Lucas could hear Riley muttering as she stomped her way up the last few stairs, and smiled grimly. She had likely worked herself into a defensive snit, and planned to start yelling as soon as she saw him.
The best defense is a good offense, so he moved first, catching her as she stepped through the access door and maneuvering her so that her back met the wall with a surprised ‘oomph.’ He kept going, crowding her with his body as her hands went instinctively to his shoulders.
He swallowed the sound of his name on her lips and pushed for more, nibbling and licking as her taste filled his head and senses. She tasted like raspberries and chocolate, a heady mixture enhanced by her favorite lip gloss and holiday drink. It wasn’t near enough, so he pushed a bit more, snaking his tongue out to stroke across her lips. She drew back slightly in surprise, and he immediately gentled his approach, but still coaxing her to respond. There was a reason that one of her favorite animals was a cat; she had enough curiosity for nine of them, and she was a fast learner too.
It took all of his willpower and control to draw away, easing back just enough to see her face. Riley’s eyes had fluttered shut when he had first kissed her. Now he watched, fascinated, as her thick dark eyelashes fluttered and lifted, revealing eyes gone dark and dreamy. Lucas let himself experience a moment of pure male satisfaction before he started silently counting.
“What was that for?” She sputtered, pushing him away and moving out of arm’s reach before turning to glare. Her heart was beating too fast; she felt jittery and off balance.
“If you have to ask, then I did something wrong.” He countered lightly.
“No, definitely nothing wrong there.” she muttered not quite under her breath, making him grin. She huffed. “I just meant–”
“I know, Riley.” He interrupted, exasperated fondness filling his voice. “But if you honestly still believe that I would kiss you while even potentially having feeling for your best friend, then you don’t know me, and I don’t know you.”
She met his gaze then, her own dark and searching in a way that was unique to her alone. Lucas had experienced that ‘look’ only twice since she had fallen into his lap on the subway. The first time was when Zay had reappeared in his life–and their history class–to stir up more trouble and unwanted memories and secrets. When the other boy had walked into the room, Lucas was originally going to brush off his ties to Zay–at least until he get his outspoken friend alone to enlighten him on a few things and how they worked around here.
But Riley’s reaction to even the suggestion that he might not be the nice, perfect guy she believed he was had spurred him to tell part of the truth, in the hopes of bringing the light back. She had always looked at him with stars in her eyes, so to see the light go out had made his heart drop. He had strove to earn that light back, to be worthy of it again, and had mostly succeeded–until now.
Now, as she looked at him, her eyes were dark and flat, wary. Unreadable.
“Why are you here, Lucas?” She said stiffly.
“Because even though you chose to back off–and lie–about your feelings towards me in order to ‘always be able to talk to me’, there’s been nothing but radio silence since we got back to school. Friends talk and real friends listen, Riley. And right now, it’s time for you to truly hear me.”
She went completely still for a long moment, closing her eyes. When she opened them, they were resigned and sad. “Okay Lucas.” She said quietly, moving to sit on the bench. “I’m listening.”
He moved to sit next to her, careful to keep himself between her and the exit. “Why did you lie to me? And Maya is no longer a factor, barrier, or excuse between us Riley, so let’s just leave her out completely. This is between you and me.”
“There isn’t a ‘you and me’ though.”
“And whose fault is that?” he snapped, frustrated beyond belief. “You have been doing everything you can to shove obstacles between us for nearly the past six months now. Charlie Gardner. Maya. Even Farkle! Come on, Riley,” he added irritably when she looked confused. “I know it’s not a coincidence that last semester you and I were lab partners, and since we got back from Texas, you’ve been paired off with Farkle and I got stuck with Maya.”
The holidays were over, and it was on to the second half of the year which meant mid-terms in history, science, and English. Lucas and Riley had a friendly competition over grades, and both were tied for second in their class for overall ranking. Science was the one class that was neutral territory. Riley, obviously, had the edge in history, while Harper usually set the girls up for opposite (usually wrong) answers, leaving Lucas or Farkle to speak up with the correct response in English.
The only problem with science was the fact that Lucas had lost at rock/paper/scissors with Riley, and was therefore forced to endure having Maya as a partner. The blonde was already grumpy that she couldn’t take art as yet another elective, but instead had to suffer through ballet with Zay. She had even less interest and patience for math and sciences, and loudly and repeatedly made that known to everyone in the vicinity. Every. Single. Day.
“We need to talk.”
Lucas closed his locker and turned to see Riley standing there. His welcoming smile quickly dimmed as he noticed her expression.
“Last time you said that, you lied to my face, and then proceeded to needlessly rearrange all of our lives.” He said coolly.
She winced. “Okay yeah, I deserved that, but this isn’t about us. It’s about Maya.”
He rolled his eyes, slinging his bag over his shoulder. “As always. You know Riley, some day we’re going to have a conversation again that has nothing whatsoever to do with Maya.” He relented a bit at her woebegone expression. “But what are you solving for her this time?’
She bit her lip at his bitter resigned tone, but forged ahead. “It’s about science. We’ve got midterms coming up, and that usually means a project or experiment.” She began. “Zay is paired off with Sarah, for his own safety. I refuse to inflict Maya on the rest of the class. I know we agreed to switch partners after the holidays, but–”
“Oh no.” Lucas held up his hands. “Riley, no. Make Farkle do it. She falls asleep every day, so he’ll have the freedom to work by himself. He likes that. Then you and I can be partners.”
She hesitated, still nibbling on her bottom lip. He took a step closer, playing on a hunch–and his instincts. “We haven’t been partners on an assignment for any class since the library assignment in seventh grade. It might be fun.” He murmured, watching her eyelashes flutter slightly and her eyes darken slightly as she looked up at him. She swayed forward slightly before catching herself, stumbling back a few steps.
“Of course, I would love to work with you Lucas, it’s just that, um, Farkle already made me promise to be his partner, and since you and Maya have been pairing off so well together in other things, I just wanted to make sure you were okay with staying as her science partner too.” She said too quickly, all bluster and bravado.
She was lying again through her pretty white teeth, but he let this one slide. For now.
The warning bell rang, letting her escape without getting an actual verbal confirmation of her assumptions. The girls had study hall, while he and Farkle had Trig with Mr. Clarke. Which meant that he had an hour to convince his best friend of the benefits of having Maya over Riley as a partner…for science and otherwise.
Luckily for Lucas, Farkle was delighted at the idea of having a silent partner. Somehow neither boy managed to mention the switch to Riley–until science class. Maya was at the far table, with Riley to her left, as per usual. Farkle, however, danced right past Riley to plop into the seat next to Maya.
“Hey partner.” Lucas said cheerfully, setting his books down.
“Hi–” She frowned. “What’s going on? I thought you were with Maya.”
“You assumed that I would just blindly agree.” he corrected. “But I talked to Farkle, and he’s fine with the switch. Look, he even brought Maya a pillow with a drool cup built in.” They both glanced at the blonde, already passed out.
“Riley, Farkle doesn’t have to work at this to get a good grade. I do.” He said quietly. “Which means that I need an active partner who also wants to do well, and is willing to work with me. “ He met her gaze, his own challenging. They both knew he was referring to much more than just their being lab partners. Their teacher came in before she could reply, loudly urging everyone to retrieve their equipment from the supply closet, and confirming over muffled groans that whomever they were sitting by was their new partner for the duration of the quarter; no exceptions or exchanges.
She managed a bright smile, but it didn’t reach her eyes. “I guess we’re stuck with each other then.” She escaped immediately after that to the supply closet, and the rest of the class was spent in silence, except when they had to exchange words to fill out the worksheet with their measurements and calculations.
Lucas had been disappointed, but filled with renewed determination. Backing off wasn’t the answer, despite Mrs. Matthew’s advice. He had to show Riley that he was truly in it for the long run, no matter what she tried to do to drive him away. Although why she was trying to do so was still an unsolved mystery that even her best friend hadn’t managed to pry out of her, though Maya had tried.
Maybe now that he had finally cornered her into being alone with him, he could finally get to the bottom of what had caused such a change in the usually bubbly brunette…