Riley Matthews knew she lived under a set of rules. She created the rules for herself the day she met Maya and began to put together how she fit in the world.
Rule number one: She put others first. If she violated this rule, she could no longer consider herself to be Riley Matthews.
Rule number two: She was a happy person.
Rule number three: Follow rules one and two.
Those were her rules, and Riley swore to follow them as well as she could. If she did, she would be the best friend ever, and she would deserve the name Riley Matthews, a name that signified she was Cory and Topanga’s daughter, and the nicest, happiest, most sunshine-y person she knew. Those were her rules.
The incidents began to pile up.
The father-daughter dance. Maya danced with Cory. Riley smiled. She would have other father-daughter dances, and Maya deserved it. She deserved a father figure, and Riley was glad she could help with that in some small part.
Then there was Shawn. Shawn never, ever took the time to get to know Riley, staying back, avoiding her, moving out of the state. But as soon as he met Maya, he spent time with her, was there for her, made time to get to know her and her family, grew very fond of her. That was good. Riley smiled for Maya. She deserved an actual father.
Riley stepped back for Maya time and time again. With Lucas, with Shawn, with her own mother and father. She lashed out at Auggie for ripping off Barry’s face because forgiving her friends and family for something they didn’t know she was upset about seemed pointless.
When Maya got called “fierce” and Riley got called “a goofball” by her mom, she laughed and agreed rather than demanding more respect – she was sure she didn’t deserve it.
When Maya showed up as Riley at school and her classmates didn’t care who “played” Riley, the incidents began to sting just a little bit more. They thought Maya was better at being Riley than Riley was.
When Riley thought having Malaria Day was better than Halloween, and she was laughed at by her parents, Farkle’s father, and the investor, she cried in her room all by herself.
When Farkle told Lucas and Maya that Riley still liked Lucas, Riley wanted to sink through the floor and die. Farkle didn’t mean to hurt her, but he succeeded anyway.
When Smackle announced that Riley had done a wonderful job helping her get with Farkle and become a “real girl”, but she no longer needed Riley and was leaving to go to a more prestigious school.
The morning Riley woke up to find nobody waiting at her bay window for her, walked to school alone, and saw Lucas and Maya deep in conversation by Lucas’s locker is the day she decided to break her rules and change her world.
“Riles!” Maya exclaimed cheerfully, sliding into her seat beside her best friend. “I have to talk to you about something.”
“Alright.” Riley turned slightly and met Maya’s eyes for a moment before glancing down. “What do you have to talk to me about?”
“So Lucas called me last night,” Maya said quietly, leaning over so Riley could hear her better, but the other classmates couldn’t. “And I went over to his place and we just talked and talked. Riles…” She hesitated. “You’re absolutely sure you’re okay with me dating Lucas?”
Riley’s head snapped up and she stared at Maya. “Um… yes, of course I’m sure,” she stammered. “If that makes you happy. I want you to be happy.” She smiled halfheartedly.
Maya’s eyes lit up and her smile grew. “Riles, peaches, we’re… he asked if I’d still take him, and of course I said yes, if it was okay with you. And… I guess…. I guess that means we’re in a relationship.”
Riley looked her over – her shining eyes, her bright face, the hope illuminating her. She looked beautiful. “Wonderful. That’s so awesome for you.”
Lucas, Farkle, and Zay walked through the door at that moment.
Maya’s eyes flickered over to her new boyfriend. “Hey,” she said quietly.
His smile was shy, small.
He used to smile at Riley that way.
“Hi,” Lucas said back, just as quietly.
Riley watched him silently, trying not to seem too curious, sure she was failing. Her eyes flicked to Farkle. He was studying her but looked away as soon as Riley glanced at him.
Zay broke the silence. “All right, everyone, let’s just sit down before Mr. Matthews comes in and relates all this to our lives.”
Lucas laughed and moved to his seat behind Maya.
Farkle placed his hand on Riley’s shoulder briefly as he passed her.
Riley closed her eyes and waited for class to start.
“Riles, coming with us to lunch?”
Maya was standing in the middle of the hallway, frowning at Riley while holding Lucas’s hand.
Riley stood still for a moment, surprised Maya had even noticed her inching the other way. “I really have to pee!” she said brightly. “I’ll be in there, though.”
Maya rolled her eyes. “Too much information, honey. We’ll see you in there.”
Riley nodded before going the opposite direction to the bathrooms. She opened the door and, going into one of the stalls, sat down for a long time, thinking.
She and Lucas had broken up almost three years before. She was seventeen now, and had been over him for a long time. Right? This was no big deal. It’s not like there had been any stupid triangle for years or anything. This was just Maya and Lucas, the inevitable.
She rested her chin on her hand, taking deep breaths, trying to calm down. After years and years of her own feelings being pushed aside in favor of her friends, she was used to this. Maya hadn’t even told Riley that she still liked Lucas, and Lucas hadn’t said anything to Riley. But they were together, just like they should have been years ago, back when Lucas chose Riley.
Maybe if Lucas had chosen Maya that day in the ski lodge, Riley and Lucas would be the ones getting together today. Or maybe Maya and Lucas would still be together and Riley would actually be over it, instead of lying to herself.
No, she didn’t like Lucas. But she loved all her friends. Maybe too much.
Riley put her backpack back on and headed for the library. That would be her lunch room for a while. Until she could see her friends without breaking one of her rules.
Riley avoided Maya for the rest of the day. It was easy; Maya had been more turned to art classes while Riley started taking advanced science and English classes. Their schedules only intersected during the morning.
When she went home, she looked at the bay window and bit her lip before slowly walking over to it and shutting it, turning the lock. If Maya wanted to talk to her, she could use the door.
She drew the curtain down and lay down on her bed, under the covers. Riley was ready to take care of herself for once.
Topanga knocked on the door and poked her head in. “Hi, honey,” she said slowly. “What’s going on? Maya’s here.” She paused. “Are you alright?”
Riley poked her head above her blanket. “I’m taking a day for myself,” she said quietly.
“Should I send Maya in?”
“Do whatever you want. I don’t care what you do.” Riley sighed, feeling the air rushing out of her lungs, relishing the feeling.
Topanga smiled slightly. “Okay, missy. I’ll let her in.”
Riley’s mind flashed back to when Topanga had made fun of her for trying to be Morotia and she pulled the covers over her head once again, waiting for Maya to inevitably jump on top of her.
A few moments later there was the sound of running footsteps and then a giant weight was pressing down on Riley’s chest. “Riles,” Maya whined. “You weren’t in lunch. You didn’t answer my texts. You didn’t wait for me after school. You locked your bay window. What’s going on?”
“I’m sick,” Riley said, her voice muffled by the blankets and Maya.
“Oh, yeah?” Maya asked. “What do you have? The foo foo plague?”
Riley was silent for a moment before moving the blankets off her face and looking up at Maya. “I wish you wouldn’t tease me about that. Or about anything. Not right now.”
Maya raised her eyebrows in surprise and stood up. “Okay, sorry. Geez. What’s going on?” Her face suddenly darkened. “Do you have a bully?”
“No, peaches,” Riley said quickly. “No, no. No. I just needed some time to myself.”
“Riles, you’ve never needed time to yourself,” Maya protested. “What’s going on?”
All the time Riley had been passed up in favor of Maya flashed through her head. She sighed. “I just need some time to myself,” she repeated, more quietly, more sure of herself. “It’ll turn out okay, I know it. But I would just love if I could be alone for a little bit.” She gave a small smile and lifted her hand. “Ring power?”
“Ring power,” Maya said, grasping Riley’s hand and holding on tightly. “Okay. I’ll see you Monday? Or… do you think you’ll be okay tomorrow or Sunday?”
Riley shrugged. “Monday at the latest.”
Maya nodded. “Monday at the latest.”
Riley watched her best friend walk out of her door instead of climb out the window and she cringed at the slight pain in her chest that came with the unusual exodus. She sighed again and pulled the blankets over her head, attempting to sleep.
All she wanted to do was sleep and sleep and sleep.
Riley woke up late Saturday morning and lay in her bed for a few minutes. Generally, she was excited to get up and spend time with her friends on any given Saturday, but today, all she wanted to do was lie in her bed all day and read books, watch television, and ignore the world.
She got hungry around eleven, however, and got up to go make herself some waffles before returning to her warm bed. She walked out of her bedroom and sheepishly smiled at her parents. “Hi,” she said quietly, reaching for the toaster. “Good morning.”
“Riley!” Topanga said in surprise. “I thought you had already left or something. It’s late.”
“Yeah,” Riley agreed. “I just felt like being lazy and by myself today. What are you two doing?”
“Well, Auggie is at Ava’s,” Cory said. “And we’ve just been sitting here, watching tv.”
Riley looked over at the tv and smiled. “I love Friends,” she said. “What episode are you on?”
“We’re mostly just analyzing which of your friends are which,” Cory said.
Topanga laughed. “It’s harder than you’d think. We’re on The One With The Truth About Lovers.”
“Oh?” Riley asked. She slid onto the couch next to her parents. “And which did you decide I am?”
“Well, we’re still discussing,” Cory said, “but we decided that maybe Farkle is Ross, you’re Rachel, Maya is Phoebe, Lucas is Joey, Zay is Chandler, and Isadora is Monica. Right?”
Topanga nodded. “But obviously it doesn’t match up completely.”
Riley was quiet for a moment. “Farkle isn’t Ross,” she said suddenly, indignant.
“That’s the one you’re gonna argue?” Cory asked, amazed.
“He isn’t. Farkle isn’t Ross,” she said again, stubborn.
“Then who is he?” Topanga asked.
“He’s…” Riley hesitated. Did her parents really think of her like Rachel? There was nothing wrong with Rachel, but Riley was more of a Chandler if she was anything… “Farkle isn’t Ross. He’s Farkle.”
Topanga raised her eyebrows and glanced at her husband. “Okay, sure.”
Riley’s waffles popped up in the toaster and she stood. “Okay, I’m going to eat and, uh, lie down again.” She smiled tightly and grabbed her waffles, heading straight for her room. She lay down on her bed and pulled up the first episode of Friends. “I’m definitely Chandler,” she mumbled to herself as she settled down for a day of binge-watching and analyzing Friends.
On Sunday, Riley got up at eight and began curling her hair and doing her makeup almost immediately. Her family was still asleep, but she was up and ready to go. She inspected herself in the mirror, pulled on her favorite jeans and a nice top, and grabbed her purse, leaving a note for her family.
She walked the three short blocks to her destination and went in the doors without hesitation. She slid into the first chair she saw and closed her eyes.
Riley hadn’t been to church in such a long time, but she found herself praying and asking God to show her how to handle her negative feelings towards her friends without breaking her rules. “All I want to do is go back to Smiley Riley,” she mumbled, gripping her hands together, squeezing her eyes shut. “I want my friends to love me for who I am. I want my parents to accept me.” She hesitated. “I want to be happy all the time.”
The worship band began playing another song she had never heard before, a long song with a message of peace and quiet and waiting on God.
Riley thought back to Lucas, how he waited on God.
She sat quiet for a long time, waiting for Him to talk to her. Praying. Reading the Bible in the pew ahead of her.
She may not have heard His voice that day, but she left the church feeling more at peace than she had in a long time.
“You were at church?” Cory asked, surprised to see his daughter coming home at eleven thirty in the morning. “Uh… How was it?”
Riley smiled and sat across the table from him. “Good. Worship was good, the sermon was nice. I got to just sit and think for a while, all alone.”
“What was the sermon about?” Cory asked.
Riley smiled. “Being the person God intended you to be.”
Cory smiled back. “Was that applicable to your own life?”
She shrugged. “Wouldn’t that be weird if it was?”
“I think sermons are supposed to apply to your life,” Cory pointed out. “Also, you didn’t really answer my question.” He paused and studied his daughter. “Riley, what’s going on with you?”
Riley shrugged again and glanced down. “I’m just going through some stuff.”
“Well, I’m here for you if you want to talk about it,” Cory said after a small silence. “I always want to support you. You know that, right?”
Riley thought back to all the times Cory had supported Maya, Farkle, even Lucas instead of her.
“I know, Dad.”
That night, there was a knock at her bay window. Riley turned and glanced out to see who it was. She sighed and unlatched the window, pushing it up. “Hey, Lucas. What’s going on?”
Lucas hesitated. “Can I come in?”
Riley moved to the side and sat.
Lucas sat next to her and was quiet for a moment. “I wanted to make sure this isolation wasn’t due to Maya or me,” he said.
She shrugged. “You mean because you’re in a relationship?”
“Oh, don’t worry about that,” Riley said, waving her hand around. “I don’t mind about that.”
“Really?” he asked dubiously. “Because, I mean, you’ve been fine and then suddenly, on the same day that I ask Maya out, you don’t come to lunch, you don’t talk to us in class, you don’t text any of us back, and none of us see you for a whole weekend?”
Riley sighed. “Honestly, I don’t mind that you and Maya are dating. It took me by surprise, but I don’t mind at all.”
“It took you by surprise?” Lucas asked. “Really?”
“Sure.” She smiled sadly. “Maya didn’t even tell me she still liked you. For all I knew, she was still waiting for Josh as she, what did she call it, experimented.”
“Wait, you didn’t even know she liked me?” Lucas raised his eyebrows. “She didn’t tell you?”
“I assume it’s because she thought it would make me feel bad or something, but yeah,” Riley said, shrugging. “She didn’t tell me. Which is fine! Her feelings are her feelings. But, like I said, it did take me by surprise.” She reached over and placed a hand on top of Lucas’s. “That doesn’t mean I don’t wish you guys every happiness, you know. Just, well… Surprised.”
“Have you two been drifting apart, and we just didn’t know it?”
“No.” Riley searched his face. “Why would you even think that?”
Lucas frowned. “I just thought she told you everything.”
Riley was quiet for a moment, thinking. “I thought she did, too.”
Riley got a text right before she fell asleep.
Farkle (1:32 am): you know we love you, right?
Riley looked at her phone and smiled.
Riley (1:33 am): I love you, Farkle.
Farkle (1:35 am): I love you, Riley.
Riley dragged herself to school the next day, her feet feeling heavier than ever before. She slid into her desk just as the bell rang and put her head in her hands.
Maya came in and stared at her. “Riles, hi,” she said, smiling. “Uh, what’cha wearing?”
Riley glanced down at her outfit. “Comfortable clothes.” She shrugged. “What are you wearing?”
“Uh, cute clothes. Clothes that Shawn helped me pick out.” Maya narrowed her eyes at Riley. “I don’t know that I’ve ever seen you in sweat pants outside of your room.”
Riley looked down at her grey sweatpants and oversized shirt that she took from her dad the year before. “I think I look just fine.”
“A messy bun?” Maya prodded, sitting in her seat next to Riley.
“I am perfectly content with who I am,” Riley exploded. “I’m sorry if you don’t think I look good this way, but I love how I look, and I love being who I am, and—”
“Riley,” Farkle said, coming into the room. “Looking good.” He grinned and flashed her a thumbs up.
“Thanks, Farkle,” Riley said, calming down immediately.
Lucas and Zay filed in after him. Lucas sent Maya a weird look but she just smiled at him in response.
Cory watched them all sit down before pointing at his board. “What does this say? Riley?”
Riley looked up slowly. “Uh, mental health.”
“That’s right,” Cory said. “What do we know about mental health?”
“That sometimes people don’t have optimal mental health,” Farkle said. “Sometimes, people’s mental health is good and sometimes it’s bad, and both of those things are alright if people can learn how to deal with their own mental health situation.”
“Mental health problems can be in the form of depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety, and others,” Lucas added on.
“Neurotypicals don’t get anything,” Zay added.
Everyone turned and looked at him.
Riley smiled slightly. “What?” she asked.
Zay shrugged. “Just sayin’.”
“Anyway,” Cory said after a moment, “we’re going to discuss depression today. Depression comes in many forms of symptoms.”
Riley sighed inwardly as Cory began to list exactly how Riley had been acting over the weekend before. He kept going on and on, drawing from her classmates, carefully talking to everyone about depression except for Riley.
Finally, Riley stood up and frowned. “I’m going to the bathroom.”
She walked out of class and left campus without another thought.
Riley lay on her bed and stared up at the ceiling, one thought running through her head over and over.
Maya didn’t go after her.
So Riley began keeping her window shut and locked. She walked to school alone, and texted lots of people, all an equal amount, with no bias towards any particular person. She ate lunch in the library for a while, always finding an excuse to get out of lunch with her friends, ignoring the confused, worried, and even hurt looks they gave her.
The distance gave her clarity on some of the situations she had been in the past few years. Everything with Lucas, and consequently, the triangle, became a little clearer – how she had pushed her own feelings aside for Maya, how Maya had done the same, and then how Maya had decided to go for it with Lucas anyway. Everything with Smackle, and how she helped her as best as she can, only for Smackle to begin focusing primarily on the boys in their group, inviting them into a triangle of her own, pushing aside a friendship with Riley that could have been really special. Everything with her parents, and how they prioritized her friends’ feelings over her own, time and time again.
As Riley sat in the library, eating her sandwich, she thought and thought and thought, delving deep into her memories, coming up with more instances that could be applied to her situation. The more she thought, the easier it was to think of different instances and the sadder she got.
“Should I be angry?” she asked Mrs. Weston, the librarian.
Mrs. Weston paused. “Do you feel angry?”
“No,” Riley said. “I…” She hesitated. “I mostly feel sad. Very sad.”
“Then feel sad. You should feel whatever you want to feel.” Mrs. Weston patted her shoulder. “I grabbed those books you requested.”
Riley reached out. “Adaptation! Yes! Thank you,” she said, grinning. She looked through the other books Mrs. Weston had gotten for her, beaming.
“Of course,” Mrs. Weston said. “I know of a lot of good novels with similar themes coming out recently, if you want the list.”
Riley snickered. “Coming out. Nice.”
Mrs. Weston winked and checked Riley’s books out for her and waved goodbye.
Riley sat down at a table, pulled out her sandwich, and began to read calmly.
Three weeks into this soul-searching, Riley was eating by herself in the library, reading, when she heard a loud “I found you!” behind her.
She turned in her seat and stared at Farkle. “Hi,” she said softly.
“Hey,” he said, sliding into the seat next to hers, like it was the most natural thing in the world. “What are you reading?”
“Uh… ‘Everything Leads To You’,” Riley said, still staring at him.
He picked up the book, examining the cover. “I’ve heard of this.”
“You have?” she demanded.
“Sure,” Farkle answered, easy-mannered, calm. “My cousin Ana told me she read it.” He raised his eyebrows. “Which means it’s definitely in a particular genre that I didn’t know you liked.”
Riley frowned. “In my effort to really discover who I am outside of everybody else,” she said, “I am attempting to get rid of any heteronormavity or white feminist bias that I may have. Which includes reading books such as this, which are, frankly, quite amazing.” She smiled slightly.
“So this has nothing to do with your life-long crush on Maya?” Farkle asked.
Riley whipped her head around to look at him. He was carefully looking at her reaction. “Farkle,” she hissed, glancing around to see if anyone was listening. “What are you talking about? I do not have a crush on Maya.”
He shrugged. “Sorry. I just assumed you did. I mean, if I went around acting the way you do with Maya with, uh, a girl, most people would assume we were in love.” He paused. “Sorry if I offended you, though.”
She frowned again. “No, I’m not offended. Just… a little surprised.”
“Yeah.” Farkle was still studying her. “Do you want some information that might help you know yourself better?”
Riley stared back. “Sure, Farkle. What is it?”
“We’ve protected you from a lot of things for so long,” he said. “I know, you learned about the Riley Protection Committee back in freshman year, but you didn’t learn about all the things we protected you from – just the things that didn’t affect you personally. Poverty, war, death – these things didn’t really affect you, not really, because you are blessed.”
“Okay. So what else did you protect me from?” Riley asked.
“You know a lot of good kids,” Farkle continued. “A lot of them. What you don’t really know is that there are a some bad kids at this school. And they mocked you, a lot. For Rileytown. They mocked you when you substituted as a cheerleader. They mocked you when you twirled in the halls because you were just so happy to see us all. But… They especially mocked you for your relationship with Maya.”
“In what way, Farkle?” Riley whispered. She blinked and a tear fell down her face.
“When you would hold her hands, call her Peaches, kiss her cheek… All the kids would laugh about it later, calling you gay and saying you and Maya were perfect for each other, the best gal pals in the world.” Farkle shrugged. “I just… started to think it was true. And when Maya told me she was bisexual, I was really sure. I just didn’t know if I could talk to you about it.”
“Maya’s… What?” Riley asked.
Mrs. Weston looked up from her desk. “Riley,” she said, motioning for her to be quiet, a smile on her face.
Riley nodded. “She’s bi?” she asked quietly.
Farkle’s eyes were wide. “Lucas told me you didn’t know she liked him. She’s really been keeping secrets from you, huh?”
Riley shrugged. “I guess. It’s not a big deal.”
He frowned. “Riley, it’s always been you and Maya. Romantic, platonic, whatever. You two are meant to be together. You should talk to her.”
“Maybe I don’t want to talk to her, Farkle.” Riley felt the words burst out of her, a rip on her heart. “Maybe I just want to have some space from her right now. Maybe I just want to figure out who I am without you guys all reminding me who you think I should be.”
“Do we do that?” Farkle asked. “Wait.” He paused. “Do I do that?”
“Farkle, you said I was the day. Not like the day, but actually the day. You expect me to be sunshine and rainbows and happiness all the time, and when I try to hide my true feelings, you force me to admit them so I can go back to having a perfect, happy life with no secrets.” Riley sighed. “So yes. You do that.”
He nodded. “Do you have anyone you’re talking to about all this?”
“Mrs. Weston.” Riley waved at the librarian for a second and smiled. “And I’ve been thinking about going to a therapist.”
“Good. But do you… do you have friends?”
She shook her head. “Friends just try to tell me who I should be, not who I am.”
“Riley, you can’t go to extremes, here,” Farkle said. “Maybe the friends who have hurt you, including me, shouldn’t be so close with you anymore. But you still need friends, friends who love you for who you are.”
Riley looked up at him and felt a pang in her heart when Farkle’s eyes filled up with water. “Farkle… You don’t hurt me.”
“You just said—”
“You have in the past, but you’ve also always stood up for me and cared for me and loved me for who I am.” Riley grabbed his hand. “And I love you. I’m just going through some stuff.”
He nodded. “Talk to some friends, Riley.”
“What if I talk to you?” Riley asked. “You can be my friend.”
“Always have been.” Farkle smiled. “Always will be.”
Riley’s phone began to fill with texts from Farkle.
She began to smile a little bit more.
“Riley,” Topanga said one morning. “Can we talk to you?”
Riley glanced up from her waffles and saw her parents and her brother looking back at her, jaws set. “Sure,” she said quietly. “What’s going on?”
“That’s what we want to know,” Topanga said.
“We’ve noticed you haven’t exactly been you recently,” Cory said.
“Yeah! I miss my sister,” Auggie said. “And I know that’s not super cool for me to say or anything but it’s true. I miss you. I miss hanging out with my happy, wonderful, big sister Riley.”
Riley smiled. “Auggie. Mom, Dad. I’m just figuring out who I am.”
“You know who you are,” Cory insisted. “You’re Riley.”
“Yeah, but what does that mean, Dad?” Riley asked, leaning forward, fixing her gaze on them, willing them to actually see her for once in her life. “What does that mean? Who am I? I don’t even know what it means to be me, not without my group of friends, following me around and telling me who I am.”
“But—” Topanga said.
“I just, I wanted to figure out where I fit in this world without you, and you, and you, and all my friends telling me first,” Riley said, pointing to her family. “I wanted to figure out who I was apart from that.”
“But Riley,” Cory said, “you can’t really know how you fit in the world unless you walk through life with your friends and family at your side. When you’re with them, that’s how you know who you truly are.”
“You’re wrong, Dad,” Riley said, her eyes widening. “When I’m with them, I’m who they want me to be. And maybe, maybe I’m a person who will be whoever someone else wants me to be. But I can’t know that for sure unless I separate myself from those who want me to be someone I’m not. Does that make sense?”
Topanga shook her head. “Can you explain it in a different way?”
Riley sighed. “I’m going to make different friends.” She looked at her mom. “I’m going to have a variety of people who all think of me in different ways. I’m going to start wearing different clothes. I’m going to try out a couple of clubs I’ve wanted to try out for a while, but haven’t thought they were really me. I’m going, I don’t know, talk to Uncle Eric all the time and paint my nails blue instead of purple and write a book and dye my hair and think of myself every once in a while. I’m going to be who I think I should be, instead of being who I think others want me to be.”
Topanga and Cory looked at each other.
Auggie stood up. “Riley, I completely support your decision.” He nodded briskly.
Riley smiled. “Auggie. Thank you.”
He came around the table and gave her a hug. “I love you, Riley. No matter what clothes you wear or what clubs you’re a part of or how mean you are to people, I will always love you.”
“Oh, Auggie, I don’t think I’m going to start being mean to people,” Riley laughed. “But thank you. I love you, too, no matter what.”
Auggie smiled and left, going into his room and shutting the door.
Riley watched him go with a slight smile on her face.
Topanga reached out and put her hand on Riley’s. “Honey,” she said, “did your father or I ever do anything to make this happen?”
Riley hesitated, her mind flashing through everything that had happened to make Riley break her rules. Her smile tightened and she drew her hand away. “Everyone did. But it’s not your fault. You didn’t know.”
“Okay, you have to tell us… Does this have anything to do with Lucas and Maya?” Cory asked.
“Sure,” Riley said, shrugging. “Of course. It has to do with everyone I was close to.” She glanced at her phone. “Oh, Farkle’s outside. I’m going to walk to school with him. Sorry. Can we talk about this another time?”
“Is this about your feelings for Lucas?”
“Is this about your feelings for Maya?”
Cory and Topanga stared at each other.
“What did you say?” Cory demanded. “I thought I was supposed to ask!”
“You weren’t going to ask the right question,” Topanga said. “You still think your little girl is attracted to Lucas.”
“But Maya?” Cory asked. “Maya and Riley?”
“Shawn and Cory?” Topanga fired back, her eyebrows raised.
“Huh.” Cory paused. “Good point.”
Riley rolled her eyes and picked up her bag from the couch. “Okay, well, that was a fun little thing, but no, it has nothing to do with either of them, although, Dad,” she smiled at her father, “you should know that I think girls are attractive.”
Cory’s mouth fell open and he looked like he was about to say something.
Topanga shot a glance at him.
His mouth closed.
“But I don’t want to keep my good friend Farkle waiting,” Riley continued. “So, if you’ll excuse me.” She picked up her bag and walked out.
Farkle was waiting for her at the bottom of her apartment building. He smiled when Riley walked out and held out his hand.
Riley hesitated before taking it carefully.
“You could have said no,” Farkle said.
“I know,” Riley said. She squeezed his hand. “Let’s go to school.”
He nodded and they began walking.
Zay was waiting for her a few days later at lunch.
Riley blinked in surprise to see him sitting at her regular table, holding a copy of “Carry On” and smiling at her. “Hey, Zay,” she said. “What’s up?”
“I was just reading this book, you know, because you were,” he said, as if this conversation was the most natural thing in the world. “And I got to thinking, wouldn’t it be fun to have a book club?”
“What?” Riley asked numbly. “A what?”
“A book club! You’ve been reading all this literature that has to do with diversity and LGBT matters and all that awesome shit.” Zay grinned.
Riley sat down slowly across from him. “Yeah, so? How do you even know that?”
“Hey, I pay attention.” Zay raised his eyebrows. “You don’t know what I know.”
“Okay,” she said, slightly confused. “So who would be in this book club?”
“You, me, anyone else who wants to join. Farkle, probably. Maybe Alison? She reads a lot of similar books.”
“Alison?” Riley asked, wonder lacing her tone. “Really?”
“So does Gina,” Zay added.
“Who is Gina?” Riley asked.
Zay grinned. “She’s an amazing girl. Wait until you meet her. She headed the most recent LGBT club here. It’s better than the previous one, which was pretty transphobic.”
“Wait, Zay, are you saying that you know all this stuff and you’ve been paying attention all this time and you’re…” Riley grinned. “You’re basically the best person ever and I just never noticed?”
“Sure, sugar,” Zay said, his smile growing. “You’ve just never noticed because you were too busy trying to be someone who you weren’t. I love the nails, by the way.”
Riley looked down at her blue nails and smiled. “Thank you.”
“So. Should we do the book club?” Zay asked. “Because honestly, I’ll probably do it without you, but I thought I would include you if you’re down for it.”
Riley laughed. “Sure, let’s do it.”
“Cool.” Zay whipped his phone out and began texting furiously. “I’ve already notified some people about this, and they’ve all read the book, so maybe we’ll have a good discussion.”
Riley wasn’t sure if she should laugh again or start crying, so she did the sensible thing and leaned over to kiss Zay’s cheek. “Thank you so much, Isaiah.”
He smiled at her. “Anything for you, Riley.”
“Would… Is Maya interested in reading the book, Zay?” Riley asked.
Zay was quiet for a moment. “I think if you want Maya to be there, you’re gonna have to talk to her yourself. I don’t think this is something I can do for you.”
Riley nodded. “Good to know.”
He nodded before picking up his phone again. “Hey, look at that, replies are a-poppin’! Alright, our first book club meeting is whenever you give the order. They’re all ready.”
Riley’s smile came back. “How about right now?”
“Perfect,” he said. “Just perfect.”
In the end, there were nine people – Riley, Zay, Farkle, Alison, Gina, Pat, Cynthia, Maria, and Charlie Gardner, of all people.
Riley had only known Alison as that girl who sat in the back of her father’s class and didn’t say a lot. She knew Zay and Farkle and Charlie, but the others she was unfamiliar with.
In the twenty minutes they had that day, Riley decided to get to know her club. “We’ll talk about the book another time,” she said. “First, tell me about you.”
She found out Alison was a lesbian, but she was closeted due to her family’s homophobia. She was kind and supportive and wanted to live in a small apartment with her girlfriend and watch “Jane the Virgin” in between working as a marketer for a small company.
Gina was small and funny and soft, with waves of hair falling over her shoulders and content dark eyes smiling at Riley the whole time they were talking. After hearing Gina talk enthusiastically about her interests, Riley made a note to research intersectional feminism that night when she got home.
Pat was Patrick some days, Patricia other days, and today he was beautiful and a little weird. His perspective was different from anything Riley had ever faced before, and she already loved him.
Cynthia and Maria were on the basketball team and had been best friends since middle school. They talked about each other like they were inseparable and were constantly smiling at each other.
Riley’s heart panged a little every time they smiled at each other.
Charlie Gardner stood up at one point.
Riley almost laughed at loud. It was just such a Charlie Gardner thing to do.
“I just want to say that I knew Riley back in middle school, but I don’t really feel like I knew her. I knew the part of her that she showed everybody, and I liked that part of her. But this part, the leading a book club in a library during lunch, with books about gay vampires and a clearly bisexual Simon Snow, this is a part of her I didn’t know existed. And I would love to see what else I don’t know about Riley.” He smiled at her. “I would love to learn who you are.”
Riley smiled at him. “Thanks, Charlie.”
He sat back down.
Riley smiled at everyone. “Okay, I think that’s everyone.”
“Who are you?” Cynthia asked.
Riley froze. “Who am I? Like, what are my interests and personality traits and everything?” She looked at Farkle. “Who am I?”
He shook his head. “That’s not up to me to say. That’s up to you.”
She hesitated before smiling at him. “Thank you, Farkle.” She stood. “I’m me. I’m Riley.”
Cynthia nodded. “Cool.”
The bell rang and Riley looked around at her group of misfits. “Zay?” she asked. “How often should we meet?”
“Hm. I think until we get into the groove of it, at least twice a week,” he mused. “Monday and Wednesday sound good?”
“Great. See you all in a couple of days!” Riley exclaimed. “Thank you for coming.”
Pat stopped next to her chair on his way out. “Hey, Riley, could I get your phone number?”
“Oh.” Riley smiled at him. “Sure, Pat. Of course.”
“Thanks!” he said after she gave him her number. “It’s always good to make new friends.”
Riley smiled at him as he left. She turned to Zay and Farkle, still sitting down. “Thanks, guys.”
“This wasn’t us.” Zay smiled. “Actually, it was sort of us. But you were reading so much that we decided to go for it. So really, this wouldn’t have been inspired without all your reading so that’s all you.”
Riley laughed and leaned over to give them hugs. “Thank you anyway. I love you both so much.”
“We love you, too, Riley,” Farkle said, hugging her back tightly. “And we’re rooting for you.”
“You are?” she asked, pulling back to look at their faces.
“Always,” they chorused.
She smiled and hugged them again.
Riley was surprised one day to find Shawn sitting on her couch, all alone in the apartment. “Hi, Shawn,” she said, closing the door and going to put her stuff in her room. She came back out and sat across from him. “What are you doing here?”
Shawn sighed and leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees, rubbing his hands together nervously. “Hi, Riley. I, um… I’m actually here to talk to you.”
“Okay.” Riley smiled and twisted the bracelets on her wrist, suddenly nervous. “What’s happening?”
“I…. This, this is hard to say, you being my best friend’s daughter and my daughter’s best friend, but…” Shawn sighed again. “Riley, you’re really hurting Maya with how you’ve been acting recently.”
“How I’ve been acting?” Riley asked. “You mean how I backed away from our friendship?”
“She says you barely talk to her anymore. You locked your window and took off your ring. She’s really hurt,” Shawn said. “And I gotta say, as her dad, it makes me upset with you that you hurt my little girl.”
Riley frowned. “I didn’t mean to hurt her. I actually explained a few weeks ago why I stepped back from our friendship. I mean, she joined my book club, and we still text and we still watch movies together. We’re just not joined at the hip, and I actually have other friends now.”
“Okay, but what was wrong with how it was before?” Shawn asked. “What was wrong with having a best friend who was there for you no matter what? Does this have to do with Lucas? Or is this something to do with Maya? Why haven’t you been talking to her very much for the past couple of months?”
“I…” Riley paused. “I, uh, I don’t… Look, Uncle Shawn, I haven’t seen you in a few months, so you don’t even know what happened to change mine and Maya’s relationship. Mine and everyone’s relationship, actually.”
“Please, tell me,” Shawn said, motioning for her to speak.
“Alright.” Riley settled back and frowned, thinking back to a few months before. “I made rules for myself the day I met Maya. I would put others above myself, and I would be a happy person. And I stuck to those rules for a long, long time, but the day I walked into school and saw Lucas and Maya holding hands, something snapped inside of me and I couldn’t follow my own rules anymore.”
“So you were jealous of Maya?” Shawn asked. “That’s what this is about?”
“No, I… I don’t like Lucas anymore.” Riley shook her head emphatically. “No, it doesn’t have to do with that. It has everything to do with people’s expectations of me, and how people hide things from me, and how I try so hard to be happy and carefree and to love everyone more than I love myself, and it just clicked that day. You see, for so long, people expected me to be okay with anything that happened, and would take me for granted or would just ignore me.” She gave Shawn a pointed look. “I didn’t know you at all; in fact, I thought you hated me for some reason, but as soon as you met Maya, you started coming around a lot.”
“Riley, that has nothing to do with you,” Shawn protested.
“I know. But in addition to everything else – Mom and Dad giving me a baby monitor instead of playing with me, being bullied, my best friend not noticing that I lied about who I liked, Maya not telling me everything anymore but expecting me to tell her everything still, my friends’ needs being placed above my own over and over, well… It all piled up and, boom, I exploded. Mt. Riley-uvius.” Riley smiled. “But I’m happier now. I have a group of friends that’s larger than six people, I’m not co-dependent on anyone, but I’m interdependent with a lot of people, my parents have actually begun to listen to me, I lead a club and belong to two more, I’m a cheerleader, I go to church… Life is good.”
Shawn was silent for a while.
“Look, I’m sorry if the truth is too hard to hear, but—”
“What do you mean, Maya stopped telling you everything?” Shawn asked. “When did that happen?”
“Oh, I guess about a year ago. I mean, she told Farkle she was b… Um, she told Farkle things that she didn’t tell me, and she never told me that she liked Lucas.” Riley was flustered after almost outing Maya to Shawn, but she desperately hoped she covered it up smoothly.
“Huh.” Shawn frowned. “I guess this isn’t all your fault, but… You do know I have to take my daughter’s side over yours, right?”
Riley nodded. “Of course.”
Shawn nodded. “Good.” He stood and awkwardly patted his pockets. “Well, I guess I should go.”
Riley smiled. “Thanks for coming, Uncle Shawn.”
He gave an awkward wave and walked out without another word.
Riley stared after him, her eyes glazed over, before slowly walking into her room. She changed into sweats and an oversized t-shirt that Zay had given her and threw her hair up into a messy bun. Sitting on her bed, more comfortable than she had been in a couple of days, she said a quick prayer, hoping her comfortable attire would make the following conversation more comfortable than it was sure to be.
She grabbed her phone and sent off a quick text.
Riley (4:39pm): my bay window is unlocked
Maya (4:43pm): is that an invitation?
Riley (4:44pm): it is if you want it to be
Maya rapped on the window a few minutes later.
Riley motioned for her to open it and patted the foot of her bed. “Come sit, Maya.”
Maya hesitated, but came to sit on Riley’s bed. “What’s going on, Riles?” she asked.
“I just had an interesting conversation with Shawn,” Riley said. “And I think you should know that he’ll probably try to talk to you about it, but ultimately, he will take whatever side you choose to fall on.” She paused. “Also, you should know that I almost outed you, and I know you haven’t even told me, so I’m sorry about that. I don’t think he realized what I meant, but if he asks you, that was me, and I’m so, so sorry.”
Maya frowned. “What do you mean you outed me?”
“I almost told him you were bi.” Riley frowned. “I’m sorry. I know you didn’t tell me.”
“How did you know?” Maya asked.
“Um… Farkle told me,” Riley admitted. “And my mom hinted at it, saying that she assumed you and I would get together, since we’re both, um… into women.”
Maya’s eyebrows shot up and she stared at Riley. “Are you?”
“Oh.” Maya was quiet. “Did you know this about yourself back in middle school?”
Riley shook her head. “I didn’t know very much about myself back in middle school, Maya. Not much at all. I didn’t know very much about myself until about three months ago. But now, now I know a lot about myself. And I’m sorry that my self-exploration included me mostly cutting you out of my life.”
“It’s okay, Riles,” Maya said. “I understand.”
“How?” Riley asked. “I’ve explained a little bit, but not much at all.”
“I talked to your dad,” Maya admitted. “He told me a lot about what you’ve said – all the times you’ve been overlooked for the sake of the rest of us, and how all of those times put together caused you a lot of pain.”
Riley nodded, biting her lip. “Yeah.”
“And I’m sorry about that,” Maya added. She stared at Riley’s bedspread – a new yellow one. “I guess we thought about your feelings in all the wrong contexts. We tried to keep you innocent and naïve and never considered that maybe we should let you grow up.”
Riley nodded again, her throat tight. “Yeah,” she repeated. “And now I really feel like I have.”
“Your new friends seem cool,” Maya whispered.
“Hey, my old friends are plenty cool by themselves,” Riley said. She smiled and reached over to take Maya’s hand. “I love you, Maya.”
“No more ring power, though?” Maya asked, her fingers instinctively curling around Riley’s, rubbing over Riley’s bare ring finger.
“Probably not. I mean, do you really think we could go back to the way we were before?” Riley asked. “But… we could lie on this bed and watch a movie.”
Maya smiled slowly. “Okay. I’d like that. But you have to loan me a pair of sweats.”
“Oh, I’ve got plenty. And I can give you a t-shirt, too. Would you like on Zay scented, Farkle scented, Pat scented, or Daniel scented?” Riley stood to grab a shirt.
“How do you have shirts from all those people?” Maya asked.
Riley shrugged. “Pat gave me her shirt when she started the day as a boy and ended it as a girl. Zay’s been playing basketball and grew out of a bunch of shirts due to the weight lifting.”
“He did look pretty muscle-y,” Maya said, grinning.
“Farkle just… gave me one. Daniel and I did a shirt swap one day because we were super bored and he wanted to wear a beautiful tank top.” Riley laughed. “I don’t know. We’re just… my friends give me their shirts, I guess. I still have a few of yours floating around.”
“I want a Farkle scented shirt, please!” Maya exclaimed. “Which are you wearing?”
“A Zay scented shirt,” Riley said. “Here’s your Farkle scented shirt. You’re lucky. His is the best.”
“Well, he does meticulously shower every single morning, and he uses rich people soap,” Maya said. She laughed and switched her shirts and pulled on sweatpants quickly. “What movie should we watch?”
“I just rented Princess Diaries. Want to watch that?”
“Of course!” Maya said. She smiled at Riley as Riley settled in beside her, movie and laptop at the ready. “Riles?”
“Yeah?” Riley asked, putting the DVD in.
“I missed you.”
Riley smiled at her. “I missed you.” She glanced at the bay window and back at Maya. “From now on, that stays unlocked. Except late at night, because thieves could come in.”
“Apparently, your dad was real pleased that you started locking the window,” Maya said. “Now he’s gonna be upset again.”
“I bet you love that,” Riley said.
Maya laughed and grabbed Riley’s hand. “You bet I do.”
They looked at each other and smiled.
“Still my extraordinary relationship,” Riley whispered.
“You, too,” Maya said.
Sometimes Riley paused and took stock of her life again.
She would wake up, usually to a text from somebody, asking her what book they were supposed to be reading, or just saying good morning. She would make breakfast or eat the breakfast her parents had made, chatting with them about their lives. They would ask her what was happening in her life, and she would ask them what they were doing that day.
Riley would go to school, say hi to her friends, sit next to Maya in history and English, and then next to Farkle in science and next to Alison in math and debate. She would eat lunch out in the cafeteria again, sometimes with her old friends, sometimes with her new friends, sometimes with all of them or a mix of them, and sometimes by herself. She still led her book club, but after school now. She was an active member of the LGBT+ club and was still the cheerleading substitute.
She worked hard, and she did well. She had weekly movie nights with her old friends, took time to spend with Auggie, went to all of Zay, Cynthia, and Maria’s basketball games, had fights with her parents when they wanted her to be who she used to be again.
It wasn’t an easy transition for her, or for anybody else, but they made it work.
Riley was happy; not because everybody expected her to be, but because she simply was.
It was a good life.
Riley smiled as she took Farkle’s hand and looped her arm across Maya’s shoulder.
Maya took Lucas’s hand on the other side, as Zay jumped on Lucas’s back.
“Where to next, oh fearless leader?” Zay asked Riley.
Riley smiled at her group of friends. “Topanga’s?” she suggested.
Farkle immediately began walking, tugging her and everyone else along with him. “C’mon, gang!” he shouted.
Maya laughed and pulled on Lucas’s hand. “Come on, slowpoke.”
“You try carrying Zay on your back,” Lucas groaned. He laughed when Zay kicked his leg and ambled after Maya.
Riley smiled at her friends. They had all changed in the past year. Change was inevitable. But they were still a family. That would never change. They were still her family.
She couldn’t be happier.