The Way You Feel Inside
Maya stared at her reflection in the mirror. Packs of makeup lay scattered around the bathroom counter, but no matter what she used, the three long scars still remained plainly visible, curling across the right side of her face, from the bridge of her nose, down her cheek, and under her chin.
It was a Monday morning in early mid March, a little over a month after Daniel's arrest. The scars her father had left had only gotten uglier as they healed, and worse yet, she was stuck with them for as long as she lived. She'd tried to stay optimistic about it at first, but optimism was not exactly her thing.
Maya, Lucas, and Riley (who was not fully recovered but out of the hospital) had been given a few weeks off of school to rest and recover from there ordeal, like an early summer vacation (thought Farkle had brought them all of their schoolwork so they didn't get behind) and today would be their first day back. Maya didn't want everyone to see the scars, she didn't even want to go to school for that matter, but she had no choice in the matter.
"Maya, come on, hurry up!" the unmistakable voice of Shawn Hunter, who would be taking her to school until the Matthews felt comfortable enough to let Riley ride the subway with her again, called from the other side of the door. "You're going to be late!"
"Does that mean I don't have to go at all?" she called back.
The blonde sighed, rolling her eyes. "Comiiiing!" she quickly shoved all of the makeup back under the sink, and stepped out. Shawn was leaning against the wall with his arms crossed and a smile on his face.
"Finally!" he cried, "What is it with you girls and always taking forever to get ready?"
"It's a girl thing," Maya replied with a slight smirk. "I could tell you, but then I'd have to kill you." Shawn rolled his eyes, pulling her into a tight hug. She stiffened for a second, then relaxed.
"You think you're tough, huh?" he growled, pretending to be angry.
Maya grinned, pulling out of his embrace with ease. "Oh, I know I am!"
"So..." she drew in a deep breath as she began, not sure if she really wanted to ask him this question. "How... how do I look?" she wasn't exactly dressed up for the first day back, what with her faded blue jeans and t-shirt, but she knew perfectly well that Shawn knew what she meant.
His smile faltering, Shawn gently ran his hand down her cheek. "You look beautiful, why wouldn't you?"
"They're not too noticeable?" Maya asked softly, her guarded blue eyes letting a tiny bit of hope shine through, something she rarely did. "The scars, I mean?"
"Maya..." Shawn drew in a sharp breath. "Maya, they're not going to go away, you know that. But what does it matter if people see them?" he didn't even give her a chance to answer. "There's not a kid in your school who doesn't know what happened. Let the scars show. Let all of them know that you're still the same tough little girl they knew. You even have the battle scars to prove it!"
Battle scars... I like that, Maya thought, a small smile gracing her features. Maya Hart won't let a couple of scars keep me from being me. "Thanks, Shawn," she breathed. "I really needed that."
"No problem, kiddo," he ruffled her golden blonde waves, and with a laugh she shied away from him, fixing her hair. She hoped things stayed like this forever.
They're staring at us! They keep staring at us! Why won't they stop!? Oh, quit it, Maya, you're going to turn into Riley!
Maya slowly cruised through the halls with Riley, Lucas, and Farkle, approaching the lunchroom. Her stomach was tied into a knot, and she felt ready to throw up before she even ate. All day, everywhere they went, people stared or whispered, and quite frankly, Maya was sick of it.
As they sat down with trays full of food, it was evident that the chaos wasn't going to die down anytime soon. Students swarmed the table, shouting out too many questions for Maya's mind to register, everyone acting like she and her friends were celebrities or something.
"M-Maya..." someone sniffled.
She felt Riley stiffen beside her, letting out a muffled whimper. Maya shot her a concerned glance. Calm down, Riles, she wanted to say, but the words just wouldn't come. Ugh... she's not used to this kind of attention. None of us are, really.
"Riles," she managed, placing a comforting hand on the brunette's shoulder. "It's okay.. It's okay..."
"Make it stop, Maya!" Riley replied in a slight whine, her chocolate-colored eyes so wide that Maya was almost afraid they might pop right out of her head. "Make them go away!" Maya frowned. She knew she couldn't make it stop.
However, apparently her big, tall, imposing little brother could.
Lucas drew himself up to his full height- boy, did that make Maya feel short- shooting the students a glare that was downright murderous. "Can't you just leave us alone?!" he barked, his voice echoing through the now nearly silent cafeteria. Everyone obeyed, whispering in hushed voices as they returned to their seats.
"It's okay, Riley," Lucas whispered softly as he sat back down, pulling the brunette closer to him. That was the end of that, and no more conversation followed.
Around ten minutes passed without any more harrassment- a new record- but in that amount of time Maya grew increasingly aware that her classmate's stares were mainly focused on her. Or, more accurately, her scarred face.
Remember what Shawn told you, she reminded herself, tucking a stray strand of hair behind her ear. They're like your battle scars... don't feel bad about them... the thoughts did nothing to boost her confidence, and a little voice in the back of her head spoke up.
From a battle you shouldn't have fought and put all of these people in danger. Riley almost died because of you. They all hate you now, every last one of them.
Oh, shut up, she snapped at herself, breathing a soft sigh and scowling at her tray. That's not true...
"Hey, Maya," Farkle spoke up, gently placing his hand on her shoulder. "Are you okay? You seem... not Maya."
The blonde brushed his hand away. "I'm fine," she said somewhat harshly, fidgeting a little bit in her seat.
"You know, Maya," Farkle said, "You're great at lying verbally but your body language really throws you off."
"I said I'm fine," Maya's voice cracked slightly as she scowled at her friend's concerned faces. She stood up briskly. I don't need your pity, she thought, but instantly regretted it. But it was too late to turn back.
"Where are you going?" Riley asked with wide, innocent brown eyes.
"I need some time to myself," Maya replied, taking a deep breath and walking away.
She didn't get but a few steps out of the cafeteria before she broke into a run, her footsteps echoing through the empty halls. She didn't know where she was going; just that she needed to get away from everyone. She should have known her friends wouldn't let her be miserable alone.
"Farkle, leave me alone," she said softly as she stopped near her locker, hearing his footsteps behind her and not even turning around.
"Maya, don't shut me out," he pleaded, making no mention of how she knew it was him. "You know I'm just trying to help... please don't do this..."
"Well then what else am I supposed to do?! Everyone around me either hates me or has gotten hurt because they care too much about me. If I don't shut you all out then you'll get hurt..." she didn't even turn around, slumping to the ground. "I'm just trying to stop that from happening."
Farkle sat down next to her, but she just turned away. "Don't do this. You can't put all of this on yourself... you're only hurting everyone more by shutting us out. And that includes yourself."
Maya didn't reply, breathing a soft sigh.
"Maya, please..." Farkle pleaded softly. "Don't you remember what I said, back on your birthday? About me not being the only one who needs protecting? That still stands."
"What are you saying?" Maya grunted softly, fighting back a couple of tears.
Farkle turned her face so that she was forced to look into his eyes. "I'm saying that you shut out everyone who cares about you because you don't want them to get hurt and you're only hurting them more because you won't let them in. You act like you're invinceable but I know you're not. Let someone help you for a change, becuase if you don't you're going to explode."
The girl sighed, dabbing at her wet eyes. "Farkle..." she breathed, but couldn't find the words to say any more. Farkle flashed her a weak smiled, pulling her close to her. She didn't know who she surprised more- him, or herself, when she didn't resist, instead leaning her head on his shoulder, suppressing sobs.
"Go ahead and cry, Maya, I know you have feelings. I'm the only one around." Farkle told her gently, stroking her back, and she obeyed.
They sat like that for what felt like a long time, until Maya just couldn't cry any more tears. "Feel better?" Farkle asked her. She nodded slowly, sniffling.
Farkle smiled weakly. "Good. I know you're hurting, Maya, but everything's going to be alright, okay? Daniel's gone, you don't have to worry about him anymore. You're safe now; don't forget that.
"I'm safe now, but what about later?" Maya asked softly. "What if something else happens? What if I can't stay strong?"
"Then I'll be strong for you," Farkle replied. "We'll get through whatever happens when it happens. And when it does, we'll do it together."
Maya looked up at him, her ocean blue eyes sparkling with hope. "Do you really mean that?" she asked, her soft voice barely over a whisper.
Farkle nodded firmly, taking her hand and squeezing it tightly. "More than I've meant anything in my entire life."
The TV screen in front of him flashed some scene from some movie Lucas had probably seen five-thousand times- he wasn't really paying all that much attention to it. Riley seemed to be pretty intrigued, however- her head lay on his chest and her eyes were practically glued to the screen. They were sitting on the couch in the Matthews living room. Cory and tTopanga had ren out for a little while, and Auggie was in his room, leaving them alone watching a movie. Usually, he would have been kind of bored, but he wasn't. He was just enjoing the simple fact that Riley, his Riley, was alive.
Lucas had been absolutely terrified, thinking that his terrible dream woud come true, that his father would kill her. But she'd survived, and that as all that mattered in his book. He couldn't bear the thought of losing her... His stomach tied into a knot just by thinking of it. He remembered that murderous look in Daniel's eyes... he'd seen that look way to many times in his life... despite himself, he shuddered.
"Lucas?" Riley's angelic voice derailed his train of thought. She had sat up and tore her eyes from the TV to look up at him, her big brown eyes wide. "Are you okay?"
Lucas supressed a weak smile. No matter what happened, Riley still stayed... well, Riley- a perfect combination of loyalty, spunk, and innocence. She was the sun that lit up his whole day- no, his whole life.
"Yeah," he reassured her, biting his lip awkwardy. "I was just... er, thinking."
"About...?" Riley's eyes sparkled with curiosity.
"Things," he replied sarcastically, and Riley shot him a playful glare. He smiled, then sighed. "Just... with everything that's happened lately...I don't know what to do now. All my life I've had to fear my father-"
"-And now that he can't hurt you anymore you keep thinking about it, and you still can't relax?" she finished for him, as if reading his mind.
Lucas blushed, scratching at the back of his nervously. That was weird, like a freaky Riley-and-Maya kind of mind reading, which had never extended to Riley-and-Lucas until now. When had they gotten so close? "Er... yeah."
"Well, try not to think about it," Riley suggested, gently patting his shoulder- the one Daniel had shot. Pain burst through his entire arm, and he let out a quiet yelp.
"Ow," he grunted. Riley's eyes nearly popped out of her head, and she quickly scrambled away from him.
"L-Lucas, I'm so so so so sorry!" she cried, her voice laced with genuine concern. "I-I din't mean-"
"Riley, calm down," Lucas soothed, interupting her apology. "It's.. It's fine..." his voice quivered a little bit, and withheld tears stung his eyelids. What's wrong with you?! he mentally scolded himself. She didn't mean it, you know that! Stop crying like a little baby and take it like a man! the thought sounded like something Daniel would say, and it made him even more upset.
"Lucas..." Riley breathed, crawling back closer to him. "Lucas, what's wrong?"
He choked back a low sob, not offering a reply.
"Please, Lucas..." she pleaded softly. "You can tell be anything. You know that."
Lucas drew in a deep, shaky breath, and then exploded. He vented to her for what felt like ages, telling her about how Daniel used to beat him and threaten him for the most silly and trivial things, and how he'd lived in constant fear. How the only time he ever felt safe was when he left for 'business trips' (AKA visiting Maya). He told her how his parents had finally gotten the divorce after he started acting out in school, going so far as to get himself held back, and later expelled. How he'd come to NYC with no intention of changing his ways until he met her. He made sure she knew that it was all because of her that he changed for the better, and that he was absolutely terrified when it had looked like she was going to die. Lastly, he told her about the nightmare.
Riley was a really good listener. She didn't say a word as he ranted, just sitting there silently and soaking it all in, taking his had and wrapping her delicate fingers around it tightly. Letting all this out to her was like a huge weight lifted off of his chest.
"Lucas... Everything's going to be okay, alright? I'm alive, I'm not going anywhere, and Daniel won't hurt you anymore. He can't."
Her words were spoken so softly, but so firm, and powerful, with a certain confidence to her that Lucas had never seen before, and it made him want to believe every single word of it. But he just couldn't, not yet. She didn't know what he had been through, she didn't know how hard it was for him to realize that everything was okay, because in his life things were rarely 'okay' for him.
It was through no fault of her own, and it was a good thing. She didn't understand because she had a wonderful family that didn't beat her or threaten her or use her talents for money. She didn't need to understand, because if she understood, she wouldn't be Riley. He wanted her to stay Riley, because Riley was the innocence and pureness he needed in his life. Riley was the girl that he.. he loved.
Yes, that was the thing. He loved Riley Matthews. Well, they were only fifteen, but if it wasn't love then he didn't know any other word in the English language to describe his feelings towards her.
Riley had never claimed to understand what he was going through, but she had tried to reassure him anyways. Riley had come dangerously close to losing her life simply because she had wanted to make sure he was alright. He had to tell her. He was sick of waiting, feeling helpless. Neither of them had dated anybody else since their 'breakup' at the beginning of eighth grade... now how was he even supposed to begin to find the words to ask her?
"R-Riley," he finally spoke, staring straight into her deep brown eyes. He drew in a sharp breath. Here goes nothing... no, everything. "I... I know that you don't understand how I'm feeling right now.." his voice trailed off, and Riley took the moment to place a comforting hand on his shoulder. "But you still listen, and you try and comfort me anyways..." he lost his words and sighed, deciding to just spit it out. "I really like you, Riley. In fact, I may even love you."
He said it.
Riley knew how he felt.
Her eyes glittered with so many emotions, it was nearly impossible to single out any one. She opened her mouth to reply, but words just wouldn't leave her mouth, and so Lucas continued.
"You almost died.. without knowing how I feel," he barely managed to get the words out without choking on sobs or bursting into tears. He had to keep going, and he didn't even realize it when the apartment door opened and Cory and Topanga entered. "A-and I've just been thinking... w-will you be my girlfriend?"
Still no words would leave the brunette's mouth. She just smiled sheepishly and nodded, a barely audible 'yes' on her lips- Lucas was pretty sure he knew what she was thinking- yes, yes, a million times YES!
Lucas heard someone clear their throat, and he turned, finally noticing that Riley's family had been watching them. He tensed as he met eyes with Cory, ready to bolt out of the nearest window if need be, but to his surprise, the curl-haired man smiled and mouthed 'go on.' Lucas breathed a sigh of relief.
"Lucas," it seemed that Riley had finally found her voice as she pulled her new boyfriend into a tight hug. "We've seen a lot of the bad stuff in the world, but you know there's good things, too, right?"
He nodded. I'm hugging one of those things right now!
Riley smiled. "Good. I think we need a break from the bad. There's too much good left to keep thinking about the bad, I just know there is. I want to see it."
Lucas just pulled her closer to him, smiling. She's right, you know, he told himself. I'm ready to see the good things, too. And whatever happens next, I'm sure we'll be ready for it. "I love you, Riley," he whispered softly.
A smile graced Riley's delicate features as she lay her head on his chest and un-paused the movie. "I love you, too."
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