A Fantasy Love Scene
Master of dialogue and chemistry between characters, Nick Hornby is known for both his books (High Fidelity, About a Boy, A Long Way Down, etc.) and his screenplays (An Education, Brooklyn, Wild, State of the Union). His new book, Just Like You, is an unexpected modern love story about a nearly divorced woman who goes off her script when she meets a man from the generation after hers. It’s clever, entertaining, funny, and keenly observed.
We loved it.
In the meantime: a sneak peek at Just Like You. In this scene, forty-two-year-old Lucy is returning after a dinner party fail to her two sons (Dylan and Al) and twenty-two-year-old babysitter Joseph. Lucy has just convinced a reluctant Uber driver to take away her to-be-ex-husband, who’d started a fight with Joseph. At this point, Lucy and Joseph have not had sex (yet).
From Chapter 2 of Just Like You
“You’re early,” said Dylan. “You said Joseph would be putting us to bed.”
“Yeah, well. I’d finished my main course and I didn’t like the look of the pudding so I came home.”
This was the kind of logic they understood. It was hard to imagine that they would behave any other way, even when they were forty and going to their own dinner parties. They would hover by the door and say, in one unbroken word, “ThanksverymuchfordinnerI’vefinishednow
“Take your headphones off.”
“I’ve only got one ear in. What did you say?”
“I said, I’d finished my main course and I didn’t like the look of the pudding so I came home.”
“What was the pudding?”
“Why is Mum home?” said Al.
“She didn’t like the look of the pudding.”
“Take your headphones off.”
“They are off.”
They weren’t off.
“MUM DIDN’T LIKE THE LOOK OF THE PUDDING.”
“What was the pudding?”
“She won’t tell me.”
“Not much of a pudding.”
“Der, that’s why she came home, penis-head.”
“Will you please stop saying that?”
“Anyway, you can stay up a bit longer. I’m having a cup of tea with Joseph.”
Lucy felt that the latest “what?” marked the end of the conversation, so she went through to the kitchen. She didn’t want a cup of tea, though. She wanted a drink, but she felt awkward about it. If you needed a drink because your drunk ex had come round and got into a shoving match with a babysitter, was that post-facto enabling of some sort? Or inappropriate dependency? Alcoholism by proxy? She imagined that there might be support groups for all of these conditions, if you looked online. Islington Post-Facto Enablers probably met every Thursday in the basement of St. Luke’s church.
“Would it seem really inappropriate if I had a glass of wine?”
“Well,” said Joseph. “I suppose it depends whether you’re an alcoholic who will want to fight me when you’ve knocked it back.”
“Fine by me, then. People drink.”
“Would you like one?”
“You don’t have any beer, do you?”
“I think the Indian might have given me a free one with the last takeaway.”
She rummaged around at the back of the fridge and found it, a bottle of Kingfisher. He drank it straight from the bottle, the first half very quickly.
“I’m so sorry,” said Lucy when she’d poured her glass of wine.
“Well. It isn’t. I didn’t warn you it might happen, and you weren’t expecting it.”
“Has it happened before? I mean, to other babysitters?”
“No. Plus, it didn’t cross my mind. I suppose in my defense it would have been like warning you about a, a burglary. Or a lightning bolt.”
Joseph spent longer than he should have done wondering what was wrong with this comparison. He knew about burglars and lightning bolts, and had assessed the risks accordingly. He didn’t know that Lucy had an alcoholic ex-husband who might turn up at any moment. He was a bit more than a lightning bolt. He was more like a loaded gun, or a forgotten knife in a pocket.
“It’s not your fault.” It was a tiny bit her fault, by the loaded-gun calculation.
“I know. But I’m so embarrassed. It’s like something out of…EastEnders.”
“Maybe that’s why people like EastEnders.”
“I suppose so. But I’m the Head of English at a secondary school. I’m supposed to have an orderly life.”
“Is that what you honestly think?”
“Yes. Of course. Half the kids have got drunk fathers turning up and causing a scene. I can’t be a part of all that.”
Lucy would have liked to claim that she spotted the danger as soon as she’d uttered the phrase, but it wouldn’t be true. Joseph was on it before she’d had a chance to reel it in.
“What’s ‘all that’?”
“Drunk parents turning up and causing a scene.”
“Well, you already are a part of ‘all that.’ ”
“Yes, but not…”
She stopped. She saw it now.
“Your drunk husband is different from their drunk fathers?”
“I see what you mean.”
“Yes. My mess is the same as anyone’s mess. There’s no such thing as Head of English Department mess.”
“Yeah,” said Joseph. “Here’s the thing. The moment you’re related to somebody else, you’re in trouble.”
“We’re all related to someone else, from the moment we’re born.”
“That’s what I’m saying.”
He was quicker than her. Or rather, she thought she could get away with not being her quickest self, because she was older than him, but she couldn’t. She could probably beat him in a quiz about Jane Austen, but that was about it.
“Is there chaos in your family?”
Joseph knew that this was probably the time to offer her something in exchange, but he didn’t feel like exposing his own family, his wayward cousins and his bad-apple uncle, just to make Lucy feel better.
“There’s chaos in everyone’s family.”
He finished his bottle of beer.
“I’m going to head off.”
He felt flat. There had been a fantasy that involved him staying the night and sneaking out in the morning before the boys woke up—a quite involved fantasy that he’d been finessing while watching the football with Al and Dylan, before Paul had arrived. The fantasy hadn’t survived the events of the evening, though. If he were ever going to sleep with Lucy, there would have to be some kind of serious plan in place, with every possible move and countermove thought out in advance. He wasn’t very good at chess, and it wasn’t a particularly sexy game anyway. All that thinking killed the vibe.
Did she feel flat too? If she did, that was as close as he was going to get to any kind of sexual spark. And mutual flatness wasn’t the same as mutual attraction.
Excerpted from Just Like You by Nick Hornby. Copyright © 2020 by Nick Hornby. Excerpted by permission of Riverhead Books, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC, New York. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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