“Spring Honeycutt, nice of you to finally join us.”
All eyes, including Professor Masen’s, were glued on me as my attempt to stealthily enter the classroom fi fteen minutes late failed.
“Sorry,” I said, hovering just inside the door. “I was…held up.”
With his gaze still boring into me, Masen tilted his head but didn’t speak, as if waiting for me to further explain. “Um.” I gripped my backpack. “On my way to campus, I found a cat in the bushes.”
A few guys at the back of the room snickered.
“It was injured. I called the SPCA and waited. There wasn’t any blood, but it couldn’t walk, so…” I wondered why Masen was allowing me to take up lecture time. Weren’t we discussing
Thoreau and Walden today? “It, uh, was a gray tabby with a collar but no tags.”
Masen leaned against his desk and did his chin rub thing. It always gave me the impression he was annoyed.
“I don’t even like cats,” I added for some reason, “but, I mean, I couldn’t just leave it.” I felt a lump in my throat, remembering how its sad, glassy eyes had looked at me and how, when I’d gently
stroked its back, it tried to purr. “There was a group of people by the time Animal Control arrived, so I left then. Anyway, yeah, that’s why I’m late.”
As breezily as possible, I walked down the third row and slid into an empty desk, wondering how red my cheeks were. Masen nodded, his expression kind of baffled, then he pointed at the whiteboard, continuing with his lecture.
I barely had time to round my mouth and exhale before a sneery female voice hissed in my direction. “Classic entrance, Spring. So very thorough.”
I didn’t have to look to see who had just hissed at me. When we were freshman two years ago, Lilah Charleston had forgotten to leave her “mean girl” mentality back in high school where it
belonged. It sucked enough that her sorority house was only two blocks away from my digs, but we also both chose Environmental Earth Science as a major. So I was forced to share a classroom with her at least twice a semester.
Usually I just ignored her, but wouldn’t that be setting bad precedents for the rest of our junior year? Not that stooping to her level got her off my back. Ever since I’d beaten her out for
a freshman-year internship, her goal had been to make my life a living hell. I eyed her outfit. In a perfect world, Lilah decked out in head-to-toe leather while sitting in our Sustainable Earth class
would have been grounds for automatic failure.
“Thanks,” I whispered to her when Masen’s back was turned. “And nice boots.” I left it at that. She knew what I meant. Baby cows were so much cuter than any pair of boots Lilah could wear.
She narrowed her icy-blue eyes but then kind of tucked her feet under her desk.
At a quarter to twelve, Professor Masen removed his glasses and ended class. Hallelujah. If I was fast enough, I could meet Mel at the campus café for lunch.
“At least I wash my hair,” Lilah said as she gathered up her books. “I can smell you from here.” She leaned away, her nose wrinkling in disgust.
Nice. She played the “you stink” card. I guess we really were back in high school.
I reached for a handful of the skinny blond braids hanging over my shoulder and stroked them protectively, my thumb and index finger pausing over the tiny dark blue bead on the end of
“Good luck finding any self-respecting guy who’ll come within ten feet of those things.” As Lilah was talking, a muscly jock wearing a Rugby shirt gave me the half-smile/nod combo, then winked as he strolled by.
It wasn’t that I didn’t want to date, it was more of a time constraint thing. There were simply not enough hours in the day and much more pressing issues on my plate. I would think about guys after earning my PhD.
“Are those supposed to make you look tough?” Lilah asked all sneeringly. “Because they don’t.” She eyed me up and down. “Freak.”
“Is that Chanel number fi ve I smell?” I couldn’t help replying. Two could play the immature banter game. “Did you wear that in the Peace Corps? That is where you’re telling everyone you
were over the summer.”Lilah froze and stared at me. “Because the rumor going around is that you were on a shopping spree in Paris and not rebuilding houses in Zambia.”
I was watering it down. The real rumor was that she’d hid out after some kind of plastic surgery, but I wasn’t about to go there. I wore braids, Lilah went up a cup size. Live and let live.
If Lilah was as impassioned about doing good in the world as she claimed, she should have gone to Africa instead of Europe. She certainly had the means to take off like that. Unlike me. With
two scholarships, one hefty student loan, and three jobs, I was barely making ends meet. Lilah didn’t know how fortunate she was to be financially independent.
She puckered her raspberry-stained lips. “You wouldn’t dare tell a story like that.”
I was glad I had a good two inches on her. When she goaded me like this, my inner-pacifist evacuated like a bran breakfast, and I wanted to throw a roundhouse kick at her head. But violence wouldn’t solve anything.
“No, I wouldn’t tell anyone that, Lilah,” I said wearily. “And you want to know why?”
We both snapped to attention when Professor Masen called my name.
“Do you have a minute? Or do you have another class?”
“Busted,” Lilah sang under her breath as she walked past us, then out the door.
I stepped up to Masen’s desk, about ready to launch into promises that I would never be late again, no matter what wounded creature I stumbled upon. Though I knew deep down that wasn’t true. My love of animals in general outweighed my dislike of cats or fear of my academic advisor being momentarily pissed at me.
Masen was squinting at his laptop screen. While I waited, I gripped the strap of my backpack and stared past him at the board, which was covered in a rainbow of terminology and definitions I
still hadn’t memorized. Two days into the fall semester and I wasn’t as on top of my classes as I’d like to be. How had that happened?
“I was just going over the proposal for your independent study project,” Masen said, jolting me back to the present. “It looks…familiar.”
Panic seized my insides. Three students had been expelled from Stanford last year for plagiarism. Blood was still in the water, and the teaching staff was circling like sharks.
“Professor Masen,” I said, stepping forward. “That work is my own, I swear. I can cite everything.” I was about to pull out my laptop and show him the fi les of proof when a hint of a smile
crossed his face.
“That’s not it,” he said. “What I meant was, this is the stand you took in my Anthropology of Capitalism class last year. Do you intend to spend the next two semesters regurgitating the
“Regurgitating?” I repeated. “Wouldn’t recycling be more apropos?” I laughed at my own environmentalist joke, but Masen only stared back. “I…I chose to research sustainability again
because it’s what I believe in,” I said, all kidding aside.
“I know that, Spring. The entire class knows that. Being vocal about your attitude on preservation has never been your problem.”
Problem? Is being a champion for bettering the planet a problem? My natural instinct was to go on the defensive, but instead I took a moment to breathe, sliding my fingers up and down one of
my braids. A calming ritual.
“This is an important project; you know that, don’t you?”
I nodded silently, but inside I was reciting that everything about attending Stanford University was important. Just ask the four certified letters my high school counselor had sent to the
Admissions Board. It wasn’t just getting accepted into Stanford that had been a challenge for me, the succeeding was proving to be an even bigger task—which, obviously, was the most important thing in my life. Over the past year, I’d added more classes, more causes, more claims on my free time with the sole intention of standing out in a sea of fifteen thousand other overachievers. I had to. Otherwise, I was going to drown.
“You’re an exceptional student,” Masen continued. I smiled at this, my stomach muscles unclenching. “I have ties to periodicals. I see potential in your thesis, and if it turns out well, I can almost guarantee publication.”
Whoa—what? Publication as a junior?
“That’s amazingly huge,” I blurted and dropped my bag. “Whatever it takes. If you don’t think my thesis is strong enough now, I’ll work on it. I’ll do anything.”
He leaned back in his squeaky chair. “I do have a few ideas, but first…” He toggled to a new page on his computer. “I see that you took twenty-one units last semester and nineteen last fall.”
“Yeah,” I confirmed, eyeing the screen.
He arched his bushy eyebrows. “Pretty ambitious.”
“So that means you’re ahead of schedule, credit-wise.”
Oh, please don’t ask me to be your aid. I’d rather take on another shift waiting tables at the country club than correct freshman papers.
“Have you ever considered picking up an econ minor? A few of your core classes cross over. It looks like you’re halfway there.”
This was a surprise. “I took the two required business classes,” I said, “but other than that, I don’t know much about economics.”
Masen toggled back to my proposal. “I know,” he said deliberately. “That’s my point.”
“Oh.” I swallowed, visions of seeing my name in a periodical vanishing like the Amazon rainforest. “How do you think an econ minor will help?”
“Did you do debate in high school?” he asked, which seemed out of left field.
“No,” I admitted.
“But you understand the concept?”
“You argue either side of an issue,” I began, hoping it sounded like I knew what I was talking about. “You have to know enough about the opposition to fight for both sides.”
“Exactly.” He pointed at my proposal on his screen. “That’s precisely what this needs. The opposition.”
Under my braids, the back of my neck tingled in alarm. The sensation spread up my throat and across my cheeks. A year ago, fearing that I wasn’t getting noticed in my classes or community,
I’d made some pretty big changes. It wasn’t just the heavier work load or Green Peace marches, it was the braids, the vegetarian diet, the purposeful lack of a social life…all in the name of being taken seriously. Finally, I felt the part and looked the part. Everything should be falling into place by now. But if Masen, my advisor, still didn’t get how resolute I was, what more could I do?
I was starting to get that drowning feeling again.
“Professor Masen,” I began, “for the last two years, Environmental Science has been my life. Sustainable living, promoting free and healthy land, supporting the local EPA. I chose Stanford because of its liberal programs, and you’re saying you think I should—”
He lifted a hand to stop me. “I don’t mean for you to drive a Hummer or drill for oil. Sustainability is a critical issue, and I think you’ve got a handle on it. A clear understanding of the economic
side will round out your research, give it some meat.” He pointed at the screen again. “Judging by your proposal, you’re too close to the subject. I need you to step back and get a new perspective.”
“Perspective,” I repeated, my head feeling heavy.
“In any arena, to truly best your opponents, you must understand them, inside and out. You have the heart, Spring, but you don’t have the business mind. Not yet.” Masen did his chin
rub thing again. “You mentioned the EPA. What if you went the other way and studied up on the human impact, the benefits of land development?”
Before I followed my natural instinct to blurt out that there was no such thing, I forced myself to stop and think. Perhaps I couldn’t see Masen’s vision yet, but I trusted him. I kind of had to.
The man held my academic future in the palm of his hand.
“The benefits of land development?” I paused, waiting for my brain to wrap around the concept.
“Talk to a few econ students,” he suggested, “or better yet, someone who knows the finer points of land development—that’s key. Delve into your research. Maybe then your proposal will flesh
out and we can talk publication.”
That word again. Publication. It was intoxicating. Whether he was using it to guide me or manipulate me didn’t matter. It worked. “Whatever you say,” I replied, picking up my bag. “I’ll
start on it right away.”
Masen slid on his glasses. “I look forward to hearing about your progress very soon. Let’s set up another meeting.”
After he gave me a few more instructions, I felt like clicking my heels together and giving a salute, but refrained and headed down the hall, dodging other overachievers as they rushed to class. Once the initial adrenaline was gone, though, panic set in. And by the time I was halfway home, I was in a pretty deep haze, my backpack feeling heavier with every step.
When would I have time to start a brand-new research project and maybe add a minor? Where, exactly, was I going to find a land tycoon at Stanford University? And more importantly: how much of my soul would I be willing to sell to learn from such a creature?
My focus was pulled to a U-Haul truck parked in front of the house across the street from mine. Three moving guys were unloading boxes. So I guessed the wannabe Big Bang Theory
physics students had moved out. Too bad, I would miss their weekly explosions.
As I got closer to the house, about to cross the street, a guy came wandering out the front door. Because of his height and long legs, striding was probably a better term. After running a hand
through his dark curly hair, he slid on a pair of black sunglasses and stood in the middle of the newly sodded lawn, signing a clipboard one of the movers handed him.
He turned his head. Even from a distance, I noticed the cut of his jaw. It was a nice cut. As he handed off the clipboard, he lifted his sunglasses for just a second, revealing the rest of his face.
Hmm, not bad. Not bad at all. In fact—
“Hey,” the guy said, kind of barking at one of the other movers. “Do not touch the Viper.” He pointed at a long and sleek black sports car parked crooked in his driveway. “It’s worth more
than your life.”
Sheesh. What the hell?
I was halfway across the street, still gaping at the guy, when my roommate Julia called from our front door.
The guy’s head snapped in my direction. When my eyes locked straight onto his sunglasses, I felt my face go red. Totally hated getting caught staring, but it wasn’t like I was snooping around. I was crossing a public street in front of my own house in the middle of the day. Not exactly a felony. Still, I knew the guy was watching me as I headed toward my house.
“If you want me to do your nails before tonight,” Julia added, “we need to start now. Hurry up.”
I cinched the strap on my bag, feeling his eyes on my back. Great. Nice first impression, Spring. I’ll be known as the woman who not only cares about manicures, but can’t do one herself.
“Yeah, coming,” I said, hustling up the path and inside my house. “You didn’t have to yell that.” I dropped my bag by the door and followed Julia’s red hair up the stairs.
I shook my head and laughed under my breath. “Never mind.”
Ten minutes later, I was sitting on the floor in a corner of our oversized bathroom, my legs stretched out in front of me.
Julia bent forward to apply a second coat of Russian Navy to my toenails. Anabel, our other roommate, drifted in and out of the bathroom with a group of her friends, their banter skipping
from lipstick and the new frat house to Adam Levine and stilettos.
Before I was tempted to bust in and direct the conversation to an item I’d read in the news, I grabbed a magazine off the floor and concentrated on fanning my toenails.
“Do you have plans for dinner?” I asked Julia.
“I thought I was meeting up with Tommy,” she replied, “but I haven’t heard from him.”
“Tommy called the house phone this morning right after you left for class,” I said. “Anabel talked to him.”
Julia’s bright green eyes grew wide in alarm, but then she smiled and rolled them to heaven. “Oh, really.”
I patted her arm. “I’m afraid you lost your date to our demonstrative roommate, bunny.”
She rolled her eyes again. “It would seem so.”
“Anabel knows no shame when it comes to nabbing a man. What possessed you to give a male of any species our home number instead of your cell?”
Julia bit her lip. By far, she was the prettiest co-ed in a five mile radius. Tommy, or any guy, was hers for the taking. But she didn’t compete for dates.
“It’s your own fault,” I continued. “You should learn to play dirty. Next time the house phone rings, use your elbows. That’s why God created them.”
“I’ll remember that,” Julia said. “Now sit here and don’t move your feet.” She drifted to the mirror, continuing with her own primping routine. “Do you ever miss this?” she asked as she
pulled a brush through her hair.
“Never,” I said. “My way is low maintenance.”
“I just wondered, ’cause when it’s not braided, your hair looks like a movie star’s.”
I tugged at one braid. “Which movie star?”
“No, I mean, you’ve got that whole blue-eyed, all-American, long, blond Gossip Girl hair thing happening.”
“Who’s Gossip Girl?” I asked. “Was she on Grey’s Anatomy?”
Julia tossed a hand towel at me. “Never mind. I forgot you claim to only watch CNN.”
I bent forward to blow on my toes. My fingernails were the same dark shade. I usually wouldn’t take such pains as to match the color on my fingers and toes, but I promised my friends I
would join them tonight at the fi rst big party of the school year. I also promised that I would check my cynical attitude at the door.
There was a slight chance one of those things might happen.
I really shouldn’t have been going out at all. Professor Masen was expecting an update on my new project Monday morning, and so far, I didn’t have even a glimmer of a plan.
“As I recall,” I said, going back to a less traumatic subject, “you didn’t even like Tommy. Wasn’t he the one who made you go Dutch when he took you to dinner?”
“That’s him.” Julia tsked. “A gentleman should treat a lady like a lady. That’s what my grandmother always says.”
Julia was as old-fashioned as they came. In that respect, she and I were about as opposite as you could get. Even so, I loved her—from her perfectly blown-out hair to the delicate Celtic knot
pinkie ring she wore every day.
“Hello? Anybody home? Springer?”
“Up here!” I called out to my best friend, Melanie, as she slammed the front door below.
She’d texted an hour ago. Already pissed off at her dormmate for parking in her spot, Mel was walking over to tonight’s street party with us. By the time she made it up the stairs, she was
wheezing, face flushed, brown eyes wild. I thought she might be sick, but she was all smiles. Her curlicues of coffee-colored hair were bouncier than usual.
“So, tell me everything.” Mel beamed, catching her breath.
She was dressed in a black lacy top, black low-rise pants, and black sling-back open-toed heels, Stanford crimson red splashed across her nails. While hanging on to the door jam with one hand, she bent back like a contortionist and reached behind her to adjust the strap of one shoe.
“About what?” I asked, hobbling to my feet, careful not to smudge my shiny polish.
Mel’s smile practically split her face. “About the new guys across the street.”
Oh. I said nothing, but continued to gaze at her blankly. She didn’t need to know I’d already been caught semi-spying on one of them.
“New guys?” Julia froze, her eyeliner hovering in front of her face. She was going for the whole nonchalance thing, even though she knew—as we all did—that Mel was the eyes, ears, nose, and throat of “Cardinal Society” at Stanford. She’d worked in the admin’s office freshman year and still had major internal connections. Nothing went on at our university that she didn’t catch wind of first.
A grin of satisfaction spread across Mel’s face. “They’re moving in as we speak. Today. Right now.” She paused, taking in my blank expression. “Seriously, where have you been?”
“I’ve got a research project I’m trying to wrap my brain around, so I’ve been…” I trailed off, noticing that Mel was gazing at me while pointing in the direction of Julia’s bedroom window
across the hall, the one facing the street.
Following the point, Julia made her way to the window, Mel right behind her. I stayed put in the bathroom. “Know anything about them?” I heard Julia say.
As if she had to ask.
“Well, the blond one’s name is Dart,” Mel said. “Transferred from Duke. He’s a grad student in Kinesiology. He’s had three serious girlfriends and his father won a Nobel Prize.”
Melanie was a fountain of information.
I bit my lip and pushed off the wall, caving to curiosity, keeping up with current events, so to speak. I should know about my new neighbors, right? More than the fact that one of them drives a Viper, has the face of a movie star but is kind of a jackass.
Mel grinned when I entered the room.
“Not a word,” I warned her as I came up beside Julia, who was staring out the window. While Mel talked on about Dart, I lifted up on the balls of my feet and peered through the window. From
what I could make out, there were two guys milling about their front yard. I spotted the dark-haired one first. The light-haired one I didn’t find nearly as eye-catching.
When Julia unleashed a wistful sigh, I glanced at her. One side of her mouth curled up.
“Dart.” She said the name, then repeated it twice. Methodically, her long fingers tucked a wisp of hair behind an ear. “That’s an interesting name, don’t you think? I wonder what it means. Sounds familiar, right? Like it’s short for something.” She moved her lips, muttering the name over and over like a tick.
“So, Mel,” I said. “What—”
“D’Artagnan!” Julia exclaimed, making me jump. “I’ll bet anything his real name is D’Artagnan. It’s from The Three Musketeers. He’s a royal knight.”
Her use of the present tense did not escape me. She pressed her fingertips against the glass and leaned in. “Dart. He’s very handsome, isn’t he? Almost dashing.”
“Oh,” Mel interjected in a cautionary tone. “He’s Lilah’s brother.”
Julia whipped around, mouth gaping open, frozen in silent horror.
“Lilah?” I said the word like it was the name of a poison I’d just swallowed, and then half expected to hear the “dun-dun-dun” music that accompanies a tragic twist in a movie plot. I
gazed through the glass at our neighbors, a sickly familiar feeling sweeping over me. “Fantastic.” I moaned. “The alpha she-snob of this university has a brother. If this Dart dude is anything like
Lilah, we’ll be lucky if he ignores us completely.”
Mel offered me one somber nod in agreement.
Dart knelt in the driveway, digging through an open box. I’ll give Julia credit, he was pretty cute, but not my type. Our dark-haired neighbor faced us, sunglasses hanging from the collar of his shirt. He made a deliberate one-eighty turn, stared toward his front door and planted his hands on his hips. His butt—I mean his back—was to us.
Directly on the heels of fascination, my pride flicked at the back of my neck, reminding me that I was not someone who reduced herself to slobbering over a man, at least not publicly. Therefore, I let exactly five seconds lapse before my questions began.
“So, um, the other one?” I rubbed my nose, forcing my voice to sound blasé. “What’s his story?”
When Mel turned to me, she displayed a toothy grin, like she’d been waiting for me to ask. “Yeah, Springer. I thought you might like him. Yummy, no?”
I rolled my eyes, not willing to join in on the drool fest just yet. “I take it the poor guy is your target of prey for the upcoming year?”
“Oh, no. I’ve decided to save that little morsel”—she tilted her head toward the window—“for you, babe. And you’ll never believe it when I tell you about him. Go ahead, guess who he is.
Ask me his name.”
Mel was not about to make this easy for me. She knew how I was about guys. If I showed the slightest interest, she wanted it to be written on the side of the Goodyear Blimp.
I turned my attention to my nails, picking at a spot of polish on a cuticle. If she wanted to share her gossip about the secret identity of our dark-haired neighbor, I wasn’t about to beg for it.
Nice butt or no nice butt, the thrill was gone.
“He’s Henry Knightly!” she exclaimed, perching herself on the windowsill.
I turned to Julia for a clue, but she was staring down at their garage where Dart had disappeared a minute earlier.
“You know.” Mel twisted an earring. “Knightly?”
Still no clue.
“Knightly Hall? The new building behind Stone Plaza?” Her mouth twitched, giving me a smirky grin. “That building you and your little environmentalist group protested against being built
last year. I helped you paint all those stupid picket signs. Totally wrecked my French manicure.”
Hmm. That did ring a bell, but the demonstrations I’d attended were starting to blend together.
“Did he build Knightly Hall?” I asked.
Mel laughed. “No, Einstein. His father donated three million to the university, and they named a building after him.”
My stomach tanked. Oh. That Knightly.
I’d researched the family last year. They owned a bunch of land all over the western United States. If they weren’t chopping down forests, they were damming up rivers, leasing their land to
strip miners who bulldozed everything, or selling out to drillers for the latest earth-killing craze: fracking.
“Oh, frack,” I muttered. My gaze left Mel and moved out the window again. Henry Knightly was buffing the side of that shiny black car with an elbow. It’s worth more than your life… His words echoed in my ears, causing earlier thoughts of his hotness to melt like the polar ice caps.
“Precisely what this university does not need,” I said.
“Another rich kid zooming around in his gas-guzzling sports car, and probably going to school tuition free because his father was a legacy.”
“Nothing,” I said, shaking my head. “It’s just…Stanford isn’t cheap, Mel. My three jobs are barely keeping me afloat, and my parents have never paid a dime of my school costs. My mom can’t
afford it, and I haven’t spoken to my father in years.” I pointed toward the window. “Here comes this guy, probably studying to be a high-flying business mogul while riding Daddy’s coattails. Kind of unfair, don’t you think?”
“He’s in law school, Springer. And no financial aid.”
“Oh,” I said, frowning.
“What’s that look for?” Mel took my chin in her hand. “Are you disappointed that you don’t already have a justifiable reason to hate Henry Knightly?”
My mouth opened, ready to deny this. But as always, Mel was pretty dead-on. I didn’t know this guy, and the loathing in the pit of my stomach wasn’t exactly hard evidence against him. Even
though his connection to Lilah Charleston was pretty damning on its own.
“He went to Duke too,” Mel said, fluffing the back of her hair.“That’s where he met Dart when they were freshmen. They were roommates, played ball together. They’ve been best friends for
Julia suddenly unthawed. I’d almost forgotten she was there, as still as Venus de Milo. “Mel,” she said, “how the hell do you know all this?”
I snickered, always loving it when Lady Julia swore.
“I will never reveal my sources,” Mel said.
Dart reappeared in the front yard. He walked over to Henry Knightly, who was on his cell. It was evident that Dart wanted to talk to him, but his roommate held up an index finger in a curt “silence, I am already speaking” fashion.
“Is it going to absolutely kill you?” Mel asked, picking at a nail. “Living across the street from him?”
“Nope,” I answered, my eyes fixed on my dark-haired neighbor as he turned around, pressing buttons on his phone.
He slid his sunglasses to the top of his head, giving me another very clear view. I couldn’t help moving a couple inches toward the glass. “His presence isn’t going to affect me in the least—”
My head jerked back when Knightly suddenly looked up at the window, zeroing in on me. When he took a step forward, I drew away from the glass and spun around.
“I…” I cleared my throat. “I’ll probably never speak to him.”
“Not even tonight at the party?” Mel asked, catching the tail end of my reaction, then peering outside. I hoped the guy wasn’t still staring up.
“Especially not tonight,” I said firmly, toying with a handful of braids.
Mel glanced from the window to me, then snickered under her breath. “You keep telling yourself that.”
I didn’t like the way she was grinning.
“Spring Honeycutt, nice of you to finally join us.”