Accepting – no, pleading and crawling for, it was no good deceiving herself – Jerrica Benton's help meant that Stormer no longer spent any time with her Kimber. Sure, she spent most of every day with Kimber Benton, but she was in all but name Kimber of the Holograms again, as likely to have her arm tucked into Shana's as wound around Stormer's waist, and always surrounded by her sisters by blood or fostering. Stormer remembered that Kimber, no matter how bitter her tirades against the Holograms had become, never said a word against Shana, and she ached somewhere in the region of her ribcage, as surely as if she'd been punched there.
Stormer could feel the events of the last few months being neatly slotted back into their proper places, Kimber's adolescent rebellion over and forgiven as she was drawn back into the bosom of their family, Stormer left… as what? A bedroom wall left painted black after a girl grew out of her Skulls posters and threw them away, waiting until nice cream paint vanished the last embarrassing evidence of rebellion?
It was natural enough that Stormer felt left out, she supposed. Kimber had promoted albums with the Holograms before. She knew how they worked, a world away from Eric's methods of gimmickry and sabotage. Stormer couldn't help admitting that Jerrica's machine of sisterhood was admirably efficient even if it was… well… a little dull. Stormer smiled nicely in interviews as instructed, kept her promises of docility to Jerrica as much for the novelty value of being asked to be a good girl as anything, and enjoyed the equal novelty of Lin-Z treating her as a respected guest rather than as someone who was going to turn over the coffee table and smash studio lamps at any point.
She couldn't help it if she was aware of a nagging boredom and resentment. How many times could she be expected to answer the same stupid questions politely? Yes, we love writing together, yes, this is the most meaningful and emotional work I've ever done, yes, I sang backup on the Misfits albums but I thought it was time to stretch my vocal wings…
The other girls were probably watching at home and chorusing in disgust over how soft she'd become. If they bothered to watch, that is. After the last-ditch attempt to buy her affections back, they'd probably given up in disgust.
Perhaps Stormer should kick Lin-Z's chair over after all. After all, the whole innovation of Back to Back was a Hologram recording with a Misfit, so actually behaving like a Misfit could only help the publicity along. What did Stormer care about her promises to Jerrica?
She turned to look at Kimber, lobelia-blue eyes shining in the midst of candy-pink eyeshadow and long curling lashes, her smile unforced and incandescent, and smiled, too, trying to pretend she'd paid attention to what was going on in the interview. There was no difficulty in smiling when Kimber looked happy and pretty enough to sell a million records on her radiance alone. Stormer, much as she chafed against it, was aware that she'd put up with almost anything to sit next to Kimber and be included in those smiles.
"So tell me," Lin-Z said, leaning forward with one of those too-toothy smiles, insincere cordiality oozing out of every pore, as if she sweated saccharine. Stormer wondered how Kimber could actually claim to like the woman. Of course, when she spoke to Jem, Lin-Z's sweetness was probably sincere. Jetta had said once – although anything Jetta said was suspect by default – that Jem got so much publicity from Lin-Z purely because the journalist wanted something from her. Stormer wrenched her mind back to proper family-friendly viewing mode, although she was aware of heat stinging her cheeks. She tried to focus on the question. So tell me… "It can't be easy for two formerly legendary rivals to work together. Do you have many misunderstandings?
Kimber wound a finger in vivid strawberry hair, round and round in a tightening spiral, like a child. She seemed a little disconcerted, her answer breathless. "Of course not! Stormer and I have so much in common, it's like we can understand each other's every thought."
Oh, Kimber. Stormer nearly sighed her exasperation aloud. Of course, it had seemed like that to her, too, just at first, when their icy mistrust melted into the first overwhelming flood of best friendship. She was pretty sure that Kimber hadn't been hearing her thoughts in the early hours of the morning, the redhead sprawled on Craig's couch while Stormer sat on the floor beside her, one casual arm around her shoulders, and thought about nothing but kissing her friend again. Feather-light, she planned, just an open-mouthed touch of mouth against mouth. In her thoughts Kimber's lips had parted under her caress, feathered her tongue so very shyly and delicately against Stormer's own., allowing Stormer's hands to skim down her throat and under her jacket to shape her breasts through soft material. In the safety of Stromer's head they kissed subtle kisses, their lips barely touching, tongues reaching out soft and light to brush and return and brush again, fairy-faint as Stormer's hands became more sure and passionate in their caresses…
She'd forced the images back and felt her features pull tight into a scowl. Kimber had asked what was wrong, and Stormer had admitted honestly that she was thinking about Pizzazz and Roxy. She hadn't thought it wise to add that she had been wishing she was like them, that her approach to romance was to grab a potential lover's chin and kiss them hard, that she was furious with her own cowardice and prevarication. Neither chaste friend nor seductress, but something that was a betrayal of both, unfit to be either a Hologram or a Misfit. An evil, unnatural wimp.
Kimber, she was certain, hadn't understood any of her thoughts at all.
And if Kimber could read her thoughts right now, she'd know that Stormer really, really wanted to pick up her coffee and throw it in Lin-Z's condescending face. Not that she'd do it. It would almost certainly upset Kimber.
Besides, if Stormer behaved badly… Well, the Holograms were seated just off screen, looking like perfect pop angels, and the comparison would be rather too obvious. Evem Jem was there. Stormer hadn't seen much of her, and wasn't sure whether Jem was keeping a tactful distance or simply couldn't bear to associate with a Misfit. Stormer latched her hands together, red plastic nails pressing into the skin on the back of her hands, and smiled for all she was worth, beaming into the cameras and Pizzazz's scornful face.
It took her a moment to realise that the last item wasn't just the projection of her imagination. The Misfits stood together in a cluster at the back of the studio, wearing feathered shifts, the outfits Stormer always thought of as Misfit dresses. She'd worn her own, hot pink and black, in some of the Back to Back shoots, just out of pure defiance, but it was different seeing them all ranged together. Wearing Misfit dresses, a matching group, but without Stormer. Jetta and Roxy stood slightly back, leaning against each other's shoulders in the oddly intimate manner they adopted when they weren't actually fighting each other, but Pizzazz stood stiffly, glaring across at the interview stage. Her plucked and painted eyebrows slashed her face like knife gashes.
Stormer felt as if someone had grabbed her by the throat and squeezing tight, her imagination taking the constriction of panic and forcing it into actual physical dimensions, until she was sure she could feel each finger, each knuckle, the nails digging into her flesh. Her heart pounded until it felt as if it was being thrown against her breastbone, over and over, hurting. Pizzazz, staring at her like an enemy. Like a Hologram. Roxy, Jetta, and oh, Pizzazz…
The slight pressure and warmth on her hand was light enough in comparison that it was a moment before she realised it was the feeling of Kimber's hand curling around hers. Stormer grasped back hard, and felt Kimber's grip tighten reassuringly. Reassuring, that was it. Not possessive, no matter what she wanted it to be.
She cast a sidelong glance at her best friend, noting that Kimber's smile had dimmed, and that she had shifted her weight very slightly so that she was leaning a little towards Stormer, her shoulder pressed against that of the other girl. Maybe she was just a little possessive, after all. Stormer's own smile came back, a little tremulous this time.
Why didn't the Misfits storm the stage and grab her back like they did when they caught her performing at the nightclub? She could defy them then, declare her devotion to Kimber. It would make good television, good publicity, and surely Kimber would see what she meant to Stormer, and her own anger and righteousness would drown out this guilt, this sick longing to take her place with the other girls… Why were the Misfits behaving so quietly? It wasn't that they had any scruples about interrupting television broadcasts. Why did they just stand there, staring at her?
It couldn't be that they had stopped caring.
"That's a wrap, girls." Lin-Z beamed at them. "Good stuff. The hand-holding at the end is sweet – girl solidarity. We'll play that up." She turned and called across the studio. "You three are up in a moment. Give the girls a chance to clear the stage."
Stormer got uncertainly to her feet, waiting for Pizzazz to stride across to her. Either that or she'd have to walk towards them. She took one uncertain step, pulling at Kimber's hand, then felt a guiding arm slip into her free elbow.
"We'll go out the back way," Jem said firmly. "Avoid the trash." Aja and Shana moved up on either side, Raya falling into step behind, and Stormer let herself be bourne off by Holograms. She could feel a hot green gaze burn into the back of her head and almost broke free, ran back to apologise and beg Pizzazz for forgiveness, but the Holograms walked quickly and she was out of the studio before the impulse could take control.
Trash. The Misfits were simply trash to Jem, no matter how many albums they sold or how many fans adored them. Stormer could buy her way out of the garbage truck with good behaviour, perhaps, so long as she left her friends to the proper sanitary disposal.
She broke away in the passage way, leaned against the wall, her breath hard and sharp in her lungs. Of course the Misfits were taking interviews without her. It was only fair, she'd left the trash, they had no way of knowing she was planning on coming back to where she belonged… Maybe she was wrong, and they didn't need her after all. Maybe she was going to end up nowhere at all. She squeezed her eyes shut.
"Stormer, I-" Stormer felt an arm slip comfortingly around her shoulder, knew it was Kimber, and to her own horror Stormer shrugged her off. "Stormer!"
"Leave her be for one moment, Kimber. She is upset, do you not see?" Raya's voice, her English soft and precise.
"I need to go to the bathroom," Stormer said, for lack of any other escape route. Splashing cold water on her face would be a relief, in any case.
"Are you sick?" Kimber's voice was high with worry. "It's this way, Stormer, I –"
"I know the way!" Stormer's eyes snapped open as sharply as her voice. "I may not be a Hologram, but this isn't exactly my first interview. I'm a rock star, you know," she added, aware she sounded like Pizzazz talking herself up to her father, registering another little twinge of nostalgic pain.
Kimber bit a pink-painted lip, and for once Stormer was almost too tired and upset to care how provocative the gesture was. "We'll wait for you in the Roadster, okay?"
"Sure." Stormer lifted her chin, put her shoulders back and waited for them all to go away, trying not to notice the worried glances Kimber cast over her shoulder, then turned and made her way to the powder room.
She hesitated at the sink. Cold water on her hot skin would feel good, but there was too much chance of running into the other Misfits with her makeup streaked with water, or worse still, scrubbed clean. Humiliating. She turned the taps on and leant over the basin instead, staring at her reflection in the mirror and the water rushed and pounded. Her makeup had become more subtle as Kimber's had become more severe… blending together. Her curls fell more softly and naturally, less teased. She'd worn the flowered sarong many times as a Misfit, playing up the stage name Pizzazz had chosen for her, but it harmonised perfectly with Kimber's rose-embellished jacket, far better than it had done with any Misfit clothes.
What had the girls thought, seeing them like that, two girls in flowers? That Stormer was more a Hologram than a Misfit, that she'd never quite cut it anyway?
It probably wasn't worth it. She'd thrown everything away, her career and her identity and the closest things to family she'd ever had, to be a naïve straight girl's special friend among crowds of special friends. So she'd had her eyes opened about the Misfits and what they really thought of her. She'd been much happier fooling herself.
When the door opened she expected it to be Kimber, or at least Jerrica, officious and kind, so she dashed the tears away as she whirled, already snarling defiantly. She met… blue eyes, certainly, but not Benton ones, paler than Kimber's, almond-shaped where Jerrica's were wide and innocent. Stormer should have expected them. After all, without her, Pizzazz needed someone close at hand to do all the menial work.