Once she told me, "I went through that phase in my life when I would embroider 'I LOVE JESUS' on samplers. The security God gives gets interrupted in this world, where we don't hear His voice directly. Friendship is the security of every day."

My security was Melissa. She became the generator that supplied the buzz. Her buoyancy, the way she revealed herself as recklessly as a patient on a couch, worked on me like a stimulant. Or perhaps I mean an anti-depressant. I remember climbing Camelback Mountain on a breezy winter morning, watching in a trance as her strong legs hauled her over the files of boulders just below the summit. When we gained the top, panting, the wind chilling our sweat, I said, "I love you." It was not a voluntary act; the words shot out of my mouth like a ball-bearing from a wrist rocket.

"Oh!" She exclaimed, looking pleasantly surprised. "I love you, too!"

Thus was romance elevated to relationship. Did our fresh mutual profession encourage me, during our cuddle sessions, to boldly go, as Melissa put it? Initially, yes. And Melissa refused everything bolder than a snog. Coming from Melissa, who offered me her lap for a pillow as naturally as she offered me Diet Mountain Dew from her refrigerator, these refusals were less frustrating than intriguing. I quizzed her on them, and our interviews kept us up long into the night.

"There are certain things," she said, knowing no list was necessary, "that I can't see myself doing before marriage."

Jesuitical me: "It could be argued, you know, that snogging and snuggle-bunnies are sinful in themselves. Concupiscence of the flesh, and all that."

"For you, maybe. For me, cuddling and hand-holding mean warmth and protection. They could just as easily be platonic. Sex is like love—a leap into the terrifying unknown. It's like you're joining forces with your partner to battle Galactus. Yes, my beliefs line up with the Church's, but there's also more to them."

I struggled to digest this. "You say love is dangerous. Are we in love?" She nodded. "Well, does it feel dangerous?"

She shook her head.

A disconnect. Not the sex thing—I knew a good strategic sacrifice when I saw one. Those sallies into No-Man's Land amounted to nothing more than a token gesture, a re-affirmation of gender roles; me Apollo, you Daphne. The possibility that Melissa and I could be loving one another at different mpi -- now, that could be a buzzkill.  

Like the husband who suspects his wife of cheating, I began hunting for clues to confirm my fear, not trusting myself wholly to acknowledge them. Nevertheless, it became clear, a case for an emotional trade deficit could be made. Whereas I had a handful of friends and two hands full of enemies, Melissa was all chatty charity with everyone she met, from me to the cashier at Souper Salad. The same thoughts she murmured to me as we lay entwined of an evening would turn up the next morning on her LiveJournal page, edited for tense agreement.

If Melissa made any distinction between public and private, friendship and love, my eyes were not tuned finely enough to see it.

Reverting to the playbook, I cooled off pointedly. But the point was lost on Melissa. Once I told her, "I can't see you these next couple of days. I'm writing." She answered, "Okay!" as brightly as she'd have done had I said I'd fixed us a nice tuna casserole. Another time I told her, simply, "I'm busy." Same result. Loudly praising the beauty of other women would hardly have worked; Melissa did this herself. "Hudson Leick is absolutely perfect-looking," she'd gush, referring to one of the regulars on Xena: Warrior Princess. "It says great things about her range, that she can play a lunatic like Callisto."