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#Starstruck by Wilson, Sariah (1)

CHAPTER ONE

Do you know that feeling you get in the pit of your stomach when you’ve reacted and said something maybe you shouldn’t have? As soon as I pushed the TWEET button, I regretted it.

In my defense my favorite movie star, Chase Covington, had asked:

The film was a depiction of Caesar Augustus (known to his family as Octavius) as a young man and his rise to power in Rome. And apparently I was the only one who thought he was kind of flat in it. Every other response was typical of his fangirls, who called themselves Chasers. Of the OMG I luv u have my babies! variety. As I scrolled through the responses, I realized I was the only one who wasn’t heaping praise on him.

And it would be only a matter of time before my fellow fans started attacking me. I went to push DELETE, and this happened.

Chase. Covington. Just. Tweeted. Me.

Me. Regular old Zoe Miller.

My heart froze in my chest, and I might have blacked out for a minute. He had like ten million followers on Twitter. He tweeted pretty regularly and tried to engage with his fan base, but how on earth had he seen what I had written? And responded so quickly?

I knew I should play it cool. That I should come up with something witty and amazing so he’d never forget me. But I was so excited that Chase Covington had actually responded that I couldn’t help myself. With shaking hands, I tweeted him right back.

Thirty seconds later:

Was he upset? Amused? Chase never used emojis, unlike his Chasers, who treated them like decorations and their tweets were Christmas trees. I was anti-emoji, so I appreciated that about him. But sometimes it made it impossible to read context.

People with usernames like @chaseluvr and @chasesbabymama started noticing our conversation and, predictably, sent me hate tweets, asking how dare I be mean to Chase, I should die, my mother should have killed herself before I was born, blah, blah, blah. I’d seen these flame wars before, and I wasn’t interested in being their target.

I was about to turn off my phone when I noticed Chase had tweeted again.

My first thought was creating that list wouldn’t be hard. Like I said, Chase was an extremely talented actor, easily one of the best in Hollywood, and he’d been in the business since he was four years old. He started out on a family sitcom called No More, No Less (hence my Twitter username) and graduated to a string of other highly successful TV shows after that one was finally canceled. At seventeen he had switched to movies, and now, at twenty-five, he already had one Academy Award under his belt and was one of the highest paid actors in the world. And he never let anyone pigeonhole him; even now he would do anything from rom-coms to moody historicals to indie dramas.

The second thought was wondering what his game was. Why did he need a list from me? I understood that actors liked to have their egos stroked as much as the next dude, but why did he care what some random fan thought? Wasn’t his other 9,999,999 followers’ adoration enough? Did it have to be unanimous?

I really didn’t have time for this. I had to turn in my celibacy paper to my women’s studies class tomorrow, and I still had about five more pages to write. If Chase needed validation, he could head to his closest mall and let the tweenyboppers scream and fall at his feet.

Before I turned off my phone, one final tweet landed in my notifications. It was from @twihardchaser and said:

Which was followed by a string of poop emojis. Well, there was no arguing with someone who thought marrying a butcher like Caesar Augustus was a good idea.

I took one last look at the picture Chase used as the header on his account, his golden hair and bright-blue eyes making him look like a total California beach god, and turned my phone off. I was determined to focus on my paper, but that last tweet had sucked all the giddy, joyful hope out of me. She was probably right, and I had been chatting with an assistant or his publicist. That would be pretty par for the course for me. To get all excited over something that turned out to be absolutely nothing.

Story of my life.

A couple of years ago I might have immediately agreed with her. There was a period of time when his tweets sounded different. Off. But for the last year or so, he’d gone back to sounding like himself again, and while I didn’t have a reason to doubt, I still did.

Why was it that people wouldn’t let you have one good thing and wanted to destroy it before you even got to enjoy it?

Sighing, I turned my attention back to my paper. Being in my senior year, I had learned the fine art of BSing my work and writing essays in a way that made the professors happy. A few footnotes and quotes, some basic discussion you expounded on to make your paper longer, and you were golden.

So a couple of hours later, I was done. As I gathered up my laptop and phone, I looked at all the other students in the university library, studying and working. Part of me wanted to climb up onto one of the library tables and announce to these strangers that I (might have) just had a Twitter conversation with Chase Covington.

I settled for going back to my apartment instead. I was nearly to the complex when I remembered I had turned off my phone. I restarted it, and my phone dinged repeatedly with notifications. I couldn’t help myself—I checked to see if Chase had said anything else. With a frown of disappointment, I realized he hadn’t, what with the ball being in my court and all.

As I wondered whether I should send him a list of what I thought was his best work, I realized my best friend and roommate, Lexi, had texted me like thirty times, and the texts were all variations of

She was a theater major and, as such, was often prone to dramatics, but this was over the top, even for her. Nearly home, I decided to hold off until I saw her in person. In part because I wasn’t sure what to tell her about Chase Covington.

Lexi was the reason I’d become a Chaser. I was homeschooled by my formerly Amish (not kidding) grandparents until my mother married, had a bunch of kids, and decided she wanted to be my parent again. The first thing she did was enroll me in public school, and at twelve years old I had absolutely no idea how to make friends.

It was Lexi who had come to my rescue. She had approached me at recess, where I stood alone, not knowing what to do, and said, “Do you love Chase Covington? Because I love Chase Covington more than anything in the world, and if you love him, too, we’re going to be best friends.”

I remember how lonely I felt, and if she’d said, “Do you think it’s fun to eat your hair and tear out your fingernails?” I would have agreed and done it just to have one friend. She was true to her word. We became best friends in Ms. Ogata’s sixth-grade class and still were, ten years later.

She was still pretty much my only friend. After she discovered my lack of pop culture knowledge, she’d made it her personal mission to rectify it, not even caring that I’d been just a bit untruthful about loving Chase, since I hadn’t even known who he was. Lexi had been a cheerleader, the lead in every school play, and the homecoming/prom queen. Everybody loved her, and everybody wanted to hang out with her. People were nice to me because we were friends, but I never really felt a part of things. It wasn’t until I took an Intro to Psych class that I realized something important about myself—I was the biggest introvert who had ever lived. It was why everything was so difficult for me—parties, hanging out, trying to make another friend besides Lexi. She, meanwhile, was the quintessential extrovert. We were the epitome of opposites attracting.

And she was almost as devoted to me as she was to Chase Covington. Because she hadn’t been kidding about the loving-him thing. She bought teen magazines by the truckload and cut out every article and picture of him. It was a very serious process deciding whether a picture should be put up on her wall or into her scrapbook. We spent hours discussing the merits of each photo and where it should go. Somewhere along the line it had gone from being Lexi’s obsession to a shared one.

Even now in our bedroom, she still had Chase Covington posters hanging on her side of the room, and she blew them kisses before she went to bed for the night. After we’d graduated from high school, Lexi had wanted to head immediately for Los Angeles and start auditioning. But her grandmother had made her a deal—if she went to college and graduated, her grandma would fund Lexi’s acting ambitions for two years.

She agreed, but the delay had frustrated her. Lexi was determined to find Chase Covington and make him fall in love with her. I didn’t doubt her ability to do it—with her half-Italian heritage, dark hair, dark eyes, and flawless skin, she was never without male company. None of her relationships lasted for very long because, as she would always tell me, “He’s not Chase Covington.”

I did have hopes for her latest conquest. His name was Gavin, and he was majoring in software engineering. He was actually the kind of guy I would normally have a crush on—tall, dark hair, slightly nerdy, wore glasses. An approachable, nice man. Nothing like Chase. But Gavin and Lexi had been dating for two whole months, and it was already her longest relationship. He seemed to have mastered the fine art of giving Lexi the attention she needed but being frequently unavailable to her. Which made her want him more.

When I walked into our apartment and she pounced on me, my hope was that her news was something good about Gavin. My fear was that she had somehow seen my Twitter exchange with Chase. I didn’t know how that would happen, given that Lexi detested Twitter and refused to use it, but with all the negativity pointed at me earlier in the evening, I was worried.

She would be jealous, and a jealous Lexi was not fun—as Valentina Sokolov had discovered our senior year when she’d made out with Lexi’s boyfriend-of-the-week behind the bleachers.

“Zoe Miller! Where have you been? Why didn’t you answer my texts?” she demanded, jumping up and down.

I let my book bag slide to the floor. “At the library. I turned my phone off. What’s going on?”

“What’s going on?” she repeated, still hopping around. “Only the greatest thing in the entire world. My flirtation subterfuge has finally paid off. We’re going to meet Chase Covington!”

It took me a minute to figure out what she was saying. About three months ago, Lexi had been at a club in LA and met someone who knew someone who had Chase’s publicist’s cell phone number. Lexi got the digits and had been carefully cultivating Mr. Aaron Mathison since then for information. And her digital flirt-texts hadn’t even bothered Gavin, who somehow seemed both unaffected by, and understanding of, his girlfriend’s addiction.

“What do you mean?” It felt like a big cosmic joke that I had finally (possibly) had some real interaction with Chase, and now Lexi was saying we were going to meet him.

Which was nearly impossible to do, because Chase didn’t seem to care about the fame thing. He didn’t do meet and greets. He barely showed up in the tabloids and seemed particularly gifted at avoiding paparazzi. People didn’t get to meet him in real life.

And now Lexi, her eyes glittering, was announcing that we would. “Aaron let slip that Chase is going to do some radio stuff early tomorrow morning at KHWV. I think we should leave now, go down there, and stalk him until he talks to us. What do you say?”

Los Angeles was a little more than an hour away if the freeways were clear. Which they never were. I didn’t want to drive all the way out there and all the way back. I wanted to crawl into my bed. But I had never been able to tell Lexi no. “I have class at eleven, so we have to be back by then.”

“Zoe!” she screeched, throwing her arms around me. “You’re the best friend a girl could ever have! We have to pick out our outfits, and you have to let me do your hair and makeup. Then we’ll just stay up all night so we don’t mess anything up. Ack! I’m so excited!” She started for our bathroom; then she suddenly stopped. “Oh, I forgot to tell you. Laura Henderson called here looking for you because your phone was off. She said she needed you to call her right away.”

Santa Isla University was a small college not far from the sleepy beach town where we had grown up. As was the case with most people who lived nearby, the Hendersons were fantastically wealthy, and they began hiring me in high school to watch their kids for a couple of hours every afternoon while Mrs. Henderson Botoxed or waxed or did whatever it was women in their forties who were trying to look twenty-eight again did. Lexi had once asked me why they didn’t have a nanny, and I explained that Mrs. Henderson’s father had left her mother for their nanny, so the Henderson household was a nanny-free zone. They paid me an obscene amount of money, in part because they could and because, thanks to my much younger siblings, I was a pro at babysitting. I had been working for them since I was sixteen.

Their housekeeper answered the phone and went to track down Mrs. Henderson. I could hear her three boys yelling in the background as she said, “Hello?”

“Hi, this is Zoe. My roommate said you called.”

“Oh, Zoe! Yes. I’m glad I got ahold of you. I have some bad news, I’m afraid.”

Concern bloomed in my chest. “Are the boys okay?”

“Yes, the boys are fine. I’m sorry to have worried you. No, it’s nothing like that.” I could just imagine her lounging on the couch while she talked to me, how she might be trying to frown or make a facial expression and would be unable to. “It’s just that Mr. Henderson has been offered a promotion. In New York. And he’s going to take it.”

“When?”

There was a long pause. “He was actually offered the promotion weeks ago, and he finally found us a suitable place, so we’re moving out to be with him. This Saturday.”

That was only three days from now. I had noticed boxes and things around their house, but I had assumed she was just redecorating for the millionth time. It had never occurred to me that they would move. Or that I wouldn’t be seeing Tevin, Carson, and Freddie any longer.

I was now out of a job.

A job I depended on for silly things, like paying rent and eating food.

I was so screwed.

She kept talking, apologizing for not telling me sooner, saying she didn’t know how to explain. The petty part of me assumed she hadn’t wanted me to look for another job so I could be available to her for as long as she needed me.

But I decided to be generous. “I will really miss you and the boys.”

The relief in her voice at me not freaking out and calling her names was evident. She asked me to come by before they left, and we set up a time for me to say goodbye to the kids. She went on to assure me she would give me two weeks’ severance pay, but I didn’t have much in my savings account, and I was concerned that it was late in the school year to be trying to find a job. All the on-campus ones were already filled.

I tried to process everything while she continued to talk, saying this was best for her family and how much she appreciated everything I’d done for them. She finally ran out of steam, and we hung up.

I was officially jobless.

I still had my internship, but that didn’t pay any money.

How was it that your life could change completely in such a short amount of time?

Lexi chose that moment to come bounding back into the room. “What do you say, best friend? You ready to meet Chase Covington?”