(WARNING: Names have been changed to protect the innocent - and the obsessed)

He hadn't ever been with a woman. Now, I don't mean that in a crude way (although I suppose that does apply); I mean he had never been out on a date.

It wasn't like he was an ugly guy, either. In high school, Peter was lean, perhaps even lanky, but had grown nicely into his frame. His hair was a wiry mess of sandy-colored strands that seemed to go out in all directions, but he cleaned up well enough.

For Peter, though, girls were a strange, foreign object. Watching him try to navigate a party - or even a small get-together - was like watching someone walk through a minefield. Whenever a girl struck up a conversation, he had the same reaction: eyes to the floor, talking so softly it's hard to hear, and eventually ending their talk abruptly with the excuse of needing to use the facilities.

"Pete, you have got to get out of this slump," I said to him one day.
"What slump?" he replied.
"The one where you haven't had a date in ... ever."
He smiled. "I wouldn't call that a slump; more of a plateau."
"Uh huh," I responded. "Don't you have to rise up somewhat before you can plateau?"

He frowned at that.

I usually let the issue drop, however, as I was in a similar boat. My love life was not quite as glamorous as I would have liked, but at least I had experience under my belt. Pete was climbing the rungs to his mid-20s and had seemingly left his party years behind before they even started. His 21st birthday went by without much fanfare ("I don't really like the taste of alcohol, anyway"), as did his 18th ("Why buy porn when there's so much of it free online?"). He didn't get his driver's license until he was on the cusp of his 19th, when his parents forced him to ("Why can't I just take the bus around campus?").

In college, he was the weird guy across the hall that sat in his dorm room and played videogames nonstop. Unlike me, he was "the gaming guy" (although I did enjoy a round of Worms on his PC, whenever I dropped by to visit). I feared, however, that such obsessions were going to land him in Steve Carell territory.

"There's nothing for you in that little box," I once remarked, on one of my more lucid days.
Always the smartass, Pete replied, "Little? This is the Xbox! Trucks are jealous of it."

Again, I let it drop. Who was I to judge?

The last time I had seen Annabeth, she was angry.


Through the air, a box of clothing fell with a loud thump onto the cement walkway. Annabeth, apparently, was kicking out her longtime boyfriend George.

"Anna, baby, please, I'm sorry!" he yelled back up to her. Down came more clothes, and more obscenities. Now, at the time, I had no idea they were having problems. Obviously that changed very quickly.

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