Recap #289: Nightmare Hall #18: Win, Lose or Die by Diane Hoh

Title: Win, Lose or Die

Author: Diane Hoh

Description: Nicki thought everybody loved a winner. Then she won a scholarship to the Salem tennis team. Now someone is sabotaging every play she makes – on and off the court. And then the accident happens.

Nicki knows it happened to the wrong girl. She knows it was meant for her.

Who is playing the deadly game of life and death with Nicki? To find the answer, Nicki must play the game to the end. And the only way to win is . . .

Not to die.

Initial Thoughts

First thought: The lack of an Oxford comma in the title is upsetting me more than it has any right to. (Yes, I see now that they added one for the updated cover, but rest assured the original doesn’t have it.) [Wing: The original doesn’t have it and that always annoyed me. Give me Oxford comma or give me death.]

Second thought: Once again, I couldn’t find a decent-quality photo of the original book cover, so I’m having to use one of the “new” cover, which I don’t like nearly as much.

I definitely owned this one as a teen, but didn’t remember it well when I reread it. Actually, I reread it several months ago in prep to write this recap, then didn’t get around to, you know, actually writing it. I’ve already forgotten who the killer is. There’s one fairly big red herring here, and something about that throws me off remembering the actual killer.

Anyway, this one is actually written by Hoh rather than my last Nightmare Hall outing, which was ghostwritten by Nola Thacker. That automatically means better quality, and I really do actually enjoy this one. Even though everything I know about tennis comes from TV and movies. So, basically nothing. I don’t remember how much actual tennis gameplay this book has, but at any rate, I won’t be able to nitpick any inaccuracies if there are any.

[Wing: I honestly can’t remember if I read this when I was younger or not, but I’m looking forward to this recap either way.]


Naturally we start with Bad Guy POV, but oddly enough, this one isn’t done in italics. Huh. That’s different. Anyway, this Bad Guy is whining about how they see “her” on the tennis court and can’t stand her. She stole something from Bad Guy, not something that you could call the cops over, but something that Bad Guy needed, and then she had the fucking audacity to go on with her life as if she hadn’t done anything wrong. Well, Bad Guy went on with their life, too, but now vows to take something from her that’s completely irreplaceable. Her life.

I’m not going to attempt to do counters this time out, but if I were, this would most definitely be a “dun dun DUN!”

We meet our protagonist, Nicki Bledsoe, as she hesitates in the doorway of the sports shop in the mall. The place is huge, and all she needs are tennis socks. She could have bought socks on campus, but they don’t have the kind she likes, and she thought the trip to the mall would be worth it. But now she only has forty-five minutes until her first practice with a new team she hasn’t even met yet, and she has no idea where these stupid socks are in this stupid huge store.

I would try the tennis section, Nicki.

[Wing: LOLOL Also, normally I would say the socks would be far cheaper off campus but I don’t know about in this fancy mall sports shop. For that matter, is there an actual difference between tennis socks and regular athletic socks?]

Oh, okay, she was a military brat, who’s changed schools eight times in twelve years. Let me count here . . . from kindergarten up until the time my mental illness had had it with school and I dropped out to get my GED, I was also in eight different schools. I thought it was more, but unless I missed one . . . we’re the same, Nicki!

Nicki had thought that once she reached college she could just stay in one place, but after she’d started at State, the tennis coach at Salem offered her a full-ride athletic scholarship, so she’d moved schools one more time. Hence why she hasn’t met her teammates yet.

She laments coming to Salem during second semester, after everyone has already made friends and joined activities, but thinks that joining the tennis team will automatically give her friends and a social life. Okay, I’ve never played team sports in school; is this true? Does the team just hang out all the time in their own little clique, or is it just something you go to and then peel off to your own friends and social life when practice/games are over?

[Wing: In high school, there was a lot of hanging out within the team (true for marching band, though broken down into smaller sections, e.g., the drumline or the colour guard), but I’m not sure if that’s true in college. Maybe, particularly when the school is a large one.]

Saving Nicki the trouble of actually having to look for the item she wishes to purchase, a clerk comes up and asks if he can help her. He’s not much taller than Nicki, not that we actually know how tall she is, and heavyset. But we’re told that doesn’t mean fat; he’s just extra-large, and Nicki wonders if he plays football. I know the body type we’re talking about, but I’m giving the side-eye to the rush to reassure us not to worry because he’s totes not actually fat, guys!

Anyway, Mr. Extra-large leads Nicki to a wall of athletic socks, proving my assumption about where they’d be wrong, and reveals that he knows who she is because he stays plugged into the campus sports news, and Salem spares no expense when it comes to their athletes. Or their academically gifted students, which is what he is. Then he introduces himself as [Wing: Long?] John Silver. When they shake hands, Nicki notices that his hands are smooth and uncalloused – not the hands of an athlete.

John notices her noticing this, and says that even though he doesn’t do doesn’t mean he doesn’t know, and any questions she has about tennis or their equipment, she should ask him. Nicki asks if she can get her racket restrung there, and he replies that she can even get her name put on her tennis balls if she’s into that. She’s not.

John warns her that some of her teammates are that type, especially Libby DeVoe (related to Bell Biv Devoe . . . ?), who thinks she’s Salem’s Martina, but she’s not as nice. And there’s a dated reference. I’m assuming we’re talking about Martina Navratilova, but I had to look up her last name. Nicki knows the type he’s talking about – the racket-tossing type. She’d been that way once herself, but she’d learned her lesson.

Nicki takes her socks and heads back to campus, expositing along the way about Nightingale Hall – “Nightmare” Hall, and how she wouldn’t want to live there. [Wing: How does this dorm remain open? Pretty much no one wants to live there and people get hurt there regularly.] She lives in a single room on the eighth floor of Devereaux and is lonely without a roommate. None of her new teammates have come by to welcome her, and Coach Dietch gave her two weeks to get acclimated to the school before coming to practice. That’s an interesting way to integrate someone into an established team, but okay. [Wing: The college women’s tennis season starts in January, too, which would be the beginning of second semester, so this is weird to me. I’m not going to take the time to look up whether it applies to women’s tennis, but many sports have the rule that you can’t play in the year you transfer, for that matter.]

Coach Dietch is a former professional tennis player, and Nicki wants to benefit from that experience even though she doesn’t intend to play professionally. Her ultimate goal is to become an architect. That’s pretty cool. I feel like we don’t see a lot of female characters have that sort of career goal. Is architecture a male-dominated field? It feels like it might be. [Wing: Yes, at least in the USA.]

We get a little bit of description here – Nicki has long, dark hair, and she wonders if Coach will make her cut it, as some coaches don’t like their players to have long hair even if they pull it back and keep it out of their face. Well, that’s shitty. Then she grabs her expensive (best that money can buy) tennis racket to admire it. I think we might need to leave her alone with the racket for a few minutes, guys. It earned her a Regionals championship and the title of State Champion.

She makes her way to the locker room, and nobody greets her. She thinks that maybe the girls in Coach Dietch’s office are the friendlier girls, the ones who would normally greet her. She also notices that everyone seems to have short hair, and determines that she is not going to cut her hair, not even for tennis. She doesn’t linger in the doorway, but makes her way to her locker, swinging her racket and apparently not looking at anyone else? I dunno, Nicki, it doesn’t seem like you’re acting very friendly or approachable to them, either.

The three girls in the office come out to the locker room and head for Nicki, and she thinks that these must be the friendly girls coming to greet her. Yeah, you know that scene in Elf where Will Ferrell thinks he’s going to get a hug from the raccoon? It goes kind of like that.

A tall girl with ash-blonde hair and green eyes tells Nicki that she supposes Nicki thinks she’s pretty hot stuff. She’s read about her; Nicki is just a small town champion from the sticks who’s never had real competition. Until you’ve played a Californian, you’ve never really played tennis. Then the girl smiles coldly and introduces herself as Libby DeVoe – Nicki’s probably read about her, too, California Junior Champion two years in a row.

Not wanting to give in to this “don’t you know who I am” Karen behavior, Nicki replies that nope, she’s never heard of her. Karen Libby snarks that Nicki must not keep up with tennis news, then, and she personally feels that it’s just so very important to know what’s going on in the world of tennis. Nicki shrugs that she’s more concerned with concentrating on her own game, and turns to her locker, eliciting a gasp from one of the other girls, who announces that it’s so rude to turn her back on Libby. This girl is Nancy Drew (yes, really), who introduces herself as “Libby’s best friend.” [Wing: The real Nancy Drew would never.]

Imagine having so little identity that you identify yourself as “so-and-so’s best friend.”

The third girl, a redhead, is Carla Sondberg, Florida’s Junior Champ. Not two years in a row, though; she’s not as good as Libby. Carla seems to be the friendly one, telling Nicki that Coach will probably assign her to doubles at first since that’s where they’re the weakest, and she and Libby would make a great team because they’d clobber everyone.

Of course Libby jumps in to say that she doesn’t play doubles, not with anyone, and especially not some loser from the boonies. Nicki tells her off immediately – she’s played in small and large arenas, and she always tries to play the same way, but she’s not keen on playing doubles with someone whose head has been swollen to the size of a pumpkin because she takes her own press clippings too seriously.

Teamwork makes the dream work!

Coach comes out of the office and begins applauding, and some of the players join in. She comments that she sees Libby has met her newest competition. Yeah, is this really something we should be encouraging, Coach? I get friendly rivalry, but they’re still on the same team. This just seems like you’re encouraging toxic competition.

Anyway, Nicki is now positive that she’s made a very dangerous enemy in Libby.

We’re told at the start of the next chapter that Nicki’s first practice did not go well, but it appears to start off well enough. Nicki walks into the indoor court and immediately meets two girls on the team who seem friendly – Patrice (Pat) Weylen, a tall brown-haired girl with wide shoulders, and Ginnie Lever, a shorter, stockier girl who is introduced as a “maniac.” A tennis maniac, that is. Eurgh. Ginnie has very long strawberry-blonde hair in a French braid, so Nicki is relieved that there don’t seem to be rules about hair length.

These two girls tell Nicki that they are absolutely not in the Libby DeVoe fan club (I’m sure Nancy Drew is the president, since her identity is so tied up in her relationship to Libby), and warn Nicki to watch out for her. She replies that they’re the second people to tell her that today, and they approve of John-from-the-mall. Pat says he’s really smart, and Ginnie adds that he’s cute, too. And then immediately annoys the fuck out of me by continuing on to say that he’d be gorgeous if he worked out once in a while. Which doesn’t even make sense considering the great pains they took to assure us he wasn’t fat, just built big. Then Nicki comments that he should take up playing tennis instead of just talking about it, because nothing gets you in shape faster. Siiiiiigh.

Practice starts, and here is where it all starts going wrong for Nicki. She lets Libby psych her out, and messes up all her serves and misses the simplest volleys. She can hear her teammates giggling and making sounds of derision. When she sits on the bench next to Pat, she notices how well Ginnie plays and Pat tells her that tennis is Ginnie’s life, the only reason she doesn’t practice twenty-four hours a day is so she can keep her grades up for her scholarship.

Nicki watches Libby with envy, noting that she has a strong serve and backhand, and is remarkably light on her feet for someone so tall and big-boned. When practice ends, Coach comes over to tell Nicki that the first time out is always tough and to get a good night’s sleep and be back at two tomorrow.

John has also shown up to check out her mad skillz, and she laments to him that her skillz weren’t so mad today. He assures her that first practices really are pretty rough, but if she thinks new shoes would help, he can get her a twenty percent discount! Aw, I like John. He’s fun.

Libby comes up alongside John, smiling at him and giving Nicki a contemptuous look, and Nicki groans internally, thinking that if Libby has a thing for John, that’s just one more reason for her to hate Nicki. Nicki also thinks that it’s pretty juvenile of Libby; she thought they were supposed to have left that kind of petty jealousy back in high school.

You just know if this were R.L. Stine, the “thing” that Nicki stole from Bad Guy would absolutely be a boyfriend, and we’d be in for 200 pages of girls hating each other because of boys. I’m so glad this is Hoh instead. Where girls hate each other because of sports. (I mean, only a couple of them do. Hoh is good with female friendships, for the most part.)

Pat asks Nicki if she wants to go get some pizza at Vinnie’s, a pizza place that Nicki hasn’t been to because she hasn’t been anywhere. She hates going to restaurants alone, so she thinks it would be fun to go out to eat with friends again. Pat starts to say she’ll meet Nicki outside, then stops in front of Nicki’s locker and gasps.

Someone has written GO AWAY, LOSER on it in thick white foam.

I’m impressed that they thought to put the comma in there. Apparently I’m the Punctuation Pedant today. Despite the fact that my own correct comma usage comes and goes as I see fit. [Wing: Good to know that any graffiti from you should have correct comma use. Maybe.]

Pat wipes at the letters and discovers it’s hair mousse. The letters are already beginning to streak and melt, so I guess Bad Guy did this right before they walked into the locker room. That’s some timing for ya. Ginnie is indignant, claiming that’s no way to welcome someone, and Nicki decides to use humor as a defense mechanism, quipping, “Was it something I said?” as she wipes the message away. She continues to say that she hopes it wasn’t expensive mousse, as it’s not going to scare her away, she’s not moving again.

Two more girls, Hannah and Barb, help clean the locker and tell her they’re glad she joined the team, and Nicki thinks grimly that now there are four girls out of maybe two dozen who have acknowledged her existence. Um, technically seven, as Libby and her minions definitely acknowledged you, Nicki. Also, have you acknowledged anyone else? Would it kill you to smile and say hi to some of your new teammates yourself? And I have no idea about any of this; is two dozen a normal number of people to have on a university tennis team? It sounds like a lot, but I just don’t know.

Nicki wonders why everyone is so unfriendly, and Pat flat-out tells her it’s because of Libby. She’s the resident Mean Girl, and she’s put the word out that she doesn’t want Nicki there. She has a terrible temper, and she’s also the best player on the team, according to Ginnie. Pat counters that Ginnie is as good as Libby, and Nicki might be, too. Well, not from what you’ve seen so far, Pat, but okay.

The three of them go to Vinnie’s, where the biggest group is Libby and more minions, including Barb, who waves but doesn’t motion them over. Ginnie asks if Nicki would rather be sitting with that group, but Nicki prefers her back unstabbed. Ginnie is happy with her response, because most transfers would try to gravitate toward the popular crowd.

Wait, is this just Mean Girls?

Halfway through their meal, Pat suddenly tells Nicki not to look, but someone is staring at her. Nicki of course wants to know how she’s supposed to not look after being told that. She subtly looks, and it’s a tall guy in black, standing by the jukebox with a blonde girl. He’s Deacon Skye, loner and brilliant in English class, and she’s Melanie Hayden, an artist. They hang around together all the time, but Ginnie doesn’t think they’re dating. They’re also kind of troublemakers – they stay out late, drive too fast, make too much noise in the library, and Deacon argues with the English prof in class.

Hardcore criminals right there, folks. [Wing: Except for the too much noise in the library, this was me in college. Good to know I was a troublemaker. I appreciate that. (I also once poetry bombed a full cafeteria with my poetry group, by which I mean random performance of short, sharp-edged poetry and then we bounced. So, uh, maybe I was a troublemaker.)]

Deacon smiles at Nicki, and she wonders why, having to be told that maybe it’s because she’s gorgeous. She doesn’t think she is, and thinks that a rule-breaker isn’t her type, since she’s kind of uptight. That’s not how she phrases it, but I’ve taken the liberty. You’re welcome. Then Ginnie sighs that sure, maybe they wouldn’t have a lot in common, but doesn’t he look a little like Mel Gibson?

Oh. Well. That didn’t age well.

Even though she supposedly isn’t interested in associating with hooligans who make noise in libraries, Nicki watches them leave and wonders what it would be like to be friends with people who don’t always follow the rules.

On Nicki’s own way out, Barb wishes her luck tomorrow while Libby glares. Outside, Nicki invites Pat and Ginnie to the mall with her to exchange the socks she’d bought that afternoon. She’d been in a hurry and bought the wrong ones. Oh, so what socks was she wearing during practice, then? Because there’s no way she’s trying to exchange worn socks. I hope. Anyway, neither girl can come with her, because they both have to study for a math quiz. Nicki is disappointed because now that she’s becoming friends with people, she thought she wouldn’t have to do everything alone anymore. I mean, I get it, but who really wants to go return socks with someone they just met?

On her way to the mall, alone, Nicki feels one of her tires go flat. When she gets out to inspect it, she spots a six-inch-long slice in the rubber of the tire. It was deliberately slashed.

Okay, but she was driving on it just fine for several miles. Was it very carefully sliced down to a very thin layer of rubber, and then busted the rest of the way open when she hit a bump or something? I cannot understand how you drive for miles on a slashed tire before it goes flat. (Also, I have flattened at least three tires by hitting a bump/pothole too forcefully and somehow cracking them open or putting a hole in them. Admittedly, two of them were old tires that needed replaced anyway. The third was newer and able to be patched. I have very bad luck with tires.)

The idea that someone slashed her tire makes Nicki feel unsafe and violated. [Wing: AS IT WOULD.] She weighs her options – she knows how to change a tire, but it’s cold outside and the shoulder of the road isn’t wide enough to work safely. She’s considering locking the car and walking in the hopes of finding a garage when a car pulls over behind her. It’s Deacon and Mel, and Deacon tells her that he’s not going to make the politically incorrect assumption that she can’t change the tire because she’s a female (please don’t use “female” as a noun like you’re a goddamn Ferengi, thanks), but rather assume that she’s not changing the tire because it’s unsafe to do so right here. He offers to drive her into town to a garage, but don’t think they’re doing her any special favors – he and Mel regularly ride around all night rescuing stranded travelers.

Mel greets her by name and says they’ll take her to Rif’s, who does good work and doesn’t charge college students their entire monthly allowance. Bold of you to assume everyone is being given an allowance instead of working, but okay, Melanie. Nicki is surprised that they know her name, but Mel says they asked about her at Vinnie’s because she looked interesting. Neither one of them has ever picked up a racket in their lives, but they go to all the matches because they’re fun.

Deacon and Mel have big “we’re working up to asking you for a threesome” energy, and I’m kind of into it. [Wing: Same.]

Deacon asks who might want to slash Nicki’s tire, and she thinks of Libby but doesn’t name her. He points out that she still has a State sticker on her rear window, but thinks slashing a tire over that would be a bit drastic. [Wing: I thought you sometimes followed college sports, Deacon. That’s not a bit drastic for fans at all. (I would have removed the sticker, though.)]

Nicki rides in the front seat between the two of them, and Deacon turns the music up so that conversation is impossible. Nicki thinks about the mousse on the locker and the tire, which honestly are in different categories of mean shit to do to someone if you ask me. She doesn’t think Libby could have slashed the tire because she was sitting in Vinnie’s the whole time, and she seems like too obvious a suspect. She’d have to be crazy or stupid to try anything so nasty so soon. And then, because of course she does, Nicki wonders if Libby really is crazy; she’s read about “dedicated athletes who became totally obsessed with their sport and stopped thinking rationally, driving themselves to a point that endangered their physical and mental health.” I . . . I just can’t with this “logic.” Wing go boom now? [Wing: I don’t even have enough rage to do more than a BOOM here. That’s it. One little BOOM. Fuck this worry. Your real worry is whether someone on the team is willing to go to extremes to drive you away, even down to potentially hurting you with that tire, not whether they’re ~crazy.]

They give the information to the garage, and then Deacon asks where she was headed originally and offers to drive her to the mall. Nicki thinks he’s interesting, and also that he doesn’t really look like Mel Gibson. More like Christian Slater. As far as I know, this is acceptable. [Wing: More believable as a heartthrob for college students, too.]

When they get to the sports shop, which I don’t think is ever given a name, John is back at work. I guess he just took time off to watch tennis practice, which seems a little weird, but sure. Deacon and Mel wander off to have a “perfectly serious” conversation with a male mannequin wearing ski wear, because they obviously want to be my new best friends. John asks what she’s doing with them since they don’t play tennis and tennis is very clique-y; she asks if he knows them and he responds that they’re always in trouble, but he appears more indulgent than judgmental. Nicki asks if they’re into murder and mayhem, and he laughs. No, they just like to break the rules here and there.

She explains about the tire, and John is shocked that someone would do that, but not shocked that Libby made sure she didn’t feel welcome with the rest of the team. He doesn’t think tire-slashing is Libby’s style, but advises her to watch her back anyway. Then he spots Deacon and Mel sitting in an inflatable rubber raft and pretending to row, and tells her that maybe she should give more thought to who she wants to hang out with at Salem; maybe pick someone she has more in common with than Bonnie and Clyde over there.

Okay, Deacon and Mel do seem like kind of a lot, but I’ve decided I love them. At least for now. They’re just having silly fun at the moment, and honestly doing the kind of ridiculous shit I used to get up to with like-minded silly friends here and there, so back off, John.

Nicki is less annoyed at him than I am, but impishly tells him that maybe she’s sick of only having friends who talk about serves and backhands. In fact, she might take up a new sport, like . . . river rafting! And then she joins Deacon and Mel in the raft and they all break into a round of “Row, Row, Row Your Boat.”

Seriously, I want to be friends with these obnoxious, hilarious people.

[Wing: I think they can take it too far, but they are both ridiculous and kind of delightful.]

They go to a bookstore to turn all of Deacon’s dad’s books face-front so they sell better, and Nicki finds out that Deacon’s dad is a travel writer and Deacon moved around a lot as a kid, too – twelve schools in twelve years, beating Nicki’s record. While Nicki hated it, Deacon loved moving around, and wants to be a civil engineer and move around building bridges and shit. He claims that the great thing about moving is leaving your past and your mistakes behind, and no one ever finding out who you really are. Okay, Deacon.

They go to the food court, where Mel takes all the ashtrays from the smoking section (hello, 1990s!) and throws them away, claiming she’s saving lives. I mean, nothing is stopping people from ashing onto their plates or in their empty cups, or all over the floor like a goddamn heathen, making more work for the janitors, but sure, Mel. Then Deacon runs to a piano just inside the food court entrance and manages to “pound out” two rock songs before security comes to move them along. I really wish we got some title drops here. Oh well. [Wing: Look, if you don’t want people playing the piano, don’t put the piano where people can reach it.]

The security guard follows them as they make their way toward the exit and Deacon comments obnoxiously loudly on all the window displays. Nicki thinks he’s daring the guard to actually kick them out. In the parking lot, Mel pulls a little teddy bear keychain out of her pocket, claiming she “liberated” it from the bookstore. Nicki is shocked at someone shoplifting a two-dollar item, but manages not to lecture Mel about honesty. I’m rolling my eyes so hard right now. As someone who shoplifted well past an age I can defend, I would rather save my pearl-clutching for things that actually harm people. Calm down, Nicki.

[Wing: I’m pretty anti-shoplifting, especially when people do it in a way I might be involved, but I’m also not going to shout at Mel in this situation after. Just do it when I’m not around, my friends.]

Deacon and Mel drive her to the garage, where her car isn’t quite ready yet. She insists they leave her to wait by herself, and then thinks that Deacon’s “see you around” sounds like he doesn’t actually think they’ll see her around. She worries that he thinks she’s a drag, then wonders if her worry is because she doesn’t see herself that way, or because she doesn’t want him to see her that way.

To her surprise, Deacon is waiting at her door when she gets back to her dorm. He wanted to correct a couple misconceptions – first, shoplifting that keychain is probably the most rebellious thing Mel has ever done. She’s a total amateur. Second, he actually did used to play tennis. Liked the game, intensely disliked the people playing it. They were all country club spoiled rich brats. [Wing: To be fair, this is a huge percentage of tennis players because it can be an expensive sport to do well.] Nicki points out that she’s not rich, and he admits that he was wrong, then, and not for the first time. But he really wants to drive home the point that Mel isn’t normally a thief, and ask if Nicki is willing to give them a second chance if he promises they won’t all end up in jail.

As Nicki opens the door, she sees her tennis racket hanging by one of its strings from the light fixture. She thinks that there shouldn’t be a broken string at all, and then realizes that it’s worse than that – every single string on her racket is sliced through. [Wing: Fuck, that’s horrifying.]

Deacon comments that it looks like it went through a shredder, while Nicki begins to tremble with rage and tries to hold back tears of anguish. I am also a person who cries when I’m angry, which is both frustrating and somewhat liberating. Anyhow, Deacon wonders what the Tennis Terrorizer (I’m attempting to come up with some names for the Bad Guy that are more interesting than just “Bad Guy.”) used to cut the strings, since that’s not a thing that’s easy to do, but Nicki doesn’t care; she just wants to know how they got into her room. Deacon points out that the locks on her door are basically useless and locking the door is a waste of time.

Um, anyone familiar with Richard Chase, the Vampire of Sacramento, would beg to differ. He took locked doors as a sign he was unwelcome, and unlocked doors as an invitation to come in and murder you in terrible ways. (Even though the Wikipedia article goes very light on details, I still would not advise clicking that link if you want to sleep soundly tonight.)

tl;dr: Even the shittiest of shitty locks is worth having.

[Wing: I have learned a new thing today! (About Chase, not the locks. I am very careful to keep things locked.)]

Deacon hands Nicki the destroyed racket, and she feels something not quite right about it. She pulls her racket case out from under the bed, and lo and behold, her racket is nestled inside, safe and sound. Deacon is confused, then warns Nicki that her relief is premature – after all, someone did break into her room and go to all this trouble to make her think they’d destroyed something she cares about.

Nicki suggests that it was a hazing ritual, and Deacon shoots that down, saying no one who loved the game would even pretend to destroy another player’s racket. Nicki knows he’s right. [Wing: He does make a very good point.] He makes her promise to call Security, or at least the RA, and to ask for a better lock on the door.

After he leaves, she calls the RA, who then calls Security, who promises to put a better lock on the door. Tomorrow. The RA suggests Nicki call a friend to sleep over, but Nicki is too embarrassed to admit she doesn’t really have any friends yet. I was going to suggest Pat and Ginnie, but they didn’t even want to go return socks at the mall with her, so I dunno. What level of friendship is the “sleep over to protect me from tennis racket murderers” level? And does it come before or after the mundane trip to Customer Service? [Wing: I’d move furniture in front of the door before I’d allow someone I barely know into my room even for “protection.”]

Nicki tries to fall asleep, but thinks that someone on the team must have done this, because only another player would know how cruel a trick it was. She gets fired up with anger and righteous indignation, and vows to play the best tennis she’s ever played at practice tomorrow. Yeah! *enthusiastic fist pump*

The next day’s practice really does go well, and Nicki knows she’s actually started to impress her teammates. Barb compliments her by saying she doesn’t have a shred of mercy anywhere in her bones, but she doesn’t sound angry the way Libby would have. Also, I can think of many, many situations where that would not be a compliment, but THIS. IS. SPARTA TENNIS! Oh, and John Silver is there, too, and congratulates her and himself by telling her that see, he told her today would be better, and he’s always right about stuff like that.

Despite her prowess at tennising, the rest of the team isn’t ready to be buddy-buddy yet. Libby, Nancy Drew (I am always going to call her by her full name, because, well.), and Carla are in the locker room ready to stare daggers at her when she walks in. I may have been wrong about Carla being the friendly one of that group. Pat pops up and tells Nicki that Libby knows she’s a real threat now, and she should watch out, then tells Nicki she should listen to John when she reveals that he basically told her the same thing. Then Pat randomly mentions that she thinks John has a thing for Ginnie. Even though she doesn’t think Ginnie knows he exists, which, false. Wasn’t Ginnie the one who said he’d be gorgeous if he worked out a little? *eyeroll*

Coach pops in to announce an exhibition game on Sunday to see how they play in front of a crowd, and Nicki is assigned to play against Libby, because of course she is. She thinks about how insufferable Libby will be if Nicki loses; then realizes Libby could be even more dangerous if Nicki wins. She considers developing a sudden, mysterious ailment that will keep her off the court on Sunday. She immediately dismisses the idea, as she’s not the type to run away from her problems.

Skip to Friday, and the knowledge that Nicki has spent Wednesday and Thursday evenings with Deacon and Mel. Deacon is currently suggesting that they crash the Phi Delta Theta party, and I always forget how much reading this sort of thing makes me want to go rewatch all of Greek.

But wait, first Nicki has to catch us up on practice on Wednesday and Thursday. She didn’t make any more star turns, and on Thursday she found her shoelaces knotted together and her hairbrush coated in peanut butter. Apparently these are the usual “we like you now” pranks that tennis players can expect from their teammates, but since no one else has shown any signs of thawing, Nicki suspects it’s Ginnie or Pat trying to make her feel better.

I mean, hope you’re not deathly allergic to peanuts or anything.

Catching back up to Friday, they crash the party, which is far less dramatic than that phrasing makes it sound. Nobody questions why they’re there; Mel dances with a guy from her art class; tons of people call out greetings to Deacon, surprising Nicki because she thought he was some kind of basement-dwelling loner, I guess. Then Libby and her gang show up, and she rudely asks what Nicki is doing there, pointing at Deacon and saying that he’s not a Phi Delt. Nicki replies that she’s not, either – couldn’t pass the physical. (These days this could be read as slightly transphobic, or at least erasing transness, although I’m sure Hoh wasn’t thinking about that aspect when she wrote it.) Libby replies to this by stating, “Very funny. Not.” Oh. My. God. Hello, 1990s. “Not” and “Psych” are two 90s terms that need to never ever ever see a comeback. (Although I have seen “psych!” several times recently, mostly spelled “sike” which I find more depressing than I can even put in words.) [Wing: Oh, god, I remember the first time I saw it spelled “sike,” I thought my soul was going to leave my body. I hate it.]

Libby and Nicki snark at each other for a minute before Libby leads her minions away, and Nancy Drew (it’s not just me! the book keeps using her full name, too!) tells Nicki that she shouldn’t talk to Libby like that. Nicki tells her to go solve a mystery already, and I laugh.

Nicki and Deacon dance; then John shows up and Nicki is surprised he’s in a frat. He takes this as a judgment about him not being a jock, and points out that while he loves sports, there are a lot of other important things in the world, too. Okay, John. I don’t think Nicki meant anything like that, but okay. She tells him about the destroyed racket, and he also thinks that it wouldn’t be easy to shred a racket like that and wonders what was used. Then she wonders how he knows what kind of racket she has, and he explains that he noticed it at one of the practices. He notices things like that.

He is the Tennis Whisperer.

He mentions that he’s seen Libby throw her racket all the way across the court more than once, so he’d play it cool around her if he were Nicki. Look, I know that tempers run high and sometimes you just need to throw something, but wouldn’t you risk damaging your racket by flinging it all over the damn place in anger? It’s so strange to me that this is a thing. [Wing: Me too! It’s like if I threw my computer across the room every time a book I’m recapping infuriated me. I threaten it a lot, but I would never actually throw my computer.]

Nicki mentions that he should have asked Ginnie to the party, and he blushes but answers that she already has her one true love – tennis. Yes, but you can’t really cuddle on the couch with tennis, now can you? (I was originally going to go much dirtier with that, then thought better of it.) [Wing: The dirtier the better.]

Nicki walks into the kitchen in time to see Deacon and Mel dumping two big bottles of tabasco sauce into the sloppy joe mix in the hopes of “livening up” the party. Uh, okay. Couple things. First, who the fuck serves sloppy joes at a party? Who is going to clean that up? Because you just know 75% of that shit is going to end up on the floor. Also, regular tabasco sauce isn’t all that spicy, so all this prank is doing is adding a little much-needed flavor to the food. (I say, knowing my spice tolerance is higher than a lot of people’s, and both my mother and my fiancé would probably die from two drops of the stuff.)

Nicki wants to leave since she’s not having any fun, but Deacon convinces her to stay and witness the fruits of their prank. Libby’s group pile their sloppy joes high and take massive bites, then choke, turn red, and run for water. Oh so funny. Why do I keep recapping Nightmare Hall books with “fun” food pranks? Remember the salt in the tea in Truth or Die? That one wasn’t even written by Hoh! Is it me? Do I attract this somehow? [Wing: On the one hand, I feel sorry for you. On the other hand, I hope you get them all.]

Our trio leaves the frat house, laughing uproariously, and John chases after them to scold them for ruining the party. Then he tells Nicki that he told her these two were going to make enemies for her, and the last thing she needs is more enemies.

Okay, tampering with food is a no-no. I’m not saying it’s not. But considering some of the “pranks” (read: physical and sexual assault) that fraternities get up to, both in fiction and in real life, adding hot sauce to some food is pretty tame. I doubt anyone is going to be too bent out of shape over it. [Wing: Considering the pranks we’ve already seen in this book, no one should care much about a minor prank. (Though I don’t really consider messing with food a minor prank, though food allergies weren’t such a commonly known and understood thing in the 90s. (Not that they’re understood now.)]

At Saturday practice, everyone is still mad about the spicy joes. Pat shrugs it off when she finds out, saying that Deacon is always doing shit like that, while Ginnie agrees with John – Nicki shouldn’t hang out with them, and Coach might punish her if she finds out about the pranks. [Wing: Um, Coach should be looking to the pranks on the goddamn team if that’s true.] Nicki points out that at least Mel and Deacon aren’t snobs like some people on the team, then wonders how Libby can have so fucking much influence over everyone on the team, to which Pat points out that there are other people on the team afraid that Nicki will replace them. Coach starts practice before Nicki can ask who, though.

Practice goes well, and some of the players get over the spicy joes long enough to fawn over the control Nicki has while playing. Nicki is still nervous about the next day’s exhibition game, though.

At lunch, Ginnie expresses a sometime desire to pack it all in and go lie on a beach somewhere, and Pat surprisingly snaps at her to stop being a wimp, quit whining, and eat. She says that the problem is that Ginnie never lets go, and maybe they should have gone to the Phi Delta Theta party. Nicki asks Ginnie if John happened to give her a call, and Ginnie is confused; why would he? Pat rolls her eyes (it’s not stated as such, but that’s definitely the impression given) and tells her, well, you’re a girl, and he’s a guy, and . . .

. . . and there must be a compulsory hetero romance given those variables. Duh, Ginnie.

Anyway, Ginnie says that she’s too tired to go out at night, and John knows this. Nicki takes umbrage with Ginnie’s disapproving tone and tells her there’s more to life than batting a little round ball back and forth across a net, and Ginnie replies that there isn’t for her. Nicki feels guilty, because not being able to play tennis anymore wouldn’t be the end of the world for her, but it would be for Ginnie.

They have yet more practice after lunch, and then Nicki decides to go use the whirlpool in the infirmary and announces it to the entire locker room, which I’m sure won’t turn out to be a huge mistake or anything. Everyone else has plans, and Nicki bitterly thinks that of course everyone who’s anyone has plans on a Saturday night. I guess she doesn’t think Ginnie is anyone, then.

Oh, but then we find out that Nicki could have gone out dancing with Deacon if she’d wanted to, but she knew she’d be too tired after practice. So I have no idea what Nicki is all bitter about here.

Barb decides to join Nicki after all, and they go to the infirmary, which is empty except for a half-asleep nurse. Nicki offers to start the tub up while Barb changes, then suggests they leave the lights off because it’ll be more peaceful. Sure, sure, that’s normal. Leave the lights off in the creepy, windowless room. A+, Nicki.

They chat a little, and Barb comments that Nicki didn’t need to wrap her hair up in a towel, she has her hairdryer right there on a chair by the tub. Nicki freaks out about the possibility of electrocution should the hairdryer fall in the water, and Barb laughs that it’s not plugged in; she’s not an idiot.

Chekhov’s Hairdryer!

They chat about the exhibition, and tennis, and Nicki wonders if she would be satisfied just being “good” at tennis. She realizes she would be, and she’ll survive if Libby beats her tomorrow, and suddenly the butterflies in her stomach settle down.

Barb thinks they should have some music while they soak, and mentions the nurse at the front desk had a tape player maybe they can borrow. Nicki volunteers to go get it, then has to stand around while the nurse has a personal telephone conversation. When she finally gets the nurse’s attention, she tells Nicki not to drop it in the whirlpool, because not only would Nicki and Barb getting electrocuted be a big mess for her, but it would ruin the tape she’s got in there – Vince Gill, one of her favorites, and doesn’t Nicki just love country music?

I was raised on country, and Vince Gill was a staple. I now can’t name a single one of his songs. I just think of him as the guy who married Christian pop star Amy Grant about five seconds after they both divorced other people.

Nicki isn’t so hot on country, but she figures music is music. Wait, are they planning on listening to whatever’s currently in the tape player? Is there no radio on this thing? What if the nurse had taken her tape out before letting Nicki borrow it, which is 100% what I would have done?

Well, whatever. Barb isn’t answering any of Nicki’s chatter as she searches for an outlet, and she thinks Barb must have just fallen asleep in the tub. As Nicki feels around in the dark for the outlet, she realizes that something is plugged into it already. She’s positive it was empty when she left the room.


She’s certain it’s the hairdryer, and calls for Barb. A voice answers her, but it isn’t Barb. A husky voice comes out of the darkness, asking Nicki why she left the lights out; it was supposed to be her in the tub, this is all Nicki’s fault.

Then someone grabs Nicki and shoves her toward the whirlpool. Nicki screams; the nurse comes running down the hall; the Hot Tub Heckler runs out a side door. [Wing: Nice nickname!] The nurse is annoyed to find the room dark, then gasps when she turns the light on. She knocks the plug free with a broomstick, then drags Barb out of the water and begins working on her while muttering that she warned Nicki about the radio. Nicki numbly says that it wasn’t the radio.

Nicki is probably in shock as other people come in to take care of Barb, then police show up and she tells them what happened in a monotone. Eventually the nurse calls Pat and Ginnie to come pick Nicki up, and they take her back to her dorm and stay with her after propping a chair under her doorknob. I guess her lock still hasn’t been replaced? How many days has it been? I’ve lost track.

Nicki can’t fall asleep because she’s tortured by the idea that someone wants to kill her, mistook Barb for her, and is now even angrier because they’d failed to kill Nicki. Also, we don’t know if Barb is dead or alive at this point. Nicki wonders who hates her enough to try to kill her.

Nicki stays in bed for four days, visited by Deacon and Mel, Pat and Ginnie, and the police. I guess Barb is dead, because she’s waiting for the cops to tell her they arrested the “madman” who killed Barb. That’s . . . just . . . not . . . ugh.

On Day 4, Coach calls and insists Nicki come to practice. She postponed the exhibition matches for a week, and Nicki isn’t doing Barb any good by staying in bed. She agrees to come, even though she’s certain she’ll be murdered if she sets foot outside her room.

We don’t see this practice, but afterwards Deacon and Mel are waiting in front of Nicki’s room when she returns to her dorm. They can’t believe she went to practice, as the killer is probably a jealous tennis player. Nicki wants them to leave so she can collapse into bed again, and Deacon replies that maybe she needs a bodyguard. But he and Mel will be there at the exhibition on Sunday, and they are going to make their presence known! Nicki begs him not to do anything to get thrown out, as she needs all the support she can get, and Mel says that John will be there. She continues that John doesn’t hold grudges, so he won’t still be mad about the spicy joes.

Nicki has trouble falling asleep, and then wakes up in the middle of the night babbling about her being the one who threw the racket, she didn’t mean to; she was sorry right away, but it was too late, it was all her fault.

As she lays back down, she knows she wasn’t talking about Barb, but she has no idea what she was talking about.

She sort of remembers the dream in the morning, but still has no idea what it was about, so writes it off as just a normal nightmare after what happened. A week goes by (!) with no clues to who killed Barb, and Nicki spends most of her time at class, practice, or in the library.

The day of the rescheduled exhibition arrives, and Nicki isn’t so much worried about the match as she is being in the dome where anyone, including the killer, could be. Pat and Nicki join John and Ginnie for breakfast, and Deacon and Mel show up at some point, but it’s unclear whether they join the group or not, as the only reason for their appearance seems to just be so they can be stand-offish and Nicki can lament to us that they’re just annoyed she won’t “go out and play” with them because she’s still traumatized over what happened to Barb.

Back in the dome, the stands are already filling up with spectators. Libby arrives with Carla and Nancy Drew in tow to carry all her shit, and Pat comments that it’s so Libby’s hands will be free to wave to her adoring public. Suddenly a boiling rage begins brewing within Nicki, and she wants to beat Libby more than anything.

While Ginnie plays against Nancy Drew, Nicki scans the crowd for someone who looks “insane enough to electrocute someone in a whirlpool.” She doesn’t know what that kind of person would look like. Currently, it looks like a woman sitting recapping this book and rolling her eyes until it hurts at the idea perpetuated by these books that all murderers are crazy people, and all crazy people are murderers. Go set yourself on fire, Nicki. [Wing: Fucking hell, Nicki, you need to walk this shit back.]

Finally we’re up to the Nicki vs Libby match, and apparently John is acting as ball person. Insert your own joke here. Nicki grabs John’s balls ( . . . yep) and heads out to the court. She loses herself in the game, only occasionally becoming aware of shouts from the sidelines and finding it odd because tennis spectators are notoriously polite. It distracts Libby, because she fails to return a serve, leading to Nicki pulling the second ball out of her pocket. Just before she serves, she sees Deacon and Mel being escorted out by Security. Really? Just for cheering someone on? Okay, you uptight bastards. [Wing: Eh, spectator noise can be considered interference. I’ve even seen it in American football, at least at the high school level.]

Annoyed at her friends, Nicki tosses the ball up and brings the racket to meet it, but as the racket hits it, the ball explodes and sends bright red liquid pouring down over Nicki’s head and body. Yup, she just got Carried by a goddamn tennis ball.

I also feel like the amount of red liquid described is way more than a tennis ball could contain, but whatever. [Wing: It is such a great image, though.]

Spoiler alert – it’s paint, not blood. Nicki appears to be in shock, barely aware of what’s happening. Someone leads her off the court and into the locker room, and the whole time she tells herself this isn’t real; she’s just imagining it all. Still silent, she lies down on a table and allows someone to wipe the paint off of her. She hears the coach saying that she doesn’t like how quiet Nicki’s being, that she would expect hysteria, but this is more worrying. Someone suggests calling the doctor, and Nicki lets the conversation wash right over her, since it isn’t real, it doesn’t matter.

Someone yells at Deacon that no, he can’t come in, they’re just about to stick Nicki in the shower to wash the paint off, and they’ll let him know when he can see her. None of this really registers with Nicki until she feels a sudden shock of warm water pouring down on her. She supposes she has to wake up from this dream now; after all, how is she supposed to sleep with water pouring down on her?

She struggles to get her eyes open since they’ve been somewhat glued shut by the paint, and sees that she’s in a shower stall, fully dressed, with Coach and Pat fretting around her. She calmly tells them that it’s fine, it was all a bad dream, and thanks them for waking her up. Then she catches a glimpse of herself in the mirror, hair coated in paint, eyes swollen and pink, face and eyelashes still red with paint. She begins screaming, and doesn’t stop until she’s presumably sedated, as the next thing she’s aware of is waking up in the infirmary.

Good lord, this whole bit is terrifying. Just the thought of being pushed so far that your brain just decides to nope out for a while is . . . not a thing I’m comfortable with at all.

She remembers everything, and is humiliated at the thought of everyone seeing her standing on the court frozen with scarlet paint dripping off of her. Okay. I’m not sure humiliation is what I would be feeling, but all right.

A security guard shows up with Coach, Pat, and Ginnie, and tells her that it was definitely paint mixed with paint thinner, which is why her eyes are such a mess – it looks like someone was trying to blind her. [Wing: Holy fucking hell.] He thinks someone cut the ball open and glued it back together, while the police think someone may have injected the paint mixture into it with a big syringe. I’m not sure it really matters which it was, but sure.

The security guard presses Nicki about who might have pulled this “stunt,” and Nicki bristles at the phrasing. She thinks that the paint thinner could have blinded her and was probably meant to, so this was much more than a “stunt.” I mean, yeah, but the security guard is the one who told you all that, so I’m not sure he was actually trying to minimize anything here.

Anyway, Nicki wonders who could hate her this much; wonders what she could have done to make someone hate her this much.

Deacon and Mel come to visit, and Nicki is comfortable with them since they didn’t witness her “humiliation.” You were the victim of an assault, Nicki. That shouldn’t be viewed as humiliating, hon. She feels like everyone will be staring at her when she leaves the infirmary, checking for remnants of paint.

Deacon informs her that they’re letting her out of the infirmary in the morning, but no one expects her to go to class or practice, and he suggests they spend the day at the state park instead. Nicki insists that she’s going to go to practice, and Mel disapproves, incredulous that Nicki wants to go back after what they did to her. Nicki points out that they don’t know it was someone on the team, and even if it was, it was only one person. Coach and the rest of the team are expecting her at practice.

After Deacon and Mel are run off by the nurse, she tells Nicki that she was in shock when they brought her in, and she doesn’t blame her as that was one of the nastiest things she’d ever seen. Of course, Nicki was luckier than her friend was last week. Yeah, not for lack of trying on the Tennis Terrorizer’s part. Nicki insists the nurse leave the light on, which she refuses to do, but does hunt down a nightlight for her. I don’t know why she couldn’t just leave the damn light on since Nicki is the only patient. [Wing: Even if she wasn’t, it’s normally to leave some lights on in an infirmary; damn nurse, that’s cold.]

Nicki thinks she’ll stay awake, but she’s exhausted and under the influence of a mild sedative, so she ends up falling asleep while thinking that she’ll just close her eyes for a minute. She wakes up sometime later to someone standing in the doorway, calling her name and holding up a tennis racket.

The person tells her that she doesn’t deserve to play tennis after what she did. Nicki wants to know what it is that she did, and the person scoffs that Nicki doesn’t even know, does she? Well, yeah, I think that’s why she’s asking, my dude. They go on to say that it didn’t even mean anything to Nicki, but if she thinks real hard, maybe she’ll figure out what she did and have the decency to be sorry. After all, Tennis Terrorizer has been trying to give Nicki hints! Mmm, that’s debatable, actually. We’ll get there, and when we do, I don’t think the “hints” will actually make sense as such.

Nicki reaches for the call button, and the person scoffs that Nicki is going to need all the help she can get. When the nurse shows up, of course the person menacing Nicki in the dark is long gone, and the nurse writes it off as a bad dream brought on by the medication. Nicki lets herself be convinced of this, then tries to think of anything terrible she might have done to someone to warrant this level of revenge, but she can’t think of anything. And surely she’d remember, right?

As she’s waiting to leave the infirmary the next morning, Nicki considers quitting tennis, then decides she needs the scholarship, then waffles back and forth until Pat and Ginnie show up to bring her clean clothes. She’s shocked that no one seems to be staring or talking about her as she goes about her day, and I have to wonder how big this university is. Like, does she really expect anyone outside the tennis circles to even know what happened?

At practice, everyone is surprisingly nice to her, except of course for Libby and her crew. As more people begin gravitating toward Nicki’s group, Libby throws her racket down and storms out. Mmkay. A girl named Hannah (have we met her before? I’m having a lot of tennis player names thrown at me and I’ve kind of lost track) thinks that Libby put the paint in the tennis ball because she obviously hates Nicki, but Ginnie disagrees because Libby is too competitive to ruin a match like that. Besides, she would never electrocute someone.

Cue Nicki thinking that she wouldn’t if she were thinking rationally, but maybe crazy would make her do it, because crazy. Motherfucker. [Wing: Fuck you, Nicki. Pretty soon I’m going to think the paint in the tennis ball was tame.]

Nicki plays well at practice, then is invited to Burgers, Etc. by a girl named Sara. Nicki says she’ll come if she can bring Ginnie and Pat. They are excited at first, but then Pat starts asking if Nicki really thinks it’s a good idea since one of the people in that group might be the one out to get her. After all, if someone could put paint in her tennis ball, they could put poison in her burger, right?

Thanks, Pat. Very helpful.

Nicki has a great time in the group anyway, at least until Libby saunters up and suggests that Nicki sabotaged her own ball because look at how popular it made her all of a sudden. No one at the table takes her seriously, saying how most people believe it was Libby who did it. Except for Ginnie, who is adamant that it wasn’t Libby, with no reason given. Sara points out that they’ve all seen Libby throw her racket, more than once, and she (Sara) knows how much damage that can do. [Wing: Gee, I wonder where this could possibly be going.]

Sara goes on to say that she was in the Tri-State regional championship when she was twelve – so was Nicki! although she doesn’t remember Sara. Sara shrugs it off – there were tons of kids there, and she wouldn’t expect Nicki to remember her. As for the rest of her story, some kid was partially blinded when a racket thrown by a “tennis brat” kicked up a rock in the parking lot. Nicki is shocked, because she doesn’t remember a kid losing an eye. Sara tells her that she’s not sure the kid lost an eye, but he was definitely injured and would probably never be able to see out of that eye again, and therefore wouldn’t be able to play tennis anymore.

Obviously the worst thing that could possibly happen, not being able to play tennis again.

Nicki continues to freak out, but her family were moving the very next day, they went immediately home and left for Denver in the morning, and she never heard about the injury. She wants to know who it was that was injured, but no one even knows if it was a girl or a boy. Nicki covers her face while everyone at the table worries over her, but it’s starting to come back to her now.

Long story short, she was twelve, her parents were forcing her to move once again and she was pissed about that coupled with the fact that she’d lost her match, so in a fit of pique she threw her racket in the parking lot on the way to the car. She remembers gravel flying everywhere, and a child’s scream, then an adult screaming about someone named Terry having something happen to their eye. [Wing: Terry seems to pop up a lot in books of this genre when authors look for a name for a past victim.] She ran to the car, where I guess her parents missed all the excitement, and went home. But the next morning she felt guilty and told them, so Dad called the stadium and the hospitals to find out what happened, but no one knew anything about an eye injury, so they figured it hadn’t been serious. It had never occurred to Nicki that someone who loved the game might never play again because of her.

But now she remembers little things, like how her father’s face had turned white after talking to one of the hospitals, and how much her parents had fought that morning. And her mother telling her father that “you can’t tell her” and Dad responding that Nicki should know the truth. For some reason, Nicki had taken this to mean that the house they would be living in wasn’t very nice, or the school was terrible. She somehow didn’t connect it to the thrown racket and someone screaming about their eye, and the calls to the hospital. Nicki is either dumber than we’ve been led to believe, or denial is a hell of a drug.

Well, now at least Nicki knows it was because she was afraid, she didn’t want to know the truth. There were also letters from a law firm in New York, and now Nicki wonders if her parents had been sued over what she did, and also if Terry was short for Terrence or Teresa. She also remembers the figure in the infirmary doorway saying “after what you did” to her, and wonders . . .

She asks Sara if anyone ever found out who threw the racket, and Sara personally doesn’t know, but thinks they must have, because isn’t that always the first question the parents would ask? Nicki thinks that no, they must have covered it up. She makes a hasty exit, thinking that the others believe she’s so upset because of the horrible, horrible thought of someone who loved the game not being able to play anymore.

Uh, really? Because my first thought would be that you were the one who threw the damn racket, Nicki. You’re acting super squirrely about the whole thing, girl.

At home, Nicki calls her parents and demands to know what happened with that whole thing. Dad admits that yes, the child did lose the sight in one eye, but it was an accident and no one blamed Nicki. They paid the medical bills for the kid, and lied to Nicki because they didn’t think it would do her any good to know. Nicki wants to know if it was a girl or boy, and they don’t actually know – they only dealt with the lawyers, who only referred to the kid as “the minor child Gideon.” So now Nicki kind of has a full name – Terry Gideon. Except she doesn’t know anyone by either of those names.

Nicki bitterly asks if young Terry had been a good player or just mediocre, and Dad admits that they were probably on their way to being a champion, and the parents could have sued over that, but all they asked was to have the medical bills paid. Mom and Dad both want to know why she’s asking about this after all this time, and she honestly says that she had a nightmare about it, remembering waking up and crying that she was sorry. She doesn’t tell them about the threats on her life, because why would she. She must know what kind of book she’s in.

After she hangs up, Pat and Ginnie show up worried about her, and she tells them the whole story. They begin to put it together that Terry Gideon might be the person after Nicki, and even though Nicki thinks that herself, she doesn’t know how anyone would know she was at fault. Pat points out that her father’s name would be on the checks for the medical bills. I guess that depends on how the payments were set up, but okay. Ginnie suggests that maybe Nicki should think about who they know who has trouble with one eye, even though so far no one we’ve met has appeared to have any obvious vision problems.

Then I feel like we delve a bit into some ableism here while Nicki thinks about all the things a person lacking vision in one eye wouldn’t be able to do – play tennis, watch tennis, drive a car, play any sport that requires peripheral vision, and they would probably have difficulty reading. Now. The sports stuff might be fair enough, depending on the sport, but we specified “sports that require peripheral vision,” so I’ll let that one pass. However, I just googled “can you drive if you’re blind in one eye” (that was the second autofill, btw, so I guess it’s a common question), and the answer is a resounding yes, in all 50 states. Also, I’m pretty sure you could still watch tennis, you just might have to move your head a bit more than some. And as for reading? Are you kidding me? That . . . that doesn’t require two eyes. Like, at all.

Long rant short, while losing the vision in one eye would restrict some of your activities, you would hardly cease to live a normal, full life.

(And I know this isn’t comparable to humans, but my cat only has one eye. While he would be in serious danger outside the house due to not being able to see anything on the left side without turning his head, he gets around the house just fine, doesn’t misjudge jumps or run into anything, and doesn’t seem to have a problem with depth perception. I’m absolutely not comparing a cat’s disability to a human’s disability, I just really wanted to talk about my cat lol)

After Pat and Ginnie leave, Deacon and Mel show up, and Nicki demands to know if they know anyone named Gideon. They don’t, and Nicki almost tells them why she’s asking, but then thinks better of it. After all, it could be one of them, and wasn’t it so convenient that they showed up when she had the flat tire? I mean, I’m still trying to figure out how she was driving on a slashed tire for as long as she was, so . . .

She tries to determine if either of them has an issue with an eye, mostly by staring at them a lot. I’m not sure why they don’t ask if she has a staring problem, but maybe they just think she’s working up to asking them for a threesome. [Wing: Alas, I think we may have moved beyond the threesome moment.]

Nicki attempts to kick them out so she can go to bed; Mel complains that athletes are no fun, and they were going to go down to the old, rickety, off-limits railroad bridge behind campus to walk across it in the moonlight; does Nicki want to come? Of course she immediately thinks that this is an odder activity than usual for Deacon and Mel (is it, though?), and wonders if there’s a more nefarious reason they want her to come. [Wing: Because it’s fun as shit? I’d do it! I have done it! I would understand if she wasn’t trusting anyone right now, but she’s letting too many people too close for that to be true.]

Deacon snarks at her as he and Mel are leaving, because these two are taking “I need to get some sleep” way too personally, and Nicki wonders about Mel stopping to look full-on at Deacon in the hallway instead of just turning her head to throw a glance back at him. I can’t tell, because this bit isn’t described well at all. We’re not shown what actually happened; we only have Nicki’s interpretation of something we didn’t see.

I assume the next day, Nicki goes to the security officer and tells him about Terry Gideon and suggests that he look for someone on campus with that name. She knows it doesn’t make her safe now, but she feels better just having done something.

She continues to do well at practice, and her teammates play normal tennis pranks on her to signal that they’ve finally accepted her. Now that she’s accepted, on the rare nights she has the energy to go out, she goes out with her tennis buds instead of Deacon and Mel. Deacon accuses her of avoiding him, and therefore how are they ever going to set up this threesome (no idea why this has become my go-to joke now), and she thinks maybe she is avoiding them. After all, she only feels safe now with people who play tennis, because obviously they have their full sight or whatever. [Wing: Nicki, Nicki, Nicki. Nicki. NICKI.] She misses Deacon more than she expected to, but she’s happy to see that John and Ginnie seem to be getting closer.

On Wednesday the security guard calls to say that there’s no Gideon at Salem U, but they could be living in Twin Falls, working, not going to school. On Friday, Coach calls Nicki into her office and compliments her playing, and also reveals that John was the one who pointed her in Nicki’s direction while she was still at State. Nicki thinks it odd that John never mentioned she was at Salem because of him.

By the time Nicki heads to the showers, the locker room is completely empty. She decides to shower anyway, and when she gets out, someone has turned out all the lights in the locker room. Uh-oh, Nicki. Uh-oh. She gets dressed as quickly as possible in the shower area where she left her clothes, then makes her way to her locker at the end of the row. There’s a window opposite her locker, so she has a little bit of light to see that . . . something is hanging on the door of her locker.

It’s a shredded tennis racket, just like the one that had been hanging from her light fixture, except this time she knows it’s hers, not a decoy. Nicki realizes that whoever did this might still be in the locker room, so she turns and runs for the door, slipping and banging her knees up at least twice. When she reaches the door, it’s locked. She’s trapped in the dark locker room with the corpse of her tennis racket. *sadface*

She’s at least relieved that she doesn’t hear anyone moving around the room, so she figures she’s alone. Nicki finds the light switch, but nothing happens when she flips it on. Welp. Then she thinks that if someone went to all the trouble of locking her in and disabling the lights, they would probably want to stick around to watch her panic, right?

She thinks that there must be another exit because the fire code would mandate one in a room this size. She decides to set off looking for it instead of standing by the door and screaming for help, alerting the Tennis Terrorizer to her exact location. So, she sneaks through the locker room, silent as death. She’s almost to her locker again when her busted tennis racket slams down on her head, scraping the broken strings along her face until she’s wearing the racket like a noose. The bad guy is holding the racket by the handle, behind her, and directing her movements. Ugh, this sounds so painful.

The person drags her backwards, whispering about finding a nice, empty locker to stick her in. Oh. Oh no. They yank the racket off Nicki’s head and shove her into Barb’s now-empty locker, telling her that there won’t be enough air in it to keep her going all night; they’ve seen to that. Okay, don’t lockers normally have vents at the top? And they’re not exactly air-tight to begin with. How the hell would you fix a locker to prevent air coming in? This seems just a little convoluted, Tennis Terrorizer. [Wing: I zero percent believe they actually intend for her to die in that locker. This has to be more tormenting, because there’s no way she’d suffocate with whatever they’d be able to do to it.]

Oh, they also tell her it’s because of what she did, she’s not going to get away with it. Nicki apologizes and says she didn’t mean it, and Tennis Terrorizer says yes, but she also didn’t care. That’s what can’t be forgiven.

Look, I know we have what we think is the motive right now, but I’d still like to point out that it’s pretty hard to care about something you didn’t know fucking happened, Bad Guy.

The top shelf has been taken out of the locker, removing my need to ask how a person fits in a locker with that shelf in the way, and now the Tennis Terrorizer monologues yet again. They planned to kill Nicki, then thought they would just blind her, because that would be fair – taking something she valued from her just like she did to them. But this is better, Nicki will have all night to think about what she’s done, and by the time someone finds her, she won’t be thinking at all. I still don’t think you can easily make a locker air-tight, but whatever I guess. [Wing: I still think it’s not meant to be death but ~breaking her mind or whatever.]

Because Nicki is facing into the locker, she’s able to mule-kick backwards as the Bad Guy is shutting the locker, slamming it into them. While they’re distracted, Nicki takes off running and finds the back door, which is blessedly unlocked, and she runs for her life out of it.

. . . and keeps running aimlessly, until she ends up at the security office. Which honestly is where she ought to go. Like, someone is trying to murder you, you should definitely be telling someone in authority about that. Except, it’s dark and locked. Oh. Well, then. She goes back to her dorm room and locks the door and shoves a chair under the handle.

Nicki thinks that she should call someone to come stay with her, but she has no idea who, since she doesn’t trust anyone now. Then Deacon calls because she was supposed to meet him and Mel at Vinnie’s, and by the way, has she seen Mel lately? So now Deacon and Mel are both suspects once again, or still, or god knows what.

Deacon is insistent asking about Mel, because she gets in these “moods” where she won’t talk, and doesn’t eat or sleep, goes off by herself to brood, and doesn’t care about school or anything else.

Sounds a bit like a depressive episode.

Nicki tries to make me hate her by thinking that she doesn’t have the energy to spend on a high-strung, melodramatic friend. Yes, yes, I’m sure she’s just melodramatic and not mentally ill, Nicki. Fuck off.

Deacon goes on to say that Mel told him something happened to her a long time ago, didn’t tell him what, but it gets to her sometimes and she can’t stand it, so she hides out to deal with it. Okay, so now we’re sounding like PTSD.

Nope, not to Nicki. She naturally thinks that the “something” that happened is the “being partially blinded” thing. She goes on to think about how the killer could be Mel, and then Deacon asks if she’ll help him look for her. Nicki starts panicking, thinking that Deacon could be in on the revenge plot, and this phone call itself could be a trap.

Nicki coldly shuts him down, and he coldly tells her goodbye after commenting that she must be exhausted after hitting tennis balls across a net all day. Well, yeah. Tennis is very strenuous, Deacon.

Thinking that maybe she just told Deacon she’ll be alone in her room all night, therefore making herself a sitting duck, she grabs her sleeping bag and heads upstairs to Pat and Ginnie’s room. She bursts in without knocking, meaning these girls are sitting around with their damn door unlocked. She tells them everything after locking the door, and only then does Nicki notice the bruise on Ginnie’s face. Oh, like maybe she got hit in the face by a locker door?

Ginnie claims she fell at the mall, after Pat had left. She’d gone to the sports shop to see if John wanted to get something to eat, but he was busy so she went off by herself. That’s when she slipped on something and fell like someone in a cartoon, and then she just decided to come home.

Nicki decides she can’t be a suspect because she plays tennis and therefore couldn’t possibly have only partial vision. She calls security to report what happened, then falls asleep and has a nightmare about being trapped in a metal box like a locker. Or a coffin.

When she wakes up, Ginnie and Pat are already gone, and as soon as she’s up and dressed someone knocks on the door. Nicki doesn’t answer, but Deacon starts calling through the door at her. Mel’s back, she was down by the river. Still without opening the door, Nicki asks if she drove, thinking that if Mel has a driver’s license, she can’t be Terry Gideon. Again, you absolutely can legally drive in the US with monocular vision. The only information I could find about the legality of this in the 1990s related to long haul truckers and CDL licenses, so that wasn’t a lot of help when it comes to everyday car drivers. Still, it seems like one-eyed drivers have been getting drivers licenses since forever.

Anyway. Mel doesn’t drive, so she’s right back on Nicki’s suspect list. Great. Nicki sends him away after promising to talk to him later, and he tells her that Pat told him what happened and he doesn’t think she should be alone. But he does leave, promising to wait for her after tennis practice.

Nicki cuts her classes and spends the day lurking in a dark corner of the library. Every library I’ve been to has been very well-lit, but okay. Maybe they’re trying to save money on the electric bill. [Wing: I’ve been in several college libraries that had darker corners, especially the ones with automatic lights if you sit still enough. God, I love a library with creepy automatic lights. TERRIFYING.] She goes to practice and plays her best by the end of the session. Everyone has heard about what happened, and even Libby comments that she thought they had better security than that.

She hits the ball back and forth, and thinks with every hit that she didn’t mean to do what she did, she’s been sorry ever since, she never did anything like that again, and it’s not fair to come after her for it now especially since she didn’t even know she hurt anyone.

John comments on how fierce she looks, and she’s glad, thinking that if she looks tough, she’ll feel tough, and that’s what she needs right now. She asks if he’s working tonight, because she needs to buy a new racket. Oh, wait, so what racket is she using now? I guess there are spares for practice? Anyway, John says that he’ll help her get exactly what she needs and deserves. [Wing: Yeah, that’s not creepy at all.] Pat offers herself and Ginnie to keep Nicki company at the mall, but she turns her down.

Nicki meets up with Deacon, who is waiting for her, and he offers her a ride to the mall, which she also turns down. He angrily asks her if non-tennis-playing peasants aren’t allowed in her life. Jesus Christ, dude, you’re really not making yourself seem like a safe person to be around right now.

He claims that Mel could probably use some company from another girl, because somehow gender magically trumps length and depth of friendship when it comes to opening up about hard times. Deacon feels like Nicki is abandoning them now that the tennis crowd has accepted her, and even though Mel doesn’t want to be around people right now, she might talk to Nicki because she’s a girl. That’s it. That’s the whole reason Deacon thinks Mel will open up to her. Okay.

Of course Nicki goes overboard thinking that Deacon is laying a trap for her and wants her to go searching for Mel at the mall. Whatever, this recap is getting stupid long and I don’t have time for Nicki’s back and forth ramblings about her friends.

Nicki finds a note on her door from the security guard letting her know that the Gideon family are unavailable in Hawaii right now, but Terry’s former high school says Terry is a student at Salem and are unaware of any name change. Nicki is frustrated that the note doesn’t tell her what gender Terry is, because then she could at least discount one segment of the student population – unless Terry Gideon had a really awesome disguise. Uh . . . you know, I can name way too many TV episodes/movies where the twist ending was “character had “sex change operation” to hide from their past.” This stupid throwaway line feels bad on so many levels.

Nicki takes the shuttle bus to the mall, figuring more people equals safer. She considers going back to State, but thinks that will only keep her safe until the killer hunts her down there, too. She also wonders why the killer waited until she came to Salem to start menacing her – she wasn’t exactly under the radar at State. But then she shrugs it off, because ya know, crazy people be crazy.

I like this book. I really do. But we have got to stop equating all dangerous/evil/violent behavior with mental illness. [Wing: Hoh is bad about that despite being a decent writer in other ways. She’s certainly not the worst of the lot, of course.]

Anyway, for whatever reason, Nicki knows she doesn’t want to leave Salem even though she should want to, so that’s that.

John helps Nicki pick out a new racket while the store isn’t busy, and while he goes off to help customers who just walked in, Mel shows up looking tired, with dark circles under her eyes. She invites Nicki to come get coffee and maybe some pizza with her, and Nicki starts to turn her down, but Mel tells her that Deacon’s great but sometimes she needs another girl to talk to. Exactly what Deacon said, and Nicki can’t decide if that’s suspicious or not. She decides to go to the food court with her, and hands the racket to John to hold for her to come back and pay later.

So, Mel’s tragic backstory is that her childhood best friend died of leukemia when they were sixteen. Mel was angry for a long time, then she realized she was angry at the friend, Tabitha, which only made her feel guilty. Then one day she realized she felt better, and she graduated and came to Salem like she and Tabitha had planned. She thinks the reason she doesn’t have female friends is because she compares everyone to Tabitha, but she thinks that she and Nicki could get to be really good friends. Nicki says that she should tell Deacon about Tabitha since he’s her friend, and then she feels guilty for suspecting either of them. [Wing: I quite like that survivor’s guilt as the reason Mel is standoffish with people and probably even why she keeps trying to push boundaries now that she’s at Salem where she was meant to be with Tabitha. She’s living for both of them now.]

Mel takes off to the art store, and Nicki goes back for her racket. He’s already turned most of the lights out since it’s almost closing time, and Nicki approaches him from the side as he’s counting up receipts. She holds her credit card out to him, but he makes no move to take it. When she calls it to his attention, he looks up and turns his whole body to her instead of just glancing to the right, where she is. Uh-oh, Nicki.

Her thought immediately start racing, putting everything together – he knows all about the game, but doesn’t play . . . unless he used to play. John? No. Yes. She’s absolutely certain she’s looking at grown-up Terry Gideon.

She begins backing up and calls him by that name, surprising him. Oddly, he’s still acting friendly, not hostile. You know, not like someone who has been trying to kill you. He asks how she knew that, and then is anxious that his disability is obvious – he doesn’t want pity, so he doesn’t want Nicki to tell everyone. When people find out, they treat him differently, so that’s why he doesn’t use his real name. The name he’s using is kind of a joke – Long John Silver, a pirate who wore an eyepatch. [Wing: OH DAMN. I really was just making a joke when I commented earlier, but I was right. LOOK AT ME GO.]

I honestly can’t believe I missed that when I reread this recently. Then again, Long John Silver has become more synonymous with fast food fish to me, not the actual pirate the fast food chain is named after, so . . . now I just want some greasy, greasy fish. Goddammit. [Wing: Gross. Ostrich would be happy to go with you, though. I don’t eat it, so he tends to wait until I’m away somewhere to get it himself.]

Nicki just keeps staring at him in shock, and he tells her that she can’t tell anything by looking. There’s nothing to see. She finally says that she’s sorry, she was staring because she can’t believe he’s not mad at her. But he has no idea what she’s talking about, so she confesses. He’s stunned. He never knew who threw the racket. He confesses that he did hate her for a while, or at least hated the unknown player who ruined his life, but then he got past it and realized there was more to life than tennis. If he’s being honest, he had already been getting burned out on tennis and was kind of relieved.

He accepts her apology and then says that he has to close up the store, but if she’ll wait they can go out the back together and catch the shuttle back to campus. Then he suddenly realizes that she thought he was the one who was trying to kill her, and she explains that she didn’t think it was him, she thought it was Terry Gideon, this unknown person. She admits that she was so focused on thinking it was Terry Gideon that she never even thought about anyone else.

And why would she? As far as she knows, even though it’s new knowledge, this was the worst thing she’d ever done to another human being. The killer kept telling her that they were giving hints to the motive with their attacks, well, one of the attacks was an attempt to blind her. Why would she think it was anything other than this?

I actually love this storyline as a red herring, because you’re just so certain it must be this, that you’re absolutely baffled at the thought that there could be a second motive out there somewhere. And now we’re back to square one. [Wing: I love this. It’s a nice little twist to what could have been a straight forward (and common) Point Horror story. Plus I like that he hasn’t let his life be taken over by anger; he has every right to be angry, but he also found ways to have an excellent life without bitterness.]

When she mentions the voice telling her she’d taken something from them, John points out the scholarship. Nicki doesn’t know what he means, and he explains that Salem only gives three full tennis scholarships, the rest are partials. Libby has one, a guy named Ty has one, and Nicki’s was taken away from someone who had it in the first semester, someone who hadn’t been playing as well as they could have, so Coach had decided it should go to Nicki. [Wing: Goddamn, one bad semester and not even during competitive tennis season and they lost their scholarship? That’s some fucking shit. Life-changing shit.] Despite knowing who has the other scholarships now, John has no idea who had the third originally because it’s none of his business. Okay. He does know that they got a partial instead, though.

John goes back to tallying receipts, and then someone dressed in full hockey gear comes through the rear door and bashes him in the head with a hockey stick.

Did that escalate quickly? I feel like that escalated quickly.

Anyway, then totally-not-Jason-Vorhees comes after Nicki, who first freezes and then runs. You know, we talk about fight-or-flight a lot, while completely ignoring the also common reaction of “freeze.” (There’s also “fawn,” which is maybe less common, but also very misunderstood.) Cue a chase through the store, with Jason-wannabe blocking Nicki getting to the keys or the rear door. Nicki thinks maybe she can get to a counter where maybe there will be an alarm she can trigger. Not-Jason tells her there’s no point in running, then threatens her with tennis terms. I don’t find that especially intimidating, but your mileage may vary. Not-Jason confirms that this is about a scholarship, and they’ll win this match and get their scholarship back and stay in school.

Nicki starts to get angry thinking about how this person hurt John, and how he was a good guy who had plenty of reason to be bitter and hateful, but wasn’t. She determines to find herself a hockey stick, or a baseball bat, or a ski, or . . . something to beat the shit out of this asshole in shitty Mighty Ducks cosplay.

I’d like to point out that this whole time, the killer is doing a monologue about how their dad gambled away all their money, and how they’re now going to frame John for Nicki’s murder since they overheard the whole thing about the blinding. They go on to  talk about how they worked so hard to get that tennis scholarship, and how they never thought Coach would reduce their scholarship. You know, seems like your beef here is misplaced. If you’re going to terrorize anyone, it should be the Coach. Or the entire US government, who still refuse to make higher education affordable. I guess what I’m really saying is, make higher education a right, not a privilege only a small percentage of the population can afford.

But our killer here has put all of that onto Nicki, unfairly.

And I still want to know how she was supposed to figure out that she’d “stolen” someone’s scholarship from the mangled racket, attempted electrocution, and attempted blinding. How in the sweet blue fuck does any of that add up to “stolen scholarship”?

Nicki begins slowly to pull a ski pole loose from a display. The fake hockey player/supernatural camp slasher charges at her, then stops to take the mask off to reveal . . .

It’s Pat!*

*not the terrible SNL movie

Nicki is in shock, as we all may be upon finding out the first person to befriend us at a new school wants to murder the fuck out of us. [Wing: That’s a pretty good cover, to be fair. I’m going to start befriending the people I want to murder the fuck out of.] Pat explains that no one else knew her scholarship had been reduced, but she’d spread a rumor that Nicki had demanded a full ride to come to Salem, and basically made her sound like a greedy, spoiled asshat so that everyone would hate her before she even showed her face.

Pat monologues some more, and then finally raises the hockey stick for the killing blow, but Nicki pulls the ski pole loose at that moment and swings it to intercept. She hits Pat in the left shoulder, which is also where the locker door caught her when Nicki mule-kicked it into her however many days ago that was, and Pat goes down, stumbling into a mannequin and making it fall on top of her. Then the police bust in, because sometime during all this, John regained consciousness and called them.

The cops lead Pat away, and she whispers that Nicki is going to win again, isn’t she? It wasn’t supposed to be like that. Yeah, yeah, life’s not fair, Pat, but you’re directing your anger at the wrong fucking person.

We get an epilogue to wrap up – Ginnie and John are together, and Ginnie moved out of the room she shared with Pat. She and Nicki are now sharing a larger room with Mel. Are there rooms that house three people specifically? I was under the impression that your dorm options were a single, a double, or a four-person suite where your actual room would still usually be for two people. Eh, sure. [Wing: I’ve seen triples! Never lived in one, though.] They’d spent a whole night discussing and dissecting what happened, and now have a pact never to mention it again. [Wing: That’s healthy.]

And they all lived happily ever after, presumably. At least until the next homicidal shithead transfers in, anyway.

Final Thoughts

I mostly enjoy this book. It was, at the very least, a hell of a lot better than Truth or Die, the last Nightmare Hall that I recapped. Yes, it leans into some crazy=dangerous bullshit in a few places that we all could have done without, and I’m still baffled at the things Nicki thinks a person can’t do with partial vision, but I can get past those because of the things I do like. I love Deacon and Mel, at least in the first half. Deacon starts doing a Fear Street Angry Boi™ thing at a certain point, making me want to slap him, but before that, his and Mel’s antics are pure gold.

I really like the misdirect/red herring with Terry Gideon. Nicki was so sure that’s what it was all about, that it really throws you for a loop when you realize that’s not it at all. Even if you get the feeling that it’s being leaned into too hard for that to really be what’s going on, I like it. Hoh is playing with our expectations, and Pat trying to blind Nicki really gives the impression that it’s literally eye-for-an-eye bullshit going on here. Because I still don’t see how that relates to a lost scholarship. I really fucking don’t, Pat. What were these clues you think were leading Nicki to be able to figure it out, huh?

And finally, my headcanon is still that Deacon and Mel are trying to work up the nerve to ask Nicki to be their third in a threesome. Although maybe Nicki should ask them. After all, it’s way bolder for the third to ask the couple, right? Kinda like this:

(I know for a fact Wing will appreciate this. Mostly because I’ve seen her insert it in another recap, although I’ll be damned if I remember which one.) [Wing: I may have inserted it into multiple recaps, I love it that much! This was an amazing surprise at the end of an excellent recap of a decent book. I liked it a lot better than several of the earlier Nightmare Hall books.]