Chapter Twelve: The Final Straw
"How is she?"
Clay turned from his seat beside the hospital bed, casting Madeleine a troubled smile.
"Stable." He said finally, as the dark girl came to join him, taking a seat on the opposite side of the bed. "The doctors haven't told me much, because I'm not family, and Suzanne arrived about an hour ago. They told her more - Mari's stable, but she's not shown any signs of waking up, and her blood sugar is a little higher than they'd like. You know she said she hasn't been feeling so hot - well, they reckon that she's been overdoing it."
"If you ask me, she has." Madeleine frowned. "If she's been writing, performing, and worrying over Stef..."
"That's another thing." Clay nodded. "Suzanne went to Rebel Records to speak to Rory about her daughter's medical insurance, so I said I'd stay here incase Mari woke up. But I've been thinking over what I heard between Mari and Stef, before she fell...I think Marissa's known for quite a while how messed up Steffi is. She just hasn't told us about it, that's all."
"Wouldn't surprise me at all." Madeleine owned. "I've never understood why Marissa gives Stef so much time or attention. This is how it gets repaid..." She sighed. "I hope she's gonna be all right, Clay. Our band is in a mess and it's hard to think of anything but Marissa at the moment."
"You're telling me." Clay ran his fingers through his dark hair. "I've not given Diablo a thought, to be honest."
He pursed his lips. "Luca told me that Stef took off."
"Yeah, she did. She hasn't been home and she hasn't called." Madeleine agreed. "Luca tried to reach her phone but it was switched off. I don't know where she's gone, to be honest."
"Maybe she shot off to Connecticut." Clay suggested. "The way I feel, Maddy, I don't care if Diablo have to train a new damn guitarist. Stef's not welcome back until she learns to control her temper and her drug problems. I'm not having any of us messed over by her bad behaviour any more, whatever Luca says about it."
"Luca wondered if she'd come to the hospital." Madeleine observed. Clay shook his head.
"Not as far as I can gather." He responded. "I've been here most of the night, and I've seen you, Luca, and Suzanne...even Rory appeared at the hospital for a brief instant - apparently he has to make a press conference, and I told him her condition. Stef's not been anywhere near here."
"Have you told Rory what happened?"
"No, but only because Luca is my best friend and I know he'd hate having his family problems all over the national presses." Clay responded with a shrug. He stifled a yawn. "It's not out of any underlying loyalty to Stefana, I'll tell you that now."
"You should get some rest." Madeleine said gently, putting a hand on his arm. "You've been up all night, Clay, and Mari's in the best place she could be."
"I told Suzanne I'd hold the fort here."
"Yes, but she wouldn't want you collapsing in exhaustion." Madeleine chided him. "Look, I have to go pick up some stuff from Rebel Records and speak to Rory myself about what happened. How about you come with me, huh? Then we'll go grab lunch somewhere, try to relax a little. They'll look after Mari, you know that, and Luca said he'd be at the hospital about midday. It's almost that now - she won't be alone long."
"All right." Clay sighed, getting to his feet. He cast the still girl a glance, then, "I suppose you're right. I'm dead on my feet, to be honest. Just I didn't want to leave her. I didn't want her to wake up and find noone was there."
"You really care about Mari, don't you?" Madeleine observed, as she led the way out of the hospital ward.
"She's a good friend, and always has been." Clay said quietly. "And that's all I have to say."
"Fine, have it your way." Madeleine smiled. "I really do believe she'll be all right, though. She is stable, and that's a good sign. It's early days - I'm sure she'll wake up and be just fine."
"Thanks for trying, Mad." Clay managed a ghost of a smile. "I appreciate it."
"What are friends for?" Madeleine asked. "Now come on. Luca will look after Mari when he gets here. It's time you took a break."
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
"Well, it's been long enough!"
Aaron greeted his best man with a warm grin. "You made it okay then? Flight not delayed?"
"Nope, flight was fine." Logan returned the smile with a genial one of his own. "Sylvina picked me up from the airport and took me back to the Starlight for coffee, since neither of us had a key to your place. That's why I'm here at Misfit Music - Sylvina reckoned that you'd be done working before long, and she couldn't get a hold of your bride-to-be to find a key."
"Ah, I see." Aaron laughed, setting down his screwdriver. "Yeah, I'm almost done here. My apartment isn't empty, though - I've a friend staying at present, and she could have let you in."
"Oh yes. Sylvina called her Miss Psycho." Logan said ruefully. "Said I'd be safer with her at the Starlight. Luckily I missed a run-in with your kid sister."
"That was a long time ago, Logan. Nancy probably doesn't even remember." Aaron assured him. "And Stefana's not psycho. Just Jewel and Diablo have a working rivalry, and sometimes it spills over into personal dislike, that's all. Stefana and Copper aren't the best of friends at any time, and Sylva is loyal to Copper and the others...so. Luckily Copper isn't the jealous type and she's never tried to control who I'm friends with."
"Well, my case is in the corridor, so I'm ready when you are." Logan told him. "It's been an interesting arrival to LA, I'll tell you! The Starlight Mansion is something else, and Sylva and her friend...Topaz? They were very sweet to me."
"I must thank Syl for picking you up at short notice." Aaron agreed. "Okay, I'm outta here. Cynthia?"
"You called me, Aaron?" Cynthia materialised in the doorway, casting the newcomer an interested look. "Oh, you've company!"
"This is my best man, Logan Matthews." Aaron explained. "Logan, my co-worker, Cynthia Benton. Cyn, I'm gonna shoot on out now, take Logan back to my place so he can unpack and chill and stuff. You okay to tie this up?"
"Why, certainly, Aaron." Cynthia smiled. "Pleased to meet you, Logan."
"Likewise." Logan told her with a grin. "It's good to be back in Cali, I have to admit - feels right to be back home!"
"Well, then you should get a job back here, then."
Aaron told him as the two men headed out to Aaron's car, Logan collecting his case en route. "What do you think? There are plenty of companies hereabouts who could use a decent computer programmer. I'm sure you'd not have any problems."
"It's crossed my mind." Logan agreed. "But to be honest, at the moment, I'm not committing myself to anything. I stuck it out in Milwaukee after college because of Jenna, largely, but you know that she and I split up six months ago, and she's got some other guy now. After three years it was kinda a blow - it's only now that I've really put the girl behind me. Nothing to keep me in Milwaukee now - might be fun to come back to Cali, see the old crowd, and all of that stuff."
"Well, I have an apartment I'm looking to pass on." Aaron's eyes twinkled. "Once Copper and I are hitched we've the perfect house all lined up - so keep it mind, okay?"
"I will do." Logan agreed, getting into the passenger seat of Aaron's car. "I notice, by the way, that being engaged hasn't stopped you being surrounded by pretty girls."
"How do you mean?" Aaron looked surprised.
"Well, if Cynthia, Sylva and Topaz are anything to go by..."
"Just friends, Logan." Aaron laughed. "Friends and colleagues, since I'm Jewel's road-manager these days, and Cynthia is my assistant. I'm a one woman guy now - Copper's the one, and that's that."
"Seems odd you're settling down." Logan admitted. "Not that you used to play the field as much as some of us, true, but it still seems kinda surreal. You'd always have these chicks following you round, and you were blind as hell to how hot some of them were. I was worried about you for a while there!"
"Well, when I introduce you properly to my fiancee, Logan, you'll have no reason to worry about me at all." Aaron smiled.
"Sylva said you were perfect together." Logan reflected. "I guess I'll believe her."
"You liked Syl, huh?" Aaron looked interested. Logan nodded.
"She's damn fine." He agreed, winking. "See, I told you I was back on form, didn't I? But yeah. It was nice to come off the plane and have a pretty girl hanging there waiting to meet me. Though this is probably where you tell me that she has a boyfriend, right?"
"Actually, she doesn't." Aaron shrugged. "Not far as I know. Truth is, I don't totally understand all of the complexities that go on in girls' heads over guys and relationships and all of that - enough keeping tabs on my own, to be honest. Syl seems to date from time to time, but she's never really settled for any one guy."
"She's a player, huh?" Logan looked curious. Aaron shrugged.
"Not sure I'd call her that, but she's usually the life and soul of the party." He replied. Logan grinned.
"She sounds like fun." He mused. "I wonder if I might ask her out once or twice whilst I'm in LA? I'm a bit out of practice, but we were talking in the car on the way from LAX and she's pretty open and friendly. I liked her."
"Ask her." Aaron advised him. "Knowing Syl, she'd probably be up for it."
He pulled into the apartment building parking lot. "Here we go."
"Yeah, I got this far with Sylva." Logan admitted. "But not inside - what floor are you?"
"Five." Aaron told him. "Come on, I'll show you where to go. I don't know if Stefana will be here, but we'll soon find out."
"Stefana? Miss Psycho?" Logan asked.
"Don't call her that." Aaron rolled his eyes. "Grab your case and follow me, all right?"
Stefana was curled up on the couch when the two men arrived, to all intents and purposes fast asleep, and Aaron quickly showed his best man where he was to be staying, being careful to mute his voice so as not to disturb the sleeping girl.
"The bathroom's across the hall." He concluded. "Second door on the left, okay? I'll go wake Steffi - I should introduce you, though I don't know how long she'll be stopping. She had a fight with her friends and I said she could stay here till things settled down at her place."
"I see." Logan grinned. "Okay. Then I'm gonna take a shower, if it's all the same to you, and unpack. I still got a speech to start thinking on, don't forget!"
"Don't remind me." Aaron groaned.
He headed into the main lounge, gently shaking Stefana awake.
"What's up?" Stefana blinked, confusion flooding her gaze as she brought her friend into focus.
"Logan's here. My best man. I want to introduce you to him." Aaron said softly. "Remember, I told you last night that he was flying in today."
"Oh...oh yeah. I remember." Stefana sat up, rubbing her eyes. "He's here?"
"Yeah." Aaron agreed. "Logan?"
"I hear ya." Logan poked his head around the door of the lounge, casting Stefana a grin. "Hi. You're Stefana, right?"
"Well, you're the clever one." Stefana rubbed her eyes again, wishing she could wake up and think more coherently. Traces of the sleeping draft she had consumed earlier that morning still buzzed through her veins, making it hard to focus. "Yeah, I'm Stefana."
"Stef, this is Logan." Aaron told her gently. "I'm gonna do coffee - you guys want some?"
"I need about a gallon of the stuff, to wake me up." Stefana admitted ruefully. Logan nodded.
"Count me in." He agreed. "I'm hitting the shower...nice to meet you, Stefana."
"Huh? Oh. Yeah, whatever."
Logan eyed the girl thoughtfully, taking in her pallor and shadowy eyes.
"I kinda see what Sylva means about her." He mused. "She's prickly, to say the least. Still, we did barge in her and disturb her, and she is having a rough time at the moment. She's Aaron's friend, so he probably knows what he's doing." He frowned, as he returned to his room, flipping open his case and retrieving his towel and shower accessories. "Can't help but think she's not well, though. She certainly doesn't look so good. Maybe I'll mention it to Aaron later."
He sauntered into the bathroom, whistling under his breath as he did so.
"Coming back to LA has certainly been interesting." He decided. "Who knows? If this wedding thing goes off without a hitch, maybe I will come back to California long term!"
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
"You look pretty, Copper."
Topaz cast her friend a grin. "Aaron taking you someplace special?"
"The Red Rock." Copper nodded her head, examining her reflection in the mirror as she did so. "But it's not a date as such, Topaz. He's invited Logan along too, so he can formally introduce the two of us. I'm curious to meet him, and of course, I want to make a good impression."
"He seems a nice guy." Topaz mused. "You know Syl brought him back here for coffee?"
"Yeah, I know. She mentioned it." Copper agreed. "She said he was okay, too - so I'm sure I'll like him just fine."
"At least I know Stefana isn't coming along tonight. Aaron did ask her, since it wasn't a 'date' thing, and he seems to believe she's really down on her luck, or something, but she declined. Thankfully."
"I doubt the girl wants to spend the evening with you any more than you do with her." Topaz grinned. "Particularly when it's fairly obvious who Aaron has eyes for."
"Well, I'm not going to worry about that girl tonight." Copper said determinedly. "She can try what she likes but she's not going to change anything. "I'll see you guys later. Say my goodnights to Hol for me, huh?"
"I will." Topaz promised. "Have fun, Copper!"
Copper grabbed her jacket from the peg, hurrying out of the front door and across the drive to her car, slipping into the driver's seat, and putting the vehicle in gear. Before long she was at the Red Rock itself, and she soon spotted Aaron and an unfamiliar young man at a table in one corner. With a smile, she headed over, greeting her fiance with a tender kiss hello.
"You look lovely tonight." Aaron told her. "How'd it go with the flower people?"
"All sorted, though it took forever to arrange." Copper grimaced. "Weddings are lovely and romantic but they're also a hell of a lot of work."
"Well, tonight you can kick back and have a meal in decent company." Aaron told her. He indicated his companion, who had watched the exchange with interest.
"This is Logan - Logan, my bride to be, Elizabeth Santiago."
"Pleased to meet you at last." Logan grinned. "Elizabeth, did Aaron say?"
"Yes." Copper agreed. "Though noone in Cali ever calls me that. I'm Copper, Logan, and I'm pleased to meet you also. I'm sorry to have bailed at the airport - Syl came to the rescue in the nick of time!"
"It's fine, she was great." Logan assured her. "And I'm sure you have a lot to arrange, too. Aaron's been telling me about all the things you've got down to do - I'm glad it's not me getting married any time soon!"
"Well, it'll be worth it." Aaron winked at his fiancee, reaching over to squeeze her hand. "It's been a long time coming, that's for sure."
"I hope I'm not going to be playing gooseberry tonight." Logan remarked, amused. "Sylva said that you were perfect together, and I can see what she meant by it, as well."
"Oh, we'll behave." Copper laughed, a sheepish look entering her dark eyes. "Sorry, Logan."
"Don't mind me." Logan assured her. "It's been fun catching up with Aaron and I'm sure I'll hook up with a few of the old crowd before the wedding. Cali is still home to me, it's a buzz to be back."
He smiled at Copper. "You're not a local, though - am I right?"
"I grew up in Detroit." Copper agreed. "My Mama was raised in Cali, though, so I have got it in my blood. And I dunno...Aaron's home has always been here, and his home is my home nowadays. I'm content to stay here. If nothing else, the weather's great!"
"Yeah. I'm outta practice at Cali's weather." Logan looked rueful. "Sure it'll come back to me, though."
"You guys went to school together, didn't you?" Copper asked curiously. Logan nodded his head.
"Yep, from junior high till we graduated high school." he agreed. "Got to know the dude pretty good in that time."
"I'm not looking forward to the best man speech." Aaron admitted. "I'm wondering if I miscalculated when I asked you to fly in and take that role, Logan. The number of anecdotes you've reminded me of since you arrived..."
"Aw, c'mon, chill." Logan grinned. "Part of the tradition, the best man's speech. I gotta humiliate you! It's the rules!"
"So what was Aaron like in High School?" Copper rested her chin on her hands, looking interested. "I've had Nancy's side of things, of course - she and I are best friends - but I'm curious to hear it from another angle. What kind of a guy was he?"
"Always a chick magnet." Logan laughed, ignoring the dark look his friend sent his way. "But usually too damn dense to notice the babes who were after him. He must think a hell of a lot of you, Copper - the guy was pretty much damn adored in the corridors at High School, but it took a miracle for him to ask someone out. Such a waste."
"Logan, shut your face, okay?" Aaron ordered. "Telling my fiancee about my prowess in High School with girls is really not a good plan!"
"I'm interested, Aaron." Copper told him with a grin. "And not a bit jealous, don't worry."
"Well, the only girl I remember him dating for any real length of time was Mack Davenport." Logan reflected. "There were others, of course, 'cept he always maintained they were 'just friends'. I dunno. Seems kinda funny he's the first of our crowd to be settling down. He always was dense when it came to the chicks."
"I wouldn't disagree." Copper's eyes sparkled with humour at this. "But it's one of his better traits, in some respects. He has a lot of female friends, but I know he'd never dream of messing me over, even if one of them threw themselves at his feet."
"Okay, I am here, you know!" Aaron held up his hands. "Logan, if you want a place to sleep tonight, you shut your mouth now. And Copper..."
"What?" Copper asked him innocently, leaning over to kiss him on the cheek. "Did I do something wrong?"
"I'll see you after the wedding." Aaron threatened, but there was a glimmer of amusement in his eyes. "You have been warned."
"Promises, promises." Copper laughed. "I'll hold you to that."
In the shadows, unobserved by the merry trio, Stefana pulled back behind a pillar, seething inside at Copper's casual display of affection. She had not wanted to join the party, but her paranoia was such that she could not resist trailing them, just to find out if she was being talked about, and the obvious warmth between Copper and Aaron made her feel sick inside.
"Why is it girls like her get all the breaks?" She muttered. "I hate you, Elizabeth Santiago, I really hate you!"
Unwilling to watch any longer, she slipped out of the restaurant unseen, dropping into her car and revving the engine. About to return to Aaron's, she recalled the way he had kissed Copper hello, and how he had reached so tenderly for her hand across the table. Jealousy stabbed through her and she screeched out of the parking lot and away in the opposite direction from Aaron's apartment building.
"I'm going to find Luca." She determined, pushing her foot down on the gas pedal. "I'm gonna make him see sense, he can't just turn me out! He promised Dad to look after me, and he wouldn't break that promise! He can damn well help me! Something has to be done about Aaron and Copper and their sickening romance, and Diablo are supposed to be Jewel's rivals. I need Rebel Records and I need..."
She broke off, swallowing hard.
"I need someone." She whispered. "I've nowhere else to go now. Just...just Rebel Records. Maybe Rory will help me, if Luca won't. Maybe..."
She pulled into the floodlit parking bay, stepping out of her vehicle and gazing up at the big black glass building. It was cold and imposing in the light of day, but at night it was even more forbidding, and she gathered her courage, marching purposefully inside and up to the top floor.
"Where the hell do you think you're going?"
A voice from the darkness startled her, and she swung around, gazing at Clay in surprise and annoyance.
"I work here. What do you want?" She retorted.
"Well, if I were you, Steffi, and I didn't want to get arrested for attempted murder, I'd get lost." Clay's voice was cold.
"I don't want to speak to you. I want to speak to Luca."
"You can't. He isn't here." Clay told her. "He's at the hospital, with Marissa."
"Marissa took a turn for the worse this afternoon." Clay continued, his eyes hard and angry as he took a step towards her. "She's not come round, and her diabetes is starting to cause complications. She might not make it. What have you to say to that?"
"I..." Colour drained from Stefana's face, and she took a step back against the wall. "It was an accident! A goddamn accident!"
"Well, whatever it was, Marissa might pay for it with her life." Clay snapped. "So get out, Stef. You're not wanted here. I don't want to see you, Maddy doesn't, and Luca definitely doesn't want you dragging him down any further. He's already torn up that you've done this - he feels you've betrayed him and that this is his fault. However damn good you are at the guitar, you're a hopeless failure of a human being, and we're done with you."
"If Marissa survives, Diablo will carry on, but you will no longer be welcome as part of the group." Clay fixed her with a steely glare. "You understand now? I don't care what you do or where you go, so long as it's not here."
For a moment, Stefana stared at him with a mixture of horror and disbelief. Then, as his words sank in, she shook her head slowly.
"I hate you." She murmured. "I've always hated you. This will be your fault...Diablo is nothing without me."
With that parting blow she turned on her heel, disappearing into the darkness. Once alone, however, the tears began to fall and she secluded herself in the main studio, sinking down onto the unit as she re-ran the conversation in her head.
"There's no hope now." She sobbed. "I've probably killed Mari, I'll go to jail...my brother hates me, Aaron's gonna marry Copper...noone gives a damn about me. The only person who ever cared was Marissa and she's in damn intensive care because of me. The world would be better off without me - Clay made damn sure I realised that! And maybe he's right. Mom always pretended I didn't exist...even Luca doesn't want to know me now. I'm better off dead."
She reached into her pocket, pulling out the small polythene bag which held the remainder of the sleeping pills she had taken to using to get rest. Suddenly overtaken by calm, she set each pill out on the counter, one by one, counting them slowly.
There were enough, she decided absently. Enough to take her away from all of this for ever.
"And then they'll be sorry, but I won't have to worry about any of them any more." She muttered, grabbing Madeleine's discarded Evian from the unit and pulling off the lid. "When they find me, they'll probably have a party, but that's not my problem. I'm done with it. All of it."
She scooped up a handful of the pills, taking a sip of the water to prepare herself for what she was about to do.
Prologue: Steffi's Vice
Chapter One: The Bride To Be
Chapter Two: A Little Piece Of Hell
Chapter Three: Jewel
Chapter Four: Shopping Trip
Chapter Five: Copper's Dress
Chapter Six: A Devil Strikes
Chapter Seven: Gaynor To The Rescue
Chapter Eight: A Shock For Marissa
Chapter Nine: Wedding Plans
Chapter Ten: A Blow For Steffi
Chapter Eleven: Logan
Chapter Twelve: The Final Straw
DISCLAIMER: PLEASE NOTE
Copper, Nancy, Sylva, Anna, Blade, Raesha, Sirena, Topaz, Aaron, Sophie, Justin, Elliot, Rosita, Luis and any other characters in this fiction which do not appear in the animated Jem series are copyrighted to me (E.A Woolley) as of January 2002 <unless otherwise specified> and are not to be reproduced without permission ANYWHERE. Jetta, Pizzazz, Stormer, Roxy, Raya and all other original Jem characters are the copyright of Hasbro Inc, Sunbow, Christy Marx and the other writers of the Jem series. The future world of Pizzazz, Raya, Jetta, Roxy, Stormer, Clash, Synergy, the fate of Jem and her memorial are all copyrighted to me. The future world of Kimber and Shana is copyrighted jointly to myself and Gemma Dawn.
The concept of 'Jewel' is entirely my own, and any apparent link with any fictional or actual person or persons of this name is entirely coincidental. Equally the characters in this fiction are not based on any real life individual.
The concept behind the future world of Danse, Aja and Craig, the idea behind Jerrica's futureworld and the split of the Holograms is copyrighted to Gemma Dawn, whose Teenangel Outsiders fiction is directly twinned with Just a Dream. The character Sammi and any of the other Teenangel Outsider characters mentioned in this fiction are entirely copyright to Gemma Dawn and appear here only with her permission.
Pay her page a visit!