A few days after her last date with non-monogamous Charlie, Lucy goes for a drink with her mate Phil.
As a chronic oversharer Lucy normally likes to tell her friends all the gory details of what’s going on in her life. And the friends, who are mostly boring and married and do little except wipe up baby sick and complain about how sleep-deprived they are, are only too happy to let her talk.
Except with Charlie it’s a different story. With only a couple of exceptions, the few people she’s been brave enough to open up to have reacted with horrified and judgy concern, to the extent that Lucy’s decided to stop telling people. She simply can’t be bothered dealing with all the questions and the raised eyebrows at the revelation that she’s in a relationship with a guy who already has a fiancée.
But on this particular evening she gets a bit tipsy, and before she knows it she’s spilling all to Phil, who rather than judge her – or Charlie – is nothing but supportive. And possibly a little bit grudgingly impressed by the way Charlie seems to be living every straight man’s fantasy life.
And later that evening he sends her a lovely message, which Lucy, drunk and still in overshary mode, forwards to Charlie, because she thinks it’s sweet.
It’s only after Charlie’s seen it that she realises the text contains the dreaded ‘L-word’. Horrors!
Which of course is the first thing he picks up on.
Nearly four months into their relationship, and Lucy’s still unsure about how she really feels about Charlie. On the one hand he ticks a huge number of boxes, and they’ve connected so intensely that she’s pretty sure that if he were single and monogamous she’d already be practising writing his last name and pausing hopefully in front of bridal shop windows.
But he’s not. He’s a greedy slut who causes her untold agonies and heartache, and how can you ever fall in love with someone when half the time you’re despising them for being the source of so much distress?
And anyway, to allow herself to fall in love with Charlie would be utterly ridiculous. She can’t have him, so what’s even the point? It’d be a fucking stupid and self-sabotaging act that would only take her further away from her real goal of finding her Person. It’s one thing to keep him around as a fun diversion, but to get serious? Nah-huh. Big Mistake. Huge.
What’s he saying? That he thinks she might not be able to help falling in love with him?! The bloody cheek of the man! There’s a fine line between confidence and cocky – and while his confidence is one of the things that first attracted Lucy to Charlie, she’s not sure she likes it when he gets this full of himself.
She also doesn’t like admitting that of course he may be right.
If she was hoping he might’ve been suggesting he could see himself falling in love with her too someday, well, that was just fucking stupid. And pointless, of course. What use would that be to her anyway?
All she can do now is try to save face.
A couple of days later, Lucy and Charlie are having their weekly date (aka evening of all the awesome naked fun). Lucy’s train’s delayed, so she calls Charlie to let him know he’ll probably get to her place before she does.
“Guess I’ll have to wait on the doorstep,” he says. “Maybe next time you should give me a key.”
Wait… what? He wants his own key? To her flat?! That’s a bit boyfriendy, isn’t it?!
“Maybe you’re right,” says Charlie. “I guess we’re not quite there yet.”
And that final ‘yet’ hangs in the air like a delay on the phone line, reverberating with significance. What does that mean, Lucy wonders? Does he see himself as her boyfriend?
For someone who hasn’t had a boyfriend of any kind in almost four years, and who could never have imagined herself in a relationship with someone who freely goes about fucking other women, this is a Huge Headfuck.
When she finally makes it home after a mind-numbing journey that’s made even more frustrating by the knowledge that there’s a hot man waiting outside her flat for her, and that fucking London Transport is literally keeping her from getting laid, she finds Charlie sitting on her front lawn, drinking wine straight from the bottle. In a pink checked shirt and with the afternoon sunshine glinting off the top of his head he looks summery and delicious, and she feels her stomach do a little flip at the sight of him. Oh fuck, maybe he’s right. The cocky bastard, she doesn’t want to let him be right! How maddening would that be?!
He follows her up the stairs, making appreciative noises at the sight of her bum, and as soon as they’re inside he pushes her up against the wall and kisses her in the way he always does that immediately makes the blood rush to her lady parts.
“Not yet,” she laughs, pushing him away. “I’m starving, let’s eat!”
She throws on pasta and vegetables, while Charlie attempts to distract her by kissing her neck and sliding one hand up under her skirt. It’s the sort of flirtatious cosy domesticity that fills Lucy with temporary joy: this is what she wants, she thinks, just someone to come home to, to cook and flirt and laugh with, surely that shouldn’t be so hard to find? Of course in her perfect fantasy world that person wouldn’t be non-monogamous and the vegetables wouldn’t end up soggy and overdone. Still, Charlie eats everything without comment. “Does he think I’m a terrible cook?” worries Lucy. “Does he even care?”
They take the plates to the kitchen, where Charlie kisses her again and then steers her across the hall and into her bedroom where their clothes swiftly hit the floor. Unusually for him, he’s not ready for her, so Lucy sits on the edge of the bed and takes him in her mouth, feeling the softness gradually harden, and enjoying a glow of achievement as he swells and grows under her lips. When he’s fully ready he pushes her back and kneels down between her legs to return the favour, teasing her with his tongue and then retreating, building the pressure and then letting it diminish before building it again until she’s squirming with pent up desire.
“I’m not gonna let you come until you beg me,” he teases. “I need to hear you say please.” But Lucy’s having such a marvellous time she’s not sure she actually wants him to let her finish; she’d be more than happy to let him carry on his ministrations for a good while longer yet, so she says nothing.
“I didn’t hear a please,” says Charlie again, clearly enjoying ordering her around, or maybe he’s just had enough and wants an excuse to stop, Lucy’s not quite sure. But just in case it’s the latter, she dutifully obliges, role-playing the submissive, begging him to put her out of her misery, even though she could quite happily lie here all evening if he’d let her.
Afterwards, he lies down next to her and holds her tight as her heart rate returns to normal, and Lucy lies still with her eyes closed and a beatific grin on her face like Meg Ryan in that scene from When Harry Met Sally.
And as she recovers he begins experimentally kissing one nipple, and at first Lucy thinks, OMG fuck I love it when he does that, and then she thinks I should really ask him to use a condom this time, and then she thinks But what’s the point, the precedent’s been set, and then she tries not to think about the fact that she has literally no idea how many other women she might be sharing him with, and all these thoughts start churning round her head until it all gets too much and she sits up.
“I’m sorry,” she says, “but I think you should use a condom. I know we didn’t last time, but I wish we hadn’t done that now because it’s going to be a thing and I don’t want it to be a thing. Somewhere out there there’s a parallel universe where you’re not fucking other women and we can just go at it like bunnies all the time without condoms and it’d be fine. But we’re not there, and you are. And I’m sad about that and I wish we lived in that parallel universe, but we don’t, so…”
“It’s OK,” he says gently. “It doesn’t have to be a thing,” and reaches for the bedside drawer.
It’s another warm day and all the windows are open, so when he comes, with loud gasps, Lucy immediately worries about what her neighbours might think.
“Ah well, never mind,” says Charlie with a shrug.
“But I do mind,” Lucy tells him. “I have to live here!”
“In that parallel universe maybe I live here too,” Charlie says with a teasing grin, and Lucy tries to remember what living with a boy was like, and wonders whether it will ever happen again.
Later they lie cuddled up, and Lucy turns her face into him and breathes in his intoxicating scent.
“Are you annoyed that I told my friend about you?” she asks.
“Not at all, quite the reverse, I like it. I mean, I don’t need all your friends to know about me, but I’d definitely be offended if I thought you were ashamed of me, or hiding me.”
Lucy’s shocked. It had never even occurred to her that Charlie might need recognition or acknowledgement of his place in her life. To her it seems like he does this all the time, that she’s just the next in a long succession of women who pass through his bed: today’s bit of fun, tomorrow’s notch on the bedpost. The fact that he might actually have insecurities about his role, that he might want to be a serious part of her life, comes completely out of the blue.
“What do you want?” she asks. “We’ve always talked about what I want, whether we can make this work based on my discomfort with your lifestyle. But what about you?”
She realises that in all their encounters, she’s only ever worried about herself. How she feels and whether she might get hurt. Not because she doesn’t care about him, but because it never even occurred to her that she might have the power to hurt him too.
She always figured she’s just a piece of ass to him. Maybe one he likes better than any he’s liked in a while, but she’s not the first, and she certainly won’t be the last. For her, it’s a different story. Connections and feelings like this just don’t happen for Lucy, so it’s always seemed a given that she’s going to be the one who’ll end up getting hurt. Charlie? Well, she thought he was immune.
“So,” she asks, “What do you want? How do you see this panning out in a perfect world?”
“Well,” he says, “you’re right in that when we first started seeing each other, yes I liked you, but I never thought it would get this far. In the past I’ve either dated polyamorous people for whom I’ve only ever been a bit on the side, or if I have dated people who define as monogamous then we know it has a shelf life, so I never really got too involved.”
“Anything from a few weeks to a few months maybe?”
This is already nearly four months and showing no sign of stopping. Lucy can’t help feeling a surge of happiness at this. Does this mean that out of all the many, many women he’s dated, she’s truly special? Or is she just the only one stupid or needy enough to put up with him this long?
“So obviously,” he continues, “I’m expecting this to end at some point because you’re dating, and you’re going to meet someone and want to give it a go, and when that happens, yes, I don’t mind admitting that I’ll be really sad about that. So it’s hard because for me to get what I want, which is to keep this going for as long as possible, you have to NOT get what you want, which is to find your person. And I also want that for you because I want you to be happy. So I guess for me the dream scenario would be for you to meet a lovely poly guy, so you have your person, but we can keep seeing each other too.”
Lucy drifts off into a fantasy in which she lives with a kind, devoted, sexy, brilliant husband, who doesn’t mind her nipping off once a week to have incredibly hot sex with Charlie. When she thinks of it like that, maybe it wouldn’t be so hard to get behind Charlie’s vision of the future.
But then she remembers that if she found this amazing husband and was allowed to keep Charlie on the side, then she’d have to be OK with her husband seeing other women too. And fuck, there’s just no way she could deal with that.
Lucy still can’t fathom how any woman would be OK with this, TBH. She wonders how much of this Charlie’s discussed with his fiancée – can she really be OK with him having a second, long-term, committed relationship on the side?
“We don’t really discuss you all that much, to be honest,” he tells her. “She doesn’t need details.”
“What has she asked about me?”
“She knows who you are and what you do for a living, but she hasn’t delved too deeply. I did ask her if she wanted to meet you, but she said she’s fine for now.”
Lucy recoils in horror. Meet her? Christ on a bike! That sounds more terrifying than going camping in the woods after watching The Blair Witch Project. Absolutely no way. How could she face this other woman, knowing she’s fucking her partner. And knowing that she knows!
Lucy’s pretty brave: she’s travelled the world alone, she’s climbed active volcanoes and jumped out of planes, but the idea of shaking hands with the woman whose boyfriend’s cock she has in her mouth on a regular basis is a whole different kind of horrifying. Lucy, diehard monogamous Lucy, has never knowingly had sex with someone else’s partner – until now. How could she possibly meet her? To be sized up. To be judged. To have to make excruciatingly awkward small talk? To know that afterwards this woman will take Charlie home and fuck him (as she no doubt does several times a week) and that’s just something Lucy has to live with?
At least she doesn’t need to panic for now. The Girlfriend doesn’t want to meet her, and that’s just fine. But what if at some point she changes her mind? What if she decides that this thing with Charlie has gone on long enough, and she wants to look the woman who’s fucking her husband-to-be in the eye? What then? Logically Lucy knows there shouldn’t be a problem. It’s not like they’re having an affair; the Girlfriend has approved their relationship, so she’s not going to throw wine in Lucy’s face or try to claw her eyes out.
And besides, in the photos Lucy’s seen she looks smiley and friendly. She’s probably really nice – Charlie wouldn’t be marrying her if she wasn’t. They probably have loads in common (they do have the same taste in men, after all), and if circumstances were different there’s a good chance they’d be friends. Plus she can hardly be threatened by Lucy: after all, she’s the one with the ring on her finger. She’s the one he goes home to every night, while Lucy has to make do with the crumbs from her table. So it’d probably be fine, they’d have a drink, chat about random shit, and then Lucy would run away. It wouldn’t kill her.
So why does the idea fill Lucy with a gut-churning anxiety the like of which she’s only experienced before her university finals?
She’s just going to have to hope the Girlfriend never changes her mind.
Charlie shifts uncomfortably on the bed.
“I don’t feel very well,” he complains. “I’m really hot and my stomach feels dodgy.”
He disappears to the bathroom, and is gone for ages. Lucy lies alone in bed, wondering if she somehow accidentally poisoned him with her cooking. That’d be fucking awkward.
You know what else is a bit awkward? That moment when you realise your relationship has got to the stage where the guy you’re dating is comfortable taking a dump in your bathroom. Of course, if she’s actually poisoned him then he might not have a choice, but all the same, it’s a moment. A thing. Another level in the game. It’s weird, but also, in a way, it’s kind of a compliment.
He returns, closing the bathroom door behind him, and gets back into bed.
“I hope I didn’t poison you. Or maybe I did… maybe I did it deliberately. It’s all part of my cunning plan to keep you weak and drugged so you can never leave. Maybe I’ll tie you to the bed too…” she laughs.
Charlie pulls a mock-horrified face and pretends to run away.
“Don’t worry, I wouldn’t really do that. Because I’d still want to fuck you, and if you’re all drugged up you’d be absolutely no use to me.” She kisses him.
“Maybe if you used a combination of sedative and Viagra?” he suggests, kissing her back.
“Ooh! Good idea.”
He pulls away in pretend terror. “God, now I’m really scared! After all, you’re just a random I met at a party. I don’t know what dark secrets you might be hiding!”
Lucy feigns outrage. “How very dare you?! I’m as innocent as a babe and you know it.”
He kisses her again and tickles the sensitive skin on her stomach, making Lucy wriggle with delighted laughter.
It’s a moment of pure, naked joy and intimacy, but like everything with Charlie, it’s not real. And as usual it has to end.
He gets up to take a shower.
“There’s a blue towel in the cupboard,” Lucy calls after him. “Use that one and then I’ll know it’s yours for next time.”
“So I’m not allowed a key but I’ve progressed to having my own towel? This is a good start!”
Alone in the bed yet again, Lucy wonders why he says things like this. It’s as though he thinks this is a normal relationship, where they do things like meet each other’s friends and swap house keys. But of course this isn’t normal, and it’s not a real relationship – at least, not in any kind of way she can compute. After all, even if she gives him a towel – or a key – it’s not like he’s ever going to be able to return the favour.
Is he just playing games with me, she wonders? It’s been nearly four months, he seems to be really into this, but she still can’t help wondering if he’s just messing with her. Is this his ego at work, trying to get her to fall for him? Is he only still invested because she’s a challenge? As soon as she stops resisting, will he get bored and dump her?
Next time: Lucy faces judgement from a friend.
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