Sunday, March 30, 2014

Bachelor Number Five - Chapter Five

Here it is, the latest episode in the adventures of Amanda in Hollywood.  This week, our heroine checks out her new surroundings and then stops in at her local sandwich shop for a cheesesteak and a beef cake.  :-)  Enjoy!

Chapter Five

Hollywood Boulevard and the “Walk of Fame” were only ten minutes by foot from the apartment, according to Lauren.  It was still hard for Amanda to believe that she actually lived here, in Hollywood, California.  It felt instead as though she were living someone else’s life; someone more exciting and courageous than she was.  As she walked up her street, though, she was struck by how unglamorous it all seemed.  Not that there was anything wrong with it, per se.  It just wasn’t what she’d expected.  To be honest, she wasn’t sure what she’d expected, really.  Maybe just that she’d be more impressed.  These residential streets were nothing special.  The apartment buildings were mostly ordinary, at 2-3 stories high and of varying styles.  Some were boxy and plain, others with Spanish tile roofs.  The few single-family homes on the block weren’t so different from the house she’d shared with Piper, but with palm trees in the yards.  Palm trees.  She almost had to stop and stare.
When Amanda turned right and then left onto Highland Avenue it began to feel as though she really was in a big city after all, with four lanes of traffic and the first rows of commercial buildings she’d come across since leaving the apartment.  There was a sandwich shop advertising Philly cheesesteaks.  That looked promising.  She’d be spending some time in this place, she was fairly sure.  Next door was a tattoo parlor, then a medical marijuana dispensary and finally a psychic.  She certainly wasn’t in Quincy anymore.
Amanda came to Sunset Boulevard and waited for the light to change before crossing.  Her hometown had not one single stoplight.  This one was for an intersection with four busy lanes in each direction, just blocks from her home.  Everything about her new reality was going to take getting used to, yet at this point even the things most people would consider mundane provided Amanda with a thrill.  When the light turned green she moved on across the street and past the blocky white buildings of a school.  Students mingled out front or practiced flipping their skateboards into the air.  Hollywood High School, read the sign.  Amanda tried to imagine what it must be like to go to a school like this, where the kids looked so mature and worldly.  Just the thought made her feel small and insecure.  She’d missed so much in her life, but that was all going to change.  It had already started.
When she reached Hollywood Boulevard things really began to get more interesting.  On her left was a souvenir shop full of t-shirts, key chains and refrigerator magnets.  Across the street was a massive four-story shopping mall.  At her feet was the “Walk of Fame.”  Each pink star in the sidewalk was roughly three-feet square, with a brass name and a small brass symbol.  Some had a radio microphone, others a television or an old-fashioned movie camera.  She turned left toward the setting sun and read the names as she went.  Most of them she’d never heard of.  Spade Cooley, Evelyn Rudie, Art Laboe, Elia Kazan.  That last one sounded familiar anyway.  She nearly bumped into a small group of tourists speaking a language she didn’t understand.  French, perhaps?  They gathered around one of the stars to take photos.  Amanda peeked through their legs to read the name.  Claudette Colbert.  A bit of home in a land far away, perhaps.
As she kept walking, Amanda passed two men leaning against a wall in front of a small market.  They wore dirty, ragged clothing and had dirty, ragged beards.  Each one held a hand-lettered cardboard sign.  “Beer Fund,” read the first, with an arrow pointing to an upside-down baseball cap on the ground in front of him.  “Bad advice: Free,” read the other.  “Good advice: One Dollar.”
“Care for some advice there, sweetie?” the man said to Amanda.
“No thanks,” she picked up her pace.
“Bad advice is free!” he shouted after her as she hurried down the sidewalk.  In the mall across the boulevard Amanda saw a broad walkway leading to an open courtyard.  High up at the top, two enormous stone elephants sat on their haunches with their feet in the air, reminiscent she supposed of the movie spectacles of old.  She wondered how many restaurants might be located inside the mall.  One of them must need a reliable waitress, she thought.  Amanda needed a job, and quickly, if she hoped to keep up with her rent.  She’d start her job search in the morning.  For now it was all just so much to take in.  On her left was a building that looked like a temple of some sort, with large Greek columns facing the sidewalk.  In between each column hung a big red banner.  She read them in order.  “JIMMY.  KIMMEL.  LIVE.”  She stopped to stare.  They actually filmed it right here?  Piper would die of envy!  The thought that Amanda could walk back up here sometime and watch the show live and in person was quite a proposition, though at the moment hunger and exhaustion were setting in.  Amanda needed to eat something.  She thought back to the cheesesteak place.  There was no time like the present to give it a try.

As she sat in the sandwich shop sipping a diet soda and waiting for her sandwich to be ready, Amanda couldn’t help but think about her future.  It was why she’d come here to Los Angeles in the first place, but other than a vague notion that she might meet the man of her dreams she had very little idea what that future might actually look like.  Of course she didn’t want to live in Quincy for the rest of her life, but neither did she want to spend it as a waitress.  But what then?  Even if she did meet a man here and get married, she felt like she should have some greater aspirations of her own.  She’d already taken a few courses at an online community college.  Maybe she could transfer the credits and try taking classes at an actual college campus here in LA.  Maybe she could get an actual degree and pursue a career.  In what, she wasn’t sure.  She loved music.  She loved to sing and play guitar.  Perhaps a career in the music business?  She didn’t want to get ahead of herself, but then she’d never get anywhere if she didn’t start making some plans.
Sitting in this cafĂ© all alone with her future so uncertain, Amanda couldn’t help but miss Piper and Lucy and all the regular customers at the diner.  She missed Whiskers and her mom and dad.  Other than Lauren and Darren, whom she’d only just met, Amanda didn’t know another soul in this entire city.  That would take some time.  She’d make new friends, she told herself.  It was far too soon to be melancholy.  Maybe if she still felt this way in a few months, then she could allow herself to succumb to the creeping indulgence of depression.
“Cheesesteak!”  A cashier placed Amanda’s sandwich on a plate with some fries and put it on the counter.
“Thank you!”  Amanda hopped up and hurried over to retrieve it.  She picked up her plate and turned back toward her table as another customer came through the door.  Amanda stopped in place.  It was her new neighbor.  Peter.  Pete.  Petey.  And his cobalt blue eyes, handsome features and perfectly cut brown hair, bangs hanging playfully over one eye.  He’d changed out of his suit and into a blue dress shirt, un-tucked with the sleeves rolled up to his forearms, and blue jeans with brown leather dress shoes.  On his left wrist was a shiny silver watch with a rotating black dial around the bezel.  Amanda had seen pictures in magazines of watches like this one.  She’d never seen one quite like it in person.  Farmers didn’t wear fancy watches, or fancy shoes or fancy anything for that matter.
“Hey neighbor.  Funny bumping into you again,” he said.
“At least it’s only figuratively this time.”
“Too true.  It looks like you’re finding your way around the neighborhood all right.”
“I guess so.  Is this place any good?”
“I come here all the time.  I guess it must be all right.”
“Glad to hear it.”  Amanda moved around Peter and returned to her table, not quite sure why she felt so flustered.  The more she opened her mouth, the more likely she was to sound like a small-town, country bumpkin.   It was better to keep that reality a secret.  Amanda took her seat and picked up her sandwich.  She wanted to take a bite but hesitated.  How could she eat with him watching her?!  She looked back at him with her eyebrows raised.  Peter turned to the counter to place his order.
“Cheesesteak and house-cut fries to go,” he said.
The cashier rang him up and Amanda bit into her sandwich, savoring the taste.  She’d known she was hungry, but this sandwich was indeed divine.  The effect on her was almost immediate as her blood sugar levels rose and her flagging energy began to return.  She took another bite, closing her eyes and breathing in through her nose as she chewed.
“That good, huh?”
When she opened her eyes again, Peter was standing just across the table.  “Mind if I join you while I’m waiting?” he said.
Amanda’s eyes opened wide.  She just wanted to eat, in peace.  As fast as she could get it down.  But what could she say?  “Sure,” she conceded.
Peter pulled out a chair and sat.  “I’m Peter, by the way.  I don’t think we were properly introduced.”
“I’m Amanda.”
“I’m assuming you’re Lauren’s new roommate.”
“Uh, huh.”
“She doesn’t like me much.”
“She didn’t say anything?”
“Well,” Peter shrugged.  “I’ve got nothing against her.  She’s a nice girl.  I’m sure you’ll get along fine.”
“I hope so.  She seems nice.”
“Yeah.  So, are you new to LA, or just the building?”
“New to everything.”
“You’re actress?”
“Who, me?!”
“That’s why people come here, isn’t it?”
“I don’t know why people come here.  Why did you?”
“I grew up here, if you can believe that.  One of the few.”
“Oh?  Did you go to that high school up the street?”
“What, Hollywood High?  No.  My background was a little more pedestrian than that.  I’m a Studio City kid.”
“What’s that?”
“Studio City?  The valley?”
Amanda shrugged.
“The San Fernando Valley.” said Peter.  “You have heard of that, right?”
“Sure, I’ve heard of it,” Amanda said, though it was just like she’d expected.  She couldn’t open her mouth without sounding like a bumpkin.
“It’s over the hills, on the other side.  You know, behind the Hollywood sign?”
“So where are you from?”
“Wow.  Good timing, huh?  You get to see what a California winter is like.”
“You call this winter?”
“My point exactly!”
Amanda smiled but then looked back to her sandwich.  She wished he’d stop asking so many questions.  All she really wanted at the moment was to eat.  She couldn’t resist taking another bite.
“Iowa, huh?” Peter mulled over the concept.  “This place must seem very surreal to you.”
Amanda nodded as she chewed carefully.
“Order’s up!” said the cashier.  He placed a brown paper bag on the counter.
“That’s me.  It was nice talking to you!”  Peter hopped up and retrieved his order.  “See you around.”
“Bye,” Amanda managed.
“Feel free to stop by if you ever need anything.  Apartment number eight.” 
“Thanks, I’ll keep that in mind.”
Peter gave her a smile and a nod and then walked on out the door.  As he moved on down the sidewalk, Amanda wondered what Lauren really had against him.  He certainly seemed nice enough.  Then again, Lauren was an intelligent girl.  She must have had her reasons to dislike him.  Those details were bound to come out before long.  Whatever the situation really was between them, this was a drama better to be avoided.  Amanda would try to steer clear of Petey, despite those cobalt blue eyes.

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Sunday, March 23, 2014

Bachelor Number Five - Chapter Four

It's that time of the week again!  Time for another installment from my forthcoming novel, Bachelor Number Five.  This week, our heroine Amanda makes the big move west!  So without further ado...

Chapter Four

After three days motoring along the lonely highways of Nebraska and Colorado, Utah, Nevada and eastern California, the rush of traffic as Amanda entered the outskirts of Los Angeles made her decidedly uneasy.  She’d never seen so many cars in all of her life.  In fact, she probably saw more cars in one hour on the Los Angeles freeways than she’d ever seen before combined.  When the downtown LA skyline came into view it was hard to keep her eyes on the road.  She’d seen plenty of photos of big cities but nothing prepared her for the awe she felt at seeing for herself these enormous buildings reaching for the heavens.  She wanted to stop her car to get out and stare but there was nowhere to pull over.  When Amanda slowed too much she was met with a chorus of honking horns.  Instead of gawking, it was decidedly best to concentrate on where she was going, easing from the 10 freeway to the 101, the Hollywood Freeway.  Just the name made her pulse race.  Was it really true?  Was she really here?  Had she actually done it?  Seeing the huge white letters of the Hollywood sign on the hills above was as definitive an answer to that question as she could hope for.  Amanda had arrived.  Her new life began today.
Exiting at Santa Monica Boulevard, Amanda drove west, following the directions on her phone through a maze of city streets, right on Highland, left on Fountain, until she came to North Citrus Avenue.  Her street.  She turned right and continued along a residential block, past small apartment buildings and single family homes.  She wanted to roll down her window and shout out to passers-by, “Hello neighbors!  I live here, too!”  Instead she gripped tightly to the steering wheel, slowing to read the street numbers as she moved past.  The neighborhood didn’t seem so bad.  The buildings were well-maintained.  The lawns well taken care of.  These weren’t the mansions of the stars, but they weren’t slums either.  She could live in a place like this.
Amanda saw the sign before she saw the number, arching over a concrete walkway between two wings of the same building.  “Hollywood Sunset Apartments,” it read.  The building itself was two-stories high and colored a faded pink, with a lawn and garden in the middle anchored by a burbling stone fountain.  This was the place.  A stairway toward the back led up to a second-floor veranda.  On the right hand side she spotted what must be here new apartment.  Number seven.  This was it.  Amanda was home.
Driving to the end of the block, Amanda turned right and found a parking spot around the corner.  Any apprehension she’d felt about making this move was overwhelmed by sheer euphoria that she’d actually done it.  She only wondered why she’d waited so long.  For the first time in a very long time, Amanda felt fully alive.  Starting from today, her life was entirely her own.

Walking up the stairs of her new building with a duffel bag slung over one shoulder, Amanda hoped that her new roommate would be home.  She’d spoken with Lauren the night before but Amanda was here an hour earlier than she’d expected to be.  Worst case, she could always wait.  When she got to the top of the stairs she was relieved to see that the door to the apartment was open.  Amanda was a little bit less at ease when she heard strange noises coming from inside.  “Ayyy-yah!  Yah, yah, yah!” a man’s voice shouted.
Amanda eased herself to the doorway and peered around the edge.  “Yah, yah, yah!” said the voice.  Inside the apartment, a man dressed head to toe in a Spiderman outfit kicked, squatted and spun around in karate poses, watching himself in a full-length mirror.  Amanda froze, unsure whether to announce her presence or back away slowly.  She looked to the number on the door just to make sure.  Number seven.  She looked back to the brown leather couch, wooden coffee table and green walls with old-fashioned movie posters hanging on them.  This was the place all right.  Just like the photos.  She was about to clear her throat when a woman about her age walked out from a back hall.  The girl was tall and thin, with long brown hair tied back in a pony-tail.  She wore a brown sweater with blue jeans, and sandals on her feet.
“Oh, it’s you!” The girl stopped in her tracks.  “I didn’t expect you so soon!”
Spiderman stood up straight and turned to face Amanda, his head tilting back in surprise as he peered at her through the fabric of his costume.
“Am I interrupting something?” Amanda asked with some hesitation.
“What?!” said the girl.  “No!  Darren is just being a goofball!  Come on in.”
Amanda took a few steps into the apartment and put her bag on the floor.  Spiderman reached up with one hand and pulled his mask off over his head to reveal the face of a young black man in his early 20’s with short hair and a handsome face.  “Sorry if I frightened you there, I didn’t know anybody was watching.  I’m Darren.”  He reached out a hand.
“It’s nice to meet you, I’m Amanda.”  She shook his hand.  “Are you in a movie or something?”
“Ha, doesn’t he wish!” the girl laughed.  “I’m Lauren.  Welcome to Hollywood.”
“Thanks!” said Amanda, breaking into a broad smile.
“I’ll show you your room.”
Amanda walked through the living room and followed Lauren into the back hall.
“That’s my room on the right,” said Lauren.  “The bathroom is here in between us.  Your room is down there on the left.  The sheets on the bed are clean.”
“Oh, I appreciate that.”  Amanda walked into her new bedroom and dropped her duffel on the floor.  The room was small but clean, with a full-sized bed under a flowery green comforter, a small desk and a chest of drawers.  A hardwood floor was partially covered by a brown rug.  The white walls were bare but for a cork bulletin board hanging above the desk.
“I cleared out a shelf for you in the bathroom!” said Lauren.
 Amanda stepped back into the hall and peeked into the bathroom.  It too was small but clean, with a green rug on the floor and cream-colored tiles on the walls.  Lauren’s makeup, curling iron and hair drier were shoved into a series of shelves built into one wall.  One shelf, on the bottom, was free.
“I made some room for you in the kitchen, too,” said Lauren.  Amanda followed her back through the living room, where Darren was now sitting on the couch and occupied with his phone.  The kitchen was off to one side, connected to the living room by a large doorway.  Lauren opened the refrigerator door.  “You can have the two bottom shelves,” she said with a nod.
“Ok,” said Amanda, taking it all in.
Lauren shut the door and opened a cabinet nearby.  “You can put your other food in here, when you get some.”
“Is there a supermarket nearby?”
“Yeah, there’s a Ralph’s on La Brea.”
“Where is that?”
“You are fresh off the boat, aren’t you?”
“What boat?”
“Give the girl a break,” said Darren.  “It’s not like you’re a native.”
“Look who’s talking,” Lauren replied.
“Hey, at least I come from the same state!”
“Don’t go pulling that card on me.  Phoenix is closer to LA than Oakland.”
“Physically, maybe, but spiritually it’s light years away.”
“Um, if you guys don’t mind, I’m just going to bring up the rest of my things,” said Amanda.
“Knock yourself out,” said Lauren.  “Do you need some help?”
“Sure,” Amanda shrugged.  “That would be great.”
“Let’s go, Spiderman.  The girl needs help.”
Darren rolled his eyes and got to his feet, tossing his phone onto the coffee table.  “Fine, I’ll put my spider strength to the test.”
“None of my things are all that heavy.”
“Good, ‘cause I don’t really have spider strength.  But don’t tell anybody.”
“Your secret is safe with me.”
Amanda followed Darren out the front door with Lauren right behind.  “Do you live in the apartment, too?”  Amanda asked Darren when they got to the stairs.
“Me?!  Nah, I live next door in number six.”
“But you two are?...” Amanda didn’t know if she should come right out and ask.
“A couple?” said Lauren.
“Well, um…” Amanda stammered.  “Yeah.”
“Yes,” Lauren answered.  “We are a couple.  Any other questions?”
The three of them continued down the stairs and out toward the street.  “Just one, for now,” said Amanda.  “Why the Spiderman costume?”
“Spidey here poses with tourists up at the Chinese Theater.  You know, on Hollywood Boulevard?”
“Um, ok,” said Amanda.  “For fun?”
“No, man, not for fun,” said Darren.  “I let them take their picture with me.  If I’m lucky they give me some money.”
“Oh, so that’s kind of like your job?”
“Part-time.  A little extra, you know?”
“Does it pay pretty well?”
“I’ve done a lot better since I switched to Spiderman.  I used to be Lando Calrissien, but no Midwestern tourist wants to give money to a black man.  This way they have no idea.  They think it’s Peter Parker under here!”
“Race had nothing to do with it,” said Lauren.  “Lando Calrissien was just a lame-ass costume.  Nobody even knew who you were supposed to be!”
“Lando Calrissien was an awesome costume!  Everyone knows Lando, come on!  I’m telling you, that wasn’t the problem.  The problem was, not everyone’s as open-minded as you are!”
Lauren shook her head.  “Fine.  I still think Spiderman is just a better costume.”
“My car is over here.”  Amanda led them up the sidewalk.
“It’s not like posing with tourists is all I do,” said Darren.  “I’m an actor.”
“Like everyone else around here,” said Lauren.
“You, too?” Amanda asked.
“Me?  No way.”
“She’s too good for it,” said Darren.
“Come on, that’s not fair.”
“Lauren’s an accountant.”
“Huh,” said Amanda.  She was expecting something more… glamorous.
“I know, it’s boring,” said Lauren.
“I’m sure it’s a great job.”
“I’ve got security anyway, which is more than Spiderman over here can say.”
“This is my car right here,” Amanda motioned.
“That’s all of your stuff?” Lauren looked through the window.
“That’s it.”   Amanda unlocked her car and opened the passenger door.  Despite their lighthearted bickering, she had a good feeling about these two.  They were all going to be good friends, she was sure about it.  She’d travelled two thousand miles to an entirely new environment, but she knew already that she would not be alone.  It was a comforting realization.  Amanda handed a box to Darren.  From the back seat she pulled out a laundry basket full of clean clothes and handed that to Lauren.  In her own arms, Amanda piled a comforter, a pillow and a basket full of soaps, shampoos and other toiletries.  Walking back to the apartment, she could hardly see over the top of her load.
“Do you want me to take those soaps?” said Lauren.   “You can put them on top of this laundry.”
“That’s ok, I got it.”
They made their way back into the complex and started up the stairs, Amanda in the front.  She felt her way with her feet, unable to see the steps ahead of her.  When she was nearly to the top, Amanda heard a man’s voice shout “Look out!” but it was too late for her to react.  Instead she collided headlong into the person, her basket and pillow tumbling to the stairs.  Amanda was left clutching to her comforter as she watched her toiletries roll down one step after another.
“I’m really sorry,” said the man.  “I should have been paying better attention.”
Amanda looked up to find the owner of the voice standing right in front of her, holding his own phone in one hand.  He was handsome.  Shockingly handsome, with deep blue eyes, boyish features and sandy brown hair carefully trimmed.  He wore a charcoal grey suit, white shirt, no tie.  When their eyes met, Amanda’s heart trembled just a little bit. 
“Nice going, Pete!” said Lauren.
“No, it was my fault,” said Amanda.
Pete put his phone in his pocket and moved past before reaching down to pick up the basket and then begin retrieving her items one at a time.  When he’d scrambled for the last of her toiletries, he came back up and rested the basket on top of her comforter.
“You got it?” he asked.
“Yeah, I think so.”
“I really am sorry about that.”  He gave Amanda a quick look up and down, as if doing a quick calculation as to who she was and what she was doing there, though he didn’t bother to ask.  Instead he retrieved his phone from his pocket and then skipped on down the steps and away.
“Who was that?” Amanda asked.
“That was Peter.  He hates it when I call him Pete.  That’s why I call him Pete,” said Lauren.  “Or Petey.  He hate’s that even more.”
“Does he live here?”
“Unfortunately he’s apartment number eight, right next door.”
“I take it you don’t like him much?”
“Not so much.”
Lauren picked up Amanda’s pillow and they continued on up and inside.  “So what’s his problem?” Amanda pressed the issue.
“He’s a party boy,” said Darren.  “Big time clubber.”
 “I just don’t like those skanks he always brings home,” said Lauren.
“What clubs does he go to?” Amanda asked.
“I don’t know.  The clubs where the skanks hang out.”
“Do you ever go to those places?”
“Do I look like a skanky ho to you?”
“No, I guess not,” said Amanda.
“You guess not?”  Lauren seemed defensive.  “Not that I don’t like to have a good time, but no, I don’t go to those places.  I’m more of a House of Blues type of girl.  I like live music, not dressing like a slut to shake my booty to a bunch of electro-pop.”
“Ok, forget I asked,” said Amanda.  Apparently she’d struck a nerve, though she had no idea why.  They moved on into the apartment and dropped off their loads in Amanda’s room before heading back to the car for another load.  When all of her things were inside, Amanda began unpacking, putting some of her clothes in the dresser and hanging the rest on hangers in the closet.  Her few boxes she stacked along the far wall before looking around the room to take stock.  This was home.  She would be comfortable here.  It was missing something, though.  Perhaps if there was something on the walls, maybe that would liven the place up a little.
Amanda opened the desk drawers and looked through them one after another.  They were mostly empty but in one she found some office supplies; paper clips, staple remover and a small pair of scissors.  She took out the scissors and then rummaged through her boxes until she found her magazine.  Amanda flipped through it until she found the picture of Bachelor Number Five standing bare-chested on the beach.  She cut out the photo and then took a tack from her bulletin board, stuck it in the top of the photo and pinned the photo onto the board.  It was a little bit of indulgence, but why not?  If she ever got homesick or lonely, maybe this would remind her of why she’d come so very far away.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Bachelor Number Five - Chapter Three

For those following along on Amanda Perkins' story from my forthcoming new novel, Bachelor Number Five, it's that time of the week again!  Here's the latest installment:

Chapter Three

Her bags were packed and her car loaded.  It was just two weeks since Amanda had made the fateful decision to leave Quincy.  One might consider it an impulsive decision, though in truth it had been brewing in Amanda’s subconscious for quite some time.  It was that little ping in the back of her mind that told her she was not happy here and never would be.  That ping had been swirling around in her brain for years.  How long exactly she could not even say, but it always seemed to hit her at unexpected times.  Her mother, commenting on when Amanda was going to find a man and get married?  Ping!  Her high school friend Molly posting pictures online of her glamorous life in New York?  Ping!  A bare-chested Bachelor Number Five staring back at her from a beach in Los Angeles?  Ping!  Ping!  Ping!!!  That last one probably wasn’t any worse than the rest of them.  It was just the final straw.  It was the one that told her once and for all that it was time for Amanda to go.  Once she’d come to that realization, she wasted no time.
As Amanda stood on the curb with Whiskers in her arms, she couldn’t help but have a few second thoughts.  Maybe Piper was right.  Maybe Amanda had completely lost her mind.  Then again, she knew Piper was all talk.  If anything, she was just jealous.  Besides, there was no turning back now.  Not after Amanda had told everyone she was leaving.  Not after she’d quit her job and sold off all of her belongings that wouldn’t fit into this small car.  Not after she’d arranged to rent a room from a total stranger in a small apartment in Hollywood.  An apartment that cost more than twice as much as a whole house in Quincy.  But still, it was Hollywood!  Just the word itself made her whole being shiver with excitement.  Amanda was going through with this, period.  That didn’t make the prospect of climbing into the passenger seat of her car and driving off down the road any less frightening.
“It’s not too late to change your mind!” said Piper, standing nearby with Lucy and Sheila, Amanda’s mother.
“Shut up, Piper.”
“I’m just saying, none of us will blame you.”
“I’m not going to change my mind.”
“It seems like you’re going to an awful lot of trouble just to stalk number five.”
“I’m not stalking him!”
“Sure, that’s what you say, but we all know the truth, don’t we Lucy?”
“Leave me out of this one!”  Lucy put her hands up as if to fend off the question.
“I’m going out there to stalk number nine, if you must know.  I’m going to marry him and we’re going to have a bunch of beautiful little babies.  We’ll name them Four, Six and Eight.”
“Oh no you don’t!” said Piper.  “Hands off number nine, he’s mine!”
“Mom, can you save me from this?” Amanda pleaded as she rubbed a purring Whiskers on the top of his head.
“I’m afraid you’re on your own,” Sheila shook her head.
“I guess I’ll have to just go then…”
“All right, I can understand abandoning the rest of us, but Whiskers?  How could you?!” said Piper.
“Don’t make it any harder than it already is!” Amanda complained to Piper and then looked Whiskers in the face.  “You take care of yourself, Whiskers.  I’m going to miss you the most.”  She kissed the cat on the nose and then handed him over to Piper, who took him in her arms.
“Oh, come here, Whiskers.  We both know she’ll be back.  Maybe she’ll even bring you a pretty Hollywood kitty.  Wouldn’t that be nice?”
“Piper, you are a goof ball, you know that?”  Amanda almost lost her composure, fighting back her emotions.  Piper’s joking around was the only thing that kept Amanda from crying.
“What?!” said Piper.  “You better get number nine’s number for me out there or I will never forgive you!”
“What about Donny?”
“Forget Donny!  We’re talking number nine here!”  Piper held the cat in one hand and smacked herself in the forehead with the other.
“Ok, I’ll do what I can.”
“You better....”  Piper seemed satisfied.
Amanda turned to her boss.  “Goodbye Lucy.  Thanks for everything, and for coming to see me off.”
“Are you kidding?  You two are the girls I never had.  Of course I’m going to see you off!”  Lucy embraced Amanda in a big hug.
“I appreciate that!” Amanda choked as the air was squeezed out of her.
“And don’t worry; you’ve always got a job here if things don’t work out in LA for you.”
“Thanks, really.”  Released from Lucy’s grasp, Amanda took a deep breath and then turned toward her mother.  “I guess this is it.”
“I always hate goodbyes,” said Sheila.  “Especially as big as this one.”  It was Sheila’s turn to cry as she wiped her eyes on her sleeve before any tears could dare escape.
“Don’t!  You’re going to make me, too!” said Amanda, fighting back the moisture welling in her own eyes.
“I’m sorry,” Sheila sniffled.  “You know your dad wanted to be here as well, to say goodbye himself.”
“I understand, he’s busy.  Give him a hug for me, ok?”
“First I need one for myself.”  Mother and daughter held each other in an embrace.  Amanda felt like a little girl all over again, afraid to leave her mother’s side.  It was only now that the enormity of the changes she was facing became completely clear.  If she thought too much about it she might never bring herself to go.  Instead she thought of number five.  He or someone like him was out there waiting just for her.  It was time to go and find him.  Amanda kissed her mother’s cheek and then forced herself to let go.  “Goodbye mom.”
“I can’t believe you’re actually doing it!” said Piper.
“Don’t try to stop me!”  Amanda opened her car door and climbed in, closing the door behind her with an authoritative thud.  She rolled down the window and turned again toward the three women on the curb.
“Say hi to number five,” said Piper.
“Will do,” Amanda answered.  She turned the ignition and the engine coughed to life.
“Call us from the hotel tonight to let us know you’re ok!” said her mother.
“I will, mom!”
“Drive safe!” said Lucy.
“Ok!”  Amanda forced herself to push on the gas pedal.  It was the first step in a journey that was a long time in coming.  Her car began moving down the street.  In her rearview mirror, Amanda saw the three women waving an enthusiastic farewell.  At the corner she turned left onto Main Street, filled with a mix of liberation and sadness.  It was the thrill of possibility combined with sorrow over everything she was leaving behind.  The only life she’d ever known was finished.  A single tear rolled down her cheek and dropped off the end of her chin.  “I hope this was a good idea,” she said to herself as she moved out of town and continued on down the highway headed west.