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Riley meets her soulmate on her sixteenth birthday.

Coincidentally, that’s also the day she gets her heart broken.

Maya Hart is as gorgeous as she is enigmatic, blonde hair curling perfectly down her back as she saunters around the corner. Her shoes click on the linoleum, and Riley isn’t surprised when the crowd of students in the hallway part for her to walk through.

Transferring in the middle of the year, Riley doesn’t quite understand her new school yet, so she doesn’t move fast enough.

The result is that she gets clipped in the shoulder by Maya’s bag, and when the girl herself turns around, Riley can see every student in the hallway holding their breath, waiting for the trainwreck.

“Whoops, my bad. Didn’t see you there.” Maya’s voice is quiet, and dripping with saccharine, but edged with a toughness that screams with warning. Riley instinctively takes a step back, even as the inside of her wrist starts to itch.

Maya smiles, as if satisfied with the fear she’s coaxed out of everyone, before turning back around and walking away.

Students melt back together as she passes, and then she’s gone, lost in the crowd.

Riley’s left wrist is still tingling, and she rubs absentmindedly at it as the bell rings.

Maybe it’s time for her to invest in longer sleeves.

 

&.

 

Riley passes Maya in the halls six more times before lunch rolls around. She’s smart enough to get out of the way now, but still thinks six is a little too much to be a coincidence.

It doesn’t help that, every single time, Maya is with a different entourage, all climbing over themselves to win her attention, but her gaze is always centered on the other side of the hall, where Riley is standing.

It also doesn’t help that she gets increasingly more beautiful each time they pass, golden hair seemingly becoming more perfect, blue eyes shining brighter, as if in the time they’re apart, Maya’s busy getting more blessings from Aphrodite.

The thing is, Riley isn’t stupid. She knows how high school works, has been on the bottom of the hierarchy long enough to know that, soulmates or not, when girls like Maya are interested in girls like her, nothing good can come from it.

Besides, she hasn’t so much as breathed in Maya’s direction, so while she may be Riley’s soulmate, there’s no guarantee that Riley is hers.

It figures, drawing the short straw even when the love of her life is concerned.

Needless to say, if she doesn’t want to be branded as the crazy new girl, she can’t say anything about being soulmates to Maya.

Besides, the other girl is never alone, telling her would also be telling at least six other people, and the whole school will undoubtedly find out within the hour.

Right now, what Riley needs is to quietly ride out the rest of the year. She can deal with the whole soulmates thing later.

 

&.

 

In a stroke of unbelievable luck, she finds herself being beckoned over to a table during lunch.

Already seated are two boys, both smiling, and a girl who, though not outwardly happy, doesn’t appear too concerned about Riley’s presence, which is a win in her book.

“Hey! I’m Zay, you’re the new girl right?”

“Uh, yeah! My name’s Riley, thanks so much for letting me sit here.”

“Don’t sweat it.” The other boy answers, gesturing for her to take a seat. “I’m Farkle, by the way. And this is Isadora.”

The other girl, Isadora, looks up long enough to flash Riley a polite smile, before returning to her stack of paper.

“She’s trying to do math, or something,” Zay says, face screwing up as if he can’t understand why someone would want to be doing math during their lunch hour, or at all, really. “Anyway! I heard you caused a little trouble in the hall this morning.”

“What? Oh, I accidentally bumped into Maya. That’s not trouble, is it?”

“Dude, you don’t want to get anywhere near that girl. She can, and will, mess you up.”

Riley subconsciously rubs at her wrist, covering it with her right hand. “I mean, she can’t be that bad? She sort of apologised.”

“Oh, trust me. Maya Hart is a force to be reckoned with.” Farkle chimes in, eyes wide. “She’s fine if you don’t bother her, I’d even go as far as to say she’s a perfectly nice girl, but if you cross her path you’re done for.”

Riley’s about to ask why everyone seems so afraid of her when, across the cafeteria, someone climbs up onto the table, guitar in hand.

“Oh, here we go again.” Zay is grinning, but in a sad sort of way. “Watch, this is going to end in disaster, but at least it’s entertaining.”

The guy on the table looks straight at Maya, where she's surrounded by her admirers, and gives her a wonky salute.

Then he starts singing, and Riley understands why Zay had predicted disaster.

It’s not that he’s bad, by any means, but the awkward atmosphere that settles around the room is heavy enough to kill.

He seems to realise that, too, and thirty seconds into the song, decides to fumble a haphazard ending before getting on one knee.

The cafeteria is pin-drop silent, watching with bated breath as he seems to collect himself.

“Maya, I love you. Be my girlfriend?”

Riley blinks, more surprised than anything else. And then the jealousy sets in.

She can’t say she’s ever felt an emotion as intense as this, searing through her ribs to settle around her heart, an uncomfortable snake of heat that’s pushing her to stand up and do something.

Riley swallows the impulse, concentrating on anchoring her feet to the ground.

Maya isn’t hers, not by any stretch of the imagination. If random boys want to profess their love and ask her out, then that’s none of her business.

Still, the sudden surge of adrenaline through her veins is hard to ignore, and Riley gasps.

Farkle and Zay swivel to look at her, and so does the rest of the cafeteria, still silent, still waiting for Maya’s response.

Riley has never wanted anything more than to sink into the ground right now.

Maya is looking right at her, blue eyes wide and emotionless, then she stands, maintaining eye contact the entire time, and makes her way over to the guy who’s still on the table.

Then, and only then, does she break her gaze away from Riley’s.

Her voice is soft, but it echoes through the room when she speaks, loud enough for everyone to hear.

“Oh, Jerry. Is it Jerry? Listen, that was really sweet, but I’ve told you boys a thousand times, you’re all out of luck.”

And here she looks up again, finding Riley’s eyes within a fraction of a second.

“I don’t play for your team.”

Maya leaves without another word, and a flurry of people hurry after her, probably hoping to catch more gossip.

On her part, Riley doesn’t think she’ll ever calm down again.

 

&.

 

“What was that back there?”

Zay is walking her to class, which Riley is infinitely grateful for. She doesn’t think she’ll be able to survive another hallway altercation with Maya so soon after the incident in the cafeteria.

“What was what?”

“You know! She was talking to Jerry but looking right at you.”

“Is his name really Jerry?”

Zay shrugs. “I don’t know.”

Truth be told, Riley doesn’t exactly know what happened either. Honestly, she’s still a little afraid of Maya.

“Does that happen very often?”

“What? Some guy on his knees, saying he loves her? Yeah, I’d say once a week.”

“But she ... I mean, she made it pretty clear?”

“That she’s gay? Yeah, that doesn’t stop any of them.”

“Have any, uh, girls tried?”

Zay laughs. “No, not at all.”

“Really? Why not?”

“Well, I can’t be too sure, but I think they all know better than to mess with Maya. If it’s either public humiliation or heartbreak, better not to try at all, right?”

“So it’s always just been boys, thinking they’ll be the one who gets through?”

“Pretty much.”

“What about their soulmarks?”

“Sweetie, this is high school. Half of these idiots will hook up with whoever’s willing no matter who their soulmates are.”

“Oh.” Riley looks down at her feet, watching as the fluorescent light glints off the plastic on her shoelaces.

Zay must sense her sudden change in mood, because he stops and puts a hand on her shoulder. “Hey, it’s not all bad. This soulmate business is pretty tight, you know? At least, mine is totally clutch.”

“Really?”

“Yeah.” Zay grins, shoving his sleeve up so that Riley can see the words curving around his bicep.

‘Hey, I’m Lucas! Wanna play?’

“He’s really cool, “ Zays says. “We’ve known each other since we were kids.”

“Oh, that’s really sweet,” Riley says, smiling at the thought of them growing up together, safe in the knowledge that they would always have each other. “Does he go to a different school?”

“Nah, he comes here. He’s just back in Texas right now because his granddad needs some help with the estate, but they’ve got him doing school out there so he doesn’t fall behind.”

Riley nods, not sure what else to say, but Zay starts walking again, so she follows.

“You’re going to get tangled up with Maya, aren’t you?”

“Hmm?”

“I can feel it, you want to figure her out.”

“Well, I wouldn’t say that.”

“Really? Then what is it?”

Riley hesitates, then pulls Zay into a little alcove right beside the Literature room, where her next class is.

“You cannot tell anyone, okay?”

“Okay.”

“Promise me.”

Zay crosses his heart solemnly. “I promise.”

Riley takes a deep breath, then lifts her left arm and flips it over so that Zay can see the words printed on the inside of her wrist.

“Your soulmark? Why would you- oh.” He looks up, eyes wide. “Oh, my god.”

“I guess I’m sort of hers, huh?” she asks, smiling wryly.

Zay looks back down at her wrist, then up again. “Be careful, okay? That girl’s a hurricane, and I don’t want you to drown.”

“I’ll try my best.”


&.

 

When the final bell rings, Riley wastes no time in grabbing her stuff and hightailing it out of there.

She’s just about hit her limit for today, of seeing Maya and not kissing her senseless.

Riley slams into the parking lot, jumping into her dad’s car and not looking out the window until he drives off and merges into traffic.

“You okay over there?” he asks, glancing over in concern.

“I’m fine,” Riley says, voice just a little too tight. Then she sighs, leaning back in her seat and closing her eyes. “I mean, I don’t know. I don’t want to talk about it right now, though.”

Her dad hums in consent, and true to his word, they stay silent all the way back to the apartment.

Riley stays in her room until dinner, gazing absentmindedly at her wrist, running her fingers over the words as if she has the power to change them.

‘Whoops, my bad. Didn’t see you there.’

Trust her to literally fall in love at first sight.

What a tragedy.

 

&.

 

During dinner, Riley picks at her tater tots for a full fifteen minutes without eating them before her mother can’t take it anymore.

“Alright, are you going to tell us what’s wrong? Did something happen?”

“No. I mean, yes? Maybe.” Riley puts her fork down, hiding her head in her hands for a moment before looking up.

Both her parents are wearing identical looks of concern, and she feels a little bad because they can’t really do anything to help, no matter how much they want to.

“I met a girl,” she says finally, with a shrug. “In fact, I met the girl.”

“The- oh! Your soulmate? That’s great!” Her dad’s goofy grin lasts for a solid two seconds before melting away. “Is ... is it great?”

Riley shrugs, looking back down at her plate. “I don’t know, probably not? She’s kind of unreachable at the moment.”

“Have you spoken to her at all?”

“No, well, she spoke to me.” Riley lifts her arm so that she can show her parents the words, as if they haven’t already seen it a million times. “I just don’t think telling her about it is a good idea. At least, not right now.”

“Well, you know we’re always here for you.”

“Yeah, I know.” Riley smiles then, a little hollow, but still genuine. “Thank you.”

Her dad stands then, goofy grin back on his face. “Now, who wants dessert?”

 

&.

 

Riley’s second day at her new school goes marginally better than the first, if only because she doesn’t bump into her soulmate in the hallway and then have to watch her walk away.

She’s largely been left alone, probably because no one wants to absorb her into their friendship group halfway through sophomore year.

Still, there seems to be an underlying tension dogging her heels, where conversations are hushed when she rounds corners and enters classrooms.

It’s probably just gossip, par for the course when there’s a new girl, but something in Riley’s gut is telling her that it’s more than that.

Of course, she doesn’t have much time to dwell on that before a shadow falls over her feet. Riley looks up into a smirking face, tries to take a step back and realises she can’t because she’s up against the fire hydrant.

“Uh-“

“New girl, are you really that interesting?”

That throws Riley off and she frowns, for the moment more puzzled than afraid. “Interesting?”

The boy leans even closer, teeth bared like a wild animal. Riley winces. “Fresh meat is usually free-for-all, why do you get protection?”

“I’m sorry, I don’t-“

Before she can express her confusion, another voice rings through the hall.

“Cole.”

The boy snaps around, smile gone. The look on his face now is as close to terror as Riley has ever seen.

“Maya! Hey! I was just, uh-“

“Messing with the new girl, like I said wasn’t allowed.”

“No! I was just, uh, trying to make a friend!”

Maya ignores him, instead just stepping closer, blue eyes unblinking. “Did I not make myself clear?”

Cole takes a breath, tension overflowing from his shoulders. “No! I mean, yes! I mean, you were very clear!”

“So.” Maya cocks a hip, bringing her hand up to inspect her nails, feigning a nonchalance that no one believes. There’s a very solid pause before she glances up, eyes sliding over to where Cole is standing. “Why are you still here?”

He pretty much takes off in a dead sprint, shoes skidding comically on the ground as his arm flies out to ricochet him around the corner and out of sight.

In the echoing silence that follows, Riley turns back to Maya, wondering if thanking her would be appropriate.

The decision is made for her when Maya simply glances her way, eyes lingering for a fraction of a second, before leaving as well. Her shoes click rhythmically on the tiles, and once again Riley is left with a pounding heart and more questions than she has the right to ask.

 

&.

 

“She’s driving me crazy.”

Zay peers sympathetically at her from across the table. “Have you ever considered just, I don’t know, telling her? Beats just sitting around and waiting for her to snap.”

“You know I can’t do that. Besides, have you ever seen her alone? I don’t think she’d appreciate me telling her in front of an audience, and she always has an audience.”

“Well, I guess you’re right, but I’m pretty sure she already knows.”

It’s a Saturday afternoon, so the diner is pretty full, packed with kids and adults alike. The smell of grease hanging in the air is so strong that Riley thinks, if she squints, she’ll be able to see it.

“I don’t even know if I’m her soulmate. She may be mine, but haven’t there been cases where it doesn’t match up?”

“Sweetie, I would bet my left leg that it matches up.”

Riley huffs, picking up her soda cup just so she has something to fiddle with. “Very soon,” she says, “I will go insane.”

Zay laughs, rolling his eyes. “I can’t believe Maya Hart is your soulmate, how are you going to handle her?”

“I’m not! It is very obvious that I’m not, can you please stop rubbing it in?”

“Okay, okay! Sorry, sometimes I forget that I got lucky.”

“Yeah! If anyone doesn't get to lecture me about this, it’s you.”

“Hey! Just because I met the love of my life when I was five, doesn't mean I can’t offer valid advice.” Zay puts his drink down, crossing his arms and leaning on the table. “Listen, I’ve known Maya since we were in middle school, and I’ve never personally seen her go out of her way for anything.”

“And this is supposed to help me, how?”

“What did I say about listening?”

“Right, sorry.”

“As I was saying, Maya doesn’t really care about most things. She’s super popular, but also really detached, people just love her too much to see that they know nothing about her.”

Riley opens her mouth to say something else, but sees the look Zay levels at her and wisely keeps quiet.

“Anyway, the fact that she told everyone to leave you alone, because she knew that they would give you trouble, that’s something. Think about it, you’ve never said a word to her, why would she be doing this?”

“Maybe she’s just bored.”

“Riley, you’re very sweet, and I love that about you, but you are the most useless lesbian I’ve ever met.”

“Actually, I haven’t decided on a label yet-”

“What I mean is, she’s clearly interested in you, but doesn’t know how to approach that, so she’s waiting for you to make the first move.”

“Well, too bad, because there is a less than zero percent chance that I’m going to make the first move.”

Zay sighs, throwing his hands up into the air. “Okay, look, there’s a party this weekend at Farkle’s house. He lives in that big penthouse suite downtown, so everyone’s going to be there. You should come."

“Why?”

“So you can kiss Maya in the dark or something, I don’t know! Release your inhibitions.”

“And feel the rain on my skin?”

Zay laughs, shaking his head in both disapproval and amusement. “No one else can do it for you,” he says, eyes widening in invitation. “Come on, what harm could it do?”

“Probably lots, but fine, I’ll go.”

“Yes! You won’t regret it, I promise.”

 

&.

 

When Riley steps into Farkle’s apartment, she’s momentarily stunned by how many people are in there. It looks more like the function room of a hotel than someone’s home, what with the heavy beat pulsating through the floor, and disco lights glancing off the ceiling.

Luckily, she finds Zay pretty quickly, that is to say he pulls her into the kitchen while she’s edging past, trying not to accidentally trip on anyone’s feet.

“Riley! Wow, you actually came.”

“Yeah? I said I would.”

“Hey, no complaints here, I’m just surprised you didn’t turn around and leave right away.”

“Oh, I was very tempted, believe me.”

Zay claps her on the shoulder, then hands her a drink. Riley peers suspiciously into the cup and he rolls his eyes.

“It’s just iced tea, I’m not about to give you alcohol at your first Farkle Party.”

Riley takes a tiny sip, then a larger one when she realizes that Zay is right and it is, indeed, just iced tea. “Farkle Party?”

“Oh, yeah, I forgot you’ve never been to one. Things can get a little wild in here, the place is really big so Farkle can’t keep an eye on everyone like he wants to.”

“Nothing too wild, right?”

“Nah, don’t worry, you’ll be fine.” Zay grins, lifting his own cup to tap against the rim of Riley’s. “Oh, by the way, Maya isn’t here yet.”

“Fashionably late?”

“More like she doesn’t really care when things start or end. Anyway, as far as everyone is concerned, the party starts when Maya arrives, and ends when she leaves.”

Riley doesn’t know whether to feel fascinated or terrified. “So, what? Do I just hang out by the door until she gets here? That feels creepy.”

“Yeah, it is, so don’t do that. Just go mingle, you’ll know when she arrives.”

“Mingle? With who?”

“I don’t know, go make more friends.”

“I can’t, everyone’s too scared to talk to me because they heard about what happened to Cole.”

“Oh, that was really funny, I’m glad that happened.”

“Zay!”

“Okay, okay! Sorry. Just hang in here, eat all of Farkle’s food. I’m going to go see if I can change the music.”

With a wink, Zay’s gone, swallowed by the crowd. Riley sighs, climbing up onto one of the kitchen stools and reaching for the jug of iced tea so she can give herself a refill.

It’s going to be a long night.

 

&.

 

As it turns out, Zay is absolutely right. Riley’s mindlessly scrolling through her Instagram when, all of a sudden, the atmosphere changes. It’s not that everything gets quieter, or people stop dancing, but something in the air is different, a hushed caution, as if the castle is holding its breath, knowing that its queen has come home.

Maya’s here.

Riley looks down into her empty cup, wondering why she thought coming here would be a good idea. Clearly, this is the last place in which she’d feel comfortable enough to confront Maya about being soulmates, maybe she should just go home.

She stands, and at the same moment a group of people come tumbling into the kitchen. There are at least five of them, and they make a beeline for the fridge, probably looking for something to drink.

In the illumination of the open refrigerator, Riley catches the flicker of a figure moving past the kitchen island, and when she looks up, Maya’s eyes are already on her.

She’s wearing tight jeans and a black top, hair thrown up into artfully messy curls. It’s a simple outfit, Maya is clearly dressed for comfort more than looks tonight, but even Riley’s quick glance feels almost sinful, like she’s looking at something she shouldn’t.

The electricity is definitely still there, starting in her wrists and sparking between her fingertips, an itch that she can’t scratch no matter how hard she tries. Riley can feel her heart in her chest, and the desperate rush of blood in her ears. The rumours are true, she definitely still wants to kiss Maya.

Someone bumps into her on their way out the door, and then spins around so fast that Riley worries about whiplash.

“Oh my god, I’m so sorry! Are you okay?”

“I’m fine, it’s okay.” Riley smiles at them, hoping to reassure. “Seriously, it’s fine.”

“I’m really sorry,” they say again, chancing a glance at Maya. Whatever they see, it’s not good, because Riley blinks and they’re gone.

Everyone else is huddled in the corner by the fridge, seemingly trying to decide what they want to drink. Maya is half-hidden in the mix, drifting in and out of Riley’s vision. In the half-light of the kitchen, occasionally sliced with the reds and blues of the disco ball, she seems almost unreal, the shadow of a mirage, too good to be true.

Someone asks her a question, and she turns to give an answer. The way she moves is slow, almost lazy, and the grin she offers her friends is a crooked, twisted thing, crackling across her features. But when she glances up again, Riley can see that her blue eyes are clear and focused, striking even in the dim light.

Maya is pretending, and all her friends are none the wiser.

 

&.

 

As expected, Riley chickens out of confronting Maya, instead just watching as she leaves the kitchen, sandwiched neatly between all her friends.

Three songs later, Riley stands and throws her cup away, decides that if she stays in this apartment any longer she’s going to lose her mind.

Farkle’s penthouse suite has a direct link to the roof, and the door isn’t locked, so Riley pulls herself up three flights of stairs and emerges into the nighttime air. The moon is full tonight, icing the rooftop to a silver sheen.

Riley walks over to sit on the edge, dangling her legs over the side of the building. There’s a metal railing spanning its perimeter, so she’s safe, and she’s never been afraid of heights anyway.

She’s up there for a year, or maybe twenty minutes, Riley doesn’t know. The world is silent around her, and it’s a refreshing peace to have after being thrown into the deep end of high school. Zay had told her not to drown, but Riley thinks she can only tread water for so long.

The stillness of night is interrupted suddenly when the door to the roof creaks open. Riley turns, prepared to get told off for coming up here, but stops short when she sees who it is.

For some reason, probably because God hates her, Maya is standing in the one patch of clear, unobstructed moonlight that’s available on the roof, and Riley is trying her hardest not to start hyperventilating.

She opens her mouth, closes it, decides to stand up and step away from the edge of the roof because she can’t trust herself to be there right now.

All the while, Maya stays silent, and Riley is trying her best to mentally cherry-pick the best thing to say out of the billion sentences that are running through her mind right now.

In the end, she just sighs. After everything, she thinks she’s tired of running away, she thinks they both are, which is why Maya is here right now, defenceless and alone. Because her power has always come from having a crowd. That’s what high school is, a colosseum battle of clout and prestige, whoever is ruthless enough to be the wolf before they have to become the sheep.

Riley grins then, smile like an open wound across her face, broken and smarting. It’s time for her to stop running. “I’m in love with you, and it is killing me.”

And for once, Maya’s emotionless mask breaks. She smiles too, the same harrowing grin, an essay in calamity written across her face. “I know,” she says. “I’m sorry.”

“I’m yours.” Riley lifts her arm, pushing her sleeve up so that Maya can see her wrist. “Are you mine?”

The smile never leaving her face, Maya grabs her collar and pulls it aside, far enough for Riley to see the words inked across her clavicle.

‘I’m in love with you, and it is killing me.’

What a pair of disasters they are.

“You knew, didn’t you? The whole time?”

“Yeah.”

“Why didn’t you say anything?”

Maya stops smiling then, the mask sliding back into place. Except now Riley can see right through it, the emotions flashing past. Guilt, and remorse, but also a sorrow that aches bone-deep. All this time, they’ve only been hurting each other.

“Haven’t you heard? I’m a hurricane, everything I touch turns to dust.”

“And? What? You were afraid that I would drown? Be destroyed?”

“I was afraid that I would be the one doing the destroying.”

“So you decided to stay away.”

“I wanted to keep you safe.” Maya looks up, eyes star-bright. “And keeping my distance was the only way I knew how.”

“Telling everyone not to bother me?”

“That was an afterthought, I didn’t realize people were going to give you trouble until I heard them talking about it.”

For a moment, clouds roll past the moon, and Maya is cast in shadow, the suggestion of a girl. Riley crosses the roof to stand right in front of her, watching as Maya’s eyes follow the movement.

“We’re fated, you and I, did you think you could destroy something the universe meant to be?”

“That is exactly what I’m afraid of.” Maya pulls back her collar again, exposing her soulmark. “Loving me was only ever going to end in grief.”

“And yet, I still do.” Riley holds her wrist up, tapping at the words. “Here’s the proof.”

Maya looks at her, then sighs. “I shouldn’t have come up here.”

“But you did. Why?”

“I couldn’t find you downstairs and wanted to make sure you were okay.”

“That sounds a lot like love.”

“Because it is!” Maya throws her arms up, inadvertently taking a step back. Riley wants to close the distance again, but doesn’t know if that will be a good idea. “I love you! That’s the problem!”

“Love will never be a problem, especially not yours. Not for me.”

“Riley-”

“Love doesn’t hurt, Maya, it heals. It creates. Your love could never destroy me, but it might keep me alive.”

Maya doesn’t respond, and Riley takes that as her cue to step closer again.

“Every storm needs a home, let me be yours.”

“I’m scared,” Maya says, voice soft with trepidation.

“Of what?”

“Ruining this. I have only ever known devastation.”

And that, Riley thinks, is what she’s been waiting for.

“You don’t know me yet.”

Maya blinks, then she smiles, and this time it is honey-sweet, a lesson in love across her lips.

Riley smiles back, and it feels like there is a happiness between her teeth, the antithesis of catastrophe.

“I never answered your question.”

“Which one?”

“You asked if I was yours.”

“So I did. What do you think?”

“I think, in many ways, I always have been.”

The clouds blow past, and suddenly they are bathed in moonlight again. Riley looks down at her hands, the destinies on her palms, knows that she is walking into a storm, but knows, too, that she will be safe inside of it.

“I’ll keep us away from disaster,” she says, because it is something that Maya needs to hear. “I promise.”

 

&.

 

Three weeks after her sixteenth birthday, Riley arrives at her locker to see Maya already there, waiting for her.

“Good morning,” she says, and hands over the cup of iced coffee she’s holding. “How are you?”

“I’m good.” Riley takes the offered drink, smiling her thanks.

Recently, she’s come to realize that Maya’s love is not like her own. Riley loves loud and bold, in bright colours and neon lights, like glaciers and waterfalls, fearless and unafraid. She would shout it from the rooftops, let the wind carry her affection through the trees.

Maya is different. She has lightning in her eyes, and thunder in her lungs, but her love is quiet and unassuming, a soft palette of devotion. It is sunsets on rainy evenings, and fireflies on summer nights, and iced coffee on Monday mornings.

Riley would follow her to the end of the world, the love of her life, her hurricane girl.

No one could love her better.

“Would you like me to walk you to class?”

Riley doesn’t respond, not verbally, but she takes Maya’s hand, and the smile on her face is answer enough.