Despite the fact she had laughed at Ray’s response to her question of what they would do, Sammy said, “Yeah, all right.”
The wicked grin on Ray’s face widened.
“I knew you’d be up for it,” he said.
For the next half hour he tugged her around the field with him, getting her to join in with some fist pumping (well, it would have been pathetic if she’d still said she couldn’t dance at this prospect), tell a self-obsessed cricket star that he was hot (which she didn’t really object to after Ray assured her his proximity made people take things a lot less seriously), and sit amongst a group of year 10 girls near a tree and look as admiring and as absorbed in what he was saying as they did as he talked about the way to win a girl’s heart. The last was possibly the most absurd thing Sammy had done. She found it difficult to believe that these girls were really into him but once he started talking about knights and damsels in distress, and how a guy should attempt to be the perfect Prince Charming she thought she could see the appeal.
One girl plucked up the courage to ask, “How many girlfriends have you had, Ray?”
It was the question that Sammy had asked earlier and Sammy was intrigued to see if he would answer this 14/15 year old where he hadn’t answered her.
“Five,” Ray answered, “but what does matter? As long as a guy treats the girl with respect and kindness she deserves, as well as like she’s special and important to him, the relationship is something both parties will remember and cherish as the romance is replaced by platonic friendship. And one day the relationship will come which means more than all the rest and you’ll have found your soul mate.”
“You really believe in soul mates?” another girl asked, and all of them looked awed by him.
“Well, sure. Look at the people who get married and stay together forever. I mean, maybe that’s dying out a bit in today’s society but it’s not extinct. It could still happen. You’ve just got to believe.”
Sammy frowned a bit at this. She hoped the girls wouldn’t hang all their hopes on finding a soul mate. The world could be so disillusioning sometimes.
“Oo, we have a cynic in our midst,” Ray said, noticing Sammy’s expression and grinning.
He went and sat next to her.
“Where’s your sense of magic and romance, Sammy?”
“Oh, I agree, I love a good daydream from time to time; it’s just... some people don’t find their soul mates, you know. And that doesn’t mean that their life has to be so much worse than the life of someone who has. What makes life worth living is passion, and that could be anything: singing, painting, writing... The world is full of opportunities and you could find something you’re passionate about by total chance. But you’ve got to be able to accept a few hard truths along the line and ultimately have confidence in yourself. Not every girl needs a soul mate.”
Sammy noticed that all the girls were staring at her as if she was some wise woman from an ancient time who had been reincarnated in the form of a teenage girl.
“You’re right,” one girl said, after a time, the girl who had asked if Ray believed in soul mates. There was a chorus of agreement from the others. “We long for guys so much that we almost stop valuing ourselves. But girls can be strong and protect people and stand up for what’s right.”
“That’s right,” Sammy said, smiling.
Ray nodded. “Sure. Girls are just as capable as guys,” he said, regarding the girls. He glanced at Sammy. “You’re stealing my crowd, Sammy.”
The girls, including Sammy, chuckled.
“Well, we’re moving off now ladies,” Ray said. “Enjoy the rest of your evening.”
“Thanks, Ray,” they said as he and Sammy stood up. “Bye, Sammy,” they said, endearing little things.
“Bye,” she said back, before following Ray to a short line of chairs.
They sat down and Ray looked at her.
“You’re really happy in yourself,” he stated.
“Mm-hm,” Sammy said, nodding.
“A lot of other girls aren’t,” he confided in her. “I mean, the ones I usually go out with. It’s not their fault, but they kind of need a guy to look after them if you know what I’m saying.”
“I do. It’s a shame they feel that way. But it’s good if they find that sort of guy.”
Ray nodded. He looked into his empty wine glass.
“I almost feel bad when I talk to them,” he confessed, without pre-emption. “I mean, I party hard and I know it. And what they’re looking for is a gentleman. So I tell them all the magic stuff, the romantic stuff, and hope that they’ll find what they’re looking for.”
“You’re really kind, Ray,” Sammy told him.
Ray shrugged. “Maybe I’ve filled their head with too many fairytales.”
“Oh, well, we all need a fairytale once in a while. And you don’t see them that often, do you? They’re in year 10. Unless they gather regularly to listen to you.”
Ray grinned, still looking into the remaining contents of his glass.
“Nah, you’re right.” His smile faded; his expression became serious. “But ... you really inspired them. With something that they could achieve. You’re really wise, Sammy. Really, really wise.”
Sammy smiled. “Thanks, Ray. I just ... I’ve got it all sorted out - like you said earlier. I know my own value and I know the difference between a want and a need, and at the end of the day I was lucky and am strong. Like you said, it’s not the girls’ fault that they’re not strong.”
Sammy wondered something.
“Do you know why you’re popular, Ray?”
Ray shook his head, looking up at Sammy again.
“People just seem to like my company. I guess it’s my personality.”
Sammy nodded. “You’ve got a good balance of fun and amiability.”
Ray gave a short laugh.
“Thanks, Sammy, though you’ve not seen me at a house party. Then I’m really the kind of guy you’d hate.”
“What was it you said to me? You’re supposed to get wild at parties. If that’s your way of getting wild, it doesn’t have to define you.”
“How are you in class?”
“Oh, I crack the odd joke but mainly I listen. I like the people subjects. I try to sympathise with the people you get a glimpse into the lives of. The teachers seem to like me.”
Sammy nodded. “I see.”
“Hey, can I have your number? I won’t send you loads of annoying texts. But if you wanted to hang out, you’d have the means of contacting me and the same goes for me.”
Sammy smiled. “Sure.”
Ray took out his phone and tapped in her number as she spoke out the number.
“Cool, I’ll text you mine,” he said, saving the number and putting the phone back into his pocket. He looked at her again. “What d’you want to do now?”
“I think that’s the first time you’ve asked me,” Sammy told him.
He grinned. “I know. But I think you should choose now. We’ve done everything that I wanted.”
“Too bad I don’t have a clue what we should do then.”
“Well, if you don’t have any ideas, we might as well just sit here and chat. That okay?”
“What subjects do you do?”
“English Lit, Maths, German, Chemistry and Further Maths.”
“What about you?”
“History, Geography, Philosophy and Ethics, and English Lang and Lit.”
“Philosophy and Ethics, eh?”
“Yeah. The philosophy can make your brain hurt a little but Ethics is really quite interesting.”
“I bet. What d’you want to be when you’re older?”
“I don’t know. I know I should be deciding by now but I’m just not sure. I’ll probably study some kind of Geography at Uni but that’s as far as I’ve got with my plans.”
“Ah, I’m sure you’ll choose something when you’re there.”
“What would you like to do?”
“Well, I’m going to do Maths at university and hopefully train to become a teacher.”
“Wow. I bet you’d be brilliant at that. Which age group?”
“Nothing above GCSE, I think. Perhaps primary or early secondary.”
Ray nodded. “Well, good luck to you.”
“You too - in your Geography.”
The pair spent the next ten minutes or so making small-talk like that. They were talking about January modules when a couple arrived on the scene: a tall black-haired, grey-eyed boy and a brown-haired, blue-eyed girl whose arms were linked as they approached Ray and Sammy, who called out “Hi, Ray,” when they were about five metres away.
“Oh, hey, Mike, Carla,” Ray replied. He turned to Sammy. “Mike’s my best friend and Carla’s his girlfriend.” Turning back to Mike and Carla, who were now in front of them, he said, “This is Sammy,” gesturing with a hand.
“Oh, yeah, your Mysterious Partner,” Carla said, smiling. “You having a good time?”
“Yes, thanks. What about you and Mike?”
“Well, we found some nice privacy under some trees, didn’t we?” Mike asked his girlfriend.
“We certainly did,” she said, grinning.
Ray laughed. “Well, sit down and talk to us for a while. Too much kissing can’t be healthy for you.”
Mike grinned. He and Carla pulled two chairs so that they were facing Ray and Sammy, and Carla began to chatter about her recent birthday party.
Mike and Carla ended up talking to Ray and Sammy for three quarters of an hour. Sammy didn’t really talk much because she didn’t know these people and she was a little shy after having spent so much time alone with Ray, but she was content just to sit back and listen to people conversing around her, warm in the atmosphere of friendship and enjoyment of the evening.
At five to nine the last slow dance music began. Carla immediately jumped up, pulling Mike to his feet too and encouraged Ray to dance with Sammy.
Ray glanced at Sammy, smiling.
“Do you want to slow dance? It’s not difficult.”
“Oh, okay,” Sammy said, a little bewildered by the suddenness of it and worried that Carla thought that Ray and her had become more than friends, though that was rather an interesting thought. She stood up at the same time as Ray and the four of them migrated to the crowd of dancing students and joined in.
It was a surreal sensation to be standing in the middle of a lawn, slow-dancing with Ray. She found that she didn’t know where to look - maintaining eye contact made her feel awkward and a little vulnerable. And holding her, and having him hold her back, was strange.
“I’ve never slow-danced before,” she admitted as they swayed in time with the music.
“No?” Ray said. “Do you like it?”
“I... I’m not sure,” she confessed.
Ray grinned. “Relax, Sammy. It doesn’t have to mean anything. I’m not going to try to sweep you off your feet or anything.”
Sammy giggled and it helped her to relax. Around her, everyone wore contented smiles, so it almost felt she was in a field of purring cats.
“It’s a nice night, isn’t it?” she asked, looking up at the stars.
“Mm-hm,” Ray agreed.
Sammy looked back down and into his eyes. She remembered the flirting earlier. A half-grin flitted across her face as she said, “I was going to call your hair as dark as the night when I was trying to flirt.”
Ray smiled. “Why didn’t you?”
“Thought it sounded sexual.”
“It does. But thank you anyway.”
Sammy blushed and looked at the ground.
“Do you ever want a boyfriend?” Ray enquired.
Sammy looked up, amused.
“Who’s to say I don’t?”
Ray smiled. “You do? What type of guy do you want?”
“You going to play matchmaker or something?”
Ray grinned. “Nope. Just curious.”
Sammy shrugged. “I don’t know, really. Someone decent. Someone who treats me with respect. But someone romantic too. Though I guess I wouldn’t really mind someone a lot different at this age. So long as they didn’t treat me awfully, I’d probably be happy.”
“What d’you mean ‘at this age’?” Ray asked, looking curious.
“Well, I understand that I’m young right now and so the relationships I have won’t mean as much as when I’m older. Also, it’s harder to find exactly what you’re looking for the first couple of times, isn’t it?”
Ray nodded. “Yeah.”
“What do you like in a girl?”
Ray shrugged. “Someone fun. Someone with a sense of humour. But someone who’s nice. I can’t stand girls who are mean. Someone decent.”
Sammy nodded. “Cool.”
The pair lapsed into silence. A few seconds later the song finished and the music stopped entirely.
“Well, time to go home,” Sammy said, letting go of Ray as he let go of her. “It was nice meeting you, Ray, and really nice hanging out with you.”
“You too, Sammy,” he said, sounding as if he really meant it.
“See you around.”
They parted, him walking off with Mike and Carla and her on her own. She got into her car, started the engine and sighed happily to herself before driving home, her journey accompanied by the sound of the radio. What a lovely evening she had had.