The atrium wasn’t very crowded, but all the hard surfaces created an echoing effect that made it seem that way. Voices and shuffling soles created a constant background buzz. New Yorkers and tourists alike were strolling along the lines of shops or hurrying to and from the escalators.
As she looked away from the display window, Shellie saw that one of the small round tables set outside the shops was available. She’d bought an egg cream in a foam cup so she’d have something to do with her hands. Carrying it carefully so it wouldn’t spill, she quickly laid claim to the tiny table and sat down. She placed the cup just so on the napkin she’d been provided.
His first impression would be of her seated. Was that okay?
If she sat gracefully enough. She made sure her thighs were together and placed one New Balance jogger slightly in front of the other, rested her left hand in her lap. That should present a reasonably graceful picture.
She raised her left hand briefly to glance at the watch on her wrist. He was five minutes late. She nervously took a sip of egg cream. Was he actually going to show up? Or was she going to sit here another—how long—fifteen minutes? The two old men playing chess at the nearest table had stolen looks at her; they knew she was waiting for someone.
Shellie tried not to feel embarrassed. It didn’t matter if she was stood up, she told herself, not in New York. This city was full of improbable and unpredictable characters.
None of whom she knew more than casually, however. Shellie had been in the city a little more than a month. She was still operating on the inheritance she’d brought with her from Bluebonnet, Nebraska. All her mother had in the world, plus her mother’s life insurance money. Shellie’s dad had died ten years ago. A distant aunt had died only a few months ago, and Shellie had no siblings. She was on her own in the world, which was one reason why she’d decided to start a new life in New York.
Why not the biggest, most interesting city in the country? Shellie had her nerve, and her college degree in general education. Always a loner, there was no one she was particularly friendly with in Bluebonnet. There was nothing in the romance area, certainly, now that she’d broken off her affair with Mark Drucker. Hulking and ever-smiling Mark. Big high school football hero, college dropout, and TV addict. All Mark wanted to do was have sex and watch movies and shows on TV. Old The Dukes of Hazzard episodes. My God! Well, Shellie hoped that by now he’d found someone to share his passions, both in front of the TV and in the backseat of his meticulously restored ’69 Camaro (his real true love). For her it was time for something more challenging and promising. Time to see if she could make it on her own.
And she could—she was sure of it. But she was so damned lonely. New York could do that to you. There you were, swimming in an ocean of humanity, and if you knew no one well, you were as isolated as if you were a castaway on a remote island.
Shellie had finally given in to something she’d been long considering. Using a matchmaking service to alleviate her loneliness hadn’t seemed like the best idea she’d ever had, but she’d finally decided to give it a try. Sometimes in life you had to take a chance.
After spending weeks visiting the website of E-Bliss.org, she’d filled out the detailed questionnaire that allowed the agency to match her with the best possible bet as a future mate. Then she’d waited.
After slightly more than a week, the nervously anticipated e-mail had appeared on her computer screen. The attached profile hadn’t revealed much about her prospective soul mate, David Adams. It hadn’t even included his photo. Well, that was okay. Shellie remembered how hesitant she’d been to send her photo to E-Bliss.org. After all, once your image was on the Internet, who knew where it might pop up? Someone might even superimpose her head on the body of another woman doing God knew what. Maybe even committing unnatural acts. Shellie had heard of it happening.
She’d been permitted to choose the public place that was to be the scene of their first meeting, so here she was at the agreed-upon time.
Now it was ten minutes past that time, and here was Shellie still waiting to share conversation and perhaps another egg cream with the first date she’d had since moving to New York. (She didn’t count the scuzzy guy who’d stuck out his tongue at her and tried to pick her up outside Starbucks last week.)
On the other side of the atrium, pretending now and then to look into the show window of a luggage shop, David Adams watched her. Shellie Marston. From Nebraska, no less. He smiled. Maybe he’d been expecting too much. She wasn’t perfect, but she’d do.
Adams was wearing neatly pressed khakis, a blue pullover shirt with a collar, white jogging shoes. Even from this distance he could see that Shellie was also wearing white joggers. His smile widened. Already they had something in common. Maybe this would really work.
He was a handsome man with regular features not easily remembered from a glance. It took a while for his bland but masculine visage to register as attractive. His hair was dark brown, wavy, and worn a bit long to disguise the fact that his ears stuck out. He was slightly under six feet tall and moved with athletic ease. His body was compact and muscular, his waist narrow. His was the sort of physique that wore clothes well. He was all in all nonthreatening, and there was certainly nothing not to like about him. Easy manner, nice smile, clean, and well groomed. He was the sort who’d fit well in most women’s romantic fantasies. And of course when he did finally bed them, they saw him as the ideal from the desires and dreams they’d carried since their first kiss.
He took another longer and bolder look at Shellie Marston and decided she was a go. He moved toward her with an easy grace, gaze fixed on her.
She’d spotted him now. These first few minutes were important. He watched her face.
It was, as usual, good strategy to be late. For an instant, relief that he’d shown up at all flooded her features. Then she had her mask on again.
He smiled at her and she managed to smile back.
Shellie made herself smile at the man she was now sure was approaching her table. He must be David Adams. She didn’t know why she’d had to make herself smile. There was nothing wrong with this guy. Not that she could see, anyway. He didn’t look like the type who’d need a matchmaking service. But then Shellie didn’t see herself as that type, either.
She told herself again that there was nothing disreputable or dangerous about Internet hookups. Not anymore. This was a competitive and busy world, especially here in the largest and busiest of cities. People didn’t have time to move tentatively in finding and developing relationships, as they often still did in Nebraska. She’d even known a girl in high school whose prospective suitors had to ask her parents’ permission to date her.
Quaint, Shellie thought. And even if someone wanted to ask Shellie’s father for her hand, she didn’t have a father. She had only herself. And she could make up her own mind.
The closer David Adams got to her table, the more sure she was that she’d made the right decision in contacting E-Bliss.org.
“Shellie?” he asked when he was within a few feet of her. Even that one word—her name—was smooth and softly modulated. This was a gentle man, obviously. A bit hesitant and shy, like herself. A gentle man, but not at all effeminate.
“Shellie,” she confirmed, then smiled and stood up. She felt the sole of one New Balance slide over the toe of the other. Not noticeable. “You must be David.”
They shook hands. Gentle again.
Flesh upon flesh. Shellie hoped there might be some electricity there. Some arc of emotion that suggested a future truly meaningful. Physical attraction wasn’t everything, except at first.
She wasn’t disappointed.
Cindy Sellers sat alone at a corner table in P.J. Clarke’s on Third Avenue