Jon stood on the balcony of his room, squinted against the smoke drifting up from his cigarette and debated his next move. He was at a loss, but he refused to accept defeat. Once again Ronnie had refused all his invitations over the weekend to spend some time together. He’d tried meals, drinks, checking out new talent with her, touring the Opryland Museum, even a trip to Memphis. She’d always loved blues music and he’d thought for sure she wouldn’t be able to turn it down....but she had. Without even thinking twice. He had to find a way to break through her defences and get her to talk to him! He understood why she didn’t want to. He’d behaved like the lowest form of scum eighteen years ago. He knew that . He knew that he had a lot to apologize and make up for. He didn’t know all the details, but he had a general idea of what had happened to her....to them. His only excuse is that he was young and stupid.....and scared. But that doesn’t excuse you running away like a coward and not being there when she needed you, asshole!
He sighed and raked a hand through his hair. His once perfect life had come at a price. He’d hurt a lot of people to get where he was....his wife, who basically raised the kids alone and had to deal with everything from scraped knees to broken pipes by herself, his kids who could never count on him being around for school plays or ball games – although missing those things hurt him as much as it did them, and many friends and acquaintances that he’d had to step on or over – or leave behind – on his way to the top. He wasn’t proud of some of the things, he’d done, but if he had to do it over again, he honestly couldn’t say he would do it differently. Except for Ronnie. What he’d done to her was inexcusable and undeserved. Although he’d managed to bury the memories for long periods of time, every once in awhile, when he was feeling down and vulnerable, they would come back to haunt him. And after Dot’s parting words to him when she told him she wanted a divorce, he couldn’t get them out of his head. How many people do you have to use and abuse before you’re satisfied? At what point will you consider yourself successful, and say ‘enough’? Is there such a point? When will your family come first? I guess I’m partly to blame. I let you get away with it. I should have seen it coming with the way you threw Ronnie to the side when she became a threat to your success, with no thought or consideration for what she was going through. I thought you’d outgrow that attitude. I waited seventeen years. I can’t wait any longer.
After that, he’d spent a lot of time soul searching and looking back over his life. He’d never meant to hurt anyone. But his drive to succeed had been – and still was – so strong that it had often overpowered the saner, more....human...side of him. He realized now how arrogant, controlling and inconsiderate he’d been to those around him, including his family and his bandmates. He didn’t like the man he’d become – not the singer/songwriter or the philanthropist, but the man himself. Who he was with the people he cared about the most. How he treated them. The successful businessman and musician was a piss poor husband, father and friend. Not all the time, but more often than not. He could give his time and effort to the homeless and less fortunate, but not to his own family. He shook his head at himself. What a fool he’d been. What good was any of it without people you loved to share it with? All the money and awards in the world wouldn’t keep him warm at night or cuddle on the couch with him, or.....just be there to answer when he called out so that the house wasn’t so damn quiet!
He stubbed out his cigarette and flicked the butt over the balcony. He had to make some changes. He couldn’t continue on this way. He was lonely and he had no one to blame but himself. So he did what he always did with strong emotions. He wrote songs about it. Sure, he used what Richie was going through as well, but there was a lot of him in this album – more than anyone, including Richie, knew. The more he examined his behaviour, and the more he wrote, the more he thought about Ronnie. She had been so much fun to be with, so beautiful, smart, so....in tune with him and the music. She’d understood what it meant to him like no other woman in his life ever had before...or since. They could often communicate without even speaking. She lit up the room just by being in it. She’d made him feel so alive and wanted and needed – for himself, not for what he did. He’d loved her so much it scared him sometimes. And he’d rewarded all that with betrayal and abandonment. He couldn’t get rid of the sick feeling in his stomach that came every time those memories surfaced. Then he’d run into Southside Johnny who happened to mention that he’d seen Ronnie several months earlier, and he knew what he had to do. He had to find a way to make amends, or at the very least talk to her and apologize for his behaviour. So he’d hauled the guys to Nashville, to the studio where she was working. He’d forced her to help with the album, thinking it would be a good way to break the ice formed by past events and eighteen years. He’d hoped to use the music, the songs he’d written with her in mind, to get her to let him back in. So far he’d seen no real sign that it was working. He had to get her to talk to him! He couldn’t lose her again.
He sighed, poured another cup of coffee and lit another cigarette just as his phone rang. “Hello.”
“Hi Dad. Did I wake you up?”
“Hi Steph. No, I’ve been up for a while. How are you?”
“I’m good. Can’t sleep huh? Problems with the album?” She knew her father well.
“No, it’s going really well. Much smoother than I’d anticipated.” He ignored her real question about why he wasn’t sleeping.
“How’s Uncle Mookie doing?”
“He’s hanging in there. We’re keeping him busy. Is everything okay there?”
“Yeah, we’re all fine.”
“So what’s up? Or did you just call to check up on the old man?” Since the divorce, Stephanie had taken to mothering him a little and often being the go between for him and her mother and brothers.
“When will you be home?”
“Um...we’ve got this week in the studio, then I’ll be home for a couple weeks before going to England to mix it for a week or so.”
When she didn’t say anymore, he frowned. “Steph? Sweetie, what’s going on?”
“Nothing. We just miss you.....and we just wondered if you’d be home for my school play next Monday and Jesse’s football game on Saturday afternoon.”
“I miss you guys too. I’ll be there for your play and Jesse’s game.”
“Promise?” Jesse had picked up the extension.
“Yes, Jess, I promise.” He’d made a vow to himself to not make promises to his kids that he couldn’t keep, but also to make a point of being more involved in their lives and activities.
“Mmmmhmm.” While Stephanie had stayed neutral, and Jake and Romeo were too young to take sides, Jesse tended to blame his father for the breakup of his family. His tone indicated that he’d believe it when he saw it.
“I mean it Jess. I’ll be there.”
“Hi Jakey. How are you?”
“Good. When you tomin’ home?”
“I’ll be back in New Jersey Saturday morning.” Dot had moved the kids to New York City, while he’d stayed in the house on the Navesink.
“No, when you tomin’ home?”
Jon raked a hand through his hair and tried to find a way to explain to a four and a half year old. Stephanie came to his rescue. “Daddy lives at the old house now, remember Jakey?”
“But when him tomin’ here?”
Jon jumped on that one. “I’ll see you next weekend.”
“Yay!” Jon heard the phone click as Jake took off.
“Do you want me to tell Mom you’ll be coming?”
Jon smiled wryly. His thirteen year old daughter was growing up fast – too fast for his father’s sensibilities to handle – or approve of. “Yeah. I’ll call and let you know what time I’ll be there.”
“Okay.” She paused. “I love you.”
“I love you too sweetie. Give Romeo a kiss for me.”
“I will. Bye Dad.”
“Bye sweetie.” Hanging up, Jon sighed, rubbed a hand over his face and prepared to head into the studio.