This is a crippling fear, because it isn't warranted.

It is the inner flinching of events that have not yet occured.

The twitch inside the abdominal wall.

It never has to do with reality, or fixed goals, or end results.

It is one of the sensations, I think that is the reasoning behind why humans ride rollercoasters.

It is not yet love, but it is almost more annoying than love.

I never can allow myself to enjoy anything.

This sucks.

"There's something wrong in the universe when the three of us are single and Claudia's getting laid on a regular basis."

Laughter rings around the table, only slightly drowned out by the teeming masses enjoying their drinks around us and swaying to the over-loud music pouring forth from the jukebox. The blood's already rushing to my cheeks in embarrassment as I quickly raise my Guinness. Beer makes a poor shield against bitter hearts.

Amy's statement stung. What's wrong with me that something would have to be wrong with the universe for me to have someone? The rational side of my brain knows it's just that they're used to me being single, always being the one looking and coming up empty. Always being the third wheel. Maybe she's right, maybe something is wrong in the universe because somehow all of my friends have just become single at the same time.

Amy has been left broken by her relationship. She'd been living with a man who didn't love her, didn't even like her. For two years she cooked his meals, washed his clothes and treated him like her man-slave when her friends were around. Theirs was not a perfect relationship.

A year of denying that he was cheating on her, of whispered confessions of his stealing money from her wallet, trying to get her to pay his student loan payments and demanding sex had finally come to an end. Amy was leaving him. In typical Amy style she couldn't go silently, she had to make a big deal about it and let him know that she had won. He was a loser. She would retain our friendship, have a better apartment and no longer have to put up with his sweaty movements over her.

And she was taking the cat with her.

Her final victory had been a drunken exclamation at this very pub a few weeks earlier. He had followed us to our place, demonstrating to her that we would make polite space for him at the table allowing him to invade her refuge. Half standing she pronounced, "Fuck you in the goat's ass!" Not once. But twice.

Her statement then, like her statement now, drew laughter from my friends. She was their hero that night, their entertainer tonight.

"Thanks a lot."

"Oh, you know I love you baby."

"Jealous! You're just jealous cus I have a man who-"

"No one wants to hear about your romance," interrupts Beth with a roll of her eyes and a quick gulp of golden brown fire.

Beth's relationship ended when her heart was torn in half, seemingly rejected. Years of promiscuity had left her with a negative self image, a dark veil that prevents her from seeing the lovely person she is. Compliments about her cuteness go unheard; suggestions that she is girlie despite her penchant for black nail-polish and spider web stockings have her laughing in disbelief. But she wanted to end that part of her life, she'd vowed to waite for love.

In the end she'd given in when the two year object of her passion wouldn't have more than a casual relationship. It wasn't that he didn't want to be with her it was the distance, he'd told her. Lonely and wanting to feel some affection, however fleeting, she entered into the affair. Friends with benefits. Fuck buddies. She hated the labels.

He came once every two months, spent one night pleasuring her and then left. An hour was too far for him to travel more frequently. Refraining from talking about their future in one breath and asking permission to go on a date with some girl in the next was too much to ask. "You're not mine," became her mantra.

When he called her one morning, woke her from a dream-filled slumber with questions about the morning after pill, it was all over. He'd finally ripped the last remaining tendril of hope from her.

He'd left her hurt, trembling with tears she was too proud to shed. Secretly we all hate him for robbing her of her illusion and showing her the truth.

The silence from Beth's bitter outburst only lasts half a second before Crystal pipes up with "Snuggles." I hate the Sesame Street voice she uses when she mocks the affectionate words he uses. But then, she is the most bitter of them all.

Crystal is the sexy one in the group. Her senior year of high school she'd discovered make-up and was instantly transformed from a nobody to a sexually charged man-magnet. Her grey eyes and long chestnut hair could catch the attention of every man in the room, her deeply shadowed cleavage and the swaying curves of her hips would claim it.

Despite the treasure her boyfriends had in her, that something sparkly that also had brains and a good sense of humor, they dumped her. Every last one of them. She didn't have enough ambition. She wasn't committed to the relationship. She lacked the equipment they realized they needed in a mate. She heard it all.

Her only true crime in her relationships was seeking out men that needed to be "fixed," as she put it. From clothes to skills in the bedroom she found something lacking in her men that she could change. Until this last one, that is. He was perfect, any bumps in the romantic road were smoothed over by her intense feelings for him.

Then he dumped her. Ripped pleas from her throat, washed her make-up away with a torrent of tears and left her a walking shell that waited for him to come back; to forgive her for not telling him she loved him, wanted to have his children, wanted to grow old with him.

My best friend for eight years, I can't go to her for relationship advice because she always says the same thing, "How can you trust him when you can't watch him every day? Forget him, find someone closer."

In her bitter advice I hear, Men suck. They hurt me. They leave me, they'll leave you too. I don't want you to leave me all alone.

I shoot Crystal a mock-scowl, swallow some more Guinness and shake my head as the conversation finally shifts away from me, away from men and on to work. They mean well, my friends. They tease me about my budding relationship, they offer unsolicited advice and when wires have been crossed they offer shoulders and distractions from my tears. But I look at them, see what the men they have loved have done to them, and I tremble.

I can feel the panic snake across my chest in silent moments when my mind wanders to him, his warmth, the happiness I feel when with him. I look at my friends and I'm scared to death of what havoc he could wreak in my life.

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