“Yeah,” I grunt before hanging up.
As usual, speaking to Cole has clarified my thoughts. And he’s right. I need to keep moving, otherwise I’m just gonna get stuck in the mud. So I resolve to enroll in the Spring program at Smithton after the weekend. Smithton is the only college that qualifies under the GI bill. And even though Janie goes there, it’ll have to do. It’s a big enough college. I’m sure I can avoid her if it comes to that. Because if I’m ever going to move past whatever I’m going through, I can’t be around the beautiful brunette. She makes me feel weak. And I can’t afford to be weak. Not now, and not ever.
Which is why I texted that other girl Amy last night. This should all be fun and games. I’m a mess trying to get back on my feet again, and a bubbly airhead is exactly what I need. So why can’t I forget the beautiful Janie? Why does the curvy girl have such a pull on me … when I know I’m no good to anyone?
I come through the doors of the lecture hall and realize I’m the first one there. Just as well: I get to pick my favorite spot, all the way at the front. It’s my favorite because no one else wants to sit there, so I can be alone. I want to keep my head down for the rest of the school year and just focus on my degree. I can’t afford any more distractions. Especially after this heartbreaking weekend where I had sex and then was basically dumped five minutes later. What a joke.
As the rest of the class files in and takes their places, I continue working on the paper on my laptop and am totally immersed. It looks like I’m getting my mojo back. Before I know it, the class is full, and Professor McNealy’s standing in front, calling order. I put away my stuff and prepare to focus on the class. Mid-century American poetry. My favorite.
“Welcome back everyone, I hope you’re all had a nice weekend,” McNealy drawls insincerely, wiping the blackboard. There’s a mixture of a muttered affirmative and negative answers. “I’d like to welcome a new student to the class,” he simpers. “Our new student is a vet, and just got out of combat.”
My blood runs cold. No way. This can’t be happening.
“Let’s give a warm welcome to Brent Johnson!” says McNealy with a fake smile. “Don’t worry about it being the middle of the semester. You’ll soon catch up and I’m sure there’d be more than a few willing fellow students to give you a hand.”
A bunch of girls giggle and instinctively, I turn around in my chair and, heart beating in my throat, let my eyes scan the room. I don’t have to search for long. There he is, all the way at the back of the lecture hall, sitting nonchalantly in his seat. Brent’s massive form dwarfs the small seat and I can see why the girls in the class are still tittering with their hands over their mouths. He’s gorgeous. Huge and dominating, making all the boys in the lecture hall seem young and inexperienced by comparison.
Brent hasn’t seen me yet and for a split second I think of turning around before he can. But it’s too late. Even from this distance, I can sense his piercing blue eyes on my frame. And from the way the air suddenly heats between us, I can tell he feels something too.
“Well, good,” I think with a grim satisfaction. Serves him right for running out on me after I comforted him, only to text Amy for a date shortly after. But he lifts his hand in an awkward wave, a movement so genuine and innocent my stomach churns. I almost wave back, but then change my mind, forcing myself to recall what happened, and how much it hurt me. If that could happen to me after just one date, imagine what else is in store for me with the handsome GI? I don’t want to go through that all over again. I turn around and face the front, trying to focus on the class.
But I can’t. I can feel him staring at me from his seat. My right shoulder blade feels warm, as if he’s kissing it with his gaze. As soon as the class is over, I gather my things and without looking back at Brent, hurry out of the lecture hall. I rush out into the courtyard, where some cherry trees are in bloom. Surely he won’t follow me, and especially not out here. It’s far too romantic, and it’s clear that romance scares Brent and makes him literally run away. I sit down on the bench and watch as my peers rush towards their next classes. No one’s coming out here, thank goodness. I resolve to recover my composure for a few minutes, then go to Cultural Theory and hope he won’t be in that class, too. I close my eyes and take a deep breath, letting the sun warm my face. Calm returns to my body, my heart rate slows. I’m back in control.