It was while she was exploring the shops in and around Southampton that she found it. The store specialized in movie paraphernalia and memorabilia. She passed through row upon row of Star Wars spaceships and action figures on her way to the section marked ‘classics’. There were items from Breakfast at Tiffany’s and Gone With the Wind - and The Wizard of Oz. She was considering a pair of ruby slippers when she saw it. The piggy bank was an animated one, painted in exquisite detail. When the coin was put into Dorothy’s picnic basket she swung a bucket towards the witch, who then slowly crumpled, crying out ‘I’m melting! I’m melting!”
She smiled. The front door opened allowing a gust of wind in, sending various mobiles and flags that were hanging from the ceiling into motion. Movement above her head had her glancing up. Her smile turned into a grin.
“Can I help you with something?” A clerk appeared at her side.
“Yes. I’ll take the piggy bank…and that.” She pointed upwards.
The clerk grinned and nodded. Mike shook his head. “I’ll be glad when this tour’s over! When I signed up to head the security team, no one warned me.”
“Warned you about what?”
“That this group needs protection from each other almost as much as from outsiders! Some days I feel more like a babysitter than a security guard.”
“So, are you saying you wouldn’t do another tour?”
“No, but I need to take a child psychology course before the next one!” He frowned when she grinned. “I expected you to be a stabilizing influence….but you’re just as bad as David!”
She laughed. “Ah, but are you having fun?”
“That’s not the point.”
“That’s exactly the point. These little stunts may be childish, but they break up the tedium of life on the road. Get up, do interviews, perform, go to bed, get up, travel to the next spot, repeat. After twenty-five years, if they didn’t find some sort of release they’d either kill each other, or themselves with drugs.”
He raised his brows. “I never thought about it like that. Makes a weird kind of sense I guess.”
Back at the hotel, she dropped the bags in her room, then headed down to Jon’s. Hugh opened the door at her knock. “Hi Tori, come on in.”
“Yeah. We’re just hanging out.”
She walked further into the room, smiled and wished she had her camera with her. The caption would read ‘Rockstars at rest’. They were spread out around the room – sprawled might be a better description – over chairs, couches…Tico was even lying on the floor stretching his back. Reaching the back of the couch where Richie was lounging she placed her hands on his shoulders.
“Hey guys. Teek, how’s your back?”
“Just a little stiff, thanks Bela. What have you been up to today?”
“Oh just wandering around. A little sightseeing, a little shopping.”
Richie tilted his head back and puckered his lips. She obliged, bending to kiss him briefly. “Buy anything?”
“Yeah, a new stage outfit that I think you’ll find a little more boyfriend friendly.”
He grinned. Jon rolled his eyes, and was about to say something when his phone rang. “Hello. Oh hi buddy. Yeah, we’re just sitting around the hotel. What’s up? Yeah she’s here. Just a sec.” He held the phone out to Tori. “Jake wants to talk to you.”
She smiled and walked over to take the phone and a seat at the desk. “Hi buddy. What’s up?”
As she talked to first Jake, then Romeo, then Stephanie, Richie watched the play of emotions across her face – and Jon watched his. Rising from his chair, Jon moved to the couch beside Richie and sighed. “Ever since Tori came into my life, I’ve dropped a spot in the family hierarchy.”
“How can you drop from the bottom?”
Jon flipped him off. He lowered his voice. “What are you waiting for man?” He didn’t get it. He could see the wistful look in his eyes while he listened to her talk to the kids, knew he wanted them to be his kids she was talking to. He even knew that Richie had the ring. He’d bought it after the Easter drama and had carried it with him ever since.
Richie crooked a brow at him. “What are you talking about?”
Jon gave him a withering glance. “Don’t play stupid.”
Richie smirked. “Patience bro. These things take time.”
Jon snorted. “You’ve been champing at the bit for three months, and now, when she’s given you the go ahead, you decide to wait?”
Richie shrugged and would have answered, but his phone rang. “Hello. Hi baby girl. How are you? Ah, well she’s.…oh wait a sec.” He interrupted himself as Tori handed Jon’s phone back to him. He held his out. “Ava wants to talk to you.”
“Hi Bean! How are you? What’s up? Yeah, I was just talking to Stephanie, she’s making a list of things for us to do when you guys get here, and Aunt Dot’s promised to take us to those shops you were talking about.”
Listening with half an ear Richie turned and gave Jon a look. Suddenly Jon understood…..and approved.
She waited until Brussels to launch the next volley in the battle of the pranksters. As they were heading for the stage for sound check she held Jon and Richie back. “I need your help with something.”
The grin on Richie’s face warned Jon that the game was afoot. “What do you need me to do?”
“Just keep Shirley occupied for about ten minutes after sound check.” Tori explained.
He frowned. “Why can’t Rich do that, and I’ll help you?”
“Because I need Richie’s height. Besides, he won’t suspect anything if you want to go over a few things with him. If Richie tried it he’d know right away.”
Jon nodded. “Do I get to know what you’re up to?”
“Just a visit from an old friend of the wicked witch’s”
He grinned. “This ought to be good.”
They just made it back to their tent when they heard the rest coming. Stifling their laughter, they waited.
“Ouch! What the hell?”
I’m melting, I’m melting.
“Very funny Bela!”
“What the hell is that?” They could hear Tico.
“It’s a fucking flying monkey!” David growled.
I’m melting I’m melting
Unable to wait any longer, Tori and Richie exited their tent to see Jon sitting on the floor, shoulders shaking with laughter, feeding coins into the piggy bank. The rest were standing in the doorway of David’s tent staring at the scowling flying monkey hanging from a bar above their heads. It had a four foot wingspan and its feet were outstretched as if it was trying to grab them.
A flash went off to their right. They turned to see Obie snapping pictures, pausing periodically to wipe the tears from his face. He’d been keeping a pictoral journal of the tour – including all the pranks flying back and forth. “This is going on BJ.com. Oh Tori that’s priceless!”
“Over your dead body Ob!” David warned him. He turned to glare at Tori, but she saw the twinkle in his eyes. “Nice one.” He murmured as he stomped by her.
She turned to Richie and high-fived him. “You’re getting good at this.” He commented.
“I’ve had good teachers.”
Next on the schedule was Scandinavia. Tori was really looking forward to it. It was an area of the world she’d never been to before, but always wanted to. She spent a lot of time browsing the clothing stores and more time than usual in the merchandise booths at the shows to get a feel for the fashion here. The guys managed to find a few hours to tour the sights with her, but she spent the bulk of her time dragging Mike around to whatever she wanted to see.
She came back from exploring around Oslo, and entered their room to drop off her few packages before checking in with the guys in Jon’s suite. Opening the door she was surprised to see Richie, cell phone to his ear, pacing the sitting room. He glanced up when she entered and her stomach clenched at the pain and anger she saw in his eyes.
“No! I won’t accept that! Don’t make her suffer because you’re pissed at me or Jack or Hollywood, or whatever! IT’S NOT HER FAULT! Why do you have to be such a bitch? I don’t care! You’ve know for weeks about this. The kids are making plans. Look, I’m not going to argue with you about this any longer. Put her on the fucking plane Heather or I’m calling my lawyer and you can explain it to the judge!”
He snapped the phone shut and continued pacing. Tori jumped when he stopped and slammed his hand against the wall. He spun around and headed in the opposite direction. Tori held her breath as he took two steps towards the mini bar, then released it when he stopped, turned and walked out onto the balcony.
She followed him. He was leaning over the railing staring down at the hand that he’d hit the wall with and flexing his fingers. She stepped up beside him, reached out and took his hand between both of hers and inspected it for damage. Seeing none, she raised it to her lips and kissed it. He watched her, a sad smile twisting his lips. She slid one arm around his waist and laid her head on his shoulder.
Neither one said anything. Tori had a pretty good idea from what she’d heard what was going on. She figured he’d tell her the whole story when he’d calmed down. For his part, he was too pissed – and frustrated – to be able to speak without lashing out…..and she didn’t deserve that.
With a sigh he turned towards her and wrapped his arms around her. She wrapped hers around him and snuggled close. She could feel the emotions running through him, making him almost vibrate and she squeezed him tighter. His hand slid into her hair and tugged gently until she obliged and tilted her face up to him. The shadows in his eyes had her bracing herself for what she knew was coming.
His mouth slanted over hers, his lips firm and demanding. Hers opened under the pressure allowing his tongue to stab deeply, repeatedly into the warm cavern of her mouth. One hand cradled her head, the other rubbed almost feverishly up and down her back.
When she felt his hand slide under the hem of her t-shirt and start to raise it she was able to shake her wits – scattered by his touch and his taste – back into place. They were on an open balcony with rooms on either side…and it was still daylight. She had no desire to be on public display. She tried to step back and tug him with her, but he just pulled her tighter against him.
“Rich….Richie!” She broke the kiss.
“Please baby, I need you.” His mouth slid across her cheek to burrow in his favorite spot under her ear.
She shivered. “Inside.”
Without releasing her he started slowly backing her towards the door. They stumbled through it, nearly ending up on the floor. Regaining his balance he once again pulled at her shirt, this time succeeding in removing it and tossing it aside. Her bra quickly followed.
She gasped as his hands covered her breasts and kneaded. Her hands fisted in his shirt, searching for some sort of stability in a rapidly dissolving world. His almost desperate need was felt in her very core and her body responded, her breath shortening, her pulse racing and her muscles turning to mush. And inside, where she now longed to feel him, her intimate flesh moistened and throbbed, preparing itself for his posession. She moaned softly.
Hearing her, feeling her lean more heavily against him, he released her breasts and reached for the fastening of her jeans. At the same time she tugged on his shirt. Opening her jeans he pushed them over her hips. When he would have reached further, her grip on his shirt stopped him. Obeying her silent request he stripped it off and tossed it to join hers. Dropping to his knees he pulled off her shoes and socks, then eased her jeans and panties down her legs and added them to the growing pile of clothing. His hands reversed direction and smoothed back up, to grip her hips, nudging her thighs apart in the process.
Her hands fisted in his hair, holding him close as he leaned forward and pressed his lips to her. “Richie.” She sighed as she felt his tongue trace her cleft and flick the swollen sensitive nub at the top.
He slid one hand passed his mouth to bury two fingers deep inside her. She cried out at the sensation. His hand moved hard and fast, thrusting and withdrawing, driving her higher and higher. When he felt her start to tighten around his fingers he stopped.
“No! Don’t stop!” She begged.
“Wait.” He growled.
He started towards the bedroom, towing her behind him, then suddenly veered towards the couch, stopping behind it. Pulling her into his arms his mouth recaptured hers. Her hands skated over his chest and back, nails raking. He groaned and broke the kiss. His eyes were passion black and his breathing was laboured. Gripping her shoulders he spun her towards the couch, and bent her over the back, causing her hips to lift to the perfect height.
She braced herself with her hands on the cushions as she waited to see what he would do next, tried to calm her racing heart and fought the flash of fear she’d felt when he’d pushed her over. She heard his jeans hit the floor.
One hand pushed her legs further apart. Gripping her hips with both hands, he stepped closer and entered her, burying himself to the hilt in one barely controlled thrust. She gasped and moaned. He settled into a hard driving rhythm, ignoring the cries she couldn’t hold back. As she tightened around him, he thrust harder, deeper. She screamed and shattered. He didn’t stop. His movements slowed slightly as he rode out her storm, then picked up his pace again as her body relaxed.
She moaned as her body geared up again. In this position she had no leverage, no way to tease him back, she could only accept and endure. When her next climax hit, she shuddered and gasped for breath. And still he didn’t stop.
“It’s not enough!” He panted.
He tried to be gentle, but gentleness was beyond him. He was operating on pure emotion. He knew he should stop, but he couldn’t. He was now desperate for release and increased the speed and intensity of his thrusts as he slammed into her.
“Oh..oh God….RICHIEEEEE!” She screamed as she was thrown over the edge again and her body convulsed.
His response was a grunt and a low groan as he finally found his own slice of heaven and spilled himself inside her as he collapsed on top of her.
She laid there, enjoying the feel of his weight on her while she waited for the world to stop spinning. He was usually so gentle in his lovemaking, even when they were role playing. It was only when his emotions were running high that he was a little….less than gentle. She knew he felt bad about using her as an outlet, but she didn’t mind…..not at all!
He sighed. “Damn!” He lifted off of her, reached for his jeans and yanked them on.
Tori levered herself upright and watched him while she made sure her legs were going to support her. When he headed for the door she beat him to it. “Don’t you dare walk out on me!”
He raked a hand through his hair. “I’m so sorry angel, I didn’t mean to..”
“Don’t! Stop it Rich! You didn’t hurt me. Believe me I would have let you know if you did.”
“But I used you like…like...” He bit back what he was going to say.
Her lips twisted wryly. “Like a whore?” He grimaced. “Honey, come sit down with me.” Pushing away from the door she grabbed his hand and tugged him towards the couch, swiping up his t-shirt along the way and pulling it over her head. She urged him to sit, then sat on his lap, her head resting on his shoulder and her hand playing idly with the hair sprinkled across his chest. His arms came up to hold her.
“Rich, I know that you feel things very deeply. When your emotions are running high – positive and negative – you need to find some way to release them or you’ll explode – or do something self destructive. And I know that your music is one way you do that. And that...” She waved towards the site of their recent activities. “…is another.” She reached up to stroke his cheek and smiled gently into his dark eyes. “Honey, I’m here to help you in anyway I can. And if having mindless sex every once in awhile is what you need, well, I have no problem with that.” She smirked.
“Well…actually…..I kinda like it.” She admitted.
His brows rose. “Really?”
She blushed, but nodded. “You’re usually so gentle, that those few times you’re not are, frankly….what’s the word you use? Oh yeah...stimulating.” She grinned.
He grinned back at her. “I’ll have to remember that.” He frowned. “You will tell me if I hurt you though right?”
She nodded. “I will. I promise.” She reached up to kiss him, then laid her head back on his shoulder. “So what’s her problem this time?”
He sighed. “She got turned down for another movie role and is lashing out. Ava’s been talking a lot about coming out and is really excited about it. Heather’s feeling left out and abandoned. She’s trying to use a visit to her parents as an excuse not to let Ava come.” He paused and she sensed he wanted to say something more. She waited. He stroked her hair. When he spoke again his voice was strained. “You should have heard Ava. I could hear her crying in the background.”
She slid her arm around his neck and hugged him. He buried his face in her neck and held her close. “Do you think Heather will put her on the plane?”
He sighed again. “I don’t know. I hope so. Ava shouldn’t have to pay for Heather’s disappointment.”
They sat in silence, just enjoying each other for a few minutes when Richie’s phone rang. He pulled it out of his pocket, glanced at the display, sighed yet again and handed it to her.
She glanced at the display, then at his face, reading the expression there before answering it. “Hello.”
“Oh hi sis. You guys coming for dinner?”
She glanced at Richie again. His head was resting against the back of the couch and his eyes were closed. “No, we’re just going to stay in tonight.”
Jon hesitated. “Something happen?”
“Heather’s threatening not to let Ava come out.”
“Bitch! What the fuck is her problem?”
“Who knows? Jealousy? A need to be the centre of attention? If she’s not happy, then no one else can be either – especially Richie and Ava.”
“She doesn’t deserve to have Ava. She’s a piss poor mother.”
“No argument there.”
“So….you and Rich going to fight for full custody once you get married?”
She chuckled. “Kinda putting the cart before the horse there aren’t you?”
“Maybe…but not for long I’ll bet.”
“Anyway. We’re heading out for dinner. Call if you need anything.”
“Will do. Have a nice evening Jon. We’ll see you tomorrow.”
“Ok. I’ll call Dot and let her know about Heather. Maybe she has some ideas.” The plan was for Ava to fly to Jersey and Dorothea would pick her up and bring her to London. Dorothea, while never really close friends with Heather, could usually calm her down and talk her around.
“Ok. I just hope everything works out.”
“Me too. ‘Nite Tori.”
“’Nite Jon.” It wasn’t until after she’d hung up that it occurred to her that he hadn’t asked how Richie was doing. She guessed he trusted her to look after him.
They ordered up dinner and ate it in front of the T.V. Afterwards, Richie alternated between channel surfing and pacing the room and balcony. Finally, Tori couldn’t stand it anymore.
“Do you want to get out of here? Maybe go for a walk or something?”
He turned to her. “Would you mind? I’m going a little stir crazy tonight. Maybe some fresh air would help.”
“Sure. Just let me get dressed. Or did you want to go alone?” She didn’t think that would be a good idea, but she had to trust him, and trust that he would ask her for help when he needed it.
He frowned. “No. I don’t want to be alone, I just didn’t want to be with the crowd. I wanted it to be just us.”
Before leaving, she picked up her phone and when Richie wasn’t looking, sent off a quick text to Mike. R & I going for walk. Will call if trouble.
It was answered immediately. 10-4.
They wandered around the ‘Spikersuppa’ arm in arm, admiring the architecture of the buildings and the nearby fountain. They talked quietly to each other about the sites, the tour, everything but what was bothering him. That was okay, she didn’t need him to tell her how he was feeling. She pretty much knew.
They ended up at the waterfront where they sat for a long time just watching the people and the boats and listening to the water lapping gently against the docks. She could feel him relaxing.
Finally, he sighed. “Ready to go back?”
She nodded. They stood and walked back to the hotel. Once in the room, Tori sent off another text to let Mike know they were back. They settled on the couch to watch a movie, Richie’s head in her lap. She stroked his hair and back.
He nodded. “Yeah. Thanks.”
The next few days were a roller coaster ride. Heather changed her mind daily – sometimes it seemed hourly – on whether Ava would be allowed to join them. Everyone was pitching in to help try to distract Richie, but the bulk of it was, of course, falling to Tori. She figured that the way things were going, by the time the kids got there she’d be lucky if she could walk! Not that she was complaining.
They were wandering the high street in Glasgow – all except Tico who wasn’t back from the golf course yet, discussing dinner options when Jon pulled her aside.
“How are you holding up? You look tired.”
She smiled wryly. “Not bad. He’s not sleeping well, so therefore, neither am I. I’ll be glad when we know one way or another. This yo-yo routine is enough to drive me to drink!” She raked a hand through her hair. “I feel so helpless. I know I have to let him deal with her – there’s nothing I can do there anyway, except make it worse, but I hate seeing her tie him in knots and yanking his chain like this.”
“I know. She’s always been a little vindictive if someone crossed her, but not like this. I don’t know what’s going on with her.”
“Has Dorothea spoken to her?”
“Yeah, not that it did much good – or at least, not for long. She said she sounded a little depressed. She was really counting on getting that movie role. Apparently she’d had two call backs and figured she had it.”
“I wish she’d get one. It’d make all our lives a lot easier.”
He glanced towards Richie who was checking out a menu with David – and arguing of course. “He seems to be dealing okay. Has he even gotten close to any alcohol?”
She shook her head. “No. I’ve seen him look towards the mini bar a couple times, but he always turns away. Then we find something to do.”
“I’ll bet.” Jon responded dryly. He knew his best friend well.
She just grinned and shrugged. “Whatever works.”
“Hey! Can we postpone the family meeting? I’m hungry!” David got their attention.
“If we don’t feed him soon, he’s going to go from Kermit to Animal.” Hugh urged them.
“Or Oscar the Grouch.” Richie added.
Tori shook her head. “Nope. Sounds more like Beeker.”
Jon raised a brow. “How’s that?”
“High pitched whiny voice that doesn’t say anything intelligible.”
David flipped her off and ignored the laughter surrounding him.
They were going to be on stage in Manchester at the time Ava’s flight to Jersey – if she was on it – was supposed to land. It was arranged that Dorothea would text Jon one way or the other.
The closer it got, the more antsy Richie got. No amount of distraction was going to work. Tori didn’t even try. Their tent was very quiet while they were getting dressed – but it wasn’t uncomfortable. When Richie looked over and saw what she was wearing, he had to smile.
“Hey! I like those!”
She grinned. “I thought you might.” Her jeans were embroidered with roses and vines down one leg – sort of like a pair he had several years ago. “When I saw them, I thought of you.”
He frowned slightly at the red halter top she’d matched with them, but didn’t say anything. He was trying to keep the caveman under wraps.
Tori went to Jon’s tent to warm up her voice with him. She looked at his pants and frowned. “You won’t be able to carry your phone.” The pants didn’t have pockets.
He frowned. “I’ll have to leave it on the drum kit.”
Her frown deepened. “How often will you be able to check it though? You know he’s not going to be himself until he knows.”
Jon looked at her. “Why don’t you carry it? When you’re off stage you can keep an eye on it.”
She considered that for a moment, then nodded. “And when I’m onstage, I’ll put it in my pocket on vibrate. It’s easier for me to step away and check it anyway.” He agreed.
The show started off a little stiff, but Richie’s professionalism carried him through. Hell, if he could perform knowing his father was dying, he could do this. In between songs he kept glancing over at her where she was standing in the wings. Come Dot, call! The waiting was starting to get to her too.
Finally, towards the end of her second song she felt the phone buzz. She turned and walked back towards David as she pulled it out of her pocket. The message was indeed from Dot and consisted of just two words. Got her! Tori blew out a relieved breath and sent up a silent prayer of thanks. She glanced up to find David watching her. She grinned. He grinned back.
Turning around she found both Richie and Jon glancing at her. They’d seen her jump slightly when the phone went off. She met Richie’s eyes, winked and gave him the thumbs up. His grin was so bright, she could see the girls in the front row nudging each other and fanning themselves. She didn’t blame them. He took her breath away too.
The show continued, the atmosphere noticeably lighter.