ON WHAT SHOULD have been another pointless day, he found himself consumed by an intense surge of joy that bent the noonday light into a magical sphere enclosing them as they walked.
Inside this sphere that shut out the world, he heard nothing save the wondrous echo of her voice as it sang in his mind. They talked the mundane chatter of careless college students: the exam they hated; the Carpenters and Smokey Robinson; their graduation just months away.
Even the impending sadness of parting from her--perhaps forever, if he let it--seemed a pointless fear at this singular moment as she walked with him, seemingly his shadow.
He knew he could now tell her. He could, if he could keep his madly pounding heart from battering his brain senseless, making him an idiot powerless to speak those beloved words he had always wanted to say to her this past year.
He knew this was the last chance. He knew . . . he knew Fate would abandon him completely unless he bravely seized this singular moment.
The realization frightened him no end and, on this bright and magical day, made him more aware of the unworthy monster he knew he was.
She was the brightest girl in class and, to his spellbound eyes, the loveliest. He drowned happily in joy again and again as he stared at her so close beside him.
She turned that lovely face to him, saying words that shattered in the air before reaching his ears. He smiled modestly and saw nothing else on what should have been another pointless day save her delicate face whose cheeks were a bloom of pink; her lips an inviting crimson line.
Inside the university museum, their talk turned to the dank and musty surroundings. He stayed close beside her, wanting to hold her hand but afraid she would take offense and run away.
She paused before the cabinets housing stamps from centuries past, and asked him in a tone both surprised and hurt, why he disapproved of the way she dressed.
The shock of this unexpected remark struck a deathblow to his already senseless brain. He stood mute and bewildered, groping for words that would not forever destroy this singular moment.
She saw his confusion, turned her back to him and walked ahead towards the statues of saints centuries old, half hidden in the shadows. He followed like a wounded dog, commanding his numbed brain to compose a reply that would not add to his humiliation.
No, he replied. He'd still be a few points shy, but he knew she would. Congratulations, he said.
She smiled modestly and suggested that perhaps their adviser could help his grades further along. She would talk to her if he wanted her to; she was her favorite.
"You shouldn't do these things for me," he pleaded. "I don't have the right to ask anything of you . . .
"You look marvelous in a mini, except that . . . other boys keep ogling you . . . and that hurts," he stuttered.
She gazed at him, surprised by his chaotic replies. But she at last knew that he did feel strongly for her. And that this confusion was another of his muted ways of conveying the similar emotion she had long felt for him but which she had kept in check.
She drew closer to him and let her right hand touch his glistening forehead. She ran her warm fingers slowly along the side of his face and over his scarred cheek.
He flinched, ashamed, and fought off the consuming urge to lift her hand away from his face.
"I understand," she gently told him. "And I don't care."
He embraced her tightly, suppressing his tears.
She parted her lips and they kissed passionately in the faint light--amid statues of saints long dead staring grimly at them.