Chapter One: Nancy's Voice

It's just been one of those days.
You know when it's going to be one of those days the moment that you're woken by Syl squealing about a spider over the shower, and then the sound of several bottles of expensive cosmetic shampoo being hurled at the ceiling. Those kinds of days stick out a mile away - trust me.
None of us woke up in the best of moods this morning, it has to be said. Topaz was having trouble with Hollie, who insisted on throwing tantrums about some infant nonsense. Copper's been fretting about some wedding arrangement that apparently should have been done by now but isn't. They don't get married till March, but apparently it's the end of the world. I dunno. Couples. To top that off, Sadie's in a temper about something Alex had apparently said, or not said, or done...I'm not sure. I'm not real clued up on the whole relationship deal most of the time, and nor do I want to be. Dean and I have our relationship, sure, but it's not like other people's relationships. I'm not in for truly madly deeply like Sadie is...and having heard her on the subject of men who don't bother calling, well, I'm glad. It's not like Sadie to be in this kind of a temper, mind you - so perhaps it's also that time of the month.
She's sitting across the studio from me right at the moment, staring out of the window and rolling a cigarette between her fingers. We're supposed to be writing, but she's been like this most of the morning. Every few moments she checks her phone, to see if magically it's rung in the three seconds since she last checked, but so far there's been nothing. If she rolls that cigarette for much longer it'll be dripping tobacco onto the unit, too. If she lights it up in here I'll make her eat the damn thing...I can't stand cigarette smoke. Especially not when I'm trying to work.
Not that work is going very far this morning.
"Sadie, are you going to just stare at sky for the rest of the day?" I decided it was time to see if I couldn't bring her back to the world of the living. Men are really not worth this kind of hassle, trust me.
I'm not sure if she just didn't hear me, or if she's ignoring me, but she didn't answer.
"Sadie!" I tried again. "Will you damn well open your ears or your brain - preferably both - and listen for a moment?"
"Hrm?" That got a response. She turned a pair of preoccupied blue eyes on me. "What's up, Nance? Something wrong?"
"Something wrong?" I could barely believe this. "We've been in here two hours and in that time we've put together two bars of writing. You're being useless, and you being useless is affecting my inspiration. I've writer's block coming with a vengeance and all you can do is stare at the clouds. Are you going to help me or not?"
At least she had the grace to blush. She set the cigarette down beside her purse, turning to face me.
"I'm sorry." She admitted. "I guess I'm still thinking about Alex."
"Well, can you possibly put it on the back burner for a while?" I begged. "Sadie, I know you're fond of this guy, but we do have a song to write and a deadline to meet. Mom and Aunt Phyl aren't going to accept lovesickness as an excuse for tardy production."
"I know that." There was an edge to her tone, then she sighed. "Oh, I'm sorry. It isn't your fault. Just that this is the first big fight Alex and I have had since we started going out. It's not even about anything very much...but he hasn't called me and I...I don't know if I should call him."
"Well, if you did, it might put us all out of our misery." I suggested. Obviously this morning was going to be spent playing reluctant counsellor rather than inspired composer. Oh well. Such is the fate of living in the Starlight Mansion, I suppose. Sometimes it's cool having housemates, but sometimes I just want to lock them all in the bathroom so I can have some peace and quiet. This is one of those moments. I mean, I'm fond of Sadie. She's one of my best friends, and I don't make friends easily. But I am not the person to talk to about deep and meaningful love traumas. Copper is the official house 'shoulder-to-cry-on'. Not me. And Sadie should definitely know better by this time. But never mind. I suppose once I've got it out of her system, maybe then we'll be able to write.
"What did you fight about?" I ventured.
"Oh, stupid things." Sadie bit her lip. "Work, principally. Twice we've had to cancel dates because something came up at the office, and he was going to come see us play the other night - I got him a ticket and everything, because he said he really wanted to come. But he didn't...he had to work. I...I guess I'm getting a little insecure over it all."
"He's an FBI officer though, Sade. He's not working nine till five at the local WalMart." I pointed out. "He does get called out of bed at ungodly hours to answer calls and stuff. If you're gonna date him, you gotta face that. Besides, your own schedule is mad as hell. You can't criticise his."
"That's exactly it. When I'm free he isn't, or if he is, it soon changes." Sadie folded her hands in her lap with another sigh. "And when he does manage to get an hour or two free, I'm working right through in the studio. I don't know if the relationship can hack it."
"Well, that's simple, then." I shrugged. It sure seemed simple to me. "If you never see the dude, ditch him!"
Sadie didn't answer me for a moment, she just fixed me with a look that made me realise that somewhere I'd said something very wrong, though as far as I could tell I was only talking sense. I hate it when she does this. She has very expressive eyes, and when she wants to look hurt and reproachful, boy does she pull it off. For a moment, the silence continued. Then,
"Do you mean that?"
"Well, if you never see him, why bother?" I asked, considerably more flippantly than I felt by this time.
More silence, then,
"But Nancy, I love him!"
Oh dear. I definitely put my foot in it. That's the tone Sadie uses when she's close to crying. I know I'm not always the most perceptive person when it comes to other people's feelings, but I can usually read and avoid these kinds of situations. Still, with Sadie, I suppose I should know better. She has had enough hell with men in the past - Alex is the first one since she fled to America to escape one abusive moron...and I know he's good to her. Maybe telling her to ditch him was a mistake.
I frowned.
"I know you do." I responded. "I didn't mean it quite like that, Sadie. Just if you never see him, is it worth carrying it on? Aren't you just going to get more frustrated and upset? You're sitting waiting for a phone to call. It's not calling and you're wasting a whole morning moping over him. It's affecting your work and it's affecting you. Is he worth that much to you?"
Sadie hesitated, then she bit her lip. Slowly she nodded.
"That's why it bugs me so much." She admitted. "I really, really like Alex, Nance. I know it might seem crazy, but I do. He's everything that I ever wanted in a guy when I was younger...you know how you have dreams when you're a kid about growing up and meeting Mr Right and everything being hunky dory?"
"Er, no." Well, it was true. I didn't have those kinds of dreams as a kid. I just wanted to follow my music.
Sadie looked impatient.
"Oh, Nancy!" She exclaimed. "Well, some of us did, anyway. And after Neal and everything that happened, I didn't think I had any chance of meeting a guy like that. But then, well, I did. And now it's all going wrong!"
Oh-oh. Back to the tears again - somehow I had to stop this.
"Well, maybe you should call him then." I suggested. "I don't know much about this stuff, Sadie, and I don't pretend that I do, but if you don't call him, you won't know what's going on. Besides, the longer you leave a fight, the longer he has to think of negative things. Surely?"
"Perhaps you're right." Sadie frowned. "Oh well."
She scooped up her phone and her cigarette, rummaging in her purse for her lighter.
"I'll go see if I can get through to him." She said. "And I'll come back and write after. I'm sorry to have been a drag, but you're right. I need to call him and see if I can't put things right. It's just as much my responsibility to keep the relationship alive, after all. Thanks, Nance, you've helped."
Well, wonders will never cease. I watched her head out of the studio, and decided there wasn't much point in trying to go on alone, not since my brain was trotting merrily towards severe distraction. Perhaps a break and a glass of Copper's homemade lemonade would clear out the cobwebs - at least, I hoped so.
Part of the problem with this new album is that it's not coming together at all well. We're doing out best, but it becomes very difficult to better the last effort when the last effort did so well. Our last album went multi-platinum within weeks, and even though some of the critics didn't like one or two of the tracks, in general people seemed to love it. But now it's back to the drawing board again, and even with Sadie's help I'm fairly swamped. Much as I love the other girls, they're really not a lot of use when it comes to writing music.
When I got downstairs I realised that everyone was out by the pool, and with a resigned sigh I poured myself a glass of lemonade and headed out to join them, pushing open the big french doors and stepping out onto the patio. Sure enough, Sylva and Copper were sprawled out on sunloungers, whilst Topaz sat underneath the parasol, carefully rubbing sun cream onto Hollie's arms. For a baby, that kid sure does get about a lot. I never knew living with an infant would prove so crazy. Hollie demands food and screams at hours that a normal sane human being would be locked up for, yet everyone seems to adore her and think the world of her. And actually, I'm fond of the brat myself - though I'm not sure why or how. Topaz has wrapped her harness around the fencepost, so let's hope baby doesn't try and go exploring today. It'll keep her from falling in the water, but Hollie is earsplitting when she finds her fun is foiled!
"What's up with you?"
That was Syl, of course, sliding her sunglasses down her nose like she's some great movie star or something. "You look like the cat ate something precious - where's Sadie? Weren't you writing?"
"Well, if you call it that." I snorted, dropping down onto a shady piece of patio. "Sadie's mooning over loverboy and I sent her off to call him and sort it out. She wasn't much use to me as she was - staring into space. And now I've got writer's block, so I came out to get some perspective. And lemonade." I took a sip of my drink. "Which helps."
"I'm glad you like it." Copper looked amused. "Since you've drunk about two jugs yourself since I started making it."
"Well, writing is thirsty work." I defended myself. What was this - was she counting? Hardly fair! The rest of them are known to drink wine or something cool and alcoholic when it's hot, and I don't drink alcohol! I'm supposed to expire now? "And not writing is even thirstier work, believe me. This album isn't coming on at all."
"Is there anything we can do to help out?" Topaz looked up from her task, sending me a smile. "Kinda feels wrong that we're doing nothing, and you're holed away in that studio scribbling. Besides, I don't feel like I'm doing much musically right now. I seem to change diapers and feed Hollie...and chase around after her now she's all over the place. I love her to death but sometimes I wish her a mile away! Surely there's something Jewelish I we could help you with, give us both something of a break?"
"I wish there was, but I don't see what there is." I told her, a little pacified by her offer. "It's no offence to you guys, but, well..."
"Writing music isn't everyone's talent." Copper grinned. "We know, Nance. But there must be something else we can do to help somehow. Lyric ideas, maybe? I mean, we mightn't be poets, but I did write lyrics once for a Jewel song, and all of us studied English in high school. I used to get straight As, actually. Maybe we could toss out some ideas and see if we can get your brain buzzing?"
"You could certainly try." I brightened at this. At least someone was taking the album seriously! "But it's hard to do anything with words until there's a melody. I haven't the first idea how to proceed with this song, and that's the honest truth. I hoped Sadie might help but she's no use today."
"Poor Sadie." Topaz looked pensive. "Alex is such a sweetie, and they're so cute together. I hope they're not going to break up."
"Well, that's her business." I said hurriedly, not wanting another long deep and meaningful about Sadie's starstruck relationship. "But what I mean is that she's not focused on writing and I'm not sure what to do about it."
"You could try Mom." Sylva suggested, still peering at me over her glasses in that ridiculous way. Honestly, if she could see herself sometimes, she'd kill herself laughing. She can be such a poser! "I know she'd help out if she could, and she does write a lot of stuff for Misfit Music. She writes for Sirena, after all."
"Yeah, I know she does." I paused, trying to work out how to word what I wanted to say. It was no disrespect to Syl's mother. Mary Martescu is probably the best song-writer in the state, if not the country. Perhaps the world. She's a big idol of mine, in fact. She was Stormer of the Misfits, back in the eighties, and she played with my Mom and Aunt Phyl when the group were one of the biggest acts in L.A. There's nothing wrong with her credentials. But Jewel's music is very much my domain...it would almost be like conceding failure, if I was to go to Mary and ask for help.
Copper cast me a glance, and I knew she had read my thoughts in my expression. She smiled.
"I think Nancy wants to do this herself." She said softly. "Besides, Mary is a busy woman. It wouldn't be fair to land her with more to do."
I shot Copper a grateful look. She's not my best friend for nothing, you know. She always seems to know the right things to say and when to say them. In some ways I try and copy her that way. I don't mean that I trail her around and try and do everything she does - that'd be daft. But Copper is so good with people, and well, I figured I might as well see if she could teach me a thing or two about dealing with them. If you hadn't guessed it, I'm really not a people person.
In fact, the less people around me, the better I am. Ironic for a rock star, isn't it? But then I was never in it for the fame. It was always about the music.
"That's right." I agreed now. "Sadie's a Jewel, so it's still within the group. We've made a name for ourselves in producing and writing all our own stuff. We can't deviate from that now, it'd look like we were tired and stale."
"Well, the way you were talking, maybe we are." Sylva said flippantly, replacing her sunglasses higher on her nose. "I was just trying to help."
Some days I could happily throttle that girl. Honestly, every time I see her twin sister Anna, I marvel at how she's retained her sanity. If I had to live with Syl for eighteen years, I'd need sectioning. Having done four is bad enough. Yeah, I get along with her pretty well these days, but sometimes she just needs a good shaking!
"You all seem pensive."
A fresh voice came from the doorway, and we all turned to see Cynthia standing watching us. It's hard to explain Cynthia...she's definitely one of the gang, but she's not exactly a person. She's a holographic projection, powered by a mainframe that this guy, Emmet Benton built during the nineteen eighties. He was some kind of a genius, and Cynthia - or Synergy, as the main computer is called - is galaxies ahead of her time in a lot of ways. She acts, walks, talks and touches just like a real human being. If we didn't know, I doubt we'd be able to tell. In fact, it's easy to forget. She might be wires and screws, but she can feel as much as any of us. I don't know how it all works - that's my brother's department, not mine. But Cynthia's psyche is as real and convincing as my own.
"We were discussing the album. Nancy has writer's block." Topaz said, scooping her daughter up into her arms. "We were just trying to work out if there was anything the rest of us could do to help her out. Sadie's preoccupied with Alex at the moment, and her mind isn't really on music."
"Yes, I saw Sadie as I came in. She was in the front seat of her car, dialling her phone." Cynthia nodded her head. "I wondered what had happened - she looked grave. Has she still made no contact with Alex?"
"That's what she's doing now, or trying to." I explained. "Cynthia, you work at Misfit Music. Have you heard anything - any hint - about what lines people there want this disk to run on?"
"Not a thing." Cynthia shook her head. "I have spent all day downstairs in the main studio helping Aaron to install some new technology, since the technician in charge was taken ill last night. I have heard nothing from the offices."
"It's all right." I sighed. "I guess it wouldn't matter anyway."
"It's too long ago since Jetta and Phyllis played." Sylva agreed. "There's nothing they could teach us now, they're too out of practice."
"Or out of date?" Cynthia teased lightly. Sylva shook her head.
"No...people still buy Misfit stuff." She responded. "And I know they did their reunion show, and all of that. But they've spent too long behind desks and stuff now to really have their finger on what we should be doing musically. From a business point of view, yeah. They've got it down. But Jewel's sound...that's something else completely."
"You make them sound like they're hasbeens." Copper scolded. "You wouldn't include your Mom in that, surely?"
"No. But Mom's a songwriter." Sylva shrugged.
"My mother wrote and released an album after the Misfits split up!" I wasn't having that. Sylva snorted.
"Yeah, back when you were still in diapers!" She retorted. "Mom writes now, that's what I meant. She's never really stopped. That's why I suggested you asked her - but you said that Jewel's music was Jewel's business. Why would asking Jetta and Phyllis be any better?"
"Woah, time out, girlies!" Topaz held up her hands. "There's a baby present and I don't want her screaming because people are fighting. It's absurdly hot for a January day, and we're all getting sick to death of worrying about this album. What we need is a vacation, and that's that!"
Well, I didn't disagree with her in theory, but surely she was kidding? A vacation? Now? With our biggest rivals Diablo topping the album chart?
I said as much, and Topaz shrugged.
"So? We can't worry about them. We should let them worry about us." She said simply. "And besides, Nance, there's no good in producing stale music, is there? We need fresh inspiration. Don't you think so?"
"That I will agree with." I nodded. "But there's precious little to be had around here. I've lived in Los Angeles since I was a baby - there ain't much now I haven't seen here. That makes it hard, when it's the same ol' same ol' all the time."
"We tour." Copper objected. I nodded again.
"Yeah, but we tour the same places, generally." I replied. "England, France, Spain...Canada..."
I pulled a face. "Same ol, same ol."
Cynthia looked thoughtful.
"I wonder." She mused. "Perhaps you are looking at this all wrong."
"Looking at what all wrong?" Sylva cast her a quizzical look.
"Maybe what you need is a refresher course in Los Angeles music." Cynthia pursed her lips. "Starting with the contributions your parents made to the music industry, back in the eighties. Jem and the Holograms and the Misfits were big sensations then."
"Cyn, I know you want to help, but I don't think you quite get it." I sighed. "This isn't about the past...it's about now, our album, and all of that."
A strange look crossed Cynthia's face, and in that moment I knew that she was planning something.
"Cyn?" I ventured. It's always a little unnerving when you know she has something in mind, because for a computer she sure can be erratic and unpredictable. Some of her ideas are mad, impulsive and downright dangerous - and she had that particular mischievous glint in her eye.
"What?" She cast me an innocent smile. "I was just thinking."
"Well, make sure you think it and don't do anything else about it." I ordered. "I know that look."
"I was simply trying to work out whether watching Jem and the Holograms and the Misfits might not free up your own thoughts." Cynthia responded.
"But we've all seen the videos to death." Sylva objected. "Why would now be any different?"
"Because that wasn't quite what I had in mind." There was that glint again. "Oh well. It's not important."
She winked at me, then turned on her heel. "I have work to see to - Good luck with your writing, Nancy!"
"Something about that worried me." Topaz mused, as she watched the hologram close the door behind her. She wasn't the only one. I nodded.
"It worries me too." I admitted. "You never know what Cyn might be planning. What did she mean - that the videos weren't what she had in mind? Is she going to project the groups in the living room or something? Or bug them to get back together and give us a session? Either way she's missed the boat. What on earth do two bands from the eighties have to do with this album? I love Mom's music, but I don't see the connection."
"Nor do I." Copper looked thoughtful. "But if Cynthia has an idea, Nancy, I'm sure it won't be long before we all do!"

Chapter One
Chapter Two
Chapter Three
Chapter Four
Chapter Five
Chapter Six
Chapter Seven
Chapter Eight
Chapter Nine
Chapter Ten
Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve
Chapter Thirteen