You always get mistaken for older. You’re not sure why. Maybe it’s the hair, or the rakish self-confidence. Some of your close friends are older, and people tend to think you’re the same age. So it’s no wonder you’re stuck in a purgatorial state of boredom in your last year of school, and you live vicariously through visiting your almost-sister at university and hanging out with her friends.
On the same day you were visiting your good friend, one of her friends also had a visitor. The friend of hers was a fourth year, and his visitor had already graduated — because this is England, and you only have to do three years to get a degree. You end up sitting on the floor with him at 3am, this friend of a friend of a friend, who you have never met before. Your tights are ripped and you’re shaking with tipsy laughter and you realise you’ve been talking for hours. You kiss him, and exchange numbers, and vaguely wonder if it will work out.
You spend the next week in the office of a magazine in London. You text each other. He’s at an internship he hates, and glad for the distraction. He talks about quitting, and he asks you out on Friday. You say yes, and blush, and are glad the staff don’t pay much attention to you because you’d hate for them to ask why. You tell your parents you’re going out with friends, and you’ll be home late, and you count down the minutes until 6pm and quitting time.
When you meet up after work, for the date, you’re aware of how young you are. He knows, of course — you told him you were 18 but not yet at university, technically a student but not an undergrad. The more he talks, the more you wonder at the different places your lives are in.
He is 21, almost 22, older than your big brother but he with a baby-face and dimples. He runs triathlons. When you met, you were both drunk — he on Jaegerbombs and beer, you on white wine and vodka. He had told you how he got stopped at an airport for carrying so many condoms in his back pocket it set off an alarm. You wonder how many he actually used. He could move to New York and have a recurring role in Girls.
He intended to take you bowling, but he forgot to book anywhere so you “wing it”, jumping on the Underground with reckless abandon and wandering the streets. You end up in a fancy food court in London, near where he went to university. He eats pizza, cutting it up into squares. You eat Chinese food, and reflect on how unsexy it is to have noodles dribbling down your chin. You’re aware of exactly how young and inexperienced you are, your cynicism more deliberately affected than actually acquired. You’re a virgin, but no-one would think so with your dirty mouth and dirty jokes. Truth be told, you’ve never even been on a date before.
He changed his degree in the third year because he’d had a crisis of confidence and realised he didn’t really want to be a biochemist. He spent his days at work filling in job applications for what he really wanted to do. He said he wanted to be in PR. He was looking for a place in London so he could move out of his room at home. You can see it in the way he clenches his fists: he aches for freedom, but he’s not sure where he’s going. Or what he’s going to do when he gets there.
You have the next three years of your life planned out in higher education, while he’s already finished his. It seems like an insurmountable gap.
But the more you talk, the smaller it seems. He calls you motivated, and you laugh because it’s not true. You’re both in a state of transit, waiting for the waiting to stop and real life to begin. And — you think, walking hand in hand in the thinly falling snow — this might just be the start.