They’d barely gotten everything set up when guests started to arrive. It was a typically warm July day, and very quickly people stripped down to bathing suits and many made use of the pool.
Seeing the boys running around shirtless sent Veronica looking for sunscreen. Lassoing them long enough to put it on them was much more difficult. “Romeo! Stand still for a minute you little monkey!”
“Look at her. Acting like she’s part of this family...like she belongs here.” Carol glowered at the sight of Veronica trying to smooth sunscreen on a giggling, squirming Romeo. “Playing mother to his kids and hostess to his guests. She’s not worthy of being either one.”
“But Jon must have asked her to be here...to be with him....didn’t he?” Her friend Marjorie asked as she reached for another cracker and a slice of cheese from the plate on the table in front of her.
Carol snorted. “She’s pretty and well built. You can see why he’d want her around. She works for the record company. But she’s just after his money and his fame.”
Marjorie knew Jon well enough to doubt he would have some woman staying in his house, acting as his hostess, just because she was pretty. His love for his kids and his sense of propriety would outweigh his lust. He’d still indulge, just not at home, especially when the kids were there. But she also knew Carol, and that arguing – particularly about anything to do with Jon – was useless.
Jesse reached passed his grandmother for a piece of cheese. “We like her Gram. She’s really nice to us. You should have seen her when Romeo got hurt. She cried as much as he did! You would have thought it was her head. And the uncles say she’s really good at the music promotion stuff.”
“Mfft! Romeo would never have gotten hurt if he’d been looked after properly.”
Jesse wanted to defend Ronnie further, but didn’t want to argue with his grandmother. Grabbing another piece of cheese from the plate, he just shrugged and walked over to Ronnie for his turn with the sunscreen.
Just as she was finishing Jesse’s back, Stephanie approached. “Will you do my back please Ronnie?”
“Sure.” Veronica smoothed lotion over Stephanie’s exposed skin, then tried to hand the bottle to her. “Do mine?”
Stephanie didn’t take her eyes off of the scene she was watching by the bar. “Umm... I think maybe you should get Dad to do it.”
“Because the Octopus has him cornered.”
“The Octopus....Mrs. Vanelli. She lives down the road. You’ll want to keep an eye on her. She’s had a thing for Dad since...forever. She grabs at him every chance she gets. That’s why we call her the Octopus. Mom said that she was harmless and she ignored it, but I’m not so sure. And it’s been even worse since the divorce. She looks at Dad like a Survivor contestant looks at a juicy steak after being on the island for thirty five days.”
Veronica laughed and looked over to where a shirtless Jon was tending bar. Sure enough, Mrs. Vanelli – she thought her name was Audrey – stood leaning over, as close to Jon as she could get. While she watched, the dark haired woman laughed and patted Jon’s hand. Then she leaned over – almost coming out of her bikini top as she did – and brushed his hair out of his eyes.
Veronica stood up. Sure Jon had leaned back and showed no interest in what was being offered to him, but maybe the Octopus needed a reminder of what the situation was. When they’d been introduced Audrey had glanced at her and mumbled something, but quickly ignored her to focus her attention on Jon. Veronica wasn’t normally the jealous type – or maybe she’d just never had anyone worth getting jealous over – but this kind of outright attempt to poach pissed her off. Walking up behind him, she squeezed some lotion into her hand, rubbed them together, then slowly smoothed it over his back and shoulders.
“Thanks sugar.” Jon peered at her over his shoulder. The glint in the blue depths was hidden by his dark sunglasses. “Aren’t you going to do the front too?”
“Sure babe.” Squeezing out more lotion she stepped closer and reached around to rub it into his chest and stomach. The sour look twisting the Octopus’ lips encouraged her to take her time and make sure every inch of skin was covered. Jon’s low chuckle didn’t hurt either.
“He’s big enough to do that himself.” Carol’s harsh voice as she joined them spoiled the moment.
“Yeah, but he won’t remember to, and it’s me who has to listen to him bitch and whine when he gets burned.” Veronica answered. “Besides, this way’s more fun.”
Jon grinned and turned his head to kiss her. “No argument here. Do you want a glass of wine?”
“Please.” When he handed her the glass she handed him the lotion and turned her back to him for him to return the favour.
“Ronnie, when are the cookies coming out?” Jake appeared at her side.
“Those are for after dinner buddy. I’m afraid you’ll have to wait for a bit. There’s cheese and crackers and veggie’s and dip though...and you can have some chips.”
He sighed heavily. “Okay. Can I have a pop Daddy?”
“Sure buddy.” Jon opened a can and handed it to him.
“Ronnie, we’re having a diving contest. Will you come pick the winner?”
“I’ll do that for you Jake.” Carol spoke before Veronica could.
“That’s okay Grandma, we want Ronnie.”
Veronica smothered a smile at Carol’s chagrined expression. “Sure buddy. I’ll tell you what. The winner gets a cookie.”
“Yay! Now I have to win!”
A couple hours later Jon was manning the barbeque and Ronnie was setting out the salads, condiments, rolls and desserts. Stephanie was helping and had just set down a plate of cookies when Jesse wandered up to scope out the food.
“The Octopus is at it again.” He nodded towards the barbeque.
Ronnie and Stephanie looked up to see Audrey once again close to Jon, this time considerately fanning the air with a magazine to help with the added heat of the grill and keep the few whisps of smoke away from his face – or so she wanted everyone to think.
Veronica sighed, picked up a cookie and wandered over to the barbeque. “Babe? How long before the meat’s ready?”
“About ten minutes.” Seeing the cookie in her hand, he opened his mouth, silently asking for a bite.
She gave him a considering look. “I don’t know. What do I get for this cookie?”
Turning from the grill, he snaked an arm around her waist and pulled her against him. “Me.”
Veronica glanced at Audrey. “Is that a good trade off? I don’t know. What do you think Audrey?”
“Oh, I’d say so.”
“Hmmm. I think I want a little more.” Looping her arms around his neck, she lifted her face.
He obliged with a low growl, taking possession of her mouth and tasting her thoroughly.
“Uh...Jon, you’ve got flames!” Audrey warned.
Lifting his head, he stared down at Veronica. “We sure do.” He dropped another kiss on her lips before turning back to the grill.
Veronica broke the cookie into pieces and fed them to him while he flipped various hunks of protein. Glancing around, she noticed his empty wineglass and picked it up. “Want a refill?”
“Please. Thanks honey.”
As dusk descended over the Navesink, everyone found a spot on the wide expanse of lawn in anticipation of the fireworks display Jon had arranged.
Veronica was walking slowly through the group, making sure that no one needed anything, and noting where the kids were, when she felt a tug on her hand. With a smile, she settled onto the grass between Jon’s legs and felt his arms come around her. A trilling laugh had them looking several feet over to see Audrey in animated conversation with a couple other neighbours. It was the closest she’d come to Jon since their performance at the barbeque.
“Do you think she got the hint?”
Jon shrugged. “Not likely, but I appreciated your efforts to get the point across. Anytime you feel the urge to stake your claim, be my guest.” Turning the other way at a familiar voice, they saw Carol talking to Romeo, who was trying to pull away from her. “Has Mom said anything else rude to you today?”
She shook her head. “She hasn’t spoken to me at all.” A growl rumbled in his chest. “It’s fine. I’d rather be ignored than have her snipe at me.”
“I’m sorry sugar. She’ll come around, it just might take some time.”
“No she won’t. She can’t do that without acknowledging that what she did when Drew was born was wrong, and she’ll never do that.” She patted his arm. “It’s okay.” It wasn’t really, but what could she say?
“No it’s not.” He disagreed.
They were interrupted by Romeo’s raised voice. “No! Wanna sit with Ronnie!” Breaking away from his grandmother, he ran over and plopped down between Ronnie’s legs and leaned back against her. “Ok Daddy, I ready now! Turn on the fire sparks!”
Those within hearing chuckled, as did Jon and Veronica. Once again she found herself sandwiched between two Bongiovi males. Jake appeared and settled beside them, offering a cookie from the plate he carried. Veronica twisted her head until she could murmur in Jon’s ear. “This is what matters.”
Jon couldn’t argue with that.