"What street are we looking for?" Michael asked as they drove through the winding, darkened streets of Bel Air.
"St. Cloud," she answered. Amanda was somewhat nervous, but at the same time she was also very excited. Donald and Luanne had invited all the cast members from the show to a dinner party at their leased Bel Air mansion. The show would start taping next month and Luanne wanted everyone to get to know each other.
Amanda had spent a small fortune on the tapered, black strapless gown that she was wearing. It was her first real grown up dress. Her hair was swept up in an elegant French twist and she completed the look with a gold necklace and matching earrings. When Michael had picked her up, looking like a movie star himself in a black tuxedo, he had done a double take and said, " Amanda, youíre ravishing!" His compliment had been so sincere that it had made her blush. She had returned his kindness by saying, "One of these days youíre going to make Robert Redford very nervous. Youíll be offered all the roles heís up for."
"Oh, St. Cloud, here it is," Michael uttered as he turned the wheel of his M.G.B. onto the street. He crept along slowly, searching for the right number.
"Luanne said you canít miss it, Michael. It looks like Versailles."
He nodded. "The only problem is all the houses look like Versailles."
When Amanda had received the call from Sheldon informing her that she had won the role on the series, she had thrown on an old pair of Levis and tee shirt, hopped in her car and drove the few miles to Michaelís. When he opened it, she flew into his arms.
"Michael!" she cried, "I got the part! I got the part on "The Luanne Sanders Show"."
He pulled her indoors and held her close. "Oh, baby, Iím so happy for you. I donít know what to say. Itís the best news Iíve ever heard." He held her for a long time, not uttering a word. After awhile he led her down the hall to the bedroom, where they spent the rest of the afternoon making love. Later that evening he had taken her to Chasenís to celebrate.
"Here it is," Michael said as he pulled into a long sloping driveway. At the top of the rise stood a large French Regency style home.
"It looks like a museum," Amanda said.
"Not the coziest place Iíve ever seen," Michael added as he pulled up behind a white Rolls Royce.
They walked up the front entrance and Michael pressed the bell. "I wouldnít be surprised if Marie Antionette answered."
A uniformed butler opened the door. "Good evening." He gave them what Amanda called a professional smile.
Their heels echoed on the marble floors as he led them through the stark, high ceilinged entrance hall. They followed him into an elegantly furnished living room. Amanda and Michael stood in the doorway surveying the scene.
The room was filled with what must have been priceless antiques, the centerpiece was a white grand piano. A smattering of well dressed men and women were seated in groups on the elegant furniture. Amanda spotted Donald seated on one of the sofas, engrossed in conversation with a young, curly haired man. Luanne, dressed in a white off the shoulder dress had her back to Amanda. She waved her white cigarette holder around as if to punctuate the animated conversation. Donald stood up and walked over to Luanne and whispered something to her. The actress turned around and gave a welcoming smile when she spotted Amanda and Michael.
"Ah, good! My daughter has arrived. Everyone! " She clasped her hands together. "You must meet Amanda. Darling, how are you?"
"Wonderful, Luanne. Itís so good to see you. How are you?"
Luanne stepped back and puffed on her cigarette. "Iím fabulous, just fabulous."
She studied Amanda for another second. "I must say you look sensational."
"Thank you, Luanne."
Luanne reached out and took Amandaís hand. "I look pretty damn good too, donít I?"
"Yes, and your dress is gorgeous."
"Oh, this old thing. Thanks. Did you know that I have a cigarette holder in every color?" Without waiting for a reply, she added, "Oh yes, dear, I have them made up specially. Cost me a bloody fortune. Thatís why I can never quit smoking."
Amanda didnít know whether Luanne was joking or not, so she tried not to laugh. "Thatís very interesting."
"Is this handsome man your teacher slash boyfriend?"
"Yes, this is Michael." Amanda made the introductions and Luanne graciously welcomed him.
"You were right, dear, he is very handsome indeed." Luanne gave Michael the once over and playfully said, "It must be a fun class. Can I sign up?"
Michael threw is head back and laughed. "Iím sure I could learn a lot more about acting from you than you could from me."
Luanne shrugged. "Who said anything about acting? Iím more into improvisation. If you catch my drift, good looking."
"Iíll get a vitamin shot," he replied.
Luanne laughed loudly and Amanda was please to see him taking Luanneís sense of humor in stride.
"Everyone, I want you to meet Michael and Amanda." Luanne escorted them into the room and made the introductions.
There were seven regular cast members in all, each one hand picked by Luanne. Amanda sat next to Rachel McDonald, a heavy set woman of about sixty who would be playing their next door neighbor. Amanda had seen Rachel in several television movies over the years. She had once played a secretary to a detective in the long running Jack Richmond series. Amanda and Rachel made small talk. Amanda found her to be sweet natured, with a tremendous love for animals. Rachel went on endlessly about her collection of dogs and cats.
Over dinner of Cornish hens and wild rice, the conversation turned to the show. Several toasts were offered to the series success. Afterwards they moved back into the living room, and with a little prodding Luanne entertained them with songs from her Broadway shows, including her signature song,"The Lights
Of Broadway .
All and all it had been a very exciting evening for Amanda. It was well after midnight when she and Michael left.
"Amanda, Luanne and I are looking forward to working with you," Donald said as he embraced her. Amanda liked Luanneís husband very much. He was a quiet, polite, dignified man, a perfect balance to Luanneís exhuberant, jolly persona.
"Thank you Donald, itís a dream come true for me. I promise to do my best."
"Youíll be wonderful."
"Darling." Luanne joined them. "Thank you so much for coming. I canít wait until we start work on Monday." She hugged Amanda. "God, youíre just drop dead gorgeous. Middle America is just going to love you."
"Mom," Jesse said. They were seated at the dining room table, having an early dinner. "That new t.v show is coming on tonight."
Rita looked up from her meatloaf, a faraway look in her eyes. "What show?"
"You know, the one with that singer you like, Luanne."
Rita nodded. "Oh yes, Luanne Sanders."
Jesse tried to lift his motherís spirits each evening by doing something she liked. Every afternoon he rushed home from school to be with her, hoping to find that Rita had turned back into her old self. So far though, a good part of Rita seemed to have died with Elvis. Rita had taken a leave of absence from her job. Most of the time she lounged around the house, never changing from her nightgown. The only time she left the house was when she went out to get her valium prescription refilled.
When Rita had come home from the hospital after a four day stay, she had reminded Jesse of one of those zombies in the movie "Night Of The Living dead." Jesse had stayed with the Harrises during Ritaís stay at Broward General hospital. Although they had been kind to him, it was the first time he and Rita had ever been separated and he had missed her terribly.
"How about if I go to the store and get us some chocolate ice cream before the show starts?"
"Alright, sweetheart." Rita managed a detached smile.
"They say this show is supposed to be real good," Jesse said brightly as he handed Rita a dish of ice cream. "Itís gotten all kinds of build up."
"Well," Rita spoke softly, "tonightís only the first episode, dear. Weíll have to wait and see for ourselves, although that Luanne is a remarkable singer."
The credits of the new show appeared on the television screen. Luanne could be heard belting out the theme song, "Our World".
The opening scene revealed Luanne seated at a desk in a small office, talking on the telephone. She placed her hand over the receiver and yelled, "Susan, Susan! Iíve got a live one."
Suddenly, the most beautiful girl Jesse had ever laid eyes on appeared. Her mahogany colored hair framed her face, which Jesse compared to an angelís.
"Oh, Mom," he sighed as he cast a quick look in her direction, not wanting to take his eyes from the set.
"Now, sheís a real looker," Rita stated.
When the girl spoke in a soft smooth voice, Jesse hung on her every word. He felt his heart flutter. "Mom, sheís like an angel."
"Yes, yes, sweetheart. Sheís a lovely young thing."
The girl called Susan appeared in another scene dressed in a leotard to rehearse a dance with Luanne. The girl kept making mistakes and Luanne, who played her mother, was getting quite upset. Jesse found himself laughing out loud, for not only was she sensational to look at, she was a real comedienne.
"Why," Rita said, pointing at the screen, "that girlís got a figure that just doesnít quit."
Jesse turned and gave his mother a surprised look. He hadnít seen her so interested in anything since before Elvis had died. Had this beautiful young girl brought Rita out of her depressed state? Was this girl actually capable of making his mother forget her heartache? He noticed that Ritaís laughter was light and carefree. This girl had managed to do something for her in a matter of minutes that Jesse had been unable to do for a month. The girl was magical. Jesse thought that she must be a saint, because only God or a saint could do something that wonderful. Jesse believed that a miracle had happened.
"Do you really like her, Mom?"
"Oh my, my, my, sheís certainly special."
Jesse reached over and held Ritaís hand. Moments later they both burst out laughing as the girl began singing off key and Luanne stuffed a sock in her mouth.
"Whatís her name?" Jesse asked.
Rita shook her head and reached for the T.V Guide. "Let me see." She thumbed through it quickly. When she found the right page she folded it back and waited for the station break before reading.
"Well, Jesse, it says right here that the character Susan is played by Amanda Yates."
"Amanda Yates," Jesse repeated slowly, as if testing the words. "Isnít that a pretty name."
"Why, itís just as lovely as can be." Rita leaned over and kissed Jesse on the cheek. "I think my Jesse has found a celebrity that makes him feel real special."
"Yes." Jesse drew his breath in. "I canít explain it."
"Well, honeypie," Rita smiled, and Jesse noted a look of merriment in her eyes, "I certainly do approve. Why sheís plumb pulled me right out of the dumps."
"Mom, we have to find out all we can about her."
Rita patted him on the shoulder. "Donít worry, honey, mother will get all the magazines."
The show came back on and Jesse and Rita remained quiet until the end. Jesse was so happy that Amanda Yates had come into their lives. She had brought him so much joy in such a short time. Amanda Yates had given his mother back to him. Oh, he knew she would probably slip back into her depression, but now, thanks to Amanda, he had new hope.
As the show ended Rita sighed. "Lordy, Lordy, Jesse, how will we wait an entire week for that show? I just loved it, and I just adore that girl, your Amanda."
The following day when Jesse returned from school, he found Rita lying face down on her bed and weeping softly.
"Mom, whatís wrong?" Jesse asked as he sat on the bed next to her.
"Oh, Jesse." She reached for his hand and turned to face him. Her hand felt so fragile that it almost made Jesse cry. There were lines around her red and swollen eyes and around her mouth that had not been there a month ago. Her face seemed drawn and a bit fleshy. For the first time ever Jesse thought his mother actually looked old.
"I miss Elvis. Imagine dear, I will have to go through the rest of my life without ever having news of him again." She swallowed hard. "When he was alive I always had hope. Itís like my life went away." Jesse nodded and Rita continued. "What really upsets me is that I didnít have any premonition that Elvis was in danger. I should have known. If I had, then I could have warned him."
"I know, Mom," Jesse choked, understanding her pain. "Itís real awful, but at least we have Amanda now."
Rita managed a smile. "She sure is lovely and I truly admire her. But Jesse, honey, sheís your star."
"We could share her, Mom. I mean, she could be our own special star."
"No, Jesse, honey, I can be happy just knowing thereís someone who makes you feel so good."
Jesse counted the days until Amanda appeared on screen again. Not only was he anxious to get another dose of her great beauty, but he knew that she would work her special magic on Rita, who desperately needed Amandaís help. Jesse knew that with exposure to Amanda and her special energy, his mother would eventually be cured.
Jesse thought of Amanda Yates a great deal. He had become transfixed with her hypnotic beauty and the sense of goodness that seemed to radiate from her. It was as if it was coming right out of the television.
Jesse knew it was wrong and he should only have good clean thoughts about Amanda, but he couldnít help the fact that sometimes he got an erection when he thought about her. It riddled him with guilt and made him feel perverse. Amanda was a good girl and he was not worthy of her.
"Mom, the showís on," Jesse yelled excitedly. He lay on the floor, his elbows resting on a pillow in front of him.
"Alright, sweetie," Rita said from the kitchen, where she was busy wiping dry the dinner dishes. She padded into the living room and took her place at the end of the sofa, propping her feet up on the coffee table.
"Darling, Iíve been waiting all week to see that sweet Amanda again. Why, all day Iíve felt cheery just knowing weíd be seeing that lovely young thing tonight."
Jesse stared wide eyed at the screen as the show began to unfold. He laughed out loud as Amanda changed into a gorilla costume and started dancing around the set. Ritaís merry laughter followed his own. He sighed in relief; Amanda had done it again.
"Why Jesse, that girl is going to be one of Hollywoodís biggest stars. I can just feel it in my bones."
"I just love her," Jesse sighed, his eyes not wavering from the screen.
During the next two weeks Jesse was thrilled to find two interesting magazine interviews with Amanda. The one he enjoyed the most was in "People". He read it over and over, committing everything to memory. Amanda had revealed all the interesting facts about her life. He learned about her childhood in Boston and the fact that she was an only child like himself made Jesse feel that there was a special bond between them. He was not surprised to learn that she had always dreamed of becoming an actress.
When Jesse was finished reading and studying the articles he would neatly cut them out and place them in the new scrapbook that he had bought at Woolworthís. He kept the book in a special wooden box on the top shelf of his closet.
Rita also kept her eye out for any news on Amanda. Jesse was pleased to see that Rita enjoyed running to the drugstore each week, searching through all the magazines to see if there was any news on Amanda. It seemed to give her a new sense of purpose and made her forget, at least for a little while, her own heartache over Elvis. For the first time in his life Jesse truly understood how his mother must have felt about Elvis and why she had always loved him.
"So, Amanda, are you looking forward to going back to work?" Rick winced as Amanda grinded the gears of her new Alfa Romeo convertible.
"I canít wait. Oh, donít get me wrong, being on hiatus has been great, but I miss the show. I only hope that this year is as much fun as last year. You hear about the tensions on so many sets, but everyone on our show gets along so well. Itís like a party everyday."
Another grinding sound emitted from the sports carís gearbox, causing Rick to clenched his teeth. "Amanda, your Volkswagen had a stickshift. Whatís the problem?"
"You know how it is; more expensive, more finicky. Donít worry, Iíve got it under control."
"You just went through a red light. Weíre going to die."
Amanda threw her head back and laughed. Rick thought that she had never looked more beautiful. Even with dark glasses hiding her now famous topaz eyes from the suns glare as well as the curious gawking from passersby, she was still breathtakingly gogeous. Her thick mahogany hair whipped wildly in the wind. Her lightly tanned skin made Rick think of sculpted honey.
When they stopped for a red light at Sunset and Doheny, Rick noticed the stares that Amanda received from the passengers in the neighboring cars. He knew that famous or not, Amandaís beauty could never go unnoticed.
"Rick, before we go to lunch, I want to stop and show you something. Okay?"
"Iím sure the car will appreciate a reprieve from all the abuse itís been getting," replied Rick dryly.
Amanda made a face at him before grinding the car into second gear.
The expensive homes on Rexford Drive were of various architectural styles including Spanish, Moroccan, English Tudor, American Colonial, Contemporary and French Normandy. Itís like the United Nations of environmental engineering, Rick mused.
Amanda pulled the car into the brick paved drive of a two-storied Spanish villa. "Come on," she said, opening the car door, "this will take just a minute."
The heavy oak door was unlocked. The house, though vacant, was definitely impressive. Sun streamed through the windows of the two storied foyer, giving off a soft gleam to the oak floors and stairs, highlighting every curve of the ornately carved banisters. To the left, through open, arched double doors, was the library with book shelves lining nearly all available space. Floor to ceiling windows let in sunlight that cheered the room and illuminated the hand carved fireplace mantle. On the other side of the foyer was a large living room with oak beamed ceilings and another fireplace, with a mantle that was even more intricate than that in the library.
Rick let out a long whistle.
"What do you think of it?" Amanda asked.
"Itís incredible! Who lives here?"
Amanda spoke so softly that Rick wasnít sure if he had heard correctly. She looked at him and nodded. "As of yesterday, this place is mine."
Rick snapped out of his stupor and laughed, grabbing Amandaís hands. "Iím so happy for you, Amanda. I canít believe it!"
"Come on, Iíll show you the rest. Thereís a great pool, five bedrooms, a huge dining room. Oh, and the kitchen! God, it belongs in a restaurant! Guess Iíll have to learn to cook."
"What, no maidís quarters?"
"Oh yeah, I forgot."
The tour of the home completed, Amanda and Rick sat on the brick steps leading down to the pool.
"My accountant told me that I should buy a house as soon as possible for tax reasons. Sheldonís wife, Norma, is a realtor, so I asked her to help me. To tell you the truth, I had something a lot smaller in mind, but when she showed me this, I fell in love with it. I didnít think I could afford it, but she assures me that with my income from the show, plus the fact that Iím the spokeswomen for Lincoln Mercury, itís totally possible. Norma told me itís a great investment and it will sky rocket in value!" Amanda grimaced. "Yeah, sure. Anyway, Sheldon must have faith. Since Iím under twenty one, he had to co-sign the loan." Amanda sighed contently and looked around the garden, her garden. "I donít mean to go on and on, Rick, itís just that itís so unreal. I havenít done anything so spectacular to deserve all this."
Rick reached for Amandaís hand. "Donít get on any guilt trips. You deserve every bit of this, every bit of happiness it brings you." He stood up abruptly and pulled Amanda to her feet. "Now, letís get lunch, with one provision."
Rick grinned. "Iíll drive."
Michael set the container of take-out Chinese food on the floor and fell back onto the oversized pillows that Amanda had purchased that morning. "Okay, Iím slowly coming out of shock. When you told me that you wanted to show me something that you bought, I never expected this."
Amanda winked mischievously. Michael had been even more stupefied than Rick. "The decorator is coming tomorrow. Norma Ross put me in touch with him. I want to keep the decor in style with the house, and to tell you the truth, I have no idea where to begin. I just know that when itís done I want it to be warm and comfortable, the kind of a home where you can kick off your shoes and relax."
Amanda let out a happy sigh as she fell back onto the pillows. They sat in silence for a minute, then Michael reached over and kissed the palm of her hand. "Itís a beautiful home, darling. I only wish that I could have given it to you."
Amanda sat up. "Michael, youíre as responsible for this house and my success as I am. Youíve taught me a lot about acting, you introduced me to Sheldon, and youíve given me confidence. I just want you to know that I realize how much youíve done for me."
"It would have all happened without me, but thanks for saying that. Now, how does a skinnydip in the pool sound to you?"
Amanda stood up, a slight smile on her lips. "Okay, but first let me show you something."
She took him by the arm and led him up the wide staircase. At the top of the landing she stopped in front of a closed door. "You know, Michael, when I gave you the grand tour you never inquired about the master bedroom."
"Iím sorry, I guess I was in a state of shock."
"Well," she smirked, "I forgive you."
The room was lovely. It was spacious and airy, but unlike the rooms on the first floor, the ceiling was low, giving the room a feeling of coziness. French doors led to a balcony that overlooked the pool and garden. On the other side of the room an arched doorway led to the ivory and apricot tiled master bath. The bedroom, like the rest of the house, was bare of furniture, with the exception of the most enormous bed that Michael had ever seen. The mattress was standard king-size, but the dark wood headboard and baseboard were so intricately carved and massive that they made the bed appear bigger than it really was. A sparkling white comforter and large, laced trimmed pillows lent a luxurious, inviting look to the bed.
Michael didnít say a word, but his admiration was evident as he ran his hand over the headboard.
"I saw it while shopping for ideas the other day, and I just knew it belonged here. What do you think of it, Mr. Richards?"
Michael continued to rub his hand over the floral carvings. "Holy shit."
Amanda laughed. "How astute. Now, about that swim you mentioned," she said as she pulled her tee-shirt over her head. "Iíve always heard that one should wait at least, um, two hours after eating before swimming."
Michael grinned at the lecherous look that he received from her. "Amanda Yates! I heard itís only a half hour. And besides," he teased, "whatever will we do to pass the time?"
Amanda had stripped off all of her clothes and was now undoing the buttons of his shirt. "Well, I think this is the perfect time and place to take care of a certain social etiquette."
"And what might that be, Emily Post?"
Amanda sat on the bed and patted the space beside her. "The matter of my housewarming present."
Amanda swiftly backed her Alfa Romeo out of the driveway and onto Rexford Drive. She paused before shifting into first gear in order to gaze at the massive pile of stucco molded into a Spanish design. Every time she looked at the magnificent house she marvelled at the fact that it actually belonged to her. She shifted into first gear and headed towards Sunset Boulevard.
It was a beautiful day. Amanda had the top down on her Italian sports car and the radio turned up full blast. As she roared down Sunset she sang along with the Beach Boys.
Amanda headed towards the Century City Mall. She was still in the process of settling into her new house and needed everything from from pots and pans to towels, not to mention furniture. Amanda thought it would take years before the five bedroom house was fully decorated, and the cost, she had had no idea. The decorator she had engaged had come highly recommended by Sheldonís wife, Norma. She was just doing one room at a time. Amanda was in no great rush to finish; it wasnít as if she did a lot of entertaining.
Fifteen minutes later Amanda pulled into the parking garage of the fashionable mall. She parked her car on the second level of the massive parking facility, unaware of the battered brown Chevrolet Impala that had followed her from Rexford Drive.
Amanda stepped out of the car and rode the escalator up to the shopping level. An elderly couple that stood behind her on the moving stairway tapped her on the shoulder.
"Excuse me," said the sweet faced older woman.
"Yes?" Amanda smiled.
"Are you Amanda Yates, the actress?"
"Yes, I am."
The womanís face lit up. "Harry and I just love you. We never miss your show." Her husband nodded in agreement.
Amanda was getting used to being recognized in public. Everyone was always so nice to her, treating her as if they knew her.
"Why, thank you so much. Itís very nice of you to say so." Amanda gave them a warm smile.
"I must say," the lady said, "youíre even more beautiful in person. Itís hard to believe anyone could be so lovely."
Amanda continued to smile. "Now youíre embarrassing me."
"Donít be. Youíre really a lovely girl."
"Thank you." Amanda never really knew what to say when people complimented her so profusely. She enjoyed it, but could not help feeling embarrassed.
When she reached the shopping level she turned and waved to the elderly couple. Briefly she noticed a sloppily dressed, angry looking middle aged women a few paces behind the nice couple on the escalator.
When Amanda rounded the corner she pulled her Dodgers baseball cap out of her oversized shoulder bag. The cap came in handy when she wanted to disguise herself. Today she just wanted to shop undisturbed. Amanda did not look anything like a star today. She was dressed casually in a collarless, oversized white pinstriped shirt, a black vest and baggy cotton pants. It was the look Diane Keaton had made famous in the recent film "Annie Hall", one of Amandaís favorite movies.
She casually strolled in and out of the shops without buying anything much. In the Broadway she had picked up a set of black towels for one of the downstairs guest bathrooms. As she exited the Broadway and was heading across the open plaza a group of four teenaged girls started pointing at her and talking excitedly among themselves. Amanda could not help but smile to herself as the girls came rushing over to her. She surmised their ages to be between twelve and fourteen.
"Are you the one that plays Susan on ĎThe Luanne Sanders Show?" a pretty blonde girl in white shorts and a matching blouse squealed.
"Yes, I am," Amanda replied. "Whatís your name?"
"Iím Lindsey and this is my sister, Terry." She indicated a younger blonde girl beside her. "These are our friends Martha and Sara." Both the other girls were dark haired and Amanda thought they were all very cute.
"Well girls, itís a pleasure to meet you. Do you watch the show?"
"Oh yes," answered the girl named Terry. "We just love it. Youíre so funny."
"Well, thank you."
"Could we please have your autograph?"
"Absolutely. Itís wonderful to have fans as pretty as you girls."
The girls beamed happily as Amanda rummaged in her bag and pulled out a pen and several scraps of paper. She signed her autograph along with a personal message to each girl. They thanked her and ran off giggling across the open plaza.
Amandaís smile faded when she noticed the angry looking women staring at her from across the open mall. If looks could kill, Amanda thought. The woman gave her the creeps. She definitely stood out among the well dressed shoppers in her plaid shirt that was only half tucked into her dirty khaki pants. Her hair was blonde and oily. She wore it pulled back in a pony tail, but about half of the hair had come loose and hung heavily around her head. It was the womanís eyes that frightened Amanda the most. Even from a distance, they radiated pure hatred. Feeling unsettled by the woman, Amanda hurried into the bookstore, hoping the strange woman would move on by the time she emerged from the shop.
Forty-five minutes and three hardback books later Amanda walked out of the store. The fading afternoon sunlight had cast long shadows across the walkway. She glanced around looking for the strange lady, allowing herself a sigh of relief that the woman was nowhere to be seen. Amanda decided to head home and call it a day. She just wanted to climb into her huge sunken tub and soak for an hour.
She reached the second level of the parking garage where she had left the car. The loneliness and the vast openess of subterranean garages always gave Amanda the creeps. She had always thought they were the perfect place for someone to be mugged or raped.
Walking through the rows of cars, Amanda felt that familiar nervousness. There was not another soul around and the empty silence added to her anxiety. Moving quickly, she relaxed a bit when she spotted her car. She reached into her bag for her keys.
"Damn," she cursed as her hand dug around the clutter of the huge purse. Her keys had lost themselves in the masses of junk she had allowed to accumulate. Tossing her packages across the open car into the passenger seat, she set her bag down on the trunk and pulled it wide open to continue her search in earnest. "Please donít make me dump everything out," she moaned.
"You never answered my letters."
Stunned by the voice and startled by the accusing tone, Amanda spun around to see the dirty looking woman standing behind her. Amanda was immediately drawn to her eyes. No warmth dwelled there. They were cold, hard, and full of anger.
"Excuse me?" Amanda replied weakly, trying to hide the nervousness she felt.
The woman moved a step closer to Amanda. Amanda backed against the bumper of her Alfa.
"You heard me. You never answered even one of my fucking letters." She brought her face close.
"What letters?" Amanda asked, cringing from the smell of the womanís stale cigarette breath.
"Fan letters. Donít act like you donít know what Iím talking about. I even sent you my pictures. I asked you to help me get on that television show of yours."
"Iím very sorry, maím, I received no such letters. I donít even know your name."
"Iím sorry, only the casting department can get actors on the show. I have nothing to do with it." Amanda grabbed her bag and moved towards the car door, but the woman stepped sideways, blocking her path.
"You could have helped me!" she screamed.
"Iím terribly sorry, but like I said, I did not get your letters." Amanda was very afraid, but did her best to make her voice sound authoritative so the woman would not think she was intimidated.
"Like I said, youíre lying," she said through clenched teeth.
Amandaís stomach twisted. Christ, this crazy maniac had her cornered all alone in a desolate parking garage. She looked around to see if there was someone to help her. A car three rows over was backing out of a space, too far away to be of any help. "Iím very sorry, but please, Iím in a hurry. Could you get out of my way, please?"
"You think youíre better then everyone else. Donít you?"
"Bullshit. All you stars are alike. Got your noses so high in the air. You donít give a damn about anyone else. I wrote to you because you seemed different. On t.v. you come across so sweet and nice, but now I know youíre just a mean little bitch."
Amanda frantically felt around in purse. Damn, where were those keys? She feared that the woman was about to become violent. She was of stocky build and could easily overpower Amanda. What the hell was she going to do?
"Iím going to be a bigger star than you and Iíll help anyone that wants to be a star, too." The woman spat the words at her.
"Well, good. I wish you the best of luck. Iím sure youíll be a wonderful actress." Amanda sighed in relief when she felt her hand grasp her car keys. For the third time Amanda tried to go around the woman and was blocked.
"Now you listen to me, you tight assed little bitch, I want you to get me on that show." The desperate, hysterical tone of her voice made Amanda flinch.
Without warning, the woman reached out and grabbed Amanda by the wrist. "Youíre afraid Iíll outshine you. Is that why you wonít help me get on your show?" Her foul breath was making Amanda ill.
Amanda had all she could do to keep from breaking down and crying. Never had she been so frightened. Her heart was beating so fast it felt like it was about to burst. With all her strength she broke loose from the womanís grasp. Taken by surprise, the womanís face hardened and she moved closer to Amanda. Amanda shoved her and she stumbled backwards.
Quickly, Amanda climbed on the trunk of her car, thankful that she had left the top down. She was about to leap into the driverís seat, but the woman had regained her balance and rushed toward her.
"Youíre going to help me become a star!!" She grabbed at Amanda.
Amanda managed to shake her off and jump into the driverís seat. Dodging the womanís flailing arms, Amanda crouched down in the leather bucket seat and began swinging her heavy purse at her assailant.
"Get away from me, before I kill you!" Amanda screamed.
"Youíre not getting away from me, bitch." She reached out and swiped off Amandaís baseball cap, then grabbed at Amandaís hair, but Amanda swiftly moved her head out of reach.
So far the woman had managed to dodge Amandaís swinging purse, but now Amanda was as angry as she was frightened. She stood up on the car seat as the woman continued to strike out at her. With all her strength, Amanda swung her purse as if it were a baseball bat and connected it with the side of her attackerís head.
Her assailant was stunned by the blow. Amanda slunk down on the seat and stuck her key in the ignition. The engine turned over as the woman clutched at the door handle. Amanda shifted into reverse, pushed her foot to the floor and flew out of the space. The woman, infuriated, ran at the car, cursing and screaming. Amanda shifted into first and hightailed it down the row of cars away from the monstrous woman.
Weaving in and out of traffic all the way along Santa Monica Boulevard, Amanda kept an eye in her rear view mirror to make sure the woman was not following her. She was afraid to return home to her vast, empty house. Amanda headed in the direction of Michaelís apartment. She needed him to hold her, to comfort her.
Amanda rang the doorbell for what seemed like half her life. Where was he? Amanda returned to her car. Only then did she begin to cry. Should she call the police? What if that woman attacked her again? Did she know where Amanda lived? Would she ever be able to go out again without feeling afraid?
Amanda had never given the matter much thought until now, but most likely there were others out there that were as unbalanced as that woman. In the past two seasons she received a great deal of fan mail, most of which was warm and wonderful. There had been a few strange letters, but nothing really frightening.
The fact was that "The Luanne Sanders Show" entered millions of homes each week. There was no way of knowing what kind of effect her looks or her role as Susan might have on someone who was mentally unstable. If she dwelled on it she would go mad.
She was only a few blocks from Rickís apartment so she headed in that direction. Rick had finally managed to get his own place, a cute one bedroom in a courtyard building on Fountain Avenue in West Hollywood.
"Amanda, I just donít know what to say," Rick said, having just heard the details of her ordeal. He poured each of them a glass of red wine.
"I donít know what I should do. The whole thing was just so frightening."
"I think you should call the police."
She waved away his suggestion. "I know this sounds stupid, but I just donít want to make a big deal out of this. What if it were to end up in the National Enquirer and then every nut case from here to Mars would be coming out of the woodwork." She took a gulp of wine. The full bodied liquid helped her relax. "Besides, I donít want my parents to find out. It would just be something else for them to worry about."
Rick nodded in agreement. "I suppose youíre right. I just hope nothing like that happens again."
"Jesse, how are you?" Bob Harris yelled over the redwood fence that separated his backyard from the Rainesís.
Jesse looked up from the rose garden where he was pulling weeds for Rita. He waved back at his neighbor.
"Jesse, you havenít seen the bunnies yet."
"You mean youíve got more?"
Mr. Harris beamed. "Theyíre beauties. Come over and have a look."
Jesse stood up and brushed away the bits of grass and dirt that had stuck to his knees. He followed his neighbor to the backyard pen that held the rabbits.
He handed Jesse one of the bunnies. "Well, tell me, Jesse, what do you think?"
"Sheís so soft." He glanced around. "It looks like you have more rabbits then ever."
Mr. Harris nodded. "Iím up to twenty-two." He shrugged. "I canít help it. I love the little creatures."
Jesse played with the rabbits for a while and helped Mr. Harris fill the food bins in each of the hutches.
"Come on in the house and Irene will give us a cold drink." He placed his hand on Jesseís shoulder and led him into the house.
"Why Jesse, long time no see." Irene Harrisís blue eyes twinkled as she teased Jesse, "Either my eyes are playing tricks on me, or youíve grown about two inches since I last saw you."
Jesse shrugged shyly.
"Irene, we could use a cold drink," Bob said as he settled at the dining room table where his wife had been absorbed in a crossword puzzle.
"How about some ginger ale?"
Jesse sat opposite Mr. Harris and a moment later Mrs. Harris returned with two tall glasses filled with ginger ale and crushed ice. "Here you go, boys." She placed the glasses in front of them and winked at Jesse.
Jesseís eyes were drawn to a photo of Amanda Yates on the cover of Ladies Home Journal that rested on the table near Mrs. Harris elbow. "May I see your magazine, Mrs. Harris?"
"Why, Jesse, itís Ladies Home Journal, I donít think youíll find it all that interesting."
"I want to read about Amanda Yates."
"Oh, I see."
Jesse opened the magazine. Amanda was photographed sitting in an overstuffed burgundy chair. The article stated that Amanda had recently purchased a beautiful mansion in Beverly Hills, California. There were several photos of her in different locations of the house. Jesse especially liked the picture of Amanda sitting at a table under a white umbrella alongside her swimming pool. She was dressed in a white terrycloth robe and sipping orange juice out of a crystal goblet. Jesse studied the photographs and thought her house was the most beautiful he had ever seen.
"Do you like this Amanda girl, Jesse?" Bob Harris asked.
Jesse looked up and met the smiling face of his elderly neighbor. "Oh yes, sheís special. I love her." His tone was serious. He hadnít planned on revealing his true feelings for Amanda to the Harrises, but Jesse couldnít help himself. His love for her was so strong that he wanted to shout it from the rooftops.
"How do you mean, Jesse?" Irene asked, her mouth set in a tight line.
"Well..." He didnít quite know how to explain his feelings. "Thereís just something extra special about her that makes me feel really good."
Irene sighed in frustration. "Jesse, are you attached to her the way your mother was to Elvis?"
"Yes, I canít stop thinking about her. I wait all week to watch her show." Jesse gulped his ginger ale and gazed down at the photo of Amanda staring back at him with that dazzling smile, encouraging him to go on. "She was the only one who was able to bring my mother out of her sadness after Elvis died."
Irene and Bob exchanged worried looks.
Irene reached for Jesseís hand. "Now, Jesse," her tone sympathetic and controlled, "you canít go on having these fantasies about celebrities. There is nothing special about that girl. Sheís just a pretty girl with a good job....nothing more. You mustnít get all caught up in her. Look what happened to your mother when Elvis died. Do you want that to happen to you? Youíre a young boy, you should be with kids your own age, meeting girls and having fun. This business of focusing all your attention on some television actress is not healthy. Why, I bet off screen sheís just a silly thing without a brain in her head."
Jesse listened politely to Irene go on about Amanda, but inwardly he felt his anger toward her rising. No one could speak that way about his sweet, beautiful Amanda.
"Ireneís right, Jesse," Bob interrupted. "Itís not normal to go around falling in love with people on television. Itís downright silly to think this girl cured your mother."
"She did. I saw it with my own eyes."
"Now, Jesse, stop this nonsense. This girl could do no such thing. My God, itís just a television show and you must realize there is nothing special about her. Sheís just an ordinary girl who happens to be on television."
"You just donít see it, but I do. I can feel her magic."
"Jesse, donít be silly. Sheís not magical."
Jesse was angry at himself for his emotional outburst in Amandaís defense, but why were they trying to poison his mind against her? He had thought the Harrises were his friends. Jesse realized there was no way he was going to convince them that Amanda was special. Right now he just wanted them to stop saying negative things about her. It took all of his willpower, but Jesse was able to manage an engaging grin. "Oh, come on, Iím a teenager. Iím going through a phase. Iíll get over it, but right now I think sheís a babe."
He could see that the Harrises appeared to be relieved. Bob Harris chortled. "Well, Jesse, that she is."
Although Irene Harris had smiled at Jesseís final remark, she was nevertheless worried about him. He was obsessed with this girl.
Irene Harris was the type of person who had always believed in minding her own business. However, the idea of Jesseís attachment to the television actress Amanda Yates left her with a bad feeling in the pit of her stomach. For the past few days she had been trying to find a way to broach the subject to Rita. Irene felt she just had to say something to her. She did not want to see Jesse heading down the same road Rita had with Elvis Presley.
Irene mentioned her concern about Jesse to Bob and her intention to speak with Rita about it. He had told her to stay out of it, but Irene knew that she must act upon her intuitions. She had to speak her mind, for Jesseís sake.
The following morning Irene happened to see Jesse go off on his bicycle soon after Bob had gone over to the beach for his daily walk. This was the perfect opportunity to pay Rita a visit.
"Well, Irene, what a nice surprise," Rita smiled when she opened the front door.
"Hello, Rita, I hope Iím not disturbing you."
"Not at all. Come on in out of this blasted heat." Rita stepped aside and welcomed her neighbor in. "You just missed Jesse, he went over to the mall."
Irene nodded. "Youíre the one Iíve come to see, Rita."
"Make yourself comfortable and Iíll pour us some iced tea."
Irene settled on the sofa, gazing around the small, neat living room. On the television console were several framed school photos of Jesse, ranging from the first grade to the present. Irene had seen the pictures before, but she still marvelled at how handsome he had always been.
Rita returned carrying two glasses of tea and placed them on the coffee table in front of them.
"I was just looking at the photos of Jesse. Heís so handsome," Irene said with a smile.
"Oh, my goodness, yes," Rita gushed proudly. "I just canít believe how blessed I am. Heís such a good boy, too."
Irene picked up her glass of iced tea and brought it to her lips. The cold drink had just the right amount of lemon. "The teaís delicious. I can never get mine to taste this good."
"Oh well, us Southerners are brought up on it," she laughed. "I guess itís in our blood."
Irene turned and reached for Ritaís hand. She was uncomfortable about what she had to say to her. "Rita, I came here to speak to you about Jesse."
"Yes. You know Iím not a busybody and weíve been friends for years. But Rita, quite frankly Iím worried about Jesse."
"Worried about Jesse? What on earth for?"
Irene could see the concern in Ritaís eyes and she patted her hand. "Well, Iím sure itís nothing, maybe Iím just an old lady whoís over-reacting." Irene went on to tell Rita about Jesseís visit two days ago and the things he had said about his feelings for Amanda Yates.
When Irene was done Rita looked at her and shook her head in confusion. "Irene, what is it exactly that youíre worried about?"
Irene took a gulp of tea and cleared her throat. "Iím worried about the strong feelings he has for this television actress."
"Worried? Irene, what on earth for? Have you seen her? Have you seen the show?"
Irene shook her head.
"Why sheís an absolute delight. She truly is. Iím so glad that Jesse has found her."
Irene realized that this wasnít going to be easy. "Rita, Jesse says that Amanda is magical and she makes him feel special."
"Oh, donít I know it," she giggled. "He tells me that all the time. Why, we never miss her show. We even watch the reruns."
"Donít you think thatís unhealthy for a young boy? He should be out playing with kids his own age and meeting girls."
"Irene, I see nothing wrong with Jesse having special feelings for Amanda Yates. It makes him happy and I must say that I do enjoy her myself. Why donít you come over and watch the show tomorrow night with us and maybe youíll understand her specialness, too."
Irene stared at her, speechless for a moment. She placed her glass of iced tea on the table and stood up. "Rita, I donít want to be rude, but I have to say this: Your fascination with celebrities is not healthy. Youíre living in a fantasy world. Your obsession with Elvis Presley isnít normal and I canít believe that you are encouraging your son to have the same twisted delusions about this Amanda person. Itís not right, itís downright crazy."
"Crazy!" Ritaís voice shook. "Youíre talking about the King of Rock and Roll, and heís dead! How dare you talk about me that way and how dare you talk about my son that way!" Rita was so infuriated by Ireneís attack she could not even stand up. She gripped the sofa cushions on either side of her and stamped her feet. "Get out of my house, get out of my house!" Her lips quivered and an out-pouring of angry tears streamed down her face.
"Iíll leave, Rita, but I want you to know that you are responsible for your son and the way he turns out. If I were you I would think seriously about the kind of damage you are doing with your movie star nonsense." With a slam of the door Irene left, leaving Rita to shriek at the four walls.
Jesse arrived home fifteen minutes later and found his mother sobbing convulsively on the sofa. He dropped his bag of candy on the chair and ran over to her.
"Jesse, oh, Jesse," she wailed.
"Mom, what happened?"
"Oh, baby, you just wonít believe it in a million years," she choked.
She looked up at him with red-rimmed eyes, her face stained with tears. "Irene stormed her way in here and said the most vile things to me. Oh, Jesse, it was just awful."
"Yes. She said evil things about Elvis and Amanda. She said we were both crazy to think that there was anything special about either one of them."
"Mom, how could she be so mean to us?"
"Jesse, she called me crazy. Oh, I just couldnít believe my ears. She even said I was a bad mother for allowing you to have special feelings for Amanda."
Jesse couldnít believe what he was hearing. He thought the Harrises were their friends. How could Mrs. Harris upset Rita like that when she knew how long it had taken her to get over Elvisís death. Why would she attack Rita?
Rita reached out and Jesse embraced her, rocking back and forth in an effort to calm her down. It scared him when his mother was upset. She seemed so frail, and he wanted to protect her, only he didnít know how.
"Jesse, do you think Iím a bad mother?" she sniffed piteously.
Jesse clung to her. "I think youíre the best mother in the world."
"Oh, Jesse, I always thought that Irene was so sweet. Iíll tell you something, I think sheís jealous of the fact that we have special feelings for Elvis and Amanda,"
Jesse nodded slowly. "I think youíre right, Mom.".
Read the end of the first half of the book
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Copyright © 1998 Marden Carroll