You'll never be The One, she told him every other day for a year. I don't really, really, really love you, he reminded her on the alternate days.

Still, they laughed. Sometimes till their faces hurt.

And talked. Sometimes till the New York-Washington phone bills were almost embarrassing.

When she was having trouble with her job and thought the world had abandoned her, he sent her yellow roses, assuring her that the sun would come out tomorrow. It did. When it looked as if his father would die, she flew to New York and sat in a dingy hospital waiting room playing 14 consecutive chess games with him through the night. Good news arrived and they ate hot dogs in Central Park at 7 a.m.

One day, almost as if they had planned it, both announced they had found others. They barely spoke again. She can't stand the sight of yellow roses. He hid the beat-up chess game in the basement.

Just the other Saturday, though, he desperately needed someone to talk to, and it occurred to him that she was the best friend he ever had.

He laid the phone on his stomach and stared at it for more than three hours--in between serious gulps of Jack Daniels. Sometimes he didn't even use a glass.

What's a guy to do?

After all, he never really, really, really loved her anyway.