The ringing of the phone woke her the next morning. Reaching for it she didn’t even open her eyes, just patted the night table until she felt it. “Hello.”
“Girlfriend you’ve been holding out on me!” Karin accused in lieu of a greeting.
“Good morning to you too Karin.” Tori answered dryly. “Now, what are you babbling about?”
Realizing that this could be a long conversation and not wanting to disturb Richie she tried to slip out from under the arm he had thrown over her waist and leave the bed. At her movement his arm tightened preventing her from leaving. Glancing over her shoulder she saw him crack open one eye, smile and shake his head.
“It’s okay. I’m awake.” He murmured. He wanted to keep her in his arms a little longer.
“I’m not babbling, I’m gushing. There’s a difference.” Karin informed her. “I always knew you could sing, but not like that! And the way you interacted with Jon and Richie! It looked like you’d been performing with them for years! You were amazing!”
“Thank you, but how do you even know about it?”
“Are you kidding? You are the queen of YouTube this morning. I swear there must have been fifteen people there recording it. By the way your dress was stunning and you and Richie make a great looking couple. A very cozy looking couple. How long did it take him to get you out of that dress?” Karin asked slyly.
Tori blushed. “Probably not as long as you’re thinking.” She admitted. “What do you mean by ‘cozy’ looking’?” Rolling onto her back she smiled at Richie.
“I mean that the body language says that you two are very comfortable together, and I bet he didn’t let you get too far away from him when you looked like that. Am I right?”
“Yes. Although there were a couple other reasons.” Tori laughed.
“Richie was looking pretty hot himself last night. If I were you I wouldn’t let him get too far from me either!”
Tori turned to Richie. “Karin thinks you looked pretty hot last night.”
“Thank you darlin’.” Richie said loud enough that his voice carried through the phone.
Tori had to pull the phone away from her ear or risk being deafened by the screech Karin let out. “He’s right there? AND YOU TOLD HIM?!”
“What’s the matter, wasn’t I supposed to tell him?” Tori chuckled.
“Well, yeah, but…not until later….WHEN I WASN’T LISTENING!” Kari scolded her. Calming down, she asked. “So tell me all about last night.”
Tori gave her a rundown of the events of the previous evening, including the altercation with the media, Jon’s speech and the performance.
“So Jon really has come around then.” Karin noted. “That’s great.”
“Yeah, between the band and his brothers, I had my own little entourage of bodyguards that Madonna would envy!” Tori laughed. Then a thought struck. “Oh my God! Do you realize that I now have two adoptive brothers, three half brothers, and three honorary brothers! Good thing I found my man before their protective instincts kicked in or not one would ever get near me!” Richie grinned, pulled her closer and kissed her shoulder.
Karin laughed. “So things are good with Richie then?”
“Yes.” Tori replied softly, stroking Richie’s cheek with her free hand. “Things are very good with Richie.” Smiling he caught her fingers and placed a kiss in her palm.
“And how about his daughter?” Karin asked.
“I haven’t met Ava yet. I’m not sure if she knows about me.” She raised a brow at Richie who frowned slightly. “But I’m thinking that if she doesn’t, he better tell her before she hears about me from somebody else.” He looked at his watch and nodded. It was too early to call the west coast, but he would.
“Yeah, that would probably be a good idea.” Karin agreed. “So, are you going to become a rockstar now or are you coming home?”
“No, I’m not going to become a rockstar!” Tori laughed. “If Jon asked me to do the odd event now and then, I’d consider it, but no, I’ll be coming home.” She assured her. Richie frowned.
“I don’t know I’ve been so busy, I haven’t made any plans, but the poor girls at the store have been covering for me for quite awhile, so it’ll need to be soon.” Tori replied.
Releasing her, Richie rose from the bed and headed for the bathroom. Tori sighed.
“How is that going to go over?” Karin had heard the sigh and had an idea of what had happened.
“Apparently not well.” Tori answered. “But it’s not like he didn’t know this was going to happen. He’s going to have to go home at some point too. Plus, they’re going on tour in a few months. We’ll just have to see what we can work out.”
“Good luck. Let me know when you’re coming home and we’ll get together for dinner and you can give me all the juicy details.”
“Will do. I guess I’d better call Mom and warn her about everything being out in the open now.” Tori responded. “Talk to you soon. Bye.”
After filling her mother in on what had occurred the night before she headed for the kitchen to put the coffee on. Hearing Richie enter the bedroom she hesitated then decided to hit the shower before dealing with him.
Returning to the kitchen she found him pouring coffee.
“Richie,” She began.
“Jon called while you were in the shower, he wants you at the main house.” He interrupted her.
“He can wait. We need to talk about this.” She insisted.
“What’s to talk about? You’ve already made your decision.”
“What decision did I have to make? As wonderful and Jon and Dorothea have been, this is not my home. I can’t stay here forever – anymore than you can. I have obligations back home – just like you do.” She dared him to deny it. He couldn’t.
“I know.” He sighed. “I just didn’t think it would be this soon.”
“What did you think? That I would stay here until you went home? Or you left on tour?”
It was her turn to sigh. “I’m not leaving today or even tomorrow, but I’ve got to start thinking about it. I was hoping we could discuss it together and figure out some way to make this work, but I can’t do it by myself.” When he didn’t respond she grabbed her sunglasses and headed for the main house.
Richie caught up with her just as she was approaching the door. Opening it he let her precede him inside. Jon, Dorothea, David, Tico and Hugh were all sitting in the den when they walked in.
“Morning everyone.” Tori greeted them. “What’s up Jon?”
“Are you up for some interviews?” He asked. “The requests have been coming in fast and furious.”
She frowned. “Alone or with you?”
“With me. Apparently they want to do the sibling angle.”
She shrugged. “Sure, if you think it’s a good idea, I’m fine with it.”
“Good. I’ll let you know when I’ve set some up.” He smiled. “It’ll be fun.”
“You’re awfully chipper this morning.” Tori commented.
Jon just glanced at Dorothea and grinned.
“Dorothea finally paroled him from solitary confinement.” David smirked.
“Got off for good behaviour eh?” Tori laughed.
Richie headed for the door.
“Richie?” She stopped him. “Are you going to talk to Ava or have you decided not to bother?” He didn’t want her to leave, but he wouldn’t talk to her about how to stay together. What started as concern was rapidly turning to anger – and fear that he was going to end it.
When he looked at her in surprise she let him see everything that she was feeling. He just nodded and walked out the door.
“What’s with him?” David asked. “Did you bite off his tongue Bela?”
“I might as well. Apparently he has a problem using it!” Tori retorted. “Men! Are you all born with the stubborn non-communication gene or is a learned trait?”
“Don’t ask Shirley, he never shuts up!” Tico assured her.
Growling in frustration Tori set off in Richie’s wake.
She found him sitting on a bench overlooking the river. Walking up behind him she slid her hands over his shoulders and down onto his chest. Resting her chin on top of his head she sighed.
“You know that I don’t want to leave you, right?” She murmured.
He raised his hands to cover hers. “I know.”
“So what’s with the attitude?” She asked gently.
“I always knew you would have to go home, but it was always at some point down the road. Then this morning, that point suddenly became just around the corner. I wasn’t prepared. I’m not ready to say goodbye, even for a little while.” Tugging her around the bench he pulled her onto his lap. “I’m not sure I ever will be.”
Laying her head on his shoulder she gazed at the river gently flowing by. “What are we going to do?”
“Well, we make the most of our time together now, then you’ll come out to as many shows as you can during the tour, we visit back and forth when we can, and in between...”
“We run up huge phone bills.” Tori finished, grinning. “Remind me to buy shares in the phone company.” Sobering, she raised her head and searched his dark eyes, seeing herself reflected there. “We can make this work, can’t we?”
“Yes, angel, we can. It’s going to take some work, but hey, nothing good ever comes easy right?” He kissed her reassuringly.
“Aunt Tori, Uncle Richie.” A voice came from behind them.
Looking over Richie’s shoulder, Tori spotted their visitor. “Hey Jake, what are you doing out here by yourself?”
“Mommy wanted me to tell you that lunch is ready. She told me to walk straight to the bench and not to go near the water. And she said she’d be watching so she’d know if I didn’t listen.” He informed her.
Tori glanced at Richie. “How did she know we were here?”
Richie smiled wryly. “She knows this is my favorite spot to come to when I need to think or just need some peace for a little while. I find the sound of the water soothing.”
“Me too.” She agreed.
“So you would be okay living near the water?” He asked.
“Water, yes. I love the sound of the waves. But I’m not real keen on wild fires, landslides or earthquakes.” She smiled wryly.
“Me neither. I have never been able to figure out why the entertainment industry works so hard to make the people involved seem larger than life and then asks them to live in the most naturally dangerous part of the country. I’ve been lucky so far. My house is pretty sturdy.”
“Come on!” Jake grabbed their hands and tugged.
“What’s your hurry bud? Are you hungry or something?” Richie teased.
“Daddy’s cooking!” Jake stated as if that explained everything.
“Let me guess.” Tori smiled. “Grilled cheese sandwiches?”
Both Jake and Richie stared at her.
“How’d you know?” Jake asked.
Tori looked at Richie. “I told you, I know a lot about you guys.” Taking Jake’s hand she stood and started towards the house.
Shaking his head Richie rose and joined them, taking Jake’s other hand, laughing at his squeals as they swung him between them.
Arriving back at the house, Dorothea met them at the door. “Good job Jake. Thank you.” She glanced back and forth between the two adults. “Everything okay?”
“Yes, den mother, everything is fine.” Richie replied.
“Trust me Rich, you guys are no boy scouts!” Dorothea retorted.
Sitting at the table, Richie looked down at the grilled cheese sandwich on his plate. “Ya know Kidd, I think maybe we need to be more careful about what we say in interviews.”
“It’s been brought to my attention that we’re giving out way too much information without even realizing it.”
Tori laughed. “Swingman, you have no idea! But you’d have to expect that after twenty plus years we’d pick up a few things. Please don’t spoil the fun. Besides think how much faster and easier it’s been getting to know each other when I already know so much.”
“Didn’t your mother ever teach you that cryptic conversations and inside jokes are rude?” David complained.
“Oh you’re just ticked because you’re not in on it.” Tico pointed out.
“Speaking of interviews.” Jon interjected. “We’ve got one this afternoon Tori, two tomorrow and three the day after.”
“This afternoon?! So soon?” Tori was surprised.
“Yeah, apparently the word has spread pretty quickly and more requests are coming in by the hour. I’d like to get them over with so that I can focus on tour prep. The ones today and tomorrow are phone ones we can do from here. The other three we need to go into the city for.” Jon explained.
Richie frowned. “How late are those ones going to run?”
“We should be done by late afternoon. Why? Got plans?”
“Kind of. That’s the night of that movie premiere that I wanted to take Tori to. I had thought we could get some dinner first.” Richie stated.
“That should be okay. You can either come with us or meet us there. We should be done in plenty of time.” Jon assured him.
They were just getting up from the table when Richie’s phone rang. Looking at the display he grimaced.
“Which one?” Tori asked.
“Denise.” He answered shortly.
Tori shrugged. “So don’t answer it.” He just looked at her. “What? I’m serious. Your life is none of her business anymore. Maybe if you stop taking her calls she’ll get the message. Besides, if she knows than you can bet others do too and you need to call Ava. She deserves to hear from you first.”
“She’s got a point Richie.” Dorothea commented.
“That one’s enough to make you seriously consider moving to some far off country that doesn’t get phone service!” Tico shuddered.
“Don’t count on her getting the message anytime soon though.” David warned. “That woman could teach stubbornness to a mule. But then she’s dumber than one, so I guess that fits.”
“Not to mention she’s got an ego bigger than Napoleon’s.” Tico added.
“Even bigger than Jon’s” David quipped.
“Hey! I don’t have a big ego.” Jon pouted. “I’m just really good.”
Richie stood amidst the laughter, chuckling himself. “Gee guys, tell me how you really feel…no wait, on second thought don’t. There are young ears present. And I’m off to talk to mine.”
Tori was sitting with Jon in his office going over speaking notes for the interviews when Richie walked in.
“How’d it go?” She asked him.
He smiled. “She was fine. She wants to meet you and she thinks it’s really cool that you’re Uncle Jon’s sister. Says it makes him really her uncle.” Jon smiled.
“And her mother?” Tori asked.
Richie sighed. “She wasn’t quite so enthusiastic. She asked how long this one was going to last, and when was I going to take my daughter’s feelings into consideration and why didn’t I tell Ava before the vultures found out?” He looked at Tori. “Yes dear, you were right and I was wrong, and I promise I’ll listen to you from now on.”
“Yeah, right. I’ll believe that when I see it.” She snorted.
“So what time is this interview?” Richie asked.
Jon glanced at his watch. “In about five minutes.”
Nodding, Richie sat down beside Tori. She looked at him warily. “If you’re going to stay here you have to promise to behave.” She warned him. “I need to concentrate and I don’t need you distracting me.”
“What? Me? I’m just going to sit here and listen.” He assured her innocently.
“Richie, promise me.” She insisted.
“Damn Kidd, what stories have you been telling her?”
“None. She’s a fan remember? As you pointed out at lunch today, she already knows them – except for the brotherhood ones.” Jon chuckled.
“Yeah, and I’m sure that the ones I know are the really tame ones.” Tori laughed. “And I still haven’t heard a promise.”
“Ok, ok, I’ll behave.” Richie pouted. “I can’t believe you don’t trust me.”
“Oh I trust you with a lot of things babe,….but not distracting me or Jon to get a laugh is not one of them.” Tori assured him.
Jon laughed. “She’s got you pegged alright!” Richie just grinned. The phone rang. “Here we go.” Jon warned her as he reached to answer it. After verifying who it was he put it on speaker. “Ok, Tori this is Bob McGregor with the Tribune. Go ahead Bob, we’re ready.”
“Hi Tori, nice to meet you…sort of.” Bob began.
She laughed. “Hi Bob, nice to sort of meet you too.”
“First of all I want to thank you both for doing this. I know you must be bombarded with interview requests by now, and I understand that this is a very personal and private situation. If any of my questions get too personal and you don’t want to answer, just say so.”
Tori looked at Jon and rolled her eyes. He smiled. “Thanks Bob, I appreciate that.”
“Ok, so Tori, tell me a little bit about yourself. Where are you from?”
“I’m from a small town in Ontario, Canada not far from Toronto.” She replied.
“And you were adopted as a baby?”
“Yes, I was.”
“Did you always know you were adopted?”
“Ever since I can remember, yes. I have two older brothers who are my parents’ natural children, and my adoption has always been out in the open.” She explained.
“And what did you know about your biological family?”
“Not much. I knew my parents were not married, but little else. In Ontario, adoption records have always been sealed unless both sides agreed to open it. It’s just been in the last year or so that they have relaxed the rules, particularly focusing on the health records.”
“So how did you find out about the Bongiovis?” Bob asked.
“I was approached by the Children’s Aid Society, who oversees and regulates adoptions in Ontario. They informed me that a member of my biological family had a health problem and needed a kidney transplant. Because of her rare tissue type her best hope was a match within the family, but none of the known family was a match, so they came looking for me. But I didn’t know who they were. I only found out that it was Stephanie when I arrived at the hospital in New York.”
Jon looked surprised.
“So your agreement to help had nothing to do with the fact that it was Jon’s daughter.”
“Nothing whatsoever. All I knew was that a fourteen year old girl needed help. I couldn’t turn my back on that.” She answered.
“And Jon? How did you find out about Tori?” Bob asked.
“When Stephanie got sick and none of us were a match, my parents sat us down to talk about the affair that he’d had many years ago and that he had found out well after the fact that there had been a child. Sorry Tori, I’m not saying you’re old.” He chuckled.
“That’s okay, you’re still older than me.” She retorted.
“Anyway, Dad had tried over the years to find his child, but hadn’t been able to. This time we got lucky.”
“Tori, you said that Jon is older than you. Where do you fit in the Bongiovi clan ?” Bob asked.
“I’m in between Tony and Matt.”
“You both have blue eyes, and obviously have the pipes, but is there anything else you two have in common?”
Jon and Tori looked at each other. Richie nudged Tori and motioned to his face. She shook her head that she didn’t understand. He leaned over to whisper in her ear.
“Apparently we have some similar facial expressions and a few mannerisms, but I think music is probably the strongest link.”
“So are you going to try to have a music career or join Bon Jovi, Tori?” Bob asked.
Tori laughed. “No. I would never mess with Bon Jovi. I’ve been a fan myself since the beginning. They do very well without me.”
“And a career of your own?”
“I don’t have the time or the energy for that. Fifteen to twenty years ago, maybe, but not now.” Tori replied.
“So you’re just going to waste your talent?” Bob was amazed.
“I’m not saying I’ll never sing again – far from it. I sing at home for my own pleasure and for special events, but I’m not looking to make a career out of it.”
“What do you do for a living?”
“I work for my father in a retail store. It’s almost like a general store. He carries a little bit of everything.”
“You’ve been staying in Jersey getting to know the family. Will you be staying or are you heading back to Canada soon?”
Tori reached out to take Richie’s hand. He squeezed it. “I’ll be going home soon. I have obligations there I need to get back to.”
“Any kids or a husband?”
“No kids, just, well, now, I guess ten nieces and nephews, and no I’m not married.” She paused, glancing at Richie who nudged her. “But I do have a man in my life.”
Jon laughed. “It’s a good thing you said that Tori.”
“Why?” Bob asked, curious.
“Let’s just say that her boyfriend is a little possessive.” Jon chuckled. Richie gave him the thumbs up.
“As long as he understands that it goes both ways.” Tori looked pointedly at Richie who grinned and blew her a kiss.
“I take it you know her boyfriend then Jon?” Bob asked.
“Yeah, I do.”
“And you approve?”
“I do, not that I have any say in the matter.”
“May I ask if it’s anyone we know?” Bob pressed.
Tori raised a brow at Richie who nodded. “I’m assuming by that question that you think you already know and are just fishing to see if the rumours are true.”
Bob laughed. “You got me there. So... are the rumours true? Are you dating Richie Sambora?”
“Yes I am. There you go, you got confirmation first.”
“Great, thanks!” They could hear Bob frantically scribbling and flipping pages. “I just have one more question. “Jon, what do you think of the new addition to your family?”
Jon looked at Tori and winked. “I think that we’re very lucky to have her as part of our family and I just wish that we had found her sooner.” Tori smiled.
“Okay, I think that’s it.” Bob stated, much to Tori’s relief. “Thanks again to both of you. I’ll send a copy of the article as soon as my editor approves it.”
“Thanks Bob.” Jon replied.
Hanging up Jon turned to Tori. “Good job.”
“Can I talk now?” Richie interjected.
“Would it stop you if I said no?” Jon asked.
“No.” Richie replied.
“What about if I said no?” Tori asked, curious how he would respond.
Richie grinned. “I have other ways to communicate with you.” He waggled his eyebrows.
She chuckled. “Yes, but don’t forget that words still work best most of the time.” She caught his gaze and held it.
He nodded. “I hear ya sweetheart.”
Jon was frowning, ignoring them for the most part, waiting for a break in their conversation. When it came he looked at Tori. “Did you really not know who we were before you came to New York?”
She shook her head. “I didn’t know until Dorothea walked into my hospital room.”
Jon looked down at his desk doodling on a notepad. Tori watched him, trying to figure out what he was thinking.
Richie figured it out first. “Guilt weighing a little heavy bro?”
Jon grimaced and nodded. “Tori…I can’t begin to tell you how sorry I am. Everyday I’m realizing more and more what an idiot I was.”
“Jon, stop.” Tori interrupted. “It’s in the past. I’ve put it behind me. You should too.”
Jon rose and walked around his desk until he stood in front of her. Pulling her to her feet, he wrapped his arms around her and hugged her tightly. “Your good people Tori. I’m very proud to call you my sister.”
“Thank you Jon.” She blinked back tears and hugged him back.