Stella was nervous. Her nerves grew worse as she approached the cafe. What are you doing? she asked herself for the umpteenth time. It’s not too late to turn around on your kitten heels and go home and forget all about it. Cut your losses. No one will ever know. There’s a Lambrini in the fridge and some chocolates in the box. Go home. Put a DVD on. Enjoy yourself.
But, she argued with herself, I’ve gone to all this trouble and come all this way, I may as well drop by. If I don’t like the look of him I don’t even have to say hello. I can see what he’s like and make my decision then.
She had met Lee online. They had both commented on the same photograph of kittens dressed as traffic wardens. This had led to following each other on a couple of social networks. He’d seemed too good to be true. “He’s too good to be true,” Stella’s friend Bev kept telling her. “Man like that, how come he hasn’t been snapped up already, eh?”
“He asked me the same thing,” Stella countered.
“What? He said you were a man?”
But what did Bev know? Stella hadn’t told her the full extent of her online romance with Lee. The message boards and public timelines had been quickly superseded by direct messages to each other’s private inboxes. From this they had progressed to instant messaging, sending each other smiley faces, hearts and Xs, with increasing frequency.
And then Lee had said he was going to be in her town on business. Well, not her town exactly, but he could swing by; it was only a few miles out of his way and they could perhaps meet for a coffee or a spot of lunch in broad daylight in public – if she was worried he might be some kind of hideous old axe murderer.
Stella had agreed. She had never felt about anyone the way she felt about this man she had never met. She didn’t tell Bev about this rendezvous. Bev would have counselled caution. “Take me with you,” Bev would have said. No way, thought Stella! She didn’t want to risk Bev running off with Lee, not after Stella had invested so much in this relationship.
Lee had given her his mobile phone number. She was to text him if she chickened out and wasn’t coming. “It’s only fair,” he said. He didn’t want to be kept waiting on his own, all stood up. But texting him would mean he then had her number… That could lead to all sorts of trouble; you read about it all the time.
No. The only thing to do was to sneak a look through the cafe window. They’d arranged that he’d be on the right, under the olde worlde menu. Stella would be able to see him without even going in. She was a few minutes early; he wouldn’t be expecting her.
And there he was. Poring over a menu, a large man with thinning hair and a generous coating of sweat. Like a pig in a polo shirt! Stella’s heart sank. Typical! Well, she couldn’t breathe a word of this to Bev who would only rub her nose in it. Oh, it just wasn’t fair! She’d sent him a photograph – all right it had been five or six years old but at least it had been her face in the picture. Where was the handsome Prince Charming he used in all his online profiles?
Stella felt cheated. Betrayed! There was no way she would go in, no way she would give this repulsive hog the time of day! And she wouldn’t text him either. Let him sit there and sweat it out, the rotten, deceitful liar!
She stomped all the way home, calling in at the off-licence for a backup bottle of Lambrini. And so she didn’t see the handsome Prince Charming emerge from the Gents. Lee’s nerves had got the better of him. This could be the most important encounter of his life. He really thought Stella might be ‘the one’.
He thanked the rather overweight guy for keeping his seat and sat down to wait for the lovely, generous-spirited, funny girl he’d met online.