This week’s budgetary discussion with Mark passes with only the merest civilities, and absolutely no flirting. He’s definitely got the message – and life in the office just got dull again.

‘What’s gone on between you two?’ asks Joan.

‘Nothing. Why?’

‘Maybe that’s his problem? He’s mooning around like a lovesick teenager.’

‘Hardly. I think he is genuinely concerned about the overspend.’

She snorts. ‘Sure. That explains it.’

You tut quietly and turn your attention back to topshop.com. Not constantly finding excuses to talk to Mark, and doing laps around the office, has given you much more time at work to shop. It’s not as much fun as flirting but it’s got to be better than actual work.

 

News of Nita and Jay’s engagement doesn’t surprise anyone. They’ve been together so long everyone had almost given up on them ever taking the plunge. But you and Alice receive the news with knowing smiles, and toast to the inevitability of marriage.

You know Charlie will be at their impromptu engagement party, and hope it’s all okay. You haven’t seen him since those drunken texts in Chapter One. As you wait for Alice to return from the bar with your drinks, you see him arrive. It takes him a second to spot you, but as soon as he does he crosses the room and you greet each other like the good friends you should become. It’s good to see him, but your heart doesn’t exactly skip a beat. Cross though he made you, he was right to end the relationship when he did.

Surrounded by their friends, Nita and Jay tell the story of him asking her dad for permission, grudgingly given as soon as Jay had given reassurances that yes, she could continue to work, and yes, they definitely wanted children, and no, they had no plans to emigrate. To much laughter they ran through their families’ reactions to the news. Although his family is from the wrong part of India, her mother was pleased because ‘well, at least he isn’t white’. Their siblings, on both sides, were relieved at this proof that Jay wasn’t gay and that Nita had found a man who wasn’t put off by her workaholism.

They’re planning a spring wedding. ‘As soon as possible,’ says Jay.

‘God knows you’ve waited long enough to get around to it,’ says Charlie, ‘I’m glad you’re not going to be one of these couples that are engaged for ever before you finally get married.’

For the umpteenth time that evening you all toast to their long wait – and their long future together. Then the conversation moves on. Charlie is still raving about his Glastonbury experience, and Alice has been trying to get hold of tickets for Reading, or V at the very least.

‘It’s just getting so expensive, though. I’m not sure I can justify splashing out two hundred quid on a weekend in the mud. And if you buy them on ebay you don’t really know if they’re legit. I’d hate to buy duff tickets and go all that way only to be turned away.’

‘Especially when it’s so much more comfortable watching it from your own sofa, surely?’

Charlie rolls his eyes. He’s heard this argument before. ‘it’s really not the same, you know that don’t you Sarah?’

‘Yes, I know, I know. The mud and the dirty portaloos are all an essential part of the experience, aren’t they?’

‘So anyway,’ says Alice, nipping the familiar banter in the bud. ‘I was thinking about going to Lovebox instead.’

You pull a face. You’ve never heard of Lovebox but you find it hard to imagine you’ll be interested.

‘It’s meant to be great,’ Charlie enthuses. ‘Giles Peterson’s playing this year.’

‘Don’t pull that face Sassy. Hear me out. The beauty of it is it’s in Victoria Park, so you can get a cab home. No camping! Groove Armada are playing, and Sly and the Family Stone. And before you remind me of your expensive dental bill, listen, it’s cheap, I promise you. Let’s all go!’

‘Where?’ asks Simon, appearing with a fresh bottle of cava to top you all up.

‘This festival. Do you want to come?’

‘To Straightfest? Not sure watching a lot of grubby provincial breeders rock out is really my scene darling.’

‘It’s in London though – it’s a proper urban festival. It’s bound to be full of your lot.’

Knowing Simon’s fear of non-Londoners, Alice is quick to point out that ‘People from the provinces go to V, and Reading, and Leeds. They don’t come into London for a festival in the park.’’

Gradually Alice wears down everyone’s defences, and you are made to agree that you will all go, en masse. The fact you’ll only be a cab ride from home is a decisive factor for you. You’ve got nothing to lose. There might even be cute boys there.

She had thought it inappropriate to say so in front of Charlie, but Alice is convinced that yes, there will be cute boys there. You weigh up various shorts-and-vest combos and pray for good weather.

 

‘Oooh, love, engaged, isn’t that nice!’ coos your mother down the phone line. She’s always liked Nita.

‘Yes, it’s nice. And you should see the ring!’ As soon as you say it you regret it, for now you have to describe the ring – and how he bought it, and whether she liked it, and did it fit or not – in elaborate detail for your mother. She’s starved of this sort of information from your own love life so you suppose the least you can do is provide it from your friends.

‘What about you, love? You’ll be left on the shelf if you’re not careful!’

‘Mum! I’m not even 30. I’m not going to worry just yet.’

‘That’s right, that’s what your dad says, you’ve plenty of time. Though I had two of you under 5 when I was your age. Ah well.’

You distract her by telling her about your plans to spend the weekend in Victoria Park with your mates.

‘It sounds very nice, dear,’ says your mum. ‘And all the gang are going are they? Even Charlie?’

‘Yes, everyone’s going.’

‘Ooh, so is he back on the scene them?’

‘Tch, mum! We’re just friends.’

‘Well, never say never. Maybe you just needed some time apart.’

‘I promise you, we are so not going to get back together.’

You can hear her disappointment down the phone line. Time to nip this conversation in the bud. ‘I’ve got to go, mum.’

‘Alright love. Now just promise me you’ll steer clear of the food from those vans, won’t you? Gladys has told me some horror stories about them – the meat’s left out in the warm all day, they don’t wipe the grills clean, it’s really not safe to eat.’

Gladys, your mother’s next door neighbour, is a Food Safety inspector, and has many, many horror stories. It’s a wonder she eats at all, you sometimes think.

 

The Saturday of Lovebox dawns bright and clear, and you clap your hands with glee at the thought of spending all day getting wasted in the sun, surrounded by likeminded people. And fit blokes.

You spend a bit of time wandering from stage to stage, weighing up their various merits. Charlie and Simon seem to be quite focussed on the music, but you are more interested in the talent. Alice was absolutely right, the place is full of hot guys. Too many of them have a girlfriend on their arm, though. And there are even some of that annoying breed of hot young dads, dandling their babies as their groovy life partners look on adoringly. Damn them. You keep your eyes peeled for an approachable looking bloke. Even better, a bloke who looks brave and interested enough to approach you.

After several beers even the dance music – which is really not your bag – starts to appeal. You work up an appetite with a boogie, and fall on Alice’s suggestion that you find something to eat with enthusiasm.

Charlie and Alice head to the nearest burger van, but your mother’s words ring in your ears. Maybe you should play it safe and steer clear of meat from obscure origins. Simon, squeamish about burger vans too, is going to hunt down a falafel stand.

 

What will you have?

If you decide to go for a burger go to Chapter Six VII to face the consequences.

If you decide to go for falafel go to Chapter Six VIII to face the consequences.