“No, no, I’m not a virgin.” I dug my hands into my pockets. “I mean, I’ve hooked up with people before. I’ve had sex. It’s just, it never leads anywhere…”
And I was off again, jabbering so fast the cigarette flew from my lips and almost rolled off the platform. I didn’t know where to look as my mouth kept blurting more nonsense. I couldn’t look at him. Fuck. Talk about embarrassing. How did people do this? How did they get over themselves? I couldn’t. I just couldn’t.
“…either they never call again, or they leave before we even get our clothes off. I’m just…hopeless at everything, apparently.” I rounded up my little Ted Talk, picked up the cigarette, then stood there not knowing what to do with it. I didn’t want to put the damn thing back in my mouth. There was no bin. Fuck my life.
Why the hell had I told him all that? Really, Leo?
Leo, Leo mon enfant terrible. I could hear my mother’s voice in my head, scolding me for my stupidity, although she’d probably have been laughing too much to tell me off. She’d moved back to France a few years ago, taken a lover, and then another. She was the queen of hook-ups. I had no idea where she met these men, but they were a new constant in her life—something she didn’t have when I was growing up. It had been just her and me back then, and we’d lived well. Stable. I’d had a good childhood, I honestly couldn’t complain. But there had been no one in my mother’s life and she’d obviously been lonely. Now she wasn’t. She was happily shagging around like a teenager, and secretly, I loved that she did. I loved that she was having fun. At least one of us was.
“Why am I intimidating?” he asked, shuffling his feet. “I don’t mean to be. We don’t have to do anything. We can just go for a coffee if you want?”
“I don’t like coffee,” I muttered like a petulant child. “Look, I’m French, and obviously wired wrong because I’m both lactose and gluten intolerant and I don’t like coffee. So, all that bread and cheese shit is out—”
“You don’t sound French.”
“Grew up here, didn’t I?”
“Yeah. That’s why I have a crap name. Leo Jacques Leblond.”
“I think your name’s great.”
“Try spelling it every time you give it to someone on the phone. It’s annoying.”
“Hmm.” He was staring at me again, like he had the world at his booted feet. Doc Martens, for fuck’s sake. All polished up and fully visible below his too-short, chequered trousers. He had some ripped, multicoloured rock band T-shirt showing underneath a knitted cardigan, the look completed by a super-cool, vintage long coat. Like some emo. Or not. He wasn’t wearing black but a mixture of beiges and reds. And a bright-blue rucksack. Nothing matched, yet… Yeah. Vogue called. They want their cover model back. The pretty one with the weird clothes.
He was talking again, and I’d totally zoned out.
“…and I said to myself, life is too short. So, I want to do this if you’re still up for it. But maybe do it right, kind of just hang out and get to know each other.”
“I want to have sex,” I stated. Why couldn’t I ever control my mouth?
“I’m totally up for that.” He grinned from under his curls. “That’s the whole point of this, isn’t it? But we’ve been standing here talking for a bit, and it’s nice, and you’re nice, and I’m sure Costa Coffee over there do gluten-free biscuits, and I’ll buy you a bottle of water or whatever your poison is. I just need to sit down and get my head in gear because this is kind of freaky. I’ve never done anything like this before. To be honest, I’m a little weirded out, and now here I am—”
“On some dodgy council estate, meeting up with a dude who’s probably a drug dealer and will have you beaten up in a minute.”
“I hope not!” He laughed, and the world became a little brighter. “Are you a drug dealer?”
“No,” I giggled back. “I promise you. I’m a dull uni student, and I live in a tiny student flat. I haven’t got much to show for myself, but perhaps one day, I’ll have a nice job and a better place to live. That’s my plan. I want to teach French. Or perhaps move to Paris for a while, find my roots.”
“Don’t move to Paris. I’ll never see you again.”
I couldn’t tell if he was serious, so I joked, “You might not want to once you’ve seen me naked.”
He blushed, and it was the cutest thing ever.
“You’re desperate for this coffee thing, huh?”
“Just to clear my head,” he said again. He sounded a little defeated, but I was grateful for a plan that didn’t involve taking him home. I wasn’t sure I could deal with that right now, however much I liked the idea of seeing him naked.
“Come on. Let’s go get you a large coffee—”
“I prefer espresso.”
“You sound like one of those posh kids,” I teased. I couldn’t help myself.
“Maybe once upon a time, I was posh. Not anymore. I still live at home with my siblings in a rundown council terrace in Thorpeton Green, and not the posh part. Like, backstreet-dump Thorpeton, near the industrial estate under the M4.”
“Working-class posh,” I blabbed on. “You look posh, you talk posh, and you look like you just stepped out of a fashion shoot.”
I regretted it even before I finished speaking because now he really looked freaked out, my beautiful, gorgeous man. I wondered how people survived having a partner who looked like him. I mean, he would be with someone amazing one day. Probably some big, rich, muscle bear of a man who would love him and spoil him, while I would be stuck alone in my dingy flat, dreaming of him. I was already jealous of the imaginary rich boyfriend, the one he would love forever.
“You’re deranged,” he said, smirking at me. I sighed, fiddling with my fingers. I’d heard that one before. Then he reached out and grabbed my sleeve. Tugged at me. Smiled as he led me down the steps towards the road. I followed him, thinking at that moment, I would have followed him anywhere. Blindly, desperately and, I think, a little bit in love.