Chapter Seven: Topaz Makes A Friend
“This is hopeless.”
Topaz gazed up at the big blue computer screens, scanning the lists for a name she knew. It was Wednesday evening and, after a day spent in the capital, the singer was on her way back to the Sutton Coldfield hotel that the band had checked into only a day or two earlier.
“How am I expected to find where I’m going when I don’t even know what train I’m looking for? I should have done what Cameron suggested and got a car from London – damn trying to be independent-minded! Why did I have to choose to save money? I'm sure someone could've loaned me the money for a taxi if I'd only thought to ask!”
She glanced around her, looking for some clue as to where to go, but the swirling crowds only succeeded in confusing her even more. She sighed, shaking her head in frustration. Now what was she supposed to do?
“Are you lost?”
A friendly voice, tinged as it was with the local accent interrupted her thoughts and she turned to face the speaker. The stranger was a girl her own age, with wavy white-blond hair clipped back from her face and gentle dark blue eyes that sparkled when she was happy. She was smiling, and despite her frustration Topaz found herself smiling back.
“Yes. Very.” She admitted.
“Are you American?” The girl looked interested. Topaz shook her head.
“No…Canadian.” She responded. Her companion looked embarrassed.
“I’m sorry…I can’t tell the difference in accent.” She admitted.
“It’s okay.” Topaz dimpled.
“Are you looking for a train?”
“Yeah…I’m going to Sutton Coldfield, that’s where my friends and I are staying. Can you help?”
“Sutton?” The stranger looked surprised. “Oh! That’s the same train I’m looking for – I live in Sutton Coldfield, though I get off at Four Oaks generally.”
“You do?” Relief filled Topaz’s eyes. “Brilliant! Oh, can you help me?”
“Sure.” The other girl grinned. “I’m Sadie, by the way.”
“Topaz.” Topaz replied. “Thanks.”
“Topaz?” Sadie looked startled. “I never heard of anyone called that before!”
“Well…my real name is Aurora.” Topaz admitted. “But…well, I’m known as Topaz. It’s my birthstone, you see – November is my birthmonth.” Inwardly she decided it was better to leave the truth of why she was in England for the time being.
“Ah, I get you.” Sadie dimpled. She gazed up at the screens with her expert eye. “We need the train to Lichfield…City or Trent Valley, either’s fine.”
“Isn’t that a whole other city?” Topaz looked confused. Sadie nodded.
“Yes, but the train goes from here to there and Sutton Coldfield is in the middle.” She replied. “And it’s platform 8a…if we hurry we might just get there in time.”
“I’m following you.” Topaz laughed. “Thanks a whole lot for helping me out, Sadie. I didn’t know that Birmingham station was gonna be so chaotic, I thought that I’d be able to handle twelve platforms!”
“It’s a nightmare.” Sadie returned the smile. “When I first moved back down here from Kent I felt very bewildered by it, but it’s cool now. I know what I’m doing.”
“I’m glad…because I was afraid I’d end up on the wrong train.” Topaz admitted as they hurried down the steps.
“It happens.” Sadie admitted. “I was forever getting on the train to Coventry by accident before I got the hang of it.”
“The train to where?” Topaz looked blank.
Sadie looked amused.
“Doesn’t matter.” She replied. “Train is in.”
“It looks like a caterpillar.” Topaz eyed it critically. “The train I came down from London on was a big silver thing!”
“You came down from London?” Sadie asked. Topaz nodded.
“Mm, I went to see my…well, I guess you’d call him my boyfriend.” She replied. “He lives in London – actually he’s a student there. We met last time I was over here.”
“Wow, talk about long distance.” Sadie was impressed. “How does that work?”
“With difficulty.” Topaz groaned. “But I like Cameron and he likes me, so we try, anyhow. It was worth the trip up this morning, anyway.”
“Lucky.” Sadie sounded wistful, as she pressed the button on the door of the train, waiting for it to slide open, then leading the way onboard.
“Do you mind if I sit with you?” Topaz asked. “I really don’t know where I’m going.”
“Sure, I don’t mind.” Sadie agreed, taking a seat by the window. “This isn’t your first time in England, then?”
“No…second.” Topaz dimpled. “I like it here, though. I’d not seen so much of it before this trip, mind you – it was just London then, and just a vacation really.”
“What’s this one, then?”
“Work, technically.” Topaz admitted. “It’s a hectic schedule, too – today is the first day off we’ve had since we got here, so I was determined to see Cameron for as much of today as possible. It’s a pain that he can’t come live in Los Angeles, or I can’t stop in London, but with both of our lives at the moment it’s totally impossible.”
“Los Angeles isn’t Canada.” Sadie objected.
“True.” Topaz admitted. “But it’s where I’m based now.”
“Wow…” Sadie paused, digesting this, then, “Did you ever go to Hollywood?”
“I’ve been to the area.” Topaz nodded.
“What’s it like?”
“Like Hollywood. How can I explain it?” Topaz grinned. “There’s nowhere else on earth like Los Angeles, you know. The area we live, well, it’s on the outskirts of the city in a really nice neighbourhood, but the other side of the place is a total different story and you don’t want to go there if you can avoid it.”
“Like Birmingham.” Sadie said thoughtfully. “Has it’s good and it’s bad places, and you learn which are which very quickly.”
“Right.” Topaz nodded.
“You must’ve travelled a whole lot.”
“Some.” Topaz agreed. “And I’d like to do more. I’ve seen a lot of America and Canada and now the UK, but I’m looking forward to going to Europe and seeing some more of that, to be honest. I’ve always wanted to see the world.”
“I’ve never even been abroad.” Sadie sounded wistful. “You don’t know how lucky you are, you know.”
“I have been very lucky.” Topaz agreed. “I made some good friends and got myself a nice job, and it was all down to luck really – I was in the right place at the right time.”
“What kind of job? If…if you don’t mind my asking?”
“I’m a musician.” Topaz decided to remain vague.
“Oooh.” Sadie paused, then, “Neat.”
“What about you, then? Did you grow up in Birmingham?”
“Yes…sort of.” Sadie frowned.
“Sort of?” Topaz looked confused, then, seeing the shadow in her companion’s eye, frowned also.
“If you don’t want to tell me you don’t have to. I shouldn’t be so nosy.” She said softly.
“No…it’s okay. I don’t mind.” Sadie responded. “It’s not a big deal, really. I lived here till I was ten – my father was in the military, well, he still is, actually, and he was stationed all round the Midlands and stuff while I was a small child, but Mum insisted we set down roots someplace and I was born not far from Aston. She didn’t want us getting ‘jerky educations’, that’s how she used to put it, by moving around all the time, so often Dad would be away for weeks on end, if he had a placement abroad. We’d miss him, of course, but it was even more exciting for us then when he came home, he’d always bring us presents from wherever he’d been.”
“He sounds nice.” Topaz remarked. Sadie nodded.
“He was.” She agreed wistfully.
“Was?” Now Topaz looked bewildered. “But you said he still was in the military…didn’t you?”
“Yeah.” Sadie shrugged. “But, well, we all changed after Mum died. After that, we had no choice but to move about when Dad had to go, and eventually he was stationed for a longer period of time in Kent, that’s where I finished school. He still lives there now, but I came home to Birmingham when I went looking for work.”
“I’m sorry about your mother.” Topaz’s pretty face was unusually grave. Sadie sighed.
“It happens.” She said levelly. “It was a long time ago now.” She blushed. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to bore a total stranger with my life history.”
“I’m interested.” Topaz responded. “And you’ve been such a good Samaritan, Sadie, helping me out – is everyone in this city as nice as you are to a perfect stranger?”
Sadie’s expression became guarded.
“I don’t know.” She said quietly. “Why don’t you ask them?”
“Hey, did I say something wrong?” Topaz frowned. “I meant it, Sadie, I wasn’t being funny. Without your help tonight I’d be lost still, and I appreciate it.”
“Sorry.” She murmured. “I guess…well, sometimes it’s hard to know what people mean.”
“Well, I try to say what I mean all the time if I can.” Topaz grinned. “I’m a good old plain speaking Canadian, okay?”
“Okay.” Sadie smiled slightly. “And I didn’t mind helping you out, Topaz, really. I mean, so many strangers have helped me out – even saved my life, to be honest. It’s nice to give a little back to my city.”
“That’s sweet.” Topaz was touched. There was something about this stranger that made her stand out. Sweet and friendly as her manner was, it also carried an edge which suggested that the girl’s upbringing had not been all roses, and Topaz knew from personal experience what it was like to lose family bonds.
“We’re almost at Sutton Coldfield.” Sadie interrupted her train of thought at that moment, glancing out of the window. “Do you know your way back to the hotel okay?”
“Not a clue.” Topaz admitted. “Aren’t there taxis at the station?”
”Doubtful.” Sadie responded. She hesitated, then, “Look, I’ll get off with you, if you like, and show you where to go. It’s not difficult and I can catch the bus home from the Swan no problems. I have a pass.”
“Are you sure?” Topaz looked startled. Sadie nodded.
“Yes.” She agreed. “Also, it’s not a good idea to be walking around alone at night, when you’re a stranger and a foreigner to the area. Sutton Coldfield is pretty good as a rule, but you don’t want to tempt fate.”
“You sound like you know what you’re talking about.” Topaz remarked. A dark look touched Sadie’s eyes.
“You learn fast.” She said grimly. “Do you want my help or not?”
“It would be great.” Topaz nodded, realising that somehow she’d touched a nerve. “Thanks.”
“Right…then follow me.” Sadie got to her feet, leading the way to the door as the train pulled into the station. Topaz did as she was bidden, and soon the two girls were standing on the dimly lit platform. Topaz sent Sadie a questioning glance.
“What next?” She asked.
“I’m sorry I snapped.” She admitted. “I didn’t mean to.” She pulled a cigarette from her pocket, going to light it, then pausing, eying Topaz thoughtfully. “Do you mind if I smoke?”
“No, guess not.” Topaz shook her head.
“Thanks.” Sadie lit the cigarette, exhaling a cloud of smoke. “I know it’s a terrible habit, but what can you do? I haven’t had a fag since lunch – guess that’s why I’m snappish tonight.” She indicated with her free hand. “That’s the way we’re going…anything familiar yet?”
“Not a clue.” Topaz grinned. “I’m hopeless, huh?”
“Nah, you’ll do.” A spark of amusement touched Sadie’s blue eyes. “Come on, then. This way.”
“You sure I’m not interfering with your plans tonight?” Topaz asked.
“I promise.” Sadie agreed. “I have no evening plans, to be honest. My friend Cece from the flat below is away and I usually go out with her in the evenings, to clubs or bars or whatever, you know? She always wants to go on the pull, and I tag along for the ride. She’s helped me make friends round here, though – we were best of pals from day one and I feel safer now, back in Birmingham.”
“You didn’t feel safe in Kent?” Topaz was confused by the choice of words.
“I wasn’t safe in Kent.” Sadie said darkly.
“I don’t understand.”
“No…I don’t suppose you do.” Sadie sighed, flicking ash from her cigarette. “It’s not important anyhow. There are just…people there I don’t want to see again. One person in particular.”
“An ex-boyfriend, perhaps?” Topaz asked gently. Sadie stared.
“How did you know that?” She demanded.
“I guessed.” Topaz replied. “I feel the same, you see, about a few of my exes back in Toronto.”
“Ohh.” Sadie looked sheepish. “You mean you’ve dated a thug, too?”
“Honey, I think I had the record for it, back where I was working.” Topaz grimaced. Sadie smiled.
“I thought I was the only girl in the world dumb enough to fall for a violent, pigheaded jerk.” She admitted. Topaz laughed.
“Trust me, there are more than just us out there.” She said, realising as she did so that they had surpassed the boundaries of polite acquaintance now, and were acting and chatting like old friends. “I guess that’s why I’m so keen on making things work with Cameron – he’s the first guy I’ve liked who’s not been like that.”
“My sister always said I was too good for him and that I should never have gotten involved with him, but I didn’t listen.” Sadie said ruefully. She took a drag on the cigarette. “She was right – she usually is, actually.”
“You have many sisters?”
“Two, and two brothers, too.”
“Wow, big family.” Topaz responded. “I’m an only child myself…my father died before I was born.”
“I'm sorry." Sadie said softly. Topaz frowned.
"Well, I never knew him." She said matter of factly. "But all I know about him suggests he was a good man."
"I wish there weren’t so many of us.” Sadie admitted. “Alyssa…she’s my eldest sister, she and her husband and my two nieces live in Birmingham and that’s partly why I came here – to be near them, because Aly and I are really close these days. She’s helped me through and been a mother to me through a lot of things, especially with Neal. Mark…my elder brother, he means well, but he ends up in more fights than I care to mention trying to defend me or whatever he calls it. Then there’s me, I’m in the middle. Georgia and James are younger than me – I don’t get along with either of them. Georgie hates me, I’m not sure why, and James wants to go into the army like Dad, to get away from us lot, basically. We’re hardly what you’d call a happy family.” She blushed. “I’m sorry…I must be boring you.”
“Not a bit.” Topaz assured her.
“I don’t usually open up like this with strangers.” Sadie admitted, seeming a little flustered by her confession. “I don’t know why I’m telling you this stuff…I’m sure you don’t care.”
“It’s funny, but it seems like we’ve known each other longer than an hour or so.” Topaz observed. “I mean, I was chatting to you like we were old friends…did you feel that too?”
“Yeah, actually.” Sadie nodded. “Now you mention it, I did.”
“Well, then you shouldn’t be bothered about boring me.” Topaz’s tone was light, but her eyes were serious. “Should you?”
Sadie stared at her companion for a moment. Then she laughed.
“Guess not.” She said self-consciously. “Just…when I came to live in Birmingham I put that mess away and got on with things.”
“I was the same when I left Toronto.” Topaz admitted. “Actually, when I left home. My mother remarried when I was sixteen and I can’t stand my stepdad – I loathe his kids even more. Soon as I was eighteen I left and went to the city…and then, a year later, to Los Angeles. So I totally understand where you’re coming from.”
“Makes a change.” Sadie said dryly. Topaz laughed.
“Guess it takes a screwball to know a screwball, huh?” She suggested playfully.
“Mm.” Sadie nodded. “Guess it does.” She put out her cigarette, pausing. “And here we are…the Swan Hotel.”
Topaz checked her watch.
“Wanna come in for a coffee?” She suggested. “The restaurant will still be open and I owe you something for all your help.”
Sadie paused, eying Topaz for a moment, then she shrugged.
“You’re on the level.” She said slowly. “So sure. I’d love to.”
“Neat.” Topaz’s eyes twinkled, as she pushed open the main door of the hotel.
“Will your friends be here?” Sadie asked. Topaz shook her head.
“Syl said they’d probably hit the town and I told her I’d see them whenever.” She replied. “Syl is my best friend in the world, Sadie, but she has a habit of getting carried away and if I know her she’ll have dragged the others along for the ride. It’s a shame in a way I can’t introduce you to them, but then, by the time they get back, I doubt Syl will be in any state to meet anyone.”
“I’ve been there.” She said dryly. “I don’t drink as much now as I used to when I’m out, mind you. I’ve woken up in skips before now.”
“Skips?” Topaz raised an eyebrow. “Okay, I’ve never been that drunk! I’ve woken up in bedrooms I don’t recognise…but never a dumpster.”
“I was very gone.” She admitted. A slight shadow touched her face as she remembered the reasons for her stupor, and she sighed. “But I try to be good these days. For a start I want to keep my job. It’s important to me – it’s my independence.”
“Well, makes sense to me.” Topaz grinned. “I’m better behaved than I was, too. Again, because of my job. Hang on, I’ll just wander up and ask if there are any messages – won’t be a minute.”
“Sure, no problem.” Sadie nodded.
Topaz headed up to the desk, smiling at the clerk prettily.
“Hi, I just wondered if you have any messages for me?” She asked.
“Good evening, Miss Stapleton.” The clerk returned the smile, and it was clear to the sharp-eyed Sadie that he had a crush on his amiable client. “Messages? Yes, there was a phonecall from Ms Pelligrini about half an hour ago – she wants one of you to call her back as soon as is possible, since she has tomorrow’s schedule to run by you. Oh, and Miss Martescu wanted me to tell you if I saw you that they’ve gone out for the night and not to wait up, they’d see you whenever.”
“Fine. Thank you.” Topaz offered him another smile for his trouble, then headed back to join Sadie.
“Nothing major – have to call my boss but she can wait another half an hour.” She said with a wink. “You take milk in your coffee?”
“Yeah, and sugar.” Sadie’s eyes twinkled. “I’m not the healthiest eater ever, I admit.”
“Me neither.” Topaz said ruefully. “Not much of a cook, either, so I haven’t had much chance to improve my diet. Least, that’s my excuse.”
Once they were seated in the restaurant, drinking coffee, Sadie returned to the topic of friends.
“You know, I don’t know if it’s because I helped you when you were lost, or because you’re not English or what it is, but I’m getting on way better with you than I ever get on with people on my own, first time I meet them.” She admitted. “Cece usually does most of the talking for me – most of my friends are her crowd anyhow, they adopted me. But you’re easy to talk to – it’s weird.”
“I’ve been called a lot of things…not sure if weird is one of them.” Topaz grinned. Sadie laughed.
“I didn’t mean that.” She scolded. “But it’s true…I do feel at ease with you. It’s like you said…like we were old friends. I don’t know how I know, but I know I could trust you if I needed to. That’s odd to me…because there aren’t many people who you know you can trust right from the off.” She sighed. “It sucks though.”
“Why?” Topaz looked confused.
“Well, you’re not from here, and you’ll be leaving soon, won’t you?” Sadie explained. “How long are you in Birmingham for, anyhow?”
“A couple of days more.” Topaz admitted. “Then we’ll be moving on.”
“See?” Sadie sighed again, taking a sip of her drink. “Typical.”
“I know what you mean.” Topaz admitted. “Look at me and Cameron? But we stay in touch by email and phone and online chat…somehow we keep the spark there.”
“You have the internet?” Sadie’s expression perked up at this.
“Doesn’t everyone?” Topaz intoned dryly. Sadie laughed.
“Yeah, most people.” She acknowledged. “But not everyone knows how to use it.”
“I only learnt so I could keep in contact with Cameron.” Topaz admitted. “But yes, I do. Hey, I know. How about you give me your email address, and I’ll give you mine? Then when I get home to LA I’ll email you, and we can be net pen pals. It’d be cool to have another correspondant in England.”
“That’d rock.” Sadie nodded, her eyes lighting up. “I’ve never had a foreign penfriend before…here.” She pulled some paper from her purse, scrawling her email on it. “There. That’s my home email. I’d give you work’s as well, but a girl got blitzed just last week for handling personal matters on their email time, so I’d better not.”
“Okay.” Topaz grinned, rootling in her bag for a pen, then grabbing a nearby napkin, carefully writing down her email address, and printing her name underneath.
“Here you go.” She said with a smile. “So now we can keep in touch, huh? And maybe chat online now and again.”
“I’d like that.” Sadie’s smile was sincere. "Topaz@jewelsworld.com, huh? Cute.”
“I think so.” Topaz nodded.
Sadie got to her feet, scooping up her bag and pushing the napkin inside.
“Okay, I better go before I miss the last bus.” She said. “It’s been cool to meet you and to make a new friend – I never expected that when I clocked off work this afternoon! I really hope we can keep in touch.”
“Count on it.” Topaz winked. “Bye, Sadie. Thanks again for your help.”
She watched the other girl hurry across the lobby and out into the darkness, a thoughtful smile on her face.
“It is nice to make new friends.” She mused. “After all, you’d be very lonely with just fans for company. I can’t help feeling, though, that she’s holding something back. Ah well…time will tell. For now I’d better head upstairs and call Jetta, see what she wants. Life is never dull when you’re a Jewel!”
Chapter One: Jewel In England
Chapter Two: Lovesick
Chapter Three: A New Sensation
Chapter Four: Cameron
Chapter Five: Sadie Gets A Warning
Chapter Six: A Little Love Advice
Chapter Seven: Topaz Makes A Friend
Chapter Eight: At The Halfway House
Chapter Nine: A Shock For Sadie
Chapter Ten: A Family Encounter
Chapter Eleven: Copper Gets A Fan
Chapter Twelve: A Burns Family Secret
Chapter Thirteen: Thicker Than Water
Chapter Fourteen: A Phonecall