Brad seems to have read your mind. He appears over Charlie’s shoulder and asks,

’You ready for that beer now then?’

You nod, and turn to follow him into the kitchen. When Charlie appears at the door the two of you are throwing peanuts for each other to catch, like seals with fish.

‘My cab’s here. But it doesn’t look like you’re coming home with me.’

With a sheepish shrug you agree.

‘I must say though, I wish you’d at least wait till I’ve gone,’ says Charlie, trying unsuccessfully to capture the lightness of tone you bantered with earlier. ‘To start working on the next guy, I mean.’

You roll your eyes, annoyed.

‘Come on,’ he blunders on. ‘Show some class. How d’you think it makes me feel?’ He laughs bitterly.

Now you are genuinely annoyed. The nerve of him. You’d yell at him if there were just the two of you around. But as the Aussie is so far oblivious to what Charlie said, you respond with a low hiss.

 ‘Excuse me for reminding you of this yet again, Charlie, but you dumped me. Which means I can do whatever the fuck I want. That’s the rule.’

You turn your back on him, just in time to see Brad cracking open another beer. You aren’t about to Charlie spoil your night. How dare he try to make you feel bad about going out and having fun? Did he expect you to stay in every night crying yourself to sleep over him?

After a couple more rounds of peanut catching, the Aussies channel their energies into a game they call Lime Roulette. You have to hold your eyes open while someone squeezes a lime till the juice spurts out at random.

‘It could go your way, it could go my way, you just don’t know. That’s the beauty of it,’ Brad explains.

You have quickly come to realise wit and sophistication aren’t among Brad’s strengths. You decide his best assets are displayed on the dance floor, and drag him through to the living room.

To the chords of Razorlight and the Fratellis you rock away the memory of Charlie. Brad isn’t the best dancer you’ve ever seen, and you’re starting to wonder if he has anything going for him other than his looks. With looks like that he could go far, mind you.

Your doubts are put to rest when he puts his hands on your waist and pulls you close, for a smooch to Lordi’s Eurovision hit, Rock Hallelujah. As Brad kisses you tenderly, you think ‘It’s a good job nothing’s going to come of this, otherwise ‘our song’ would be a Finnish rock anthem.’ But then for a few seconds you stop thinking, and fall into his kiss. He might not have much else going for him but he’s one hell of a snog. You only pull away because you are losing your balance slightly. He gives you a cocky grin, that says, ‘I know I’m good,’ before taking you in his arms for a brief attempt at a tango. Thoughts of Charlie are completely banished from your mind.

When Simon unleashes his classic disco, you give the Aussie a break and find Alice to join Simon for a throwback to those seventies nights you went to as students.

Simon holds out till well past 2am, and is threatening to throw you out, but eventually cannot resist the demands of his public. At last his ropey karaoke DVD is played and competition for the mike is fierce. In a vodka fuelled fit of abandon you belt out ‘We are Family’ with Alice and, buoyed by this, sing ‘Summer Loving’ with the Aussie. The less said about that the better.

The sky is lightening, glowing pink above the roof tops of Queens Park, by the time you finally peer out from the front door in search of your cab. You, Alice, and her Aussie slump in the back of the Mercedes and hum along to Magic FM as you head home. You were playing it slightly more ladylike with your Aussie, agreeing to give him your number after some brief demurring. You’ve still got the old magic, Sarah. Even after a few too many drinks and an awkward moment with your ex, you’re still on top of your game. You congratulate yourself on your good skills, as you fall into an alcohol fumed sleep.

 ‘Oh god,’ says Alice, putting her mug on the table, slopping tea as she does so.

You wipe it with the pair of knickers you found on the chopping board. ‘I know. I feel rough. I can only imagine how you feel...’

‘Yes, I’m pretty sure I feel worse.’ Her voice drops to a low whisper. ‘Shit. Toadfish from Neighbours is in my bed. Oh god. What was I doing? Why didn’t you stop me?’

You whisper too. It’s easier on your hung over head. ‘I thought you were having a good time. You looked like you were.’

‘Yes – I think I thought I was. I thought he was really fit.’

‘He looked quite cute, to me. Mind you, they all looked cute last night.’

‘Ugh, beer goggles. Damn it.’

‘I wonder what Brad looks like in the cold light of day.’

‘Oh he was fit, definitely. I thought so when we first got there, before the booze sent me dizzy.’

The sound of the loo flushing and the bathroom door opening stops your post mortem, and Toadfish emerges to join you for breakfast.

It’s lunchtime before Alice’s patience finally runs out. She says to Toadfish,

‘Haven’t you got to be somewhere? Your housemates will be missing you.’

With an ‘alright babe, take care of yourself’, he collects his rucksack and shuffles off, leaving you and Alice to carry out a full post mortem.

You establish the following:

Karaoke should never ever ever happen. If it looks like it’s going to happen, you must leave the party immediately. Do not get embroiled.

  1. Australians in crowds are irresistible flirt material. But you must resist going further. With possible exceptions (see 5)
  2. Alice needs to raise her standards. Jamie the builder is under review, as an unexpected consequence of her night with Toadfish. ‘I think I might need to spend some time just with me’ she says, solemnly.
  3. Charlie owes you an apology. You should expect a phone call.

You should also expect a call from Brad. He is the Aussie you could make an exception for. He was officially the fittest guy at the party, and the best snog you’ve had since... well... Charlie.

Alice, in her Toadfish-induced misanthropic gloom, remains sceptical about Brad’s appeal. She bets you dinner at Marine Ices that, even if he does call, and you do see him again, you won’t spend more than another 2 hours of the rest of your life with him. You’re sure he’ll call. And even if he’s rotten company, you can easily handle more than a couple of hours, if a free meal hinges on it. You make sure she agrees it’s a 3 courses and 2 bottles of wine deal before shaking on the bet.

Charlie is prompt, pre-emptive even, calling early in the afternoon.

‘Listen, I’m sorry if I annoyed you last night.’

‘Oh, that’s okay. You weren’t that annoying.’

‘You seemed a bit cross.’

‘Well, yes.’ You smile at the memory of you hissing – in what at the time you imagined was a whisper – across the kitchen at him. Now he sounds all apologetic, and you can’t think why you were so angry in the first place.

‘I know I’ve got no right to tell you who to flirt with.’

‘That’s right. You’ve made your bed,’ you say, mock stern. ‘Now lie on it.’

‘Alright alright. Well hey, I’m glad we’re talking again, anyway. You were right – I have missed you.’

Is it your imagination or did your heart just skip a beat?

‘We should go for a drink sometime,’ Charlie continues. ‘As friends, I mean.’

No, it wasn’t your heart. Probably your post-booze stomach, you decide, as you agree hastily.

‘Yes, that’d be nice. It’d be a shame not to see each other at all’

‘Good. And we’re bound to keep bumping into each other, so we might as well start at being friends.’

‘Well that’s settled then. Speaking of which, are you going to be at Jay and Nita’s picnic on Saturday?’

‘Definitely. I’m even planning a quiet night in on Friday, in preparation. The last time they had a picnic we wound up in that dodgy bar at the back of Marathon Kebabs drinking till dawn. Ouch.’

You remember that night early last summer, not long before you got together, when you and Charlie were at the stage of eyeing each other up across a crowd of mutual friends. It seems a million years ago.

‘But if I’m being chatted up by some hot stranger, Charlie...’ You can’t resist twisting the knife a little. (Just to pay him back for saying he missed you and then following it up so quickly with the deflating ‘as friends’ thing.) ‘Don’t cramp my style, darling.’

Charlie says nothing.

‘That’s what friends do,’ you remind him.

‘Okay Sarah, whatever you say,’ he says, resignedly. ‘So that guy from the party – surfer dude – are you going to see him again?’

‘I don’t know,’ you reply, and it’s the truth.

On reflection, a free dinner at Marine Ices may not be compensation enough for spending time with some guy whose idea of fun is squirting lime juice in people’s faces.

The mandatory two days lapse before Brad gets in touch. He texts you, which you don‘t like, because it whiffs of cowardice and reveals his woeful spelling. Still, a text is much easier to reply to, if you’re going to knock him back. He suggests dinner next Saturday night. You remember his fantastic kiss, and think about sitting across a table from him watching those beautiful lips talk absolute rubbish for more than two hours. Saturday is the day of Nita and Jay’s picnic, which will be a late afternoon, drunken, rambling affair. You might not feel like trying to find the wit in this guy, when you could be sitting in a park with Alice, Charlie, and all your old mates instead.

 

 

What will you do?

If you decide – either because of his kiss, or the dinner bet – to see Brad, go to Chapter Five V to face the consequences.

If you decide – on the grounds that the picnic will be more fun – to blow Brad out, go to Chapter Five VI to face the consequences.