and father-of-two who asked Lucy out over Twitter.
To read from the start, click here.
For the first time in a long time, she's nervous about a date. This isn't your usual, run-of-the-mill online date. The man asked her out over Twitter, for Chrissake! Without having even seen a photo!
When she walks into the pub, Al is already there, wearing a crisp blue checked shirt, jeans, and proper brown leather shoes. Arrived first, she notes. Tick. Nicely dressed. Another tick. Tall, slim and looks just like his photo. Three more ticks. But then there's the beard...
The man looks like he has a poodle strapped to his chin.
"Hello," he says, nervously. His voice is soft, with a distinct Sussex accent - a sort of country burr with dropped Ts and short vowels. It doesn't fit with the manly action-hero image, and Lucy feels a twinge of disappointment.
"What can I get you?" he enquires politely, heading towards the bar. Lucy hesitates. Is this a 'two-polite-spritzers-then-leave' kind of date, or a 'sink-several-wines-and-see-what-happens' kind of date?
Lucy clocks Al's extremely cute bum and decides to go for a large white. After all, she's come all this way. It'd be rude not to.
They settle side by side at a nearby table and Lucy takes a gulp. "Well this is a bit weird. I've never had a Twitter date before."
"Me neither," says Al. "But I thought you seemed like you had a really great personality and I was intrigued. So I thought, 'what the hell' and went for it."
Great personality, eh? Lucy likes to think so, but it's nice when a charming man agrees. Clearly Al has excellent taste. And she admires that he had the guts to take the risk.
"Also," he adds, "We tend to date people we find physically attractive first of all, and then hope that their personality matches up. Which hasn't really been working out so well for me. This time it was just the other way around - I already knew I liked your personality, so why not take a chance and see if the looks match up? Which I'm delighted to say they do, by the way."
Smooth, Lucy thinks. She takes another gulp of wine to hide the blushing.
"And now you've seen it in person, what do you think of the beard?"
Lucy studies the offensive item in question. It's about three or four inches long, thick and bristly. To be fair, it is neatly-trimmed and well-groomed, but even so, she still thinks it looks like Al has fallen face-first into a vat of wire wool.
She hesitates, not wanting to offend him. "I've seen worse," she concedes.
"It's very soft, you know," he says, invitingly.
Lucy has never touched a beard before. This seems very intimate for so early on in the date. Gingerly, she reaches out and prods the bushy cushion with one finger.
It feels exactly like it looks: coarse and wiry. Lucy frowns, "It's not all that soft. Not like head hair, anyway."
Al looks crestfallen. "Well, no, I guess not.' He tries again. 'But it smells really nice too. I use moisturiser."
This is getting weird. No way is Lucy about to start sniffing Al's beard.
Al senses he's losing his argument. He tries another tack. "I get loads of compliments, particularly from men. Guys often come up and admire it in the pub."
Lucy thinks Al might be missing the point. "But what about women?"
"They either love it or hate it," he confesses.
Lucy doesn't completely hate the beard as much as some she's seen, but she's extremely wary of it. It's suspicious. She's not sure what it might suddenly do.
"Would you ever shave it off?" she asks, hopefully.
"I probably wouldn't ever go back to being clean-shaven, but I have thought about trimming it shorter."
So there is room for improvement. This is good news. Lucy reckons she could cope with a neat, short beard. Something like a Gary Barlow or Ryan Gosling look would definitely be acceptable.
Not that she's already trying to improve Al. Not on the first date, anyway. There'll be time for that later.
Lucy wants to find out more about Al's background. Could they possibly have anything in common? "So how did you become a mechanic?" she enquires.
"Actually it was a bit of a long route. First of all I dropped out of school at 17 and joined the army..."
Crikey, Lucy thinks. A school dropout and squaddie. Hardly the ideal match for a nicely-educated lady with a first-class honours degree from a top university. Her mum would have kittens.
"Army? Gosh. Did you do active service?"
"Two tours in Iraq and two in Afghanistan. In between I also did an Open University degree in mechanical engineering, went to Sandhurst to become an officer, and rose to the rank of Captain."
Well this puts a very different colour on things. You can definitely take an army officer home to meet the parents. Lucy looks again at Al's broad, war-hero shoulders and warm brown eyes, crinkled at the corners from the Middle Eastern sun, and feels a confusing frisson of attraction.
"So how long were you in the Army?"
"Twelve years. Eventually I left and now I work for a breakdown assistance company."
"You must rescue loads of damsels in distress by the roadside," Lucy observes. "Surely you don't need to be picking up strangers on Twitter?"
"Actually I rarely meet attractive women through work. But I do get propositioned by older ladies a lot. Just recently I had one lady in her 50s who was so pleased that I'd fixed her car that she offered me 10 minutes alone in the back of the truck."
Lucy can see why the older ladies fancy him. At six years his senior, she might just be one of them. Even if they do appear to have almost nothing in common.
The music in the pub is suddenly turned up loud. Al moves his chair a little closer.
"So how are you finding the dating apps?" he asks. "Lots of ghosting I suppose?"
"Of course. Happens all the time."
"Actually I've never been ghosted," he reveals.
Lucy is stunned. What, never?!
"I think it's much more of a guy thing to do. Guys do ghosting. Girls do crazy stalking."
"I would never do that," Lucy assures him, and makes a mental note never to reveal all the stuff she found out about him online.
Al has a theory about relationships. "All men are dicks to a greater or lesser extent, and all women are crazy. But it's a sliding scale. You just need to find someone at the bottom end."
"So where are you on the scale?" Lucy asks.
"Hopefully I'm at the lower end, though I'm sure I have my dickish moments too."
Lucy wonders where she falls on the crazy spectrum. She likes to think she's pretty sane, but she knows a few of her friends would probably disagree.
"You must be a rare exception," she tells Al. "All the guys I match with seem to be right up at the top of the scale."
"That's because you are going for the wrong guys. Guys who are in their late 30s or 40s, who have never been married and don't have kids, are like that for a reason. They're arseholes. You need to go for the divorced ones with kids."
This is actually something Lucy has known for a while - but has been avoiding admitting to herself because dating a dad would mean having to deal with Other People's Children. And Lucy makes it a rule to avoid the little shits as much as possible.
"I don't get it, she complains. "Surely there must be some nice, baggage-free guys still out there? I know loads of gorgeous, successful women in their late 30s who have never been married and don't have kids, and they're not dicks. Why are all the guys such arseholes?"
"That's cos they're men," Al shrugs. "So they're on the dick scale. Your female friends are probably just a bit crazy instead."
Lucy hates to admit it, but Al is making perfect sense. He seems to have a very wise head on his young shoulders. But the conversation is quite serious and not really as flirty as she would have liked.
They stay until gone 11 pm and it's time to for Lucy to get the train back to Brighton. Al offers to walk her the short distance back to the station.
Lucy gets her coat. What now? she wonders. She's conflicted. Al is totally unsuitable for her: they have nothing in common. But with his mature, calm, gentle manner, warm brown eyes, and tall, muscular body, she's finding him rather sexy. And after two large glasses of wine she would even possibly be up for a kiss... it weren't for that beard.
But Lucy's just not ready to get up close and personal with that much facial hair quite yet. She imagines kissing Al would be a little bit like being molested by an amorous badger.
So as soon as they arrive at the station she gives him a quick hug, turns, and swipes through the barrier before he has a chance to stop her.
On the train, she suddenly realises they never paid the bar tab. Lucy is mortified and texts a profuse apology for leaving him to pick up the bill.
His reply comes back swiftly.
"I had a great evening. I would love to see you again and I wanted to pay xx"
(To be continued...)