Maya was super excited about Ranveer hanging out with her friends. They hadn’t seen each other since the romance festival, but they had been communicating via text and phone; they were friends now, after all. She hadn’t told anyone about him yet; not even Penny. Of course, they all saw their stellar performance at the karaoke bar, but they were none the wiser. No new blood had been added to the group in a while, and Maya was mildly nervous about their reactions to him. He would be a great fit, so that wasn’t the problem. Honestly, there was only one problem, and his name was Tobias Swanson. She knew he liked her and didn’t want Ranveer’s presence to cause trouble. Back in the day, when she used to enjoy playing games, she would have proudly flaunted him in Tobi’s face to put some fire under his feet. After getting burned a few times, she wasn’t like that anymore. If he wanted her, he needed to be bolder and step his game up. Pitting the two against each other was not what she wanted, but it could provide awesome entertainment.
Life for Penny, Sven, Logan, and Nickolas had changed. Penny and Sven took a step back to focus on their relationship. Nickolas also started seeing someone. Logan said she was ok with Penny and Sven, but everyone could see that it ate her up inside.
Even things between Penny and Nick were a little bit weird. That left Maya, Tobi, and Brayan to find ways to liven things up and bring the party back to where it needed to be. It was hard work.
Between almost half of the friends skipping parties because of their relationships, and Maya working overtime, the party crew had not been out together 100% in a long time. She missed them and worked hard to plan something they could all agree on. It was going to be epic…except it wasn’t.
Everyone seemed to be in their own worlds. They were like strangers who just happened to be in the same place. What happened? Was the silent drama slowly pulling them apart? Or, was it just the facts of life? Young people form groups. Then they pair up and eventually drift away from the group. They were all around that age when major life decisions concerning their futures were at the forefront of their minds. Secretly, Maya looked forward to the day when she would have her own major life decision to make, but she didn’t want to lose her friends over it. Why couldn’t they all exist separately and together?
While it was great to see everyone in the same space, Maya wasn’t having fun anymore. The party was a bust. She couldn’t even dance her feelings away and sat on the sidelines to watch her friends. They looked so sad. Almost like they only came to oblige her. She didn’t want anyone to feel obligated, but dang! Could they at least pretend to have a good time?
His smiling face was a nice change, and she tried to smile back.
“We can’t have you over here looking all mopey. What’s wrong?”
She wanted to tell him, but it was really none of his business. They called each other “friend” for fun because of Aubrey. It gave them something to smile and laugh about, but they weren’t that close yet. Besides, she didn’t want to think about it anymore.
“Tell me a joke.”
He looked surprised at first, but then he nodded. She was glad he got the message.
“What did the yoga instructor say to her landlord when he tried to evict her?”
She braced herself for the corny punchline.
“Tough crowd tonight.” He chuckled. “Ok…why don’t cannibals eat clowns?”
Her dad was a complete goofball, and she grew up on corny jokes. Ranveer was going to have to do better than this. “Because they taste funny.”
He was taken aback, but he accepted the challenge. “Why did the mushroom go to the party?”
She chuckled quietly at what appeared to be an expansive database of corny jokes he had. If they were really going to be friends, she knew she’d be in for a fun ride.
“Because he was a fungi!”
She cracked a tiny smile and shook her head at that one.
“Ahh! Am I cracking the ice?”
She straightened her face.
“What did the ocean say to the shore? …Nothing. It just waved.”
That was a cute one.
She smiled. “Who’s there?”
“A broken pencil.”
“A broken pencil who?”
“Nevermind. It’s pointless.”
She giggled and loved his relentlessness. Especially because he didn’t press her about what bothered her.
“What does a nosy pepper do?”
She laughed and clapped her hands. “Gets jalapeño business!”
Naturally, Jonathan knew all the corny food jokes, and he always recited that one when he cooked with peppers but not as a joke. He would use his fancy knife skills and slice the peppers, acting like he was mad at them. He’d snort and scowl at them and say, “Hmph…serves you right, nosy pepper. Now I’m jalapeño business!” He’d finish them off with a vengeance. He was such a silly man.
She beamed at him. “That’s my favorite one.”
“Glad I could help.”
They began to talk. She told him about her father. Ranveer seemed to enjoy discovering that he and Jonathan were kindred spirits. He also seemed surprised to learn he was the owner of Viviana’s. There weren’t that many restaurants in the area, but it was his favorite. He asked if she ever thought about getting into the restaurant business. She told him about Aubrey and also how she didn’t really know what she wanted to do with her life until Penny got her the job. He felt the same way and said he didn’t love his job and only took it because his parents encouraged it. “Be an IT geek or a doctor. That’s what people like us do. There was no way I’d be a doctor.” He grew up so differently from her, and she wanted to learn more about him and the culture that shaped him.
As they talked, one by one, the other friends left. Soon enough, only Maya and Ranveer remained.
He was great company, and Maya was grateful he could take her mind off the troubles. There was a point when she knew it was time to leave, but she wasn’t ready. He was so fun and interesting to talk to.
“I, ummm, I was thinking about catching the free movie at the park. Would you like to come?”
It was nice to know he had trouble with ending their night too. Maya was never interested in the park movies, but to spend another hour or two with him, she’d sit through a terrible movie. “I’d love to!”
When they arrived, he trotted ahead of her. “Come on! We have to get the good seats.”
“I’m wearing heels!”
He laughed at her. “You’re lucky we’re friends. I’ll save you a seat.”
As she imagined, there weren’t that many people there. One guy, to be exact. Not that she would have run with him, but good thing it wasn’t necessary. The movie, however, was already in progress and neither of them had any idea what was going on. It was very old, and the characters spoke funny; she couldn’t pay attention. Luckily, Penny texted her.
She probably wanted to talk about one of two things: Logan’s behavior or Maya’s. And, of course, how her night went. No matter how it ended, she knew it would be a great story.
When the movie ended, they were left confused about what they had just sat through but anxious about having to go home. They sat there, smiling and unable to maintain eye contact.
“Ummm…I think the Llamacorns are playing the Plumnuggets right now…we could watch the game.”
He gasped dramatically. “Be still my soul! I’ve waited my whole life to have a girl-friend who appreciates sports!”
Even though she knew what he meant, she kinda liked the sound of “girlfriend” coming from his lips in regards to her. It had a nice ring to it and seemed to roll off his tongue naturally. She could get used to it very quickly but wouldn’t. She was mature now and shouldn’t get caught up in teenage dreams…no matter how beautiful they were.
He flipped through the channels and found the game. The halftime show had just ended, and the Llamacorns were down by 10.
Maya groaned. “Come oooooon guys! What is this??”
Ranveer’s head spun quickly to face her. “Now what do we have here? A house divided? Oh ho ho!” He laughed at her team’s unfortunate predicament.
“How can you be a Plumnuggets fan?? They’re, like, the worst team in the league! They have zero defense, and all they do is strut around the field like movie stars!”
“Hey, hey now. No trash talking my team while they’re beating your team. Clearly their defense is on point tonight, heh.”
She snorted. “It’s still weak. The only reason they’re winning this game is because we have two players out.”
He sucked his teeth. “Stop drinking the plum juice! The Plumnuggets can hold their own!”
She laughed. “You’re just mad because you know it’s true. They only win against injured teams.”
Fighting with him about something they were both passionate about was so fun. All her friends who were sports fans liked the same teams she liked. While she really was disgusted that he liked that poor excuse for a team, it was so refreshing for someone to oppose her for once. His only redeeming qualities at the moment was the fact that he was so dang beautiful and he made her laugh.
Something happened on the screen. It’s almost as if the Llamacorns heard her plea to get it together. After a few more plays, gap in the score quickly began to close. Ranveer got nervous. She gloated.
“Don’t act like you’ve never seen a real team play. This is how you play the game!”
The Llamacorns came back with a vengeance, slicing through the Plumnuggets weak defense like the flu in a daycare center. The tension on that couch was thick–and not because of their physical attraction. The score was tied with only a few minutes left in the game. This. Was. Serious.
The Llamacorns unleashed the fury she knew they had in them and didn’t know why they waited until the last minute to show it. Sixty more seconds to go. Helmets collided, and beautifully sculpted men pounced on each other. Thirty. The Llamacorn’s star player had the ball! Fifteen. He ran like his life depended on it. Five! OMG! Four! He was so close to the goal line. Three!
He tripped and fumbled the ball.
WHAT. A. TRAIN. WRECK.
“Wow…that was…” He cleared his throat. “Unexpected.”
She was devastated and glad he didn’t gloat. “They’re going into overtime! We could be here all night!”
Despite the fact that she was not opposed to hanging out with Ranveer, she had to work in the morning and needed to head home soon. His hours were later than hers, but he probably needed to go too.
“Hey…you want to make this fun?”
Even if the Llamacorns won, there was no way she would recover from their epic fail. “Ranveer, I swear, if you’re going gloat–”
“No, of course not! At least, not tonight.” He flashed a cheeky grin.
Oh yeah. A friendship with Ranveer was going to be a fun one indeed.
“How about this. Let’s go home…try to sleep. Let the overtime play out. In the morning, we’ll check the score. If the Llamacorns win, I’ll buy you dinner. If the Plumnuggets win, you buy me dinner.”
A nice feeling of relief settled in her stomach. The promise of seeing each other again soon…that was the release she needed to end the night without feeling anxious. She couldn’t let him off that easily though.
She snorted. “It better be really nice! And don’t take me to Viviana’s”
He chuckled. “But I love Viviana’s!”
She gave him one of those looks.
“Of course, I’m kidding. I got you.”
She smiled. “You better.”
“Well, my friend, I think it’s time for us to say goodnight.”
She nodded, and they stood. “I’m glad you could come tonight and meet my friends.”
He grinned and seemed a little bit nervous. “I’m glad I could come hang with you.”
She felt so warm and tingly inside. It was so hard not to get excited. She’d been in that place before. Hanging out with a gorgeous man all night having great conversations and feeling a spark between them wanting to kiss his pouty lips. It was too familiar. She almost felt discouraged when she thought about how the scenario ended the last time. But, then he hugged her. It was the tightest, warmest hug anyone ever gave her. It felt real. The difference between the two men was one wanted her body and the other her friendship…and probably her body, but definitely her friendship. Maybe this scenario would go in a different direction.