EXCERPT: 'Miss O'Dell'

The drive took about fifteen minutes. The streetlights on Sunset Boulevard were so bright it might as well have been day, and under their glare I began to feel exposed and insecure. Maybe I should have stayed home. Really, all I'd wanted to do that night was hang out with Allan in my apartment, two friends talking, no pressure, no stress. I liked it that way. I always tried to take things lightly, not to invest too much, although I have to admit that even at twenty I fantasized a lot about finding the right guy and a relationship that would last a lifetime. Maybe this is the one, I'd think when I first became interested in someone. But when the relationship ended, even though it would hurt like hell, I moved on pretty quickly. I went with the flow -- one of my great strengths that would also prove, at times in my life, to be a significant weakness.

I parked my car in the crowded lot and took a few deep breaths, trying to force the anxious thoughts out of my mind and put a confident smile on my face. I was always uncomfortable walking into a room where the party was going strong and everyone else seemed to know one another. Never knowing what to expect, I feared I wouldn't fit in, that no one would talk to me, and if they did, I'd say something stupid or inappropriate. So I had learned to put on a "face," smiling confidently, walking with a firm stride, my back straight and head held high while my insides were trembling, whether from fear or excitement I never quite knew.

The restaurant was dimly lit, and a massive two-sided fireplace in the center of the room separated the bar from the dining area. A thin fog of cigarette smoke drifted toward the high ceiling, a pleasant hum of conversation filled the room, and the crackling fire put a pleasant glow over everything. As my eyes adjusted to the light, I saw Allan waving to me from a table by the fireplace.

"Hey, Chris, glad you made it," he said, giving me a hug and introducing me, first, to the two women at the table -- a writer named Eve and her friend, whose name I immediately forgot. I wasn't paying attention to them anyway because I couldn't take my eyes off the handsome man who had pushed back his chair, waiting for Allan to introduce us. He was so -- well -- so English, dressed in a navy blazer with a silk scarf tied loosely around his neck and tucked into an open-collared shirt, a drink in one hand and a cigarette in the other. A well-groomed mustache lined his upper lip, his long hair, layered to look somewhat unkempt, curled up at the ends, and his eyes drooped in a gentle, lazy way. Just like Paul McCartney's eyes, I thought.

"Chris O'Dell, meet Derek Taylor," Allan said.

"Lovely to meet you, Chris," Derek said, standing up and taking my hand in his, all the while looking deep into my eyes. At that moment I felt like the most important person in the world, as if no one else in the room mattered to him. Dashing -- that was the word for him. He reminded me of the romantic, swashbuckling Errol Flynn.

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