I meet the exclamation with as much of a look of disdain as I can muster at 3.00am. "No I do not".
"You cannot say that you work 'in theatre'"
"I work in a theatre". I could elaborate. An actual theatre, with seats that don't sink into the mud, beer on tap and an Arts Council grant. And where people actually listen to me.
"But that's not in theatre. An actor, a director, a designer, a stage manager - a writer. They work in theatre. You just happen to work in a theatre".
He does not say it harshly or unkindly but I cannot mistake its firmness, the ringing truth with which it is proclaimed. And the fact that this isn't really about my job.
As if to confirm my silent conclusion he continues: "If this was about you writing you'd have stayed as an usher".
"No it wasn't". I pause. How truthful am I to be to this boy whose own relationship with the truth is, at best, a little blurred.
"But" - there is no real need for deception, it is not a game I can readily play with him - "it does make it easier - there is this perception, the Oxford treadmill..."
He is ready for it. "One of my best friends got a first in history from Oxford and now he's a Manager for Costa".
It is so simple as he looks unblinkingly towards me. But that is not the truth. His friend, afterall, is a Manager, not the person who cleans the cups. "It's not easy to do that".
It is something that I suspect he will never grasp. This is the boy who, months later when he is almost in possession of the final advance for his first novel, will look me in the eye and tell me he never really wanted to be a published author. The boy for whom it is all so carelessly easy.
I do not take that turn, however, knowing it stands as something unbridgeable between us. "I like having money to do things".
£500 a year (and a room of one's own) was Woolf's estimation. That would be £20,000 by today's reckoning.
"Money - is just money".
I smile. Because for him it is.
"I am trying".
"You don't try". The eyes are trained on me alone; I meet him unflinchingly, our game of dare fueled by red wine, summer heat and proximity. "You write".
"What would you be doing if you weren't creatives - actors, directors..." the voice trails off as the questioner looks for the words to incorporate me in her group.
I feel a flush of embarrassment, a wordless gap in space. I am not sure how to fill it.
The response is unexpected, I did not realise that he, amidst his fitful silence, had noticed the failure of the sentence.
The questioner is again at ease; "actors, directors, writers..." she continues though I am no longer listening.
Unseen I catch his eye, noticing in the process the hair that is slightly too long, the jumper that is slightly too old, the jeans with an unfortunate hole. He smiles as I silently acknowledge what has passed; the parenthesis which no one else in the room has noticed. There are too many people around us for me to say thank you; I settle instead for seeking out his leg, the contact my concession.