CHAPTER TWENTY-THREE

The couple discovered the body along the Malibu shore early this morning. Police are still investigating whether it was a homicide or accidental drowning. They will be looking into any local missing persons reports.

"Yikes!" Aja commented as she reached for the remote to turn off the news. Suddenly, Jerrica and Riot burst through the door. "What are you guys doing here? I thought you'd be at the Bowl first thing in the morning," a surprised Aja greeted them.

"Aja, we have a problem," Jerrica quickly replied as she ran to Synergy's room.

"What is it, Jerrica?" A look of worry suddenly came across Aja's face.

"Someone broke into Jerrica's house this morning," Riot explained, following Jerrica down the hallway. "They took her earrings."

"What?!" Aja cried, trailing behind.

A stunned Riot stopped in his tracks as soon as he saw Jerrica walk through the holographic wall. "She just walked through that wall," he gaped.

"I hope she told you," Aja remarked. A stunned Riot nodded. "Come on," she urged him to follow her through the wall. "Don't worry, it won't hurt that pretty head of hair of yours," she joked. Riot hesitated, but eventually followed Aja into Synergy's secret room.

"You must be, Riot," the super computer greeted him. He nodded in awe of what he was witnessing.

"N-n-nice to meet you," he nervously greeted the super computer back.

"Don't worry, Synergy," Jerrica replied. "You can trust Riot not to say anything about you."

He nodded in agreement. "She's magnificent," he marveled.

"Did she happen to mention that he's quite the lady's man?" Aja jokingly said to the purple image on the large computer screen.

"Synergy, we need to locate the Jem star earrings," Jerrica began. "They were stolen and –,"

"Yes, I know, Jerrica," Synergy quickly interjected. "The sensors on the earrings alert me when they are not being worn. If the voice sensors do not detect your voice, its holographic capabilities are shut down," she explained.

Jerrica sighed in relief. "Well that's good to know Synergy," she replied. "But we need to find them! Is there any way you can detect where they're at right now?"

"I can detect the closest satellite to the earrings' proximity, but I cannot pinpoint their exact location," she replied as the screen switched from Synergy's image to a radar showing their whereabouts within a five-mile radius.

"This is no use," Jerrica cried. "They could be anywhere in the city."

"But they are turned off, correct . . . Synergy?" Riot tried to comfort her, taken aback by the fact he just spoke to a computer.

"Yes, Riot," the computer responded.

"It'll buy us sometime until we can search for it," he reassured her.

"No, Riot," she cried. "Without those earrings, there is no Jem!"

"Of course there is," he countered. "It's your voice, Jerrica," he reminded her.

"No! I can't go on stage," she retorted.

"Yes, you can," he pleaded with her. "I've heard you sing, Jerrica."

"And what? Introduce ourselves as Jerrica and the Holograms?" she quipped.

"You don't need a super computer's capabilities to put on a pink wig and makeup, do you?" he asked.

"I can't," she protested.

"Yes, you can," Riot interjected. "I've seen you perform without a disguise."

"Are you saying I should make it known to the world that I'm Jem?" she asked him.

"No, not at all," he reassured her. "But there is no reason why you need a hologram to be who you are."

"I don't know," Jerrica mumbled. She knew he was right, but the thought of performing on stage without Synergy's help scared her.

"He's right, Jerrica," Aja chimed in. "It's just one song. You can perform as Jem without Synergy's hologram."

Jerrica felt outnumbered, but they were right. There was no reason for her not to perform without Synergy's help. It wasn't like the first time she had lost those earrings when the Holograms were in China. They were still new to the music scene and Jerrica suffered from stage fright back then. Being Jem appeased her phobia of the stage. After a few years and hundreds of shows later, the stage wasn't as intimidating to her as before.

"I'll be right there with you," Riot assured her. "Just look for me in the crowd and pretend I'm the only one there," he said. "You can even imagine me in nothing, but my underwear," he whispered to her. She giggled at the thought.

Jerrica sighed. "Well, if I'm going to do this, I guess I should practice with the Holograms before this afternoon's concert," she looked longingly at Riot.

"And don't worry, we'll find your earrings," he hugged her. "I'll make sure of it."

Aja watched from across the room and smiled. She had her doubts about Riot, but after seeing them together for the last few weeks, she could see how he had won Jerrica over. He had finally won her approval too.


CHAPTER TWENTY-FOUR

Ding. The elevator doors on the 30th floor at Stingers Sound opened.

"Where have you been?" Rapture eagerly greeted her bandmate.

"Rapture, it's still a holiday you know," Minx yawned. "A girl deserves her beauty sleep on a holiday," she continued as she flicked her hair.

"Riot's finally in his office," Rapture said, changing the subject.

"You're not just going to walk in there and tell him about last night, are you?" Minx wondered.

"He's going to ask me about Stormer," Rapture replied. "He saw us talking at the mansion yesterday."

"Forget about Stormer," Minx interjected. "Are you going to confront him about Jerrica being Jem?"

Rapture sighed. "I don't know. I don't want to poke the lion."

"Before you do, you better be sure you're right about Jem," Minx cautioned her. "It all does make sense though. And as his bandmates, we have a right to know the truth!"

Before Minx could continue, Rapture was well on her way towards Riot's office. "Hello?" she announced herself before entering. The door was slightly ajar.

"See to it that you find it," Riot sternly replied into the phone just as the other two Stingers walked into his office.

"There you are!" Rapture stormed in with Minx in tow. "Where have you been?"

"I apologize," Riot murmured as he hung up the receiver. "It's been a hectic morning."

"Are you cheating on Jerrica, or is Jerrica really Jem?" Minx cut to the chase, much to Rapture's surprise.

Riot was speechless. "I-I-," he muttered, unsure of how to respond, but his silence spoke volumes.

"We followed the Misfits to Jem's house in Malibu last night after we left Jerrica's," Minx revealed.

"I told you two I could handle the Misfits!" he reprimanded them.

"So you knew they were following you all over town yesterday?" Rapture primed him.

"Well," the lead Stinger muttered.

"We've been following them following you to keep them from causing any more trouble for us," Minx admitted.

"So is Jerrica really Jem?" Rapture repeated. "Or are the Misfits right about you seeing Jem behind her back?"

"What would draw you to such a conclusion?" he snapped back.

"Which conclusion are you referring to?" Minx raised her eyebrow at him.

"I knew it!" Rapture proclaimed. "It all makes sense now! Jerrica is the one behind Jem, isn't she?"

Riot couldn't lie. His bandmates knew him all too well. "Ladies," he began, regaining some composure, "before you begin drawing conclusions –,"

"We know Jerrica is Jem, Riot" Rapture interrupted him. "It all makes sense now. Rio, you dating Jem one day and then the next day Jerrica, the photo in the paper, Jem showing up at the beach house, and Jerrica's suddenly not at the mansion at midnight last night."

"We called the mansion last night to talk to you about Stormer. Aja said you had left and that Jerrica went to meet you," Minx revealed. "But instead of Jerrica arriving at the beach house, it was Jem!"

"So unless the three of you are doing a little menage a trois, then we knew it had to be Jerrica," Rapture added.

"Have you said a word of this to anyone?" he questioned them.

"No, we haven't," Rapture assured him.

"I'm not confirming nor denying what you both just alluded to," Riot responded, "but what you have told me needs no repeating outside of this office. Do you two understand?"

"We understand," Minx and Rapture replied in unison.

"The last thing we need is for any of the Misfits to catch on," he remarked.

"Speaking of the Misfits," Rapture interjected, "what do you suppose we do about them now? After all, we're not the only ones who saw Jem meeting you at midnight last night."

Riot sighed. "Are you sure they saw Jem? Perhaps they could have mistaken her for Jerrica?"

"Well, it was pretty dark outside," Minx replied. "We only knew it was Jem because of the night vision goggles that Techrat gave me."

"Night vision goggles?" Riot repeated, slightly amused, slightly annoyed.

"They're pretty impressive if you ask –," Minx began.

"I don't have time to discuss Techrat's new contraption," he retorted.

"A little testy today?" Rapture hesitantly inquired.

"I have a full plate," he sighed as he turned and stared longingly out the window that faced Starlight Music.

"So what can we do to help?" Minx chirped.

"For starters, no more following the Misfits around," he instructed them. "But if you so happen to see them near Stingers Sound or the concert tonight, please notify security immediately. I don't want them anywhere near Jerrica and the Holograms."

"Jerrica and the Holograms," Minx amusingly repeated. "That has quite an interesting sound to it."


CHAPTER TWENTY-FIVE

"LYNX just took the stage," Kimber announced as she entered the Holograms' dressing room.

The Hollywood Bowl Fourth of July concert was underway, displaying the brightest new talents from Stingers Sound and Starlight Music. Of course, any Stingers Sound or Starlight event wouldn't be complete without the labels' biggest bands, the Stingers and Jem and The Holograms. While the Stingers were the surprise opening performance, Jem and the Holograms were slated to be the surprise ending performance. For Jerrica Benton, this wasn't just another music event. It was her musical debut as lead singer of the Holograms without the help of Synergy's Jem hologram.

"Are you okay, Jerrica?" Raya asked, noticing their lead singer staring at her reflection in the mirror. However, it wasn't her reflection, it was Jem's.

Jerrica sighed. "I'm alright, Raya," she replied, snapping back into reality.

"Don't worry, you'll do just fine, Sis," Kimber comforted her.

"Riot's right," Aja chimed in. "You don't need a Hologram. You've got the talent to do this."

"And we'll be right there with you," Shana added.

"Thank you, ladies," Jerrica smiled. "Synergy or no Synergy, I couldn't do this without you four," she said as they all gathered together for a group hug.

"Ahem, am I interrupting?" It was Riot.

"Hi, Riot," Shana, Aja, Raya and Kimber all said in unison.

"Great job tonight!" Kimber complimented him.

"Thank you, Kimber," he smiled. "Would it be alright if I had a moment alone with Jerrica, I mean, Jem?" he smiled.

"Of course," Aja replied as all four Holograms headed towards the door.

"We'll be in the refreshments lounge if you need us," Shana said to him as they exited the dressing room. Riot gave her a polite nod.

Once they were alone, he approached Jerrica who had sat back down at the vanity. "How are you feeling, my lovely?" he asked, kneeling down beside her.

"Ready as I'll ever be," she sighed.

"Well, the girls surely did a wonderful job with your hair and make-up." He was impressed with their work, making her look exactly like their famous lead singer. Jerrica cracked a smile. "You'll do just fine," Riot reassured her. "Just remember, you are Jem."

"I don't think I could do this without all the encouragement you've given me," she said turning to him.

He smiled. "Oh, I think you could, but something's missing."

"What is it?" Jerrica wondered.

"These." Riot pulled out a box from his coat pocket.

Jerrica gasped as she opened it. "You found them!"

"No," he sadly replied. Unfortunately, these are not the ones from your father," he explained, sensing her disappointment. "I had these made for you until we can locate the real ones. I've instructed my assistant to have our interns search every jewelry store, pawn shop, and yard sale in town for them."

"You did?" Jerrica was surprised to learn the extent of Riot's search for her earrings.

"What are interns for?" he joked. "Plus, I gave them a little incentive to find them and return them to me."

"What kind of incentive?" she curiously asked.

"Minx and Rapture have been pleading with me to hire assistants for each of them," he smirked.

Jerrica laughed. "Thank you," she whispered as she leaned in to kiss him.

"Pizzazz was right!" someone interrupted. It was Rio.

"What are you doing here?" Riot demanded to know. "Don't you have the common decency to knock?"

"You're asking me about common decency?" Rio barked back. "You're the one cheating on Jerrica!"

"Rio, it's not what you think!" Jerrica chimed in.

"Oh save it, Jem!" he retorted. "I should have known! You've always been jealous of Jerrica's life. It's no wonder why you've been so hush-hush about your own life."

"Excuse me?" Jerrica muttered.

"Oh, Pacheco!" Riot interjected. "It amazes me how you can manage to walk and breathe at the same time."

"What is that supposed to mean?" he snapped at the Stinger.

"None of this concerns you," Riot spitefully replied. "Why don't you leave now and I'll spare you the embarrassment of having security escort you out," he warned.

"I'm not leaving until you both come clean with Jerrica," he protested. "She may be naïve enough to believe you have sincere feelings for her, but –,"

"Rio, I am Jerrica!" the pink-haired singer blurted out loud.

"What are you talking about?" a confused Rio replied. "You're Jem!"

"No," Jerrica corrected him. "I'm Jerrica. I've always been Jerrica."

"Huh?" Rio was dumbfounded.

"Jem has always been Jerrica in disguise, you fool!" Riot bluntly revealed to him.

Rio stood motionless, trying to digest the words he just heard. "After all this time, Jem has really been you?" he finally managed to say to her.

"Yes, Rio," Jerrica admitted. "Jem has been me all this time."

"But why didn't you tell me?" he questioned her. "Why did you make me believe you were two different people for so long?"

"I didn't do it on purpose," she revealed. "I was afraid to tell you because of how you would react."

"Jerrica, you could have told me," Rio replied.

"But you would have hated me!" she added.

"No, I couldn't hate you, Jerrica," he explained. "You're right that I would have gotten mad, but I would have forgiven you. I loved you too much. I still love you," he admitted much to Jerrica's surprise.

"Is that why you couldn't keep your hands off Jem yourself when you thought they were two different people?" Riot interrupted, reminding him of his own deceit.

Rio began to fume. It took everything strength of his own willpower not to give Riot a black eye at that moment. However, he knew the Stinger was right. In the eyes of everyone who didn't know about Jem's true identity, Rio was a cheater himself.

"Is that why you left me for him?" he said turning to Jerrica. She was silent.

"I'm sorry I deceived you for so long, Rio," Jerrica finally replied. "But it wasn't just about you. We've both changed in the last three years. But let me reassure you, there was nothing naïve about my relationship with Rory!"

"I-I didn't mean to make it sound that way," he explained. "I was –,"

"Riot!" Kimber suddenly came charging into the dressing room.

"What is it, Kimber?" he asked, sounding a bit calmer than he did moments ago.

The Hologram was caught off guard by Rio's presence and momentarily forgot why she came rushing into the room. "Uh, it's Pizzazz. She's here!"

"What?" Riot snapped. "I instructed security not to let her or the other Misfits in."

"Apparently she managed to sneak in," Kimber told him much to his chagrin. "Minx and Rapture saw her, but couldn't stop her before she disappeared somewhere in the Bowl. Security's looking for her now."

"Oh no!" Rio retorted as he quickly left the dressing room and disappeared down the hallway.

Kimber, Jerrica and Riot were stunned by his sudden reaction. "What's up with him?" Kimber inquired.

"I told him," Jerrica replied.

"You told him about what?" the redhead asked skeptically. "Oh!" she remarked as soon as she realized what her sister meant. "Is that why he left in a hurry?"

"We have no clue," Jerrica shrugged. "Do you think it had something to do with Pizzazz?" she asked turning to Riot.

He looked thoughtful. "I'll leave you two to talk and get ready for your performance. I'll see to it that this Pizzazz situation is handled and Pacheco doesn't say a word of this to anyone," he replied, referring to Jerrica's secret.

"Thank you," Jerrica smiled as she squeezed his hand.

"Everything will be just fine," he reassured her, giving her a quick peck on the cheek before leaving the dressing room.

"I wonder what kind of trouble Pizzazz is up to now," Kimber murmured.


CHAPTER TWENTY-SIX

"We need to talk," Rio discretely whispered into Pizzazz's ear as he grabbed her arm and led her to a private corner, away from the backstage chaos.

"Ouch!" Pizzazz snapped. "I didn't think you could be that feisty," she purred.

He pretended not to hear her. "What are you going to do with that video from last night?" he demanded to know.

"I have no idea what you're talking about?" she replied. "I'm just here to have a little fun!" she added with a laugh.

"I'm telling you, Pizzazz, you cannot show that video!" he adamantly told her.

"And what if I do? You can't stop me!" she challenged him. "Plus, isn't breaking up Riot and your sweet Jerrica what you want?"

Rio paused. Yes, he wanted Jerrica and Riot apart. It pained him to see her with the man he loathed so much. However, he knew it would pain him more knowing he helped to embarrass her in front of thousands of people after discovering she and Jem were the same person. As angry as he was at her for keeping such a huge secret from him after all these years, he still cared for her and wouldn't hurt her on purpose.

"Yes, but not at the expense of humiliating Jerrica in front of all these people," he admitted.

"Humiliate Jerrica?" Pizzazz wondered. "If I were Jerrica, I would be thanking you. If anything, Jem and Riot should be the ones humiliated."

"I thought you were in love with Riot," Rio questioned her.

"Yeah, so," she quickly replied.

"Well you sure have a sick and twisted way of showing it," he insulted her. Pizzazz was clueless about what he meant.

"When Jerrica finds out the truth and Jem is too humiliated to be seen with him, he'll come running back to me," she confidently explained. Rio was dumbfounded. He knew Pizzazz had a crazy side, but he didn't realize she was borderline psychotic.

"What is the meaning of all this?" Riot demanded to know as he appeared with two security guards. "What's going on with you and Pizzazz, Pacheco?"

Before either one could reply, they overheard the loudspeaker instruct Jem and the Holograms to get ready to take the stage. Pizzazz broke out into a wicked laugh.

"It's too late," she whispered into Rio's ear, just loud enough for Riot to overhear.

"What's too late?" Riot demanded to know. "What are you up to, Pizzazz?" he confronted her. She remained silent. "If you don't answer me, Pizzazz, I'll see to it that you and your band of miscreants never record another album again in this town. That's a promise," he threatened her.

"Oh, Riot," she began. "You're pretty sexy when you're angry," she teased. Her flirtations were clearly not helping as Riot began to fume.

"Tell him, Pizzazz!" Rio yelled at her. "Tell him what you're up to!"

"What I'm up to?" she replied trying to sound innocent. "I'm not up to anything. Why don't you tell him? After all, you're the one who's after both his ladies," she laughed.

"You're the one who brought the tape in here!" he remarked.

"What tape?" Riot angrily asked.

"The tape of you and Jem last night," Rio answered.

Riot was taken aback. "I was with Jerrica."

"It was after that," Pizzazz revealed. "You know, when you and Jem met up at her house in Malibu, or is it Jerrica's?" she wondered out loud. "It's a pretty cute house by the way."

"What exactly is on the tape, Pizzazz?" he demanded to know.

"See for yourself," she answered. "It should come on the big screen just as Jem and the Holograms are finished with their song."

Riot quickly turned to his security team. "Tell the visual team to cut off all feed into the projector," he instructed them. "We need to find that tape!"

"Are you looking for this tape?" Stormer quickly appeared, holding up a VHS.

"Where did you get that, Stormer?" Pizzazz was stunned.

"Let's just say I took someone's advice and stayed ahead of the game," the blue-haired Misfit mocked her as Craig quickly appeared beside his sister, wearing a fake mustache and beard, and slowly began revealing his face to everyone.

Pizzazz flashed back to moments ago when she handed the tape along with an envelope of cash to a blue-haired man with a beard in the audio and visual room. She shrieked. "You just cost your brother any chance of getting a job in the town ever!" she yelled. "And don't ever bother calling yourself a Misfit ever again!"

"I guess now would be a good time to tell you that I quit!" Stormer happily revealed.

"Oh, yeah? What are you and your brother going to do now? Sing on the corner for pennies?" Pizzazz snidely remarked. "Only losers do that!"

"You would be surprised," Riot cleverly remarked, referring to the Stingers singing on the streets of Germany for pennies not too long ago.

"Actually," Craig interjected. "You're looking at the new executive producer for Stingers Sound," he proudly announced, turning to Riot to give him a quick smirk. The Stinger happily nodded. "And my first project will be producing a new album for Mary Phillips. Heard of her?" Craig smiled. Pizzazz shrieked once more.

"Get them out of here," Riot said turning to his security guards just as Jem and the Holograms were about to take the stage. "I have a concert to get to," he said, glaring at Rio and Pizzazz as they were led out of the venue.

"You'll regret this," she spitefully turned to Stormer.

"I guarantee she won't," Craig chimed in.

"Thank you, both," Riot said, turning to the siblings once Rio and Pizzazz were gone.

"Anything for friends," Craig smiled as he and Riot shook hands.

"You may want this," Stormer added, handing Riot the tape.

"What's even on this?" Riot wondered.

Craig began to laugh. "It's pretty funny actually."

"Really funny," Stormer commented. "Roxie had turned on the audio recorder and recorded everything that was said in the car while they were spying on you and Jerrica last night, but forgot to take the cap off the lens."

Riot was relieved.


CHAPTER TWENTY-SEVEN

I got freedom, freedom

I live in the U.S.A.

I got freedom, freedom

And no one can take it away

I've got freedom, freedom, freedom

I've got freedom

"Happy Independence Day, everybody!" Jem yelled to the crowd as the audience erupted into cheers and applause.

She turned to one special guest in the crowd and winked. He winked back. Riot couldn't be any prouder as he watched Jerrica channel her rock star persona without the help of any holograms. It was truly her in her element and she rocked the crowd just as well as if Synergy had been projecting the Jem hologram the entire time.

As the Holograms exited the stage, Riot quickly made his way backstage to greet them. "Wonderful performance, ladies, as always!" he cheered.

"Thank you, Riot!" they all answered back as they made their way back to their dressing room.

"And you," he said, turning to Jerrica, who was last off the stage, with a huge grin, "I couldn't be more proud."

"I couldn't be luckier," she replied as she leaned in to give him a quick kiss.

"Get a room you two," Aja teased as she and rest of the Holograms disappeared into their dressing room.

Riot smirked. "She's right," he replied. "We should either get a room or you should change back into Jerrica before anyone notices I'm kissing the wrong girl," he teased.

"Right now, I don't even care," Jerrica beamed, still reeling from the adrenaline rush of being on stage. "I don't want to get ahead of myself, but I just feel like shouting to the world who I really am."

"About that Jerrica," Riot sighed, subtly caressing her hands with his as he tried to find the courage to tell her about Minx and Rapture.

"No, I want to say something first," Jerrica interrupted him. He was all ears. "Your support and encouragement has meant the world to me. I couldn't have gotten on that stage just like this without you," she smiled. "I know Minx and Rapture are like sisters to you, so I couldn't imagine how hard it must be for you to keep my secret from them. Knowing that and all the encouragement you've given me makes me realize there's no one in this world I can trust more than you. I love you, Rory Llewelyn."

With those words, Riot's heart sank. He wanted to be honest with her about his bandmates. Riot had always been honest with her. But at that moment, the last thing he wanted to do was disappoint her, especially after the fiasco with her earrings and Rio. He had finally gained her complete trust in him and wasn't about to lose it over Minx and Rapture's antics. Jerrica meant everything to him.

"I love you too, Jerrica Benton," Riot whispered, looking longingly at her dressed as Jem, reminding him of the first time he saw her.

"Now, I should really change out of this before someone actually sees us," Jerrica smiled, pulling her hands away from him. "But what was it that you wanted to tell me?" she inquired.

"Umm," he began, thinking of something to say. "It was about Pizzazz and Rio."

"Did you ever find them?" she quickly asked.

"It's taken of," he replied. "Pizzazz should no longer be a nuisance to us."

"What about Rio?" she asked once more.

"I think he just needs time to digest everything," Riot explained. "I would be upset too if I lost you," he added.

"You'll never lose me," she assured him as she gave him a quick kiss on the cheek. "You can collect a real kiss from me later," she said before heading to her dressing room to change back into herself.

"That's my girl," he smiled as he watched her disappear through the dressing room door.


Stay tuned for NOW - Part III: Little Lies as the Holograms get ready for a wedding, Riot and Jerrica's relationship is at odds, life without Pizzazz and Eric Raymond is short-lived, an unlikely alliance is made, and the truth behind Emmett Benton's past with the military is revealed, changing Jerrica and the Holograms' future forever.