After they’d all gorged themselves on grilled cheese sandwiches, Steph and Jesse were assigned clean up duty. Jesse looked over his shoulder to make sure no one was close enough to hear him as he brought another armload of dishes to Steph to load into the dishwasher.
“What do you think’s going on with Dad and Ronnie?”
Stephanie shrugged. “I don’t know. I think they’re just getting to know each other again. Why? Would you have a problem with them hooking up?”
Jesse just shrugged.
“I thought you liked Ronnie.”
“I do.” He hesitated. “She’s too good for him.”
Stephanie set down the plate in her hand and turned to look at him. “What? Why do you say that?” He just shrugged again. “Jess, what do you have against him? You know that the divorce wasn’t all his fault. Mom even said so.”
Jesse’s expression turned mutinous. “He’s gone for long periods of time. He left Mom to look after everything by herself while he went running around the world playing Rockstar. He cares more about himself than he does any of us.”
“Jesse! That’s not true and you know it!” Stephanie was stunned.
“Do I? Why? Because he says so?”
“Because it’s the truth!”
“Whatever. He’ll just do the same thing to Ronnie.” He went back to the dining room for another load of dishes.
When he returned Stephanie continued the conversation. “I don’t know Jess. Think about it. With her job she could just travel with him.”
“Yeah...maybe.” He made another trip to the dining room and back. “Do you think that she believes all that stuff she tells people about how great he is? Or is she just doing her job?”
Stephanie considered for a moment. “I think she believes it. She was around back in the beginning remember, and was there when they first made it big. I think that she really thinks they’re talented.”
Jesse frowned. “Uncle Mookie likes her and I guess he thinks that they’ll get together.”
“They all like her, and they know her better than we do. I think it might be a good idea to try to get to know her. She may be around for awhile.”
Jesse grunted. “If Dad doesn’t drive her away too.”
In the office, Veronica checked lists while Richie and Jon autographed everything. “Is David coming here before leaving for Philly by any chance?”
“Yeah. He’s meeting us here, then we’ll travel together.” Jon answered.
“Good. I’ll call him and see if he can come a little early and sign this stuff so that I can get it out.”
“Daddy! Unca Mookie! It fooball time!” Romeo announced from the doorway.
“Okay little man. We’re coming.” Jon replied. He looked at Ronnie. “You going to come play or at least watch?”
Veronica shook her head. “No. I’ve got too much to do.” He frowned. She waved towards the door. “You go have fun. Try not to injure yourselves.”
Richie had been watching her from the moment Romeo appeared and noted the slight stiffening of her body. Passing her, he set a hand on her shoulder and squeezed. She smiled weakly at him.
Half an hour later, screams of laughter broke through her concentration and pulled her to the windows. The teams appeared to be Jon, Stephanie and Jake versus Richie, Jesse and Romeo. As she watched, the huddles broke and the teams lined up. That was about the extent of the similarity between football the way most people played and the way the Bongiovi’s played. Stephanie hiked the ball to Jon, then turned and all the kids tackled him. Veronica had to smile at the sight of him sinking to the ground under a pile of kids. Richie just stood back and laughed.
She drew in a sharp breath as pain stabbed her in the heart and her eyes filled. This is what she’d dreamed of as a young girl. A family who laughed and played together. But fate decided that was something she could never have. Even after almost twenty years it still hurt. Nevertheless, as painful as it was, she couldn’t stop watching. This shouldn’t bother me. I’m way past this!
“Want to join them?” Tico’s voice startled her. She hadn’t heard him enter the room.
She shook her head. “No. I’m trying to figure out the rules. As far as I can tell it’s basically get the ball to Jon, then tackle him.”
Tico chuckled. “That’s Bongiovi birthday ball. Whoever’s birthday it is gets tackled.” He studied her face. “What’s the matter nina?”
Veronica was silent for so long he didn’t think she was going to answer. “They should have been mine Teek.” She winced as Romeo and Jake took Jon out at the knees and they landed in a tangled heap in a pile of snow and mud, the others quickly jumping on top.
Tico moved to stand at her back and wrapped his arms around her. “I’m sorry querida.”
She leaned against him for a moment, then straightened and gave herself a mental shake. Squaring her shoulders, she turned and forced her lips to smile. “Did you come to give me your autograph?”
He frowned. “Ronnie...”
She shook her head. “I’ll be fine.”
“Please Teek, I don’t want to talk about it.” She rested a hand on his arm. “I appreciate your concern, but I’ll be okay. Really. Seeing them is just.....taking me awhile to adjust to that’s all.”
“Yes. I’m sure.” A loud buzz sounded. Veronica looked at Tico.
He motioned towards the electronic panel on the wall near the door. “That’s the gate intercom. Press the big black button to speak and the green one to open the gate.”
Realizing that he meant for her to answer it, she walked quickly to the panel and pushed the black button. “Yes?”
“Hi. I have a delivery from Mancini’s bakery.”
She checked the video screen and saw the well marked delivery van. “Thanks. Come on up.” She pushed the green button, turned and caught Tico’s inquiring look. “Dessert for the birthday dinner.”
His dark eyes lit up. “Cannoli?” She nodded. “Yum!”
Veronica laughed and left the room to meet the deliveryman. Stashing the cannoli where she hoped Jon wouldn’t find them, she was on her way back to the office when the back door opened and a group of laughing, dirty, soaked ball players entered. “Have fun?”
“Yeah. We got Daddy good!” Jake told her, then sneezed.
Veronica frowned. “Everybody upstairs – but take your boots off first. Hot bath or shower and dry clothes before you all get sick.”
They all trooped towards the stairs without argument, Richie winked at her as he passed. Jon was the last. “Yes dear.” He bent and kissed her cheek.
She rolled her eyes and shooed him away. “Go!” With a sigh she went in search of rags to clean the mud off the boots and the floor.