“Where is he?” Casey Fontaine wondered out loud, nervously raking her fingers through her short red hair as she stood in the lounge area of Suite 301 of Thayer Hall. Casey heard a door open and looked up to see Nancy Drew, one of her suitemates, coming down the hail wrapped in a bath sheet, wet strawberry blond hair tied back in a scrunchie.
“What time is it?” Casey asked her.
Nancy threw her a wry smile. “Since the last time you asked was before my shower, and now it’s after my shower, I’d say it’s a good ten minutes later. Which would put it at about ten thirty-seven and six seconds. But that’s just a rough guesstimate,” she said, and disappeared into her room with a grin.
“Funny,” Casey deadpanned.
It was Sunday morning, and she’d been waiting for her boyfriend, Charley Stern, since ten o’clock. She never realized how slowly time could pass.
“Boyfriend? Try husband,” she muttered under her breath, testing the word out loud. She had to admit, the idea was starting to grow on her.
House with a pool, kids, school lunches…It struck Casey how much life would change if she said just one little word: Yes.
A couple of weeks earlier, Charley had flown to Wilder University from California to propose to her. But instead of feeling romantic bliss, Casey felt emotionally ambushed. Of course, she loved him; she loved him to death. Her talented former costar on the hit TV show The President’s Daughter, Charley was gorgeous, smart, funny, and sensitive, as well as a great actor. More than one teen magazine had named them one of the top ten cutest couples in America.
Casey didn’t say yes, and she didn’t say no. She said she needed to think — and talk — about it. After two weeks of hard thinking and countless long-distance calls, she and Charley decided they needed to discuss it face-to-face.
“Am I ready to be Casey Stern?” she muttered for what felt like the thousandth time.
She heard a small laugh behind her. “What about Stern-Fontaine?“
Casey whirled around. Nancy was back, barefoot, in jeans and a black T-shirt, drying the back of her head with a towel.
“What do you think?” Casey appealed to her.
Nancy’s sky blue eyes sparkled with curiosity. “It’s not what I think that’s important. The question is, what do you think?”
“Marriage is such a huge step,” Casey said, shaking her head. “And Charley’s always been in a rush. The guy was a TV star when he was twelve!”
“And a sex symbol at seventeen,” Nancy re minded her. “Life in the fast lane. Must be rough.”
Casey blew a stray hair out of her eyes. “I’m just starting to find out what being a college student is like. Believe it or not, I’m really getting into Russian lit. Why couldn’t he have waited three or four years?”
“Who died?” came the all-too-familiar voice of Stephanie Keats. Casey’s roommate sauntered down the hall wearing a black spandex outfit that looked like exercise wear but on Stephanie would never even get sweaty.
“You two look so serious,” Stephanie drawled.
Casey smiled to herself. Stephanie, the only woman alive who thought being a couch potato made her an athlete, hadn’t exercised a day in her life. But she had a great body, long and lean, and was a believer in clothes of the skin tight variety.
“She’s waiting for Charley,” Nancy explained.
“Really!” Stephanie said, feigning surprise. “It’s getting to be a permanent condition.”
Nancy sniffed. “What’s that smell?”
Casey eyed Stephanie’s outfit. “Why is it that every time Charley is about to arrive, you appear wearing next to nothing and smelling like a perfume factory?”
Stephanie tossed her head. “I have absolutely no idea what you’re talking about.”
There was a knock on the suite door. Stephanie smoothed her long dark hair.
As she reached for the knob, Casey’s heart began to gallop. Seeing Charley always gave her a little jolt of excitement. I still love him after all, she thought, and twisted the knob.
The doorway filled with a lean, tall man with swept-back hair and a movie star’s dark, piercing eyes. “Charley,” Casey said as she exhaled the breath she’d been holding.
“Hi.” He smiled, folding Casey into his arms.
“I’m so happy you’re here.” Casey snuggled deeper into him.
“So am I.” Charley kissed the top of her head and stepped back to look around. “Hi, Nancy, Stephanie,” he said.
Nancy gave Charley a mock stern look. “Hi, Charley. It’s about time you got here. Casey’s been counting the seconds since she got out of bed. Speaking of which — ” Nancy looked at her watch. “I have to go! It’s almost eleven, and I’ve got to meet Jake, George, and Will. See you guys later,” she called over her shoulder as she left.
“So, Charley,” Stephanie said. “How does it feel to be the future Mr. Fontaine?”
Casey took a step back. Charley was beaming down at her. “Mr. Fontaine,” he said dreamily. “I kind of like the sound of that.”
Stephanie sashayed across the lounge to drape herself over the couch. “But think of everything you’ll be giving up,” she said suggestively.
“I’m ready,” Charley said sincerely.
But am I? Casey wondered.
Nancy was laughing as she walked toward the campus quad with her friend George Fayne, George’s boyfriend, Will Blackfeather, and Nancy’s boyfriend, Jake Collins. Nancy had just finished telling the story of Stephanie primed and ready for Charley in her skin-tight clothes and cloying perfume.
George shook her brown curls. “You have to hand it to her,” she said. “She’s amazingly resourceful.”
Will shrugged. “So how come no boyfriend?”
Jake clapped Will on the shoulder. “Exactly,” he answered, half joking. “But on to more important matters — “
Jake guided the group into the grassy expanse lined by stately classroom buildings on every side.
You’re looking irresistibly gorgeous, Nancy thought, glancing at Jake in his jeans and cowboy boots, his light brown hair tousled as always.
She felt him grab her around the waist, and she collapsed against him a little, leaning her head against his familiar muscular shoulder.
Nancy and Jake had been dating since early in the semester. Their romance had started at the Wilder Times, where Jake, who was a junior at the university, was a senior reporter. Nancy, who had made cub reporter, occasionally collaborated on a story with him. Whether or not they were working, they always seemed to be together. And with each day that passed, Nancy’s feelings for him grew stronger and stronger.
In the distance, she heard the noise of a large crowd. The far end of the quad was packed with people facing a small stage.
“Wow,” George said. “There are a lot of people here.”
Will nodded. “I didn’t think there were that many people into animal rights.”
“I bet that’s what the university thought, too,” Jake commented. “They’re in for a surprise.”
It was Jake who’d told them about this demonstration to protest the abuses of research animals at a Wilder lab. He’d recently gotten involved with a campus animal rights group, which purportedly had discovered evidence that a research program at the Wilder Research Facility wasn’t taking proper and humane care of the animals it was using for its experiments. There were even rumors of animals being put through painful tests for the sake of the research.
It was a crisp early-autumn day, and the air was electric with excitement. This was a serious demonstration, and many students felt deeply about animal abuse. A lot of people were carrying signs and posters with disturbing pictures of animals in cages. Students were handing out stacks of leaflets with addresses of animal rights groups in Washington. Everyone was fired up.
“It looks like a pep rally,” George said, putting her arm around Will’s waist.
“It sort of is,” Jake replied. “We don’t have to break down doors and scream to make a point, as long as the university administration can hear us. There are going to be lots of interesting speakers.”
Nancy tugged on Jake’s hand to pull him over a few steps so they’d have a better view.
“Have I told you that this is one of the things I like most about you?” she whispered. “That you care so much about ending animal abuse?”
“And do you care about it, too?”
Nancy searched his dark brown eyes. They were earnest, deep, full of emotion.
“Of course. Who wouldn’t be concerned about the abuse of animals?” she replied.
“You’d be surprised,” Jake said, pointing toward the stage.
Nancy looked up and noticed a man in a tweed jacket flanked by a few older graduate students.
“That’s Professor Bailey,” Jake explained. “He’s in the bio department, and supposedly he’s going to defend the university by describing what really goes on in the lab.” Jake rolled his eyes. “He’s nice, but he really doesn’t get it.”
Nancy felt a surge of excitement. “This is definitely what college is all about,” she said. “Taking a stand on big issues.”
Jake nodded toward the stage. “It looks like they’re about to start. Let’s get back to George and Will. This is going to be interesting.”
Standing in front of her full-length mirror, Stephanie flashed herself an approving smile. Her long black hair had a slight wind-blown look. Stephanie’s high cheekbones and feline eyes had been painstakingly made up to give her slim, sculpted face a special lift and that out-to-kill look.
“Drop-dead gorgeous,” she thought out loud, holding a new peach-colored silk dress up to her neck.
More new clothes and credit card receipts were flung across her bed. The suite was quiet. Thank goodness, Casey and Charley, the two sticky lovebirds, had finally flown away, she thought. Most of the other women in the suite were at the animal rights protest. Stephanie’s only interest in animals was the quality of their fur — for coats and hats.
Stephanie turned her head, exposing a long stretch of voluptuous neck. The dress wasn’t much more than a fancy negligee. Perfect for a dinner date, Stephanie thought to herself.
“But with who?” she muttered despondently. She thought about how many guys she’d dated since she had come to Wilder, and realized she couldn’t remember any of their names. They were all so boring.
“You’re going to have to go out and get yourself an older man,” she said to her reflection, zipping herself into a long black gown that exposed her lean, shapely back. Maybe one of the rich Wilder trustees.
“Daddy would have loved me in this dress,” Stephanie mused. “Too bad now he wouldn’t even notice.”
There was a knock at the door. “Steph?” It was Kara Verbeck, Nancy’s roommate.
“Not Miss Annoying,” Stephanie muttered. “No one’s here,” she called out.
Kara laughed from behind the door. “Reva and I are going down to the cafeteria for brunch. Interested?”
“Let’s see — rubberized French toast, puddles of eggs. Mmm-mm. Can’t wait…I don’t think so.”
After a pause Stephanie could hear Kara’s footsteps fading down the hall.
Actually, she was kind of hungry. But Kara’s syrupy sweetness and Reva Ross’s hyperintelligent questions were the last things in the world — except maybe her new stepmother’s playful little giggle — she wanted to deal with right now.
Wincing, Stephanie replayed in her mind her strained goodbye with her dad after his visit to Wilder. He’d brought along his new wife, Kiki. And, not surprisingly, Kiki turned out to be everything Stephanie had feared: irritatingly pretty, annoyingly peppy — and just ten years older than Stephanie.
Stephanie couldn’t deny it: Kiki was a fast-forward version of herself. The only problem was, her father had eyes only for Kiki now.
“You didn’t ask a single question about me, Dad,” she complained to the mirror. “It was Kiki this, Kiki that. And thanks to her, it’s goodbye Bahamas for Christmas. Now it’s hiking out West.” She mocked Kiki’s energetic babble. “Nuts and berries, bears and soggy sleeping bags. Golly gee. What a plan. Thanks, geek.”
Composing herself, she shimmied into a black leather miniskirt, the only thing she’d bothered to buy on sale. Usually, she wouldn’t be caught dead buying sale items. But this one left nothing to the imagination. “Perfect,” she commented.
But looking back at the thousand-dollar pile of debris on her bed, Stephanie felt anything but perfect. Not too long ago, her father would have bought all that for her. Now he saved his money for Kiki. Stephanie hadn’t received a single present since she’d been at Wilder.
“But the Keatses aren’t quitters,” she reminded herself.
Her eyes fell hungrily on the credit cards stacked on her dresser with her makeup and hair accessories. She could still hear Kiki informing her that Mr. Keats was paying a lot for Stephanie to be at Wilder and that maybe Stephanie should lighten up on her spending. “Don’t go wild,” Kiki had said.
But staring at the little plastic cards, Stephanie felt as if they were the only connection to her father that she had left.
“Well,” she said, “if that’s the case, then it’s your obligation as a dutiful, loving daughter to use them. Wild? She’s clueless about what ‘wild’ really is!”
Bess Marvin dug deep into a big bag of potato chips and popped one into her mouth. “Here,” she said between crunches, handing the bag to Paul Cody as they walked along the outskirts of Fraternity Row.
Paul, blue eyes glinting, wrapped a muscular arm around Bess’s shoulder. Bess leaned into his embrace and smiled. All thoughts of the unread books and half-written notes they’d abandoned in their study carrels at the Rock, Wilder University’s Rockhausen Library, evaporated from her mind.
“I guess our five-minute study break is over,” she lamented.
“You mean our two-hour study break,” Paul corrected her.
Bess shook her head. “Wow. Has it really been two hours?”
Paul nodded. “So much for your Western civ quiz tomorrow morning. And my chem lab.”
Bess frowned. The fact was, Bess’s school work was on a roll since her disastrous first couple of weeks at Wilder. At the start of school, she was ready for the parties and dances and football games — all the really great stuff she’d been looking forward to since high school. She’d had so much trouble concentrating on classes that she’d been in danger of flunking out.
With the help of her friends, though, she got in a groove, lifting her grades higher and higher. Then, when she started dating Paul, she thought that having a sleek, athletic, doe-eyed upperclassman doting on her would help her confidence in the classroom even more.
But today’s almost a total blow-off, she thought nervously.
Suddenly, a loud round of applause swept through the trees from the direction of the quad.
“What’s going on?” Paul wondered, tugging Bess toward the quad’s spiky iron gates.
“That big animal rights protest,” Bess explained, gazing longingly through the gates. “I told Nancy and Jake I couldn’t go because I had to study. I feel bad.”
“Well, you did have to study,” Paul said.
“Except that I didn’t. Come on, let’s take a look. It sounds exciting.”
But Paul wrapped her in a full embrace. “I’m only interested in what’s going on over here.”
Bess peeled Paul’s arms away, one after the other. “Come on,” she pleaded, “it’ll take only five minutes to take a peek and get back to the Rock.”
“Yeah, right,” Paul said, and laughed. “Just like it took five minutes to take a study break to — how did you put it? — recharge our batteries?”
Bess looked at him. “Well? Aren’t your batteries charged?”
Paul laughed. “Overcharged …oh, by the way, how’s life at Kappa these days?”
Bess eyed him. “Great, as always. And it’s secretive. Which means I’m not, for the hundred-thousandth time, going to give away any of our sophisticated plans.”
“Sophisticated plans?” Paul repeated. “So you guys are going to retaliate!”
Bess grinned and started to whistle, playing at being cool. Paul and his Zeta brothers had fired the first shot of what was turning out to be a little good-natured war against their sister sorority, the Kappas. One recent morning, the women had awakened to find the little sports car of Holly Thornton, Kappa vice president, on the porch of their Victorian sorority house. All the house could think about since was revenge.
Paul was laughing.
“What’s so funny?” Bess asked.
“I was just thinking of the sound of your voice when you called that morning to see if Zeta was behind it all.” Paul chuckled.
“Ha-ha,” Bess deadpanned.
“I bet you guys are planning something good,” he prodded.
Bess considered. Wouldn’t you like to know, she thought, and shrugged.
“Come on, Bess, you can tell me,” Paul cajoled.
Bess smiled — she liked to see Paul and his Zeta brothers sweat. All innocence and light, she asked, “What’s to tell?”