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"You couldn't have come back at a better time, Bess," George Fayne said. "After tomorrow night's pep rally, Wilder U. becomes Party Centra
"Party Central," Nancy Drew repeated. "I like the sound of that." She leaned forward in the booth of the Copacetic Carrot, an off-campus health food restaurant where she and her two best friends were having an early lunch on Sunday.
Bess smiled weakly and held up her left arm, which was encased in a heavy white cast. "Hope this doesn't slow me down too much."
"Don't worry. You don't need your arm to cheer your head off at the rally," Nancy said. But when she looked at Bess's cast she shuddered inwardly. She hated remembering that awful day.
It had been less than a month ago that Bess had broken her arm. She and her boyfriend, Paul Cody. had been involved in a terrible motorcycle accident. Although Bess suffered only minor in juries, Paul had been killed. A devastated Bess had gone home to River Heights to recuperate.
Nancy thought about how worried she and George had been about Bess after the accident. The day Bess left campus, she'd told them she wasn't coming back to Wilder University. The memories would be too painful, she had said. Nancy and George had visited Bess in River Heights a week ago, hoping to convince her to come back to Wilder and to find out how she was feeling.
It had been a visit from Nancy's old boyfriend, Ned Nickerson, that got Bess to open up a little. Ned's heart-to-heart with Bess had helped change her mind about returning to Wilder, and Bess's parents had just driven her back to campus that morning.
Nancy looked up to see George patting Bess's cast. "Nancy's right, Bess. A little thing like a broken arm can't slow you down," George said. "Just sit back and let the parties come to you. Everyone's psyched that you're back."
"They are? That's nice," Bess said just as the waitress walked up to take their orders. Nancy noticed Bess didn't sound very sincere.
"So," Bess said after they had all ordered, "fill me in on what's been going on."
"Well," Nancy said brightly, propping her elbows on the table. "Jake and I have been keeping ourselves busy in the newsroom at the Times." Nancy and her boyfriend, Jake Collins, were both reporters for the campus newspaper, the Wilder Times.
"And Will and I have been getting started on a new environmental science project," George said, shaking her short, dark curls. "But it's been hard to concentrate on it because it's more fun to focus on Will when I'm with him." She grinned.
Nancy and Bess both laughed. "That's not hard to believe, considering how gorgeous he is," Bess said. "With a boyfriend like Will, I wouldn't be able to think about school stuff either." Bess lowered her eyes to the tabletop, and Nancy watched a tear trickle down her left cheek.
Nancy and George were immediately ready to change the subject. Just then the waitress brought their salads.
"Hey, I talked to Eileen and Casey this morning," Nancy said, referring to two of her suitemates who belonged to the same sorority as Bess.
Bess's eyes lit up at the mention of her Kappa sorority sisters. "Did they know I was coming back?" Bess asked.
Nancy nodded. "That's all they could talk about. They can't wait to see you."
Color crept back into Bess's cheeks as they talked, and Nancy could see some of the old gleam take hold in her friend's eyes.
"They want you to stop by the Kappa house this afternoon around four o'clock," Nancy said. "They've planned a little welcome-back celebration for you. No big deal. No pressure."
Bess bit her lip, obviously moved by the effort her sorority sisters were making. "I've missed them, too."
"So," George broke in, "we're going to yell our brains out at the pep rally tomorrow night. Then there's a football game the night after that. Aaaaand . . ." George paused dramatically and looked at Nancy.
"What?" Bess looked from one friend to the other.
"And there's tonight." Nancy smiled.
"More rallies?" Bess asked.
"No, a celebration." George tried to keep a straight face. "For you." She took a sip of her drink. "The Kappas passed on the news about your return to the guys at Zeta. They got hot to spring a big welcome-back party for you tonight. It's at the Underground." The Underground was a basement cafeteria by day that was transformed into one of the hottest places on campus at night, with a clublike atmosphere and live music.
"The Zetas want to do something for me? Really? That's so sweet."
"And the party's tonight?" Bess asked. Nancy noticed that Bess seemed a little less than enthusiastic. "It sounds like fun. But that's a lot of parties in one day. And I probably should be hitting the books. I've missed so many classes."
This is so unlike you, Bess, Nancy thought. You always would have chosen a party over studying before Paul died. "You don't have to come if you're not ready," Nancy said out loud.
Maybe they'd planned too much, too soon. After all, Bess hadn't been anywhere near a party for a while. In fact, she'd spent the last couple of weeks recuperating, alone and depressed, in front of a TV set back in River Heights.
"Come on." George nudged Bess. "You don't really want to study tonight, do you?"
Bess gave her a nervous smile. "Okay. You're right. This will be good. It'll be fun."
"Now, if you could only figure out what to wear," George cracked.
"Exactly," Bess replied, a smile forming on her pale face. She tossed a balled-up napkin into George's lap. "That's half the fun!"
Nancy shook her head and laughed. George and Bess were cousins and close friends, but their personalities were miles apart. Outdoorsy George loved to party, but she'd just as soon show up in jeans with no makeup. Bess always lavished plenty of time on getting dressed for a party.
"So it's back to university life, Bess," Nancy kidded her. "All fun and games."
George groaned. "Yeah, right. I just remembered some annoying business I've got to take care of."
"What is it?" Nancy asked, checking her watch. She had to finish her latest feature article for the Wilder Times by this afternoon. And she wanted to see Jake. With any luck, he would be down at the newsroom, too.
George shrugged. "No big deal. I just had a phone message from the school bursar's office on Friday. Something about a problem with my bill for next semester's tuition."
"Don't tell me," Bess joked. "You took that big student loan and spent it all on clothes."
Nancy laughed. George was the last person on earth who would do anything crazy with money.
George tossed her head and laughed, too. "Nah. It's probably just a question about the loan servicing center I'm using to pay my bills. I'll call back tomorrow."
Nancy reached for her purse as the waitress slipped the tab onto the table. "Loan servicing center? What's that?"
George looked over at Nancy. "I got a letter from the student loan office recommending it. The deal is, I sign my loan check over to the servicing center, and they pay all my college expenses, like tuition and room and board."
"Did you send the servicing center your student loan check?" Bess asked.
"Yep," George answered, standing up with the others and stretching.
Nancy pushed the glass door open for George and Bess, and the three headed out onto the sunny sidewalk that led toward the campus. "Wonder what the problem could be," she said.
"It's nothing, I'm sure," George replied. "I'll call the bursar's office in the morning and get everything straightened out. I'd rather talk about Bess's Underground party -- it's much more interesting."
"Okay," Bess said. "But let's get back to the dorm, George. I need to get unpacked."
"I have to get over to the newspaper office," Nancy said. "I'll see you guys later." She waved at her friends as she hurried off down the tree lined street, happy to have Bess back on campus.
"That was a great sale you made earlier," Jonathan Baur said. "That woman with the gray hair."
Stephanie Keats nodded at her handsome boy friend. "Yeah. She's a regular customer. And she likes very expensive cosmetics. Ninety-five dollars worth today."
Jonathan whistled and smiled. "Keep up the good work, and your manager might recommend you for a raise."
"Just watch your back," Stephanie dead panned, flipping a strand of long, dark hair over her shoulder. "I might decide to go after your job."
"I'm not laughing," Jonathan said with admiration. "You could do it."
"Mmmm," Stephanie ran a shiny fingernail down Jonathan's neck. "I like a man who's not afraid of a challenge."
Stephanie felt a thrill run up her spine as Jonathan took her hand. The two walked slowly across downtown Weston's grassy square.
Tall, chestnut-haired Jonathan was a floor manager at Berrigan's department store, where Stephanie worked. In the past few weeks, their romance had started heating up. Last week, in fact, he'd given her a beautiful silver friendship ring, but Stephanie knew he thought of her as much more than a friend. And she felt the same way about him.
"Ten more minutes and our lunch hour will be over," Stephanie said, leaning her head against his shoulder as they walked. Looking over at Jonathan in his white dress shirt, tie, and brown slacks, Stephanie thought he seemed so much older and more sophisticated than the guys in the Wilder University dorm where she lived.
Jonathan turned and caught her staring at him. His eyes crinkled up with a sudden smile. "What are you thinking?"
Stephanie hesitated. She wasn't sure she wanted Jonathan to know how strongly she felt about him. He was the first guy she had ever fallen in love with, but she was afraid to admit it. Maybe other women in her dorm could take chances with relationships, but she was different.
"Stephanie?" She heard Jonathan's voice floating into her thoughts. He'd stopped walking. A sturdy arm slipped across her back. When she turned to him, she saw that his eyes had softened and that his mouth was tight with emotion. He seemed to be about to say something important. A slight breeze blew a few strands of hair across Stephanie's face, and Jonathan leaned in to brush them away.
"Stephanie, I -- I just wanted to say I've never met anyone quite like you," Jonathan began, taking her face and cradling it in one hand.
A delicious wisecrack was on the tip of Stephanie's tongue, but she held back when she saw the expression in Jonathan's eyes.
Jonathan took his other hand and stroked the side of her face. "I need to tell you something. ii hope what I say doesn't make you angry with me." Jonathan stopped and cleared his throat.
Warning bells went off inside Stephanie's head. What's he going to say, she wondered, instantly on guard. He's going to break it off. I knew it. I knew Jonathan was too good to be true. Stephanie steeled herself for what she thought he was going to say. But inside, her heart felt as if it were about to crumble.
"I realize we haven't known each other that long," Jonathan started again.
"No. Not long at all," Stephanie replied, her voice emotionless.
"But I'm falling in love with you, Stephanie," Jonathan said, staring straight into her eyes.
Stephanie drew in her breath sharply, then glanced up. She opened her mouth to say some thing, but nothing came out. Jonathan falling in love with her? This was definitely not what she'd expected. She hadn't realized until that moment how much she'd wanted to hear him say that.
"I, uh, I . . ." Stephanie stammered, turning to face him.
Gently Jonathan stopped her from speaking by placing his hand over her mouth. "Don't say anything yet. Just think about it."
Stephanie felt his arms wrap around her. And she no longer could think of anything to say. Jonathan's long, passionate kiss had completely silenced her.
George tightened the laces on her running shoes as she sat on a grassy patch next to the Mall, a wide walkway lined with university buildings at the center of campus.
She lowered herself into a deep hamstring stretch. Since meeting with Nancy and Bess at the Copacetic Carrot, she'd felt restless and a little overwhelmed. In addition to her loan matters to straighten out, she had to study and attend parties for the next two nights in a row. She wondered how she was going to get everything done.
Still, George reflected, as she reached high overhead to stretch her arms, at least Bess seemed to be on the road to recovery. Right now that was more important to her than anything. Besides, she had a five-mile run ahead of her, and running always took her mind off her problems.
She saw Pam Miller and Eileen O'Connor moving toward her across the campus lawn. "Hi," George's roommate, Pam, said, sitting next to George on the grass. She was wearing a red tank top and blue silk running shorts. Her long, dark legs gleamed in the sun. Like George, she was into all kinds of sports and was also serious about academics. She slipped a tube of lip balm out of her fanny pack. "Eileen's catching up."
A second later a squarely built girl with blond hair and hazel eyes bounded up. "Don't gloat because you've got twice the speed I have," she called out good-naturedly, flopping down onto the grass.
Pam smiled. "I'm not gloating."
Eileen laughed and pointed a finger at Pam. "You're gloating because you're in perfect shape. But I've got endurance, and I will stick with you for all five miles."
"Stretch," George ordered.
"How's Bess?" Pam wanted to know.
"She's going to be fine," George replied. "In fact, she's joining us tonight at the Underground for her welcome-back party -- so make sure you're both there. We'll tear up the place."
Eileen's eyes lit up. Her face was flushed under a spray of freckles. "Oh, good. I'm glad she went for the idea."
"So much to do and so little time," Pam said with a sigh, her eyes following a slender, well- built guy approaching them on the Mall walkway. "Mmmm. I know that guy. But I can't remember from where."
George studied him, too. He had wavy, light brown hair and a delicate, unassuming face. "Yeah. I recognize him, but my brain's too fried right now to place him."
"Jamal works with him," Pam said, suddenly remembering. She was referring to her boyfriend, Jamal Lewis. She zipped her fanny pack shut and caught his eye with a wave.
"Hi," the guy said with a friendly nod as he strode past the girls.
"Hi," Pam called back. "Jamal introduced us a few weeks back. You work with him at the student loan office, don't you?"
"Yeah." The guy stopped and took a moment to think. Then his face brightened and he approached, pointing playfully. "I remember you. You're Pam, Jamal's girlfriend. I'm Greg Pawling."
"Right, Greg." Pam nodded as the guy knelt down next to her. "This is George Fayne and Eileen O'Connor."
"Hi." George smiled before grabbing her knee and dropping her head to it for another deep stretch.
"Would you please tell Jamal to stop working such long hours?" Pam teased. "I never get to see him anymore."
Greg laughed. "Yeah, it's tough all around, but I'm not complaining. I'm in grad school now, and I've got bills to pay."
George sighed. Why was everyone suddenly talking about bills?
"Hey." Greg's face lit up as his eyes flicked from George to Pam to Eileen. "Have you heard about Club Z? It's a new dance club opening up next week in downtown Weston. I just came from there."
"Are you kidding? I've heard about nothing else from Jason Lehman the last few weeks," Eileen said, her eyes shining. She sat up and crossed her legs.
"You know Jason?"
Eileen nodded. "I've been dating his brother Emmet. He took me to see the club. It's a great space for live music, and it's going to have a huge dance floor."
"That sounds great!" George was psyched. "Will and I love to dance."
Greg nodded and stood up. "I've been helping out with the renovations and setup. There are some great bands booked for the first month. Come check it out."
"Okay. See you there, Greg," Pam said as Greg hurried across the lawn toward the Math and Sciences Building. Then she turned to George and Eileen and jogged around them in her running shoes. "Come on, you guys. Let's get this run over with. It'll give us more energy to party."
"It might give you two more, but I don't know if it'll help me," Eileen replied, following Pam as she took off.
Laughing, George sprang up and shook her arms out before heading across the leafy campus.