Playground

SSSSS

I swung gently on the swing, not really moving. Beside me Peter reached new great heights with each strain of his legs. Every time he passed I felt the whoosh of air that accompanied him. He swung as if he was trying to get away from something. Probably me.

The set was old and rusty, and creaked in the breeze. I waited nervously; certain that any second Peter's swaying would cause the playground equipment to topple over. This kind of thing was made for small children, not boys becoming men, with broad shoulders and long legs.

I'd been sitting here a few minutes, and still neither of us had said anything. Not that I really expected him to. I'd have to speak first. I knew it.

I dragged my feet through the tanbark beneath me, reluctant. "Do you remember when we came here as kids?"

Peter didn't make any move to respond. He didn't even look at me. He just kept swinging – up and down, up and down.

Eventually, he spoke back, "Why'd you come here?" He had to speak loudly, his words fading as he disappeared into the sky, and then gaining in volume as he came falling back down.

I shrugged, even though he wasn't watching me. He'd know I was doing it anyway. Silence reigned again. I could feel my skin prickling with the tension in the air, and I suddenly wanted to laugh hysterically. Not because anything was funny, but just because everything was so ridiculous. Here we were, two best friends, Peter and me, and we could barely say a word to each other. He spoke again, going back to his earlier question. His voice was laced with anger.

"Tell me. Why? Just so you could leave again?"

"I never did that," I said in a small voice. He snorted as he went flying past.

"I didn't mean to do that," I amended at last. The words sounded pathetic even to my own ears.

"Yeah, well. You did." His swinging grew less vigorous; as if he wanted to hear my reply, not matter how quietly I talked.

"I'm sorry. Doesn't that mean anything to you?" I meant the words I said, but Peter didn't seem to pick up on the sincerity. He always was an idiot like that, stubborn and pig-headed.

"It would mean something to me," he said, stopping swinging further still, "if I believed what you said." His voice was tight and strained.

"How could I possibly prove that to you?"

"You can't." Well, at least he was honest.

"I'd do anything."

"Anything?" Peter said, long and slow, drawing the word out. For a second it was almost like old times, and we were playing a game. Both our voices were light, but forced. There was something underneath them, but I didn't want to dig that far.

"Anything," I agreed, eager to appease him.

He pondered. "Go and run over, and touch that tree." It wasn't much, but I sprung into action immediately anyway. It seemed to take hours, rather than seconds, and I knew it was because behind me Peter was watching my every move. I came back, puffing slightly, and saw that Peter's eyes were trained on me, half smiling. It was the first time in ages I'd seen him look at me without any trace of anger, and it felt good. But then I saw the sadness mixed in with the laughter, and I felt worse.

He was now only swinging as much as I had been, so I could walk up and stand right in front of him without having to fear my teeth getting knocked out of my skull by his combat-boot clad feet.

"Now… Go and do ten cartwheels." Again, I went and obeyed. Or tried to, anyway; cartwheels really weren't my forte; I just ended up eating grass. This time when I sat back down next to him, and the feeling between us was almost companionable. I let out a breath, which was almost a laugh. I slumped against the swing's chain, and brushed my hair out of my eyes. Peter grew still.

"You said, anything, right?" Something in his voice made me wary.

"Yes…" I trailed off, uncertain.

"Then, as my final command, I say that you have to-" he stopped abruptly. I didn't really want to know what he would say next, but I had to ask. It was like it was a script, and I had to follow it.

"I have to what?" My voice shook slightly, and I didn't know why.

"Kiss me." He looked at me again, his eyes searching, forgiving and hating, loving and misunderstanding all at once.

"Anything but that," I said, making my earlier promise empty. Peter turned away and suddenly kicked up into the air again, within seconds he was swinging as high as he had been before.

"So you were just leading me on, as usual. Giving, and then taking everything back." The wind blew, but I heard his words loud and clear, even over the creaking of the swing. I knew he was being stupid, and not acting reasonably, but I couldn't seem to muster the energy to be angry at anyone but myself. I was suddenly on my feet, craning my neck up to see him, and following him with my eyes.

"You're always running away from people, and your feelings – you never mean anything you say!" The words cut, and I felt like flinching.

"It's not like that!" I shouted, wanting him to not just hear my words, but also process them. I wanted him to understand them. "It was never meant to be like that!" I wasn't even sure why I was shouting.

"You know the way I feel about you," he said. The words were a blur as he went past, but I could still sense the anger in them. I still could see the frustration etched on his face.

"I just want things to go back to the way they were!" I was surprised to feel tears pricking at my eyes, deadly as needles. "Things were meant to stay the same. We were never meant to be become like that!"

He didn't say anything, and the silence was deafening.

"I never wanted to hurt you." I don't think he heard me. I took another deep breath to shout again, but my next words came out as a whisper.

"I never meant to fall in love with you." I felt cowardly. I couldn't tell him, and it made me sick. The knowledge sat in the pit of my stomach and curdled, making my throat taste of bile.

Peter swung down, his mouth a grim slash. He was waiting for me to leave, I could tell. Well, he could go on bloody waiting, but he'd be here all night. I wasn't going to walk away before he spoke.

Swing, swing, swing.

Suddenly, I was angry. He couldn't just do that. He told me I was running away, but what about him? He swung down again, then up again. It was just the same thing, over and over. I'd had enough.

Bending my knees, I launched myself at him as the swing came back down.

We fell heavily to the side, entangled in each other's arms. The chains pulled painfully against my shoulder, as if it would wrench the bone from the socket. I felt the shock as Peter's back smashed into the swing set pole, thudding painfully. He hunched over slightly, and tightened his grip on me, as if trying to protect me. Our necks narrowly missed certain breaking.

The swing seat flung itself up into the air, the chains weightless for a second before falling down in a jerking, tangled mess. It was a far cry from the usual, simple and perfect pendulum nature of the object.

We lay how we were for a second, side by side, but with him half covering me. It was by no means romantic or convenient.

He looked down on me, breathing heavily. I expected him to tell me I was stupid, or yell at me, but he did neither. He spoke, more calmly than I'd expect from someone who had just narrowly escaped death by children's plaything.

"Things can't stay the same, you know? They have to change sometime." His voice was low.

I nodded.

"I know."

But still I pushed him off me.