After dinner they moved to the den to relax. Jon excused himself to go make a phone call from his office. Carol followed him. Hearing the door close behind him he turned and saw his mother standing there. He sighed, knowing he was in for a lecture.
“Why are treating her like something you found stuck to your shoe?” She didn’t pull any punches and got right to the point.
“Why are you treating her like your long lost daughter?” He returned.
“Because she is.” She answered.
Jon was shocked. “How can you feel that way? Dad cheated on you. He was going to leave you – leave us. I may only have been five years old Mom, but I do have some vague memories of that time….. of Dad not being home much….of you being unhappy all the time.”
She sighed. “Jon, that was a long time ago, and between your father and me. It had nothing to do with you – even though you were obviously affected by it. It certainly wasn’t Tori’s fault.” She paused. “I love you boys completely, but I always wanted a girl. You know that I love Dorothea and Desiree, but with Tori it’s like watching you and your brothers. I may not see flashes of myself, but I look at her smile and see your fathers. I look at her eyes and I see yours. I watch her hands move when she speaks and I see Matt. Like it or not Jon she shares the blood of the people I love – your blood – and for that alone I will give her a chance. I can’t hate her for the circumstances that surrounded her conception. And whether you want to believe it or not, it wasn’t totally your father’s fault. I deserve a share of the blame.” She paused again to look him in the eye. “I would have thought you of all people would understand how these things can happen.” She stared at him and he had the grace to blush.
“But this wasn’t just a one night stand we’re talking about here!” He retorted.
“No, it wasn’t. But the fact that it was a full blown affair still doesn’t make it Tori’s fault in any way, shape or form.” She was running out of patience. “I understand that this is hard for you, but it’s hard for her too and she doesn’t need you treating her like something you have to plug your nose to tolerate. I raised you better than that! I taught you to treat people – especially family - with respect. I haven’t seen any of that from you in your dealings with her. Has common courtesy suddenly become a foreign concept to you?”
“But we don’t know anything about her and you want us to just accept her as a cherished member of the family!” He tried to defend himself, feeling like a child again being scolded by his mother. The fact that she wasn’t totally wrong had the guilt building.
“Wrong! You don’t know anything about her! You haven’t bothered to try. Your kids know more about her than you do. Even your brothers sat and talked with her for a couple hours. Your father and I feel that we know her fairly well now, and are looking forward to learning more.” She looked at him sadly. “I’m really disappointed in you Jon.” Turning, she left the room.
Later, after Jake and Romeo were put to bed, Tori couldn’t stop yawning and apologized.
“No apology necessary dear. I know you really can’t get much sleep in a hospital. You’ll feel better after a good couple of nights’ sleep.” Carol assured her. “Come on, off to bed with you. Richie, make sure she gets there safely.”
John Sr. frowned and threw a warning look at Richie. “That is, make sure she gets home safely. I’m sure she can find her bed all by herself.”
They all laughed and Richie and Tori blushed. Bidding everyone goodnight they headed for the door.
She was quiet on the walk down the driveway.
“Are you ok?” Richie asked concerned.
“Hmm? Oh, yeah, I’m just tired, I guess.” She replied.
He hesitated. “Jon will come around. You’ll see. He just needs some time to come to grips with all this. He’s very protective of his mother.”
She sighed. “I can understand that, it’s just hard to take sometimes. I always loved to watch him on stage and in pictures, smiling and laughing and wished I could meet him. Now I have and he wishes that I didn’t exist.” Despite her best efforts, tears filled her eyes.
Opening the door to the guest house he guided her inside and pulled her into his arms for a hug. “It’ll all work out sweetheart. You’ll see.” He lifted her face to his. “So was he the only one you watched on stage?”
She grinned. “Oh no. I used to watch David to see what ugly shirt he was going to wear next, and I’d watch the muscles flex in Tico’s arms and I’d watch Hugh grooving out.”
“Is that all?” He managed to look hurt.
“Was there someone else I should have been watching?” She asked innocently.
“Minx!” He growled.
She laughed “Yes, I watched you too. I love the talkbox, and the ‘guitar faces’ you make, not to mention the hats! There were times when I seriously considered crossing to what the GGs call ‘the dark side of the River of Love’. There, does that soothe your ego?”
“The GGs?” He asked.
“It’s what I call the gutter girls.” She stopped and blushed, suddenly realizing what she was saying and to who.
He looked intrigued. When she would have pulled away he held her tight. “Oh no. You’ve got to explain that one.”
“Um, they’re just some girls I’ve ‘met’ on the fan message boards.” She hedged.
“And the ‘gutter’ part? Or should I ask?” He looked almost fearful. She just looked at him and blushed some more. The penny dropped. “OH! Ok, forget I asked. I don’t think I really want to know…do I?”
She laughed. “Oh I don’t know, you might enjoy it! I could take you online some night and you could talk to a few of them.” She offered.
He laughed. “I may take you up on that sometime – when I’m feeling brave.” Gazing down at her he raised a hand and smoothed her eyebrow with a fingertip. “Feeling better now?” He murmured.
She nodded. “Yes. Thank you.”
“My pleasure.” He whispered. Bending his head he pressed his lips gently, but firmly against hers, running the tip of his tongue along their inner surface when they parted slightly in response to the pressure. Straightening again he smiled at the shock on her face. “Sweet dreams sweetheart.” Releasing her, he walked out the door.
Tori stood for long minutes staring at the closed door her fingers touching the lips that still felt the gentle pressure of his. Shaking her head she reached for the phone.
“Hi Karin. I need to talk.” She said as soon as her friend answered the phone.
“Hi Tori. I’m here, what’s up.” Karin asked.
Tori filled her in on the events of the day beginning with leaving the hospital and ending with Richie’s kiss.
“Wow! I don’t even know where to start.” Karin exclaimed. “Ok, let’s take things in order. So what’s the house like?”
“The main house is huge and really is decorated like a French chateau. Lots of antiques. The guest house where I’m staying is actually a small house. It’s very cozy. I haven’t seen much of the grounds yet. I’m planning to take a walk around tomorrow.”
“Nice. Next…Jon’s still being an ass then? Even with his parents being so wonderful?” Karin couldn’t understand it.
“Yeah. Richie says he protecting his mother. My mother says he’s being cautious like I was with my sisters-in-law.” Tori explained.
“Well, if they’re right then he should relax when he realizes that you’re not out to hurt anyone.” Karin observed. “Now, let’s get to the juicy stuff! What’s going between you and Richie?”
“I honestly don’t know. I thought he was just being nice and helpful because of my connection to the family. I thought he was becoming a friend.” She paused.
“But friends don’t kiss friends like that.” Karin finished for her. “Ok, let’s look at this from a different angle. What do you want to happen?”
Tori sighed. “That’s the hardest part. I don’t know what I want. I never really thought about it. He’s sweet, and funny, and sensitive and strong and always seems to know what I need – which considering he’s only known me a week is more than a little scary.”
“Not to mention tall, dark and handsome! But?” Karin pressed.
“But, he’s a rockstar. He dates models and actresses. He’ll be going back to L.A. soon. Plus he’s just been through a divorce and a breakup, not to mention the death of his father. That’s a lot of baggage. Add to that the fact that Jon warned me to stay away from him, I’m just not sure it’s a good idea.” Tori concluded.
“Forget Jon and the rest of it. If you had the opportunity, would you want to take a chance on him?” Karin knew about Brian and Tori’s lack of interest in dating since.
There was a long silence. “I haven’t felt so comfortable so quickly with a man in a very long time, if ever.” Tori admitted.
“And did you like it when he kissed you?” Karin asked.
“Yes, yes I did.” Tori replied.
“Then I say go for it. The issues you mentioned can all be dealt with. As for the models and actresses, maybe he’s had enough of that. After all, look where’s it’s got him. You deserve some happiness on that front. You’re due. Take a chance.” Karin urged.
Tori was awakened the next morning by the ringing of the phone.
“Hello?” She answered sleepily.
“Sorry to wake you Tori, but I had to call.” Karin apologized.
“What’s up?” Tori snuggled back down under the covers.
“Well, I just wanted to say that I hope there’s a pool there because although Richie looks damn good, you look a little pale. And who was the woman with you? She wasn’t wearing a nurse’s uniform and I wondered if maybe it was Dorothea.” The smile was evident in Karin’s tone.
“Whoa, back up a minute. What are you talking about?” Tori tried to shake herself awake.
“I’m talking about the picture that is all over the net of you leaving the hospital with Richie.” Karin explained. “You’re a celebrity now even though the photographer couldn’t put a name to you. They think you were there with Richie.”
Tori sat up. “Oh shit! Stephanie’s coming home today. I’d better warn Dorothea that that door is being watched. Thanks for the heads up. And yes, there is a pool and I am planning on spending a lot of time in and around it over the next couple months. Did I really look that bad?”
“Yeesh! You just had major surgery, do you think you should look like a fashion model?” Karin asked exasperated. “You looked fine, just a little pale. You will remember all of us peons now that you’re famous won’t you?” She joked.
“Sure. I’ll have my people call your people – oh wait, you don’t have any people.” Tori responded. “Smartass! I’m not famous, I just have famous relatives.”
“And a famous boyfriend.” Karin added.
“He’s not my boyfriend.” Tori insisted.
“Yet.” Karin argued.
“Ooh, there’s not talking to you this morning!” Tori laughed. “Thanks for the heads up about the photographer. I’ll talk to you soon.”
After calling Dorothea with the warning, Tori showered, dressed, ate some breakfast and settled with a cup of coffee in a rocking chair on the porch to enjoy the late morning sunshine.
Movement caught her eye and she looked towards the main house to see Richie walk out the door and stop, letting his head drop back on his shoulders as he lifted his face towards the sun. Sighing, he turned and headed towards the guest house. Even from this distance Tori could tell something was bothering him. His shoulders were slumped and his footsteps were dragging.
Reaching her he placed his hands on the arms of her chair to stop the rocking. “Morning darlin’.” Bending down he kissed her gently, making her lips cling to his. Backing off he stole her coffee cup and took a swallow. “Is there any more of this?”
She nodded. “In the kitchen. I’ll get you some.” She started to rise, but his hand on her shoulder prevented her.
“Sit. I’ll get it.” Straightening he went into the house.
When he returned he took the matching chair beside her, leaned his head against the back, closed his eyes and sighed.
Reaching out, she put her hand over his on the arm of the chair. “Do you want to talk about it?” She asked, wanting to help, but not sure what the problem was.
“I'm fine.” He answered. “How are you feeling today? Did you sleep well?”
She felt like she’d been slapped – or punched in the stomach. Obviously his kisses meant nothing. Reality hit with a bang. Even though she’d mentioned it to both her mother and Karin, with the way he’d treated her and the feelings he was generating deep inside her, she’d forgotten that he was a rockstar. He probably kissed women like that all the time – kind of like a habit. It didn’t mean that he wanted a relationship with her. Obviously he didn’t, he wouldn’t talk to her about whatever was bothering him. The first few times she had chalked it up to them being virtual strangers and it was none of her business. But she had thought they were getting closer, but she guessed she was wrong. Calling herself ten kinds of fool she felt the tiny glimmer of hope she’d been nursing all night die. Realizing he was waiting for an answer she struggled to gathered her thoughts. Lifting her hand from his she forced her mouth into what she hoped was a passable smile.
“I feel fine. I slept really well.” Well, that was only a half lie. She did sleep really well. It was this morning that was making her feel ill. “I got a call this morning from a friend back home who saw a picture of us leaving the hospital. Apparently it’s all over the internet.”
He nodded. “I know. I saw it.”
“I called Dorothea to warn her in case they were planning to take Stephanie out that door.” She couldn’t tell from his response if he was upset about the picture or not.
He nodded again. “I know. She told me. That was quick thinking on your part. They took her out a different way. They should be home soon.”
“When are you going back to L.A.?” She needed to know how long she had to cope with the constant reminder of her stupidity.
He turned his head to look at her. “Trying to get rid of me?”
“No.” She shrugged closing her eyes and lifting her face to the sun again. “It’s just that your birthday’s coming up and I’m sure you’ll want to spend it with Ava.”
He stared at her for a minute, then chuckled. “I keep forgetting you’re a fan.”
“Yeah, I know all sorts of things about you guys.” She’d understood what he meant by the comment.
“So when’s your birthday?” He asked.
“It’s already passed.” She answered. “You didn’t answer me about when you were leaving.”
A car cruised down the driveway and came to a stop in front of the main house. Dorothea got out, followed by Jon who turned to help his daughter. Dorothea looked down towards the guest house and waved. Tori waved back. Dorothea motioned them to come up to the house.
“Next week. I leave Tuesday and I’ll be back on Friday.” He frowned. “Baby what’s wrong?”
“Nothing.” She stood and ignoring Richie’s offered arm started for the house. Suddenly, dealing with Jon’s silent disapproval seemed easier than staying alone here with Richie.
His frown deepening, Richie followed.
“Aunt Tori!” Stephanie exclaimed seeing her walking up the driveway.
“Hi Steph.” Tori replied giving the young girl a hug. “How are you feeling?”
“Pretty good. My back’s still sore and I’m still a little weak. I’m really hungry for some real food though.” Stephanie responded.
Richie laughed. “Where have I heard that recently?” He gave Tori a warm glance. Jon frowned. Tori smiled faintly, not taking her eyes off Stephanie.
“I know how you feel. Hospital food leaves a lot to be desired – namely flavour!” Tori agreed.
“Well, come on, let’s see what Sophia’s got for lunch.” Dorothea urged everyone towards the house, grabbing Richie’s arm to hold him back. “Everything ok?”
“It was, but now I’m not sure.” Richie shrugged.
Lunch was a fairly relaxed affair. Even Jon’s mood was lighter, having his daughter home and doing so well. He still didn’t speak to Tori, but he did interact with Richie and his kids.
When they had finished, Dorothea asked Tori what she had planned for the afternoon.
“First I thought I’d take a walk around the grounds. After that I’ll probably need a nap.” She smiled wryly.
“Just don’t overdo it, ok?” Dorothea warned.
“I’ll go with her.” Richie offered.
“That’s not necessary.” Tori objected quickly. When Dorothea frowned at her she added. “I’m sure he has more important things to do than babysit me.”
Jon frowned. “I thought we could get some work done this afternoon.”
Dorothea just waved a dismissive hand at her husband. “You can work later.” She turned back to Tori. “You will take Richie with you. You’re only two days out of the hospital and the ground is uneven. You need someone close by in case you get into trouble.”
Tori stared at her for moment. “Yes, sensai.” She bowed. Everyone laughed. Even Jon smiled.
Watching out the kitchen window at Tori and Richie walking slowly over the lawn Dorothea hoped things in that department sorted themselves out. If it didn’t she’d have a talk with Tori to see if she could find out what the problem was. Speaking of Tori’s problems, there was one she was well aware of and she was determined to help fix. Turning, she went in search of her husband.
Finding him in his office, she closed the door behind her. As usual Jon was on the phone. He looked up when she entered and smiled at her. Seeing the look on her face, his smile faded and he sighed. Finishing his conversation, he hung up and gazed at his wife.
“What did I do now?” He asked. He knew that look.
“What happened to our agreement?” She demanded.
He raised his brows in surprise. “What? I let her into my home, into my children’s lives, I’ve shared meals with her, I haven’t been rude to her.”
“You didn’t talk to her!” She responded.
“That wasn’t part of our agreement.” He shot back.
“For Christ’s sake Jon, she’s your sister! No!” She put up hand to stop his protest. “She is your father’s daughter, that makes her your sister. Biology Jon. Just like Stephanie and Jesse.” She sighed. “What, exactly is your problem with her?”
He raked a hand through his hair. “How do we know she isn’t out to cash in on her biological connection to us? She’s already admitted she’s a fan. You know some of them would do anything to get close to us. She said she didn’t want to come here, but look how quickly she changed her mind about that? And what about that picture when she left the hospital? And she’s been all over Richie like a bad rash. The last thing he needs is to get fucked over again.”
Dorothea snorted. “Man, your paranoia’s in overdrive! I brow beat her to come here and you know it. If she had planned the picture coming out of the hospital why would she call to warn us before we left through the same door? A picture of us with Stephanie would be worth more than one of her and Richie. If you had taken even a few minutes to talk to her, to get to know her, you’d see how wrong you are But you won’t even give her a chance! And as for Richie, how do you know she isn’t just what he needs? And for the record he’s the one that’s been all over her. You’re so sure she’s going to hurt someone you love that you can’t see the forest for the trees! You see what you want to see, not what’s there. Good God Jon, she gave up a kidney to save our daughter’s life! Doesn’t that tell you anything?”
“I know she did! And I am grateful for that. But…” He began.
“Have you told her that?” Dorothea interrupted.
“What?” He frowned.
“Have you thanked her for saving your daughter’s life?” She clarified. Seeing the guilt on his face she snorted. “That’s what I thought.” She shook her head sadly. “I’m really disappointed in you Jon.”
She left him sitting at his desk with a chagrined look on his face. The two most important women in his life thought he was wrong. Maybe he was, but it was his job to protect his family. He had to be sure. He picked up the phone.
“Yeah, Mike, it’s Jon. I need you to check somebody out for me….but I need you to keep it quiet. Don’t let anyone, especially Dorothea know ok?” He gave his private eye friend all of the details he could about Tori. Mike promised to report back as soon as he had anything.
Outside Richie and Tori walked in silence for awhile. Finally he had to ask.
“Tori, have I done something wrong?” He’d been racking his brain for the last couple hours trying to figure out what was going on.
“No, of course not.” She answered.
“Then why are you being so…. distant?” He didn’t know how else to describe it.
“Am I? I guess it’s just that I feel guilty about taking up so much of your time. I’m sure you came to Jersey to be here for Jon and his family, and you’ve spent most of the last few days looking after me.” She took a deep breath. “You’ve been wonderful to me and I really appreciate it, but don’t feel you have waste your time babysitting me. I’ll be fine now. I’m sure Jon would like to get to work.” She hoped she sounded convincing.
He pulled her to a stop. “Are you trying to tell me you don’t want me around?”
“Not at all. I’ve enjoyed our time together. I just don’t want you to feel obligated.” She replied.
“Honey, no time I spend with you is a ‘waste’. I don’t feel obligated.” He assured her. “I like spending time with you. And it’s not babysitting – it’s protecting.”
“I like spending time with you too Richie. You’re a really nice man.” She knew it sounded lame, but she didn’t know what else to say. She certainly couldn’t tell him the truth.
“’Nice’ huh?” He grinned and wrapped his arms around her. “Is that the best you can do?” He bent down to kiss her, and was surprised when she turned her head at the last second and his lips met her cheek.
“Well, it’s better than being not nice!” She laughed, hugged him briefly and pulled away to continue her stroll. When she noticed that he wasn’t behind her she stopped and looked back. “Well, come on protector, show me the rest of the property.”
Shaking his head in confusion he obeyed.