Sophomore year of high school was half way done, and Maya couldn’t believe she had gotten as far as she had. Everyone in the school knew who she was, she was popular and as crazy as it sounds she had good enough grades that she didn’t worry about disappointing her mother. But as the year came to a close she felt something pulling at her heart, something that had been missing since middle school and she couldn’t understand why everything had ended the way it had. It happened the year before as well right around the holidays, as the lights around the city began to glow with festive fairy lights, and those little pop up shops appeared everywhere.
She missed Riley.
The one person that had always been there for her, through the hurt and the pain of her father leaving, through the uncertain times she had once had with her mother, through the good and the bad. She couldn’t figure out where everything went wrong and she lost her best friend, everything had been fine until the summer after the end of middle school. After those two months had passed without Riley who had spent it with her brother at their grandparents’ place. Everything changed after that, Riley had let go of their friendship, Farkle had gone to Einstein Academy with Smackle, Lucas stopped talking to everyone, and Zay just tried his best between the bunch of them. They all separated from one another, and Maya couldn’t understand why it had happened.
At the end of the first month of freshman year Maya went to see Riley to ask about what had happened and why she wasn’t talking to them, to talk about what was happening. Their friendship ring, Riley’s ring was sitting on the center of the bay window, pillows no longer there no bears, no stuffed animals, no color at all. The window was bare, a curtain covering it from the room, she couldn’t see into Riley’s room anymore, the windows had been sealed shut.
It had hurt Maya, more than she let anyone see, but instead of dwelling on how everyone in her life abandoned her, she pushed forward and moved on. Just like when her father had left so long ago. She no longer saw the Matthews, unless she went to see her mother at Topanga’s. She didn’t talk about them, she moved on because she didn’t want to deal with what had happened. She sealed her heart away… she didn’t need these people.
Yet when the holidays came she could feel the pain in her heart, the pain of something missing. Christmas with the Matthews, seeing Josh and acting like she was cool and mature, talking with Riley over hot chocolate at the bay window which was covered in decorations. It hurt to think about it, so she tried to push it aside.
Lucas, Zay, and Riley all went to the same school, but they never saw one another, she never saw any of them at all, the school was too big. Some days she swore she saw the flutter of Riley’s long brown hair, the top of Lucas’s blonde hair in the crowd, or she could hear Zay’s loud voice in the hallway. But they were almost always out of reach. So, she stopped looking for them, and started living her life. Art Club, choir, drama club, keeping herself busy was the way to go.
Everything was going to be fine.
Until it wasn’t.
It had happened on December 8th of all days, Riley’s birthday, Maya hadn’t been paying too much attention as they finished the sets for the school play. Romeo and Juliet. The memory had been playing at the back of her mind, Riley and Lucas that moment just before he kissed her as she lay dead in the play. Just before Farkle interrupted everyone just so he could stop Lucas from kissing Riley. It had been during happier days, in what felt like another world. She knew that she shouldn’t have been distracted, she should have been paying attention, she should have heard them calling out to her telling her to jump away. Instead a piece of the set fell on her and knocked her unconscious.
And this is the story of how Maya learned the truth about what happened to her friendship
When Maya woke up she was looking out into Riley’s bedroom, the room before the forced remodel, before Riley had wanted her room to grow up with her. With bright colors, and swatches of purple and blues all over. She was confused, why was she in Riley’s room, but as her body began to move Maya had realized that she wasn’t in control.
I want to show you, a voice said to her. The truth of how your friendships ended.
Maya was confused, she couldn’t understand why this was happening, but as Riley jumped up and smiled into the mirror, looking at a picture of her and Lucas from their first date, and then a picture of her, Maya and Josh at Christmas, Maya had realized that if she was being shown something, this would help her understand her friendship with Riley and what had gone wrong.
So, she watched, as the day went by, it was the day of the yearbooks, the day where Maya had been named best couple with Lucas. That’s when she felt something inside of her breaking, but it wasn’t her emotions… they were Riley’s. Maya couldn’t understand it, she had lived through this moment with Riley, so why would it cause her best friend pain. But she watched through Riley’s eyes, and felt the hurt inside of her, as Maya’s image stood in front of Lucas and ha-hurred at him, made comments to him. All the while the twinge of pain went through her body.
Maya couldn’t take the hurt anymore she wanted to close her eyes, to shut out the world, but she couldn’t because she was connected to Riley and through that connect she was seeing what she had missed.
She watched as Riley turned dark, and as Maya herself turned into Riley, and there it was again, the hint of pain. The moment Lucas’s eyes had met Maya’s own, the moment where it hadn’t mattered to the whole class that Riley was no longer Riley because Maya could be Riley. She watched as Riley watched Lucas interacting with Maya. And when Maya heard the words.
“Aww, Lucas, you're a very sweet guy. That's why I always liked you since I fell onto your lap on the subway. It's why we should have been favorite couple. Because we're so much alike. You know, it's like we're two sunshiney people from the same sunshiney family. That's why I like you so much. It's like you're my brother. Oh. It's like he's your,” Maya heard herself say.
“What,” Riley had said but the pain inside of Riley intensified.
The rest of the conversation blurred out, she couldn’t hear it over the dull roar around her, the pain of her feelings being pushed aside. This was where it had started, where their friendship had that first real crack in its foundation, this is where Maya realized as she watched the world through Riley’s eyes, this is where she had lost her best friend.
Slowly as the memories flooded through her, as the days passed by, she saw it, the small moments where the cracks began to form. The next happened with the semi-formal, with Lucas not asking her, but the pain became worse after a conversation with Riley’s uncle and his friend, after Riley had seen Lucas dancing with Maya’s physical form. Each passing day the pain slowly grew, as Maya watched on, seeing the world through Riley’s eyes. Acting like Riley during the yearbooks, was nothing like being Riley, like watching the world slowly crumble in front of you.
Riley tried to make herself happy, she had her little awards ceremony after school, she danced around, she skipped in front of everyone. But suddenly the smiles slowly became fake, slowly Riley began to fade away whenever she was alone. When no one else was around.
That’s when the messages began, the texting, the painful moments, a bully.
There was a part of Riley she had never seen during those days, a part of her that Maya should have known, a piece of her best friend that had been hidden away. As Riley stood in front of her mirror every morning before Maya would show up to pick her up for school.
“I am Riley Matthews,” she would begin. “I’m a good person, I can get through the day, I can be happy… I’m fine… I’m fine…”
The mantra would begin every morning as she got up and got dressed for school. They helped Riley with the bully, but in the end Riley had been better about hiding things than Maya could have given her credit for. She had once believed that Riley was perfect, that she couldn’t lie to anyone, but as the days passed she hadn’t realized just how wrong she had been about her best friend. Every morning Riley would tell herself that she was good enough, but would cry herself to sleep at night. With each day Maya could feel the broken pieces of her best friend begin to grow. When they saved the art program, just the act of Lucas saying that he wanted Maya to be happy, a moment shared between the two blondes, had cause a bit of pain. But Riley hid it well, she hid everything.
Once she became a cheerleader, the pain didn’t go away, but it dulled because she was at practice, surrounded by others. She was making new friends, but in the back of her mind it was there, the doubt that anyone truly liked her.
Everything was building up to a single moment, and Maya knew this, but she couldn’t figure out where it was, or where it was coming from. And then, they were in Texas, and Riley understood what Maya had been feeling, slowly everything within Riley shattered into a million pieces. Even though on the outside she acted like nothing was wrong, and smiled like everything would be alright. She saw the moment through Riley’s eyes as she told the world about Maya’s feelings, as she walked away to give Maya and Lucas a moment.
“I can give him up,” she whispered to herself. “Maya deserves to be happy, and if it’s with Lucas… if it’s with Lucas it’ll be fine,” she hiccupped as she tried to regain in her emotions.
Then it happened, something Maya had never known, Riley had seen it, that almost moment between her and Lucas. Riley had walked back to the campfire, she had forgotten her phone and wanted to use it to listen to music. That’s when she saw it, the moment that would define what would happen to them for the rest of the year. Her best friend had known it had happened all along, and all that was left was the feeling of Riley turning around and running as fast as she could. She continued to run until she was far enough from the house, from the campfire, from everyone she knew, and the one boy she loved, she ran until the only sound she could hear were the huffs from the horses, and the sounds of the cows in the pasture.
And when she was sure that no one was around… she cried out to the world, until her voice was hoarse and her body shook.
As Maya watched, and saw everything happening through her best friend’s eyes, she realized just how far gone their friendship had become. The cracks in the foundation were permanently going to be there. For the rest of their lives. There was no going back from this.
So, in the days since they returned to New York, in the days where the truth was revealed to the whole class, Riley’s mantra had slowly become her way of reminding herself that she was allowed to be in pain even for just a little while.
Maya felt the pain, the factures within Riley growing, as Riley’s own mother passed her along to Maya so that someone else could deal with the problem, as her father tried to teach lessons to them about growing up and moving on. As their friends started to divide themselves trying to figure out where to stand in this new world. As Riley lied to them each and every single day.
Farkle saw, he tried to help, but even he couldn’t see where this was all headed, and Maya could kick herself for not realizing it was happening because she was too lost in herself to notice. Lucas had tried to talk to Maya in the same way that he had talked to Riley, because Texas Lucas no longer existed and that was probably the one version of Lucas that Maya could have liked.
Then the moment she hadn’t expected, it was strange that she hadn’t ever realized that it had happened, but she realized that she never truly knew Riley. The only version of Riley that she knew was the happy go lucky mayor or Rileytown, she hadn’t realized so long ago that the reason why Riley always wore shirts with such long sleeves, was because she had been covering something else up.
It started with a cut, it was small, almost as if she had accidently brushed up against something, a pain to take away a different pain. It didn’t happen all of the time, it only happened when things built up, when it became too much to watch Maya and Lucas together. They had all missed the signs, they had all missed everything that had happened. Most of the cuts could be blamed on her clumsiness, she had done them in places where no one would question them. But Maya knew the truth, and she hated herself every moment for it as she watched the days go by.
They only increased when Farkle revealed everything to the whole class, and Maya started playing everything back in her head. She had been too busy looking at herself that she had to look back to see the differences in Lucas as well. Maya in the middle, breaking the two of them apart. Even to this day she couldn’t figure out why she had started to like Lucas in the first place, why it had all started in the first place. Why she had hurt her friend so badly. She looked deeper into the recesses of Riley’s memories, and saw them, the looks she sent Lucas, thinking no one would see her, the small moments they shared even though Riley had pushed him away.
It was after the end of the year, the end of middle school, when she had seen someone truly notice something was wrong. That someone was Josh, who Maya hadn’t seen since that day after she had seen him in the dorm when she had made Riley sneak out. The day she told her mother the truth about her sneaking out and making Riley cover for her. Josh who still made her heartbeat just little faster than most boys out there.
“I messed up,” Maya whispered into the void of her own mind.
Maya watched as Josh pulled Riley aside and pulled up her sleeves, his face filled with horror as he saw the scars. The one everyone else dismissed as a part of her clumsiness, he didn’t say a word, instead pulling Riley into a hug and running his hands up and down her back as Riley broke down into tears. Everyone else nearby, close enough that if they had been paying attention they would have noticed that something was wrong. That something had been wrong for so long and they had all missed it.
Instead he pulled her into her bedroom and closed the door, and for the first time since this had all started Maya wished that she could close the gates into Riley’s life and pull away.
“Since when,” Josh said once Riley had stopped crying.
“Since just before new year’s,” she whispered to him, and all Josh could door was look at her with nothing but sadness in his eyes.
“You need to tell me everything, from the beginning Riley, because I want to help you so I want to know what could have caused all of this,” he said pulling her towards the bay window.
Maya watched Josh’s face as Riley told him every detail of every moment that had happened in the time since he had last seen them. He had been too busy with school, working part-time with his father and getting ready for NYU to be able to go back to New York for even a short while. And from the look on his face, he had hated himself for it, because he had missed the chance to help Riley, to help their friendships.
“How about you spend the summer with me and your grandparents in Philly,” he said after she had finished.
Riley had spent the summer with her grandparents, and her little brother, after Josh had yelled at his own brother for missing everything that had actually happened. He yelled at both of the Matthews for not realizing just how much pain Riley had been in, because in the end it was easier to ignore the harsh reality than deal with it head on. No amount of lessons inside of a classroom would have prepared them for what had been happening. He yelled at them for paying more attention to the kids that their daughter was friends with over her, he yelled at them for not being there when she had needed them the most.
“You shouldn’t have let her go to Texas in the first place without an adult there,” Josh had said before rushing off Riley to her room to help her pack.
There had been a fight between the brothers, but in the end, they had all realized just how much they had missed in the months since Texas.
Do you see? The voice said. Do you see how much you have missed?
When Riley went to sleep that night, Maya had woken up in the hospital, a bandage on her head and her mother standing over her, as worry marred her face. She remembered everything, and she wasn’t sure just how much of it had been real.
“Momma,” Maya said looking up at her mother’s relieved face. “I think I messed up.”
Her mother didn’t say anything, Maya wasn’t sure if either of them knew what to say, but in some way Maya understood that her mother had known about what was happening all along and had said nothing. Why would she, Maya and Riley hadn’t been friends in a long long time.
Maya watched as the doctors checked her out, worried about whether she needed to be kept for observation. In the end they moved her into a room and her mother sat down beside her, a look of sadness on her face.
“I know about Riley,” Maya said looking out towards the wall hoping to make herself as invincible as possible. “Why didn’t you tell me?”
“It wasn’t my place,” her mother said after a long moment had passed. “The Matthews had asked me to take care of the café, they weren’t going to be able to run it for a while, they told me that they needed to take care of their kids. I knew something was wrong, but they told me that I shouldn’t tell you because they were afraid of how you would react.”
“So, keeping me in the dark was better?”
“No, but in the end, that had been Riley’s decision. She wanted time to heal, to get pass everything that had happened, because she wanted you to be happy.”
Maya looked at her mother as the words sunk into the recesses of Maya’s mind, she only saw everything up to the day Riley had left, she didn’t know what had happened afterwards. She didn’t know what Riley had decided to do, everything was meant to show Maya that something had happened, the rest was up to Maya to decide.
A knock on the door drew her from her thoughts, as a familiar blonde boy stood in front of her door, his face filled with worry and sadness.
“I’ll leave you two alone,” her mother said before patting her on her knee. “I’ll be down the hall getting some coffee.”
Her mother left them alone, and Maya couldn’t help but wonder what Farkle’s part in all of this had been. She remembered him knowing about Riley holding back, on her feelings on telling them the truth but she didn’t know how far it went.
“Hey,” he said before sitting down in the chair her mother had been sitting in not too long ago.
“Farkle,” she said as fresh tears fell down her face. “I’m sorry for being a bad friend.”
“Maya you’re not a bad friend,” he said but she shook her head.
“I was a bad friend to Riley, I hurt her, and in the end, I didn’t see what she had done to herself.”
“Maya, we all missed it,” he said before taking her hand. “It’s the reason why I went with Smackle to Einstein Academy instead of going with you all. I felt ashamed for missing it and I ran away instead of standing beside her.”
“How long did it take for you to find out about her cutting herself, about her depression, about everything?”
“Too long, I noticed just before graduation, around the time you three had decided on just trying to be friends, and it hadn’t been working for any of you. I noticed only because she had messed up and cut herself somewhere that was impossible for her to get a cut on unless it had been deliberate.”
“And you ran,” she said softly as he nodded.
“I didn’t know what to do, but she got help, even if it hadn’t been from any of us.”
“Except Lucas had spiraled out of control because of it,” she murmured but Farkle had stiffened next to her. “What is it?”
“Lucas doesn’t know,” Farkle said, sighing to himself. “Zay and I decided to keep it from him because he was already in pain. He missed Riley, and he couldn’t figure out where everything went wrong, and he went and got himself drunk on something.”
“Why didn’t I hear about this?” she asked shocked about being kept out of the loop on something else. She had hurt them both in her quest to find herself.
“It was right after Riley had left for her grandparents, we didn’t tell either of you because she asked us not to, she told me she wanted to figure somethings out, except when she came back everything had gone to hell and she was in therapy. Lucas is still working on himself, I hang out with him and Zay sometimes, but without Riley there I think he’s always going to look for that anchor.”
The tears started coming out, she had been the one to push Riley away the most, after she had come back, just because Riley hadn’t spoken to her, because Riley had spent the whole summer without her, without telling her where she had gone. She had felt abandoned by her best friend and in the end, didn’t speak to her until it had been too late. Riley hadn’t forgotten her, she just didn’t want to burden her with what had been happening. All it had taken was three months of radio silence to make her feel like she had lost her friends.
“How did you know I was here?” she said wiping the tears from her eyes.
“Riley sent me a message,” he said to her. “Maya, I know what you’re thinking and Riley didn’t abandon you, she was hurt and confused and so much was happening to her at the exact same time as the yearbooks, and the semi-formal, and well Texas.”
“I was too wrapped up in myself,” she interrupted him.
“We all were, we all had our own lives outside of our friendships, outside of school, we were all trying, the problem is that in the end, we sometimes miss something important.”
“When did you get all grown up?”
“When I realized I had abandoned you,” he said before pulling her into a hug. “You can fix this, the first step is to talk to her, and Lucas, and Zay, because we all need to start fresh.”
“Where do I start?”
“Well that librarian had told Riley back in seventh grade to start at page one, so maybe that’s where you start. Except go through the front door, the window isn’t open right now.”
“Thanks, Farkle,” she said giving him a small smile.
“It’s my job as your ex-husband,” he said with a laugh.
Maya had been out of the hospital for three days before she had gathered enough courage to speak to Riley. In those three days she had blamed herself for a lot of things that had happened, but in the end of it all what had been the real problem was communication. As close as Riley and Maya had been, they never really talked about what they felt, instead they hid it behind masks until it bubbled over enough for someone to notice.
She knocked on the Matthews’ apartment door, someone had left through the front door as she had walked up so she had used it as an opportunity to take her time until she wanted to knock on their door. Now she stood there as Mrs. Matthews opened the door and gave her a wide smile.
“I was wondering when you would be back,” Mrs. Matthews said before opening the door for her. “Riley’s in her room.”
“You know this was going to happen?” Maya said shocked for a moment.
“Yes, we all did, especially after Riley had started therapy, because in the end it was up to the both of you to mend your friendship.”
“But she locked the bay window, she took off her ring.”
“Yes, but she left it there for you, in your spot, waiting for the moment when you would both be ready for this moment,” Mrs. Matthews said as she closed the door and led Maya towards Riley’s room. “Time for the both of you to talk, without interruptions.”
Maya nodded and stood there for a moment as Mrs. Matthews walked away. Maya could feel in her heart that this was a long time coming, she knew that she should have come back again and again but she had been left behind before so she hadn’t tried. She opened the door and saw Riley sitting at the bay window waiting for her with a small smile on her face.
“I heard you coming up here with my mom,” she said as she slowly pulled on the frayed edges of her ripped jeans. Maya watched as she took in the new appearance of her once best friend. Her short bob haircut, an oversized sweater, things she would never have thought Riley would wear. “I haven’t sat on this window in a long time.”
“I guess you were waiting for me to come back,” Maya said with a smile. “Ring power?”
“Ring power,” Riley answered before she started to cry.
“Riley I’m sorry,” Maya started but Riley held her hand up.
“My therapist tells me I need to learn to talk about things better,” Riley started before patting the seat next t to hers. “She tells me that I can’t hold on to things because it hurts.”
“Do you talk about me?”
“Sometimes,” she answered with a shrug, “We talk about my family, my friends, you and Lucas, actually Lucas started going with me a few months ago after I stopped him from getting into a fight.”
“Are you two… together?” Maya asked wondering if they had repaired their relationship without her knowing. She wasn’t jealous, she was more worried, because he wouldn’t have started down this spiral if they had all just stayed together and worked out their problems. But that was the past, and if Farkle was right they had to start at page one for the second time.
“We’re kind of unofficial again,” Riley said smiling at her. The same smile she had once had long ago. “We’re taking it slow, and talking like we used to, but for now it’s one step at a time.”
“That’s good,” Maya said smiling back. “I realized that what I had felt a long time ago wasn’t the same as what you two have.”
“I want to know something,” Riley asked her. “How did you find out?”
“I don’t know some,” she said, it was the same question she had been asking herself for days since she had woken up in the hospital. “Cosmic power made me see everything through your eyes and from there, I guess I realized that I missed a lot of things.”
“I’m sorry for not tell you,” Riley blurted out.
“I’m sorry for listening to what people were saying,” Maya said back realizing that if she hadn’t listened to her classmates so long ago none of this would have happened.
“Peer pressure is a bitch,” Riley said sighing.
“Since when do you curse?”
“Well, it’s still new,” she laughed. “Blame watching action movies with my dad and Lucas.”
“I feel like I missed out on a lot,” Maya said pulling her legs to her chin. “I was too hurt by everything to figure out that I had missed so much.”
“Yeah well it took a long time for me to get to where I am now, I mean I have the scars to prove it, but it took a lot of work.”
“You don’t cut yourself, anymore right?”
“I don’t,” she said before rubbing her hands up and down her arms. “I have the urge sometimes, especially when I miss my best friend, or when I feel like the world is watching me and judging me, but I have a support system in place. I start by texting Lucas, and if he’s not around I go to my mom, or I email my therapist.”
“My mom knew about all of this, and she didn’t tell me,” Maya said wondering where she had lost control over her own life.
“It wasn’t her story to tell, but in the end, you were always going to come back I knew that for sure.”
They spent the next two hours catching up with one another, filling in the gaps in their lost year and a half, Riley telling her about her time in Philly with her grandparents, about the family dinners with her parents and her brother and the work they had to do to get to where they were. She told Maya about the hardest times she had faced, and learning to live with the scars from her decision to cut herself. Maya told her about her clubs, and he classes, about how she had grown closer to her mother, and lived without her friends by making new ones.
“I missed you Riley,” she said after a while.
“I missed you too peaches, but I think we had to go through all of this in order to find a stronger part of ourselves.”
“So, what now?”
“Now we move forward, it’s a new beginning so we find a middle ground and keep moving until we’re comfortable.”
“Can I go with you and Lucas to therapy?”
“Sure, we’ll bring Farkle, Zay, and Smackle too, it’s time we finally find our happy middle, after a rocky beginning.”
“I hope so too.”