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Chapter One


The three lit red candles gave the bedroom a rather romantic feel; probably because the dim light made it hard to notice the overflowing laundry basket, the overcrowded bookshelf, and the collection of decade-old Happy Meal toys scattered on the put-together-wrong-but-still-standing IKEA dresser.

    But there was no romance for eighteen-year-old Rachel Martin at the moment. Or any moment actually. She sat at her desk and stared at the computer screen. Her so-called best friend Jessica sat on the bed twirling an unwoven string from Rachel’s pink animal print bedspread.  Rachel’s mother had picked out that bedspread when Rachel was seven-years-old.  Rachel still slept in a room decorated for a first-grader.

  By just looking at Rachel and Jessica, it was hard to fathom that they were friends.  They looked so different.

  Rachel had long thick dirty blond hair that she never did anything with; well besides sometimes pulling back with a rubber band. Not that she didn't want to be stylish. It's just she wouldn't even know where to begin. And her clothes were equally unimaginative...black baggy pants and a solid colored long sleeve shirt on colder days; denim shorts and a plain colored t-shirt on warm days; jogging shorts and a tank top on hot days.   And there were many hot days in Fort Worth. 

 Rachel wore white or floral underpants and never a bra that matched. Oh, and this was when she actually managed to get dressed. Unless she planned to go somewhere (which besides school was rare) she'd just stay in her pajamas. And nothing cute there. Rachel's pajamas usually consisted of an old polyester/cotton blend t-shirt (they were the softest) and old raggedy gym shorts.

 Jessica Sead always wore bras that matched. Rachel knew because Jessica always made sure to show and/or tell Rachel this. She had platinum blond hair that used to be strawberry blond... always perfectly styled.   She never seemed to wear things twice. And if a style was popular enough for even Rachel to have heard about the fad, Jessica was already purging it from her closet. "That is completely over," she'd say. "To Goodwill you go."


Now Jessica looked like a movie star with her hair held high up in a bun. Pink beaded earrings gave her simple tank top outfit that extra little zing. She looked beautiful, so Rachel avoided looking at her. Instead she concentrated on the computer and silently wished for her friend to disappear. Oh and she could take her candles with her. The strawberry smell was way too sweet...like being attacked by an army of Strawberry Shortcake dolls.

 "Tell me, Rachel. Are you really still a virgin?" Jessica fixed her pink lacy bra strap and then aimed one hundred percent of her cloying attention toward Rachel.

"I don't want to talk about it." Rachel truly meant that. She'd much rather talk about something she excelled at:

1. Her food blog.

2. The poetry contest she won (Okay, maybe that had been eight years ago. But she could still be a little proud. Right?)

3. The French toast she made every Sunday morning.

4. The five pounds she had recently managed to lose (although she had probably gained at least two of those pounds back since, this morning, she ate an extra helping of the above-mentioned French Toast)

5. The family  she had created in Sims 3...now multigenerational. Her original characters now had great-great-great-great grandchildren.

  6. The fact that she had memorized the complete dialogue of every movie (minus one) that David Tirlson had ever been in. And the minus one was not her fault. Beggars at the Feast was listed on the Internet Movie Database, but had never been released...well, as far as Rachel could tell. She had searched her local video store, and frequently searched on eBay    No luck. Yet still, the fact remained. Rachel had memorized all the other movies. All five of them.

But Jessica never found interest in Rachel's accomplishments. If it didn't embarrass or depress Rachel, Jessica seemed to have no desire to discuss it.
   
Jessica leaned over and pulled a strand of Rachel's hair.
   
"Ow!"
   
"I've described all my experiences," Jessica said. "In detail!"
   
Rachel kept her eyes on the computer. Not that there was anything that interesting on the screen.  Just news about Lindsay Lohan "I never asked you to."
   
"You owe me," Jessica said, and she actually sounded dead-serious. "Just tell me. Are you still a virgin?"
   
Rachel ignored Jessica. There was actually something she wanted to do on the computer...something she had wanted to do for a long time.  But that little inner voice always stopped her from doing it.   

There was no way she'd do it with Jessica here.
   
Instead Rachel loaded Sims 3. Maybe this would be the nudge Jessica needed to leave...a subtle hint that the visit needed to come to an end.
   
"You're too addicted to that game," Jessica said. "It's not healthy."
   
Rachel ignored her.
   
"So, are you still a virgin?"
   
Rachel continued to ignore her. She clicked on one of her houses. Saw the Smith family loading up.
   
Jessica loudly cleared her throat and then sighed.
   
Rachel pressed pause and turned around to face Jessica.
   
"What if I am?
   
"Are what?" Jessica tried to act innocent, but it came off more as just looking somewhat dumb. Of course, she still looked stunning, even when looking dumb.
   
"A...." Rachel was too embarrassed to say the word, which was  which was kind of a double embarrassment. Bad enough to BE a virgin, but to be too embarrassed to say the word? Double shame.

 "It's fine. I just want you to be honest."
 
Rachel went back to her game.
   
"Have you ever even kissed a guy?"
   
Rachel didn't answer. She sent little Oscar Smith off to do his Sims homework.

 "You're eighteen," Jessica said, as if Rachel might have a habit of forgetting her own age. "You need to stop living in this fantasy world. All this computer stuff isn't healthy."
   
Rachel ignored her.
  
 "I mean it," Jessica said.
   
"Okay."
   
"Okay?"
   
Rachel found it hard to further ignore her annoyance. "What else am I supposed to say?"
   
"You don't have to get mad at me." Jessica sighed. "Look, I'm leaving. You obviously would rather play with your pretend people than actually have contact with a real human being."

 
Rachel knew she should have stopped Jessica from walking out.  That this would be the right thing to do.  But she didn't.
   
She listened to Jessica's feet pounding on the stairs and then heard the beep of the alarm as she opened and closed the door.
   
Oscar was done with his homework, so she sent him to play with the dollhouse.   Then she saved the game, and quit.  She clicked the Firefox Icon;then inflicted self-punishment by googling David Tirlson. Seeing the five websites dedicated to him, by pathetic teenagers like herself, always depressed Rachel. Not that she wasn't happy for him and the numerous fans he had collected by being so talented. But it made all her fantasies about him seem absolutely delusional. In her fantasies, it was just the two of them. When she saw the websites, she was reminded that it was really he, she, and thousands of other girls. Maybe some guys too. The situation was absolutely hopeless.

 So, why was she even considering what she might be about to do? The whole thing was a complete waste of time.
 
Rachel felt compelled to do it anyway.
   
She clicked on the third site listed on Google, the one right under  IMDb.com and Wikipedia. David Tirlson's Official Website. Not that David personally had much to do with it. It's just he (or probably his agent) had given official endorsement to the site.

 There was a place where fans could write in a message and once in awhile, David would respond...not really to anyone personally. It was more of a general message to everyone. "Hi! I'm doing well! I want to thank all of you for taking the time to write me messages. I wish I could write to all of you personally."
 
Rachel had this ridiculous fantasy where she ended up writing this brilliant message. David notices it for some miraculous reason, and then writes her back. Maybe he somehow finds out her e-mail address and writes to her privately. They meet, fall in love, get married, live happily ever after.

 But the message wouldn't be brilliant. It would just be adequate. Still, Rachel felt she should write it anyway. Even though it wouldn't earn her his love, or bring her any gains, it was just a nice to thing to do. Tell someone you appreciate them.

 Rachel wondered if that made sense, or was she just being foolish?

 Yes, it did make sense. It related to how she felt no one praised her accomplishments. Her parents didn't compliment her food blog. They didn’t even take the time to look at it. No one remembered the poetry contest she had won. No one cared that she sang "Don't Cry for Me Argentina" really well in the shower.

 Rachel wished she had kudos for her talents and accomplishments, but that didn't seem likely to ever happen. So she felt somehow it would be wrong to be a huge fan of someone's work and not ever tell them in someway.

    She went to the message board part of the site and wrote.

Dear Mr. Tirlson;

Hi. I'm not usually one to write fan letters. But I feel compelled to write one.

Two years ago, I saw your movie "The Long Hall." I have seen all your other movies, but this one in particular stood out to me. It was excellent. I think you deserved an Oscar nomination.

   
    Rachel stopped typing. Something didn't sound write. Nothing sounded right. What was she doing, reminding the guy he hadn't received an Oscar nomination. That's something Jessica would do...or Rachel's mom.  They'd find a way to turn, what's supposed to be a compliment, into an insult.

    Rachel deleted her message, word by word, and then punished herself by looking at what other people wrote. One girl's message was written in all pink. I love you, David! Click here. Rachel clicked and found a pink website with a hard-to-read cursive font. In the center of the site, was a video of the girl. She was barely dressed and moving about her bedroom like a stripper.

    Rachel quickly closed the site and tried not to feel nauseated. She hated this girl, and she hated that she shared a passion with this girl. She hated the idea the popped into her head. What if David had clicked on the message? Worse, what if he enjoyed the video and clicked on it multiple times?

   All of this was on her list of things to avoid thinking about. And it was right up there with the fact that David had a serious girlfriend. Cassandra Stevens. They had been dating for three years now. But Rachel cheered herself up by reminding herself that Hollywood relationships almost always failed. Of course that made her feel very guilty and conflicted. If she truly cared about David, shouldn't she want him to be happy? Did she want him brokenhearted?  Okay. Yes.  But quickly recovered in her arms.

  Earth to Rachel.
   
Get out of the fantasy world.
   
Rachel got up from her computer chair and discovered her butt was a bit numb. Maybe Jessica was right...well, a tiny bit right. She should probably cut down her computer time a little bit. Get some exercise.

    With that thought in mind, Rachel then considered doing some stomach crunches or an exercise video. Maybe she'd do that Turbo Jam DVD she had ordered, but never opened. Rachel decided she was not in the mood. She lay on her bed and felt guilty for not having the energy or desire to exercise. She vowed to have less French toast next weekend. Or maybe just stop making French Toast.

    She waited a few moments and then reached under her pillow and took out her Premiere Magazine Cover. David Tirlson stared back at her with his dark hair, blue eyes, and fixed grin. Sometimes, this smile brought her great joy and satisfaction. Right now she just felt pathetic.

    "Rachel!" her mom yelled from downstairs. "Get down here! Dinner's ready!"

Rachel glanced quickly in the mirror before going downstairs. Not that she was vain, but she wanted to prepare herself for her mother's criticisms.

Complexion: No zits. Good.

Hair: A little too long. Prepare for lecture on needed haircut... also maybe a lecture on needing to blow dry hair, so it comes out nice and straight instead of this weird uneven waviness.

Face: No make-up. Potential lecture on wasting the day in room looking like a bum.

Clothes: Still in pajamas. Definite lecture potential there.

   
No time to make changes.   Rachel went down to the kitchen prepared to meet her mother's wrath.

 "Did you clean your room?" This question came as Rachel sat down at the table.
   
Rachel opened her mouth to answer. She actually had cleaned her room.  Well, at least she moved the dirty clothes from the floor to the laundry basket.
   
"Why are you sitting down? I'm your slave? Get up and help me."
   
Rachel stood up and went to the counter. Her mother was stirring a pot of Mac & Cheese...not homemade stuff. Kraft.

 "What do you need help with?" Rachel asked, trying to be sincere. But failing. She knew where this would lead.
   
"I really don't know, Rachel." I already set the table. I made the chicken. I made the mac & cheese. There's not much left for you to do. Like always, I get stuck doing everything myself."

 Rachel almost wanted to laugh, but she knew that would be a death sentence.
   
"We do need a vegetable. Do you want to microwave the peas?"
   
"Sure." Rachel took the bag of peas out of the freezer and stuck the whole bag in a bowl. "I love these steam-in-a-bag things," Rachel tried to make nice chitchat with her mother.

 "They're not as good as fresh," her mom replied. "But I don't have time to do that. Maybe if I got more help around here."
   
Rachel didn't respond. She knew she could stop her mother’s complaints with a reminder that she had made French toast this morning. Delicious French Toast. Homemade French Toast, not from the freezer. But she felt like waiting until she really needed it.   She'd wait until the battle was well under way, then surprise everyone with her weapon.
   
Rachel's dad entered the room and sat down.
   
"Don't you dare sit down," Rachel's mom said. "Get up here and help me."
  
 Rachel's dad stood up dutifully and went over to counter.  "What do you want me to do?"

 "Carry the stuff to the table."
   
Her father picked up the pot of Mac & cheese.
   
"Not like that! Not in the pot, you moron!"
  
 Rachel's dad looked to Rachel for help as if they were allies. She decided to just play along. "A serving bowl," she explained.
  
 Her father stood there like a stone. Perhaps he was still confused.
   
Rachel took the charitable route. "I'll get it." She went to the right place, and got out the right bowl. She scooped in the Kraft stuff and then carried it to the table. She sat down, served herself a small spoonful, ate it, and then decided if she planned to exercise later tonight, it would make it okay for her to have another very small and reasonable scoop. She reached out for the serving spoon.

 "Stop!" Her mother's voice echoed through the kitchen.
   
Rachel blushed and put the spoon down. She had just been caught committing The Martin family Cardinal Sin: eating before everyone had come to the table.
   
"Sorry, Rachel mumbled.
   
Her mom ignored her apology and brought the rest of the food to the table.
  
 Everyone served themselves. Rachel no longer felt deserving of another helping of the mac & cheese. She ate lots of peas instead, hoping her mother wouldn't notice she avoided the chicken. She hated her mother's chicken.
   
No one talked for awhile. There were just sounds of chewing and swallowing.

  Rachel's dad broke the silence. "What are your plans for the summer?" he asked.
 
"I don't know," Rachel said.
   
End of conversation.
   
"Did you have a good time with Jessica?" her mom asked.
   
"Yes," Rachel lied.
   
End of conversation.
   
A long period of silence.
   
"Any plans with Jessica this summer?" Her dad asked.
   
"Nope." Rachel said.
   
More silence.
   
"Why?" Her mom finally said.
   
"She's going to New York."
   
“Oh yes.  I forgot,” Rachel’s mom said.  “For summer classes.”
  
“Yeah,” Rachel said.
   
“That girl is very motivated,” her mother replied.
   
 End of that conversation.
   
"Well, you need to do something," Rachel's mom said after a few moments. "You can't sit in your room all summer. Did you even get dressed today? You need to brush your hair. Put some make-up on. Don't turn yourself into an invalid."
  
 "Okay," Rachel felt this was usually the best way to handle her mother's criticism.
   
"I mean it, Rachel. You can't waste your life like this. You have to do something."
   
"I did do something," Rachel said, and knew her time had come. "Remember? I made breakfast this morning." As she predicted, her mother couldn't come up with a fighting response. Rachel won...that round at least.
   
Silence lasted the rest of the meal.
   
After eating, waiting until everyone else finished eating, and then helping to clear the table, Rachel returned to her bedroom.
 
She considered doing stomach crunches, but decided she ate light enough at dinner. That made up for the extra French Toast.
   
The computer chair beckoned her, but Rachel thought of Jessica's criticism. Maybe she did spend too much time on the computer. She needed to get out. Well, she wasn't in the mood right now. So, instead she just peered outside her window.
   
Wow. Interesting. A street.
   
A car going by.
   
Cool.
   
Rachel closed the shade and went to the computer.


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