The content and tone of the text you send Zac need to be considered strategically. ‘If you’re going to be a bear, be a grizzly’, your dad always says. With this in mind you know it needs to be funny and flirty – a really good text, not a lukewarm, hi-how-r-u, kind of text. Give him something he can respond to, perhaps make a cheeky little dig at him for chatting you up on the bus, or something.

But Alice’s philosophy is also worth considering: ‘Always identify the nearest exit’. Mindful of her wisdom (surely greater than your dad’s in this case) you need to sign off with something non-committal. Something which suggests you’ve just got in touch to be polite, or friendly, but you don’t necessarily intend to go out with this guy.

It’s a minefield. But you negotiate it well. After a couple of hours of drafting you finally arrive at a text which says ‘My mother told me not to talk to strangers. But since it’s too late for that I thought I’d at least say hi…’ You suppose if he’s interested all he’ll really care about is that you got in touch. You’ll have to hope so anyway.

You send the text from the bus on Monday morning. Throughout the rest of the morning the most interesting thing on your desk is your mobile. You are waiting, watchfully, willing it to beep. Now you’ve put yourself out there, you’d hate to be ignored.

‘Hello there,’ says a familiar voice from behind you, a welcome distraction from the waiting game.

‘Mark, hi,’ you say, turning to see him. ‘Oh my god, what happened to you?’

‘I fell off my bike,’ he grimaced, coming closer so you can see the bruises.

‘You look like you’ve had a fight – ouch. When was this?’

‘Oh it was Thursday – you were right to get on the bus. I’d have felt terrible if I’d had a passenger, I’m sure it was sort of my fault.’

‘And are you okay?’

‘I’m fine, it looks worse than it is.’

‘I hope so, because it looks pretty bad. Did you... oooh,’ you trail off, grabbing your phone as it beeps.

‘Expecting an important text?’ he asks, sardonically.

You wonder if you detect a note of jealousy in his question as you smile vaguely, shake your head, and put your phone down.

‘Sorry, no, nothing really. So tell me, did the bike come off better or worse?’

‘Ah, the bike’s a bit of a mess but it’s still running.’

Mark tells you in a little too much detail about the work his scooter now requires, and you try not to hurry him, all the while wondering what Zac’s text said. You assume it was from Zac but you still don’t know because you’re being so damn polite talking to bloody Finance Guy. Who’s more interesting, Mark from Finance or the American Rupert Penry- Jones, for goodness sake?! Of course, the brilliant thing about an office flirtation is that as long as you’re both working in the same office the flirtation can be kept alive. There’s no ‘now or never’ about it.

With this in mind you get rid of Mark and turn your attention to your phone to read Zac's text.

‘Hi yourself, Great to hear from you. How’s your Monday?’

‘I hate Mondays! At least it’s almost over. You?’

‘Love ‘em!’

This is annoying. He hasn’t asked for a date and he hasn’t given you anything to reply to. Is that it? Or are you supposed to text back? Six hours later, you’re sitting in front of Britain’s Next Top Model with Alice and you still haven’t figured it out.

‘What a knobhead’, she says. ‘Why doesn’t he just ask you out?’

‘I think it’s called flirting,’ you say, prickly. You don’t want to look too stupid for giving this guy your number. ‘Apparently all the kids are doing it via texts these days...’

‘But why would he insist on swapping numbers and then not ask you out? Flirting shmirting,. That’s just false advertising.’’

You sigh. For much of the weekend – between deciding to text him, and sending the text – you had entertained some pretty exciting fantasies about the lovely blond American. They’re already less appealing.

Then your phone rings. Zac.

‘So, Sarah... whassup?’

‘Oh, nothing much,’ you say.

‘How was your day?’

Much easier to respond to. ‘Good, thanks. At least it’s over anyway. I’m always happier to have Monday morning behind me.’

‘Yeah, me too, me too.’

‘But you love Mondays, right? That’s what you said.’

‘Aw, I think that’s what you guys call irony. Did I do it right?’

And just like that you’re exchanging small talk as if you’re old friends. Or acquaintainces. Or at least, more than 2 people who just met on the bus. It’s easy, flirting with him in this context. You giggle, and tease him a little for his Americanisms, and lay the whole English accent thing on pretty thick. Before you know it, half an hour has gone by and you already have a couple of shared jokes – not to mention a date at the weekend.

News of Nita and Jay’s engagement doesn’t surprise anyone. They’ve been together so long everyone had just about given up on them ever taking the plunge. For the sake of their parents’ moral sensibilities they’ve been maintaining 2 flats, despite effectively living together for the last few years. And Nita’s so into her job it seemed increasingly unlikely that she’d ever really settle down and do the whole marriage and kids thing. Still, 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 to you and you greet each other like the good friends you should become. You exchange small talk and out of the corner of your eye you see Simon ‘ooohing’ at a story of Alice’s. You hope it’s not the one about you meeting a random guy on the bus. Charlie might struggle to enjoy that one.

Fortunately Alice is the soul of discretion – at least at first – and you manage to spend a bit of time with your mutual friends without it being too awkward. Till Charlie leaves, and Alice says,

‘God that was awkward.’

‘Did you think so?’

‘Yuhuh! Didn’t you?’

‘I thought we were getting along fine. Simon, did you find it awkward?’

‘Only from the point of view of him still being madly in love with you and you completely ignoring it.’

‘Shut up!’ you retort. An intelligent response.

‘Oh it’s alright for you.... you’ve got your hot Yankee off the 168, haven’t you?’

You roll your eyes, and let him giggle with Alice for a moment.

‘You know, it might take one of you meeting someone else for it to be a bit easier to be friends, mightn’t it?’ says Jay.

You all nod sagely at his wisdom. Considering he hasn’t been single, or newly broken-up with, for almost a decade, it’s hard to know where he gets his information from – but he makes a good point.

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.

 Preparing for your date with Zac you cover your bedroom with clothes – including some fairly unlikely combos. Seeing as you’re not London’s Carrie Bradshaw, you’re really not going to wear those silver shorts you bought for a ‘roller disco’ fancy dress 6 years ago. Nor the vintage prom dress. You just like trying them on once in a while. You politely refuse Alice’s newly sequinned denim mini (which you privately think is more Kate Lawler than Kate Moss).

‘So what’s your game plan?’ she asks, slightly baffled by your lack of inclination to wear her skirt.

‘Well, I’m definitely going to wear my new red sandals. And I think I’m going to start with the underwear and work from there.’

‘Good plan,’ says Alice, approvingly.

Starting with the underwear is easier said than done. It’s actually the most complex choice of all. Do you wear the stuff which looks great with clothes on top of it? The pants that give you a great butt and the cleavage-enhancing bra? It’s all good till the clothes come off, at which point you’ll look decidedly unsexy in your great big pants and the bra which gives you back-boobs. Better perhaps to wear the flimsy, lacy stuff. It gives you no support whatsoever but looks fantastic when the clothes are off.

It all depends on whether you think you’ll want Zac to see it at the end of the evening. Given that you don’t know him from Adam, it’s probably smarter to hold something back – leave him wanting more, at least till you’ve got to know him a little better. On the other hand, you need to start moving on from Charlie sometime. What better opportunity will you have this summer?

It's time to choose

If you wear the underwear which deserves to be seen, go to Chapter Six I to face the consequences.

If you wear the underwear which guarantees you’ll keep your clothes on, go to Chapter Six II to face the consequences.