Chapter Ten: Revelations
Dean slipped into the booth opposite his girlfriend, giving her a troubled look. "I went to Flame's apartment, like you suggested, but she won't listen to me, and Zoe's quit answering my calls. We had a row over the phone about this last night, and she won't speak to me now. I left a message on her answer machine to meet us here, because I'm worried about her and want to make sure she's all right, but that was twenty minutes ago and I don't think she's going to show up. She called me a traitor last night, after all, because I'm dating you, and you've suddenly become the enemy."
"I'm sorry to get you into trouble too." Nancy frowned. "It's funny, Dean, I don't always like Syl, but I believe her one hundred percent on this one. She can be a bitch but she's not that bad. And she doesn't usually lie." She shrugged. "In truth, I'm still mad at Zoe for putting my song's video on hiatus, but I also want to repair what the press have been trying to do to our reputation. And I suppose, at the end of it, Zoe is a friend. Or at least, she was."
"Zoe's just hurt." Dean sighed. "She's my kid sister in so many ways, Nance. I wish I knew a way to fix it. Noone likes someone they're close to to have a broken heart."
"No, very true." Nancy grimaced, remembering Topaz. "At least at the press conference this morning Copper managed to distract people from the Zoe issue by telling them about Aaron and her engagement. With any luck, that will be the scoop in tomorrow's presses, not the Jewel and Zoe rift."
"Well, let's hope so." Dean responded. "When you see Copper or Aaron, Nance, thank them for me on Zoe's behalf. I know neither of them wanted to make their engagement so public yet, so I appreciate the gesture."
"Copper's worried about Zoe too." Nancy replied. "It was the only solution we could think of."
In the next booth, the figure sitting there stiffened, a dark look crossing her face at their words. Anger welled up inside of her, and she clenched her fists.
"Damn him." She muttered. "I thought I'd done enough to ensure that Aaron and Copper would never get to this step! I was sure that, once he knew she couldn't have kids, he'd abandon her and look for a real woman! Now he's getting engaged to her anyway? What's that about? Sheesh, what does a girl have to do to get a guy's attention around here!"
She picked up the coffee shop serviette, tearing it angrily into strips as she focused on what she had heard.
"I was so sure that we'd be able to lure him to work for Diablo." She muttered. "Things couldn't have been better, and now Jewel are going to have him for sure. Dammit! This Zoe scandal isn't enough...I'm so going to make this useless band pay for this!"
If the truth were to be told, Stefana's heart was the thing which had been most shocked and dismayed when Aaron and Copper had made up their quarrel, and it was Stefana's jilted heart and unrequited feelings that were making her angry now. She would never admit to how she felt about Aaron, not even in her own mind, but jealousy drove many of her actions these days and, with the added potency of the drugs she was dependant upon, her behaviour was often erratic and unpredictable. As Jesta had observed, on occasion she could become almost deranged in her decision making, and to hear in no uncertain terms that Aaron's engagement to Copper was now a fact was almost more than she could bear.
For Stefana, to think was to plot revenge, and her mind immediately turned to the things she had discovered about the hated girl group since the wedding.
"I can't leak to the press about Copper's infertility. Aaron knows that I know about that, and I swore to him not to tell anyone. If he ever knew I'd told them that, he'd never speak to me again, and I'd never have a chance of luring him away from that bitch, perfect as the revenge would be." She decided. "So what else can I use? How else can I smear Jewel's name in the presses? If I have my way, not only will they have lost a video artist, but also public favour! What's a really juicy story...something that will create a real buzz around this impossibly squeaky clean band of idiots?"
She toyed with the strips of paper in her hand, her expression one of deep thought.
"I landed Topaz in it with the music company, but that was never to be the end of it." She remembered. "I always intended on dropping the story with the newspapers...this just makes me more determined to make it as awful as I possibly can. I've met the guy who's probably responsible - though knowing what she's like, it could be any guy on the planet - and he was a moron. He's also conveniently back in his precious English university, so not around to fly to her defence. Hmm. That leaves a nice big question mark over the identity of this baby's father." A wicked smile touched her lips. "Maybe the angle of this story, then, should be, 'Topaz is pregnant - but who is the dad?'". That's bound to drag her reputation down into the dust, if the tabloids are discussing who might have knocked her up. It's something to start with, anyway."
There was a noise from the booth next door and she turned her head, watching Dean and Nancy leave. A slow smile touched her lips.
"Maybe if I suggested to the press that Dean Stacey, even, could be the father - that might be a scandal and a half! Who cares if it's not true? Stories are what sell papers, not boring dull facts of life. That'd be fun, for their next press conference. Do Jewel share their men? If anything is going to put the public off them in time for this award, well, that's gotta be it! Reveal them as the bitchy, shallow, smutty morons that they really are!"
"Do you often talk to yourself?"
A fresh voice, tones clipped and impatient jerked her out of her reverie and she glanced up, glaring at her companion.
"You're late. You should have been here five minutes ago." She snapped. Jesta sent her a sly smile.
"Well, I thought stars could turn up when they wanted." She said smoothly. "That's what you told me, and I'm a star as much as you are, you know."
"Not this side of the atlantic, you're not." Stefana growled.
"Yes, but that will change." Jesta folded her arms. "I've done what you wanted - you've created a press scandal, and your precious Jewel are stopped in their tracks from producing their music video. Now, you owe me big."
"Patience." Stefana snapped. "You'll get what you deserve."
"I want it now." Jesta shook her head. "Tomorrow I fly back to England, Stefana. Unless you want the American press to know who exactly it was who sold Zoe and Flame's stupid sick affair story to the presses, you're gonna keep your side of the bargain here and now. You promised me contact information and stuff, I'm not leaving here until you tell me exactly what you promised you would. Okay?" She smiled slightly. "Jessica Talley might not be known to the American spotlight yet, but she's not someone you mess with, and you'd better realise it. You give me what I want, I give you what you want, and we're fine."
"I'm not going to be threatened by some English nobody." Stefana glared at her. She reached into her bag, pulling out a folder. "Here. This has in it everything you need. I don't want to hear any more from you about this though, you understand me?"
"Why should you?" Jesta flicked open the folder, glancing through the various sheets of paper. "This is exactly what I hoped for." She opened her eyes wide. "You didn't get into any trouble, did you? Hunting this up?"
"Honey, I'm a star. These people fall over themselves to work for me, and anyone I recommend to them." Stefana bragged, though her boast was a little bit of an exaggeration, for most of the people in music production feared her temper rather than loved her company.
"Who's Chimera?" Jesta asked, glancing up.
"She's Marissa's mother, but she's also the best damn video artist there is. Forget Zoe "help-I'm-a-lesbian!" Montgomery - Chimera knows her stuff." Stefana's lip curled into a smile. "Tell her Stefana sent you. She likes me...she'll do anything you ask."
"Okay, I'll keep that in mind." Jesta nodded her head. She pursed her lips. "This has proven to be a profitable relationship, you know...maybe we'll be able to help each other again in the future."
"Maybe. We'll see." Stefana was wary. Jesta laughed.
"What's wrong? Don't like working with someone who can match you for wits?" She demanded. "Besides, you must agree that this is a far more profitable relationship than that tragic mess Flame and Zoe call one." She shrugged. "Flame's a bitch and Zoe's a wimp. It's been fun spiting them, and I'm glad you were able to come up with the perfect way to do that."
"I know the Los Angeles press. I know who to call if you want a scandal spread quick." Stefana's eyes glinted. "Upsetting Jewel is my business, I don't care about Zoe, but you were right. This was convenient. Far more convenient than I ever imagined it would be, to be honest. The longer that idiot girl thinks it was Sylva who leaked her precious secret love to the press, the longer she won't speak to Jewel. The quicker Diablo will get their videos done and produced, and the better things are for all. She's a drip, but she's good at what she does. Chimera being in Connecticut means that Rory prefers to use Zoe, since she's local."
"What if she finds out that it was you who leaked the story?" Jesta asked enquiringly. Stefana snorted.
"And how's she going to do that?" She demanded. "I barely know her, how would I know about this? She doesn't know that I know you, or that you gave me everything I needed to spread this sordid little secret across the press. How could she ever find out?"
"Maybe you should be careful who you speak to, and how loud you do it."
A fresh voice, angry and indignant interrupted their conversation, and both girls glanced up, meeting the furious green eyes of Zoe herself. "I came here to meet Dean, to tell him I was sorry for yelling at him last night, and what do I find? Two empty headed bitches spouting their mouths off about their oh so clever little scheme."
"Aww, poor Zoe." She said mockingly. "Does it look like I really care? I've gotten everything that I needed from this little visit to America, and sharing your secret with my new acquaintance here proved to work in both of our favours." She patted the folder. "In here is my passage to American success...what do I care if you and your pathetic girlfriend aren't speaking to each other? No skin off my nose."
"I shouldn't have discounted you so easily." Zoe's eyes narrowed. "I should have known you were involved in this somehow. You've blackmailed and bullied Fiona, and tried to make our friend's wedding a shambles, and I know you've tried getting her into trouble before. I was there on the Smash Hits tour with the Teenangels. I remember."
"Like I care." Jesta shrugged. "Flame is a freak and I hate her. I hate you too. Why shouldn't I use you to help my career?"
"Besides, Zoe, who cares if I called up my friends at Cool Trash?" Stefana recovered her composure, shooting the video artist an infuriating smile. "It's a free country. Freedom of speech, freedom of the presses. I didn't tell them any lies. No matter how snarky you get now, you know full well I told them nothing that wasn't true. You and that useless dancer are having a twisted little love affair and it was only a matter of time before the whole world began to notice."
"If you ever had a heart, Stefana, you probably sold it to buy a new car or a facelift - you certainly could use one." Zoe's voice shook with hurt, incredulous rage. "You know full well that you made me believe that Syl was the one who betrayed me - and you let me go on believing it! You did this to make me fall out with Jewel!"
"I had nothing to do with you accusing Sylva. You did that on your own." Stefana smiled sweetly at her. "It couldn't have been more perfect, to be honest. I had no idea this would work out so much in my favour."
Zoe bit her lip, realising the truth in the other girl's words.
"And who cares if you found out that I was the one who leaked?" Stefana continued, spying her advantage. "Sylva won't forgive you for this. I heard Nancy and Dean talking - Sylva is furious." She shrugged. "My job is done, the damage is already there." She laughed. "Have a nice day, won't you? Come on, Jesta...we don't want her company."
Once they were gone, Zoe sank down into a chair, her mind whirling with anger and remorse.
"How could I accuse Syl, when she was so sweet to me at Vi's wedding?" She murmured. "It was Fi who put the idea into my head, true, but I was the one who listened and believed her. Syl has always said she didn't do it, and no wonder Jewel stuck up for her - what was I thinking? Syl might be a gossip but she would never have betrayed me like this! Heck, if she didn't even tell the other Jewels...Zoe, what have you done? You've lost your girlfriend, your best friends...even Dean didn't bother waiting around for me...and all because of those bitches Stefana and Jesta."
For a moment the hopelessness of it all overwhelmed her, then, deep inside her, a tiny spark of determination began to rear it's head.
"I've never been a quitter. Mom didn't teach me that way." She murmured. "I've let Jesta and Stefana call the shots for long enough. Dammit, it's time I stopped all of this, once and for all! If the public really want to know, well fine, maybe I'll tell them exactly what I think and how I'm feeling. Maybe I'll tell them that yes, I am gay, and yes, I do love Fiona. Maybe that would sell a lot of papers! Maybe I'll tell them that I'm not going to be beaten down by their scandal sheets...maybe I'm going to prove to them that Zoe Montgomery isn't the weak little wimp the world thinks she is!"
She got to her feet, heading determinedly out of the coffee shop, and up the high street, her mind set on the task ahead.
"Before I do any of that, though, I'm going to go settle a few things and prove a few points. Nancy said that I had issues, and she was right. I've sat and fretted for long enough about what people would think of me, instead of finding out what they really did think, or working out how I felt about it myself. Those who matter are Mom, Vivien, Dean, Jewel, Cynthia...Aaron...and Fiona. Noone else is important. Everyone else can go to hell!"
She clambered into the back of a taxi cab, telling them her destination, then sitting back impatiently, willing the vehicle on in her mind.
"I should have done this already." She muttered, drumming her fingernails on the armrest as they pulled into the spacious parking lot that was situated in front of the big apartment building. "I've been silly and I've let myself be walked over, but that isn't going to happen any more. Once and for all, I'm going to know where I stand, and that's that. No more worrying or fretting or crying in my room. I'm going to settle this."
She paid the driver, hurrying into the building and up to her girlfriend's floor. Flame was just leaving her apartment as she arrived, and she stared at Zoe in surprise.
"What are you doing here?" She demanded. "Did anyone see you?"
"Who cares if they did?" Zoe asked her levelly. "I came to speak to you. Noone will be surprised about that - it's hardly news."
"I was going out." Flame eyed the corridor behind the film artist anxiously. "What if someone comes up?"
"No, Fi, I've done with this." Zoe shook her head. "You have to make up your mind here and now. Out here on the corridor, if you like - I don't mind - but you might rather do it inside your apartment. I don't care who hears me...I'm going to settle things."
Flame eyed her companion with confused apprehension, but finally she relented, opening the door of the apartment once more and pulling the other girl inside. Once there, she eyed her expectantly.
"Well? What in hell is this about?" She demanded. "I thought I..."
"You already settled it?" Zoe demanded. "Is that what you thought?"
"Well, Fiona Daniels, for once you're going to listen to me." Zoe shook her head. "One of the things that most attracted me to you in the first place was your fighting spirit, your independance, the fact you weren't afraid of things or of people. You did what you had to do to get where you needed to be and I loved that about you. I always felt like maybe I couldn't live up to you, with your wild streak and your games. I've always felt that I was boring little Zoe, and that you were too ashamed to admit that I was a part of your life, embarrassed because I was so different to you."
"Zoe, thats crazy!" Flame flared up. "I've told you already, it has nothing to do with it!"
"No, I realise that now." Zoe nodded. "I realise that it's worse than that." Her tone was bitter. "You're fine about having your fling with me, so long as noone knows about it...you're a damn hypocrite! You play one part and live a complete other, but you don't stop to think how it affects the other people in your life! You have no idea how many times you've made me cry because you're afraid to be with me, or that someone will find out, but you know what? You broke up with me because you said I'd told Syl and she'd ruined everything. Guess what, Fi? She didn't. Stefana did. And you know how Stefana found out? Jesta told her."
"Jesta?" Flame paled. Zoe nodded.
"So you see, you made me feel bad for no reason." She said softly. "And I realised that you do that to me too often, Fi. I've done a lot of thinking over the last few days, and I know now what I am. I can't hide it and I have no intention to hide any more. You have a choice...either come along with me...or don't. I won't make you do anything you don't want to do, I care about you too much for that. But if you choose not to, don't expect to ever speak to me again. I can't be messed about any more. Either we're in love or we're not. Either we're a couple or we're not. No more secrets."
"No, that's all I came to say." Zoe held up her hands, shaking her head. "I've been wrong not to stand up to you and tell you this before...I could have saved us both a lot of pain. Now I'm going to go and let you think about what I've said. If you need to find me, I'll be at the Starlight Mansion. I have some apologies to make there."
And before Flame could say a word, the video artist had turned on her heel, leaving the apartment and shutting the door behind her. Flame could hear the footsteps growing softer as Zoe headed towards the lift shaft, and she closed her eyes briefly.
"Well, Fi, the ball's in your court." She murmured. "Isn't that how you like it?"
She moved to the window, pushing back the lace curtain as she saw the fair haired girl cross the parking lot, and despite herself, she swallowed hard.
"I do love you, Zoe." She whispered. "I just don't know if I can be what you want me to be."
Chapter One: Zoe And Flame
Chapter Two: Spying For The Enemy
Chapter Three: Connie
Chapter Four: Back To Work
Chapter Five: A Broken Heart
Chapter Six: A Shock For Zoe
Chapter Seven: A Confrontation
Chapter Eight: A Second Leak
Chapter Nine: Press Conference
Chapter Ten: Revelations
Chapter Eleven: At The Starlight