Jon set his bag down on the floor near the couch and wandered around Veronica’s apartment. The rooms were just like her – neat without being uncomfortable, understated elegance with an unexpected splash of colour now and then.
One such splash was an incredible abstract hanging above the gas fireplace. Vibrant colours flowed in sweeps and swirls reminiscent of a woman’s dress and long hair blowing in the wind. He kept looking, but her form and face remained indistinct.
“Have you seen Tico’s work?”
“No, I haven’t. I’ve heard it’s great though.”
Jon nodded. “Get him to show you his studio when we hit Florida. You’ll like it.”
Finally tearing himself away from the painting, he glanced around the room again, noting the comfortable looking furniture, a few unique nic-nacs, a couple pictures of Veronica and the girls and one of what appeared to be – judging by the presence of sweatshirt man – Lori and her family. Used to his wall of family photos both in New Jersey and in the New York loft, her lack hit him like a kick in the gut – or somewhere lower and more painful. He felt responsible and more determined than ever to fix it.
“Nice, very nice.”
Veronica released a breath she wasn’t even aware of holding. “Thank you. It’s not a mansion, but....”
“It’s a warm and comfortable home. It’s very.....you.”
“Is that good or bad?”
“Oh it’s good. Very good. Anytime you want to make changes in the Jersey house, go right ahead.”
She stared at him. “Why would I make changes in your house?”
Careful Johnny, don’t push too fast. He shrugged. “I’m just saying that if you get the urge, I’m giving my agreement now.”
Next, he turned his attention to her music collection. Reba, Leanne, Gretchen, Keith Urban, Rascal Flatts, side by side with classic rock from the seventies and eighties like Foreigner, Journey and April Wine, next to Stevie Ray, Moody Blues and several of the blues greats.
“None of ours?” He crooked a brow at her.
“Not CDs. They’re on my iPod.” She hesitated. “I gave away my Slippery and New Jersey vinyl.”
He didn’t ask why or criticize. He understood how painful the memories must have been for her.
Jon studied her for a moment, sighed and waved at the couch. “Nica, can we sit down and talk for a minute?”
She hesitated. She was tired and not sure she was up to a serious discussion – which his expression and tone indicated was his intent - but she knew if she didn’t agree, he would just push and pester until she did. “Okay.”
Once they were settled, facing each other on the couch, she waited for him to speak. He searched her eyes, his expression....hard.
“What’s going on with Vince? And don’t tell me nothing! I can tell by your mood when you get off the phone with him and obviously Lori knows since she asked if tonight’s reviews would get him off your back.”
“It’s really nothing. Just some work shit that will pass.”
“Dammit Ronnie! Tell me what the FUCK is going on!”
“Hey! Don’t take that tone with me! I’m not your employee, I’m your....” She trailed off.
He motioned for her to continue. “Yes? You’re my...what? Lover? Definitely. Girlfriend? I thought so, but that can’t be right. That would mean we were a couple, but couples talk about what’s going on with their jobs and daily activities. But as far as I can tell, the sharing between us is all one sided. It takes two to make a couple Ronnie.”
She stared at him, stunned. “You’re lecturing me on talking about what’s going on in our lives?” She snorted. “That’s a little hypocritical don’t you think?” Some of their biggest arguments in the past had been because he wouldn’t talk to her about his life.
“So, this is payback?” He raked a hand through his hair and reached for patience. “I know I’ve made mistakes. I’m trying to learn from them and not make them again. You promised you were going to try to make this relationship work Ronnie. I tell you everything, whether it’s about the band, the kids, the Soul or the Foundation. Am I really asking for so much? Or is it some big dark secret that you don’t want me to know?”
Veronica sighed. He had a point, and if he was anyone else she would have told him. “No, but it’s my problem, not yours. I need to deal with it myself.”
“So, does that mean that you can’t tell me about it? And couples are supposed to deal with things together! Don’t you get that what affects you affects me? When I see you upset, or that frown shadowing those beautiful eyes, I want to help!”
“And that’s exactly why I didn’t tell you! I knew that your first reaction would be to try to ‘fix it’. This is my job, Jon, my career. I can’t have my boyfriend – the rockstar and client - calling up my boss to complain about how I’m being treated! How would that look?”
He couldn’t argue her logic. She was right about what he would have done. “Ok, I understand what you’re saying. I even agree. So if I promise not to try to ‘fix it’ will you tell me what Vince is doing?”
Veronica stared at him for several breaths, sighed and gave in. As she related the story, his jaw tensed, his brows snapped together in a dark frown and his eyes became glacial, but he managed to remain silent until she was finished.
“I’ve met Keith. He’s eager, but he doesn’t know as much as he thinks he does. He’s also the biggest brown noser I’ve ever met. Unfortunately for him, he doesn’t have the gut instinct to back up his boasts. He doesn’t have a tenth of the ability that you do. There’s no way in hell that I would trust him with Dubai!” The muscle twitched in his jaw. “So this is my fault then.”
“How do you figure that?” It wasn’t the response she was expecting from him.
“I used my influence to get Vince to force you to work with us, then didn’t tell anyone – either the label or you – about Dubai until it was set, cutting you short on time and making an already difficult situation even worse. I’m sorry, honey, I never meant for that to happen.”
Veronica shook her head and snorted. “You’re really something Jon, you know that?”
“There is no need for you to feel guilty. As much as you might want it to be true, not everything that happens to me is because of you.”
Anger melted the ice in the famous blue eyes. “That’s not what I meant!”
“I know. And I know that you are just concerned about me, and I appreciate that. But it’s not the first time I’ve had to deal with competition and petty jealousies in my career you know. I can handle it.”
He nodded as his anger faded and logic took over. She’d been in the business too long not to have faced this type of thing before, and her success proved that she knew how to handle it. He frowned. “Did I really sound that egotistical?”
Veronica smiled. “A little, but I knew what you meant.”
He sighed. “Sorry.”
She reached out to pat his hand. “We’ll work on that.”
His hand turned to grasp hers. “Is there anything else you’re not telling me?
Veronica searched her memory and shook her head. “No.”
“Jon, I’m with you almost every day! And when I’m not, I’m working or hanging out with the girls. Other than the latest in the dating scene in Nashville, who’s been in the studio – and I tell you everything interesting there - and the latest gossip from Yoga class, most of which you don’t give a shit about, you know everything I do. I don’t have time to come up with anything new to tell you.”
He had to smile at that. “Okay, okay.” He paused. “Honey, I understand why you didn’t want to tell me about the grief Vince was giving you, but.....if I promise not to interfere, will you promise to tell me when shit happens with your job? After all, I do know the business. Maybe I can help.”
“As long as you promise to listen and only help if I ask you to.”
He held up three fingers. “Promise. Scout’s honour.”
“Uh huh.” She’d see how long that promise lasted. The thought struck her that the traditional roles for men and women in relationships were a little skewed for them, and she smirked.
Jon noticed. “What?” When she explained what she was thinking he just shrugged. “The traditional route didn’t work so well for us, so maybe changing it up a bit will give us a better result.”
She couldn’t argue.