"I'm just not into that way. You understand? But we're still friends, right"?

It had been two months since she said the words to Kane and they echoed through
his head on lonely nights and in quiet moments. The reverberated through his head
now, the sound of them seeming to bounce off the walls of mind again and again
until all other thoughts broke into fragments. He felt the curb drop away beneath his
feet.

Kane and Ossi, the girl who turned heads in the traffic, who should have been a
model, whose laugh still sent shivers down his spine after two years, still spoke daily,
sharing private jokes and laughs and going out regularly. But now they were just
buddies, not that they'd ever been anything else to her apparently. And so without a
thought to what it really meant Kane put aside his hopes, in essence a whole part of
himself, so that she wouldn't feel bad for rejecting him.

"You sir, are a busta. All that time she wants to spend with you, but you ain't good
enough for some ass? And you still speak to her? For what? Man give me your
playa card." Chuckie wasn't one to mince words. They had been drinking after a
party, counting up the door take and just talking when Kane spilled to his boy.
Chuckie had started to go further but stopped, just shaking his head and said no
more about it.

Good enough to spend his money when they went out. Good enough to be there
when a male presence was needed. But not good enough for a "relationship". Ossi
sometimes called him at midnight or later, wanting to talk and he'd yawn his way
through work. But the conversations made him feel whole and sometimes found
himself waiting for the phone to ring.

In private she called him "Bumper", after the #3 combo he ordered every Thursday
when they got together for slices.

"What you are is an entertainment center. I just read about it in this book. That's the
term for you. You're the other half of the relationship. One guy does what you do,
and she sleeps with the other guy. She gets it all. That would make you the
non-booty call." Tisha laughed at her own joke. They were eating lunch and Kane
had explained his position over his reheated spaghetti and her rice pilaf and
chicken. She noticed the pained expression on his face and tried to look sad for a
second, but couldn't help but giggle. The conversation had gone swiftly downhill
from there.

Kane had marginalized himself in his own mind, without thought or pretense. If Ossi
needed someone to run an errand, he jumped like his name was Fechit. If Ossi was
hungry, he knew her favorite foods and when she wanted them. Had she suggested
skydiving, Kane would have already been strapping on the parachute. And she
couldn't remember his middle name.

Twenty five minutes ago, he'd ordered his usual #3 Bumper combo at the counter.
The counter girl said it with him as he ordered and gave him a knowing look, as she
took his order every week for the same thing. Ossi got the #17 this time. She rarely
ordered the same thing twice in a row, and even as she said it Kane unfolded the
little piece of paper he'd written his guess on. He was right again, his fifth correct
prediction of her order in a row. He was on a streak since he'd missed three times
straight.

Twenty minutes ago, drinks in hand they settled into the booth by the window, and
she started in on her week. He listened with interest, asking questions as she went
over the rough spots and shared her triumphs. He smiled quietly, just happy to be in
her company. It was moments like this that made him feel warm all over.

Fifteen minutes ago just as the conversation paused and he hesitated, the pizza
arrived, the meats still sizzling the cheese steaming. With barely a word they dug in,
passing the pepper, garlic and parmesan as requested.

Ten minutes ago, the initial hunger beaten back they eased back into conversation.
Ossi insisted there was a new gospel stage play that they simply had to go see this
coming weekend. Her eyes glowed as she made plans, repeating funny lines from
the commercial and laughing at her own jokes. They shared a moment.

Five minutes ago, something inside him broke. Kane had been sitting at a table with
a woman he realized he really and truly loved, who he was willing to break himself
down to the bare essence to be with, who was not going to love him back. No matter
what he did, no matter how long he waited, he would never be that guy. In the story
of his own life, he was secondary character.

Kane had been emasculated.

His face apparently changed, as she looked at him with concern suddenly. "Bumper,
you okay?"

He got up and walked out. He didn't say anything, didn't get his jacket or stop to
when he ran into people, he just kept moving. On the sidewalk he became frantic,
then started running, long strides that ate up the distance. He heard her yell behind
him but didn't look back. His legs and arms pumped, the soles of his sneakers a
steady slap on the concrete.

Kane ran until he was out of breath, but kept going. He ran until his chest burned
and legs ached, but kept going. Teetering on exhaustion he finally came to a stop
on corner against a light post. He bent and labored in his breathing as he tried to
gather his wits, come to grips with his thoughts. His cell phone rang that special ring
that said it was Ossi on the other end, and without a second thought he threw the
phone into the street.

At the back of eyes he could feel the tears, and fought them back. And started
across the intersection, he felt the curb drop away beneath his feet. He closed his
eyes against the pain. He never heard the car's horn or the squeal of the tires. The
last thing he felt before he died was the sidewalk, the grit and sand, as the pain and
the blood seeped out, a crimson red pool of his soul.

It couldn't leak out fast enough.