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Dan readied his stick and plunked a ball in a side pocket. Relishing his fleeting achievement, he raised his eyes to check if Nadine had bore witness to his excellence. She hadn’t. Gruff, caustic Robert, his misshapen nose and squirrel’s nest hair coaxing annoyed leers, was directing to a general audience of three girls a crack about drunkenly seeing twelve holes and the improvement to his game that was sure to bring. Nadine was one of those girls, and Dan squelched a perturbation of despondency when he saw Nadine’s eyes shine for Robert’s boisterous wit.
Nadine was Dan’s project. He met her, he welcomed her friends, he introduced them all to his friends, he slept luxuriously fitful nights imagining Nadine warming to him and reciprocating his feelings. Kind, pretty and, lately, eager to hang out with him and his buddies, Nadine was unassailable. Dan allowed renewed confidence in the value he offered her. Soon, he would ask her out. He just needed a private moment. They’d been out together as a group enough that Dan believed Nadine was hoping he would lurch at a pretext to corner her alone and deliver the magical words she’d been secretly anticipating. Dan occasionally wondered if the moment, when it came, would be so flush with spent resolve that they would seal the agreement with a passionate (but endearingly tentative) kiss.
Dan: “D’ja see that bank shot?”
Robert: “That bank shot wasn’t good…”
PAUSE FOR DRAMATIC EFFECT
Robert: “…that bank shot was GREAT.”
Dan: *smiles weakly*
Robert: *touches Nadine’s chunky girl friend with chalky side of stick*
PAUSE FOR DRAMATIC REACTION
Chunks: “Hey! Not nice!”
Robert: “Blame Dan. He bet me I wouldn’t do it.”
Dan: “No I didn’t.”
Robert: “Come on, Dan, you’re always causing trouble. Don’t try to hide it.”
Nadine: “He doesn’t look like the one causing trouble here.”
Dan: “Thanks, Nadine.”
Robert: “I knew there was something between you two!”
Dan had always taken to understand that he was a handsome, if aesthetically understated, man. He certainly saw nothing in Nadine’s limpid gaze to suggest extended exposure to his countenance irritated her. If Dan were to count up the hours spent in Nadine’s company, (an exercise which, in point of fact, he did one evening while nervously fiddling with the bracing decision to text her one mere day after they had spoken by phone, the nerve!), the sum of their unspoken love would add to a considerable investment of life energy.
And so it was with naive expectation that Dan foresaw no interference, nor any of the usual social rifts that erupt when the sexes mix, issuing from Nadine & company’s enfolding. He was therefore emotionally denuded when Nadine’s redirected attention usurped his blueprint of steady bonding. A sickening awareness jammed his guts as he recorded the mounting toll of Robert & Nadine’s wet glances, slithery torso feints, forearm grazing entreaties, and joyously faux indignations, each a sharper dagger than the last. He sunk his last shot, and excused himself to “make a call”, which no one heard, nor needed to hear.
Seven years later, Robert would be married to a svelte, head-turner blonde, and they would reside in a charming suburb. Dan would have moved to another corner of the country, met an uninspiring but trustworthy woman, and married as well, settling in a jurisdiction not known for its disruptive temptations, but not mattering anyway. Government statistics would show that Robert worked in a high-stress field and had one child with his comely wife, and that Dan was a productive contributor to state coffers and had two children by his wife.
Acquaintances who knew Dan would say if asked that he was a happy, well-adjusted man. A real stand-up guy, a normal guy. The sort of guy who had everything going for him.