Riley Matthews was exactly like her father in too many ways to count. It was also only fitting that her best friend Maya was a carbon copy of Shawn Hunter, also Cory’s best friend. And while Stuart Minkus hadn’t remained in Cory and Shawn’s lives for very long, his son Farkle was determined to be much more than a supporting role in the girls’ lives. That meant that there was only one more role to fill in this little déjà vu game they called life. Luckily for him though, Topanga had recognized a kindred spirit in Lucas Friar from the first moment she saw how he looked at her daughter. Like called to like. And sooner or later, she knew he would seek her out for advice.
She had forgotten, however, to factor in the stubbornness of teenage boys–and girls, since she suspected that Riley was equally to blame somehow. Still, her now fifteen year old daughter was too busy complaining to Maya, while Topanga pretended to organize the register as she considered the woefully pitiful and stubbornly defiant boy–young man–sitting at the corner table of her cafe, glaring into a coffee cup.
“You’ll never truly understand, so quit driving yourself crazy trying to decipher her logic.”
Lucas looked up as she set a blueberry muffin down in front of him before returning to the counter to grab the drinks.
“To be honest, I was expecting Mr. Matthews.”
He had been aware of her since he had entered the cafe, but hadn’t really expected her to come over. Where Mrs. Matthews went, her husband usually followed close behind, figuratively and literally.
She paused in the act of setting a cup of chai–sweetened with milk and just a hint of vanilla, just the way he liked it–to fix Lucas with her best mom look. His green eyes widened a bit, but he held her gaze with a hint of challenge in his own as she settled onto the bar stool across from him. “Why were you expecting Cory?”
“Because he has a sixth sense for teaching moments. It’s like a natural instinct–he just can’t help himself, even if the father and the teacher are arguing the whole time.” Lucas instantly winced as the words came tumbling out, snarky and a bit frustrated. “I’m sorry–I didn’t–”
Topanga laughed in delight at the candidly honest and blunt answer. “No, you’re right. Cory has a way of blurring the lines between home and work, and especially father and teacher. But then, he grew up next door to his mentor, so he can’t help it.” She said fondly, if a bit exasperatedly.
“You mean Mr. Feeny, right?” Lucas said, a bit hesitantly. Of all the people in Riley’s family, her mom had always been the hardest for him to get a read on.
He had come to the cafe early to think and be alone. Since it was Sunday morning, January 2nd, he had assumed that Riley and Maya were sleeping in, as was their habit, and hadn’t expected Riley’s mother to be working either.
“Katy requested Sundays off so that she could have Sunday brunch with her daughter.” Topanga said quietly, following his thoughts in her uncanny way. “It was something that she came up with on her own a few weeks ago, but it is quickly becoming a mother-daughter tradition, which they both need.” Her smile invited him to share the joke as she added, “And contrary to popular opinion, I do know how to bus tables and serve customers.”
He returned her grin, having heard the stories of her first attempt at working in her own cafe, which had started with Maya’s father showing up, and ended with Katy dumping his drink over his head and shoving a cake in his face.
“Like mother, like daughter,” he muttered, feeling a bit of kindred empathy towards the hapless man. On his only date with Maya, if he could even call it that, it had also ended with her dumping her smoothie and his smoothie over his head.
Topanga raised her brows, but pretended to have not heard, instead returning to his earlier question. “Mr. Feeny was Cory’s neighbor, and also our teacher from elementary, all the way up through high school and through college.” She cocked her head. “He was also our high school principal, and ended up marrying the dean of our college.”
Lucas nearly choked on his drink.
“Relax.” She laughed. “Cory is only qualified and certified for K-12. He’d have to go back and do more studying and take more exams to even begin to be considered for college level teaching. Not even the superintendent of schools can make that happen.”
He nodded, but remained quiet, determined to follow her lead, since she was the one who had sought him out. She smirked, recognizing the ploy.
“You know, I’m good at what I do for a reason. We can sit here staring at each other and going around in circles, or we can actually talk.” She said bluntly.
He widened his eyes, all innocence. “My mama taught me to always let ladies go first.”
She chuckled. “That’s not all she taught you. Amelia Friar is a sharp lady. I’m glad she’s a co-worker and not an opponent.” He smiled proudly, but still remained quiet. She rolled her eyes, still amused and liking him more and more. “If you just sit here, you’re really just going to make yourself dizzy trying to understand her logic. It’s a Matthews thing.”
“Cory and Riley have two of the biggest hearts in the world, and that means they often lead with them instead of their heads.” She offered a commiserating smile. “That means that the things that you or I may take affront to don’t even register with them, but when it comes to matters of the heart, they take things very personal.”
“I just don’t get it!” He burst out. “How does she go from saying she likes me, to wanting some kind of platonic–whatever–relationship, to Maya liking me, to now both of them do, but they won’t choose! And I hate it, because they’re both my friends and I don’t want anyone to get hurt and why are girls so freaking complicated?!?”
Topanga sat and listened sympathetically until he ran out of words and slumped, exhausted.
“Not really.” He grumbled.
“Well buckle up, buttercup, because this is where I go full blown mom-mode and offer some friendly, if blunt advice. You ready?”
He sighed. “This is gonna be like one of Mr. Matthews’ teaching moments, isn’t it?”
Topanga impulsively reached out and brushed a lock of hair out of his eyes, before lightly tapping her fingers under his chin to get him to raise his head to look at her. “Yes, but there’s no conflict between mom and teacher here. They’re one and the same. I’m speaking as Riley’s mother, but also as someone who has been in your situation.”
He looked skeptical, but sat up, showing that he was ready to listen, if reluctantly.
“I came here to talk to you because I know what it’s like to be stuck between a Cory personality and a Shawn personality.” She held out her hands, waving them up and down like a weight balance. “Sweet, stubbornly idealistic and a romantic through and through, versus a cynical rebel who is just a bit battered and bruised, enough to make you want to heal them, but not actually broken.” She clarified. “If it were just about the physical, Shawn would’ve won. We were both confident, insanely competitive people as teens, and we enjoyed flirting and poking at each other. There were sparks. Not enough to actually go beyond a first kiss, but the attraction was there. Cory took a long time to come into himself, physically anyway. Emotionally, he was a 40 year old man in a 14 year old’s body. Cynical and sarcastic, but occasionally he did or said something so sweet it just took your breath away.”
That surprised a laugh out of him, but he quickly sobered.
“So what made you chose him over Shawn?”
“Shawn wanted me. Cory needed me.” She answered quietly. “He looked–still looks–at me with stars in his eyes. The same way that my daughter looks at you. And you look at her.”
That caught his attention, and he looked at her, startled.
“It’s an incredible honor and a heavy responsibility, being the source and focus of such absolute trust and love.” She said gently.
Lucas had a history–Cory had told her briefly of his decisions and actions that had gotten him suspended from his old school in Texas. But since his transfer to New York–and meeting Riley–he had completely turned things around. Honor roll, student athlete, class president for two years running. The problem was, to Riley, he was literally a Prince Charming come to life–white horse and all. And he had never had anyone look at him with stars in her eyes like she did–and like Cory still did with Topanga. It was a heady feeling, knowing someone thought you hung the moon and stars, but it was also a heavy responsibility. And when their image of you became tarnished and illusions shattered, those stars dimmed.
Lucas was realizing for the first time that he didn’t want to see the light go out. Riley hadn’t yet realized that she was the source of that light in his eyes, only that there was cold where there was once warmth.
“That being said, here’s some advice from both the woman and the mom. Lucas, I already gave you my blessing, but please don’t discount yourself in all of this. Relationships are a give and take, which means often putting your partner’s feelings and needs in front of your own. Riley needs to learn that doesn’t apply only to Maya. Speaking as a mother and a woman, I don’t think she’s ready for you yet.”
He was startled by her bluntness, but once he got past the shock, her words actually sunk in.
“My advice is to develop and strengthen your friendship. Get to know each other’s minds first. Spend time one on one. And also, date other people.”
He sputtered, nearly choking again on his now cold tea.
“Yes, I’m serious. You can’t survive as a partnership while wondering at missed opportunities. If it is meant to be, you’ll find your way back to each other. In the meantime, both you and Riley–and Maya–all have a lot of growing up to do individually before you try to merge your identities and personalities to become a pair. And, if I’m being blunt, it will help alleviate Riley’s fears. If you two can remain friends while being in other relationships, then what’s to stop you from staying friends if you ever break up?” Topanga pointed out logically. “And before you point out the parallels between you and Riley and me and Cory, let me just say that me and Cory are an anomaly. We could have a television show based on our lives, and it would seem more like fiction than reality. We also had incredibly understanding parents and adults in our lives who moved mountains so that we could be together. You and Riley may have that eventually,” she raised her brows at him. “But right now, she’s a pampered teenage girl who relies on three things: her relationships with her best friends and her family, and her incessant need to micromanage every part of her life, so that she doesn’t encounter any surprises that may knock her off of her idealistic pedestal of sunshine and roses.”
“And purple cats.” Lucas added with a small grin.
Topanga returned the grin, amused; her daughter’s obsession with all things purple and feline was a well-known and indulged quirk among both friends and strangers.
“That is the limit of her world right now. Now, while she is not unaware of the darkness of the world, she also chooses to remain deliberately obtuse and blind to those issues. As a mother, I would love for her to stay that innocent forever, but she will have to grow up some day. However, that day is not going to be today…or any time soon.” She sighed, shaking her head. “So here’s my final piece of advice, Lucas. Take a step back from both girls for a while. Be their friends. But don’t lose the rest of your life, either. Spend time with your mom, and your team mates. And next year, when you’re all in high school? Try out for more sports. Join clubs. Expand your social circle. Sometimes, you don’t know what you’ve got—until it’s gone.”
She stood up, taking their dishes with her, and left him once more to his thoughts.