After a rollercoaster four months in Kenya, Lucy’s returned to London and is settling back into normal life. She’s found a new job, is working hard to lose the extra pounds that have mysteriously accumulated round her middle, and is back on the hunt for a man. And she bloody well needs one. It’s been four long, Gobi-desert-dry months since she last had sex (with Brad, in case you somehow managed to miss all of that) and she needs to make the most of her feeble Africa tan before her skin fades back to its usual glow-in-the-dark pasty white.
So when her friends Caroline and Nick invite her to their house party, she decides to go. Though that’s not to say that Lucy believes for even a fraction of a nanosecond that there’ll actually be any hot guys at this thing – because of course there bloody won’t. She’s been to approximately forty-three thousand parties in her lifetime, sometimes travelling up to an hour an a half into the arse end of Zone 17 in hopes of a chance encounter with the love of her life, and every single one ends the same way: with Lucy, in a spiral of depression, reluctantly drinking warm wine out of the last clean mug and trying to pretend to seem interested as some knackered-looking parent enjoying their first night out in six months bangs on tediously about that hilariously cute thing their precious little darling did last night.
This party is no different. It’s a nice enough crowd, though as predicted there are no attractive single men at all. Who is there, however, is Charlie.
Lucy doesn’t notice Charlie at first. He arrives late, and by the time she encounters him, when she goes to the kitchen to refill her glass, she’s already quite tipsy. He strikes up a conversation, and turns out to be articulate, confident and flirty, and although Lucy doesn’t immediately fancy him physically she’s interested enough to find out more, because there’s definitely a spark there and because – she checks – no ring.
Later she collars Caroline in the hallway. “What’s the deal with your friend Charlie?” she asks. “Is he single?”
“You like him, huh?” yells Caroline, who is at that level of drunk that she can’t manage her volume control.
Lucy cringes and checks to see if Charlie’s within earshot, which, fortunately, he isn’t.
“He seems nice,” Lucy presses. “So…?”
“Well no, he’s not single, but he’s in an Open Relationship. So if you fancy him, you should totally go for it. It’s allowed!”
Caroline tells her she met 40-year-old Charlie at work and that they’ve been friends for over 15 years. He’s a really lovely guy, she says, though he used to be a total player who shagged around a LOT, but in the last few years he’s calmed down. He now lives with his girlfriend of three years but they both date other people. And no, she swears drunkenly, for the record she’s never fucked him (mostly because she’s been with Nick since university) but she’s heard favourable things about his, um, abilities in that department.
Lucy rolls her eyes so fucking hard the G-force nearly turns her skull inside out. What the actual fuck is it with all these guys wanting to be in ‘Open Relationships’? Pretending to be all enlightened, all shary and sex-positive and forward-thinking, when really it’s just them wanting to stick their dicks into as many women as possible. It’s total, shameless, greedy fuckboyery, is what it is. At least in the past men had the decency to try to hide it if they wanted to bone a string of different women. Today it seems being a cheating arsehole is now a ‘lifestyle choice’.
No bastarding way is she getting involved with that kind of bullshit. Charlie might seem like a great guy, but in reality he’s bound to be a total cunt.
But the next day, out of the blue, Charlie adds her on Facebook. And Lucy, in a moment of – what? Curiosity? Bravery? Stupidity? – accepts.
Well, no harm in being friends, right? He might be fun to hang out with! He might have hot single mates!
Look at Lucy, already lying to herself. It’s fucking embarrassing, is what it is.
They get chatting, and Charlie turns out to be intelligent and thoughtful, completely open about his relationship status, and he’s clearly very interested in her. Which, even coming from a total man-whore, is super flattering.
But when he asks her for a drink, Lucy hesitates. What does he want from her? Does he just want to be friends, or does he have more disreputable intentions? Deep down she thinks she knows the answer to this, but she wouldn’t dare to presume anything.
She can’t deny it though: she’d like to see him again. There’s obvious chemistry between them, and he’s very easy to talk to. And even though she knows he has a girlfriend and is a serial shagger, she’s curious. And, let’s be honest, tempted. If he is trying to get in her knickers, well, would that be so awful? It has been a while, after all…
Everything’s legit and out in the open. The Girlfriend’s ok with it. Lucy knows where she stands. While she continues the search for The One, would a new fuck buddy who happens to be openly non-monogamous be such a terrible idea? After all, if Caroline’s feedback is to be believed, he’d be an excellent candidate for the role.
And Lucy needs this. She needs a little excitement in her life. After all, when was the last time a charming and attractive man asked her out?
Lucy arrives at Shepherds Bush station first, and waits at the barriers with a view of the escalator. A couple of minutes later Charlie appears, and as he sails into view she gets her first, proper, well-lit, non-drunken look at him in the flesh.
Sort of as she remembers him, and yet, not. Clearly wine made him more attractive, because in the cold light of day he looks a bit, well, ordinary. Nice-enough-looking in a sort of comfortable way; with the shaven head of a man who lost the battle with his hairline and decided to bow out gracefully, and a lapsed-rugby-player’s build: broad but a little soft round the edges. The sort of pleasant chap you could definitely take home to meet your parents, if, of course, he wasn’t a sex-crazed Neanderthal.
He kisses her awkwardly on the cheek and they walk up the road to a small wine bar. Away from the noise and drunkenness of the party he seems… less, somehow, uncomfortably chatting about the weather and the crowded tube in a soft voice. For someone who’s apparently slept with scores of women he just seems so average, Lucy thinks. She was expecting animal magnetism, but this guy is just, well, normal. But then maybe that’s precisely his charm.
The bar is surprisingly busy for a Monday night, but they find a corner table to squeeze into. Charlie goes to the bar and comes back with two glasses of white wine.
“I thought you’d get a bottle,” Lucy says.
“I didn’t want to presume,” Charlie shrugs. “You might want to leave after one glass!”
“Oh I think I can probably manage to stick it out a bit longer than that!” Lucy smiles. “I already know you’re not completely awful.”
He sits down. The space is small, and Lucy finds herself wedged uncomfortably in the corner between Charlie and the wall. His knee keeps knocking against hers, and she feels crowded in: he’s too close, and her personal space is invaded. She crosses her legs to get her knee away from him and presses back into the wall, aware that her body language must look very defensive. Wine. Wine will help her relax! She takes a gulp.
Charlie fixes her with a confident gaze. “You look amazing,” he says matter-of-factly. “And I love your hair.”
Lucy blushes and can’t look him in the eye. “Thanks, she mumbles. I got abuse for it at school, actually.”
“Me too,” he confesses. “I was clever and a bit fat.”
Lucy’s convinced that being bullied and unattractive at school is one of the reasons why she’s still so crap with men today, and wonders how a formerly chubby, nerdy guy managed to become such a Casanova. Maybe she should ask him for lessons.
For a while they chat about safe topics like work, London life, and Brexit, and Lucy begins to relax. He’s charismatic and asks loads of questions, and conversation flows. Soon their glasses are empty and Charlie looks at her. “We getting that bottle then?”
Lucy sizes him up speculatively. “I think I can handle to stay a little longer.”
As he gets up to go to the bar he puts a hand on her shoulder, and the unexpected touch gives Lucy a sudden frisson she was not anticipating.
With the confidence of wine, she wants to find out more about how his relationship works.
“We’re polyamorous,” he tells her. “We’re in a committed relationship, we live together, but we’re both allowed to see other people if we want to.”
“I guess it makes sense in theory,” she agrees begrudgingly. “I’m just not sure if I could do it. I wouldn’t want to share.”
“Well it works for us. It takes the pressure off having to be all things to one person. Plus, are humans even really meant to be monogamous? I mean, it was important historically, for financial or health reasons, but now? For lots of people it just doesn’t work: look at all the relationships that end in cheating or loss of intimacy. And anyway, you can still be committed to someone and have sex with other people.”
When he puts it like this, it does seem to make sense. If men are biologically programmed to sow their wild oats far and wide, why not just have it all out in the open? As her friend Helen said when her husband had an affair, it’s not so much the sex that’s the issue, but the lying. At least this way you know where you stand. And perhaps if you let your partner have some fun elsewhere, he’ll be happier and nicer to you as a result. And not pestering you for a shag when you don’t feel like it. Which seems like a win, now Lucy comes to think of it.
“Maybe I could be OK with it if it was just a fuck buddy arrangement,” Lucy muses. “Like, if it was a casual thing with someone I wasn’t too fussed about. But knowing me I’d probably catch feels, and that would be a disaster.”
But deep down she knows that for her non-monogamy would be impossible. She’s too insecure. She knows she’d be tortured by jealousy at the thought of her partner with another woman, and by fear that he’d end up falling for someone else and leaving. And besides, from the numbers of men she sees on dating apps claiming to be in open relationships, she can’t help feeling that all this stuff is just an excuse for people (mainly men), to shag around all over the place like greedy, selfish cunts, all the while pretending they’re living some sort of enlightened, higher way of living, far above the narrow-minded practices of monogamous mortals, still trapped in a vanilla-flavoured dark age. It’s bollocks, and she doesn’t like it.
But as much as she tries to resist it, there’s definitely something about Charlie, and when she gets up to go to the loo, and he rests a hand briefly on her waist as she passes, she feels a warm rush to her lady parts as though someone’s just spilled a cup of tea into her lap.
But what does he make of her? Is this just a friends thing, or is he manoeuvring her into position as a future fuck? If he’s just a player, he’s probably the type to make a pass at anything with a vagina and a pulse who meets a minimum level of attractiveness. But if that’s the case, so what? What’s wrong with having a new fuck buddy? Maybe he’s actually exactly what Lucy needs right now.
Immersed for a moment in her overanalysis, she takes a sip of her wine and looks up at him. And out of the blue, with no warning at all, he suddenly leans in and kisses her.
Ambushed, Lucy pulls away and looks at him in surprise. But she doesn’t object and so, emboldened, he kisses her again, harder, grabbing her hair firmly at the back of her head and leaning fully into the kiss. Assertive, dominating, determined. This is a man who knows what he wants and is used to getting it. It’s insanely sexy.
But it also feels very wrong. Knowingly kissing someone else’s boyfriend is not something Lucy’s ever done before, and her brain can’t compute it. Even though she knows she’s not doing anything morally wrong, the idea that this man probably kissed another woman that very morning, and will no doubt go home and kiss her (and possibly more) straight afterwards, sends all her overthinky neurons into meltdown. She’s surprised Charlie can’t hear the alarms going off.
She pulls away, unable to look him in the eye, and laughs like an embarrassed 14-year-old.
“Well that took me by surprise! So I guess this is a date after all!”
“What do you mean?” he grins, clearly enjoying her discomfort.
“I didn’t know what this was. It could have just been a friend thing?”
“I knew I liked you as soon as we met,” he says softly, locking eyes with her until she blushes and looks away again.
“God! I’m SUCH a teenager!” Lucy laments. “Why am I so bad at this! This is exactly why I’m single!”
“How long’s it been?” Charlie asks.
“Fuck! No one at all in that time?”
Lucy tells him about her trip to Kenya, and about Brad, how she fell for him and he binned her, and there’s something about the way Charlie listens, supportively and attentively – or maybe it’s the wine – but she suddenly feels a pricking at the corners of her eyes and a single tear escapes and rolls down her cheek.
Are you fucking kidding me? What sort of lame twat cries on a first date?
She expects Charlie to grab his coat and make a dash for the door, but he stays put.
“I’m sorry,” she tells him.
“Anyway, it’s your fault. You’re just so easy to talk to! You make me overshare!”
“You know I actually nearly got a job at MI5,” he says. “So yes, I’m good at getting secrets out of people!”
“You do seem to be rather persuasive.”
He gives her a cheeky look. “Oh I do hope so. And I’m hoping you’re persuadable…”
He kisses her again, long and hard: the kind of kiss that sets Lucy on fire all the way from her neglected toenail varnish to the grown-out roots of her highlighted hair.
Reluctantly, she pulls away a second time.
“This is weird. You have a girlfriend. I know it’s allowed, but still…”
“Yes, he says firmly. “It’s allowed.” He leans in for another kiss, his mouth centimetres from hers.
“But it’s bizarre knowingly kissing another woman’s man! It feels wrong!”
“It’s not wrong,” he says, and closes the gap.
They stay in the bar, kissing and talking, until the staff start stacking chairs onto tables and hovering passive-aggressively. Walking back down the road Lucy feels a strong urge to hold Charlie’s hand, an urge which, of course, she fights with every fibre of her being. This is all wrong. He has a girlfriend. Nothing good can come of this. Plus holding his hand would be WAY too fucking forward!
Then he reaches out and takes hers, and Lucy’s heart immediately accelerates to the sort of speed that would have sirens going off and doctors and nurses rushing in with a crash cart.
As they near the tube station he stops. “I’m not done with you yet,” he tells her decisively, and leads her down a side street, pushing her up against the front wall of a terraced house and kissing her again, hard, determined, sexy as fuck.
He takes her hand and presses it against his crotch. “Just in case you were wondering how I’m feeling right now,” he whispers, and touching what’s down there, Lucy’s in no doubt at all about what Charlie wants, and why he’s so confident, and an involuntary fireball explodes in her knickers and sets her skirt ablaze.
But she’s torn. Here’s a charming, intelligent, deeply sexy man, who for some unfathomable reason seems to find her irresistible. Here’s Lucy, alone, doubtful of her dating prospects, unfucked for too long. It would be the easiest thing in the world to say yes. And yet… Is it madness to sleep with a guy who can never be hers?
“I’m definitely tempted,” she breathes between kisses. “It’s certainly been a while, and you are all kinds of enticing. But I’m not sure it’s a good idea. What if I catch feels for you?”
“Maybe you won’t.”
“I did last time, with the guy from Kenya.”
“But last time you fell in love.”
No one has ever put it like that before. Lucy had never even considered that what she felt for Brad might have been love. Surely it’s not possible to fall in love that quickly? But then she realises he’s right, and the tears start all over again.
What a fucking mess she is.
He kisses her more gently this time. “Come on you,” he says. “I don’t want to put you down, but it’s late and we might miss the last tube.”
On the platform Charlie pushes her up against the glossy white tiles and makes the most of every last second until the train pulls in. “When can I see you again?” he asks.
She looks at him through cynical, weary eyes.
“You have a girlfriend, Charlie,” she tells him firmly, and gets on the train.
Travelling home, she’s a hot, fucked up mess of lust and confusion. Where the fuck did this guy come from and how has she gone, in the space of just a few hours, from not fancying him at all to being a burning bundle of desire? Is he a genuinely lovely guy with whom she has a real connection, or is he just a pick-up artist with an eye for a vulnerable woman and an award-winning pulling act which she’s in danger of falling for like a gullible twat? And if he is taking advantage, does it even matter? Maybe she can just take advantage of him right back.
NEXT TIME: The return of Josh, The Geography Teacher.