A/N: Hello again - thank you for the lovely reviews of the previous chapter.
I studied the menu - dessert or starter, starter or dessert - decisions, decisions.
Who am I kidding? I always order a starter. I can still have a dessert too, but it would be too disappointing to finish the main course and then think, 'damn, I wish I'd had those tiger prawns to start'.
I put the menu down having made my decision and look around the restaurant again. It's rather nice, with high ceilings and huge floor to ceilings windows with impressive, if distant, views across the National Mall. Despite the airy, spacious look to the place, it's got a warm, rather intimate vibe. Definitely somewhere to come on a date.
I look down at my companion for the evening and sigh.
Why me? I'm sat in a beautiful, romantic restaurant with nothing but a book for company.
I know, I shouldn't complain. I'm eating in a very nice restaurant, in an interesting city that I haven't visited before - oh, and it's a really good book, but no-one enjoys sitting on their own like Billie-no-mates.
I regard my glass of mineral water thoughtfully, knowing that my complaints will have reversed by the end of the week. The three day conference that I've travelled here to attend starts tomorrow evening with a reception. I'll be dying for the peace and quiet of this evening after four nights of mingling and - shudder - networking.
A waitress comes and takes my order. The restaurant seems to specialise in cool, efficient service, rather than the relentlessly perky 'have-a-nice-day' approach you generally get here. I pause, maybe it's the horror of having a Brit to look after this evening that's generating the detached service style.
We are, after all, officially the worst tippers ever. Total tight-wads.
As she walks off, I wonder if I should whip out my copy of the Lonely Planet guide and inform her that I'm well aware of US tipping-etiquette and that I can guarantee, assuming good service, that I'll shatter the stereotype for her.
I'm back to staring at my water. You see, this is what eating on your own does to you. You start planning barmy ways to start up a conversation.
Which is why I always bring a book.
I've only just found my page, when the door opens to a very arresting sight.
Yum - six foot something, well built, well dressed and pretty damn gorgeous.
Great, I can indulge in the other joyous distraction for the lonely or bored when eating out - people watching.
I put my book down.
Well, well the waitress has perked up considerably. Mind you if I was on the receiving end of that charming grin it might even cause me to flutter my eyelashes a bit. And trust me, that is normally not my style.
Little Miss newly-Perky picks up two menus and leads him in my direction.
For an electrifying, if delusional, moment I think she's actually going to sit him down on the other chair at my table. Then she veers right and seats him at the next table over, in the corner.
Still, he's directly in my line of sight. He smiles his thanks at the waitress and orders a mineral water. Apparently he'll order wine when his guest arrives.
Oh yeah, a second menu. Hardly a surprise. Tall, dark and handsome doesn't look like the sort of guy to be without a partner.
I wonder if it's a special occasion. No obvious gift with him and certainly no flowers. I tap the table slightly, thinking.
He adjusts his tie and then fiddles with his cufflinks.
He looks at his watch and then at the door. Thirty seconds later, he's back looking at the door.
First date. No doubt in my mind.
I'm wondering what his date will be like as my starter arrives. He watches it waft past and obviously enjoys the spicy aroma coming off it.
I thank the waitress and contemplate my very garlicky prawns. They need to be ripped out of their shells - very messy - which is actually a good reason for eating alone. Great - I knew there had to be some benefits.
Never order something like this in front of someone you want to impress. I've - er - seen - er - someone - fling half a king prawn across a room. For total comedy value it should have landed in some disapproving woman's drink, whereas it just splatted disappointingly on the floor, but trust me it totally killed the mood.
I'm in mid rip when I realise that tall, dark and handsome is addressing me. Sexy voice too, by the way.
I put the prawn down and try to look cool and sophisticated. No mean feat when your fingers are covered in garlic butter.
Apparently he wants to know what I ordered.
I tell him, with a discrete warning about the extreme garlic overload. I manage to avoid saying 'which won't go down well with your date', but I think he's got the message.
He smiles politely and goes back to staring at the door.
I hide a grin. See it's not only me that attempts to start up conversations with total strangers in restaurants when they're alone and nervous. Maybe I should tell him to think about bringing a book.
The door swings open and his head jerks up, every muscle tensing. Then he looks away in disappointment.
I shrug to myself, I thought that the pneumatic blonde that walked in was a reasonable bet to be his date. Apparently not.
I attack another prawn, and he's gulping the mineral water that the waitress has just brought. And looking at his watch.
It's actually rather endearing. Good looking bloke, who looks like he can handle himself, clearly crapping himself over a first date.
Now I'm looking at the door too. I want to see the woman, or man - lets not make assumptions here - who's able to have this effect on the poor guy.
The door opens and here, apparently, she is.
He puts the glass down quickly and tugs at his tie again. His eyes are riveted on the woman who is speaking to the waitress at the entrance.
She slips out of a long, dark coat to reveal a stunning emerald green dress. No sleeves, but the wide straps cover the whole shoulder. Deep, but not plunging v-neck which ends at a wide band of fabric between the bust and waist. The skirt falls away from the band in floaty pleats. The colour sets off her pale skin and mass of red brown hair, which is tumbling loose around her shoulders.
She nods at the waitress and follows her towards his table. The dress does that swishy-clingy thing that you only get from pure silk. And I want her shoes. A good three inches of heel, same emerald green as the dress, but with a little red flower. Which, I realise, matches the strings of red beads around her neck.
Clearly he is not the only one taking this date really seriously.
I steal a glance at him and wonder if I ought to remind him to breathe. He is absolutely mesmerised by her. And now she's returning the look.
One day, I promise myself, I'll inspire a look like that. Hopefully.
The waitress makes a sharp exit when she arrives at the table. Fair play, that's what I call professional service.
He's standing up and he catches both her hands, telling her she looks beautiful.
And for once, it's no word of a lie.
She smiles shyly and offers a compliment in return.
One that I can second with enthusiasm.
He smiles slightly and then leans in to brush her lips with his.
They pull apart after a few moments, starry eyed.
Damn - don't tell me that was their first kiss.
He reaches up to cup her cheek and she leans in against his hand.
Yup - got to be a first kiss.
He pulls out her chair and she sits.
I look down at my remaining prawn and decide to do the honourable thing. I shunt my chair round the table, and pick up my place setting, until I'm facing the window, my back to the happy couple.
I leave them, hands linked on the table top, talking quietly, gazing into each others eyes and open my book.
Hope you enjoyed.