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.”
“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.