Saturday, November 28, 2009

Chapter 43

The flight back to the U.S. was quiet. Jon was huddled in his seat, staring out the window, nursing a hangover. Veronica sat with the guys, playing cards, laughing and joking around. Periodically she shot looks in Jon’s direction and frowned. She’d thought her heart was hardened against him, but seeing him hurting bothered her. It’s not your problem Veronica! He’s got to work through this on his own.
Vicki served the first meal a couple hours into the flight. Veronica noticed that Jon’s tray was returned, untouched. Richie stood up to stretch then sat back down.

“What have you got planned for the break little girl?”

“Well, it’s not really a break for me. I’ve got to make sure that everything’s lined up for the next leg and check in with head office, and analyze the sales and chart stats by region and see where we need to boost promotions and how.”

“You are going to get to relax a bit though, aren’t you?” Richie frowned.

She smiled. “Yes. I’m planning on catching up on some sleep and hanging with the girls too. What have you got planned?”

“Just spending some time with Ava.”

“How’s your mom doing?”

“Pretty good. She has her good days and bad days.”

Veronica reached out to squeeze his hand. “Grief’s like that. She’s strong. She’ll be okay.”

He nodded. “I know. She’s stronger than I am.”

Her eyes burned at the shadows in his. “You’ll be okay too Rich. Don’t be afraid to lean on us when you need to.”

He eyed her. “Will you be there for him too?” His head jerked in Jon’s direction.

She snorted softly. “He doesn’t need me Rich. He doesn’t need anyone.”

“There’s a difference between not needing and not letting anyone help little girl.” Richie argued. “You’ve always been a caretaker. I can’t believe that you would stand by and do nothing when someone close to you is in that kind of pain.” He headed off her protest. “Don’t try and pretend that he isn’t close to you or that you don’t care about him. I won’t believe it. Your emotions run too deep for you to just turn them off completely, even after nineteen years and a boatload of pain.”

“Still taking psychology classes Dr. Freud?” She retorted dryly. She wasn’t sure she liked how well he read her.

He grinned. “Naw. I just pay attention. I’m not saying that you should jump back into a relationship with him, or even jump into bed with him – although that wouldn’t hurt either one of you - oh wait, you already did!” She gave him a withering glance. He chuckled. “All I’m saying is that you know what he’s going through and you’re probably the only one who can help him. You know what he’s like. He’ll never ask for help. He’s struggling Ronnie. Whether you believe it or not, whether he admits it or not, he needs you.” Vicki came out to warn them to prepare for landing. They were dropping Richie off at LAX before continuing on to New Jersey. “Just think about it.”

Tico took Richie’s seat across the table from Veronica after takeoff. David joined them. They chatted about their plans during the break, and their activities outside of the band until Vicky came around with another meal. Jon’s tray was waved away.

“Are you going to do something or are you going to let him self-destruct?” David asked her quietly. Tico just watched her intently.

“Why do you all think that I know how to fix him, or that he’d listen to me anyway?”

“Because you’ve been there and survived nina. You know what helped you and you know him.” Tico explained.

“And he’ll listen to you because he always has....and because you make him listen.” David added.

She stared at both of them for a long minute, then sighed and stood. “Spineless wimps.”

“Go get him tiger!” David grinned.

Vicky was in the galley cleaning up when Veronica stuck her head in. “Has he eaten anything at all?”

Vicky shook her head. “No. What’s wrong with him?”

Veronica sighed. “He’s in some sort of a depressed funk.” She thought for a minute. “If you’ll give me a tray for him I’ll see if I can get him to eat something.”

Vicky handed over a tray. “Good luck.”

Veronica walked up the aisle, plunked the tray down in front of Jon and took the seat beside him. “Eat.”

“I’m not hungry.”

“You haven’t eaten anything the whole trip. In fact, you haven’t eaten much in days. You’re going to make yourself sick.”

His jaw firmed. “Leave me alone! I said I’m not fucking hungry!”

“And I said you need to eat! Damn it Jon! Stop acting like a sulking child! Eat or I swear I’ll get David and Tico to hold you down and I’ll shove it down your fucking throat!”

Blue eyes and violet clashed and battled for long minutes. Finally, Jon sighed and picked up the fork. They sat in silence while he ate and she watched. He shot her a look. “When did you become such a bully?”

She shrugged. “It comes out when I’m faced with pigheaded stubbornness.”

He snorted. “Pot and kettle there sweetheart.”

Her brows rose and her eyes widened. “Me? Nuh uh. I’m a laid back, easy going girl who rolls with the punches.”

Amusement made the blue eyes sparkle. “Riiight. And Hitler was a pacifist.”

She chuckled. “How’s the hangover?”

“Bearable.” He frowned. “Thank you for....helping me last night.” His memory of the previous night was a little fuzzy, but he did remember her helping him to bed. He had to assume by the fact that she was talking to him that he hadn’t done anything too stupid.

“You’re welcome. So what are your plans for the break?” If he couldn’t remember or didn’t bring up the events of the previous night, she wasn’t going to either.

He shrugged. “Spend some time with the kids.” He grimaced. “I should go to Philly too I guess.”

Veronica curled one leg under her and turned in her chair to face him. “Tell me about your football team and the Foundation.”

Jon shoved away his empty tray and took a sip from his coffee cup. He raked a hand through his hair and let it settle on her knee. She didn’t push it away. For the next half hour he talked about the Soul and his hopes to get to the Arena Bowl and how he set up the Foundation and what he hoped to accomplish with it.

While she listened and asked questions Veronica watched his face closely, smiling in satisfaction to see some of his normal spark and emotion.

He noticed her perusal and smile. “What?”

She put her hand over his on her knee and squeezed. “It’s nice to see you talk without having to constantly prod you.” He grimaced. She squeezed his hand again. “Happy thoughts Jon. That’s how you get through it. Focus on the happy thoughts.”

He sighed, nodded and squeezed back.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Chapter 42

By the time they reached Australia a week later Veronica was ready to scream – and/or strangle Jon. He was treating her like some piece of fragile glass that needed to be protected and it was driving her crazy!

She’d opened her eyes on the flight to Japan to see his broad chest rising and falling with every deep breath, and the soft thud of his heartbeat audible in the warm flesh under her ear. Realizing that he was still asleep, she allowed herself a few minutes to enjoy the feeling of being held close. She refused to consider that it wasn’t just being held that gave her such a feeling of peace and comfort, but that it was being held by him. He woke up when she tried to move away and just smiled gently at her. She smiled back and thanked him for being her pillow. His response of “I’m here for whatever you need”, accompanied by a kiss to her forehead had her torn between gratitude for his caring and concern that he was still trying to lead her down a road she wasn’t prepared to follow.

For the next week she found him watching her almost constantly. Anything she asked for her made sure she got. At the after parties he never left her side, made sure she ate and walked her to her room – which was of course beside his. During the day he never argued or complained about what she wanted him to do. In fact, he rarely spoke – to anyone – except for what was necessary to get the job done. He didn’t snap or yell at people, he was just....silent. Even Richie and David couldn’t get more than a small smile or the odd chuckle out of him.

Staff members were coming to her asking her to do something. Even the guys were shooting her looks. What do they expect me to do? Why is up to me to be the keeper of his mental health? After watching him drink himself into oblivion one night in Australia she decided that she was going to have to say something. He was ignoring phone calls and just doing the bare minimum that was required – except on stage. There he was still the consummate performer. Still, it was hard to promote a band where getting a quote from the frontman – and main spokesperson – was like pulling teeth.

When the interviews finished, she escorted the reporter to the door, made sure he left, then closed the door and turned back to the guys. Richie, David and Tico were looking at her hopefully, Jon warily. “Problem teach?”

“You tell me. What’s going on with you?”

He shrugged. “I’m fine.”

“Bullshit! You’re walking around here like a zombie. You don’t talk, you don’t hardly smile, you’re only putting in about 50% - if that- and that’s not you. The crew, the staff, all of us are concerned. What’s going on Jon?”

“I told you, I’m fine.” He repeated firmly.

Veronica sighed. Obviously the kid glove approach wasn’t going to work. “Is this about the baby dying?” Every day it got easier for her to talk about. He flinched. “You’ve got to snap out of it Jon. You never look back, don’t start now. Let it go.”

Blue eyes flashed fire. “You’ve had nineteen years to come to terms with this, I’ve had a month! Cut me a little slack here!”

“Whose fault it that?! Don’t put this on me! And don’t pretend that it’s grief that you’re feeling Jon. You knew he died right after it happened, quit acting like it’s news.”

“And did knowing lessen the pain all these years for you?” He shot back.

“Over time, yes.”

He snorted.

“It’s true.” She insisted. “The lingering pain and anger wasn’t so much over his death, but that I had to go through it alone. What you’re feeling isn’t grief Jon, it’s guilt.” He winced. She sighed. “It was a long time ago. Let it go.”

“Like it was so easy for you to? You still have nightmares.”

There was no point in arguing. “So you’re going to just wallow in self pity and throw away everything you’ve built and accomplished then?” She shook her head at him. “You’ve got to pull yourself together.” She lifted his head to study his face. “And lay off the booze. Your eyes look like two piss holes in the snow.” As she turned towards the door she gave the other guys a withering glance. “Spineless wimps, all of you.”

“Why should we take the risk of pissing him off if you’re willing to throw yourself under the bus?” David responded.

“Yeah, he won’t hit you.” Richie added.

She snorted. “You’re both bigger than him. Cowards.”

“Nope, just smart enough to let you fight the battles.” David grinned. “You do it so well.”

“I’m still sitting here, you know.” Jon reminded them dryly.

Veronica shook her head and glanced at her watch. “Sound check in twenty minutes.”

Back in the “office” Matt stopped by her desk. “Did you talk to him?”

“Another spineless wimp! He’s your brother, why don’t you talk to him?”

He shuddered. “Are you kidding? I don’t have a death wish. Besides, he’ll listen to you.”

Her brows rose. “What makes you think that?”

Matt shrugged. “He cares what you think of him. He always has.”

“That’s debatable. But to answer your question, yes I talked to him, not that it appeared to do any good. He’s in denial that there’s a problem.”

“You know what he’s like. He keeps his deepest emotions to himself and will never admit he needs anything or anyone.”

She nodded. “Well, let’s hope he snaps out of it soon. I can only do so much damage control.”

Matt hesitated. “You may have to help him with that.”

“Me? Why me?”

“Because you may be the only one that can. I don’t know what happened between you back then and it’s not my business, but it’s obviously coming back to haunt him.”

“What makes you think that it has anything to do with me?”

“Come on Ronnie, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist or a psychic to figure it out. It’s obvious whenever you’re within fifty feet of each other. Plus, Mom’s made a few comments about you and he’s not talking to her at all, and even Dad was giving her the cold shoulder at Christmas, so I know it’s something pretty big. And the way Jon’s behaving now makes me think he’s having trouble dealing with whatever it is. If he won’t talk about it with us we can’t help him. That leaves you.”

She shook her head. “I think that you’re all deluded about how much influence I have with him and my ability to affect him or his emotions – then or now. If he cared as much as you think he wouldn’t have walked away – and stayed away – from me for eighteen years. He doesn’t need me. He never has.”

It was Matt’s turn to shake his head. “You’re wrong Ronnie, but I’m not going to argue with you. You’re as stubborn as he is. Just think about what I said, and....keep an eye on him.”

Veronica watched him walk out the door, snorted and turned back to her preparations for the show. She didn’t know where they all got these crazy ideas about her relationship with Jon, but they were wrong.

The last night in Australia she had to help Jon to his room. He was trashed. With his arm over her shoulders and hers around his waist she managed to steer him into the elevator and down the hallway to the right door – he refused to let Richie or anyone else near him.

She paused in front of his door. “Where’s your key?”

“Front pants pocket. Wanna reach in and get it?” He leered at her. “Help yoursshelf to whatever comes to hand.”

“Down boy.” She retrieved the key, opened the door and guided him to the bed. He sat on it and looked up at her expectantly. “What?”

“Aren’t you going to help me undress? You always used to like to do that.”

“Jon, stop.” She knelt to remove his boots. “There. You can do the rest yourself. You don’t need me.”

Before she could stand he reached out to caress her cheek. “I do need you Nica. I always have.” His eyes filled. “I’m so sorry I hurt you and abandoned you. And our baby. If I could go back and do it all over I’d never let you go and I would have been by your side through the whole thing. When I think of the pain you went through....” He closed his eyes and swallowed. “I’m so sorry Nica.”

Veronica sighed, took his hand and squeezed. “I know Jon.” She helped him pull his t-shirt over his head. When he stood to remove his pants and almost fell over she caught him, shook her head and eased him down. She stripped off the rest of his clothes and pulled the blanket up over him.

He caught her hand as she turned to go. “Nica don’t go. Stay with me. Please. Just for a little while. I...I need you. I need to hold you.”

Knowing he was too drunk to make any sexual demands – no matter how much he might think he could – she gave in to the pain she could sense in him, kicked off her shoes, removed her pants and climbed in beside him.

He immediately rolled towards her and pulled her into the curve of his body. “Don’t leave me Nica. Love you. Always have, always will.” With a contented sigh he kissed her neck and drifted off to sleep –or passed out, she wasn’t sure which.

Heart pounding at his words – even though she knew better than to believe drunken ramblings – and scared at how much she wanted it to be true, she waited until she was sure he wouldn’t wake up when she moved, slipped out from under his arm and out of the room.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Chapter 41

Veronica took a deep breath, hitched her purse and laptop bag up onto her shoulder and headed towards the waiting jet, pulling her suitcase behind her. A crew member met her and took her suitcase from her to load into the cargo area. “Thanks.”

She turned to see Stephanie waving at her. She waved back and started for the stairs. Steph met her at the bottom. “Hi Steph. Come to see your dad off?”

“Yeah. Are you excited about the trip?”

“Yes I am actually. It’s been a long time since I’ve been to Japan and Australia.”

“Do you like sushi too?” Stephanie wrinkled her nose. “Dad loves the stuff.”

Veronica laughed. “I like the vegetable stuff, but I’m not real big on the raw fish.”

“Me either. Oh! Thanks for the cookies you sent. They were really good.”

“I’m glad you enjoyed them....and that you actually got to taste some before your dad ate them all.”

“We managed to get a few. But I’m sure Dad hid some too.” Jesse commented as he joined them. “Hi Ronnie.”

“Hi Jesse. Did you have a good Christmas?”

He shrugged. “It was okay.”

Before Veronica could respond, Jon’s youngest two came running up. Jake looked at her, frowned and tugged on his sister’s sleeve. “Who’s that?”

Romeo answered. “Her the cookie lady!”

Jake’s frown turned to a hopeful expression. “Did you bring more cookies?”

Veronica had to smile. “You don’t like cookies do you?”

He nodded vigorously. Steph snorted. “Almost as much as Dad does. This is Jake, by the way.”

“Hi Jake. Nice to meet you. I’m Ver...Ronnie.”

“Hi. Did you bring cookies?”

Persistent, just like his father. Reaching into her bag, she pulled out a brown paper bag, opened it and offered it to him. He accepted with a grin, his hand digging deep. “Thanks.” Steph and Jesse took one too.

“I have one too? Prease?” Romeo watched his brother bite into his treat.

“Of course you can.” Ronnie leaned down so that he could reach the bag.

Drawing out a cookie, he bit into it and grinned. “Yum!” He impulsively gave her a hug. “Tank you. You make good cookies.”

“You’re welcome, and thank you.” She stroked his hair with a trembling hand, tears burning her eyes.

Jon had been standing back watching, and now stepped forward. “Okay guys we have to go now.” He stopped beside Veronica, slid his arm around her waist and squeezed. “Hi. You ready?” She nodded.

“Hey! You better not be eating all our cookies!” Richie called from the top of the stairs where he’d been watching the scene below him.

“Don’t worry Uncle Mookie, we saved you one.” Jake assured him.

“Yeah? Ronnie, you’d better come up here and let me check.” He could see the tightness in her face and body.

Ronnie glanced up at him and smiled in gratitude. “Don’t worry Jughead, I brought long as we keep an eye on Jon.” As she turned towards the stairs, movement caught her eye as Dorothea joined the group. The two women stared at each other for a moment, then nodded politely.

“Come on guys, say goodbye to Daddy. He’s got to get going.” Dorothea urged her children.

Veronica turned, climbed the stairs and entered the plane without a backward glance. Richie kissed her cheek and plucked the bag out of her hand. “Look guys, Ronnie brought us cookies!”

“Well, don’t hog them Swingman!” Tico growled, winking at Veronica. “Hola nina. Thanks for the Christmas treats.”

The others chorused their appreciation as well as they passed the bag around. She chuckled. “You’re welcome. Make sure you save one for Jon or we’ll have to listen to him bitch and whine all the way to Japan!”

“You got that right!” Jon reached past her for the bag. His eyes searched hers. “You okay?”

She nodded. “Yeah. I’m fine. It’s just....” She shrugged.

He nodded. “I know. I’m sorry.”

She squeezed his arm and settled into a seat. After takeoff she pulled out her laptop, answered e-mails, rechecked the schedule and sent it to Jon. Rising, she walked to where he was sitting and took the seat beside him. When Vicki passed by, she stopped her and asked for a drink. Turning back to Jon she gestured to his laptop. “May I?” He waved for her to go ahead. She brought up his schedule with a few clicks of the keys and explained what she’d arranged including checking out the opening act bands in Australia before the shows. Jon just nodded. Her brows rose. “No arguments?”

He gave her a sidelong look. “What would be the point?”

She chuckled. “Glad you understand.”

Later, after they’d all eaten they settled in to try and get some sleep. Richie walked down the aisle on his way back from the galley and noticed Veronica shifting restlessly in her sleep. He frowned and glanced around the cabin. “You awake?” He murmured to Jon a couple minutes later.

“Yeah.” Jon noticed his wingman’s frown. “What’s wrong?”

“Ronnie’s really restless.”

“So? Not everyone can sleep on a plane.”

“I don’t think it’s that. I think she’s having a nightmare.” He gave Jon a meaningful look.

Jon frowned, stood and walked back to where Veronica was tossing and turning. He sat beside her, and lifted a curl off of her forehead. “Nica?”

She sighed and instinctively turned towards him. “Johnny.”

“I’m here sugar.” He gathered her into his arms. “Sleep honey. I’m right here.” She calmed at his touch and drifted into a deeper sleep. He smiled his thanks at Vicki when she spread another blanket over both of them, gratified that he could at least do this much for her.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Chapter 40

“What do you mean Steph? Why do you think something’s wrong with your dad?”

“He’s acting weird and he’s drinking...a lot.”

Richie frowned. “What do you mean he’s acting weird? What’s he doing?”

“He’s...quiet. He doesn’t talk much, he’s not working, doesn’t answer his phone most of the time, he watches us like...I don’t know, like he hasn’t seen us before. Especially Romeo. He hugs us all the time. He’s not talking to Grandma at all, and he looks sad. Do you know what’s the matter?”

Richie had a strong feeling that he did, but it wasn’t his place to tell her. “I think he’s just got a lot on his mind right now with the tour and the Soul and the Foundation and everything. And he’s missed you kids.”

“You think that’s it?” Her doubt was evident in her voice.

“Tell you what. I’ll come to Jersey a couple days early and talk to him. Okay?”

“Thanks Uncle Mookie.”

A few days later Richie kissed Molly’s cheek when she opened the door for him. “Hi darlin’.”

“Hi Richie. He’s in his office.”

“Thanks. How is he?”

Molly hesitated. “He’s...not himself. He’s very quiet, and rarely comes out of the office unless the kids are here. And he’s hardly eating enough to keep a bird alive.”

Richie sighed, nodded, and headed down the hallway. He stood in the doorway to the office and looked at his friend for a long moment. Jon was sitting at his desk staring out the window, a bottle of wine and a half empty glass in front of him. “Hey man.”

Jon glanced up. “Hey. You’re early.”

“Yeah, I came to see how you were doing.”

“Me? I’m fine.”

“Uh huh, I can see that. You look like shit man, what are you doing to yourself?”

“What? I’m fine.” He reached for the glass.

“Self medicating? It won’t work. Trust me. It doesn’t kill the pain, it only numbs it temporarily.” He walked over and dropped into the chair across the desk. “You’ve got to pull yourself together.”

“What are you talking about?”

“You. On a path to self-destruction.”

Jon waved a dismissive hand. “Nonsense. I’m...”

“Fine, yeah, I heard you the first two times. Sure you are. That’s why I got a phone call from your daughter, upset, scared, telling me that you were acting weird and that she was sure something was wrong. That’s why Paul and Obie can’t get you to answer the phone half the time. That’s why you’re pale and your eyes are sunken and have black circles under them. Molly says you’re not eating properly either.” When Jon’s expression turned mulish, Richie sighed. “I know you’re hurting man, but you’ve got to pull it together. There’s too many people depending on you for you to indulge in a pity party right now.”

Jon glared at him. “I’m not having a pity party!”

“Aren’t you? You’re freaking your kids out, ignoring the work that has been your driving force for almost twenty years, locking yourself away in this office, drinking instead of eating....sounds like depression to me.” He searched his friends face. “Do you want to talk about it?”

Jon was silent for long minutes, then sighed. “I let her go through hell alone Rich. How could I do that to someone I professed to love? I let my mother and Doc convince me not to call her and to stay away after the baby died, that she didn’t want me and I should forget about her...about them. And I did for awhile. I hooked up with Dorothea again and got on with my life. But I couldn’t forget them for long. Their loss was like a black hole in my soul that I tried to fill with projects. I guess I thought that if I became successful then it wouldn’t have been in vain. But it was never enough. No matter how many records we sold or how many awards we won or how much money I made or how many charities I supported, it didn’t fill that hole or relieve that deep down feeling of guilt. And in my quest to justify the pain I caused Ronnie, I ended up just causing more pain – to Dorothea and my kids. I never realized how much until Dot told me she wanted a divorce and described how she saw me as a man, husband and father and pointed out that she should have seen it with the way I treated Ronnie. She’d hoped I’d change once we ‘made it’, but I never did. She finally couldn’t wait anymore.” He lifted the glass and took a sip. “I’m a selfish, self-centred man who only cares about his own success. I’ve used and abused people who were trying to help me and stepped over and left behind those that couldn’t. My family has always come second to my career.” He paused. “What kind of a man does that? I’m at the stage of my life where I’m looking to leave a legacy.” He snorted. “Some legacy. I see nothing to be proud of in my life. I look in the mirror and feel nothing but disgust. I thought that finding Ronnie and learning the details of what happened all those years ago would help me put closure to the past and finally fill that hole deep inside. But it didn’t. In fact, it made the hole bigger.” He swallowed heavily and blinked rapidly against the tears filling his eyes. “What she went God Rich, I don’t know how she survived it! It’s no wonder she hates me and doesn’t want anything to do with me! I don’t blame her. And I forced her to relive it to serve my own purposes!” He shook his head in self disgust.

Richie could feel his friend’s pain, and wasn’t sure how to ease it. “She doesn’t hate you. And she needed to tell you the details as much as you needed to hear them.” At Jon’s disbelieving look he continued. “It’s true. You may not be able to see it, but I can. The shadows in her eyes are lighter and she seems to be peace. She admitted herself that she feels better than she has in a long time.”

“But she won’t let me get close. She’s keeping me at a distance. She wanted me to let her out of the rest of the tour since she’d done what I brought her on board to do. How can I try to make up for what I did if she won’t let me try?”

“She’s scared Jon. She loved you so much and it ended in pain and heartache. Of course she’s not going to rush to jump into that pool again!” Richie hesitated. “I don’t think you can make up for what happened. You can’t turn back time, and you can’t fix it. You’ve apologized and that’s really about all that you can do, other than show her that you’re not the same man who abandoned her. You can’t try to pick up where you left off. You need to start over. Did you let her out of the tour?”

Jon grimaced. “No, I told her I was holding her to her commitment.” He took another sip of wine. “I told her that I was feeling a little lost and unsettled and that I needed people I can trust around me. I begged her to stay.”

“And she agreed?”


“Did she send you cookies at Christmas?”

Jon’s brows rose. “Yes. How did you know about that?”

“She sent me some too. She probably sent them to all of us. But that just proves my point. She doesn’t hate you. If she did she wouldn’t have thought to send you cookies – she had to know that it would bring back happy memories of your time together. Plus she wouldn’t have agreed to stay on. We all know she doesn’t really need to be on the road with us. If she didn’t care, she would have walked away and left you to sort yourself out.” He hesitated. “About that, well, recognizing and admitting there’s a problem is the first step to recovery. You are aware of what you need to change. Put that Bongiovi stubbornness and single-minded determination to good use.” He paused. “You should be proud of what you’ve achieved in your life, even if you’re not proud of how you got there. You’ve managed to keep all of us on board, so you can’t be all bad.”

Jon smiled. “Thanks man.”

“That’s what brothers are for. Besides, I owed you one.” He stood up. “Now, let’s go see what Molly’s got cooked up for dinner.” He pointed at the glass. “And ease up on that or you’ll find yourself in the same mess I was.”

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Chapter 39

Jon stood in the doorway to his house and watched his parents climb out of their car, his expression stony.

“Jon why didn’t you get someone to put some salt on the walkway? Someone could slip and fall on the ice.” Carol chided her son.

Jon was silent for a moment. “I wasn’t expecting company. Hi Dad. Nice to see you.”

“What if the kids came?” Carol wasn’t ready to let it go, despite Jon’s obvious bad mood.

“Dorothea would call first.” He turned and entered the house. John Sr. and Carol followed him into the den where Jon went immediately to the bar and refilled his wine glass.

“Why should I call first? I’m your mother.”

Jon snorted. “Couldn’t prove it by me.”

“Jon! Why would you say such a thing?”

“A mother is supposed to help her children and support them in whatever – or whoever - makes them happy. She’s supposed to comfort them when they’re hurting – not cause them more pain. She’s supposed to teach them how to be good, caring people, not turn them into monsters who don’t care about anyone or anything but their own success.”

Carol sneered. “It’s that Ronnie, isn’t it? She’s trying to turn you against me again. I knew her showing up again was bad news!”

“Don’t Mom! I don’t want to hear another derogatory or negative comment about her from you. You’re not fit to even speak her name!”

“Jon!” Carol was shocked.

John Sr. studied his eldest son. “What’s happened son?”

“That bitch has been telling him lies about me, that’s what’s happened.” Carol interjected.

“ENOUGH Mom! She hasn’t been telling me lies, you have! For nineteen years!” He turned to his father. “Did you know that she conspired with Doc to keep Ronnie and I apart? That she blocked Ronnie’s calls to me – including the ones when the baby died? And told me not to call, to stay away, to give Ronnie time to come to terms with what happened? That she let Ronnie go through labour and deliver a dead baby – MY BABY – alone? Then told her that Dorothea and I were back together and to stop calling? She let me think that Ronnie had walked away from me, without looking back, that she didn’t want anything to do with me, and let Ronnie think that I had walked away from her because I didn’t want her and the baby interfering with my success.”

John Sr. frowned and crooked a brow at his wife. “Is that true Carol?”

Carol shifted uneasily. “She was no good for him! The last thing he needed was some harlot getting herself pregnant and using it to hold him back, or to get a piece of his success. I was protecting my son.”

Jon shook his head. “Jesus Mom! She’s not and never was a harlot! And she didn’t get herself pregnant. I had something to do with that. For the thousandth time, she wasn’t holding me back, she was helping me! And while you were trying to “protect your son”, my son died. The woman that I loved was alone, and scared and hurting, and I wasn’t there. My son died and I wasn’t there! My son died and I NEVER GOT TO SAY GOODBYE!” He raked a hand through his hair. “It was your grandson Mom and you denied him and tossed him to the side like trash. Whatever you thought about Ronnie, he didn’t deserve that.”

“Carol, how could you?” John Sr. stared at his wife as if he didn’t recognize her. “It was our grandchild!”

“Are you sure it was yours?” Carol asked her son.

Jon gave her a disgusted look. “Don’t.” He sighed. “You’re my kids’ grandmother and they love you, so I won’t ban you from the house during the holiday, but I don’t want you here if they’re not.” His jaw firmed. “I don’t want to see you or talk to you for awhile. I may forgive you in time, but you and I will never be the same again. Like it or not, Ronnie is back in my life, and I’m going to do everything I can to make sure that she stays there. Deal with it or stay away. I won’t have you making nasty comments about her or making her feel unwelcome.”

“You’re putting her feelings ahead of mine? You’re putting her ahead of your own mother?”

“Yes. It’s about time someone in this family considered her feelings. We owe it to her. I should have put her first nineteen years ago.”

“But...” Carol couldn’t believe what she was hearing.

“Enough Carol. You’ve brought this on yourself.” John Sr. interrupted her. He sighed. “I’m sorry Jon. You’re right. She didn’t deserve any of what happened. I wish I’d paid more attention to what was going on. Maybe I could have stopped it.” He set a hand on Jon’s shoulder and squeezed. “You know where I am if there’s anything you need.” He paused. “Tell Ronnie that I’m sorry. For...everything.” Turning, he grasped his wife’s arm and walked her out of the room and out of the house.

Jon sighed and poured another glass of wine. Confronting his mother should have made him feel better, but it didn’t. It just made him think about how much he had let Ronnie – and their son – down.

Veronica stood in her kitchen checking her supplies and planning her annual Christmas baking. Her shopping was done and wrapped and her decorations were all in place, including her tree with its twinkling lights that took up one whole corner of her living room. All she had left to do was to create the holiday treats she was known for and that were in high demand. As she looked over her recipes she saw one that brought back a flood of memories. She’d made the cookies when they were in Vancouver working on Slippery and had brought them into the studio where the guys had inhaled them. Jon had begged - and bribed - until she’d made more the next day, then hid them so that he didn’t have to share with the others. On impulse she added a few item to her grocery list and headed for the store.

Christmas Eve morning Jon glanced up as his housekeeper set a package on the desk in front of him. “This just came for you.”

“Thanks Molly.” Tossing aside his pen, he picked up the package, and glanced at the return address. The Nashville address in Veronica’s handwriting had him ripping off the paper and lifting the lid of the tin. A slow smile lifted the corners of his mouth at the sight – and smell - that greeted him. He picked up a cookie, bit into it and groaned. Damn that’s good! The sound of running feet in the hallway had him scooping up a handful of cookies and hiding them in a desk drawer. If he didn’t, he wouldn’t get any once the kids found them.

“Daddy!” Romeo ran in and climbed into his lap. “Santa tomin tonight!”

Jon hugged his youngest. “Hi buddy! Yes he is.”

“What’s that?” Jake was eyeing the open tin of cookies.

“Ronnie sent us some cookies.”

“Who’s Ronnie?”

“The dark haired lady that was in Dad’s dressing room that day. Remember?” Jesse explained as he entered the room. Reaching the desk he too leaned over to inspect the treats.

“I ‘member!” Romeo nodded. “She was sitting with Stephie for sound check. She has purple eyes!” He looked from the cookies to his father. “I have? Prease?”

Jon nodded. “Yes you can have one.”

Stephanie had followed her brothers and now stood across the desk from her father. Reaching into the tin she took two cookies and handed him one. “Why would she send us cookies?” She watched him closely.

He smiled. “For a Christmas treat. She used to make them for the guys and I a long time ago.”

“Is she coming here during the holidays?”

Jon’s gaze snapped to his daughter’s face, vaguely aware of the boys’ interest in their conversation. “Why would you think that?”

Stephanie shrugged. “You said she was a friend. You obviously still like her. I just thought you might have invited her to spend some of the holidays with you.”

He smiled wryly. “She already had plans in Nashville.”

“Too bad.” Stephanie and Jesse replied in unison. Jon nodded his agreement.

That night, after the kids were in bed, Jon sat staring at the phone for a long time before finally picking it up and dialling.

Ronnie was opening the door to her apartment when her phone started to ring. She’d been out making her usual Christmas Eve rounds of friends, delivering cookies and sharing a drink or two in celebration of the season. She wondered who could be calling at that hour. It was late and she was tired and had a full day ahead of her tomorrow. “Hello?”

“Hi. Sorry to call so late. Did I wake you?”

She shrugged out of her coat and sat down on the couch. “No, I just walked in the door actually.”

“Out with the girls?”

“Uh huh, among others. What’s up Jon?”

“I wanted to thank you for the cookies.”

“Oh you got them. Good. I came across the recipe when I was going through my books and remembered how much you guys used to like them. Did you share any or did you hide them?”

He chuckled. “Yes I shared. The kids came in just after the package arrived.”

“How many did you manage to hide before they found them?” She knew him and his love of cookies. The tour had shown her that it was still strong.

“A handful.” He admitted. She snickered. He was silent for a few seconds. “Why don’t you come up here for a few days? For New Year’s maybe?”

She sighed. As much as she might feel the urge to do just that, she knew she couldn’t give him – or herself - any encouragement to view them as a couple. It would only lead to more pain and disappointment. “I can’t. I’m sorry. I already have plans.”

“Can’t you get out of them?”

“Why do you want me to?”

“I just thought it would be nice to spend some time together away from the craziness of the tour.”

“Jon, don’t...”

“We’re friends aren’t we?”

“Yes, I guess, but...”

“So do I have to have a reason to want to spend my time off with my friends?”

“No, but I would have thought you’d seen enough of me for a while.” She didn’t say why, she knew he would understand what she wasn’t saying.

“I think we’ve spent enough time apart – more than enough.” He too avoided saying what he really meant, knowing she would understand. “I’ve missed you Ronnie.”

She closed her eyes. “Jon, let the past go. If I’ve learned anything through all of this, it’s that you can’t live in the past and you can’t change it. That’s not living, it’s just surviving. It’s time to let it go. Focus on your family and the future. Let the rest go.”

“I...I can’t.”

“Yes you can. You have to if you’re going to move on.”

“Is that what you’re doing?”

“Yes. Finally.” She ignored the tears running down her cheeks. “Enjoy your time off with your family. I’ll see you in a couple weeks. Merry Christmas Jon.”

“Merry Christmas Ronnie.” Jon hung up the phone and sat staring into the fire that was crackling in the hearth, warming the room. Its heat didn’t reach him though, he felt cold right to his core.

A few days into the new year, Richie was sitting in his living room watching T.V. with Ava when his phone rang. “Hello?”

“Uncle Mookie?”

“Hey Steph, what’s up?”

“I need your help. Something’s the matter with Daddy.”

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Chapter 38

In Nashville, Veronica opened the door of her apartment and dropped her bags with a grateful sigh. It was good to be home. Glancing around at the layer of dust on the furniture almost had her rethinking that. She wrinkled her nose, grabbed her purse and decided to go get groceries before tackling the cleaning.

Larder stocked, furniture gleaming, laundry done, she took a long hot bath, and settled on the couch to have a bite to eat in front of the T.V. She looked at the phone, but decided she’d go into the studio in the morning, maybe meet the girls for lunch. She was beat. That night the nightmare still came, but she was able to just roll over and go back to sleep.

“So tell us how things are going.” Lori threw out the first question after the waitress departed with their orders.

“Pretty good actually, but I forgot how exhausting touring is.”

“Nah, you’re just older now.” Naomi grinned and waited to see if anyone would pick up on it.

Veronica groaned. “Oh Na, that’s bad. And since when were you up on their catalogue?”

Naomi shrugged. “I’ve been doing some research. I wanted to know more about these guys who kidnapped you away from us.”

Veronica smiled at her friends, touched by their concern. “Thanks, but you don’t have to worry, they would never hurt me.”

“Uh correct me if I’m wrong, but didn’t one of them already hurt you? Badly?” Tricia pointed out.

“Yeah, but he’d never do it again...Tico wouldn’t let him. And what happened wasn’t entirely his fault.” She hesitated, then took a deep breath and told them what had happened. By the end of her recital they were all in tears.

“Oh my God, Veronica!”

“Oh honey, I’m so sorry.”

“And he let you go through that alone?”

“What an asshole!”

“No wonder you didn’t want to even see him! I don’t blame you at all.”

Lori studied her friend closely. There was something different about her, but she couldn’t put her finger on it. “You’re not mad at him anymore, are you.” It was a statement, not a question.

Veronica shrugged. “The hurt’s still there, and I haven’t forgiven him for not being there, but nineteen years is a long time to try to hold onto anger. Besides, it wasn’t his fault that the baby died. It was no one’s fault. It just happened.” She took a sip of her ice tea and smiled. “But enough about the past, what have I missed around here?”

The girls hesitated, but finally accepted the change of topic...for now. The rest of lunch was spent bringing Veronica up to date with the latest happenings at the studio and the city.

“So how are things between you and Jon now?” Lori posed the question as soon as they were all settled at a table in their favourite bar on Saturday night, waiting for the band to start.

Veronica sighed. She knew her friends were only concerned about her, but she wished they’d leave it alone. “Fine. I guess you could call it friendly. We’re not snapping at each other, and the tension seems to have faded.” She didn’t elaborate on all the reasons for that. She wasn’t ashamed of what had happened between them, but the girls would read too much into it.


Veronica turned at the familiar voice. “Gretchen, hi!”

“So you survived the first leg of the tour with Mr. Gorgeous and the Jersey boys.” Gretchen noted as she pulled up a chair and joined them.

Veronica laughed. “Yeah. Still in one piece and no scars.”

“And what about Jon?”

“He’s a little worse for wear, but he’ll live. It’s been a long time since anyone stood up to him. It was a bit of an adjustment for him.”

Gretchen snorted. “I’ll bet.” She studied her friend’s face for a moment, then a grin spread across her face. “You did it!”

“Did what?”

“You did some dancing in the sheets with God’s Gift To Women.”

“WHAT!” Lori, Naomi and Tricia chorused, staring in shock at Veroncia.

“Don’t try and deny it.” Gretchen forestalled any protest. “You have the look of a woman who has been recently laid, and laid well at that, and I saw for myself that he wasn’t going to let any other man get that close to you.”

“Veronica? Is it true? Did you sleep with Jon?” Lori demanded. That would explain what was different about her.

Veronica sighed. “Yes.”

“I knew it!” Gretchen crowed. “Good for you, you lucky bitch!”

“What’s going on Veronica? Does this mean that you’re together again?” Tricia eyed her friend intently.

“No.” Veronica denied quickly. “It was a weak moment. We were both looking for some....comfort.... and found it in each other. That’s all.”

Naomi studied her. “Are you still sure that’s all you want it to be?”

Veronica nodded. “We’re still a bad bet for a relationship.”

Gretchen smirked. “How about for just a little bit of fun? You’re going to be spending months on the road with him. You might as well enjoy the benefits of being that close. I know I would. In a heartbeat.” She noticed the girls all staring at her. “What? Are you gonna tell me that any of you would turn that down? The man is sex on legs! I’m female and I’m breathing. He wiggles that ass and smiles at me and I’ll trip him and beat him to the floor!”

“I’ll tell him you said so.” Veronica snickered.

Gretchen snorted. “And here you are....the only one of us who has the opportunity to experience that lovely specimen of manhood up close and personal, not just once, but on a regular basis and you’re turning it down! I don’t get it!”

“I told you...” Veronica began, but was cut off.

“I remember what you told me. Do you remember what I told you? Treat it like a man would. Sex as just sex. Take it while it lasts. Enjoy it. Enjoy him. Worst case scenario, you get to exorcise him from your system once and for all.”

“You know Veronica, that’s not a bad idea.” Naomi agreed.

Veronica stared at her. “Are you serious?”

Naomi sighed. “Well, if I can’t have him I’d like someone I know to. Then I could live vicariously through you.” She leaned closer. “Got any details, you’d care to share? Big? Small? Gentle? Not so gentle? Into foreplay or goes straight for the main event?”

The other girls all turned to Veronica and waited for her response. She threw a napkin at Naomi, laughed and shook her head. “You’re all nuts.” When they all just kept staring at her in silence she snorted. Then a smirk curved her lips. “Big enough, both, and.....definitely believes in the benefits of warming up before exercising.”

Gretchen and Naomi groaned.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Chapter 37

By the time they got back to the hotel that night, Veronica was exhausted, but pleasantly so, and maybe just a little tipsy. She hadn’t laughed that much in a very long time – probably since the last time she spent an evening with Richie and David. They’d gone to a couple bars that were still around from the old days, ending up at the strip club. Neither the bouncer at the door, nor the waitress batted an eye at seeing a woman with the group of men.

Jon had been quieter than usual all night. He was brooding over how close he’d come to seeing Ronnie walk away - again. All night he sat across the table and watched her, raven curls bouncing, violet eyes shining as she joked and laughed with Richie and David and twirled around the dance floor with Tico. She obviously didn’t have a problem hanging out with them. Apparently, it was just him she wanted to escape. Can you blame her? You let her go through hell alone, why would she want to spend any time with you? He sighed, reached for his glass and turned his attention to the stage. That was a mistake. All he could see was Ronnie slithering around, arms and legs twining around the pole. He shifted in his seat as his body reacted to the memory.

“What do you think of that one Ronnie?” Richie nodded towards the blonde currently hanging upside down.

Veronica considered the dancer. “Not bad. Her timing’s a little off though and she should arch her back more.” She raised her hands above her head and arched her back in demonstration. She didn’t notice the blue gaze tracing the curve of her body.

“Well, I’m sure if we talked to the manager he’d let you get up there and show her how it’s done.” David started to stand up.

Veronica grabbed his arm and pulled him back into the chair. “Sorry Joker, but all my exotic dances are private these days.” Despite herself, she couldn’t prevent a glance in Jon’s direction, only to find him watching her. The heat in his gaze told her that he was remembering that night too. She shivered. His lips curved into a gentle, but somewhat sad smile.

When they finally called it a night and loaded into the van, Veronica started to climb in, hesitated, then took a seat beside Jon, who was staring out the window. She nudged him with her shoulder. “Hey. You okay? You’ve been pretty quiet tonight.”

He glanced at her. “Yeah, I’m fine. Just...thinking.”

The dark shadows in his eyes that she glimpsed before he turned back to the window had her reaching out instinctively to squeeze his hand. She would have pulled away, but his fingers wrapped around hers and held tight.

Neither one spoke again the rest of the trip to the hotel.

When they got to their floor, Veronica stopped Richie before he could enter his room. “I guess I’d better say goodbye now, since we’ll probably be gone before you get up in the morning.” Richie was heading straight to L.A. while the others returned to Jersey. She reached up to hug and kiss him. “Have a Merry Christmas Jughead. Say hi to your mom and Ava for me.”

Richie lifted her off the floor. “You too little girl and I will.”

When he released her, Veronica stood back so that the guys could say their farewells. She was surprised to see Jon shake Richie’s hand and immediately turn and enter his room without another word. Frowning, she entered her own room, got ready for bed and slipped between the sheets with a grateful sigh. Within minutes she was asleep. This time when the nightmare came, once again significantly less intense than the night before, she got up, got a drink of water and went back to bed.

On the other side of the wall Jon lay on his back, alternating between staring at the ceiling and staring at the door to Ronnie’s room, waiting, hoping, that she’d come to him again. It was several hours before he had to accept that she wasn’t going to. The ball in the pit of his stomach tightened.

The flight to Jersey the next day was quiet. Everyone was tired and most slept at least part of the way. Except Jon, who just sat staring at the clouds out his window. The others left him to his brooding.

They took their time gathering their belongings when they landed while the crew unloaded their luggage. Veronica hugged David, Tico and Hugh goodbye and watched while they climbed into the cars waiting for them on the tarmac – except Tico who headed inside the terminal to catch his connecting flight to Florida.

“Ronnie, you’ve got about half an hour before your flight to Nashville leaves.” A crew member set her suitcases beside her.

“Thanks.” She pulled out the handles.

Suddenly Jon’s hand shot out and closed over hers. “Nica, stay. Spend the holidays with us.”

She snorted. “Your mother would really love that.”

The muscles twitched in his jaw. “I don’t give a flying fuck what my mother likes or doesn’t like!”

Veronica’s brows rose at the venom in his voice, then shook her head. “This is your time with your family. They don’t need me around making things....awkward. And I’ve got people to see too.”

People, not family. The thought ate at him like acid.

She sensed what he was thinking. Her hand came up to cup his cheek. “Jon, I’m fine. I’ve been on my own for a very long time. I’ve created my own traditions.” Her lips pressed to his in a gentle, chaste kiss. “Have a good holiday Jon. I’ll see you in January.”

Jon watched her go until the door of the terminal closed behind her, then climbed into the waiting car.

The driver turned to him. “Where to sir?”

Jon turned from the window, glanced at the other man and pulled out his phone. “Hey, it’s me. Yeah I just got in. Can I come over? I....I need to see them. Yeah. Thanks. See you in a bit.” Snapping the phone closed, he finally answered the question. “Mercer Street.”

Dorothea opened the door and frowned at the look in her ex-husband’s eyes. Before she could say anything, screams of “Daddy!” filled the air.

Jon bent down to hug Jake. “Hi buddy.” He reached for Romeo and lifted him into his arms, finally understanding why being around the three year old made Ronnie uncomfortable. Of all his kids, this one looked the most like him – of these four anyway. Tears filled his eyes as he noted each feature that was a smaller version of his own, then closed his eyes and hugged his son tight.

“Daddy? Are you okay?” Stephanie’s voice was filled with concern.

He reached out one arm to hug her to his side and kissed her head. “Yeah sweetie. I’m fine, just tired.” He glanced around. “Where’s Jesse?”

“He went to a friend’s after school, but he should be home soon.” Dorothea answered. Seeing Jon’s frown she explained. “We didn’t know if you were coming by today or tomorrow, so I told him he could go.”

Jon nodded curtly, and moved to sit on the couch, Romeo in his lap, Jake cuddled against one side, Stephanie on the other. “So, tell me everything you’ve been doing while I was away.”

Jon stayed for dinner and helped put the kids to bed. Jesse was reserved as usual, but at least acknowledged his presence.

“Do you want to talk about it?” Dorothea asked. She’d found him leaning against the doorway to Romeo’s room, watching him sleep.

He raked a hand through his hair, pushed away from the doorjam and walked into the livingroom where he sat on the couch, rested his arms on his knees and his head in his hands. Dorothea set a glass of wine on the table in front of him. Blowing out a breath he picked it up and sat up. “Thanks.” He took a sip. “Did you know?”

“Know what?”

“What happened with Ronnie and the...the baby.”

“I knew that she lost it and had a bit of a rough time. Was it bad?”

He nodded and gave her a brief rundown of events. Seeing her face pale and her eyes fill, he snorted derisively. “Yeah, and she went through that alone. Where was I? Out running around the world playing rockstar, having a good time, pretending it had nothing to do with me.”

“Jon, you didn’t know...”

“And why didn’t I know? Why was everyone around me keeping it from me?” He took another drink. “Did you know that Mom was blocking her calls and afterwards told her that you and I were back together, so she should stop calling?”

Dorothea sighed. “I knew she was up to something, but I didn’t know what. I didn’t want to know. She kept telling me not to worry, everything had been taken care of and that Ronnie was no longer in the picture, so the way was clear for me.” She paused. “I’m sorry Jon. Was...was it a boy or a girl?”

“A boy. She named him Andrew John. She said....” He swallowed heavily. “She said he looked just like me.”

Dorothea nodded. That explained his behaviour earlier with Romeo.

Jon stood abruptly, set his glass on the table and strode over to the wall of windows that looked out over the city. “Who am I kidding? No one kept me from her but me. I could have found the time to call her, go to her, if I’d really wanted to. I let Mom and Doc convince me that she was fine and didn’t need me. How Dot? How could I do that to someone I loved?”

Even after all this time, Dorothea flinched at hearing that he’d loved someone else. Although, if she was honest with herself, she’d always known. There had always been something....missing...from their relationship. She’d always told herself it was just his obsession with success that made it seem that way. “Because you were determined to make it big, and nothing and no one was going to get in your way.” It may have sounded harsh, but it was the truth, and high time he faced it.

He grimaced, but didn’t deny it. He stood silently for several minutes. “What kind of man am I?” He snorted. “How can I even call myself a man after the way I’ve behaved? I’m a monster.”

Dorothea was shocked at the anguish she could hear in his voice and see in his face. “No you’re not. You’re a little selfish and self-centred, but you can fix that.”

He turned to face her. “Do you really think you can teach an old dog new tricks?”

She nodded. “If the old dog wants it bad enough. You can make up for the sins of your past. There’s still time.”

“Tell me, oh wise one, how do I make up for what I’ve done to her?”

Dorothea didn’t have an answer for him. She couldn’t look past the stabbing pain that he wanted to make amends to Ronnie, but not her.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Chapter 36

Veronica woke the next morning to find Jon once again wrapped around her. She had to smile. He was one of the few men she’d met – and slept with – that liked to cuddle when they slept. Back when they were together, she was often up first, and used to walk out of the bathroom after a shower to find him curled around her pillow. He said it smelled like her. It had always made her feel, and...wanted. It had taken several years – and men – to realize that he was the exception, not the rule. She laid there for several minutes savouring the feeling, knowing that she may never find it again. Then she sighed, slipped from the bed, picked up her nightgown off the floor, and headed for her own room and the shower, locking the door behind her.
Standing under the hot spray she contemplated her future, now that she was finally dealing with her past. It was the last day of this leg of the tour. Tomorrow they were heading home for Christmas. She was looking forward to getting back to Nashville and catching up with the girls and spending the holidays with them. As the soap ran in rivers down her body, she made a mental list of everything she had to do. She still had some shopping to do, and she should check with Vince and see what project he had lined up for her next. Then, maybe, she’d think about buying a house. It was time she put down some real roots and created a solid, stable life for herself. And who knew, maybe someday she’d meet a man who didn’t want children, or already had some and wouldn’t find her....lacking. But until that happened – if it ever happened – she would live her life as the strong, independent woman she was. With new determination, Veronica turned off the shower, dried herself off, dressed, and headed for the venue, grabbing a quick bite to eat on the way.

Jon woke and reached for Veronica, frowning when he found nothing but cold, empty sheets. Lifting his head he looked towards the door to her room only to find it closed. He let his head fall back onto the pillow with a sigh. Fuck! He’d been hoping after she’d come to him last night that she would have stayed. He should have known better. Damn stubborn woman! He lay there, staring at the ceiling for a long time, trying to come up with some way to get her to come to New Jersey with him for Christmas. He knew that Lori’s family had been there for her and considered her family, and would take good care of her, but.....he wanted to take care of her. It was the least she deserved from him and much less than he wanted to give her. He wanted to be the one she turned to for support and to share with He wanted her to belong to him, and be a part of his family. He just had to find a way to convince her. The ringing of the room phone reminded him that she’d booked another full day and he needed to get moving.

Veronica was sitting at her desk on the phone with the label’s local office when the guys arrived. They all stuck their heads in and waved before moving on to their dressing rooms – except Jon, who strutted in, came around her desk and leaned against it. One hand reached out to tuck a curl behind her ear.

“Uh huh. I thought the Sun review was really positive.” She glanced at Jon, but otherwise ignored him. “No, we did CMT in Toronto, and won’t again until Nashville.” Jon leaned over and kissed her neck, nuzzling under her ear. She shivered, and pushed him away, glaring at him when he grinned. “Yeah. I’ve been in touch with the Tokyo and Sydney offices and they’re lining those up.” A hand came up to trace her ear and the line of her neck. She swatted it away and hissed at him. “Stop it! No, not you Brian, sorry. I’ve got a pest in here driving me nuts!” She laughed. “I know it’s December, but this particular pest is of the year round variety.” She laughed harder. “No it’s not a cockroach. This one doesn’t have a shell...although its head is just as hard.” Jon frowned. “Stomping on it is definitely an option.”

Jon chuckled and bent to whisper in her ear. “You can spank me anytime sweetheart.”

She covered the phone. “Stomp, not spank. You’d enjoy that too much. Now, go get your hair and makeup done and leave me be and let me finish what I’m doing.”

“Yes dear.” He kissed her neck one more time, quickly ducking out of striking range, straightened and left the room, his snickers echoing behind him.

Veronica watched him go, her smile at his antics transforming into a frown. She needed to talk to him, but she was afraid that he wasn’t going to like what she had to say. But he was acting like they were a couple and she needed to nip that in the bud. “Sorry Brian, the pest is gone now, where were we?”

Throughout the interviews and photo ops, Jon noticed that Veronica was a little distracted – still very professional and capable, but distracted. When they were getting ready to head to the stage for sound check, he held her back with a hand on her arm. “Honey? Is everything okay?”

“Yeah, why?”

“You seem a little...distracted... today, and I wondered if something was bothering you.”

“Oh, I’m just thinking of everything that I need to do over the next few days. Speaking of which, I need to talk to you, but I’ll wait until after the show.”

“What is it? Talk to me now.”

“Jon, they’re waiting for you.” A staffer stuck his head in to remind him.

Veronica nudged him towards the door. “It’ll keep until after the show. Let’s go.”

“Are you sure? They can wait a few minutes.”

“I’m sure, come on. You’d yell at the others if they made you wait.”

He smirked. “Yeah, but I’m the boss.”

“Arrogance doesn’t become you Jon.” She retorted dryly.

“But I’m so good at it.”

She snorted and gave him a shove towards the door. “Go to work Rockstar.”

“Yes dear.” He allowed her to push him out the door.

“Ronnie? You coming for dinner with us?” David asked from the doorway of the control room.

Veronica glanced up from the report she was writing. “No. If you want me to go with you tonight, I’ve got to get this done.” There was no after party planned that night. Instead, the guys – and Veronica - were going out on the town, visiting a few of the old haunts, including the strip club where Veronica had danced many years ago.

“You sure?” Jon joined David. “You said you wanted to talk to me.”

She nodded. “Yeah, I’m sure. I’ll talk to you after the show.” Jon frowned. She sighed. “I’m fine Jon. Go relax and eat and let me get this done.” He went, but he was still frowning.

After the show she waited until she figured Jon had time to shower, then gave him an extra ten minutes - she wanted to be sure he was dressed this time – before knocking on his door. He opened it still rubbing his hair with a towel, but at least he was wearing pants. “Hey. What’s up?” He stood aside so that she could enter the room and closed the door behind her.

“Hi.” She walked over to lean against the dressing table. “First of all, I wanted to thank you for last night.”

“For what?”

“For being there for me when I needed someone. I also want to apologize for busting in on you like that. I shouldn’t have done that.”

Jon frowned, set the towel down on the table, and, with a finger under her chin, lifted her face up to his. “You didn’t bust in on me. I unlocked the door for a reason. I want you to come to me when you need something – anything. I wasn’t there when you needed me the most and I should have been. Let me be here for you now. I don’t want your apology or your thanks. I don’t deserve it. Just let me help.”

She nodded and gave him a quick hug. “Thanks. Now, the other thing I wanted to talk to you about is the rest of the tour. You really don’t need me here...”

“Yes I do!” He interrupted stepping closer and pinning her against the table.

Veronica raised a brow. “Back off Rockstar. You know the strong arm tactic doesn’t work on me.” She waited until he stepped back, a wry smile twisting his lips. “As I was saying, you don’t really need me here. You brought me out to get me to tell you the details of the baby’s death.” His eyes twitched. “I’ve done that.”

“That’s not the only reason I brought you out.”

“I’ve also got you off to a good start with the crossover with the country crowd. The local offices and your staff can handle it from here. I will come help with the Nashville show, but I won’t be much help in Japan and Australia anyway.” She watched him spin away and pace the room. “You know what I’m saying is true. Keeping me out here would just be a waste of time and money.”

He shrugged. “So? It’s my money. I don’t care.”

“And my time!”

“What would you be doing that’s so important? Sitting in bars listening to a lot of wannabe’s night after night hoping to find some talent?” At her narrowed gaze he held up a hand. “Sorry. I know your career is important to you and you love your job. I only meant that Vince won’t have anything lined up for you since he was figuring on you being with us for the whole tour.” He continued pacing for several breaths, then suddenly stopped in front of her. “No. You’re staying with us. You made a commitment to me.”

“Under duress!” She reminded him.

“Even so, you made a promise. I’m holding you to it.”


“I want you with me.”

Veronica studied him for a moment. “Jon, we’re not a couple.”

He sighed. “I know that.” But we will be. “But I’ve just started to get to know you again. And what if you have more nightmares? Who’s going to be there for you?”

“They’re getting better every day. I guess talking to you about it was what I needed to put it to rest.”

“Dammit Nica! We need you! I need you!” He raked a hand through his still damp hair, debating, but decided to risk telling her at least a little of the truth. “Nica, you get better than anyone. I....I’m feeling....unsettled, a little....lost...on a personal level. I need people around me I can trust right now and who will help me through this, who aren’t afraid to stand up to me when necessary, and keep me on the right path. I” He begged her with both his eyes and his words. “Will you stay and help me? Please?”

She was shocked. She’d been so focused on her own feelings she hadn’t thought about what her relating of the events surrounding their son’s death might have made him feel. Three days ago she wouldn’t have cared. But now she couldn’t refuse the plea in the sapphire depths. She sighed, wondering if she was the biggest pushover in the world, and making a huge mistake. “Alright. I’ll stay.”

Jon was surprised at the depth of the relief he felt at her words. “Thank you.”

Monday, November 2, 2009

Chapter 35

Jon entered his room, kicked off his boots, pulled off his shirt and glanced towards the door to Veronica’s room. Padding over, he opened the door on his side and listened but didn’t hear any noise on the other side. He debated for a moment then reached for the knob. It was locked. He knocked lightly. “Nica?” No answer. He raked a hand through his hair in frustration, his stomach sinking at the feeling that he was right back at square one. He stripped off the rest of his clothes, pulled back the covers and stretched out on the bed to stare at the ceiling and ponder his next move.

Veronica had been asleep for a couple hours when the nightmare came again – not as disturbing and intense as it had been, but enough to wake her. She lay for several minutes waiting for her heart rate and breathing to return to normal, shivering with a chill that had nothing to do with the temperature of the room. She knew from experience that even as tired as she was, it would be some time before her nerves settled and she warmed enough to be able to sleep again - and hope that the dream didn’t come again, which it often did lately. Maybe it won’t tonight. It only came the once last night. Of course that once was enough to last her a lifetime. It hadn’t been that intense in eighteen years. But the usual after effects – the deep down coldness, and repeat dreams – hadn’t come. She’d slept through the rest of the night undisturbed. Of course, she hadn’t been alone, but that had never stopped the dream before. She eyed the connecting door. Could that be it? Was it him – telling him, letting him comfort me and hold me that made the difference?

Half an hour later, she gave up – or gave in, depending on how you looked at it, rose from the bed and headed for the connecting door. There she hesitated again, but the need for peaceful sleep outweighed the possible repercussions of letting Jon get too close. At least that was the story she was telling herself. Taking a deep breath she flicked the lock and opened the door. She wasn’t surprised to find the door on Jon’s side open. Moonlight streaming through the windows illuminated the room enough for her to make her way to the bed without tripping. Standing at the side she gazed down at him. He was laying on his back, in the middle of the bed, the arm closest to her flung over his head, the sheets bunched around his waist, baring his chest. In the dim light she didn’t notice the blue eyes watching her.

Jon had been dozing when the snick of the lock and the sound of the door opening brought him fully awake. Her tentative movements made her reluctance to be there obvious and he remained motionless, afraid to move for fear that he’d scare her off. When she stood beside the bed it took all of his self control to just wait to see what she would do and not reach for her.

Veronica shivered, slipped into the bed and curled against him. Her head had barely settled onto his shoulder and her hand on his chest when his arm came down to hold her there and the other came up to rub her arm. After several minutes of silence she sighed, relaxed and snuggled closer, her fingers tangling in his thick fur.

He squeezed her lightly. “Nica? What’s wrong hon..” Her fingers pressed against his lips, cutting off the flow of words.

She tilted her head and searched his eyes. “I’m cold Johnny. So cold.”

Jon kissed her fingers, pulled up the blankets and rubbed as much of her as he could reach. Her skin didn’t feel cold, but he could feel her deep shivering which told him it was an emotional chill, not a physical one. He hugged her tighter.

Veronica huddled against him absorbing the heat he radiated like a furnace. It helped, but it wasn’t enough. Her hand flattened over the thick muscle of his pec, then skimmed over his chest. At the same time she tilted her head and stretched up to kiss, lick and nibble his Adam’s apple.

Jon closed his eyes and swallowed heavily at his body’s response to her touch. “Nica?” It was a whispered growl.

Her lips traced a path down his neck and onto his chest. “I need you to warm me Johnny.” Her breath was a hot gust over the nailhead of his nipple.

He moaned softly as she teased with tongue and teeth before finally closing her lips around the small nub and sucking. She shifted over him to reach his other nipple and give it the same treatment. His hands rose to her shoulders and smoothed down her back. Her hand drifted over his stomach, noting the spasms of the muscles at her touch. Moving lower still, she discovered that he still slept naked when her hand came into contact with his rapidly hardening erection. Veronica glanced up to watch his eyes darken and glitter as she closed her hand around him and stroked.

His fingers clenched in the cotton of her nightgown and tugged. She frowned. “You won’t need it sugar. I’ll keep you warm. I promise.” With a slight nod she let him remove it, then once again took him in hand.

She alternated between teasing touches and rhythmic squeezes, detouring periodically to cup and stroke the soft sac underneath the hard shaft. A fine sheen of sweat formed on Jon’s skin, and his breathing became laboured at her gentle exploration. She knew where his sensitive spots were and just how to touch him. She’d always had magic fingers where he was concerned. She was killing him, but it had been so long since he’d felt like this he was determined take it as long as he possibly could. When her thumb circled his swollen tip and her hand closed around him and squeezed, his control broke.

With a low growl and a quick move Jon pulled her hand away and rolled her beneath him. His mouth captured hers, his tongue sliding between her teeth to taste her thoroughly. Meanwhile, his hands roamed her arms and torso, warming her. She sighed in appreciation, her hands doing some exploring of their own.

Breaking the kiss, he slid his mouth down her neck and upper chest to the peak of one breast. Here he paused to lick and blow on her nipple, causing it to harden even more, before taking it between his lips to scrape gently with his teeth. Veronica gasped, moaned, and slid her hands into his hair to pull him closer. He chuckled when she whimpered and arched her back. Blue eyes met violet, both glittering with passion. She raised a brow at him and her hands tugged. He grinned around the sensitive nub, then closed his lips and suckled. Hard. She cried out.

After a few minutes he lifted his head, shifted and gave her other breast the same treatment. For several minutes he alternated back and forth making sure he gave equal attention to both plump mounds. Her hips began to move involuntarily in rhythm with the pull of his mouth.

Her hands dropped to his shoulders and tugged. “Johnny! Now Johnny! I need you now!”

Jon slid one hand down her abdomen, over her undulating hips to the pulsing fleshing at the apex of her thighs to check her readiness. He couldn’t wait any longer either, but he was afraid of hurting her. He needn’t have worried. She was drenched. Two fingers slid inside her slick channel just to be sure. She moaned and curled her fingers, nails biting.

He shifted to cover her, settling his hips between her thighs and filling her with one slow thrust. He was trembling with the effort it took to be gentle and not pound into her like he wanted to. Buried to the hilt, he held still, savouring the feel of her under him and around him, a moan rumbling deep in his throat. She clutched him to her and lifted her hips, urging him on. He obliged, thrusting rhythmically, gently, slowly.

Veronica groaned at the feel of his flesh stretching hers. She had thought that the incredible sensations she’d experienced the night before were because of the emotional outpouring that had preceded their coupling. She was wrong. She’d had other lovers after Jon, but although she’d enjoyed the encounters, something had always been...missing. The lack that she’d felt, she’d figured was hers, her own inability to connect, at that deeper level. Or maybe those men were just not a great match physically. She didn’t know for sure. What she did know, was that this, this merging of bodies and needs felt....right. Where others had left her wanting, Jon seemed to know how to satisfy her to the depths of her soul. The thought that she might never find anyone else that could do that, that she would always feel unfulfilled, was a cold, black hole inside her, and she pushed it away.

She stroked the long muscles of his back and set her mouth to the smooth skin of his neck and shoulder. His response was a deeper thrust that pushed her over the edge. Jon rode out the spasms of her orgasm, then held still and rose up onto his elbows. One hand brushed her hair back from her flushed face. He chuckled. “Still rushing huh? You haven’t learned to slow down and make it last?”

“Why should I?” She panted and flexed her internal muscles around his embedded erection. “When I can have more.”

He closed his eyes and groaned at the feel of her gripping him. “Do that again.”

It was her turn to chuckle. “This?” She squeezed harder.

“Oh God yes!” He started to move again, he couldn’t help himself.

Veronica urged him to lie fully on her, and wrapped her arms and legs around him when he complied and clung to him. The ride was still slow and gentle - and only slightly longer – but this time when her body clamped down he went over the edge with her, a guttural moan escaping his throat as his body pumped out its release.

As he lay on her, shuddering, spent, trying to catch his breath, he waited...and hoped....and smiled in relief when she kissed his shoulder and hugged him. Lifting his head he kissed her softly, then sucked in a deep breath, withdrew from her body and collapsed onto his back, pulling her into his arms.

They lay there in silence for several minutes, his hand caressing her hip, hers playing idly with his fur. He hesitated to disturb the peaceful, sated mood, and he didn’t want to upset her again, but he needed to know. “Can I ask you a question?”

She sighed, knowing by his hesitant tone that it had something to do with the baby. As much as she didn’t want to talk about it, Richie had been right. She needed to and Jon had a right to know. “Go ahead.”

“Did you name him?”

She swallowed. “Yes. Andrew John.” After her father and his.

Jon squeezed her and pressed a kiss to her forehead. “Where did you....” He didn’t even know how to ask the question. “Where is he?”

Her eyes filled. “Chicago. With my parents.”

He felt oddly relieved and comforted that his son wasn’t alone and was with family. Still, it was quite awhile before he was able to sleep.

Chapter 34

Veronica thought the show was never going to end. As much as she loved watching them perform, she was exhausted, and she still had to figure out how to deal with Jon afterwards. The looks he kept sending her way told her that he expected to spend the night with her again, but she knew that would be a bad idea. Last night she’d needed his comfort and the forgetfulness he could bring her in bed, but nothing had changed. While they may be a good match in the physical arena, they were a bad bet for a relationship.

Jon bit back the urge to tell the young label rep standing in front of him to fuck off and tried to focus on what the guy was saying. Shit! He was barely out of diapers when I was recording platinum records and he’s going to tell me about the changes in the industry? I wonder if he’s ever owned an LP that wasn’t out of the ‘vintage’ bin? Does he know what an eight track cassette is?

Veronica noticed his distraction, even though he was nodding as if he was listening. She knew him better than that. She poked him with her elbow and gave him a warning look. The hand that was in its usual spot on her waist squeezed, his lips curved slightly and he forced his attention back to the rep.

When the rep walked away and she pointed out the next one, he groaned. Veronica frowned. “Be nice.”

“Have you listened to these guys? I was making albums when they were still suckling their mother’s tit, but they all want to tell me how it’s done.”

“They’re just starting out in the business, they’re still learning and probably grew up with your music. You’re an icon to them, Jon, they don’t know what to say to you, so they tend to babble a little, trying to impress you with their knowledge.” She tried to think of how to put it so that he would understand. “Think back to when you were recording your first album.” He nodded. “Now think about what it would have been like to come face to face with Paul McCartney.” His eyes widened. She nodded. “Exactly. Try to keep that in mind while you’re talking to them and be nice.”

He looked thoughtful for a long minute, then smiled and dropped a kiss on her lips, lifting his head before she could react. “I never thought of it that way before. I guess it kind of makes sense. Thanks honey. I keep telling everyone that you’re more than just a pretty face.” She rolled her eyes and swatted his chest lightly. He chuckled and let her lead him to the rep.

Veronica was very pleased to hear him engage in the conversation instead of acting like he was doing the kid a favour by listening to him. When the rep walked away, Jon turned to her. “Better?”

“Much. That was very good.”

“Thanks teach.” He patted his pockets and frowned. “I don’t have an apple on me. How about dinner?”

“Trying to be the teacher’s pet?”

He grinned. “Trying to get the teacher to pet me.”

She snorted. “Good luck with that.”

“I don’t need luck. I got skills, baby.” He leaned closer to murmur in her ear. “If your memory is really that short, maybe you need a reminder.”

She couldn’t suppress her blush or the shiver that ran down her spine at his words and the feel of his hot breath. She knew she should push him away and cut him down, but she was so tired of being angry at him. She just didn’t have the energy to keep it up anymore. But that didn’t mean she was just going to fall in line with his plans. “Now that’s where the luck comes in Rockstar. Those ‘skills’ you’re so proud of can only be put to use if you get lucky and I let you get close enough to use them.” She patted his cheek and walked away towards the bar.

He couldn’t help but grin as he watched her go. She wasn’t going to make it easy for him, but he didn’t expect her to. She’d always been a bit of a spitfire, and he was glad to see that the painful events of the past hadn’t smothered that flame in her. His smile faded at the realization that although she didn’t seem to be angry with him anymore, she was probably still very leery of getting involved with him again. He couldn’t blame her. All things considered, it was a miracle that she’d even talk to him.

Richie glanced up as Jon took the seat beside him at the table. “So, looks like I won the pool huh?”

“What makes you think that?”

Richie nodded across the room towards where Ronnie was standing, laughing with some members of the crew. “The tension between you is all but gone and you’re both still alive with no signs of bleeding.”

Jon grunted. “Not on the outside, anyway.”

Richie clapped a hand on his shoulder and squeezed. “That’ll heal too.”

“How do you know that?” The blue eyes were dark and haunted.

Richie nodded again towards Ronnie. “Because she’s alive and sane.”

“You saw her last night. You call that healed?”

“Then? No. Up until last night she was....surviving. Now? I think her healing has begun. You can see it. The shadows in her eyes aren’t as dark as they were. She needed to talk to you, to get it out before she could truly stop the bleeding.”

“And what do I need to do to heal, Dr. Freud?”

Richie ignored the sarcasm and put on a German accent. “Yu must vip yurself until yu raise velts twice a day und kiss her ass und be her slave for the next decade.” He switched back to his normal voice. “Seriously man, it’s just going to take some time. To process and accept what happened and your part in it. You have to try and forgive yourself.” At Jon’s look, he smiled wryly. “I know. I said try. You can’t change the past, you just have to find a way to live with it, learn from it, and move beyond it. Trust me, I know.”

“When did you get so smart?”

Richie shrugged. “I did take some psychology courses at college, remember. I liked it and have studied a bit more in our down time over the last few years.” He looked around the table. “Mostly abnormal psych. I thought it might help.” The others flipped him off.

Half an hour later, Veronica approached their table, coming up behind Tico and setting her hands on his shoulders. “Good night guys.”

“You’re wimping out on us little girl?” Richie eyed her closely. She didn’t look upset, just tired.

She wrinkled her nose at him. “Don’t worry Jughead, I’m still in for tomorrow night, but yeah, I’m beat. I’m going up to bed.” Luckily the after party was in the bar of the hotel they were staying in, so she just had to go upstairs.

“Sleep well nina.” Tico patted the hand on his left shoulder.

“Nite Ronnie.” David stood and kissed her cheek.

“Nite little girl.” Richie followed suit.

“I’ll be up in a few minutes.” Jon assured her.

She didn’t react. “I’ll see all of you tomorrow.” With that she turned and left the bar.

In her room, she locked the door and prepared for bed. She stared for a long minute at the door that connected her room with Jon’s before finally locking it too. A long sigh escaped her lips as she slid between the cool sheets and closed her eyes. She was asleep in minutes.