STAR CRAZED: the book, by Marden Carroll

Chapter Six

Amanda unbuttoned her coat and perched on the edge of the sofa in the cabin that she and Michael would be sharing for the weekend. She felt awkward and hated herself for it. "Donít be a jerk," she chided herself. "Itís too late to start acting like a scared little vestal virgin."
When Michael had suggested that they go to Big Bear together for the weekend, she had been delighted. Big Bear was a small picturesque town in the mountains. Amanda knew that she and Michael would be doing more than just appreciating the scenery, but

now that she was actually here she couldnít help but feel nervous. They had been dating for five months, but had never slept together. As a matter of fact, Amanda was a virgin. Now, as she waited for Michael to bring in the luggage, she wished that was not the case. Maybe if she had had more sexual experience she wouldnít feel so awkward now.

Michael walked through the door carrying their suitcases. "Iíd forgotten how cold it can get up here," he said cheerfully. "Letís get a fire going, and then Iím going to show you what a culinary expert I am."

Amanda surveyed their surroundings. The cabin was charming. The living room was dominated by a large stone fireplace, which was flanked by matching winged back chairs. The well worn camelback sofa on which Amanda sat faced the fireplace. The open floorplan allowed Amanda a view of the dining area, which boasted an antique oak dining table and chairs, and the small, well equipped kitchen. An assortment of copper pots and pans hung from a wrought iron pot rack in the kitchen.

"This place is great!" Amanda noticed that Michael still wore a grin. "Iím going to bring in the groceries," he continued. "Take a look around. Be right back."

Amanda took his suggestion, and followed the trail of braided rugs that lay scattered upon the gleaming hardwood floors throughout the cabin. The bedroom was dominated by a king sized brass bed, covered with a blue and ivory print down comforter. When Amanda pulled back the sheer curtains she was rewarded with a view of the full moon and the reflection it cast over the still waters of the lake. She sighed happily.

Michael prepared a delicious dinner of green salad, bouillabaisse, and crusty French bread, and basked in Amandaís praise. All through dinner they had talked easily and laughed, comfortable in each others company. Now they were settled in the big sofa in front of a softly burning fire. Michael set his wine glass down and took Amandaís glass from her hand. He took her face in his hands and kissed her, then softly, tenderly, trailed kisses down her neck.

"Michael", Amanda pulled away slowly. "Maybe I should tell you, um, I never dated seriously before I met you. Iíve known for a long time that Iíd move away from Boston, so I never wanted to get too seriously involved." She looked at him shyly. "Do you know what Iím saying?"

"I know what youíre saying." He kissed the palm of her hand. "Thatís why I wanted everything to be perfect for you."

Michael stood up and pulled Amanda to her feet. He led her to the bedroom. For several minutes they stood next to the bed, kissing and petting, taking their time. Amanda relaxed; whether it was from the effects of the wine, or Michaelís loving murmers and gentle caresses, she didnít know or care. He pulled her sweater over her head and with nimble fingers removed her brassiere. She let out a soft gasp as Michael cupped his hand underneath one of her full breasts and brought his mouth to her nipple, wetting and teasing with his tongue. In one fluid movement he gently lifted her and placed her on the bed. He kissed her mouth again, and her eyes and her neck, one hand caressing one breast and then the other. Amanda moaned and returned his kisses with equal fervor. With Amandaís help, Michael removed her jeans and panties. Only then did he stand up to look at her. "My God, youíre beautiful," he breathed. The moonlight made Amandaís fair skin seem almost translucent, and although she was slender, the shadows accentuated every curve.

Still completely clothed, Michael sat on the edge of the bed. Slowly, he traced the outline of her body with his fingertips. Amandaís every nerve tingled and she drew Michael closer to her, unbuttoning his shirt. "Not yet," he whispered. Gently he spread her legs. His fingers stroked the inside of her thighs, and finally moved to the area between them, doing wonderful, exquisite things. Amanda moaned his name and arched toward him. Unable to stand it a moment longer, Michael quickly removed his clothes and met her embrace.

 

Chapter seven

"She should be a movie star," Jesse said under his breath. He was only half listening to Miss Wood, his eighth grade history teacher, recite something about the Battle of Britain. His eyes were on Katherine Lawsonís long, silky blonde hair. He especially liked it when she pulled it back and let it fall over the back of her chair. She sat two seats ahead of him in the next row.

Katherine, or Kitty, as everyone called her, was the most popular girl at Pompano Beach Middle School. Jesse had had a tremendous crush on her since last January when she transferred to his class. For the past four months he had been trying to get enough courage to ask her out. Jesse had never gone on a date with a girl before and didnít quite know how to ask Kitty. He thought it would be nice if he could take her roller skating at the rink on Sample Road, a popular hangout for the kids from his school.

His mother gave him ten dollars a week allowance for running errands, which pretty much consisted of picking up movie magazines at 7-Eleven. Jesse decided that today would be the day he would ask Kitty to go out with him. He couldnít stand the torture much longer. If only he could touch her smooth, white, creamy skin. He imagined nothing could feel so soft.

Jesse glanced up at the clock above the blackboard. Only a few seconds left to the end of the period. As the bell sounded announcing the end of class, Jesse slammed his book shut and stuffed his pencil into his shirt pocket. He watched Kitty as she rose from her chair and placed her purse strap over the shoulder of her short yellow dress. He thought she looked particularly attractive in that dress. Jesse quickly followed her out the door. Once in the hall, where a parade of students were crisscrossing as they hurried to their next class, Jesse tapped Kitty on the elbow. She turned abruptly, a trace of surprise registering on her pretty face.

"Hi, Kitty," Jesse mumbled.

"Oh, hello," Kitty answered disdainfully as she turned to walk away.

"Hey, Kitty, wait up."

She sighed and turned around to face him, one hand on her hip. "Jesse, what is it? Iíll be late for science class."

"Uh...." His eyes cast down at his loafers, Jesse said, "I was wondering if maybe you would want to go roller skating with me on Saturday."

Kitty tossed her long hair away from her face and laughed loudly. "Roller skating?! Jesse, I wouldnít walk down the hall with you, let alone go roller skating with you. Youíre such a complete nerd."

Jesse was surprised to see a look of cruel triumph in her eyes.

"Donít bother me again, Jesse."
He watched as she hurried down the hall.

"Hi, Mindy," she yelled to one of her friends. "You wonít believe who just asked me out. Pompano Beachís biggest jerk."

Jesse stood there as he watched Kitty point at him. He could hear the callous peals of laughter as the group of girls disappeared into their classroom.

The following morning when Jesse arrived at school, he thought the best thing for him to do would be to stay away from Kitty. Although he was still hurt by the way she treated him, he couldnít find it in his heart to dislike her. He loved her so much.

He was on his way to first period math class. As he headed down the corridor he spotted Kitty and her two closest friends coming in the other direction.

"Oh, hi, Jesse." Kitty stood in front of him, blocking Jesseís way.

He looked up and nodded shyly.

"Whatís the matter, arenít you going to ask me out again?" she jeered loudly. Her two friends began giggling.

Jesse didnít respond, but just stood there, red faced.

"Come on, queer face, ask me to go roller skating with you again."

Jesse shook his head and started to move around her.

"Oh, Jesse, you make me want to puke all over you!" Kitty yelled after him in a singsong voice.

Kitty continued to taunt Jesse every day, until finally he had had enough. The love Jesse had once felt for her turned to utter and complete rage. He had to do something to shut her up.

When he finally came up with a plan, Jesse was so excited he could barely sleep. He was really going to fix Kitty.

Kittyís locker was conveniently close to Jesseís, and he had managed to get the combination by watching her turn the dial. Not long ago when Jesse had still loved Kitty, he had thought about slipping in a bouquet of roses as a surprise to her. Now he had even a bigger surprise planned for the little bitch.

On Saturday evening Jesse entered the school grounds through the unlocked gate beside the running field. He had parked his bicycle down the street near the park. He hurried across the field, past the gymnasium, and down the hall to Kittyís locker. An eerie quiet prevailed in the empty school, reminding Jesse of a ghost town. He dialed the combination and tried the lock. He was startled that the lock did not open. His gaze fell upon the canvas bag that he had dragged with him. Looking at it filled him with a new sense of determination. Impatiently, he tried the combination again, and the locker opened with ease. Jesse peered inside at the neatly stacked books. Pen, pencils, and rulers were placed in a plastic bag that hung from the locker door. He pulled out the spiral notebook and opened it. His face flushed when he noted that the first two pages were filled with "Kitty Lawson Loves Roger Hartly". Jesse tore the pages from the book and put the crumpled pages in the pocket of his Leviís. Swiftly, he hoisted the canvas bag and stuffed it into her locker. He slammed the door shut, made sure it was locked, and then proceeded to take off like a bat out of hell.

"Bye, Mom." Kitty slammed the passenger door of her motherís Mercedes.

"Have a nice day at school, dear," Mrs. Lawson said through the open window.

Every morning, Kittyís mother drove her to school and picked her up in the afternoon. She did not want her beautiful daughter to ride on the school bus. What if the driver were to have an accident? Kitty was just too precious to her and she worried about her constantly.

Kitty loved school and she liked arriving a half hour early each day so she could hang out on the school patio with her group of friends before the bell rang. Kitty was very proud of her "very select group", as she called her crowd. All of her friends were on the cheerleading squad, and of course, Kitty was the captain of the cheerleaders. Each one of her friends was almost as popular as Kitty herself, and she loved the fact that everyone wanted to be her friend. Roger Hartly was her current love. She smiled to herself as she thought of him. Roger was captain of the football team. With his dark good looks and athletic body, he was the heartthrob of every girl in school.

"Sit with me at lunch," Carol Ann squealed to Kitty as the first period bell sounded.

"Maybe, Iíll see," Kitty responded cooly as she walked away, heading towards her locker to fetch her English book. As she approached the lockers, she heard one student say, "Hey, whatís that smell?"

Kitty noticed it too. It was a strong, pungent odor. She shrugged it off, thinking someone had probably left a tuna sandwich in their locker over the weekend, and the hot, humid weather had quickly turned it rancid. Kitty noticed the smell was stronger as she neared her own locker, and she had to hold her nose while she turned the combination. She assumed Leslie Miller, who had the locker below hers, had left the offensive, rotting food. Leslie had been known to do that on a few occasions. Kitty hated Leslie. The girl was overweight and wore thick, wire-rimmed glasses. In Kittyís opinion Leslie was a total pig.

Kitty opened the small metal door and physically recoiled as the foul smell struck her nostrils like a violent blow to the face. She covered her nose and noticed the canvas bag resting on top of her books. "Oh, gross!" she wailed. Probably Roger or one of his silly friends playing a practical joke on her. Kitty pulled the bag out and it fell to the floor with a thud.

"Whatís that?" gushed Leslie.

"How do I know, stupid?"

Leslie shrugged her shoulders and moved away.

Kitty knelt down beside the sack. Holding her breath, she tipped it upside down and shook its contents on the floor. Kittyís scream echoed through the hallways as the dead yellow cat, with its eyes opened in horror, stared back at her. She was soon surrounded by a band of curious students who had been drawn by her screams, which had turned into hysterical sobs.

"This isnít funny!" she cried as the tears ran down her cheeks and she trembled from head to toe.

"Look," yelled Todd Gelson, who Kitty recognized as being on the basketball team. "Thereís a note taped around itís neck." Todd reached for it. A low whistled emanated from his lips.

"Whatís it say?" another student asked.

Todd shook his head. "Wow, man, this is really sick." He looked directly at Kitty. "It says, "One dead Kitty! Soon there will be two."

Ann Lawson parked her Mercedes on the street in front of the small, well kept house in Cresthaven. The school had given her the

Rainesí address. Jesse Raines was one of the children suspected of placing the dead cat in Kittyís locker. She slammed the door shut and in a purposeful stride she approached the house. Her eyes fell upon a very attractive dark haired women sitting in a folding lawn chair under the protective shade of the carport. Ann noted that the women held a pair of scissors, intently cutting around the edges of a photograph. Ann placed her hands over her brow to block the sun from her face.

"Excuse me, Iím looking for a Mrs. Raines."

"Iím Mrs. Raines." The woman looked up and placed the photo and scissors on the concrete floor of the carport.

"My name is Ann Lawson."

"How can I help you?"

Ann entered the carport and was astonished to see cupboard doors strewn about the carport, many of which were plastered with pictures of Elvis Presley.

"Iíve just discovered the wonderful art of decoupage, and Iím doing my kitchen cabinets with some of my favorite photos and articles on Elvis," said Rita, in answer to Ann Lawsonís questioning look.

"You have that many?"

Rita laughed merrily. "Oh, my goodness yes, Iíve got enough Elvis memorabilia to paper my entire house inside and out, and probably yours too. But that would be a bit much, donít you think?"
"Yes, I suppose I do."

"Would you like a glass of iced tea?"

"No, thank you, Mrs. Raines." She had been taken off guard by the decoupaged cabinets, but Ann quickly regained her crisp manner. "My daughter attends school with your son, Jesse."

"Oh."

"Well, yes," Ann continued. "Iíve had to withdraw her from the school and enroll her in a private one."

Rita shrugged and flashed a smile at the women who had interrupted her creative time. "Thatís all very interesting, Mrs. Lawson, but if youíll excuse me, I donít see what any of this has to do with my Jesse."

Ann cast a cold stare at her.

Rita waited for the woman continue.

"You see, my daughterís name is Kitty---"

"How sweet," Rita interrupted. "Kittyís a cute name, very cute."

"Anyway," Ann raised her voice. "Someone placed a dead cat in her school locker with a note attached to it that said One dead Kitty, soon there will be two."

Ritaís hand flew to her mouth in sincere shock. "How horrible for the poor thing. Any suspects?"

"Kitty thinks it may have been Jesse."

"That is the most ridiculous thing I have ever heard in my life. My Jesse is the sweetest, most gentlest boy in this entire world. Iím highly insulted that he would be accused of such a crime. May I ask what makes your daughter suspect him?"

"It seems he asked her out and she refused."

Rita brushed her hair from her eyes. "That doesnít seem like a very strong reason for someone to threaten her in such a way. My Jesse is very mature and would never do such a thing."

Ann sighed in frustration. The fact of the matter was, there was no real proof of who had stuck the cat in Kittyís locker.

"Perhaps your daughter has other enemies and sheís using my son as a scapegoat."

"Well, if I could just speak to him."

Rita shook her head adamantly. "I will not have you upsetting him with such disgusting accusations. I resent you coming here today. Now please, leave my house." Rita picked up the scissors and the photo and commenced trimming the edges of it.

Ann realized it was no use and walked away.

 

 

Chapter Eight

Amanda looked up from the script that rested on her lap. Her eyes took in the lushly furnished office and the other four girls, all reading copies of the same script that Amanda held. Like Amanda, they were here to read for the same role, that of the daughter in the new ABC situation comedy "The Luanne Sanders Show" . Sheldon had informed her that she would be reading with Luanne.

The new program had everyone in the business buzzing, for it was well known that the network had been after Luanne to do a series for ten years. Luanne Sanders was Broadwayís biggest musical comedy star, but until now she had had no desire to leave the theater and come to Hollywood to do television. Luanne, with her husband and manager, Donald Sanders, had a knack for picking winners. Every play that Luanne starred in became a hit. Now ABC was hoping that she could transfer her luck to prime time.

The network had given Luanne and Donald carte blanche on whatever they wanted to do. Their own production company that was headed by Donald would be producing the show, as he had produced most of her Broadway hits. Hollywood had offered them a tremendous amount of money to come to television. In fact, Luanne was quoted in "The Hollywood Reporter" as saying, "The amount of money theyíre offering will make living in Los Angeles almost bearable."

"You can go in now," the receptionist said to the blonde girl sitting opposite Amanda. The girl stood up and strode confidently over to the open door. Amanda wondered if the girlís fortitude was an act. Either way, Amanda envied her assurance.

The synopsis of the show stated that it revolved around a mother and daughter who owned and operated a singing telegram service. Amanda loved the concept and thought it would be a lot of fun. She looked up as the blonde girl who had entered the office a few moments ago came out. From the crestfallen look on her face Amanda assumed her reading had not gone well.

"Okay, Miss, youíre next," the receptionist said to the girl on Amandaís left.

Amanda felt relatively calm about this audition. Sheldon had sent her on six auditions in the past two months. The first couple of times she had been beside herself with anxiety, but gradually she began to realize that if she did not get a part it wasnít the end of the world. In the meantime she would just relax and do the best she could, and be thankful that she had a good agent who believed in her. Eventually the right part would come along. Of course, reading with Luanne did intimidate her a bit, but she was determined not to let it get the best of her.

Amanda wished that she could think of something funny to say when she met Luanne. Luanne was famous for her bawdy sense of humor, so she had been trying to come up with something clever and witty. Today of all days her wit had taken a powder.

Ten minutes later the girl came out of the office. "Good luck," she whispered to Amanda.

"Your turn," announced the receptionist.

Amanda entered a cool, dimly lit office. Blinds were drawn to block out the harsh sunlight as well as the sprawling urban mess that was Los Angeles. Desk lamps illuminated the room in lieu of the more customary overhead florescent lights. Behind a massive mahogany desk sat a middle aged man in a black turtleneck sweater. He had a somewhat gruff look with bushy eye brows and a straight line for a mouth. A few remaining strands of black hair were combed back off his forehead. Amanda surmised that he was not the type of man who worried about aging. In fact, Amanda thought he looked more like a teamster rather than the sophisticated brains behind the Sanders team.

Sprawled graciously on top of the desk in front of him was Luanne. She was dressed in a pair of black silk slacks and a long sleeved red silk blouse. The pair of heels that lay haphazardly on the carpet no doubt belonged to her, for Amanda noted that her feet were bare. In her mouth was the longest cigarette holder that Amanda had ever seen.

"Excuse the darkness, dear. I just abhor bright lighting," Luanne said as she blew a cloud of smoke out of her mouth. Amanda would

have recognized that deep, husky voice anywhere. She remembered the press comparing it to a fog horn.

"This is much nicer," Amanda agreed as she stepped across the room.

"Iím Luanne Sanders." She smiled and held out her hand. Amanda shook it.

"This," Luanne indicated with her thumb, "is my husband, Donald."

"Itís a pleasure to meet you," he nodded.

"Iím Amanda Yates."

"Oh, I just love the name Amanda," Luanne expressed exhuberantly. She sat up and whacked her husband on the arm. "Donít I, Donald?"

"Yes, Luanne. Then again, you love a lot of names."

"Oh, donít listen to him. Did you know the heroine I played in ĎThe Holiday Weekendí was named Amanda?"

"No I di---"

Luanne cut her off. "It was my all time favorite role. Why, I could have played the happy go lucky Amanda for the rest of my days."

"It must have been a wonderful play. I wish I had seen it."

"Oh well." Luanne took a deep drag off her cigarette. "Those were the days. Anyway, Amanda, tell me about yourself."

Amanda sighed. This was suppose to be a creative business. Why couldnít they think of something else to ask?

Amanda told her story again. Luanne seemed to be only half listening and Donald was doodling on a piece of scrap paper in front of him. Talk about rude.

"Sheís pretty, isnít she Donald?" Luanne interrupted Amandaís biography.

"Very," he responded without looking up.

"So youíre from Boston."

Amanda nodded.

"Donald and I are from New York."

Amanda nodded again.

"Donald and I just positively hate California. God, is it ugly or what?" She took a deep drag on her cigarette, staring at Amanda. "Well?"

"Uh, well what?" Amanda asked, flustered.

"Is it ugly or what? This place called Los Angeles. Why donít they call it Los Ugliest, or something like that? Everything is soooo, oh, I donít know...dry...brown...just completely the shits."

"Well, I do miss the rainstorms they have back east."

"Oh, I know just how you feel." Luanne sighed wistfully. "I adore all the rain and drizzle and if I start talking about the fog and grayness I just may break down and cry my eyes out. I just donít know if Iíll ever be able to adjust to all this perpetual sunshine."

Amanda felt that Luanne expected some kind of an answer. "It can be wearing. I just try not to think about it."

"Oh." She brightened. "Does that work? How come I didnít think of that?"

"Sometimes," Amanda shrugged. "I mean, sometimes it works." This was a strange audition, but she decided to roll with it.

Luanne reclined on the desk again and propped her head up by resting her chin in her palm. "Well, dear, come on over here and make yourself comfortable."

Amanda walked over and dropped into one of the two matching cloth chairs that faced the huge desk.

"How old are you, dear?"

"Iíll be nineteen at the end of July."

"So since this is only March, then I guess that would make you eighteen."

Amanda couldnít help but laugh. "Right, Iím eighteen."

"God," Luanne drawled. "I donít even remember being eighteen. Iím forty-five."

"You certainly donít look it."
"Did you hear that Donald? I donít look it. Ha! Thank you, my dear."

"Maybe she thinks you look older, dear," Donald said with a twinkle in his eyes.

"Oh, I never thought of that."

"I didnít mean that at all," Amanda said quickly.

"There, you see, Donald. Honestly, sometimes." Luanne shook her head in dismay.

Amanda wasnít just being polite; Luanne was in good shape. She had a marvelous figure, and her face was unlined. The only thing that hinted at her true age was that she had let her hair go completely gray. Luanne was not what Amanda would call a great beauty, yet she had good bone structure and brilliant blue eyes that radiated humor and warmth.

"Well, Amanda, letís see what else I can ask you." Her eyes searched the room. "Oh, I know. What are your three favorite things?"

Amanda cleared her throat and boldly answered. "Movies, money, and men, in that order."

Luanneís eyes bulged and she threw her head back and laughed a raucous laugh. "Movies, money and men. Did you hear that, Donald? And from a girl with such a sweet face. Oh, Iíll have to remember that."

Donald laughed. "Iíll have to write it down for you, so you wonít forget it."

"Well." Luanne leaned forward. "Howís your love life? If I may be so bold."
Normally Amanda would have been put off by such a personal question, but she found Luanneís gregarious manner infectious and she had promised herself to roll with the punches. "To be perfectly honest, itís never been better."

"You donít say. So you have a boyfriend?"

"His name is Michael."

"Have you known him long?"

"Just a few months. We met in acting class."

"In acting class! How nice."

Amanda decided to go the whole nine yards. "Heís my acting teacher."

"Your acting teacher," Luanne repeated with a salacious grin. "Well if youíre not just chock full of surprises. Donald, isnít she just chock full of surprises."

"Sheís a very interesting young woman."

Luanne clapped her hands together. "I can picture the whole scenario as a Broadway musical." She slipped off the desk and paced back and forth across the carpet, waving her cigarette holder in the air. "Beautiful, young hopeful comes to Hollywood with stars in her eyes. She enrolls in acting class and falls in love with her handsome acting coach." She turned to Amanda. "He is handsome, isnít he?"

"Devastatingly so," Amanda said with a smirk.

Luanne gazed at her with arched eyebrows, then continued. "He patiently teaches her all that method acting crap. A warm, trusting relationship develops between them. He takes her under his wing and teaches her about life in tinsel town. She has a scene alone on a darkened stage, where she sings a song. Oh, Donald, you know, something like " The Impossible Dream". It has to be a touching number. Next, we jump to the day where she gets her big break. Of course, as time goes by, her teacher is afraid of losing her. Then one night she bursts into his class while heís in the midst of teaching. Thereís dead silence in the room as a look of love passes between them. She dashes down the isle clutching an Oscar to her bosom and falls into his outstretched arms. Our heroine whispers, ĎI want to give you this Oscar, because I wouldnít have won it without you, but most important, I want to give you my heart, which youíve always had.í Then the entire class stands up and starts singing a chorus. A song with some title like "Love is a Dream Come True". You know, something splashy, like one of those old Busby Berkeley musicals." She twirled around to face Amanda. "Well, what do you think?"

Amanda laughed. She was really enjoying herself. "I liked it, especially the part about the Oscar."

Luanne grinned as she leaned her frame against the desk and deposited another Benson and Hedges into her holder. "I got a million of them. Tell me, Amanda, do you think I should color my hair?"
Amanda was finding it difficult to keep up with Luanne, but she plugged on.

"Well, no." Amanda stood up and came face to face with Luanne. "Maybe ...," she reached her hand towards Luanneís hair. "May I?"

"Be my guest"
"Well, perhaps if you just brushed the front forward a bit it would give it a softer look." Suddenly Amanda realized what she was doing. How could she be such a fool to criticize the way Luanne Sanders wore her hair? "Kind of like this," she added nervously.
"How do I look, dear?" Luanne turned for her husbandís opinion.

"I like it."

"Why canít Andreí suggest something like this? Is he so afraid that Iíll stop going to him? The man just yesís me to death." Luanne held out her hand and flashed a warm smile. "Amanda, dear, it was lovely meeting you. Youíre just a charming girl. I hope you didnít think I was making fun of you. I just like to joke, and you have a very good sense of humor."

"Thank you," Amanda replied, knowing sheíd blown any chance she might of had by criticizing Luanneís hairstyle. "I enjoyed meeting you both."

On her way out to her car, Amanda felt she might crumble. She held back the tears until she was seated behind the wheel. She had really wanted the role of Susan. The script had been funny and well written and it would have been wonderful to work with a pro like Luanne.

They hadnít even let her read. Had she given that bad of an impression?

"Was I really alright, Michael?" Amanda asked. They were seated at the Old World Restaurant on Sunset Boulevard after having just come from a screening of "Books Of Blood".

He reached over and placed his hand over hers. "Amanda, you were fine. In fact, you were the highlight of the movie."

She sipped her coffee. The rich, pleasant taste reminded her of the coffee her mother made. "I guess Iím still pissed off about my audition yesterday. They didnít even let me read."

"Listen, honey, youíve got to have thick skin. There could be a number of reasons why someone doesnít get a part, and it most often has nothing to do with talent." He paused. "You could walk into an audition and remind a casting director of his ex-wife whom he hates, so right there you donít stand a chance."
She leaned back in her chair and moved her fork around, playing with the huge salad in front of her. "Oh, I know," she sighed, "I just wanted it so badly. Imagine what it would have been like to work with Luanne. I could have learned so much from her."

"Listen, Amanda, youíre doing better then most people Youíve already had a part in a film. It takes some people years to achieve that. I havenít worked in almost two years! Donít you see, itís all a waiting game. Trust me, one day the right part will come along."

"I know youíre right. Iíll just have to be patient."

The curtains were drawn in Amandaís apartment. Two days worth of dirty dishes covered the counter tops of the tiny kitchen and magazines lay scattered about on the floor of the living room.

Amanda lolled upon the sofa, a half pack of Virginia Slims on the end table next to her and a triple layer Pepperidge Farm chocolate cake on her lap. She traced her finger across the top of the cake, barely tasting the frosting when she licked it off and only half listening to "The Partridge Family" rerun that emanated from the television.

She hated the fact that she had let the audition get her down so much. Michael had been right of course, she was indeed luckier then most. Sheldon had told her not to worry, that he would be sending her out again very soon and had tried to cheer her up by telling her that she would be better suited for feature films instead of a television series. Funny though, Amanda had always dreamed of being a television actress, not a movie actress, and Luanneís show was a surefire hit.

Amanda broke off a chunk of cake and stuffed it into her mouth. A few crumbs fell down the front of her nightgown. She brushed them off with one hand and reached for the pack of Virginia Slims with the other. As Amanda lit the cigarette, she surveyed the cluttered apartment. She decided to allow herself another hour to wallow in disappointment before cleaning.

The best thing in her life right now was her relationship with Michael. She fell more and more in love with him each day. A smile played across her lips as she thought about waking up beside him on the nights they spent together, and how she relished the feeling of his strong, muscular body next to hers. It filled her with a feeling of warmth and safety like sheíd never known. She loved going to his place on North Orange Grove, a large old Spanish style apartment with high ceilings and hardwood floors. It was such a masculine place with a comfortable overstuffed green corduroy sofa, and a worn Oriental carpet in the living room. Every room was filled with potted plants in terra cotta pots and framed posters of old movies adorned the walls. He had lived in the apartment for five years, and despite its large size it had a comfortable, lived in cozy feeling. Amanda felt that an atmosphere of utter calmness prevailed in the spacious rooms.

Amanda felt so grateful when she thought how concerned Michael was over the progress of her career. He took as much interest in her career as he did his own. She knew it must be very difficult for him to keep up a cheery front when he had not had an acting job in over two years. He had been the "good guy" on the daytime soap "The Young Generation", until after only two months his character had been killed off in a car wreck. Sortly after that Michael had done an episode of "The Bionic Woman." He was so talented and so good looking that Amanda found it hard to believe producers werenít knocking themselves over to hire him.

Michael had informed her that he felt more fortunate then most. At least he could make his living teaching and wasnít forced to go out and get a job waiting tables. Michael enjoyed his classes and was well qualified as a coach. After all, he had studied with Lee Strasberg for several years. He said the knowledge he had picked up from the master had been invaluable, and he was happy to pass on as much of it as possible to each of his students.

One of the places that Amanda had considered studying at was The Lee Strasberg Institute on Hollywood Boulevard. In fact, she had pretty much decided on it when she spotted Michaelís advertisement in the Drama Logue and decided to audit one more class before making her final decision. Thank God she had.

Amanda was startled by the ringing of the telephone. She stubbed out her cigarette and picked up the receiver.

"Amanda, Iím glad youíre home," came Sheldonís exuberant voice.

"Hi, Sheldon." She forced herself to sound cheerful. Amanda hoped he wasnít going to send her out on an audition today. She wasnít in the mood for another rejection.

"Listen, my dear. Youíre not going to believe this, but youíve got it."
"Got what?"

"The Luanne Sanders Show. They loved you."

"Hah!" she screamed. "Youíve got to be joking. I didnít even read."
She heard him laugh. "I know, I know. Luanne said that when you walked through the door, she knew you were the one."
"Oh, my God. Sheldon, I just canít believe this."

"Well, youíd better. I want to see you first thing in the morning. Weíve got contracts to sign."

"Oh, Sheldon," Amanda sobbed. "Thank you so much. This is all Iíve ever dreamed of."

"I know, dear. I know. I predict that you are going to be sensational. This show canít miss."

 

Chapter Nine

"Yahoo!" Rita cried out joyfully. Still dressed in her pink frilly nightgown, she sailed into the dining area, where Jesse was munching a bowl of Cheerios. "Good morning, baby," Rita beamed. She leaned down and kissed him on top of his head.

"Good morning, Mom."

"And a good morning it is, my darling." She stepped into the kitchen and poured herself a cup of fresh perked coffee that Jesse had prepared. Rita twirled around on one foot, her nightgown billowing out around her.

All about her kitchen, pictures and articles of Elvis covered every cupboard and drawer face. Rita had coated them with three coats of varnish to really make them shine. A stream of bright sunlight came through the window, highlighting the photo of Elvis from his "Love Me Tender" film.

Rita hurried over and planted a kiss on Elvisís face. "Elvis, baby, Iím on my way to Memphis tomorrow. After all these years, my sweet darling, weíre finally going to be together."

Rita breezed over to the table, an Elvis mug full of coffee in her hand. "Jesse, arenít you just thrilled to pieces about our trip to Memphis?"

Jesse smiled at his pretty mother. "Yup, I canít wait to see Graceland."

Rita clapped her hands together. "Itís the most beautiful and sacred place on this earth. And Jesse, someday in the very near future itís going to be our home."

"Gee, Mom, I canít imagine what it will be like living in such a place."

Ritaís excitement had been contagious over the last few weeks as the moment for their trip to Memphis grew nearer. She had even put herself on a strict diet and exercise regime, just to trim a few extra pounds off her near perfect figure. Yesterday she had had her black bouffant touched up to cover a few strands of gray. Rita had also dipped into her savings account and purchased a new wardrobe for both of them. "We have to look our best for Elvis," she had said.

"Now Jesse." His motherís soft voice with the pleasant southern accent brought him out of his reverie. "I want you to get your hair cut today, just like you promised."
"I will, Mom. Iím going right after breakfast."

"Before you go, would you get our suitcases down from the attic? I want to start packing."

A half hour later, dressed in a pair of white shorts and a form fitting tee-shirt, Rita carried one of the lightweight suitcases into Jesseís room. She marveled at how neat and tidy he kept everything. Unlike most teenage boys whose bedroom looked like a disaster area, Jesseís bed was made and his clothes were hung up in the closet. It constantly amazed her how she never had to remind him to clean his room. Rita had no complaints about her son as he had always been a jewel. She had always harbored a fear that Jesse would turn out like his father, but as the years sped by and Jesse proved himself to be a fine young man, her fears evaporated. Jesse was the best son in the world.

Rita had been nineteen years old when she met Eric Raines. She had recently moved to Fort Lauderdale from her home town of Thomasville, Georgia. She had worked hard during her high school years as a waitress at the Woolworthís ice cream counter and had squirreled away enough money to get the hell out of that hick town.

When graduation day arrived Rita accepted her diploma and the very next day, with her three hundred dollars in savings, she boarded a Greyhound bus for the sun drenched beaches of southern Florida. Rita had a plan for her life and a damn good one, too. She had heard about all the money a decent waitress could make in the fancy hotels and restaurants during the winter season, when all the wealthy Yankees descended on the place to escape the brutal northern winters. After working a few years, and with a considerable nest egg behind her, she would head for Hollywood and try her luck in the movies. After she became a celebrated movie star, her hope was that Elvis would seek her out and they would live happily ever after.

Things did not go as Rita had planned. She rented a small efficiency apartment off Sunrise Boulevard in a pleasant older building with a kidney shaped pool in the courtyard. The public transportation system was not very good, and since she didnít own a car, Rita ended up accepting a job at the nearby Howard Johnsons. With her tips, she hoped to eventually put enough money aside to buy a used car.

The job wasnít so bad. Most of her customers were local people who lived in the area. She had a few regulars who would come in and sit at the counter, drink coffee and shoot the breeze. Rita also got along well with her fellow workers. On her day off she would walk over to the beach and spend the day swimming in the warm Atlantic and lying in the sun to keep up her golden tan. On her sojourns to the beach she always stopped along the way and bought the latest movie magazines. She would search through them for stories on Elvis and her other favorite stars.

The day Eric Raines walked into Rita Liptonís life began like any other day. She had arrived at Howard Johnsons at three oíclock to work the dinner shift. Having just served coffee to a party of four, Rita turned and headed back towards the counter. She had taken about four steps and stopped dead in her tracks. He stood by the Please Wait To Be Seated sign and fixed the most dazzling smile on her. Why, she must have flushed at least twenty different shades of red in a matter of seconds! Her heart started beating wildly and her hand that gripped the coffee pot began shaking. Her stomach did a double somersault and her knees were so weak that she felt they might not support her. Rita had finally come face to face with Elvis. She continued standing there, looking like a fool with her mouth hanging open. It was a dream come true. Had she willed Elvis to come to her? Did she have some special kind of power that she was unaware of? Of course, now when Rita thought about it she felt silly.

The glaring sunlight had been in her eyes and it had obstructed her view. When the man stepped forward she realized it wasnít Elvis at all, although she was still taken aback by the young manís resemblance to him. He had the same shiny black hair and the same sexy build, which was revealed by his faded Levis and black tee-shirt. It was the mouth though that really reminded her of him, with that same pout she soooo loved.

"You look like youíve just seen a ghost," were the first words he had spoken to her.

Her hand had flown to her chest when she realized what she must look like. She had tried to cover her embarrassment with a laugh. "Iím sorry, I though you were someone else."

"Really?" He arched his eyebrows and continued staring at her. He had soft green eyes and sparkling white teeth. Smooth clear skin covered his prominent cheekbones. "And who might that be?"

"Well." She flustered. "Youíre going to think this is silly, but I thought you were Elvis Presley."

He threw his head back and whistled. "Elvis Presley?"

Rita nodded.

"Well, darlin, I take that as a supreme compliment."

Rita smiled and started to move around him. He stopped her. "Youíre pretty enough to be a movie star."

Rita had blushed and continued on to place her food order. When she turned around he was seated at the counter with a gleeful grin on his face.

"Whatís your name, beautiful?"

"Rita."

"Well, mine is Eric Raines, and it certainly is a pleasure to meet such a dazzling creature as you."

He certainly knew how to turn on the charm. Throughout dinner, dessert, and endless cups of coffee, Eric flirted shamelessly with Rita. He was still sitting at the counter when her shift ended at eleven oíclock.

"Be careful walking home," Harry the night manager had cautioned Rita as she turned in her order stubs. Rita was about to reply that he need not worry, when she noticed that Eric was approaching the cash register.

"Excuse me, Rita." He had positioned himself directly in front of her, his hands stuffed into the pockets of his jeans. "May I give you a lift home?"

Rita was always leery of accepting rides from strangers, but Eric seemed so nice and he did have good manners. Besides, how could she not trust someone who so resembled Elvis?

The humid air swept over them as they left the cool refuge of the restaurant. Florida was often just as hot at midnight as it had been at noon.

"Is this your car?" Rita asked, pleasantly surprised as he opened the door of the handsome red and white Chevy Impala convertible.

"Itís my pride and joy," Eric responded. "Do you like it?"

"Oh, yes." Rita ran her hand along the side of the car. The moon and the lights from the restaurant reflected upon the surface of the impeccably kept convertible. "Itís beautiful."

Eric opened the passenger door with a flourish. "Your chariot awaits, maíam."

Moments later Eric maneuvered the boat-sized car into the sparse late night traffic onto Sunrise Boulevard.

Rita laid her head back against the leather upholstery as the fresh night air rushed through her hair.

"Want to take a ride over to the beach?"

"Okay," Rita responded, shutting her eyes and feeling the powerful engine move the car along at a swift pace. They passed the deserted store fronts, all closed for the evening, and crossed the bridge that led over the Intercoastal Waterway. A grand white yacht was passing by below.

"Itís a lovely night," Rita said as she drank in the sights. Eric smiled in return.

They drove along the coast road, past hotels filled with tourists who paid a fortune to stay along Floridaís Gold Coast during the winter months.

A short while later Eric brought his car to a stop in front of a large darkened building still under construction.

"This is where I work," he explained when he noticed the look of confusion cross her face. "I work construction. This is a new apartment building, for rich people. It should be completed in another two months."

Rita studied the darkened structure. It rose fifteen floors from the ground. A large piece of plastic tarp hanging from the fifth level flapped in the breeze. They sat quietly in the dark listening to a.m. radio.

"Marry me." Eric held her in his strong arms. He had driven her to work and they were sitting in his car in front of Howard Johnsons. They had been seeing each other every night for three weeks. "I love you, Rita."

Rita smiled and leaned her head forward and kissed his lips. "Iíd love to marry you, Eric," she answered as his mouth crushed hers.

Rita was not surprised at his proposal. He had been hinting at it for a week. Eric would make a good husband and she did care for him. She thought she might even love him, but of course not with the same intensity that she loved Elvis. There was no way that she would be able to feel quite that way about any other man. Rita was just tired of being on her own and it would be nice to have someone to take care of her at least for awhile. Maybe in time Eric would save enough money for them to move to Hollywood so she could concentrate on her movie career.

"How about if next week we elope."

She flung her arms around his neck. She loved how his hard chest felt against her. "Thatís just perfect, darling. Wowwee, next week Iíll be Mrs. Eric Raines." He kissed her again. She was the one that broke the embrace.

"Now darling, Iíve got to get inside and get to work. Lordy, itís so hot out here. Iíll start perspiring any minute and nobody will leave me any tips."

He laughed. "Alright, sweetie, Iíll pick you up at eleven."

"I told you I donít want you reading any more of those damn movie magazines," Eric hollered as he pulled the magazine from her grasp.

Rita cowered on the sofa, frightened, but not surprised. She was getting accustomed to his violence. It seemed as if he took great pleasure in intimidating her. He grabbed her by the arm and forced her to her feet. Then he slapped her hard across the face with his free hand. She reached up to touch her stinging cheek as tears spilled from her eyes.

"Why isnít my dinner on the table? Too busy reading about Hollywood movie stars to cook any damn dinner."

She could smell the liquor on his breath. He raised his hand to strike her again. "I didnít know if you were coming home," she pleaded, hoping he wouldnít hit her again.

"I want dinner made every night, just in case I feel like coming home and eating it. Or maybe I might go over and eat at my girlfriendís. Not only is she a better cook than you, but a helluva better lay."

She retreated into the kitchen to cook Ericís dinner. Rita had realized within two months of her marriage that she had made a grave mistake. Gone was the man with the endearing charm. In his place was a violent drunk, who abused and threatened her on a daily basis. He held her a virtual prisoner in her own home. She was not allowed to work or to even leave the house without him. The only time she was permitted to drive the Volkswagen that he had bought her as a wedding present was when she went grocery shopping at the Publix market. Oftentimes she could not even do that due to a black eye or a swollen lip.

She was trapped with the madman she had foolishly wed. After three years of marriage she had given birth to Jesse. Rita had named him after Elvisís twin brother, who had died at birth. If she could have she would have named her son Elvis, but Eric would have killed her. He hated her fascination with the King of Rock and Roll. Luckily Eric was too stupid to know that Elvis had a twin.

Eric did not give a hoot about their son. Rita just hoped that when Jesse got older Eric wouldnít abuse him. Rita would love to take her baby and run away, but she had no safe haven. It didnít matter anymore what he did to her, but if Eric ever harmed her son she would kill him.

One night Rita awoke to hear Eric stumbling into the bedroom. She pretended to be asleep so she wouldnít have to face him. He flicked on the light switch.

"Wake up, you stupid bitch," he growled.

She opened her eyes to see Eric standing at the foot of the bed. He was dressed in a pair of khaki pants and a black tee shirt.

"Eric."

"Eric," he mimicked her. "Iím leaving you."
"You are?" she asked, hoping the joy she felt was not evident on her face or in her voice.

"I met a rich women and weíre going away together. So fuck you, Rita, and fuck your Elvis Presley." Then he was gone.

Within a week after Ericís departure, Rita had found work as a cocktail waitress at the Palm Aire Country Club. The work was hard, but the tips were good. Rita was still young and pretty, so men still flirted with her. Rita flirted back, but it was all inconsequential, as Rita had vowed that she would not make the same mistake twice. From now on she was saving herself for Elvis.

Rita hoisted the packed suitcase off Jesseís bed and carried it down the hall to the living room, placing it by the front door with the rest of the luggage. She let out a happy sigh, pleased with her accomplishment. Tomorrow they would leave for Memphis and with the exception of a few toiletries they would need tonight and in the morning, she and Jesse were packed for their adventure.

She wandered into the kitchen and poured herself a glass of iced tea. The window over the sink offered a view of the backyard, and she always enjoyed it when the hibiscus hedge that boarded her property from the house behind was in full bloom with yellow and red flowers. She sipped the tea and thought she had added too much lemon, but it quenched her thirst. She continued to gaze at her pretty backyard, knowing that this was one of the last times she would look at it if things went according to plan up in Memphis. Her mind went over the many happy hours she had spent tending her shrubs and flowers and how brilliantly they had responded to her nurturing. Yes, she was going to miss her lovely little yard and her Elvis kitchen. She smirked when she realized she would soon be in the arms of the real Elvis.

Rita carried her tea down the hallway to her bedroom. Retrieving a piece of her special stationery, she sat at her vanity table to compose a letter to the man she loved.

My Darling Elvis,

Well here it is, the day Iíve been waiting for all my life.

Elvis, precious, Iím finally coming to Memphis! My son,

Jesse, and I are leaving tomorrow. As soon as we arrive in

that glorious city, weíre heading straight over to Graceland.

Iím going to plant myself right at the gates. Iím enclosing

a recent snapshot of us, so youíll recognize us.

Now I donít want you worrying about us driving all

the way up there. Iíve had the Mustang looked over by my

mechanic, and I bought four brand spanking new radial tires.

Elvis, let me tell you, that motor still purrs like a kitten,

and after sixty thousand miles! If youíre up for it Iíll take

you for a spin around Memphis, so you can see for yourself.

I know youíll be doing a concert up in Maine by the time

we get there. Donít worry though, Jesse and me plan to do a

little sight seeing. My goodness, a city as big and as exciting

as Memphis must have all kinds of fun things to do.

Well sweetie, I plan to be in your town for three weeks.

Iíve taken my vacation from work.....with pay. Sal, my boss,

rearranged all the girls schedules to fill in for me, so

thank God all my shifts are covered. Oh, of course some of

the girls squawked and carried on about having to work extra

hours, but itís not like I havenít done the same for them on

many occasions. They also donít have much choice in the matter. I have seniority!

I wonít be able to sleep a wink tonight, Iím just so

excited. Oh, Elvis my darling, who can explain love?

I love you a bunch,

Rita

Rita reread the letter, and made sure every Ďií over Elvis was dotted with a heart. By the time Elvis received this letter, she would be in Memphis.

 

Chapter Ten

When Jesse left the house that morning he spotted Mr. Harris, their next door neighbor, watering his lawn.

Mr. Harris held the garden hose in one hand and offered Jesse a big wave with the other. "Morning, Jesse," he smiled pleasantly.

"Morning, Mr. Harris." He walked over to him. Jesse had known Mr. and Mrs. Harris all of his life. They were an older, retired couple who had always been kind to Jesse and his mother.

Mr. Harris wore a pair of blue and white plaid bermudas, a white tee-shirt covered his pot belly. A sprinkling of white hair stood out from under his Metís cap, and a pair of thick black sun glasses were perched on his nose.

"How are you, Jesse my boy?"

"Fine, thanks. How are you and Mrs. Harris doing?"

"Oh, weíre doing as good as two old goats can be expected to be doing."

Jesse laughed. He had always liked the Harrises, regarding them as surrogate grandparents.

"How are the rabbits?" Jesse asked.

"Well, Pickles just had four new bunnies and Opalís five babies have gotten pretty big. In another week Iíll be turning them over to Pet Parade." Pet Parade was the pet shop in Shoppers Haven where Mr. Harris sold his bunnies.

"Can I see them?" Jesse asked eagerly. Mr. Harris was always anxious to show off his prize rabbits.

"You bet, buddy. Let me just finish this patch of yard."
Jesse watched as Mr. Harris first sprayed a heavy mist of water over the lawn, and then, removing his thumb from the hose"s nozzle, he let a steady stream fall down the trunk of the coconut tree that was the centerpiece of the Harrisís front yard.

"This damn heat is going to kill my lawn. I just canít seem to give it enough water," Mr. Harris muttered as he sauntered over to the side of the house to turn off the spicket.

His rabbits were kept in a small shed he had built in the back yard. Inside were ten separate rabbit hutches, each housing one rabbit. He only placed the males and females together when he wanted to mate them.

"Hereís my Opal." Mr. Harris reached in to pick up the white ball of fluff. He held her against his chest and kissed the top of her head. "Howís my little mommy doing?" he spoke softly as he stroked her.

Jesse peered in at the five small babies huddled together in the cedar shavings.

"Would you like to hold one of Opalís babies?"

Jesse nodded as Mr. Harris placed Opal back into the hutch and withdrew one of the tiny rabbits. Jesse held it in his hands. It felt so fragile as he placed it in one palm and rested it against his tee shirt. He realized the bunny was totally at his mercy. He could just squeeze his palm closed and crush the life out of the little creature. That was if he wanted to, but why would he want to do that? It would just upset Mr. Harris.

"Itís so cute," Jesse said with a winsome grin.

They started across the backyard. Mrs Harris was standing at the clothesline, hanging out a wash. She wore a large straw hat to hide her face from the fierce Florida sun. A pair of loose fitting cotton slacks and a white blouse covered the rest of her thin body. Jesse thought she was so frail that she appeared bird like.

"Hey, Irene, look whoís here," Mr. Harris shouted. He turned to Jesse. "Sheís getting a little hard of hearing."

Mrs. Harris slowly straightened up from the clothes basket, a yellow blouse in her hand. When she saw Jesse, a smile brightened her aging face.

"Hello, Jesse dear, itís so good to see you. Come here and give an old lady a hug." She held out her arms as Jesse went over to embrace her.

"My goodness, youíre a handsome boy." Mrs. Harris broke the embrace and held him at armís length. His black wavy hair touched the collar of his shirt and was combed back off his forehead. He had astonishingly smooth clear skin and high cheekbones. Jesseís most striking feature was his mouth. He had an upper lip that sort of curled upward, just like the love of his motherís life, Elvis Presley. His eyes were a deep green with a heavy fringe of black eyelashes.

"Thanks, Mrs. Harris."

"Iíve made a pitcher of ice cold lemonade, so why donít you and Bob go in on the patio and have a glass. Iíll join you just as soon as I finish up here."

"Weíre leaving tomorrow on our trip."
They were seated at the Harrisís glass topped patio table. Jesse had his hand wrapped around the cold glass of lemonade.

"So youíre off to Memphis," Mrs. Harris stated. "That should be an exciting trip."

"Yup. Weíre going to meet Elvis. My mom says she can feel it in her bones. Why, sheís absolutely certain that heíll spot us standing in front of Graceland and come out and talk to us."
Bob Harris cleared his throat. "Well, thatís going to be some trip, actually meeting Elvis Presley."

Although the Harrises could not understand Ritaís and Jesseís fascination with celebrities, they always tried to humor them when the subject was discussed. Privately, they worried what kind of effect this obsession had on Jesse. He had no friends and spent all of his time with his mother.

After having spent an hour or so with the Harrises, Jesse said his goodbyes and made his way to Rustyís barber shop at the Shoppers Haven Plaza.

Jesse thought that he looked better with his hair long, but since his mother perferred his hair trimmed, he would cut it. She wanted them both to make a good impression on Elvis.

A cold wave of air swept over Jesse as he entered the small neighborhood barber shop. The air conditioning felt like it was set at sub zero. Jesse felt the goose bumps rise on his arms as he went over to sit in one of the comfortable chairs to wait his turn.

"How you doiní, sonny?" greeted Rusty, who was clipping away at an older manís gray hair. "Iíll be with you in a few minutes."

Jesse picked up a copy of "People" and thumbed through it while he waited. He glanced out the large plate glass window at the massive parking lot. Despite the heat the place was full to capacity. A white Volkswagen Rabbit was cruising up and down the rows in search of a parking spot.

"Yes, I canít believe it either," Jesse heard the gray haired man say to the barber. "I liked him. He was a hell of an entertainer."

Rusty nodded. "Well, at least he went quick and didnít suffer."

Jesse leaned his head forward, trying to figure out who they were talking about.

ĎĎ I donít think there was anyone who didnít love the guy."

The barber nodded in agreement. "Youíre right about that. The whole world loved Elvis Presley."

Jesse sat rigid in his chair. Shock and disbelief flooded through him. His voice shook when he spoke. "Did I just hear you say that Elvis Presley is dead?"

The barber turned to him, bushy red eyebrows raised in surprise. "You mean you havenít heard?"
Jesse just stared back at him, the color draining from his face.

The barber nodded. "Itís all over the news. Apparently he suffered a heart attack."

Jesse dropped the magazine on the floor and flew out of the shop. He had to get home to Rita. Good God, he didnít want her to be alone when she heard the news. He jumped on his ten speed and pumped vigorously the few blocks to his home, holding back tears as he pedaled. By the time he reached his house, the perspiration had soaked his tee shirt. He dropped his bicycle on the front lawn, not even bothering to lock it.

He rushed through the front door. When he entered the house, he was surprised for some reason to find that it still looked the same. It was very quiet.

"Mom," he called out, traces of hysteria evident in his voice. "Mom!"

"Iím in here," Jesse heard her call out from her bedroom. He found her sitting up in bed with a road map spread out before her.

Rita was about to comment on the fact that Jesse hadnít had his hair cut, until she realized that he was in a high state of anxiety.

"Why Jesse, darling, you look as if youíve seen a ghost." She rose from the bed and came towards him. "What on earth is the matter?"

Jesse cleared his throat and wiped his brow with his arm.

She reached over and ran her hand over Jesseís head. "Lordy Jesse, youíre just soaked! My goodness, youíll get heat stroke if you continue to rush around in this blazing sun."

"Mom," he trembled, "you havenít heard."

"Heard what?"

Jesse reached out and gently took her hand. His own hand shook. "Mom, Elvis is dead. He had a heart attack."

Rita jumped away from him, freeing her hand from his grasp. Her face turned beet red and she stared wide eyed at him. Suddenly, with all her strength, she slapped him across the face. "Donít ever say such a thing. How dare you!" she screamed.

The slap stung and Jesse started to cry. His mother had never hit him. "Mom, itís true. Itís all over the television and radio. Heís dead."

"I donít hear you, Jesse. Itís not true. My Elvis is fine. Heís up in Memphis waiting to meet us. Why are you trying to hurt me?"

He moved closer to her, wanting to hold her. Jesse knew how very much his mother loved Elvis. He was all she lived for, and now that Elvis was dead, what was going to happen to her? What was going to happen to him? He felt like he was in one of the scary movies that he and Rita often watched on television, only this was real.

Rita backed away from him and sat on the edge of her bed, still covering her ears. She stared at the wall. "Jesse, Iím going to pretend that you never said those hateful words."
Jesse had to make her realize that he was not trying to hurt her. He went over to the portable television and flicked it on. Immediately, a recent photo of Elvis Presley flashed across the screen. The commentator was saying, "Fans the world over today are mourning the loss of Elvis Presley."

Rita leaped off the bed and stood in front of the set. "Elvis! Oh, no, not my sweet, darling Elvis." Her scream reverberated through the house. She grabbed the pink trimline phone from the nightstand and with a powerful yank pulled the cord from the wall. "Noooooo," she shrieked, as she heaved the phone through the television screen. Glass shattered and sparks flew. "I would have felt it in here." She placed her hand on her heart. "I would have known." Rita ripped the bedspread off the bed and threw it on the floor. She began moving around the room like a wild animal who had been caged against its will. With one swipe of her hand she knocked the contents from the top of her dresser. Perfume bottles, framed photos, and the contents of her jewelry box lay in a heap on the shag carpet.

Jesse tried to approach her, wanting to offer her some kind of comfort. "Mom," he whispered between choked sobs.

"You stay away from me, Eric. I mean it." She picked up a framed photo and threw it at him. Jesse moved his head sideways to avoid being hit. She moved towards him with her fists clenched, "I mean it, Eric. If you ever hit me again, Iíll kill you."

"Mom, itís me, Jesse."

"Stop playing games with me. Iíve had all Iím going to take." She grabbed at the front of his shirt with one hand and clawed at his face with the other. Jesse was suddenly scared for his life. He was shaking from head to foot, convinced that his mother had lost her mind. He wrenched himself from her grip and backed out of the room. Rita slammed the door behind him.

"Elvissssssssss!"

Jesse blindly made his way over to the Harrisís. They were still seated on the patio.

"Mr. Harris, Mr. Harris," he cried out. The elderly couple glanced up and smiled as he approached. When Jesse came closer their grins quickly vanished.

"My God, what is it?" Mr. Harris stood up and opened the screen door for him.

"Itís my mother," he gasped between quick breaths, wiping the tears that streamed down his face with his hand.

"Jesse, what on earth?" Mrs Harris asked, alarmed.

"I donít know. Sheís gone crazy."

"Gone crazy?"

Jesse nodded. "When I told her that Elvis died."

Mrs. Harris gasped and her hand flew to her mouth. "Dear God in Heaven. Elvis Presley dead. Poor Rita."

"Sheís gone crazy. Iím afraid sheíll hurt herself. She didnít even know who I was. She thought I was my father."

"Jesse, you wait right here. Bob and I will take care of everything. Donít you worry." The two elderly people darted out the door. Jesse placed his head in his hands and continued crying.

Inside the Rainesís living room, Irene turned to her husband. "Bob, wait here. Rita might feel more comfortable talking to another woman."

Irene Harris knocked on the bedroom door. The ungodly cry that emitted from the other side sent shivers down her spine. She had always considered Rita to be a little off balance. The way she had idolized Elvis just wasnít normal. Now the news of his death seemed to have sent her straight off the deep end.

"Rita, itís me, Irene. Can I come in?" She waited for a response and glanced down the hall at her husband.

"I guess I should go in," she whispered. He nodded. Irene turned the knob and was relieved to find it unlocked. The door opened and revealed Rita curled up in the fetus position on the bed.

"Rita," Irene said quietly, as she sat on the bed and reached for her hand.

Rita gave Irene a bewildered, far away look. "Elvis, oh my Elvis," she moaned softly.

"There, there now, Rita." Irene gazed around the destroyed room. The small vanity table had been knocked over. Posters and pictures were ripped from the wall, partial fragments of them still clinging to the thumbtacks that had held them in place. Broken glass from the television set littered the floor.

Rita was shivering and her teeth were chattering. Irene picked up the blanket from the floor and wrapped it around Ritaís body. "Bob," she called out. Her husband appeared in the doorway a moment later. "I think youíd better call an ambulance. She seems to be in shock."

Read chapters 11-15

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Copyright © 1998 Marden Carroll