Getting Closer – First Chapter

Chapter 1

Nancy Drew was glowing as she stood by the entrance of the Student Union. Every time she looked at the newspaper in her hands, a thrill swept through her from head to toe. She had been walking on air from the moment she’d picked up a copy of the paper that Wednesday afternoon.

Nancy couldn’t stop staring at the three little words right below the headline of the article in the Wilder Times: “By Nancy Drew.” Her name, in black and white. Right there on the front page.

“Feels good, doesn’t it?” a deep voice spoke up next to Nancy.

“Jake!” she cried.

Before his name was even out of her mouth, Jake Collins was pulling her into a huge hug and deep kiss. His arms closed tightly around her, and Nancy melted against him, tingling from head to toe. She reached up automatically to touch his brown hair.

“To see your byline on the front page, I mean,” Jake whispered. “Congratulations.”

Nancy caught her breath, floating gently back down to earth. She leaned back just enough to look at her boyfriend.

She’d never known anyone like Jake before. With his thick hair and cowboy boots, he wasn’t so much handsome as striking — and incredibly magnetic. The more she got to know him, the more she was drawn to him. Every time she looked into his eyes — irresistible rays of brown — she grew weak in the knees.

“So tell me, Ms. Drew,” Jake said, holding an imaginary microphone in front of her as they headed indoors. “How does it feel to break the hottest story to hit Wilder this semester?”

Nancy felt a grin spread across her face. “Great. But you’d better watch what you say, Jake.” She shot him a look of mock worry. “If you keep tossing out compliments like that, people will start to wonder what happened to the brutally honest, tough critic everyone on the paper is so intimidated by.”

“I am being honest,” Jake insisted. “That article was hot news and well written. That’s my totally unbiased, objective opinion.”

“Well, since you put it that way…” Nancy said slowly. She gazed intently into his eyes, drinking him in. “Then thanks.”

The article was a major expose about REACH, a cultlike group that had recently been on campus and was led by a man who turned out to be more interested in his followers’ money than their well-being.

Suddenly the sounds of shouting and laughter came from the back corner of the cavernous room they had entered.

“Par-ty…Par-ty…Par-ty!”

Nancy and Jake looked over to see a group of people squeezed around a table so that they blended into a fuzzy mass of arms, faces, clothes, and hair.

“Hey, Nancy, Jake!” Nancy’s suitemate Reva Ross leaned away from the group and waved at Nancy. “Pull up a chair!”

“What’s going on?” Nancy called over, laughing. “Did somebody win the lottery or something?” As she and Jake walked over to the table, Nancy saw that two more of her suitemates, Kara Verbeck and Liz Bader, were there, too.

“I wish,” Reva’s boyfriend, Andy Rodriguez, spoke up.

Kara grinned up at Nancy, her brown hair spilling over her shoulders. “Anyway, since when do we need an excuse to have a good time?”

You’re the one who had a reason to celebrate,” Liz told Nancy. She nodded to the Wilder Times tucked under Nancy’s arm. “I saw your article on REACH. Front page and everything. Congratulations!”

“Thanks,” Nancy said simply, not wanting to make a big deal about the article. The truth was, she was really proud of it, but talking about it made her feel self-conscious.

“I’m getting some fries,” she said, changing the subject. “Anyone want anything?”

“I do. I’m starving,” said Jake. “I’ll come with you.”

Half a dozen people also called out orders. While Nancy and Jake waited for the man at the grill to fill them, Nancy opened her copy of the Times again.

Nancy moved to the side as a man stepped past her, then she did a double take. It was Dan McCall, her journalism professor.

“Hello, Jake,” Professor McCall said, nodding. He had a powerful build and blue eyes that seemed to pick out every detail.

When he saw Nancy, he tapped a copy of the Wilder Times that stuck out of the bulging briefcase tucked under his arm. “I read your article on REACH, Nancy. Nice job.”

Nancy hadn’t even realized that he knew who she was. Journalism 100 had dozens of people in it. There wasn’t much opportunity for individual attention. “You liked it? Really?” she asked.

“It was organized, concise, interesting.” Professor McCall ticked off the points on his fingers with the same straightforward style he used in class. “Keep up the good work.” With another nod, he disappeared into the crowd.

“I told you I was being objective,” Jake said.

Nancy felt a delicious shiver as he slipped an arm around her waist and drew her close to him. “Why don’t we go out to celebrate tonight?”

“Tonight?” Nancy blinked herself back to reality. “Well, I’ve got mountains of reading to do for — “

She didn’t have a chance to finish her sentence, because Jake bent to cover her mouth in a long, sweet kiss that left her reeling. “I’ll pick you up at eight,” he murmured into her hair. “Okay?”

For a moment all Nancy could do was hang on to his flannel shirt. She felt so giddy, she was sure she’d fall if she let go of him. When she finally answered, her voice was a breathless whisper. “Sounds great.”

“Watch your step, George.” Will Blackfeather opened the door to the environmental science lab, then stepped back to let his girlfriend, George Fayne, angle through on her crutches.

“I can’t wait until I get rid of these things, so I can walk around like a normal human being again,” George said as she hobbled into the noisy corridor.

“You look all right to me,” Will commented, his eyes sliding appreciatively over her lean curves. “Better than all right.”

A second later she felt his lips on the back of her neck in a soft kiss. It was so electric that George stopped right in the middle of the hallway.

“If you’re trying to make me forget that I have a sprained ankle,” she breathed, “it’s working.”

“It’s my own personal brand of medicine. Works every time,” Will murmured. Straightening up, he shouldered her backpack over his own, his brown eyes sparkling. “Anytime you need help, just call on me.”

“Gee, thanks.” George laughed, blowing her dark brown curls off her forehead. “It’s great to know that I’m going out with such a selfless, giving person.”

“Absolutely,” Will told her, keeping a straight face. “I want to do everything I can to help you recuperate. Let’s say we schedule a session for” — he leaned forward and slipped an arm around her shoulders — “right now.”

“I’d love to, but…” Reluctantly George pushed him away. “Shouldn’t we be walking over to the Kaplan Arts Center? They’re posting the final choice for the World of Art Show this afternoon, aren’t they?”

Will took a deep breath and nodded. “At four o’clock,” he answered, glancing at his watch. “I guess we should head that way. It’s twenty of now.”

“Not that I have any doubts about which show will be chosen,” George said, as they made their way down the stairs to the exit. “Cherokee Traditions of Art, curated by Will Blackfeather.”

Just talking about Will’s show made her smile. It was hard to believe that less than a month had passed since Will had first told her that Wilder’s Fine Arts Department was sponsoring a new series of art exhibits, called the World of Art. Each show would be organized by a student curator and chosen by jury committee. A week earlier they’d learned that the World of Art jury committee had narrowed the selection to three proposals, including Will’s.

“I can’t take all the credit,” Will said, tweaking her nose. “You helped me write the proposal.”

George groaned. “Only because I wound up with this bum ankle when I was training for the Earthworks race. You’re the one who thought of exhibiting artifacts owned by the Cherokee in Oklahoma.”

Will smiled at her — a wide, infectious grin that lit up his whole face. “It was partly just an excuse to get back in touch with people from the Cherokee Nation again,” he said, shrugging. “My family kind of lost contact after we moved to South Dakota, back when I was in high school.”

George shot him a sideways glance. “So, I guess the actual artifacts don’t mean anything to you at all, huh?” she teased.

“Well, I wouldn’t say that….” Will said slowly. “Actually, Cherokee crafts are incredibly beautiful. You should see the weavings and pottery and ceremonial pipes and stuff. I mean, it’s more than just art. Those things tell the story of my ancestors and our folklore.”

George reached out and twined her fingers with Will’s. “Sounds amazing,” she told him.

“I wish I could be sure that the jury committee felt the same way we do.” Will shrugged as he raked a hand through his straight black hair. “It seems like everyone’s talking about Holly Thornton’s proposal for Alternative Art and Design.”

“Not everyone,” George insisted. “Bess is in Holly’s sorority, and she’s rooting for your show to be chosen.”

“Bess is your cousin,” Will pointed out dryly. He leaned over to kiss her on the cheek. “But if you’re trying to cheer me up, it’s working.”

“Glad to be of service,” George said, grinning. Will pushed open the main door to the science building, and a gust of cold wind hit George. “Anyway, people are only talking about Holly’s show because they already know her and the artists she wants to exhibit,” she said. “Face it. A lot of people don’t know much about Native American art.”

“Mmm,” Will agreed. “I guess Frank Chung is in the same boat I am. I mean, Chinese art isn’t exactly the hottest topic on campus, either.”

Frank Chung was the third finalist, George recalled. He wanted to exhibit his family’s private collection of Chinese art. “Well, I’m sure the jury’s not going to be swayed by popular opinion. They’ll judge all three proposals objectively,” she said.

“I hope so.” Will said.

“It’s almost four. We’d better hurry.” She threw him a teasing grin over her shoulder. “Come on. I’ll race you.”

Will’s eyes lit up. “Sounds like a challenge. What does the winner get?” he asked.

George raised one eyebrow suggestively, then shot forward on her crutches. “I’ll tell you later….”

“Study break!” Bess Marvin closed her bio notebook and flopped back against the couch in the living room of the Kappa sorority. “I don’t know why anyone would actually choose to learn this stuff. Is there any way that knowing the reproductive system of the fruit fly is going to be important to me later in life?”

“Only if you’re planning to marry one.” Casey Fontaine grinned at Bess from the living room floor, where she sat surrounded by notecards.

Bess raised an eyebrow at Casey, shooting her a dubious glance. “I think you got out of L.A. just in time, Case,” she said. “All those years in TV have totally warped you.”

“That’s why I went to L.A. in the first place, didn’t you know? So I could turn into a social deviant,” Casey shot back good-naturedly.

Bess shook her head, but she couldn’t help laughing. Sometimes it was still hard to believe that she was friends with someone who had starred in a hit television series before beginning college. But that was Casey — a megastar. Tall and willowy, with short red hair and a face that was worshipped by guys across the country. At the beginning of the semester, Bess had thought that Casey might be just another spoiled Hollywood brat-packer. But that was before Casey moved into Nancy’s suite. Before she and Bess acted together in Grease!, and before they both became Kappa pledges. Now that Bess knew Casey, she had to admit that she was really great.

“Actually, I’ve got bugs on the brain,” Casey admitted. “It’s this paper I’m doing for comparative lit, on The Metamorphosis. It’s about a guy who wakes up to find out he’s turned into an insect.”

“Yech. What a fate,” Bess said, grimacing. “Did the poor guy have a girlfriend?”

Casey arched one of her russet brows. “Sounds like you’ve got a case of romance on the brain,” she teased.

Bess smiled to herself, picturing Paul Cody’s ruggedly handsome face. “Maybe,” she admitted. “Too bad that so far most of the romance is only in my head.”

“I’ve seen the way Paul Cody looks at you,” Casey said knowingly. “And you are definitely not imagining things.”

“I guess not,” Bess said, her cheeks growing hot. “But between pledging Kappa, being in Grease!, and helping out with the Earthworks race, I’ve hardly have a chance to even talk to him.”

Casey shot a look around the deserted living room. “Um, Bess? All that stuff has wound down, in case you hadn’t noticed,” she pointed out. “So shouldn’t you be somewhere with Paul instead of hanging around here?”

“Actually, we have a sort-of date in a little while,” Bess confided.

“A sort-of date?” Casey asked.

Bess pulled a small datebook from beneath her bio notebook, opened it, and handed it to Casey.

“‘Ten minutes with Paul at Java Joe’s,'” Casey read. “Bess, you can’t even say hello in less than ten minutes. You’ll never get to know the guy if this is all the time you’re giving him.”

“It was Paul’s idea,” Bess said, holding up her hands defensively. “He said that I was always so busy, he figured the only way to see me was to schedule himself in.”

Casey stared at her, then broke out laughing. “Dating on the installment plan. Only you could come up with something so outrageous.”

Bess opened her mouth to object, but Casey cut her off. “I know, I know. It was Paul’s idea.”

“The pathetic part is, I’ve been so tied up with other things that we’ve actually had to use these ten-minute slots in order to see each other,” Bess said.

“And you think I’m warped?” Casey asked. “You’ve been sitting here for the last hour reading about fruit flies when you could have been with a guy who’s obviously crazy about you.”

“I needed to get some study time in,” Bess insisted. “And that’s been impossible in my dorm room lately.”

“Leslie?” Casey guessed.

“You got it,” Bess said with a groan. Her roommate, Leslie King, was premed, compulsively organized, and the complete opposite of Bess. “She’s been pulling all-nighters at least twice a week. If I breathe too loudly, she practically bites my head off.”

“Sounds painful,” Casey joked, grimacing.

Bess laughed, but the truth was, she was starting to worry about Leslie. Leslie had always been a study-aholic, but the last few weeks she’d been even more stressed out than usual. Sometimes Bess slept on the couch at the sorority just to keep out of Leslie’s way.

The sound of the sorority’s front door opening and closing broke into Bess’s thoughts. Soozie Beckerman appeared in the living room doorway, her straight blond hair brushed into a perfect geometric cut above her shoulders.

“Hi. Casey,” Soozie said in a sugary voice. Then she saw Bess, and her smile faded. “Oh, hi,” she added flatly.

“Hi,” Bess said, but Soozie acted as if she wasn’t even there. Sitting on one of the chairs, she started talking to Casey about some club in L.A. that Soozie had been to.

It never failed, Bess reflected. Whenever she was around, Soozie either just ignored her or said something really insulting. Bess knew it wasn’t her fault. Soozie acted like that around all the pledges who were friends with Holly. But that didn’t make it any easier to get used to.

Soozie broke off as the phone sounded from the kitchen. A moment later a voice called out, “Is Bess here?”

“Yes!” Bess jumped up from the couch, relieved to have an excuse to get away from Soozie.

She ran to the kitchen and grabbed the phone from a Kappa sister who was making a sandwich. “‘Lo?” Bess said into the receiver.

“Don’t you ever spend time in your dorm any more?” Brian Daglian’s voice came over the line.

“Not if I can help it,” she said, grinning. “What’s up, Brian?”

She and Brian had both had a hard time adjusting to being in college. Getting to know him had saved her during the first few weeks of the semester. She’d even thought he might be boyfriend material — before he’d confided to her that he was gay. Now, he was her closest friend, besides Nancy and George.

“Don’t tell me you forgot,” Brian said.

Bess bit her lip and looked around the Kappas’ kitchen, as if something there could tell her what he was talking about. “Well, um…”

“The Drama Club auditions,” he reminded her. “Today’s the last day to sign up.”

“Oh, my gosh.” Bess slapped herself on the forehead. “I am such an airhead!”

It had been days since Brian had told her about the Drama Club’s next project, performing a series of one-act plays. “I was supposed to tell Casey, too,” she went on, groaning. “I hope it’s not too late.”

“Call the Drama Department secretary right away to hold audition spots for you two,” Brian said. “And this time, don’t forget!”

“Thanks, Bri. You’re a lifesaver,” Bess told him. “I’ll talk to you later, okay?”

She hung up the phone, then ran for the living room. “Casey, you’re going to kill me!”

Casey and Soozie both turned to stare at her. “What happened?” Casey asked, looking worried.

There was no graceful way to say it, so Bess just blurted it out. “The Drama Club’s holding auditions for a bunch of one-act plays, and today’s the last day to sign up.”

“You’re kidding! I can’t believe I didn’t know about it,” Casey said, jumping up from the couch. “I’m definitely signing up.”

“Me, too, if I can keep my head screwed on to my body long enough to call the Drama Department,” Bess said. “Sorry, Casey. I promised Brian I’d tell you, but I totally forgot until now.”

“Don’t worry about it,” Casey said. She started for the kitchen, then stopped to look back at Bess. “Actually, you could be in bigger trouble than you thought, Bess,” she said mysteriously.

“I could?” Bess started to worry — until she saw the teasing glint in Casey’s green eyes.

“With Paul,” Casey explained. “He’s going to kill you when he finds out that you’ve got another extracurricular activity.”

She picked up Bess’s date book and tossed it to her. “You’d better not be late for your date,” she added with a grin. “It might be the last chance you have to see him for a while.”

“Voila!” Eileen O’Connor announced. With a flourish she ripped off a large sketch she’d been working on and tacked it up on the studio wall. “What do you think?”

Holly Thornton stood back and looked critically at the charcoal drawing. For the last ten minutes Holly and B.J. Olson, a fine arts graduate student, had been in B.J.’s studio, posing for Eileen in front of B.J.’s latest sculpture — a mixed-media extravaganza of video screens, metal wire, old bolts, and neon lights.

“Great,” she told Eileen. “You’re really loosening up. And you’ve caught the essence of both figures.”

“You think so?” Eileen asked, her freckled face lighting up with pleasure.

B.J. slid off the stool where he’d been sitting and came over to stand next to Holly. He pointed to the wild mop of hair that Eileen had drawn, then dug his fingers into his own wiry blond curls. “You’ve definitely caught the essence of a bad hair day,” he said.

Turning to Holly, he added, “Hey, maybe you should put this piece into the World of Art exhibit.”

At the mention of the exhibit, Holly buzzed with excitement. It would be a major boost to her career to curate the premiere show of the World of Art series. But she had to remind herself that it wasn’t a done deal yet.

“We don’t know which proposal the jury committee’s chosen,” she told BJ. and Eileen. “They won’t post their decision for” — she shot a quick look at her watch — -“five more minutes.”

“Everyone I’ve talked to said the committee would be crazy not to go with your proposal,” Eileen spoke up. “An exhibit of alternative art and design by Wilder students.”

“Including a piece by artistic genius Bjorn J. Olson,” B.J. put in. He stepped forward to tap a video screen that was built into his sculpture, with copper wire wrapped artfully around it.

Holly couldn’t hold back the grin that spread across her face. She felt good about her proposal. The work she’d chosen was very strong. And it did make sense to start the series with a show by the university’s own students.

“A lot could hinge on this for me,” she confided. “Double Negative Design is looking for a summer intern. Their personnel director told me that if I got this show, that would pretty much guarantee me the spot.”

“I’m impressed. Double Negative Design does the window designs for the most innovative stores in the country,” Eileen said, her hazel eyes widening.

“Not to mention that a summer job could lead to something permanent after graduation,” B.J. added.

Holly had already thought about that — over and over. “Well, ” she said, looking back and forth between B.J. and Eileen. “It’s zero hour. Will you guys come with me?”

“Try to stop us,” Eileen said.

The three of them made their way through the paint-splattered studios and down to the third floor of Kaplan. The department offices were located along a balcony that overlooked the main gallery, on the second floor. As Holly, B.J., and Eileen came out of the stairwell, Holly saw Will and George coming from the escalator. They arrived at the offices just as a secretary pinned up a sheet of paper on the bulletin board there.

Holly stopped a few feet away, her palms sweaty. Get a hold of yourself, she ordered, shaking herself. She made herself take the last few steps and look at the announcement: Wilder University’s Fine Arts Department is pleased to announce…

“Blah, blah, blah,” Holly murmured. Her eyes flew impatiently to the end of the short paragraph, looking for the name of the show that had been chosen.

When she saw the words, Holly’s eyes widened in surprise. “No way! I can’t believe this!”

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