Chapter Twelve: After The Show
Sylva set her hairbrush down on the dresser, turning to cast her friend
a trepidant smile.
"Can I have a word?"
"Sure, depending on what the words are you choose to use." Sylva nodded,
tucking her curls back into her band and shuffling up on the bed. "What's
wrong? Something is, because I know that tone."
"I wanted to talk to you about...about interfering in my life again." Topaz
came to sit down beside her friend. "I would have thought after everything
with Cameron, you would have stepped back this time."
"I know, and to begin with, Topaz, we did." Sylva nodded. "Sadie and I
talked about it and we agreed that it was your business, whatever your problem
was with Stephen or your mother." She bit her lip. "Then we encountered
them in town, and Topaz, I couldn't bear it if my mother died and someone
told me after that she'd been sick for some time but that I'd never known.
I know you're probably mad at me for tricking you and bringing her here,
but we had to do something. And the others were involved too. It wasn't just
She glanced down. "All right. Yell at me."
"I didn't come to yell at you." Topaz shook her head. "I...I actually came
to thank you."
"What?" Sylva looked up, startled. "For real? You mean this time I did
do the right thing by interfering?"
"I think so." Topaz nodded. She glanced at her hands. "To be honest I...I'm
a bit mixed up. It came as a shock, seeing her so delicate and finding out
that...well, I've wasted so much time with her, and there might not be much
more time to have. But overall I think I'm glad to know anyway. To know
that, even if...if the worst happens, I've made peace with her and I will
be able to say goodbye to her on good terms, without regrets."
"I hope it doesn't come to that." Sylva said gently, seeing the tears in
the back of her friend's blue eyes. Topaz sighed.
"Cancer is an evil thing." She said simply. "I have to be prepared for
it, just in case."
She frowned. "She's been referred to a specialist in San Diego. I think
he's one of the doctors Cam was so keen on working with, which is why he went
all out for this residency. You know that oncology is the field he wants
to specialise in, when the time comes. I don't know all the details, but
I know it's a risky surgery. If it works, well, it might give her ten years
or even more if we're real lucky." She sighed. "It doesn't sound like much,
but talking to her, I guess I realised that it's all precious time. Ten
years would give her time to know Hollie and have Hollie remember her. That's
pretty big in my mind too - that I have to make sure Mom and Hollie meet
before she has her surgery."
A sad smile touched her lips.
"I don't know how long she will have her for." She continued. "But it's
thanks to you guys in a way that she'll get to meet her other grandmother,
too. That means more to me than I can tell you."
"You're welcome." Sylva grinned. "I'm glad we took the gamble, and I hope
all works out with Melissa. I like her, she's sweet - and she thinks the
world of you."
"Then I have to make sure I deserve it." Topaz got to her feet, pulling
her companion up with her. "We have a concert to get ready for, and noone
will love us if we're late!"
"I'm with you." Sylva nodded, grabbing her bag. "Let's go!"
* * *
* * * *
"Wow, that was some set we played tonight."
Clay dropped down into an empty seat, pulling the top off his bottle of
mineral water and dousing himself liberally with it. "I'm hot as hell and
god knows how I kept all those rhythms going - my hands feel ready to fall
off. But dammit, we were electric out there! I don't think I've ever known
us play as well as that!"
"We were pretty damn good, weren't we?" Luca grinned, claiming his own
drink and taking a swig. "I don't know - it just all came together." He cast
Stefana a sidelong grin. "You were amazing, Stef. I was a bit worried after
everything how you'd come through, but you were out of this world. I don't
think you put a single finger wrong all night."
"Of course I didn't." Stefana folded her arms, feigning nonchalance, though
her eyes sparkled with the praise. "I'm a professional and I meant to show
Rory exactly why he signed us in the first place. We're damn good and he
needs us as much as we need his promotion. Sooner he gets that and starts
treating us like human beings, the better."
"I'm with that." Madeleine grimaced. "Though I think I even saw him smile
tonight, as one of the organisers congratulated him on his, I quote, "mindblowing
act". So long as we can pull performances out of the bag like that on a regular
basis, we're made. He won't think about hurting our reputations when we
can play like that."
"You changed some of the words on the song you sing, Stef." Marissa cast
her friend a glance. "Was that ad-libbing or did you forget them?"
"I rewrote them." Stefana said calmly. "I like mine better, and so I sang
them instead. Do you have an objection?"
"Not really, but some prior warning would be nice." Marissa grinned. "I
almost fudged a chord because I thought you'd forgotten your words."
"Well, I only decided on it a couple of days ago." Stefana admitted. "I
went to the Diablo club to see if it was still buzzing - that's when I stopped
over with Farah at your Mom's place. They got me up on stage to play and
I changed it then. It just seemed to flow better."
"Well, it works if you want to do it that way." Marissa shrugged. "If
you ask me, your words actually do fit better."
"Who would have thought Steffi would have a talent for writing lyrics."
Clay winked at the guitarist, who stuck out her tongue.
"I have lots of talents." She told him decidedly. "I'm sick of just sitting
and taking scripts and playing through them. I want to be a part of it and
I want to sing more, too. I like singing. It gives me a buzz."
"I don't mind, so long as you don't shove me out of a job." Madeleine
laughed. "You sounded good tonight, Steffi. And we really played as a team.
I think that came through most of all."
"They do say hard times bring people together." Luca remarked. "I guess
"And we're damn good. That helps." Stefana told him archly. "If noone
minds, I'm heading out for a cigarette, and to speak to Rory. I have some
business with him and I need to tackle him while he's in a good mood with
"Business?" Marissa looked startled. "What kind of business?"
"Legit business, actually." Stefana smiled. "Your sister has got bored
with working in Japan and has decided she wants to come back to America.
I suggested that she might like to come to Cali and be a part of Diablo's
packaging machine - she used to mock up videos for us when we were kids trying
to get noticed. Why not now? True, her style is different from any other
video artist, and her forte is really with graphics and abstractism, but
I figured Diablo could use something new to spark things when we get back
to LA. And Zoe isn't going to come back and work for us." She grimaced. "Silly
"Farah is staying in America?" Marissa's eyes opened wide. "Noone told
"Well, I don't think she wanted to say anything until she knew how things
were going to pan out. She wasn't sure if she'd find work." Stefana shrugged.
"But I promised her I'd speak to Rory about the videos, and I intend to keep
my word." She reached in her purse, pulling out her cigarettes and her lighter.
"Ciao, folks. I'll catch you later."
"Well, that's something I never thought I'd see." Clay admitted, as the
door closed behind her.
"What's that?" Madeleine looked quizzical.
"Stefana voluntarily trying to help someone get a job."
"Farah is her friend, as well as my sister. She's not just any old stranger
looking." Marissa told him. "Besides, I think it could be fun to have Farah
in LA. She's got a heck of a lot of credentials after all she's done in Japan,
and the Zoe problem is a problem. I reckon Rory might just bite. It
might get him off our back a little, if that's one less thing he has to worry
about chasing up."
"True." Clay acknowledged. "All in all it's been an interesting visit
to Hartford, hasn't it?"
It did not take Stefana long to root out their manager, and, with a brisk,
professional smile, she outlined to him her idea. For a moment, Rory eyed
her with suspicion. Then, at length, he sighed.
"Farah is Marissa's sister, you say?" He asked. Stefana nodded.
"She went to art school. She's good at what she does." She agreed. "She's
worked in Japan with animation and graphics and film art and whatever else
for the last five years. She'd give us a whole new look, Rory, and you wouldn't
have to go running around after a video artist every time we had a song to
"Well, if you hadn't upset Zoe, we wouldn't have to anyway." Rory told
her pointedly. Stefana shrugged.
"Old news. And now I'm solving it for you." She said carelessly. "So that
evens it up, don't you think?"
"Why are you so keen to help this girl? What do you get out of it?"
"A friend in LA." Stefana offered him a smile.
"I haven't forgotten what I found out about you, you know. You're still
on thin ice with me."
"Rory, you can think what you like on that score." Stefana said coolly.
"I haven't taken any kind of drug for six weeks now and I'm willing to take
a blood test to prove it if you don't believe me. That part of my life is
over, so drop it, huh? I care about giving performances like we did today,
and showing the world how damn much Diablo rock. Don't you care about that,
too? Jewel were good tonight, but we blew the stage away. That's what matters
Rory eyed her thoughtfully for a moment, then he nodded.
"Yes." He said at length. "That matters to me too. All right, Stefana.
You have yourself a deal. I will speak to this friend of yours and review
her portfolio. And so long as Diablo continue to perform like they did tonight,
you will hear nothing from me on the other subject."
He offered a slight smile, rare and genuine, that took Stefana aback.
"Tonight you were the band I knew I'd stumbled on when I first heard you
play." He added. "That's the kind of Diablo that I've been looking for, and
your guitar playing was a big part of that. I will take you at your word
that the drug business is past and no longer an issue. I think your performance
tonight proved as much, and I'm glad to have your undivided attention on
your music. Take it from me, Stefana - this group is going to go far."
He winked at her.
"And so, my dear, are you."
With that he was gone, leaving her staring after him.
"Did he just praise me?" She wondered. "Dammit, that was surreal. But
I hope he meant what he said. I feel strong enough to fight against the
drugs and stay clean now...so I can keep my side of the deal. Let's hope
he doesn't decide to break his later on."
"Talking to yourself, or can anyone join in?" A playful voice came from
behind her and she turned, meeting Sadie's amused gaze with a rueful one.
"Rory just freaked me out. He said something nice about my playing." She
admitted. "I wonder if he's feeling all right."
"You guys did play good tonight." Sadie acknowledged. "But I'd like to
think we played a pretty good set ourselves."
"I wasn't really listening. I heard one song and that was it." Stefana
replied. "We were too busy getting ready for ours."
"Isn't that how it should be, though?" Sadie asked. Stefana shrugged.
"I dunno. I don't tend to see the world like other people do, and I like
doing mad things. It keeps me on my toes." She replied frankly. "But doing
them sober is probably a better idea than doing them stoned. And right now
I'm done with Jewel. I'll find someone else to terrorise, don't worry."
"I'm glad about that." Sadie looked relieved. "Because I'd like a more
peaceful life in Los Angeles and you are one heck of an adversary."
"Of course I am. I'm smart." Stefana said decidedly. She grimaced. "But
right now I'm heading outside for a smoke. It's been a long evening and
I need the nicotine." She paused, then, "Wanna come? Or will your bandmates
do you over for treason?"
"I'll come with pleasure." Sadie laughed. "And you can tell me the secret
of your guitar expertise! After all, if I'm going to carry on counselling
you, you have to do something in return!"
"Teach you to play like me? Not a chance." A wicked grin entered Stefana's
eyes, and she laughed, grabbing Sadie by the arm and pulling her towards
the fire door. "Besides, you're a good player, but you're either born with
the spark or you're not. Tough luck if you're not."
"Okay, if you say so." Sadie grinned. "But what was it that got you fired
up out there? The other night you were calling me confused and angry at your
mother. But yesterday I didn't hear from you and tonight...bam."
"I decided that it's all very well to have a counsellor when you need
them, but that I don't need to run to you every time something bugs me."
Stefana said with a shrug. "I mean, I appreciate what you do and you have
helped - you do help, much as it kills me to admit that Aaron was right.
But this was something I had to settle." She frowned. "I went out, visited
some old haunts and got the feel of why I was doing this music stuff in the
first place. And then yesterday I went to visit...somewhere special, and
think things out. I guess I know better now what I want and how I want to
"Well, that's good." Sadie pushed open the door, slipping out into the
night and accepting the cigarette Stefana offered her. "But I hope you don't
plan to dispense with me just yet."
"Nope, I don't think so." Stefana shook her head. "It's still soon and
I still have...issues to deal with." She grimaced, lighting her cigarette
and tossing the lighter to her companion. "But someone suggested to me that,
well, maybe one day Diablo and Jewel will be friends. And while I don't have
a hope in hell of that happening as such, I guess I don't see why you and
I can't be friends, regardless." She glanced down. "If you like."
"I think we already are." Sadie grinned. "And it's a start."
She took a drag on her cigarette, flicking ash onto the pavement below.
"In truth, with so many things going on, we don't need to be fighting a
rivalry too. We have music projects, you have music projects. Copper's settling
into her new home, Topaz's mother is not so well and I understand she's coming
to Cali for treatment, so Topaz will be preoccupied there from time to time.
Nancy will be writing, and I want to see as much of Alex as I can, considering
how busy we both are. And Syl has her sister's wedding just around the corner,
too. We have a whole lot on our plate already."
"And we have to initiate our new video artist." Stefana said with a grin.
"New video artist?" Sadie looked startled. Stefana nodded.
"Marissa's sister." She agreed. "Just because I'm not trying to blow you
all up any more does not mean Diablo aren't going to compete."
"Well, then let the best band win." Sadie raised her cigarette in a mock
toast. Stefana laughed.
"All right." She agreed. "I'll go with that. But I warn you - don't underestimate
what we can do! We've spent too long in the slipstream - but now Diablo are