THE LARISA WISH

BY: TODD GRAY STANDLAND

PART ONE

Daniel awoke after finally succumbing to the repeated pounding on his bedroom door. Sleep was a valued commodity to Daniel Burns, as it was for every 20 year old college student. The cold, mid-December weather in Bronxville, a municipality of Yonkers, New York, made getting out of a nice warm bed a difficult proposition.

As he sat up in bed and tried to see through the grogginess blurring his vision, he speculated if there was some sort of government conspiracy against his getting a full night's rest.

"Hey, c'mon Danny boy! Open up dude! We're going to be late for work!" came the voice of Daniel's best friend, Bobby Miller, from the other side of the door. He pounded again for effect.

Daniel looked at the door which held his friend at bay.

His vision finally cleared, he smiled as he examined the poster of his favorite actress smiling back at him. He strategically hung the two and half by three by foot, plastic-framed poster of young starlet Larisa Oleynik on the back side of his bedroom door so it would be the first thing he saw every morning.

When he found the picture of her on one of the many internet sites which honored the beautiful actress, he asked his friend Bobby to use his impressive array of computer equipment to print it out and enlarge it to poster size for him.

Even with the black and white context of the photograph, the actress' smile was infectious. Her eyes were dark and deep, surrounded by a perfect, symmetrically-rounded face high-lighted by dark hair with a light-blond streak in her bangs.

It was one of his most prized possessions, taken two years ago when Larisa was still eighteen years old and played a character named Alissa Strudwick on the popular NBC sitcom 'Third Rock From the Sun'.

But two years ago wasn't when Daniel first developed his liking for the pretty actress, as the numerous smaller posters and pictures of the girl which adorned the walls of his room attested to. He'd been a fan of Larisa Oleynik since she first starred in her own show called 'The Secret World of Alex Mack' on the Nickelodeon Network. He had all seventy-seven episodes of that show on tape and knew every one of them by heart. As he got older, his liking for her evolved into a full-blown crush.

A desk in the corner of his room was covered with more memorabilia on the actress, including video tapes, books, magazines, and assorted clippings containing articles on her. A movie poster of "The Ten Things I Hate About You" in which she starred had her image on it along with the other actors who were in the movie, and it hung on the wall behind the desk. Daniel acquired the poster from the local video store two years ago when the store owner finally had it removed from the window and was about to throw it away. He even offered the pretty clerk in the store, Kelly Perkins, a girl he'd known from childhood, twenty dollars to save the poster for him. She did, but didn't charge him for it. "Good 'ole, reliable Kelly".

Hanging beside the poster was a glass-framed, autographed Larisa Oleynik t-shirt he'd had for over four years when she starred on the 'Alex Mack' series. He'd spent over eighty dollars to purchase it off of E-Bay, but to Daniel Burns, eighty dollars was a small price to pay for Larisa Oleynik's autograph. Daniel collected anything he could find about Larisa Oleynik and he prided himself on being her biggest fan.

He'd written her three or four fan letters over the years, but never more than that because he feared sounding like some love-crazed socio-path. He was walking on air when she sent him the personally-autographed picture he requested in his third fan letter. His fourth letter was something a 'little bit' more than just fan mail, it was more along the lines of an homage to her.

His best friend's older brother Tommy was a struggling musician who Daniel asked to tape him singing his own version of Elton John's 'Nikita' that he made to send to Larisa. Daniel had re-written the song with slightly different lyrics, in which he replaced 'Nikita's' name with Larisa's, and changed the Russian soldier girl's dilemma of being trapped behind the Iron Curtain with Larisa's being captured on the t.v. screen.

Daniel was a pretty good singer, and took pride in the recording he sent to Larisa, but that was five years ago when he was just fifteen. He never received any response from his idol for his effort. Now that he was twenty and little older, he felt embarrassed whenever Bobby teased him about sending the tape to her. Daniel figured if Larisa ever listened to it, she probably thought he was a total loser.

But without a doubt, Daniel Burns considered himself 'THE' Larisa Oleynik fan of all time.

"Now, if she only knew I even existed..." he sighed sadly, just as he did every morning since he first laid eyes on the girl when he was only fourteen.

'BAM! BAM! BAM!' Bobby pounded on the door again. "Dude! What are you doing in there?! Staring at that Larisa poster again? Snap out of it! We've only got twenty minutes to get to work!".

Bobby's last volley broke Daniel from his revery, and he mustered the strength to sweep away the covers and crawl out of bed to let his friend in.

"One day, I'm going to convince mom not to let him in, or else nail the front door shut before I go to bed" he mumbled as he tripped over magazines, shoes, and piles of clothes on his way to the door.

Daniel was a good looking young man, standing almost six feet tall with a slightly muscular build, yet he possessed an almost 'average' appearance. He tended to blend into crowds quite well, and preferred it that way in most cases. He brushed several locks of his mousy brown hair from his eyes as he let Bobby in.

Bobby Miller invaded the room without hesitation, waving his arms at Daniel to urge him to hurry up. He'd been giving Daniel a ride to work the last couple of days because he was waiting for payday to buy an alternator for his temporarily defunct 1984 Mustang.

"Geez man!" Bobby exclaimed, positioning himself in the center of Daniel's room.

"I was almost ready to head to work without you and let you be late".

"Then why didn't you? What kind of 'best friend' are you?" kidded Daniel, as he picked up a pair of tan dress pants from the floor and sat down on the end of his bed to pull them on.

Bobby was slightly taller and heavier than Daniel, with light, sandy brown hair and a thin, scraggily mustache he'd be better off without. It gave an almost comical to the overall serious expression Bobby always wore, emphasized by a rock-hard chin and slightly furrowed brow. Yet Bobby always seemed to be the center of attention and the life of the party where ever he went.

"If you ever want to get your car fixed, I wouldn't suggest being late on pay day. Mister Black has already warned you about coming in late to work before" he scowled, referring to the manager of 'Beathancourte's Groceries', where they both worked part time.

"Yeah, yeah, yeah..." grumbled Daniel in acknowledgement. Bobby walked over to the desk in the corner of his friend's room and held up an old Nickelodeon magazine with Larisa Oleynik's picture on the front cover.

"So dude, when are you and Larisa Oleynik gonna finally tie the knot?" he teased, knowing Daniel's crush on the actress was something of a touchy subject with him. "She's just across town at Sarah Lawrence you know".

Bobby remembered his friend's elation when he discovered Larisa planned to attend college at Sarah Lawrence University in his home town of Bronxville, New York. He laughed when Daniel suggested it was a twist of fate which meant he and Larisa Oleynik were destined to meet each other. Of course, that was almost two years ago and nothing had come if to this day.

Bobby knew teasing his friend about the actress drove him crazy, and Daniel realized his crush on her must look like a pretty severe case of puppy love. He had almost completely given up on ever meeting Larisa Oleynik.

"Hey, you never know..." answered Daniel with shaky confidence, not doing a very good job of convincing Bobby. "It could still happen. I could still get to meet her".

"C'mon Danny-boy" Bobby scoffed with a hearty laugh. "That girl is rich, and famous, and can have any guy she wants, and most importantly, she's 'WAY' out of your league".

Bobby's pessimism was like a stake in Daniel's heart, but he knew he was right.
What would Larisa Oleynik ever see in a guy like him?

"I'm just a sophomore in college working part time at a grocery store, and Larisa Oleynik is a famous actress who'll never know who I am" he thought solemnly.

Anyway, the Fall semester at Sarah Lawrence was finished for the Christmas holidays and he knew Larisa was probably back on the West Coast spending Christmas vacation with her family in California. There's no way he'd ever be able to meet her. Realizing Bobby was right, Daniel turned his thoughts to work.

He finished dressing by donning his red 'Beathancourte's Groceries' vest and stood to face Bobby.

"Well, how do I look?" he asked. "Like a total dork, as usual" replied Bobby, giving Daniel a high-five indicating how proud he was that his friend finally got up and was ready to go. Daniel smiled. "Excellent. Just the look I was hoping for".

------------------------------------------------------------

"Pushing the envelop aren't we Mr. Burns and Mr. Miller?" asked store manager Alvin Black, tapping his watch as he watched Daniel and Bobby clock in from his position by the time clock at 'Beathancourte's Grocery'. They were one minute early, just barely.

They both cringed thinking another sermon was about to come from the cranky, forty-five year old manager, but he turned and entered the main office to attend to more pressing matters. Christmas was closing in and 'Beathancourte's' was the typical holiday madhouse it was every year.

"Wow" commented Bobby. "He didn't even so much as request our first-born child for almost being late. Mr. Black must be in a good mood today".

"I'll be looking for some living organ donors if a couple of cashiers don't get their butts in gear and get to their registers!" barked Mr. Black from over the top wall of the office, overhearing Bobby's remark. "Yes sir!" Daniel and Bobby yelped in unison.

It was Wednesday, just six days before Christmas, but the day flew by for Daniel and Bobby at registers nineteen and twenty in the front of the massive store. The holiday shoppers kept everything at a frantic pace and it made time go by quickly. They were part time clerks only, attending Concordia College in Bronxville full time. Both had final exams to take in the afternoon before their Christmas vacation could officially begin.

"Hi Daniel!" said his next customer, Kelly Perkins, Daniel's friend since five years old. "Is Mr. Black slave-driving you two today?".

"The idea of losing one or more of my functioning organs tends to make me work harder" Daniel replied. Kelly cocked her head at Daniel in momentary confusion, but knowing how Daniel and Bobby's boss was, she didn't inquire any further. She pushed her small group of items up to Daniel's register, not waiting on the belt to move them.

"So, how are you going to celebrate tonight after finishing your finals? You and Bobby have anything planned?".

Kelly was a pretty girl, standing almost five foot eight, slender and athletic from her obsession with jogging, with straight, shoulder-length, jet black hair which she always kept pulled back tightly from her face in a single pony-tail fastened in back. She never let her hair down unless she was dressed up to go out. Her eyes were dark brown, and her face had sharp, attractive features. Her image was topped off by a fuzzy red and white Santa hat on her head, tilted back and away from her eyes.

"Haven't really thought about it yet" Daniel answered, checking Kelly's items out.

"But I'm due to get off in about twenty minutes to go to school and take my Business final. Bobby doesn't have to take his Spanish final until later".

"So you guys don't have any plans yet, huh? Well, why don't we get together and go to 'Night Life' tonight?". 'The Night Life' was one of many popular dance clubs for college students in the nearby city of Yonkers.

"Hey, good call Kelly!" interrupted Bobby from the next register. "We'll be there!".

"Great! How's nine? Will you guys be ready by then?". Daniel waved his hand at Kelly and Bobby for a pause. "Wait a sec. You're making my plans for me again. I might be busy tonight for all you know". Bobby's register was uncharacteristically idle for the moment, so he leaned over the waist-high aisle divider to get closer to the conversation.

With a wink at Kelly for her to pay attention, he said to Daniel, "What kind of plans do you have tonight besides being at the 'Night Life', making your wedding arrangements with Larisa Oleynik?".

Daniel frowned at Bobby's ill-timed joke, but had years of practice getting used to his best friend's sometimes abrasive, but harmless, sense of humor. He knew he didn't mean anything by it, but it was sort of embarrassing that he mentioned his infatuation with Larisa Oleynik in front of Kelly.

Daniel finished bagging Kelly's items and offered Bobby a leer. "If you'll recall, I have to buy an alternator and fix my car this afternoon after my final, or have you forgotten how much you've been complaining about driving me to work all week?".

Kelly kept quiet, as she clearly saw Daniel blushing. She also enjoyed watching Daniel and Bobby bicker with each other. Bobby leaned back and just shrugged in acknowledgement. "Oh, that'll be fourteen eighty-five Kelly".

"Don't fret about that" Kelly finally chimed in after digging in her wallet and giving Daniel a five and a ten. "I'll drive tonight, and you don't have to work tomorrow anyway, and I don't work again until Friday. I'll even drive you to the parts store in the morning so you can fix your car".

Bobby didn't waste any time taking advantage of Kelly's offer. "You couldn't beat that offer with a stick Danny-boy".

"O.k., o.k., I'm in. Nine o'clock it is. Just pick me up at my house" he surrendered, offering Kelly her change. Saying nothing else, Kelly smiled at Daniel flirtatiously and pointed her finger at him. She pranced triumphantly out of the store as his next customer advanced. The old lady was a regular customer who always came to his register.

Still without a customer on his aisle, Bobby was busily wiping up a juice spill on his counter when he looked up and saw the unbelievable just three aisles down past Daniel at register sixteen. He blinked to make sure he wasn't seeing things.

"Oh wow..." he gasped quietly. There, with another girl, stood Daniel's idol, Larisa Oleynik, checking out groceries! Bobby waved silently at Daniel to get his attention, trying not to interrupt the conversation the kindly old lady had started with his friend, but after a few more seconds, he couldn't restrain himself any longer.

"Daniel!" he whispered loudly, causing him to look up at him from the old lady.

"Yeah?".

"Three o'clock dude! To your right, aisle sixteen!" he insisted, pointing wildly past Daniel. Daniel turned and looked, and his heart almost jumped into his throat.

"Oh my God..." he choked. A cold flush overtook him when he saw Larisa Oleynik chatting with her friend while Betty, an older female clerk, checked out the beautiful actress' items. Daniel looked back at Bobby pleadingly.

"What, what should I do?".

"Hey, you're the one who's infatuated with her, not me. Why don't you go ask her for her autograph and say something to her?". Bobby then noticed Daniel's customer. "Go on man, I'll check Mrs. Smith's things out for you. At least go get her autograph. You may not ever get a chance like this again!".

Daniel nodded as Bobby placed his 'closed' sign in his aisle and scurried over to his register to fill in. Daniel quickly reached down into his backpack which he had stowed away under his register and pulled out a small notepad and pen, then gave Bobby one more hesitant look.

"She ain't gonna stand around over there forever man, go!" Bobby urged.

Daniel slowly turned and fixed his gaze on the girl which he has dreamed about meeting since he was fourteen; Larisa Oleynik. As he drew near to Betty's register where Larisa stood waiting for her items to be scanned, Daniel watched the actress with an adoration that he thought only he possessed.

Her hair was shoulder-length, dark blond, near brown, and pulled back from her face and fastened by a blue hairband just at the top of the nape of her neck. She wore a denim vest underneath a light tan windbreaker, jeans and sneakers. Her cheeks and nose were still partially red from the cold wind outside. She must not have been in the store shopping for long.

She looked like your average, 20 year old female college student, "But Larisa Oleynik was far from 'average'" thought Daniel as he drew nearer.

His feet suddenly seemed heavy and his legs sluggish, and doubts began to race through his mind.

"Oh my God! What do I say to her?!" he trembled. "Will she be offended if I ask for her autograph? Will she think I'm being pushy and think I'm a total loser?".

Halfway to aisle seventeen, he turned once again to look at Bobby, and his friend kept motioning him to forge ahead.

Daniel had imagined a million things to say to the beautiful actress when he day-dreamed many times about actually meeting her, but now, all those words suddenly escaped him.

Larisa could never realize the feeling of intimidation Daniel was experiencing as he neared her. The gut-wrenching fear, light-headedness, and cold sweat her mere presence instilled in him was rapidly sapping his resolve to speak to her. He felt as he were some poor, insignificant middle-ages peasant about to address his beloved queen in her court.

His heart pounded inside his chest and his breath began to shorten. His knees seemed to grow weaker as he neared her. He rounded the end of the checkout counter and now was only eight feet away from the girl of his dreams.

Larisa noticed Daniel's approach and casually turned her head to watch.

She cocked her head ever so lightly to the right and beamed a smile at him warm enough to melt the half-inch of snow covering the spacious parking lot outside.

Then, Daniel fainted.

-----------------------------------------------------

Daniel sat in the front passenger seat of Kelly's deep red, four-door Saturn, his head hung in embarrassment. From the back seat, his best friend Bobby noticed how quiet he'd been since Kelly picked them up to take them to 'The Night Life'.

Bobby reached up front and placed his hands on Daniel's shoulders in an encouraging gesture to try and cheer him up.

"C'mon Danny-boy, let it go dude. Don't let this eat at you all night. At least we finished our finals, so tonight, we have to par-tay!", he said, trying to offer his friend some support.

Daniel rolled his eyes in futility. "Easy for you to say. I can't believe I fainted in front of Larisa Oleynik and made myself look like such a total and pathetic loser in front of her".

"Hey man, you know you're diabetic. You just got overly-stressed out is all. You couldn't help that" Bobby offered. At age thirteen, Daniel was diagnosed with a very mild form of diabetes which required only oral doses of medicine every day to keep it in check, and in all honesty, Daniel had forgotten to take any that morning in his rush to get to work. But he wasn't letting himself off that easily.

"That's not any excuse; I totally spazzed in front of the one girl I've always wanted to meet and you know it".

"I just don't get it Daniel..." Kelly interjected, still wearing her Santa hat from earlier in the day. "What is it about this girl that makes you feel the way you do about her? I mean, she turned you into a bowl of jell-o today when all she did was look at you. She's just an actress for God's sake".

Daniel looked out the car window as they passed by Bronxville's small courthouse square, illuminated by the thousands of multi-colored Christmas lights hung in the trees at each corner of the square. The song "Blue Christmas" suddenly popped into his mind. Bronxville faded away a moment later when Kelly guided the car onto the main freeway headed out of the small municipality and into the larger metropolitan area of Yonkers proper. 'The Nightlife' was on the west side of Yonkers, near the Hudson River.

Daniel wasn't sure if he felt like trying to explain to Kelly the jumble of feelings he had about this wonderful girl who had him completely enchanted, yet mercilessly floored him with but a smile.

"She's not just an 'actress' Kelly, it's... Larisa's more than that. A lot more..." he stuttered.

"Then what is it Daniel? Are you in love with her something? You don't even 'know' the girl for cryin' out loud" Kelly pointed out sympathetically, trying not to add to her friend's humiliation.

"I don't know how to explain it. I just ... I just 'like' her ... a lot, I guess. She's beautiful and smart and talented, and just ... I don't know, 'magnetic' to me. She's just someone I've always wanted to meet. And now, I blew the one chance I ever had at doing so".

----------------------------------------------------

'The Nightlife' earned it's name well; the club was the place of choice for most of the students who attended the many colleges in Yonkers. Tonight, most of them just wanted to let themselves go after the rigorous finals of Fall semester.

Daniel, Bobby, and Kelly were lucky to find a booth located along one of the mid-level balconies which circled around the huge, circular dance floor beneath them. It was nearing ten o'clock and the dance floor was already half-packed with students energized for a long night of dancing. They writhed as a single mass as overhead strobe lights illuminated them every milli-second.

Like most places in Yonkers, 'The Nightlife' was covered top to bottom with blinking Christmas lights, holly, garlands and bows, and countless other holiday decorations scattered throughout the building.

On their level, Daniel's group could order drinks and food while observing much of the activity in the club from above. A round of large ice teas, a plate of nachos, and another plate of chili-cheese fries didn't last long between the three of them.

Daniel was finally beginning to relax now that he was swallowed up in the ever-growing crowd. He liked this, feeling like a nameless face that no one else noticed; it made him feel secure.

"So Daniel" asked Kelly, bouncing her head back and forth and making her Santa hat flop to each side. "How're you feeling now?". Daniel couldn't help but chuckle at Kelly's comical display, which was meant to dig a laugh out of him.

"I'm feeling a little better now, thanks". Kelly smiled contentedly. "Good, and as soon as we let this food settle a little, we can do some dancing". Bobby toasted his glass of tea in between them, the lemon which was on the top edge falling to the table. They laughed, but not because Bobby was messy, but because he didn't care.

"Kelly, you're just full of good ideas today. Here's to the end of finals and to the start of our holiday vacation!".

"Here here!" they agreed with him, clinking their glasses together.

"Well, well, well!" came a loud taunt from behind them. Daniel recognized the husky voice and cringed at the sound of it.

Up to their table stepped Bradley Beathancourte the Second, who's father owned the entire chain of the 'Beathancourte's Groceries' located throughout the southern region of New York state.

Dressed impeccably as always in the most expensive and latest fashionable clothes, and posturing himself to make sure everyone noticed his costly array of necklaces, diamond rings, and five thousand dollar Rolex, Bradley was the epitome of arrogance. He flaunted his family's money and made sure everyone else saw that he had it and they didn't. He drove a brand new Porsche and also attended the most expensive school in town, Sarah Lawrence College, where he was pursuing a major in drama.

In reality, the only reason Bradley went to Sarah Lawrence was so he could prowl campus for the most beautiful and wealthy college girls in the city. He was the dark, handsome, athletic type, a little taller than Bobby but not quite as big. He was a smooth-talker when he wanted to be and could date practically any girl in town, but it was Kelly he'd had his eye on for years and tried fruitlessly to conquer. Kelly didn't care for Bradley or his money; she cared for someone else and had for a long time.

Bradley was twenty-two years old, two years older than Daniel, Bobby, and Kelly, but they'd known him since they were kids. As youths, Bradley wasn't the jerk he had evolved into today, but as he got older and became more accessible to his family's wealth, he took a change for the worse. He began to treat his former friends like they were inferior. Now, he treated them like they didn't matter at all.

Daniel and Bobby shared a strained relationship with the wealthy boy because he was also one of their bosses at 'Beathancourte's Grocery'. Bradley worked part-time as an assistant store manager at his father's Bronxville store where they worked, but he basically did whatever he wanted. Even though Bradley went to college, his father insisted his son be involved in his business, because one day, he was going to inherit it.

Daniel probably despised Bradley the most. He'd been working at 'Beathancourte's' to help his mom out at home since his dad past away from cancer two years ago. Luckily, his father left behind enough to help send Daniel to college, but his mother still needed help with the bills. Daniel would love to tell Bradley off but couldn't afford to lose his job.

When he started working at the store, Bradley didn't waste any time in tormenting him. Perhaps Bradley resented how Daniel once saved his life on a northern New York ski slope. When Bradley was fourteen, he wanted to ski a particular slope that was way too fast for him. Daniel, just twelve at the time, warned him of the danger but Bradley didn't listen. Out of concern for his friend, Daniel followed and not halfway down the slope, Bradley had a bad spill and broke his leg. Daniel placed a makeshift splint on his leg and went to get help.

Bradley learned to hate guys like Daniel and Bobby as he let money distance himself from them. While they continued to win friends honestly with their kindness and personality, he began to feel excluded when all he could do was buy fake friends with his father's money.

He probably would have fired them out of sheer spite if not for his crush on their friend Kelly, so to stay in her good graces, he reluctantly tolerated them. He couldn't stand that Kelly liked to be with them instead of him.

"Daniel Burns!" he roared pompously. "I see you got over your 'fainting' spell at the store today. Now you're out and about on the club scene as if nothing even happened!" he half-accused, smiling facetiously.

"What's that supposed to mean?" hissed Bobby with an agitated leer at the rich boy.

"Nothing, nothing at all!" Bradley replied, acting aghast and pretending to be offended. "I heard about it from a friend from school, so I asked your manager Mr. Black about it. I was only concerned for his welfare". The mock concern in Bradley's voice grated on their nerves.

Daniel disliked Bradley with a passion, as did Bobby. For the two years he'd worked at 'Beathancourtes', he's had to put with Bradley's arrogance, demeaning comments, and money-flaunting.

"Which 'friend' at school told you about it?" Daniel inquired, slightly curious as to whom at Sarah Lawrence would know about his fainting spell. A smile crept along Bradley's face as if he was waiting for Daniel to ask that precise question.

"My friend Larisa told me about it" he said, watching Daniel closely for a reaction.

Daniel felt his stomach instantly tighten into a knot, and he turned his head slowly towards Bradley.

"'Larisa' who?" he demanded shakily. Bradley chortled as the smirk on his face widened.

"Why, Larisa Oleynik. I share a couple of classes with her every week". Bradley knew all about Daniel's crush on the pretty actress from overhearing him countless times talking about her in the grocery store break room.

"Isn't she supposed to be your 'dream girl' Burns? I gotta admit, that was some pretty bad timing to just keel over in front of her like that". Daniel didn't know what to think, but the worst scenarios began popping into his mind. He looked back down into his glass of tea while Bradley stood triumphantly over him. Kelly could only watch helplessly as her love-smitten friend had to take Bradley's abuse.

Then, ignoring Daniel and Bobby, Bradley turned his attention to Kelly.

"Kelly, you look ravishing tonight..." he complimented her with a devil's smile, leaning on one hand on the table in front of her. She leaned backwards against the booth cushion to get away from him.

"So what are you doing here tonight Bradley? Showing off your Rolex again?" she asked, her voice dripping with disdain. Bradley stood erect but didn't act the slightest bit offended. She reasoned Bradley was so arrogant that he didn't think anyone would insult him because he was rich, especially some 'girl'.

"I'm here to go up to the 'Tier Three Club'..." he bragged, pointing across the expanse of the dance floor below them to the third, and highest balcony level of the building, which was an area reserved for VIP's. It was a small club within a club, with a huge private balcony overlooking the entire dance floor, and had it's own private staff and security to attend to it's guests. A number of celebrities had been guests there over the years, such as Christina Aguilera, Jon Bon Jovi, and Jennifer Love Hewitt.

"You're welcome to go with me Kelly, I have an invitation and can bring a guest".

"I don't think so" she declined, ignoring him and taking a sip of her tea as if he weren't there anymore. Bobby chuckled out loud at her rebuke, and it showed on Bradley's face that it stung, but he recovered almost instantly.

"Oh well, don't say I didn't give you the chance. I suppose I'll just have to settle for my original date to arrive and go with me".

"Be sure to give her my condolences" Kelly sniped. Bradley's eyes sparkled furiously, but he dare not say anything bad to her, but taking it out on her friend Daniel seemed appropriate.

Suddenly, a buzz went through the air of the nightclub the crowd on the dance floor below seemed to grow restless. A small entourage of people came into the nightclub and approached the stairs on the other side of the club which led up to the 'Tier Three'.

"Ciao!" Bradley spurted as he turned to leave.

"Hey Burns, check out who my date is!" he said as he quickly made his way around the length of the balcony and met the group as they ascended. Out of curiosity, Daniel watched to see who the unlucky girl was that was his nemesis' "date".

Bradley met the group of VIP's and hugged a pretty, petite, brown haired girl in the lead. Daniel immediately recognized the popular actress Bradley was greeting.

"Hey, he's hugging Julia Stiles!" he told Bobby and Kelly. "Oh puh-lease!" Bobby groaned. "Don't tell me Bradley has snatched up Julia Stiles! What would she be doing with a loser like him?".

They watched intently as Miss Stiles paused and began introducing Bradley to another girl who was standing just out of sight behind her. Perhaps it wasn't Julia Stiles who was destined to be Bradley's 'victim' tonight after all.

"I can't tell who it is..." Kelly sighed, squinting and trying to see Bradley's "mystery date".

The very next second, a hush fell over their table when the girl stepped out from behind Julia Stiles into full view, her arm hooked in Bradley's as she shared a laugh with him.

It was Daniel's dream girl... Larisa Oleynik! He almost wanted to cry. He stood up and walked zombie-like over to the balcony railing and stared in complete disbelief at Bradley's good fortune, and his own misery.

Kelly and Bobby got up and stood beside him.

"It can't be..." Daniel croaked. "Tell me it can't be. Not Bradley Beathancourte with Larisa".

Kelly didn't say anything.

"That totally sucks" Bobby spat.

To their surprise, Bradley looked back in their direction and saw them gawking at his date. From the other side of Larisa, Bradley smiled and waved arrogantly back at them, performing a half-hearted fainting spell for Daniel's sake. He silently laughed just to punctuate the moment. To Daniel, it felt like his heart had been ripped out.

"What a jerk..." growled Kelly as she and Bobby turned to go back to the table, disgusted.

Larisa didn't see Bradley's cruel performance, but she did notice he'd waved at someone across the club. She looked where Bradley had waved and locked her gaze directly upon Daniel.

His heart fluttered when she looked straight at him and then squinted to recognize him over the distance. She grinned slightly, and her lips parted to mouth a silent "Hi" at him.

She offered a short, polite wave, then turned away.

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Kelly pulled into the driveway of Daniel's mother's house around one o'clock that morning. The Christmas tree lit up with red, green, and white lights still flickered in the bay window just beyond the front porch. They dropped Bobby off over an hour ago and just drove around for a while as Kelly tried to cheer her friend up.

She put the car in park and turned to Daniel, who looked like someone had just run over his dog.

"You o.k.?"

"As o.k. as I'll ever be I suppose" he answered quietly.

"You know Daniel, it's not like you're married to the girl" she reasoned, referring to his heartthrob.

"I know...".

She sighed, knowing nothing she could say was really going to make him feel better. "Then why are you pining over the girl like this? It's not like you were a total wreck over her until today".

"I guess it's just how it all started" he began. "First, I finally have a chance to meet the girl I've always dreamed of meeting, and I pass out like the cowardly lion. Then, Bradley Beathancourte, the guy I despise most in the world and the biggest player on the planet gets to have a date with her. Not only that, but he flaunts it in my face like the total, arrogant jerk he is".

Kelly didn't say anything, listening like she thought a good friend should.

"Of all the things in the world Bradley could have with his millions, why does he get Larisa? I've waited years for the chance to just 'meet' her, something Bradley could never appreciate. She's so too good for a loser like him anyway".

"But she's perfect for you though, right?" Kelly asked, a little agitated.

He rolled his eyes at her. "You know what I mean Kelly".

"No Daniel, I'm not really sure what you mean. You're acting like some love-sick teenager. And 'so what' if she went to the 'Tier Three' with Bradley? She's her own person Daniel, and she's got a life of her own".

He said nothing. Kelly would never know how he felt about Larisa, how she haunted his dreams, invaded his thoughts, and ruled his heart. How could anyone else appreciate what it was about Larisa unless they were affected by her the same way Daniel was?

To Kelly, she was just some pretty girl who 'happened' to be a popular actress; to Daniel, she was much more.

Larisa was... special.

Her infectious smile, her soft, sincere voice, and the very way she carried herself attracted him to her like a magnet. Oh, he'd entertained daydreams before of meeting Larisa at some romantic rendevous, sweeping her off her feet, marrying her on the spot, and living happily ever after, but what man hasn't imagined the same about his dream girl?

But Daniel knew well enough how to balance fantasy with cold, hard reality. He knew he'd really never be able to date this angel of a girl, needless to say 'marry' her. But if only he could meet Larisa somehow, talk to her, and just spend some sort of time with her, maybe that would fulfill his yearning. If only Larisa could give him some sort of personal acknowledgement or approval, and understand how much she really mattered to him, maybe that would fulfill his dream. Of course, it doesn't help that he fainted when all Larisa has to do was look at him.

A thought suddenly occurred to him.

"Kelly, what actor do you like the most? Brad Pitt?"

"Well, yeah".

"Why?".

"Because, he's totally gorgeous, that's why".

"Haven't you ever daydreamed about meeting him?".

"Well sure I have but..." she paused a moment, and then laughed. "O.k., o.k., I see what you mean. You got me".

With a wry grin, Daniel unbuckled his seat belt, opened the car door, and began to get out. The cold December air flowed into the car like an icy intruder.

"Hey Daniel..." Kelly grabbed his arm, gently pulling him back in the car.

"What?".

"Just out of curiosity, if you could ever make a wish about Larisa Oleynik... what would it be? Be honest now". Daniel appeared momentarily caught off guard by her question, but then his expression turned to a more whimsical one, his eyes sparkling ever so slightly.

"If I could make a wish about Larisa, I guess... I guess I would want her to have Christmas dinner with me. Yeah, that would be great I think". Kelly just smiled.

"That's all?" she asked, surprised that he didn't say he wished Larisa would fall madly in love with him.

"That's it I guess. What were you expecting?"

"Oh, nothing I guess" she lied.

It wasn't that selfish a crush Daniel had Larisa Oleynik after all, just something innocent which would allow him to spend a special day with someone he admired.

"I appreciate the ride tonight Kelly, and I'm sorry if I put a crimp in your's and Bobby's fun".

"It's o.k. Daniel. We all have bad days. I hope you didn't take anything I said the wrong way. I just care about you is all".

"I know. G'night" he offered.

"I'll see you in the morning to help you fix your car, o.k.?".

Daniel nodded and got out of the car and went inside. Maybe a good night's sleep would help him forget this disastrous day, but he doubted it.

As Kelly drove home, it suddenly dawned on her how much Daniel's crush on the beautiful actress recently began to bother her. It hurt that Daniel didn't seem to realize when she said she cared about him, just how much she really did. She wanted like anything to get a few moments with him alone tonight and tell him that she was in love with him, but he was so down and distracted by the day's events, she decided to hold off.

Anyway, after years of being such close friends, what would she do if she told Daniel she loved him, and he didn't feel the same way? She'd never be able to face him again.

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