Thursday, April 30, 2009

Chapter 270

A couple days later, Tori rushed into the studio. “Sorry I’m late. Ava fell and scraped her knee and Stevie slept late and threw his feeding schedule off.” She set Stevie’s carrier on a chair behind Shanks.

Richie frowned. “Is Bean okay?” He bent to kiss her, inhaled and barely stifled a groan. Teeth clenched, he moved to kiss his son.

“Yeah, she’s fine. Just a scrape.” She assured him as she set down the diaper bag and moved into the recording room to greet the guys.

Jon noticed Richie’s tension, but couldn’t see the cause of it – other than his wife’s proximity.

Tori walked over to where Jon was looking over his notes for the song they were working on. He handed her the lyrics. David joined them and stood reading over her shoulder. Suddenly she felt his nose in her neck.

“Damn Bela! You smell good enough to eat! What is that? Vanilla?”

She pushed him away. “We need to either get Karin out here or finish this album so that you can get home. You need to get laid!” Jon looked at Richie who didn’t look up from the guitar he was tuning. Tori shook her head. “Men!”

Jon waited until David had moved away before shifting closer and lowering his voice. “Yes he is and so is Richie. Don’t forget that.”

She frowned. “What are you talking about?”

“Richie and you. He’s a man. You’re a woman. His woman. His wife. And he loves you very much.”

“Yeah, and your point?”

“Four and half months is a long time to be.......hungry. In fact, it can be downright painful. That’s all I’m going to say. Just think about it.”

His wording and the insinuation in his tone following on the heels of David’s comments told Tori what he was talking about. She frowned. Had it really been that long? She looked over at Richie. Why hasn’t he said anything? It didn’t take much thought to find the answer to that one. He was waiting for her. He didn’t want to push her.

“Okay. Let’s get back to work.” Jon got everyone’s attention.

Tori found herself having to fight to focus on the job at hand. Everytime they stopped her thoughts turned to Richie.

“Tori, let’s try that again, but this time take it up half a step in the third chorus.” Jon instructed. When she didn’t respond he glanced over to see her staring in Richie’s direction. “Tori. TORI!”

She jerked. “What? Sorry. Up half a step in the third chorus. Got it.”

Back at the house, they ate dinner, then sprawled around the livingroom, to either watch T.V. or play a game. Ava, Tori, Hugh and David were playing Monopoly. David rolled the dice, moved his piece and groaned as Ava giggled.“Rich I think I know what Ava’s going to be when she grows up. A real estate tycoon. She’s cleaning me out!”

“You owe me $1500, Uncle Shirley. Pay up.” Ava held out her hand. When he didn’t hand over the money immediately, she thumbed her nose and put on a Jersey accent. “Am I goin to hafta send the boys ‘round to see ya?”

They all burst out laughing. Richie reached out to tug on her ponytail. “Somebody’s been watching too many movies.”

Ava shrugged. Tori snorted. “Growing up around you guys, what do you expect?”

After Ava went to bed, Tori fed Stevie and handed him to Richie. “The bassinet’s beside your chair if you want to lay him down.”

Richie smiled down into his son’s eyes. “Hi Peanut. You’re awake! You going to hang out with Daddy and your uncles for a bit?”

Tori smiled, went into the kitchen to get a drink, then slipped outside to sit in a lounge chair and think. Now that Jon had opened her eyes, a lot of things that had happened over the last few weeks took on a different meaning. The changes in Richie’s behaviour had been slight, but now loomed large in her mind. He still kissed her hello and goodbye, good morning and good night, but he didn’t prolong the physical contact like he used to. While he would share the couch with her, there was no cuddling to watch T.V. At night he would still hold her, but he’d taken to coming to bed after she was asleep, and would move away as soon as he woke up. She’d chalked it up to the guys being there and them sitting up late talking, and in the morning they were usually awakened by the baby, so she had to get up immediately too, but now she wasn’t so sure. In fact, she’d been so preoccupied with the baby and working through her own feelings over the whole fiasco, that she really hadn’t given much consideration to his feelings – at least in regards to his physical needs. Part of her felt guilty about that, but part of her – the larger part – argued that she wasn’t ready. If it had been any other man, she might have been, but not with him. Not.... with..... him. Their connection was too strong, too overwhelming. When they made love she lost all control. There was no him or her, just them. Their joined bodies, joined souls. It had been that way from the very beginning. But that kind of intimacy takes a huge amount of trust and she just didn’t have that right now. It was slowly getting better, but she wasn’t ready to take that leap. She was too scared. Scared of letting him get that close again. Scared of getting hurt again.

Sipping her drink, she sighed, rose and walked around the back yard. Was it fair to make Richie suffer because she wasn’t ready? Would denying him only push him to look elsewhere to fulfil his needs? Her eyes filled at the thought. The physical part of their relationship had always been so wonderful, so beautiful, so incredibly satisfying. And she was terrified that they’d never be able to get that back. That the closeness they’d shared, that she’d never felt with anyone else was gone forever.

She blew out a hiccupping breath and stared up at the stars. The only way to find out was to try, but she wasn’t sure she had the courage. But she knew she’d lose him if she didn’t. What happened to my nice, happy life? Other people manage to meet someone, fall in love, get married, have children and live happily ever after without their life turning into a soap opera, why can’t I? Why can’t things be like they used to be?

Closing her eyes, she took a deep breath and struggled to pull herself together. Enough with the pity party Tori! It’s time to fight. For your man, for your family, for your happiness. You knew this wasn’t going to be easy. But nothing good ever is. You can’t expect him to do all the work. You’ve got to meet him halfway. Time to step up to the plate. With new determination, she began to think of her options. If she couldn’t go the full distance right away, she at least needed to take a step or two towards the goal.

“Angel? Are you okay?”

At the sound of Richie’s voice, she quickly wiped away her tears before turning to face him. “Yeah, I’m fine.”

“You sure?” His dark eyes were shadowed with concern.

She nodded and managed a smile. “Yeah, I’m sure.” She hugged him briefly, then stepped away. “Just enjoying the night and thinking. Did you need something?” She inwardly grimaced at her own words.

He shook his head. “No, I just wondered where you’d gone.”

“I just needed a little ‘me’ time. And you guys didn’t need me around disrupting Peanut’s induction into the club.”

“What club?”

“The Jovi men’s club.”

He chuckled. “Most of that comes later...around puberty.”

She shook her head. “I shudder at the thought. Warn me when those lessons are going to start so that I can make sure that Ava and I are far, far away.” She yawned. “I think I’m going to go up to bed.”

“Okay. I’ll be up in a bit.”

She nodded. “I’ll take Peanut with me.”

Monday, April 27, 2009

Chapter 269

It took about five more tries and two diaper changes before Jon and John got the sound they were looking for.

“Okay. That was great! That was exactly what we needed!” Shanks exclaimed. “Nice job Tori. Now, let’s go back to the others.”

Tori sighed in relief when they finally called it quits for the day. She’d discovered that making an album wasn’t all glitz and glamour and fun. It was hard work. And making one with Jon made her want to scream in frustration.....or kill him.

“Alright, so tomorrow we’ll start at nine and try and get through two or three more.” Jon instructed. “Tori, will that work with Stevie’s feeding schedule?”

Her brows rose. “Whoa, wait a minute. I agreed to come down here today, but I can’t just drop everything and spend all day here.”

He frowned. “Why not? Don’t you want to help?”

David took one look at her eyes and motioned to Shanks. “Back away slowly. You don’t want to get caught in the crossfire.”

“Because I have two children to look after! Ava would be bored to death sitting here all day and I can’t just leave her at home and expect Rosa to look after her all the time. And I’m sure the studio doesn’t want a baby around here all day either.” Shanks wisely kept quiet. “If you wanted me to participate, you should have told me ahead of time so that I could make arrangements for the children, not just drop it in on me at the last minute!”

“Don’t you want us to put out the best album we possibly can?” Jon tried a different tack and appealed to the fan in her.

Tori snorted. “Nice try, but that shit won’t wash with me. You’ve put out plenty of great albums without any help from me.”

“Notice she doesn’t say how many, even though she knows exactly how many studio albums we’ve put out.” David commented.

“Which ones didn’t she like?” Shanks asked.

“Oh it’s not that she doesn’t like them, it’s just that she wouldn’t call all of them great.”

“Okay, so which ones doesn’t she consider great?”

David sighed. “Aside from This Left, she won’t say. Says she doesn’t want to hurt our feelings.” Shanks chuckled and refocused on the arguement taking place in front of them in time to see Jon turn to Richie.

“Help me out here man. Explain to her how important this is. And it’s only for a few days.”

“Yes Richie, do speak up. They’re your children too. Do you want them raised by staff or by us? And I don’t care how long it is. I’m not abandoning my children!”

Shanks winced. “When she arrived today I envied Richie his family. Now I’m not so sure.” He watched the three combatants – well two combatants and the one caught between them. “I never thought I’d see someone stand up to Jon like that.”

David snickered. “There’s only two who dare – aside from his parents. His wife...and Tori. You’re witnessing Bongiovi stubbornness butting heads.”

Richie glanced from his wife to his brother-in-law and back and tried to figure out a way to get out of this without one of them being pissed off at him. “Sorry angel, you’re so beautiful when you’re fighting for your children I got distracted.” He waited and hoped he’d get the reaction he was trying for. She stared at him incredulously for a moment, then her lips twitched and she laughed, easing the tension in the room. Jon rolled his eyes. Tico and Hugh smiled. David ran a hand over his forehead wiping off imaginary sweat. Richie tried to find a solution to the problem. “Of course I want them raised by us. I also know that you would never forgive yourself if this album doesn’t reach it’s full potential when you could have helped. Is there some middle ground here? Someway that you can help with the album and be comfortable that the kids are being taken care of?” Jon and Tori frowned identical frowns. Richie took a deep breath. “What about you coming down here for just a few hours a day, say in the afternoon? We could work on the instrumental tracks in the morning and the vocal tracks when you get here in the afternoon. That way you could spend the bulk of the day with Ava and still help here.” He didn’t suggest that they take Ava back to her mother’s. That wasn’t an option for him and he knew it wouldn’t be for Tori either.

“And Stevie?”

At that point Shanks felt it was safe to step in. “Bring him with you. Believe it or not, it wouldn’t be the first time I’ve worked with an artist’s infant close by.” His lips twitched. “The biggest challenge will be keeping Mandy at the front desk instead of back here cooing at him. And he cries in key.” That had them all laughing.

“Well? What do you think?” Richie asked the siblings.

Jon sighed. “I guess we can make that work.”

“Angel? What about you? You know what’s best for the kids. Will it work?”

Tori thought about it for a long minute. “Okay. I can live with that for a few days.”

“Nice job.” Shanks murmured to Richie as they were all getting ready to leave. “Do you have to play mediator often?”

“Naw, they get along pretty well usually. But you know what he’s like about the music and she won’t let him order her life. Angel hang on. I’ll carry him out for you.” He took the carrier from her and followed her out the door.

“How are things going?” Dorothea asked.

“Pretty good now.” Jon switched the phone to his other ear. “Adding Tori was exactly what we needed. And it’s just as well that she’s only in the studio part of the day.”

“How come?”

“This way I at least get some work out of Richie. Once Tori shows up, he loses his focus.”

Dorothea frowned. That wasn’t like Richie.When it came to recording and performing he’d always been very professional. “How are things between them?”

“Everything seems to be fine.”

“They’re affectionate with each other?”

Jon shrugged even though she couldn’t see him. “Yeah. I guess. I mean, they’re not hanging all over each other, but they’re not avoiding each other either. They kiss goodbye and hello.”

“Endearments? Pet names?”

“He calls her angel and honey just like he always has.”

“And Tori?”

Jon frowned in thought. “Come to think of it, I haven’t heard her call him anything but Rich or Richie since we got here. But I haven’t really been paying attention.”

Dorothea nodded. “They’re not having sex yet.”

Jon choked. “I don’t know and I don’t want to know. I’m not having that conversation with either one of them again!”

“I wasn’t asking, I was telling. That’s why he’s losing his focus when she joins you at the studio. He’s horny. Think about it. You know the signs.”

He did, and the more he thought about it the more he realized that she was right. Richie was exhibiting all the signs of sexual frustration. “But Stevie’s two months old. You know what Rich’s like. There’s no way he would wait any longer than necessary.”

“Unless he’s waiting for her to give the green light. He’s been told not to push it and wait until she comes to him.”

“But she’s got to be healed by now.”

“Physically, but maybe not emotionally. She may not be ready for the emotional intimacy that comes with lovemaking.” She paused. “Is the baby still sleeping in their room?”

“I think so. At least I’ve never seen her go in or out of his room early in the morning, and I haven’t heard him cry and I’m in the next room.” He sighed. “So what do I do?”

“Nothing. They have to work this out themselves. The next time I talk to her, I’ll see if she needs to talk about it, but that’s all we can do.”

Late that night Jon went downstairs to get a drink and saw Richie sitting out on the patio by the pool. He hesitated, then went to join him. “Hey man. What are you doing out here? Baby keeping you up?”

Richie shook his head. “No. He’s pretty much sleeping through the night now.”

“Then why aren’t you curled up with your wife at this hour?”

“Couldn’t sleep. I didn’t want to disturb her.” Although it would only be fair. She was disturbing him more and more every day. He was finding it increasingly difficult to be close to her and not be able to touch her like he wanted. He was trying to give her the time she needed, but he didn’t know how much longer he could stand it.

Jon hesitated, but couldn’t leave it alone. “It’s hasn’t been easy for you has it?”

Richie sighed. “No, but it’s been harder on her – emotionally anyway. I have no right to complain. I gave up that right months ago. All I can do is show her that I love her and hope that I can earn back her trust.”

“And in the meantime?” Jon’s gaze locked with Richie’s and his lips twitched.

Richie snorted, but didn’t deny it. “I take lots of cold showers.”

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Chapter 268

The next morning, Tori woke slowly. She was lying on her side, Richie a warm wall at her back. Just as she became aware of that, he moved, rolling onto his back. Instinctively, she followed, curling against him, her head on his shoulder, her arm slung over his chest, fingers combing through the patch of hair. One of his hands came up to rub her arm, the other curved around her waist, holding her tight against him. A few minutes later he kissed her forehead, sighed and slipped from the bed, heading for the bathroom.

Tori laid and listened to the water running in the shower. When it stopped she glanced at the clock. Her brows rose in surprise. “You’re up early.” She commented when he exited the bathroom.

“Yeah. Jon’ll want us at the studio early. I thought I’d help Rosa with breakfast.” He pulled on his clothes and started for the door.

She frowned. “Hey! Good morning to you too!”

“Sorry honey.” Walking back to the bed he bent and kissed her. “Morning.”

His lips were cold. Before she could comment on that, the baby woke up. Richie lifted him out of the bassinet, kissed his head and handed him to his mother. “Morning Peanut. I’ll be downstairs if you need me.”

“Say goodbye to Daddy Peanut, he’s got to go to work.” Tori stood with the baby by the door as the men prepared to leave.

Richie bent to kiss them both. “I’ll call you and let you know when to expect us home.”

“Don’t expect us for dinner.” Jon added as he also kissed them both.

David and Tico followed suit. Tori laughed. Ava demanded the same gesture. They all obliged.

Tori was asleep by the time the guys got home. She woke up when Richie slid in beside her. “How’d it go?” She curled into his side.

“Not bad. We got two tracks done.”

“Is that all?” She yawned.

He chuckled. “If you’d been around for the previous albums, you’d know that two is actually very good when you’re talking about Jon.”

“Right. Forgot. Neurotic Jon takes over in the studio.” She yawned again.

“Mmmhmmm. Go back to sleep angel.”

A few minutes later, he kissed her forehead and rolled onto his side facing away from her with a sigh. She snuggled into his back.

The next morning when Stevie woke up, Tori glanced at the clock, then at Richie. They stared at each other and grinned. Tori picked the baby up and cuddled him. “What a good boy! You slept right through the night!”

Richie yawned. “Barely, but it’s a good start.” He watched her feed the baby for a few minutes, then got up and headed for the bathroom. After showering and dressing he once again left to help with breakfast.

And the pattern of their days was set. Tori and Ava spent their days swimming, cooking, playing games, and looking after the baby while the men spent long hours in the studio.

The fourth day, Jon was pacing and running his hand through his hair in frustration. “It needs...something. Any ideas?” The question was directed at John Shanks. Shanks was sitting in the booth deep in thought. “John? What are you thinking?”

“I’m trying to think of what female singers I know that could come in and bump up the background vocals. But, it’s got to be someone who’s voice will blend with both yours and Richie’s and I’m coming up empty.”

Jon stopped in front of David. Their eyes met and they both grinned. “We can help with that.” Jon turned around. “Rich, call your wife. Tell her vacation time’s over and it’s time she got back to work.”

Richie snorted as he reached for his phone. “I’ll call her, but you can deliver your own message. I like my parts just the way they are thanks. Hi angel. Can you come down to the studio? We need your help. And you’d better bring Peanut. I don’t know how long this is going to take.”

“Gail’s on her way to pick up Ava for a sleep over. I’ll be there as soon as they leave.” Tori agreed, curious to see that part of the album making process.

“Great. Thanks angel.” He gave her directions and hung up. “She’ll be here in about twenty minutes.”

Shanks was looking forward to this. He’d heard about Tori of course, he was always on the lookout for new talent and kept up on all the music industry news. “If you’re hungry, we can bring in some food.”

Jon looked around at the group and shook his head. “No, we’re fine.”

“But I thought Richie asked his wife to bring peanuts.”

They laughed. “Peanut is my son.” Richie explained. “Well, his name is Stephen, but my daughter named him Peanut before he was born and it stuck. He’s seven weeks old and she’s nursing so I thought she’d better bring him with her.”

Tori arrived at the studio, unfastened Stevie’s car seat and walked inside. The receptionist glanced up at her entrance. “Hi. I’m...”

“Mrs. Sambora! They’re expecting you. Right this way.” She came around the desk and peeked into the car seat. “Well hello there. Aren’t you a cutie! Did you come to watch Mommy and Daddy work?” Stevie opened his eyes and blinked at her. “Oooh, he got the Bon Jovi blue eyes!” She looked up at Tori who smiled and nodded. “He’s going to be a heart breaker.” She lead the way down the hallway to a door near the end. Checking the light above the door, she opened it and stuck her head in. “John, Mrs. Sambora’s here.” She looked at Richie. “Your son is gorgeous.”

Richie grinned. “Thank you.”

“It’s the eyes.” Jon batted his. The rest groaned. The receptionist grinned and winked.

Tori walked through the door, crooked a brow at Jon and shook her head. She thanked the receptionist and turned to her brother. “Okay. I’m here. Do you want to tell me why?”

Jon introduced her to Shanks who explained. “We’d like you to sing back up with Richie and Dave. The song is missing something and we’d like to try this and see if it helps.”

“Okay.” Tori set Stevie’s carrier and diaper bag on a chair behind Shanks and headed into room where the guys were.

Richie kissed her and handed her a set of headphones. Jon handed her the lyrics. She looked them over, squinting at some of the words. “Can I get this typed out? Jeez Jon, your writing is horrible.” She grinned at Richie. He winked at her. Jon flipped her off. “Okay. Can I hear it once?”

“Sure.” Shanks ran the playback for her.

She hummed along, her head nodding in time to the music. “Very nice. Are they all like that?”

“Like what?” Jon asked.

“Real rocking, heavy on the guitar riffs.”

“Yeah. I decided to make your husband work for a change.”

Richie flipped him off. Tori chuckled and squeezed Richie’s shoulder. “The fans will be thrilled.”

“You think so?” Jon respected her opinion since she had been a fan long before any of them had met her.

She nodded. “Yeah. They’ve been asking for a rock album for awhile. And it’ll give more opportunity for Richie to make those guitar faces the girls love so much.”

Jon rolled his eyes. David groaned. Richie’s brows rose, surprised that she would mention something like that. He took it as a good sign.

“Okay. Let’s try one.” Shanks interjected. “Regular harmony please Tori.” She nodded.

They’d done three run throughs and were discussing the latest when Shanks interrupted. “Uh Tori?”


“I think it’s dinner time.” Stevie’s cries could be heard through the intercom.

She glanced at her watch. “Coming.”

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Chapter 267

Much to Ava’s delight, they were able to go to the beach that weekend. The weather was warm, but there was a nice breeze. They set up the umbrella on their favourite spot and Tori sat under it with Stevie. She made sure the girls were slathered in sunblock before she let them run off to play in the water. Next, she turned to Richie to put some on his back and didn’t notice that the second she was finished he took the bottle from her and took his time returning the favour, then abruptly handed her the bottle and headed for the water himself.

They were sitting together on the blanket, Tori reading and Richie watching the girls when a group of well built women walked by in bikini’s. Tori glanced at Richie and shook her head. “You’re drooling.”

His hand went to his mouth before he realized what she meant. He leaned over, kissed her and ran his fingers down her arm. “Naw. They’re pretty to look at, but they can’t compare to you.”

She snorted. “Good answer.”

“It’s true. They may make me drool, but you make me shiver – in a good way – and make me feel more like a man than any woman I’ve ever met.”

Her brows rose. “You’re really on the suck up express.”

“I’m reassuring, not sucking up.”

She searched his eyes, but only saw only honesty. Blinking away sudden tears, she stroked his cheek and kissed him softly. “Thank you.”

Despite the breeze, Tori was concerned about the baby being out in the heat, and took him into the nearby restaurant for the hottest part of the day, while Richie stayed with the girls. Rejoining them mid afternoon, they traded off, and Richie sat with the baby under the umbrella while Tori helped the girls put the finishing touches on their sand castle. Half an hour later, three thirty-something men were walking by and stopped to compliment them on the castle. While Tori and Kate chatted with them, Ava ran back to get the little flag she’d brought for the top of the castle out of her bag, but it was Richie who brought it to the castle.

“Honey, the baby just woke up and he’s hungry.” He eyed the younger men.

“Ok, I’m coming.” Holding out her hand she let him pull her to her feet. She said goodbye to the men and headed back to the blanket and her son, Richie’s hand riding proprietarily on her hip. She slanted him a glance and smiled. “Tell the caveman to relax.”

He shrugged. “Just protecting my family.”

“He won’t stop crying.” Ava was rocking her brother in her arms.

“That’s okay. He’s hungry.” Tori reached to take him. “Come here Peanut. Daddy’s being silly, but you’ll get used to that. Aw, what’s the matter? Are you hungry?”

Richie watched her settle Stevie and start to feed him. He adjusted the privacy blanket to make sure she was covered. “Yes.”

“There’s some cheese, crackers and fruit in the cooler.”

He bit back a snort, then shook his head when he realized she was serious. Sighing, he reached into the cooler, pulled out an apple and took a big bite.

A couple days later, Tori ws sitting on a lounge chair by the pool, watching Richie and Ava playing in the water, Stevie asleep in his bassinet in the shade, when they heard a commotion inside.

“There they are!”

“Well isn’t this just a perfect picture of domesticity!”

“Uncle Tico, Uncle Shirley, Uncle Jon!” Ava climbed out of the pool and ran to hug her ‘uncles’.

“Aw, man! I knew we should have changed the gate code.” Richie groaned. His greeting earned him the expected one finger salute from his bandmates.

“Hi Bean. Where’s your brother?” Jon hugged Ava back.

“Over there in his basket.” Ava pointed.

Tori stood and turned to face them. Before she could speak David’s eyes widened and his jaw dropped. “Holy shit Bela!” He patted around his neck.

“What the matter?”

“I forgot my garlic, but I don’t think I care.” He moved to hug her.

“What are you going on about?” She was almost afraid to ask.

Releasing her, David held her at arms length and looked her over. She was glad she was wearing a one piece bathing suit instead of a bikini. “You could give Pamela Anderson a run for her money.”

Tori rolled her eyes, swatted his arm and turned to greet the other two men. “Hi Teek.”

“Bela, you look wonderful.” Tico hugged her.

“Thank you.”

“Hey Sis.” Jon kissed her cheek.

“Hey.” She grinned at him holding Stevie. “Missing home already?”

He smiled down at the baby. “They don’t stay this small for very long. They grow up, learn to walk and talk and before you know it they’re running away from you, talking back....and want to drive your car. At least at this size they’ll still let you cuddle them.”

“Uh oh. Are you just feeling that your kids are growing up too fast, or are you jonesing for another one?”

“Naw, we’re done. When I get baby cravings I’ll just come cuddle yours.”

She smiled and squeezed his shoulder. “Where’s Hugh?”

“He’s coming in tomorrow. Kelly had him booked up and he couldn’t get out of it.”

“Well, let’s get you guys settled and we’ll talk about dinner.”

Tico grinned. “That mom gene kicked in fast.”

“I’m going to pick out my room!” David jumped up and ran for the door.

“Don’t take mine!” Ava ran after him.

“Put him in the first room on the left.” Richie suggested.

Ava paused at the door and frowned. “That’s Peanut’s room.”

Richie nodded. “Yeah, he’ll feel right at home.”

Tori shook her head and turned back to Tico. “What do you expect when I’m surrounded by children?”

Jon signalled Tori to accompany him upstairs. In the bedroom left for him, he set his bag on the bed, sat beside it and searched her face. “How are things going? I have to report back to Dot and Mom, so be honest.”

She smiled. “Pretty good. Of course we’ve been pretty much holed up here alone. We haven’t gone out much. He’s been incredibly sensitive and attentive. I can’t complain about his behaviour at all.”

He nodded. “And Heather?”

“Believe it or not she’s been very agreeable. We’ve got Ava for the whole summer.”

“Hmpf. Hope it lasts. So you’re feeling....better then? About the whole situation?”

She nodded. “It’s still going to take some time and effort, but I’m...hopeful that we can make it work.”

He stood and hugged her. “Good. You both deserve to be happy.”

Back outside, Richie fired up the grill and Rosa brought out steaks. Tori was playing with Ava in the pool, Jon and Tico were sitting at the table and David was wandering around the yard. He stopped beside the pool and watched the girls. Shrieks of laughter had Richie looking up from the barbeque. Smiling, he picked up his Coke and walked closer to the pool, stopping beside David. Tori climbed out of the pool and smoothed her hair back from her face. Richie glanced at David, frowned and pushed him into the pool.

David came up sputtering. “What’d you do that for?”

“Stop ogling my wife’s breasts!”

Monday, April 20, 2009

Chapter 266

They’d been home about a month, when Richie hung up the phone and turned to his wife. “Prepare to be invaded.”

Tori looked up from the diaper she was fastening around Stevie’s waist. “What’s up?”

“We finally got a time window with Shanks. The guys are coming out next week.” The band was once again working with producer John Shanks and had been waiting for him to have some time to work on the new album.

“For how long?”

He shrugged. “Depends on how well things go. A couple, three weeks maybe.”

“There goes our peace and quiet Peanut. Daddy’s got to go back to work.” The baby’s eyes opened, his lips parted and a bubble formed in the opening.

“Mommy too.” Richie informed her. “Jon wants you in on this.”

She frowned. “In what capacity?” While she’d started playing again, she didn’t know the songs and certainly wasn’t prepared to play on an album!

He shrugged. “I’m not sure. You’ll have to ask him when he gets here.”

“Somebody’s coming over?” Ava had caught her father’s last words as she came in from the kitchen, a drink for herself and Tori, and cookies for Richie in her hands.

“Your uncles are all coming out next week to work on the new album.” Tori replied.

“Cool. Can Kate spend the weekend and can we go to the beach?”

“Yes to Kate staying, and we’ll see about the beach. It’ll depend on the weather.”

Richie frowned. “Not sure the beach is a good idea for Peanut just yet.”

“We’ll see how hot it is. We’ve got that beach umbrella for shade, and if there’s a breeze it should be okay. If it’s too hot, he and I can go sit in that restaurant just down from our favourite spot.” She didn’t like the idea of not being with them, but she didn’t want Ava to miss out on things she liked because of the baby.

On Friday, Richie tracked Tori down in the office answering e-mail. Leaning on the desk beside her, he ran his fingertips over the nape of her neck and her shoulder left bare by her tank top and ponytail. “Why don’t you pump a bottle or two for Peanut this afternoon and we’ll go out tonight?” She’d pumped the other day just to see if he’d take it in case she needed to be away from him for a feeding. He wouldn’t take it from her, but he had from Ava.

She tilted her head back to look at him, ignoring the goosebumps that rose on her skin at his touch. “Where?”

He shrugged. “I don’t know. Dinner. Maybe a movie. It’s been months since we’ve been out alone and you haven’t been able to leave the baby for more than an hour or two in over six weeks. I just thought it would be nice to get away by ourselves for a few hours.”

“Before the big kids arrive?” She smirked.

He chuckled. “Yeah, and your perfectionist brother takes up all our time.”

She thought about it for a minute. They had been getting along really well, Richie had been incredibly attentive and sensitive and she was feeling more secure, more…connected… to him than she had in months, but she was also aware that none of that had been put to the test yet, other than their one visit with Heather. They’d stayed in the house except to walk around the neighbourhood a bit with the baby. They hadn’t been out in public since they’d gotten home. Was she ready? She had to face it sometime if they were to have any hope of moving forward. She took a deep breath and nodded. “Okay. Sounds great.”

“So you’ll help Rosa with Peanut, Bean?” Tori asked. “We’ll probably be home before you go to bed.”

“Yeah, but how come I can’t come with you?”

“Because kids don’t come on dates.” Her father answered, tweaking her nose.

“A date? But you’re married. Married people don’t go on dates.”

“Sometimes married people need to go on dates more than single people.” He responded. “Especially when they have kids bugging them for attention all day.” His dark eyes twinkled as he waited for the reaction.

“Richie!” Tori swatted his arm. “You’d be more upset if she didn’t ‘bug you for attention’.” Ava wrinkled her nose at him.

Dinner was a quiet affair at their favourite steakhouse. Richie sat in the booth across from Tori so that he could look at her. He couldn’t take his eyes off of her. Even dressed casually in a simple floral sundress she took his breath away. Her sun kissed skin seemed to glow and her eyes sparkled. She looked….happy, and he was determined to keep her that way. When she leaned towards him to share a bite of her lobster with him, he couldn’t prevent himself from taking advantage of her change in position and enjoying the view she gave him of the one part of her body that hadn’t returned to pre-pregnancy size, much to his and Peanut’s delight. Okay, maybe his more than Peanut’s although Peanut was the only one of them getting close at the moment.

Leaving the restaurant, they ran into a few vultures. Tori stiffened, but held her head high. Richie stepped closer and wrapped an arm around her waist.

“Hey Richie, how’s Heather doing?”

“Fine.” He gave Tori a squeeze.

“Where’s the baby?”

“At home.”

“How old is he now?”

“A little over six weeks.” Tori answered.

The reporter closest to her, looked her up and down. “Really?”

Richie pulled her even closer. “Doesn’t she look great? Hard to believe she recently had a baby isn’t it?”

“Fantastic.” There were murmurs of agreement around the group.

Tori blushed. “Thank you.” Richie kissed her temple.

In the lobby of the movie theatre, Tori made Richie wait to get seats until she called home and checked on the kids. He wandered and read the posters while she talked to first Rosa, then Ava. “Everything okay?” He asked when she hung up and joined him.

“Yeah. Looks like Stevie’s being a little finicky though. He wouldn’t take the bottle from Rosa either, but Ava got him to eat. She wants us to bring her home some sour Skittles.”

He sighed and headed for the concession stand. “I hope he gets over that soon.”


“Because if he doesn’t, I can sense the demands growing if I want to have you to myself for awhile.”

She chuckled. “It could be worse. Be thankful she’s not a teenager yet.”

It was cool in the theatre and Tori shivered and huddled closer to Richie for warmth. He wrapped his arms around her and rubbed at her goosebumps. “Are you too cold? Do you want to go?”

She shook her head. “No, I’m okay.” Relaxing more against him, she leaned her head on his shoulder and settled in to watch Tom Hanks sort out Dan Brown’s latest puzzles.

Starting the car, Richie noticed her rubbing her arms and turned the heat on. “Still cold?”

“A little.” He reached into the back seat and handed her a sweatshirt he’d left there. She pulled it over her head. “Thanks.”

“How was the movie?” Ava was sitting in the big armchair, a video game in her hands when they entered the livingroom.

“Pretty good.” Tori peeked at Stevie, asleep in his bassinet.

“How did you like your first babysitting experience?” Richie handed over the Skittles.

“Thanks. It was pretty easy. You should have see Rosa’s face though when she couldn’t get him to eat.”

“Guess he only wants his Mommy or his big sister.” Richie stroked her hair. “Thanks for helping out.”

That night when they climbed into bed, Tori leaned over and kissed him. “Thank you for tonight. I really enjoyed it.”

He pulled her into his arms. “You’re welcome. I had a good time too.”

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Chapter 265

They spent the Fourth in Denver. Richie set up the stroller and they found a spot to watch the parade. Occasionally, a fan would spot them and stop to say hello and ask for an autograph or a picture or both. The first time they were approached, Richie flicked a glance at Tori. She smiled, squeezed his hand, and stepped aside, even offered to take the picture. The fans all oohed and ahhed over Stevie, but none of them even tried to take his picture. She guessed that they’d extended Jon’s preference not to share pictures of his kids to them.

Their room was on the top floor of the hotel and had a balcony where they sat and watched the fireworks from all over the city light the night sky against the backdrop of the mountains.

“Are you sorry we didn’t stay in Jersey or rush a little more to get home for the parties?” Tori asked. After all, it was his holiday more than hers – hers was the first. She was still getting used to it, but she understood his lifetime of traditions and memories surrounding the day.

He shook his head. “Not really. It would have been fun, but right now, this….us….is more important.”

“You’re sure?”

“As sure as I am that I love you.” The baby cried. “And you Peanut.” He picked Stevie up, changed his diaper and handed him to his mother.

Tori heaved a sigh of relief when the car turned into the driveway and passed through the gates. “Home at last.” Climbing out of the car she stretched, snickering when she noticed Richie doing the same. She was reaching into the back seat to undo Stevie’s car seat, when the door opened behind her.

“Oh Mrs. Tori, I’m so glad you’re home!” Rosa came rushing out. Richie had called her the day before to let her know approximately when they would be home. “Ai! And the bambino! Hola mijo!

Before Tori could blink, Rosa had taken the carrier from her hands and was disappearing into the house, a running flow of Spanish drifting back to them. “His name is Stephen!” She called after them.

Richie chuckled. “He’s going to be bilingual by the time he’s three.”

“Welcome home. Need some help?” Cathy appeared in the doorway.

“Thanks Cathy. It’s good to be home.” Tori grabbed a couple bags and started inside.

Between the three of them, they had the car unloaded very quickly. After a quick check on the baby, who was still being regaled by whatever stories Rosa was telling, Tori set about unpacking. She started with their clothes, collecting the laundry, and putting away the clean ones. In their closet, she couldn’t resist trying on some of her pre-pregnancy pants. Her jeans wouldn’t quite fit, but they were close. Another couple weeks, with the help of their gym ought to do it.

She hadn’t seen Richie since they’d carried everything upstairs. After getting the washing machine started – she was surprised to find a box of Ivory Snow on the shelf, Cathy had just smiled, shrugged, and told her they’d been optimistic – she went searching for him. She found him in Stevie’s room. He’d laid out the clothes, stocked the change table and was arranging the toys and mementos they’d been given around the room.

Hearing her, he glanced up. “I put the bassinet in the livingroom since we have the cradle in our room. I didn’t know how you wanted his clothes organized, so I just set them out for you.”

She nodded and set to work. “Thanks.”

His arms wrapped around her from behind and he pulled her close, nuzzling his spot under her ear. “No, thank you. For coming home. I love you.”

Suddenly, a baby’s cry echoed around the room. Glancing around, Tori realized it was coming from the monitor that was sitting on the dresser. She was to find out that there were several monitors all over the house, all set to the same frequency.

“Mrs. Tori, Mr. Stephen’s hungry.” Rosa’s voice came through.

Richie released her and followed her downstairs. “After you feed him, would you, maybe, do something for me? If you're not too tired that is. If you are, it can wait.”

He was being so careful with her, he was hesitant to ask her for anything. But she knew him so well, and was so used to his first request whenever they returned home after being away, that he didn’t need to put it into words. She chuckled. “I think I can find enough energy to make you some cookies.”

He grinned. “Thanks angel.”

That evening after dinner, they were sitting in the livingroom and Tori was once again feeding the baby. She studied Richie for a moment. “Since I made you cookies, will you do something for me?”

His response was instant. “Anything.”

“Play for us.”

Nodding, he stood and headed for the studio, returning with an acoustic guitar. Sitting once again, he flexed his fingers and began to play. At the sound of the first few chords, Stevie stopped sucking and shifted his head slightly as though listening. Ater about thirty seconds he resumed eating. When Richie stopped, so did his son, a frown creasing the tiny brow. When Richie started a new song, Stevie went back to eating. Tori smiled to herself, fascinated at this connection.

Richie noticed her expression. “What?”

Her smile widened and she explained what had happened. “I guess he likes your playing too.”

He grinned. “Well, he is our child. An appreciation of music is in the genes.”

The next day, Richie picked up his keys, hesitated, and went in search of his wife. She was in the kitchen, talking to Rosa. “I’m going to get Ava.” He met her gaze, held it, and waited for her response.

Tori debated for a moment, then stood. “If Rosa will keep an ear out for Peanut, I’ll go with you.” Rosa nodded and waved at her to go.

Expecting her answer, he nodded and followed her out to the car, opening the door for her before rounding the hood and sliding in behind the wheel.

At Heather’s they found Ava packed and ready…and disappointed that they’d come alone. “Where’s Peanut?”

“He’s at home with Rosa.” Tori answered.

“And he’s going to want to eat soon, so we need to get back. Have you got everything Bean?” That wasn’t exactly the truth, since Tori had fed the baby not long before they left, but he knew the situation wasn’t comfortable for her and wanted to get them out of there as soon as possible. While Richie carried out her suitcase, Ava ran back upstairs for a game she’d forgotten.

“How long can we have her?” Tori asked Heather.

Heather shrugged. “Whatever she – and you - want. We don’t have anything planned for the summer, but I’ll let you know if anything comes up. You can let me know if you need a break.”

Richie was surprised, but Tori wasn’t. She’d hoped that Heather’s apparent attitude change was for real. She still wasn’t sure, but if she was trying, Tori would do what she could to encourage her. “Thanks Heather. We appreciate it.”

Back at the house, the family settled into a routine. Safe and secure in the cocoon of their little world, the wounds slowly began to heal.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Chapter 264

Finally, Tori decided she was ready to start the trek to L.A. As wonderful and helpful as Joan – and everyone - had been, she wanted her own home and her own bed. After the upheaval of the last few months she desperately need some peace and a regular routine.

Heather had come to pick up Ava and fly home. While it wouldn’t rank up there on Tori’s top list of fun times, it wasn’t horrible either, just a little uncomfortable. She even had to smile at how Richie had stuck to her side the entire time Heather was there. Ava had looked so sad, she felt horrible, but she had one more week of school, and Tori and Richie needed the time alone. She promised Ava they would spend lots of time together once they got home. Surprisingly, Heather backed her up and assured Ava she could spend a few weeks with them once everyone was settled.

They had celebrated her birthday quietly – just a family dinner. The gifts this year were mostly practical and traditional – books, clothes – which she now needed badly – that sort of thing. Richie gave her a pair of jeans – because he liked the way they fit her, a crystal guitar charm for her bracelet, and a Swarovski crystal angel with a note that said For my angel. You are indeed a gift from heaven. Happy Birthday. I love you.

Richie packed the last suitcase into the back of Tori’s small SUV while Tori checked the house one last time to make sure they had everything. Dorothea had tried one last time to get them to stay at least until after the Fourth, but they both agreed, they wanted to get home. Tori glanced in the cargo area. “Where’s your guitar?”

“I didn’t bring one.” He adjusted a box and avoided her gaze.

Her brows rose in surprise. “You didn’t bring one? But you never go anywhere without one.”

He shrugged. “I wasn’t in the mood to play when I left. I had other things on my mind.”

She nodded. Part of her felt bad, part of her felt….heartened… that she hadn’t been the only one in that kind of a state. It gave her hope that they both wanted to put their marriage back together bad enough to fight for it.

Tori tucked Stevie into his car seat, and turned to hug Joan. “Thanks again for everything Joan.”

“You’re more than welcome. Now, you’re sure your cell phones are charged? Call me as soon as you get home. In fact, call me a couple times during the trip, so that I know you’re alright….and that you haven’t killed each other.”

“Why would you think we’d kill each other?”

“Close quarters, long days travelling….and Richie doesn’t believe in asking for directions.”

Tori laughed. “Of course not, he’s a man.”

“Hey! I don’t need to ask for directions, that’s what we have the GPS for.” Richie reminded them. He hugged his mother. “Phones are charged and we’ll call. Thanks Ma.”

Joan leaned in to kiss the baby. “Take good care of my grandson…and each other.” She placed a hand on each of their cheeks. “Patience, hard work, and love. Lots of love.”

Tori nodded and blinked away her tears, smiling at Richie when she felt his hand rubbing her back. Her hormones were much better, but she still had the occasional attack of tears. Hugging Joan once more, she climbed into the car, flipped down her visor and checked the angle of the mirror that was mounted on the back seat and reflected Stevie’s face back to her.

Richie slid into the driver’s seat, saw what she was doing, and smiled. “Can you see him okay?”

She nodded. “Yeah. This is a great invention.”

Turning the key in the ignition, he checked one more time. “Ready?”

“Yeah. Home Richard.”

“Yes ma’am.” He put the car in reverse, and with a final wave to Joan, backed out of the driveway and they were off.

They didn’t rush. With Stevie, they couldn’t even if they wanted to, so they decided to take their time and enjoy the trip. They stopped every few hours so that Tori could feed Stevie, and she and Richie could stretch their legs. When they stopped for the night, she was reminded of how considerate he was when he asked for a room without anyone on either side as they were travelling with a baby and he didn’t want to disturb anyone else. He was constantly making sure she had everything she needed, whether it was food, help with the baby, or just holding her close while they slept.

Tori slept for long periods during the first couple days. By the third day she was feeling very guilty. “Are you sure you don’t want me to drive for awhile?”

“Naw, I’m fine.” He saw her frown. “What?”

“Rich, I appreciate everything you’re doing, but you can’t keep this up. It’s not fair to you. You’re getting up everytime Peanut does during the night, then driving all day. You need your rest too.” She hesitated. “Maybe we should get two rooms tonight.”

“No!” He’d just gotten her back in his bed, he wasn’t about to let her out again, even for one night, even for his own good. “Then I won’t sleep at all.”

“Then I want you to not get up tonight during the nightime feedings. I know you’ll hear him cry, but I want you to go back to sleep. I’ll be as quiet as I can.” He frowned. “Promise me Richie. Please? For my peace of mind? I need to be sure you’re taken care of.”

He sighed. “Okay. I’ll try.” He must have been more tired than he’d thought…he barely heard Stevie at all.

A couple days later, Tori was unusually quiet. They’d spent the time in the car – when Tori wasn’t sleeping - talking. A lot. About everything. Their relationship, Heather, Ava, Adam’s death, music, the band, his solo album, her job and how she planned to continue now that she was a mother, what they were going to do when they got home….everything. So he was surprised at her silence.

“Angel? Are you okay?”

“Mmmm? Yeah. I’m fine.”

“Tori.” She could hear the warning note in his voice. “No secrets, remember? We talk about everything.”

She smiled wryly. “Can we stop early tonight?”

“Sure. Tired?”

“A little, but that’s not why I want stop.”

“Oh? Want to get off the road for awhile?”

“Kind of. I…I’m feeling the need for a little human contact today, that’s all.” She felt emotional and needy and blamed it on her hormones. The episode at lunch hadn’t helped either. She’d come back from the bathroom to see a woman – obviously a fan – standing at the table, talking to Richie. To give him credit, he was sitting sideways in the booth, with his leg up on the seat so that she couldn’t get close to him. Tori appreciated what he was doing, but even with that and the knowledge that the fan was not a threat to her or her marriage, she still felt an initial jolt seeing her standing near him. She knew that was what she needed to work on. She had pushed the feeling aside and smiled as she approached the table. Richie winked at her. The woman had greeted her, congratulated her on the baby, and asked for her autograph.

He reached out to stroke her cheek. “We can take care of that.”

They stopped at the a large hotel about four in the afternoon. After dropping their bags in the room, Richie set up the stroller and they went for a walk to get some fresh air and exercise. Back in the room, keeping Tori’s emotional state in mind, they looked over the room service menu.

She set it aside with a frown. “Do you know what I’m really craving?”


“A Big Mac.”

He grinned. “And French fries and a chocolate milkshake?”


Chuckling, he leaned over, kissed her and stood. “I’ll be back in about fifteen minutes, give or take.”

Before she could respond the baby woke up. “Guess Peanut’s hungry too.”

After they ate, Richie sat up against the head board, pillows at his back and patted the space between his legs. “Come here angel.”

Tori set the bassinet on the bed beside him, the diaper bag also within reach, and settled herself in the spot he indicated. When she leaned back against him, he wrapped his arms around her. She closed her eyes and sighed in contentment.

“Is this what you need?” He murmured in her ear.

She nodded. Picking up the remote, she scanned the channels, picked a movie and just enjoyed his warmth and scent surrounding her. Periodically, he kissed her temple, or she turned her head and their lips met – not with lust or even desire, but with comfort and a sense of togetherness.

“Thank you.” She murmured softly.

“That’s what I’m here for.” He squeezed her gently.

She shook her head. “Not for this, or not just for this. For your actions with that fan at lunch. I know she wasn’t a threat, but I appreciate your awareness and consideration of my feelings. I know this isn’t easy, and I just want you to know that I can see the effort you’re making and I appreciate it.”

“I told you. Whatever it takes. I love you.”

“I love you too.”

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Chapter 263

Back at Joan’s Richie walked into the house to find his mother and Ava in the living room watching T.V. and looking over Stevie’s clothes. He was sleeping in the bassinet near his grandmother. “Where’s Tori?”

“She went upstairs to get things organized and she hasn’t come back. I think she may have fallen asleep.”

“She’s probably pretty wiped out after all our running around today.” Taking her suitcases upstairs he found Tori in his – their – room, lying crosswise on the bed, a baby afghan over her shoulders, a blue teddy bear clutched under her chin. Smiling, he quietly set her bags down, went and got a full sized blanket and settled it over her. With a gentle kiss to her temple, he left her and returned downstairs.

“Is she sleeping?” Ava asked.


“Hope she wakes up for supper. Nana made it special.”

“Oh I’m sure she’ll be awake by then. Stevie will want to eat again in another hour or so.” Joan eyed her son. “How were the Bongiovi’s?”

Richie sat down on the couch beside her, leaned over to check on Stevie, then leaned back and sighed. “They’re fine. Gave me some pointers and some good advice and told me to call if I had any questions or needed anything.”

Joan patted his hand. “See, with all this support you’ll do just fine. You’ve never been afraid of a little hard work. Not when the goal was worth it.” He smiled and nodded.

After supper, they all sat down for a couple games of cards, then Tori helped Ava with some homework that her teachers had sent with her that she was having trouble with. She tucked Ava into bed, then settled on the couch beside Richie to watch T.V., Joan taking the armchair beside them. Within an hour, her head drooped to lean on his shoulder and her eyes drifted shut.

“Poor thing’s exhausted.” Joan noted. “She needs to learn to sleep when he does as much as she can until he sleeps through the night.”

“We’ll figure it out. I’m going to take her upstairs. I’ll come back and get Stevie in a minute.” He stood and scooped his wife into his arms. She frowned and murmured in protest. “Sssh angel. I’m just taking you to bed.”

Settling her on the bed, he quickly undressed her, hesitated, grimaced and put her nightgown on before pulling the blankets up around her. He went back downstairs and returned with Stevie in his bassinet, which he placed near Tori. With a last look around to make sure everything that would be needed in the night was close at hand, he rounded the bed, stripped off his clothes and slid in beside her. Curling his body around hers, he sighed in contentment, and drifted off for the best sleep he’d had in months, even with Stevie’s regular feedings.

Jon and Dorothea decided to hold a get together before Tori’s parents headed back to Canada. Tori had finished bathing Stevie, and was trying to decide what to put on him when Ava came running into the room. “Can we wear our matching shirts? Pleeeease?”

Tori chuckled. “Okay Bean. Will you hand me those little jeans then please?”

“And the purple shoes Daddy picked out?”

“I’m afraid that they’re a little big for him just yet. He has purple socks though. What’s Daddy doing?”

“Helping Nana pack up the cooler.”

“Do you have your bathing suit and sunscreen packed?”

“Yeah, but I can’t find my sunglasses.”

“I saw them on the table by the back door. Have a look there.”

Ava hugged her. “Thanks!”

“Angel?!” Richie yelled up the stairs.


“Will you bring down my bathing suit please? It’s in my black bag.”

She rummaged, until she found it, adjusted the shoulder strap of her sundress and sighed. All she had with her were maternity clothes. Not that she could wear regular clothes yet anyway, but her stomach had begun to contract and her clothes were a little big. She’d planned on going shopping, but now it just seemed to be a waste of money with all the clothes she had in L.A.

“Here.” Tori handed Richie his suit when she reached the bottom of the stairs.

“Thanks.” He bent to kiss first her then Stevie. “Where’s yours?”

She snorted. “Even if I had it with me, I wouldn’t wear it.”

“Why not?”

“Because this body is not ready yet to be put on display.”

“Don’t be silly.”

“Thank you, but I wouldn’t be comfortable.”

“You’re sure?”

“Yes. Maybe in a few more weeks.”

“Daddy, Tori, let’s goooo!” Ava was bouncing in the doorway.

“We’re coming.” Tori settled Stevie in his carrier, handed it to Richie, picked up the diaper bag, and Richie’s beach bag, and led the way out the door.

“Aunt Tori! MOOOOMMMY! Aunt Tori, Uncle Richie, Grandma Joan, Ava and baby Stevie are here!” Romeo announced from the front door.

“No kidding Romeo. I think the whole neighbourhood heard you.” Jesse chided his brother.

“So?” Romeo retorted.

“Where’s Stevie?” Steph nudged both brothers aside and made her way to the car where Tori was lifting out Stevie’s carrier, and took it from her.

“Here.” Richie handed Jesse the beach bag. “Make yourself useful.”

“Where is everyone?” Tori asked as she watched Steph carry the baby inside. The boys glanced at the baby, but since he couldn't walk or talk yet, he didn't hold much interest for them.

“Out by the pool. I think Mom’s in the kitchen though.” Jesse answered.

“Jesse, Uncle Richie, come on! We’re going to play football!” Jake informed them.

“Can I play?” Ava asked.

“Girls don’t play football.” Jake answered.

Tori’s brow rose. So did Ava’s. Richie laughed. “Don’t let your mother or your sister hear you say that. Come on Bean, let’s show them how it’s done. Sambora style.”

An hour later Tori glanced around the gathering, frowned and stood up. “Anyone know where my son is?”

“Desiree had him.” Matt responded.

“No, Carol took him from me.”

“No, Helen took him from me.” Carol shook her head.

“Dorothea took him inside to change his pants.” Helen offered.

Tori looked at Karin and sighed. “I guess someone will let me know when he’s hungry.”

Karin laughed. “At least they can’t take that job away from you, and if you’re lucky, Dot got the dirty one.”

Richie sank into the chair beside Tori, reached for her Coke with one hand and wiped the sweat off his face with a towel with the other. She smiled. “Half time?”

He swallowed and nodded. “Yeah. Where’s Peanut?”

“Not sure, but the last sighting has him with Dorothea for a diaper change.”

“So when are you guys heading back to L.A.?” Bill asked.

“We’ll leave in another week or so, and take about a week to get there.” Richie replied.

“You sure you want to drive back? We can ship your car out and you can fly.” Jon offered.

Tori shook her head. “We appreciate the offer, but I don’t want to take a newborn on a plane.” She looked at Richie, who took her hand and squeezed. “Besides, we could use the time alone without any distractions.”

The adults nodded in understanding. Ava frowned as she joined the group, her shorts grass stained having shown Jake that girls can indeed play football. “How come I can’t stay here and go back with you?”

“Because you have school.” Her father reminded her. “You’ve already missed a week.”

“You can come spend the weekend with us a soon as we get home.” Tori promised.

Richie ran into Dorothea on his way back from the bathroom. “Rich? Can I talk to you for a minute?”

“Sure Dot. What’s up?”

“I know you’ve been bombarded with well meaning advice, but can you take a little more?”

He sighed. “Would it matter if I said no?” The twinkle in his dark eyes took any sting from his words.

“No, I just thought I’d be polite first and ask. All I wanted to say was make sure you remember to pay appropriate attention to your wife and not just your son.”

He frowned. “What do you mean?”

“We all know how happy you are about the baby, and it’s great that you’re helping with him so much, but do you remember one of her concerns? That you only wanted her to get a baby?”

“Shit!” He raked his hand through his hair.

Dorothea nodded. “Yeah, it’s going to be a fine line. I just wanted you to be aware and think about it.”


He’d no sooner stepped out the door when first Helen, then Carol stopped him with suggestions and advice on where to stop on their way back to L.A. He listened and nodded and promised to take their comments into consideration.

When he passed them Jon and David chuckled. “Did you listen like a good boy Chuck?” David couldn’t resist.

“Ha ha.” Richie muttered. “You try having two mothers-in-law Shirley, then you can talk.” Settling back into the chair, leaned over and nuzzled Tori’s ear. “I love you.”

She smiled and stroked his cheek. “I love you too.”

Chapter 262

The next morning when the doctor released her, Tori was ready to run home. Richie watched in amusement as she ran around the room throwing items in a bag . “A little anxious to get out of here angel?”

“Are you kidding? I’m bored out of my mind! Not to mention, these beds are the most uncomfortable I’ve ever tried to sleep on!” Suddenly she stopped and stared at him in horror. “Car seat!”

“What about it?”

“We don’t have one. How are we going to get Stevie home? They’ll never let us leave without one. You need to go get one. Right now!”

“Angel relax.”

“How can I? I want to go home, but we don’t have a car seat!”

“Yes we do.”

“And we need diapers and wipes and…what do you mean ‘yes we do’?”

He grinned. “The day of the induction when you sent me home to have a nap, I picked up your car and took it to have one installed. I think you’ll like it – it’s Winnie the Pooh. So as soon as you’re ready we can leave. We can stop at the store for diapers and whatever else we need on the way. Everything’s under control.”

Dropping the clothes in her hands onto the bed, Tori walked over to the chair he was sitting in, perched in his lap, framed his face with her hands and kissed him soundly. “I love you!”

He chuckled and squeezed her. “I love you too.”

Calmer now, she stood and resumed packing. With her few clothes taken care of, she turned to the many gifts they had been given and sighed. “This is going to take awhile.”

Richie nodded. “I’ll go bring the car around and start loading.”

“Here, start with this.” She handed him the massive basket that had come from BJM filled with diapers, wipes, baby lotion, shampoo, a little brush and comb, diaper rash cream, towels, wash cloths, bath toys, rattles, teething rings, and stuffed animals…everything you needed for a new baby.

While Richie went to get the car, Tori continued packing. When Helen had heard that they might be getting out today, she’d brought up a small suitcase – again in the Winnie-the-Pooh theme. Tori set this on the bed and laid Stevie’s clothes in it. She had to lean on it to get it closed. She made a mental note to get thank you cards. That ought to keep me busy until we can travel.

It took the better part of an hour to load the car and settle things at the hospital. Tori thanked the doctor and the nurses, tucked Stevie into his car seat, and settled into her own with a sigh. Richie closed her door and walked around to slide into the driver’s seat. He turned the key in the ignition and hesitated. “Where to?”

“Your mom’s. After we stop for baby supplies. Carol’s going to pack up my things and wants you to pick them up.”

He nodded. “We can stop on the way.”

She shook her head. “No, I think she wants you to go alone. I think they want to talk to you.” He took a deep breath, but nodded his acceptance.

At the store, Tori had to chuckle. She was pushing the cart, while he carried the baby and threw things into the cart. “Rich, we’re only going to be here another week or so. We can get some of this stuff in L.A. rather can cart it all across the country you know.”

“I know, I’m just getting what we’ll need while we’re here.”

She looked up from the bath chairs to see him set a mobile in the basket. “We have one of those.”

“Yeah at home, not here.”

She gave up and let him get what he wanted. When they reached the clothing section, she found a couple matching t-shirts – I love my big sister and I love my little brother – that she couldn’t resist. She showed them to Richie who nodded as he tossed a pair of little purple running shoes in. “No clothes! He’s got more than he can wear out before he outgrows them now!”

He sighed. “You’re no fun.”

“Just trying to be practical. When we get home we can go shopping and you can pick out some clothes in some bigger sizes.”

When she reached the checkouts she looked around for Richie. Luckily, with his height, it wasn’t to hard to spot him. He was walking with a store staffer who was carrying a box. Richie had something that looked like a basket under his free arm. She raised a brow as they neared. “What’s that?”

“It’s a bassinet that comes with a stand. This part…” He gestured with his arm. “…comes off so it’s portable.” He watched her take a closer look. “He needs a bed to sleep in until we get home.”

“You mean you’re actually going to put him down?” The staffer smiled. Richie pouted. Tori laughed. “Actually, that’s a very good idea. It can go upstairs at night and in the living room during the day.” She looked around. “Are we done?”

“Yeah, I think we’ve got everything.”

At the checkout, Richie set the bassinet on the belt, then stood at the end while Tori unloaded the cart. Glancing up, she snorted to see Richie surrounded by three women – two of whom obviously worked there – cooing over Stevie. She frowned slightly as the third woman shifted closer to Richie.

“Ooh, isn’t he adorable!”

“He looks just like Daddy!”

“How old is he?”

“What’s his name?”

“Stephen, and he’s four – almost five days old.” Richie told them. His chest couldn’t puff out any further if he tried. Tori caught his eye and raised a brow. It took him a minute before he glanced at the woman next to him and shifted away from her. “Here, honey, you take Stevie while I load the car.” Tori traded the cart for the baby.

“He’s beautiful.”

“Thank you.” Tori smiled at the women.

Richie was quiet on the way to his mother’s. Tori kept waiting for him to say something, then decided to speak up herself. “Spit it out Rich. I know what you’re going to say, but I want you to say it. We need to talk about these things.”

He frowned. “Were you really concerned about that woman and me?”

“No, but that’s exactly the types of scenarios that we both need to work on. I need to work on not getting upset and concerned about seeing you close to another woman, and you need to be aware of how body positioning may appear - to me as well as others.” He nodded and sighed. “I told you it wasn’t going to be easy.”

“I know.” He reached over to squeeze her hand. “But you’re definitely worth it.”

By the time they finally arrived at Joan’s, Tori was tired – more so than she’d expected. Ava came running out to meet them. “Where’ve you been? I’ve been waiting for hours!”

Tori laughed. “We had to stop and get some supplies. Do you think you could help carry some bags in for us?”

“Sure.” After kissing Stevie hello, she grabbed a couple bags and headed for the house. “NANA! They’re here!”

“Don’t need a doorbell when she’s here.” Joan commented from the doorway. “Hi. How are you feeling today? Glad to be out of the hospital?”

“I’m a little tired, but absolutely thrilled to be out of the hospital.” Tori assured her as she carried Stevie’s carrier into the livingroom. She inhaled deeply. “What is that heavenly smell?” Her stomach growled in appreciation.

“I’m making chicken parmiagiana for dinner.” Joan responded.

“And hotdogs for lunch, right Nana?” Ave added.

Joan nodded. “Right.”

“And perogies?” Richie was sniffing as he dumped the bags he was carrying. Joan nodded.

Tori’s mouth watered. “How long until lunch?”

“As soon as the car’s unloaded. We can get you all situated after.” Joan herded them all back to the car.

After lunch, Richie headed for the Bongiovi’s to pick up Tori’s things, while she fed Stevie and started organizing all the items they’d bought and had been given. Pulling into the driveway, Richie sat for a minute, then took a deep breath and braced himself for what was waiting for him. He thought he was going to get off easy when he saw her suitcases by the door. No such luck.

“Richie, come on in and sit for a minute. We’d like to talk to you.” Carol waved him towards the living room.

When he followed her in, he saw John Sr. waiting for them. “Hi Rich. Have a seat.”

Feeling like a teenager about to be scolded by his girlfriend’s parents for bringing her home late, he sat in a chair and waited to see what was going to come flying at him.

Carol started. “First of all, I want to say that we’re happy that you both are going to give your marriage another try.”

“Provided that you make her happy and there’s no repeat performance of your earlier behaviour.” John qualified. Richie nodded.

Carol glared at John, then turned back to Richie. “I know that you regret what happened and that you want to make this work. I’ve already talked to Tori about what has to happen for you to be successful, but I wanted to talk to you about what you need to do and give you some idea of what’s going on in her mind. The biggest obstacle to repairing a marriage is trust, and it’s not easy to earn back. You’re going to have to be very careful, especially at first, of how you look at other women, how close they get to you – whether they’re friends or not.”

He nodded. “We’ve already had a discussion about that.” He described what happened at the store.

Carol nodded. “Exactly what I’m talking about. I’m glad that she recognizes her role in dealing with that part. Next, when you leave the house you need to tell her where you’re going, when you expect to be home, what you’re doing and who you’re going to be with. When you get home you need to tell her everything, no matter how minor, that happened and if anyone showed up that you hadn’t mentioned to her before you left.”

“In short, you now need to account for every minute of your day to her. I know this is going to drive you crazy, but believe me, it’s the only way.” John advised him. “And if things go well, it will ease over time.”

“She’s going to feel vulnerable when you’re away from her, wondering what you’re doing and what you’re thinking, so anything you can think of to let her know you’re thinking of her even when you’re not together – even if it’s only for an hour – will help. I’ve talked to her about what she needs to do, but reassurance from you will go a long way towards bolstering her confidence in you and your marriage. As I told Tori, communication is the key. I know it’s hard for men, but if you need to talk to her about everything. Every…little…thing. You need to forge a new bond with her. Do you think you can do all this?”

Richie nodded. “If that’s what it takes, yes. I’ll do whatever I have to earn back her trust and make her happy again.”

“Good.” John stood up. “Come on, I’ll help you carry her bags out to the car.”

“Oh, and Richie..” Carol waited until he stopped and turned back to her. “Hold off on the physical side of things for awhile. Let her tell you when she’s ready.”

He could feel his face heating, but he nodded his understanding. John clapped him on the back and led the way to the door.

Outside, Tori’s bags loaded into the car, John had one parting comment. “The first six months to a year is the toughest. You have to have a lot of patience. If you have any questions or need any advice, give me a call.”

“Thanks John, I appreciate that.” Richie climbed behind the wheel, waved and headed back to his mother’s.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Chapter 261

The nurse walked in to find the three of them once again sharing the bed. This time, Richie was lying on his back, Tori curled into his side, her hand gently rubbing the baby’s back where he was asleep on his father’s chest.

“I’m sorry Richie, we could’ve set a cot up in here for you.”

He smiled. “That’s okay. It’s not like we’re sleeping much anyway. Well, except for him.”

“How long before I can go home?” Tori inquired. She didn’t mind sharing her bed, but it was a little cramped.

“I’ll check with the doctor, but I think probably tomorrow, as long as your blood pressure stays down.” She looked at the baby. “Ok, I have to ask. What’s with the bandana?”

Tori laughed. “That’s his uncle’s warped sense of humour. My fault really. I should have thought about it before I named him Stephen. David calls him Little Stephen…like the guitarist from Bruce Springsteen’s E-Street Band. That Little Steven wears a bandana all the time, so David had to get one for our little Stephen.”

“Ah, I see.” She studied it for a moment. “It’s actually kind of cute.”

“Can I have a shower?” The sink baths she had been making do with just weren’t cutting it. She was surprised Richie could stand being that close to her.

“Yes, I think that’ll be okay. If you want to come with me, I’ll show you where everything is.”

“Thanks.” Tori rose from the bed. “Daddy, you’re in charge.”

“No problem. I’ll call Carol and ask her to bring you some clothes.”

Tori snickered. “Yeah, I guess I can’t exactly leave the hospital in that evening dress I came in wearing. Thanks.”

When she returned, he was changing Stevie’s diaper and putting a clean sleeper on him. “There you go Peanut. All clean and fresh.”

“So is Mommy.” She bent over to kiss the baby.

Richie leaned closer and nuzzled her neck. “Mmmm. Yes, she is.”

She smiled, stroked his cheek and kissed him lightly. He grinned and returned the gesture. “I love you angel.”

She hesitated, but couldn’t deny it. “I love you too.”

Just like the day before, Ava and Joan were their first visitors. Ava went straight to her brother and kissed his cheek. “Hi Peanut. Hi Tori, hi Daddy.”

“What, so now I’m down to third place?” Richie pretended to pout.

“Don’t feel bad Rich, Jon’s down below Copper in the hierarchy of his household.” Tori chuckled as she hugged Ava. “Morning Bean. Did you sleep well?”

Ava nodded. “Yes, then Nana and I made pancakes for breakfast!” She gave her father an extra tight squeeze to make up for greeting him last.

Tori’s mouth watered at the thought. Hospital food may have all the right nutrients and dietary requirements, but it sure didn’t have much in the way of flavour. She could hardly wait for outside food. She was still thinking about it when she glanced at her watch and realized it was almost noon. “Rich, why don’t you take your mother and Ava out for lunch?”


“And could you bring me back a Big Mac please?”

“Oooh can we Daddy? Please?” Ava begged.

Richie looked unsure. “I don’t like leaving you alone.”

Tori snorted. “Alone? Richie, the nurses’ station is right down the hall, and you see this button? All I have to do is push it, and I’ll get all the help I need. Besides, Carol will probably be here soon.”

Their eyes met, a silent message passing between them. He nodded. “Okay. Let’s go.”

“Wait! I have to go to the bathroom first.” Ava jumped off her chair and disappeared into the tiny restroom.

Tori caught Richie’s hand. “Rich, pay lots of attention to her. Make sure she knows that you still love her and she hasn’t been replaced by the baby in your heart.”

He frowned. “What are you talking about? Of course she hasn’t been replaced.”

“You’ve spent every waking minute here with him since he was born. I understand why and I appreciate it, but she’s only eleven. I just don’t want her to feel that you love him more than her.”

Richie glanced at his mother who smiled warmly at Tori and nodded. “She’s right. You’ve hardly let anyone else hold Stevie and she’s seen that. We all understand, but as Tori said, she’s young. Just spend a little time with her. Reassure her of her place in your life.”

He glanced from one to the other, then nodded. “I bow to your greater wisdom on such matters.”

Tori swatted him with her pillow. “Smartass.”

“Tori, I don’t think they’d like it if you had a pillow fight in the hospital.” Ava commented as she rejoined them.

“Maybe not, but it would be more fun that just sitting here all day.” Tori sighed.

Joan smiled. “Enjoy it. Once you get home, you’ll wish for time to just sit and relax.”

“Why don’t you try and sleep angel? I know you didn’t get much last night.” Richie leaned over and kissed her.

“Yeah, maybe I will. Go. Have fun. I’ll see you in a little while.”

It wasn’t long after they left that Carol appeared. “Hi.” She glanced around. “Where’s Richie?”

“He took Joan and Ava out for lunch. Where’s John?”

“He had a couple of errands to run. He’ll be here a little later. I brought you some clothes.”

“Great. Thanks.” Tori changed, then sat back down on the bed.

Carol watched her for several minutes. “Tori what’s wrong?”

Instead of answering, Tori asked some questions of her own. “How did you get past John’s infidelity? How did you learn to trust him again? How were you able to keep your marriage together?”

“Is that what you want? To give your marriage a chance?” She’d sensed that this was the way Tori was leaning.

“Do you think I shouldn’t?”

“I can’t make that decision for you. Only you can decide what’s best for you and Stevie.”

Tori’s eyes filled. “I love him Carol. Despite everything that’s happened, despite all the pain, I love him. For Stevie’s sake….and my own….I have to try. But I’m scared. Scared that I won’t be able to forgive him, that everytime he leaves the house without me, I’ll constantly be wondering where he is, what he’s doing and who he’s with. And that’s no way to live.”

“You’re right. It’s not. But that’s what you’ll be dealing with at first.” Carol paused. “Tori, if want your marriage to survive this, it can be done. But I won’t kid you. It’s not easy, especially in the beginning. It takes hard work and a leap of faith. Communication is the key. There can be no secrets. You have to talk about everything. When he walks out the door, you have to remind yourself that he loves you very much, and you love him, and that regardless of what he’s doing out there, he’s coming home to you. You can’t think about what he’s doing, although you will. And when you do, you have to make a conscious effort to push those thoughts aside. Find something to distract yourself with.” She smiled at the baby. “That shouldn’t be too hard to do.”

Tori smiled too. “No, I don’t imagine it will be. So, you think I can do this?”

Carol nodded. “Yes, I do. It just takes time, patience, love and a lot of hard work – on both your parts. Actually, you might have an easier time of it than I did. Richie didn’t have a full fledged affair. Although, you’re going to have to deal with seeing Heather on a regular basis. I didn’t have that.” She thought for a moment. “My advice is to take it slow. Kind of like you’re dating again.” She grinned. “I was going to say to wait awhile on the physical side of things, because sometimes that can just confuse things, but I guess that already taken care of.”

Tori chuckled. “Yeah. For a few weeks anyway.”

Carol took Tori’s hands in hers. “I wish you the best Tori. We all just want you to be happy. Just don’t expect this to fix overnight, and don’t forget that you have to do your share of the work. You both have to really want this marriage to work. But I have faith that you can do it. Put that Bongiovi stubbornness to good use. If you have any questions, any time, I’m here.”

“Thanks.” Tori drew in a deep breath, and slowly let it out.

A commotion could be heard in the hallway. They waited to see who would come through the door first.

“Hi honey. How are you and my grandson?” John Sr. bent to kiss her.

“Hi John. We’re doing well.” She was going to add ‘see for yourself’, but John was already lifting the baby out of his bassinette. Tori looked at Carol and they both rolled their eyes.

“Grandma B, Grandpa B, hi!” Ava came bouncing through the door, a bag in her hand which she handed to Tori. “Here’s your burger Tori.”

“Bean, you’re a life saver! Thank you.” Opening the wrapper she inhaled deeply, took a huge bite and sighed in satisfaction.

Richie chuckled and set a drink container down on the table beside her. “Slow down angel. Enjoy your food.”

A suck on the straw revealed that the cup contained a chocolate milkshake. Her brows rose. “Mmmmmm.” She swallowed. “That tastes like heaven. Thanks.You’re pretty useful, I think I’ll keep you around.”

The room went silent as Richie froze and searched her face. “Yeah?”

The other adults held their breath as they waited for her answer. Tori stared at him for a long moment, glanced at Stevie, then Carol, and nodded. “Yeah.”

He grinned, leaned over and kissed her. “Thank you angel. I’ll make sure you never regret it.”

Ava, sensing the emotion in the air glanced between her father and Tori and her Nana who was wiping her eyes, and the senior Bongiovi’s who were exchanging an understanding look. “What’s going on?”

“Tori’s coming home.” Richie replied.

“Really?” Ava climbed up on the bed beside Tori. “You’re really coming home? You promise?”

Tori nodded. “Yes Bean. I’m really coming home. I promise.”

Chapter 260

Tori fed Stevie, then stood with him staring out once again at the city lights. She blew out a long breath. “I don’t know Peanut. I just don’t know what to think. Can I believe her? Do I dare? What if I do, and it all turns out to be a lie? But is it fair to either one of us – or Daddy - to not even try?”

An hour later, Stevie was asleep in his bassinet and Tori was lying on the bed staring at the ceiling. She was no closer to an answer. She wanted to believe Heather. God! How she wanted to believe her! She wanted things back the way they were before. She wanted her happy life back! But she wasn’t sure she could trust her. The reversal of her attitude was possible, but her track record wasn’t good.

She’d turned off the light, leaving just the lamp on the bed side table burning, but she was still awake when Richie quietly opened the door and slid inside. He bent over the bassinet to kiss his son’s cheek, fingered the bandana, shook his head, then, feeling her eyes on him, turned towards her. “Hi.”

“Hi. How’d it go?”

“It was really nice.” He showed her the small statuette they’d given him.

She ran her finger over the engraved writing. “You should be very proud Rich. You’ve worked long and hard for this. You and Jon. They couldn’t have picked more deserving people.”

“Thanks.” Something in her voice had him smoothing back her hair and searching her face. “Angel? Is something wrong? Don’t you feel well? Is it the baby?”

She shook her head. “Peanut and I are both fine.”

“Then what is it?”

“I had a vistor tonight.”

“Yeah? Who?” The whole family – including her parents - had been at the induction.

“Heather.” She watched him closely for his reaction.

“Oh God! I’m sorry.” He sat down and raked a hand through his hair in agitation. “Did she upset you? What did she want? Are you okay?”

“Richie, stop! I’m fine. She came to apologize for trying to steal you away and to give me her explanation of events.”

He sighed. Her lack of temper was a good sign, but he was afraid to hope. Still, he had to try. “Tori? Can we talk about this now?”

She studied him for a moment, then nodded. “I guess now’s as good a time as any.” Sitting up, she fluffed the pillow behind her back and made herself as comfortable as she could. “Why Richie? That’s what I still can’t wrap my mind around. If you love me so much, and we’re as perfect for each other as everyone wants me to believe, then why? And don’t give me the same story you did before. ‘I had to be sure’ doesn’t fly with me. Or everytime you see a woman who interests you do I have to worry that you might want to see if the grass is greener on the other side of the fence ‘just to be sure’?”

“No!” He leaned forward, rested his arms on the bed and picked up her hand to toy with her fingers. “What I told you wasn’t a lie, but it wasn’t the whole truth either.” He paused. “I’ve been a coward. I didn’t trust you with my deepest fears and thoughts and I should have. You’re my wife. I should be able to share everything with you. Here I am begging you to trust me, when I haven’t trusted you. I….when my marriage to Heather failed, I felt that I had failed. I don’t know what more I thought I could have done, all I knew was that I felt like I hadn’t done enough. So when Heather came to me, telling me she’d changed, that the therapy had shown her how wrong she’d been… was like I was being given a second chance.” He looked up from their hands to meet her gaze, his dark eyes wet and shining. “But then there was you and Peanut. You’d come into my life, and made me…..whole again. You’d shown me that I didn’t need the glitz and glamour of fame to be happy and successful. In fact, I loved going to your home town and being able to walk down the street with you without having flashbulbs go off in my face every ten steps. You stood by me through all that mess last Easter, and helped me fight my demons. You were giving me a child! You were making all of my dreams come true, but all I could see was a chance to correct the failure of my past. I hurt you badly. I know that. I will never be able to tell you how sorry I am for that. I never meant to.” He looked back down and played with her wedding rings. “When you left I got a taste of what life would be like without you.” Once again his gaze met hers. “I didn’t like it. It was ten times worse than when Heather left. A hundred times a day I’d turn to say something to you and felt a stab of pain that you weren’t there. Our bed was empty and cold. I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t eat. I couldn’t even play.”

Tori’s brows rose. She didn’t think there was anything that would take away the music for him. “Did you drink?”

He shook his head. “No. I thought about it. I wanted to, but there was no point. No amount of alcohol was going to dull this pain, even for a little while. I almost even…..Heather tried one last time. She thought with you gone she could step in, but….I couldn’t. Even though I was hurting and lonely, I couldn’t do it. She didn’t feel like you, she didn’t smell like you, she didn’t taste like you. She just wasn’t you! And that’s what I wanted. What I needed. I pushed her away and told her it was over. For good. The past was the past. We can’t relive it. The best we can do is learn from it and not make the same mistakes again. She is the mother of my daughter, and that’s it. Nothing more. You are my life, my love, my future. Please tell me that I haven’t let my fear and cowardice – and stupidity - ruin the best thing that ever happened to me! I will do what ever you want, if you’ll give me another chance! Angel please!”

“What did you mean, when I asked you if it wasn’t for the baby would you still be here, and you said you didn’t know?” That had felt like a stab in the heart.

He grimaced. “That was a stupid, thoughtless answer that didn’t come out right, and I’m sorry for that too. What I meant was that I couldn’t separate you and the baby. When I was considering my options, so to speak, I had always considered either Heather or you and Peanut. I had never considered just between you and Heather. When you asked I answered as honestly as I could, but I should have explained that I didn’t know, because I’d never considered it. I know it doesn’t sound a whole lot better with the explanation, but I wasn’t exactly at my best at the time.

The tears rolled slowly down her cheeks. “You hurt me unlike anything I’ve ever felt before. You lied to me, You broke promises. You made me feel….like I wasn’t good enough, like something was missing in me.”

He lifted one hand and used his thumb to wipe away her tears. “I know. Baby, I’m soo sorry about that. You’re too good for me. I don’t deserve you. But I want you, only you. I need you. I love you! Can you honestly tell me that you don’t love me anymore? That you haven’t missed me? Missed us?”

She shook her head. “No I can’t. But this isn’t about love. Or not just about love. It’s about trust.” She looked down at his hand holding hers. “That picture the other day of you and Heather…”

“That was completely innocent, I swear! It was outside her hotel. I was picking Ava up, and she handed me some of Ava’s jewellery. That’s all it was.” They were silent for several moments. Finally, he couldn’t stand it any longer. “Angel? Tell me what you’re thinking.”

She sighed. “I love you Richie, I can’t deny that. I just don’t know if I can trust you, and I’m afraid to try. I couldn’t bear it if I was made a fool of again.”

“That wouldn’t happen! I promise. I know that it’s going to take some time and I’ve got to earn back your trust. All I’m asking is that you give me the chance to prove myself to you. Don’t you want things like they were before all this? Weren’t we happy then? We can have that again!”

“I wish we could Rich, but I don’t see how things can ever be the same again. How do we get passed this?” That was the part that bothered her the most. She would give anything to have things the way they were, but she was afraid that everytime he left the house she’d wonder where he was and what he was doing, and that was no way to live.

“One day at a time angel. And with plenty of patience and love.” He thought the conversation sounded positive, but she hadn’t come right out and said it. Before he could ask, Stevie woke up. “Dinner time again?” She glanced at her watch and nodded. He stood, pulled the bassinet closer, and lifted the baby out. Laying him on the bed, he changed his diaper, under Mommy’s watchful eye.

She smiled her approval as he finished and handed her the baby. “Nice job Daddy. I’m impressed.”

He shrugged. “It doesn’t smell yet.”

She chuckled and gazed down at their son. Didn’t she owe it to him to at least try to give him an opportunity to grow up with both parents? But how did she push aside the hurt and mistrust? Could she? She doubted that she could ever forget, but could she find a way to forgive? She lifted her head and searched Richie’s face. He raised a brow. “I’m not saying no, but I’m not saying yes either. I want to talk to Carol before I give you an answer. I want to know how she did it. If she can give me some hope that it can work, then I’ll come home and we’ll give it a try.”

He nodded, knowing it was the best he could hope for. Leaning over, he kissed her forehead, hesitated, then kissed her softly on the lips, relieved when she kissed him back. “Thank you. You won’t regret it angel. I promise. I may be stupid sometimes, but I do learn.” He glanced down and adjusted the tiny black bandana on Stevie’s head. “Do I even need to ask?”

She shook her head. “No, it was Shirley. I was going to change it back, but it’s actually kind of cute.”

Friday, April 10, 2009

Chapter 259

Tori ate her dinner, fed Stevie, changed him and walked slowly around the room with him stretching her legs now that there was room to do so. Stopping by the window, she looked out at the city lights and sighed – partly in relief at the quiet, partly with a twinge of loneliness. “Looks like it’s just you and me for awhile Peanut.”

A knock at the door had her turning. The sight that met her gaze had her eyes widening and her stomach clenching. She started to tremble as anger rushed through her body, and she quickly moved to put Stevie in the bassinet.

“I’m not here to cause any trouble.”

“Oh I think that you’ve done enough of that already Heather.”

“I know and I want to apologize for that.” She waved at a chair. “Can I come in? I’d like to explain what happened.”

“What makes you think I want to hear it?”

“Because you love Richie, you have a deep sense of fairplay and you have a new baby that deserves to have a happy family around him.” Heather studied Tori for a minute. “Can you tell me that you’re not at least a little curious about what I have to say?”

“I’m more curious what your motive is for telling me.”

Heather nodded. “I deserved that. But honestly, my only motive is to set the record straight. I didn’t want you to blame Richie for something he didn’t do. He doesn’t deserve that…and neither do you.”

Tori sat on the bed and waved Heather to a chair. “Are you telling me that he didn’t meet with you behind my back for three months trying to decide whether he wanted to stay with me or go back to you?”

“No. That part is true. But it’s only part of the story. I’ve done some things in the past that I’m not very proud of.” She took a deep breath. “After my hospitalization last June, the medication they gave me made me feel better and the therapy I started made me realize how badly I had treated Richie and how stupid I was to let him go. So I set out to get him back. I got him talking through our issues – something I should have done before filing for divorce. But instead of it bringing him back to me, it just highlighted our problems. I wasn’t far enough in my therapy to see that I was as much – if not more – to blame as he was. He saw that nothing had changed and he married you.” She paused. “The DUI wasn’t an accident. I didn’t take enough to endanger anyone, just enough to get the attention I was looking for – both from the media and from Richie. I knew that when it hit the news you would come home, even from your honeymoon, to be here for Ava. I figured once I got him back in L.A., I could use our past, our daughter and our issues – his addiction and my depression – to forge some common ground. For awhile I thought it had worked. You’d gone to New Jersey and he stayed in L.A. with me.” Her lips twisted into a wry smile. “I didn’t take into account the Bongiovi stubbornness and temperament. You saw what I was doing and turned it around and used it against me. That was very clever. Then you got pregnant, and I knew I was running out of time. If I didn’t get him away from you before the baby was born, I never would. When you missed Ava’s soccer game when you were sick, it was the perfect opportunity. I gave him this story about how my therapy had helped me so much and made me see how wrong I’d been, and got him to agree to meet with me one or twice a week. The strange thing was, the longer I stayed in therapy, the more I came to understand my own actions and how they affected everyone around me. My doctor helped me take a good, hard look at myself and I didn’t like what I saw. I realized how selfish and self-centred I’d been, not only in my marriage, but with my daughter as well. I was – and am – determined to change that. But as hard as I was trying I felt Richie slipping away from me. At the beginning, I really thought I had a chance to win him back, but as time went on, I could sense that it wasn’t going to happen. By the time you left, I was expecting him to tell me it was over for good any day. When you left he was devastated.”

She leaned forward. “He loves you Tori. I think more than he ever did me.” Tori raised a brow. “I’m serious. You’re a better match for him than I was. Although maybe it took everything we went through for him to really appreciate you and to understand that he didn’t need the fame and glitter and all the trappings of my life to be happy.” She studied Tori for a moment. “We didn’t sleep together. I tried, I won’t lie to you – obviously, you saw the pictures. After you left I even thought I was going to succeed. But he couldn’t go through with it. When I tried to move it beyond kissing, he froze and pulled back. He said he couldn’t do that to you, but beyond that he didn’t want to. You were the only one he wanted.”

Tori sighed. “Whay are you telling me all this?”

Heather smiled wryly. “He’s made it very clear that he and I will never work. I have accepted that. Whether you take him back or not, he won’t be coming back to me, and he’d be hard pressed to find anyone as good for him as you are. You make him happy. And you know when to be tough with him. He told me about how you helped him through his DUI mess. You didn’t coddle him like everyone else has – myself included -, making excuses for him. You made him accept responsibility for his own actions, then helped him deal with his problem. And you’re good with Ava.” She frowned. “When you left, she…..well, she was heart broken. She loves you very much.” She glanced up revealing tear filled eyes. “Do have any idea what it feels like to have your own child miss someone more that she ever missed you?” Tori looked at Stevie, and couldn’t imagine it. Reaching for a tissue Heather blew her nose. “I know I haven’t been the world’s best mother, but I do love her. I’ve already destroyed her family once, I don’t want to be responsible for destroying another one.” The tears overflowed. “I can’t bear the pain in her eyes.” Tori didn’t look convinced. “I don’t blame you for not believing me. I haven’t treated you very well either. I want to apologize for my behaviour at Thanksgiving. That was rude and unacceptable.”

Tori shrugged. “I felt bad for Jack. I understood why you were doing it to me, but to do that in front of him was just plain cruel.”

“I know. I’ve apologized to him too. For everything.”

“And where does he fit into all of this?”

“In the dark for the most part, just like you were.” She leaned her head back and closed her eyes. “I think I’ve lost him too.”

Tori wouldn’t be surprised. What man would stand by a woman who obviously thought he was second best. Or vice versa for that matter. She would have spoken, but Stevie chose that moment to wake up. Sitting on the side of the bed, she pulled the bassinet to her.

Heather watched as she changed his diaper. “He’s the spitting image of Richie.” The baby’s eyes opened. “Except for the Bongiovi blue eyes.”

Tori smiled despite herself and nodded. “Yeah. Dorothea’s a little disgusted at how strong that particular gene is.”

“He’s going to be a heart breaker.” Heather smiled sadly. “He’s beautiful Tori. I don’t know what you’re going to decide about your marriage, but take it from someone who’s been there. Think carefully before you throw it all away. You may not realize your mistake until it’s too late.” She stood and walked to the door where she stopped. “Tori…if you decide to give Richie another chance….I know we can never be friends, but I hope that we don’t have to be enemies either…for Ava’s sake.”

Tori studied her for a long minute, then nodded. Heather started to turn away. “And Heather?” She waited until the other woman turned back to face her. “Thank you….for telling me all this.”

Heather nodded. “Oh, one more thing. That picture the other day? It was taken when Richie came to pick up Ava. I know it looks like we were holding hands, but I was just handing him some jewellery of Ava’s. It was perfectly innocent. Richie didn’t do anything wrong. Take care of yourself Tori. And your family.”

At the induction ceremony, Jon was giving a thank you speech, and glanced at Richie standing beside him. “Why don’t you tell everyone why your wife’s not with you tonight Rich.”

Richie tried to keep a straight face. “Well, she would have liked to have been here, but she’s in the hospital.” The crowd murmured. “She’s alright.” He grinned. “She gave birth to our son yesterday.” The crowd applauded and cheered.

Jon clapped him on the back. “Well go on…tell them his name.”

“Yes Uncle Jon. Stephen Adam Sambora weighed in at eight pounds seven ounces. Mommy and baby are both doing well.”
This is my nice little story turned epic with Richie in the starring role - although Jon plays a large part.