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?”
“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.