“I can’t believe you were hanging out with Marshall Cone!” Danielle seemed anguished by the new development as she paced our room later that day. “Actually, wait. I can believe it.” She paused and looked at me. I was sitting on my bed with my tail between my legs. “Don’t you hate it when people say that can’t believe something that’s totally believable?” she asked.
“Gee, sorry, Danielle, but I have to hang out with Marshall because he could be a drug dealer and I might have to bring him in?”
“I’m sorry,” I began, feeling like evil incarnate. This was insane. I’d come here to solve a case, not break the heart of some poor vulnerable girl. I was suddenly acutely aware of just how much Danielle needed me. And she’d known me for only two days! What was she going to do when I up and left?
Okay, don’t think about that right now. You’re not responsible for this girl’s social life. Still, she was so disappointed I felt the need to explain.
“He asked me yesterday at karate and I just thought . . . you know . . . it would be good to get to know some other . . . people,” I told her.
Oh, God. I was faltering here. I sounded like a totally insensitive social-climber. I would hate me if I were her.
“Don’t worry about it,” she said finally. “I completely understand. If Marshall asked you to sit with them, then you have to sit with them. Only the strong survive around here.”
She looked up at me, her eyes sad. “We’re still gonna be friends, right?” she beseeched me. “I mean, if you don’t want to talk to me in front of them, I totally get it. Just don’t start ignoring me when we’re here. I don’t think I could handle that.”
“Of course we’re still going to be friends!” I protested, getting up and plopping down next to her. “Look, I have never let any clique define who I am and I’m not gonna start now.”
“Really? Cuz I haven’t had a real girlfriend in so long . . . .”
My heart went out to Danielle. She was such a cool, sweet, smart girl. Why did everyone have to treat her like a pariah just because she excelled in her classes? Didn’t everyone around here excel in their classes? Who cared who was paramount among them? They were all going to get into Ivy League schools anyway.
“I promise I am not going to change just because I’m hanging out with Marshall,” I told her firmly.
Danielle smiled, finally accepting my assertions. “Cool,” she said, bouncing up from her bed. “So, I was going to go to the library to work on history. Do you want to come?”
She sorted through her books, painstakingly organizing each subject’s notes and texts on her desk. My heart tightened as I watched her. In that moment she reminded me so much of Corinne that I was consumed by nostalgia and sadness. Corinne had been slovenly in every facet of her life, but when it came to school she was more uptight than a Republican touring the Playboy Mansion.
There were actually a lot of parallels between Corinne Ryan and Danielle Fisher. They were both diffident, yet funny when you got to know them. Both self-deprecating in public but privately aware of their worth. Corinne had even been just as distrustful of the popular crowd at Morrison High as Danielle was at Hereford.
And justifiably so, as it turned out, I thought, my mouth set in a line.
Thinking of Corinne catalyzed me into action. I had to solve this case and I had to do it fast. There was no way I was going to let what had happened to Corinne happen to Danielle. No way in hell.
“Actually, I told Marshall I’d lend him some of my CDs,” I said, crossing over to the bulky box that held all my music. It still was sitting on the floor next to my bed because I figured I’d probably never have to unpack it. I planned to solve this case and be out of here before I needed to really set up shop.
Danielle shot me a look and I smiled.
“I’m just gonna drop them off and then I’ll meet you in the library,” I assured her. “I swear I am not up and joining the Conenites.”
“The Conenites?” she asked with a laugh. “I like it.”
I flushed. “Yeah. I don’t know where that came from.”
“Okay, but just keep an eye out for Cheryl,” Danielle warned me. “If she finds you in his room, she’ll kill ya. She’ll kill ya dead.”
I gathered my favorite albums and headed for the door. The phone rang as I walked out, and Danielle lunged for it.
“Hello?” she said. Her entire face lit up, elated. “Hey, honey!” she exclaimed, her eyes flicking toward the framed photo on her dresser. Clearly it was her boyfriend—someone she’d yet to confide in me about. I had, however, checked out his picture. He was tall, broad and a little scruffy with a mischievous smile. Another bad boy—something else Danielle and I had in common. I closed the door behind me, happy that Danielle had someone who could so instantly alleviate all her loneliness.
It kinda took the pressure off.