They arrived at the hotel in Denver late morning. Richie stopped Veronica outside the door to her room and gave her a big bear hug.
“Thank you for....everything.”
“Anytime. And I mean that.” She pointed a warning finger at him. “Don’t bottle it up again! Talk to me!”
“Yes ma’am.” He saluted her.
She snorted. “Smartass. Go get settled. The vans leave in...” She checked her schedule and her watch. “An hour and a half.”
Richie saluted again, winked and disappeared into his room.
Veronica opened her own door, walked in, sat down on the end of the bed and sighed. It had been a long week. She felt emotionally worn out, and instinctively turned to the one thing that had brought her some small measure of peace, although she refused to acknowledge to herself either the source or the reason. Sighing, she rose and walked to the door connecting her room and the one beside it. When she opened her side she was only slightly surprised to find his door sitting wide open.
Jon was sitting on the couch, bent over the laptop open on the coffee table in front of him, but looked up as the door opened and Veronica walked in and sat close beside him. It was the first time she’d come that close to him voluntarily, outside what was necessary to do her job, and he was almost afraid to move and scare her away. They’d talked everyday while she’d been in L.A., about Richie of course, and work, but also about their regular daily events. He felt that he was finally making some progress and was worried about doing something to fuck it up. “Hi.”
Veronica slumped back against the couch and closed her eyes. “Hi.”
He frowned at her pale face and the dark circles under her eyes. For the hundredth time he swore at himself for dumping Dubai on her like that. And now this mess with Richie. Thankfully another couple months would take at least one off of her plate. Maybe then he could get her to relax a little. He eased back until he was shoulder to shoulder with her, reached out slowly and took her hand in his, lacing their fingers together. “Are you hungry?”
She shook her head. “No, we ate on the plane.”
“How is he today?”
“About the same as yesterday. A little quieter than usual, but otherwise okay.”
“I still can’t believe he did something that stupid! He knows better than to drive after drinking! We aren’t fucking teenagers anymore!” He blew out a frustrated sigh and raked his free hand through his hair. Concern was clearly visible in the blue eyes studying her. “How are you holding up? You look tired.”
Veronica smiled slightly. “We’ve stayed up late talking.” She gazed down at their joined hands and flexed hers, her smile widening a little when he squeezed back. “He’s......lost.....adrift. He’s hurting and doesn’t know where to turn except alcohol to ease the pain. I’m...afraid for him Jon. He needs help. Before something worse happens.”
Releasing her hand he slid both arms around her and hugged her close, pressing his lips to her temple. “We’ll get him whatever he needs. He’ll be alright. You’ll see.”
She leaned her head against him and sighed. “So much loss...so much pain.”
He wasn’t sure if she was still talking about Richie, or if she was referring to them as well. Figuring he was better safe than sorry, he didn’t say anything, just held her and rubbed her arm lightly.
After awhile, encouraged that she wasn’t pulling away, he lifted her face with a hand under her chin and brushed her lips with his. When she didn’t stop him, he settled in for a more thorough taste.
The feel of his tongue stroking hers brought Veronica to full awareness and set off her warning bells. Not a good idea Veronica, you’re too vulnerable right now! Senses tingling, she sat up and gestured towards his laptop. “I’m sorry. I interrupted you.”
Dammit! “That’s okay, I was just catching up on my e-mails and doing a little research for a Foundation project. You can interrupt me anytime.”
“Can I have that in writing?”
“Ha ha. Smartass.”
Veronica smiled, glanced at her watch and stood up. “Oh, the vans will be leaving in about forty-five minutes. I’d better get settled and let you get back to work.” She hesitated. “I think we should keep Richie out of the interviews for a few days. Let things settle down.”
Jon nodded. “And I think maybe you should sit in on them. Tiffany’s doing a good job, but if something comes up with all of this mess, I’d rather you were there to help deal with it.”
She agreed, in fact, had already planned on it. She was also surprised that he’d suggested it instead of just handling it himself. It made her feel....needed and appreciated. It had been a long time since he’d made her feel that way.
Back in her room, she was rummaging through her suitcase looking for her extra memory sticks when her hand came into contact with a medium sized box. She pulled it out to find a brightly wrapped package with a note taped to the top. If you won’t give him a chance you’re going to need this. But wouldn’t you rather have the real thing? Lori. The suspicions the note had swirling through her brain made her almost afraid to open it. She ripped off the paper, lifted the lid and almost groaned out loud at the sight of the vibrator. A sound behind her had her quickly replacing the lid on the box and stuffing it back into her suitcase. She turned to find Jon in the doorway.
“I’ve called a band meeting in Richie’s room. I’ll come get you when we’re ready to go.”
She met his eyes, read the message there and nodded. “Okay.” They needed to deal with it before the show and without a lot of people around.
“That’s it? No advice on how to handle it? What to say or not say to him?”
Veronica shook her head. “The band would never have made it this far if you guys didn’t know how to deal with internal issues.” She frowned. “He needs to understand how serious this is – not just the DUI, but the drinking. I’ve tried to get the point across, but.....”
“But a little reinforcement won’t hurt?”
“Something like that.”
“Okay. I’ll do my best.” He gave her a quick hug, dropped a kiss on her lips and was gone before she could react.
Forty minutes later he was back. “Let’s go.”
She searched his face. “Everything okay?”
He shrugged. “I guess. It will be. I hope.”
Veronica acted instinctively, without thinking. She kissed him briefly. “Keep the faith Johnny.” Her lips twitched.
Jon stared at her, stunned, for a moment, then groaned. “That’s bad Nica. That’s really bad.”
“I didn’t write it. You did.”
“Let’s go smartass.” He swatted her rear end and urged her towards the door.
They met up with the others in the hallway. It was a silent ride to the venue. While the others headed inside, Veronica held Richie back with a hand on his arm.
He sighed and managed a slight smile. “Yeah. They didn’t say anything I didn’t already know or wasn’t expecting. I didn’t especially enjoy hearing it, but I know that they’re right and they’re worried about me.” He hugged her. “Stop worrying little girl. I’ve learned my lesson. I’ll be fine.” As they walked inside he glanced around. “I take it I’m excused from the interview room for awhile?”
“Just for a few days. Until things settle down a little and we see the reaction.”
He nodded and grimaced. “I’m sorry that I’ve made your job more difficult. You have enough on your plate with Jon and Dubai and everything, and here I go adding to it.”
“I’m more concerned about you than me. I can deal with the rest.” Well, most of it. As for Jon....I’m working on it.