[Maria Jackson is online]
Maria Jackson 19:34
Luke? You there?
Luke Smith 19:35
I’m here Maria, hi! How are you?
Maria Jackson 19:35
:) Not bad, you?
Luke Smith 19:36
I’m pretty good thanks. I’ve been working on a new theorem after Roger’s lecture today, it’s all about prime numbers and…you probably aren’t interested are you?
Maria Jackson 19:37
Sorry! You know I can’t do maths. How’s K9?
Luke Smith 19:37
He’s alright, resting at the moment because he had to help mum out earlier.
Maria Jackson 19:38
What was it this time? Slitheen again?
Luke Smith 19:38
Maria Jackson 19:38
Luke Smith 19:40
This alien who tricked mum into giving up her life then tried to eat her soul. We stopped her though, with K9’s help.
Maria Jackson 19:41
:O Thank god! That must have been so scary!
Luke Smith 19:42
It was a pretty bad one, yeah.
Maria Jackson 19:44
You know, sometimes when I’m trying to do my homework or watching really bad American TV with dad I wish that I was back with you guys, fighting aliens and saving the planet every other day. But I forget how scary it was. I still miss you though of course. :)
Luke Smith 19:44
Maria Jackson 19:44
Well yes, Clyde too. How is he by the way?
Luke Smith 19:45
He’s confusing. You’re my best friend Maria, but Clyde’s my best mate (is that right? It’s what Clyde always says anyway) and I usually know what he’s thinking because he’s got such obvious body language, but the past few times we’ve spoken I haven’t been able to understand him at all.
Maria Jackson 19:46
Maybe it’s just because you aren’t meeting IRL?
Luke Smith 19:47
What does ‘IRL’ mean again?
Maria Jackson: 19:47
:P ‘In Real Life’. You know, you’re only skype chatting or on the phone or whatever
Luke Smith 19:48
Oh right. Yeah. Well, maybe. He’ll be all normal most of the time, and then whenever I ask about Rani he becomes really awkward.
Maria Jackson 19:48
Luke Smith 19:48
Maria Jackson 19:49
Oh Luke, come on! He obviously fancies Rani!
Luke Smith 19:50
Really? Do you think so?
Maria Jackson 19:52
Well he always used to talk about Rani without getting awkward didn’t he? And now I think about it, he’s always really careful not to mention her when we talk. I thought it was just because he was trying to be nice, not make me feel like I was being replaced or whatever (as if! ;) I do mean it when I say I don’t miss the alien-fighting though) but it makes so much more sense if he fancies her!
Luke Smith 19:52
Why hasn’t he told me about it then?
Maria Jackson 19:52
Luke, you’re his best mate. Of course he won’t tell you he’s got a crush on one of your best friends.
Luke Smith 19:53
Do you think he’s told her?
Maria Jackson 19:54
Of course he hasn’t. This is Clyde we’re talking about – he will never say anything in case he doesn’t come across as ‘cool’
Luke Smith 19:55
But then…he’ll never get to go out with her. And that’s what he wants to do. So that course of action doesn’t make any sense.
Maria Jackson 19:55
Well no. That’s why dating is so difficult! What about Rani, do you think she likes him?
Luke Smith 19:56
I don’t know. I haven’t spoken to her properly for ages, she’s really busy revising for her exams and saving the world.
Maria Jackson 19:56
Lol. When you do speak, does Clyde ever come up?
Luke Smith 19:58
Yes, all the time. We were talking yesterday actually, and she kept going on about Clyde doing something stupid in English, and then about this joke he told her the other day.
Maria Jackson 19:59
Oh my god she completely fancies him!
Luke Smith 20:00
How can you tell?
Maria Jackson 20:01
When a girl fancies a guy she can’t stop talking about them. Oh Luke this is so adorable!!!
Luke Smith 20:02
But if neither of them will tell that they fancy the other, how are they ever going to start dating? Should I tell them?
Maria Jackson 20:02
Luke Smith 20:02
Oh okay. What should I do then?
Maria Jackson 20:04
Maybe you could drop subtle hints? Ask Clyde if there’s anyone he fancies? Then again, it’s not really something you’d ask is it?
Luke Smith 20:04
Maria Jackson 20:06
It’s ok :) Anyway, if what you’ve told me about Rani is true, if she’s the same girl I’ve heard about, I think they’ll sort themselves out.
Luke Smith 20:07
What do you mean?
Maria Jackson 20:07
If they both want it, I think she’ll make sure that it happens.
Luke Smith 20:07
Oh. Alright then. And I shouldn’t say anything?
Maria Jackson 20:08
Definitely not, unless either of them mentions it to you first.
Luke Smith 20:08
This dating thing is much more complicated than your romantic films ever made it out to be.
Maria Jackson 20:11
Haha. You know if they don’t sort themselves out, I’m coming over next month. I’ll talk to Rani.
Luke Smith 20:11
So…it’s not right for me to talk to Clyde but you can talk to Rani? That doesn’t make any sense Maria
Maria Jackson 20:13
Girls can talk about this stuff better. Especially when we’re only just meeting for the first time. Honestly Luke, I’ll get the story from her. Actually...I think I've got an idea
Luke Smith 20:14
A plan? What is it?
Maria Jackson 20:15
Oh, sorry, got to go, dad’s calling me for dinner. I'll talk to you about it tomorrow ok?
Luke Smith 20:16
Okay. Say hello from me.
Maria Jackson 20:16
Will do. Have a good weekend and speak soon yeah? Love, bye xoxoxo
Luke Smith 20:17
And you too. Goodbye Maria xxx
[Maria Jackson is now offline]
Three weeks later a Gelth slipped across the dimensions into Bannerman Road via a loose connection in Mr Smith. Clyde had been buried in his art coursework, but Sarah Jane had called him over anyway. To be fair, she hadn’t much choice – Mr Smith had calculated that if the Gelth could cross universes through his systems it could be captured in a communications device with Bluetooth, and Clyde was the only one with a modern enough phone that had any charge whatsoever. But he still wasn’t impressed, running along with Rani who persisted in being ridiculously cheerful even though it was pouring with rain and Clyde hadn’t showered yet and was clearly not coming off as attractive in any way.
They caught the Gelth though, surprisingly easily in the end. The fiery creature didn’t even struggle as the wireless network pulled it into the phone (“how does that even work?” Clyde asked, not expecting an answer. He had learnt long ago that nothing complicated was ever going to be explained) and abruptly stopped cackling.
“Cool background.” Rani laughed, peering over his shoulder at the burning golden haze wafting across his screen. Clyde grinned awkwardly, snapping his phone shut and handing it to Sarah Jane to deal with before muttering about having to go back to work.
Trying to avoid Rani was getting ridiculous. She was going to start noticing soon.
“Sarah Jane, is it just me or is Clyde avoiding me?”
Sarah Jane looked up at her, pausing in twisting tight the bolts on a Travidian music box.
“Avoiding you? Why would he be avoiding you?” Rani shrugged, putting down the screwdriver she’d been absent-mindedly fiddling with and flopping onto the sofa at the back of the attic.
“Don’t ask me. I mean, Clyde’s always had times when he doesn’t want to talk to anyone, like when he’s heard from his dad, but lately it’s like he’s specifically trying not to see me.” She was picking at a loose thread on a cushion, working it free from the others without really paying attention to what she was doing.
“Rani, I think you’re imagining it. Clyde’s just…really busy at the moment. You know how much art coursework he has, and what a perfectionist he can be about it.”
“Yeah…” Rani sighed, “But still. He doesn’t seem to be worried about spending time with you.” She added, pulling the thread free and dropping it absently on the floor.
“Rani, can you pick that up? I don’t want to sound like your mum but oh, I just tidied up in here and some of these artefacts can do terrible things if they get hold of a bit of string.”
“Oh, sorry Sarah Jane.” Picking the thread up again, Rani paused suddenly as though struck by an idea. “Hang on, isn’t Maria coming to visit next week?”
“Hm? Oh yes, I suppose she must be.”
“Well, that must be it!” Rani said, throwing the cushion back onto the sofa. She leant on the back of Sarah Jane’s chair, ignoring her look of exasperation as Rani blocked the light. “He must fancy Maria!”
“What?” A disbelieving laugh and Sarah Jane put down the music case, taking off her glasses. “What on earth gave you that idea? Not to blow my own trumpet too much, but I always got the impression that Maria and Luke were more likely to hit it off like that.”
Rani shook her head.
“No, I’m sure. It’s the only explanation! Clyde fancies Maria and she’s coming soon so he wants to make a really good impression. And obviously me and Clyde are just mates, but maybe he thinks if Maria sees how close we are she’ll, I dunno, get the wrong idea or something. So he’s trying to, you know, push me away so that when Maria gets here she won’t get the wrong idea.”
“Well, maybe. But I really don’t think that Clyde and Maria were ever like that.” But Rani’s eyes had taken on the gleam that meant she had An Idea.
“You’ll see Sarah Jane. When Maria gets here, then you’ll see.” She was interrupted by a sudden buzzing. “Oh god, it’s mum. I didn’t realise how late it was. Sorry Sarah Jane, gotta go. See you tomorrow!”
But she was already gone. Sarah Jane shook her head and pushed her glasses back on, turning her attention back to the music box.
Luke had originally been planning to come down from Oxford to see Maria and hang out with them all together, but as Sarah Jane drove her back from the airport he called to tell them he wasn’t going to be able to make it.
“Oh that’s such a shame,” Sarah Jane said as Maria relayed the news, slipping her phone back into her pocket. “It would’ve been such fun for you all to hang out together.”
“I think he’s got a big piece of coursework in.” Maria said. “It’s okay, we speak a lot on Facebook anyway.”
“I wish I could understand all this social networking. Ask me about alien technology, about the history of invasions and I’m fine but as soon as you get into Facebook and Bebo I’m completely lost.”
“Sarah Jane, nobody uses Bebo anymore. It’s all Facebook and LiveJournal.” Sarah Jane looked puzzled.
“What’s LiveJournal?” Maria was still laughing as they turned into Bannerman Road, when she abruptly stopped.
“Wow, it looks…just the same. It’s weird, I’ve gone such a long way away, my life has changed so much I sort of, I dunno, expected everything else to change too. But it’s not. It’s the same. And there’s Clyde!”
Maria fumbled with her seatbelt and then threw open the door as Sarah Jane slowed to a halt on the edge of the road. Leaning on the steering wheel she smiled as Clyde dropped his backpack and ran to pull Maria into a tight hug.
“I’m glad Rani’s not around to see that,” she said to herself, “It would definitely give her the wrong idea.”
Clyde took Maria to meet Rani, and although initially awkward with each other as soon as they got chatting they hit it off immediately.
“See, I knew you ladies would get on well. Never say Clyde Langer doesn’t choose his friends well.” He boasted, swinging an arm over each of their shoulders. The girls laughed, batting his hands away.
“Get off idiot.” Maria’s tone was fond. “You know we only became mates because of the Slitheen. And Luke.” Clyde shrugged.
”Yeah, well, I kept you around after didn’t I? Now I’m sorry to part you from my company but I’ve got that essay to finish for English.” Rani made a face.
“Oh Clyde we’ve had that essay for weeks, why didn’t you do it earlier?”
“We can’t all be nerds like you Chandra. But catch you both later yeah? Sarah Jane said something about pizza and art coursework or not, I am always up for pizza.”
“We’ll see you later Clyde.” Maria cut in. Clyde grinned, winked, and was gone. Maria shook her head, smiling.
“He hasn’t changed. So. Looks like it’s just you and me – want to go for a walk?”
“You’re nothing like I imagined you’d be.” Rani said as they walked up towards the park. “The way the guys talk about you I thought you’d be really smart and intimidating but you’re just lovely and normal.” Maria laughed, looping her arm through Rani’s.
“I’m going to take that as a compliment.” They walked in silence for a few minutes, feet tapping out asynchronous rhythms on the pavement as grey clouds massed ominously above their heads. Neither of them had brought umbrellas, but Rani was hoping that the rain would hold off long enough that they could spend a while on the swings. It was bizarre, she thought, that when you’re a kid you love the play park for the fun of running around and whizzing down the slide. And then you get a bit older and think you’re too cool for it all, but then at some point you suddenly start gravitating back again. Not to run around like the little kid you used to be (well, apart from that one time where Clyde had climbed on top of the climbing frame and declared himself king, and then it had been her moral duty to depose him. Even if deposing him meant spinning him around as fast as she could on the roundabout.) but just to be.
“You know,” Maria said, as they settled themselves onto the hard rubber slabs that did for swings, “I never understood why they couldn’t make these more comfortable. I mean, I get that it’s got to allow for different sized people but couldn’t they have given it a little bit of give?” She winced, wriggling her bum backwards on the swing. Rani laughed.
“I suppose they’ve got fancy comfortable swings in the US?”
“No, not really,” Maria admitted, scuffing a toe through the wood chippings that covered the ground as she swung herself forwards, “But still. Ouch.”
They swung back and forth for a while, chatting about aliens and the various adventures they’d had:
“And then Clyde,” Rani paused to swallow a mouthful of air, wiping a tear of laughter from her eye, “Clyde said, god what was it, ‘Mars has entered the Milky Way and Aero is conjunction with the Galaxy!’” Maria smiled, then bit her lip.
“So you and Clyde – you’re pretty close right?” Rani abruptly stopped laughing.
“Oh god Maria, I’m so sorry, I didn’t think…I haven’t stolen him from you or anything.” Maria frowned.
“What are you talking about? ‘Stolen him from you’ what do you m-” comprehension suddenly dawned, “Oh. Oh god, you think me and Clyde, that we…” she trailed off, gesturing.
“Well…aren’t you?” Vehemently, Maria shook her head.
“No. God no. I mean, I love Clyde, he’s a really good friend but he’s so not my type.”
“Oh. Well. That’s good then.” Rani looked pensive, then suddenly said, “So if you and Clyde aren’t…together or anything, why’s he been so weird since you said you were coming?” Maria grinned.
“I don’t think it’s since I said I was coming Rani. I think it might be since he first realised how much he liked you.” Rani made a face.
“What? What you think Clyde…fancies me or something?” She wrinkled her nose, ostensibly in disgust at the idea. “Really?” The creases suddenly fell out from around her eyes.
“Why else would he completely avoid looking at you except when you aren’t looking back? I’m not an expert in boys or anything Rani but I really think he might have a bit of a crush. And…what about you?” Rani gave a half-shrug, pushing herself back on the swing to start rocking back and forth again.
“Oh I dunno…I mean I love him, he’s a great mate but…fancy him?” She frowned, and Maria knew to let it rest.
“Think about it maybe.” She kicked her own swing back. “Bet I can get higher than you.”
They were in the middle of eating pizza, lying around in the attic and chatting to Luke on Skype when Mr Smith started flashing.
“Sarah Jane,” he said, and a collective sigh went up as they dropped their pizza back in the box and clambered to their feet, “I’m receiving indications of alien activity in Hobson Close.”
“Hobson Close?” Rani asked, as they gathered around the computer, “But that’s right around the corner!”
“Correct.” Mr Smith replied. “My sensors indicate that a single Shambonie has appeared in the middle of the road. Thus far it appears non-hostile, but I am still analysing the signal.”
“Thank you Mr Smith!” Sarah Jane clapped her hands as she turned to face them all.
“Right you lot – this doesn’t seem like a big one so why don’t you stay here and finish up your pizza? Maria’s only here a few more hours, you should make the most of it.”
“No way!” Clyde put out a hand. “No offence Maria, but this is what we do. Sure it might seem non-hostile now, but how many other aliens have pretended to be all meek and friendly before trying to turn us all into space dust?”
“He’s right Sarah Jane,” Rani put in, “What if you get there and this…Shamboonie or whatever zaps you? What’re the rest of us gonna do then?” For a moment it looked like Sarah Jane was about to refuse them, but then Maria stepped forwards.
“How about I go with you Sarah Jane, and Clyde and Rani stay here? I don’t exactly miss running for my life every week but it’d be nice to see at least one alien before I go back home.”
“Oh no, Maria, I’ll come too.” Clyde said hurriedly, but Maria grabbed his hand.
“No Clyde, stay.” There was a particularly bright look in his eyes, and Rani suddenly had a sneaking suspicion that she might have had the same chat with Clyde that they’d had on the swings.
“Come on Clyde, let’s just stay. Odds are they’ll be back in five minutes anyway.” She put a hand on his sleeve, and he jumped as though he’d shocked her. He looked like he wanted to argue, but Sarah Jane was looking impatient.
“Fine.” He muttered. “But if you both die because I wasn’t there to watch your backs, you’ve only got yourselves to blame!” Maria rolled her eyes, and with a quick, meaningful glance at Rani she followed Sarah Jane down the stairs.
There was silence in the attic.
“Well,” Rani said, forcibly cheerful, “How about some more pizza Clyde?” He turned to look at her, and she let the fake grin slide from her face. “No. Okay. No pizza.”
“I have no idea what I’m doing here Rani.” Clyde admitted. “Want someone to fight aliens? No problem. Looking for the funniest guy in the world? I’m your man. But…I don’t know what I’m doing here.” Rani nodded.
“Yeah. Know what you mean. Look, how about we just, just sit down and eat a bit more pizza yeah?”
They sank back onto the bean bags, retrieving their hastily dropped slices of pizza and taking small, awkward bites. Rani thought that silence had never in the history of the universe been so heavy, that it had ever gone on for such an agonisingly long time. She was suddenly very aware of Clyde’s hand resting on the floor, only a few inches from her own. Was it her imagination, or were his fingers twitching?
“This is terrible pizza.” Clyde said suddenly, and Rani pulled her gaze hastily away from his hand.
“Yeah,” she agreed quickly. “It’s rubbish.” She ventured a quick glance down. Clyde’s fingers were definitely a little closer than before. Focussing her eyes entirely on the slice of pizza in her left hand, she let her right fingers move ever so slightly closer to Clyde’s. It was almost farcical, the extent to which they were both pretending that nothing was happening. In a moment their fingertips were going to brush, and then what were they going to do?
That thought was enough to make her hand freeze mid-wiggle, but it was too late. The edge of Clyde’s little finger grazed her own and at once she snapped up to look at him. Their eyes met. There was a very, very long pause.
“Rani-” Clyde began.
“Clyde-” Rani started.
They both stopped, leaving the words unspoken and hanging in the air.
“You first.” She offered. Clyde swallowed. He actually swallowed, and not even a comedy swallow. This is so stupid she thought. We’re acting like we’ve never spoken to each other before or something.
“Rani,” he said again. And paused. Then he threw up his hands.
“You know what Rani, what the hell? We’ve only got a few months of school left anyway so if this ruins our friendship forever then we can both slink off to our separate unis and never speak to each other again. Luke can deal with running between us in the holidays, and the aliens…well they can sort themselves out.” Rani laughed.
“I like the way you’re creating a contingency plan for something you haven’t even said yet.” She said wryly. He shot her a look.
“This is a genius contingency plan Rani, well-thought out over a hundred nights when I should have been sleeping, eating, drawing, doing anything at all but thinking about how the hell this might one day go.” Clyde stopped suddenly. “Oh blimey, I can’t go back now can I? Pretend this never happened?”
“No.” Rani said. Hesitantly, she reached out and covered her hand with her own. It was warm under her palm and she could feel the ridges of his knuckles, the slightest tremor in his fingers. “But we’re in this together now. God Clyde, you don’t even need to say it. You like me, right?”
Clyde’s expression was the best example of ‘wind torn from his sails’ Rani had ever seen, and she couldn’t help but laugh. The tension in the room seemed to lessen a little, and Clyde let out a slow unsteady breath.
“Yeah,” he finally said, “Yeah. I like you Rani. I really, really like you. And, and what about you? You like me too yeah?” Laughing, she nodded.
“Yeah, yeah Clyde I like you too.”
“Well then.” He turned his hand over under his and their fingers slid together, closing around each other. Rani smiled.
“You realise Maria is going to give us absolute hell for this? It’s what she planned all along.”
“And me too actually guys.” They nearly jumped out of their skin, hands pulling apart as they leapt to their feet and looked around for the source of the voice. “You forgot to turn Skype off when Mr Smith turned on.” Luke said cheerily. Rani felt blood rush to her face.
“This is so embarrassing,” she said, as Clyde starting swearing until she hit him in the ribs.
“Ouch!” he complained. “You could have said something Luke! Let us know you were still in the room and not watched my absolute humiliation.” Luke was grinning, utterly unrepentant.
“But then who would tell Maria all the details? We’ve been planning this for months. Even Mr Smith was in on it, though we might not have actually mentioned that it was to get you together rather than to stop an alien attack.”
“Oh god does Sarah Jane know?” Rani exclaimed. Luke laughed, shaking his head.
“Of course not, mum would have been rubbish. It’s a good thing I’m not there actually, Maria’s the only one who could actually have pulled it off. It’s okay, she’s promised not to go on about it when she gets back. She’ll even tell Sarah Jane for you.” Rani winced.
“Can you imagine what Sarah Jane’s going to say?” she said in horror, automatically hiding her face in Clyde’s shoulder. He put his arm around her shoulder, warm and comforting.
“It’ll be okay,” he said firmly. “But Lukey-boy, I’m going to shut you off now, treacherous friend that you are.” Luke was still grinning as the screen went black, and Rani huffed an exasperated laugh into Clyde’s t-shirt.
“Oh god, what’s dad going to say when I have to tell him I’m going out with you? He’ll never let me leave the house again.”
“Hey!” Clyde said indignantly, “Your dad and me get on brilliant. Or at least we will do when he knows I’m practically heir to his family.” Rani poked him in the stomach, and he stepped back, hands moving to her waist.
“Don’t get too sure of yourself Langer. You haven’t even kissed me yet.” Clyde frowned.
“I haven’t? Then allow me.”
His lips were warm and slightly floury, and his mouth tasted like tomato. Rani had chased monsters and travelled through time, had made straight A*s in her GCSEs and saved the world a hundred times. But, she thought as her arms slid around Clyde’s neck and his fingers found their way into her hair, this might just be the best moment of her life.