Elli had that dream again. The one where she was kissing some tall dark and handsome guy in a red room just before all hell broke loose. She always forgot his face by the time she was fully awake, but she couldn't forget the feeling of the dream... how real, and how much it hurt to wake up still not knowing who he was. She'd had that dream at least once a week since... probably since around her eighteenth birthday. With a resigned sigh, she rolled out of bed and changed out of her PJs into a teal sweater and jeans.
She stood in front of her mirror, brushing her hair and took a moment to appreciate her reflection. Long, wavy blonde hair flowed down to her waist, and her violet eyes were bright against her pale complexion. Tall and slim, she looked like a fairy-- well that's what her grandmother had always said. In the morning light, Elli could almost agree about her 'ethereal beauty'... but then why did her dating life suck so bad?
With a groan, she turned from the mirror to grab a ponytail holder. The dream was partially to blame, she was sure of it. It was hard for real life college guys to compete with an idea. The other reason... well, today she'd bite the bullet and see if she'd end her single days for good. She skipped down the stairs and made her way into the kitchen, where the delicious aroma of pancakes filled the air.
"What's the occasion?" Elli planted a loving kiss on the wrinkled cheek of her maternal grandmother, her only living relative, save a cousin or two Elli had never met.
"I need a special occasion to make pancakes?" her grandmother cackled.
"On a weekday?" Elli raised an eyebrow.
Her grandmother chuckled. "Fair enough." She ushered Elli to the table.
"It's your birthday, you know."
"It is?" Elli gasped in mock surprise.
"The big 23." Her grandmother laughed, setting a plate of golden, fluffy goodness smothered in butter and syrup in front of Elli. "Any plans?"
"I don't know," Elli admitted, digging into the delicious offering. "My social life's been kind of quiet lately with focusing on my studies."
"Why don't we have a quiet dinner at home, then?" her grandmother sank into the chair across from her, a single plain pancake on her antique plate. "There's someone I've been thinking you should meet."
Elli paused with a forkful halfway to her mouth. "Grandma..... Not another matchmaking attempt? On my birthday, even!"
Her grandmother busied herself with cutting up her pancake. "No.... nothing like that, really.... But I've been thinking a lot about your future, lately..."
After a moment, Elli looked up from her plate to see her grandmother in mid-motion, staring at the table.
"Grandma?" she prodded.
"Your future... Elli, are you still having that dream?"
Elli set down the fork. "Had it last night, in fact."
"I see." Her grandmother sighed, resuming cutting into her pancake. "I think we'll have a nice chat tonight, then. What do you want for your birthday dinner?"
Elli checked her watch and realized she needed to get going. "Anything you fix will make me happy." She jumped up and took the dishes to the sink, feeling a bit guilty over the half a pancake still gracing her plate. She kissed her grandmother on the forehead as she passed the table, then grabbed her bag and headed out the door. For once, she had promised herself that she was going to make it to Dr. Sullivan's class on time.
Elli managed to run down the bus that was almost always two minutes early, meaning she usually missed it, and made it to campus in record time. She passed by the very packed "El Cuppa", the campus coffee shop, and swung open the heavy wooden door to the liberal arts building. Dr. Sullivan's 'History of Literature' was one of her favorite classes, and she had to admit to herself it was mostly Dr. Sullivan who made it so enticing. He was the youngest teacher on campus, and single to boot. Probably 98% of the freshman class had a crush on the tall, suave blonde, and she counted herself as one of the few who hadn't lost their standing crush on the enigmatic professor after the first year. Despite that, her night-owl habits had earned her a place on his black list for constant tardiness.
She managed to slide into her seat at the same time Nancy Perkins slid in next to her, with a minute to spare before class began.
"Hey." Nancy smiled at her.
Nancy was one of two people that Elli bothered to keep up with after high school—the first being her best friend, Clara, who had shipped out to California the first chance she got and was running some sort of Chakra-alignment store/cafe out there. Meanwhile, Nancy and Elli had become close as they constantly bumped into each other as Wigston State University students. Sometimes Elli counted her blessings of all the high school clique, it was Nancy she'd wound up in WSU with.
"Hey, yourself." Elli returned the grin. "Are you prepared for the test?"
Nancy faked a morose expression. "There's a test today?"
"Tennyson." Elli wriggled her eyebrows.
Nancy laughed. "Poetry is probably the easiest unit of the course. You just have to sound like you know what you're talking about in the essays."
"Ah... if only all of us were blessed with your early morning sensibilities."
Nancy glanced at her, taking a moment to survey her expression. "Bad dreams again?"
She shrugged. It wasn't that her reoccurring dream was bad... it just felt wrong. Something out of place, forgotten.... Haunting. The second half of the dream always felt like a violent and disturbing slideshow out of place, but it never made enough sense to be scary.
Elli busied herself with opening her book, like she could actually cram another thirty seconds of study time in. The door to the classroom creaked shut and she glanced up. A pair of piercing blue eyes locked with hers from across the room, and then they softened with a twinkle as the tall blonde man, probably less than a decade older than she was, smiled. Her heart skipped a beat.
"Good morning, class." Dr. Sullivan kept smiling as he began to hand out the tests to the first row of students, who passed them back up the row. "I hope you got as much studying done as possible. It's time to face the music."
"Ugh." Nancy groaned. "Does he have to use that phrase every time?"
Elli shrugged in response, closing her book and accepting the stapled packet handed to her by the large guy sitting in front of her.
The next hour passed quickly. The test was easy enough, but crafted so it was long enough to take up most of the class. Dr. Sullivan was clever like that. His classes were less about memorization and more like an endurance run. If you stuck it out through the notes during class and really put effort into the test essays, you were pretty much guaranteed a good grade.
Elli set down her pen and rolled her neck, taking a break from writing. Mid roll, she caught Dr. Sullivan's glance. She smiled sheepishly and shrugged, earning a reward-worthy smile. Oh yea, after two years, the crush was still strong. She cleared her throat and glanced back down at her test. She was almost finished with it, but no one else had turned theirs in yet, so she needed to stall. It would be too awkward to go up first.
Nancy's pen dropped enthusiastically against the desk, and she scooped up her bag and test. Good old reliable Nancy, Elli smiled. Now she could finish up her last few sentences and turn in her test without looking super eager to be done and talk to Dr. Sullivan. She scooped up her bag and froze as the door at the front of the classroom opened with a jerk, a dark-haired man in a plaid shirt and worn out jeans hurriedly walking over to the professor. Dr. Sullivan turned and Elli could tell by the instant rigidness of his posture he wasn't happy with the presence of the stranger.
She hesitated as they fervently whispered, backs turned to the class. Whatever the big emergency was, she'd hate to interrupt. Her grip tightened on the strap of her bag. This was going to be her chance. She'd been working up the courage for weeks to figure out how to broach the subject of a date. She took a deep breath and released a calming sigh. Maybe the distraction could work for her.
Jaw set, she snatched her bag and test and sauntered to the front of the classroom where the men were bent into each other.
"Dr. Sullivan," Elli's voice was far softer than she would like as she thrust her paper at the men.
Her professor's eyes darted over to her, and he waved at the stranger. "One moment."
He turned all of his attention on her. "Finished already, Ms. Dasek? Were you and Ms. Perkins racing today?"
"N-No..." Elli couldn't help but to blush as she felt the stranger's eyes fall on her. She did her best not to glance over, forcing herself to focus on her shoes as the moment of silence was drawing into something awkward.
"Oh, no," she shook her head. "Sorry, you first."
He sighed, taking her test. "Elli, could you come by my office when you're done with classes today?"
"Sure!" she blinked, realizing she'd answered too quickly. "Er, I mean, there was something I needed to ask you—"
Her eyes darted over to the dark-haired man in search of a distraction for her awkwardness, and her heart dropped to her feet.
His face was a chiseled example of perfection, gray eyes twinkling under dark curls, hair almost black except for the glints of red bright light caught, hidden highlights that brightened his groomed facial hair covering his olive skin.
Elli's eyes accidently contacted his hard gaze and her mouth suddenly went dry. Those eyes reminded her of her dreams, of warm lips—
"Excellent, I'll see you this afternoon." Dr. Sullivan's sharp tone caught her off guard and she tore her gaze from the strange man to find a perplexing annoyed look on her teacher’s face.
"Oh, okay." She clutched her bag a little closer as she had to pass the other man to get to the door, a hint of cinnamon wafting across as she narrowly missed bumping into his shoulder in her scramble to get away.
Her cheeks burned as she made it to the door, her heart racing. She felt like a complete idiot for no reason, and she knew for some reason, the stranger was the reason she felt flustered, which was the most frustrating thing, because while he was handsome, there was no definable reason he should make her so nervous just from making eye contact.
She steeled herself as she reached for the handle, daring one glance back at the pair of men. They were once again bowed in deep, secret whispering, but she could see the man in plaid's shoulders tense, as if he knew she was staring at his back. Swallowing down an unknown feeling, Elli pushed the door and briskly made her way down the hallway.
Elli sighed around the half a tuna sandwich she had been eating. She had been planning her attempt to talk to her professor for weeks. A causal "Oh I need help with something after class", or something to that affect would have been perfect, but the stranger's interruption had all but spoiled her plans.
She took a huge bite of her sandwich with ferocious fervor. Well, it had worked out in the end, hadn't it? She was getting her one-on-one with Dr. Sullivan, and that was the first step in her glorious (sure to fail) mission to get him to go on a date with her. She was not the first WSU person of any gender to try, but she was going to succeed!
Failure meant her sad dry streak would be an utter and total defeat at the work of the one person she did want to go on a date with.
She took another bite as her mind drifted back to the dark-haired stranger. He was definitely handsome, even with the low-cut beard. Muscular too, he had over-shadowed the trim, clean-faced teacher in both girth and height.
It was his eyes, though—the shade of grey the sky turns before a thunderstorm that has captivated her. There was something behind that steely gaze. If she wasn't mistaken, there had even been a flash of recognition in them, which had troubled and excited her. She racked her brain, had she ever seen him before? She concentrated hard, but no memory or recollection of seeing him around campus or town surfaced. All in all, he should be a complete stranger, but that spark in his eyes had probably mirrored her own, seeing him inspired a sense she did know him from somewhere.
It was a strange sensation, feeling like you knew someone you know you had never met. Elli's phone alarm began to chime.
"Damn it!" She cursed under her breath.
The alarm was kind of a last ditch of a reminder for her physics class. It meant she was already late.