"He wants to see me?"
Aurora Stapleton sent her companion a startled look, disbelief flashing into her blue eyes as she digested the information. "Milton Warrington? But why? What on earth could a big name movie producer want with a rock singer? What's this all about, Phyllis?"
"Girl, for someone who's been in Los Angeles as long as you have, you really don't know much about how this business works." Phyllis Gabor, former Misfit and owner of Misfits Music, Jewel's record company rolled her eyes.
"Business? Music is my business...I don't see what that has to do with this guy."
"Listen to me." Phyllis leant across the desk, fixing the girl with a stare that, if Aurora, or 'Topaz' as she was known had not been working for her for so long, would have been intimidating. "Milton Warrington's secretary spoke to me on the phone this morning. The lead actress for his new production has been hurt in an accident - apparently badly enough to cut her out of filming. If his secretary - stuck up woman that she sounded - is to be believed, Mr Warrington saw a Jewel music video and decided that you might just be his replacement."
"Me?" Topaz stared. "But I'm not an actress!"
"You can be anything you damn want to be for the right contract and the right amount of PR." Phyllis told her acidly. "Look, Topaz, you ain't been in showbusiness for a bit. Jewel are coping fine without you, and lets be blunt, they don't need you at the moment. Quite possibly they never will - that Sadie girl's been her fair share of trouble, but she's proving a damn fine musician and they're not struggling. On the other hand...you're at a loose end. You wanna stay in California? Here's your chance."
Topaz fell silent, digesting this information.
"It's something that's a dream opportunity, I know that." She said softly. "I mean, every kid wants to be a movie star, I just never imagined it would ever come my way. And he might not want me, Phyllis. Once he realises I'm a singer, not an actress..."
"The part is a singing role. Don't ask me for any more than that cos I don't know it, but that's what I heard." Phyllis responded. "If nowt else, girl, you can damn well sing."
"I don't get why you're being so reticent over this." Phyllis looked frustrated. "This is a huge opportunity. I know it's something new and all that, but it don't change much. You have a contract with us and from that point of view we still represent you - after all, if it's a musical production it seems more than likely that there will be single and soundtrack releases. So you go and have an acting stint, so what? Maybe it'll prove to be the break you need. I'll be brutal with you, Topaz. Your career is stuck in a rut. You quit the band for whatever personal reasons but I don't see you out there trying to make a comeback. Are you telling me you don't want to give this a shot? Or at least go see him?"
"I do." Topaz nodded. "Really, Phyllis..I'm both stunned and honoured that he'd ask to see me...I'm just thinking of Hollie."
"Misfits Music has a creche." Phyllis sent her a meaningful look. "If that's all that's bothering you, Topaz, then forget it. Kids can be fitted in round busy timetables and schedules - ask Jetta. This is something you don't turn down."
Topaz bit her lip.
"I'll see him." She said slowly. "I don't want to get my hopes up, Phyllis, in case he doesn't like me or...well, in case the workload is beyond me. I don't know if I'm an actress and I certainly don't know if I'm ready for a movie role. Also, I'm used to having the others about..."
"You're a grown woman." Phyllis said cuttingly. "This ain't high school. You're a mother, dammit, with responsibilities and choices of your own to make. You don't need your friends along to hold your hand every ten seconds!"
"I s'pose you're right." Topaz nodded. "I guess I'm just a little nervous. I've never been asked to audition for a movie role before...and it's such short notice."
"Well, go see the guy, see what you think." Phyllis shrugged. "You're call, kid, but at the end of the day you gotta do something with yourself. Can't just sit behind the label of 'single mom' from now till that brat of yours graduates college. We employ you, we don't pay you to sit on your backside. Fine, you had your maternity leave, that's cool and we didn't intervene. But you ain't shown any signs of wanting to get back to work and we're not gonna support you if you're not putting in effort of your own. It's thanks to Misfit Music, don't forget, that you have a residence permit to stay in LA and a nice house...not to mention a decent paycheque. Time you went out there and started earning it again, don't you think?"
"I don't want to be stuck in a rut." Topaz admitted. "To be honest, Phyllis, I'm missing the band a whole lot. I mean, I wasn't sure when Hollie was born whether or not I'd want to go back to Jewel, which is why I asked Sadie to take my place, and I don't regret that. Sadie's a cool girl and all and, well, a better musician than I am, if I'm honest. It's just that they've clicked really well with her and they seem so...I don't know. Close somehow. Don't get me wrong, I still feel like I belong, but..." She trailed off, looking embarrassed as she read Phyllis' expression. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to bore you."
Phyllis shook her head slowly.
"You kids never fail to surprise me." She murmured. "Jewel are fine, quit worrying about them. This is about you...and your career. What better way to kickstart your public image by a movie role such as this one?"
"I suppose so." Topaz nodded again. "Okay. When...when did he ask to see me?"
"I said I'd speak to you and see what you thought, then ring him back. It'll be sometime soon." Phyllis told her. She paused, then, "Guess that's all. Don't blow this, Topaz. This is a turning point for you and if you damn well wanna stay in California you're gonna have to satisfy immigration that you're fulfilling your obligations under your work permit."
"I didn't think of that." Topaz owned. "Well, I'm free pretty much all the time at the moment, so long as Hollie has someone to sit for her." She smiled ruefully. "I guess I am becoming a little too much the house mom instead of the girl who joined Jewel a coupla years back. I'll give this my best shot, Phyllis. I promise."
"Well, see that you do." Phyllis told her firmly. "Might be worth brushing up on a coupla songs you could perform for him, too."
"Songs?" Topaz looked startled. "Jewel ones?"
"Preferably not." Phyllis said grimly. "You don't want to appear like it's all you can do. Try some big film power ballad or something - even a musical track might not go amiss. Just something out of your usual repertoire - you can handle that, right?"
"At short notice?" Topaz bit her lip, then, "Well, I'll try. I could usually get a song down in a day or two with the band."
"Good." Phyllis eyed her keenly. "Now shoo, I gotta ring his office before he decides to change his mind again. I gather he's a man of whims."
She rolled her eyes at this, and with a wry smile Topaz left the office, closing the door behind her. Where whims were concerned, there were few as impulsive as Phyllis herself.
Slowly she made her way down the corridor, deep in thought. It was true that, since Jewel had returned from their UK tour some weeks earlier she had felt like something had changed. The band which had gone away had seemed unsettled without her there to take lead vocals, yet the turbulent events in England had drawn the quartette closer to each other, and a recent stint in Morvania had only seemed to cement these bonds even further. If she was honest, Topaz felt a little bit shut out. It wasn't that they had been any less friendly towards her than they usually were. The group's keyboardist, Sylvina Martescu had greeted her with a wild hug and had been only too keen to share the latest gossip, as they had done so many times before. Sadie Monahue, known to the fans as 'Garnet' had spent many hours talking to her about what had gone on in England, and Elizabeth 'Copper' Santiago and Nancy 'Goldie' Pelligrini had been just as warm as ever.
But as a group, Jewel did not need her. That much was blatantly clear.
"I can sing." She murmured. "But that's about it. I've never been much of a guitarist, no matter how hard Nancy tries to tutor me. Sadie's a born instrumentalist, she can even write a little, and she can sing too. She's much better suited to the band setup than I am. I'm happy for her - she's blossoming with Jewel and she just needed that chance to give her some self belief. But where does it leave me and my music? I'm kinda out on a limb."
She paused to wait for the lift, a frown crossing her face.
"I wonder if this whole thing is meant to be as Phyllis says, a new break for me. Perhaps even a new career." She mused. "I don't know, I love singing...but I guess if I'm not singing with Jewel any more, it'd be hard to sing in the music business and compete with them. They're all so dear to me, I'd hate to do that. Perhaps this is the answer. I mean, I can't sit on my butt all day and just play mom. All that'd do is get me shipped back to Toronto on the first flight out of LAX and that'd be that. Much as I love Canada, I couldn't bear to be away from the others now, and Hollie's too young for that kind of upheaval."
As she alighted on the ground floor, she was accosted by her four friends, each of them greeting her with grins.
"What are you doing here? I thought you took Hollie to the hospital for her checkup!" Sylva exclaimed.
"I did, and Phyllis called me so I came here straight from the hospital. Hollie's at the creche - I'm going to get her now." Topaz returned the grin. "You practicing?"
"Yeah." Nancy nodded. "The new song ain't falling right so we're gonna go batter it into submission."
"What did Phyllis want?" Copper was curious. "Is it about you returning to music?"
"Gonna feel weird somehow, if you go off on this solo career you keep joking about." Sadie mused. "I mean, competing with you for hits and all that."
"I know." Topaz pulled a face. "But it might not be for a while. Phyllis apparently had a call from Milton Warrington's office this morning - he wants to see me."
"Milton Warrington?" Sylva let out a shriek. "You mean the Milton Warrington? The movie director? Wow!" As Topaz nodded. "Did he offer you a part or something?"
"He wants me to go see him and sing for him." Topaz said slowly. "Apparently he's had a casting crisis on his new movie - his star got sick or hurt or something. I don't know. He happened to see me in a Jewel video and decided I might be a suitable replacement. At least that was what Phyllis told me." She shrugged. "It's all up in the air, but it might be kinda nice."
"It might be kinda nice?" Sylva stared at her. "Don't tell me you've been offered a movie opportunity and you're considering turning it down!"
"I don't know." Topaz sighed. "I feel a bit at a loose end, actually. Perhaps this is what I need to get me back into the swing of things."
"We don't mean to leave you out, Topaz." Copper looked concerned. "You know you are one of us, don't you?"
"I know that, Copper." Topaz smiled. "And I'm not saying you leave me out. But as Phyllis said, Jewel don't need me right at the moment, and it's a chance in a million. So-o-o guess I'm going to see this guy sometime this week and the rest goes from there."
"Wow..." Sylva looked impressed. "I can hardly believe my best friend is going to meet Milton Warrington and might even be in his movie! Hell, Topaz, you could be huge!"
"Mm, as usual, Syl is getting carried away with herself." Nancy rolled her eyes. "You don't sound overly keen, Topaz."
"I am keen, it's just something totally different." Topaz replied. "You guys won't be there and I have Hollie to fit in, too. Still, Phyllis said that can be fixed...so I s'pose it'll be all right." She shrugged. "I dunno, maybe it will be a dream come true."
"We'll help with Hollie, if and when we can." Copper assured her. "You know we love the kid to death, and well, even if you aren't a part of the band now, you are still one of the family. It'd only be fair if we did. This could be a big deal for you - you have to go for it."
"I intend to give it my best shot." Topaz nodded. "It will be fun to sing again, anyway - whatever comes of it." She grinned. "Something other than lullabyes for a baby, that is. There are only so many of those you can do before your brain starts to rot."
"Hollie likes them though." Sadie laughed. "Either that or they bore her to sleep!"
"Charming." Topaz stuck her tongue out at her friend. "Well, if that's the case, I'll leave you to your work. I've a baby to collect and feed and then an audition to work out. Phyllis told me to try and get some song stuck in my head and I need to root through some of the files downstairs in the basement, see if there are any backing tracks to anything suitable. I've not got long to prepare, I don't think, and Phyllis thinks I should try something new, prove I'm versatile enough to handle a film ballad or something." She frowned. "She even suggested something from a musical, but that might be pushing my boat out a bit further than it wants to go."
"Well, if there are songs in this film, doesn't that make it a musical?" Nancy asked. Topaz shrugged.
"I don't rightly know." She confessed. "I'm just gonna turn up and sing and see what happens."
"Well, we wish you the best of luck, either way." Sadie dimpled. "And if you need any help running through your audition, we'll give you a hand later, okay?"
"Sure. Thanks, guys." Topaz winked. "Later."
She watched them head across towards the lift, then she headed down the steps to the basement of the music company, where she knew archives of backing tracks were stored. She knew that Misfit Music had been involved in the past with film hits and soundtrack artists, and she was sure that, if she rooted around a little, she'd find what she was looking for.
"Something I can learn quickly but that will sound professional enough to convince him I'm what he's looking for, I guess." She decided, switching on the light and considering where to begin. "Let's see what I can find. So long as I keep an eye on the time and remember that Hollie needs feeding in about an hour's time or less, I should be fine. Then I can take her home, put her to bed and see what I can do with this. It does feel kinda good to be here again, with a goal in mind. Perhaps I have been getting a little stir crazy back at the Starlight, with everyone else going places and me stuck at home."
She pulled open a cabinet, flicking through the files in search of a familiar title.
"It's not easy being a single Mom." She mused, as she did so. "I can't really verbalise it for the others without feeling like I'm some awful mother or something, but sometimes I really don't know what to do with the kid. She cries and cries and I don't know what she wants a lot of the time. How am I meant to? She can't speak to me and I don't speak baby language." She sighed.
"Maybe I am too young." She reflected. "Only twenty two, after all. Life ahead of me, and all that. Did I do wrong to have her? I don't think so. What else could I do? I wanted it so much and I still do, when I think about it. I just can't help thinking I don't do a very good job, that's all. Cynthia is better with her than I am, and she can always get her off to sleep with some holographic projection here or there. And it doesn't help that Jewel don't need me back."
She paused, confused.
"No, that's just silly. You chose to leave, Rora, so don't get into that frame of mind about it now. They didn't want you to go, and it's credit to them they've picked themselves up and coped without you. You should be glad they're doing so well - they're your friends and, as Copper said, your family."
"I wish I knew what I wanted from life now." She murmured sadly, as she paused at a song title, extracting the lyric sheet. "Oh, this seems fitting. Just right to fit my confused mood. Guess I'll hunt up the backing track and go see what I can do. Oh, and Hollie! Mustn't forget Hollie."
She located the CD she was looking for, slipping it into her purse with the lyric shet. She crossed the lobby to the creche, greeting the woman on duty with a smile. Hollie was held in the lady's grip, big greenish eyes absorbing all that went on around her, but at the sight of her mother she gurgled, holding out her hands.
"Hi, baby." Carefully Topaz took the precious burden, thanking her carer. "I know, I know, you're hungry and you wanna go home, huh? Well, that's where we're going. What have you got all over you? This was clean on this morning."
"I'm afraid that's my fault." The young lady, whose name was Debra, looked apologetic. "I had a phone call and I set her down on the playmat by the window - next thing I knew the child had gotten a good grip on the trailing ivy on the sill and pulled the whole plant down on top of her. The most of it missed her, thankfully, and she wasn't hurt at all, but there was a lot of dirt everywhere. I did my best to clean her up, but I couldn't get it all off. I'm sorry."
"She's a little imp, it's fine." Topaz laughed at the picture. "She gets into everything she can reach already - I'm rather worrying what will happen when she starts moving." She kissed the infant's grimy head. "You've been naughty, haven't you!"
Hollie raised innocent looking eyes to her mother's and Topaz shook her head, amused.
"No, you don't fool me." She murmured. "Come on. We'll give you a bath when we get you home. You'll have to wait a little longer for your tea, because you thought it'd be fun to play with the ivy - can't have you all dirty!"
She cast Debra a smile.
"It isn't the first time she's wanted to play with something she shouldn't. Sylva had some hair ribbons that she was going to wear on Dean's show last week, only baby here got to them and they're nicely chewed - or should I say gummed? - as a result. Silly kid would have swallowed them too if Cynthia hadn't caught sight of what she was up to and stopped her."
"I did wonder if perhaps she was beginning to teethe." Debra owned. "She's been putting her fingers in her mouth a lot, and dribbling. I wasn't sure if I should mention it, but..."
"Oh, we've noticed it too." Topaz nodded. She grimaced. "And I left her pacifier in the car, which wasn't clever of me. My head's on backwards today. I guess I'll take trouble home before she decides she's hungry and decides to yell for her food. Thanks again - no doubt you'll see us soon!"
Hoisting the baby more securely up in her arms, she left the creche, heading out to her car. She unlocked the vehicle, carefully securing her small daughter into the infant carrier in the front passenger seat. She located the absent pacifier, putting it gently in her daughter's mouth.
"Here." She said softly. "That will help if your gums are sore. I'm sorry I forgot it, Hol. I'm still learning about this whole mother thing."
She paused to watch the infant for a moment, then she headed round to the driver's side, climbing in and putting the key in the ignition.
"It's been a busy day, and I've still got to get to work on this song, once you're safely asleep in your crib." She told the baby as she pulled out of the car park. "I'll try to make sure I don't sing so loud as to wake you, don't worry. Your screams are something we could both do without this afternoon."
She frowned. "But if I get this part, it's going to mean more changes, I suppose. More work. More business. Oh, I really hope I know how to shuffle everything. If this is going to be my new career...if I should be what Mr Warrington is looking for - how am I going to manage everything and you? And what's gonna happen to us if I can't?"
A MOVIE STARLET
Chapter One: A Surprise For Topaz
Chapter Two: Make or Break
Chapter Three: Audition
Chapter Four: First Day
Chapter Five: Travis' Plot
Chapter Six: Making Choices
Chapter Seven: Jewel...and Jack
Chapter Eight: Topaz Shines
Chapter Nine: Trouble
Chapter Ten: Crisis
Chapter Eleven: Morgan Explains
Chapter Twelve: Topaz's Future