Stefana Ranieri settled herself more comfortably on the window seat of
the front room, inhaling contemplatively on her cigarette as she carefully
considered things over the previous few weeks. So much had happened, she
mused, in such a short time.
"And best of all, I didn't have to initiate it." She murmured, grinning
to herself satisfactorily. "Oh, I always said that Copper girl was no good
for Aaron, and I was right, too! He was dumb to ask her to marry him, she's
not his type and that's that. She's a wimpy little weed and not worth even
thinking about - he can do a lot better and I'm gonna make sure he realises
it, too. This is the chance I've been waiting for - and I'm not gonna blow
it. This is my chance to rip apart that cliquey little group and their team
of satellites once and for all!"
Stefana was twenty two years old, cunning and manipulative, with sleek
dark hair and big green eyes which could become either deceptively innocent
or connivingly evil, depending on her current mood. She was a talented musician,
playing lead guitar for rock band Diablo, who were signed to Jewel's rival
label Rebel Records. Stefana hated Jewel with a passion, a hatred which had
only intensified as her own feelings for Aaron Pelligrini, their road manager
had grown. Jealous of Copper from the off, and infuriated by the all girl
group's seemingly easy success, she had pitted herself against them and
would go to almost any levels to succeed, for, aside from her music, her
brother Luca and her friend Marissa, she cared very little about anyone or
anything. She had not admitted to herself that her feelings for Aaron stemmed
from anything more than her desire to part Jewel from their talented and
technical road manager, but those close to her had begun to suspect there
was more to it, and even Jewel themselves had realised that Stefana's motives
had gotten a lot more personal.
Now Aaron was a free agent, and Stefana intended to get him.
She had always been a difficult child, with a temperament made worse by
a spoiling father and an over-strict mother. Her desires to act out and
live the life of the "little piece of hell" the tabloids had dubbed her
ran deep, for she had every intention of taking the rock and roll lifestyle
to the letter. She was dependant on amphetamines, though only Marissa knew
of her habit, and she was not averse to flirting with or offending anyone
who she felt could make or break Diablo's success.
Consequently, she was a rival, as Jewel had learnt on many occasions,
that was not to be antagonised more than was absolutely necessary.
Taking another drag on her cigarette, she went over in her head everything
she had learnt over the past few weeks. Copper's shock refusal of Aaron's
proposal had not hit the presses, and Stefana's own feelings for Aaron had
prevented her from blowing the story, but inwardly she had revelled in the
news when Aaron had told her. Immediately slipping into the role of the concerned
friend, Stefana had invited him to the Diablo home for dinner, and, though
Marissa had been deeply suspicious of her motives, had behaved like a perfect
lady and a sympathetic listener. Whenever she had a chance to slip it subtly
into the mix, Stefana had hinted that maybe Copper didn't love him as much
as he did her, and that perhaps she had been using him to get in with the
Pelligrini family. She was not stupid enough to make such claims out loud,
but then, she was clever and in his hurt state of mind, Aaron had not noticed
the way her remarks where leading. He had gladly fallen back on Stefana's
kindness, not realising the motives behind it, and consequently the guitarist
was in a very good mood.
"Hey, Steffi." Marissa's voice from the doorway made her turn, casting
her best friend a smile. "I thought you were going shopping this morning?
Didn't Rory say we needed new outfits for Connie's Corner?"
"We do, but I was waiting for you to get back from the doctor." Stefana
flicked out her cigarette, getting to her feet. "I presume it was just a
"Yeah, my diabetes is fine." Marissa nodded. "Blood sugar's normal and
all." She looked suspicious. "You don't usually ask me about that. What's
gotten into you, Stef? You're acting..well...nice at the moment. It's starting
to freak me out."
"That's a nice thing to say to your best friend." Stefana pouted, acting
hurt. Marissa rolled her eyes.
"You know what I mean." She scolded. "Stef, this isn't to do with Aaron,
is it? I mean, he's still really in love with Copper, poor guy, and if you're
any kind of friend..."
"If you hadn't noticed, Marissa, I've been being an excellent friend to
Aaron." Stefana interrupted. "I've talked to him on the phone, invited him
here to eat to get him out of moping at his apartment, and I've invited
him to our concert on Tuesday night. Is that or is that not the act of a
"Well, yes, but it's still suspiciously like you're hoping to catch his
eye." Marissa replied. Stefana snorted.
"You are fixated with love stories because you're in love with Clay and
have been forever." She said derisively, naming Clayton Blake, Diablo's
British born drummer. "Maybe I am just being a good friend. I haven't tried
to seduce the guy, have I? I'm not the slut that Topaz is, and Aaron is
my friend, Mari. Copper evidently doesn't care about him, that's all. I'm
just being there to pick up the pieces."
"Well, I hope so." Marissa replied. "Because I don't think he'll get over
Copper as quick as you seem to be thinking."
"We'll see." Stefana shrugged. "Come on, let's go shopping, huh? I'm in
a celebratory mood, and besides, I wanna look hot at our concert and on
television. Let's go!"
"Everything around here is just nuts. It's starting to drive
Thus Aurora Stapleton, or "Topaz", Jewel's principal singer as she skimmed
over the manuscripts for the group's newest song with a sigh. "It seems like
all we're doing at the moment is recording or fighting or performing in
public. All that ever happens here are conversations about Copper and Aaron
- why are they fighting, why did she say no, why isn't she talking to us?
It's a horrible atmosphere, what on earth are we going to tell Violet when
she arrives out here ready to be a blushing bride herself?"
"Beats me." Her companion, Sylvina Martescu stretched out on the couch,
reaching for a chocolate from the nearby box and casting a glance at her
own sheet of music. "We do seem to be a lot more tense lately, you're right.
I feel awful about this myself, you know. I was so sure I was right about
Copper saying yes." She sighed. "I even told Aaron it was a sure thing. I
feel like it's my fault that it all went wrong."
"Syl, please, not this again." Topaz grimaced, rubbing her temples. "I'm
sorry, but I can't take much more Copper and Aaron angst. It's bad enough
that she's mopey and quiet a lot of the time and that she keeps shutting
herself in her room instead of coming and talking to us, like she's afraid
of us or something. Not to mention her sneaking out and her weird phone calls.
Give it a break, huh? We've a lot on at the moment, can't we talk about something
"Of course." Sylva looked startled, but she nodded, pinching another chocolate
and considering. "Hey, chocolate, by the way?"
"Nah, I'm cool." Topaz shook her head. "Where did they come from, anyway?"
"Jack." Sylva responded. "Oh, they're not 'hey, I'm in love with you'
chocolates, worse luck." As Topaz raised an eyebrow. "They're 'thanks for
taking Courtenay to the cinema when I was sick with flu' chocolates." She
pulled a face. "He and Melanie are still as tight as ever, so I've all but
given up where that one is concerned."
Topaz nodded her head. Sylva had never been properly in love until she
had met and fallen for local single father Jack Miller, and his endearing
four year old daughter Courtenay had only made the feeling stronger, for
Sylva adored children with all her heart. Courtenay had adopted Sylva as
a surrogate big sister and consequently she and Jack had become great friends.
However, it seemed that for Jack the feelings were only platonic, for he
had been dating an elegant Los Angeles businesswoman called Melanie Sheridan
for some months now. Sylva had resigned herself to the match, for it appeared
that Melanie was not only his perfect match but also the ideal step-mother
figure for Courtenay, and she had settled herself to simply being Jack's friend
and Courtenay's favourite babysitter.
"What did you go see?" Topaz asked now.
"Oh, some kid's movie. Disney or something, I forget." Sylva admitted.
"They all kinda go in one ear and out of the other." She smiled. "But it's
fun taking Court out. Sure, people recognise me, and ask about her, but noone
hassles me about it and she has such a lot of fun. She's so sweet, Topaz.
I really wish I had a little sister like her. She's a darling."
"Maybe one day you'll have a few of your own." Topaz suggested with a
grin. Sylva nodded.
"Yeah, one day I'd like to." She agreed. "But first I have to get over
Jack, and that's not happened yet. Besides, it took me twenty or more years
to lose my heart to one guy, do I have to wait till I'm forty before I fall
in love with a second?"
"Not in my experience." Topaz laughed. "I've been in love about four or
five times for real, and it took me till I was seventeen before I really
fell like that." She looked rueful. "Mind you, I did a lot of falling in
and out of love rather swiftly between seventeen and eighteen. Adolescent
hormones I guess."
"This is the weird thing, though." Sylva rested her chin in her hands.
"I dated a whole lot in high school, and I liked the guys I dated and I found
them really cute and sexy and all of that. But Jack is different. He's drop
dead gorgeous, sure, but it's different somehow. I like his personality as
much as I like his looks, and that's never really happened with me before."
She looked sheepish. "I suppose I'm fairly shallow where guys are concerned,
"I think we both are on occasion." Topaz reflected.
"Mm, but you have Cameron now." Sylva pointed out. Topaz shrugged.
"When I see him, and saying goodbye sucks worst of all." She replied.
"I know he'll be here for Violet and Taylor's wedding because he's Taylor's
best friend and his best man, but I still haven't gotten over saying goodbye
to him after your birthday. I love seeing him and I get so excited when I
know that I will, but I just want to curl up and cry when he gets on that
plane and I know it'll be months before he kisses me again."
"At least you know he loves you, though." Sylva observed. "I like Jack
and he's a great friend, but I wish he'd see me as more than that sometimes.
Even though I wouldn't dream of interfering in Melanie and his relationship.
I think she's great, unfortunately, and that Courtenay needs a stable family.
Mom has made it clear enough to me that she doesn't think I'm old or responsible
enough to be playing stepmother to a small girl and I agree, when I think
about it. I like going out and having a good time and I don't want to be
tied down yet. I just wish - you know, in a perfect world?"
"Yes, a perfect world would be nice." Topaz nodded, smiling. "A perfect
world would be a place where America was right next to London and Cameron
and I could see each other every day." She glanced at the manuscript again,
then set it aside with a groan. "A perfect world would also be a world where
I was already word and note perfect on this thing and didn't have to worry
about it, and a world where aspirin actually got rid of headaches instead
of making me chuck up instead."
"Huh?" Sylva sent her friend a confused look. "You sick or something?
You do look a little pale, you know."
"No, I'm not sick." Topaz shook her head. "I'm just not sleeping great,
with everything going on here, and I have a headache. I figured I'd take
aspirin and get rid of it, but my stomach had other ideas, for some reason,
so I gave up." She shrugged. "I'm fine now, I guess it was a bad batch of
aspirin or it clashed with something I ate for lunch."
"I hope you tossed that box out." Sylva said. Topaz nodded.
"Yeah, I did, just in case." She agreed. "It was a new box, but I couldn't
find the receipt. Still, if I chucked it up, no harm done, huh?" She grinned.
"I can live with the headache, it just makes the notes kinda blurry and my
brain kinda dead, that's all."
"Well, your brain is usually dead, so that's nothing new." Sylva teased.
Topaz tossed a cushion across the room.
"Cheeky." She retorted. "Yours isn't much better!"
"That's why we're such good friends." Sylva told her firmly. "Right?"
"Yep, guess it is." Topaz laughed. "We have such great long deep and meaningless
chats, just like this one!"
"Of course." Sylva agreed. "Hey, speaking of meaningless, what on earth
do you s'pose Nancy meant when she wrote this section?"
"Don't ask me. I'm barely music literate." Topaz told her. "Besides, I
think with everything that's happened Nancy is distracted too. She's rather
in the middle. Even more than you and I are."
"Yes, she is." Sylva pursed her lips. "I hope it'll work out, Topaz, and
come good. Vi's wedding is gonna be so much fun, but not if they're moping
about at the back, you know? At least you and Cameron will be together."
"Yes, there is that." Topaz agreed. "One happy, uncomplicated couple."
She grinned. "This time at least. No drunken binges, fights about reporters,
breakups or illicit one night stands this time. Lessons all learnt. Cameron
Milligan is my guy and that's that. I'm a good girl." She winked. "I've been
an angel since he went home in April. I'm a reformed character now. Who knows,
maybe there's something to be said for celibacy after all."
"Absence makes the heart grow fonder?" Sylva quipped. Topaz nodded.
"I guess it does." She agreed. "That's something about this wedding."
She stretched, stifling a yawn. "I suppose we'll need nice new outfits for
it, of course, and shoes and everything."
"Well absolutely." Sylva nodded. "And I think I already saw the perfect
dress in town for the evening shindig." She dimpled. "It's this slinky black
number, all shimmery and cut sooo sexy, I swear. It's like..." She indicated
with her hands. "Next time I'm in town I'm getting it. I would have last
time, only I hadn't paid off my credit card bills and I didn't have the cash
on me. It was reduced to something like eighty bucks, so I hope it's still
there. It'd be perfect."
"Sounds cute." Topaz observed. "I was gonna ask you who's gonna be wowed
by it, but you don't have a prospective date lined up yet, do you?"
"Not yet, but I'll find one." Sylva promised. "I was hoping Cameron's
friend Gary might come out but I don't suppose he's involved in this wedding
mess, because he's not coming. That's rather a bummer, he was cute and we
got on good at Christmas. Still, I'll find someone. I'm a babe, after all."
She winked. "I havent ever gone to any function single yet. This won't be
"Well, you're leaving it late." Topaz pointed out. "By the end of this
month, Syl, Vi and the rest will be on us, and then the marriage is June
fifteenth. You haven't forever, you know."
"I don't need forever." Sylva shook her head. "I'll work something out.
Besides, I'm gonna be looking hot at Vi's wedding do, anyway. Ooh, and not
to mention her hen party! Oh, we have to find the perfect outfits for that
too! This is a lot of fun - I just hope Copper and Aaron come to their senses
in time to enjoy it, that's all. Why can't they see that they're the next
perfect couple after Vi and Taylor to be walking down the aisle?"