"Aaron, are you even listening to me?"
Aaron glanced up with a start at the sound of his name, shooting his
companion a sheepish look.
"God, Stef, I'm sorry. I'm terrible company right at the moment, aren't
I?" He said, running his fingers through his hair. "No prizes for guessing
where my mind is right now."
"Oh, you have to stop this." Stefana pouted, sitting down beside him
on the couch of his apartment and slipping her arm through his. "Listen,
I didn't come over here for you to mope, I came to help you get ready for
the concert tonight. You are
going to come, aren't you? I worry about
you being home alone and moping. You need to get out and get Copper out
of your system. I'm sure that a great night out with good music and a buzzing
atmosphere is precisely what you need to snap you out of things."
"Maybe you're right." Aaron looked pensive. "I don't know. I am grateful
though, Stef. You've been a good friend and that means a lot. I'm every
which way at the moment and I appreciate your understanding."
"She must have been mad, turning you down. You've done so much for
her since she came to LA, haven't you?" Stefana frowned, as if considering
the situation. Inwardly she was full of glee, though his frequent lapses
into silence and thought vexed her. It proved he was still fixated with
Copper and, despite herself, Stefana was still jealous of the hold the
drummer had over Aaron's heart. Had she been a softer character, with less
stubborn pride inside of her, she might have told him the truth about how
uncomfortable it made her, but feelings were something Stefana had never
really allowed herself, burying them as she did in a haze of drugs and
a determined offensive against anyone who tried to delve deeper than the
surface. Only Marissa had seen the occasional crack, but then only when
the guitarist had been either very drunk or very upset, or both.
"Really, Aaron, you shouldn't spare her another thought. The way she's
treated you..." She shook her head. "It sucks."
"Well, I just wish I understood it. That would help." Aaron reached
for his mug of coffee, taking a sip. "She's told me nothing, and left me
"Did you consider...well...is it possible she was seeing someone else?"
Stefana posed her question delicately, fixing him with quizzical, sympathetic
green eyes. She was enjoying playing the heroic friend a lot more than she
had expected, but more than anything she wanted him to forget about Copper,
to decide that the drummer was not right for him after all, and of course,
fall in love with Stefana herself.
"It crossed my mind." Aaron nodded. "Don't tell anyone this, Stef,
but there was a phone message on their answer machine for her from a guy,
wanting to meet up. It wasn't a voice I knew and Nancy and the rest don't
know what it was about, so it can't be anything to do with Jewel business."
"No. I've met her brother, I'd recognise his voice on the phone, and
her father is dead. She doesn't keep in close contact with anyone else
in her family other than her grandparents, who both have Spanish accents
and speak Spanish as their first tongue. Her family would leave a message
in Spanish, not English."
"It doesn't sound good." Stefana frowned. "Poor Aaron. It sounds like
she's been playing you."
"It doesn't help to hear it said, Stef." Aaron said quietly. "I have
some pride you know - well, I'm a Pelligrini, it's a family trait. It
doesn't feel good that she could have played me for a fool and that I'd
got totally the wrong idea about her feelings for me." She sighed. "Well,
her mother is an actress. Maybe she's inherited the gene. Whatever it is,
it knocked me for six, because I really believed she loved me."
"Well, for tonight, forget about Copper." Stefana told him firmly.
"Come to our concert, hear Diablo play and give me your expert opinion
on how we rate, huh? Your opinion is important to me, after all." She looked
wistful. "Of course, we don't have as good stage effects as Jewel do,
because Rebel Records don't have the same funds to spend as Misfit Music
do, and of course, we don't have you or Cynthia at our beck and call.
But we'll try and put on a good show for you anyway. You know, to cheer
you up." She grinned. "Come on. Let's find what you're gonna wear, huh?"
"Okay, okay, I'm coming." Aaron obediently followed her into his bedroom,
sitting on his bed as she pushed open the wardrobe door, browsing through
his clothes. Inwardly Stefana was both amazed and triumphant that she
had gotten so deep into his apartment and that she was now in his bedroom,
as if she belonged there by right. A mischievous thought entered her mind
and she smothered a smile. This was not the time.
"Well, tell me what you think." She said instead, pulling out a pair
of Aaron's jeans. "Listen, Aaron, you're coming tonight and you're going
to have a good time, if it kills you, okay? Im fed up of seeing you mope
about over some girl who probably couldn't care less how much you love her."
"I know, and I'm coming." Aaron assured her. "I know you're trying,
Stef, I'm just not in a really cheery mood yet."
He reached over for a box on the nightstand, picking it up and flipping
it open, holding it out. "I still don't know what to do with this. I haven't
had the heart to take it back yet. It'd be a case of actually admitting
that it didn't work out and that everything isn't going to be perfect."
"Ooh." Stefana dropped the jeans, taking the small jewel box. "Is that
the ring? And she turned you down? Bitch! This must have cost you a fortune!"
"Yeah, it did." Aaron nodded. "But I don't know, Stef, money isn't
an object in this. I don't care about that. I just wish I knew what was
going through her head. I know I can be dense where chicks are concerned,
but I really thought we were going the right way."
Carefully Stefana shut the ring box, inwardly jealous that he would
spend so much money on an engagement ring for the girl she hated. She handed
"You should find the receipt anyway, and take it back." She told him.
"Call it closure. It can't be doing you any good, keeping it here."
"I know and you're right, but I can't yet." Aaron admitted. "I will,
Stef, but give me some time, huh?"
"Want me to take it back?"
"No...I should do it." Aaron put the ring box back where it had come
from. "Better that way, but thank you. You've been very sweet to me these
last few weeks. I'm grateful."
"We're friends." Stefana told him with a shrug.
"Yes, we are." Aaron agreed. "And look, Stef, as a thank you I want
to do something to help out. Is there anything that I can do tonight at
your show, to help with the stage effects?"
"Ooh." Stefana stared at him, as if it had been the last thing she
had expected him to say, though in reality she had been hinting around
the idea for some time. "Would you? That would be awesome. But wouldn't
your mother freak?"
"Not if it was a one off, and I don't want paying. I just want to help
a friend who's helped me." Aaron told her. Stefana dimpled.
"Well, all right then." She agreed. "That would be awesome, Aaron."
She hugged him impulsively. "Diablo will really rock tonight!"
Gaston cast Sylva an expectant look, holding up the mirror as he did
so. "Good enough for a superstar, ma chere?"
"Yeah, definitely." Sylva nodded approvingly, reaching up to touch
her hair. "Wow, this is fab, Gaston. I didn't know it would make me look
so-o-o sophisticated, having my hair cut like this! You're a star - think
Sabine would mind me giving you a hug and a kiss thank you?"
"She is not the jealous type." Gaston laughed, obediently letting his
companion hug him, planting a kiss on his cheek. "Besides, these stars,
they are all so flamboyant and impulsive, n'est pas?"
"I guess so." Sylva dimpled. "Put it on my tab, huh?"
"Of course." Gaston nodded. "Au revoir, Sylva...I'm sure all the men
will be falling over themselves to speak to you now!"
"Well, between you and me, there's one guy in particular who I'd love
to find at my feet." Sylva winked. "Bye, Gaston, and thanks again!"
Once out in the fresh air, the young synth player headed along the
road towards the park, whistling to herself softly as she did so. The day
was fine and, with some regret she remembered that she had no money to spend,
so she decided to head into the big local park in order to pay a quick visit
to the water birds, before heading back to her car and home. She often brought
Courtenay here, when she was playing the babysitter, and watching the ducks
made her smile, as they fought for bread and other treats passing families
tossed into the ripples. As she walked across the grass towards the water's
edge, she heard someone shriek her name, and, turning, she cast the caller
"Heya, Courtenay!" She exclaimed. "Did your Daddy bring you to see
the ducks too?"
"Hi Sylvie." Courtenay ran over to be hugged and scooped up by her
favourite babysitter. Thousands of Californians idolised Sylva as a rock
musician, but to Courtenay she was simply "Sylvie", her special playmate
and often confidant. "No, Daddy's workin'."
"Working?" Sylva settled Courtenay carefully in her arms. "So who brought
you here? Don't tell me you're old enough to come play by yourself!"
Courtenay giggled, shaking her head.
"I brought her, Sylvie." A fresh voice entered the conversation and
Sylva registered Melanie with a smile.
"Hi there. I'm sorry, I seem to create a distraction whenever I go
near this kid!"
"She likes you." Melanie observed, returning the smile, though there
was some reservation in her gaze. The truth was that she envied Sylva's
natural way with children, and Courtenay's evident adoration for her grown
up playmate. She knew without any doubt that Courtenay loved Sylva with
all of her heart, whilst the relationship she herself, as the girlfriend
of Courtenay's father, had with the child was forced and almost nonexistant.
She was not a natural with children and, if she were honest, did not even
like them that much. Courtenay was proving, therefore, more than a little
bit of a handful.
"Well, I like her too." Sylva admitted, as the small blond girl snuggled
down in Sylva's arms. "Have I interrupted your picnic?" As she registered
the cloth and basket on the ground. Melanie shook her head.
"No, please, come join us for a bit. Courtenay's evidently pleased
to see you, and you know you're more than welcome."
"Thank you." Sylva dimpled, obediently coming to sit down and gently
setting Courtenay on the ground. The child had ideas of her own, however,
for she clambered immediately into Sylva's lap.
"You've cutted off your hair." She observed.
"You noticed." Sylva looked self-conscious. "Do you like it?"
"It looks pretty." Courtenay nodded. "Your hair's all curly whirly.
I want curly whirly hair too!"
"Well, next time I see you, kid, if your Daddy agrees, I'll curl your
hair for you." Sylva promised. "Then we'll both have curls, huh?"
"Okay." Courtenay beamed.
"So what brings you to the park today?" Melanie asked.
"Oh, a bit of relief from work. We were up at four this morning to
film Dean's show and I needed some space to chill." Sylva responded. "Also,
to get my hair done."
"It looks very nice." Melanie told her. "Big occasion?"
"Well, a friend's getting married soon." Sylva smiled. "She and her
fiance are coming from England at the end of the month. The guy is Nancy's
cousin, so they're coming to us. It's gonna be a lot of fun. Plus, of course,
we have a lot of photoshoots and what have you between now and then."
"Sounds like life is busy." Melanie smiled. "No boyfriend in all of
"No, too much work!" Sylva laughed, though inwardly her heart ached.
"Besides, there is a guy I like who's friendly with the best man at this
wedding, but I don't think he's coming out to LA for it, I don't think
he's that close to Taylor. So no, not right now. Focused on my music and,
of course, being Courtenay's babysitter when I have the time."
"When are you comin' next time?" Courtenay wriggled around to fix Sylva
with big blue eyes. "Soon?"
"I don't know. Whenever your Daddy asks me and I'm free to come." Sylva
told her. "Okay?"
"Soon." Courtenay said firmly. "I want my hair curly whirly."
"You're curly whirly." She teased, tickling the child gently. As she
did so, she noticed a mark on the girl's arm, and frowned. The child did
not seem disturbed by it, and she decided not to say anything, but it troubled
her. Courtenay was a rough and tumble child and falling down was not an
impossible cause for the injury, but somehow it seemed wrong.
"But I have no idea how it did get there. Maybe I need to talk to Jack
about the daycare place he takes her." She mused. She glanced at her watch.
"I should go. We've a lot to do with the new song and we've studio
tomorrow." She realised. Courtenay pouted.
"But you just came!" She protested.
"I know, but I'm very busy." Sylva told her gently, carefully moving
her off her lap and onto the blanket. "There. I'm sorry, Court. Hey, but
listen, if your Daddy lets you stay up to watch it, we're playing Connie's
Corner in a day or two's time and you can see me on TV."
"Hm, okay." Courtenay seemed satisfied by this. "I told the lady at
daycare I knew Sylva an' she didn't believe me but then Daddy came to get
me and he told her it was true and it is. I'm gonna be a star when I grow
up too, just like you are!"
"That'll be great, Court." Sylva winked at her. "Then we can play music
"For now though, I have to run. Bye, Court, behave for Melanie! Bye,
Melanie, thanks for accomodating me!"
"Bye, Sylvie, have a safe drive home." Melanie said with a grin.
Sylva was halfway across the grass when she realised that her sunglasses
were no longer in her jacket pocket and she cursed, turning and retracing
"I must have left the wretched things on the grass when Courtenay came
up to me, or dropped them as I left." She realised. "Oh, and they were
brand new last week! I have to find them!"
As she scoured the grass for the glasses, a shriek and a movement across
the grass caught her eye and she turned her head, expecting it to be Courtenay
playing. What she saw, however, froze her blood in her veins and she ducked
behind a tree, sunglasses momentarily forgotten.
Melanie had hit Courtenay, grabbed her and shaken her, and, though
the words were not all clear, Sylva made out "run off" and "Sylvie." She
"This is my fault, somehow." She murmured. "Oh, that poor kid!" As
Melanie brought her arm down once more on Courtenay's skin, this time
across the very arm where Sylva had noticed the purple bruise. Now it made
sense, and incensed, Sylva was about ready to launch herself on Melanie
there and then. However, before she could do so, Melanie scooped up the
basket and blanket and, gripping Courtenay by the hand, headed off in the
direction of the park exit. Sylva went to follow them, but found herself
surrounded by a party of eager schoolchildren who had recognised her and
who wanted her autograph. Once the crowd had cleared, Sylva scoured the
park once more for Melanie and Courtenay, but they were long gone.
"This changes everything!" she realised. "Nancy was right, she is a
bitch. How dare she hit Courtenay? Noone but Jack has the right to discipline
her and he wouldn't dream of treating her like that! And in a public place,
too! No wonder Court hates the woman so much, and was so glad to see me!
This has to stop!"
Something across the grass glinted and she made her way towards it,
recognising her missing sunglasses. She scooped them up, but her mind was
elsewhere. Now what should she do?
"Well, whatever it is I do, it has to be done, and soon." She decided
grimly. "Because I am not letting that woman hurt Courtenay if I can possibly