When Veronica got off the plane she found Brent waiting for her in baggage claim. “Hi, how bad is it?”
“Only a couple of the rags have it so far, but that’ll change by morning.”
They spent the drive to Laguna discussing potential problems and possible counter measures. When Brent stopped in front of a house, Veronica glanced around. “Is this his place?”
“According to our information, yes. One of them anyway. Do you want me to come in with you or wait for you or what?”
“No, I’ll be fine thanks. If he doesn’t have room to put me up I’ll find a hotel.”
He helped her get her bags to the door. She knocked and waited, not totally surprised when the door opened to reveal a well built blonde. She pulled a business card out of her purse. “Hi, my name is Veronica Watson. I’m with Mercury records, currently working with Bon Jovi. Is this the Sambora residence?”
“Umm...” The blonde hesitated and glanced between Veronica and the card in her hand.
“Who’s at the door?” Ava appeared. “Ronnie! Hi! It’s okay Valerie, she’s a friend of my dad’s.”
“Hi Ava. Are you okay?”
The big blue eyes filled with tears, but she nodded. “Yeah, but the police took Daddy away!”
Veronica stepped through the doorway to hug her. “I know sweetie.”
“Uh, Veronica...call me if you need any help with anything. I’ll let you know what we’re hearing.” Brent set her luggage inside.
“Thanks Brent. And thanks for the ride.”
He waved and was gone.
Ava slid her arm around Veronica’s waist and urged her into the living room and down onto the couch. Valerie closed the door and followed them.
“Ronnie this is Valerie. She’s a stylist in L.A. and a friend of Daddy’s.”
Veronica held out her hand. “Hi. Nice to meet you.”
Valerie shook it. “Hi. Nice to meet you too.”
“So...you were with them tonight?”
Veronica turned to Ava. “Where’s your friend?”
“We took her home.”
“Did you call your mother and let her know you were okay?”
“Okay. Tell me everything that happened.”
Valerie frowned. “I think we should wait for Richie.”
Veronica smiled slightly. “Oh I want to hear it from him too, but I need to know what you two remember as well.” At the unsure expression on Valerie’s face, she explained. “If I’m going to be able to help him I need to know everything.”
Ava started. “We went out for dinner.”
“Just the four of you?”
“And did Daddy drink?”
Ava hesitated, then nodded. “Yeah, but just a couple.”
Veronica took a deep breath. This was the tough one. “Was he drunk?”
Ava frowned and shrugged. Veronica looked at Valerie, who shrugged. “I couldn’t say for sure. He wasn’t slurring or stumbling around or anything.”
Something in her voice had Veronica studying her closely. “But you suspected.”
Again Valerie shrugged. “He was driving a bit erratically I guess, but I just thought it was the Hummer.”
Veronica tried not to sound accusing. “Can I ask why, if you suspected, you didn’t insist on driving?”
Valerie’s eyes widened. “He didn’t seem that bad to me. Besides, I didn’t want to piss him off.”
That statement pretty much told Veronica everything she needed to know. “Okay.” She glanced at her watch and eyed Ava. “Do you think you’ll be able to sleep?”
“I want to wait for Daddy.”
“Okay. Why don’t you get a pillow and blanket then and lay down on the couch?”
“You’re staying aren’t you?”
“Yes. I need to talk to Daddy.”
The three sat quietly watching T.V. for the next several hours, dozing off and on. The sound of the door opening had the adults sitting up – Ava was asleep.
Richie’s eyes widened when he saw Veronica. “Hi little girl. Come to assess the damage?”
“Hi Jughead. Something like that. How are you?” He looked like shit. His face was pale with dark circles under his eyes and his hair stuck up all over like he’d been running his hands through it repeatedly – which he had.
He shrugged. “I’ve been better.” He turned to Valerie. “Sorry about everything. Thanks for taking care of the girls. Do you want me to drive you home?”
Valerie knew a dismissal when she heard one, even if it was gently put. “No, that’s fine, I have my car. I just wanted to make sure you were alright.” She stood and kissed him briefly. “Take care of yourself Richie.”
“Thanks. You too.”
After she’d gone Richie stood staring down at his sleeping daughter. “I can’t believe I did that to her.”
“Tell me what happened Rich.”
He sighed heavily, then nodded and sat beside Ava, one large hand stroking her blonde hair.
They talked through what was left of the night.
As dawn painted the horizon Richie went into the kitchen to put on a third pot of coffee. Veronica glanced at her watched, quickly calculated the time difference and reached for her phone.
He picked it up on the second ring. “Morning sugar. How is he?”
“Hi. He’s trying to put up a good front, but....he’s pissed at himself, humiliated....and hurting.” She stood and wandered out the patio doors onto the deck. Speaking quietly, she gave him a rundown of what she’d learned of the nights events, from their dinner where Richie had a couple of drinks to his difficulty keeping the Hummer on the right side of the line. Then she went on to tell him about what had brought it on.
Jon could hear her voice break. “Hey honey, don’t cry. We’ll get him through this.”
“Oh Jon, you should have heard him talking about those last days and weeks with his dad! It breaks my heart to see him like this. I feel so helpless.” She fought against her tears. She didn’t want Richie to see them and feel worse.
He smiled gently. She really had a soft heart for the people she cared about. Now if only he could find a way to be included in that group again. “What he needs is exactly what you’re doing. We just need to be there for him and listen if he wants to talk. Did he mention what’s happening next?”
“He has to go to court in May. That’s all I know at this point. His lawyer says we have to wait until the blood test results come back.” She blew out a shaky breath. “Talk to me about something else, Jon. How was Easter with the kids?”
“Good. We had an Easter egg hunt in the back yard. It was supposed to be just for Jake and Romeo since Jesse thought he was too old for it, but I noticed him searching through the bushes....and I don’t believe he was looking for a lost ball.” He hesitated. “They asked me when you were coming to visit again.”
She debated her response, but some of the girls’ comments kept echoing in her head. “We’ll see.”
Jon sat up straighter in his chair and had to force himself not to push. “Okay. We can talk about it later. Are you going to stay out there until the Denver show or are you going back to Nashville?”
“I think I’ll stay. I have some stuff to do at the L.A. office anyway. If Richie doesn’t want me around I’ll check into a hotel.”
“Of course I want you around little girl.” Richie stepped through the patio door and handed her a cup of coffee. Is that Jon?” She nodded. He took a deep breath. “Can I talk to him?”
“Sure.” She handed him the phone and went back inside to give them privacy.