Tori was jolted awake by the ringing phone. She glanced at the clock and wondered who it could be calling her this late.
“Hi angel. Sorry to wake you up.”
“Richie! What’s wrong?”
“Why do you think something’s wrong?”
“Aren’t you about to go on stage?” Her sleepy brain was trying to figure out the time difference.
“Yeah, pretty soon. But I didn’t get a chance to call you earlier and I wanted to hear your voice.”
“What kept you so busy today?” He’d been really good to call everyday.
“We haven’t been in Australia for a while so the media are all over us. Plus, we’re bringing in up and coming bands for openers so we’ve been checking a few of them out.” He chuckled. “Jon’s a little hung over today.”
“Bet you don’t miss that feeling.”
“No I don’t. And that was real subtle babe.”
“Checking up on me.”
“I wasn’t. The though never even crossed my mind. I have complete faith in you.” She assured him.
“Thank you. I appreciate that.”
“What’s wrong Rich?” There was a note in his voice that told her something was going on.
“I just miss you. I love being here, and the weather’s great, I just wish you were here with me.”
She smiled. “I miss you too. But it’s only a few more days until you’re back in my part of the world. And enjoy the weather, ‘cause what we’ve got here sucks big time!”
“Swingman! Let’s go!” She could hear Jon yelling in the background.
“Uh oh, the boss is calling. Time to go to work. Have a good show honey and I’ll talk to you soon. I love you.”
“I love you too angel. I’ll call you tomorrow. Bye.”
The next week Tori was sorting through the latest packet from BJM. This one had fan mail from Japan. Some were a little difficult to read, English not being the authors’ first language, but the sentiment was clear. It was no wonder the guys liked going to Japan every tour. They loved them there! She had to smile when several of them asked where she was and why didn’t she come with them. Setting aside the latest of these, she opened the next one. This one was in perfect English and was accompanied by pictures. She glanced quickly at the shots of Richie and a beautiful exotic looking girl, then turned to the letter.
I want to thank you so much for letting me spend some time with you in Tokyo. I can’t express how much it meant to me to be able sit and talk to you. I always sensed that you would be a wonderful, kind and funny man, and I was thrilled to find out I was right. If my plans work out I’ll see you in Sydney. I’m really looking forward to seeing you again and spending some more time with you – and maybe find out if I’m right about other aspects of you as well!
See you soon,
Tori snorted at the last line, and looked again at the pictures. Now, if I didn’t trust him, this is one I would be concerned about!
A few days later she had just settled onto the couch with a cup of tea when her phone rang. Glancing at the clock she smiled.
“Hi angel. How are you?”
“Better now that I’m talking to you.”
“Well, that may change.”
“Oh? Why? Scheduling problems again?” They’d been trying to find some time when they could get together, but were having trouble. They had sort of settled on a few days around Valentine’s day, but hadn’t decided who was going to do the traveling.
“Yeah. I know we planned to get together for Valentine’s Day, but Mom wants me to go to Jersey. She’s going through a rough patch and is really depressed.” His concern was evident in his voice.
“Absolutely you should go to her! Are you taking Ava?”
“I’m thinking about it if I can talk Heather into letting her miss a few days of school. Baby I’m really sorry…..”
“Honey, stop! It’s fine. If your mother needs you, then you should go to her.” She swallowed her disappointment and ignored the stab of pain at not being invited to join them.
“I’ll make it up to you.” He promised.
“Oh I know you will. Well if I’m not going to see you then we need to go over a few invitations that came in and need to be dealt with. Did you get the e-mail I sent?” She got up and moved to her desk and the file of his mail that was sitting there.
They spent the next fifteen minutes dealing with the business side of Richie’s life. Then the conversation turned to the next leg of the tour and the start of the Soul’s season.
“So what are your plans for the get together?” He asked.
“Unless something changes, I’m flying to Jersey on the evening of the 29th and then traveling to Philly with everyone.”
“Good. Then we’ll at least have some time together then.” He paused. “I’m really sorry about this.”
“It’s fine. Really.” She assured him. “Look honey, it’s late here and I’m really tired.”
“Please don’t be mad.”
“I’m not, I’m just tired. Tell your mom that I’m thinking about her and let me know if there’s anything I can do to help.”
“I will.” He hesitated, but didn’t know what else to say. “I’ll let you get some rest then. I’ll talk to you soon. I love you angel.”
“I love you too. Bye honey.” Hanging up she closed her eyes, blew out a breath, and pressed a hand against the knot forming in the pit of her stomach.
The day before Valentine’s another packet arrived from BJM, this time with fan mail from Australia. Reading through the letters she chuckled at the Aussie slang and yet more expressions of disappointment that she wasn’t touring with the band. Opening an envelope, she pulled out the letter and had to grab quickly to catch the pictures that fell out. She glanced at them and frowned. It was the Japanese beauty again, this time sitting comfortably on Richie’s lap. They were both smiling and looking like they were thoroughly enjoying themselves. Cautioning herself about jumping to conclusions, and reminding herself how all the guys were nice to the fans, she unfolded the letter.
What can I say? Sydney was fantastic! You were fantastic! It will be an experience that I will remember and treasure for the rest of my life. I will be coming to the U.S. in February for several weeks and I would very much like to see you and pick up where we left off. You have my number. Give me a call and I’ll let you know my travel arrangements and we can make plans for our reunion. I can’t wait!
See you soon,
Tori sat for long minutes reading and rereading the letter and studying the pictures. Don’t jump to conclusions! It may be perfectly innocent. It’s probably just wishful thinking on her part. Richie would never do that to you. She picked up the tour schedule, studied it for a moment and reached for the phone.
“Hi Jon, it’s me.”
“Hi Tori what’s up?”
“I though I might come join you guys in Chicago – if you don’t mind.”
“That’s great! I don’t mind at all! Do you need me to make the travel arrangements?”
“No, I’ll get there on my own. What hotel are you staying in?” She reached for a pen and paper to write down the information. “Oh, and could you do me one favour?”
“Don’t tell Richie I’m coming. I want to surprise him.”
He laughed. “No problem. It’ll be nice to be able to pull one over on him for a change.”
“Thanks Jon. I’ll let you know when I’ve booked my flight and I know when I’ll be arriving.”
“Ok. I’ll have everything ready on this end. See you then Sis. Bye.”
“Bye Jon.” Hanging up, she pressed a hand against her stomach. The knot was getting bigger.
Arriving at O’Hare, she found Jack waiting for her once again. “You’re on airport duty again eh?”
He laughed. “Yeah. At least this time your plane was on time and I can guarantee that the concierge and the security at the venue will know who you are!”
She laughed and nodded. When they arrived at the hotel, Jack pulled her suitcase out of the trunk and carried it inside for her. “Do you want me to wait for you? The guys are already there.”
“No, I’d like to get settled and rest a bit before I head over.”
“Ok. Just give me a call when you’re ready.”
Tori looked over at the reception desk. She had debated long and hard before calling and booking herself her own room for tonight. If things worked out, she’d move into Richie’s room later. If it all fell apart, then she’d have a place to stay until she could get a flight back home tomorrow. Now she was debating the wisdom of her decision. She took a deep breath and went to check in.
In her room she stood for a long time looking out the window and thinking. Finally, feeling a little cooped up, she glanced at her watch and decided to get ready for the show and walk to the venue – at least part of the way. Hopefully the fresh (read cold) air would clear her head and help her figure out how to broach the situation with Richie.
Twenty minutes later, bundled up in a warm coat, scarf and mitts, and armed with directions, she started out. Mind swirling, she ended up walking all the way. Noticing a gradually building crowd heading in the same direction she figured she must be close. When she arrived she suddenly realized a few things. First, she was freezing. Second, being unfamiliar with the building, she had no idea where the back doors were, and third, she was too cold to start wandering around. She’d just go in the main doors and take her chances. Besides, this was Chicago, not London or Toronto. Chances were no one would recognize her anyway.
She dug into her purse as she neared the doors to pull out her pass and flashed it discreetly at the guard, who smiled and waved her in. She started looking for a staff member who could direct her backstage when she heard a squeal and someone call her name.
Before she thought better of it she turned towards the voice. Within seconds she was surrounded by people wanting pictures and autographs or just to shake her hand. As the crowd grew bigger, they pushed closer to her until she couldn’t move, could hardly breathe and fought a rising panic as she felt people grabbing at her. She was now frantically searching for a staff member. Suddenly, she heard a growl from behind her, and she was finally able to take a deep breath as the crowd eased back a little.
“Hey folks, give her some room. Let her breathe!”
As her panic started to fade, shock set in and she started to shake. A strong arm around her waist got her moving and as soon as they got away from the crowd, she was swept off her feet and carried through various hallways. She glanced up at Steve’s face. “Thank you.”
“No problem Tori. I just wish I’d seen you sooner. Are you alright?”
She nodded. “Yeah, just a little shook up. I’ve never experienced anything like that before.”
She could hear voices up ahead. Several staff members rushed forward when they saw them to make sure she was okay. She realized the word must have gone out and she cringed thinking of the guys’ reaction if they found out.
“Thanks guys, I’m fine.” She looked at Steve. “You can put me down now. I can walk.”
He obliged, but watched her closely, making sure her legs would support her. They turned a corner into another hallway and she came face to face with five angry men. Meeting Jon’s eyes, she suddenly burst into tears and threw herself into his arms. Surprised, he glanced at Richie as he wrapped his arms around her and raised a brow. David, Tico and Hugh exchanged glances. Richie frowned.
Jon scooped her up and carried her into his dressing room where he set her down on a couch and sat beside her, still holding her. “Ssh, honey it’s okay. You’re safe now.” When she calmed he raised her face to look at him. “Are you alright?”
She nodded and took a hiccupping breath. “Yeah. I’m okay. Just a little shook up.”
“A little!” Jon stood and started pacing. “What the hell was Jack thinking, dropping you off at the main door?!”
“Don’t blame Jack. He didn’t drop me off there. I walked from the hotel.” When they all stared at her in surprise she explained. “I wanted some fresh air.”
“Fresh air? Bela it’s the fucking Arctic out there! Are you nuts?” David exclaimed.
“Okay, then what the hell were you thinking coming in the main door?” Jon was determined to read someone the riot act, and at this point didn’t much care who it was. When he was notified of the swarming his heart had stopped and dropped into his stomach. He didn’t like feeling like that and until his fear subsided, they were all going to know how upset he was.
“I didn’t know where the back doors were, and by the time I got here I was too cold to go wandering around looking for one.” She paused. “I didn’t think anyone here would recognize me.” She admitted.
Jon stared at her for a long moment. He knew something must be going on when she ran to him instead of Richie, and now that he was calming down, he didn’t want to add to whatever was causing the shadows in her eyes. He sighed, then gave her a stern look and pointed a finger at her. “No more Tori. Your wandering privileges are hereby revoked. From now on, you take a security guard with you everywhere.”
She bowed her head and nodded her acceptance of his decree. Richie had been uncharacteristically silent and she risked a glance in his direction. He was sitting watching her. She couldn’t read his expression.
“Showtime guys!” Obie spoke from the doorway. “Hey Tori. Are you okay?”
“Yeah. Thanks Obie.”
“I’m assuming you don’t feel up to joining us tonight.” Jon commented.
She shook her head. “No I don’t. I’ll just sit back here if you don’t mind.”
“That’s fine.” He kissed her forehead. “Lay down and have a rest. There’s food and beverages in the control room down the hall if you want anything.”
They all filed out. Richie was the last to leave. He looked at her, but she was already laying full length on the couch with one arm over her eyes. He left without saying a word. When she judged it was close to the time for the break before the encore, she got up and headed to the control room for a glass of wine. She didn’t want to get into it with Richie until they had more than two minutes to talk.
When the show ended she stayed away long enough to be sure Richie would be in the shower, then went into his dressing room. She was picking up his laundry and laying out his street clothes when the bathroom door opened, and he stood there in all his glory.
Her brows rose in surprise. “Pretty daring aren’t you?”
He shrugged. “The only people who would just walk in here are you or the guys.”
She watched in silence as he dressed with almost angry movements. Finally he turned to face her. “What the hell is going on Tori?”
She considered him for a moment. “That’s what I was going to ask you.”
“Me? You show up here, get swarmed, and you run to Jon for comfort, and you think something’s going on with me?” He struggled to bring his voice under control. “Do you have any idea how that made me feel?”
She met his gaze. The turbulence and shadows in her unusually dark blue eyes had his gut clenching.
“Let me lay out the scenario for you Rich, and maybe you’ll understand how I feel.” She took a deep breath. “Christmas day my father drops the bomb on me that he’s retiring completely within the year. Now I have to decide whether to take over the store or if he should sell it. Now, this is something that I’ve worked almost all of my adult life towards and my goal is finally within reach. The problem is, I’ve fallen in love, and my man lives in L.A., and for obvious reasons, can’t leave – and I would never ask him to. So now I have to choose between my career and my love. But at this stage I don’t know where his head is at in regards to the future, so, not wanting to push, I don’t say anything to him about it over the holidays. I try to ask a few subtle questions to find out what he’s thinking, and what I get is that he sees us still together, but still living on opposite sides of the continent. Then he’s off to Japan and Australia.”
She reached down into her purse and pulled out two envelopes. “When the bi-weekly mail packet comes from BJM it contains some fan mail from Japan – including this.” She handed him the first letter and let him read it and look at the pictures before continuing.
“Then I get a call that I’m not going to see him for Valentine’s day as he’s going to spend it with his mother who’s going through a rough patch. Fine. I have no problem with that. If she needs him, that’s where he should be. Although I was surprised – and, if I’m being honest, hurt – that I wasn’t included. Then the next mail packet comes in and brings me this.” She handed him the second letter and accompanying photos and again waited until he’d read it.
“Now, any of these events, on their own, wouldn’t have concerned me, but when put together they form a very unsettling picture.” She paused. “So tell me Rich. Do I need to be concerned?”
The look in his eyes when he met hers was all the answer she needed. She closed her eyes for a moment, nodded and tried to breathe around the pain constricting her chest.
“Baby, let me explain.” He began.
A loud banging on the door interrupted him. “Come on you two, let’s go!” Jon called.
Tori quickly stood, pulled on her coat, grabbed her purse and pulled open the door.
“Nina are you okay?” Tico frowned in concern.
She nodded and smiled weakly. “I’ll be fine Teek, thanks.”
Jon took in her pale face and shining eyes, but said nothing, just led the way to the waiting van. Climbing in she took a seat next to the window and let their conversation flow around her while she stared blindly at the passing scenery and fought to ignore Richie sitting beside her. When they arrived at the hotel, the guys headed straight for the bar. Tori headed for the elevators.
“Bela?” David stopped her with a hand on her arm. “Aren’t you coming to the party?”
She shook her head. “Not tonight. My head is pounding. I’m just going to go to bed.”
“Are you sure? Don’t you want something to eat?”
“I’m not hungry. I’m sorry David, I’m not feeling very sociable.”
The fact that she called him by his name told him more than anything how upset she was. He hugged her gently. “Feel better honey. Get some sleep. We’ll see you tomorrow.”
He watched her disappear into the elevator before turning to join the rest. He found them sitting a table looking over menus.
“Where’s Tori?” Hugh asked glancing around the room.
David waited to see if Richie or Jon was going to speak up. When they didn’t he did. “She went up to her room.”
“Did she say why?” Jon frowned.
“She said she had a pounding headache and wasn’t feeling very sociable.”
They all shot looks in Richie’s direction. He ignored them while he surveyed the menu. David crooked a brow at Jon, who just shrugged.
After the waitress left with their orders Jon gave Richie an exasperated look, pulled out his phone and left the table looking for a quiet spot.
“Are you really okay?” He asked when she answered the phone.
“I will be. I’m a survivor Jon.” She assured him. “I just need some time by myself.”
He grunted. “I can understand that. If you’re feeling better tomorrow I would like you to join us on stage again. I’m getting a lot of grief from the fans. They want to know where you are.”
“I appreciate the thought and their support.” She paused. “But I’m going home tomorrow as soon as I can get a flight out.”
“Why? I thought you were staying through the weekend? Is it because of what happened tonight? I can guarantee you it won’t happen again.”
“No, that’s not the reason. My dad is retiring completely this year.” She swallowed. “It looks like I’ll be taking over, and there’s a lot to do. This is the time we order the fireworks and the summer merchandise is starting to come in.”
He wasn’t buying it, but he let it go. “You’re still coming to Philly next weekend though right?” When she hesitated he pushed. “Come on. It’s my birthday….and you promised the kids.”
She sighed. “Yes. I’ll be there.” She paused again. “But I’m afraid that I won’t be able to join you in Europe after all.”
There was silence as he absorbed her unspoken message. “Let’s not make that decision right now. Why don’t we wait and see how things are when we get closer?”
“Ok.” She agreed, just to pacify him.
“Get some rest Tori. I’ll talk to you tomorrow.”
“Ok. ‘Nite Jon.”
Snapping his phone shut he stalked back to the table and sat down. Their food had arrived, but he just pushed it around on his plate. Richie was doing the same. The others exchanged glances but no one wanted to prod the bears. Finally Hugh couldn’t stand it any more.
“Is she okay?”
“She says she is.” Jon’s reply was curt.
“We’ll have to add a few of her favorite songs to the set list tomorrow night.”
Jon shook his head. “She won’t be here. She’s going home in the morning.”
There was a stunned silence around the table. This time it was Tico that broke it. “Because of what happened tonight?”
“She says no. Apparently her dad is retiring completely this year. She said that since she’s going to be taking over she’s got a lot to do and can’t stay.”
“Do you buy it?” David asked. Something in Jon’s voice made him think that there was more to all this.
Jon shrugged. “I guess it’s possible, but why would she come all this way and not stay the weekend?”
Richie’s fork clattered on his plate. “Why don’t you just say it Jon?”
“I’ve been told by my wife and by Tori to stay out of your relationship.” He gave Richie a warning look. “I just hope I don’t lose my sister because you’ve done something stupid.”
Richie glanced around the table. “Wow, everyone’s real quick to blame me!”
“Are you saying you aren’t in some way responsible for her being so upset?” Jon returned. He’d been around women enough to know that it would take more than just her scare earlier to put that look of haunted pain in her eyes.
Richie sighed. “No.”
Jon waited, but Richie didn’t say anymore. “Then why aren’t you up there fixing this?”
“Because the mood she’s in right now, she won’t listen to me. I’ll go up in awhile, after she’s had some time to calm down a bit.”
“Do you want to talk about it?” Jon asked hesitantly. Despite being told to stay out of it, Richie was his best friend, and Tori was his sister. He wanted to help if he could.
Richie sighed. “I forgot about Tori getting my mail. Let’s just say she’s running with some information that, while not a lie, isn’t the whole story either.”
Jon thought for a minute. “The fan in Japan and Australia?”
Richie nodded. “She sent pictures for Christ’s sake! Add to that the fact that I cancelled our Valentine’s day plans and didn’t tell her what I was doing, just that I was going to my mom’s, then add to that the fact that I didn’t know about her dad retiring and inadvertently gave her the wrong impression over Christmas and you’ve got a massive communications fuck up, and one very upset angel.” He raked a hand through his hair in agitation.
“Wait a minute! You cancelled plans with her for Valentine’s and told her you were going to see your mother? That was the best excuse you could think of?” David was incredulous. Richie nodded. The rest winced. “Didn’t it occur to you that she might be hurt at not being invited?
Richie grimaced. “I was so focused on the condo, I didn’t think about that. But you’re right. That’s exactly what happened.”
“Do you want my advice?” Jon asked. Richie nodded. “First off, apologize. Then sit her down and tell her the truth – all of it. I know you wanted to keep Philly a surprise, but I think you’re going to have to tell her. If she doesn’t believe you about Australia, send her to me. Did I mention apologize?” Seeing Richie’s face he smiled. “Whether you’re completely in the wrong or not…apologize. Pride has ruined far too many relationships.”
“And watch out for the Bongiovi temper.” David added. “Body armor might be a good idea.”
Jon gave him a disgusted look. Richie just smiled. “After twenty something years, I’m used to dealing with the temper.” Jon turned his look on Richie, who ignored him. “I just want to see her eyes dark with happiness, not pain.” He finished softly.