‘Let’s set some ground rules first’ I muttered to myself. I have never been a fan of technology and the wonders of the internet but Sheila, my rather eccentric work colleague and friend had been prattling on at me for weeks to get myself ‘online’. So with my quarterly bonus, I brought myself a little lap top which was apparently a bargain at half the price. Hmm not so sure about that I have to say, imagine how many pairs of shoes I could have been wearing right now.

‘Oh well, no use bitching about it now’ I said and switched it on for only the third time that week. I had been putting it off. I really didn’t see the big appeal of tap, tapping away on a keyboard all evening as well as all day. But peer pressure, even at the grand old age of 42, and here I was ready to go.

Luckily my 13 year old son Marcus had managed to show me the basics. And I was rather intrigued at just how much information was available to me at the click of a button. The last two times I had switched it on, I had browsed around, reading world news and catching up on the soap gossip. I had to laugh at myself, such a whiz already, I was even using internet lingo!

I hadn’t been interested in anything much of late. Life seemed to be passing me by. Hell Marcus had more of a life than me even with a curfew! But Sheila was always telling me the internet had so much potential.

‘Look at it as Cupid with wires, instead of wings’ she gushed at me one lunchtime over a Skinny Latte and a double chocolate chip cookie. Well come on, the coffee was skinny.

‘How many times, Sheila, I’m not interested in finding love, sex or marriage, been there done that and got the t-shirt’ I laughed.

But sitting here on my own with the world literally at my fingertips, I figured, it wouldn’t hurt to have a look. I mean no one would interest me. These dating sites are bound to be full of old men, with bald heads, hairy chests, facial hair and the good old fashioned anoraks to complete the look!

Clicking on ‘Straight to the Heart’ and groaning as I read the corny name, I quickly registered my basic details. Now back to the ground rules. I wasn’t prepared to put my real name online. Nor a photo for the world and his wife to judge. And I certainly wasn’t going to mention Marcus. He was my world since his father and I split up and you hear such scary stories of paedophiles worming their way in to the innocent, vulnerable lives of desperate middle aged women! Well no cyber guy was going to fool me. Besides I wasn’t desperate!

I filled in my profile, keeping it simple:

“Young at heart, lady in her early 40’s initially seeking friendship from like minded individuals. Interests include reading, swimming and theatre. 5’7 with black hair and brown eyes”.

I re-read what I had written and it sounded okay to me. I hit send and waited while my first ever advert popped onto the screen. I chose something called an avatar as my profile picture and had to laugh at the uncanny resemblance!

I pottered around, putting the kettle on and catching up on Corrie. In the back of my mind I was worrying about the dating site. I hadn’t been on a date let alone been with a man since I split with Tony 8 months ago. Tony and I were childhood sweethearts, the not so typical high school romance, because Tony and I made it. Well, we made it through the damp one bedroom flat we rented whilst we were at University, scrimping and saving with money earned from part time jobs. Studying was fitted in around everything else. It was hard work but we graduated and eventually Tony realised his dream, opening his own restaurant.

I worked in the local branch of Barclays and life began to pick up for us. We bought out first little home with its peeling paper and blocked drains but we made it a home. We finally had money coming in and all those nights of hard graft washing dishes and pot noodles for tea were a distant memory.

When I realised I was pregnant, we were both happy, we could afford it, we had the room and we were as excited as any other expectant parents. When Marcus was born, life was complete for us. And we settled into parenthood like ducks to water. I loved being home with Marcus, walking by the river and feeding the ducks, watching him smile and giggle as the ducks waddled past. Once Marcus started school, I went back to work part time and eventually as he got older, full time. Funny how your kids don’t need you all of a sudden.

Sadly, Tony and I started drifting from each other. He was working a lot of late nights whilst I worked days and we were like ships in the night for so many years. We cried in each others arms as we realised that we had to part for the sake of both our sanities. Not a harsh word was spoken; just quiet realisation that we needed to spread our wings. We had been together since we were fifteen years old and I was proud of all we had achieved together. But the old saying is true, if you love someone, letting them go is sometimes the only kind thing you can do. I’d always love Tony; he had been my life for all these years after all. And we were still friends which made it so much better for Marcus.

Anyway, I guess the time really had come to get back out there and try again and although I was nervous, I had an excited feeling. I logged back on and saw I had three messages.

I had to laugh out loud, or lol as computer speak seems to be. The first was from a very handsome man who quite literally spelled out what he wanted to do to me. No thank you. Delete.

The second was from someone who resembled the hunchback of Notre Dame! No joke, he was the ugliest man I have ever seen. Bless him, he sounded quite sweet for a while, until he started mentioning dungeons and dragons! Delete!

The third however, did catch my attention.

“Hi I have read your profile and you seem exactly what I am looking for. I would love to get to know you better. Tell me, what are you passionate about”.

So ensued message tennis for the rest of the evening. I told him a little about myself and he did the same. I didn’t give too much away. I was conscious of safety don’t forget. But I liked this man – Mario (obviously not his real name, at least I hoped not). He sounded funny and kind and interested in me. That was what got me, the fact he was interested in me! I described myself to him and he still liked the sound of me. I have to confess his physical description sounded perfect to me too.

I finally logged off for the night and arranged to carry on our conversation the next evening.

At work the next day Sheila was full of excitement when I shared my news with her. She was adamant I should bite the bullet and arrange a coffee. She must have seen the appalling open mouthed gape I gave her because she went on to explain that she would shadow me to make sure I was okay. I’d arrange the coffee and Sheila would be at the venue to check that I was okay. It did sound like a good plan and I couldn’t wait to get home to set it up.

Mario had sent me a message that was waiting for me when I got in. Apologising for sounding forward but wondering if I wanted to meet him for a drink sometime. I smiled to myself as I replied saying I would love to meet him for a coffee at Starbucks and was he free the next lunchtime.

I waited and waited but got no reply for hours. Eventually I heard the ping and again apologising for the delay he said he would love to meet me. So a few more emails pinged back and forth and we had a date set up.

Oh wow a date, probably only my third date in all my life. I had dated a lad at school before Tony and I got together but it wasn’t really proper dating, we used to hold hands in the playground when no one was looking and that was the extent of that experience. Tony and I did date but with money being so tight, we were more likely to be found watching old movies on the black and white television we had.

The next morning, I got up extra early, showered, straightened my hair and applied my make-up a lot more carefully than I would normally. I was in my work suit and there wasn’t a lot I could do about that as it was a lunchtime coffee. But we had figured that if I was in uniform at least he would recognise me.

I barely got through the morning, I felt like I was 15 all over again and it was crazy just how nervous I was but at 12 o’clock sharp Sheila and I set off down the High Street to Starbucks. Sheila settled at a table and I chose the one just off to the side so she could see and hear me and know I was okay.

I told the counter staff I was waiting for someone which totally perplexed them because I had, after all actually come in with someone! They waved me away. So there I sat, back to the window, nervous glances at Sheila who was already chatting up one of the staff. That woman really was incorrigible. And then I felt the presence of someone behind me and heard a voice say in a barely audible whisper ‘hello Melissa’.

I froze, this man knew my name. All manner of thoughts went through my head, he had hacked my computer, knew where I lived, what if he was after Marcus. Stupid, stupid girl. I then felt a hand rest gently on my shoulder and it turned me round. I was panicking now and as I glanced at Sheila she was looking at me with a smile and a frown all rolled into one!

I looked up into the handsome, rugged face above me. Crooked nose, blue eyes, dotted stubble and smiling lips.

‘Hello Melissa’ he said again still in that breathy whisper. The same whisper that I had heard for so many years but didn’t realise how much I had missed until that moment.

‘Tony’ was all I could manage before I found myself welling up.

Tony took my hand. He smiled at me and quite literally took my breath away.

“Did you know? All this time?” I asked.

“Well……yes…..I did, I guess. I owe you Sheila” he said turning towards her laughing.

Sheila was now in front of me. I was still sitting down and I stared up into the faces above.

“Sorry Melissa but you and Tony are made for each other, always have been and always will be. I love you both and I could see how sad you were without each other. Sure you tried to get on with life but when you lose your soul mate, nothing is ever going to take that place. I’ve spent weeks going on at you to join this site with Tony primed and waiting for you to appear” she said. “Tony is my brother and you are my friend and after talking to Tony at Mums the other month, I had to do something” she looked sheepish.

“Sheila give us a moment please” Tony Said. She shuffled off.

“It isn’t all about Sheila, Melissa. We made a mistake, we should never have parted, and I knew that from more or less the first damned night I spent away from you. Why didn’t I just tell you? Because I had to get you to like me again, show you that I am the same man you fell in love with all those years ago. I lost sight of what was important and I had to make it right again”.

I sat there staring at the only man I had ever and would ever love. He stared back with a hopeful longing in his eyes. And then I did the only thing that felt right. I stood up, cupped one of his cheeks in my palm and kissed him, right there in the middle of Starbucks, with a passion I never even knew I possessed.
Tuesday 15th February 2011