Finally, the album was finished and the guys prepared to leave. Veronica smiled indulgently while she watched Richie pack up his ‘babies’ and prepare them for the trip home.
Lori, Naomi, Tricia and the rest of the staff who had been involved with the album came by to say goodbye. While Jon was over to one side of the room thanking the techs, Richie pulled Veronica aside.
“Here.” He handed her a slip of paper.
“My cell phone number. I want you to promise to call me if you ever need anything – and I mean anything. Even if it’s just to talk. Just because he’s an asshole doesn’t mean we can’t be friends, does it?”
She chuckled and hugged him. “No, it doesn’t. Thanks.” She hadn’t realized how much she’d missed his easy going nature and ready humour. When he stood there with an expectant look on his face, she raised a brow. “What?”
He held out his hand, palm up. “Don’t I get your number too? I’m serious Ronnie, I don’t want to lose contact with you again. Life’s too short to let the people you care about slip away.”
Knowing he was thinking about his father, she had to blink away tears. “I agree. Unfortunately, sometimes you don’t have a choice.” She hugged him again, then searched for a piece of paper and jotted down her cell number for him.
He tweaked her nose. “Take care of yourself little girl.”
“You too Jughead.”
Hugh was next, followed by David. Both wanted hugs and David passed over his cell number and demanded hers in return. She handed it over with a sigh, telling herself it was easier to just give it to him than worry about what stunt he might pull to get it from someone else – and experience told her he would make it as embarrassing for her as possible.
Tico was last. He hugged her and kissed her cheek. “Take care nina.” He too handed over his cell number. “Don’t be a stranger.”
Finally, there was just Jon. When he came to stand in front of her, Lori, Naomi and Tricia moved to stand beside her. He smiled wryly at the defensive wall of feminine support. Veronica stiffened when he reached for her hand and brushed his lips over her cheek – he was afraid of what she...or the girls...might do if he tried to hug her. “Thanks for all of your help Ronnie. You did a fantastic job as usual.” He paused. “I never meant to hurt you. I’m sorry.”
She wasn’t sure if he was referring to the past or just the past week, but she didn’t ask for clarification. It really didn’t matter. “Goodbye Jon.” At least she’d finally gotten the opportunity to say that.
“See you Ronnie.” He wouldn’t say goodbye – not with the note of finality that she gave the word anyway. He was determined to see her again. He wasn’t giving up that easily.
When the pilot had turned off the seatbelt sign, Richie stood and dropped into the seat next to Jon. “So...what’s next?”
“I’ve got some stuff to do with the kids over the next couple weeks, then we’ll head to England to mix it.” When Richie just stared at him, he raised a brow. “What?”
“Cute. Come on man, you might as well tell me. I know that things didn’t go the way you had hoped and I know you won’t give up until you get what you want.”
Jon frowned in confusion. “I’m really happy with the album.”
Richie gave him a withering glance. “I’m not talking about the album and you know it.” When Jon continued to sit there playing dumb, he snorted and opened his mouth.
Before he could say anything Tico sat down. “So what’s your plan?”
“Yeah, how are you going to do it?” David joined them.
Jon stared at them. “What are you talking about? Do what?”
“Bring Ronnie to heel.” David answered like it was obvious.
“What are you talking about Lema?” Jon frowned.
“She blew you off, didn’t do what you wanted, and we all know how well that goes over.” David was being deliberately harsh. They – Tico, Richie and him – had talked about it and had decided that they weren’t going to let Jon cause Ronnie any more pain. It was just too hard to watch and she didn’t deserve it. “You must have a plan to make her fall in line. Or maybe you’ve decided you don’t want her after all.” They all held their breath and waited for the explosion of the Bongiovi temper. But Jon surprised them.
“Am I really that much of an asshole?”
The other three men exchanged a look. It was Richie who answered. “Honestly?” It was rare to be able to have this kind of a conversation with Jon. Jon nodded. “Not always, but you can be. You’re a perfectionist and want things your way. That’s not always a bad thing – you’re usually right. Plus, it’s your name on the organization. You’re the boss and you got us to where we are. You’ve done a great job. You’ve worked harder, and given up more than any of us. We appreciate everything you’ve done.”
When he hesitated, Tico took over. “But you can be a little harsh with people. More than a little, actually. You have no patience. You want what you want, how you want it, when you want it, and heaven help the poor fool who doesn’t deliver.”
“If I’m so horrible to deal with, how come we never have a problem finding staff and crew?” He didn’t want to believe he was really that bad.
“Because they want to learn from the best and be able to put us on a resume.” Richie explained. “How long do staff stay on average? How many crew members come back for more than one tour?” That one was a little unfair since a lot of crew members moved around to another artist after a tour, but Jon got the point.
“We understand why you are the way you are. You’ve had to fight your way up basically from nothing. You’ve built an incredible organization from the ground up. You’ve paid your dues, and earned the right to dictate how things should be done.” David acknowledged.
“We have thick skins. We can take it.” Tico continued. “But Ronnie doesn’t, and she doesn’t deserve to be treated so callously, without any consideration for her feelings. She’s been through enough.” He locked eyes with Jon. “Let her be, man. Let her find some peace.”
“I....I can’t.” Jon admitted. “I understand what you’re saying, but I just can’t let her go. She haunts me. I’ve never been able to forget her. Even after all of these years, she’s still a part of me.”
“What is it that you want from her?” Richie was getting frustrated with his friend’s single-minded stubbornness.
“I want to talk to her – or more like I want her to talk to me.”
“About what? The glorious days of our youth together? Or those lovely days eighteen years ago when she went through hell alone while you ran away?” Even Tico flinched at Richie’s hard edged words.
Jon looked at his wingman for a long moment. “I want to know what happened. I need to know.”
The other three men exchanged glances. It was David who finally asked the question they all were thinking. “You mean you don’t know?”
Jon shook his head. “Oh, I know the basics, but not the details.”
“Didn’t you go to see her? Or at least call her and talk to her....afterwards?” Richie couldn’t believe what he was hearing.
Jon shifted uncomfortably in his seat. “No. We were on the road, remember? I meant to once we had a long enough break, but Doc convinced me that she was fine and didn’t want to see me and that it was best if I stayed away.”
“And you actually went along with that?” David was stunned. “Man! You knew what he was like by then! What were you thinking?”
“I wasn’t, alright?! I was young and scared and...stupid! I knew I’d fucked up, but I couldn’t face it. I just wanted to get far away and forget it. We were on our way! I couldn’t let anything get in the way of our success.” He raked a hand through his hair. “I know how that sounds, and you can’t say or do anything that will make me feel any worse than I already do.....and have for the better part of eighteen years.”
“Don’t tempt me.” Tico growled. He shook his head in disgust. “You’re an even bigger asshole than I thought.” He stood up. “Stay away from her Jon. Don’t make me kick your ass.”
The three men got up and moved to the table to play cards. Jon stayed in his seat and stared out the window.