Star Power

(by an4@anon.lelnet.com, 13 July 1997)


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Star Power
an4@anon.lelnet.com

   Brenda sat down quietly on her balcony and sighed.
   It was a perfect summer night- which meant that there were people
everywhere. A group of five teenagers were playing hacky sack on the lawn
just below the balcony. A young graduate student couple who lived a few doors
down were walking their newborn. Undergrads on mountain bikes and roller
blades were making it almost impossible for the cars to get up and down the
street.
   That was why she'd originally chosen an apartment on Janike Street. The
place was almost never empty. It was one of the main streets off campus- if
you could call two blocks of city street off-campus.
   All those people down there were one reason not to light a cigarette,
although Brenda was dying for one. In fact, just thinking about lighting one
was enough to create a vague, almost sexual excitement. But even all those
people, some of whom would recognise her, were not really enough to give her
pause.
   No, the dark brown van on the corner was the reason she would not light a
cigarette right now while sitting on the balcony.
   Inside that brown van, which looked no different than any other vehicle to
the casual observer, was a woman with an high-powered telescopic lens and an
expensive Nikon camera. The van was parked in the same spot every Tuesday,
Thursday, and Saturday evening. On Monday, Wednesday, and Friday night it was
parked on the near side of the street and the mysterious photog usually gave
Brenda Sunday off.
   For three months she'd been out of production, for three months she'd been
nothing more than a typical college student, and for three months that van
had sat there, its occupant waiting-
   Only twice in that ninety days had the woman gotten anything her magazine-
if you could bring yourself to call the Examiner a magazine- was willing to
print. The first had been a shot of her in a bikini top, standing out on the
balcony at about nine one night. She'd been pleasant drunk and had completely
forgotten about the woman in the shadowy van- although not enough to light
up. Until she saw the Examiner in the grocery store just four days later.
   The second had been an utterly ordinary snap of her leaving the building one
night just last week, hot on the heels of a rumour that she'd been chosen for
the lead role in a new movie she'd never even heard of. The movie deal was a
fiction, but the picture had made a number of television shows- as had the
rumour. Of course there was no movie deal, just an endless invasion of
privacy.
   It was all supremely depressing.
   And yet, the only thing on Brenda's mind was the pack of cigarettes buried
in the bottom of her backpack and the lighter in the front pouch.
   Finally, she couldn't stand it any longer.
   She walked over to the couch, picked up the cell phone, and called her
friend Ophelia, who had ended up at the Cape sans boyfriend.
   That had certainly been some phone conversation. As she dialed the number
she thought back- appropriately enough, considering the reason she was
calling- to the first time she'd ever had a cigarette, and how Ophelia had
been involved. Even now it seemed strange that her one-time babysitter, the
girl with the english accent, was the one who'd finally talked her into
trying a cigarette.

   "Tell me about England, Ophelia," Brenda said. It was her favourite request.
   Ophelia had long ago ceased being Brenda's babysitter. The girl was fifteen,
after all, far too old to be baby-sat, and Ophelia was at Oxford now. She'd
taken the summer off entirely to come back to the states and relax and she'd
sought out her old charge soon enough. 	
   They'd become friends along the way. Neither was sure exactly where or why,
but the simple truth was that they'd somehow developed a bond.
   Which was why Brenda's mother had thought nothing of imposing on Ophelia
slightly.
   The woman's reasons were wrong, but the end result she desired utterly
correct, so Ophelia had agreed to help.
   They were sitting on the beach, Ophelia heavy lathered in SP-30 sunblock,
her pale english skin entirely protected from the sunlight. Brenda came out
of the water, a smile on her face, a wet, wild, and wonderful young woman
much different that the freckled faced girl Ophelia had first gotten to know.
Her two piece bathing suit was molded to her like cellophane, and it was
obvious at first glance the girl was perfectly-even painfully perfectly-
proportioned.
   Which was exactly the problem.
   If there was a problem.
   There was if you were set on Brenda being a teen model.
   She'd been to tryouts since age eleven, mostly to humour her actress-model
mother, who seemed to think that her only daughter would, without question,
enjoy photoshoots and filming commercials and all the rest. To say that she
pushed would have been an understatement, but one thing always held Brenda
back. Her weight. 
   That she looked so perfect in real life meant that she was five- perhaps
even ten- pounds too heavy for the merciless eye of the camera.
   Of course, even fifteen was ridiculously late to break into the game, but
Ms. Hamilton knew how to pull strings, knew how to keep getting Brenda in
front of the camera. Unfortunately, the same thing happened every time.
Thighs seemed to balloon, forearms swell, cheeks puff. It was amasing to
Ophelia, who'd seen too many stills and money shots of her young friend to
dispute the fact.
   Ophelia happily lit a Marlboro Lights 100's and inhaled deeply. Maybe her
friend was lose five pounds, would get a modelling job. Maybe her life would
be changed just by starting to smoke. Ophelia hoped so.
   "Aren't you going to go in the water ?" Brenda asked cheerily.
   Ophelia exhaled a thick cloud of smoke and laughed. "God no. I'm just here
to people watch and talk to you."
   Brenda sat down on her towel and as the sun glistened in the girl's blue
eyes, Ophelia was once again taken by how gorgeous the girl really was. It
was a shame that the camera was unable to see what was so obvious to the
naked eye.
   "I'm glad we're here together," Brenda said, and no one besides Ophelia
would have noticed the but in the tone of her voice. The older woman inhaled
deeply on her cigarette, exhaled slowly, putting on a show for an unusual
audience. It didn't change Brenda's direction in the least as she added "Mom
asked you to bring me here so you could ask me to do  something."
   A relaxed nose exhale was the only answer which Ophelia gave immediately.
   "Your mother," she said finally, "is obsessed with the idea of you getting a
modelling job. And we both know that the only thing standing between you and
the career your mom has selected for you is about five pounds, right ?"
   "Yeah," Brenda said, watching Ophelia inhale deeply on her cigarette. It was
a good look for her old babysitter. She had such a way of working the
cigarette, and she obviously enjoyed it. It made Brenda angry to watch.
Ophelia sat there and enjoyed herself while contemplating the best way to ask
her to take up another one of Mom's crazy half-assed diets which would leave
her run-down, edgy, and if she was lucky, about two pounds lighter, not
enough to trick the camera.
   Ophelia exhaled, the plume of smoke thick and lazy. It caught the breeze and
drifted downhill, towards a beefy teenager Brenda knew vaguely from her
chemistry class. Peter Harris. He looked up as the smoke washed over him,
initially annoyed. But that look changed as soon as he saw the woman attached
to the cigarette.
   His angry face twisted into the sort of dreamy stare which could only serve
to make Brenda more jealous of her friend. He tried to recover by gesturing
awkwardly to Brenda. Ophelia quickly responded with a cutesy wave of the hand
holding the cigarette. Peter turned around, thoroughly embarrassed.
   "Friend of yours ?"
   "Acquaintance. So just tell me what stupid diet Mom wants me to start on now
and get it over with."
   "What makes you think this about a diet ?" Ophelia asked.
   "Well, Mom's too afraid of me to ask me to try any of her dumb diets
anymore. You wouldn't be the first person she recruited to try and talk me
into one."
   Ophelia didn't say anything. Instead she reached into her small purse- just
big enough for her cigarettes and a wallet- and took the wallet out. She
pulled a picture out and handed it to Brenda.
   The girl in the picture bore a slight- very slight- resemblance to Ophelia-
but the Roseanne version. This girl was Brenda's age and at least forty
pounds overweight.    		
   "Is this your sister ?"
   "No, that was me on my fifteenth birthday. I was miserable. I'd tried
everything from the water diet to the watermelon diet, and all I did was gain
weight."
   "Until what dieting miracle saved you ?" Brenda asked sarcastically.
   "No diet. About a week later, my mother finally convinced me there was only
one way for me to lose weight."
   "Surgery ?"
   Ophelia laughed good-naturedly- which took some effort, considering what a
sore subject her old weight was.
   "No. She convinced me to start smoking. It was a combination last
ditch-effort and attempt to share something she'd always loved with her only
daughter." She extended her arms and rotated her shapely torso. "This was the
result. In three months I lost all the extra weight- and I'd never been
happier."
   "You're saying my mother wants me to start smoking ?" Brenda asked
excitedly.
   "You don't seem too disappointed."
   "I've been wanting to smoke since I was seven. You're telling me-"
   "I'm telling you that if you were to walk into the house tonight dangling a
cigarette from your lips your mother would be ecstatic."
   "There must be a catch."
   Ophelia managed to dig a second pack of cigarettes from her purse, an
unopened pack of Virginia Slims. She held it out to Brenda but did not hand
it over.
   "Of course there's a catch. You can smoke if you want, but you have to start
making a real attempt to land a modelling job. Your mother thinks you've
been- how did she put it ? Dogging it."
   Brenda grabbed the pack of cigarettes from Ophelia and undid the cellophane.
She liked the feel of the box very much. Its' tauntness was enticing,
exciting. She cracked the top back and extracted one of the cigarettes,
pausing to smell the sweet scent of the tobacco.
   She put the cigarette in her mouth and accepted a light gratefully.
   "I think that's a fair trade," she said, exhaling a small cloud of smoke.
Although it was truly her first cigarette, she knew immediately that it would
not be her last.

   "What's up, Brenda ?"
   "I just called to talk," the young actress said, although this was not the
case.
   Ophelia, as always, sensed the lie. "What's wrong ?"
   "Oh, that damn woman with the camera is outside again-"
   "And you just want to sit out on the balcony and smoke cigarettes, right ?
So you called you favourite smoker to talk."
   It was true. There were so many times and places these days where Brenda
couldn't smoke, and Ophelia had become a sort of one-woman support group. A
sympathetic fellow smoker who always- or at least usually- understood.
   "Yes. I just can't afford to show up in a tabloid smoking a cigarette. You
should see the places I hide between classes to smoke. It's like being in
high school again."
   "So don't hide-" Ophelia said, although there was some understanding in her
voice. "Isn't it time that you broke away from that good girl image you were
pigeon-holed into ?"
   "My agent is still trying to get me to take those spots for the government's
anti-smoking campaign-"
   "But you're a smoker, Brenda. How many times have you told me how happy you
are- that you love to hear it when I remind you that you're a smoker. You
can't do those spots."
   "I can. It's good money and good exposure."
   "Are you smoking right now ?"
   "No."
   There was the noise of giggling in the background.
   "You sound like you're having fun," Brenda said morosely.
   "I am. I've been hanging out for the last three days with two high school
girls who are very happy to be commonly known as smokers. Isn't it time-"
   Brenda took the pack of cigarettes from her backpack and stared at them.
She'd graduated from the petite Virginia Slims to the same Marlboro Lights
100s that Ophelia smoked. She wanted one so badly right now that she could
taste the wonderful smoke.
   But there was a camera outside just waiting to capture her with that smoke
trailing from her mouth.
   "Don't you call me when you need someone to talk you into smoking, Brenda ?"
   "Yes," Brenda said, drawing one of the cigarettes from the pack.
   "Well, I'm telling you to smoke. I really wish you'd taken the summer
semester off. You've been so shy about smoking ever since you got there-
hell, every since you started acting. And don't throw your contract in my
face. You're off that now. I can't understand it. You do things on stage or
in front of a camera I would never dream of doing, yet lighting a cigarette
when some slimly shutterbug in a beat old van might see you is embarrassing
to you. Don't take this the wrong way, but it's time you acted like the adult
you've been since the day I lit that first Virginia Slims for you."
   Of course, she could have just lit the cigarette in the bedroom here. No one
would see her in here. But that was the whole point. As much as she didn't
want to be seen, she did want to be seen.
   Just then the call waiting chirped and Brenda excused herself.

   Sabrina- who was still wearing co-opted Marlboro gear borrowed from Cellia,
looked at Ophelia with a vague sort of disbelief.
   "That was the  Brenda Luder ? The one who was the star of Family Disasters
for two seasons ? The one who was in Pendleton Manor this summer ?"
   Ophelia laughed. "No. It was the Brenda Luder who works at the McDonalds on
69 as you're driving away from the beach. Of course,  the  Brenda. I used to
babysit her when she was young. And I was the one who gave her her first
cigarette."
   "That's who you were talking to the other night, too ?" Cellia asked. Both
girls were in a vague state of shock. 
   "Where is she going to school ?" Cellia asked, lighting a cigarette.
   "Anson. It's just about-"
   "An hour from here," Sabrina said. "I have a cousin who went there." She
paused to light her own cigarette and exhaled gracefully, adding her smoke to
a growing pleasant cloud hanging over the dining room table. "If she's really
upset, we could drive there easily."
   "I don't think," Ophelia started to say, her words carried on drifts of
smoke, "that's a good idea."
   She soon understood that what she thought really didn't matter.

   For twenty wonderful minutes, Brenda found herself casually chatting with
one of the industry's hottest directors. It started with surprisingly small
talk and had just now migrated to a fleshing out of the character he was
interested in her for.
   "-I'd like you to come in and read for the part, Brenda. You're agent told
me that you are looking at a few offerings but that this fall is still- at
least for the moment- open. I really think you're the right girl for the
part, but-"
   If there was one type of person whom Brenda hated hearing the word but from,
it was directors. But usually meant either that they didn't really want you,
or they couldn't really afford you.
   "But-"
   "But Jessica, the lead character, is a smoker. I need someone who smokes for
the role."
   Brenda lit her cigarette with a nervous, shaky hand. "I'm smoking right
now."
   "What I mean is that I would like someone who is open about their smoking.
You'll understand why when you read the part. I've never so much as seen a
picture of you smoking."
   "I smoke Marlboro Lights 100s. Half-a-pack or more a day."
   "Great. I'll send over a copy of the script to your agent in the morning."
   "You could fax it to me," Brenda said, not caring how eager that sounded. A
chance to work with this particular director wasn't something to miss.
   "It's four hundred pages," he said skeptically.
   "That's what they pay interns for, right ? Just give me a minute to get my
Mac started up."
   He agreed to get someone on it. Then there was a long pause, as if he was
struggling with telling her something.
   "Look, I don't usually do this because it just poisons the water. But you'll
be competing with Candice Anderson for the part. I'd rather you knew that
right up front."
   Candice ? Of all the people in the business, why her ?
   "Thanks for letting me know," Brenda said, trying to keep the disappointment
out of her voice.
   To top off the fact that Brenda had lost two parts to Candice in the last
six months. She had the opportunity to play Jean in the highly successful
Pendleton Arms, but the other two parts she'd lost  to Candice were the
reason why she had no work this summer- and the seventeen-year old was a
well-known smoker. The first thing she did when she sat down for an interview
was light a cigarette. Hell, she'd even smoked on Letterman. At age sixteen.
 	"Thanks for taking the call. I'll see you in about two weeks- your agent
has all the details."

   Brenda walked out onto the balcony, cigarette in her left hand. She was
holding the phone in her right, and even as she stared directly at the van,
she dialed her agent's number. While she was doing these things she was also
indulging herself in the cigarette. Deep inhales, combination nose-mouth
exhales.
   It took less than thirty seconds to draw the shutterbug. She came from the
van as if possessed by the vision of Brenda smoking a cigarette on her
balcony.
   Brenda ignored her and dialed her agent. 
   Kristen picked up on the first ring.
   Tonight, Brenda was not of a mind to waste any time. "I want you to get me a
Virginia Slims ad- immediately."
   "That's practically scale work- and it's basically modelling, not acting. I
thought you gave that up-"
   "Do you know who just called me ?"
   Naturally, they both knew that Kristen knew. While she confirmed this,
Brenda continued to smoke, holding the long white cigarette out over the
railing of the balcony so that the photographer could see it. She brought it
to her lips slowly, sensuously, and inhaled deeply. When she was done, she
pursed her lips and exhaled- a strong, milky jet of smoke which swam in the
heavy evening air.
   "Yes, I know who called you," Kristen repeated. "So what's the point ?"
   "The point is that I'm up for the part with Candice. Yes, that Candice. And
the part is an high school girl- who happens to be a smoker. He says that
it's central to the plot that whoever gets the part be a convincing smoker.
So I want to be up on billboards, in magazines, on that calendar-"
   "When are you going in-"
   "Two weeks-"
   "Two weeks ? How do you think all that works ?"
   "I know how it works. Pulls strings. Talk to people. If I have to pay them,
I'll do it. You're the agent- make a miracle happen. Get me on billboards
that are on his  drive to work in the morning, twnety feet high, trailing
smoke from my lips."
   Kristen sighed so heavily the sound carried over the phone. Brenda could see
her in her office, pacing back and forth, looking like a terrier worrying an
old strip of rawhide. Except that the rawhide would be a Salem Lights 100, in
constant motion. It would shrink rapidly, the room would fill with
mentholated smoke, and then an idea would hit her.
   "I might be able to swing something. But are you sure that you want to trash
the squeaky clean image which got you Family Disasters and Pendleton Arms ?"
   "I never wanted to be that person," Brenda said, and it was true. Even if it
sounded to her as if she was killing some part of herself. A vestigal part-
which just happened to have made her rich.

   Brenda was walking in a loose circle, talking freely, pausing only long
enough to take one deep inhale after another.
   The shutterbug had been shocked when Brenda had called down from the balcony
and invited her up. She was even more surprised when the usually reclusive
young actress offered her a beer and handed her a pad and pen.
   "I'm not a reporter," Julie had said, but Brenda didn't seem to care. 
   Julie was scribbling as fast as she could, wondering if any of what she
wrote would be legible in the morning. She looked up at Brenda. The young
woman had just lit another cigarette. There was something elegant about the
way she held the long white tube between the first and second fingers of her
left hand, something timeless about the way that hand hovered by her waist,
wrist cocked. She moved the cigarette through the air as she spoke, and it
was obvious this casualness was born of familiarity.
   There was something equally pleasing about the way the smoke passed between
her perfect white teeth, over the full pale lips, the way it danced in her
wake and clung to her like gossamer.
   "I mean," Brenda was saying "I've been smoking since I was fifteen. With my
mother's permission. All that time. I landed Family Disasters 6 months later-
that's a story in itself, considering I had no acting history- but I had to
sign this deal. No smoking on the set or anywhere- anywhere- pictures might
be taken. They told me they didn't care how much I smoked as long as nobody
knew."
   "It was the same thing with Pendleton Arms. They hired me to play the sweet
high school girl who doesn't know anything about life, so of course, she
can't possibly be a smoker, can she ?"
   "You're tired of that-" Julie said, trying to lead Brenda. At least, she
thought that was what she was trying to do.
   "Do you smoke, Julie ?"
   "I quit two years ago, on my 18th birthday."
   "Three years ago today ?"
   Julie nodded.
   "Happy Birthday. Sorry, I don't have a cake for you."
   The photographer held up her camera. "Trust me, these are better than any
cake. So, you were making a pro-smoking statement tonight ?"
   Brenda paused in her pacing. Technically, this was really about her career.
She inhaled deeply, held it, combined a nose and mouth exhale. Inhaled again.
Held it longer, deeper. Then a full nose exhale.
   "Yes, I was. I think that there are thousands upon thousands of perfectly
normal teenage girls- fifteen, sixteen, even seventeen- who aren't by law
allowed to smoke, but smoke with the blessing of their parents. They smoke
with their friends, in their cars, and there's nothing wrong with that. I
just start thinking back to how perfect that first cigarette was. There I
was, just fifteen, but I knew immediately that I would always be a smoker.
I'd  wanted to since age seven. I think all this anal-retentive concern about
smoking is ludicrous. Why did you quit anyway ?"
   "The same story as always. My boyfriend couldn't stand to see me smoke- said
he hated the smell and the taste of my mouth and the- he actually said that
he hated how much I enjoyed it."
   "Jealous bastard. Do you miss it ?"
   "Every day. There are mornings when I wake up dreaming I've been smoking. I
can taste it- I swear, sometimes I can smell it. But of course, it's not
real."
   "You're not still with him, are you ?"
   "No. So why haven't I started smoking again, right ?"
   Brenda took the sort of long, luxurious inhale there had been altogether too
few of since- well, since the days she'd signed that stupid contract with the
network for Family Disasters. Too much hiding. And now- well, now her very
acting future might well depend on not looking like she was hiding something
when she smoked.
   Watching Brenda's slow, steady exhale, it was hard to believe that she'd
ever hid her smoking from anyone. It was so natural for her.
   "It's a good question," Brenda said, looking at the cigarette in her hand.
She studied it for a moment, admired its sleek white appearance, the way it
gave off gentle wisps of smoke as it slowly consumed itself.  "But let me
guess. Your friends were so proud of you for quitting- and then you made more
friends who never even knew that you smoked. I'll bet you're a student here,
right ?"
   "Yeah, but how did you know that ?"
   "The university sweatshirt is a dead give away."
   Julie looked down at her sweatshirt and there was the logo, big as life.
It made her feel a little sheepish. And now, she suddenly felt bad for spying
on Brenda.
   "I feel terrible about all this. You're probably wondering why an history
major would be stalking you every night just for pictures to sell to some
cheap sleaziod mag. It's my book money. I know someone who works at the
Examiner and they offered me good money to sit in that van and spy on you.
But now, it just feels wrong-"
   She tossed her notes down on the table in disgust- only to be shocked when
Julie picked them back up and thrust them into her hands. As she leaned
over, she consciously exhaled in Julie's face, a slow and gentle release of
the smoke in her lungs designed to entice her former spy.
   "I need you to sell the Examiner those pictures and write the story. It's
essential-"
   "Why ?" Julie asked, reorganising the notes as she breathed in the heady
scent of tobacco smoke. A voice whispered that she was long overdue to
experience that smoke first hand instead of as a third party, and she knew if
she stayed here long enough, that voice would finally be answered.
   "Because my getting a part in a very big movie may depend on my ability to
portray myself as a smoker- both in public on screen and in private off
screen."
   "So I'm not here just because you thought I was a miserable wretch deserving
pity ?"
   They both laughed. "No. Unfortunately, I can't just claim to be a good
samaritan. This is about my career."
   "Well, then, I think I can help you-"
   "And I'll repay the favour-"
   "What ?"
   "It's time you started smoking again, don't you think ?"
   Just then, before Julie could answer, there was a knock on the door.

   "Ophelia. I wasn't expecting you- or any other visitors."	
   Ophelia had a slightly sheepish look. "This is Cellia and Sabrina-"
   "But you can call her Marlboro girl, since she won't give my gear back."
   Sabrina was still wearing Cellia's mother's Marlboro leather jacket, and
Brenda admitted that it was stunning. She would have to call Kristen back and
see about getting her one that she could wear. She was planning to give Julie
plenty of shots to sell. In fact-
   "Can I borrow that jacket for a couple of hours. Julie needs to get some
shots to sell the Examiner of me smoking-"
   Sabrina, who would have gladly let the star borrow the underwear covering
her perfectly shaped behind, gave the jacket up without so much as a single
regret.
   Soon they were out on the patio, posing for the camera. Julie was more than
happy to snap shots of the four smokers drinking beer and filling the now
dark night air with the sweet smell of the smoke she so desperately craved.
   An hour later, disaster struck.
   Except for Julie, they were all smoking and staring at empty bottles of
beer. Brenda came back from the fridge with a serious frown on her beautiful
face.
   "That's it for the beer. I guess that we'll have to go to the Elmwood."
   Ophelia looked at Brenda quizzically. "These two are way underage- and so
are you."
   "There are some benefits to being a star, you know-"
   
   The Elmwood was packed, as befitted a Friday night. As Brenda had predicted,
she had no trouble getting into the bar- and neither had Sabrina and Cellia,
who were experience their first real taste of the nightlife. And liking it.
   Julie was snapping photographs of the four women playing darts. Brenda
stepped up to the line, cigarette in her right hand, dart in the left. She
took her three throws, nailed two bulls-eyes, and Sabrina rushed up and hugged
 her.
   The photograph was perfect. Brenda was partially with her back to the
camera, the Marlboro logo on her jacket clear. Both women held the cigarettes
near one another's face as they hugged, and then they inhaled together- from
each other's cigarette. The inhales were deep, sensuous, the giggles were
loud.
   It was a better shot when they exhaled, still clutching one another.
   The girls yielded the board to a pair of graduate students who had been
watching them with no small interest. The men seemed disappointed when the
women retreated to their table. They ordered another pitcher of Bass as they
finished their cigarettes, and Ophelia broke out four cigars.
   Brenda handed Julie her just opened pack of cigarettes. "Will you hold these
for me ?"
   Julie took them gladly and watched as the four of them lit their cigars. It
was too much to pass up. She snapped another roll of film in less than two
minutes, then found her attention drawn to the new pack of cigarettes.
   "Go ahead and have one, Julie," Brenda said, smiling encouragingly.
   Julie looked across the bar. There was Brian, sitting at a corner table with
two of his friends. Like most of the men in the bar, their attention had been
drawn by the enticing sight of watching for beautiful women smoking thin
cigars. But not Brian. he was glaring openly, his face as sour as ever. It
was a shame, Julie thought. He had such a- and she'd once made the mistake of
annoying him with the observation- such a pretty face.
   She drew out a single cigarette, placed it in her lips, and lit it with an
angry, forceful gesture. She then put the lighter down, pulled hard on the
cigarette, and left it between her lips. She exhaled a full sweet jet of
smoke from her nose and inhaled again, pumping the cigarette hard. She
repeated this four times and finally removed the cigarette from her mouth. In
contrast to the way she'd dangled, she held the cigarette between her fingers
in a decidedly feminine way, the wrist angled, the elbow bent.
   "That's what you've been denying yourself for two years, Julie," Brenda
said, and Julie smiled.
   "I was a fool. But that's over now. I want to thank all of you-"
   "Friends ?" Brenda asked, and all five women said the word as one.
   "So tell me about this part-" Ophelia said.
   "I think after tonight, I'll nail it cold," Brenda said, and they all
laughed.
   But it was nowhere near that easy, and except for Brenda, none of them
realised how deeply they would all become involved.
   When they brought Julie's birthday cake out- there were some real advantages
to being a star, after all, the twenty-one year old lit a fresh cigarette
with the single candle burning in the middle. She didn't bother to make a
wish. After two years, it had been granted by the very person who should have
been furious with her.
   But it was only the beginning....


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