The world outside the glass was slate gray, a wall of water descending from the skies, accompanied by the occasional flicker of lightning or crash of thunder that made the sky light up and the walls of the little apartment rattle. Even from inside, the girl was well aware of the bone-chilling cold air that lay beyond the window.
She cupped her hand above her eyes and peered through the window, into the rain. She could just barely make out the sign of the Bunny Mart across the rain drops pelted the glass with almost rhythmic timing as she willed the storm to relinquish its icy grip on the city. The hope died from her ocean blue eyes as she realized that the storm wasn't going to let up anytime soon.
Maya frowned, aware that the noises from the storm were drowning out the comforting sounds of the bustling city that usually met her ears. She had always liked those sounds. There was something about them that was all soothing. They reminded her that she wasn't alone.
Not that she was ever truly alone. Her grandma was usually home, and Ginger was curled up on the window sill. The ferret wasn't really much of a pet, when she thought about it. Even now, he was sleeping on without a care in the world that his owner was up and moving.
I wish I had a dog or cat, she sometimes thought to herself as she stroked Ginger's fur. The idea was almost amusing- her apartment didn't allow pets (the ferret still remained unknown to the landlord, luckily) and even if it did, she knew she wasn't responsible enough to remember to feed and walk and take care of a dog.
Why do I even kid myself? Maya wondered. Despite all this, somewhere, deep inside, she knew she always had Riley and the Matthews. They would always be there for her.
She turned from the window, a stray lock of golden blonde hair falling into her eyes. She brushed it out of her way and stood up, walking to her closet, sighing. I do not want to go to school today, she thought bitterly, a frown gracing her features.
She scanned her clothes and picked out an outfit she thought would look good on her, and turned away to get ready. She emerged from her room a few moments later, her school bag casually swung over one shoulder as she walked into living room.
"Hey, Mom, I'm... Talking to no one," she announced, her voice becoming steadily less and less enthusiastic each word she spoke. The entire apartment was as good as empty, with the only sign of life being Gammy, passed out on the couch with the TV remote in her hand.
Of course, Maya frowned. She had to take an early shift at the bakery again. What did I expect? Her to be here, making pancakes? I've been spending too much time at Riley's.
Maya's eyes darted to her friendship ring, then to the golden, heart-shaped locket that hung around her neck. She fingered it, then squeezed it tightly as a wave of fresh tears stung her eyes.
Close to two years had passed since she had received it. Two years since she and Riley had begun trying to set her Uncle Shawn up with her mother, as attempt that they were close to giving up on. In some ways, hardly anything had changed at all. In others, her life had completely changed.
For one, money was even tighter. Katy had to start taking even more shifts at the diner and the bakery. Instead of having half a mother, she was reduced to having maybe a fourth, and she was still barely enough money to keep a roof over their heads, let alone food or clothes. Maya had even tried getting jobs to try and help out financially, but apparently nobody wanted to hire an almost-sixteen-year-old girl with zero job skills and a D-Average in school.
Not something Maya was necessarily proud of.
It's just the way things are, she constantly had to remind herself, trying not to let the tears spill over. For me to think any other way is just acting, and like Mom, I'm not very good at it.
It was times like these when she wished her father was there, and not just for a second source of income. She always got a strange feeling, like a pit opening in her chest when she thought about him. The feeling had worsened in the past few years.
"A girl should think highly of her father," Katy had said. Yeah, right. Too late for that.
But still... As much as she wanted to hate him, she still wished she knew him.
Her stomach growled loudly, snapping her out of her thoughts. She had almost forgotten how hungry she was. She dashed into the kitchen and ripped open a breakfast bar, wolfing it down in a few swift bites. It barely took the edge off of her hunger, but at least it was something.
The time on the stove flicked to 6:15. If she didn't leave now, she wouldn't make it to Riley's in time to get a better meal. Her stomach growled in protest at the very thought of not eating. Pushing the thought out of her head, she left the apartment, making her way down the streets on her way to the Matthews.
Wind blasted into her face, plastering her rain-drenched hair to her head and her sopping wet clothes to her skin. Her eyes watered as she stared at the brownstone apartment building across the street. It was almost hard to believe that so close to her rugged little home, people lived in such a nice place. A flicker of jealousy sparked in her eyes for a moment, but then disappeared as she found a spot to cross the street safely.
Her body shuddered and her teeth chattered, her chest heaving from her sprint through the rain and ice. She closed the umbrella she'd borrowed from the Matthews-Hart Umbrella Foundation- one of the best things she had ever created, the thought- box and pushed the button on the speaker box.
"M-Maya," she stammered breathlessly, her attempt to keep her voice firm failing as soon as the words left her mouth.
The reply came fast, Riley's cheerful voice blaring through the speakers. "Come on up!" she chirped happily. Despite her half-frozen to death situation, Maya couldn't help but smile. Even on the dreariest of days, Riley still managed to find a way to stay happy. To Maya, it seemed as though she truly had a gift.
She practically flew into the elevator, tapping her foot impatiently. The doors finally opened and she jumped out, running to the door and bursting into apartment #26. "Wha-what's up, g-goofballs?" she stumbled inside, panting.
"Maya!" Riley was beaming as she turned in her seat, her smile quickly fading to a frown as she laid eyes on her friend, a soaking wet and shivering teenage girl, whose clothes seemed two sizes too big on her. "Are you okay?"
"I'm f-fine," Maya gave her a somewhat forced smile as she shut the door behind her. "I-it's just k-kinda cold out there." she shrugged. "And rainy."
Riley looked astonished. "But you look half frozen to death!"
Maya opened her mouth to reply, but her words were cut off.
"Maya, breakfast," Topanga commanded firmly, waving the trembling creature inside and leading her to the table. "Auggie, go get her a towel, please."
"Okay!" the little boy, now seven years old, hopped from his chair, paused Mr. Googly, and scurried away, disappearing into the bathroom to retrieve a towel for her.
"N-no thanks, Mr's. Matthews," Maya began. "But-"
"Maya, sweetie, I think we've been over this," Topanga pushed the plate of pancakes closer to her. "I wasn't asking."
Maya laughed and smiled gratefully, taking a bite almost too big for her mouth. She chewed it carefully and swallowed it in chunks, feeling the warmth slide down her throat and into her stomach, which growled in appreciation for the much needed food.
"Here you go, Maya!" Auggie chirped happily as he bounced from the bathroom, handing her a large blue towel. He flashed her a toothy grin, his eyes sparkling.
"Thanks, kid," Maya ruffled his soft, bouncy dark brown curls.
"Hey!" he ducked away from her reach and pushed her hand away. "Don't you people realize I'm this many now?" the little boy held up seven fingers.
Maya narrowed her eyes. "So that would make you... Ten?" she smirked, wanting to see his reaction.
Auggie had to think for a moment. "... Um, sure! I'm ten now!" he bounced on his toes excitedly, then unpaused Mr. Googly, hopping back to his seat. "Did you hear that Mommy, Daddy? I'm ten now! I'm a man!"
"Yeah, not so fast, Aug," Cory laughed. "Maya, how are you doing in math?"
She grinned. "Failing, sir!"
He rolled his eyes and muttered something under his breath.
Maya took in a huge breath, then let it out in a sigh of satisfaction. She couldn't imagine anywhere she'd rather be than right here, with the sweet smell of pancakes wafting from the kitchen, and Auggie's shrill giggles as he watched his show. She felt more at home here than she ever did at her own place.
She wrapped the towel around herself, trying in vain to dry her drenched hair and clothes. She felt as if she would never be dry again. She popped the last bite of pancakes into her mouth just as Riley stood up.
"Seven o'clock!" she announced. "Ready, Maya?"
"Mmph," Maya mumbled around her mouthful of food. She chewed it carefully, savoring the sweet flavor, and then allowed it to slide down her throat. "Ready!"
Riley smiled, walking over to the door and grabbing her bag. She waved goodbye to her family, then lifted her chin and looked at Maya. "Bet I can beat you down the stairs!"
Is that a challenge? Maya narrowed her eyes. "You're on!"
She skidded to a stop in front of the bakery. The rich aroma of baked goods wafted through the opened doors, and she stood there for a second, drinking it in, before going inside. Tip toeing behind the leather couch, she placed a gentle hand on Riley's shoulder.
The brunette jumped a mile high, letting out a shrill squeak. "What the-? MAYA! DON'T DO THAT!" she cried, her wide brown eyes nearly popping right out of her head.
"Sorry, Riles," Maya apologized as she slid into the comfortable seat next to her best friend. "Sorry I'm late, had a slight case of detention."
"What did you do now?" Riley asked a few heartbeats later, once she calmed down. Maya gave a low laugh.
"I don't even remember."
Rolling her eyes, the corners of the brunette's mouth twisted into a frown. "Don't scare me like that again!" she whined. "How'd you get out of detention so early, anyways?"
Maya smirked. "I have my ways," she said mysteriously.
Riley raised her eyebrows, opening her mouth to object. She seemed to think better of the idea, however, and instead replied with "Yeah, okay."
"Hello, lady," Farkle greeted flirtatiously from his chair a few feet away. Maya sighed, rolling her eyes at her old friend.
"Farkle," she deadpanned, pretending to be uninterested.
"Hey, Maya," Lucas spoke up for the first time.
"Sup, Hopalong," Maya replied casually as she picked up a menu.
"Maya is within five feet of you," a mechanical voice that sounded suspiciously like Maya's announced. Across the booth, Farkle's eyes went wide.
What the...? Maya narrowed her eyes. "What was that?" she leaned over the table and stared at him with intense blue eyes, locking in on the watch on his wrist.
"I thought I disabled that feature!" Farkle cried out confusedly, fumbling around with his watch as the disembodied Maya-voice blared.
"Danger!" It cried out loudly as she leaned closer and closer, until she was close enough to feel his breath on her face. "Danger!"
Farkle looked up at her, his eyes filled with fear. A cutesy smile graced her features, and he relaxed.
"Hello, lady," he flirted, "Why you smiling at me so prettily?"
"Farkle," the cutesy look suddenly disappeared. "What. Was. That?" she reached out to take the watch from his wrist. The two of them locked eyes, blue on blue, neither of them saying a word.
"I love you, Farkle," the voice blared. They broke eye contact, both of their faces turning red. Maya let out an animal like growl as she snatched the watch.
"You're going to smash it under your foot now, aren't you?" Farkle asked, knowing what would happen next and accepting his watch's fate.
"No!" as fast as lightning, Riley's fist closed around the hood of Maya's jacket, and she was yanked back into a sitting position. "Sit! Stay!" Riley commanded, speaking slowly, as if talking to a disobedient puppy. Maya fixed her with an icy blue glare.
"I'm sitting," she spat venomously, heaving a sigh. "Are you happy now?"
Riley smiled, nodding. "Well, you didn't kill Farkle, so, yea-"
The loud buzzing noise sounded from the other side of the table, and Riley's words died in her throat. Looking confused, Lucas pulled out his phone.
"Mama?" he muttered under his breath, sounding more annoyed than anything. "She knows that I'm hanging out with you guys... Oh." he looked up, a grave look on his face. His emerald green eyes lost their sparkle. "I have to, uh, go take care of something personal," he told his friends.
"What's going on?" Riley asked, concern in her voice. Maya swore she had some sort of emotional antenna. "Is everything okay?"
He nodded, avoiding his friend's eyes. "Yeah. I'll see you guys tomorrow." Lucas looked at the ground, his face turning a light pink color. He smiled sheepishly and left the bakery, leaving Maya and the others to watch him go.
"That was weird," she turned to face Riley. "Cowboy never just leaves like that...?"
This couldn't be good. It wasn't like Lucas to just walk out like that. Maya couldn't help but be somewhat worried.
"I don't know what that was about," Riley's voice snapped her out of her thoughts. She blinked at her, letting out a sigh. She knew that smile. It was the one that Riley got when she planned on fixing something. "But I'm going to find out."
To Be Continued