When they arrived at the hotel, Veronica accepted the key the hotel clerk handed her and was told there were a few messages for her. By the time she’d dealt with those, the band, and a lot of the staff and crew had all disappeared into the elevators. Joining one group, she checked her key and punched the proper floor button. As crew members unloaded on various floors, they shot her smirking, knowing looks. It wasn’t until she was the only one left that she figured out why. With a sigh of resignation she exited the elevator and walked down the short hallway. Stopping in the middle she looked around at the closed doors, then at her watch.
“First interview is in an hour. Van leaves in thirty minutes!” She called out. Her suspicions were confirmed when she heard groans in response.
“Bitch!” The word came muffled, but clear through a door to her right.
“I heard that Joker! Maybe you’d prefer to start at...oh...say....nine o’clock tomorrow morning?”
There was silence for a moment. “For God’s sake man! Tell her you’re sorry!” Came from a room on her left – Richie’s room. She grinned.
“Okay, okay. Sorry Ronnie.”
She waited to see if there was going to be any other comments. When there wasn’t, she entered her own room to get settled.
By the end of the tour’s opening week, Jon was frustrated, surly, and generally a bear to be around. Veronica was doing everything possible to avoid getting close to him – at least privately. Even when there were other people around, she didn’t come any closer than was necessary to do her job. At the after parties, whenever possible, she manoeuvred it so that at least one other person was between them, and when he’d spoken to everyone he needed to, she’d grab a drink and join the staff and crew, usually on the other side of the room from him. It was driving him nuts! He couldn’t even complain that she was rude or wasn’t doing her job properly. She was extremely professional, and still her usual smart assed, joking self with the guys. It was only him she insisted on keeping at a distance. The wall she’d built was getting higher every day, and he was no closer to finding a way to break it down. She wouldn’t even talk to him unless it was work related. He didn’t know how she spent her time off – she disappeared. He was at the end of his patience. He could feel her slipping away, and he didn’t know how to stop it. To say that it made him testy was putting it mildly. He was snapping at everyone around him. Everyone but her.
“DAMMIT! What is so difficult to understand? Will someone GET ME A FUCKING CUP OF COFFEE? Or is that too much to ask?” Jon walked into his dressing room and slammed the door.
Veronica winced in sympathy with the poor staffer who was on the receiving end of the boss’ temper.
“You know who he’s really pissed at don’t you?” Richie commented from behind her.
“Oh nice Rich. Blame me for him being a moody ass.” She snorted. “He hasn’t snapped at me at all.”
“That’s because he doesn’t want to drive you even further away. He’s moody and short tempered because you won’t talk to him and basically treat him like a stranger.”
“I treat him like I would any artist that I was assisting.” She argued.
“But he’s not just ‘any artist’.” Richie sighed. “He won’t let you ignore him. All he wants is the chance to talk to you and get to know you again.” He reached out and tugged on a curl. “Are you going to let all these people suffer to prove that you’re more stubborn than he is?”
“That’s not what I’m doing! Whose side are you on anyway? Don’t you get it? I have to keep him in perspective and our relationship on a strictly professional level. I have to! I can’t take the risk. I don’t want to hurt anymore!” Her eyes filled with angry tears.
He pulled her into his arms. “Oh, little girl, don’t you get it? Until you deal with whatever’s between you, both of you will continue to hurt.”
“There’s nothing between us except bad memories and pain.”
“You don’t believe that anymore than I do. If you didn’t still have feelings for him, you wouldn’t have to ‘keep him in perspective’. If he didn’t still have feelings for you, your ignoring him wouldn’t make him crankier than a bear with a belly full of cubs. Hell, even people who don’t know anything about your past can feel the tension and sparks that fill the air whenever you’re within twenty feet of each other!” He paused. “And don’t try to tell me that all the memories are bad ones. Yes, the bad ones are horrible, but don’t let them erase all the good ones. I was there Ronnie. I saw how happy you were. Don’t pretend that you weren’t. That’s not fair to either one of you.” He gave her a squeeze, then released her and walked down the hallway towards the interview room.
David looked up when Richie entered the room. “Did you talk to her?”
“Is she going to talk to Jon?” Tico asked hopefully. He would beat Jon to a pulp if he hurt her again, but the strain and tension they were spreading through the whole organization was enough to make him want to smack their heads together.
Richie shrugged. “I don’t know. I gave it my best shot, but you know how stubborn she is. She refuses to believe that she’s the cause of his temper.”
“Maybe Gretchen was right. Maybe we should just lock them in a room together until they get it out of their system.” David sighed.
“I don’t think that would be a good idea. The tour’s already booked and tickets sold. It would be pretty difficult to replace our frontman at this point.” Richie pointed out.
The interviews were a little tense, although Jon tried to put up a good front, and the others did their best to help. Still, there was a huge sigh of relief when the last one was finished and the reporter left the room.
A few minutes later, the door opened and Jon’s tech stuck his head in. “Jon, do you want number 3 restrung today or wait until next show?”
Blue eyes flared. “What the fuck do I pay you for? Yes! Do you want me to hold your fucking hand while you do it?”
When the door closed behind the chastised tech, David, Richie and Tico all looked at Veronica expectantly. Richie gave her a nudge from where he was sitting beside her. She sighed and considered Jon for a moment.
He noticed. “What? Do I have something hanging out of my nose?”
“Just thinking how thankful I am that I don’t work for you full time.”
He frowned. “Why?”
“I couldn’t handle working for an ogre for very long. Nobody can win with you. If they don’t ask, you tear their heads off. If they do ask, you tear their heads off.” She shook her head. “You never used to be so short tempered and impatient with people who were only trying to help you. What did he do to piss you off?” Jon just shrugged. Veronica’s brows rose. “Nothing? So you just went off on him for no reason? Nice, Jon.”
His eyes narrowed at her. “You basically don’t talk to me for a week and now that you do, it’s to criticize how I talk to my staff? I think I liked the silent treatment better.”
“No one else seems to have the balls to stand up to you.” She shot a look at the guys. “If he wasn’t the one who brought on the temper, maybe you should confine yourself to taking it out on the one who did.” She ignored his comment about her not talking to him.
“You really think that’s a good idea?”
“Of course. Why not?”
“Because I don’t like to make women cry.” The look in his eyes told her who he was referring to.
She snorted. “Since when? You reduced poor Tiffany to tears yesterday because the pencil you were writing with broke. But I can see how that was her fault and that she needed to be told how incompetent she was.”
Sapphire eyes started to glow. “You think that you’re qualified to tell me how to deal with my staff? You have a lot of experience running a multi-million dollar organization, do you?”
Her brow lifted at his biting sarcasm. “No, but I do have some experience in getting the best out of the people I’m working with, and I’ve found that calm explanations of errors and some praise and encouragement every once in awhile yields much better results than tearing strips off them and constantly belittling their attempts to do their jobs! Jesus Jon! Nothing they do pleases you these days. If they’re that bad, fire them and find someone else that can do it better.”
“Who are you to come in here and think that you can tell me what to do, when to do it and how to run my business? I’ve managed it just fine for the last nineteen years, without you!” As his temper rose, so did his voice.
“If you’ve been doing such a great job without me, why did you force me to come out and help you?”
“Who the fuck knows? If I’d known you were going to be such a ball breaking bossy bitch, I wouldn’t have.”
Anger propelled her to her feet. “And if I’d known what an arrogant, inflexible, stubborn, hard-headed, insensitive asshole, you’d become, I would have refused to come and Vince could have fired me!”
Jon rose to meet her and they stood toe to toe in the middle of the room. The guys had been watching them like spectators at a tennis match, and now wondered if they’d have to pull them apart.
“I’m stubborn? I’m inflexible? I’m insensitive? Well, at least I’m not a coward. You’re so afraid of facing the past, you try and pretend that it never happened! You haven’t dealt with it, you just ran away from it and you haven’t quit running for nineteen years!”
“I’m running? If you were half the man I thought you were once, I wouldn’t have to tell you what happened, you would have been there! You’re the one who ran away Jon. I was the one left to deal with it. Alone. You didn’t even care enough to check that I was okay! I could have died for all the interest you took! I’m the one who’s had to live with it every day for the last nineteen years! It was the most painful experience of my life, so forgive me if I don’t want to sit and chat about it!” Her voice shook with emotion and barely held back tears.
Richie, David and Tico exchanged uneasy glances. The opening of the door sounded loud in the absolute silence of the room.
“You guys ready for sound check?” Obie looked around the room. Sensing the tension, his eyes fixed on the two combatants standing in the middle. “Did I miss something? Why didn’t one of you guys radio me? You know I love fireworks. I would have brought popcorn!”
“Fuck off Obie.” Jon and Veronica retorted in unison without looking away from each other. The guys chuckled and the tension eased.
Jon sighed and raised a hand to stroke Veronica’s cheek. “I’m sorry.” She knew he wasn’t referring to their argument.
Veronica searched his eyes and saw the truth of his words there. “That doesn’t change anything.” Pulling away, she headed out the door, giving Obie a withering look as she passed him. He grinned.
“Jon?” Tiffany appeared in the doorway and eyed him warily. “I put paper and markers for you to make the set list on the table in your dressing room, and there’s water in the cooler under it.”
“Thanks Tiff. Come on guys, let’s go to work.”
Her eyes widened. Richie, David and Tico exchanged looks and nodded. Mission accomplished.