Chapter Four:  The Poem

"So, tell us what exactly Regine said about our stage costumes for the big concert." Stefana Ranieri perched herself on the edge of the dressing room unit, taking a sip of her cola and casting the singer an expectant look. "It's not fair she let you see stuff first - just because she's your aunt, you shouldn't get special favours."

It was the following night and, after a harried call and some frantic shuffling from their contacts at Rebel Records, the group were settled backstage at the popular local show Connie's Corner, awaiting their call to the set floor.

"I only saw mine and Marissa's." Madeleine said with a wry smile. "And they were beautiful. The others were still at the studio - Stef, I got the impression she still had a lot to do on yours. It's quite demanding, meeting your colour scheme requirements every time without looking repetitive."

"That's why she's a professional. She likes challenges." Stefana said with a shrug. "And they should be beautiful. We're not two-bit players, here. Diablo have had so much good press in recent months, and the last album went mental. We deserve the best."

"Modesty isn't something you waste time on, is it, Steffi?" Clayton Blake cast the young guitarist an amused grin, ignoring the glower he got in return. "Though I dare say we are 'going places', as Cool Trash put it. I'd like to think we were damn well going places before they decided to anoint us - but whatever. Right now we're doing everything right and even Rory's managed to smile occasionally when our names come up in conversation. He hasn't done that all that often since Luca gave him a fist in the face."

"Am I ever going to live that down?" Luca glanced up plaintively from where he was tuning his guitar. Clay laughed.

"Nope." He said amiably. "It takes a lot to whip you up into that kind of frenzy. I just wish I'd seen it."

"Me too." Stefana agreed. "He deserved it. He's an ass."

"We shouldn't talk about him like that in a public place." Madeleine pursed her lips, frowning.

"Aw Mad, come on. Lighten up." Stefana pouted. "Not even if it's true? I thought you were all about being honest."

"Even if it's true." Madeleine agreed. "It's bad press. Potentially. And we're backstage at a very high profile television show."

"Maddy's right." The final member of the group, keyboardist Marissa Young set down her manuscript, offering the singer a smile. "Whatever we say in the privacy of our own house - it's not a good idea to air it here."

"Fine. Then we'll talk about something else." Stefana folded her arms across her chest. "Like how about how long they're taking to call us? I thought we were first on and it's almost nine now. What the hell is taking them so long?"

"Probably some technical glitch." Luca mused. "You know they were having issues with our lighting when we were running through our song earlier. I hope they're fixing it. But the show has to go out at nine no matter doubt the knock at the door will come soon enough."

"Or Connie will waffle nicely to the audience while they fix it." Clay added with a grin. "You never know."

At that moment, the technician arrived and the group of musicians made their way through the familiar passages to the main studio set, where they could hear Connie already talking to the audience. As they set up out of range of the cameras, Madeleine cast a thoughtful look across to where the presenter sat.

"I'm glad we're releasing this one." She said at length. "I wasn't sure, before. But I am, now. It really works."

"Well, I told you it would." Clay, who was close enough to overhear, sent her a wink. "You should have faith in me, Mad. I knew what I was doing, and I promised I'd do it right."

"I know." Madeleine cast him a grin. "I bow to your judgement."

"Shh." Luca hissed. "Connie's announcing us. Concentrate - we're on!"

Madeleine scooped up her microphone as the lights glittered across their set, realising that Luca was right. At a signal from Clay, the song began and, as they reached the chorus, Madeleine realised that sections of the crowd were actually singing along with her - already well versed in the lyric even though the song had only been hitting the radio channels for just over a week. As they finished, to a rousing reception, she led the way across the studio floor to Connie's couch which, despite it's name was easily big enough to fit the whole group comfortably. Connie cast them all warm grins.

"Welcome Diablo!" She exclaimed. "You know I always love to hear you guys play - it's always something new and never what I expect to hear. For a group who began with a very determined pseudo-eighties rock beat, you've sure branched out and made a name for yourselves across the rock spectrum. Is there any kind of song you won't handle?"

"I think it's safe to say you'll never see us anywhere near the cheesy pop scene." Clay said dryly, and Marissa grinned, shaking her head.

"We like to be as flexible as we can, but we're still Diablo and rock is our forte." She agreed. "Clay and I write what comes our way - though this one is his baby. I only saw it for the first time when he gave us the scripts."

"It's a beautiful song - the lyrics are very poignant." Connie remarked. "As I'm sure you could tell from the crowd's reaction, it's already making a big impression. Maddy, what does it feel like to sing a song that obviously already touches a note with people out there?"

"I have a very special feeling for this song." Madeleine cast Clay a glance, then smiled at the presenter. "It's a very personal story - heartbreak and unrequited love are things many people have to deal with at some point or another, and the hardest thing sometimes is to learn to let it go. On Angel's Wings is exactly the kind of song anyone in that position can relate to. I'm not surprised it's struck a chord with the fans. It strikes one with me every time I sing it."

"This is spearheading the new album, then, am I right?" Connie asked.

"That's right." Luca agreed, though Madeleine noticed him send a startled glance her way. "We don't have a projected date for the release yet - but this is the first track from the new album. And we hope it will be around...well...soon."

"And you have a big show at the Arena coming up as well." Connie reflected. "Stefana, tell me, how are preparations going for that? Is it going to be an old school playlist or all new Diablo music?"

"Both." Stefana said simply. "Diablo never lose touch with what's gone before, so we always know people's favourites and we make sure we get them out there. But there will be new stuff too. Count on it."

"Any truth in the rumour that you have another vocal coming up?"

"Maybe." Stefana's eyes twinkled with mischief. "Maybe not. You'll have to wait and see. Maddy needs a job to do still, after all."

"Well, that's all we've time for." Connie said with a grin. "We're going to go to a break - but everyone, let's hear it for Diablo!"

Amid the cheers of the crowd the five musicians made their way off the set and backstage. As soon as they were out of earshot of the cameras, however, Luca grabbed Madeleine by the wrist, startling her in the process.

"I need to talk to you." He murmured. Madeleine frowned.

"Er...okay?" She said hesitantly. "Is something wrong, Luca? You look bothered."

"Come with me and we'll find out." Luca said quietly. Madeleine shrugged.

"Okay." She agreed. "I'm coming."

She turned to meet Clay's questioning gaze, rolling her eyes as he raised an eyebrow. Then she allowed herself to be led along the corridor to the fire exit, stepping out onto the tarmac. Luca leant up against the wall, casting her a quizzical look.

"And what was all that about?" He demanded softly.

"Excuse me?" Madeleine looked bemused. "What was all what about, Luca? You're the one playing cryptic, dragging me outside and everything. What are you talking about?"

"In there. What you said on camera." Luca frowned. "About the song. And unrequited love. And it being personal."

"I thought I was telling the truth." Madeleine responded. "Connie asked me about the song and I answered her. Luca, what is this? What did you think I was trying to say?"

"After our chat the other night, I really wonder." Luca said grimly. "On national television, Maddy - it's not cool."

"It wouldn't be, if I did what you think I was doing." Comprehension followed by indignation flooded Madeleine's brown eyes. "Luca, I'm not going to go whining and dropping blatant hints in interviews about the things I told you the other night. Give me some credit. I gave Connie an honest answer about the song and the words. Of course they mean something to me. Don't be stupid. Why wouldn't they?"

"I don't know, Mad." Luca said quietly. "You tell me why, two days after we had that chat, you're spieling on air about song lyrics and personal feelings and God knows what else."

"Oh, Christ, Luca." Madeleine sighed. "Of course they're personal to me, you ape. I wrote them."

"What?" Luca was floored, and despite herself, Madeleine grinned.

"Clay didn't tell you, did he?"

Luca shook his head slowly.

"No." He admitted. "I had no wrote them? Really?"

"You don't need to sound so surprised." Madeleine said wryly. "Yes, Luca. I wrote them. Actually, I didn't write them for that song - or any song. It was a poem I wrote in college - they were going to be part of a portfolio I did but in the end I didn't use it. Too personal. Too...painful."

She shrugged.

"Clay was looking through my yearbook and it fell out of one of the pages." She added. "He liked the words and begged me to let him put them to music. I wasn't sure at first, but he did such a good job. The song's perfect. And yes. Very personal."

"Crap." Luca looked sheepish. "I'm sorry. I didn't have a clue. But...Hell, when did you write that?"

"When?" Madeleine smiled slightly. "After a certain college senior decided we should be just friends, and cool it off for keeps."

"So you were talking about me, then." Luca grimaced. Madeleine shrugged.

"Yes - years ago." She agreed. "Not now. It was just a poem, Luca. That's all. I'd forgotten all about it till Clay dug it up. Now it's a song and I'm proud to have a writing credit on a Diablo track for the first time. You know that the music side of it has always been you guys - never me. Now Clay's all for me writing some more stuff for him to put music to, and I'm actually kinda excited about the idea. So what if you were the inspiration this time? That was a long time ago. And look at it this way. We got a hit out of you breaking my heart back then. Diablo benefitted. In the long run, well, it's all good. Isn't it?"

"I suppose so." Luca acknowledged. "It would be nice, though, to sometimes get told things around here."

"Well, I guess I prevaricated so long about him using it, he thought I should be the one to tell." Madeleine mused. "Rory knows, of course. He doesn't care who writes what so long as it's a hit and making his company money."

She dimpled.

"And now you do know, so it's fine." She added. "Can we head back in now? It's kinda chilly in this dress."

"Oh. Yes. Sorry." Luca looked ashamed. "Yeesh. I'm paranoid tonight."

"I guess maybe you weren't ready to hear my confession, huh?" Madeleine asked gently. Luca shrugged.

"I wasn't expecting it right when everything is so messed up." He agreed. "But it's okay, Mad. I mean, I'm not weirded out. I guess I confused a little."

"I shouldn't have dropped it on you at all, so it's my bad in the end." Madeleine decided. "Especially not while you're feeling like you are over Emily. Luca, I want you to know I didn't tell you because I hoped I could get us back together. I know that's long past now. It just kinda slipped out because we were chilling out and everything. That's all. I don't want you to get the wrong impression."

"Yeah, because that's something I do so rarely." Luca said wryly, pushing open the door and ushering her inside, following her into the darkened studio corridor. "It's all right. I didn't interpret it that way. It was just a surprise."

"I'm glad about that." Relief flickered in Madeleine's dark eyes. "Because, whatever I said the other night...that's long behind us and I know it. There are some things you can leave too long, and you and I are a good example of it."

She reached out to touch his hand.

"Just don't do the same with Emily, huh? Leaving her to think things over might not be such a good plan."

"Maybe not." Luca leaned up against the wall of the corridor, his expression pensive. "But she was mad at me for trying to take over her life. Pushing myself on her again isn't going to help that."

"No, perhaps not." Madeleine agreed. "But you could just call her - you know, see if she wants to talk."

"Why are you so keen to get me back together with Emily, Mad?" Luca looked confused.

"Well, as a girl who waited too long in hope, I wouldn't like another to go through it." Madeleine's tone was light, but there was seriousness in her expression. "If you love Emily, you need to make sure she doesn't think you've given up on her."

"Maybe you're right." Luca rubbed his chin thoughtfully. "It's hard to read women. When you dated Jared, I really hated it - I admit that. I was jealous. And when you came back to Connecticut, I wondered if we'd have another try. But you seemed to have gone beyond me then. I left it too long, didn't I? We were just friends, and the line was crossed."

"Crossed and crossed back again." Madeleine said ruefully, turning to glance at her nails so Luca wouldn't see the expression on her face. "But that's my point. Do you want Emily to end up being just your friend?"

"Not really." Luca looked rueful. "Maybe you have something. I'll think about it."

"You should listen to me more than you do." Madeleine teased. "I'm right more often than you know."

"Maybe you are."Luca agreed playfully, as they reached the dressing room. "And you know, I will say this. Singing your own words does work for you. You really put it out there this evening."

"Thank you." Madeleine grinned. "It was a buzz."

She opened the door, leading the way inside, where the remaining three members of the band were waiting for them.

"Where did you get to?" Stefana demanded. "Sneaking off after the show...alone?"

"Nothing like your wild imagination is conjuring, Stef." Madeleine shook her head, amusement dancing in her dark eyes. "Luca wanted to ask me something about my lyrics, that's all. Nothing more."

"Hrm." Stefana pursed her lips, but fell silent.

"I'm glad you let me use them." Clay grinned at her. "I like the end result - and so do the crowd. Plus it takes some pressure off Mari and I, if you have lyric ideas too."

"Diablo's becoming much more collaborative as time goes on." Marissa settled herself in one of the big chairs. "I like it. I like us being a team."

"We've not always been." Luca acknowledged. "But we are now."

"Maddy, your phone is flashing." Clay scooped the cellphone off the unit, tossing it towards the singer, who caught it deftly. "Hadn't you better answer it?"

"If you'd have smashed it throwing it at me, I wouldn't be able to." Madeleine scolded. She glanced at the phone, then frowned.

"Tante Regine." She said, surprised. "I wonder what she wants."

She hit the call accept button, putting the phone to her ear.

"Tante Regine? C'est moi. Est-ce-que c'est un probleme?"

She slipped easily into the French, curling up against the window as she listened to her aunt's reply.

"Maddy, I'm so glad I've caught you." Regine's harried tones came back down the line. "I knew you were performing tonight, so I wasn't sure if I would."

"What's happened?" Madeleine's brows knitted together in concern. "Ma tante, you sound freaked out!"

"You could say that." Regine agreed. "Oh Maddy, it's just been crazy. I was working late at the studio most of the evening - I've just got home. It's all such a mess...I'm a bit all over the place at the moment."

"What's such a mess? Tante Regine, you're not making a lot of sense."

"My house. It's been broken into - while I was working, no doubt - I've got the police here as I speak." Regine said shakily.

"Oh God." Madeleine's expression became grave. "Are you sure you're all right? Thank God you weren't at home!"

"Yes. I'm fine. Just shaken up and bemused." Regine assured her. "And thankfully your costumes are at the studio, because the place is a mess and the curtains are slashed - God knows what would have happened if your dresses had been here too."

"Do you want me to come over there?"

"" Regine responded. "I'm stopping the night with Shana -she insisted once she knew what had happened, and she's with me now. We're going over there shortly."

"All right. If you're sure you're okay." Madeleine frowned. "I'll come by Shana's or the studio tomorrow and see you, okay? It's late now, and it sounds like the police will be with you a while. Get some rest if you can and I'll see you tomorrow - all right?"

"Okay." Regine agreed. "Thank you, Maddy. That makes things...easier. To know that."

"Good." Madeleine smiled. "Then I'll see you then. Take care, Tante Regine - and if you do need me, just call me, okay? I'll come over, no matter what time it is."

"I know you will." Regine said softly. "But tomorrow...tomorrow is fine. Bonne nuit, ma chere. And thank you. I feel a little better knowing that you know."

Slowly Madeleine terminated the call, raising her gaze to meet the quizzical ones of her companions.

"I picked up the word 'aunt' and the word 'tomorrow' and that was about it." Clay pursed his lips. "But you looked pretty worried, Maddy - is your aunt okay?"

"Dunno." Madeleine frowned. "Guys, some jerk broke into her house and made a bit of a mess of it. She's in a state and pretty upset. Thankfully she wasn't home when it happened, so she wasn't hurt but..."

"Poor Regine." Marissa said softly. "Are you going over there?"

"Tomorrow." Madeleine shook her head. "She has police with her now and she's going to sleep over at Shana's, so she's asked for me tomorrow. I'll go see if I can help her clean up the mess a little. Hopefully the cops will have what they need from the place by then, anyhow."

"What about the dresses?" Stefana demanded.

"At the studio." Madeleine responded. "She took them there this morning - they're all safe."

"Thank God for that." Stefana grimaced. "We're on a tight schedule as it is."

"Well, if she's shook up, Regine might not be fit to work on anything for a day or two." Luca said matter-of-factly. "So we'll just deal with it and see what happens."

"Luca's right." Marissa nodded. "To know a complete stranger ransacked your stuff..." She grimaced. "I'd hate it."

"It's fine for you. Your dress is done." Stefana muttered.

"On that note, and before this becomes World War Three, I vote we go wait for Rory's driver to meet us." Clay got to his feet. "Steffi's obviously needing her nicotine fix, and we're all tired. Mad, I'm sorry about your aunt. It sucks how these things always happen to the nice people."

"Tell me about it." Madeleine grimaced. "Thanks, Clay. And well, tomorrow I guess I'll go see what I can do to help her over it - I have a feeling it will be a big job!"

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

Nancy stood before the mirror, carefully brushing her hair into it's customary ponytail. As she did so, she met her gaze in the glass and she frowned, loosing the black waves till they fell over her shoulders instead. It had been a long night, during which she had slept very little. Though neither Mary Jane nor Robin had brought the subject up again, the mention of Sian's name had cast a shadow over her and her welcome in Carrowville. She had met Robin's mother Charlotte at dinner the night before, their conversation brief and, though Charlotte had been nothing but warm and friendly, Nancy still felt she was a stranger in the small town.

"What am I doing here?" She murmured, reaching for her brush once more. "I must be crazy. Robin must be crazy, thinking that bringing me here could ever be a good idea. It's too much, too soon. Dammit, I'm usually better prepared than this. I shouldn't have given into him. This was a bad idea and it's getting worse by the minute."

"Talking to yourself?" Robin's voice came from the doorway and she swung around, blushing.

"How long have you been there?" She demanded. Robin grinned.

"About ten seconds." He owned. "You sleep all right? Mary Jane's got breakfast on - I hope you don't mind waffles."

"Not bad." Nancy lied. "And no. Waffles are fine."

"Good." Robin crossed the floor, slipping his hand into hers. "Nance, you're all tensed up. What's the matter, huh?"

"Nothing, except feeling like a fish out of water." Nancy sighed. "In a very small pool."

"That's so mixed up I'm not even going to try and untangle it." Robin said, amused. "I wanted to show you some of the town today, anyway. If you're up for it, that is. Spend some time here together, just you and me. I figure if I'm going to properly introduce you to my world, well, I ought to be the one doing the showing."

He squeezed her hand gently.

"I know you're kinda shy around Mary and my Ma." He added. "But you don't need to be. They're good people, Nance. They'll like you."

"Perhaps you're right." Nancy looked abashed at how easily he had read her thoughts. "I guess I'm still having second thoughts about being here. Nothing is what I expected, so far. I don't know how to explain it. I guess I expected Carrowville to be some hick dump out of nowhere. Instead it's a thriving town with people who all seem to want to welcome you with open arms. I thought small towns didn't like strange visitors. Was I wrong about that, too?"

"No, I guess there are some that'd think that way." Robin acknowledged. "But you're not a strange visitor. You're here with me - it makes all the difference."

He grinned. "Come on. Mary said the waffles were almost done and she's a damn fine cook."

"All right." Nancy returned the smile with a faint grin of her own. "I am hungry."

She paused, glancing back at herself in the mirror. "I guess I can leave my hair down for once."

"It suits you." Robin told her. "And there's Mary's yell." As Mary Jane's voice came up the stairs. "We better make a move."

Nancy made no demur, following her boyfriend along the landing and down the steps to the dining room of the small but comfortable house Mary Jane and her husband called home. At the sight of them a smile lit up her features, and she gestured towards the table.

"We've syrup and sugar if you're wanting them." She said amiably. "Take a seat."

"Robin says you're a good cook." Nancy did as she was bidden. "Thank you."

"Well, it might be a stereotype, honey, but I love to cook." Mary Jane laughed. "Which is a good thing, because my husband can't even boil an egg. Last time he tried to do anything creative with the oven, well, let's say we had the fire department out here and a thoroughly singed kitchen unit."

"That sounds like my cooking." Nancy looked rueful. "In high school I almost set fire to the whole home ec room because I wasn't concentrating on what I was doing. The teacher kicked me out after that, pretty much - told me I'd better find another class to take that period, because it sure wasn't going to be his any more."

Mary Jane grinned.

"Don't tell me y'all live on take out in Los Angeles?" She asked, a playful note in her tone. Nancy shook her head.

"No...we cook." She replied. "My roommates and I, we take it in turns. Two of them are really good cooks, and then Topaz and I muddle through and hope for the best. Noone has died yet, so I guess we do okay. I try and keep it simple, when it's my turn."

"So what are your plans for today, then?" Mary Jane cast her brother a questioning look, helping herself to a generous portion of waffles. "Mom and I are going over details for the party, but she's adamant she doesn't want you joining in and trying to help when you're on vacation, Rob. She's got Helena on standby, anyway - you know she's always helping her father with his campaign dos and all of that - so between the three of us we should be in good hands."

"I was going to show Nancy some of Carrowville." Robin said with a smile. "I figured she ought to see it on foot, at ground level. Before we throw her into the social whirl that will be my mother's party - I'd like her to know exactly what the town's really about."

"Well, that won't take so very long." Mary Jane's eyes twinkled. "But I imagine it'll be a touch different from what you're used to, Nancy."

"It already is." Nancy said honestly.

"Mary, you'll pass on my greetings to Lena when you see her?" Robin asked. "I haven't in a long time. I know I'll probably see her at Mom's party - but I'd like her to know I'm back in town."

"Will do so." Mary Jane nodded her head. "She'll be glad to hear from you, too. You're not so great with the letters to people, Robin - aside from Mom and me you seem to have forgotten anyone else lives in this town!"

"Well, I'm busy a lot." Robin rubbed his chin ruefully. "You should be glad you guys get anything at all, with the way Ms Gabor works us."

He finished his plateful, setting down his fork. "I'm just going to go get my jacket - Nancy, I'll meet you in the hall when you're finished, all right?"

"Oh! Sure." Nancy looked startled. She smiled. "I'm almost ready."

Robin returned the smile, then disappeared, leaving Nancy alone with her boyfriend's sister.

Mary Jane eyed her keenly.

"You're not too sure how to take all of this, are you?" She asked quietly. Nancy stared.

"Excuse me?"

"Carrowville, and Robin's sudden desire to show it off to you." Mary Jane responded. She reached out a hand to touch Nancy's. "If you know about Sian, you'll know what a big deal this is - for us and for him. I know it can't compare to your big city world and all that, but it's part of Robin and who he is. Let him have that, huh?"

Nancy was silent for a moment, digesting this.

"I wasn't comparing it to Los Angeles." She said at length. "I'm just trying to get my bearings here. That's all."

She got to her feet, taking her plate and putting it by the sink. "I guess I better go - he'll be waiting for me."

Before Mary Jane could respond, she had left the kitchen, pushing the door gently shut and hurrying down to the front door where her boyfriend was already waiting.

"Let me just slip on my sneakers and I'm ready." She said, reaching for her shoes and carefully pulling them on to her feet. "There. Okay. I'm done."

"Then let's go." Robin unfastened the front door, ushering her outside. He called a farewell greeting to his sister, then pulled it shut behind them, holding out a hand for Nancy to take. She did so, after a moment of hesitation.

"Aren't you going to lock that?" She asked. Robin shook his head.

"Mary Jane will, if she wants it done." He said simply. "But it's not all that important. Noone's going to rob her, Nancy - every family on this street has known her and me since we were little kids and we've known them, too. It's quite safe."

"Weird." Nancy cast a glance back at the door. "I guess that's just another way Carrowville is different from Los Angeles, huh? Do that in LA and you find all your stuff is ripped off."

She sighed, linking her arm in his as they set off down the road towards the end of the street.

"Where are we going, then?" She asked him. "Mary Jane didn't think it would take long to show me everything...but it's not so small a town as that. Is it?"

"No, but Mary Jane knows my haunts and knows where I'm likely to take you." Robin grimaced. "That's the trouble of stopping with my sister. Nothing escapes her for very long."

"I got that impression." Nancy owned. "She reminds me of Syl, in that sense."

"Syl?" Robin looked surprised. "Really? I wouldn't have said that."

"Well, not in other ways." Nancy admitted. "But the question asking - that's Syl all over. She just has to know."

"But Syl is a gossip and a flirt." Robin pointed out. "And Mary Jane is neither one."

"I wasn't insulting your sister, Robin. Syl's one of my closest friends these days."

"I know, but it's still a comparison I don't see, myself." Robin shrugged. "But you do like her, though? Mary Jane, I mean?"

"She seems friendly." Nancy nodded her head slowly. "It's too soon for me to really know her, Rob. But sure. She seems nice."

"Good." Robin looked relieved. "I hoped you'd get along. I mean, you're important to me and so is she. It means a lot to have you on good terms with my family."

"Well, they've been very sweet to me so far." Nancy reflected. "But like I said, it's kinda soon for them to know me or me to know them. We've been here less than a day...and we're only stopping over the weekend."

"True." Robin nodded his head. "But it's better than nothing and it's all we've got, so it will have to do."

They crossed the road, heading south towards the town park. "This is the first port of call, by the way. A lot of people think this place is a dump - they just don't come here. But I used to, all the time. To write, or think, or whatever else. It's peaceful and beautiful, in it's own way. I always liked to come here."

He grinned, leading the way through the big iron gates. "I'm biased, but there's no area of green in Los Angeles that can compare. Not in my book."

Nancy glanced around her, taking in the small, picturesque park with its overhanging trees and patches of wild flowers that gave it a spritz of colour here and there. Towards the end of the white chalk path there was a small pool, big enough to be a miniature lake in it's own right, and despite herself she smiled.

"It is beautiful here." She admitted. "I can see why you'd come."

"Come on." Robin took her by the hand, leading her over to one of the big old trees at the far corner of the grass. "There's a movie theatre, a seven-eleven and God knows what else in any small town - but not everywhere has somewhere like this and I wanted to share it with you especially. It's one of the things Carrowville most means to me, when I think of home. This place."

Nancy settled herself on the grass beneath the tree, leaning up against the trunk as he dropped down beside her.

"I almost wish I'd got a camera with me." She acknowledged at length. "Why does noone else come here?"

"People do - older people, usually, and not so early in the day." Robin replied. "Most people finish high school and go off to the city - some go to college, others just leave in search of better jobs and more money. A few stay, like Mary Jane, and raise their own kids here. But folk are busy. If you have a job here, you work just as damn hard as we do in LA, I promise you. There's just not time to come and waste hours staring at flowers and trees. Not when there's a disco hall or a new movie at the theatre."

"I'm not really a grass and flowers person, either." Nancy admitted. "I guess that's growing up in the city, more than anything. But I do like how gentle it is here."

She paused, then,

"Did you bring Sian here?"

"Sometimes." Robin's voice was even. "Why?"

"Just curious." Nancy shrugged.

"Just curious?" Robin frowned. "I don't see why."

"I have to know about her, Robin - I mean, she's part of this place just as much as you are." Nancy said softly. "Please?"

"We'd come here and do assignments, in senior year." Robin acknowledged. "Not much work was ever done, but you know. It was fun."

He frowned.

"I don't really want to come here and think about Sian." He admitted. "That was a long time ago, and I'm not here to be with her right now. I'm here with you - let's keep it on those terms, all right?"

"All right." Nancy held up her hands. "I just wondered."

"Yo, Robin!"

Before Robin could respond, a fresh voice cut across their conversation and both turned to see a tall, well built young man with close cropped brown hair and twinkling blue eyes crossing the grass towards them. He was older than Robin, Nancy decided, and yet the two men obviously knew each other well, for Robin was on his feet in an instant, his features breaking into a wide smile.

"Anton!" He exclaimed. "Long time no see!"

"And I thought I was hallucinating you." Anton greeted his friend warmly. "Lena said she thought you'd be back for Charlotte's fiftieth, but I wasn't sure if you'd come."

His glance flitted to Nancy, and confusion settled in his gaze.

"Who's this?"

"This is Nancy." Robin held out a hand to his girlfriend, pulling her to her feet. "We've been seeing each other a little while now - she's come home with me to see Carrowville. Nancy, this is Anton Mulhavy. He's an old old acquaintance of mine - let's just put it that way."

"Pleased to meet you." Nancy offered a smile, which froze on her face at the sudden chill in Anton's expression. She bit her lip, glancing at Robin, but he had not seemed to notice the change.

"We'll have to make time to talk." He was saying now. "There's a lot to catch up on."

"Obviously there is. A whole lot." Anton kept his voice level, but his gaze kept flitting back to Nancy as if he wasn't quite sure what he was seeing. "Are you here long?"

"Few days. No more than a week and probably not that - my new boss keeps me on a tight leash." Robin looked rueful. Anton smiled.

"Well, that's the best place to keep you, if memory serves." He said lightly. "I have to be going - I was just cutting through to work, I'm already late. But it's good to see you, Rob. Make sure we do catch up, before you leave. Looks like we've a lot of stuff to talk about."

"Will do." Robin nodded his head. "Bye, Anton. I'll see you Saturday night if not before!"

"For sure." Anton raised his hand in a wave. Then he was gone, and Nancy shivered, leaning back against the trunk of the tree. Robin cast her a surprised look.

"Don't tell me you're cold?"

"No. I'm not cold." Nancy shook her head, a troubled expression flitting across her face. "So he's an old friend of yours, huh? How old is old old?"

"Pretty way back." Robin looked rueful. "When I was a rookie freshman trying out for the High School football team, he was the assistant coach. He taught me a whole lot. We've always been good friends because of that. Back before I decided football was a waste of my time."

He pursed his lips, considering.

"He's also Sian's eldest brother, so we saw a lot of each other, all told." He added. Nancy bit her lip.

"I thought the name Mulhavy was familiar." She admitted. "Sian's brother, huh?"

"Yes." Robin nodded. "She had two brothers and two sisters. Doubtless you'll meet them at the party - my mother and her father are still close friends and in a sense the Mulhavys are as much my family as the Sheppards are. We've all grown up together, so it kinda works that way in a small town."

"I see." Nancy looked thoughtful. Robin frowned.

"What do you see?"

"Nothing." Nancy shrugged her shoulders. "Just trying to figure out how this all works, that's all."

She offered a faint smile, but Anton's cold looks were still imprinted onto the back of her mind. "Where else did you want to show me? Somewhere where you played, perhaps? I'd like to know where it was Dawson stumbled upon you."

"All right, if you like." Robin grinned. "We'll head there next."

He paused, eying her keenly.

"You're sure nothing is wrong?"

"I'm sure." Nancy nodded, crossing her fingers behind her back. "Let's go."

Prologue: Flashback: University of Connecticut, Winter 2009
Chapter One: Starcrossed
Chapter Two: Tante Regine
Chapter Three: Flashback: University of Connecticut: Winter 2011
Chapter Four: The Poem
Chapter Five: A Shock
Chapter Six: Nancy Confesses
Chapter Seven: Flashback: Break Up
Chapter Eight: Blackmail
Chapter Nine: Conflict
Chapter Ten: Flashback: Assanti Meddles
Chapter Eleven: Pay Off 
Chapter Twelve: Stefana Gambles
Chapter Thirteen: University of Connecticut: Finals Week
Chapter Fourteen: Cracks
Chapter Fifteen: A Tiny Piece Of Truth
Chapter Sixteen: Flashback: Forever Changed
Chapter Seventeen: Secrets Will Out

Chapter Eighteen: Fall Out

Chapter Nineteen: Flashback: A New Life

Chapter Twenty: Darren Admits

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.
All other characters, including their likenesses, are copyrighted to myself as webmistress of Jewel's World from 2001 to the present day and are not to be reproduced elsewhere without permission.
The Teenangel Outsiders, Jesta, Flame, Ryan Montgomery and the future interpretations of Aja, Danse and certain of the other original characters are all or in part the concept of Gemma Dawn whose teenangel outsider fiction world is twinned with Jewel's World. You can visit her site at!
All events in the stories on this site are based on original ideas and are not rooted in any existing Jem fiction nor in any real life event or person.