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Ebook Romance Stories: “A Light in the Darkness” Chapter 1


ALID Cover New 1-10-2014A Light in the Darkness
The Faith Series, Book 3

by:  Staci Stallings

~*~*~

Never underestimate the power of the light

You hold. It can light not just your way

But also the way of

Another.

 

~*~*~


 

Chapter 1

Holly Jacobs hit the off button on the little silver cell phone and sat back into the deep, black leather seat of the black stretch limo.  Melancholy settled all through her spirit. Although Boston and her friend Rebecca Avery were just across the country, it felt like the moon would be closer.  Rebecca and Emily Vasquez had gotten an apartment together for the summer.  By the time Holly got back, it was likely she’d have to find a new roommate—if she did go back.   That thought pulled her even lower. Her gaze fell to the expansive floorboards at her feet.

She hated leaving Boston for more reasons than she could name.  Of course Boston had its rough patches too, but it was more home than any home she had ever known.  Certainly more home than the one she was getting inexorably closer to right now.

Her gaze drifted out to the hills of green covering Napa Valley, California.  Tears of unwanted frustration threatened, but she beat them back. She hadn’t been here two hours, and already she hated it.  She didn’t belong here.  The thought that she didn’t belong anywhere cut through her spirit like a sharp dagger.

The little phone beeped to life, dragging her away from the thoughts. She glanced down at it.  With a sigh, she touched the on button and lifted it to her ear. “Hi, Mom.”

“Oh, Holly.  Good.  So you’ve landed then?”

There was no pause to let her answer, and she didn’t bother to try. She knew there wouldn’t be one.

“Listen, Luke will be at the mansion when you get here, so please try to make yourself presentable before you get here.  I hope you’re not wearing jeans.  Jeans are so tacky.”

Holly looked down at her butterfly jeans helplessly.  Like there was anything she could do about that now.

“And do not bring in that tattered thing you call a purse either.  Leave it in the car if you have to.  Give it to Rio, the driver. We’ll get it later.”

The sigh said more than she’d been able to so far. “Fine, Mom.  Anything else?”

“Yeah, be sure to put on some lip gloss.  Not lipstick.  Just gloss.  We don’t want Luke to think you are a tramp or anything.”

No, that would be your department.  Her mind had ways of betraying her at the most inopportune moments. But she said nothing.

“How long before you get here?”

Holly’s gaze slid to the vast expanses of emerald beyond. “I don’t know. I don’t really even know where we are.  Everything is just hills of green.”

“Good. Then you can’t be more than 20 minutes out. Freshen up your makeup, and get yourself together.  When you get here, I’ll be waiting upstairs.  Ring the doorbell, and I’ll let Rosa get the door.  That will give you a good entrance.”

“Whatever, Mom.”

“I’ll see you in a few.  Be sure to freshen up.”

“Okay.”  Ten more words, and Holly signed off.  She didn’t want to, but she pulled the little compact out and checked her makeup.  Her hair was a wreck, but then what did she expect after missing a flight and having three layovers in various venues from Boston to California?  All she wanted was to find a nice, soft bed and sleep for a month.

Nonetheless, dutifully, she dotted the dark circles under her eyes with concealer.  Fortunately she had left her small makeup bag in her purse.  Her gaze chanced to her purse, and hurt filled her heart.  It was a Christmas present from Rebecca the previous year.  True, it wasn’t New York stylish, but it meant that someone cared enough to think about her when they didn’t really have to. Yes, transferring to Boston Central was the best decision of her life.  Her mother still didn’t understand why she’d transferred—nor why she’d changed her major four times, but that was to be expected.

Her mother never understood.  Mostly because she was too busy messing up her own life to get terribly involved in the details of her daughter’s. And now, her mother had hooked up with some rich wine grower from California.

Lovely.  Just lovely.  It was about as great as her life always turned out.  She unclipped her long blonde hair from the back of her head and brushed through it.  Thanks to sleeping on floors and in planes, the shoulder length locks hung ugly and flat. There wasn’t much doing to it. She ran her fingers through it once more. It wasn’t great, but it would have to do.

The car slid through the gates of the estate. The two-story Victorian stood stately at the top of the hill, couched in verdant green so lush it was possible it was painted on the ground rather than growing. Holly clutched her purse as her gaze traveled up, up, up the gray and dull rose façade.  The grandeur of the place was overwhelming. Her mother had certainly done it this time.

Holly sighed wearily as her gaze dropped to her lap.  She hadn’t wanted to come.  By some miracle, she had gotten out of it at Spring Break, hoping that by summer this would all be a distant memory.  But summer had shown up before the inevitable, and  now here she was expected once again to be something she truly hated. More shows to put on to impress everyone so they didn’t get thrown out.  More being someone she didn’t even want to know.  More hearing from her mother how every single thing she did in life was wrong.

Joy. Joy.  This summer should be the best one yet.

*~*~*

“Hey, look.” Timothy Delgado stopped his work to gaze up at the looming gray mansion which looked down on the little garden work shop from the hill above.  “The ice princess has arrived.”

Gabriel Cabrales glanced up from his work on the lawn mower that was doing anything but cooperating.  Mowing the lawn. It had sounded so easy three hours ago. He beat the edge of the mower with the hammer to dislodge the debris from underneath. “You ought to go up there and introduce yourself.  I’m sure she’d love to meet you.”

“Yeah, kinda like her mother, the Wicked Witch of the West.”  Timothy twisted a wrench around his finger—the motor he was supposed to be fixing forgotten.  It was another of the chores Gabriel should have finished last week, and he would have if his father hadn’t fallen out of line three weeks before.  Ever since the heart attack had sidelined his dad, Gabriel had taken over as foreman of the grounds crew.  There were only three of them now, which did nothing to make the job easier. Nonetheless, foreman was a job he didn’t take lightly.

The clanging of the hammer on metal shook right through him. Still he hit it all the harder. The job, normally manageable, had morphed in the last two months into the worst job on the planet.  It started when the Ice Queen showed up, and it had gone down hill from there. In fact, he was sure his father’s heart attack could be directly attributable to her arrival.

“Well, lookie what we have here.” Timothy leaned on the door of the work house which was shrouded by the vast trees towering above them.

Gabriel was positive Mr. Teracini had no idea the house could be seen so plainly from here.  If he did, he would surely have constructed a concrete barrier to keep them out in the past four years since he had become the owner.

Timothy straightened, his eyes growing wide. “Wow.  She may be an ice princess, but she sure is easy on the eyes.”

Wiping the grease and dirt from his hands, Gabriel joined his friend at the door.  Although they were more than a 150 yards away, the sight whipped his breath from him.  Clothed in a pure white flowing top, fitted and then flared jeans, the ice princess brushed the sun-kissed blonde hair from her angelic face.  Of course she was beautiful.  You had to be to fit in up there.

Disgust drained through him.  “Come on, Delgado.  Since this is as close as you’ll ever get to her, you might as well get some work done while you gawk.”

However, Timothy didn’t move even as Gabriel went back to the mower.

“They say she’s a debutant from Boston.  I bet she has a boyfriend.  You know one of those jerks who will kick dirt in your face just to show you he can.”

“Like it matters.” Gabriel hit the mower with a clang, and a chunk of dirt fell to the ground underneath. “Girls like that won’t give guys like us a second look—if they bother to give us a first look.”  Exasperation over all the work they had to do and that he was the only one actually working overtook him. “Tim!  That motor ain’t going to fix itself you know.”

“Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.”  Timothy shook his head, but his gaze never left the blonde up the hill. “She sure is pretty.”

“Well, you’re going to be pretty broke if you don’t get to work.  I’ll personally tell Mr. Teracini to dock you for looking at his new stepdaughter when you should be working.”

Timothy pushed away from the door.  “Oh, boo-hoo.  Why do you always have to be so work happy?”

“Because being work happy is the only way I’m ever going to graduate from being out here with the lawn mowers and you guys to being up there.”  Gabriel nodded toward the mansion.

Tim’s laugh was sardonic. “You are such a dreamer.  Gabriel and his dreams of owning the place one day.” Timothy bowed low. “It’s such an honor to be working with the future owner of Teracini Winery. Hey, Gabe, when you own the place, can I say I knew you when?”

The taunts crawled through Gabe’s gut.  They didn’t believe him, but someday, he would be up there, on the top of that hill, in that mansion.  He would show them all.

*~*~*

“Ms. Linda, Miss Holly has arrived,” Rose, the middle-aged Hispanic housekeeper, called up the steps.

Holly stood awkwardly in the entryway, fighting not to fidget.  The stairs curled three steps one way, banked another six steps at an angle to the first ones and then disappeared up the opposite direction to the unseen floor above.  The mahogany hardwood floor at her feet shown so brilliantly, the sun made it resemble a mirror.  In the center of the entry a little table stood on a rose and cream circle rug.  Topped with a white vase of flowers, the table shown with the same glow as the rest of the room.

“Holly, Darling.”  Her mother swept down the stairs, floating more than walking.  Dressed in a white silk pantsuit with white gauze trailing from her shoulder, she looked like a 40’s movie star making her grand entrance.  “I’m so happy you made it.”

That should’ve been obvious.  Holly shifted feet, not wanting to break her mother’s grand entrance but embarrassed by it just the same.  “Hi, Mom.”

Her mother slid up to her, kissed first one cheek then the other. However, before she let her go, she whispered, “Call me ‘mother.’ It sounds better.”

“Oh.”  The gasp was involuntary. Holly had to shake out of the shock to get more out.  “How are you Mother?”

“Splendid.  Come, let’s sit in the parlor.”  Her mother linked her arm through Holly’s and turned her. “Rose, would you please tell Luke we’re in the sitting room?”

Rose bowed slightly. “Yes, Ma’am.”

Linda breathed in the statement. “Ma’am.” She ducked her head secretively to Holly. “Isn’t it wonderful?  Oh, darling.  I’ve fixed us for real this time. I mean look at this place. Isn’t it gorgeous? Oh, and look at the ring he gave me.”  She held out her hand upon which sparkled an oval rock.  “Isn’t it fabulous?”

There were so many questions Holly wanted to ask.  She started with the most obvious one.  “What happened with you and Dan?”

Horror coursed through her mother’s features. “Dan?  What does he have to do with this?”

“Hello.  You were married to him.  Remember?”

Her mother waved a French manicured hand at her dismissively. “He was a rung I outgrew.”

The sitting room featured a fireplace, more mahogany furniture, and full rose-colored carpeting.  They hadn’t made it to the wine-sheen couch when there was a noise behind them.  The transformation of her mother’s turning was truly difficult to comprehend. She almost literally became a different person.

“Oh, Luke, darling. I’m so glad you could tear yourself away for a few minutes.”  She spun Holly with her and presented her.  “This is my beautiful daughter Holly Marie.”

Never, not one single time had Holly ever felt so much like a trophy.

“Well, Holly, it’s very nice to meet you.” Luke, a tall, handsome, dark-haired man in his early fifties bowed gallantly, taking her hand with him.  He kissed it, completely grossing her out.  When he straightened and let her go, she had to force herself not to wipe his kiss off her hand.  “Please, please.  Have a seat.”

Holly followed them to the little enclave and sat in the wing-backed chair.  Luke and her mother sat right next to each other on the couch, and she tilted her gaze downward at the thought of Dan. How could her mother shift gears so quickly, seemingly never so much as looking back?

“So, tell me about school,” Luke said, laying his hand on her mother’s.  The gesture made Holly sick, and his thick Italian accent wasn’t helping.  He sounded as pompous and full of himself as he looked.

“Oh, I’m out for the summer.” She nodded for no real reason.  The smile hurt. “Summer break.”  The nodding was getting annoying even to her.  She looked around. “Nice house.”

“Why thank you.  It came with the estate when I moved from Italy.”

The comment gave her the opening to ask the question she’d been thinking since he’d first walked in.  “So you’re not American then?”

“Holly!” Her mother’s sharp rebuke stabbed into her.

“No, no. It’s okay, Linda,” Luke said.  “I have done business in the States for many years.  In fact I’d been looking for a winery to buy for almost ten years.  When this one came available, I jumped on it.  I’m now a dual-citizen—Italy and the United States.”

How nice for you. Holly fought to restrain the words so they wouldn’t find the air.  Her foot bounced as she searched for something else to say, but nothing was coming.

“Did you have a good trip?” Luke asked.

The look her mother turned on him yanked sarcasm from her.  The only reason Linda was in the room was to show off her daughter to her fiancé and her fiancé to her daughter.  The pretense was stifling.

“Oh, didn’t mom tell you?” Holly caught the look her mother shot her, but she continued just the same. “I missed the connection in Chicago, so I had to go through Dallas and then Albuquerque.  That’s why I’m such a mess.”

Luke’s smile was hardly condemning. “You are anything but a mess, my dear.  But you must be exhausted.  Did Rio bring your bags in?”

“They’re at the front door.”  Holly stood, and the two of them followed.

The nod Luke gave her held hardly any real movement. “I’ll call Yuri. He can take them up.”

Her mother raised her eyes to make sure Holly was suitably impressed.  However, Holly’s head was starting to send nausea signals to her stomach.  She wasn’t at all sure if it was because she was hungry, tired, or just sick of life.

Luke called for the maid who appeared almost immediately. “Rosa, will you call Yuri to take Holly’s bags up to the first guest room?” Luke turned to her as Rosa bowed and departed.  “You will have a full bath, and a full suite to yourself.  Enjoy.  And if you need anything, please feel free to ask.”

How about a bag to throw up in?  However, she simply nodded.  He bowed as it seemed they all were wont to do and strode off down the hallway.  The moment he was out of sight, her mother linked arms with her and squealed in a whisper.

“Isn’t he dreamy?  Ugh.  I knew the first time I saw him this was going to work.”

Holly removed her arm from her mother’s.  “I’m shot, Mom.  Can we talk about this later?”

With her usual flair, her mother looked at once frustrated and hurt.

It was a pattern Holly had learned long before. “No, Mom.  We’ll talk. I promise.” She put her fingers into her hair which felt like a dry weed.  “I’m just a mess right now.”

The shoulders slumped. “Fine.”

*~*~*

“So, how is it?” Rebecca asked over the phone.

Holly collapsed on the yellow daisy bed and sighed.  Even the warm bath in the claw-foot bathtub hadn’t washed away the melancholy. “Wonderful.  Isn’t it supposed to be wonderful?  He’s rich.  Mom’s in love.  What’s not wonderful?”

Rebecca paused, clearly searching for something to say. “Did you talk to her about the job?”

“Huh.  She was too busy showing off.”  Holly rolled to her stomach and twined her feet behind her.  “Man, I wish I was back in Boston with you guys.”

“You and me both.  We’ll be praying for you, okay?  Don’t let her get you down.  This is your life. Remember?  You get to choose now.”

If only it was that easy.

“Miss Holly.”  The knock on her door brought her full up.  “Dinner is being served.”

Holly spun to sitting in one motion. “Oops.  Gotta go.  Tell everyone hi for me.”

“Will do.  And Holly, we’ll be praying.”

“Thanks.” She clicked the off button and let the phone drop to the bed.  She was going to need more than prayers.  Pushing up off the four poster bed, she traipsed to the door and down the stairs.  At the entryway she listened and followed the noises to the formal dining room.  Clearly the mahogany thing was a staple of this house. The mahogany furniture in the dining room was set off by celery green walls and gold decorations.

“Holly!  Oh, my.” Her mother jumped up from the table in horror. In seconds she shoved Holly into the hallway.  “What are you thinking?  This isn’t proper attire for dinner.”

The proprietary tornado hit her so fast, she was taken totally off guard.  She looked down at her clothes which were nothing out of the ordinary.  Her nicest jeans and a fitted, purple top.  It wasn’t like it was Las Vegas showroom material.  “Proper…?”

Her mother leaned in menacingly.  “First of all, you’re late and now you show up looking like trailer trash.  What are you trying to do—ruin everything?”

“Linda?” Luke called from the dining room.

“Just a moment, Darling.”  In hushed but urgent tones she targeted Holly. “Don’t you have anything but jeans and T-shirts?”

“I…”

“You know what I mean.  Now get up there and change, and do not let me see you in those again. You hear me?”

Beaten and defeated, Holly’s head fell. “Yeah.”

Her mother squared her shoulders and shook back her hair-sprayed stiff light brunette hair. “The answer is, ‘Yes, Ma’am.’”

What could she say as her shoulders slumped forward?  “Yes, Ma’am.”

*~*~*

It was after ten when Gabriel pulled out of the front gate.  The mowing was done by no small miracle.  He shifted in the seat of the old, beaten up brown and gold Chevrolet pickup.  His mind slid down the list of things to do until exhaustion took over even that. He let out a breath and ran his hand from his forehead to his chin.

His curly black hair was caked with dirt and grime.  No wonder Timothy thought he was crazy.  But Timothy didn’t know—not all of it anyway.  As headlights went the other direction down the winding road, Gabriel fought to settle his surging spirit.  It was crazy to tell them the things he knew deep inside, about the signs he’d received, about the things he had read.  They wouldn’t understand.  Worse, they would think he was insane.  Sometimes he wondered if he was.  How else could anyone explain the things he saw, the things he now understood almost as an instinct?

The pickup chugged into the driveway of the little house, and Gabe killed the engine.  He slid out and made it all the way to the sink just inside the back door when he heard the shuffling.

“Gabriel, I thought you would be home hours ago.”  His mother, a woman well into her sixties, hunched by the work load she had carried her entire life, appeared in the doorway.  “Your supper is cold.”

Gabe grabbed the towel to dry his hands. “It’s okay, Mom.  I can heat it up.”  In very few steps he was at the microwave.  That was one thing about a small house, there was only a modicum of stress getting from one room to the next.  “Is Dad in bed already?”

He popped open the microwave and shoved the plate into it. Beep went the button.

“He’s supposed to go back next week, you know.”

“Yeah, I know.”

His mother spun her arms over themselves.  “Do you think that’s a good idea?”

The whirring of the microwave gave way to another beep, and he took the food out.  Without bothering to move more than to get a fork, he started eating.  “Do you think it’s a good idea?”

She sighed.  “You’ve seen him.  He can barely get from the chair to the kitchen. How’s he supposed to run a whole operation?”

It was a good question, and in it he heard the unspoken plea.  “Well, if he needs more time, I could talk to Mr. Teracini.  We could probably handle it a while longer.”

This time she shook her head, and Gabriel was starting comprehend what she wasn’t saying.

“He’s just so weak, Gabriel.  Not like he used to be.”  She paused, soft dreaming touched her voice. “No, not like he used to be.”  The dream snapped, and she looked up. “He’ll be 71 next month, you know.  71.”

Gabe tried to push the thoughts of his parents’ age away as much as possible.  He was their surprise child, their one and only, conceived long after they had stopped trying because it was declared hopeless by every doctor they’d gone to.  That’s why they’d named him Gabriel because Gabriel was the angel who had brought the good news of a child not only to Mary but to Elizabeth as well.

It was a story he had memorized.  One that had always made him feel special, hand-picked, hand-sent.  Yet now the lonely years ahead stared him in the face.  At 24, he was hardly more than a teenager.  The thought of losing one or both of his parents frightened him in ways that few things did, and he spent a good deal of energy trying not to think about it.

But there were times, like this one, that denial was not an option.

“Well, what’s the money situation if he does quit?” Somehow that question catapulted him into full-fledged adulthood.

Her faded green eyes, so much like his until age and wear had taken their toll, fell closed.  “It’s not great.  We’ve got some social security we can count on, but it’s not much.  Of course the house is ours, but… well…”  She shrugged. “I guess we’re lucky to have made it this long, but how are we going to live now? What will we do if he cannot work?”  The gray covered head shook slowly. “I don’t know.  I just don’t know.”

Careful not to make noise, Gabe set his plate on the stove, stepped to her, and put his arms around her.  “It’s okay, Mom.  We’ll figure something out.”

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Ebook Romance Stories: Behind the Story, “Deep in the Heart”

Image Rich, Reality Poor
Behind the Story:   Deep in the Heart
by:  Staci Stallings

It’s amazing to me how different life looks if you ever bother to look at more than the outside surface of things.  In our world today we’re all so busy, and we get so caught up in doing things and getting things and having things that we forget what’s really important.  What’s really important is not how something, or more to the point–someone, looks on the outside.  It’s what’s inside that counts.

One of the things that fascinates me about the story “Deep in the Heart” is the paradox of being image rich and reality poor–and vice versa, being image poor and reality rich. In the story, Keith is the son of a billionaire.  He literally has the world at his feet–a beautiful fiancée who is wealthy and well-connected and a father who owns half of Texas.  Okay, not half, but pretty close.  He is the definition of Image Rich.

Then there’s Maggie Montgomery.  Poor Maggie.  I’m telling you from the first time you meet her, you will feel a twinge of sympathy for her.  She literally has nothing in life–two dollars in her purse and a car that’s going to break down any second.  She is in every way image poor.  In fact, she’s not even wearing her own shoes, and the shoes she is wearing don’t fit.  She is to all the world the personification of Image Poor.

But look a little closer and you begin to see that everything is not as the image would have you believe.  For one thing, Keith’s life is a mess.  Oh, he talks a good game and looks good doing it–when he’s all citified that is.  However, when Maggie first meets him on the stairs of his father’s mansion, she doesn’t see that at all.  Why?  Because there he is image poor.

In his dusty jeans and ripped shirt, he doesn’t look like a billionaire’s son, and because he doesn’t look that way, she trusts him enough to be real–to let him see the real her–nerves and imperfections and all.  Had he looked image rich, she would never have trusted him because she wouldn’t have felt anywhere near his league.  And that’s part of the paradox.  We treat others by how we see them, never realizing there is always much more to the story.

Of course, for Keith he’s really not a fan of the image rich lifestyle.  He’s seen it up-close-and-personal and he wants no part of it.  Except he can’t keep his father and everyone else from dragging him down that dark hole of being who he isn’t and how he isn’t to keep up the image until he’s come to the point that maybe he should give up what he wants and just accept the image rich persona everyone wants to put on him.

For Maggie, she had no chance at image rich.  The truth is, she’s just struggling for survival.  However, because of that, she’s had to become Really (or Spiritually) Rich.  Oh, this doesn’t show on her clothes or her shoes or her hairstyle.  It shows only in her heart, and those wise enough to look below the image are the only ones lucky enough to see how truly rich she really is.  Of course, everyone in Keith’s circle is horrified because her image is all wrong, but Keith is slowly drawn not to the outside image but to what’s really there.  As this happens, he begins to question if it is possible for him to shed the image everyone wants him to be and go for what he really is.

However, shedding the image and reaching for Really Rich rather than Image Rich is not always as easy as it sounds, and Keith soon learns that becoming Really Spiritually Rich is much, much harder than it looks.  Can he break out of what the world says he should look like in order to become the man he really is meant to be?

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Ebook Romance Stories: A Brother’s Struggle, from “If You Believed in Love”


IYB FINAL COVER 1-1-2014A Brother’s Struggle, A Sister’s Hope

An Interview with Janet Elliott, Jonathon Danforth’s Twin Sister

So you want to know more about my brother, Jonathon Danforth, huh? (Janet sits back and thinks moment then sits forward.)  Okay.  I’ll tell you about him.

For one thing he’s a lot smarter than he gives himself credit for.  He always has been.  He could get into and out of more trouble when he was younger than any kid I knew.  And he was always into something.  Not bad things necessarily–like drugs or something–just stuff.

Like the time he was running that gambling ring in the third grade.  He aced more kids out of dimes and quarters than most kids could ever dream of doing.  Of course, Mom made him give them all back when she found out about it.  But that was just Jon, you know?  He was always looking for the angle, making deals, and trying to one-up somebody.

Okay, so it got him in some fights in school.  He spent most of junior year in the principal’s office.  In fact, they very nearly kicked him out of school more than once.  Not that he was a bad kid exactly.  He just couldn’t sit still, couldn’t just be.  He always had to be pushing the envelope, always testing the water, always trying to see how far he could go before someone pulled him back.

I think that’s why the last year has bothered me so much.  Yes, I know all about people grieving and needing time.  But Jon like checked out of life, you know?  I mean, he wouldn’t even leave that stupid apartment for Christmas last year.  “Nah, Janet,” he said when I called him and begged him to come over. “I think I’ll just stay here. I’m not really in the mood for tinsel and stockings.”

He had me worried sick if you really want to know the truth.  I mean, okay, I’m not his mom, but I am his big sister, and I know that living on pizza and beer in a dark pigsty of an apartment is just not healthy.

That’s why I talked him into taking that class–the one over at the community college.  Of course, English was never really Jon’s style, but it was either that or Chemistry, and I didn’t want to hear he’d blown the whole place up.

(She laughs and then sits back again, lost in thought.)

I just worry about him so much.  (Pulling forward, her eyes are filled with tears that never fall.)  It killed him… what happened.  It did.  It was like one minute he was one guy–my baby brother, into everything, wheeling and dealing with the world, and the next second he was this guy I didn’t even recognize anymore. It scared me, you know. It really did. (One tear slips from her eye and slides down as she wipes it away and sniffs.)  We’re all we’ve got in the world now. With Mom and Dad gone, it’s just us.

I didn’t want to lose him too. (Her smile is tight and sad.)  Plus, he really is a great guy when you get to know him.  He has such a big heart for people and for things he really cares about.  I guess I just hope he finds something to care about again, you know.  (She lets her gaze fall to the table.)  I just want him to be happy… or at least not completely miserable.

(With a laugh, she jerks her hair back and smiles.)  Sorry.  I guess I get a little carried away when I talk about him.  I mean, he’s my baby brother, right? (She tries to smile again, this one is in apology.) I hope I haven’t bored you to tears with all of this. (She shrugs slightly.)  I just want what’s best for him, you know? And I hope and pray he can find whatever that is, whatever the next chapter of his life is. (She nods.)  Yeah, that’s what I want the most… for Jon to be happy.


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Ebook Romance Stories: Character Insights, “If You Believed in Love”


IYB FINAL COVER 1-1-2014A Person Who Has Influenced My Life

by:  Letty Rahman

This semester I have had the pleasure of taking a course by a fabulous teacher, Professor Elizabeth Forester (Ms. Forester to everyone who knows her).  Now, Ms. Forester is not your typical teacher.  For one, she is tough.  I don’t mean tough like she’ll beat you up.  I mean she doesn’t let you ever take the easy way out.  I’m quite certain she has never seen a Scantron in her life. She probably doesn’t even know what they are. No, Ms. Forester’s tests are all-essay, and you’d better know your stuff when you walk in because it isn’t going to be fill-in-the-blank kind of questions.

On top of that, test time isn’t the only time you’d better be prepared in Ms. Forester’s class.  Every time you walk in those doors, she is going to push you and tease you and pull every nugget of information and understanding out of you.  You would be surprised how often students say things they didn’t even know they knew in that class.

Strangely, I have noticed several types of students in Ms. Forester’s classroom.  There is one type I feel the most sorry for. They took one look at her syllabus and dropped the class.  Oh, yes, in the classroom she fully lives up to her reputation as a slave-driver. At first that scared me too, but I had to have the class so I didn’t have a choice to leave.  I’m so glad now that I didn’t.  I think it was Divine Providence or something that kept me there.

Why?  Because I’ve learned so much–yes, about poems and Jane Austen, but more than that, I’ve learned about life.  I’ve learned that the things we learn in different classes like chemistry and history and even math can fill in and fill out who we become as people.  They are not ultimately about this piece of knowledge and that piece of understanding.  They are about the whole that we become by learning them.

Take, for example, the poems and books we are reading in Ms. Forester’s class.  I won’t lie to you. The Browning poems were a challenge, but Ms. Forester didn’t just stand up there and talk about iambic pentameter and rhyme.  She taught us how to understand the meaning of the words.  Like the one line about Shakespeare and how he was brave enough to put his thoughts and his understandings on paper.  How the person writing the poem thought Shakespeare was crazy for letting people into his world that far, but how, in fact, it was because he let them in that his name has been immortalized throughout the centuries.

Then there’s the whole Jane Austen thing, which I personally thought was… well, whack, to begin with. I mean who cares about these people who think women can and should be bought and sold like cattle? However, as we’ve read and understood and learned, I realized it’s not about that.  It’s not about the fairness of that society.  It’s about people who are trying to be themselves and learn and grow in spite of those rules and rigidity or maybe in defiance of them.

It’s so interesting to me because I sit here trying to explain what Ms. Forester has given to me as a teacher to a student, and it’s all right there in my mind like I can touch it and grab onto it and give it to you. But when I start to write it down, it’s like I can’t capture it.  Maybe it can’t be captured in words.  I don’t know.

What I do know is that Ms. Forester has changed my life.  She has shown me a world I didn’t even know existed, and I don’t think I’m the only one who feels like that.  In Ms. Forester’s class you are not a number.  You are not a lump of flesh who happens to be sitting in a desk.  You are a person.  A real, live person with a history and a story of your own.  In fact, I’ve learned to even look at people differently, to read who they are and where they are with life through this class.

I wish I could explain that, but maybe you just have to sit in her classroom and absorb who she is and what she can show you to ever really understand.  I just wish every student was lucky enough to take her class and to stay long enough to realize that they have something worth sharing as well.

IYB FINAL COVER 1-1-2014

 

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Ebook Romance Stories: Review of “If You Believed in Love”


IYB FINAL COVER 1-1-2014If You Believed in Love

By:  Staci Stallings

Reviewed by:  Zoya Smalling

I so want to be in Elizabeth’s class. I learned so much and felt I was a student in the class as they discovered new ways of looking at life. If only I could find a teacher like her, I would certainly audit the class. The mark of a good book is one impacts your perspective. Ms. Stallings, If You Believed In Love, is a good book.

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Ebook Romance Stories: Excerpt from “Dreams by Starlight”


Dreams by Starlight Final 1-17-2014Excerpt from “Dreams by Starlight”

Although Camille had grown accustomed to the written assignments that Mrs. Allen came up with every other week, they had done nothing to make her feel better about being on stage. She stood stage left shifting from foot-to-foot as Mrs. Allen pushed the chalkboard away in anticipation of the current day’s torture session.

“Now, in the past week, I’ve noticed that when I ask for pairs, most of you tend to pair with the same person over and over again. I understand that, but I think it’s time to move out of your comfort zone a little and start learning about the other people in the class.”

Camille’s fear shield flew up. No, comfort is good. Please. Comfort is fine.

“Rather than try to pair people myself, I’ve cut up numbers in this hat. You are to take a number and then find the other person with that number, and for today the two of you will be partners.”

For one brief second Camille thought she might be sick on her shoes, and at the moment that looked like a really good idea. It would solve so many problems. Mrs. Allen approached her with the hat, and with a short sigh, Camille reached in and pulled out a number. It really didn’t matter what the number was. If it was anything other than Nick’s number, it meant trouble.

“What’d you get?” Nick asked, holding his number out for her inspection. 7.

She unfolded her own. 3.

“Rats,” Nick said. “Well, see ya.” And he walked off to find his match.

Camille looked around as the trepidation rose in her chest. She didn’t want to be number 3. She didn’t want to be number anything. She wanted to leave. Now.

“Are you number 3?” a voice asked behind her.

“Yeah.” Camille turned and found herself gazing into a face framed by wispy brown hair and sporting perfectly gorgeous cheekbones. Jaylon. Instantly her gaze dropped to her clothes as her hand flew to her glasses and then to her hair. “Umm, yeah. I am.”

He smiled at her although she saw only the beginning of that smile as her eyes wanted nothing more than to force her feet to run.

“Okay,” Mrs. Allen said when the class had paired off. “Your exercise today is eye-to-eye contact.”

Camille squeezed her eyes closed and fought to make herself disappear. She should’ve paid more attention at that magic show she’d seen when she was five.

“I want you to face each other and count to fifty very slowly—looking directly into your partner’s eyes the entire time.”

Camille’s gaze was fixed on his shoes, and for the life of her she couldn’t figure out how she was ever going to get it to move again.

“It’s okay.” Jaylon tilted his head as if he were talking to a frightened animal. “I don’t bite.”

For a brief second her gaze traveled up to his as she laughed, but immediately it dropped back down again. Trying not to think about what she was about to do, she swallowed once and then forced her gaze back up to his as she pushed her glasses up on her nose.

“Go,” Mrs. Allen said.

Camille bit her bottom lip as she stared into his eyes—unable to look away even though she wanted to. The blue eyes, the high cheekbones, the wisps of hair—all met in perfect unison.

“Eight, nine, ten,” Jaylon counted as his mouth moved in slow methodical motion.

She shifted her shoulders struggling to break the spell his gaze cast over her, but there was no breaking this spell.

“Fifteen, sixteen,” he said as she forced the air into her lungs.

Never in her life had she looked into anyone’s eyes for a full minute. Most of the time she did everything she could not to get caught in someone else’s sights. Just keep moving, keep your head down, and they won’t notice you’re there. That was her motto. For most of the last ten years, they were the words she had lived by. Until this moment.

“Twenty-seven, twenty-eight.”

It was then that her thoughts shifted from her own thoughts to those staring back at her from his eyes. She wasn’t sure what she had expected to find in his eyes exactly—arrogance, cruelty, superiority—but not one of that was hidden anywhere in the pools of blue. Staring back from the depths of his eyes was the same fear and uneasiness her own spirit felt.

“Forty-two, forty-three,” he said, and her ears caught on the softness of his voice.

It sounded like a breeze brushing past her, and she wondered how she had ever lived before hearing his voice in this way.

“Forty-nine, fifty,” he said, and their gazes held for one more moment.

“Good,” Mrs. Allen said, breaking the spell between them and jerking both gazes across the stage.

Camille ran a damp palm down the front of her jeans and readjusted her glasses.

“Now I want the partners to find a place in the auditorium. Not necessarily on stage. I’m going to give you five minutes. I want you to find a topic and discuss it, but I want you to do it looking into each other’s eyes as much as possible.”

Camille’s toe made an arc around her other foot. She still hadn’t recovered from the first exercise, and five minutes was far different than one.

“How about if we go over here?” Jaylon asked, pointing to the stairs as he reached out and touched her elbow.

His touch carried a jolt of electricity with it, and she had to force herself to shrug and walk to the stage steps nonchalantly. She sat on the third step from the bottom, but when he followed her down, her knee tensed so as not to touch his.

“You may begin,” Mrs. Allen said.

“Any suggestions?” he asked, tilting his head to the side to look at her.

“Umm, I don’t know. Classes?” she asked, feeling the pained look cross her face as her hand tugged at the heel of her shoe.

“Okay,” he said and paused a beat. “Umm, you have to look at me, remember?”

“Oh, y-yeah.” She stumbled over the words as she forced her gaze back to his.

Looking back at her was sincere interest. “So, what’s your favorite class?”

She smiled as her entire body instantly relaxed. “Math.”

“Math?” he asked in surprise.

“Yeah. Why? Is that so hard to believe?”

“Well, no. I guess not, but I hate math.” He ran his fingers through his hair to push it back out of his face. “I’m just surprised anybody likes it.”

“You hate it?” she asked, forgetting this was supposed to be hard. “But it’s so fascinating.”

“Fascinating? I can think of another word for it,” he said, wrinkling his nose.

“Oh, yeah? What’s that?”

“Torture.”

She laughed and shook her head. “No, now you’re talking about drama.”

“Huh?” he asked, and her gaze dropped from his to her shoestrings.

With a shove she forced her gaze back up although this time it didn’t lock on his. Instead it wandered around the stage and the auditorium at the other partners.

“How can you not like drama?” he asked in genuine confusion. “Drama is awesome.”

Her eyebrows raised as she looked back at him in open-eyed mortification. “Not when you’re me. It isn’t.”

His gaze immediately reflected concern. “Why not when you’re you?”

Mrs. Allen clapped her hands, which almost sent Camille tumbling backward off the steps.

“I’d like everyone to come back over to the seats again,” Mrs. Allen said.

Camille scrambled up from the steps and swiped at the dirt she was sure was on the back of her jeans. She turned and walked down past the front of the stage feeling him right behind her. Quickly she walked to her normal seat in the third row, and it wasn’t until she sat down and realized Jaylon had taken his usual spot on the other side of the auditorium that she began to breathe again.


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Ebook Romance Stories: Dreams by Starlight, Chapter 1


Dreams by Starlight Final 1-17-2014Dreams by Starlight

The Dreams Series, Book 1

by:  Staci Stallings

Chapter 1

Grateful for the minimal shield her wire-rimmed copper and gold glasses afforded, Camille Wright sat in the counselor’s office digging her fingernails into her palms and praying that things could get no worse.

“I have to be honest, Camille,” Gerald Marsh said as he shook his head, streaked with gray and silver. “I am looking at this, and I’m saying to myself, ‘Okay, she’s got the grades, but I want somebody with something other than just academic abilities.” He held up her transcript. “I see nothing here that leads me to believe you would do well with anything other than books.”

Camille let the long, limp strands of her dead-weed, dull hair fall into her face as her shoulders shrank over her chest. “I thought that was a good thing.”

“It is, but so are other things—like speaking and sports and music,” Mr. Marsh said. “I’m just saying if you’d take a class that’s not purely academic, it’d sure help your chances of getting into Princeton.”

She didn’t say anything—she couldn’t. Her stomach was wound around the air in her lungs so tightly that even breathing was asking too much of her system.

Mr. Marsh held the class schedule across the desk so she could see it. “I was thinking you could choose between debate and drama.”

“How about Journalism?” Camille asked, her voice squeaking on the word.

He shook his head. “You’re not hearing me. You need something where you have to get up in front of people.”

“Band,” she said quietly as her finger pushed back her hair and then let if fall back exactly where it had been.

“The marching band has already been on the field working for three weeks, and the symphonic band is your only other option.” His narrowed eyes surveyed her. “But if I’m not mistaken you don’t even play an instrument.”

“I could play the tambourine or something. That can’t be too hard.”

Slowly he looked at the transcript on his desk and then back up at her. “Drama or debate?”

It sounded like a death sentence. She didn’t want to do either. She wanted to take another math class or computers, anything other than the two classes staring at her from that class schedule.

Her gaze finally dropped back to her fingernails. “Drama.”

“Good.” Mr. Marsh wrote the course choice on her schedule. “Now, about your SAT scores.”

*~*~*

“Hey, it’s J.P. and Ariana, back from summer vacation,” Seth Taylor said, ambling up to his locker with his black and gold backpack slung over his shoulder.

“It’s the S man,” Jaylon Patrick Quinn said, raising his hand, which Seth immediately hit in greeting. “Senior year. Can you believe we finally made it?”

“Are you kidding? I was born for senior year.” Seth’s arm stuck out from under his off-white-and-red plaid, button-down shirt as he opened his locker and shoved his belongings into it. “How about you, Ari? You excited about this new adventure?”

Putting a long, slender hand to her mouth, Ariana Vandivere yawned as if she had never been so bored.

Jaylon laughed. He laid one arm across her shoulders and shifted his books to his other hip. “So what do you have first thing?”

“Chemistry,” Seth said as an annoyed smirk crossed his freckled features. “You?”

He hadn’t even been yet, and Jaylon was already tired of it. “English.”

“English?” Seth raised his red-blonde eyebrows. “Yikes.”

Jaylon shrugged. “You have English sometime, too. Don’t you?”

“I wouldn’t know. I haven’t looked that far down my schedule yet.”

Jaylon shook his head, causing his feathery brown locks to fall across his eye. Retrieving his hand from her shoulders, he swooped his hair back as the tall, leggy brunette by his side yawned again.

Seth laughed. “You know, Ari, if I didn’t know better, I’d think you didn’t get enough sleep last night.” He slammed his locker just as the bell sounded above them.

With a kick, Jaylon pushed away from the lockers. “Let the agony begin.”

*~*~*

“Maybe I could go to the nurse’s station and tell them I’m sick,” Camille said, actually feeling more sick than well at the moment.

“For the whole year?” Lexie Everson, Camille’s best friend, asked with a shake of her head. “I don’t think that’ll work.”

Camille’s slender shoulders sank even lower until they almost touched the table. “There has to be some way out of this. I mean, drama? Ugh.”

After a slow survey of her friend, Lexie shook her head and laughed.

Camille narrowed her eyes in frustration at her friend. “What?”

“You act like you’re being sent to the gas chamber.”

“I am,” Camille said pitifully as the table pulled her head all the way down.

“It could be worse.” Lexie’s cocoa-colored hand brought another bite to her mouth, and she ate that bite while Camille’s mind searched through its files trying to find anything that could conceivably be worse. “Marsh could’ve signed you up for debate.”

Camille lifted her head only inches from the table. “Ha. Ha.”

Lexie’s almond eyes gazed back at her friend playfully and then caught on movement by the cafeteria doors. Her shoulders did a slow seductive relaxation at the sight. “Besides any class where you can look at Jaylon Quinn all period is okay in my books.”

Camille glanced over her shoulder at the strong face, framed by the wispy, brown hair that seemed disheveled and perfect at the same time, and she shook her head. Still watching him cross the cafeteria, a flicker of hope slipped through her. “The only good thing is, with Ariana around, I don’t have a prayer of getting anything more than a line or two.”

“True,” Lexie said, and then she looked at her friend and shrugged. “So don’t worry about it. They’ll probably put you on make-up detail or something.”

Her mind said she should be offended by the comment, but Camille’s heart hoped that the universe would be so kind. “From your mouth to God’s ears.”

*~*~*

“Class,” Mrs. Allen called from the stage as students milled about the auditorium. She clapped twice in a vain attempt to get their attention. “Please, come on up and take your seats.”

With an exasperated shake of her head, Camille pushed away from the shadow she was hoping to hide in for the next year. Keeping her gaze on her feet, which were swathed in darkness somewhere beneath her, she walked down the center aisle and slipped into a fourth row seat. The majority of the class sat in the first three rows until it was clear that she and two other similarly be-speckled and reluctant thespians would be the only ones in the fourth row.

“Good.” Mrs. Allen, a forty-ish ex-dancer with cinnamon-colored skin and a voice that seemed to come from her toes, moved like grace personified from the edge of the auditorium to the center. “I’d like to welcome you all to Theatre Production. I’m sure we are going to have a wonderful year together. First, I’d like to go over the ground rules.”

Camille studied the chipped peach paint on her fingernails. No matter how hard she tried, she could never keep polish on them. She forced her attention back to the stage.

“…and no matter what, remember that every person is here to learn. There will be no making fun of anyone. Is that understood?” Mrs. Allen’s gaze swept across her audience.

In front of Camille, heads nodded, and although she was in the back, it felt like every gaze in the auditorium was on her. With her around, the others would have plenty of laugh material. She closed her eyes, slid further down into the seat, and pursed her lips together trying to remember why it was she was here.

“Good. Now, I’d like you all to come up onto the stage,” Mrs. Allen said, pulling them forward with welcoming arms that looked like a willow trees branches blowing in the wind.

Students stood, filed out of the rows, up the steps, and onto the stage. They stood in various spots around the stage shifting their feet and their gazes nervously even though there wasn’t a soul left in the audience.

“Okay, we’re going to start with breathing exercises.” Mrs. Allen pulled her body and shoulders up a full inch.

Camille swallowed and pushed up her glasses. Breathing. That couldn’t be too hard.

*~*~*

An hour later when Camille walked out of the auditorium after stuffing her new drama book into her backpack along with the others, she fought to stay invisible in the middle of a crush of students. The air flowing into her lungs stung.

“So, how was it?” Lexie asked as Camille grabbed most of her books out of her locker.

“Awful.”

“Really? What did you do?” Lexie asked with concern.

Making as much noise as possible, Camille slammed two books back into the locker. “We breathed for a whole hour.”

Lexie raised her jet-black eyebrows. “Yeah, that sounds like real torture.”

“I know how to breathe.” Camille swung her backpack to her shoulder angrily. “I’ve been doing it for 17 years now.”

“So, great, an easy A then.”

“Yeah, real easy,” Camille said just as Lexie grabbed her arm in a death grip. “Hey. That hurts.”

“It’s him.” Lexie’s eyes widened into two full moons as she gazed down the hallway.

Camille looked in the direction Lexie was staring and shook her head. Jaylon Quinn. He was good-looking but really, he wasn’t a god or anything. “Come on.”

“Where are we going?” Lexie asked in surprise.

“Single dipped cones on me. To celebrate making it through our first day of senior year.”

*~*~*

“I’d like everyone to get a partner,” Mrs. Allen said the next afternoon as Camille and the rest of the class stood on stage. Very few were even brave enough to make eye contact. “We’re going to practice mirroring.”

A collective groan went up from the group, and Camille looked around wondering what mirroring was and knowing at the same time it would be far worse than breathing.

“Want to partner?” a nice looking blonde-headed guy, who suddenly stood at her elbow, asked.

Camille pushed at her hair with her finger and shrugged. “Whatever.”

“Okay.” Mrs. Allen walked among her charges. “The object of this exercise is to create a perfect mirror for your partner. Choose which of you will go first, and the other person is to match their partner’s body language and facial expression as perfectly as you can. Basically, you are to be your partner’s mirror. You may begin.”

The blonde-headed guy who was at least six inches taller than Camille glanced at her shyly. “Umm, you want to go first, or should I?”

“I don’t care. You can—if you want,” Camille said, looking around at their fellow-students who were already well into the exercise.

“Okay,” her partner said with a small smile. He struck an innocent pose with his head slightly tilted to the side.

Camille cocked her own head and watched him for his next cue. Slowly he raised his arms in a stretch and then bent to one side, which she followed to perfection. It felt strange to be only inches from someone she didn’t know but even more strange was watching that person without being able to look away. They both came back to the center, and her arms followed his down.

Her entire concentration was focused on him—not as a person but as her own reflection. He put his arms out at his sides and twisted, an action that baffled her for a moment as she started to turn in the same direction he did and then realized that a mirror would turn the other way. Immediately she reversed her course, just as he reversed his. Her body jerked from the fluidity of the previous moment, and the concentration dropped from her grasp.

She squeezed her eyes closed trying to get it back, but when she opened them again, her partner was doing a cross-body toe-touch that she had somehow missed. Quickly she tried to imitate him just as he straightened back up meeting the top of her forehead on the way down.

The crack of her skull sent tiny white pulses spiraling through it. “Oww!” she yelped, backing away from her partner but her heel snagged on the student behind her and before she realized what was happening the hardwood stage floor was rushing toward her. “Ahh!”

In less than a heartbeat she hit the wooden slats with a thud.  For a minute she didn’t know what part of her body hurt worse—her head or her tailbone. In the next breath, however, she realized that every other person on the stage was staring at her.

Like a displeased drill sergeant Mrs. Allen walked up as several students around the stage snickered. “What’s going on over here?”

“I’m sorry,” Camille’s partner said, clutching his own head as he offered Camille a hand up. “I didn’t see her coming down.”

Mrs. Allen regarded them with a look that could’ve cut glass. “You see, class, this is a perfect example of what happens when you break concentration on stage for even a second.” She planted both hands on her hips and shook her head in annoyance. “Learn from this people.”

She walked away from the disaster as Camille scrambled to her feet and resumed her place in front of her partner.  Once there, however, she had to blink twice to get her head to stop spinning.

Her partner leaned in to her. “Sorry about that.”

“Don’t worry about it,” she whispered back, brushing her jeans off and readjusting her glasses as she willed the heat pulsing through her ears to subside. “It was my fault.”

“Okay,” Mrs. Allen said with a clap of her hands. “I see that mirroring is a little advanced for the second day, so we’re just going to try to do some more breathing exercises. Maybe we’ll try this again next week.”

Oh, good, Camille thought. Something to look forward to.

*~*~*

“Hey.” The blonde-headed guy sprinted up the aisle to Camille’s side as she tried to make a quick exit. “I didn’t catch your name.”

Her spirit surrendered to the mortification. “Why would you want it?”

“That was an accident,” he said, mirroring her steps through the hallway. “Besides, somebody had to break up the monotony.”

“I hear you there,” Camille said still walking but no longer trying to get away from him.

“So?” he asked after they had walked several steps. “I still didn’t catch your name.”

“Camille.” She swung her braid to the other shoulder and put out a falsely positive hand. “Camille Wright.”

He smiled a toothy white smile. “Well, Camille Wright. It’s nice to meet you. I’m Nick. Nick McGee.”

“It’s nice to meet you, Nick,” Camille said, wishing he hadn’t just been witness to her most embarrassing moment ever.

“Well, Cami,” Lexie said, apparently not realizing Camille’s shadow was actually walking with her. “So, how bad was drama today?”

Heat seared over Camille’s ears. “Lexie.” She cleared her throat, and swung her braid in the other direction. “I’d like you to meet Nick McGee.”

Camille watched as Nick stopped in the same breath that Lexie’s face fell in utter shock.

“Hi,” Lexie breathed as Nick took her hand and smiled.

“Hi.” Their gazes locked, and for a full second Camille felt totally invisible.

“Well, I’d better get going,” Nick said, finally dropping Lexie’s hand but not her gaze. “I guess I’ll see you tomorrow, Camille.”

“Sure,” Camille said, knowing neither one of them heard the word.

Nick turned and disappeared into the crowd, but Lexie never moved.

“Oh, man.” Camille turned to her locker in exasperation. “That’s got to be the most embarrassing thing that’s ever happened to me, and for me, that’s saying a lot.” She looked over at Lexie who hadn’t moved. “Lexie, hey!” Frustrated at having no one listening to her plight, Camille waved her hand in front of her friend’s face. “You still in there?”

“Sure,” Lexie said, but Camille knew Lexie hadn’t even heard her own voice.

*~*~*

“They really should have two separate drama classes—at least.” Ariana clicked her tongue in annoyance as they sat in a small booth at Sal’s Place, the local kids’ hangout, Friday night. “I mean really, are they kidding me, putting someone like her in a class with us? Jeez. It’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard of.”

“It was that bad?” Seth asked over his cheese fries.

“Worse,” Ariana said, shaking her head.

Jaylon nodded, trying to be more diplomatic about the situation than his girlfriend but not really succeeding. “We started with breathing yesterday. Breathing. That’s like preschool drama, and you should see these kids. They couldn’t breathe right if someone did it for them. Does not bode well for the Spring Production from what I can see.”

“Ugh! If I don’t get into Julliard, my life will be over,” Ariana said like the drama queen Jaylon had so gotten used to appeasing over the past three years.

“Don’t worry, honey.” Jaylon rested his arm over her side of the booth. “We’re going—just like we planned. Even Mrs. Allen can’t mess that up.”

Dreams by Starlight Final 1-17-2014

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