She'd taken Harlan home to meet her parents and he'd been polite and charming and they'd loved him. Trent had been different. She met Trent one day in the student union building; she'd been studying alone at one the tables in the afternoon, thinking more about her recent breakup with Harlan than the chapter she was studying on the "stigma of psychological disorders," when this boy with messy dark hair and a worn leather jacket approached her. "Are you okay?" he asked and she looked up to tell this stranger she was fine and would he please leave her alone and she took one look into those eyes--dark saucers with almost no color, clear and intelligent--and she forgot her annoyance, her words dying in her throat.
"Are you sure you're okay?" he repeated.
She crossed her arms over her chest. "Fine."
He sat down across the table from her. "My name's Trent. And yours is...Jess. Am I right?"
She looked at him closely. Only her friends called her Jess. She nodded noncommittally. "How did you know that?"
"I don't know, I must of heard it somewhere."
"Look..." she began.
"Do you like to go out?"
"Dinner, would you have it with me?"
Jessica wrinkled her nose. "Really? Just like that?"
Trent shrugged. "Why not?"
There was something compelling about him, something dangerous, but she said, "I don't think so."
"Okay," and he stood and walked away.
But after that brief encounter, she hadn't been able to get him out of her head. She began to have dreams about him and caught herself sometimes playing out their brief encounter differently, imagining how it would have gone if she'd said yes; how he would have smiled and asked if she liked lobster, which, of course, she did. She imagined getting lost in those dark eyes, while he held her, confident he'd never let her fall; never let her go.
A couple of days after the encounter, she'd been scrambling some eggs in the shared kitchen in her dorm. It was a cloudy morning and a pall of gray seemed to tint the grass and the concrete walk outside, and the students, pale and etherized, floating grudgingly on their way to class. She wiped the crust from the corners of her eyes with the back of her spatula-wielding hand and a movement caught her attention; she looked out the little kitchen window and he was there, standing by a park bench on the other side of the courtyard, grinning at her. He waved once, then turned and walked away down the sidewalk.
Later, she was at dinner with him and he was telling her a story about a date he'd been on once and she was laughing. "This girl, at one point during the meal, actually looked at me, in all seriousness, and said: 'ketchup is what makes Americans so fat'. Isn't that a weird thing to hear on a first date? But what made it funny was that she was actually dipping her fries in her ketchup while she said it, this distant awe-struck look on her face. It was so weird I had to stifle a snort of laughter and I bumped the table and her glass of Merlot splashed the front of her dress and her, uh, considerable bosom, was zipped up so tight that, I kid you not, the wine actually pooled in her cleavage and all I could think was: 'Okay, but who's going to drink it now?' I couldn't help myself after that. I burst into laughter and I was still laughing when my date stood and stormed out of the restaurant." And Jess laughed at his story, and she felt comfortable and safe with him, and he laughed to, and when she looked up from her plate of lobster tails, his eyes were huge and dark and too big for his head and that's when she awoke with a start, panting in the darkness of her dorm room, sweat beading on her forehead.
Days later, he'd tapped her on the shoulder while she waited in line at one of the restaurants for a quick lunch in the Student Union Building and, when she turned and saw it was him, her heart fluttered in her chest like a cornered bird. Then he smiled--a kind, normal smile--and she immediately felt more at ease.
"Hey, Jess. How are you?" he said, still smiling.
"Yeah? Excellent. How about going out with me?"
She looked into his eyes and something inside her jittered excitedly. "Where would you take me?"
"Well, I was thinking...some place normal." He was cool and confident. "Pizza? How's that sound?"
Before she could think to stop herself, it slipped out: "Okay."
"Great! We'll go see a movie afterwards; anything, your choice. How's this weekend? Got a number?"