//WELCOME TO THE JUNGLE/ The Internet...a world without rules, without boundaries. Where you can be anyone you want, whoever you aren't. And it's all just a click away.... Riley Tulane is a member of a chat room called The Six. Made up entirely of acting students, this group -- four guys and two girls -- decides to meet at a secluded Vermont inn before heading to a prestigious drama seminar in New York City. Nothing is more idyllic than a long winter weekend in the Green Mountains. Then suddenly, one member of The Six is found dead. How far can one actor's ambitions for stardom go? Will the curtain fall on this weekend before another person dies? Different people in different places. The one thing they have in common is a new address on the Internet: danger.com. Where all your fears come true. Other tales you won't want to miss: Gemini7 Hot Pursult Bad Intent Firestorm Stalker Most Wanted Shadow Man Dead Man's Hand
Chapter: 1//dreamers Okay. Here's the situation. I'm going to be totally up front with you, except in the places where I might lie a little to make myself look better. What can I say? I'm an actor. You think Al Pacino is really five feet nine? Say you're chatting online with a group of buddies for about a year. Say you develop a crush on one of the girls. Say the crush is of the major, heart-wrenching variety. Say in order to impress said girl, you perhaps exaggerate your good qualities, maybe even make a few of them up. Then say said girl says: Let's meet! You see my problem. I pinned the printout of the e-mail to the bulletin board in my room. When I have a tough call, I like to make face with it. It makes me feel macho and decisive. If only I weren't so nervous. If only I knew what to do. I had formed the chat group with four of my buddies from drama camp last summer. Dudley Firth, Ethan Viner, Wilson MacDougal, and I had become friends when we'd realized we were the best actors at camp. Sure, there were other guys who'd thought the same thing. The difference was, we were right. You might imagine that a drama camp in the Berkshire Hills of Massachusetts would be a great place to meet girls, and you'd be right. But except for Ethan, we all were big strikeouts in the babe department. When it came to confidence, we had it onstage. Offstage, we tended to turn into overcooked linguine in the presence of the opposite sex. Or else we'd hang around in a clump, telling bad jokes and insulting each other while laughing really loudly so that the girls would think we were having such a good time, we didn't need them at all. Do girls see through that one? Don't tell me the truth. Let me have my illusions. Do you have any idea what it's like to be surrounded by beautiful actresses and never get up the courage to snag a date? So at the end of August, we had a brainstorm. The camp newsletter listed everyone's e-mail address, and we wrote to the cutest girls and some of the cooler guys, inviting them to join an online chat group that would focus on theater. Great idea, right? Well, sort of. The problem was word of mouth. Our idea mushroomed until we had to split into a whole bunch of chat rooms. Some idiot suggested we divide by area, so I ended up in New England, since I go to boarding school in Massachusetts. Wilson, Ethan, and Dud live in New England, too, so they were in my group. In other words, we'd created a giant room to meet girls, and ended up talking to each other in the corner. Typical guy behavior, right? The New England group thinned out gradually, until it was down to fifteen. Maybe people dropped out because Wilson would be obnoxious, or because Dudley would write LOL (which means "laugh out loud," just in case you're not a Netizen) instead of an intelligent response until you're ready to scream. But two girls, TygrrEyz and Monarch99, hung in there. Other kids would drop in from time to time, but mostly it was just the six of us. Soon, the core group of The Six was established. You had to be quick to keep up with us. You had to know theater and movies. You had to know who was great, and who was overrated, and who was up-and-coming. You had to be a star in your drama department. You had to be dedicated. You had to be serious. We sent each other voice tracks of our monologues. We even applied to the same drama seminar over spring break. One of the highlights of the seminar is a Master Class with Trey Havel, who is just about the most famous acting coach around. He teaches at Juilliard, where we all want to go next year. The amazing thing was that we all got in. Except for Monarch, who decided at the last minute not to apply. She said her roommate invited her to go skiing in Aspen, and she'd be stupid to refuse. Her roommate's father is a big Broadway producer. "You infiltrate the system your way, and I'll do it my way," she wrote online. "We'll see who makes it big first." I stared at the e-mail while I studied. I thought about it as I brushed my teeth. I made a decision lying in bed at night, and then reversed it in the morning. I thought about every exaggeration, every lie I'd told TygrrEyz. For example, I hadn't played one of the leads in The Glass Menagerie. I'd worked the lights. I go to an all-boys boarding school, and everybody has to pitch in. Besides, I'm not the leading man type, like Ethan. I'm more of a character actor. You know, the actor who plays the leading man's best friend, or the moody son with a deep, dark secret. I just don't have the chin or the cheekbones to play the lead. Scott Davis gets the lead in almost every production at my school. He has the cheekbones, and he's six feet tall. As a matter of fact, there was one particular deep, dark secret I wasn't sharing with the group. My biggest success that year had been in A Midsummer Night's Dream. What's the problem? Shakespeare is heavy stuff, right? I should be proud. Here's the problem: I played Titania, Queen of the Fairies. As I mentioned, I go to an all-boys school. Occasionally, we do a production without any girls from neighboring boarding schools. My performance as Titania got a rave, but I decided to deepsix that particular review. TygrrEyz would take one look at me and know I'd lied. I wasn't a studly specimen. No director would cast me as the romantic lead. I was strictly a Titania kind of guy. So why was I so hung up on impressing her? Let me tell you why. Tiger Eyes was just about the smartest, funniest girl I'd ever not-met. "You're seriously stupid, guy," my roommate, Mark, told me. "All the girls you meet online are potential Gila monsters." But Tiger Eyes couldn't be. First of all, she usually gets the lead in her school productions. Only babes get the lead in school productions. She also has a completely sexy voice. She sent me her audition tape for the seminar, and I nearly swallowed the tape recorder. I hung over it, listening to every husky word. But what I really like about Tiger is that she gets me, and I get her. It's like we were aliens on another planet together, or pirates on the same ship in another life. First of all, we're obsessed with theater. Second of all, we're dreamers. We always got marked NEEDS TO PAY ATTENTION IN CLASS on our grade school report cards. We both can't wait to blow high school and really study drama, instead of wasting endless boring hours on things like biology. TygrrEyz took her online name from her favorite book as a kid, Tiger Eyes, by Judy Blume. In the book, the main character's father dies. TygrrEyz's father died when a blood clot formed in his brain. TygrrEyz was only twelve. My parents are divorced, and my dad is not exactly a huge part of my life. So we had that in common, too. To summarize: We have the perfect relationship. We've shared all this intimate stuff with each other, but we've never had an awkward silence. We've never had a sweaty date. She's never seen me with a zit. I don't have to worry about my hair, or my clothes. So why would I want to spoil it? What if TygrrEyz thinks I'm a dork? "So skip it," Mark told me before breezing out to soccer practice. "Like I keep telling you, online crushes should stay online. IRL, things never work out. Don't risk it." So maybe he's right. In Real Life, girls with tiger eyes don't go for guys like me. Guys with a basic boring face, not overly cute, not overly ugly, and a body with no particular musculature. But what does Mark know? He's already got his life mapped out. He's going to be an investment banker. He's going to get engaged when he's twenty-nine, and married when he's thirty. He's even got the block picked out in Boston where he's going to live. And you know what? I have no doubt that he will. He's not a dreamer. He doesn't have romance in his soul. He wouldn't get on the bus to chase down a girl who only exists in bytes and microchips. But dreamers have to risk, even for just one look. Even if I chickened out and turned right around to hightail it back to school like the complete and utter coward that I am. I had to see her, just once. So I guess I made my decision. I'm going.
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