On her fifth day in the hospital, John Sr. showed up alone. Tori didn’t know if she should ask where Carol was or if John wanted to speak to her alone, so she decided to keep quiet and see what happened. She didn’t have long to wait. Ten minutes later Carol came in the door with a man on either side. One looked vaguely familiar and suddenly Tori realized it was Matt. She figured the other man must be Tony. If the situation had been different she would have laughed. They looked a little nervous and a little mutinous as if they were little boys being forced to do something by their mother. They were easily twice her size, but it was clear that Mom was still in charge.
“Tori, I’d like you to meet my two youngest sons, Anthony and Matthew. Boys, this is your sister Victoria.” Carol stated firmly.
No one was more surprised by the introduction than Tori. She glanced quickly at John, who smiled and winked.
“Hi.” She ventured tentatively.
“Hi.” Tony muttered. Matt didn’t respond at all.
At a look from their mother, the men sighed, pulled up chairs and sat down. The longer they sat there, silent and sullen, the more Tori felt her temper rising. She tried to keep it under control by ignoring them and chatting with their parents, but when Matt looked at Tony and rolled his eyes over a childhood story she was telling, she’d had enough.
“I’m sorry Carol. I appreciate what you’re trying to do here, but it’s not working.” She turned to her ‘brothers’. “Look, I understand that this situation is has been hard on you. It’s hasn’t been easy for me either. You’re not the only ones whose life has been disrupted here. If you don’t want to get to know me, fine. That is your prerogative. It disappoints me because, like it or not, we are blood relatives, and I would like to get to know you. But, you know what? I already have two brothers who want to be a part of my life, so I’m not going to bemoan two – or three - more who don’t. I would, however, appreciate a little common courtesy. If you can’t give me that and instead insist on sitting there rolling your eyes and snickering like schoolboys, then I’m going to ask you to leave.”
Four pairs of eyes stared at her, stunned. Then Carol chuckled. “Definitely a Bongiovi!”
Tori didn’t respond and never took her eyes off of Matt and Tony who looked a little uncomfortable. “Sorry.” They mumbled sheepishly.
After that things went much more smoothly. Tori was describing places she’d visited in the U.S. and Europe, and even Matt and Tony got caught up in the discussion, talking about their favorite places.
That night she called Karin and filled her in on how things were going. “John and Carol have been great, and I feel very comfortable with them. The boys however….they were just acting like children and I snapped!”
“Good for you. They needed to understand that they’re not the only ones whose life has been turned upside down here. You gave up a kidney for crying out loud! For someone you’ve never met just to give her a chance at a full life. And they don’t want to know the person who is capable of that kind of selflessness?! They’re lucky it wasn’t me. I wouldn’t have been so nice about it. Instead of taking their feelings about the situation out on you, they should be kissing your ass for helping their niece.” Karin insisted indignantly. “And what about Jon? Have you seen him yet?”
“Nope.” Was the answer.
“Well, hell! He should have been the first one there. I always thought he seemed like a decent guy, but now I don’t know.” Karin sighed. “So what’s next?”
“I’m hoping to get out of here in a couple of days, and frankly, I can’t wait to get home. I’ve about had enough of all of this. I just want some space to rest and relax and get some sort of perspective on everything.” Tori responded. “I just want things back to normal.”
“Will it ever be normal again?” Karin asked.
“That’s what worries me the most.” Tori admitted.
The next morning Tori woke to find an empty chair instead of Richie. The depth of her disappointment surprised her. She hadn’t realized how much she looked forward to their morning visits. He did show up in the afternoon though. Tori started to smile when she saw him in the doorway until she saw his face. He looked tired and worn and she could see the pain and sadness in his eyes.
“Keeping rockstar hours today?” She quipped trying to tease a smile out of him. It worked – sort of, but only briefly. “Or,…. something more serious?” She didn’t want to pry – it was none of her business – but seeing this normally cheerful and laughing man looking anything but tugged at her heart.
Sitting down he sighed and rubbed a hand over his face. “Yeah.”
Instinctively she held out her hand to him and he took it without hesitation. “Is it my turn to cheer you up?”
“Darlin’ just seeing you cheers me up.” He grinned.
She shook her head at him. “You’re dangerous.”
He looked surprised. “Me? Why?”
“You’re waaay too smooth. You could really turn a girl’s head with lines like that – if she was naïve enough to believe them.” She chuckled.
He stared at her for a long moment. “What if it wasn’t a line?” He asked quietly.
She was sure her heart had stopped and she had to remind herself to breath. He couldn’t possibly mean that. “It has to be.”
“Why?” He frowned slightly.
“Because you haven’t known me long enough for it not to be.” She answered.
Before he could respond a nurse came into the room. “Ok Miss Adams, up and at ‘em” She snickered at her own joke. “If you want to get out of here in a couple days you need to get on your feet and get moving.” Seeing Richie sitting there she nodded in approval. “Good. You can help her. Walk her down to the end of the hallway and back.”
Throwing back the blankets Tori swung her legs over the side of the bed. She’d been up for small trips – to the bathroom, the window, that sort of thing, but this was her first real test of strength. Richie helped her to stand, and then stayed close in case she needed help. Tightening the tie on her robe, she took a deep breath and walked slowly out the door – she was still weak as a kitten.
Suddenly she stumbled a bit. “Richie!” She grabbed for the wall and felt his strong arm slide around her waist to support her.
“I’m right here honey. I’ve got you. I won’t let you fall.” He assured her. As they moved slowly down the hallway he talked to distract her from the weakness he could see she hated. “I hear you set Tony and Matt straight yesterday.”
She grimaced. “Yeah. I probably shouldn’t have done that, but they pissed me off. Sitting there acting like children, like they’re the only ones who……ah, never mind. I’m supposed to be cheering you up not dumping my issues on you.”
He stopped and with his free hand lifted her chin until her eyes met his. “I want you to talk to me about anything and everything. I know that all of this can’t be easy on you either, and I don’t imagine that you have a lot of objective people that you can talk to. Everybody needs a shoulder to lean on sometimes, even if it’s just to vent. I’ve got broad shoulders, I can take it.” He ignored her comment about cheering him up.
She searched his eyes for a moment and saw sincerity, and warmth amid the sadness that shadowed the velvety brown. The idea that despite everything he had been dealing with in his own life for the past year or so, he would want to help her, that he cared about her feelings, flabbergasted her.
Impulsively she raised up on tiptoe and kissed his cheek. “Thank you.” She murmured.
“Anytime darlin’” He grinned. They continued down the hallway.
Entering her room they found Dorothea standing there. Hearing them she spun towards the door.
“There you are!” She exclaimed. “Been for a walk? How did that go?”
“Aside from needing Richie’s strong arm to keep me from ending up on the floor at one point, it was fine.” Tori admitted wryly.
Dorothea smiled. “Yeah, Richie’s a tower of strength. We all depend on him.” He snorted and she winked at him. “I wanted to talk to you about your plans for when you get out of here. You’re looking at about six weeks recovery time right?” Tori nodded warily. “I would like you to come and stay with us for the duration.” Seeing the look on Tori’s face, she rushed on. “If you’re not comfortable staying in the house you can stay in the guest house. You’ll have as much privacy as you want. We’re having a nurse come to check on Steph so she can easily check on you too.” She paused. “I want us all to have a chance to get to know each other.”
Sitting on the bed, Tori sighed. “I appreciate the offer Dorothea, but I don’t think that’s a good idea. I think it’s best if I just go on home and recuperate there.”
Dorothea looked at her for a long moment, her disappointment and suspicion obvious. “Why?”
“I just think it’s best for everyone.” Tori replied. She really didn’t want to get into it with her.
But Dorothea wasn’t giving up that easily. “You must have a reason for feeling that way. Please tell me what it is.”
“You might as well tell her darlin’. I can guarantee she won’t give up until you do.” Richie assured her. Interpreting the glance Tori threw him correctly his mouth twisted into a wry smile. “Yes, I’ve been there, done that and broke under the interrogation.”
Dorothea made a face at him, then turned back to Tori and waited.
Finally, Tori answered, choosing her words carefully. “Well, for starters, I didn’t bring enough clothes with me. Also, I don’t think my health insurance will cover me for that….and I don’t think Jon would want me there.” She finished quietly.
“We can easily get you clothes – either new ones or your parents can send you some. Health insurance isn’t necessary, everything will be covered.” Dorothea frowned. “As for Jon…what makes you think he wouldn’t want you there? What has he said to you to make you think that?”
“Not a damn thing.” Tori replied trying to keep the bitterness out of her voice.
“Then why do you think he wouldn’t want you to stay with us for awhile?” She was confused.
Tori really didn’t want to get into this. She looked at Richie for help, but he just shook his head. “Tell her.” He urged softly.
“But….” She began
“No, buts.” He interrupted her. “Whatever happens is on him not you. You haven’t done anything wrong.”
“What’s going on?” Dorothea demanded looking back and forth between the two of them. “What has Jon done?”
Tori closed her eyes and let out a deep breath. Opening her eyes she met Dorothea’s. “Jon hasn’t said or done anything. I haven’t seen him.”
Dorothea frowned. “What do you mean you haven’t seen him?”
“I mean, that I haven’t seen him. The last time I was in the same room as Jon it was at the Air Canada Centre at the last concert they did in Toronto.” Tori explained in a tired voice.
“What?! You mean he hasn’t come to see you since you’ve been here?” Dorothea was astounded and Tori could sense the anger building in the other woman. “So you haven’t met the kids then either.” Tori shook her head. “Damn him!” She stormed towards the door.
“Dorothea!” Tori called after her. Dorothea stopped. “Please don’t push him into something he’s not ready for. I had enough of that with his brothers.”
“He’s being a stubborn ass!” Dorothea responded. “It’s my duty as his wife to point that out to him!” Turning on her heel she went to find her husband.
“Leave a strip for me!” Richie called
“No guarantees!” Came floating back.
Richie chuckled, but sobered when he saw Tori’s face. “Come on honey, you’d better lie down and have a nap. You look tired out. And don’t worry about Jon. He’s a big boy and he’s brought it on himself. And she’s right. He needs to pull his head out of his ass. I wanted to um…make him aware of that…myself, but I figured you had enough on your plate right now, without dealing with him when he’s in a mood. Besides, Dot does it so much better!”
“I never meant to cause so much upset for everyone.” Her eyes filled with tears.
He sat on the edge of the bed and wrapped his arms around her. “Hey! You didn’t cause anything. You’re just as much a victim of circumstance here as anyone, and more than some.” He kissed her forehead. “Get some rest. You’ll feel better after a nap.”
She fell asleep with her head on his shoulder, his arms warm bands holding her safe, and his heart beating a rhythmic tattoo in her ear.
When she opened her eyes again she found herself looking into a pair of blue eyes very much like her own – and very close.
“Mommy says you’re our aunt.” The owner of those eyes stated.
Blinking and leaning back a bit to see him better, Tori struggled to shake her sleep addled wits into place. “Jake?” She guessed. The little boy nodded. She glanced around the room, but it was empty. “Did you sneak out?” She smiled at him.
He nodded again. “Mommy and Daddy are fighting. Mommy says that you’re family. Daddy says that you’re just Grandpa’s mistake. Then Mommy said well, that mistake saved Stephie’s life.”
Tori didn’t realize how badly she’d wanted to believe the excuses she’d made for him not coming to see her until they were proven wrong by a few words from a five year old. The pain cut deep and took her breath away. She couldn’t speak, but that was ok, she had no idea what to say anyway.
“Jake!” A male voice called from the hallway.
“That’s Jesse.” Her visitor informed her.
A minute later, the twelve year old appeared in the doorway. “There you are! Dad told you to stay in Steph’s room.” He scolded his brother.
“Mommy told me I could come see Aunt Tori!” Jake defended himself.
“Not by yourself!” Jesse retorted.
“Well, Uncle Richie was here when I came in, but he got a phone call and had to leave. He told me to stay here until she woke up. So I did. She just woke up.” Jake told his brother.
Tori was thankful for the chance to get herself under control again. She was even able to smile at the bickering between the brothers.
Jesse came closer and looked at her with curiosity. “Hi, I’m Jesse.” He stuck out his hand and she shook it.
“Nice to meet you Jesse. I’m Tori.” She responded, amused at his formality.
Tilting his head he gave her a considering look. “I guess you do look a little bit like Dad.”
“Naw, she’s much prettier than your Dad.” Came from the doorway.
Turning, Tori smiled at the vision that greeted her. Richie was standing there with a toddler on his hip. As he walked closer and she got a look at his eyes her smile faded. The shadows were back and even darker than before.
“Richie?” She sat up, concerned.
“This little guy is Romeo.” He interrupted her. “Romeo, this is your Aunt Tori.”
“Hey little man.” She grinned. “Nice to meet you.”
“Hi.” Romeo smiled shyly and buried his face in Richie’s neck.
Holding out his free hand to her Richie gestured. “Come on. It’s time you met Stephanie.”
Taking his hand she stood. He didn’t release her, just tugged her gently towards the door. “Ok boys, lead the way.” Following them more slowly they headed down the hallway.
Dorothea met them at the door, having been warned by Jesse and Jake that they were coming. Taking Romeo from Richie she waved them in. “Hi, have a seat.”
Forcing herself not to look around the room she headed for the chair next to the bed. Sitting, she leaned towards the girl laying there. While Jake looked like his dad and Jesse and Romeo took after Dorothea, Stephanie was a mixture of both. Jon’s eyes, Dorothea’s hair and face,…..and Jon’s smile.
“Hi, Aunt Tori. How are you feeling?” She asked.
Smiling back at her Tori replied. “I’m doing very well thanks. How are you feeling?”
The girl shrugged. “Ok, I guess, I’m still a little sore, and weak, but it’s better than before.” She paused. “Thank you.”
“You’re welcome. And I know what you mean about being weak. I’m not sure I could have even made it in here without Richie to lean on.” Tori admitted. “But I’m bored, and can hardly wait to get out of here!”
“Me too!” Stephanie exclaimed. “Mom says that you might come and stay with us for awhile.”
“Oh, I don’t know about that sweetie. I need to get home.” Tori hedged.
“Do you have kids?” Stephanie asked. “Or a husband or boyfriend waiting for you?”
“No, I don’t.” Tori answered her honestly.
“Then you can rest at our place. And Uncle Richie will be there to help you get around.” Stephanie insisted. “And we can have some time to talk. Oh please say you’ll come!”
“We’ll see.” Was all that Tori would commit to.
“She’s as persistent as her mother.” Richie murmured in her ear. “And usually gets her way as well.”
“And you just fall in with her plans and do her bidding?” She asked quietly.
“Not always, but in this case…most willingly darlin’.” He grinned. She snorted.
They talked for a few more minutes, until she saw Stephanie yawn.
“Ok, time for both of us to get some rest I think.” Tori stood, gripping Richie’s arm for support until she was upright.
“Will I see you tomorrow?” Steph asked. “Maybe we could walk the hall together.”
“Sure sweetie, sounds like a plan.” Tori responded with a smile. “Sleep tight.”
Arriving back in her room she discovered her parents there. They had been sightseeing a little bit that afternoon, and were just stopping in to say goodnight. After greeting Richie, they gave both he and Tori a rundown on where they’d been. Richie suggested a few other places they might like, then bid them goodnight.
“So what’s been happening here today?” Her mother asked. When Tori finished relating everything her mother was astonished. “Wow, sounds like your day was every bit as eventful as ours!”
“Sounds like the kids at least are willing to accept you.” Her father commented.
“Yeah, but I don’t think their father is.” Tori responded.