Sitting behind Mark on his scooter, zipping through Soho is as much fun as you would have hoped. You reject the handles on the back of the seat in favour of leaning into him with your hands on his waist. Catching a glimpse of yourselves in a plate glass window you are delighted. You could be Italian, you look so at home on the Vespa. Only an Italian wouldn’t be wearing that great big helmet with the chin guard – Mark has one of those cute retro helmets, but his spare one is not so chic. Still the overall impression is a good one.

As you approach the lights on Prince of Wales Road, you’re sorry the ride is almost over as. The lights are changing and Mark speeds up to nip through. Taking the corner too fast, the bike leans too close to the road, and tips right over. You are knocked off, but half trapped under it, as Mark is tumbled onto the tarmac a few feet away – it all happens as if in slow motion – and the traffic from the other direction heads across the junction. A crunch of glass, the squeal of brakes, the white van man slamming his door and walking across to you and lifting the bike off you, and asking you if you’re okay, and you experience it all as if on a slowed down widescreen video in your mind.

You’ve lost the power of speech momentarily and can only nod, dazed, as you try to get up.

Mark staggers to his feet and makes his way towards you. ‘Don’t get up,’ he shouts. ‘Wait.’

‘I’m okay,’ you stammer, sure by now that you haven’t been paralysed at least.

‘Let’s have a look at you,’ says the white van man.

You submit, taking your helmet off and rubbing your elbow, scanning yourself for obvious injuries. Your trousers are ripped, and that’s going to be a really nasty graze on your leg, but you don’t think you broke any bones. You get to your feet slowly, leaning on Mark, and feel your knees go weak as you do so.

‘Yes, she looks alright to me,’ says the white van man. ‘Let’s sit you guys down.’

‘Thank goodness the exhaust was on top, you’d have been burnt,’ says Mark.

‘Good job you’re girlfriend’s wearing a decent helmet too. She hit the road pretty hard.’

You put your hands to your chin, which feels odd, as if it’s not quite connected to the rest of your face.

‘Let me call you an ambulance, mate,’ says the white van man, and promptly does so.

You turn your attention – weak and shaky though it is – to Mark. He too is sporting a couple of big grazes. As you wait for the ambulance he looks mournfully at his scooter, now sporting a big dent on one side. Your chin feels like it’s growing by the second, and your right cheekbone is starting to puff up ominously. You feel distinctly groggy and lean your head in your hands and watch the pavement sway and warp through your fingers.

‘I’m really sorry, Sarah,’ says Mark.

‘That’s okay,’ you say. You don’t really mean it. Through a concussed haze you’re pretty sure the accident was entirely his fault.

It’s not a bad place to have to wait for an ambulance, being minutes away from the Royal Free. You are whisked off, and fight wave of nausea as the paramedics check you out. You sit in the waiting room with Mark. You don’t say much, but carefully inspect your injuries.

‘I really am sorry. I feel just awful about this.’

You smile weakly, unable to absolve him, and watch as a man with what smells like wee running down his leg shouts at the receptionist, ‘Hitler! Hitler!’.

Some sweet tea and a fairly swift pat down, and you’re dispatched, your cuts and grazes cleaned and covered, and a leaflet about concussion tucked into your bag.

The only thing to do the next day is stay in bed. Alice leaves a cup of tea next on your bedside table, and strict instructions not to go anywhere. Fat chance. Hours pass before you are even able to read the concussion leaflet without the text swimming in front of your eyes. Nausea, check. Vision disturbance, check. Confusion, Dizziness, check. Poor concentration, tiredness, a low mood. Yes, yes, sadly, yes. You’d better not rush back to work, you decide.

Your mood lifts a little that weekend, as your friends make a fuss of you. Alice provides Sex and the City and pizza, Simon pops round with grapes, and Charlie sends a text asking if you’re okay. Your head is clearing, and by Sunday night you are starting to feel slightly embarrassed by all the attention. You’re not seriously hurt, more walking wounded. But as you regain the sensitivity in your jaw and mouth, the bridge on your molars feels a bit loose. And the longer you spend in front of the mirror, checking out your bruising, the less you want people to draw attention to it.

Having scheduled an emergency dentist’s appointment, you are late to work on Monday. You arrive to a warm, fussy welcome from Joan, and a bunch of flowers on your desk. The post-it stuck to the cellophane wrapping says ‘Sorry! M’. You don’t rush over to say thanks, but make the most of your condition to sit at your desk moaning, and avoid work all morning.

‘If you feel that bad, go home,’ says Joan, with a curious tone of sympathy and irritation.

You don’t need asking twice. ‘I think you’re right,’ you say.

Mark is in the middle of a heated discussion about his planning model with his boss, the two of them leaning over his screen scratching their heads, as you pass Finance on your way out. He looks worse than you, and you thank him silently for not having a matching chic chinless crash helmet for you to wear. You’d need a lot more than a new bridge if you hadn’t had some protection.

Seeing you standing there, the flowers he gave you in your arms, Mark looks up. ‘You’re okay,’ he says, more a question than a statement.

‘Still feel a bit woozy,’ you reply.

‘Me too, me too. You going home?’

‘Yes, I’ll leave you to it.’ You’re keen to move on, away from the unmasked curiosity of the Finance department, gazing at your gauze and bandages accessories.

‘You got the flowers, I see.’

‘Yes, thanks. Okay, well, I’m off. See you.’

‘Get well soon Sarah,’ he says to your retreating back.

 You get a cab home and are fifteen minutes away when a text comes through.

‘Got your number from Joan, just wanted to say sorry. Again. You okay? M x’

You don’t reply. The whole thing has left a sour taste in your mouth. You know he didn’t do it on purpose, of course. But the fact is you have to spend two hundred quid on dental work, have a face the size of a football, and will have to avoid wearing shorts for weeks while you wait for the gash on your leg to heal. And all of this is because Mark crashed his bike. It’s hard to feel especially warm towards him.

‘He sounds like a prize idiot to me,’ says your Dad.

‘It wasn’t his fault, it really wasn’t,’ you lie.

‘Well, I hope you won’t be seeing him again. Or getting on the back of one of those death machines again.’

‘No, Dad, I’m put off scooters for life.’ That bit’s true at least.

 Returning to work on Tuesday you see his bruised face, looking sheepish, peering out of the lift door as he holds it for you.

‘Morning,’ you say, starting to feel sorry for him. He definitely came off worse, on the face front at least. ‘Glad I bumped into you. I wanted to say thanks properly for the flowers.’

‘Come on, it’s the least I can do. How are you feeling?’

‘Oh, I’m okay. I spent the afternoon in bed, so I feel a lot better than I was. Thanks. Are you all right? Your face looks awful.’

‘Thanks a lot,’ he says, wincing as he tries to smile. ‘Listen, I realise I might be the last person you want to see right now, but I’d really like to take you for a drink sometime. To say sorry. I’ll pay for a cab home, too.’

‘That’s nice of you. But I’m busy all week. Maybe we can take a rain check?’

The fact is you’re waiting for your face to heal and the sting of indignity to fade before you go out again. Mark doesn’t push it, but agrees to the rain check.

It takes a couple of weeks for your face to begin to heal. But the indignity, the memory of being flung across the road, trapped awkwardly under the Vespa, your legs all akimbo, is easier to deal with. Before long you have rubbed the edges of it with retelling the story, in which you are painted clearly as a damsel in distress, a plucky heroine, a fragile but brave survivor.

Mark’s black eye goes blue, then green over the days that follow the accident. It’s a murky mustard yellow before he broaches the question of that drink again. He’s been relentlessly solicitous at work, stopping by your desk a couple of times a day to check in, ask about your injuries, offer cups of tea. It’s a completely different side to him, shamefaced, apologetic. No longer a predator, he’s actually even cuter than you first thought him.

As you let your guard down, and respond to his inquiries after your health, with less terse answers, he responds. That glint in his eye reappears. As your face heals, his checking it out becomes sexy rather than concerned, his gaze resting on your lips and neck for longer than it needs to. The offer of a drink is less an apology, more a proposition, this time. You’d probably pick up where you left the pub that night – rather than two hours later in the Royal Free.

Still, as you pout and consider the offer, you see a shadow of doubt enter his face. If you say no now, he’ll probably leave you alone. He’s still not that sure of himself with you.

He backpedals a bit. ‘Listen, I’m pretty booked up this week anyway. But if you do fancy a drink, let me know – I’m free most nights next week, and I’d really like to make it up to you.’

Should you say no? Surely the accident is a sign that the gods want you to steer clear of this guy. He’s clearly bad news.

 

Decision time

If you accept Mark’s offer of a drink, go to Chapter Five III to face the consequences

If you politely decline Mark’s offer of a drink, go to Chapter Five IV to face the consequences