"Actually, I write all my own lines." God, I'm clever. She gives me a polite little laugh, and from there on in she's a fraction of my life, for better or worse.

"Arrogant jerk," she says with a smile and pulls me up, dragging me into the football game. "Come on."

"I don't play football," I insist pathetically, but it is too late because I have been pulled into the biomass. I understand, predictably, that there is no way out; a possible future spirals out before me where we are married and miserable in Greenwich Village, with a dog that the landlord doesn't know about. "Have you ever lived in Greenwich Village?"

"Have YOU ever lived in New York City?"

"Nah. I'm a country boy, through and through. I was raised with the cows and I'll die milking 'em just the same. The suburbs are a diversion before I go back and buy the farm. A few years after that, I really buy the farm."

She laughs. Her laugh is like the point...: It is like somebody you need very much is sitting next to you and poking you in an appropriate but intimate way. It starts to hurt, and you cannot stop them. You feel like you need this pain, that it's the price you pay for closeness, and besides, you want it a little bit. Her laugh splits my ribs like a knife and rips out all my nonessential parts.

"You're funny. I like funny guys." In my mind, thousands of brain cells die to relay to me a message. "That means that she likes you, you idiot. Say something. Grin." I grin. I'm afraid that it seems forced; I can't think of anything to say to her. Seconds tick by and she looks at me expectantly.

Quickly, quickly. "Really?" Incredibly subtly, I change the subject. "Are you going to the homecoming dance?"

"I don't know. I don't think so. I don't even have a date."

If my friends were here, they would be punching me. The entire world is fighting to penetrate the protective coating around my brain and get this one idea across. She likes you. She likes you. It doesn't matter. To me she is an inpenetrable barrier, unmovable and unchanging, a spectre of everything that I fear about the female race. She's a girl and she is all girls, and I just can't take the plunge. I can never get along with this single girl, whom I think is funny and beautiful and laughs obligingly at all my jokes. She likes me and it changes her somehow. It makes her something artificial that I can't accept.

What happens now is the traditional building of connections. I shove her into a pool. She makes fun of my friends. I am tipped over into a pile of leaves. This is an inevitable prelude to the summer, hot and sticky and vaguely uncomfortable.

Did I mention that this is my first time? It is. As is my best recollection, I've practically never even spoken to a woman about anything with more depth than the weather. Suddenly, I'm forced to draw on all the experience in humor and wit that I have, just to stop her from going away. She must be what cocaine is like; a sudden rush of pleasure and an addiction that you can't throw off.

The dance rolls around two days later, and we have a couple hours of intermittent punch bowl chatting. Things seem a little bit different, somehow. The room is hot and my sport coat's lining is starting to get damp.

By this point I can no longer sound dramatic, or smooth, or clever. At heart, I am none of these things. I am practically reduced to a gibbering heap as I stammer out "Do you wanna dance?"

Her eyes sparkle a little bit. She grins a style that suggests manipulation and says "I was hoping you'd ask."

We dance to a Lonestar song played as though it's terribly significant, as though our torrid high school lives are dramatic epics of love and tragedy, the sagas that form the base from which all inspiration flows. This is important, I convince myself. It is critical that I am here dancing with this girl. I am building the future. I am faking a box-step. We know everything now -- we are geniuses. Suddenly we understand the entire world and have found it brilliant. For two or three weeks, we are the happiest people on Earth.

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