Whilst her friends were discussing her fate at Starlight Mansion,
Kimber was making her way slowly along the main road to the city
centre, steeling herself for a confrontation with her big sister.
During the night she had thought things through very carefully, and she
had come to the realisation that, if she wanted to make peace with the
overworked Jerrica, then she
had to give a little ground.
"So, much as I hate to do it, I'm going to agree to cut the counter melody." She told herself, as she paused outside the big steel framed building. "I don't think the song sounds right without it, but hell, the group is more important than one song. At least, I think it is."
"I know Jerrica has been working superhard lately, and I know me turning up late all the time isn't helping." She acknowledged, staring up at the imposing logo as she prepared her thoughts. "So if that will help, I'll agree to it. Who knows, maybe we'll be able to discuss it. And well, perhaps it is a little too soon to expect the Misfits and Holograms to be playing on each other's songs yet. The truce is very new and I do see why Jerrica doesn't trust it. Look at this morning! If Pizzazz had found me..." She frowned. "Maybe this truce really is only skin deep in some parts yet. I have to learn to be less impulsive. Just because Stormer is one of my best friends in the whole world doesn't mean everything is going to be peachy between our two groups right away. These things take time."
She marched resolutely up the front steps, pushing open the main doors and casting the security guard on duty a grin as she crossed the lobby to the big lift shaft in the far corner. He hailed her with a friendly greeting, for Kimber was well liked by all of the music company's staff, and she raised her hand in a wave. Then she was inside the cylindrical lift, heading for the top floor.
As the car reached it's destination with a metallic chime and a judder, she swallowed hard.
"I only hope the night has calmed Jerrica down as much as it has me." She murmured. "I don't want to be at war with my big sister. After all, we're outrageous together!"
She made her way purposefully down the softly lit corridor towards the door which had her sister's name on it in black and white. Once it had read Emmet Benton, and Kimber allowed herself a moment of nostalgia, remembering a time when she would drop by the music company regularly after school to see her father at work. Emmet had been an important figure in her life and her natural inclination towards music had meant they had had plenty to talk about. Emmet had often hinted that one day, if she bided her time and got her high school diploma, he might be promoting her through Starlight Music, in the same way he had promoted her long dead mother Jacqui. Kimber had never liked academia, but she had taken his words to heart and had graduated high school on the first attempt, but her triumph had been marred by the death of her father less than a year later. Thinking back, she could remember his gaunt face, how easily he had tired and how much older he had begun to look over those last months.
"But I never knew." She murmured. "I wish I had. I would have made those last months more precious."
She got a grip on herself at that moment, reaching up to touch her sister's nameplate.
"Jerrica does him proud." She decided. "And I got my dream of being a star. Things worked out how he'd want them, I know it."
She knocked, waiting for the older girl to call her in, and then she pushed open the door, stepping into the office. Joanie, Jerrica's secretary was nowhere in sight, and she registered with some relief that her sister wasn't alone. Aja was stood at the filing cabinet, going through folders and she cast the redhead a grin as she entered, dispelling some of Kimber's sense of foreboding.
Jerrica set down her pen, raising her gaze to meet her sister's. Her expression was unreadable, but not hostile, and she beckoned for Kimber to come and take a seat. Feeling almost like she was back at high school, waiting to be interviewed by an irate principal, Kimber did as she was bidden, sitting down in the chair opposite her sister's desk and eying Jerrica nervously.
"Well?" The blond asked quietly.
"I was hoping we might talk." Somehow Kimber's voice sounded foreign to her own ears, and she fidgeted in the chair, her apprehension back in full force. "Yesterday we were both pretty heated, but you know, we've both had a night to think and I wanted to sort things out with you."
Jerrica was silent for a moment, as if digesting this. Then she nodded slowly.
"We were." She agreed.
"Last night I thought about the song quite a lot." Kimber toyed with her hands. "I...well, if you really don't want the counter melody, then I suppose we can cut it."
"Thank you." Jerrica's tone sounded more professional than grateful. "I'm glad you've come to your senses about that, at least. There is no room for a Misfit on a Hologram track - now or ever."
Kimber did not reply, and Jerrica pursed her lips.
"Speaking of which, Kimber, I'm not happy about the amount of time you're spending with them."
"Huh?" Kimber stared. "But Jerrica..."
"You stayed over there last night, didn't you?"
"Yes, of course I did. Where else would I go? Stormer's my friend and she felt bad enough about us rowing. Jetta and Roxy didn't care and I didn't know Pizzazz was gonna come home early this morning, so I didn't think it would be a problem."
"Oh, didn't you?" Jerrica raised an eyebrow. Then she sighed. "Look, Kimber, I know you think the world of Stormer, but listen to me for once, will you? When have the Misfits ever done anything nice for us without there being an ulterior motive?"
"Uh...we have a truce?"
"Do we?" Jerrica met her sister's confused blue eyes with level ones of her own. "Or do the Misfits just think that by playing out this charade they can ensnare you in some scheme or other and cause the Holograms to bicker among themselves, hmm?"
"That's just crazy!"
"Is it? I don't think it's crazy." Jerrica rested her chin in her hands. "Look at the facts. You were late to practice yesterday, because you were with Stormer. We rowed yesterday, because you'd had some bright idea about a sax solo...did Stormer also put that idea into your head?"
"No, Jerrica, I did." Aja decided it was time she interfered. "Kimber and I were talking about it when we were writing and I was the one who suggested Jetta's saxophone. Not Stormer."
"And it wasn't Stormer's fault I was late, either. In fact, she's lent me a clock to make sure I'm not late again." Kimber added. "It was my own carelessness, Jerrica. You know how hopeless I am with keeping appointments. I'm really sorry I was late for rehearsal, but it wasn't Stormer's fault."
"Where did you go after practice yesterday? The Gabor place?"
Kimber blushed red to the roots of her hair, shaking her head.
"Misfit Music." She admitted unwillingly. "I was...looking for Stormer, to ask her if I could sleep over at their place. I met up with the guy who does their photos in the lobby and he convinced me to come help Jetta and Stormer sort files in Eric's office."
Jerrica stared at her, then,
"It gets worse!" she exclaimed. "That's it!" She banged her fist on the desk. "No more. Kimber, you're not spending any more time with that group. You hear me? Any of them! Stormer included!"
"You can't do that!" Kimber protested. "Stormer's my friend, and I like hanging out with her! And...and even Pizzazz doesn't stop her hanging out with me, even if she doesn't like it!"
"What Pizzazz does is not important. I'm your sister." Jerrica's voice was cold. "When Dad died I assumed responsibility for the family and the Foundation and you fit into that, too. It's down to me to make sure you don't get yourself wound up in more trouble than you can handle!"
"Wrong, Jerrica." Kimber shook her head. "It's up to me. Unless it escaped your notice, I'm not a kid anymore. I'm twenty two in August. That's how old you were when Dad died and you took over running this company in the first place! Hell, I could even be married by now, you know that!"
"To the wrong guy." Jerrica reminded her. "Though I'm not sure even the right guy is going to make you much happier, Kimber, with his first wife business and everything."
"If Shawn and I are meant to be together we'll work it out." Kimber snapped back. "His business with Eboni is my concern, not yours. Don't you get it? You're my sister, not my minder! Shana and Aja never play Mom over me like you do! You might run the music company now, but half of it is mine, you know. It has been ever since Eric was kicked out of here! You should know - you gave it to me! I'm not a little girl who needs someone to hold my hand all the time now! I'm old enough to decide things for myself."
"And let us stand around and pick up the mess you leave?" Jerrica asked softly. "Kimber, you're my sister, and I don't want to row with you but your behaviour is getting even more irresponsible. If you want to be treated like a grown up, then you have to act like one too. Yes, I was twenty two when I began running this place after Dad's death. But I didn't run around forgetting my obligations and hanging out with people who were nothing but trouble."
"Jerrica, we're different people." Kimber tried her best to keep a grip on her hot, impetuous temper. "I love you, you know that, but listen to me. I need a chance to be my own person and make my own mistakes! You're right, I'm not like you were at twenty two. I'm myself, I need the chance to grow and develop and make my own choices and friendships. If I do the wrong thing, well, then I do, but it's all part of life, isn't it? I can't be anyone other than the girl I am, you know. No matter how much you might wish it."
"I'm sure Jerrica doesn't wish you any different, Kimber." Aja came to hug her foster sister gently. "Perhaps there's still a compromise that can be reached here."
"A compromise?" Jerrica eyed Aja thoughtfully. "Well, this is how I see it. Jem and the Holograms are currently the biggest deal in Los Angeles and the hottest rock band in the United States. As Jerrica Benton I already have to do the work of two or three executives sometimes, sorting out contracts and arranging appearances. Not only that, I have Jem's crazy schedule to keep up with as well. It doesn't help when my kid sister is running riot round Los Angeles forgetting when she has a practice arranged!"
"I apologised for that." Kimber objected. "I do try and be on time for things, you know. I just...find it hard to be as organised as you, that's all. My mind doesn't work that way."
"Perhaps it's time it did." Jerrica said softly. "Is there anything else?"
"One thing, Jerrica." Kimber bit her lip, then, "You can't make me be friends or not be friends with people, you know. If being Stormer's friend is going to get me into trouble then fine, let it and I'll learn from it. I trust her and I have faith in her and that's all that matters to me."
"Like you trusted and had faith in Shawn?" Jerrica raised an eyebrow. "Before you found out about his wife?"
"Jerrica, must you keep bringing that up?" Kimber looked pained. "I love Shawn and okay, so he made a mistake, but I handled the situation and now he's handling the problem. I made a friend out of the whole business and I know that things will work out eventually, if they're meant to. You don't have to keep throwing it in my face, you know. It's not like your relationship with Rio was perfect before he found out you were Jem. At least Shawn never tried to two time me with myself!"
"I suggest that you leave my office, if you're just going to sling insults at me." Jerrica said in low tones. "I expect to see you at practice this afternoon, and I expect you to be on time. And I mean what I say about the Misfits. Stay away from them - all of them. You're too reckless to be trusted to make the right decision, so I'm making it for you." She gestured towards the door. "I'm done. You can go."
"Why, thank you, your highness!" Despite her best attempts to keep her temper, Kimber flared up at this dismissive attitude. She wasn't to know that her sister was both exhausted and preoccupied with a troublesome business contract, and that her own entrance to the music company had been, in the end, badly timed. "Can I breathe without your say so or do I have to have your written permission?" She banged her fist down on the desk. "Look here, big sister, that is all you are. Not my Mom or my Dad or my bodyguard or anything else. Stormer and I have been friends a long time and you know what? I had fun last night. Okay, so Roxy's horror movies were gross and I ended up hiding behind the couch with Stormer most of the night, but it was still fun. Relaxed and laid back and fun, like we used to have, before you turned into Cruella De Ville and started biting everyone's heads off about every little thing you could think of! Well, I'm sorry I'm not perfect, I really am! But I'm not going to sit and dwell on my shortcomings all my life just to satisfy you. I'm young and it's a free country...I'm going to enjoy myself while I can!"
"Kimber..." Aja held up her hands to try and stop her friend from continuing her tirade, for Jerrica's face had gone white and the guitarist could be forgiven for thinking it was shock. However, Jerrica was simply raging, and as soon as Kimber paused to draw breath, she began.
"Why the hell can't you act your age sometimes?" She demanded. "You would never have spoken like that to Father!"
"He was my father!" Kimber shot back. "You're not! And unless it had escaped your notice, I am acting my age! I'm twenty one, not fifty one! It's you who needs to chill out and act your age a little, before you give yourself a stroke or a nervous breakdown. Sheesh, Jerrica, get a life of your own before you start moaning at me about mine, huh?"
"How dare you speak to me like that!" Jerrica thundered, getting to her feet and banging her own fists down on the desk, meeting Kimber;s challenging gaze with a glare of her own. Aja bit her lip. Part of her wanted to get involved, and stop this before it came to blows, but another part of her was afraid any interference would simply make matters worse.
"It's between the Bentons and I guess they have to settle it." She acknowledged reluctantly. "But I'm rather worried as to how settling it is going to manifest itself. I've never seen them fight quite like this before!"
"I dare because I can, Jerrica! You're no better than me, whatever you think you are! You strut around, pretending to be some holographic goddess but really you're no different from anyone else. You aren't even a big enough person to tell people you apparently trust the truth! You would never have told Rio if it hadn't been for me. You haven't told Video, you haven't told Danse. Hell, do you trust anyone? Or do you think they're all out to get you!"
"Jem is a secret because of Synergy, and you know that as well as I do." Jerrica snapped back. Kimber fixed her with a piercing stare.
"Sometimes I wonder." she said acidly. "And it just isn't fun any more being a Hologram, with you nagging and yelling and controlling us at every juncture, you know. We can't work under that kind of pressure - none of us can. Shana spends more and more time with Regine and with Anthony and you know, if things aren't better soon I can see her quitting the group altogether to follow the fashion design dream, just to get out of the stress of all this! Raya's loyal as anyone, but she hates tension and fighting and I can't see her sticking this much longer, you know. Aja and I worked hard on that song of ours - like we always do on music these days - and even though I came here willing to compromise you're still not satisfied! You only want things your way, that's all!"
Out of nowhere, Jerrica's hand came out across Kimber's cheek and, stunned into silence, Kimber could only stare at her sister in stricken surprise. In her corner, Aja looked equally stunned, and she put a comforting arm around Kimber, hugging her tightly.
"I think you should leave my office now." Jerrica spoke in cold tones, though her blue eyes were still furious. "I'm not going to be spoken to like that by you or anyone - now, or ever. You better realise that. I have done everything in my power to be a sister to you and a parent to the girls since Father died and I don't appreciate being taken for granted or abused like this. I work damn hard to make this company operate, and to keep the Holograms afloat. You have really no idea about any of it, so I suggest you hold your tongue."
Kimber's blue eyes narrowed, and she put her hand absently to her throbbing cheek.
"You gave half of the company to me." She said quietly. "Don't forget that. Without me, the Holograms wouldn't have a lyricist, a keyboardist or a co-composer. The only musical talent you've ever had is being able to sing and, to be quite honest, Jerrica, if you're so shy of your own voice that you have to hide behind a hologram to perform then maybe you need to reassess your ability in that department, too. I've proven that I don't need either you or the Holograms to be a success and make a hit. Stormer and I have had two multi-platinum selling albums, after all. However, big sister, you sure need me."
"Do you think so? Maybe we don't." Jerrica said icily. "Don't forget, Kimber, who packaged and promoted your little projects with Stormer. You owe even their success to me and my music company."
"Our music company." Kimber corrected her. "Father's music company. But you know what? Enough words. I'll prove it to you. I'll show you that I don't need you or your band to make myself a success." She headed towards the door, but as she reached it she paused, turning.She spread her hands.
"Oh, by the way, if you didn't get it, I quit. Find yourself another flunkie to play keys!"
And very much on her dignity, she stalked out of the office, slamming the door hard behind her.
"You shouldn't have hit her." Aja said softly, as the heavy silence threatened to become oppressive. Jerrica shrugged.
"Let her go." She said shortly. "She'll be back, anyway. She hasn't the first idea about anything in this business. She won't last."
"What if she goes to Misfit Music?"
"Then she's no sister of mine." Jerrica shrugged her shoulders once more. "Leave it, Aja. I don't want to talk about it. If Kimber thinks she can throw back everything I've done for her in my face, then fine. Let her. She'll soon see how stupid she's being."
Aja bit her lip.
"I think you were outta line." She admitted. "I didn't want to interfere back then, because you're my oldest friend and Kimber is like my baby sister, you know that...I don't want to be taking sides. But I do think she has one point - she isn't a child. You can't protect her always."
"I have paperwork to finish."
"Jerrica, are you even listening to me?" Aja demanded. "This is your sister and the Holograms we're talking about. Kimber just quit! Isn't that important?"
"It's going to cause more logistical problems, but we'll solve it." Jerrica responded. "Enough, Aja. I have plenty to do without this. And besides, the amount of time you spend with Roxy...I suppose you're just as bad. Not to mention the fact that you're dating a Misfit's brother."
"Okay, now you're getting screwy." Aja rolled her eyes. "Craig is hardly ever even in America, you know. Look, this is no good. I'm gonna leave you to it, and we'll talk later. Right now you're in no frame of mind to listen properly to reason - you need to take a time out."
"Don't tell me how to act!" Jerrica exclaimed. "I'm fine, it's everyone else who's screwed up, running round playing nice to Misfits and all kinds of nonsense! You're as bad as Kimber, you are!"
"Well, I'm going to go find her and make sure she's all right." Aja responded softly. "I care what happens to her, whether she's quit the band or not, and so should you."
"If you go after her then you're out of the Holograms too!"
Aja hesitated for a moment. Then she frowned.
"If that's how you feel." She murmured. "I love Kimber, she's my sister, even if we're not blood related. That's more important to me than being famous. If caring for my family means I can't be a Hologram any more, so be it. I'm going anyway."
Her heart in her throat, she walked purposefully towards the door, and then, with a moment of hesitation, she left the office.
Jerrica buried her head in her arms as the anger seeped out of her. Too tired to even call Aja back, she felt a sense of helplessness well up inside of her.
"Oh, what's the use!" She muttered. "It doesn't matter what I do. Everything is falling apart and I don't think there's any way to stop it!"