"Sadie, if you brush your hair one more
time it'll start falling out."
Sylva stretched out on her friend's bed, casting her companion an amused look. "You look stunning, and that lip gloss is definitely your colour. You couldn't look more sophisticated or elegant if you tried, but trust me, bald is not a good look for you."
Sadie looked sheepish, setting her brush down on the dresser.
"I know." She admitted. "I'm just nervous. Alex is picking his mother up from the airport this morning and I'm supposed to go over there so he can make the introductions. I feel sick as it is. I'm not sure I can drive across the city."
"Well, if you want a chauffeur, I'll drive you." Sylva suggested. "But surely it can't be as bad as you're expecting. I mean, she's just his Mom. And since Alex is a nice guy, well, his Mom is probably nice too. It tends to work like that."
"I've no doubt she's nice." Sadie admitted. "It's whether or not she'll find me nice, that's what's more bothersome."
"Thanks for helping me choose an outfit this morning, though. I needed your sense of style and your objectivity, else I might've just thrown on the first thing I found in a panicked frenzy."
"Green slacks with purple legwarmers." Sylva giggled. "I know you're an artist, but seriously, those scared me."
"I only have them because we did that performance of Always There in eighties garb." Sadie sighed. "You're sure I look all right?"
"The picture of Los Angeles class, with a hint of European exotica thrown in." Sylva assured her.
"Well, I suppose that's a good thing."
Sadie stood, smoothing down her skirt. "I guess here goes, then. I'm off."
"Do you want me to drive you?"
"No...no, it looks better if you don't." Sadie shook her head. "Besides, I'm going to need a smoke before I get there and I know how you feel about me lighting up."
"You'll ruin the perfume." Sylva looked reproachful. "Eau de Tobacco is not a good first impression."
"Nor is babbling like a half-deranged psych inmate, which could be the alternative." Sadie said dryly. "Lesser of two evils. Okay, I'm off. Wish me luck!"
"Good luck." Sylva echoed. "Though I'm sure you're freaking out for no reason."
"Let's hope so." Sadie nodded. Then she was gone, and Sylva clambered off Sadie's cluttered bed, making her way slowly back to her own room.
"If Alex's Mom doesn't approve of Sadie, then she's the one with the problem." She told herself with a shrug. "And Sadie needs to realise that, too. Alex's opinion is the one that matters, after all, and he's an okay kind of dude to be fixed up with."
She giggled to herself.
"Not like that Robin Sheppard guy. Geez, that was tragic. No, Sadie will be fine this morning. She looks good and she's a sweetheart. How can she fail?"
As Sadie drew her car onto the front
forecourt of Alex's apartment building, she said an inward prayer for help,
turning off the ignition and putting out her cigarette. As an afterthought,
she rummaged through her purse for her perfume, spritzing a little over her
"Hopefully that'll mask the smoke." She mused aloud. "And if not, well, I tried. Not that I feel much calmer, but oh well. Here goes."
Setting her teeth she stepped out of her vehicle, checking her reflection in the wing mirror and then making her way purposefully towards the front entrance. Within a few moments she was standing outside her boyfriend's front door and she swallowed hard, gathering her courage. Then she knocked.
For a moment there was no answer, and Sadie began to hope that maybe they had been delayed at the airport. Then the door swung open, and Alex shot her a grin.
"Wow." He murmured. "You look beautiful, Sadie. And right on time - come on in. Mom's looking forward to meeting you."
"I hope you know that I'm only doing this because I love you." Sadie returned in low tones, reaching down to fiddle with her sandal strap. Alex grinned, kissing her on the forehead.
"I know, and I appreciate it." He agreed, slipping his hand into hers. "But it's a rare occasion that I get a whole day away from the office, and I want my two favourite women to meet - so quit stalling, okay? Sooner you come in, sooner you get it over with. Right?"
"I suppose so." Sadie saw the sense in his words, reluctantly stepping over the threshold and into the apartment. She followed her companion apprehensively into the main lounge, pausing in the doorway as if unsure what to do next.
Alex's mother was a woman in her late fifties, of middling weight and with sandy hair streaked with grey. Clever blue eyes sparkled behind glasses, and as she stood to greet the guest, Sadie realised that Sandra was a good head shorter than her son. She smiled, revealing crinkles at the corners of her eyes.
"Well, and this is Sadie." She said by way of preamble, a soft southern accent to her tones. "I'm pleased to finally meet you, my dear. Alex has told me so much - but nothing quite beats the face to face encounter."
Sadie swallowed again.
"I'm pleased to meet you too, Mrs Bray." She managed, and Sandra's smile widened.
"Sandra, please." She said, seating herself back down and gesturing for the newcomer to join her on the sofa. After a moment of hesitation, Sadie did as she was bidden.
"Nothing so formal when you're practically family, after all."
Sadie did not notice the glare Alex sent in his mother's direction at this juncture, but Sandra saw it and laughed.
"Alex, didn't you say something about coffee?" She asked meaningfully. "I'm sure Sadie's parched as I am in all this heat."
"I'm on it." Alex nodded. He cast his girlfriend a reassuring wink, then, "I'll let you girls get acquainted."
With that he was gone into the kitchen, and Sadie fidgeted, trying to make herself more comfortable.
Sandra eyed her keenly.
"There's no need to be nervous, honey. I don't bite." She said softly. Sadie reddened.
"I'm sorry." she said sheepishly. "I guess it's a big deal, meeting Alex's family. I mean, well, he means a lot to me, and..."
She trailed off, blushing again.
"I'm sorry." She repeated.
"Nothing to be sorry for." Sandra dismissed it with a wave of her hand. "Alex mentioned you were English, though I can't say I'd heard an accent like yours before. Where abouts are you from?"
"Birmingham." Sadie said slowly. "It's North West of London - sort of in the middle of the country."
"Don't you miss it there?"
"Not really." Sadie admitted. "Except for my family. My work and my friends are all here. And, well, Alex. Being near him is important too."
"Ah, I know what you mean." Sandra looked thoughtful. "When I married Alex's father, well, we went to college together, you see. I was never quite sure about taking the plunge and leaving Lafayette for good, but Jordan got his way in the end and we settled down in Portland before the boys were born. Still go back south to see my mother from time to time, but you know, you adjust and make a new life."
"Yes, you do." Sadie nodded.
"Well, you're a musician." She remarked. "I know as much as that. I understand you're quite big in the world of rock, though you'll have to forgive me. I've always been much more into the classical stuff myself."
"It's all right." Sadie hurried to reassure her companion. "And yes, I suppose we are. My band - Jewel - are quite successful."
"So how'd a rock star meet my son?" Sandra looked quizzical. "I have to admit that I was surprised when he told me he'd met someone and that he was serious about her. He's far too entrenched in his work for a boy his age, and I've told him so many times. I'd begun to give him up for a lifelong lone wolf, but then, here you are, reintroducing him to the social whirl. I'm intrigued."
"We actually met through his work." Sadie admitted, a pink tinge touching her cheeks at Sandra's words. "Someone set fire to the music company I work for, and we met during the investigation. He asked me out and the rest, well, it's kinda history."
She twisted her fingers together.
"We've been together a year this month." She added. "It's been nice."
"Might've known it'd be work-related." She said ruefully. "Sadie, I'm proud as any mother can be of my boy, you have to know that. But he's always been driven, Alex. He made the decision that this was what he was going to do at sixteen and never looked back. Girls, hobbies, other things kinda got pushed out of the picture if they ever threatened to interfere with his goal. When he headed off to Quantico, I wondered what it'd make of him. And I know he's damn good at his job, but, well..."
A shadow touched her face.
"Has he spoken to you about Randall?"
Sadie's blue eyes clouded.
"His brother?" She asked softly. "Yes. I'm sorry. It must have been a terrible time."
"It was the worst conceivable." Sandra said reflectively. "And that was when Alex made up his mind. Sure, I thought for a while that Randall's death had taken the lives of two sons, not just the one. They were so close, and Alex was so determined to make a difference that he sacrificed so many things. I was afraid he'd never settle and be happy because all the time he'd see his brother's ghost hanging over his head, nagging him back to his desk."
Sadie was silent for a moment.
"Sometimes you have to let the ghosts rest." She murmured. Sandra looked startled.
"You sound like you know."
"I do." Sadie acknowledged. "My mother was murdered when I was ten. I was there...and I saw it happen. It still lives with me but..."
She faltered, and Sandra nodded.
"You have to let them go." She finished. "Then you understand my boy's point of view indeed."
Sadie spread her hands.
"As much as he lets me." She admitted. "Randall isn't something we often talk about - and nor is my mother. But, you know, I know that if he ever did...or I ever did want to talk, we could. It just...there are other things."
"And that's as it should be." Sandra nodded sagely. "My youngest son Adrian is married and he has two kids - the youngest is one next month. He's got on with his life, and learnt to deal with it. Maybe with your help, I'll be able to say the same about Alex."
She reached a thick-fingered hand across the couch, taking Sadie's in her grip and squeezing it gently.
"Thank you, at least, for letting him fall in love with you." She added quietly. "He's needed it more than you know."
Sadie looked startled, then she smiled.
"So did I." She responded. "My last relationship - he was abusive and he left scars. Alex...well, he put a lot of my fears aside. There isn't anything I wouldn't do for him, Sandra, and that's the truth."
Sandra eyed her companion long and hard. Then she nodded.
"I believe you." She said at length. "And I'm glad to see it."
At that moment Alex re-emerged into the room, a tray of drinks in his hands. He set the tray down, casting his visitors a grin.
"Nobody's dead yet, then?" He bantered.
"That's a fine thing to say about your mother and your girlfriend." Sandra scolded him playfully. "No, we've been getting on just fine. Haven't we, Sadie?"
"Yes, we have." Sadie nodded, taking one of the mugs of coffee from the tray. "Thanks, Al."
She cast Sandra a smile as she took a sip, though inwardly something nagged away at her.
"Sandra is so nice, but would she be if she really knew what I'd done before I met her son?" She wondered. "Is Stef right - is it okay to just keep it from her? Or would it be worse if she found out later on down the line? I wish I knew what the best thing was to do. I really want Alex's Mum to like me - but can she really, if she doesn't know the whole me?"
"So how did she seem?"
Back at the Starlight Mansion, Sylva had changed into her latest bikini, joining her housemates who were once again gathered around the big pool the mansion boasted. Hollie was nowhere in evidence, as she was inside taking her nap, and Sylva dipped her legs into the water, splashing out at Nancy, who sat nearest to the edge.
"Hey!" The dark haired girl reacted immediately, scooping a handful of water and aiming it back at her friend. "I only asked a question. What's that for?"
"It's fun, and it's hot out." Sylva grinned. "Sadie? About to wet herself, I think. But she's gone, anyhow, and I'm sure she'll make a great first impression."
"It's sort of sweet that she's so worried about it." Topaz observed. "I guess it shows how much Alex means to her."
"Meeting the parents is always a big deal." Sylva nodded.
"So when are you meeting Logan's, then?" Nancy arched an eyebrow. "Since you seem to be nice and cosy these last couple of weeks."
Sylva went scarlet.
"That's none of your business." She retorted. "Logan and I..."
"Are probably sleeping together by now." Nancy shrugged her shoulders. "Isn't that how it works?"
"What's wrong, Nancy? Jealous that your high school crush likes me better?" It was out before Sylva could stop it, and Nancy paled.
"You swore you'd never mention that again!" She exclaimed.
"Logan was your high school crush?" Topaz's eyes widened. "Seriously, Nance? He doesn't seem like your type of guy at all."
"Oh, shut up." Nancy glared at her friend. "It was a long time ago and I was just a kid. Syl was supposed to keep her big mouth shut, but obviously I should've known that she's really bad at that."
"Well, stop insinuating I'm some kind of sex fiend, then." Sylva retorted. "I'm sorry I blew your secret, but seriously, Nance, having a high school crush is not a big deal. And you have no right to bitch about me seeing Logan. If I like him, and he likes me, that's not really your business, is it?"
"Time out, the pair of you." Topaz held up her hands, a grin touching her lips. "Nance, like you said, High School was a long time ago. I think it's kinda sweet you had a crush on him, but so much water has gone under the bridge by now, it's probably not even relevant."
"It isn't." Nancy folded her arms across her chest. "I don't have any feelings for Logan and I guess I never really did. Just hormones, that's all. And I soon got over them." Her brows knitted together. "Unfortunately not before the whole of my grade found out and made a big joke out of it."
She cast Sylva another dark look.
Sylva shrugged her shoulders.
"If you're not jealous, why does it bother you if I spend time with Logan?" She asked.
"It doesn't." Nancy said simply. "Just with you it's a new guy obsession every ten seconds, and it gets majorly tiring trying to keep up with it all. Logan's just another one in the chain, and it's sick. That's all."
"Nance, that's not fair." Topaz reproached, seeing Sylva was lost for words. "Besides, I think Syl and Logan are a great couple. They're both open and fun and I reckon they're real cute together."
"And we all outgrow the high school flirting." Sylva got a grip of her composure. "Though it seems some of us don't outgrow the bitching."
"If you two are going to argue, I'm going to go inside." Topaz said firmly. "Change the subject, before I come shove you both in the pool to cool off. I'm serious, you guys. God only knows how Copper played referee with you two before I joined the group."
Sylva opened her mouth to retort, then hesitated, looking sheepish.
"I guess the heat ain't good for anyone's temper." She admitted. "And Nance, I didn't mean to blurt your secret like that. Just I don't like people jumping to conclusions about something I'm not even sure about yet."
Nancy dropped her gaze, and for a moment she didn't answer.
"Nance?" Topaz pressed.
"Okay, I'll drop the Logan teasing." At length the dark haired girl let out a heavy sigh. "And rest assured, Syl, I have no residual feelings for that guy. Honestly, I'd rather he wasn't anywhere around, because he reminds me of ritual humiliation every time I see him. But I guess it's not my business, so fine. Do what you like with him. It's a free country."
"There. Friends again." Topaz looked amused. "Can we move onto something else now?"
"Sure." Sylva stretched out on her stomach, idly trailing her fingers in the water. "I met Misfits Music's newest signing yesterday."
"Signing?" Topaz looked startled. "I didn't realise they'd actually finalised anything."
"Robin Sheppard." Nancy pursed her lips. "Right?"
"So you have met him." Sylva raised an eyebrow. "I wondered. He was spouting off about you in the studio when we ran into each other and I was half afraid he was a creepy stalker. He's a weirdo, and that's putting it nicely. He kinda looks through you and he was so rude!"
"He's very sure of himself and his ground." Nancy said thoughtfully. "At least, musically. He had the nerve to crash my studio and tell me how to write my song the other night."
"Obviously he hadn't got the memo that you're an award winning songwriter." Topaz mused. "What did you say to that?"
"I gave him a lecture on trespassing." Nancy spread her hands. "Syl's right in one way - he was a bit odd. But...sad, somehow, too. I don't know how to place it. There was just something weird about him."
"He wasn't all that talkative, either." She acknowledged. "He didn't want to mention Arkansas or anything other than the fact he'd come to Los Angeles because Dawson had scouted him."
"Sheesh, how long did you talk to him, Nance?" Sylva's eyes became big. "Because whatever you said, this guy really took on board. He kept raving about how committed you were to your music, or something. I'm telling you, he's really off on one somewhere."
"Well, the only way I could get shot of him was to agree to show him the way back to his hotel." Nancy glanced at her hands. "And some guys jumped me as I was heading back to my car. He got rid of them, and offered to buy me a drink. I was shaky as anything and I wouldn't have driven straight, so I let him. Nothing funny!" As Sylva raised an eyebrow. "I swear. But Dean was saying that he'd heard things about the guy - that he was secretive about his past and all that Julie had managed to uncover was that death and disaster followed him. Apparently."
"Sounds like the making of a Cool Trash exclusive to me." She concluded. "But the rumour goes that he's cursed."
"Cursed with bad hair." Sylva giggled. "And an attitude to match. But that's about all."
"Speaking of Dean..." Topaz rested her chin in her hands. "Where is he taking you tonight?"
"Nightingale's." Nancy responded. "He thought it was time we had a night out, just us, and he's probably right. We haven't done it in what seems like forever."
"With Jerrica's death and Cynthia's breakdown, it's been difficult." She added. "And he's been busy too."
"That's the downside of a showbiz relationship, I guess." Sylva said thoughtfully. "In that sense, dating Logan is a good thing. I mean, he's not in the public eye except when the press take snaps of him and me going out together. It's not like they're in on both of our lives all the time, trying to find a scoop."
"And they're not printing the idea that you're about to get hitched, either." Nancy sighed. "I know Mom said to just let it go and forget it, but things like that spread. In the Tribune's gossip column this morning was an apparent date we've set, and Cool Trash was bringing up rumours that we already eloped and it was a big secret because Misfits Music didn't approve. It's just getting insane, now. I'm not marrying Dean and noone wants to believe me!"
"We believe you, Nance." Topaz said reassuringly. "If you say you and he aren't engaged, that's good enough for us. But they'll drop the story once they've burnt it out and nothing comes of it. It's happened before. The more you deny something, the more convinced they are that there's a story. Just do as Jetta said and let it go. It might not be what you want to read, but it's good press for Jewel."
"Now you sound like Mom." Nancy sighed. "She said she didn't leak this, and I trust her, but I wonder if it really did fall far from the tree. I mean, Mom might not have, but Aunt Phyl..."
She pursed her lips.
"She's been banging on about wanting to drag attention back to Jewel for a while." She concluded. "And this would be a way of doing it."
"Do you think she did?" Sylva stared. "I'd have thought that you'd be the last person Phyllis would sabotage."
"She wouldn't see it as sabotage. She'd see it as business." Nancy shrugged. "And if it was about me, it stands to reason that Mom wouldn't know about it. It's just a hunch I have, that's all. I wouldn't put it past her - no matter how close we are. She might even think she's doing me a favour. Plus, whoever leaked the story got a lot of facts right as well as making these claims. They must know something about me and Dean, and also that there's no truth in it whatsoever. And who'd know that better than a surrogate aunt?"
"Misfit tactics never fail to amaze me." Topaz frowned. "But it's hardly something you can go up to her and demand the truth about, is it?"
"No, and I'm not going to." Nancy agreed. "I just wish she'd left well alone, if it was her. Not all publicity is a good thing."
At that moment a cry went up from the small radio beside Topaz's lounger and the blond scooped it up, getting to her feet.
"Baby's awake." She said unecessarily. "I'd better go see to her. Don't kill each other, you two. It's too hot!"
Prologue: Flashback - Sadie's
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