EXCERPT: 'Miss O'Dell'

Sitting under the leafy branches, my legs splayed out in front of me, I spent hours searching for four-leaf clovers. I had a lot of time after school to explore because my younger sister, Vicki, was sick again with chronic pneumonia -- eventually the doctors would remove part of her right lung -- and my mother was staying with her in the closest hospital, thirty miles away, across the Oklahoma border in Fort Smith, Arkansas. My father was always busy at school, teaching or coaching, and I had afternoons to myself. I was used to being alone. Loneliness was part of me, as familiar as taking a breath. The message I had internalized was to take care of myself, do the best I could, and no matter what the circumstances, keep a big smile on my face.

I also learned early on that I was not the center of the universe, but that knowledge did not stop me from pursuing my dreams. I never stopped looking for the four-leaf clover that would change my life. It was waiting out there for me, and when I couldn't find it in the shade of the massive oak, I skipped along the dirt road and looked for it elsewhere. I never stopped dreaming that I would discover something precious and beautiful, mine alone to keep and treasure.

After we closed down the La Brea Inn, Derek invited Allan and me to continue the party at his rented home in Laurel Canyon. We sat in the living room, listening, as he rolled a joint and told us stories about how he'd once worked for a local paper in Liverpool and left that job to work as the personal assistant to the Beatles' manager Brian Epstein. After touring with the Beatles in 1964, Derek moved to Hollywood to become a publicist for Paul Revere and the Raiders and, later, the Beach Boys, Captain Beefheart, the Byrds, Tiny Tim, and the Doors. But now, he said as he passed the joint around, he was preparing to leave LA in a few weeks to start his new job in London as press officer for Apple Corps Limited, the Beatles' new company. His wife and four children (soon to be five and eventually six) were already settled in their new home in the country outside London.

That was the strongest pot I'd ever had, some Hawaiian stuff that I think Derek called "Icebox." We listened to the Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band, playing the Intro and Outro track over and over again, which cracked us up. Derek continued to regale us with stories about his life with the Beatles, and I sat there stoned out of my mind, thinking, Wow, so this is how the in-crowd lives in Hollywood. I felt as if I had stepped into a whole new world. Which, of course, I had.

I look back at that magical evening with one question in mind: What if I had stayed home? We all have those critical junctures in our lives, when we make a seemingly trivial decision that radically alters the direction of our lives. It takes only a second, really, and then everything changes.

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