Part One: Lovesick
Chapter Five: Cynthia's Advice
He was running late.
Stefana glared at her watch, taking a sip of her coffee and swallowing
the thick black liquid without even tasting it. As if it wasn't bad enough
that Jewel's single was topping the song polls, now she was in very great
danger of being made to look stupid.
But he had promised he would come.
She took another sip of black coffee, setting the mug down on the table
and rubbing her temples. The caffeine did nothing for her headaches, but
she knew better than to turn up for a rendez-vous with him stoned. He was
too perceptive, and he would soon notice. Much as she trusted him, she did
not want him to know how wild her lifestyle really was.
After all, if he knew, maybe he wouldn't stay her friend.
A friendly voice cut through her thoughts and, relieved for the distraction,
Stefana raised green eyes to his grey ones, mustering a smile.
"You're late." She observed lightly. "Rough morning?"
"I'm sorry." Aaron shook his head, dropping down into an empty seat.
"I've spent yesterday afternoon and this morning fighting with Aunt Phyl's
wretched computer system, and I got caught in traffic on the way into the
city. I'm more than ready for a break, though. That machine has about had
it, which must be a new record for her. She's only had it six months or
"It's okay. It doesn't matter." Stefana shrugged. "You're here now, anyhow."
"Yep." Aaron eyed Stefana keenly. "Is there something up, Stef? You don't
usually call me up out of the blue and invite me out for coffee...I wondered
if there was something you wanted to talk about?"
"In...in a way there is." Stefana faltered, then, "Diablo are playing
the Arena tomorrow night, only one of our chief technicians has taken sick.
I know it's a huge huge thing to ask of you, Aaron, but would you help
us out? Rory's going mental at all of us and I've had about enough. All
you'd have to do is skim over our equipment and make sure it's safe - I
told Luca I'd ask you, since we're friends. I know you work for Misfit
Music but you have helped us before, and...and....well..."
"Tomorrow night?" Aaron pursed his lips, considering. "Sure, I don't
see why not. I don't mind helping a friend out, Stef, so it's no bother.
So long as it's all all right with your bandmates and Mr Llewelyn that I
do so, of course."
"Thanks." Stefana looked relieved. Her gamble had paid off, and inwardly
she congratulated herself on having so neatly disposed of their usual chief
technician. He wouldn't harm for it long term, she told herself absently.
It had only been a small dose, and besides, with the amount he ate, in
her view he deserved indigestion. If nothing else, it would serve the guy
right for daring to flirt with her between rehearsals.
"I appreciate it."
"Well, we're friends, so it's no biggie." Aaron grinned. He raised his
hand to summon the waitress, placing an order for coffee, then turning
his attention back to his companion. "How goes everything with the new
album? I've noticed a step-up in your publicity this week."
"Rory." Stefana rolled her eyes. "I told you...he's working us too hard.
We're barely getting a moment to ourselves to think."
"You shouldn't let him drive you so hard." Aaron scolded. "I know you
don't want him to know about your problem, but he's going to find out if
you don't watch your step."
"My problem?" Stefana's eyes became big with surprise and fear. "What
do you mean?"
"Your heart murmur." Aaron eyed her keenly. "You do look pale still.
Are you still on medication for that?"
"Oh." Stefana took a deep breath, calming her panic. It was easy, she
mused, to forget what lies you had told in the past. "Yes. But we shouldn't
talk about it. Someone might hear."
"All right." Aaron shrugged. "I am serious though, Stef. The human body
can only do so much."
"You're telling me." Stefana grimaced. "I think half of it is Rory showing
off. He has a friend stopping here this week and for some reason he seems
to think he has to turn us into slaves to impress her."
"A friend?" Aaron looked surprised. "I wasn't aware Rory Llewelyn had
friends outside of Rebel Records."
"I'm not sure he has them inside it, either." Stefana muttered. "No,
this is an old friend. Phoebe Asche - a Stinger."
"Rapture?" Aaron's expression darkened. "She's in Los Angeles?"
"Yes...why, do you know her?" Stefana looked startled at his sudden change
in demeanour. Aaron nodded.
"Yes. The last time she was here she played a very unpleasant trick on
my fiancee." He said quietly. "She's a nasty piece of work, Stef. A manipulative
bitch who's only interested in her own ends."
"She upset Copper?" Stefana looked interested. "I didn't know that. What
"Oh, she pretended that she could communicate with Copper's Dad." Aaron
grimaced. "Esteban Santiago died some years ago now, but Copper and he were
very close...it upset her pretty badly at the time."
Stefana's expression became haunted for a moment, as she remembered her
own father. Then, "Wow. That's kinda sucky."
"It's very sucky." Aaron looked thoughtful. "In fact, it wouldn't surprise
me if that's the reason Copper's had all this crap through the mail recently.
If Rapture's back in Los Angeles, I wouldn't put it past her to create
an 'admirer' just to get Copper wound up."
Stefana stared at him.
"Copper has an admirer?" She demanded. "Aren't you enough for her?"
"Trust me, Stef, it's all one sided." Aaron grimaced. "If it really is
a guy and not Rapture pulling tricks. Copper's had letters and gifts through
the mail for the last few days from a mystery guy. But now you've told
me that, I'm not sure if this guy really exists. In fact, I might mention
that to her, now I know. It wouldn't surprise me if it was all one of Rapture's
"Glad to be of help." Stefana offered him a slight smile, inwardly making
a note to ask Rapture what she knew about Copper's mysterious admirer.
"If you ask me, all Stingers are egomaniacs on power trips anyway." She
grimaced. "Sometimes I wonder why I work for one."
"Well, why do you?" Aaron asked playfully.
"Because that was where the contract was when we came to Cali." Stefana
shrugged. "And you know, you don't turn those things down."
She glanced at her watch.
"I ought to be going. I'll mention what you said to Luca and call you."
She said, getting to her feet. "Thanks for meeting me, Aaron, and for agreeing
at such short notice. I owe you one."
"Nonsense. I told you, my pleasure." Aaron laughed. "Have fun and I'll
talk to you later."
Stefana allowed herself a wave, then she slipped away through the crowds
and back to her car, climbing into the driver's seat and flipping open
the glovebox, pulling out the contents in search of her mobile. As she
did so, a small plastic bag tumbled onto the floor and she cursed, grabbing
it and going to push it back, but something made her pause. With a shrug
she pulled it open, extracting a dose and swallowing it down, rolling the
remains back up and shoving them into the back of the compartment. She
scooped up her phone, pulling the card Rapture had given her from her pocket.
Clumsily she dialed the number as the buzz of the drug began to invade her
senses, tapping her fingers impatiently on the dashboard as she waited for
the phone to be picked up at the other end.
"Phoebe Asche?" Finally the smug voice drifted down the line, and Stefana
rolled her eyes.
"You took long enough." She snapped. "If you want me working with you,
you don't keep me hanging around, okay? It's not like I don't have plenty
"Stefana?" Phoebe's tones became startled. "I didn't expect to hear from
you so soon."
"Well, I work fast." Stefana said grimly. "Listen, will you? I've just
been with Aaron. He told me Copper's had mail from a secret admirer lately
- are you anything to do with that?"
"A secret admirer?" Phoebe laughed. "Honestly, you think I'd do something
"Well, I don't know." Stefana snapped. "I only know what he told me.
He's none to impressed that you're in town, you know. Apparently you quite
upset dear little Copper last time you were here - so it's not good for
either of us if he should find out I'm working with you. Bear it in mind,
"I assure you, Stefana, my discretion in these things is absolute." Phoebe
told her silkenly. "But maybe this admirer business isn't quite as silly
and banal as I thought...in fact, it's starting to give me an idea. Tell
me, what did he say, exactly? How much do you know?"
"Not a whole lot, but that can be changed." Stefana responded darkly.
"I know where the brats live and Aaron said that she's had something from
him every day this week so far. I'll raid her mailbox early tomorrow morning
and intercept whatever mail she's had from him. That should tell us something
about the kind of loser we're dealing with. Heaven knows what guys see
"Guys like Aaron, you mean?" Phoebe asked innocently.
"Any guys." Stefana retorted. "And Aaron's the reason we knew about this,
so leave him out of it, all right? He has his uses."
"I'm sure he does." Phoebe laughed. "All right. I'm heading into Rebel
Records this afternoon to speak to Rory about something. We can meet there
- I'll wait for you in the back studio, I'll be there at about threeish.
I'm working on a plan but I need some time to think it all out before I
discuss it with you."
"Fine. Don't keep me waiting." Stefana shot back, switching her phone
off and tossing it down onto the passenger seat. She put the vehicle in gear,
speeding out of the parking lot with little regard for other motorists,
heading down the main road towards Rebel Records. The amphetamine was still
buzzing around her system, and it was more by luck than by judgement that
she made it unscathed to the music company, slamming her car door and stalking
in through the main entrance.
"Stef!" Marissa greeted her with a grin from across the lobby. "I was
about to call you - I had an idea about the guitar solo for the new song,
"Can it wait? I'm not in the mood." Stefana growled, pushing past her
friend and heading towards the lift. Marissa frowned, grabbing her friend
by the arm and casting her an apprehensive look.
"I thought so. You're stoned." She said sadly. "Oh, Stef, and I wanted
your help, too! This is important and I need to hear you play it! I need
to know you can handle it and I want to know how it sounds!"
"I'm not stoned. I'm just fed up with overworking." Stefana snapped,
but even her tone belied her words and Marissa shook her head.
"Don't lie to me, Steffi." She said quietly. "When did you take it? Not
long ago? Or are you gonna sober up for me in the next few minutes?"
"Didn't I tell you to leave me alone?" Stefana exclaimed. "Look, Mari,
I haven't time right now. I have stuff to do, and then Phoebe wanted to
ask me something about the music business now, so I haven't any free space
for your tinkering. I'm sorry, but it's how it is. Okay?"
"Why do you want to spend time around that woman? She's creepy." Marissa
shivered. "She looks right through people somehow."
"She's no different from Rory or anyone else." Stefana shrugged. "Besides,
she asked my advice and she's a friend of Rory's. I don't like that jerk
any more than you do, but if it gets him off my back a little...and I don't
know about you but I want vacation time this year, thank you!"
"Well, be careful with her, okay?" Marissa looked troubled. "I think
she's bad news, Stef. Really bad news."
"Maybe she is. I don't care." Stefana rubbed her temples. "Look, Mari,
I'm not feeling great. I don't need all of this."
"You would feel better if you didn't insist on messing with your health."
Marissa said reproachfully, linking her arm in her friend's and leading
her over to the lift. "You know it and I know it, Stef. You never seem happy
these days. You're always tired, you always have headaches and you go around
white as a sheet. You've lost weight, you hardly eat and you snap at everyone.
I know you've always been something of a daredevil, but this isn't the same
somehow. I can't explain it but you're not the Stefana I made best friends
with in High School! Sometimes I wonder who you even are any more!"
"Look." Stefana grabbed her friend around the wrists, a dangerous glint
in her green eyes. "If I'm not good enough to be your friend, don't bother
about me. I'm sure I'll survive. And if you do want to be my friend, quit
it with the bleatings, okay? I can manage. I'm fine. Noone is the same at
twenty three as they are at fifteen - it just doesn't happen, so get a grip,
With that she pushed her friend aside, heading for the lift and banging
the buttons for the top floor. As the lift doors closed, Marissa bit her
lip, shaking her head slowly.
"I wish you'd even listen to me." She murmured. "I worry about you so
Meanwhile, across town at Misfit Music, Aaron had parked up outside the
big music company building, noticing that his girlfriend's car was already
there, and remembering what Stefana had said.
"I wonder if this admirer stuff really is another Stinger game." he mused,
sauntering across the lobby and casting the security guard on duty a friendly
grin as he did so. "It does seem convenient. And if that is all it is, Copper
can quit worrying about it. Stingers are full of crap, but it'll just be
designed to upset her and me, and it's not going to work."
"Hey, Aaron." A voice greeted him as he left the lift, heading back towards
his adoptive aunt's office, and he turned, raising his hand in a wave.
"Cyn! Just who I need." He exclaimed. "Aunt Phyl's PC is beyond me - I
hoped you might take a look at it? I think it needs a little help, computer
"I was coming upstairs to volunteer my services." Cynthia dimpled. "What,
precisely, is wrong with it?"
"That is still a little over my head." Aaron frowned, slipping his cover
key into the office door and pushing it open. "I don't think her tipping
coffee over the keyboard helped a whole lot, but I'm sure there's more wrong
with it than that. A virus, maybe. You know Aunt Phyl. She and technology
are never on friendly terms."
"She and most things are not on friendly terms." Cynthia looked amused,
climbing down beside the dismantled P.C. "All right. I will take a look."
"Cyn, did you know that Rapture was in Los Angeles?"
"Rapture?" Cynthia paused in her appraisal of the machine, a frown crossing
her pretty features. "Rapture of the Stingers?"
"Yes. Did you know she was visiting Rory Llewelyn?"
"I had no knowledge of this at all." Cynthia shook her head. "Rapture
is the kind of person who slips in and out of localities without warning
or trace. Why do you ask?"
"Stefana told me she was here. I wondered if she might have something
to do with Copper's sudden admirer."
"Stefana or Rapture?"
"Rapture, of course!" Aaron scolded. Cynthia pursed her lips.
"It is a possibility." She said at length. "Dependant on when Rapture
arrived in Los Angeles. But Copper received a photograph with the initial
letter, Aaron. I do not know what she did with that correspondance, and
have not been asked to scan my databases for an identity match, but it struck
me as being a genuine fan letter."
She eyed her companion keenly. "I thought you were not concerned about
"I'm not, but Copper obviously is." Aaron frowned. "She was distracted
when I took her out for lunch yesterday - kept looking over her shoulder,
as if she thought someone was watching her. I don't get it, to be honest,
since if Rapture ain't involved, we're just dealing with one of the gadzillion
people who have it bad for my fiancee. But this one seems to be bothering
"I wish he would stop sending her things. Copper is a modest girl and
she does not know how to react to such attention." Cynthia said thoughtfully.
"Perhaps it is not strange for her to imagine being watched, though. I understood
from Nancy that someone had been at the Starlight Mansion yesterday. They
found footprints and a lost button in the bushes around the front drive."
"Copper didn't tell me that." Aaron frowned.
"She does not know." Cynthia shrugged. "The girls are agreed not to frighten
her. They seem to be of the consensus that he is obsessive, but harmless,
and that telling her he was watching her from the front drive of the Starlight
would only panic her further. She is unsettled by it, so I agreed. They only
told me because my sensors are quite often Starlight Mansion's principal
"But you didn't detect anybody there?"
"No. He did not come close enough to the house to trigger my sensors.
You have my word, Aaron, that should they make any further forays towards
the Starlight, I will be ready."
"Well, I'm glad the girls have you." Aaron admitted. "Not that I think
this guy is dangerous. Just kinda sad. I just don't like my fiancee upset."
"No, nor do we." Cynthia shook her head. "But there is little we can do."
She indicated the computer. "I fear that there is also little to be done
here. The main circuitboard is irrevocably damaged - what Sylva would call
"That's what I was afraid of." Aaron looked rueful. "I only hope this
time Aunt Phyl saved her reports onto the network drive and not the C drive,
else she'll be in a godawful mood when I tell her she's totalled this thing.
Thanks for the second opinion, Cyn! And for the advice, also!"
"You are always most welcome, Aaron, for both." Cynthia's eyes twinkled.
"And you need not worry about Copper. In the unlikely event that someone
should break into the Starlight Mansion, he will find he has more than he