Chapter One: Sheila
"Sheila! Sheila, get a move on, will you, and stop nattering! You're
to work, not create a social life!"
The middle aged man in the cap and apron poked his head around the door that seperated the back kitchen from the main body of the cafe, a harried expression on his face. "I've orders here waiting to be served - we're too busy for you to stand around filing your nails or getting a date for Saturday night or whatever it is you're doing that's so important!"
"Oh, relax, will ya? I'm on it." The girl with the long dark ponytail rolled her eyes at the friend she had been chatting with, heading across the cafe's chequered floor to the doorway. "Right, 'ere I am. What you got for me?"
"That's for table two, that's for table eight and table four need more salt and vinegar." The supervisor responded, keeping the frustration from his tone as best he could, for having to chivvy his reluctant waitress into action was not an uncommon state of affairs. "And don't forget to smile as you serve! Honestly, this isn't a funerary parlour, so stop dishing out food as if someone just died! Do you want to keep this job?"
"Keep your 'air on, I'm getting there." Sheila retorted, scooping up table two's meals. "You ain't enough of it left to lose, anyway. Lighten up, will ya? I only 'ave two 'ands!"
"And too much lip, Miss Burns." Her boss snapped back. "Now get moving before I dock your pay!"
Muttering under her breath, Sheila duly transported the plates to the waiting table, offering a lukewarm false smile as she did so and heading back to the hatch for the next bunch.
If she was honest, she hated waitressing, but it was a necessary means to an end. At nineteen, Sheila had finished with school the year before and had gone out into the world of work, shunning the idea of university as 'too much bother'. In all honesty, with her intelligence, it was where she should have been, and had she realistically considered the option she would have found it to be an escape from the confines of her family situation, but she had pushed the idea away without really taking it in - work was not her thing. She had passed every class at school with ease and the minimum of work, and had great academic potential, but she had never been a keen slogger, and had had her fill of education. Let the suckers study if they wanted it...she didn't.
She had worked at the cafe for three years now, but it had only become a full time job once her school commitments had ended. Though she was not a natural in her chosen role, the pay kept her going, and however bored she got, she knew she could not afford to lose her position. She had to pay her parents an amount room and board out of her salary, and, more importantly in her mind, there was her project to consider.
Since she had been a small girl, Sheila had been captivated by music. At an early age she had discovered her grandfather playing his old saxophone and he had played it for her, thrilling her young heart with every note. She had begged him to teach her and with a laugh he had acquiesced, barely able to believe that one of his wayward family had developed the same love of a melody inside of her as he had always felt.
Sheila had proven a natural with the instrument, despite the clumsiness of her little fingers over the keys, and her grandfather had had high hopes of her becoming a professional musician someday, if she could get the right training. His plans were that once she was eighteen and free from her parents' greedy clutches he would take her on himself and see to it she got to where she wanted to be, but these plans were dashed by his sudden and unexpected death at the age of only seventy three. Sheila, then twelve years old, had been heartbroken, but had found little sympathy among her other relatives. Even the old man's own son, Albert, Sheila's own father, cared more about the legacy in the will than the loss of the man himself, and in many ways Sheila had been left to deal with her grief alone. She would never again see the beautiful instrument she had grown to adore, since it was sold for profit at the first opportunity, partly to generate money to pay gambling bills and partly to spite the young girl herself. Her parents had never understood this love of music and had done all they could to quell it, as cruelly as possible. It had sparked resentment in the girl's soul, but had not been a surprise. She and her parents had always been at odds...she knew she was a 'mistake' and had never been wanted. In truth she had never let their indifference really get to her, since it had always been there and she had developed ways and means to deal with it. Only her grandfather had ever secured her wholehearted affection and trust, to her parents she had learnt it was easier not to feel.
And yet, deep inside of her, Sheila was a fighter. Determined that she would do whatever it took to get her music back, she had taken the waitressing job in order to save for an instrument of her own, a black saxophone, to match her own dark hair...and to not remind her too much of the gold one she had lost grips on as a child. Saving had not proven easy, for her parents, avid gamblers, had a habit of 'borrowing' money which never got returned, but she had stuck to her guns. And with this week's paycheque, she would finally have enough.
When she looked at it that way, waiting tables hardly seemed so bad.
Although she had never held any illusions about family, there was one person within it's perimiters that did matter to Sheila a great deal - her elder brother Jeremy. She had fallen more under his influence since her grandfather's death, for old Charlie Burns had seen the dark streak that burned inside the elder Burns child and had done all he could do keep his protegee from being taken in. But Jeremy had cited Sheila as a useful and willing accomplice, even a foil for some of his more illicit schemes. He had preyed on her weakness after Charlie's death, and she had grown to trust in him wholeheartedly.
But Jeremy's motives for his sister had never been rooted in family loyalty. He was, and always had been, someone who cared for his own needs more than anyone else's, and his clever brain simply looked for a way to use Sheila to keep himself out of trouble. She was learning to be devious, deceitful and manipulative under his guidance, but she had never realised that she was the one being manipulated most of all...or where it was likely to lead her.
She believed her brother invincible, for he had gotten into and out of so many schemes she had begun to believe no authority would ever clamp down on what he could do. She was aware that not all of his dealing was entirely legal, but it hardly seemed to matter...he was never caught and, to her knowledge anyway, his schemes were never that far over the line. If nothing else, it added spice to the life of a girl whose intelligence was frustrated by her monotonous job and lack of future prospects. Her school record, though it had been ended with academic achievement had been chequered with various misdemeanours, some of which had gotten her suspended and had overshadowed her classwork. Her parents had long since ceased to try and control her wild ways - they knew already that it was hopeless and she had gone beyond their reach.
Jeremy had always been accepted by them, for he had a knack for bringing home money without getting a proper job. It wasn't a crime in the Burns household unless you were caught for it, and then, if you were caught, capture was the only thing to regret. Remorse for breaking the law was not a prevalent emotion in this particular family...and Sheila had accepted such values without questioning them growing up.
She had always been popular with her own kind, being the kind of girl who had been both a born leader and someone who others had easily looked up to. She had soon sussed out how best to deal with those around her and had taken advantage accordingly, promising protection to those harassed by bullies in return for having her homework done. Sheila had never feared bullies, she had found ways to wrap them easily around her little finger, so more often than not on the night before a big essay deadline she had been out enjoying herself while some other sucker wrote up the project in her name. Seeing the benefits of being able to control other people, she had honed her manipulative skills to near perfection, but Jeremy still outdid her in the arts of coercion and manipulation.
The big hand of the clock clicked onto the seven at last, and Sheila tossed the napkin she had just folded into the air, catching it and tossing it into the basket with the minimum of care. Her shift was over for the night and tomorrow was payday...finally life was coming together.
Her supervisor grimaced at her, but did not comment. She was off-duty now, anyway,and in all truth he had a certain amount of sympathy for his employee's vivacity for life and living it. He had known her father for many years, and had never trusted him or his grasping wife, but he also knew how important Sheila's job was to her welfare, so he had never fired her for her impudence or carelessness, though he had warned and threatened her many a time.
"Hey, Sheila! You done, girl?" A fresh voice came from the doorway and Sheila turned, shooting her brother a surprised grin.
"You bet. What brings you by here? Got plans?"
"Not really. Just thought you might wanna come hang with Rose and Neil and I for a while, have a few rounds of darts, and just relax." Jeremy winked at her, holding the door as she followed him out to the car. Sheila shrugged.
"Sure, whatever." she agreed. "I got no plans. Don't get paid till tomorrow and I don't want to go 'ome, not really."
"I'll say you don't, kid." Jeremy responded. "Dad lost a fortune on those damn nags this morning and he ain't in a good temper. C'mon...we'll find a way to liven things up."
"Hey, new car!" Sheila stopped dead, staring at the shiny red vehicle. "Who'd you rip off for this, Jeremy?"
"Noone." Jeremy shrugged. "I earnt it, li'l sis. That's why you should pay good attention to all I tell you - then one day maybe you'll learn how to do so too."
"Any job that pays that kinda money would definitely be welcome!" Sheila laughed. "But tomorrow I'll finally 'ave enough for that blinkin' sax...then there's no stopping me!"
"Nice." Jeremy looked approving, though there was reservation in his eyes. "Hey, maybe then you oughta play it for pennies or something, get some extra cash."
"Thought about it, but I'm so outta practice, and Ma'd blow a fuse if she knew I was even plannin' on buying it." Sheila shrugged. "Right now I need the roof over me 'ead."
"Yeah, maybe." Jeremy unlocked the car. "Get in, will ya? I told Neil we'd meet 'im at the Nag's Head in fifteen minutes or so."
"The Nag's Head? Early for drinking, ain't it?" Sheila obediently slipped into the passenger seat. Jeremy shrugged.
"Well, we'll see 'ow it goes." he said noncommitally. "I 'ave a meeting with a...a prospective workmate at 'alf seven anyway, so I can't get too merry so early."
"You're drivin', anyway." Sheila pointed out as they pulled out of the car park. "And I don't wanna go through the windscreen much, ta!" She glanced out of the window. "Woo, smooth runner. I want one!"
"Well, you saved all your money for a sax, kid. Can't 'ave everything." Jeremy's eyes twinkled.
Sheila pulled a face, rummaging in her bag for her compact and loosing her hair, primping it till it fell to her satisfaction.
"One day I will." she said firmly. "You'll see...I ain't spending my whole life in this 'ole."
"You and me both, love." Jeremy laughed. "On to bigger and better."
"I'll drink to that." Sheila grinned. "Boy, it's been a long day. Work dragged worse than ever."
"What do you expect, in a dead end cafe like Tony's?" Jeremy demanded. "And 'ere we are. Don't get your makeup all over the upholstery, Sheila! I don't want to have to get it cleaned!"
"All right, cool out." Sheila shrugged, slipping her lipstick back into her purse and extracting a cigarette. "Oh, dammit...left me blinkin' lighter at 'ome again. Jeremy, you got a light?"
"In the glove box." Jeremy spoke without thinking, then, as his sister went to open it he put out a hand. "No, I don't want you rummaging around in there, you'll mess up all my stuff! You go on in, I'll find my lighter and join you in a moment or two, okay?"
"Sure. Sheesh, cool out, will you?" Sheila rolled her eyes. "You're worse on edge than me tonight, and you ain't done a long shift, neither!"
She pushed open the car door, sauntering into the building. The Nags Head was a seedy pub downtown from the estate on which both Sheila and Jeremy had grown up, and it was a popular haunt for the areas less honourable residents. Sheila was aware of this, but it had never phased her. Just because she frequented the same place, she reasoned, as the shady characters, it did not make her one of them. It was just a nice place to relax.
Her sharp eyes soon spotted Rose and Neil, sitting in a corner booth, chatting about something. As she entered Neil raised his hand in a wave and she grinned, heading over to join them.
In truth, both Neil and Rose were a dangerous influence on the last of her impressionability. Neil had served brief prison terms in the past for varying offences and Rose, who considered herself the pinnacle of sophistication, moved in lanes that were several speeds too fast for the law. It was well known in local circles that she was linked in with some kind of drug ring, but Sheila had never paid idle gossip much attention. She knew she could handle herself around the other girl, cocaine floozie or not, and as for Neil, well, she was a perfectly capable flirt, and knew how to keep the rougher side of his nature off her back.
These days, Sheila Burns was not easily scared by anything.
"Hey, Sheila! Where's your brother, huh? You bring him?" Rose called out now, and Sheila smirked, sitting down.
"He's outside, parking his new beauty and gettin' all possessive over it." she replied dryly.
"Want a light for that thing, love?" Neil held out his lighter and Sheila nodded, allowing him to assist her.
"Ta, ducks." she said with a grin, exhaling a cloud of smoke. "I left me lighter back 'ome again, early mornings ain't good for the brain."
"Work isnt good for the brain." Rose pulled a face. "I don't know how you stick it, Sheila...I could never be caught dead in a restrictive job like that...I prefer to make my own hours, if you know what I mean."
Sheila eyed her companion thoughtfully. She was not naive enough to miss the implication in Rose's words, but it hardly surprised her that someone of that girl's attitude to life would choose such a line of work.
"Well, I ain't got much choice right now." was all she said, however, flicking ash off her cigarette. "An' I got to give these things up from tomorrow, too...so I'm takin' advantage of relaxing with it while I still can."
"Give up? How come?" Neil looked surprised. "Sheila, you without a cigarette is like...is like a dog without a tail, or Rose without some braindead zero on her track...why the sudden desire to change?"
"I got to. Gettin' me sax tomorrow." Sheila shrugged. "Career sacrifice. Gramps always told me you can't play a good sax with smoker's lungs."
"Sheila, he was an old fool who never left you anything when he died, and the sax is hardly your career, is it?" Jeremy joined them at that moment, and Sheila glowered at him. Even after seven years, her loyalty to the dead man held firm.
"Even if he 'ad left me anything, Mum or Dad woulda swiped it." she said quietly. "And you wouldn't understand. You don't like music. Gramps weren't no fool - you just didn't know 'im like me, that's all."
"You're going soft in the head, kid. He's dead, so what does it matter?" Jeremy shrugged.
"You're really gonna just totally give up on your image to play some dumb instrument?" Rose looked blank. "Sheila, the saxophone is so outdated - noone gives a damn about jazz instruments any more! If it ain't electrified and hyped in a cloud of acid, who cares?"
"Well, I care." Sheila said firmly. "And in my opinion, it's a necessary sacrifice. One day, I will be a great sax player and make a fortune from it...then you'll all eat your words."
"You gotta get out of your dreams and back to the real world, kid." Jeremy said, amused.
"Yeah, listen to your bro." Neil smirked. "You're too old for fairy tales now."
"Well, then maybe I won't bore you with me company no more tonight." Sheila got to her feet, inhaling on her cigarette and flicking ash in Neil's direction. "I ain't in the mood for darts now. I'm goin' to go drop by Laura's...catch you later, Jeremy."
Once she was gone, very much on her dignity, Rose frowned, then lowered her voice.
"So does she know about the job?" she murmured. Jeremy shook his head.
"No. She almost found Shane's pay-off, but no." he replied. "She's a gullible fool, Rose, and she lives in this little dreamworld of hers...she'll believe whatever I tell her. Don't worry, she's safe. Trust me."
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
"What's eating you?"
Laura Cunningham opened the door of her house, eying her visitor in surprise. "I thought that tomorrow was red letter day...why the long face?"
"Jeremy." Sheila sighed, following her friend indoors and into the lounge. "He just doesnt get it, Laura...about the sax and all."
"He's a bloke, big surprise." Laura said dryly. "'Ere, put that thing out, will ya? If Mum gets in and smells tobacco I'll be for it! I thought you were givin' up, anyway!"
"I am, from tomorrow." Sheila stubbed out the cigarette. "New start, and all that. Sorry Laura, I forgot."
"Well, it's a sick habit, it makes your fingers and your hair and your nails all gross." Laura grimaced. "You shoulda seen my aunt Sally..."
"All right, I know." Sheila snapped. "I've 'eard it before, Laura, so quit it, huh? From tomorrow it won't matter, anyway. I 'ave to make sacrifices if I really wanna play me sax good, so that's that. Won't miss it, anyhow. Blinkin' expensive 'abit."
"You got that right." Laura nodded. "So what did Jeremy say, exactly?"
"Not much. Only that the sax is hardly a career move." Sheila replied. "He thinks I'm bein' childish and daydreaming...well, I don't daydream unless I can make it 'appen, and I know I can, Laura. I really can."
"Well, my musical opinion don't count for much, but the coupla times I 'eard you play when we were kids, you were damn good." Laura looked thoughtful. "Hey, about tomorrow...you mind starting out early? I got me a day off work and I'm goin' north to see my grandparents, I owe 'em a visit but I don't want to break my word to you 'bout comin' along."
"Sure. I have work at nine, but I can get up earlier for once, since it's a special occasion." Sheila grinned. "I meant to ask you, actually, if you could keep the sax here a while, when I bought it? I don't want me folks finding out right away. Pay should be in me account tomorrow and that means I'll finally have enough...I'd actually rather spend it before me Ma tries to hunt up me pin number again."
"No problem. You know you can trust me." Laura nodded her head. "Sit down, huh, and I'll put the kettle on. Tomorrow your music begins!"
PART THREE: BACK IN THE CITY
Chapter Nine: The Misfits In London
Chapter Ten: On Every Screen...
Chapter Eleven: A Musical Reunion
Chapter Twelve: Jealousy
Chapter Thirteen: An Old Acquaintance
Chapter Fourteen: Doing London
Chapter Fifteen: Sabotage!
Chapter Sixteen: The Final Straw
Chapter Seventeen: Opening Night
Chapter Eighteen: Jetta
(The Misfits and Holograms and other animated Jem characters are copyrighted to Hasbro Inc. All characters who do not appear in Jem episodes are my own creation. This story is copyrighted to E.A Woolley (2001)