"No," she whispers, as one does in the dark. "Not anymore."
The playground is grateful for their company. It seems to miss the buzz of children: the scraped knees and endless laughter. Nowadays, people grow up too soon, too fast, far too much to play anymore. Finley’s been here all his life – he’s seen the slides when they were cherry-red, the shiny new monkey-bars - but Eleanor only knows it as abandoned.
"I wanted to, but she didn't. I guess she'd rather forget me."
Finley leans back in his seat, picking peeling paint and rust from the metal frame. He’s not surprised - this was the answer he expected, the answer she always gave, however unwillingly. The metal clicks and groans under their weight, the seesaw rocking them like an ocean. To him, this is nothing more than routine.
He flicks green paint from his fingers, “She’s got a boyfriend now. They’ve been together for a while, actually.”
"Oh," she says. “Oh,” because what else is there to say?
Eleanor knew this, or at least she should have. She never was enough, not for anyone, not for herself. El’s world revolved around insecurity, a paper-thin ballerina twirling in ceaseless orbit. The stars swirl and blur above her, nausea festering in her stomach like some ungodly disease. It had been months, so why did she still feel sick? Moving on seemed so easy - for her - but not for El.
Finn swings his legs absent-mindedly, "Why did you date her, anyway?"
Eleanor had been asking herself the same question.
Because she was there and willing. Because El had dreamed of becoming an astronaut and she was the closest sun. Because, when she smiled, El saw stars. She was all El had ever wanted and she loved her – enough for it to hurt.
“Why do you care?” She snaps, “It doesn’t matter anymore. Nothing does.”
She wants to be angry, she really does, but now her lungs are bursting and Finley is looking at her with wide, startled eyes and she can’t. She only feels empty.
Their silence stretches the blank night further than it has to, pulling air taut between them. It makes space where they want none, where they need to hold each other just to stay alive, to breathe. The friendship they shared was a constant, comforting gravity, a rock to lean on when reality began to crumble beneath them. The cicadas stop humming, and suddenly their world is as black and great as the vacuum of space. They are drowning, with no real reason why. Neither of them apologise.
Eleanor fiddles with her hands, watching her words turn to mist: "I think I just wanted someone to like me."
Finley stops. Oh.
The metal is cold under his fingertips. He’ll need to walk El home, soon, before her mum gets upset. She’s been anxious lately. Something about the dark. Something about El’s brother. Not that it bothers him, of course. At least, that’s what he tells himself. He looks up. The moon spreads fuzzily outwards beyond the shade sail, like white chalk on a road, like streetlights in smog. He looks to Eleanor. Oh.
She’s hugging her knees to her chest, as small and fragile as she was five years ago. “Finn, maybe we were made to be lonely.”
His heart sinks, and ‘Oh’, the park whispers in response: oh, as the wind rushes to meet them, as Finn soars from his seat and runs to her side.