For the NaNo Excerpt Blog Chain.

Instead I took a look at my IM screen. Time was I’d used it more often than I talked to people in the flesh, but the proliferation of fancy new smartphones I couldn’t afford coupled with a lot of my old high school and Osborn University friends having lives and jobs and spouses and kids…

Well, let’s just say that Harriet Portman was one of only two people (Jim being the other) in my list that had been online in the last month and leave it at that. I hovered over Jim’s icon long enough to read his away message (monthly frag-off ho!) and then double-clicked Natalie’s icon. It said she was online but without activity for a few hours.

smallworld82: Hey Nat! Greetings from the Well of Great Hope, Hopewell! What’s the haps over in Cascadia?

I’d carried a bit of a torch for Natalie for years, but she’d said more than once that I was more like a big brother than anything else (the last thing you ever want to hear from the fairer sex). Whenever I had a spare moment for reflection I’d kick myself for missed opportunities, real or imagined, when we were in school together.

smallworld82: It’s been a crazy couple of weeks on my end. Papers to grade, papers to give, classes to slack off in, and a new group of campus crazies that seem to have taken a personal interest in me.

The Snowcoming Ball junior year, for example. Natalie had actually asked me, over IM, if I wanted to go. I’d had my eye on asking another somebody who, in retrospect, was about as likely to go with me as she was to be elected Pope. I’d turned her down, gently.

smallworld82: I am fighting the good fight for cynicism, bad puns, and terrible teaching using the only weapons at my disposal: the opinion page, press cards, and Jim (you remember Jim), the Omni-Sage of Computoria.

Natalie’d started dating some other guy not long afterwards; they’d met at the selfsame dance, I think. That was several boyfriends and at least one girlfriend ago. I still liked to bounce things off her, like I did with Jim, but I often had to hold back lest I let things get out of hand and type something embarrassingly creepily gushy.

smallworld82: I feel a bit like the blind man talking to the deaf guy. I can’t tell if you’re nodding.

I’d heard, from Jim as well as my parents, that I needed to spend more time out and about, to meet new people. But in addition to the roller-coaster dropoff in my stomach that thought unleashed…I was in this degree for the long haul. I’d seen it at Osborn: people graduate and move on, and I make friends at a pace so slow that glaciers pass me in the carpool lane. By the time I’m comfortable enough to just hang out, they’re gone: just another Facebook and IM friend keeping me in the house while construction crews dance upstairs and sound-based weaponry is tested next door.

smallworld82: Silent treatment because I was a little late in getting you that World of Warcraft gold for your birthday? I swear, it just took longer to earn it than I thought it would.
poorgnat22 is offline

Impossible to tell if that was the computer automatically declaring her so or Natalie setting it manually. I sighed, and snapped the program closed.

Another long night of nothing ahead.

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