I, Joanna Laurens, could say with the utmost certainty that there was no one else in the world like Alexandria Hamilton.

The thought just seemed to occur to me on the sixth year of our annual road trip down Route 66. Alex - who had once upon time introduced herself as Alex "and if you ever call me Alexandria you'll find yourself with a stiletto sicking out of your throat" Hamilton - had bought an old Volkswagen hippie van just for the sole purpose of gutting the back and turning into the most comfortable bed outside the ones in our dorm. She was now drowsily lounged across from me while Laf "my name is too long for pleasant company" was currently up front driving with an unconscious Atalanta "please, oh god, just call me Lanta" in the passenger's seat.

Beautiful women with name issues must've been my type because I was a little in love with all of them. Still, no matter what, Alex was always the one to stand out just a bit more.

I twisted around to face her, her body parallel to the bench her long legs were dangling off of, and just took her in. Alex looked how cinnamon tasted, all forest hair and garden eyes and orchard mouth; her voice the sound of stepping on crunchy, sunset-colored leaves, of the wind brushing against bare tree branches. Alex had always been wild in her looks and beautiful in her energy. I was always behind her, just trying to keep up, and endlessly unable to. I never minded, though.

Alex was amazing to behold in all her freedoms and loving glory. I could never tire of her passion, whether it be in her hate or in her love - she never settled for anything less than all. My eyes followed her adorable mess of the mane she calls hair down her soft body. Alex hates that she hasn't gotten rid of the softness of her midsection, but I like her like that best. I linger at her calves, knowing from many sleepovers just how firm they were, and it's almost like a light went off: she was perfect. All of a sudden it was like I was looking at stranger instead of my best friend for a decade.

Though her image was a familiar one, I am struck breathless; there is a tightening in my chest that I wish would coil tighter and loosen all at once. From the very first moment I had met her, I was made well aware of her confidence but it had never tied so tight around my throat as it did now. She was short, small, as if someone wished for their teddy bear to become a woman, but she was never the short type. Alex wore heels that glinted like knives, skirts to showcase her legs as if she were auditioning as a Las Vegas show girl, and her full breasts bounced to the beat of the South American music she danced to. She was no girl, but a woman who stood before everyone, shameless and glowing.

That's not to say Laf wasn't more goddess than mortal most days, that whenever I saw her I desperately longed to live inside her smile and kind eyes. And I won't deny the strength of Lanta, how she nearly floated when she walked, that her hugs left me as breathless as I believed her kisses would. Both of them loved fiercely but we all could agree that it was Alex who loved with an all-encompassing precision and focus that could light the recipient on fire.

All of this, these thoughts swirling with a tornado's speed and a tsunami's destruction, halted as if my mind stomped on the breaks. I knew I loved the three of them, knew that Alex was the one I was in love with, so I wasn't too sure why it was now. Why it was just now that I realized the intensity of that love - why it never clicked before now. Maybe it was the way she breathed with her whole body, the silence that engulfed the car bringing a clarity to her features; perhaps it was her loose and ungraceful sprawl that had amusement bubbling in my breast, the way Laf kept looking back in glances only to smile each time though the picture never changed.

I could not put my epiphany in words to the how and the why, just that it was.

I silently sat up, my hands braced on the outsides of my thighs, my shorts now only covering the innermost of the upper parts of them. The longer I gazed at her, the more Alex just seemed to glow, even as she slept. I looked to the driver's seat and caught Laf's eyes in the mirror. Her honey eyes gleamed - as if she might cry though I couldn't understand why - and she nodded once, as if confirming my love for me. I nodded back. I might have loved my three friends, but Alex, like usual, seemed to just stand out. If Lanta was awake, she probably would have smiled, small and sad, and nodded too. We all loved Alex but we could never tell if she loved us back.

I turned back to her and if I hadn't been so awestruck of her very self, I'm positive I would have cried. Would have wept for the beauty she could never see in herself. The tears I pushed back, however, seemed to have called to Alex because the next thing I knew was her dark eyes and her steady gaze.

I froze and reigned in my gasp. Alex continued to look at me as she leaned up, but thankfully released me to turn her stare to the windows. Her mouth tightened and eyes narrowed - which could only mean she thought of something one of us might find unsightly. Before I could react in the appropriate wariness the situation called for, she leaned over and gently took hold of my wrist.

She pulled me against her chest, as if she were my mother or my oldest sister. My back molded to her chest and I am always shocked to feel just how soft she was, what with her sharp brown eyes and sharper wit. Her arms hugged me from behind, her left hand playing with my fingers while her right played with the ends of my hair. I felt like a child's favorite stuffed animal. Her breath hit the back of my bared neck, but unlike the cool breeze I was expecting, goosebumps rose in the wake of the puffs of warm air.

It was the one thing I wasn't prepared for.

I'd known her for years and I had been steeled against her icy words, knife-like smile, and rigid posture. I didn't know how to defend against her soft skin, sweet breath, and the awe in her eyes. I knew she was capable of far more than cutting down the pretentious men we worked with, that she could turn that contempt into compassion in an instant, but it always caught me off guard.

I felt her shift her weight from hip to hip, her fingers threading themselves through my own or plucking at my clothes and hair, her delicate ankle (which must be the only delicate thing about her, aside from her heart) bouncing to a tune only she could hear. I had been prepared for her righteous summer blaze and freezing winter bite, but not her sweet spring words and beautiful fall wonder. Honestly, I should have known better.

Her left hand rose, my own caged within the grip of her palm, steady but soft just like her soul, and she pointed toward the dying light of the sun. "There," she said, her words quiet, as if just for me, "isn't the sky beautiful tonight?"

I had no courage left in me to reply that it wasn't nearly as beautiful as she was.