The Girl on the Bridge

Prologue

October 2001

Winter comes early to northern New York State. By the third Saturday in October nighttime temperatures on the Holden College campus in Willardville had dropped to well below freezing. A light snow was falling and a thin coating of white covered the lawn and brick path leading to the elegant Georgian mansion on Sycamore Street. Greek letters over the door announced that this was the home of Alpha Chi Delta, Holden’s first and arguably, most prestigious fraternity. By ten PM, the silence of the night had long since been shattered by the amplified blast of guitars and drums that even through tightly closed windows could be heard blocks away. On the semi-darkened, ground floor strobes lit a mass of bodies glowing red and green. Dancers gyrating to the sound.

Outside on the sidewalk, Hannah Reindel, a petite and exceptionally pretty seventeen-year-old freshman stood, arms folded tightly around herself. Ignoring the white flakes floating down onto her head and shoulders, Hannah looked up at the thin boy next to her who was only a few inches taller than she was.

“I’m not your girlfriend, Evan.” The words were spoken firmly, but with a gentle smile. “I don’t want you…or them…getting the idea I am.”

Evan sighed. “I know that. I never thought you were. But you are my friend and I need you to help me get into the party.”

Hannah pulled the collar of her sweater more tightly around her neck in a vain attempt to stop melting snow from dripping down her back.

“I already told you,” Evan went on, “the rules of the invite state it very clearly. Any freshman guy who wants to attend the rush party is required to bring a good looking girl––well actually the word they used was hot looking––or they wouldn’t be allowed in.”

“And I’m hot looking?”

“Yes, you are and don’t pretend you don’t know it.”

“I’m a short brunette. All those guys are interested in is tall blonde cheerleader types. Not a nerdy grind like me.”

“Hannah, you’re the best looking girl I know.”

“Thank you,” Hannah sighed. She couldn’t bring herself to tell Evan he’d never in a million years be asked to pledge a house like Alpha Chi Delta. He was too sweetly goofy, too physically clumsy and much, much too serious about his studies even to be considered by the alcoholic preppies and oversized jocks Alpha Chi was known for. Even if he somehow did manage to get a bid, she couldn’t imagine why he’d ever want to open himself up to the vicious hazing every Alpha Chi pledge was supposedly put through. Probably he just needed to belong and figured he’d start with the house everybody on campus said was the best one to belong to.

Hannah shivered and told herself for about the fifth time she should have worn a real coat instead of just the totally uncool knee length black wooly thing she had on. But she hadn’t and now she was shivering in the gusty wind that was blowing the last of the autumn leaves from the branches of the tall trees that had given Sycamore Street its name. She figured she might as well go inside to a warm room or risk catching pneumonia. But Alpha Chi? With Evan?

“Oh what the hell,” she finally told herself. “Maybe it’ll be more fun than I think and they can’t all be assholes.” And at least it would be warm in there. From all the body heat being generated on the dance floor if nothing else.

“Okay, let’s go,” she told Evan, “but remember, do not tell them I’m your girlfriend. This isn’t a date.”

“I know,” Evan Fischer replied with more than a hint of regret. “I wish you were and I wish I was. But I understand. You’re just my admission ticket. Period. End of story. Once we’re inside you don’t have to hang with me. You don’t even have to talk to me. Talk to whoever you want. Dance with whoever you want.”

“Fine,” she said.   “Let’s go in. But if I decide I want to go home you have to promise you’ll drive me. It’s too frigging cold to walk.”

“Yes, I promise. I won’t leave without checking with you. Now let’s have a little fun”

“ Right. Fun. Okay. Let’s go. I’m freezing my butt off hanging around out here.”

With that, Hannah Reindel and Evan Fischer started up the path to the door.

A guy about 6’4” who looked like he weighed at least 240 was sitting on a stool just inside the front door. A tackle on the football team? He looked it. Tackle or not, he checked Evan’s name against a list, then gave Hannah the once over. He must have thought she looked sufficiently hot because he waved them in. They went from the vestibule into a large room where the furniture had been pulled back to the walls and piled up in order to create a dance floor which was crowded with at least fifty or sixty gyrating college kids. Between the fire burning in the oversized fireplace and the effect of body heat, the room felt warm and welcoming to Hannah compared to the biting cold outside. She began to relax.

Evan asked Hannah if she wanted a beer. She shook her head no and he headed toward the bar. Within seconds she lost sight of him.

Almost involuntarily she started moving to the rhythm of the music. A hand touched her shoulder. She turned. A tall good-looking guy dressed in black jeans and a black sweater was looking down at her. He was sipping from a bottle and smiling. “Hi, I’m Josh. Welcome to Alpha Chi. You look like you could use a beer.”

“I don’t drink beer.”

“Everybody in college drinks beer.”

“I don’t.”

“Don’t you get ever get thirsty?”

“Not for beer. Actually I don’t drink alcohol at all.”

Josh cocked his head to one side and winked. “Got it. No problem. We’ve got an excellent alternative we call our Freshman Punch. The college requires us to have plenty of non-alcoholic drinks available.”

“How did you know I was a freshman?”

“It’s a small campus. If you’d been here last year, I’m sure I would have noticed you. Besides this is a rush party. You must have come with a freshman guy. What’s your name?”

“Hannah.”

“Hello, Hannah.”

“So, what’s in this ‘Freshman Punch.’?

“Mostly fruit juice. We make it ‘specially for folks who don’t want to get drunk. And to satisfy the admins who say we have something appropriate for the under-aged. Wait here and I’ll get you a glass.” Josh disappeared into the crowd, heading presumably, to the bar. While she was waiting, Hannah kept moving in time to the music which was both good and loud. She allowed herself to relax and smile. Suddenly she really felt like dancing. She recognized one or two faces but didn’t see anyone she knew by name.

“Here you go.” Josh handed her a tall frosted glass filled with a clear pink liquid.

“No alcohol?”

“Not a drop. Scout’s honor.”

Hannah took a sip. It was cold, a touch salty and just slightly sweet. “Umm, I love it. What’s in it?”

“About six different kinds of fruit juice. And a couple of secret ingredients.” Josh winked again. She wished he’d stop winking. She was tempted to ask him if there was something wrong with his eye but she was pretty sure he wouldn’t find that funny.

Hannah took a few more swallows. Licked her lips.

Josh finished the last of his beer and took her hand. “C’mon, drink it down so we can dance. This band cost too much to waste.”

Hannah shrugged, drained her glass and deposited the empty on the mantle next to about ten others. She kicked off her shoes, pushed them into a corner where she figured she could find them, took Josh’s hand and followed him to the dance floor. After about five minutes of going full speed, the loud music was replaced by something lower and slower. Josh smiled, moved closer and put his right arm around Hannah’s back.

The band was good, the dance floor too crowded for much movement. Josh and Hannah swayed softly in the middle of the throng.

It only took a couple of minutes before she started feeling woozy. She figured it had to be the warmth and the closeness of the room. “I don’t feel so good. I think I better sit down.”

“Oh geez, I hope you’re not getting the flu or something.”

“Nothing like that. I just feel a little dizzy.”

“Come with me. We’ll get you out of this crowd.”

She didn’t think she ought to follow this Josh guy who she didn’t even know. “Where’s Evan?” she asked. She was having trouble getting the words out. “The guy I came with.”

“Probably upstairs. That’s where we interview the wannabe pledges. I’ll bring you to him. Come with me.”

Hannah tried to puzzle out how Josh could know Evan would be up there. She felt him take her hand and pull. She stumbled along till they came to a wide set of stairs, the music, loud again, was pounding in her head.

Hannah looked up. She felt like she couldn’t even walk let alone climb what looked like an endless flight of stairs. She mumbled something but what came out didn’t make sense. Didn’t even sound like real words.

“Come on, let’s go.” Josh started pulling her up the stairs. No pulling wasn’t the right word. Dragging was more like it. A couple of times she felt her knees banging against the treads but Josh kept pulling. She tried and failed to shake off the fuzziness in her head as she stumbled up after him. A bunch of kids were on the landing at the top. She wanted to call out for help but her voice didn’t seem to work and most of them were too involved in making out to notice her anyway. Two couples lay sprawled on either end of a beat up couch. Others stood squashed against each other along the wall and in the corners. Each so focused on the other’s face and body there was no way they’d notice anything or anyone else. Hannah tried to pull away from Josh. Somewhere deep down she was sure she didn’t want to be going where he was pulling her. But somehow she couldn’t summon the energy to resist. She looked desperately down the long hall. No sign of Evan or anyone else she knew. Not anywhere.

Josh opened the door to a dimly lit room and pushed her in. Hannah tripped over something and slipped to the floor. Someone’s hands pulled her to her feet. She fought to keep her eyelids open. Fought to understand what was going on. With her head drooping down, all she could see were a sea of legs in front of her. She looked up and saw a bunch of guys smiling down at her. The one in front happened to be totally naked. Before her mind could make sense of that, she heard the click of the door being locked behind her.