Kevin had never had a girlfriend. Unless you counted chubby Sandra, who let him have a snog and a feel if he bought her some sweets. He thought she was his girlfriend for a while, at least until he found out that she had the same arrangement with Darren, and that bloke who delivered the pizzas on a moped.
Then there was Helen, the office girl at work. She acted like she might want to be his girlfriend, but she was five years older, and he didn’t want to look stupid by asking her out and getting a knock-back. When she left, Mr Reynolds told him he had missed his chance. He reckoned she had really liked him. “You need to spot the signals son”, he had said, tapping the side of his nose.
By the time his twenty-first approached, Kevin had to admit that he might be the only virgin of that age in the town. Everywhere he looked there were couples. Walking arm-in-arm, sitting together at bus stops, or in the back row at the cinema. All his mates were sorted. Even Darren had finally settled for chubby Sandra, and they had got engaged. She was even chubbier now that she was expecting his baby of course.
There was nothing for it but to accept his fate. Living with Mum and Dad was fine. They were easy going, and it was cheap too. He worked overtime at the factory, and soon had a lot of money put by. If ever he found his Miss Right, there would be enough for a deposit on their own place, that was certain. He talked to Mr Reynolds about it sometimes, as they sat eating their sandwiches at lunchtime. Although he was older than Dad, he seemed more like an older brother, and always had something positive to say. “It’s not that you are ugly, Kevin. You are much like anyone your age, and very presentable. But you have to push yourself more, son. You know, get out there. These days, the dating game isn’t all about meeting girls in pubs, or at parties. Get online, it’s all out there. Someone’s waiting, just for you”.
In his room that night, Kevin checked out some dating sites. The old laptop he had used at school might have seen better days, but it worked well enough for what he needed. He didn’t like many of the modern sites he had seen on his phone. The ones where you just swipe away who you don’t like, or save those you do. They would probably keep coming back as ‘No Match’ anyway, so he soon didn’t bother with them. On the fourth page of the Google Search, he found something more his style. A proper dating company, with the chance to see real profiles, lots of photos, and the opportunity to send a request to ‘Connect’. He liked the name of the company too. ‘Connect For Love’. He paid the registration fee with his bank card, selected a six-month membership, and began to list his options.
When his search parameters were done, he had the chance to review them.
Looking for: Female 18-24.
Likes: Films, TV, Quiet nights in, Pets.
Build: No preference.
Height: Under six feet.
Hair colour: No preference.
Eye colour: No preference
Religion: No preference.
Employment: No preference.
Now the site was prompting him to set up his own profile, and to add some photos. He went with the basics.
Single, age 21
Six feet tall.
Likes: TV, Films, Pets, Nights In, Pizza.
Employment: Mechanical Engineer.
He took a few selfies with his phone, just head and shoulders. Choosing what seemed to be the best one, he put it on the laptop, and added it as his profile picture.
With a deep breath, he hit the ‘Save Profile’ tab, and waited. The screen refreshed, and there it was. He was online, for anyone on that site to see. Moving the cursor to the top again, he clicked on the ‘Find Matches’ tab. Deep down, he expected it to come back with ‘No results’, or something similar. But he was amazed to see a huge list appear within moments. It kept loading, until it declared, ‘Found. 96 matches’. Giving a low whistle, Kevin decided to pop downstairs and get a bottle of Dr Pepper from the fridge. This could take some time.
Although he normally liked to be in bed before twelve, it was close to two before he finally closed the laptop. So many choices, and all within the chosen twenty mile radius too. The majority of them were in the town itself, and he had been surprised to actually recognise some of the women from his old school on the site. Despite the age range he had selected, many had already been married, and listed themselves as separated or divorced. After a head-spinning night of scrolling back and forth, he had saved eight profiles to his ‘Favourites’.
Turning out the bedside lamp, he hoped he wouldn’t oversleep. He was never late.
Sleep was hard to come by for once. The faces in the photos kept popping into his mind, and he was already excited about getting home from work later, and sending the selected women his ‘Introductory Message’. And although he had whittled down the list to just the eight he really liked the look of, one face and name kept rising to the top in his head.
Although he didn’t get much sleep, Kevin got to work on time. As soon as the morning tea-break arrived, he was on his phone, checking his profile on the dating site. Eleven more matches to think about. He was excited, but still had another look at Alice’s profile, wondering if he would summon up the courage to send her a direct message later. He decided to tell Mr Reynolds that he had taken his advice. The older man smiled at Kevin’s excitement. “Be careful now, son. There are so many to choose from, so don’t go rushing into anything too soon now”.
The afternoon was a blur as he bolted together the machines in for repair, his actions done almost unconsciously, as if he was on auto-pilot. On the way home he bought pie and chips, yelling to his Mum as he went through the door. “No dinner for me tonight, Mum, I bought something. I’ll be up in my room”. He only ate half of the meal before he could stand the waiting no longer. Gulping down a can of Pepsi, he logged on to his account, and started to examine those new matches.
Some of them were very impressive. But Kevin thought at least ten of them might be out of his league, as they were a bit flashy, and almost too good-looking. The last one had a lot of facial piercings, so he deleted her immediately. Sitting back for a moment, he thought about what he would write to the chosen eight women. He would start with Alice, as she was the one that appealed to him the most. If she wasn’t interested, he would move down the list. He liked to have a plan, and thought this was a good one. But he hoped that Alice would respond, as he hadn’t been able to stop thinking about her all day.
Bringing up her profile, Kevin opened the ‘Send Message’ link, and stared at the three photos. She was almost fragile to look at. Slim, short, and with a rather haunted expression. Her short hair suited her, and the big round eyes seemed to be looking right at him. Her skin was so pale it was almost translucent, and the smile seemed to come with some effort. There was nothing brash or confident about her gaze. He thought that was a face he could fall in love with. But what would he say to her? That would need more thought, and another can of Pepsi.
After deleting his first three attempts, he sat and read the fourth try. It would have to do. One last read, before he pressed ‘Send Message’.
‘Dear Alice. I have never been on any dating site before, but I have to say that I was really impressed by your profile, and your photos. You look like the type of young woman I would really like, and I hope that you feel the same about me when you get this, and see my own profile. I haven’t had a lot of experience with women, I admit that. But I am a nice person, at least I think so, and would be kind and caring too. I hope that you will message me back, so we can get to know each other better.
Kind regards, Kevin. x
He had thought long and hard about adding the kiss. Other messages he had seen on the site, public messages, had all been full of emoticons, beating hearts, even quite rude things. He settled for that one small kiss. More his style.
While he waited, he checked her profile again. She was 22, loved pets, liked reading books, and lived alone. Her location wasn’t specified, but he presumed it must be within his chosen area. Nothing much else about her, except her height of five feet three, dress size eight, and brown hair and brown eyes. Non-smoker, non-driver, and no religion preferred. Kevin worried about the reading books. He rarely read any books since leaving school, and hoped she wouldn’t be too mad on books and writers, as he knew next to nothing about literature. But he would be happy to listen to her talk about it, as he was a good listener. At least he thought he was.
The screen suddenly refreshed, and the website showed a dialogue box.
‘You have a new message! (1)’
Kevin’s stomach flipped as he saw it, but disappointment followed, when it wasn’t from Alice. It was a girl called Hayley, one of his eight choices. He opened the private message, and his face fell. She had added a photo of herself wearing a very low-cut vest, and there were massive tattoos all across her chest. They were dark and swirling, some sort of pattern, looking harsh against the white skin of her cleavage. He didn’t like that, not his thing at all. But he decided to read the message anyway.
‘Hi Kevin I C U added me as a match. That’s fab. Perhaps we could get together soon? U look nice. Lurve Hayley. XXXXXX’
He shook his head. The way she had written that, like a text message. And six big kisses, as well as writing ‘Lurve’ instead of ‘love’. He pressed ‘Discard’, not even giving her the courtesy of a reply. Kevin now realised that the profile wasn’t always to be trusted. He hadn’t expected that at all.
When he refreshed the screen, he had a new message. He felt the smile spread across his face as he clicked on it.
It was from Alice.
Alice’s message was long, and included another photo of her. It looked to have been taken on a foreign holiday, full-length, and she was wearing a one-piece swimsuit. She had added a caption above it.
‘Me, in better times’.
It felt strange to see a young woman with such a tiny body, which made her head look unusually large. But the bright smile on her face made Kevin’s heart leap, and he settled down to read the message.
I was very pleased to receive your personal message. This is also my first time on a dating site, and I am not at all confident. After being treated quite badly in a previous relationship, I am unsure if I even want to pursue another romance, but I decided to try. You do sound honest, and that is important to me. So many men on this site are brash and crude. You wouldn’t believe some of the messages that are sent to me, or the awful photos that some men think it acceptable to send in a private contact.
You say you like pets, and I have a cat, called Cleopatra. I think you would like her.
Kevin, I would have to take things very slowly, you understand. It is not in my nature to be forward or suggestive, and I was uncertain about sending my swimsuit photo, but thought you should be aware that I am very small, and a little frail too.
I no longer communicate with anyone else on this site, but will be happy to continue our connection, if you wish to do so.
I send you greetings from my small home, and hope that you find all this to be acceptable
Kevin read the message a dozen times. He had been right about Alice, he was sure of that now. A beautifully-written reply, and a little extra information. As well as the swimsuit photo, which was the icing on the cake. He didn’t want to rush off a reply, so he thought about what to say as he finished a can of Sprite. Best to follow her lead. Take his time, and be respectful. No need to take things too far, too quickly. He clicked the cursor into the ‘Reply’ box, and took a deep breath.
‘Dear Alice. I was so pleased to get such a nice reply from you. You are everything I might have imagined, and I think you being small is very attractive. Your face is also very pretty. I don’t mind at all that you want to take things slowly. I am not a pushy person, I promise. We have a dog and cat. They are called Wilbur and Blackie. Both are pretty old now, as we got them when I was still at junior school. I am sorry to hear that you were treated badly before. I cannot understand why anyone would do that to you. I know I wouldn’t. And I will never send you any rude photos. I still live at home with my parents, that’s something you should know. But I have a good job, and will one day get a place of my own. I will not contact anyone else on this site, as long as you are happy to be my friend. I hope to hear more from you soon. Kevin. x
He felt really good as he pressed to send the message. His instincts had been right, and he wouldn’t be contacting any of the others on the list. Alice would suit him very well. She was perfect.
Just moments after sending his message, he regretted not spacing it properly, and hoped it didn’t look clumsy. He sat waiting a while, in the hope that she would message back, but three cans of drink were going through him, and he had to rush off to use the toilet. Back in the bedroom, he wondered how Alice had managed to get into a relationship with someone who treated her badly. She was only twenty-two now, so must have been young at the time. What sort of man could treat such a small young woman like that? It made him angry.
Thinking about that had made him stop looking at the laptop, and when he glanced at it again, he was thrilled to see she had replied on the same thread.
I hope that you will forgive my reservation. You do seem to be a very nice man indeed, but I have to be so careful. I am not that well, and being so small makes me feel defenceless too. I have to be wary, and not trust too much in what people tell me. It is nothing personal. I will be happy to be your friend on this site, and I must say that I am pleased to hear that you are not in contact with other girls here. Hopefully we can get to know each other much better in time, then who knows where that might lead? It doesn’t matter to me that you live with your parents, but thank you for letting me know you have a good job, as I could not consider anyone who was lazy, and didn’t work.
I am sure that you are a kind and dependable man, but I do need time to get to know you better.
Affectionately, Alice. x
He found himself nodding as he read the reply. She was right. He was dependable, and not lazy at all. And she had talked about what might happen between them, signing off with ‘Affectionately’ too. He decided to reply immediately. ‘Strike while the iron is hot’, as Mr Reynolds would say.
‘Dear Alice. Take all the time you need. I am in no rush. So sorry to hear that you are not well, can I ask what it is that’s wrong? I also wonder what you do for a job, but if you are not well at the moment, maybe you are off sick? You are right to say that I am not lazy. I have always had a job, and I am qualified in my trade. I think that’s important in life.
I will definitely not be contacting anyone else, and will only be in touch with you, for as long as you want. Kevin x
He looked at the laptop for another hour, before getting ready for bed.
But there was no further message from Alice.
Kevin woke up earlier than usual, still worried that Alice hadn’t replied to his last message. He checked the site, but there was nothing. Work was busy that day, and he sneaked into the staff room to check his phone a couple of times. Still no message. At the lunch break, he considered sending her a new message, using his phone. But he had promised not to be pushy, so had to let that thought go.
At the end of the working day, he almost ran home, eager to get onto the laptop. Mum called out “Dinner at six-thirty love” as he rushed up the stairs. Food was the last thing on his mind.
Logging on to the site, he was almost irritated to find five new matches had been notified. He didn’t bother to open any of the profiles, and went straight to his private messages instead.
The first was from Hayley.
‘not 2 nice to ignore me, K-man. Whasup wiv U? Lurve Hayley XXXXXX’
It was the second message he really wanted to read. The relief that Alice had finally replied overwhelmed him. He pulled off his work boots, and rested back against the pillows to read it.
I don’t really know you well enough yet to discuss what is wrong with me. It is rather personal, and not something I want to reveal at this stage. You are right to presume that I am not working at the moment, due to illness. However, I assure you that I had a very good job, and will no doubt return to it in the future. One of the reasons why I stopped contacting many others on this site is because they wanted to know everything about me from the start. That may be the way things work here, but as far as I am concerned, good relationships need to be built up slowly, and not hurried along.
You obviously want to know more about me, so I will tell you that I no longer live in the same town as you. In fact, I moved away after the problems I suffered with my previous partner, and now live almost two hundred miles from you. But I kept my profile local, as I decided that anyone who really liked me would not be concerned about distance. It also makes me feel safer, as nobody would recognise me in the town from my profile photos. I have a fear of being stalked, or followed. I hope that you will understand that.
If this is still acceptable to you, please continue to message me.
Affectionately, Alice. x
That made Kevin do a double-take. Two hundred miles! How was he supposed to have a relationship with a girlfriend who lived that far away? She didn’t drive, and neither did he. That left coaches or trains, and maybe having to stay in a hotel too. But he really liked her honesty, and another look at the photos confirmed that he thought she was gorgeous too. He replied quickly, hoping that she might be still online.
Dear Alice. I’m sorry if I was rude to ask about personal stuff. I won’t do it again, promise. You tell me what you want, when you feel ready. The distance doesn’t matter to me, though it might take some planning to meet up. But I have enough money for trains and hotels, so let me know when you feel ready for that to happen. I am very interested in you, and not messing around. You seem to be exactly the sort of woman I am searching for, with your honesty and nice manners. I will stop asking you any more questions, until you tell me that you are ready to answer them.
Kind regards, Kevin. x
Mum was shouting up the stairs. “Dinner!” He yanked the door open, and called back. “Keep it warm, Mum. I will have it later thanks”.
Alice had already replied.
It was very flattering of you to say such nice things to me. I am unsure about when we could meet up, as I do not really have the spare funds to pay for tickets and hotels back in your town, and you naturally wouldn’t expect to stay here in my flat, would you? I suppose you could travel up here and stay locally. We could arrange to meet in a public place at first, just so I feel safe. But I have to say that you seem to have very nice manners too, and that is rare on sites like this one. When we eventually meet, I will happily answer your questions face to face. But until then, I need to keep some things personal, as I don’t really know you.
Don’t doubt that I do like you very much though, dear Kevin.
Affectionately, Alice. x
He ignored his rumbling stomach, and wondered how far he dared to push it.
Dear Alice, I would happily pay to travel to where you live, and of course stay in a hotel when I was there. And you wouldn’t need to answer any questions, as I would just be happy to sit with you, and chat about anything. If you preferred to come back here, I could send you the money for tickets and book you into a guest house locally. You could meet my parents, and get to see Wilbur and Blackie too, then you would know I was genuine. Of course, I know that cannot happen yet, but it’s just a thought for the future. You really are the type of woman I want to be with, and I don’t want to say or do anything to spoil the chance of getting to know you better. But I think you might agree that it would be lovely to meet up soon. Let me know what you think.
Kind regards, Kevin. x
After pressing send, he was afraid that he might have been too forward, so started to read his message again. But Mum was shouting from downstairs. “Come and eat this, before it is ruined!”
He had to go down for dinner.
Mum was nagging him, as he quickly ate the rather dried-out meal. “I don’t know what’s up with you these days, Kevin, I really don’t. You have been sitting in your room all night, and there are dark circles under your eyes. Are you feeling alright, love? Is something wrong at work? You can talk to me and your Dad you know”. He glanced over from the table, to where his Dad was watching the semi-finals of the World Snooker on TV. It was likely that Dad wouldn’t ever know whether anything was happening with his family, but he was harmless, and kind.
“It’s nothing, Mum. Just some things I have been doing on the computer. You know, games and stuff”. He wasn’t about to say anything about Alice. Mum would start on about him not getting ‘caught by a girl’. She had already said enough about Darren and chubby Sandra. As she cleared away his plate, she shook her head. “I don’t know, you young people and those games. Don’t go staying up so late now”. By the time she was standing at the kitchen sink, Kevin was back up on his bed, refreshing the screen on the laptop.
I have no doubt it would be very nice to see your home, to meet your family, and Wilbur and Blackie too. But I couldn’t possibly let you send me money to do that. I am sorry that I mentioned money now, as you might think that’s why I contacted you. I have enough to get by, but it is not something I want to discuss on these messages. It would be appropriate to meet you soon, I agree. You do seem to be very kind, and your offer of seeing your home situation has definitely increased my estimation of you. Though I worry that your parents might think I am such a tiny and sickly thing, and would have wanted you to find someone stronger, and more confident.
Perhaps we can work out how that might happen, dear Kevin?
Affectionately, Alice. x
Kevin had an idea, and replied immediately.
Dear Alice, perhaps I could come and collect you? That way I wouldn’t have to send any money. I could bring you back here on the train, and you could stay in our spare room. No funny stuff, I promise. Mum and Dad would be around anyway, so nothing like that would ever happen here. I don’t care what sort of woman they want me to end up with, as I like you, so that’s all that matters. Besides, Mum never really talks about me having a girlfriend, so I don’t think she has any thoughts on the subject. You wouldn’t have to stay longer than one night of course, and maybe you could get someone to feed Cleopatra, or leave her out enough food. I’m sure that once you meet me, you will see that I am nice, and just what I claim to be.
Love, Kevin. x
He had signed off with ‘Love, Kevin’. Not too much, he hoped. The reply was a long time coming, so he went and had a bath. Sitting in the hot water, he imagined Alice at the dinner table. Mum fussing around her, Dad not allowed to slump in front of the TV. He was sure they would like her too. Why wouldn’t they?
Her reply was a mixed message, disappointing, yet exciting too.
Oh that does sound like a nice idea. Maybe one day when I feel well enough, that is exactly what we could do. I could leave Cleopatra enough food for one night, as I don’t trust anyone around here to come in and feed her. I can’t imagine ever giving anyone a key, as I keep away from the neighbours, and live a very quiet life.
I am already sure that you are genuine, and a nice man. Perhaps you can send me another photo? It would be nice to have some other images of you to look at.
I hope that you won’t get tired of me, while you are waiting to meet up. That seems to be something that happens on these sites. If you have patience, I think you will be pleased with me, and happy that you waited. I am a very loyal person, and not at all fickle, I assure you.
Love from me, back to you. Alice. x
He was disappointed that she was putting off meeting up until she was well enough. She gave no indication of when that might be, and the thing with her cat was going to be an issue, he could tell. But the last half of her message had his heart pumping. She was loyal, and she had sent her love to him. Good enough for now. He typed quickly, wanting his message to come from the heart.
Dear Alice, I will have patience. I don’t want anyone else, I really don’t. You seem to me like a woman worth waiting for, and I am prepared to wait for as long as it takes. That’s not the sort of person I am. I am already pleased with you, just from the way you write to me, and looking at your photos. I will get someone to take a proper photo of me, and send it to you soon. I think a lot of you, Alice. I think you are lovely, and all that I want. I will be here for as long as you want me to, and will not get tired of waiting until you feel ready to meet up. Love, Kevin. xx
He had added that extra kiss. Why not? Best to be up front about his feelings for her. It was time to get ready for bed, another busy day to face tomorrow.
One last check on the site, before putting out the light.
You are such a sweet man. I believe that you are someone I could fall in love with.
Love from me, to you. Alice. xx’
He almost dropped the laptop. There was no chance he would sleep tonight.
Kevin couldn’t remember a day in his life when he had felt better. He went to see Mr Reynolds before work started. He wanted a photo taken before he got his overalls dirty. After telling the older man all about what was going on with Alice, he handed him the phone, posing awkwardly outside the main entrance to the workshops. The rest of the day was good too, and he found himself working at great speed, with everything going smoothly. Smiling to himself, he had to wonder if coping at work was more about mood, as he had never enjoyed himself that much before.
At home that night, he ate dinner with his parents, to save Mum nagging again. By the time he got upstairs to sort out adding the new photo to send to Alice, he felt more relaxed than he had done in years. Once he had attached the photo to the message, he thought carefully about what to type.
Dear Alice, your last message was wonderful. To think I am the sort of person you could fall in love with is the best thing anyone has ever said to me. I am sending another photo, as you asked. It was taken outside where I work, so I’m sorry that I am only wearing work clothes. I am still looking forward to arranging that meeting. Did you think anymore about me coming to collect you? Or as you don’t want me to send money, I could arrange to send a ticket instead. But then I would have to know your address.
I hope you won’t mind me saying this, but I’m sure I am already in love with you. If the feelings I have inside are anything to go by, I am certain of that. I hope that isn’t too much to say at this stage, but I can tell you I have never been happier.
Love, Kevin. xx
Alice smiled as she scanned over the message and studied the photo. He looked much better, full-length. Well-built, and probably strong too. He had taken the bait about the love thing, just as she suspected he might. Perhaps she should give him some encouragement. He did indeed seem to be genuine, unlike all of the others.
Oh dear Kevin, that’s such a lovely thing to say to me, I am rather overwhelmed. To imagine that you love me without even meeting me is very exciting. I liked your photo, and think you are tall and handsome. The work clothes don’t matter at all. I will think about your suggestion of sending me a ticket. I am sure you are a nice man, but I am very concerned about sending my address to anyone. If we think about it, no doubt we can work out a way. I really wouldn’t want you to have to travel all that distance, just to turn around and go back again. That wouldn’t be fair.
I hope it will not be too long before I feel strong enough to travel to meet you. I am looking forward to seeing you, and Wilbur and Blackie too. But I have to be sure that your parents will be happy for me to stay, as they know nothing about me. Perhaps you should tell them about your little Alice? Let me know what they say. I couldn’t bear to visit in a bad atmosphere.
Love, Alice. xx
Kevin read her message with his heart beating fast. Yes, it was time to tell Mum. Dad wouldn’t care either way. And he had a thought about the tickets too. If she didn’t want to send her address, he completely understood that. He could buy the ticket online, in her name. Then it could be collected from the coach station where she lived. All he would need was her surname, and she could show some ID at the other end. He replied immediately.
My dear little Alice, I am going to go downstairs and talk to my Mum about you now. I will show her your photos, so she can see how lovely you are, and tell her how I feel about you. If you stay online, I will tell you all about it soon.
Love, Kevin. xx
To say his Mum was surprised was an understatement. She came up with all the expected objections. “You don’t know hardly anything about her, love”. “How can you feel so strongly about someone you have not even spoken to, let alone met?” “Are you sure she hasn’t asked you to send her money? You can tell me if she has”. Kevin kept his cool. It would have been easy to argue, but then it would just end up in a shouting match, and then it would be impossible for Alice to stay. He waited until Mum had gone through the photos, watching her shake her head as she did so. “There’s nothing of her”. “She doesn’t look very strong love”. “Are you sure she really is twenty-two? She has the body of a little girl”. When he was sure that she had run out of negatives, he spoke quietly to her.
“Mum, why is it so hard to believe that someone like Alice could love me? Don’t you want me to be happy? Surely you don’t just expect me to live here forever with you and Dad? If you are not interested in me having my own life, then maybe it’s best if I move out, and rent a flat on my own”. His Mum looked as if she was about to start crying, and then his Dad suddenly turned around in the armchair, interrupting his watching of the late news. “Tell her to come, Kevin. We will be pleased to welcome her, won’t we, Cheryl?” Mum chewed her lip, nodding slowly.
“Of course we will love”.
Surprised but very pleased by his Dad’s intervention, Kevin rushed upstairs to send Alice a happy message.
Dear Alice, I have just spoken to Mum and Dad, and they will be delighted for you to stay here. They are looking forward to meeting you, and I am too, of course. I had an idea that I could buy you a coach ticket online, and you could collect it from your nearest coach station. You would only have to take some ID along. All it would take is for you to send me your surname, and where you wanted to collect the ticket. I will meet you at the coach station at this end, naturally. I hope that we can do this soon, at least as soon as you are feeling well enough.
Love to my little Alice, Kevin. xx
Alice had to admit that this one was really trying hard. He had told his parents, as promised, and even come up with a plan for her to be able to travel without asking for her home address, or any other details except her surname. Perhaps he was genuine, after all? Time would tell. She decided to put him out of his misery, imagining him staring at a computer screen, desperate for her reply.
My dear Kevin,
Well you do work fast! I am very happy to hear that your parents are prepared to welcome me to their home. I also like your idea of being able to collect a ticket at my local coach station, on the day I travel. Perhaps we could make it next Saturday? I hope that’s not too soon for you, but I am sure I will be well enough to travel by then. And it would be good to make use of the current decent weather, before it changes. We could take Wilbur out for a walk, somewhere nice. What do you think?
Love from your little Alice. xx
Kevin was beside himself. Next Saturday! Only a few days to wait. He had to calm down, before he started typing.
Dear Alice, yes Saturday would be perfect. I know a nice place near a lake where we can take Wilbur, and we could get to know each other before coming back for dinner with my parents. I will get onto the coach company website now, and sort out times. I just need your place of travel, and surname. Oh Alice, I am so excited, and I really do love you. Kevin. xx
The reply was rather short. Kevin had been hoping for more.
Gloucester Coach Station.
Love, Alice. xx
So it was Gloucester. That was indeed almost a couple of hundred miles away. And it wasn’t a direct journey either. She might need to change coaches in London, and it was going to take hours. The website took ages to load, and was very frustrating. As he suspected, Alice would have to travel to London first, which took over three hours. Then another coach from there to his town, which was at least another two hours. He could buy just one ticket for the whole journey though, and if she was happy to get the 7:05 early coach, she would be there at close to 1:30 in the afternoon. He made the booking in her name, and received a confirmation email almost immediately. Then he went back on Connect For Love, and sent Alice a message.
Dear little Alice, I have made the booking for next Saturday. The ticket confirmation has been sent by email. I will forward that to you if you send me a personal email address. You don’t have to print it out, as you can just show the drivers the ticket and bar-code on your phone. You need to change at the coach station in central London. All the details are on the email. I hope you don’t mind taking such an early coach? The one I have booked is just after seven in the morning. It is such a long way, that it won’t leave you a lot of time otherwise. I will get your ticket at the coach station here, for your return trip on Sunday. Once you decide what time you want to leave. I am so pleased you have agreed to visit, I can’t tell you how happy that makes me.
All my love, Kevin. xx
Alice was annoyed with herself. It was so unlike her, but she had not thought fast enough, and had stupidly sent Kevin her real surname. And now he wanted a working contact email address too. Oh well, it was too late now. She would send him one that was never used anymore.
Thank you so much for getting me the ticket. I don’t mind getting up early at all, as I can always sleep for a while on the coach. You can send me the details to the following email.
Love from your little Alice. xx
Kevin was really happy now. Not only was she coming to stay, he knew her surname, and had a contact email address too. Perhaps she would give him her address and phone number, once they finally met up. He opened a new email, and attached the ticket document. In the title line, he wrote, ‘Your ticket, as promised’. Then he thought to add a very long email, telling her how sincere he was in his affections, but decided to leave that for the dating site. After all, she had to show the email to the coach drivers. So he just wrote, ‘Love Kevin. xx’ after the attachment box. He pressed to send it , and smiled as he got the ‘Message sent successfully’ confirmation.
Time to start making plans for next weekend.
The week seemed to go by in a blur for Kevin. He had a haircut after work on Tuesday, and on Thursday, the late shopping night, he went into town and bought some new clothes and shoes. Mum had cleaned every inch of the spare room, and opened some new bedding she said she had been saving for ‘guests’. She was worried about what to offer Alice for dinner. “She might be a vegetarian, Kevin. Even a vegan. You should ask her, you know. I want to be sure what to buy, when I go to the supermarket on Saturday morning”.
He had sent Alice more messages of course, but her replies had been short, and a little formal. He put that down to the fact that she might be nervous about Sunday, and decided to stop reading between the lines too much. When he got home from work on the Friday, he went straight up before dinner, to send her a message about what Mum had asked.
Dear little Alice, Mum is worried about what to give you for dinner, and wants to know if you are a vegetarian, or there is something particular that you don’t like. She is also worried that you might be allergic to something. Can you let me know tonight please, as she has to go to the shops in the morning. I would also like to ask if I can have your mobile number, just in case of any delays, or if some emergency crops up. I have already sent you my number of course, so you can ring me if you miss the coach, or don’t feel well enough to come. I’m so excited to see you, and I am so sure that I really do love you. Kevin. xx
Rather than set Mum off again, he went straight down to eat his dinner. When he got back up to the room, she had replied.
My dear Kevin,
I will eat whatever your Mum wants to prepare for dinner. I am not vegetarian, and have no allergies. I won’t be able to eat a very big portion of anything though, so please tell her not to go to too much trouble. I am sorry to tell you that I will not be giving you my mobile number, at least not until we have met. I have had problems after doing that in the past. Rest assured that I will contact you if anything should happen to stop me arriving on time.
With love from me, to you. Alice. xx
Kevin would have liked a better reply. He couldn’t understand why she was so short, and to the point. After all, it wasn’t as if she had anything else to do. He had suspected that she wouldn’t disclose her mobile number though. After what she had already said about past difficulties on dating sites, he thought she would be wary, at least until they met up.
Mum was like a woman possessed on Saturday morning. She made Dad cut the back lawn, and crawled around on her hands and knees cleaning every skirting board. When she was sure that you could happily eat off of any surface in the house, she got Dad to take her to the supermarket. As they were leaving, she threw a pile of clean bedding at him, with a stern instruction. “Get your bed changed, son. I know she probably won’t be going into your room, but I want everything perfect”. He smiled as Dad backed the car off the driveway. She seemed more stressed about Alice’s visit than he did.
After checking the arrival time of the second coach from London online, he set off for the walk to the bus station in town. He would be there stupidly early, but he was too tense to hang around the house any longer. It took him less than twenty minutes to get there, and he perched on the edge of a metal bench outside, so as not to crease up the new clothes. Checking his watch, he knew it was going to be a long wait.
Alice watched him arrive from her well-chosen vantage point. She smiled to herself that he was so early. But she had guessed that he would be.
Gloucester had been a lie, of course. She had never left this seaside town, never moved away almost two hundred miles. She would not need the bus ticket he had so carefully chosen for her, and there would be no delays because of traffic. Watching him shuffle his feet, careful not to scuff his obviously new shoes, she felt that familiar warm glow of satisfaction.
Let’s see how long this one waits, she thought.
When the bus arrived a couple of minutes early, Kevin was already on his feet, pacing in anticipation. He walked across to the raised bus stand and stood back, watching as the passengers got off. Someone as tiny as Alice would be easy to spot, he was certain of that. There were surprisingly few passengers though, and in less than three minutes they were all off the coach, and collecting bigger bags or suitcases from the storage boxes at the sides that the driver had opened. Some student types with rucksacks, and four couples who looked like they were a group returning from a holiday abroad.
No woman on her own, and no sign of Alice. As the driver locked the storage areas, Kevin asked him if this was the right coach. The man smiled as he replied. “That’s the one. We made good time today, no hold-ups on the M25”. Kevin nodded. “Did you see a young woman? She is very small and thin. Short dark hair, big round eyes.” The man didn’t hesitate. “No mate, I didn’t have any passenger like that, sorry”. He turned his back on Kevin and walked up the steps to his driving seat. The door closed with a whooshing sound.
Alice watched from her spot as Kevin headed for the small ticket office in the centre of the bus station. He was going to check. Good man, Kevin.
The woman in the ticket office was on her own, and looked fed up. When he asked her to check if the ticket had been used, she screwed up her face, and turned her computer screen away from him. After typing furiously for a few seconds, and clicking away at the mouse with her long false fingernails, she spoke without looking up. “No, that ticket wasn’t scanned by the driver, either at Gloucester, or in London”. She carried on with something, and when he spoke again, she seemed irritated by him. “Excuse me, but what time does the next coach from London arrive please?” Without even speaking, she raised one of those claw-like fingers, and pointed across the waiting room. He turned, and noticed it was electronic arrivals and destinations board that she was showing him.
The board was changing, as it reflected the most recent coach movements. When it settled down, Kevin could see that the next coach from London didn’t arrive until just before 4. He checked his phone. No missed calls, and no text messages. He walked back outside, and used the mobile to ring home. “Mum, she must have missed the coach. The next one is due at four, so I’m sure she will be on that one. You had better go ahead and have dinner, and we can get something when she turns up”. Before his Mum could start on at him, he added, “Better go, in case she’s trying to call me”. Then he sat back down on the bench. He was slumped now, and had stopped bothering about whether or not he creased up his clothes.
Alice was impressed. He had tackled the fierce-looking hag at the ticket office, and then sat back down to wait for the next coach. Most of the others had been long gone by now, as soon as she hadn’t appeared on the scheduled train or coach. It really did seem that he was a decent young man after all. She was intrigued, and decided to see how long he would sit there. Seeing him check his phone amused her. She didn’t even have a phone to call him on, but of course he didn’t know that.
By 3:30, he still hadn’t moved. And he had given up on the phone, putting it back into his shirt pocket. At 3:50, Kevin stood up, and walked over to where the coach would stop. He checked his watch a few times, trying to relax his face, ready to smile at Alice when she got off the coach. It finally arrived at 4:08, and quite a few people got off. He was closer to the coach this time, and some of the passengers had to squeeze past him, as he stared anxiously at the door.
Alice didn’t get off though, and this time Kevin didn’t even bother to ask the driver any questions. He pulled the phone from his pocket, and gave it one last check. Then with shoulders slumped, he turned away, and started walking out of the coach station.
She was still watching as he crossed the main road. He had been there for over four hours. Bravo. That took him to the top of the list, and greatly increased her estimation of him. Alice decided to follow him, wondering what he would do. He didn’t amble, or walk aimlessly. He seemed fixed on his destination, walking fast. Turning into the respectable road with the neat houses, she guessed that was where he lived. Just like she might have imagined. When he opened the door, a scruffy old dog squeezed through the opening, tail wagging. That must be Wilbur. The door closed quietly. He had kept his temper.
She knew that he had got off lightly. He might be upset, even a little heartbroken. But he had learned a valuable lesson about trust, and had certainly been treated much better than all the others. Most of them had felt her full wrath. Time to move on. More sites to explore, more profiles to consider.
She would leave Kevin to his fate.
Kevin was fighting back tears, and managing not to look too upset. His Mum and Dad knew enough not to say very much, and guessed he wouldn’t want to eat anything just yet.
Upstairs in his room, he decided to send a message to her, still sure she might be ill, and unable to contact him. When he logged on, her profile was gone. The messages they had exchanged no longer existed, as he wasn’t ‘Connected’ to her, under the rules of the site. He had copied the photos she had sent, so at least had those saved on the laptop. Then he remembered her email address, so sent her a friendly email showing concern that she hadn’t arrived, and was worried about her health.
The email sent okay, but he had a bad feeling that he would never get a reply to it.
As expected, there was no reply from Alice. Kevin spent most of Sunday in his room, wondering why she would have done what she did. At least his parents hadn’t nagged him about it, even though Mum now had enough food to see them through most of next week. He really didn’t understand why she would arrange to travel all that way, then not even bother to get on the coach. And she had then deleted her profile on the site, so he could probably never contact her again.
Later that evening, he looked at the three photos she had sent him, saved in his laptop picture gallery. He didn’t know that much about computers, but maybe he could find out a bit more about the photos. He right-clicked on the first one, and examined the options available. One of them was ‘Search Google for image’. He clicked on that.
The first hit at the top of the list showed the same photo. It was on the front page of the local newspaper, The Southend Echo. The accompanying headline sent a chill up Kevin’s spine.
POLICE SEARCH FOR SUSPECT IN MURDER OF LOCAL NURSE
Kevin clicked on the link, and was presented with the full front page. He read the text below the photo of Alice.
Following the discovery of the body of local nurse Alice Millward (22) in her London Road bedsit, Essex Police are appealing for information as to the whereabouts of local man, Scott Lee (25). He is the main suspect in the murder of the young woman, whose body was discovered last Friday, together with that of her cat, which is believed to have died of natural causes. Ms Millward was an orphan, and lived alone. She worked at Southend Hospital in the radiotherapy department, and her colleagues described her as a quiet young woman who was tiny, almost child-like in appearance. (Story continues on page three)
Despite trying many other links, he was unable to access more pages, so he tried clicking on the other photos, with no success. Going back to the front page again, he suddenly noticed the date, and the hairs on the back of his neck stood up.
Friday, 14th September, 1996.
That was almost two years before he was born.
He decided to say nothing to his parents. Some cruel person must have been using Alice’s details on a dating site. How sick was that? Disgusted, he closed the laptop, and went to get ready for bed. He had work in the morning, Alice or no Alice.
The next day, Mr Reynolds could see that Kevin wasn’t himself. He tackled him during the tea break, and Kevin confessed what he had been unwilling to discuss with his parents. The older man seemed concerned. “I remember that case, she was strangled by someone who was stalking her. My nephew works on The Echo. Why don’t I arrange for you to meet him there, and examine the archives?” Kevin nodded. “I would like that, Mr Reynolds. I can’t believe Alice is a fake, and would like to hear the whole story”.
After work the next day, Kevin went to the offices of the newspaper, to meet up with Teddy, Mr Reynolds’ nephew. He had got the microfiche files ready, and had a serious expression. “I asked about that case, Kevin. Most of the older staff remember it well. The girl met a guy called Scott Lee, on a date arranged through a friend at the hospital. But it didn’t work for her, and she wasn’t interested. After she told him that, he wouldn’t leave her alone. Texted her, followed her, and stood outside her flat. He wouldn’t take no for an answer.
She reported him to the Police, and recorded all his texts and phone calls. Eventually, she got a restraining order, and he got a Police Caution. Then one night, he must have got into her flat, and killed her. Strangled her with her own tights, and raped her too. He went on the run, but the Police found him in Spain, some place where she had once gone on holiday. When they caught him, they found he had a photo of her in a swimsuit, taken from her flat. They got him back here, and he got life imprisonment, after being found guilty.
It’s all on the files here mate. Help yourself”.
Kevin nodded his thanks, but didn’t know what to say to him.
He skimmed through the various newspaper files, taking in some of the details. But he didn’t really need to read the whole story. Alice had been betrayed by a date. He had harassed her, stalked her, and finally raped and killed her. And now she was taking it out on anyone who was dating. She was making sure that nobody ever suffered as she did, and she would be doing that for all time.
Kevin had lived his twenty-one years never believing in ghosts.