Chapter Eleven: At The Starlight
"Well, it's half past four, and we're no closer to working out who's going
to do our music video than we were at half past twelve." Topaz pushed aside
the nearest telephone book, resting her chin in her hands with a sigh. "I
dunno what we're going to do, girls. We've a song to promote and we've no
way to promote it. Everyone we call is either busy, booked or outta state.
We're running out of options!"
"And Zoe is still the best." Nancy agreed. She cast her piano a mournful look. "I don't mean this arrogantly, guys, but I really don't want anyone but the best putting film to my music. It means too much to me for that."
"We know." Copper leant over to hug her. "And noone will let just any old fool get a hold of it, we promise. Reveal is a damn good song...it deserves as good a video."
"Which means, I suppose, that we keep hunting." Sylva rolled her eyes. "Why did Cynthia have to work at the company this afternoon? Five pairs of eyes and a hard drive would have been much better than four!"
"Cynthia can't be always at our beck and call. Aaron gave her her hardlight form to give her independance." Copper scolded. "Besides, we're big girls now. We can solve this, I'm sure we can. The solution is probably staring us in the face."
"Was that the doorbell?" Nancy asked, glancing up from her book of numbers as she heard the bell chime.
"I thought I heard it too." Topaz admitted. She closed her book, getting to her feet. "I'll go see who it is. If it's Aaron, I'll co-opt him into helping out, okay?"
"Well, if he loves Copper, he can damn well do his bit for her career!" Sylva decided. Topaz grinned, disappearing into the main hall as the bell rang again. Carefully she unlocked it, swinging it open, and stopping dead as she registered who stood on the step.
"Hi, Topaz." Zoe cast her a sheepish smile. "I...don't know if I'm welcome round here at the moment, but I'd rather hoped you might let me in. I...have some apologising to do."
"Zoe, you are always welcome at the Starlight." Topaz assured her, ushering her inside and closing the door. "We never stopped being your friends, whatever you thought of us. Am I to assume you know who leaked your story to the press?"
"Yes, I do, and I know it wasn't Syl." Zoe blushed. "I feel terrible that I even thought she could, you know? It seemed so obvious, now it seems so ludicrous. I...I was just confused."
Topaz, ever bighearted cast her a smile.
"If you say you'll do our video again, I'm sure we'll all be happy to forgive you." She said playfully.
"If you want me to, nothing would make me happier." Zoe nodded, and impulsively Topaz hugged her.
"Then I will love you forever." She said fervently. "I have had enough of hunting people through Phyllis' phone directories! We need you!"
"And I need you girls." Zoe admitted. "It's time I realised who my friends were."
Topaz pushed open the door of the lounge.
"They're right in here." She murmured. "Go on!" As Zoe hesitated. "Noone will bite."
"Zoe?" Sylva was on her feet in an instant. "But...what...why...I don't get it!"
"Wow, there's a surprise." Nancy observed dryly.
"I came to see all of you, but you in particular, Syl." Zoe cast the keyboardist a sad smile. "Why you'd want to speak to me is beyond me, but I had to come anyway. I should never have accused you of something like that. Even if it seemed the only solution, I should have known that you have always been my friend and that you would never, ever hurt me like that. I trusted you at Vi's wedding knowing that, but something Fiona said set off a trigger in my head and, well...I'm sorry. I don't expect you can forgive me, but...but I had to apologise anyway."
Sylva stared at the other girl for a moment. Then relief touched her blue eyes.
"I'm glad you realise it." She murmured. "Oh, Zoe, don't be a ninny! Of course you're forgiven! I would have jumped to the same conclusion!" A mischievous look entered into her eyes. "And besides, we need a video artist."
"I will do anything you ask of me." Zoe promised. "All of you. I've caused Jewel hassle in the presses because of our falling out and I've behaved like a spoiled brat...I'm sorry, guys. I really am."
"Then maybe we should forget about it, and get on with discussing Reveal." Copper said gently. "Zoe, none of us will ever betray a secret...Nancy and Syl mightn't like each other always, but they wouldn't even betray each other's."
"I know." Zoe admitted. "I was just...very confused." She spread her hands. "I've been that for a while."
"Are you really in love with Flame?" Topaz asked. Zoe nodded her head.
"Yeah." She agreed. "And that's always been part of the problem. I've wanted a relationship and she's...not always been able to give me that. I'm always worried that she'll run away from me to someone else at the least thing. I went to see her before I came here - I told her that either I needed her commitment or to end this, permanently and totally. No more uncertainty. I can't take it any more."
"Who can?" Sylva observed sadly, and her companions knew that her mind was on Jack. Zoe nodded.
"Nance, when you said I had issues..."
"I apologise if I was blunt." Nancy blushed. "I don't know if I should've said it."
"No, you were right, and I'm glad you did." Zoe assured her. "It made me come to grips with myself and realise that this is me, and that's that. Mom isn't fussed, Dean's not bothered, and you guys don't seem to mind either. It's only me who's been making an issue of this, and I realised it's not really that big a deal." She shrugged. "The press will print anything to sell a paper or two. Who cares what they think? And if things don't work out with Fiona, well, then they don't. I'll get over it, someway, and I'll be fine. There will be other chances to be happy." She smiled. "There. That's pretty much what I came here to say." She eyed Sylva gratefully. "I wasn't sure you'd speak to me. Stefana said..."
"So she is involved in this!" Nancy exclaimed.
"I knew it." Sylva's eyes narrowed. "She leaked this to the papers, didn't she? She's from New England and she's a bitch too!"
"Yes, she did. She and Jesta had gotten together on it, and none of us realised." Zoe replied. "Jesta had been blackmailing Fiona over it - which is why we'd had such a messy few weeks - and when Fi didn't ruin the wedding, Jesta got her revenge by telling Stefana everything and getting it in the press." She looked rueful. "I should have known she wouldn't just stop at the first hurdle."
"Well, it doesn't matter now." Sylva told her. She got to her feet, coming to hug her friend. "There. See? We're friends again now. Okay?"
"Okay." Zoe nodded her head, sounding comforted. "I'm glad...I would never have forgiven myself if I'd lost you guys over this."
"It never occured to us that you were that way inclined, Zoe, but if that's how it is, we've no problems with it." Copper said gently. "And that's the honest truth."
"Jetta actually said in the office the other day that she wasn't altogether surprised." Topaz remembered. She blushed. "Which reminds me, someone tipped them off about my pregnancy before I went off my own bat - I don't suppose that was you?"
"Me? No, Topaz, I swear." Zoe shook her head.
"It was a long shot - Phyllis said it wasn't a voice she recognised right away." Topaz admitted. "That means someone else knows about it then...which worries me a little."
"Secrets aren't kept very long in this world anyway." Nancy said matter of factly. "And people will notice, Topaz. The story will break. Cameron is in England, you'll just have to hope the story doesn't travel across the sea."
"Yeah, I suppose so." Topaz nodded her head. "Either way, it doesn't change my decision. The baby will be born and I will raise it...that's already settled." She cast Zoe a grin. "Whatever the press think."
"Screw the press." Zoe responded. "I never wanted to be in the public eye like Mom, you know. I wanted to work with film like cousin Viv, and that's why I chose this career. Always behind the lens - I never wanted to be in front of it. This whole week and the press reports, it's been frightening and invasive and I don't know how you guys live with it. I know it only made such a commotion because I work with you and Diablo and Sirena and other big acts, and I'm Mom's daughter...but I couldn't live with it all the time!"
"It's part of the job, we learn to deal with it." Nancy grimaced. "Welcome to the club...they will pick on anyone."
"Or anything." Topaz agreed. Zoe nodded.
"You're telling me." She responded. She sighed. "I just wish I knew what Fiona was going to decide."
"Whatever it is, it will be for the best." Copper reached over to squeeze the older girl's hand reassuringly. Zoe shrugged.
"I hope so." She said frankly. "But to be honest, I'll be gutted if she chooses not to have anything to do with me. It's a gamble I felt I needed to take...I hope she feels as strongly about me as I do her. I guess time will tell, huh?"
She glanced down at the phone directories. "Well, better get shot of them, we need some space if we're gonna discuss concepts for this video." She said. Sylva grinned, kicking one of the books at the wall.
"Finally, some decent film talent!" She exclaimed. She hugged Zoe once more. "Welcome back to our side, Zoe! You're part of the team...so don't you forget it!"
"I'm glad I caught you before Mom's show went out."
It was much later that evening and, back at her apartment, Zoe had remembered her fight with Dean. Whilst still determined to make amends with people for the last few days, she had quickly dialled his number, relieved when he had answered on the third ring. "I won't keep you, because I know that you're busy, but I just wanted to say I was sorry. I did come to the coffee shop, but you must have left - I left it pretty late. Whatever happens, though, you're my big brother and I shouldn't jaw you out."
"I'm glad to speak to you too. I was worried when you wouldn't pick up." Dean admitted. "Did you...are things sorted out? Nancy texted me to say that all was good with the video, but I didn't know if that meant..."
"All sorted out." Zoe assured him. "Look, I'll call by your set in the morning and tell you everything then, okay? I can hear Julie yelling for people in the background."
"Okay, Zoe." Dean laughed. "That's fine, I look forward to seeing you. And I'm glad you worked out matters with Jewel...they aren't bad girls, really."
"No, they're not." Zoe admitted. "Okay, I'll let you go. Someone just knocked at my door anyhow - I think my landlord is due to collect rent tonight so I'd better not keep him waiting - you know what an old meanie he is."
"All right. Night, Zoe. Sweet dreams."
"Night, Dean. Thanks again."
Gently Zoe set down her phone receiver as there was a second knock at the door. Rolling her eyes and reaching for her purse, she slipped on her dressing gown, tying it around her waist and padding across the apartment barefoot to open the door. As she did so, however, all thought of her rent slipped away.
"Hi, Zoe." The girl on the step cast her a sheepish look, then, "Will you let me in, or am I taboo?"
"I didn't expect to see you tonight." Zoe admitted, standing back to let her visitor in. "Fiona..."
"No, I came to talk...you talked earlier." Flame held up her hand. "Please. Hear me out."
"Okay, I'm listening." Zoe nodded, perching on the arm of her sofa and putting her purse back with her coat. "Shoot."
"Well, you ain't the only person who came to give me a talking to." Flame admitted. "Did you send Dean round to nag at me?"
"Dean? Dean came to see you?" Zoe stared. Flame nodded.
"Yes. He did. Before you did." She replied. "I tried to tell you, but you were on a rampage earlier and to be honest, well, I didn't know how it would change things. But when you came over and yelled at me, you made me feel about this big." She indicated with her fingers. "I have always been could-care-less Fiona about everything, and it bugs me that I've let my image and everything get in the way about that." She looked awkwardly at the floor. "Besides, I...kinda realised I'd miss you, if we were never gonna speak again."
"Does that mean...?" Zoe's green eyes lit up with hope. Flame sighed.
"I'm here to cut a deal with you." She said at length. "I know I don't say it often, Zo, but I do love you. I wouldn't be here otherwise. You gotta realise too, though, that I can't just go parading for every news rag that I'm seeing you. Not because I'm ashamed of this or of you - but because I don't know myself very well yet. I don't want to lose you - I realised that with startling clarity when you stalked out of my apartment...but I kinda felt you were planning a big press splash. Does it have to be that way? Can't we just be...well, Zoe and Fiona, and leave it at that? Do we have to ram this down everyone's throats?"
"No, we don't." Zoe said slowly. "But I don't want to play hide and seek any more. I want to be able to say, if someone asks me if I'm seeing anyone, 'yes, this is my girlfriend, Fiona.' I need that. Don't you?"
"I guess so." Flame seemed unsure. "Listen, Zo. It can't be all your way or all mine. If we are gonna make this work, we have to compromise. I can't come out of the closet as something I don't think I am - you said yourself that you thought I was bi. It makes it hard to decide what I really want from life."
"I appreciate that." Zoe said quietly. "And I'm more than prepared to work with you on that, too. I just want to be recognised and not pushed away! That's all. I don't want to be just your sordid little secret that you contemplate wrecking a wedding before you'll admit to your relationship with me, you know?"
"I realise." Flame agreed. "So I propose we...we take it one day at a time, huh? I know that people know about us now, well, fine. They know. I can't change it and I won't deny it. But I don't want any additional fuss, Zoe. It's not the world's business, just yours, mine, and our friends and families."
"I want to introduce you to Mom properly, as my girlfriend." Zoe said. Flame shrugged.
"Okay." She said carefully. "I guess that would be all right."
Zoe eyed her companion's expression, then she smiled.
"I agree to the compromise." She murmured. "To be honest, once I'd cooled off, I didn't fancy a big press mess-up either. They know enough, and that will do."
Flame held out her hand.
"Shake on it?" She asked. Zoe laughed, gripping the other girl's hand tightly.
"If you like." She agreed playfully. "This is new for us both, and we both have things to learn, but a year is a long time to just waste and ignore, and I know we've plenty to do yet...so...sure." She shook her companion's hand. "It's a deal."
"Well, then I guess that's all I came to say." She said.
"I'm glad we talked." Zoe said softly. "I feel like our relationship has had it's first big test and we've come through it, don't you?"
"To be honest, Zo, I'd rather not have been through it." Flame admitted. "You got coffee going?"
"Sure." Zoe nodded. "It's late, you can camp down here if you want." She smiled. "We can have another all night chat and settle up the finer points of this compromise we've got going."
"Sounds good to me." Flame nodded her head, following her into the kitchen. Zoe picked up the coffee pot, still full of the warm brown liquid, and carefully poured two mugs, handing one to her companion. She raised her mug, an amused twinkle in her eye.
"Here's to another year." She joked. Flame rolled her eyes.
"Sure." She said dryly. "Only with much less complication!"
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