It was the summer of 2000 when I fell in love. I would love to say it was hot, but it was probably raining; weather doesn’t bother you when you’re 14 and smitten. My baggy jeans were drenched in south London gutter scum, with knee-high puddle water stains and my try-hard skater shoes that had never once touched a skateboard, ugly as hell and a size too big.
It was the school holidays and a group of us had been kicked out of a daytime house party by an angry briefcase-swinging dad who had returned home early from work to find 30 drunk teenagers in his really nice house. And now we were party-less, location-less, desperately searching for a place to carry on.
We hadn’t meant to knock on the door of a boy I shall leave unnamed (because he was an afterthought and I don’t want to hurt his feelings) but inside his house was Hugo White, also aged 14, sitting on the stairs, innocently, with a massive smile, big blue eyes and rosy dimpled cheeks, his feet in bobbly socks. Instantly, I felt my heart skip a beat.
Those days were spent on a giant trampoline in our friend’s garden while an old, overprotective, blond labrador padded around us. Failing that, we would spread out in giant crop circles on the common, spotlit by the sun and then the street lamps, and the reds and silvers of the night drivers. Sharing purple bottles of cider and beer, sharing rain-soggy cigarettes, smiles, phone numbers, jokes, stories and kisses – sadly never mine – singing our growing pains out to the swollen moon.
Hugo and I began writing letters and making mix tapes for each other. We talked on the phone most nights, his landline number tattooed on my brain. Our homes were opposites: mine chaotic and restless, his manicured and restrained. We lived in each other’s pockets. We could, because we were “just friends”. But I would be lying if I said that every time he kissed a girl I couldn’t hear my heart break. I felt like I decomposed into water, the way Amélie does in the cafe scene, more than once.
But, regardless, I had made a lifelong friend. When my parents split up, Hugo bought me a strawberry Ribena from the newsagent. When Mum married my now stepdad, Hugo was at the ceremony to grip my hand. Hugo bundled me into a cab when I got mugged (there was nothing in my rucksack except for an old, matted, unused tampon with a salt and vinegar crisp attached to it – the real theft was of my dignity). Hugo sat in a pink bathroom with me when I was throwing up and I, in turn, apologised to strangers on the night bus home as Hugo’s vomit pebble-dashed their shoes. When we were 16 and Hugo’s mum died, I stood by his side at the funeral. Out of my depth. Not knowing what to do with his pain, his grief, his grace, his beauty. This love.
As the years rolled on, we would live to see many summers play out. Hugo would ride on his BMX and I would loyally ogle him from the sidelines, eating pic’n’mix, our fingers occasionally, secretly, touching on the night bus or under a table, sharing a can of fizzy drink. We slept in the same bed and never kissed – not even once. We would hold hands in the dark, talking about nothing and everything. When I think about how we looked back then, I see us as inseparable; twins, Geminis, back-to-back, like the Kappa logo.
It almost did happen back then, but no, it never did. Life continued on and we went our separate ways – but I would always wonder, did those summers ever mean the same to Hugo as they did to me? Five years ago, our paths crossed again – we were caught in two separate whirlwinds that seemed to spin together – and after an awkward coffee, and then a beer, I finally plucked up the courage to ask him. “Yes,” he said. “Of course they did.”
I write this on our first holiday as a married couple. We are in the countryside, our first escape from London since the pandemic. We’ve had endless, beautiful days of clear blue skies and heat on our skin, the blissful snores from our satisfied, sun-kissed three-year-old son between us. I’ve always wondered how I would tell our little boy about Hugo and me, and how it all started. I guess now I could just show him this.