He’d always wondered what she tasted like. If her kisses would be as electric as the thunderstorm in her eyes. He knew it was wrong to have these thoughts when he had been in a relationship with her best friend for almost two years, and he loved Riley, he really did. But when this girl was always in his face , challenging him, teasing him and threatening him relentlessly, all he could do was stare down at this raging blond fury, and over time he happened to notice that she had the pinkest lips he had ever seen, almost perfectly shaped, with a permanent smirk that was always directed at him and he began to wonder what they tasted like.
He would catch himself thinking about her at the most random times. Strawberry lips and sunshine hair would flood his mind and afterwards he would hate himself for it because he knew he should be thinking about warm chocolate eyes and chestnut hair, but it was hard to do that when a sea of electric blue always invaded and washed away these thoughts.
After almost two years of letting her verbally and physically abuse him, he had finally begun to fight back. Not because he was sick of it, or because he wanted to hurt her, but because he knew she liked when he did, and he would do anything to see that fire in her eyes intensify. The first time he had actually fought back, by responding to one of her verbal jabs with a very clever remark in his opinion, her eyebrows had shot up in surprise and he was not sure if he should stay or run from her wrath, but surprisingly she had smiled. Though, he could not have been sure, because it had only lasted for an instant, until her face fell back to its usual smirk and she proceeded to call him one of her ever creative names in response. He noticed that she smiled a lot, especially with Riley, but he also noticed that a lot of her smiles were always a little too hard, or with a little too much teeth and they never really reached her eyes. He had never seen someone so committed to assuring the happiness of their best friend. She would sell her soul for Riley. Riley’s happiness was Maya’s occupation and he wished that she realized her happiness was important too and sometimes he would want so badly to tell her she was worth everything and more, and she deserved the world but he could not do that. They would be no windowsill conversations between them, no heart to hearts because he was Ranger Rick and she was his girlfriend’s best friend. And that was that.
He found her crying one time, underneath a staircase at school. He had never seen her cry before. The school was nearly empty and Riley had had cheerleading practice. He was not sure what to do at first, if he should just walk away and call Riley, but then a sob came from her that nearly broke his heart, and never in his life had he felt such a need to fix someone. She sat in the corner of the staircase, her knees drawn to her chest and her face in her hands, her hair cascading down her shoulders. Her shoulders shook and his insides hurt. He didn’t think she knew anyone was looking at her so he called her name. She remained in the same position and he called her name again. No response. She had to have heard him. She probably thought if she didn’t acknowledge him he would eventually go away but he refused to do anything of that sort. Without a second thought, he walked towards her tiny figure and slid down the wall next to her. He felt her body tense and then put his arm around her, pulling her into him. She lay stiff in his arms but he held on. After a few minutes he felt her finally relax against him and her head fell heavily against his shoulder. Her sobs had subsided but she still shook a little. His grip tightened and he rested his head against hers. Never did someone fit so perfectly in his arms. He heard her sigh, a sigh that sounded like it was filled with so much world weariness. They never spoke of it afterwards, it was as if it had never happened and though she had never told him to, he knew he was not supposed to tell Riley that he had found her crying. It was an unspoken agreement. The only acknowledgment that he got that had proven what had happened had not been a figment of his imagination was when the very next day their eyes had locked briefly across their lunch table with Riley and Farkle in the cafeteria and she had given him a small smile. Of gratitude? He couldn’t be sure but he thinks it was probably the most genuine smile he had ever seen on her face, even though her lips had only slightly turned upwards, but no matter how small, it had gotten to her sea glass eyes.
He could feel there dynamic slowly changing. He wasn’t sure he could say they were becoming friendlier with each other but they were becoming…something more than just two teenagers who tolerated each other for the sake of a mutual friend. They no longer needed Riley to be there to feel comfortable in each other’s presence. One day, all four of them, him, Riley, Farkle and Maya, were supposed to meet at “Topanga’s” to hang out but it had just ended up being the two of them as Farkle had ditched them to hang out with the AV club and Riley had to babysit Auggie at the last minute. He would have thought that Maya would have left to go and help Riley with Auggie but surprisingly she had stayed and it was then he had found out that she was a really good listener. Sitting opposite each other in one of the booths, with her hands clasped together on top of the table she listened as he told her about Texas sunsets, and how beautiful the horses looked when they ran together in the fields and how he had always woke up at five every morning to do things around his grandparents farm. He told her how much he missed his old home and his family and how sometimes New York could be so suffocationg with all its skyscraper buildings and millions of people. Not once did she call him a name or interrupt him as he told her, she just listened. At the end of it, it was silent for a moment and she just stared at him with her piercing eyes, as if she was searching for something in him. After a moment she leaned back and said to him,
“ Even though here might not feel like home, always remember that we will always be your family, no matter what.” She told him this without her gaze ever wavering from his face and he thinks that that was the moment he started to fall in love with her.
He began to walk her home nearly every day after school especially on the days when they all hung out till dark. The first time he did, he realized how far she lived from Riley’s house, nearly five blocks and her neighborhood was not exactly the safest, especially in the night. The first few times she fussed about it and told him it wasn’t necessary but eventually she realized she could not convince him otherwise and it became a pattern. No matter how much she claimed she could take care of herself he always noticed how she would draw nearer to him whenever they walked passed a dark ally or she received a random catcall from a pedestrian across the street. In those moments it would take everything he had within him to prevent himself from enclosing her hand in his just to assure her that he was right here beside her, that nothing in hell could hurt her with him here. In those walks he found out a lot about her. That her mom changed jobs all the time and worked triple shifts and sometimes days would go by without her seeing her. He learned that her sick grandmother lived with them and that she tried to get home as soon as possible to make her dinner and watch tv with her. He got the impression that aside from Riley, her Grandma was her best friend. Her eyes always lit up when she spoke of her.
One day after almost six months of walking her home, she finally invited him inside. He could see how nervous she was as she fumbled open the door of the apartment. “It’s not much,” she had mumbled to him and he had told her he didn’t care if she lived in a box on the worst alley in New York. She laughed at that and he saw her relax a little. Her laugh was like a drug to him, and like any addict, whenever he rarely evoked one from her, he found himself on this high. She introduced him to her grandmother who hugged him with a grip so fierce it startled him. He could have seen that she had been beautiful when she was younger. He now knew where Maya had gotten her looks from. Her grandmother had held his hand while sitting on her rocking chair and studied him for a significant amount of time, with eyes very similar to Maya’s. She then turned to Maya and announced that it was abnormal for a boy to have such a beautiful face. He laughed and then heard Maya scoff behind him. He turned to her and winked and she rolled her eyes. She walked towards the small kitchen and he swore he glimpsed a smile that she tried to hide behind her hair. He helped her make dinner, despite her refusal, and though it was only Mac and cheese, it was probably the best meal he had ever had as he ate next to her on the couch in the living room, opposite her grandmother as they watched some Spanish soap opera with no english subtitles. Though he had no idea what they were saying he laughed along with Maya and her grandmother and he thinks this was the happiest he had ever seen her. Afterwards he stood next to her in the kitchen by the sink as she washed the dishes and he dried and in that moment he felt like this was something he would like to do for the rest of his life, not just wash dishes, but just stand next to her, unconsciously bumping shoulders, and brushing fingers, as she passed the dishes to him, that sent shivers down his spine.
He helped her make dinner at least three times a week and her grandmother loved him. She would pass him worried looks whenever her grandma barley touched her food, which was most nights, and he would fix the antenna on the television on the nights they tended to get a lot of static. He looked forward to these nights, more than anything else and though she would never admit it, he didn’t know how grateful Maya was for him coming. He made her nights less lonely.
One night, just after they had washed the dishes, they heard thunder rumble outside and in a few minutes there was a full out storm raging outside. They stood by the window and watched as lightning streaked the sky outside. He felt her turn her head to watch him and he met her gaze. She shrugged her shoulders and turned on her heel, heading for her room. How he knew that that was her way of giving him permission to stay the night? He wasn’t sure, but at some point they had begun to understand each other without the use of words. He stood still for a moment and eventually followed her into the room where she had already thrown a sheet and pillow on the floor for him. He told her that he could sleep on the couch but she just shook head, mumbling something about her grandma groaning in the night and he would never get any sleep on the couch.
Later on, they lay in the dark, with him on the floor and Maya on her bed. They lay in silence and he listened to her breathing and thought of a lot of things. He thought of Riley, innocent Riley, who was probably sleeping and he felt guilty because she was so kind, and beautiful and loving and he didn’t deserve any of it as he lay on the floor of her best friend’s bedroom, her best friend who he was falling in love with one Spanish soap opera at a time. And then he thought of Maya, and everything she was, and how brightly she burned in this black and white life she did not deserve and how underneath the entire tough façade she put on at school she was just a girl trying to hold it all together the best that she could with a sick grandmother and an almost absent mother and he thought of how he so much wanted to give her a life she deserved.
He heard ruffling of sheets and then the thudding of feet landing on the floor and the next thing he knew she was lying next to him. There was absolutely no physical contact, and they both just lay there, staring at the ceiling and he could feel her warmth, so close to him, part of her hair, which was fanned out on the floor tickled his neck. He turned on his side to look at her and she mirrored him and they both lay staring at each other intently. He fell asleep drowning in a sea of blue.
They didn’t talk about how the next morning they woke up wrapped up in each other, feet intertwined and his arms around her and her face in his neck. They didn’t talk about how they lay there for a few moments, without moving, even though they both were already awake and should have long detangled. Those things remained unspoken.
He could feel Riley beginning to suspect something. Innocent Riley who should not have to suspect these kinds of things. He wasn’t sure exactly what had made her aware of it, maybe it was the lingering glances between him and Maya in the cafeteria or the fact that Maya taunted him less and less these days or that he and Maya stood a little too close to each other by the lockers. She could feel her eyes on him at certain times, especially when they hung out together as a group and he couldn’t help but feel terrible. It wasn’t as if they had kissed or anything but he could feel Riley’s eyes burning into him and feared that she could see into his mind and see exactly what he was thinking. Maya, Maya, Maya.
He knew Maya could feel her suspicion too and they cut down his number of visits to once a week as much as he hated it. It wasn’t as if they were doing anything wrong even though, in reality they really were.
One afternoon, both him and Maya stood at Riley’s locker waiting for her to finish cheerleading practice. They had begun to laugh about something, something entirely stupid but it had him gasping for breath as he laughed and she bent over holding her stomach. They were a mess, eventhough whatever it was had not even been that funny. He steadied her from toppling over with laughter and she leaned against him heavily. Eventually they calmed down, leaning against the lockers with their shoulders pressed against each other. He looked at her, her hair an absolute mess and laughed, gently pushing a strand of her hair behind her ear and smoothing down the rest with his two hands. She smiled as he did this and suddenly there faces were so close to each other and he could feel her breath on his face with the scent of peppermint and she was so close and so warm and……
He heard someone clearing their throat and there stood Riley, her hands clenched at her sides and they both straightened up. He hated being responsible for that look of hurt in her eyes. Maya looked down at her shoes and he felt sorry for her as well. She had been trying so hard , all her life, to protect her friend from the hurt of the world and here she was, the person to hurt her, sealed and delivered.
Him and Riley’s three year relationship ended that night over the phone with a lot of silence and sharp words from her side of the conversation. You would think after three years he would feel hurt and be mourning the loss if his girlfriend, but instead, he felt free. He called Maya but she did not answer the phone. He tried a few more times but it went straight to voicemail.
He thought that maybe she just felt bad about the entire Riley situation and that at school he would assure her that everything was alright and that Riley was not even that mad anyways, but for three days she didn’t show up to school and he felt a panic rise in him. He didn’t ask Riley because she still wasn’t talking to him and obviously Farkle, his supposed best friend was taking her side. She still would not pick up her phone and with nothing else to do he found himself walking towards her apartment after school. He knocked on her door loudly and anxiously. There was no response. Where was she? He knocked again and shook the handle only to find that the door was open. The pace of his heart increased rapidly and his palms began to sweat. Why was her door open and why did he suddenly feel so scared? He slowly pushed open the door and there she sat on the couch, in front of the television that blasted a Spanish soap opera. As familiar as this scenario was to him, he could not help but feel something was missing. Only then did he realize the empty rocking chair and the door to her grandmother’s room that was wide open showcasing a stripped mattress and boxes on the floor for packing. Everything connected and his eyes fell back to her on the couch, knees drawn to her chest and unseeing eyes glued to the television. If he looked closely he could have seen that her hands trembled as they wrapped around her legs. He could see that she was trying desperately to hold herself together. “Oh Maya,” he said and he dropped his book bag to the floor and made his way to the couch. He enveloped her into his arms and this time she didn’t tense but completely melted into him. She buried her face in his chest and he rested his chin on her head, smoothing his hand over her hair and she cried and shook and soaked his t-shirt with her tears. And in that moment he held her together.
He held her hand at the funeral and stayed with her at the grave until everyone else left so she could say her goodbyes without the whole world to witness and just him, and was not allowed to stay because he didn’t matter, but because he did. He took her for ice cream afterwards instead of them going back to the apartment to be surrounded by sad stories and the sickening smell of flowers. He tried to make her laugh and she appreciated it even though the most she could muster was a bitter smile. They stood on the sidewalk outside the ice cream shop and he held her hand tightly and whispered to her that it was all going to be okay and she rested her head on his shoulder. Death sucked, but it sucked a little less when you had someone to hold onto.
The first time he kissed her, they were on her fire escape. They had started to sit there a lot now because watching Spanish soap operas just really was never the same anymore. He was telling her about the stars in Texas and how when you looked up at night you could see billions of them dotting the sky unlike the too bright city of New York that drowned out the night sky. They lay on their backs looking at the sky and he had challenged her that she probably could not even count twenty stars in New York’s night sky. Of course she had looked at him determinately and started to count, hell bent to find twenty-one stars, the one extra just to make him look like an ass. And of course she did count twenty one stars exactly and she raised her arms in triumph above her head and then turned to give him the most breathtaking smile he had ever seen. This smile met her eyes and lit up her entire face, and she was brighter than any Texas sky. He took her face in both his hands and kissed her. She tasted like coffee and strawberries and Spanish soap operas and night skies and he loved her so much his heart hurt. She pulled away from him and looked at him, her eyes wide and questioning. He nodded his head in response to her unasked question and pulled her back in and his hands threaded through her sunshine hair. Her hands wrapped behind his neck and their bodies fit in ways that was too perfect too describe.
He no longer had to wonder if her kisses were as electric as the thunderstorm in her eyes. They were. And she tasted like everything he could ever want and in her arms and lost in her lips, he knew;
He was home