Chapter 1: Show's Over.
Crystalyna, June 12th.
It wasn't that Jerrica was jealous exactly, but it still twinged. Her alter-ego’s face used to be the one up on billboards, but it had been more a while since Jem had garnered that sort of attention. Crystalina, the princess of bubblegum pop, (how she got that title before her album was even out was beyond Jerrica) was the new headline act of Starlight Music. The new name on everyone's lips. The new Jem. The "Better than Jem."
Jerrica pulled her car into a the lot of a coffee shop.
While the teenagers behind the counter struggled with her admittedly complicated order (an iced, half caff, ristretto, venti, 4-Pump, sugar-free, cinnamon, dolce skinny latte), she scrolled through her phone. The new album, Midnight Romance, had released a day ago and the reviews should have started to come in. She went to Wheat Thresher. They were pretentious and weren’t always huge fans of Jem, but Jerrica was sure the Holograms had made a winning album this time, even for these snobs.
Pizzazz’s eyes stared at her from the page. A picture of the Misfits was the top banner of Wheat Thresher, emblazoned with BITCH QUEENS OF THE PACIFIC - DECADE DEFINING ALBUM.
Jerrica made a face. They had released Bitch Queens a few weeks before the Holograms had released Midnight Romance, some kind of passive-aggressive show-up move, but they’d been rewarded for it with dazzling reviews and record-setting sales in only a few days. A "triumph of punk music", one of the reviews had said. They'd all been like that. A critically acclaimed Misfits album; what a nightmare. Jerrica had listened to it and still thought their music was trash. She scrolled past the article, she didn’t need to read any more hype about them.
She finally found the Jem and the Holograms’ review.
“Midnight Romance is a failure, inspired by the most insipid music in the history of pop. 2.6/10”
'Well that stings.'
She flicked through another few sites. Juju gave them a 23%. Cool Trash, 3/10. AV Kids, C-. Weekly Entertainer gave them a B, which was a little cheering, but Stone Cold gave them a flat 1/10 .
Jerrica rested her head against her steering wheel for a moment before starting the car. She wondered if the band had seen the reviews yet. She didn't look forward to walking into Kimber's whining, Aja's sullen silence, Shana's fake optimism or Raya's waspish snapping at everyone.
Maybe she could cheer them up with thoughts of the upcoming Silverlane Charity concert. The invitations to perform were due soon and even the worst reviews could be deflected with an honestly good performance. The Holograms did know how to put on a show, after all.
She drove in silence, not even listening to the radio. All anyone was playing was the Misfits anyway and she was in no mood. She narrowed her eyes as she turned a corner and the Misfits Music office tower loomed ominously in her rearview mirror. The Starlight building was much more modest and, in Jerrica’s opinion, tasteful.
As she pulled her car into the underground parking and before she stepped out, a high pitched screech came from the nearby door into the building.
‘I guess they saw the reviews.’ She thought, and stepped inside.
A young woman with long, lavender hair was hugging Rio tightly and making a sort of high pitched noise that Jerrica felt ringing in her teeth. She felt a knot form in her stomach. She didn’t quite like the way Rio was looking at her.
Jerrica cleared her throat and Rio and Crystalina both finally noticed her. Crystalina almost sprinted towards her, tightly gripping her phone.
"Ohmigod Jerriiiii!" (Jerrica hated being called Jerri.) "Guess what!"
Jerrica put on what she hoped was a cheerful and interested look,
"What's that, Cristina?"
Jerrica knew full well that the young singer insisted on being called her stage name, instead of her legal name.
Crystalina looked a little put out at that, but continued, holding her phone screen up to Jerrica's face.
"I got invited to perform at SilverlaneeeEEEEE!!!"
She was screaming again, hugging Jerrica and jumping all at the same time. Finally, Rio put his hands on Crystalina's shoulders and guided her away and she went dancing off down the hall.
"Sorry Jerrica, she's just excited."
"I can see that."
Rio gave her a look of innocent curiosity. "Did you, uh, check the reviews on Midnight Romance?"
He'd seen them.
Jerrica gave him a bright if brittle smile, "A few." She shrugged, "Every band hits stumbling blocks, you know. W- They just uh, gotta take it and move forward."
Stumbling blocks. The past few years had been nothing but stumbling blocks. Mediocre sales of their last album, low rates streaming, only one or two singles on the charts. Even their last tour had some of the lowest ticket sales they’d ever seen. For whatever reason, the Jem star was fading. And now Midnight Romance's dismal reviews. It was getting a little depressing.
Jerrica took a sip of her now-cold coffee. "Are Jem and my sisters here?" she asked, already knowing Jem wasn't.
"Uh, Jem told Kimber she'd be late, but your sisters are up in the lounge. I think they're checking the reviews..."
Jerrica winced. Time to do some damage control. She leaned against Rio, "Go make sure Crystalina doesn't skip through a plate-glass window, will you?"
Rio grinned and kissed her on the cheek before following the sound of high pitched, joyous giggling down the hall. Jerrica made for the elevator, but as soon as Rio was out of sight, she turned back and snuck again into the garage.
Crystalina frantically waved at Jem and was closely followed by Rio, who gave her a polite smile.
“Oh! Hey Jem, you just missed Jerrica.” He said, over Crystalina’s continued chattering about Silverlane and what an honor it was and was Jem going to perform and so forth. Rio kept his hand on her shoulder, but otherwise appeared to be tuning her out.
Jem nodded, “Oh, yeah, I thought I saw her pulling in. So…” She flipped her hair over her shoulder (or rather, she moved her hand and Synergy moved the hair out of the way.)
Rio just pointed towards the elevator. “Well, she’s on her way upstairs to the lounge. Uh, sorry about the reviews, they were kind of unfair.”
Oh yes, the reviews, like she’d forgotten. She just smiled. “Oh, yeah, well… I’ll get over it.”
They stood, looking at each other for a moment.
“Well, uh… you better get going, huh?”
“Ri-right, I’ll uh… See you later!”
Jem stood there a moment more, waiting, she didn’t know for what exactly. A kiss? A hug? A pat on the back? She headed for the elevator. That had been… strange. Rio could often be a little overly-professional with Jerrica at the office, but when she was Jem, well, usually he couldn’t keep his eyes off of her. Today he had just seemed to be bored.
The Holograms gather in the lounge. Shana and Raya look at a magazine, Aja reads her phone and Kimber is on the floor like she's dying.
Jerrica cleared her throat as she entered the lounge.
“Hey guys... How are you-”
“BORDERLINE UNLISTENABLE, JERRICA. That's what they called it.” Kimber wailed from the floor.
Aja huffed, “Yeah, in Wheat Thresher. They hate us anyway, Kimber.”
Kimber continued whining from the carpet, “Well what about Stone Cold? ‘Hard pass’, they said. Raya's DAD doesn't like it.”
Jerrica turned to Raya, whose smile faltered.
“He... he said it was interesting!”
“Coming from your dad, that's rough.”
Jerrica sat down in a squashy armchair and clasped her hands. "Let's ... not dwell on this, okay? We just have to take it all into consideration-"
Kimber groaned from the floor.
"And move forward." Jerrica finished.
They muttered amongst themselves for a minute before Jerrica walked over to peer at the book Shana was flipping through.
Shana shook her head, "Uh, wedding invitations! We haven't picked our colors yet but Anthony and I have -"
Aja and Kimber's expressions changed to complete disinterest. They'd been hearing about this for months. Anthony and Shana's upcoming wedding. They were happy for her, of course, but ten solid weeks of flowers, invitation, tablecloths, centerpieces, never mind the dress, were starting to wear on the rest of the band.
Jerrica wasn't ... annoyed, exactly. But the more she thought about Shana's wedding, the more something itched in the back of her mind. Anthony and Shana had met almost six years ago and had been engaged for nearly three months now. They'd let themselves develop and grow together and became something serious. Rio and Jerrica had been together twelve years and it seemed like things were stuck in that high school stasis. Nothing had progressed between the two of them. Same innocent high school date nights, same sloppy high school kisses, same dull high school sex.
Jem had made things complicated. She'd only spent a handful of nights with Rio as Jem, but it had been more passionate and lively. Jerrica squashed those thoughts down, a queasy mix of jealousy and guilt in the pit of her stomach. She never knew how to feel about those nights. Was Rio unfaithful? Did it not count because Jem was just Jerrica's own alter-ego? Not that he'd been paying much attention to Jem lately, he'd been helping Crystalina settle in and...
Well. It wasn't worth examining now. Shana was still talking.
"... Mean I'm not going to let some dress shop convince me what I like when I could make it for much less by myself, you know? But we should still go looking, you know, for ideas."
Jerrica nodded and smiled, hoping that Shana hadn't noticed that she hadn’t been paying attention.
"Yeah, that should, uh... That sounds good! Oh and, uh, we need to talk about what we're going to do for the Silverlane Charity Concert!" Jerrica said, finally remembering.
"It's always a lot of fun, maybe we can do some kind of fun costume change with Synergy...?"
She gazed around the room. Nobody was meeting her eyes.
Finally, Aja spoke.
"We're not going."
Jerrica blinked. "Wh-what, why not? Did something happen?"
"We're not invited, Jerrica, unless you've been sitting on an invitation. Somebody leaked their confirmed invitations on Twitter and we’re not on it.”
Aja held her phone up to the Silverlane website.
"Crystalina, the Misfits ("They're performing for free?") Space Cadets, Leatherettes, Hugg Returns, ZARP ("didn't Zarp all die in that bus accident?") Giri, Cherry Bomb…” ("I thought she was in prison...")
"So, unless you got one sent to you and didn't tell us..."
Jerrica wilted. "Uh. Well... you win some, you lose some?"
"It's... no big deal, Jerrica. We don't blame you." Raya said with a smile that seemed, to Jerrica, a little insincere.
Aja and Shana nodded in agreement. Maybe they WERE blaming her. She took the lead on most of the album's production, the writing and the sound. Had they hired too many producers? Tried to do too many things at once. Kimber was looking at her phone and pointedly, not at Jerrica.
Jerrica stood, "I'd um, better go help Crystalina figure out what she's going to perform."
She gave the Holograms a bright smile that vanished as soon as she turned the corner out of the room.
Chapter 2: Very Good Bad Thing
The Misfits have a quiet morning of gloating.
The Misfits were recovering. They’d had twelve solid nights of partying, first celebrating the release of Bitch Queens of the Pacific , then another week celebrating the reviews and now nursing hangovers. Pizzazz, still in half of her outfit from last night, was taking up most of the couch, scrolling on her tablet and half-listening to the television, Roxy and Jetta were quietly talking (or arguing) in the kitchen and they’d lost track of Clash. Maybe she’d gone out for coffee.
Stormer was re-reading yesterday’s interview with Wheat Thresher.
“You know, I think the Thresher piece is pretty good.” Stormer said, looking up at Pizzazz.
Pizzazz didn’t look up from her tablet. “Mn. Not bad. Thresher's always liked us, though.”
Stormer sighed, “Not this again, come on. Everyone loved Bitch Queens.”
Roxy snorted from across the room.
“Pizzazz isn't happy unless she has something to be angry at, Storm, come on.
Pizzazz half turned and pitched a half-empty beer can at Roxy, missing her by a yard and spraying stale beer over the floor. Before Roxy could throw the can back, Jetta, one hand on her phone, yanked Roxy’s shirt, a wicked smile on her face. She turned her phone’s screen towards Pizzazz and Stormer.
"Did you lot see this? Jem's Midnight Whatever is being panned. Universally."
Pizzazz, in one motion, jumped over the back of the couch and ran to grab the phone from Jetta. She leered at it, a grin spreading over her face.
"Midnight Romance is dull, dreary and utterly starved of anything authentic. If you thought it impossible for Jem and the Holograms to be more overproduced and overhyped, think again!"
Pizzazz shrieked with laughter and nearly dropped Jetta's phone. Stormer looked stricken and picked up her own phone.
"Wow… That was mean... Was that Wheat Thresher?" Stormer asked.
"Nope," said Jetta, trying to get her phone back from Pizzazz, who was currently in convulsions of laughter on the couch, "Cool Trash."
Roxy snickered "Send me the links to those, would you, Jetta?"
"What, is Jem getting shat on finally motivation to learn to read?"
Roxy snarled and lunged for Jetta's phone, "Maybe I'll make YOU read 'em to me, unless you want to pry this thing out of the pool filter."
"You wouldn't dare!"
Stormer sighed. Roxy was already halfway to the back door, Jetta in hot pursuit. Pizzazz was wiping tears out of her eyes, giggling, mascara smeared across her fingers.
Stormer didn't think Midnight Romance was that bad. Certainly overproduced and that sort of empty candy-coated girl-loves-boy pop that the Holograms specialized in, but Stormer didn't think it was so terrible. Maybe she just had a soft spot for the Holograms, not that she'd admit it out loud. Or, well, ONE of the Holograms.
Stormer's phone buzzed in her hand. A text message from... A Smiling Devil Emoji. Oh. Eric.
"Good job with thresher interview"
"We didn't get forcibly escorted out, it was nice."
"Im very proud of you! Vogue wants you for photoshoot in 3 weeks"
"Ok but why are you telling me and not Pizzazz?"
"I am temporarily blocked"
"Oh. I see. Who let you update your phone?"
"If I promised not to send any to them"
“And who told you what anime is?”
“I know things.”
“You really enjoy being weird and irritating don’t you?”
“I do! consider it payback”
"I'm blocking you too."
"I understand but lmk re photoshoot thanks"
Pizzazz finally recovered and looked up at Stormer.
"We gotta think about our Silverlane show, huh? We should start with "Break Me Out"."
"Maybe we should think about singing one less ... rude? There's kids there." Stormer said, fiddling with her phone.
"So? Nothin' they aren't hearing already. Besides, Break Me Out is a banger."
"Yeah, but but screaming 'fuck me' might put the children's charity off a little..."
Stormer was cut off by Jetta screaming outside. She sighed. Couldn't any of them stand to be a little less dramatic?
Roxy stood by the pool, out of sight of Stormer and Pizzazz, threateningly dangling Jetta's phone over the pool. Jetta approached her like she was a landmine.
"Roxy. Give that back to me immediately." Jetta said, her words clipped and precise.
Roxy batted her eyes, innocently. "Hm? You want me to drop it?"
"No! I explicitly said to give it back! You're too old to be acting like this, Roxy!" Jetta said, losing her temper already. "Now give it back or... or you're going to find yourself ... very lonely." She drew herself up and gave Roxy her iciest look.
Roxy smirked and took a step toward Jetta and held the phone out to her.
"Is that right?"
Jetta grabbed it, face still contorted with annoyance.
"Yes. Don't start thinking you're worth more to me than my Candyville score, Pellegrini."
Roxy yanked Jetta close by her shirt collar and kissed her before she could protest, then pushed her away.
Roxy grinned, “Empty threat. We both know nobody else would want to spend any time with you.”
Jetta smacked Roxy on the arm and said in a hiss, “Stop it! What if Pizzazz sees us, you're going to ruin everything!”
Roxy grinned and stepped around Jetta, back to the house and flicking her in the ear for good measure, “You need to chill.”
Chapter 3: I Wanna Tear You Apart
Jerrica has a bad night, Rio has a better one. Eric enables a terrible decision.
It was a nice night, at least in terms of weather. The niceness of the night otherwise had yet to be determined. So far, it was lonely. Jerrica had known Rio would be busy. He was Crystalina’s manager and Silverlane was her first really big performance. He was very dedicated to making sure she’d have a good night. Officially, Rio was Jerrica’s date for the night, but Crystalina had asked him to walk with her past the cameras. Jerrica would have felt guilty for not going along with it. But now, sitting next to his empty seat at their table while Rio was still backstage with Crystalina, she was annoyed.
‘She doesn’t even go on until after the entrees,’ Jerrica thought, bitterly.
Out of the corner of her eye, Jerrica caught a flash of acid green hair and peered between the heads of the busy crowd. At the back of the room, near a door to backstage, the Misfits were apparently deep in conversation. Jerrica felt ill looking at them. The pack of hateful, destructive brats had dedicated so much time and energy trying to destroy, sabotage and otherwise just ruin the Hologram’s livelihoods and now it seemed like they’d succeeded. They were on top of the world; headlining at a dinner that Jem had been the main event at for the past six years. Jerrica ignored the nagging thought telling her that the Misfits hadn’t actually succeeded in crushing Jem and the Holograms, that they hadn’t really had anything to do with them for years. But it made her feel better to blame them for everything, no matter how senseless it was. The crowd around her broke into applause and Jerrica startled. The MC, some comedian she’d never heard of, had been speaking and she hadn’t heard a word of it. The lights were dimming and the opening act was coming out on stage. Jerrica had missed who was being introduced. Some young man with a guitar and a woman on a keyboard, they looked like twins. She wasn’t very impressed, to be honest.
Rio still hadn’t appeared by the time Alex and Alyx (apparently their names) had finished playing, appetizers had been served, finished and taken away (Jerrica had eaten Rio’s) and now the MC was back with more bland patter. Jerrica ignored him. She was sulking and she knew it. It hadn’t been that long ago that she - Jem - had been the headlining guest at this event. And most events. She was ashamed to admit it, but she missed the attention, even if it was directed at a fake identity. Suddenly, the words "Misfits" broke her out of her sulk. She looked up. The suddenly dark room cheered as the Misfits took the stage and Jerrica took the nearest exit.
Backstage was as frantic as any concert she’d been to. Silverlane’s charity concert always had an element of chaos and disorganization to it. Nobody seemed to really knew how to successfully herd a dozen musicians into a single night, but they seemed to manage in the end. Jerrica peered down the long backstage hallway. Managers, publicists and roadies were dashing between rooms, carrying appetizer plates, bottles of water and various contract demands. Jerrica spotted some poor, sweaty intern carrying a bucket of chicken from a restaurant on the other side of town. She was pretty sure that was for Cherry Bomb. And that case of strawberry beer was probably headed for the Limp Lizards. She just had to find…
Ah, there. A bag of goldfish crackers (cupcake flavored) and a bottle of pinot noir. That would be going to Crystalina’s room and that was probably where Rio was. Jerrica followed the roadie to a door that somebody had decorated with purple christmas lights (a weirder part of Crystalina’s contract rider but not that demanding of one).
Jerrica poked her head inside without the knocking after the roadie had left.
Rio, in the middle of uncorking the wine, jumped. Crystalina was holding two glasses next to him and her smile upon seeing Jerrica didn’t quite have the normal brightness to it.
“Oh, Jerrica! Wh-what are you doing here? Everything okay out there?” Rio asked, setting the bottle down and straightening his suit jacket.
“Oh, yeah, I just… You know, the Misfits are on right now and…”
Rio gave her a sympathetic look.
Jerrica looked over at Crystalina, sitting on the dressing room’s sofa. She looked a little annoyed, which was odd. Jerrica hadn’t even known she could make that expression.
Jerrica cleared her throat a little awkwardly. “I was, uh - I think they’re serving the entrees soon, Rio. So, come back to the table soon?”
Rio nodded, “Sure Jer.”
By the time Jerrica got back to the table, the Misfits had left the stage and Cherry Bomb was just beginning their set. She couldn’t shake the feeling that she’d walked in on something Rio would have rather kept private. That anxious pit that had formed in her gut deepened as dinner was served and Rio’s plate of chicken breast and paella went cold.
“Please welcome… Crystalina!”
The lights suddenly went dark and a single spotlight shone on the stage. Jerrica forced herself to cheer along with the crowd as Crystalina, in all her glitter and radiance, stepped out and began to sing.
It was a good performance, Jerrica thought. Rio must have been so wrapped up in making sure it went well… She felt a little guilty for having been so annoyed with him. Maybe she should do something nice for him. Once Crystalina had left the stage, Jerrica slipped into the women’s washroom. Empty, conveniently.
Jem strolled down the hall in the backstage area. It was a little quieter now and she could see Cherry Bomb was already packing up their equipment and dragging it into the stairwell that lead to the parking lot. She stopped outside Crystalyna’s door and pointlessly flipped her holographic hair. It looked perfect already, as always. She was about to knock when she heard Crystalina’s gentle laugh from inside. A icy ball of fear formed in Jem’s gut. She softly, silently turned the doorknob, opened it a crack and peered in. Crystalina’s bare back, Rio’s hand unzipping her dress. Jem couldn’t see his face, he was sitting on the couch and Crystalina blocked him from view.
“You were amazing.”
Jem almost fell backwards, she jerked away from the door so fast. She caught herself on a surprised looking roadie, who helped her steady herself. Her legs were shaking and her mind was spinning. She hadn’t just seen that, she hadn’t! Rio… He was her boyfriend! Jem’s b- No, Jerrica’s boyfriend. Not … Not this girl.
“Is that Jem?”
“I thought she wasn’t invited.”
She heard whispers now, from the other bands.
“Is she party-crashing? Seriously?”
“I bet she thinks they’re going to ask her to sing.”
Jem felt sick to her stomach. All around her, she could hear snippits of conversation.
“ She’s jealous I bet.”
“She’s always been such a phony.”
“A total diva.”
“She’s such a disaster.”
She focused on the blazing red exit sign above the door to the stairwell. She had to leave, she had to get out and… Be anywhere but here. Jem plopped down on the cold, concrete stairs, steadying herself. Breathe in, breathe out. She felt like crying… and felt something else.
Incandescently ragingly pissed.
Twelve years, they’d been together! Since high school! She had spent nearly the entirety of her twenties on Rio Pacheco and he was throwing it away for that little silver-haired flash-in-the-pan?! She clenched her fists over and again, wishing desperately for something to destroy, to ruin. A phonebook to rip apart or a leather belt to bite into and scream. She stood up suddenly, on the verge of turning around and telling Mister Rio Pacheco exactly what she thought of him while he tried to make an excuse for why she had found him with that empty-headed pop-wannabe.
Instead of that, she pressed her earring.
“Show’s over, Synergy.” She said through clenched teeth.
Jerrica pushed through the heavy metal side-door that lead to the back parking lot. A single security light shone down from above the door, but it was otherwise dark here, so far from the parking lot lights. Dark and deserted.
A man, tall and thin, dressed in a black suit, was leaning against the brick wall of the building, smoking; the person Jerrica least wanted to see in the world.
He laughed a little. Of course, if anyone would be out here, skulking in the darkness like some kind of murderous creep, it would be Eric fucking Raymond. She glanced sidelong at him.
“Give me a cigarette.” She said, rounding on him.
She stomped up to him and decided to cut out the middleman.
“Uh, what are you doing, exactly?”
What she was doing was reaching into his pockets. She had quickly come up with his lighter at least.
“Give me a fucking cigarette or I’ll kick one of your nuts in, Eric.”
He grunted and tossed her the pack of cigarettes from an inside pocket on his jacket.
“Since when you do smoke?”
Jerrica didn’t answer.
Eric gave her a thin, sharp grin.
“What’s the matter, hm? Upset that you shackled your sisters to a soon-to-be-has-been?”
Jerrica grit her teeth. She felt a new, hot wave of anger building up inside her chest. Eric was slowly circling her now, like a shark.
“What was it that Cool Trash said? ‘More brand than band’, right?”
Jerrica blew a lungful of smoke at him.
“Oh please. Like the Misfits haven’t gotten shitty reviews before.”
They had, of course, but those reviews had never been quite so mean.
“Yeah, difference is I don’t take it personally. You’ve got a stake in this, presumably because you might’ve just ruined your sister’s careers. What, were you too busy with Crystalina to help them overproduce an album properly?”
He was looming over her now, giving her that same smug grin, half his sharp features hidden in shadows. Jerrica couldn’t help herself.
She hauled back and slapped him hard across the face.
Eric reeled and shook his head a little, blinking and clearly dazed.
“Ha… Very matur-”
She shoved him and he took a step back, nearly up against the wall. He looked bewildered, almost laughing.
“I’m sorry are you… trying to beat me up?”
Jerrica stared Eric down, breathing hard, anger burning in her chest. She didn’t know what she was trying to do. She hated Eric. And Rio and Crystalina. And Rio and the Misfits. And Rio. Rio.
“Shut up, Eric.”
She grabbed him by the lapels and barely took the time to register the flash of fear in his eyes before she kissed him. It was a full five seconds before she felt Eric’s hands on her shoulders and he roughly pushed her off and away from him.
“Wh-What?! What the fuck, Jerrica?!”
Jerrica looked Eric dead in the eye and took a deep, steadying breath.
“Can you just … not be a total asshole? For like, a night?”
Eric narrowed his eyes at her,
“What is it that you want from me?”
“I want you to shut up.”
She shoved him up against the wall again, more aggressive this time. Eric winced as his head hit brick and then he fixed her with a glare.
After a few somewhat tense minutes, they broke apart. Eric’s hair was a mess (somehow not much different from the purposeful mess Jerrica knew he took at least 40 minutes to style). Jerrica pulled her dress up a little.
“ Where’s your car? ”
Jerrica was already walking into the parking lot, peering around. Eric stayed put.
“Hey, apparently you’ve forgotten, Benton, but you do not like me. We hate each other.”
“Well, I’ve got a lot of pent-up... something … right now and you…”
Jerrica couldn’t quite think of an end to that sentence.
“Do I get a choice in this?” Eric said, following her a few feet behind.
“Are you saying no?"
He paused, took a breath... and then muttered that he wasn't.
'Damn right.' Jerrica thought to herself. She headed toward his black sports car in a distant corner of the lot.
“Why did you park so far away? Were you expecting to need privacy?”
Eric muttered something about not wanting it to get scratched. Jerrica had already unlocked the car with the keys she’d taken from his back pocket. She’d already climbed into the back seat when Eric caught up to her. He looked utterly lost at sea and she fixed him with an impatient glare.
“You … don’t seem like yourself. This isn’t a goo-”
“ Obviously, it’s not a good idea!” she snapped, cutting him off. “But I’m in the mood to make a really, really terrible mistake. So… Make a decision, Raymond!“
He paused, then followed her into the backseat of the car and shut the door behind him. Jerrica, mid-pulling her stockings off, felt herself being pushed into the back of the seat.
“Eric, what the hell-”
He snapped the glove compartment shut and Jerrica, free of the arm blocking her way, gave him a flat look.
“Haven’t you ever had sex in a car before?”
“I’ve mainly had sex in cars, Benton, I was getting a condom. I don’t know where you’ve been. Just keep working on getting your tights off, I need a minute.”
“I always kind of imagined this would be more frantic, somehow.” Jerrica said, staring up at the roof of the car.
“Mn.” Eric said, distantly.
“Your brain forgets that sex actually takes some preparation and that there’s time to feel regret about what you’re about to do.”
“... So, you … don’t want to do this?”
Jerrica snapped back to reality. Eric was looking lost again, shirt unbuttoned and fly unzipped.
“Wh- No, no, I mean, yes, I want to do this, I just never realized there’d be this much talking for us. I forgot that you’re a talker.”
“I am a talker, yes… Us?”
Jerrica put one foot up against the window and Eric leaned down and kissed her neck.
“What, you and I doing this has never occurred to you?” She said through clenched teeth. She slipped her hands inside his shirt and around his narrow chest, then dug her nails into back.
“Not reA LLY ...” Eric winced and Jerrica loosened her grip, “Was pretty sure you hated me.” He propped himself up on one arm next to Jerrica’s head and moved his other hand between her thighs.
Jerrica made a noise in her throat and wrapped her hands up in Eric’s shirt, loose under his jacket.
“I do hate you.” she said, breathless and without much conviction.
“I had a dream once, does that count?” Eric said next to her ear, “We were on a boat.”
Jerrica breathed hard into the crook of his neck, “Yeah?”
“You turned into a bird when we finished.”
“You’re such a weirdo.” She mumbled, “And you’re on my hair.”
Eric grunted and lifted his arm. Jerrica sat up a little, fingers dug lightly into Eric’s back. He had his fingers in her hair and for the first time, neither of them spoke. Jerrica was sitting up now, breathing fast. She had one hand clenched in a fist behind her and the other wrapped around Eric’s back, nails digging in. She rested her forehead on his shoulder and could feel his pulse pound in his neck.
And then bit down hard on Eric’s shoulder and she felt him flinch.
He made a strangled noise in his throat and after a few seconds, he pulled away, panting.
Jerrica was shivering.
Eric adjusted himself, not meeting her eye and stood up when he began to button his shirt. Jerrica pulled her dress down and fetched her shoes from under the seat and got out of the car. She could see a few spots of red bleeding out through Eric’s white shirt collar.
They both stared at each other.
Jerrica straightened her dress.
Eric opened his mouth to say something, then closed it, walked around to the driver’s side of the car and got in. The engine came to life and the car peeled out of the parking lot, a little faster than necessary. Jerrica put her shoes on and went back inside.
Chapter 4: Sober Up
Jerrica and Eric face a touch of the consequences.
Jerrica was awake long before she opened her eyes. She had been trying to fall back asleep since 5am, when she had woken up, with the vague thought that she’d done something incredibly stupid. And then she remembered, of course, she had.
Jerrica had spent the time unpacking the night before. She still wasn’t sure what she was feeling about it. On one hand, she was sick and angry about Rio and Crystalyna and the thought of them made her chest burn hot in anger. And on the other hand, there’d been the alley and the car and … Eric. And whenever she thought of him , Jerrica thought she would collapse in on herself like a dying star.
She settled for getting up. She could hear Mrs. Bailey and the girls of Starlight House awake, chatting and preparing themselves for the day. She took a deep breath in and sat up.
Jerrica could feel her mascara still caked on on her face and unfortunately see caked on her pillow as well. She tied on her dressing gown and slipped out the door and immediately bumped into Kimber.
“J-Jerrica! Good morning!” said Kimber in a slightly hoarse voice. Jerrica peered at her. Kimber looked nearly as wrecked as Jerrica did. She was squinting at Jerrica and looked faintly woozy and -- Jerrica wrinkled her nose at the smell of stale alcohol.
“Kimber, are you hungover?”
Kimber scoffed and stood up a little straighter,
“ No, I’m … I’m fine! I’m great.” She sniffed, brushed her tangled hair over her shoulder and looked extremely unconvincing to Jerrica.
Jerrica snorted and pushed past her towards the bathroom.
“How was the show last night, Jerrica?”
“Uh- Fine! I - Crystalyna did ….great, she did great. Very… yes.” She felt a little queasy.
Kimber squinted at her, “Are you hungover?”
“No! I just … I need a shower. What, uh, what did you get up to last night? Since, you know, you didn’t … want to come to the show.”
“I wasn’t invited to the show, Jerrica.” Kimber said in a sulky tone, “And … I don’t know. Shana, Raya and Aja saw a movie, I guess?”
“You don’t know where you went?”
“It was just a club, it was late, you know…”
“Which club?” Jerrica raised an eyebrow.
Kimber’s face was turning red, “You don’t know it! It’s not like you go out. Sorry not all of us get to go be Little Miss Executive at fancy galas.”
“Kimber, where is this coming from? I just asked what you did. Are you hiding something?”
Kimber sputtered a series of extremely unconvincing scoffs before turning and stomping back to her room, “No! Leave me alone! I’m hungover!”
She slammed the door behind her and Jerrica boggled for a moment before she retreated into the bathroom, pulling her earrings off as she did.
Jerrica finally started to relax once she was surrounded by the steam from the shower, but she kept rolling things over in her mind. Rio… Was she sure about what she saw? Had she been mistaken, had it been entirely innocent? She barely saw anything, the door was only open a crack and she’d jumped back so quickly. And if she’d just misinterpreted it, then what she’d done had been so much worse.
But was it better even if she had been right? Jerrica started to feel sick again. Rio had always been interested in Jem, but Jem had been the one to approach him, hadn’t she?
Jerrica had wanted his attention and his affection, even when she wasn’t really herself, but Rio hadn’t known that. And he’d mostly kept professional when any of her sisters had been around… And even if it had been infrequent, Rio was more than happy to sleep with Jem on the occasions it presented itself.
Jerrica scrubbed her arms hard with a frilly pink loofah. Fair was fair, wasn’t it? If he got to go off and screw whatever glittery pop starlet, then she got to find whatever soulless, chisel-jawed shark-in-a-suit was available. And luckily for her, the most convenient one was the one she knew would make Rio shit if he’d known.
It had still been a bad decision, she thought to herself, but at least … an enjoyable bad decision. Very enjoyable. Even now, in the cold light of morning, facing reality and filled with regret, she knew she’d definitely had a good time.
Maybe a little too good a time.
She remembered a distinct metallic tang in her mouth and was almost sure she’d bitten him in the heat of the moment.
She didn’t regret that , at least. Eric seemed like a man who needed to have somebody take a bite out of him now and then, just to keep the fear of God.
Jerrica stepped out the shower, wrapping her hair up in a towel. She stared at herself in the mirror, nude.
She picked up the earrings. “Showtime, Synergy.”, she said, quietly. And then Jem took Jerrica’s place in the mirror.
She turned to the side and examined herself, adjusted her hair, squared her shoulders and looked utterly miserable. Jem vanished and Jerrica shook her head.
‘ No point in wishing you really were an unobtainable fiction .’
Jerrica played with the earring backs, chewing her lip. Did Rio prefer Jem to Jerrica? Should she have just clubbed him over the head the first time he’d kissed Jem back?
She wondered vaguely what would have happened if Jem had tried to drag Eric out to the parking lot and could only imagine him laughing in her face, then going inside to tell the Misfits.
Jerrica began to get dressed. Her thoughts drifted to Kimber. She’d been so cagey lately and Jerrica couldn’t pin down why. Secret band? Secret boyfriend? Was she just upset over the bad reviews of Midnight Romance . She wished she could have talked to Kimber, told her everything, but she couldn’t bring herself to. Shana and Aja weren’t better options either, they’d be so disappointed in her, wouldn’t they?
This was too much to handle today.
Maybe she’d call Raya.
“Where the fuck were you?!” Pizzazz demanded.
Eric stared back at her, bleary eyed, obviously not entirely awake and trying to piece together why she had camped outside his condo’s lobby for him to come out.
Pizzazz rarely saw Eric outside of a suit, or at the very least a button-up shirt, always clean-shaven, groomed and overly-professional. She was never exactly sure how to deal with him when he was just in a t-shirt and jeans, unshowered and so obviously human instead of the corporate robot the Misfits were used to.
“Sunday’s my day off, Pizzazz.” He said and sidestepped her, heading for the door. Pizzazz followed him.
“What happened to your shoulder?” Pizzazz asked and jabbed the exposed white hospital bandage by his neck hard with one long, sharp fingernail. Eric yelped and jerked away from her.
’That woke him up.’ Pizzazz thought to herself, satisfied that she’d made him pay for brushing her off.
“I cut myself.” He said, rubbing the bandage and still wincing.
“On your shoulder? How?”
“Pizzazz, why are you bothering me so goddamn early in the morning?” Eric said, turning to face her as they came to the coffee shop on the corner.
“It’s noon. ”
“On a Sunday. Any other morning, I’d be delighted to provide anything your... sweet little heart desires, including answers as to my whereabouts at any given time or whatever mysterious injuries I’ve accrued,” Eric said through gritted teeth and an obviously fake smile, “but it’s Sunday, the one day per week where I don’t have to do literally anything for you. See you Monday.”
His smile dropped and he pushed his way into the coffee shop. Pizzazz bit back a shriek and followed him.
She dropped into a seat across from him, waved and gave a flashy smile to a teen girl taking a photo and then turned back.
“Well, you owe us a few hours at least, if you’re gonna take off from work so early on Saturday night.”
“Mm, why don’t you go work out an exact timetable for exactly how much time I owe the four of you and then get back to me later.”
“I’m making an executive decision, dickhead, overtime starts now.”
Pizzazz grabbed his coffee and took a sip. Then immediately pulled a face and spat it back into the cup.
“Eugh, black coffee, what’s wrong with you? You don’t even put milk in this crap?”
Eric dumped the full coffee into the garbage.
“What do you want, Pizzazz?”
Pizzazz crossed her arms and huffed.
“I’m tired of all of you just taking off on me. You left early, I couldn’t find Stormer or Roxy or Jetta. I had to spend all night with Clash. Clash, Eric.”
“Oh, I’m sure you two worked out a way to pass the time.”
Pizzazz grinned toothily, “Well, yeah, but that’s not the point.”
Eric sighed. He looked very tired. For a moment, Pizzazz felt a little guilty over spitting in his coffee.
“We’re allowed to have lives outside of you, Pizzazz.”
She stopped feeling guilty.
“Well, it’s unprofessional as shit to just fuck off during a concert.”
“You guys had already played, your show was over and I wasn’t about to stick around for a silent auction so I could bid on a Home-Cooked-Meal with Ben Folds.”
“It wasn’t Ben Folds, it was Andrew McMahon.”
“You abandoned me.”
“Pizzazz, isn’t it pretty early in the day for this conversation to be happening?”
Pizzazz stared him down, still as a statue, eyes blazing. Eric looked back, impassive.
“Where were you?” She repeated.
Eric buried his face in his hands.
“Okay… I was with someone.”
“Jerrica Benton. In the back of my car.” Eric said with a sarcastic sneer.
“Fine, don't tell me, whatever, I don't care.” Pizzazz said, crossing her arms and pouting.
Eric pressed the heel of his hand into his eye and rubbed his forehead.
“I have to get going, Pizzazz, I have plans.”
“Yeah right, the dog park isn't plans.”
Eric stood, “Its plans for the dog and she can't take herself. Tomorrow, I promise, you can yell at me as much as you want until I have to deal with the Stingers in the afternoon.”
Pizzazz leaned back in the cafe chair. “Fine. I'm gonna yell at you and you're gonna hate it.”
Pizzazz sat up suddenly, “The Stingers… Wait, were you with Minx?!”
“See you tomorrow.”
Eric vanished out the door, leaving Pizzazz alone in the busy cafe.