"Yeah, a bit," he said in response to my question. "But I think it's difficult to properly get to know people in a work environment. At the end of the day, we're colleagues. Everyone behaves a certain way and you can never truly be yourself in the office."
I didn't, really. I'd never had a proper job, having gone straight from school to university. Nathan, on the other hand, had been in full-time employment for over two years now and had got the grips of office life and everything it entailed. As much as I could, I tried to relate to it and sympathise with his frustrations; however, much like my time in Italy, you could never truly understand something unless you experienced it yourself.
"The group chat helps," he continued. "They're still trying to organise the Christmas party at the moment."
"Oh, cool. That'll be a good opportunity to get to know them all better outside work, then."
Nathan shrugged. "I suppose so. I'd rather not mix work and pleasure too much, though."
"But even though they're your colleagues, you need to build that relationship with them. It's good to have people on your side who've got your back."
"As long as I don't get too close to them. There's a fine line between having someone on your side, and having someone you're too personally invested in."
"Yeah. I wouldn't want to start hanging out with them at weekends. I want work to stay at work, really. Helps me switch off."
"The Christmas party will be fun, though."
"Yeah, I'm sure it will be. It'll be weird doing a night out without you but I'm sure I'll manage."
I smiled. "I'm sure you will."
Likewise, it was strange for me to imagine Nathan on a night out. Whenever we went out together, he stuck by my side for most of the evening, only straying away when I went to dance with other girls or he went to chat to the boys. University nights out had a reputation for being geared towards single people, where everyone would try to pull or flirt. For Nathan and me, it had obviously never been like that and we'd managed to turn them into a time to let our hair down and have fun with friends. On the rare occasions that we were separate and he got hit on, he'd always politely turn them down.
If he went on a night out without me, though, I couldn't help but wonder whether he'd attract more female attention since he didn't have a girl on his arm. Although I trusted him enough for it not to bother me, it was strange to imagine Nathan in a situation where other girls would be interested and assuming he was single.
Wanting to change the subject, Nathan began to talk about his family instead, mentioning that his nephew, James, was growing up far too quickly and he couldn't work out where the time had gone.
"Do you think we'll have kids one day?" he asked me.
"Sure. Just not any time soon."
He chuckled, a deep melodic sound that warmed me throughout. Despite him only casually suggesting it, I still struggled to imagine a time in my life where I'd be having children. It seemed so far off. This year alone was dragging, then I had another year of university before facing the insurmountable challenge of finding my first job. Kids were a long way off. Another milestone, however, didn't feel quite so far...
"It feels strange that we'll end this date by saying bye and then clicking the red icon," Nathan said with a sigh. "No kisses, no going to bed together..."
"I don't know," I replied. "I'm pretty tired, so works well for me."
A smirk began to take form, still clearly visible through the deteriorating video quality.
"Doesn't usually stop you."
"Doesn't usually stop you, you mean."
He laughed but the joking side of him began to fade. "This is the most frustrating thing about long distance, I think. We can talk and joke like normal, but just can't have that physical closeness."
And that, I could completely relate to. It wasn't just the sex, either. It was the small gestures: a squeeze of the knee, a peck on the lips, the brush of a hand. Cuddling on the sofa, spooning in bed, holding hands in the street. They were things we did every single day without a second thought, and yet now we were unable to do them, they seemed so much more significant to our relationship.
"I miss it, too," I said.
"We'll work it out."
If Nathan was anything, he was positive. Where I always tended to assume the worst, Nathan found a way to spin a positive angle on it. We were opposites in that sense—and in many more, too—but they say opposites attract. Just, unfortunately, we weren't close enough together at the moment to form that physical bond.
When I went to bed that evening, I considered the bucket list again and one item stood out to me. At some point this year, I would pluck up the courage to take this long-distance relationship to the next level. It might be strange at first—awkward, even—or we might laugh more than flirt, but I was determined to try. This was my year, and I was going to make just as much of an effort as my boyfriend.
Thank you for reading :) xx
**Dedicated to expiredmilk- for the lovely comment on the previous chapter.**
Everything in my life is pretty crazy at the moment but I'm going to be making a real effort to write more often. Thank you to those of you who are reading this and sticking by me despite the slower updates -- it makes me realise why some people prefer reading completed books so your patience means the world.
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Getting Through ItalyRomance
Italy: home of pizza, pasta and prosecco. It will also be Isobel Smith's home for the next year as she embarks on her Erasmus placement in Bologna. What she soon discovers, though, is that life in Italy isn't just about enjoying the local cuisine. L...