“She actually sent us flowers?” Nancy Drew laughed in amazement as she clutched the collar of her terry-cloth robe in one hand.
Nancy was standing in the doorway of suitemate Casey Fontaine’s room while Kara Verbeck, Nancy’s roommate, was stretched out on the stripped bed across from Casey’s. The morning sun streamed in through the windows of Casey’s room, and the chatter of students heading out to their Thursday morning classes wafted up from outside to the third floor.
“Can you believe it?” Kara said, echoing Nancy’s shock. Kara hid her pretty face in her hands and shook her head in disbelief.
“Just listen to this.” Casey held up her hand for attention. Standing at her desk in black leggings and a T-shirt, she gestured at the huge arrangement of exquisite flowers that had been delivered five minutes earlier. There was a small envelope addressed, To the girls of Thayer suite 301, and signed, Stephanie Keats Baur, Paradise.
Raking her fingers through her artfully disheveled red hair, Casey smiled as she read the card out loud.
“‘Dear Girls — Jonathan and I had a wonderful honeymoon. We took long walks, ate oysters, and spent hours sitting in front of the fireplace at the inn. Thanks for my bridal shower. What a surprise! I feel like the luckiest girl on earth! I’ll be over soon to visit. Hugs and kisses, Stephanie.'”
Kara bolted upright. “Hugs and kisses?” she repeated. “What has happened to that girl? That’s not the Stephanie who came here at the beginning of the semester.”
“And she’s coming back to visit?” Nancy asked with mock horror. “How soon?”
Casey laughed, then waved for them to stop. “Wait, there’s a PS. ‘By the way, married life is better than I ever imagined!'”
Nancy shook her head. The idea of man-crazy Stephanie Keats married — or even sticking to one man for more than a weekend — was amazing and kind of heartwarming. Kind of appalling, too, she thought.
Stephanie had met Jonathan Baur at Berrigan’s department store, where she had taken a part-time job. Jonathan was her floor manager, and it had been love at first sight — at least until Stephanie couldn’t deal with the fact that she was dating just one guy. After continuing to hop from guy to guy for a while, she finally decided that it was time to grow up and make a commitment to someone.
Her decision hadn’t been the height of romance, Nancy thought, or maturity.
Still, the entire suite, along with Casey’s Kappa sorority sisters, had thrown Stephanie a shower and helped her to put together a wedding ceremony at the Kappa house.
“Stephanie in a white wedding dress…” Nancy mused out loud.
“I wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes,” Kara said.
“And everything happened so fast,” Nancy said.
“So she wouldn’t have time to change her mind.” Kara giggled.
“But it was beautiful.” Casey sighed. “They looked so much in love. Maybe their marriage will really last.”
Nancy eyed Casey with interest. She knew that her suitemate had had her own struggles deciding when to tie the knot, ever since her movie-star boyfriend, Charley Stern, had proposed. Casey had decided she wasn’t ready, and she and Charley were in a state of “permanent engagement.”
Nancy couldn’t even imagine thinking about marriage at this point in her life. Especially since she wasn’t dating anyone at the moment.
Suddenly Casey seemed to snap out of her daydream. “Well, we’d better get used to life without Stephanie, girls,” she said firmly, glancing at Stephanie’s old bed. “I got a memo from Campus Living saying that her replacement will be here as early as tonight.”
“Really?” Nancy said, surprised. She took a comb out of her bathrobe pocket and pulled it through her long red-blond hair. “What’s her name?”
Casey shrugged. “The note didn’t say.”
Kara swung her legs over the edge of the bare mattress and gave it a bounce. “Well, whoever sleeps here tonight couldn’t possibly be as difficult as Stephanie.”
“Or as entertaining,” Nancy chimed in. “At least with Stephanie we knew what to expect.”
“Yeah, the unexpected.” Casey laughed, then glanced toward Nancy again. “Speaking of replacements…”
“Uh-oh,” Nancy interrupted her friend. “I think I know what’s coming.”
Casey grinned. “I was just going to ask if you’ve gone out with anyone since Judd left.”
Nancy’s love life at Wilder had been like a roller-coaster ride. After breaking up with her high school boyfriend. Ned Nickerson, she had gone out with her rival at the campus newspaper. Jake Collins. After that didn’t work out, she got interested in Judd Wright, who had just left Wilder for Cal State and a full track scholarship.
Nancy shook her head. “No. But it’s okay,” she told Kara. “I’m not really looking for a new boyfriend right now.”
Kara stood up. “Judd’s transferring so soon after you guys met was a real bummer,” she said sympathetically.
Nancy shrugged, trying to make the best of it. “Cal State has one of the top track programs in the country,” Nancy told her friends. “Judd will be happier there.”
“But what about you?” Casey asked.
“If Judd’s happy, I’m happy. Especially now that suite three-oh-one is going to have a new face to liven things up.”
Just then she spotted Casey’s clock on her desk. It was almost nine. She whirled around and headed out into the hall to go to her room. “I’ve got to get going,” she called over her shoulder. “I have a meeting at the Student Union in five minutes!”
“Forty-eight, forty-nine…fifty!” Jake Collins, barefoot in blue jeans and a sleeveless T-shirt, collapsed facedown on his living-room floor. He rested for a second, then sat up, catching a glimpse of his reflection in the blank screen of the TV. His brown hair was tousled, and sweat beaded his forehead. Jake had been working out hard for over an hour.
“What a stud,” a sardonic voice quipped behind him.
“Huh?” Jake said, startled. His roommate, Nick Dimartini, stood wrapped in a giant bath towel in the doorway, the right half of his hair crushed and his face creased from deep sleep. “Did I wake you?” Jake asked apologetically.
“No,” Nick said groggily, rubbing his eyes. “I was wide-awake, doing calculus.”
“Sorry,” Jake said sheepishly. He had woken Nick. “I’ll try to be quieter.”
Nick collapsed on the couch. “What’s wrong with you, Collins? It used to take a convoy of dump trucks to wake you. But the last couple of weeks you’ve been up early and bouncing off the walls.”
Jake hopped to his feet and strode over to the refrigerator to pour himself a glass of juice. He downed it in four gulps. “Nothing’s the matter,” he said finally.
“Oh, really?” Nick replied doubtfully. “Then why are you so hyper all the time?”
“Purpose and energy are a bad thing?”
“They are in you!” Nick said. “Frankly, I’m worried.”
“I’m not hyper,” Jake shot back. “I’m working out a lot. I just want to get in good shape.”
“Since when?” Nick demanded.
Jake searched the ceiling. “Since — I don’t know. Since whenever.”
“I’ll tell you whenever,” Nick replied. “Since you and the female race called it quits.”
“I didn’t call it quits with the whole female race — “
“Okay,” Nick corrected himself. “Since Nancy dumped you.”
Jake felt a bolt of unexpected emotion. “She didn’t dump me!” he yelled.
A wry smile tugged at the corners of Nick’s mouth. “Touched a nerve, did I?”
“Girls and I just aren’t getting along at the moment,” Jake said more calmly. “It’s nothing serious. Just a little temporary misunderstanding. I don’t understand them and they don’t understand me. So I’m just taking a time out.” He glared at Nick. “But Nancy definitely did not dump me.”
Nick held up his hands in mock surrender. “Whatever you say, Casanova. I’m not trying to give you a hard time. It just bothers me to see you like this.”
Jake softened and sat on the couch next to Nick. “Maybe I am a little wound up,” he admitted.
“Why don’t you spend more time at the newspaper?” Nick suggested.
“No way.” Jake shook his head. “Nancy’s there all the time. Her stories are so good that Gail ‘Editor-in-Chief’ Gardeski throws her almost every big lead. I don’t mind running into Nancy every once in a while, but seeing her every day is kind of depressing. She’s so” — Jake struggled for the word — “so happy,” he finished with a scowl.
“But Judd Wright is now oh-so-conveniently two thousand miles away,” Nick pointed out.
“Judd Wright wasn’t our problem,” Jake muttered unhappily. He stood up and headed back to the kitchen, where he dumped some cereal into a bowl. “I didn’t really get it, but I think Nancy just lost interest.”
Nick shook his head at Jake’s miserable expression. “Collins, you’re in sad shape. You need someone new — and not someone five foot seven with gorgeous blue eyes and reddish blond hair.”
Brown eyes would be nice, Jake said to himself. Shoveling a spoonful of cereal in his mouth, he nodded. Why fight it? he thought. I do need someone to distract me from Nancy.
So far, writing for the newspaper hadn’t done the trick — neither had working out obsessively.
Jake carried his cereal bowl to the sink and rinsed it out. Finding a new woman was good advice. The problem was, Jake couldn’t imagine anyone coming along who would be special enough to make him forget Nancy Drew.
“This is so nerve-wracking,” Bess Marvin moaned as she paced the crowded hallway outside the drama department office in the Hewlitt Performing Arts Center.
“You’d better get used to it,” her friend Brian Daglian warned. He put on a British accent. “This is the thespian life, after all.”
“Sounds like a disease,” Bess muttered, studying the small crowd that filled the hall way. Almost all the students in the drama department were there, and had been for as long as Bess. They were all waiting for Jeanne Glasseburg, a New York acting coach and visiting professor, to post the cast list for their next drama department production, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.
“I don’t think I can stand the suspense any longer,” Bess said, searching in her pocket for a piece of gum or anything she could chew on besides her fingernails.
“Neither can the floor,” Brian joked, giving her blond ponytail a playful tug. “Bess, you’ve been pacing this hallway for the past thirty minutes. And the audition wasn’t for the part of the Energizer Bunny.”
“Thanks a lot,” Bess replied, narrowing her eyes at him. “Whenever I forget what it is I love about you, you always remind me with one of your supportive, nurturing, friendly comments.”
“Which is not to say that if this was an Energizer Bunny audition, you wouldn’t win hands down.” Brian grinned. “Unfortunately,” he added, “the production we’re hoping to be a part of is Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, not Bunny on a Hot Tin Roof.“
“And cats, of course, have been known to eat bunnies,” a low voice drawled from behind them.
Bess turned and saw the star of the drama department, junior theater major Daphne Gillman. As usual, Daphne’s hair was done in its glamorous 1940s style, making her look like Madonna impersonating Marilyn Monroe. And, as usual, she looked incredible.
“How nice of you to join the lowly masses,” Brian teased. “I thought you didn’t hang out waiting for cast lists to be posted.”
“I usually don’t,” Daphne agreed coolly. “But that’s just because I haven’t had to worry about which part I got since my freshman year — when I started getting leads.”
“Does that mean you’re wondering about this lead?” Brian asked curiously. “Because I thought Bess’s audition was pretty good.”
Bess felt her face burning as Daphne turned to give her a long hard stare. Ms. Glasseburg herself had asked Bess to audition for Maggie, the lead, which had helped Bess feel positive about herself during tryouts. Bess thought her audition had gone well, but obviously, Daphne didn’t agree.
After a moment Daphne relaxed. She smiled and shook her head at Bess like a mother scolding her child. “Yes,” Daphne admitted. “Bess had a nice audition. She should get one of the smaller roles.”
Don’t let her upset you, Bess told herself. Everyone knew that Daphne was confidence personified. And she was confident because she was talented. The problem was, she was also rude. Bess did her best to paste a smile on her face. “So, why did you show up to read the cast lists? What’s the occasion, Daphne?”
“I just came because I thought it would be fun,” Daphne said. “I’m not worried about my part, though. How could Jeanne pick anyone else to play a character as complex as Maggie? I mean, it must be obvious that there isn’t anyone here who could play her as well as I could.”
“Sure,” Brian muttered. “So obvious that I didn’t even consider it.”
Bess didn’t miss the sarcasm in Brian’s voice. Still, it was hard for her to disagree with Daphne. After all, Daphne could definitely play the part of a sultry temptress like Maggie. She was tall, thin, and gorgeous. And then there was her acting ability. Most everyone agreed that Daphne was the runaway choice for the lead. She really would make a perfect Maggie.
“But I guess it’s fun for you to see if you’re going to be cast,” Daphne continued.
“I guess I’ll be lucky to get the role of the rug she walks on,” Brian joked under his breath as he pulled Bess away. “Oh please, please, let me be the rug or the floor. At least the doormat.”
“I have the funniest feeling you wouldn’t just lie there,” Bess started.
Brian quieted her by squeezing her hand. Bess froze.
“The guessing game is over,” he whispered. “Here comes Professor Glasseburg.”
Nancy sprinted into the main sitting area at the Student Union, her book for her ten o’clock class in Western civ clutched to her chest. She’d spent so much time talking with Casey and Kara that morning that she’d almost forgotten about meeting a photographer from the Wilder Times. She’d had just enough time to throw on a pair of old jeans, a bulky Wilder U. sweatshirt, and a corduroy jacket that had once belonged to her father and get to the Union to meet Gary Friedman.
Nancy quickly scanned the clusters of tables, chairs, and couches, where students sat around studying or talking while they ate bagels and drank coffee.
Finally she spotted Gary kicked back in one of the easy chairs, a cup of coffee and a Danish beside him. He wore a baseball cap over his short hair with the bill low over his wire-rimmed glasses. He appeared to be asleep. At his feet was a black case filled with photography equipment. Nancy met Gary shortly after she had started working on the paper. He was a very talented photographer and had won prizes in national photography contests. Every one at the Times loved working with him and being around his dry, ironic sense of humor.
“Sorry I’m a few minutes late, Gary.” Nancy panted as she hurried toward him.
“Hey, Nance!” He pushed back his cap and motioned to the chair next to his. “Don’t worry, my next class isn’t for a half hour,” he said.
As she sat down, Nancy noticed that Gary was a little pale, and that dark half-moons cupped the bottoms of his eyes. “Are you feeling okay?” she asked him with concern. “You look like you haven’t slept for a week.”
Gary squinted up at the ceiling. “Let me see. Has it been one week — or two?”
Gary shook his head. “I have this psycho premed roommate, Trevor McClain, who likes to study around the clock. He’s so intense. If he doesn’t get a four-point-oh, he freaks.”
Nancy nodded. “I know the type.”
“Unfortunately, he hates libraries,” Gary went on. “So, when he’s not at the lab, he’s in our room, studying. And while he studies, he listens to his Walkman, with the earphones over this stupid Toledo Mudhens baseball cap he always wears, and — “
“Wait!” Nancy jumped in before Gary could finish. “Let me guess,” she said. “He hums along with his Walkman!”
“Exactly,” Gary said. “And let’s just say Trevor’s not exactly a gifted singer.” He sighed. “Anyway, enough about me. What’s so important that we had to meet this morning?”
As Nancy eyed Gary’s Danish, she felt a plaintive rumble in her stomach. She hadn’t had time to grab breakfast. “I just wanted to tell you your plans for tomorrow afternoon.”
“My plans?” Gary asked. “How would you know my plans?”
“Because I just made them.” Nancy smiled. “But everything’s been okayed by Gail at the newspaper, and your Wilder Times calendar has been cleared. As of tomorrow afternoon you belong to me.”
“I’m a little busy right now,” Gary started to explain. “I’m doing this huge photo essay on campus housing — “
“I’ve heard about it,” Nancy cut in. “It sounds like fun, but this job is even more fun,” Nancy insisted.
Gary rolled his eyes. “Okay. What is it?” he asked.
Nancy poked his knee. “You’ll love it,” she told him again. “My friend George Fayne has a friend, Mara Lindon, who is putting together a really interesting exhibit on the history of women’s athletics at Wilder University.”
Suddenly Gary’s eyes sparkled with interest. “Did you say Mara Lindon?”
“Oh, yeah, Mara Lindon. And I’m writing a feature on the show for the Times,” Nancy said breezily. “And you — “
“And I’m taking the pictures!” Gary finished.
Gary gave her a suspicious look. “Did I, uh, ever happen to mention that I’ve had a little crush on Mara Lindon since the minute I laid eyes on her during this year’s freshman orientation?”
Nancy grinned. “Oh, only about ten or twenty times,” she said.
Gary gave her an embarrassed smirk.
She smiled back at him.
“So you’re free tomorrow afternoon after she has tennis practice?”
“As you said, my calendar is completely clear,” he replied.
“Good.” Nancy stood up and waved goodbye to Gary, a satisfied grin on her face.
You’re brilliant, Nancy Drew, she congratulated herself. Not only had she managed to get the best photographer on the paper to work with her on a story about women’s athletics, she had also found a way to hook Gary up with Mara.
So what if your own love life has come to a major halt? Nancy thought. Maybe Gary’s is about to take off!