Jon had entered his room, kicked off his boots and pulled his shirt over his head when there was a loud banging on his door. He opened it to find a distraught Richie.
“Where is she?” Richie demanded as he pushed into the room.
Jon’s brows rose. “I don’t know. I thought she was in bed.”
Richie shook his head. “She’s not in our room, and there’s no sign that she’s even been there.”
“Did you try calling her cell?”
“Yeah. I just get her voicemail.”
Jon looked at Richie thoughtfully for a moment then walked to the phone and called the front desk. “Hi. Could you connect me to Tori Adams’ room please? Thank you.”
Richie groaned and let his head drop back on his shoulders, his eyes closed.
“Hi. Sorry to wake you. What room are you in? Because he needs to talk to you. I could get the hotel to tell me or you can tell me yourself. I know. Just hear him out. He deserves that much. Thanks. I’ll talk to you tomorrow.” He hung up and turned to Richie. “Room 815.”
Tori hung up the phone, sighed and climbed out of bed. She pulled on a robe and looked at the mini-bar for a minute, before turning to the little coffee pot and setting it to brew. She would have liked something stronger to bolster her through the upcoming discussion, but the outrageous price of the little bottles deterred her – although the way she was feeling she was thinking that maybe she would make Richie pay for the whole thing! On further consideration, it would probably be best to be alert and keep her wits about her. She was depressed enough, she didn’t need alcohol making it worse. When the knock came she closed her eyes and took a few deep breaths. Stiffening her spine she opened the door.
The sight that met Richie’s eyes made him feel like a fist had been planted in his stomach. Her eyes were puffy and her beautiful face was ravaged by tears. Knowing that he was responsible had him feeling like the world’s biggest heel. His arms ached to hold her, but he knew she wouldn’t stand for it at the moment.
She waved him in and moved to sit in a chair by the window. He sat in its mate, a small table between them. After several moments of silence she crooked a brow at him. “I believe it’s your turn to talk.”
He nodded and raked his hand through his hair. He met her gaze and held it. “Let me say right off that I did not sleep with her.” He waited and watched her.
Tori searched his eyes and found nothing but sincerity in the chocolate depths. She wanted to believe him so badly, but she didn’t want to be made a fool of either. He had never given her a reason not to trust him, but then why did he give her that guilty look when she showed him the letters? She nodded at him to continue.
“She showed up at an after party in Tokyo.” He frowned. “Come to think of it, I’m not sure how she got in. Anyway, I was sitting at a table and she came and sat down, and we talked for a while.” He shrugged. “She seemed like a nice enough girl.” He paused and sighed. “Then she showed up in Sydney, again at an after party. She...stalked me. I don’t know any other way to describe it. She greeted me like we were old friends – more than friends actually - and for the rest of the night, everywhere I turned, there she was. And she wasn’t subtle about it. She….flirted isn’t even the word for it. She was so blatant about what she wanted, David started taking bets on how long it would be before she went beyond words and got physical. Hugh won.” He grimaced. “I really have no excuse for what happened next. I don’t know why I accepted her invitation to dance. Maybe I thought that if I did she’d leave me alone. I should have known better.” He hesitated and Tori braced herself. “The song was I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing. All I could think about was you and watching you sleep and how much I was missing you, and hated to be separated from you. She took advantage of my distraction and pressed closer and kissed me.” That pained guilty look was back in his eyes. “God help me I kissed her back – just for a second. Then I realized that she wasn’t you and I pushed her away and told her that I was taken and she’d better leave. Jon saw the whole thing, and had security escort her out – and then warned me about what would happen to certain parts of my anatomy if I ever hurt you. I swear to God, that’s as far as it went, and I’ll never be able to express how sorry I am that it even went that far.”
Tori expelled a long slow breath. Compared to what she had been thinking, this really wasn’t that bad. This she could forgive – if she could believe him. Some of her doubt must have shown on her face because his lips twisted and he added: “Jon said if you didn’t believe me to go ask him.” That did it for her. Jon would never back him up if it wasn’t the truth – at least not where she was concerned. So if this was the case….
“Why didn’t you tell me this in your dressing room? Why did you look so guilty and make me think the worst and not correct the picture my imagination had created?” There was pain mixed with the anger in her voice.
“You took off so quick, I never got the chance. And the way you disappeared in the lobby I figured you needed some time to cool off before I tried to explain.”
“So you let me stew for” She glanced at her watch “four hours, thinking you’d betrayed me and broken my heart?” She stood and started to pace. “I could just…” with a growl she walked up to him and cuffed him in the back of the head – a lot lighter than she would have liked, but she didn’t really want to hurt him…well not too badly anyway. Turning on her heel she walked to the coffee pot and poured herself a cup, but didn’t offer him one, then returned to her seat where she glared at him.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t think you were ready to listen to me. I thought you needed more time. I was actually thinking about waiting until the morning, but Jon convinced me not to.”
She sighed and took a tighter grip on her temper. “In all of our interactions, what would make you think that ignoring the problem for any length of time was the way to deal with me?”
“Maybe because I didn’t think you wanted to be a hypocrite?” He crooked a brow at her. “I knew something was going on with the store, but you kept denying it.”
She nodded. “You’re right and I owe you an apology for that. I didn’t think that I could discuss it with you, when I didn’t know what I wanted myself. And I didn’t want to push you into a commitment if you weren’t ready for one. But I should have talked to you and I’m sorry.”
“Angel, I’ve been committed to you since the first time we made love. Everyday since then has only cemented it. In fact…” As much as he’d wanted to keep it a surprise until next weekend, he knew he had to tell her now, so that there would be no more secrets between them. “When I cancelled our plans for Valentine’s Day it wasn’t just to go visit my mother. The reason I didn’t invite you to join me was because I was also in Philly looking at condos and I wanted it to be a surprise. I had this idea that if you weren’t ready to leave your family and move to L.A with me, that if we had a place closer to your folks – and Jon’s - you would be willing to share it with me for large chunks of time. It would also work for all of us during football season. One thing I learned out of the episode in Australia, is that I want – and need – us to be together more. It’s difficult during the tour, but afterwards…” Feeling it was now safe to touch her he reached out to take her hand. “Tori I love you and I’m sorry about all the misunderstandings we had over the last few weeks. I never meant to hurt you. Would you be willing to consider moving in with me? I understand if you need some time to think about it, and the store and everything. And if you want to wait until the tour is over that’s fine too…”
She stopped him, placing the fingers of her free hand over his mouth. It took her a minute to gain control of her emotions and her voice. Hearing that instead of trying to ease her out of his life with the cancelled plans he was actually looking for a means of giving her a more permanent place in it, had erased the last of her pain and had her throat clogged with tears and her eyes burning.
“I don’t need to think about it anymore. I’ve done nothing but think about it since Christmas. But the way you answered my questions then I didn’t think you were ready to take the next step.”
He smiled wryly. “I was trying not to push you before you were ready. Actually it was my certainty that something was going on with the store that got me to thinking about alternatives to either L.A all the time, or separated so much.”
“Are you sure you’re ready for this?” She wasn’t going to put it into words, but both of them understood what she was really asking. Was he healed enough emotionally from the blows he’d been dealt in the past year or so to be prepared to handle another relationship?
He squeezed her hand. “Baby, I’ve never been more ready.”
She smiled for the first time since she got the second letter. “Then yes I would love to live with you. I don’t care whether it’s L.A. or Philly or the moon.”
“What about the store?”
“The store was more about my independence and having a way to support myself and feel successful than anything else. My father understood that and that now my circumstances have changed. He only wants me to be happy and not feel obligated to the store. I finally realized that my happiness and my future lie with you, not in a store and that I can be with you and still be independent. It just means I’ll have you to share things with and rely on when I need to.” She frowned slightly. “I will have to find something to do though. I can’t just sit around twiddling my thumbs. I suppose I could always continue being your assistant.”
He grinned. “And I promise to tell you about any…..over eager fans before you get letters from them. Of course you could just travel with us, and then it wouldn’t be an issue.” Then a thought struck. “You realize though that as soon as Jon hears about this he’s going to be after you to work in the merchandising department.”
She smiled and nodded. “Yeah, I’ve kind of been getting that feeling. It’s part of the reason why I didn’t say anything sooner. As much as I would love working with you guys, I can’t help feeling that I would be deserting the family that raised me in favour of my new one. I don’t want to hurt them that way.”
He nodded. “I hear what you’re saying. Have you talked to your parents about it?”
She shook her head. “No. Maybe I should.”
“I think so. At least then you’d know where you stood there and would be better prepared for the discussion with Jon.”
She nodded. “I guess you’re right.” She rested her head against the back of chair, the emotional upheaval of the last few hours leaving her drained. He noticed.
“Come on angel, let’s get you to bed. You’ve had a rough day.” Standing he held out his hand.
She glanced at the bed and then at him. He understood. “We’ll sleep here tonight and then move your stuff tomorrow.” He hesitated, then asked the question that had been bothering him ever since Jon had called the front desk. “Why did you book a separate room anyway?”
“I figured that if everything between us worked out, I would just move my stuff into your room, but if it all fell apart, then I’d at least have a place to sleep tonight.” She shrugged off her robe and slid under the covers he held up for her.
“We’ll move your stuff to our room.” Quickly stripping of his clothes he slid in beside her and gathered her close. Relaxing for the first time since she’d arrived, he sighed and tilted her face up and dropped a kiss on her lips. “I love you angel.”
“I love you too Richie.” She laid her head on his chest and drifted off, secure in his arms, his love and with his heart beating soothingly beneath her ear.
Tori dreamed that she was lying naked on a beach, surrounded by warm sand and gently lapping water. Her nipples tingled and hardened each time a wave retreated, exposing them to the teasing breeze. She shivered, the shuddered as the movement of the water sent gritty sand rubbing against the sensitive flesh between her legs. She gasped and moaned softly as the next wave sent a finger of warm water sliding inside her, heating her even more, and stretching her, making her long for a deeper, more substantial possession.
“Richie.” She whispered, intense, almost desperate desire and the man forever linked for her, even in her dreams. His murmured “Mmmm?” brought her to full awareness. Her eyes flew open and she found herself lying on her side facing him. The lapping water and breeze teasing her breasts was actually his tongue and breath as he licked and blew on her responsive flesh. Her leg was raised and rested on his hip. The sand rubbing against her was actually the calluses on his fingertips, and the finger of water invading her, well that actually was his finger.
He withdrew his hand to grip her hip and replaced it with his hard shaft. He chuckled at her expression and slid back and forth along her cleft. He watched her eyes dilate, felt her breath as laboured puffs as she reached to pull his mouth to hers. He obliged, teasing her lips with his tongue and with nibbling bites before diving in, sliding over and passed her teeth to taste her thoroughly. He pulled back, his own breathing now laboured. Shifting his hips he searched her face as he nudged her opening with the broad head of his erection.
“Baby? You awake?”
“If I’m not, don’t wake me.” She rocked her hips against him in silent entreaty. When he still held back, she dug her nails into his lower back in frustration – and warning.
“Okay, okay.” His chuckle ended in a groan as he pushed slowly into her welcoming body. Buried to the hilt he stopped, savouring the feel of her pulsing around him.
With a whimper she moved against him, grinding her hips into his. For long minutes he held still and let her have her way. Deciding that two can play the teasing game, Tori slowed her movements and set her mouth and hands to his chest, stroking the firm muscles and teasing the nailheads of his nipples. Her teeth nibbled along his collarbone and adam’s apple exposed as he tilted his head back in response to the sensations coursing through him at her touch. When she backed off he looked down at her and brown eyes held blue, both hot with passion.
The twitch of her lips was all the warning he got. Air hissed through his teeth as he sucked in a breath when her intimate grip on him tightened. She watched his eyes, and squeezed harder, gratified to see them glaze over and sweat gather on his upper lip.
Control snapping, he rolled her beneath him and set up a hard driving rhythm. She wrapped her arms and legs around him and held on tight as he sent them both over the edge. They cried out in unison as they reached the peak together.
She stroked his back slowly while they waited to recover and catch their breath. Glancing at the clock when she felt him relax more heavily on her, she nudged him. “Don’t go back to sleep!”
He groaned and raised up on his elbows to look down at her. “I know. You’re hungry. I’ll call room service.”
She smiled and reached up to brush back a lock of hair that had fallen over his forehead. “Well, that too, but the maid will want to get in here soon. Besides we’ll get faster service from your room.”
“From your...” She stopped when his eyebrow went up. “From the other room.” She finished.
He nodded and lifted off of her to sit on the side of the bed, rub his hands over his face and rake them through his hair.
“Poor baby. It’s pretty early for you isn’t it?” She smiled at him. “What had you awake so early anyway?”
He turned to look at her, a wry smile twisting his lips. “You did. Well, you and my libido. It’s been weeks since we’ve been together, and after all the upheaval yesterday we just went to sleep. The feel of your warm body cuddling close and your scent teasing me with every breath was too much. I guess my body decided that it needed you more than it needed sleep.” He grinned. “I wasn’t about to argue.”
She laughed. Sitting up she leaned over to kiss him. “I missed you too. If we get moving, you’ll have time for a nap after breakfast.”
They dressed quickly, deciding to shower in Richie’s room. He grabbed her suitcase and led the way. Tori went to the phone while he took her bag into the bedroom. After ordering breakfast she headed for the shower. Richie whistled appreciatively as she stripped her clothes off as she passed through the bedroom, and chuckled as the shirt she tossed at him hit him square in the face.
They were eating when a thought suddenly occurred to her. “Oh shoot! I’ve got to check out of that other room!” She started to stand up.
Richie waved her back to her sear. “Finish your breakfast. I took care of it while you were in the shower.”
She smiled and blew him a kiss. “Thank you.”
He sat back and sipped his coffee. “So….are you….okay with …..everything?”
She studied his eyes for a moment. “I’m not having second thoughts about moving in with you if that’s what you mean. As for Jasmine….” She paused then nodded decisively. “I believe you and I trust you.” And if she decides to push the issue, I’ll deal with her myself.
“Who’s Jasmine?” He frowned in confusion. She just stared at him. “Oh. Is that her name?”
The fact that he didn’t even know the woman’s name reassured Tori that she had made the right decision. She frowned slightly. “But honey, the next time you want to surprise me you’re going to have to come up with a better cover. Using your mother was not your brightest moment.”
He grimaced. “I know, but it was all I could come up with. I never considered how it would hurt you when I didn’t invite you to join us.” He cradled his head in his hands. “Mom’s going to kill me when she finds out.” He raised his head to look at her. “She really likes you. She gave me hell for spending Valentine’s Day with her instead of you. She told me I’d better come up with one hell of a present to make up for it.”
He got up and walked into the bedroom, and returned moments later with a small box in his hand. He handed it to her. Tearing off the wrapping paper she lifted the lid to reveal a heart shaped key ring, half full of keys. He reached out and indicated each key in turn and what it was for.
“…and this one’s for the front door of the L.A. house, and this one’s for the Hummer…”
She snorted. “You don’t seriously think I’m going to drive that thing, do you?” She expected a smart ass answer. She didn’t get it.
“I don’t care whether you do or not. I just want you to know that you have access to everything I have.”
She blinked back tears. “Thank you.” She raised a hand to caress his cheek and urge him down to her so that she could kiss him. Pulling back she frowned. “I’m sorry. I was so upset over everything I didn’t get you a present.”
“Yes you did.” He assured her. “You gave me the only present I could ever want. You.”
This time she couldn’t hold back the tears and two spilled over and ran down her cheeks. “I love you.”
“I love you too angel.” Then he spoiled it by yawning.
She chuckled and checked her watch. “Come on Rockstar. There’s still time for a nap.”
They were just about to leave the room when Richie’s phone rang. Tori grabbed it while Richie shrugged into his coat. She didn’t bother to look at the window - she had a pretty good idea who it was….or at least that it was one of several people – they were running a little late.
“Don’t get your panties in a bunch we’re coming.” She answered the phone.
“That’s not a problem. I don’t wear them.”
She laughed. “I know. Someday I may tell you how I know.”
“I’m not sure I wanna know!”
“I used to be just another friendly face in the crowd remember…..and it was before I knew you were my brother.”
“Fans!” She could picture him shaking his head. “So I’m assuming since you’re still here and answering Richie’s phone that you guys worked everything out.”
“Yeah. We’re fine, although I told him he needs to work on his cover stories when he’s trying to surprise me.”
“Yeah, that wasn’t his brightest hour.” Jon chuckled. “And the fan?”
“Actually, she wouldn’t have concerned me if it hadn’t been for the other stuff. It was the whole picture that upset me. Over eager fans I expect. I trust him. I have to or this relationship will never work. Plus I know you’re there to keep an eye out.” She winked at Richie.
Jon sighed. “So now I’m his babysitter too?”
She snorted. “Give over Jon. I think I’ve gotten to know you fairly well over the last six or seven months, and I certainly know how protective you are when it comes to your family. You’ll be looking out for me, whether I want you to or not.”
He couldn’t deny it. “So where are you guys? We need to get going.”
“We’re getting in the elevator. We’ll be right down.”
When they reached the lobby they found the others already in the waiting van. They quickly joined them. Greeting them, it was obvious that Jon had already informed them that Tori and Richie had made up.
“So Bela, when are you moving to this side of the border?” David asked.
“I don’t know exactly. I need to talk to my dad about the store, and with you guys on the road, it may make more sense to wait until the tour’s finished.” She wasn’t surprised that they all knew about Richie’s surprise. What one knew, the others knew.
“You don’t mind Richie buying the condo in Philly without you even seeing it?” Tico had to ask. He knew Alejandra would have killed him.
She shrugged. “Judging by the L.A. house, he has great taste in real estate. I’m not worried.”
Richie smiled smugly. They’d all tried to tell him she was going to be pissed, but he knew better. He knew by her reaction to his home that they had very similar tastes. He was confident that she’d approve of his choice.
When they arrived at the venue they had a few minutes to get settled before their interviews started. Richie towed Tori to his dressing room, helped her off with her coat and urged her into a chair. Tossing her coat and his on another chair he headed for a corner, and returned with an acoustic guitar, which he handed to her. “Here. Practice.”
She chuckled as she took the guitar. She knew it was his way of keeping her occupied while they were in interviews so that she wouldn’t be bored and want to wander around. “Don’t worry. I promise I’ll stay back here.”
“Thank you.” Jon spoke from the doorway. “Now we can concentrate on the interviews without worrying about you getting into trouble.” Noticing the guitar in her lap his brows rose in surprise. “You’re learning to play?”
She nodded. “Didn’t Richie tell you he bought me one for Christmas? He’s been giving me lessons whenever we’ve had some free time.”
Jon glanced at his wingman. “Good thinking.”
Richie shrugged. “She’s got the genes. I wanted to see if she had an aptitude for this as well. The fact that it keeps her busy is just a bonus.”
“How’s she doing?”
“Very well. With her background with the keys she’s picking it up very quickly. Her fingers are still a little tender, and she tends to push harder than necessary on the frets, but she’s really coming along.”
“She’s sitting right here!” She reminded them.
“Sorry.” They replied in unison.
Shaking her head she bent back over the guitar and played a few chords, warming up her fingers. She was still at it when they returned, although she had taken a break long enough to set out stage outfits for them and David.
“And yet another Bongiovi trait reveals itself.” David commented.
Looking up she saw them all standing in the doorway. “What are you talking about Shirley? Only Jon – and now Jesse - play the guitar.”
“Intense concentration for long periods of time, relegating everything around them to oblivion.” He clarified.
His comment made her wonder how long they’d been standing there without her realizing it. “You say that like it’s a bad thing. Don’t worry, I took time out to lay out your clothes.” She assured him.
“Ignore him Tori. Just because he’s got the attention span of a five year old, he thinks anyone who can focus on something for longer than three minutes at a time is strange.” Jon responded dryly.
David flipped him off.
After sound check they were gathered in Jon’s dressing room. Tori looked at her two guardians. “Since I’ve been a good girl and stayed backstage and out of trouble, can I go watch Chris? When do I get to meet him anyway?” She hoped that asking in smart ass tone would convince her independent self that she wasn’t really asking permission.
Both Richie and Jon just stared at her blankly for a minute. Jon clued in first. “Oh. Daughtry.” He considered for a moment. “As long as you stay behind the barricade I guess it’ll be okay. Just make sure security knows you’re there. I’ll introduce you after they’re done.”
Glancing at the clock and judging that she had just enough time to get situated before the lights went down she headed out the door. A staffer found her a stool to sit on towards the front of the stage and she settled in to enjoy the show. She could hear a few people talking in the crowd behind her speculating on who she was, but she didn’t turn around and was careful to keep her back to them. She just wanted to be part of the audience right now.
When the lights went down she was on her feet with everyone else. Part way through their set she saw Chris look down at her. She smiled and continued singing along. His eyes widened for a moment then he winked at her.
When the lights came back up she turned to speak to a tech and heard a squeal behind her. “Hey! It’s Tori! Tori! Can we have an autograph? How about a picture? Please?”
She glanced towards a security guard who nodded and moved closer before she turned towards the fans. She signed autographs and posed for pictures for about ten minutes, then the security guard with her broke it up. “Tori they want you backstage.”
She nodded. “Thanks folks. See you later.” She waved at the crowd. Studying the stage as she walked around to the side she frowned slightly.
She was still frowning when she reached the dressing rooms. Entering Jon’s she found Chris there with the guys. “Hi Chris.”
“Hi. You must be Tori.” He glanced back and forth between Tori and Jon and nodded. “Yep, definitely.”
Tori laughed and reached out to shake his hand. “You guys are really good. I was upset at first when you got voted off Idol, but I think it was actually a blessing for you.”
He nodded. “Yeah, it took me a little while to realize that, but you’re right. I got to make the record I wanted to make and not what the Idol machine wanted.”
“And it’s worked out very well for you. I really like it.”
“Thanks. I noticed you singing along.”
“Yeah, and so were most of the fans. Of course you’re dealing with audiences that are used to singing along – or singing without the lead vocalist for that matter. If they have a chance to get to know the song, they’ll be more than happy to sing it back to you.” She grinned. “Jovi fans are very well trained that way.”
Chris laughed. “I noticed that. All Jon has to do is motion with his hand or say a certain word or sing a note and wait and they answer him.” He shook his head. “The first time I saw that I was completely awed. I decided then and there that that was what I wanted to aspire to.”
“You’re off to a good start.” She assured him.
“What were you frowning about when you came in angel?”
She frowned again. “The new set doesn’t have any hiding places for me. I guess I’m going to have stand down on the floor by the ego ramp.” When they removed the “bar” they removed her hiding spot. The area around David and Lorenza was too open now, not to mention that the back part of the stage moved up and down. And if she stood in the tunnel, she’d be in the way of Jon’s tech.
“You won’t be able to see anything from there.” Richie commented, frowning in thought himself. He shook his head. “You’ll have to sit up front between the stage and the barricade – but not too close to the pit.”
Jon frowned too. “Stay between me and Rich so we can see you.” Tori looked at Chris and rolled her eyes. “Humour me.” Jon added before she could voice her protest. She sighed, but nodded.
“Showtime!” being yelled down the hallway had them all moving. Tori did final wardrobe checks as they passed her, doing up a couple extra buttons on Richie’s shirt and giving him an arch look. He grinned and dropped a kiss on her lips.
About a third of the way into the show Jon looked down at Tori, glanced at Richie and walked up to the mic. A glance at the rest of the band warned them he was about to change the set list. David and Tico looked at each other, shrugged and waited for some clue as to what their frontman was thinking.
Jon looked out over the crowd as he debated his wording. “Recent events with some friends of mine has reminded me once again that relationships are hard. Communication is so important in order to avoid painful misunderstandings.”
Richie looked down at Tori and nodded, a wry smile twisting his lips. She didn’t disagree.
“And if you can’t avoid them, you write a song about it and hope it gets you out of the doghouse.” He grinned and the crowd cheered. With a nod at the others he started into Misunderstood. Tori laughed.
When Tori joined them on the stage, Jon once again surprised everyone. “I’ve got a special treat for you folks tonight.” He informed the crowd. “How would you like to hear Richie and Tori sing a duet?” The crowd roared its approval. Tori looked at Richie who just shrugged.
Jon grinned at them. “I’d like you two to do Strangers.”
Tori was stunned. She didn’t know how to respond. They were in the middle of the show. She couldn’t very well say no, but… “Well, well big brother, you’re just full of surprises tonight!” She turned to the crowd as Richie joined her at centre stage. “We haven’t practiced this, so please bear with us.”
Facing Richie she looked up into his eyes and blew out a breath. He winked at her. She nodded.
It might be hard to be lovers
But it’s harder to be friends
Baby, pull down the covers
It’s time you let me in
Maybe light a couple candles
I’ll just go ahead and lock the door
If you’ll just talk to me baby
Til we ain’t strangers anymore
Suddenly, there was no one else around. It was just the two of them. The words that so perfectly described what they’d been through the last couple days brought her emotions to the fore.
Lay your head on my pillow
I’ll sit beside you on the bed
Don’t you think it’s time we said
Some things we haven’t said
It ain’t too late to get back to that place
Back to the way we thought it was before
Why don’t you look at me
Til we ain’t strangers anymore
Sometimes it’s hard to love me
Sometimes it’s hard to love you too
I know it’s hard believing
That love can pull us through
It would be so easy
To live your life
With one foot out the door
Just hold me baby
Til we ain’t strangers anymore
It’s hard to find forgiveness
When you just turn out the lights
It’s hard to say you’re sorry
When you can’t tell wrong from right
It would be so easy
To spend your whole damn life just keeping score
So let’s get down to it baby
There ain’t no need to lie
She found herself blinking back tears and fighting to keep her voice from quivering
Tell me who you think you see
When you look into my eyes
Let’s put our two hearts back together
And we’ll leave the broken pieces on the floor
Make love with me baby
Til we ain’t strangers anymore
We’re not strangers anymore
As the last notes died away there was silence for a split second before the crowd erupted. Richie hugged her close, then turned towards the audience. Tori wiped at a tear, then noticed several women in the crowd doing the same. She smiled and waved, leaning against Richie for a moment and felt him press a kiss to the top of her head.
The next morning she was dressed and packed before she attempted to wake him. Leaning over the bed she shook his shoulder. “Richie.” No response. She kissed him lightly and shook him again. “Honey, wake up.”
“Babe I’ve got to go.”
He sighed heavily and cracked open an eye to look at her, then closed it again. He nodded. “Let me know how your discussion with your parents goes.”
“I will.” She promised. Straightening she turned to leave. “Bye honey.”
“Hey!” Without opening his eyes he pursed his lips for a kiss.
Chuckling, she leaned down again and kissed him. “I’ll see you Friday.”
Tori spent the whole flight home debating about how to broach the subject with her parents. It was Wednesday before she got the chance. Her mother called her at work and invited her to dinner. To her relief it was her mother who brought it up.
“So how was Chicago?”
“It was….definitely not boring!”
Helen frowned. “What happened?”
“Oh I got swarmed by a group of fans. It was my own fault. I walked to the venue instead of having a staffer drive me and decided it would be okay to walk in through the main doors instead of going around to the back. I really didn’t think that people would recognize me.” She smiled ruefully. “I wasn’t hurt, but it was a little scary. I was surrounded and couldn’t move or breathe. Luckily, one of the security team saw me and came to my rescue.”
“What did Jon and Richie say?” Her father asked concern evident in his face.
“I’ve had my wandering privileges revoked. From now on I have to take a security guard with me wherever I go.” She wrinkled her nose.
“Good. Your safety takes precedence over your independence.” He nodded in approval.
She didn’t argue. She knew she was outnumbered. Besides the episode had scared her more than she cared to admit.
“How is Richie?” Her mother asked.
“He’s good.” Tori hesitated, knowing that this was the time, but still not sure how to say it.
“Have the two of you reached any decisions in regards to the future?” Bill asked quietly.
Tori nodded. Before she could say anything her mother did.
“When are you moving?”
Tori looked at her mother, stunned. “How did you know?”
“I didn’t. I hoped. I like him. A lot. He’s good for you. He makes you happy. You’re like a different woman since you’ve met him and Jon and the family. You’re…. lighter, more at peace. More comfortable in your own skin. And you smile more. Although I was worried when you spent Valentine’s Day apart.”
Tori smiled. “So was I. It turns out that he was shopping for condos in Philadelphia and wanted to surprise me. I told him he needed to work on his cover stories.”
Helen’s brows rose in surprise. “You’re okay with him buying the condo without you looking at it?”
Tori grinned. “When you see the L.A. house you’ll understand why I wasn’t concerned. It’s beautiful. He really does have great taste in real estate.”
“I think because it’s closer to you than New Jersey, but still close to his mother and Jon and the family. Plus it’ll be a place for people to stay during football season and when he and Jon have meetings.”
“So you’re going to be kept busy decorating then. What are you going to do with your stuff here?”
Tori shrugged. “I get the feeling that the condo is empty, but the house is mostly done. My livingroom and kitchen stuff will go to L.A. – it’ll fit right in. The rest, I’m not sure. I’ll have to see the condo first and get an idea of what we want to do there.”
“So when are you wanting to move.” Bill asked.
“I’m not sure. They have the first three weeks of May off before they head to Europe, but it might make more sense to wait until the tour is finished which could be July or August.
He nodded. “I’ll put the word out that I’m ready to sell and we’ll see what happens.”
Her mother couldn’t hold back the question uppermost in her mind any longer. “Are you going to get married?”
“I don’t know Mom, we’re taking this one step at a time.
“In my day marriage was the next step.” She waved away the protest she knew was coming. “I know, I know. Times have changed.” She sighed and frowned. “I would like to see you married before any babies come along though.”
“So would I Mom.” Tori assured her.
“So what are you going to do for a living? I know that Richie probably has plenty of money, but I also know that you’ll go crazy if you don’t have something to keep you busy. Will you go to work for Jon?”
“I don’t know yet.” Tori hedged.
“He’d be crazy if he didn’t hire you!” Her father spoke up. “You’ve got the training and the knowledge and would be a great asset for him.”
“It wouldn’t bother you if I worked for him?” Tori asked.
Her father frowned, confused by the question, but her mother understood. “If the situation was different and you got the opportunity to work for the band what would you do?”
“Jump at it.” Tori admitted.
“Exactly. This way at least we know that you’ll be with family and you’ll be taken care of.”
“And I can tell everyone that my daughter is working in the music industry and taking everything I’ve taught her about merchandizing and using it all over the world.” He had clued in to what she was concerned about.
“Just remember to call home every once in a while and come visit when you can.” Helen hugged her. “You will always be our daughter and this will always be your home.”
“Thanks Mom.” Tori sniffed. “I love you both very much.”
“We love you too. All we’ve ever wanted was for you to be happy. If that means you have to move to L.A. and join a rock band, so be it.”
She was on the verge of tears again later that night when she called Richie to let him know how the discussion went.
“They were really great about the whole thing. I think they’ve been anticipating this for a while now. And they like you, so that’s a bonus.”
“Why do you sound surprised? I’m a likeable guy.” He chuckled. “So no concerns then?”
“Just the usual. Mom just said that she’d like us to be married before we have any kids.” She decided to throw it out there. She knew he wanted more children. She wasn’t looking for a proposal, but it wouldn’t hurt for him to know that there were some requirements before that goal could be reached.
“Yeah. I got that from Ma too.” He hesitated, then shifted the subject. “Did they say anything about working for us?”
She chuckled. “Dad’s all for it. He’s already talking about being able to brag to people about his daughter working in the music industry and taking the skills he’s taught her and using them all over the world. Mom’s just happy that I would be with family and she can be reassured that I’d be looked after.”
“So everything’s on track then.”
“Yep. Dad’s going to put the word out that he’s ready to sell, so I should have a better idea of timing in the next few weeks.” She sighed. “Now I just have to figure out what to do with all my stuff and pack.”
“We know people in the shipping business, so when you’re ready, just let me know.”
“I will. They may have to bring two trucks though. One to go to Philly and one to L.A. I’ll know better after I see the condo and we get some idea of what we want to do with it.” Just being able to say ‘we’ had butterflies turning cartwheels in her stomach.
“Whatever you want babe.”
“Don’t think you’re getting out of helping with the decision making there buster! It’s your home too.”
“I know. It’s just that our tastes are so similar I know that I’d love whatever you chose.”
She snorted. “Nice save.”
“Thank you. Now, before I get myself into any more trouble, I’ll let you go get some sleep. What time are you getting here on Friday?”
“Early evening if everything’s on time. I want to get there before the kids go to bed. What do you guys have planned?” It was an off day for them.
“Just hanging out at Jon’s. I may go see Ma for a bit, but I’ll be here when you get here.”
“Okay. I’ll see you then.”
“Okay. Sleep tight angel. I love you.”
“I love you too honey. ‘Night.”