Chapter Nine: The Real Stefana
Stefana pulled her jacket more tightly around her, tiptoeing carefully
across the hotel suite to the main door. The room was dark, for Diablo had
an early start the next morning and with one accord had retired to their
beds some time after eleven. One by one they had each fallen asleep, but
try as she might Stefana had been unable to sink into dreams, and, once
certain her companions were all in bed, she had decided to go out, clear her
head and get some perspective. She had observed Madeleine locking the suite
door an hour earlier, but such an obstacle was no challenge to her. Pausing
to make sure she had aroused nobody, she slipped her hand into her pocket,
pulling out one of her hairgrips and carefully manipulating the lock open.
It gave with a soft click, and before long she was heading down the hallway
towards the lift shaft.
"I just need some time to get my head straight." She murmured. "Go to
a club, flaunt my celeb status and see if I can't get a free drink. I'm
in control of it - I just need to get out of there. I'm never going to sleep
while this is on my mind - I might as well not give myself a headache trying."
She pressed the button for the ground floor, waiting as the car made
it's smooth descent, and then crossing the lobby. The hotel was closed for
the night, but on their arrival each musician had been given a key to the
front door in case their performances meant they were back after closing,
and Stefana slipped hers neatly into the lock, turning it and letting herself
out into the crisp night air. For a moment she paused, allowing the cool
breeze to toy with her hair. Then she pursed her lips.
"You're a Hartford girl, Steffi. You used to know this city backwards."
She muttered. "No money for a taxi, but that's all right. The Diablo club
is only a few minutes walk from here anyhow, and it seems as good a place
as any, considering that's who you named the group after. I don't intend
on stopping out all night - if Luca wakes in the morning and I'm not there,
he'll freak anyway. But I need to remind myself why in hell we're here.
We worked for it...I have to go back to where we began and show myself what
I have achieved, like Sadie said. I'm not gonna let that bitch get to me.
This is my life, and I'm making it work, regardless!"
Thus convinced, she set off purposefully in the direction of the Diablo
club she and her bandmates had begun their careers playing. As she reached
the end of the street, a familiar logo flickered into the darkness and despite
herself, she smiled.
"Home." She whispered, comforted to know that even though so much had
changed, the Diablo club was still doing business. As she neared the entrance,
she was hailed by the bouncer.
"You wouldn't remember me now you're a star, but at least you didn't
forget our club!" The man was speaking to her, and she offered him a smile.
"We named the band after the place we started out." She agreed. "I came
to see how it was doing - it's still buzzing?"
"Absolutely!" The bouncer grinned. "Even more so when Mickey hears he's
got one of his old stars flitting around the joint! Coming on in?"
"Yes." Stefana allowed herself to be escorted into the club, nodding
her head. "Wow...it really hasn't changed much in here. We used to play
over there," she pointed, "And that's where Luca used to sit after and drool
after waitresses." She pulled a face. "I cured him of that habit now."
"You're big business over in Los Angeles." The bouncer told her with
a wink. He raised his hand to attract the attention of a stout man in the
corner, and, eying him through the haze of lights and smoke Stefana recognised
him as Mickey Derry, the club's owner.
"Stefana!" Mickey exclaimed. "Well, can't keep away from the old hunting
"I just wanted to see it." Stefana responded. "That's all."
"Well, no wrecking up the stage tonight, okay?" Mickey's eyes twinkled.
Stefana shook her head.
"I'm not here to play. Just to sample some hometown atmosphere." She
"Well, you have to sign something while you are." Mickey told her firmly.
"We make a good buck out of our association with you guys, you know - ever
since the article when you told the world you were named for our humble
little joint. We get people coming from all over to see the place Diablo
first played - we gotta have some memorabilia for people to gawp at."
Despite herself, Stefana grinned.
"It'd be my pleasure." She agreed, accepting the pen Mickey held out
to her, and obediently scrawling her name across the beer glass he held
out to her. "There. Ebay that!"
"Ebay it? Not a chance." Mickey grinned. "Though it's a shame you didn't
bring the rest on by with you - folks here would go wild for an impromptu
"Our business agent would never endorse it." Stefana pulled a graphic
face. "He doesn't approve of impromptu anything."
"Like that, huh?" Mickey pursed his lips. "Shame."
"I'm not Diablo." She said, a hint of her old mischief entering her green
eyes. "I'll play for you. He can't argue with that. Only I don't have my
guitar with me."
"We can get you a guitar." Mickey assured her, linking his arm in hers
and leading her towards the stage, where the night's act was taking a break
in their set. At the sight of Stefana they let out exclamations, and the
lead guitarist stepped forward, holding out his guitar.
"Here." He said. "Show us how it's done, will ya?"
"Oh, with much pleasure." Stefana told him, daintily accepting the instrument
and sliding the strap over her shoulders. Grabbing the microphone, she
let out a yell which attracted the attention of the crowd of clubbers,
many of whom had not registered her arrival.
"So, you guys know who I am?" She demanded. There was an affirmative
roar, and she grinned.
"Good. See, this was the first place Diablo ever played. That's why we
have our name. And the others aren't with me tonight - but that doesn't
matter! I'm going to play for you...Diablo's little piece of hell is rocking
the club tonight!"
There was another roar and, hyped up by adrenalin and the support of
the crowd, Stefana played the opening bars of the song whose vocal she
had wrested away from Madeleine. She had no accompanying rhythm, no reassuring
bass or familiar chords, but as she began to sing she began to feel that
the song really was her own now. Marissa had written the lyrics, but she
found herself amending them, adding a verse and changing the words to the
chorus to better reflect her mood. Though she did not have the range that
Madeleine had, her voice was strong and determined, and as she finished
her performance, the club erupted around her. Her heart pounding in her
chest, Stefana wordlessly handed the instrument back to it's owner, triumphantly
punching the air.
"I'm back." She murmured. "And boy, I really am back! That was wild!
I need to sing on more songs - Maddy, watch out! We are so changing this
track on the album now. I'm done with taking the scripts and doing as they
say. I want to be a part of this!"
"Whoo, girl, that was some song!" Mickey applauded her. "One of Diablo's?"
"One from the album we're about to release." Stefana nodded. "My vocal.
You like it?"
"It was smoking." Mickey grinned. "And you've just trebled my takings
for the night, so how about a drink on the house?"
"I wouldn't say no." Stefana returned the smile. "Singing is thirsty
work and it's damn smoky in here."
As she lounged at the bar, sipping her drink in a peaceful corner, she
became aware that she was no longer alone. Frowning, she turned, eying
her companion with first surprise and then wary confusion.
"Hi there, Steffi." He shot her a slick smile, slipping down onto an
empty bar stool. "You ain't half bad, you know. Going to Cali's sure been
good for you."
"Well, that's where all the stars go." Stefana set her glass down on
the bar. "What do you want, Denny? Something up?"
"Nah, not really. Just chilling with an old friend." Denny winked at
her. "It's cool we dropped by the club tonight, actually. Didn't know you
were gonna be here."
"No, well, I didn't know either till about an hour ago." Stefana shrugged.
"It just seemed like a good idea."
"It must be a blast, living the high life down in LA." Denny looked thoughtful.
"You must be rakin' it in now, huh?"
"We make enough." Stefana said lightly. "And before you ask me, I ain't
got anything on me, so I'm not gonna be any help to you. I left my purse
at the hotel."
"Well, if it isn't our old friend Stefana, crawled out of the limelight
to mingle with the common people." A smooth voice joined the conversation,
and a slim platinum blond laid a hand on the dark girl's shoulder. "Where's
your mouse? She not with you today?"
"My mouse?" Stefana frowned. "What mouse?"
"Marissa." The blond curled her lip. "The one who goes squeaking into
corners when anything bad happens."
"Marissa is back at the hotel." Stefana said coolly. "And she's not a
mouse, Katelin. She's a proven and published songwriter."
"Yeah, well, it's obvious why you threw your lot in with her." Katelin
smirked, running her tongue over red-painted lips. "She writes the music
and you sponge off the profits. Just like you always said."
"Maybe, maybe not." Stefana fixed her with a glare, then, "What do you
want with me, you guys? Because if you don't mind, it's been a long day
and I'm not in the mood for your games."
"We just wanted to hang with you, that's all." Denny shrugged. "We figured,
you know, that being old friends of yours, you might be happy to see us."
"Oh, ecstatic." Stefana said grimly. She glanced between them, and inwardly
she wondered why she had ever hung out with these people. "But I'm not
hanging around. I have to get back to the hotel, and..."
"Stefana has a curfew?" Katelin's eyebrow shot up. "Steffi, what happened
to the wild girl who ran riot on the street at all times of night and who
wasn't afraid of anybody's rules?"
"She's still here." Stefana replied quietly. "But she's tired and she'd
kinda like to get some sleep before she gets dragged up tomorrow. Some of
us have jobs to go to, you know."
"I think she's gone soft." Denny looked disapproving. "Stef, you're letting
the side down here! The press call you Diablo's little piece of hell -
we even heard you'd been arrested once, in LA. Were we wrong?"
"Damn wrong. Stefana Ranieri never gets caught." Stefana's pride flared
at this. "You should know me better than that, Denny."
"Ah, that's more like it. Some spark!" Denny grinned. "Though I know
how to boost that psycho edge of yours, my girl. You won't be tired after
we give you a kick...will she, Kate?"
"Nah." Katelin linked her arm in Stefana's, pulling her to her feet.
"Come on, Steffi. Out back. Denny's got a little present for you - something
to remember us by."
Stefana wrestled her arm free.
"I don't want it." She said firmly. "I want to go back to the hotel,
and I want you two lowlifes to leave me alone!"
"She has gone soft!" Denny sighed. "Come on, Steffi - what's the matter?
It's only a hit of speed - not like it's coke or anything. It won't kill
ya. You're not telling me you've started listening to the mouse's squealing,
are you? You used to be one of us - what happened?"
"I told you, I don't want it." Stefana made to leave, but Katelin barred
"You never used to be so reluctant." She said darkly. "Gone chicken?
I thought you were tough!"
Stefana stared at her for a moment, then, inside of her, something snapped.
Without any warning she shoved Katelin hard up against the bar, causing
the girl to lose her balance.
"You listen to me." She said darkly. "I don't need you or your stupid
drugs to make my life important, you know. I don't need to inhale something
or swallow something or smoke it to make myself feel like I matter. I know
I matter. I'm a star. I'm Diablo's guitarist and dammit, people care what
I do and what I don't do. You can keep your loser drugs and your loser lives
- I'm better than both of you and I want nothing to do with it."
"Don't you lay your hands on me, you bitch!" Katelin struggled to her
feet, grabbing for Stefana's hair, as Denny stood back to watch the catfight,
amusement clear on his face. Stefana faltered for a second, for Katelin
was strong, but indignation gave her a second wind and she pushed the girl
away, slapping her hard.
"Don't you even speak to me." She whispered, her voice shaking. "Don't
you stand there and tell me what I should or should not do. You wonder
why I threw my lot in with Marissa? I'll tell you why. Because Marissa's
a musician, and so am I. Because she's a real friend, who you can stick
with, not a zoned out nobody with mush for brains like you two. We had a
dream - we still have that dream. Diablo is going to be the best rock band
in the United States, and that's all there is to be said about it. I'm not
like you. I've never been like you."
"You're a high school dropout whose Mom kicked you out." Katelin spat
out. "You would never have even been involved in that stupid group if your
brother hadn't taken pity on you, and you know it. You're no better than
us, even if money has turned you into a stuck up smart ass bitch. You won't
be so clever when I've clawed your face apart for you!"
"I'd like to see you try." Stefana's voice was low, and trembling with
anger. "You've never got one over on me yet, Katelin, and you never
will, you hear me?"
"Now now, girls, calm down." Denny's voice was condescending and for
some reason it annoyed Stefana all the more. As he reached out a hand to
calm her, she lashed out with her fist, catching him square on the nose.
"Don't touch me." She snapped. "Else next time I'll be hitting you somewhere
more painful than just your nose!"
"Why you little..." Now anger sparked in Denny's eyes, and he began advancing
on the guitarist herself. Stefana squared herself, preparing to fight her
corner, but from somewhere behind her in the crowd a hand reached out,
pulling her into the melee and across the floor of the club. Before she
realised what was happening, she was once more in the moonlit street, the
chaos and craziness of the club behind her. She turned on her rescuer, anger
becoming surprise as she registered who it was.
"Farah!" She exclaimed. "What were you doing! I would have had them both
"And very pretty you'd have looked for your concert, too, wouldn't you?"
Farah told her matter-of-factly. "It's lucky for you that I was at the
club tonight, all in all, because I think your manager would freak out
if you came in with a black eye and a split lip. Much as I'd like to see
you mess Denny."
"Well, he got me mad." Stefana clenched her fists. "He's a slimy jerk
and she's a bitch. They wanted me to go back, you know. Like before."
"I heard." Farah nodded. "I didn't interfere until I thought you were
in trouble, because they had it coming to them, but I was pretty proud of
you in there. Especially for defending my sister." She grinned. "Though I
shouldn't be surprised at that. You've spent a lot of the last few years
"Yeah, well, Marissa's my friend." Stefana shrugged. "They're not. They're
just jerks who wanted to get me stoned and doing crazy stuff, that's all.
I'm through with it, Farah. I guess in there I realised that I'm not the
same Stefana I was when I left Connecticut. Okay, I wasn't so messed up
when I left as I have been recently, but then again I'm less messed up now
than I was then. At least now I know something I didn't know then."
"Which is what?" Farah linked her arm in her companion's.
"That I belong in Diablo because I'm good at what I do." Stefana spoke
seriously. "I've always said it, you know, but tonight, playing up there,
I actually believed it. For the first time. That I'm part of this group
because I can play and not because I'm Luca's sister."
"Honey, you can play damn well." Farah grinned. "I heard that, too. One
"Sort of. I mean, yes, but I changed the words a bit." Stefana nodded.
"And I liked it better my way. I'm gonna ask her about changing it permanently.
It struck me that it might be kinda fun to be more, well, involved in that
side of things. After all, if I can play, why can't I do other things,
"If you ask me you've let that bitch mother of yours convince you too
much that you're useless and a failure at things." Farah told her. "It was
just a case of finding your gift, that's all - tonight you showed the world
why you're a success. And you thwapped Denny in the nose, which he definitely
had coming to him."
"Oh boy, did he." Stefana grimaced. "I owed him that for getting me into
speed in the first place. And anyhow, I needed to hit out at someone. He
just happened to fit the bill."
"Works for me." Farah dimpled. "Do Mari and the rest know you're out,
or did you sneak off?"
"The latter." Stefana replied. "I should get back, I guess. I just needed
to get some headspace."
"I'll say you did." Farah pursed her lips. "It's almost half one. Do
you have a key?"
"One for the front door. I'm not sure if I can pick the hotel suite door
from the outside, but I'm game to try."
"How about you come back with me to Mom's, crash the night there? You
can text Mari's phone and she won't worry about you." Farah suggested. "Mom's
working over in Stamford anyhow discussing artistic logistics with some
bigwig investing in your show. She won't be back till midday tomorrow, so
the house is empty." She looked rueful. "That's kind of why I came out.
I didn't want to be home alone."
"You're twenty three, and you're scared to be home alone? Gimme strength."
"No, not scared. Just lonely." Farah sighed. "Well? Yes or no?"
"Oh, I'll come with you." Stefana nodded. "If just to protect you from
They walked in silence for a few minutes, then,
"When do Diablo go back to California?"
"At the end of the week. We're just here for the festival." Stefana replied.
"No reason." Farah grimaced. "It just seems that I've not seen either
you or Mari in forever, and now you're taking off again."
"When do you scoot back to Japan?"
Farah did not answer, and Stefana frowned.
"I'm...not going back." Farah kicked a pebble, idly watching it roll
across the street and into the drain. "I quit."
"You quit?" Stefana stared. "Why?"
"Because." Farah shrugged. "I felt like a change. That's all."
"No, that isn't all." Stefana shook her head. "Does Mari know you quit?
"Mom knows. She keeps wafting newspaper clippings at me and talking about
finding a job in America." Farah replied. "I haven't told Mari yet."
She bit her lip.
"Truth is, I want a few weeks break."
"What happened in Japan?" Stefana was nothing if not quick, and she stopped,
grabbing her companion around the wrists. "Come on, Farah, spill. What
made you turn tail and run away home?"
"Oh, nothing." Farah sighed. "At least, that's what I'm telling myself."
"I told you to tell me. You don't argue with me if you have sense." Stefana
interrupted. "What gives? What made you quit?"
"All right, already." She relented. "I'll tell you, if you tell me why
you nearly bit my head off in Baileys earlier when I asked if you had any
guys in the offing. Deal?"
"Nothing much to tell. He married someone else." Stefana shrugged. "He
never saw me that way anyhow."
"Ouch." Farah pulled a face.
"Right." Stefana nodded. "Now you?"
"Well, it began when I was working on that last project with Aunt Kaori.
The computer game - graphics and whatever." Farah said slowly. "There were
a team of us. One of them was this guy - his name was Joseph Konti, and
he was from Australia. He was older than me - about thirty or thereabouts
- but he was drop dead cute, Stef, and I really really liked him. We got
talking and he asked me out, so I said yes. He was sweet, funny, all the
perfect things you expect a guy to be. It was great."
"So? What happened?"
"Well, we'd been seeing each other about four months when I decided to
drop by his apartment and surprise him." Farah glanced at her hands. "I'd
been there before, once or twice, and I knew the way." She paused, then,
"The door was opened by a woman. When I asked her if Joseph was at home,
she told me that no, her husband was out on a business errand, but did I
want to leave a message?" She swallowed hard. "What made it worse is that
she had a little boy hoisted up in her arms - he looked just like Joseph.
And I knew then that I'd been played...that he was married and that I'd played
some part in screwing up the childhood of this poor kid."
"Not necessarily. It's not your fault if you didn't know you were sleeping
with a guy who was hitched." Stefana shrugged. "So what did you do?"
"What could I do? She was so nice - she offered to let me wait, asked
if I'd like a coffee, but I couldn't tell her why I was really there, so
I made an excuse and left." Farah responded. "The next day at work we had
a blazing row. He called me all kinds of things - a baby, soft, stupid,
only good for one thing, that he loved his wife and that he was using me...everything
he could think of to hurt me. In the end I walked out. I had to, else he'd
have seen me cry." She bit her lip. "But as soon as my part in the project
was finished I quit the set, and I told Aunt Kaori that I didn't want to
be in Yokohama any more. I wanted to go home so badly - see Mom, see Mari,
be around the old neighbourhood - try and forget. She agreed with me -
she said I should go. So, well, here I am."
"Men suck." Stefana said contemplatively. Farah nodded.
"For sure." She agreed. "So you see, I've no idea what I'm doing next.
It's all up in the air."
Stefana pursed her lips, then,
"How are you with videotape?" She asked.
"What do you mean?" Farah looked startled.
"Like Mom, you mean?"
"Yes. Can you do it?"
"You know I can. I used to mock up videos for Diablo to advertise with,
before I graduated." Farah grinned. "But that was a long time ago, Stef.
Most of my work has been with cgi and animation and other digital media for
the last five years."
"Do you think you could do it, if you had some practice?"
"I suppose so. Why?"
"Because Diablo could sure use a video artist." Stefana offered a rueful
"I thought Zoe Montgomery did your videos? Mom said..."
"Well, she did, till I upset her by telling the press that she was a
lesbian." Stefana shrugged. "She took it kinda personally. Silly emotional
"I see." Farah pursed her lips. "What do you think your Mr Llewelyn would
"I think that he'd be amazed that I managed to do something that wasn't
to upset him." Stefana said bluntly. "Since he hates me. But our videos are
a headache these days. He might well go for it. I can ask him."
"I suppose I could give it a shot. It might be fun to live in Cali, and
be near you and Marissa like old times." Farah thought it over. "All right.
Ask him. Though I don't promise to be Zoe Montgomery or Mom. I'm a very
different type of artist, you know."
"I know. That's what we want." Stefana told her. "Something different.
Something to blow our rivals out of the water."
"Well, so long as you promise not to tell the press that I'm a lesbian,
I guess I'm in." A smile touched Farah's lips. Stefana swiped her companion
"It's a deal." She agreed. "And here we are - your place." She stifled
a yawn. "Just in time, too. I'm beat!"