The next morning Tori awoke, stretched and headed straight for the shower, smiling to herself when she found a few sticky spots. Dressed, she picked up the tray from the floor so that Richie wouldn’t step in it and took it downstairs, blushing slightly when Rosa took it from her to put the bowls in the sink.
They decided to spend the day playing and relaxing around the pool. When Tori came down in her swim suit Richie made her sit on the couch while he unwrapped and inspected her fingers. He cleaned them gently and nodded approvingly. “We’ll let the air at them today. Just be careful. We don’t want them getting infected.”
She saluted him. “Thank you Dr. Sambora. Can I go swimming now?”
“Smartass. Keep it up and you’ll be sorry.”
“Uh huh. You’ve got me shaking in my boots…oh wait, I’m not wearing any!” She chuckled as she walked towards the door that led to the pool. The chuckle turned into a squeal as she was swept off her feet from behind just as she opened the door.
“That does it! I’ll teach you to respect my threats.” He growled in her ear.
“Daddy, what are you doing?” Ava’s eyes were wide.
“Shut the door will you please Bean. I’m teaching Tori a lesson.”
Long strides eating up the distance, they quickly reached the pool. He didn’t even hesitate. She felt his arm muscles bunch, and, realizing his intent, frantically tried to grab onto him. She was too late. Seconds later she hit the water.
She came up sputtering, and glared at him. He was standing on the side of the pool laughing. “You better watch it Sambora. What goes around comes around.” She watched Ava stalk him with the hose out of the corner of her eye. “You’ll get yours.”
“Bring it on Sweetheart.” His laughter ended in a gasp as cold water hit him from behind. He spun around to stare, stunned, at his daughter. “Why you…..” He started towards her. She dropped the hose and ran. He took off after her.
“Careful!” Tori admonished between peals of laughter.
Circling the pool, Ava glanced over her shoulder, saw him gaining on her and jumped in the pool, swimming to Tori and hiding behind her.
“That’s not going to save you.” Her father warned just before he dove in after her.
Tori backed towards the shallow end and the stairs there, keeping Ava behind her as they watched him swim towards them. Coming up for air he lunged at Ava, but Tori blocked him. He shifted from side to side and tried to grab his daughter, but they always managed to keep her out of his reach. Tori knew they couldn’t keep it up forever. When he stepped closer she nudged Ava. “Run!” She didn’t check to see if Ava had listened, she just launched herself at Richie, wrapping her arms around his neck and her legs around his waist.
He watched Ava splash out of the pool and run for the house, then turned his gaze to the woman hanging off of him. “What are you doing?”
“Sacrificing myself to save her.” She grinned.
He laughed, then turned serious. “You would, wouldn’t you?”
“Absolutely.” He could see the sincerity in her eyes.
He kissed her, then frowned. “I’m not sure I like how you two are ganging up on me.”
Her grin widened. “Consider it karmic payback. And you’ve got a lot of years worth coming back at you. If it makes you feel any better, one of these days Shirley’s going to have to face his too……and his will be even worse!”
He grinned. “Let’s hope we get to see it.”
Monday was given over to departure preparations. Tori spent an hour in the morning walking around the grounds with the gardener discussing the progress of the changes she’d asked him to make, and what needed to be done while they were away. She also spent some time on the phone with the accountant updating him on what he could expect over the next few weeks.
Then it was time to pack. Richie sat back and watched the process in amazement. The stage clothes were dealt with first. She simply added them to Richie’s in the massive garment bag. Then came the hard part – packing for five weeks in Europe, not knowing what the weather would be like or what events she would be expected to attend.
“Can’t you give me any idea at all?” She asked him for the third time as she frowned at the bed which was currently covered with clothing. “Are there formal dinners or other events where I’ll need to dress up more than normal?”
He shrugged. “It varies and depends on the local record companies and promoters. Sometimes there’s cocktail parties, but there’s no balls or anything. I don’t know why you’re fussing so much. You look beautiful no matter what you wear.”
“Thank you.” She answered absently as she considered a couple dresses and skirts. “I just want to hold up my end in the image department. I don’t want to stick out like some hick. I want to look like I belong with a bunch of rock stars.”
He rolled his eyes. “You know that we don’t care about any of that. Hell, half the time we don’t look like rock stars.”
“I know you don’t care, but the reporters will. I refuse to be an embarrassment.”
He snorted. “Believe me babe, you couldn’t be an embarrassment if you tried. You should know that. You’ve seen Shirley’s wardrobe.”
She laughed. “Point taken.”
When she was finally satisfied with her selections she reached for a large suitcase and set it on the bed. As she was setting the chosen items in it, Richie noticed her surreptitiously shaking her left hand. He frowned.
Standing, he walked to her, reached out to grab her hand and inspect her fingers. They were red. “Sit down.”
“I’ve got to get this done.” She argued.
“I’ll finish it.”
She raised her brows, but consented to sit on the bed and watch him. After all, he’d been packing for himself for years, so he knew what he was doing. She handed him a smaller bag for the items she’d set aside that she thought she’d need in Jersey and on the plane – and one for her shoes.
“Do you really need to take all these shoes? What are you planning to do, change them three times a day?”
“Maybe. If I feel like it.”
When her suitcases were closed and set aside, it was her turn to watch in amazement. Richie set another large suitcase on the bed and within twenty minutes was packed. She shook her head.
“There are times when I think that my life would be so much easier if I was a man.”
He met her gaze and a slow grin spread across his face. “But not nearly so much fun. I, for one, will be forever grateful that you are all woman.”
The next morning Tori woke Richie up so that they could both take Ava to school. The goodbyes this time weren’t teary. They all knew that in a few weeks they’d all be together again.
“The kids are all coming out again aren’t they?” Ava asked.
Tori saw Richie’s lips press into a thin line. “We don’t know yet Bean.” She told her honestly. “Uncle Jon hasn’t told us what the plan is.”
“Wait ‘til you see Tori, it’s so much fun! I hope Uncle Jon lets us dance on stage again. And Aunt Dot knows all these cool places to shop – and we get to leave Jesse and Colton at the hotel.”
“What’s wrong with Jesse and Colton?”
Ava wrinkled her nose. “They’re such….boys. They’re always bugging us and making fun of us.” She looked at Tori. “Are all boys like that?”
Tori smiled. “Yes. But they out grow it when they get older.” She glanced at Richie. “Well, most of them do.”
He just grinned and shrugged.
Back at the house, they checked once more that they had everything, and Tori had a last minute discussion with the staff, making sure they had her cell phone number in case there was a problem. When the car arrived, they loaded up, Richie shaking his head over the amount of luggage she was bringing.
“We’re only going for a month, we’re not moving there.”
“Five weeks, in countries with different climates, and facing unknown events. I need to be prepared for pretty much anything.”
“It looks like you are. Did you bring a winter coat too?”
She flipped him off and blew him a raspberry.
The flight to New Jersey was uneventful. When they arrived at the house, Jon, Dorothea and Stephanie came outside to meet them.
“Hey. Nice to see you.” Jon hugged Tori. “Are you ready for this?”
Richie snorted. “She’s ready for every possibility under the sun. You’d better order up a truck to haul her luggage. I hope you packed light man, we’re in danger of exceeding the weight limit for the jet.”
“Will you shut up already about my luggage!” Tori glared at him. “Besides you refused to help me! I kept asking what type of clothing I needed to bring and you just kept saying ‘it varies’ and ‘it depends on the local promoters’. So you’re just as much to blame!”
“Oh, like I’m going to tell you what you should wear! Do I really strike you as that stupid?”
She rolled her eyes turned to Dorothea. “Do you know how he packed for this? One suitcase, twenty minutes.”
Dorothea laughed. “Jon only took fifteen.”
“Well, Richie had to pack underwear.”
Jon smirked and changed the subject. “Are you prepared to kick off the shows this leg?” She nodded. “Good. When the rest of the guys get here, we’ll do a couple run throughs to check the arrangement. And Prayer?”
“You may want to hold off until next week for that Bro.” Richie warned him.
“Why? Isn’t she ready?”
Before she could prevent it, Richie grabbed her left wrist and held her hand out to Jon. “The blisters need a few more days to heal.”
Jon took hold of her fingers to take a closer look at the damage, and frowned. “What the….how could you let this happen Rich? I trusted you to look after her. Why didn’t you stop her?” He glared at her. “And you’re pushing too hard on the frets.”
Tori snorted. “No shit, big brother. I think I figured that out all by myself when the blood started dripping.”
“ME! How is this my fault? I warned her to take it easy, that her fingers weren’t ready for that kind of intense practice yet. But the stubborn woman wouldn’t listen.” Richie defended himself.
Now Dorothea snorted. “What did you expect?”
“She’s a Bongiovi!” Dorothea and Richie sang in unison.
The siblings flipped them both off.
Stephanie shook her head. “You guys are weird.” With that she turned and entered the house.
Tori watched her walk away and turned to Jon. “Have you decided if and when the families are coming out this tour?”
“Yeah. The last week in June when we’re in England. The kids are all finished school and the summer plans don’t start until July. Is Ava coming?”
Tori and Richie exchanged a look. “Yes.” Richie sounded determined.
“Aunt Tori! Uncle Richie!” Romeo ran to hug them, then turned a baleful look on his parents. “You didn’t tew me they were here.”
Tori hid a smile and raised a brow at Jon. “Sorry little man. I thought you heard the gate buzzer.” Romeo was usually the first to hear it and would announce to the entire house that they had company.
Romeo frowned. “I toad you Daddy. I’n not little! I four now. I’n big!”
“Oops. Sorry. So big man, why don’t you run in and tell Jake and Jesse that Aunt Tori and Uncle Richie are here.”
“Okay.” And he took off.
“Watch where you’re going!” All four adults called after him.
“Dad, the gate just buzzed. Oh, hit Aunt Tori, Uncle Richie.”
“Hi Jess.” Tori responded.
“Why don’t you show Jesse what can happen when you don’t listen to your guitar teacher?” Richie prodded her.
“Rich, I swear to God, if you don’t knock it off, I’m going to knock you out!” Tori glared at him.
Jesse’s brows rose in surprise. “What happened?”
Tori sighed heavily, then showed him her hand.
“Ouch!” Jesse winced.
The sound of tires on pavement had them turning to watch a car pull up. Blonde curls were visible in the back seat.
Dorothea sighed. “There goes my peace and quiet.” She pointed a finger at Richie. “Keep it clean in front of the kids.”
Within the hour everyone had arrived and Jon herded them out to the studio. A couple run throughs of Last Man assured him they were ready.
“So Tori do we get to hear Prayer now?” Hugh asked.
“No.” Was all she said. She clenched her left hand.
Three sets of brows rose and they looked at Richie.
“I’d explain, but I’ve been forbidden to – under threat of violence.”
Hugh noticed her hand. He reached out to gently grasp her wrist and pull her fingers open. “Tsk, tsk, tsk.” He shook his head and frowned at her. “You’re push….”
“The next person who tells me I’m pushing too hard on the frets is going to be singing soprano and I’m going home!” She interrupted him, snatching her hand back. She turned to Jon. “Are we done?” He nodded. “Then I’m going to help Dorothea put the kids to bed.” She spun on her heel and left.
Tico, David and Hugh all looked at Richie, who thought for a minute, then shrugged. The only one not surprised was Jon. He sighed and explained. “She doesn’t like being reminded that she did something stupid.”
Richie found her supervising Romeo’s bath. He stood in the doorway and watched. When he saw her wince and shake her hand after wringing out the wash cloth, he stepped forward and knelt beside her. He took her hand and blew lightly on her fingertips. “Do they hurt?”
“Not really. They’re just tender and the rubbing against the cloth stings a little.”
“Why don’t you let me finish this? You can watch and tell me if I’m doing it right. I’m a little out of practice.” He caught her eye and saw the frown in the blue depths. “I don’t like to see you in pain, even something this minor. Let me look after you for a few more days. Please?”
She sighed and looked at Romeo. “What do you think? Should we let Uncle Richie help you finish?”
Romeo frowned thoughtfully. “Okay, but we better be careful. Last time we got water aw ober the froor and Mommy was mad.”
“I’ll bet.” Tori smiled, picturing what the two had gotten up to, to end up with water all over the floor. She sat back to watch.
Dorothea stuck her head in the door to see how they were coming along. “Keep the water in the tub this time Sambora. You’ve got to watch him Tori. He tends to forget who’s the kid and who’s the adult.”
Tori laughed. “So I’ve noticed.” She ruffled his hair.
“That’s not what you said last…”
Tori clapped her hand over his mouth at the same time Dorothea yelled. “Richie!”
Romeo looked around at them and laughed. “You guys are funny.”
“Mommy look!” Jake gave his best imitation of an evil laugh.
Dorothea turned to look at him. Her mouth dropped open, then snapped shut. “DAVID!” She glanced at Tori. “I hope you’re up to speed on the catalogue on the piano, because the band’s about to lose their keyboard player. DAVID! Don’t bother trying to hide. I will find you! And just wait until I’m looking after your kids next month!” She disappeared down the hallway and returned with a jar of cold cream in her hand which she handed to Tori. “Will you clean him up please while I deal with the Clown Prince of Crime.” She headed down the hallway. “Jake go in and let Uncle Richie get you cleaned up please.”
“But why? I look cool!”
“Because you’ll get it all over your Spiderman sheets, and then we’ll have to throw them out.”
“Oh. Okay then.”
Tori gasped and clapped a hand over her mouth to stifle a laugh when Jake appeared in the doorway. His hair stood straight out and had a green tinge….and his face was covered with white zinc cream, and decorated with high black eyebrows and a big red mouth.
“Holy evil villain Batman!” Richie quipped, trying not to laugh.
“He’s a dead man.” Tori murmured. “Come here buddy. I’ll help you get your jammies off. You might as well hop in with Romeo and we’ll see if we can get you back to a normal colour.”
After getting the boys cleaned up and put to bed, Dorothea motioned for Tori to follow her into the kitchen where they started to put together some snacks.
“I’ve got to get him back. I’m not real good at this, and Jon’s no help. You live with the second biggest joker of the bunch, got any ideas?”
“What we need is some way to colour his skin…and his hair. Something that’s not permanent, but will be a little harder to get off.” Tori frowned in thought.
“Mom, can I have a pop?” Jesse wandered in.
Suddenly the two women looked at each other and grinned.
“Jesse, have you got any of that joke soap left that you had at Halloween?” His mother asked.
“You mean the stuff that turns your skin green? Yeah, I’ve got a whole bar of it. They’re making shampoo too. I got some yesterday to try on Colton next month. Why?”
Tori clapped. “It turns your hair green?” Jesse nodded. “How long does it last?” It had to be gone before the first show or Jon would kill them.
Jesse shrugged. “Two or three days. Depends on how much you wash your hair.”
Jesse’s eyes widened and he grinned. “You wanna get Uncle David?” The whole house had heard what had happened.
“Yes.” His mother replied.
“Cool. The stuffs upstairs in my room.”
“I’ll go distract them while you get everything set.” Tori offered. She picked up the tray of snacks and headed into the den. She set the tray on the table and sat beside Richie on the couch. He draped his arm around her shoulders and she raised her hand to lace their fingers together.
Jon looked towards the kitchen and started to say something, but a look from Tori warned him to be quiet.
“What’s she up to?” Richie murmered in her ear. She hesitated then shrugged. “Oh come on. I know she’s planning something to get back at Shirley. What is it?”
“Believe me honey, it’ll be more fun for you if you don’t know ahead of time.”
The next morning, Tori was just finishing getting dressed when a door slammed down the hallway. “DOROTHY!”
Tori grinned and started moving faster.
Richie jerked awake. “Who’s he calling Dorothy?”
“Dorothea.” She picked up a pair of his sweats and threw them at him.
“Why is he calling her Dorothy?”
“Maybe because he’s looking like the wicked witch?”
Richie’s brows rose and he grabbed the sweats and yanked them on. “This I”ve got to see.”
Rushing into the hallway they found a laughing crowd gathered around a glaring David. He stood wrapped in a towel, every bit of his skin that was visible a beautiful shade of seafoam, and his hair more of a neon green.
“So are you flying with us, or are you riding your broom?” Richie asked.
“I thought he was supposed to be the Scarecrow.” Tico looked confused.
Jon kissed his wife. “Well done honey. It will come off…right?”
“In a couple days.” She assured him. She and Tori exchanged a triumphant look.
The laughter started again. Stephanie walked up close to him and looked over his face carefully.
“What are you looking for Steph?” Her aunt asked.