read from the beginning.
“Good morning, beautiful. How are you today?”
She hopes Al might be one of them. She’d like to see what he looks like with his top off.
“What do you think of the beard today?” he asks hopefully.
“Still don’t like it, sorry.” Well there’s no point in pretending.
“Even though it’s shorter?”
Lucy is confused. “It’s shorter? It looks exactly the same to me.”
“Yes!” Al is outraged. “I trimmed an inch off it!”
As far as Lucy is concerned, a beard is a beard. It still thinks it looks like Al has a hedge glued to his face. Which is a shame, because it’s a handsome face.
“For our next date I’ll trim it even shorter,” says Al.
Next date? Lucy likes the man’s confidence.
“Don’t do that just because of me,” says Lucy, hoping he will entirely ignore this last comment and do it anyway.
“It’s ok,” he replies. “I was thinking of trimming it for summer anyway. I’ll just grow it back in the winter when I need to keep my face warm.”
Lucy laughs. “So that means we can have a passionate summer fling and then I’ll dump you in the autumn when the beard comes back.”
“Bitch!” Al teases, his warm brown eyes crinkling affectionately.
Beyond the pebbles, the tide is far out, revealing a broad stretch of seaweed-encrusted rocks criss-crossed by channels and rock pools. Lucy and Al step precariously from stone to stone across them, stopping occasionally to peer into the water to look for crabs.
“Don’t worry, I’ll look after you,” he promises. “And when you get really incapable I’ll happily run you over with my truck.”
Wow, what a sweetheart, she thinks, this is definitely my kind of guy.
“You’re lucky,” he adds, “I’ve come along at just the right time to prevent you from turning into a crazy cat lady.”
“Oh I’d never be one of those,” says Lucy. “Crazy maybe, but not a cat lady. Don’t like pets. Too much fur-shedding.”
“You’ll like my pet then,” reveals Al. “He doesn’t have any fur.”
“You have a pet?” Lucy asks cautiously. “What is it? A goldfish?”
“Actually…” Al pauses. ” It’s a bearded dragon.”
Shit shit shit. The man has a fucking pet lizard. Just when things seemed to be going so well! A goldfish she could have handled. But a reptile? A living one, and not just refashioned into a pair of shoes?
Also, what is it with this man and beards?
She hesitates. “A lizard?”
“Yes. His name’s Barry.”
Of course the lizard is called fucking Barry. You can’t make this shit up.
“Um,” Lucy says. “I’m not sure about a lizard. Where does he live?”
“He’s very sweet,” says Al. “He lives in a tank in my house, and I feed him live crickets.”
Lucy shudders and makes a mental note never to go to Beardy McLizardface’s house.
They continue to pick their way across the rocks. Al drops another bombshell. “Actually he’s not my only pet.”
Wait, what? There’s more?
“I also have a stag’s head. His name’s Sebastian.”
“I’m sorry, what?”
“I found it by the side of the road. It’s a full skull with antlers attached. So I took it home and put it on the wall. I didn’t even clean it. It’s still got mud and grass on it and everything. It’s really cool.”
What the fuck just happened? This sweet, thoughtful guy has turned out to be the type of nutjob who picks up roadkill, puts it on his wall and gives it a fucking name. Lucy would turn and run but the slippery rocks won’t allow it.
“I don’t get it,” says Lucy. “Why would you want to bring a dead thing into your house?”
“I think it’s beautiful,” says Al. ” I have a stuffed boar’s snout too.”
Holy crap give me strength.
“It’s not the whole head, just the snout, mounted on a plaque. I found him in an antique shop. I’ve put glasses on him so he looks really cool. Today he’s wearing opera glasses. Last week it was 70s disco specs. He likes it.”
“He? It’s just a stuffed dead boar’s nose.”
“No, he has a personality. His name is Seboarstian.”
What. The. Actual. Fuck.
So Al shares his home with Sebastian the dead deer, Seboarstian the dead pig (see what you did there, Al), and Barry the very much alive bearded dragon. Why can’t the man have a normal hobby? Like sports? Or video games? Even a mild porn addiction would be better than this.
Lucy doesn’t know what to do. She still really fancies the action hero hearthrob side to Al, but could she possibly cope with a guy who is also a collector of weird and dead things?
They head for the nearest pub. It’s a typical country pub, so in keeping with the rules that all pubs seem to follow there’s a taxidermied fox on the windowsill.
She takes a slug of wine and looks up. Realises they are sitting directly underneath a huge stuffed boar’s head. It’s wearing a sombrero.
Lucy wishes she had ordered the entire bottle.
Lucy likes Al’s naughty sense of humour.
Al also tells her more about being in the Army. He was in an engineers regiment.
“No, I was on the front line. I was actually part of the capture of Basra when I was just 18.”
Lucy is impressed. This is a man who must have been through an awful lot. Perhaps it’s no surprise that he has one or two quirks.
On the other hand, she has had a very enjoyable day. And Al has been extremely sweet, and very open about his attraction to her. She’d like to give something back. Maybe she should wait and see if he makes a move…?
But she knows he won’t. He’s so gentle and nervous about getting it wrong that if she leaves it up to him he will give her a respectful peck on the cheek and Lucy will get back on the train feeling rather let down.
So at the the ticket barrier she turns to say goodbye, leans in, and kisses him briefly on the mouth.
Al is momentarily taken aback. And then he realises what’s just happened and goes back in for another with confidence.
It’s the first time in her entire life that Lucy has kissed a man with a beard.
This must be how a eucalyptus tree feels when it’s being munched by a hungry koala. It’s soft yet scratchy, a little damp, slightly musty, but not altogether unpleasant. And to Lucy’s great relief, she doesn’t get hair in her teeth. Which was genuinely a real fucking worry.
But the train is in the platform, so the kiss is brief. Lucy swipes through the barriers, and Al heads home to his freaky menagerie.
(To find out what happened next, click here)