You walk up the hill towards home with Alice and Billy the Kid. Billy tries to convince you that Jed is ‘like, a really cool guy.’ Jed’s coolness was never in question. But you’re not sure he’s really what you need right now. Besides, you can dine out for weeks of the story of the night you snogged – and turned down – the lead singer from The Heat.

For now you are happy to fall into bed alone, shaping the pillows just the way you like them and lying diagonally across it. There’s a lot to be said for having the duvet to yourself, you tell yourself, trying to ignore the rhythmic squeaking from Alice’s bed in the next room.

When you surface the next day it’s a surprise to see Billy still there, keeping an eye on the bacon under the grill while Alice burns the toast. Alice usually despatches her one night stands before they’ve had time to wipe the sleep from their eyes. You join the happy couple for breakfast, amused by the spectacle of Alice the morning after, and wonder whether this is the beginning of the end for Jamie the builder.

‘Fancy a drink with Nita this avo?’ asks Alice. ‘She’s been pestering me all morning.’

‘Yeah, sure. Though I think mine will be an orange juice and lemonade. My head hurts.’

 As it happens you’re obliged to drink champagne when you hear Nita’s news. She and Jay announce with self-congratulatory beams that they got engaged last night. They 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.

After the excesses of the past few weeks you go on a brief detox, giving your liver a rest from booze, attending a couple of yoga sessions, and choosing salads rather than sandwiches at lunchtime. You feel great, and – if the appreciative looks from the men in your office are anything to go by – you look great too. By the time Nita and Jay’s engagement party comes around you’re ready for a good night out.

You make the best of your tan in a little white vest and decide it’s definitely a warm enough evening to wear short shorts, the better to display your detoxed body. Jay and Nita have hired out a room upstairs in a Primrose Hill pub, and the party’s already in full swing, music and laughter wafting out of the open windows to the street below.

Simon and Alice have ensured that most of your friends have heard of your celebrity pull. You draw a small crowd as you tell them that yes, you did snog Jed from The Heat, and yes, you turned down the chance of going any further with him. You can’t help but feel smug as you drain your champagne glass and toast to ‘random celebrities’ with the top-up.

Standing at the fringes of your audience is a man you don’t recognise. He’s tall, well built, and very well groomed, from the tips of his expensive looking loafers to his glossy, short-back-and-sides hair. He’s not really your type but undeniably handsome. He sees you checking him out and approaches with a confident smile.

‘So you’re the heart breaker?’ he asks with a wink.

‘Oh I don’t know about that,’ you demur, ‘But I might have dented his pride a bit. Something tells me he’s not used to girls knocking him back.’

‘I suppose not. I’m Sebastian.’

‘Sarah,’ you say, noticing his signet ring as you shake hands.

‘I know,’ says Sebastian. ‘I took the liberty of asking Jay who you were.’

He looks you up and down with undisguised interest.

‘So you’re a friend of Jay’s?’

It turns out he worked with Jay at the investment bank he started out in. Jay’s moved into the world of Venture Capitalism since then, but Sebastian is a banker through and through. You know this by his Thomas Pink shirt and the way he considers the wine list as if it were the most complex document he’s seen all day. You accept the ‘very good’ red he buys you, and exchange small talk – all the while deciding that he’s just ever so slightly dull.

Still, when Sebastian asks you for your number it seems rude not to give it. You’re on fire at the moment and after snogging a grubby rocker in a pub it would be churlish to draw the line at a handsome banker.

‘Am I seeing things or did you just give out your digits to Gordon Gekko?’ asks Alice, sneaking up on you as Sebastian heads to the gents.

‘I did, I did,’ you say, triumphantly.

‘He’s not really your type, is he?’ sneers Simon.

‘Why not?’

‘Well, he looks like a Tory for a start.’

‘So? Don’t be so judgemental!’ you say, while admitting to yourself that Simon’s absolutely right. ‘Anyway, I just gave him my number, it doesn’t mean he’s going to call, or that I’ll see him if he does call.’

Alice and Simon look sceptical, but are distracted as Jonny, Simon’s partner in crime, returns from the bar with a round of tequila shots. You drink with abandon, celebrating not only Nita and Jay’s engagement but also the fact that you are absolutely on fire at the moment. Single life is brilliant, you decide.

‘I thought Charlie would be here tonight,’ says Alice. ‘Didn’t you?’

‘Don’t ask me,’ you shrug. ‘I haven’t heard from him since those drunken texts.’

‘Drunken texts, eh?’ Simon smirks. ‘You two missing each other?’

‘No, not really.’

‘Well you might not be missing him, but I bet poor old Charlie boy is missing you like hell.’

‘Goes without saying darling,’ says Alice. ‘Come on Sass, it’s my round and I need a hand carrying.’

Obedient, you turn to follow her and are momentarily disconcerted by the way the room is starting to tilt. You should probably make this one your last, you think – and Alice agrees. She’s got a hunger for a burger, and you decide to head to Hamburger Union after this final drink.

Simon accepts his new drink and looks over your shoulder, raising an eyebrow as he says, ‘Speak of the devil...’

You turn to see Charlie shaking Jay’s hand, kissing Nita, booming his congratulations at them. He catches your eye and gives you a sheepish salute before heading to the bar, his arm around Jay’s shoulder. You suppose he’s not going to be the first to say hello, and decide, emboldened by champagne, tequila, and your recent form, to be mature and approach him.

Charlie greets you with a look of relief and you quickly peck him on the cheek before launching into small talk. Clocking Charlie’s flushed cheeks, and the enthusiasm with which he grins at your quips you surmise that he’s had a few drinks already tonight.

‘So what’s this I hear about you fucking some rock star?’ says Charlie, and the tone of the conversation is instantly prickly.

‘Not true.’ You are indignant. ‘I just snogged him. That’s all.’

You pout, and Charlie says, ‘Good. You’re not that kind of... I mean, it’s a bit beneath you, isn’t it?’

It’s a backhanded compliment at best, and you don’t know how to response.

‘Sorry, I didn’t mean...’ Charlie slurs.

‘That’s okay,’ you say, taking pity. ‘Hey, come and say hi to Alice and Simon. They were asking after you.’

Charlie looks grateful for the diversion. You notice, with satisfaction, his eyes drop to your legs, tanned and lean, as he follows you to the window where Alice and Simon are giggling. They’re watching some hapless girls pushing a broken down car along the street – one of them has a skirt so short you can see her knickers, wedged slightly, as she pushes while her chubby friend huffs and puffs beside her. The four of you stand and watch, laughing quietly, mocking the afflicted, and it’s like the old days, when you and Charlie were together and everyone was great friends. The old days...? It was only a month ago, Sarah.

‘Anyone for another drink?’ says Charlie.

‘Well, we had said that’d be our last,’ says Alice. ‘I’ve got a hunger for a burger like you wouldn’t believe.’

‘Me too, me too,’ say Simon. ‘I’ll pass, thanks Charlie.’

‘Sarah?’ asks Charlie, almost pleading. ‘You’ll stay and have a drink with me, won’t you? I’ve only just got here.’

You turn to Alice, and slip on your heels as you do so, grabbing onto Charlie to stay on your feet. He puts a hand around your waist to steady you.

‘Whoops!’ you giggle, ‘I wonder if I’ve had enough! And I do fancy a burger...’ but your lack of conviction encourages him.

‘I’ll come for a burger with you’, says Charlie, his hand still – unnecessarily – on your waist. ‘Let’s just have one more drink first.’

Alice and Simon move towards Jay and Nita, ostensibly to say their goodbyes – but you recognise their discreet way of giving you space to make a call.

It’d be nice to catch up with Charlie properly. If you’re going to be friends you have to start somewhere. But is now the right time? You’re both drunk, he’s clearly a bit wound up, and it’s hard to imagine you’ll have the most constructive of conversations.

‘Come on Sarah – let’s drink and toast to old times. What do you say?’

 

Well, what do you say?

If you say yes to one more drink with Charlie go to Chapter Six XIX to face the consequences

If you say no, you’ve had enough go to Chapter Six XX to face the consequences