As you probably know by now, Sod’s law dictates that it’s completely and utterly im-fucking-possible for Lucy to meet a guy who boasts the two crucial qualities of being (a) not a cunt and (b) not already spoken for. She comes across nice guys and dickheads, hot ones and ones she wouldn’t touch with a full hazmat suit on, guys who think she’s not too horrific to look at and those who swipe left so fast they burn their fingers, some who think she’s hilarious and yet others who find her about as amusing as bank holiday traffic… but she can count on the fingers of one hand the number of times she’s met a man she’s nuts about who feels the same way about her, and – here’s the crucial part – is single.
About once a year she does, however, meet a man who makes her stomach do flip-flops and her palms sweat and her secret lady parts melt into a warm messy puddle. Last year there was Michael, the Married Man. But, predictably, he was taken. And now, for 2018, there’s Jack.
Jack joined Lucy’s team at work last week, and almost immediately she was struck by the pointy sharp end of one of Cupid’s arrows. (The smug little bastard, he has no business whatsoever dicking about with a lethal weapon causing people to get all tied up in emotional knots. He should be bloody sent off to a strict Catholic boarding school to learn some fucking manners.)
(By the way, if you missed what happened, check out Part 1 – Smitten.)
Every so often, Lucy falls deep into a rabbit hole of self-loathing and despair, wondering if there’s something deeply fucked up in her brain that means she only ever seems to be attracted to unavailable men. But this time she remembers she didn’t know Jack had a girlfriend when she fell for him; she only found that out a day or two later. So hurrah, maybe she’s not entirely fucked up after all (or maybe she is, just not in that way). Not that it really helps on this particular occasion, since he still has a Perfect American girlfriend with perfect blonde hair and perfect teeth that are just asking to be knocked out with a powerful right hook. Lucy hates her and her stupid perfect life with her stupid perfect boyfriend.
Normally at this point she’d be crying into her cup of tea and wailing and gnashing her teeth, cursing her cruel luck and vowing to enrol in a nunnery. But she’s not ready to do this quite yet because, unlike with Michael, who was actually married and therefore completely off limits (at least for the foreseeable future), Jack is not. He’s been with his girlfriend less than a year, and she lives in America while Jack lives in London. There are all sorts of reasons why this might not work out. He might be off-limits right now, but there’s still room for hope.
Back in the office, colleagues have started to notice the hot chemistry between Jack and Lucy. For one thing, ever since last week’s trip to the pub they’ve started doing a giddy playground crush thing where they send each other random emojis for no reason.
And since they sit diagonally across from one another, every so often they catch each other’s eye and giggle, a delicious private joke that quickly starts to drive their colleagues insane.
At lunchtime Lucy’s best work friend Natalie pulls her aside in the kitchen and asks what’s going on between the two of them. She reveals that Georgia, who went with them to the pub, actually texted her complaining she felt like she was gatecrashing someone else’s date.
Instead of being embarrassed, Lucy can’t help feeling pleased about this, because this means she’s not imagining it. This isn’t just some stalky needy pathetic girl crush on some guy who’s barely even noticed her existence – and yes, Lucy was no stranger to those in her younger days. But this is real. Jack feels it too, and people can see it.
Thrilling though this is, of course, it only adds to the miserable frustration. She and Jack have clearly hit it off, and in a parallel universe maybe he’d be single and they could fall into one another’s arms (and beds) and live happily ever after. But the fact is, he isn’t single, and much as Lucy is enjoying the flirtation, it’s also deeply upsetting that yet again she seems to have fallen for a guy who isn’t available.
Lucy’s current job has an office in Brighton, and her team is temporarily based down there for a few weeks. At the end of Friday she gathers her things together to head back to London, and Jack gives her a wave across the desks.
“Are you going to the station? Mind if I join you?”
No, no she doesn’t. Not at all.
Armed with booze and snacks for the journey, they board the train and bag an empty table. Jack cracks open his beer and Lucy cools her hands on a tall, slim can of pre-mixed Cosmopolitan. Jack takes in the way she’s unconsciously gripping the girth of the can with a firm hand, and raises his eyebrow. “Steady on!” he says.
For a second Lucy doesn’t grasp what he’s getting at, and then suddenly the penny drops. Normally she’d blush and look away, but since their drunken night in the pub it seems the ice has been well and truly broken, and she has no trouble fixing him with a saucy look and joining in with the joke.
“Hmmm, I reckon I could get my mouth round it too…” For a moment she considers demonstrating, but decides against it. Possibly not wise on a crowded train and besides, she doesn’t want to accidentally choke on cheap cocktail mix.
Lucy tells Jack she and some of the work gang are going to an event, and offers to add him to the Facebook group if he’d like to come too.
“Are you even on Facebook,” she asks, adopting her best, most innocent face. Hopefully he won’t be able to tell that she spent the previous evening enthusiastically stalking him online.
And whaddya know, he IS on Facebook. Fancy that! But now she has a new problem: how long must she wait before she can add him? Can’t do it too soon, it needs to look like a casual afterthought. But exactly how long is a casual afterthought?
But the question turns out to be immaterial, because, crushingly, Jack’s busy that day. The Perfect American is getting a flight that transits through London and he’s going to Heathrow to spend a few hours with her. How perfectly fucking nauseating.
“Actually, you’ve reminded me, I need to book somewhere to stay near the airport the night before,” he says.
“I live near there and have a spare room,” says Lucy, without really thinking. “You can crash at mine if you like.”
No sooner are the words out of her mouth than she wishes she could take them back. This is just too weird. While she would always offer to help out a friend in need and loves having visitors (what’s the point of even having a spare room otherwise?), it would be too fucking intense to have Jack staying in her flat the night before he goes off to hook up with his girlfriend and no doubt have passionate reunion sex in the showers in the business class lounge. But it’s out there now, and, terrifyingly, he accepts the offer with gratitude. Shit! What’s she going to do?!
They drink their drinks and talk about work and politics, and yet again Lucy is amazed by how well they get on and how much they have in common. Surely he can’t have these kinds of in-depth conversations with an American who works in a different industry? She probably says ‘aluminum’ and ‘sidewalk’ and has never even seen an episode of Bananaman. There’s no way she’ll understand the jokes in Monty Python and the Holy Grail and she will never cook him toad in the hole or steamed sponge and custard. These are the things that relationships are built on. Trust, respect, and shared 80s TV references.
The train arrives at Victoria and they hug goodbye.
“Have a great weekend,” says Lucy.
“You too,” says Jack. “Oh, and about staying at yours… actually I don’t think I should. It’s very kind of you to offer but I’m not sure my girlfriend would like it.”
Lucy’s relieved that a potentially awkward situation has been avoided, and then she wonders: but why did he turn her down in favour of paying for a hotel? Is the girlfriend jealous and controlling? Or does Jack not trust himself to be alone with her in a place with not one but two big comfy double beds?
Lucy doesn’t expect to hear from Jack over the weekend, but on Saturday morning he adds her on Facebook, just like that, cool as you like. All this time, there Lucy’s been, in agonies for an entire fucking week trying to work out when she can friend request him, and Jack just strolls in like he owns the place and fucking adds her. What the actual..? And now of course there’s a new problem: how long is she supposed to wait before accepting? Obviously she can’t do it right away, that would be way too fucking keen. But how long must she wait? An hour? A day?
Such are the traumas of modern life, and of being a chronic overthinker.
As if the nail-biting Facebook drama weren’t enough, later that afternoon he texts her. Lucy’s really not sure she can take much more of this rollercoaster of excitement, so it’s just as well that it turns out to be nothing more than a work-related question. Jack wants to know if she’s able to log in remotely and send him a document.
Lucy loves the fact that he’s clearly feeling the spark just as much as she is, but she’s also tied up in knots with frustration. Why does this keep happening to her? First Michael the Married Man, then Amir, then Ben, and now Jack. Why do guys always tell her she’s amazing, but never want to be with her? Why is she always Ms Awesome, but never Ms Right?
She also needs to keep reminding herself that this may not even be real. Married men say flirtatious and flattering things to girls like her all the time – and not because they mean them, not really, but because they can. It’s all ‘innocent banter’ that they can get away with saying because they’re taken. They never have to follow through, it’s an easy way to get an ego boost, with no risk or harm to themselves. But what about the harm to her?
On Sunday Jack texts again to say he’ll be heading back to Brighton that evening, and would she like to get the train with him?
Well yes, how funny, of course she bloody would!
She has a date that afternoon with a random internet guy in a pub near Victoria station. The plan was always to have a couple of drinks and then get on the train, but now that she knows she’s meeting Jack afterwards the poor guy doesn’t stand a chance. Compared with Jack’s Grade A wit, this guy is a monstrous dullard. Compared with Jack’s handsome face, this guy is a horror freak show. Compared with Jack’s toned physique, this guy is a potato. Compared with their red hot spark, Lucy and this guy are a disposable family barbecue on a rainy bank holiday.
In other words, the date is a total bust.
She ditches him after two drinks and heads over to the station. She’s in full date attire: freshly washed hair, pretty dress, great make up, and she can’t help but be chuffed to teeny tiny bits that she has a totes legit reason to look hot AF for a Sunday night train journey without it being the slightest bit weird. Though of course Jack is a boy, so he probably won’t even fucking notice.
They meet by the barriers. He’s wearing jeans and a slim fit blue shirt, his slightly messy brown hair a little askew. In short, he looks as edible as a warm melty chocolate pudding, which coincidentally is rather similar to the feeling Lucy has in her nether regions.
They grab a table and sit across from one another.
“So how did the date go?”
“Oh, it was ok, but… nah.” She pulls a face.
“I’m utterly astounded that you’re single,” he tells her. “You’re the complete package, you know.”
“I guess the good ones are all taken,” she says, pointedly. “It’s impossible now, all the men on dating apps are either boring or dickheads.”
Lucy feels so comfortable with Jack that she fills him in on the full horror of online dating in your 30s: the endless swiping, the no replies, the tedious chats that go nowhere, the liars and the players and the dirty, dirty ghosters. There’s no point in even trying to pretend it’s anything other than a total mindfuck, and since she and Jack are just going to have to be friends for now, there’s no harm in being honest.
“He’s out there for you,” says Jack supportively. “Some super hot guy is going to come and sweep you off your feet, I know it.”
“He doesn’t even need to be that hot,” she corrects him. “Really good looking guys actually make me uncomfortable.” She hesitates, but the fact that she has nothing to lose gives her a rare burst of confidence. “Except you, as it happens. I would’ve assumed you’d be a dick because you’re so attractive, but you’re not. How do you do that?”
He looks her straight in the eye. “You’re so sweet, you’re making me blush. But I’m sure I’ve had my dick moments in the past. Anyway it must be the same for you. You’re gorgeous, AND smart and lovely. How do YOU do it?”
Lucy can’t maintain the eye contact any longer; she glances down for a second, then gathers her courage and locks eyes with him again.
It’s deliciously electric.
At Three Bridges they’re kicked off the train and forced to join a bastarding Rail Replacement Bus Service because Southern Rail are bellends.
This may well be the first time in recorded history that someone has actually been delighted about being forced onto a Rail Replacement Bus. Not only does it mean the journey will take eleventy zillion years longer, which is more time that Lucy gets to spend with Jack, but because the bus is quite full it also means they have to squeeze into a single row together on the top deck. His hip and thigh are pressed up against hers and Lucy thinks she might actually pass out from the excitement. She hopes he won’t notice the large puddle on the seat when they get off.
Sitting so close to Jack, Lucy notices new things. Like how good he smells. Like how his forearm is lightly tanned and how the fine blonde hairs catch the light. She has to sit on her hands to prevent herself from reaching out and stroking them; the temptation is too acute.
She notices too how the skin on his cheeks is is rough and uneven. Is he just weatherbeaten from too much sun, travel and adventure? Or are these acne scars? This could explain why he’s so lovely in spite of being so gorgeous – maybe he was bullied at school, and still has no idea how attractive he really is.
Close as she is, she’s also able to read over his shoulder as he texts the Perfect American. He calls her ‘darling’, and Lucy wails inwardly with pain and despair. At least, she hopes it was inward. Not sure how she’d explain that one otherwise. No one reacts: it seems she got away with it.
As the bus drives into Brighton Jack heads downstairs to see if the driver will let him off near the road to where he’s staying the night. From the front of the bus, he texts her.
The bus pulls into the station and they say their farewells.
“See you tomorrow,” she says. “Have a great evening.”
“You too.” He gives her a long hug. “I’m so happy I met you, I don’t have all that many work friends, but I feel like we’ve been friends for ever. It’s awesome.”
Lucy smiles through gritted teeth as his use of the F-word stabs her all over with the pain of a thousand tiny evil knives wielded by the bastard fairies of eternal singledom.
Next week: Lucy turns her attention away from her unrequited crush and goes on a fourth date with Josh, the Geography Teacher.