Rico walked into Johnnycakes later than he normally would. He had been avoiding Jo, subtly, or so he liked to believe. It had only been a day, -not even- but the time dodging her left him restless for her usual smile and that casual tug of her hair.
He took a big gulp of air, astonished that he didn't choke, gripped his backpack straps and headed to the back corner booth that he had sat in since before he hit puberty. His cousin, Maria likes to say he still hasn't hit puberty. But it's sort of illogical to think that, being fifteen and having a growth spurt a couple months before-
"I was starting to think you bailed on me."
Rico blinked and cleared his throat. He thinks he mumbled a sorry but he wasn't banking on it. He slid in opposite of Jo and removed his backpack. When he looked up, she was staring at him.
"Something on my face?" He questioned, patting his hands against it. He felt a little stubble near his chin and silently added it to that mental list. You grow body hair when you hit puberty, Maria.
Jo smiled, a small, almost annoyed smile- but it was directed at him and that made it worth it.
"Are you okay? You've been avoiding me."
Well, so much for being subtle. Rico bit the inside of his cheek and laced his fingers on the cracked plastic table. Jo was wearing her army sweater again. He loved that thing. It swallowed her, but not in a gawky way. It somehow always seemed to fit, in a Jo sense. Not a logical sense. Rico had noticed how everything seemed to split into two categories when Jo was involved.
"Earth to Rico! Seriously, dude, what's going on? You've been acting weird for days now and-"
He really wasn't trying to. His eyes went to the table. There was some syrup caked on, melted into the top from breakfast or a hundred before. Maybe it was Danny's pancakes. Jo had invited him here more times that Rico cared to remember. This was their safe place and she gladly opened the doors for a convicted murder.
Rico didn't like to think of Danny like that. He knew Jo hated it. But ever since Danny showed up, Rico was questioning things. He was evaluating himself, and his choices and maybe the worst thing of all, his relationship with Jo. Sure he liked her. Rico always knew that. She had this way of making him completely comfortable, something no one has ever done.
Maybe Rico clung to that a little too much. Maybe he was too dependent. Rico wasn't an idiot; he knew guys would notice Jo eventually. If she wasn't so adorable and if she wasn't so in your face, maybe she would have passed under everyone's radar. But Danny coming back sunk that like a perfectly executed game of Battleship. Rico realized he was just a bitter kid with a crush that was too overwhelming to be rational.
He teased Jo about her crush on Danny when really, Rico decided, he was projecting his inner feelings on her. He liked Danny, he did. No, Rico didn't trust him, but that didn't have anything to do with the fact that Jo got all starry-eyed around him. It was the fact that the guy killed someone. Rico couldn't ignore that very crucial and probably the most important fact. He hated that Jo could.
"I'm sorry." Rico shrugged staring into her eyes. She looked angry, but she usually was where he was concerned lately. Rico had always been so compliant and eager to make Jo happy. But he thought about it a lot while he was puking his guts up the other night, Rico wanted to be happy, too. Danny guessing he had a thing for Jo wasn't such a leap. Rico knew how he was acting and how it would look to other people, especially in regards with that whole Tyler thing. But bringing it up, and confirming it, out loud; made it all too real.
Rico couldn't go back, but with the way she made him feel, he wanted to. He felt pathetic begging for forgiveness when slipping about telling her dad about the necklace. He did it to protect her, but even if he said just that, she'd make it about Danny and Rico didn't want to think of that. He was supposed to be better than this. His grandma always did say he was the mature one. More so than Maria, anyway. This wasn't how a mature, puberty induced fifteen year old should act.
"I'm just really worried about you. I'm worried that this-obsession with Danny is going to drive you insane and you're not focusing on the facts."
Jo's eyes narrowed, pink lips set in a pout, a hand in her wild, blonde hair. She was going to yell at him. Rico braced himself, gripping the edge of the table and waited. But instead she smiled.
"You might be right about that one." She crossed her arms and leaned forward. "But Danny's my friend, and I want him to be your friend too, Rico. I want all of us to be friends." Jo rolled her eyes and sighed.
"I know." He mumbled.
Because he did know, and he wanted to make Jo happy. But he wanted to make himself happy. Kill two birds with one stone or whatever; maybe Rico didn't want to be friends, just friends with Jo. Maybe he wanted to be more; and maybe one day she'd want the same thing.