They met through a friend-of-a-friend-of-a-friend.
Or, more technically, through Mark's cousin's sister's best friend's father-in-law's niece's coworker's friend, who insisted that he had the perfect someone for Mark.
Mark hated blind dates; they made him feel even more awkward and klutzy than normal. But he let himself be talked into it, reluctantly, because he was so tired of being alone. He'd gone out on exactly three dates since Jade left; he spent most of his Friday nights at home with a beer and a book, his cat curled up in his lap, purring.
It was a quiet sort of life, a lonely sort of life; it suited an English professor perfectly.
Mark just wasn't sure that it suited him.
So he let himself be talked into a blind date.
They met at a recent addition to the city's restaurant scene, a smaller place that hadn't been around long enough to become trendy.
Mark gave his name to the hostess and she pointed him toward a secluded table where a broad-shouldered man sat, toying with the silverware. As Mark approached, the man stood up and gave a particular downward bob of his upper body, almost like an aborted attempt at a bow.
He looked at Mark and smiled, friendly and open. He was a big man, dark blond hair carefully combed, neat as a pin and gorgeous. Mark felt his stomach tighten with nervousness. This was not going to go well. He could feel his anxieties and worries and insecurities bubbling up to the surface.
"Hello, you must be Mark." His voice was smooth and warm, almost intimate. He held out his hand. "I'm Ren. Ren Turnbull. Pleased to meet you."
Mark took Ren's big hand in his and felt a weird jolt of electric chemistry. Yeah, he was screwed. He hadn't felt this interested in anyone since that fateful night outside of the pretentious nightclub where he'd met Jade, so long ago.
But Jade was gone and here Mark was, about to have dinner with a handsome, clean-cut, impeccably dressed man who was way out of his league. Mark didn't belong here. He didn't fit Ren's upwardly mobile yuppie image.
Ren was suit and ties, nice jackets and polished shoes. Neatly combed hair, immaculate grooming, perfect posture. Mark was ripped jeans and a tee shirt, slouching, ice cream stains and big ugly glasses.
For a moment, Mark was poised on the verge of running away, about the walk out of the restaurant, down the street and out of Ren Turnbull's life. But something in Ren's face, in his eyes, made Mark sit down at the table.
If there was one thing he'd learned from his years with Jade, it was how to take a crazy risk. She'd shown him how to fly and maybe it was time to stretch his wings again.