Chapter One

Everyone is looking for their soulmate.

Take our Love Test and find out:

Is He the One?

God, these things are so stupid.

I scan the quiz in the magazine. There’s a photo of a couple looking into each other’s eyes, all lovey-dovey, and it’s decorated with cartoon drawings of Cupids and love-hearts. I mean, please. As if you can find out if he’s ‘the One’ by answering a few silly multiple-choice questions.

Like, for example:

My guy and I go together like . . .
a) Batman and Robin
b) Posh and Becks
c) Lindsay Lohan and fake tan

Honestly, how ridiculous!

I’m jostled by someone squeezing themselves into the tiny space next to me. Looking up, I realise we’ve pulled into a station. I cast my eyes around the crowded carriage. It’s Friday-afternoon rush-hour and I’m sitting squashed up on the subway, flicking through the pages of a magazine I found on my seat. The doors close, and as the train moves off with a judder, I turn back to the magazine. And that dumb quiz.

Dismissively I turn over the page. It’s an article on cellulite. I frown.

Then again, maybe a dumb quiz isn’t so bad. After all, it has got to be more fun than reading about how to get rid of dimpled orange-peel thighs, I muse, glancing at the section on detoxing. Though, frankly, I don’t think you can get rid of dimpled orange-peel thighs. Everyone has cellulite. Even supermodels!

Well, that’s what I like to tell myself, anyway.

I peer closely at the grainy paparazzi photo of Kate Moss’s bikini-clad bottom, which has been magnified a million times. To tell the truth, I can’t actually see any dimples. Or much bottom. In fact, looking at this photo, I’m not sure Kate Moss even has a bottom.

Suddenly I’m struck by what I’m doing: I’m sitting. In public. On the New York subway. With my nose pressed up against a photograph of a left bum cheek. Or is it a right? I grab hold of myself. For God’s sake, Lucy. And you thought the quiz was ridiculous?

Quickly I turn back to it. I notice it hasn’t been filled in. Oh, what the hell. I’ve got five more stops.

Reaching into my bag, I pull out a biro.

OK, here we go . . .

 1. Whenever you think about him, do you get butterflies?

Well, I wouldn’t call them butterflies exactly. In fact, it’s been so long the butterflies have probably grown up and flown away. Now it’s more of an ache. Not like the terrible toothache I got when I pulled out my filling at the cinema on a pic’n’mix toffee . . . I wince at the memory. No, this is more of a twinge. The occasional pang.

I plump for b) Sometimes.

 2. How long have you liked him?

My mind flicks back. We met in the summer of 1999. I was nineteen. Which makes it . . . As my mind does the calculation, I feel a thump of realisation. Quickly followed by a left jab of defensiveness.

OK, so it’s ten years. So what? Ten years is nothing. My mum’s known my dad for forty years.

Yes, but your mum’s married to him, pipes up a little voice inside me.

Ignoring it, I quickly circle option c. Right. Next question.

 3. Can you see yourself getting married to this guy?

Well, that’s easy. It’s zero.

In fact, I’d say the chances of marrying him are less than zero. But that’s OK. I’m perfectly fine with it. That’s just the way things are, and that’s cool.

All right, so in the past I might have thought about it. And maybe for a moment I imagined myself in a white dress (actually, more of a calico, in antique lace, with full-length sleeves and a sweetheart neckline) and him in top hat and tails with his messy blond hair and tatty old Converses peeping out from underneath. Dancing our first dance under the stars to ‘No Woman, No Cry’, our favourite Bob Marley song. Leaving on our honeymoon in his old VW camper van . . .

Zoning back, I notice I’ve been absentmindedly doodling a love-heart around a) 100%. Shit. What did I do that for? Flustered, I grab my pen and start scribbling over it furiously. It’s not as if that means anything. It’s not like it’s in my subconscious.

I suddenly realise I’m pressing so hard I’ve torn the page.

 4. Do your friends think you’re obsessed with this guy?

My body stiffens defensively.

I think about him from time to time, but I wouldn’t say I’m obsessed. Not at all. I mean, I’m not stalking him or anything. Or hounding him with Facebook messages. Or Googling him relentlessly.

OK, I confess. I Googled him once.

Maybe twice.

Oh, all right, so I’ve lost count over the years. But so what? Who hasn’t gone home and Googled a man they’re in love with?

Hang on – did I just say the L word?

Out of the blue my stomach flips over like a pancake. I flip it straight back again. I didn’t mean that at all! It’s this silly quiz – it’s making me think all kinds of things.

I circle b) No.

As the number six train makes its way uptown, I continue through the questions. They get progressively more ludicrous, but it passes the time. In fact, I’m just on the last question . . .

10. What film best describes your relationship?

 . . .when I’m suddenly aware of the overhead announcement – ‘This is Forty-Second Street, Grand Central’ – and I realise I’m at my stop.

Stuffing the magazine into my bag, I start politely trying to excuse my way through the packed carriage. Of course, no one pays any attention. Since moving to New York from London a few weeks ago, I’ve begun noticing that all my ‘Oh, sorry’s, ‘Excuse me’s and ‘I beg your pardon’s fall on deaf ears.

It’s not that New Yorkers are rude. On the contrary, I’m finding them to be some of the friendliest, warmest people I’ve ever met. It’s just that our terribly British way of apologising for everything has zero effect. They don’t understand what we’re apologising for. To be honest, half the time I don’t understand what I’m apologising for. It’s just something I do. A habit. Like logging on to Facebook every five minutes.

For example, yesterday I was crossing the street when this man bashed right into me and spilled coffee all over me. And get this – I was the one who said sorry! Yes, me! About a million times! Even though it was totally his fault. He was on his mobile and not looking where he was going.

Sorry, I mean cell phone – well, I am in New York now.

At the thought I get a tingle all the way up my spine. I can’t help it. Every time I catch myself glancing up at the skyscrapers towering above my head, or walking down Broadway on my way to work, or hailing one of those distinctive yellow cabs (which I’ve only done once, as I’m broke, but still), I feel as if I’m in a movie. I’ve been here six weeks and still can’t believe it’s real. I almost expect to see Carrie, Miranda, Charlotte and Samantha waltzing arm in arm towards me.

Exiting the subway station, I pause at the pedestrian crossing to study the little pop-up map of Manhattan I keep in my bag. Some people have this sort of inbuilt GPS, a bit like cats. You can drop them anywhere and they can find their way home. Not me. I get lost in Tesco. Once, I spent over half an hour wandering around the salad bar trying to find the checkout. Trust me. I’ve not been able to face coleslaw since.

I turn the map upside down, then back again. I’m stumped. I’ve arranged to go for a drink after work, but I haven’t a clue where the bar is. I squint at the grid of streets. It all looks quite simple in theory, but in reality I’m forever getting lost. As if it wasn’t hard enough, here in New York you can have East Whatever Street, or West Whatever Street. Which is just completely confusing. I mean, how on earth are you supposed to know which is which?

Looking up and down the street in frustration, I give up and do my little rhyme. I’m continually stopping dead in the middle of the street and doing it. You know the one: ‘Never Eat Shredded Wheat.’

‘’Scuse me?’

I turn to see a fellow pedestrian standing next to me, waiting to cross. He’s looking at me quizzically, his brow furrowed beneath his baseball cap.

Oh my God, did I just say that out loud?

‘Er . . .’ I fluster with embarrassment. ‘Never . . . um . . . cross the dreaded street,’ I manage hastily, gesturing to the little red man, ‘until the little man says it’s safe.’

He stares at me blankly. ‘Sure,’ he replies doubtfully.

He’s got one of those really drawly Noo York accents and I notice he’s carrying what looks like a large video camera and a furry microphone. Gosh, I wonder what he’s doing. He’s probably making a movie or something really cool.

Unlike me, who’s reciting ridiculous rhymes and prattling on about the Green Cross Code, I realise, my cheeks flushing. Feeling totally uncool, I look away and pray for the lights to change. ‘Oh, look, now we can cross,’ I announce with a beat of relief, and shooting him an awkward smile, I stride off purposely into the crowd.

You see, that’s the thing with New York. The city has this amazing energy that attracts all these interesting people. Turn a corner and you’ll stumble across a film set, or a stallholder selling some wacky kind of jewellery, or a group of street artists doing amazing hip-hop routines. You never know what’s going to happen.

Sometimes, late at night, when I see the Empire State Building lit up in different colours, I get this buzz of excitement. Anticipation. Magic. I almost have to pinch myself. For a girl who hails from deepest Manchester, it’s the stuff of fairytales.

Only this particular fairytale is missing one thing.

Walking past a row of restaurants, I glance at the couples cosying up together over a romantic meal. Being a warm summer’s evening, restaurants have flung open their doors, spilling their tables out on to the street. I feel a pang.

I brush it quickly away.

Once upon a time there was a prince of sorts, but we didn’t end up living happily ever after. Like I said before, though, I’m fine with it. It was a long time ago. I’ve moved on. In fact, since then I’ve dated loads of different guys.

Well, perhaps not loads, but a few. And some of them have been really nice. Like, for example, my last boyfriend, Sean. We met at a party and dated for a couple of months, but it was never that serious. I mean, he was good fun, and the sex wasn’t bad. It’s just . . .

OK, I have this theory. Everyone dreams of finding their soulmate. It’s a universal quest. All over the world millions of people are looking for their true love, their amore their âme soeur, that one special person with whom they will spend the rest of their life.

And I’m no different.

Except it doesn’t happen for everyone. Some people spend their whole life looking and never find that person. It’s the luck of the draw.

If, by some miracle, you’re lucky enough to meet the One, whatever you do, don’t let them go. Because you don’t get another shot at it. Soulmates aren’t like buses; there’s not going to be another one along in a minute. That’s why they’re called ‘the One’.

I mean, if there were loads of them, they’d be called ‘the Five’, or ‘the Hundred’, or ‘the Never-Ending Supply’.

So I think maybe that’s it for me. Because you see, I was lucky. I did find the One, but then I lost him. I blew it, or he blew it. At the end of the day it doesn’t really matter. The details aren’t important.

Besides, it’s not like I’m unhappy. What’s that saying? Better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all. To tell the truth, I rarely think about it any more.

And yet . . .

Sometimes, when I least expect it, something will remind me. Of him. Of us. Of long ago. It can be as random as a quiz in a magazine, or as inconsequential as a restaurant table on the street. And sometimes I can’t help wondering what my life would be like if things had worked out. What if we were still together? What if we had lived happily ever after? What if, what if, what if . . .?

Sometimes I even try to imagine what it would be like to see him again. Which is crazy. It’s been so long I doubt I’d even recognise him now. I could probably walk past him in the street and not even know it was him.

Oh, who am I kidding? I’d recognise him in an instant. Even in a crowd.

And do you want to know something else? Deep down inside, I know if I saw him again, I would still feel exactly the same.

Anyway, that’s hardly likely, is it? I think, catching myself. It’s been ten years since I last saw him. A whole decade. A brand-new millennium. Who knows where he is or what he’s doing . . .?

Up ahead, a neon sign interrupts my thoughts. Scott’s. That’s it! That’s the bar! Feeling a beat of relief, I start hurrying towards it.

Like I said, you get one shot and I had mine.

And dismissing the thought from my mind, I push open the door.

You're the One That I Don't Want