Previous installments: Part 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16. Also check out the official Livin' Large FAQ, Cast List, Flow Chart 1.0, and Flow Chart 2.0.

"I'm sorry, what was that?" I asked. Aimee's words had been crystal clear. She had finally said what I'd been waiting for months to hear: that she wanted to be with me. But I needed to hear it again. I had to be sure.

"I want us to be together," she repeated.

"Boyfriend and girlfriend? Committed?"

"Yes," she said somewhat breathlessly.

"Wow," I said. "Hey, can I call you right back?"

"Wh...what?" She sounded utterly dumbstruck.

"I just, you know, need a few minutes to mull this over."

"Are you for real?" she asked, confusion giving way to panic. "I thought this was what you wanted? This is what you want, isn't it?"

"Uh, yeah, I think so," I said. "But like I said, I've gotta think about it."

"I can't believe this," she said.

"Right, okay, talk to you in a few." I hung up.

Now THIS was a dilemma. I had spent most of the past three years longing after two girls who had repeatedly rejected me, and now both of them were at my mercy. At the same time no less. I now got to choose between them. My head was spinning at this strange twist of fate.

Mat, who often showed an unexpected interest in my love life (or lack thereof), had been listening intently to the conversation. He was watching me expectantly.

"Now Aimee wants to date me too," I said. "Both of the girls I've always wanted want me now."

"That's cool," Mat said. "So, whatchya gonna do?"

"I have no idea," I said.

"I thought Aimee was the one you wanted to be with," he said.

"She was. She is. But now I don't know. Everything's happening so fast."

"Don't pick between 'em then," he said.


"Don't pick between 'em," he said again.

"I don't see how that could possibly work," I said.

"Didn't you tell me they don't talk? That they never gonna see each other?"

"Uh, yeah," I said.

"Then it's easy. Fuck 'em both. That way you get what you want."

I gaped at him. "I can't do that."

"You should. You're gonna regret it if you don't. Trust me." Satisfied with his sage-like advice, he put his hands behind his head and leaned back in his giant chair while a self-satisfied smile spread across his face.

That advice wasn't going to work. Maybe for Mat, but not for me. I sat back down behind my desk to think but immediately decided I wanted more input. I went next door to talk to Nathan.

"Forget for a moment who you want more. Don't let petty lust guide you," he said. "Ask yourself this: who's the better person? Who walks in the light?"

"I don't care about the light, Nathan."

"Of course you don't. Not right now, anyway. But you will," he said with the same kind of confidence Mat had when telling me to fuck them both. "Make the right choice today and you'll have fewer regrets tomorrow."

"And, just to be clear, by 'who walks in the light' you mean..."

"The Godly woman," Nathan said.

"And barring that," said Nathan's roommate, Ron, who poked his head around a book he was reading, "choose the more attractive of the two."

"Cool, thanks," I said, even though that wasn't the advice I was looking for either.

I walked down to the lobby and used the courtesy phone to call my basketball buddy Joe. He said, "Aimee's the girl you've been pursuing. Cindy sort of came back out of nowhere. It seems like you have a lot invested in Aimee and very little invested in Cindy. If it were me, I'd go with my big emotional investment and see what happens."

Next up on the call list was Susan. "I'm not going to tell you what to do," she said. "You've got to figure that out for yourself. But I don't see how you can have any faith in Aimee at this point. She's really been jerking you around. You might want to see how things go with this Cindy chick."

Okay, so that was one vote for fuck them both, one vote for the Godly woman, one vote for the hotter one, and one vote each for Aimee and Cindy. So much for coming to a consensus. You know, the thing that kills me the most about this particular memory is how I actually thought that my friends found my drama as compelling as I did. That's a teenager for you: nothing could possibly be any bigger than what they're going through at that moment.

I slumped back into the room. "You figure it out yet?" Mat asked. He seemed to be enjoying this.

"Not really," I said. Then, on impulse, "You know what? Screw it. I'm picking Aimee."

"You sure 'bout dat?" Mat said.

"Yeah. Yeah, I think I am."

I called Aimee back. I gave her my answer. We talked love and relationships late into the night.

That was Monday, November 1st. As luck would have it, Aimee had an upperclassman friend who was dating someone at my school. More importantly, that girl, Colleen, had a car and was visiting her boyfriend that Friday night. She had agreed to bring Aimee with her so we could see each other as boyfriend/girlfriend for the first time.

I was so excited that I immediately told Mat about her visit, mostly because he was the closest and most convenient human being available. "That's cool," was all he said. I briefly considered asking him to make himself scarce when she arrived, but it hardly seemed necessary. He always disappeared on the weekends. That was one of the few things I could always count on with him.

The week passed with me in a state of agitated excitement. All I could think about was Aimee's visit. Classes seemed more boring than usual. The only point of interest that week was an odd moment in my calculus class. My professor, Mr. Swenson, was the world's biggest dork. He stood about 5"4, looked like he weighed 98 pounds (assuming he had bricks in his pockets), wore giant honkin' glasses, and sported an ugly comb-over/wispy mustache combo. Worse yet, he was terribly clumsy. Professor Swenson could barely walk from one end of the chalkboard to the other without tripping, dropping a piece of chalk or fumbling an eraser to the floor.

Now, a lot of times guy like that lack self-awareness. Not Professor Swenson. He realized he was a dork and seemed to live in a constant state of embarrassment due to that knowledge. But he was confident in one area: math. So during a recitation that week, one of my classmates asked some meaningless question about some meaningless problem from one of our assignments. I was only half paying attention, so I don't remember what the question was, but I do remember Swenson saying, "I could solve that problem in two, three, perhaps even four different ways. With my ability in mathematics, I can do almost anything!"

The whole class just stood and watched him for a moment. Once again self-conscious and embarrassed, Professor Swenson went back to scribbling out answers on the board.

Friday arrived. I had only one class and I was too jittery to sit around the room, so I wandered around campus for a while and met with my German Language Club for lunch. I stopped by the APO office, left a note on the message board for Susan, signed up for a couple service events, and then went to pick up a few things for Aimee's visit. And by a few things I mean one bottle of water, a bag of chips and some chocolate chip cookies (despite the fact that Aimee didn't particularly care for cookies). I was ready for some wild times. Er, make that mild times.

When Aimee was about an hour away, I returned to the dorm and took a shower. I got shaved, dressed and put on some cologne. I made my bed and straightened up my four or five possessions. I even swept the dust bunnies off the floor and out from under my bed. As I was finishing up, Mat walked in. I checked my watch. It was almost 7 p.m. on a Friday night. Except for the weekend that Shelly had visited, I couldn't remember the last time I'd seen Mat on a Friday night. What the hell was going on?

"What's up?" I asked.

"Nuthin'," he replied.

"I mean, what's up tonight? Like, what are you doing later?"

"I don't have any plans," he said.

What? How could he not have plans? I couldn't believe it. "Seriously?" I asked.

"Seriously," he said.

This wasn't happening. It couldn't be.

"Oh come on," I said, trying to lay on some bullshit, "as popular as you are, there's gotta be something going on somewhere. A frat party or something."

"Nope," he said. "Nuthin's going on dat I know of." With that he flipped on MTV and collapsed into his giant chair.

I checked my watch again. Aimee was going to show up any minute.

"You're sure there's nothing going on?" I asked one last, desperate time.

"I'm sure," he said without looking at me.

The phone rang. It was Aimee. She was down in the lobby. I sprinted down to get her. She didn't hesitate to hug me this time. "So," she said with a sly smile, "want to take me up to your room?"

"Yeah, about that," I said, "Mat's there."

"What? Seriously?" she said.

"Seriously," I said. "And he won't leave."

"I thought you told me he was never around on the weekends."

"He usually isn't," I said. "But he claims there's nothing going on tonight."

Aimee was incredulous. "It's Friday night at one of the biggest colleges in the state."

"Yeah, I know," I said. "Trust me, he'll get bored and leave eventually." I hoped so anyway.

Holding hands, we walked back to the room. Mat was still there watching MTV. He barely acknowledged us when we walked in. We sat on my bed talking quietly for a few minutes when an idea hit me. "Hey," I said, "let me introduce you to some of my friends."

Friday night was when my roleplaying group usually met. The roleplaying sessions almost always took place in Duke's room. Duke was an R.A. in a section of the dorm called "The Basement." That meant Duke had a bigger room than most other R.A.'s. He took advantage of the extra living space by bringing in a sectional couch, which made his room pretty awesome by dorm standards. Anyway, I took Aimee down there and introduced her to my motley crew of friends. Nathan was wearing shorts and suspenders. BadDave was in his ever-present sweat pants / t-shirt combo. And Ron -- the same fat guy who had accidentally walked into my room wearing a too-small towel on my first weekend at college -- had squeezed his extra-large caboose into black spandex pants with a large lavender stripe down the side of each leg. And he was wearing a skin-tight white t-shirt.

"Welcome to the den of rogues and fools," Ron said. That's nerd talk for "Hello." Then everybody took turns introducing themselves.

I have to admit, I was a little embarrassed. The group hadn't seemed quite this dorkrageous until there was a living, breathing girl in their midst. I was afraid Aimee would judge me by the appearance of the company I kept. But she didn’t. In fact, she thought the guys were funny and kind of cool. It shouldn’t have surprised me that she’d like geeks. She was now dating me, after all.

That visit killed about an hour, after which Aimee and I journeyed back up to my room in the hope that Mat had wandered off to wherever he usually wandered. No such luck. Apparently, he was serious about spending this Friday night -- of all Friday nights -- in our room.

Grasping at straws, I called my buddy Joe, who had himself recently started dating a girl named Andrea. I quickly explained the situation. He said, "Tell you what, why don't we do a double date?"

Aimee and I met Joe and Andrea at the Ben & Jerry's that used to be at the edge of campus. Each couple told the story of how we’d met and how we’d come to be dating (although Joe already knew most of my story) over the dreaded Vermonster. Then we took a nighttime stroll across campus.

All of a sudden, it was almost midnight. Aimee started tugging on my sleeve, which is the universal signal for "Let's ditch your friends and go back to your room." So we did.

When we got there, my room was empty. Mat was gone! I very nearly let out a whoop of joy. I snuck Aimee into the bathroom across the hall so she could brush her teeth and pee. I only had to forestall one bleary-eyed guy. "Hey, could you wait for a second? My girlfriend’s in there," I said, feeling a little too proud of myself. He just grunted and waited for her to finish what she was doing.

After Aimee came out of the bathroom, she said, "Can you give me a minute to go in and change?" All I could think of was her getting naked in my room. I literally felt like I was going to explode.

"Yeah," I said, trying my damnedest to play it cool, "no problem."

While I was standing outside my room wondering what she was planning to change into (or, hopefully, just out of), I heard something. A sound coming from down the stairs and one hallway over. It was somebody whistling. It was somebody whistling Bob Marley.

"No," I muttered. "No. It can’t be..."

But then the whistling stopped and became a telltale chanting: "You got da horse race, you got da human race, but dis is da rat race…raaaaaaaat raaaaaaaace."

And then Mat's huge, shaved head popped up out of the stairwell. All I could do was stare at him as he lumbered my way. He actually made it as far as reaching for the doorknob before I could say, "Whoa, wait! Aimee's changing in there!"

"Oh, sorry," he said, and he turned around and went into the bathroom.

I knocked on the door. Aimee popped her head out. "Mat's here."

"You're kidding," she said.

"I really wish I was."

Her head disappeared back into the room and the door closed. When Mat came out of the bathroom, I knocked and asked if she was decent. She said she was, so we both walked in. Aimee was now wearing a pair of my sweatpants and one of my sweatshirts. I had a feeling that wasn't her original plan.

"So," I said, and it was really hard to disguise my irritation, "couldn't find anything to do?"

"Nope," he said. Then he picked up a phone and ordered a pizza, a sure sign he wasn't going anywhere. Aimee and I just looked at each other. We spent the next hour just snuggling on my bed and talking quietly. When the pizza came, Mat offered us some. Aimee and I shared a piece. After he finished eating the rest of the pizza, he turned off the TV and said, "You goin' to bed?" We said we were, so he turned out the lights.

My roommate -- the man who had been livin' large all semester -- was at home and in bed by 1:30 a.m. on a Friday night. That had never happened before...and it never happened again while we lived together. If I could shoot lasers with my eyes, there would still be a burning crater where Mat had been that night.

Aimee laughed softly. "I can't believe he's still here," she whispered. "It's almost like he doesn't want to leave."

"I have no idea what's going on," I whispered back. "I hope he walks in front of a bus tomorrow."

"Ssssh," she said. "Let's just make the best of it." And we did. No, we didn't have sex. But we had one of those marathon, hours-long make out sessions that college kids are famous for. At one point, I remember thinking it was kind of ironic that, for once, I was in bed fooling around while Mat slept alone five feet away. But that thought was mercifully brief. The rest of the time, my mind was elsewhere.

The next morning, Aimee woke up sick as a dog. She had a sinus infection, although we didn't know it at the time. I didn't have any medicine in my room, so I had to wander around until I found a pharmacy. (I would late discover there was a small pharmacy only five minutes away.) I bought Robotussin, cough drops, decongestant, Kleenex…basically anything that had the words "cold" or "cough" on it.

I got back about 40 minutes later (I ran back from the pharmacy). Aimee was miserable. Mat was still asleep. I doctored my new girlfriend up as best I could and then watched her sleep a little more. That was a real novelty to me.

Aimee woke up around noon, and Mat work up shortly after her. He turned on the television and resumed his silent MTV vigil. Was he ever going to leave??

Collen called around one o'clock. She was heading back to Butler soon...and Aimee had to go with her. I ushered Mat out of the room so Aimee could change. The only thing she changed was her shirt. "I'm taking your sweats," she said, smiling. "They smell like you."

"I really hope that's a good thing," I said. She probably had no idea how many times I'd passed gas in those sweats, a fact I kept secret.

I walked her to the front of the dorm, where we hugged and kissed until Collen pulled up. We said our sad goodbyes and I watched my girlfriend drive off. I felt empty.

By the time I got back to the room, Mat was gone. He didn't return until Monday. I was furious all day on Saturday, wondering why in the hell he couldn't have disappeared on Friday so that Aimee and I could have had the room to ourselves.

Then it hit me. I thought about all those times I was home studying when Mat might have wanted a little solitude, the times I studied or tried to sleep through his many romantic encounters...encounters that might have been best enjoyed without me hanging around. By staying in the room the one and only chance I had to see my brand new girlfriend, was Mat getting me back for the many inconveniences I had put him through?

That was the first time it occurred to me: if Mat was the villain in my story, maybe I was the villain in his.

Part 18

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Previous installments: Part 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15. Also check out the official Livin' Large FAQ, Cast List, Flow Chart 1.0, and Flow Chart 2.0.

"A dance?" I asked. "What kind of dance?"

"IUK is throwing a Halloween party," Cindy said. "There's going to be dancing, a bonfire, a hayride, stuff like that."

"Are people dressing up?"

"Oh geez, yeah, I can't believe I forgot to mention that part," she said. "Yeah, everybody is supposed to come in costume."

"Sounds pretty cool," I said.

"Yeah, it really does," she said. "So...will you be my date?"

She said it. She used the D-word. I could tell this was serious. Not necessarily because of her vocabulary choice, but based on the way she said it: with an equal combination of pointed emphasis and fear of rejection. I knew that two-hit combo well. This wasn't just one of those "I don't want to go by myself so I'm going to ask a friend to come along" things. This was a date date.

I didn't respond immediately, and she started to get nervous. "That's a 'no' isn't it?"

"No. I mean, no, it's not a 'no' exactly," I said. "I just...can I call you back?"

"Uh, yeah, sure, that's fine," she said, sounding confused and a little hurt.

"Great, call you right back. Bye." I hung up.

I hated to leave Cindy hanging like that, but I needed a minute to recover. Aimee had just dropped the L-bomb on me, and then Cindy immediately followed it up with a D-bomb. All things being equal, Aimee's admission by far trumped Cindy's request. But I had no idea what Aimee actually meant when she said she loved me. Was it a friendly love? A romantic love? A "I don't want to commit to you but I don't want to lose you to somebody else" love? I needed more information before I could proceed.

"I didn't expect to hear from you again tonight," Aimee said. "But I'm happy to hear your voice."

"Yeah, I know, I'm totally unpredictable," I said. I felt rushed. For some reason, I could hear a clock ticking on Cindy's date offer. Would she ask somebody else if I didn't get back to her pretty soon? Did I care? I mean, I wanted to date Aimee. Not just date, either, I wanted her to be my girlfriend. But if she wouldn't commit to me, then I had to start moving on...and a date with Cindy might be the baby steps I needed. It was time to get down to brass tacks.

"So look," I started, "I'm not trying to make a big deal out of this, but when you said you loved me earlier tonight, what did you mean exactly?"

"Love means love, Matt," she said. I thought she sounded wary.

"Right, sure, okay," I said. "But seriously, what does that mean?"

"I don't know what you're asking," she said. Okay, she definitely sounded wary.

"It's like this," I said, undaunted by her wariness, "there are two different kinds of love. One kind of love is the same as liking somebody, only you like them a lot. The other kind makes you want to kiss and hug and have sex and get married and live happily ever after. So when you say you love me, I need to know which one it is."

"Why are you making a big deal out of this?" she asked, and I could tell she didn't want to answer.

"Because I need to know. Right now."

"You know, things were just getting better between us..." she began.

"Right now, Aimee. Tell me."

"I don't know, okay!" she blurted out. "I don't know."

"Well," I said, feeling like I'd just been punched in the face, "that kind of answers my question. Doesn't it?"

"I don't know," she said again, and her voice sounded very small.

A few minutes later, I was back on the phone with Cindy. "I'd love to go to that Halloween dance with you."

The dance was the following Saturday, so I called my mom and arranged for her to bring me home for the weekend. The only problem now was what to do about a costume. I hadn't celebrated Halloween since I was 11 or 12 years old, and my last few costumes had been me dressing up as me and asking for candy. I didn't even know where to get a costume. These days, Halloween stores pop up all over the place during October and even as early as September. In fact, Chicago has a few Halloween stores that are open all year. But back in the early 90s, the options were limited to a half dozen generic selections at the local grocery store or Target. And most of those didn't stock merchandise until a week or two in advance.

It's kind of funny, considering I've spent the last few years assembling movie-accurate reproductions of Ghostbusters, Indiana Jones and Captain Jack Sparrow costumes, but I was at a complete and total loss. Fortunately, my mom had a custom-made Dracula cape left over from her younger days. It had been a little too big for her, which meant it was only slightly too small for me. I combined that with a red silk shirt and a pair of black dress pants I already had, and my mom made me a cummerbund out of some material she picked up from JoAnne Fabrics. Just like that, I had a vampire costume made easy.

In the meantime, I explained the whole situation to Mat, mostly because I was obsessed by it and needed to get things off my chest. "Dese girls don't know each other, do dey?" He asked.

"Well, yeah. We all went to high school together," I said.

"But do dey talk?"


"And will dey ever talk?"

"I don't think so," I said.

"Perfect," he said. "Always keep at least two girls on de line. That way, you always have a backup."

I was tempted to laugh, but Mat was being completely serious. Then too, he wasn't just giving out advice...he was living it.

The week dragged by as slowly as possible. Around the middle of the week, Susan and I met for lunch at her dorm. She was going on and on about her new boyfriend Rick when I dropped the fact that I was going out on a date with Cindy.

"Who's that?" she asked.

"A friend from high school," I said.

"What happened to Aimee?" she asked.

"Dead. Tragic smelting accident."

"Shut up," Susan said. She didn't sound nearly as amused by my joke as I thought she should be.

"I guess I just got tired of waiting around for her," I said. "I figured it was time to start dating other people."

"Huh," Susan said. "Well, good for you." She didn't sound nearly as happy for me as thought she should be.

On Thursday night, Aimee made one of her rare phone calls. "What are you doing this weekend?" she asked.

To that point, I had been pretty open with Aimee about what I did and didn't do with other girls, but I figured she'd freak if I told her I was going on a date with Cindy. So just I told her I was going home for the weekend.

"Great," she said. "I'm going home too!"

"Oh, uh, really?" I said.

"Yeah," she said. "I was hoping you'd say you were going home. I just had a feeling."

"Right. Well, just so you know, I'm hanging out with Greg and Gauvin on Saturday night."

"Oh," she said. "Well, we can hang out Friday night though, right?"

"Yeah, absolutely."

I hung up and struggled with this strange new reality: in a matter of days, I had effectively gone from no girls to one too many.

On Friday night, I drove my old '78 Plymouth Fury over to Aimee's house. That car was so incredibly loud -- the entire exhaust system had fallen out durinng my senior year in high school -- that I used to put it in neutral, kill the engine and let it coast the last block or so to her house, just so her parents wouldn't think my piece of shit car was a piece of shit car. When I left, I would put it in neutral and push it a block or two before starting it back up. Believe me, that wasn't easy. But I loved that car.

Anyway, Aimee and I went for a walk in nearby Highland Park, then spent the rest of the evening sitting on her front porch and talking about this and that. Neither of us brought up the subjects of love or dating, although it was on both of our minds.

On Saturday night, I got dressed up in my vampire costume and then asked my mom how it looked.

"It needs makeup," she said.


"Yeah, white face makeup," she said.

"I don't want to wear makeup."

"You have to, or you won't look very vampire-like," she said. "Don't worry, I'll help you."

"Mom, I really don't want to wear makeup."

"I'm not giving you a choice," she said.

So my mom painted my face bone white. "Now," she said, "a little red lipstick."

"What?! Why?"

"It'll make it look like you just bit somebody," she answered.

"Or it'll make me look like a cross dresser."

She signed. "You won't look like a cross dresser. Trust me."

I trusted her...and ended up looking like a cross dresser in a vampire costume. To her credit, though, she did make some fake blood out of corn syrup and red food coloring. She used it to make a fake blood trail from the side of my mouth down my chin. That helped, although I still wasn't thrilled with my new look.

Cindy, however, loved it. "You look awesome!" she said. I figured either she was lying or somebody had just jammed their thumbs in her eyes, resulting in temporary blindness or at the very least blurred vision.

Sadly, this was before Halloween costumers had perfected the Slutty [Whatever] costume. You know: Slutty Nurse, Slutty Librarian, Slutty Cat Girl, Slutty Information Development Specialist. So Cindy was dressed as a mime, which I have to admit was pretty terrifying. Her costume consisted of black pants, a black, long-sleeved t-shirt, white clown gloves, and face makeup. Ah, the glory of the homemade costume. Did I mention I find mimes terrifying?

The dance turned out to be almost entirely dance-free. As in, nobody wanted to actually get down and boogey. Instead, we contented ourselves with wolfing down candy and snacks (well, I did anyway) and mingling with the other partygoers around the bonfire. Cindy introduced me to several of her classmates, and the introductions were telling. She wasn't introducing me as some random friend. She was introducing me in that super-excited we-might-be-dating-soon voice that people get when they're on the verge of a new relationship. I found I was kind of okay with that.

Since this was Indiana, the night ended with a hayride. In case you grew up within 100 miles of civilization and therefore have never been on or heard of a hayride, it's when several people clamber up into a wagon full of hay and just ride around in it. I know. Quaint, right?

During the ride, Cindy leaned against me and put her head on my shoulder in what I would eventually learn is the universal sign of the smitten girl. Again, I was okay with that.

I drove Cindy home with the intention of just dropping her off. After all, it was late (a little after 1 a.m.) and I didn't want to disturb her parents. However, she insisted I come inside for a few minutes. It turned out her parents were still up, because her mother greeted us at the door. I will always remember that her mom had this knowing look on her face, because, of course, she knew something I didn't: that I was about to get The Pitch.

We sat down on the couch in Cindy's living room. She took my hand but looked down at the ground. "Matt," she began, "I know you've got a lot going on. I know there may be other people you want to date. I know we have a history where I didn't always appreciate you the way that I should have. But I have very deep feelings for you. I can't deny them anymore and I don't want to. I want to be with you, Matt. I want us to be together." She then looked at me with her dark brown eyes. They were glistening.

Despite the drama of the moment, I almost laughed because of the bizarre tableau stretching out before me. A white-faced mime was making romantic overtures to a white-faced vampire on the couch at her parent's house. And the mime looked so very solemn. If I could go back in time, I'd totally ask why so serious?

"Cindy, that's very flattering," I said, trying to be delicate. "But I'm going to have to think about this."

"I understand," she said. "And I'll wait as long as it takes."

She then moved in to kiss me, but I pulled away. Not because I didn't want to kiss her at that moment, but because I was afraid doing so would seal the deal so to speak. I felt like kissing her would more or less mean to her that we were dating seriously. That's just how she was (or so I thought). I wasn't quite ready to go there just yet. Instead we just hugged, said our goodnights, and I went home in a daze.

Aimee called the next morning and asked if I'd come by her place before I returned to school. I agreed, mostly because I thought (or hoped) that she'd say or do something to help resolve this mess. Of course, that didn't happen. All that happened is that we ate breakfast while chatting about meaningless whatevers as I became increasingly tense.

When it came time for me to leave, Aimee walked me to my car. I tried to give her a hug but she pulled back. "You're not going to hug me? Seriously?!" I was really offended.

"I don't feel comfortable doing that," she said.

"Jesus Christ! You've got to be kidding me. That's it. I'm done. I'm done waiting for you to make up your mind. I love you, but this has gotten too ridiculous to put up with. Have a nice trip back to school." I was so angry I not only started my too-loud car in front of her house, I gunned the engine as I drove away.

My mom took me back to school. When I returned to the room, Mat wasn't there. Thankfully, none of my things had been disturbed. I tried to study, but I couldn't. I thought about calling somebody, but I didn't want to talk to anyone. Instead, I went down to the dorm grill, bought a couple hamburgers and spent the evening watching old Celtics games. Mat got home around 2 a.m. He wasn't alone. I wrapped my pillow around my head and did my best to sleep through it.

I walked through the next day in a fog. That evening, I was studying (as usual) while Mat was spending one of his rare evenings chilling in the room by himself. The phone rang, and it was Cindy. She just wanted to check in and see how I was doing...and ask whether I'd thought any more about what we'd talked about. I told her I had but still hadn't made a decision.

It occurred to me after I'd hung up that I needed to tell Cindy yes or no very soon. Otherwise, I would be stringing her around the same way Aimee had been stringing me around. I didn't want to do that to anybody else. It hurt too much. I resolved to sleep on it and make my final decision the next day. At that moment, I was starting to seriously consider doing it. However, I never got the chance to sleep on my decision, because a little while later the phone rang. It was Aimee.

"I want us to be together," she said.

Part 17

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points negotiator

points negotiator (pointz ni-goh'-shee-eyt'-uhr) noun. The player or players in a pickup basketball game who are trusted and allowed to pass judgment on any scoring discrepancies.

Usage example: Many times, older players are given the role of points negotiator.

Word usage: It never ceases to amaze me how difficult it is for people to keep track of the score during a pickup game. As far as I've been able to determine, the whole 1-pointer/2-pointer scoring system was invented for the sole purpose of making it easier to score the games. Despite the use of the most basic math possible, scoring discrepancies occur with ridiculous frequency...and few things cause more heated conflict on the pickup court.

When a scoring discrepancy happens, both sides feel they're getting screwed. Nobody ever just laughs it off as a simple mistake that can be easily remedied. The interpretation is that points are being stolen, and with the way people behave during the ensuring debate, you'd think the fate of humankind was riding on the outcome. And I'm not even talking about the outcome of the game. I mean who gets to win the argument about what the "correct" score is.

Many times, these disputes are settled by which team screams the loudest or acts the most ready to solve things through a fistfight. Other times, both teams choose to abide by the ruling of a points negotiator. The points negotiator typically is someone who is known, liked and respected by most of the players. As such, points negotiation usually happens in weekly pickup leagues. It can also happen in generic pickup games with savvy players who give off an aura of authority.

Points negotiators are usually older players, the general assumption being that they are wiser and more mature, and therefore better able to think and react logically. This isn't true whatsoever, but cultural ideology often takes over when conflict resolution is necessary.

Aside from the age factor (which isn't a constant), a points negotiator must have a reputation for making fair calls most of the time. Furthermore, they should have a history free of being on the wrong side of point shaving incidents. Once a player has bungled the score a few times, they lose all point tracking credibility until player turnover reaches 80 to 90 percent.

Moreover, points negotiators must have the ability to remain calm in the face of conflict. If they start cussing and yelling, the other players will lose faith in their ability to remain logical and emotionally detached from the eventual outcome. A single sneer or chuckle of disgust can appear sinister, which will lead some players to conclude that the points negotiator has some specific vested interest in the final decision. And even though that is often the case, people are often comforted by the delusion of impartiality.

Now this final point is very important. A points negotiator will many times be forced to make a ruling he either isn't sure about or knows is incorrect. Dubious decisions are made because a points negotiator is, after all, human and might not have been closely tracking the score. Incorrect rulings are made because sometimes the only way to keep the peace is to let a given team have their way, either because they've been losing all night or because most of the calls have been going against them. Sometimes making everybody happy is more important than the final score.

Unless you're on the team that got hosed.

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Everybody and his or her little brother has covered Stephon Marbury's rambling Web stream, so I won't bother to provide additional commentary on his continuing decent into babbling madness. What I will provide, however, is a few of my favorite quotes from World Wide Steph. I invite you to submit your own favorite quotable(s) from his recent Internet rant. I'll collect the best submissions and append them to this post in a special fan section.

"No, I'm not the best player in the NBA. Kobe Bryant is the best player. I don't care about the NBA Those days are over with."

"I'm going to set up a foundation for the world. I'm going to take the money and start building cities all over the world. I'm a comet. My man told me I'm a comet. I said, 'I’m a comet?'"

"My kids are like: Daddy, why are you on the bench? Why ain't daddy in the game?"

"I had to overconversate."

"Where would I want my jersey retired? Boston."

"Chris Paul, he got power and he slither, he slither...he move real silky like a snake."

"I'll be a bum for seven dollars and a blowjob? Hahahahaaha. They tryin to put me in a box! Its impossible!"

"Jeanie Buss, I love her with all my heart. I’d take my heart out and give it to her. That’s how ill she is. I love that lady."

"I love Canada. Ohhhh Can-a-da.... I love that song. I love your anthem. I love hearing it. Its fresh."

"You've gotta thank 'em for a bowel movement. You've gotta thank 'em for a bowel movement."

"Am I jealous of Tracy McGrady and Jason Kidd? Jealous of what?"

"Marbury you suck and won't win a championship? Ok, you still talking about basketball and I'm talking about LIFE."

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Previous installments: Part 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14. Also check out the official Livin' Large FAQ, Cast List, Flow Chart 1.0, and Flow Chart 2.0.

For the next few days, I was still stunned by from Mat's near fail-out-of-school experience. The whole situation was bizarre to me: the dude hadn't been going to class, turning in homework or taking tests. And yet, against all reason, he'd been allowed back into all his courses with a "C" so long as he attended "most" of the rest of his classes and did his homework. It was cheating. It was wrong.

It's also the way the world works, which is a lesson I had to learn sooner or later. We live in a society where, for example, a professional athlete can receive a mere slap on the wrist for running down a meter maid in a car with marijuana in it. Simply put, there are different sets of rules for different kinds of people. And right then, Mat was the kind of person for whom the rules were extra bendy.

Meanwhile, I watched one of my fellow non-athletes get kicked out of freshman calculus for missing three classes despite the fact that he was pulling a solid "B" at the time.

Now, it was true that I hated the Heineken light, the constant sexcapades, the fact that Mat stayed up all night while I was trying to sleep, etc. However, I was beginning to realize that the primary reason I didn't like my roommate was because his very existence violated my sense of right and wrong. Mat wasn't evil. He wasn't drowning kittens or drop-kicking babies. (Not as far as I knew anyway.) But he was perfectly content to lie, cheat and/or steal to get what he wanted regardless of who got hurt...which was exactly the opposite of how I was trying to live my own life. In the words of Dr. Perry Cox, Mat was a bastard-coated bastard with bastard filling. This point was driven home shortly after the near fail-out.

I had been wondering how Mat was able to call Shelly long distance so often. I was working about 20 hours a week for the dorm's food service and I could barely cover my long distance calls to Aimee (along with a few other petty expenses). Mat wasn't working at all. Sure, he'd gotten a handful of cash gifts from "concerned" alumni, but he was always buying things. How could he afford it all?

Petty larceny, that's how.

At the time, the dorms at my college assigned each student a long distance security code through AT&T. This code could be used on any phone at any dorm. Whenever you dialed a long distance number, the phone system prompted you to enter your 10-digit security code. At the end of each month, you received the bill based on the calls made using that code. If you didn't pay, the service was cut off.

Well, unbeknownst to me, Mat had maxed out his own long distance service the first month of school and simply hadn't paid the bill. Suddenly, he couldn't call his girlfriend in California (or his girlfriend in Conneticut, or his friends and family in Holland, etc.). So what's a ballah to do?

Here's what: he stole somebody else's security code. Not mine. I would have figured that out almost immediately. So if it wasn't me, then who? Well, remember when I bailed on Mat on Labor Day weekend and he had some guy from down the hall "fill in" for me? Sometime after that incident, Mat was hanging out with him in his room and, you know, snuck off with the guy's security code card.

Apparently, this guy didn't make many long distance calls, so it took him a while to realize there was a problem. When he finally opened his bill, it was several hundred dollars. Naturally, he freaked. The guy called AT&T and reported that his security code had been stolen. This initated an investigation into the calls that had been made...a few of which (short ones) had been to Holland. To his credit, the guy was able to put two and two together, so he called off the AT&T hounds and confronted Mat directly.

At first, Mat flatly denied doing anything. But when the guy threatened to report the theft of his security code to the campus police, Mat quickly agreed to pay the bill. (Of course, he had to use the poor guy's code one last time so he could call his parents and ask for the money.) Mat seemed a little shaken up by the incident, possibly because it happened right after he'd almost failed out of all his classes (which would have resulted in the loss of his scholarship).

Once he'd recovered a little, Mat said (mostly to himself I think), "I gotta get my shit in order." At first, I took that to mean he was going to start, I don't know, working hard and acting more responsibly. (Getting a job was supposedly out of the question; he claimed that his scholarship restrictions prevented him from seeking employment.) I really should have known better by that point.

Here's what Mat did about his money situation. First, he told Shelly she was gong to have to make all the phone calls from now on. He did the same thing for anyone else who called him long distance. Mat also asked his parents for a little cash influx, and he got Jennifer to make some of his semi-regular purchases.

With the money problem solved, Mat turned his attention to his studies. There was no way to get out of attending his classes, but he apparently had no intention of doing his homework. Like, none at all. So Mat found a handful of little workarounds. For instance, he traced a picture out of a comic book to complete an art class assignment. He copied -- word-for-word -- the lyrics for a song out of a Dutch rock album to complete a poetry assignment for his English class. He found a few girls willing to complete his math homework and various other assignments. These girls even did their best to mimic his clumsy scrawl.

As he cobbled together his little system, I was equal parts disgusted and amused. Disgusted at the academic dishonesty and amused by the fact that he was expending almost as much energy cheating as it would take to just get everything done himself.

While all this was going on, I received a jarring bit of news: Susan had started dating somebody. Like, seriously dating. His name was Rick, and I hated him sight unseen. I had no right to feel this way, of course. It's not like I'd done, well, anything at all. Susan wasn't someone who was going to remain single for very long, so I'm not sure what I expected. Still, her sudden attached status combined with the chilly relations with Aimee did a number on me. I was totally bummed.

That night, I asked Nathan if I could use his computer. I logged on and started chatting with Latrisse. Aimee didn't come up. The chat lasted so long that Nathan and his roommate Ron went to bed about halfway through. (Nathan told me I could continue using the computer as long as I wanted.) The chat became very flirtatious, particularly after Latrisse showed me how to chat in a private room. Flirting led to a little game of roleplaying. I don't remember all the details, but I do remember that her "character" was dressed as Shanna the She-Devil. That and the roleplaying became a wee bit naughty.

Eventually, the computer lab Latrisse was using kicked her out, so I started browsing the newsgroups, which I had only recently discovered. I was about two pages into a particularly steamy story when Nathan's voice drifted down from the darkness of his loft.

"Matt," he said, "I know what you're doing. I understand why you're doing it, and I admit I've done the same thing. However, those newsgroups are bad for your mind and soul. I would strongly advise you to stop reading them."

I turned off his computer and slunk out of the room without a word. I didn't ask to use his computer again for a few weeks.

The next evening, I was in the room working on a paper about medieval witchcraft when I got two phone calls.

The first call was from Aimee. "Latrisse was telling me you guys chatted for a couple hours last night."

"Oh...really?" I said. All Latrisse and I had done was some naughty flirting (and it was actually pretty innocent by today's standards), it wasn't out-and-out chat sex or anything, but I still felt guilty.

"Yeah," she said, and it became clear she wasn't upset or angry. If anything, she sounded sad. "It made me realize that...I miss you. I miss you a lot."

"Uh, that'," I said.

"Cool, right. Anyway, can we please start talking again?"

Please? She was asking me to please start talking to her again?

"Yeah, I think we can do that," I said.

"Yay!" she said in a girly squeal.

So we caught up on recent events -- she was thrilled to hear Susan was dating someone -- and then, shortly before we hung up, she said, "Matt, I do love you, you know."

I was floored. "I...I love you too."

"I probably won't say it all the time or anything, but I wanted you to know," she said. "Anyway, I need to study. Talk tomorrow?"

"Yeah, yeah for sure," I said, and we hung up.

I was still recovering from that call, just sitting at the desk and staring into space, when the phone rang again. It was Cindy.

"So," she said, sounding as if she was working up some major courage, "would you be interested in going to a dance with me?"

Part 16

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Previous installments: Part 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13. Also check out the official Livin' Large FAQ, Cast List, Flow Chart 1.0, and Flow Chart 2.0.

"These breadsticks are the best," Susan said. As if to drive home that point, she tore off another piece of one, stirred it around in some cheese sauce, and popped it in her mouth. It probably says something about me at the time that I found watching her eat breadsticks mildly erotic. Of course, I was 18 years old. The way my hormones were raging back then, I would have found watching Susan floss or perform simple math to be a turn on.

She was right though: those breadsticks were the best. Back when I was at college, there was a humble little pizza place called the Stripe Shop located in the basement of the Memorial Union. It was classic, and a favorite of the students who camped out in the Union all day to study. It has since been replaced by a diner, which I felt (and still feel) was an affront to humanity. Things change, I guess. Hell, there's even a freaking Starbucks in the Union now. That's not right.

But the here and now is not part of this story. And back in the day, Susan loved to study in the basement of the Union, munching breadsticks and kicking back in one of the many uncomfortable all-wood booths located across from the Stripe Shop. Although I much preferred to study in my room, the chance to hang out with my pledge sister occasionally lured me out of the Mat Cave for some very valuable fresh air. If you could call the confines of that slightly musty basement "fresh air."

"So," Susan asked as I crammed most of a breadstick into my mouth (she had a real talent for making inquiries when my mouth was full), "what's going on with Aimee?"

I had told Susan all about Aimee of course. I suppose a smoother cat would have played coy (read that: lied) and told the girl he was crushing on that he was single and in no particular hurry to be tied down. Not me. No sir, most definitely not me. About a half-second after Susan had asked me if I was dating anybody, I spilled my guts, telling her The Aimee Saga from beginning to end. Not only was this move self-defeating -- there's no better way to kill a girl's interest than to tell her you're in all-out, crazy love with someone else -- it was way too much information. The end result was that Susan developed an instant dislike for Aimee (as did most people I explained the situation to), although she would sometimes ask about the status of our relationship out of what I'm guessing was morbid curiosity. After all, monitoring the situation was like watching a clown car smash headfirst into an oncoming train.

I hesitated. Aimee and I hadn't spoken since our little blowup, and it was embarrassing to admit that what we had might be over for good, both because I had gone on and on and on about how much I loved her and because what we'd had was, well, nothing. It felt like we'd broken up, but, generally speaking, you have to be dating somebody to have a breakup. It's sort of like how you can't play a game of basketball without a basketball.

"Uh, well, we're not exactly talking right now," I said.

"Is there a difference between 'not talking' and 'not exactly talking' or am I missing something?" Susan asked. I couldn't tell if she was curious or being sarcastic. Looking back, it might have been a little of both.

"No. We're just not talking," I admitted reluctantly.

I wouldn't say Susan looked happy, but she certainly appeared satisfied by the news. "That's a relief."

"What's that supposed to mean?" I said, getting offended. Again, someone with even a hint of smoothness might have tried to turn this situation to his advantage while talking to the girl he was crushing on. Instead, I got angry and defensive.

"Well, she wasn't very nice to you. She wasn't horrible to you or anything, but she didn't act like someone who wanted to date you, which is what you wanted. Isn't it better to get all that out of the way so you can move on and date someone else?"

Again, this was a perfect opportunity. Not only was she right, she was also the girl I was crushing on. But instead of hitting on her, I insulted her. "You don't understand what I'm going through. I bet you've never even been in love," I said.

Yeah. That was the wrong thing to say.

"Uh, I think I have a little more experience with love than you do," she said. Then she whacked me between the eyes: "And I've actually been loved back."

I deserved that, of course, but I wish she would have done something more merciful, like kick me in the groin.

I must have looked stricken, because Susan immediately apologized and tried to make me feel better by offering me the rest of the breadsticks. It was too late, though. My mood was now a particularly dark shade of black, so I returned to the dorm feeling much, much worse than the shit I'd been feeling like when I left.

When I got back to the room, Mat was in a state of manic panic. He was pacing around our tiny living space saying "Fuck me fuck me fuck me fuck me" over and over again like a mantra. Whatever was up had him so distracted he didn't even notice me come in. (Or maybe he noticed and just didn't car). He kicked over the trash can. He dug his fingers into the top of his head, which was slick with sweat. He screamed out loud.

Meanwhile, I stood in the doorway transfixed. My giant-of-a-man roommate looked like Scooby Doo during a chase scene. All I could think was: what could possibly freak out a seven-foot, 300-pound black belt in Judo? Was there a band of ninja assassins on the way? Killer robots? Godzilla?

"Dude," I said finally, unable to control my burgeoning curiosity, "are you okay? What's up?"

"Aw, fuck me!" Mat said. He looked totally helpless, on the verge of tears even. "I'm out. I'm kicked out!"

He'd been kicked out?! I felt this crazy surge of excitement. "What? Why?" I asked. I needed all the details. Not because I cared or anything like that, but because I wanted to make sure he'd really been kicked out before I got my hopes up.

"My teachers called, all of dem," he said. "I guess dey've been calling for duh last couple weeks. Dey failed me, man. Dey failed me out for not going to class!"

"All of them?" I asked.

"Yes!" he said and I honestly thought he was going to cry. "I didn't know, man, I didn't know!"

"Didn't know you were supposed to go to class?"

"I didn't know you could get kicked out for not going!" he said, knocking some books off his desk.

"What are you going to do?" I asked, hoping that he'd say something like "pack my things and take the next flight back to Holland."

"Aw, fuck me, I gotta call Coach D." Coach D was the assistant coach in charge of recruiting. From what I'd gathered by talking to Mat, he also spent a fair amount of time monitoring the freshman players because, well, he'd recruited them.

Mat made the call. He had to try a few different numbers, but he finally got a hold of Coach D.

"Coach D," he said, "aw man, Coach D, I'm in big trouble!" He then spent several minutes awkwardly trying to explain a situation that boiled down to "I failed all my classes because I never showed up to any of them."

Once Mat was done explaining, he said, "Coach D, I'm sorry. It's my fault, it's all my fault, but it's so confusing. I don't understand what I'm s'posed to do 'cause I'm not from here."

Wait...was he playing the "I'm a foreigner" card? Really?!

"Okay, okay I understand," he said, after which he hung up and resumed pacing around the room. I was mildly disappointed that his panic seemed slightly less panicky.

"So, uh, what's up?" I asked.

"Coach D said he's gotta make some calls," Mat replied.

Then all we could do was wait. After another half hour or so of pacing, Mat finally turned on MTV and collapsed into his giant chair. He wasn't watching TV though, not really. He was totally zoned out. It looked like he was trying to accept his fate.

A little over an hour later, the phone rang. Mat just stared at it for a moment, then leapt to his feet to answer it. "Hello?" he said. Then he listened very intently for the next several minutes.

Finally, and to my great disappointment, Mat hooted in triumph. "Aw, thank you, Coach D! Aw, thanks, man! You saved my life!"

Coach D said something that caused Mat to calm down. "Yeah, Coach D. Yeah, I understand. Yeah, I will. I will. I know. I will. Aw, thank you, Coach D. Thank you so much. Okay. Tomorrow. Yeah." Then he hung up.

"Yeah!" he screamed, pumping his fist in the air.

"What happened?" I asked. The curiosity was killing me.

"I'm not failed out!" he yelled. "I'm back in all my classes with a 'C' as long as I do my homework and go to most of the rest of duh classes dat are left."

"Are you kidding me?!" I said. My disappointment was probably pretty obvious, but he didn't notice. He was too busy celebrating.

"Nope!" he said in answer to my question. "No joke!" Then he put his hand up for a high-five, which I did, mostly because I was in shock.

"Wow," I said. "that's...amazing."

"I know," Mat said, dropping back into his chair with a deep, self-satisfied sigh. "It's good to be a baller!" He pronounced it "ballah."

I sat back down at my desk. I was stunned. Forget the fact that my roommate had been saved from his own laziness and stupidity. I couldn't believe that my school's athletic program would engage in that kind of academic dishonesty. Changing five grades from an "F" to a "C" was a pretty big switcharoo. I suddenly realized I'd been naive to assume that this sort of cheating only went on at the "bad" schools.

Once the relief had fully set in, Mat started making some phone calls so he could relate his Near Fail Experience. I had to listen to him retell the story a half dozen times, and each time he made himself sound like some sort of conquering hero. He was so happy that, after he finished his last phone call, he showered, got dressed up and went out, presumably to party.

I guess it really was good to be a baller.

Part 15

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Hey Basketbawful readers! Matt is busy crossing the Atlantic, so here's a weekend treat: Service Pack 1 on my Livin Large flow chart! Lots of upgrades in this one, keep your eyes peeled for additions and changes. Saavy readers may recognize the color scheme...

character sheet v2

Can't see the text? Clicky for big 1024x869 version.

Part 14

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Previous installments: Part 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12. Also check out the official Livin' Large FAQ, Cast List and Flow Chart.

Well, dear readers, I have another confession to make. Identifying Aimee as my high school sweetheart was not, technically speaking, totally and 100 percent accurate. But it was never my intention to deceive you. No, really.

When Livin' Large began, I honestly had no specific plans for how long the story would last or how detailed it would become. I figured I'd write five or six posts worth of anecdotes and that would be it. At best, I hoped to milk a couple weeks worth of content out of it before the well ran dry.

However, I miscalculated in two ways. First, I somehow forgot that I'm a natural storyteller. And I'm not necessarily talking about my ability to spin a yarn -- although I do have something of a knack for it. The fact is, I love telling stories. That's part of why I started Basketbawful in the first place: to have a forum for sharing the basketball-related stories that had been back-and-forthing their way among my friends for years.

Now, as BadDave will no doubt attest, my tendency has always been to over-tell stories, cramming in as many little details as possible. Specific words and phrases, gestures, facial expressions, clothing choices, times and places. It's like Grandma Bawful's famous homemade spaghetti sauce. The more herbs and spices she used, the better it tasted. Just as long as she went light on the bay leaves.

My second misunderestimation had to do with reader interest. I figured the hard core bawfulites would enjoy this series...period. But it seems my narrative has struck a chord with a lot of people. The funny thing is, back when I was working for Deadspin, I pitched the idea of running this series on that site. Will Leitch, who was still the high muckety-muck at the time, was like, "Whoa there, settle down, young fella. Let's stick with the content people want to read."

I was actually kind of embarrassed. I mean, here was Will frickin' Leitch more or less telling me the story wouldn't "sell." I'd gone into that pitch with the intent of running the story here if Will turned it down, but the way he turned it down killed my enthusiasm. So that's part of the reason you all had to wait for something you didn't even know you were waiting for.

Now...where was I? Oh, right. So I didn't know how much of my sad and awkward past I'd be sharing in these posts. It was easy and convenient to say Aimee was my high school sweetheart. It kept things clean and allowed me to move on to the meat and potatoes of the story. And she was my high school the very tail end of things. But in reality, the girl who had me in the grip of irrational infatuation for most of my high school career was a girl named Cindy.

The bad news: she had a boyfriend until the last half of our senior year. I just kind of hung around waiting for her to break up with him. When she finally did, I was helplessly trapped in what my buddy Statbuster calls "The Nice Guy Zone." Statbuster's theory goes thusly. Women have four types of men in their lives:

1. The guy they're f***ing.

2. The rich guy.

3. The gay guy.

4. The nice guy.

The guy they're f***ing, that's self-explanatory. The rich guy is the person they turn to when they need help (and by "help" I mean "money"). The gay friend is the person they feel safe snuggling, shopping and talking about guys with.

The nice guy, however, is the one who gets stuck with all the responsibilities of being a boyfriend without getting any of the nookie. The nice guy helps the girl move, stays up until 3 a.m. listening to her problems, eats an entire carton of chocolate ice cream with her after she's broken up with the guy she was f***ing, etc. The nice guy believes in his heart of misguided hearts that dogged determination and just plain old being there for her will eventually make the girl fall madly in love with him.


For two years of high school, I was Cindy's nice guy. When she and Carl -- who was an utter tool, by the way, even more so than me at that time -- went splitsville, I assumed I would just swoop in and pick up the pieces. But as we said back then: psyche! Cindy wanted no part of dating me, despite having spent a year or more claiming that, "If I hadn't met Carl first, we'd be dating."

The worst part? She almost immediately fell for and started dating a guy who came out of the closet right after we graduated. She chose the gay guy over me. Ouchies.

We actually did go on a few dates, which included the Senior Dinner Dance, after which I told my mom we had shared "a really great hug." And it was a great hug...but it was also a sure sign that I was the nice guy. (And maybe even the gay guy for getting my panties in a bunch over a damn hug.)

Fast forward to my freshman year in college. Cindy actually did send me a letter during the first or second week. But it was one of those "Oh, gee, it's so nice to have a pen pal who went away to college!" kind of things. Like Greg and Gauvin, Cindy chose not to leave Kokomo. Like Greg, she was attending classes at IUK, the local community college. Her letter was nothing but trivial banter like IUK is good, hope you're enjoying classes, the family cat had kittens, I dusted my room today, my sister just got her braces know, stuff I couldn't have cared less about. You see, I had made a conscious choice: I was no longer Cindy's nice guy.

Meanwhile, Cindy went from getting all my love and affection to getting none of it. Suddenly, she didn't have me around to provide sympathy or arm candy if she wanted to go to her sister's school play or whatever. They say absence makes the heart grow fonder, and that may well be the case, because now, deprived of my constant and unrelenting presence, Cindy missed me. A lot.

And so it was that she called me.

Her call was so totally out of the blue that I almost didn't call her back. My first instinct was, "Okay, what does she want? What went wrong? How much crying am I going to have to listen to?" But the flipside of my budding cynicism was the very real desire to have human connections. I had started to become a hermit during the first few weeks of school, and it sucked. Big time. So there was no harm, it seemed, in revisiting an old friendship.

At least, that's what I thought. Of course, this misconception proved that I hadn't been listening to my more worldly roommate when he very wisely (and surprisingly) told me, "Guys and girls can be a lot of t'ings, but dey cannot be friends."

I called Cindy back. She was thrilled to hear from me. After some idle chitchat -- things here are fine, how are things there? -- things got serious.

"Matt, I've been doing a lot of thinking," she said, and men of the world should beware when a woman starts a new conversation thread by telling you she's been thinking a lot. "Sometimes you don't know what you have until it's gone."

To my credit, I sensed what was going on. For once. My first instinct was to avoid, so I said, "I know what you mean. That's always the first thing I think when I realize I don't have any more clean underwear."


"Sorry," I said. "You were saying?"

"Uh, right, okay" she stammered, caught somewhat off her guard by the mention of my soiled undergarments. "Anyway, I've been really missing you. Missing you so much that sometimes I can barely stand it."

"Huh," I said. "That sounds pretty unhealthy."

"I know," she said, either ignoring my sarcasm or just not getting it. "I talked to my mom about it, and she said I needed to call you. So...I called."

Silence. Wait, make that uncomfortable silence.

"Matt," she said with a deep sigh, "I have no right to ask this. You were always really patient with me, and I know I screwed things up, but if you're still interested, if you still want to, I mean, I don't even know if you're dating anybody, we haven't really talked in a long time, I have no idea what's going on in your life, and we used to talk so much, and..."

"Whoa, wait, calm down," I said. "That sentence would send Mrs. Stepp (our old English teacher at Kokomo High School) into cardiac arrest. Just, you know, calm down, use a few periods, and tell me what's on your mind."

Now, see, those are the kinds of pithy things you can say when you just don't give a you-know-what. Again, I had escaped the Nice Guy Zone, and I wasn't going back behind those iron bars.

"What I want," she said, and it sounded like she was choking back a sob, "what I for you to give me another chance."

More uncomfortable silence. This time, I was the one to break it.

"Look, Cindy," I said, "I have to be honest with you. I'm trying to date Aimee right now."

"Aimee," she said. Despite the fact that she had just been on the verge of tears, she made the name sound like a hiss. See, here's the thing. Aimee and Cindy had a very interesting little rivalry during high school. Neither one of them was willing to be my girlfriend, but they both wanted to be the primary (maybe even the only) girl in my life. So naturally they hated each other. And I mean with a red-hot, fiery passion.

The funny thing is, I'm not sure they ever even spoke directly to each other when we were in high school. I don't know that they ever actually met. They didn't know each other. The only thing Aimee knew about Cindy was what I told her, and vice versa. That was enough to create a dark and festering dislike. When I brought one up to the other, it was like I was pouring a bucket full of crawling insects on them.

"Well, I think that's a mistake," Cindy said.

"Thanks for your concern," I said, feeling genuinely offended. "But like you said earlier, you have any right to pass any judgment on my personal life. You had your chance and blew it."

Once again, she sounded like she was going to cry. And of course I felt bad. I had been harsh. Maybe not harsh by normal standards, but Cindy was an emotional girl. Telling her that she'd blown her chance with me was like kicking her in the baby maker.

"Look," I said, "I'm sorry..."

"No," she interrupted, "no, you're right. And I probably deserve it."

"Still, there's no reason for me to be a jerk about it," I countered. "All that's in the past now. I mean, based on my reaction, I think I must have had some leftover bitterness. But I'm over it. So, you know, let's start fresh."

I could almost feel her smile over the phone. "Sounds like a good idea."

"But," I said in warning, "I still want to date Aimee, and if that happens, and if you really want to have a fresh start, you've gotta be cool about it."

"I understand," she said, although I could tell she wasn't happy about it.

We finished up with some light chatter. When I finally hung up, Mat started laughing, and I mean laughing hard.

"Aw f*** me, man" he said between guffaws, "that was some serious shit, wasn't it?"

"Yeah," I said, plopping onto my bed. "It sure was."

"Now I feel a little better about missing Shelly," he said. "At least I don't have to put up wit all dat."

"Well, I'm so glad I could help you out."

I tried to study but it was pointless. The conversation with Cindy had left me drained. However, it had also filled me with a little piss and vinegar. Here was Cindy, a girl I had spent years longing for, finally coming around and realizing I was worth dating. What the hell, then, was Aimee's problem? I was getting tired of waiting, tired of her excuses, just flat out tired.

When I called Aimee that night, she was in a crappy mood. That sealed it. It was time to go on the offensive. "You know what," I said at one point, "this is bullshit."

"Whoa, what?" she said, clearly shocked. I never cussed to her. "What's bullshit?"

"This whole mess of a relationship we're in," I said. "Wait, I'm sorry, we're not in a relationship are we? And why is that again? Oh, right, because you can't figure out what in the hell you want. Well, guess what? Whatever you may think, I'm not going to wait around for you forever. And trust me, when I'm gone and dating someone else, you're going to regret it."

"Dating someone else?" she said, and it sounded like she was reeling. "Why, is there someone you want to date?"

"Well I sure as hell want to date someone," I said, practically yelling. "If you're not interested, maybe I'll ask Susan out."

"I knew it!" she said. "I knew Susan liked you."

"Oh, come off it," I said. "I was just using her as an example. But who knows? Maybe she does like me. And if she doesn't, I bet I can find someone else who does."

Now it was time to drop the hammer.

"Hell," I said, "maybe Cindy wants to give things a try."

That did it. Now Aimee was pissed. "I can't believe you just said that," she spit out. "After all the crap Cindy put you through, you'd really consider dating her?"

"How is what she did to me any different than what you're doing?"

Ah yes...even more uncomfortable silence.

"You did not just compare me to Cindy," she said in a voice of forced calm.

"Actually, I did," I said. "And you don't like it 'cause you know I'm right."

"I don't like it," she said, "because Cindy's a bitch."

I'm sure you can guess how I felt about that comment. And let's just say that the conversation didn't improve any after that. Eventually it ended with bad feelings and slamming phones. And I thought, very seriously, that me and Aimee might never talk again.

"Damn, dude," Mat said, laughing once again at my expense. "You're having a rough night."

I didn't have the strength of will to respond. I slipped into some shorts and a t-shirt, and then crawled into bed. Even Mat's damn Heineken light couldn't keep me up that night. I didn't stir when Jennifer showed up and (one assumes) pleasured Mat in her own special way. I was dead to the world.

But the last thought I had before drifting off to sleep was that maybe it was time to move on. Meanwhile, the the answering machine was blinking with messages that Mat probably shouldn't have ignored...

Livin Large: the official Flow Chart 2.0

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I should really be in bed right now, but Basketbawful reader Utahraptor sent in this video of the Lakers' contract negotiations with Lamar Odom and I had share it. I don't have many rules in life, but one of them is that if a YouTube video makes me giggle like a little girl, I post it. you go.

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Previous installments: Part 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11. Also check out the official Livin' Large FAQ, Cast List and Flow Chart.

Mat was in a very happy mood this particular week, and with good reason: Shelly was coming for a visit. During our time together, it seemed like Mat had three basic moods. Occasionally, he got pissed about something. That was scary but rare. Most of the time, he stalked around with an air of bored indifference. At least when I saw him, which was almost exclusively in our dorm room. When Mat was happy, you knew it because he would sing. In the room, in the shower, in the hallway on his way to the cafeteria, while sitting in his giant chair watching MTV. He'd usually croon something by Bob Marley, which was as funny a sound as you were likely to hear. I mean, imagine Arnold Schwarzenegger singing reggae and you'll know what I'm talking about.

With Shelly's arrival only a few short days away, Mat was singing all week. Normally, the constant rasta chants would have grated on my nerves, but I actually found his behavior a little endearing. Remember, I was still a sucker back then, so I became filled with hope any time Mat displayed what I considered to be normal human emotions. Shelly brought that out of him, and it made me think maybe he wasn't some big, dumb ogre after all.

Mat was so jolly he took a minute to look out for me. He checked our mailbox one evening and discovered yet another card from Latrisse.. "You need to cut that shit off, man," he said as he handed the card to me.. "Aimee's gonna flip her shit if this don't stop."

I still didn't see the problem with getting cards from Latrisse. Of course, it had progressed a little past that. We were now e-mailing each other every day. We had even "met up" in an Internet chat room. Mind you, Internet chatting back then wasn't what it is today. The "Coffee House" (which is what this particular chat portal was called) used the same VI editor that the e-mail system used. It was basically a big free-for-all with everybody chatting away like mad at the same time. You just had to kind of try and pick out the lines being typed by the person you were chatting with...and it wasn't always easy to do. Still, it was entertaining in a "brand new technology nobody really knows about" kind of way.

Meanwhile, I had only received one e-mail from Aimee: "Hey checking to see if email works - Aimee." I guess you could say I wasn't exactly feeling the love.

Jennifer stayed away that week, probably on Mat's orders. He wasn't taking any chances of Jennifer and Shelly crossing paths. Mat only disappeared for one night during the middle of the week. In his absence, he missed a phone call from one of the assistant coaches of the basketball team. The players had been given a couple days off from practicing, but he was expected to show up for practice at 4 p.m. (one hour earlier than normal) the next day. I took a very careful message and left it on Mat's desk next to his beloved container of animal crackers. I then left a second note with arrows pointing to the first note so he'd realize it was important.

When I got home from working at the food service the next night, Mat was in the room and on the phone apologizing furiously...for missing practice of course. I was chuckling quietly to myself until the end of the conversation, at which point Mat glanced at me and said, "No, coach. You don't need to say anything to him. I'll take care of it. No, it's okay, I'll talk to him. Yeah, I know. Okay, bye."

My eyes narrowed. "Who was that?"

"Coach," he said, referring to the head coach of the mens basketball team. The head coach was pretty famous at our school and even kind of famous away from it too, both because he was a great coach and because he looked like an angry, marauding troll. He also happened to have the worst hair in college basketball, maybe even in the entire world. And that's not hyperbole either.

"Who didn't he need to say anything too?" I asked, suspicion oozing out of my pores.

Matt shrugged. "He wanted to talk to you about not giving me my messages."


"I get home until a few minutes ago, so I didn't see your note until I'd already missed practice," Mat said. "Coach was pissed, but I just told him you didn't leave me a message, 'cause we're not supposed to stay out all night. Man, he really wanted to tell you off."

Mat just laughed as I gaped at him. "You're gonna tell him the truth, right? You're gonna tell him you found the message...aren't you?"

"F*** no," he said, waving me off. "It's not a big deal. It probably won't even happen again."

Probably. Great.

That was Mat. He didn't care who got blamed as long as it wasn't him. For some reason, I felt nervous about the fact that my school's head basketball coach wanted to tell me off. I mean, I didn't do anything wrong, so I shouldn't have been in any danger. But rules kept getting bent and broken in Mat's favor, often at my expense. My dorm manager had taught me that lesson all too well. What if the basketball coach got me kicked out of the dorm? Or even out of school? I know it sounds silly, but at that time anything seemed possible.

Shelly arrived on Friday afternoon. I happened to be at the dorm because Friday was a one-class day for me. She burst into the room -- as beautiful and busty as ever -- and jumped into Mat's waiting arms. They didn't waste any time on conversation (unless you count her girly "squee!" conversation) and instead immediately started making out. I left to give them time alone for, you know, whatever. I came back a couple hours later, but the door was locked and barricaded from the inside. That annoyed me a little bit, but I tried to remind myself this was a special occasion.

I tried again after another hour had passed. (I had made the mistake of leaving without either my wallet or my bookbag.) This time the door was unlocked. Shelly was sleeping alone on Mat's bed. He was gone, most likely at practice. Shelly woke up when I came into the room.

"Hey baby," she said in her telltale raspy voice. After stretching and wiping the sleep from her eyes, she said, "Sorry about kicking you out earlier, but Mat and I were really excited to see each other. It's been forever!"

"No problem," I said, trying to play the role of cool roommate guy. "I totally understand."

"You're soooooo sweet. Mat's lucky to have a roommate like you," she said. I knew she was buttering me up, and there was definitely a calculating gleam in her eyes. "So...tell me about how Mat spends his time."

"I'm sorry, what?" I asked, attempting to play dumb even though I knew exactly what she was getting at.

"Oh, you know, like, what does he do when I'm not around?" Her voice was light and playful, but there was an edge to it.

"Well, that's really most of the time isn't it? I mean, since you don't live here and all." Rule Number One of Evasive Conversation: Answer questions with questions and try to redirect.

"Oh, I know that, silly," she said. Her eyes hardened. "You know what I mean. It's just that, there's a lot of time in Mat's life I can't account for."

"Account for?" I asked. I was starting to get really uncomfortable now.

"Well, listen to him tell it," she began, "he spends all his time practicing, going to class and sleeping. Seriously, who goes to bed at 11 or 12 every night? Who needs that much sleep?"

How I kept from laughing I will never know. Going to class? In bed by midnight? She could not be talking about my roommate. But she was. And she could tell something was up when I didn't answer immediately.

"Matt," she said, and there was fear and anger in her voice, "something's up, isn't it? He's lying to me isn't he? He's cheating on me. Oh my God he's cheating on me isn't he? Matt, you have to tell me what's going on."

There was no way in the nine levels of hell I was going to tell her what was going on. I valued breathing and being able to walk without assistance too much to have Mat come home and find out I'd told his girlfriend he was an unfaithful liar. And yet Shelly was starting to freak out. I had to calm her down, and I had to do it fast.

At first, I had no idea what to say. Then it hit me, like a bolt from the blue. "Shelly, there's something you need to understand," I said. "Student athletes are...special people. Mat's under a lot of stress. Balancing classes and practice and stuff, it's really hard. You've got to be patient with him. Remember, he's giving of his mind and body every day, you know, to be a student and play basketball. Don't you think that the least you can do is give Mat a little patience and understanding?"

It was a slightly less articulate version of the speech the hall manager had given me when I requested a room change.. And it worked like a charm. Shelly burst into tears, then came over and hugged me. She smelled like wildflowers.

"Oh God, thank you, Matt," she whimpered into my shoulder. "It's just that I love that big guy so much, and I'm afraid. Like, I don't want to get screwed over. I just want to believe he really loves me, that somebody loves me. How stupid is that, right?"

I suddenly felt like a first-class douchebag. But I was already committed to covering for Mat. There was no turning back now. "It's not stupid at all," I told her in my most sympathetic and comforting voice. "Everybody wants to be loved."

"You really are a sweetheart," she said, gulping back a new wave of tears. "That Annie girl is really stupid for not wanting to be with you."

Now I really did laugh. "It's Aimee, actually," I corrected, "but yeah, she is pretty stupid. Then again, that 'Little Matt' nickname you stuck me with hasn't exactly been helping me with the ladies." Now we both laughed and everything felt better. You know, except for the fact that I had totally lied to her.

I tried to make myself scarce for the rest of the weekend. I had a few APO activities to attend, and I spent time with Nathan and the roleplaying group. Part of me wanted to call my mom and ask her to bring me home for a day or two, but I was trying to force myself to stay at school. I didn't want to look back on my freshman year and regret spending my time in Kokomo.

Mat and Shelly didn't leave the room all weekend. Pizza boxes and LaBamba's bags piled up next to the door. I walked in on them having sex once, and I walked in on them fighting twice. I never figured out what they were fighting about, because I didn't stick around to find out (nor did I ask about it later). I didn't come home before 2 a.m. on Friday or Saturday night. I got up as early as I could on Saturday and Sunday morning and left almost immediately.

By the time I returned from the library on Sunday night, Mat was in bed alone and looking thoroughly bummed out.

"Is Shelly gone?" I asked.

Mat heaved a deep sigh. "Yeah. She left like an hour ago."

"Looks like you're pretty sad about it."

"F*** me, that's the truth," he said. "Shit's f***ing crazy.."

Well, he certainly could emote.

"Hey," he said, "did you tell her anything about me?"

Uh oh. "No. Why?"

"I dunno," he said. "She was acting all weird, like she thinks I'm cheating on her or something."

" are cheating on her, Mat," I said.

He blanched. "Yeah, well, she don't know dat. How can she pissed at me for some shit she don't even know about? Innocent 'til proven guilty, right?"

I shook my head. "I guess women are just a mystery."

"That's the f***ing truth," he agreed, completely missing the sarcasm.

"Is Shelly coming back any time soon?" I asked.

"I dunno," he said. "She wants me to visit her in California."

"Are you going to?"

"Maybe," he said. "It depends." He never said what it depended on, although I assumed the deciding factor would be whether she'd pay for his trip.

"Oh, by de way," he said. "Some girl called for you."

Some girl? "Was it Aimee?" I asked.






"Carolyn or Tiffany?"

"No, not them."



I was stumped. "Was it my mom, Mat?"

"It wasn't your mom," he said.

"Dude, that's, like, every woman I know. Why didn't you write it down?"

"I thought I'd remember," he said.

I wondered briefly if I could sic the head coach on him for forgetting my messages.

Mat's brain was working so hard I could almost smell toast burning. Finally, the light bulb went on. "Oh, right! She said she was 'Cindy from Kokomo.'"

Cindy from Kokomo. She was the last person I expected to call.

"Well," I said. "F*** me."

Part 13

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