You congratulate yourself on your wise decision as you step onto the bus. First of all, Mark wasn’t exactly stone cold sober. Secondly, even if he was, and you did enjoy wrapping your legs around him – you have to see him at work every day. He’s probably not the ideal person to get involved with. Flirting with him’s fine. It’s what men like that were invented for. But he’s a player, and flirting’s just foreplay as far as he’s concerned. So you think you’re right to be playing it safe, in both respects.

You decide you definitely deserve a drink, and call Alice to see if she can be tempted to the pub.

‘Hey, it’s Sarah. What’re you up to?’

‘I’m up to my eyes in customisation. I’ve turned my jeans into shorts – I just need to do something with the pockets. And I’m trying to fix up those plimsolls, and I’ve got all these cute patches to sew on something.’

‘What are you sewing the patches on?’

‘I don’t know, I’m still waiting for inspiration.’

‘Well don’t do anything crazy, okay. Steer clear of the expensive clothes, that’s my advice.’

You still rue the day you thought your favourite sample sale bargain Stella McCartney dress would look better with a little sequinned bird on the shoulder. It’s never hung properly since, and languishes unworn at the back of your wardrobe, a testament to the folly of customising in haste.

‘Where are you anyway? Working late?’

‘No, I’m on the bus. I went for a drink with Joan.’

‘Joan?’ Alice is surprised. You and Joan spend enough time next to each other at work, you don’t often drink with her afterwards.

‘That finance guy was there too,’ you add, by way of explanation.

‘Ah, the finance guy. Brilliant. And?’

‘And nothing, it was just a drink after work.’

‘I know that tone. There’s got to be something to tell.’

‘No, really, there’s nothing. I just thought, well, I definitely got the impression he liked me. He was basically checking me out, you know. And then he offered me a lift home on his scooter.’

‘And you said no? Why?’

‘Come on. He’s Finance Guy. I work with him. And he’s a total player. No, nothing good can come of it. So I’m heading home. Don’t suppose you fancy a pint?’

‘’Fraid not, Sass. I need to finish this stuff and tidy up – the lounge looks like a bomb’s hit it.’

‘Hmm. Maybe I’ll go for a drink on my own while you do that. I’m not sure I want to face a room full of sequins and feathers right now.’

‘Don’t be sad. There’s half a bottle of corner shop rioja with your name on it here.’

‘Alright, perfect. I’ll be home in ten.’

You hang up, and cradle your phone wondering whether it’s worth calling Nita and Jay. Probably not, you decide, it’s getting late.

‘I’ll go for that drink with you,’ says a male voice from behind you. It’s an American accent, distinctly New York, you think.

You turn to look, and see a man with hair like a Lego man, sitting next to a guy who looks just like the fit blond one out of spooks. You raise an eyebrow hopefully in the blonde guy’s direction. If there’s going to be banter, please God don’t let it be from Lego head.

He winks. ‘How about it?’

You shake your head, wrinkling your nose with a regretful half-smile, and turn back. A second later he’s at your side.

‘Do you mind if I sit here?’

You shrug, and look out of the window, trying not to smile. It’ll only encourage him. You can see his reflection in the glass, as he cranes around to try to catch your eye. He’s actually better looking than the cute blond one from spooks.

‘Listen, I’m going to be sat on this route for another 45 minutes. I could do with breaking up the journey. You’ve got a room full of sequins and feathers – you can explain that to me over a drink – to go home to. Why don’t we hop off and find a little bar somewhere?’

‘You clearly haven’t been in London very long,’ you say, and try to look stern. You’re working the English accent hard, as you explain. ‘People don’t make friends on buses here, you know. We don’t talk to people we haven’t met. And we certainly don’t listen to other people’s phone conversations and then quote them back to them. Honestly, you Yanks!’

Recognising the tease in your tone, he grins broadly.

‘Really? Have I committed a huge faux pas? Gee, I’m sorry. Is that why everyone looks so miserable in this crummy town?’

‘Don’t call London crummy, you tourist!’

At this he objects. ‘I’m not a tourist. I’ve lived here for five years, I’ll have you know. Listen, seriously, I know it isn’t ‘the done thing’ but hey, I’ve never seen a girl as pretty as you on a bus before. If you don’t want to come for a drink with me right now, why don’t you give me your number?’

He gives you a pleading look, his blue eyes wide. He looks like lovely Rupert Penry-Jones when he’s been rumbled breaking some MI5 protocol to save lives.

Lego head leans forward and asks, with a slight stammer, ‘Is this chap bothering you?’

‘No,’ you say, ‘He’s about to leave me alone,’ and you smile at the American to see if it’s true.

‘Alright, alright, I’ll leave you alone. But if you won’t give me your number, why don’t you take mine. Then, tomorrow, when you remember what a great guy you met on the bus, and you wish you’d given me your number,  you can call me.’

You say no. But not like you really mean it.

‘Come on, you’ve got your phone out already.’

‘Really, I’m not going to call some guy I just met on the bus. Honestly, I’d be wasting your time.’

‘I’m going to Golders Green, I’ve got all the time in the world. Here, hang on to it so you know I’m not trying to steal it. Just hold it steady so I can punch my digits in.’

You don’t resist, but shake your head, laughing, as he forces his number on you.

‘Right, there you go. That’s me. Zac. Think about it, before you delete it.’

Lego Head tuts and mutters to himself behind you. Zac catches your eye and you smother a laugh.

‘Here’s my stop,’ you say.

‘Don’t look so relieved,’ he retorts, as you step past him to get off.

‘Good night.’

‘Call me!’

As the bus pulls out of the stop, you see him through the window motioning ‘call me’, his hand making a phone shape. You shake your head and wave.

Sequins and feathers isn’t the half of it. Braids, reels of cotton, Alice’s sewing machine, and some old pieces of pattern paper from a dress she never finished, disguise your living room as an explosion in a haberdashers. You pick some threads off the spare edge of sofa as you sit down.

‘I’m having the oddest evening, Alice. First lovely Mark was all flirty and offered me a ride with, like, a proper glint in his eye. Then this random guy – really fit – asked for my number on the bus.’

‘Wow. You’re on fire!’

‘Yup,’ you say, ‘Still got the old magic.’

The next day in the office you decide your magic is still working. Mark walks past your desk way more than is necessary, stopping by to chat, look down your top, and flirt heavily. You enjoy it, but insist he’s not your type at all, when Joan asks if you fancy him. That night you tell Alice you’re sure he’s interested.

‘So what,’ she asks with a mischievous look. ‘I thought this was Finance Guy. You know, The Guy You Work With. The final frontier.’

‘Right, yes. Well, I’m only flirting. There’s no harm in that. I’m absolutely going to go no further. I just like thinking he’d want me to, that’s all.’

‘And what about the bus guy? American Rupert Penry-Jones?’

‘Ah, lovely blondie. He was gorgeous.’ You sigh.

‘So call him.’

‘No way. I can’t call some guy I just met on the bus. He’s probably insane. What kind of man gives his number out like that?’

‘He was smitten by your beauty, Sarah. Anyway, surely he deserves some rewards for being so brave?’

‘It’s either brave, yes – that’s one way of looking at it. Or it’s just bonkers.’ 

Is the American hot enough to let you see his chat up as brave? Could you call him, text him perhaps to test the water? Then he’d have your number, and could stalk you forever. Unless you disguised it when you called – but that would just look weird on your part. No, if you get in touch you have to allow for the possibility that you could be unleashing some crazy guy on your life.

You could just as well play it safe, pursue opportunities that are a bit more of a known quantity. Not necessarily Mark, of course. You know it’s not smart to get involved with someone from work. But then again – he’s interested, he’s hot, and he’s around Monday to Friday. He’s the male equivalent of low hanging fruit. A bit simpler than a random stranger.


What will you do?

If you decide to get in touch with Zac, go to Chapter Five I to face the consequences

If you decide to delete his number and pursue flirting material closer to home, go to  Chapter Five II to face the consequences