And when it ends, it ends like this.
I sit on a Croatian beach, buried deep in the islands in the north. It hit 38 degrees earlier today, and the air is still heavy and hot though it’s past midnight. The pebbles are sharp beneath me, and I shift my weight.
“I think you are very beautiful,” says Johan. Johan is sweet; he lives in Cologne, speaks very good English, plays a lot of football and wears a t-shirt with a deeper V than I would ever find attractive back in the UK. But this – right here, on this Croatian beach, with the hum of drum and bass thundering through the sand, and the rub of my dress on my sunburnt back – this feels different.
“Your eyes, your smile, your laugh… I think you are just like Jennifer Aniston.”
I laugh. “Isn’t she in her forties?”
“Oh, yes, well, I didn’t mean to say you were forty, just that I find you very beautiful. Your eyes sparkle.”
I laugh again. I met Johan what seems like hours ago, dancing outside a bar set back from the beach. I stumbled slightly on the sand; he caught me and told me that rhythm was over-rated.
“It’s fine, I’m joking. Anyway, someone told me that I looked like Nora Batty earlier, so you’re doing better than him.”
“Nora Batty…who is that?”
He looks confused, and I realise that this joke probably won’t translate. I silence him with a kiss, and we make our way back to the bar where I order a bucket of Long Island Ice Tea and he, sweetly, declares it too strong for him and buys a couple of Cokes to dilute it.
The night passes; we dance with his friends, we drink the local cider, we laugh. He asks what I do, and I nearly tell him but at the last minute, I change my mind and say I work in publishing. Things are different here, I think.
We wander a little way from the others and sit down. The sea shimmers in the moonlight and the lasers from the beach clubs flick over the water.
“What are you thinking?” he asks, as he takes my arm and kisses his way up it. A mixture of sun cream and insect repellant, I think to myself.
“That this will make a good story for my blog,” I reply, distractedly.
“You write a blog?” he asks. “Why? What’s it for?”
And for the first time, I don’t know.
Things are different now, I think; I’m not the same person I was two years ago. I don’t really want to share everything that happens to me. More than that, I can’t share everything; because colleagues read my blog, because a friend has stopped speaking to me because of something he found; because I can’t find the time to put metaphorical pen to paper.
Some time later, as my watch ticks over to 6am and the sky starts to lighten, heralding the start of tomorrow, Johan and I say goodbye.
“Meet me here tomorrow,” he asks. “I’ll be here – right here – at 11pm. I’ll wait.”
“Alright,” I laugh; I kiss him one last time, gather my sandals and head for the bus stop.
“Wait!” he calls, and jogs after me. “This is for you.” It’s a straw that he’s tied into the shape of a heart.
“You’re such a cliche, Johan,” I laugh, feeling like I have never laughed this much in someone else’s presence. “For future reference, crap origami does NOT work for girls.”
“You deserve cliches,” he replies, “you and your sparkling eyes.”
I don’t go back the next night. Instead, Laura and I wander into the Old Town and eat fresh seafood in a fairy-lit restaurant overlooking the harbour. We share a litre of cheap local wine and, later, a couple of cocktails. At 11pm, I look at my watch and wonder if Johan is waiting for me.
A day later, the festival is over. I spend the next few days in Croatia, the week after in Portugal and finally, on a grey Saturday in the middle of July, I fly home, tanned, happy and feeling inexplicably like things make more sense than they have in a long time.
“You look so well,” says my Mum as she waves goodbye to us at Lisbon airport. Four hours later, I’m watching the rain hit the Gatwick tarmac. I catch the train to London Bridge, then the 141 to Southgate Road. I put some washing on, shower, draft a blog post, and then I grab my cardigan, keys and phone and head out to meet some friends.
Two weeks later, I press ‘Publish’. When it ends, it ends like this.