Suddenly, a deep, warm voice interrupts.
My eyelids flash open and I find myself looking up at Brent, standing in the courtyard. “I thought that was you in the class. I tried to find you after, but you ran way.” He looks impossibly gorgeous. His leather jacket is off, slung over one shoulder, a blue shirt that matches his eyes stretches flatteringly across his incredible torso. Actual fucking cherry blossoms fall down on him in the breeze, making him seem like the hero in a romance novel. The image is too ridiculously dreamy. I have to get out of here. I try to stand up but as soon as I place any weight on my feet I know that’s a bad idea – my knees have turned to jelly. I sit back down, closing my eyes in frustration.
“What happened to being a purist?” I try to joke. “You know, starting school in the middle of the semester? Something bad might happen.” He smiles, knowing he’s being teased.
“It’s the GI bill. The longer I wait the harder it will be for me to actually do it. I know myself. I’m not the school type. If I don’t start now, I’ll never do it.”
“Okay. Funny you turned up in my class, of all places.”
He shrugs awkwardly.
“I promise I’m not stalking you. I’m taking it as a free elective. I didn’t know you’d be there.”
I nod, not knowing what to say. Brent clears his throat.
“I, um, wanted to say sorry for storming out on you the other night,” he says carefully. How can he sound so genuine, so sweet, when what he’s done has caused me nothing but heartbreak the last couple of days? I shrug, hoping it looks casual.
“Don’t worry, I understand,” are my words. His eyes widen and he takes a step closer.
“You do?” he asks.
“Of course,” I say, gathering my strength and managing to stand now. “You were meant to go out with Amy. It’s only normal, even if we did that in the movie theater.” A split second passes where we just stare at each other, then I start walking back to the quad. But I have to go past him to get there.
“You know about that?” Brent demands, grabbing my arm.
“That you texted Amy? Of course,” I say, smiling now and praying it looks fancy-free, and not bitter. “We do live together.” Brent looks crestfallen, as if this is genuinely the first time he thought of the possibility of Amy and I discussing him. I try to leave, but he won’t let go of my arm.
The touch of his skin on mine is electric, and as he pulls me gently towards him, he looks in my eyes with that same expression that kills me. I couldn’t put my finger on what it was then, and I still can’t. Even though it’s familiar, like the etching of an old image into your mind from your childhood, I still can’t place it. But deep down, it feels like home. My throat is dry and I can’t speak, instead staring back like a dummy. His handsome face is intense, that mouth a straight line. There’s so much there he’d like to say to me, but somehow he can’t. His grip on my arm intensifies.
“Brent, you’re hurting me,” I whisper without breaking our gaze. He lets go immediately.
“I’m so sorry. That’s the last thing I want to do,” he growls. “It’s just. You do something to me. Something I really don’t understand.”
But I get it. I know a little about PTSD from reading magazines and such. The poor guy is lost. He’s in a world he doesn’t understand. And after all he’s seen, it makes sense. But why won’t he let me help him? Why does he want pretty blonde Amy instead? I guess it makes sense. My friend is all smiles and fun, whereas I’m a sober girl who studies too much. So why am I so devastated? Amy is what’s best for Brent at this stage of his life … but inside, I want it to be me.
I’m about to do it again. Pour myself out before this heavenly creature. I wanted to avoid her. I honestly hadn’t known Janie was going to be in that class, and yet looking back, I should have known. After all, she was a Comp Lit major, and it made sense she’d be taking a poetry class. But still. What were the chances? Fuck my life.
But still, the way Janie meets my gaze and seems to know my soul is absolutely irresistible.
“What don’t you understand?” she whispers. I squint, but it’s no use. The girl’s bathed in a halo in the afternoon sunshine, like she’s literally an angel descended from the heavens.
“The way – the way you …,” I stumble, hating myself. “You’re so easy to talk to.” The expression on her face softens.