I watched them for a couple of weeks in my college algebra class. Sherrie was a beautiful brunette, and James was a tall, handsome young man with wavy brown hair. On that first day when I had everyone introduce themselves, I saw her eyes light up when James spoke. The very next class period, Sherrie was there early, and sat in the chair next to the one James had occupied during the previous class.

As students are prone to do, he came in and made his way to his former seat. He seemed somewhat surprised to find someone different in the adjacent chair, but he soon settled in beside her. As time went on, I noticed she would ask him simple questions, questions to which I was sure she really already knew the answer. I also noticed each day, though the tables were long, with ample room for each person, she inched her chair closer and closer to his before he came in each class period. Finally, the day came that she was so close that her silky, long hair fell softly across his paper. On that particular day, I also saw the hurt in her eyes when he scooted away so he could take notes without having to move her hair.

I saw him watch for her the next class period, but she didn’t come. Finally, he turned to one of the other girls in their study group and wondered out loud as to where Sherrie was, as well as about some of her “strange” behavior. His group, who had silently witnessed the whole thing for weeks, shook their heads and rolled their eyes as one girl spoke. “You just don’t get it, do you? She really likes you.” His shock showed dramatically in his face.

The girl’s words took me back many years to my freshman year in college. Gina lived in an apartment near mine. She was medium tall, had long, blond hair, beautiful blue eyes, and an ever-ready smile. She was, without a doubt, one of the most popular girls on campus. It wasn’t long until every one of my roommates thought they were totally in love with her. Seven of my eight roommates took her out at one time or another. They were all upperclassmen, and confident. I, on the other hand, couldn’t think of a single reason such a girl would go out with me. My timid attempts at dating would never allow me to ask out a popular girl.

Besides, I had no money for dating, nor any time. I was a varsity wrestler, working out five hours per day, and what weekends I wasn’t traveling with the team, I would be up before dawn to make the trip home to work on my parents’ farm. I hauled hay, worked harvest, built fence, rounded up cattle, and did many other chores until well after dark. My parents paid me for my hours, money I carefully scrimped for college expenses. In addition, my mother gave me food to take back to my apartment.

I was surprised one Friday, when Gina approached me. She said she was homesick and wondered if she could “tag along” home with me the next morning. I agreed, and from then on, for nearly a full school year, she traveled with me each Saturday. I enjoyed our visits as we saw the sunrise on our way to my home, and again as we watched the moon poking over the horizon when we headed back to college. She spent the day with my mother and sister. I would only see her when I stopped for lunch. I was always embarrassingly dirty and sweaty, but she never seemed to mind.

Spring, and the end of school, came, and I remember well when she came to say goodbye. She gave me a big, long hug and thanked me for our time together as I also thanked her. I walked her to her car and visited with her parents briefly before sadly waving as they drove away, knowing I likely would never see her again. I returned to my apartment and found a large manila envelope addressed to me. I opened it, and to my surprise I found a beautiful, hand drawn picture of myself, with the inscription, “With love, Gina”. It must have taken hours. As I expressed my shock as to why she would do that for me, my roommate shook his head. “You are the most clueless person I’ve ever met. Do you know how many Saturday dates she turned down so she could spend time with you?”

Back in my college algebra class, James and Sherrie started coming in together. They sat close to each other, and it was no surprise the day they came up hand in hand so Sherrie could show me the ring on her finger. She smiled shyly. “I bet you never guessed.”

I smiled back. I may be the most clueless person in the world, but once in a while even I catch on.

Daris Howard, award-winning, syndicated columnist, playwright, and author, can be contacted at [email protected]; or visit his website .