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Outrageous New Talent

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Clear skies, puffy clouds, and blazing sunshine without humidity made the perfect recipe for a pool party. Though the notion of tanning held appeal, Jerrica Benton sat in her home office, bent over contracts, in an effort to memorize the fine print. Having an office at Starlight House helped her juggle work obligations during off hours, but today the temptation of abandoning her responsibilities for some fun quickly became too distracting. The foster girls played music, splashed in the Olympic sized pool, and laughed to the point Jerrica’s concentration scattered.

Blowing a frustrated breath, she walked to the window to observe the party going on in the distance. Annoyance itched under her skin, making her wonder why the sight of others having fun made her feel so…awful. As the eldest sibling, Jerrica was used to bearing the burden of responsibility. After her father, Emmett, died, she took over the business of Starlight Music, the financials for the charity Starlight House, as well as the family’s personal accounts, while making her band Jem and the Holograms a household name in the industry. Accomplishing so much at such a young age was something to be proud of, but Jerrica felt the pressure weighing her down these days.

Logically, she should hire more lawyers to handle the contracts, but she wanted to be as hands-on as possible. Her father left most of the business decisions to others once the label became successful and his partner, Eric Raymond, took advantage. Not that she blamed her father, really. He distanced himself from work to raise her and Kimber when their mother died in a plane crash. Jerrica triumphed over Eric once, but learned a valuable lesson about not letting her guard down so others could steal from her, or her family. All her hard work paid off, but while Jem and the Holograms gained fame and fortune, Eric discovered The Misfits, who became Jem’s main competition.

On a good day, the other band’s music vied for the top spot on the charts, but more often than not, The Misfits used subterfuge to push Jem out of the limelight to gain exposure and accept credit for the hard work of others. Pizzazz, their lead singer, and her cohorts weren’t beneath sabotaging equipment, bribery, or blackmail to get moments on stage or exposure in the media. Publicity was an important ingredient in selling albums and singles, and they knew exactly how to cheat the system. Jerrica preferred taking the high road, and thankfully, Jem, Kimber, Shana, and Aja earned solid reputations as professionals and won more awards. Their sales were slightly better, but not by a huge margin. As much as Jerrica hated to admit it, Pizzazz, Roxy, Stormer, and new band mate Jetta had talent.

Returning home from a sold out tour, Jem decided to take a break and focus on building up the business. Starlight Music promoted the other band on the label, The Stingers, which garnered income, but Jerrica wanted a few more artists to build the label back up to be as successful as it was during its zenith under her father’s control. Jerrica would seek new talent, while the other girls, Aja, Kimber, and Shana, too their time working on new music and other pursuits. Rumor had it, Pizzazz and co. were poised to release a new record, but Jerrica wasn’t worried. There was enough potential success out there for them all. Nevertheless, Jerrica knew when Jem and the girls did release their next record; their competition, namely Pizzazz, wouldn’t let them do so without a ton of drama.

Turning away from the sight of teenage girls laughing and enjoying the fine weather, Jerrica suppressed her jealous resentment and reclaimed her seat behind her desk to focus on the distribution deals for the next album. Making sure the details were in order, she signed on the dotted line, but not before a headache took root in her skull. Reaching for the bottle of aspirin in her desk drawer, a knock sounded.

“Jerrica?”

Head snapping up to see her little sister Kimber peak around the door, Jerrica motioned for her to enter. “Hey, Kimber,” she greeted.

“You busy?’

Jerrica shrugged with a nonchalance she didn’t fully feel, but venting to her younger sibling would only make Kimber worry, which wasn’t fair. “Just going over some paperwork.”

Sitting in front of Jerrica’s desk, Kimber crossed her legs and leaned back. “You’re good at that stuff.”

“Usually,” she sighed.

“What’s wrong,” Kimber asked, noticing her sister’s fatigue.

“Just a headache.” Waving off Kimber’s concern, Jerrica forced a smile. “It’ll pass.”

“Maybe you should take a break.”

Tempted, Jerrica grasped her willpower and shook her head. “It’s better to get the business end of things tied before the new album release so there aren’t any delays.”

“Makes sense,” Kimber said. “Then again, you’re the family genius.”

Jerrica snorted a laugh. She may have graduated at the top of her class at Harvard, but before she could think about her next move, her father passed unexpectedly, thrusting her into this life. Of course, she shouldn’t complain because she loved singing and performing and as Jem, Jerrica could embrace that side of her personality.

“Seriously,” Kimber pressed. “How many graduate college at nineteen, then go on to become the brains and voice of the biggest band and label in the world?”

Smiling, Jerrica’s spirits lifted under her sibling’s praises. “Though Jem and the Holograms are known worldwide, Starlight Music could be more of a contender.”

“Is that why you’re locked in here missing the fine weather?”

“Speaking of school,” Jerrica said, glossing over Kimber’s question. “Have you applied to colleges yet?”

Smile fading, Kimber shifted in her chair, avoiding her sister’s gaze.

“I’ll take that as a ‘no’,” Jerrica sighed.

Shrugging, Kimber threw up her hands. “You’re being unfair! I just haven’t made up my mind yet.”

“It is your decision, and I don’t want to lecture you, but having an education is important. We might not always have a music career, so having a backup plan is wise.”

“Jerrica,” Kimber whined. “If I go away to college, then who will write songs for the Holograms?”

“We can all pitch in,” she answered. “Besides, we don’t have to release a new album this year. Shana wants to spend more time working in fashion and Aja could use downtime with Craig.”

Kimber’s frown deepened. “What are you saying?”

Head throbbing, Jerrica pinched the bridge of her nose. “My words aren’t coming out right.”

“Look, we’re more popular than ever! Coming off our tour, we should be back in the studio! I may only be seventeen, but I know what I want and it’s a career in music!”

“I don’t want you to have regrets.”

Knowing her big sister wasn’t backing down, Kimber heaved a sigh. “Ok, I’ll think about applying to schools.”

“Thank you.”

Figuring she should quit while ahead, Kimber headed out to the party. In her sister’s wake, Jerrica still couldn’t concentrate. Though she chose college and an education, she couldn’t force the same on Kimber. Since Jerrica’s current path seemed etched in stone, she simply wanted one member of the Benton family to have more options. Not that she wasn’t grateful for her blessings. Jerrica loved singing, songwriting, and performing, but fame wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. The media constantly hounded her, always wanting scoops about her personal life and digging for details of her background. Jem’s true identity remained a safely guarded secret, but Jerrica feared exposure. Living a double life was exhausting on a good day, but absolutely necessary if she wanted to keep devils like Eric Raymond from stealing the hologram technology.

Waiting for the aspirin to kick in, she looked over the books to both Starlight Music and Starlight House. With the Holograms taking a breather, and no new artists yet signed to the label, only sales from The Stingers generated solid income. She needed to find a fresh face and fast.

Finishing the books and putting them away in the locked drawer, Jerrica left her office intending to take a nap, but ran into Mrs. Bailey. The housekeeper gave her an update on the girls and a list of household items they needed. Giving the woman permission to use the house funds, Jerrica grabbed her sunglasses before heading out the back door.

Aja and Raya played a game of marco-polo with the foster girls, while everyone else were scattered around the back yard. Some played volleyball with Anne, Rio, and Howard Sands, while others tanned with Shana.

“Jerrica,” Aja waved. “Come on in! The water’s fabulous!”

“I don’t have a suit, but thanks,” she called back.

“Go get one,” Aja challenged.

“Or come play volleyball,” Rio shouted from the lawn.

Mood lightening, Jerrica walked over to the game and greeted everyone. Rio pulled Jerrica into a hug, which made her laugh and nearly forget her headache. Even with Rio sweating through his shirt, he was still the handsomest man she ever set eyes on. Content to watch him play, Jerrica knew Rio showed off a bit for her benefit, but had to admit she enjoyed it. After spending so much time as Jem, she liked Rio wanting to impress Jerrica.

One moment, Rio was the perfect, loyal, devoted boyfriend who said all the right things and made Jerrica’s heart flutter. He committed to her and the Starlight girls, which had Jerrica thinking of the future. The next second, Rio would flirt with Jem and sometime even kiss her. In the back of her mind, Jerrica swore he wasn’t cheating because she was Jem and that his actions didn’t matter. Rio worked hard as their sound engineer and helped manage the band, so it was perfectly natural for him to interact with her alter ego. For the sake of good business, Jem and Rio should get along.

Worse, Jerrica thought Rio’s infatuation with Jem was her fault because she worked too hard and wasn’t there for him enough as Jerrica, but couldn’t help but feel gravitated toward him as Jem because she missed spending time with him. There was a lot on her plate for a twenty-year-old but Jerrica felt she didn’t have any choice.

Roused from her confusing thoughts by shouts from the volleyball field, Jerrica saw Rio running toward her.

“Hey,” he said out of breath. “Want to go out for dinner tonight? It’s been a while since we spent time alone together.”

“I know,” Jerrica sighed. “I’m sorry, Rio, but I have to go over the distribution deal for the next record.”

“Surely that will keep for one night,” he urged. “Let one of the lawyers handle it. You pay them enough.”

“I could, but you know I like to look things over with my own eyes.”

“You hired people with good instincts, Jerrica,” he reminded. “They’re loyal, so what’s the problem?”

“Give me an hour, ok? I’ll finished with the paperwork and meet you.”

A smile spread across his handsome face. “Sounds good. Give me time to shower,” he joked. Raking a hand though his dark purple hair, he gave her a wink.

Pressing a kiss to his cheek, Jerrica whispered in his ear. “You’re a prince.”

“Don’t forget it,” he teased before running back to the field.

Heading back inside, she settled once more in her office to go over the details. With the paperwork out of the way, she went to her room to find something to wear for her date. Did she need something fancy or casual? Searching her closet, Jerrica sighed wondering if she should find Rio and ask where they were going. Remembering he was in the shower, she continued her search and found a yellow sundress that would do for either occasion. Dressing quickly, Jerrica combed her hair and found a matching necklace and shoes.

Hearing a knock on her door, Jerrica rushed to answer. Her smile faded a bit seeing Shana instead of her boyfriend.

“I need to talk to you.”

“Ok.” Blinking in surprise, Jerrica stood back and allowed Shana access to her room. Closing the door behind her friend, she patiently waited for Shana to explain what was wrong.

Nervously pacing the length of the room, Shana kept shaking her head.

“What is it,” Jerrica asked.

“I don’t know,” she confessed.

“You know you can talk to me – about anything.”

“You’re a good friend Jerrica, which is why I came here.” Shana continued pacing, but then turned to look her friend in the eye. “I think he’s going to propose.”

Blinking, Jerrica’s eyes widened. “Anthony is going to propose?! That’s wonderful news!”

Laughing humorlessly, Shana wrapped her arms around her middle and tried not to cry. “But what about the Holograms? What about my dreams? I don’t think I’m ready!”

“Shana, you can’t worry about the band. Do what is best for you and your relationship. You don’t have to quit the band just because you walk down the aisle.”

“I’m not sure Anthony will feel that way. He wants a wife to take care of him and host Hollywood dinner parties.”

Frowning, Jerrica couldn’t conceal her confusion. “But he fell in love with the woman you are now. Why would he want you to change?”

Shana shrugged. “Because marriage changes things.”

Sensing her friend’s anxiety, Jerrica put a gentle hand on her arm. “Shana, I can’t tell you what to do. You should always follow your heart, and talking to Anthony about your expectations may be a good idea.”

Sighing, Shana wished she had as much confidence. “Ever since I was a little girl, I’ve always wanted to get married and have a family, but then I found music, became a part of this band, and found a life I never dreamed could exist. I don’t want to give up music, and I want to follow my dream of being a fashion designer as well. Can I still be a wife and all those things?”

“Yes,” Jerrica smiled. “You can be whatever you choose. You may have to balance a lot, but it’s not impossible.”

“Thanks, Jerrica,” she said sincerely, squeezing her friend’s hand.

Hugging, the friends parted and Jerrica’s eyes drifted to the clock. Gasping, she grabbed her purse and rushed out the door. Thankfully she got Rio’s call and was only a few minutes late meeting him at the restaurant. Already seated, Rio stood and embraced Jerrica before pulling out her chair.

“Sorry I’m late,” she said as she scooted in. “Shana needed to talk.”

“You need a vacation, Jerrica,” Rio lectured as he sat across from her. “I’m serious.”

“But Starlight Music and Jem’s schedule-”

“Jem can handle herself,” Rio insisted. “I want to spend time with my girlfriend. We both know we need this.”

“I want to spend time with you, too.”

“Then let’s plan it,” he said. “We can take a romantic trip to Paris or London.”

Jerrica’s smile widened. “That does sound wonderful.”

“Then what are we waiting for?”

Pushing aside her doubts, Jerrica reached for his hands and changed the topic. Feeling his fingers squeeze hers, she felt they were in a good place. Rio was the best thing to ever happen to her, so why did she hesitate?

With the Holograms on hiatus, she and Rio could spend more time together and solidify their relationship. Jerrica wanted Kimber to go to college and Shana to be happy. Aja and Craig could now have time to be together. Maybe spending time apart would give them all a much needed rest and help them recoup their energy, so when they did go back into the studio, they had fresh ideas.

The rest of the meal went smoothly and when they left, Rio wrapped an arm around her shoulders and walked her back to her car. They shared a passionate kiss she didn’t want to end.

“I’ll see you back at the mansion?”

Jerrica beamed at him. “Ok.”

On the drive home, Jerrica’s mind shifted back to business. With Starlight Music’s main act on hiatus, they needed new talent to generate income. Currently The Stingers sales were solid, but she would need to find more talent ASAP.

****

Pizzazz and Roxy argued over notes and production tactics while Stormer handled the actual songwriting. By the looks of things, The Misfits weren’t going to be able to finish this new album until hell froze over. Stormer, always the peacekeeper, hoped the process would be different this time around, but Pizzazz’s diva demands blocked the creative process. Her lyrics always had to be incorporated into Stormer’s melodies, but in addition, she always bossed them around in every aspect of the running the band.

Eric Raymond said this would be their biggest record yet – if they could finish it. The best news seemed to be that their rivals, Jem and the Holograms were taking a break and they wouldn’t be putting out an album anytime soon. Without the competition, The Misfits actually stood a chance of being the headliners for a change.

Stormer didn’t have a grudge against the other band. In fact, she liked Aja, who currently dated her brother, and she and Kimber made a record together not long ago. Pizazz on the other hand, couldn’t stand Jem and was always on the war path to prove herself the better musician. Unfortunately, no one wanted to listen to Stormer’s compromises. Even with the road clear for them to make a splash, The Misfits had to get along long enough to get the songs recorded. Letting out a long breath, Stormer glanced at the clock and let out a long groan. The battle would be uphill, but she knew it would pay off…eventually.

Chapter Text

Unable to sleep, Jerrica entered her office first thing in the morning with dark circles under her eyes, but hardly caring. Thus far, the clam waters indicated the status quo remained intact, but she couldn’t predict what changes new talent could bring to the dynamic. Still, acting fast would be better for all involved.

Looking up local club schedules, she made plans to scout the area and get to know the underground trends hoping to get a fix on the latest buzz. Making notes, Jerrica shifted her attention to business paperwork. Several hours later, she drove back to Starlight House. As usual, the moment she walked through the door, chaos seemed alive and well judging by the sounds of fighting and banging coming from the floors above. Heading upstairs, she went straight to the girls’ bedroom, broke up the dispute over who owned what dress, dished out punishments, and made sure the girls went on their way before heading to the medicine cabinet for a couple of aspirin. Next, Jerrica stood in front of her closet wondering what she should wear tonight. A professional, yet trendy look would be best, but she didn’t seem to have a single item of clothing that would suffice. Heaving a sigh, she went to consult Shana, but collided with Kimber in the hall.

“Whoa!”

“Sorry,” Jerrica apologized. “Are you ok?”

“Yeah, no harm done. Where are you going in such a hurry?”

“I’m looking for Shana. Have you seen her?”

“I think she’s out with Anthony. Why?”

“No reason,” Jerrica deflected. Ignoring Kimber’s confusion, she raked a hand through her hair trying to think of her next move.

“Why do you need Shana?”

“Fashion advice,” Jerrica finally admitted. “I’m going scouting tonight.”

“Scouting?” Kimber scrunched her face. “As in for a new artist to sign to the label?”

“Starlight Music needs more artists on the roaster if we hope to function as a real business and stay afloat.”

“What about the Holograms,” Kimber pressed. “Our album will go platinum!”

“Kimber-”

“We can cut another record in no time! Our popularity is getting bigger and bigger.”

“But we are only human and we all need a break,” her big sister argued.

“Maybe you do, but I’m on a roll with my song writing.” Folding her arms across her chest, Kimber refused to budge.

Not needing another argument on her hands, Jerrica grew stern. “I don’t have time to debate with you, Kimber, ok? I need to take care of the business end of things, not to mention Shana and Aja want to focus on their relationships. The Holograms will have another record soon, but in the meantime, I need to think of the label.”

“But Jerrica!”

Watching her sister walk away, Kimber stomped her foot. There was a lot going on for them, but who could Jerrica possibly find to top their band? The sales from The Stinger’s CD helped end most of their financial trouble, so one more hit record from The Holograms should put them on solid footing. A Jem and the Holograms tour would yield huge profits, but Jerrica wanted to take a chance on someone new? Shaking her head, Kimber wished her sister had more common sense.

****

Rehearsals went well and the recording sessions were booked. Pizzazz felt the excitement hum in her veins as she went over the top twenty songs in an effort to pick the best twelve for the album. Each song had to be a hit. This collection had to be perfect because Pizzazz wouldn’t tolerate any less.

Though she would never admit it, Stormer’s lyrics and Jetta’s melodies were the best yet. In her gut, Pizzazz knew this would be the best album of their careers. She could see all the awards in her mind’s eye lining the shelves in her house.

Maybe once she was a popular hit, Riot would finally notice her. From the first moment she set eyes on him, Pizzazz knew he was the one. Riot wasn’t just gorgeous; he was crazy talented and just…flawless. Yet, no matter what she did, no matter how many times she tried getting his attention, Riot kept pursuing Jem. The only reason Pizzazz wasn’t out for blood was because Jem rejected Riot at every turn. The pink-haired bombshell only had eyes for her stupid roady, who was dating Jerrica, which seemed like such a big joke when she thought about it. Of course, his commitment to Jerrica didn’t stop the purple-haired jerk from flirting with Jem.

Honestly, Pizzazz had no idea why Jerrica was such a doormat, but she didn’t really care. One day, maybe the bimbo will get her head out of her paperwork and get a clue. Then again, what did she really care? Pizzazz’s main focus needed to be on making the best record she could and getting Riot’s attention. Most of her days were spent laying down vocal tracks. When they took a break, Pizzazz didn’t expect to see Eric in the studio.

“What are you doing here,” she asked rudely.

“Checking on progress,” Eric said. “These songs are your best yet.”

Pizzazz smiled despite her irritable mood. “I know.”

“And with Jem and the Holograms on hiatus, your album won’t have any completion.”

“What about The Stringers,” Roxy asked as she emerged from the booth. Overhearing the general conversation, she butted her nose.

“They’re spending the rest of the year touring,” Eric answered with a huge smirk. “This is the opening we’ve been waiting for.”

Jetta and Stormer emerged next, and hearing their manager’s words, exchanged looks. Jetta jutted her hips, giving Eric a long stare. “How soon can you get the album out to the masses, love?”

“How soon can you finish?”

“We only have a few parts left to mix,” Roxy supplied.

“Wait,” Stormer cut in. “We shouldn’t rush things. Let’s take the time to do it right. The songs will sound better if we do.”

“Oye, what do you know,” Jetta barked.

“Hey-”

“I agree with Stormer,” Pizzazz stated. Everyone’s eyes widened as if their lead singer grew a second head.

“What,” Jetta demanded.

“Our songs are the best of our career,” Pizzazz snapped at the Brit. “We’re going to do them justice. This isn’t going to be a rushed project we’ll regret down the line. We’re going to make an
imprint on the world and not screw it up!”

And since Pizzazz declared it, so it would be. For his part, Eric was impressed. Perhaps Pizzazz was finally growing up and maturing. Then again, he wasn’t going to jump to any radicle conclusions. Only time will tell.

****

Riot couldn’t stop pacing the length of the room. Nothing was going as planned. Sure, the tour was sold-out with rave reviews, and the album sales stayed solid, but Riot wasn’t satisfied. Something was missing.

“Sit down, Riot,” Rapture snapped from the lounge. “You’re making me dizzy.”

Ignoring her, he continued his back and forth to pinpoint the source of his unease.

Looking up from her pad of paper, Minx frowned. Lately, Riot didn’t act like himself. All the money and fame came as a nice change of pace for them, especially after all those years doing the club gigs in Berlin. Rapture lived every day to the fullest, however the more money they made, the more dissatisfied Riot seemed. For her part, Minx preferred to focus on writing songs for the next album. After this tour, they had to think of the long-term and have great songs to take into the studio.

“Please tell me this mood swing isn’t about Jem,” Rapture grumbled.

Riot stopped dead in his tracks to glare at his bandmate. “What?”

Meeting his eyes, Rapture didn’t cringe. “You heard me. All you care about is finding a way to win her over! Let it go! She’s not that pretty anyway! Besides, you’ll get over her the second the next pretty face crosses your path.”

Gritting his teeth, Riot barely managed to hold his temper. “Be careful,” he warned.

“Why should I,” she dared.

Riot’s unflinching gaze met hers. “Because you can be replaced.”

Huffing, Rapture got to her feet. “You know you’ll never find a guitarist as good as me.”

“Oh, I don’t know,” he shrugged. “The Misfits are talented girls.”

“Please,” she scoffed. “They always came in second to the Holograms. Now they’re third compared to us!”

“Yet, rumor has it; their next album is going to be a huge hit.”

Rolling her eyes, Rapture would believe the buzz if it came to fruition. “That could just be Eric Raymond stirring the pot.”

Riot sighed. “Perhaps, but so we want to take that chance? Our next album has to be a masterpiece.” Turning to Minx, he gave her an expectant look. “How are the songs coming?”

“Along,” she said. Touring was taking up most of their time, so writing was slow, but undoubtedly Riot would add his input and get the ball rolling.

“Keep at it,” he ordered. “For now, we need to make sure each show is better than the one before.”

Turning on his heel, Riot marched into the bedroom and closed the door. Minx and Rapture exchanged looks.

“What’s his problem,” Rapture demanded.

“He’s thinking of a long career,” Minx shrugged.

“Bah! Even if we disappear tomorrow, we have enough money to live full lives.”

“That’s not the point,” she argued. “If it was, then you would have stopped your little cons the moment we made our first million. It’s the music, Rapture. The music.” Tired of Rapture’s nasty attitude, Minx retreated to her own room.

****

Finding Shana, Kimber wasn’t sure how to begin, but knew she better think fast.

“Hey Kimber,” Shana greeted noticing her presence. “What’s up?”

“If I asked you a question, would you be honest?”

Smile faltering a bit, Shana raised a brow. “I’ll try. What’s the question?”

“How could you feel if the Holograms came back from hiatus earlier than planned?”

Blinking, she wasn’t sure how to answer. “It would depend on a lot of factors,” Shana started.

Kimber sighed. “Jerrica says I should go to college.”

“Sounds logical.”

“But why,” Kimber whined. “I have a job with the Holograms!”

“Being a member of a band may not be a full career, Kimber,” Shana said gently. “The Holograms have been very lucky to find success, but in a few years, who knows what will happen.”

“But Jerrica-”

“Struggled to keep Starlight Music above water practically on her own. She had to learn as she went and there wasn’t time for her to find her own path since becoming Jem, so as a result she wants more for you.”

“And you wouldn’t mind a break from the band so I can do to school?”

Shana sighed. “Honest truth?”

“Kimber nodded. “Yeah.”

“I could use time to develop my fashion career. Aja and Craig want time together, and will probably visit Europe, while Raya spends some time with her family.”

“So, you want me to leave?”

“Kimber,” Shana said gently. “We could all use a break. The past few years have been a whirlwind. Sometimes taking a breather is a good thing.”

“But college lasts four years!”

“It’s not the end of the world,” Shana pointed out. “The Holograms will find a way to work around breaks if, and when, we need to.”

So that was her advice? Kimber felt like her friends were forcing her out and making her attend a lacking learning institution because everyone else did the same at her age. Unable to resist, Kimber asked Aja and Raya for their opinions as well, but they all said pretty much the same thing. What was the world coming to?

Heading to her room, Kimber sat down at her desk and sorted through the college acceptance letters. She only applied because of Jerrica’s nagging, but getting into some of the top schools in the country didn’t make her feel any different. Music was her passion in life, so how could she fulfill that need?

****

“You look like you could use a break.”

Surprised, Jerrica blinked at the bartender. “Ok, I’m fine.”

“Then why do you look like the last few days have taken you for a ride?”

Barely making out the words above the thumping base, Jerrica couldn’t summon the energy to be offended. She spent a week scoping out the hottest clubs and open-mic nights in hopes of finding the next big singer, but struck out every night in a row. Sure, she didn’t expect instant results, but hoped for an inkling of what she envisioned for Starlight Music. Giving the bartender a shrug, Jerrica sipped her margarita. “Things will look up soon.”

The guy chuckled. “If you’re here to see Pisces, then yeah. You’ll be impressed.”

With a final wink, the bartender moved off to new customers, leaving Jerrica to wonder about this Pisces person. Reading the poster in the corner, seeing the face of a young, pale girl with full lips and sea-foam green hair, Jerrica agreed she looked beautiful enough, but did she possess the accompanying talent to be Starlight Music material? As the lights dimmed and Jerrica turned to face the stage, her heart fluttered with anticipation.

At first, the music started out slow, then jumped to an exciting beat as Pisces belted out high notes in an extraordinarily gorgeous soprano that put Jem’s talent to shame. Her energy was engrossing, her waist length hair swinging as she belted out her self-written songs to the energetic crowd. For a few numbers, she sat at the piano, signing ballads like an angel. Pisces possessed talent and style that wowed her fans and turned the club on its head. By the end of the set, Jerrica knew three things: Pisces would be a big star, be offered a contract at Starlight Music, and her voice would rival Jem's in recognition power.

Meeting the girl backstage, Jerrica’s nerves kicked into overdrive; a first for her in a long time. Shy and polite, Pisces knew about the industry and could hold her own during negotiations. They made an appointment to talk business at the Starlight offices tomorrow afternoon.

Leaving the club feeling optimistic, Jerrica blasted the radio all the way home. Fatigue plagued her, but her mind wouldn’t settle. No sooner did she head up to her room and kick off her shoes, she heard a knock at the door. Answering the summons, she couldn’t conceal her surprise.

“Rio? What are you doing here?”

“The fridge needed a part,” he explained. “One of the girls told me you were out and I decided to wait until you got back to say hello.”

“That was nice of you,” Jerrica managed while deflecting a yawn.

“You know I worry,” he said gently.

“I can handle myself.” The truth of the statement wasn’t lost on either of them since Jerrica proved her abilities on more than one occasion.

“I know,” Rio smiled. “I wanted to see you.”

“That’s sweet.”

When Jerrica didn’t elaborate, he sighed. “But?”

“But,” she started. “I have a big day at the office tomorrow.”

“It is getting late.” Rio’s smile deepened, a flirtatious gleam flickering in his eyes. Pulling Jerrica close for a kiss, he made damn sure her head spun from the contact. Coming up for air and resting his forehead against hers, he hesitated to release her body. Goodness knows how much he loved this woman and leaving her for his cold bed proved difficult.

“I’ll see you tomorrow?”

Still in a haze from the electric kiss, Jerrica nodded. “I’m counting on it.”

Watching Rio walk down the hall, Jerrica’s heart swelled with hope. That man made her lose all logic, so maybe she should put more faith in their relationship?

Sighing happily, she went to wash her face and change. Slipping into bed, Jerrica couldn’t stop thinking about Rio and their possible future. She loved him so much and always pictured them getting married and having babies. However, if she wanted to build a life with Rio, she needed to come clean about her identity, or Jem needed to permanently retire.

Thought the Holograms were on hiatus, Jerrica knew Jem couldn’t fully disappear. There were awards shows and other appearance she needed to attend just to stay relevant. Telling Rio would be the right decision, but Jerrica lacked the courage. He may not fully understand why she felt the need to keep her identity – and Synergy - a secret. On top of everything, there was another factor nagging the back of her mind. Something she didn’t want to admit, but knew she couldn’t ignore. The fact that Rio flirted and occasionally kissed Jem.

If Rio loved her so much, why seek Jem? At first, Jerrica thought Rio merely being friendly, but over time, it became evident Rio was very attracted to Jem. He laughed at her jokes and went out of his way to help, or even rescue, her alter ego. Not that he didn’t do the same for Jerrica, but what else was she supposed to think?

Perhaps she didn’t want to know the truth, which was her reason for burying her head in her work. In fact, Jerrica started wondering if she scarified the best years of her life making sure Starlight Music stayed in the black. Tossing and turning, Jerrica couldn’t sleep. By the time she managed to fall into slumber, the alarm went off. Groaning, she threw back the covers and forced her body to rise and face the day. Duty called.

Chapter Text

The mixing went well. Soon, the album would be finished. Next, The Misfits would finally be the band to watch. They would rule the charts and have all the bragging rights they craved.

Personally, Stormer was eager to hear what others thought of the songs because her bandmates were biased. Sure, sales and chart positions were important, but Stormer wanted to have the approval of the critics. Common sense said she couldn’t please everyone but she wanted to hear more positive reviews rather than negative.

The album would be finished within the week and then sent to the printers. While the album was being pressed they had photoshoots and interviews scheduled. Things were coming together quickly.

“Hey! Stormer!”

Jetta’s fingers snapped in front of her face, causing Stormer to come out of her daze. “Hey,” she shouted back. “Knock it off, Jetta!”

“Then pay attention! We need to get this last track right!”

“I think it sounds fine the way it is,” Roxy grumbled.

“That’s because you have no sense,” Jetta said with a roll of her eyes.

“Quit it!” Pizzazz ordered before signaling to Stormer for a private word. When they were out of the studio, Pizzazz pushed Stormer into the lavatory and locked the door behind them.

“I want to know what you think about the tracks.”

Eyes widening, Stormer couldn’t believe Pizzazz cared so much about her opinion. “Me? Really?”

Tapping her foot impatiently, Pizzazz didn’t have time for her friend’s insecurities. “Well, don’t look so shocked.”

Unsure of Pizzazz’s sincerity, Stormer hesitated. When the tapping grew louder, she cleared her throat and told her friend the truth. She honestly explained which tracks could use more work, which were good as is, and which could use some reduced programming.

Once finished, Stormer braced for the waves of anger, but surprisingly, Pizzazz didn’t lose her temper. Instead, she nodded and left the bathroom without another word. Sighing in relief, Stormer followed.

Back in the studio, their leader gave the orders and the rest of The Misfits obeyed. Pizzazz refused to back down when it came to the integrity of their art and poured her heart and soul into the additional vocal work. Pizzazz demanded a lot, but she demanded even more of herself.

By the time they finished for the day, Pizzazz was the last one to leave the studio. Getting into her car, she headed home refusing to dwell on her deep-seeded loneliness. Growing up as Mr. Gabor’s daughter, she had everything she could ever wish for, but it still wasn’t enough.

Ever since her mother left, Pizzazz felt a hole in her heart. Her father threw money at her instead of affection, causing her to act out in an attempt to get her father to see her, but nothing made a dent in his armor. Eventually, Pizzazz channeled her ambitions into becoming famous. She wanted the mother who threw her way to see what she missed out on and for her father to finally recognize she was capable of making something of her life. Yet, even the fame and publicity weren’t enough, leaving Pizzazz to wonder if anyone could ever love her.

Then Riot walked into her life. One look at him, and she knew he was the ONE. Sure, the man was gorgeous, but there was more to it than mere appearances. Riot was vain, selfish, and demanding, which made them two peas in a pod in her book.

Oddly enough, Pizzazz knew that if they were to really fall in love, she would want to be a better person for him. Surely, Riot would want to be a better person for her as well? Of course, Riot only did a complete 180 in her fantasies.

Hope was all she had to cling to at the moment, so she held on tight.

Pizzazz hoped Riot would soon get over his stupid crush on Jem. After all, Riot only gravitated toward her because she was America’s sweetheart and he wanted to backpack on her popularity. The moment she was the media’s new darling, Pizzazz would show Riot how great she was and his admiration would turn in her direction.

Letting herself into the mansion, Pizzazz didn’t realize she was searching for her father until she stared at his office door. Hearing his voice muffled through the wood, she could tell he was on the phone. As usual. All business, all the time.

Turning on her heel to make her way to her chamber, Pizzazz threw aside her purse and keys before kicking off her shoes. Raking a hand through her green hair, she decided to get some sleep. Spending sixteen hours a day at work took a toll.

As usual, she dreamed about Riot. Pizzazz just finished a performance to a standing ovation when he came on stage to make a surprise appearance and sang a duet with her, then asked her out to dinner in front of the whole crowd. After an extremely romantic night, Riot declared his undying love.

The next phase of the dream detailed her wedding. From there, her happily ever after consisted of bestselling albums and awards for both The Misfits and The Stingers all while they raised a family. Her father was finally proud of her, and Pizzazz commanded the admiration and respect of the entire music industry.

Waking up to the blaring alarm was more than cruel. Returning to the land of the living shouldn’t be so hard. Throwing her legs over the side of the bed, she forced her body to the shower. All Pizzazz had left to keep her going was the music, which became her only comfort.

****

Working the club circuit wasn’t a bad way to make a living. Pisces made great tips waitressing while honing her performing skills. Stage fright could cripple her, but with practice, she controlled the panic and got lost in her onstage persona. Adopting a stage name helped on many levels and now she couldn’t exist without it. Though, the trick consisted of shifting her focus to her music and getting lost in the notes. She always dreamed of becoming a signer, but never in a million years did Pisces think her luck would turn so quickly. One night she played her usual set for her usual fee and the next she headed to a meeting with a bonafide record label!

Dressing in a professional grey suit, Pisces headed to Starlight Music for her meeting with Jerrica Benton. The woman’s solid reputation as the manager of Jem and the Holograms put Pisces at ease. One had to be weary of fakes, or managers that would use an artist for a quick buck then move on. Honestly, Pisces knew the glamor and glitter of fame would be tempting, but she needed to remain calm and keep her mind on business. If she played her cards right, then Pisces could be working on her debut album with a respectable label backing her career.

The first thing she noticed was that Jerrica had a fabulous office. Also, in the light of day, Jerrica looked much younger than she did in the club. Pisces wouldn’t be surprised if they were the same age.

As expected, Jerrica offered her a deal. Excitement rushed through her veins, but Pisces focused on the fine print. The contract was fair, but Pisces knew how to negotiate. By the end, she got a slightly higher percentage of the sale profits and all her tour profits. Taking Jerrica Benton on as a manger was a wildcard, but Pisces decided it would be worth the risk.

Signing on the dotted line, she shook Jerrica’s hand, unable to hold back the giddiness flooding her system. She really did it! She had her very own recording contract! She would have her own album out there for the whole world to hear!

However, the closer she came to her apartment, the more the elation faded. Pisces got her first taste of success, but as much as she wanted to celebrate, the melancholy tugged at her shoulders.

Taking a last minute turn, she ended up at the house. She watched the usual people laughing through the window, seeming perfectly content without her there to disrupt their reality. Obviously, her absence didn’t affect them one bit.

Suppressing the tears, Pisces finally went home. The second she was through the door, she went straight to her keyboard. Putting on her headphones, she lost her emotions to the music. Some of the songs were old, comforting friends. Even as old melodies poured forth, new notes and lyrics floated to the surface. Jotting down ideas, she knocked out the details right then and there. Despair and rejection were emotions she knew well, but instead of allowing the feelings to drown her, she twisted them into a creative expression others could relate to. There was plenty of material in her volts, so Pisces didn’t think she lacked songs for an album. She could show the world her art and hope for the best. Maybe her family would regret casting her aside, but Pisces must be true to herself and her vision.

****

The Holograms could now take a break. Kimber could go to school. Shayna could work on her second career and figure out her future with Anthony, and Aja could spend time with Craig. Raya would have more time with her family. By all appearances, everything was working out the way they all hoped.

Now, the only thing left to do was transform into Jem and give an official statement to the press. The reporters bombarded her with questions, but Jem gave a succinct statement about the hiatus and left the podium. There wasn’t any need to prolong the process. Afterwards, she transformed back into Jerrica and headed to Starlight Mansion. Seeing the girls made her feel better, but soon the noise gave her a headache. Needed some quiet time, Jerrica ended up in the garage.

Sitting down on a stack of boxes, she closed her eyes, attempting to meditate. A stack of work awaited, but she had to pull her emotions together and formulate a plan to promote Pisces and The Stingers under the label. Jerrica also had to organize interviews and TV appearances.

However, her stomach twisted into knots and there was so much on her plate that she couldn’t summon enough energy to get everything done. In the end, she knew she didn’t have the luxury of complaining. In the end, there were no excuses because keeping the label above water rested squarely on her shoulders. Unable to concentrate, she gave up on meditation in favor of heading into the office. During the course of the day, she heard buzz about The Misfit’s new record more than once. In the past, the rival band always came in second to the Holograms. Now, with Jem and the girls on hiatus, The Misfits had the perfect opportunity to shine brightest. Jerrica shouldn’t feel bitter or resentful, but rather take comfort in the fact the only way Pizzazz could gain recognition was when Jem wasn’t her main competition.

So, why couldn’t she get over her jealousy?

Jerrica knew better than most how fickle the music industry could be. One day a performer was the toast of the town, and the next they were a footnote forgotten. Was taking a hiatus a bad idea after all? Jerrica shook away her doubts. Kimber should have a proper education and the rest of the girls needed a break. Besides, she wasn’t going to fail in other respects. Starlight Music still had The Stingers on contract and Pisces would be a huge hit if Jerica did her job right.

After booking TV appearances, performances, and interviews for Pisces, Jerrica took a break. Walking down the hall for some coffee, she paused hearing rumbling laughter. Recognizing the timber anywhere, she peeked around the corner to see Rio laughing with Pisces. Unable to help it, Jerrica eavesdropped.

“Well, welcome aboard,” Rio said cheerfully. “You’re going to love working for Starlight Music.”

“Thanks,” Pisces said with a slight blush coating her cheeks. Rio Pachanco seemed like a great guy. Handsome, too, but she knew he was involved with Jerrica. It was just as well because Pisces wasn’t sure she wanted a relationship.

Everyone at the label seemed nice, but in the end, she knew that all the warmth and friendliness would vanish unless she produced a successful record.

Before the conversation could continue, Jerrica came into view, and Pisces saw the way Rio’s eyes lit up when he looked at his girlfriend. A pang of envy seized her chest, but Pisces pushed the sensation aside. Jerrica forced a smile and gave Pisces a tour of the building and showed her the recording studio she would be using. All of the hi-tech machinery was impressive, if a bit intimidating, but Pisces moved directly to the grand piano in the corner. Running her fingers lovingly over the black and white keys, she knew she would be working here for endless hours.

“We have great producers,” Jerrica said. “I know they would all be pleased to work with you.”

“Actually, I know what sort of sound I want.”

“Ok, I respect that, but this equipment is very complicated. I would feel a lot better if you had someone here to help you.”

Pisces shrugged. “You can be my producer if you want.”

At first, Jerrica wanted to laugh off the idea, but then she wondered if she could be of use. Pisces had great ideas, along with a sense of excitement that was infectious, reminding Jerrica of why she loved music in the first place.

Lingering, Jerrica listened intently to Pisces play at the piano. The ballad called “Daydream” was mesmerizing in its simplicity. Heading into the booth, Jerrica started recording the second take and Pisces nailed it.

They ended up spending hours recording basic demos with Pisces playing her favorite songs on the piano. Jerrica learned a lot about her new artist, impressed with Pisces’s library of material. Together, they sorted through the songs to find those that sounded great together. Pisces’s instincts were spot on and Jerrica realized what a great talent she discovered.

By the end of the day, Pisces understood and appreciated Jerrica Benton’s intelligence, business savvy, and talents. The woman really had an eye for details and a great ear for music. Together, they would make a great album.

“Did you learn all of this working with the Holograms,” Pisces asked.

Jerrica smiled in remembrance of the days she came into the studio to watch her father operate. Back then, her mother was his main artist and the two of them created magic together. “Sort of.”

“I hear the band is on hiatus.”

“For now,” she confirmed.

“It’s a shame,” Pisces continued. “I’m a fan. Then again, when they come back, it will be with a bang.”

Comforted, Jerrica’s smiled widened. Anticipation was a powerful tool, so maybe all wasn’t lost after all.

Leaving the studio that night, Pisces couldn’t keep the smile off her face. Her life was finally falling into place and her first demos sounded amazing! Still, there was a lot of work ahead, but Pisces looked forward to it.

****

Eric needed a break from the bickering. Roxy and Jetta could make dogs howl with all that screeching. Strangely enough, Pizzazz seemed oddly calm. It was as if she knew this latest record was going to be a huge it.

Pizzazz. Now there was a puzzle. At first, she came across as a spoiled rich brat who only wanted to play at being a rock star. Her ruthless nature gave her the gall to do whatever it took to get a record deal and promote the hell out of her band. Along with admiring her zeal, Eric understood Pizzazz and she got him, too. They had a natural understanding because they were both willing to undercut anyone and anything to get their way.

Lately, Eric noticed Pizzazz softening. Her crush on Riot accounted for part of the thaw, but Eric couldn’t put his finger on the rest. Why wasn’t she going after the Holograms or cursing Jem’s name every few seconds? Granted, Jem and her band of goody-two-shoes-girls were taking a break, but Pizzazz always owned the role of the tough cookie. Her walls were impenetrable. She didn’t truly like a lot of people, and let even fewer into her inner circle. Instead, she played the part of the confident, yet hardened, rocker to keep people at arm’s length so she wouldn’t get hurt.

Eric understood hurt. He understood pain and, in short, he understood Pizzazz better than she could ever imagine. After all the stunts they pulled and the major screw-ups, she still possessed the ability to sweet-talk him into anything. So, despite all his vows to not help her, Eric still ran Raymond Records to give Pizzazz pretty much everything her heart desired career wise.

At first, Eric thought he was just a sucker. Then he thought the two of them were actually friends. Finally, he realized the truth behind his motives. Of course, this revelation probably came too late given her fascination with Riot, but there was no denying it.

Eric Raymond loved Pizzazz Gabor.