The next couple days seemed to crawl by. Tori couldn’t believe that she could miss Richie so much after such a short acquaintance. She was so caught up in thoughts of Richie and her now daily discussions with Stephanie by the pool, she didn’t take notice, at first of a slight shift in attitude happening around her. It was Stephanie who finally brought it to her attention.
They were sitting by the pool, Jesse, Jake and Romeo with his water wings were swimming, when Steph turned to her dad who was sitting with them. “Are you on some sort of vacation or something Dad?”
“No, why would you say that?” He asked, surprised.
“Because you’ve been home for quite awhile.” She answered.
“Of course I’m home. I wouldn’t leave with you in the hospital.” He sounded a little hurt.
“Ok, but when you’re home you’re usually holed up in your office, and the last couple of days you’ve been hanging out with us.” She pointed out.
He just shrugged. “I’m just giving Mom a break.”
Tori realized that Steph was right. While Jon still hadn’t spoken to her, he wasn’t avoiding her anymore either. Dare she hope that he was finally starting to come around?
“Daddy, Aunt Tori, Stephie, watch!” Jake yelled from the diving board. Taking a running jump he landed a perfect cannonball.
On Friday morning, Dorothea was going over her lists for the dinner they were having the next day to celebrate Richie’s birthday, when Tori rushed into the room. “Dorothea, I need your help.”
“Sure, what do you need?” Dorothea asked.
“I need to go shopping. I need to get a birthday present for Richie. I know I shouldn’t have left it until the last minute, but I wanted to be able to get it myself.” She apologized.
“You know he won’t care if you get him a present.” Dorothea told her.
“I know, but he’s done so much for me, I want to show my appreciation.” She explained.
“You mean you haven’t already?” Dorothea grinned.
Tori grimaced. “Not as completely as I’d like too. Hopefully I’ll be able to soon…before I go insane!”
Dorothea laughed. “I remember that feeling! Come on I think I know just the place. I went in with Jon a few weeks ago when he was checking out guitars. They have all kinds of neat stuff.”
It was the kind of store that Tori could get lost in for hours. It was a music store and so much more. One wall was lined with guitars both acoustic and electric. There were huge drum kits and keyboards of all sizes and even a baby grand. Another wall had violins, cellos, basses, flutes, trumpets, clarinets, trombones, French horns, even tubas – everything you’d need for a concert band. In the middle of the store were the clothing racks. Here again the variety was vast, from band tour shirts for the fans to stage wear for the artists. Flipping through a rack of t-shirts Tori smirked and pulled out a heart and dagger to show Dorothea who rolled her eyes.
“Why do they all make their shirts in the same boring colours – black, white, grey…that’s about it. The odd pink one if you can wear kids sizes. Why doesn’t anyone do something fun and bright like blue or green? I can’t wear black unless I put on more makeup than a two dollar hooker, but the coolest looking shirts are all black. And they all look the same. UGH!” Tori made a face.
“Thank you!” Dorothea exclaimed. “I’ve been trying to tell Jon that for years, but the marketing geniuses keep saying ‘stay with what everyone knows, stay with what sells’. I tried to point out that it sells because that all there is for the kids to buy, but they just brush me off.”
“Well, some people get it. Tico’s baby clothing is adorable, and I think the jewelry idea is great. They just need to keep everything reasonably priced. They’ve got to remember if people are spending $100-150 or more per ticket to see a show, they probably don’t have a lot of extra money to spend on memorabilia. If the prices are high, they’ll still probably buy a shirt, but that’ll be it, but if you keep the prices down, they’ll buy a shirt, and a necklace, and a hat and whatever else they see that catches their eye.” Tori stated. Dorothea looked at her, surprised. Tori shrugged. “My father’s in the retail business. His business acumen is to keep your margins low. You may not make as much on each item, but you’ll sell more volume and thus end up further ahead in the long run.”
Dorothea grinned. “Oh I am so going to sic you on Paul!”
Not seeing anything that really grabbed her in the clothing section, Tori moved to the counters that held accessories. There were guitar straps, magnets, pins and jewelry of all types. A man’s bracelet caught her eyes and she picked it up to take a closer look. It was silver, about an inch wide, flat with a scene engraved on it. Turning it she saw a knight on a horse heading for a castle where a woman was standing on a turret. She smiled. It was perfect! Waving the clerk over, she told her she’d take it. The clerk asked if she’d like the back engraved and after thinking for a moment, Tori wrote something on a piece of paper and handed it to the clerk. While she was waiting she kept perusing the jewelry.
“Tori, look at this.” Dorothea called her over to show her what she’d found. The fine chain had colourful little guitars spaced out along its length. The chain could be used in different ways. For a girl it could be a bracelet or an anklet, or in this case, there was a clip at the clasp end that could be used as what the girls called Richie’s hair ‘trinkets’.
“Oh, I like that! I’ll take that too.” Tori decided. When she had paid and the clerk had wrapped both presents, they headed out the door. “Thanks Dorothea, I’ll have to remember that place.”
“Yeah, it’s pretty cool.” Dorothea replied. “So let’s go see if my kids are still in one piece after having been left under their father’s supervision for a few hours. And you probably should have a nap before Richie arrives.”
After dinner, everyone had gathered, as usual, in the den. Tori was restless and kept glancing at the clock. Seeing her, Dorothea glanced at Jon and smiled. He just rolled his eyes and shook his head.
“Aunt Tori, you help me wif my puzzle prease?” Romeo asked.
“Sure, buddy.” Tori replied, grateful for the distraction.
She was still sitting on the floor with the toddler bent over the jigsaw puzzle spread out in front of them when they heard the beep of the gate opening. She was go engrossed in trying to find the pieces of Shrek’s head – and the fact that she wasn’t yet familiar with the security system – the sound didn’t register. She didn’t notice Dorothea get up and leave the room either.
Dorothea met him at the door. “Hi Richie, how was your trip?”
“Hi Dot. It was fine. Ava was an angel, and Heather was almost pleasant for a change.” He answered.
“And Denise?” Dorothea asked.
Richie grimaced. “You don’t want to know.” He gave her a frustrated look. “Is it so wrong to want someone who’ll give and not just take? Someone who wants me for who I am, not what I do?”
“Not at all. Why do you think Jon and I have lasted through all the madness? I don’t give two shits about his job other than how it affects him emotionally. To me, he’s not a rockstar, he’s just Jon, my husband and the father of my children. The rest is all hype.” She replied. Then she shrugged. “But I’m not an actress whose livelihood depends on being in the public eye.”
“I think I’ve had more that my fill of actresses. I want a real woman, not a façade.” He sighed.
“Got anyone in particular in mind?” She asked, grinning.
He grinned back. “Maybe. Where is she?”
“In the den, elbow deep in ogre lips and donkey parts.” She replied, turning to lead the way.
Confused, Richie followed her. Entering the den, he couldn’t help but smile at the tableau in front of him. Stephanie was in a chair, one leg over the arm, swinging slightly as she flipped through a magazine. Jon and Jesse were on the couch going over football stats and potential trades for the upcoming season. Jake was kneeling in front of the coffee table, saving the world from some unknown enemy with the help of his transformers and Spiderman.
And in the centre of the floor were Tori and Romeo, both laying on their stomachs, side by side comparing puzzle pieces. Seeing the half formed picture, Richie understood Dorothea’s description.
“If you finish the onion coach first, it’s easier.” He advised, having helped with that particular puzzle before.
“Uncle Richie!” Came from four throats as Jake and Romeo jumped up and ran to give Richie a hug.
Rolling on her side, Tori gazed up at him, a tremulous smile on her lips. Suddenly, she was nervous. It was all well and good to lay down what was basically an ultimatum when you’re angry, but it was something else entirely to face it when you’ve calmed down. Then Richie winked at her over the boys heads and she relaxed.
Sitting up as Richie approached her she accepted the hand he held out and let him pull her to her feet and into his arms. “Hi” She murmured just before his lips captured hers. When he lifted his head her heart was racing and her head was spinning. She leaned against him for support.
Blowing out a breath, he chuckled. “Wow, babe. You go to my head faster than whiskey!” Then he sobered and looked deeply into her eyes. “Come on, I believe we have a conversation to finish.”
Saying goodnight to the Bongiovis, they headed for the door. Hand in hand they walked down the driveway in silence, Richie thinking about what he was going to say, Tori suddenly not sure she really wanted to hear it.
Opening the door of the guest house, Richie let her go in first and grinned when she stopped dead three steps into the living room.
The scent of fresh cut flowers filled the air, wafting from the three vases of mixed summer blooms spread throughout the room. Richie quickly stepped forward to light several candles set on the tables by the couch and the stereo. Pushing the power button, he tuned into a blues station and turned the volume low.
She watched him, stunned. “If we’d been together longer, I’d ask you what you’d done. So instead I’ll just ask you what this is all about.”
“This is just my way of saying I’m sorry for hurting you, for being insensitive to your feelings, and to reassure you that I want you to be a very real part of my life.” He replied returning to wrap his arms around her, lacing his fingers together and resting them in the small of her back.
“Are you sure you’re not gay?” She asked, gazing up at him and blinking back tears. “I’ve never met a straight man that was this sensitive and romantic.”
He chuckled and pulled her tighter against his body. “What do you think?”
She drew in a sharp breath at the feel of the hard length of him pressing into her belly. “I think that I’m healed enough to put it to the ultimate test.”
He grinned, kissed her nose, and shook his head. “Not yet sweetheart. I don’t want to hurt you.”
“Riiichiiee!” She wailed. “You mean that you do all this,” She gestured around the room, “which is a seduction scene if I ever saw one, get me all worked up and then you’re going to tell me NO? Now that’s just mean!”
He laughed. “First of all, this isn’t a seduction scene. This was just to set an intimate mood. Trust me you’ll see the difference later. Second, I know you think you’re healed, but it’s only been a few weeks since your surgery, and I really think we should wait. You’ve been doing so well, I don’t want to do anything to set you back. Now, come and sit with me on the couch.”
Sighing in resignation, and remembering what brought this all on, she allowed him to tug her over to the couch and urge her down onto it.
Sitting beside her he leaned his elbows on his thighs and stared at his hands. “I guess I should start with my marriage.”
Sensing how hard this was for him, she reached out and laid a hand on his arm. “Richie, you don’t have to tell me all about the past. I just want you to talk to me about the things that happen that upset you now.”
He put his hand over hers and smiled gently at her. “I know, but it will be easier for you to understand if you know how it got to this point.”
Taking a deep breath he started again. “Heather and I made a good run of it for a long time. When we made it past the seven year itch, I thought that we were home free. But her career wasn’t going as well as she would have liked and when Ava got old enough that she didn’t need her mother so much, Heather got restless. The final straw came when LAX was cancelled. The band was doing well, and we were touring and I think she resented that my career was doing better than hers. She used to come out on the road a bit, but she stopped doing that even when we were playing close to home. Anyway, she was very unhappy and hell to live with.” He paused. “Then there was Denise.” Tori couldn’t suppress a snort. When he looked at her questionly, she just waved it away and urged him to continue. “How much do you know about my divorce?”
“Just the little bit I heard on Entertainment Tonight, and what I read on the message boards. I try not to pay too much attention to the rags. They’re just a bunch of bull, although there is usually a kernel of truth in there somewhere. I do remember something about an e-mail that you were cheating on her or something. What bothered me most was that she filed while you were on the road, didn’t tell you – making you look like a blind idiot - and intimated that she was afraid of you. I always had the feeling that Denise had something to do with that.” She replied.
“You were right. The more depressed and insecure Heather got about her career, the more vulnerable she became to Denise’s suggestions. Although, to be fair, in regards to the timing, that was Heather’s PR rep’s fault. She wasn’t supposed to release anything until Heather had talked to me. We had talked about divorce, but hadn’t agreed to anything.” He met her eye. “For the record, I was never abusive to her. We fought, but never physically. And I never cheated on her. I may have been a bit of a player in the past...” She crooked a brow at him. “Ok…maybe more than a bit, but I took my marriage vows very seriously. It wouldn’t surprise me if Denise sent the e-mail – or had someone send it.”
“Heather must have been in a real bad emotional state.” Tori commented.
“Why do you say that?” He asked, curious.
“Two reasons. One, she didn’t seem to consider the millions of Bon Jovi fans out there that could help or hinder her career. Hurting their favorite guitarist is a sure fire way to ensure a lack of support for any project she becomes involved with. Second, she let herself be sucked in by Denise. I know I don’t know Heather, but I would have thought she had more brains than that.” She explained.
He nodded. “She usually does.” He smiled wryly. “So I take it that you don’t like Denise either?”
She grimaced. “I shouldn’t judge her. I don’t know her. I don’t know all the details of what happened between you, but…no I don’t. A few years ago, when Charlie’s problems became public, I gave her a lot of credit for sticking by him and trying to help him. But what kind of woman urges her best friend to divorce her husband, then steals him for herself? Not cool! It struck me that she wanted some of the media spotlight for herself instead of Heather getting it all. And by the way…what the hell were you thinking?”
He looked chagrined. “I wasn’t. I think I was still in a state of shock over all the accusations that were flying around. Then I broke my arm – caused by my own stupidity and my mind being somewhere else. Painkillers didn’t help either. By the time I came out of my fog, she had set us up as a couple. Then my dad got sick and I had more urgent things to deal with than correcting public perception. That was a big mistake on my part. I should have ended it then. Although, I’m not sure it would have made any difference. She doesn’t take ‘no’ very well.” He glanced at her. “You should know that she still considers me her property and is trying very hard to get me to see it that way too.”
She nodded. “Warning noted. She sounds like she needs a nice white coat.” When he looked at her, confused, she explained. “You know, the ones with really long sleeves that tie in the back.” He laughed and nodded. Serious again she brought the subject back to the one she was most concerned about. “How has Heather been about your time with Ava?”
“Not too bad really. She does tend to use it as a bargaining chip when she wants something, but so far she hasn’t stopped me from seeing her basically whenever I want. She let me have her here for quite awhile with my mom after my dad…” He stopped.
She squeezed his arm. “Richie, I watched a very close family friend go through the same thing your dad did, so you don’t have to talk about it. Just know that I’m here if you need to.”
“Thanks. That was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to go through. The night it happened we had a performance. It took a while to get a flight, so I went on stage. So many people couldn’t understand how I could do that.” He began.
“You did what you always to when you’re feeling any strong emotion – you lost yourself in the music. It’s an emotional release and helps you to cope.” She commented. He gave her a shocked look. “What? I get it.” She shook her head. “Do you guys actually think that all the fans care about is a pretty face? You’ve said it yourself, Bon Jovi is about songs that people can relate to. Jon calls them bookmarks and he’s right. We use music the same way you do – to celebrate, to commiserate, to remember, to escape. The only difference is that we listen to it, and you write it and play it.” She grinned. “The pretty face is just a bonus!”
He laughed. “You really do get it. I wish I’d met you then, maybe things would have worked out differently.”
She took a deep breath and broached the subject he had alluded to. “Is that when the drinking started?”
He raked a hand through his hair. “That’s when I realized - or rather it was pointed out to me – that I had a problem. We always drank – you know, you’ve seen the pictures.”
She nodded. “Rockstar lifestyle. It’s expected.”
“Yeah, but as I got older I outgrew the excess, like most people do. Until my perfect life came crashing down around me. I needed something to ease the pain. It was either drugs or booze. I thought that I could control the booze, that I could prevent it from becoming a problem. And I did for awhile. Then it kept taking more and more to do the job. And it started to affect my music. When Jon laid down the law, I was actually relieved. It was the push I needed.” He frowned. “My dad would have been disappointed.”
Reaching up a hand she cupped his face and turned it towards her, forcing him to look at her. “Hey! I’m betting your dad would have understood…and would be very proud of you for being responsible and doing what you need to do to take back control of your life and deal with the problem.”
Even though he smiled, she could see the wetness in his eyes. “You sound like my mom.”
Blinking back her own tears she brushed the hair back from his forehead. “She sounds like a very smart woman.”
“She is. Very strong too. You’ll see when you meet her tomorrow.” He grinned at her expression.
“What do you mean ‘when I meet her tomorrow’? Does she know about us?” She tried not to look stunned, but her stomach was doing flips and her mind had gone blank.
“She’s coming for dinner.” He leaned forward to kiss her. “Relax, she’ll love you. And no, she doesn’t know we’re together. Besides, I’ve met your parents, it’s only fair.”
“But when you met my parents we weren’t a couple.” She hesitated, considering. “Although, I think my mother was hoping.”
“You haven’t told her yet?” He asked.
She shook her head. “I want to see where this is heading before I get her hopes up.” At his look she explained. “She’s worried about me ending up alone. In fact, I think you were part of the reason she pushed me to stay here when I got out of the hospital. The way you were keeping an eye on me had her thinking that your interest was more than just that of a man looking out for his friend and his sister.”
“You’ll have to tell her she was right.” He murmured. Pulling her into his arms he teased her lips with his tongue until she opened for him. Diving in he tasted her deeply, thoroughly before backing off to nibble and suck at her bottom lip, chuckling when she groaned and tried to return the favour. Easing back he searched her eyes. “Do you have any questions?”
It took her a minute to refocus on their conversation. “So what were the phone calls about that upset you?”
He thought for a minute. “Heather called about my trip home for my birthday and bitched at me for not being around enough for Ava. Plus she still talks to me about whatever’s bothering her – habit I guess. In this case it’s her new love. Why she thinks I care is beyond me. What else….oh, Denise called, wanting to know when I was going to get over being mad at her and come home. I tried to tell her that my home doesn’t include her, but she’s not getting the message. And Mom called….she was going through some of Dad’s things and she wanted me to come and take what I wanted.”
Searching his eyes, she pulled back, plumped up the pillow at the end of the couch, kicked off her shoes, laid back until her head was on the pillow and held her arms out to him. “Baby, come here.”
Kicking of his own shoes, he stretched out and laid his head on her breast, feeling her arms close around him and accepted the comfort she was offering. They fell asleep that way.
Tori awoke to find herself in her bed…and alone. She had a vague memory of Richie carrying her to bed and removing her clothes. Glancing at the pillow beside her she sighed at the evidence that she had indeed slept alone. She knew that he thought he was being considerate, but he needed to realize that it had been five years of abstinence for her – their half a loaf interlude the night before he left for L.A. not withstanding. Her back muscles were still a little tight, and the incision a tad tender, but as long as she didn’t put a lot of pressure on it she was fine. She was on the verge of attacking him! Shaking her head at herself she rose and headed for the shower. It was going to be a busy day and she couldn’t let Dorothea do everything.
Entering the house she found that David and Tico had already arrived. When she entered the den they rose and approached her.
“There she is!” David was first. After a hug and a kiss on the cheek he released her to Tico.
“There’s our angel. How are you feeling?” Tico asked also giving her a hug and a kiss.
Tori felt an arm snake around her waist and she was pulled back against a hard body.
“Get your own, this angel’s mine!” Came from above her head. Tilting her head back she smiled up at Richie. “Morning angel.” He grinned down at her.
She turned so that she faced him. “Angel huh? Is that why you won’t let me let my inner devil out? Afraid of tarnishing my halo?”
She didn’t notice David and Tico listening avidly, but Richie did. “Patience sweetheart. I just want to make sure you’re strong enough to take it.”
Hearing the hoots behind her, she felt her face burn. “I’m not the one whose stamina will be put to the test!” She assured him with a definitely devilish glint in her eye.
The hoots turned into guffaws of laughter. “I think you’ve met your match Rich!” Tico speculated.
“In more ways than one.” Richie agreed, hugging Tori close.
Jon walked into the room, flicked a glance over Richie and Tori and addressed the men. “Do you guys maybe want to get some work done today before everyone else gets here?”
Tori tried to console herself by telling herself that he wasn’t nasty about it, just asking a question. “Where’s Dorothea?”
“She and Sophia went to the store. Steph’s in the kitchen.” David answered her.
“Thanks.” Pulling away from Richie, she shook her head when he would have stopped her and headed for the kitchen.
The silence in the room was deafening. Richie just stared at Jon for a long moment. “Don’t push me Jon.”
David looked back and forth between the two friends in surprise. “What’s going on?”
“Ask Jon.” Richie replied.
They turned to Jon who waved a dismissive hand. “It’s just family shit.”
“Hey, if it affects the band it affects us.” Tico insisted. “And problems between the two of you affects the band. Besides, I thought we were all family.”
“Jon thinks that Tori is out to cash in on her new connection to his celebrity. At least I think that’s what he’s worried about, he hasn’t been too clear on what exactly his problem is with her.” Richie explained.
David frowned. “Well, shit. Couldn’t she have found a less painful way to worm her way into the family than giving up a kidney to save your daughter?”
In the kitchen, Steph was busy opening and closing cupboards. Tori watched her for a few minutes.
“What are you looking for?” She finally asked.
“Cookies. Mom always has some stashed so Jake – or Dad - can’t find them and eat them all at once. There they are!” She exclaimed in triumph.
Sure enough, two bags of cookies, one chocolate chip and one peanut butter, sat on a high shelf of a cupboard. Steph was trying to jump up to snag them, but fell short. Walking over, Tori reached up, but she too fell short. Steph grabbed a chair and started to pull it over, but Tori stopped her.
“I got into trouble for that.” She informed her niece. She turned towards the den. “Richie! I need you!” Steph laughed.
“Now there’s a phrase I’ll never get tired of hearing from you, angel.” Richie smirked as he walked into the room. “What do you need.?”
Tori pointed at the top shelf. “We’re hungry for some cookies. Steph was going to use a chair, but I told her we’d be in big trouble.”
“You’re right, you would be. What kind do you want?” He asked.
“Chocolate chip.” They answered in unison. When he looked at them in disbelief Tori laughed.
“We’re women. We’ll always choose chocolate.” She told him.
Reaching up he grabbed the specified bag and handed it to her. “I’ll have to remember that.” He murmured, an added warmth in his eyes.
“Mmm, do.” She murmured back, a twinkle in her eyes. “Thanks.” She said in a normal voice.
“Are you guys going out to the studio?” Steph asked.
“Yep. Call us when the others get here, would you please?” Richie answered.