Kinek Mondjam el Vétkeimet?
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Whatever palinka is, it sure tastes like crap. Still, it got me nice and buzzed, so I suppose it did its job.
Ferenc, the slimeball promoter who set up our concerts in Hungary, kept sending the waiters around with shots for everyone at the party. After a few years in the music business, I knew the one thing no one ever turned down was a free drink.
Eric, as usual, unjustifiably tried to make himself the center of attention. "To a lucrative future for Stingers Sound throughout Eastern Europe!" I just had to laugh when he gagged on his drink. The tool.
Naturally, most of the men at the party couldn't get enough of me. I'm sure, even now, they still fantasize about the night they met the world's most glamorous rock star. I'll bet they still dream of the full-length gown I wore, with the white ermine stole and the split all the way up my thigh. After meeting me, what woman wouldn't be a disappointment?
Unfortunately, most of them had way too much grease in their hair, and paprika on their breath (Daddy loved to have Chef put paprika in everything—I can't stand the stuff anymore). Lucky for me, I had Roxy and Jetta there to run interference. I'll bet a brute like Roxy was more the type of woman they were used to, anyway.
"Alright, luv, move along. Let the lady enjoy her drink in peace!"
"Yeah, unless you want me to beat the goulash out of you!"
I don't think most of the guests (Record executives? Government officials? I never bothered to ask) could even speak English, but Roxy's fists speak a universal language all their own.
For once, I'd begun to grow tired of all the attention I was getting. I draw a crowd wherever I go, but I'd never seen anything quite like Hungary. In the three days since we'd arrived, I'd been besieged by throngs of my adoring fans. From the airport, to the hotel, and then to the arena for our first concert, I saw nothing but screaming crowds, crying out for me!
It was after our first show, before the largest crowd we'd ever seen, even bigger than what the Stingers played to that night, that Stormer realized what was going on. "It's because you're Hungarian, Pizzazz."
"What is?" Mine and Stormer's interests rarely coincide, and I have a tendency to tune her out when she starts yapping.
"The crowds. I saw some of the signs they were holding up. A lot of them had your last name, "Gabor," on them. We're huge here because your family's Hungarian."
Because of my last name? Not because of me? Daddy had hardly ever mentioned anything about our family (or, talked to me at all, really). I think one of my nannies said something about Hungarian, German and Jewish ancestors, but I don't remember if she meant mine or hers. Either way, the subject bored me. Who cares about a bunch of dead people?
Since that night, the fans had been getting on my nerves. If all they wanted was a piece of my name, forget it. As always, the other Misfits and I closed ranks. I knew by now they were the only people I could depend on.
But, at the party, it wasn't my friends, or the greasy foreigners, or that drunken scumbag Eric, who had my attention. Every so often, I'd see him across the room, surrounded by the wives and girlfriends of the sleazes who wanted in my panties, and flanked by the two blonde bitches he called bandmates. Riot-my Riot-was here.
If there's one thing I'd learned in those past few years, it was patience. Riot may have fallen for that witch Jem, but I'd known she'd crush his heart before too long. People always seem to think the worst of me, but I wasn't the one fooling around with my manager's boyfriend in public.
You put on concerts for a bunch of bratty orphans, and people will forgive anything you do. I don't care what Stormer or the others say, or how they tried patch up our feud—Jem's a hypocrite, and a fraud, and disappearing is the best thing she ever did. The hell with her, the pink-haired skank!
Now, where was I? Oh, right…
As I grew more bored and irritated with my admirers, I looked for a way to get across the room and speak to Riot. "Excuse me, boys." Most of the jerks around me didn't seem to understand English, so I shoved a few aside.
As I broke through the crowd, I felt a hand on my shoulder. I spun around to see Jetta, giving me her usual bootlicking smile. "'Ey, Yank, something you need? Just let Aunty Jetta take care of it for you."
"Uh, I just wanted to get some more of that palinka." I pointed to an especially ugly waiter.
"Oh, not likely. I've tasted better stuff from the inside of a loo. What're you up to?"
"It's none of your business," I commanded. Jetta tended to forget her place in the pecking order.
"This better not have anything to do with Ol' Blondie over there. Roxy!"
Roxy muscled her way through the crowd and glared at Jetta. "Whaddya want?"
"Our fearless leader's trying to make time with Riot."
Roxy shifted her glare in my direction. "You promised us you'd stay away from him!" She balled up her fists at me.
I flicked my hair and tried my hardest not to show my favorite head case that she scared me. "Sorry, but I'm too old to have a nanny look after me."
Roxy called across the room. "Stormer!" Our songwriter was chatting with Ferenc's boring sister, and Roxy had to yell a second time to get her attention. I tried to break into a run, but Roxy grabbed me by the elbow.
"What's wrong?" As she made her way to us, Stormer wore her default expression—nervous concern.
"Pizzazz is trying to talk to Riot, even though she promised us she wouldn't," Roxy grumbled.
Stormer put a hand on my shoulder. "Pizzazz, you know the effect he has on you. You're just not yourself when you're around him."
"Where do you three get the nerve to tell me what to do?" They always seemed to forget whose father's money had bankrolled them on their way to the top of the charts.
Roxy jabbed her hands into her hips. "Maybe if you used your brain for a change, we wouldn't have to!"
I'd had enough of her insolence. I snatched a bottle of Ferenc's swill from the waiter and leaned back to hurl it towards the wall.
But Stormer grabbed my arm and stopped me. "Pizzazz, I don't want to see him break your heart again."
I sighed, and put the bottle back on the tray. "But, he didn't."
"He played with your feelings, and made you humiliate yourself. I don't trust him, and I hate seeing you get hurt." When Stormer acts so caring, it just weirds me out—I'm not used to it. She's such a strange person.
"You don't get it—Jem's gone! Things are different now. Now's my chance with him, and I have to take it." I could see Stormer mulling over my words, unsure of what to say to me. I knew she'd cave in.
"And take the chance on tearing the group apart again?" Roxy snarled. "Uh uh. No way."
But Jetta butted in, "Wait, Rox. Maybe Pizzazz is right. Maybe this is something she's gonna 'ave to find out for 'erself."
I gave them a grin. Roxy had been outnumbered, and would have to back down. She folded her arms and turned away in a huff.
"Be careful, Pizzazz." Stormer placed her hands on my shoulders again, but I brushed them aside. "Remember, if you need to talk…"
"Yeah, yeah." I blew the girls a kiss and begun pushing my way through the crowd. Even though our bands had been touring together the last several weeks, it'd been far too long since I'd spoken one on one with my wonderful Riot.
I'd made it halfway across the room when I felt my arms being grabbed. What was with everyone that night? I reared back to deliver a slap when I saw it was only Eric, with Ferenc next to him. "Pizzazz, the festival promoters in Debrecen need our confirmation you'll be signing autographs before the show on Saturday!"
"ERRR-IC!" I shrieked, "Let go of me! We're not doing any more autograph shows, so tell the promoters to go fuck themselves!"
Ferenc clucked his disapproval. "That is most unprofessional. The demand from the public is so high; your arrival is the biggest event to happen in my country since the fall of Communism."
"As if I care?" Honestly, I get tired of everyone going "Me, me, me!" all the time. What about what I want?
"Pizzazz!" Eric growled, as if he could intimidate me, "We stand to make a fortune from these new markets, if you don't screw it up!"
"I couldn't give a damn about your bank account. Now, excuse me!" I jammed my stiletto heel through the top of one of his tacky Italian loafers, heard him squeal, and continued to make my way toward my one true love.
Except, he was gone. The crowd of Hungarian bitches had dispersed, leaving behind the worst ones of all—Rapture and Minx, Riot's bandmates.
Rapture twisted her lips into a grin. "Well, well, Pizzazz—have you been enjoying your reception here?"
"I always knew Hoon-gary was a cultural backwater. Seeing them fawn over Pizzazz just proves it!" Minx threw back her mountains of hair and joined Rapture in an annoyingly long laugh.
I didn't have time for their nonsense. "Where's Riot? I saw him here just a minute ago."
Minx gave one of her idiotic giggles. "Oh, he is in the toilet. But we'll be happy to entertain you until he returns."
"Coming to Eastern Europe has enabled me to make contact with some of my Gypsy relatives," Rapture rambled. "They've introduced me to new spells and potions that will revolutionize the study of magic in the West."
"Is that so? Incredible!" Minx chirped.
"Indeed it is. Pizzazz, would you care for a demonstration of my newfound powers?"
"I hope one of 'em is the power to shut up for a change!" I'd heard enough about Rapture and her spells to last a lifetime.
"Take care not to trifle with things you don't understand—which I suppose would be anything!" Rapture cackled; the little German bimbo soon joined in.
I would have stormed away right then had Riot not re-entered the room at that moment. I couldn't see anything but him: his long, flowing blonde hair, his bangs enticingly curling over his left eyebrow; his strong, thick jaw; his bewitching hunter green eyes. I felt flushed, and I could barely choke out his name.
He turned to me and gave a small smile. He acted a bit strange—he kept rubbing his nose, and he seemed to be breathing rapidly. I recognized those signs—I never got into coke, myself, but knowing what he'd been doing made him seem even more attractive than usual.
"Ah, Pizzazz. I trust Rapture and Minx have congratulated you on the tremendous success of our tour." Soon the local tramps began surrounding him again. The thought of grabbing clumps of hair tempted me.
"I've been wanting to speak to you. Alone." He flashed his smile at me. Mmmm, those perfect teeth.
My knees were shaking. "Of…of course, Riot."
Like that jerk in the old movie, he waved his hands, and the sea of women in front of us parted. "Excuse us," he demanded, in a voice barely above a whisper. "Let us through."
I felt warmth cascading through my body as he took me by the hand and led me through the crowd. Before I knew it, we were out on the balcony, under a cloudy sky, with Budapest buzzing below us. I wanted to retch from the exhaust fumes of the junky cars they drove—but the sight of Riot next to me made my stomach leap for entirely different reasons.
"So remarkable," he said. "So much change, in such a short time. We're privileged to witness it."
"Absolutely, Riot." Anything he said sounded brilliant to me.
"We're quite high up. Look." He pointed over the side. I peered down at the traffic below. We must've been about twenty stories up. Had I not remembered who stood next to me, I'd have spit over the side. (I was loogie hocking champ of my finishing school, didn't you know?)
He gave a drawn out sigh. I patted his big, muscular shoulders in sympathy. "What's wrong?"
His gaze met mine; I couldn't figure out his expression. "Pizzazz, when was the last time you saw Jem?"
I stammered, "Jem? Jem—what about her?"
"When did you last see her?" His eyebrows narrowed; I had to look away.
"Over a year ago, I guess. We were making an appearance on Lin-Z's show, and she interviewed Jem before we went on. I didn't talk to her or anything—I don't, if I can help it."
He put soft fingers on my chin and methodically turned my head to face him. "You never liked Jem, or her band. Am I right?"
I swallowed hard. "That was mostly Eric's doing, and that witch, Jerrica. They pushed the rivalry between us, telling us whatever would make us hate each other. I'm not buddies with them, the way Stormer is, but once I got to know them, I realized they weren't all bad. Wimps, mostly, but they're all right, I guess."
I realized, as he stared at me, his face framed by the hazy glow of moonlight, that I couldn't bear to lie to him. "No. I just don't like her. Everybody loves her, and nobody knows what kind of person she really is."
He smiled at me. "She was perfect."
I brushed his hand away from my face. "She's a phony. I'm sure she disappeared cause she couldn't keep up her fancy- schmancy, Miss Pink Perfect Princess act anymore."
He shook his head. "No. I don't believe the official story. I know she didn't just 'withdraw from public life.' I'm certain she was murdered."
I don't know why, but that struck me as incredibly funny. I can still hear how loud I laughed. "Oh, Riot, you're joking! That's the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard!"
He wore no trace of a smile now. "Jem cared about others too much to ever disappear. She would never turn her back on me; on her friends; on the foster girls she helped support…" He turned to me and snarled, "Even on those who never deserved a moment of her time."
"Why are you even telling me all this? This has nothing to do with me." I turned from him and prepared to return to the party. Spending time with Riot wasn't worth it if he intended to spend all night yammering on about Jem.
That's when I felt him yank my arm, hard enough to make me yelp in pain. "And I intend to make certain this has nothing to do with you!" He grabbed my by the shoulders and pulled me to within an inch of his face. Just minutes earlier, I'd have done anything to be this close to him.
"W-what do you mean?" I didn't know what to do. I should have tried to slip out of his grasp, but part of me still wanted to stay where I was.
But, then, he made it all clear. "I need to know if you had something to do with Jem's death!" He reached behind me, seized a handful of my hair, and bent me over the railing. I was too stunned to say anything. I could see a big green bus passing by underneath me.
I couldn't remember how to close my eyes.
For the first time that night, he raised his voice to a shout. "Now, tell the truth, Pizzazz! Did you kill her? Did you give in to your idiotic jealousy and murder her?"
Years later, when I told the other Misfits what happened, I proudly recalled that I didn't cry, and I didn't scream. I didn't tell them, that, for a moment, I'd hoped he'd just toss me over and be done with it. It'd be easier than having to remember how stupid I'd been about this man.
"I didn't kill her! Who says she's even dead? Now, let go of me, damn it!"
Riot pulled me back to my feet, and stared me down. I couldn't bear it, and looked away again. "You couldn't have killed her. You're too foolish-too much of a coward, to have pulled it off."
When he began rubbing his nose again, I took my chance. I grabbed him by the cheeks and dug my nails in as deep as they'd go; then I pulled across his face, until he howled. He reached to grab me, but I'd already run back inside. I careened through the hallways, Riot close behind, until I crashed back into the reception hall, where the tedious party continued.
Before Riot could say anything, I grabbed a nearby vase and smashed it to the floor. Everyone in the room stopped in mid-sentence and stared at me. I turned to Roxy, Stormer, and Jetta. "C'mon Misfits, we're trashing this dump!"
You little people can say what you like about us, but don't ever say the Misfits don't stick together. As I grabbed a painting of a bridge from the wall and smashed it over Ferenc's head, I saw Roxy pull the drapes from the nearest window and toss them over Rapture and Minx, while Stormer kicked over the dessert cart, and Jetta tossed as many palinka bottles in the fireplace as she could find. Arcs of flame erupted into the room, making everyone scatter.
As the room filled with shouts and screams, I ran to the door and signaled the others to follow. Before long, we heard the commotion recede into the night as the taxi we'd jumped into made its way across downtown Budapest.
The most satisfying tantrums involve plenty of broken glass. Don't ask me why, they just do. About an hour after we fled the party, I sat alone in my hotel room, surrounded by shards of glass from the windows, the mirrors, and the crappy Hungarian TV. After costing Daddy hundreds, if not thousands of dollars in damage, I should have felt quite satisfied, indeed.
Instead, I curled up on the carpet and tried to ignore the little voice in my head telling me what an idiot I'd been.
After so many years together, I loved how the others knew me well enough that they didn't even try to get me to talk about my feelings, or any of that crap.
"Wanna try hittin' a club?" Roxy had asked me in the cab. "There's gotta be something to do in this hellhole at night."
"No," I'd replied. "You guys can go—I wanna go back to the hotel."
Stormer gave me a smile and tried to pet my hand. I pulled it away from her. "It won't be as fun without you, Pizzazz."
"Thanks, but I just want to get some sleep." I don't think I said anything else during the rest of the ride, until they dropped me off.
I spent the next hour smashing everything I could find in my suite, while screaming at all the losers who kept pounding on my door and walls to go fuck themselves.
Tantrums just weren't that much fun anymore.
While I lay on the floor, I heard some more banging at my door. I expected to hear some of that gibberish the people here spoke, but instead, Eric bellowed: "Pizzazz, if you're in there, you'd better open up!"
I staggered to my feet; I don't know if the tantrum had used up my energy, or if the palinka had kicked in, but my head was swimming. I pulled open the door and snarled, "Get lost, Eric!"
"Pizzazz, do you realize how many strings Riot and I had to pull to keep the police…" I closed the door behind us as he examined my evening's handiwork. "Been busy?"
"Riot's one to be telling the police anything. I could tell you a thing or two about him, Eric." I sat down on the bed and hoped the throbbing vein in my head wouldn't pop.
"Riot and I also own the company you work for, in case you've forgotten." I caught him adjusting his tie in the broken mirror I'd thrown an ice bucket at.
"Believe me, you never let me forget that!"
Eric ran his hands through his crunchy, mousse-filled hair; I could see his sneer in the cracked reflection. "Stingers Sound is about to make a major push into the Eastern European markets. I'm not going to let your silly rampages ruin that."
"I'm not in the mood, Eric. If you don't have anything interesting to say, then get lost!" I'd begun making plans to start packing and skip out of the country in the morning. This place could kiss my ass, for all I cared.
"How's this for interesting? Gabor Industries is negotiating with the Hungarian government for the rights to some mineral deposits, worth several million dollars." He gave me his slimiest smirk.
"I have my sources. Of course, any more international incidents, and the deal's sure to fall through." Eric picked up a shard from the mirror and juggled it in his hands. "And won't dear Daddy Gabor be so disappointed in his wayward daughter?"
I pulled at my hair and tried to push the image of my father's scowling face from my mind. "Eric, just get…just…fuck you."
He strode over to my side, caressed my chin, and looked into my eyes. "With pleasure," he sniggered.
In a split second, I weighed my options: "Eh, what the hell." I grabbed him by the scruff of his neck. I began kissing him so hard, I could taste blood where I bit his lip.
About half an hour later, I wandered through the neighborhood near the hotel, as I tried to ignore the queasy feeling in my stomach (if you've ever had sex with Eric, you know I felt).
He's an ass, but I'd always found him attractive, in a repulsive sort of way. It wasn't the first time I'd screwed him, but as I walked past an empty bakery and a full bar, I promised myself it would be the last.
"Way to go, Pizzazz," I thought. "Who knew fucking a guy you hate wouldn't help you feel like any less of an idiot?"
It's amazing what a scarf on your head can do. As I walked the streets, people kept passing me by, with only a few muttering their nonsense language at me. Can you believe that? People ignoring me, one of the most famous and beautiful women in the world? And that it's what I hoped would happen?
The last thing I wanted that night was people reminding me of who I am.
I crossed a bridge over the Danube (Ok, I admit—I never paid attention to what it's called when I was there. I had the maid Google the river's name, just now) and watched boats pass underneath me, before they'd disappear, leaving only the inky blackness of the water and the reflection of the moonlight below.
I stood silently as people walked past me, back and forth. I began watching them instead of the river. Mostly old, ugly people, but I soon I noticed all the young couples, people my own age, holding hands and strolling along. After about the tenth one, I just wanted to scream and start throwing whatever I could find.
It wasn't fair. Stupid, happy jerks!
By now I was seething, so I focused on the boring river again, watching the boats putter along. I wondered if the slobs working on the boats knew how much I envied them at the moment—not for how they looked, since I'm sure I looked much better than them, but because they didn't know people like Riot, or Eric, or Jem. Because they probably had someone they actually wanted to come home to at night. They probably had fathers they could talk too about stuff besides business.
They probably had mothers who loved them.
"Something on your mind?" The voice freaked the hell out of me, and I prepared to do some more clawing. But it was only some middle-aged woman next to me, peering out at the river. "You've been staring at the boats for quite a while. I doubt even a tourist would find them that interesting."
She must have been around fifty, maybe a little taller than me. She wore a long, thick winter coat (it was only September), and long blonde hair tied up in a bun. She had ugly bags under her eyes, and wrinkles around her tiny red lips. Her accent was thick, but she spoke clear English.
"How'd you know I'm a tourist?"
She laughed, "No locals dress like you, dear." I suppose she had a point; gold bustiers and zebra print stilettos don't exactly scream "former communist dictatorship." (Of course, when I went back to Hungary on business last year, I found kids dressed in things even I'd have been too modest to wear at their age).
I shrugged. "Well, if you want an autograph, you're wasting your time. I'm off duty tonight." I gave her my patented dismissive wave, and went back to watching the water below.
"No, djevojčica, I don't want anything like that. I saw the pain in your face, and I know at moments like that, the water can be quite tempting." She tried putting an arm on my shoulder, but I brushed her away. Why do people think that's comforting?
"Nah, don't worry about me, grandma. Being stupid isn't enough of a reason to off yourself. Run along back to your goulash, or whatever. I'll be fine."
She began laughing. "Actually, I'm a tourist myself, in a way. I'm just passing through, trying to earn a little money. I'm from Yugoslavia, originally."
"Oh yeah? Smart move, avoiding that place." I remembered that Riot and Eric had canceled some shows there we'd been scheduled to perform on this tour, when the news broke that the place had started breaking apart. Pfft, politics.
"Yes, I just pray things will not turn violent back home." She talked for a couple minutes about life in Yugoslavia, but it all bored me, and I soon tuned her out. It was only when she asked "Do you talk to your mother often?" that I started to listen again.
I wheeled around and clenched my fists. "Why did you mention my mom? What are you up to?"
The woman stepped back. "I was merely curious."
"Yeah, well you better watch it." I sighed, then added, "My mom walked out when I was a little kid, and I never heard from her again. You happy?" I turned back the river; I dug my nails into the concrete railing and chipped them to pieces.
"I'm sorry, dear." She put her hand on my shoulder again. "I have a daughter of my own. I haven't seen her since she was a child. Sometimes things happen in life you just can not control."
I snorted. "Likely story. I'm sure she hates you."
I kinda wanted to make this irritating old bag cry, or start shouting at me, or something. Instead, she softly replied, "I'm sure she does. That's my cross to bear."
"Well, why don't you find her and say something to her? Better than making her think you don't give a shit, right? I mean, unless you don't."
"Like I said, some things you can not control. Sometimes, the only way to help the people you love most is to leave them."
I tried to walk away from her, but she followed me. "Excuses, excuses. You know what makes me and my friends better than most people? When we hate you, we'll tell you to your face. We don't feel one way, but act another."
"Is that all you and your friends do, djevojčica? Hate? What about love?"
I stopped, turned back, and got in her face. "What about love? What's that got to do with anything?"
"It was just a question."
I felt a headache coming on again. "Look, lady-"
"Look, Nadia, you're starting to get on my nerves. I've had a really crappy night, and you're not making things any better. Now, get lost!"
"Well, if you'd like to talk about it…"
All my pent up frustration let loose, and I told her everything: the party; Riot; trashing that place and then my hotel room; Eric. Everything.
By the time I finished, I was surprised to realize I'd let Nadia cradle my head against her chest as she stroked my hair. I felt so strange—all warm and cozy. I kept expecting her to push me to the ground, and tell me to leave her alone, but she never did.
"I'm sure tomorrow will be better, Pizzazz." She wiped away tears I didn't even know I'd sobbed.
"I guess now you can see why my mother wants nothing to do with me."
"Sweet girl, if she really hated you, that's her problem, her madness. At that age, it couldn't have been your fault."
No one had ever told me that. The thought had never crossed my mind.
Why was I twenty-seven before anyone said that to me?
Why didn't Daddy tell me that?
Later, we walked back to the center of the bridge, as a tugboat puttered along beneath us. By now, few people were around. After all my years in L.A., I had trouble understanding a place where people went to bed before midnight.
Nadia turned to me. "Tell me Pizzazz, what do you think love is?"
An hour earlier, I'd have yelled for this old bat to quit bugging me. Now, all I wanted was to say the right answer and have her praise me. "Love is when you're around someone, and then, when they're not there, your life feels empty. You find everything reminds you of the other person, and you can't bear it when you're apart."
She raised an eyebrow and shook her head. "I think you've just described 'obsession.'"
Great, now I felt even stupider. "Then, what is love?"
She gave me a little hug, and I let her. "You have to discover that for yourself, child. But when you find it, you'll know."
"Doubletalk," I muttered.
I shrugged. "Whatever. So, what is your story, anyway? If you love your kid so much, why'd you leave her behind?"
She told me. But I'll be honest, I lost track of what she said—a bunch of stuff about amnesia, international politics, the Cold War, and all that junk. Big whoop. If I'd been her kid, I wouldn't have bought her excuses.
Still, she'd treated me so nicely; maybe I'd have forgiven her, if I'd been in her daughter's shoes. Beats me.
When she finished, I said something like "Wow," then sat on the railing and began filing my chipped nails. (Roxy once told me I treat the whole world like my bathroom—"And why shouldn't I?" I'd replied).
"Why have you been so nice to me? What's your angle?"
She sighed. "I'm a little lonely, and guilty, I suppose. Tonight, I nearly jumped into the Danube myself, but I couldn't when I saw you."
I had a long laugh. "You're welcome!"
She chuckled. "Indeed. Thank you, Pizzazz." She then pointed to a man across from us, staring at the other end of the river. "You don't suppose he'd like to join our little discussion?"
I checked out the guy she pointed to. Tall, wearing a gray trench coat and worn white sneakers. Something about him seemed familiar, but I couldn't figure out what until I noticed his purple hair.
"Rio?" I rushed across the bridge. "Rio, is that you?"
He turned toward me, and grumbled. "Oh, it's you. Look, I'm really not in the mood, Pizzazz—"
"Wait, I just wanted to talk. What are you doing in Hungary?"
He groaned and turned back to the river. "If you must know, I'm here as a favor to Kimber. She's planning to do some concerts out here. She knew you guys were playing Budapest, so she asked if I could check out the acoustics at the arena for her. Now, I've said all I intend to, so go bother someone else."
Rio's kinda cute when he's pouting.
"So, how'd we sound?" I gave him a grin and tried putting myself between him and the filthy river.
"The acoustics were fine."
"That's not what I asked."
"Pizzazz, I'm not in the mood for another one of your childish games." He stormed off, obviously pretending he hadn't been attracted to me for all those years.
"Wait!" I called out. "Rio, I'm sorry!"
That made him stop. He turned back to me. "What'd you say? It's the weirdest thing, I thought I heard you say you're sorry."
"Very funny, Rio," though I could tell he wasn't joking. That would require an actual sense of humor, something Rio Pacheco has never demonstrated, to my knowledge. "Look, I don't want to cause trouble. I'm just surprised to see someone from back home out here, that's all."
He looked down at his shoes, before he finally replied, "Where are the other Misfits? What are you doing out here alone at night?"
"I think they said they were gonna go to a club. I didn't feel like it; it's been a rough night for me."
I couldn't really tell, but I think he rolled his eyes at me. "Yeah, well…"
"Anyway, I'm not alone. I met this woman, Nadia, a little earlier. You should talk to her, she—" I turned back to point her out, but no one was there. "Oh no!"
"What? What's wrong?"
"Where'd she go? I left her just a min—oh shit, Rio! What if she jumped?" I began running back to where I last saw her. I heard heavy footsteps behind me.
"What do you mean? What if who jumped?"
I ran along the railing, peering into the dark waters, looking for signs of a splash. My heart raced. "She talked about jumping! Rio, if she did—"
He grabbed me from behind. "Calm down, Pizzazz! What did this woman look like?"
I described what I could remember. Rio looked around, then pointed toward the street I'd come down initially. "Is that her?"
"Getting into that cab."
I focused on where he'd pointed. Sure enough, Nadia stepped into a taxi and closed the door behind her. "Nadia!" I shrieked, "Where're you going?" The cab pulled away before I could catch up to it, leaving a trail of smoke that made me gag.
"What's this all about?" I heard Rio say as he caught up to me. "Who is she?"
"I don't know. I met her on the bridge, and we talked a while. That's all I know."
Before I'd seen Rio, a thought had crossed my mind: I'd use Daddy's connections and resources, and reunite Nadia and her daughter. I could already picture the headlines: "Pizzazz Heals Broken Family." "We Owe Everything to Pizzazz." "Pizzazz: Woman of the Year."
Well, so much for that idea.
Rio took my hand "Are you ok? Do you need to sit down or something?" He led me to a bench near the bridge.
"Yeah, I guess I'm ok. It's just been a long night." I sat down and began rubbing my sore ankles. "Rio, I need to ask you something."
"Look, Pizzazz, I'm sorry about your friend, but I really don't—"
"Is Jem still alive?"
That shut him up. Rio took a seat next to me. "Why did you ask me that?"
I let out an anguished little wail that had been in my stomach for hours. "Tonight, Riot accused me of killing her."
If there's one thing worse than crying, it's crying in front of someone who thinks you're lower than dirt, but that's what I did. After everything that's happened between us, and between me and both his girlfriends, he still held me and tried to calm me down.
"Pizzazz, don't let him get to you. He accused me of the same thing, a couple weeks ago."
Well, that stopped the tears in a hurry!
"He did what?" I shouted.
"Just what I said. He's convinced Jem was murdered, and he wanted to know if I killed her. I gave him a black eye for his trouble." Rio actually laughed a little, something I'd almost never seen him do.
"That explains those stupid droopy bangs he's been wearing over his left eye!" We actually shared a chuckle at that.
He shook his head. "I know Riot played a big part in Jem's decision to leave the country. He's gonna blame anyone else he can, rather than look at his role in it."
"So, she's alive?"
Rio bit his lip. "I asked Jerrica, but…well, you must have heard how things ended between us, so I didn't get a straight answer. So I asked Aja. She told me all the pressures had become too much for Jem, and she'd grown more interested in spiritual matters, so she left to study meditation overseas."
I let out a little groan. "And you believed her?"
He nodded. "Any of the others, if Jerrica, or if Jem herself, asked them to lie, they'd do it. They're great people, but they can be loyal to a fault. But Aja's a straight shooter. If she says that's what happened, then I believe her."
I nearly spoke, then rejected my first impulse and thought of what someone like Nadia might say. "I'm sorry, Rio. I know you cared a lot about her."
He stood and shrugged. "About both of them. My own fault-I couldn't decide who I wanted, and I lost them both. But, I can either keep hating myself for what I did, or I can try and move on."
I nearly said, "You're better off," but I stopped myself, again. Jeez, saying the right thing is hard. "On the bright side, at least you don't have to worry about your girlfriend firing you anymore." That probably wasn't the right thing either, but it actually got a laugh from him.
"Yeah, I guess you've got a point there." He offered me his hand. It was warm and rough to the touch. "Come on, it's probably not safe to be out this late. Let's see if we can find the rest of your band."
I grinned, "Hmm, knowing Roxy and Jetta, it might be a good idea to start with the police station."
He didn't find the notion as amusing as I did. "Sometimes, I just can't believe you girls. You really are crazy."
As we began walking away from the bridge, I slipped my arm around his, and ran my little finger along his chin. "Yeah, and that's how we like it!"
Rio actually gave me a crooked little smile as we tried to flag down a cab.
We never did get around to finding the other Misfits.
About a week later, I had to resist the urge to slap Daddy's ditz of a secretary.
"I'm sorry, Mr. Gabor's very busy today, you'll have to come back another time."
"He's my father, and I can see him whenever I like!" Could she not see that the bowl I carried was ridiculously hot, and that I'd have been more than happy to dump its contents on her head if she kept bothering me?
I didn't have time for her, so I pushed past and rushed into Daddy's office. As always, I found him on the phone, setting up some deal in some distant country. He didn't notice me till I stood right in front of his desk.
"Can I call you back in a moment?" He gave me a blank stare as he put the phone down. "Phyllis, I'm very busy, so whatever you want, make it quick."
I held up the bowl I carried. "Daddy, I haven't seen you since I got home from our tour, so I thought I'd surprise you—I had Chef whip up some goulash for you. Plenty of paprika. Your favorite." I presented it to him with pride.
"Yes, well, just leave it here on the desk, and I'll get to it later. Now, if you don't mind, I have to make some important calls, so if you could just be on your way…" Daddy motioned to the door as I sat his lunch down.
"Actually, if it's all right, I thought I'd just watch you work for a while." I pulled up a chair next to him. "Remember, when I was a kid, and I'd watch you make phone calls to all over the world?"
"Not really, but you can stay if you promise not to bother me." He wagged his finger at me for good measure.
"Thank you, Daddy." I kissed his forehead and mussed his white hair. I spent the next few hours watching my father work. I thought back to Nadia, and tried to figure out if this was what love is like.
I didn't know it yet, but I was already pregnant with my son.
(Special thanks to my beta testers: AllieGee, and my sister, Rosanna. The title's Hungarian for "Who can I tell my sins?")