The last time Lucy saw Josh, the sweet but slightly eccentric geography teacher, it was just after she’d met Charlie. Josh had been acting a bit weird, and Lucy’s head was full of thoughts of another man, so although they’d ended up getting naked and doing naughty things to one another, the whole thing had been just a tad unsatisfactory. When Josh left her flat that day Lucy wasn’t even sure if she’d ever hear from him again, and TBH she wasn’t really all that fussed. He’s nice enough, but there’s a shiny new toy turning her head now.
But a few weeks later, he pops up on her WhatsApp to ask her if she’d like to go to a Scottish ceilidh with him. I know, bit random, but bear with…
If you’re not familiar with the concept of a ceilidh, allow me to take a moment to explain. A ceilidh is a folk dance event, where people get together to meet, socialise, and perform a series of dances with names like the Gay Gordons and Strip the Willow. These might sound like the titillating routines of a raunchy burlesque artist dressed in sequin hotpants and nipple tassles, but they are in fact just a type of nerdy Scottish barn dance, often involving moves such as the dosey doe and the highland fling (which is not a weekend of passion with bearded bloke named Angus, but a sort of hopping manoeuvre where you touch one toe to the other knee). There’s a band, usually dressed in tartan, with at least one attractive redhead playing the fiddle, and a guy with a kilt and microphone whose job it is to tell everyone what the steps are. And then there’s a large crowd of revellers, who in centuries past would have gone to impress the neighbours and hopefully ensnare a buxom wench, but who these days usually show up for the chance to get a bit pissed and have a boogie without being forced to stand outside a club for an hour in the pouring rain and snort a line of coke first.
Now, you’re probably wondering why Josh would invite Lucy to something so nerdy and bizarre, given that she is, like, the height of cool ‘n’ that. But the fact is, Lucy’s actually a secret Scot-o-phile and a bit of a celidh expert. Growing up in the Home Counties under the influence of her middle-class Scottish mother, as a child Lucy was sent not only to ballet classes but also to ceilidh classes, where she learned All The Steps and became one of those insufferable know-it-alls who would eye roll to the heavens and huff with condescension when one of the other kids got it wrong.
Her deep-rooted love of all things Scottish stayed with her, such that she ended up applying to a university north of the border purely for the chance to ogle men in kilts on a weekly basis for four straight years, and she still dreams of marrying a rugged, outdoorsy guy named Hamish with a melty-chocolate accent and a sizeable caber under his sporran. In hopes of finding such a man in London she began dragging her friends to Camden’s Ceilidh Club nights, where once a week you can pay £20 for the chance to drink warm wine out of plastic cups and get hot and sweaty with other Scottish dance lovers. If Lucy’s going to find her Scot in London, she thinks, here’ll be the place, particularly since most of the dances require a partner which gives Lucy just the excuse she needs to march up to any bloke who doesn’t already have a girl on his arm and ask him to take her for a spin.
So far, however, her mission has been unsuccessful, because most of the guys in kilts have turned out not to be authentic Scots but idiot tourists in fancy dress who fuck up all the steps, and there are always about five times as many women as men, because, well, standard. So when Josh reveals that he too is a ceilidh fan, and offers Lucy the chance to enjoy an entire evening of dancing with her very own partner, and one that actually knows what he’s doing, well, how can she refuse?
Plus, y’know, Josh is cute, and dancing and getting sweaty with a cute guy is kinda fun, and could maybe lead to other stuff after… which even though Charlie’s arrived on the scene could still be nice, maybe? After all, Lucy needs to remember that Charlie definitely isn’t ever going to be a Real Thing, and he’ll probably get bored and dump her soon enough, and maybe Josh is just the distraction she needs. Maybe he’ll even wear a kilt.
Except, as it turns out, this time he won’t be. Because the day before the event Josh texts her to let her know that this won’t be a capital-D-date, because he’s met someone. OK, slight exaggeration, but he’s had two dates with a woman called Sarah, and although it’s still early days he doesn’t think it’d be fair to her to do anything with Lucy until he sees where it’s going.
Oh FFS! thinks Lucy. Why does he have to be so bloody honourable! It’s only been two fucking dates! It’s not like they’re on the verge of running off to get married, for crying out loud!
What’s worse than the disappointment that she’s not getting a shag is that Josh’s infuriating decency has made her feel guilty for not having told him about Charlie. If Josh thinks he should fess up after just two dates with another woman, does that mean Lucy should have told him about her new polyamorous lover? She honestly didn’t think she needed to – she and Josh aren’t in a relationship, and he knows she’s still dating other guys. Does he really need to know the details? Lucy didn’t think so, but now his ridiculous over-the-top sense of right and wrong has made her feel like a shitty person. Godammit!
Still, now that he’s told her about Sarah, it doesn’t matter any more. This isn’t a date, so Lucy can happily dodge that awkward conversation. She’s not quite sure how she’d’ve explained it anyway.
They meet in Camden for a quick dinner before the dancing starts. Even though this isn’t a date Lucy still wants to look hot, so she’s teamed a sleeveless jersey dress with gold trainers for what she hopes is the correct balance of pretty and comfortable for dancing; meanwhile Josh is sadly not sporting full Clan Macdonald regalia but is rocking his usual penniless-teacher chic of crumpled short-sleeved shirt and faded baggy cotton trousers. He’s also decided to develop his hipster, eco-worrying side and has now become a flexitarian, so they go to Mildred’s, the vegetarian chain, where they order a small selection of tapas-style salads to share. The aim is to have just a light snack before all the jumping up-and-down they’re about to do, but as the waiter stands expectantly over them the lack of meat or anything resembling actual proper food sends Lucy into a last-minute panic, and she chucks in a request for sweet potato fries.
“Ah yes,” says Josh. “I forgot you had a big appetite.
How fucking rude. Is he calling her fat?
Of course she regrets this decision when they get to the venue and she can feel the weight of all those carbs bouncing round in her stomach.
Joining the dance
A girl in a plaid dress takes their money at the door and directs them into the main hall, a grand 1930s ballroom with a scuffed wooden floor and a stage at one end where the band is already playing a Scottish jig. At the front is the caller who is not, as expected, a bearded middle-aged man but a buff, clean-shaven ginger hottie in his mid-30s, as full of swagger as the lead singer of a rock group, except wearing a kilt and backed by a posse of folk musicians in matching tartan. Lucy loves a ginger, and wonders if she might be able to catch his eye.
“Hmmm, the caller is hot,” she says to Josh, her lack of filter as strong as ever. “I bet he does really well with the girls.” This isn’t a date, they’re just friends now, so that’s OK, right?
Some people are already dancing, some are sitting on the sidelines: the usual mix of tourists out for an ‘authentic cultural experience’, work parties and groups of mates up for a laugh. There are twice as many women as men, and almost all of them are a good decade younger than Lucy and Josh. But that’s OK, she thinks, for once I already have my dance partner, so who gives a fuck about everyone else?
They join in. With the start of each new dance the hot ginger asks for a girl to volunteer to help him demonstrate the steps, and Lucy immediately charges to the front, toppling the weaker, slower, more stupid girls to either side as she does so. Ok, no, she doesn’t really do that, but she’s tempted. After all, she does already know the moves, so it’d be helpful, right? But someone else always seems to catch his eye first and besides, it’d be rude to abandon Josh.
Anyway, there’s something sexy about dancing with him. His hand holding hers or in the small of her back, his arm round her waist, catching his eye across the circle, him spinning her around, separating and then coming together again. The room is crowded now and they’re both hot from the exertion: Josh has sweat beading on his forehead and his back feels clammy. It’s kinda gross and yet at the same time it reminds her of the times they’ve got hot and sweaty together before, except with fewer clothes.
Lucy can feel the hair around her face becoming damp and frizzy. It probably looks shit but it doesn’t really matter. This isn’t a date anyway.
The band takes a break for juice and oranges, and Lucy and Josh head out into the garden for some fresh air and to allow all the sweatiness to dry off a little. They sit side-by-side on a park bench.
“So tell me about Sarah,” she asks.
“I met her on Happn. We’ve only had two dates. She seems nice.”
“If you’ve only had two dates, why is it an issue if you come here with me?”
“Well I wanted to be honest with her. I didn’t specifically tell her I was seeing you, but I asked her how she would feel if I kissed someone else and she said she wouldn’t like it. I obviously only asked that because I knew I’d be seeing you.”
Lucy laughs. “Damn you for being so bloody honourable! Most people think it’s OK to date more than one person when it’s still the very early stages of dating, you know.”
Maybe it’s the dancing, maybe it’s the closeness, maybe it’s the fact that she can’t have him now and that makes him more desirable, but Lucy finds herself really wanting to kiss Josh. Fuck him and his fucking decency!
“It’s very annoying that you did that,” she tells him. “I was hoping to take you home with me after this.”
“I would have liked that, and I wish I hadn’t said anything now. Especially since I don’t even think it’s going to go anywhere.”
“I’m not sure yet? But probably not.”
“So why did you say anything?”
“It just felt like the right thing to do.”
Fuck’s sake! Lucy can’t help comparing Josh and his kind-hearted decency, and Charlie with his sexy naughtiness, and wonders yet again why she’s so much more attracted to the sexy, edgy guy than to the sweet, nerdy one. Why am I so fucked up? she wails internally.
When the band restarts Josh and Lucy head back to the floor, but this new dance is a different one. Instead of staying with the same partner for the entire thing, every time the steps repeat you have to grab a new person and dance with them. Normally this is a great opportunity to work the room and check out if there are any hot guys there, but as soon as Josh is whisked away by some other chick, Lucy feels slightly bereft. None of the guys here are hot: they’re either too young or too old or too beardy or too stupid to even manage a few simple steps without fucking up, and Lucy doesn’t have the patience for any of that crap. She moves her way around the room, not really noticing or caring who’s in front of her, trying not to put her hands onto too many strange sweaty backs, all the time craning her head like a meerkat looking for Josh. When she finally spots him, nerdy in his too-baggy trousers and his faded shirt and scuffed shoes she feels a surge of affection and smiles.
But that’s all it is really, a warm glow of fondness and affection. Not the kind of stomach flipping, lady-part melting, can’t-be-without-you desire she feels for Charlie. And even though she knows that Charlie is bad for her, that he’ll never be The One, that’s the feeling she wants. If not with him, then with someone. That mystery someone who she still hopes is out there somewhere, slowly making his way towards her. Oh FFS hurry the fuck up, wherever you are!
Dancing over, they head back to the tube station and part ways with a safe, boring, platonic hug. Lucy wonders if she will see Josh again. She wonders what will happen with this girl Sarah. For once, she genuinely hopes it works out for him, because of all the guys she’s met in her years of online dating, he’s the one who deserves it the most. But why is it so fucking hard for some of us?
Next time: The return of Charlie.