“What do you mean you’re not coming to Abu Dhabi with the rest of us?” Veronica stared at Jon. She couldn’t believe what she was hearing.
"I’ve got an AFL owners meeting.”
“So skip it.”
“I can’t. It’s about the future of the league.”
“Dammit Jon! You know how important this is to me!”
“I know, and you’ll have the rest of the guys to help you with whatever you need until I get there.”
She wanted to strangle him. “It’s your name on the band Jon, and as much as I don’t want to inflate your ego any more than it already is, and no disrespect to the guys, it’s you they want to see! You’re the frontman. You’re the main spokesperson!”
“You guys will take a commercial flight and I’ll bring the jet as soon as my meeting is finished. I’ll only be a few hours behind you. You can get some shopping in.”
Her hands clenched against the urge to throw something – or slap him. “Well I guess I know where your priorities are now.” She closed her laptop. “Guess I’ve been working my ass off for nothing.”
“Aw, come on sugar.” He reached out a placating hand.
“Don’t ‘come on sugar’ me...and don’t touch me!” She slapped away his hand. “You’re an asshole Jon!”
Stephanie had to step out of the way as Veronica stormed from the room. “Way to go Dad. She’s really pi...er..mad at you.”
“She’ll get over it.” The look her gave her told her he hadn’t missed her almost slip of bad language.
“Maybe, but before or after she leaves for Dubai?”
The answer was after.
They were somewhere over the middle of the ocean when her anger turned to thoughts of payback.
Richie, who was sitting beside her, gave her a sympathetic look. “He’s an asshole.”
“I know. But he’ll get what’s coming to him. I’m going to need you guys to pick up the slack though until he gets there.”
“Whatever you need little girl.”
They landed in the morning and found a huge limo waiting for them, and Abdul, Veronica’s main contact, who was going to be their tour guide. While they waited for their luggage and Veronica went over the schedule with Abdul, the guys talked amongst themselves.
“So is she really pissed at him?” David asked Richie.
“Yeah, but she’s into payback mode now. She’s got something up her sleeve, but I don’t know what it is.”
“This ought to be good.”
During the drive to the hotel, Abdul pointed out spots of interest, including the Sheik Zayed Grand Mosque, and a huge market – he called it a souk - and offered to take them after they’d gotten settled in.
The hotel was a melding of modern and old world, the lobby all marble and glass, the rooms done in desert and jewel tones. It was beautiful and easily the most luxurious hotel any of them had ever been in.
After the guys had checked out their rooms they returned to the lobby to find Veronica talking to a member of the hotel staff and Abdul’s wife, Rani, who had joined them.
Veronica gestured to her outfit. “Is this okay? Will I offend anyone?”
Rani shook her head as she took in the long skirt and short sleeves. “It’s perfect for a western woman. Cool, but not too much skin showing.”
Abdul gathered them all together and they set out. First up was a short visit to the biggest radio station in the city where the guys did an impromptu on air interview. Next was the Women’s Handicraft Centre where Veronica got a design hennaed on her hands and they all picked up some jewellery for the women back home. Veronica found some great stuff for the girls and a beautiful necklace for Stephanie.
The souk was a shopper’s heaven and unlike anything Veronica had ever seen. It would take hours to see everything, so they just did a quick once over. Richie was eager to go rug hunting.
“Oh guys...don’t forget to haggle.” Veronica reminded them. At their looks she smiled. “It’s expected.”
Still sceptical. They looked to Abdul for confirmation. He nodded. “It’s true. Come, I will show you the best place for carpets.”
Rani turned to Veronica. “Is there anything special you would like to look for?”
“Actually there is.”
When she explained what she had in mind, Rani’s dark eyes sparkled and Veronica was sure she was grinning behind her veil. “Aah, a little surprise for your husband!”
Rather than correct her or explain their relationship, Veronica just went along with it. “Only if he apologizes very nicely to me.”
The women laughed together and Rani took Veronica to a small shop nearby where she could find what she was looking for.
Rejoining the men, they continued through the souk. Veronica bought wooden carvings for the boys, some frankincense for herself and an intricately carved necklace for Jon – if she ever decided to speak to him again. Rani insisted they try some chocolate made from camel’s milk and flavoured with almonds and honey. It was extremely creamy and surprisingly good. Veronica bought some of that too.
They’d skipped lunch, instead snacking on various foods they found in the souk. By mid afternoon they’d finished shopping and were discussing dinner options. Abdul interrupted them.
“I have made arrangements for you all to drive the dunes and have a barbeque in a desert camp.”
“Oh, I read about that!” Tico grinned. “Dune bashing!”
They loaded into the car again and drove to where the ‘dune buggies’ waited for them. Abdul assured them that their purchases would be delivered to their hotel and introduced them to Akbar who would be their guide to the camp.
Veronica stood back while the guys checked out the ‘buggies’ and asked Akbar questions. Rani stood beside her and chuckled. “East or West, men are like little boys around cars.”
“Come on Ronnie, you can ride with me.” David offered.
“Uh, no offence Joker, but I’d like to get there and back alive. I’ll ride with Akbar thanks.” She knew better than to ask to drive herself. But that was okay, she’d rather ride and look around anyway.
David pouted, the rest laughed and they all piled in. The drive turned out to be a race and Veronica was even more glad that she was only a passenger....although she had to hold on very tightly. When they arrived at the camp they were all laughing and exhilarated from the wild ride.
“That was great!” Richie was rubbing his hands together. “I gotta get me one of these!”
Veronica watched the dinner preparations, always game to try new flavours. They ate as the sun started to set over the sand. Bright yellows, dark oranges and reds sending fingers of shadows over the dunes. It was stark, and...lonely....and...beautiful. Sensing a presence beside her she glanced up into understanding brown eyes.
“You doing okay?”
“It’s been a wonderful day. I could spend hours in that souk! And thanks for your help at the radio station.”
“No problem. And it has been a great day. So why do you look sad?” He nudged her. “Want me to punch him?”
Veronica smiled. “Honestly? Yes.” She looked around the camp, then out at the desert again and sighed. “He’s missing it Rich. He told me he’d learned from his mistakes and wanted to change. He told me he was tired of missing out on things with the people he cared about....and then he does this. He hasn’t changed at all.” She had to blink back tears. “I wanted to share this with him.”
Richie sighed, put an arm around her shoulders and hugged her. “I’m sorry little girl.”