Eric could never decide whether Stormer was the most or least troublesome of those most troublesome (and lucrative) charges, the Misfits. She was possibly less expensive to maintain than the other girls. At any rate, she was slightly less likely to be the first to trash a television studio or throw a random orphan into the pool at a charity benefit, although that depended on how badly she wanted to please Pizzazz at any given time. She produced lucrative pop-rock gems on demand, and had never seemed quite to catch on to the concept of writer's royalties. She had a tender conscience, which could be inconvenient, but reasonably easy to soothe. All in all, buried deep in the finest print of the small print of the business agreements that were his heart, Eric had quite an affection for Stormer.

On the other hand, none of the other girls had ever quit the Misfits to cut soppy rock ballads with a Hologram.

Oh, they had quit, naturally. If tearing up a contract or two was cause for serious dislike, then Eric would have to admit that Jetta was his favourite Misfit and that letting Pizzazz recruit a greedy, treacherous British con-artist hadn't been a deadly mistake. Jetta was loyal enough; she stuck to the Misfits, or at least to Pizzazz, like the leech she was. Eric suspected it was because Jetta couldn't afford Pizzazz to have Daddy cancel her visa, or she would spend the rest of her life playing gay bars in Bristol as the ex- and least famous Misfit, but it couldn't be denied that she'd not once thrown in her sax.

In general, Eric was resigned to the Misfits throwing tantrums, vanishing briefly and turning up again with demands for more money and more attention (although Eric wasn't certain that anything short of enslaving an entire population could get Pizzazz more money or attention). It was one of the hazards of managing a group of spoiled, overindulged brats who spent far too much time letting Clash feed their out-sized egos. If the Misfits weren't the second-highest earners for Stingers Sound, he'd have weaselled out of their contracts years ago. Regretfully, because he had a sneaking fondness for his first and major protégées, but business was business.

No, the difference was that Roxy had quit on the grounds of a bruised ego and a lot of cash, while Pizzazz had quit because of a misguided crush on Riot, both perfectly resolvable issues. All those two really wanted was even more money and pampering, sorry, 'appreciation' than the excess they already had. Only Stormer had actually gone over to the enemy entirely, and left present the threat that she would do so again, if pushed. He'd never have thought it of malleable little Mary Roberts, but she had the heart of a traitor.

Misguided crush... There was something nagging at the corner of Eric's brain, some little worry, if he could only get at it. But it was understandable that Pizzazz had fallen for the only rock star with a bigger ego than her own, the existence of which (and presence in his life and career) was a sort of negative miracle that convinced Eric that whether or not God was real, there was certainly a Devil. Stormer, like the secretly soppy girl she was, had only wanted a 'real friend', and had managed to pick on the only Hologram weak enough for Eric to regularly manipulate. It was pathetic, really. He was almost sorry for them.

He pushed the problem from his mind and went to have a chat with his accountant about what to do about the ridiculously existent amount of tax Stinger Sound was paying.

After all, he congratulated himself on having fixed the Kimber problem, for good. Stormer was never running back to her.

Kimber could never get over the excited, guilty feeling that by phoning Stormer she was doing something very, very naughty, for which she'd get in trouble at any moment. Sneaking away to write love songs and perform in some run-down nightclub with Stormer had been even more thrilling than facing a packed auditorium, and some of that sweaty-palmed anticipation still touched her every time she dialled the Misfits Mansion.

Of course, Jerrica had spoiled her fun a bit, by taking Stormer to her heart and even offering her a place in the Holograms. It somehow wasn't as exciting when your goody-goody big sister/lead singer/dictator general liked your bad girl best friend. Trust Jerrica to spoil everything. Still... phoning Stormer was still an act of rebellion. She was a Misfit, of course. And - well, phoning Stormer was just a very daring thing to do, anyway.

Part of the adventure was that Stormer didn't have her own personal phone line at the Misfits Mansion, so Kimber never quite knew who would be on the other end of the line. She sometimes wondered why. Of course, Kimber didn't have a personal phone line in her room, because that would mean she could talk to people without Jerrica and her adopted big sisters interfering - and, yeah, there was something about needing money for the Starlight Foundation and not personal luxuries, or something. Pizzazz didn't have a brood of orphans to support, so it must have just been her determination to oversee every inch of Stormer's life and interfere in all her plans and friendships.

Sometimes Kimber suspected that the only significant difference between Pizzazz and Jerrica was their dress budget.

She held her breath and dialled. The line wasn't the main Misfits Mansion number, which only reached servants and secretaries. But it did run through to the Misfits' favourite chilling-out room, where there was a one-in-four chance of getting hold of Stormer. Pizzazz didn't stoop to answering phones, not wanting to run the risk of having to speak with an ordinary human being, but Clash was only too happy to help.

"What d'yer want?"

Oh, dear. Kimber took a deep breath, and tried very hard to disguise her voice. "Could I please speak to Stor-"

"Look, ducky, do yourself a failure and get lost. No one here wants to waste their time talking to a Hologram, all right? Oh, and congratulations on your wedding - or should I be congratulating the ex-groom on his escape? I hope you got some money back on the dress!"

There was a click, and Kimber sighed into the dial tone. A girl made one little mistake like changing her mind at the altar, and people never let it go. Surely the Misfits had something else to torment her with by now; it had been nearly a fortnight since the wedding! Kimber knew Stormer would never be so insensitive. She was a lovely, sensitive girl, even if she was a Misfit, and Kimber looked forward to crying on a sympathetic shoulder and having consolatory ice cream sundaes together.

Jetta had at least said enough for Stormer to figure out who had called. That might be a good thing, if Stormer managed to call back. On the other hand, if Pizzazz had been in the room, Kimber's chances of talking to Stormer had just diminished to nil.

Kimber tried to ignore Aja and Jerrica exchanging concerned glances and sat down and pointedly turned her attention to the cartoons some of the Starlight Girls had managed to sneak in among their daily diet of MTV and improving documentaries. There was always the danger that one of those two would cross over and try to lend sisterly sympathy, and Kimber wasn't in the mood. They would try to be understanding at her, and no one understood Kimber, no one at all.

Except Stormer.

Besides, all she had to do was wait until Jetta got bored, and then try again. Judging by the usual attention span of the Misfits, just after the next ad break would do it. Kimber snuggled up to her littlest foster sisters and concentrated on the Road Runner.

It was only when Jerrica started herding the youngest Starlight Girls to bed that Kimber realised she'd been distracted into reveries by the haunting image of Bugs Bunny in a wedding dress. Her own dress had been much, much prettier, and had been much more flattering - with a much better figure to be flattered than Bugs, if she did think so herself. It was a pity that her wedding was such an embarrassing memory, because being surrounded by her sisters and Raya, wearing a beautiful dress and for once being the centre of attention, even with Jem (or her hologrammatic presence) there, had been utterly dreamy. The flowers, the dress, the music... why should a niggling detail like being unable to make up her mind which groom she wanted spoil absolutely everything? It had been a fabulous party, and it wasn't as if either of the boys had really minded all that much if she'd been a teensy bit indecisive when it came to the point. No one cared that Bugs never really went through with his weddings.

Kimber heaved a wistful sigh. She really had loved the whole being a bride thing. It was just a pity that a groom had to be involved at all. It would be so much easier if she could just marry Stormer or something.

It was a pity that girls didn't marry girls - although Stormer really would pick out the most awesome wedding dress. Kimber always secretly envied the Misfits for having Tommy Watts as their designer. Shana was fantastic, of course, and so was Regine, but they had some kind of fusty old-fashioned prejudice against zebra print and leopardskin.

They'd look outrageous together, Kimber in her silk gown trimmed with pink roses, and Stormer in a white leather minidress...

Kimber's daydreaming was interrupted as Jerrica carefully lifted the sleepy Terri out of Kimber's arms, giving her a kind smile as she did so.

"Why don't you give Stormer another call? Sometimes these things take time."

Kimber nodded, aware she was pouting a little. She had no idea why it irritated her so much when Jerrica was so sweet to her. The girl was so relentlessly nice. And pretty, and talented... And cheating on her boyfriend with Riot while she tricked Rio into cheating on her, with herself. Kimber consoled herself with the fact that she really wasn't the most mixed-up Benton sister, all things considered.

It wasn't as if Kimber was the only one to cross lines. Aja practically had an almost-Misfit boyfriend too.

Too? Kimber frowned a little. Aja and Craig's on-off relationship had nothing to do with her pure and beautiful friendship with Stormer. Well... beautiful, anyway. There was no point in being best friends with a Misfit if she wasn't a little bit wild.

She was almost cross as her finger sharply turned the phone dial. Why didn't Stormer sense Kimber needed her feelings soothed and answer the phone to do some soothing?

"Hello, Misfit Mansion!"

Kimber recognised the breathless pride with which the address was announced, and felt a little better. Constance Montgomery was a constant thorn in the Hologram's side, and Kimber's sympathies were automatically with her cousin, but she wasn't too bad, really. At least she wasn't Roxy. And she was pretty easy to manipulate; after all, Jerrica had insisted that all Clash really wanted, deep in her scheming heart, was to belong. And Jerrica had an irritating tendency to be right.

"Clash, don't hang up or say anything! Please." Kimber closed her eyes and prayed. When the silence was unbroken, she sought the right words. "Clash, I really, really need to speak to Stormer. No, don't say anything! Clash, you know Stormer's my friend," she wheedled. "Stormer would be really, really happy if you let her know I'm on the phone - without letting Pizzazz know." Kimber could hear a but forming, and rushed on. "She'd be really pleased with you if you help m - us. Really, really pleased. She'll owe you big time."

For a long moment Kimber thought Clash would either hang up or go to fetch Stormer. Finally, her voice came coldly down the line. "So will you."

"Yes - yes, I will!" Kimber tried to ignore the sudden cold feeling in her stomach. "I'll pay you back, I promise."

"And I'll collect; I promise that. Okay, hang on. I'll get her."

There was a long enough pause for Kimber to start to seriously worry - and pout. What was Clash's deal, anyway? Anyone would have thought that the long bus trips when Kimber and "Sarah" had painted each other's toenails had been some kind of illusion! Kimber bitterly wondered if she should have had Raya talk to the ungrateful cow for her, anyway; surely saving a girl from a rampaging tiger suggested some kind of bond between them.

There was a noisy clatter of the receiver being picked up. "Hi."

Stormer didn't seem particularly enthusiastic; Kimber figured that some of the other Misfist must be in the room. Naturally she was overjoyed to hear from her best friend in the world.

"Stormer! It's so good to hear your voice. Listen, could you meet up with me? We could go get milkshakes tomorrow, or -" Kimber checked the clock. It was well past nine-thirty, but presumably the Misfits stayed up all night partying and Stormer would think it was silly if Kimber thought it was bedtime. "You could come over now, if you want. Or - I could meet you at a night club. It'll be like old times."

"I don't think so. I'm busy."

"But - Stormer, I want to see you!" Kimber wailed.

"So what?"

"Stormer!"

"If you wanted to see me so bad, why didn't you ask me to your stupid wedding?"

"I did! I even asked you to be a bridesmaid!"

"Oh." That was all Stormer said, but Kimber could feel the doubt. She rushed on,

"Eric must've intercepted the invitation. Or Pizzazz. Oh, Stormer, I'm sorry! Its probably better you didn't come anyway - it was a total disaster. I can't believe I was trying to marry Jeff when I really wanted Sean, only not really because -"

"Kimber, I really could care less about your boyfriends. Don't you dare come running to me when you've got in trouble by behaving like a - like a complete - tramp! Next time, maybe the boys can take turns like Jem and Jerrica do with Rio."

Kimber, aghast, could feel the shocked sobs welling up in her chest. How could Stormer, her sweet Stormer, say something so outrageously horrid? She could hear the other Misfits; raucous laughter in the background, adding the final touch to her nightmare. "But - St-Stormer - it really wasn't my fault! I'm just too young to make a commitment to a serious relationship!"

"So that's your excuse, is it?" Stormer sounded close to tears herself, for some reason. "Is that why you went back to the Holograms, too! And back to Sean, and Jeff, and - who knows who else? Because you're too young to be serious?"

Kimber blinked away her tears. "But - Stormer - that's not the same kind of thing at all!"

"I guess not. It doesn't matter anyway. Never speak to me again - never, ever."

The phone clattered down one more time, and Kimber burst into noisy tears. Skilfully evading her foster sisters, she took the stairs two at a time and fled to her sanctuary, to cry her eyes out and confide to the only person who really understood her, now Stormer was acting completely insane.

"Oh, Diary," she sighed, absently doodling lightning bolts on the tears-and-angst stained pages, "I just don't understand why Stormer is so upset. And now I'm in Clash's debt for no reason at all! Why is Stormer being so mean?"

The diary had no answer. Normally, living with Jerrica, that was one of the nicest things about it. But now, her heart aching more painfully than it ever had over a boy, Kimber kind of wished it had.

Stormer turned bitterly away from the phone. Her fellow Misfits were laughing and jeering, but she didn't particularly feel like joining in. She just wanted to crawl away, cling to her favourite teddy bear, and cry her eyes out. Sometimes, the only friend a girl could trust was her teddy.

She had something else to do first. She dialled the number of a certain downtown penthouse, anger making the phone's dial whirl. Then she yelled at the secretary a bit until she decided she was more afraid of the Misfits than her boss, who had obviously left messages that he wasn't in to anyone, especially Pizzazz.

"You better have a damn good explanation, Eric Raymond!" she snarled, when he was finally put through,

"Stormer, darling, I have no idea what you're so angry about," Eric oozed in his oiliest tones, which Stormer figured meant he had a very good idea indeed. Unless he'd been doing something else rotten to her, which she wouldn't put past him.

"Why didn't I get invited to Kimber's wedding?"

Eric didn't miss a beat. "I warned you that the Holograms can't be trusted and you'd just get hurt, Stormer. Kimber's just like her sister - selfish, ungrateful, untrustworthy-" His voice gained sincerity, and obsessive hatred, with every word.

Stromer wasn't in the mood to be sidetracked onto the Eric-Jerrica vendetta. "She said she invited me to be bridesmaid!"

"And you believe a Hologram over me?" Hurt pulsed down the phone line. "After all I've done for you?"

"Yes!"

"It wasn't good for your public image," Eric said crisply, abandoning deceit for the moment. "A Misfit crying at a wedding like a rejected girlfriend - no. And you should be grateful, because the further away you were from that public relations mess, the better!"

Stormer was brutally aware that she was going to cry properly, any second, and she didn't want Eric to hear her. The words 'rejected girlfriend' echoed in her head. "You interfere with my mail again, and I'm quitting! And I'll call my brother up and say you fired me! Remember that, Eric Raymond!" she said thickly, and resorted once again to the usual Misfit method of ending calls, which was to hang up in his ear.

She turned, pushing down sobs, to face a group of girls who hadn't even bothered to pretend not to be gleefully listening. They'd probably know all about what Eric had done, she bitterly thought, and they hated her brother Craig to a woman, but that didn't mean they didn't love hearing Eric get told off.

"That's what you get for hanging around with a Hologram. Told you she'd break your heart in two."

"Shut up, Pizzazz!" Stormer turned and ran from the room, in desperate search of her teddy bear.