The descriptions of life in college evolve around the main character's relationships with her friends. Trisha's parents divorced with little familial concern for her. She has a number of relationships with young men and also develops a deep friendship with her female roommate, who becomes another important character. Along the way a man who lives down the hall becomes a haunting presence in her life. James, her lover's roommate, is attending college and has a substantial intellect. He is profoundly disfigured from a traumatic fire. He is reclusive, moody, and artistic. James's story and Trisha's story have parallel play; while in college, both find themselves alone in the dorm during the holidays. Trisha meets James's mother, a gifted painter who is dying of cancer. She is amazed to see the compassion and caring James and his mother share for each other. Trisha sees that James is more than an angry disabled young man and that he has amazing tenderness and caring, especially after Trisha goes though a cancer scare and a biopsy that proves negative. They completely lose touch with one other after college ends, until a mysterious painting is forwarded to Trisha in her new job at a prestigious art gallery.