The narrative begins two years after Pearl Harbor while Aaron is anxiously awaiting his chance to join the navy upon his graduation in December. He is an English major much to the disappointment of his father who wants him to be an engineer. Aaron prefers the company of writers and intellectuals at the Lotus Club.
Aaron's steady girlfriend, Ellen, is a fashionable girl from New York whose strict religious scruples are a barrier to his passion. There is also Laura who has recently showed up in his English class. She is like no one he has ever known before--witty, irreverent, and sexual. In Aaron's literary mind she becomes the "dark lady" of Shakespeare's sonnets.
Maggie, an old high school classmate, completes Aaron's female triangle. Maggie is the antithesis of the other two women. She is tanned, bold, boyishly handsome, rides horses, and loves thoroughbred racing.