Authors: Pamela Morsi
“Pam Morsi is wise, witty and wonderful!
I’m a huge fan.”
—Susan Elizabeth Phillips
“Morsi is an extraordinarily gifted writer.”
—Romantic Times BOOKclub
moon illuminated the night sky, bathing the campus below her open second-floor window in a sleek silver glow. Dorothy Wilbur, known as Dot to her girlfriends in the dorm, sat cross-legged on the end of her bed. Her dark brown hair was freed of its typical ponytail and the length of it hung loosely down her back. She was wide-awake, her chin in her hands, gazing outside sightless and worrying. That was not something she’d been prone to do in the past. But she was older now, twenty-one candles on her last birthday cake, and the future was headed in her direction at a rapid pace. The decisions she made about it were going to be critical.
It was 1956 and Dot was in fall semester of her last year at State. She had excellent grades and a full scholarship. Tomorrow morning she’d write her first exam in Organic Chemistry class and she was pessimistic. Not about Chemistry. The sciences were more than just her major, they had always been her forte, her passion. It was what she’d been born to do. That’s what she’d always thought.
Until Dr. Falk.
Until the evil Dr. Falk.
She liked thinking of him that way. Like a mad genius in a science-fiction movie—evil, diabolical, villainous—he was the devil in a rumpled white lab coat. She suspected that in the anonymity of his office, he rubbed his hands together in eager anticipation of some dark deed and laughed in the maniacal manner preferred by the dastardly deranged doctorate.
Falk was dean of the university’s Department of Science and he was trying to ruin her life.
“Miss Wilbur,” he’d said that very afternoon in class, looking down at her over the thick lenses of his eyeglasses. “Young ladies who enjoy assaying weights and measures, should be coming up with recipes in a kitchen, not taking up valuable laboratory space at the university.”
She’d felt her cheeks heat up, both with anger and embarrassment. Every guy in the room was looking at her. And it was all guys in the room.
“Is there a problem with my experiment, sir?” she’d asked him.
He shook his head. “No, Miss Wilbur,” he said. “It’s very good work, but good work that will come to naught. Five years from now all the men in this room will be out in academia and industry expanding the frontiers of science. You’ll be sitting in some suburban house surrounded by a troop of noisy, babbling children. The only thing you’ll be expanding is the width of your backside.”
There was muffled laughter all around the room. She’d wanted to burst into tears and run from the room. That’s what she wanted to do, but that’s what they would expect. She’d managed to maintain her seat and held her chin high with difficulty.
It wasn’t as if she hadn’t had practice.
“Honey, boys like girls who are pretty and sweet,” her father had told her. “You’ll never catch a husband by being smarter than he is.”
Her teachers in high school felt much the same way. “So you’re going to college,” Mr. Peterson, the principal, had said when she’d asked him to write a letter of recommendation for her. “Lots of girls doing that these days. They say they’re looking for a B.A. or a B.Sc., but most are just looking for an MRS.”
He’d chuckled at his own little joke. It was all Dot could do not to roll her eyes.
Only her mother was on her side.
“Go after what you’re wanting, Dotty,” she told her. “When I look back on my life, I spend more time regretting the things that I didn’t do than the things that I did.” Four years at college was a big ambition for a working-class girl like Dot. Her father was a laborer, spending his days shoveling scrap at a smelter. Her mother took in ironing. She was the oldest of four children and if her parents were going to pay for anyone’s education, an unlikely scenario at best, she knew it would be her baby brother, Tom. Though at age ten, he’d yet to show any inclination toward schoolwork.
But Dot had never given up hope.
When she’d won the
Women in Science Foundation Scholarship,
she’d thought her troubles were over. But the attitudes she’d found in college were little different from those in her hometown.
“Science!” her roommate, Trixie, had shrieked. “Oh, you’ll meet all the neatest guys in those classes, all the pre-med majors, pre-dentistry, pre-pharmacy. That’s my goal, marrying a doctor.”
Marrying was not one of Dot’s goals. It never had been.
Unexpected sounds from beyond her window interrupted her rumination and captured her attention. Curious, she walked over and looked down. There was movement in the bushes and trees on Theta Pond. Lots of movement, and even from this distance she could hear the whispered orders and directions.
A frown creased her brow as she stared in that direction. She couldn’t really see what was happening, but it was as clear as springtime that something was going on. The sororities and fraternities were extremely popular on campus and there were only two main dorms for independents, those who eschewed the Greek life, Silas Baldridge for men and Elizabeth Compton for women. Baldridge and Compton were separated by the park-like paths and secluded benches of Theta Pond. But the Pond was off-limits after midnight and Dot was certain it had to be closer to two in the morning.
The buzz of voices was getting louder and the scurry of activity broader and wider.
‘Trixie, Trixie,” she called in a hushed whisper.
There was an unintelligible response from a tangle of bedcovers.
“Something’s going on,” Dot said. “Something’s going on at Theta Pond.”
“Huh?” Trixie poked her sleepy head out just an instant before they heard the battle cry.
The call came from the shrubbery around the pond. A minute later the lawn area surrounding the dorm was swarming with people, male people, running, hollering, and they were carrying ladders.
From somewhere within the building she heard a young woman shriek.
Bedlam broke out among the three hundred residents of Elizabeth Compton. Lights went on everywhere. There was yelling and clamor and chaos. The slumbering dorm was instantly a hive of activity. Every young woman in the building was awake and at her window.
“Oh, my gosh! It’s really happening!” Trixie exclaimed beside her.
Her roommate, dressed in pink baby-dolls, her blond hair knotted up in bobby-pin curls all over her head, seemed almost as pleased as she was horrified.
“Hide your underwear,” she advised.
“Hide your underwear,” Trixie repeated as she hurried to her chest of drawers. “They’re coming to steal our panties.”
The new innovation in campus hijinks was the rage at colleges and universities everywhere. Young men were forcing their way into female residence halls and sorority houses and stealing undies. These bits of young ladies’ lingerie would then be hoisted on flagpoles to fly like triumphant trophies on the breeze, or worse yet to be used as a decoration for some frat house wall.
When the top of a ladder found its perch upon their sill, Trixie let out an ear-piercing squawk.
Someone hit the fire alarm. The ensuing noise and flashing lights resulted in more screaming, more running, more frantic actions. Adrenaline flooded Compton like a deluge.
Trixie cleaned out her lingerie drawer and tried to stuff the contents behind the texts on the bookshelf.
Dot, instead, hurried to the sink. She dumped the trash in the wastebasket on the floor and quickly began filling it with water. The halls were filled with screaming, running, squealing young women garbed in cotton pajamas and chenille robes.
“Men on the floor! Men on the floor!” was the warning they called out.
Beyond the open window, Dot could hear the night air filled with shouts of encouragement and raucous laughter.
“We want panties! Give us your panties!” they chanted.
When the wastebasket was filled with water, Dot hurried to the window.
From the third-floor windows above her, the girls unable to be reached by ladders were raining their underwear down upon the grateful crowd below.
“We’re giving them our underwear?” Trixie asked, confused. “Are we hiding our underwear or giving it to them?” she called out in general.
Everyone was too busy to answer.
At a ladder two rooms down from theirs, Dot saw a young man hoisting himself into the room of her friends, Maylene and Eva. The two girls didn’t seem to be making it easy for him or handing over the unmentionables. Dot took her cue from them.
Not more than an arm’s length below her window, an intruder was on the ladder. He looked up at Dot. She looked down at him. There was one instant of vague recognition by both. Then he spoke.
“Give me your panties!” he demanded.
She turned the wastebasket upside down and doused him on the head with cold water.
he last thing
Hank Brantly needed to be doing the night before his first Organic Chemistry exam was participating in a panty raid. For one thing, he was too old for that kind of nonsense. He was, after all, a senior. And before college he’d done a two-year stint with the army in Korea. He was not only three years older than most of his buddies at Baldridge, but in life experience he felt like an old man among children.
Maybe that’s why he had done it.
He’d listened to their plans around the dorm for days. They had vague ideas of marching over to Compton and being let in. They would mill around on the lawn, throw pebbles at the windows to get the attention of girls and just see what happened. They had no organization, no tactics—they were even short on goals or what might constitute a success. Hank had been a draftee, not a great fan of military life and happy to have his compulsory service behind him, but at least he’d picked up a few notions about strategy, logistics, intelligence. If he left it to the other guys in the dorm, the operation was doomed to failure. He felt he had no alternative but to take charge.
He put every guy who could handle a hammer and saw to making ladders. The first-floor windows sported burglar bars, but the second floor was less than twenty feet from the ground. They scavenged lumber all over town and came up with six usable ladders.
Hank recruited Mary Jane Coulter, a girl he’d dated a few times for inside treachery. She wasn’t that difficult to convince. Hank was not at all certain that she understood either the danger of the job or the possible ramifications.
“So, when I hear the signal,” she said, “I’m supposed to run down the hallway and hit the fire alarm.”
“Yes,” he told her. “That’s all we need you to do.” Mary Jane nodded slowly. “What about refreshments?” she asked. “If we’re going to have a party, shouldn’t there be refreshments? Punch and little sandwiches at the very least.”
“I don’t think we’re going to have much time to eat,” he assured her.
Mary Jane was not the sharpest knife in the drawer, but she was the only female inside Compton Hall that he could ask to do the job.
Pulling the fire alarm accomplished two things: it raised the noise level in the building, which would lessen their ability to organize a defense and it would unlock all the outer doors. The intended purpose of the fire locks was getting girls out of the building. But in this case, it would let guys in.
He set up a staging position under the relative cover at Theta Pond. The guys were not particularly adept at stealth. Some had been consuming beer, though Hank had specifically warned against it. Those he suspected of imbibing were relegated to rear guard action. One of those fellows was supposed to have been the lead on ladder number three. Reluctantly, Hank took his place.
Which was exactly why he found himself at the edge of a windowsill, unexpectedly staring up into the eyes of the one girl who’d haunted his fantasies for months. Miss Wilbur.
Miss Wilbur was not the only woman studying science. Out of perhaps three hundred majors, there were probably a dozen girls. But Miss Wilbur was, in Hank’s vernacular, a bonafide dish.
He’d thought about asking her out. He’d thought about it more than once. But in class she was all business. She was the most diligent, attentive, exacting student he’d come across at State. She was serious, very serious. Probably way too serious for dating. Way too serious to date him.
So, having her suddenly appear at the top of the ladder in the middle of a panty raid was incongruous at least. Completely unexpected was more like it.
Hank was momentarily stunned into silence. Then he blurted out exactly what everyone else was saying.
“Give me your panties!”
He saw the wastebasket, but didn’t interpret its purpose until it was too late to dodge. The cold water hit him full force right in the face. He lost his footing and was suddenly hanging by one hand on the side of the ladder. Afraid that he’d bring it down, along with the guys behind him, Hank let go and dropped about ten feet, landing unpleasantly in a shrub of holly. The prickly bush cushioned his fall, but it also virtually imprisoned him. It felt like every branch had attached itself to his body and barbed edges of the leaves dug into his flesh. He was still attempting to extricate himself when he heard the sirens.
Campus police were on the job. With spotlights and a bullhorn, they quickly took charge of the situation. The men were ordered to line up on the lawn. Many were able to manage a hasty retreat. Hank was not one of them—he hardly managed to roll himself out of the clutches of the holly bush. He was wet and scratched up and generally very annoyed.
“You!” one of the cops called out to him. “Get in line.”
Hank was in no position to argue.
Meekly he stood shoulder to shoulder with the other captured rowdies.
Now the girls had the upper hand. Catcalling from their open windows, they were clearly enjoying the humiliation of the invaders.
Hank glanced up toward the second-floor window where Miss Wilbur had been. He didn’t see her there. Instead, a blonde with her hair up in curls was waving a brassiere like a flag of victory.
A small consolation came moments later when the housemother began restoring order. The woman’s shrill, commanding voice could be heard all the way to the lawn. In short order, all noisemaking ceased. The windows went down and the lights went off.
The cops, outnumbered about ten to one, made no attempt to detain their prisoners, they shined a flashlight in each face and requested the student’s registration card.
Hank handed his over like all the rest. He knew what it meant. No admittance to football games, university facilities, the library, not even the dorm cafeteria, was possible without the card.
“You can pick it up at the dean’s office tomorrow,” the policeman told him.
Which was why, that very next afternoon, he was sitting on the row of seats in the hallway of the second floor of Chariker Hall.
was the student’s nickname for the place. The office building housed most of the administration, including the registrar’s office, which took up the entire first floor. Upstairs was the Dean of Men and Dean of Women, each office having a long row of chairs for students waiting. There was no one waiting for the Dean of Women that afternoon, while the Dean of Men’s side was standing room only. All of the guys from Baldridge were taking their turns to be dressed down by the dean and find out what they’d have to do to get their cards back.
Hank had been contemplating his shoelaces and counting floor tiles for twenty minutes when he heard the tap of ladies’ pumps coming down the hallway. He glanced up and did a double take. Miss Wilbur.
He’d seen her that morning in class, but as usual, she never glanced up from her work and never gazed around at the guys in the room—even when she finished the test, earlier than everyone else. She quietly turned her paper over and sat staring at the back of the page until time was called.
Hank knew all this, because anytime Miss Wilbur was in the room, a large part of his attention was focused upon her.
She was dressed as she had been that morning. The standard low-heeled pumps were what separated college women from teenage bobby-soxers. Her only concession to youth was the white anklet socks she wore with them. Her skirt was slim and straight, devoid of the usual yards of cancan petticoats favored by other girls. Her sweater would not have been described as tight, but fit closely enough that he had a general impression of the soft mounds of her bosom. She had, what Hank liked to think of, as a neat figure. Not busty and overblown or sexily big bottomed, she was long and lean with all the requisite curves. She was definitely female without the necessity of calling attention to the fact. And she was pretty, in a wholesome kind of way. She’d tied a small colorful neckerchief above her collar. Her dark brown hair was pulled back in a ponytail. And there was a smear of pale pink lipstick on her mouth. But what grabbed his attention now, as always, was her eyes. They were not doe-like and loving, or sparkly and full of humor. She had intelligent eyes. They seemed to look out into the future with hope and optimism.
Hank noticed all these things in an instant. The instant before he realized that she was walking right past him to the office of the Dean of Women. Hurriedly, he rose to his feet.
“Miss Wilbur,” he called out.
She stopped, surprised and turned to look at him.
“Ah...hi,” he said, foundering.
Her brow furrowed as she eyed him curiously before pointing a finger. “You’re the guy outside my window,” she said.
The door to the dean’s office opened.
“Brantly,” the secretary called out.
He gave a nod of his head in that direction.
“I’m just going in to talk to the dean about that now,” he said. “I’m charged with Attempted Lingerie Larceny.”
She nodded. He could almost see a hint of humor hesitating on the edge of her businesslike demeanor.
“And you?” he asked. “What are you up for? Discharging a Wet Substance Down a Second-Floor Ladder?”
She did smile then and it was better than he imagined. Her grin was wide and bright and her nose wrinkled slightly, making her seem suddenly less goddess, more woman. Something rich and warm and wonderful opened up inside Hank’s heart.
“They don’t discipline you for that,” she assured him. “They award you a medal. Heroism in Defense of Underwear.”
“I guess that’s the university’s version of The Order of the Garter.”
“Mr. Brantly,” the secretary called more sternly. “Got to go,” he said.
“Hope they don’t throw the book at you.”
He shrugged, unconcerned. “Aren’t books what college is all about?”
Miss Wilbur laughed. It was a wonderful sound.
At that moment, as Hank stepped into the dean’s office the echo of it still in his ear, he first managed to put his jumble of feelings into one single thought.
I’m going to marry that woman.