False Friends – First Chapter

Chapter 1

“This is better than my wildest dreams,” George Fayne excitedly whispered to herself as she surveyed the scene around her. Nancy should really be here to see this, she thought, referring to her close friend, Nancy Drew.

Pushing up the sleeves of her baggy gray Earthworks sweatshirt, George smiled at the lively chaos before her.

The wide, sun-drenched steps in front of Wilder University’s Student Union were filled with students in colorful running gear enjoying the mild weather. A huge, rainbow-striped banner flapped in the warm breeze between the arches.

10K ROAD RACE, THIS SUNDAY!

Cosponsored by Earthworks, Pi Phi, and W.U. Track & Field

Prerace pasta dinner Saturday nite!

Postrace bash at Pi Phi with live DJ! REGISTER HERE!

Everyone was buzzing excitedly about the race, lining up behind men’s and women’s registration tables, adding their names to the growing lists of participants. Race numbers and Earthworks T-shirts were stacked on the tables.

“Awesome job, you organization queen,” a familiar voice buzzed in her ear.

George whirled around and hugged her handsome boyfriend, Will Blackfeather. “I hope I see you out there,” she said.

“Me?” Will replied in mock horror. “I was the first to sign up. But I’m going to sit this one out to help with the race. You’re going to be racing, so I figure someone is needed to handle emergencies.”

“But you paid your registration fee!”

Smiling, Will tightened his grip on George. “It’s my donation to Earthworks.”

George poked him playfully and asked him to pray for no rain on Sunday.

Will put a soothing hand on her shoulder. “You’ll do fine in the race, rain or no rain,” he said.

“I need to,” George replied worriedly. “If I make a good qualifying time, I’ll better my chances for getting a place on the track team. It’ll make the coaches notice me. Now that I’ve given up crew, I won’t have a sport if I don’t make the track team.”

Will became concerned. “I hope you’re still glad you quit crew.”

George nodded. “Totally. There’s no way I can do both crew and track and stay on top of schoolwork, not to mention Earthworks.”

Will cleared his throat. “Ahem.”

Leaning against Will’s body, George breathed in his now familiar musky aroma, and a little thrill ran through her. “Yes, and pay attention to you,” she added, smiling.

“Just checking,” Will said. “Anyway, even if it rains on Sunday, you’ll blow everyone away,” he assured her. “You’re in such great shape.”

The campus clock tower chimed twelve noon, and seconds later crowds of students flooded out the doors of the classroom buildings. Classes ended early on Friday — and by twelve o’clock the weekend had unofficially begun.

The quad was packed, and more and more people joined the registration lines. Others strolled over to check the sign-up list.

“Look at all these people!” someone called giddily to George.

Kara Verbeck, Nancy Drew’s roommate, sauntered over, a denim hat pulled down over her sun-streaked brown hair.

“Thanks for offering to help out today,” George said. “Ready to work at a registration table?”

Kara was scanning the men’s line. “Am I ever,” she said brightly. “But only if I get that table.”

“I saved it just for you.” George laughed.

George noticed Will’s eyes glued to the spot where Stephanie Keats, another one of Nancy’s suitemates, was leaning against a lamppost. Sleek and hard-bodied, with long, black tousled hair and perfectly manicured nails, she was wearing black Lycra running shorts and a pink jogging bra.

“Hey, put your eyes back in your head,” she kidded, giving Will a playful slap.

Will reddened. “It’s amazing what a fashion show racing and even registration have become,” he said, trying to cover himself.

George laughed. “Nice try.”

Kara clucked her tongue. “No harm in looking,” she said dreamily. Zeroing in on a slim, shirtless guy who was filling out his forms, she sighed. “I guess it’s time for me to get to work.”

She sure is in good shape, George thought, looking at Stephanie, for someone whose only exercise is the cigarette-to-the-mouth lift. “Hey, Stephanie!” she called out. “I didn’t know you were a runner.”

Stephanie arched a perfectly plucked eyebrow. “Runner?” she called back, as though running were the last thing on her mind. “I was just passing by.”

Laughing, George stepped over to the men’s table to see how Kara was doing.

“George, you remember Montana Smith,” Kara said, indicating the skinny girl with corkscrew blond curls working next to her. “She’s pledging Pi Phi, too.”

“Sure, you were one of the leaders of the Kappa protest,” George said, referring to a Pi Phi pledge prank that Montana and some of her fellow pledges had done at a Kappa party. “Hi, Montana.”

But Montana was busy staring at an incredibly muscular young man in line.

“The registration fee is ten dollars?” George heard the guy asking Montana.

Montana blinked, her mouth frozen in a grin. Kara just shrugged.

George stepped in, all cheer. “Yeah, and you get a lot for it,” she explained. “A prerace pasta dinner with the best spaghetti sauce in town, a postrace dance at Pi Phi with the best local DJ. Plus you get to support Earthworks and the track and field team. It’s definitely the best investment of ten dollars you’ll make this year.”

Everyone around the table was nodding.

“What does Earthworks do?” the guy asked.

George stepped back, curious about what Montana would say.

Montana opened her mouth, but all she managed to say was “Uh — “

“Well,” Kara tried to help, waving her pencil. “It, um, helps clean the air, and — “

“Recycles,” George whispered.

“Recycles!” Montana blurted out.

The guy cocked his head. “Aren’t you guys supposed to be the environmental sorority?”

“So?” Montana asked.

“So you’re supposed to know all this stuff,” he said. “You are sponsoring the race, aren’t you?”

George was ready to jump in and bail them out, but she was kind of enjoying their struggle.

Kara nudged Montana. “Why don’t you just put your phone number right next to your name, and we’ll get back to you with all the information you want. In fact, here’s my number — call me anytime.”

“But what about Tim?” George cried as the guy walked away shaking his head.

“I haven’t forgotten Tim,” Kara replied, acting shocked. “Tim is wonderful. I’m just being nice, you know, to get everyone to sign up. “

“Yeah, whatever.” Montana sniffed. “But you already have a boyfriend, so let me give out my phone number. I’m the one who needs a date.”

Rolling her eyes, George patted their shoulders. “Looks like you two have things under control,” she said. “Keep it up.”

Montana was already smiling up at the next guy, nudging Kara out of the way.

“You can count on us,” Kara said, holding her ground and offering the guy a sign-up sheet and pencil.

Nancy Drew was in a great mood as she hustled across the campus quad. With her books hugged to her chest, and her strawberry blond hair blowing in the warm breeze, she smiled at just about everyone she passed.

Taking a bite of a candy bar, Nancy was happy to think of nothing but the long weekend stretching ahead of her. She was in a festive mood and was psyched about the race, and about everything in general. Mostly, though, she was psyched about Jake Collins.

I still can’t believe it’s me, Nancy giddily thought to herself as she replayed their last kiss.

The fact was, until a couple weeks ago she’d only known Jake as the star reporter for the campus newspaper, Wilder Times, where Nancy was a freshman reporter. She’d seen him at editorial meetings, but they hadn’t been friends.

I never believed I’d get close to him, Nancy thought to herself as she crossed the quad. He was kind of intimidating because of his style and looks: his signature steel-tipped black cowboy boots, wavy brown hair, and deep brown eyes that met everyone’s gaze steadily.

But now he was more to Nancy than just a dedicated reporter with an incredibly sexy aura.

Now he’s my boyfriend! Nancy felt like screaming out.

Nancy spotted George on the steps of the Student Union, pointing and waving as she shouted out instructions to both volunteers and runners.

“If you were wearing a uniform, you’d look like a traffic cop,” Nancy said as she sidled up to her friend.

George laughed. “I feel like one.”

Nancy observed the scene and spoke with admiration to her friend. “I’ve got to hand it to you and the other volunteers, George, it’s a success already, and you haven’t even fired the starting gun.”

George was shaking her head. “That Montana is such a space cadet! Listen to her.”

Nancy followed George over to the men’s registration table.

“It doesn’t matter if you’re a runner or not, enter the race because of the cool party afterward.” Montana was convincing a serious-looking young man. “After all, I’ll be there.”

Nancy and George broke up.

“You can’t lose,” George assured the guy.

Montana pointed at the paper. “Now put your name right there.”

George rolled her eyes as she led Nancy away. “Nothing like an event to bring the goofballs out of the woodwork,” she confided. “You should have seen Stephanie hanging out in her ‘running clothes.'” George shuddered.

Nancy laughed. “Stephanie? She can’t even run to the shower in the morning.”

“Well, you should have seen the traffic jam of guys around her,” George said.

“I’m sure she loved that,” Nancy said. “Oh, by the way, I stopped by to let you know I’ll set up a registration table for the race at Thayer tomorrow morning.”

“Excellent! Your resident advisor got permission from the residential office?”

Nancy shook her head. “I left a note for Dawn two days ago, but I haven’t seen her. I asked Bill Graham, the second-floor R.A., to okay it.”

George was eyeing the snaking lines. “I never knew so many people at Wilder were runners.”

Nancy shrugged. “People know a good cause when they see one. Well, I have to get going,” she said excitedly. “I’m late for a meeting at the paper.”

“Anybody in particular you’re going to ‘meet’?” George grinned.

Nancy cocked her head. “Moi? Actually I’m not meeting Jake today. I’ve been summoned to the office of our editor-in-chief, Gail. But maybe if I’m really lucky and really good I’ll run into Jake.”

“So what do you say, are you going to leave everyone in the dust, or what?” Tall and athletically handsome Jamal Lewis was joking with his girlfriend, Pam Miller, as they raced through the archway into the quad.

Breathing easily and evenly, Pam tucked some stray hairs from her long, black mane under her backward baseball cap. Even though she was running with Jamal, who was faster and stronger, she’d kept up. Jamal was supposed to be leading her on a relaxed warm-up for Sunday’s race, but his pace quickened, and Pam wasn’t the sort of runner to be left behind. She hated to lose, even to a friend. She’d found her stride early on, when they were circling the small lake on the outskirts of campus, and by the time they reached the quad, they were in an all-out sprint. But Jamal beat her by only a couple of feet.

They slowed to a jog and stopped, breathing hard, near the end of the race registration lines.

“Looking good, Miller,” Jamal panted.

Pam bent over to catch her breath. “I just want a good finish time.”

Jamal’s eyes glinted. “Uh-huh, sure, like I believe that. You’re too competitive for that, Pam.

You said yourself you hate running against the clock. You need other people to keep you from getting lazy.”

Pam shrugged, raising her long, burnished arms above her head to stretch out.

“Hey, guys.”

George ambled up, giving her roommate a high-five. “You ready for the race?”

Jamal laughed. “Pam told me she was going to leave you in the dust.”

“Jamal!” Pam turned imploringly to George. “I did not!”

“That’s okay,” George said, grinning. “Because if you don’t, that’s where I’ll leave you.”

Jamal stepped between them and mimicked a referee breaking up a fight. “Okay, girls. Both of you back to your corners.”

Pam playfully slapped Jamal’s hand away. “George, you’ll be so distracted with your Earthworks stuff that you won’t be able to concentrate on running.”

“Okay, let’s cool it!” George complained. “Do I have to keep telling you about what an excellent organization Earthworks is — “

“Yeah, for those of you who eat veggie burgers and fight to save the northwest African butterswallow,” Jamal wisecracked.

George and Pam looked at each other. “Butterswallow?” they said in unison.

Jamal shrugged. “Yeah. The butterswallow. You know — “

“All right.” George sighed. “Once and for all I’m going to tell you what Earthworks does.”

Counting off on her fingers, she outlined all the great environmental projects Earthworks was involved in.

Out of the corner of her eye, Pam could see Jamal nodding. She was really proud of George. In just a few weeks, George had managed to get herself involved in all sides of Wilder life. “You definitely deserve all the help you can get,” Pam said.

Jamal reached into the little hideaway pocket of his runner’s shorts. “Totally,” he said, and brought out a sweat-dampened ten-dollar bill. “Here’s ten dollars. It’s all I have on me.”

“Excellent, Jamal,” George said. “That’s really generous. Then you’ll run, too?”

Jamal waved her off. “Nah. I’ll leave that high-speed chase stuff to you two. It’s going to be smokin’ out there. Just use the money however you need it.”

Pam propped herself up against Jamal’s back to stretch her lean legs. She could feel George eyeing her.

“You’re really in great shape,” George said.

Pam smiled. “You, too. Sunday’s going to be fun.”

“Fun,” George repeated contemplatively. “I guess — as long as I get in a good time.”

“You? No sweat. Just make sure you load up on carbs at the pasta dinner.”

George’s eyes flashed, and she poked her roommate. “You too, you know. You’re going to need it if you’re going to keep up with me.”

Pam cocked her head. “Oh, really? Just watch yourself in bed. You never know what strange accidents might befall you in the middle of the night!”

As Nancy was cutting across the quad toward the Wilder Times offices, she passed a table set up in front of Graves Hall. Two girls she’d seen in some of her classes were sitting in chairs, chatting with friends. A guy she didn’t recognize was handing out pamphlets. A modest but tastefully printed sign hung from the table’s edge:

REACH — Support, Understanding, Peace.

“Hey, you have a second?”

Nancy raised her head. One of the girls behind the table had called out to her. She had a warm, agreeable smile, pretty blond hair, and wide, friendly eyes.

“Not really,” Nancy said apologetically. “I have an appointment — “

“No problem,” the girl said. “Maybe next time.”

“But what’s your group about?” Nancy asked quickly.

“Basically, it’s a support group,” the girl replied. “We study together, and it’s really great. But you’re in a rush. We’ll talk later.”

The guy with the pamphlets lifted his hand in a cordial wave. “We’ll be here.”

Hmm, Nancy thought to herself as she headed for the newspaper building. I guess there are probably kids who need that kind of support. But who has any free time anyway?

Just then Nancy’s hand was grabbed, and she felt herself being whisked off the path and into the cavelike coolness under a giant weeping willow.

“One word from you, and I’ll, I’ll — “

“You’ll do what, Jake Collins,” Nancy replied dryly.

“I’ll — “

Nancy felt a soft, still slightly unfamiliar mouth press against hers.

“Do that,” Jake said.

“Ooh,” Nancy replied, a sheepish grin tugging at the corners of her mouth.

She raised her ocean blue eyes and let them wander over Jake’s boyishly handsome face, settling on his warm lips that seemed frozen in a wry, I-know-something-you-don’t grin.

Nancy wanted to pinch herself. Is this really me? she wondered.

“Okay,” Jake said, releasing Nancy’s hand. “No time for fun and games. I have places to go, things to do — “

“People to see,” Nancy finished the expression.

Jake poked her in the forehead. “That’s right. People to see! You’d better get going. Come on. No time to chitchat.”

He grabbed her hand and led her back into the sunshine toward the Wilder Times office.

“Oh, there’s Steve,” Jake said, motioning to the opening door.

The man at the door waved. Nancy didn’t know Professor Shapiro very well. She did know he was the faculty advisor for the newspaper and one of Jake’s friends.

Catching Jake pointing at the top of her head, Nancy turned to Professor Shapiro in time to see him giving Jake the okay sign before he took off across the quad.

“What are you doing?” Nancy asked, laughing.

“Oh, nothing,” Jake said elusively.

Nancy peered at him. “Come on! Tell me what’s going on?”

“You want to be the investigative reporter. I guess you’ll have to figure it out yourself,” Jake teased, and set off down the path.

“He can be such a flake sometimes,” Nancy said to herself as she took the stairs up to the newspaper’s office.

Inside, she headed for a door that said Gail Gardeski, Editor-in-Chief.

“Hi, Gail. Sorry I’m late. Jake corralled me outside — “

Gail flashed Nancy a warm smile.

That’s weird, Nancy thought. Gail almost never smiles at me.

Gail was wearing a sun-bleached blue polo shirt over a linen skirt, and a string of African beads. She was small and thin, with a long, Roman nose and big green eyes, and though she was only a college senior Nancy thought she already had the serious, short-tempered manner of an editor at a big-time newspaper.

“I asked you to come in here today,” Gail began, “because I’ve been talking with Steve Shapiro, our faculty advisor.”

Nancy swallowed. If Gail wasn’t smiling, she’d swear she was about to be given the ax. “I just saw him outside,” Nancy said.

Gail raised an eyebrow. “Then he told you?”

Nancy cocked her head. “Told me — ?”

“That you’ve been promoted?”

Nancy almost shouted. “Promoted!”

“Yes,” Gail replied matter-of-factly. “Congratulations. You’re a full reporter.”

Nancy blushed. This was the very thing she’d been waiting for from the first day she’d started working on the paper!

Stay calm, she commanded herself. Calm.

“Wow,” she sputtered, “I mean, really. I mean, that’s great.”

Gail smiled again — twice in the same meeting, Nancy thought, dumbfounded.

“This is the fastest we’ve ever promoted a cub reporter,” Gail said, nodding. “But everyone on the editorial board thought you deserved a chance.”

“But has Professor Shapiro read anything I’ve written?”

“I assume so,” Gail replied. “But it’s not really his decision. And I’ve read all your work.”

“Of course you have,” Nancy said quickly. “I didn’t mean anything by that.” Nancy could hardly keep her thoughts straight. Her brain was swimming with new story ideas already!

“So,” Gail went on, “you’ll still get regular staff assignments, but now you can suggest stories you’d like to follow. I’ll try to approve at least one feature article for you a month. It’s a lot of work. Can you handle it?”

Nancy nodded firmly. “I can, and I will — ” Gail held up her hand. “The decision has been made by the board. But before it’s officially announced to the rest of the staff, Professor Shapiro would like to talk to you personally. How’s tomorrow?”

Nancy nodded. “Tomorrow’s great.” She hopped to her feet and started out of the office. Then she stopped herself and turned around. “Thanks, Gail.”

“You deserve it, ” Gail said, getting back to work.

Nancy was off, down the stairs, and out into the sunshine. Then she remembered Jake’s antics. Obviously, he knew about this.

Nancy looked up and down the path, eyeing the trees, wondering if Jake was lurking there, waiting for her. But how did he know about her promotion if Gail hadn’t announced it yet?

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