The Girls of Canby Hall #8: The Big Crush

Anyone who would like to discuss early admission to college, academic difficulties, or personal problems should make an appointment with Mr. Michael Frank, Ext. 37. All appointments will be kept confidential.

This is the note on the bulletin board outside Alison's apartment in Baker House. Dana sees it, and at just the right time. She's been feeling depressed and unable to concentrate for no reason. Still, she doesn't call.

One morning while out running, Dana trips over a tree root and falls. She decides that she has to figure out what's bothering her. Her grades haven't been good lately. Her father married Eve instead of remarrying Dana's mother. She's still upset about Bret and wishes she could like Randy more. She can't get excited about anything and she's been a bad friend to Faith and Shelley. She tries to talk herself out of feeling this way and decides to give Mr. Michael Frank a call.

The next day is the first snow of the season. (It's November. The last book took place in September, mabye stretching into early October. I guess they don't do Halloween at Canby.) The girls decide to walk into Greenleaf to enjoy the dusting of snow, but when they get to the door they see that a lot of others have the same idea, including Pamela Young. That kills Dana's interest and she tells the others to go on without her. Running back up to her room, she almost knocks Alison over. Alison wants to talk, but Dana, on the verge of tears, just wants to be left alone.

On Monday, Dana makes an appointment with Michael Frank. He asks her to meet him at his house on campus because his office isn't set up yet. The school provides housing for its teachers? Not a bad setup! I wonder if they pay rent or if it's considered a benefit.

That afternoon she goes to her appointment.

He looked something like the Marlboro man, rugged and devastatingly handsome. He was only about thirty, Dana judged, with dark, almost black, curly hair, worn a little long in back, and rich brown eyes, underscored with laugh lines.

<sing-song voice>Dana's in love!</sing-song voice>

They make small talk, getting to know each other. Michael has a master's degree in psychology from Berkeley but he's from Chicago. He jogs and he worked on a Navajo reservation in New Mexico once summer while recovering from a short marriage.

They talk about her parents' divorce and her father's remarriage and how it has affected her. Before she leaves, Michael gives her an assignment for next week: write down some things, even if they're just little things, that tick her off.

Michael was clearly an exceptional person -- maybe the most exceptional man she'd ever met. He was wise and mature and he had a way of putting things that made them seem sensible and even comprehensible.

Told ya!

Everyone wants to know what Michael was like when Dana joins them in the dining hall, but Dana wants to keep it to herself.

It was almost as if she would give away something of her own by describing him.

Casey and the girls of 407 are soon joined by Pamela, Mary Beth Grover, and a third girl named Ellie who I know has been mentioned before. Pamela has heard that Michael is around thirty and unattached. Many of her friends in California date older men because they bring more experience to the relationship.

Yeah, but they're also OLD. Now, I say this as someone who's over thirty myself. I would find myself with very little in common with a teenage boy.

Shelley decides to go see Michael. She's concerned that, now that she's lost some weight, she's at risk for developing anorexia. She's started to be afraid to eat, scared that she's going to gain back the weight she lost. They talk for a while and Michael doesn't seem to think she's truly at risk, but he advises her to weigh herself daily so she can see that she's maintaining her weight and not gaining. That way she won't be so scared.

Shelley's so relieved that she runs back to the room and gushes about Michael. Faith jokes she'd better go see him too, so as not to be left out. Dana's a little jealous that others will be seeing Michael, even though she knows that's why he's at Canby.

Dana's father calls. He and Eve will be in New York next month and want her to visit them. They have some news but will wait until they're all together to share it.

Sunday night, Dana receives a note in her mailbox from Michael inviting her to go for a run with him the next afternoon. Returning to her room, she decides to join Faith to do laundry. Her hot pink sweat pants are grungy and she has to look good for Michael.

Dana wears a ribbon in her hair instead of a sweatband when she goes to meet Micheal. Really, Dana? That's not obvious or anything. I don't see why should couldn't wear both, actually. It's not like they serve the same function. A sweatband goes around the head and a ribbon usually goes around a ponytail. Oh, wait. Is it possible she's wearing a ribbon as a headband? That's not good for running, Dana. Just wear the sweatband.

Michael conducts Dana's counseling session while they run. They discuss Alison, who Dana says she did not go to with her issues because Alison knows her too well, and Dana's parents' divorce again. As they near Baker House, Dana is dismayed to see Randy Crowell sitting on the front steps waiting for her. Michael runs off alone, back to his house/office.

Dana blows Randy off when he asks her out for the weekend, but feels bad and agrees to go to Canby's midwinter dance with him. As she goes inside, she knows she's going to blow him off again the next time he calls. Come on, Dana, he's such a nice guy and he really likes you. Dana looks around at the other girls in the Baker lounge and feels older and more mature.

Michael understood that -- nobody else really knew her, but he did.

A romance for the ages, no doubt.

The Canby Hall library must be on some alternate version of the Dewey Decimal system. Faith and Casey are looking for Huguenots at the Brink in 677.25, which my friend Google tells me is for textiles. History is the 900s. After they leave the library, the girls walk past the conference room, where they see Michael arranging pillows on the floor. He has pillows instead of furniture. Is this really a good idea? Pillows all over the floor of an "office" of a young male counselor at an all girls boarding school?

They introduce themselves then turn to leave and see Alison running toward them with her arms full of overdue library books. She trips, dropping her books. Faith, Casey, and Michael help her pick them up. Faith and Casey are surprised that Alison and Michael have already met.

"We're still in the acquaintance stage," Michael said. "Let's see, there were the three faculty meetings, and the fire drill at the faculty houses, and then there was the time Alison spilled her cup of tea all over my hand in the faculty dining room."

So what you're saying, Michael, is that you're faculty? But seriously, HE'S FLIRTING WITH ALISON. Michael offers to return Alison's books for her so that she can make her meeting with Ms. Allardyce. How sweet.

Casey is all over that, but Faith takes some convincing. She admits, however, that they didn't seem like mere acquaintances. Back at Baker, they share the news with Shelley and Dana. Dana is incensed that they are gossiping about her man! She's practically in tears when she stalks out to go for a run.

Faith and Shelley realize what's going on: Dana has a crush. The three girls are afraid Dana is going to be in for a real letdown and that Dana's going to be badly hurt again.

Pamela Young approaches Dana and ask for a favor. She's noticed that Michael and Dana seem pretty tight, and she's just received a note asking to meet him to discuss her grades. They're bad, bad enough that she's worried about flunking out and wants Dana to put in a good word for her. And why would Dana do this for her, after the way she acted in the last book?

Dana tries to put Pamela off, but Pamela is persistent.

"Please, just say you'll mention my name. I know you have more influence on him than anybody -- I mean, it's obvious, isn't it? A faculty member wouldn't go jogging and stuff with a student unless their relationship was very special."

Run, Dana, run! She doesn't, though. She agrees to bring up Pamela's name and hopes that Michael will be impressed by her kindness.

Dana does mention Pamela, but Michael doesn't respond in any way. Pamela is sullen and nasty to everyone following her meeting with him, so it must not have gone well.

Dana continues to blow Randy off every time he calls. Poor Randy. I wonder why he doesn't give up. Michael has become the most important person in Dana's life and there's just no room for Randy.

A week before the midwinter dance, the girls sit on the front steps of Baker discussing what to wear. Shelley is still hoping to lose three pounds before the dance. If she was just a little thinner, she could borrow something from Dana. As they start to go back inside, Alison pulls up and gets out of her car. There's something different about her: a new haircut and no glasses! She got contacts.

"Alison," Shelley said, "I love your new look." She glanced at Dana's sullen face and then at Faith's. They all knew -- or thought they knew -- the reason for Alison's transformation. And the reason had dark brown hair and laugh lines under his perceptive eyes.

The next day after chapel, Dana runs over to Michael's house. He's outside standing by his bike and planning his garden. Dana invites herself in. He offers her some tea and dried apricots -- he no longer drinks the soda or eats corn chips that they shared on previous occasions. Dana knows exactly who could have convinced him to give up junk food: her health nut housemother.

She invites him to the midwinter dance, not as a date (she already has one) but just so he will feel included. Michael says no worries, Alison already asked him. Dana's upset and knocks over her chair as she rises to leave, but her mood changes when Michael asks her to save him a dance.

Dance night: Shelley has skipped enough meals to lose four pounds. She's borrowed pants from Faith and boots and a sweater from Dana. After Shelley leaves with Tom, Dana and Faith decide to wait in the Baker lounge. Dana's hoping that Randy will meet another Canby girl he likes better than her at the dance. When they reach the lounge, the guys are just coming in the door. Faith greets Johnny with a brief kiss. Randy has to settle for a "hey," from Dana.

While dancing, Randy wants to know why Dana has been so distant lately and wonders if she's thinking of moving on to "other pastures." Dana gets angry; she doesn't want to talk about it. She watches Michael dancing with Alison and then Casey, followed by Mary Beth Grover and a parade of other Canby girls. Finally, as the band starts a slow song, it's Dana's turn.

Was this the first time they'd ever touched? she wondered as her hand began to tingle. No, that first day, when she came to his house, he'd given her a friendly handshake in greeting. But tonight, his hand was warmer, fonder, as though it almost knew how important this moment was to her. And would be to her, forever. When she was old and gray, when she had accomplished what she intended in her life, when she had retired from her successful career and had children and grandchildren of her own, this evening would still be one of her most memorable experiences. Tears of joy stung her eyes as she realized how lucky she was, how wonderful it was to be Dana Morrison.

Okay then. I think this calls for an intervention. Also, Dana's about 45 in 2013 and certainly has had children by now if she's going to. I wonder if she still thinks this is one of the most memorable experiences of her life.

Their dance is interrupted by Tom's shout. Shelley has fainted. Alison and Michael take charge, getting her to the infirmary with Dana, Faith, Johnny, Randy, and Tom trailing behind. Shelley admits to Michael that she's been skipping meals. He sets up a weekly dinner for him at her house and invites her to bring Faith and Dana along if she wants. I'm pretty sure Dana's going to be all over that. She wouldn't want her roommate to be having private dinners with HER man.

Dana ponders her problems: Randy, the possibility of Michael and Alison, her own lack of perception when it came to Shelley's eating disorder. She decides to take care of one of them and calls Randy and invites him to meet her for pizza so that she can break up with him. On her way back to her room, she runs into Pamela, who expresses deep concern over Shelley's problem then drops a bomb: She's heard Michael is on his way out. When Dana asks for clarification, Pamela says it's against the law for him to betray confidences and implies that he did that when he and Dana discussed Pamela. (Only they didn't, because he didn't respond when she brought up Pamela's name.) Dana flips out and rushes off to see Ms. Allardyce.

On her way there, Dana runs into Faith, who wants to know what's going on. When Dana explains that Pamela asked her to talk to Michael, then turned around and accused him of breaking the law, Faith points out that Dana probably isn't the most unbiased person when it comes to Michael. Unfazed, Dana continues her trek, accompanied by Faith.

Dana opens the conversation with Ms. Allardyce by saying that Michael is the subject of some untrue rumors. Faith says that Michael and Dana should have the chance to tell her their side of the story. Ms. Allardyce asks them to return the next day.

At the pizza place, Dana and Randy order a small mushroom pizza before she tells him that she likes him but she needs her privacy right now. Randy takes it well, but he's clearly upset. He leaves her money for the bill and walks out just as the waitress brings their pizza to the table. The waitress says it's okay, another couple just ordered the same thing, and when Dana looks across the room, she sees it's Michael and Alison.

Dana returns to her room to find Shelley eating a soft pretzel. Dana fills Shelley in on everything she's missed -- Pamela's accusations, her visit to Ms. Allardyce, and her breakup with Randy. They have to hurry to make dinner before the dining hall closes, and Shelley stuffs even more food into her mouth. That was the quickest eating disorder recovery ever. Shelley invites them to go with her to dinner at Michael's.

The next day, Dana, Pamela, and Michael meet with Ms. Allardyce. Pamela lies and says that she met with Michael about her grades, nothing serious. Um, I'm pretty sure the headmistress has access to every student's record and that Ms. Allardyce KNOWS it's serious. She continues, saying that Dana told her that Michael had talked to her about Pamela's grades. Dana starts to defend Michael but Ms. Allardyce cuts her off. Michael asks Pamela the date of her appointment. She doesn't know, but he does. He has it written down: three weeks ago on Tuesday. He asks Dana when she mentioned Pamela to him. Dana doesn't know either, but says she only brought up Pamela's name because Pamela asked her to and that Michael changed the subject when she did. Michael shows Ms. Allardyce his appointment book. He and Dana saw each other the day before he saw Pamela and again a week later. He says, and has shorthand notes to prove it (couldn't he have faked them?), that Dana only brought up Pamela's name once and he didn't respond to her.

Michael tells Pamela that they will have a lot to talk about in future sessions. Ms. Allardyce takes his side.

"I think counseling is in order. Deal with it as you see fit."

Wow, that's kind of cold. Pamela threatens to call her mother, but Ms. Allardyce has already done so. She advises Pamela to listen to what Michael has to say. While I agree that Pamela needs some counseling, is it really a good idea for it to be with someone she's already made false accusations against? The next time they could be far more serious, and I don't think anyone wants that.

Pamela storms out. Michael and Dana leave together. Dana apparently hasn't learned anything, as she tells Michael that she's glad someone finally got the best of Pamela and that he's not in trouble. Michael once again ignores Dana and asks if she's coming to dinner with Shelley.

When the girls arrive at Michael's house, they see Alison in the kitchen helping him cook. Dana is despondent watching Alison and Michael together, so Faith and Shelley try to cover for her.

Dana travels to New York to see her father that weekend. She's glad to get away from Michael and Alison, to be in the city, and to see her father again. He's expecting to be finished up with his work in Hawaii soon, but Eve says they may stay on for the summer. She invites Dana to visit. Dana's father then announces that Eve's pregnant and due in July. So they're staying on for the summer because she won't be able to travel then?

Dana is shocked by the news but pretends to be as happy as her father and Eve are. She reveals the truth to Shelley and Faith, and then to Michael.

And then:

"Oh, Michael, I love you!"

Obviously she runs away.

She feels better after admitting that to him, even though she knows nothing will ever be the same between them again. Shelley and Faith notice the change in her, and Faith asks about Randy. Dana says she hasn't heard from him in a few weeks, but she hasn't called him either. Shelley and Faith have finally decided to talk to Dana about Michael. Faith points out that he needs a woman, not a teenager, and that he's fallen for Alison.

Dana catches a ride out to Randy's parents' farm and finds him mending fences. She apologizes for her behavior and they spend the afternoon together before he drives her home. Dana then goes up to Alison's, where Alison apologizes for not being there enough when Dana needed her and says that Michael has room enough in his life for both of them, just in different ways.

A few weeks later, weeks in which Dana avoided going anywhere near Michael's office, Michael invites her jogging. They agree to be friends.

This is one of my favorite books in the series. I just adore Alison and Michael and, while we only get glimpses of it viewed through the eyes of the Canby girls, this is the beginning of their story.

The Cover: "Three hearts break harder than one." What? Dana's was the only heart that was broken. Shelley and Faith weren't interested in Michael!

Let's move along to the back cover.

The fall term looks promising, with a new guy on campus.

Dana, Faith and Shelley find that they have yet another thing in common -- they all have a crush on the new guy. What's worse, Michael isn't from the prep school down the road; he's Canby Hall's new guidance counselor, and he's too old for anyone at school.

Or is he? Dana can tell that someone has captured Michael's interest, but she's sure that she can win him over. Then she realizes that Michael's romance is with one of the best friends Dana ever had...

Again, Faith and Shelley did not have a crush on Michael. THAT IS NOT WHAT HAPPENED!

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