Chapter Six: Kelly Acts
The day of Jewel's first photoshoot with their newest member dawned bright
and clear, and Sadie awoke with butterflies in her stomach. She had no idea
what it would be like to pose and pout in front of professional photographers,
and she was more than a little apprehensive. Despite her natural, dreamy
prettiness, she had never placed much faith in her own looks, and she fervently
hoped that the make up people would be able to perform miracles.
"Else I'm going to look so drab with the rest of them." She mused, glancing at her reflection in the mirror and taking a clump of tousled, pink streaked absently between her fingers, combing it through. "I wish Topaz was coming, too. I know that this is a "Jewel to be" photoshoot, and she has plenty to do, anyway, but I still wish she could be there. I like the others, they're sweet to me, but I still don't feel like I know them all that well yet. I have to think carefully before I speak in case I say something stupid and they laugh at me. Well, no, I'm sure they wouldn't laugh at me, but I want them to like me anyway."
"Do you often talk to your reflection?"
Nancy's voice startled her and she swung around, casting the songwriter a sheepish look.
"Today's another first for me." She responded, tucking a stray wisp of messy hair behind her ear. "To you it's just another photoshoot - but to me it's something else new to get used to. It's going to be odd."
"Oddest thing about it for us is that Topaz won't be there." Nancy pursed her lips. "Since we were teenagers, it's been me, Copper, Syl...and Topaz. She joined the group less than six months after the rest of us signed our contracts, so it's a big wrench, losing her."
"I realise." Sadie frowned. "And I know I'm not half the performer she is."
"Well, I think you could be, with a little help." Nancy told her, eying her companion critically. "I think you're more musically inclined than Topaz is. True, it's hard to match her in terms of vocals - I don't think I've met anyone yet with a voice quite like hers, to be honest - but in terms of guitar? I think you already have her beat, Sadie. You've nothing to worry about."
"Nancy?" Sadie cast her companion an apprehensive look, then, "Do you guys really mind having me along?"
"What do you mean?" Nancy looked startled. Sadie glanced at her hands.
"Well, you guys are such professionals, and here I am, a goofy amateur who doesn't know anything about America, let alone the music business or how to act. Doesn't it annoy you, that you have to start from scratch and teach me everything?"
"Whoever joined our group, Sadie, we'd have had to have done the same for." Nancy shrugged carelessly. "It's not a big deal. It's more important to me that the new Jewel can play music, and that we can stand her company. And believe me, if we couldn't stand your company, we'd have pushed you back out where you came from!"
She eyed Sadie thoughtfully.
"Why the sudden misgivings?"
"I don't know." Sadie sighed. "It isn't misgivings exactly, Nancy, it's just...feeling a bit overwhelmed, I suppose. All these new things, and I'm afraid to say something wrong and let you all down. At the press conference you handled things so smoothly...but from time to time I didn't have a clue what I should say or how to answer. I know that Jewel's image is important, and I don't want to wreck it."
"Hmm." Nancy pursed her lips. Then she took the English girl by the arm, leading her over to the bed and sitting down. She indicated for Sadie to follow suit and the other girl did so, not sure what was to come.
"Look, Sadie, this world is what you make it." She said quietly. "You know as well as I do that Mom was nothing when she came to Los Angeles. Like you, she didn't even have a work permit, and she was playing in seedy, run down clubs with some godforsaken London band when Aunt Phyllis and the others stumbled across her. Likewise, my Aunt Roxy lived rough in Philadelphia before she hitched a ride in a truck to California, and got her big break with Misfit Music. And I'm sure Topaz has told you that we met her by accident, singing in a diner in Toronto. You don't have to start off at the top of the pile. If you have real ability, it shines through anyway. You have to remember that. Stars aren't always the ones with the best connections. If you're good at what you do - and Sadie, trust me, you are - then have faith in it and in yourself. I know, and the others know, that you are going to make a fab Jewel. You have to believe it too."
"You really think so?" Sadie looked startled. Nancy nodded.
"Yeah." She agreed. "Else I wouldn't have cast my vote with you. My music is my life, Sadie, if you haven't guessed that already. If I didn't think you were good enough, I would never have let you near my scripts."
She laughed sheepishly.
"I sound arrogant, don't I? But it's not like that. My music is just...important to me."
"It's all right, I understand." Sadie said softly. "I'm the same sometimes with my art - I want to protect it, if that's not crazy, from people's criticisms. And I'm not a songwriter like you are, but it made me feel good, writing those silly little songs for my nieces back in England. They liked them, anyhow."
"Yeah, I bet." She agreed. "You know, I was teasing you at the press conference, Sadie, but I would really like you to come and write with me a little bit. I'm possessive over my music most of the time, but I can only come out with so many concepts and ideas, and I think I could use a fresh brain on the subject."
"Me?" Sadie looked startled. "But surely Syl...or Copper..."
"Syl and Copper are both talented musicians, but neither one of them are composers." Nancy shook her head. "Copper can improvise drum beats better than anyone I know, but she's not a melodist and she doesn't really play tuned percussion. Syl..." She rolled her eyes expressively. "Syl is an airhead. She can play keys, but that's about her limit."
"I kinda got the feeling you didn't like Syl very much." Sadie looked thoughtful. Nancy smiled ruefully.
"Well, don't tell her this, but I guess in an abstract way I'm kinda fond of her." She admitted. "We are part of a weird, dysfunctional family now...Jewel's done that to me. She's not the kind of person I'd have chosen to work with, and we hated each other to begin with, but it's not like that now. We banter and tease, but we understand each other better now than we did at first." She laughed. "I didn't even want to be part of a band in the beginning! I wanted a solo career. Now I can't imagine walking away from the group. It's fine to be successful, but I never realised how important friends really were."
"No, you're right. It's nicer to be able to share achievements with people you care about." Sadie agreed. "I really hope, Nancy, that in time I'll feel like a real, bonafide Jewel. At the moment I feel like...well, the new girl, and let's face it, it's what I am. But that's okay. You're all nice to me and I feel like I'm slowly getting to know each of you."
"It's the same for us." Nancy pointed out. "We need to get to know you too, Sadie - sometimes you seem kinda shy, like you're holding back. It makes it harder for us to get through and find the real Sadie."
Sadie's expression became haunted.
"Maybe you wouldn't like her." She said quietly. "And besides, I don't know what you mean. I am being myself - I'm just kinda overawed with everything, that's all."
Nancy eyed her companion thoughtfully for a moment, then she shrugged, getting to her feet.
"Well, we have a photoshoot to get to." She said. "So I'll let you get ready. The car will be here in less than an hour."
Once she had left, Sadie closed her eyes briefly, reaching for her pillow and hugging it tightly to her chest.
"You really don't want to know that Sadie Monahue." She whispered. "I only hope I can keep her from you long enough for me to prove how much I've changed!"
* * * * * * * * * * *
Ten o' clock.
Sirena glanced up at the clock on the wall, pursing her lips. They were late.
"I wonder if Luca was right, and this is more hassle than it's cut out to be." She pondered, dropping down into a chair with a sigh, and casting Michael a glance to ensure that he was happily absorbed with crayon and art pad in the centre of the living room floor. "But you would think that, if you arranged for them to come at half past nine, they would be there then and you could talk to them, with plenty of time left over for you to damn well get to work on time! Perhaps I should call them up and ask them what's going on. I can't sit around here all morning."
She glanced at the clock again. After discussing the situation in some detail with Luca at the restaurant the night before, she had phoned up a reputable firm of child carers, in order to locate the perfect nanny for her son. They had promised to send someone around to see her at half past nine the following morning, but she was still waiting for them, and was beginning to wonder if they were going to show up at all.
She muttered a curse under her breath.
"Some agency, if they can't even do that right." She snorted. "I wonder if...oh, finally!" As the doorbell rang. "Mike, you stay here and don't you dare get into anything, okay? I'm just going to answer the door, and I will be right back."
Michael did not even look up from his colouring in and, after a moment's hesitation, Sirena headed out into the hall to open the door. She did not like leaving her son alone, even for brief periods of time, for, although Michael was a well behaved child on the whole, he had a strong mischievous streak and she was always afraid of him getting himself into trouble in her absence.
"But that is what I am hoping to solve today." She reminded herself as she unfastened the lock on the door, casting the woman outside the friendliest smile she could muster. "Hi - are you from the agency? I've been waiting for you - I thought they said half nine?"
"My apologies, I must have misread the time." The woman returned her smile with an apologetic one of her own. "I thought they said half ten, and that I was dropping by a little early. May I come in?"
"Please, do." Sirena nodded, letting her inside and leading her into the lounge. "This is Michael - he's eighteen months, and I will be honest with you, I hate the idea of letting someone else take care of him, but when you're a single mother, it can be hard."
"I see." The woman cast Michael an interested look. "Hello there, little one! Oh, aren't you precious!"
Michael set down his crayons, casting the woman a thoughtful look. He was not used to such fussing about, and this strange woman bewildered him. He cast his mother a confused look, and Sirena laughed, scooping him up and sitting down on the sofa, gently setting him down on her lap. She indicated for the woman to do the same.
"I didn't catch your name, by the way." She commented, as the woman did as she was bidden.
"Oh, I'm sorry, didn't I say?" Her companion beamed. "My name is Kelly...and I understand you're Emily Gabor, is that right? Daughter of Phyllis Gabor?"
"Yes, that's right." Sirena nodded her head. "I suppose the agency told you all about me?"
"Yes, of course." The woman nodded her head. "And he's a beautiful baby. Eighteen months, you said? And so placid. But did you say you were a single mother? I understood - from the agency, of course - that there was a man involved?"
"No. Michael's father died before he was born." Sirena shook her head. "My friend Luca helps out with him sometimes - that might be where the confusion is - but I can't ask him to play babysitter all the time, and with my work, it's not fair on Mike for me to be always dumping him at a creche or a daycare facility. He needs one to one attention and it's not something I can always give him."
"No, of course not. You're quite right." Kelly offered Michael a smile, but the baby just stared back at her. "May I take him from you for a moment? I always like to get to know the children I'll be looking after a little on the first meeting."
"I don't see why not." Sirena agreed, lifting her son gently and transferring him to the other woman's care. Michael did not seem at all convinced by this, for he creased his brow and his lip began to wobble, but Sirena shook her head.
"No, Mike. No tears. You're usually fine with strangers, and this is a friend." She told him firmly. Michael sent his mother a rebellious look, and Kelly laughed.
"He understands so well for such a small boy." She murmured. "Hello there, my dear! I just know we're going to get along perfectly."
"You must think me rude as hell, I haven't offered you a drink." Sirena looked embarrassed. "Can I get you a coffee or something? The agency led me to believe that this morning's visit would be a good half an hour or so long, because of all the details we need to cover - I can't let you run dry."
"Oh, a coffee would be perfect, my dear." Kelly nodded, flashing her companion a smile. Sirena grinned, getting to her feet and heading into the kitchen. Once inside, she sighed.
"I feel odd about this." She murmured, as she prepared two mugs of hot coffee. "I shouldn't be so protective over him! I suppose that it's like Luca said last night - I'm all he has and I worry about him having the best. Still, she seems nice enough, and if the agency sent her, then she must have a good track record with children. After all, they've a fantastic reputation."
She poured out a mug then paused, frowning.
"I don't believe they told her about Luca, mind you." She remembered. "In fact, did I tell the agency about Luca? Maybe they got their wires crossed - I know it happens. Seems strange, though. Mind you, I am Sirena, and I am in the press a lot. It could be that she reads the tabloid trash and didn't want to admit it to me. That seems plausible. She certainly took Michael from me in a way that indicated she'd had experience of children before. I dunno, perhaps I'm just paranoid."
She poured the second mug, going to the fridge for milk.
"Do you want milk in yours?" She called.
There was no answer, and, with a frown, Sirena scooped up the mugs, heading back into the lounge.
"Do you want milk?" She asked. "I..."
She trailed off, and the mugs slipped from her hands, falling to the floor and spilling their hot, steaming contents all over the carpet. Though the scalding liquid had splashed her legs, Sirena was oblivious, for the room where her son and his prospective nanny had been sitting just moments before was now empty.
"Michael!" She exclaimed, hurrying to the door and wrenching it open, hoping for some sign or clue as to where they had gone, but the corridor which led to her apartment was empty, and, as she reached the lift shaft, she realised that there was no trace of them anywhere. Cursing under her breath, she raced down the stairs to the main entrance, just in time to see a car speed away from the building, Kelly at the wheel and a screaming Michael in the back seat. A cold dread settled over her heart as she hurried across to her own car, fumbling in her pocket for her car keys, but they were upstairs in the apartment and when she looked again, she found that the car had disappeared into the distance.
She sank down on the concrete, as the tears which were so foreign to her began to spill hopelessly down her cheeks. "Michael!"
"Miss Gabor? Are you quite well?"
The landlord's voice cut through her daze and she gazed up at him, her expression one of helpless desperation.
"She took my son." She whispered. "Please, call the police!"
"I'm sorry, miss?" The landlord seemed bemused. Sirena got to her feet, grabbing the man by the arm.
"Please, help me." She begged. "That woman kidnapped my son!"