She carried the lunches over to the table and set them down before taking a seat on the couch. “Yes, I do, but I’m nowhere near the standard of the Running on Air cast. I’d only end up embarrassing myself in front of them,” she said with a hint of self-deprecation.
She offered me one of the coffees alongside a veggie bowl. “Thanks. Next time I’ll buy.”
The polite statement was second nature, but it was only after it left my mouth that I realised I’d insinuated there’d be another lunch date.
“It’s no problem. I’ve always loved buying meals for others. It’s one of those simple kindnesses that make people happy, you know?”
“Hmm, I never thought of it like that, but you’re right. It’s always nice when someone decides to treat you, though being the man, I should probably insist on paying you back.”
She waved me away. “I don’t go in for all that. So long as things are fifty-fifty, I’m okay with it.”
“That sounds very reasonable.”
Now she smiled. “So, there’s going to be a next time?” she asked, circling back to my earlier foolish remark.
“Uh, sure,” I replied, trying not to grimace. I’d made it seem like I was dying to see her again, and she’d barely been here a few minutes.
“Cool,” she said, her smile deepening. “I was beginning to worry you’d lost interest in me since I hadn’t heard from you in two days.”
I scratched my head. “Right. Sorry about that. I’ve been busy with work.” And fretting over whether or not you’re using me to get close to the man you really want. “I also wanted to let you decide if you really wanted to see me again without being pushy. Honestly, I’m surprised you want anything to do with me after what I did,” I said, hoping that if she were concealing a hidden agenda, then this might lead her to reveal some of her true feelings about the situation.
“Well, maybe I’m crazy, but when you explained everything, it just made so much sense to me. And I could relate. If I’d been in your position, perhaps I would’ve done the same thing.”
“I doubt you’ve ever had to pretend you were someone else. You’re beautiful,” I said because it was the truth.
“Thank you, that’s very kind, but I didn’t always look like this. I was very overweight as a teenager. I still have to exercise all the time and watch what I eat to maintain a healthy balance.”
My eyebrows rose, and a few things became clearer. Was this why she hadn’t outright rejected me at the café the other day? She knew how it felt not to fit society’s conventional beauty standard? Or, in my case, to not be over six feet tall with a jawline that could cut glass and muscles bigger than my head.
“I guess we’re not necessarily what people think we are when they look at us,” I finally replied.
“Definitely not,” she agreed.
We continued chatting and were almost done eating when the door that led to the gym opened. Callum and Isaac emerged, looking like they’d both just showered after a morning of exercise. I glanced at Annabelle, but she didn’t seem to display any kind of overt reaction to seeing Callum.
“Hey, Neil,” Isaac said, looking from me to Annabelle. “Who’s your friend?”
“Isaac, Callum, this is Annabelle. Annabelle, this is Isaac and Callum,” I said, introducing them.
Annabelle shot me a little smile. “You know I already know who they are, Neil.” She stood and reached out to shake both of their hands. “I’m a gigantic fan of the show.”
Callum shot her the practiced smile he used during interviews and events. “It’s always a pleasure to meet a fan.”
“Oh, the pleasure is all mine. I actually started doing parkour because of you guys. Obviously, I’m nowhere near your skill level, but it’s a fun hobby.”
“Well, I’m glad we inspired you,” Callum replied, then glanced at me. “We’re heading out for lunch. I was going to ask you to join us, but it looks like you’ve already eaten.”
“We could always grab dessert, couldn’t we, Neil?” Annabelle said sweetly, then chuckled. “Those tiny veggie bowls never satisfy my hunger.” There was a note of eagerness in her voice that set off some alarm bells, but I tried to give her the benefit of the doubt. She was meeting two of her idols. Of course, she’d want to go and have lunch with them.
Annabelle glanced at me then in a sort of pleading way. “Sure,” I said. “Dessert sounds good.”
“Great, let’s go. I’m starving,” Isaac replied.
We grabbed our things and made the short walk down the street to the same café where Annabelle and I had first met two days ago. When we were seated at a booth in the back, I noticed she was quick to slide in next to Callum. She removed her denim jacket, revealing the tight, low-cut workout top that matched her sculpted leggings. I watched as she picked up the menu and scanned it.