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Authors: Rita Mae Brown

Alma Mater

BOOK: Alma Mater
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Books by Rita Mae Brown
with Sneaky Pie Brown

WISH YOU WERE HERE
REST IN PIECES
MURDER AT MONTICELLO
PAY DIRT
MURDER, SHE MEOWED
MURDER ON THE PROWL
CAT ON THE SCENT
SNEAKY PIE'S COOKBOOK FOR MYSTERY LOVERS
PAWING THROUGH THE PAST
CLAWS AND EFFECT

Books by Rita Mae Brown

THE HAND THAT CRADLES THE ROCK
SONGS TO A HANDSOME WOMAN
THE PLAIN BROWN RAPPER
RUBYFRUIT JUNGLE
IN HER DAY
SIX OF ONE
SOUTHERN DISCOMFORT
SUDDEN DEATH
HUGH HEARTS
STARTING FROM SCRATCH: A DIFFERENT KIND OF WRITERS' MANUAL
BINGO
VENUS ENVY
DOLLEY: A NOVEL OF DOLLEY MADISON IN LOVE AND WAR
RIDING SHOTGUN
RITA WILL: MEMOIR OF A LITERARY RABBLE-ROUSER
LOOSE LIPS
OUTFOXED
ALMA MATER

 

RITA MAE BROWN

 

 

 

 

 

BALLANTINE BOOKS NEW YORK

 

A Ballantine Book
The Ballantine Publishing Group

Copyright ©
2001
by American Artists, Inc.

All rights reserved under International and Pan-American
Copyright Conventions. Published in the United States by
The Ballantine Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc.,
New York, and simultaneously in Canada by Random House
of Canada Limited, Toronto.

Ballantine and colophon are registered
trademarks of Random House, Inc.

 

Library of Congress Control Number:
2002093141

ISBN
0
-
345
-
45532
-
0

Cover design by Dreu Pennington-McNeil
Cover photo © Claire Hayden/Stone

Manufactured in the United States of America

First Hardcover Edition: November
2001
First Trade Paperback Edition: November
2002

10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2

 

THIS NOVEL IS DEDICATED TO
BAD GIRLS,
BECAUSE
GOOD GIRLS GO TO HEAVEN, BUT
BAD GIRLS GO EVERYWHERE.

 

 

I

f knowledge were acquired by carrying books around, I'd be the
sharpest tool in the shed, Vic thought as she carted the last load up
three flights of stairs on a hot summer day.

Sweat rolled between her breasts. Light poured into the rooms, the
windows thrown open to catch any hope of a breeze. As she placed
the carton on top of the old kitchen table, it swayed ever so slightly
from the weight.

"Dammit!" a voice complained from outside.

Vic walked to the kitchen window that overlooked a well-maintained
yard. A small creek bordered one side of the property, a line of thick
pines„obscuririg the view into the neighbor's yard.

Vic leaned out her window and listened to the sounds of struggle
and fury. She trotted down the stairs, jumped the creek, and emerged
through the pines. A young woman perhaps five feet five inches tall,
blonde, her back turned to Vic, was cussing a blue streak while trying to slide an old dresser from the back of an equally old Mercedes sta
tion wagon.

"Need a hand?" Vic's low alto startled the woman.

She turned around. "You scared the shit out of me!" Her voice be
trayed Pennsylvania origins.

"Sorry." Vic smiled. "I'm your neighbor. Vic Savedge. Come on,
we'll get the dresser out and we can carry it up together."

 

"I'm Chris Carter." The woman held out her hand.

Both women smiled and shook hands.

Then Vic removed the dresser with one pull.

"How'd you do that?"

"Patience. You lost yours," Vic sensibly replied.

"Guess I did." Then she slyly added, "Anyone ever tell you you're big and strong?"

"Every day. And it doesn't get them anywhere." Vic laughed. "But
in your case, seeing as how I have to live next to you for the year, I'll carry this up."

Chris struggled to pick up one end. "This thing is awkward." She
blinked to keep the sweat out.

"Put it down," Vic commanded.

"Why?"

"Just put it down," Vic repeated. "You go ahead of me and open the
doors."

"You aren't going to carry that up by yourself, are you?"

"It'll be easier than trying to maneuver you
and
the dresser." Vic
hoisted the bird's-eye maple dresser on her back, bent over, and
started up the back stairs of the Olsen house. Chris's apartment was at
the top of that house just as Vic's apartment was at the top of the DeReuter house. She gladly put down her burden when she reached
the top of the last flight, breathed deeply, then picked it up again and
headed toward the bedroom. Chris led the way, apologizing with
every step. Vic placed the dresser against the wall.

"There."

"Thank you. Really. I can't thank you enough."

"A Co' Cola would help." Vic wiped her brow, droplets of sweat
spraying off her fingertips.

Chris's kitchen was graced with newer appliances than were in
Vic's kitchen. She opened the refrigerator door, pulled out a cold can
of Coke, grabbed a glass with dancing polar bears on it, dropped in ice
cubes, and poured the soda. Then she repeated the process for herself.

"They taste better over ice."

Vic gulped hers down. "True."

 

"Here, you need another one." Chris popped open another can
and poured its contents into Vic's glass. Her eyes met Vic's for a sec
ond. Vic had green eyes, deep electric green. Set against her black
hair, her eyes could be almost hypnotic. "You have the most incred
ible eyes."

Vic laughed. "It runs in the family. So does the height—my
mother's six-one, too." Then she studied Chris. "Well, you've got
brown eyes and blonde hair and you're
petite.
I bet everyone tells you
you're pretty, it's a beautiful combination. Do you listen to them?"

"Never. Do you?"

"No, I don't want to be known for how I look but for what I do."
"If we were both butt-ugly we'd probably feel different."

They laughed
;
then Vic said, "What year are you?"

"Junior. I'm a transfer from the University of Vermont. It's a good
school, but I never knew how much I hated cold weather until I wound
up in Vermont. Fall starts in August. I think you have to be born to it,
you know?"

"
I
don't know. I've never been to Vermont. The farthest north I've been was to visit Cornell but it was during summer."

"Same difference. Fall starts there in August, too." She finished her drink. "Are you moved in?"

"Yes," Vic said with relief. "I'd just put the last carton of books on the table when I heard you."

"Was I that loud?" Chris's hand flew to her mouth, an unexpectedly
feminine gesture.

"Uh-huh."

"It could have been worse. I could have yelled 'fuck.'"

Vic laughed again. "One of two things would have happened:
Every old biddy on the street would have fainted dead or the men
would have come running, hoping you meant it."

Chris wrinkled her nose. "Neither prospect sounds very appetiz
ing." She took the glass from Vic's hand. "What year are you?"
"Senior."

"Lucky dog."

"I guess. I still have to get through it. Don't count your chickens,

 

et cetera." She walked over to the sink as Chris washed out the two glasses. "Do you know anyone at William and Mary?"

"Not really. I fell in love with the school and figured I'd make
friends."

"You're in luck. I have wonderful friends. If you're really good to me, you can meet them."

"I'm pretty damn good," Chris replied.

 

W

ell, there she was, your little sister, her midriff bulging
nasty white, a pair of pedal pushers—yes, pedal pushers—
tottering on open-toed wedgies that Carmen Miranda must

have cast off on her way back to Brazil. I can't take her anywhere." R. J.
...

Savedge, Vic's mother, lit up her Lucky Strike, unfiltered, and then just
as quickly stubbed it out. "I am giving these goddammned things up." 'This was followed by a mournful "But how?" as she instantly lit up
another.

"Mother, it's expensive to stub them out like that."

R. J. shot back a look, then softened. "Of course, you're quite right. I can't stand that I don't have the willpower. They taste
so-o-o
good."

People could not remain immune to the mind-numbing beauty of
Vic or her mother, carbon copies
-
of one another separated by twenty years. The difference was that Vic was still working out her style
;
R. J.
4
had perfected hers.

Rachel Jolleyn Vance Savedge was R. J.'s full name. Vance, her
maiden name, was the middle name she_bequeathed to Vic, Victoria
Vance Savedge. The Savedge women could make you forget all about
the Ten Commandments or the fact that your wife might be packing
a
.38.

"Mother, why don't you buy Mignon some clothes?"

BOOK: Alma Mater
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