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Inevitable Conclusion

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"What are you thinking about?" asked Jury, obviously tiring of Melrose's pacing.

"The friend zone," said Melrose. He paused in front of the Ardy End fireplace and knelt to prod at the logs with a poker.

Jury cocked his head. "Pardon?"

Melrose got up and flung himself into the chair opposite Jury. "The friend zone. This idea that when you get to know a person, you classify them as a friend or a potential lover, and once you've classified them they can't move between those zones. If you're interested in a person but they only consider you a friend, you're in the friend zone."

Jury frowned. "Is this about Polly?"

Melrose spared a curse for Jury and his infernal perceptiveness, even if he had the reasons for it wrong. "She mentioned it to me. But that's not why I bring it up."

"Hmm," said Jury. "Well, I don't think most people think that neatly. People aren't logical about their emotions, particularly not in romance."

"But you don't think there's a... a spark, when you first meet someone? And if it's not there, you can't ever be more than a friend."

"I think even physical attraction can develop over time," said Jury. "But I also think if you're interested in a person romantically, you should be up front about it at the beginning of the relationship."

"Do you think confessing your romantic feelings necessarily kills the friendship?"

Jury stared into the fire for a moment. "It depends how well you handle rejection. I've seen... too many cases of rejection gone wrong."

That was a depressing thought. Standard operation for Richard Jury, though. He should have known better.

"But you do think it's possible for a friendship to turn into a romance, if both parties want it."

Jury shook his head incredulously. "I am trying to think of which of your friends could possibly be inspiring these questions," he said, amused.

"No one! The only one of my friends I would possibly consider a developing a spontaneous romantic relationship with is you," retorted Melrose.

He'd taken Jury by surprise, he could tell.

Just as he was wondering if he should try to defuse the situation, say he was mentioning it as an intellectual exercise, a thought experiment, Jury said, "To answer your earlier question, I don't think a proposition needs to ruin a friendship. But I also don't think that friendship is inferior to romance."

"My friends have stuck around a lot longer than my lovers have," said Melrose.

Jury gave him a bitter little half-smile of agreement.

"Well," said Melrose, "at least admit you're not really house-hunting and move into Ardry End properly."

Jury laughed. It was had an edge of self-deprecation, but it was also genuine. "I was wondering if you'd pick up on that."

"Perhaps your detective skills have rubbed off on me, after twenty years," said Melrose.

"As for the other thing--"

"You don't have to answer that," said Melrose quickly. "Nothing has to change."

Jury gave him a long look. "But if I decided I wanted it to?"

"Then... we can re-evaluate the situation."

Jury smiled.