Maya fucking hates being sick during break. The only upside is that she didn't have to bother her mom and Shawn on their trip to excuse her from school.
She scrolls through Twitter and Facebook for the sixth and fourth time, respectively, and then locks her phone, flopping back on her bed with a loud exhale. Maya is attempting to burrow as far as possible into her blanket nest when she hears the door to the apartment unlock. Maya has one foot planted on the fire escape and the other on her bedroom floor when there's a knock on her door and it swings open.
Riley is in Maya's doorway, wearing her long shawl coat and a baffled expression, and holding a Tupperware bowl; Maya is straddling her windowsill in cotton shorts, a paint-stained t-shirt, and three weeks of leg stubble.
"Hiya Honey," Maya says meekly.
Riley hasn't moved, "What are you doing?"
Maya ducks her head back inside, "Would you believe I was worried I was about to be the victim of a home invasion gone wrong?"
Riley wrinkles her nose, "I would never invade your home."
"Well, Pumpkin, I wasn’t aware it was you to be honest," Maya pulls her right leg over the windowsill and into the bedroom, stumbling slightly.
Riley lurches forward as if to catch her, "Maya, I'm sorry, I should've helped you in!"
"It's okay, Riles," Maya says, sitting on the edge of her bed and crossing her legs.
Maya pats the bed next to her, "Come, sit. Whatcha got there?"
"Oh!" Riley brightens, "My mom saw your 'sick sad-face emoji' selfie on Facebook and sent me over with some soup left over from dinner last night."
She hands the warm bowl to Maya and sheds her outer layers, then perches on the edge of the bed to carefully unlace her boots.
Maya pries the lid off the Tupperware and fans the steam into her face, "Mmmm, your mom is a lifesaver, her tomato soup is the best. Wait, I need a-"
Riley pulls a spoon from her coat pocket and hands it to Maya.
"Awww, you thought of everything."
Maya slurps up a big spoonful and suppresses the face she wants to make. She takes another taste.
Maya dips the spoon back into the soup and casually asks, "You said your mom made this?"
Maya raises her eyebrows at Riley as she blows over the soup in her spoon.
“Of course! Why?” Riley's eyes dart away and she bites her lip, “Is it awful?"
Even if Riley hadn't sounded so timid, Maya would've fallen over herself to reassure her, "No, it's just that it’s...it’s even better than usual!"
Riley looks at Maya through the hair in her eyes and the corners of her mouth twitch up. She leans in like she’s got a secret and says in a low voice, "Probably because I put in more love than my mom's recipe called for."
Maya hopes to God she's not blushing but knows it's a lost cause when Riley's smile turns into a full on grin. Maya stubbornly finishes the entire bowl of soup.
Maya's leaning against the wall across from Riley's fifth period class, waiting for the bell to ring. She’s considering pulling out her phone and sending Riley a selfie-knowing full well that Riley will see her in person before she sees the picture-when she hears a voice from her left say, "Hey, I was looking for you."
Maya glances up briefly, then looks up fully when she recognizes Talia from her Advanced Art class.
"Hey," Maya says, smiling and pushing off the wall behind her.
Talia steps forward and smiles back, "I wasn't sure if I'd catch you before the end of the day. One minute you were at your easel, the next minute you'd finished our project before anyone else, as usual."
She pokes Maya teasingly in the shoulder, a punctuation mark on the sentence. Maya lets herself rock backwards a little with it and replies, "Well you must've finished second then if you're right here behind me."
Talia laughs, a long, deep thing, and shakes her dark, curly hair back; Maya feels a surge of something unsteady in her stomach.
The bell rings above them, and in the silence between it and the subsequent rush of students, Maya casually asks, "You were looking for me?"
"Yeah," Talia says, "I wanted to know if you wanted to go to Drew's party with me on Saturday?"
Maya hesitates and Talia's face falls a little. She bites her lip like she's about to say something and Maya feels like she's cutting Talia off when she says, "I'd love to but my mom and stepdad kinda mentioned going up to his old cabin this weekend for like, family bonding time," Maya tilts her head, "I could text you?"
The left corner of Talia's mouth crooks up and she says, "I'd like that."
Riley bounces up just as Talia finishes typing her number into Maya's phone and hands it back. Talia's hand lingers just a second and she says, "Let me know about Saturday, okay?" before walking off.
When Maya turns to her, Riley is watching Talia leave with a funny sort of expression but she jerks her eyes to Maya quickly, as if sensing the movement beside her.
"You weren't by your locker," Riley says. Then: "Who was that?"
"Talia? From my Advanced Painting class?" Maya replies, Riley falling into step with Maya as she heads toward their lockers.
Riley's face creases in response, "Oh. Huh. I don't think you've ever mentioned her."
Riley leans against her own locker while Maya puts in her combination, the heel of Riley's right foot pressed against the toe of Maya's left.
"Don't you need to get anything for class?" Maya asks as the lock clicks open and she pulls on the door.
She looks at Riley but Riley just shrugs with her right shoulder and says, "So, um, what about Saturday?"
Riley's gaze is at Maya's hairline, roughly, and Maya says, slowly, "She invited me to go to Drew's party with her but I have to check if my mom and Shawn have plans for us first."
There's a beat of silence, Maya watches Riley's tongue dart out between her lips. Maya reaches for her History textbook because Riley still isn't meeting her eyes.
Riley says, "Oh, um, I was going to ask you if you wanted to go to that this weekend."
Maya drops her book into her bag and scrunches her nose, says to Riley, "You don't like Drew's parties."
Riley's gotten a little better at lying in the last few years through a mixture of practice and determination but-luckily for Maya-that improvement is both marginal and doesn't seem to extend to herself. Riley's eyes widen and her right hand flutters up to the hair hanging in front of her ear but doesn't actually connect because Riley seems to consciously return it to the strap of her bag. Almost too quickly Riley's face relaxes into a smile and her eyebrows return from their sojourn at her hairline.
"Well, you always have a good time, I thought maybe I should give them another shot!"
Maya's confused by the tone of Riley's voice and the tension around her eyes and in the wrist and forearm of the hand gripping her bag's strap. She wraps her hand around Riley's wrist, jostling it back and forth a little, "Don't worry, you'll always be my only best friend."
If anything Riley tenses up even further and Maya's grip goes slack. Riley seems to notice that because it looks like she forces her shoulders down and she lets go of her bag and slides her fingers between Maya's.
"Of course," Riley smiles at Maya, "I never doubted that." Maya returns the smile on reflex, even though Riley’s doesn’t reach her eyes and her voice isn’t quite right.
"Like I told Talia anyway, I'm pretty sure I'm busy with my mom and Shawn this weekend."
Maya watches Riley's face when she squeezes Riley's hand and assumes she was projecting when Riley looks her in the eye and smiles closed-mouth but warm and squeezes back.
It's the Thursday before finals and Maya is sprawled out on her back with her head hanging over the side of Riley's bed. Riley is on the floor next to her with her biology book open in her lap, ostensibly studying, but she's actually spent the last ten minutes idly combing her fingers through the curtain of Maya's hair.
Riley starts to separate Maya's hair into two sections and Maya shivers when Riley's nails scritch along the base of her skull. Riley pauses for a split-second then asks, "Do you like that?" in a tone both curious and amused
She drags her nails across the same spot, almost in punctuation, and Maya shivers even harder. Riley seems to take that for the response it is because she scratches across Maya's scalp a little longer before returning to her braiding. The back of Maya's neck tingles long after Riley's finished.
They move into the living room after Cory and Topanga retire to their bedroom. Riley puts in a DVD while Maya makes a bag of popcorn and digs in the cabinet for the mixing bowl they usually use.
"What happened to the big bowl?" Maya calls over her shoulder as she pushes out of her crouch to her feet. She thinks she hears Riley say, "hold on," but she's distracted by the slowing pops coming from the microwave.
Maya's got her thumb over the "stop" button and is keeping an ear on the seconds between pops when she's startled by a touch on her hip and Riley warning her, "Right behind you."
Maya starts dropping count when she feels Riley go on her tiptoes behind her. Riley's grip tightens on Maya's hip and her body is warm and solid against Maya's back as Riley reaches into the cabinet over Maya's head and pulls down the blue bowl. She doesn't know if she's imagine the slide of Riley's body against hers as Riley drops back to flat feet, it's the barest feeling and Maya's buzzing enough that she might be imagining it.
Maya doesn't realize how tensely she was holding herself until Riley says, "Is the popcorn burning?" and moves around Maya to stop the microwave. She can feel the muscles in her thighs and core relax as Riley shakes the popcorn into the bowl and moves toward the living room.
Maya takes a hesitant step and, when her legs don't buckle underneath her, follows Riley to the couch.
Friday morning of their last week of high school finals ever, Maya opens her locker to find a crumpled white flyer hanging from the inside of the slats. She doesn't even glance at the front as she stuffs it into her bag along with her copy of The God of Small Things for first period.
• • •
Maya's at her locker again when Riley bounces up and asks, "So? What do you think?"
"What do I think about what?" Maya asks, confused. She turns to Riley, closing her locker and shaking out the cramp in her hand. Riley, her mouth already turned down and the corners, frowns more deeply and reaches for Maya's hand.
"Practice test in AP Lit?" Riley holds Maya's right hand between both of her own, rubbing firm circles across Maya's palm and gentler ones over the bases of Maya's fingers. Maya hopes she's just imagining the way her hands are suddenly clammy with sweat.
She clears her throat, "Yeah, um, I got kinda carried away analyzing a, uh, pivotal moment in Rahel's personal development."
Distantly, Maya recalls that Riley isn't in her class and hasn't read the book, but Riley's graduated from massaging Maya's hand to idly playing with her fingers and she's looking at Maya the way she always does, like Maya's words are the curriculum to a class she's both profoundly interested in and plans to ace. Maya clears her throat again.
"You-you asked me what I thought about something?" Maya wiggles their clasped hands, just for something to do.
Riley's closed-mouth smile widens, "Oh, yeah, the exhibit opening!" She pauses, apparently waiting for a response.
"Riles," Maya swings their hands again, "I'm gonna need some more context."
Riley's brows come together and she asks, "The flyer I put in your locker?"
She extracts her hand from Maya's grip and digs into her bag, pulling out a familiar looking paper and holding it out to Maya. Maya takes it from her, saying, "Oh, I didn't even look at it, I'm sorry. I just figured it was someone's band trying to get people to come to a house party or something."
Riley waves away her apology, "I know it's been a long week, and I get it if you're too tired to do anything tonight, but I saw this the other day and the pictures on the flyer reminded me of that artist you like? That you have the like, the coffee table book for? I might be thinking of the wrong-"
Maya can't help cutting her off, looking up from the flyer, "Yeah, yes, absolutely I want to go. I could never be too tired to go to something like this, wow. Thank you."
Riley beams at Maya and grabs her hand again, "No problem, I'm happy you're excited. I'll meet you at 5:30 and we'll head over?"
Maya nods, "Yeah, of course."
She doesn’t notice how cold her right hand is until Riley turns the corner at the end of the hall and Maya can’t see her anymore.
Maya has been to a few openings and feeling of maturity that accompanies hasn't lessened at all. Maya can feel herself standing taller and straighter when she walks and when she stops in front of a work, regardless of how fancy the event is. She doesn't know if she's trying to impress the kind of person who organizes these things and attend them, or if she's holding herself with confidence because she feels like she belongs, but that self-assurance is almost always what sticks with her. It’s different tonight.
Maya's going to have to come up with some talking points about the exhibit because she's knows the first things she'll think of, what she'll remember when she's lying in bed tonight, are:
• the sweetheart neckline of Riley's dark green dress and the fact that Riley must've swiped something across her collarbones because-when the light hits them-they shimmer like Riley’s sweating and Maya keeps losing her train of thought
• the way Riley tilts her head just slightly and tucks her hair behind her right ear, as if she’s preparing herself to come up with some Deep Thoughts on what they’re looking at
• the line of Riley’s body backlit by golden light when Maya comes back from the bathroom-her elbow tight to her side and her drink glass curled almost against her shoulder, her head tipped back to look up at an enormous mural, the gentle curve of her back; Riley’s still not particularly graceful but in that moment she looks like a dancer holding her opening pose in the moments before the curtain and lights come up.
Maya’s never had to struggle to connect with or be moved by a piece the way she does tonight.
• • •
On the subway home, Maya and Riley are sharing Riley's headphones and Maya is watching Riley skip through tracks, the thick fan of Riley’s eyelashes blinking slowly and sleepily. Riley uncrosses her legs, then recrosses them in the opposite direction; Maya can't help the way her gaze falls to the spot where Riley's hem grazes the top of her thighs. Riley makes a soft noise and Maya drags her eyes down, searching for a safer landing place but unable to stop staring at the long expanse of Riley's legs. Her gaze catches on Riley's left knee and she unconsciously reaches out and ghosts a finger over the small scar there.
Riley's skin is warm; Maya thinks about Riley's hand on her back, too high to be romantic, maybe, but too low to be platonic, definitely, and Maya thinks about Riley giggling and putting Maya's straw in her own drink when Maya poked herself in the eye with it, and Maya thinks-
All of a sudden there's a shadow over them. Maya jerks her hand back.
They both look up at a boy Maya only vaguely recognizes. Riley smiles at him and pauses the song, but she doesn't pull out her earbud.
"Hey, what's up?" she asks him.
He glances at Maya, down at where her hand is clenched against her leg, says, "I thought you said you were busy tonight?"
Riley's mouth flattens a little and she says, "Well, clearly I am."
"You see Maya all the time, you couldn't cancel on her or reschedule or something?"
He sounds genuinely confused but that doesn't stop Maya from snapping, "Well, clearly she didn't," and leveling him with a challenging stare when he looks over.
The guy's hands go up in front of his chest as if to say, ‘whoa there, I give up,’ and he says, "Have a good night, Riley. Maya," and walks back to his friends who are pretending not to watch him.
Maya watches him for a second longer, asks, "What was up with that guy?"
"Hmm? Oh, nothing. Zach is in my Bio class and he asked me out a couple days ago, but I told him no since we had plans tonight."
"But you only asked me today," Maya glances at Riley, who fiddles with her earbud.
"Well, yeah, but I read about the opening on Wednesday so I already knew we were gonna have plans."
Riley tucks the first two fingers of her right hand into Maya's left and says, "Even if I'd only seen the flyer last night and had already told Zach yes I would've canceled on him so we could do this."
Maya's hand reflexively closes around Riley's fingers and Riley unpauses the song without waiting for a response.
The walk from the subway back to the Matthews' is quiet because every time Maya casts around for something to say, her brain makes a beeline to the hope she buried years ago and a question she’s terrified to ask. At the apartment, Maya drinks a glass of filtered water while Riley quietly locks the door and step out of her heels, then follows Riley to her bedroom.
Maya sits in the bay window-legs crossed, glass in hand-and watches Riley close her bedroom door, turn on the papier-maché Pluto nightlight Maya made her two birthdays ago, shed her coat, and take off her earrings. Riley sits down next to Maya with her legs tucked under her and her knee touching Maya's thigh; Maya desperately wishes her glass wasn't empty.
"So!" Maya's voice is too loud when she breaks the silence but she pushes on, "Really dodged a bullet with Zach, I guess. Hopefully the next guy who asks you out won't be such a jerk," Maya laughs nervously.
Riley's voice is soft and her hand on Maya's wrist is gentle, "I don't-," she stops, frustrated. Maya wonders if Riley can feel the way Maya's heart rate has picked up. She distantly remembers the first aid class they took when they thought they wanted to be babysitters and how hard it was for her to find the pulse in her wrist.
Riley takes a deep breath and says, "I want to-I need to try something, okay, Maya?"
Maya knows Riley moves achingly slow but it feels like only a millisecond passes between Maya nodding yes and Riley's fingertips on her cheek and Riley's lips on hers.
Maya hears herself make a low noise in her throat and she places her hand over Riley's, holding it to her cheek, and kisses back. Maya feels when Riley smiles against her mouth and then Riley breaks the kiss.
Maya keeps her eyes closed tight when Riley pulls back but they flutter open when Riley's hand yanks out from under hers. When her vision refocuses, Riley is spinning the ring on her right hand around and around, shy in a way she usually isn't with Maya.
"Riles?" she whispers.
Riley swallows, turns the ring so the stone faces her palm, "I've been wanting to do that for a long time."
She looks at Maya and her expression is simultaneously pleading and defiant, like she's desperately trying to fake some bravado, to own what she's done.
Maya can't help the laugh that bubbles out, too joyous to contain. Riley jerks up straight, eyes wide as saucers, and she slaps a hand over Maya's mouth and hisses, "You'll wake up my parents!"
Maya wraps her right hand around Riley's wrist and kisses the palm covering her mouth.
"I'm sorry," she whispers against Riley's palm, "I've been waiting so long too."
Riley's face changes slowly until she’s grinning, pink-cheeked and glad-eyed. Maya watches Riley until she's biting her lip and smoothing her hair back.
Riley's collarbones shimmer in the pale light coming in through the cracks in the bay window's curtains and Maya thumbs over them now that she can. When Maya looks up, Riley's eyes on her are intent and Maya rubs the highlighter on her thumb over the curve of Riley's shoulder and whispers, "Hey, Honey? I'm in love with you."
Riley whispers back, "Hey, Peaches? I'm in love with you back."
This time, when Riley leans in to kiss her, Maya is ready.