Here’s a little from the book to wet your appetite.
I have no idea if Ben is attracted to me in that way. I’ve noticed a definite closeness, a few jokes about shagging, and he’s determined to put me off this single-parent dating website, but he hasn’t actually asked me out on a date. I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t thought about our camping trip, replaying the two of us dancing, his hand on my back, both of us laughing and feeling so free. I can tell him anything, and equally he can talk to me about anything too, and neither one of us feels judged. But surely, by now, something would have happened if Ben and I were into one another? As Janey had said, we spent a whole week together and if Ben did feel something for me, then that would have been the time to show it.
Nat distracts my thoughts, asking if I came to the wedding with anyone.
‘Ben,’ I say, gesturing to him. I tell Nat we went on a beach holiday recently to Cornwall, with our children.
‘How long have you been seeing him?’ Nat asks, faint disappointment in his tone, or am I imagining it?
‘Oh, we’re not together.’
‘Right,’ he says, perking up, but looking mildly confused.
I turn to him. ‘Do you think men and woman can be just friends?’
‘No way, not if the bloke finds the woman really attractive, like When Harry Met Sally.’
‘So it’s possible if he thinks she’s unattractive?’
‘Yeah.’ He looks at me. ‘But you’re not ugly.’
‘Thanks, I think. So you don’t have a single friend that’s a woman?’
He has to ponder on this. ‘One. Beth, but she’s a bit funny looking.’
‘She’s got these . . .’ He places his hands behind his ears, wiggles them, ‘sticky-out ears. To be honest, I mainly hang out with the lads. My industry is pretty male-dominated. I couldn’t go on holiday with an attractive woman and lie next to her on the beach, see her in a bikini and rub sun-cream on her back and not, you know, want to do it.’
Ben didn’t blink twice at me in my spotty bikini, and he slapped the suncream on my back as if it were Polyfilla.
‘Nicely put,’ says the man sitting on my other side. He’s Paul’s brother. ‘Sorry, couldn’t help eavesdropping. I was really close to this girl, Annie, right, and we’d been friends through college until we blew it one night getting drunker than usual and ended up in bed.’
‘Ah yes, alcohol always has a way of becoming involved, agrees Nat, asking me again if I’m sure I don’t want a drink.
‘Did you regret it?’ I ask.
‘Bitterly. We lost that trust, that sense of ease. We wasted something really special for nothing but a stupid drunken roll in the sack.’
You see. Paul’s brother gets it. It’s too bad if others don’t.
‘I have lots of friends who are men,’ says a blonde-haired woman in her forties placed opposite me. ‘I get different things from both. I love my girly friends, but I also like a male perspective.’
‘Rubbish,’ dismisses the man sitting next to her. ‘Sorry, but there’s no such thing as friendship between men and women, there’s always an imbalance somewhere.’
Soon comments are flying across our end of the table, the debate heating up.
‘Men can’t be just friends. We need more. We’re only human.’
‘Of course they can.’
‘What if that male friend has a partner though, or a wife?’ says Paul’s brother.
‘Good point. If Ben were dating, I’d have to take a step back. We wouldn’t be able to play chess at midnight,’ I say, thinking of our evenings in Cornwall.
‘You play chess at midnight?’ asks Nat. ‘That is weird. Why not strip poker?’
‘I bet you if Ben started dating,’ says Nat, ‘you’d turn into a green-eyed monster.’
‘Keep your voice down,’ I mutter. ‘No. I’d be happy for him.’
‘Well then,’ concludes Nat, ‘if Ben isn’t into you, you can take comfort knowing he thinks you’re a bit funny looking.’
Paul comes down to our end of the table and asks if we’re all happy, before refilling wine glasses.
‘We’re talking about men and women and if they can be just friends,’ says Nat.
Paul nods.‘They can be.’
‘See.’ I nudge Nat.
‘As long as the man’s gay,’ Paul winks, ‘or the woman’s funny looking.
Extract from ONE STEP CLOSER TO YOU by Alice Peterson, published by Quercus, paperback £7.99
You can buy One Step Closer to You from Amazon and is available to buy from good bookshops.