She said it first in December, the two of them snuggled up in chunky knitwear and the moody lighting of an overpriced Berlin hotel. He had intended to say it but she beat him to it.
They had met when she was brand new to London and he was drunk and talking about runner beans. He took her to places he thought were old and was afraid because he thought he might really like her, and she thought that was stupid so they started going out.
In Berlin, the two of them would get caught in a stairwell wearing bathrobes and then attempt to explain that it wasn’t what it looked like. It really wasn’t. In the Jewish museum he would get sad teary at the memorial and then happy teary at the yarmulke adorned with the cast of Friends. They'd walk around a chintzy Christmas market designed to trap tourists, and then randomly stumble upon another one that looked like it was for locals. The glühwein would taste the same at both.
He would convince her to move with him to South London a month later, but she would tell him that she worried about him living with her cat. She would later worry about how he'd react when they had to live without the cat. The cat, meanwhile, was extremely comfortable with having two humans who would now constantly do her bidding.
Their tiny house became their home, one she filled with flowers, art and jazz and he filled with videogames, biscuits and cables. He hated trains and she loved to travel. She would walk around the park and become friends with every dog and cat in the area. They often worked late but always enjoyed cooking for each other in their tiny kitchen they both hated.
Another six months later they would squabble in a Cape Cod boutique about the price of flip flops. She was right: he still wears them. He was right: he didn’t need them. They would both be lonely when the other was out of town.
She phoned her parents every day. When she introduced him to her family he felt like he had known them for months. He begrudgingly visited home twice a year. When he introduced his family to her, she made him feel closer to the town he’d spent most of his life trying to avoid.
They became aunties and uncles and would look at houses and make plans of their own, and then look at different houses and make different plans. It was always exciting thinking of what may happen in all their different houses as they lived out all their different plans.
But all of that was still to come when she first said it in that overpriced Berlin hotel, though as they hugged silently in the moments after he knew it would always turn out like this.
“I love you too,” he said.