Between ten and fifteen years ago I had a stop-over in Manchester on the way home from… somewhere up north; I forget where, exactly. I know Manchester with a kind of vague familiarity which makes it seem both navigable and forbidding.

Seeing as I only had about 45 minutes to kill, rather than heading out to do anything interesting, I walked down a street I knew from Piccadilly Station, into a corner shop, and bought a sandwich, a chocolate bar, crisps, a Sprite and an issue of Batman: Legends.

On my way back to the station I pulled out my Nokia 8210 and started writing an SMS message.

[Pause while ILB feels himself age exponentially and is suddenly confronted by his own mortality. As you were.]

I’m in Manchester briefly for a stop-over from [wherever it was]. How are you doing?

My message was, as far as I was aware, loaded with subtext. There was a lot to be said in “how are you doing?”. Quite clearly, in fact, my text had a much deeper meaning. What it genuinely said was something like, “hey, I know we’re friends, but I’ve genuinely got a crush on you and I wanted to tell you that from a safe enough distance so I don’t get hit. Manchester is very far away so it seems like the right time.”

Except that was all hidden. Hopefully, however, she’d get the message. It was Valentine’s, so obviously she would.

I’m not well, she pinged back. Laid up in bed with a terrible virus – well, you’ve got to end up in bed with something on Valentine’s πŸ˜‰ I hope you are okay!

It wasn’t the message I was expecting to get back. But then again, it wasn’t a bad message, either. I was sorry to hear she was unwell, and so I thought I’d respond, trying to avoid the obvious “I’d rather it were me in your bed” comments which I would never have had the balls to send in the first place.

I’m sorry to hear that, I tapped back. Maybe I can see you soon once you feel better? Happy Valentine’s!

Yes, that seemed safe.

I swiped back in at Manchester Piccadilly and was just scanning the board for whichever train would get me southbound as soon as possible when my text alert sounded again. My heart, which was already beating painfully fast due to the fact that I’d sent an unsolicited Valentine, ricocheted around my chest for a while before it settled down enough to get my hand into my pocket.

Happy Valentine’s to you too!

I stood there in something between shock and awe. Here, on a screen in front of me, was a response to a Valentine which didn’t consist of revulsion, ignorance or outright rejection. From someone who I actually fancied. On Valentine’s Day itself. With an exclamation mark!

What could this mean?!

I found my train, got a double seat to myself, set up my lunch and fired up one of the CDs I’d brought with me to keep me entertained throughout the journey.

But I didn’t reply to her message… for I had nothing else to say.

Or, at least, I did.

But I wasn’t going to, was I?