I met Nicky at a university party thrown by a mutual friend a year ago. We were all graduating at the end of that summer term, but we didn’t want to wait until classes finished, when some of us were scattering across the country with new jobs and other plans, so we started the celebrations early. I’d taken Lissa; our families had been neighbours and friends for years, and everyone had been glad when we both went to the local university, albeit on different courses. We’d been dating for more than two terms by that night. At least, that was what the families called it.
To me, it was more of a close, warm friendship. Our social circles overlapped; we both found each other attractive. We’d slept together a few times, though surprisingly few, at least compared to the stories my classmates told about their own relationships. Lissa and I both seemed to have a full life with other friends, and both of us found the idea of being overwhelmed by lust pretty embarrassing. Lissa had mentioned making things more formal when we graduated, but I was in no rush to settle down. I managed to turn the conversation away whenever the topic came up.
It wasn’t anything to do with her. Seriously — that’s not just the tired old line. Lissa was — and is — pretty, fun, and intelligent. Her company was always entertaining: it was cosy. Mum and my siblings were very fond of her.
But for me, the time didn’t feel right.
Mandy and May — ever the caring sisters — told me I was stupid and risked losing Lissa’s affection if I didn’t make the next move. It was a natural progression, apparently. Lots of people got married right after uni. Mandy was planning her wedding and future life with her fiancé Jon, both of them two years older than me, and May was already ahead of the game, married with two boisterous children and a new baby on the way. Mum just wanted me to grow up, I know, and I’m sure she thought marriage to Lissa would be an ideal route.
Looking back, what the hell was wrong with me? I should have admitted how immature I really was.
I was still argumentative, still unsure what I wanted in life, though I’d learned to handle myself better. It was an achievement to have lasted through uni, to have made some good friends, and to have landed such a cute girlfriend. People smiled and said I was a good guy, but they often shook their head ruefully at the same time. No one seemed sure of how I’d turn out — me included.
At the party that night, I was more restless than usual. Lissa and I were almost the first people there, awkward at arriving too early. We’d both come from home with nothing else to do with our evening. When a couple of her girlfriends also arrived, Lissa left me alone while she went to catch up on university gossip with them.
I drifted out to the garden. The guys holding the party shared the house, an unusually good-sized one, on the outskirts of town and only a few miles away from parkland. There was a garden and space for a shed, and they all had motorbikes. That was the main thrill for me; I had no money and no license, but I was drawn to them regardless.
And to the guys who rode them.
Nicky was the only person out there, finishing a smoke. He was leaning up against his bike, parked by the back gate. A service road ran behind the house and they used it to bring the bikes in and out of the garden. I didn’t really know Nicky except as one of the guys who lived here. There were rumours about him, I knew that. He was bright but stubborn, and went his own way. He didn’t always turn up for lectures, though there was no doubt he’d pass his course. He had no close family, no one to be beholden to. The rumours about his widely inclusive sex life were more mysterious and rather more difficult to confirm or deny because I’d never seen him around campus with anyone. And he was difficult to miss: tall with the broad shoulders and slim waist of a swimmer, and a shock of bleached white hair. Bright, lively eyes, a square jaw, and lips unusually full for a man. He looked astonishingly fine in his black leathers.
Astonishingly fine in anything, I suspected.
That night, I almost turned around and went back inside the house. But he nodded hello, and it would’ve been rude to ignore him, wouldn’t it? I just felt very … small town compared to him. And that was both inhibiting and exciting. He passed me one of the bottles of beer propped up at the gate and we chatted for a while. I can’t remember exactly what about, except for the bike. Maybe something about uni, which tutors were good, which bad. Any mutual friends we knew, where we went drinking in the evenings, what music we listened to. It was relaxed; we found plenty in common. But I do remember the way my heart seemed to beat double-time and how dry my mouth was.
I’d never had that reaction to anyone before in my life.