The bells of the local church tolled nine o’clock. Floor lamps across the tree had lit up the scene since the sun had set, and moths flitted around them, attracted to the light.
“It’s over already,” Roger murmured, sounding a little awed.
Sky was suddenly sad. What if Roger and her never felt this close again? They would both continue to pretend to be boyfriend and girlfriend, she knew that but what if this evening had been enchanted in some way and the life involving them as lovers that she’d come closer than ever before to imagining was about to fade away from them, never to be touched again? She hugged him tightly, kissing him on the cheek.
“It’s not over,” she told him. “It’ll live on in our memories. It was amazing, Roger, even if we didn’t dance, even if we didn’t hang out with our friends: I loved it.”
Roger put his arms around her.
“Are you okay?” he asked, concern seeping into his tone.
“Yes,” she answered, with tears in her eyes. Why was she suddenly feeling so sentimental? Why did she seem desperate to cling onto something that she would never lose?
“Sky?” Roger could obviously hear something amiss in her voice.
And it hit her. The memory came back to her, from so long ago, of the two discussing love.
‘I think I’m in love with him,’ she thought wonderingly. All of this time they had been sitting together, it feeling pleasant and right like it always did, and secretly her heart had been warming to the thought of a romantic relationship with Roger.
“What was that? Sky, is something wrong?”
Sky didn’t realise she had spoken aloud. She was relieved it had come out in a mumble. She remembered Roger saying that he didn’t want them to violently split up.
“We’re strong, aren’t we?” she whispered, hoping.
“Yes, of course,” he said, holding her tightly. “What would ever make you ask that? Sammy, tell me what’s going on. You’re scaring me.”
“I’m sorry,” she said, and she said it sincerely. Gosh, weren’t feelings complicated?
“No, it’s okay. Just tell me what’s up.”
“I...” Did she have the strength to say it? Was she confident enough of her idea that she could speak it? Sky wasn’t sure of the second thing, the important thing. But she didn’t want to lose this opportunity. And if it turned out that Roger and her were only meant to be best friends, they could still be that, couldn’t they?
“Go on, Sky,” Roger said, gently encouraging her.
“I think I’m in love with you,” she told him.
“Are... are you sure?” he checked.
“No, not at all,” she confessed. “I just... I have this horrible feeling that we’ll never, ever get this moment again.”
“Oh, Sky,” he murmured. “Sky, I’m sure that’s not right. Tonight’s been wonderful, just wonderful, hasn’t it? And there’ll be other nights. Why wouldn’t there be? We’re as close as you can be in a platonic relationship.”
“It... it’s true,” she said slowly, though not really believing that she was just being paranoid.
“Look, there’s no rush,” he assured her. “No rush whatsoever.”
“Don’t... don’t you want to find out?” Sky asked.
Roger took a while to answer her. When he did he sounded pained.
“Sky, I ... I just don’t want to risk it. I care too much about you. If I lost you...”
“You won’t lose me,” she insisted. “We’re strong. You said we’re strong. We’ll get through it. And we’ll know to stop before it all goes wrong.”
“What if we can’t tell?” Roger asked miserably.
Sky hadn’t thought of that. But she still seemed to want the development. She saw pictures of her and Roger in her head, sharing the most delightful of experiences. It made her sad that Roger wasn’t saying anything that suggested he wanted to become more than friends too.
“So we’re never going to try?” she asked softly.
Roger let go and pushed her away, a little roughly.
“Why are you making me feel bad?” he asked, anger in his eyes.
Sky looked away, ashamed, but also hurt.
“Sorry, I didn’t mean to. I just... I think it’s a beautiful idea.”
“It’s a magical idea,” Roger said crossly, “and because it’s so fantastic it could ruin us forever.”
“It wouldn’t,” Sky whispered, still not meeting his gaze.
“Sky, I adore you, I really do, but I’m frightened.” Pain entered his tone once more. “Aren’t you scared too?”
“Only a little,” Sky mumbled.
Roger’s phone buzzed in his blazer pocket. He pulled it out and looked at the screen before putting it away again.
“My dad’s here.”
Roger’s dad had dropped the two of them here and was picking them both up.
“Would it really make you that upset?” Sky asked quietly.
“No. Being your boyfriend would make me the happiest guy in the world - I’m sure of it. But let me think about it tonight and get back to you tomorrow. I’m sorry for spoiling the evening.”
“No, it’s fine. I’m sorry for being persistent,” Sky said. She prayed that she hadn’t permanently scarred their friendship with her silly feelings which really weren’t needed for her to be happy around Roger.
They stood up, and walked to the east side of the school. During the walk, Roger reached for her hand and squeezed it, a second, wordless apology and a gesture to convey good-will. They held hands up until the moment they reached the car.