Tori came to briefly in the recovery room, just long enough for the nurse to assure her that everything had gone well, before drifting back to sleep.
When she woke again she was back in her room. Cracking open her eyes she realized someone was sitting in a chair beside her bed. As her eyes focused she thought she must be still asleep.
“Am I dreaming?” She croaked, her throat dry and a little raw from the breathing tube.
“No darlin’. You’re awake.” He assured her in that smooth voice. His brown eyes twinkled. “Although I’m flattered that you think I’m dreamy.”
She laughed, then groaned. “Ow! Richie don’t make me laugh, it hurts.”
He sobered instantly. “I’m sorry darlin’. I didn’t mean to hurt you. Can I get you anything?”
“Can I have some water please? My throat is really dry.” She asked.
“Sure.” Pouring her a glass he opened the bendy straw and held it for her while she drank.
Signaling she’d had enough she smiled at him when he pulled the straw away and set the glass down. “You can tell you’ve got a child.”
His brows rose. “Oh? How?”
“Your expertise with the bendy straw and helping me drink from it.” She replied.
He grinned. “Yeah I’ve done that a time or two. Learned the hard way that it’s better to hold the straw than let her hold the juice box.”
“How many shirts got stained when she squeezed it?” She grinned too.
“Four before I got smart and just took it off.” He chuckled.
“Mmm fast learner.” She looked around the room. “Where are my parents?”
“They went to get a cup of coffee. I told them I’d stay with you in case you woke up.” He explained.
She stared at him for a moment. “Drew the short straw did you?” When he looked at her questioningly she elaborated. “To decide who was going to check on me.”
“Nope, I volunteered.” He assured her. It was her turn to look at him questioningly. “I wanted to meet you. Obie and Dorothea kept talking about how much you look like Jon, but I wanted to see for myself.”
She frowned. “But I don’t look like him. Other than the fact that we both have blue eyes, and brown hair – when we let it go natural – we don’t look alike at all.”
“Yeah, you do.” He smiled. “But it’s more in your facial expressions. Obie says you have the same temperament too.”
Her frown deepened. “How would he know? He only talked to me for five minutes.”
He laughed out loud. “Oh yeah, you look just like him!” The exasperated look she gave him just made him laugh harder. “Want to flip me off? That’s usually what Jon does when he looks at me like that.” She did. He doubled over in his mirth.
Later she would wonder why she felt so comfortable with Richie so quickly. Her mother would be appalled if she saw her giving someone she’d only just met the finger. But Richie didn’t feel like a stranger, he felt like an old friend. Must be all the interviews, and stuff I’ve seen of him.
“I take it she’s awake, by the way you’re braying Sambora.” Came from the doorway. “Hell of a first impression you’re making.”
Turning her head she saw David standing by the door. She smiled. “Hi David, come on in. And my first impressions of all of you were formed years ago. I am interested to see how accurate they are though.”
“Uh oh, sounds like she’s a fan and has expectations we’re going to have to live up to.” David sighed dramatically. “Oh the pressure! Ok, so what do you want first – my autograph? a picture?, a kiss?” He waggled his eyebrows at her.
She shook her head. “I want something more.” She purred. “I want you to show me something smooth, and large, and I want you to flex it.”
Both men stared at her in disbelief. David looked a little uncomfortable. “Um, I.. “ he stuttered.
She crooked her finger at him, and lowered her voice to a husky whisper. “Show me the Joker.”
Male laughter erupted and echoed around the room.
“Ok, now I know they’ve made a mistake.” David was still chuckling. “There’s no way you can be related to Jon.”
“Why not?” Tori asked.
“Because you have a sense of humour.” He replied. “He’s trying and he’s getting better, but…” He shook his head.
“Sounds like there’s a party going on in here.” Her father remarked entering the room. “Hi sweetie, how are you feeling?”
“Hi Dad. I’m still a little woozy from the anesthesia, and a little sore, but not too bad.” She replied.
“That’s good. Can we get you anything?” Her mother inquired.
“No thanks Mom, I’m fine.” She introduced her parents to David. “And I guess you’ve already met Richie.”
“Yes, we met earlier.” Her mother confirmed smiling at Richie.
“So…how is Stephanie doing?” Tori asked the men.
“She had just woken up when I left.” David replied. “She’s pretty worn out, but the doctor says everything looks good.”
“Good. I’m glad.” Tori responded and yawned.
“Speaking of being worn out, I think we should let you get some rest darlin’.” Richie rose from his chair. “I’ll stop by and see you later.” He started to bend down to her, stopped and reached out to squeeze her hand instead. David said his goodbyes and the two of them left the room.
Her mother turned to Tori and frowned. “Did I hear Richie call you darling?”
Tori smiled. “That’s just Richie. He calls most women darlin’. It doesn’t mean anything.” She knew she spoke the truth, but it didn’t diminish the warm feeling she got when he said it to her.
She napped for a couple hours and woke in time for dinner – such as it was. Clear broth, jello and ginger ale. She wondered how long it was going to be before they’d let her have real food. However, after a few spoonfuls she decided that maybe her stomach wasn’t ready for anything more.
“I hope that tastes better than it smells.” A gravelly voice commented from the doorway.
Looking up, Tori smiled. “Hi, Tico, come on in.” After introducing her parents she turned back to him. “Your turn to check on me?”
He grinned. “No. I just got in and have been hearing all these stories about Jon’s beautiful new sister that looks so much like him, so I had to come check it out for myself.”
She shook her head. “I think all of you need to get your eyes tested! I don’t look anything like him!”
“You look more like him than Tony and Matt do.” He pointed out.
“Well considering that the only recent pictures I’ve seen of either of them was one of Matt a few years ago when he opened Elements, I’ll have to take your word for it.” She replied.
He frowned, but didn’t comment.
“Tori tells me your background is Cuban.” Her father spoke up. She had given them a quick run down on the band members so they would know who they were meeting. “We traveled there a couple years ago. I really enjoyed it. The people were so friendly.”
“You’ve been there?” Tico was surprised.
Tori chuckled. “Yeah. We’re Canadian so we can fly direct.” She sighed. “I got hooked on Mojitos, and haven’t been able to find a decent one since.”
He grinned. “I can help you out there. I’ll bring you a pitcher. The trick is fresh mint and raw sugar.”
“Yum!” She licked her lips in anticipation.
They chatted for a few more minutes about Cuba and Florida, then Tico prepared to leave. “I’ll see you later nina, take care.”
“Thanks for coming by Tico.” Tori responded.
After her parents left for the night, she called Karin.
“I’m so glad everything went well. How do you feel?” her friend sounded relieved.
“I’m tired, a little weak, and a little sore, but on the whole, not too bad.” Tori assured her. “This whole thing is a bit strange though. I woke up to find Richie sitting beside my bed. Very surreal.”
“You’re kidding! What did he say?” Karin knew she was acting like a teenager, but she couldn’t help it. It wasn’t everyday someone she knew came into actual, normal conversation type contact with rockstars.
Tori gave her a rundown on her conversations with Richie, David and Tico.
“But no sign of the Bongiovi family?” Karin asked.
“Not so far. I’m trying to convince myself that they’re busy with Stephanie or they thought I needed to rest and recuperate today, but….I don’t know.” Tori sighed.
“What are you going to do?”
“Well, I’ve got at least a week before they’ll let me leave the hospital, so I guess I’ll wait and see. I can’t and won’t force them to talk to me. If they don’t want to, then I’ll take some satisfaction that I helped a young girl have a shot at a normal life, and go back to mine.” Tori replied.
“Sounds like a good plan.” Karin agreed. “Listen, you get some rest and let me know how things go.”
“Ok, I will. Thanks Karin.” Tori yawned. “’Nite.”
The next morning Tori woke to find Richie once again sitting in the chair beside her bed.
“This is becoming a habit.” She observed.
“Morning darlin’. Complaining?” He asked.
She grinned. “Not at all, but you’re going to spoil me. What am I supposed to do when I go home and have to wake up and look at a boring wall?”
“I’ll give you a life size picture of me you can hang on the wall.” He offered.
She chuckled. “Seriously though, don’t you have something better to do than sit there and watch me sleep?”
“Now what could be better than watching a beautiful woman, asleep or awake?” He leered at her.
She shook her head at him. “You’re way too smooth with the lines.”
The arrival of her parents prevented him from replying.
“Morning, honey. Oh, hi Richie.” Her mother greeted them. “How are you feeling today?”
“Hi, Mom. A little better I think. My head isn’t fuzzy anymore, anyway.” She replied.
“So you’re up for some visitors today?” Richie asked suddenly serious.
Tori looked at him for a moment, reading the message in his eyes, then nodded. “Yes, I’m ready.”
He nodded and stood up. “Ok. I’d better go. I’ll see you later darlin’.” Squeezing her hand, he left.
“What was that about?” Her mother asked.
“I think that was a signal that the Bongiovi family is finally ready to talk to me.” Tori said slowly.
“Are you really ready for that?” Her father asked, concerned.
Tori took a deep breath and blew it out before nodding decisively. “Yes Dad, I am.”
Her confidence was put to the test an hour later.
A knock on the door had her looking up. The older couple standing there had the butterflies in her stomach turning cartwheels.
“Hi.” She said a little tentatively. “Come on in.”
“Wow! Definitely a Bongiovi.” John Sr. said in astonishment, then seeing Tori’s questioning look, explained. “You look just like my niece.”
“Oh, I see. For a minute there I thought you were going to say I look like Jon too. I think Richie and the guys have been staring into spotlights too long.” She made a face and shook her head.
Carol laughed. “When you do that you do look like him.”
Not sure what to say, Tori introduced her parents.
“Nice to meet you.” Her father stated. “We’re going to go down to the cafeteria and get a cup of coffee and let you all talk.”
“Thanks Dad.” Tori smiled.
Pulling up another chair next to the one Richie had been sitting in, John and Carol sat down. The silence was deafening as the three just sat there looking at each other. No one knew what to say.
Finally, John gave a nervous laugh. “I’m sorry, I honestly don’t know where to start.”
“Why don’t you start at the beginning, dear.” Carol suggested. Exchanging a look with him she smiled and nodded. “Tell her everything. She deserves to know.”
“Ok.” He blew out a breath. “Carol and I had been having some problems. We had two kids, money was tight, and I felt I was being ignored. It seemed that all of Carol’s time and energy was spent on the kids. We were fighting a lot. Then Diane came into the shop. She was young, beautiful, independent and very vivacious. She seemed to really care about what I had to say and wanted to spend time with me. She was willing to give me everything I thought I was missing with Carol. After a few months I was thinking about ending my marriage and leaving with Diane. One day, Diane happened to be in the shop when Carol came in with the boys for me to trim their hair. That night Diane ended it. You see, she knew I was married, but didn’t know I had children. She read me the riot act about how a rocky marriage was one thing, but she wasn’t about to break up a family, that my kids needed me and that I needed to get my head out of my ass and realize what a treasure I had right in front of me. She made me see that I was being immature and selfish. I went home and had a long talk with Carol. I told her everything, and she forgave me. We worked hard and were able to put our marriage back together. I never saw Diane again. She moved to New York and never contacted me. It was a few years later that I found out about you, from a friend of Diane’s, but you had already been adopted and a father’s rights weren’t like they are today. You were in another country, and we had no way of finding you. When Stephanie got sick and none of us could help her, it seemed like a sign….it was time to find you.”
Throughout his explanation, Tori had been periodically glancing at Carol. Now Carol reached over and grasped Tori’s hand. “I wish we had found you sooner. I wish we had known from the beginning. I would have raised you myself.”
“I’m sorry I didn’t get to watch you grow up. I’m sorry I wasn’t there for you.” John paused, caught her glance and held it. “I know I don’t have any right to ask, but I’d like to get to know you…..we both would….if you’ll let us.”
Tori looked again at Carol, who nodded. “I’d like that.” Tori answered.
The afternoon brought yet another visitor. Dorothea stopped by briefly.
“Hi Tori, how are you feeling?” She asked.
“Not too bad thanks. How’s Stephanie?” Tori wanted to know.
“She’s still weak and tired, but she’s coming along. The doctor’s really pleased.” Dorothea’s relief could be heard in her voice.
“Good. Sounds positive.” Tori smiled.
“Yeah. The doctor says if everything continues to go well she can go home next week.” Dorothea held up her hand and crossed her fingers.
Tori grinned and held up her own crossed fingers. “Her and me both.”
Tori’s days fell into a routine. She would wake to find Richie there. They’d chat until her parents –who, knowing Richie would be there weren’t rushing in anymore – arrived, John Sr. and Carol would come by for an hour or so, and Dorothea would pop in for a few minutes at some point in the afternoon. David, Tico and even Hugh stopped by periodically. Everything was going well. Her parents and the Bongiovi’s were even becoming friends. Tori knew she should be happy – and for the most part she was. There was just one blot on her happiness – well three actually. The brothers had yet to make an appearance.