Chapter 1

"Ladies and gentlemen, please fasten your seatbelts as we prepare to land..." Blearily, Jen woke from her nap, blinking as the seat in front of her came back into focus. Her own eyes stared at her from an older copy of Teen People, jammed in the pocket for magazines. It was the one with the article about her turning eighteen and the new movie she'd just finished, set to be released in a few months. And, she remembered, there was a little bit about her break up with Shane Doyle, another teenage actor.

Sighing, Jen flipped the magazine over so that a make-up ad showed instead. Thank God she'd finally persuaded everyone that she wouldn't need a bodyguard for this trip. So, on this flight, instead of sitting next to Erik, her usual bodyguard, she'd sat next to a five-year-old boy and his mother. The boy didn't recognize Jen, but when the mother had stared wide-eyed at her, an autographed airline napkin had been enough to keep the mother's mouth shut.

In a few moments, she would be back in her so-called hometown for three weeks, sleeping in the house right next to the one in which she grew up in. She felt a tingle of excitement at the thought of being reunited with her two best friends whom she last saw three years ago—Ashley, Kaitlyn, and Samantha.

Three years ago. That was when a casting director had spotted Jen in a hotel lobby in New York City. He decided that she would be perfect for the lead role in a new blockbuster film. Naturally, having acted in several school plays, she jumped at the offer, and the following week she flew to L.A. for her screen test. The director loved it, and when the movie opened, even the toughest critics gave the beginning actress rave reviews. At age fifteen, she was listed as one of the hottest stars under twenty-five, and a year later she earned an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress in a different movie. Her parents—her mother, especially—were eventually convinced that Jen's acting career wasn't nearing its end anytime soon, so they sold their beautiful house in Ohio and relocated to California.

But then, Jen felt a wave of guilt. Before, she'd emailed and written to her friends everyday during breaks while on the set of her first movie. But as time went on, her fame began to distance her from even her closest friends. She made friends with other actors her age and met the biggest names in the entertainment industry, busying herself with premieres and parties in addition to shooting films and promoting them. The phone calls and emails began to dwindle as Jen settled into her new life. Meanwhile, most of her friends became just as star-struck as the rest of the country, finding out bits about Jen through the media. When they did speak to Jen, they often gushed about the latest piece a TV show did on her, or asked about other celebrities. Jen missed the long, normal conversations that they used to have. Hopefully, this trip would end that and rekindle their friendships.

Finally, the airplane slid onto the runway and slowed to a stop. Jen got her bags and joined the line entering the terminal.

Steve sat on a bench by the baggage claim, waiting for Jen Carmichael—the Jennifer Carmichael—to arrive. His younger sister, Ashley, was back at the house, waiting to surprise Jen with a welcome-back party, and had asked him to go pick Jen up from the airport.

Then, a dark haired girl wearing sunglasses rolled her designer suitcase down the ramp. Her nose and mouth looked very familiar... Steve jumped up and went over to her.

"Jen?"

The girl turned around and stared at Steve for a moment. "Sorry, do I know— Oh, my gosh! Steve!" The girl took off her sunglasses, her mouth curving into a smile. Steve felt as if his stomach had just melted. He glanced at a few people nearby who were beginning to point and stare, but Jen seemed oblivious to them.

"Ye-yeah, it's me," he stammered, managing an easygoing grin. He reached for her suitcase. "I'll take that." She let go of the suitcase handle and put her sunglasses back on.

"You ready?" She asked. Without waiting for an answer, Jen quickly began walking to the glass doors.

Steve caught up with her and asked, "What's the rush?"

"The place is filling up. Can't take any chance of getting mobbed."

"People seriously do that?" Steve asked, an amused smile playing on his lips. Jen nodded. With her eyes shaded by her sunglasses, he couldn't see her expression, which was somewhat unsettling. But still—he was walking next to a multi-millionaire movie star, she was going to ride in his car, she was going to stay in his house...

The rest of the way to Steve's car, Jen was quietly studying him from behind her dark glasses. Steve had definitely changed. The Steve Patterson that she remembered was scrawny and nerdy, with glow-in-the-dark braces and a passion for video games. The Steve Patterson that she saw now was at least six feet tall, somewhat muscular, with shaggy brown hair and sparkling green eyes she'd never really noticed before.

As they got to the parking garage, Jen remembered one thing, and she felt like kicking herself for not realizing it. "Where's Ashley?"

"She had a quick errand she had to take care of."

"Oh."

Steve stopped in front of a silver SUV, pushing the button on a remote twice to unlock it. He nodded to the passenger seat. "Get in."

As Steve put her suitcase into the back, Jen couldn't help but groan. Since second grade, Steve had been her "arch rival," each trying to best the other in school events: the spelling bee, geography bee, everything. He and his buddies had teased her all through elementary school and junior high. And Jen knew the car ride back to the Pattersons' would be boring beyond belief. Where was Ashley when you needed her?

Steve got in and started the engine. "Hey, Steve?" Jen asked as they pulled out of the parking slot.

"Yeah?" His heart beat a little faster. Because you like her, dumb ass, his mind told him

"Um, I had to get up pretty early this morning; mind if I take a nap?" Steve nodded yes. Jen turned toward the window, leaning her head on her propped arm. But instead of falling asleep, she could only think of Shane. She had been the one to end the relationship, but thinking back, it was just the stress from everything that had gotten on her nerves and driven her to suddenly break up with him.

Assuming that Jen was asleep, Steve pushed a button on the CD player and began humming along to the music. Jen looked over at him through partly open eyes. This was her favorite CD. Soon, Steve plucked up the courage to sing, glancing over at Jen to make sure she was still sleeping. He has a nice voice, she thought. She remained in her position, wanting to hear more. His voice was deep and clear, soothing almost. But finally, she couldn't hold back anymore.

"Are you in chorus?" She asked as he reached over to push another button. His eyes widened and he quickly pulled his hand away, his face flaming a color she hadn't seen since she'd beat him in the geography bee in fifth grade. But this time, instead of gloating over his defeat, she genuinely felt sorry, though her giggles weren't exactly showing it. She couldn't stop laughing, especially as his face grew redder and redder. Finally, she controlled herself enough to apologize. "I'm sorry, your face—I mean—"

"It's okay," Steve cut in, his face returning to his natural color.

"You're really good."

"A compliment from Miss Perfect Pants?" Steve stole a quick glance at her.

"Patterson, if it wasn't for the fact that I'm in the car that you happen to be driving, I'd smack you," she replied, annoyance creeping into her voice.

"Like this?" He gave her a quick whack on her arm.

"As soon as we get out of this car, I'm going to hurt you so bad..." She stopped when Steve started laughing. "What's so funny?" She demanded.

"Nothing." Jen sighed as she settled back in her seat. At least some things haven't changed, she thought.


I redid this chapter...the original one was really bad. Anyways, how do you like it compared to A Month's Time? I worry that this story will have the tendency to get cliched and unrealistic, so please tell me if you feel that that's happening. Any suggestions and criticisms are GREATLY appreciated! And thank you to everyone who reviewed A Month's Time.

Jessica

New note (8/22/05): I just realized that the breaks I put in got erased, so I'm putting them in now.