It was a nice thought, but she should have known better.
They were sitting around her parents kitchen table a week later admiring Tori’s ring. “So the tour’s almost finished right?” Bill asked.
“Yeah. We’ve got Sarnia tonight, Auburn Hills tomorrow, then a couple nights in Boston, one show in Central Park and we end with two nights in New York at Madison Square Gardens.” Richie responded. “Then, if we’re lucky we’ll be heading to New Orleans for the Arena Bowl at the end of the month.”
“Richie, do you want some Solarcaine or some Aloe for that sunburn?” Helen’s maternal instincts kicked in at the sight of his dark red chest visible with his shirt all but completely open. For once Tori didn’t complain about his display – the cloth against his damaged skin must hurt.
“No thanks, it’s fine. Tori made me slather up earlier.”
“Don’t look at me like that Mom, I warned him to put on sunscreen, but he ignored me.” Tori assured her mother.
“Gail put me in charge of the meat, I couldn’t let her down.” They’d been at Gail and her husband’s for a barbeque on the Fourth. “Todd can burn water if you let him run the grill.” Richie explained.
“So instead, it was burnt Sambora on the menu.” Helen tsked at him. Tori grinned at his chagrined look. Then her mother turned to her. “I thought you were bringing Ava with you so that we could meet her.”
“We were going to, but Heather’s parents asked if they could take her for a few days. They’re going to take her to visit her mother.”
“How’s she doing?”
“She’s coming along.” Richie answered. “I think the biggest issue is learning to cope with disappointment.”
He smiled. “She’s a trouper. She was scared at first, but she’s taking it all in stride now.”
They chatted for awhile longer about the tour, the Soul, the family, and their plans for the rest of the summer.
“Speaking of which, do you have any dates and locations in mind for the wedding? We’ll need to book it as soon as possible.” Helen reminded her daughter.
“No. We haven’t even talked about it. It probably won’t be until next spring, so we’ve got a little bit of time yet before we need to panic.”
Richie frowned. “Why not until next spring?” He had envisioned something much sooner.
“Because I don’t want to get married in the winter and it takes awhile to plan a wedding.”
They were in the car on the way to Sarnia when he brought it up again. “Do you really want to wait until next year to get married?”
She shrugged. “I don’t see that we have a choice.”
“What about September or October? There can be some really nice days yet at that time of year, even in Canada, right?”
She nodded. “Yes, but I don’t think we’ll be ready.”
“That gives us three to four months. Isn’t that enough time?”
She shrugged again. “Let’s see where we’re at after the tour’s finished.”
He stared at her for long minutes. “What’s going on Tori?”
She knew better than to play dumb. “I just think that we have enough on our plates right now without adding a wedding on top of it all.”
“I thought that you were confident that I was getting the drinking under control.”
Her brows rose. “I am. You’re doing great, and I feel much better about my ability to help you if you need it.”
“Then why delay the wedding?”
“Weddings are a lot of work and take time to plan. I just don’t have the time right now to devote to it.” She wished he’d drop it.
Something in her demeanor told him he wasn’t getting the whole story. He frowned. “You’re having second thoughts aren’t you?”
“No, I’m not.”
“Yes you are. It’s the only thing that makes sense. You can multi-task like no one I’ve ever met. Finding the time to plan is not the problem, so the only reason to delay that I can see is that you’re not sure.”
She sighed. “I’m sure. But I need you to be sure. And I need to know that you’re sure.”
“What the hell is that supposed to mean?”
“It means that you need to sort through your feelings for Heather and be sure in your heart that marrying me is what you truly want. We’ve talked about whether her depression had anything to do with the divorce. What if it did and she gets healthy then realizes what she threw away and wants it back? Where does that leave me? I don’t want to be the one you settle for.”
“There were issues that treating the depression won’t help.”
She hesitated. “I don’t want you to marry me just because I’m willing to give you more children either.”
There was silence for a long minute.
“Are you saying that you want to call it off?” His voice was calm, but deliberate.
“No! I’m just saying that I think we should wait until the tour’s over and Heather’s a little better and you have some time to sort through things with her, so that you both know where you stand.”
They rode in silence the rest of the trip. Tori could feel the waves of anger radiating from him. Finally, she couldn’t take it any longer.
“Do you think that this is easy for me? Don’t you think that I want to hold you to the promise this ring represents and to hell with everyone else? But I can’t do that! Instead, I have to watch you go to see her everyday and call her everyday and try to be supportive for both you and Ava, all the while praying that it’s me you’re going to come home to in the end!” She took a shaky breath, desperately fighting back tears. “I love you. I want to be your wife more than anything, but I don’t want to be constantly wondering if I got you by default. If deep down inside you’d rather be with her. I can’t live like that. When I walk down that aisle and exchange vows, I need to know that the man beside me is there because he wants to be. Because he wants me.” The car turned into the park. “I don’t think you’re there right now.”
When the car came to a stop, she quickly hopped out and headed for the backstage area, smiling weakly at the guys as she passed them. “Hey.”
“Hey.” They replied, all of them frowning at her visible upset.
Jon watched her walk away, then turned to study Richie’s face. “Fix that.”
Richie just grimaced, nodded and followed her.
He found her in their tent, a cold face cloth over her eyes and a glass of wine on the table beside her.
She heard someone enter and peeked out form under the cloth to make sure it was him. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have dumped on you like that. You haven’t done anything wrong. In fact, you’ve been really great. I know that talking to me about Heather and what you’re feeling hasn’t been easy for you. I really appreciate the effort you’ve been making.” When he didn’t answer she lifted the cloth to look at him.
“Are you finished?” He asked quietly. She nodded. “Don’t ever apologize for telling me how you feel. If anything, I should be apologizing to you for making you doubt my commitment to you.” He reached out to take the cloth and gently wipe her face. “I appreciate how supportive you’ve been through all of this – for both me and Ava. I guess I was so caught up in my feelings of guilt and concern for my daughter and her mother, that I never thought of how it would come across to you. I’ve admitted that at first I wondered if the depression had anything to do with the divorce and what might happen if that was no longer a factor, but it didn’t take many conversations to remind me that there were other problems that will never be solved with some happy pills and therapy. We want different things out of life and that’s not going to change.
He raised her face with a finger under her chin until her eyes met his. “You and I want the same things, we think alike, hell we even like the same foods and décor! I love you and I want to spend the rest of my life with you. Yes, I’m thrilled that you’re willing to have children, but that’s not why I want to marry you, that’s just a bonus. You make me feel wanted, needed, appreciated…demons and all. You put Ava and I ahead of yourself, working to create a wonderful, happy, loving family environment for all of us. You’re….real… is the only word that comes to mind. Your priority is us, not getting your face in the magazines. I will always care about Heather, I won’t deny that. She’s Ava’s mother and I loved her for a long time. But she is my past. You are my present and my future.”
She searched his eyes. “You’re sure?”
He nodded. “When I close my eyes and imagine what my life will be like five, ten, twenty years down the road, it’s always you I see by my side. It’s you that I want and I’m not going to change my mind.” He leaned over to kiss her gently. “I promise. Okay?” She nodded, eyes glistening. “So no more delaying tactics with the wedding?”
She shook her head. “How do you feel about getting married in wine country?”
His brows rose. “Napa?”
“No, ONTARIO wine country. I was thinking about Niagara-on-the-Lake. I don’t want to go all out, but I’d like something a little nicer than our local community centre, and it’s not too far from home.”
“You can have whatever you want. And I don’t want your parents paying for anything.”
She frowned. “That won’t go over well. You need to let them pay for some of it or Dad will have a fit. I just hope one of the major hotels has an opening. My preference would be the Queen’s Landing, but the Prince of Wales wouldn’t be bad.”
“Is there something special, that you always wanted at your wedding? Something that you maybe didn’t think you would be able to afford?”
She shrugged. “Not really….well maybe one thing.” She smiled a little sheepishly.
He grinned. “I thought so. What?”
“My dress. I know it’s a huge waste of money for one day, but I always wanted a designer dress.”
“It may only be one day, but it’s a special day. If you want a designer dress, then get one. Who were you thinking? Chanel? Valentino? Maybe a little Victoria’s Secret?”
She snorted and shook her head. “You might get lucky. Acutally I was thinking Vera Wang. I’ve always loved how she merges simplicity and elegance. Although depending on what date we get, there may not be time.” Her brows furrowed in concentration. “As soon as we get a date, I’ll need to call Karin. Maybe she and Mom can meet us in New York and we can shop for dresses. We have a great florist at home who’s also a good friend. I’ll have to call him with what I want and put him in touch with the hotel. I need to find invitations….”
“And she’s off and running! That’s more like it!” Richie chuckled. “What’s my job?”
“You’re in charge of the music…and I DON’T want you – or the rest of the guys - spending the whole reception on the stage! You can play a song or two if you wish, but that’s it. It’s a party, I want all of you to enjoy it.” She pointed a warning finger at him.
He held up his hands. “I hear you, I hear you. Anything else?”
“The honeymoon is all yours.”
He rubbed his hands together. “I get all the fun stuff!”
She chuckled. “Well that way I can be pretty sure it’ll get done. Besides, you’ve traveled more than I have and know what will work best for you security wise.”
“You guys ready for sound check?” Jon called.
“Coming!” Tori answered and stood up.
Richie rose as well and stopped her when she would have passed him, wrapping his arms around her. “Angel, one more thing. If you don’t stop hiding when things – especially me - upset you, we’re going to have a problem.”
She sighed. “I don’t want you to stop talking to me because you think it might upset me. And I didn’t want to sound like a bitch when Heather’s hurting. I was trying to take the high road.” Her lips twisted. “But to be honest, I don’t like you calling her all the time. I understood at first, and I agree with you taking Ava to see her, but I don’t really see the need for you to call her – outside of things pertaining to Ava of course.”
He had to bite back a grin as her jealousy finally showed itself. “I’m sorry. I was only calling her to be able to prepare Ava for what she was going to see, and to get some answers myself to the questions we discussed earlier. I promise I’ll only call her when I have to for Ava’s sake, okay?”
“Okay. And I promise to talk to you when things bother me and not let them fester.”
“Jeez man, you’re beginning to sound like a Bongiovi now!” David complained from the doorway.
“If you can’t beat them, join them.” Richie hugged her close and dropped a kiss on her lips. “I love you.” He murmured.
“I love you too. And I need you to start thinking about how many you’re going to have standing up with you so that I can match up the girls.”
“Come on Bela! Let the old man up for air or you’ll be a widow before you’re a wife!”
“Keep it up Shirley and you’ll never get to see what old age looks like!” Richie promised. Releasing Tori, he took her hand and led her out of the tent to find the others all standing there waiting for them. “What? Can’t find the stage without us? Memories going already?”
Jon flipped him off out of reflex, but studied Tori’s face. “Everything okay?”
She smiled and kissed his cheek. “Everything’s wonderful.” She assured him. “ Don’t book anything in September. Come on guys before Obie starts screaming. Can you make it on your own or do I need to find you some walkers?”
With a growl Tico bent, lifted her onto his shoulder and started for the stage. “I’ll show you who’s old!”
“Be careful of your back!” Tori admonished him breathlessly from her position hanging down his back.
He snorted. “I’ve lifted bass drums heavier than you.”
“That’s precious cargo you’re carrying there Hitman. Don’t damage anything!” Richie warned him.
The next day they had finished their interviews and were relaxing in Jon’s suite. Richie sighed as he hung up the phone.
“The room phone’s still busy and her cell goes to voice mail.”
“So?” Jon shrugged. He’d come to the conclusion a long time ago that women simply liked to talk on the phone – it didn’t matter whether they were fourteen or forty. It was why he gave the people he needed to talk to his cell phone number – he couldn’t guarantee they’d be able to get through on the house phone in a timely manner.
“It’s been two and a half hours.”
Jon frowned. “Maybe we should go make sure she’s alright.”
They trooped down the hallway and Richie slid his key into the lock. When the door swung open they stared in shock and awe at the vision in front of them. Tori was sitting on the couch, room phone cradled between shoulder and one ear, cell to the other, Richie’s laptop on the coffee table in front of her, sheets of paper surrounding her, and a pencil between her teeth as she shifted pages.
“Uh huh, that’ll work. So my florist will call your florist to discuss the arrangements for the tables. E-mail me the menu and the wine list.” She instructed into the house phone. “No Mom, I’m going to let Jon have a look at the wine list. It’s time he got educated on some good Canadian wines.” This into the cell phone. Her head shifted slightly back to the house phone. “Colours? Black tuxes for the guys, the girls will be in purple.” Richie grinned at that. Jon rolled his eyes. “I’m not exactly sure what shade yet, but it won’t be dark – it’s got to work for a ten year old as well as an adult. We’re going shopping for dresses tomorrow, and hopefully we’ll get lucky and I can get you a sample, and Angie as well.” Angie Strauss was a well known local artist, was going to design the invitations as well as the table place cards. “Now, who do I have to talk to about using the gazebo in the park for the ceremony? Okay.” She scribbled a note and reached for another piece of paper. “I’m hoping to bring my fiancé up there around the sixteenth or seventeenth, so we can maybe do the paperwork then.” She shifted again. “Mom can you talk to Rev. Miller? Oh, wait, you better let me talk to Richie first.” They hadn’t had the whole priest vs. minister conversation yet. “Okay, well I think that’s a good start. You have my cell phone number if you have any questions and I’ll touch base with you in a few days – sooner if we find dresses quickly. Right. Thank you for all of your help. Bye.” She hung up the house phone. “Ok Mom, Karin’s going to pick you up in the morning and drive you to the airport. Joan, Dorothea and I – and possibly Stephanie, will meet you in New York. No, we’re off tomorrow, then in Boston for the next two days, so we’re flying back to Jersey tonight.” A sound behind her had her turning. Seeing her audience she waved and glanced at her watch. “Ok, well, the guys have come looking for me, so I’d better go. See you tomorrow. Bye.” She snapped her phone shut and leaned back against the couch with a sigh, her fingers coming up to squeeze the bridge of her nose. She felt Richie’s hands settle on her shoulders and begin to massage gently. Her head dropped back and her eyes opened to look up at him with a smile.
“So?” He dropped a kiss on her forehead.
“September twenty-first.” She frowned slightly. “I just hope we didn’t push someone out of that spot.”
“What makes you think we might have?”
“Well, when I first asked about dates in September she sounded very doubtful, but offered to take my name and let me know if there were any openings. As soon as I told her who I was she immediately put me on hold, then came back and gave me the twentieth.”
“You think she recognized your name?”
He lips twisted wryly. “Oh yeah. When I told her I would be bringing my fiancé up in a couple weeks to look around she said that they were looking forward to assisting me and Mr. Sambora in making our special day perfect.” Richie chuckled.
Jon frowned down at his phone. “Did I hear you say that Dorothea’s going shopping with you tomorrow?”
“Yes, why? Is that a problem?”
He shook his head. “No, it just explains the message I got from her. ‘Tell Tori, all set, Vera will meet 1:00.’ I’m assuming that makes sense to you.”
She grinned. “Yeah. Wow!” She glanced back to Richie.
“See I told you it wouldn’t be a problem. Dorothea knows people.” He squeezed her shoulders.
“Yeah, but I was just hoping to go to her studio and find something, not have her actually take the time to be there!”
“She’s not stupid, she knows there’s going to be cameras around – whether we want them to be or not. Plus it’s another big name she can add to her portfolio.”
She frowned. “But I’m not a big name.” They all just looked at her. “Oh, well, okay, I guess you guys are.”
“It’s that Hollywood story Gail was describing to you. They want the fairy tale ending.” Richie explained.
“Well, I’m hoping that by having the wedding in Canada – and not in my home town – we’ll throw off the reporters for a while. I’d like to keep this as private as possible.”
Jon snorted. “Good luck with that. I’ll talk to Mike about security for you.” He glanced at his watch. “Now, can we take a break in wedding planning to maybe do some work?”
The next day Tori was up early and joined the people in the main house for breakfast. When Jon entered the dining room he found his wife, his sister and his daughter huddled at one end of the table, the conversation focused on dresses and colours. Jesse looked at him and rolled his eyes. Jon smiled and took his seat at the other end of the table.
“What time do you girls think you’ll be back?”
“Oh probably after dinner. We’ll let you know.” Dorothea shrugged.
“Do you think you boys can keep yourselves occupied and stay out of trouble for a day?” Tori winked at Jake who giggled.
Jesse snorted. “Are you kidding? A whole day without girls around to tell us what to do, what to wear, when to eat, not to belch?”
Dorothea shook her head. “Yup, that’s my son.”
Jon grinned as he and Jesse slapped hands.
“Try not to destroy the house while we’re gone please.” Dorothea admonished her husband as the girls piled into the car. “And I’d appreciate it if everyone was still in one piece when we get back.”
Jon gave her an indignant look. “Are you doubting my child care skills? You think I can’t look after three boys?”
Dorothea looked at him. “Where’s Romeo?”
“He’s right here.” He looked around and frowned. “Well, he was right here. Where the….ROMEO! Where are you? ROMEO!”
“What Daddy?” Romeo came around the corner of the house.
Tori bit back a grin. “Get Richie to help you. He needs the practice.”
Jon just grunted as he scooped Romeo up into his arms. They waved as the car pulled away.
They picked up Joan, and arrived at the airport just as Helen and Karin exited the building. “That was good timing.” Tori commented after the introductions were made. “How did you get the day off on such short notice Karin?”
“I told them I had a family emergency.” Karin grinned. “Well, you’re family, and this was an emergency…we’re on a short clock here. What have you got so far?” Tori handed over the binder she had put together. Karin nodded as she glanced through it. “Looks like you’re off to a good start.”
“Oh, that reminds me Tori, here’s my guest list. If there’s too many, let me know.” Joan handed over a sheet of lined paper.”
“Here’s mine.” Helen passed hers over as well.
Tori’s brows rose as she looked at her mother and soon to be mother-in-law. “How long have you two been planning for this?”
“Since you moved in with him.” Both older women answered in unison.
Tori smiled in chagrin as she handed Karin the pages to be added to the binder.
When they entered Vera Wang’s studio, Stephanie immediately went to the racks of bridesmaids dresses and started riffling through them. They had discussed at length this morning what Tori was thinking of. Tori and Karin headed for the bridal dresses.
“Dorothea! So nice to see you again.” They turned to see the petite asian woman embrace Dorothea.
“Hi Vera. I really appreciate you doing this.”
“Pfft! Of course I would! Now, introduce me to your sister-in-law and let me see what will suit best.”
Dorothea walked her over and introduced them. Tori added her own thanks. “I can’t thank you enough. I’m sorry it’s such short notice, but…” She shrugged.
The designer smirked. “The groom is impatient eh?” Tori grinned. “And it’s always a good idea to try to keep the paparazzi off balance.” She stood back and surveyed Tori from head to toe. “Now, what are you thinking?”
“Something simple, yet elegant, which is why I came to you. I’m not big on ruffles or a lot of poufiness.”
Vera nodded and walked along the first rack, stopping only a couple of times to pull out a dress, look at Tori, then shake her head. She was on her way to the next rack when she suddenly stopped. “I know!” She called an assistant over and told her what she wanted and where to find it. When the girl returned she held up the dress for Tori to see. Tori looked it over consideringly. Vera nudged her towards the dressing room. “Try it on.”
The assistant helped her into the dress and did up the row of tiny buttons that were up the back. Looking in the mirror, Tori was stunned. The silk dress was strapless with a form fitting bodice, then flared out at the hips to fall to the floor. There were accent piping just under the bustline and at the top of the skirt, and two bows along the line of buttons in the back. It was very plain, but elegant – exactly what she was looking for.
“The bows can be removed if you prefer, or can be done in white or the colour of the girls’ dresses.” The assistant assured her.
When she walked out to show the others there was a stunned silence for a long moment.
“That’s the one. It’s perfect.” Helen voiced what they were all thinking, and dabbed her eyes. Tori smiled to see Joan do the same.
Karin nodded. “It’s beautiful. Definitely you.”
“Uncle Richie won’t know what hit him!” Stephanie assured her.
“He’s going to hate those buttons though.” Dorothea grinned and motioned her to turn around so that the others could see what she was referring to.
“Do him good. Make him work for what he wants.” Joan smirked.
They all laughed. Vera studied her critically. “Yes, I think it works well. Just a simple circlet to hold a waist length veil.” Tori nodded in agreement.
They didn’t find anything for the girls that quite worked so they decided to hit a few more stores. There were only minor alterations that needed to be done on Tori’s dress and Vera promised to have it sent to Dorothea’s as soon as it was ready.
They were about to stop for a bite to eat and decided to look in one more store first. By now, the mothers had taken to finding chairs to sit in and chat while the younger women searched through the racks.
“Aunt Tori, what do you think of this?” Stephanie held out a long silk soft violet coloured gown. It had an empire waist with some shirring at the bust, overlap detail at front and back with shoulder pleats in the two inch wide straps. The neckline was a shallow v both front and back. Matching shawls were available. It was very simple, yet elegant, in keeping with the theme Tori was striving for.
Tori glanced at Karin and Dorothea, who were both nodding approvingly. “Do you guys like it?”
“Yes.” Karin assured her. “It’s understated, yet elegant. What do you think?”
“I like it.”
Something in her voice had them all looking at her. “But?” Dorothea asked.
“I’m just thinking about Jenny and Ava. It’ll work for Steph and Leanne, but I’m not sure about the younger two.”
In response Stephanie pulled out another one. It was very similar styling, but more suitable for a younger girl. It had an even shallower v- neck and came with shrugs. Tori nodded. “If you three like them, they work for me.”
Karin, Dorothea and Stephanie tried on the dresses while Tori waited with the mothers. “I can’t believe we were lucky enough to find dresses in just one day!”
“Thank God!” Her mother replied. “I’m getting too old for this!”
“Yeah right Mom. You wouldn’t have missed this for the world.”
“Of course not. Doesn’t mean it doesn’t tire me out.”
“So why don’t you stay here tonight and fly back in the morning?” Helen and Karin were scheduled to fly back that evening. “I’m sure Dorothea wouldn’t mind.”
Helen shook her head “I’ve got too much to do and you need to prepare for the concert tomorrow night.”
Knowing better than to argue with her mother, Tori turned her attention to the girls and the dresses. She nodded. “That looks great!”
While they were changing back, Helen took down the information so that Sue and Louise knew which dress to get – for themselves and the girls, and Tori wrote it down in her binder as well. She decided to wait until she was back in L.A. and could take Ava to get hers. She felt bad about going on this shopping trip without her, but there just wasn’t time to do anything else. Hopefully taking her shopping – just the two of them – would help to ease her disappointment somewhat.
They found a nice restaurant to rest and have a bite to eat while they continued their discussion of the wedding plans.
“So what are you thinking for flowers?” Karin asked.
“Calla lilies. White for you girls, lavender for me. Just one or maybe two, long stemmed.”
“Nice.” Karin replied.
All too soon it was time to take Karin and Helen back to the airport. They all got out to hug goodbye. “I’ll call you soon.” Tori promised Karin.
“Let me know as soon as you and Richie decide who you want to officiate.” Helen reminded her daughter. “And don’t wear yourself out over this. You’ve got the main stuff done already. Concentrate on the shows you have left, then we can work on the details.”
“Yes, Mom.” She didn’t bother to tell her mother that she’d slept only four or five hours the last couple nights. He mind wouldn’t shut down. She hoped that now she could relax a little and get a full nights sleep. “Thanks for coming today.”
They dropped Joan off and headed for the estate. Tori couldn’t stop yawning, and couldn’t hide it.
“You’re not sleeping are you?” Dorothea accused her.
“Yes I am.”
“Yeah? How many hours?”
“Four or five the last couple nights. I don’t know why. I guess I’m just too keyed up trying to get things under control my mind won’t shut down.” Tori shrugged.
Dorothea laughed shortly. “It’s a Bongiovi trait. Jon does some of his best writing in the middle of the night when he can’t sleep. He says he has to get it out of his head and down on paper or his brain just won’t let go.”
Tori nodded. “I know exactly what he means.”
When they pulled up in front of the house, Romeo came running out to meet them.
“Well at least he didn’t lose him.” Dorothea noted.