I found a church easily, because my roommate, someone I knew from our high school youth group back home, suggested the Baptist church with the big college service. I loved it from the get go, with its edgy preacher who talked about sex from the pulpit, and the loud praise and worship band. One of the girls who sang in the band lived a floor below me in my dorm. We struck up a friendship over a couple of meals shared at a little corner table in the dining hall, and soon Tamera became my ride to church.
One Sunday, as we met in the lobby and walked out under the stately arch that framed the dorm's heavy front doors, she said to me, "Hey, I'm going to pick up an RA from Sneed Hall. He asked me at work the other day if I would give him a ride to church this Sunday." Tamera worked in the office at another dorm, this one all male.
Of course, I perked up. Being 18 and new on campus, boys were never far from my mind. And this one was an RA, implying that he was at least a year above me. Oh yeah, baby.
We pulled up in front of Sneed. The three story dorm is set back a quarter of an acre from the road. It has a long, winding pathway of red brick leading through grass and around elm trees towards its corniced entryway, which is twin to our, all female, dorm. A young man was leaning against one of the square, stone columns that flanked the doors, and as we came to a stop at the curb, he pushed himself off and headed towards us across the green.
From my place riding shotgun, I straightened my back and gave my curls a preparatory scrunch. He opened the passenger door, and as he slid onto the seat behind me, I turned slightly and cast a coquettish look over my shoulder at him. This look, I knew from experience, was as effective as tossing a baited hook into a koi pond.
Except that he ignored me. I watched, a little insulted, as he settled his wide frame into the seat and placed his bible beside him. His eyes were deep set and long lashed, and they were turned on my friend. "Thanks for the ride," he said quietly.
"Oh, you're welcome! This is Danica, by the way. She's from my dorm."
I settled my face again and gave him a smile. He glanced at me.
Um, that was it? Really? Whatever, I thought to myself. There are plenty of fish in the sea. Miffed, I turned myself around and focused on chatting with my friend for the rest of the ride.
The quiet young man became part of our circle of friends, and soon he, Tamera and I would go to football games, or ride together to meet everyone at Chili's after church. He didn't really say much, but was very earnest, and seemed to spend most of his time inside himself, watching the world from within an impenetrable psychic shell. We became friends.
When December rolled around, Tamera began to talk excitedly about the university's annual Carol of Lights. Apparently, all the architecture would be outlined in red, yellow and orange Christmas lights (and in fact, I had already observed crews on scaffolding busy around campus doing just that), and then there would be a big ceremony, on a Friday night, with lots of singing, with the grand finale being all the lights turning on at once.
"But I can't go with you to watch," she informed me over our chicken lo mein (it was Chinese night in the dining hall). "I sing in the choir, so I'll be up on the platform. But I told him that you were going, so he wouldn't have to go alone. Can you just meet him here, and then you guys can walk over to where the Carol will be?" 'Him' being Mr. Psychic Shell.
"Sure," I replied, and she let me know the exact time and place she had already discussed with him.
On the night of the Carol of Lights, my friend Maren, Maren's boyfriend Chad, and I, waited in our dorm's lobby. At the last minute, Maren remembered she needed something from her room. "I'll just be a second!" she called over her shoulder as she leaped back up the stairs, taking them two at a time. Chad and I chatted until cold air wafting towards us made us aware that the outside door had been opened, and someone had come into the room.
"Oh, hey!" His broad shoulders were hunched against the bite in the air, and I noticed that his nose was red at its tip. He thrust his hands into his pockets and as his gaze swung from me, to Chad, and then back to me again, I had a sudden, intense desire to explain. "Oh, uh, hey, this is Chad. Have you met Chad? Chad is Maren's ... boyfriend. Chad, meet ... "
The guys shook hands as Maren appeared in the doorway. "Ready?" she said brightly.
The Carol of Lights was absolutely magical. Most memorable, was the rendition of O Holy Night, sung in soul shuddering tenor by one of the university's music professors. After many Christmas carols, Feliz Navidad, and a procession by the school's male spirit squad led by Raider Red himself, a hush grew over the crowd. When it had reached its deepest, there was a sudden fanfare, and on cue, thousands of tiny lights leaped into existence.
It was as if we were suddenly transported from a college campus, into an exquisite fairy land. Every artifice, moulding, window, door and tower was outlined in yellow, red and orange pin pricks. The crowd drew a collective gasp. I was speechless. It was a moment I will remember for the rest of my life.
Maren and Chad had wandered away some time after the Mariachi band started playing, so the two of us made our way slowly through the dispersing crowd. I wasn't ready to go home.
"There's supposed to be a parade after the ceremony. You want to go watch it?" The thousands of Christmas lights cast a dim glow that reached us even where we stood, and looking up at his face, I could see how the cut of his jaw brushed his upturned coat collar.
"Sure. I'd like that," I answered. We meandered back across the commons, and found a spot on the curb right outside of his dorm, almost the same spot Tamera and I had parked that first Sunday morning I met him, months ago.
My sweater, which had seemed almost too warm back in the dorm, was by now testifying to my inexperience at dressing for cold weather. As we stood waiting for the parade to start, I shivered and pulled my arms around myself.
He noticed right away. "Are you cold?"
"Oh, I'm OK. It's just, I didn't think to wear my jacket, and ..."
He was already shrugging out of his coat. "Here, wear mine."
"Are you sure? I'll really be OK, I just - "
"No, it's fine. Look, I can run up to my room real quick and get another one for myself."
"Oh, OK, well, thanks ... " I took the coat and he turned toward the lit up dorm behind us. As I slid my arms into the over sized sleeves, already toasty from his body heat, I watched him sprint up the walk towards Sneed Hall.
This man wasn't walking, or even hurrying towards the building - he was running. Sprinting. Like he didn't want to miss a second. Like the most important thing in the world was for him to get his coat, and then get back to me.
And as I stood there on the dark curb, my hands tucked into the borrowed coat's sleeves, Christmas lights glittering in a fairy land around me, something warm sparked in my heart, and I decided that any man in that much of a hurry to get back to me, was worth waiting for.
A year and a half later, I married that man. And last Sunday, we celebrated our 12th wedding anniversary. Happy Anniversary, Scott. You're the love of my life.