It’s exactly a year ago; a Friday night.
I leave the office in the early evening sun and make my way from Belgravia to the West End for a drink with someone The Redhead has suggested I should meet: “You both love balsamic vinegar – you’ll have the most middle-class friendship ever.”
I loiter at the bottom of a street near his office, thinking how long the week’s been, and just how much I could do with a drink.
Forewarned he’s a tall chap, I look at the man walking down the street towards me - I assume this is Red’s friend. He’s wearing jeans and a white shirt. We decide we’re both vastly in need of a gin and tonic, and walk into Soho.
We head towards a bar on Old Compton Street. Just before we get to it, I catch a spindly heel on one of the cobbles in the road, and go flying – face first – into the pavement. He picks me up and, graciously, barely mentions it as he shepherds me into the bar and presses a strong G&T into my hand.
We make our way downstairs to find a seat, and start chatting. About everything. Work and writers and family and amazing books that we love and current affairs and food, and we have another drink.
Red texts: Has he mentioned genocide yet?
Ha! I reply. He has. I show him. He groans, good-naturedly. “I’m never going to live that down, am I? Tell her it was at least relevant this time.”
We keep chatting. And then have another drink. We get hungry and decide to look for food.
We do a lap of Soho. Because there’s nowhere else that takes our fancy, we put our names down for a table at Polpetto, and kill time until the table’s ready by heading back to the bar for yet another G&T. This time, we’re sat on bar stools facing each other, my knees between his, and I think that Red might have underestimated this one.
Wobbling slightly, we make our way up the stairs and across to the restaurant. We sit at a table by the window, watching Friday night unfold in Soho below us. We order swordfish carpaccio, and a bottle of Merlot, and some other things I can’t remember any more. We eat; and I think, “he’s brilliant.” He spills red wine over his white shirt.
The hum lowers, and suddenly we’re the last people in the restaurant. We pay, and head out into the street. I look at my phone. It’s well past midnight. “I’ve missed my last train.” I arrange to stay with a friend. We walk down Charing Cross Road towards the night buses
In Trafalgar Square, we detour up the steps by the Fourth Plinth to look out over the lights. I feel him standing behind me. I turn around, and he kisses me.
I don’t stay with the friend.
The next morning, I stand in front of his bathroom mirror. I touch up the eyeliner and try to tame my hair. Must text Red, I think. My fears seem unfounded as he suggests we spend the day together. I’m wearing yesterday’s clothes as we leave the flat and head to the tube.
At the bus stop, he’s standing with his arms around me. “That’s nice,” says an old lady sitting under the shelter. “You two are really in love, aren’t you?” Embarrassed, we laugh it off.
We get off the tube at London Bridge, and head towards Borough Market. First there’s coffee from Monmouth, drunk whilst sitting on the pavement in the sunshine. “You’re… really pretty, you know that?” I blush.
We wander round. The talking doesn’t stop. We eat cheesecake, and then paella, and then head to the river. Slowly, hand in hand, we start to make our way along its length, pausing occasionally when he sits on the wall and I stand between his legs and he kisses me.
We reach the steps at the foot of the South Bank Centre. He puts me a couple of steps higher up. “There, that’s better.” He kisses me again.
A man calls out.
Do we mind, but could we do that again? He’s a photographer, you see, documenting the festival taking place. He’d love to get a shot of us kissing, up by the big sign that says “KISSING”. You see – that one up there.
Later, the photographer sends us the picture. I tell him that it’s not many people who are lucky enough to have their first date captured on film.
We keep walking. We reach the grass underneath the London Eye. He sits on the grass; I take off my jacket and lie down, my head in his lap. We stay there, still talking.
The breeze picks up, and I sit up. I put my jacket back on, and we continue our mini marathon. My feet are killing me. I don’t care.
The sun is setting as we cross Westminster Bridge. A jazz saxophonist is busking for tourists. I laugh. “I feel like I’m in a Richard Curtis film.” “Richard gets his inspiration from me, you know. This - ” he gestures at the sunset over the river “ – took a ridiculous amount of planning. And the busker cost me a fortune.”
Hand-in-hand, we walk through the gardens on the Embankment, joking about the montage scenes that would go into our very own rom-com.
“I should probably go home at some point,” I say. “Hmm, or we could go and get something to eat?” he replies.
We stop for a drink in a nearby pub. “How about,” he says as we curl into each other on the sofa, “we nip to Sainsbury’s then head back to mine and I’ll cook you dinner?”
Red texts: So…
Back at his, he bakes whole trout with lemon and we curl up to rest weary feet.
On Sunday morning, I pull on one of his white shirts. He smiles as it comes nearly to my knees, the sleeves dangling past my fingertips. He tucks it into my jeans, rolls back the sleeves.
We go out, buy the Sunday papers – an Observer for him, The Sunday Times for me – and sit in two leather armchairs in the coffee shop, with lattes and pastries. We read the papers cover to cover, sneaking glances at each other whenever we think the other’s not looking. It doesn’t work: we spend most of the time catching each other’s eye, unable to suppress the grins.
Later, we stand at the tube station, wrapped up in each other, getting in the way of people trying to make their ways through their days.
On the train home, I send Red a message: I owe you a drink.