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  • There are some tasks in life that are never easy and never get any easier. For example, gently letting somebody down who has a crush on you.

    I was really terrified of girls in high school. (I still am, but this is a story about high school.) Not all of this was my fault. I was young, I was nerdy, and I had terrible braces -- rubber bands, everything.

    The rest definitely was my fault. I couldn't be sure what a relationship would actually be like, so unconsciously I made certain they didn't befall me. I wore, as I was reminded earlier today, chartreuse button-up shirts, a purple Atlanta Braves hat, and Wrangler jeans. (Now those jeans would be cool, but this was before "alt-country.")

    It was such a terrifically nice town that a lot of the normal rules didn't apply. I got bullied, but my bully and I would also just hang out, playing video games or riding bikes. My first love, who was completely bemused by my love for her, would still agree to meet me for coffee and such. (Hot cocoa for me, as I didn't drink coffee.) The only revenge she took, usually, was being late.

    On one of these non-dates, she was even later than usual. An hour passed. Two hours passed. I switched from hot cocoa to chai, which never led anywhere good. It usually ended with me staying up all night, re-reading A Separate Peace. But I was too upset to care.

    As I was staring out the coffeehouse window, holding my chai unsteadily in both hands, I saw her car sauntering past. I dashed outside, but she was already much further down the street. Fortunately, you can only drive about 10 miles per hour in Fort Bragg, so I was barely able to keep up with the car, which still didn't see me. I ran, breathless, across a long series of city blocks, as the six or so people in the car partied on, oblivious.

    Finally, they got stuck at a red light. I ran up to the window, and she rolled it down, looking confused.

    "What -- didn't you -- coffee -- like two hours ago!" I said, coherently.

    "Oh God," she said. "Oh, I completely forgot." I was suddenly very aware of her five friends watching us. "But here's the thing," she added, holding up her hand. "I glued my fingers together with SuperGlue and we've been at the hospital for hours."

    I had no response prepared for this. I stood there as if covered in SuperGlue myself. The light turned green, and with that, she was gone, but not before giving me something I have used many times since, always to marvelous effect.
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