It’s been a couple of weeks since Lucy had her promising second date with Josh, the 41-year-old geography teacher from Northampton. If you missed all the juicy details, check out Part 2 – Cocktails.
The UK is in the grip of the most ridiculous winter known to woman and everyone is getting stupidly fucking excited about snow, even though in London all it does is snarl up all the public transport and turn the pavements into murderous ice rinks. Lucy appears to be allergic to the cold: her skin is even more flaky than the men she meets on Tinder and her nose constantly runs faster than a guy who’s just been asked ‘Where is this going?’. How she’s expected to attract a man with all this shit going on is anyone’s guess, but as usual all she can do is keep calm and carry on.
Josh has been busy up in Northampton moulding the young minds of the next generation, but he’s been reassuringly reliable about keeping in touch via WhatsApp, even sending her photos of what he’s been up to. In one, he’s baking a gluten-free cashew pie to take to a friend’s house (He bakes! But… gluten-free cashew pie?!) and in another he’s mending a rip in his tent, ready for his next camping trip.
Josh really is very wholesome, thinks Lucy, but could this all get a bit tedious? For starters, he does appear to be ridiculously obsessed with the outdoors and camping – so much so it’s almost as if he lives part-time in his tent! She tells him so, and he replies promptly.
Josh tells her he’s very keen to see Lucy in her coat, and jokes that he may even ask to borrow it.
Lucy’s beginning to enjoy how weird and amusing this conversation has become.
Josh may be a little quirky and eccentric, but he’s definitely not dull, that’s for sure.
But after all that, at least it appears that they have a third date in the diary and Lucy is very much looking forward to seeing Josh again and finding out if that excellent kiss was just a one-off, or the beginnings of something more exciting.
When the 9th rolls around, they decide to blow off the neighbour’s party and meet for a drink in South Kensington. Lucy’s suggested a bar she really likes but hasn’t been to in ages. Jak’s on Walton Street has a large comfy seating area and even a table with an 80s arcade game machine set into it, so you can play Pac-Man and Frogger while you drink. It’s perfect for that awkward third date when you’ve had a drunken snog but now you’re sober again you’re not quite sure how to behave.
Except, for the third time in a row, it turns out it isn’t. Not any more. Yet again Lucy has failed to do the proper research and the space has now been revamped into a fancy restaurant. FFS, she thinks, and not for the first time. Is nowhere in London safe any more?
Lucy and Josh meet awkwardly outside the pub, the dynamics of the relationship uncomfortably unclear. Do they kiss? Touch? Hold hands? It’s one thing to snog someone enthusiastically on a tube station platform after two hours of flirting and a bucketful of wine, but quite another to do it again in the cold light of day when you haven’t seen each other for two weeks and you’ve forgotten most of what you talked about last time.
“This is your fault,” accuses Lucy, looking in through the window. “I told you not to let me choose the bar!”
“I’m so sorry,” apologises Josh. “My mistake. Won’t do it again.”
Lucy thinks for a moment. “Well if you’re willing to take another risk, I do know another pub just round the corner we could try. I can’t promise it won’t have been turned into a hipster cafe or an organic whole foods store, but we could give it a go…”
Happily, fourth time lucky, the Admiral Codrington is open and even has space to sit. Lucy bags a table while Josh goes to the bar. When he returns, she shifts sideways so he can sit next to her on the banquette, but either he doesn’t notice or he wants to keep his distance, because he chooses the stool on the other side of the table.
Fuck, thinks Lucy again. Not a good start.
“So how’ve you been?” he asks. “Been on any more dates since I last saw you?”
Lucy hesitates. Is it weird to talk about other dates while, well, on a date? But she’s got nothing to hide – they’ve only met twice so it’s not like they’re even remotely close to being exclusive – and she’s fundamentally unable to lie when asked a direct question. So, “Yes,” she says, not quite meeting his eye. “Actually, on Tuesday I went out with a guy who turned out to have terrible teeth.” She briefly fills him in on what happened with Julian, the One With The Teeth.
“You’re lucky you didn’t have to kiss him in the tube station,” says Josh, cheekily reminding her of the last time they saw each other.
Lucy can’t help but blush like a 13-year-old, and briskly bats the flirty comment away like a total twat. “I rarely do that on the 1st date anyway, to be fair.”
“So when then, on the 2nd date?”
“I guess so, yes. If I like them, I’d hope for a kiss on the 2nd date.”
Josh fixes her with his oceanic eyes. “I really wasn’t sure with you…” he says matter-of-factly. “I guess that’s why it was awkward.”
His intriguing mix of confidence and vulnerability is suddenly deeply attractive. “Well, for the record, I wanted to,” she tells him bravely.
They lock eyes, holding each other’s gaze just a fraction longer than is comfortable. Is he going to lean in and kiss her again? Lucy feels her pulse increase with anticipation… but then he looks away and the moment is lost.
“Have you ever slept with someone on the first date?” he asks. Lucy confesses that she hasn’t.
“I did, just once,” he reveals.
“What,” she asks curiously, “Someone you already knew beforehand or someone you met for the first time that night?”
“That night. She was a bit odd actually. She sniffed me when we met – she said scent is really important and she wanted to check straight off if she liked mine to avoid wasting time!”
“What, and then you slept with her?! Is this where I’ve been going wrong all this time?!” She laughs. “To be fair, smell is super important, but I probably wouldn’t sniff a guy right away. Maybe I’d wait to see he’s not a psycho first, because if he is then the fact he smells nice is rather irrelevant.”
Josh looks at her with a serious expression. “So… if I smelled really great, would you want to take me home with you tonight?”
Lucy’s shocked. Was that a proposition? Does this respectable, serious, slightly eccentric geography teacher have a naughty side?
While this is an encouraging sign, Lucy’s definitely not ready for this level of escalation. It’s only the third date, the atmosphere is still little awkward between them, and Lucy hasn’t done any of the necessary, um, personal preparations. So much as she might be tempted (it has been a while after all) she gently disabuses him of any notion that he might be getting lucky tonight. “Probably not,” she says, and then, after a pause, “But it might make me more likely to want to take you home next time…”
The suggestion hangs slightly uncomfortably in the air.
“So anyway, this girl,” says Josh, rescuing the moment. “She brought the 36 questions with her. Have you heard of them?”
Lucy has indeed. Josh is referring to a list of 36 intense and personal questions that became popular last year. Allegedly if a couple asks each other all the questions they will immediately fall in love because the questions encourage vulnerability and honesty, cutting through the bullshit and game-playing that usually happens in dating. Lucy’s tried them with a date once before, and while she’s certain the claim is total bollocks (she didn’t fall in love, after all), the questions are actually quite interesting and do seem to help to create more of a bond with someone than regular boring polite chitchat.
“So yeah,” he continues. “We did the questions. And because it all got quite personal and intense we ended up going home together that night and dating for a while after that.”
Interesting, Lucy thinks, and wonders if she should start bringing the questions out on future dates.
They order food – a burger for Lucy and pasta for Josh – and while they wait for them to arrive she pops to the bathroom. As she passes through the bar she notices it’s full of pretentious-looking Kensington types: girls in posh frocks and ridiculous heels, and massively over-styled guys wearing quirky designer shirts and jackets. One guy in his mid-20s is even wearing a full-length furry brown coat. In the pub!
What a knob, thinks Lucy.
When she returns, four meaty-looking Eastern Europeans have sat down at the next table. They’re all ridiculously hench, and wearing leather or waxed jackets which they’ve kept on, even indoors. One has his hair shaved on one side, and all of them have mean expressions. Lucy wonders if they are mafioso planning their next hit. She could probably give them the names of a few former dates if they’re short of ideas.
“So now you know my last name,” Josh says, “How much did you stalk me?”
Lucy, who spent a disappointing half hour determinedly scouring the darkest reaches of Google with limited success, feigns innocence. “Hardly at all! It’d get too confusing if I find out too much stuff about you and then I won’t know what you told me and what I found out by myself and that could get awkward. But is there anything I should know? Any skeletons? Criminal records? Secret double lives?!”
Josh confesses that he has actually been arrested before – and not just once, at least half a dozen times.
“What for?!” squeaks Lucy in horror.
“Protesting mostly, when I was a student. Environmental issues usually. One was about the building of a new road. They don’t do it so much any more but they used to arrest you just to get you to move you out of the way. I’ve never been charged with anything, though I think I got a caution once.”
Lucy looks again at Josh with his trim beard, crinkly eyes, and slightly scruffy appearance and is alarmed to realise that she may well be dating a young Jeremy Corbyn.
But before she can run for the door, their food arrives, so she decides to stay.
She changes the subject. “So I was impressed with the photo of you sewing your tent. Those are some good needlework skills you’ve got there. It must be a good tent for you to patch it so painstakingly like that.”
“It’s ok,” Josh replies modestly, “though it’s pretty small.”
“Does size matter?” she asks, her flirting skills warming up now she’s had wine. “When it comes to tents, I mean. Of course.” She grins.
“I guess it’s down to personal preference,” Josh bats back. ‘What do you think?”
“Well it needs to be big enough, you know. At least within a certain range. Not too small, but you don’t want it to be too large either.”
“Yes,” Josh muses, “I suppose it needs to be the right size to be comfortable…”
Lucy laughs. “So is yours a reasonable size?”
“Are we still talking about tents?” Josh grins. “Because, you know, mine has pockets!”
Lucy notices that he didn’t actually answer the question, and hopes his ‘tent’ isn’t going to turn out to be a disappointment. She looks down at his hands and notices that they seem to be disproportionately small. Is there a correlation? she wonders, and makes a mental note to ask Dr Google later.
The mafia guys at the next table are handing round a phone with a photo on it. From this distance it’s hard to be sure but it looks very much like a picture of a naked woman sprawled on a bed. Lucy very much hopes it isn’t their latest victim. Now that things have warmed up this date is going rather well, and she’d hate to have it ruined by the police showing up.
“You come visit my tent if you like,” says Josh, carrying on the game. “When it gets a bit warmer. It can be very warm and cosy all cuddled up in there, you know.”
Lucy blushes again. “Are you propositioning me?!”
“Well maybe a little, yes,” he says boldly, and looks her straight in the eye.
There’s an awkward pause. And then – maybe it’s the thought of tent sex that does it – but he leans across the table and kisses her, tentatively at first, but then, when she responds, with more enthusiasm. And – hurrah! – it’s just as tingly in all the right places as she remembers from last time.
The kiss is short-lived though, since Lucy’s not all that comfortable with very public snogging. She pulls away and gives him a gentle ticking off. “I’ve been waiting for you to do that for about two hours!”
“Oh,” he apologises, “I’m so sorry to keep you waiting. I wasn’t sure if it was allowed, you know. I didn’t even know if you wanted to see me again!”
What a sweetheart, Lucy thinks. She loves how nervous he seems around her, and not at all cocky. It’s refreshing.
He goes to the bathroom, and when he comes back he has big news! He ran into the guy in the crazy long furry coat at the urinals. “It was kind of awkward,” he tells her. “I asked him about his coat, and he told me it’s actually made of Norwegian beaver and it belonged to his grandpa.”
Lucy has absolutely no idea how guys pee in front of each other at all, let alone have a conversation with random stranger while they’re doing it. It’s one of life’s great mysteries.
“But you know,” Josh adds, “It’s kind of awkward talking to a guy in a urinal when you’ve got a semi-on.”
Lucy wants to make a joke about his semi-on and her beaver, but can’t quite think of the words. She blushes. “Was that my fault? I’m sorry.”
“Don’t apologise,” he assures her. “You can do it again if you like. Outside, maybe?”
They pay the bill and head back to the tube. On the platform at South Kensington he pulls her up against a wall and kisses her again, unzipping her coat and putting his hands inside so he can grab her waist and bum. It’s cold and Lucy’s teeth start chattering, but she has feels in all the good places and she doesn’t want him to stop.
But eventually he does. “You’re cold,” he says. “We should go home. Though I could always come with you, if you liked…?” He trails off.
“Don’t you need to get up early?” she asks.
“I do, but I could handle it. I guess it depends what we we’d be doing. If you just make me sleep in the spare room then I’d go home, but if you said we could sleep together in your bed but not have sex I’d probably say yes.”
Well! Lucy’s rather taken aback by his frank analysis of the situation, but admires the clarity. No game-playing here, that’s for sure.
“Of course, I don’t think that’s very likely,” he adds.
“What, that I’d ask you to come home with me?”
“No, that we would just sleep. Once we were in bed together.”
Lucy grins but can’t quite meet his gaze. “I guess you’re right, she says firmly. “We should probably go home then.”
And so they do. Separately. For now…
Next week: A new guy at work turns Lucy’s head.