Back at home Tori spent every spare minute of the next week searching through magazines and watching home improvement shows. Her apartment was strewn with paint chips and fabric samples. Karin was laughing at her and telling her to relax, Rome wasn’t built in a day and she didn’t have to have the condo decorated in one either, but the guys were going to be in Toronto for three shows the next week and she wanted to have some ideas ready to show Richie. One night she was sitting going over her lists for each room. She looked at the phone for a long time before taking a deep breath and picking it up. Her stomach tensed when it was answered.
“Hi Heather, this is Tori Adams.”
There was silence for a moment. “Hello.”
“I was wondering if I could speak to Ava. It’s about her room in the condo in Philly. I’m trying to get it decorated and I wanted her input.” She held her breath.
“So it’s true then. You’re moving in.”
“Yes I am.”
“Just a minute.”
“Daddy says you’re going to live with us.”
“Yes I am. Well, I will be. It’s going to take a little time for me to settle everything here before I can head out there.”
“So when will you be here?”
“I’m not sure yet, but definitely by Daddy’s birthday if not before.”
“Yay! We can have a big party!”
“Sure.” Tori would have bet money that Heather was choking at the other end. “I’m trying to get the new condo decorated and I wanted to talk to you about your room. Do you want to pick it out yourself or do you trust me to pick it for you?”
“Um…you can pick it. But can it be pink? With lots of flowers and butterflies?”
“Sure. Tell you what. I’ll get it painted and get you some furniture, then the next time I’m out there you and I will go shopping to pick out some accessories. How does that sound?”
“Really? Do you mean it?”
“Absolutely. It’s your room Ava. I want you to pick out what you like.”
“Great! I can hardly wait!”
“Me neither. I’ll talk to you soon sweetie.”
“Okay. Bye Tori.”
Towards the end of the week Tori looked at her lists and at the calendar, hesitated then reached for the phone.
“Hey Sis, what’s up?” Jon answered.
“What are the chances of getting Richie’s hotel room in Toronto a night early?”
“Probably pretty good. I can make a call. Why?”
“I thought I might go into town on Sunday to do some shopping and it just seemed silly to have to change rooms if I don’t have to.”
“Are you going alone?” She could hear the frown in his voice.
“No Karin’s coming with me.”
He was silent for a moment. “I’m going to send someone to help you.”
She knew what he meant by that. “Jon...” She started to protest, then remembered what happened when she and Karin tried to get into the ACC the last time. Maybe he had a point. Besides, she couldn’t stop him anyway. “Whatever. Have him meet us in the lobby at ten am.”
“Thank you for not fighting me on this. I’ll see you on Monday.”
“Thanks Jon. Good luck at the Mohegan. See you next week.”
The guys gathered in the lobby late Monday afternoon to head to the arena. When Richie joined them, Jon glanced around.
Richie sighed. “Shopping. Where else?”
“I told you you’d be sorry giving her carte blanche.”
“I just want it done so I can have my girlfriend back.”
Richie was sitting in Jon’s dressing room when he heard Tori calling for him. “Richie take a look at this.” He groaned.
“What’s the matter?” Jon smirked.
“She’s got a book! She’s mapped out the condo and has a page for each room complete with paint chips, fabric samples, and what furniture is needed!”
The smirk widened into a grin. “So she’s organized.”
“Organized hell! She’s anal! But then you would know all about that.”
Before Jon could reply Tori entered the room.
“Honey what do you think about this for the living room?” She met his eyes and pointed a warning finger at him. “And if you say ‘whatever you want dear’ one more time I swear I’ll paint the whole apartment bright pink and baby shit yellow. I know that I’m probably driving you crazy with all this, but I’ve got a whole apartment to do in a short period of time. It’s not like it’s one room at a time. This is your home too and I want you to participate. I promise I’ll take a break before I tackle the L.A. house.”
“Thank God for small favours.” He muttered. At her look he sighed. “Ok, let me have a look.”
“How’s it going anyway?” Jon asked.
“Well, I’ve got the bedroom and bathroom colour schemes sorted out, but the living room is giving me fits. It’s doubly hard because it would be too difficult to buy furniture here and get it through customs. It makes more sense to buy it in Philly. That’s my job this weekend. With any kind of luck I should have it at least livable for you guys within a couple weeks or so.”
“That would be great, but don’t kill yourself.”
“I just want to get it done so that I can relax a bit.”
“You don’t have to do it all at once you know.” Richie pointed out.
“I know, but it’s easier to paint before the furniture goes in, so I at least need to have some idea of colour. I’ve found bedspreads I love for all the rooms, so I’ve got colours picked for all of them.”
“That reminds me.” Richie pulled her close for a hug and a kiss.
“What was that for?”
“For calling Ava and including her.”
She shrugged. “It’s her room. It should be decorated to suit her.”
“That’s more consideration than her mother gave her.”
“Are you going to be able to distract yourself from your decorating long enough to join us tonight?” Jon asked.
“Definitely. I need a break. I’m seeing paint chips in my sleep.”
“Bela! Hey Bela!” David appeared in the doorway. “You’re slipping sweetheart.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Well, it’s just about time for us to get dressed and there are no clothes set out for me. I guess decorating some room is more important than decorating me.”
“For sure it’s a damn sight easier!” Richie retorted.
“Calm down Shirley, there’s still time. Come on, let’s go see what we can put together.”
That weekend while the guys were heading for Pittsburgh, North Carolina and then out to Minnesota, Tori and Karin were heading for Philadelphia for a painting party. She knew that she could hire painters to do it for her, but both girls enjoyed decorating and Tori wanted to do it herself. Armed with rollers and brushes of all sizes, rolls of tape and gallons of paint, they set to work. By the time they settled on mattresses to fall into an exhausted sleep Friday night, all the bedrooms and bathrooms had been given a fresh coat of paint.
The next morning they hit the stores, picking out bed frames and mattresses, linens and towels, draperies, dressers and tables, lamps and light fixtures, dishes and pots. Tori tried not to think about how much she was spending. This was the biggest shopping spree she’d ever been on. By the time the larger items were delivered the next day, the second coat of paint had been applied and was dry. The movers were good enough to put the items in the correct rooms, but it was left to the girls to get them set in place. At one point Henry came up to see if they needed any help, and was amazed at how much they had accomplished.
“It’s really coming along and looks really good Miss Adams.”
“Thanks Henry. The guys will be wanting to use it during the football season, so I’m trying to get it at least livable as quickly as possible.”
“Just let me know if you have other deliveries coming and which rooms you want them in and I’ll take care of it.”
By the time they headed back home Monday morning, while far from finished, at least people could eat, sleep and shower there. She hadn’t done much with the kitchen and living room, and hadn’t even touched the room she’d set aside as an office. But she needed to take a breather.
“So how much did you get done?” Richie asked.
“Except for some accessories, the bedrooms and bathrooms are done and there’s dishes in the kitchen.”
“So we can eat, shower and sleep there then.”
“Yeah, but there’s no T.V, stereo or chairs in the living room yet. That’s next on my list.”
“I can take care of the electronics. I’ll have everything delivered and then they can come back and set it up when you figure out where you want it.”
She exhaled a relieved breath. She hadn’t been looking forward to that part. There was too much she didn’t understand about it all. “Thank you. That would be a big help.”
“No problem. It’s the least I can do considering everything you’ve done already.”
There was something in his voice that she couldn’t put a finger on, but she didn’t like it. “Honey, is everything okay?”
“Yeah, it’s fine. Why?”
“I don’t know, you just sound…..off.”
“I’m just tired. I’m looking forward to a few days off. And I miss you. Even when I’ve seen you lately, you’ve been so caught up with your decorating that I’m not getting any quality time with you.”
“I’m sorry. I don’t mean to ignore you. I’m just trying to get the condo done so that we can relax and do the rest at a more leisurely pace.”
“I know, and I appreciate all your hard work, I just want my girlfriend back.”
“She hasn’t gone anywhere. She’s just been busy. You’ll have her back real soon I promise.”
“Maybe we can meet up in Philly and try out that new bed you bought.”
She chuckled, relieved that he seemed to be back to his usual self. “Maybe, if you’re a good boy.”
“How about if I’m a bad one?”
“Bad boys get spanked.”
She laughed. “You’re a nut.”
“But you love me anyway.”
“Yes I do.”
The next night that odd note was back in his voice, though he denied anything was wrong. She didn’t know whether she should be concerned or not. She tried to think of what might be bothering him. Then she called Jon.
“Hey Tori, what’s up?”
“Has everything been going alright with the shows?”
“Yeah, it’s been good why?”
“Have you noticed anything odd with Richie?”
“Yes. I don’t know what it is, and he keeps saying there’s nothing wrong, but there’s something in his voice that’s just….I don’t know….off.”
Jon sighed. “You don’t know do you.”
“Know what?” Now she was getting nervous.
“We’re coming up on the anniversary of his father’s death.”
She smacked her forehead. “Of course! How could I have been so stupid! I’ve been so caught up with the condo, that I completely forgot! My God! What kind of girlfriend am I to not remember something that important?”
“Don’t beat yourself up. If you hadn’t said something soon I was going to remind you. He’s okay, but you’re right, he’s a little down. We’re trying to keep him occupied to get his mind off it. And he’ll be with Ava this weekend for Easter, so that should help. What are you doing for Easter by the way?”
“I’m going to L.A. if I can still get a flight. I’m not leaving Ava to get him through this on her own.”
“Good. I was hoping you were going to say that.”
The next day at work, her dad came in and pulled her aside. “I’ve found a buyer for the store.”
“Yeah. Bob Butler down the street. Apparently, he’s been waiting for me to decide to sell. He thought he was out of luck until you met Richie and started spending so much time away. He would like you to stay on as long as you want and train him and the staff, or you can leave whenever you want. It’s up to you.”
“Well for starters I’m taking next week off. I’m going to L.A. this weekend and I think I’ll stay until Richie goes back on the road. The anniversary of his father’s death is coming up and I don’t want to leave him alone.”
He was aware of Richie’s difficulties. “That sounds like a good idea. When you get back you can decide how much longer you want to stay. When do they go to Europe?”
“End of May. They have the first three weeks off, then head to Germany.”
“So you could move in May if you wanted or stay until they get back.”
“Yeah. I guess I’ll just see what happens over the next few weeks.”
When he left she called the travel agent and booked her flight. She flew into L.A. Thursday night and took a cab from the airport. She hadn’t told Richie she was coming – she wanted to surprise him.
Walking up to the front door she reached out to ring the doorbell and stopped. Shaking her head at herself she instead reached for the knob and turned it. Setting her purse on a table, she turned to help the driver who was carrying in her bags.
“Tori!” Ava had come to see who had opened the door.
“Hi Bean! Happy Easter.” She returned Ava’s hug.
“Daddy didn’t tell me you were coming.”
“That’s because Daddy didn’t know.” Her father commented from the doorway.
“Surprise!” She was sure she saw something close to relief in his eyes.
“Ma’am, I think that’s everything.” The driver got her attention.
“Thank you.” She walked towards him with her wallet. Richie gave her a look and nudged her out of the way, reaching into his pocket and pulling out some bills which he handed over.
“Wow, Tori, you sure brought a lot of stuff for a few days.” Ava glanced around the foyer.
“Well, I took the opportunity to bring some of my clothes and stuff that I won’t need in Canada anymore. It’ll be that much less that I have to move later.”
“There’s other boxes with your name on them in the living room too. Daddy brought them.”
“Those are decorations for the living room and kitchen. Maybe you could help me find places for them over the weekend.”
Ava’s face lit up. “Sure!”
“Baby girl will you go tell Rosa that Tori’s here please?”
“Oh, Ava.” Tori stopped her and handed her a wrapped box. “Here’s your Easter present.”
“Thanks!” She ripped off the paper, opened the box and pulled out a white sunhat covered in bright flowers – an Easter ‘bonnet’. Tori had noticed that Ava shared her father’s fascination with hats. “That’s really cool! Thank you!” She gave Tori a big hug.
“You’re welcome Bean.”
As she watched Ava run out of the room towards the kitchen, Tori felt Richie move closer.
“So where’s my Easter present?” He murmured in her ear.
She turned to face him and looped her arms around his neck. “You’re looking at it. You get my undivided attention – except for Ava of course – until you leave for Denver.”
“Really?” She nodded. He pulled her closer and buried his face in her neck. “Thank you.”
“So when’s your mother coming?” Tori asked Richie. They were curled up together on the couch, with Ava on the floor playing with her dolls.
“Tomorrow afternoon. She’s staying until Monday.”
Tori nodded. She tipped her head to look at him. “Oh by the way, my Dad found a buyer for the store.”
“Yeah, apparently a guy down the street has been waiting for him to sell. He thought he was going to lose out to me until I met you and it started to look like I wasn’t going to stick around.”
“So you can move sooner then.”
“Well, I do have a little bit of training to do, but yes, I can move sooner than I had originally thought.” She shrugged. “But you’re going to be on the road for the next month anyway.”
He shook his head. “After Denver we’re going to use this as our home base for the first couple weeks in April for the area shows.”
She frowned, considering. “I can’t move that fast, but I might be able to have things tied up by the end of this leg.”
He crooked a brow. “So you could come to Europe with us then.”
“I suppose I could.” She met his gaze. “If the incentive was right.”
“Hmmmm. I’ll have to see what I can do to persuade you.” He waggled his brows. “And if I can’t I’ll just sic your brother on you.”
She laughed. He pressed a kiss to her forehead.
A little while later Ava looked over. “Daddy.” She whispered.
“She fell asleep.” She gestured towards Tori.
He nodded. “I know. Poor thing’s worn out. Plus she’s still on east coast time.” He looked at his daughter. “What do you think, should we wake her?”
Ava frowned thoughtfully, then shook her head. “I think you should carry her upstairs. I’ll run up and pull back the covers.”
While Ava ran ahead, he shifted Tori so that he could stand and scoop her up in his arms.
“Richie?” She murmured.
“Ssh angel, go back to sleep. I’m just taking you upstairs.”
She sighed and drifted off again.
In his – their – bedroom he laid her down on the bed where Ava indicated. The fact that it was indeed Tori’s side of the bed told him just how observant his daughter was – she knew which side he slept on.
“You’d better take her jeans off Daddy so that she’ll be more comfortable.”
Biting back a smile he did as she suggested and Ava pulled the covers up over her. After he got Ava settled in bed and the house buttoned up for the night, he returned, removed the rest of Tori’s clothing, stripped off his own and crawled in next to her. He smiled when she immediately turned to him and cuddled close.
Tori woke the next morning to find herself naked and in bed, when she distinctly remembered falling asleep fully dressed and on the couch. Stretching, she acknowledged the benefits to having a man – and a strong one at that – in her life. For the last five years if she fell asleep on the couch, that’s where she woke up – usually with a sore back and a crick in her neck. Yep, this was definitely much nicer.
Slipping carefully out of bed so as not to wake Richie she headed to the bathroom. When she emerged she went to get some clothes out of her suitcase and realized that Richie had been busy doing some decorating of his own. Another dresser that matched his was sitting against a previously bare wall, and when she peeked into the spacious walk-in closet she saw that he had moved all of his clothes to one side to make room for her. Leaving the unpacking until Richie was up, she dressed quickly and headed downstairs.
Ava found her in the kitchen boiling eggs.
“Morning. What are you doing?”
“Cooking some eggs so that we can decorate them later.”
“Really?” The hopeful expression on the little girl’s face almost broke Tori’s heart. Obviously this wasn’t an Easter tradition for Ava like it had been for her and her mother.
“Absolutely. When I was younger my mom and I always decorated eggs on Good Friday, then she would hide them for me to find on Easter Sunday. It was tradition in my house.” She reached out to stroke Ava’s shining blonde hair. “And I’d like to make it tradition in this house too. Would you help me with that?”
Ava nodded enthusiastically, her grin lighting up her face.
“Good. Now how about some breakfast while we wait for the eggs to cool?”
Richie found them a couple hours later, sitting at the kitchen table, surrounded by a bowl of hard boiled eggs and dishes of dyes in various colours Finished and drying eggs were sitting to one side.
“What’s going on in here?”
“Morning Daddy! Tori and I are starting an Easter tradition. Tori always decorated eggs and her mom hid them when she was a little girl. Now we’re going to do the same thing here.”
Richie smiled at the obvious joy on his daughter’s face, then glanced at the woman responsible for it. “That sounds like a great idea.”
Tori felt her throat tighten at the sadness that lurked behind the smile in his dark eyes. She stood and walked to him, kissed him good morning and urged him into the chair she had just vacated. “Yep, and it’s your turn.”
“But I don’t know how….”
“This is a family tradition. You are the head of this family. You need to participate. Ava will show you how. I’ll make you some breakfast while you paint.”
She looked up from the frying pan to see their two heads, one dark as night, one light as day, bent close together as they worked on their eggs. Sensing her gaze Richie raised his to meet it and winked. She smiled in satisfaction when she saw that the sadness was gone, at least for the moment. In its place was gratitude and warmth.
When Richie and Ava went to pick up Joan at the airport, Tori stayed behind to unpack. She had just finished in the bedroom and was heading downstairs when they returned. Richie glanced up and watched her descend the stairs.
“Hi Joan. Happy Easter.”
“Happy Easter Tori dear.” Joan hugged her.
“Come on Nana. I’ll show you the eggs we coloured this morning. Even Daddy helped.” Ava tugged on her grandmother’s hand.
“Really? Now that I would have liked to have seen.” She raised a brow at her son who just grinned and shrugged.
As Joan allowed herself to be towed towards the kitchen, Tori turned to Richie. “How’s she doing? She looks tired.”
He nodded. “Yeah, but I think she’s doing okay. It’ll be a bit of a tough weekend for her.”
“For both of you.”
He pulled her into his arms. “I’m okay too. You being here helps. I can hardly wait until walking in the door and seeing you here becomes a full time thing.”
“Me too.” She admitted. She lifted her face for a kiss. He obliged.
“Did you find room for everything?”
“I’ve only gotten my clothes unpacked, and yes I think there’ll be plenty of room. That closet is huge.”
“Tori, can we unpack your boxes now?” Ava called from the living room.
“Sure Bean.” Tori called back.
The rest of the afternoon was spent finding spots for Tori’s treasures. Joan would unwrap them, Ava would help Tori decide where they should go and Richie was in charge of hanging the items that needed it.
“So are we going shopping for stuff for my room at the condo tomorrow?” Ava asked Tori.
“I don’t know sweetie. I’m not sure that this is a good weekend for it.” She didn’t want to leave Richie alone.
“But you promised that the next time you were here we could go shopping.”
“I know I did Bean, but…”
“Go. I’ll stay and keep Richie company.” Joan knew what Tori was thinking.
Tori met Joan’s gaze. “Are you sure?”
Joan nodded. “Yes. Everything will be fine.”
“So we can go then?” Ava didn’t notice the silent communication going on between the two older women, but thought the conversation was going in her favour.
“Ok. We can go.”