Of course we started without you.” She tilts her head down to look at him over the top of her glasses like she’s a stern old teacher. Riley thinks it’s cute because she can definitely imagine Smackle as a teacher one day after she retires from being an amazing scientist.
“She’s joking,” Farkle interrupts before Lucas can say anything. He shuffles his textbooks around so there’s open table space for Lucas’s things when he sits down. “We’ve just been teasing Zay.”
“They’re so mean to me,” Zay pretend-whines to his best friend, tugging on Lucas’s shirt sleeve like a toddler, which makes Riley giggle and Farkle roll his eyes. Lucas just gives Zay a comforting pat on the shoulder.
Riley takes a moment to look through the pile of homework she’s brought to work on as well, now that she’s free for the rest of the day. Their little study group is really helpful when she gets stumped on certain questions. But she puts her Spanish homework at the bottom, so she can work on that whenever Maya arrives.
Of course, sometimes their little group of friends can get easily distracted. One random comment about trying something new can spiral into playing around with the soda machine until Lucas and Zay are both drinking some odd concoction of about five or six different drinks just to figure out which is the most disgusting. Riley watches their antics with an amused look while Smackle spews out some statistics about the dangers of too much caffeine intake, and Farkle tries his best to memorize the bones of the body for Monday’s health test by plugging his ears and ignoring them all completely.
Maya shows up just as Lucas finishes his weird soda drink first, slamming the empty cup down on the table as Zay throws his hands up in the air in frustrated defeat. They’re both making disgusted faces like they regretted the whole thing.
“You’re twelve minutes late,” Smackle points out as Maya slides into the empty chair waiting for her.
“You gave me a broken clock for Christmas, so you can’t blame me for not keeping up with the time,” Maya replies with a laugh which makes Smackle laugh too and she wisely doesn’t point out that Maya was supposed to fix the clock.
“Wanna drink?” Zay asks with an innocent smile, offering his half-full drink towards Maya.
Riley is about to warn her not to, but Maya is good at being suspicious about free stuff and Lucas is also frantically shaking his head “no” in the background.
“No thanks,” Maya says, rolling her eyes. She turns her attention to Riley. “So what are we all working on right now? Or is it just anything?” She looks pointedly over to Farkle who’s still memorizing health terms and trying his hardest to pretend no one else is in the whole café.
“Anything at the moment, I think,” Riley smiles. She notices a few splotches of paint on Maya’s hands, so she doesn’t even have to ask why she was late for the day’s study session. Later when everyone else has gone home, she’ll ask Maya what picture she had been painting.
“How about we do the Spanish homework then?” Maya says, pulling out her notebook. This is one of the things Riley loves about Maya. She already knows before Riley has to put it into words.
While Maya gets briefly distracted by trading teasing insults with Lucas and Zay, Riley takes a moment to observe her group of friends around the table. She’s selfishly glad that her family decided to stay here in New York, although the short bit of uncertainty has made her appreciate these friendships even more. She doesn’t know what else life will throw their way, so she knows now it’s important to cherish each moment as much as she can.
So here they all are, gathered around a table in her mother’s café. Riley likes to watch as each face morphs between intense concentration and focus to intense laughter and smiling. She wants to keep these memories tucked away in a safe place, to remember even when there’s no need for them to study together anymore.
“Let’s get started,” Maya says, pointing to the first question on their homework assignment. She lowers her voice and adds “if we finish before Lucas, I think I can convince him to buy all of us ice cream.”
“Let’s do it,” Riley laughs, noting Maya’s familiar devious facial expression that accompanies any scheme she thinks up.
These are the things Riley wants to remember forever. No matter what.