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Rachel Proctor hadn't written a song in eight months when a friend, songwriter Chris Tompkins, called to ask what she had going on that day. Anything but writing a song, Rachel remembers thinking.

"I'd been busy finishing my album and visiting radio stations promoting my first single, 'Days Like This,' " recalls Rachel. "I was tired and really wanted a day off."

But Chris wanted to kick some ideas around and persisted, and Rachel eventually relented. "But I told him, 'I'm warning you, I'm not in the mood, and I haven't written anything in a long time.' "

Her bad mood continued into the songwriting session. "Chris had this line about stuff scattered in the floorboard of a car," notes Rachel. "My first reaction was, 'Ugh, another driving song! Everybody has a driving song.' "

Chris suggested that they could take the song's storyline in a different direction. "When we got to the end of the first verse, the words 'me and Emily' popped out of my mouth," says Rachel. "We kind of looked at each other and said, 'Oooo, where's this going?' "

Before long, the idea materialized: Emily was a young daughter accompanying her mother as she escaped a situation of domestic violence.

"Neither one of us had experienced anything like that, and no one in our families had," says Rachel. "But the song just poured out. We knew we didn't want to come right out and say she was abused. We didn't want it to be real blatant. But as we were writing it, we both got chill bumps."

At the time, Rachel had already finished her first album. But when she played her new tune for executives at RCA Records, they insisted she cut it immediately - and the album was held until the song could be included.

By the time the song became a Top 20 hit, Rachel was performing it at child-abuse prevention fund-raisers and conventions. "So many people have come up to me and said, 'That's my story,' or 'That song convinced me to leave,'" says Rachel. "How often do you write a song that has that kind of effect on people? It's been a really touching experience for me."

She also recalls one mother who introduced her to her young son at a show. "This is my Emily," the mother told Rachel. The boy immediately protested. "Mom, I'm a boy, not a girl!" The mother replied, "I know, baby. But Rachel knows what I mean."

-Michael McCall