The Internet led me to Matt, a boy who lived in Ft. Myers, forty-five minutes away. Sight unseen, we struck up an odd friendship, and began talking on the telephone for hours at a time. After a couple weeks of daily phone calls, we decided to take our relationship to the next level. Yes, it was finally time to meet in person.
My mother, whose sense of paranoia surpassed "To Catch a Predator"'s Chris Hansen, felt certain that this boy was a 40-year-old serial rapist targeting his next victim. Eventually, I exhausted her in the way that only a whiny teenage girl can, and she reluctantly allowed this meeting to happen. Our two rules were that we could only meet somewhere public and that we would remain within sight of a parent at all times. There would be no stalking or abduction on Mama's watch, nosir!
Matt and I--parents chaperoning, of course--planned to drive to town for a noontime lunch at Cheeburger on Saturday, giving me enough time to take a morning riding lesson and get cleaned up. At 2 p.m., he called from a pay phone outside the Burger King at our interstate exit. The boy was two hours late, an unpardonable offense according to my growling stomach. Strike 1.
"Sorry," he shrugged. "I was washing my wheels."
I've never considered myself to be God's gift to the male species, ever. However, I know that I am more valuable than shiny wheels. Most girls are.
We made our way to Cheeburger, where Matt scanned the menu for a while before finally deciding on the 1/2-pound cheeseburger, fries, and a salad.
"But put the dressing on the side," he instructed the waitress. "I'm on a diet."
My friend Matt was not a small guy, by any definition of the word. I called shenanigans on his attempt to appear health-conscious.
When the bill came at the end of our meal, he silently allowed my step-dad to pay for his share. I wondered if he remembered bragging to me about the fifty bucks his mom had given him for the day's gas and food. Strike 2.
Our next stop was King Richard's, a medieval-themed arcade and miniature golf center. We'd barely stepped inside the doors when my mother asked if I wanted to go with her to the restroom.
Yes, boys. Sometimes when we travel in packs to the bathroom, it's because we are talking about you. We really aren't afraid of something happening to us like a monster waiting to gobble us up if we go in there alone.
"Do you want us to leave you alone with Matt while we're here?" She asked as the bathroom door swung closed behind us.
I shook my head so violently I nearly gave myself whiplash. Truth be told, I hoped he would be gone by the time we walked back out to the lobby. If only we weren't his ride back to his truck.
"Okay." She smiled.
Only, that's not how it worked.
Somehow I ended up by myself with Matt, playing a round of miniature golf while my parents disappeared. I imagine they were hiding around the corner, laughing at how visibly uncomfortable I was in Matt's presence. They probably figured making me squirm would discourage me from trying to meet any more of my cyber friends.
As we slowly made our way around the range, Matt turned to me and whined, "They're being so unfair to me by not letting us be alone." After my skin stopped crawling, I silently thanked my paranoid mother for all of her rules. Strike 3, Matt, just because I could.... and because it was about time for you to strike out and head back to the dugout.
Soon after, we dropped Matt off at Burger King, where his shiny truck waited to carry him home. My parents made an excuse about other plans they'd made--a lie we made come true because they're both honest people.
I let out a sigh of relief as we drove away from where he stood, open-mouthed, next to his impeccable vehicle.