The next day at the arena, they were getting settled in their dressing rooms, preparing to do the sound check when Jon walked into Richie’s room and handed Tori a radio and earpiece. She took it without a word and set it on the table while she organized the items that Richie would need. Both men breathed a sigh of relief.
“What?” She looked at them. “Expecting a fight?”
“Well….” Jon began.
“I told you I’d wear one, and I will. I still think it’s unnecessary, but if it will make you guys feel better, I can live with it.” She shrugged. “There are going to be a lot of friends and family around tonight…it will make it easier if I can tell security who I know.”
“Sound check!” Obie hollered.
The guys headed for the door. “You coming babe?” Richie asked.
“Yeah. I’ll be there in a minute.”
She finished what she was doing and headed out the door only to turn around to pick up the radio. Hooking it on her belt, she was about to put the earpiece in when Richie’s phone rang. Tori hesitated for a minute, then picked it up. She could tell from the area code that the caller was in L.A., but there was no name displayed and she wasn’t familiar with any of Richie’s contact numbers.
There was silence on the other end.
“Hello?” She repeated.
Again silence. She was about to hang up when she heard a young girl’s voice.
“Is this Tori?”
“Yes it is.” She had a feeling who the voice on the other end belonged to and her stomach clenched in response.
“This is Ava.”
“Hi sweetie. How are you?”
“Fine thank you. How are you?”
“I’m good thanks. Your dad just went down for sound check. Do you need him?”
“Not really. I was just checking – you guys are coming home tomorrow right?”
“Yes. We fly out about 10:30, then have a layover in Chicago…..we should be in L.A. by the time you get out of school.”
“You got Daddy on a morning plane? Wow!”
“Not me, sweetie – you. He can’t wait to get home to see you.”
“I can’t wait to see him either. I’m looking forward to meeting you too.”
“Me too Ava.”
“Daddy really likes you.”
“I really like him too.”
“He says you look a lot like Uncle Jon and that you sing like an angel.”
Tori chuckled. “Well Jon and I both have blue eyes and everyone says we make a lot of the same faces, but you can tell me tomorrow if you think we look alike. As for my singing,.... I don’t know if I’m that good, but I’m having fun.”
“Will you sing for me?”
“Well, I’d better go...oh Tori?”
“Can you make pumpkin pie?”
“Yes. Would you like me to make you one?”
“Sure. You can help me if you like.”
“Absolutely honey. Plan on it.”
“Great! Thanks Tori. See you tomorrow.”
“See you then Ava. Bye.”
Closing the phone, Tori smiled to herself. Suddenly she felt a lot more relaxed about her trip to the coast.
When she reached the stage, Jon frowned at her. “What took you so long?”
“Richie’s phone rang.”
“Who was it?” Richie asked.
“Ava.” She turned to look at him.
The wetness in her eyes had his stomach clenching. “What’s wrong?”
“Nothing. She just wanted to make sure that we were still coming home tomorrow.” She smiled at him, a look of pure happiness on her face. “We’re going to make a pumpkin pie together.”
He grinned and hugged her. “See, I told you there was nothing to worry about.”
“Hey Bela, is your cooking as good as your mom’s?” David asked.
Tori smirked. “Better.”
“Did Richie tell you I’m bringing the family to L.A. for Thanksgiving?”
She laughed. “Bring it on, Shirley.”
“Cooking for large groups doesn’t scare me.”
“Well the idea of sharing my girls with Shirley doesn’t do much for me.” Richie snorted. “Although there will be knives around.”
“Can we get back to work please?!” Obie called from the shadows.
After the sound check, the guys prepared for their interviews and Tori pulled together stage outfits. She was sorting through Richie’s wardrobe and had to snicker.
“What?” He asked.
“You really are colour blind aren’t you?”
“Why do you say that?”
“Everything is black or purple. Taking your ‘King’ title pretty seriously aren’t you?”
He shrugged. “So I like purple, so what?”
“Hey, don’t get all defensive on me. I wasn’t criticizing. You look good in purple. I’d just like to see you in something else once in a while.”
He ducked his head sheepishly. “Sorry. Shirley hassles me about my ‘royal purple fetish’ as he calls it. I didn’t mean to snap at you.” He walked over for a hug and a kiss. “You can see me in something else – or nothing at all – anytime you want.”
“Keep it in your pants Sambora, we got work to do.” Jon commented dryly from the doorway.
“Yeah, yeah, I’m coming.”
Tori couldn’t hold back her snort. Both men gave her disgusted looks – which just made her laugh harder. “Sorry, my mind was in the gutter. Richie’s fault. He sent it there.”
Richie winked. “Hold that thought for later babe.”
Jon started to turn away, paused, and turned back to point a finger at Tori. “You be careful!”
“Aye, aye, Captain.” She saluted him.
“Smartass.” He responded, but his lips were twitching. He looked at Richie. “I see why you two get along so well. You’re both going to drive me crazy.”
“Somebody’s got to make you laugh once in awhile. You’re too intense.” Tori informed him.
“Can we go now? Are we there yet? Are we done yet? I’m hungry.” David whined from the hallway.
Jon looked at Tori and crooked a brow. “Someone’s got to be the adult.”
When the crowd started to arrive, Tori went out to take a look around and keep an eye out for her family. She saw many people that she knew – so many in fact that it became a real pain to wave away security and reassure everyone on the radio that she was fine and that the people calling out to her and coming up and hugging her were friends. Finally, she called a staffer over and instructed him to stand behind her and relay to the rest what was happening.
“Tori!” Turning at the sound of her name she saw Jim, Louise, Michael, Sue, Matt, Peter, and Billy heading towards her.
“Family.” She murmured to her guardian. “Hey!” She hugged them all. “Where’s Aaron, Jenny and Leanne?”
“School night.” Jim reminded her. He glanced around and frowned. “They let you wander around in this crowd alone?”
“Don’t you start with me too Jim! I’m not a child. I’m perfectly capable of looking after myself!” Tori growled. “And no, I’m not alone.” She gestured to the staffer standing by her. “This is Tim. He’s keeping an eye out for me. And both of us are wired.” She showed him the radio and earpiece. “At the first sign of trouble I’d be surrounded by security within about two minutes.” She sighed. “Relax, they take very good care of me.”
“Can we go backstage?” Billy asked.
“Sure, come on. Follow me.” As she started walking, Tim radioed ahead with their movements.
They were just reaching the dressing rooms when Rew hollered down the hallway. “Hey Tori, they want you in the interview room.”
She glanced at her watch. “I thought they were done.”
He shook his head. “Jon and Richie are still in the last one. It’s the local paper and they want to talk to you too. The rest are getting dressed.”
Tori nodded. “Okay, I’ll be right there.” Opening the door to Richie’s dressing room she waved her family in. “This is Richie’s room. You can hang out here.”
Interview finished, they were walking down the hallway towards the dressing rooms, when, after checking that the reporter was gone, Tori smacked Richie on the arm. “That’s why I made you promise to behave the last time you were in the room when I was doing an interview!”
“Ow! What’d I do?” Richie rubbed his arm, and tried not to laugh.
“Some of the ways that Jon and I are alike is that we hum while we get dressed and we hog the covers?!!” She smacked him again.
“Well it’s true!”
“Well he didn’t need to know that!”
“What are you worried about? People won’t be surprised that he knows about sharing covers with you!” Jon grumbled.
Hearing voices, Billy stuck his head out. “Hey guys!”
“Hi Billy.” Richie answered, still snickering. “Ready to see your aunt in action?”
“He’s actually here to watch Lorenza.” Michael commented. Billy’s face went bright red.
“Can’t blame him for that.” Richie responded. Tori stared at him speculatively. “I said watch, not touch.” He quickly assured her. “I prefer curves on my women.” He murmured in her ear.
“Hmmpf!” She retorted. Looking at Billy, she offered. “Do you want to meet Lorenza?”
“Sure. She’s probably down in makeup right now, but we can go find her in a few minutes.”
Richie and Jon greeted the rest of her family.
“You sure do like purple.” Peter commented to Richie. He’d been looking over the wardrobe.
“Yeah. I guess I do.” Richie answered, shooting a look at Tori who bit her lip against a smile.
“Yeah Rich has this royalty fetish. My fault I guess. It’s the whole King of Swing nickname. If I’d known this was going to happen I would have come up with something else.” Jon explained.
While Jon and Richie got dressed, Tori took her family to meet Lorenza – she knew that the teenagers weren’t the only ones interested, and Hedley. On their way back they passed the hair and makeup room.
“Hey Bela!” David called out.
Tori stopped and stuck her head in the door. “Yeah?”
“Does this really go together?” He gestured at his pants and shirt.
“Well, let’s get another opinion.” She waved Sue and Louise in.
“Yeah, that looks good.” Louise assured him.
“Definitely.” Sue added. “Much better than that green paisley shirt you used to wear.”
Tori laughed. “See, I told you!”
“Bela?” Michael asked as they continued down the hall.
“Don’t ask.” Tori just rolled her eyes.
“Honey, help!” Richie met them at the door – which he almost ran into because he was trying to see behind him to untangle his ‘danglies’.
“He looks like a dog chasing its tail.” Billy snickered.
“Honey, stop before you hurt yourself.” Tori laughed and held him still while she untangled him. She glanced at her watch and turned to the boys. “If you guys want to see Hedley, we better get you to your seats.”
She got them settled – the parents decided to watch too, let security know who they were and decided to watch with them. Jacob saw her and winked. She smiled and waved back. During the break she chatted with them briefly and was just about to head backstage when the radio crackled in her ear.
“Tori to the dressing rooms please.”
She was finishing up her conversation when a security guard tapped her on the shoulder.
“I know, I heard it.” She assured him.
The radio crackled again. “Tori..and I quote ‘Get your ass backstage!’ unquote.” The security guards started laughing. Even the techs preparing the stage stopped and looked at her.
She pulled out her radio. “Tell Jon to keep his shirt on, I’m coming!”
“How did you know it was Jon?”
“Richie knows better than to talk to me like that. He doesn’t like sleeping on the couch.”
The guys around her all laughed.
“I’ve got to get backstage. I’ll see you guys after the show.” She assured her family and headed off.
When she joined the group by the dressing rooms she glared at Jon and flipped him off. “Are you satisfied now that I was wearing the radio?”
“How did you know that’s what I was doing?” He smirked.
“Because if you weren’t talking to me like that to get a reaction, then you and I need to have a talk about manners.”
The show went off without a hitch and Tori’s family came backstage to say goodbye.
“Wow Tori, that was fantastic!” Louise told her, giving her a hug.
“My aunt the rockstar!” Matt high-fived her.
“Better than being a groupie I guess.” Jim commented. His wife poked him in the ribs. “Okay, okay….that was really good sis.”
“I guess we’re just her backup band now.” Richie lamented to Jon.
“Naw, you guys get equal billing.” Sue assured him with a wink at Tori.
“Geez, maybe I’d better rethink having her perform with us if she’s going to upstage us.” Jon suggested. Tori snorted.
“Well it was a great show by everyone, but we’ve got a bit of a drive yet tonight and should get going.” Michael cut the party short.
“You’re not coming to the after party?” Tori asked.
Michael shook his head. “We’ve got to get home and make sure Leanne didn’t burn down the house.”
“We’ve got to get going too.” Jim added. “Aaron and Jenny can only spend so much time together before they try and kill each other.”
“Okay. Have a safe drive and I’ll see you all at Christmas.” Tori hugged them all goodbye.
“Thanks for having us.” Michael shook Jon’s hand.
“No problem. You’re welcome anytime.” Jon assured them, shaking hands with the men and hugging the women.
“Have a safe trip to L.A.” Sue and Louise hugged Richie.
“Don’t take any crap from her.” Michael advised Richie, shaking his hand.
Richie laughed. “I like all my parts just where they are thanks.”
“But if you give her the upper hand she’ll never give it up.” Jim warned him.
“Hey! Quit making me out to be a domineering bitch!” Tori protested.
“Bitch? No. Domineering? Well you try.” Jim retorted.
Richie laughed and hugged her close. “But not always, right baby?” He murmured in her ear. Tori blushed.
The after party was a quiet affair. Everyone was leaving in the morning to head home, so no one stayed late.
The next morning Tori was showered and dressed before she was able to bully a grumbling Richie out of bed, mumbling something about being hooked up with another damn Bongiovi morning person. By the time he’d showered and shaved, she had their bags packed.
The flight was a real luxury for Tori. Flying first class was still a novelty for her. Richie stretched out his long legs and watched in amusement as she explored everything within reach and read about the services that were available to her. After the stop in Chicago, Richie dozed off, but Tori couldn’t. The closer they got to L.A., the more nervous she got – although it wasn’t as bad as it would have been if she hadn’t talked to Ava on the phone. She tried to sit still and not disturb Richie, and she thought she had been successful until he spoke.
“Relax angel. Everything’s going to be fine.”
“I’m sorry, did I wake you?”
“No, I could feel your nervous energy building.”
She was amazed that he was so in tune with her feelings. She blew out a breath. “I can’t help it.”
He took her hand and laced their fingers tightly together. Raising her hand he kissed it. “Just hang on tight. We’ll get you through this.”
The hectic pace of LAX and the view out the car window distracted Tori until they reached Richie’s house. The gate opened onto a long circular driveway. The car stopped in front of the main door of the massive two storey Mexican influenced structure.
“Niiiice.” Tori murmured approvingly, gazing around at the house and grounds.
“Glad you like it. There’s a pool at the back. I’ll warn you I haven’t done much in the way of decorating inside. I’ve been meaning to hire a decorator but I haven’t gotten around to it. So if you feel the urge, be my guest.”
Paying the driver, Richie picked up their bags himself and urged her towards the house. Opening the door, he motioned her in and followed. Dropping the bags he pulled her into his arms.
“Finally, I have you on my turf, in my house…and very soon my bed.” He growled.
She chuckled. “Don’t I even get to see the house first?”
“Sure. You can see everything between the front door and my bedroom.” He bent to nuzzle her neck.
“I don’t see much of a resemblance.” A voice stated from behind them.
Richie froze. Tori went rigid. Sighing, Richie straightened and released her. They both turned towards the voice.
“You must be Tori.”
Tori nodded. “Hello Heather.”
“What are you doing here Heather?” Richie asked in a neutral voice.
“Ava is coming here to spend Thanksgiving with you and the new woman in your life. Did you think I was going to let that happen without me meeting her first? Not likely. I don’t care if she is Jon’s sister. Besides, there’s a few things I need to talk to you about.” She turned to Tori with a condescending smile. “You don’t mind if I have a few private words with my daughter’s father, do you Tori?” She made a shooing gesture with her hand.
When Richie didn’t say anything Tori forced a smile. “Not at all. By the way could you leave me a list of any house rules that you have for Ava?”
“Why?” Richie asked.
“Because I want to make sure we keep things consistent and not pit the two of you against each other. That’s not fair to Ava. I know you like to spoil her because of the amount of time you’re away from her, but throwing the rules out the window when she’s with you and making her mother the bad guy isn’t fair to Heather, anymore than Heather saying or doing things to make you the bad guy is fair to you.” Both parents stared at her, stunned.
She turned to leave, paused, and turned back. “Heather, I understand that you have issues regarding Ava that you need to speak to Richie about, but I think that there’s something you need to understand. I love Richie and he loves me. That means that I’m not going anywhere anytime soon. I would really like it if you and I could find a way to – at the very least – coexist peacefully…for everyone’s sake, but mostly for Ava’s.” She glanced at Richie. “I’m going to go explore the house.”
He nodded, his dark eyes twinkling. “Make yourself at home angel. I’ll join you in a few minutes.”
As she walked away from them, Tori blew out a deep breath, hoping that she’d handled that right. Both Jon and Dorothea had talked to her about Heather and the best ways to deal with her. “Show no fear” was the main theme.
Heather watched Tori walk away and Richie watched the expressions passing over his ex-wife’s face. He could tell that as much as Heather wanted to dislike Tori she couldn’t. Maybe because she lived in a world of sycophants, she respected anyone who would stand up to her.
“Hmpf! I guess she really is a Bongiovi.”
“Mmmmhmmm. In more ways than one.” Richie agreed. “And don’t ever talk to her like that again. She’s not one of your lackeys and she hasn’t done anything to earn your attitude.”
Her eyebrows rose. “You’re really serious about her.”
He nodded. “Yes I am. I love her. So what did you want to talk to me about?”
Twenty minutes later – ten of which he spent searching the house he finally found her in the kitchen eating tortillas chips and guacamole with Rosa, his cook.
“I see you’ve met the heart of my household.” He bent down to kiss Rosa’s cheek. “Hola, Rosa. It’s good to see you.”
“Hola, Mister Richie. It’s good to have you home. And you brought me this bella senorita to feed.”
He winked at Tori. “I’m guessing you like Mexican food.”
“Nope. I love it! It’s right up there at the top of my list. Second only to Italian.”
Richie snorted. “Italian. There’s a surprise.”
Tori wrinkled her nose at him.
“Ai! You look just like Mister Jon when you do that!” Rosa chortled. “So for dinner to night we have Mexican, yes? Some fajitas, tostados, quesadilla, arroz con pollo.”
“Rosa stop, you’re making me drool!” Tori licked her lips in anticipation. “Could we have fried ice cream?”
“Si! Por supuesto (naturally)! With chocolate or raspberry sauce?”
“Chocolate.” Richie answered before Tori could. “I’ve been told women will always pick chocolate.” Tori laughed – but agreed.
“And will Miss Ava be joining us tonight?” Rosa asked.
“No, not until tomorrow.” Richie answered.
“Why not?” Tori asked. “I thought she was coming today.”
“She has school tomorrow.”
“So? We could have taken her.”
“That’s what I said, but Heather insisted that she stay there tonight. I’ll pick her up after school tomorrow.”
“Well, then I hope she brings extra clothes for school. We may just keep her an extra day.” When Richie grinned at her, she shrugged. “Two can play that game. Ava’s going to be upset for no good reason. She was expecting to see you tonight. She shouldn’t be made to pay the price because Heather’s pissed at you – or me. You will get your time with your daughter - one way or another.” Thanking Rosa for the snack and the conversation she swung off the stool she was sitting on and linked her arm through Richie’s. “So come on, show me the rest of your house.”
Richie looked back over Tori’s head at Rosa to see her smile and give him the thumbs up. He smiled and winked.
They were in the studio when Richie ran out of patience. “Ok, Tori spill it.”
She looked up from the piano she was running her hand across. “Spill what?”
“Whatever it is that’s bugging you. If I had to guess, I’d say it has something to do with Heather….and possibly me.”
“What makes you think something’s bugging me? And what makes you think it has anything to do with you?” Heather was a given.
“Are you saying I’m wrong?”
“No, I’m just curious as to why you think that.”
“The colour and look in your eyes tells me something’s bugging you. The distance you’re keeping between us and the fact that you’re quieter than normal makes me think it has something to do with me.” He explained.
She stared at him. “I think you need to get your testosterone level checked.”
His brows rose. “Are you doubting my masculinity darlin’?”
“Generally no, but no man pays that close attention – to anything. Except maybe sports.”
He shrugged. “I’ve learned that it’s in my best interest to pay attention. So what’s the problem?”
She hesitated. “Does she have the run of your house?”
“Heather? No. The staff knew we were coming home this afternoon, and they thought that she was dropping Ava off. Plus,….well you saw what she can be like. Unless I’m away, they tend to leave dealing with her to me.”
“I can understand that.” She paused. “I just hope you help them out more than you did me.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean, she talked to me like I was some low life not even worthy of common courtesy, and you never said a word. Do you realize that your silence condones her behaviour? It also tells her that I mean nothing to you.”
“You know better than that. And so does she. I did call her on the way she spoke to you. But honestly? I wanted to see how you would handle her. You were right when you told her that the two of you are going to have to find a way to co-exist. I will help you all I can, but I may not always be around to referee. You have such a flair for dealing with all of us, I wanted to see what would happen.”
She grimaced. “How badly did I screw up?”
He grinned. “You were perfect! You took her side on a running issue between us – she’s been bitching at me that I spoil Ava and don’t make her live by the rules we agreed on when we lived together. So she knows you aren’t always going to take my side. That and your comment about her badmouthing me shows that Ava is your main concern, not either one of us, and she can’t argue with you about that. Then you let her know that you were not impressed by her celebrity and would not be disrespected or scared off by her. Believe it or not, she respects that. I couldn’t have scripted it better myself. There was nothing left for me to do but confirm what you’d already told her about your place in my life.”
“I hope you’re right. I really want us to get along. I don’t expect us to be the best of friends, but for Ava’s sake I hope we can at least be civil.”
“I hope so too.” He gave her a speculative look. “So, just out of curiosity….when were you going to tell me what was bothering you?”
“When I had figured out a way to say it without it coming off as bitchy or insecure.” She admitted. “I’ve never been in a situation like this. You have a history and a daughter together. I have no doubts about your feelings, but….” She trailed off.
“You didn’t want Heather to have any either.” He finished for her.
“See, it sounds bitchy.”
“No it doesn’t. Possessive maybe, but not bitchy.” He grinned. “Shall we continue the tour? I haven’t shown you the upstairs yet.” He crooked his arm towards her.
She chuckled and slid her arm through his. “By all means. Lead on.”