He found her outside the back door, leaning against the wall, her face buried in her hands, shoulders shaking with silent sobs. At that moment he could have cheerfully strangled his mother. Oh Nica. Let me show you that this family can cause you something other than pain! He wrapped her in his arms and held her close, one hand stroking her hair. “I’m sorry sugar. She’s wrong. You didn’t deserve any of it.”
She wasn’t strong enough to push him away at the moment, so she clenched her hands in his shirt and leaned against him. “Why does she hate me?”
Jon sighed. “I think......she’s been a driving force behind my career right from the beginning. She had to take a back seat to Doc, but she accepted that because his only concern was my – and therefore his – success. Dorothea never involved herself in any of this, and so wasn’t a threat to Mom’s control. But you were. You understood the music and the business and you loved me and wanted me to succeed. You saw what Doc was doing to me when she hadn’t and tried to stop it. When I had you, I didn’t need her, I already had it all.”
Veronica sniffed. It made a weird kind of sense, she guessed. “You mean....she was jealous of me?”
“Yeah, sort of. And now that Dot and I aren’t together anymore, when she saw you, the threat was back and she lashed out.” He tilted her head up to him with one hand under her chin, searched her eyes, wiped the tears from her cheeks and pressed a gentle kiss to her lips. “I’m sorry she hurt you. Are you okay?”
She blew out a breath. “Yeah.” She hesitated. “Thanks.”
“Anytime.” He hugged her. “And I mean that.”
She smiled and gave him a little nudge. “Let’s go inside. I’ve got work to do and your kids are waiting for you.”
“How did you know that?”
“Matt gave me the heads up.”
Well at least some members of my family are looking out for her. He led her inside and glanced at his watch. “Sound check in half an hour?” She nodded.
Veronica was sitting a few rows behind the fans watching sound check, when Stephanie came out and sat beside her. “Hi.”
“Hi.” Veronica eyed her warily. “Should you be out here so close to the fans?” A quick glance at Jon revealed him watching his daughter, a slight frown creasing his brow. He relaxed when he saw that the fans weren’t paying any attention to her.
Steph shrugged. “They don’t really know me if I’m not with Mom or Dad.”
“You don’t think they’ll figure it out?”
Steph shrugged again. “Not right away.” She paused. “I wanted to make sure you were okay.” At Veronica’s questioning look, she explained. “I heard Grandpa yelling at Grandma, saying that she didn’t need to be so rude and cruel to you. Then Dad came and started in on her. She must have said something really mean.” She hesitated. “I love my Grandma, but she can be a real bi..” Veronica’s brow rose. Steph’s lips twisted. “....witch sometimes.” Veronica didn’t disagree. “So...are you okay?”
“Yeah. I’m fine. I have thick skin. I can take it.” Most of the time.
“If you can put up with Dad, Uncle Mookie, and Uncle David, you must have.” Veronica laughed. Stephanie eyed the clipboard in her lap. “What are you doing?”
“These people..” She nodded towards the fans sitting in front of them. “...are contest winners. Part of their prize is to watch sound check. I’m listening to their comments and questions, looking for potential future ideas for promoting the band.”
“What else do you do?”
“I set up and monitor the media interviews and photo shoots, talk up the band to basically anyone who’ll listen, run interference with the record company so that your dad can focus on what he needs to do, help come up with ideas for contests and ticket packages, merchandise, that kind of thing. I guess you could say that my job is to get as many people as possible to listen to the band and to do what I can to keep the band in the public’s eye and mind.”
“All the stuff that Dad hates you mean. The stuff he calls a ‘necessary evil’.”
Veronica smiled. “Yeah. He’s never been thrilled with that part of his job. He’d be happier if he could just write and play.”
“So he has you to do the dirty work.”
“Sort of, I guess. Me and Uncle Matt, and Cheryl and Paul and a few others. Of course, he’s still got to do the interviews and stuff, but we organize it for him.”
Steph thought about that for a second. “So.....he does what you tell him to?”
Veronica smirked. “So far. You know you can’t make him do anything he really doesn’t want to do, but he trusts my judgement, so....yeah, he’s done everything I’ve asked him to do.” Professionally, anyway.
“What kind of things do you write down?” She gestured towards the clipboard and Veronica’s notes.
“Ideas that pop into my mind, if there’s something that comes up that I need to talk to your dad or Uncle Matt about, comments I hear that we can use in support of the band, that sort of thing.”
“Can I see?”
“Sure.” Veronica shifted the clipboard so that Stephanie could see it and explained what she’d written.
Jon looked out and saw the two of them, heads close together, bent over Veronica’s clipboard, giggling like teenagers. The sight made him smile and he felt a weight lift from his shoulders. Veronica had been uncomfortable around Stephanie the first couple times they’d met, but obviously, she’d gotten over that. It gave him high hopes for the future.
Movement out of the corner of his eye had him turning his head to see Romeo run from the area beside the stage that led to the hallway, to where his sister was sitting. As he watched his youngest climb into his oldest’s lap, he saw the change come over Veronica. She stared at the toddler for a long minute, stiffened and leaned away slightly. His heart sank and he frowned. After a couple minutes, she glanced to the side of the stage, got up and headed backstage. A nudge from Richie brought his attention to the fans and the speculative looks they were shooting towards Steph and Romeo. Catching his daughter’s eye he motioned for her to take Romeo backstage and watched until they were out of sight. As they reached the side of the stage he noticed his mother standing there, a satisfied smirk on her face. His temper rose.
Veronica sat at her desk and tried to still the trembling of her hands. So many emotions were fighting for control she was having a hard time reigning them in. Pain, anger, grief, frustration....they were all there. She’d finally been able to relax around Stephanie, had even discovered that she liked the young girl, finding that she was very mature and extremely perceptive for her age, when her youngest brother had run up and climbed into his sister’s lap. The toddler had looked at her with Jon’s eyes, and Jon’s face, while Steph introduced them. Veronica had felt her insides turn to ice.
“Hi.” He’d offered her a shy smile.
“Hello.” She’d managed to respond.
“What are you doing out here Romeo?” Steph asked him. “You were supposed to stay in Dad’s dressing room.”
“Gamma say I can come out here. See you. And Daddy.”
Veronica had looked over towards the area at the side of the stage and seen Carol standing there. In that minute she’d known that this little meeting had been arranged on purpose. Nausea threatened to overwhelm her and she’d made an excuse and left before she gave Carol the satisfaction of knowing she’d scored a direct hit.