"Youíre too gorgeous to live!" gushed Felix as he expertly ran a brush through Amandaís thick mane of hair.
Amanda giggled. Felix could always make her feel good. She supposed that was one of the reasons she loved having him style her hair. Today he had come to her house.
"Now, tell me exactly what youíre going to be wearing to the premiere tonight." He stood to the left of her, with one hand on his hip, shaking the hair brush up and down with his other hand as he spoke.
Amandaís pint-sized hairdresser, with his tight fitting Sassoon jeans and form fitting red tee-shirt, wore his own hair pushed back off his forehead and pouffed up a few inches to give him a sense of height, Amanda supposed. He used a tremendous amount of hair spray to achieve the look. Felix was in his mid thirties and had been a successful Beverly Hills hair stylist for ten years. He never failed to fill Amanda in on the latest gossip, embellishing his stories with humorous anecdotes and bitchy remarks.
The first time she had visited his salon, Felix had informed her exactly how he had become hair dresser to the stars. He credited his success to a wealthy, married Texas oilman, with whom he had an affair. "He was just mad, absolutely mad for my hard body," he had explained. Felix stayed with the tycoon long enough for him to finance Felixís hair salon. When that was accomplished, Felix bid him farewell.
"I had to force him to bathe," Felix had said as he pinched his nose closed with two fingers. "But he was so fabulously rich. All those oil wells. Goodness, when I think of them just gushing and gushing.....Thatís what I would think about during sex with him."
When Amanda had looked shocked, Felix had patted her on the shoulder. "Well, dear, you must understand it was the only way I could get it up." With that Amanda had burst out laughing, and she and Felix had become fast friends. She told him just about everything. Well, just the things she didnít mind him repeating. It was well known that Felix had a mouth as big as California.
"Now Amanda, Iím on the edge of madness trying to imagine what youíre going to be wearing."
"Would you like to see my dress?"
"Do bears shit in the woods? Of course I want to see it, precious."
Amanda led him from her mirrored bathroom into her dressing room. She pulled out the dress, still covered in protective plastic.
"Well, come on, darling, hurry before I pee my pants."
Amanda removed the plastic and held the dress up for inspection.
He slapped his cheek in astonishment. "Iíd know a Bob Mackie anywhere. Heís my absolute fave. Cher is going to be sooo jealous." Felix stepped forward and ran his fingers lightly over the fabric. "Come on now, Amanda, hold it up in front of you so I can have a look see."
Amanda had to admit it was the most beautiful dress she had ever owned. Bob Mackie had designed it just for her. It was a long, tapered, strapless gold lameí dress with a matching wrap. The color complimented her hair and skin tone. The first time she had tried it on it had taken her breath away.
"Has your Mr. Michael seen you in this?"
"No. Youíre the first to see it, Felix. Do you like it?"
"Like it! Iím contemplating having a sex change, just so I can borrow it."
Amanda laughed so hard she almost dropped the dress.
"Now I know exactly what to do with your hair. You will be a positive sensation. But first, darling, I need a glass of ice cold chablis to calm myself. That dress has sent me into a tizzy and I fear I may never recover."
Jesse bit into the tuna sandwich that Rita had fixed for dinner.
"Iím sorry I didnít do any cooking, Jesse," Rita said as she took her place at the head of the formica table. A paper plate held her own tuna fish sandwich. "Itís just so hot, I thought tuna and potato chips would be nice and light."
"Thatís fine, Mom. This is great."
"You know, Jesse, Iím just so excited about that special show thatís on tonight."
Jesse nodded in agreement. "A real Hollywood movie premiere right on television." He took a gulp of his milk before adding, "Best of all, Amanda Yates is going to be there."
"Itís an exciting night in old Hollywood."
"It will be so neat to see her, especially since her showís been in reruns all summer."
"Jesse, I just adore that girl. Iím so pleased that sheís the one youíve become so attracted to. Thereís something about her that makes me feel good all over."
Jesse gave an enthusiastic nod. After Rita had been watching "The Luanne Sanders Show" for only six months she had felt well enough to return to her waitressing job. Jesse did not know if Rita was aware of the fact that Amanda was the one who had healed her broken heart, but he decided it was best not to mention it. Now, after two complete seasons of the show, Rita was her old self again.
By four oíclock that afternoon Amanda was fully dressed. She was sitting on the living room sofa, enjoying a glass of white wine. Through the open shutters she could see that the Starline tour bus had stopped on the street in front of her house. Amanda was uncomfortable with the fact that her home was now part of the tour of the starsí homes. Strangers the world over now had access to her home address. Who knew what kind of weirdos were out there? Oftentimes strangers just came up and rang the doorbell, wanting to know if she was home. Thank God she had hired Aurora, her housekeeper. The matronly, fifty-two year old Aurora Hernandez was of stocky build and strong as an ox. She also carried a pistol whenever she opened the door to strangers, which she kept out of view behind her apron. "Just in case theyíre crazy," she said. So far she had had no need to reveal it.
Amanda began to rely on her more and more, and treated her more as a surrogate mother. Aurora loved Amanda and watched over her as if she were her own daughter. She was also not at all impressed with the fact that Amanda was a celebrity.
It was unlike Amanda to be dressed and ready so early but she was very nervous about tonight. It was the first time she had ever attended a movie premiere. Amanda tended to avoid the Hollywood scene, turning down most invitations, mostly due to an extreme sense of shyness. She had never felt comfortable in large social gatherings and she would go out of her way to get out of attending any large social function. When she had first become successful in Hollywood she had been bombarded with invitations to parties and guest appearances on talk shows. She had declined almost all of them and eventually people stopped asking. On several occasions Michael had prodded her into accepting, but even he could not make her do anything if she was set against it. Last year she had been nominated for an Emmy award and she did attend, otherwise Luanne would have killed her. When she won the award for best supporting actress, she had been beside herself with joy. The reason she was going to this eveningís premier also had to do with Luanne. Donaldís new film "Light Up The Sky", a love story that took place during the London blitz of World War ll, was being premiered. Donald had produced and directed the movie and said it was his masterpiece.
Amanda looked up as Aurora entered the room. "Miss Yates, Mr. Richards is on the telephone."
"Oh, good. I was just beginning to wonder where he is." Amanda reached for the extension on the end table beside her. "Michael, hi."
"Michael, you sound awful."
"I know. Youíre going to kill me, but this flu has gotten much worse. I was hoping I would start to feel better, but no luck. Iím really sorry to do this to you, but I just canít go with you tonight."
"Oh, Michael." Amandaís heart sank. "Iím sorry, too.
"I was really looking forward to it."
"Iím worried about you. Can I bring you anything?"
"No, honey, you just go and enjoy yourself."
"Michael, Iím not going without you." She could hear him coughing through the receiver.
"Amanda, you have to go. Luanne is counting on you."
"I guess youíre right, Michael, but gosh, Iíll feel so uncomfortable without you."
"I want you to tell me all about it. Iíll watch your arrival on television."
The studio was going all out for this movie. The premier was being televised nationally for a special called "Hollywood Live". Each celebrity was to be interviewed as they entered the theater.
"Michael, Iíll call you as soon as I get home."
Amanda was sorry that Michael was ill, but she could not help but feel annoyed at him for waiting until the last minute to phone her. She wondered if he had done that deliberately, waiting until it was too late for her to find another escort. She felt that Michael was a bit of the jealous type, especially when it came to her friendship with Rick. He was sometimes irritated when she spent time with Rick. After all this time didnít he realize that he could trust her?
A half hour later the white Lincoln Continental Limo pulled into Amandaís driveway. Amanda had specified that it had to be a Lincoln, as she still had a year to go on her contract as the spokesperson for Lincoln Mercury. The Lincoln people had also gifted her with a silver Continental which she rarely drove, preferring her Alfa Romeo. She just was not the Lincoln type.
Amanda stepped out and made her way over to the long elegant car. A tall, good looking, dark haired chauffeur greeted her.
"Good evening, Miss Yates. Iím David, your driver for this evening."
"Good evening, David." She smiled, noticing the reaction she had received from him. It was because of the dress, she knew. Felix had brushed her hair to one side and swept it forward over her shoulder so that her long hair cascaded down the front of her gold dress.
Once seated in the smooth leather seat, she let the matching wrap slide off her shoulders. It was a positively glorious night. A light Santa Ana wind blew off the desert, sweeping away the layer of smog that had cloaked the city of Angels for the last few days.
David eased the whale-sized car out of the driveway. "Do you wish to make any stops before going to the theater, Maíam?" David asked politely.
"No, thanks, David. Iím traveling solo tonight."
"I see. Well, to the theater it is."
Amanda noticed a bottle of Dom Perrignon in the ice bucket in front of her and several champagne flutes in the glass rack. "Oh, what the hell," she mumbled. After a bit of a struggle she managed to pop the cork and pour herself a glass. Amanda slunk back and sipped the bubbly liquid, hoping it would relax her. The thought of showing up tonight on national television without a date did not thrill her.
By the time the car had entered Hollywood Amanda was pouring her second glass of champagne. She already felt much more at ease and promised herself that this would be her last glass. She did not want to fall flat on her face when she exited the car.
"David, youíre just a wonderful driver," she said with a giggle.
He smiled in the rear-view mirror. "Thank you. And youíre a wonderful actress, Miss Yates."
"Thanks, David." She held up her glass in salute. "Are you an actor also?"
"No, Iím a musician. I have a band."
"Really? Neat! Whatís the name of it?"
"Wayward Orphans," Amanda repeated. "I like it, David. It has a certain ring."
"Thanks. Iím the lead singer. We play at all the local clubs around town."
"Howís it going?"
"Weíre close, real close to being signed by a label. In fact, next Saturday weíre doing a show at the Troubadour. A lot of record company people are supposed to show."
"I hope it works out for you."
"Thatís the Chinese Theater in Hollywood." Rita pointed excitedly at the television. "Jesse, you know, where all the famous movie stars put their footprints in wet cement."
"Yup. I remember an episode of "I Love Lucy" where she and Ethel tried to steal John Wayneís footprints." He laughed.
"Oh, I just love that one," Rita nodded. "Can you believe we actually get to see this premiere as itís happening? Why, itís so thrilling. Weíll get to see what the stars are wearing and who theyíre with."
"Is Burt Reynolds going to be there?" Jesse asked.
"The "T.V. Guide" says my Burt is definitely going to be there."
Amandaís limo joined the long line of other limousines parked along the side of the theater on Orchid Avenue. One by one the cars were being directed onto Hollywood Boulevard to the front of the Chinese theater. Each celebrity was being interviewed as they alit from their car and every arrival was being timed so not to overshadow the one ahead.
"Itís going to be quite a wait, Miss Yates." David shut off the engine.
"Thatís okay, David. Iím in no hurry, and please call me Amanda. I feel so old when people refer to me as Miss Yates."
He nodded. "This looks like a big night." David glanced around at the herd of limos, the huge klieg lights, and the several police on horseback. "Half of Hollywood Boulevard is closed off with barricades."
""Well, Iím happy for Donald. This is his first film in almost ten years."
A short time later David started the engine and eased the car forward. A man in a blue suit with an official looking name tag tapped on the window.
"Yes?" David said as he cracked open the window.
"I need to know whoís in the car, so the M.C. can announce it when you pull up."
"Thanks," the man said and moved on.
"Are you nervous, Amanda?"
"Oh, yes. Iíve never been to a premiere before and Iím not thrilled about being without an escort."
"Donít worry. The public loves you. They donít give a hoot if you have a date or not. They just want to see you."
"I would still feel better if my boyfriend was here, but heís got a bad case of the flu."
"Youíll be fine. Youíre about the biggest thing on television these days."
"Oh, I donít know about that," she laughed.
"Well, itís true. Itís you and Farrah Fawcett. Youíre kind of both running neck and neck."
"So they tell me." Amanda always felt embarrassed talking about herself.
"Personally, I think youíre more beautiful than Farrah."
"Thank you, what a lovely compliment."
"Any idea what celebrities are here tonight?."
"From what Luanne tells me, just about everyone. Burt Reynolds, Bette Davis, Clint Eastwood, Barbra Striesand. You name them and theyíre probably here. Afterwards thereís a big party at the Beverly Hilton."
"Mom, look, thereís Robert Redford."
"Oh, my goodness! What a handsome hunk of movie star."
Jesse laughed, delighted at his motherís good humor. Before Elvisís death she had always said funny things that had made him laugh. He was glad to see that her humor had returned. He really owed Amanda a lot. "Wouldnít it be great if we could be there, Mom? Seeing all the stars close up."
"Oh my, Jesse, imagine the excitement. The thrill of being surrounded by all those movie and television people."
Jesse did get a real kick out of seeing all the famous people arrive in fancy limousines and watching the way they offered friendly smiles and waves to the adoring masses of screaming fans. He was very anxious to see Amanda. Seeing her in reruns just was not the same as seeing her fresh each week. Jesse also loved the television commercials she did for Lincoln Mercury. She was so elegant lying on the hood of the cars dressed in a beautiful long gown, that Rita became convinced that there was no other car for her. She had just purchased a brand new Cougar. "If Amanda says itís a great car, then thatís what Iím getting," Rita had stated.
"Jesse, I bought us some Cracker Jacks. Theyíre in the kitchen cupboard if you want to get them."
"Thanks, Mom, Iíll get them in a minute, " replied Jesse. Even his favorite snack could wait until the commercial.
The limousine turned onto Hollywood Boulevard. They were now the the third car in line. Amanda was astonished to see the crowd pressing against the barricades on the opposite side of the street.
"My God, look at all those people. Iíve never seen anything like it."
What amazed her was the way the way crowd was pushing and shoving their way to the front just to look at someone famous. Amanda cracked her window. She heard the M.C. announce the arrival of John Travolta, followed by a thunderous response from the crowd.
David smiled at her. "Itís pretty exciting out there."
She noticed that police were stationed every few feet in front of the barricades in order to keep the crowds behind them. Added security was provided by about a dozen police on horseback riding back and forth, keeping an eagleís eye watch on the masses.
"I just love him," Rita exclaimed as the star of "Saturday Night Fever" appeared on screen. "Thereís just an honest cuteness about him, and those blue eyes are just to die for." Rita and Jesse hung on every word that John Travolta uttered as Doug Jenkins interviewed him.
"Movie stars have quite a life, Jesse, oh my yes, they truly do."
Amanda pulled her wrap tighter around her shoulders as the car pulled up to the red carpet. The entire forecourt of the Chinese Theater was full of eager spectators. A red velvet rope was strung along either side of the red carpet, with barricades set up every few feet beyond the ropes. The throngs of people behind them were so densely packed that they appeared to be one big animal. At the end of the runway was a small platform where the M.C. stood.
According to her instructions Amanda was to walk down the aisle and step up to the platform where Doug Jenkins would interview her for a few minutes. It was all relatively easy. Amanda gazed up at the television cameras and crew perched way up on raised platforms high above the crowd on either side of the jammed courtyard. She felt her excitement building as the car rolled to a stop.
"Iíll be waiting in the parking lot after the premiere."
"Thank you, David. Iíll see you there."
"Good luck, Amanda. Knock Ďem dead!"
"I will..." Her voice trailed off as the black jacketed valet opened the door.
She stepped from the car and heard Doug Jenkinsí voice over the roaring crowd. "Amanda Yates!"
The throngs of people burst into an earsplitting wave of applause and eager cheers. Amanda stood for a few moments next to the car, her adrenaline pumping like mad. She felt an incredible rush as she gave her widest, happiest grin and waved enthusiastically back at the adoring horde of spectators.
"My God, sheís even more gorgeous in the flesh," she heard a woman shout.
"Sheís the most beautiful woman Iíve ever seen."
"Look at that dress!"
"I just love her. They say sheís very nice."
Amanda stepped away from the car to begin her walk down the red carpet. All of a sudden she didnít feel nervous at all, in fact, she felt like she was on top of the world, but after only a few steps Amanda caught sight of someone in the crowd off to her right side. She froze.
As soon as Jesse heard her name he became very still, not wanting to miss the slightest glimpse of her. "Oh, look at that cool limo." Jesse pointed at the screen. "Itís a Lincoln." Jesse watched with his mouth opened as the fans screamed and cheered wildly as Amanda stepped from the car.
"My goodness gracious," Rita cried, "look at that dress!"
Jesse sighed as he ate up the sight of Amanda in her long golden dress, with her luxurious hair cascading over one shoulder. She was in Jesseís eyes a vision of purity.
"Now, Jesse, thatís how a star is supposed to dress." Rita leaned forward on the sofa and watched as Amanda raised her arm over her head to wave at the crowd.
It was her smile that made Jesse feel light headed. It was so warm and sincere, and it seemed to be directed at him. Jesse smiled back.
"Why, Jesse, she seems to be all alone. I thought she had a handsome boyfriend."
"Her acting teacher," Jesse explained, not taking his eyes from the screen. He had seen photos in the magazines of them together. It had made him jealous to think of Amanda with a man. He had voiced his problem to Rita on one occasion and she had said, "Why honey, you have to realize that being a star can be very lonely and even someone as wholesome as your Amanda needs some kind of companionship, someone to make her feel safe. Besides, honey, she has no idea that youíre out here and that you have such strong feelings for her. When you have a star that makes you feel special you have to understand that they have their own life to live. Now, when Elvis married Priscilla I couldnít have been happier. Naturally, I wish heíd married me, but he didnít know about me. So I could only blame myself and be glad that he had found someone to share his stardom with."
Jesse loved hearing the crowd shout her name. It pleased him that so many people loved Amanda. It seemed she brought out the best in everyone, spreading happiness everywhere. He continued to stare as the cameras showed the masses of people crowded into the forecourt of the theater.
"Why, Jesse, the people are just plumb crazy about her."
"Sheís so beautiful, Mom."
"Why, sheís just a vision of loveliness".
When Amanda stepped away from the car, Jesse noticed that suddenly her happy grin disappeared and a look of fright took its place. Her eyes were wide and staring at something in the crowd, but Jesse could not tell what had frightened her.
"Mom, she looks scared."
"Oh, honey, sheís probably just overwhelmed. My goodness, all those people! Iíd be scared too."
Jesse disagreed. He could feel something was wrong. He was so sure of it that the hairs on the back of his neck stood on end. Jesse was so in tuned with Amanda that he could tell there was something there in the masses of people that had scared her, scared her to death.
Standing not more than twenty feet to her right, directly at the front of the crowd, was the crazy woman who had accosted her in the parking garage in Century City. Amanda stood riveted to her place on the red carpet. She no longer heard the shouts of the crowd as they greeted her. Amanda stared directly into the hate filled, haunted eyes of the mad woman. She was dressed in the same cruddy clothing she had worn the day she had come after Amanda. Her hair was still dirty and greasy looking. Amanda felt a chill run down her spine and her smile vanished from her lips. She wanted to run but her feet seemed bolted to the ground. Amanda felt just as alone and frightened as she had that day in the garage. Her eyes wandered down the womanís body. When Amanda saw her assailant pull out a gun from under her shirt, Amanda opened her mouth to scream. It flashed through her mind that this must be a bad dream, and just like in bad dreams, Amandaís scream died in her throat.
Jesseís eyes were pasted to the set as the camera followed the direction of Amandaís frightened stare. It revealed a dirty, frumpy woman with a crazed look on her face.
"Oh, my God," Rita yelled. "That woman has a gun!"
"Nooooooo," Jesse screamed. "Sheís going to kill Amanda!"
Jesse could see that Amanda was too shocked to move and therefore she was unable to save herself. Jesse froze, too, as he watched the woman point the gun directly at Amanda. He could see a smile appear on the womanís lips.
"Why doesnít someone help her?" Rita cried, tears beginning to run down her face.
Her blood was pounding in her ears, so the voice she heard seemed to come from a far off distance... "Hey ,sheís got a gun."
It was too late, though. The gun fired as a man reached up to grab the womanís arms. Amanda shut her eyes and thought, my God, Iím going to die.
Jesse covered his eyes. He couldnít watch. If anything happened to Amanda, heíd kill himself.
When Amanda opened her eyes, she was surprised that she was still alive. She heard a woman scream, "Help me, Iíve been shot!" Amanda turned toward the scream and saw a woman clutching her arm. Blood was spreading down the womanís sleeve, staining her blouse a bright crimson.
Rita knelt on the floor to comfort her son. "There, there, baby," she murmured as she pulled him close and stroked his hair.
"Amandaís alright. Everything is okay, honey."
Relief flooded through Jesse and he returned his gaze to the screen. He was paralyzed by the chaos that played out in front of him. He felt like he was watching a movie instead of a live television event. The small screen was crowded with people pushing and shoving. Screams of terror echoed through the crowd. Jesse felt like screaming too, but he could only watch.
Amanda felt like she was lost in a sea of madness as the spectators turned into a frightened mob. Several people were trying to wrestle the gun from the woman. Amanda heard another gunshot, followed by a scream from another victim of a stray bullet. The mass of people had now become hysterical. They could not be held back. All hell was about to break loose.
Amanda was terrified of being crushed as the crowd closed in around her. She felt someone grab her arm and pull her back towards the limousine. She recognized the valet who had opened the door for her upon her arrival. He practically had to drag her since she was unable to move on her own volition, but he managed to get the car door open and shove her quickly inside. She slid over on the seat to make room for him, but the door slammed shut and Amanda watched as he disappeared into the horde of hysterical spectators.
"Holy shit," David yelled, watching in bewilderment as the mob conveyed everywhere. People were being trampled by the frightened crowd. "This is just like that film, "Day Of The Locusts"."
"Letís get out of here," Amanda yelled, her voice shaking.
"Itís not that I donít want to, but the car is surrounded." No sooner had David spoke when people began climbing on top of the limousine.
"My God, what are they trying to do?" Amanda cried.
"Same thing as we are, trying to get away. The cars are blocking them in, so theyíre climbing over them."
The hysteria had a domino effect. It had started in the forecourt when the gunshots had created pandemonium throughout the crowd. The panicked people moved into the street and sidewalk, climbing on top of cars and trampling anything or anyone who was in the way.
Several people had clamored onto the hood, trunk and roof of the limousine. The roof made a sickening noise, threatening to buckle under the weight. Amanda was afraid that she and David would be crushed before this ordeal was over.
David blew the horn and shouted for people to get off the car, but it did no good. Amanda felt herself shaking from head to foot and her stomach did a double somersault. She glanced out and a scream erupted from her throat as a man pressed his bloodied face up to the car window. He was pleading for help as he was being squashed up against the car.
"Dear God, help us!" Amanda cried. She tried to open the door to help the poor man, but there were too many people pressed against it. The door would not budge.
David eased the car a few inches along the curb, but they soon came to a standstill as the crowd closed in around them.
From her place in the car, Amanda watched in disbelief as one of the platforms holding the television cameras and crew was toppled over by the masses of panic stricken people.
"Whereís Amanda?" Jesse cried out as he brought his face up to the television screen.
"I donít know," Rita said, wide eyed. "Letís pray sheís alright."
Jesse could no longer hold back his tears. He fell back into his motherís embrace. "What if sheís dead?" he sobbed.
As if on cue, the sky over Southern Florida let forth with an ear splitting peal of thunder, immediately followed by a blaze of lightning. The power outage that followed included the Rainesís home. Jesse sat in the dark staring at the black television screen. He knew it was going to be a long night.
Suddenly, more shots rang out, one after the other.
A policeman on horseback announced through his megaphone, "There is no need to panic. Please, everyone just calm down."
Five minutes later David was able to move the car slowly along the street. The voice of the policeman had brought some semblance of sanity to the throngs of people. The forecourt was now empty of spectators and Amanda saw the madwoman who had come to kill her tonight. She was lying on the ground, her battered, bloody body now lifeless. She had been crushed to death by the pandemonium she had created. Amanda sat crying convulsively in the back of the limousine.
David helped Amanda out of the car. Both of them were still badly shaken from the events of the evening.
"Thank you, David," she said as he led her to the front door. Amanda could hardly have maneuvered the short walk on her own. "Please come in and rest for awhile. Youíre in no shape to drive home."
When the front door opened, Aurora bounded down the stairs, tying the belt of her plaid robe as she made her descent. She finished belting the robe as she reached the last step.
"Oh, my dear, I saw the whole thing on television." She leapt off the step and threw her arms around Amanda. "I thought surely you were dead. When I saw that awful woman point the gun at you...." She stepped back to look at Amanda and wiped away the flood of tears that were trailing down her face. "You poor thing. You were just standing there, looking so beautiful. Then that awful woman pointed the gun and everything went crazy. Oh, my baby! Come, Iíll make you a nice hot cup of tea."
Amanda hugged Aurora. "Thanks, Aurora, but I need something a lot stronger." She turned to David. "How about you?"
"Sounds good to me."
Amanda had barely finished introducing Aurora and David to one another before Aurora threw her arms around his neck. "Thank you for saving my baby. I donít know what Iíd do without her. She is my little jewel."
"Sheís very emotional," Amanda whispered as they followed Aurora into the living room.
"How about a scotch?" Aurora offered as Amanda and David collapsed on the sofa.
Aurora stood above them, reached for a Kleenex that was stuffed in the sleeve of her house coat, and blew her nose. "This is the most awful night of my life," she wailed. "That awful woman coming at you like that!" Aurora squeezed in on the sofa between them. "When I saw it on television, I thought you were dead." Then her tears started again. "Thank God you are safe."
Amanda realized if she wanted a drink, she would have to get it herself. "David, how about that scotch?" Amanda said as she moved towards the bar.
"Anything, thanks," he said as he patted Auroraís knee. "Itís okay, everythingís alright."
"I know, but when I think of what could have happened to my Amanda." She looked towards her employer. "Honey pie, could you get me a scotch, too?"
The three of them sat glumly on the sofa in a state of quiet shock, Aurora sobbing softly into her tissue.
When the front door flew open Amanda almost jumped through the roof. Luanne pushed into the room on a cloud of Chanel No. 5, followed by a shaken Donald.
"Thank God youíre alright," Luanne cried as she came towards Amanda with outstretched arms. Amanda stood up and embraced her friend. "If anything had happened to you..." Luanne held back a relieved sob.
"Iím glad that youíre alright," Amanda heard Donald say. She turned around and hugged him. He kissed her on the forehead. The fact that Donald, usually so undemonstrative, was being so tender with her now made Amanda realize how close she had come to tragedy.
"We were already inside the theater when everything went berserk," Donald added.
"It was just terrible," Amanda admitted. "David and I were almost crushed to death in the limo. People were climbing all over it."
Luanne stared at her, shaking her head in sympathy. "Whoís David?"
Amanda introduced David to Donald and Luanne.
"My sweet Amanda was almost killed tonight," Aurora bawled through an outburst of fresh tears.
"There, there, Aurora," Luanne said as she settled beside her.
"Would anyone like a drink?" Amanda asked.
"Do people in Hell want ice water?" Luanne stated. "Just bring the bottle and a couple of glasses."
As Amanda handed Luanne the bottle of scotch, the telephone rang. Amanda picked up the receiver.
"Darling," came Michaelís raspy voice through the receiver. "Are you alright?"
"Yes, just a bit shaken...Oh Michael, it was just awful." Her voice choked with emotion.
"I saw the whole thing on television. It was a living nightmare. I felt so helpless."
"Michael, that was the same woman who accosted me at the shopping mall six months ago."
"Youíre kidding. Well, you wonít have to worry about her anymore. Sheís dead."
They talked a few moments longer. Michael had wanted to come over and comfort her, but Amanda assured him that she was alright and that he should stay in bed.
It wasnít long before the phone rang again and she heard her motherís hysterical voice begging her to come home to Boston where she would be safe.
"Wake up, baby."
Jesse opened his eyes to the bright sunshine that streamed in through the open curtains. Rita was standing next to his bed, fully dressed in pink slacks and a matching blouse. She clutched the newspaper under her arm.
"I went out early and bought the morning paper. Guess what? Amanda is safe. She made it, dear. The whole story is right here."
She sat on the edge of the bed and unfolded the newspaper. Rita read the entire article out loud about how a crazed fan had been obsessed with her. The article went on to say how the woman had been crushed to death by the crowd. Jesse reached for the newspaper and reread the story three times before he was convinced that his Amanda was unharmed.
"Well, it was quite a night in Hollywood," Rita pronounced. "Now, Jesse, come on and get up. Iím making flapjacks."
Jesse bounded out of bed, grateful that Amanda was not dead. He had been on the verge of hysteria last night when the power had failed during the storm. He had hoped to watch the eleven oíclock news for word on Amanda, but they still had not regained electricity. He had finally crawled into bed at three in the morning, still not knowing if she was dead or alive. Rita had been so worried about him that she had sat in the chair next to his bed until he had finally drifted off to sleep.
Today he felt like singing from the rooftops. Amanda had made it. She was safe.
Exactly one week later Jesse crawled out of his bed at two a.m. He slipped into a pair of black Levis and a black tee-shirt. Quietly, he crept into the kitchen to retrieve a carving knife from the drawer. He sneaked out of the house, closing the door softly behind him.
Jesse had been angry with the Harrises ever since Mrs. Harris had upset Rita and called her crazy. They had also said some pretty bad things about Amanda. They had no right to say that she was just an ordinary girl with a good job. There was nothing ordinary about her. Besides being the most beautiful girl on earth, Amanda was magical. She had cured Rita of her depression, and if that was not enough to prove her extraordinary, Amanda had even been able to survive an assassination attempt.
It was time the Harrises paid for their cruelty and their careless remarks.
The street outside was blanketed in darkness, the night air was scented with jasmine. He could hear a dog barking off in the distance. All around him the neighbors slept. Not a single light shone in the windows of the tiny houses. He stepped silently across the driveway into the Harrisís yard, clutching the handle of the knife tightly. Jesse moved softly as a mouse across the grass. He had to do this, not for him so much as for Rita and Amanda. He knew that he was doing the right thing. It was like the time when he had to shut that damn Kitty Lawson up. Of course, tonightís task was far more important then putting a dead cat in Kittyís school locker. He had done that solely for himself. This was for Amanda and it had to be done right.
He chuckled to himself when he thought how he had taken care of Kitty. It had been so easy. He had retrieved a canvas laundry bag from the utility room and rode around the neighborhood on his bicycle until he spotted an orange cat lounging on the roof of a parked car. He had stopped and approached the cat. He petted the fat, lazy cat until it began purring, then picked it up and dropped it into the straw basket that he had balanced on the handlebars of his bike. Once he had the cat inside, he dropped some pieces of tuna from the two open cans he had brought along into the basket. Then he shut the lid and drove his bicycle over the bridge to the Intercoastal Waterway. Once there, he took the cat out of the basket and dropped it into the canvas bag. The big cat hissed and clawed at him, but luckily he had worn heavy gloves that went up to his elbows. When the cat was in the bag he dropped it over the seawall into the water. He held onto it by the rope that was tied around the sack. He could feel the cat struggling like mad inside. It filled him with a sense of power knowing that it was totally at his mercy. The cat had fought until the life had gone out of it. Still, Jesse kept the bag in the water for a while longer just to make sure it was dead.
He had to admit his plan had worked. Kittyís parents withdrew her from school. They had pulled up stakes and moved to Atlanta. Jesse was very pleased that Kitty, the most popular girl in school, had to leave all her friends behind.
The Harrisís backyard was silent. Something brushed against Jesseís head. He jumped back but did not scream; instead he sucked in a big breath of air. He looked up and realized that he had come close to being frightened away by a pair of bermuda shorts that hung from the clothesline. Jesse smiled grimly. The shorts and the clothesline had given him another idea. He took another deep breath. He had to stay calm. He wanted everything to be perfect and he did not want to get too much blood on his clothing.
Rita stood at the kitchen sink, filling the coffeepot from the faucet.
"Good morning, Mom," Jesse said as he entered the kitchen. He went directly to the refrigerator and removed the orange juice.
"Good morning, sweet thing. My goodness, youíre up early, itís just past seven."
"I couldnít sleep," he shrugged.
A piercing scream filled the morning air.
Rita dropped the coffee pot into the sink. "Good heavens, was that Irene?" Her hand went to her heart.
The screams next door continued.
"I wonder what happened." Jesse hoped his tone sounded concerned. He was surprised that the old and frail Mrs. Harris was capable of such a vocal explosion.
Rita was out the door in an instant, her pink frilly robe billowing behind her. Jesse followed on her heels.
"Irene!" Rita hollered as she rounded the corner of the neighboring house. When she saw what made her neighbor cry, Rita stopped dead in her tracks. Never had she seen anything so disgustingly cruel and horrible.
"Oh, dear God in heaven," Rita gasped. "The poor dear creatures." Ritaís eyes took in the horror that had greeted her elderly neighbor moments ago.
About fifteen of Bob Harrisís precious rabbits that he had cared for with pride and affection were hanging by their ears from the clothesline. Their throats had been cut and blotches of dried blood matted the once downey white fur. A bevy of gnats and flies were having a feast on their mutilated bodies.
"Jesse, go home," Rita ordered. "I donít want you back here."
Jesse spotted Ireneís weary figure seated in a chair on her patio, her hands covering her face. The clothes basket she had been carrying lay tipped over on the lawn. Rita went over to comfort her and Jesse went home, feeling justice had been served.
A week later Jesse was not surprised to see a "For Sale" sign on the front lawn of the Harrisís house. They shunned Jesse and Rita after the rabbit incident and Jesse wondered if they suspected him, or if they were just leery of everybody. They had decided to move to Tampa to live near their daughter.
Amanda sat at the small dinette table in the kitchen of the guest house. She accepted a glass of steaming coffee from Rick. "Youíve lived here for a week, Rick, and you havenít used the pool once." She cocked her head and looked at him teasingly. "If you donít know how to swim, Iíd be happy to teach you."
Rick grinned. "Hey, I can dog paddle with the best of them, itís just that I havenít had time. Besides acting class and auditions, Iíve been working extra hours at the restaurant."
Amanda leaned back in her chair, adjusting her white terrycloth robe as she did so. "You know, you really piss me off! I told you that youíre doing me a favor by moving here, so I wish you wouldnít insist on paying rent. You wouldnít have to work all those extra hours if-"
"Amanda, letís not get into this again."
"That awful experience at the premiere scared me so much, but I donít want to surround myself with security guards in my own home. It makes me feel better having you here. Now, if youíd just forget about the stupid rent-"
"Enough, already! Hey, Iím living in a furnished guest house in Beverly Hills and Iím paying the same rent as I did for that shitty apartment in Hollywood. We both know itís a great deal for me. Itís not a lot of money, Amanda, but Iíd feel like a bum if I lived here rent free. Okay?"
Amanda sighed. "Okay. Listen, I know you have to get ready for work, and Michaelís coming over soon, so Iím off." She stood up and kissed Rick on the cheek.
She was almost out the door when Rick stopped her.
"Amanda, itís none of my business, but why didnít you ask Michael to move into the main house with you if youíre afraid to be alone?"
Amanda thought for a moment before answering. "Call it pride, but I donít want to have to ask him, and so far he hasnít mentioned it. I just donít want him thinking Iím some frightened child. Of course he was horrified at the thought that I was almost killed, but he thinks that now that itís over and Iím fine, the whole thing should be forgotten."
Rick placed his hands on Amandaís shoulders. "I donít see anything wrong with you feeling the way you do. You had a very bad experience, Amanda, and itís only natural that it will take time to get over it."
"Thanks. I wish Michael was so understanding."
"You know what I wish for?"
"To become rich and famous and to win an Academy Award?"
Rick looked over Amandaís shoulder to see Michael walking toward the guest house. "No, something more important than that," he sighed. "Iíll tell you later."
"Donít you think it would be more appropriate if you got dressed before going to Rickís?" Michael asked Amanda as they walked through the garden towards the main house.
"I consider this most definitely appropriate," Amanda snapped back. "Itís a calf-length terrycloth robe, and about as alluring as sweatpants!"
Michael could not help but laugh. "Okay, okay, donít bite my head off! Letís not get angry with one another, honey. Iíve got a surprise for you."
He opened the french doors to the dining room and they stepped into the cool house. Michael took Amandaís hand. "Iíve put the present under Auroraís care. I think she put it in the kitchen. Come on."
On the kitchen floor, head cocked at the sound of their voices, sat a German Shepherd puppy wearing a red bow around itís neck that was three times larger than the dog itself.
"Oh, heís adorable!" Amanda sat on the floor and called the puppy. "Come here, boy."
The dog bounded over to Amanda, his paws skidding on the terra-cotta tiles. Amanda laughed at the comical sight. "Oh, Michael, heís so cute!" She scooped the wriggling dog up in her arms, still laughing as he licked her face.
"Weíre going to have to skid-proof this floor or youíre going to have an awful time of it, arenít you baby?" Amanda looked up at Michael. "Does he have a name?"
"No, I thought I would leave that to you."
"Well," she nuzzled her face against the puppyís fur. "How about Fluffy?"
"Amanda, come on," Michael moaned. "Itís not a kitten. Sure, heís cute now, but in a very short time heíll be a fully grown attack dog. How about, um, Wolf or Killer."
Amanda scrutinized the dog for a moment. "I guess youíre right, but not Killer, I prefer Wolf."
She noticed a small black velvet drawstring pouch hanging from the ribbon around the dogís neck. She gave Michael a questioning look.
"Open it," he said softly.
Michael took the dog from Amandaís arms as she undid the ribbon, letting the bag fall in her hand. She opened the pouch and let out a gasp as she withdrew itís contents.
"Oh, Michael, itís beautiful," she said, holding the diamond solitaire ring up to the light.
"So, will you marry me?"
Amanda looked at Michael as he held the squirming puppy, unaware or uncaring of the wet kisses that the dog was bestowing upon him. She had never seen him look so vulnerable. "Oh, yes, Iíd love to marry you," she responded as she wrapped her arms around him. Amanda could feel him let out his breath, as if he had been holding it for a long time.
"I love you so much," he whispered in her ear, and then he found her mouth and without saying a word, Amanda told Michael that she loved him, too.
They were interrupted by a high pitched bark from Wolf.
"I think he approves," laughed Amanda.
Michael set the dog on the floor. "Then this should make him jump for joy," he said as he withdrew two matching wedding bands from his jacket pocket. "Letís get married tonight."
Amanda was speechless for a moment. She had envisioned herself and Michael marrying, but she never dreamed that she would become engaged and married within twenty-four hours.
"Tonight? Are you serious? Iím sorry I said that, darling, of course you are. What about our families and friends? What about a marriage license? I have to be at work on Monday! What will I wear? Oh, God, Iím blabbering!"
"Donít worry, youíll be the most beautiful bride in the world, no matter what youíre wearing," he said, hugging her close. "As for a marriage license and your work schedule, well, todayís Saturday, and I thought we could go to Las Vegas. It takes about ten minutes to get a marriage license there. Weíll get married immediately and be home Sunday night. You know that I would love it if our families could be there, but the more people that know about this, the more chance there is of this turning into a media event."
"Youíve got a point there," Amanda admitted. She smiled apologetically. "Donít think for a moment that Iím getting cold feet, Mr. Richards. Youíve got to admit, though, that this was pretty sudden."
"I thought that when the show goes on hiatus, I could take some time off from my classes and we could have a real honeymoon."
Amanda kissed him on the lips. "I love you and I want to spend the rest of my life with you, but before we sign on the dotted line, give me two hours to get ready, okay? Hey, Iíve got a great idea! Letís charter a jet! Itíll be easier and-"
"Thereís one more thing, Amanda. On the way to the airport we have to stop at your lawyerís office to sign some papers. I called Mark Whitney yesterday and asked him to draw up a prenuptial agreement on your behalf."
Michael hesitated for a moment at the mixture of emotions on Amandaís face, but he went on. "I know that a prenuptial agreement isnít the most romantic thing in the world. I know weíll be together always, but darling, put yourself in my place. I make a decent income, but it doesnít compare with yours. I want to go into this marriage with you knowing, without any doubt, that I love you for you."
Amanda thought for a moment and surprised Michael with a hearty laugh. "I can imagine Markís surprise. Iím sure this sort of thing is a rarity for him."
"Now that you mention it, he did seem to be at a loss for words. I think I even heard the old boy gasp."
Rick loved Sundays. It was the only day of the week he could call his own. He did not have any financial help from his family so Rick had to work long hours to support himself and pay for his acting lessons. Having a day all to himself, just to do nothing but relax, was a rare treat.
Rick knew that he was a good actor, but he had no delusions about the old saying that "talent will win out". At this stage of the game what counted, besides talent, was hard work, persistence, and God help him, luck.
He rolled out of bed and walked to the kitchen. After pouring himself a large glass of orange juice he settled himself on the couch to watch a rerun of "The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show", a Sunday morning ritual which Amanda often teased him about. Most Sunday mornings (when Michael wasnít with her, Rick assumed) Amanda would call Rick at about this time. He hoped that now that he lived in her backyard she would join him for coffee.
Rickís thoughts kept returning to Amanda as he absently watched Natasha and Boris scheme their fiendish plots for power. He couldnít remember exactly when he had fallen in love with Amanda, but he knew it had been for some time now. He had made the usual excuses to himself why he had never admitted to her how he felt, such as lack of money (on his part), uncertain future (on his part),and oh yes, in love with someone else (on her part).
"Face it, Morgan," Rick said aloud, "youíre a coward. And an asshole. And a fool because youíre living on the same property as the girl you love while another guy is probably at this very minute screwing her brains out not fifty yards away from where you sit."
Rick took another swig of juice, looking in the direction of Amandaís house. "Oh, and I left out crazy. You talk to yourself."
He was meeting some friends for a late breakfast at Ben Frankís restaurant on Sunset Boulevard in West Hollywood, so with a weary sigh he pushed all thoughts of Amanda out of his head and proceeded to shower, shave, and dress. He had just finished lacing his tennis shoes when the phone rang. It was his agent, Ron Blackman.
"Rick, Iím glad youíre home."
Rick sat down. It had to be pretty important for Ron to call, on a Sunday, no less. "Morning, Ron. Whatís up?"
"The film you auditioned for the other day, "Upper East Side"? Well, you got the part!"
"Youíre serious? They decided that quickly?"
Ron laughed. "You make it sound like they made a hasty decision. Between you and me, thatís just about the case. No offense, but they had no choice but to make a quick decision. The guy they had originally signed ended up in drug rehabilitation..heroin, so they needed someone in a hurry. Itís a good part for you. Be there Wednesday at 6:00 a.m. sharp, okay!"
"Donít worry, Iíll be there. Thanks, Ron." Rick hung up the phone before he allowed himself a whoop of triumph.
Immediately, his thoughts once again turned to Amanda. He wanted her to be the first to hear the news, but upon seeing Michaelís MG convertible parked in the driveway, he decided it could wait until later.
"So, Mrs. Richards, in exactly one hour weíll have been married one whole day."
Amanda squeezed Michaelís hand. "And they said it wouldnít last!"
She looked at her watch and figured they would be arriving in Los Angeles in about twenty minutes. The steady sound of the jetís engines, combined with the excitement and hectic schedule of the past several hours, made her sleepy.
As she put her head on Michaelís shoulder, she smiled as she remembered the wedding chapel in which she and Michael had exchanged vows. The Cupid Wedding Chapel had cheap wood panelled walls and plastic flowers. A red neon cupid had graced each of the two front windows, and a sign that promised "Happy Marriages Start Here" hung over the entry. It wasnít the picture postcard church that Amanda had envisioned herself getting married in, but it was, well, fun. The minister had commented that it was hard to tell who was more nervous, he, for meeting the famous Amanda Yates, or she, for getting married.
In truth, Amanda had been nervous. It had all been so sudden and impulsive, as if it had been happening to someone else, until Michael had slipped the gold wedding band on her finger. The realization that she had entered into a lifetime commitment hadnít really hit her until that moment, and for the life of her she couldnít remember the next few minutes. It was as if she had sleepwalked through the short ceremony.
Amanda looked up at Michaelís profile as he stared absently through the window of the plane. She decided that although she still had a bit of a dazed feeling, she was not sorry that she had taken this step with Michael. As if reading her thoughts, Michael turned to her and smiled lovingly.
The only thing that dampened her spirits was when she had called her parents in Boston from the bridal suite at Caesars to tell them the news. They hadnít been angry, or even shocked, for they knew that Amanda and Michael had been dating a long while, but Amanda sensed their disappointment at not having been at their only childís wedding.
Amanda sighed and cuddled closer to her new husband.
"Weíre almost home, honey," he said, leaning over to kiss her.
Amanda and Michael disembarked the plane and were met at the airport by a barrage of flashbulbs and microphones.
"Miss Yates, is it true that you were married last night?"
"Amanda, would you and your husband mind posing for just one picture?"
"Hot damn, news travels fast!" Michael joked when he saw the onslaught of media coverage that had pressed in on them.
He felt Amandaís body tremble beside him. She was as white as a ghost.
"Michael, get me out of here," she said softly.
"Honey, it wonít hurt to appease their curiosity a little bit," he said, putting his arms around her.
"Michael, PLEASE get me out of here NOW," Amanda said again, her voice on the edge of hysteria.
Michael, with his arm now more firmly around Amanda, tried to jostle his way through the crowd and was relieved when airport security came to their rescue, clearing a path for them to escape to their waiting limousine.
Once inside the car he turned to Amanda, who was still quite shaken. "Honey, they didnít mean any harm. They just wanted a couple of pictures and a few words with you. Youíve got to relax." Michael massaged her hands, trying to calm her down. "Have fun with it."
Amanda jerked her hands back. "THIS IS NOT FUN! I hate it! When they surrounded me like that, I felt....I felt like I couldnít breathe! Michael, it definitely was not fun!"
With that, Amanda broke down and Michael held and rocked his sobbing wife the whole way home.
Rick rapped on the door of Amandaís house. He had been wanting to tell her his good news since this morning. He had intended on waiting until he heard Michaelís car drive off, but he couldnít wait any longer.
Aurora answered the door, holding a German Shepherd puppy.
"Hello, Mr. Morgan."
"Hi, Aurora. Is Amanda here?"
Auroraís eyebrows shot up in surprise. "You didnít know? She and Michael got married yesterday. In Las Vegas! Isnít that wonderful? Mr. Richards just called from the car phone. They should be here at any moment. Would you like to come in?"
Rick felt like he had been punched in the stomach. "Are you sure she got married?"
"Of course. She told me. She must have been a beautiful bride."
"Yes. Beautiful. Good night, Aurora."
During the short walk back to the guest house, Rick was almost amused that he was trying to consciously figure out what emotion he felt most deeply; jealousy,anger, hurt, sorrow. He thought that just about any of those would do, for a start. Not to mention remorse and despair. "Yeah, despair," he thought. "That pretty much covers it."
Rick had been watching "60 Minutes" before he had gone to Amandaís door and he hadnít bothered to shut it off. The program had just cut to a commercial when Rick entered the guest house. The advertisement just happened to be for "The Luanne Sanders Show" and it featured a beautiful, talented, funny, unmarried Amanda. Rick watched the thirty second spot, then, with a scream that could best be described as primal, he picked up the nineteen-inch television set and heaved it to the floor, where it smashed into several pieces.
"My God, what happened here?" Amanda stared openmouthed at the destroyed television set.
Rick ran a hand through his uncombed hair. "Had a little accident. Want some coffee?"
Amanda surveyed the scene of destruction doubtfully. "Yeah, that would be nice."
She watched as Rick disappeared into the kitchenette. Raising her voice a bit so she could be heard, "Rick, I came over to tell you some good news."
"Great," he called back. "Iíve got some good news myself. Remember that film I auditioned for last week? I got the part."
"Thatís wonderful! Oh, Rick, congratulations!"
Rick looked up to see Amanda standing in the archway of the small kitchen. He knew that if he wasnít so miserable, he would have been overjoyed at the look of happiness that crossed her face upon hearing about his good fortune. "Thanks. Sorry, I interrupted you. You were just going to tell me some good news of your own. So, what is it?"
They locked eyes for a moment until Amanda blurted out, "Rick, whatís with you? You know perfectly well what it is. Aurora told you last night that Michael and I got married."
Rick put down the can of coffee and leaned against the counter, arms folded across his chest. "Oh, that news. Gee, it was so nice hearing about it from the housekeeper."
Amanda lowered her eyes. "Iím sorry. I didnít know myself until Saturday. I was kind of rushed. You could at least try to sound a little happy for me."
"Oh, sorry, Mrs. Richards. Iím just a little tired this morning. You see, last night I was so fucking happy for you and Michael that I did cartwheels all night long."
Tears welled up in Amandaís eyes. "Why are you being so mean?"
Rick forced himself to look Amanda in the eye. "Because you went off and got married and I happen to be in love with you. Howís that for a start?"
Amanda didnít respond, except with an expression of incredulity, so he continued.
"I guess Iím angriest with myself, for being intimidated by Michael. Heís Mister Perfect, for Godís sake! Perfect looks, perfect manners, perfect clothes, heís even got a perfect haircut! I thought that I could never never compete with that." Rick grinned ruefully. "Iím sure that all this self-pitying shit really makes me look like a hero to you, so Iíll stop before I really embarrass myself."
Amanda started to speak but he stopped her.
"Youíve probably figured out that there is no way that I can stay here. Iíve already called my landlord, and my old apartment is still vacant, so Iím moving back in."
Amanda burst into tears and impulsively threw her arms around Rickís neck. "I could kill myself for making things so complicated. Just promise me that weíll still be friends." Rick let out a groan, but Amanda continued. "I know it wonít be the same as before, but I just couldnít bear it it we werenít friends."
Rick smoothed her hair. "Yeah, sure," he said and held her at armís length. "I think weíve both had enough drama for one day. Go home so I can get packed, okay?"
Amanda had just maneuvered her way through the television debris when she turned back to face Rick. "Why didnít you tell me before, you know, that you love me?"
"Besides gutlessness? I guess I always thought there would be plenty of time." He shrugged. "Well, timeís up."
Jesse stared at the photo of Amanda on the cover of "People" magazine. She looked happy and it pleased him. Above the photo, the headline read "Amanda Yates Elopes!"
Instead of feeling jealous, Jesse felt relieved knowing that Amanda would be safe. He gazed at the photo of her handsome husband with his arm protectively around her. Jesse approved of him. He had strong good looks and his love for Amanda was written all over his face. Jesse thought that Amandaís husband, Michael Richards, was as handsome as Amanda was beautiful. A perfect match.
Chapter Twenty One
Michael sat on the canvas chair watching the filming of "Reading, Writing, and Arithmetic". The soundstage was a separate world, a fantasy land where make-believe was created, and Michael loved it.
The television movie was presently being filmed on the lot at Twentieth Century Fox Studios in Los Angeles. The exterior scenes had already been shot in Tennessee. It was Amandaís first dramatic role, that of a depression-era school teacher from New York City who comes to the Smokey Mountains to teach in a one room school house.
Michael leaned forward in his chair as he watched his wife recite her lines to a group of children who were portraying her students. The role was a real departure from the part of Susan that she played in the weekly series. This was a very unglamorous role that required a wide range of emotions and physical endurance. There was one scene where she saves a student from drowning in a river.
Michael was filled with pride as he watched Amandaís every move and nuance. They had been married for almost a year and he still had no regrets. Michael felt that she was the one woman to whom he could always be faithful. Little things she did still warmed his heart, like the way she looked at him across a crowded room, and the warmth and glow that would fill her eyes when he returned the look.
Michael had always had tremendous luck with women. They had always been attracted to his blond good looks, and he had taken full advantage of his handsomeness, sleeping with as many women as possible. Before Amanda came into his life, he never wanted to commit himself and the fact that there were so many women willing to jump into bed with him had made any commitment unnecessary.
He had been just fourteen when he had lost his virginity, seduced by a neighbor who lived in the same Seattle apartment building as his family. She was a thirty-five year old divorcee with two small children. He had innocently helped her carry some groceries up to her fifth floor apartment. She had invited him in for a snack. One thing led to another. Jennifer Sloan had taught him a great deal about how to make love to a woman in the months following their first encounter. They had continued their affair for six months. She had been the one to break it off after having fallen in love with a man she had met at a party. He was a thirty-seven year old millionaire and she had married him almost immediately. Jennifer moved to San Francisco where her new husband owned a department store.
Whenever a girl complimented him on his lovemaking, Michael always silently thanked Jennifer Sloan.
Amanda was different from any girl he had ever known. There was a real goodness to her. She was the type of woman that men wanted to marry, definitely not the one night stand casual affair type. It wasnít long before Michael realized that he wanted to spend the rest of his life with her and now that they were married, Michael could only marvel at his good fortune. Amanda made him feel more secure and loved than he could have imagined.
When "The Luanne Sanders Show" became a hit, Michael worried that Amandaís money and prestige would harm their relationship. Once in a while Michael would feel a twinge of jealousy, but success didnít change Amanda. Michael felt as loved and needed as ever.
Amanda counted on Michael for advice and that was important to him. No one had ever asked his opinion on anything important. Michael thought that that was part of the curse of being born beautiful; people just took you at face value. He felt that there was a prejudice against good looking men, especially if they also happened to be blonde. Everyone just assumed that you werenít very intelligent. Perhaps that was one of the reasons he and Amanda had hit it off so well, Michael thought. She had dealt with much of the same problems.
Michael had encouraged Amanda to take the role of Sara Freemont in order to show off her acting abilities. The television movie had guaranteed high ratings. The American public loved her, and her popularity had increased dramatically since having been almost killed on national television. The fact that she refused to discuss the incident only seemed to increase the publicís fascination with her. It was something the entire world had seen replayed on news reels hundreds of times, yet her feelings on the event were still unknown and the public was dying to find out. Although she hadnít planned it, it had turned out to be a brilliant career strategy. Before the shooting she had been simply a television sensation. Now she was a woman of mystery.
The premiere had had some very adverse affects on his beautiful young wife. She absolutely refused to go out among huge crowds. Never again would she attend a movie premiere or awards show. She was terrified of the public. She hesitated about going anywhere alone and she visibly stiffened whenever she was approached for an autograph.
"Iím always looking over my shoulder," she told Michael on many occasions, "waiting for the next maniac to crawl out from under a rock. I will never feel safe again."
"Alright, thatís a print," Clint Barnes, the director yelled. "Amanda, you were sensational. Alright everyone, letís break for lunch."
Michael stood up as Amanda rushed into his outstretched arms.
"Darling." She pressed her lips against his. "Thanks for coming. Youíre just in time for lunch."
They walked arm in arm across the soundstage to her trailer where she collapsed on the sofa. Michael sat next to her and lifted her legs so they rested on his lap. He leaned over and kissed her lips. She returned the kiss with equal passion.
"Oh, Michael, I could just lay here all day. Iím wiped. Between this movie and doing the series everyday, Iím dead."
"Youíre lucky they agreed to shoot around you, so you can do both."
She took a deep breath. "I know, Iím not complaining. Iím just dead tired and I donít have enough time to spend with my handsome husband."
He smiled. "Well, I do miss you, but itís only for a few more weeks. Once this film is done weíll get back to our old schedules."
She rested her head on his shoulders. "Michael, Iíve been thinking of hiring an assistant for us. You know, someone to run errands and do things so that weíd have more free time. What do you think?"
He kissed the top of her head. "I think itís a great idea."
Two days later Michael sat in Sheldonís office. His agent looked him in the eye.
"Itís not a big part, Michael, but I think youíre perfect for it. The script is wonderful. Youíve only got twelve lines, but itís a key scene."
"I read the script last night. Youíre right, itís great. Can you set up an audition for me?"
"No problem. Iíll call you with all the details."
They shook hands. "Thanks, Sheldon."
"Just hang in there, Michael. One of these days the right part will come along. Itís just timing."
"I hope so."
A few minutes later Michael merged his M.G. into the busy mid-day traffic on Century Park East.
Damn, he had to get a decent part soon. He was twenty eight years old and he hadnít worked in nearly three years. Was he supposed to be thrilled about this shitty little role that Sheldon was sending him up for, in some idiotic movie of the week? Michael wanted a film career. He didnít want to be known as some t.v. actor. He could be as big as Redford. He just needed the right part to launch him. What pissed him off was that he was a damned fine actor. He was sick of wading through shit to get where he deserved to be. Amanda was having fantastic success and raking in thirty thousand dollars an episode for her role on "The Luanne Sanders Show". Her weekly salary equaled what he made in a year teaching acting. He felt like he was living off her. The only thing he paid for was an occasional dinner at a nice restaurant. Of course, Amanda had given him free access to all her money, saying it was theirs, but everytime he touched it he felt like a gigolo. It was nothing that Amanda said or did that made him feel like a loser. She had told him repeatedly that if it hadnít been for him she wouldnít have anything. Still, he wanted to contribute in a bigger way.
He slammed on the brakes just in time to avoid ramming into the back of a Rolls Royce that had stopped at the traffic light. When the light turned green Michael shifted into first and tried to concentrate on his driving. He had to admit he did enjoy teaching. He was thankful that at least he had that outlet, but there was a terrible fear in him that he was going to be an acting coach for the rest of his life. He couldnít let that happen. Making it in films was all that he ever wanted.
Another major blow to his ego was that since his marriage he was becoming known as Mr. Amanda Yates. Angrily, he shifted the car into third gear as he entered Beverly Hills. Almost home. Time to act happy.
Chapter Twenty Two
"1000 North Rexford. This is it," Tess Packard said out loud to herself as she pulled her 1971 Maverick into the driveway. She studied the exterior of the rambling two storey Spanish house. "Not bad. I wouldnít mind working here. Hell, it beats waiting on tables at Dennyís."
Tess had been sent over by the Superb Employment Agency to be interviewed by Amanda Yates. They had informed her that Miss Yates was looking for a personal assistant, someone to run errands, answer mail, take phone calls. Tess had jumped at the chance. She needed to make contacts in Hollywood. Working for a celebrity could lead to all kinds of opportunities to promote herself and her clothing designs. Amanda Yates was perfect. Sheíd be a great guinea pig for Tess to try out some of her original designs. That is, after she got to know her a bit.
This job was ideal for Tess. She had been told that the hours were flexible and that the salary was six hundred a week. Tess got dizzy thinking of the yards and yards of fabric she would be able to purchase with that kind of money.
Amanda came down the stairs, dressed casually in a pair of faded Leviís that were torn on the left knee and a navy blue sweat shirt worn inside out. Her famous hair was pinned haphazardly on top of her head.
Tess took one look at Amanda and thought her to be the most gorgeous creature that had ever lived in this universe. Television didnít do her justice. She noted that Amanda carried a manilla folder in one hand. No doubt it contained Tessís application, which the agency had messengered over earlier that day.
Most of the applicants had been much older than herself and Amanda felt after interviewing them that someone around her own age would be more suited for the job. After all, they would be spending a great deal of time together. Amanda wanted someone who would be more like a friend.
"Hello, you must be Miss Packard. Iím Amanda Yates."
"Itís very nice to meet you, Miss Yates."
Amanda grinned. "Please call me Amanda."
"Thanks, and please call me Tess."
Amanda led Tess into the living room and ushered her to a place on the sofa. Amanda settled on a chair across from her.
"Tess, may I just say I love what your wearing."
Tess was attired in a simple black wool merino dress. Over the dress she wore a salmon colored cashmere robe of the same length. The ensemble was just warm enough for the fall chill that had invaded Los Angeles in the past few days.
"Thank you. I designed it myself."
Amanda studied the girl before her while Tess chatted on about her clothing designs. Fluffy dark hair framed a pretty face with milky white skin and prominent cheekbones that drew attention to saucer sized green eyes. Amanda took an immediate liking to Tessís enthusiasm and confidence.
"Iím going to have some coffee. Would you like anything to drink?
"Coffee sounds lovely."
After Aurora had served them coffee Amanda opened the folder and glanced at Tessís application "I see that youíre from New York."
"Yes, I grew up on Long Island."
Amanda dropped the folder on the coffee table. "Tess, Iíll be honest with you. Iíve never really hired anyone, except for Aurora. Iím not real sure what Iím supposed to ask. Did they tell you anything about the job at the employment agency?"
"That youíre looking for someone to run errands and answer mail. Things like that."
"Well, Amanda, Iíd be great for the job. Iím very organized. Iím punctual and Iím easy going."
Amanda smiled. She liked Tessís straightforward manner.
"I want to be honest with you. Iím not a great typist, but I can get by in a pinch. I do have other interests. Designing clothes is very important to me and itís ultimately what I want to do. I really want to work for you... Iíd be a great assistant, and I promise that no matter what happens Iíd stay for at least a year."
Amanda sipped her coffee. "I see...."
Tess interrupted with a mischievous glint in her eyes. "Plus with a little help from me, youíll have the most fantastic wardrobe in Hollywood."
Amanda laughed loudly. "What more could a girl ask for? When can you start?"
Tess grinned broadly. "Yesterday."
Chapter Twenty Three
Amanda sat in the darkened theater as she watched the scene unfold between "Laura" and "Jim, The Gentleman Caller", from "The Glass Menagerie". She smiled as she remembered back not so long ago (or was it ages ago?) when she and Rick had played the scene in Michaelís class. Only now it was Michael in the role of "Jim" and another actress portrayed "Laura".
Amanda loved it when Michael was involved in a play. Although he loved teaching, she knew he was happiest when he was acting, therefore making him all the easier to live with. As Amanda watched Michaelís performance she felt the familiar pangs of disloyalty that always arose when she saw her husband on stage. Michael was one of the most exciting people to watch when he was teaching others, but that electricity and charisma did not travel with him to theater productions. Michael wasnít a bad actor, Amanda thought, but he was a much, much better teacher.
When the play ended and the house lights came on, Amanda stayed in her seat until most of the audience left. She finally stood up and made her way backstage, where several clusters of people milled around the four actors in the play.
She still had not spotted Michael when she was recognized by several people, all wanting her autograph. Amanda had found over the past year that if the crowd was small and relatively quiet, and there were no flashbulbs or microphones jammed in her face, she could handle the situation without having a panic attack. She was graciously signing the last autograph when she looked up and caught Michaelís eye. The girl who played Laura, not seeing the look exchanged between Michael and Amanda, was standing next to Michael with obvious adoration in her eyes. Although Amanda could not hear her, the girl was talking incessantly, in order, it appeared, to keep his attention.
Amanda excused herself from the group of fans and walked across the room to where Michael stood. Upon seeing her approach, "Laura" scurried away. Amanda couldnít help but smile. "It seems youíve got a lovesick fan on your hands."
"With all your millions of admirers I donít see how you can begrudge me just one."
Although Michael grinned back at her, Amanda didnít like the tone of his voice. She decided to let it drop, though, and gave him a light kiss. "You were good tonight, I enjoyed the play. It seemed like the whole audience agreed with me."
"Amanda, not one of these people will go back to work Monday and say they saw Michael Richards in a local production of "The Glass Menagerie." But I guarantee that everyone of them will mention that they saw you, or sat near you, or met you or got your autograph."
"Whatís gotten into you tonight? It was a good show, you should be in a wonderful mood."
"Thatís just it. It was a good show, so itís a little disheartening when I work my ass off and no one notices, yet all my wife has to do is sit in the audience and people grovel at her feet." Michael walked across the hallway to the dressing room that he shared with the other male actor in the play. Amanda, infuriated, followed him.
"Thatís not fair," she hissed. "Those people were not grovelling, and even if they were, itís hardly my fault. Would you rather I didnít attend your plays, or better yet, maybe I should show up with a bag over my head!"
Michael was silent for a moment. Amanda noticed that he at least had the good grace to appear sheepish. "A paper bag," Michael began, "worn over your head would be criminal. Forgive me?"
Amanda sighed. "Of course I forgive you. But Michael, this is serious. I donít want you to ever be jealous of me. I canít think of anything that would be worse for our relationship."
Michael took Amandaís hand and kissed it. "Youíre right. I was being petty, but Iím not jealous of you. How could I be when Iím so proud of you? I guess itís a terrible thing to know what you want and not being able to have it. Sometimes I wish I was content with just being an acting coach."
"Darling, do you remember how much faith you had in me when you introduced me to Sheldon? For what itís worth, I have every bit as much faith in you."
They were interrupted by a knock on the dressing room door. Michael opened the door to find an attractive, middle-aged woman standing there, smiling rather shyly.
"Mr. Richards? My name is Elaine Davies. Iím sorry to bother you, but this is the third time Iíve seen your play, and I just had to come backstage to tell you how much my husband and I enjoyed your performances."
Michael beamed. "Why, thank you, Mrs. Davies. Let me introduce you to my wife, Amanda Yates."
Amanda held out her hand. "Pleased to meet you, Mrs. Davies. Iím glad you enjoyed the play."
A flicker of recognition registered over the womanís face. "Iíve seen you in the newspapers and magazines. Arenít you a model?"
Amanda smiled and shook her head. "No, Iím an actress. Do you ever watch "The Luanne Sanders Show?"
"Oh, that explains it. Mr. Davies and I never watch television. But Iím sure youíre very good, dear."
Mrs. Davies turned her attention back to Michael. "Before I go, Mr. Richards, could I impose upon you to sign my theater program?"
Mrs. Davies did not notice the warm, amused, almost triumphant glance exchanged between Amanda and Michael as she fished in her purse for a pen.
Chapter Twenty Four
While Amanda maneuvered the Mercedes 450 sl convertible through the narrow, winding roads of Laurel Canyon, Tess consulted the map provided by Amandaís investment broker. Recently, he had acquired for Amanda a good sized parcel of land in the hills overlooking Los Angeles. The gentleman had a keen eye when it came to investments, but until now he had always put Amandaís money into blue chip stocks, shopping malls, and other impersonal interests. Amanda had the notion that since Laurel Canyon was within close driving range, she might as well see the property for herself.
"I think you missed the turn-off," Tess pointed out.
"Well, why didnít you tell me? Youíve got the map, not me," snapped Amanda. She brought the car to a sudden stop, jerked it through a three-point turn, and made their way back to the previously missed turn-off.
"This is it, Grumpy," said Tess drily.
"Sorry, Tess," was all Amanda muttered as she opened the car door and stepped out to view her newly purchased land.
"No problem." Tess leapt from the car and spun around, arms held high. "God, itís gorgeous up here."
"The roads arenít even paved."
Tess eyed her gloomy employer surreptitiously. "Well, it says on the map that theyíre going to start paving in six months."
Amanda made no comment, so Tess went on carefully. "Weíre so high up. Look," she said, pointing through the sparse grouping of eucalyptus trees. "You can see all of Los Angeles from up here. Itíll be beautiful at night with all the lights from the city."
"The smog is gross."
Tess rolled her eyes. "Iíve heard that it makes for a prettier sunset. Listen, Amanda, itís none of my business, but as a friend, Iíve got to ask this; what in the world is wrong with you? You havenít been yourself for the past few days!"
Tess waited patiently for Amanda to respond. In the several months that Tess had worked in the Richards household, she and Amanda had become good friends. Happily, their friendship only enhanced their professional relationship.
With the exception of shared basic moral and ethical values, the two women were quite different. Amanda was tall, cool, and drop dead gorgeous, whereas Tess was tiny, and although very pretty, her looks were more on the exotic side. Amanda was prone to shyness and she expressed her opinions diplomatically. Tess, on the other hand, was extroverted and never afraid to express her viewpoint, oftentimes bluntly.
Their backgrounds were even more distinct. Amanda had enjoyed an idyllic childhood. The only child of well-to-do parents, she was loved, secure and pampered. Tessís girlhood had not been so carefree. The second of five children, her father had died in a fishing boat accident when Tess was seven years old. Tessís mother had supported the family by working two, sometimes three jobs, forcing Tess to care for her three younger siblings. When Tess was fifteen her mother had inherited some money from an elderly aunt and opened her own restaurant, and the whole family had pitched in after school and on weekends. Their hard work had paid off and now it was a thriving business.
"You know," Tess had once remarked to Amanda when they had overheard a couple remark how surprised they were to find a certain movie-star to be so Ďnice and easy goingí, "since Iíve been in Los Angeles, Iíve heard so many people going on and on about how Ďniceí this star is, and how Ďsweetí that one is. Well, Iím getting sick of it! Why the hell wouldnít they be nice? Iím not saying they donít have problems and arenít entitled to their bad days, same as anyone else, but theyíve got great jobs, make gobs of money. They should be nice! Hell, itís the poor shmuck who works fifty or sixty hours of drudgery a week who should be patted on the back when heís a nice guy."
Tess had blushed when she remembered that Amanda was in the former category, but Amanda hadnít been offended. Instead, she laughed and hugged her friend. "Oh, Tess," she said, "youíve got a wonderful way of putting things into perspective!"
Tess walked over to where Amanda stood and repeated her question. "Amanda, whatís wrong?"
Amanda looked through the trees to the city below. "Michaelís having an affair," she said simply.
"Are you sure?"
"No," Amanda admitted. "I donít have any proof, but the signs are all there. Heís distant, for one thing. He makes excuses to take a shower as soon as he comes home and every day he makes a point of telling me what his schedule will be. He never used to do that." She shook her head. "Maybe Iím wrong."
Tess had always subscribed to the theory that if it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then itís probably a duck, but Tess surprised herself and didnít voice her opinion out loud. Instead, she said, "Have you talked to Michael about this?"
Amandaís voice was surprisingly dispassionate, but the expression on her face belied her true feelings. "I keep wanting to, believe me. The problem is he can only answer one of two ways. If he says Ďnoí, I donít know if Iíd believe him. I certainly canít imagine him admitting to fooling around, but if he did say Ďyesí, I donít know if I could bear it."
Amanda finally looked at Tess and smiled sadly. "Itís not exactly what youíd call a win-win situation, is it?"
Tess pursed her lips and thought for a moment. "I think what you have to ask yourself is this: if the answer is Ďyesí, would you leave Michael, or would you give him another chance?"
Amanda scuffed at the loose dirt with the toe of her Gucci boot. "Iíve thought about that. At the risk of sounding like a martyr, yes, Iíd give him another chance. Heís so vulnerable right now. His acting career isnít going anywhere, not to mention that his ego is bruised because I pay all the bills. I know that bothers him. I love him, but what he really craves is adoration. If he is having an affair, I think thatís what heís getting from it."
Tess cleared her throat. "So you think the whole thing stems from his lack of self esteem?"
"Yes. And Iím willing to forgive him. This time. Do you think Iím a fool?"
"No." Tess winced. Oh God, how she hated lying. "Iíve got an idea. Why donít you get him a guest spot on your show."
"Iíve offered in the past. He said he didnít want to ride on my coattails."
"Well, maybe heís changed his mind. Amanda, just think, youíd have a whole week of working together and even though the show wouldnít air for weeks, there would be lots of publicity about it with the two of you being married. I think heíd pretty much have to keep his nose clean." Not to mention another part of his anatomy, Tess thought. "And who knows? Maybe a guest spot would be just the thing for his career."
Amandaís face brightened. "You are a brilliant strategist, Tess Packard." Amanda finally smiled a real smile. She looked around her and said, "You know, it really is pretty up here after all, but Iím getting cold. Since itís Auroraís day off, letís go out for dinner, okay?"
hey were seated in the car when Amanda turned to Tess. "Tess?"
"Thanks for being such a good friend."
"No problem." Tess fervently hoped that one day Michael Richards would meet someone whoíd knock his brains out for doing this to Amanda.
Chapter Twenty Five
Amanda turned her car onto Benedict Canyon. The afternoon sun glistened on her bare arms and a balmy wind swirled her mahogany hair around her head. From the radio Rod Stewart was asking "Do ya think Iím sexy?" Amandaís thoughts werenít on the perfect California weather or the music.
Amandaís mind was on her marriage. Michael was everything to her and there was nothing she wanted more then to spend the rest of her life with him. She felt that her success and his bad career luck was driving a wedge between them.
If Michael was having an affair, she was prepared to take matters into her own hands. Amanda was not going to sit back and watch her marriage disintegrate. No, she would kick and scream, claw and fight to hold onto her husband. She loved him too much and in her heart she knew he loved her.
In many ways she felt guilty about her career. If she put herself in Michaelís shoes it was easy to understand how being married to someone so famous could make any man feel inadequate.
Amanda slowed the car and made the turn into Luanneís drive. She proceeded through the gates and up the long sloping driveway.
Donald and Luanne had recently purchased a home in the canyon, after leasing for the last few years. They decided that they were in California to stay and felt it was the time to take the plunge and purchase "a spread", as Luanne had put it. Amanda shook her head as she gazed up at the house. And quite a spread it was, indeed.
The estate had stood empty for many years and required extensive renovations, but Luanne had declared it home the moment she had laid eyes upon it. The large Italian palazzo, which had been been built for silent screen star, Renee Shaw, sat atop a nine acre hilltop, with terraces jutting out all around it. The house consisted of forty-five rooms and two guest cottages, a pool and a lagoon. Donald jokingly referred to the estate as "Mount Luanne". Amanda smiled to herself, thinking up all the connotations that name embraced.
Amanda drove her car to the front of the house and brought it to an abrupt stop next to Luanneís white Corniche. She stepped from her car and proceeded across the motor court to the front door. The scent of gardenias invaded her nostrils, and Amanda breathed deeply, enjoying the heavy, sweet fragrance.
The massive door flew open before she was able to ring the bell. Before her stood a beaming Luanne, decked out in a bright red caftan. Her lightly tanned skin brought out the color of her sparkling blue eyes.
"Amanda!" Luanne greeted her exuberantly. "You called at just the right time this morning. If Iíd had to spend the entire day by myself in this monstrosity, I would have gone crazy.!"
"Hi, Luanne." Amanda embraced her. "Thanks for letting me impose."
"Impose, ha! Iím here all alone. Donaldís out buying trees or some crap. All the servants have the weekend off, except the gardener." Luanne ushered her in. "I went out and tried to talk to him. Big mistake! He doesnít speak English and I donít speak Japanese. He just kept nodding his head at me while he clipped the hedge. Anyway, I thought we were communicating, kind of building our own little bridge of friendship between East and West. Well, all of a sudden he threw the hedge clippers on the ground and started screaming at me in Japanese. I didnít know what to do, so I gave him a hundred dollars so he wouldnít quit."
Amanda laughed as she pictured Luanne trying to make peace with her irate gardener "Luanne, despite your woes you look great." Amanda saw Luanne almost everyday on the set, but in her own home Luanne looked more relaxed and rested.
Luanne waved away the compliment. "Oh please," she drawled, "Iím just a big blob of cellulite that happens to be able to walk and talk."
"Luanne you havenít got an ounce of fat on you. Youíve got a fantastic figure."
"I know. I just love to maneuver people into showering me with compliments. So, do you want to tour this relic or what?"
"Iíve been dying to see it."
Luanne shrugged. "This place is so Italian I expect to see Leonardo DaVinci everytime I turn around."
Luanne led her through the grand house, much of it still in the process of repair. The workmen were not present on weekends, but ladders, scaffolding, paint cans and drop cloths were left as reminders that they did exist.
"Weíre restoring it to itís original grandeur," Luanne explained as they passed some fallen chunks of plaster in one of the upstairs hallways.
"Itís going to be fantastic," Amanda stated with wide eyed wonder as she took in one ornate room after the next.
"I look at it as one huge tax write-off," sighed Luanne. "This house is Donaldís dream. You know me; Iíd be just as happy living in a Winnebago in a K-Mart parking lot."
Amanda suppressed a smile. She had heard pretty much the same sentiments, reversed, from Donald.
Luanne clapped her hands together. "Well, thatís it. Our casa grande, or whatever is Italian for big house. How about having lunch with me?"
"Iíd love to. This tour has worked up my appetite."
They returned to the kitchen and Luanne rummaged through the refrigerator. "Damn," she muttered, "thereís nothing in here that I can whip together. How about if I order a pizza, you know, with extra cheese and lots of garlic?"
"Sounds like heaven," Amanda said as she plopped onto a stool near the counter.
"Want some wine?" Luanne said as she picked up the telephone.
Luanne hesitated before dialing. "Why does everyone in California drink wine? I miss the beer drinkers in New York. Pizza should be eaten with beer. Iím sorry, itís how I was raised. I canít help it."
"Beerís fine," Amanda smiled.
"Oh great," Luanne squealed and spoke into the phone. "Iíd like two large pizzas with extra cheese and tons, and I mean tons, of garlic. Oh, and throw on a pile of anchovies, too, and some onions. And two six packs of Miller. Please deliver it to 3624 Benedict Canyon."
Amanda felt her stomach lurch.
A while later, they sat on the back terrace, each with a huge pizza in front of them. Amanda picked the anchovies off her pizza and handed them to Luanne, who dropped them on hers.
"Okay, Amanda, tell me what the problem is." Luanne gave her a no nonsense look.
She sighed. "Well, Luanne, I was wondering, and believe me, I hate asking..."
"You can ask me anything, hon."
"Itís Michael. I was hoping that maybe we could use him for a guest spot on the show."
Luanne picked up her bottle of beer and washed down a bit of pizza. "Of course. Iíd love it. You know Iíve asked you several times if heíd like to do the show."
Amanda leaned forward in her chair and nodded. "He always said Ďnoí, but things are really bad for him now. If he would set aside his pride, a guest spot would do him a world of good."
"What makes you think heíll do it now?"
"Well, itís all in how we ask him."
Luanne tilted her head knowingly. "So you want me to ask him."
"If it wouldnít be too much trouble," Amanda said shyly. "He needs to work so badly."
Luanne reached over and placed her hand on Amandaís. She knew that Amanda wasnít telling her everything, She wanted to tell her young friend that it was okay for her to spill her guts, but today she thought it better to say something that would make Amanda feel better. "Hell, weíll make it a two-parter."
Chapter Twenty Six
"You drive, Amanda. Iím exhausted," Michael said, handing her the keys to his Mercedes sedan. It had been a birthday gift from Amanda two years ago.
"No, Michael, you drive."
"No," he replied. They both turned to Tess who was lagging a few steps behind them.
"Tess, you drive," they both said at once, while Michael held out the car keys.
"Come on, you guys," Tess whined. "You know that I donít like to drive. Besides, Michael, if I should put so much as a scratch on your precious car, youíd kill me."
Michael laughed. "Only if you did it on purpose."
"Alright," Tess relented. "I guess if one of us doesnít take charge weíll be here all night."
"Well, I think the scriptís really funny," Amanda said from the back seat as Tess drove across the Paramount lot, where "The Luanne Sanders Show" was taped.
"I like it," Michael agreed. "I think itís going to be a lot of fun."
"Michael, Iím so glad Luanne convinced you to do the show. The partís perfect for you."
"Comedy has never been my forte, so letís hope I can pull it off."
"I should hope so darling, after all, youíre playing someone who falls madly in love with me."
"Well, itís a big stretch," he joked.
Amanda reached over from the backseat and slapped him on the shoulder with her copy of the script. "Youíd better win an Emmy."
The car whizzed through the Paramount gate and Tess merged into the bumper to bumper evening traffic on Melrose Avenue. Tess slammed on the brakes as she approached the traffic light at the intersection of Vine Street. She turned to Michael with a huge grin on her face. "Good brakes."
Michael looked at Amanda. "Honey, have you thought about firing Tess lately?"
"Oh, Michael, you know I canít. Tess is family."
"Now, Michael, donít be rude," Tess said, pretending to be hurt. "Itís just a car. Besides, donít you think Iím more important to you then an automobile?"
"Hey, letís stop somewhere for dinner," Amanda said. "I feel like dining out with my husband and my best friend."
"Sounds good," Tess said as she put a heavy foot on the gas pedal. The car flew across the intersection.
"Youíre pushing it, Tess," Amanda warned. "I swear I smell burning rubber."
"Sorry, a car with this much power is just too tempting."
"Maybe I should drive," Amanda said.
"No, Iíll drive," Michael barked.
"Oh, shut up. Iím driving," Tess stated.
Michael stepped from the shower and dried himself with a fluffy towel. He wiped the steam off the full length mirror and stepped back to gain an overall view of his naked body, then stepped closer again in order to scrutinize his face. He was thirty years old and felt he never looked better. The skin was still tight over his high cheekbones and his blonde hair was still thick and full, blonder then ever from exposure to the California sun. He had always been diligent about keeping himself in shape. He and Amanda went running every morning, followed by several laps in the swimming pool. Michael had built an exercise room out of one of the spare bedrooms, where he worked out three days a week. He felt that God had blessed him with extremely good looks and the least he could do was take care of himself.
Dressed in a white terrycloth robe, Michael stepped into the bedroom and picked up his copy of the script for "The Luanne Sanders Show". He settled himself on the bed and opened the script. He wanted to give this role his all. Of course heíd rather do a film, but the exposure he would receive on two episodes of a top rated television series couldnít be beat; this could be a huge break for him. The added bonus was having the chance to work with his wife. It had always been their dream. They had been rehearsing for three days now and Michael couldnít remember a time when he and Amanda had had so much fun.
Amanda had been after Michael to appear on the show from the start, but his pride had forced him to decline. Now he could only wonder why he had been so stubborn. In the last few days Michael felt closer to Amanda then he ever had since they married. For the first time he felt like her equal. His confidence had returned, and he was able to realize how very much he loved her. The only thing that cast a shadow over his happiness was a feeling of guilt.
Michael had only been unfaithful to Amanda with one other woman, and he could honestly say that it meant nothing. It had been just for sex. Michael had been with Kathy on several occasions over a period of three weeks. They had always met at her apartment in the late afternoon. Kathy was an independent girl and didnít make any demands on him. She just enjoyed going to bed with him. When he told her that he couldnít see her anymore she had just shrugged and kissed him lightly on the lips. "Well, it was fun while it lasted," was all she said.
Kathy was married to her career. She was a struggling actress and very determined to succeed. Michael had met her at an audition for a new Robert Altman film. He had sworn when he broke off with Kathy that he would never be unfaithful to Amanda again. He loved her so much. In retrospect, he knew that it was his own lack of success and his feelings of hopelessness concerning his career and Amandaís stardom that drove him to have an affair, but no matter what, it would never happen again.
He held her in an embrace. She looked lovingly into his eyes.
"Oh Johnathan, I love you so much," she cried.
"Susan...," he whispered.
"Yes?" she asked in eager anticipation.
He sighed. "I noticed youíre getting a pimple right there." He pointed. "Beside your nose."
The audience responded with uproarious laughter. Amanda and Michael were playing out the last scene of their love story on the show and the reaction from the crowd had been wondrous.
Amanda knew that she and Michael had a tremendous electricity between them, and they carried everyone along on a wave of laughter. Michaelís character was that of a charming, though superficial ladiesí man whose only concern was looking perfect. This last scene was where the romance fizzles out.
"That does it. Iíve had it!" She broke the embrace. "I canít take it anymore."
Michael shook his head slowly. "Perhaps a facial would help," he deadpanned.
They continued on for another three minutes, to the scene where she bodily shoves him out of her apartment. When the last scene was played out the audience gave them a standing ovation. Amanda had enjoyed working with her husband more then she could have ever imagined.
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Copyright © 1998 Marden Carroll