The next day was a quiet one. They spent the afternoon in and around the pool, both girls unable to hold back their laughter over Richie’s playful antics. About mid afternoon Karin called. Aside from checking in to make sure that Tori and Richie had made it safely to L.A., she had some names for Tori of counselors specializing in substance abuse, specifically alcoholism is the area. Tori went inside in search of paper and pen.
“Thanks a lot for this Karin. I really appreciate it.”
“Hey, what are friends for? I just hope it helps. So how are things going? Getting settled in okay?”
“Yeah. I’m not expecting the trucks until tomorrow or Tuesday, so we’re just relaxing by the pool today.”
Karin snorted. “Bitch. I’m wearing a frigging sweatshirt today!”
Tori chuckled. “Definitely a mark on the plus side for living in California.”
“As opposed to earthquakes?”
“And mud slides and wild fires and having to worry about paparazzi following you wherever you go.”
“Have you had problems with them?”
“Not since the DUI episode, but it’s something we always have to be aware of – especially if Ava’s with us. Luckily, we’re pretty small fish in this pond, so I don’t think it’ll be much of an issue, just something to keep in mind.”
“Is Ava with you now?”
“Yeah. She – and her mother – were here when we got home.”
“How are you and Heather getting along?”
“Not bad. She was actually friendly on Friday. Of course, she was going away with Jack for a couple weeks, so that may have had something to do with it.”
Karin laughed. “Yeah, probably. But at least it’s better than if she didn’t speak to you at all – especially for Ava’s sake.”
“True. It just pisses me off that that sweet, beautiful little girl comes second in her mother’s life to her boyfriend!”
“Lucky for her, she’s got a loving father, and you.” She paused. “Given any more thought to giving her a brother or sister?”
“Karin!” Tori chuckled. “You’re as bad as Richie! Worse actually, since he’s backed off after our discussion about my feelings in regards to the future and his problem.”
“I’m sorry. It’s just that I’ve never seen you so happy. And the two of you are great together, and you’d make beautiful children. But you’re right to wait. Make sure he’s firmly in control before you bring a child into that environment.”
They talked a bit more, then said goodbye, promising to talk again in a few days. Tori sat for a long moment, staring at the names Karin had given her, then rose, tucked the paper into her purse and rejoined Richie and Ava by the pool
She sat in a lounge chair and watched father and daughter play, a soft smile on her lips. Closing her eyes, she enjoyed the feel of the warm sun on her skin. Suddenly she felt droplets of cold water spraying over her. She squealed and opened her eyes to see Richie leaning over her, shaking his head like a dog.
“Richie! You’re getting me all wet!” As soon as the words were out she wished she could take them back. Her face flamed.
He grinned and waggled his brows. “Those words are music to my ears angel, but you’ll have to wait until later.”
She swatted his arms and rolled her eyes. “Men! A few innocent words and your mind goes straight to the gutter.”
He hooted. “Look who’s talking! Innocent words my ass! If they were so innocent, how come you blushed ten shades of red?”
“Because I knew what your reaction would be! I’m really going to have to watch everything I say.” Her lips twitched and her eyes twinkled. “At least when there’s young ears around.”
He chuckled. “Spoilsport!” He leaned down and kissed her. “Everything okay?” He’d noticed her distracted look when she’d come back outside.
She nodded and caressed his cheek with one hand. “Yeah. Karin was just checking in to see how I was settling in.”
He was sure there was more to it, but decided to wait until Ava was in bed before pushing for answers.
Throughout the rest of the afternoon, over dinner, and even during the game they played afterward, he could sense her distraction. Oh she put up a good front, talking and laughing with them, but he caught her looking at him, several times with a speculative expression on her face. When she realized she’d been caught she just smiled and kissed him. Whatever she was thinking about obviously had to do with him, but apparently wsn’t something she was angry about. He was more curious than ever, and determined to get her to talk to him.
It was Tori’s turn to tuck Ava in. When she returned downstairs, she started collecting the dishes that were left from their bedtime snack. As she reached for a glass on the table in front of Richie he took the dishes out of her hands and tugged her down onto his lap.
“Okay, angel, spill.”
“What?” Her hand idly played with the hairs scattered across his chest. He’d exchanged swim trunks for shorts after their swim, but hadn’t bothered with a shirt.
“What ever it is that you’ve been trying to figure out how to say to me ever since Karin called. And that’s not going to work.”
“What’s not going to work?”
He glanced down at her hand. “Your attempt to distract me.”
She smiled wryly. He knew her so well. He remained silent while she gathered her thoughts. She took a deep breath. “When do you start your classes?”
He shrugged. “I think I’ve got a year or something. I was going to wait until after the tour.” Seeing her frown slightly he used one finger to tilt her face up to his. Searching her eyes, he realized that if he wanted a future with this woman he needed to prove to her that he was serious about controlling the drinking. He had promised to get the help he needed. Time to fulfill that promise. “But maybe it would be a good idea to see if I can get started during this break.”
Her relief was visible. She leaned in to kiss him. “Thank you.”
He settled her against his chest. “I’ll call Blair in the morning.”
The next morning, Tori got up, helped Ava get ready and drove her to school. Ava showed her where the office was so that she could meet the secretaries there and give them the information they needed so that she could deal with issues that arose if Heather was unavailable.
Back at the house she spent the rest of the morning in the studio. Richie came to get her for lunch, a piece of paper in his hand, which he handed to her.
“I talked to Blair. I can start the classes this week. They run twice a week for a couple hours each session. If I start this week and go until we leave for Europe, and start again when we get back, I can be done by the end of August. These are the names of the counselors who run the classes. I can pick whichever one I want.”
“Can I make a suggestion?”
“This one.” Tori pointed to a name on the list.
“Why that one?”
Tori hesitated. “I asked Karin to check with the people she works with for some names of counselors they would recommend. He’s on the list she gave me yesterday. I figure if he’s well respected internationally, then he must be good. ”
He nodded. “Okay. I’ll set it up after lunch.”
Tori made a mental note to make a call of her own.
They had just finished lunch when the buzzer at the gate sounded. The trucks – and Tori’s car – had arrived. She was amazed at how quickly everything was unloaded. By the time Richie left to pick up Ava, the furniture was all in place and only the boxes remained to be unpacked. Tori worked away at her clothes while he was gone and Ava helped her finish when she got home. By lunchtime the next day a place had been found for all her treasures and she truly felt at home.
“What’s your plan for this afternoon?” Riche asked while they ate. Most people would just relax after the busy day and a half she just put in, but he knew her better.
“Well, I need to go down to the DMV and get my license and car switched over, and I need to go set up a bank account and get my money from home transferred here.”
Richie frowned in thought. “I need to go to the bank too. But we’d better go to the DMV first. The bank will want California I.D.”
Fortunately the line up wasn’t too long since Richie once again waited in the car, and Tori was soon back, new plates and license in hand. She looked down at her license and sighed. “The cameras here are no better than the ones at home. Still looks like a mug shot.”
He shot her a glance, his lips twisting wryly. “Not really.”
Something in his voice made her look at him. It took a few seconds for the penny to drop. She winced. “Oops. Sorry.”
When they entered the bank and removed their sunglasses, his account manager quickly approached them and ushered them into an office.
“What can we do for you today Mr. Sambora?”
Richie gestured towards Tori. “Ms. Adams has just moved here from Canada and needs to open an account.” He paused. “And I want her name added to my accounts.”
The manager’s brows rose. Tori frowned. “Richie, that’s not necessary.”
He held up a hand to halt her protest. “Yes it is. You’re going to need access to look after the household expenses.”
Tori considered that for a moment. “Do you have more than one account?” He nodded. “Then just give me access to the one that you use for the day to day expenses. I don’t need the rest.”
The manager turned an obviously hopeful glance to Richie and waited for his response.
Richie smiled. “Honey, it’s going to have to be done at some point. We might as well do it now while we’re here.”
“It doesn’t have to be done….ever.” She insisted.
“Yes it does. I need to know that if something happens to me, you’ll be taken care of.”
She stiffened. “I can take care of myself, thank you very much! I don’t need your money.”
He studied her eyes and the set of her chin and sighed. “Just the household account…for now.” He instructed the manager. He looked back at Tori. “Stubborn woman. This isn’t finished, but we’ll discuss it later.”
She shrugged. “You can talk all you want. I’m not going to change my mind.”
He grinned, a familiar gleam in his dark eyes. “You forget how persuasive I can be.”
She shot a glance at the manager and blushed. “And you forget how stubborn I can be. I am a Bongiovi, after all.”
At that the manager relaxed even more. This was obviously Jon’s sister that he had been hearing about, and that being the case, he didn’t need to be concerned that she was after Richie’s money. If that’s what she was after she had access to an even bigger pot. Besides, he’d dealt with Richie long enough to know that while he had a soft heart, he was by no means stupid.
The next day was his first class. As he gathered up his wallet and keys, he noticed Tori standing by the door, purse in hand. “Where are you going?”
He frowned. “Why? Don’t you trust me to go?”
“Of course I do! I’m going because I want to learn more about this disease. I want to know what signs to watch for and how to help you. I can’t sit helplessly by and watch you struggle like you did in March. I need to be able to help you, but I don’t know how. Everything I tried failed. So I’m going to learn the right things to do.”
He smiled sadly and pulled her into his arms. “You didn’t fail baby, I did.”
“We both did. And I’m going to do everything I can to prevent it from happening again. It’s like you told me in Jersey. We’re in this together.”
He sighed and hugged her tighter. He hated that she had to deal with this, but he was grateful that she was there. With a knuckle under her chin he raised her face to his, kissed her softly and released her. “Okay. Let’s go.”
They got out just in time to pick up Ava. The ride was silent as Tori was engrossed in reading the literature the counselor had given her. He told her which of the classes would be the most helpful for her and suggested she call him if she had any questions or concerns. When she expressed her surprise at the offer he explained that the chance of successful long term recovery was greatly increased when a strong support network was in place – especially in the home.
“I wish more family members would put in the effort to help. Unfortunately, in my experience it’s those closest to the patient that often are what they’re trying to escape. And those that aren’t, are often either indifferent or don’t understand the nature of the disease. The fact that you want to learn how to help bodes well for his success.” He had turned to Richie. “That doesn’t mean you don’t have to work at it. You do. But having someone close by to lean on when you need to will be a tremendous advantage. Just remember to not try to hide it when the urge gets too strong. Talk to her and let her help you through it. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. You’re very lucky to have someone like her.”
Richie had smiled and hugged her to his side. “I know.”
When they arrived at the school, Tori folded up the papers and shoved them in her purse and got out to help Ava climb into the big vehicle. Hearing someone call her name, she looked around and saw Gail and Katie.
“Hi!” She waved and walked over. “How are you?”
“I’m doing great, how are you? Ava tells me you’ve moved in. Got everything settled yet?”
“Pretty much. I didn’t have a lot and part of it went to the condo in Philly, so it didn’t really take that long.”
“So you’ll have a little free time before you head back out on the road then.”
“Yeah. Until close to the end of the month anyway. Then it’s off to Europe.” Her eyes lit up. “I can hardly wait.”
“I don’t blame you. I’d be excited too. How about lunch sometime soon? Now that you’re officially a Californian, we’ll have to get you out and about and show you all the best spots that we hide from the tourists.”
Tori laughed. “Sure. Sounds great. I’m pretty much free any day, so give me a call when you’re available.”
“I will. I’ll talk to you soon.”
With a hug for Gail, and a wave for Kate, Tori bid them goodbye and headed back to the Hummer.
“How’s Gail?” Richie asked as she climbed in.
“Good. We’re going to try to arrange a lunch soon.”
He smirked. “And your introduction to the Hollywood scene has begun.”
She wrinkled her nose at him.
“Daddy, can we have a guitar lesson when we get home?”
Tori’s days quickly fell into a routine. On weekdays she would get up and take Ava to school, then spend the rest of the morning in the studio. At first, she would spend the afternoon with Richie relaxing around the pool or going over his mail and responding to invitations. Occasionally he would take her for a drive, helping her get more familiar with the neighbourhood. When Ava got home from school, they would head to the studio for a guitar lesson until dinner. Afterwards, she would help Ava with her homework, then they would play a game or watch T.V. or just hang out together until bedtime. Saturdays they would travel outside L.A. to various sites. These were some of Tori’s favorite days.
First up was the San Diego Zoo. By the time they left, Tori swore it would be a long time before she did that again – at least with Richie. Her sides felt like she’d been beaten with a baseball bat, her cheeks ached and she was sure her makeup was running in streaks down her face. She could say that she hadn’t laughed like that in years, but that would be a lie. She’d never laughed like that! Richie had been on a roll all day, with his observations about the animals they were looking at. And Ava was nearly as bad! The two of them played off each other like some sort of modern day Abbott and Costello, and Tori was in tears. But it was their time in the chimpanzee exhibit that she would never forget….and she’d make sure that Richie didn’t either.
Ava had run ahead, pulling Tori along with her to watch the eerily human-like actions of the small apes. One little chimp was fascinated with Ava’s pale blonde hair that the light breeze was blowing through the holes in the chain link fence, and came over to touch it. Tori had crouched down to be at their level and watched. When Richie joined them, the mother chimp came over and eyed them warily. He spoke softly to them, assuring them he meant no harm. The mother slowly inched closer, drawn by that smooth as whiskey voice. She grasped the fence with one hand. Richie reached out slowly and stroked one finger with his. She straightened the finger out towards him and rubbed his. Suddenly, a large male let out a scream, ran over and pulled both mother and baby away, glaring at Richie in the process. Richie blinked, and Tori burst out laughing, as did several other people who had been watching.
“Daddy I think he’s jealous of you!” Ava giggled.
“Wait until Shirley hears about this!” Tori gasped.
He frowned. “I thought you loved me!”
“I do, but this is just too good to keep to myself. And you know that once Jon hears it, he’ll tell the rest of them.”
He groaned. “Brat!”
The drive home got very quiet. Richie glanced around the Hummer and smiled to see ‘his girls’ both curled up in their seats, sound asleep, and kept the ride as smooth as he could. When he stopped at the gate to punch in the code, Tori started to stir. By the time he parked in front of the door, she was stretching, blinking and looking around.
“I’m sorry honey. I didn’t mean to fall asleep on you.”
“No problem. The way Ava had you running around today I’m not surprised you’re worn out. You’re not the only one.” He pointed to Ava in the back seat.
“You’re probably tired too. I should have stayed awake to keep you company.” She yawned.
“I’m not too bad actually. I had the radio to help keep me awake.” He got out and opened the back door to lift his sleeping daughter into his arms. He noticed that Tori hadn’t moved. “Do you want me to come back and carry you in?”
She chuckled and shook her head. “No, I’ll walk in myself. I have a better use for your strength.”
He grinned. “Let me get Ava settled, and I’m at your disposal angel.”
Disneyland was almost as exciting and just as tiring. They’d taken Kate with them so that Ava would have some company on the smaller rides. Unlike the Zoo, Richie was recognized and approached several times for autographs and pictures. Fortunately, the fans were polite and their visits brief. It was Tori’s turn to be embarrassed this time, and she had no one to blame but herself. The girls were always on the look out for the various characters that wandered around the grounds. They had run into Goofy, Daisy, Snow White, the White Rabbit and Belle, who all graciously posed for pictures. Ava and Tori had discussed the night before who their favorites were, much to Richie’s amusement. Turning the corner onto Main St., Tori couldn’t help herself. She stopped dead and gasped, her whole face lighting up. When he felt the drag on his arm from their clasped hands Richie stopped too and glanced at her to see if there was a problem. One look at her face had him following her gaze. Eyes widening, he looked back at her and chuckled. Ava saw the same thing Tori had and spun around.
“I know Bean. I see him!” It was hard to say who was more excited.
Richie chuckled. “How old are you?”
Tori flipped him off behind the girls’ backs and wrinkled her nose at him. “Shut up King Kong.”
“What’s going on?” Kate was confused.
“That’s Tori’s favorite Pooh character.” Ava explained. “She even has a stuffed one that bounces all over the place.”
“What’s his name again?” Richie needled.
“T-I-double G-ER.” Tori answered absently, letting go of his hand to raise her camera. The girls giggled.
To Tori’s mortification, Richie walked over to where ‘Tigger’ was posing with several children, and spoke to him. A huge grin wreathing his face, he pointed to her and the two of them walked to where Tori was standing with the girls. ‘Tigger” held out his arms and gave Tori a big hug, while Richie snapped several pictures.
Moving on, Richie teased her about being ‘star-struck’. Tori told him if he didn’t stop she was going to take him on the It’s a Small World ride and tell the operator that it was his favorite and that he really would love to stay in there for an extended ride. It’d be days before he’d get the song out of his head! He just chuckled and drew her close with an arm around her shoulders.
“Come ON, you guys!” Ava complained. “We want to ride through the haunted house!”
“Mmm…now that sounds like my kind of ride.” Richie murmured in Tori’s ear. “Are you afraid of ghosts angel?”
“Mmmm….will you stay close and protect me?” She slid her arm around his waist.
“Always.” The gleam in his eyes matched the twinkle in hers. He kissed her briefly.
“They do that a lot.” Ava informed Kate. “Come on, let’s get in line.”
Exiting the haunted house, Tori licked her swollen lips and hoped that her face didn’t look as flushed as it felt.
“Wasn’t that great? Did you scream when that face came out of the painting Tori? I did!” Ava gushed.
“Mmmm.” Tori responded. She couldn’t actually recall seeing a face or a painting…or anything for that matter. As soon as their car entered the dark, Richie had commanded all her attention.
Catching sight of the next ride along the path, Tori bit back a groan and braced herself.
“Oooh look! Pirates!” Kate exclaimed. “I love pirates.”
“Don’t we all?” Richie murmured giving Tori a heated knowing look.
She poked him with her elbow and fought not to blush. “Behave.”
“Daddy does a great pirate voice.” Ava piped up. “Do it now Daddy. Please?”
“Arrgh me hearties. Ye look a right scurvy lot! Last one aboard walks the plank!”
The girls giggled and ran towards the ship. Tori picked up her pace to follow, but his arm held her back.
“Not you me beauty. You need to stay close so’s I can keep me eye on you!” He waggled his brows.
“Afraid I might run away?”
“Nay, but ye be a right prime piece. I have to make sure none of them thar scoundrels think to steal my prize!”
She chuckled. “By all means then. Keep me close.”
He turned serious. “Oh I plan to angel. I plan to.”
She reached up to kiss him. “Good.”
Tori managed to stay awake on the trip home this time, although both girls lost the battle. Since Kate was staying over night, Richie carried both of them upstairs where Tori helped him put them to bed.
Sundays were set aside for beach days at Richie’s insistence. After breakfast, they’d load up the Hummer with blankets, towels, toys, books, a change of clothes, and the picnic basket and cooler loaded with snacks that he’d requested from Rosa, change into swimsuits, and head for Laguna.
On their first trip, Richie watched Tori spread out the blanket on the open stretch of sand that he indicated. With an inward grimace, he forced himself to look away from her body delectably displayed by her pink bikini, a floral sarong wrapped around her hips. He busied himself setting out the basket and cooler he carried before he embarrassed himself, Ava and anyone else who happened to glance at the fit of his suit.
“Can I go swimming now?” Ava asked as she dropped the various toys she’d carried over.
“Just a minute Bean. Come here first.” Tori answered, reaching into the bag beside her and pulled out a bottle of waterproof sunscreen. “You’re so fair, I don’t want you to get burned.”
Ava stood still while Tori slathered the lotion over every bit of her uncovered skin, even her nose and cheeks. “Now?”
Tori nodded. “But stay in this area where we can see you, okay?” The beach wasn’t overly crowded at this point, so it would be easy to keep an eye on her.
“Okay.” Ava grabbed her Boogie Board and took off running.
Tori watched her periodically as she spread the lotion over her own skin, then handed it to Richie. “Do my back?”
“Sure honey.” He smoothed the lotion over her shoulder blades and down to her hips, dipping below the edge of the sarong to make sure the faint line of her incision was covered. Finished with her, he applied the lotion to his arms, legs and chest, then handed the bottle back to Tori for her to do his back. “I’m going to go swim with her for a bit.”
“Okay. I’m just going to soak up some sun for awhile.” She settled down on her back on the blanket, unwrapped the sarong, and closed her eyes.
She must have dozed off, because the next thing she knew, Ava was calling her name and asking her to come help them with the sand castle they were building. Rising, she shook out the sarong and wrapped it around her hips again, adjusted the back and went to join them. She had to grin at the picture Richie presented kneeling on the sand digging with a small neon pink shovel. “You’re quite the castle builder there honey.” She was actually very impressed with the structure that was taking shape in front of them.
“Thank you.” He smirked. “If I’m going to live up to my title, I’ve got to have a castle for the maidens to be rescued from…or returned to.”
Ava frowned. “What’s the King of Swing got to do with maidens and castles?”
Tori hid a smile and waited to hear Richie’s response.
He stared at his daughter for a moment. “Nothing sweetie. Tori has another title for me.” He took off his bracelet and showed her the message on the back.
“Knight in shining armor. Oh, like Prince Charming or Sir Lancelot. Cool. We need a high tower then.”
They spent the next hour digging and packing sand under Richie’s direction. People walking by would stop and watch for a few minutes, complimenting them on their work. Richie slowly became aware of Tori adjusting the back of her sarong everytime anyone came near. It took him awhile, but he finally thought he’d figured out what was going on.
“Come for a swim angel and wash the sand off.”
She walked to the water’s edge, bent and rinsed off her hands. Straightening she grasped the sarong with both hands, raised it up to her knees and waded deeper.
He walked up beside her and tugged at the material. “Why don’t you take that off and come in? The water’s just cool enough to be refreshing.
She shook her head. “This is fine.”
He studied her for a long moment. “Tori take it off.”
“Why don’t you want to? What are you hiding?”
“Nothing. I’m just more comfortable with it on.”
“Why? You don’t wear it at home.”
“Don’t you like it?”
“Whether I like it or not isn’t the point. Why won’t you take it off?”
Her chin firmed. “Because I don’t want to.”
He sighed. “Is it because of your scar?” She frowned. “Honey, you can’t even see it.”
“Yes you can. It’s ugly.”
“No, it’s not. It’s a symbol of your selflessness in saving your niece’s life. What’s ugly about that?”
Her frown deepened. When he put it like that she felt silly and vain. He tugged at the material again. This time she let him pull it off. Her hand automatically went to her back to cover her scar. Dropping the sarong he placed his hands on her shoulders and slid them down her arms, pulling them from behind her back. He held her hands lightly. “Honey look at me. You are a beautiful woman, both inside and out. You’re caring, compassionate, bright, funny, and I love you. No amount of physical scarring is ever going to change that.”
She blinked back tears as she read the sincerity in the depths of his dark eyes. “Thank you. I love you too.”