EXCERPT: 'Miss O'Dell'

I sat down next to Allan and tried not to look like I felt -- out of my element. This was clearly the "in" crowd. Eve was talking about her latest writing project, and from the sound of it, she was one of those almost-famous people who really did know a lot of famous people. Dressed in jeans and a flowing silk blouse, with rings on almost every finger and a huge gaudy necklace that was probably worth a fortune, she held her head back at a steep angle, eyes slightly narrowed, looking down the steep cliff of her cheek at me. I'm sure she sensed my insecurity and perhaps that raised the angle of her chin a bit higher.

"What's your sign?" she asked me, her eyes intent and unsmiling.

"Sign?" I had no idea what she was talking about.

"Astrological," she said, raising her chin a little higher.

I smiled, trying to be friendly. "Pisces," I said. And with that, she turned away and didn't speak another word to me for the rest of the evening. Like everyone else, she focused her attention on Derek, and who could blame her? I loved the way his eyebrow lifted in an amused sort of way and how his undulating, often indecipherable English accent cloaked what I would come to know as a Liverpudlian wit, which says one thing and means another, poking fun without being blatantly cruel about it. Derek would tell his stories, spinning his magic with perfectly chosen words, drawing you into his spell, and making you feel as if there were no better place to be in all the world than sitting right next to him. We drank and talked, and after three or four glasses of wine, I was feeling much better about everything, especially when Eve and her friend stood up to leave.

"Deadlines," Eve explained, with a wink at Derek.

Derek, Allan, and I drew our chairs closer together, ordered more drinks, and stayed until the restaurant closed. Something clicked that night between Derek and me. He told me later that he was attracted to the fact that I seemed so unaffected by the Hollywood scene and so innocent about the world. I'm not sure how innocent I was -- I'd been in LA for almost two years, and I'd already had several disastrous love affairs, I was drinking too much, smoking too much pot, and discovering the joys of amphetamines. But perhaps it was a sort of youthful naïveté that endeared me to Derek, and later to the Beatles, the Stones, and all the other rock stars, along with my willingness to withdraw into the shadows and let others take center stage.

I was always the listener, the eager helper who wanted more than anything to be liked and accepted, the friend who was content to do what she could to make other people happy. Ever since I was a little girl growing up in Keota, Oklahoma, I'd learned how to put other people's needs above my own. The memories are so strong that I can still picture myself, a six-year-old girl with wavy blond hair and blue eyes who wore plaid dresses with white collars and patent leather Mary Janes with anklets. I'd skip down the sidewalk of the main street, past the sheriff's office, past the winos sitting on the bench in front of Burris's grocery story, past the tiny houses where I waved at people sitting on their porches or working in their yards until I came to my favorite spot, an old oak tree with spreading limbs and acres of grass all around.

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