It’s been two weeks since Lucy matched with Brad, and what a fortnight it’s been. In just 14 days they’ve gone from two random playing cards in the Tinder deck to the hero and heroine of Lucy’s very own romantic movie, and already she is Baby to his Johnny, Sandy to his Danny – the geeky good girl fallen head over heels for the charismatic bad boy.
It’s a bank holiday in Kenya, and Brad and Lucy have rented another car and are on their way to Nyeri for the long weekend. Nyeri is a former British colonial market town close to two National Parks, and while Lucy will swear blind that she’s looking forward to seeing some more of the country, what she’s really excited about is getting to spend more nauseating loved-up time with her – eek! – new boyfriend.
There’s a group of them going, including Lucy’s 28-year-old colleague Emma and five of her mates, Brad’s friends Anna and Byron (who it turns out are not a couple), and four others. Most of them have booked the same hotel, which probably means they’ll all spend the weekend getting shitfaced in the hotel bar until well after the long-suffering staff thought they’d be allowed to go home.
Lucy and Brad left it too late to book so they’re staying a little way outside of town instead, and while Lucy definitely has party FOMO, she’s also pleased that they’ll be able to escape when the idiotic drinking games come out. If she and Brad get to sneak away quietly to have sex in their hotel instead, she doesn’t mind missing a few rounds of Ring of Fire or Fuzzy Duck in the slightest.
Though whether they’ll actually do this is rather in doubt. The previous night at Brad’s hotel he was practically icy, refusing her offer to join him in the shower, and then putting on some bullshit horror flick full of loud bangs and shrieking and entirely ignoring her. What sort of a man would rather watch some straight-to-video piece of shit than get frisky with his brand new girlfriend, for actual fuck’s sake?!
She joins him on the bed, wrapped in a white towel which she allows to slide down in what she hopes is a seductive fashion so that one breast is exposed like a horny Greek statue, but he doesn’t appear to notice, and it’s not until the movie ends after two fucking hours of relentless screaming that she finally gets the action she was after. But now she’s spent the last two hours angrily overthinking all possible reasons why he might be ignoring her, and the enjoyment has been entirely sucked out of the sex by the onset of panic that he’s already losing interest. Can he really be one of these guys who fucks a girl and then dumps her as soon as he’s had his wicked way with her? But if that’s the case, why did he tell his mum about her? Why did he say he didn’t want her seeing other guys? Jesus H Christ!
She wishes she could just bloody ask him why he’s cooled off, but she knows she can’t. It would come across as insecure and needy, and everyone knows that being needy is more of a passion-killer than ripping off someone’s clothes and discovering they have a tattoo of Boris Johnson.
Calm Before The Storm
They arrive at their guesthouse around lunchtime, and after dumping their stuff, drive out to a nearby game reserve where they’ve agreed to meet some of the others for a wildlife-spotting expedition. Now that he’s away from the city Brad seems to have relaxed, frequently reassuring her with little touches, or catching her eye and giving her the lopsided smile he does with one half of his mouth that makes her stomach flip like an Olympic gymnast.
Lucy’s overthinky brain begins to settle down again. Maybe it’s ok, she thinks. Maybe it’s just stress that makes him seem cold. Maybe he isn’t going to dump me after all.
She wonders if she might already be falling in love. Fuck. This is Not Good.
Anna nudges her. “You two are super cute together,” she smiles, and Lucy’s heart rejoices with choirs of angels and a brass band fanfare.
We are, aren’t we? she thinks. Fuck yeah! Look at me being cute with an ACTUAL boy. If only The Ex could see me now!
But the cuteness is set to be short-lived. The shit, as they say, is about to hit the proverbial fan. And then splatter everywhere, all over the freshly-painted white walls.
It all kicks off later that evening. They’d driven into town for a romantic dinner à deux before rejoining the gang back at their hotel, where Brad makes a beeline for the bar.
“Wait a sec,” Lucy stops him. “We’ve already had a bottle of wine. Someone’s going to have to drive back later…”
By someone, she obviously means him. So far she hasn’t done any driving in Kenya at all, and doesn’t fancy starting now, not in the dark and on these crazy dirt roads.
“Don’t worry, it’s ok,” he assures her. “I know my limits. I can drink way more than this and still be fine. I do it all the time back home. Now what are you having?”
Lucy feels like a hideous party pooper, but she doesn’t like this one bit. She’s seen the science, she knows how reactions can be impaired after alcohol, and she once had a colleague who was nearly killed by a drunk driver. She’s definitely not comfortable with getting in a car with someone who’s over the limit, especially not in Kenya, what with all the suicidal chickens and blithely-unaware goats that throw themselves in front of any passing vehicle like deranged lemmings. If Brad’s determined to get on the booze, she’ll just have to take the wheel, much as she’d rather not.
“Look, it’s ok,” she says, “Just get a beer for you and I’ll have water. I’ll drive.”
But Brad’s having none of this. “Why don’t you trust me?” he demands forcefully. “I drive after several beers in Australia all the time! I know my limits and I wouldn’t drive if I didn’t feel safe. You don’t want to drive on these roads, I know you don’t. So chill the hell out and let’s both have another drink.”
The argument escalates. Lucy, burdened with guilt for spoiling Brad’s fun, ropes in Anna to help her convince him that he should just buy his beer and allow her to drive, but it doesn’t work. Instead, he huffily backs down and says fine, he won’t have any more, but he’s clearly pissed off and now Lucy feels like a terrible killjoy, though at the same time she also thinks he’s being a cunt. The tension is thicker than the entire cast of TOWIE combined, and it only gets worse by the time they get back to their guest house. Brad gets straight into bed and rolls over to sleep without so much as a kiss goodnight, and Lucy lies there in the dark feeling like a huge sack of freshly-minted shite, trying to figure out how she could have handled this differently.
Is this the beginning of the end? she wonders. Or did they just have their first fight? Maybe there’ll be makeup sex in the morning.
Ever the optimist, our Lucy.
The next morning Brad is still distant. Lucy tries to fix this by being as bright and cheery as her gut-wrenching insecurities will allow, but they may as well be two friends for the amount of affection he shows. In an attempt to paper over the cracks she suggests trying to move to the same hotel as the others so that Brad can get as shitfaced tonight as he likes without killing anyone, and when they phone they’re in luck: there’s been a cancellation. Problem solved. Everything’s going to be fine.
Except it isn’t. The entire group goes to spend the day hiking in the National Park, and Brad continues to be standoffish. Instead of shining his bright light on her, now he directs it towards everyone else: the charismatic Mr Popular as always, but with Lucy now simply his silent minion, trailing along dutifully behind in his shadow. She watches him being the centre of attention and feels so proud to be able to call him hers, and equally terrified that she might not be able to do so for very much longer. So she tries to make him want her again by playing an alternate game of flirting, and then backing off to talk to other people, in the hope that he’ll miss her and seek out her company. Which of course he doesn’t, he barely seems to even notice if she’s there or not.
By the end of the day Lucy’s tired and hungry and utterly fucking fed up. She wants to go back to the hotel for a shower before dinner, but they’ve found a place for post-hike drinks and Brad’s already had several beers and shows no sign of wanting to leave, so they have another disagreement which puts Lucy into an Olympic level sulk. With her insecurities now in meltdown she convinces herself that he thinks she’s a boring old cow because she doesn’t want to chain-smoke Marlboros, get hammered on cheap local gin, and play real-life Grand Theft Auto like the cool kids do, and that he far prefers party-girl Anna, who’s undoubtedly way more fun because she smokes and can stay up getting rat-arsed until five am and STILL be up at eight for a bacon butty and a quick jog up the nearest mountain.
When they do finally head back to town, Brad gets behind the wheel without a word, as if challenging Lucy to say something about the amount he’s had to drink, but she can’t face another argument, so she says nothing, fastens her seatbelt, and sits with her butt cheeks tightly clenched the entire journey back.
Brad heads straight to the bar with some of the others, and Lucy goes to shower and change by herself. Alone in the room she feels sick with dread. The situation appears to have slipped out of her grasp now – she has no idea what went wrong, or how to fix it, but what she does know is that when a boy starts cooling off this early in the game, the absolute last thing you can do is attempt to discuss it. Hell to the no. Saying anything is absolutely cast-iron guaranteed to come across as needy and have him disappearing over the horizon faster than you can say ‘commitmentphobe’. So she resolves to be strong. This evening she absolutely will not chase him. She will be the poster girl for fun, she will flirt and joke with everyone BUT him, and he will see how dazzling she is and immediately remember how much he likes her and come running back to her side.
What could possibly go wrong?
For a while this actually seems to work. At dinner Lucy deliberately sits at the opposite end of the table and chats to some of Emma’s friends, and when she walks past Brad on her way back from the loo he reaches a hand out to her and, since there’s no spare seat, invites her to perch for a while on his knee. No Olympic gold-medal winner, speeding across the finish line, has ever been happier than Lucy is at that moment.
But the glory is short-lived. After dinner, Brad disappears outside to get trashed with Anna and her other friends, and so Lucy sits indoors, hiding her anxiety by getting gradually sozzled with Emma and her mate Rob, who seems to be flirting with her. So she flirts back and waits for Brad to notice.
He comes over at about 1 am, eyes glassy and with a massive strop on. “I’m going to bed,” he snaps. “Are you coming?”
Lucy, who by this stage has had at least four glasses of wine and is sitting on Rob’s lap, gets up. So he is jealous after all. At least that’s something.
Back in the room, with the confidence only alcohol can provide, she confronts him.
“What’s wrong? Why are you cross with me?”
“You know why! I’m fed up with you SMOTHERING me! You having a go at me about drink-driving was NOT acceptable! You’re acting like my MOTHER! I DON’T need a mother, I already have one!”
Lucy’s taken aback by the force of his ire. “Ok look,” she says, trying to be calm, “I’m sorry if you think I was out of order, and maybe things are different for you back home, but in the UK we just do not drink and drive. EVER. And I had a colleague who was nearly killed by a drunk driver! So of course I’m not going to be comfortable with it, and I really don’t think that’s unreasonable!”
“It’s like you don’t TRUST me, though. I’ve TOLD you, I drive after a few beers ALL the time back home! I KNOW my limits!”
But of course she doesn’t trust him. Drunk drivers always think they’re fine to drive – otherwise they wouldn’t do it. Clearly she can’t tell him that, so gives him some bollocks about how of course she trusts him, but that he should respect her boundaries, and Brad gets angrier and more aggressive until Lucy, who has never, in all her years, been shouted at by a man in this way, drunkenly bursts into tears. The argument gets louder, as Lucy tries to explain again why she’s not comfortable with drink driving, especially not on these roads in the dark, and Brad basically ignores her perfectly valid view and accuses her of being controlling, and the whole thing escalates until pretty soon Brad’s yelling and Lucy’s sobbing can probably be heard in the next district.
“But that was yesterday anyway,” she wails. “It was one tiny disagreement! In an adult relationship you’re supposed to be able to discuss these things and move on. But you’ve been shitty to me all fucking day!”
“I TOLD you!” he shouts again. “I’m petrified of getting hurt again! THAT’S why I keep my distance!”
Lucy’s ugly-crying now, snivelling and red in the face with mascara trails down her cheeks. “I get that, but you have to be in or out! Either this is a relationship, or it isn’t. You can’t be on the fence! If you’re not ready then maybe we should end this!”
“Fuck this,” Brad snarls. “I’m not doing this now.” He storms into the bathroom and slams the door, and Lucy flees back out to the bar, her face a mess of snot and makeup streaks and dried tears, to seek support from Anna.
She finds her in the corner of the bar, wrapped round one of Emma’s friends, a handsome 30-year-old Frenchman named Julien. Anna does not look at all like she’s keen on being interrupted right now, but this is a critical emergency, so Lucy drags her aside to explain what’s happened.
“Oh fuck him,” says Anna, matter-of-factly. “He’s a nice guy but you can see he just wants to be free and single with no strings attached. You can’t expect commitment from a guy like that. Ditch him.” She gives Lucy a sympathetic squeeze and buries her face back in the Frenchman.
Everyone else has gone to bed, so with nowhere else to turn, Lucy goes back to the room. Brad is naked, spreadeagled on the bed, and fast asleep. Or pretending to be, she doesn’t know which. She lies down next to him and tries to sleep too, but she can’t: her stomach is too knotted with fear that this brilliant, brightly-burning thing may already be plummeting to earth in a devastating fireball.
As soon as she wakes, the memory of last night’s screaming row, and the sick dread of what it might mean, comes flooding back. She lies awake, wondering what to do. Yes, he behaved like a cunt, and he was a total shit to her, but does one drunken fight outweigh two weeks of near-perfection? Surely all they need to do is discuss it, apologise, and put it behind them. Maybe with some of that makeup sex.
With this in mind, she attempts a peace offering by rolling over to Brad’s side of the bed and cuddling up to him. He responds by wrapping his arms and legs round her and pulling her in tight. Now she can’t really breathe, but who cares about that right now. Breathing’s not important. What is, is that she’s going make this all ok again. She has to, because if she can’t, then she has zero fucking clue how she will ever manage to survive the rest of her time in Kenya.
She begins stroking him, first his arms and chest, then down over his stomach and below. He responds immediately to her touch. She carries on for a while, getting turned on watching him becoming hard, but apart from that slight movement she gets no reaction at all, so eventually she gives up.
“Why have you stopped?” he mutters sleepily.
“Well I wasn’t getting much of a reaction.”
“Don’t you see me getting hard? I was enjoying having my cock stroked!”
Lucy starts up again, but as before, he just lies there, and after a while she gets fed up. Why should he get to enjoy himself, while she does all the work? He was a total shitbag last night, she thinks, so why the fuck should I be pleasing him? He should be apologising to ME!
There’s only one thing for it. If they’re going to clear the air, they’re going to need to talk about what happened. But Brad is hungover and grumpy, and refuses to engage.
“But we should talk about this,” she pleads. We’ve got to spend the whole day together, I don’t want it to be another shitty day like yesterday.”
“I’ve TOLD you,” he snaps, as though he’s scolding his toddler, “I DON’T want to TALK about it now. So DROP IT, OK!”
“Please don’t speak to me like that,” she objects. “I’m not one of your children.”
He gets up, marches into the bathroom, and turns on the shower. Conversation over, apparently.
Lucy’s desperate. Her anxiety and insecurity have reached DEFCON level 1, they appear to be on the brink of relationship Armageddon, and unless they can reach some kind of accord, her day is going to be utterly hideous. She simply can’t leave things like this.
So she does want any totally wretched woman would do in her situation: she follows him into the bathroom and gets into the shower too.
Oh Lucy, what the fuck are you doing?
It ends up being a quick, angry fuck, and Lucy can’t help thinking she’s making a total cunting balls-up of everything and letting both herself AND the entire sisterhood down by using sex to try to fix a problem. Not that it seems to be working anyway: this doesn’t feel like happy makeup sex, this is something altogether darker and far less reassuring. But still, it’s a communication of sorts, and afterwards she feels a little bit less abandoned. Besides, at that point what else could she have done?
They go for breakfast and meet up with the others. No one says anything, and peace seems to be restored, but it’s an uneasy truce, and the three-hour drive back to Nairobi passes in almost total silence.
Maybe it’s just his hangover, thinks Lucy, clutching at straws. One argument doesn’t mean you have to break up, does it?
But dark clouds are definitely gathering.
Next time: Lucy attempts to get things back on track.