Chapter Three: Jack

"It's a nice day for a picnic at the beach."

Sylva settled herself more comfortably in the sand, casting a warm smile at her companion as she did so. "Totally unexpected, but sometimes they're the best kind. Would you believe I've been having kittens over seeing you again? It seems like ages since we did anything, and I was afraid you'd come back from Wisconsin and not like me any more."

"You were afraid of what?" Logan Matthews stared at his girlfriend in astonishment. Then he laughed.

"Oh, you're priceless sometimes, you know that?" He asked playfully, leaning over to kiss her on the cheek. "If you must know, every single day I was in Milwaukee, I was thinking about how much I missed you. It was a bit dark for a couple of days, with Dad and all...I coulda used you being there. I know you couldn't get time away at such short notice...but I missed you a lot when I was there."

"That's good to know." Sylva shuffled up closer to him on the towel, leaning up against him as she did so. "And I'm glad your Dad is all right now."

She paused, then, "Did you tell them about me?"

"Of course." Logan's eyes twinkled. "All about you. They say you sound like a nice girl. Dad asked when you're coming to visit."

"Visit?" Sylva blinked, then she smiled. "Not just yet, but maybe. Wow, that would make us a really grown up couple, wouldn't it? Meeting the parents and all that."

"I've already met yours." Logan reminded her with a wink. "And lived to tell the tale. But I told them it wouldn't be any time soon. I know you've been really busy lately...though I'm not entirely sure what it is you've been busy doing. I thought Jewel would have had their disk out by now, but I haven't heard anything playing."

"It's well on the way." Sylva assured him. "Cynthia was sick and, well, it was kinda intense for a while. We didn't know if she'd pull through or what was going on. I think it was a delayed reaction to Jerrica's death - sorta piling up inside of her and finally pushing her too far. She'd been bottling a lot of stuff up, and struggling more than we realised. Thankfully she seems to be much better now - but we were pretty worried for a while. Everything else got kinda shoved aside."

"I see." Logan squeezed her hand. "You girls sure look after one another."

"Well, Cynthia's like a sister to all of us - and sometimes, a mother too." Sylva dimpled. "You get that when you live with someone who's just turned thirty. I swear in the absence of her own kids, sometimes we become them."

Logan laughed.

"I wouldn't have pegged Cynthia for the brooding type." He commented. Sylva shook her head.

"No, she isn't. Actually, she can't have children - it's something complicated and I don't totally understand the science." She said, a faint blush touching her cheeks as she realised how far into dangerous territory she was going. "But she's always there if you need a shoulder to cry on. We'd miss her if she wasn't part of the gang."

She looked sheepish.

"You know, I bought this really fab new dress for when we went out next." She admitted. "It's so pretty, and I was so worried it wasn't me...Topaz had to talk me into keeping it. I was so bothered about you seeing me all dolled up and glam, the next time we met. And then you show up by the house one lunchtime and I'm in my jeans and teeshirt, no make up and my hair in a just figures, doesn't it?"

"Well, I think you looked very pretty." Logan winked at her lazily. "But even prettier since you put on the bikini and came down to catch some surf."

"Hey!" Sylva thwapped him playfully across his chest.

"What? I'm not allowed to ogle my own girlfriend now?" Logan raised his eyebrow playfully. Sylva poked out her tongue.

"You can think it. You don't have to say it." She scolded, though there was merriment in her blue eyes. "At least try not to act like an animal when we're out in public, huh? I do have a reputation."

Logan chuckled, raising his hand in a mock salute.

"Yes ma'am." he drawled. He leant over to kiss her again, then paused.

"What?" Sylva eyed him in confusion.

"I think we have company." Logan settled himself back down on the blanket, gesturing across the sand to where a small girl was picking her way between the stones in a yellow swimsuit and a pair of neon pink flipflops. As Sylva turned, the girl waved excitedly, almost tripping over her feet as she did so and landing in a flurry of sand at the edge of the big blue blanket.

"Sylvie!" She exclaimed. "I didn't know you were coming to the beach today!"

"Hello, Courtenay." Sylva offered the girl a smile, "No, nor did I - it was a bit of a surprise trip."

She glanced up the sand in the direction from which the girl had come. "Your Dad not with you? Surely he hasn't let you go out all by yourself?"

Courtenay giggled, digging herself into the sand as she did so.

"No, Daddy's getting ice cream." She confided. She cast Logan an interested look. "Who are you?"

"Logan Matthews." Logan eyed the girl thoughtfully, then, "And you're Courtenay. Courtenay...Miller, by any chance?"

Courtenay's blue eyes became big.

"How did you know?" She demanded. "Are you psycho or something?"

"I think you mean psychic, sweetie." Sylva stifled a smile. "And no...I've just told Logan lots about you, that's all. We have a good time when we hang out, don't we?"

"We do, when you're not busy and Daddy's not working." Courtenay agreed. She cocked her head to one side, eying Logan carefully.

"Are you Sylvie's boyfriend?" She asked at length. Logan started, then grinned sheepishly.

"What gives you that idea?" He asked. Courtenay giggled.

"You're holding her hand." She said, pointing. "Are you gonna kiss her?"

"Courtenay!" Sylva pinkened. "Stop it!"

"What?" Courtenay looked surprised. "Isn't that what girls and boys do when they're going out? They kiss each other's faces off?"

Logan let out a low chuckle.

"I guess she has a point there." He agreed good-naturedly. "Hey, kid, isn't your Dad going to be looking for you?"

"He always finds me." Courtenay shrugged her shoulders. "I told him I'd seen Sylvie and was coming to say hi anyway. He knows I'm safe with her. She's my friend - she's not a stranger."

She eyed Logan doubtfully. "But you are. Maybe I shouldn't talk to you."

"It's all right, Court. Logan's safe - he's with me." Sylva reached over to pull the small girl onto the blanket. "But he does have a point about you running off. It's all very well saying you're coming to me, but you might put yourself in danger and your Dad would worry."

"Only if I talked to strange people." Courtenay folded her arms. "And I'm almost seven. I'm not a little baby. I can look after myself."

"Can you, indeed?"

A fresh voice interrupted the conversation at that moment, and all turned to see Jack Miller, Courtenay's father standing at the edge of the blanket, his hands full of ice cream. "I've told you about running off, I have to pull out the baby leash again?"

"I'm not a baby!" Courtenay pouted. "And I just came to Sylvie. She's not a stranger!"

"No, but I'd rather you'd waited till I was ready. The beach is busy today." Jack held out one of the cones, which his daughter took carefully in her sandy fist. " careful with it, else it'll all drip into the sand."

He paused, casting Sylva a grin which faltered for a split-second as he took in Logan.

"Hi Sylvie. Sorry about this."

"You never have to apologise for Courtenay." Sylva assured him. "But I did tell her she shouldn't have run off. She is safe with me, you know that...but it's a fair run from the ice cream stand."

"Yes, it is, and she should know better." Jack agreed. He sent Logan another look, then,

"I don't believe we've met?"

"No, we haven't, and it's about time we did." Logan said frankly, a smile lighting up his features as he held out a hand. "Logan Matthews. Pleased to meet you. I've heard a lot about you and your little girl."

"Jack Miller." Jack hesitated for a moment, then took Logan's hand, shaking it firmly. "And I wish I could say the same, but you're a stranger to me. Sylvie and I haven't had much time to speak recently."

"Logan and I are going out." Sylva said simply. Jack pursed his lips.

"That's awesome." He said at length. "I'm glad for you, Syl - you're too good a person to be on your own."

"Well, we're not setting wedding dates just yet." Sylva laughed. "But thanks. And I'm sorry I haven't called you lately - I was just explaining to Logan that one of our housemates was pretty sick and everything got kinda involved."

"It's not a problem." Jack returned the smile with a warm one of his own. "I hope she's better now?"

"Oh yes. Much more herself." Sylva nodded.

"Well, nice as it is to see you, Court and I have to move." Jack glanced at his daughter, who was already engrossed in her icecream, a pinkish moustache forming around her lips. "We're going to Mom's this afternoon and I have a few things to do before then. It was nice to see you, though. I hope we can arrange a playdate sometime soon!"

"Oh, for sure." Sylva dimpled. "I love coming to see Courtenay, and we haven't talked in a while. I'll call you, okay? Definitely...I won't forget."

"It's a deal." Jack nodded his head, then, "Come on, imp. Let's go."

"But Dad, I haven't seen Sylvie in practically forever!" Courtenay pouted.

"Well, we'll change that, I promise." Sylva reached over to pat the girl's hand. "I'll call your Dad and we'll work something out. All right?"

"Okay." Courtenay was reluctant, but she got to her feet, sending sand in all directions as she did so. "But come soon, okay? Really really soon!"

With that they were gone across the sand, and Logan pursed his lips.

"So that," he said slowly, "Is Jack Miller."

"Yes." Sylva nodded her head. "Oh, you're not gonna be bothered by me being friends with him, are you? Because I don't have those feelings any more, and he is my friend. More, I love Courtenay to death...she's like the kid sister I didn't have."

"I'm not jealous." Logan shook his head. "I'm fine."

He grinned. "More curious than anything. The kid's a cute tyke. Very forward. Reminds me of someone not a million miles away."

"Maybe that's why we get along so well." Sylva looked self-conscious, laughing. "Okay. I was a little worried about you and him meeting up, in all truth, which is why I haven't called him lately. I didn't want you to think that I was at all confused about those things. Trust me, I've been messed up about a lot of things since our trip to New York - but not about the fact that I'm crazy about you."

"And that's why I'm fine." Logan's eyes twinkled, and he leant over to kiss her. "I know you're not the cheating type. But I wouldn't bank on your friend. He gave me a strange look when he first got here...did you not see it?"

"I didn't see anything." Sylva shook her head. "What kind of a look? He seemed his usual self to me, if a bit harried over Court running off."

"Maybe." Logan rubbed his chin. "Are you sure this guy doesn't have the hots for you?"

"Jack has never had the hots for me." Sylva shook her head. "It was the other way're getting muddled."

"Well, if you say so." Logan shrugged. "No skin off my nose either way. Like I said, I'm fine. You're with me anyhow - if he has issues with that, they're his to deal with - he had his chance and he blew it."

"Jack and I are just friends." Sylva said firmly. "And that's all we've ever been."

"Then I have nothing to worry about." Logan looked amused. "And I can do this..."

Without warning he pushed her down onto the blanket, kissing her and taking her off guard. By the time they seperated she was breathless and laughing and, as she pushed him off her, she sent him a teasing glare.

"I told you about being an animal!" She protested. "Now you've got sand all in my hair!"

"And after that stunning performance, please welcome Robin Sheppard to the show, everybody!"

Beneath the burning lights of the stifling studio, Robin made his way carefully across the floor to the couch where the expectant host sat waiting. Somewhere in the fog of stage smoke he was aware of the crowd cheering and applauding, and despite himself he felt a slight stab of pleasure at their reception. So he'd kept his part of the deal - he'd pulled off his song on live television and proved to Phyllis Gabor that he could take himself seriously and pull in public attention. Now he just had to deal with the smalltalk - and that, he knew, was the challenge.

As he sat down on the big chaise longe, he cast his companion a searching look, his eyes guarded as he offered her a smile. Connie was younger than Phyllis and Jetta, he decided, and there was a youthful sparkle in her cheeky blue eyes that gave her an almost ageless aura. She was clearly well liked in the business - before the show, many people had paused to exchange friendly words or greetings with the hostess - and she had a knack for putting people at their ease. Inwardly he knew that Phyllis had chosen wisely for his first television interview. This wasn't a woman who would dig and dig until she knew it all. He could trust her to know where to draw the line.

But where was he expected to draw that line? He chewed on his bottom lip as the applause began to die down, and Connie sent him a welcoming grin.

"Well, Robin, no need to ask why you're one of Misfits' Music's hottest tips for the top this year." She said warmly. "This is your debut single, but you've been in Los Angeles some months, working on various bits and pieces. Are you settled here for good now?"

"Yes ma'am." Robin's smile became more relaxed. "I've committed to this crazy life in a big way...pen to paper and all of that. But as I go on, I've discovered that Misfits' Music has a lot to offer me in the way of facilities and space to write and tailor my own music. I like that freedom to just do my own thing."

"So you write all your own stuff?"

"I do." Robin nodded.

"It's a long way from Arkansas." Connie looked sympathetic. "I'm a Southern girl myself - though you wouldn't know it by my accent, I've spent too long in this crazy city. I grew up in Malberry, which is not too far from your own home state - I believe Carrowville, where you've told press you're from is a similar size of town?"

"I don't know Malberry, but I'd be guessing so." Robin's eyes flickered with anxiety, but if Connie noticed, she paid it no attention. "Carrowville's a nice town, people know one another and I have a lot of family back here. But sometimes you have move on in order to, well, grow and develop. There was nothing for me back there, I knew that a long time ago. I was just waiting for my chance to move on...and this turned out to be it. Los Angeles is nothing like what I'm used to. But I'm getting the hang of it, slowly."

"Well, clearly, from the sound of your new track." Connie dimpled, immediately looking ten years younger. "Robin, I have to ask you. It's a brave choice for a first song - many acts begin with an upbeat number and you've decided to go with something more pensive. What made you choose it?"

"I guess it just panned out this way, though I'd be lying if I didn't say Nancy Pelligrini helped me tweak it here and there." Robin said with a shrug.

"Goldie from Jewel, of course." Connie's eyes twinkled. "Some papers have hinted at a romantic liason between the two of you."

She paused, taking in Robin's demeanour as he tensed. "Any truth in that?"

 "She's a very talented musician and I hope I'll learn from her." Robin shook his head. "But I'm not in Los Angeles for romance or any other kind of distraction. I'm here to write music and to play it - I hope - well."

"You're probably sick of being asked this, but I'm sure you're aware that some of the more imaginitive magazines in the city have been labelling you cursed." Connie pursed her lips. "I don't believe in curses myself, but a lot of people do. Are you the superstitious kind, or of the matter of fact common sense persuasion?"

"The latter, as much as any writer can be." Robin managed another blank smile.

"So you don't believe you're cursed?"

"No more than anyone else who walks this earth." Robin shrugged his shoulders. "Rumours always start when people have nothing interesting to discuss. They're not generally true. I don't mind the media having their fun - I'm sure they're helping me along just fine in the publicity stakes. But I don't believe I'm cursed, no. If I was, I doubt I'd be sitting here right now, in front of a big audience, talking to you about a single that's tipped for big success. It doesn't quite scream bad luck, does it?"

"No idea at all how the rumour came about?"

"You'll have to ask the ones writing it." Robin spread his hands. "I'm afraid I'm not psychic."

"Well, me either, but I think you're right. It sure has caught the public's attention and that's been a worthwhile exercise in itself, having heard your track." Connie dimpled again. "One other question. It's well known now that you had offers from both Starlight Music and Misfits' Music. What was the deciding factor in choosing the one that you did?"

"There were two factors involved." Robin visibly relaxed at this, settling himself back on the couch. "I met with both companies and my final decision had nothing to do with personal opinions of either administrative team. Both are capable and competent companies. In the end, probably the biggest factor was my encounter with It was interesting to talk to someone else who understood music in the same kind of way I's become very important to me over the past few years and I appreciated, if you like, the fact I'd found something of a kindred spirit."

"And the other reason?"

"Ah." Robin looked somewhat rueful. "That, I'm afraid, is far more worldly. Simply put, cold hard finances decided it in the end. But I think Aja Phillips and I left things on good terms - there were no hard feelings. I know she's doing a very good job, pulling together a company that's been through such a lot in a short space of time. In the end I think I made the right decision, but it doesn't mean I bear any dislike for the opposition."

"Well said." Connie looked approving. "Music without drawing lines in the sand."

"Precisely." Robin nodded.

"Well, that's all we have time for this evening." Connie glanced at her production assistant, who waved a hand and then nodded her head. "So we'll have to let you go. But thank you for joining us, Robin. Everyone, Robin Sheppard!"

As the closing theme music began to pulse from speakers and the studio started to clear, Robin got to his feet, stretching his legs as he wandered across the set.

"You did well tonight."

A voice came from behind him and he turned, seeing Connie watching him. He smiled.

"Thank you. You made it fairly easy, though."

"I do my best. It's nerve-wracking the first time, or so I'm told." Connie grinned. "But your song has been highly tipped and I think it will make waves when it finally comes out. You got a great reception, and I like to think that, however old I'm getting, the show still has a finger on the pulse. Does it have a video yet?"

"No. Miss Gabor said someone called Zoe is away at the moment, and that she doesn't want to ask anyone else."

"Oh, I see." Connie looked amused. "I'll take that almost as a compliment - Zoe is my daughter."

"Oh! I didn't realise." Robin looked sheepish. "Montgomery...I see it now. I didn't make the connection. I guess I didn't think Los Angeles was as small a world as Carrowville."

"Oh, you get used to the way things move in circles." Connie assured him. She paused, then took him by the arm, gently leading him over to one side and away from the gathering technicians.

"Robin, a word of advice. Be careful how you manage yourself in this city."

"I beg your pardon?" Robin looked startled. Connie frowned, then,

"Some of what you told me out there wasn't entirely the truth." She said simply. "I'm not going to pry - it's not my business to do so. But others will, and you better be sure you're ready to deal with it. Everyone has their secrets and is entitled to their privacy, but I have colleagues in the media world whose sole aim in life is to rip those secrets out and sell them to the highest bidder. I wanted you to be aware - some interviewers won't let those things go."

Robin was silent for a moment. Then he sighed.

"Why didn't you?" He asked.

"Because I know when to push and when not." Connie said quietly. "And when you've been in LA a bit longer, you'll realise that the Montgomery family have had more than their fair share of scandals ripped out and posted all over the papers. It's not something I do. But others will and I want you to be on your guard."

She glanced him up and down, then,

"Pizzazz - Phyllis, she knows what she's doing and if she signed you on, she knows what she's got and how to handle it." She added. "So I've no doubt you're in safe hands. But it's as well to think these things over. Just in case."

"Thank you for the warning." Robin looked surprised. "I appreciate it."

"Well, from a smalltown girl to a smalltown guy, you're welcome." Connie flashed him a grin. "And Julie is waving at me like mad, so I'd better go see what's up. Just remember what I've said, all right? Not everyone respects peoples' boundaries. Be careful."

"Don't worry, I fully intend to be." Robin said gravely. "Thank you, Connie. I'll keep it in mind."

Connie winked, then she was gone across the set, and slowly he made his way back to the dressing room, deep in thought.

Her words had both surprised and alarmed him.

"I sure hope Phyllis knows what the hell she's doing." He muttered. "I appreciate Connie taking the time to warn me, but I'm a rookie at this and if I can't pull it off on television, with her asking the questions, I'm gonna be in for a rough time. I guess it's time I became a better liar...or at least, developed a poker face for those kinds of moments. Tonight was good...but I can't help but think I'm not totally safe in Los Angeles."

Prologue: Flashback: Carrowville, Arkansas
Chapter One: Memory
Chapter Two: Spies and Secrets
Chapter Three: Jack
Chapter Four: Flashback: The Hartlin Bar, Carrowville
Chapter Five: Margot's Plan
Chapter Six: Confidences
Chapter Seven:Flashback: The Wedding Reception
Chapter Eight: Fallout
Chapter Nine: Advice
Chapter Ten: A Friend In Need
Chapter Eleven: Logan
Chapter Twelve: Flashback: Sian's News
Chapter Thirteen: Ambush
Chapter Fourteen: Reconciliation
Chapter Fifteen: Flashback: Farewell
Chapter Sixteen: The Curse

The copyright for the original Jem characters featured in this and other stories by me belongs entirely to Hasbro and their interpretations to Christy Marx and the other writers of the Sunbow Jem series. Their future selves are based on concepts that are entirely my own and are not to be repeated elsewhere without due permission.
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