There it was again, that look of pure joy and total happiness, the one that only she could emit. I think that she was laughing at something I had said, but after a glimpse of her I couldn’t even remember what it was. I was humbled into complete awe. It was at that instant I realized even Faulkner lacked the words and Rembrandt the ability to capture even a minute portion of the resonance that encapsulated my entire soul. Her name was Rachel.

After we discussed our summer plans and finished our over-priced coffee, we proceeded to our separate dorms. There we would spend the remainder of the night and a fraction of the next morning studying for our last exams before the long-awaited summer vacation. It had been so many years since we had actually taken time to relax and just hang out. Throughout high school we had been crazy with clubs, honors courses, and worrying about getting accepted to college. This year was going to be different.

Rachel received A’s in all of her classes, of course, but me, I was thrilled to pass with a B average, except for physics, which I would be retaking in the fall. However, that was the last thing on my mind. I didn’t like science anyway. I spent a decade of those first few hours just deciding that I would finally act on years of emotions held back. I was going to ask her out.

The summer and its various array of activities ensued as I continued to build up the courage and self-confidence necessary to reveal my heart’s inscription. It was so hard for me. I didn’t even consider myself worthy of her friendship, let alone an exclusive relationship that could lead us hand-in-hand into the future. She was an oasis among the sands of people. Often she would worry about her hair or how she looked, but failed to realize how those around her were gasping to catch the breath that her grace and beauty so effortlessly removed from their lungs. It was a true infatuation.

One morning I awoke with elation, for I knew that it was the day. I packed my extra clothes and two of those huge beach towels, and loaded them along with a cooler and chairs into the back of my Jeep, which she liked to call Jane, I’m not sure why. I too got in the car and drove the quarter of a mile to her residence hall where I was to pick her up. I sprang out, slammed the door and ran up the six flights to get her. I knocked on the door but there was no answer. There was no way that she could have still been asleep, so I called her cell phone. It rang once, and nothing, then once more. I could hear it on the other side of the door. Several more times it rang with no response. She popped out, ready to go. Of course she was out on the fire escape, taking in the birth of a new morning. She threw her bags into the back, smiled and said, “Let’s go.”

The trip was one of complete ecstasy. Among the blaring radio and endless laughs, the three hours passed as seconds. All doors open, feet running through the sand in course to the blue mass, and bliss preceding more laughter was the true beginning of the day. We swam and attempted to surf, which turned out to be quite comical. Hours passed, and after a lunch consisting of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches accompanied by a lowly can of soda, we returned to the water. There occurred moment after perfect moment when the subject could have been visited and my mouth began to form the words, but no reverberations sounded. I was a wimp. The fear of failure or rejection was too much to even think of, but what was worse was to fathom the possibilities. What would I do if she said yes?

Exhaustion overcame us and we fell amidst an army of shirts and jeans and towels that lay wounded over the sun-filled earth. There we talked, stared silently into an abyss filled with stratus and those birds — the ones that people always feed bread to — seagulls, and then I drifted into darkness. I awoke later to find that Rachel had done the same. After packing our things back into the car, I sat and watched her as she slept. Hers was a divine peace, the kind only dreamed of by mere mortals. When she returned to life we got into the car and drove back to campus.

Night had gone and the new dawn arrived. The sound of voices woke me and I turned off the television. I had so much to do that day. My family was coming to visit the following afternoon so I really had to clean up and run several errands. It took me the better part of the day just to straighten up my small dorm and do the Mt. Everest of laundry that had previously occupied my floor. Then I was off to town to restock my refrigerator, cash my paycheck and pay my bills.

Late that evening my phone rang while I was driving back with a car full of bags. I knew who it was. She had programmed my phone to play her favorite song when she called. I quickly answered with, “Hello.”

“Hey,” she said. “I just wanted to tell you how amazing yesterday was. It was so great to get away.”

She laughed about how much fun we had and relived the joys that had occurred. We concluded our conversation, and just as I was hanging up, I said, “I love you.” I told myself it was a reflex, like when you are talking to your mom or a great-aunt. I worried, hoping that she hadn’t noticed.

“Dang it,” I thought. “She probably thinks I’m weird now. Should I call back and try to cover it up?” I decided that would only make things worse than they already were.

She too was there that day. My niece sang “Amazing Grace” and my brother gave a eulogy over the sobs of my weeping mother. It truly was a beautiful ceremony, and the undertaker did a wonderful job of removing the shards of metal and glass from my broken face and heart. One by one they shuffled by, all of the people that had meant so much, and some that hadn’t. Just then, one stopped, and once again before me was that look, the one that only she could emit. As she leaned down, a tear descended from her countenance, and she placed her lips of satin on my cold and lifeless cheek. Then she softly whispered, “I love you, too.”