Charles fidgeted in the back pew. The old preacher seemed to mumble on with the same salvation message he had given a hundred times before. Charles felt like he was stuck back at college listening to another lecture on anthropology. Nothing that was being said applied to him. Charles already knew all this stuff, why did he have to pay attention to it again? Pastor Jeffrey had at least another ten minutes to go.
Charles was considering sliding out the back door when he spied the reason he came in the first place. Her shining straight black hair flowed down to the center of her back. Akari was as beautiful as ever. She and her parents had immigrated to the U.S. after converting to Christianity. The family said they had run into difficulty for their faith and decided it was best to move. Her father was a pharmacist, and Akari’s mother taught mathematics at the local high school.
Akari was two years younger than Charles. They connected the instant they ran into each other at the high school. She was the one who got him coming to the old country church in those days. There was something in her eyes, there was a light behind them. Something that transcended beyond her beauty. She was kind and humble. Charles eagerly accepted her faith, hoping he could be like Akari one day.
Then Charles went off to college. This was the first time he had been home in six months. He and Akari had exchanged texts and shared photos, but he also discovered new friends and distractions. Charles had not bothered to find a church in his college town. He was too busy studying or going places with his new friends, but all that changed in an instant. Charles received a text from Akari saying she might return to Japan to study Marine Biology. He had always assumed she would be there for him. He had rushed home after his last class Friday. His parents were surprised to see him walk in the door at 10 pm after a six-hour drive from school. He showed his dad Akari’s text. His father’s only response was, “Are you sure you should get this serious at your age?”
Charles now sat in the back row of the church asking himself that same question. Before he could find his answer, the pastor had everyone stand for the benediction. Charles was about to slide out the back when Akari turned, and their eyes met. The light behind them shown as brightly as he remembered. His heart seemed to skip a beat, and Charles knew the answer to his dad’s question. He waited to be dismissed and then waited excitedly in the parking lot.
Akari came rushing out. She stopped in front of Charles. Before they could control themselves, he felt her soft lips touch his. Akari pulled back and let her long graceful fingers slide down his cheek. Her cool touch calmed Charles’, anxious heart. They gazed into one another’s eyes until a man clearing his voice broke their connection.
Charles knew that voice. He took a step back. “Mr. Maki, my apologies, sir.”
Akari’s father gave a slight nod of his head. Her mother walked up and hugged Charles. “We thought we had lost you to your studies.”
Charles stammered, and then regained his composure. “Yes, ma’am. I am studying, but I missed your daughter.”
“Indeed,” said Mr. Maki.
Charles felt outnumbered and unsure what to say. Akari came to his rescue. “Mother, Father, Charles would like to take me to lunch. I promise he will bring me straight back home.”
Mr. Maki locked eyes with Charles. “Straight home.”
Akari’s parents left, and she took Charles arm, and he walked her to his car. “Where would you like to go?” he asked.
Akari gave him a playful smile and put her head on his shoulder. “Anywhere you like.”
Charles was no longer hungry for food. He just wanted to sit with Akari and talk. Charles chose the closest burger place in the old part of the small town. They took a table on the outside patio with a view of the small downtown. “Akari, I’m sorry I haven’t stayed in contact.”
She smiled, but then gave Charles a stern look. “So, you decided to see me before I return to Japan?”
His heart sank. Akari had been so close to him after church. He was sure she had already changed her mind. “There are places in the U.S. where you can study Marine Biology. Why do you have to go back to Japan?”
Akari’s hands were soft and gentle as she wrapped them around his. “Do you remember that Jesus said you can’t serve God and money?”
Charles felt a bit confused, but he knew the verses. “Yes,” he answered.
Akari smiled, “Well, you can’t love just your desires and expect to have me. We can love and succeed together, or we can succeed separately, but we can’t love and succeed separately.”
Charles looked at Akari’s hands. He could hold on to them for a lifetime. Her eyes contained the light of the world. Her smile was all he needed to be content in the world. Still, his father’s words rang in his ears. He looked deeply into Akari’s eyes and said, “Are you sure you are ready to get that serious at our age?”
Akari did not even draw in a breath before responding. “I am ready, aren’t you?”
Charles felt light as a feather. He felt dizzy, and he drew Akari hands to his lips. “I am, but how will we do this? My college is in the mountains and nowhere near the ocean. We will still be apart.”
Akari laughed, leaned over and kissed Charles. He felt elated but confused. Akari leaned back in her chair. “I hear your school has a great mathematics program. I have always planned to study mathematics, just like my mother. I hate swimming in the ocean, the water is too cold.”
They both laughed. Charles raised his glass of tea and Akari lifted her’s as well. “To our future,” he said. “May our waters be warm and our equations equal.” They tapped glasses, kissed, and laughed.
Charles knew he had to make some changes when he returned to school. The first of which was to find a church. He wanted to be sure Akari, and he would never lose their light together.
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