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Authors: Carolyn Keene

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063 Mixed Signals

BOOK: 063 Mixed Signals
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Nancy Drew Files #63

Mixed Signals

Carolyn Keene

Chapter One


T
HAT BANNER
looks terrific!” Nancy Drew said, peering through the windshield of her blue Mustang.

When there was no answer from the passenger seat, Nancy reached over and gently nudged her friend Bess Marvin. “Bess, wake up. You’ve got to see this.”

“What?” Bess mumbled, yawning and straightening up. Her long blond hair was a golden tousle around the collar of her denim jacket. “Are we at Emerson already? I just closed my eyes for a second, and suddenly—” Her eyes widened as she saw the purple-and-orange banner strung above the tree-lined street that led up to the college campus. “Wildcats on the Prowl!” she read aloud. “Hey, there’s another one: Emerson Welcomes Its Alumni.”

Nancy slowed for the traffic and had time to read a final banner strung from a golden maple to a red-leaved one: Come Home to Emerson.

“Whoever planned this did a great job,” Bess commented with admiration. “I’m psyched about homecoming weekend, and I’m not even an alum!”

Nancy’s blue eyes sparkled with pride. “Ned’s in charge of floats for the parade. He said all the committee heads had worked really hard to do something different this year.” Nancy’s boyfriend, Ned Nickerson, was a student at Emerson College.

Bess smiled. “Well, those banners definitely make a great first impression. I’m thrilled that Ned invited me to come with you. But I do feel sorry for George. She’s going to miss out on all the fun.”

“Oh, I don’t know about that,” Nancy said. “George has been so wrapped up in teaching her class, she may not even notice that we’re gone!”

Bess’s cousin George Fayne was spending the week teaching a water-safety course back home in River Heights.

“There’s the oval,” Nancy said, pointing up ahead to an oval-shaped drive surrounded by a cluster of buildings. Some of the structures were modern cubes of steel and glass, while others were old-fashioned ivy-covered stone or brick buildings. “Ned said we’re staying in Packard Hall. That’s just off the next road on the right.”

“I remember that dorm,” Bess said as Nancy turned her car onto a narrow road. “It’s coed, isn’t it?”

“Coed?” Nancy echoed, shooting her friend a teasing glance. “Funny how the important details stick in your head, Bess.”

“I can’t help it,” Bess admitted. “But just because boys live in the dorm doesn’t mean I’m going to go boy crazy or anything.” Bess crossed her arms, and a mischievous smile lifted the corners of her mouth. “At least not until I’ve checked out what’s happening with Jerry. I can’t wait to see him.”

“You two really did hit it off during winter carnival,” Nancy commented. During a previous visit Bess had gotten to know one of Ned’s friends, a football player named Jerry McEntee. “We’ll probably run into him at the pep rally tonight. Ned said all the cheerleaders and football players would be there.”

Pulling her car into a lot beside a tall brick-and-glass building, Nancy braked to a halt.

“This is it,” she announced, opening her car door and getting out. She breathed deeply as she stretched her long, slender frame, letting the crisp breeze ruffle her shoulder-length reddish gold hair.

After Bess had dragged her two suitcases out of the trunk, Nancy led the way to the entrance of Packard Hall. Inside, the girls gave their names to the student at the reception desk. She checked the guest roster, then handed Nancy two keys.

“You’ll be staying on the fifth floor, in Room five-fourteen,” the girl said, pointing toward the bank of elevators. “Oh, and here’s a schedule and some other stuff for homecoming weekend.”

After Nancy took the small pile of papers the girl held out, she and Bess headed for the elevators. On the way to their room, they passed a common area with couches, chairs, and a kitchenette.

Their room, halfway down the hall from the elevator, was actually a suite, with two small bedrooms, a sitting room with two couches and a desk, and a private bathroom. “Not bad,” Bess said, once they’d checked it out. “How did Ned manage to get a suite for us?”

“Actually, I think Dean Jarvis arranged it, to thank us for catching the person who stole the empress of Austria’s jewels from the museum.”

Nancy shivered, remembering how her trip to Emerson’s winter carnival had turned into a dangerous chase to catch the thief. Much as she loved a mystery, though, spending time with Ned and Bess was her number-one priority this trip.

Opening one of the pamphlets the girl at the front desk had given her, Nancy said, “There are a million things to do.” She skimmed over the list of events. “Today’s Thursday. Let’s see, there’s a pep rally and victory party tonight. Outdoor fair and float parade on Saturday . . .”

While she was reading, someone knocked at the door.

“I’ll get it,” Bess volunteered, and opened the door.

“And,” Nancy continued, still studying her flyer, “there’s the formal dance on Saturday night—”

“Which I’d love to escort you to,” said a husky voice from the doorway.

The familiar voice made Nancy tingle from head to toe. She turned to see Ned Nickerson, her longtime boyfriend. His six-foot-two-inch frame filled the doorway. An adorable grin lit his handsome face, and his dark eyes sparkled.

“Ned!” Nancy ran into his arms, and he swung her around in a breathless hug. “I thought you couldn’t meet us until later,” she said, smiling up at him.

“Lab finished early today. Hi, Bess,” he said, going over to give her a kiss on the cheek. “I hope you guys are psyched for a great time.”

“You bet,” Nancy told him. “It’ll be good to spend time with you, especially at homecoming.” Between Ned’s studies and her cases, it was impossible for them to see each other as often as they’d like.

“We’re ready to go,” Bess piped in. “We can always unpack later.”

“Great. You wouldn’t mind spending the next few hours rescuing a few desperate Emerson students, would you?” asked Ned. “Some of the parade participants could use a hand finishing their floats.”

“You mean we’ll get a peek at the floats for Saturday’s parade?” Bess asked. When Ned nodded, she grabbed her jacket and headed for the door. “You knew I couldn’t refuse a chance for a sneak preview. Help is on the way!” she called out into the hall.

Nancy and Ned laughed and followed Bess. They were standing in front of an elevator when the doors slid open and two suitcases toppled out. A young woman stepped out after the luggage, tugging on a tiny cart with a file cabinet on it. There was a hesitant look on her face as she asked, “Is this the fifth floor?”

“Sure is. Here, let me help you with that,” Ned offered, bending to grab the largest of her suitcases.

“Thanks,” the woman said with a grateful smile. While Bess held the door open, Nancy helped her with the file cabinet.

“That’s a lot for one person to carry,” said Ned. “Are you switching rooms?”

The woman shook her head. “I’m not a student,” she explained. “I just flew in from Chicago for homecoming. I’m staying with my sister, Tamara Carlson. She’s in room five-twelve.”

“Then we’ll be neighbors,” Bess announced as she and Nancy pushed the cart down the hall. “We’re in five-fourteen.”

“Are you an alumna of Emerson?” Ned asked.

“Well, I did attend Emerson for two years—two of the worst years of my life, I might add,” the woman answered, frowning.

Ned flashed Nancy a look that said he was sorry he had brought up the subject.

“Emerson is not near and dear to my heart,” the woman added dryly. “I’m here only to show support for my sister. Tamara’s been nominated for homecoming queen, and winning is very important to her.”

The group came to a halt in front of room 512. “I know Tamara,” said Ned, smiling. “I’m on the homecoming committee, so I’ve met all the nominees. Tamara’s a cheerleader and a member of student council,” he explained to Nancy and Bess. “I think she’s got a good shot at being elected homecoming queen.”

The woman smiled, and her harsh expression softened to one of pride. “It’s sweet of you to say that. I didn’t mean to be so snippy. Returning to Emerson is bringing back a lot of memories. By the way, I’m Susannah Carlson,” she added, extending her hand.

Nancy, Bess, and Ned introduced themselves. “Don’t worry about it,” Bess said good-naturedly as she shook Susannah’s hand. “I’m happy to meet someone with more luggage than me!”

Susannah grimaced at her bags. “I know I should travel lighter,” she said, “but I run a mail-order business. I can never seem to go anywhere without my files.” She opened the door to her sister’s room and started dragging her luggage inside. “You may have heard of my company—Susannah’s Spices?”

Bess’s face lit up. “Of course! I use your Snappy Cinnamon on my toast.”

Susannah seemed pleased. “Well, thanks again. Guess I’ll see you around this weekend.”

After they left the dorm, Ned led the girls along a tree-lined path that led down a hill opposite the oval. At the foot of the hill a lake sparkled in the late-afternoon sun, reflecting the brilliant fall foliage of the nearby trees.

They headed along the edge of the lake and past the boathouse to a large cedar-sided storage shed. When Ned pulled open the sliding door, they were immediately struck with the sounds of voices, pounding hammers, and rock music. The huge open space was filled with floats in various stages of construction and crowds of students scrambling around them. Nancy could make out a globe of the world, a giant top hat, and a train. Some of the creations, still in the beginning stages, were just chicken wire twisted over wooden frames.

“Wow, this place is really hopping,” said Bess, pausing next to Nancy just inside the shed door.

“Will these floats really be ready on time for Saturday’s parade?” Nancy asked.

“Sure,” Ned replied with a nod. “Some of the best ones are whipped together just hours before the parade.”

Just then a petite blond-haired girl came barreling through the shed entrance, jostling Nancy as she went by. Her arms were full of stacks of brightly colored tissue paper.

“Kristin, wait up a sec,” Ned called as the girl skirted around Nancy.

She spun around and gazed expectantly at Ned. “What’s up?” she asked.

Introducing Nancy and Bess to Kristin Seidel, Ned explained, “They’re here to lend a hand.”

“And in the nick of time!” Kristin said gratefully. “We’re desperate for help with our float for the drill team.”

“Hey, Nickerson, get over here!” called a voice from the far side of the shed.

With a shrug, Ned said, “Duty calls. See you later.” Giving Nancy a quick kiss, Ned took off.

Five minutes later Nancy and Bess were seated on one corner of a raised wooden platform, stuffing a long strip of chicken wire with squares of folded tissue. Kristin had told them it would be the skirt for their float.

“Hey, look at this, Nan,” said Bess. “When you surround pink paper with red and white, it looks like tiny rosebuds.”

Nancy studied the colorful pattern. “It’s pretty, but we’d better find out what the float’s supposed to be before we turn it into a rose garden. Kristin ran off before she told us.”

They waved at Kristin, who scrambled over and joined them at the platform. “What a great idea!” Kristin said enthusiastically when Bess showed her the rose pattern. “This will make a perfect skirt for the float. It’s going to be a layer cake with a banner that says Wildcats Take the Cake.”

“Sounds delicious!” Bess commented.

Nancy was reaching for a sheet of red tissue paper when a petite girl wearing an oversize purple-and-orange Emerson jacket stormed by in front of the platform and caught her attention. The girl paused a few feet away from the platform and gave a defiant toss of her jet black hair. Nancy could see that her green eyes were flooded with tears.

“You’ve got a lot of nerve!” she shouted.

“Oooh, hot news flash,” Kristin whispered to Nancy and Bess. “That’s Danielle Graves. She’s a cheerleader. I bet she’s having a fight with her boyfriend.”

“Is that him?” Bess’s eyes were riveted on a tall, muscular dark-haired guy wearing jeans and a sweater who seemed to be following Danielle. “He’s adorable!”

Kristin nodded. “No kidding. His name’s Randy Simpson—he’s the Wildcats’ new quarterback. He and Danielle are a hot item on campus.”

“Danielle,” Randy said, catching up with her, “don’t get all bent out of shape. I can’t help—”

“Don’t make any more excuses,” Danielle snapped, furious. “Who do you think you are? You can’t break up with me and get off scot-free.” She jabbed Randy in the chest with her index finger as she snarled, “You’ll pay for this, Randy Simpson!”

 

Chapter Two

D
ANIELLE GLARED AT
R
ANDY
. After shrugging out of the Emerson jacket she was wearing, she shoved it at him, then pushed him away and stormed out of the shed.

As if suddenly realizing people were watching, Randy raised his head and glanced around nervously before stalking off to join a crowd of guys at a float.

Nancy felt embarrassed that such a personal fight had happened right in front of her and Bess. She felt awful for the couple. “It looks like one of the hottest couples on campus isn’t a couple anymore,” she observed in a low voice to Kristin.

BOOK: 063 Mixed Signals
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