“Well, well, what’s going on in here?” Richie announced his presence.
“Uncle Mookie!” Four voices greeted him.
“Hey man.” The men replied.
Richie glanced around the room. “Where’s Ronnie?”
Jon looked around as well and shrugged. “She was here a few minutes ago. Maybe she’s in the kitchen.”
“Trying to wash the mashed potatoes off the wall.” Jesse added.
Richie’s brows rose. “Food fight?”
“Just between Daddy and the food.” Stephanie answered. “He tried to cook,”
Richie stared at Jon, his lips twitching. “Why? Trying to impress someone?”
Jon glared at him. “If I was that would be a stupid way to go about it, don’t you think?”
“Mmmm. How bad was it?”
Jon grimaced. Tico chuckled. “It ended up not too bad. Ronnie managed salvage enough to make an edible meal.”
“Her made cookies!” Romeo added.
“She did?” Richie spied the empty plate. “I’d better go see if she saved me any from you vultures.”
“We’re not vultures Uncle Mookie, we’re growing boys!” Jake informed him.
Richie chuckled and ruffled his hair. “Yes you are. We all are.”
“Some of us are just growing in a different direction.” Jon looked pointedly at Richie’s stomach.
Richie patted his slightly rounded belly. “Nothing like home cooking. Hmm...maybe some milk to go with the cookies.” With that thought he headed for the kitchen. Entering the large room, he glanced around, surprised to find it empty. A slight frown wrinkled his brow as he reached into the cookie jar. Devouring half a cookie in one bite he went in search of the baker. He tried Jon’s office first, thinking that she might be working. She wasn’t. He did notice several guitars and boxes of posters and CDs and stuff that he figured she’d brought for them to sign. Back in the hallway, the sound of Jake and Romeo’s giggles had his frown deepening and he turned towards the stairs.
At the top of the stairs he turned towards Jon’s room. He wasn’t sure which room Ronnie had been given, but he’d have bet his Fender that it was near Jon’s. A glance down the hallway assured him that there was only one room with the door closed. Stopping in front of it, he knocked. “Ronnie?”
“Come in.” Veronica looked up as the door opened and Richie entered. “Hi Rich.”
“Hi little girl. How are you?” Dark eyes watched her carefully, noting the tense line of her lips and the shadows in the amethyst pools looking at him. “How come you’re up here instead of watching the movie with everyone else?”
She shrugged. “Work. How’s your mom?”
“She’s good. Why didn’t you use Jon’s office? It’s got to be more comfortable than sitting on this bed with your laptop.”
“But it’s quieter up here.”
“And is that the only reason?”
“Of course. Why else?” She wouldn’t meet his eyes.
Richie studied her for a moment. “Did he even warn you that the kids were coming?”
“No, in fact he told be the house would be empty except for you and Tico. But I should have known. It’s the weekend and he hasn’t seen them for awhile.”
“And it’s his birthday on Monday.”
Veronica grimaced. “Yeah. Definitely a weekend for family.” And if I could figure out a way to get out of here I would.
“I hear dinner was....an experience.” He changed the subject to something moderately less painful.
She laughed. “Oh Rich. You should have seen it! Mashed potato on the wall, corn burned to the bottom of the pot, and the gravy.....I can’t even describe it! It had to be seen to be believed.” She wiped a tear from her eye. “I guess I should give him credit for trying, but yeesh! I don’t know what possessed him to try to cook. ”
“No. Do you?”
“To get you to do exactly what you did. Save the day and become a part of this household.”
“Come on Ronnie, think about it. Why would he attempt to cook a meal like that on Molly’s weekend off and the kids here? With me at Mom’s, who would be around to fix the disaster? Only you. You’re the hero of the day. You saved dinner.” He paused. “And you made cookies. From Jon’s perspective, you now know where everything is in the kitchen, you have a funny, bonding story to share with his kids, and he’s shown them that you’re more than an employee to him, you’re part of the family. Actually, I’m impressed. It’s a pretty clever plan.”
Veronica stared at him, then snorted. “Do you actually think that Jon came up with this ‘clever plan’?”
“Consciously? No. I think he had a horseshoe up his ass as usual. I think he planned as far as you rescuing dinner, and the rest was just dumb luck.”
She shook her head. “Too bad it was a waste of time.”
“Was it? Why?” When she just shrugged, he sighed and sat on the bed beside her. “How long are you going to fight it little girl?”
“The fact that you two are good together.”
“We’re disaster together! I think that’s been proven.”
“No. All that’s been proven is that when disaster struck, you were both too young and there were too many outside forces working against you for your relationship to survive it. But you’re older now, more experienced...better able to handle the bumps in the road.”
“Why not? You have a lot in common and you get each other. You understand each other’s lifestyle and the demands of the music.”
Veronica raised a brow. “Are you pimping for him now?”
Richie laughed. “I’m just trying to help you see that the past is the past and if you let it dictate your future, you’ll both continue to be miserable.” He reached over to take her hand in his. “You keep telling him to let it go. You need to follow your own advice.”
She frowned. “I have.”
“No you haven’t or you wouldn’t still be holding it against him. You’d be looking towards the future and what will make you happy.”
“And you think that Jon will make me happy.”
He nodded. “I do. At the very least I think he deserves a shot. You both do.”
“We’ve already had our chance. It didn’t work out.”
“Everyone makes mistakes Ronnie. And everyone deserves a second chance.” He squeezed her hand and kissed her cheek. “Just think about it.” With that he rose and left the room.
Veronica stared at the closed door for a long time. Releasing a huge sigh, two fingers squeezed the bridge of her nose and she prayed that the headache hovering around her temples didn’t settle in. Shaking her head, she forced herself to focus on her computer screen.
An hour or so later, she heard the kids in the hallway as they got ready for bed, then Jon’s voice saying goodnight and admonishing Stephanie and Jesse not to stay up too late. A few minutes later there was a soft knock on her door.
She sighed. “Come in Jon.”
The door opened and he slipped inside. “Everything okay?”
“Yeah, just trying to sort out where to fit Dubai interviews into your schedule.”
He groaned. She raised a brow. He sighed. “I know, I know, I promised not to argue. Just...leave a little time for sleep and...fun, okay? Please?”
Veronica smiled. “I’ll think about it...if I can stand the quiet of this empty house.”
He winced. “Are you angry that I didn’t warn you that the kids would be here?”
“Why didn’t you?”
“Because I was afraid that you wouldn’t come.” The mattress dipped as Jon sat down beside her. “I really wanted you here. I’m sorry for....not telling you the whole truth.” He picked up her hand and laced their fingers together loosely. “But it’s going well, don’t you think? Aside from cooking disasters that is. Thanks again for rescuing dinner – and making cookies.”
“You’re welcome.” She was dying to ask why he attempted to cook, but was too afraid of the answer. She really didn’t want to hear that Richie was right. She sighed, too tired to fight with him. “In future, will you please just tell me the truth? Blindsiding me will only piss me off.”
“I promise. Do you need anything?”
“No, I’m all set thanks.”
“Okay, get some sleep. I know you haven’t gotten much lately because of me. I don’t want you getting sick.”
Her lips twitched. “Yes Daddy.”
Jon’s eyes heated. He leaned towards her until their mouths were just brushing. “See that you do. Don’t make me spank you.” He moved the slight distance required to press his lips firmly, but gently against hers. Her lips seemed to cling to his as he eased back. His free hand came up to stroke her cheek. “Sleep well Nica.”
“You too.” Her voice was a husky whisper.
He smiled wryly. “I’ll try, but I don’t sleep well alone.” Dropping another kiss on her lips before she could protest his words, he released her hand and rose from the bed. “Nite.”
“Nite Jon.”At the door he paused and turned back. “Did I mention that we’re all going to the Soul game on Sunday? You included. No argument. You’re taking a day off.” Chuckling, he dodged the pillow she threw at him and ducked out the door, leaving her growling in frustration.
Alone again, Veronica turned off her computer, got ready for bed and crawled gratefully between the sheets. She was exhausted, both mentally and physically and wanted nothing more than to forget about everything for a few hours. But Richie’s comments kept echoing in her head. Is he right? Am I letting the past prevent me from finding happiness? Could Jon and I make it? Should I take the risk? Can I? But how can I trust him again?
She tossed and turned for hours before finally falling asleep, no closer to finding the answers to her questions.