Catherine the Great had a taste for handsome young men. She called her boyfriends “favorites,” and she had quite a few of them. The sweetest one of all was a twenty-one-year-old soldier in the royal guard, Alexander Lanskoi, who fell desperately in love with the fifty-year-old empress. She was in love with him, too, though she didn’t take him seriously at first because he was so young.
As for me, I’m forty-one and the boy I met on the dance floor, Dave, is twenty-five. “I’m not so sure I should see him again,” I tell Denise. “I just want to live in the moment, and last night was a moment that has passed.”
“Oh, that’s not right, Joyce,” she says. “That’s not in the spirit of the free-party movement. You have to call Dave because you felt a connection with him.”
So. I call Dave, and we arrange to meet again in Leicester, where he lives. During the journey there I wonder what I’m doing. A few days later, on the third anniversary of my marriage to Jack, I’m still with Dave, lying under a thin duvet on a lumpy, sheet-free mattress.
Kent is concerned. The Bad Girls Project was his idea, but my interest in Dave is a sign that I’ve gone overboard. I’m so immersed in the bad girls that they’re always with me now, like brushing my teeth or thinking about what I’m going to have for lunch.
“I’m worried about you, Joycie,” he says. “Who is this Dancefloor Dave character, anyway?”
“He’s my guy, that’s who. He likes football, music and people.”
“Isn’t he a bit too young for you?”
My answer is that Catherine the Great liked younger man—and I want to spend as much time as possible with Dave. He’s fun. It’s uncomplicated. And Dave feels so familiar, like I’ve known him forever. There’s no explaining it, and Dave isn’t a big talker. When he does talk, his blunt honesty makes me laugh.
“I’ve never met another kisser who matches me so well,” I gush.
“Oh, is it a long list?”
Sadly, my time in London is coming to a close because Kent won’t fund my bad-girls research anymore. Is he jealous of Dave? Wonderfully, I don’t particularly care; I can well take care of myself.
One night, as Dave and I are lying around in Kent’s bed on Elgin Crescent, we get an unexpected phone call. Kent has just returned from a trip, is driving home from the airport, and wants us to be out of the flat. We throw our bags together, spend a few weeks at a trashy hotel in Bayswater, and then we say goodbye. Dave’s heading off for a year of travel in Southeast Asia and New Zealand.
He asks me to come with him, but I can’t because I’m broke. And very sad. I go back to Chicago to look for a job, and Dave promises to come see me there in nine months’ time. I don’t believe him.
I throw myself back into my research, focusing on Catherine the Great. Her first marriage was not for love, but for the good of the empire, which was fine for Russia, but not for Catherine. Yes, she was a power-hungry monarch with a brilliant political career, but I’m more interested in her love for a much younger man who simply made her happy.
Catherine couldn’t quite believe that Alexander Lanskoi was seriously in love with her, and because she thought she was in control of the situation, she went off on a dating binge in search of a new favorite. When Alexander got wind of it, he freaked out and showed up at her chambers, sobbing. She let him in reluctantly, and he told her he couldn't believe she could just walk away from a love that made them both so happy. How could she do that to him, to them? Stunned and amazed, Catherine took her baby back into her arms, loving him for the rest of his short life.
I go off on a dating binge of my own in Chicago, trying to forget Dave by going out with guys who remind me of him: a British man, a few younger men and a dancer who’s having a fight with his girlfriend. Time passes, one of the younger blokes becomes my boyfriend, I email Dave to tell him the news, and I get a phone call from Australia.
“I can't believe that you could love somebody else the way you love me,” Dave sobs.
“You can’t just walk away from our love. When I’m with you, I feel normal.”
“But you disappeared on me for nine months,” I sob back. “What was I supposed to think? I had to get on with my life.”
“I can get on a plane tonight, and I’ll see you in Chicago in two days.”
“I’m going to book the ticket today.”
Dave comes to Chicago, we remember why we love each other, we decide that being together could never work, we break up, Dave leaves, we miss each other, he returns, we break up, we spend a holiday in France, we go to England, we break up. In between, we call each other and have phone sex and cry. For a year we go on like this.