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Some of the events in this issue may have been fictionalized due to the intended purpose of the story and the occasional gaps in the narrator’s memory.

I told you about the Summer Institute, and a couple of people that I met there. And I have told you of my two closest friends, and of those people in general. But I forgot to tell you of one experience that I had there because, to be honest, it had had quite escaped me.

Now to offer some context, I have to go back to the spring semester prior to the Summer Institute. I was taking my second dual enrollment course, the one I shared with Mark. But there were actually several other dual enrollment students in this course, and I did not figure this out until the last few weeks of the Semester. But there was one in particular who, though we never really spoke, stood out to me, and his name was Ben.

Those of you who know me well are aware that I am friends with a man named Ben. And while this story is more or less about him, he is not the same Ben that I am referring to at this point.

Like I said, this young man stood out to me for no obvious reason, but I never really spoke to him. He was also a dual enrollment student, but he and the other DE students in the class had come in from a public school.

After that, time went on, until I arrived at the Summer Institute. During the first period of time where we were all playing in the courtyard, I looked around carefully for familiar faces among a group of over a hundred students. I had already met one friend that I hadn’t seen since he moved away in middle school. But as we all made a fuss over keeping two giant beach balls in the air over our heads, I saw Ben’s face.

I was a few yards away from Ben, so I could not be sure that it was him, and his hair was different than I remembered. But we were all wearing lanyards with our names, so I paid attention—never dropping the ball, mind you, when It passed my way—until I could clearly read the name “Ben” on his tag.

This encouraged me. I hadn’t spoken to Ben while we had class together, but we had something in common now that we were here. So, as I continued to watch the ball, I moved gradually closer to Ben, who also kept inadvertently moving further away under the other ball. But I did get close enough at one point to catch a glimpse of his last name. It was much smaller than the first name and therefore difficult to read. I was, however, able to determine that the last name was too short and not at all similar to the last name of the Ben that I’d shared class with.

Finally. I was able to make out the last name on Ben’s tag. Even though it was not the guy from my class, it was very familiar. I had known of him in middle school. The reason I recognized him was not that his face was so strikingly similar to that of the other Ben—which it was—but that I had heard his name and seen him, although we never spoke even once, in middle school.

I was so caught up in this moment that the ball, which was still in the the air so far, struck me across the side of my face. As I reeled slightly, a young man behind me struck the hall with the tip of his fingers, causing it to hover over my head.

As our entire team shouted frantically at me, I reached up with one hand and drove the ball well into the air before tripping over someone and falling on my knees.

For the first few days—through Thursday—I did not speak to him. As I’ve said before, I was extremely socially unacceptable in middle school, and If Ben had heard anything about me it was probably negative.

But on Thursday night, a bunch of the guys gathered on the third floor and stayed up until almost midnight. Then, I was somehow invited into Ben’s room with the other guys I was hanging out with. I think this was partially because of the fact that Isak, a close friend of mine, had invited me to the Popular Table in the cafeteria, and Ben and his roommate both sat at that table and knew who I was.

From that point, a little after midnight—which would actually have been Friday morning—I stayed up with Ben and Zach, his roommate. And there, because of the fact that the rest of the group faded off to their own rooms, I was left alone with these two.

It turned out that Ben did not remember much of anything about me. He actually remembered more about my brother, who, in his words, was kinda weird. So as we sat there talking about the middle school years, the last of the group left the room, leaving just the three of us.

Thirty minutes became three hours. And in that time, we talked about everything under the sun; fastest-growing cities, irregular sleep habits, college, and more that I can hardly remember. I thought about the time once or twice, but neither of them asked me to leave. Nor, I daresay, did they want me to. And it was there, for the first time, that I felt like I was, and to such a deep and natural extent, part of a normal guys’ conversation.

After that, I did not really talk much to them again, except while I was sitting with them at the Popular Table. And then it wasn’t really to them in particular. There were about twelve people at that table by the end of the week, and I was one of them.

Something happened, nonetheless, that caused Ben and I to become quite close. It was not a word that either of us spoke, nor a newfound mutual connection of some kind. It just happened. It could not be explained or understood, but it was enough that when we finally reconnected a couple of weeks, after Christmas, our reunion was like that of the two dearest friends that ever lived.

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