Hidden Hearts

Chapter Four:

 "This is hopeless."
Sadie ran her fingers over the guitar strings, frustration in her eyes as she did so. "No matter how I try, Nance, I can't get it to fit together. It's just not working...I can't get it to gel."
It was the next day and the two Jewels were holed up in the study at the back of the house, going over the rough chords for a new track.
"Well, hitting the thing like that won't help." Nancy pursed her lips, shaking her head. "And it would probably help if you're mind was on what you were doing. I know that look, Sadie...we're not going to get a song out of you today, are we?"
"I think probably not." Sadie grimaced, setting the acoustic guitar to one side. "It's hot in here and that isn't helping. But you're right - my mind isn't on music."
"It hasn't been all week." Nancy noted. "Topaz said you were freaking out about meeting Alex's Mom - is that it?"
"Something like that." Sadie sighed. "Look, this isn't working - not today. You take what we've got and if you feel like tweaking at it, be my guest. But I'm not going to be any help until I've kicked my jitters, and that probably won't be till I meet Sandra Bray in person. Think you can carry me till then?"
"Since you wrote the single we're about to release, I guess so." Nancy looked rueful. "If I'm honest, I think I might be better off going to my studio and working there, on my own. I'm a bit on edge musically right at the moment. Aunt Phyl let something slip this morning about the fact she and Mom had been screening some guy from Arkansas when I went to pick up my folder, and I guess it rattled my concentration. Besides, sometimes solitary confinement is the best way to write music and I was getting to the point where I wanted to throttle you for not agreeing with my way."
Sadie laughed.
"Then I vote we give it a rest." She said. "I'm going to drive out to the beach and do nothing important, try and clear my head. Considering that we're playing the new song on television shows from Monday, it's probably not a good idea for me to have a mental breakdown just yet."
"No...do that and I will throttle you." Nancy said with an amused grin. "Okay?"
"Okay." Sadie grabbed her bag, slipping it over her shoulder and ferreting around on the unit for her car keys. "If Alex calls, tell him I've got my mobile with me, okay? But tell him if it's about his mother, to take a deep breath before dialling."
"Will do, but I'm going out as soon as I've grabbed something to eat." Nancy responded. "And if Alex isn't used to your neuroses by now, he never will be."
"No...true." Sadie looked pensive. Then a wicked twinkle entered her expression. "But then, we're not pitched to be walking down the aisle this year, so I guess we've some things to iron out of our imperfect relationship, haven't we?"
With that she pushed open her bedroom door to leave, chuckling under her breath as a cushion came flying out onto the landing beside her.
"You need a better aim." She told her friend, scooping it up and tossing it back. "And quit throwing my cushions about! My niece made that for me, you know!"
"That explains why it's a funny shape." Nancy eyed the cushion carefully, then dropped it back down onto the bed. "What on earth did you say when she gave it you?"
"I told her I loved it." Sadie grinned. "What else do you tell a seven year old who's excited as anything about her special gift? Besides, Shari is almost at Secondary school now, and it hasn't fallen apart yet. Shape isn't important - art can be abstract, you know. Durability is much better!"
"I don't get that." Nancy pursed her lips. "It looks like a deformed elephant."
"But she made it, Nance, and she did her best." Sadie shrugged. "Tell me that, if Aaron and Copper have kids, and they make Auntie Nancy a nice birthday gift, you won't stare at it and demand to know what it is?"
"I dunno." Nancy admitted. "But it isn't an issue at the moment and it might never be."
She looked rueful.
"Now you know why I have no plans to be a Mom." She added. "Music's for me...you can keep your odd shaped cushions."
"Each to their own." Sadie laughed. "But I love that cushion. It's a piece of home."
She checked her watch.
"I'll grab food out, I think." She decided. "Later, Nance. Good luck with the song."
"Thanks. I might need it." Nancy responded.
Sadie made her way slowly down the stairs, grabbing her sandals from the bottom of the coatstand and pulling them onto her feet. Unlocking the front door, she stepped out into the Los Angeles sunshine, climbing into her car and putting it in gear. Dumping her purse onto the passenger seat she fastened her seatbelt, rummaging for her cigarettes and lighting one. Winding down the window and cranking up the air conditioning, she flipped on the radio, pulling out onto the road to the sea front.
"I'm glad Nancy took that as well as she did." She mused, as she hummed along to an old eighties favourite. "Sometimes she's so singleminded about a song and doesn't realise we can't all work the clock round quite so intensely. But I am going a bit nuts over Alex's Mom, it's true. I just want her to like me, and the closer it gets to her arriving, the more I fall to pieces. What if she hates the fact her son is dating a rock star, to begin with? And if that isn't bad enough, what if she knows I'm a rock star with a really dodgy history? It was all over the press a while back, though it wasn't quite such a mess in the American papers as it was back home in England. But she could've seen, surely? Alex is smart - his mother can't be a fool. What if she already knows?"
She sighed.
"Maybe Alex is right and I should have more faith in myself sometimes. Shari sure had faith in me. Mum always did. Aly's always tried to. Maybe there is more to like in Sadie than dislike...I don't know. I just know I really love Alex and it's bad enough his best friend hates my guts. I couldn't stand it if his family took the same angle as Ray does."
She pulled onto the sea front, parking her vehicle and grabbing up her purse. The hot dog man was not busy that afternoon and, after buying herself a hot dog and a can of cola, she sauntered down to the water's edge, idly kicking at the waves as they lapped up against her sandalled feet.
"How many calories are in a hot dog, Sadie?"
A voice from behind her almost startled her into dropping the hot dog altogether and she turned, casting the speaker a sheepish grin.
"Stef! Don't do that!" She protested. "You almost gave me a heart attack."
"Your lunch is more likely to do that than I am." Stefana Ranieri raised an eyebrow. "What are you doing here, anyway? I thought Jewel were holed up working on some musical thing at the moment?"
"We were, we're not now." Sadie responded, licking mustard and ketchup off her fingers. "Nance and I were writing but I can't concentrate, so I came out here for a time out. And for food. Counting calories isn't really my thing when someone puts a hot dog my way. All the jumping around we do on stage burns most of it off anyhow."
She shrugged.
"I didn't think healthy eating was your thing, anyhow."
"It isn't." Stefana shook her head, sending dark curls cascading over her shoulder. "In fact, Luca and the others still think I'm too skinny, so I guess it doesn't matter too much what I eat right at the moment. It's Maddy who's the health nut. I don't know if she counts calories but she's obsessive over the ingredients of everything she buys - you live with that long enough and you don't need to go on a diet. She puts you off the food before you get to it!"
"It wouldn't hurt you to put on a few more pounds." Sadie acknowledged. "But you're not as washed out and thin as you were when you stopped taking you know what."
"I have a good counsellor." Stefana said ironically. "What about you? Skiving songwriting isn't like you."
"Major life trauma." Sadie finished her hot dog, reaching into her purse for her cigarettes and offering one to her friend. Stefana accepted, lighting it up and watching as the British girl followed suit. "Alex's mother is coming to visit and she wants to meet me."
"Alex." Stefana pursed her lips. "You're still dating a Fed?"
"I'm in love with said Fed, so yes, Stef, I am."
"And now you're meeting his Mom?"
"I know. I'm freaking out. I'm convinced she's going to hate me."
"Why?" Stefana looked confused. "If it was me, sure. She'd hate me just by looking at me. But you...you're the nice girl. You don't bitch people out or fly at them in a rage. People like you. Why should this woman be any different? Everyone loves Jewel."
"No, they don't, and that's not the point." Sadie admitted. "Stef, you know how you feel about other people knowing...well, knowing what you've been through and why we became friends, right?"
"Well, Ray - Alex's partner - he knows all about my past and he hates me because of it." Sadie took a drag on her cigarette , flicking ash onto the sand. "I'm worried Al's Mom will react the same way. I mean look at it. Her son's worked damn hard to be where he is. She must be so proud of what he's done and why. What is she going to think when she finds out he's dating an ex-con?"
"That's simple, then. Don't tell her." Stefana snorted. "What she doesn't know isn't going to hurt her."
She sent her friend a sidelong glance. "Or has he already done it?"
"No, he's said he doesn't intend to." Sadie sighed. "Though paranoid me wonders if that's because he doesn't like it either, or because he doesn't think it's relevant. I can't shake it, Stef. The more I try not to think on it, the more I do."
"Woo, look who's playing counsellor now." Stefana was amused. "Sadie, she doesn't need to know. You sleeping with Alex or with his mother?"
"Alex. Thankfully." Sadie pulled a face. "Why?"
"Well, then this bitch will come, cluck around him for a few days and then get lost back home." Stefana seemed unconcerned. "Alex isn't seven years old and he doesn't need Mom's permission to pick his girlfriends. He's kinda soft but I didn't pick him as being a Mommy's boy...actually he was pretty level with me, when that whole fire business happened, so I guess he could be worse. Don't fret about it. Alex's Mom isn't Alex. She doesn't have a right to know about your life unless you choose to tell her. So why bother? No sense upsetting the applecart and it's not like those things are now. They're past. Like mine. History."
"I suppose you're right." Sadie nodded slowly. "I shouldn't have to go through my life apologising for the mistakes I made four years ago."
"Exactly." Stefana shrugged. "Well? Do I make a good counsellor?"
"Yeah, in a unique way." Sadie grinned. "But I'm grateful you were here. In some ways you understand...well, that, more than the other Jewels do. None of them have a secret quite that big and unpleasant knocking around in their closets."
"But I do?" Stefana raised an eyebrow. "Not so far as anyone else knows. I told you. History. Far as I'm concerned it never happened and if I have to swear to it, I will. It's noone else's business."
"I wish I could switch it off like that." Sadie said pensively. "I have a way bigger guilt allocation than you do."
"Trust me, guilt is way overrated." Stefana said decidedly. "And now I've solved your life problems for you, do you want to hang out and do something more interesting? Hot dogs at the beach are fine but it's hot out here and an air conditioned mall sounds a lot more attractive."
"Am I guessing that you've got money to spend?"
"No, not a cent." Stefana shrugged her shoulders. "But I like to look, and plan what I'm going to buy, just as soon as I have money again."
"Can't argue with that." Sadie grinned. "Let's go."
"You know, you play real good."
Nancy started, swinging around to see who had spoken. Immersed in her melodies, she had not heard the door of her studio swing open, nor the soft footsteps of an intruder as she struggled to get the harmonies the way she wanted them. She glared at him, feeling encroached upon.
"This is private property. You're trespassing." She snapped.
"My apologies." The stranger cast her an apologetic smile, but there was something reserved in his dark eyes. "I heard your music and I had to come listen to it. Like I said, you play good."
"It's my job to." Nancy returned. "Noone asked you to come listen. Who are you, anyway? And what are you doing here?"
"My name's Robin Sheppard. Pleased to meet you." The dark eyes crinkled into a more genuine smile. "I really didn't mean any offence, you know. And I will go, if you want me to. But it's rare to meet someone who plays with such passion and flair - I got carried away listening to you and I didn't even think that I was trespassing."
"Robin Sheppard?" Nancy's eyes narrowed suspiciously. "I know that name. You were at Misfits Music earlier, weren't you? A...Ms Gabor said that she had a meeting with you."
"Yes, that's me." Robin looked surprised. "But I didn't see you there. I'd have remembered."
"I don't go around staring at strange men who waltz into the music company and my studio like they own it." Nancy shot back. "I work there, that's all you need to know."
Robin put up his hands.
"I give." He said quietly. "I'm sorry. I know composing is a very private time and I honestly didn't mean anything by it." He pursed his lips. "You do look familiar though. I know your face...somehow."
"Well, it's not hard, considering that we're posted on billboards at the moment with our new album." Nancy could not quell the sarcasm that rose inside of her. "And if you know that composition is a private time, Mr Sheppard, why are you still here?"
"You were missing an A minor chord, I believe, in your phrasing." Robin looked thoughtful. "That's why you were struggling with the last bar."
"You what?" Despite herself, Nancy stared. "So now you're writing my music for me as well? I don't even know you! You walk in here and...A minor, did you say?"
"Yes." Robin nodded. He offered another slight smile. "If it's any help."
"Damn you, you're right." Nancy scribbled the chord into place, running her fingers over the guitar strings as she played the new phrase. "How did you know that?"
"I write a little myself." Robin shrugged. "But you really have the advantage, you know. You know my name, but I don't know yours. And I'd like to."
"Why?" Nancy looked suspicious.
"Because I have respect for anyone who can play like you can." Robin said simply.
Nancy eyed him for a moment, but saw nothing but sincerity in his dark eyes. There was a sadness there too, she noticed, which faded but did not disappear when he smiled at her. She frowned, then,
"Nancy Pelligrini." She said abruptly. "Why were you at Misfits Music?"
"Pelligrini?" Robin's eyes widened. "No wonder you look so familiar! I met your...mother? This morning."
"Yeah. Jetta is my mother." Nancy nodded. "It's not that hard to figure out. So?"
"So you must be one of this Jewel I keep hearing so much about." Robin decided. "Jetta did mention them in passing, and that her daughter was a part of it, but I didn't make the connection...I'm not real familiar with Jewel or what they do. I'm sorry, but it's the truth."
"I don't mean to sound up myself, but how can you be in L.A and not know what Jewel are?" Nancy was suspicious now. "Come on, you can't go ten feet without seeing a poster or...or hearing some track of ours on the radio. It's not like we're not popular - in these parts it's manic. How long have you been in the city, anyhow?"
"A few days."
"Well, then! You must have heard us!"
"Maybe." Robin shrugged. "I wasn't paying much attention. I haven't really paid a lot of attention to any chart music for a while, anyhow."
He shrugged, perching on the edge of a unit. "I took a job playing in a joint down in Arkansas and that's where one of Misfits Music's scouts picked me up. Called me to the city and it seemed a good plan at the time, maybe earn some better bucks playing for bigger crowds. It might sound arrogant to you, but I've only really focused on my music. Anyone else's has just..." He shrugged again. "But then you're a writer. You'll know what I mean."
"I didn't say you could stay, you know." Nancy eyed him quizzically. "What I said before still stands. I don't know you and this is my place. Not yours. You're trespassing and I'd like you to leave. Noone comes here unless I bring them - it's private."
Robin spread his hands.
"Fair enough." He said. "But I didn't come here to hurt you or to steal your ideas. I'm not sure yet whether I'm going to sign with your mother's music company, in truth - I'm trying to make out whether commercialising my music is a good idea or not. I don't know Los Angeles and I'm not sure if I want to...it's a very different world."
He smiled, and Nancy was aware of sadness once again.
"Though perhaps that's why I came here. To be somewhere different. Music goes stale if you're in the same environment all the time."
Nancy eyed him curiously.
"You came all this way, yet you're not sure it's even what you want?" She asked. "Hell, the music business isn't for people who aren't sure. If you're not committed to doing it, you might as well hop on the Greyhound back to Arkansas. It ain't an easy line of work."
"Nothing is easy in this life." Robin shrugged philosophically. "Nancy, I know I've made a bad impression on you and I'm sorry for it, but I'd like to ask a favour. I'm staying at the White Horse Hotel and I haven't a single idea how to get there from here. Can you at least point me in the right direction?"
"Oh, all right. I suppose that can't hurt." Nancy sighed, slipping her guitar off her shoulder and grabbing her purse and jacket. "I ought to be heading home anyhow, so I'll lock this place up. But you're to leave it alone, understand? Whether you sign or you don't. This isn't Misfits Music property, it belongs to A...to Phyllis Gabor and she gave it to me for writing purposes. Noone else comes here, not even the other Jewels without my permission."
"I'm not a vandal." Robin assured her quietly. "I'm not sure what your competition is like in this city, but I promise you that I won't come here again without your permission. Like I said, I wouldn't have come at all, only you play so well. I've honestly never come across anyone who gave the guitar such life."
Nancy shot him a startled look.
"Music is my life." She said softly. "It's part of who I am."
Robin smiled, nodding.
"I had realised." He agreed. "Only someone with that much dedication could make the instrument sound like that."
Nancy pushed open the door, leading the way out into the main street, where the sky was already darkening. She glanced at her watch, frowning.
"It's later than I meant to be." She murmured. "The others will wonder where I am and it's not good to be out in the city alone after dark."
"You're not alone." Robin said quietly. Nancy glared at him.
"Yes. You're here. But I don't know you, so that's no real comfort." She shot back. "Just because you met my mother and are discussing music contracts doesn't make you safe to be with, you know. I've met plenty of unpleasant people since I began working in this business, just as much as I have nice ones."
"You take nothing for granted, do you?" Robin asked, falling into step with her as she stalked up the main street, slipping the key to the studio into her pocket. Nancy shook her head.
"Of course not. How can you? I'm a musician. You're only as successful as the last disk you put out." She said flippantly. "Which is why, Mr A Minor Chord, if you're not really committed give up and go home. You can't flake it."
Robin made no reply, and they walked in silence for a few moments. Nancy cast her companion a sidelong glance, aware that the sadness had returned to his expression. What was with this guy? Who was he, anyway? What had given him the gall to just walk into her studio unannounced, and why had she agreed to help him? She shivered. He was a stranger and she was out late. It wasn't like her to take such a gamble.
At the end of the street she stopped, turning.
"The White Horse is right down the end of that street." She said quietly, pointing ahead of her. "You can't miss it."
Robin offered her another reserved smile, mock-saluting her.
"Thank you." He said. "I appreciate your help. Maybe we'll meet again."
"Maybe." Nancy shrugged. "If you sign for Misfits Music I suppose it's unavoidable."
She turned on her heel, pulling her jacket tighter around her shoulders as she headed away from him, back towards where she had parked her car. Robin stood where she had left him, watching her retreating figure in the glow of the streetlamps. He pursed his lips.
"I didn't realise that there was anyone in this line of work who felt that way about music." He mused. "I suppose I shouldn't judge a career by it's glitz and glamour, should I?"
He glanced back up the street, beginning to make his way towards the hotel, but he had not got more than a few paces when he heard a cry and was aware of other voices. Frowning, he turned, his eyes widening in horror as he realised what was going on at the far end of the street. Where there had been just the solitary figure walking away there were now three figures and Robin knew only too well that the two men meant no good with his new acquaintance.
"She came this way to help me, and I've put her at risk by doing so." He muttered. "I'm a curse on every woman I meet and that's a fact! Well, I'm not going to let some thugs hurt her - not because I brought her out this way."
He broke into a run, charging at the nearest of the two men and shoving him away from Nancy, grabbing the girl and pulling her roughly behind him. Nancy, terrified already by the suddeness of the assault and the gleam of a silver blade in one of the man's hands did not make any objection, merely staring with frightened eyes as Robin pushed the first man against the second, a steely glint in his eye.
"Go pick on someone your own size!" He yelled at them. "There's nothing for you here!"
Unnerved, the second man faltered, taking a few steps away from the Jewel and then, with a backward glance, fleeing into the night. The first man wielded his knife in Robin's face, but Robin was angry now and he cast the man's arm aside, sending the weapon flying into the undergrowth. He grabbed the man by the collar, shaking him.
"You get out of here and you don't come back, else you'll live to regret it." He snapped. "You picked the wrong chick to rob tonight!"
His nerve gone, the youth took off after his friend, and, once sure they were gone, Robin turned his attention to a frightened, bewildered Nancy.
"Are you all right?" He asked her gently.
Nancy stared at him blankly for a moment, then,
"Where in hell did you come from?" She whispered. "I left you...how?"
"I heard you cry out and realised what was going on." Robin took her gently by the arm. "You came this way to help me find my hotel, and you'd never have been at risk if you'd just got in your car and left me at your studio. You did me a favour and I had to repay it - that's all. Are you hurt?"
"No...no." Nancy gathered her wits. "No, I'm fine, and thanks to you I still have my purse and my car keys."
She offered a shaky smile. "And I accused you of being dangerous company. I'm sorry."
"Appearances can be deceptive and you were right to be cautious." Robin shook his head. "But we got off on the wrong foot, and I'm sorry that we did."
He eyed her carefully. "You look pale...you're shook up. Will you trust me enough to come back to the hotel and get a hot drink in the restaurant? It'll do you good and you're in no shape to drive home. And we should call the police. After all..."
"No, it's fine. I don't want the police." Nancy shook her head. "Mom and Aunt Phyl would just blow it into a huge fuss and it'd be all over the press...but nothing was taken and I'd rather forget about it. You stopped anything from happening to me and I'm grateful - let's just leave it there."
"All right." Robin nodded his head. "If that's how you want it."
He eyed her keenly. "But that hot drink?"
"I suppose it wouldn't hurt." Nancy admitted. "I am a bit shaky. I guess I would drive all over the place."
"Then I'll escort you back to your vehicle. I know where the hotel is now and it isn't far." Robin told her. "Come on. You're perfectly safe with me - I promise."

Prologue: Flashback - Sadie's Fear
Chapter One: Los Angeles, 2015
Chapter Two: Enter The Stray
Chapter Three: Flashback - Sadie's Song
Chapter Four: Nerves
Chapter Five: The Dean Stacey Show
Chapter Six: Flashback - School Concert
Chapter Seven: Sandra Bray
Chapter Eight: The Dean Problem
Chapter Nine: Cursed
Chapter Ten: Flashback - Stir
Chapter Eleven: Secrets
Chapter Twelve: Robin Vs Nancy
Chapter Thirteen: In The Line Of Duty
Chapter Fourteen: Flashback - Griefstruck
Chapter Fifteen: Aftermath
Chapter Sixteen: Jewel Consult
Chapter Seventeen: Forever Changed