It’s Thursday night and you and Alice are off to Farringdon for a gig. Jay has been rounding people up on email all week, to support his friend Dom. ‘He’s really good – and he really needs a crowd there,’ he said. You used to go to random gigs in pubs all the time when you first moved to London, and you never do it anymore. So you didn’t take much persuading. You never know, as you said to Alice, there might be some talent there. At which Alice snorted and said ‘who are you trying to kid?’ You both know that really you’ll spend the evening hanging out with the usual crowd, and not talking to anyone you don’t know. Those nights are the best – even if you do end up going home with Alice and not some hot stranger.

You didn’t bother trying to set the record straight with Brad, because you don’t really care what he thinks of you. But the good opinion of your old friends matters a little more. So you’re a bit miffed that Alice wastes no time in telling everyone that you went on a date at the weekend just to win a bet.

Simon is scandalised. ‘Sarah! I’m shocked at you.’

‘Oh stop it, you’d go on a date if you thought the guy had a nice holiday home – and that’s much worse. This was only worth dinner at Marine Ices.’

‘Tch tch tch. So it’s not the principle of prostitution, it’s the price?’

‘Nooo, that’s not what I mean.’

‘Prostitution?’ says Charlie, appearing out of nowhere. ‘Are things that bad Sarah, my dear?’

You scowl briefly before kissing him hello. ‘What, since you abandoned me?! No, don’t worry, I’m coping.’

Alice and Simon exchange glances. Everyone’s amazed at how well you and Charlie have managed to stay on flirtatiously good terms – even laughing about the break-up together. Alice finds it odd, but really sweet. Simon thinks it’s just odd.

‘We were just talking about going on dates with people for material gain,’ he said now, in an attempt to stir up a bit of trouble.

‘Right.’

‘It turns out our Sarah has no morals at all,’ Simon continued. ‘She’ll date anyone for a free dinner.’

You push Simon, laughing, and say, ‘It wasn’t about the free dinner, honestly! I liked him.’

‘You liked him? What’s with the past tense?’ he asks.

Charlie, watching on, says nothing.

‘I’ve gone off him. He’s a bit dull.’

‘Ah, the great Australian disappointment. They look so good... and then they’re so very very dull...’ Simon sighs dramatically, as if thinking of all the lost Australian loves of his life.

‘Australian? It wasn’t that guy you met at the party was it?’ asks Charlie.

‘As a matter of fact yes, it was.’ Quickly, you clarify. ‘But I’m not going to see him again.’

‘Not now she’s called in the bet,’ says Alice.

‘That’s not it at all,’ you exclaim.

The examination of dating mores is curtailed – much to your relief – by the first act of the night appearing on stage. A sub-Beth Orton, she warms up the crowd in the basement bar by saying she won’t be singing actual songs, more ‘fragments, verses, meditations...’

‘Yuk’, mouths Alice, motioning at the door. So you two head upstairs for a chip butty and a pint while the warbling one exorcises her demons on stage.

No great fans of mournful female folk singers, Charlie and Simon join you moments later. You grab a table by the open window so Alice and Simon can eye up the passers by. You and Charlie chew the fat, and you attempt to set the record straight about Brad and the bet.

What about you?’ you ask. ‘When are you going to start dating again?’

‘I don’t know, I haven’t really been looking to meet anyone.’

‘What a waste!’

‘I know, I know,’ he says, with a wry smile.

The truth is you don’t really like the thought of Charlie dating someone else. You don’t care to examine the motivation behind that too closely.

‘Here you are!’ says Nita. ‘Come on, Dom’s on in a second.’

You troop dutifully downstairs for Dom’s set. Jay had described him as sounding like a funked up Morrissey, and you can see what he means. Dom is great, his soulful voice and sardonic lyrics working brilliantly a catchy guitar riff. You really enjoy it, tapping your feet and nodding along. He wraps the set up with a cover of ‘Hey, that’s no way to say goodbye,’ and you look for Charlie. He loved Leonard Cohen and would be sure to appreciate this cool, upbeat version.

‘Where’s Charlie?’ you ask Alice.

‘I don’t know. I thought he’d be sticking to your side all night. You guys looked very cosy.’

You pull a face.

‘Were you considering taking a little trip down memory lane, Sarah?’

‘Don’t be so ridiculous.’

She raises her eyebrows in a silent ‘whatever’ and you scan the back of the room for Charlie. There he is, talking to some twenty year old Nordic blonde. She’s no-one you know, and certainly no-one you would like to get to know either. She’s throwing her hair back and laughing too loud at Charlie (he’s never that funny when he’s in chat up mode). You’re not sure why he’s even talking to her, she’s hardly his type in her leggings and denim mini (he hates that leggings-under-things look).

Actually it’s pretty obvious why he’s talking to her. She’s young and beautiful. Good luck to her, you think, and turn your back with a pout.

Damn, you’re actually jealous. You don’t want him but you don’t want anyone else to have him, is that it? Or do you really want him for yourself, again, like it used to be? You know he still has feelings for you. You could walk across the room right now and blow that 20 year old right out of the water, with some well chosen comment to underline your shared history.

Time to make your final choice

 

If you go and stake your claim on Charlie, go to Chapter Seven II to face the consequences

If you ignore it and let him have his fun, go to Chapter Seven XVIII to face the consequences