‘I make it nine thirty,’ says Alice, checking her phone as you stand at Simon’s door. ‘So you’ve got till 10.15, okay?’

‘No, we’ve got till 10.15. You never know, there might be some sexy builder just waiting for a girl like you. Don’t spend the next 45 minutes working out which pub we’re going to.’

The line you’re taking is quite correct. The guiding principle of the 45 minute rule is that you use that time to explore the party’s possibilities to the full. It’s a window of opportunity to see how much fun you can have.

'Ladies! So glad you made it,’ says Simon, greeting you with a pair of shot glasses, cold with vodka.

'Of course we made it.'

'Wouldn't miss it for the world.'

‘Looks like a full house already,’ you say, looking into the living room, with the kitchen beyond, crowded with good looking boys in tight t-shirts.

‘It is, it is. There’s a gang of Aussies in the garden who you girls are going to love.’

‘Tell us more... are they straight?’

‘God yes, straight, sporty, beer drinking Aussies.’

‘Oooh, goodie,’ says Alice. ‘Where did you recruit them from?’

‘It’s this guy who’s just joined my office. He’s brought all his lovely housemates. He’s been in London for like a month, and you know what they’re like, they’ll go anywhere if there’s beer involved. I promised him cute girls, so you two had better stick around.’

‘Of course – we only just got here.’

 ‘I know you two and your 45 second rule.’

‘It’s 45 minutes,’ Alice protests.

‘Hey, Alice, we said no man would ever know about the 45 minute rule.’

‘I know but come on, it’s only Simon. He doesn’t count.’

‘Darling, how dare you? I’m all man don’t you know.’

‘Okay Simon, hand me a bottle opener and we’ll go make some friends in the garden.’

‘Simon wasn’t kidding,’ says Alice, as you step out of the backdoor to a patio crowded with tall, broadchested men in flip flops, shorts, and washed out t-shirts.

‘Brilliant,’ you murmur.

By a brilliant coincidence, the Aussie standing nearest to you is the fittest. Also, happily, he is Simon’s colleague, giving you lots of small talk fodder.

You work your best English cut glass accent and your butter-wouldn’t-melt wide eyes as you tease him about Australian culture. He replies with cricket taunts which you laugh at, without really knowing what he’s on about. As Brad (yes, really) works his beer, you consider stepping up the pace of your drinking. That way you’ll be in sync, and can get the next one together. In case Alice isn’t having as much luck, you should make the most of the next half an hour.

You try to catch her eye but she is distracted, mock-wrestling a brawny blonde guy over a deckchair. He lets her win, and she sits down beaming, only for his mate to start to try to dislodge her from it. You think they should keep her entertained for a while.

The boom of a familiar voice from the kitchen forces you to turn around and see – Charlie, handshakes and backslaps all round as he asserts his masculinity with Simon and his crew. He stops in his tracks when he sees you, and you wave, but he looks away.

I’m going to the kitchen,’ says Brad. ‘Fancy a beer?’

Um, no, I’m still working on this one thanks,’ you say.

Charlie shoots a weak smile your way as he comes to the back door, looking slightly sheepish. You take pity on him.

‘Hey there, stalker boy.’

‘Aah, Sarah, give me a break!’ he looks relieved, and greets you with a peck on your cheek.

‘Am I going to have to take out a restraining order?’ you smirk.

‘Don’t! I was a bit pissed, I admit. I just wanted to get in touch, say hello.’

‘I think you had more on your mind than just saying hello,’ you say, arching an eyebrow at him.

He blushes, and you laugh at him (in a nice way), saying ‘I told you you’d miss me, you big idiot.’

Charlie makes a valiant effort to catch up with you and your tone, to laugh about it too. It makes you feel better about being dumped, to be so nonchalant about it now in front of him.

‘So how are you?’

‘Well, I was off sick on Monday.’

‘Oh dear. What was wrong?’ he looks genuinely concerned.

With a chuckle, you tell him of your day in the park.

‘You lazy girl,’ he says. ‘Is that Alice over there, sitting on that bloke’s knee?’

It’s clear to you both that Alice wouldn’t welcome an interruption, so you keep your distance and catch up on news, the way old friends would. It’s odd, to be so comfortable with him. After all the tears you shed, a month ago, I’m impressed by your resilience. You are drinking kinda fast, which seems to be helping.

The dancing starts soon, prompted by a blast of early Whitney in the living room. You and Charlie agree to join the melee. You drag Alice and her wrestling mates with you, keen not to be dancing one on one with Charlie. That would be a bit too weird. Using the crowd as cover, you beckon Brad over, and dance with him on the far side of the room from Charlie, wondering how far you can go with your ex 15 feet away.

By the pissed off look on his face, you’d say you might have reached the boundary. Being all light and carefree with Charlie is one thing, but blatantly trying to pull someone in front of him is a step too far. Reluctantly, you put bit of distance between you and Brad. For all your nonchalance, you do still care for Charlie.

In search of more beer you find Simon swapping gossip in the kitchen. You congratulate him on his party.

‘Great guests, Si. With all these hot Australians you’re really spoiling us.’

‘I know! And your most handsome, and very contrite, ex. It’s got all the ingredients of a brilliant Saturday night. Glad you came?’

‘I am glad.’

You stay and chat to Simon for long enough to finish your beer, and be about to reach for another one when Charlie reappears.

‘I’m off mate,’ he says to Simon. ‘Thanks for a great party.’

‘You’re going?’ Simon looks cross. ‘It’s so early – come on, stay for another.’

‘Sorry, I’m absolutely beat. Bit of a late one last night.’ He looks at you and gives a rueful smile. ‘How about you, Sass, you staying?’

You shrug. Suddenly the party just got slightly less appealing. Without Charlie it offers fewer opportunities. You haven’t thought too far ahead about what might happen, but somewhere in your subconscious you must have felt it was good having him around. This is silly, because Brad, who’s really far more exciting, is still in the living room dancing in search of a partner.

Making an obvious effort to be casual Charlie offers you a share in his cab. You weigh up your options. You could grab that beer, and head back to the dancefloor in search of Brad, or a boogie with Alice. Or you could just call it a night, hop in a cab with Charlie, and be tucked up in bed by midnight.

‘Well, I’m calling one now anyway. So I’ll grab you when it gets here,’ says Charlie.

‘Okay, sounds good. I’m going to go and see what Alice wants to do.’

Alice, unsurprisingly, wants to stay.


What will you do?

If you decide to stay, go to Chapter Four III  to face the consequences

If you decide to share Charlie’s cab, go to Chapter Four IV  to face the consequences