You can’t help but get a little bit excited about your date with Brad. It’s Saturday night and you have a date with a hot guy – how could you not be excited? Okay, so he’s not the sharpest knife in the drawer, but he’s fit, and he’s fun, and he’s a Saturday night date. Much better than hanging out with the same old crowd as Nita’s picnic descends into the usual carnage.

Brad is as handsome as you remembered but not nearly as fun. His opening gambit is a string of questions about your family and you are reminded of French lessons (‘je suis onze ans, j’ai deux soeurs, j’habite a Kent’) or letters to your Canadian penfriend. Thinking of Alice’s golden rule for boring dates – ‘get drunk: you both look better and your jokes are funnier’ – you suggest another cocktail before dinner. You think mournfully of your liver, much abused lately, but decide it’s the only way to get through the next couple of hours.

The tactic works and during dinner you start to actually enjoy each other’s company. You tease him for his Australianisms and he responds well with some heavy flirting. By the time you leave the restaurant you have been reminded of all Brad’s best qualities, and you suggest he walks you home. There’s enough sobriety at the back of your mind to acknowledge that you probably won’t be seeing him again – but that’s no reason to stop now. You’ve got to start moving on from Charlie sometime, and this hot Australian is too good an opportunity to pass up.

The door to your flat has barely shut behind you before Alice greets you, sounding excited.

‘Hey! You’re back! I’ve got news,’ she shouts, as she emerges from the kitchen. ‘Oh. I didn’t realise you’ve got company.’

She doesn’t seem delighted to see your ‘company’. You wonder if it’s because he’s preventing her from gossiping or because she now owes you dinner.

‘Hey,’ says Brad, either oblivious to, or unconcerned by, her cool welcome.

‘So what’s the news?’

‘Nita and Jay got engaged!’ she squeals, excited again.

‘Aaah, how nice,’ you say. ‘Today? Or did they just tell you today?’

‘They told us at the picnic, but he proposed last week. You know they went to Tuscany, and she wanted to tell all her family first, so...’

‘Right, right,’ you say, aware that this isn’t very interesting for Brad. ‘Why don’t you tell me all about it tomorrow, over that dinner you owe me?’

‘Tch tch tch,’ she shakes her head in mock disgust as she tuts. ‘You’re a bloody disgrace Sarah.’

 

‘How come she owes you dinner?’ asks Brad as you lead him to the sofa.

‘Oh, it’s an old debt,’ you lie, ‘I can’t even remember what it’s for to be honest.’

You distract him with a kiss, to which he responds eagerly. Before too long the living room is strewn with your clothes and you decide it’s time to retire to the bedroom. Brad is great in bed, his energy and enthusiasm more than compensating for a slight lack of imagination.

 

‘Morning, you cow!’ Alice greets you. ‘Coffee?’

‘Please,’ you say.

‘I can’t believe you shagged him just to get a free dinner!’

‘Sssshhh!’ you hiss. ‘He’s still here. Anyway I shagged him because he’s hot.’

‘Whatever. I bet you don’t spend more than another 3 hours with him.’

‘Alright then. How much do you want to bet? Double or quits?’

‘Oh no, no way. You’re perfectly capable of seeing him again and again for all the wrong reasons. No, we’ll stop there thanks. You win.’

Brad appears shortly afterwards, with a vaguely disgruntled expression on his face. He heads off without even a cup of tea, and a cool goodbye. You hope he didn’t hear what Alice said, and wonder if he’d heard your ‘because he’s hot’ defence if that would have made it any better.

 

Since Sunday you and Alice have been ships passing in the night, with work, socialising, and chores (not to mention some suspected frolicking with that bloody builder again) keeping you both busy. So on Thursday you call in that bet, and head to Marine Ices. You have a lot to catch up on.

Top of the agenda is Nita and Jay’s engagement. It’s not really shock news, since they’ve been together for centuries, but Alice is full of interesting titbits about their families’ reaction to the news, and how happy Nita looks, and the pride on Jay’s face as they retold the story of his proposal.

Charlie was at the picnic too, asking after you. According to Alice he seemed pretty cut up.

‘What do you mean by that though? I mean, was he crying into his quiche? Did he look all thin and haunted?’

‘Alright, no, he was holding it together. But I just thought he looked a bit – I don’t know, sad around the eyes somehow – especially when he was asking after you. He was expecting you to be there.’

You nod. ‘I had, yes. Tch, I suppose I should have texted him to say I wasn’t going. Where did you say I was?’

‘On a hot date, of course.’

‘Oh Alice! That’s mean!’

‘What? I thought that’s what you’d want me to say.’

You frown.

‘Come on Sarah, don’t forget who dumped who here.’

‘Thanks for reminding me. Yeah, I suppose you’re right. Let that be a lesson to him.’

But you don’t feel as bullish about it as you sound. After all, Charlie’s a good bloke. However things ended between you, you wouldn’t want him to be really genuinely upset – or to think too badly of you. Maybe you’ll give him a call at the weekend. You mull it over as you polish off your pasta. Alice agrees that you don’t want Charlie to hate your guts. You have too many mutual friends, it’d make your social life really awkward. You agree that you ought to get in touch to say hi, but not in a way that either gives Charlie false hope (working on the assumption that he’s still gutted about the break up) or winds him up.

‘So let’s talk Australians, shall we?’

‘Oooh yes, please. Did you hear from that Toadfish guy yet?’

‘No! Isn’t it outrageous?’

‘I don’t know why you’re so shocked, Alice. He’s been in the country five minutes, it’s like a land of dreams, he’s hardly going to be looking for a girlfriend, is he? I bet he hasn’t sat still for five minutes since he left our place. You know what they’re like.’

Alice sighs, acknowledging the perils of getting involved with a newly-arrived Antipodean.

‘He’ll be doing that thing where they visit every country in Western Europe between working 3 bar jobs.’

‘I don’t know why you’re bothered. I thought you didn’t want to see him again anyway.’

‘There’s not wanting to see someone again... and there’s not wanting someone to want to see you again, though, isn’t there?’

You follow her logic. You know exactly why she is so disgruntled – and also that it will last about 5 minutes. In fact as your icecream arrives she immediately gets over her annoyances, and tucks into the pear and cinnamon combo with gusto.

‘You’re right Sass, it doesn’t really matter. What about your Australian?’

‘Oh god,’ you say, putting your spoon down the better to get this one off our chest. ‘I’m pretty sure he heard us talking about the bet, you know.’

‘Oh shit. Really? Why?’

‘Well, I texted him on Monday saying thanks and that I had a good time.’

‘That was nice of you. What about playing hard to get?’

‘I figure I’m not going to see him again, so I might as well do the polite thing and say thanks for dinner. Then I’m done with it, right?’

‘I guess,’ says Alice, your expert in dating etiquette. ‘So did he reply?’

‘Not till this morning,’

‘Rude.’

‘I know. I thought so. Actually he sent it really late last night, so I’m guessing it was a drunken text. And he signed off with ‘hope it paid out for you too’, or something like that. What do you think that means?’

‘Hum. It’s an odd thing to say isn’t it?’

‘I’m pretty sure he’s getting at the bet you know.’

‘So what are you going to do? Do you care?’

‘D’you know, I sort of do care. I hate the idea of this guy thinking I slept with him to win a bet. It’s just a bit skanky, isn’t it? And think of him telling his mates, and it getting back to Simon, and Charlie maybe getting to hear about it. Ugh – it makes me look really bad.’

Alice nods. It would hardly enhance your reputation.

‘If I call him, to say hello, at least I can defend myself if he mentions it. If I just ignore him, I’ll never get the chance to. But then again, I’ll definitely never see him again unless I get in touch – so maybe I can just ignore the whole thing. What do I care what some random guy thinks?’

‘Well, you just said you do care...’

You sigh. You’re really not sure whether you care enough to try to do something about it.

 

What’s your comms strategy?

To call Brad and try set the record straight face the consequences at Chapter Six IX

To forget about Brad and the bet, face the consequences to Chapter Six X