On Her Own – First Chapter

“I’m lucky I found you,” Nancy Drew called out to her two best friends, Bess Marvin and George Fayne. “I had no idea this would be such a mob scene.”

“Welcome to Friday afternoon of Rush Week,” George said with a grin, glancing at the waves of girls that were sweeping in and out of the Victorian houses on Wilder University’s Sorority Row. “It’s total chaos!”

“Actually, Rush Week doesn’t officially start until next week,” Bess explained. “This is more like an open house. We can tour the sororities and get a feel for which ones we like before we pick the ones to rush.” Her blue eyes danced with excitement as she glanced at the different houses. “Isn’t it great?”

Nancy wasn’t sure the sorority scene was for her, but she couldn’t help getting caught up in Bess’s enthusiasm. “It’s worth checking out, anyway,” she said.

“Not everyone is as enthusiastic about sororities as you are, Bess,” George added. “For some of us, college isn’t just a social scene.”

“I didn’t hear that. Not from my own cousin.” Bess clamped her hands over her ears, looking horrified. “You obviously don’t have your priorities straight.”

Nancy had to laugh. Although Bess and George were related, they were complete opposites. Bess’s mind was usually focused on partying and cute guys, while George’s mind was intent on more serious and down-to-earth matters, such as academics and sports. They even looked different. George was tall, with wavy dark hair and a natural athlete’s build. Bess was shorter and more curvy, with long blond hair.

“Priorities, eh?” Nancy echoed. “You sound like Gail Gardeski, the paper’s editor-in-chief.” She rolled her eyes and let her backpack drop to the ground. “She just spent the last half hour of our editorial meeting lecturing us about how Wilder Times should be our biggest priority.”

“You do want to be a journalist,” George put in.

Nancy nodded. “Sure, but I always pictured myself in exotic foreign places, uncovering stories about spies and traitors.”

“I haven’t seen too many spies around here, Nan,” George cracked. She glanced at Wilder’s beautifully landscaped lawns and the ivy-covered brick buildings of the academic quad nearby.

“No kidding,” Nancy said. “That must be why all I’ve done so far is proofread, get supplies, and rearrange paper clips — all the stuff upper classmen can’t be bothered with.”

“Ooooh. Paper clips! Who says journalism’s not glamorous?” Bess teased.

“I must be making progress, though,” Nancy said. “One of my jobs this week is to get quotes from people at tomorrow’s football game. It’s for a human-interest piece to show how excited everyone is about our Wilder Norsemen being the number-one team in our conference.”

“That should help drum up interest for the game next week against last year’s state champs, the Brockton Cougars,” George added.

“Exactly,” Nancy said, nodding. “Anyway, if I don’t screw up my quotes assignment, maybe Gail will give me a shot at doing more important reporting.” She ran a hand through her long reddish blond hair, letting out a sigh. “Not that I really have time to work on it this weekend, with Ned coming and everything.”

“That’s right! I totally forgot he’s going to be here,” Bess exclaimed. She gave Nancy a sympathetic look. “Serious discussion time?”

“I guess,” Nancy answered halfheartedly. “We’ve talked on the phone about maybe cooling things off, but…I don’t know. We finally decided that seeing each other in person is the only way we’re ever going to figure out what we want to do.”

“Maybe once Ned sees how happy you are at Wilder, he’ll understand that you were right to come here instead of going to Emerson,” George put in.

“That’s what I’m hoping.” Nancy couldn’t put into words right then what was happening between her and Ned. It wasn’t just that she’d decided to enroll at a different college from him. It was about their growing and changing and being true to themselves without holding the other person back.

“Stop looking so serious, Nancy,” said Bess. “You and Ned always work things out, right?”

Nancy had to take a deep breath before answering. “I have a feeling that if we break up this time, it could be for good.”

For a moment Bess wasn’t sure she’d heard right. “You and Ned break up? For good?” she asked. “That would be like altering the course of the entire universe.”

Now who’s being melodramatic?” George said.

“Things are definitely not the same anymore,” Nancy admitted. “Starting college has meant a lot of changes for all of us.”

Too bad most of my changes have been for the worse, thought Bess.

She envied Nancy and George, who both seemed so happy at Wilder. But then they didn’t have a roommate who acted like a drill sergeant. And they hadn’t registered too late to get into the drama class they really wanted. Nor did they have a biology class with Professor Ross. Just thinking about him gave her a stomachache.

That wasn’t even the worst of it. Bess couldn’t go to sleep at night without having nightmares about what had happened at the first frat party she’d gone to at Wilder. Every time she closed her eyes, she pictured Dave Cantera’s leering face and the way he’d tried to corner her alone in his room. She knew she’d been lucky to get away.

“Bess!” A guy’s voice broke into her thoughts. She felt her bleak mood melt away as she turned around and saw Brian Daglian, the one new male friend she’d made at Wilder. He jogged toward her, the wind ruffling his blond hair.

“Hi, Brian. Don’t tell me you’re thinking of joining the track team?” she teased, punching him lightly on the arm.

“Shh. Not so loud,” he said in a dramatic stage whisper. “You’ll ruin my reputation as a couch potato.” He flashed Bess a wide smile, his green eyes sparkling. “Actually, I’m heading into town to look for a black motorcycle jacket and some hair grease. I figured that would help create the right mood when we practice our lines for Monday’s audition.”

“Good idea,” she told him. The drama department at Wilder was holding auditions for Grease! Bess didn’t think there was much hope of her getting a part, but rehearsing with Brian at least made her forget how dreary the rest of her life had become. “I’ll meet you at Hewlitt at seven-thirty,” she said, naming the university’s theater complex.

“See you then. Bye.” Brian gave a quick wave to the three girls, then breezed left along the path that led into the town of Weston.

Bess turned back to Nancy and George. Pulling a sheet of paper from her bag, she said, “I made a list of all the sororities on campus and marked the ones I thought we might like.”

“Too bad you’re not this organized when it comes to your classes,” George commented.

“Very funny,” Bess said, grimacing. She tried not to think about the mixed-up jumble of notes, handouts, and books waiting on her desk back at the dorm. “Anyway, I want to see Theta. I’ve heard it’s a party sorority, but it might be fun. Then there’s Tau. Jock City. Not my style, but I thought you might like it, George. Oh, and you’d like this one, too — Pi Phi. I think their members take on environmental causes.”

“I think I heard Kara mention that one,” Nancy said. Kara Verbeck was Nancy’s roommate. “She’s rushing, too, and said something about liking Pi Phi because they work to save dolphins and stuff.”

“I still don’t know if joining a sorority is for me,” George said. “I’m afraid that becoming a Tau, or a Pi Phi, or whatever, will isolate me from people who aren’t in the sorority. I think I’d rather feel a part of the whole university.”

Bess decided not to mention that she didn’t feel as if she fit in to any part of Wilder. “I just thought rushing might be fun,” she said, shrugging.

“Sure it is.” Nancy gave Bess an encouraging smile. “This one looks nice,” she said, pointing to the first house on Sorority Row, a pearl gray Victorian, with white trim and a porch that ran across the front of the first floor.

“You know,” Bess said. “Some kids on my floor were talking about a sorority where people are into creative things, like acting and art and dance. They probably wouldn’t be interested in me, though,” she added quickly.

“Of course not,” George said, shaking her head. “Why would they be? You’d only be a natural there.”

“You think so?” Bess asked. She was afraid to get too hopeful. After all, nothing at Wilder had turned out the way she’d expected so far.

“Definitely,” Nancy told her. “Let’s find it. What’s it called?”

Bess bit her lip, trying to remember. “I think it starts with a K.”

“Kappa?” an unfamiliar voice spoke up.

Bess turned around to see a young woman with warm brown eyes and long, wavy golden hair. She was wearing blue-and black-checked leggings and a blue T-shirt.

“That’s it!” Bess exclaimed, smiling back. “Do you know the sorority?”

“I should hope so. I’m their vice president, Holly Thornton,” the girl said. She shifted an armful of books to her left arm and held out her right hand. “But I spend so much time over at the theater complex that some of my sorority sisters wonder if I really exist.”

“You’re into drama?” Bess asked excitedly.

Chapter 1

“Set design, actually. I’ve been working on the sets for Grease!

“You’re kidding. I’m trying out for the chorus next week,” Bess said, her words tumbling out. “Oh! I’m Bess Marvin, by the way. And this is George Fayne and Nancy Drew.”

“Nice to meet you. Kappa’s right here,” Holly said, pointing to the gray house Nancy had commented on. “Why don’t you come in and meet everyone?”

Bess started toward the house, then stopped when she realized that Nancy hadn’t moved. She was looking at her watch and frowning. “Don’t you want to go in?” Bess asked her.

“I didn’t realize how late it was. I should get back to my dorm. Ned’s going to be here really soon,” Nancy said apologetically.

“And I have to go check the schedule for crew team,” George added. “It’s all the way down at the boathouse. I want to get over there and take a run around the lake before it gets dark.”

“Oh,” Bess said, frowning slightly.

What did you think? she asked herself. That sorority rushes would suddenly make Nancy and George want to spend all their time with you, the way they used to?

As soon as the thought came to her, Bess realized that that was exactly what she had been hoping. But things were different now. She had to make her own life at Wilder.

“Are you coming, Bess?” Holly asked.

She smiled and started toward the house. “Sure. Let’s go.”

George felt the cool autumn air fill her lungs as she breathed in deeply, finding her stride. The lake and boathouse were nestled into the woods behind the campus. George ran on the gravel drive that wound down past the trees toward the water. The low afternoon sun set the autumn leaves into a blaze of yellows, oranges, greens, and reds.

She felt a little guilty about leaving Bess alone at Sorority Row, but the more she thought about rushing, the less she thought she was interested. Anyway, now that they’d been here for a couple weeks, Bess seemed to be getting used to Wilder.

George felt lucky that most things had been going smoothly for her. Pam Miller was a really cool roommate, her classes were great — and as for guys…

She smiled to herself, picturing Will Blackfeather’s strong, angular face and shining black eyes. So far they were just friends, but there was definitely something brewing.

Up ahead, George heard the rhythmic thumping of another runner making steady progress toward her. When the person came into view, George blinked in surprise. “Hey! I was just thinking about you,” she said automatically.

Will was wearing a sweat-stained T-shirt and running shorts. A red bandanna was tied around his forehead to keep his dark hair out of his face. When he saw her, Will’s whole face lit up, and George felt a surge of adrenaline that didn’t have anything to do with running.

“Hey, yourself,” he said, slowing to a stop in front of her. His dark eyes were shining with the warmest, most amazing glow George had ever seen. “So, have you heard anything new from the Selective Service, Mr. Fayne?” he asked, grinning at her.

“Not since they froze my bank account,” George answered with a groan. “My parents keep sending me money, but I haven’t been able to straighten things out. Every time I call, either I get put on hold, or I end up talking to some jerk who refuses to believe that George Fayne is a girl.”

George grimaced as she thought about the bureaucratic screwup that had the Selective Service thinking she was a guy who had failed to register for the draft. Trying to set things right was turning out to be a huge pain. The phones in her dorm hadn’t been turned on until a week into the semester, so she had to make endless, frustrating calls from the campus pay phones. There was a silver lining to the whole mess because it was at one of those pay phones that she’d met Will. He’d offered to let her call from his apartment.

“Thanks for letting me use your phone that day,” George went on. “You know you took a serious risk, associating with a hardened criminal like me.”

Will gave her a teasing grin. “Maybe I like to live dangerously.”

“You can’t say I didn’t warn you,” George said, laughing. She started to jog in place. “Well, I should keep running,” she said reluctantly.

“Yeah. Me, too.” Will took a step past George, then paused to look back at her. “Are you doing anything tomorrow night?” he asked.

George felt an electric current buzz through her. “Not really,” she told him. “Why?”

“Even hardened criminals have to eat,” Will said. “I thought we could have dinner and maybe see a movie or something?” He said it casually, but George didn’t miss the gleam in his eyes.

Grinning at him, she said, “You’ve got a deal.”

George was still glowing as she ran down the hill to the dirt parking lot next to the boathouse. The low wooden building stretched along the lake, with a dock running the length of it. Inside, George passed by crew shells, canoes, sailboats, and rowboats as she headed for the bulletin board, which was covered with sign-up sheets and information.

A girl with brown hair was standing there. When George saw her freckled face and square build, she recognized her immediately.

“You’re Eileen, right? One of Nancy Drew’s suitemates?” George asked. Seeing the girl’s surprised expression, she quickly added, “I’m her friend George. I live in Jamison Hall, but we met when Nancy first moved into Thayer.”

“Right,” Eileen said. “You guys are from the same town. River Heights, right?” She grinned at George, then pointed to a typed list tacked to the bulletin board. “I guess we’re going to be seeing a lot of each other. We’re in the same shell.”

“Cool,” George said. She glanced at the six other names but didn’t recognize any of them. “We start practice Monday morning, huh?” she said, pointing to the schedule next to the list.

“At six sharp,” Eileen said, groaning. “This is going to put a serious damper on my partying schedule. I’ll just have to make up for it by going all out this weekend.”

George laughed, following Eileen as she left the boathouse. “Is there anything special going on?” George asked.

“Are you kidding? If we win tomorrow’s game, the Beta fraternity is throwing a huge party. Practically the whole football team lives there, so you know there’ll be tons of gorgeous guys. And — “

Eileen suddenly stopped talking. Her gaze was fixed on a group of guys in running gear who had just come into the parking lot. “Talk about gorgeous,” Eileen said under her breath. “That’s Scott Berenson!”

“The quarterback?” George gave the four guys a closer look. They all had muscular builds and were shoving one another and clowning around. “Everyone calls him Scooter, right? Which one is he?”

“Cut-off sweats, dark hair, and blinking neon sign over his head that says ‘Most Gifted and Gorgeous Guy on the Planet,'” Eileen said dreamily. “Don’t look now, but he’s headed our way.”

The guys stopped a few feet from them and started to do cooling-down stretches. George wasn’t sure if she was imagining things, but Scooter seemed to be giving her a lot of sideways glances.

Eileen jabbed George in the ribs with her elbow, then called out to the guys. “Hey! Good luck for tomorrow’s game. Not that you’ll need it, of course.”

“You got that right,” a guy with curly blond hair said. “People have a lot riding on the game. They know we’re not going to let ’em down.” He gave Scooter a high five. “We’re going to slam the Chargers into the ground, right, Scooter?”

Scooter nodded, then sauntered closer to George and Eileen. “Definitely,” he said, his eyes flicking over George. “Did we ever meet before?” he asked her.

George shook her head. “I don’t think so.” She couldn’t believe it when he gave her a killer smile a second later. Scooter Berenson was actually flirting with her!

“Too bad,” he went on. “Why don’t you come to our party tomorrow night?”

George wasn’t sure what to say, but when Eileen elbowed her in the ribs, she mumbled, “Sure. Maybe.”

“Cool.” Scooter wiped his forehead with his wristband, then asked, “Do you live in Tau?”

“No, she’s in Jamison Hall,” Eileen put in quickly.

“I’ll pick you up at seven-thirty.” Scooter shot George another smile, then headed up the drive with his teammates. “See you then. Oh, by the way, what’s your name?”

“George Fayne.” It took George a second after they disappeared to realize what had just happened. “I thought he was just inviting us,” she said slowly. “I didn’t know it was, like, a date.”

“You are sooo lucky,” Eileen said. But George barely heard her.

“I’m a total idiot!” she groaned. “I can’t go out with Scooter Berenson.”

“What?” Eileen was staring at George as if she’d just said she was from another planet. “Why not?”

“I know he’s the star of the football team, but I already have a date for tomorrow night, with a guy named Will,” George explained. She looked helplessly at Eileen. “What am I going to do?”

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