She turned away from the bar, drinks in hand and bumped into the man behind her in the crowded bar. “Sorry.” She murmured automatically.
“No problem darlin’.” The man responded just as automatically.
The drawling voice brought back a flood of memories for her – some good, some bad, and some she’d fought very hard to forget. It can’t be! Glancing up, violet eyes met brown and her fears were confirmed. Quickly looking away, she pushed by him and searched the room until she saw her friend Lori waving at her from the table she’d found them near the stage. She didn’t see the dark head turn sharply to follow her progress across the room.
She handed Lori her drink, set her own on the table and sat down. Pulling out her notebook and a pen, she jotted down her impressions of the crowd.
“Wow, this place is packed! These guys must be good.” Lori commented.
“That’s the word on the street.” She replied. And she prayed that the crowd would make it impossible for the man to find her – if he even recognized her…….or remembered her at all. She had thought that her past was deeply buried and forgotten, but one word, a glimpse of a once familiar face and it all came back as if it happened two days ago instead of almost twenty years.
“Veronica? Are you okay?”
“Yeah, I’m fine. I just hope that this band lives up to its hype. I’m tired of sitting in crowded bars listening to kids who believe their own marketing, but can’t live up to it.”
“Yeah, I hear ya. When they talk about the fun and glory of being an A&R rep for a record company, they don’t tell you about all the crap you have to listen to before you find...a...star…holy shit!.” Lori finished on a caught breath.
Veronica looked at her friend in alarm, then noticed that Lori was looking at a spot above her head – way above her head. She didn’t turn around. The sick feeling in her stomach told her who was standing there.
“Ronnie? Is it really you?”
Damn! “Hi Swingman, yes it’s really me.” She turned to face the tall guitarist. “How’s tricks?”
“May I sit down?”
She waved him to a chair.
“Swingman? Ronnie? Veronica, do you know him?” Lori asked in a low voice.
“Mmmm..a long time ago.” Veronica responded.
As Richie sat down she looked around surreptitiously. He noticed.
“No, he’s not here. I left him at the hotel.”
Relieved, she relaxed a little. “What are you doing here anyway?”
“You know me, I’m always looking for some good live music and rumour has it these guys are good.”
“But what are you doing in Nashville?”
“We’ve been coming down here for quite a few years now to absorb the atmosphere, enjoy some good music and do some writing. This time we’re here to record an album.”
At this point Lori jumped in. “Didn’t Jeremy tell you Veronica?” Jeremy was the studio operations manager at Blackbird Studios where Veronica was borrowing an office. Lori worked there too.
“Tell me what? Oh, sorry, Richie, this is my friend Lori. Lori…well you know who Richie is.”
“Hi Lori, nice to meet you.” Richie held out his hand.
“Hi Richie, nice to meet you too.” She shook his hand then turned to Veronica. “Bon Jovi is recording at the studio.”
“WHAT! No he didn’t tell me.” The colour drained from Veronica’s face. “When?”
Lori shrugged and both girls looked at Richie.
“We start on Monday.” He looked at Veronica. “You work for Blackbird?”
“Mercury Records actually, but I’m working out of Blackbird for the next few months.” She’d been in and out of Nashville many times over the last ten years, for varying lengths of time. So much so, that she’d rented an apartment here.
He shook his head. “Country music? You? I can’t believe it.”
“Why not?” Lori asked.
“Ronnie was the biggest rocker chic I ever met.”
Veronica shrugged. “Things change. People change.”
“Yes, they do.” Richie agreed, his tone thick with meaning. Veronica ignored it.
“How do you two know each other anyway?” Lori sensed a lot of emotional undercurrents flowing between the other two.
Veronica jumped in before Richie could answer. “You know that I worked at Polygram back in the 80s, right? Well, Bon Jovi was one of the bands I worked with.” She shot Richie a pleading look, and hoped he wouldn’t feel the need to add to her explanation.
“How’ve you been Ronnie? You’re looking good.”
“Thanks Rich. I’m doing well. You’re looking pretty good yourself – short hair and all.”
He chuckled. “Yeah, I held onto it as long as I could, but I finally had to grow up and cut it. I see you’ve toned yours down too.”
She laughed and ran a hand through her shoulder length curls. “Yeah, I’ve sold my shares in Aquanet. I can actually get within three feet of someone without poking their eye out…not to mention removing the fire risk!” She took a sip of her drink. “So how’s the family? You have a daughter don’t you?”
“Yeah, Ava. She’s nine and by far the best part of me. You may have heard that her mother and I split?” Both girls nodded. He frowned and shrugged. “Guess the whole world knows.”
“The female half anyway. From what I’ve heard they’re already lining up to audition to be her replacement.” Veronica tried to lighten the mood a little. “But you should be able to handle it. It’s not the first time you’ve dealt with those kinds of lines.”
“So the stories are true!” Lori exclaimed.
Richie laughed, his dark eyes twinkling at the memories. “Naw, they’re highly exaggerated.”
Veronica snorted. “You stick to that story Swingman.” She took another sip. “How’re your parents?”
Richie took a sip of his own drink before answering. “Ma’s good.” He paused. “Dad.....Dad’s not so good. He has terminal lung cancer.”
“Oh, Richie, I’m so sorry.” Eyes filling with tears, she reached out to place her hand on his. “He’s such a wonderful man.” He’d always been very kind to her.
Gripping it, he squeezed, nodded and blowing out a breath, changed the subject. “What about you? Husband?” He hesitated. “Kids?”
Her face tightened as she sat back and looked towards the stage. “No.”
His gaze narrowed on her face, but before he could pursue what he saw there, the emcee came out to introduce the band.
During a break, they discussed what they’d heard and the crowd’s reaction to it. Richie grinned at Veronica and shook his head in amazement.
“You’ve still got it.”
“That feel for what the audience wants. What will sell and what won’t.” He turned to Lori. “She was always good at that. She helped me convince Jon that Living on a Prayer was going to be a hit when he wanted to give it away.”
“Really? That was you?” Lori looked at the friend she thought she knew in amazement.
Veronica shrugged. “I just pointed out that I was his target audience and if I liked it, chances were the other kids would too.”
Richie snorted and gave her back her own words. “You stick to that story Ronnie.”
The band had finished and they were getting ready to leave when Richie caught Veronica’s hand. “Ronnie, will you see him?”
She shook her head. “No. It was great seeing you again Swingman. Take care of yourself.” Raising up on tiptoe, she kissed his cheek.
“No! Richie, let it go!” She sighed. “The past is dead and buried.” Her lips twisted at her own words. “Let it go.”
She turned and walked away without answering.